I Am Not My Thoughts and Feelings

I didn’t have much to do at work today. I haven’t had much to do for the last couple of work days. I think the usual winter rush that J told me about is over. I hope that doesn’t mean that I won’t be needed for much longer, especially as I’m nearing the end of the long-term project I’ve been working on at times when there hasn’t been any more immediate work.

***

I’m re-reading Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s book The Strife of the Spirit. I read it years ago, but can’t really remember much about it. I lent it to PIMOJ recently and she really liked it and said I should re-read it, although I think the mysticism of the early parts (it’s a collection of essays and interviews from different places) is more to her religious taste than mine.

However, today, in a chapter on the soul, Rabbi Steinsaltz says that our souls are not our thoughts or emotions. This intrigued me. I have mentioned here before that I find it very hard to have any sense of selfhood that isn’t connected to my thoughts and, to a lesser extent, my feelings. I’m very bad at meditation, mindfulness and other techniques for “switching off” our thoughts. So I was interested to see him say that our souls are not the same as our thoughts and feelings. When I try to visualise the afterlife (which in recent years I’ve found myself doing a lot for some reason), it tends to be as disembodied thought or feeling, even though I suspected (and this agreed) that disembodied being would be closer to the mark. I don’t know what that would “disembodied being” would entail, though. Maybe it’s beyond human perception in this world.

***

“The universe doesn’t give you any points for doing things that are easy” was a quote from a Babylon 5 episode I watched today (The Geometry of Shadows by J. Michael Straczynski). I’d agree with that, replacing the quasi-pantheistic “The universe” with “God” (Straczynski self-describes as atheist, but much of Babylon 5 has a vaguely mystical pantheist feel). Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so hard though. It often feels that I have to struggle just to get to the starting line, let alone to finish the race.

On which note: I’m still worrying about my autism assessment next week, worrying what will happen (practically and to my self-esteem) if I’m not held to be on the spectrum. I should really try harder not to think about it, because the psychiatrist has almost certainly already decided her diagnosis and there’s nothing I can do about it. I asked some friends and family members to pray for me, something I don’t think I’ve done before, not like this anyway. I asked them not to pray for any particular diagnosis, but just that I should have understanding and acceptance of myself and peace of mind. I did it less because of any practical effect I thought it might have and more because I thought it would help me to feel supported and cared for.

I heard the Jewish biblical scholar Dr Erica Brown talking about The Book of Esther recently and she used the image of standing on the threshold at key moments of our lives, as Queen Esther stands at the threshold of the king’s throne room, risking death if she walks in without being summoned there. I immediately saw the relevance for my own position. It really feels like Tuesday morning (the diagnosis appointment) is a threshold moment that will either concretise my self-understanding as someone on the spectrum or force me to look in a completely different direction in order to understand and accept myself.

Fears for the Future

Lately I have a lot on my mind that I don’t want to share here, or at least not yet. This is hard, as I like to work things through in writing. I may try writing private posts. I’ve done that in the past. I find it helpful to work things through a little in writing to get inchoate thoughts and feelings into a shape where I can take them to therapy or to my rabbi mentor.

***

Shabbat was OK. I struggled a lot with burnout again which made it hard to do much. I wish I knew what burns me out so much. I didn’t get up until 1pm, although I woke briefly several times across the morning, as I was just too tired. Other than that, it was the usual mix of eating, sleeping, Torah study, prayer and recreational reading.

I had some negative or difficult thoughts over Shabbat, but I can’t remember about what, exactly. I have quite a few areas giving me difficulty at the moment, so it could be one of a number of things. I’ve been thinking about trusting God lately. PIMOJ gave me a book about it, and it’s annoying me a lot even though I’m not yet a quarter of the way through the book. I can accept intellectually that if God is benevolent and all-powerful, everything that will happen to me is for the best. I can even accept that bad things that happened for me are for the best, especially as some bad things seem to have led to good results down the line, something I can see now I’m heading for forty that I couldn’t see when I was in my teens and twenties. What is hard to accept is that I can be happy and confident that everything will be fine, as so much of my life was painful to experience and there is no guarantee that everything good will be painless (in fact, it is extremely unlikely to be painless) or even bearable. So often things are painful, and that scares me. It scares me on a personal level and it scares me on a national and global level. Like many Jews, I worry about a second Holocaust (admittedly my generation worries about this less than my parents and grandparents). I worry something will happen to me that will hurt terribly, physically and/or emotionally (I can probably handle emotional pain better than physical, but that’s a whole other post). And I worry a lot about something happening to me that is so painful and difficult that I lose my Jewish belief and practice. I know that’s a strange thing to worry about, or at least I’ve rarely heard anyone with strong faith worry that they will lose it – usually people only worry when they start to lose it, or so it seems. But I do worry about it.

***

I watched the Star Wars film Rogue One with my parents. I had seen it in the cinema. They tried to watch it a while back, having recorded it off the TV, only to discover the end hadn’t recorded. It was OK, but I felt disengaged remembering the ending as the characters and dialogue were not enough to engage me by themselves.

***

I tested my Babylon 5 DVDs. The season one to four box sets each have at least one disc that won’t play, usually more. The season five discs seem OKish, in that they all play, but one or two start by making some horrible clunking noises which make me think the DVD players is going to reject them, but they do eventually play. I think the cost of replacing them with second-hand DVDs from eBay is similar to the cost of paying to stream them. I’m not sure whether to buy seasons one to four or to assume that season five will stop working at some point and buy that too. I’m also still clueless as to what has happened to stop them working.

***

Googling to find details about Babylon 5 downloads, I found out that Mira Furlan (Delenn) died last month. It’s weird, loads of Babylon 5 cast members have died quite young. Furlan joins Michael O’Hare (Commander Sinclair), Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar), Jerry Doyle (Mr Garibaldi), Richard Biggs (Dr Franklin), Jeff Conaway (Zack Allan) and Stephen Furst (Vir) (I didn’t know about Furst either until checking the details on the list). Compare with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was broadcast around the same time with a similar sized cast, but only one regular cast member has died to date. There were two married couples where both partners appeared in Babylon 5 too (Jerry Doyle and Andrea Thompson (Talia), and Bruce Boxleitner (Captain Sheridan) and Melissa Gilbert (Anna Sheridan)) and they both ended in divorce. I also just discovered that O’Hare left the programme after one season because of severe mental health issues. I don’t believe in curses, but it is vaguely eerie, although I imagine that statistically it’s not that odd, just one of those random clumpings of data that happen. It makes me feel a bit sad at any rate.

***

WordPress is showing this post to me in what looks like Times New Roman font, or some other font with serifs. I wonder if it’s going to post in Times New Roman. I used to like fonts with serifs, but I’ve gone off them since discovering that they decrease readability, particularly on screens.

Worries That Never Happened

There’s a famous quote from Mark Twain (which I think is really by Mark Twain, even though he’s someone that random quotes are often ascribed to on the internet, like Einstein and Lincoln) that says that, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” I feel like that today, as I slept badly (weird dream about a giant orangutan), and struggled to get up, worrying about something that didn’t really happen in the end. I felt relieved, but also somewhat guilty and very drained, which may have been relief rather than tiredness from sleeping badly.

I wonder if the giant orangutan in the dream was a wish-fulfilment me, so big that I could do what I liked and couldn’t be harmed by tranquiliser darts shot by anyone around me i.e. impervious to criticism and other people’s opinions. That is what I would like to be with regard to self-esteem and confidence.

***

I feel very depressed and burnt out again today. Some of it is probably sleeping badly. Some of it is that I always seem to feel like this the day after working, which does not bode well for the idea of me ever being in anything like full-time employment. Some of it is probably the time of year.

This is the worst time of year for me, late January/February. When the days are still short (albeit slowly growing longer), the weather is bad (it snowed again today), everything is cold and dead (even without lockdown) and when the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach (Passover) begin to loom on the horizon. This ought to be good, given that they herald the arrival of warmer and sunnier days, but these are the most difficult festivals for me. Purim is difficult with autism, depression, social anxiety and religious OCD. Pesach is super-difficult with religious OCD; it has, in fact, always been the worst focus of my religious OCD. I imagine I’ll write more on this when we get closer to those festivals so I won’t go into detail now.

Beyond that, lately I’ve found all religious festivals difficult because I feel a pressure to have some kind of intense religious experience. Not mystical hippie-tripping, but somehow feeling closer to God and becoming a better person. This is a lot of pressure to put on myself. Normally it’s enough just to cope with all the peopling from extra shul (synagogue) attendance and meal guests, and the stress and potential religious OCD of all the special festival mitzvot (commandments). I’m not sure how much of this pressure really comes from me or how much from “inspirational” articles. I don’t feel the pressure on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but paradoxically, I think I probably have more of a religious experience then. There’s probably a lesson there.

***

As someone who is influenced by Jewish religious existentialism, I feel that I should try to have “I-Thou” encounters. First identified by Martin Buber, an I-Thou encounter is when two people meet and relate in a very personal and authentic way as opposed to an I-it encounter, which is encountering the other person like an object. Yet I am scared of opening up to people, and when I do, I’m left feeling an awkward mixture of gladness, social anxiety, shame and self-blame. There’s a strong sense of “Did I say the right thing?” which I guess is social anxiety.

***

I feel that I can’t write here about the thing that is most troubling me at the moment. This is problematic, as I process things by writing. I tried writing just for myself, but it didn’t help so much. Hopefully I can talk to my rabbi mentor about it tomorrow. I did discuss it with my therapist last week. She said to try to note my thoughts and feelings without analysing them, which is hard when my thoughts and feelings do not exist in the abstract, but influence my actions in the present and future.

***

In practical terms, I phoned the doctor today and have hopefully got the issue about the dosage of my olanzapine sorted. I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils). I also went to my Tanakh shiur (Bible class), which this week was about Yechezkiel (Ezekiel). We did the “dry bones” passage in groups, which cheered me up a bit. That was about all I managed today though.

Unwritten Rules

I had dreams last night that reminded me of my insecurities. I know I’m insecure; I don’t need dreams to remind me!

***

I had NHS problems again, making lots of phone calls (which I hate doing), trying to get my psychiatrist to get the right information about my medication (coming off haloperidol and back onto olanzapine) in time to get a repeat prescription when I run out at the weekend. I won’t go into all the details, as it’s a long story, but a few things were messed up and by the end of the day, it wasn’t resolved, so my Mum and Dad are going to have to try to resolve it tomorrow when I’m at work. I am a bit worried whether I will get enough medication to get me through the weekend and the beginning of next week.

Therapy was good, although I don’t have much to write here about it. My therapist said I have good self-awareness and self-reflections, but I need to learn how to acknowledge my thoughts and feelings rather than judging them. We spoke a bit about writing down thoughts and fears to get them out of my system, which I do to some extent already.

Other than that I went for a walk, worked on my novel for an hour and did half an hour of Torah study. I would have liked to have done more writing and Torah study, but the phone calls to try to sort out my medication took far too long, really.

***

I’m still reading Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy by Yael Ziegler on the biblical book of Rut (Ruth). Rut is one of the shortest books of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), the shortest if you count the twelve minor prophets as one volume, so I’m not sure how this book about it ends up as one of the longest so far in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series. It is good though, and very thorough, which I guess is why it is so long.

I saw this sentence referring to Rut the Moabite convert: “The social mores of Judaism tend to be more difficult to apprehend than the unambiguous halakhic [legal] guidelines.” (p. 263) This seems very true, for myself on the autism spectrum as much as for the Moabite Rut. I sometimes wish all the unwritten rules were written down, so I could learn them properly. In particular, the rules about fraternisation between the genders; I can’t work out why my shul (synagogue) absolutely prohibits this in some events, but allows it in others and in others still makes only a token gesture towards it.

Very Anxious Day

I had the second part of my autism assessment this afternoon. It was a Zoom call with a psychiatric nurse (I think the one who interviewed my Mum a while back). I don’t know how I did. They said it would take an hour to an hour and a half, but it only lasted forty minutes or so. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. The psychiatric nurse asked me some questions about emotions: what makes angry, happy, sad, etc. and what those emotions feel like. I think I struggled to put those emotions into words and tended to speak more about what I do when I’m angry, happy, sad, etc. Which I guess would suggest autism. We also spoke about friends and having a partner and what that was like emotionally and practically. Also if I coped with living alone, cooking, cleaning, etc. and whether I can handle my own finances. I know I can live alone OK because I just set up routines so I know what I’m doing, but I find that I can’t handle my finances as well as I feel I should be able to do and need to ask my Dad for help sometimes. Again, this might suggest autism.

I also had to narrate a picture book, describe how to brush my teeth and tell a story using five random objects as props. The psychiatric nurse narrated a story with five objects first, to show me what to do. I noticed that while her story was very abstract (e.g. a pen representing a boy, a sellotape roll representing a cake), mine was more literal (e.g. a Lego man for a person, a leaf for a forest), which again would suggest autism to me, although I’m not sure what they are looking for there. I don’t really know if this went well or not, or what “well” really means in this situation. I was told I should hear about the next stage (the actual diagnosis appointment) within six weeks, probably less, but I’m not sure if the actual diagnosis appointment will be within six weeks or just if I should hear when it will be.

The story test makes me wonder if I will really be able to make a career as a novelist, although a quick internet search reveals there are other autistic writers out there. I guess with my current novel, one plot strand is about my experiences with depression and autism in the Jewish community and the other strand is based on a lot of research I did into real life domestic abuse. I suspect I would be the type of author who wears his influences visibly and sticks to existing generic tropes rather than the type of daring, avant garde literary author part of me would like to be. So more of a Terry Nation than a Steven Moffat. Fine, I think Terry Nation is under-rated and I should only make as much money as Terry Nation did… (Nation created a number of popular programmes for British and American television, but was most famous for creating the Daleks for Doctor Who and making a fortune out of them thanks to canny merchandising and rigorous copyright enforcement.)

***

Yesterday J gave me nearly 300 invoices to put in envelopes, stick on stamps and post (he is paying me for this, don’t worry!). Today I put over 100 invoices in envelopes and sealed them; tomorrow I hope to put the rest in and put stamps on them all. It would probably have been more efficient to put a stamp on each envelope after sealing it, but I knew that if I did that, then I would constantly be having OCD worries about whether or not I put one on each one and would be going back to check. Easier, I thought, to do the lot at once, check them, and be done with it.

There’s no volunteering tomorrow, as the paid staff are worried about COVID and are reviewing their procedures to check everything is safe. The packing will be done just by the paid staff this week. Hopefully I can use the morning for envelope stuffing before I have therapy in the afternoon.

***

In the evening I had a rather anxiety-provoking experience. I don’t feel that I can go into much detail. It’s going to be an ongoing thing for a while. I think it’s the right thing to happen, absolutely, but it’s important and scary.

The hardest part isn’t actually the difficult and scary bits. I’m very dependent on the opinion of others, particularly those in religious authority. I worry about appearing like something other than the person I want to be, even though I ended up where I am in good faith and on rabbinic advice. I guess if you have low self-esteem, it’s easy to think everyone thinks badly of you, just as it’s easy to think that every difficulty (or anxiety) is a punishment from God for trivial infractions.

***

Because of everything that happened today, I didn’t do much Torah study. I read Rabbi Sacks’ Morality book for a while, but that was about it. I don’t know if that counts. Is it Torah study if I read a book by a Chief Rabbi about morality, but mostly couched in terms of secular philosophy and psychology rather than Torah sources? I don’t know, but it’s a very good book. I’m pretty tired now, but I need to shower and probably to watch some TV to unwind before going to bed as I still feel very tense, although the anxiety is slowly dissipating. I ate dinner very late, because I was too anxious before, and then I ate a ton of ice cream for dessert. So much for being on a diet.

“I’m not gonna talk about Judy!”

I did manage to work on my novel today, although I could not quite manage to get to two hours before I felt burnt out and unable to continue. I would have liked to have got to the round number. The burnout was as much from stopping in the middle of working on the novel to go for a 5K run before it got dark, which left me exhausted. I was really lucky to get through anything in the second hour of work. I am nearly finished with the second draft of the novel, although the penultimate chapter is proving hard work and I don’t know when I will finish it. I feel like I’m missing a few links in the chain of the plot. I know what needs to happen emotionally, but I can’t quite find a plausible rationale for it to happen yet.

I still have mixed feelings about the novel and whether it “works,” or will work once I’ve finished redrafting it, but I just have to keep going for now.

I thought I had escaped an exercise migraine after running today, but I had a slight headache that was coming and going and eventually I took solpadeine when it looked like it was going to get worse.

We had takeaway for dinner. I had a vegan cheeseburger: pseudo- (non-meat) meat and pseudo- (non-dairy) cheese. I’ve never had real cheeseburger as it’s not kosher and I don’t think I had ever had pseudo-cheeseburger before. It was OK, but I don’t think I’m missing out on much, even allowing for the fact that non-dairy cheese doesn’t taste much like real cheese in my experience.

Something that happened around dinner set off my kashrut OCD thoughts for a few minutes. I did get it under control, but it frustrates me a bit that OCD thoughts are always lurking in the background and have to be kept under control. This is true for everyone. Even people without clinical OCD have OCD-type thoughts, they just control them almost without thinking. It is people who have OCD who have to consciously dismiss the thoughts. OCD never entirely goes away, you just (hopefully) get better at dismissing the thoughts.

After dinner, I spoke to PIMOJ, which was good. I started speaking to her right after I had watched the end of Twin Peaks: The Return, which turned out to be a mistake, as my head was still full of the ambiguous and scary ending. Maybe it wasn’t such a mistake, though, as I opened up about this, which led to a conversation about what we’re scared of which was interesting.

I had a second wind in the evening after talking to PIMOJ and did an hour of Torah study. Vayetze (Genesis 28.10-32.3) is a sedra (weekly Torah portion) I’ve always struggled with on multiple levels (language, meaning, morality), but I have at least a couple of initial thoughts to investigate for my devar Torah for this week.

I guess it was a busy day overall, looking back over this post, but I am apprehensive about tomorrow. This is a late night (nearly 1am) and I feel wide awake, as I forgot to take my meds and have only just taken them. They usually knock me out, but I think my natural state without them is insomnia. I have a lot to do tomorrow and I may not be able to fit in more work on the novel. Still, I was glad to work on it for so long today. Although I don’t like the penultimate chapter and it needs a lot of work, at least I have some idea of where I’m going with it.

***

I need to unwind for a few minutes before bed, so here are some thoughts on completing Twin Peaks.

Looking at my DVD shelves, I own a few series that varied widely over their run, either in terms of style (Doctor Who, The Avengers) or quality (Blakes’ 7, Star Trek: The Next Generation). Even so, the variety of styles and quality across just forty-nine episodes of Twin Peaks (counting the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as an “episode”) is astounding, to the extent that I think of them as sub-units, almost separate series.

  1. Twin Peaks: the pilot episode, season one and season two episodes 1-10 (the investigation into the murder of Laura Palmer): absolutely astounding. By turns scary, funny, moving and weird. If this was all there was of Twin Peaks, it would be one of my all-time favourite TV series.
  2. Twin Peaks: season two episodes 11-22: the first few episodes after the solving of the murder are not very good. Although there is a slow return to quality by the end of the season, only the last episode or two are anywhere near the quality of the first batch of episodes. Some of the rest almost seem like self-parody.
  3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me: this prequel film seems to be hated by fans and critics alike, but I rather liked it. The early section (the Chester Desmond/Teresa Banks investigation) is the bit of later Twin Peaks that is most like section 1. The second part (the last week in the life of Laura Palmer) is different stylistically to section 1, but I think it works as an examination of the mental collapse of someone suffering serious abuse, with the paranormal parts working as both horror and metaphor for psychological trauma. I have to say, when I saw the end, where the dead Laura arrives in the Black Lodge (a kind of afterlife) and bursts into tears of joy at being released from the hell of her life on Earth, I did think of the darkest days of my own depression and OCD where the thought of death seemed like a release.
  4. Twin Peaks: The Return episodes 1-16: I kept going back and forth about this in my mind while I was watching it. Around episode four or five I wanted to give up, but it did improve. Or maybe it just took me time to get to know the unwieldy and poorly-introduced number of new characters and to understand their relationships? Actually, I still have no idea what was going on with some bits of it. Apparently a mini-series pitched at nine episodes was expanded by the network to eighteen and it shows, with a slow pace, plot threads that seem to go nowhere and characters that are bloodily killed off when they’ve served their purpose (this reminded me of the worst excesses of mid-1980s Doctor Who, only gorier). I coped with the gore (exploding heads etc.), but could have done without it. All that said, I’m prepared to concede that it might make more sense on a second viewing if I can find the stamina, especially now the internet has primed me to look for some details I missed first time around.
  5. Twin Peaks: The Return episodes 17-18: I’m really not sure about this. Episode 17 seemed pretty good. Episode 18 was slow and confusing again, but building up to a disturbing final five minutes or so (the bit that freaked me out before Skyping PIMOJ), a deliberately ambiguous and psychologically-scary ending that makes you question the rest of mini-series, if not the original series too. A second viewing might elevate it up as high as section 1.

I could easily watch sections 1, 3 and maybe 5 again right away, so haunting are they and so much do I want to revel in their weirdness, their eeriness and also their humour and, in the case of section 1, the strong sense of place and theme (loss). I don’t want to watch section 2 and I don’t know if I have the stamina for section 4 again. I will probably watch again in a few months or a year, hopefully remembering enough to understand section 4.

I guess in the past, with confusing things, like The Prisoner or The Waste Land I would try logically to tease out meaning from symbolism. I think I approach things with less logic now and try to feel the experience on an emotional level. Certainly Twin Peaks seems to be something you feel more than understand. That said, while I haven’t found much Doctor Who presence on WordPress (or maybe it’s hard to find posts when searches get filled up with posts about “a doctor who did…”), there seems to be a Twin Peaks presence that I might investigate in the coming days…

Stories like Twin Peaks live on in my head in a way that I find hard to explain. I begin to see the world through the filter of their worldview. I would put Doctor Who and The Prisoner in the same category, maybe also Sapphire and Steel. In prose, parts of Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick and (in a different way) John le Carré. Although it’s not a story, I would add The Waste Land too.

Mini-Post: Shabbat and Jealousy

I don’t have much to say today. I mostly avoided worrying about my autism assessment over Shabbat. I did sleep too much though. I went to bed earlyish, slept for twelve hours and then had two half-hour naps in the afternoon. Not good. I am beginning to worry about this. I did quite a bit of Torah study yesterday, but not much today because of napping and because after Shabbat PIMOJ and I watched a film (Inside Out) “together separately” i.e. at the same time, but in different places. Then we Skyped afterwards.

One thing I did struggle with a bit was leafing through an old Jewish Chronicle from a month or so ago and seeing a big article about a schoolfriend/peer of mine. His life ran parallel to mine for many years and in some ways has the life I thought I would have. I knew he is a historian now and has written books (I catalogued one in a previous job), but somehow seeing the latest one promoted with an interview in the Jewish Chronicle raised thoughts about the way our lives had gone. Still, I think I managed not to drift into envy, jealousy, bitterness, frustration, self-criticism or the like. I do wish I had a clearer idea of where my life is going though, and whether I’ll manage to do anything worthwhile with it.

Rabbi Sacks, and Comparing Myself to Friends

I know, there’s been an election in America. That’s not what I want to write about. Shortly after Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished, the Anglo-Jewish community heard that Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Emeritus Chief Rabbi, had died. I still feel shocked and am struggling to process things. I never met him personally (although I’ve been in the same room as him a couple of times), but I own ten of his books, and that’s excluding his prayer books (siddur, five machzorim and hagaddah). I’ve read far too many of his divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) to count over the years as a long-term subscriber to his email essays and updates. Just this year, I’ve seen him speak live online several times on video during lockdown. I quote him a lot in my own divrei Torah. I knew he had cancer, but I had no idea that it was this far advanced.

Rabbi Sacks was a major influence on my thought. He was really the first rabbi who showed me that it’s possible to belong to both Orthodox Jewish society and wider Western culture, not just as a bidieved (exceptional, after-the-event circumstance), but as a deliberate choice. The Jewish community in the UK is very small, about 400,000 people, I believe the smallest mainstream religious community in the UK, but we have a much bigger societal presence than that. It’s not by any means entirely due to Rabbi Sacks, but his eloquence and media presence ensured that he was an ambassador for the community on the wider stage. I suspect the community under-rated him in his lifetime, partly due to a few controversies he was in, and also because his ability to explain difficult ideas from Judaism and Western philosophy in an accessible way made him sound less intelligent and original than he was; he was never a ‘difficult’ read in the way that e.g. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was.

To lose Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz within a few months of each other is a massive loss to global the Jewish community in general and the Centrist or Modern Orthodox community in particular. Barukh dayan ha’emet.

***

My second, and hopefully final, autism assessment appointment has been delayed until 2 December. I’m not quite sure why. It’s a little frustrating, but I feel OK about it. At least the NHS warned me in advance this time.

***

As for how I’ve been, I got up earlier than usual on Friday and managed to get in more than an hour of work on my novel before Shabbat. It was slow going, re-reading and editing, and my heart wasn’t really in it, but I slogged on.

I think my parents thought I was fairly grumpy on Friday night. To be honest, they were right. I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, but everything I said came out wrong, when I was able to do more than grunt and shrug. I’m not always good at understanding or even spotting my emotions, so if they hadn’t told me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. They asked if I was anxious about anything and I initially said no, but after a while I realised that I have a new job, where I’m worried about letting a friend down and about travelling on public transport during lockdown and catching COVID, and even beyond that I’m worried about juggling work, Torah study, writing my weekly devar Torah and working on my novel as well as looking for further work for when this finishes, so it’s not surprising that I am a bit anxious.

***

I finished reading the anthology of writings by Rav Kook that I’ve been reading for some weeks now (The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters and Poems). This post has already been dominated by Jewish stuff/rabbis, so I will not say much, just that, although I had read some of Rav Kook’s writings before, I had not realised his enormous relevance to the contemporary world. In a world where we are encouraged to think in terms of binary opposites (religion OR science; the individual OR the community; tradition OR modernity; nationalism OR universalism), Rav Kook says, “No, God is bigger than that, God is big enough for both, and more.” Essential reading.

***

After Shabbat I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my Oxford days. We tend to meet up every six months or so and are now doing it on Zoom because of COVID. I enjoy seeing them, even virtually, but I sometimes end up feeling a bit negative about myself as I’m the only one without a good job (university lecturer/writer and two lawyers, although one is a law teacher at the moment) and one had his baby daughter with him on the call for a while. I thought I was over this kind of looking over my shoulder and comparing myself to others, but obviously not.

I mentioned about my novel to them the last time we spoke, really to have something to say and not to sound pathetic for being long-term unemployed, but I feel really uncomfortable talking about it and I’m not sure why. It’s partly that I never like talking about myself, but I think also that I’ve told people that the novel is semi-autobiographical, which it is, but now I’m trying to walk that back because (a) a lot of it is NOT autobiographical and (b) I don’t want people assuming that certain bits are autobiographical when they are not (or, in some instances, when they are, but I don’t want to make that public. In particular, I’m vaguely worried about someone I used to know realising one of the characters was originally based on her, even though I’ve now developed her beyond that).

I wanted to do some work on my novel tonight, but after the Zoom call and dinner, it was too late, plus I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Sacks and wanting to write this post.

Struggling Through

I had hoped to get up at 9am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism support group Zoom call at 11am, but I overslept by three-quarters of an hour and had to rush. The meeting got off to a bad start with someone challenging the group agreement. The agreement says something about we have to respect each others’ opinions and he got annoyed saying some things are empirical facts and need to be challenged, which was possibly an autistic way of looking at the exact details of the agreement rather than the general gist of the thing. I don’t know why he suddenly got annoyed about this today when he’s been in previous meetings without saying this; maybe he recently got in an argument with a conspiracy theorist or something. This incident put me on edge and made it hard for me to focus on the meeting and really listen to other people and I kept being distracted and found it hard to concentrate, doing other things, which I feel is unfair to the people speaking and usually avoid. I should probably have just left early, especially as it was only on Zoom.

Afterwards, I felt exhausted and somewhat depressed. It was hard to do anything as I felt so drained, but I know tomorrow will be worse (early start, volunteering and therapy, plus a family Zoom call in the evening) so I felt the need to try to do some things. I had poor executive function, making plans and not sticking to them, which is an autistic trait probably worsened by tiredness. I also had anxious/depressed thoughts about not experiencing autism the same way other people in the group do, leading to doubts about whether I’m on the spectrum.

I somehow fought through the tiredness to work for an hour on my novel, although I didn’t get a lot done beyond finishing off and tidying up the bit I was working on yesterday. I did manage to go for a walk. I had some negative feelings while walking. I was thinking that I don’t particularly want, or feel able, to live the type of life I’m “supposed” to live according to general consumerist society or according to frum (religious Jewish) society, but it’s hard to work out what type of life I actually could lead and find fulfilling.

***

I spent the better part of an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was despite the fact that I am reusing an old piece I wrote many years ago (I think about ten years ago). I just wanted to polish it a bit as well as bring the referencing in line with my usual standard (I don’t do Harvard referencing on something that seems so ephemeral and non-academic, but I do like to indicate where my sources came from). Even so, it took forty-five minutes or more to be happy with it.

***

Regarding telling PIMOJ about my blog, some commenters suggested not to do so. I think they’re probably right, but I do need to find a way to open up to her with more of my emotions. I possibly find it easier to speak to her in person than in text/instant messenger, which is unusual compared with previous relationships (perhaps because English isn’t her first language?), but because of COVID it’s hard to meet in person. We’re hoping to Skype on Thursday.

***

This post is being posted somewhat half-finished, as I just realised it’s 10pm and I need to be up in eight and a half hours so should get to bed soon.

(Not) Opening Up

I woke up at 9am and for once felt refreshed, so I got up straight away. I did manage to say most of the morning prayers at the right time, but not in the right order (I changed the order to say the most important prayers at the right time). This allowed me to do an hour of work on my novel before lunch. I went to apply for another job, this time as a law librarian, but they were looking for a lot of industry-specific experience and skills that I don’t have. I also passed on a school librarian job, partly because it was in South London and the trip would have been too long, but also because I’m nervous about dealing with teenagers again. It was a maternity cover job, so would not have been for too long anyway. That said, there is another secondary school librarian job that I might apply for tomorrow that is worth applying for because it’s relatively local, although possibly not that easy to get to on the bus.

I spent about two hours working on my novel (actually a bit under, as I spent some time looking at a library-related blog post). I would have liked to have written more, but I ran out of energy before the end and some of it was not great quality. I’m currently plugging a plot-hole, but I’m not sure I’m doing it particularly well and I feel like I’m losing my place in redrafting the story with all the interruptions (Jewish festivals, job applications). There’s also a kind of pull between what I feel people would expect to happen to my main character and what happened to me in a similar situation. I feel that what actually happened to me would be considered unrealistic if I wrote it in a novel, but I don’t feel that I can write the alternative for different reasons (lack of skill as well as what I think would really happen) so I’m in some weird compromise situation now which might be the worst of both worlds. Still, I wrote about a thousand words, which is something, even if I fear the quality is not good.

I did some Torah study and filled in the application form for a job agency for people on the autism spectrum, but then got nervous and didn’t book the appointment I will need to have about my skills and abilities before I can go on their books. It’s partly (mostly) social anxiety, but also an element of thinking they won’t be able to help, as other organisations aimed at helping people on the spectrum into work, or people generally into work, have not helped me. It doesn’t help that careers advisors I’ve spoken to don’t always have a good idea of what librarianship involves or what skills are transferable and I’m not good at explaining. People suggest I look at archives, but archival work is actually very different to librarianship and the skills are not transferable without significant retraining. Anyway, I feel I have too much on this week to speak to them, but maybe next week.

***

I went to depression group on Zoom. It still feels a strange experience after all these months. Zoom/Skype therapy doesn’t seem so hard, although I’ve been doing that for much longer, long before lockdown. I don’t think I’m particularly eloquent at in person meetings, but I feel even less eloquent on Zoom and I never seem to have as much to say as other people, possibly because I’m not so good about talking about my emotions outside of a formal therapy setting (as opposed to writing about them). It is good to hear that I’m not alone and that other people are going through the same things as me, even if it is simultaneously hard to hear so many people suffering. One thing that was suggested tonight was that people with a creative outlet are doing better than those without one, which may be true. I certainly feel that my novel has given me something to focus on beyond job applications that never seem to go anywhere.

I didn’t talk about PIMOJ on depression group. I am always reluctant to talk about dating at depression group, I guess because after I spoke about E. there, the first time we were dating, we broke up. I don’t think it jinxed the relationship, I just felt awkward when I went back again and had to say we had broken up. When I was dating E. again earlier this year, I didn’t mention it at depression group at all, or when we broke up. But maybe I should talk about PIMOJ next time, as it is a big thing for me, and it’s not easy to date in lockdown. Although I know some people from depression group read this and I talk about her here. Somehow that doesn’t bother me, maybe because I feel more in control here. In control about what I say, I mean.

***

I’m thinking about letting PIMOJ know about my blog. I think I’ve mentioned journaling as a coping strategy, but not that it’s on a public blog. I was worried she would want to see it and it would show her a load of negative things about me, in particular my lack of positivity (she is very positive). That still is a concern to me, although I don’t think I’m as negative here as I used to be. I’m probably still somewhat negative, particularly about my employment prospects. But lately I’ve been wanting to open up more to her emotionally (as encouraged by my therapist), but I find it hard to do, perhaps in part because of what I said above about finding speaking about my emotions hard. COVID means we aren’t meeting much in person (although we are still trying) and I find it hard to start a serious conversation on instant messenger. I worry about suddenly becoming very serious. I think I’m still learning to feel comfortable with PIMOJ, to converse at a deeper level, but it’s hard to find the way to start that conversation. So maybe it would be a good idea to start a conversation that way, by letting her read my blog. Or maybe it wouldn’t, I’m not sure.

***

I probably do have more to say about all of the above, but it’s late and this post is long and I should get to bed…

Plotting, and a Virtual Funeral

Well, I did it. I got up at 9.30am today. I know that doesn’t sound much, but it’s a big thing to me. Usually I feel depressed in the morning and sleep for hours. I did check emails after breakfast before getting dressed, but I didn’t read blogs. I didn’t really do a huge amount in the morning as I was tired. I sent some emails and sorted out my inbox and sent box, which had got overgrown again. That was it, really

I felt tired again today, and a bit down. I think I’m not always good at differentiating between depression and exhaustion, but today I think I had both. It occurred to me that the reason I always seem to be tired might be from autistic burnout. I know there’s a problem in getting diagnosed in that I didn’t have many very obvious symptoms as a child, including burnout. I did used to like to get up early (6.00am) and play or read when the house was quiet because everyone else was asleep. I do wonder why I wasn’t so burnt out at primary school or the first few years of secondary school. I do worry about this, that I have autism symptoms now, but not obviously as a child. I think I was just good at masking and conforming, but it makes it hard to get a diagnosis now.

***

I spent an hour in the afternoon working on my novel, looking at the plot. I think I know the areas that need work, although one area (the climax) requires quite a bit of thought. The problem is that I know logically what should happen from a storytelling point of view, but I worry that it neuters my female secondary character and makes her dependent on the male primary character to save her, as well as negating her trauma too easily. Of course we expect secondary characters to be saved by primary characters, but it wasn’t what I intended, as I wanted to avoid such a paternalistic conclusion. I wanted two roughly equal characters, but the way I’ve written it isn’t so balanced. Now I’ve got a primary character who doesn’t really have a proper climax to his story and a secondary character who does have a proper climax to her story, but it should connect back to the primary character and it doesn’t. I will have a lot to fix in revisions. That’s not necessarily a problem, except that I don’t trust myself to be able to think up a solution. This is what I hate about writing, the waiting on inspiration, which I guess is a kind of thinking (inspiration doesn’t come out of the blue, but out of thought).

***

I went to a Zoom levoyah (funeral) for the woman who taught my at kindergarten. She also gave me tuition in exam technique when I was somewhat older. She was a family friend, so I used to run in to her periodically or my parents would update me about her. She was an important person in my early life and did a lot to nurture me and ensured I started school already knowing the English and Hebrew alphabets and basic sums, as well as enjoying learning. Whenever my parents saw her, she wanted to know how my sister and I were doing. I’m sure she would be pleased I’m working on a novel.

It was not easy to hear the eulogies or to follow the prayers on Zoom (funeral prayers are not always in regular prayer books), particularly as the service was outside because of COVID. I haven’t been to that many funerals anyway, so I’m not 100% sure of the structure of the service. The whole thing left me feeling much more emotional than I expected, but I had to rush straight to Shabbat preparation afterwards, so I didn’t really have time to process anything.

I guess that’s where I’ve been this afternoon: doing pre-Shabbat chores, thinking about my novel and feeling upset from the funeral. Wishing I had more time to think today, wishing I didn’t feel so overloaded emotionally. I guess Zoom funerals can be draining from an autistic point of view as much as real-world funerals; if I have trouble understanding and processing emotions, it’s not going to magically be easier just because it’s over a screen.

The Meaning of Life

I was still feeling very depressed when I woke up today.  I spent about an hour and a half working on my book, finishing one chapter, which I then split into two, as it was very long and had a natural breaking point.  I’ve written about 42,000 words so far, plus I have a fragment of about 4,000 words for the next chapter.  I’m aiming for 70,000 to 80,000 words overall, so I’m somewhat over halfway.  Maybe I will get a first draft finished by the end of the year after all.

I had therapy.  I was processing a lot of emotions that I felt uncomfortable with.  Feelings that triggered my inner critical voice and the guilt/shame emotions, feelings that I usually want to just repress rather than admit to and process.  I did at one point feel that I had to check that the therapist didn’t hate me for the things I was saying.  Despite that, I think it went well, but it was just draining and difficult.

I went for a walk afterwards and there were a lot more people out than I’ve seen for weeks, now that lockdown is partially lifted.  It was hard to socially distance (that should probably be “distance socially,” but that sounds weird).  I might start wearing a mask, although I’ve been dreading doing so for fears of autistic sensory discomfort.  Mum and Dad were brave and went to a National Trust site.  The buildings were closed, but they could go around the parks.  I’m glad they went despite the risk as Mum was glad to go out the house for something non-cancer-related.

I went to a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies (LSJS) in the evening, the first of three sessions.  I would not normally do that on a therapy day as I get very tired after therapy, but this was on the meaning of life and I’m struggling with finding meaning in life at the moment, so it seemed worth making the effort.  This week’s session was on whether life is meaningless (arguments for and against).  Strangely, there were a lot of people there I knew: a friend of my parents’; someone who used to volunteer with me at the asylum seekers drop-in centre; a library user from the first library I worked at; someone who used to go to my previous shul (synagogue); and someone who goes to the Wednesday shiur.  This did not prevent social anxiety; if anything, it worsened it.  I wish I did have the confidence to participate more at these shiurim.  I think I would get more out of them if I did.  Someone appeared to be Zooming in from their hospital bed, which showed dedication.

As often happens with shiurim at the LSJS, I can’t avoid the impression that if my life had gone to plan I could have been giving classes there or running the library or at least mixing in the same social circles as the people who do those things and certainly that I would want some of those things.  I want to be in a circle of like-minded people and friends, but I find it very hard to socialise at all, let alone direct my socialising purposefully towards meeting particular people.  The same goes for work: it’s hard enough finding a job, let alone building a particular career.  It’s another sign of my feelings of frustration with my life, that I haven’t achieved what people who go to Oxford usually achieve in terms of career and that I don’t mix with people with a similar outlook on life.

It was arguably a productive day overall, even if my emotions were up and down.  I find it hard to realise that, given my issues, I do have fairly productive days.  I just feel I should always be doing more.

“Here comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown”

(I don’t like The Rolling Stones much, but Dad was just playing this and it seemed appropriate.)

I feel very depressed today, but quite not as much as yesterday.  I still feel alone somehow, even though I know people care about me.  I worry about my life, my future,  if I even have a future.  I just want to withdraw, from everything.  I’m still trying to accept and experience my feelings, but it’s hard when they are like this, so strong and overwhelmingly negative with no obvious truths to teach me.  I try to focus on E. and on my parents.  Maybe I’ve become over-reliant on this blog, and reading other people’s blogs.  Maybe it’s no substitute for real-life contact and friendships, not that real-life contact of any kind is easy at the moment.  I thought a bit about going cold turkey from blogs (mine and other people’s), but I don’t think I could do it.  I’m glad I’ve been in lockdown with my parents; I think we would all have gone crazy if I hadn’t been, particularly given Mum’s chemo.

I’m going to try to recuperate over Shabbat (the Sabbath).  Not to worry too much about prayer or Torah study (although it might be helpful to read a few more pages of Sacred Fire), just to read light things and try to relax.

***

I wrote the above in the early afternoon.  After that I managed to engage with the day a bit: I picked up my prescription, went for a walk, did my Shabbat chores, finished my devar Torah (Torah thought) and spent an hour or so working on my novel (only writing 400 words, but doing some research and planning, so pretty good overall) as well as having a quick Skype call with E.  I’m not sure how much this engagement was a cause or an effect of my mood picking up in the afternoon i.e. did I do things because I felt better or did I feel better because I did things?

Are Friends Electric?

I got up a little later today, at 10.30am, but still before 11.00.  When I got up, I found myself struggling with difficult emotions that I couldn’t really put into words.  It’s hard when I can’t put things into words, as I can’t write about them or speak about them in therapy, although sometimes I try to take the feelings to therapy and the therapist or the therapy process helps me to find the words.

Dad took Mum to hospital for chemo soon after I got up.  He’s not allowed to stay there at the moment because of social distancing, so has to come home and then go out again to pick her up.  It meant both my parents were out for a while, which is not so common at the moment, at least not for more half an hour or so.  This can be good or bad.  I like the quiet, but maybe I need other people around on some level, particularly when I’m depressed.  I just moped around after breakfast and missed E.  Maybe that would have happened even if my parents were here.  It probably would, to be honest.

***

I did two hours of work on my novel, writing about fourteen hundred words,  which is probably a record for me in terms of amount of fiction written in one day (and also the length of this post… blogging is much easier than fiction writing).  I was mostly writing a surreal interlude.  These are easier for me to write than the realistic bits.  Writing something as autobiographical as this has locked me into realist narrative,  but I’m not really that comfortable with it.  It’s a shame, as I have two or three other ideas for realist, literary novels that I think could be really good, but I don’t think I could write them (yet?).  Fortunately, lately I’ve been having ideas for a non-realist book/series of books that I hope to work on when this novel is finished, although I’m keeping quiet about this for now…

In other activity, I spent ten minutes polishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and half an hour on Torah study.  I did some serious textual study, Tehillim (Psalms) and Mishnah in Hebrew.  The Artscroll Mishnah commentary confuses me.  It goes into too much detail about what is in the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi and the different commentaries and super-commentaries, the Rishonim and the Acharonim (the Medieval commentaries and post-Medieval commentaries).  I get completely confused and have no idea what the Mishnah is talking about when I probably could understand it on a basic level if it was simplified.  Sadly, the Kehati Mishnah which is much more succinct and guides you through the basic meaning of the Mishnah is now out of print and hard to get hold of and I don’t think Koren have an English language Mishnah yet, so I’m stuck with the Artscroll.

I ran for thirty-five minutes again, for the third time this week, which I haven’t managed for a very long time.  I was out at 8pm when everyone applauds the NHS.  It was amusing, feeling like I was finishing a marathon when I was only halfway through my run, but I was irritated by the number of people coming out of their drives and onto the pavement, making me either run in the road or risk coming close enough to get infected.  This only exacerbated my mixed feelings about the whole exercise (the NHS applause, not the run).  I realised that if anyone wants to be a populist dictator in this country, they shouldn’t whip up racial hatred, start a war or press for emergency powers – just present themselves as the champion of the NHS.  It worked for Tony Blair.

The problem is that despite a lot of activity, I still wish I had done more.  If I had got up earlier, or been less depressed when I did get up, I might have managed more Torah study or been able to go to bed earlier tonight.  If I hadn’t got an exercise migraine I might have managed a little more Torah study, or to talk to E. for longer…  It’s an unhelpful attitude, but it persists in me.  Nevertheless, I can see that this has been a very productive week.

***

I weighed 75kg this morning, nearly 12 stone.  Admittedly that was after breakfast (I’m really bad at remembering to weigh myself before breakfast.  I’m really bad at doing anything before breakfast, to be honest).  I know I need to lose weight, but it’s hard.  I do eat quite a bit of junk on Shabbat and I’m not entirely sure why my self-control deserts me then, but otherwise I limit myself to one unhealthy thing a day.  I try not to eat ice cream more than once a week, if not even less frequently (ice cream is my biggest comfort eating temptation, and is something we currently have loads of as Mum can eat it when chemo side-effects make it hard for her to eat more solid things).  But I feel it’s so hard to cut junk out entirely when I’m depressed, I just need something nice before I go to bed.  I tried cutting the calories different ways, eating less at lunch, but that didn’t work either, I just got really hungry in the late afternoon long before dinner (we usually eat quite late, which doesn’t help).  I already eat a lot of fruit and veg every day, so I can’t substitute them in to replace more fattening alternatives.  I do worry about being overweight and unhealthy, but I don’t know how to shift it – as far as I can tell, my weight gain is completely driven by my psychiatric medications, all of which have weight gain as a common side-effect, but I can’t come off them (I’ve tried).  I’m trying to exercise more too, but that can lead to weight gain, as muscle weighs more than fat.  I find it quite depressing.

***

Oh what tangled webs we weave…  I’ve mentioned about losing friends in the last few months.  One was someone whose blog I read.  We weren’t really friends, but I did comment there a lot.  Then I worried that I had said the wrong thing.  I felt my comments were becoming unintentionally combative because I was being upset (I won’t say ‘triggered’) by blog discussions of dating in the frum world.  I wasn’t trying to start a fight, but I worried it looked that way and wasn’t sure if my comments were ignored deliberately or just missed.  Then there was a reply to me that might have been angry or might not.

So, I resolved to stop reading and commenting, but I was weak, so I went back to reading and swore not to comment.  There was a post today with a religious question for which I think I have a helpful answer.  But I’m too scared to post.  I thought of posting under a different name, but worried that it could be identified as coming from me, possibly provoking further anger.  So, as of now, I haven’t commented, but it is frustrating when I think I could help.

The bottom line is that it was probably another online communication that I over-invested in and thought was friendlier than it actually was.  I used to think that my in-person social anxieties and awkwardnesses were mitigated online.  To some extent that’s true, but I think I do still have the ability to make people think I’m weird and rude.  I think I’ve upset people online before by not counting online friendships as “real” friendships, but to some extent it’s a defence strategy in a situation where I don’t know how much weight and significance the other person gives to interactions that mean a lot to me.

***

Related to the above: I have to say, writing a semi-autobiographical novel has really driven home how much other people might see me as a self-obsessed, moody, standoffish drama queen.  Not the type of person you would want to be friends with.  So much for “We’re all the heroes of our stories.”  I think I’m probably the irritating geeky character who gets killed off three quarters of the way through.

I did at least put “might see me as a self-obsessed (etc.)”.  In the past I would have been sure.

Darker Than Expected

I struggled to get going again.  It’s difficult.  Once I get going, I’m OK, but I really struggle with depression, exhaustion and motivation for the first couple of hours that I’m awake.  Today I was missing E. a lot and feeling quite overwhelmed and depressed.  Once I’ve had breakfast, got dressed and davened (prayed) a little bit (only a fraction of the morning prayers, and sometimes skipping straight to the afternoon ones because I’m too late for the morning) I do tend to feel better, but even then I don’t feel 100% until after lunch.  Even when I was working full days I had a similar situation.  I had to rush out in the morning and I managed that OK, somehow, but the mornings at work would pass slowly and not always terribly well, bolstered by coffee, and only after I had eaten lunch would I feel that I could really do any good work.

Then I wasted far too much time at lunch trying to answer one of the questions in the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and failing to get it.  I can usually answer about three-quarters of the clues fairly easily, others with some difficulty and a few I need to look up online, but I was really stuck on one today, even after looking at a couple of scenes from the story in question.  This sort of thing really irritates me.  I’ve only been unable to find an answer once or twice before!

I procrastinated a lot in the afternoon, partly at least because I kept getting hit by waves of anxiety and depression.  I did eventually manage to email the Amazon seller I bought the broken DVD box set from that I mentioned yesterday.  I also emailed four psychotherapists to ask if they have client vacancies and if they charge lower rates for the unemployed.  One replied promptly by email, which was good.  Another phoned me, which was not good!  I dislike talking on the phone at the best of times and I was taken by surprise, which meant my anxiety level shot up.  Then he tried to get me to commit to an initial appointment, when I was hoping to compare the different fees, but obviously I didn’t want to say that to him.  I asked for time to think.  Still, I guess it’s good to know he could see me next week if I want.  I felt that he was a bit pushy, but maybe that was because I was so anxious.  I’m not sure if I really want a male therapist anyway; I seem to be able to open up more to female mental health professionals than males, although there have been exceptions.

I tried to get back to work on my novel, but procrastinated and then got roped into helping my parents with some stuff.  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of work on the novel, redrafting a chunk previously written in the first person into the third person.  It seems to work better that way, leaving questions for me about how to write the rest of the book.  I also went for a walk for thirty-five minutes or so.  Even when walking I drifted into negative emotions, particularly anxiety and depression, despite listening to a podcast for distraction.  I did manage twenty-five minutes Torah study too.

Writing this down, I see that I achieved quite a bit, but would have liked to have done more Torah study and novel writing.  I also feel like I’m struggling a bit with emotional regulation at the moment, inasmuch as there are a lot of strong, difficult and sometimes conflicting emotions in my head, but I lack the ability to get rid of them or do much other than acknowledge their existence.  I’m struggling to just sit with them.

I wasn’t aware of this so much during the day, but looking back Mum has been struggling a bit today and I think that was also in my mind on some level and adding to the anxiety and depression.

I watched Star Trek Voyager to unwind, but it was unexpectedly dark.  Basically, the holographic doctor wanted to learn to experience family life, so he made a holographic family.  But he made them too sickeningly perfect, so one of the other characters introduced some changes and random program elements, which meant that his wife now had a life aside from pleasing him and his kids were now rebellious.  So far, so good and I thought we would stop there with the holographic doctor having Learnt An Important Lesson Today About Real Life (not coincidentally, Real Life was the title of the episode).  Except there was another quarter of an hour left, and his daughter rather shockingly had a fatal sporting accident and he had to deal with that, which was quite a lot darker than I needed today, or than the previous three seasons of the programme had led me to expect.

After this I had my daily call with E.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t be there in person for her.  We both want so much to have a ‘normal’ relationship without coronavirus and without the Atlantic Ocean being in the way.  But, at least we have Skype and WhatsApp, without which we really would be too far apart.  I can’t imagine having even an email long-distance relationship, let alone an old-fashioned one via letters (taking weeks to cross the ocean in a steamer, no doubt).

***

I find it increasingly hard to deal with all the applause and plaudits for the NHS.  Today we had the weekly applause for the NHS and carers as well as the slightly bizarre Doctor Who thank you (also: Jo Martin is a ‘real’ Doctor, but Michael Jayston isn’t? Hmmm…).

I acknowledge that NHS staff are doing a huge amount at the moment, and some have become ill (including my sister’s former flatmate) or even died as a result.  At the same time, I can’t forget the often appalling way I feel I have been treated over the years.  In my experience, there is a big difference in quality between NHS psychiatric care and care in other front line areas like accident and emergency or oncology.

I feel like a child whose father’s appearances in his life were erratic, unpredictable and highly variable in quality suddenly seeing his father lauded as a diligent, conscientious and a great man.  It is hard to deal with the dissonance.

Cargo Cult

I was thinking about something for my novel, and it turned into a wider thought which is this: there is a danger, probably in any religion, but certainly in Judaism, that it could turn into a Cargo Cult.  This refers to islanders in the Pacific who saw the US armed forces build bases and airstrips in World War II and, magically (it seemed to them), after they built them, big planes would land with boxes of food and supplies.  So after the war, the tribes-people cleared airstrips and built imitation military bases, thinking planes would come and bring them food, but, of course, they didn’t.

So there’s a danger of thinking that “I keep Shabbat, I keep kosher, I pray, I learn Torah therefore I’m a good Jew.”  Whereas Shabbat, kashrut, davening, Torah etc. are preconditions for being a good Jew, they hopefully help send us on the direction to being a good Jew, but they are not the same as being a good Jew.  One needs to have a whole bunch of other emotions and intuitions towards God and towards other human beings: love, awe, compassion, enthusiasm, self-denial, generosity… the things that frum (religious) Jews label as good middot (character traits).  One needs in particular to have the emotional connection with God.

I struggle with this, partly because of alexithymia and not understanding my own emotions very well, partly because perhaps I don’t have such a road map or checklist of things to do, which is not good for my autistic mind.  Autistic mind copes fine with Shabbat, for example.  Shabbat is thirty-nine forbidden (primary) actions not to do and a couple of positive commanded actions to do.  Oneg Shabbat, the delight of Shabbat, is another matter because that’s an emotion.  It comes from keeping the forbidden and commanded actions, but it’s possible to keep all those commands without experiencing it.  As it happens, I usually do experience Oneg Shabbat these days, but there have been times in my life when I didn’t, even though I kept all the Shabbat laws, because Oneg Shabbat is an emotion, and I was not in a good place emotionally, so I had no Oneg Shabbat and Shabbat seemed more of a chore.

There are categories within the halakhah (Jewish law) that delineate these ideas, concepts like naval bereshut haTorah, a vulgar person with the permission of the Torah, meaning someone who acts over-indulgently, but within permitted bounds e.g. gluttonously eating kosher food; or the hassid shoteh, the pious fool, who focuses on the wrong issues in a clash of values, the classic hassid shoteh being a man who won’t save a drowning woman because he doesn’t want to see her in disarranged dress.

It’s something to think about anyway.  I do want to have that kind of emotional connection with God, but I’m not sure how to go about it or if it’s even possible to consciously move towards it.

***

Otherwise it’s been a slightly stressful day with religious OCD.  I’m just trying to tell myself that I’m not responsible for the behaviour of other people; that it’s unlikely that any of the things I’ve seen are a serious breach of religious laws; and that I’m trying to do the right thing and even if I’m making a mistake, it’s a genuine mistake and not a deliberate attempt to break the Pesach laws.  It’s hard though.

Off for another two days of Yom Tov (festival) now…

Post-Yom Tov Post

I’m breaking with my usual post-Yom Tov (festival) habit of trying to catch up on blogs and stuff in the hope of getting to bed before 2am.  For the same reason, this is going to be more of a summary of the last three days than a blow-by-blow account.

The shortest version is that the first two days (Yom Tov proper) where an emotional rollercoaster, but I was broadly coping, but Shabbat (the Sabbath) was just too much and I was not good.  To be honest, three day Yom Tovs, or “Three Day Events” as my parents call them, are pretty draining for everyone even without COVID-19 disruption and without depression and OCD.

As for the more detailed version… well, the first two days I was up and down.  At times I was worried or depressed about some things, but mostly I was able to calm myself by reminding myself that my rabbi mentor told me not to worry about chametz (leaven food, forbidden on Pesach) smaller than an olive (although I know he is being lenient with me here, so it doesn’t always help) and by reminding myself that I’m not responsible for what my parents choose to do.  I think there was probably in the background the usual current worries: worries about my Mum, her cancer, and her risk of COVID-19 infection; worries about COVID-19 in general; worries about E.; worries about my relationship with E. (which is going well, I hasten to add, but is at a crossroads, which is exciting but also scary, or was at a crossroads until COVID-19 put our plans on a back burner).  And so on.

The sederim went quite well, considering there were just three of us, although it felt a bit weird.  Usually we would have about ten or so people in total one night; the other would be me, my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law.  This year it was just three of us both nights (“Why is this night so different?”).  We did have some more discussion than usual, which gives me an idea of how to do things differently in the future.  I had a migraine on the afternoon of the first day, but it had subsided by the second seder, which was good.  I still struggled to learn anything new at the seder, and to connect emotionally with the ideas of the night.  I still end up over-thinking things and not feeling them.  I wish I could get more out of seder, and out of Judaism in general.  The only real feeling of connection I had was via guilt and anxiety when I did something wrong (see below).

One interesting thing while I was eating the matzah (unleavened bread) was a strong feeling that freedom is being able to “just go,” which obviously connects with the story of the matzah in the Torah, that the Israelites did not have time to bake bread before leaving slavery in Egypt, but is interesting in terms of my usual procrastination and my awareness that my relationship with E. is going to require quite a bit of risk-taking and adventurous departures if it’s going to work.

I made some mistakes, in terms of forgetting to do a few things.  Most of them were rectifiable, but in opening some celery I had forgotten to open before Yom Tov I tore some writing on the packaging, a big no-no on Shabbat and Yom Tov (it’s considered erasing).  I felt very upset about this, and then managed to do it again the next day on something else (that was less obviously my fault though).  As I say, I felt upset, but I did manage to move on.

And then we got to Shabbat…  It was going well, and then there was an Issue.  There was an oversight in the kitchen (I won’t go into the details which are fairly complex) and potentially we had messed up the Pesach kosher-ness of some food.  I was 80% sure it was OK, but still couldn’t bring myself to eat it.  I didn’t argue with my parents, but they did eat it, and put it on our plates, which meant that the plates were now potentially problematic.  I tried to stay calm, but it was hard to do that with all the worries I mentioned above in my head plus the minor Pesach worries and now plus this.  I tried not to eat anything potentially ‘contaminated’ for the rest of the day, but it was hard to keep track of what cutlery had gone where and by lunchtime on Saturday I was de facto relying on my opinion that the food was OK (which at least had now grown to 90% certainty).

After Shabbat we emailed my parents’ rabbi and he said what I had thought: it was OK, we had just infringed a protective measure intended as an extra level of safety.  But it’s hard to spend Pesach every year wrestling with feelings that God is going to deny me any reward in the afterlife because of confused and panicked decisions I take at Pesach, especially as those are motivated more by a desire to avoid arguing with my parents than some selfish desire to eat chametz on Pesach.  I thought I was past this stage, but apparently not, or at least, not in this crazy year.

It’s hard to treat OCD at a time of the year when we are supposed to be worried about what we eat.  I suppose the analogy would be to someone who had germ contamination OCD and was trying to treat it with exposure therapy, but now has to deal with COVID-19 and suddenly being told to wash her hands all the time.

I also ate a load of junk over the three days and little fruit and veg, again because of a complicated religious/not-arguing-with-parents reason (I usually eat a lot of fruit and veg).  On the plus side, my biscuits tasted good, despite the cinnamon balls turning into macaroon shape and the almond macaroons ending up as a solid block that my Mum had to hack into smaller chunks.

Other than that it was the usual Yom Tov mix of over-eating, oversleeping, praying and reading.  My parents more or less forced me to go for a half-hour walk each day, which I needed.  I worked through a couple more Tehillim/Psalms in Hebrew and read more of Ani Maamin as well as more than half of a murder mystery set in a Haredi community, the first in a long sequence.  I’m enjoying it enough to stick with it to see how it ends, but I’m not sure if I’ll be reading any more.  It’s not really as interesting as I thought it would be, maybe because the Haredi community doesn’t seem so exotic; if anything, it seems less strict than my own community, which probably wasn’t the intention.

***

I should really go to bed.  I’m already violating my “No screens after 11pm” rule just to write this, but I’ve been struggling for the last few days with trying to keep going without being able to off-load.  I feel like I need to watch some TV to unwind.  I know it might keep me awake, but not relaxing will also keep me awake and I don’t really feel like reading any more.

The Seeking is the Finding

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly normal, at least according to the new normal (no shul (synagogue)).  I finished the Doctor Who book I was re-reading, The Scales of Injustice.  It was better than I remembered, but I think the open-ended ending annoyed me when I first read it as a teenager.  I think there were semi-sequels that continued the story, but I don’t feel particularly motivated to seek them out.  It has to be said that I’m not entirely sure what the point of the story was.  I’m slightly scared to elaborate though.  From being someone who used to be quite willing to review things online, including (what I felt were) justified negative reviews, I’ve become reluctant now I realise that it could be my work being reviewed.  I know other frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) people who will only write positive reviews for fear that negative ones contravene Jewish law about gossip and negative speech.  I was not convinced by that argument in the past, but now I wonder about it, worried that one day all the negative things I’ve said will crash back on my head in bad reviews of my writing.

Mind you, part of me would be glad of negative reviews if it meant people were buying my book.  So far sales of my self-published book are stagnant.  I’ve sold six copies, two to myself (one a proof copy and one to send to Doctor Who Magazine when things are more normal as a review copy), one to my parents, one to E. and two to fan friends.  I need to publicise it better, but am not sure how especially as I won’t link to it here, as it’s published under my real name.  WordPress won’t let me back into my Doctor Who blog which is the logical place to publicise it.  I’m not good at publicity and marketing anyway.  Someone said I should set up a Facebook page for the book, but I’m not sure what good that would do, given that I don’t have a personal Facebook account and have no intention of going back into that bear pit just to sell a few more copies of my book.

***

In terms of Jewish stuff, I read some more of Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman.  There was some interesting stuff about the improbably large numbers of Israelites in the exodus from Egypt and what those numbers might really be signifying.

***

I know I say here I struggle being Jewish in some ways.  Not so much through doubts as lacking inspiration and connection.  Judaism is important to me, but depression just wipes out my passion and enthusiasm and social anxiety gets rid of anything that’s left.  I see people at my shul (when we were allowed to go to it) who seemed to really connect to God in prayer or Torah study and I can’t do that, at least not for long.  It’s possible other people are faking it, on some level, but I’m not cynical enough to believe that everyone is faking it all the time.

I thought about a passage in the Talmud that says (I’m quoting from memory) if someone tells you they have sought and not found, don’t believe them; if someone tells you they have not sought, but have found, don’t believe them; but if someone tells you they have sought and found, believe them.  I’m not going to discuss the first two clauses, but on the third one, the Kotzker Rebbe said, many centuries later, “The seeking is the finding.”

I was thinking about this and that it does seem to apply to me, that I’m more conscious of the existence of God when I feel very far from Him.  It’s pretty much in the tradition of religious existentialism, which I’ve mentioned in the past that I used to be quite into.  I read it a lot less nowadays, but it still influences my worldview, and I feel that’s what is happening here.  I just feel so far from God so much of the time, yet when I feel consciously very far from Him, I feel on some level connected, whereas a lot of the time I’m not even thinking about Him.

There definitely is something to be said here about being able to feel things rather than just thinking them, but I’m not sure I really have the vocabulary to say it.  Judaism is a very intellectual religion, but I increasingly feel that I can’t cope with pure intellect and need to engage better emotionally, but I don’t know how.

Thinking Versus Feeling

Possibly I did too much yesterday, as I felt very depressed on waking again today and struggled to get up and get dressed.  I felt a bit lonely today, despite my parents being around, and I miss E.  We don’t know when we’ll get to see each other in person again, which in some ways is no different to before coronavirus, except that previously E. was supposed to be coming to the UK for work reasons and now that’s been postponed indefinitely.  I didn’t really feel like doing anything, but my parents were depending on me for dinner, especially as Mum was feeling quite ill today with chemo side-effects.

Even once I had worked through the initial depression, or some of it, I had quite a lot of anxiety.  Some of that was Pesach (Passover) related.  Some was listening to another Intimate Judaism podcast and worrying about my relationship with E., although there isn’t any rational reason to do so.  Worrying that our religious differences would be too big to bridge despite all the other similarities.  Wondering if we will ever get to move our relationship forward, and how.  Wondering when we will be on the same continent!

On the plus side, I dropped the parev (neither dairy nor meat, according to the kosher food laws) measuring spoon into the milchig (milk) sink and calmly rinsed it off and moved on rather than going into a religious OCD panic and emailing my rabbi mentor as would have happened a few years ago.

***

In terms of achievements, I cooked dinner (while listening to the podcast) and helped look after Mum who, as I say, was quite ill today.  I also went for a jog.  I jogged for longer than usual both in terms of time (another five minutes or more) and distance (over half a mile more) and my pace was reasonably good; I think it actually improved in the added bit as I got my second wind.  I did end up with an exercise migraine, though, and I hurt my foot somehow, although both feel better now.  I Skyped E. and did about twenty-five or thirty minutes of Torah study; I don’t seem to be able to do much more at the moment except on Shabbat (the Sabbath).

***

I feel a bit like I should be volunteering at the moment.  In a way I am, because I’m helping with housework and especially cooking now Mum is ill and we don’t have a cleaner.  Still, I feel I should do more for the wider community, but the sad truth is that I’m barely coping with everything I have to do as it is (in fact, I’m not doing stuff I would want to do, like write fiction) and the Pesach stress is only just starting; next week will be much harder.  It’s hard just to keep going at the moment with depression and anxiety.  The clinching argument, of course, is that volunteering would probably expose me to coronavirus and other contagious illnesses that we’re trying to keep away from Mum at the moment.

***

I watched a(nother) silly Star Trek Voyager episode where the ship was attacked by a virus that has grown to macroscopic size and is now a foot long and flies through the air attacking people with its stinger (?!).  Maybe coronavirus isn’t so bad.

***

Two religious thoughts I’ve been thinking about:

  1. Although a lot of Judaism is intellectual and text-focused, much of it is emotional and experiential, especially the festivals, none more so than Pesach with the symbolic foods we eat and the foods we deliberately don’t eat.  Given the problems I’ve historically had accessing and accepting my emotions, it is perhaps not surprising that I struggle with this.  On seder night, the first two nights of Pesach, when we tell the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and eat the symbolic foods of matzah (unleavened bread) and maror (bitter herbs) and drink the four cups of wine (grape juice in my case, because of medication interactions), I seem to end up thinking hard about the symbolism rather than emotionally connecting to it.  Possibly if I could stop thinking about things (things in general) and just experience them, my life, and especially my Jewish life, would be much better.  I need to focus less on thinking and more on feeling.

(An aside: the Kotzker Rebbe was once confronted by a Chabad Hasid who waxed lyrical on the Chabad mode of prayer, all emanations and unifications.  But where, said the Kotzker, is the pupik (literally the belly button), where are the emotional guts of the matter?)

2) I have historically struggled with bitachon, trust in God.  In particular, the idea that good can come of my long mental health history is something that I struggled to engage with emotionally, even if I could vaguely see it intellectually (that thinking-feeling dichotomy again).

Lately, as E. and I have tried to make our long-distance relationship work, I can sort of see how some negative or difficult things brought me to where I am now, where I’m in a relationship with her.  If I hadn’t been depressed, I would never have set up this blog and I would never have met E.  If I had been better integrated into the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, I probably would not have contemplated being with E.  If I hadn’t struggled growing up with being more religious, or at least wanting to be more religious, than my parents were, I wouldn’t have learnt how to handle such conflicts in my relationship with E.  And so on.

Still, even though I can see that maybe there was a reason for all those things, I’m still terrified that things won’t work out for E. and me, that this is setting me up for another disappointment, the worst one yet.  I’m trying to trust, but it’s hard.

***

It’s also late.  My “No screens after 11pm” rule has been broken flagrantly this evening, but I am up late partly because I was being a good boyfriend and a good son, talking to E. and looking after my Mum, so I don’t feel too bad.  I am tired though, and hungry.  So hitting ‘Publish’ now.

The Great Matzah Panic of 2020

I got up marginally earlier today!  I know that’s not such an exciting thing to report for most people, but given how much I’ve been struggling with sleep recently it seems important to me.

Mum actually came in at something like 9.30am to tell me that my sister had phoned to report doing Pesach (Passover) shopping and the kosher supermarket was packed with people panic buying for Pesach.  (I’m not quite sure why she felt this was worth waking me up for.)  I then slept intermittently, dreaming about Pesach and, for some reason, the allied bombing of Dresden in 1945 (perhaps not as weird as it sounds, as there is a family story about that which makes it prominent in my mind, although not particularly at the moment) before waking up again around 11.15am and getting up soon thereafter.  I did actually feel a bit better than I usually do on getting up and even just managed to do some of my morning prayers while it was still morning, whereas lately I’ve been too depressed and exhausted to pray before the afternoon.

I was pretty worried about the Pesach food shopping.  We managed to dissuade Mum from doing it.  Dad and I should really have gone ASAP, but Dad had to take Mum to a scan and another meeting with the oncologist and then I had a skype meeting set up with my rabbi mentor, so we couldn’t get out until mid-afternoon.  Normally lack of food wouldn’t be such a problem, but for Pesach the Jewish dietary rules are stricter and everything has to be produced under special conditions so we can’t just pull food from the freezers (yes, we have five freezers.  Yes, I feel that is excessive.  Yes, Mum feels she doesn’t have enough freezer space and could really do with another one.  Yes, Jewish mothers do show their love for their family through cooking a lot.  Plus at the moment we have a freezer that is almost entirely full of apple desserts because we had a bumper crop from our apple tree last year and Mum was baking faster than we could eat).

Dad and I spent an exhausting two hours out shopping, much of it in the smallish kosher supermarket.  Not everything had arrived yet, but some things had already sold out.  There weren’t many matzahs left, with no Rakusen’s or Aviv brand matzahs at all, which was a bit shocking.  We managed to find substitutes, although we later found loads of Rakusen’s matzahs in Sainsbury’s and bought some there, so we now have a ton of matzahs.  I feel vaguely bad about this in case other people can’t find any.  I am slightly concerned about the food we still need to find, although most of it is not essential and/or has to be bought nearer the time because it spoils.  When we popped into Sainsbury’s afterwards, was almost totally empty of fruit and vegetables, just a few cucumbers and cooking apples, and, bizarrely, a crate of pomegranates.

I did have some slight religious OCD in that the kosher supermarket was set out part for Pesach, part for ordinary food and the demarcation was not always obvious.  I think I checked for “Kosher for Pesach” seals on everything we bought in the shop, but I got worried that I missed something and I went to the garage, where all the Pesach food currently is, and checked again.  I knew that this was giving in to the religious OCD on some level, but it was hard to resist.  At least I stopped myself from checking the meat Dad bought without me and I just relied on the fact that he asked in the butcher what was Pesachdik.  It is easy to slip back into OCD modes of thought at this time of year and I have to try to be vigilant against it, while not beating myself up when I give in.  Certainly the OCD flare up happened at a time when I had several of the HALT (Hungry, Anxious, Lonely, Tired) indicators.

***

I wouldn’t be so worried about the coronavirus situation if it wasn’t for (1) Mum being at high risk of complications and (2) worry about how we will manage Pesach if we are ill or in self-isolation.  My big worries at the moment are (i) if Mum gets coronavirus; (ii) if our oven cleaner has to cancel our pre-Pesach clean due to illness or anything else, which would make kashering it for Pesach much harder; (iii) the stores run out of horseradish and romaine lettuce for marror, the bitter herb eaten at the Pesach seder.   I can see that (iii) is potentially a situation where we do our best and have to trust that God understands; (ii) is more problematic, but probably not insoluble; but (i) is obviously much more scary and frightening as well as largely out of our control.

Once Pesach is out the way I hope I will feel a bit less anxious, although Mum will obviously still be a high risk for many months.  Listening to Rabbi Lord Sacks interviewed online and reading Mary Harrington’s article on UnHerd today makes me think that I’m lucky to already live in a close-knit local community rather than to need to build one from scratch as per Harrington’s article.  Even though I don’t feel fully integrated into the Jewish community, I can think of a couple of people locally who I could call on if my parents and I were housebound, and certainly my parents have lots of local friends who would help us.  Not being allowed to drive on Shabbat (the Sabbath) is one of those Jewish laws that has positive unexpected consequences, in that Orthodox Jews all live in walking distance of a synagogue and hence of other community members, which isn’t necessarily the case in non-Orthodox synagogues or other places of worship.

***

I went to an online shiur (religious class) on Zoom that my rabbi was giving about what to do when self-isolating from a religious perspective.  To be honest, I didn’t learn that much; years of depression meant I’m quite familiar with which parts of the prayer services can be said privately and which can only be said with a community.

I feel I should have some kind of religious response to coronavirus, but I don’t.  I feel the same emotional disconnection I feel on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals), where if I try, I can engage somewhat intellectually with the meaning of the day, but not emotionally.  I’ve heard different people suggest different possible religious reasons for this crisis, from lack of community to a lack of personal connection to God to climate change, and nothing really resonates that much with me.  Plus, while I do believe everything happens for a reason, I’m sceptical about how much of that reason we can intuit and understand in this world, especially in the short term.  It’s easy to project one’s own personal gripes about the world or the community and say that that is the reason for this.  Rabbis are suggesting pray more intensely, say Tehillim (Psalms), study Torah and give tzedaka (charity), but that’s kind of the rabbinical equivalent of the doctor saying eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, avoid sugar, and take regular exercise, something that is applicable to everyone at every time and a useful fallback for emergencies rather than something unique to this crisis.

If anything, I feel gratitude to God: gratitude that we live in a time when we have the medical and communications technology to make our lives continue in some way, gratitude for living in a part of the world where central government can stay in charge despite this crisis without falling into anarchy, gratitude that I’m not likely to starve any time in the near future, gratitude that I have my parents still and that we should manage to have some kind of Pesach, even if it’s a weird and subdued one (the oncologist said that my sister and brother-in-law should not stay with us for Pesach, although they are allowed to visit for a couple of hours one day in chol hamoed).

I should probably add that all the rabbinical responses I’ve seen to coronavirus have stressed the importance of staying healthy and obeying government medical guidelines and said that halakhah (Jewish law) mandates staying safe and healthy and that doing so overrules most mitzvot (commandments).  I was pleased that most of these responses have also stressed our responsibility to pray for non-Jews to be healed and protected too.

***

The Further Education library where I used to work is advertising for a senior librarian.  I’m not sure if this means my ex-boss has left or if she was higher than senior librarian in the restructuring and they’re looking for someone below her.  Part of me wants to apply, part of me thinks I would be crazy to do so, considering it was not a good environment for me, and this is a more skilled/responsible job.  As someone on the autistic spectrum and with social anxiety, it was hard for me to deal with noisy teenagers, people with poor English language skills and being expected to change tasks quickly and deal with problems as they arose, and I can only imagine this being worse in a senior librarian position rather than an assistant librarian one, as I was before.

It feels weird to be worrying about work rather than Mum or coronavirus.

***

I was eating dinner and watching Life on Mars earlier when my Mum came into my room and shoved her phone under my nose.  I thought she was trying to show me a video; it took a minute to realise it was a video conference with most of my Israeli family.  I wasn’t really sure what to say or do and after waving I made an excuse and left.  This is the kind of situation where I feel that autism affects me as social communication disorder in that I struggle to know how to react in social situations and get overwhelmed, doubly so if, as in this case, it’s a situation I’m thrust into unexpectedly without preparation.  Social anxiety doesn’t help in here either.  I guess that hasn’t happened so much recently because self-isolation has removed some of those interactions from my life.

***

I’m going to violate my “no screens after 11pm” rule because I’m completely exhausted from today and need to relax after two hours of shopping and a long period of time on Skype and Zoom by finishing watching the Life on Mars episode I started before.  I also want to try to do a little Torah study before winding down the for the night, even if it’s only ten or fifteen minutes.  I feel this post has turned into a general dumping ground for every anxiety I had today and I hope it wasn’t too negative or boring.  I should probably try to get some relaxation time before bed.

“One wonders how your race has survived having so much ‘fun'”

It was struggle to get up again with depression and exhaustion.  I somehow managed it.  I’m not quite sure how I did it.

***

Physically, Mum seems not to have a cold, which is good, but Dad is reporting a cough and general run down feelings.  I worry that we will be in lock-down by the end of the week.  I’m not worried about myself or Dad, but Mum’s immune system is weakened by the chemotherapy, making her vulnerable.  My shul (synagogue) has cancelled the kiddush (refreshments after the service) and is advising people who are sick to stay away, but my Dad’s shul has not done anything like that.

***

My Doctor Who book has a page on Amazon!  You can’t buy the book yet (it’s listed as “Currently Unavailable”), but you can see where it will be soon, hopefully.  (And, yes, I know, E., Amazon is Evil.  But still!)  Nothing on Goodreads yet, though, even though the book list on Goodreads is linked to Amazon.  But it’s a start.  It cheered my parents up a bit if nothing else (Mum wasn’t well enough to go in to work today).

***

I spent half an hour working on my novel.  It was OK, but I’m still not sure about the quality of what I’m writing and where it’s going.  I tell myself it’s a first draft and try to ignore the voices I’ve written about before who say that a first draft is 99% of the final draft.

***

I watched an episode of Star Trek Voyager that focused on the Vulcan Tuvok.  As with the half-Vulcan Mr Spock from the original series of Star Trek, Tuvok has no emotions.  Amanda J. Harrington (I think) wrote about high functioning autistics often wanting to think of themselves as logical, emotionless Vulcans, but actually being highly emotional, albeit perhaps repressing some of those emotions (can’t seem to find the exact quote; this is the nearest one).  People on the spectrum may aspire to logicality, but rarely get there (I haven’t seen much of The Big Bang Theory, but I would say Sheldon fits here).  It definitely applies to me.  I remember my therapist asking why I feel the need to justify all my actions logically.

I have, over time, slowly learnt that emotions are just as much a part of me, and are as necessary for decision making, as logic.  I have also recognised that I experience emotions more than I realised, particularly depression, anxiety, fear, despair, loneliness and other negative emotions that can feel like my default settings due to over-familiarity rather than transient feelings that are passing through me.

I have also learnt that Judaism, when experienced properly, is a system that integrates logic, emotion and physicality.  It’s sad that contemporary Orthodox Judaism largely focuses on the logical, in the form of Talmudic and halakhic (legal) study and ignores the creative aspect of aggadatta (the non-legal portions of the Talmud and other texts of the Jewish oral tradition).  I find aggadic thinking more rewarding for myself, easier to understand and to teach to others and to apply for life.  My divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) tend to focus on aggadic material.  I also think it is a shame that Orthodox Judaism has such a problem with the physical aspects of life when Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and the Talmud have a much more accepting approach to the physical.

I feel there is still a lot for me to do to integrate my personality, particularly the religious parts of me.  My emotions still scare and frustrate me, while I am still capable of self-deluding sophistry while convinced that I am being logical.  Similarly, I find the more physical aspects of life to be often a struggle on multiple levels.

There is, as ever, more to say here, but Shabbat approaches and I must go…

Not Understanding Myself

I had insomnia last night.  I realised just before going to bed that I’d forgotten to take my evening meds, which was doubtless why I was alert enough to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for two hours after dinner.  My meds aren’t sleeping tablets, but they do make me drowsy and I struggle to fall asleep without them.  I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am.  So it was even less of a surprise than usual that I woke exhausted and depressed again.

The weekly job email from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) comes out on Thursdays.  I found one job that’s potentially worth applying for, but that was all.  It’s easy to feel disheartened when there seem to be so few jobs that fit my skills, experiences and especially my needs for a safe, calm environment with few people and the ability to work only two or three days a week.

I emailed the therapist I used to see if I could see her again.  She says that she doesn’t think she can help me any more and that if I want more therapy I should look for a new therapist who might offer something new.  On one level, I can see that might be valid (I was with this therapist for something like eight years, which is a long time, particularly when there isn’t much of an improvement), but looking for a new therapist from scratch is scary, particularly given that the family finances are worse off than they were a few years ago, and the old therapist was probably charging less than a new one would charge.  The finance problem is partly because my father now only works part-time (my Mum has worked part-time for years), with the added complication that it looks like my Mum’s paid sick leave is going to be a lot less than we had hoped.

In the past in this situation I would have been very despairing.  That’s not how I feel, but that’s probably because I haven’t been in therapy for a year or so, so I know I’m coping on some level.  I do feel that it’s hard to unpick my emotions at the moment and understand them and that I would like to talk to a therapist, but I’m daunted by the thought of finding one, let alone one in the right and geographical area and price bracket.  At the moment I feel “depressed” and “anxious,” but am struggling to define and understand my emotions in more detail.  As someone who has become perhaps over-reliant on such therapeutic analysis, it is scary and difficult.  I know I’ve focused a lot on the forthcoming Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach and the stress and mental health triggers around them as a target for worry, but maybe this is another case where what I overtly worry about is a proxy for something more nebulous and undefined, in this case issues about coping as an adult without my parents and the whole concept that my parents will die one day and I will be left alone, which connects with other issues (my autism assessment and benefits troubles; my relationship with E.; my relationships with my other family members).

I struggled a bit at depression group because of that.  I didn’t feel I understand myself well enough at the moment to say much that was meaningful.  Perhaps because of that, I felt that people asked a lot of questions to prompt me and I ended up with my conversation drifting in the direction of the questions.  It’s a criticism of myself rather than anyone else, but not really even of myself.  I simply didn’t know what to say and as nature abhors a vacuum, people guided me to say something.  Maybe I should have just signalled that we could move on.

I worry that some of my responses made me seem uncaring and incompetent, although it was really my autism that was the issue.  People asked how my family are coping and I didn’t really know, because autism means I can’t intuit how people are feeling unless they tell me, and it also means I don’t necessary think to ask people how they are feeling, certainly beyond the “how is your day going?” level.  I did ask my Mum how she was most days when she was first diagnosed, but I fell out of the habit.  I was also asked where my Mum is going to be treated and I couldn’t remember because my autism means I don’t remember a lot of stuff that my brain doesn’t label as important, and it has a different system of ranking importance to most people.  It doesn’t rank the name of the hospital as important, because I’m not going to have to go there myself, let alone go there alone, and I don’t have a special interest in hospitals, so my brain is quite happy just knowing that Mum is going to The Hospital without caring about which hospital it is (actually, it’s several hospitals for several treatments – that much did travel into my brain).

It’s a shame, as I wanted to go to depression group, but I don’t think I really had anything to say about how I’m feeling and I felt tense from being around people a lot of the time.

Shiur (religious class) got cancelled so I didn’t have to tell anyone that I was missing it to go to depression group.  This happened last time I was going to miss shiur for depression group too.  E. wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t tell anyone.  I’m not superstitious like that, but I wonder if the maths is against it.  Of the people in the WhatsApp group, three know a little bit about my depression, one knows I have some illness but not what it is and three I don’t think know anything. There are another two people who go who aren’t on WhatsApp so won’t see it.  It’s possible that the small numbers involved make this not worth worrying about.

I can see that if a lot of people at shiur and shul (synagogue) knew about my issues and were understanding that could lead to a big improvement in my life and in my relationship and comfort level with the community.  However, if they were not understanding then the reverse could happen.  Two of the people who know do seem to worry if I’m not in shul or shiur when normally I would be, which may be because they’re aware of the issues.  Other people don’t say anything.  So far no one who knows has said anything negative.  It is a bit of a conundrum.

Thoughts vs. Feelings

I felt pretty awful when I woke up today and was glad that I hadn’t scheduled anything for today other than going for haircut, and that no interesting-looking job adverts had landed in my inbox overnight to demand my attention.  The haircut was the usual awful experience.  I realise now that having my hair cut trips a lot of autism and social anxiety reflexes (being around strangers; being touched; perhaps feeling vulnerable and exposed without escape; worry the barber will start making small talk to me).  This has been the case since childhood, but has got worse over the last I-don’t-know-how-many-years (probably getting on for ten years) when I’ve had a problem with tremor.  When I go for a haircut now, I worry I will start shaking, but it’s worrying that I might shake that often sets off the shaking.  It wasn’t too bad today, but the barber did remember me from my previous haircut there, I suspect because he remembered me shaking.

On the plus side, today did give me a chance to try out some CBT techniques “in the field” so to speak.  I found I was able to challenge my thoughts in the way I was taught and “prove” to myself that I am not doomed to be single or unemployed forever.  The problem is that, contrary to CBT theory, I find that knowing that my thoughts are irrational does not affect the emotions I experience as a result of them.  Even though I may not have evidence strong enough to convict someone in court that I will be single and unemployed forever (CBT demands a high standard of proof to permit anxiety), I feel I do have a lot of circumstantial evidence that does justify worrying (I have had few jobs, no full-time jobs, many of those jobs went badly or I was overqualified for, etc.).  Nor do I think dismissing fears of the future as “hypothetical” really applies to something that will definitely happen one way or another (I will be employed or unemployed; I will be single or married (or divorced)).  I also have a growing suspicion that my depressed and anxious thoughts are caused by my depressed and anxious emotions rather than the other way around.  CBT theory states that thoughts cause emotions and doesn’t really acknowledge that the reverse can happen.  This means that disproving the thoughts does not necessarily dissipate the bad mood as it should.

I don’t want to sound too negative, as CBT is helping a bit, even if it does feel a bit like putting a small plaster on a gaping wound that needs stitches.  I am having more success with grounding techniques: telling myself that I am dealing with a lot of issues to calm myself and deal with self-blame.  I am also trying to be aware of physical sensations to distract myself from negative thoughts.  The latter is particularly good because my autistic stimming tends to take the form of applying pressure on parts of my body e.g. feeling the pressure of my chair on my spine or lightly trapping my fingers in the drawer and this can often be done discreetly in social situations although I fear that this would be considered an improper coping strategy that fuels the social anxiety.  Sometimes it feels as if I can’t win.

***

The haircut was my main achievement for the day.  I spent a bit of time working on my plan for  a novel, but it was hard to concentrate as it’s quite a scary thing to contemplate doing.  I still think I can do it and want to try.  It’s weird to think that I don’t believe I can hold down a job or get married, which are things lots of people do easily, but I do believe I can write books, which is something many people would not even dream of attempting.  Getting books published is another question.

I did a little bit of Torah study, but not much, but I did go to shul (synagogue).  We didn’t get a minyan (prayer quorum), so we went to the other shul that uses that building (it’s really their shul, I think we just lease a room).  They started fifteen minutes later, though, so we had to wait.  It was an even more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul than my one and I felt a bit out of place and was glad when the service finished.

***

I finished watching I Claudius.  I could see that it was objectively good, but I found it hard to connect emotionally to it, even though I usually like “politicking” stories.  Too many characters to keep track of with unfamiliar and similar names, and too many of those characters were fundamentally unsympathetic.

***

E. asked yesterday what one thing would make the biggest difference to my life.  It’s hard to tell.  Money would make a big practical difference, but wouldn’t alter low mood or the psychological need to feel like a contributor to others rather than a burden.  I’ve wanted to be loved romantically for twenty years, and people around me say I always seem better when I’m in a relationship (which is a total of one year or so out of thirty-six) but I know that wouldn’t cure me and living with a wife (rather than parents) would bring in a whole load of new autistic, socially anxious and perhaps depressive issues.  A contract to write books would be nice, I suppose, and I can write while depressed.  But I find it hard to imagine being happy in the long term.

I am OK(ish)

I am OK.  I know I was talking about feeling suicidal at the end of my last post.  I didn’t do anything silly.  I texted a friend and watched Doctor Who until I felt a bit better.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I had calmed down a bit that I realised that I should have phoned Samaritans to offload.  Unfortunately, I often don’t think to do that until after the event, like today.  Then it seemed that it would just rake up bad thoughts by repeating everything that happened on the phone to Samaritans after I had calmed down.

The trouble is, there are ongoing issues in my life that I can’t easily resolve.  Obviously my career and my desire for an autism diagnosis and fear that I won’t get one can’t be solved quickly and easily, but there are other things that I feel that I can’t talk about here that are never going to go away.  I spent years in therapy trying to come to terms with them, without success.  I have always been told that if you want to fix a relationship, you can only fix your side; you can hope that your changes will cause the other person to change, but ultimately you have to accept the other person’s actions or walk away.  I don’t feel that I should walk away from the difficult relationships in my life, but I also have tried to change things and have got sucked down into the black hole of dependency again because of depression and autism.  The only real solution (becoming independent and building a new life) is nixed by the depression and autism stopping me working anything approaching full time and stopping me from finding even finding a new job easily.

I don’t know what the solution is to this.  It’s frightening to realise that my inner emotional regulation thermostat goes almost immediately from frozen (too depressed to do anything) to scorching (self-harm and suicidal thoughts) without any ‘comfortable’ range.  (I’m not sure how good a metaphor that is, but you get the idea as suicidality isn’t the opposite of depression, far from it, but you get the idea.)  I don’t really have any resilience to even minor troubles (and today’s problems were fairly minor, objectively).

I’m calmer now, but still somewhat tense and worried about a lot of things: asking for rearranged hours at work for my psychiatrist appointment and Purim; finding a job after March; finding some kind of meaningful way to resolve the problems I can’t talk about, which sadly seem tied up in a way, at least emotionally, with my inability to forge close friendships and a romantic relationship.  I feel the post-trauma paralysis, not wanting or being able to really do anything, but I need to get ready for work tomorrow, somehow, and to shower and go to bed.

Thanks for reading.  It helps me understand myself to write things down (there was a lot in the last post that I didn’t really understand until I wrote it down) and I can only write things down if I think that someone might read it (don’t ask me why).  I would say that I hope other people find this meaningful, but I wouldn’t wish what I’m experiencing on anyone else.

(And, yes, again the thought of pets comes to my mind as a method of emotional regulation, but, again, I feel that my Mum doesn’t really want me to have them and I don’t have the courage to go against that.)

The Unwilling Warrior

The improvement I experienced in my mental health last week seems to have quietly drifted away again.  I feel drained and depressed again today, as I did yesterday.  To be fair, I have some level of functionality, so it’s not as bad as it’s been in the past.  Or am I just getting better at coping, or at doing what mentally healthy, neurotypical people would consider “coping” even if it doesn’t necessarily help me?  I sometimes wonder if my mood is still very bad (although it’s objectively better than it has been at some times in the past), but I just do more things so everyone assumes I’m fine until I have one of my suicidal blips.  I think people if people see that you’re functional, they will assume that you’re well, physically and mentally, until you tell them otherwise, sometimes even after that.

I did at least go to shiur (Talmud class) yesterday and manage some work on my Doctor Who book yesterday evening, while today I went to my sister’s mother-in-law’s birthday party, or at least an hour of it.  I hardly knew anyone there and was very anxious so couldn’t stay longer than an hour.  There were some complicated food issues so I didn’t eat much.  I didn’t really talk to anyone I didn’t already know either.  Fortunately my sister’s in-laws are understanding of neurodiversity issues because their daughter has serious learning disabilities.

When my sister’s father-in-law made a toast to his wife, he broke down in tears because of her ongoing cancer treatment, but everyone else in the room, including his wife, started laughing.  My autistic brain couldn’t really cope with that.  As the twelfth Doctor (probably the nearest to an autistic Doctor) said, “It’s like two emotions at once.  It’s confusing.  It’s like you’re malfunctioning.”

***

On the way there, my Dad pointed out the bus stop I would need if I left early, but also pointed out various irrelevant things.  I asked him not to add all this detail saying that the irrelevant details crowd out the relevant ones in my brain.  My Mum said that I hadn’t really explained it to them like this before and it’s easier to understand now why I struggle with my Dad’s verbosity.  She also said that she has now read the autism leaflet I gave her, which is good.  When I left the party she told me to focus on the fact that I went at all, not on the fact that I left early.  I’ve been trying to do that, but not always succeeding.  I did call myself a “defective freak” briefly, but mostly kept the urge to internally monologue about being a terrible, useless person under control.

***

Home now and crashing after “peopling” today.  Struggling to daven (pray) a little and not even going to try more than a tiny five minutes of Torah study.  The problem with watching Doctor Who according to an externally-directed order for research is when something I don’t really want to watch comes up.  The Sensorites is better than its reputation in fandom would suggest, but it’s too slow and predictable for me to want to watch all six episodes (two and a half hours) in one day, so I will stop early and watch something else (probably the last episode of Jonathan Creek.  He’s probably also autistic, to be honest).

***

I’ve been feeling lonely again today.  I guess parties will do that to me.  “V” commented on yesterday’s post to say that one day I’ll find someone who can love me.  It doesn’t seem very likely.  I can’t imagine what Someone could see in me – and my issues – that no one else has seen.  I suspect my sexuality is likely to be forever inside my head, which surely isn’t healthy and certainly is not right from a halakhic (Jewish law) perspective.

***

This line from The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (p.76) resonated with me: “And he had been fool enough to think that he might serve to bring together two worlds to which he didn’t belong.”  I feel that I’m trying to bring together two worlds, the Jewish world and the contemporary West, despite not really belonging to either of them.  I don’t know where I go from here.

Virtue Signalling

It’s been a slightly strange day, with a lot of emotions this evening in particular.  As usual, I’m writing as much to process and understand my thoughts for myself as I am to present them for other people.  So, apologies if this is less coherent than usual.  Also, apologies for the mammoth length, about twice as long as usual.  There’s a lot to say, and I feel I could probably write more if I had the time.

***

I’m only vaguely aware of my anxiety.  I think I mentioned that at the CBT assessment I had a few weeks ago, the result was that I was told that I have at least elements of anxiety as well as depression, but over the years I have not been so aware of the anxiety, other than social anxiety and, at times, OCD (which is an anxiety disorder).  This is despite the frequent comorbidity of anxiety with both depression and autism.  One therapist felt that the depression was so strong that it drowned out the anxiety except when the anxiety was itself very strong.  It’s also possible that I just haven’t noticed the anxiety because of alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my emotions).  Certainly when my mental health issues first became identifiable, at school, I was feeling nauseous every morning on the way to school, but it was only years later that I realised that that was almost certainly anxiety rather than general feelings of being “emotionally low” (which was the non-diagnosis my doctor gave me at the time to try to avoid prescribing any medication).  At any rate, the anxiety this morning may have started as social anxiety about volunteering, but quickly spiralled into general catastrophising about other aspects of volunteering and my new job.

***

I volunteered at the asylum seekers drop-in centre again today.  As mentioned, I was feeling rather anxious about it beforehand, primarily because I wanted to slip out near the end to go to Mincha (the Afternoon service) in the shul (synagogue) (the drop-in centre is in the shul hall, not the main shul building) and I was worried about not knowing the code to the shul door and getting locked out (I should clarify that the drop-in centre is not in my shul, but another one some way away).

The format of the day is two hours of preparation for the asylum seekers, which I usually spend sorting donations of clothing, two hours with them, where they can get food, donations of clothing, nappies and toiletries and see professionals (varying according to who has been able to come, but usually lawyers and doctors, sometimes dentists or counsellors) and then a certain amount of tidying up afterwards.  I was initially sorting donations of clothing to start with and as is often the case, I felt more than a little awkward.  The clothing tends to come all mixed up and I’m not always good at separating male and female clothing or adult and children’s clothing.  Obviously there are some things that are clearly in one category or another, but others are less clear.  To be fair, other people struggle sometimes too, but I do not feel confident asking for help.  I also feel that the other volunteers are able to talk to each other more easily; I always feel like I have a sign on my forehead saying AUTISTIC-SOCIALLY ANXIOUS-DEPRESSED and that everyone can see how awkward I am.  This is probably my paranoia, but it feels real.

After that, when the asylum seekers came, I volunteered in the childcare area again.  There were a lot of children there today.  Thankfully there were quite a few volunteers, although many were older children themselves (the children of volunteers tend to help in the childcare area, probably because it’s more fun than helping adult asylum seekers sort through clothes and unused nappies.  That’s why I help there, anyway).  The autistic side of me I was quite overwhelmed by the amount of noise and things going on at times.  I tried to focus one level of attention on the children I was with at the time while I focused another level of attention on the childcare area as a whole, to check nothing dangerous/unpleasant was going on.  The children were well-behaved (actually, they almost always are well-behaved), although one boy has a habit of trying to take my glasses off me.  I spent a lot of time today looking after a toddler who kept trying to crawl over to where some of the older children were playing with a ball.  As I had visions of her getting trampled, I kept trying gently to encourage her away from them and at one point picked her up and carried her away, although I’m not confident carrying children and try to avoid it, as they can usually sense I’m anxious and sometimes start crying.

I realised, for all my parents say I’m good with children (and I’ll concede that on some levels I am good with children; I’m certainly patient with children and willing to play repetitious games for long periods), I don’t know how to talk to them.  If I recall correctly, one of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders can be difficulty talking in age-appropriate ways and I do struggle to do that.  My instinct is to talk far too formally to them.  I usually suppress that instinct, but I don’t really know what to say instead and tend to ask very simple questions or distract them with toys.  (Bear in mind that most of the children at the drop-in centre are five or six at most, often much younger, although I’m not quite sure how that should affect how I talk to them.)  I’m struggling to put this into words, but when I see the other volunteers talk to the children they seem to do it much more naturally and age-appropriately.  To be fair, as I say, I do have the patience and stamina to spend two hours sitting on the floor drinking imaginary cups of ‘tea’ and waving teddy bears about, which the other volunteers tend not to do, going for breaks or changing activities.  I just point this out as another autism symptom I need to note before my assessment.

***

Another social thing I struggle with at volunteering is talking to the other volunteers.  I do know a few people by sight or even by name now and one volunteer I actually know from my previous shul, before I moved house.  But I find it hard to make conversation with them or to introduce myself to people I don’t know.  I’ve heard people say that volunteering is a good way for shy people to find a partner, but that hasn’t been my experience, partly because I’m the wrong age (most of the volunteers are ten or twenty years older than me), partly because I’m too shy and don’t really know what to say to women I don’t know.  I know the first time I went I did get talking to two sisters who seemed to be about my age, but I haven’t seen them since, sadly.

***

(Pause, change ends, eat oranges)

(I really did just eat an orange)

***

In the evening, after coming home for a much needed shower and Doctor Who break, I went for dinner with a couple of old friends from my university days at Oxford.  We get together every six months or so to catch up.  Our lives have gone in quite different ways, so it’s good that we still want to meet.  One of my friends is a political scientist working on migration and statelessness (a hot topic at the moment, obviously – she was recently in Mexico interviewing women on the caravan bound for the USA).  She spoke at length tonight about the plight of the stateless.  I had no idea that there are so many people in this category (an estimated fifteen million) nor the reasons for it.  I would have assumed they were mostly refugees, but apparently a lot are people who have simply failed to fill in the appropriate paperwork through suspicion of the authorities (e.g. Roma) or traditional lifestyles (e.g. migrant pastoral farmers), particularly when new states have been created in post-colonial territories or following the break up of states like Yugoslavia and the USSR.   They have now missed the appropriate deadlines for application for citizenship and fallen through the gaps in the bureaucratic systems and can’t work, marry or travel; they can’t even officially die.

I mentioned the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I was pretty blatantly virtue signalling, but I wanted to find common ground with my friend.  I usually avoid politics as I feel my political views are a little unusual.  I suppose they aren’t monumentally weird; I’m not a Fascist or a Pantisocrat.  Realistically, I’m just a centrist with small-l liberal and small-c conservative aspects to my personality, but I have a fondness for George Orwell’s term ‘Tory Anarchist’, which to me reflects not a hyphenated identity, but a dialectical tension between the ordered and anarchic sides of my nature (it’s an anarchism rooted less in Bakunin and Kropotkin and more in the prophets and rabbis of ancient Israel, who had a deep-seated suspicion of governments, money, power, authority and militarism.  As Philip K. Dick said, the Jews have always fought for freedom).  Whatever the reason, I have an instinctive ability to take the opposite view of whoever is talking to me.  This is not from natural contrariness on my part, or not consciously.  I am naturally conflict-averse and long to avoid any kind of political quarrel.  But I seem doomed to offend everyone if I speak my mind.  My frum (religious) friends and acquaintances are likely to be conservative.  I don’t know, so I could be stereotyping, but Orthodox Jews tend to be conservative.  On the other hand, my other friends tend to be very liberal.  When I’m with the former, I feel liberal, even anarchist, but when I’m with the latter I feel super-conservative.

Today I did not feel super-conservative.  I was actually deeply moved by my friend’s account of the plight of the stateless.  In retrospect, I fear that there is very little that can be realistically done in the short to medium term, but I guess this is the conservative side of me speaking (progressives tend to see all problems as solvable; conservatives tend to see some problems as manageable at best).  In retrospect I can see why governments might be unwilling to award citizenship to literally millions of strangers from unstable parts of the world, sight unseen.  But I feel that dialectical tension again, because I want to do something to help.

Hence, my doing something I would not normally do and virtue signalling by bringing up my voluntary work.  I am not entirely sure what I was thinking, but I think I wanted to signal agreement and empathy for the people she has met, as well as tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms, for her goals (“tacit support, in broad, non-committal terms”… I even sound like Sir Humphrey Appleby.  Ugh).

***

On the way home I thought about my friends, and how I feel too liberal for some and too conservative for others.  I thought about my shul, and how the rabbi would probably not approve of my voluntary work at a centre for non-Jewish (often Muslim) asylum seekers, even though the shul that runs the centre is Orthodox.  I was in a Jewish part of London and, seeing the frum men and women, I thought as usual about wanting to have a frum wife, but in this context I wondered if it would be possible.  After all, I could end up with a wife who liked my friends, but not my shul, or one who my rabbi would accept, but my friends would loathe.  I remembered that E. was quite adamant about not being married by my rabbi when we were dating.  At volunteering, I wondered if I would ever meet someone right for me.  Sociologically, the Anglo-Jewish community is polarising into the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) and the Jewishly unaffiliated and uninterested.  Even the United Synagogue middle-of-the-road types are generally not frum enough for me any more.

***

I sometimes feel like a man of far too many parts, unable to really fit in anywhere.  I want my wife to be someone I feel completely comfortable with and accepted by, but this seems impossible.  Granted, that’s partly because I feel so ill at ease with myself, but even if I did like myself, it seems impossible for anyone else to accept me.  And now I remember a friend who I opened up to a bit about my political thoughts who never responded to that email… did he simply overlook it or run out of time?  Or was he shunning my views?  He is at least still my friend, so he can’t have found them that obnoxious.

And, if it wasn’t nearly 2.00am, I could raise the Z word (‘Zionism’) which is a whole can of worms in itself.  But I should get to bed.

***

Sigh.  Writing this was supposed to help me calm down and sort out my thoughts before bed, but it has actually made me much more tense and anxious as well as more alert and not ready to sleep.  I wish I just could be a normal person, with normal, straightforward views, rather than trying to make myself an outlier in every community of which I could vaguely be considered a member.  And I wish I could accept that it’s possible for people to like me without their agreeing with every political, religious and cultural opinion I have.