Protected: Family Thoughts
Wedding Anxiety, Religious Anxiety
I feel quite stressed and anxious, partly about the wedding, partly aware that E is struggling with things at the moment and I can’t help her. I’ve contemplated jumping on a plane just to give her a hug, but she said not to, and, for reasons I won’t go into here, it might actually make her situation worse, in practical terms, if I did, so I just have to wait. It’s very frustrating. I guess now I know how my parents felt for years when I was struggling with depression/burnout and they couldn’t do anything for me.
Once I get to that point, my thoughts start to spiral out of control worrying about how two people with so many diagnosed and suspected neurodivergence/mental illness “issues” between them, and such an insecure income as a result, can actually be happy, particularly when my parents aren’t able to help any more, practically and financially. At least we’ll be together, that counts for a lot. It’s scary, though.
Other than wedding/marriage/future stuff, I’m worried about Purim, the minor Jewish festival coming up in about a week and a half. I’m actually more worried about Purim than Pesach at the moment. Pesach is a more major festival a month later that triggered my religious OCD much more than Purim in the past, but I think that’s under control now. Purim triggers a lot of things, like OCD, social anxiety, perhaps autistic sensory issues, social overwhelm and so on as well as feeling like a loser for having no (local) friends. Ugh.
In terms of the last few days… on Thursday I had to do the Very Scary Task at work. I think I’m getting better at it, but it’s still hard and I get flustered and confused on the phone, especially if J isn’t around. On the plus side, I did get to go out to the Post Office and do some shopping which at least broke the day up a bit. I spent the afternoon doing a very boring printing and scanning job that is not yet finished. After work I went to Sainsbury’s and was so distracted and confused that I nearly left my food behind. I also collected my glasses with new lenses and left my spare pair so the new lens prescription can be put in them. I have to remember to wear the spares on our wedding day otherwise my glasses will turn tinted from the sunlight/camera flash (the everyday glasses have reaction lenses, but the spares don’t).
I was exhausted again on Friday. I probably would have been OK if I could have had a mental health day (autism day?), but even minor Shabbat (Sabbath) preparation finishes me off on Fridays recently. I felt too exhausted to go to shul (synagogue) again, which upset me a bit. I feel as if I’m drifting away from the Jewish community, while still believing and practising Judaism privately, and the Purim anxiety is a part of this. I don’t want to do it, but it’s what my mental/autistic health seems to demand right now and I feel that if I go away, the community won’t come after me they way they would for someone more involved and connected. I’ve never really felt fully a part of the community, except maybe for two or three years in the shul I grew up in, before we moved. Three years out of nearly forty is not a good record.
My uncle is here for the weekend. We had a good time at dinner, but there are aspects of the family dynamic that I find uncomfortable. I mentioned the other day that E and Nephew joining the family has changed the family dynamic, which it has, but there’s been another, more subtle, shift for a decade or more that I don’t feel comfortable with, but it’s not really my place to do anything about it. The problem is that I get sucked in and say things that I later regret. Speaking of which, I said something completely different (unrelated to family stuff) that I immediately regretted for religious reasons. I am trying not to beat myself up about it and accept it was a slip of the tongue, but I expect myself to be perfect.
I had a headache that got bad enough that I took tablets for it on Shabbat (the rules about taking medication for minor ailments on Shabbat are complicated. In the past I was very strict with myself; now, as in other things, I’m trying to tell myself that sometimes it’s more religious to be more lenient. It’s hard, though). I lay on the bed for a bit after dinner because of the headache. Lying down made it worse, but I propped myself up by the headboard and covered myself with my weighted blanket and adjusted the Shabbat lamp so there was only a little light.
After a while the headache went and I wanted to do some Torah study before it got too late. Like last week, as it was late, I went for depth over length of time, studying some Talmud (reviewing the page I’m on) and a chapter of Shoftim (Judges). It took about forty minutes in total. After that, I read for fun for a bit, finishing Greenmantle and starting Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban before going to bed.
Today was more of the same, really, until Shabbat ended and the anxieties I mentioned above kicked in.
I worry that I over-shared on the Orthodox Conundrum blog Facebook group on Friday. There was a thread about Orthodox men not wanting to date women who study more Talmud than them, or better than them, and I asked if the reverse is also true, wondering if I got set up on so few dates in the Orthodox community because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary). To be fair, there were plenty of other plausible explanations for my lack of dates, but, as you know, I’m paranoid that my failure to go to yeshivah or to study Talmud at a high level marks me as a “bad (frum/religious) Jew” even though I know that the idea of universal male yeshivah study or Talmud study for all but an elite is a product of not much more than the last century, not the entirety of Jewish history.
Perhaps relatedly, on Friday night/Saturday morning, I dreamt I was back in school. I had done my BA and MA, but, somehow, not my A-levels, so I had to come back to do them, but I was in the middle of burnout again and felt I couldn’t finish the course. Of course, I probably did have burnout when I did my A-levels, but it was mild compared with the burnouts during my BA and MA. I think the dream is about me trying to come to terms with not being the academic success that my achievements at school led me to think I would be, particularly in terms of secular academia, but also in terms of the frum community, where so many people seem to be able to study Talmud at a much higher level than me and where this seems to count more than other types of religious knowledge and perhaps even than being a good person in some circles.
It turned out that I did not copy all my music (or my non-classical music) to my phone. I need to delete some phone apps and try again…
Getting Better All the Time
I got up about 10.30am today, which was earlier than I expected, as I thought I would be exhausted after yesterday. However, I wasted what I had of the morning as I was too exhausted for anything other than internet stuff. I’m not sure if I’m going to go to shul (synagogue). I want to and I don’t feel exhausted to the point of illness, as I have on recent Fridays, but I do still feel exhausted, am getting the “headrush”-type feeling I associate with autistic exhaustion and I am at least trying to notice the signals my body is sending me and not try to push through them in the belief that “doing something” is always better than “doing nothing” (relaxing/reading/watching TV or literally just lying still and recuperating from the noise and busyness of the world).
I had a Pesach anxiety dream last night, but it was a “can we make Pesach in time?” dream, not a Pesach OCD dream, which was good.
It feels like my life is getting better lately, but not uniformly. I don’t think any of it is getting worse.
Getting fully married soon is good. Wedding planning is eating up a lot of energy, with less for cooking and housework and none for writing, but I can live with that for a few more months.
Volunteering has become my main social activity. I don’t say much, but do occasionally make a funny remark and people laugh. It’s good being around people. It’s slightly awkward that they’re all twenty years or more older than me and retired (hence time for volunteering), but it means I’m not comparing myself to them. I don’t expect people of my parents’ generation to be living lives like mine. I often get on better with older people anyway.
Work is difficult, but bearable and at least my boss seems to tolerate my mistakes. I do worry that he secretly thinks I’m an idiot, but I’m trying not to care.
I’m trying to give myself more breaks and more relaxation time (at home, not yet at work), as indicated by my remarks about possibly missing shul today. It’s hard. As I said in a comment today on Paula’s blog, since my teenage years, I’ve found it hard to set aside more than half an hour or so at a time for reading fiction or TV; it feels too much like “wasting” time that should be spent on something “productive.” Yet not relaxing means I can sucked into hours of internet procrastination instead (much of it designed to make me feel angry and threatened), because of the addictive “junk food” nature of internet links (“Just one more”).
I have a lot to do still regarding proofreading. I want to set up profiles on more sites and chase the person I worked for to get a review, although I think it’s probably too late (I’ve been focused on the wedding). I know I have a lot to do to build my brand before this becomes a significant revenue stream and it does seem that it will take a long time to do, maybe never.
I am accepting that my novel(s) may not ever get published. I would like to write more despite this, even if it’s just for E. I still need to type up notes for my new novel, plus research and actually write the thing. Unfortunately, this all takes time, time I don’t currently have. However, I enjoy just thinking about it, so that’s good!
I feel like I fit in a bit better on the autism forum and am connecting with some people, although it can be hard, especially when I try not spend too long on there. I do wonder how some people can say that they feel an affinity with all autistics and no allistics, which seems very strange and stereotyping (and possibly an example of autistic black and white thinking). I find autistics, even high-functioning ones, to be as varied in personality and interests as any other cross-section of the population, albeit with certain traits or interests that come up perhaps a bit more than in general society.
There is sometimes drama on the forum, but I try to stay out of it. It can be hard to work out what I should post there and what on my blog. I definitely feel that the Jewish aspect of my autism is not really recognised there and there is still some Impostor Syndrome regarding traits that others have that I don’t, whether it’s the fact that I have some ability to make small talk (even though I don’t like it and it’s draining) or the fact that I increasingly think I like reasonably bright light and strong contrasts rather than preferring muted lights as most autistics prefer. Again, the fact that many people on the forum assume their experience is universal for autistics is probably not surprising when you consider that difficulty with perspective-taking is a classic autistic trait.
Religious life is still hard. Going to shul is draining and I don’t always have kavannah (concentrate) well there. Davening (praying) at home can actually be much better on that score. Shacharit (Morning Prayers) are a lost cause, but the other services can be better, although I’ve got a long way still to go.
I am doing quite a bit of Torah study most days, and fairly difficult stuff at the moment, not fluff (Talmud, The Guide for the Perplexed, Aviva Gottleib Zornberg’s Torah essays which combine traditional Jewish thought with contemporary literary criticism, philosophy and psychology). Even so, I feel like I should do more, although maybe I don’t need to.
I am also aware that I’m going to have to compromise religiously with E when we get married, but I’m trying to keep in perspective the fact that the compromises will largely be on chumrot (stringencies) or, if not, will be for the purpose of shalom bayit (domestic harmony), which is a legitimate halakhic (Jewish legal) concern that can counter-balance some laws, even some biblical ones. I also think that E and I will grow together religiously in ways that I can’t manage alone e.g. I think she will help me get back to going to shul on Shabbat mornings and take more of a role in the community. I am also trying to stay aware that I can legitimately make compromises with myself over religious engagement because of my autism e.g. less shul attendance, pressuring myself less to daven, or daven with kavannah or study Torah when exhausted. I find it hard not to strictly “follow the rules,” (which may not always be actual halakhah, but the customs or even whims of the community) which may be another autistic thing and not halakhically necessary.
I do worry a bit about how E and I will cope if we have children, as we would like, given our respective “issues,” but I think first we need to see how we cope as a couple!
I do still have some Impostor Syndrome in different areas, particularly with my Judaism, but also feeling I’m not autistic “enough” or not coping with life “enough,” but I guess things are getting better overall.
Overwhelm and Incompetence
Today was a bad day really from before I actually woke up. I awoke from a bad dream. I can’t remember it now, but I was feeling quite disturbed for a while. I remember thinking that my unconscious seems to have a better imagination than my conscious mind and that I need to find a way to tap into it. Then again, most of the dreams I remember are completely incoherent, so maybe not. I did feel quite anxious, although I felt better after eating breakfast.
I had to do the Very Scary Task again at work. I realised that the difficulty with this is only partly social anxiety. A lot is struggling to process what is said to me on phone and to deal with questions on the spot, as well as the fact that I still struggle to remember all the procedure, for reasons that I am unsure of (possibly some kind of psychological block on something I find frightening).
I also had to deal with other phone calls, a LOT of noise (building works in our building and one nearby, plus a group of schoolchildren visiting the building – not our office, but we could hear them) and various other issues I won’t go into here. At one point, I lost Wi-Fi and it took me a while to realise it had spontaneously switched to flight mode (or I had accidentally switched it somehow). I went to the bank, but was too overwhelmed by the people on one of the busiest streets in London. By the afternoon, the phone ringing was making me jump and even the printer was too loud. I felt overwhelmed and wanted to hide in the toilet, although I didn’t.
I did manage to go to the opticians after work and try to get new lenses in my spare glasses (I’ll get my main pair done afterwards). There was noise and it was very busy. I felt didn’t cope, but I got through it, so I guess I did cope.
I did manage to spend a lot of time decompressing when I got home without screens and that really seemed to help me feel better.
I spent some time today thinking that J must think I’m incompetent. It’s not just the mistakes I make (although there are a lot), but the hesitations, uncertainty and checking. If he asks me something, I answer positively, but then I worry if that was right and start to sound uncertain, so I then go and double-check, which looks unprofessional, even if I had answered correctly first time. Work today just felt impossible and I remembered my boss in my further education library job who more or less told me that I wasn’t good enough.
This then spilled into wondering how I can get married when I feel I won’t contribute enough to the household. I don’t mind that E earns more than me, but I wish I earned more than I do. I really need to get some more proofreading work (which reminds me that I need to check I’ve been paid for the work I did, and to try to get a review for it). I know E loves me and wants to marry me anyway, but I still wish we were more financially secure.
This all led on to wondering if I should tell J that I struggle at work or ask for adjustments. J knows I’m autistic. If you recall, I had an article about being autistic in the Orthodox Jewish community published on a Jewish website, under my own name and with photos of me. I wasn’t so keen on the photos bit, but it is standard on that site for those kind of personal story essays. I didn’t think anything more of it, but about a day later J texted me to say he’d seen it. I had stupidly forgotten something that I say a lot, which is that the Jewish community is very small and we all know each other (J wasn’t the only person I knew to see it, but I still think it was the right decision).
The problem is that I don’t know what reasonable adjustments I could ask for. I don’t think it would be reasonable to ask to be excused from speaking to people on the phone or doing the Very Scary Task. They are too important for me not to do and the Very Scary Task only comes around infrequently (and I am slowly getting more adjusted to it). I’m not sure what exactly my problem is, just that often everything feels very overwhelming. I am still thinking about asking to work later in exchange for a mid-afternoon break.
The other thing I kept thinking about today is that I want help people, but I’m not very good at it. I don’t really want to go into detail about this here, though. Years ago a psychiatrist told me that I want to help, but I can’t because I don’t understand people and I think she said I never will and I just need to accept it (I wasn’t even known to be autistic at that stage). That feels very true, sadly. I guess E is the right person for me because I can understand her enough to give her what she needs.
I listened again to Burt Bacharach’s upbeat theme tune to Casino Royale – not the Daniel Craig film, but the largely forgotten 1967 spoof. I did this because I saw that he had died, and this is the only song of his I really know. Casino Royale is mostly awful, but I really like the theme, corny 60s tune though it is. If I was the kind of person who knew how to edit video and had a flagrant disregard for copyright, I would set the grim violence of the Daniel Craig Casino Royale to the jaunty 1967 Casino Royale theme. “He’s gonna save the world at Casino Royale!”
A Fire Burns in Kotzk
I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good idea to relate dreams, but I had a weird one last night based on The Twilight Zone episode Third from the Sun where a couple of scientists and their families flee imminent nuclear war in an experimental spaceship. We’re supposed to think they’re fleeing from contemporary Earth, but right at the end we discover they’re fleeing to it from a similar planet. (A lot of The Twilight Zone episodes reflect late fifties/early sixties nuclear war anxiety.) I think Doctor Who elements drifted into the dream too, but I don’t remember what. I was a bit surprised that the dream did seem to match the episode in broad outline, as I don’t usually dream coherent plots. I also don’t usually dream about fiction other than Doctor Who, I haven’t watched any Twilight Zone for months, and I don’t know why my unconscious is feeling anxious about nuclear war. Is it about Vladimir Putin? Or is it just a symbol for wedding anxiety? I mean anxiety about planning the wedding; I have no anxiety about marrying the wrong person.
I woke up a little early for work and not rested. I don’t know if it was from the dream or from not enough sleep. Work was OK. I got to go to the bank, which I like, but when I got back I had to do the Very Scary Task, which I dislike. I think I went into autistic and anxious incoherent speaking mode on the phone and gave some garbled instructions. In this situation we send a text afterwards to repeat instructions and give necessary contact details, so it wasn’t catastrophic, but I felt embarrassed.
The psychiatrist (or her secretary) seems not to have sent the letter about my prescription change to the GP and myself, so I can’t reduce the dosage yet, as the GP has to prescribe 25mg capsules for me to do so.
While I’ve been typing this, there’s been a “silly” thread running on the autism forum, with comments from many commenters flying much more quickly than usual, more or less in real time. It’s a deliberately silly thread, with a lot of joking and I’ve been contributing. I think I made a joke which could have been interpreted in a somewhat offensive way, although that was not my intention. I had a fan discussion with another Doctor Who fan and I then got into a discussion about Hebrew grammar with a Christian woman. I do feel as if I’ve become a bit more “accepted” there tonight although I’m still confused about the protocols for friending and sending private messages on there. I worry I upset someone or put them in an awkward situation because of that the other day.
I’m still reading A Fire Burns in Kotsk about the rebbes of Przysucha and Kotzk (I’m using my usual spelling of Kotzk for consistency except in direct quotes). It’s a retelling of oral traditions about the rebbes and their courts. It’s not an academic account and two of the stories in it, although well-known, have been debunked by academic scholars: the story that three rebbes tried to “force the end” (try to make God bring the Messiah) during the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars and the story that the Kotzker Rebbe apostatised and publicly broke Shabbat. It is true that the Kotzker spent the last nineteen years of his life as a relative recluse in his study, but he is now known to have had more contact with the outside world than was once thought. All that said, it’s interesting as an account of what these courts based on oral tradition (with the strengths and weaknesses that implies).
The Kotzker Rebbe is a very important religious figure for me. Of the “modern” Jewish thinkers (in Jewish thought “modern” begins after the publication of the law code the Shulchan Aruch in the sixteenth century), only Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl is as big an influence on my thought. This is very obvious if you read my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts), which quote them much more than anyone else.
A Fire Burns in Kotsk reinforced what I already suspected, that the anarchic atmosphere of Kotzk was not for me. The court was a weird cross-between yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) and secondary school locker-room, with intense Talmud study combined with what essentially amounted to hazing rituals designed to force new Hasidim to pay for alcohol and food for everyone. There was a lot of drinking going on and a general pushing of boundaries and lack of respect designed to see if Hasidim could reach a point of real disinterested spirituality, with no selfish motives at all and especially no arrogance. The Hasidim of Kotzk had a reputation for strong individualism and non-conformity, which I suppose is part of the appeal to me.
The other thing I couldn’t cope with, aside from the raucous nature of the court (which I think was unique to Kotzk), was the young Hasidim abandoning their wives and children for months on end, which was normal for early Hasidism.
It’s strange to think that the Kotzker Rebbe and his teachings are so important to me, yet even if I had lived in the mid-nineteenth century, I would have found his court and his Hasidim unbearable. I wonder, reading the book, if the Kotzker was autistic. To be honest, except for living in his study for nineteen years, I’m not sure he has that many symptoms, but he certainly didn’t like the numbers of people around him. Although if we want to play the “diagnose historical personages” game, bipolar disorder is probably a better fit for him.
I’ve mentioned before that the Kotzker represents the Romantic, ascetic, passionate side of my personality, the part that reads Kafka and Dostoyevski. Whereas Rabbi Sacks represents the calm, philosophical, Maimonidean side of my personality that values balance, harmony, and moderation. The former seeks to perfect myself, the latter to perfect the world around me. It’s not religion versus materialism, but a primarily introspective religious approach as opposed to a more outward-focused one. It’s hard to know how to get them to work together rather than to pull apart, although I think my writing comes from both of them.
Autism (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) vs. Asperger’s Syndrome
I woke up late, feeling very tired again. I hope I get my sleep disorder diagnosis soon. I had a dream where I was listing missing Doctor Who episodes. My unconscious did pretty well (albeit only getting halfway through the list before going onto something else), but missed The Celestial Toymaker, possibly because it’s over-rated rubbish (one of my least favourite original series stories). Mind you, I think I also missed The Smugglers, which I’m quite fond of, so maybe it was just my unconscious not focusing.
I feel down today. Some of it is the winter, and knowing I’ve got another two months or more before the days start getting noticeably longer and the weather improves. But a lot of it is missing E and not even knowing when we will be together again. I think we would both find it easier if we knew when we will be in the same country, and when we will get married, but not knowing makes it harder.
I set up a profile on a particular freelance work site for work as a proofreader and copy editor. To set up a profile in the writing and translation area, I was presented with a load of tick boxes and told to tick a minimum of two boxes. The only relevant one was for proofreading and editing (one box). In the end I had to tick “Other” just to be allowed to move on, because I don’t want to do copywriting, write press releases and so on. I don’t know why they want you to tick at least two boxes.
It was getting dark, so I stopped in the middle of setting up my profile and went for a run. I had to stop after thirty minutes (I usually aim for forty-five) as I was feeling shaky and faint. I did a bit under 4k, which I guess isn’t awful, even if my pace was. I do need to run more than once a month, but it’s hard with UK winter weather and daylight hours, my inability to get up in mornings and my tendency to get exercise headaches, plus lately I’ve been busy on Sundays, which is my main day for running. When I got home I ate a load of salty food, which seemed to help with the shakiness, but I felt too shaky to do any cool down exercises for ten minutes or so, so I’ll probably ache all over tomorrow. The shakiness went a bit, but not completely, and I got a bit of a headache. I took some tablets and eventually felt well enough to cook dinner (pasta with sauce from a jar), but spent the evening watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife as I didn’t feel well enough to finish the proofreading profile or do any Torah study or anything productive.
I’m not sure what is wrong with me. It’s possibly some kind of autistic interoception issue (difficulty understanding the messages my body is sending me), which I didn’t think was a problem I have, but actually might be one. It would explain why I let myself get dehydrated a lot when I was a child, until I learnt to drink even if I didn’t feel thirsty, likewise for eating. Maybe interoception issues would explain why I often feel vaguely shaky or vaguely faint without really being able to identify clear symptoms or causes. Interoception issues might also explain why I also think I’m really hungry late at night when I’m probably not.
I haven’t done any Torah study today. I’d like to do some, but it’s late and I still don’t feel 100%. I might see if I can find a short article to read for five or ten minutes as I don’t really feel up to reading much else.
There’s a post on one of the Jewish autistic Facebook groups I’m on about an argument on a crafting FB group where someone used the term “Asperger’s” as in Asperger’s Syndrome. Apparently some autistic people on the group complained about the term as Hans Asperger was Nazi and things spiralled out of control from there with a lot of anger. I don’t know why the internet is so good at bringing out the anger in people. Some of it is the anonymity, but I feel there’s more to it than that. I feel people often say offensive things through ignorance rather than malice, but then other people respond in a way that makes them feel attacked in public and it escalates from there. Sometimes I think people would better respond in a tactful private message rather than posting a “You’re ABLEIST” public comment.
That said, I really have no idea why the person reporting this on the autism group spelt “Nazis” as “N4zis”, supposedly “to avoid triggering people”. Does substituting one letter make such a difference? And do people really get that triggered by seeing the word Nazi? I’m Jewish and easily upset and I don’t get triggered. Although I think the cases where trigger warnings are helpful are fairly limited.
Although the anger of this post turned me off, I thought it was a good prompt to explain why I still use “Asperger’s” as a tag, even though I know Asperger cooperated with the Nazi euthanasia plan for the mentally ill. Partly it’s that “Asperger’s” is on my diagnosis report from the NHS. I know DSM-5 (psychiatric diagnostic manual) has switched to “autism” for all autism spectrum disorders, but the NHS isn’t using DSM-5 (I can’t remember what they’re using). I thought it was strange when I got it, but that’s the NHS. From the autism forum (which is mostly UK-based), it seems that, depending where you live in the UK, you can actually get different diagnoses. Some places give “autistic spectrum disorder” with no further details, while others specify a level of severity, and some places are still using “Asperger’s”.
In addition, I felt that “Asperger’s” would be better for finding people searching for high-functioning autism blogs via WordPress, but that does not really appear to have been the case. Also, when I previously contemplated stopping using “Asperger’s,” I felt I wanted something to distinguish me from people with more severe autism. However, I no longer see such a big difference between myself and people with more severe autism. We all struggle to function in a noisy, busy, social world. It’s true that I can talk, and do (some) paid work and have a wife, but I still struggle a lot and I feel that at the moment. So I’m thinking of stopping using or even deleting the Asperger’s tag. I’d like to merge the Asperger’s tag with the autism one, but I don’t think WordPress will let me do that. I probably will stop using the tag, although I don’t know if I’ll delete it.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife was the Ghostbusters sequel released last year after being delayed by COVID. I didn’t see it in the cinema, as I was still nervous about going to the cinema for COVID reasons (I actually still haven’t been to the cinema since COVID although I was hardly a frequent cinema goer before then).
It’s a slightly strange film, reverent towards the original film, if anything excessively so, as it struggles to find its own voice, but, like Ghostbusters II, it somehow missing the fact that the original film was a comedy. There are a few jokes, but it’s really a fantasy/adventure story, and a somewhat slow one, particularly compared with the original.
I’m not sure who the audience was meant to be. The huge connection to the original film suggests it’s aimed at die-hard fans, but the adolescent main characters suggest a younger audience that wouldn’t be expected to know a film from 1984.This is further undermined by the 12 certificate, which would prevent pre-teens watching. The main character, Phoebe, is twelve; children and teenagers tend only to identify with characters their age or older, so that’s pretty much ruling out a teenage audience too. I did like Phoebe and wondered if she was supposed to be autistic, although geeky characters in fiction tend to read as autistic generally, or at least are open to that reading.
Overall it was a decent film and I probably will watch it again at some point, as I think some plot points, and probably some in-jokes, escaped me, but it’s not as good as the original film.
Yom Tov Burnout
The last two days were the first two days of Sukkot, the Jewish festival where we live in temporary huts in the garden to experience the transient nature of life and the security of trust in God. In theory, anyway; in the UK it can be a struggle with the elements to stay out there. I find it hilarious when I see Israelis, and some Americans, complaining that their sukkot are too hot to stay in. Cold and wet is more normal here.
On the plus side, we ate dinner and lunch out in the sukkah every day and this afternoon it was warm enough that I sat out there for a while studying Torah (although it was getting a bit on the cold side). I also got to shul (synagogue) for two sets of Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).
Unfortunately, there were some downsides too. The biggest is Yom Tov (festival) burnout, about two thirds of the way through the autumn festival season. The next few days are semi-festival (although I have to work) and then next Monday and Tuesday are full festivals again, although I will be deliberately avoiding shul during Simchat Torah on Monday night and Tuesday (only Purim rivals it as the most autism-unfriendly festival). I feel exhausted, and spending so much time with my parents hasn’t helped (no offence intended to them, but I need more downtime alone). Not only do I have to do this again next week (plus Shabbat (the Sabbath) in between, when my parents have invited people for Kiddush after the morning service), but I have to work for the next two days (and risk doing the Very Scary Task without J being around to hand-hold), and get up extra-early for extra prayers and to eat breakfast in the sukkah, and I will probably have to eat dinner with my parents and their friends on Thursday. This is not going to be a fun, stress-free few days.
I also have been eating very unhealthily, from the point of view of sugar as well as cholesterol. So far, so Yom Tov. I have chapped hands again from sitting out in the cold, I think I struggled breathing while asleep again, and I’ve had a lot of, probably irrational, guilt feelings the last few days over all sorts of things, particularly not going to shul in the mornings and not going to a Kiddush in my parents’ friends’ sukkah even though I knew a friend I haven’t seen for years (pre-COVID) would be there. Also irrational things like guilt over the content of dreams I’ve been having (no, not sexual, but weird and upsetting). I can’t work out if the guilt is religious OCD, low self-esteem, both or neither. It’s hard to tell.
I do think I need to work on my social anxiety, which has got worse because of the COVID lockdowns, as a matter of urgency, but I’m not sure how. CBT, the main treatment for social anxiety, tends not to work for autistics. I’m technically on the waiting list for autism-adjusted CBT on the NHS, but who knows if that will ever materialise? I think it’s pretty much impossible to get autism-adjusted CBT privately, although I haven’t looked. CBT did work for me for OCD, where it was mostly exposure therapy and it didn’t matter whether I believed the cognitions, so maybe it would work again. I did have CBT for social anxiety a few months before COVID, and it didn’t help much, but I think that was partly due to the short number of sessions and my failure to really push myself hard enough and keep pushing myself with the exposures to social situations. But it just joins the huge amount of things going on in my life right now or soon: the wedding and flat-hunting, trying to write one novel and sell another or possibly re-write it, setting myself up in business as a proof-reader, learning to drive… I feel overwhelmed just writing the list!
I feel pretty anxious about tomorrow. I’m likely to be somewhat sleep-deprived, as I don’t know if I’ll sleep well tonight (I often don’t after Shabbat or Yom Tov) and, as I said, I have to be up extra early for extra prayers tomorrow, then off to the office where I need to speak to the security guard (who I worry doesn’t like me) about using the shul sukkah for my lunch and where I may have to do the Very Scary Task without J being around and where I certainly will be in the office by myself , which gets lonely. The office also has little in the way of natural light and that alone sets me in a bad mood for six months of the year. And then I have to do it all over again the next day. J has already told me what my first task tomorrow is and mentioned I should do it straight away, so now I’m worried about messing that up, forgetting to do it or getting in late and not doing it in time…
On top of all this, I miss E a lot. I thought that it would be easier being celibate in a relationship than being single, and just as easy being engaged as in a relationship, especially long-distance, which shows what I know. Even regardless of sex, I just want to spend time with her. Pretty much everything I’ve written about in this post, good and bad, would be better in a context of us living together.
A weird thought I had in a shiur (religious class) yesterday: being autistic, I can’t understand other people easily, what they’re thinking and feeling, especially about me (cf. the security who worry doesn’t like me). How can I even hope to understand what God thinks or feels about me? Where “thinks” and “feels” are metaphors at best for something beyond my comprehension.
A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent
I was very exhausted yesterday, and had suddenly realised it was closer to Shabbat than I thought, but I managed to speak to E briefly before Shabbat started in the UK. We’re hoping to have a longer conversation tomorrow, but I’m worried about how I’ll manage it if there’s a lot to do for Yom Tov (festival). But if I can’t, we’ll have barely spoken for a week, from our last long call on Wednesday evening until this coming Wednesday evening, because of Yom Tov. And this pattern will repeat for three out of the next four weeks. Being long-distance is hard, at Yom Tov doubly so, and that’s not even counting the stress of doing Yom Tov without each other.
I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) after this. I was just too wiped out and feeling physically ill from exhaustion. I did daven (pray) at home, without much energy or enthusiasm. I did some Torah study after dinner, which may have been a mistake, I’m not sure. I just want to finish some of the books I’m reading (see below).
I had weird dreams last night, including my least-favourite ex-boss (the one who basically told me that I wasn’t as good at my job as she expected and that she didn’t really have confidence in me) refusing to acknowledge my existence. Also something I can’t really remember about crocodiles. I ended up sleeping after lunch, too. I didn’t really want to, as I knew it would just mess my sleep pattern up even more, but I struggled through lunch with my parents and then basically went to autistic shutdown mode, curled up in the foetal position in bed with my eyes shut. Inevitably, I eventually fell asleep, but I think it was more about trying to reboot myself after a couple of hours of listening to my parents talk than actually needing sleep. Then I went back to bed briefly in the early evening, but didn’t sleep. I didn’t go to the shiva (house of mourning) for my parents’ friends’ son. I felt too burnt out. It was probably just as well, as it was very busy. I will try to email them tomorrow.
It’s hard to unpick the autism, social anxiety and sleep disorder from each other to work out what is really keeping me away from shul. There may also be an element of SAD now to make things even more difficult, which hopefully won’t turn into full depression. It’s hard to know where to start. So many people on the autism forum also struggle with exhaustion and fatigue. None of us really know how to cope. The medical community seems baffled or perhaps uninterested.
(By coincidence, someone just shared this story about autistic fatigue on the autism group.)
I worry what it will be like when E and I are married. Will it be easier living with someone more on my wavelength and autism-friendly? Will I be able to work more? Will that make me more tired? (I assume so.) Will we be able to have kids? How will I cope with that? Kids are not autism-friendly, even/especially autistic kids (autistic kids are a possibility given how much neurodiversity (diagnosed and undiagnosed) that there seems to be in both E and my families).
Somewhat related, I feel that this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, I should work on forgiving myself. It just feels wrong even writing this, but I have beaten myself up so much over the years for things that were not within my control to change completely, or at all: depression, social anxiety, OCD, autism, alexithymia, exhaustion and sleep-disruption. (Also: being a heterosexual male with a normal sex drive, trying to be celibate, but that’s a whole other post.)
I don’t know how much I’m going to get to shul over the coming Yom Tovim (festivals), if I’m going to hear the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah, and it’s tempting to beat myself up about it in advance. I don’t think that will achieve much, but it’s easy to feel I don’t deserve forgiveness, that if I just pressure myself harder to have more energy, better sleep, a more positive mindset (etc.) that I need to study more Torah and fulfil more mitzvot (commandments), that will somehow happen. Even though it hasn’t worked for decades.
I feel someone should write a Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent, to try to set out ways of living Jewishly with these issues and how they affect halakhic (Jewish legal) observance (the Shulchan Aruch is the primary Jewish code of law). In Israel, a rabbi has set up some kind of institute to teach more rabbis how to handle halakhic questions regarding people with mental illness. This is positive, but I would like someone to do it for the neurodivergent too. Unfortunately, Orthodox Judaism tends to lag ten years or so behind the secular West regarding social issues and we are only just beginning to deal with mental health, so we probably won’t catch up to neurodivergence for another ten years.
On the subject of beating myself up, I felt recently that I hadn’t finished any books for a while and was upset about that. Actually, it’s not that long since I finished A Guide for the Perplexed and Faith Without Fear (is it really less than a month since I was in New York and getting married?), but even setting them aside, I realised that I’ve been reading really big books lately. I’m on page 623 (of 712 pages of main text) of The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, page 427 (of 712 or so pages) of The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who and page 491 (of 528) of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World. These are mostly heavy-going books (not the Doctor Who one, except inasmuch as I get annoyed with some of the views expressed in it, particularly hatred for late seventies Who) and I’m finally getting near the end of most of them. It’s been a long journey through them, but I would have read several novels or shorter religious works in the same time (I did read some, actually), so I should probably beat myself up less about that. I do definitely want to tear through some light novels soon, though.
Shana tova tikatev vetichatem! May you be written and sealed for a good new year!
How to Destupidify myself?
I didn’t have work today, J having switched my days this week. This was probably for the best, as I slept a long time after all the stuff I was doing yesterday (tax return, visa form). The house was almost empty when I woke up, just me and Dad. I know that’s the usual number of people on a weekday, but after so many being around for the last few days, it felt empty. Dad made some enquiries on my behalf about changing shul (synagogue) membership to get married by my parents’ rabbi. We don’t have to change it for a while. When we do change, I think we get a year of free membership in any shul in the United Synagogue, so it’s worth not changing that until nearer the time, although Dad feels I should continue with membership of my current shul until then “just in case” (this is him being morbid, meaning so that I’m not left without burial membership anywhere for a number of months, just in case I drop dead suddenly). I’ll go to my parents’ shul for the Yom Tovim (festivals) as my shul will be in its new premises, twice as far away. If I wasn’t getting married, or was getting married there, I might have still gone there, but it seems silly when I won’t be going there much longer anyway.
Today was mostly spent on the tax return (which was a real headache, but which I still need to spend some time on, despite having spent about three hours on it already) and scanning documents for E’s visa application. I didn’t manage much of the latter, as the tax return left me exhausted. I did get a walk in, which I didn’t manage yesterday, but I only did a few minutes of Torah study, compared with more yesterday.
I miss E a lot and I know she misses me. It’s hard being apart for so long when we already feel married.
I did manage to phone about pre-marriage classes for E and myself, which is positive, especially as I had a lot of social anxiety about the call beforehand.
As I mentioned, I’ve been filling in my tax return. It seems really difficult. I feel like, “I’m autistic, I’m supposed to be good with numbers and methodical; I am (or at least I was) a librarian, which is also supposed to make me methodical; so why do I always struggle to find the documents I need, and to find the right figures on the documents once I’ve got them?” The papers aren’t even in that much of a mess, they’re actually organised reasonably well, but somehow the piece of paper I need isn’t ever where it should be. And I’m not that good with numbers. Even at school, where I got good grades in maths and even did A-level physics, I wasn’t intuitively good with numbers the way some of my geeky friends were. Maths was always a second language I could translate into in my head, but not intuitively think in.
Doing things like this just leaves me confused as I go from document to document. I have to keep reminding myself which tax year I’m doing this for, otherwise I’ll forget and enter the wrong data. Just to confuse myself further, midway through the last tax year, I switched from being a freelance contractor to a permanent staff member, although still doing the same job in the same institution.
I just feel incompetent these days. At school, I was a high achiever, academically (socially was another story), but I think I survived by putting myself in a protective bubble for fourteen years, memorising vast amounts of data and filtering out the real world (noise, smells, social interactions, bullies, eventually even out-of-school-activities and almost everything other than work in the end). My good memory for trivia stood me in good stead in exams, but after that, I had to go into university and then into the world, and suddenly critical thinking skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, flexibility and creativity were all more important than just being able to remember lots of facts or even remembering other people’s arguments.
I have two degrees, but I work two days a week in a low-skill job which I am over-qualified for, but in which I still regularly make big mistakes. The mistakes are probably partly out of boredom, but also from having to work on multiple documents at once or just my inability to remember things nowadays. My mistakes fuel my low self-esteem, which in turn probably causes more mistakes as I assume I will fail. I feel like somewhere along the line, after years of autistic burnout and mental illness, I just got stupid and I don’t know how to destupidify myself. Sadly, I think anecdotal evidence indicates that prolonged autistic burnout, and prolonged bouts of mental illness, can both lead to a decline in cognitive ability. It now looks like I have a sleep disorder too, so I can throw sleep deprivation into the mix too.
Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister. I don’t really have any thoughts about this, except that it cements my feeling that I can’t vote for any current political party. I think I dreamt about Gladstone last night, although I don’t remember the details. I do feel the world in general has a terrible crisis of leadership at the moment, although realistically great leaders only come around every quarter-century or so.
The Civil Wedding
Work today was dull and very quiet as J wasn’t in the office. I did get to go to the bank. I went into the charity shop on the way home from work (despite having acquired several new books in New York) and bought a copy of the third Harry Potter book for £1, which was good. Otherwise, things are quiet although my uncle is coming to stay for the weekend, and my aunt for a whole week, which I’m slightly nervous about, as I really feel I need a quiet pause after my civil wedding New York trip and before the many, many things I still have to do in the near future. Regardless, I don’t have much to say about today, so I will write up my New York trip/wedding.
Tuesday 23 August
I flew to New York. I got through the check in and security at Heathrow Airport in the morning, but found the whole experience very overwhelming. The crowds, the noise, the invasiveness of security checks, the difficulties I had communicating with staff because of sensory overload and processing issues… I decided that before my next trip I will buy a “invisible disability” lanyard [I’ve just checked and these are actually called hidden disability lanyards]. It has no legal status and may not do much, but it might alert the staff to the fact that I might look lost or overwhelmed, need to be spoken to patiently and clearly or need instructions repeated. It’s kind of depressing that I’m that disabled, though, and that not everyone will recognise it. I would probably only wear it at the airport and similar places; I can cope with everyday shopping and the like.
I texted my parents to tell them this, and in the resulting WhatsApp conversation, “invisible disability lanyard” became “invisibility lanyard” (I guess because of autocorrect), which I think I would like more.
I had some awkward interactions on the plane too, an awkward attempt to get past a stewardess in a narrow aisle where I panicked and asked if I could squeeze past her instead of just waiting for her to go past me, and an Israeli guy who asked me about kosher food in Hebrew without my being able to hear what he was saying over the plane noise, or to understand more than a few words of what I did hear of his Hebrew or to know what his personal kashrut standards are to judge whether he would eat the food or not. Beyond that, I was masked (although it was not compulsory and few other people were), which just made things worse as it was impossible to smile and seem open and friendly.
To my surprise, I got through immigration quickly. When I went in January, the immigration officer seemed suspicious of me, and I got flustered and struggled to remember things (autism lanyard needed again). This time the officer seemed bored and uninterested in me, which I suppose was good. I didn’t get a headache on the plane, perhaps because I bought a lot of water at the airport, but I did feel sick in the taxi to the hotel. I listened to ABBA to drown out the loop of TV adverts being played in the taxi and tried to shut my eyes to avoid seeing the little TV (why are video screens everywhere these days? Really not good for those of us who get overloaded easily), although looking out the window too much worsened the travel sickness.
When I got to the hotel I had a nice view over the East River and one of the bridges as well as the streets far below. I was on the fourteenth floor (actually the thirteenth, but not labelled as such) and at that height even New York traffic seemed peaceful. I met with E, who was still too sick from COVID to come to meet me at the airport, and we did some shopping and went for dinner at a pita place (well, I had dinner; she wasn’t hungry). There was a Modern Orthodox-looking guy there who I guessed was the owner and a Haredi-looking one who seemed like the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor). They had an argument and I really thought they were going to start trading blows, but they pulled back from the brink, at least while we were there. I got to bed about 11.30pm, which seemed early, but to me it was 4.30am BST.
Wednesday 24 August
I slept badly. The pillow was uncomfortable, the air conditioning was too loud and I woke with a slight headache that lasted intermittently all day. E and I tried to go to The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, but it was shut all week. Then we tried to go to the Metropolitan Museum, but it turned out to be shut on Wednesdays. By this time E was feeling unwell and my headache was getting worse, so we went to E’s apartment, ate takeaway pizza and watched Doctor Who.
Thursday 25 August
This was another headachey day. I had insomnia in the night as well as a headache and woke at 5.50am feeling very hot. I had to get up early, but not that early, but I couldn’t get back to sleep.
We went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau to get our wedding licence, and I felt really happy. I had seen the civil wedding merely as a legal technicality, but from this point I was really excited about it. After getting the licence E and I wandered around the nearby area, which was Chinatown. It was interesting looking at the Chinese shops, including live lobsters and crabs. We moved into more of a hipster area where we knew there was a kosher pickle shop (yes, a shop that sells only pickled vegetables) and an adjoining kosher pickle restaurant (yes, all the items on the menu involve pickled vegetables). We ate there on my last trip too and liked it. You wouldn’t want to eat there every day, but it was fun. We had lunch, on the way passing the only yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) left on the Lower East Side, which I think was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s yeshivah, and we browsed a second-hand bookshop (yes, we both like bookshops a lot).
We went to an open air rooftop Italian restaurant for dinner (E still only eats outdoors in restaurants). It was nice and my ravioli was good, but the portions were small and my headache had got quite bad and was threatening to turn into a full-blown migraine, so we went back to E’s apartment and watched Doctor Who again. After a while I went back to my hotel room. The headache was easing, but I pottered around the room without really doing anything until late as I often do when recovering from a headache.
Friday and Saturday 27 August
On Friday I massively overslept, perhaps unsurprisingly. E and I did Shabbat (Sabbath) food shopping and not much else, aside from just hanging out together. We spent most of Shabbat together too. We had bought some sushi. Due to a misunderstanding between us about what constitutes a “roll” of sushi (one little morsel or a whole bunch of them together before cutting — I admit that I was incorrect here), we ended up with a LOT of sushi, but it was very nice. We read a lot and talked. I didn’t get a headache, which I suspect was because I didn’t wear my tzitzit (fringed under-garment religious Jewish men wear) and undershirt (tzitzit should not be worn directly against the skin). I did get a bit of a stomach ache in the evening, though.
Sunday 28 August
I had a weird dream that I was in school with one of my science teachers. I had forgotten my books or homework and felt I needed to apologise as I used to be efficient, but was now diagnosed autistic so I couldn’t be efficient any more. There is, I suspect, a lot to unpack here about my feelings of incompetence currently contrasted with my high achievement at school, my feelings that that incompetence is permanent despite my history of academic success, and my desire to apologise to people, now and in the past, for my actions and especially for my autism.
After I got up, E and I went shopping, but E was soon overwhelmed with COVID exhaustion, so we went back to her apartment and I read while she worked. In the evening, her parents arrived in New York and came to see us. I had only met her mother briefly before this and I only knew her father from Zoom. I tried to speak more than I usually do, but I’m not sure how well I managed. I feel that I’m more than a little like her father, which I hope is good.
Monday 29 August — The Civil Wedding
Monday was the big day. E and I went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau again to get married! Because of continuing COVID provisions, only one person was allowed in with us (as the witness), so E’s mother came in and her father waited outside (my parents decided not to come due to Mum’s heart attack). We had a long wait, then filled in some more paperwork, then waited again, in the wrong place (either because we were misinformed or because it was so noisy that we could not hear the correct information) before being summoned into a secular chapel.
The chapel was a fairly empty room with a sofa and a lectern fitted with an anti-COVID screen. E and I vowed to love and cherish each other, which I was pleased about, as vows and saying “I do” are not part of the traditional Jewish wedding service. The service lasted about one minute. There is video footage E’s mother recorded of E bouncing up and down with joy and me smiling and standing a bit rigidly before hugging. This quickly went around the family WhatsApp groups; apparently one of my cousins said I looked really happy, but like I didn’t know what to do. This was pretty much true. I’m glad I realised I was happy, as alexithymia means I often have to deduce my emotions from my actions, but I’ve been able to recognise happiness for the last few days.
Then, instead of enjoying the day, we had to wait some more to get an extended marriage certificate, and then go to another building to get that notarised, as the British Home Office requires a more detailed marriage certificate than is usually issued by the State of New York (possibly I’m getting some of the legal terms wrong here, but you get the idea). When we got the certificate notarised, the queue for the notary was next to the queue for divorce papers, which was somewhat sobering, the secular equivalent of the Jewish custom of breaking a glass at a wedding. We possibly also need an apostille, which is apparently another certificate so that the Home Office will accept the marriage certificate. However, it was not clear if we need this and it would entail a wait of several weeks, so we decided to leave that for now.
I spent most of the day just following E, as she was much more on top of what we needed to do, plus I couldn’t really hear anything in the Marriage Bureau because it was so noisy and I was having sensory overload and processing issues again. I’m glad the actual wedding was quiet.
On the way back to E’s apartment, we passed a free bookshelf, and I picked up a graphic novel called everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too (sic) by jomny sun (sic). It’s a good day when a free book isn’t remotely the most exciting or joyous thing that happens.
In the evening, we went for dinner with some of E’s friends and family. I was nervous about doing something so social with so many people I didn’t know (eight people, plus E’s parents who I don’t know that well). However, I had a really good time. I tried to speak a bit, admittedly with mixed success. But it was very enjoyable. Everyone seemed very nice and welcoming. Slightly surreally, one person asked me to explain what A-levels and O-levels are, as he watches a lot of Inspector Morse and apparently the terms come up a lot.
E and I watched some more Doctor Who afterwards, which was a nice end to the day.
Tuesday 30 August
Tuesday was a somewhat sad day, as I had to return home. To mitigate it somewhat, we went to the now-open Book Cellar. I bought five books for $10 (actually $10.07, but they waived the change), one for E and four for myself. The four I bought myself were a science fiction short story anthology, a warped-but-readable copy of James Bond novel Live and Let Die (a bargain at $1 due to the warping, probably the result of water-damage), a copy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Man is Not Alone and a hardback book on the eight vice-presidents of the United States who became president as a result of their predecessor dying. The latter was another bargain: $1 for a hardback, and a signed one at that. The shop assistant was rather sad that someone gave away a signed copy; that it ended up on the $1 clearance shelf was adding insult to injury. I had wanted to read up on American history, plus I have a weird interest in politicians who end up in power unexpectedly due to death, scandal or political machinations ending the career of their predecessors, so this was really a good find.
E and I hung out together until it was time for me to go. We were both sad at having to leave so soon, but, given that I have limited holiday time and we don’t know when E will get her visa to come to the UK, it made sense to save some of my holiday days for another visit later in the year. JFK seemed even busier than Heathrow and security was a bit of a nightmare, including sniffer dogs (searching for drugs or explosives? I wondered). After getting past security, I listed to my playlist of James Bond music, which made mass transit, economy-class travel seem much more exciting than it actually is. Then I nearly missed the flight because I was confused about when I should board.
The plane sat on the tarmac on the runway for about an hour before we took off. I’m not sure why. The outward plane had been delayed too, caught up the time, nearly landed, then flew off again because of something on the runway. It makes me worry a bit about JFK airport. I read the everyone’s a aliebn book in the hour of waiting. I have mixed feelings. It wants to a be a twenty-first century The Little Prince, but it’s not as good. It’s a bit twee. There’s a lot about the importance of love, friendship, creativity and self-expression, as you would expect from this type of book, but there’s nothing more. I don’t know if that’s a problem I have with the book or the culture that produced it. And the ‘cute’ incorrect spelling becomes annoying very quickly (my brain just autocorrected everything after a while).
It was a night flight. I can’t sleep on planes, so I read until I was too tired and then rested and, in desperation, watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, which was even less funny than I remembered (I feel the series presents a very selective and somewhat negative view of people with Asperger’s, even though none of the characters officially has it). My parents met me at the station, I struggled through a day of jet lag without falling asleep, and that’s pretty much it.
E and I feel really weird now. We feel that we should be together now, but we aren’t, and we don’t have even a vague idea of when we will be together again. I probably feel weirder than E, as I’m back with my parents and feeling very much not like a mature and married man and more like an autistic man-child again. Nevertheless, we’re both really happy to have got this far. There probably is much more to say about processing the emotions of the civil wedding and all it entails (which I have only just begun doing, realistically) and I might write more over the coming days, but it’s 1am and I should be getting to bed.
 Signed by the author and not one of the presidents, sadly.
I started to write this post yesterday and ran out of time and energy, as I had a busy day.
I had a night of disrupted sleep largely due, I suspect, to the heat. I struggled to fall asleep, then woke about 6.00am or 7.00am, worried about the blog post I had posted before I went to bed, whether it was too proud, too graphic or even fully true. I cut a couple of paragraphs and went back to bed, but I was not sure I should have posted second half of the post at all and later removed it completely. I’m still not sure what was right or wrong in this situation. It’s hard to be one of the first people to talk about a controversial subject in a particular community. I wrote a long thing in this post that was related and cut that too (but saved it in Word, just in case).
After going back to bed, as I had only had three or four hours of sleep, I slept until noon, which was not good. Along the way, I had a dream which underlined to me how really scared I am of making a single mistake, so that I never achieve anything. This is depressing, but I don’t know how to change. I guess the CBT approach would talk about making deliberate mistakes to get accustomed to them. I do have a CBT book aimed at teenagers with social anxiety that has a picture of The Person Who Never Made a Mistake. It’s a blank frame. I take the point, but it’s still hard to avoid thinking that people aren’t waiting to laugh at me mess stuff up after my childhood bullying experiences.
I’m scared of praise too. It was getting so much praise for leining (chanting from the Torah) at my bar mitzvah that scared me off doing it again.
My sister and brother-in-law came over for tea. As usual, I struggle to keep up with the five-way (or four-way, as I hardly spoke) conversation. It has been noted that, for autistic people, the difficulty of keeping up with conversation seems to increase exponentially with the number of people involved. I would have liked some food, but no one provided any, and I wasn’t sure whether that was deliberate, and, anyway, I’m supposed to be on something vaguely resembling a diet, so I didn’t say anything or get any.
I haven’t mentioned until now that my sister is pregnant, and it is now beginning to show visibly. My brother-in-law was speaking about his leining (of my bar mitzvah sedra, which somehow made it harder). I was glad that my civil wedding is soon so that I had something to feel proud of. By this stage I am used to my (younger) sister being rather ahead of me in life stages. My sister was excited for my civil wedding, but I didn’t realise how much until Mum and Dad told me, as I am not good at reading faces, so I felt a bit bad about that.
Otherwise it was a fairly busy day, with novel writing, wedding paperwork, a little Torah (less than I would have liked), a walk and cooking dinner (very quickly, macaroni cheese).
E and I had a fairly emotional conversation in the evening, in the sense of anxious (not angry). We’re both worried about some things connected with the wedding, particularly the risk of COVID interfering (E still has COVID at the moment) and are just frustrated that we’re ready to move ahead and immigration bureaucracy is going to freeze us up for months. We just want to be married. We finished calmer, but I went to bed a bit emotional and not relaxed.
My recent pattern of sleeping in a heatwave seems to be to struggle to sleep from the heat, then to wake up in the early hours when it cools off. I really need a duvet to sleep well and lately I’m sleeping under an empty duvet cover or nothing at all. I feel haven’t slept well for weeks. I got about for and a half hours sleep. I am definitely becoming aware of not breathing when wake up.
I struggled at work. I was in the office by myself for much of the day. I’m not sure if that was good or bad. Work was mostly dull and my brain was not working properly to do very much. I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on the way to work and while doing boring photocopying and felt bad that I’m not doing anything as socially useful as helping agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce) like the woman in the podcast. I had some more frustration at being away from E. I came home feeling more than a little ill. Dinner helped, but Skyping E again helped more. We are good for each other. And on that note, bed.
Perchance to Dream
This is mostly about a weird dream I had last night. I know some people don’t like to read about dreams, so I usually don’t post about them (I don’t usually remember them, to be honest), but this one seems pertinent to the theme of this blog, such as it is, of trying to fit in at work and in the Jewish community with autism and social anxiety. I’ll put the dream in the next paragraph and the relevance in the ones after, if you want to skip. I’m cutting a lot of weird detail that I can barely remember and isn’t relevant (this isn’t Freudian psychoanalysis). To be honest, I’m reconstructing the dream from fragments, as I can’t remember everything (my dreams are fairly stream-of-consciousness and I usually can’t remember much of them). I’m also cutting the random Donald Trump cameo (seriously, he just walked in and walked out again).
In the dream I was travelling with my boss, J. We were at someone’s house for Friday night dinner, and I said I wanted to leave early as I was tired. In reality, I had autistic burnout. J said we were going to lunch somewhere after shul (synagogue) in the morning, and he wanted me there on time as he didn’t like making excuses for me. I felt that I wasn’t really able to control my sleep pattern and autistic exhaustion, but I didn’t say anything. I went back to where we were staying (which was a sort of self-storage center where we had to sleep in drawers of filing cabinet-type things), but I got lost getting out of some sort of factory place, so when J came to check on me, I wasn’t in bed yet and he got annoyed as he said I would get up too late now. I didn’t tell him I’d got lost as I thought it would just start an argument. I also felt some guilt, as I felt I had wasted some time myself through procrastinating, although it wasn’t clear how this had happened. I somehow knew that I would not be able to get up in time in the morning and J would have to go without me and make excuses for me. I knew this was due to my autism, that I would crash and oversleep and that I would need to do so, but somehow it did not feel a good enough excuse. I spoke to my parents and sister and said that J didn’t understand my autism and I didn’t know how to explain it to him. There was then a load of stuff about not being able to sleep because of too much light and noise, again because of autism (and also failing to sleep in a filing cabinet drawer, which somehow didn’t seem weird) and talking to various people, but this was the relevant part of the dream.
It seems pretty clear this is about my autism and my disrupted sleep and my lack of shul attendance over the years. Obviously in the dream I felt I wouldn’t make an early start as I’d already had a couple of early starts on the trip and I would be suffering autistic exhaustion; further, I struggle with sleep and getting up as it is, for reasons that are still to be determined, but might be some kind of sleep disorder. J is easy-going in real life, but in the dream he was really annoyed with me, which probably reflects my fears that I am going to exhaust his patience in the workplace with my mistakes, mistakes that may be due to autistic issues like executive function deficits and trouble multitasking, or might just be due to boredom and incompetence. Somehow (I can’t quite remember how), my boss from my job at the further education library was in there too; she was less accepting of my mistakes in real-life and told me at my annual evaluation I was frankly not turning out as well as she had expected, which largely soured me on pursuing a library career. To be fair, I didn’t have an autism diagnosis at that point; even so, I feel I’ve made a lot of mistakes in both jobs, beyond my diagnosis. Of course, the worry in the dream was about getting up for shul. My disrupted sleep may be autism-related or may not, I don’t know at this stage. It’s led me to have very poor shul attendance over the years I’ve been struggling with mental illness and autism (really back to teenage years). I worry that I “Should” be going to shul more, and doing more generally to be a “good Jew.”
At the root of all this is the fear that I am asking for huge amounts of adjustments from J, from my parents, and from E, and, in a sense, from my community and God and that one day they will get fed up with making them. I have asked for adjustments for mental illness and I’m still asking for adjustments for autism and disrupted sleep, as well as feeling slightly incompetent generally and prone to procrastination instead of doing things well first time, which may or may not be a side-effect of autism. I am getting reduced shul fees because I’m on a low income. I’m not doing the things a frum Jewish man should do and which God apparently wants me to do, in terms of shul attendance, Torah study and mitzvah performance. There is a fear that I don’t deserve these adjustments, that I’m taking advantage of my parents, E, my community and God, and that one day they will realise.
In reality, I’m making adjustments in return for E, which she is aware of, and arguably also for my parents, who are not really aware of it. Still, there is a feeling of being a thirty-nine year old child, still not fully functional and independent. To be honest, I feel Western society puts too much emphasis on independence. It’s nice if you have it, but many people will not have it for at least some of their lives and that’s not a fault or a problem. Still, I think these are pretty deep-seated fears coming out in the dream.
I did a bit more today than yesterday, but I feel that I’m still being subpar. Part of that is sleeping late, of course. Now there’s a big garden party going on somewhere nearby. I hope it doesn’t keep me up late. It’s not looking good on that score, and I feel I’m going to have to shut the windows when I should really keep them open.
I had a weird thought last night. People say that no one is a supporting character in their own life, but I kind of feel that I am a supporting character in my life. That’s why huge chunks of my life have been ignored (career; friends; aspects of religious life; until recently, love life) — the author hasn’t thought them out! It’s like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I’m a main character in my play, but really a minor character in a much more important play.
Of course, this isn’t fully true. My inner monologue is loud enough and important enough to me to make me feel a lot more real than anyone else. Still, I do feel like I’m not really here in the same way that other people are. I don’t achieve anything, I’m like a ghost or a neutrino that passes through without changing anything, at least until E and I got together.
On another level, it is true, of course. I’m a main character in my life, but a minor character in, say, the story of the Jewish people or England or humanity . I guess it’s hard to think of oneself as unimportant, as I’ve said before. It’s not that I want to be important in itself or for fame (yuk), but to feel I haven’t wasted my life and made some kind of difference. I’m trying to teach myself not to care.
OK, I really wish the party would stop now. It’s VERY loud and late.
Protected: “For O, for O, the hobby-horse is forgot”
(Not) Make or Break
I didn’t blog much this week. There was stuff I wanted to write about, but didn’t have the time, or decided I didn’t want to make a big thing about it (to myself as much as to anyone else) by writing on the blog, particularly if I could vent by speaking to E. I got angry and confused with someone who used to be a friend, but decided life is too short to focus on things like that.
I didn’t really stop all week between Yom Tov (Jewish festival), work, an ECG at the hospital (it was fine), novel-writing and work again. I’m back to making a lot of mistakes at work, which makes me feel bad. E thinks I’m bored there, which may be right. I stayed up late last night writing my first devar Torah (Torah thought) in two months or more. Then, when I was about to go to bed, E texted me with an update about how we can prove her Jewish status so we can get married. It’s left us feeling a bit worried and uncertain; I’m glad we’re speaking to Rabbi L on Sunday so we can discuss what we have to do about it, but the next forty-eight hours or so will be anxious. I texted my rabbi mentor about it today and he feels confident it will work out, which is positive.
(I should probably explain that in the Orthodox Jewish world, Jewish identity is passed on matrilineally, or through conversion through a recognised Orthodox Beth Din (rabbinical court), so to get married in an Orthodox shul, you need to prove that you are Jewish by showing an Orthodox conversion certificate for yourself or an Orthodox marriage certificate for your parents. E, like many American Jews, has gone several generations without an Orthodox marriage among her direct ancestors, so it’s going to be a bit harder to prove, but hopefully not impossible. I’m sure this is something that Rabbi L, and certainly the London Beth Din, has come across before.)
I slept badly because of the marriage issue, having nightmares about trying to write some kind of Twitter (?) messages to my blog friends and rabbi mentor about the situation and having all kinds of technical problems (it was weirder than that, but I can’t remember all the details). It’s pretty clear that my unconscious was worried about getting stuck in limbo with this too. Inevitably, after all of this (this week as much as last night), I slept very late and woke up feeling very drained. My parents got a bit annoyed with me too.
I did write a little of my novel this week, including today. Because of my late start, lack of energy and extra pre-Shabbat chores (because we didn’t have a cleaner this week), I had to choose between going for a walk or working on my novel. Really I needed to do both, for both my physical and mental health, but I chose to write for an hour or (with a little procrastination time), writing 600 words, which was pretty good considering I was struggling a bit.
The next six weeks or so have a bit of a “make or break” feeling that I mustn’t let get to me: E and I will get a clearer idea if there are any significant legal or religious obstacles to our marriage, I’m up for a Jewish journalism award for an article I wrote, and I’ll find out if I’m accepted on a new writers’ programme I applied to. My parents are away for a few days next week too. I need to make sure I don’t let the pressure get to me and to assume that any setbacks in these few weeks will determine the rest of my (with E or as a writer, or anything else) and that there can be second (and third, and fourth, etc.) chances to sort things out.
The other thing I’m trying to do at the moment is to feel that it’s OK to be me. That it’s OK that I’m not a super-successful writer, lawyer, doctor, rabbi or anything else like so many of my peers seem to be. It would be easier if I felt I knew more about what I should be doing with my life and could feel that I was doing that correctly even if I wasn’t managing other things, but I am trying. I guess this ties to the previous paragraph, as winning awards or getting on writing programmes is how I hope I can further (read: start) my writing career, but I have to try to tell myself I’m good enough as a person even if I don’t get those things.
I finished The Odyssey. About to start Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, because I need a light read instead!
Protected: Disintegration Moments
“They think it’s Passover… It is now!”
I haven’t blogged what happened so far during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the Pesach festival when work is permitted if necessary or contributing to the enjoyment of the festival). I was too busy and tired, and used my blogging energy for a password-protected post about Yom Tov that was more important. But I want to quickly catch up here.
For those who didn’t see the password-protected post, E and I mostly had a good Yom Tov, with interesting seders and E was OK meeting some my parents’ friends and family.
On Monday we (my parents, E and I) went to Cliveden, a National Trust stately home. The house is now a hotel, but we wandered around the grounds all afternoon. Thankfully, my parents left E and I to walk alone. E wanted to see bluebells, so we walked through the woodland until we found some big patches. We also walked around some of the more formal gardens on the site. It was the first time E and I really had proper alone time/date time since E came over last Tuesday and we both really enjoyed it.
In a second-hand bookshop on site, I found a Doctor Who book, The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Despite the name, this is a reissued and expanded edition of the official BBC Television Companion issued a few years earlier. I was uncertain whether to buy it, as I had read the online version of the first edition, which was on the official BBC Doctor Who website, but in the end nostalgia for the Doctor Who of the wilderness years when it was off TV (1990-2004) won out (the first edition was published in 1998 and the revised edition I bought in 2003). I’m not sure how much extra material there is, but for £2, it was probably worth it.
Yesterday E and I went on a Pesach LSJS tour of the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum. It was fascinating and even though I knew some of what was said (I’ve done my own research on biblical archaeology), I learnt a lot. The rabbi taking it, Rabbi Zarum, spoke to me briefly. I’m not sure if he recognised me or not; I’ve been to a number of his shiurim (classes) in the past, but I tend not to say much and try to blend into the background. He asked me which shul (synagogue) I go to, which is a standard Orthodox Jewish conversational opening gambit, and I explained about going to [Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul] but probably transferring soon to a Modern Orthodox one because of E. I probably cut a strange figure as a quasi-Haredi Jew, wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt and holding hands with someone I’d just identified as not married to me. I feel my life would be easier if I just found my “tribe” or community and stuck there, but I seem to have this restless desire to fit into several very different communities at the same time. (Similarly today I think someone from my current shul saw me wearing a Beatles t-shirt and holding hands with E again.)
In the afternoon E and I went to the Stonehenge exhibition, also at the British Museum. This was interesting to me as I know very little about prehistoric society. However, I felt the exhibition lacked context and was confusingly laid out, with the order you were supposed to read the exhibits unclear and poor signage. There was also ambient noise (sound effects and music) that annoyed me after a while. This seems to be becoming a thing in modern museums and galleries. They are super-diversity aware, but apparently have a blind spot when it comes to sensory sensitivity.
Afterwards we walked around Bloomsbury for a little while, but we got a bit bored and a bit lost and came home. We watched Doctor Who in the evening, Planet of the Dead, which E enjoyed more than I did.
Today I was burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, given everything we had done (including walking well over 10,000 steps both days – more like 14,000 yesterday). E had to go out for work all day. I wanted to get up to see her off, but failed and slept through most of the morning. I got up when the Tesco food delivery arrived, but went back to bed afterwards. I had weird dreams, but not particularly memorable, except for wanting to move in the dream and not being able to, which I think is an unconscious desire to get up. I also dreamt about snakes, I’m not sure why. E and I are both concerned about this (the sleep/exhaustion, not the snakes). I still don’t know whether I should be looking for help from doctors, occupational therapists or someone else, or if it’s just autistic exhaustion and I have to just accept it, or find workarounds, or if serious energy accounting might help and how I could manage going on fun days out if I know I’ll run a massive energy deficit the next day. All I know is that the exhaustion is very real and not just me being lazy (although I don’t always remember that).
In the afternoon helped Dad with some chores and spent an hour working on my novel, writing about a thousand words, which was extremely good. It was hard, though. My mood definitely declined in the afternoon, despite the good work on my novel, and I felt depressed and frustrated, and missed E even though I knew I’d see her later. I had the usual feeling of wanting to just be able to get up early and do more during the day. It’s frustrating.
I can’t believe tomorrow is Yom Tov again! E and I will be out for dinner at friends of mine from shul. They are really nice people, but I’ve been masking somewhat around them (and everyone else from that shul) and I wonder what will happen when the meet E and possibly see there’s more to my personality and outlook on life than I’ve let on in the past. I also don’t know if anyone I don’t feel as comfortable with will be there.
Zzzzzzzzzz, OCD, and the Countdown to Pesach
I massively overslept again on Friday morning and woke up drained. I’m back to wondering counter-factuals like whether writing late at night after work costs too much the next day. I had some weird dreams that I’m not going to relate here, but shul (synagogue) stress and missing E figured. Also Purim anxiety — my unconscious tends to feed stuff into my dreams a couple of weeks after things have happened, for some reason.
I did my usual Shabbat chores and managed to carve out forty or fifty minutes to work on my novel, which was good, especially as it’s likely to be interrupted now for a few weeks because of Pesach (preparations then the festival) and E being here. In the evening, I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) with Dad. Their usual chazzan (cantor) was leading the service. I’d forgotten just how much his style of davening (praying) does not fit with my tastes. Very loud and elongated, like opera; even the bits we’re supposed to read silently, he reads loud enough to be heard (and I was sitting near the back), which annoyed me immensely. But I guess we’re back to looking for perfect “unicorn shuls” again.
Dinner with my parents was pretty long, although mostly fun. I did some Torah study afterwards, but it meant I went to bed very late, without much time for recreational reading to relax after a busy day. Then I slept through the morning and napped again after lunch.
I think some of the oversleeping, or going back to bed, is an autistic sensory thing about feeling cozy and ‘held’ wrapped up in my duvet and now my weighted blanket. I’ve always slept wrapped up tight in my duvet, but when I became depressed in my teens and twenties, staying in bed became a way to avoid the world as well as feeling comfortable and held close (by the duvet/blanket). I do wonder if I can use this information somehow – get up and sit wrapped in my weighted blanket?
(It also occurs to me that E and I may need two duvets when we get married to stop me hogging it!)
When I napped this afternoon, I had a dream about my maternal grandparents that I found upsetting, although I’m not entirely sure why. To be honest, I can’t really remember it clearly any more, but I lay in bed for a while coming to terms with my feelings. Then it was time for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Seudah Shlishit (the Third Sabbath Meal) so I didn’t have time for Torah study or recreational reading. It feels like I spent most of the day eating and sleeping with some davening and not a lot else. I would have liked to have gone for a walk as I haven’t had even mild exercise since Thursday.
Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of the month of Nisan. This is a hard time of year for me. Late winter is very hard, when I struggle from lack of sunlight, so passing the equinox and putting the clocks forward is somewhat helpful, albeit not so much of a difference at this stage. But then we go straight into Pesach preparations. Even if I can avoid religious OCD, it’s time-consuming and tiring, with little time for non-essential tasks like exercise, recreation or fiction writing. And this year E is coming, which makes me feel even more anxious. My brother-in-law found the way we do Pesach somewhat extreme the first time he came, so I worry what E will think. Still, as my Dad says, Pesach comes and goes. Every year it seems hard, but every year we manage it. We even managed it in 2020, when we were in lockdown and Mum was sick from chemotherapy.
I’m reading a book on OCD, not actually for my OCD issues, but there has been some useful stuff in there for me, reminding me that OCD thoughts never go away fully and their return at this time of year doesn’t mean I’m backsliding into OCD. What matters is how you deal with them, not whether you have them. Also, some useful stuff about grieving even during positive life events for “The Road Not Taken“. E and I are both very happy with each other, but I guess there’s stuff about us both that isn’t 100% what we would have chosen in an ideal world (which doesn’t exist!) that we need to grieve a bit. It reminds me of something in William Kolbrener’s Open-Minded Torah: Of Irony, Fundamentalism and Love where he talks about Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s idea that moods are simple and unipolar whereas emotions are complex and multidimensional. Judaism wants us to have emotions, not moods, hence our festivals contain sombre moments amidst the joy.
Withdrawal, Virus, Or What?
I slept for twelve hours last night, then I think I drifted in and out of sleep for another two. I dreamt about the Nazis, which I guess is what I get for reading The Coming of the Third Reich. By the time I woke up properly, I was still feeling very drained and somewhat ill. I struggle to put into words what exactly I mean by “ill,” although it includes an uncomfortable awareness of my own body (I can’t put it more precisely than that) which I associate with autistic exhaustion (particularly the feeling that my brain is being squeezed) as well as feeling hot and bothered and generally not having the energy or inclination to do anything other than lying still. I also occasionally get muscle spasms or unwilled muscle tension. I’ve been shivering a bit too. I am not sure if this is autistic exhaustion from working on two hours of sleep yesterday, withdrawal from olanzapine, lack of vitamin D or something else.
This prompts the vague thoughts I’ve had recently wondering if I have some physical illness or condition draining my energy that has been overlooked because I’ve been focused on depression, autistic exhaustion and medication side-effects as causes, but I’m not sure how to take that forward. Obviously going to the GP would be a good start, although I’ll wait for the high doses vitamin D I’ve been prescribed to kick in and the withdrawal to hopefully pass, or I think the GP will just tell me to go home and wait for those things to happen first. My experience is that GPs do not react well to being presented with vague, “I feel sick and tired all the time” statements, so I am not feeling hugely optimistic about that.
I don’t have racing thoughts though. If anything sometimes they are slow and sluggish, as when I’m autistically exhausted. However, I did do a COVID test, just in case. It came back negative, but it was one of the ones where you have to swab your tonsils, which I’m not good at, so I worry I didn’t do it properly. I may just have picked up some kind of bug/virus.
It occurs to me that tomorrow night will be my first Purim knowing for sure that I’m on the autism spectrum. I was quite sure last year, but wasn’t officially diagnosed yet. Anyway, last Purim was a weird, COVID Purim, with few people in the Megillah reading (my shul (synagogue) did multiple small readings instead of one big one) and no young children allowed (usually there would be loads of kids around, mainly in fancy dress). The tzedaka (charity) collection was online only too (usually there would be lots of people with tins and buckets collecting for different charities). It was very, very strange and, even though it was in many ways an ideal autistic Purim for me, it just felt wrong. I’d like to find a small, quiet Megillah reading, but not if that means that other people can’t get their raucous reading or that children can’t hear the Megillah at all! Of course, if I feel like this tomorrow evening, I may not hear the Megillah anywhere after all.
I found this article quite useful. I need to be reminded periodically that I can be empathetic, polite, imaginative and creative, and not great at maths, and still be on the autism spectrum. To be fair, I was reasonably good at maths in school, in the top set and I got A* at GCSE, but I was never intuitively good at maths the way some of my schoolfriends were, and the way stereotypical autistic children are. Certainly my maths skills are rusty now.
I’ve nearly finished The Coming of the Third Reich. It’s been interesting, if depressing, reading, and I’d like to read Richard J. Evans’ two follow up books on Nazi Germany, although I imagine they’re even more depressing.
I found the book a cause of optimism and pessimism. Optimism, because we’ve been hearing since 2016 that our democracies are simmering hotbeds of extremism and racism “Just like Germany in the 20s and 30s.” Evans’ book, although written long before 2016, tacitly debunks this theory, by demonstrating that the democratic Weimar Republic was in a state of near-permanent crisis from its creation in 1918, in the closing days of World War I. It had no political legitimacy in the eyes of much of the population, being seen as at least indirectly imposed by the victorious Allies. Many people, including parts of the governing class, openly longed for a return to autocratic rule (which, again, had only just come to an end in 1918), either under a restored Kaiser or a military dictatorship. This number grew over time. The Republic suffered two major financial crises, a hyperinflation crisis in the early twenties that impoverished many and an unemployment crisis from 1929 that left a third of the workforce out of work. Moreover, throughout the period, political violence and, initially, assassination were rife. Most of the major political parties had large, armed paramilitary wings that used to get in regular fist-fights and sometimes gunfights with each other, not just extremist parties like the Nazis and the Communists, but even the moderate left-wing Social Democrats (the main supporters of Weimar democracy). These are not really present in the contemporary West. Sure, we can see what could be the seeds of something worse, and we certainly live in politically-polarised times, full of conspiracy theories on both right and left (often antisemitic, again like Germany) and occasional rioting. I certainly think it would be good if we could turn down the political temperature and debate more politely. But I think anyone who thinks we are literally like Germany in 1930 is either ignorant or disingenuous.
The pessimism, however, came from the fact that Evans presents the Nazis’ rise as — not inevitable, but lacking in clear points where meaningful and appropriate action could have been taken to stop them. Evans doesn’t really deal with counter-factuals, but he makes it sound like the Weimar Republic would have struggled a lot even in a better world than the one we got, and that after the Depression hit, some kind of autocratic military dictatorship was more or less inevitable, although not necessarily as brutal as the Nazi one.
He says of the Social Democrat Party in 1933 (again, the main support of the Weimar Republic):
In retrospect, its [the Social Democratic Party’s] chances of survival had been diminishing rapidly for nearly a year. Decisive in this context was its failure to mount any effective opposition to the Papen coup of 20 July 1932; if there had been any moment when it might have stood up for democracy, that was it. But it is easy to condemn its inaction with hindsight; few in the summer of 1932 could have realized that the amateurish and in many ways rather ludicrous government of Franz von Papen would give way little more than six months later to a regime whose extreme ruthlessness and total disregard for the law were difficult for decent, law-abiding democrats to grasp. In many ways, the labour movement leaders’ desire to avoid violence in July 1932 was thoroughly to their credit; they were not to know that their decision was to play a key role in opening the way to much greater violence later on.
Another Quiet Day at the Office
I couldn’t sleep again last night. I’m not quite sure why I seem to get insomnia on work nights, and only on work nights. I know I find my work a bit dull and sometimes social anxiety-provoking, but I thought I was mostly OK with that. Maybe not. I need to stick with it either way.
Unfortunately, not only did insomnia make me oversleep this morning (after a weird dream), but there were Tube delays. I actually only got to work about ten minutes late in the end, but the trip was more stressful, and more crowded, than usual, really crowded like pre-COVID days.
 Humans grew from eggs. Most people kept theirs in an incubator, but some people insisted on sitting on them to keep them warm the natural way. I suspect most science fiction writers using this premise would treat this as an attack on religion or tradition (“This is what we have always done! It is God’s way!”), but my brain had it as a satire on middle-class organic food obsessives (“Of course, when Tabitha was an egg, I sat on her myself, I wouldn’t trust her to one of those ghastly incubators! I wanted her birth to be completely natural!”).
I’m still making mistakes at work, usually when I’m supposed to enter data on multiple databases and spreadsheets at once and I forget to enter all of it. Suspecting that it’s an autistic executive function/multitasking thing doesn’t make me feel much better about it. I’m honestly surprised J hasn’t got annoyed with me about it. It reminds me of my librarian job in further education, where my boss was open about thinking that I was making too many mistakes and not learning fast enough. At the time, I didn’t have my autism diagnosis to rely on.
I did lead Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) at work. I got fed up of all the “You lead,” “No, you lead” arguments. Ma’ariv is easier than Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) as there’s less that has to be read aloud. Standing on the bimah (platform where the prayer leader stands), the whole shul seemed suddenly quiet, no one saying amen or other responses. I don’t know if I’ll lead it again soon. The service is starting at 4.15pm next week and I might have gone home before then to try to challenge my social anxiety by leading the service again. I did shake. Not as much as I feared I would, but enough that most of my concentration was going on not shaking and not on the meaning of the Hebrew words I was saying. Coming off the olanzapine might help reduce the tremor.
Despite all this, my mood was mostly OK today, despite being on a reduced dose of olanzapine. I’ll let you know how that goes.
Trudging around the Tube this morning, feeling crowded and uncomfortable, I had an idea for a flash fiction story, so here goes:
Another Quiet Day at the Office
With a whoosh of hydraulics, the door opened, light flooding into the dingy room. A tall woman entered. She would be described as elegant, were it not for the workaday dull yellow uniform she wore with the red pips that marked the rank of Supervisor. She glanced around the room, computer screens ranged against the walls, all unwatched, except for one. There was a man slumped in front of it. She walked over to him and looked at the screen. Men in green uniforms and metal helmets ran through surf and onto a beach, many dropping to lie motionless on the floor, with more men rushing to replace them.
“You’re watching World War II again!” the Supervisor exclaimed.
The man looked up, did a double-take and bolted out of his seat into an ‘attention’ pose.
“At ease,” the woman said, resignedly. “This isn’t the temporal period you are supposed to be monitoring.”
“It’s getting to the really good bit, when the Allies land in Normandy” the man said enthusiastically, ignoring the rebuke.
“I always lose attention after ‘We shall fight them on the beaches,’” said the Supervisor. “What are you supposed to be monitoring?”
“Fifteenth century, ma’am. The Wars of the Roses. Very dull and confusing. Too many Henrys and Edwards.”
The Supervisor thought about this for a moment and appeared to agree, returning the conversation to the previous subject.
“I never bought the ending of World War II. Hitler killing himself was too convenient. There should have been a climactic shoot-out in the Führerbunker.”
“Suggest a temporal manipulation to Control. You’re high ranking enough,” he said.
“I wouldn’t suggest anything so frivolous. Besides, I’m not really interested in recorded history. I prefer monitoring pre-history.”
“Cadet 7629 said you once suggested a temporal manipulation to prevent the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs from hitting the Earth. She said that you thought the resulting timeline would see the evolution of intelligent lizard-people, more perceptive and humane than mankind.”
“Cadet Ophie should watch her mouth if she doesn’t want to be assigned to watching micro-organisms in the Precambrian for the rest of her tour of duty,” said the woman, but the man saw her blush and knew Ophie was right. Well, even officers were allowed their pet obsessions. But within limits. All these years later (if ‘years’ had meaning in this monitoring station outside of time and space) Control were still searching for whoever it was who suggested letting violent bipedal apes rise to the top of this planet’s pecking order. Perhaps the dinosaur-people would have been better masters of Earth after all…
This story wasn’t an intended as a riff on Doctor Who’s Time Lords and Silurians, but somehow it ended up that way. Maybe the ‘humans from eggs’ dream had something to do with it.
“You silly, twisted boy, you.”
I emailed my therapist yesterday evening. We weren’t due to have a session this week, but I couldn’t remember if that was because we only meet every other week or if she is on holiday too. It turns out she is on holiday, but is fitting in a Skype session for me, which is very kind of her.
I wanted the session because I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. The lack of sunlight makes me depressed, I’m worried about E and anxious about various other things. I find it hard to know what to prioritise at the moment. Prioritising one thing means de-prioritising several others and they all seem important, except for relaxation (as opposed to mindless internet procrastination, which I seem to do a lot of) and novel-writing, which I suspect deep down are the things that keep me sane and which I have not done enough of lately.
I had anxiety dreams last night, and slept too long. The anxiety dreams were unique to my anxieties (about birds and safety pins) rather than classic “turning up for an exam you haven’t revised for then realising you’re naked and then your teeth start to fall out” type of anxiety dream. Yes, I probably did too much yesterday after Shabbat and I certainly stayed up too late. It was partly because E was anxious and I wanted to Skype her and partly because I was trying to cram as many chores as I could in.
The grimness of winter really hit me today, the lack of natural light even during what was notionally daytime (it was very overcast), my lack of energy (probably a mixture of my usual residual depression and/or autistic fatigue plus doing too much last night plus winter and wanting to hibernate), my distance from E. E and I just want to spend some time doing couple stuff and hanging out together, but there’s an ocean in between and a pandemic going on (you may have noticed).
I feel like I never developed good coping strategies for anxiety and depression — or wedding worries, long-distance relationship sadness and winter blues, as I have right now. My depression went away because it was driven, or had become driven, by undiagnosed autism; when the autism was diagnosed, it left. I don’t think it’s come back, but the last few days have made me aware of how finely-balanced I often am, and that I lack the skills to healthily comfort myself and cope with life. Worse, I feel I have bad coping strategies waiting in the wings, trying to tempt me to use them again. I am not sure why I’ve never really learnt good coping strategies. It’s partly that I’ve mostly done unstructured therapy, partly that my experiences with CBT, in individual therapy and groups, which is more structured and strategy-focused has mostly been a failure, perhaps unsurprisingly, given its low success rate with autistic sufferers. But any hope of getting autism-adapted CBT is three years away.
I also wonder if I should speak to a doctor about my tiredness and oversleeping. It seems to have persisted long past the end of the rest of my depression and I’m not sure if ‘autistic fatigue’ really covers it. The problem, or problems, are that autistic fatigue is poorly understood and not always acknowledged as a real thing; that my doctor’s surgery will try to stop me seeing a doctor I feel comfortable with; and, in any case, it seems irresponsible to take up the doctor’s time with something as relatively minor as this as we get hit by another wave of COVID and probably another lockdown. Even if I did decide to make an appointment, the wait times, both to speak to a receptionist and to be seen by a doctor, are probably unbearably massive. Even then, I feel there won’t be much the doctor would/could do other than send me for blood tests which will doubtless not show any physical symptoms — and then what?
In terms of achievement, I filled in some forms related to my job becoming permanent. I did some Torah study and pitched my novel to another agent. That was about all I managed. I Skyped E and we both felt frustrated about not being able to hug or do anything fun together. Sometimes 5,000km feels exactly like 5,000km.
It wasn’t good weather for running, and I was low on time and energy, so I went for a walk in the dark and fog. I continued listening to old BBC radio comedy while I was walking, this time The Goon Show. It was quite funny, but more dated than Hancock’s Half-Hour, or maybe my tastes have changed. Hancock is mostly character-based humour, which is perhaps more timeless than The Goon Show‘s reliance on surrealism, weird sound effects and running jokes; that it was occasionally racist doesn’t help.
The Road Goes Ever On
Perhaps inevitably after such a busy day yesterday, I crashed last night/this morning. I slept until after noon and woke up feeling very anxious, partly because of weird dreams about family bereavement and also about James Bond/explosions (I don’t like long build ups to explosions in action films). I spent most of last night and a chunk of today feeling like I’d been run over by a steamroller. Eleven hours sleep clearly didn’t help, or did too much.
I feel like I’ve been relying for the last couple of days a lot on the idea I posted the other week, about, “I’m not responsible for the first thought; I am responsible for the second” to deal with anxiety. Actually, it would probably also be good to think that, “My thoughts are not always my friends.”
On the plus side, I think E and I are both very aware that, given our mental health histories, having some difficult thoughts and feelings at the moment is inevitable, and we can accept and support each other in that (even if we are not always so good at accepting ourselves!). That makes me feel safer. It is hard to do this long-distance, when half the time we both know that we really just need a hug! No one has ever invented a good long-distance hug alternative, although Mark Zuckerberg is probably trying (anything to remove the humanity of humans).
My parents have now told all their (many) friends about E and me. A lot of people seem happy for us. My parents were excited today at the responses they got and couldn’t work out why I was so withdrawn this evening — a mixture of autistic fatigue (even autistic regression, horrible phrase), autistic difficulty processing and responding to other people’s emotions, and social anxiety, the feeling that my parents’ friends now expect things of me, even if only that I will have an exemplary happy marriage. I hope I do have an exemplary happy marriage, but it’s hard to be happy when it feels like dozens of people are staring at you, expecting you to be happy. Or it is for me, anyway.
Still, I am glad they are happy for us, and I am happy at getting engaged. I just feel this would be easier if people had more acceptance of atypical emotional responses. At least E understands it, which is the main thing.
E and I had a serious conversation about jobs and finances as we’re both worried about that aspect of our lives together. It’s hard to know what to do. It’s hard knowing that I’m not able to work full-time and might never be able to do so. Only 20% of autistic people are in work and while some of the 80% unemployed are probably much more severely autistic than me, not all are. It’s just very, very hard to find the right workplace with the right desired skillset. The National Autistic Society work with some employees to promote jobs for people on the spectrum, but they seem pretty “typically autistic” jobs with numbers or computing. I’m not sure how I could find writing work or the like. It’s also hard to tell if I really have blown my chances at librarianship or if I should keep applying for jobs in the sector. Some jobs I’ve been interviewed for have told me, “You weren’t right for this job, but if we advertise again, we’d like to see you,” while others have responded as if I’m a total idiot and probably lied about my qualifications. It’s scary to think that it might just be environment or mood that produced one outcome rather than the other.
I terms of actual achievements today, I cooked dinner (lentil dal — I forgot how easy the recipe is), emailed my shul (synagogue) to inform them of E and my engagement and revised my OCD article with a view to publication on the Jewish website (I’m still waiting for copyright clearance). I wrote a devar Torah that I’m not at all happy with, about a biblical mixed metaphor that has long interested me. I’m not sure I really got to grips with it. I found one interesting perspective, but didn’t develop it as I would have liked (I had an idea for development that didn’t go anywhere) and had to pad it out with a idea taking largely at random from Chabad.org. I spent forty minutes doing research for my second novel, which I want to spend more time focusing on (but I also want to focus on practising my cataloguing skills for work, sending my first novel to agents and exercising, so something’s going to get neglected).
Doing things did perhaps help me shake myself out of my drained state, although I tend to be at my best in the afternoon generally. It’s now after midnight and I finally feel alert, in a good mood, and ready to do things, posing the classic question of staying up late Doing Things or going to bed hoping tomorrow will be a better day. I stayed up a bit late and did a few things, which is probably falling between two stools.
This Unherd article predicts some kind of lockdown soon. It also says the omicron variant will be “on the level of a very bad flu season”, which I guess begs the question of whether we would/could/should lockdown for bad flu. The Evening Standard is claiming that “Omicron takes over in London” which annoys me because (a) I hate articles that anthropomorphise COVID, (b) it’s stupidly melodramatic and extreme and (c) it sounds like a plot synopsis of a Doctor Who episode (“While the Doctor and Romana are on Skaro, Omicron takes over in London”). Meanwhile, in Parliament, nearly one hundred backbench Conservative MPs rebelled against Government plans to move back towards lockdown yet again while still insisting there will be no Christmas lockdown.
I honestly don’t know what to think any more. As Andrea Leadsom said in Parliament earlier today, we don’t lockdown every year for flu. Flu lockdowns sound ridiculous to us. But I don’t want 50,000 people to die this winter (although I’m not sure how many excess deaths we’re talking about i.e. people who wouldn’t have died of something else). But I don’t want to ruin a generation of children’s chance of education or to self-destruct the economy either. I also don’t want to wear a mask all the time or to be stopped from visiting my fiancée in the new year, but I think those are basically foregone conclusions at the moment. I very much want COVID to end, but I’m still quite nervous of being indoors with unmasked people. I don’t trust people who think a “Zero COVID” policy is viable, but I trust the horse de-wormer quaffing antivaxxers even less. It is hard to know what to think. A predicted six week lockdown has gone on for nearly one year and nine months. I just want it to be over.
Shabbat and the Meaning of Suffering
I went to shul (synagogue) last Friday as usual. Because it’s near the solstice, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts really early in London, about 3.35pm. I got home from shul about 4.45pm, which is too early for dinner. Normally I would do some Torah study in the intervening time, but I just wanted to crash, so I read more of Gaudy Night and planned to do Torah study after dinner. Unfortunately, after dinner my bedroom was very cold. I crawled under the covers for what I intended would be a few minutes to warm up, but I fell asleep and woke up around 10pm with a headache. Fortunately, it was amenable to medication and I did get some time for Torah study and hitbodedut (meditation/spontaneous prayer).
I dreamt about Rabbi Lord Sacks again last night. I think I was working for him. I don’t really remember much about the dream. It’s strange that I keep dreaming about him, but I guess he is still a part of my life as I have been reading about him and re-reading some of his essays. It just seems strange as my Dad dreams about family a lot, living and especially dead (his parents, aunts and uncles) and is always excited to share these dreams with us because he sees it as a way of connecting with people he loves who are gone. I’m not sure if he believes he is, in some way, in contact with their souls, or if he just likes thinking about them. I think he would find it strange for me to react in a similar way to someone I never really met, but a Torah teacher can be a very important person in a religious Jew’s life, someone who really shapes their worldview.
Today I surprised myself by getting to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class). I did struggle to follow the class though. I think I go as much to join in with the community as too study, as I understand the Talmud text better when I prepare before class or revise afterwards (when I can take things at my own pace) than when I’m actually in the class (when I have to keep up and am also ‘peopling’ with people I don’t always feel comfortable with).
I tried to eat less junk over Shabbat. I cut down during the week too, but I don’t eat a lot of junk during the week. I want to lose some weight before I get married, although as my weight-gain was mainly medication-induced, and I’m definitely not coming off my meds, I’m not sure if this is a vain hope.
After Shabbat I caught up on some chores that I feel have been hanging over me for a while. I feel a bit less overwhelmed. Marriage and house-hunting still feel like big things, but hopefully we can break them down into manageable chunks once we get started on them. As for writing, I hope to get into a pattern of submitting my manuscript to a couple of agents each week. Although I’m about to get very busy, I’d like to start work on my new novel, as I feel not writing is doing bad things to me, emotionally as well as to my writing skills. I’m wary of starting writing without having done enough research, but I feel that, with a bit more research, I’ll feel able to at least start a first draft, while doing more research alongside it. At any rate, it’s a start.
I was thinking about my residual beliefs in a punitive God over Shabbat. I’ve always known that ‘officially’ I’m ‘supposed’ to see God as merciful, but I’ve always struggled to do so.
In one of the Jewish newspapers there was an article by a Reform rabbi who, as a hospital chaplain, had a conversation with a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) patient who asked what he had done for God to punish Him. The rabbi could not believe in a punishing God, while the patient could not believe in an understanding of suffering that wasn’t rooted in punishment.
I felt that both perspectives were flawed. I find it hard to believe in a religiously-grounded moral order without some kind of punishment. I don’t think Hitler and Stalin got off scot-free. However, I don’t think that all or even most suffering is punishment.
To some extent the problem is semantic. As something of a Maimonidean religious rationalist, I feel that God has made a world of consequences and then told us how to avoid (some of) the bad consequences. People who smoke tend to develop cancer. God doesn’t “punish” smokers with cancer, but he created a world of cause and effect and if you ingest carcinogens on a regular basis, you have an increased chance of getting cancer.
Similarly, the moral world has its consequences. If you are persistently unkind, unsympathetic, stingy, critical, unhelpful (etc.) you are likely to find yourself without friends. God is not “punishing” you for not performing acts of chessed (kindness), but He has set up a world where being kind and community-minded creates bonds of friendship while being misanthropic does not.
I feel there are several reasons why God might cause or allow suffering (probably not an exhaustive list, and I’m not going into the free will/predestination conflict if Person A inflicts harm on Person B and God does not intervene — the Medieval Jewish philosophers really went to town on that one):
- Suffering is the consequence of unhealthy actions (physical or moral) by an individual ;
- Suffering is a reminder of mortality and human finitude intended to prompt introspection and growth;
- Related to this, suffering is an external cause of growth (whereas 2 is an internal process of introspection and repentance, 3 is about practical growth to overcome an external obstacle);
- The suffering is an inherent part of fulfilling an individual’s or collective’s mission in life.
To be honest, 2 and 3 shade into each other to a significant extent and could probably be reduced to a single point if I tried hard enough and even 1 is not that far off.
When I was very depressed, I wondered if God wanted me to be miserable forever as part of my mission on Earth (4). This has turned out not to be the case, but I do still worry about being faced with an external challenge that I fail (3). My mind tends to anxiously posit scenarios where I am forced to choose between two unappealing outcomes, one religiously forbidden and one merely awful, but religiously permitted. I struggle to imagine myself having the strength of will to choose the awful, but permitted over the forbidden. I suppose it’s another way of saying that I’m afraid that God will take away the good things in my life, but rather than Him doing that suddenly, by an Act of God (so to speak), He puts me in a position where I have to choose to forgo them, which somehow seems worse, not least because I fear I will choose short-term pleasure instead.
At root of this is a lack of trust in God, a feeling that anything good I have might be taken away from me, and that my destiny is to spend my life in loneliness and misery. The events of the last year or so have challenged this outlook: I’ve been in regular (if part-time) work, I finally got my autism diagnosis (which hasn’t led to many practical benefits yet, but has been a game-changer in terms of self-esteem), I got back together with E, and got engaged, but there is still the fear that everything could be taken away from me, suddenly and without warning, like Iyov (Job).
It is hard to know what to do with this thought. It is not how a religious Jew is supposed to think about God — we are supposed to trust Him — but one good year struggles to be heard over nearly twenty fairly miserable and lonely years beforehand. In many ways, the hardest part is that I can see how adversity helped me grow as a person, so I can’t deny that future adversity might help me grow more, I just hope there’s a way I can grow without it, or at least without the challenge of losing the things I hold most dear.
Meet the Parents
I felt so drained today. It was hard to get up or do anything. I did eventually cook dinner (vegetarian red bean chilli). By the time I finished that, I had only a little over an hour until my Zoom call with E’s parents. The call was nerve wracking, and longer than I expected (nearly an hour and a half), but it went well, I think. I didn’t get much else done today, between being drained and then anxious about meeting E’s parents. I guess that’s understandable. I wish I didn’t have work tomorrow, but I do, unfortunately (J has a meeting so rearranged his in-office days and I had to follow suit).
A job I was vaguely thinking of applying for, even though it was full-time, has closed. I’m not sure if they found someone early or if I’ve been so busy with other things that I ran out of time. I’m not greatly upset, as I think my parents’ idea of applying for full-time jobs and then asking to do it as a job share is not the most realistic. Nevertheless, I would be happier if I heard from the places I’ve written or pitched to recently about articles and my novel. I wish I could feel I was moving forward a little with my career(s).
I feel like I wasn’t expressing myself clearly in my post yesterday. I was trying to say that I should not argue back with culture warriors, but to write the truth of my own personal life instead, what I know experientially to be true, rather than what I think is true on a political, economic, cultural or religious level. I don’t think arguing on a political (etc.) level really works. I think that didn’t come across (despite the title), maybe because I was too tired. So I just want to clarify that.
I dreamt about turkeys last night. I’m obviously hanging around with too many Americans, or reading American-Jewish websites.
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was tranquil on the surface, but I think it pointed out hidden tensions in my mind and I feel quite drained and low now.
I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. When I got home, I had quite a long talk with my parents about the cremation they had been to for my Mum’s cousin. I hadn’t really been able to speak to them about it before, as they only got back from it an hour or so before Shabbat and I was busy showering and getting ready for Shabbat. There was something Mum said that I won’t talk about here that I think I need to spend some time internalising, maybe in therapy.
Mum told me that my oldest friend was in one of the Jewish newspapers. I had emailed him last week as I hadn’t heard from him for ages. He hasn’t got back to me yet. I struggled with some thoughts again. I’m pleased that he’s doing well with his life, but sometimes it seems like our lives were so similar in primary school and the early years of secondary school and then we grew apart as we got older, although we never fell out or lost touch, just went in different directions. The fact that I’m not on social media probably doesn’t help us stay in touch, as I think he uses Facebook quite a bit for life announcements.
I try really hard these days not to feel jealous of other people’s lives, when they seem to be doing much better than me, and a lot of the time I succeed, but my oldest friend is ultra-hard given how parallel our lives once were. We even looked alike, except that he was a lot taller – people assumed he was my older brother. I kept thinking of the two identical goats for Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) in ancient times, the one for God and the other thrown off the cliff (the origin of the word ‘scapegoat’). I think I was the one who got thrown off the cliff.
After a bit of time on Friday night I got to a point of relative equanimity about this, but then I dreamt about my friend last night, so it’s obviously still bothering me unconsciously.
The other dream I had last night was about Rabbi Sacks. I feel like I’m still grieving him, and grieving the guidance I feel he could have given me about my life if I’d been able to engineer a situation where I met him. If I could have had the confidence to go to some events where he was, or if I had been in a Jewish youth movement especially as a youth leaders, or a leader at the university Jewish Society, as so many prominent people in the Modern Orthodox community were. But I was terrified of most people my own age as a teenager because of being bullied at school and perhaps also because autism meant I simply couldn’t communicate easily with them and understand unspoken communication. The result was that I avoided most group social stuff until it was too late. By the time I was in my late twenties or thirties and wanted to meet people, they were all married and settling down.
I should probably stop going on about this. I’m not sure how I can grieve someone I never met and only knew through his writing, which I still have.
After lunch I could have had seudah (the Third Sabbath meal) and gone to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), Talmud shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), but I went to bed for a bit and then davened (prayed) at home, and did Talmud study at home after Shabbat. I’m not sure why I did this, but it’s definitely an anxiety thing, probably fear of being asked to lead Minchah in shul as the second Minchah has few people and fewer who are willing/able to lead the service. I struggle to keep up in shiur and I feel uncomfortable helping to tidy up after Ma’ariv; I always feel I just get in everyone’s way and I don’t know how to help (I’ve mentioned before Amanda Harrington’s idea about people on the spectrum wanting to help, but just getting in the way). There’s probably some common or garden social anxiety too. It’s also hard to go out on Shabbat when it’s cold and overcast; it’s harder when the event I’m going to inspires so many negative feelings.
I feel like I’ve gone backwards over COVID time and the social anxiety that used to be around Shabbat morning prayers has spread to the afternoon too. Lately I’ve given up even trying to go in the mornings.
I finished reading The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, about the rabbis of Przysucha (pronounced Peshischa) and Kotzk. It’s a book that clearly resonates with me as this was the third or fourth time I’ve read it in thirteen years.
In the closing pages of the appendices (p. 355-356), Rabbi Rosen writes:
Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…
By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.
I think I’ve been very reluctant to make real or apparent compromises over the years, hence my resistance to so many groups where perhaps I might have made friends and been accepted if I’d just let my guard down and gone. I also feel that nowadays most of the Jewish community is closer to the “feeling heimish” end of the Jewish spectrum than the “quest for authenticity” end. Maybe, post-Enlightenment and post-Holocaust, heimish is the most we can hope for from the community as a whole. Or maybe it was ever thus. Or maybe organised yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) study for young people provides a mechanism for some people to grow and develop, although I’m not convinced that this is always the case from what I’ve heard. Ironically, it is the sense of authenticity and fear of dropping my guard that contributed to my not going to yeshiva (as well as my not being a youth/Jewish Society leader), although there were other reasons too.
There’s a lot of negativity in this post. I don’t really feel negative, just a bit down. I mostly feel cautiously positive these days, but I guess there’s a lot of anxiety and fear below the surface about the fact that I’m still trying to get my life together. I can see the next step or two, but not beyond that, and that’s scary when you’re nearly forty, only working part-time and, in some sense, disabled, and want to settle down and try to start a family.
Dirges in the Dark
I wrote most of this during the day, when I was feeling quite down. I’m posting it just as a record of my emotions, and that I can come out of slumps better than I used to be able to do.
I feel down today, even somewhat depressed. I’ve been a bit self-critical and I’ve been catastrophising a lot. I don’t know why I feel like this suddenly. I guess there are reasons. There’s family members struggling with things; COVID is getting to me, and making me worry when E and I will be able to meet again; I’m stressed about the coming Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals); and I’m probably a bit hurt still from my novel rejection and wondering what my next step is, trying to process that now my intense two weeks covering for J at work is over. So I guess there is over-causation, if anything. Still, I thought I was getting better at emotional regulation and dealing with the down days. I still struggle to understand my own emotions a lot of the time, which doesn’t make dealing with them any easier.
As there has often been a seasonal element to my depression, it could be that as the days get shorter and the weather colder and more inclement (not that we had a particularly hot or dry summer!) I am still going to get more down/mildly depressed, despite no longer suffering general depression. Or maybe it’s my worries about getting through the next few weeks.
I missed E a lot and worried about how we can move our relationship on. There are so many obstacles: COVID, long-distance, finances, dealing with our separate ‘issues’… I worry that more will appear as we progress and can already catastrophise some into existence if I’m not careful. In terms of COVID, it’s not at all clear that the UK will still be allowing visitors from the US over the next couple of months. I worry that the US will become some kind of permanent plague zone that Europeans avoid contact with, like something out of a zombie film, and the type of Americans that refuse to get vaccinated won’t care because they have zero interest in the outside world anyway.
Another possibility is envy, sadly. I’m just feeling the “Will I ever make anything of my life? Will I become a successful writer? (Will I actually get the energy/headspace to write anything else?) How did I become such a professional failure when I did so well at school?” feeling again looking at more successful peers or even younger contemporaries. To quote Crusade, the abortive spin-off from Babylon 5, “When Mozart was my age, he was dead.” I don’t want to be Mozart, or the literary equivalent, but I do want to be able to at least help support E and myself and hopefully even children one day. I’d also like to write something that I can be proud of, something clever, idiosyncratic and unique like the stories I love like The Prisoner, Twin Peaks, The Third Policeman or Ubik. But at the moment I’m too focused on getting through the next couple of weeks to write much, and today everything feels such an effort.
A while back E sent me the link to this Instagram post, saying that there’s a need for my writing in the Jewish community. I look at it periodically when I need encouragement about my writing, but I guess today it just makes me think, “There are already Jewish creatives, why would anyone want to read my writing? I can’t write nearly well enough to capture the conflict between tradition and modernity. My writing’s too humdrum for the secular market and too negative for the religious market. And I don’t know how to get an agent.” And so on, back into catastrophisation.
I managed about three hours of work today, which is probably a minor miracle and I shouldn’t be surprised I can’t write too. Today is a bank holiday (public holiday), but I agreed with J to do a day’s work, split over today and tomorrow. I didn’t really want to do it, but I wanted to show willing, given that I want J to make my job permanent, and I’m aware I won’t work much in September because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and hopefully I’ll want time off in October if E comes here.
I went for a run. It wasn’t very good, but I was just glad to get out, as I felt like going back to bed. I think it did help shift my mood, as did speaking to E in the evening. I feel OK now.
It doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to speak to the rabbi about my autism before Yom Tov, which is vaguely annoying, but he’s been away and then I had that not good time when I was covering for J and now it’s nearly Yom Tov. Maybe I can try to speak to him before Sukkot at least.
Last night I had a dream that seems somewhat relevant. I was watching some Hasidic men dance. They tried to drag me into the dance, but I didn’t want to join in; however, I didn’t want to go away either, I wanted to watch.
When I awoke, it made me think of Otto Rank, Freud’s pupil who postulated that life divides into the fear of life (fear of individuation) and fear of death (fear of absorption and losing individuality). I want to watch the dance (connect), but I am afraid to join in the mass of dancers (lose individuality). It’s probably about me and the Orthodox Jewish community, my inability to find my place in it and my uncertainty about where E and I will feel comfortable.
There seems to be a lot of drunken partying/arguing/fighting going on in someone’s back garden with a lot of noise reaching us despite the lateness of the hour (gone 11pm). It might be a long night…
It’s gone 10.30pm and I’m far too awake. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was not great. I guess it can’t be good every week. I got to shul (synagogue) early on Friday night, but someone had already taken “my” seat. It’s not really my seat as we don’t have set seats, but most people usually sit in the same place. Anyway, someone had put a bookrest and tallit bag in my place, but wasn’t sitting there, and didn’t sit there for the entire service. It was quite rude to do that when space is at a premium, as we are still somewhat socially distanced and we’ve lost a chunk of the room now the school we rent it from have renovated it. I probably should have just sat there, but (a) I was too social anxious and (b) I thought I knew whose tallit bag it was, and he’s someone I’ve seen explode angrily at people over trivial things, so I wanted to steer clear. I went into autistic rigid thinking and couldn’t work out where to sit, so I just sat in the row behind, but I think I sat in the seat usually taken by someone who sits with his son-in-law. I was davening (praying) when he came in so I couldn’t offer to move, but I felt a bit bad about that too.
Then I became aware that I was the only person wearing a face mask. Even the doctor who usually wears one had stopped. I felt too nervous to remove it, but I felt like I stood out wearing it. So that wasn’t fun.
Dinner was fine, but I struggled to sleep and got up and read for a bit, a Philip K. Dick story that was better than the last one, but still quite bleak (A Little Something for Us Tempunauts).
I slept through the morning again. As often happens, I woke up early enough that I could have gone to shul, but felt overwhelmed with whatever it is that overwhelms me (social anxiety? Depression? Ennui? I don’t know) and fell asleep again. (This blog sometimes seems to revolve largely around poor sleep and social anxiety.) I fell asleep after lunch too, and the alarm I have set to wake me at 5.15pm for Talmud shiur (religious class) and shul didn’t wake me. I woke an hour later and had to hurry to get out in time.
Shiur was OK. I didn’t wear a mask for shiur or Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). I’m not sure how I feel about that. I got an aliyah (called to say the blessings over the Torah), which was nice, although it was a bleak passage, literally fire and brimstone.
I came home and we had rather late seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). It’s ideally supposed to be started before sunset, but it was halfway between sunset and nightfall by the time we ate, which I felt bad about, although I couldn’t have done anything differently as I was in shul. I seem to have felt vaguely bad about things that weren’t really in my control quite a bit this Shabbat.
Now I feel drained, but not sleepy, and somewhat down for no obvious reason. I will probably watch TV for a bit as I don’t really feel like reading. More ennui, I guess. I’ve had some weird dreams lately that aren’t worth recording, but which make me wonder if I’m anxious (well, I’ve been consciously anxious lately) or unconsciously trying to work something through. I hope I can do all the things I want to do this week, as it seems a bit overwhelming (speaking to my shul rabbi and my rabbi mentor, having therapy, working). Anyway, finis.
Work, Music, Friends
Work from home is making me exhausted and depressed.
I slept badly last night. I woke up about 5.30am after disturbing dreams, full of anxiety about work and the Very Scary Task (I should probably think of a better name for that here). I realised I had forgotten to tell someone something and that was worrying me. I got up and drank hot chocolate and read Philip K. Dick (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) for a while, which calmed me down a bit. I went back to bed, but as I was trying to fall asleep, J texted me at 6.30am to check some details. I guess he assumed I get up early for Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I went back to sleep, but didn’t sleep well, with more disturbing dreams. My alarm went at 9.20am and I probably would have fallen asleep again were it not for more work texts (not from J this time). I had breakfast and sent a text to resolve the problem of forgetting to tell someone something, but then J messaged me with another query. It wasn’t hard to resolve, but the whole process of this task is all quite nerve-wracking. I hope I don’t have to do this again next week — or for some time longer, really. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing in advance, and the odds are I will have to do it again next week.
I was very nervous of something going wrong with the Very Scary Task, but no one phoned me with a problem, so I guess it went OK. The main work for today, the data entry, was more tedious than ever. I found it hard to concentrate and I could not work out if that was related to Very Scary Task anxiety; being tired from yesterday and not sleeping well; or just the cumulative effect of doing this boring task for days on end.
I wanted to listen to music while doing the data entry, but I wasn’t sure what. Not the loud rock I usually listen to, because I needed to concentrate. I found some chazanut (Jewish liturgical music) CDs that belong to my parents and thought listening to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur music might get me in the appropriate mindset for those coming festivals, but I discovered that I dislike traditional chazanut as much when listened to as music as I do when listening to it in shul (synagogue). It’s all very emotional and wailing and loud and dragged out… I know some people feel the music and chazanut helps them to pray more intently, but I always get the feeling that the chazan just wants to show off and I would rather spend my time and energy focused on my private personal prayers. Maybe that’s why I struggle with going to shul; it’s certainly why I go to a shul where the focus is very much on personal prayers without much chazanut.
In the end I listened to incidental music from Twin Peaks. Similarly, on Monday I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner while I did the data entry. Incidental music isn’t as intrusive as other music, and evokes the atmosphere of enjoyable TV or film while I’m doing a boring task.
Towards the end of work, I started feeling very negative about myself, wondering why I’m doing basic data entry tasks of the kind that would normally be done by an intern when I’m in my late thirties and not being able to work full-time. It got mixed in with thoughts about the Jewish cultural website I wrote about yesterday, some resentment that many of the writers there have gone on to write professionally, or were already professional writers and got a boost, whereas for a long time I wanted to write for them, but wasn’t able to. (I did write a couple of guest posts eventually.) I also felt that a lot of the writers seemed to have mental health issues, but also managed to have families, careers, religious lives, community involvement and creative outlets and I never worked out how they did all of it. In the end, I became a sort of self-loathing troll, posting comments that attacked not others, but myself and wallowed in the misery of so much of my adult life.
I thought I had put the site behind me (it’s pretty much defunct now), but I realise I have such a mixture of thoughts about it. I thought, or at least hoped, I could make real friends there, I had a kind of “friendship crush” on so many of the writers, wanted to be noticed by them and converse with them in the comments. I made a couple of online friends I still sometimes connect with, including one who has been a bit of a writing mentor to me, but those were other commenters, not the writers. But then I remember that once I wrote a comment about being pretty suicidal and a bunch of the writers wrote messages to support me, so I guess they were friendly. I never quite worked out if they wrote it because they like me as an individual or if they just saw “A person is in trouble, we should help!” and it didn’t really matter who I was. Maybe it doesn’t matter.
E found my blog through my comments there, I think, so I guess that’s one tangible positive that came out of it for me.
Thinking about this also makes me realise that I’ve been so focused lately on getting my manuscript ready to try to find an agent, and brainstorming ideas for future projects, that I haven’t actually done any creative writing in ages, even though I have an idea for a short story. I would like to write it, but with the possibility of another week of crazy work next week and then the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish religious festivals), I’m not sure when I’ll have the time.
Aside from work, I went for a walk and did some shopping, which was where the negative thoughts got worse. I finished my devar Torah and skyped E and did a few minutes of Torah study, but that was about it. E is still the biggest positive in my life, even on stressful days.
The results from my recent blood test show my lithium level is slightly down. The results say it’s OK, but I thought 0.68 was sub-therapeutic. It might explain why my mood has been down a bit lately. My cholesterol is still a little high, but I don’t seem to be able to shift that much. I know, I should cut cheese, butter and eggs out of my life completely, but I can’t face it. I don’t eat much butter or eggs as it is, and I slashed my cheese consumption and, at the moment, can’t face cutting it further. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me one day.
“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”
Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a mixed bag, and, again, I find I need to break my rule, or at least aspiration, about not going online after Shabbat in the summer as I need to blog to get some of my thoughts out of my head.
On Friday night we davened (prayer) outside again. This seemed at odds with the shul‘s (synagogue’s) policy of no longer keeping COVID protocols in place, now that it is legal not to do so (unlike my parents’ shul, which still has a lot of safeguards in place, and is even apparently adding more). This was pleasant for me, as I would wear a mask inside, but felt no need to do so outside. The reason may have been that we do not own the building where we daven, which is usually a school. The hall where we daven is currently being significantly remodelled, which is going to make services difficult, particularly the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur festival services next month. I am not sure what the shul will do. We raised funds to buy our own premises earlier this year, but I think we do not have planning permission to build yet, and even when we do, the building project is estimated to take eighteen months.
I did not sleep particularly well last night and had some strange dreams, partly focused on some silly thing I did when I was ten. I don’t know why I carry around guilt from two decades ago, when I wasn’t even an adult. It did leave me in a negative state of mind, and I stayed in bed because I felt anxious and self-critical. When I did finally get up, I was carrying other guilt, which I don’t want to go into here, for various reasons, but which was equally irrational.
I slept for three hours after lunch, which was not sensible, as I will probably struggle to sleep tonight. Even then, I only woke up because I set an alarm before Shabbat. I’m not sure how long I would have slept if I had awakened naturally.
I nearly didn’t get back to shul, as I had a lot of social anxiety. I more or less forced myself out of the house and down to shul. The hall, now I saw it properly, looked very different as a result of the ongoing building works. About a third of the hall has already been partitioned off, and even in the area still accessible to us, some tables were missing. This was somewhat upsetting to my autistic mind.
After Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), the seudah shlishit (third Sabbath meal) was held in a classroom. I didn’t want to go and eat, but I did want to attend the Talmud shiur (religious class) that would be held partway through the seudah. I stayed in the hall and read for a bit, but then thought that they were about to start the shiur, so went and found the classroom. I felt awkward sitting there and not eating, but I did get to hear the shiur. I’m not sure how well I followed it, but I would have followed it even less had I not prepared in advance yesterday.
One thing I noticed was a couple of people addressing me by name and trying to make small talk with me. It always surprises me when people know me or want to talk to me. I suppose I’ve had so many bad social interactions, so many communities of one kind or another (shul, school, scouts, university, workplace) where I’ve felt I haven’t been accepted or didn’t fit in (or was even bullied) and just stood around “being autistic” and not really being able to talk to people that I’m still amazed when people know my name and want to talk to me. I don’t know how to progress this to make friends though.
I don’t know how rational my COVID fears are. I travel on public transport (with a mask) to get to work or volunteering, and shul is probably no less safe than that. Is it safe enough not to wear a mask, or to eat? I don’t know. According to the government, it’s fine, but I don’t feel safe. Is this sensible caution or the beginnings of health anxiety/OCD?
I feel a bit down now, and vaguely headachey. I probably need something to eat, and to shower (it’s got hot again) relax a bit before bed.