A Tribe of Two

I feel I wasted a lot of the day. I helped Dad put up the sukkah (the temporary hut/dwelling in the garden where we will live (in reality, eat) for the Sukkot festival starting next Sunday evening) today. It’s not finished, but we have some time still. But doing that made me worry about how E and I will cope with living together and running a household when both of us have mental health issues, diagnosed or possible neurodivergence and low energy (from possible sleep disorders or something else). I worry a lot about how we will cope with having kids. We both want to have kids, but it’s hard to work out if we could cope, and for fertility reasons, we can’t really push the decision off in the hope our physical and emotional health improves.

Whether because of these worries or because of autistic exhaustion, I lacked energy and motivation today. I procrastinated a bit, then did some Torah study. I wanted to go for a run, but I started getting a headache. Then I thought about going for a walk, but the headache started turning to a migraine. The headache did go eventually, but by that stage the day was over, aside from skyping E in the evening.

***

I was thinking of my mental illness history in the past tense, then realised I still have social anxiety. Why do I always downgrade my social anxiety, as if it’s not as real or powerful (in a negative way) as my depression and OCD were? I’ve stood in the street crying on occasion because I couldn’t get past it to go somewhere. That’s a big, ongoing issue. Yet I don’t pay it attention. I’ve only once made a serious attempt to get help for it by itself, rather than alongside (and playing second-fiddle) to other issues (actually two attempts, but the second attempt is by this stage a vague hope that the NHS will provide autism-adapted CBT at some point in the future). I act as if it’s not much more than shyness, when it really is, especially since COVID (although the standing in the street crying was pre-COVID).

***

I’m still struggling with what I want to do with Facebook. I still haven’t friended most of my real-world friends. I’m not entirely sure what is motivating this. Perhaps I can’t face being reminded how different our lives are, or risking reading about their politics. FB has suggested a couple of school peers to me, but not many. I’ve only friended one friend so far, so the algorithm has little to work with there. The peers I have come across have mostly had their accounts set to Friends Only (or whatever it’s called), so I can’t play the “Compare and Despair” game (as someone on the autism forum put it).

I’ve tried to join some groups for hobbies i.e. Doctor Who and other telefantasy (not that anyone says ‘telefantasy’ nowadays). I struggled to find my ‘ideal’ Doctor Who group, one which posts regularly, but not too often (I think three or four times a week to once or twice a day is the range I’m looking for), with discussion of episodes/ideas from the programme, especially the classic series of Doctor Who, and no obligation to adore the current episodes/show-runner, although not tedious hating either. Most groups are private, so I can’t see them. From the few public groups I’ve seen, and from the blurb when I search, most groups post far too often (10+ times a day is common), are largely new series-focused for Doctor Who and feature a lot of random pictures, memes and merchandise/convention news and little discussion. I miss the days of the fan blogosphere, where people actually discussed stuff (albeit that discussion would get tagged with the annoying phrase ‘meta’).

In the end I joined three groups (one for classic Doctor Who, one for The Prisoner and one for general British cult TV). I can always leave if they’re unsuitable. I guess I feel that if I’m going to waste time online, it might as well be doing something fun. My WordPress blog feed has slowly, but surely been drying up since COVID started and I get the impression other people’s have too, so I’m looking elsewhere for online time-wasting.

***

Related to this is the issue of “finding my tribe,” which I have spoken about before. I suspect part of my current issues is wanting to find some kind of community I feel comfortable with, even if only online. Many people on the autism forum claim to have “found their tribe” there, but I struggle to do so, if only because there seems to be little ongoing group discussion or interaction. There basically seem to be three types of posts there: introductory posts; posts from relatively high functioning adults asking about specific problems; and parents of young children with autism or suspected autism (often not high-functioning) asking with specific problems or questions about assessment. There isn’t the kind of general posts or ‘chattiness’ I expected, maybe inherently, given the way autism manifests, or given the way forums are structured. I suspect I will find similar issues with FB groups, including the one I want to set up. Also, my experience of autism is so related to my (real or perceived?) struggles fitting into the Jewish community that I fear that it is hard for people to relate to me and vice versa.

There’s a saying in the autism community that, “If you’ve met one person with autism, then you’ve met one person with autism,” the idea being that autistics are a very diverse group and certainly autism manifests in surprisingly different ways. So maybe it’s not a surprise that I connect with some people on the forum and not others. We probably shame some genetic differences from the mainstream, but that’s arguably not enough to build friendships and community on.

Looking at other places where people like me find their tribe, I don’t know why I think I would have lots of things in common with other Doctor Who fans, as that’s arguably even less of a real connection, although strangely I have managed to find people on my wavelength in fan circles in the past (excluding my religious beliefs and practices, though), whether in the real world in the Oxford University Doctor Who Society or on the (now largely defunct) Livejournal Doctor Who community.

I would think that Orthodox Jews would be a more homogenous group and more likely to share my outlook. After all, Orthodoxy involves commitment to beliefs and practices that are far outside the secular norm in the contemporary Western world. Even so, there are vast differences of personality, interests, outlook and so on, which, again, is probably not unexpected.

Kafka said something along the lines of he didn’t know why people expect him to have things in common with other Jews when he had little in common with himself. I feel the same way. Sometimes my interests and worldview seem to come from several different people, so broad-ranging are they (I suspect some of my opinions are actually contradictory, if I looked at them dispassionately enough), so it’s not surprising I can’t find anyone who shares them. In many ways the surprising thing is that I do have so much in common with E (despite our religious differences). Maybe we are a tribe of two? I guess it’s better than a tribe of one.

I suspect it’s more realistic to look for individual friendships in different communities, living a compartmentalised life. This is frustrating in some ways (and not at all how we are encouraged to live these days), but is probably more realistic than expecting one group of people to meet all my social/emotional/religious needs.

***

While I’m venting, there is another issue I have with the autistic community. A lot of people in it seem to have a kind of ‘reverse ableism’ whereby neurotypicals (by which they seem to mean allistics (non-autistics) most of the time, even though the two words are not by any means synonymous) are treated as a single unit who all think and act the same way, behaviour usually contrasted negatively with supposed autistic logic and calm (I think some autistics are indeed very logical, but others are just single-minded and can’t see alternatives to their own opinions, which they mistake for irrefutable logic — I have definitely done this in the past. As for calm, someone rightly said that autistics are the noisiest quiet people). This really annoys me, especially as many of my friends and family are not autistic and I am able to get along with them and don’t particularly like seeing them portrayed as universally irrational, noisy, extrovert, uncaring, deceitful, malicious and so on when this is clearly not the case.

You do sometimes find a similar anti-gentile prejudice in Jews (although not so often or so bitterly, in my experience), so perhaps any marginalised and persecuted minority will develop such a sense of superiority as a defence, but it isn’t necessary or attractive, in my opinion.

A related issue, which, again, I have fallen foul of myself in the past, is complaining, often in a very political way, about the lack of support for adult autistics without making clear what support they would actually want. I have done this, and I still feel I would like support of some kind, but if you asked me what support I would like and gave me a government budget of X million pounds for it, I would struggle to suggest what would help me. Judging by the way other people on the forum complain about a lack of support in vague terms (“There is no support for adult autistics”) and not specific ones, (“I would like more widely-available autism-adapted CBT,” for example, or some kind of specific skill/coping strategy training) I suspect I’m not the only one who has fallen into this trap.

I’m not actually sure what help I need. My feeling of, “I don’t understand people or the world” isn’t really something specific enough for someone to help me with. Things like sensory issues can manifest in such different ways in different people that it’s hard to see what type of support could realistically be available for everyone, while social skill training is sometimes dismissed as forcing autistics to fit into an allistic world. Arguably there should be more research on skills and coping strategies for autistics, but that would take a long time to come through as something that autistics could be taught.

(I realise the last few paragraphs lead me open to accusations of being a “self-hating autistic.)

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

I was very exhausted yesterday, and had suddenly realised it was closer to Shabbat than I thought, but I managed to speak to E briefly before Shabbat started in the UK. We’re hoping to have a longer conversation tomorrow, but I’m worried about how I’ll manage it if there’s a lot to do for Yom Tov (festival). But if I can’t, we’ll have barely spoken for a week, from our last long call on Wednesday evening until this coming Wednesday evening, because of Yom Tov. And this pattern will repeat for three out of the next four weeks. Being long-distance is hard, at Yom Tov doubly so, and that’s not even counting the stress of doing Yom Tov without each other.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) after this. I was just too wiped out and feeling physically ill from exhaustion. I did daven (pray) at home, without much energy or enthusiasm. I did some Torah study after dinner, which may have been a mistake, I’m not sure. I just want to finish some of the books I’m reading (see below).

I had weird dreams last night, including my least-favourite ex-boss (the one who basically told me that I wasn’t as good at my job as she expected and that she didn’t really have confidence in me) refusing to acknowledge my existence. Also something I can’t really remember about crocodiles. I ended up sleeping after lunch, too. I didn’t really want to, as I knew it would just mess my sleep pattern up even more, but I struggled through lunch with my parents and then basically went to autistic shutdown mode, curled up in the foetal position in bed with my eyes shut. Inevitably, I eventually fell asleep, but I think it was more about trying to reboot myself after a couple of hours of listening to my parents talk than actually needing sleep. Then I went back to bed briefly in the early evening, but didn’t sleep. I didn’t go to the shiva (house of mourning) for my parents’ friends’ son. I felt too burnt out. It was probably just as well, as it was very busy. I will try to email them tomorrow.

It’s hard to unpick the autism, social anxiety and sleep disorder from each other to work out what is really keeping me away from shul. There may also be an element of SAD now to make things even more difficult, which hopefully won’t turn into full depression. It’s hard to know where to start. So many people on the autism forum also struggle with exhaustion and fatigue. None of us really know how to cope. The medical community seems baffled or perhaps uninterested.

(By coincidence, someone just shared this story about autistic fatigue on the autism group.)

I worry what it will be like when E and I are married. Will it be easier living with someone more on my wavelength and autism-friendly? Will I be able to work more? Will that make me more tired? (I assume so.) Will we be able to have kids? How will I cope with that? Kids are not autism-friendly, even/especially autistic kids (autistic kids are a possibility given how much neurodiversity (diagnosed and undiagnosed) that there seems to be in both E and my families).

Somewhat related, I feel that this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, I should work on forgiving myself. It just feels wrong even writing this, but I have beaten myself up so much over the years for things that were not within my control to change completely, or at all: depression, social anxiety, OCD, autism, alexithymia, exhaustion and sleep-disruption. (Also: being a heterosexual male with a normal sex drive, trying to be celibate, but that’s a whole other post.)

I don’t know how much I’m going to get to shul over the coming Yom Tovim (festivals), if I’m going to hear the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah, and it’s tempting to beat myself up about it in advance. I don’t think that will achieve much, but it’s easy to feel I don’t deserve forgiveness, that if I just pressure myself harder to have more energy, better sleep, a more positive mindset (etc.) that I need to study more Torah and fulfil more mitzvot (commandments), that will somehow happen. Even though it hasn’t worked for decades.

I feel someone should write a Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent, to try to set out ways of living Jewishly with these issues and how they affect halakhic (Jewish legal) observance (the Shulchan Aruch is the primary Jewish code of law). In Israel, a rabbi has set up some kind of institute to teach more rabbis how to handle halakhic questions regarding people with mental illness. This is positive, but I would like someone to do it for the neurodivergent too. Unfortunately, Orthodox Judaism tends to lag ten years or so behind the secular West regarding social issues and we are only just beginning to deal with mental health, so we probably won’t catch up to neurodivergence for another ten years.

***

On the subject of beating myself up, I felt recently that I hadn’t finished any books for a while and was upset about that. Actually, it’s not that long since I finished A Guide for the Perplexed and Faith Without Fear (is it really less than a month since I was in New York and getting married?), but even setting them aside, I realised that I’ve been reading really big books lately. I’m on page 623 (of 712 pages of main text) of The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, page 427 (of 712 or so pages) of The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who and page 491 (of 528) of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World. These are mostly heavy-going books (not the Doctor Who one, except inasmuch as I get annoyed with some of the views expressed in it, particularly hatred for late seventies Who) and I’m finally getting near the end of most of them. It’s been a long journey through them, but I would have read several novels or shorter religious works in the same time (I did read some, actually), so I should probably beat myself up less about that. I do definitely want to tear through some light novels soon, though.

***

Shana tova tikatev vetichatem! May you be written and sealed for a good new year!

“…an almost Proustian display of modern Existentialist football…”

(Title quote from one of the Monty Python sketches I think about periodically, which happened to be in the episode I watched earlier, about a pretentious football commentator interviewing a monosyllabic footballer. It’s not really relevant, I just think it’s funny.)

There’s a lot I want to say, but I am totally exhausted, and overwhelmed with things to do. However, as I’m too exhausted to do much now, I’ll try to blog at least some of the things on my mind.

I flippantly remarked on Angela’s blog the other day that I’ve been tired for decades. I felt somewhat bad about it afterwards, as that was a post about tiredness through serious physical illness, but I’m not sure that tiredness from depression, autistic exhaustion and a sleep disorder is really less “real” or worthy of note. At any rate, I struggled to sleep again last night, although not so badly as some nights, and then struggled to get going in the morning, only to discover that while I was asleep, E had asked me to send her a particular document needed for the visa again, as I had forgotten to sign it. To be honest, I hadn’t forgotten, so much as not realised I need to do it (yes, classic autistic, “If you don’t explicitly ask for it, he won’t realise he needs to do it”). This delayed me a little, but I cut my usual truncated Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even shorter and got to work on time.

Work was exceedingly dull and I found some mistakes I had made weeks ago that at least went unnoticed by my boss. I listened to podcasts while sorting through papers then felt guilty that I had decreased my efficiency, although I’m not at all sure that that was the case, as the task is dull, but also difficult, as most of the papers I’m dealing with at the moment are legal or financial, but also twenty years or more old. They should be ripe for throwing away, but I worry that my legal and financial ignorance will lead me to throw away something we need. At the moment, I’m just trying to produce a general list of what everything is.

***

I have a tendency to take the world’s troubles on my shoulders, at least sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling concern for lonely people on the autism forum, abuse survivors and current victims in the Jewish community, as well as continuing sadness and perhaps anger at God for my parents’ friends’ late son. I do worry sometimes that abusers and gett refusers (men who refuse to give their wives the religious divorce they want) in the frum (religious Jewish) community will find a loophole to the Next World via their Torah study and communal involvement and somehow evade punishment. This is irrational, as I don’t believe God is as easily deceived, or has His values as warped, as the frum community sometimes is and, in any case, I believe spiritual punishment is inherent in the action in ways that are too complicated for me to explain now; you can’t avoid Divine punishment any more than you can avoid being in your own body. But I do think about it a lot.

***

I came across the idea a number of years ago that lots of frum people want to fast-forward through this time of year, the Jewish autumn festival season. For them it’s a time of painful self-examination and guilt. It is that for me too, with added autistic exhaustion and peopling, social anxiety, low self-esteem and disordered sleep issues, not to mention autistic issues with work routine changes and overload from working more intensively. I could also say that their guilt over sins is excessive and misplaced, whereas mine is logical and deserved, but I’m not going to go there (which is probably a good sign in and of itself). I feel like that now, with all the extra overwhelm of my life at the moment too, but today for the first time I felt frustrated that I haven’t worked on my novel for weeks because I’ve been focused on my wedding and E’s visa application. I’m glad, as I wondered if I had given up on writing. However, I still doubt I will have time to put pen to paper (or word processor) for another month.

One extra thing that is hard at this time of year is having alexithymia, difficulty noticing and understanding my own emotions. It’s hard to be sure I love and am in awe of God and that I love Torah, or that I have joy in the festivals and in being Jewish when I struggle to notice love for my family, let alone a being I can’t see and Who is the source of everything bad that ever happened to me as well as everything good. Mostly I try to “deduce” my emotions by my actions, which I guess must mean I feel something positive about God if I do all this religious stuff.

Related to this is my feelings about the frum community. On an Orthodox Conundrum podcast I listened to today, they spoke about the importance of being part of a community for spiritual growth. I’ve never really had this, at least not in the way they meant. Someone on the autism forum the other day suggested that while I say I want to be part of a community, I also seem to have negative feelings about it (I said making friends in the community seemed “terrifying and impossible”). I don’t really have an answer this.

***

I suspect the answer to all of the above is to “Let go and let God,” as the 12 Step movement says, but I’ve never been very good at that. It’s hard to “Let go and let God” when you can’t work out how much you trust God.

***

Good things that happened today:

E sent the visa application off, despite consistent issues with the third-party website.

I was told I can keep paying reduced shul (synagogue) membership fees because I’m on a low salary. I feel vaguely guilty about this and don’t know why, although as I have been paying money to a shul I haven’t been attending, and as I will continue doing this for some months more, I feel the shul is still getting a good deal.

My birthday present from E, The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg finally arrived. The delay, I should say, was on the part of Foyles Bookshop, not E. Zornberg has written several deep books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), mixing traditional commentary with ideas from Western philosophy and literature and psychology. She’s very good, but no one expected her to write about the almost entirely legal and purity-focused Vayikra (Leviticus). So I am curious to read it, but will wait until it comes around on the annual Torah cycle next spring.

Also arriving today was the latest Jewish Review of Books (finally) and Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide. Actually, the latter came yesterday, but it seemed inappropriate to write about it on such a sad day. Then today I went into the charity shop and found a load of interesting-looking books. I already owned a couple of them, perhaps fortunately, but I did buy a copy of Yehudah HaLevi’s Medieval Jewish anti-philosophical philosophical work, The Kuzari for £2, which goes nicely with the Guide for the Perplexed I got for free a few months ago.

Yes, my plan to avoid getting new books until I work my way down the To Read pile is going well. Wait a minute…

Shabbat and Lying-in-State

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal Shabbat. In other words, I’m still struggling with sleep and social anxiety around shul (synagogue). I did go to shul on Friday night. I’ve decided the chazzan (cantor), who is notorious for SHOUTING when he sings during the service, is not terribly autism-friendly. I don’t like being shouted out, particularly not in what is supposed to be music. It’s unlikely that I will be going to this shul after E and I get married, except when we stay with my parents, so it’s not a huge problem, but it’s irritating for now.

On the way home, one of my father’s acquaintances (I’ll call him Fred) saw us and waited for us to catch up with him. He wished me mazal tov on my civil wedding and said his daughter lives in New York. After we got home, Dad said to me, “Did you not want to talk to Fred?” I had no idea what he meant. Apparently, Fred had been standing on my Dad’s right and after he spoke to me, I moved away from him and walked on my Dad’s left. I should also have known that his comment about his daughter was an opening conversational gambit inviting discussion of New York. I realised none of this until it was pointed out to me, and I doubt I would really notice in the future. This is what happens operating on a mixture of autism and social anxiety. I hope Fred was not offended.

Otherwise Shabbat was the usual mix of eating, davening (praying) and Torah study. Because Mum and Dad were away this week and didn’t want to cook on Friday, we ordered food from a kosher restaurant. It was delivered on Friday morning and we just heated it on our hot plate for Shabbat. It was very nice, but the portions were incredibly large. We had intended to eat it on Friday night only, but it lasted for Shabbat lunch too.

Despite being ‘leftovers,’ lunch was large enough that I didn’t even try not to sleep it off afterwards. I slept for about three hours, with disturbing dreams (I had different disturbing dreams last night too). Part of the problem was waking with bright light in my eyes from the window as I didn’t draw the curtains, which just makes me scrunch up my eyes and eventually fall asleep again. (It also gives me dreams where I experience uncomfortably bright light in my eyes.) But when I finally woke up properly, it felt like I had been buried alive and was climbing out of a grave, soil in my throat choking me and felt like I was panting for breath when I finally awoke, which I suppose may be more evidence of sleep/breathing issues.

***

I read more of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, the commentary on Eichah (Lamentations), which I’ve been reading since around the Fast of Av nearly two months ago. For a short book of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), it’s a very long commentary. I just passed page 400, but I still have more than a hundred pages to go. To be honest, part of me is tempted to stop for a break, and I probably will a bit this week, as I will want to listen to the shiurim (religious classes) at the London School of Jewish Studies’ study day tomorrow, listening to some live tomorrow and to the recording of others during the next week or two.  However, I worry that if I stop for too long, it will be impossible to start again, as it’s pretty bleak and heavy-going, although thorough and enlightening. I know Eichah better than many books of Nakh (the post-Mosaic Bible books) because it’s read every year on the  Fast of Av, but the book has made me appreciate it as a much more complex and literary text than I thought.

***

Other book-related news: after my post here the other week about the book Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide from the 1990s, I found a copy going for £1.99 on eBay. On a whim, I bid for it, not really expecting to get it, as I don’t think I’ve ever won an eBay auction before, or, if I have, only once. However, no one else even bid, so I got it for £5.34 including postage, which was pretty good when other copies on the site seem to be asking for something in the region of £40 (although this may be why those copies aren’t selling). Of course, it will probably disappoint my memories, but it’s good nostalgia. I really must stop buying books though, even ones I want that are going cheap.

***

I watched some of the Queen’s lying-in-state on TV on BBC Parliament after Shabbat. My parents put it on after Shabbat. I think they’ve been watching it for days. I haven’t, and I only really watched because I was in the room, but I did stick around for the changing of the guard, which was interesting to watch. My Dad is right that no one does this kind of ceremonial better than the British. Even though I’m not a terribly enthusiastic royalist, I kind of wish I could go there, but I’m not spending twenty-four hours queuing.

A lot of people were crossing themselves in front of the Queen’s coffin too. I know I got negative commentary about this when I said it before, but I find that religion has been routed from the public sphere so completely in this country that any kind of display of religion [1] seems counter-cultural, and reassuring to members of other religious minorities too small even to gain this level of recognition (e.g. Orthodox Jews like me). I remember Rabbi Lord Sacks discussing this on a podcast with Anglican priest Giles Fraser, that as a Jew he was grateful for the Church of England for keeping some kind of religion vaguely on the public radar in an otherwise very secular country. (I suspect some of my American readers, even the non-religious ones, don’t realise just how secular the UK generally is, established church notwithstanding.)

There probably is a lot to say about the intersection of religion and culture in ceremonial like this, the way this would feel inherently religious even without the large crucifix at the Queen’s head and other religious iconography, the way that the secular world simply does not seem to be able to handle something as weighty as the finality of death in this way. This is paradoxical, as atheists and agnostics ought to see death as more final than religious believers who believe in an afterlife, but somehow that belief adds to the finality for the religious, while the atheists avoid it with “celebrations of life.” But celebrating inherently subverts the seriousness of death, which is not celebratory.

Even beyond death, religion has a sense of the serious that is lacking in our constantly-moving, consumerist world. In Westminster Hall, people stand still or move slowly, which seems bizarre. I think of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going (Larkin was not at all religious), “A serious house on serious earth it is”.

Moreover, the guards in uniforms with faces averted display the kind of selfless (or self-less) absorption in ritual, process and community that the Western world has abandoned in its constant quest for individual self-expression and independence. It’s a kind of selflessness and communal identification that I want so much to attain in my own religious practise and life, but which I self-sabotage and pull away from at the same time, too independent, too afraid of losing myself, to fully throw myself in, or perhaps just too autistic, socially inept and socially anxious to actually achieve it.

[1] Actual religion not quasi-religious secular displays of emotion like clapping for the NHS during the lockdown or kneeling during the national anthem at sports matches to express inchoate anti-racism.

“Oddly Fond But Also Mocking Bits”

Today was a not terribly good day, although not an awful one, and not for any reasons I haven’t written about here before.  I struggled to sleep last night, probably because I didn’t have enough time to relax before bed.  It’s strange how much difference watching half an hour of TV or reading something light for a bit can make.  I did read briefly before bed, but not for long and, I suspect, not something that I enjoyed enough.  In the end I got out of bed and watched Fawlty Towers for a bit, which helped.

I worked today instead of volunteering as J asked me to switch days.  Work was draining, for all the usual reasons.  I thought I was going to have to phone people to ask for money that they owe us, which I hate doing.  I didn’t, but I probably will have to do it on Thursday.  I read more of When Rabbis Abuse at lunch and on the way home, which probably didn’t help my mood much.  I wanted to scan documents needed for E’s visa application when I got home, but I felt incredibly drained and overloaded, so I left my computer and read Dara Horn for a while, and ate carbs, which made me feel better, but isn’t good for my diet (or quasi-diet).  I do feel the urge to eat junk tonight too – not good.  I still feel rather overloaded.  I should probably not be on the computer and be aiming for low sensory stimulation activities (reading, maybe familiar TV), but there’s so much to do.

The best part of the day was going to the small shul (synagogue)/library upstairs after work and davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers).  It was very quiet and peaceful and I had good kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).  I’m not sure what it says about me that my best kavannah is in a shul, but when there are no people around as Jewish prayer is supposed to be communal.  I vaguely recall a story in Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim about a future rebbe who used to break into the shul after the congregation had gone so he could daven alone, but I can’t remember the details.

***

I was going to try to write about the thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for a long time now about trying to believe in a loving and forgiving (rather than punitive) God, but also wanting abusers to suffer, and trying to work out how Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur  fit with that.  However, I couldn’t untangle my thoughts sufficiently to write them down.  I still feel down and overwhelmed, and missing E, so instead here’s a thousand words on nostalgia for the Doctor Who fandom of thirty years ago.  Feel free to skip the rest of the post!

I have the book-buying bug again.  I’m tempted to buy a couple of humorous or semi-humorous Doctor Who non-fiction books from the 90s.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am nostalgic for the fandom of the 90s, when fandom seemed to be about being either super-literate and analytical about the programme or mercilessly making fun of it (out of love).  At the time, Doctor Who wasn’t on TV and seemed destined never to return.  The BBC had minimal interest in brand management and Doctor Who Magazine and Virgin Publishing (who had the licence to produce Doctor Who-related books) were given a huge amount of freedom, far more than producers of any kind of spin-off merchandise usually get.

Doctor Who: The Completely Useless Encyclopedia was essentially a bunch of jokes about Doctor Who, Doctor Who merchandise and Doctor Who fandom, ordered alphabetically to look like an encyclopaedia.  It was spoofing Jean Marc Lofficier’s Programme Guide and related books The Universal Databank and The Terrestrial Index.  It’s going on eBay for about £5, lots of copies available, so it’s probably not that rare.  I have the follow-up book, Doctor Who: The Completely Unofficial Encyclopedia.  This is precious to me, as it spoofs the first couple of years of the new series (post-2005) and the merchandising frenzy that accompanied it.  By that stage, the BBC were much stricter about brand management and clamped down on that sort of thing (satire or even gentle spoofing or affectionate mockery), which is probably why the book wasn’t so much as mentioned in Doctor Who Magazine.  I came across it by chance in Forbidden Planet, the science fiction bookshop.

However, the book I’m really thinking of buying is The Dis-Continuity Guide.  This came out a couple of years before Doctor Who: The Completely Useless Encyclopedia and was really the first Doctor Who non-fiction book not to take the programme totally seriously.  It had some serious material (capsule reviews of every story to date, suggestions of their inspiration, quotable dialogue, attempts to smooth out the programme’s most notorious continuity errors and establish a consistent future history) with much sillier stuff (quotably bad dialogue, double entendres, technobabble, goofs, fashion disasters and more).   Some of the reviews were snarky too; one story, dull and the 70s equivalent of woke, is described as “like watching socially-aware paint dry”.  To me, it’s the epitome of 90s fandom: very serious and very silly at once, utterly reverent and taking the mickey simultaneously.  I don’t own either book; at the time, I borrowed them from my oldest friend.

The Dis-Continuity Guide goes for quite a hefty price on eBay, but someone is selling a copy, along with two books I don’t want (Jean Marc Lofficier’s aforementioned The Universal Databank and The Terrestrial Index)) and one that’s vaguely interesting (Lofficier’s book on unmade Doctor Who films) for £9.99 plus postage.  Really I ought to buy them just for resell value.  However, I can’t quite bring myself to buy even more books at the moment.

I am also worried about being disappointed.  The Television Companion, which I bought for £2 a few months ago was another 90s nostalgia hit, but it disappointed me, with reviews that repeated the fan consensus of the 80s.  At the risk of totally alienating my readers, I should explain that for various reasons, the Doctor Who stories of the late 70s were superficially more humorous and less violent and scary than those of the mid-70s.  This was not at all to the liking of nascent fandom, largely made up of people in their teens and older, who remembered Jon Pertwee, if not William Hartnell, but convinced themselves, in the absence of videos and repeats, that in those far-off days the programme was a Serious Drama and not a children’s/family programme and that the new episodes were a childish betrayal of the legacy.  Then in the 80s there was a change of regime and episodes more to their liking were made (followed a while later by a massive decline in quality and viewers, which may or may not be a direct result).  Then, in the 90s, a new generation of fans who had grown up on the late 70s stories started championing those stories as intelligent, proto-postmodern and simply more entertaining than those of the 80s.  They also saw the series as a family entertainment programme and not some kind of Serious Drama.

This is the fan era I walked into around 1996, just as the tide was turning.  When I got to see these late 70s stories (which were only just being released on VHS perhaps because they were so unpopular initially) in the coming years, I came to side with the revisionists who loved them, although I do love some of the 1980s stories too: life is complicated, and so is Doctor Who.

Despite first being published in 1998, The Television Companion is very much in the 1980s Serious Drama camp, its analysis section bolstered by quotes from reviews from fanzines – not a bad idea, but most of the fanzines are those of the 80s, not the 90s.  It’s predictable and annoying in parts.

I know there are more up-to-date non-fiction Doctor Who works out there that I haven’t read and might enjoy: fanzine collections or the massive and still-being-published Black Archive cultural studies books on individual stories, which I’ve never even got around to reading, not even the volume written by my friend!  (I think these are written by and for “aca-fans,” fans working in academia in fields like media studies and cultural studies.  I’m not exactly a fit for that group and feel that that’s another boat I perhaps missed.)  That said, I feel less and less interested in what fans think these days as I often think differently.  Instead, I feel drawn nostalgically to my adolescence, the style if not the content, even though I know it’s bound to disappoint, and even though I own far too many books already.

I probably should just spend £13 on the book; I can always resell it for £40…

The Civil Wedding

Work today was dull and very quiet as J wasn’t in the office. I did get to go to the bank. I went into the charity shop on the way home from work (despite having acquired several new books in New York) and bought a copy of the third Harry Potter book for £1, which was good. Otherwise, things are quiet although my uncle is coming to stay for the weekend, and my aunt for a whole week, which I’m slightly nervous about, as I really feel I need a quiet pause after my civil wedding New York trip and before the many, many things I still have to do in the near future. Regardless, I don’t have much to say about today, so I will write up my New York trip/wedding.

Tuesday 23 August

I flew to New York. I got through the check in and security at Heathrow Airport in the morning, but found the whole experience very overwhelming. The crowds, the noise, the invasiveness of security checks, the difficulties I had communicating with staff because of sensory overload and processing issues… I decided that before my next trip I will buy a “invisible disability” lanyard [I’ve just checked and these are actually called hidden disability lanyards]. It has no legal status and may not do much, but it might alert the staff to the fact that I might look lost or overwhelmed, need to be spoken to patiently and clearly or need instructions repeated. It’s kind of depressing that I’m that disabled, though, and that not everyone will recognise it. I would probably only wear it at the airport and similar places; I can cope with everyday shopping and the like.

I texted my parents to tell them this, and in the resulting WhatsApp conversation, “invisible disability lanyard” became “invisibility lanyard” (I guess because of autocorrect), which I think I would like more.

I had some awkward interactions on the plane too, an awkward attempt to get past a stewardess in a narrow aisle where I panicked and asked if I could squeeze past her instead of just waiting for her to go past me, and an Israeli guy who asked me about kosher food in Hebrew without my being able to hear what he was saying over the plane noise, or to understand more than a few words of what I did hear of his Hebrew or to know what his personal kashrut standards are to judge whether he would eat the food or not. Beyond that, I was masked (although it was not compulsory and few other people were), which just made things worse as it was impossible to smile and seem open and friendly.

To my surprise, I got through immigration quickly. When I went in January, the immigration officer seemed suspicious of me, and I got flustered and struggled to remember things (autism lanyard needed again). This time the officer seemed bored and uninterested in me, which I suppose was good. I didn’t get a headache on the plane, perhaps because I bought a lot of water at the airport, but I did feel sick in the taxi to the hotel. I listened to ABBA to drown out the loop of TV adverts being played in the taxi and tried to shut my eyes to avoid seeing the little TV (why are video screens everywhere these days? Really not good for those of us who get overloaded easily), although looking out the window too much worsened the travel sickness.

When I got to the hotel I had a nice view over the East River and one of the bridges as well as the streets far below. I was on the fourteenth floor (actually the thirteenth, but not labelled as such) and at that height even New York traffic seemed peaceful. I met with E, who was still too sick from COVID to come to meet me at the airport, and we did some shopping and went for dinner at a pita place (well, I had dinner; she wasn’t hungry). There was a Modern Orthodox-looking guy there who I guessed was the owner and a Haredi-looking one who seemed like the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor). They had an argument and I really thought they were going to start trading blows, but they pulled back from the brink, at least while we were there. I got to bed about 11.30pm, which seemed early, but to me it was 4.30am BST.

Wednesday 24 August

I slept badly. The pillow was uncomfortable, the air conditioning was too loud and I woke with a slight headache that lasted intermittently all day. E and I tried to go to The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, but it was shut all week. Then we tried to go to the Metropolitan Museum, but it turned out to be shut on Wednesdays. By this time E was feeling unwell and my headache was getting worse, so we went to E’s apartment, ate takeaway pizza and watched Doctor Who.

Thursday 25 August

This was another headachey day. I had insomnia in the night as well as a headache and woke at 5.50am feeling very hot. I had to get up early, but not that early, but I couldn’t get back to sleep.

We went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau to get our wedding licence, and I felt really happy. I had seen the civil wedding merely as a legal technicality, but from this point I was really excited about it. After getting the licence E and I wandered around the nearby area, which was Chinatown. It was interesting looking at the Chinese shops, including live lobsters and crabs. We moved into more of a hipster area where we knew there was a kosher pickle shop (yes, a shop that sells only pickled vegetables) and an adjoining kosher pickle restaurant (yes, all the items on the menu involve pickled vegetables). We ate there on my last trip too and liked it. You wouldn’t want to eat there every day, but it was fun. We had lunch, on the way passing the only yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) left on the Lower East Side, which I think was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s yeshivah, and we browsed a second-hand bookshop (yes, we both like bookshops a lot).

We went to an open air rooftop Italian restaurant for dinner (E still only eats outdoors in restaurants). It was nice and my ravioli was good, but the portions were small and my headache had got quite bad and was threatening to turn into a full-blown migraine, so we went back to E’s apartment and watched Doctor Who again. After a while I went back to my hotel room. The headache was easing, but I pottered around the room without really doing anything until late as I often do when recovering from a headache.

Friday and Saturday 27 August

On Friday I massively overslept, perhaps unsurprisingly. E and I did Shabbat (Sabbath) food shopping and not much else, aside from just hanging out together. We spent most of Shabbat together too. We had bought some sushi. Due to a misunderstanding between us about what constitutes a “roll” of sushi (one little morsel or a whole bunch of them together before cutting — I admit that I was incorrect here), we ended up with a LOT of sushi, but it was very nice. We read a lot and talked. I didn’t get a headache, which I suspect was because I didn’t wear my tzitzit (fringed under-garment religious Jewish men wear) and undershirt (tzitzit should not be worn directly against the skin). I did get a bit of a stomach ache in the evening, though.

Sunday 28 August

I had a weird dream that I was in school with one of my science teachers. I had forgotten my books or homework and felt I needed to apologise as I used to be efficient, but was now diagnosed autistic so I couldn’t be efficient any more. There is, I suspect, a lot to unpack here about my feelings of incompetence currently contrasted with my high achievement at school, my feelings that that incompetence is permanent despite my history of academic success, and my desire to apologise to people, now and in the past, for my actions and especially for my autism.

After I got up, E and I went shopping, but E was soon overwhelmed with COVID exhaustion, so we went back to her apartment and I read while she worked. In the evening, her parents arrived in New York and came to see us. I had only met her mother briefly before this and I only knew her father from Zoom. I tried to speak more than I usually do, but I’m not sure how well I managed. I feel that I’m more than a little like her father, which I hope is good.

Monday 29 August — The Civil Wedding

Monday was the big day. E and I went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau again to get married! Because of continuing COVID provisions, only one person was allowed in with us (as the witness), so E’s mother came in and her father waited outside (my parents decided not to come due to Mum’s heart attack). We had a long wait, then filled in some more paperwork, then waited again, in the wrong place (either because we were misinformed or because it was so noisy that we could not hear the correct information) before being summoned into a secular chapel.

The chapel was a fairly empty room with a sofa and a lectern fitted with an anti-COVID screen. E and I vowed to love and cherish each other, which I was pleased about, as vows and saying “I do” are not part of the traditional Jewish wedding service. The service lasted about one minute. There is video footage E’s mother recorded of E bouncing up and down with joy and me smiling and standing a bit rigidly before hugging. This quickly went around the family WhatsApp groups; apparently one of my cousins said I looked really happy, but like I didn’t know what to do. This was pretty much true. I’m glad I realised I was happy, as alexithymia means I often have to deduce my emotions from my actions, but I’ve been able to recognise happiness for the last few days.

Then, instead of enjoying the day, we had to wait some more to get an extended marriage certificate, and then go to another building to get that notarised, as the British Home Office requires a more detailed marriage certificate than is usually issued by the State of New York (possibly I’m getting some of the legal terms wrong here, but you get the idea). When we got the certificate notarised, the queue for the notary was next to the queue for divorce papers, which was somewhat sobering, the secular equivalent of the Jewish custom of breaking a glass at a wedding. We possibly also need an apostille, which is apparently another certificate so that the Home Office will accept the marriage certificate. However, it was not clear if we need this and it would entail a wait of several weeks, so we decided to leave that for now.

I spent most of the day just following E, as she was much more on top of what we needed to do, plus I couldn’t really hear anything in the Marriage Bureau because it was so noisy and I was having sensory overload and processing issues again. I’m glad the actual wedding was quiet.

On the way back to E’s apartment, we passed a free bookshelf, and I picked up a graphic novel called everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too (sic) by jomny sun (sic). It’s a good day when a free book isn’t remotely the most exciting or joyous thing that happens.

In the evening, we went for dinner with some of E’s friends and family. I was nervous about doing something so social with so many people I didn’t know (eight people, plus E’s parents who I don’t know that well). However, I had a really good time. I tried to speak a bit, admittedly with mixed success. But it was very enjoyable. Everyone seemed very nice and welcoming. Slightly surreally, one person asked me to explain what A-levels and O-levels are, as he watches a lot of Inspector Morse and apparently the terms come up a lot.

E and I watched some more Doctor Who afterwards, which was a nice end to the day.

Tuesday 30 August

Tuesday was a somewhat sad day, as I had to return home. To mitigate it somewhat, we went to the now-open Book Cellar. I bought five books for $10 (actually $10.07, but they waived the change), one for E and four for myself. The four I bought myself were a science fiction short story anthology, a warped-but-readable copy of James Bond novel Live and Let Die (a bargain at $1 due to the warping, probably the result of water-damage), a copy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Man is Not Alone and a hardback book on the eight vice-presidents of the United States who became president as a result of their predecessor dying. The latter was another bargain: $1 for a hardback, and a signed one at that[1]. The shop assistant was rather sad that someone gave away a signed copy; that it ended up on the $1 clearance shelf was adding insult to injury. I had wanted to read up on American history, plus I have a weird interest in politicians who end up in power unexpectedly due to death, scandal or political machinations ending the career of their predecessors, so this was really a good find.

E and I hung out together until it was time for me to go. We were both sad at having to leave so soon, but, given that I have limited holiday time and we don’t know when E will get her visa to come to the UK, it made sense to save some of my holiday days for another visit later in the year. JFK seemed even busier than Heathrow and security was a bit of a nightmare, including sniffer dogs (searching for drugs or explosives? I wondered). After getting past security, I listed to my playlist of James Bond music, which made mass transit, economy-class travel seem much more exciting than it actually is. Then I nearly missed the flight because I was confused about when I should board.

The plane sat on the tarmac on the runway for about an hour before we took off. I’m not sure why. The outward plane had been delayed too, caught up the time, nearly landed, then flew off again because of something on the runway. It makes me worry a bit about JFK airport. I read the everyone’s a aliebn book in the hour of waiting. I have mixed feelings. It wants to a be a twenty-first century The Little Prince, but it’s not as good. It’s a bit twee. There’s a lot about the importance of love, friendship, creativity and self-expression, as you would expect from this type of book, but there’s nothing more. I don’t know if that’s a problem I have with the book or the culture that produced it. And the ‘cute’ incorrect spelling becomes annoying very quickly (my brain just autocorrected everything after a while).

It was a night flight. I can’t sleep on planes, so I read until I was too tired and then rested and, in desperation, watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, which was even less funny than I remembered (I feel the series presents a very selective and somewhat negative view of people with Asperger’s, even though none of the characters officially has it). My parents met me at the station, I struggled through a day of jet lag without falling asleep, and that’s pretty much it.

E and I feel really weird now. We feel that we should be together now, but we aren’t, and we don’t have even a vague idea of when we will be together again. I probably feel weirder than E, as I’m back with my parents and feeling very much not like a mature and married man and more like an autistic man-child again. Nevertheless, we’re both really happy to have got this far. There probably is much more to say about processing the emotions of the civil wedding and all it entails (which I have only just begun doing, realistically) and I might write more over the coming days, but it’s 1am and I should be getting to bed.

[1] Signed by the author and not one of the presidents, sadly.

Existential Spirituality

I wonder sometimes about my spiritual life. I feel I have more of a religious life than a spiritual one. I would like to have a more spiritual life, but it’s hard to know where to start, especially from inside a major religion — where do you go when you’re already where you’re supposed to be, and don’t want to leave, but aren’t fully fulfilled? I want more spirituality, not less Judaism. Further, I find ‘spirituality’ a vague and unhelpful term, and Hebrew words like ruchniut aren’t any better.

I used to read a lot of Jewish religious existentialists (not all Orthodox). I found Jewish existentialism an approach that resonated with me more than many approaches in the Orthodox world, so out of curiosity, I searched online for stuff on existentialist spirituality, despite knowing that secular existentialism is very different to religious existentialism.

I found an article on existential spirituality in psychotherapy the other day that says the following:

There are four primary existential ways of being-in-the-world. They include:

  1. Umwelt: Being-with-nature or the physical world.
  2. Mitwelt: Being-with-others or the social world.
  3. Eigenwelt: Being-with-oneself or the world of the self.
  4. Uberwelt: Being-with-the-spiritual or over world.

Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), and May et al. (1958) described the first three of these existential ways of being. van Deurzen (1988) added the fourth.

I do struggle with several of these areas. I’m able to experience nature well when I’m in a natural setting, but I struggle to find one in the suburbs. It might be good for me to walk more often in a little area of land left wild at the edge of the nearby park (although it only takes five or ten minutes to walk the length of it).

Skipping number two for the moment, I am a lot more OK at being with myself than before. I still have low self-esteem, something worsened by autism-induced mishaps, and some social anxiety and catastrophising, but I’m mostly comfortable being inside my head. I feel positive about my sense of integrity, which ties into my Jewish practice as I practise Judaism less to feel “positive” or “spiritual” in the moment and more because overall I have a feeling of integrity and rightness from acting in accordance with my religious beliefs and as part of a three thousand year old community.

The really hard areas are two and four. I think being with others is very important (this is perhaps the biggest thing I take from Jewish existentialism), and it does help me when I find a way I can interact with others well, but finding that way can be hard. I definitely missed volunteering the last couple of weeks when it was on a break and I felt depressed until it restarted yesterday. The downside is that I feel depressed and burnt out today, which may be cause and effect or may be coincidence.

The fact that I go to shul (synagogue) a lot less than I did seven or eight years ago is probably a negative here too, from a social point of view as much as anything. Communal prayer does create social bonds. In recent years I have gone to shul a lot less, as a result of sleep disruption, social anxiety, changing communities and then COVID. I’m now totally out of the habit of regular shul attendance and struggling to get back into it.

I think my marriage to E might be the biggest positive change I can make here. Following the Talmud, I see marriage as the primary model of a loving relationship (the Talmud sees “Love your neighbour as yourself” applying particularly to marriage) and I think the intimacy (emotional as well as physical) there will help me feel more spiritually-fulfilled. I think already our emotional intimacy has led me to feel better in this way. It is hard at the moment, though, when we are so far apart and know it will be so long until we get married. E said it feels like we should be married now and our current status is a weird aberration, and I agree with her. E also thinks that God wants us to marry so I can help her be more religious and so she can help me to have more fun, which may be true too.

Connecting with God directly is harder. I struggle to connect with God through Torah study, except on occasions when I suddenly gain some new insight. That doesn’t happen often, but maybe I have to do a lot of study to provide “scaffolding” for those moments of connection. But often it’s easy to forget God while studying Torah and just focus on the text as a text. Possibly I should try to get back to reading something inspirational or about personal growth every day.

I have improved my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer lately, but even then it can be hard to concentrate on God. I can focus on God or on the words of the prayer, but it’s hard to focus on both at once.

I guess a lot of the problem is the subjectivity of what constitutes a spiritual experience or a connection with an invisible God. Maybe I’m trying to over-analyse.

***

I got a phone call from A, the person who seems to be a middleman between me and the psychiatrist. He turned out to be a psychiatric nurse. He said that before my medication was reviewed by the psychiatrist with a view to reducing it, could I tell him what happened about the autism assessment I was referred for in 2019, as they had no further information. I was pretty shocked he didn’t know about my diagnosis. In fact, I don’t think he even knew I was referred for an autism assessment, as he thought it might have been for ADHD (the hospital assesses for both). I offered to scan the report and send it to them, which was fortunate as he said he could write to the GP, but that would take weeks (!). You would think that an advantage of a single, national healthcare provider would be some kind of shared data base, at least within the locality. Honestly, this service is just so useless.

***

I was going to go for a pre-wedding haircut after this, but it started raining really heavily and I decided to go after work tomorrow instead. It’s still quite hot and I think the rain and heat/humidity combination along with the disruption to my plans brought my mood down. I am nervous of having my hair cut by a stranger again. I’ve always found haircuts intrusive, probably for autistic reasons about personal space and sensory stimuli, but for many years now I’ve had tremor in some social situations and haircuts are a major trigger, indeed, they were the first trigger when it started. I hope it doesn’t happen tomorrow.

I forgot to go to shul (I want to go on Wednesday evenings), although I wouldn’t really have had much time to spare. Instead, I submitted my first novel to two more agents, both UK-based. I’m trying to focus on UK agents at the moment. One is Jewish, but is super-influential and well-connected, so I probably won’t be accepted by him. To be honest, I suspect all the agencies on the list I’m using are too big for me and that I need some small boutique agency. E disagrees with me here; I hope she’s right.

***

I got sent £3.34 from Lulu.com, which means someone bought my non-fiction Doctor Who book!

Otherstide[1]

Well, it’s cooler than it was, but I still came home really sweaty, even though I had the air conditioner on at work. Work was dullish. It was a bit weird being in the office without J. I was the only person in our office, although there were a couple of other people in the building. I would normally be worried the phone would ring and I would have to deal with it, but J still had the office phone diverting to his mobile, as he does when he’s working from home, so there wasn’t any risk of that happening. I don’t know how many mistakes I made; I printed a couple of pages by accident, but that’s a fairly minor thing, and I caught someone else’s mistake (sending us paperwork intended for someone else), albeit not before I’d wasted some time trying to deal with it.

I came home to discover that the NHS psychiatrist has decided that because of “previous complexity in [my] presentation”, I should stay on my psychiatric medication at the current levels, presumably for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to come off my meds completely and I accept I will be taking meds for a long time, but I would like to try to reduce the clomipramine given it has some unpleasant side-effects and that I’m on quite a high dose still (I think). There was no indication that the psychiatrist (who has never met me and is basing this on my notes) realised that my depression seems to have been strongly linked to the problems of being an undiagnosed, and frequently burnt out, autistic and that things are much better now I have a diagnosis. I know my mood dipped when I tried to stop my olanzapine, but even given that, I managed to significantly reduce the amount of olanzapine I was taking.

E was furious about this and my parents weren’t much more pleased. I just greeted it with a resigned “typical NHS” shrug, but they have all convinced me that I should at least try to speak to one of the two GPs I have seen before from our practice, although it’s hard to get an appointment and technically we aren’t supposed to ask for a particular GP. E asked about seeing a psychiatrist privately. I’ve done that before when I’ve run into problems with the NHS, and it costs £££. E thinks it would be worth it if I could end up healthier in body and perhaps mind, which I guess is true, although I’m not sure I agree that we should divert money from our wedding to pay for it (we haven’t had the talk with my parents yet about who is paying for what and how much — contrary to what you might think, my parents are willing to pay a lot and it’s E who is sceptical).

I wanted to do some writing when I got home, but after I’d showered, I had the “brain squashed” feeling I associate with autistic exhaustion. I watched an episode of The Simpsons instead (The Joy of Sect, where the Simpsons join a cult that isn’t at all based on Scientology, no). Pleasingly, it had a reference to one of my favourite James Bond stunts (from Live and Let Die, where Roger Moore’s stuntman really did run over the backs of a bunch of live crocodiles[2], in a sequence that would doubtless be unfilmable that way today, due to animal welfare concerns, and perhaps also insurance issues for the stuntman) followed immediately by a The Prisoner spoof sequence. Geek heaven!

***

Well, today is my thirty-ninth birthday. It will be a special year, as (barring acts of God) E and I will get married. That makes me feel more positive than on many other birthdays for the last decade or so. Other than that, I can’t find any great significance in the number thirty-nine. There are thirty-nine forbidden primary labours on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I’ve seen it argued that that should really be seen as forty (thirty-nine forbidden actions plus the one command to remember Shabbat).

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner and we (me and my parents) had dinner with them in the garden. It was getting cooler, and by the end of the evening we were feeling a little bit cold for the first time in ages. We had takeaway, a mixture of pizza and fish. I had pizza. I wanted to try something new and had a pizza with vegetarian sausage, real meat sausage not being eaten with cheese according to the Jewish dietary laws, but the taste was a little disappointing and I’m not sure why real sausage is a popular topping. So much for trying new things (says the Aspie). The chocolate cake was nice though. My parents lit candles in the shape of the letters of my name on it. Unfortunately, they’ve been using the same candles for some years now and the wax is half burnt down and misshapen, which made the whole thing seem a bit silly.

My BIL arrived when my parents were picking up my sister from the Tube station (she had been working in town) as well as the food so I had to make small talk with him for some time. I think I did OK. He appreciated my likening the Conservative Party leadership election process to reality TV (reality TV is more believable, though[3]).

I did get some nice books as presents: Yael Ziegler’s Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World (commentary on Eichah/Lamentations for the Koren Maggid Tanakh series), which I am glad to get in time for Tisha B’Av; Faith Without Fear: Unresolved Issues in Modern Orthodoxy by Rabbi Michael J. Harris; and The Great Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert. The latter is one of those famous science fiction books (or series of books) that I’ve never read. I was intimidated by the length, even before I saw the telephone directory-sized volume my sister and BIL gave me (and this is just the first trilogy; there’s a second one!). Still, my future in-laws insisted I ought to read it, so hopefully this will give me something to talk to them about in the future. Probably not when I go for the civil marriage in August, though, as I’m not going to read this while still reading The Third Reich in Power, and that will keep me going for quite a while longer. One doorstop at a time is enough.

Faith Without Fear is a book of essays on Modern Orthodoxy. One of them is titled Modern Orthodoxy and Haredi Orthodoxy: Heirs to Historical Jewish Tradition or New Departures? Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences), this has been on my mind over the last few days, as Haredi commenters on the Rationalist Judaism blog tend to insist that Haredi Judaism is the only “Torah-true” form of Judaism and that Modern Orthodoxy is a disingenuous cop-out. I think this is nonsense, but don’t have the time to marshal a serious counter-argument, so it’s good that this will do it for me. I wouldn’t make the argument to the Haredi commenters, though, as if you quote a secular historical source, it will be dismissed as biased, whereas if you quote an actual Haredi rabbi, you’ll be told he “Isn’t really Haredi” or even that “There is no such thing as Haredi Judaism, it exists only in the mind of its enemies.” You can’t argue with people like that.

I did think of writing an essay called Why I am not Haredi today, but don’t really have the time for that, or anyone to try to sell it too. It wouldn’t be accepted on the kiruv (outreach) site I’ve written for in the past. It probably would have gone on Hevria, although they wouldn’t have paid me.

Anyway, I had a good time with my family, but I wish E could have been here too, and I feel like I need alone time now (or possibly I’m crashing from the sugar in the cake), but it’s really time for bed as I have work tomorrow.

[1] This is possibly my most esoteric Doctor Who reference. It’s to The New Adventures novel Lungbarrow, a novel I’ve always loved despite its flaws, and despite not being the biggest New Adventures fan.

[2] The crocodiles were somewhat sedated, but very real and conscious.

[3] Let’s not forget that Boris Johnson became famous as a panellist on Have I Got News for You when he was just a journalist. Incidentally, I always felt that they should have done a special edition of HIGNFY during the Labour antisemitism scandal with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell as guest panellists called Have I Got Jews for You.

Favourite Authors and More

Sorry, WordPress has messed up the formatting of this post and I don’t have time to fix it before Shabbat. I have the usual Friday exhaustion feelings. I woke up feeling exhausted and only really felt functional after lunch. I feel bad that I do relatively little paid work during the week and still get so tired. I do things on my non-work days, of course, (volunteering, novel writing, stuff around the house), but it doesn’t feel ‘enough’ to justify this exhaustion. I  still wonder if this is an depression/antidepressant side-effect issue, an autistic exhaustion issue or some kind of sleep issue. Today the doctors at the sleep clinic were supposed to decide if and how they should help me, so hopefully I’ll hear something there soon, as I do increasingly feel this is a sleep issue that I could have dealt with ages ago if I’d realised. I know my GP felt that waking up as tired/more tired than I went to bed most days sounds more like a poor quality sleep issue than anything else. *** The “something will stop E and I getting married” anxieties are lower today, but when I got up I had some of the the “I’m going to be pushing forty when I get married, and that’s far too old to learn how to have sex, and how to enjoy it, and to help E enjoy it, so why I am I even trying?” thoughts. This is probably the voice of the kids who bullied me at school, the ones who thought it would be hilarious to send me a prank love note or Valentine’s Card on the grounds that no one could possibly fancy me in real life.  I have to tell myself that I don’t care what they think, and that I love E, and being intimate with her will be amazing regardless of how technically “proficient” I am, and that middle aged and older people do still have, and enjoy having, sex, regardless of what the media says. I don’t want to overstress the anxiety, because it’s mostly under control.  It can flare up for a short while, but generally not for long. I have some coping strategies now, and some hard-copy reminders of those strategies in case the anxiety is so intense that I forget to use them. I know many people have much more intense and long-lasting anxiety than that (I’ve had that in the past), but it is frustrating when I want to concentrate on moving on to marriage and being able to say to myself, “This IS going to happen, everything will be fine.”  I guess I just have to keep telling myself that until I fully believe it. *** A lot of my worries lately (lately? My whole life!) have been about trying to find or to make a place for myself in the world — the frum (religious Jewish) world and the wider world. I used to think I had to magically find an appropriate place for myself; now, it feels more like I have to make one, but that perhaps I can succeed. Franz Kafka is one of my three favourite fiction authors, along with Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick. I don’t re-read him as much as the others (actually, lately I re-read a lot less in general, to try to get through my ‘To Read’ pile), but he made a big impression on me. His unfinished novel, The Castle (apparently the German title can mean with The Castle or The Key) is about a Land Surveyor who is summoned to a castle, but when he gets to the village that surrounds it, no one knows who he is or believes he has been summoned, and he isn’t allowed into the castle. The novel breaks off partway through, but apparently we know that Kafka intended it to end with the Land Surveyor, on his deathbed, being given temporary leave to remain in the village. It’s a bittersweet ending, implying that we can make room for ourselves in the world, but not necessarily as much as we would want or when we want. I think of it a lot when I think about making a place for myself in the world, and the frum world. Interestingly, when I applied to be on the emerging writers’ programme, the application form asked for me to write about my favourite authors. I said that my three favourite authors didn’t really influence my writing directly. I wrote instead about being inspired by Chaim Potok (writing about Orthodox Jews) and George Orwell (his essays, rather than his novels, and his clear prose style rather than the content). However, I think there is some influence from Kafka and Dick, and to a lesser extent Borges, in that they wrote about ordinary people caught up in strange and disturbing situations, as I do, it’s just that their situations are more fantastic/science fictional whereas mine are more realistic. But the effect I’m aiming for is probably the same, to show people that the world can be strange and threatening. *** I find myself more shocked my the assassination of Japan’s former Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, than by the recent shooting in the US, even though I can’t claim to follow Japanese politics closely. It’s got to a stage where American shootings are no longer shocking, sadly; upsetting and anger-provoking, but not shocking. But violent crime is rare in Japan and it feels as if something serious has changed for the worse in the world if something like this can happen there. *** The rest of this post is about Doctor Who, so feel free to skip if that’s of no interest. Incidentally, E says I get really animated when I talk about Doctor Who in real life, so it’s a probably a good thing that she finds that endearing and not offputtingly geeky. E and I have been watching classic Doctor Who again, this time from the 1970 season, Jon Pertwee’s first in the title role. It’s a season I rate highly, so I’m glad that E is enjoying it so far. It’s a strange season in some ways, a lot less humorous and whimsical than most Doctor Who, past and present, and more adult, not in a sex and violence sense, but in the sense of more complex characters and themes that ask difficult questions. While I hesitate to call any Doctor Who ‘realistic,’ it does have more of a sense of verisimilitude than most. Watching Doctor Who and the Silurians in a post-COVID world undermines some of that verisimilitude — the whole plot thread about “Oh no, there’s a terrible plague! Oh good, we’ve cured it in a couple of hours!” seems unrealistic now (I mean, I didn’t find it realistic in the past, but now it just seems laughable). That said, the scenes of dozens of people dropping dead in Central London are pretty harrowing for what was still largely seen as a children’s programme at the time. I’m glad that COVID never came to that. E suggested that Dr Lawrence, the paranoid director of a nuclear research centre who is convinced that the plague is a hoax to remove him from his position, is the original anti-vaxxer, and it’s hard to disagree with that. He comes to an appropriately nasty end.

“Everyone’s a superhero, everyone’s a Captain Kirk”: Diversity and Me

News first, please scroll down if you just want the stuff on diversity.

The last few days have been busy, although there isn’t a huge amount out of the ordinary to note here.

I forgot to mention in my last post that on Wednesday we had a Zoom call involving myself, E, my parents and E’s parents. It went pretty well, especially considering I thought there were at least three cultural divides that might be difficult to bridge. The two sets of parents even want to Zoom again soon.

On Friday, as well as my normal pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, I worked on my novel for an hour and a half. I would have liked to have worked on it even longer, but I was getting eye strain.

In shul (synagogue) on Friday night, Rabbi L came up to me and asked if we had made progress with the wedding, which was nice. Dad also told him about Mum’s recent health issue, which he was unaware of. He was shocked and concerned.

Shabbat was fairly good. I managed to avoid sleeping in the afternoon (although I did lie down for twenty minutes), going instead for a brisk walk and doing fifty minutes of Torah study. I went to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Service) only. I tried to get to bed soon after the end of Shabbat, but still ended up going to bed at 1am. It’s difficult when Shabbat doesn’t finish until after 10.30pm.

Today was a somewhat difficult day. I woke up late, feeling drained after the last couple of days and struggled to get going. Unfortunately, I had a lot to do, looking at flights and hotels for my trip to New York to have a civil wedding, which will allow E to apply for a UK spouse visa for our religious wedding. In addition, my sister and brother-in-law were here. In the event, I only had time to look at the hotels. I didn’t have time for a run, unfortunately, or to work on my novel. I guess the wedding is going to take a lot of time from my novel for the foreseeable future (just don’t ask what happens if I get accepted on the emerging writers’ programme tomorrow).

Shul Minchah

Torah 50m

Today was a somewhat difficult day. I woke up late, feeling drained after the last couple of days and struggled to get going. Unfortunately, I had a lot to do, looking at flights and hotels for my trip to New York to have a civil wedding, which will allow E to apply for a UK spouse visa for our religious wedding. In addition, my sister and brother-in-law were here. In the event, I only had time to look at the hotels. I didn’t have time for a run, unfortunately, or to work on my novel. I guess the wedding is going to take a lot of time from my novel for the foreseeable future (just don’t ask what happens if I get accepted on the emerging writers’ programme tomorrow).

I somehow avoided eating rugelach when my sister and BIL were here. I am serious about losing some weight, despite the lack of time for running.

My sister and brother-in-law brought their wedding photo album. This has finally arrived, four and a half years after the wedding (Just. Don’t. Ask). It reminds me why I don’t like big parties, which I guess is good as E and I plan our small wedding.

My mood sank in the evening, under the weight of peopling and wedding planning. My Dad said he would do some searching for me tomorrow for plane fares, which will help me. I feel bad that when I’m struggling (like today), I find it hard to communicate with him for various reasons that aren’t really either of our faults, and we end up getting annoyed with each other.

***

(I should say that I didn’t have anywhere near as much time as I wanted to spend on the second half of the post, but I just want to vent about this anyway, even if it could be better written/argued.)

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things recently. One is about the trend towards greater diversity of representation in the media. This was partly prompted by the latest Doctor Who Magazine. The current Doctor is the first woman Doctor; her successor will be the first black Doctor, and there was recently an official Doctor Who podcast story written by a trans woman and starring a trans actress as a trans character. There was a lot in the article about the podcast about how good it is for LGBT people to see themselves represented positively. It made me think about the way I have seen myself in fiction, or not, over the years.

There is a bit more representation of autism than there used to be. I can think of The Imitation Game, which was a good film, although it left me very upset (it was one of the things that made me think I really am on the spectrum despite being initially assessed as neurotypical; it also made me feel I would be lonely and miserable forever as a result). On the other hand, I thought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a intent on making autistics look stupid and unfeeling, although the narrator was a lot less functional than I am.

There is some representation of secular Jews, mainly on American TV, where there are more Jews generally e.g. The West Wing. They aren’t allowed to show more than a little interest in Jewish ideas though. When The West Wing did an (unrealistic) plot-line about the President solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Josh and Toby didn’t seem more emotionally involved than any of the other characters, despite being Jewish. The only real time Jewishness was involved in a substantial way was an episode about capital punishment, which had Toby’s rabbi argue against it. I didn’t really watch Friends, but several characters were Jewish, but not really Jewish. They were Jewish in a safe and non-threatening way, they didn’t do weird rituals (OK, the Chanukah Armadillo was weird, but that was deliberate).

Ivanova in Babylon 5 was not very religious either, but we saw her light Chanukah candles in one episode, and there was an episode that had a sub-plot about her sitting shivah for her late father, which was quite surprising in a secular science-fiction show.

Orthodox Jews are less prominent. They are usually shown as narrow-minded and backwards. (Incidentally, pretty much all Orthodox Jews on TV and film are Hasidic, even if this makes no sense.) The Attractive Young Rabbi was a Radio 4 sitcom about a female Reform rabbi living next-door to an Orthodox rabbi. I didn’t listen to more than a little bit of it, but I think the rabbis disagreed about everything, with the Orthodox rabbi presented to the audience as reactionary and wrong. I think his wife was more understanding because feminism or something. In reality, my oldest friend is the son of two Reform rabbis, male and female, who lived next-door to the local Orthodox rabbi, noted for being quite strict. My friend said they all got on well. I guess that makes for bad drama/comedy.

An exception was the 1970s Quatermass. Quatermass was a 1950s science fiction/horror series of serials. They revived it for a mini-series in the late 70s. There were a couple of Jewish characters in the 70s version. They mishandled pretty much every ritual and mispronounced every Yiddish word shown, but in a story built on binary divisions (young/old; superstition/science; irrationality/reason), they put Judaism on the science and reason team, for which I am grateful.

There are more representations of Judaism in novels now than previously e.g. Sisters of the Winter Wood. E has read more of these than I have, and finds the presentation of Orthodox culture variable.

I definitely think there is a problem that a significant minority of fictional Jews are in Holocaust stories, which does warp how both Jews and non-Jews see Jews past and present. There’s also an increasing tendency to universalise the Holocaust. Rather than seeing it as a specific crime directed at a specific culture because of a specific historical context, there’s a sense of “It could happen to anyone” and that (as Dara Horn argued in People Love Dead Jews), killing Jews is bad because it could lead on to normal people being killed too. As Horn argues, Holocaust fiction tends to focus on survivors, whereas the majority of Jews who were in the Holocaust were murdered. I think (although I haven’t done any real research) that Holocaust fiction also tends to focus on secular, westernised Jews from Western and Central Europe, rather than religious and Orthodox Eastern European Jews, even though the latter were again the majority of Holocaust victims..

I haven’t looked at other religions, but I think there’s a trend to see ‘open’ cultural expressions of religion as OK, but more traditional and more insular religious content as negative. Yaz in the last few seasons of Doctor Who is a Muslim, but she doesn’t do or believe much that’s religious, no mention of halal food and the only mention of prayer is in the context of her receiving Islamophobic insults on her way to the mosque. There is an episode about her grandmother marrying a Hindu with tragic consequences when her husband is killed by his fundamentalist brother. That there’s a type of religious identity that holds on to religious beliefs and practices strongly in a particularistic (non-syncretic) way, but which is open and tolerant towards the rest of the world isn’t really an idea that gets shown much.

The Doctor Who episode The God Complex did have a more religious and interesting Muslim character in Rita. It’s slightly weird that the Doctor Who character I connect with most religiously is a Muslim woman, which I guess gives the lie to the idea that we can only identify with people who are exact representations of ourselves.

Then there’s Zionists, who are increasingly only presented as racist land-grabbers who don’t belong in the Middle East. In America, I guess there are still some old-fashioned Mossad super-spies, like Ziva in NCIS. I’m going to leave this paragraph at that because I don’t want to get into an argument.

It also goes without saying that anyone even vaguely conservative on film or TV is absolutely Evil and usually in cahoots with Evil Big Business or Evil Religion (usually Christian or Jewish, sometimes Muslim). Big Business is always seen as conservative, even though in real-life many businesses are falling over themselves to be woke, particularly Big Tech, which is a big contributor to Democratic Party funds.

As for long-term celibates, don’t even bother looking. I was going to say that anyone celibate or sexually unsatisfied is likely to be either autistic, misogynistic, or an oppressed minority group in a conservative religious setting in need of liberation (woman, gay, etc.), but to be honest, I’m not sure if that’s even true. I think celibate people are pretty much not shown at all (I haven’t seen Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, but it sounds like it broadly fits the “sexist liberation” narrative).

Granted, this reflects my own weird interests and viewing patterns, which is mostly skewed to stuff from decades ago, but the impression I get from what I read and hear about modern shows is that these patterns still hold.

The thing I really want to stress is that I didn’t really care about this in the past. I assumed that Jews in particular were too small a population to really be noticed and didn’t object to their absence. Now the inattention of people very focused on representation (e.g. the makers of Doctor Who) makes me feel deliberately snubbed. I feel like there’s a list of “acceptable” identities in the Western media, and that most of the aspects of my identity aren’t on it, and in some cases are seen as primarily privileged and oppressive, which is not at all how I experience them. Now not being included seems like a calculated insult, which wasn’t the case twenty years ago. It feels like being a black trans lesbian is seen as normal or even praiseworthy, but being a celibate Orthodox Jew is something abnormal and shameful, and I’m not sure where that comes from or what we do about it, or how we can even label it ‘diversity.’

Chances of Rejection

I had a surprisingly busy day today. The scariest thing was phoning Rabbi B to move E and my wedding forward, but he didn’t answer the phone. I left a voice message asking him to phone me back, but I don’t know if he will. If he does, it will probably be tomorrow morning at work (his voicemail message says he works Monday to Wednesday and Thursday mornings), which may be a bit awkward. The situation is frustrating and I don’t know how to push it forward at the moment.

I do feel optimistic about getting married, but there’s a nagging fear that I’m going to get stuck in some kind of Waiting for Godot situation of constantly moving towards getting married, but never quite getting there.

***

Ashley gave me permission to quote the following discussion which we had on the comments section of her blog:

Luftmentsch: My question about CBT for social anxiety, which I haven’t really seen answered or even posed anywhere, is what if people really would reject you if they knew you better? What if you really are doing things that are considered socially unacceptable in your sub-culture? I feel this in particular in the frum world, but also in other places too, that some of my actions or beliefs would be socially unacceptable if people knew about them. It’s why I hide so much of my life, even on my blog.

Ashley: Regarding being unacceptable, I think CBT would probably consider a few things:

-How balanced is the thought? There probably are some people who will find what you think/do to be unacceptable, but are you overestimating the probability?

-Have you tested the belief? If it’s something that you’re expecting, then you’re already carrying that burden around with you. Testing it at least clears up some of the hypotheticals so you can make decisions based on what’s actually happening rather than what might happen.

-Is the behaviour associated with the belief serving you? Even if it is true that some people will reject you as being socially unacceptable; is hiding much of your life an acceptable price to pay to reduce the odds of that? To use a simpler example, traffic accidents are common, and you can greatly reduce the risk of being hit by a car by never leaving your house, but the pros of living your life without being housebound likely offset the risk of stepping outside.

Luftmentsch: Regarding my current, Haredi shul:

1) It’s very hard to tell how balanced some of the thoughts are. It can be hard to tell what people really believe, as opposed to what the rabbi tells them to believe, and I often find it hard to gauge what things are acceptable anyway. The previous rabbi of my shul was a surprisingly erudite person in many ways, but he was also a creationist who always the referred to the Enlightenment as “the ironically-named Enlightenment.” I’m not a creationist and I have a more positive view of the Enlightenment. Did other people in the community agree with me or with him? It is very hard to tell. Which brings me to

2) it’s hard to test without knowing what the consequences would be of being right (that people would disagree). Would they reject me? Throw me out of the community? I don’t know. I never had the guts to risk it.

3) Before E and I started dating again, I guess the price seemed worth it. I hoped people at shul would set me up with a “nice frum girl.” Over time, it became clear that I probably wouldn’t connect well with someone that my shul considered appropriately frum, if there even were any women my age still unmarried, and that no one had any intention of setting me up anyway (my paranoia said they had already sussed me out as an social and ideological deviant and were trying to keep me on the fringes of the community and especially away from single frum women). It still seemed worth staying, as I preferred praying there to any of the alternatives. But now I’m leaving to marry E, I find it more tiresome, particularly as the shul building works mean I’m not around the community anyway and find it harder to connect with them any more.

The Modern Orthodox community should be more welcoming, but I’m still scared to test things. Evolution and secular studies would be OK there, but I find it hard to tell what level of cultural involvement is permitted.

But I struggle even outside the frum community. I’m wary of showing off any breadth of knowledge to most people because I was bullied so much for it as a child. I can say I haven’t tested it with adults, but (a) I kind of did, because adults didn’t like me showing knowledge either when I was a child and (b) it’s hard to do the tests having failed them once, even if I might get different results now. And I don’t dare talk politics anywhere, in my experience most people I know have different thoughts and, as I don’t care that much about politics, it’s safer not to say anything than to out myself as different and see what response I get.

I could probably safely talk more about Doctor Who, given that it’s more popular now than when I grew up, but being bullied for liking it as a child has scarred me for life and stops me mentioning it to anyone now. I guess I like it being “mine” too.

(Of course, if my novel gets finished and published, it’s going to be boundary-pushing in a big way even in the Modern Orthodox world, and I’m not really happy about that.)

Ashley: I can definitely see how bullying would have a major impact.

It seems like it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to ever feel accepted anywhere while keeping a lot of things actively hidden, as any apparent signs of acceptance could easily be dismissed as contingent on continuing to hide the things that feel unacceptable.

Luftmentsch: That is pretty much how it has actually been for the past thirty or so years, except with a few trusted people e.g. E. I would like to challenge it, but the risk of losing the few friends and connections I do have always seems too great.

(End of quotes)

I would add to this discussion that the effects of childhood bullying and some other childhood stuff (which I don’t discuss here, but have spoken about in therapy) has left me feeling pretty broken and unlovable, like I can only be accepted if I pretend not to be myself, or even just efface myself, just don’t say anything, just sit there and try to be invisible. Autism probably just makes this worse. It is hard to know how to challenge this when the risks of losing the few friends and the little social standing in the frum community that I do have seems so great (although apparently I believe my muse justifies taking even greater risks, which I don’t understand at all).

The partial exception to this is my blog, where I’m a lot more open about my thoughts, although I still largely avoid politics. I feel more confident that my friends here accept the different facets of my personality, and my character flaws, although I think it took me quite a while to feel like that. Also, I met E through my blog and that was probably a big reason why I was able to open up to her and connect to her more than to other people. I do feel completely accepted and unconditionally loved by E and able to tell her almost anything (I’m not sure it’s healthy to tell even your spouse literally everything).

Darker vs. Sillier

I tried to unwind this evening watching No Time To Die, the latest (and much COVID-delayed) James Bond film. It turned out to be not such a great choice, massively overlong (why are all films so long these days?), confusing in places and not terribly engaging. I didn’t really understand what the villain wanted, and neither villain nor henchman were interesting. With Bond, you can have a good villain with a unmemorable henchman (e.g. The Man with the Golden Gun) or a nondescript villain with a scary henchman (The Living Daylights), but two uninteresting baddies in combination just doesn’t work.

Long-running franchises tend to reach a point where they self-consciously become “darker,” perhaps because the children who grew up watching it reach a point where they’re making it and want to make it scary and dark like they remembered — except it wasn’t that scary and dark, it just seemed that way because they were so young. You can see it with Bond, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Batman… A sign that this happening is when the hero and the villain have a conversation in which the villain says that the hero is just like him (the villain). This is usually nonsense, but the hero generally takes it very seriously.

I prefer the lighter and more tongue-in-cheek James Bond that we got in the seventies, ditto for Doctor Who. Fans at the time complained about scripts and actors who were allegedly sending the series up in stories like Moonraker (Bond) or The Horns of Nimon (Doctor Who)[1], but they were hugely popular with the general public who enjoyed the knowing winks at the stories’ cliches providing there was still some kind of coherent plot, allowing them to laugh with (not at) the stories. Daniel Craig jumping off bridges is all very well, but who wouldn’t rather see Roger Moore ski off the edge of a mountain only to be saved by his Union Jack parachute?

[1] Yes, I do genuinely believe that Moonraker is an exemplary James Bond film. The Horns of Nimon isn’t classic Doctor Who, but it’s still pretty sound and entertaining.

Playing the Autism Card

I somehow got up early, ate breakfast and did some things online, but felt depressed and went back to bed. I don’t think I fell asleep again, but I’m not sure; certainly I was in bed for over an hour. I hope these depressed feelings pass soon and don’t turn into another episode of clinical depression.

I did some work on my application for the Emerging Writers’ Programme I’m applying for. I’m not sure how well it’s going to be honest. I am playing the “autism” card as well as the “Orthodox insider” card, hinting that I might write an UnOrthodox-style anti-religious story when that is not my intention, while also talking about wanting to show the Orthodox in a realistic light, which can mean positive or negative, however the judges want to read it. I do mention God, though, and repentance, which might be a bad idea, but at least it’s a Unique Selling Point. It’s not like there are many contemporary literary authors writing about pornography addiction, or anything really, through the prism of repentance and encountering God.

It reminds me of an article in Tablet Magazine a while back about university bursaries and scholarships intended to go to disadvantaged teenagers going to middle-class teenagers who are taught by their (private) schools and their (middle-class) parents (probably working in academic, law or HR) how to write applications with the correct narrative, a narrative of, “I struggled against prejudice because I’m a member of minority X, but I triumphed over it because I’m strong, resilient and successful, therefore you should accept me both for reasons of diversity and because of my skills and capabilities in fighting oppression.” Less-privileged teenagers are not taught how to write this way and fail to get the money and places intended for them.

***

I went for a run, but ended up feeling light-headed, dizzy and slightly nauseous at times, even after my warm-up, let alone the run. I was slow and sluggish while running, with low stamina. I only managed to run for thirty minutes rather than my usual forty and got a headache when I got home. I wondered about this, and about other health issues on my mind lately.

I’ve mentioned that my cholesterol is slightly high. I looked on the NHS patient site and it looks like my cholesterol has been increasing for several years now (with one slight dip), which worries me as I certainly haven’t been steadily increasing the amount of cholesterol-heavy foods I eat. In fact, I rarely eat meat and especially not red meat and I’ve cut back my consumption of cheese (and eggs, although apparently that’s considered less of an issue now) so I’m not sure why my cholesterol continues to rise, unless it is a(nother) medication side-effect.

Then I have frequent issues with low energy and feeling “ill” in vague and undefined ways, particularly when tired after work or days out with E, plus I have problems sleeping too long and struggling to get up. I assumed these were medication side-effects and/or autistic exhaustion, but now I’m not sure. Also troubling is that several times recently I felt like I have nearly lost my balance and just stabilised myself in time, twice in the shower and a couple of times on the stairs.

Unfortunately, some of these issues cut across each other. When I got an exercise headache after running, I knew (or at least suspected) that eating crisps (for salt) would help, but crisps are hardly good for weight loss or cholesterol, so I put off eating them. It got to dinner time and I felt headachey, nauseous and my hand was shaking as I tried to drink my soup, so I ate a packet of crisps. Before I had even finished the packet, the headache was less intense, the nausea went and I stopped shaking. Sometimes I have these “salt-withdrawal” issues without having exercised first. I know salt issues can be related to taking lithium, which I do.

I think I should see my GP, even if it means waiting ages on the phone to get through to the receptionist and then playing the autism card again to get an in-person appointment and one with my preferred GP (currently appointments are supposed to be on the phone in the first instance and with the first GP available, not my preferred one). I will have to say that, being on the spectrum, I struggle with phone calls and new people, which is completely true, even if it feels a little disingenuous to say it.

***

Looking at my unpublished novel to find an excerpt to submit for the Emerging Writers’ Programme application, I’m struck by how many references there are to toilets in it. I didn’t mean to be vulgar, but since childhood I’ve been struck by how artificial it is that toilets, and toilet functions, aren’t mentioned in “realistic” fiction. My toilets appear for solid narrative reasons, not to gross people out (although one of them smells bad), but do seem somewhat unusual. I guess I’m aware of it because the toilet has long been an escape room for me when suffering from autistic overload in social spaces, which is how it appears in the novel.

***

I should probably mention that they announced the new Doctor in Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa. I can’t judge whether he’ll be any good, as I haven’t seen him in anything. As I mostly watch old TV, I generally don’t know new Doctors in advance, unless, like Peter Capaldi, they already appeared in the show as another character. But he’s the first new Doctor to be younger than I will be when his first episode airs (you know you’re getting older when the Doctors get younger). I still feel the Doctor should be older. I know I liked Matt Smith a lot, and I don’t dislike Peter Davison, but I still feel the Doctor should be played by someone over forty. I definitely feel David Tennant was too young (and too good-looking…) although that’s the least of my problems with the Tennant Doctor. Not for the first time, I feel returning showrunner Russell T Davies has a very different understanding of the show to me.

Other Planets

E and I went to Hampton Court Palace yesterday. We saw the palace and the gardens. I had been to the palace before, but nearly thirty years ago, and I don’t think I saw all of it then. I was surprised that the palace was still a royal residence in the eighteenth century; I was also annoyed that a famous TV historian who was once rude to a friend of mine (also a historian) featured prominently on the audio guide. The gardens were pleasant too, and full of tulips for the tulip festival, although not many other flowers were blooming yet. It was cold, as E and I had dressed for warmer weather.

After seeing the palace, we had time to kill before meeting a couple of my friends for dinner. We could either go home for about an hour or spend two hours in Golders Green. We couldn’t agree, so I went home to read a bit and E visited ethnic grocery shops in Golders Green, which would have bored me stiff. E and I have a lot in common, but I’m glad we don’t feel the need to be joined at the hip and do everything together.

We had dinner with a couple of friends of mine from university days. E liked them and I think they liked her, which was something of a relief overall.

Today I was not as burnt out as I feared I might be, but I overslept by more than half an hour and had to rush to work, although I wasn’t late. I was very tired all morning and drank a lot of coffee. It was a rather boring day, despite a trip to the bank, which I always enjoy. E met me at Sainsbury’s on the way home, which was nice. During the walk home and afterwards I felt less than 100% and was unsure why. I was exhausted from work and possibly also too hot, slightly dehydrated, hungry, lacking salt, or generally out of shape, or all of the above, and maybe something else. I do feel less fit and healthy lately and don’t really know why, beyond the general point that I’m slightly overweight and don’t exercise enough, although I walk quite a bit. I ought to get an app that records footsteps per day the way so many other people do. It’s hard to unpick medication weight-gain from eating too much weight gain, especially when medication seems to lead to eating too much.

***

E and I spoke a bit about autistic exhaustion. I think she is trying really hard to understand it, at least as much as anyone understands this mysterious and under-researched subject. I was really touched that she wants to understand this negative, but significant aspect of my life better.

***

How many years does it take for me to stop hating a Doctor Who episode and enjoy it? E and I watched The End of Time recently, which I hated on first transmission over Christmas/New Year 2009 and 2010. On re-viewing, I sort of grudgingly found parts of it somewhat amusing, although I still got annoyed at how silly and unplotted it seemed. Then tonight we watched the Paul McGann TV Movie from 1996 (the story with no name). I hated that on transmission, for the Doctor kissing Grace and for him being half-human. Now I can enjoy it. This isn’t new. Since the new series came along, the TV Movie has seemed less a desecration of Doctor Who and more a step towards the new series, albeit sometimes by showing what not to do. The Doctor-companion romance has become a semi-regular part of the format, to my continued annoyance. The half-human thing was quietly ignored, although Steven Moffat hinted that it might be true in Hell Bent.

One thing I noticed is that Grace is really a woman. Most female Doctor Who companions, old or new, are essentially written/presented as teenage girls, even if the character is supposed to be older (e.g. Jo, Sarah). I guess the other exceptions are Barbara (1963-1965), Liz (1970) and sort-of Romana (1978-1981), who was a 125 year old Time Lord, but was played somewhat girlishly by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward (and, of course, for a Time Lord, 125 is just out of university). It’s probably not coincidence that Barbara’s time coincided with Verity Lambert’s time as producer, the only female producer on the original series. The absence of a really mature female companion in the new series is a pretty damning example of the way it’s not always more ‘modern’ and diverse, or necessarily more interested in telling stories about real characters than the original series.

I wonder if E thinks, “I finally meet the right guy and he’s from another planet” about me, as Grace said? “Another planet” being the UK, autism or the frum (religious Jewish) world, take your pick. (I am writing this mainly because I know she’ll read it!)

Exhaustion and Resilience

I had a long and boring day at work yesterday, then in the evening went to a customer-facing work thing for E’s job, as her plus one. It was OK, but I didn’t really say anything at all, even when I might reasonably have had something useful to say (explaining about Jewish religious customs to non-frum (non-religious) Jews). I did it because it seemed important to her that I went, even if I was not entirely sure what my role there was supposed to be.

I think it was the first time E has really seen how autism and social anxiety can shut me down in social settings. By the time we got home, I was struggling not to be in a bad mood (I think I probably snapped at my Mum a bit). E and I ate dinner and watched Doctor Who, and even though it was not a great episode (The End of Time part 2, David Tennant’s final episode in the title role), I felt a little better, but not much (dinner probably helped more than Doctor Who).

Then today I crashed, and although E tried to get me to wake up at 9am, I actually fell asleep afterwards, on and off until 1pm, feeling really burnt out and exhausted. After breakfast, I went back to bed for twenty minutes, cocooning myself in my duvet and weighted blanket until I realised I was just upsetting myself, thinking about antisemitism. Eventually I played the, “I can listen to music in the omer if I have autistic exhaustion” card to try to get dressed. I ate lunch before davening (praying), which I hate doing, but I had no choice, I just needed energy. I ate cheese on toast, which was probably a mistake given that I ate a lot of cheese over Pesach, have (marginally) high cholesterol and probably eat too much generally (although it was only an issue once I went on clomipramine), but I felt I needed a treat. I didn’t even like it that much, which made it all seem pointless.

I just feel tired and withdrawn, although I’m aware that to other people this probably looks like laziness and bad temper. I’m vaguely worried that this will just have added to E’s fears about my autistic dysfunctionality. Even if E is on the spectrum, she is a lot more functional in social settings and after draining days than I am. She was a bit surprised that I did nothing while she was out all day other than cook dinner.

***

I’ve been catching up with the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast (formerly Normal Frum Women). They did an episode on resilience, where the guest was someone I do actually know in person, who is a frum research psychologist and has written a self-help book on resilience as a psychologist, but also from a Jewish perspective.

One thing she said was that venting is counter-productive; it can make us feel better in the short-term, but worse in the long-term. However, reframing the situation is a positive thing. I feel I mostly vent here, although the comments do help me to reframe things sometimes. It did make me wonder if I should blog less or try to complain less or something. She did also talk about the need to normalise experiences like mental illness, which does make me feel there may be a point to writing even a very negative post like this one. For what it’s worth, I am aware that my mood and energy will probably be better tomorrow, which is positive reframing, but I do worry that the burnout days will always be there, which will be bad for me and might scare off E. I’m also aware I’m likely to have some more burnout days before E goes back to the US.

I actually knew about the book and I had vaguely thought of buying it. I guess I held off because I feel I’ve read a lot of self-help books and I struggle to act on them and integrate their teachings without some kind of therapist to guide me. But I do actually have the email address of the author of this one! Not that I would bombard her with questions, but maybe it’s worth getting the book. Particularly as it seems there isn’t much “wrong” with me that can be diagnosed or “fixed” medically/therapeutically at the moment, just a propensity for autistic exhaustion, which perhaps greater resilience could help with, if only to keep me going on the down days. It does seem to be difficult to get hold, possibly already out of print even though it was only published last autumn. It was published in hardback, so maybe a paperback will come out one day.

“They think it’s Passover… It is now!”

I haven’t blogged what happened so far during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the Pesach festival when work is permitted if necessary or contributing to the enjoyment of the festival). I was too busy and tired, and used my blogging energy for a password-protected post about Yom Tov that was more important. But I want to quickly catch up here.

For those who didn’t see the password-protected post, E and I mostly had a good Yom Tov, with interesting seders and E was OK meeting some my parents’ friends and family.

On Monday we (my parents, E and I) went to Cliveden, a National Trust stately home. The house is now a hotel, but we wandered around the grounds all afternoon. Thankfully, my parents left E and I to walk alone. E wanted to see bluebells, so we walked through the woodland until we found some big patches. We also walked around some of the more formal gardens on the site. It was the first time E and I really had proper alone time/date time since E came over last Tuesday and we both really enjoyed it.

In a second-hand bookshop on site, I found a Doctor Who book, The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Despite the name, this is a reissued and expanded edition of the official BBC Television Companion issued a few years earlier. I was uncertain whether to buy it, as I had read the online version of the first edition, which was on the official BBC Doctor Who website, but in the end nostalgia for the Doctor Who of the wilderness years when it was off TV (1990-2004) won out (the first edition was published in 1998 and the revised edition I bought in 2003). I’m not sure how much extra material there is, but for £2, it was probably worth it.

Yesterday E and I went on a Pesach LSJS tour of the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum. It was fascinating and even though I knew some of what was said (I’ve done my own research on biblical archaeology), I learnt a lot. The rabbi taking it, Rabbi Zarum, spoke to me briefly. I’m not sure if he recognised me or not; I’ve been to a number of his shiurim (classes) in the past, but I tend not to say much and try to blend into the background. He asked me which shul (synagogue) I go to, which is a standard Orthodox Jewish conversational opening gambit, and I explained about going to [Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul] but probably transferring soon to a Modern Orthodox one because of E. I probably cut a strange figure as a quasi-Haredi Jew, wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt and holding hands with someone I’d just identified as not married to me. I feel my life would be easier if I just found my “tribe” or community and stuck there, but I seem to have this restless desire to fit into several very different communities at the same time. (Similarly today I think someone from my current shul saw me wearing a Beatles t-shirt and holding hands with E again.)

In the afternoon E and I went to the Stonehenge exhibition, also at the British Museum. This was interesting to me as I know very little about prehistoric society. However, I felt the exhibition lacked context and was confusingly laid out, with the order you were supposed to read the exhibits unclear and poor signage. There was also ambient noise (sound effects and music) that annoyed me after a while. This seems to be becoming a thing in modern museums and galleries. They are super-diversity aware, but apparently have a blind spot when it comes to sensory sensitivity.

Afterwards we walked around Bloomsbury for a little while, but we got a bit bored and a bit lost and came home. We watched Doctor Who in the evening, Planet of the Dead, which E enjoyed more than I did.

***

Today I was burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, given everything we had done (including walking well over 10,000 steps both days – more like 14,000 yesterday). E had to go out for work all day. I wanted to get up to see her off, but failed and slept through most of the morning. I got up when the Tesco food delivery arrived, but went back to bed afterwards. I had weird dreams, but not particularly memorable, except for wanting to move in the dream and not being able to, which I think is an unconscious desire to get up. I also dreamt about snakes, I’m not sure why. E and I are both concerned about this (the sleep/exhaustion, not the snakes). I still don’t know whether I should be looking for help from doctors, occupational therapists or someone else, or if it’s just autistic exhaustion and I have to just accept it, or find workarounds, or if serious energy accounting might help and how I could manage going on fun days out if I know I’ll run a massive energy deficit the next day. All I know is that the exhaustion is very real and not just me being lazy (although I don’t always remember that).

In the afternoon helped Dad with some chores and spent an hour working on my novel, writing about a thousand words, which was extremely good. It was hard, though. My mood definitely declined in the afternoon, despite the good work on my novel, and I felt depressed and frustrated, and missed E even though I knew I’d see her later. I had the usual feeling of wanting to just be able to get up early and do more during the day. It’s frustrating.

I can’t believe tomorrow is Yom Tov again! E and I will be out for dinner at friends of mine from shul. They are really nice people, but I’ve been masking somewhat around them (and everyone else from that shul) and I wonder what will happen when the meet E and possibly see there’s more to my personality and outlook on life than I’ve let on in the past. I also don’t know if anyone I don’t feel as comfortable with will be there.

Regenerations

I got up surprisingly early, mostly because E also got up early and we sat together, feeling tired and trying not to fall asleep. My satisfaction at this was soon broken when Dad told me that I had left my iPod in my trousers when I put them in the wash yesterday, and he hadn’t realised until after they had been through the wash. The iPod is currently sitting in a bowl of rice to try to dry it out. I turned it on before I put it in the bowl (not realising that that could short circuit it) and it seemed to play OK (!), but the touch screen was faulty and I didn’t play it long enough to see if it really plays OK, or just for a few seconds. I think it turned itself on before, in the rice bowl, too.

I may have to spend on a new iPod, but I had better luck when we went to the free book box when we went for a walk, picking up The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, which suddenly seems more topical than it probably did a few months ago. I feel I should finish reading Richard J. Evans’ Nazi history trilogy first though.

E had to do quite a bit of work today, so, as well as having therapy, I took the time to submit my novel to another two agents, work on my new novel for half an hour (I felt it wasn’t terribly successful, but some days aren’t), do some research for where E and I might go in the near future as well as to find somewhere E can do a pre-flight COVID test on a bank holiday, and clean the sink ready to be kashered for Pesach tomorrow. In the evening E and I watched the Doctor Who episode The Next Doctor; not one of my favourites, but diverting enough. E was rather more tolerant of the second half than I was, which I think goes into somewhat unintentionally silly territory. I preferred David Morrissey as the ‘fake’ future Doctor to David Tennant as the incumbent.

***

I had got a bit bored of the Doctor Who posters I’ve had up in my room for several years (four posters each showing three of the first twelve Doctors, alongside monsters, and one of Jodie Whittaker, the current Doctor). I asked E if she would help me choose some new ones from the pile of posters that I have accumulated, mostly those that have come free with Doctor Who Magazine over the last twenty-five years. She said yes, albeit with the caveat that she should probably be suggesting something other than Doctor Who posters for decor (no, we won’t have them up when we get our own home).

In the end, I kept Whittaker up on the main door, but moved her down to the bottom half and put up a poster of her predecessor, Peter Capaldi, with smaller pictures of the previous Doctors, so that all the Doctors are shown (more or less, given that who counts as a ‘real’ Doctor is now open to question post-The Timeless Child). I had had this poster up before, when I lived away from home, but the other posters had never been up before, or not this way around, as a couple of them were on the reverse of posters I’ve had up. DWM loves double-sided posters, presumably in the hope people will buy the magazine twice to put up both posters.

One wardrobe acquired has two original paintings of Tom Baker stories, Genesis of the Daleks and The Deadly Assassin. Baker is my favourite Doctor, and The Deadly Assassin is a strong story. I think Genesis of the Daleks is a little over-rated, but still good, but E liked it a lot and its iconography makes it very suitable for art. The other wardrobe has a bold poster of couple of Daleks by the Brooklyn Bridge to promote Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks and a poster of Jon Pertwee and a Sea Devil from the latest issue, to promote the Sea Devils’ imminent return in this coming Sunday’s episode. The Sea Devils was one of the first stories I saw and one I have a lot of nostalgia for, while the Sea Devil costumes are one of the better original series designs, so I was pleased to put it up.

***

Not really a relevant thing, but I wanted to share. Some of you may know that Lord Wolfson has just resigned as Justice Minister in protest over the parties now known to have taken place in Downing Street during lockdown. I googled him, and according to the government website and Wikipedia, he’s an Orthodox Jew who spent a year studying at yeshiva (Yeshivat HaKotel) before university. I wonder if he’s the first minister to list a yeshiva alongside the more conventional Selwyn College, Cambridge and Inner Temple as a place where he studied on the government website?

Autistic Day

Today seems to have been an autism-focused day. I guess they all are, on some level, but this more than most.

In the morning, at work, the rabbi from my parents’ shul (synagogue) phoned the office and I answered. He didn’t recognise me, and in the past I might have pretended not to recognise him, but I identified myself to him, which I guess was a victory over social anxiety. However, afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, which probably took all of two minutes and had no negative aspects. It sort of “echoed” around in my head. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum describe similar experiences of mental perseveration.

In the afternoon, I mostly corrected other people’s mistakes for a change, instead of making my own. This was when I was searching for missing data on our database. A lot of it was there, just entered wrongly (typos or names from one column on the spreadsheet transposed with those in another when entered on the database). I was a bit relieved to see it’s not just me who makes mistakes. The errors date from about five years ago, so I have no idea who made them.

J was on a video call while I was doing this and I could not concentrate at all. I had to listen to music to blot out the talking. I didn’t really want to listen to music, as it was a somewhat complicated task and I only really listen to music when doing mindless tasks, but I needed to blot it out.

Then I went to Primark to return the clothes I bought last week, because I am not a size medium any more (thank you, psych meds). I was overwhelmed with the number of people in the shop, which I still can’t get used to. It took two years of lockdown and not seeing people for me to realise how difficult I find these environments. Now I wonder how I ever coped with them. It’s strange how I just coped with things, not realising how difficult I found it. The silly thing is that I feel somehow less entitled to call myself “autistic” or “struggling” than the autistic people who would have a meltdown in the shop, or just refuse to go in.

It wasn’t just the noise and crowds that was an issue. Like lots of people on the spectrum, I seem to have some proprioception issues i.e. difficulty being aware of where my body is at times and finding it hard to get out of other people’s way. I think this is partly behind the autistic phenomenon I have written here before about autistic people wanting to help with tasks, but just getting in the way of other people.

There was something on the autism forum too today about autistic brains working fast, faster than we can follow. I do feel like that at times, although not all the time. It seems to happen most when I hyperfocus on a train of thought that I like (often about Judaism or perhaps Doctor Who) or when I’m anxious and depressed about something. Certainly when autistically fatigued/exhausted/burnt out/whatever it’s called my thoughts become slow and almost physically painful.

***

In terms of consumerism, I’ve had mixed success the last few days. The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season DVD box set I bought second-hand on Music Magpie (second-hand DVD/CD website) turned out to be region 1, which means it won’t play on UK DVD players. I’m not sure why they were selling it, but I didn’t think to look at what region it was for when I ordered, so I can’t swear that it was advertised wrongly. I am trying to return it.

I’ve found some real bargains on Music Magpie, but also had some problems with damaged or incorrectly-sent goods. I feel I should stop using them, but the alternative is eBay, which I have used, but don’t really like, I’m not sure why. I don’t like bidding for stuff at auction, but you can get items to buy immediately. Nevertheless, I just somehow find the site awkward to use and the items often expensive. The other alternative is Amazon, but E and I are both boycotting them over their poor employee treatment and for driving small booksellers out of business as well as underpaying authors. We were boycotting them independently, before we met — a meet-boycott-cute.

The items I’ve been buying on Music Magpie are cheap (a few pounds for a CD or DVD box set), so I’m not at risk of losing much money, but complaining and returning items is a hassle, and I worry that after I’ve made a certain number of complaints they’ll assume I’m lying. They refund damaged goods priced under £5 without asking for the item to be returned, so technically someone could steal a lot of free stuff by buying cheap items and then complaining that they were damaged and asking for a refund without it ever being checked.

On the plus side, I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle in the free book box, one of those books I’ve always meant to read, but never have.

***

E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death (1977). E was not impressed; I didn’t tell her fan wisdom sees it as a Classic, whatever that means. I see it as somewhere between Classic and E’s “ok”. It has one of my favourite Doctor Who put-downs: “You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I should warn you that I tried to use it on the bullies at school and it did not work as well as it did for Tom Baker. I don’t have that air of Bohemian cool.

The Stressed Time of Year, Forum Discussions, and Culture in the Frum World

We’re in the busiest time of year, the weeks before Pesach (Passover), when we’re focused on preparations. Think Christmas plus spring cleaning, multiplied by ten (or a hundred). I tend to be OK during the day because I’m busy, but at night I feel stressed and anxious when I’m not doing things, but also lack significant relaxation time to unwind. Yesterday I cleaned the larder for Pesach, but I was too tired to continue to clean the Pesach worktops and sinks in the garage as I had intended. Afterwards, I had difficulty sleeping, being very agitated and anxious (fidgeting/stimming in bed, which is unlike me). I had taken olanzapine that night, but I wonder if it had not got into my bloodstream yet, given that I am taking it every other day at the moment.

Work was dull today and difficult on four hours of sleep, but I got through it. I did a little bit of writing when I got home and went to an online Pesach shiur (religious class). Which is a lot, on four hours sleep.

In between times, I was online. I was on the autism forum quite a bit. There are lots of people in distress there and I can only respond to some for reasons of time, emotional capacity, and knowing what to say without saying the wrong thing. I have some guilt for arbitrarily connecting more with some people than others. I have long had this feeling, that I should like everyone equally, which is not really possible (or Jewish; Judaism is about loving individuals for their individuality as opposed to agape). We just connect with some people more than others; it’s normal. Still, I feel bad that things like typos can influence whether I respond.

I am also less likely to respond to people who are very blunt about being depressed and suicidal and don’t give much of an opening to respond or seem open to conversation/suggestions from other commenters. I feel bad about this, as I’ve done my own share of self-focused blog writing/commenting when severely depressed, but I know that when I was in that mood, I really wanted to vent (or possibly to argue that my life would inevitably be awful) rather than be open to suggestions. I was trying to speak to someone in crisis just now, but I think another user was doing much better.

Elsewhere online, on a Jewish site, I saw an article by a woman I had a crush on years ago (she was the person who rejected me because I didn’t go to yeshiva, which pretty much made me despair of ever finding a frum wife). I don’t have any crush feelings for her now, but I feel an envious kind of feeling that I can’t get paid for my writing or do something with my life the way she seems to have done.

The article was on finding religious messages in popular culture, part of a series of articles on this site. I have argued this myself in the past (e.g. that Doctor Who has Jewish messages), but now I’m sceptical. I think most of it is the residual Judaism in the residual Christianity in now mostly-secular art and much of it is not really significant or profound enough to be worth mentioning. I think it’s OK to like popular culture, but I don’t think much of it is profound, religiously or otherwise.

The debate always seems to be organised around popular culture. There are obviously big things to discuss about religion in writers like Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Graham Greene and so on, but they don’t get mentioned, possibly because they don’t lead to pat, “And this teaches us to do tikkun olam!” messages (this seems to be the main “Jewish” message of Doctor Who, that and questioning/learning). Years ago I found an article online by Rabbi Dr Alan Brill complaining that Orthodox culture is so bourgeois and unchallenging, and I agree (although I think most culture full stop is bourgeois and unchallenging, pretty much by definition). I know that this is one of E’s biggest reservations about joining the Orthodox world, the conformism and the lack of serious culture, and I share her reservations while not seeing any alternatives for myself.

Exhaustion, Coping, and Career Paths

I was really trying not to post today. This is as much a note to myself for the future as a communication for anyone else.

I had insomnia again last night. There is definitely a work connection. I sometimes have insomnia on Friday nights, but generally only get it the night before work. It’s annoying.

Work was full of minor irritations. I got through it OK, but I was exhausted afterwards. I should really have come home and crashed, but I felt I should attend to emails, even though I was trying to stay offline. I was home a bit earlier than expected, and I thought I was not too tired initially, so I did a little more Torah study, but that was a mistake, as I was soon completely exhausted.

I don’t think I’ve really spelled out here before that when I’m exhausted, I’m not just tired, but feel a heaviness all over, especially my head/brain (a horrible feeling as if someone is squashing my brain). Sometimes there can be light-headedness, particularly if I’m hungry too. I can’t always tell the difference between tiredness and hunger, which I guess is another gift of autistic alexithymia (difficulty understanding emotions).

I did feel better after dinner and did some ironing, but really only out of necessity, as I’m worried what state I’ll be in tomorrow.

I do feel that I don’t know where to start with my life at the moment. There seem so many things to do, and all of them urgent and important and worthwhile, and most of them should have been done ages ago and many of them really need to be done before I can marry E. Autistic executive function issues can come into play here too.

Tonight I was thinking about applying for my provisional driver’s licence (which I postponed because I wanted to talk to the optician about how well I can see with and without glasses, and never did). This was because of a hit-and-run accident on Twin Peaks which, frankly, terrified me. I am terrified of driving in general and of losing concentration for a moment and hitting someone. Alternatively, of driving too slowly and cautiously and someone running into me. This is probably not the most immediate priority, but I feel it should be soon.

It is true that if I can deal with the exhaustion and hypersomnia and have a healthy sleep pattern, that would get me several more hours per day in which to do things, so that seems to be the place to start. I will hopefully speak to the occupational therapist tomorrow and see if that might be one way of approaching it. I also hope to speak to the doctor next week to see if there might be a physical cause unrelated to autism, depression or antidepressant medication.

***

I do feel that one of the things I should do urgently is to learn coping skills. For what? That is the question, I suppose. At any rate, my previous strategies have not been healthy or useful. I don’t know where I would learn them. My therapist has shared a few things, so I could ask her, although I’m wary as my previous therapist was very against giving practical help like that; she just wanted me to talk and think things through.

How do other people learn coping skills? Is there a Big Book of Coping Skills somewhere? I feel that even the phrase “coping skills” is too vague and I should be looking for more precise skills, like dealing with disappointment, dealing with messing things up at work (again), dealing with the fear that my relationship will end, dealing with the feeling that I will never achieve anything worthwhile…

***

I don’t do much with LinkedIn, but I noticed today that it was trying to show me “career paths” that other people had followed, to reassure me that a career does not have to be linear and can move at my own pace. I was curious to see if people had had unusual or delayed career paths, to see if there was hope for me.

Of the two career paths they showed me, apparently taken from real people’s LinkedIn profiles, one went from university and student journalism, to mainstream journalism and on to becoming “Director of Audience” at some kind of media outlet, whatever that means. So, a fairly swift and linear career path. The other was a little more twisty (and relevant to my interests), from teaching to a Jewish social justice leadership scheme, then a detour to paralegal work, then on to being a rabbinic intern and Jewish educator. That was vaguely less linear because of the teaching and paralegal detours, but mostly focused on Jewish leadership. If this is supposed to reassure me that my career can meander slowly and over a wide area, it is not doing it. It makes me feel most people’s careers go like this: do something worthwhile as a student; pursue a career related to worthwhile student activity; achieve success quickly and easily; become acclaimed as some kind of leader, with status, wealth and social acceptance.

I’m not sure what happens to those of us who missed the boat. I was not really involved in any student activities at university, except the Doctor Who Society. I was too busy burning out and breaking down. I did write for the Doctor Who Society fanzine and vaguely hoped that might lead on to writing for Doctor Who Magazine, but, as I’ve lamented here before, they weren’t interested.

The Autism Treadmill

I woke up late again and drifted quickly into self-criticism. I feel I have to sort this oversleeping (actually hypersomnia, as my sleep pattern is longer than it should be, not just shifted later in the day) and lack of energy, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I can work it out without knowing what is causing it: medication, autistic exhaustion (which in itself is not well-understood) or something else like avoidance. I’m not even remotely sure how much of it is a physical issue and how much an emotional one. But I feel it’s one of the main factors – arguably the main factor – holding back E and me from getting married.

One of the few things I took from Sara Gibbs’ autism memoir Drama Queen was the metaphor that if being neurotypical is like walking on a treadmill going at a walking pace, being autistic is like being on a treadmill going at a fast running pace, all the while being expected to keep up with the walking neurotypicals who don’t understand why you’re struggling to stay level with them. More than any other issue I have, I think of my energy issues here.

I had to do some shopping, which stopped me going for a (literal) run, although I’m not sure I would have had time anyway. I did walk quite briskly, so it was not a total failure in the exercise department.

I had hoped to finish the plan for my second novel today. In the event, I did about forty minutes of work on it, but still have a lot more to do, even though I’m deliberately not planning down to the last detail as my experience with my first novel is that things grow organically during the writing process (at least for me) and it’s better not to over-plan in advance. Writing seems very daunting, particularly if I want to actually get published and earn money from it. Then again, everything seems daunting: marriage, work, getting up on time, shul and community (see below).

I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow (albeit very late) as I’m feeling that I can’t take much more of living alone for now. I do feel quite depressed (and glad I haven’t completely come off my olanzapine) and stressed about additional housework and, well, everything. Everything just seems overwhelming and difficult at the moment. I just emailed the mental health charity that helped me years ago again to try to see if they can help me now with sleep/life skills, but I’m not sure if I’m still eligible.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to help with moving books and the like to our temporary premises and then on to our new premises later in the year (hopefully). Part of me would like to help, but I just feel completely disconnected from them at the moment. I’m scared of being asked about my wedding and I just feel that my time there is running out. I never really felt accepted the way I hoped, which is probably at least partly my own fault. The temporary premises are about twenty minutes from my house (rather than ten minutes for the current ones) and in what is probably going to be a small, cramped room and full of autistic “new experience” anxiety. Then when they (we?) move to the new premises, that’s also twenty minutes away, and hopefully by then I’ll have a clearer idea of when I’m getting married and probably moving somewhere else (E doesn’t really want to live around here).

I sometimes get to a point with something where I just feel, “This is over” and lose all motivation to do anything to keep it going and I feel that’s where I am with my shul. I liked their commitment to quiet davening (prayer) and sense of humour and perspective about frum life, but it obviously was not enough for me to feel accepted, given the generally more moderate-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) outlook as well as my mental health and autism situation, not to mention being one of the few unmarried “older” people and the lack of interest in setting me up on dates as I expected/hoped (obviously not an issue now, but more of an issue a few years ago). My fear is that the social anxiety and autism will still be there in future shuls, and I’m already dreading going back to a shul where people talk in the davening (which is most Orthodox shuls, sadly).

***

Since finishing The Twilight Zone, and as E and I aren’t watching any Doctor Who together at the moment, I sped up my viewing of Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, I then hit the third season. The original Twin Peaks had charm, warmth, wit and strong characters. The third season has none of this, substituting semi-incoherent weirdness and long, aching, empty scenes, with occasional good bits that prevent me skipping it. The lack of incidental music makes the whole thing feel even stranger, like watching raw footage. However, I’m curious to re-watch to see if it makes more sense second-time around. So far the answer is yes, just about. And I recall that the final two episodes were pretty good, so I’m sticking with it for that.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been too down to want to watch this, so I decided to watch Doctor Who. As I want to watch good episodes of Doctor Who with E, I decided to watch something too awful to suggest watching with her, so — Silver Nemesis. It’s really not good at all. Maybe I should try to persuade E to restart watching good Doctor Who with me.

“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time”

I picked the title of the post, from The Beatles’ All You Need is Love before Shabbat, as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot lately. Except that over Shabbat things went downhill and alternative titles could be I’m Only Sleeping, I’ll Cry Instead or I’m a Loser. Also The Long and Winding Road, but I find that a maudlin and annoying song.

***

I felt drained on Friday. I’m not sure if it was more physical or emotional/psychological. I had a busy week, and a busy day on Thursday, but I also had an emotionally-draining week, being home alone and missing E. I am not sure whether occupational therapy or Access to Work help will be able to help me with any of this, if I can’t tell where it’s coming from, if it’s physical or emotional. I did the chores I needed to do to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I didn’t think I would go to shul (synagogue) as I was tired, but then I felt a bit better right before Shabbat, so I went after all.

This turned out not to be the best decision. I was worried people would ask if E and I had set a date for the wedding yet. My closest friend at shul has asked me this twice already. I was slightly relieved that he wasn’t there, but the rabbi asked me (I guess he assumes he’ll be mesader kiddushin (officiating)). It just reminds me that E and I are currently in limbo, engaged, but with no real idea when we’ll get married. Maybe I find this harder than E because of social expectation, that in frum (religious Jewish) circles marriages usually take place within a couple of months of engagements (we got engaged three months ago). I think I would want to move things on even if that wasn’t the case. Unusually for me, I just want to leap in to married life while E is the one who is more cautious and wants to check we both have enough energy and can earn enough money whereas I feel there’s no real way of knowing how we will both react to living together until it happens (one of the weird things about our relationship for me is that I’m the optimistic one, relatively speaking, although I guess we both overthink things).

There was dancing in shul too, as we’ve just begun the super-happy month of Adar II (“When Adar begins, we increase in joy”). No one tried to get me to dance this time, but it reminded me that Purim is in two weeks and Pesach in six weeks, with all the anxieties and potential mental health triggers those two festivals involve.

On the way home, I kept thinking that the kids who bullied me at school had won. I had always assumed that I would get my own back on them (so to speak), by having an amazing post-school life because of my incredible intelligence and diligence (these both turned out to be really over-estimated), but actually my life since school has mostly been awful, lonely, depressed and unsuccessful, with occasional short periods of vague competence.

I don’t know why the kids bullied me. My parents thought they were jealous of my academic success. I think they saw me as an easy target. In retrospect, some might have genuinely mistaken my autism and social anxiety for some kind of deliberate snub. It was hard to avoid thinking that they were right: I am a freak and I’m not going to have a good or happy life. Whatever the cause, they were not helpful thoughts. I’m not really sure what triggered them, but they bothered me obsessively all evening, until I focused on the few things I am proud of having done in my life, such as teaching people Torah. That helped me set those thoughts aside.

I do wonder why I just can’t ever be happy. Things have got better for me over the last year or so and maybe they will continue to improve, but somehow it feels like things have to peak and decline now. It feels like things could only go well for me when they were going badly for the rest of the world (COVID), and now COVID is ending it’s back to normal (bad) for me.

The rest of Friday night was OK. Mostly reading and Torah study. I read a bit of The Coming of the Third Reich, but it didn’t really seem appropriate for Shabbat (when one should try to feel positive) so I mostly read Doctor Who Magazine, but that frustrated me, because I feel I should be writing articles on the best Fifth Doctor comic strips (etc.). I’ve tried pitching article ideas and offering my writing services to DWM before, but they aren’t interested. I’m not sure if I pitched wrongly or they don’t like my writing style or what. Fifteen years ago, I was hopeful that my fanzine/internet fan writings would get me work from them, but it never did. I don’t know how they find their new generation of writers. The convention circuit or Doctor Who fan Twitter or some other outlet I don’t use.

***

I woke up at 7.30am this morning. I didn’t feel tired, but I thought it was too early to get up, especially as I hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am, and went back to bed, which turned out to be a mistake as, of course, I slept through the morning. I woke up the second time with a neck ache that I still have and a bunch of self-recriminatory thoughts, which I also still have. My mood was low and I struggled to do any Torah study. I worry I’ll never be well enough/energetic enough for E.

***

I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) much, so it tends to stick in my mind when I do. When I was at university, two students got married in term-time. The man had graduated the previous year, but the woman was in her final year when they got married. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t wait until she finished her finals and opined to this extent to a friend. It was wrong of me, although in retrospect, if that’s the worst lashon hara I ever speak, I’m probably not doing too badly. I have wondered in the past if my largely non-existent love-life was Divine payback for this. Now I wondered if it was delaying my marriage. I guess this comes from the Talmudic/Midrashic approach that views even trivial misdeeds as potentially the cause of significant suffering in this world, to avoid suffering in the next world. I don’t know what I could do about it now. I tried internet searching for those people, but I can’t find them.

***

I mentioned I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently. I had never bought their early albums as I don’t like them so much, but the completist bug got to me and I bought a whole bunch of albums very cheaply second-hand. I got five albums for about £17. (I’m still waiting for With the Beatles.) Listening to them, (a) their early songs are much better than I remembered, but (b) even so, they weren’t so good at the start. I guess it’s heartening to me to think that my first few novels don’t have to be my best…

***

This post seems rambling and self-obsessed even by my usual standards. Thanks if you got this far.

Another Quiet Day at the Office

I couldn’t sleep again last night. I’m not quite sure why I seem to get insomnia on work nights, and only on work nights. I know I find my work a bit dull and sometimes social anxiety-provoking, but I thought I was mostly OK with that. Maybe not. I need to stick with it either way.

Unfortunately, not only did insomnia make me oversleep this morning (after a weird dream[1]), but there were Tube delays. I actually only got to work about ten minutes late in the end, but the trip was more stressful, and more crowded, than usual, really crowded like pre-COVID days.

[1] Humans grew from eggs. Most people kept theirs in an incubator, but some people insisted on sitting on them to keep them warm the natural way. I suspect most science fiction writers using this premise would treat this as an attack on religion or tradition (“This is what we have always done! It is God’s way!”), but my brain had it as a satire on middle-class organic food obsessives (“Of course, when Tabitha was an egg, I sat on her myself, I wouldn’t trust her to one of those ghastly incubators! I wanted her birth to be completely natural!”).

I’m still making mistakes at work, usually when I’m supposed to enter data on multiple databases and spreadsheets at once and I forget to enter all of it. Suspecting that it’s an autistic executive function/multitasking thing doesn’t make me feel much better about it. I’m honestly surprised J hasn’t got annoyed with me about it. It reminds me of my librarian job in further education, where my boss was open about thinking that I was making too many mistakes and not learning fast enough. At the time, I didn’t have my autism diagnosis to rely on.

I did lead Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) at work. I got fed up of all the “You lead,” “No, you lead” arguments. Ma’ariv is easier than Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) as there’s less that has to be read aloud. Standing on the bimah (platform where the prayer leader stands), the whole shul seemed suddenly quiet, no one saying amen or other responses. I don’t know if I’ll lead it again soon. The service is starting at 4.15pm next week and I might have gone home before then to try to challenge my social anxiety by leading the service again. I did shake. Not as much as I feared I would, but enough that most of my concentration was going on not shaking and not on the meaning of the Hebrew words I was saying. Coming off the olanzapine might help reduce the tremor.

Despite all this, my mood was mostly OK today, despite being on a reduced dose of olanzapine. I’ll let you know how that goes.

***

Trudging around the Tube this morning, feeling crowded and uncomfortable, I had an idea for a flash fiction story, so here goes:

Another Quiet Day at the Office

With a whoosh of hydraulics, the door opened, light flooding into the dingy room.  A tall woman entered.  She would be described as elegant, were it not for the workaday dull yellow uniform she wore with the red pips that marked the rank of Supervisor.  She glanced around the room, computer screens ranged against the walls, all unwatched, except for one.  There was a man slumped in front of it.  She walked over to him and looked at the screen.  Men in green uniforms and metal helmets ran through surf and onto a beach, many dropping to lie motionless on the floor, with more men rushing to replace them.

“You’re watching World War II again!” the Supervisor exclaimed.

The man looked up, did a double-take and bolted out of his seat into an ‘attention’ pose.

“At ease,” the woman said, resignedly.  “This isn’t the temporal period you are supposed to be monitoring.”

“It’s getting to the really good bit, when the Allies land in Normandy” the man said enthusiastically, ignoring the rebuke.

“I always lose attention after ‘We shall fight them on the beaches,’” said the Supervisor.  “What are you supposed to be monitoring?”

“Fifteenth century, ma’am.  The Wars of the Roses.  Very dull and confusing.  Too many Henrys and Edwards.”

The Supervisor thought about this for a moment and appeared to agree, returning the conversation to the previous subject.

“I never bought the ending of World War II.  Hitler killing himself was too convenient.  There should have been a climactic shoot-out in the Führerbunker.”

“Suggest a temporal manipulation to Control.  You’re high ranking enough,” he said.

“I wouldn’t suggest anything so frivolous.  Besides, I’m not really interested in recorded history.  I prefer monitoring pre-history.”

“Cadet 7629 said you once suggested a temporal manipulation to prevent the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs from hitting the Earth.  She said that you thought the resulting timeline would see the evolution of intelligent lizard-people, more perceptive and humane than mankind.”

“Cadet Ophie should watch her mouth if she doesn’t want to be assigned to watching micro-organisms in the Precambrian for the rest of her tour of duty,” said the woman, but the man saw her blush and knew Ophie was right.  Well, even officers were allowed their pet obsessions.  But within limits.  All these years later (if ‘years’ had meaning in this monitoring station outside of time and space) Control were still searching for whoever it was who suggested letting violent bipedal apes rise to the top of this planet’s pecking order.  Perhaps the dinosaur-people would have been better masters of Earth after all…

***

This story wasn’t an intended as a riff on Doctor Who’s Time Lords and Silurians, but somehow it ended up that way. Maybe the ‘humans from eggs’ dream had something to do with it.

Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty

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

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

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

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