Burnout and Worry

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.

Worries That Never Happened

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.

Unwritten Rules

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.

Surprisingly Busy Day

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.

“The future lies this way”

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.

Driven To Tiers

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.

Hyperfocus, Procrastination and Spies

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.

Another Overwhelmed Day

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.

Argument

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.

Fear of Rejection (Mini-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.

Delays and Burn Out

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.

3 Shopping Days to Lockdown

When my alarm went off at 9.00am (I usually set an alarm, even though I often turn it off in my sleep when it goes off), I actually thought I would get up. My mind felt reasonably alert, but my body was just too drained and burnt out after yesterday and I couldn’t get up and I fell asleep again after a few minutes. I didn’t end up getting up for another two hours, which was not good. The vaguely ill feeling I had yesterday has gone, fortunately, but I do feel drained. I’ve become better at seeing this as a symptom of autism (social burnout) rather than a sign of weakness, even before my assessment, but it is frustrating.

I think I had a dream about my novel and suddenly getting an idea for a much better novel that I had all planned out in my head and not knowing whether to switch to work on it. It’s sort of reflective of where I am at the moment, inasmuch as I worry that my mainstream novel is not working and I should switch to an idea I’ve had for a series of Jewish fantasy novels. I’m not actually going to switch at the moment as I don’t like leaving things half-finished and I want to see this project through. I also know that many authors have doubts when sitting down to extensive redrafting, so I shouldn’t set too much store by them at this stage. Nevertheless, I do wonder if the mainstream novel is going to be readable, let alone sellable.

Since writing the above, I read something, a blog post about sexual harassment. Although this is not the same as my novel (which is about domestic abuse in the Orthodox community, culminating in marital rape), it was similar enough that it made me think that I have a mission to write this book to the best of my ability and try to get it published.

***

I bought the new trainers I’ve been meaning to buy for a while. Hopefully these will support my arches better when running. My Dad took me to a big retail park with a number of warehouse-sized shops, including a sportswear shop. I wouldn’t have been able to get there easily on public transport, so I was grateful for the lift. On the other hand, when I shopping with my parents, I tend to let them take over. I guess it’s lack of confidence and social anxiety as well as a sense that I don’t know what I’m doing. Dad felt that in the past I had been sold over-priced and unsuitable running shoes by asking the shop assistants what shoes they would recommend for running. Dad said instead to go for a well-known brand (he said Nike), find some I like and then ask the assistant if they’re suitable for running. I’m not sure this is necessarily a better strategy, but I tried it and have black Nike trainers now. Hopefully they will be better for running than the previous ones.

***

My other real achievement (aside from scanning my autism assessment from 2006 to send to the psychiatrist doing my current assessment) was writing my devar Torah for this week. I am reasonably, but not completely, happy with it. It has more of a moral or even slightly polemical point than usual.

I also attended (on Zoom) a shiur (religious class) at my shul (synagogue). I was attracted by the fact that it was based on the teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the early twentieth century Hasidic rebbe and Holocaust martyr. I read his book Sacred Fire a few months ago and was very moved; I quoted a few times here ideas about suffering and God’s empathy.

A few points I took from the shiur were that hinukh (education) should be about revealing the potential of the student; that we should aim for nothing less than spiritual greatness in our lives and not accept mediocrity; that we should daven (pray) as much as we are able, which sometimes might be less than other times (this was important to me as I can’t always daven properly due to depression and burnout) and to focus in prayer on consciousness of standing before God; and that we should be human and eat, drink and rejoice with our friends. The element that I struggled with was the injunctions to avoid sadness and worry; it is hard to tell what to do when these become pathological depression and anxiety.

Last-Minute Date

I struggled to sleep last night. I probably slept too much during the day. I finally fell asleep after 2am, then woke around 9.00am after an anxiety dream. I don’t really remember the content of the dream, just that I woke a bit anxious and very burnt out, but somehow I managed to get up. I said some of the morning prayers on time, which was good, although I skipped a lot of prayers because I felt so tired, more than I would usually skip if I got up so early and did not need to leave early.

I went on a date with PIMOJ. We were supposed to go on a date in town on Thursday and PIMOJ had already booked time off work, but then the new lockdown was announced and we hurriedly rearranged for today so that we could see each other one more time before the lockdown. I didn’t really want to go into town, given that infection rates are rising, so we went to the same park we went to on our previous three dates. Even I, with my autistic predilection for the familiar, found this a bit much, but we both agreed it was the best option available. Fortunately, we managed to go to another part of the park, a wooded area that was quite tranquil, although very muddy and slippery in places. We enjoyed each other’s company and I was glad to go out in nature, which I think I have needed to do for a long, long time – it helped me to calm and focus, I think. We also found a pergola, which I had been to before, but forgotten was in this park, so that was a nice surprise. Afterwards we went for a coffee.

I think I spoke more than on our last date. I was nervous at first, more so than on previous dates, but I think that was a product of opening up a bit more about myself and my world, being more willing to voice a differing opinion and so on. There was a slightly awkward moment at the end, but it led to an important text conversation afterwards and I think we’re in a good place right now.

And now we have to freeze for a month (at least). Fortunately there is Skype and instant messenger!

Other than that I didn’t do much today, an hour of Torah study and not much else. I feel a little ill now, achey and with some stomach cramps as well as quite hot although that’s common in the winter because my parents like the house warmer than I do. I hope I’m just tired and not coming down with something.

***

It’s been a busy few days, but when not busy, I’ve drifted into political thoughts again about the craziness in the world, this time about the Labour antisemitism scandal which has resurfaced again (first time as tragedy, second time as farce, so Karl Marx was right about one thing) and the religious murders in France. I don’t really feel that I have much original to say, and I don’t really want to get into an argument about them, so I stay silent, but there is a price to pay for silence in terms of silently carrying tension and sometimes anger. Sometimes I feel I might change someone’s mind if I spoke up, but that seems to happen so rarely in online discussions that there hardly seems any point.

So, TV to try to relax, and bed.

Autism Assessment (1)

I slept badly last night. It probably wasn’t surprising that I had an anxious dream the night before my autism assessment, but the details were a bit odd. I dreamt about someone who was around (in the real world) at the worst time of my life who I hurt, and by whom I got hurt by in the process. I still feel I haven’t had closure on that and probably never will. It’s not that surprising I dreamt about her, as I still think about that situation a lot and am drawing on it for my novel, so it’s been at the forefront of my mind lately. The same dream also involved being in the library of a university I worked at for a while, where a (real life) Jewish lecturer was talking about the library having sixty-four windows representing sixty-four types of knowledge (philosophy, history, physics etc.) none of which included Torah study, which I think was about feeling sometimes that there is no place for religious Jews in secular Western society, and perhaps more broadly that there is no place for me in the world.

I woke feeling anxious and drained, which was not a good start, and I still didn’t know when my appointment was actually going to bed. I got ready for my appointment at 9.30am as per the email I received yesterday, only to be phoned a few minutes beforehand to be told the appointment was at 10.30am after all, as I was told on the phone. NHS, etc. At least they did get in touch.

The appointment itself went well. It lasted over an hour, with me talking for most of the time. We went over childhood experiences, recent history, general medical history and so on. I did use my prepared notes a bit. At the end, the psychiatrist said that I’m probably on the spectrum. However, before she finalises the diagnosis, she wants to look at the notes from my previous assessment ten years or more ago (which were not on file for some reason). I’m going to scan a copy of that over the weekend and email it along with my notes about why I think I’m on the spectrum so she can see the rest of that. Then we’ll have a shorter meeting in a few weeks to discuss diagnosis and recommendations. But it sounded like it was very likely that I’m going to be diagnosed as on the spectrum, or at least close enough that I won’t feel stupid for thinking that I’m there.

I think it’s all positive. It’s a relief just to hear that I’m probably on the spectrum. It explains a lot, and hopefully will stop me beating myself up so much about things when I can’t cope well with them.

I’m glad I have Shabbat to pause and process what happened today. Shabbat is good for processing. I am going to shul (synagogue) this evening. I did think about skipping a week as I’m tired, but I think it’s good to stay in the habit of going regularly and if I stay at home I’ll probably be just as tired. I might not do so much Torah study as usual though. I will probably be exhausted tomorrow, but that’s not a problem.

I might post more about this after Shabbat, if I have any more thoughts to add. I’ve got to dash now as Shabbat starts in an hour and a half now the clocks have gone back.

The Boy in the Bubble

I went to bed very early last night, but I slept for over twelve hours, so I got up late again this morning. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it, but I feel like I could have slept longer. I did feel drained and burnt out today, particularly in the morning and early afternoon. I’ve got to a point where I’m at least somewhat accepting that this is just what happens to me when I do things. Still, I wish I had more hours awake and alert.

I had a dream about being back at Oxford University. I was trying to get more time to do my work as I was depressed and autistic, but there was some kind of problem, I don’t know what. It may just have been that I did not have the courage to go to my tutor and explain. There were some people from my current shul (synagogue) there too for some reason. It’s pretty obvious that the dream was about feeling bad for needing support with my issues. I’ve never really got over that feeling of shame.

***

A librarian who turned me down for a job a while back saying my cataloguing wasn’t good enough has added me to his network on LinkedIn. I’ve never really got the hang of LinkedIn (like Facebook, but boring), but I reciprocated, because nowadays I mostly do if someone I vaguely know as a real person adds me (not random strangers). I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, but still haven’t got up to the thirty connections they say you should have for it to work well; a number of the connections I do have are family and friends in different sectors, not colleagues. It also reminds me of this cartoon.

***

PIMOJ and I were planning a date, when I realised it contravened COVID regulations (indoors with people outside my “bubble”). My sister and brother-in-law are our household’s “bubble,” so I can’t count PIMOJ as one. They (the regulations) are complicated enough now that I have to look them up as I don’t remember them. I think it will be a long, cold winter if we can’t meet indoors except in cafes and restaurants (where I don’t feel comfortable at the moment anyway). I was a bit nervous of mentioning this to PIMOJ in case it looked like I was backing out, but she was fine with it. When dating, I get so scared of being negative or just disagreeing in case; ironically, one date got angry with me because I was indecisive through fear of contradicting her, the opposite of what I intended. Dating in COVID is hard. Dating with low self-esteem and fear of rejection is harder. I need to learn that (a) PIMOJ seems to like me, other things being equal and (b) when it comes to values questions (like breaching lockdown or not), we’re usually on the same page. The latter is a somewhat unfamiliar place for me to be.

***

I started writing a new bit for my novel, plugging a plot-hole that I noticed. I wrote about 800 words in an hour, but feel I might be approaching the scene the wrong way and need to rewrite. As ever, I wanted to write more, but ran out of time. It can be hard to lead a full life when I only really have afternoons and evenings.

***

Other achievements today: I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. It was a little shorter than usual, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say and it seemed silly to pad it needlessly. I did some Torah study, albeit a disproportionate amount was spent tracing a reference in Rabbi Lord Sacks’ devar Torah to Ramban’s Torah commentary, but when I found it, I didn’t fully understand what Ramban was saying or why.

I went for a walk and did some shopping; I also failed to pick up my repeat prescription as the surgery has been slow in processing the pharmacy’s request (the lockdown procedure for requesting repeat prescriptions). I hope it’s ready before late afternoon tomorrow or I will run out over the weekend.

I did some ironing while watching Twin Peaks, which was a mistake, as Twin Peaks required atmosphere and concentration that were not possible while ironing. I find myself wanting to wallow in Twin Peaks. It has a unique atmosphere. Doctor Who is also capable of being mysterious, funny and scary in quick succession or even at the same time, but with Twin Peaks there is a sense of something else as well, I’m not sure what. Twin Peaks certainly has a sense of place which Doctor Who, by virtue of its time-space travelling format, does not, and Twin Peaks can have a greater sense of fear being aimed at an adult, post-watershed audience unlike Doctor Who, which has mostly been aimed at a family audience. There is something else, though, maybe a dreamlike atmosphere that I can’t pin down. Maybe Twin Peaks has a sense of fear that Doctor Who can’t have, because Doctor Who hasn’t really scared me since I was a child, whereas I know (from the classification warning on the DVD box) that Twin Peaks probably will have scenes that will scare or horrify me and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation.

Whatever the reason, I want to wallow it and binge-watch episodes, which is unusual for me, although not unknown. I don’t usually watch more than an hour of television in a day. I suppose the serial nature of the programme helps. When I watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes earlier in the year, it was quite obvious that I was only going to get answers in the last episode of the season, if not the last episode of the programme as a whole, whereas here there are limited answers and more questions all the time.

Overwhelmed

I had what I suppose were wish fulfilment dreams last night, first dreaming that I was James Bond and then (I think – it wasn’t so clear) that I was the Doctor from Doctor Who. I suppose I just want to feel capable, charismatic and worthwhile. My parents feel that I am capable and worthwhile, and PIMOJ seems to feel that too, but somehow that isn’t enough; part of me still wants to be Napoleon and conquer the world, not literally, but through some worthwhile act. The dreams were PG rated, but I still feel vaguely embarrassed about having had them, as they seem infantile things to dream, although not embarrassed enough to stop me sharing them with the world on my blog. They weren’t restful, though, as I woke up exhausted and burnt out after the first dream, fell asleep again and dreamed the second one and woke up exhausted again, but by then it was very late and I had to get up.

***

The main achievements of the day were (a) I helped Dad take down more the sukkah, wishing I was taller, stronger, and less prone to fearing that I’ll fall off ladders; and (b) I cooked Jewish-Ethiopian vegetable stew (wot), which I hadn’t cooked before. I was supposed to cook a half recipe, but then tried to adjust as it didn’t seem to have many filling ingredients, then I confused myself about how much to cook (this is when I feel incompetent and unable to do even basic tasks). Then it turned out that it was only supposed to be a side-dish, but I’d run out of time, so Mum defrosted some soya ersatz “meatballs” and cooked some rice to go with it. I also did some Torah study (not as much etc. etc.), but I haven’t really been out of the house, or at least off the property (I’ve been in the garden) for days, only partly because of the wet weather.

***

I felt rather overwhelmed today. I guess lots of religious Jews feel like that at this time of year, recovering from a month of religious festivals. I don’t have a paid job to catch up on, but I have chores that need doing, some of which have been pushed off for months because of lockdown, plus I have to find a new job. All of which is between me and what I want to do, which is work on my novel, something I felt too depressed to do today. I probably should schedule some novel time in over the next week or so and work on it even if I feel I should be doing something else, otherwise it will never get redrafted because naturally I put what I want to do at the bottom of the to do list.

Plus, this week I had depression group on Zoom yesterday, a Zoom panel discussion on autism and creativity/art today, a webinar on time management and Skype therapy tomorrow and a Skype call with my oldest friend (who I haven’t seen for several years) on Thursday. This would be busy for most people, even if they weren’t a semi-hermit like me (even pre-COVID, even more so with COVID). To hit this after a month of Yom Tov (festivals) really is too much. Of course, I didn’t think that when I booked all this stuff in.

Unlike many autistic people, I don’t get full-blown meltdowns, but when I’m stressed and overwhelmed I get sucked into a negative thought spiral of feeling overwhelmed, not being able to focus on the big picture, being unable to make even minor decisions, catastrophising and feeling everything is hopeless. Eventually it builds up and I have to be “talked down” by my parents, although it’s often the case that initially what they say just feels like another factor overwhelming me. This was what happened today, about my bank account, which is often a trigger for these things. My Dad and my sister read the financial papers and find good interest rates or whatever and persuade me to move my money around, but because I have a low (almost zero) income, it’s questionable whether it’s worth the hassle. Certainly it often leaves me confused about where my money is and what I should do with it. The problem is also that I have a tendency to do what authority figures in my life say, so I try to follow what Dad says while simultaneously confused, overwhelmed and vaguely resentful.

As I say, it’s often finance-related stuff that sets this off. I feel that I should be good at this sort of thing. I was good at maths at school, but somehow lost that with lack of practice. I did A-Level economics too, but that actually tells you very little about managing money, more about managing economies, which is not at all the same thing. I guess it’s not so much the maths but the details that I find overwhelming, the feeling of being overwhelmed on a sea of facts that are too many to be comprehended in their entirety in one go.

Shopping can also be overwhelming and I did that today too (online). Again, Mum was trying to get me to consider different stores and styles; I felt I had to impose boundaries on what I was going to look at, even if they were arbitrary, just to stop myself from getting overwhelmed. I can accept that I might lose a few pounds or not find the “perfect” style of shoe (whatever that would be) just to be able to get through the process.

As well as overwhelmed today, I feel burnt out and somewhat depressed. My mood is low, but it’s hard to tell why. I guess it comes from the burnt out and overwhelmed feelings.

***

In the evening I “attended” a Zoom panel discussion on autism and art. The three panellists, all women, were two autistic artists and an autistic writer/editor. I wasn’t sure if the (male) chair was also on the spectrum. I wondered if it was significant that all three panellists were female. It did make me feel somewhat “not good enough” about my writing, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the writer said that autistic writing is always very sensory, and I’m not good at describing sensory stuff which made me think I’m either not really autistic or not a good writer. There was an auction of art for charity afterwards, but I left before that.

***

I feel less overwhelmed now, but perhaps a bit lonely, I’m not sure (I’m not always good at understanding my own emotions, known as alexithymia). I feel that maybe PIMOJ is willing to support me despite my issues, but I’m still scared to open up about what I feel, partly because it’s led to rejection in the past, partly because I feel I misrepresented myself to her as no longer strongly depressed, when it looks like my apparent recovery was just seasonal (longer days and more sunlight in summer), partly I guess because I wonder how I will respond to her positivity on a depressed and overwhelmed day like today. But not saying anything just raises fears of the relationship collapsing through apathy (my apathy) so it’s a lose-lose situation.

We actually spoke a bit about this just now. We were talking about Sefer Iyov (The Book of Job) and somehow got onto it. She said that I should be open with her about when I actually want advice about something and when I just need to vent and she will try to respond appropriately, which is good of her. I do still worry about being too negative for her, though. And also that I think she’s far too good for me.

***

I’m thinking this evening… other autism sufferers seem to place a lot of emphasis on things like sensory sensitivity being their primary experience of autism or executive function issues or special interests or communication issues. I guess I feel that for me autism is… well, autism is literally from the Greek autos meaning self, the term ‘autism’ apparently meaning ‘morbid self-absorption’ (according to this etymology site anyway – I assume ‘morbid’ in the sense of ‘pathological’). That connects with the other aspects, particularly communication issues, but is also separate. I think autism for me is about being locked into my world – my brain – and being unable to connect with other people, lacking a vocabulary to describe what I feel and experience. I guess this is connecting to alexithymia, which I mentioned earlier, given that I don’t lack a vocabulary for describing emotions in the abstract, it’s labelling my own personal experiences that gives me the trouble. There’s a frequent feeling of being alone. I like being on my own a lot, but not always, I need a few good friends and I have spent most of my adult life wanting to be in a relationship and not knowing how to do that. Now I have it and I’m worried I’m going to mess it up.

Weird Stuff

I was in a deep sleep this morning and had some weird dreams. In one I had to control a very disruptive child, while also doing some important professional tasks and I struggled to do both at once. Perhaps the disruptive child is my negativity, which needs to be allowed to “play” a little, but also not to derail my job search, novel work or dating PIMOJ.

In the other dream, I was at school and had handed in some English homework, but I hadn’t done it properly. We were supposed to read and analyse a novel and I had read and analysed a short story because I felt too depressed (I think) to read a novel. I was waiting to see what my teacher would say, fearing he would tell me off.

I think this represents some thoughts I had last night about not being able to write “properly” because I read eclectically across genres, but paradoxically also focusing on reading specific authors that I read in depth and repeatedly (Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick, John le Carré) rather than reading widely in a specific genre, as authors are “supposed” to do. This may be autistic, certainly sticking with favoured authors and re-reading them instead of reading something new seems somewhat autistic, not that that really makes a difference.

My current novel is mainstream fiction and I haven’t read much contemporary mainstream fiction since I stopped going to a book club a decade ago. My next novel I hope will be some weird merger of fantasy and/or science fiction with historical fiction and Jewish topics, possibly aimed at a Young Adult audience, and I don’t feel I read any of those genres enough and certainly not contemporary authors in those genres (it takes a long time for new authors to reach me, and for me to build up courage to read them). I would be willing to read a lot for research, although I don’t quite know where to start, plus I feel that although I would be advised to research, really I want my writing to be a bit weird and sui generis, deliberately not fitting with other authors.

I realised a while back that while I say I like science fiction, it isn’t really that simple. A lot of science fiction doesn’t interest me that much. I do watch and like programmes like Star Trek and Star Wars, but really my favourite stuff is in this weird zone (The Twilight Zone, if you like), where science fiction, fantasy, (mild) horror, surrealism and magic realism can meet, not necessarily all at once, but some of them. Authors like Borges, Kafka and Dick, and also Flann O’Brien and the Yiddish humourist Mendele Mocher-Seforim (Mendel the Book-Seller) are important to me and I think about them a lot. Also (perhaps more so) TV programmes like Doctor Who (particularly the original series), Saphire and Steel, The Prisoner, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Quatermass, bits of The Avengers and even Mr Benn and The Clangers which were aimed at very young children, but amuse me. Stories where the normal and the weird are mashed against each other like a collage. Absurdist-type stories taking place in black or white voids. Mr Benn was probably the gateway drug to that, when I was a very young child, the idea that he would put on a costume in a fancy dress shop and then when he walked out the changing room door, he was in another time and place, something relevant to how he was dressed, and would have an adventure.

***

Today I did some shopping and ended up arriving at Tesco the same time as the children were coming out of the primary school next to the supermarket. I’d get frustrated by all the people at the best of times, but I just felt viscerally uncomfortable being there and worried that I was going to catch COVID, although I did at least do what I had to do and panic and run away. It showed that I really have work to do before I’m going to be comfortable at shul (synagogue) or busier shops.

I painted the garden shed again for Mum and Dad as it needed a second coat. I wanted to do a lot of hoovering (the stairs need hoovering), but postponed it until tomorrow as I was too tired to do more physical work. I spent some time redrafting another chapter of my novel. I hoped it would take an hour. In the end it took nearly two, partly because it was long, but also because I interrupted it to look after Mum who was feeling sick (we think indigestion rather than anything to do with cancer treatment, but still worrying). My concentration was pretty good, though.

I listened to a shiur (religious class) while painting the shed, although I didn’t have the time I wanted to do further Torah study in the evening. I’m finding it hard to balance everything that I want in my life and wish I could get up earlier, but I don’t know how to change that short of having some external reason to get up like a job. PIMOJ is an occupational therapist and part of me wants to ask her advice, but a bigger part is worried of scaring her off if she knew just how late I get up and how long it takes me to get going in the mornings (she is very much a morning person).

***

New reasons to hate the WordPress block editor: unless I’m missing something, you can’t easily insert letters with accents, as in ‘John le Carré’. Please let me known if you know how to do this!

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

I still feel very depressed.  I don’t know if this is about finishing the first draft of my novel or something else, something I don’t want to talk about here.  If it is about my novel, I had something similar when I was doing my MA: I would struggle against depression to finish an assignment, but when I handed it in, instead of feeling positive, I would feel more depressed and often be unable to start the next assignment for weeks.  It took me nearly three and a half years to finish a course that should have taken one academic year.

***

I was thinking of buying some more music and graphic novels and maybe some war gaming miniatures to paint (I don’t play war games any more, but sometimes I paint the models).  Then I started thinking that this was retail therapy, and I felt more guilty about it, and just started procrastinating, which is a worse problem than retail therapy, at least with the relatively small sums of money I’m thinking of spending.  In the end I bought two graphic novels, but am undecided as to whether to buy the miniatures.  It would be good to do something that doesn’t involve thinking (I guess there’s running), but I feel depressed when comparing miniatures painted by me recently with the much better ones painted in my teens, before I had medication-related tremor, and perhaps when my concentration and will power were better.

***

I finished fiddling around with my iTunes playlists, which was good.  I’ve been meaning to sort them out for a while now.  That was my main achievement for the day, alongside my usual pre-Shabbat chores.  I did a little Torah study, and I’ll probably do a bit more later, but it’s hard to do anything today.  It’s partly depression and exhaustion, but also the heat and humidity, which are both high today and make me uncomfortable.

***

I had another weird dream about conflict with my religious community, where a bunch of thugs mobbed the car I was in when it pulled over (which for some reason was being driven by Hugo Drax, the villain of the James Bond film Moonraker) and then I realised they were frum men, with suits and fedoras, and then I recognised some of them from shul.  That might be part of the reason why I woke up depressed and exhausted again.

I’m not sure why that conflict is on my mind when I haven’t had any real contact with the community for five months or so and am not likely to have any for another couple of months at least.  Maybe that’s it, though.  Maybe I’ve forgotten the good parts and the people I like and am only thinking about the negative.  Certainly there’s a lot of social anxiety over going to shul (synagogue) again, wondering if I can remember what to do and how to behave (I mean behave socially more than religiously, although that too, I guess), as well as autistic anxiety about wearing masks and the changed layout of the shul being different and confusing.  Shul has been reopened for a few weeks now, but I haven’t gone as we’re still shielding Mum as she’s immuno-suppressed and the risk is just too great.

Related to that, I don’t know when going to a shop is going to feel safe again.  I’ve hardly been in any for months.  The only one I really go to is the pharmacist, to collect my anti-depressants, but that’s awkward as not only is it often busy, but the post office is in the same shop, separated by a partition wall and that’s also often busy and people have to queue from the post office section into the pharmacist section.  I’d like to go to the nearby charity shop to browse second-hand books and DVDs as I know that’s something that de-stresses me a bit, but I just don’t dare to.

***

I wrote in yesterday’s post about blaming my teenage/early twenties self for not being more social.  After I turned off my computer, I remembered something I once said in therapy, that if I think of my very young self, say five or six years old or younger, I feel a great deal of love and compassion towards him, but I think of my somewhat older self (eight or ten years old and up) suddenly a whole load of negative feelings and internalised anger/aggression comes out about him (me) being too clever, aloof, irritating, an unintentional show-off, a Doctor Who obsessive to the exclusion of all else (even more than I am now…) and so on.  I’m guessing this is because the difficulties of my childhood started when I was somewhat older and that’s the time that I internalised negative thoughts and feelings about myself.  It is hard to know what to do with these thoughts.

***

I just heard that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz died today (barukh dayan ha’emet).  He was a great man.  Among his many achievements was translating the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic) and writing explanatory commentary, and then overseeing its translation into English and, I think, Russian.  It’s not the only current English translation, but it is very accessible and while the Artscroll Talmud (its main competitor in English translation) is focused on the detail of halakhic (legal) debate and only uses traditional sources, the Steinsaltz one is more focused on basic comprehensibility and uses modern sources and photos (of plants, ancient artifacts, etc.) to illustrate the social and material context of the Talmud.

He wrote many other books too, including a few I own.  I’m very fond of his book Simple Words and his translation of some of the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, again with commentary.

He was an important figure for me, not just because of the books that I have read, but also his attitude, being in some ways very traditional and Hasidic and in other ways very modern (he was originally a scientist before becoming a rabbi).  I believe his yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) taught Jewish philosophy and creative writing alongside the traditional yeshiva Talmud curriculum.  He once said, “An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker.  An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything, and the spark that can make something new out of anything.”  We can apply this to Rabbi Steinsaltz himself.

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

OCD Slightly Resurgent, Otherwise Quiet

I woke up and got up early again (at least by my standards), which was good.  Less good was that I woke up from a very disturbing dream, in which I had tried to do something to promote unity between different groups of Jews and instead inadvertently created a situation which led to more division, and the burning of some religious papers by someone else out of spite (religious papers in Judaism should be buried respectfully, not burned).  The dream ended with me crying uncontrollably as a rabbi said I had done the right thing, but had been let down by other people.

I think the dream was primarily about my feelings of discomfort with the frum (religious Jewish) community.  I feel some (not all) people in it can be divisive and even spiteful, like the people in my dream.  However, I also feel that my feelings of discomfort are a product of my own prejudices as much as reality, so I could be the spiteful people in the dream too.  It is hard to be objective.  I woke up feeling sombre and upset, but I somehow managed to get up rather than just go back to sleep as part of me wanted.

The dream did at least get me up early again today, so I could say the most important morning prayers at the right time, and say more of the morning prayer service than I usually manage.

***

I spent two and a half hours working on my novel.  My main character/narrator just got assessed and diagnosed with high functioning autism.  It brought to mind my worries about whether I am on the spectrum and (different question) whether I will be diagnosed as being on the spectrum, bearing in mind I’ve been assessed twice and told that I’m not on the spectrum, but am challenging that diagnosis given that I have now done more research and have observed myself in new work and social environments (my previous assessments were before I had worked or even volunteered).

I started to worry that I’m not on the spectrum.  I made myself worried enough that I did an online screening (similar to the one I had in person eighteen months ago) which showed that I probably am on the spectrum, but I wish I didn’t have this kind of obsessive worrying about it.  As someone in my novel says, getting a diagnosis won’t change who I am or what I experience, even if it explains it.  However, it would change my perception of myself, so it is no wonder that it seems important and anxiety-provoking.

***

Other than that, today was mostly the usual stuff: cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, because it’s one of my easy recipes), a walk, nearly an hour of Torah study.  I lost a lot of the time I had gained by getting up early.  I’m not sure where it went.

I did write a letter to E., not to send to her, just to express my feelings to myself.  Reading it back, I sounded a lot angrier than I thought I was.  Maybe I’ve been carrying a lot of anger around for the last couple of months since we broke up, or even before then.  I worry about how E. is doing, but I still haven’t got back in contact with her.  I noticed she’s posting stuff on Goodreads (I didn’t unfriend her, I’m not sure why, maybe because I don’t use Goodreads as a social media, only as an online catalogue of my books), so I know she’s still alive and functioning, but I am still reluctant to communicate directly.

***

My religious OCD has been dormant for a while, but it never goes away fully.  Everyone has “crazy” thoughts sometimes; what turns them into OCD is when they won’t go away and you end up obsessing about them (‘pure O’ OCD) or performing compulsions to get rid of them (more stereotypical OCD).  I have in the past had ‘pure O’ OCD about the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), among other things.

Lately there have been a few kashrut issues where I thought on balance they were OK, but I wasn’t 100% sure.  When my OCD was at it’s height, I would have asked a question of a rabbi or the London Bet Din (yes, I emailed their food technologist a lot when my OCD was raging a few years ago.  I still blush to think of it).  I was trying hard not to ask the question, because asking just provokes more questions – the way OCD grows is that you can never be 100% sure of anything, so every answer provokes more questions, as well as accustoming you to asking questions rather than relying on your own judgement.  I was fairly sure things were OK and was intent on just leaving it like that.

Unfortunately, today I gave in to ask a question, and then it snowballed.  I think I’ve got it under control now, and even for the hour or so that it happened, my anxiety levels were nothing compared with a few years ago.  Nevertheless, it’s a reminder of how fragile my mental health can be and how easily things can unravel.

***

I haven’t got much else to say today.  I feel a lot calmer and present-focused now I’ve cut a lot of internet use.  I haven’t strictly kept to only using the internet and email twice a day as my therapist suggested, but I’m not doing a lot more than that, except for novel research.  I’m also not looking at news and opinion sites much and not at Twitter at all (I haven’t been on other social media sites for years).  I feel a lot happier and peaceful, but I worry that I’m becoming ignorant of the world.  I guess I feel I can’t change the world much anyway, and the areas where I could change it, I still keep up with.  Still, we’re constantly being bombarded with messages about the importance of making a stand, demanding change, “silence is violence” (which I think is a glib and misleading phrase, although it has an element of truth) and so on that not being super-aware of what’s going on seems vaguely immoral.

“If you’re lonely you can talk to me”

I went to bed late, the usual post-Shabbat (Sabbath) in the summer issue of Shabbat finishing late, then davening (praying) and tidying up, off-loading my thoughts onto my blog and needing some time to decompress.  I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Warriors of the Deep, a story I used to hate, but now see some virtues in.  I don’t understand why fandom remembers Peter Davison as the “bland and boring” Doctor when he’s actually the energetic and sarcastic one.  OK, enough Doctor Who for now!

I struggled to sleep when I went to bed.  I think I fell asleep around 3.00am.  I woke up (for the second time) about 10.00am after the dreams I wrote about here.  The dreams, and thinking about them after waking, left me in a thoughtful mood, not depressed, but not as happy as when I woke up from the second dream.  It does seem easier to make friends in dreams than in real life.  Mind you, it seems easier to make friends online than in real life too.

My mood did go down again after a while, though, and I felt quite lonely again too.  Then around 12.30pm, I was hit by a sudden tidal wave of loneliness and despair which persisted for much of the day.  It’s not just despair and loneliness, but thinking I’m too weird to ever be in a lasting relationship.  “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved.” (Mother Theresa)  I wonder if I will ever be happy and loved romantically… My parents love me, it’s true, and I know that’s something other people can’t take for granted and I try to be grateful for it.  Still, I feel romantic love is different and not replaceable with parents’ love.  Plus, lately I am struggling to express myself to my parents again.  It seems I go through phases of being close to them and then less close.  Maybe I don’t want to upset them by saying I’m depressed while Mum is ill.  Or maybe I don’t want to admit that sometimes I have begun to worry that I made a mistake breaking up with E.  I feel like I just need to be held.

I feel that I’m spiralling downwards into a pit of loneliness and despair at the moment and I don’t know what I can do about it.  I’m hoping that getting past my birthday, and past Tisha B’Av next week, will help, but who knows?

What I posted the other day (about God so to speak experiencing our suffering) no longer cheers me up as much as it did.  I have found this a lot.  CBT in particular seems to assume that if you can find one thought or affirmation that really raises your mood, that sorts out your depression or anxiety permanently.  You just have to repeat the magic phrase or affirmation.  Whereas I find that after a while, thoughts that raise my mood lose their potency somehow.  Like the Borg in Star Trek, the depression adapts to my shields and weapons (the thoughts or affirmations) and breaks through them.  I suppose I find other things to feel anxious or depressed about.  Or maybe mental health ruminations just aren’t logical and can’t be fought with logic.

***

I forced myself to apply for a job that came up.  Job adverts and related bumf is the most horribly, Orwellian, meaningless mass of jargon, cliché and meaningless phrases.  The public sector (where this job is) is, if anything, even worse than the private sector.  The purpose of the job is “contribute to the delivery of [institution’s] knowledge and library services”.  So the job of the assistant librarian is to deliver library services.  Someone thought that sentence was meaningful and non-obvious enough to be worth writing down.

Anyway, it’s another assistant librarian job that I feel I ought to be able to do, but worry that I can’t.  It’s also full-time, and I don’t think I could cope with that.  But I’m applying anyway, to show willing.  I forced myself to fill in the application, although if it’s so hard for me to fill in the application (and much of it was saved in the system from a previous application to a job at the same institution), I have no idea how I will manage the work.  Writing the application just makes me revisit all the jobs I messed up in the past.  I just feel so useless these days.

***

I went for a run and came back with a painful foot (left ankle and under the left arch) and an exercise headache (verging on migraine).  I think my trainers, which I bought last winter, are possibly not the best or don’t fit properly, as I keep getting minor pains in my feet, although this is the worst I’ve had.  I probably should have stopped halfway through the run when it started hurting, but I am stubborn and I wanted to see whether a slightly different route I was taking took my run over three miles (it did, with reasonable pace, foot notwithstanding.  It was over five kilometres too).  I felt I could cope with it.  This is what I do: I set myself a target, then I push myself to meet it, and when I feel I can’t cope, I still push on because I don’t want to admit failure (to myself as well as to others), and then I crash and hurt myself and can’t do anything for a period of time.  It’s a pattern that has repeated for years, usually with mental health, but sometimes with physical health.

Fortunately, after showering, eating and taking some solpadeine, both foot and head seem to be rather better, although both ache a little still.

I do seem to have lost some weight.  I think I’m now on the borders of being overweight rather than being clearly overweight.  This is pretty good, as clomipramine made me put on a lot of weight, but is a non-negotiable part of my treatment regimen as it’s the only anti-depressant that has ever done much for me long-term.

My mood has been a bit better since my run; still somewhat depressed and lonely, but not so much.

***

I managed some Torah study for an hour or so too, and brainstormed some ideas for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought).  So I guess it was a fairly productive day even if I feel exhausted and slightly headachey.  I did watch the rest of Warriors of the Deep, and will probably watch an episode of Star Trek Voyager before bed.  That’s quite a lot of TV by my usual standards, but I feel I need to balance out the activity with mindless relaxation for my own mental health.

***

I’ll be thirty-seven in under an hour.  Thirty-seven isn’t such a big event as thirty or forty because humans use a base ten counting system and like round numbers, and thirty-seven isn’t evenly divisible by ten.  Still, it feels like I should have got my life together by now, that I should have a career or at least a job and a network of friends and a place in my religious community and some kind of relationship, maybe even children.  I looked up 37 on Wikipedia, but there weren’t any factoids that I could understand easily without having more maths knowledge than I have, except that it’s a prime number (which I already knew) and also normal body temperature in degrees Celsius and the atomic number of rubidium.  I worked out that the thirty-seventh Doctor Who story was The Tomb of the Cybermen, which I’ve always found over-rated.  I don’t know what this proves, except that I shouldn’t let one day out of 365 in the year (one out of 366 this year) have such power over me.

I’m not going to say that thirty-seven can’t be worse than thirty-six, because clearly it could be.  But I will say I’m going to hope for a better year.  In the immortal words of Delta and the Bannermen (going back to Doctor Who, sorry), “Here’s to the future/Love is the answer.”  (Also, “Can we have space buns and tea?”)

Bonus Post: Two Dreams (Guilt and Making Friends)

This is quite long and I know some people find other people’s dreams boring, so I put them in a separate post.  You can skip it if you want.  I’ll try to post my usual update later.

I had two dreams last night.  In the first dream, I had been part of some kind of big armed robbery (!) before the dream started, masterminded by a boss from a former real world job (I won’t say which one, just in case).  I had had a minor role as some kind of look out or something similar.  The mastermind was trying to get us together to do an even bigger robbery, one in which it was more likely someone would get killed.  I didn’t want to do this, nor did several of the other people who were involved in the first one, but the mastermind was blackmailing us, saying if we didn’t cooperate, she would tell the police about our involvement in the first robbery.  I decided I couldn’t cope with the guilt and was going to tell my parents and my rabbi mentor what I had done, even if I ended up going to jail.  I was less worried about jail and more feeling guilty that I had let my parents and rabbi mentor down by doing such a bad thing.

I woke up feeling upset and guilty.  It took me a moment to realise it was a dream and I hadn’t really done such a bad thing against my values.  This was probably triggered by revisiting the job where I had that boss for my novel, where I felt I had been incompetent at times (incompetent, not criminal!) but I don’t know why I exaggerated it to that extent.  I suppose it shows how awkward I’ve found the workplace over the last couple of years (when I’ve actually had a job to go to).

***

In the second dream I was in some kind of residential scheme for people with “issues.”  I think I was still a teenager.  Some of the other teenagers there were people I was at school with, but others weren’t.  I was leaving a day early for some reason.  I wanted to stay in touch, but wasn’t sure how to leave my email address.  I wanted to give it to one of the people running the programme (who were all nuns, for some reason) to pass on, but first I couldn’t find any blank paper as all the pads had scrawls on them, and then my pen wouldn’t write — the ink just sat in a blob, like mercury.  Then the nun wasn’t sure about giving my email to women, in case they misunderstood, but then some of the women came in and wanted my email address.  Then I woke up.

I think the second dream was about a residential scheme I did for a week when I was sixteen, for students from state schools who wanted to apply to Oxbridge.  We did a one week course with other people thinking of studying the same subject to get an idea of what studying at Oxbridge is like.  I struggled with it initially.  I nearly came home after the first night because I felt so homesick and lonely.  I did eventually connect a bit with the other students, but on the last night they went to the pub with the teachers and I stayed in the building.  I don’t know why.  I just couldn’t go.  They even came back to get me, but I couldn’t face it.  I was so angry with myself for not going, but I just couldn’t manage it.  I guess it was social anxiety and not being used to being accepted in a group.  Maybe some autistic stuff about feeling I can’t understand other people properly.  I don’t know what they thought about me.  I think they tried to stay in contact together as a group for a bit afterwards, but I didn’t manage that either.  I feel quite bad writing this, as they were friendly and I couldn’t cope with that.  I feel like I let them down.  So I think my dream was about what if this had gone better.  What if I could connect with people better.

One of the students there in the dream was someone I was at school with, but struggled to understand.  I was a bit wary of him, for reasons I did not really understand.  He was clever, but not geeky.  He was very left-wing, much further than I was then, let alone now, and rather anti-Zionistic at a Jewish school where everyone was Zionist; I’m not sure if I knew that at the time though.  I suppose I couldn’t find common ground to connect with him; it didn’t help that I didn’t really know him or have classes with him, he was just a friend of some of my friends, and I found those situations hard.  In the dream I knew of all this, but I still got on with him regardless.

I woke up feeling happy and rested, even though I had slept for less then I usually do and I decided to get up.

“Just pretend I’m Sherlock Holmes”

Warning: this is a mammoth post.  I don’t think I’ve written a blog post at this length for quite a while.  Don’t say you weren’t warned…

I spoke too soon last night when I said I didn’t get an exercise migraine.  Just when I was about to get ready for bed, about three hours after running, I suddenly got hit by a migraine.  Fortunately it was responsive to solpadeine and a “kool ‘n’ soothe” gel strip, but it did result in my going to bed about an hour later than I would have otherwise done, as I stayed up watching Fawlty Towers (The Kippers and the Corpse) while I waited for the medication to help (if I lie down with a migraine, it gets worse).

I slept late as usual.  I do wish I didn’t sleep for so long.  It would be nice to have some morning again.  Nevertheless, on some level that amount of sleep seems to be what I need to do to recover from all the activity I crowd into the afternoons and evenings.  Being nocturnal isn’t such a bad thing when I’m unemployed (although Jewish law assumes that men get up very early in the morning for morning prayers, which have to be said early), but it would be better if I slept for seven or eight hours a night instead of nine or ten, sometimes more.  I guess there’s not much point complaining when I’ve spent fifteen years trying to shift this pattern with no success, except when I have some external event in the morning like work or a psychiatrist appointment.

I had an anxiety dream last night about having to lead a shul (synagogue) service and not feeling able to do so.  Maybe that’s a reaction to shuls reopening, even though I’m not going yet because we’re shielding Mum.

***

Yesterday was the start of what looks set to be a week of not working on my novel so I can catch up with some real world stuff that needs doing.  I feel a bit stifled just at the thought of not writing for a week, which I guess is good (that I want to write so much).

Unfortunately, after lunch, when I tried to get down to things, I felt more tired and depressed than in the morning, which is unusual.  Usually I feel better after lunch.  I guess I didn’t really want to get down to chores, plus it was hard to work out what I could reasonably get done before therapy at 4pm.

***

I tried to set up an Amazon seller account so I could buy some adverts for my self-published Doctor Who non-fiction book.  However, it turns out it costs $40 a month!  I thought payment was per ad click, but there’s a subscription to pay first just to have a seller account.  I don’t have that kind of money at the moment.  I’d need to sell nearly two thousand copies a year just to break even and I doubt I could manage that.  So that plan is going on the back-burner now, unless it turns out I’ve misunderstood how it works, which is possible.

I’m not terribly good at marketing.  My marketing plan basically now consists of sending a free copy of the book to Doctor Who Magazine and hoping they review it, or at least put a mention in the merchandise news section.  I spent some time today writing a covering letter for that.  I hope to post the copy tomorrow.

***

I had Skype therapy today.  The connection was interrupted twice and the therapist let it run over by five minutes to make up for it, which was good of her.

I went for a walk for half an hour after therapy.  I ended up feeling like I’m in the wrong time.  I guess it’s not uncommon for people from conservative religious groups (e.g. me) to feel out of sync with the wider world.  Usually they fit in their own community, though.  I feel I don’t fit anywhere.  I feel like “the traveller from beyond time” (Doctor Who: The Savages).  Yesterday I was thinking what historical society I would want to live in.  My Mum always says she wants to live in the 1920s, but only if she was rich, so she could be a Flapper.  I thought I’d like to be an eccentric Victorian gentleman scholar of independent means.  Then I realised I basically just wanted to be Sherlock Holmes (as well as solving crimes, Holmes wrote a number of monographs on criminology, not to mention other, unrelated, subjects).

It’s not just that I have different ethics, tastes and mores from other people.  Sometimes I feel a bit as if I’m trying to think differently to other people.  It feels like most people think in three dimensions, and I want to think in four, but I can’t do it because I’m not a mathematician or physicist.  Not literally a mathematician, but the type of person who could think differently to most people.  That I want to be a great visionary, but haven’t got the ability to think anything new, just an inability to think what everyone else thinks.

A better analogy might be that I feel like I’m on a different frequency to other people a lot of the time, primarily because of autism.  Other people can’t quite “get” me, and I can’t get them.

After dinner I think my thoughts went somewhat downhill.  I tried to do some Torah study, but only managed fifteen minutes before feeling overwhelmed by depression and exhaustion.

***

My Dad spoke to me again about working in a local primary school as a teaching assistant.  I do not think that this is a good idea at all, but my parents are convinced that I am good with children.  I have not seen any real evidence of this, but they are convinced.  Nor do I think working in a primary school is a particularly good idea from an autistic point of view.  I think Dad was annoyed I was so dismissive.  He said it is local (which is undoubtedly true) and that I could do with the money (also true) and that it would give me something to do.  The latter is technically true as well, but I would still need to job hunt to get a library job, which would be a better fit, plus I’m already working on a novel and see myself as having more chance of a career as a writer than as a teacher/TA, not that I see myself as having much of a chance of getting any sort of career.  Taking a full-time TA job would basically put my novel-writing on indefinite hold and even a part-time job would cause some disruption.

***

I thought I was over E.  I guess I spoke too soon about that too.  I keep thinking about what happened.  I don’t really think it could have worked out between us, but I have thoughts and nebulous feelings about her at times.  It’s mostly feelings that I can’t really pin down and analyse.  I guess wishing things could have worked out.  Some worry about how she is coping without me and hoping she is OK.  Wishing I had someone who cared for me and could see past all my issues.  Someone I could care for.

I hate the fact that I always have crushes when I’m not in a relationship (which is the vast majority of the time).  They’re always painful and make me act stupidly and they never lead to anything.  I wish I could just turn my libido off.  I’m blatantly never going to get married, so it’s kind of pointless.  I should just focus on my writing, and Jewish stuff (except getting married is a Jewish thing, so there’s an obvious problem right there).

I have been thinking about a story from the Talmud (Menachot 44a) today.  I have blogged about it before, but I’m going to blog about it again, because I think it’s a good story.  I don’t know if it really happened; it doesn’t really matter.  The story is about a young Jewish yeshiva (seminary) student who went illicitly to visit a prostitute in a distant land.  As he undressed, he saw his tzitzit, the fringes on a four-cornered garment that Jewish men wear, and couldn’t go through with the act.  He sat there naked and the woman joined him, asking what flaw he saw in her.  He said that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but that his tzitzit seemed like four witnesses testifying that God punishes sin and rewards virtue and he could not go through with the sin of sleeping with her.  The woman asked the man to write down his name, the name of his city, the name of his Torah teacher and the yeshiva where he studied.  This the man did.  Then he left.  Meanwhile the woman sold her property, gave a third to the government and a third to the poor and uses the remainder to travel to the man’s city, where she asked his rabbi to convert her.  He was sceptical, thinking she wants to convert simply to get married to a Jewish man, but when he sees the list of names he seems to intuit the story and that she had a meaningful connection and oversees her conversion and she married the man who came to her.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits has a whole long analysis of the story in his essay A Jewish Sexual Ethics (reprinted in Essential Essays on Judaism ed. David Hazony).  He sees the moment of contact, when the yeshiva student and the prostitute sit together, and he gives her all the names in his life, symbolising his sense of self and personal history, as being an I-Thou moment (according to Martin Buber’s philosophy, which we covered a bit in the recent Jewish philosophy shiur (religious class) I went to).  “It is redemption from impersonality” says Rabbi Berkovits.

This is what I want from life, really, certainly from a relationship.  To be redeemed from impersonality.  To really connect with someone.  I thought I had that, but obviously I didn’t.  The online world is particularly bad for tricking you into thinking that you are closer to someone than you really are, and it’s probably no surprise that my first relationship was formed via a dating website and involved a lot of emailing and texting back and forth even after we moved off JDate and my second one was formed via my blog and involved a lot more emailing and texting, not least from being long-distance.  This may be part of the reason they failed.  Maybe we both had a false image of each other.  I don’t know.  If I dated again, I don’t know what method I would use to meet someone (dating site, dating app, professional shadchan (matchmaker), hope for a date arranged by friends or family, etc.).  They all seem pretty problematic in different ways.  I certainly wouldn’t try speed dating, which just terrifies me (little known fact: speed dating was invented by an Orthodox rabbi.  It is very much how frum people date: short, to the point, a lot of information passed very quickly to see if you’re compatible, then move on to the next one).

We actually spoke about this in therapy today.  Not about speed dating, about wanting connection, and missing that.  I get on OK with my parents, but we don’t have the close rapport that my Dad had with his Dad and my Mum had with her Mum.  We don’t always receive each other’s frequencies.  I don’t really have close friends I can talk to any more.  I fell out with them, or they drifted away.  I’m avoiding E. at the moment and don’t know if we can continue as platonic friends.  The friends I do have don’t live locally either, which is problematic at the moment.

My parents have lots of local friends, and during lockdown they’ve been going round to each others’ houses on Shabbat and having socially distanced conversations on the driveways.  I can’t really do that easily; even my local friends live quite a way away, but I would be too scared to just turn up on someone’s doorstep unannounced.  What if they didn’t want to see me?  What if I ran out of conversation?  I guess this is social anxiety.

We spoke about this today in therapy too, the way I drifted away from friends in my teens when socialising became less about playing a game together with clear rules as per childhood and more about “chilling.”  I never got the hang of that, or ever felt confident inviting myself to other people’s parties the way my peers did.  It didn’t help that I was terrified of drink, drugs, tobacco and sex and most of my peers were into at least one of those.  To be honest, forget cannabis or booze, I was terrified of people talking to me, or my crush talking to me, although I wanted that to happen… I had a crush on one girl during the whole two years of the sixth form (equivalent to high school).  Sometimes I tried awkwardly try to talk to her, but mostly I just stood around near her and hoped she would say something to me.  Nowadays I think she didn’t like me much and found me irritating, but was too polite to say so, especially as her best friend was dating one of my close friends.

I feel the touch hunger today too.  I guess I could ask my parents for a hug, but somehow I feel I can’t, and it’s not quite the same anyway.  It would be good to be in a relationship where my physical and emotional needs are both met, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.  I’ll be thirty-seven this time next week.  Somehow I feel that I could easily turn forty and still be a virgin.  I can’t see my life changing quickly, except possibly for the worse.  I think it could easily be at least five years before I’ve established myself as a writer and only once I have a career do I feel that I can even think of dating again.

Ugh, I’m catastrophising again.

I wrote a huge post, but I still feel that I haven’t really expressed what I feel.  It’s hard to describe loneliness, even though I’ve experienced it for so much of my life.  I probably do live inside my head too much.

I’m about to eat ice cream, because I feel I need it, and maybe impulse buy/retail therapy buy some Doctor Who DVDs, although I probably shouldn’t, because I just feel rotten today.  I hope this is just the “mental hangover” from “peopling” yesterday and not anything more serious.

Depression, Divrei Torah and Shopping in Partial Lockdown

I had a weird dream about my maternal grandparents last night.  They were doing decorating or something and then my grandma dropped dead (after doing a flip while dressed as a dog, rather improbably).  I had to call for an ambulance and for my Mum and somehow ended up locked out of the house and unable to unlock the front door while Muppets (actual Muppets, from The Muppet Show) crowded me and put me off.  It was a pretty weird dream, but I think it’s an attempt to process feelings about my parents’ mortality after Mum being ill on Sunday and her cancer in general (it was her parents in the dream).

Perhaps because of this, I felt pretty depressed on waking.  Or maybe I just did too much yesterday.  Plus, it was a fast day today in Judaism, one of the sadder days of the year, which always brings me down, even though I’m not allowed to fast on most of them any more because I’m on lithium.  I usually at least don’t brush my teeth on fast days as a small gesture, but I forgot and did that.  It’s hard to stay in the fast day state of mind when not actually fasting.  Similarly, in previous years I would have drunk just water today, but I drank tea and coffee and I doubt I would have got through the day easily without them.  The longer my depression goes on, the harder I find it to get into the mindset of the “sad” days of the Jewish calendar.  I guess I just feel that I’m depressed all the time and I’m struggling to get to normality even on a sadder day.

I did have depressed feelings about the future on waking.  The usual thoughts that I won’t ever get married, or probably even be in a relationship again, rooted in fears that I will not find another job, which seems to be necessary to find a girlfriend, and that I will  not get over the depression, which would also be good to get rid of before dating.  My unemployment may be fixable.  I hope it is, at any rate.  My depression I suspect is here to stay, on some level at least.

I wrote a lot more about this, but deleted it, as I don’t want to wallow in depression again.  I know I have made progress with the depression over the years and I’m certainly not as bad as I was circa 2003 to 2008 or even later, but it’s still a struggle and I don’t know what my improvement is down to, which makes me worry that I will relapse somehow.  Medication is certainly part of the improvement.  Maybe a certain amount of occupational therapy in terms of keeping active.  Psychotherapy has helped me understand myself a lot better and to deal with some short term problems, but I’m not sure it’s really helped me resolve much in the long term.  It is certainly helpful to talk to a therapist on a week-by-week basis to vent, but I’m not sure how much it helps in the long term.

***

Achievements: despite feeling very depressed, I spent two hours or so working on my novel, fairly absorbed and “in flow.”  I finished another chapter and did some reorganising of the plan for the last few chapters.  Once I started work, the depression feelings did subside quite a bit.  I am concerned that I don’t quite have enough plot left to generate the 13,000 or so words I need to make this acceptable even as a short novel.

I had to do some shopping and wanted to go further afield than I’ve been for a while.  There are basically two places to shop around here: a small parade of shops less than ten minutes’ walk away, and a big high street and shopping centre about fifteen or twenty minutes away.  I hadn’t gone further than the “less than ten minutes away” shops since lockdown started and felt I should push myself to go further, plus the thing I needed was more likely to be in the shops on the high street.

So, I set out.  The weather was horrible, but I saw it as exposure therapy as much as anything, as I’ve been worried about how I will adapt to “normal” post-lockdown life.  I wore a mask when I arrived at the shops, and then wore it home.  I was OK, albeit annoyed that it was often not possible to distance myself from other people as I would have liked.  I went into the Judaica shop too, which was a bit of a reward for getting down there, but I didn’t buy anything.  I still find masks uncomfortable.  I think I will still avoid the shops unless absolutely necessary, at least while Mum is immunosuppressed.

I also wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  I realised I’ve never really written about these here in detail.  These thoughts are short essays, typically 800 to 1,000 words on the week’s Torah reading.  I started writing them at the start of the Torah reading cycle last autumn, initially just to read aloud to my parents at the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table, but I now send them to a few friends and family too.  I do feel the pressure of the weekly deadline sometimes, but it can be quite a rewarding experience to think about the text, look at commentaries, and set out some ideas about it.

I’m slightly curious to look back over the ten months or so and see what themes emerge.  Even without doing that, I know there are some writers I quote a lot.  It’s pretty much inevitable that anyone writing on the Torah portion in the mainstream Jewish tradition is going to quote Rashi and Ramban (the two greatest Medieval Torah commentators) a lot.  More personal is my looking to the Kotzker Rebbe and (lehavdil bein chaim lechaim) Rabbi Lord Sacks a lot for inspiration.

One theme that I know has come up a lot, including this week, is the concept of individuality in Judaism, the idea that we all have a unique outlook on life and that this is, or should be, a theme of Jewish life over and above the conformist nature of a community.  The idea that God sees our individuality and that therefore we should strive ourselves to see and accept individuality, and that leaders in particular should do this.  I’m sure on some level it’s from feeling that I am not always accepted as an individual that I feel the need to stress these ideas, but that does not make them less valid or true.

***

From Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe (emphasis added):

Moses was the most humble person ever to walk the earth.  He was constantly asking himself, “Who am I?  And how can I possibly… ?”  So God said to him, “It is not true that you are not fit, and it is not true that you have faults and blemishes, God forbid.  Your self-doubting is itself a form of worship, the type of worship that illuminates the world, coming as it does through a chain of causality from the name of God that is the future.”  It comes from the name of God, EHYE — “I will be.”  When a person feels that there is nothing worth looking at in his heart, but says, “I am nothing right now, but from now on I will try to be something,” his worship takes on the aspect of God’s Name, EHYE — I will be.  It draws out a reciprocal promise of EHYE — I will be.

Autism and Depression in the Workplace and More on Meaning

I dreamt about doing my A-Levels (equivalent of High School) and struggling with self-organisation because of my high functioning autism.  In reality, I was OK academically/organisationally at A-Level.  It was socially where I was beginning to struggle, as I couldn’t cope with more complex forms of adolescent friendship compared with childhood friendship, or with the greater levels of freedom I was being given.  Drink, drugs and sex scared me a lot; maybe it’s appropriate that they did, but they didn’t seem to scare my peers.  In reality, it was only when I got to the world of work, much delayed by depression, that my autistic issues became really noticeable.  I woke up with 17 Again by Eurythmics in my head (I sincerely hope I am never seventeen again).  I wanted to go back to sleep, as I had only slept for seven hours (I generally sleep much more because of depression), but it was too hot, so I got up.

I sleep badly when it’s hot anyway, partly from the heat, partly perhaps because I usually wrap myself up in a duvet, one of my more autistic traits, and I can’t do that when it’s too hot.  I’ve wrapped myself up in my duvet like a cocoon since I was a child.  I suppose it makes me feel secure.  When I was a child, I had an idea that if burglars broke into the house and stabbed me, the duvet would protect me.  I’m not sure if I really believed this, nor do I know if I really thought I was living in a production of Richard III and was likely to be stabbed by housebreakers.  I do feel more secure wrapped in my duvet though.  They sell weighted duvets now for people on the spectrum.  I’ve thought about getting one.

***

I got a weird response from the place I applied for a job the other day.  They said they have had a lot of responses; also that the library is small, but that they will get back to me.  I think they were saying they don’t want a trained librarian, just someone who will do admin for books, but it seemed an odd way of saying it.  Am I hoping I get the job or not?  I don’t know.  It would be good to have some income and structure, and the esteem that comes from work, in other people’s eyes if not my own.  On the other hand, I like having time to write when I’m most productive (afternoon/early evening) and working five afternoons a week was not my preferred part-time structure.  I would prefer two or three full days a week, giving me time to recover from work days as well as time to write on non-work days.

***

I got a letter saying my benefits have gone up as they now don’t think I’m able to work at the moment (although I understand I’m still allowed to look for low-paying part-time work).  Previously the benefits were lower because I was expected to be looking for work.  I’m not complaining, but I’m not sure why they’ve suddenly made this change, which makes me worry it’s a mistake and I will have to pay the money back, so I’m scared to spend any of it.  It’s not like the Department of Work and Pensions don’t have form with that sort of thing.  I would be generally suspicious of any government body giving away free money, to be honest.

***

I watched Rabbi Rafi Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies interview Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman who is a rabbi who became a psychotherapist.  They spoke about meaning and the danger of religion making people do things because they have to do it rather than because it’s an authentic expression of what they want to do.  Rabbi Engelman reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about framing doing religious things that I don’t really want to do as, “I’m doing it because I’m in a relationship with God” rather than “I’m doing it because God said so,” which is perhaps a subtle difference, but an important one.  It’s about prioritising the aspects of Judaism that I have chosen to be present in, on some level, (having a relationship with God) over the dry ritualistic aspects (doing as I’m told).  Even if the outcome is the same, the mindset is very different.  Just as I do things that I think are pointless or counterproductive sometimes because my parents want me to do them and I value keeping the relationship more than I value my freedom not to do that thing, so I do things that God wants me to do for the sake of my relationship with Him rather than because I worry that I will “get zapped” (as they would say in my shiur (religious class)).

***

A paragraph from my novel sums up how I felt struggling with depression and high functioning autism in the workplace:

I have always worked hard and achieved despite my troubles.  Now there is no correlation between effort and achievement; I do my best, but it is not good enough, I can not function as I am supposed to do, there are problems I can not solve without requesting help.

I still feel like this sometimes.  I am sure it would be worse if I was in work rather than job hunting.  It felt like that at times in all the jobs I have had, except perhaps the first one, but some were particularly bad.

Writing this chapter is probably what triggered the autism dream last night.

***

Achievements today: two hours on my novel, almost exactly 1,000 words.  I could have done a little more, but it’s so hot, and I’m tired from Shabbat chores and need a passive TV break before Shabbat.

The Man Who Fell to Earth

(I’m trying the new WordPress editor, and having a slight autistic change freak out that it looks complicated (what are ‘blocks’?) and I can’t get it to work, and the old editor worked fine, so why did they change it?)

I woke up from strange dreams again, something about being in therapy, but not knowing what to say (a representation of my fears that I’m not ‘really’ depressed?), stuff about the reliability of the Bible (I even remembered this book in my dream), stuff about pigeons trying to fly in through a door to a balcony, but I couldn’t get too close to chase them away because there was no balcony, just a drop of several stories (I’ve never liked pigeons and in the summer I do worry about birds flying into the houses through the open windows). There was some stuff about university too, I think, probably the product of raking that over for my novel. And something about having a son and calling him Lemuel (‘Dedicated to God’ – maybe my unconscious is more certain of my religiosity than I am?).

I woke up depressed and self-loathing again. After breakfast and lunch I felt better though. I tried to work a bit on my novel and got bogged down again, so I looked at some advice a writer friend had sent me yesterday when I emailed to ask about writer’s block, which referred me to some books (that I ordered on Ebay) and Tweets (which I read).

I was doing OK until I read something religious that upset me. I’m not going to repeat it here, because I don’t want to seem so negative about frum (religious Orthodox Jewish culture), but it did make me feel that I will never fit in. This prompted a dip back into, “I can’t write, I’m never going to be a writer” angst, and I realised I had been sat at my computer for three hours reading, writing, thinking and, yes, procrastinating, and that I should probably take a break. I guess it’s good that I realised what was happening to me and acted on it.

(I did later manage half an hour or so of Torah study despite this.)

On my break, I went for a walk. While I was out, I had the intense feeling of alienation that I used to associate primarily with depression, but which I increasingly feel is due to autism, or maybe to autism and depression. The feeling of, “I don’t belong here, this isn’t the world I’m supposed to live in.” Feeling like I can never fit in and do the things a “normal” person is supposed to do, particularly career-wise. I’m worried today that I will never be a writer of any kind, let alone a fiction writer. There isn’t really anywhere to go with this line of thought, though. Either it will work out or it won’t. As I’m struggling to find other work, there aren’t a lot of other options out there other than persevering with my novel. Like most of the things I’m worried about at the moment, there is literally nothing at all I can really do about this beyond sticking at it.

***

I’m not sure what to do with kabbalah, Jewish mysticism. Mysticism has never meant much to me and part of me is a kind of Maimonidean religious rationalist, but in recent years I’ve become somewhat more interested in kabbalah as a way of thinking about God and about life that doesn’t necessarily require absolute literal belief in its tenets. Although my thoughts about this could change at any time (and I don’t agree at all with practical kabbalah, segulahs and other forms of magical thinking and magic).

I was aware of the idea of different souls leading to different personalities. According to Chabad.org there are seven types of soul (‘G-d’ is the Jewish way of deliberately spelling ‘God’ incorrectly so that the writing doesn’t have any sanctity):

Chesed (Kindness) — A soul whose service of G‑d is characterized by a calm and flowing love. This soul is also overflowing with love for his fellows.

Gevurah (Severity) – A soul who serves G‑d with awe and a flaming passion. This soul is also highly disciplined, with high expectations of himself and others.

Tiferet (Harmony) – The soul who has achieved a perfect synthesis of Kindness and Severity. This is accomplished through the study of Torah. Tiferet is also the source of the soul’s capacity for compassion.

Netzach (Perseverance) – A soul who is constantly battling and struggling, but is ultimately triumphant.

Hod (Humility) – The soul who exemplifies self-abnegation in favor of allowing itself to be overwhelmed by G‑d’s goodness.

Yesod (Foundation) – The soul whose unique talent is establishing giving relationships, intellectually or otherwise.

Malchut – (Royalty) The soul who serves its Creator in a majestic manner.

I only used to know about the first two and I thought that, inasmuch as this idea had any validity, I would come from Gevurah, which contains the idea of discipline and especially limits and boundaries, which seemed to sum up my restricted approach to life. But I am frankly not as disciplined as I once thought/hoped myself to be and now I wonder if I should see myself as coming from Netzach, the idea of conflict and struggle over my mental health being ongoing in my life since adolescence.

As I say, I’m not sure how much validity any of this has as a representation of the real world, but as a Jewish myth/thought system, maybe it would help me to re-frame my life to see conflict as part of my life and mission rather than something I should try to get through quickly in order to find my “real” mission. It would also be positive to see triumph as something innate in me (‘Netzach‘ means both ‘eternity’ and ‘victory’). Interestingly, this website associates Netzach with bitachon, trust in God, something I feel myself lacking.

Anyway, I’m going to stop now as you can really jump down the rabbit hole with kabbalistic stuff if you aren’t careful.

The Fall’s Gonna Kill You

I’m trying not to start every post writing about my sleep from the previous night, but there’s no denying that I went to bed late, slept badly, had weird dreams that upset me without being entirely sure why, and got up late, feeling depressed and exhausted. Whether that’s a symptom or a cause of what followed is not clear at this point.

I have a rush of thoughts in my head and I’m not sure I can put them all down, but they centre on Judaism and my relationship to it.  I don’t think Judaism provides much meaning to me, in a tangible everyday sense, rather than a more abstract theoretical one, and it certainly doesn’t provide much joy, although I do appreciate Shabbat (the Sabbath) even if I sleep through much of it.  It’s come to the fore lately because of my relationship to E. and the fear I have that I won’t be able to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to her if I don’t like it enough myself.  I feel that I can’t get by on autopilot any more as I’ve done for many years, but that if I don’t find a way of making it enjoyable for her, we won’t be able to get married and live together.  But I can’t leave Judaism either, because I really believe in it.  I mean, really believe.  Which I suppose must mean I get some meaning from it, even if I can’t describe how or why.

I enjoy Shabbat, as I said, which is just a wonderful sacred time away from the world.  I don’t always get meaning from Torah study, but I enjoy the “archaeological” side of studying ancient texts in foreign languages.  You decode the meaning of words and sometimes it’s something truly alien to the modern experience (of life, let alone religion), but sometimes a vivid image or idea hits you and there’s a connection across hundred s or even thousands of years between you and the author (whoever he really was).  I find that exciting.  Lately I’m getting something out of studying Sacred Fire, the sermons of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I know that’s not thousands of years ago, but (thankfully) it still seems a very different time, even though it’s technically still within living memory.  He seems to understand suffering in a way that few rabbinic sources I’ve read do, understands how it can destroy you from within and stop you keeping up with religious life, which is how I feel at the moment.

I don’t think that I get much else that’s tangible out of Judaism, though, certainly not from the social aspect, although I doubt I would fit in anywhere.  As I said in a comment on the last post, I think unconsciously I don’t want to fit in anywhere; at any rate, whenever I join a new community, I start thinking up reasons why they could never accept me, which causes me to hold back and not be accepted.  Possibly I should just wait until people actually reject me rather than preempting them.  I can’t imagine living a life without Judaism though.  Secularism, in both its Enlightenment and Postmodern guises just seems so hollow and meaningless, far more so than Orthodox Judaism.  But Orthodox Judaism as it is usually presented, in both its Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) guises just seems impossible for someone with all my issues.

The previous rabbi at my shul (synagogue) said that one needs to separate the emotional religious questions from logical ones.  Not that one is right and the other wrong, but that emotional questions need emotional answers, not logical ones and vice versa.  From that point of view, I’m in need of emotional answers, not logical ones.  Similarly, my rabbi mentor told me that when he was training as a counsellor and Jewish student chaplain that he was taught that when presented with a question of faith to address the personal problem beneath it.  He said that at the time he thought that was really offensive (to assume that every question of faith is really hiding a personal problem), but as he became more experienced, he saw that there was some truth in it.

From that point of view, the personal problem is obvious.  It is well-known that the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community assumes every adult is married.  It is also true that being married “locks” a person into frumkeit (religious culture) by making it harder to drop out (because of the difficulties it would entail for the marriage).  Perhaps if I’d found a frum spouse in the UK I would have swallowed my reservations about the frum world(s) to get married, whether the lack of passion and religious commitment in the Modern Orthodox world or the numerous intellectual reservations I have about the Haredi worldview.  Maybe I would have lived with the cognitive dissonance in either world, locked in by my marriage.

But I was unable to find a spouse in the frum community, and then I ended up with E., who is not frum.  Now I feel pulled in two directions: I still have an intellectual commitment to frumkeit, but I struggle to have an emotional connection with it, and now I am aware that I could make E. and my life much easier and probably more fun by simply dropping a lot of frum commitments.  It is hard to know what to do.

***

I feel upset with myself for what I wrote in the comment to this post.  It was true, but I felt I shouldn’t have written it.  I shouldn’t involve other people in my issues (as if I haven’t done that already to E. and my family) and I shouldn’t voice my resentment at my failure to be frum.

I worry about not fitting in with people here online too, although if ever people have chosen to be around me based on my deepest inner thoughts, it’s on my blog.  I wonder what people make of me, whether they think I’m a good person, and whether I give a negative impression of Orthodox Judaism.  I hope I don’t present Judaism in a really bad way just because of my issues.

***

That’s pretty much where my brain was all day today.  Feeling that I’m a bad Jew and that the system is rigged against people like me, but that there’s nothing I can do about it, and worried about what it means for my relationship.  Feeling like a fraud and not sure what I should do or where I should go.

I tried to work on my novel for an hour and a half, but I was too distracted.  I procrastinated a lot and only wrote 200 words before giving up.  I felt that my writing isn’t going anywhere, not this book and quite possibly not any books.  Which is another reason E. shouldn’t date me, because I don’t bring anything to the relationship financially.  As well as my inability to function for prolonged periods of time, whether due to depression or autism.

I’m going to post this earlier than usual, because I need to dump these thoughts out of my head.  Then I’m going to go for a run and see if that helps my mood.

Napoleon

I had a weird dream about Napoleon.  Maybe I want to conquer the world.  Actually, I know I want to conquer the world.  I just wouldn’t know what to do with it afterwards.

***

I felt really apathetic today.  It’s easy to get sucked into depression, thinking nothing can change, even getting sucked into “I don’t want to be here” (meaning, “I don’t want to be alive, here in this world,” although not actively suicidal) type thoughts.  I have to remind myself that I want to build my relationship with E., that I want to write my novel, that I have friends and family who care about me…  It’s hard on mornings like today, when I’ve overslept and feel drained and exhausted and a bit lonely and wish E. was here and can’t face the day and am worrying how I will write my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week and a whole bunch of other things…  Even after lunch the feelings didn’t go.  I had to force myself to do things when I really just wanted to vegetate.

I probably do have a negative tendency to seek not just perfection in myself, but brilliance.  In other words, not just to avoid errors, but to produce things (blog posts, stories, divrei Torah) that are outstanding.  This is probably just setting myself up to fail on two counts, because no one can be perfect all the time and no one can be brilliant all the time.  It occurs to me that the last year or two I have slowly been coming round to the idea that I’m never going to be a tzaddik (saint) and stopping trying to meet certain halakhic (Jewish legal) requirements that I simply don’t think are achievable for me at the moment, and possibly not ever.  I think I still want to be a serious literary novelist, but I don’t know if I have it in me or how to go about it.  Like I said, I want to be Napoleon, I want to conquer the world.

I did at least spend nearly two hours drafting my devar Torah.  It was very draining on one level, as I did a bit of research online, tracking down resources about honouring, or not honouring, abusive parents, but I was glad to get it done, although I still need to proofread it tomorrow.  I decided that I felt well enough after all that to go for a run, which was OK, but complicated by social isolating; I had to cross the road a lot to avoid people and at one point got stuck on a traffic island in the middle of the road, avoiding two dogs and owners on both sides of the road (although I would avoid dogs when running even without COVID-19).

I also joined in some of a Skype call with my parents and Israeli family.  I was a bit reluctant, as I get annoyed that it’s always assumed that I will join in with family stuff whenever it suits everyone else.  I know I’m the person least likely to have anything else going on, but it does annoy me.  I do have some kind of life.  To be fair, my sister couldn’t make it at all because it was short notice, so it’s not just me.  Anyway, I joined in.  It was a bit crazy, but not as much as I had feared.  My Israeli family are mostly extroverts and like being in the limelight; there’s a fair amount of diagnosed or presumed ADD/ADHD, so it can get pretty loud and distracting, which I don’t find easy either in person or on Zoom.  It did eat a chunk of my novel-writing time, though, thus further encouraging my nocturnal habits.

I suppose I feel vaguely resentful of losing quality writing time.  I worked on my novel for a bit, but late at night when I was tired.  I gave up at 10pm.  I was just too tired.  I lost track of how much I wrote today, but it wasn’t much.  It’s not my family’s fault, but it’s not my own fault either.  It’s not my own fault that I’m still depressed in mornings, that my devar Torah sometimes seems a big commitment (I didn’t mean to spend nearly two hours on it today), that exercise seems to eat up more time than it should with changing and showering, warming up and cooling down.  I wish I could be a normal person managing seven productive hours a day, plus family/social time, plus exercise time, plus religious time.

***

I got an email from the editor of a Doctor Who book I contributed to years ago, asking me if I want to write for a book on The X-Files.  I don’t know anything about The X-Files.  I wanted to try to get into it a few years ago, but reading about it online convinced me it was too scary for my tastes (I’m a wimp).  Said editor asks me to write for books on subjects I don’t know enough about every so often.  I wanted to be part of the second Doctor Who book he edited, but he didn’t ask me and I didn’t hear about it until all the slots were taken (so my Fear Her appreciation will have to go unnoticed by the world).  I pitched my Doctor Who book to the same publisher and got rejected.  There’s a moral there somewhere.  Speaking of which, the money for my Doctor Who book sales finally arrived in my bank account today.  I hope I get some more; right now I haven’t sold a copy to anyone not known to me personally.

I have a Skype therapy session booked for Monday with a new therapist…