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.
I massively overslept again on Friday morning and woke up drained. I’m back to wondering counter-factuals like whether writing late at night after work costs too much the next day. I had some weird dreams that I’m not going to relate here, but shul (synagogue) stress and missing E figured. Also Purim anxiety — my unconscious tends to feed stuff into my dreams a couple of weeks after things have happened, for some reason.
I did my usual Shabbat chores and managed to carve out forty or fifty minutes to work on my novel, which was good, especially as it’s likely to be interrupted now for a few weeks because of Pesach (preparations then the festival) and E being here. In the evening, I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) with Dad. Their usual chazzan (cantor) was leading the service. I’d forgotten just how much his style of davening (praying) does not fit with my tastes. Very loud and elongated, like opera; even the bits we’re supposed to read silently, he reads loud enough to be heard (and I was sitting near the back), which annoyed me immensely. But I guess we’re back to looking for perfect “unicorn shuls” again.
Dinner with my parents was pretty long, although mostly fun. I did some Torah study afterwards, but it meant I went to bed very late, without much time for recreational reading to relax after a busy day. Then I slept through the morning and napped again after lunch.
I think some of the oversleeping, or going back to bed, is an autistic sensory thing about feeling cozy and ‘held’ wrapped up in my duvet and now my weighted blanket. I’ve always slept wrapped up tight in my duvet, but when I became depressed in my teens and twenties, staying in bed became a way to avoid the world as well as feeling comfortable and held close (by the duvet/blanket). I do wonder if I can use this information somehow – get up and sit wrapped in my weighted blanket?
(It also occurs to me that E and I may need two duvets when we get married to stop me hogging it!)
When I napped this afternoon, I had a dream about my maternal grandparents that I found upsetting, although I’m not entirely sure why. To be honest, I can’t really remember it clearly any more, but I lay in bed for a while coming to terms with my feelings. Then it was time for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Seudah Shlishit (the Third Sabbath Meal) so I didn’t have time for Torah study or recreational reading. It feels like I spent most of the day eating and sleeping with some davening and not a lot else. I would have liked to have gone for a walk as I haven’t had even mild exercise since Thursday.
Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of the month of Nisan. This is a hard time of year for me. Late winter is very hard, when I struggle from lack of sunlight, so passing the equinox and putting the clocks forward is somewhat helpful, albeit not so much of a difference at this stage. But then we go straight into Pesach preparations. Even if I can avoid religious OCD, it’s time-consuming and tiring, with little time for non-essential tasks like exercise, recreation or fiction writing. And this year E is coming, which makes me feel even more anxious. My brother-in-law found the way we do Pesach somewhat extreme the first time he came, so I worry what E will think. Still, as my Dad says, Pesach comes and goes. Every year it seems hard, but every year we manage it. We even managed it in 2020, when we were in lockdown and Mum was sick from chemotherapy.
I’m reading a book on OCD, not actually for my OCD issues, but there has been some useful stuff in there for me, reminding me that OCD thoughts never go away fully and their return at this time of year doesn’t mean I’m backsliding into OCD. What matters is how you deal with them, not whether you have them. Also, some useful stuff about grieving even during positive life events for “The Road Not Taken“. E and I are both very happy with each other, but I guess there’s stuff about us both that isn’t 100% what we would have chosen in an ideal world (which doesn’t exist!) that we need to grieve a bit. It reminds me of something in William Kolbrener’s Open-Minded Torah: Of Irony, Fundamentalism and Love where he talks about Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s idea that moods are simple and unipolar whereas emotions are complex and multidimensional. Judaism wants us to have emotions, not moods, hence our festivals contain sombre moments amidst the joy.
I slept for twelve hours last night, then I think I drifted in and out of sleep for another two. I dreamt about the Nazis, which I guess is what I get for reading The Coming of the Third Reich. By the time I woke up properly, I was still feeling very drained and somewhat ill. I struggle to put into words what exactly I mean by “ill,” although it includes an uncomfortable awareness of my own body (I can’t put it more precisely than that) which I associate with autistic exhaustion (particularly the feeling that my brain is being squeezed) as well as feeling hot and bothered and generally not having the energy or inclination to do anything other than lying still. I also occasionally get muscle spasms or unwilled muscle tension. I’ve been shivering a bit too. I am not sure if this is autistic exhaustion from working on two hours of sleep yesterday, withdrawal from olanzapine, lack of vitamin D or something else.
This prompts the vague thoughts I’ve had recently wondering if I have some physical illness or condition draining my energy that has been overlooked because I’ve been focused on depression, autistic exhaustion and medication side-effects as causes, but I’m not sure how to take that forward. Obviously going to the GP would be a good start, although I’ll wait for the high doses vitamin D I’ve been prescribed to kick in and the withdrawal to hopefully pass, or I think the GP will just tell me to go home and wait for those things to happen first. My experience is that GPs do not react well to being presented with vague, “I feel sick and tired all the time” statements, so I am not feeling hugely optimistic about that.
I don’t have racing thoughts though. If anything sometimes they are slow and sluggish, as when I’m autistically exhausted. However, I did do a COVID test, just in case. It came back negative, but it was one of the ones where you have to swab your tonsils, which I’m not good at, so I worry I didn’t do it properly. I may just have picked up some kind of bug/virus.
It occurs to me that tomorrow night will be my first Purim knowing for sure that I’m on the autism spectrum. I was quite sure last year, but wasn’t officially diagnosed yet. Anyway, last Purim was a weird, COVID Purim, with few people in the Megillah reading (my shul (synagogue) did multiple small readings instead of one big one) and no young children allowed (usually there would be loads of kids around, mainly in fancy dress). The tzedaka (charity) collection was online only too (usually there would be lots of people with tins and buckets collecting for different charities). It was very, very strange and, even though it was in many ways an ideal autistic Purim for me, it just felt wrong. I’d like to find a small, quiet Megillah reading, but not if that means that other people can’t get their raucous reading or that children can’t hear the Megillah at all! Of course, if I feel like this tomorrow evening, I may not hear the Megillah anywhere after all.
I found this article quite useful. I need to be reminded periodically that I can be empathetic, polite, imaginative and creative, and not great at maths, and still be on the autism spectrum. To be fair, I was reasonably good at maths in school, in the top set and I got A* at GCSE, but I was never intuitively good at maths the way some of my schoolfriends were, and the way stereotypical autistic children are. Certainly my maths skills are rusty now.
I’ve nearly finished The Coming of the Third Reich. It’s been interesting, if depressing, reading, and I’d like to read Richard J. Evans’ two follow up books on Nazi Germany, although I imagine they’re even more depressing.
I found the book a cause of optimism and pessimism. Optimism, because we’ve been hearing since 2016 that our democracies are simmering hotbeds of extremism and racism “Just like Germany in the 20s and 30s.” Evans’ book, although written long before 2016, tacitly debunks this theory, by demonstrating that the democratic Weimar Republic was in a state of near-permanent crisis from its creation in 1918, in the closing days of World War I. It had no political legitimacy in the eyes of much of the population, being seen as at least indirectly imposed by the victorious Allies. Many people, including parts of the governing class, openly longed for a return to autocratic rule (which, again, had only just come to an end in 1918), either under a restored Kaiser or a military dictatorship. This number grew over time. The Republic suffered two major financial crises, a hyperinflation crisis in the early twenties that impoverished many and an unemployment crisis from 1929 that left a third of the workforce out of work. Moreover, throughout the period, political violence and, initially, assassination were rife. Most of the major political parties had large, armed paramilitary wings that used to get in regular fist-fights and sometimes gunfights with each other, not just extremist parties like the Nazis and the Communists, but even the moderate left-wing Social Democrats (the main supporters of Weimar democracy). These are not really present in the contemporary West. Sure, we can see what could be the seeds of something worse, and we certainly live in politically-polarised times, full of conspiracy theories on both right and left (often antisemitic, again like Germany) and occasional rioting. I certainly think it would be good if we could turn down the political temperature and debate more politely. But I think anyone who thinks we are literally like Germany in 1930 is either ignorant or disingenuous.
The pessimism, however, came from the fact that Evans presents the Nazis’ rise as — not inevitable, but lacking in clear points where meaningful and appropriate action could have been taken to stop them. Evans doesn’t really deal with counter-factuals, but he makes it sound like the Weimar Republic would have struggled a lot even in a better world than the one we got, and that after the Depression hit, some kind of autocratic military dictatorship was more or less inevitable, although not necessarily as brutal as the Nazi one.
He says of the Social Democrat Party in 1933 (again, the main support of the Weimar Republic):
In retrospect, its [the Social Democratic Party’s] chances of survival had been diminishing rapidly for nearly a year. Decisive in this context was its failure to mount any effective opposition to the Papen coup of 20 July 1932; if there had been any moment when it might have stood up for democracy, that was it. But it is easy to condemn its inaction with hindsight; few in the summer of 1932 could have realized that the amateurish and in many ways rather ludicrous government of Franz von Papen would give way little more than six months later to a regime whose extreme ruthlessness and total disregard for the law were difficult for decent, law-abiding democrats to grasp. In many ways, the labour movement leaders’ desire to avoid violence in July 1932 was thoroughly to their credit; they were not to know that their decision was to play a key role in opening the way to much greater violence later on.
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), 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.
 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.
I emailed my therapist yesterday evening. We weren’t due to have a session this week, but I couldn’t remember if that was because we only meet every other week or if she is on holiday too. It turns out she is on holiday, but is fitting in a Skype session for me, which is very kind of her.
I wanted the session because I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. The lack of sunlight makes me depressed, I’m worried about E and anxious about various other things. I find it hard to know what to prioritise at the moment. Prioritising one thing means de-prioritising several others and they all seem important, except for relaxation (as opposed to mindless internet procrastination, which I seem to do a lot of) and novel-writing, which I suspect deep down are the things that keep me sane and which I have not done enough of lately.
I had anxiety dreams last night, and slept too long. The anxiety dreams were unique to my anxieties (about birds and safety pins) rather than classic “turning up for an exam you haven’t revised for then realising you’re naked and then your teeth start to fall out” type of anxiety dream. Yes, I probably did too much yesterday after Shabbat and I certainly stayed up too late. It was partly because E was anxious and I wanted to Skype her and partly because I was trying to cram as many chores as I could in.
The grimness of winter really hit me today, the lack of natural light even during what was notionally daytime (it was very overcast), my lack of energy (probably a mixture of my usual residual depression and/or autistic fatigue plus doing too much last night plus winter and wanting to hibernate), my distance from E. E and I just want to spend some time doing couple stuff and hanging out together, but there’s an ocean in between and a pandemic going on (you may have noticed).
I feel like I never developed good coping strategies for anxiety and depression — or wedding worries, long-distance relationship sadness and winter blues, as I have right now. My depression went away because it was driven, or had become driven, by undiagnosed autism; when the autism was diagnosed, it left. I don’t think it’s come back, but the last few days have made me aware of how finely-balanced I often am, and that I lack the skills to healthily comfort myself and cope with life. Worse, I feel I have bad coping strategies waiting in the wings, trying to tempt me to use them again. I am not sure why I’ve never really learnt good coping strategies. It’s partly that I’ve mostly done unstructured therapy, partly that my experiences with CBT, in individual therapy and groups, which is more structured and strategy-focused has mostly been a failure, perhaps unsurprisingly, given its low success rate with autistic sufferers. But any hope of getting autism-adapted CBT is three years away.
I also wonder if I should speak to a doctor about my tiredness and oversleeping. It seems to have persisted long past the end of the rest of my depression and I’m not sure if ‘autistic fatigue’ really covers it. The problem, or problems, are that autistic fatigue is poorly understood and not always acknowledged as a real thing; that my doctor’s surgery will try to stop me seeing a doctor I feel comfortable with; and, in any case, it seems irresponsible to take up the doctor’s time with something as relatively minor as this as we get hit by another wave of COVID and probably another lockdown. Even if I did decide to make an appointment, the wait times, both to speak to a receptionist and to be seen by a doctor, are probably unbearably massive. Even then, I feel there won’t be much the doctor would/could do other than send me for blood tests which will doubtless not show any physical symptoms — and then what?
In terms of achievement, I filled in some forms related to my job becoming permanent. I did some Torah study and pitched my novel to another agent. That was about all I managed. I Skyped E and we both felt frustrated about not being able to hug or do anything fun together. Sometimes 5,000km feels exactly like 5,000km.
It wasn’t good weather for running, and I was low on time and energy, so I went for a walk in the dark and fog. I continued listening to old BBC radio comedy while I was walking, this time The Goon Show. It was quite funny, but more dated than Hancock’s Half-Hour, or maybe my tastes have changed. Hancock is mostly character-based humour, which is perhaps more timeless than The Goon Show‘s reliance on surrealism, weird sound effects and running jokes; that it was occasionally racist doesn’t help.
Perhaps inevitably after such a busy day yesterday, I crashed last night/this morning. I slept until after noon and woke up feeling very anxious, partly because of weird dreams about family bereavement and also about James Bond/explosions (I don’t like long build ups to explosions in action films). I spent most of last night and a chunk of today feeling like I’d been run over by a steamroller. Eleven hours sleep clearly didn’t help, or did too much.
I feel like I’ve been relying for the last couple of days a lot on the idea I posted the other week, about, “I’m not responsible for the first thought; I am responsible for the second” to deal with anxiety. Actually, it would probably also be good to think that, “My thoughts are not always my friends.”
On the plus side, I think E and I are both very aware that, given our mental health histories, having some difficult thoughts and feelings at the moment is inevitable, and we can accept and support each other in that (even if we are not always so good at accepting ourselves!). That makes me feel safer. It is hard to do this long-distance, when half the time we both know that we really just need a hug! No one has ever invented a good long-distance hug alternative, although Mark Zuckerberg is probably trying (anything to remove the humanity of humans).
My parents have now told all their (many) friends about E and me. A lot of people seem happy for us. My parents were excited today at the responses they got and couldn’t work out why I was so withdrawn this evening — a mixture of autistic fatigue (even autistic regression, horrible phrase), autistic difficulty processing and responding to other people’s emotions, and social anxiety, the feeling that my parents’ friends now expect things of me, even if only that I will have an exemplary happy marriage. I hope I do have an exemplary happy marriage, but it’s hard to be happy when it feels like dozens of people are staring at you, expecting you to be happy. Or it is for me, anyway.
Still, I am glad they are happy for us, and I am happy at getting engaged. I just feel this would be easier if people had more acceptance of atypical emotional responses. At least E understands it, which is the main thing.
E and I had a serious conversation about jobs and finances as we’re both worried about that aspect of our lives together. It’s hard to know what to do. It’s hard knowing that I’m not able to work full-time and might never be able to do so. Only 20% of autistic people are in work and while some of the 80% unemployed are probably much more severely autistic than me, not all are. It’s just very, very hard to find the right workplace with the right desired skillset. The National Autistic Society work with some employees to promote jobs for people on the spectrum, but they seem pretty “typically autistic” jobs with numbers or computing. I’m not sure how I could find writing work or the like. It’s also hard to tell if I really have blown my chances at librarianship or if I should keep applying for jobs in the sector. Some jobs I’ve been interviewed for have told me, “You weren’t right for this job, but if we advertise again, we’d like to see you,” while others have responded as if I’m a total idiot and probably lied about my qualifications. It’s scary to think that it might just be environment or mood that produced one outcome rather than the other.
I terms of actual achievements today, I cooked dinner (lentil dal — I forgot how easy the recipe is), emailed my shul (synagogue) to inform them of E and my engagement and revised my OCD article with a view to publication on the Jewish website (I’m still waiting for copyright clearance). I wrote a devar Torah that I’m not at all happy with, about a biblical mixed metaphor that has long interested me. I’m not sure I really got to grips with it. I found one interesting perspective, but didn’t develop it as I would have liked (I had an idea for development that didn’t go anywhere) and had to pad it out with a idea taking largely at random from Chabad.org. I spent forty minutes doing research for my second novel, which I want to spend more time focusing on (but I also want to focus on practising my cataloguing skills for work, sending my first novel to agents and exercising, so something’s going to get neglected).
Doing things did perhaps help me shake myself out of my drained state, although I tend to be at my best in the afternoon generally. It’s now after midnight and I finally feel alert, in a good mood, and ready to do things, posing the classic question of staying up late Doing Things or going to bed hoping tomorrow will be a better day. I stayed up a bit late and did a few things, which is probably falling between two stools.
This Unherd article predicts some kind of lockdown soon. It also says the omicron variant will be “on the level of a very bad flu season”, which I guess begs the question of whether we would/could/should lockdown for bad flu. The Evening Standard is claiming that “Omicron takes over in London” which annoys me because (a) I hate articles that anthropomorphise COVID, (b) it’s stupidly melodramatic and extreme and (c) it sounds like a plot synopsis of a Doctor Who episode (“While the Doctor and Romana are on Skaro, Omicron takes over in London”). Meanwhile, in Parliament, nearly one hundred backbench Conservative MPs rebelled against Government plans to move back towards lockdown yet again while still insisting there will be no Christmas lockdown.
I honestly don’t know what to think any more. As Andrea Leadsom said in Parliament earlier today, we don’t lockdown every year for flu. Flu lockdowns sound ridiculous to us. But I don’t want 50,000 people to die this winter (although I’m not sure how many excess deaths we’re talking about i.e. people who wouldn’t have died of something else). But I don’t want to ruin a generation of children’s chance of education or to self-destruct the economy either. I also don’t want to wear a mask all the time or to be stopped from visiting my fiancée in the new year, but I think those are basically foregone conclusions at the moment. I very much want COVID to end, but I’m still quite nervous of being indoors with unmasked people. I don’t trust people who think a “Zero COVID” policy is viable, but I trust the horse de-wormer quaffing antivaxxers even less. It is hard to know what to think. A predicted six week lockdown has gone on for nearly one year and nine months. I just want it to be over.
I went to shul (synagogue) last Friday as usual. Because it’s near the solstice, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts really early in London, about 3.35pm. I got home from shul about 4.45pm, which is too early for dinner. Normally I would do some Torah study in the intervening time, but I just wanted to crash, so I read more of Gaudy Night and planned to do Torah study after dinner. Unfortunately, after dinner my bedroom was very cold. I crawled under the covers for what I intended would be a few minutes to warm up, but I fell asleep and woke up around 10pm with a headache. Fortunately, it was amenable to medication and I did get some time for Torah study and hitbodedut (meditation/spontaneous prayer).
I dreamt about Rabbi Lord Sacks again last night. I think I was working for him. I don’t really remember much about the dream. It’s strange that I keep dreaming about him, but I guess he is still a part of my life as I have been reading about him and re-reading some of his essays. It just seems strange as my Dad dreams about family a lot, living and especially dead (his parents, aunts and uncles) and is always excited to share these dreams with us because he sees it as a way of connecting with people he loves who are gone. I’m not sure if he believes he is, in some way, in contact with their souls, or if he just likes thinking about them. I think he would find it strange for me to react in a similar way to someone I never really met, but a Torah teacher can be a very important person in a religious Jew’s life, someone who really shapes their worldview.
Today I surprised myself by getting to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class). I did struggle to follow the class though. I think I go as much to join in with the community as too study, as I understand the Talmud text better when I prepare before class or revise afterwards (when I can take things at my own pace) than when I’m actually in the class (when I have to keep up and am also ‘peopling’ with people I don’t always feel comfortable with).
I tried to eat less junk over Shabbat. I cut down during the week too, but I don’t eat a lot of junk during the week. I want to lose some weight before I get married, although as my weight-gain was mainly medication-induced, and I’m definitely not coming off my meds, I’m not sure if this is a vain hope.
After Shabbat I caught up on some chores that I feel have been hanging over me for a while. I feel a bit less overwhelmed. Marriage and house-hunting still feel like big things, but hopefully we can break them down into manageable chunks once we get started on them. As for writing, I hope to get into a pattern of submitting my manuscript to a couple of agents each week. Although I’m about to get very busy, I’d like to start work on my new novel, as I feel not writing is doing bad things to me, emotionally as well as to my writing skills. I’m wary of starting writing without having done enough research, but I feel that, with a bit more research, I’ll feel able to at least start a first draft, while doing more research alongside it. At any rate, it’s a start.
I was thinking about my residual beliefs in a punitive God over Shabbat. I’ve always known that ‘officially’ I’m ‘supposed’ to see God as merciful, but I’ve always struggled to do so.
In one of the Jewish newspapers there was an article by a Reform rabbi who, as a hospital chaplain, had a conversation with a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) patient who asked what he had done for God to punish Him. The rabbi could not believe in a punishing God, while the patient could not believe in an understanding of suffering that wasn’t rooted in punishment.
I felt that both perspectives were flawed. I find it hard to believe in a religiously-grounded moral order without some kind of punishment. I don’t think Hitler and Stalin got off scot-free. However, I don’t think that all or even most suffering is punishment.
To some extent the problem is semantic. As something of a Maimonidean religious rationalist, I feel that God has made a world of consequences and then told us how to avoid (some of) the bad consequences. People who smoke tend to develop cancer. God doesn’t “punish” smokers with cancer, but he created a world of cause and effect and if you ingest carcinogens on a regular basis, you have an increased chance of getting cancer.
Similarly, the moral world has its consequences. If you are persistently unkind, unsympathetic, stingy, critical, unhelpful (etc.) you are likely to find yourself without friends. God is not “punishing” you for not performing acts of chessed (kindness), but He has set up a world where being kind and community-minded creates bonds of friendship while being misanthropic does not.
I feel there are several reasons why God might cause or allow suffering (probably not an exhaustive list, and I’m not going into the free will/predestination conflict if Person A inflicts harm on Person B and God does not intervene — the Medieval Jewish philosophers really went to town on that one):
- Suffering is the consequence of unhealthy actions (physical or moral) by an individual ;
- Suffering is a reminder of mortality and human finitude intended to prompt introspection and growth;
- Related to this, suffering is an external cause of growth (whereas 2 is an internal process of introspection and repentance, 3 is about practical growth to overcome an external obstacle);
- The suffering is an inherent part of fulfilling an individual’s or collective’s mission in life.
To be honest, 2 and 3 shade into each other to a significant extent and could probably be reduced to a single point if I tried hard enough and even 1 is not that far off.
When I was very depressed, I wondered if God wanted me to be miserable forever as part of my mission on Earth (4). This has turned out not to be the case, but I do still worry about being faced with an external challenge that I fail (3). My mind tends to anxiously posit scenarios where I am forced to choose between two unappealing outcomes, one religiously forbidden and one merely awful, but religiously permitted. I struggle to imagine myself having the strength of will to choose the awful, but permitted over the forbidden. I suppose it’s another way of saying that I’m afraid that God will take away the good things in my life, but rather than Him doing that suddenly, by an Act of God (so to speak), He puts me in a position where I have to choose to forgo them, which somehow seems worse, not least because I fear I will choose short-term pleasure instead.
At root of this is a lack of trust in God, a feeling that anything good I have might be taken away from me, and that my destiny is to spend my life in loneliness and misery. The events of the last year or so have challenged this outlook: I’ve been in regular (if part-time) work, I finally got my autism diagnosis (which hasn’t led to many practical benefits yet, but has been a game-changer in terms of self-esteem), I got back together with E, and got engaged, but there is still the fear that everything could be taken away from me, suddenly and without warning, like Iyov (Job).
It is hard to know what to do with this thought. It is not how a religious Jew is supposed to think about God — we are supposed to trust Him — but one good year struggles to be heard over nearly twenty fairly miserable and lonely years beforehand. In many ways, the hardest part is that I can see how adversity helped me grow as a person, so I can’t deny that future adversity might help me grow more, I just hope there’s a way I can grow without it, or at least without the challenge of losing the things I hold most dear.
I felt so drained today. It was hard to get up or do anything. I did eventually cook dinner (vegetarian red bean chilli). By the time I finished that, I had only a little over an hour until my Zoom call with E’s parents. The call was nerve wracking, and longer than I expected (nearly an hour and a half), but it went well, I think. I didn’t get much else done today, between being drained and then anxious about meeting E’s parents. I guess that’s understandable. I wish I didn’t have work tomorrow, but I do, unfortunately (J has a meeting so rearranged his in-office days and I had to follow suit).
A job I was vaguely thinking of applying for, even though it was full-time, has closed. I’m not sure if they found someone early or if I’ve been so busy with other things that I ran out of time. I’m not greatly upset, as I think my parents’ idea of applying for full-time jobs and then asking to do it as a job share is not the most realistic. Nevertheless, I would be happier if I heard from the places I’ve written or pitched to recently about articles and my novel. I wish I could feel I was moving forward a little with my career(s).
I feel like I wasn’t expressing myself clearly in my post yesterday. I was trying to say that I should not argue back with culture warriors, but to write the truth of my own personal life instead, what I know experientially to be true, rather than what I think is true on a political, economic, cultural or religious level. I don’t think arguing on a political (etc.) level really works. I think that didn’t come across (despite the title), maybe because I was too tired. So I just want to clarify that.
I dreamt about turkeys last night. I’m obviously hanging around with too many Americans, or reading American-Jewish websites.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was tranquil on the surface, but I think it pointed out hidden tensions in my mind and I feel quite drained and low now.
I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. When I got home, I had quite a long talk with my parents about the cremation they had been to for my Mum’s cousin. I hadn’t really been able to speak to them about it before, as they only got back from it an hour or so before Shabbat and I was busy showering and getting ready for Shabbat. There was something Mum said that I won’t talk about here that I think I need to spend some time internalising, maybe in therapy.
Mum told me that my oldest friend was in one of the Jewish newspapers. I had emailed him last week as I hadn’t heard from him for ages. He hasn’t got back to me yet. I struggled with some thoughts again. I’m pleased that he’s doing well with his life, but sometimes it seems like our lives were so similar in primary school and the early years of secondary school and then we grew apart as we got older, although we never fell out or lost touch, just went in different directions. The fact that I’m not on social media probably doesn’t help us stay in touch, as I think he uses Facebook quite a bit for life announcements.
I try really hard these days not to feel jealous of other people’s lives, when they seem to be doing much better than me, and a lot of the time I succeed, but my oldest friend is ultra-hard given how parallel our lives once were. We even looked alike, except that he was a lot taller – people assumed he was my older brother. I kept thinking of the two identical goats for Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) in ancient times, the one for God and the other thrown off the cliff (the origin of the word ‘scapegoat’). I think I was the one who got thrown off the cliff.
After a bit of time on Friday night I got to a point of relative equanimity about this, but then I dreamt about my friend last night, so it’s obviously still bothering me unconsciously.
The other dream I had last night was about Rabbi Sacks. I feel like I’m still grieving him, and grieving the guidance I feel he could have given me about my life if I’d been able to engineer a situation where I met him. If I could have had the confidence to go to some events where he was, or if I had been in a Jewish youth movement especially as a youth leaders, or a leader at the university Jewish Society, as so many prominent people in the Modern Orthodox community were. But I was terrified of most people my own age as a teenager because of being bullied at school and perhaps also because autism meant I simply couldn’t communicate easily with them and understand unspoken communication. The result was that I avoided most group social stuff until it was too late. By the time I was in my late twenties or thirties and wanted to meet people, they were all married and settling down.
I should probably stop going on about this. I’m not sure how I can grieve someone I never met and only knew through his writing, which I still have.
After lunch I could have had seudah (the Third Sabbath meal) and gone to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), Talmud shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), but I went to bed for a bit and then davened (prayed) at home, and did Talmud study at home after Shabbat. I’m not sure why I did this, but it’s definitely an anxiety thing, probably fear of being asked to lead Minchah in shul as the second Minchah has few people and fewer who are willing/able to lead the service. I struggle to keep up in shiur and I feel uncomfortable helping to tidy up after Ma’ariv; I always feel I just get in everyone’s way and I don’t know how to help (I’ve mentioned before Amanda Harrington’s idea about people on the spectrum wanting to help, but just getting in the way). There’s probably some common or garden social anxiety too. It’s also hard to go out on Shabbat when it’s cold and overcast; it’s harder when the event I’m going to inspires so many negative feelings.
I feel like I’ve gone backwards over COVID time and the social anxiety that used to be around Shabbat morning prayers has spread to the afternoon too. Lately I’ve given up even trying to go in the mornings.
I finished reading The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, about the rabbis of Przysucha (pronounced Peshischa) and Kotzk. It’s a book that clearly resonates with me as this was the third or fourth time I’ve read it in thirteen years.
In the closing pages of the appendices (p. 355-356), Rabbi Rosen writes:
Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…
By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.
I think I’ve been very reluctant to make real or apparent compromises over the years, hence my resistance to so many groups where perhaps I might have made friends and been accepted if I’d just let my guard down and gone. I also feel that nowadays most of the Jewish community is closer to the “feeling heimish” end of the Jewish spectrum than the “quest for authenticity” end. Maybe, post-Enlightenment and post-Holocaust, heimish is the most we can hope for from the community as a whole. Or maybe it was ever thus. Or maybe organised yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) study for young people provides a mechanism for some people to grow and develop, although I’m not convinced that this is always the case from what I’ve heard. Ironically, it is the sense of authenticity and fear of dropping my guard that contributed to my not going to yeshiva (as well as my not being a youth/Jewish Society leader), although there were other reasons too.
There’s a lot of negativity in this post. I don’t really feel negative, just a bit down. I mostly feel cautiously positive these days, but I guess there’s a lot of anxiety and fear below the surface about the fact that I’m still trying to get my life together. I can see the next step or two, but not beyond that, and that’s scary when you’re nearly forty, only working part-time and, in some sense, disabled, and want to settle down and try to start a family.
I wrote most of this during the day, when I was feeling quite down. I’m posting it just as a record of my emotions, and that I can come out of slumps better than I used to be able to do.
I feel down today, even somewhat depressed. I’ve been a bit self-critical and I’ve been catastrophising a lot. I don’t know why I feel like this suddenly. I guess there are reasons. There’s family members struggling with things; COVID is getting to me, and making me worry when E and I will be able to meet again; I’m stressed about the coming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals); and I’m probably a bit hurt still from my novel rejection and wondering what my next step is, trying to process that now my intense two weeks covering for J at work is over. So I guess there is over-causation, if anything. Still, I thought I was getting better at emotional regulation and dealing with the down days. I still struggle to understand my own emotions a lot of the time, which doesn’t make dealing with them any easier.
As there has often been a seasonal element to my depression, it could be that as the days get shorter and the weather colder and more inclement (not that we had a particularly hot or dry summer!) I am still going to get more down/mildly depressed, despite no longer suffering general depression. Or maybe it’s my worries about getting through the next few weeks.
I missed E a lot and worried about how we can move our relationship on. There are so many obstacles: COVID, long-distance, finances, dealing with our separate ‘issues’… I worry that more will appear as we progress and can already catastrophise some into existence if I’m not careful. In terms of COVID, it’s not at all clear that the UK will still be allowing visitors from the US over the next couple of months. I worry that the US will become some kind of permanent plague zone that Europeans avoid contact with, like something out of a zombie film, and the type of Americans that refuse to get vaccinated won’t care because they have zero interest in the outside world anyway.
Another possibility is envy, sadly. I’m just feeling the “Will I ever make anything of my life? Will I become a successful writer? (Will I actually get the energy/headspace to write anything else?) How did I become such a professional failure when I did so well at school?” feeling again looking at more successful peers or even younger contemporaries. To quote Crusade, the abortive spin-off from Babylon 5, “When Mozart was my age, he was dead.” I don’t want to be Mozart, or the literary equivalent, but I do want to be able to at least help support E and myself and hopefully even children one day. I’d also like to write something that I can be proud of, something clever, idiosyncratic and unique like the stories I love like The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, The Third Policeman or Ubik. But at the moment I’m too focused on getting through the next couple of weeks to write much, and today everything feels such an effort.
A while back E sent me the link to this Instagram post, saying that there’s a need for my writing in the Jewish community. I look at it periodically when I need encouragement about my writing, but I guess today it just makes me think, “There are already Jewish creatives, why would anyone want to read my writing? I can’t write nearly well enough to capture the conflict between tradition and modernity. My writing’s too humdrum for the secular market and too negative for the religious market. And I don’t know how to get an agent.” And so on, back into catastrophisation.
I managed about three hours of work today, which is probably a minor miracle and I shouldn’t be surprised I can’t write too. Today is a bank holiday (public holiday), but I agreed with J to do a day’s work, split over today and tomorrow. I didn’t really want to do it, but I wanted to show willing, given that I want J to make my job permanent, and I’m aware I won’t work much in September because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and hopefully I’ll want time off in October if E comes here.
I went for a run. It wasn’t very good, but I was just glad to get out, as I felt like going back to bed. I think it did help shift my mood, as did speaking to E in the evening. I feel OK now.
It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to speak to the rabbi about my autism before Yom Tov, which is vaguely annoying, but he’s been away and then I had that not good time when I was covering for J and now it’s nearly Yom Tov. Maybe I can try to speak to him before Sukkot at least.
Last night I had a dream that seems somewhat relevant. I was watching some Hasidic men dance. They tried to drag me into the dance, but I didn’t want to join in; however, I didn’t want to go away either, I wanted to watch.
When I awoke, it made me think of Otto Rank, Freud’s pupil who postulated that life divides into the fear of life (fear of individuation) and fear of death (fear of absorption and losing individuality). I want to watch the dance (connect), but I am afraid to join in the mass of dancers (lose individuality). It’s probably about me and the Orthodox Jewish community, my inability to find my place in it and my uncertainty about where E and I will feel comfortable.
There seems to be a lot of drunken partying/arguing/fighting going on in someone’s back garden with a lot of noise reaching us despite the lateness of the hour (gone 11pm). It might be a long night…
It’s gone 10.30pm and I’m far too awake. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was not great. I guess it can’t be good every week. I got to shul (synagogue) early on Friday night, but someone had already taken “my” seat. It’s not really my seat as we don’t have set seats, but most people usually sit in the same place. Anyway, someone had put a bookrest and tallit bag in my place, but wasn’t sitting there, and didn’t sit there for the entire service. It was quite rude to do that when space is at a premium, as we are still somewhat socially distanced and we’ve lost a chunk of the room now the school we rent it from have renovated it. I probably should have just sat there, but (a) I was too social anxious and (b) I thought I knew whose tallit bag it was, and he’s someone I’ve seen explode angrily at people over trivial things, so I wanted to steer clear. I went into autistic rigid thinking and couldn’t work out where to sit, so I just sat in the row behind, but I think I sat in the seat usually taken by someone who sits with his son-in-law. I was davening (praying) when he came in so I couldn’t offer to move, but I felt a bit bad about that too.
Then I became aware that I was the only person wearing a face mask. Even the doctor who usually wears one had stopped. I felt too nervous to remove it, but I felt like I stood out wearing it. So that wasn’t fun.
Dinner was fine, but I struggled to sleep and got up and read for a bit, a Philip K. Dick story that was better than the last one, but still quite bleak (A Little Something for Us Tempunauts).
I slept through the morning again. As often happens, I woke up early enough that I could have gone to shul, but felt overwhelmed with whatever it is that overwhelms me (social anxiety? Depression? Ennui? I don’t know) and fell asleep again. (This blog sometimes seems to revolve largely around poor sleep and social anxiety.) I fell asleep after lunch too, and the alarm I have set to wake me at 5.15pm for Talmud shiur (religious class) and shul didn’t wake me. I woke an hour later and had to hurry to get out in time.
Shiur was OK. I didn’t wear a mask for shiur or Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I’m not sure how I feel about that. I got an aliyah (called to say the blessings over the Torah), which was nice, although it was a bleak passage, literally fire and brimstone.
I came home and we had rather late seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). It’s ideally supposed to be started before sunset, but it was halfway between sunset and nightfall by the time we ate, which I felt bad about, although I couldn’t have done anything differently as I was in shul. I seem to have felt vaguely bad about things that weren’t really in my control quite a bit this Shabbat.
Now I feel drained, but not sleepy, and somewhat down for no obvious reason. I will probably watch TV for a bit as I don’t really feel like reading. More ennui, I guess. I’ve had some weird dreams lately that aren’t worth recording, but which make me wonder if I’m anxious (well, I’ve been consciously anxious lately) or unconsciously trying to work something through. I hope I can do all the things I want to do this week, as it seems a bit overwhelming (speaking to my shul rabbi and my rabbi mentor, having therapy, working). Anyway, finis.
Work from home is making me exhausted and depressed.
I slept badly last night. I woke up about 5.30am after disturbing dreams, full of anxiety about work and the Very Scary Task (I should probably think of a better name for that here). I realised I had forgotten to tell someone something and that was worrying me. I got up and drank hot chocolate and read Philip K. Dick (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) for a while, which calmed me down a bit. I went back to bed, but as I was trying to fall asleep, J texted me at 6.30am to check some details. I guess he assumed I get up early for Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I went back to sleep, but didn’t sleep well, with more disturbing dreams. My alarm went at 9.20am and I probably would have fallen asleep again were it not for more work texts (not from J this time). I had breakfast and sent a text to resolve the problem of forgetting to tell someone something, but then J messaged me with another query. It wasn’t hard to resolve, but the whole process of this task is all quite nerve-wracking. I hope I don’t have to do this again next week — or for some time longer, really. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing in advance, and the odds are I will have to do it again next week.
I was very nervous of something going wrong with the Very Scary Task, but no one phoned me with a problem, so I guess it went OK. The main work for today, the data entry, was more tedious than ever. I found it hard to concentrate and I could not work out if that was related to Very Scary Task anxiety; being tired from yesterday and not sleeping well; or just the cumulative effect of doing this boring task for days on end.
I wanted to listen to music while doing the data entry, but I wasn’t sure what. Not the loud rock I usually listen to, because I needed to concentrate. I found some chazanut (Jewish liturgical music) CDs that belong to my parents and thought listening to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur music might get me in the appropriate mindset for those coming festivals, but I discovered that I dislike traditional chazanut as much when listened to as music as I do when listening to it in shul (synagogue). It’s all very emotional and wailing and loud and dragged out… I know some people feel the music and chazanut helps them to pray more intently, but I always get the feeling that the chazan just wants to show off and I would rather spend my time and energy focused on my private personal prayers. Maybe that’s why I struggle with going to shul; it’s certainly why I go to a shul where the focus is very much on personal prayers without much chazanut.
In the end I listened to incidental music from Twin Peaks. Similarly, on Monday I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner while I did the data entry. Incidental music isn’t as intrusive as other music, and evokes the atmosphere of enjoyable TV or film while I’m doing a boring task.
Towards the end of work, I started feeling very negative about myself, wondering why I’m doing basic data entry tasks of the kind that would normally be done by an intern when I’m in my late thirties and not being able to work full-time. It got mixed in with thoughts about the Jewish cultural website I wrote about yesterday, some resentment that many of the writers there have gone on to write professionally, or were already professional writers and got a boost, whereas for a long time I wanted to write for them, but wasn’t able to. (I did write a couple of guest posts eventually.) I also felt that a lot of the writers seemed to have mental health issues, but also managed to have families, careers, religious lives, community involvement and creative outlets and I never worked out how they did all of it. In the end, I became a sort of self-loathing troll, posting comments that attacked not others, but myself and wallowed in the misery of so much of my adult life.
I thought I had put the site behind me (it’s pretty much defunct now), but I realise I have such a mixture of thoughts about it. I thought, or at least hoped, I could make real friends there, I had a kind of “friendship crush” on so many of the writers, wanted to be noticed by them and converse with them in the comments. I made a couple of online friends I still sometimes connect with, including one who has been a bit of a writing mentor to me, but those were other commenters, not the writers. But then I remember that once I wrote a comment about being pretty suicidal and a bunch of the writers wrote messages to support me, so I guess they were friendly. I never quite worked out if they wrote it because they like me as an individual or if they just saw “A person is in trouble, we should help!” and it didn’t really matter who I was. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
E found my blog through my comments there, I think, so I guess that’s one tangible positive that came out of it for me.
Thinking about this also makes me realise that I’ve been so focused lately on getting my manuscript ready to try to find an agent, and brainstorming ideas for future projects, that I haven’t actually done any creative writing in ages, even though I have an idea for a short story. I would like to write it, but with the possibility of another week of crazy work next week and then the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish religious festivals), I’m not sure when I’ll have the time.
Aside from work, I went for a walk and did some shopping, which was where the negative thoughts got worse. I finished my devar Torah and skyped E and did a few minutes of Torah study, but that was about it. E is still the biggest positive in my life, even on stressful days.
The results from my recent blood test show my lithium level is slightly down. The results say it’s OK, but I thought 0.68 was sub-therapeutic. It might explain why my mood has been down a bit lately. My cholesterol is still a little high, but I don’t seem to be able to shift that much. I know, I should cut cheese, butter and eggs out of my life completely, but I can’t face it. I don’t eat much butter or eggs as it is, and I slashed my cheese consumption and, at the moment, can’t face cutting it further. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me one day.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a mixed bag, and, again, I find I need to break my rule, or at least aspiration, about not going online after Shabbat in the summer as I need to blog to get some of my thoughts out of my head.
On Friday night we davened (prayer) outside again. This seemed at odds with the shul‘s (synagogue’s) policy of no longer keeping COVID protocols in place, now that it is legal not to do so (unlike my parents’ shul, which still has a lot of safeguards in place, and is even apparently adding more). This was pleasant for me, as I would wear a mask inside, but felt no need to do so outside. The reason may have been that we do not own the building where we daven, which is usually a school. The hall where we daven is currently being significantly remodelled, which is going to make services difficult, particularly the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur festival services next month. I am not sure what the shul will do. We raised funds to buy our own premises earlier this year, but I think we do not have planning permission to build yet, and even when we do, the building project is estimated to take eighteen months.
I did not sleep particularly well last night and had some strange dreams, partly focused on some silly thing I did when I was ten. I don’t know why I carry around guilt from two decades ago, when I wasn’t even an adult. It did leave me in a negative state of mind, and I stayed in bed because I felt anxious and self-critical. When I did finally get up, I was carrying other guilt, which I don’t want to go into here, for various reasons, but which was equally irrational.
I slept for three hours after lunch, which was not sensible, as I will probably struggle to sleep tonight. Even then, I only woke up because I set an alarm before Shabbat. I’m not sure how long I would have slept if I had awakened naturally.
I nearly didn’t get back to shul, as I had a lot of social anxiety. I more or less forced myself out of the house and down to shul. The hall, now I saw it properly, looked very different as a result of the ongoing building works. About a third of the hall has already been partitioned off, and even in the area still accessible to us, some tables were missing. This was somewhat upsetting to my autistic mind.
After Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), the seudah shlishit (third Sabbath meal) was held in a classroom. I didn’t want to go and eat, but I did want to attend the Talmud shiur (religious class) that would be held partway through the seudah. I stayed in the hall and read for a bit, but then thought that they were about to start the shiur, so went and found the classroom. I felt awkward sitting there and not eating, but I did get to hear the shiur. I’m not sure how well I followed it, but I would have followed it even less had I not prepared in advance yesterday.
One thing I noticed was a couple of people addressing me by name and trying to make small talk with me. It always surprises me when people know me or want to talk to me. I suppose I’ve had so many bad social interactions, so many communities of one kind or another (shul, school, scouts, university, workplace) where I’ve felt I haven’t been accepted or didn’t fit in (or was even bullied) and just stood around “being autistic” and not really being able to talk to people that I’m still amazed when people know my name and want to talk to me. I don’t know how to progress this to make friends though.
I don’t know how rational my COVID fears are. I travel on public transport (with a mask) to get to work or volunteering, and shul is probably no less safe than that. Is it safe enough not to wear a mask, or to eat? I don’t know. According to the government, it’s fine, but I don’t feel safe. Is this sensible caution or the beginnings of health anxiety/OCD?
I feel a bit down now, and vaguely headachey. I probably need something to eat, and to shower (it’s got hot again) relax a bit before bed.
I’m writing after Shabbat (the Sabbath) again, to offload from a rather stressful (and ongoing) day. The ongoing bit is the people in the house behind us and to the left, who are having a party with loud music again. It’s currently 11.30pm and they haven’t turned it down. My Dad thinks they are students. I’m slightly sceptical, as we aren’t anywhere near a university or college let alone in a student area (it’s mostly families around here), but it would explain why they have loud parties regularly. I’m pretty angry with them, but have no real way of venting. I’ve got all the windows shut, which I don’t like to do even in the middle of winter, let alone August, but I can still hear the music through the double glazing.
I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor on Friday. We spoke a bit about my current feeling of being overwhelmed and how to break my worries into smaller chunks, and also that, although I’m not doing much that’s particularly scary (except submitting my novel manuscript), a lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of months, and the cumulative effect is difficult, particularly with the autumn Yom Tov (festival) cycle starting in a month from tomorrow.
We also spoke a bit about how much Torah study I do. Although I haven’t been monitoring closely lately, I think I’m still averaging about fifty minutes a day, including some weekly Talmud study. My rabbi mentor said something to me about Talmud study that I don’t think I should repeat, but it did make me feel that maybe I am doing enough.
I woke up at 6.30am this morning and struggled with my conscience about getting up. It was far too early for shul (synagogue), but I wondered if I should try to stay awake so I could go. I fell asleep again, woke up when I thought I heard someone at the door, delivering my Twilight Zone box set, I guessed, although when I got downstairs, there was no one there. At some point I should have got up and stayed up, but I fell asleep again. It looks like social anxiety is taking over and stopping me getting to shul in the mornings again. I thought I’d made progress there, but the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance, and social anxiety exposure.
I don’t usually relate dreams unless I feel they are either very amusing or insightful. I think this is a bit of both: one of the occasions when I drifted back to sleep this morning, I dreamt I was back at school and rehearsing the lead in Hamlet. I’ve never really wanted to act, but I’ve long had an interest in Shakespeare’s great Dane, seeing parallels with myself (clever, moody, doesn’t have many real friends, messed up love life (OK that’s not relevant to me any more, but it was for a long time) and complicated relationships with his parents), although nowadays I don’t see him as a particularly positive figure. I’ve read Hamlet twice, once with notes, and I’ve seen two productions on TV/DVD, although never in the theatre. Anyway, I think dreaming of Hamlet was my unconscious’ way of chiding me for procrastinating about getting up for shul and falling asleep instead. I’m not sure why the dream seemed to focus on Hamlet’s death and my being stabbed, with a hidden pouch of fake blood to soak through my doublet, which would probably be excessively gory for a school production. Sherlock Holmes (another literary figure I identify with) was involved too, trying to solve the Elsinore murders. To be honest, Holmes would probably have made a better job of it than Hamlet did.
I did make it to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), although it was a struggle, given how wet and miserable it was outdoors and that I didn’t really want to be around people. I stayed for Talmud shiur too and followed some of it, although we covered more material than I had prepared, which is almost unprecedented.
My parents invited their friends who live down the road for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). They are friendly, but very loud and talkative. I mean, they talk a lot, and loudly. Even the son, who is also on the spectrum, was talkative and loud. They were already here when I got home from shul. They were looking at my birthday cards, which are still up downstairs; I was glad I had removed the card from E with a very personal message.
I ate seudah with them, but slipped away after dessert while everyone sat around talking. Conversation was about school experiences (the son on the spectrum had a very different experience to me), COVID and the Olympics, none of which interested me. I went upstairs and read a bit, although not for very long as Shabbat was nearly over, and there was a lot of noise from outside (see above).
My Dad wanted me to lead bentsching (grace after meals) which I did, and then to make havdalah (prayer at the end of Shabbat), which I also did, but found myself getting annoyed. I think I was just drained from so much peopling and so much noise. I know my Dad doesn’t read Hebrew well, so likes me to lead any prayers when his friends are around, but I guess I feel a bit taken for granted. I mean, I’m already struggling just to handle his friends being there when I don’t want to be around people, without feeling obliged to ‘perform.’
Now I feel somewhat down and headachey. I’d like to watch The Twilight Zone, but the noise from outside is not conducive to the right atmosphere, so I’ll probably watch The Simpsons, which doesn’t need atmosphere. I don’t feel tired as I slept so much (morning and napped again after lunch).
Today was not really a good day. I did remember, belatedly, the advice not to give a label which contains a narrative to something abstract, because it creates the thing it describes. In other words, a bad day is just a series of events until you label them “A Bad Day.” You can’t point to a “Bad Day” and see an object sitting there, rather you conceptualise it as a bad day. Still, a lot of stuff seemed to go wrong.
I thought I overslept. I hadn’t, but it meant I felt that I was on the back foot from the start of the day. I woke up out of what was probably on some level an anxiety dream about my shul (synagogue) and possibly about what would happen if I wanted to get married there (although the actual dream was about someone stealing the rabbi’s hat).
Much of the day at work was just boring, sorting through my predecessor’s emails and deleting those which are spammy or trivial. J told me that I had been consistently doing one task wrong, forgetting to record details on spreadsheets. I was recording on one or two, but there were another two to complete. There are so many spreadsheets in this job! It is hard to remember all of them even without autistic multitasking issues. Then I went to the bank, got a quarter of the way there and realised I’d filled in the paying-in slip wrongly as J had given me another cheque after I’d filled it in and I’d changed the spreadsheet, but not the physical slip (multitasking and spreadsheets again). I thought I would correct it in the bank and carried on, but when I got halfway there I realised they have taken all the pens away because of COVID. So I had to go back to the office and tell J what happened, correct the slip and then go out again. I felt like an idiot.
After that, the day went into terminal decline. J wanted some papers that I’d given him and wouldn’t believe that he didn’t already have them. Then he needed some other papers and I couldn’t find them. Eventually we discovered I’d filed them in the wrong folder. Then I photocopied them instead of scanning them, then scanned them as one document instead of two. Then it was leaving time, but I realised I’d forgotten to give J my invoice for July and I’d forgotten that he wants me to work on Tuesday next week instead of Monday (although at least I found out now and not on Monday).
Good things-wise, I wrote to my writer friend the other day about tips for finding an agent and she sent me some resources (and a warning to beware of fraudulent agents, which apparently are A Thing). That said, I think my first stop will be one agent E suggested who works with literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy with Jewish themes, so who might be sympathetic both to my desire to write specifically Jewish books and my desire to write literary fiction as well as science fiction and fantasy novels. I had been concerned an agent might want to force me down one path or the other.
The other good thing today was talking to E and hearing some good news, which I will not mention now as it’s still very up in the air. (Before you get too excited, no, we’re not engaged.)
Things did get better and I feel vaguely embarrassed about getting so upset about my work mishaps. I guess it shows that there isn’t such a thing as a Bad Day, merely a narrative about certain incidents in close temporal proximity to each other.
I’ve been thinking a lot today about The Black Iron Prison, Philip K. Dick’s gnostic/psychotic (in the literal, psychiatric sense) vision of the world and its politics as supernatural dungeon. And I was going to write about it, but after speaking to my parents and E I recovered from having a bad day and decided I didn’t want to write a melodramatic political post, so The Black Iron Prison will have to wait for another day when I’m feeling down and grumpy.
Reading an old blog post elsewhere on the internet, I came across this quote about Rabbi Chaim of Volozyn, nineteenth century Talmud scholar and mystic and founder of the first modern yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). The quote is from his son, Rabbi Itzele Volozyner: “He would routinely rebuke me because he saw that I do not share in the pain of others. This is what he would constantly tell me: that the entire person was not created for himself, but to be of assistance to others, whatever he finds to be in his ability to do.”
This is interesting because, more than almost anyone else (except his teacher, the Vilna Gaon), Reb Chaim embodies the attitude of total focus on Talmudic study as the primary religious practice (or primary practice full stop) of the religious Jewish man. Yet here the focus is on being good to others, in whatever way you can, or even just empathising with them. I suppose it makes me feel that my Jewish life can be worthwhile even if I am bad at Talmud study, if I can help others somehow. Admittedly I’m not great at helping others either, but it’s more achievable, and I do hope that writing and even blogging (and commenting on other people’s blogs) can help.
I didn’t sleep well again. My weighted blanket became bunched up in one side of the duvet cover I put it in to keep it clean and I kept waking up feeling I wasn’t covered up as I wanted, but I was too tired and burnt out to get up and even out the duvet. I had crazy dreams (something about going to see Hermann Goering about something, possibly stopping the Nazis coming to power, or making sure they did come to power to preserve history… I think this was based on the science fiction novel The Simulacra that I read recently). I think I woke up intermittently across the morning, partly woken by building noise from next-door (or was that yesterday? The mornings blur together), but I didn’t feel able to stay awake and get up until very late and I was very burnt out again.
Burnout feels like more than ordinary “tired,” more like jetlag, or the type of tired you get if you’ve been up for thirty-six hours straight, just totally drained of energy and really impossible to do anything or think straight. It gets a bit better after breakfast, but generally not a lot better until after lunch, which implies to me there might be a blood sugar element (low blood sugar has always affected my mood negatively, since childhood). I’m not sure what the solution is, if there is one. For the moment I’m waiting anxiously for 9 March and the final part of my autism assessment before I make firm plans about my mental health.
I got a text this morning offering me a COVID vaccination at my GP, but I was asleep when it came through and by the time I phoned through to make the appointment, they were all taken. I’m actually glad, as the appointment would have been on a Saturday. Some rabbis are permitting getting vaccinated on Shabbat, but as I’m not a priority (I think I’m only being offered it at this stage because my Mum is still listed as vulnerable), I don’t mind waiting until the next appointment, which I’ve been told is Friday 5 March. I just hope I am awake when I get the next message and can respond in time.
I had a fairly busy day: I wrote my devar Torah for the week (although I have a bit to add that I thought of later) and was glad to link the sedra (weekly Torah reading) to Purim. I did a little Torah study too and went for a run. When I got home, I ate some crackers with salty butter out of curiosity to see if the salt would stop me getting a headache, wondering if lack of salt rather than dehydration is what causes my exercise migraines (dehydration seems unlikely, as I drink a lot). I didn’t get a headache immediately, but one seems to have set in now, over four hours later, although that may be because my parents turn the heating up so high.
There’s a joke about a great sage who wanted to know the meaning of life. He spent years studying texts: Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah… Eventually he looked up from his books and said, “Life is good!” Then he paused for a moment, thought a bit longer and said, “But if life is so good… how come it’s so bad?”
I feel a bit like this. My life is objectively better than it’s been for at least two or three years. And yet, somehow I feel stressed a lot of the time. There is uncertainty. I don’t know if my job will continue long-term or if my novel will be published. I obviously don’t know what will happen with me and PIMOJ. I guess uncertainty about one’s career and relationship is going to lead to unsettled feelings, even if things are OK at the moment.
At the moment, PIMOJ and I still can’t see each other for another nearly two weeks because of the lockdown, which is proving very difficult and I certainly feel it’s putting a bit of strain on the relationship. I think my relationship with PIMOJ is different to my previous two relationships, in that PIMOJ and I are very different in personality and we have to consciously work harder on the relationship and to communicate effectively. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it means I have to engage in the relationship a lot more deliberately than I had to with previous relationships (not that I’ve been in many previous relationships), and that’s not easy when we can’t see each other.
Beyond this, I guess there are things I think about and worry about that I need to process, but which I don’t want to write here because they relate to other people who might not want me to write about them even anonymously. I need to find another way of processing them. I can talk in therapy, but that’s one hour a fortnight. I could try to switch back to once a week, but I’m not sure I will always have enough to say once a week; the amount of worry comes and goes. I speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes. I could try writing privately, as I occasionally do. I do feel that it’s better if I can write with an audience though. Aside from getting helpful comments, knowing I have an audience stops me drifting into catastrophising or self-pity. Just knowing that something will be read makes me careful to avoid that in a way that I fear is not the case in private writing.
Still, just as my intermittent low mood is not capital-D Depression, so my worries are not capital-A Anxiety, which is good.
OK, bed now, as my head hurts.
There’s a famous quote from Mark Twain (which I think is really by Mark Twain, even though he’s someone that random quotes are often ascribed to on the internet, like Einstein and Lincoln) that says that, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” I feel like that today, as I slept badly (weird dream about a giant orangutan), and struggled to get up, worrying about something that didn’t really happen in the end. I felt relieved, but also somewhat guilty and very drained, which may have been relief rather than tiredness from sleeping badly.
I wonder if the giant orangutan in the dream was a wish-fulfilment me, so big that I could do what I liked and couldn’t be harmed by tranquiliser darts shot by anyone around me i.e. impervious to criticism and other people’s opinions. That is what I would like to be with regard to self-esteem and confidence.
I feel very depressed and burnt out again today. Some of it is probably sleeping badly. Some of it is that I always seem to feel like this the day after working, which does not bode well for the idea of me ever being in anything like full-time employment. Some of it is probably the time of year.
This is the worst time of year for me, late January/February. When the days are still short (albeit slowly growing longer), the weather is bad (it snowed again today), everything is cold and dead (even without lockdown) and when the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach (Passover) begin to loom on the horizon. This ought to be good, given that they herald the arrival of warmer and sunnier days, but these are the most difficult festivals for me. Purim is difficult with autism, depression, social anxiety and religious OCD. Pesach is super-difficult with religious OCD; it has, in fact, always been the worst focus of my religious OCD. I imagine I’ll write more on this when we get closer to those festivals so I won’t go into detail now.
Beyond that, lately I’ve found all religious festivals difficult because I feel a pressure to have some kind of intense religious experience. Not mystical hippie-tripping, but somehow feeling closer to God and becoming a better person. This is a lot of pressure to put on myself. Normally it’s enough just to cope with all the peopling from extra shul (synagogue) attendance and meal guests, and the stress and potential religious OCD of all the special festival mitzvot (commandments). I’m not sure how much of this pressure really comes from me or how much from “inspirational” articles. I don’t feel the pressure on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but paradoxically, I think I probably have more of a religious experience then. There’s probably a lesson there.
As someone who is influenced by Jewish religious existentialism, I feel that I should try to have “I-Thou” encounters. First identified by Martin Buber, an I-Thou encounter is when two people meet and relate in a very personal and authentic way as opposed to an I-it encounter, which is encountering the other person like an object. Yet I am scared of opening up to people, and when I do, I’m left feeling an awkward mixture of gladness, social anxiety, shame and self-blame. There’s a strong sense of “Did I say the right thing?” which I guess is social anxiety.
I feel that I can’t write here about the thing that is most troubling me at the moment. This is problematic, as I process things by writing. I tried writing just for myself, but it didn’t help so much. Hopefully I can talk to my rabbi mentor about it tomorrow. I did discuss it with my therapist last week. She said to try to note my thoughts and feelings without analysing them, which is hard when my thoughts and feelings do not exist in the abstract, but influence my actions in the present and future.
In practical terms, I phoned the doctor today and have hopefully got the issue about the dosage of my olanzapine sorted. I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils). I also went to my Tanakh shiur (Bible class), which this week was about Yechezkiel (Ezekiel). We did the “dry bones” passage in groups, which cheered me up a bit. That was about all I managed today though.
I had dreams last night that reminded me of my insecurities. I know I’m insecure; I don’t need dreams to remind me!
I had NHS problems again, making lots of phone calls (which I hate doing), trying to get my psychiatrist to get the right information about my medication (coming off haloperidol and back onto olanzapine) in time to get a repeat prescription when I run out at the weekend. I won’t go into all the details, as it’s a long story, but a few things were messed up and by the end of the day, it wasn’t resolved, so my Mum and Dad are going to have to try to resolve it tomorrow when I’m at work. I am a bit worried whether I will get enough medication to get me through the weekend and the beginning of next week.
Therapy was good, although I don’t have much to write here about it. My therapist said I have good self-awareness and self-reflections, but I need to learn how to acknowledge my thoughts and feelings rather than judging them. We spoke a bit about writing down thoughts and fears to get them out of my system, which I do to some extent already.
Other than that I went for a walk, worked on my novel for an hour and did half an hour of Torah study. I would have liked to have done more writing and Torah study, but the phone calls to try to sort out my medication took far too long, really.
I’m still reading Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy by Yael Ziegler on the biblical book of Rut (Ruth). Rut is one of the shortest books of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), the shortest if you count the twelve minor prophets as one volume, so I’m not sure how this book about it ends up as one of the longest so far in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series. It is good though, and very thorough, which I guess is why it is so long.
I saw this sentence referring to Rut the Moabite convert: “The social mores of Judaism tend to be more difficult to apprehend than the unambiguous halakhic [legal] guidelines.” (p. 263) This seems very true, for myself on the autism spectrum as much as for the Moabite Rut. I sometimes wish all the unwritten rules were written down, so I could learn them properly. In particular, the rules about fraternisation between the genders; I can’t work out why my shul (synagogue) absolutely prohibits this in some events, but allows it in others and in others still makes only a token gesture towards it.
I had a dream over Shabbat about being put in herem (excommunicated) because some rabbis took exception to my novel. This is not likely to happen in reality for many reasons, but I think it does reflect fear of negative reviews of the “Why do they always say bad things about the Orthodox community? Why can’t they see the good in the community?” kind (I’m thinking of one Jewish site in particular here). I can sort of see their point. It’s possible that I haven’t seen as much of the good side of the community as other people despite my having spent my life inside it, to varying degrees. And I feel uncomfortable with people who say things like, “I can only speak my truth,” but beyond a certain point, everything else is impossible, and my experience of the frum (religious Jewish, and in this case, Orthodox) community has been complicated at best – partly my own fault, but I think that’s reflected in the novel too.
Just before I was due to go for my COVID test this morning, it started snowing heavily. Dad took me in the snow storm, but when we arrived, the drive-in tests were cancelled as unsafe. I’m not currently planning to book another one; if I still feel bad on Tuesday, I’ll try to get in contact with my psychiatrist and see what she says. I feel a lot better today, with no light-headedness or hot flushes and only brief tremor, although some restless legs, which suggests that the symptoms were from starting haloperidol. I’m still suffering some anxiety (see below) which may be from stopping olanzapine.
I spent some time working on my novel. I’m not sure how much I did, somewhere over an hour, without much procrastination once I got down to it. I read two chapters and made some minor changes, finally getting through the 80,000 word barrier.
I went on a rather long Zoom call with my parents, sister and brother-in-law because it was my sister’s birthday yesterday and my Dad’s tomorrow. As I’ve mentioned before, I find Zoom hard at the best of times and struggled through it, but even when my sister and BIL are around in person I have a tendency to drift out of the conversation a lot. I tend to feel that the conversation is either small talky or about “adulting” and that I can’t really join in. I feel rather stuck in immaturity sometimes as a result of autism and mental illness. The restless legs were hard to control by the end of the call too.
I did some work on my devar Torah for the week and some general Torah study. I didn’t get any exercise today because of the snow. I spoke to my rabbi mentor and realised I’ve been procrastinating about some things that really I need to confront. Not major things, thankfully, but I tend to get anxious about things as if they were major. I tried to help Dad when he accidentally deleted a load of email folders, but I couldn’t work out what he’d done or how. I suspect they haven’t been deleted, but hidden somewhere, but I’ve no idea where. I’m not terribly good at Outlook because I only use it at work.
I had some anxiety in the evening after having been OK for most of the day. This was probably in part the general tendency for my anxiety to get worse in the evenings and partly from watching The Sandbaggers (1970s/80s espionage drama) which tends to end in downbeat ways, in this case with a likeable character turning out to be a double agent and committing suicide to avoid shaming his family. I like the series a lot, but it’s probably just as well that I only have five episodes left.
J suggested I switch work days this week to give the snow a chance to clear before I go in to work, so I’ll be working on Tuesday instead of tomorrow. I was secretly relieved, as I didn’t really want to go in to work in the snow, but was reluctant to suggest changing days after having missed a day off sick last week.
I got up early again (9.20am, on a Sunday, is early for me), despite setting my alarm wrongly, so things are looking good on that score. I had dreamt about a kid who bullied me at school bullying me as an adult (or quasi-adult… in the dream, I mean). It made me wonder if a lot of my feelings of inadequacy around work and my life in general are about feeling I have to “show” the kids who bullied me at school that I’m competent, or fitting in with my childhood/adolescent feelings that one day I would succeed in some nebulous, undefined way and that that would be some kind of revenge or self-justification. It would be better to focus on what I want to be doing right now, for myself.
It was a busy day. I had a nice date with PIMOJ. We had to cut it short because we both had things to do afterwards, but it was still two and a half hours. We had a really good time though. It’s strange how two people who are, on the surface, opposites (quiet, reserved and pessimistic vs. ebullient and upbeat) are so alike in many other ways. I came home and had a difficult, but positive conversation with my parents, arranged an important and scary conversation with a rabbi I haven’t seen in fifteen years and always found a little intimidating (I’m cutting a lot of relevant information here that maybe one day I’ll be able to reveal in full), started getting stuff ready for the next stage of my autism assessment on Tuesday… and promptly threw up. Perhaps it was anxiety about all the things happening this week, especially the important and scary conversation with the rabbi. I’m kind of hoping it was, because I don’t want to have a bug.
I’ve spent the last couple of hours watching Doctor Who and slowly eating toast and sipping water, while intermittently dealing with texts from PIMOJ (who is worried about me) and the slightly intimidating rabbi (who I’ll call Rabbi B to distinguish him from all the other rabbis on this blog), setting up a Zoom meeting with me and PIMOJ for Tuesday (no, we’re not about to get married). I don’t feel sick any more, but I do feel a bit faint, despite all the toast and water, and I might be coming down with a temperature; at any rate, I keep feeling hot and then cold (my parents think this is just a side effect of being sick). I texted J to say I won’t come to work tomorrow. Even if I’m not infectious, I don’t want to go on the Tube with a lowered immune system, particularly not as I’m paid on a day to day basis anyway rather than having a contract.
When watching Doctor Who, I watched some of The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis, Tom Baker’s final two stories in the title role. Every couple of years I forget enough about these stories to think that they’re intelligent and brooding and I watch them again, alongside with Castrovalva, the next story in sequence, which forms a loose trilogy with them. And they are intelligent and brooding, in places, with a few good lines (including the title of this post). They’re also portentous, jargon-filled and incomprehensible in other places. Tom Baker is good, but has clearly had his wings clipped by the production team. But after a while I forget all that, and then I remember them as I feel they should be and watch them again… and then I remember.
I really liked Logopolis as a child, at least from the novelisation. I think I want to experience that version of the story, the version that appealed to a quiet and intelligent eight year child, rather than the version that makes the thirty-seven year old wannabe writer redraft the whole thing.
So, on we go to Tier 4 (in COVID restriction regulations), the COVID equivalent of “It goes up to eleven.” Apparently, I can still meet one person from not in my household if we meet outside, which means PIMOJ and I can still go out tomorrow, which is good, but Mum and Dad were hoping to have dinner in my sister’s garden later in the week, which is now forbidden.
I can’t actually remember much of what happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I was really tired on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time. I still don’t like shul with COVID restrictions, but it’s good to go once a week. I read a lot, a lot of religious reading and some recreational reading, mostly Doctor Who Magazine, the current issue and also the twenty-four year old back issue I bought recently. I enjoyed the back issue a lot; the current one, more moderately. I read a bit of the book I’m reading at the moment, America During the Cold War, a reader on American history in the Cold War era, but I’ve been struggling to get into it so far.
I did have a dream that upset me a bit. I can’t remember the details now, and I wouldn’t go into them if I could, but it was bringing up things I’ve been feeling guilty about recently. Ashley asked recently if I think all my dreams are trying to tell me something; this is a good example of one that I do not think is telling me something, but is just processing recent thoughts and conversations, but it was still uncomfortable to wake up from.
As with the last few weeks, I intended to stay up reading, but got tired around 11.15pm and went to bed. I slept until 7.00am, when I decided I was still tired and would doze for another hour. I then slept for another five hours, and then napped for half an hour in the afternoon. This is beginning to feel wrong to me. I seem to be tired so much of the time, and to be sleeping so long, and it’s hard to see it as being part of my depression when my mood is so much better. I don’t remember being this tired while depressed for a long time (when I was very depressed I was hiding in bed as much as sleeping in it). I suppose it could be my medication, but in 2018, when I was very depressed, but on these meds, I was working four days a week at times, which I could not manage now (admittedly sometimes I had to dose myself up on coffee to avoid falling asleep at the desk).
I’m beginning to wonder if I have some other illness such as chronic fatigue syndrome, but am scared to investigate for fear of being a hypochondriac or diagnosis-shopping, and Occam’s Razor would suggest the medication is the issue. Something does feel “wrong” though, even though it’s hard to quantify what “wrong” is. How does one measure and quantify fatigue? And compare with fatigue of years ago?
My parents suggested trying to get a phone appointment with the GP this week, which I will try to do, but I do feel like a hypochondriac, even though something feels wrong and I am the expert on how I feel.
I was able to spend longer on Shacharit (morning prayers) yesterday and got a lot out of it. I wanted to do the same today, but struggled to get up and get going again, feeling tired after yesterday. I’m glad the emotional symptoms of depression are largely (although not entirely) gone, but I wish the physical symptoms (oversleeping, lack of energy) would go too as they really stop me living the life I want to live. I struggle to understand why one has gone and not the other (autistic burnout is a possible explanation, or partial explanation). That said, I did get up a bit earlier than I had been even on work days, and spent a bit longer on Shacharit, even if not as much as I would have liked.
I felt very tired on the train into work and was unable to do much Torah study. It was hard enough to stay awake, and it took two cups of coffee at work (after an earlier one at breakfast) to wake up enough to work adequately.
Work was OK. I was doing something that was not, in the abstract, particularly interesting, but I got involved in it. I know I feel negative sometimes about the presentation of high-functioning autism as a positive thing, but maybe I do have the ability to focus on things that are not so interesting. I do still worry about making mistakes. I feel that I am less meticulous than I used to be, and I don’t know why. It occurred to me today that maybe my anxiety about making mistakes is actually causing me to make mistakes.
I did also realise that procrastination for me is more about anxiety than boredom. When I started the task, I was daunted by it and worried that I would mess it up and I was easily distracted, but as I got hold of what I had to do, it became easier to focus on it.
I dreamt last night that I was with one of my shul (synagogue) friends and realised he was abusing his wife and children. I woke up feeling guilty that I could think that about him even on an unconscious level (he’s a nice person and I’m sure he treats his family well), but I also tried to work out what my mind was trying to tell me. My best guess is that I’ve had a break for a couple of weeks from my novel, which deals with themes of domestic abuse, and my unconscious is sending me a message to get back to work.
I seem to be on a spy kick at the moment. James Bond, writing about John le Carré yesterday and now I’m watching one of my Chanukah presents, the DVD of The Sandbaggers. This is a 1970s TV spy drama. I heard about it years ago, but only got around to checking it out now. It’s my sort of spy drama, low on violence and action, but with lots of politics (Cold War geopolitics, but also internal politics in Whitehall), jargon and strong characterisation. I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but they were very good.
That makes three strong “new” (to me) TV series I’ve seen this year: Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, Twin Peaks and now The Sandbaggers. I’ve also dated two women and found a job, (re-)started volunteering and got to a much more stable place of mental health. Dare I say it, I think my 2020 has actually been better than most people’s. Even the biggest personal shock/worry – Mum’s cancer – turned out alright (cured), albeit with the usual caveats about worrying about cancer returning.
I slept too long again, with disturbing dreams, which I will try to keep short, as I know some people are bored by dreams. (Feel free to skip the rest of this paragraph if that’s you.) One, a rather disgusting one about maggots in a hotel bedroom, was apparently based on the James Bond novel I’m reading. The other was more interesting, about being in Theresa May’s government (!!!) in some way, but not being aware of my job title or role, or if I was a political appointee or in the Civil Service, or what level of seniority I had; I was rebuked for sitting towards the back of a group photograph when I was important enough to be in the front row. On a basic level, it reflects the fact that I’ve realised that I don’t actually know my proper job title in my new job, if I have one, as I didn’t have to apply for it in the usual way, I was just offered it informally by J. On a deeper level, I think it reflects fears that I don’t know what I’m doing with my life, or, more pertinently, what I should be doing with it (in terms of my divinely-mandated mission that I believe everyone has), and feeling that everyone around me is doing much better (in the dream, one old school friend was the Head of MI5).
I still felt overwhelmed today, and also burnt out and depressed, even a bit tearful, although I didn’t actually cry. Things are better with PIMOJ, but historically arguments and misunderstandings have generally happened for me shortly before breakups and it’s hard to escape feeling that that will happen again, even if I know rationally that all couples argue from time to time and it doesn’t necessarily presage problems. I’m not good at handling arguments in any context, for reasons going back to my childhood. I want to run off and avoid them, which I guess is what I have done here.
I also feel bad about missing volunteering today, especially as I was told that I informed them rather late last night (it was a late decision on my part). Plus there’s the usual winter overwhelm feelings from lack of sunlight and poor weather. I feel the need for time out for myself, and I’m not sure how to get it.
I felt like the unlovable autistic/depressive freak again today, which I hadn’t done for a while. I worry that PIMOJ and my personalities are too different for this to work, especially with my autistic issues, issues that make us very different, but also make it hard for me to communicate those differences. I know my autistic rigid thinking can be off-putting to people, particularly when combined with social anxiety and depressive negativity and catastrophising. I don’t know how to change this, or even if it’s possible.
I spoke about much of this in therapy. My therapist wondered if I was rushing too far ahead; she said I can just spend time with PIMOJ and learn about her without having to decide if she is compatible with me. This admittedly has not been helped by COVID, which has meant our relationship has largely been conducted over text and video rather than in person, and when in person has largely been in one or two environments (park and coffee shop). She (therapist) also said I should ask PIMOJ what she wants me to compromise on. She also reminded me to be compassionate to myself. I think I’m getting better at that (compassion), but it’s still hard to feel that I deserve it. The therapist also warned me about catastrophising and turning my fears into reality by assuming they are real.
I did feel a lot better after therapy, and also a text from PIMOJ saying that she can’t wait to see me in person at the weekend (we decided to change from a video meeting on Saturday evening to an in-person meeting on Sunday morning).
I didn’t really do much other than write my devar Torah and go to therapy on Zoom because I was feeling so burnt out and depressed.
In the evening, I watched Blade Runner 2049. I hadn’t seen it since I saw it in the cinema in 2017. It was good, but not as good as the original, although it’s a very different sort of film. I don’t have time to go into details on that, though.
What I did realise is that I struggle to concentrate for two and a half hours, both in terms of following the plot and physically sitting still. Maybe I am still somewhat depressed. At least I know why I keep watching original run Doctor Who stories when depressed: it comes in twenty-five minute chunks and I know all the stories backwards so it doesn’t matter if I tune out for a bit.
My rabbi mentor seems to think that writing about abuse in my novel is OK. He said that some people in the frum (religious) community will shy away from it, but many would appreciate the honesty. I hope so.
Chanukah starts tomorrow evening. On TV and in films, Chanukah always exactly corresponds with Christmas, but in reality it’s usually a bit earlier. Also, on TV and films Chanukah is the only Jewish festival, whereas in reality it’s one of about seven, and probably the least important, religiously.
In recent years Chanukah has been a time of stability and calm for me when all the other Jewish festivals were made difficult by mental illness (religious OCD, depression, social anxiety, excessive guilt etc.), but somehow it feels like it won’t be calm this year, with COVID in particular, as well as fears that I will not be well enough to get to work or volunteering and worries about dating.
J has said that if I need to take off time for health reasons, I can. I’m not quite sure why he said it, but it was after I took the psychiatrist’s call on my lunch break at work, saying it was “medical” so I guess he realises I have some kind of health issue. Even so, I don’t want to take off time if I can help it. The money is good, but I need the structure and self-esteem more than money, and I hate feeling that I’ve let people down, as with the volunteering today.
I haven’t been reading much recently. Actually that’s not true; I just finished Iyov (the biblical book of Job, in Hebrew) alongside Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation and I’ve made my way through two-and-a-bit novels in the spy stories omnibus I’ve borrowed from my Dad. I guess I’m using a lot of my reading time for religious reading, particularly on the journey to work and on Shabbat (the Sabbath). I usually read at lunchtime, but at work I only have forty-five minutes for lunch, of which about fifteen minutes goes on Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). Even with the remaining half-hour, I feel self-conscious reading at my desk while J works through his lunch. I would normally read on the way home from work, but J has been giving me a lift in his car, so I can’t read then. I think I need to make more time for recreational reading, as it is important to me.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fine, same as usual. I went to shul (synagogue) for the first time since the second lockdown ended. It still feels very subdued there, and we were reminded not to sing. We did go outdoors for a few minutes so we could sing Lecha Dodi, which was good, but colder than when we were doing it a month ago.
I had a dream last night that I won’t describe, as I don’t remember enough of it, and what I do remember I don’t want to share, but it made me worry that my unconscious was thinking of my time being single (which is most of my life), but primarily the loneliness of being single, and the stress and guilt of not coping well with it and having dysfunctional coping strategies at the time.
I argued a bit with PIMOJ tonight after Shabbat, via text. We clashed over my novel. I think there were some communication difficulties too, some language difficulties and some outlook difficulties. I felt my novel was about as religious as a mainstream novel can be and am already worried it will be accused of being too pious or frum (religious) and too simplistic in showing that hurt people can find solace in God. PIMOJ feels that it needs to show more of God’s goodness. I can’t explain her position in detail, because I don’t understand it all (like I said, there are some communication difficulties here, perhaps some language issues) and I’m not going to re-read her email and texts at the moment. I felt the novel was reflecting my experience and the experience of people I’ve encountered online and in person, and it would be wrong to change that or to provide easy answers to difficult questions. I think it’s a book about resilience rather than simple piety.
We calmed down in the end, shelved the novel question for now and said that we both value our connection to each other more than what we feel about the novel. I guess I find arguments scary because in both my previous relationships, the arguments came as we were moving towards breaking up and were a sign of deep-seated issues, so it’s hard not to see it as an ominous sign, even though I know healthy couples can argue a lot (too many examples to mention from my family!).
I had planned to re-watch Blade Runner 2049 this evening, but after the argument, I felt it was too long and downbeat. I started to watch the Doctor Who story City of Death, which is the Doctor Who fan equivalent of eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when depressed. It was written, pseudonymously, by Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, and has a reputation for being the funniest and most elegantly-structured of his three sets of scripts for Doctor Who. I’m not sure if I will watch all of it tonight. I’m currently halfway through, with another fifty minutes to go. It’s getting late, but I have a bit of a headache, which I think will stop me sleeping, and I don’t feel sleepy. I probably still feel energised from arguing, as well as from sleeping too much over Shabbat.
EDIT: I complained recently about someone reblogging a post of mine without asking permission or even telling me. I just had a look in my spam folder and found a comment in there saying that they were reblogging it, so apologies there, although I still don’t know why they particularly wanted to reblog that post.
Last night (well, this morning, really), I dreamt about the friends who cut me off when I mentioned them on my blog in a way that they thought was critical, although that was not my intention. When I woke up, I wondered if my unconscious was telling me that my comments about PIMOJ yesterday could be seen as critical. She is unaware of the blog at the moment, but who knows what could happen in the future. I looked over the post today and was unsure, although the comments I received were positive about my conversation with her (i.e. positive about her as well as the interaction). So now I am confused. I feel I may make yesterday’s post private in a day or two to be on the safe side. My rabbi mentor once encouraged me not to mention anyone else on my blog, but I’m not sure how that’s really possible given that a major part of my struggles involves dealing with a social communication disorder, which means I struggle with interactions and need to write them down to process them, and it can help to have feedback from other people here.
I woke to find that PIMOJ had sent me several long messages continuing our conversation from yesterday. I did worry that this meant that she would reject me, but she also sent me messages saying that she is still here for me… It feels strange… I tend to assume if people disagree with me, that’s it, they will leave me, even though my (adult, as opposed to childhood) experience of that does not always fit entirely with that worldview.
I haven’t done much today other than get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I feel so burnt out. I will try not to mind if I can’t do much Torah study over Shabbat, or if I can’t write my novel tomorrow evening after Shabbat. I feel I just need some recharging alone time with a novel (or classic Doctor Who after Shabbat) or whatever.
I slept badly last night. I couldn’t sleep, perhaps because I took my medication very late. I had agitated thoughts going through my head. Not negative thoughts (they were just interpretations of Twin Peaks), but I couldn’t stop them looping around and restarting again. I did eventually fall asleep, but it was not restful sleep. I had a disturbing dream, although now I can’t remember anything about it except that it disturbed me.
I feel really burnt out again today. I guess I did a lot yesterday even before I slept badly. At least I am working on Tuesday rather than today (Monday) this week.
The autism hospital phoned Mum again. They cancelled my appointment in December, when I was supposed to get my final diagnosis, because they want me to have an “observational assessment” first. This is with a psychiatric nurse who is booked until January. I now have an appointment for the observational assessment on 5 January. I can’t book to see the psychiatrist until after that, so I’m worried that this will drag on until February, which would be well over two years since my initial screening. I was worried that they have suddenly changed their minds about me given that they suddenly want me to have this screening, but Mum’s response was, “It’s the NHS, the doctors and nurses don’t work together.” She thinks it’s poor coordination again, and that I should have had the assessment before now. I hope she is right. A friend of mine who is also being assessed had an observational assessment, so it’s probably routine.
I had an — I’m not sure what you’d call it — a depressive moment or an autistic moment. I went out for a short walk and to get some sandwiches for lunch at work this week (it’s a strictly kosher site, so I have to buy pre-made kosher sandwiches from a kosher baker or deli). They only had one lot of sandwiches that I liked. I was already feeling drained and a bit down, but suddenly I felt overwhelmed, thinking about getting more sandwiches later in the week, thinking about future weeks, thinking about all the chores I’m supposed to do this and that I don’t think I can get them all done with work and therapy too. Just overwhelmed by everything that is happening to me, particularly with my new job. It subsided by the time I came home and spoke to my parents, and began devising strategies to deal with the chores (etc.), but it is a reminder that autism is always there, and depression lurks in the background, and they can come out when I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed and that autistic rigid thinking can make it hard for me to find solutions unaided.
The main thing I did today, other than that, was to cook dinner. Mum offered to do it, but she was ill this morning, so I wanted to do it. I did miss one of the ingredients, or at least put it in late, which I guess comes from doing things when depressed and burnt out. I guess it’s an autistic executive function issue again (short-term memory and organisation). I think that’s the type of thing autism observational assessment will test. (Dinner tasted OK.)
I didn’t go to Zoom depression group. I was already thinking of skipping it, as I have to go to bed early to get up early for work tomorrow, but then I felt too depressed. I know that sounds silly, but I knew my problems were mostly stress and exhaustion and I didn’t really feel like talking. I felt an evening of TV would be better for me than talking and listening on Zoom, which can be very draining. My main reservation is that I will miss the next session too, as it clashes with a virtual shiur (religious class) PIMOJ and I are both attending.
I didn’t do much Torah study either, just listened to a short five minute devar Torah (Torah thought) on WhatsApp and spent a few minutes thinking about my own devar Torah for the week. I’m not sure when I’m going to write that, or how good it will be (or how long it will be, actually). But I just couldn’t do any more today.
A present to myself as a reward for the new job and because I was having a bad day: a cheap second-hand DVD of Blade Runner 2049, and a somewhat more expensive new copy of Tunnel of Fear, an early episode of The Avengers (the British, John Steed Avengers) that was missing and was rediscovered and released on DVD a couple of years ago. Because it was missing when the complete Avengers box-set came out, it was the only surviving episode I haven’t seen.
Because of that I ended up watching a different early Avengers episode (Concerto, by Doctor Who writers Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke). It was diverting, but I find that not many of the pre-Diana Rigg episodes are that memorable. I plan to watch Doctor Who before going to bed to unwind a bit more.
I was worried about neglecting my novel in my new job, so I forced myself to find forty minutes or so to work on it before Shabbat (the Sabbath) on Friday and another hour and a bit afterward Shabbat today. When I step back from it, I get vaguely worried about it not being good enough, but I’m just focused on moving forward for now. PIMOJ has been desperate to read it and I’ve agreed to show her the second draft, even though I already know there will be big things to fix after that.
I’m currently going through the whole novel and redrafting it for the second draft. I have another two chapters to do with that, which I know will include some major rewrites to the remainder of the book, more than any rewriting I’ve done so far. I do worry that I haven’t actually rewritten much, a few big changes, but mostly tweaking. After that, there are specific bits I want to add or change for the third draft. I do feel that I haven’t changed that much yet though. If “writing is re-writing,” I’m not doing it very well. Hmmm.
Shabbat was OK, quite a lot of Torah study and too much sleep. I woke up early, but couldn’t get up, I’m not sure why. I am getting frustrated and worried by my sleep situation. I had a dream which I can’t remember in detail, but I think involved me expressing anger to God about the way my life has gone, particularly in terms of career. I also felt, but did not express, anger about not being married. Rabbi Lord Sacks was in the dream, probably because there have been so many eulogies for him lately, and because I was thinking I lost my opportunity to speak to him. Not that there ever was a concrete opportunity, just that I never spoke to him and now he’s gone.
I had an impromptu video call with PIMOJ after Shabbat too, which was good. That was it really.