Exhaustion and Leaving Home

On Thursday evening E was out for Thanksgiving, so we Skyped early, as soon as I got home from work, and for less time than usual. This did at least allow me more time for writing in the evening. I had a fairly unhurried evening and finished reading Accidental Presidents.

This didn’t stop me being completely exhausted again on Friday. I dreamt I was running late for Shabbat (the Sabbath), and when I woke up, I was. Tintin was in the dream too for some reason.

I dealt with an annoying NHS issue (yet another one). I had to phone to confirm that I would take the psychiatrist appointment they offered me, which would mean changing work days and probably missing volunteering that week, all because I was worried that if I didn’t take it, I would have to wait until February or later for another appointment. I also told them that I had noticed that both the letters they sent me recently had a letter for someone else at the bottom. It was actually another letter on another sheet, but I assume it was at the bottom of the file if it ended up on two different letters. At first they thought I was saying the letter was addressed to the wrong person and asked how I ended up with it, but I hope I clarified that my address was correct, they just added someone else’s details at the bottom, a breach of data protection. It’s like they haven’t got enough ways to mess stuff up in the natural order of things, so they have to invite new things to mess up. (They also spelt my very common first name wrong on both letters too, but I’ll graciously let that slide.) Now I’m worried they’re going to hold on to the words “mistake” and “address” and assume my address is wrong and send the letters somewhere else, probably to the person whose letter was sent with mine. That letter was about an appointment over a year ago, so goodness knows if that person heard in time. I’m imagining that letter and confidential information being sent out to random people for over a year now.

I did my pre-Shabbat chores in time and went to shul (synagogue). I was pretty exhausted by the time shul ended, but I waited for Dad and then walked home slowly with him and his friend, when I should have just gone home immediately. I was exhausted enough when I got home that I lay down for half an hour before dinner, which wasn’t particularly good. I did about an hour of heavy Torah study (Talmud and The Guide for the Perplexed), but it took more than an hour to do it, as I kept having to stop for breaks. Because of this, I had little time for recreational reading.

I started reading Science Fiction: The Best of 2001, an anthology I picked up in a second-hand bookshop last time I was in New York (that’s 2001 the year, not the Stanley Kubrick film/Arthur C. Clarke novel), but the first story was one of those stories that starts in mitten drinnen (that’s Yiddish for in medias res) with no indication of where or when the story is set, what all the technology mentioned does, who the protagonist is and so on. That’s not a problem per se, but I was too tired to cope with it, so I stopped after a couple of pages and had an earlyish night (with disturbing dreams).

Recent events have made me feel that I am (finally) ready to leave home. It’s just too much masking and coping with my parents’ conversation being so different to mine as some other things I won’t go into here. It occurred to me that some of my thoughts about being different and no one being interested in what I have to say come from growing up with my family as much as from school experiences. I seem to be able to talk to E and my friends OK.

I nearly fell asleep after lunch as I lay down for forty minutes or so. I probably would have fallen asleep had I not known that I had limited time to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers) and eat seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, which is very much a token thing at this time of year as it’s so soon after lunch). I did a little Torah study, but tried not to push myself too hard. That said, after Shabbat was over, I spent hours doing various chores, so I didn’t get time to relax again (or to write), although I do have less to worry about doing tomorrow now other than packing. I probably do prioritise doing chores and important-seeming things over relaxing, which is probably bad for autistic exhaustion. I do wonder what will happen if I can’t improve my energy levels after marriage.

I was going to write some reflections here on the medical and social models of disability and why I think they break down with autism, but I’m too tired now. It’s pretty much midnight, so I ought to go to bed.

More Shoulds

I woke up feeling depressed and self-critical again, although perhaps not as much as yesterday. E wants to try to help me feel less exhausted and depressed from activity, and I want to too, but I wonder if it’s possible. It depends if it’s from a sleep disorder (potentially treatable, although I’m not sure to what extent) or autistic exhaustion (not really treatable except through energy accounting, and I’ve mentioned my problems with that) or SAD (light therapy didn’t work so well in the past, but I’m trying again). It’s worrying. Reducing my meds might give me more energy, but might make my mood worse. Although I’m not sure how much I trust a psychiatrist regarding this, I plan to take the appointment offered to me in January (J let me switch work days) and I probably will ask to reduce clomipramine, but not to come off it completely.

On the Tube this morning I was sat opposite someone with a persistent, horrible cough. I changed carriage at the next station, but ended up in a carriage full of sniffers and coughers. I guess it’s winter. Did this worry me before COVID? I think so, but not so much. I was sat next to someone who sniffed the whole way this morning. It was probably just the warm air in the carriage after the colder air outside. I was less worried about catching something and more irritated by the noise.

My brain was not working well today. I missed out bits of very familiar tasks at work and found it hard to do any work. I did at least have various tasks in the morning, but I was just sorting old papers again in the afternoon, a job with no clear end in sight, and I’m not entirely sure I’m tackling it the best way.

I do wonder if changing job, if I pass the interview, would lead to renewed energy and motivation or if I would be just as miserable in a new places with new procedures to learn just as I was getting used to this job and its procedures.

I used my light box in the morning. It seemed to help a bit, although the effect disappeared soon after I switched it off.

I felt more self-criticism about writing. I think I need to JUST WRITE. I have written for four consecutive days this week, writing over 2,000 words in four hours or less. I have no idea how good it is and I feel guilty about leaving the other novel and writing this without a clear plan, like I’m cheating on my other, worthier, novel with a more fun, less serious one.

It’s hard to know if I “should” be writing or what I “should” be writing. I always feel obliged to try to do what God wants beyond what I want or what I think is right. This adds another layer of complexity to decision-making. I say “always”; that’s not quite true any more. Over the last five years or so, I’ve started to feel that some halakhahs are beyond me and that I can’t keep them now, or maybe ever, so I’m not trying. Then again, there probably aren’t many of these (listening to recorded women’s singing and hugging E are the ones that spring to mind). I should probably just not think about what God wants me to write and just write. At least I’m finding writing reviving rather than draining at the moment.

I miss E. At least I can see her in five days! However, we are worried that the government are going to crack down on immigration and arbitrarily refuse her visa request. I don’t think the migration crackdown will take effect that quickly, although E got scared by a Guardian headline that was probably just another attempt to make Suella Braverman look like a Fascist. Still, it’s a worry.

Exhaustion and Annoying Social Media

I was listening to a shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg from before Yom Kippur that I hadn’t had time to hear yet. It made me think, not for the first time, that it’s strange that the religious approach that resonates most with me (Jewish religious existentialism) is one of other-awareness and relationship (between God and myself and between other people and myself), yet I have a disability that makes forming relationships and perspective-taking difficult. Or maybe that’s the point: I have to do it consciously, because I can’t do it automatically.

Other than that, I was pretty wiped out today. I slept in late and didn’t do much other than listen to that shiur (it was pretty long, nearly an hour and a half) and go for a walk. I wanted to submit the religious thoughts I wrote a couple of months ago about the death of the Queen to a Jewish magazine, but on reading what I wrote again, it was very closely tied to that time, not just the Queen’s death (which they might potentially write about in their next issue, as it’s quarterly, so probably hasn’t been published since her death), but also to the time of the year, right before the Jewish High Holidays. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to see events in the world and suddenly get an idea of what to write about them and then quickly produce usable copy. I need time to think and plan and then I need to get time and energy to write, fitting around work and other obligations. It is difficult when so many Jewish publications seem to like very timely material. I don’t know how I can get inspiration faster.

I also wanted to work on getting together a profile to try to set myself up as a proof-reader, but ran out of time and energy, although doing this a couple of weeks before I go to America may not be a great idea anyway. I did have a Zoom chat with my parents and E about some things related to E and my future finances that was helpful and reassuring and E and I had our daily Skype call afterwards. I feel pretty video-ed out now.

***

Ugh, social media is awful. I’ve backed off from my tentative idea of friending more individuals on Facebook. I’d say it’s because of politics, but I’d be OK with calm and rational discussion of politics. It’s more because people online are over-excitable and looking for reasons to be offended. It’s like they regress to toddlers on a sugar high, complete with tantrums. I’m sticking as a member of some (fairly quiet) FB groups, but I was dismayed by how many people answering the “inspirational twentieth or twenty-first century Jewish book” question I posted about yesterday have listed books by Meir Kahane, the far-right, racist, anti-democratic, theocratic, pro-violence religious leader and politician who was for a long time beyond the pale in Orthodox Jewish circles, but who is now being posthumously rehabilitated in Israel.

It also seems that a lot of Doctor Who fandom is on video/YouTube now, which isn’t a format that I like or easily find the time to watch. I prefer fan thoughts in text form. So it seems unlikely I will be getting much further back into Doctor Who fandom. Even aside from a stupidly political fan blog post I saw today (there was a lot wrong with it, but I’ll just mention that it tried to argue that Doctor Who should only be produced directly by the state-funded BBC because capitalism is evil, then ended with a request to tip the author via his Patreon account, which seems a tad hypocritical).

“The red-eyed scavengers are creeping”

I kept waking up this morning and not getting up. I don’t know why. This left me feeling bad when I finally did get up around midday. I don’t know how much is habit, tiredness, autistic comfort or something else. I did get woken up about 7am and kept awake for a while by the rain – not by the rain itself, but by something (I guess a gutter or something similar) that was dripping loudly and regularly and was driving my autistic brain crazy. But eventually I did get back to sleep.

I feel pretty bad today, very depressed. I felt like I was fighting back tears a lot of the day. I know it’s too early to say if I’m having a few bad days or relapsing into depression, SAD or autistic burnout, but I worry that I am, and how that will make things so hard for E. I’m trying to stay focused and in the present, but it’s hard when I just want to curl up and sleep. I’m supposed to be seeing a psychiatrist on the 15th of November to discuss cutting my meds, but it looks horribly like I may have to stay on them, and who knows when I’ll get to see a psychiatrist again on the NHS?

I went for a run, just to do something. I hadn’t been for a run in nearly two months. It was a poor run, but I knew it would be; I’m just glad I managed forty-five minutes and nearly 5.5km (far from continuous running, though). There was very loud music playing, I think Jewish rock. Then, suddenly, about five o’clock, the music stopped and a lot of frum (religious Jewish) parents appeared with children. I guess there was a big birthday party nearby. Seeing the children made me feel vaguely bad that if E and I manage to have children, we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff for them. I know loving your children is more important than giving them toys or expensive holidays, but it’s sad for the children, who won’t appreciate that at a young age, and who will have to deal with the school bullies for not having the fashionable toys.

Now the noise is all Guy Fawkes Night fireworks. I guess I should be glad people are still celebrating it, as I thought everyone had switched to celebrating Halloween (not a major event in the UK when I was growing up), but it’s not necessarily good with an exercise headache and autistic reactions to loud noises. I tried to do some Torah study, but it just made my head hurt more. I will try to do a little before bed, if I can.

I still felt depressed after the run. While running, the line came into my head, “The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green” from T.S. Eliot’s A Cooking Egg (I got the quote a bit wrong, but corrected it here). I probably shouldn’t quote it, as it’s antisemitic. The “red-eyed scavengers” are almost certainly Jews (or “jews” as Eliot would have written it; as Rodger Kamenetz pointed out, Eliot repeatedly denied the Jews the dignity of a capital letter), as Kentish Town and Golders Green were (and Golders Green still is) very Jewish parts of London. Strangely, the material I’ve found about the poem online doesn’t mention this (you can be sure they would have pointed it out if he’d used a slur against various other minority groups). Even so, the line is powerful and I feel comfortable repurposing it to refer to the scavengers of depression, anxiety and OCD trying to creep in to my consciousness (or unconscious) when I’m exhausted. It’s an effort to keep them out, but if I make that effort, where will I get the energy needed to work, do household chores, fulfil religious obligations, write, exercise and so on? In short, how can I have a life if all my energy and brainpower goes on staying mentally healthy and vaguely functional?

***

It’s also harder and harder every day to function without E.

***

Responding to a comment from Adventuresofagradgirl (is this how you would like to be referred to here? Please let me know!) on my last post that God wants us to be good and to be happy and whether I write or not is secondary, I wrote:

I want to be good, but I feel I would find it easier to be good if I wasn’t on the spectrum. But presumably God dismissed that thought for some reason. I don’t know if God wants me to be happy, or how to achieve that. I worry that God wants me to write for some purpose, and if I don’t achieve it, that will be consider sinful or at least negative. But if I’m not supposed to write and devote time to it that should be spent on Torah study, volunteering, family, etc., that will also be considered sinful. It’s hard to know what to do or how other people navigate thoughts like this.

***

I want to post the following on the autism forum, at least the first point if not the second, but I lack the courage:

It’s over eighteen months since I was diagnosed autistic and I feel that I’m still processing what that means to me.

I still feel that autism is a disability to me rather than a difference and definitely not a “superpower.” My autistic traits are mild enough to be irritating and somewhat disabling, but don’t come with any benefits I’ve found yet. The only partial exception is my ability to spot errors of spelling and grammar. I would like to use this to work as freelance proof-reader, but I worry that that will involve a lot of skills I don’t have for networking and self-promotion. Autism is a drawback for those things. (My proof-reading skill doesn’t work so well in the office either, for some reason, and I make mistakes there.)

I want more than anything to write serious literary fiction, but I struggle with creating and motivating characters as well as using metaphorical language (I can understand non-literal language, but I seem to struggle to write it). I also think my writing tends to be overly-formal.

Also, unlike many people on this forum, I don’t feel that I’ve found my “tribe.” Autistic people seem to be too heterogeneous a group, and many of them too different from me, to be a group I can fully identify with. I dislike the term “intersectionality,” but my struggles seem to be primarily located at the intersection between autistic identity and Orthodox Jewish identity. I struggle with my autism particularly because I’m trying to live in Orthodox Jewish spaces, resulting in issues other autistics don’t have and I struggle with my Judaism because I’m practising it while struggling with autism, resulting in issues other Orthodox Jews don’t have.

Orthodox Jewish identity is fundamentally communal, whether regarding prayer (private, individual prayer is definitely considered inferior to communal prayer), religious study (which is ideally done in pairs and often in noisy, crowded rooms full of people arguing) and acts of kindness. As the title of an anthropological study of the shtetl (semi-autonomous Jewish towns in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust) notes, “Life is with People”. It is not clear what can be done in the community for people who struggle to be around other people. This is before taking into account that Jews are, culturally, often loud and social, sometimes intrusively so (a generalisation, obviously, but rooted in reality, I think).

Orthodox Judaism lags some years behind the trends in the secular Western world. It is still catching up on awareness of mental illness; it will probably be some years before people begin talking about provisions or adjustments and leniencies for the neurodivergent. I’m not sure where I go in the meantime.

***

Facebook has been good and bad today, with some angry spost I didn’t really understand and a question on the Orthodox Conundrum group about non-Jewish books that have spiritual value. I probably over-thought this, and also realised that while I think Hamlet and The Brothers Karamazov have spiritual worth, I don’t remember enough detail about either to really justify recommending them, which is sad (especially as I’ve read Hamlet twice, once without notes and once with, and seen it (on TV) twice). In the end I went  for The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (on the dangers of playing God) and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. One plot thread is proto-Zionist, but it’s actually the other one, about a not-very-good person who’s made big mistakes trying to live a better life that is more spiritual (and more engaging, I thought).

There was political stuff (actually economic stuff) I wanted to disagree with on a blog, but I just didn’t feel up to getting in an argument. As I’ve said before, I think people rarely change their minds based on internet debate. I don’t like feeling people think I’m cruel or callous for decisions that are taken for pragmatic reasons when they know nothing about my thoughts, feelings or wider life (volunteering, charity, etc.). I do wish economics was a compulsory school subject, though.

It occurs to me that by avoiding discussion, I am perpetuating the problem, as well as potentially avoiding views that contradict my own and that may be true (although, to be fair, I do read some opposing views, I just don’t vocalise my responses. I think I’m probably better than most people about listening to the other side of the debate and being open to criticism of my own views). But I don’t really have the stamina to get into fights and there are not many places that I feel are safe for this kind of discussion.

***

I finished reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who over Shabbat. It wasn’t bad, I just wish there could have been a more balanced presentation of late seventies Doctor Who.

On to Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. In the introduction, the authors (Paul Cornell, who would go on to write for the revived TV series, plus Keith Topping and Martin Day) state, “We only mock Doctor Who because we are here to celebrate the fan way of watching television, a close attention to detail matched by a total willingness to take the mickey.” I feel that this doesn’t exist any more, or at least that I can’t find it. It’s possible that character limits on social media prevent such a complex way of engaging with a text.

Then a few lines later they state that calling stories with no name on screen by their official name on BBC paperwork rather than by the names common in fandom, “might be a mark of strict accuracy, but it could also be a sign of elitism” which, aside from referring to a now largely subsided fan argument of the nineties, shows that making something completely non-political into a angry and self-righteous political point for no good reason was happening even twenty-seven years ago.

“I think we are in rats’ alley/Where the dead men lost their bones”

I went to bed late last night. It’s hard having E in a time zone behind me, as it makes going to bed earlier hard, although I’m pretty good at staying up too late even without that and indeed was online late yesterday blogging and social media-ing. I wanted to watch an episode of The Avengers yesterday (I’d say the John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers to distinguish from Marvel, but I wanted to watch a Cathy Gale episode), but I ran out of time and ended up reading instead. I recently started Accidental Presidents, a non-fiction book about the eight men who succeeded to the American presidency via the vice-presidency when the elected incumbent died. It’s interesting and not particularly heavy-going, but it assumes a greater knowledge of nineteenth century American politics and history than I have, and the writing verges on the clichéd, with some weirdly anachronistic metaphors (e.g. saying President Tyler’s plans hit a “speed bump”). It probably wasn’t hugely relaxing to read at night, though.

Whether I did too much yesterday or didn’t relax enough or both or neither, I was exhausted this morning. I had to get out of bed at 10.30am to help with the Tesco order and stayed up afterwards to daven (pray) before the time for Morning Prayers was over (now an hour earlier due to the clocks going back). But my mind felt “scattered” and unfocused the way it does when I’m feeling exhausted, and my mood was low. I revised my plans for today, as I didn’t think I had the time or headspace to listen to the hour and a half shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg that I wanted to listen to today (the only one of the LSJS’ pre-Rosh Hashanah shiurim that I haven’t listened to yet).

I did manage half an hour or so of novel writing, but I found it hard to focus. I had therapy. It was a good session, but the sadness came back afterwards. I went for a walk and listened to some of a religious podcast in lieu of Torah study, which I really couldn’t face.

I still feel vaguely obliged to help people on the autism forum, and slightly guilty if I can’t. A teenage girl posted something there today, but I could barely understand it and I had no idea what to say to a troubled, possibly suicidal and psychotic (her words), teenage girl with a personality disorder that would help her. Admittedly it’s hard to know how to help someone whose post title is a string of swearwords directed at people trying to help her, but I still feel sad and vaguely guilty.

I’m also beating myself up for general social media use and difficulty knowing how to communicate with people online. I hope this is just another bad day and not the start of depression or SAD. 

***

People write about famous people with autism (supposedly) e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Dan Ackroyd, Elon Musk, Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and so on (to be honest, I find the historical attributions speculative at best and often fanciful. The fact that someone was clever and a bit eccentric doesn’t automatically mean they were neurodiverse). I find these lists difficult to read, as it suggests I could succeed like them. Which makes me feel that if I can’t succeed, it must be my fault, rather than because autism manifests differently in different people and they got lucky with traits that helped them do what they wanted to do, rather than holding them back.

Related: it occurred to me that many of the frum people I know who had mental health issues ended up not frum. I don’t know if there’s causation there or just correlation, and my survey is certainly not statistically significant, but it makes me feel good (that I stayed frum) and bad (that having mental health issues correlates with leaving the frum world and there’s no guarantee I will stay frum in the future, particularly if my depression comes back). I don’t really know enough Jewish people with autism to tell if there’s a correlation with leaving frumkeit there, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  ***

Reading about the Israeli elections (the likely return of Netanyahu, the success of the far-right) just made me feel worse. I felt I should write something to say that Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich don’t represent me, as an Orthodox Jew and Zionist, but really I was too depressed to face up to it. I just felt awful.

***

It’s extra hard being away from E when I feel like this. I need hugs, really.

***

The good news: my sleep study apparatus (if that’s the right word) should be sent to me next week, so hopefully that will help me move forward with working out what (else) is wrong with me. It can take up to twelve weeks to get the results. And E’s other birthday present arrived today (I ordered her two books, but only one arrived last week). It really is coincidence that I keep buying E books that I would like to read as presents! Or rather, it’s less coincidence and more a reflection that we do have a lot of shared interests. She was pleased with the present, but she won’t get to read them for a while.

E and I also had a Zoom marriage class in the evening, which this week was about the structure of the Jewish wedding ceremony. I learnt a few things, which was good. I feel less depressed now, so maybe some of it was anxiety. I’m very tired though and going to bed soon. The class did make me marvel again at how allistic (non-autistic) people can often chat and make small talk so easily. Talk about super-powers…

Decompression Time

I weighed myself the other day. The good news is that I didn’t put on any significant weight over the Yom Tov (Jewish festival) period, despite eating lots of the wrong foods. The bad news is that if I didn’t put on any weight, it makes me feel that my weight is determined primarily by my medication and not by my diet. This makes it hard to really get the motivation to resume my diet, or quasi-diet. It just feels like my weight has only vague relation to what I eat. Ditto for my cholesterol, which has been slightly too high for ages despite cutting down (not totally) on high cholesterol foods.

***

Work was not particularly noteworthy today, but I finished in a better state than most work days recently, perhaps because I spent the last hour testing keys in the display cabinets to see which, if any, were duplicates, as J wants to make sure we have two keys for each cabinet in case we lose one. This at least got me away from my desk, my computer and my ruminations.

I got a flu jab on the way home. I’m not entirely sure why the NHS thinks I was eligible. I suppose they have Mum down as immuno-suppressed still. My attitude to government and NHS stuff these days is, if they offer it, take it, because I know how hard it is to get anything from them when you try to get it. I haven’t had any serious side-effects yet, but my arm is rather sore.

When I got home, I spent some time reading the Jewish newspapers and watching Doctor Who rather than going online. This was in line with my discussion with my therapist yesterday about taking time to decompress when I get home from work before going online, which is too stimulating, primarily in terms of the screen, but also in terms of engaging my brain to read blogs and news sites and to blog myself. I did feel a little faint, but that passed once I ate and drank, which makes me think dehydration and low blood sugar are distinct from whatever causes the lightheadness that doesn’t pass with food and water. I do keep forgetting to take my blood pressure.

My therapist said I should see decompression time as being distinct from relaxation time. I’m not sure that I fully understood this. I think she meant I should just take time to potter about, talk to my parents about my day (although I guess this could be stressful peopling), sort out odd things that need sorting out in my room and so on rather than setting aside time for a constructive relaxation activity (if that’s not a contradiction) like reading a novel or watching TV. However, I’m not really sure that I’ve understood this right.

Thinking about the distinction (if there is one) made me realise that I see relaxation time and creative time (writing) as the same because Judaism has no real concept of either. Both relaxation and creativity are really valued as means to other ends rather than ends in themselves. Neither are easily ‘justified,’ so it’s hard to say I need to devote time to relaxation and writing fiction as well work and religious obligations like prayer and Torah study. Relaxation and writing feel like things I do for me and should be kept in proportion when compared to religious things. Blogging is probably something else in this category. Relaxation, blogging and fiction writing are all things I need to do emotionally and things I think have value, but I feel guilty for doing one, let alone all three, when part of me thinks I should be praying or studying Torah. I am not sure what to do about this.

***

My favourite Doctor (Doctor Who Doctor, not GP) was always Tom Baker, perhaps the most eccentric of the Doctors, with his thick curly hair, long multicoloured scarf and general air of counter-cultural craziness. In recent years, however, I’ve felt it shifting to Patrick Troughton, whose more subtle performance evokes a quieter form of individualism and non-conformity.

At the risk of over-thinking this, I find myself wondering if this indicates a shift in the way I view the world, from thinking that the only alternative to drab conformity is a wilful, extrovert weirdness that I could never manage to thinking that it is possible to have a quieter, more thoughtful form of individuality that is willing to stand quietly at the back until it has something to say, but can still dominate when it needs to.

Or I maybe it’s just down to a shift in what I find funny and clever.

Overthinking Character Traits and Novel Research

This is another post salvaged from being eaten by WordPress by copying and pasting into a Word document and then back into WP. This sometimes ruins the formatting; I’m sorry if it does that, but I don’t have the time/energy to sort it. I got up early for volunteering. I really wanted to stay in bed, but I needed to go to health and safety training for volunteering. I struggled to work out if I was feeling well enough after yesterday, but decided I did. When I got to the bus stop, I received a text from the person who coordinates volunteering (I’ll call her N) saying that we should bring photo ID to get into the building for the health and safety talk (usually we’re in the garage and don’t need to go past security). In addition, it quickly became apparent that there were bus delays. Other people at volunteering who get the same bus think that they quietly run fewer buses during half-term week; I don’t know if that’s true, but we had the same trouble last time it was half-term too. I phoned my Mum to ask what she thought I should do and she suggested I walk back home and she would give me a lift (I was already going to be late at this stage). As I walked back, I felt lightheaded again. It did seem to be linked strongly to the ID/bus stress. In the end, I got to the training half an hour late, but once I was there, the lightheadedness stopped. Training and volunteering itself were fine (although I did wonder a bit if we really needed a whole hour to tell us how to pick boxes up from the floor safely), but I left before coffee. I thought there would be no coffee this week because people had had it during the health and safety training and decided I would just go home after finishing my usual tasks. The coordinator said there was going to be coffee, but autistic rigidity took over and I “couldn’t compute” the change of plan and went home without really understanding why. This behaviour is frustrating. Even when I do it, I can see myself doing it and know why I’m doing it, and still can’t change it. I felt lightheaded again on the way home, but on this occasion it may have been travel sickness from reading on the bus. *** I sorted the business with the fine for the late submission of my tax return. It turns out that my tax return was late. I feel stupid about this, although I know it’s not exactly my fault; people I thought I could trust told me the deadline was different to what it was. I do still feel like I’m The Autistic Person Who Can’t Cope With Life though. I guess the lesson is: don’t trust people, look everything up yourself. To be fair to myself, there was a whole complicated question about whether I even needed to submit a tax return for that tax year, owing to a complicated work situation, so I should forgive myself a bit. *** Afterwards, I worked on my novel for an hour or so for the first time in a couple of months. I didn’t write anything, just worked on my plan, as since I last worked on it, I’ve decided I need to make some big changes to parts of it (the plan). This took longer than expected and I haven’t finished it yet. This was partly due to procrastination, but also due to lightheadedness, possibly triggered by the stress of feeling that changing the plan is a bigger task than I anticipated. *** Lately I’ve been catching myself with a lot of negative self-talk and inner criticism. I can’t work out if I’m criticising myself more or if I am just more aware of it. Is it good or bad? Bad that I’m doing it more or good that I’m catching it and trying to stop the thoughts. I think I’ve been avoiding getting stuck in those thoughts, even with things like the tax return today. *** I’ve said that I feel I have disadvantages and problems from being autistic, but that I don’t have the positive traits that other autistics say they have. I still think this is mostly true, but I’m not sure if it’s completely true. I certainly do blame autism for some of my shortcomings. But I wonder if I’m reluctant to attribute my positive traits to autism for fear that that would mean they are no longer my achievements, but just flukes. My character trait that I value most strongly is my integrity. During years of burnout/depression where I didn’t have a job or a relationship or many friends, I did at least value my integrity and think that God would value it too. Some would say that that kind of integrity comes from an autistic rigidity and unwillingness to break rules. That may be true. Does that mean that my integrity is not my own achievement, or that God will not value it? There is a Jewish idea that God determines everything about a person except whether they will be good or bad. That would seem to indicate that my integrity is my own achievement, yet it does seem influenced (at least) by my autism. Is this just another element of the problem of free will? After all, everyone’s morality is influenced by their environment to some extent. How guilty is a kleptomaniac? Conversely, it’s much easier not to steal if you are not homeless and hungry. Does being autistic mean I’m a less good person because integrity comes more naturally to me or not? It’s tricky. *** One thing I’m dealing with, in the context of my novel about a pornography addict, is wondering whether, or how much, I need to engage with the academic discussion around whether pornography addiction is real, or if behavioural addictions in general are really addictions in the sense that substance addictions like alcoholism are. I feel like if I don’t do some research and put something into the novel that shows I’m aware of the controversy for and against, I will get called out, but I’m not sure how relevant it really is to the narrative. From my point of view, the fact that I’m writing about a pornography addict pretty much shows that I’m at least open to the idea that it’s an addiction. I also don’t know how much research is “enough.” I don’t want to do a psychology PhD just to write my story! But I also don’t want to be accused of pushing particular views or treatment modalities when that isn’t really my intention. This has come to my attention again since seeing a post on Facebook a while back shared by someone I respect, a couples therapist. The post she shared was written by different couples therapist and argued that pornography addiction isn’t a true addiction. Unfortunately, the author seemed to have his own axe to grind, essentially blaming wives of addicts for not being sexy enough for their husbands or nagging too much and so on. That’s not quite what they said, but they did basically say that sex addiction is rooted in relationship problems, which are usually two-way. This does not really fit with the blogs I’ve read from addicts and their partners, where root causes in childhood trauma and other negative experiences of the addict are taken for granted by both addicts and partners. It did seem a bit like the author is a couples therapist, so argued for a couples therapy intervention, whereas an addiction therapist would argue for an addiction intervention. I’m just scared that if I send my protagonist down the route of treatment modality X (probably an addiction/Sexaholics Anonymous modality, as from my research so far that seems to be where the recovering addicts I’ve encountered have come from), then I’ll be told that this is wrong and I should have opted for modality Y (e.g. couples therapy). But if I combine them (e.g. the protagonist wants one modality, his wife another), that could just seem incoherent. In a world where everything is politicised and books are judged for the negative emotions they “trigger” as much as their artistic content (“By writing about treatment X, I felt erased for following treatment Y”), it is hard to know what to do. Possibly I’m over-thinking this.

Burnout Fears

Today was an OK day at work, enlivened (if that’s the right word), by feeling particularly awful when I got home. I hope I can go to volunteering tomorrow. I posted the following on the autism forum:

I feel exhausted after work. OK, many people, ND and NT [neurodivergent and neurotypical] do. It often feels like autistic exhaustion and I can’t do anything else that day and sometimes not the next either (I work two days a week). But over the last few months (I’m not sure when exactly), “exhausted” has become light-headed, dizzy, faint and generally unwell, although articulating more precise symptoms than “unwell” is hard. Sometimes it persists into the next day.

Has anyone else experienced autistic exhaustion like this?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of other potential suspects to eliminate:

– dehydration (but it doesn’t always go after drinking).

– low blood sugar (but it doesn’t always go after eating).

– low blood pressure (I do have low blood pressure, but this doesn’t seem like a normal ‘standing up too fast’ headrush and lasts a long time).

– medication side-effects (entirely possible, but I haven’t changed meds for a while, so it seems strange that it would just start).

– sleep issues (I’m being investigated for a sleep disorder, so it could be tiredness related to that, although sometimes it persists after sleeping).

Thanks for helping!

[End of quote.]

I’m probably going to go to the GP about this, either this week or next week. I can’t decide how urgent it is. Some people suggested diabetes or iron deficiency. I think I was checked for iron deficiency a few months ago, but I don’t remember when I was last checked for diabetes (years ago I had a GP who would test me annually for reasons I could never understand). Unfortunately, the comment that resonated most with me was the person who said it sounded like her “stress” symptoms, which in retrospect seem a lot like autistic burnout to her (and to me when she related it).

I do not want to burnout again!!!

I struggled through my BA and MA because of depression which seems to have involved a burnout component, at the very least. I spent years unemployed and pretty much doing nothing because of it! This is not how I want to start my married life! Even aside from the fact that burnout is not really well-understood or even acknowledged by all of the medical establishment. I really hope this doesn’t mean I can’t work at all, or even not in the going out to work sense as opposed to working from home (although if I can find a way to work from home, that would obviously be better).

***

E and I had a Skype call, but both of us were feeling exhausted and ill. Long-distance is hard when you feel ill and can’t just curl up together.

I started a rewatch of The Evil of the Daleks, a seven episode Doctor Who story from 1967. Only one episode survives, but the missing episodes have been animated using off-air audio recordings of the missing episodes. I watched this with E in the spring, but as it was the first Doctor Who story we watched together, and the first animated reconstruction she had seen, I was rather nervous and focused on her reaction. The animation on these reconstructions is not exactly Pixar standard and takes some getting used to and I wasn’t sure if she was put off by it. I wanted to rewatch to focus on the episodes. As E’s mother is staying with her, we can’t really watch Doctor Who ‘together separately’ as we had been doing for a while, so I thought this was a good time to watch it, especially after feeling disappointed and confused by last night’s new episode.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer

I feel incredibly overwhelmed: exhausted, intermittently light-headed (what does cause that?) and headachey (albeit niggling stress headachey rather than migrainey). I have a To Do chart on my wardrobe door. I write different tasks to do on slips of coloured paper (broadly: green for wedding stuff, pink for other things, although it’s not 100% consistent) and move the slips between columns for To Do, Processing and Finished (I take them off Finished after a while). My therapist suggested this instead of a traditional To Do list, as I can see progress, which is less overwhelming and is self-esteem boosting.

The last few days I’ve started a second To Do list, which is a short-term list until I get around to writing the tasks out on the coloured paper, which I haven’t had time/energy/headspace for yet. And now the second list is getting crowded… There’s just so much to do in so little time and so much that seems urgent and/or important. It’s so hard to know where to begin. And ongoing things like exercise and novel research/writing have just vanished in the last two months where I’ve been so busy with the civil wedding and the autumn Jewish festivals. This is where I feel the effects of executive dysfunction, although I feel like I used to be better at planning, so maybe there’s learned helplessness too.

I feel like I really need a mental health day, a day where I do no work or urgent tasks, but which isn’t Shabbat or Yom Tov so I can watch TV and write and just potter around aimlessly. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that I will get a day like that this week. And meanwhile I need to book a trip to New York to see E, and to sort out the tax fiasco, and to chase various people about wedding stuff and a million little jobs and and and and…

Guilt, and Being

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a bit of a battle with exhaustion and guilt. I was too exhausted for shul (synagogue) last night. I felt a bit better after dinner and did some Torah study, but went to bed late as a result (juggling pros and cons of doing things vs. relaxing is hard). I woke up about 7.40am, decided I wasn’t going to shul, felt guilty for not going to shul because I felt it was basically social anxiety keeping me away, decided to say a few of the morning prayers (Birkat HaShachar and the Shema), then felt totally exhausted by that five minutes of praying and wondered if it was exhaustion keeping me away from shul after all. Slept for a while longer, hurried to get dressed and eat breakfast in the sukkah (the hut in the garden that we eat in during the festival of Sukkot) before my parents’ friends came for Kiddush. Alternated praying and stopping to recuperate, because I was that exhausted. Felt guilty for not answering the door while praying when one of my parents’ friends was late. I really was praying, but if I hadn’t had social anxiety, I probably would have interrupted one of the less important prayers. I was just scared of having to speak to someone I didn’t know well. No one heard her and by the time I got the courage to go downstairs, she had gone. We had lunch in the sukkah, but it started raining, so we went in after the soup. Then it stopped raining and we stayed inside and I felt slightly guilty, although halakhically there is no need to go back out. I did have seudah (the third Shabbat meal, more of a snack at this time of year) in the sukkah, and dinner after Shabbat. I dozed in the afternoon, which is bad because (a) it will mess up my sleep further, (b) it reduced the Torah study and recreational reading I could do and (c) arguably I should have slept in the sukkah, but I think it was too cold even at 3.30 in the afternoon. So, more guilt.

I know that wasn’t terribly readable, but I wrote it as it seems to me, just one thing after another, most of them bringing guilt with them. Not relaxing at all. Although the nap in the afternoon was quite refreshing.

***

Lately, when I’ve been experiencing (what I think is) autistic exhaustion, I feel light-headed. It seems to have been getting worse, or maybe I just notice it more. I am not sure if this is a normal symptom, or if it is related to low blood pressure (which I think I also have). So little is known about autistic exhaustion. There is also the feeling that my brain is being squished, which I’m pretty sure is autistic exhaustion, although goodness knows what actually causes it (I’m assuming my brain isn’t actually being squished, and I’m doubtful that there are nerves inside it that would experience a sensation if it was being squished).

***

In other news, I miss E and winter is approaching with all that entails, and there are still another three days of Chol HaMoed and Yom Tov (semi-festival and festival days)!!!!!! And then straight into two consecutive days of work again afterwards. I don’t want to sound sacrilegious, but I am ready for a return to normal weeks with normal schedules I can cope with and where I know what to expect.

 ***

On Friday night, I read a short devar Torah from a blog that I had printed out before Shabbat. Written by Tanya White, an English Orthodox Jewish educator living in Israel, it presents Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) through the lens of the story of Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel), via a wordplay that doesn’t really work in translation (Hevel is the same word-root as “Hevel hahevelim” “Vanity of vanities” at the start of Kohelet).

The devar Torah drew on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchiks’ The Lonely Man of Faith. This looks at the different creation narratives in the first and second chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) and posits two different modes of human nature, the “Majestic” (creating, controlling, dominating) and the “Covenantal” (contemplative, spiritual, being). White’s argument is that Kayin was Majestic and Hevel Covenantal. To Kayin, focused on having things, the experience of not-having (not having God’s approval for his sacrifice) was too much to bear and he killed his brother to destroy the feelings of finitude, inadequacy and “nothingness” provoked inside him by Hevel’s sacrifice being accepted while his was not.

Reading Kohelet and living in the sukkah is, according to White, a chance to contemplate and accept the “nothingness” in our lives. By this, I think she means that Sukkot reminds us that we really own nothing, that our lives are fragile and transient, even our houses and possessions are really shacks that could blow down and this is OK because God is in control, not us.

The reason I thought about this so much over Shabbat was it resonated with a discussion I’d been having with Angela (Best/Worst of Times blog and Letting Go of Me podcast)  about disability and not being able to do things we once could do or want to do (although we have different disabilities) and about living a life of meaning rather than doing. The devar Torah reminded me of the concept of covenantal living, just experiencing being, and the importance of living life in this way (although Rabbi Soloveitchik’s point was that we need to live both majestically and covenantally, not one or the other).

This in turn made me think of Eichah (Lamentations) 3.28: “Let him sit alone and be silent, for He has laid it upon him.” The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 3.2) sees this as proof that, although Torah is ideally studied in pairs, even if a person studies alone, God will reward him. In a religion focused on doing, this is a support for just being and contemplating.

***

From another blog: “The Torah has no commandment ‘Be normal.’”

Fred Karno’s Army (Super-Long Autism Post)

The last two days were pretty tough. We’re currently in Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival, where work is permitted if necessary, but advised against. J is taking the days off, but I went in to work yesterday and today because I want to save my holiday days so that I can go to New York to visit E in a few weeks. As with the first days of Sukkot, we are still eating meals in the sukkah, a booth representing the booths the Israelites dwelt in in the wilderness, and, by extension, trust in God.

On Wednesday, I got up extra early, said extra Shacharit (Morning Service) prayers (although still skipped a lot), ate breakfast in the sukkah, went to work, ate lunch in the work sukkah, felt lonely, down and exhausted (I think it was just myself and the security guard in the building; I might have heard one more person around, but I’m not sure) and came home not feeling well. I had dinner with my parents in our sukkah, felt overwhelmed by Dad’s attempts to get me to join in the conversation (I don’t have selective mutism, but I do go quiet and communicate mostly in monosyllables, grunts and nods sometimes…), eventually watched Doctor Who, Skyped E and went to bed.

Today was worse. I woke up feeling exhausted. I’m not used to working two days running, pathetic though that sounds (especially as I don’t quite work full days either). I got dressed, but decided I was too exhausted to daven (pray) before eating breakfast and struggled with the removable roof over the sukkah, realising too late that I wasn’t opening it properly. I had breakfast, davened, left for work a bit late, somehow did a little Torah study on the train and got to work not-too-late, but glad that J wasn’t in today to see it. I worked slowly, feeling numb and sluggish. The security guard wouldn’t take off the roof of the sukkah, as he thought it was going to rain again (it didn’t), so I ate part of my lunch (raw vegetables and an apple), but not my sandwich, thus at least observing the letter of the law of not eating bread outside a sukkah during Sukkot, but becoming very hungry (and somewhat sick from drinking tea on an emptyish stomach).

I had a boring afternoon enlivened by self-loathing after someone phoned to pay membership fees. Phone calls automatically come in on the phone extension on J’s desk. First I couldn’t transfer the call to my own desk as I was using the wrong extension number, so I ended up taking the call at J’s desk. Then I panicked and couldn’t find the account of the person who phoned on J’s computer to tell him how much he owed or work out where anything was on there, even though it should have been easy. I just went into autistic-and-socially-anxious brain freeze. He said he’d phone back next week, so J is bound to hear about it.

The incident left me feeling useless. If I wanted to forgive myself, there were reasons I struggled, but I should really have been able to cope by now (nearly two years in the job, albeit at only two days a week). A few minutes later, I did successfully transfer a call to my desk and take a credit card payment, but I still felt that I took too long and sounded like an idiot.

The plus side was not having had to do the Very Scary Task this week when it seemed likely that I would.

I ate my sandwich in our sukkah after I got home, read James Bond and felt better. I thought I would blog and wrote most of this post, hoping I could relax afterwards, but it was a mistake. Dinner was late, and I had to eat with my parents and their friends if I wanted to sit in the sukkah. I knew this and still made the bad decision to blog instead of watching Doctor Who. Honestly, it’s like I have some kind of neurological issue that makes me make bad decisions…

So then I had to “people” and mask and generally act like a neurotypical human being with four other people (that’s a lot!), three of whom don’t understand me at all and one who sort of gets it, but not always and only from the outside. I don’t mean that in a critical way, but it’s true. Anyway, my pizza was good, but I ate too fast, partly from hunger (it was half an hour later than the agreed start time, which I thought was late already), partly from autistic exhaustion and partly just because I didn’t want to be there. I think I was communicating with “Leave me alone” autistic body language and speech as they didn’t really try to talk to me. But it was OK. I ate quickly and went in, watched Doctor Who and Skyped E.

 ***

Sometimes I doubt whether I have autism. I thought my diagnosis would at least mean the end of those doubts, but apparently not, as so many people on the autism forum sound “more” autistic, whatever that means, even the ones who seem to be doing better than me. I wonder if there was some mistake, if I’m just a useless person, not a neurodivergent one. Today should have refuted these doubts, but didn’t, or not entirely, not the phone issues or the sound of the cleaner hoovering being painful to me. Normally I would cope with the hoover, but if I’m already struggling with autistic exhaustion, my tolerance level is much lower. I know you can’t become “more autistic,” but that’s how I feel when suffering autistic exhaustion. That’s what they don’t tell you about autism, how changeable, even arbitrary, it can be.

The other day I saw something on the National Autistic Society website about autistic exhaustion being caused partly by having to meet other people’s expectations. I can believe it. That’s why work is so stressful for me. There are specific tasks I struggle with, like phone calls and the Very Scary Task, but most of the work is routine, if boring, paperwork and spreadsheet work. But it’s having to be masked all the time, trying to ‘pass’ as ‘normal,’ even though I’m probably not even that weird a lot of the time (I don’t know. Ask E) and even though the number of people in the building is small. On the plus side, maybe this is a positive sign regarding E and I having children. I was worried about the extra exhaustion, but I don’t think I bother masking with young children (why bother? They don’t), so maybe it would be OK. I mean, the childcare would be exhausting, I know, but I wouldn’t have to factor in extra masking issues (I don’t mask with E, that’s why she’s so special).

***

I mentioned recently about so many people on the autism forum, myself included, wanting help, and no one actually saying what help would be useful. I feel that my ideal form of help would be for someone to follow me around for a few weeks and suggest workarounds for things I struggle with. (After I realised this, someone suggested I apply to Access for Work for a work coach. I’m not sure if that would be exactly this thing I want, or something enormously different and probably useless and annoying.)

I have spoken to some autism workplace advisors in the past. I can’t really remember much of what they said, although I have notes somewhere, but I struggled to apply what they said to my specific work environment (classic autistic issue) and often they didn’t know my own training and skills (how many people have suggested to me that I move from librarianship into archival work when they have totally different methodologies and rules? They just both happen to involve preserving bits of paper).

Suzanne recently differentiated between “people who can get things done” and “people who can make things happen.” In her words:

I think I can best explain the difference by considering various tasks in the operation of a warehouse that distributes donated food to food banks.

List A. Things I would be very good at:

  • Checking in a delivery against the pack list and noting shortages, overages, incorrect items, and damages
  • Updating inventory in the database and running reports
  • Picking and packing orders

List B. What I would be hopeless at:

  • Finding sources of funding
  • Negotiating deals and agreements
  • Recruiting and managing staff and volunteers

List A is about getting things done. List B is about making things happen.

Although she didn’t say it explicitly, List A/getting things done is autism-friendly. List B/making things happen, isn’t. I thought librarianship would be mostly List A/getting things done and maybe it was and maybe some of it still is (cataloguing), but I struggled to keep the job that was more List A, ended up in a super-autism-unfriendly job (albeit mainly for sensory/social reasons) that was still broadly List A and in the end felt out of my depth when they tried to change it to a List A/B hybrid and I left it. I hoped I would find something similar, but quieter, but it seems like so much library work is List B/making things happen.

This feeling was reinforced by the magazine I used to get from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals), which, aside from going super-woke, seemed to be all about library management and soft skills stuff for dealing with other librarians and library users, not for maintaining collections of books. Not that it shouldn’t be like that, necessarily, just that it doesn’t fit my skill-set. It was only reading Suzanne’s list that this really clicked with me. Also, I had hoped librarianship would offer lots of opportunities for part-time work or job shares, but, sadly, I was wrong about that too, and as this week has shown, I simply can’t work full-time, or anything approaching it.

I’ve had some job interviews, but rarely got further. Job interviews are terrible ordeals for autistics anyway, and irrelevant to my skill-set, like making a blind man go over an obstacle course just to get a job that involves sitting at a desk, answering the phone. Then I stopped getting interviews. Now my library career is on hold, but I think it’s basically over. My skills must be pretty atrophied, which is probably why the interviews dried up. My CV looks awful anyway, massive gaps between jobs and almost as many jobs out of my sector as in it.

(Incidentally, my voluntary work at the food bank is very List A.)

***

The other thing I would really like help with is energy accounting. This is supposed to involve working out what gives you energy and what drains your energy, then making sure that the latter does not exceed the former. All well and good, but it’s hard to quantify energy gain and use, particularly as so many factors can affect them. I have more energy in the summer than the winter. I come home from work with energy in the summer; I just want to drop in the winter, even though it’s the same time of day and I’ve done the same work. If I’m dealing with tiredness, hunger or strong emotions (the latter of which I often can’t interpret or even notice properly), energy is lost faster, which means that energy loss can be exponential: the more tired I am, the faster I get tired. Some things drain and energise in different ways: writing drains mental energy, but energises through allowing creativity. Being around people usually drains (except E), but how much it drains depends on who it is and how the conversation goes. Sometimes it can energise a bit too. Shul can provide spiritual invigoration and social energy drain. And so on. It just seems so complicated, and arbitrary.

Surroundings can drain energy too. The world is increasingly busy and full of moving images and noise. There are video screens everywhere: shop windows, bus stops, phone screens out of the corner of my eye on the Tube. And so much noise, admittedly worse in town. And everything is so fast. I know people have been complaining about life being too loud, too bright and too fast for two hundred years, but it feels worse even than when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties (just pre-computers/internet – we eventually got both, but were late adopters).

I spend too much time on my own phone and laptop. I say it’s because the internet is my social pipeline, and it is, but much of it is procrastination with no meaningful social connection. I know I can’t stop it, but I want to at least try to be more mindful of what I’m doing. Even so, it probably contributes to my energy drain and discomfort. Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), when I don’t use my phone or computer, feels so much better and more natural. I wish I had the will-power to bring some of that into the week.

***

It’s not just autistic self-doubt: lately I’ve been having writerly self-doubt too. I wonder how I will write characters when I have autism and alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand my own emotions). Until now I’ve been working on a mixture of my own experiences, things I’ve read about (real people or fictional characters), and sort of “reasoning out” what someone might logically feel in a situation (as if feelings are logical!), but this seems inadequate.

Further, while, unlike some autistics, I can understand metaphor and idiom, I struggle to deploy them in my writing. I have also read (on Wikipedia, so it must be true) that people with alexithymia lack imagination (and have boring dreams). Both of these things (imagination and dreams) seem to be true for me. I read science fiction and fantasy, but struggle to imagine my own non-realistic scenarios, instead turning to stories from the newspapers and blogosphere and wondering what I or people I know would do in such a situation. This seems ‘wrong,’ although logically there is no such thing (logic again – as the Doctor said (The Wheel in Space), “Logic… merely enables one to be wrong with authority”).

I wonder again if I want to write for the wrong reason? I enjoy the process of writing, of nurturing ideas and finding words, or at least sometimes I do (I don’t think any writer enjoys it all the time). But I feel I want – not fame, exactly, but to be taken seriously. I know I’ve written about this before. I want to prove myself to people in my past who have probably forgotten all about me. And I want to prove myself to myself. Relatedly, I also want to somehow use my writing as a magic vehicle to ask for forgiveness from various people I’ve hurt (hurt mostly through being autistic, so if I write about autism, they might read it and intuit that I’m writing about myself, and about them, and that I’m apologising. There’s a lot of maybes here).

Beyond this, I think the “being taken seriously” thing is partly because not only did I vaguely think I would be an academic, but I spent the happier parts of my adult life among clever people, probably not that much cleverer than me, but who were allowed to develop themselves intellectually in a healthy way without breakdown or burnout. They were in academia or other intellectual roles that were interesting and meaningful to them.

Is intelligence or wisdom any more praiseworthy or less arbitrary than physical attractiveness? Yirmiyah (Jeremiah) says otherwise (9.22-23). I don’t feel the need to prove my attractiveness, so why my intelligence, knowledge or wisdom? It’s mostly a product of genes, upbringing and schooling and while I played a part in that, a lot of it was out of my control. Yet somehow I feel the need to prove myself, and that it would somehow be good for me if I did prove my worth to my satisfaction.

***

I’m watching Doctor Who to de-stress. The Androids of Tara is one of those late seventies stories so hated by fandom on original transmission for largely spurious reasons. I really like it. It’s not deep, but it’s a lot of fun. Meanwhile, one of my few remaining fan friends posted a lengthy analysis today of the trailer for the next episode of contemporary Doctor Who, the final episode for Jodie Whittaker and a part of the BBC centenary celebrations.

I watched the trailer. It seemed like most twenty-first century Doctor Who: fast, flashy and over-stuffed, but it was twenty-three seconds long, I’m not going to voice an opinion of the ninety minute special it was taken from based on it. I’m not particularly excited about contemporary Doctor Who, or, indeed 100 years of the BBC. I prefer twentieth century Doctor Who, even if I know what’s coming next. Or maybe that’s the point. Maybe, with autism encouraging a love of routine and a fear of uncertainty, knowing in advance what all the bad bits are is reassuring (“bad bits” as in upsetting plot developments and “bad bits” as in badly written/made). I know what to expect and can prepare. That would explain why twenty-first century Doctor Who seems to improve with age for me. I hated the 2007 season (David Tennant’s second) at the time, but now I see it as a high point of the new series, if not of all time (even though I still dislike certain elements. Especially The Lazarus Experiment).

***

I was going to explain about Fred Karno’s Army, but this is nearly 3,000 words and I’m too tired. I just mean that I feel like a ramshackle amateur under fire. Google it for the historical context.

Yom Tov Burnout

The last two days were the first two days of Sukkot, the Jewish festival where we live in temporary huts in the garden to experience the transient nature of life and the security of trust in God. In theory, anyway; in the UK it can be a struggle with the elements to stay out there. I find it hilarious when I see Israelis, and some Americans, complaining that their sukkot are too hot to stay in. Cold and wet is more normal here.

On the plus side, we ate dinner and lunch out in the sukkah every day and this afternoon it was warm enough that I sat out there for a while studying Torah (although it was getting a bit on the cold side). I also got to shul (synagogue) for two sets of Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).

Unfortunately, there were some downsides too. The biggest is Yom Tov (festival) burnout, about two thirds of the way through the autumn festival season. The next few days are semi-festival (although I have to work) and then next Monday and Tuesday are full festivals again, although I will be deliberately avoiding shul during Simchat Torah on Monday night and Tuesday (only Purim rivals it as the most autism-unfriendly festival). I feel exhausted, and spending so much time with my parents hasn’t helped (no offence intended to them, but I need more downtime alone). Not only do I have to do this again next week (plus Shabbat (the Sabbath) in between, when my parents have invited people for Kiddush after the morning service), but I have to work for the next two days (and risk doing the Very Scary Task without J being around to hand-hold), and get up extra-early for extra prayers and to eat breakfast in the sukkah, and I will probably have to eat dinner with my parents and their friends on Thursday. This is not going to be a fun, stress-free few days.

I also have been eating very unhealthily, from the point of view of sugar as well as cholesterol. So far, so Yom Tov. I have chapped hands again from sitting out in the cold, I think I struggled breathing while asleep again, and I’ve had a lot of, probably irrational, guilt feelings the last few days over all sorts of things, particularly not going to shul in the mornings and not going to a Kiddush in my parents’ friends’ sukkah even though I knew a friend I haven’t seen for years (pre-COVID) would be there. Also irrational things like guilt over the content of dreams I’ve been having (no, not sexual, but weird and upsetting). I can’t work out if the guilt is religious OCD, low self-esteem, both or neither. It’s hard to tell.

I do think I need to work on my social anxiety, which has got worse because of the COVID lockdowns, as a matter of urgency, but I’m not sure how. CBT, the main treatment for social anxiety, tends not to work for autistics. I’m technically on the waiting list for autism-adjusted CBT on the NHS, but who knows if that will ever materialise? I think it’s pretty much impossible to get autism-adjusted CBT privately, although I haven’t looked. CBT did work for me for OCD, where it was mostly exposure therapy and it didn’t matter whether I believed the cognitions, so maybe it would work again. I did have CBT for social anxiety a few months before COVID, and it didn’t help much, but I think that was partly due to the short number of sessions and my failure to really push myself hard enough and keep pushing myself with the exposures to social situations. But it just joins the huge amount of things going on in my life right now or soon: the wedding and flat-hunting, trying to write one novel and sell another or possibly re-write it, setting myself up in business as a proof-reader, learning to drive… I feel overwhelmed just writing the list!

***

I feel pretty anxious about tomorrow. I’m likely to be somewhat sleep-deprived, as I don’t know if I’ll sleep well tonight (I often don’t after Shabbat or Yom Tov) and, as I said, I have to be up extra early for extra prayers tomorrow, then off to the office where I need to speak to the security guard (who I worry doesn’t like me) about using the shul sukkah for my lunch and where I may have to do the Very Scary Task without J being around and where I certainly will be in the office by myself , which gets lonely. The office also has little in the way of natural light and that alone sets me in a bad mood for six months of the year. And then I have to do it all over again the next day. J has already told me what my first task tomorrow is and mentioned I should do it straight away, so now I’m worried about messing that up, forgetting to do it or getting in late and not doing it in time…

***

On top of all this, I miss E a lot. I thought that it would be easier being celibate in a relationship than being single, and just as easy being engaged as in a relationship, especially long-distance, which shows what I know. Even regardless of sex, I just want to spend time with her. Pretty much everything I’ve written about in this post, good and bad, would be better in a context of us living together.

***

A weird thought I had in a shiur (religious class) yesterday: being autistic, I can’t understand other people easily, what they’re thinking and feeling, especially about me (cf. the security who worry doesn’t like me). How can I even hope to understand what God thinks or feels about me? Where “thinks” and “feels” are metaphors at best for something beyond my comprehension.

A Tribe of Two

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Alexithymia

It was another difficult Shabbat (Sabbath). I miss E. This seems to be worse on Shabbat, for various reasons. It’s hard being “half-married.” I felt too burnt out and exhausted to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, with physical symptoms (light-headedness as well as exhaustion). I’m worried how often this has been happening lately. Otherwise, it was the usual type of Shabbat I have now: eating with my parents, reading a bit (I finally finished The Third Reich in Power; I’m hoping to read lighter things now, or once I finish the latest Jewish Review of Books), Torah study. I did some Talmud study for the first time in some weeks, which was positive. I napped in the afternoon, which was not good, but I didn’t sleep for as long as I have been doing recently, and I did at least feel refreshed on waking.

***

Frum (religious Jewish) therapist Elisheva Liss wrote on her blog:

But the essential purpose of life according to many Torah philosophers is to achieve spiritual pleasure through a connection to G-d and the world and our own sense of purpose. Pleasure, joy, love, connection- not exclusively, but predominantly.

I guess I find it hard to read that, when I struggle with alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my own emotions). I often don’t know what I’m feeling, or only vaguely. Big emotions are easier to be aware of than small ones, and negative emotions are easier to identify than positive ones, sadly.

I think I get so confused about my attitude to Judaism because so often I don’t know what I feel about it, or only vaguely. I know I enjoy Shabbat; that when I went to shul on Rosh Hashanah, I experienced something positive; that studying Torah is easier some times than others (not just for external reasons like tiredness), indicating I like it more sometimes. But it’s often hard to notice these emotions, to really feel and understand them. Sometimes these feelings are more abstract, more thoughts in my head than emotions I experience.

It is especially hard to feel that God loves me, or that I love Him. It is hard to know that I love anyone sometimes. I worry sometimes that I don’t love my parents, or not “enough.” I still wonder if I really loved my grandparents, if I really grieved for them or if I really miss them the way other people feel these emotions. I once told E that I didn’t think I loved her as much as she loved me and that this was a failure on my part. She said she wasn’t interested in comparisons like that because love can’t be measured and what mattered was that she felt loved by me. This helped our relationship a lot, although I haven’t told her this before.

I feel that I might have more to say about this deep down, but I can’t access it now, because it’s late and because I’m feeling some kind of big negative emotion that I can’t identify or really understand (coincidentally; it’s not why I started writing this post). I’m going to do something relaxing and go to bed, I think.

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Yours Exhaustedly

I feel totally wiped out today, physically and emotionally exhausted, even bordering on physically ill (light-headed and faint and that feeling of my brain being squashed). I got up late, had to eat not just breakfast, but also lunch, before I had the energy and concentration to put on my tefillin, and found it difficult to daven (pray), just struggling to concentrate and feeling physically ill when I tried. I did my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores and finished the dusting, but I currently feel too exhausted and ill to go to shul (synagogue). It worries and upsets me that lately I miss Friday night davening as I feel too physically and emotionally exhausted. It’s my favourite service and it’s a long time since I’ve been regularly too ill to go, so missing it so often feels like a backwards step.

It’s hard struggling with this exhaustion and sleep disruption, particularly when I don’t know what causes it: autistic exhaustion or burnout (which are not understood well at all), some kind of sleep disorder or returning depression (a fear around this time of year in particular, as the lengthening nights have signalled most of my previous episodes). It’s also difficult that high-functioning autism in adults is not understood well at all, as most of the research money goes on children. (People on the autism forum also complain that most of the money goes on research to see how autistic children can be made to behave more like neurotypical children, rather than how can we make autistic children/adults happier and more comfortable. I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds worryingly believable.)

My therapist has offered me a slot on Friday 7 October. This is because I haven’t seen her for weeks because my New York trip was followed by her holiday, and now the next month is disrupted by Yom Tov (the Jewish festivals) and my working on different days to accommodate them, meaning that I don’t have a free Wednesday (my usual therapy day) until 26 October. She doesn’t always work on Fridays, but offered to fit me in, which I’m very pleased about, as I really do feel the need to speak about a few things at the moment, and waiting another month was going to be painful.

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

Good things that happened today:

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on an Autumn Shabbat

It seems like it was only a few days ago that we were in the middle of a summer heatwave and now suddenly it’s autumn and wet and cold, or at least colder. I think I experience a rise in my anxiety levels at this time of year, despite no longer being in the academic world; apparently, this is common, although the cause is unknown. In my case, the imminence of the Jewish autumn festivals is probably a part of it, but the longer nights are a part too.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was peaceful, although I still feel somewhat stressed and anxious about the week(s) ahead. I didn’t feel well enough to go to shul (synagogue). I was too exhausted. I slept a lot, as I usually do, and felt bad for not staying up when I got up to go to the toilet at 8am. This is far from the first time this has happened. I’m not sure if I go back to bed because of continuing tiredness, an autistic comfort desire to wrap myself in my duvet and weighted blanket, or, on Shabbat, social anxiety about going to shul if I get up. Possibly all three. It is hard to work on it if I don’t know what causes it — or maybe it’s not. Maybe I have to just tell myself to be strong and stay up. I don’t know how to do that, though, and, as I’ve said before, my shul-based social anxiety has definitely got worse over the last few years because of COVID. I still think lockdown was the right decision, but the hidden costs continue to mount up.

I am also developing a theory that napping is more restful for me than sleeping for a long time. If I do have sleep apnoea, it tends to be worse when lying on one’s back or front. I go to bed sleeping on my side, but I move when I sleep. My hypothesis is that when I nap, I don’t move; only if I’m sleeping for several hours do I move. Hence, short afternoon naps are refreshing, even after having slept for twelve hours (and woken up exhausted), and sleeping for five or six hours before work is not too bad, but sleeping a full night leads to a negative loop of sleeping, turning over, being unable to breathe and waking more tired than I went to bed. As a hypothesis, it probably requires more research, although I’m not sure how at the moment.

Other than that I read quite a bit, Jewish things and The Third Reich in Power, and also Asterix the Gaul when I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet, but was too tired for more Nazis, abusive rabbis, annoying characters being tortured by Islamists or anything else I’ve been reading about lately.

I didn’t really do a lot else other than sleep, read and eat. Just try to stay in the calm of Shabbat, away from wedding bureaucracy, work stress and the death of the Queen. I find myself getting more emotionally involved in the latter than I expected. I used to be a republican, then when I became more conservative (or, more accurately, realised that I was already conservative, and that it’s OK to be a unique kind of conservative that has very little in common with any actual conservative political parties), I developed a sort of abstract constitutional monarchism for coldly intellectual reasons, but none of the emotional attachment to flesh-and-blood royals I see in people on TV and, indeed, in my family (many of whom self-describe as socialists, but also strong monarchists. This is more common in the UK than you might think).

I’ve never really bothered watching royal stuff on TV, whether the Queen’s jubilees or various royal funerals, but I find myself watching now, at least the clips on the news if not the live coverage. Apart from wanting to show respect for the Queen’s immense hard work and dedication to duty, some of it is curiosity watching clips of the late Queen and now the King talking about religion and the Church of England, of which they both were/are head. I know this will seem strange to my American readers (which is most of them), but it’s almost unheard of these days for someone in public life in the UK to talk about God. The data from last year’s census about religion has not been released yet, but it’s expected to show “No religious belief” as the largest single religious descriptor. Most politicians are not religious and have no interest in presenting themselves as such. The few who are religious downplay it e.g. Tony Blair, who is a religious Christian, but whose Press Secretary and Spokesman Alastair Campbell would remind (or reprimand) him, “We don’t do God!” Similarly, Gordon Brown and Theresa May are both the children of clergymen, but rarely speak about religion. It’s really a relief to see traditional Judeo-Christian religion being spoken of on British TV as something other than backward, oppressive and irrational.

The King also seems more human somehow, a pain in his eyes that might be the sudden loss of his mother a year after the death of his father, but seemed to me more than that, a maturity that comes only from having made mistakes and experienced the painful consequences of them, which I suppose I don’t really associate with royals (having to live with the consequences of their actions).

I didn’t mean to write all this! I guess it made an impact on me. What I meant to write about was reaching the conclusion lately that I really have to go back on Facebook and try to see if there are groups for people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community who want to be a part of it, but can’t manage to do so, for whatever reason. Then either to join them if they exist or set one up if they don’t. This seems pretty daunting, as I’m only vaguely aware of how Facebook groups work (they didn’t have them when I was on Facebook a decade ago) and doing social-related stuff isn’t my forte. But I do feel there are people out there looking for support.

There probably is more to say, but it’s long gone midnight, and while I’m not tired (too much daytime sleep), I should probably wind down for the night and watch Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation — atypical and underrated character-based story).

Not Functioning

I feel completely burnt out today. I had some not very restful sleep with a strange and slightly disturbing dream. I’m struggling to do anything, although I’m trying to do my pre-Shabbat chores and some visa document scanning/printing. I feel almost physically ill with exhaustion. I lay down in a dim room for half an hour just now which helped, although I’m still not sure if I’ll go to shul (synagogue) tonight.

I discovered that the guy I spoke to yesterday from the building society, who supposedly told me how to print an official PDF statement from my online account, was wrong, or the site isn’t working properly. Either way, I can’t get what I need for the visa, so I’ll have to phone the local branch next week and collect it in person, if I can explain myself adequately, which I worry about after the difficult phone calls yesterday. I hate doing stuff over the phone and in person. I feel like I really can’t cope with those when I’m burnt out and at the end of my tether. (Awareness of my autism has definitely sapped my self-confidence.)

I’m also worried about E’s visa application being rejected for some trivial reason or other. This fear has been worsened by the realisation that I have to declare the benefit money I was mistakenly paid by the Department of Work and Pensions (they continued paying me benefits after I repeatedly told them I was now earning too much to qualify) as it will be visible on the bank statements requested, so I can’t deny it or even just omit it. Incompetent bureaucrats.

I worry how E and I would cope with having children, given our low energy levels (for different reasons). Hopefully E’s energy will return soon, but I worry that she has long COVID. As for myself, I am wondering if I should pay for a private sleep study to get some idea of whether I really do have a sleep disorder, but private medical care is so rare here that I’m not entirely sure how I would do it. I did google and found somewhere that looks possible, but I have not had time yet to investigate how reliable it is. To be honest, I feel that, if nothing else, I need to know I have a real issue to stop feeling guilty for having missed so much shul (synagogue) over the years, although, as I can get up for work, realistically social anxiety is probably a factor there too, combined with my feelings of not fitting in to the frum (religious Jewish) community. That feeling of guilt is always bad at this time of year, both because of the emphasis on growth and repentance and the many long shul services over the festivals with much greater than usual attendance, including the special mitzvah (commandment) of hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

After the Event

I miss E.   I feel this a lot.  To my surprise, living on different continents turned out to be a lot harder now we’re legally married, even though I think of the religious wedding, which we haven’t had yet, as the main wedding, not the civil one last week.  Even if the civil wedding was just a piece of paper, it’s changed the dynamic of the relationship forever.  I’m not sure if this proves or disproves the various rabbis and religious teachers I’ve heard over the years say that marriage is different to living together even if it is just a piece of paper.  It does feel different, but they presumably meant that a religious wedding performed by a rabbi was not just a piece of paper, not a civil one performed the City Clerk of New York.

I struggled at work for other reasons too.  I texted E that “I feel pretty awful, physically as well as emotionally.”  Then I was worried she would panic and texted that I felt, “Not awful awful, but not great, overloaded, exhausted, sleep-deprived, peopled out, nearly burnt out awful.”  Then I stayed late after work to phone my bank and building society to get statements on headed paper to submit to the Home Office for E’s visa.  This was a whole complicated thing that took forty-five minutes, but fortunately for you, I’m too tired to go into it now.

***

I had a slightly awkward goodbye to my aunt and uncle last night.  I was incredibly tired and just wanted to go to bed (I had in fact been getting into bed when I remembered they were leaving very early in the morning and I wouldn’t see them), but they wanted to talk.  That was awkward in itself, but my aunt asked if I was OK hugging.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t manage to express the mixture of religious and autistic reasons why not. She was OK with it, but I still felt guilty as, if I’m OK hugging E, surely I should not observe the rules of shomrei negiah (not touching women I’m not closely related to by blood or marriage – an aunt by marriage isn’t close enough) at all?  But I don’t feel like that, although explaining why is hard.  It’s also hard to separate religious reasons for not touching from autistic reasons, which are just as significant. It doesn’t help that my relationships with so many of my relatives are complex and hard to describe and fitting physical contact into them is even harder.

I actually was late getting up this morning because I thought I heard my uncle and aunt still up and couldn’t face peopling at 6.30am.  Eventually I had to get up for work and discovered they had long gone.

***

JYP said that, “holding yourself to an expectation about work based on school performance from a decade or two ago is not going to help you in any way.”  This is true, but I think my perseverating over my childhood success and current failure is a way of trying to grieve the life I thought I would have and which I do not have due to my autism.  I think this is part of the “bargaining” phase of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross grief model.  I can’t change the fact that I’m autistic, or that I was bullied at school, that I was lonely and depressed at Oxford, that I haven’t built a career, and that I messed up various friendships, all because of autism, so I toy with the idea of somehow living in a different past to make it better for myself.

***

As long-term readers have probably noticed, I worry a lot that I’m not a good Jew, in part because of my various health and brain-wiring issues. I worry about this more at this time of year, in the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  Maybe I have reasonable excuses for my behaviour, but it’s still not the ideal state, and that’s hard to deal with.  It’s easy to compare myself to other frum (religious) people who seem to be doing much better. I spend all year struggling so hard to live my Jewish life, and then it gets to the month Elul (the current month, immediately before these festivals) and suddenly I’m supposed to give 110% (even before the immense practical effort needed to get through the festivals).

It’s hard. I usually end up looking for reassurance around this time of year. I try to focus on what I am doing despite the effort involved. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said to look for “good points,” in your personality and history, even if only one or two things that are good about you so that you don’t give up on yourself.

I feel like I have spent my life telling myself I will live the frum life I want when I leave home, when I’m over depression, when I have a ‘proper’ job, when I sort my sleep issues, when I’m married… Along the way I ended up a different Jewish life, maybe better, maybe worse, maybe just different.  I feel like it’s the Torah of bedieved, meaning “after the event.”  Often there is a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling that in the first instance do X, but if that’s not possible, or if you did Y instead of X for some reason, bedieved, after the event, that’s OK.  I feel that everything I do is bedieved, OK after the event, but far from ideal.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t led this after the event life, maybe my family and E would not have been moved to become more religious, and certainly it would have been harder to stay on good terms with them.  Maybe the after the event of kashrut or Shabbat is the in the first instance of honouring parents and ensuring domestic harmony.  Life is complicated.

***

I find to my surprise that I have things to say about the queen, alehah hashalom, but not the energy or wherewithal to write them.  This blog is less a record of my interesting (or possibly interesting) thoughts and more an attempt to structure and process my life to try to make sense of it.

One In, One Out

I spent the afternoon printing and scanning bank statements for E’s visa application (to prove we will have enough money), only to discover they need to be on bank stationery, stamped by the bank or accompanied by a letter from the bank to authenticate them.  I know from experience that my bank simply will not print bank statements more than three months old, so it looks like I’m going to have to phone them to get some kind of appointment to get the statements printed or authenticated there, and also at my building society, as I need proof for both my current account and my savings account.  This is yet another hassle and has left me feeling close to burnout.  Other than that, I did go for a walk (I need it after that), but did very little Torah study, or anything else productive.

I feel exhausted and close to being overwhelmed and perhaps burning out.  I’ve gone in the space of a week and a half from getting married (civil wedding) in a foreign country, to leaving my bride of one day (who is still weak from COVID) to come back to the UK, to going straight back to work, then having my aunt and uncle staying with us (me and my parents) and trying to sort out the visa so E can follow me to the UK ASAP.  I haven’t had time to process the civil wedding, to process being separated from E for an indeterminate period, or even to just be myself for long periods without having to mask around other people.  And on top of all that, I have the oncoming stresses (religious, emotional, practical, social) of the Jewish autumn holiday season and the slow dying of the light as we get to autumn, with the risk of triggering depression and maybe anxiety in me.  I really feel like I need some self-care time, but I’m not sure when I can do that and I feel guilty about even thinking about it.  I watched Doctor Who for twenty-five minutes over dinner, but it doesn’t really begin to address that.

My parents are away next week.  That sounds like it might be a break from peopling, but my mood does tend to dip when I’m in my house alone, even aside from extra chores.  What I really need is to live with my best friend, but she’s in New York.

***

I sometimes I feel I have a “one in, one out” system on my blog whereby when I gain a new reader, I lose an old one, and I feel that’s happened recently.  I’m sad and vaguely worried that I did something wrong, but also aware that friendships tend to be transient, particularly online ones.  I do wonder sometimes about blog readers of years past who just vanished one day, particularly if they weren’t active bloggers themselves for me to see if they were still doing anything, but I know I’ve also stopped reading blogs for reasons that have nothing to do with the writers and everything to do with where I was with my life.

I did write something in comment on someone else’s blog recently about being diagnosed autistic (this was someone who doesn’t know about this blog and only knows me via my old, non-anonymous, pre-autism Blogger identity).  I felt in a way that I needed to apologise for and explain my sometimes-inept behaviour over the years, but I think I just freaked her out.  I guess it is a big thing to suddenly write about in a post that wasn’t entirely connected.  I do tend to feel the need to apologise to people for how I behaved before I knew I was on the spectrum when maybe I should just draw a line under it and move on.  My first novel was, on some level, a way of doing this, which I guess is one reason why I’m tempted to just rewrite to remove most of the autism stuff.

Feeling Super-Autistic (and Not in a Good Way)

I’m worried about E as she’s testing negative for COVID now, but still struggles to breathe sometimes and feels tired all the time. It’s frustrating being in another country at this time. I’m glad I’ll be with her in a few days. We both really hope she doesn’t have long COVID.

I woke up feeling really exhausted after yesterday. I did quite a lot yesterday, work, then transport issues on the way home, then I had my first professional haircut in two and a half years, which reminded me how much I find haircuts an intrusion of my personal space, and I was worried about E. Today I woke up very late, struggled to get up, then went back to bed after breakfast as I felt so shattered, physically and emotionally. I was glad that it was cool enough to use my weighted blanket again, but maybe it was too tempting after a long break with just a duvet cover or no covering at all. Staying in bed, wrapped in my blanket, is classic shutdown, exhaustion-recovery behaviour for me.

I got confused about which days I was taking as holiday. I’d asked to have from this coming Tuesday onwards, but thought I’d said from Monday (which might have been more sensible, although I’m still doing an odd Thursday on 1 September). J gave me the time, but I feel stupid (I arguably should have stuck with working on Monday, but it’s too late now). I know it’s arguably another executive function thing that autistic people are bad at, but I was fine at being organised and prepared at school (it was some of my friends who struggled), but somehow I just can’t do it any more. I don’t know if there’s something about the workplace rather than school that makes it harder (the fact that I’ve internalised the message that I can’t work effectively here, perhaps) or if, as sometimes happens, I was able to mask and use workarounds (such as writing reminders) at school, but now I’ve reached a point where I can’t even do that any more without exhausting myself. You can’t get “more autistic” as you get older, but you can suddenly stop being able to mask and “conform” to neurotypical standards. It’s just another thing that makes me feel I’m just not cut out for this world, the “adult” world of work. It doesn’t help much to know “We would expect someone like you to struggle with X” if it still means that you struggle with X, particularly if you struggle a lot more with just X.

Incidentally, there’s some talk today on the autism forum about the longer you try to mask, the worse your burnout is when it comes, and the harder it is to come back from it. That’s probably true, and I burnt out about age twenty, not in my thirties or forties like some of the people there. I still haven’t managed to get back on track after my burnout, and now I wonder what ‘on track’ would look like. Autism is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

I’m not going to shul (synagogue) today. I was not sure whether to risk picking up COVID (or any other illness) right before my trip, but now I just feel exhausted and unable to cope. I don’t know why, but autistic exhaustion often feels like low blood sugar or even low blood pressure for me, faint and light-headed. I don’t know if this is an alexithymia thing, with my body being confused about what I’m actually feeling or if there are actual physical effects in this way.

It’s mostly the thought of E and our imminent wedding (Phase 1) that is keeping me going. Even if most of my life is a mess, I did at least get an amazing fiancée! I just hope I can find a way to earn more money and get more energy (which might not entirely be an autism thing, as a sleep disorder seems increasingly probable) before we get married, or at least soon after. Although from our on/off relationship history I know that she’s decided that she wants to be with me regardless of how much I earn or what I can do, it would be good not to be struggling, financially and practically, especially if we have a child.

Existential Spirituality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Why D W Stdy Tlmd Wtht Vwls r Pncttn

I’ve been listening to a number of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts about Talmud study lately. On one of them Rabbi Kahn said something along the lines of, “If you don’t know what Talmud study involves, it’s tort law, in a dead language, with no punctuation.” In fact, there are no vowels either, although it’s not all tort law; it actually covers all aspects of life, or at least all aspects of Jewish life in Israel and Babylon a thousand years ago. Tort law is what yeshivahs generally focus on, though, as it’s very hard and is supposed to be good for intellectual development.

I was thinking about the “no punctuation and no vowels” thing. Nowadays you can get editions of the Talmud like the Steinsaltz and the Artscroll that do have the vowels and punctuation added, but these are definitely viewed by most people as lesser and a crutch for poor students, particularly those who did not have a traditional yeshivah education. All these editions with vowels and punctuation include the “classic” page layout too, with the implication being that you should “graduate” to the traditional page at some point. When I study Talmud (which I haven’t been doing so much lately), I do try to study in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, even though I have to use the translation, but these days I study on the page with vowels and punctuation, not the “Vilna Shas” page without them.

I wonder why this is. Torah scrolls are traditionally written without vowels and punctuation too. However, the Masoretes, a group of scribes in the land of Israel from the fifth to tenth centuries, established the authoritative text of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) including vowels and punctuation. Nowadays, Hebrew Bibles are generally printed with vowels and punctuation. If you want to learn how to read from the unpunctuated, unvocalised Torah scroll, you have to use a special book called a Tikkun which recreates the look of a scroll. I have never encountered anyone who says that this is a crutch and that ideally we should read the Torah unvocalised and unpunctuated.

There may be a few reasons for this. The one that seems most important to me is that the idea of mass Talmud study only goes back seventy years or so. Before then, only the intellectual elite were taught it. However, all boys were taught the Torah (at least in theory), but it would be too much to expect five year olds not just to read an ancient text in a dead language (which is quite a big thing to ask in itself), but to read it without vowels or punctuation too. So everyone was taught with those and it just became accepted as normal.

Another possibility is that some difficult passages in the Talmud can be read multiple ways without vowels and punctuation and that can have halakhic (Jewish legal) impact. Bear in mind that the Talmud is structured as a series of debates, not a law code. Without punctuation, it’s not always easy to tell if it is making a statement, asking a question, asking a rhetorical question or just being sarcastic (yes, the Talmud uses sarcasm). So that might be why we aspire to study in a way that makes those ambiguities more visible, so we are aware of the multiple readings possible and not tied to one specific reading. I’m not 100% convinced by this, though, as the same ambiguities can be found in the Torah. The Torah tells us three times not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk, which is seen as the source for the prohibition on eating meat and dairy together, a major part of the kosher (dietary) laws. Yet in the unvocalised text it can be read just as legitimately as “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s fat,” which would obviously be a very different reading. We rely on oral tradition that it should read ‘milk’ and I think the people who see only unvocalised Talmud study as legitimate would be resistant to making “the masses” aware of an ambiguity like this in such a key halakhic area.

I just think it’s very, very strange and I wonder if on some level it’s about creating artificial boundaries and setting a high entrance bar, initially to ensure only the best students could study, but now to force a high standard on all men (perhaps to separate them from women?).

***

Last night I had a very slight headache before I skyped E. I took some tablets anyway, in case it got worse. Over the course of our conversation, it got a lot worse and I had to leave a bit abruptly when it got too much, although it was probably time to end the call anyway, as it was getting late. I don’t know why it got so much worse after taking meds. It did eventually go after I started using a “kool ‘n’ soothe” strip, but, as is often the case after bad headaches, when it went, I was not feeling at all sleepy — even though by this stage it was 1am! I went to bed very late, although I did fall asleep quickly once I got to bed despite the heat.

I ate some ice cream late at night which seems to be becoming a regular Thursday treat, at least while the heatwaves last. I feel like I can go through the week without junk a bit easier knowing I can have this at the end (I also eat less healthily on Shabbat, although better than in the past). The overall trend for me at the moment is to lose weight, though, which is good. It is a struggle to cut back, even though I actually wasn’t eating that much junk objectively, but clomipramine made all the calories go straight to my belly. It is hard sometimes to get to the end of a hard day and not even allow myself one biscuit.

I woke up again struggling to breathe this morning, lying on my stomach. I go to sleep on my side, but apparently turned over in my sleep. Lying flat is worse for sleep apnoea. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for signs of sleep apnoea, as I would have thought I just woke with a start from a dream and that was why I was gasping. This explains to me why I never noticed signs of breathing issues before the doctor suggested it as a reason for disturbed and unrefreshing sleep.

Otherwise it’s the usual end of the week exhaustion/autistic exhaustion/poor sleep exhaustion/whatever exhaustion, worsened by heatwave exhaustion. I did do some novel writing, although I’m a bit ashamed that I had to disconnect the internet to focus. Putting some music on very quietly helped too. Loud music stops me concentrating, but quiet music was neutral or even beneficial for concentrating, which is interesting. I will have to experiment some more with it. I’ve written over 26,000 words now, which is basically a quarter of a novel. I have mixed feelings about it, but I think most authors do.

I’m a bit daunted by the thought of sorting out the wedding paperwork (partly worried I’m going to forget something or leave something out and delay the wedding further), but it’s exciting that E and I will hopefully be married before Pesach (Passover), albeit that that timeline really depends on the Home Office.

Perchance to Dream

This is mostly about a weird dream I had last night. I know some people don’t like to read about dreams, so I usually don’t post about them (I don’t usually remember them, to be honest), but this one seems pertinent to the theme of this blog, such as it is, of trying to fit in at work and in the Jewish community with autism and social anxiety. I’ll put the dream in the next paragraph and the relevance in the ones after, if you want to skip. I’m cutting a lot of weird detail that I can barely remember and isn’t relevant (this isn’t Freudian psychoanalysis). To be honest, I’m reconstructing the dream from fragments, as I can’t remember everything (my dreams are fairly stream-of-consciousness and I usually can’t remember much of them). I’m also cutting the random Donald Trump cameo (seriously, he just walked in and walked out again).

In the dream I was travelling with my boss, J. We were at someone’s house for Friday night dinner, and I said I wanted to leave early as I was tired. In reality, I had autistic burnout. J said we were going to lunch somewhere after shul (synagogue) in the morning, and he wanted me there on time as he didn’t like making excuses for me. I felt that I wasn’t really able to control my sleep pattern and autistic exhaustion, but I didn’t say anything. I went back to where we were staying (which was a sort of self-storage center where we had to sleep in drawers of filing cabinet-type things), but I got lost getting out of some sort of factory place, so when J came to check on me, I wasn’t in bed yet and he got annoyed as he said I would get up too late now. I didn’t tell him I’d got lost as I thought it would just start an argument. I also felt some guilt, as I felt I had wasted some time myself through procrastinating, although it wasn’t clear how this had happened. I somehow knew that I would not be able to get up in time in the morning and J would have to go without me and make excuses for me. I knew this was due to my autism, that I would crash and oversleep and that I would need to do so, but somehow it did not feel a good enough excuse. I spoke to my parents and sister and said that J didn’t understand my autism and I didn’t know how to explain it to him. There was then a load of stuff about not being able to sleep because of too much light and noise, again because of autism (and also failing to sleep in a filing cabinet drawer, which somehow didn’t seem weird) and talking to various people, but this was the relevant part of the dream.

It seems pretty clear this is about my autism and my disrupted sleep and my lack of shul attendance over the years. Obviously in the dream I felt I wouldn’t make an early start as I’d already had a couple of early starts on the trip and I would be suffering autistic exhaustion; further, I struggle with sleep and getting up as it is, for reasons that are still to be determined, but might be some kind of sleep disorder. J is easy-going in real life, but in the dream he was really annoyed with me, which probably reflects my fears that I am going to exhaust his patience in the workplace with my mistakes, mistakes that may be due to autistic issues like executive function deficits and trouble multitasking, or might just be due to boredom and incompetence. Somehow (I can’t quite remember how), my boss from my job at the further education library was in there too; she was less accepting of my mistakes in real-life and told me at my annual evaluation I was frankly not turning out as well as she had expected, which largely soured me on pursuing a library career. To be fair, I didn’t have an autism diagnosis at that point; even so, I feel I’ve made a lot of mistakes in both jobs, beyond my diagnosis. Of course, the worry in the dream was about getting up for shul. My disrupted sleep may be autism-related or may not, I don’t know at this stage. It’s led me to have very poor shul attendance over the years I’ve been struggling with mental illness and autism (really back to teenage years). I worry that I “Should” be going to shul more, and doing more generally to be a “good Jew.”

At the root of all this is the fear that I am asking for huge amounts of adjustments from J, from my parents, and from E, and, in a sense, from my community and God and that one day they will get fed up with making them. I have asked for adjustments for mental illness and I’m still asking for adjustments for autism and disrupted sleep, as well as feeling slightly incompetent generally and prone to procrastination instead of doing things well first time, which may or may not be a side-effect of autism. I am getting reduced shul fees because I’m on a low income. I’m not doing the things a frum Jewish man should do and which God apparently wants me to do, in terms of shul attendance, Torah study and mitzvah performance. There is a fear that I don’t deserve these adjustments, that I’m taking advantage of my parents, E, my community and God, and that one day they will realise.

In reality, I’m making adjustments in return for E, which she is aware of, and arguably also for my parents, who are not really aware of it. Still, there is a feeling of being a thirty-nine year old child, still not fully functional and independent. To be honest, I feel Western society puts too much emphasis on independence. It’s nice if you have it, but many people will not have it for at least some of their lives and that’s not a fault or a problem. Still, I think these are pretty deep-seated fears coming out in the dream.

***

I did a bit more today than yesterday, but I feel that I’m still being subpar. Part of that is sleeping late, of course. Now there’s a big garden party going on somewhere nearby. I hope it doesn’t keep me up late. It’s not looking good on that score, and I feel I’m going to have to shut the windows when I should really keep them open.

***

I had a weird thought last night. People say that no one is a supporting character in their own life, but I kind of feel that I am a supporting character in my life. That’s why huge chunks of my life have been ignored (career; friends; aspects of religious life; until recently, love life) — the author hasn’t thought them out! It’s like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I’m a main character in my play, but really a minor character in a much more important play.

Of course, this isn’t fully true. My inner monologue is loud enough and important enough to me to make me feel a lot more real than anyone else. Still, I do feel like I’m not really here in the same way that other people are. I don’t achieve anything, I’m like a ghost or a neutrino that passes through without changing anything, at least until E and I got together.

On another level, it is true, of course. I’m a main character in my life, but a minor character in, say, the story of the Jewish people or England or humanity . I guess it’s hard to think of oneself as unimportant, as I’ve said before. It’s not that I want to be important in itself or for fame (yuk), but to feel I haven’t wasted my life and made some kind of difference. I’m trying to teach myself not to care.

***

OK, I really wish the party would stop now. It’s VERY loud and late.

“What’s so interesting about an ox?”

I really struggled to get up today, feeling utterly drained and self-critical (it goes without saying I got up really late, as it was a non-work/volunteering day — no volunteering this week for the summer holiday). The fact that another heatwave seems to have started probably didn’t help. Even if I can sleep when it’s hot, I tend not to sleep well (or, even less well than usual). Dad was watching the news when I went down for breakfast, so I got to see the latest on the Conservative Party leadership contest (“Tax cuts will fix everything in our broken society”) and Donald Trump being raided by the FBI, which is the least surprising “unexpected” story ever (I would not be surprised if he eventually goes out in a hail of bullets). None of this helped my mood much. I did manage to get dressed in about ten minutes to just about say some of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) while it was still time, which was good, and unexpected.

I waited over an hour at the dentist, as there was a child (I think) who needed emergency treatment. I was OK with that, although I had nothing to read, and the waiting room would probably have been too noisy for me to read anyway (radio, child playing videos on a phone without headphones). I think the dentist said I shouldn’t have gone to the dentist until I had two separate instances of pain, but possibly she was just saying that she wouldn’t extract the tooth for just one instance of pain. She said the gum was inflamed and cleaned it out, and suggested I rinse after meals with salt water to keep it clean, but that was about it.

Because of the long wait, I lost a lot of time. I tried to do some Torah study while cooking to save some time, but I struggled to find an appropriate shiur (class) to listen to. I ended up listening to a short ten minute thing and then some more Orthodox Judaism, which was interesting, but more pedagogy than actual Torah study. There was more discussion about teaching Talmud to schoolchildren, which made me think maybe I know some more things than I thought, not so much in terms of facts, but concepts, like knowing some of the history of the Talmud and the way it uses particular topics to discuss general concepts.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz spoke about speaking to a meeting of three hundred (I think) Haredi single mothers who wanted to understand their sons’ schoolwork (Haredi women are generally not taught Talmud). One woman asked why her son is always talking about oxen. I was already aware that the Talmud uses four different types of dangerous items (foot, ox, pit and fire) as shorthand for various ways of causing damage, so I felt somewhat ahead of the game here. It was also good to hear a Haredi rabbi admit that one hundred years ago, only the top one per cent of Jewish schoolboys would have even gone to yeshivah and studied Talmud. Again, I knew that already, but it’s not really admitted to in the Haredi world. I recently saw someone arguing that while most Jewish men in pre-war Eastern Europe did have to work, they dreamt of spending all their time studying Tosfos (Tosfos, or Tosafot in the Modern Hebrew pronunciation I use, is a collective Medieval commentary on the Talmud, even more complicated and difficult than the Talmud itself). I can’t prove that this is untrue (I don’t have access to the dreams and fantasies of every Jewish man in pre-war Eastern Europe), but it seems unlikely given the social and economic situation of the time. Study was important to people even quite low down the social scale, but of much less challenging texts, and it seems unlikely that all Jewish men wanted to spend as long as possible in religious study.

I tried to phone the United Synagogue Marriage Authorisation Department to get the paperwork to move on the religious marriage. I got the answerphone, as I did when I phoned last week, which worried me a bit. I will try again…

The other thing I did was spend an hour or so working on my novel. I feel a bit bad about writing instead of studying Torah, but I tell myself writing is my livelihood, even though it actually isn’t, I’m just hoping it will contribute to it one day. I did make myself do a few minutes of Torah study on this week’s sedra (Torah reading), which happens to be my bar mitzvah portion (although I no longer remember how to lein it — I got so much praise for my bar mitzvah leining that I freaked out with social anxiety and refused to lein again, except when my parents forced me to lein haftorah for my sister’s bat mitzvah).

There are other things I would like to write about, but I am tired and between struggling to get up and get going this morning and the wait at the dentist, I am out of time.

The Elevator Pitch

The important bit: E booked an appointment for us to get a wedding licence when I’m in New York.  We can’t book the civil wedding itself until next week, as they only release the slots three weeks in advance.  But we’re another step closer to marriage!

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I don’t know why.  I often find it hard to sleep after a headache and it was hot again too.  I got about two hours sleep in the end and somehow got up in time for work.  I drank a lot of coffee…  I’m not sure if that’s the reason I made some mistakes at work.  To be honest, I don’t really need sleep deprivation as an excuse.  Some of it is executive function issues.  Some of it might be incompetence.  Or maybe not.  I don’t really know any more.

I had to do a rotten job at work too which I won’t go into here, but it involved the phone, asking people for money they owed and some other stressful stuff, but it left me feeling lousy and still not getting the money we were owed.

When I got home I did some small chores, thinking I would submit my novel to an agent after dinner, but by the time dinner came (my parents eat late), I was burnt out and light-headed from lack of food and still felt bad after eating.

I feel like eating junk (rogelach or cake), but really shouldn’t as I had too much over the last couple of days.  I might use the autistic exhaustion heter (dispensation) to listen to music despite the Three Weeks of mourning, as I feel pretty bad, but don’t think I should go to bed just yet.

***

I was thinking again last night, when I couldn’t sleep, about people I know/knew who get paid to write, or who write for a wide audience (paid or free).  I felt despairing that I would ever get there, although the number of people I could think of being paid to write wasn’t that great, and I think they’re mainly making money from their substack email newsletters.  Feeling a failure at work and even wondering today if I would get fired didn’t help.  J is pretty easygoing, but I imagine he doesn’t have infinite patience.  There is definitely a trend on the autism forum for people to fail to hold jobs down for long, although they tend to blame the social aspects of work rather than executive function issues.

Instead of feeling like an inadequate, failed writer, I tried to focus on my life and what I have, especially E.  I remember when I was single and lonely for so many years and now have someone who loves me more than I ever thought possible.  But I would like to be able to contribute more to the family.  I am sufficiently ‘modern’ to be OK being the lower earning partner and being a house husband, but I would like our life not to involve money being very tight, or relying on our parents.

***

I went to the free book box on the way home, partly because it was such a stressful day, and I ended up over-compensating.  I took three books: Doctor Who: The Time Lord Victorious: The Knight, The Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole; The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale; and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I don’t really read Doctor Who books any more, but I couldn’t not take a free one.  Eleanor Oliphant is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read, but never got around to, and is probably the sort of literary/commercial novel that I should be reading to understand the field.  That probably applies to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher too, although it’s more of a stretch in terms of genre (historical fiction, murder mystery, fiction-based-on-fact).

***

I’m still on the front page of the Jewish website with my autism/Asperger’s story.  I noticed today that they put a note on it about winning the award, which I guess is why it’s still up there.  It did occur to me to wonder if I should email Rabbi Kahn from the Orthodox Conundrum podcast to suggest he does a neurodiversity episode or a high-functioning autism/Asperger’s episode.  But I’m a bit scared in case he asks me to be on it.  Then again, it’s not likely that he would ask some random stranger onto his podcast.  Usually the people he interviews are experts or activists of some kind, often rabbis.  Anyway, I wrote a sort of fan letter, saying I like the podcast and asking him to do an episode on Asperger’s/high functioning autism, but I think it came across as “LET ME BE ON YOUR PODCAST!!!!”

I suppose I would like to be able to talk in a more honest way than I was in the article I wrote.  Not that I was dishonest, but I had to omit and compress a lot to get it down to a thousand words, and I did the thing I complained about yesterday of making my life seem linear and positive when it isn’t always those things.  Podcasts – conversation – are not going to be great for any autistic people, though.  We tend to freeze when forced to answer quickly, and are not always good at social niceties (my old friend executive function issues again).  Anyway, it probably won’t happen.

***

It is very hot again and I don’t like it.

Emotional Vampire

Sorry, WordPress has eaten this post again, and I don’t have time to fix the probable formatting problems of salvaging it. Yesterday I overslept, the beginning of a day marked with incipient signs of autistic exhaustion. I skipped even more of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) than I usually do and wondered when I would get to see someone about my sleep issues. Work was pretty dull. In the morning I was mostly locating and copying dividend statements for the auditors without really understanding the financial reports I was searching through. I hope I found everything I needed. The afternoon was spent sorting through old papers to see what could be thrown away. I found letters from the then Chief Rabbi and his successor, and two letters from fathers of schoolfriends of mine (both Reform rabbis). On way home I felt burnt out. I had the “brain being squashed” feeling again. Apparently volunteering + headache + work + peopling + work again + heatwave = autistic exhaustion very quickly. I was exhausted at home. I spent half an hour or so doing non-screen time reading, which helped a bit even if the subject matter was heavy (The Third Reich in Power). After dinner, I submitted my novel to two agents in the space of twenty or thirty minutes. I’m getting quicker as I’m getting more experienced, although that hasn’t led to more interest, just more rejections. I spoke to E afterwards, but eventually I crashed. I can’t remember when I went to bed exactly, but I must have slept for over twelve hours, despite setting alarms and Dad trying to get me up. I feel tired and numb now, but more functional, and my brain doesn’t feel like it’s being squeezed. It is hard to do anything, though. I went for a walk, even though that meant I couldn’t work on my novel today (and I probably won’t on Sunday either, as I’m busy). I wanted to be out in nature, which is impossible where I live, but there’s a little strip of wasteland and woodland at the edge of the local park, so I went walking there. I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast about sex and guilt, which did make me feel like I was, on some level, thinking about my novel, doing Torah study and getting out to look after my physical and emotional health, at least on some level. Aside from writing this post, the only other thing I’ve done today is my usual pre-Shabbat chores. I feel a need to move on with my life, particularly with marrying E and with my writing. Marrying E is moving on OK at the moment, even if it’s frustrating that bureaucracy is going to make it a prolonged process, but I want to move faster with my novel. It’s partly feeling I have something to say, and that my subject matter is going to be taken by other writers if I don’t write quickly. But some of it is feeling “I need to earn money as a writer to help support the family when E and I marry.” Days like today, when I just feel overwhelmed and unable to do much, are a reminder that I have a disability and that my life is not where I want it to be, will not be there for a while longer, and it may never be there, which is frustrating and scary. That said, I have kind of reached a point lately where, at least some of the time, I feel less resentful of having lost half my life to depression/autistic burnout/whatever it was. I don’t look positively at those times, but I feel I needed to go through something like that if I want to write about people on the margins of the frum (religious Jewish) world, and I feel I wasn’t ready to get married then, despite being painfully lonely and not having any real legitimate option in the frum world for dealing with loneliness and sexual frustration. I have a lot more maturity, understanding of myself, and ability to give in a relationship than I had even a couple of years ago. I feel less resentful of God for putting me through all this. Of course, if I believe in an omnipotent God, then I have to believe He could have achieved all this a less painful way, and I do struggle to consciously accept that this was the best way to achieve these goals, especially when so many other people reach this stage without similar levels of pain. Ultimately, I think everyone suffers, sooner or later (except perhaps some exceptionally wicked people who God lets enjoy this world so they won’t experience the next one), and it’s pointless to complain who suffers more or less. It’s hard sometimes, but the alternative is basically self-defeating. *** I had another couple of books arrive over the last two days. They were ostensibly bought for research for my novel, but I’m not sure how helpful they will actually be. Really, I was curious about them, but needed to justify reading them to myself. The books are The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know by Shira Tarrant and When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse by Elana Sztokman. For some time now I’ve been reading On Repentance, a collection of shiurim (religious lectures) given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (New Year and Day of Atonement), and reconstructed from notes by Rabbi Pinchas Peli. I’ve been struggling in places, not because of the text, but because it’s hard to know what to do with the optimistic view of a forgiving God when I’m aware that there are people, often very prominent people, in the frum community who are abusive and others who defend and protect them, and I don’t feel these people should be forgiven. I worry how the community as a whole will achieve forgiveness for allowing this situation to exist. I think about this sometimes when davening (praying), but it really crystallised around the idea of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, after listening to Haredi activist Yehudis Fletcher describe her abuse by Todros Grynhaus, a rabbi and schoolteacher, and how, at a time when she was trying to make the community aware of the danger he posed, she was marginalised while he was asked to lead the prayer services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in a shul (synagogue) despite the allegations she had made against him. I do worry why I’ve got so interested in abuse, and writing about abuse. I was never abused (I was bullied a lot at school, but it was largely name-calling and not anything physical. I don’t know if it would be considered emotional abuse). I have known survivors, and abusers, but I think it’s more the experience of marginalisation that I empathise with, albeit for different reasons (autism and mental illness) and want to do something about. But I worry that I become a kind of emotional vampire, sucking up other people’s sorrow for benefit.

Otherstide[1]

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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