Playing the Autism Card

I somehow got up early, ate breakfast and did some things online, but felt depressed and went back to bed. I don’t think I fell asleep again, but I’m not sure; certainly I was in bed for over an hour. I hope these depressed feelings pass soon and don’t turn into another episode of clinical depression.

I did some work on my application for the Emerging Writers’ Programme I’m applying for. I’m not sure how well it’s going to be honest. I am playing the “autism” card as well as the “Orthodox insider” card, hinting that I might write an UnOrthodox-style anti-religious story when that is not my intention, while also talking about wanting to show the Orthodox in a realistic light, which can mean positive or negative, however the judges want to read it. I do mention God, though, and repentance, which might be a bad idea, but at least it’s a Unique Selling Point. It’s not like there are many contemporary literary authors writing about pornography addiction, or anything really, through the prism of repentance and encountering God.

It reminds me of an article in Tablet Magazine a while back about university bursaries and scholarships intended to go to disadvantaged teenagers going to middle-class teenagers who are taught by their (private) schools and their (middle-class) parents (probably working in academic, law or HR) how to write applications with the correct narrative, a narrative of, “I struggled against prejudice because I’m a member of minority X, but I triumphed over it because I’m strong, resilient and successful, therefore you should accept me both for reasons of diversity and because of my skills and capabilities in fighting oppression.” Less-privileged teenagers are not taught how to write this way and fail to get the money and places intended for them.

***

I went for a run, but ended up feeling light-headed, dizzy and slightly nauseous at times, even after my warm-up, let alone the run. I was slow and sluggish while running, with low stamina. I only managed to run for thirty minutes rather than my usual forty and got a headache when I got home. I wondered about this, and about other health issues on my mind lately.

I’ve mentioned that my cholesterol is slightly high. I looked on the NHS patient site and it looks like my cholesterol has been increasing for several years now (with one slight dip), which worries me as I certainly haven’t been steadily increasing the amount of cholesterol-heavy foods I eat. In fact, I rarely eat meat and especially not red meat and I’ve cut back my consumption of cheese (and eggs, although apparently that’s considered less of an issue now) so I’m not sure why my cholesterol continues to rise, unless it is a(nother) medication side-effect.

Then I have frequent issues with low energy and feeling “ill” in vague and undefined ways, particularly when tired after work or days out with E, plus I have problems sleeping too long and struggling to get up. I assumed these were medication side-effects and/or autistic exhaustion, but now I’m not sure. Also troubling is that several times recently I felt like I have nearly lost my balance and just stabilised myself in time, twice in the shower and a couple of times on the stairs.

Unfortunately, some of these issues cut across each other. When I got an exercise headache after running, I knew (or at least suspected) that eating crisps (for salt) would help, but crisps are hardly good for weight loss or cholesterol, so I put off eating them. It got to dinner time and I felt headachey, nauseous and my hand was shaking as I tried to drink my soup, so I ate a packet of crisps. Before I had even finished the packet, the headache was less intense, the nausea went and I stopped shaking. Sometimes I have these “salt-withdrawal” issues without having exercised first. I know salt issues can be related to taking lithium, which I do.

I think I should see my GP, even if it means waiting ages on the phone to get through to the receptionist and then playing the autism card again to get an in-person appointment and one with my preferred GP (currently appointments are supposed to be on the phone in the first instance and with the first GP available, not my preferred one). I will have to say that, being on the spectrum, I struggle with phone calls and new people, which is completely true, even if it feels a little disingenuous to say it.

***

Looking at my unpublished novel to find an excerpt to submit for the Emerging Writers’ Programme application, I’m struck by how many references there are to toilets in it. I didn’t mean to be vulgar, but since childhood I’ve been struck by how artificial it is that toilets, and toilet functions, aren’t mentioned in “realistic” fiction. My toilets appear for solid narrative reasons, not to gross people out (although one of them smells bad), but do seem somewhat unusual. I guess I’m aware of it because the toilet has long been an escape room for me when suffering from autistic overload in social spaces, which is how it appears in the novel.

***

I should probably mention that they announced the new Doctor in Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa. I can’t judge whether he’ll be any good, as I haven’t seen him in anything. As I mostly watch old TV, I generally don’t know new Doctors in advance, unless, like Peter Capaldi, they already appeared in the show as another character. But he’s the first new Doctor to be younger than I will be when his first episode airs (you know you’re getting older when the Doctors get younger). I still feel the Doctor should be older. I know I liked Matt Smith a lot, and I don’t dislike Peter Davison, but I still feel the Doctor should be played by someone over forty. I definitely feel David Tennant was too young (and too good-looking…) although that’s the least of my problems with the Tennant Doctor. Not for the first time, I feel returning showrunner Russell T Davies has a very different understanding of the show to me.

Other Planets

E and I went to Hampton Court Palace yesterday. We saw the palace and the gardens. I had been to the palace before, but nearly thirty years ago, and I don’t think I saw all of it then. I was surprised that the palace was still a royal residence in the eighteenth century; I was also annoyed that a famous TV historian who was once rude to a friend of mine (also a historian) featured prominently on the audio guide. The gardens were pleasant too, and full of tulips for the tulip festival, although not many other flowers were blooming yet. It was cold, as E and I had dressed for warmer weather.

After seeing the palace, we had time to kill before meeting a couple of my friends for dinner. We could either go home for about an hour or spend two hours in Golders Green. We couldn’t agree, so I went home to read a bit and E visited ethnic grocery shops in Golders Green, which would have bored me stiff. E and I have a lot in common, but I’m glad we don’t feel the need to be joined at the hip and do everything together.

We had dinner with a couple of friends of mine from university days. E liked them and I think they liked her, which was something of a relief overall.

Today I was not as burnt out as I feared I might be, but I overslept by more than half an hour and had to rush to work, although I wasn’t late. I was very tired all morning and drank a lot of coffee. It was a rather boring day, despite a trip to the bank, which I always enjoy. E met me at Sainsbury’s on the way home, which was nice. During the walk home and afterwards I felt less than 100% and was unsure why. I was exhausted from work and possibly also too hot, slightly dehydrated, hungry, lacking salt, or generally out of shape, or all of the above, and maybe something else. I do feel less fit and healthy lately and don’t really know why, beyond the general point that I’m slightly overweight and don’t exercise enough, although I walk quite a bit. I ought to get an app that records footsteps per day the way so many other people do. It’s hard to unpick medication weight-gain from eating too much weight gain, especially when medication seems to lead to eating too much.

***

E and I spoke a bit about autistic exhaustion. I think she is trying really hard to understand it, at least as much as anyone understands this mysterious and under-researched subject. I was really touched that she wants to understand this negative, but significant aspect of my life better.

***

How many years does it take for me to stop hating a Doctor Who episode and enjoy it? E and I watched The End of Time recently, which I hated on first transmission over Christmas/New Year 2009 and 2010. On re-viewing, I sort of grudgingly found parts of it somewhat amusing, although I still got annoyed at how silly and unplotted it seemed. Then tonight we watched the Paul McGann TV Movie from 1996 (the story with no name). I hated that on transmission, for the Doctor kissing Grace and for him being half-human. Now I can enjoy it. This isn’t new. Since the new series came along, the TV Movie has seemed less a desecration of Doctor Who and more a step towards the new series, albeit sometimes by showing what not to do. The Doctor-companion romance has become a semi-regular part of the format, to my continued annoyance. The half-human thing was quietly ignored, although Steven Moffat hinted that it might be true in Hell Bent.

One thing I noticed is that Grace is really a woman. Most female Doctor Who companions, old or new, are essentially written/presented as teenage girls, even if the character is supposed to be older (e.g. Jo, Sarah). I guess the other exceptions are Barbara (1963-1965), Liz (1970) and sort-of Romana (1978-1981), who was a 125 year old Time Lord, but was played somewhat girlishly by Mary Tamm and Lalla Ward (and, of course, for a Time Lord, 125 is just out of university). It’s probably not coincidence that Barbara’s time coincided with Verity Lambert’s time as producer, the only female producer on the original series. The absence of a really mature female companion in the new series is a pretty damning example of the way it’s not always more ‘modern’ and diverse, or necessarily more interested in telling stories about real characters than the original series.

I wonder if E thinks, “I finally meet the right guy and he’s from another planet” about me, as Grace said? “Another planet” being the UK, autism or the frum (religious Jewish) world, take your pick. (I am writing this mainly because I know she’ll read it!)

Exhaustion and Resilience

I had a long and boring day at work yesterday, then in the evening went to a customer-facing work thing for E’s job, as her plus one. It was OK, but I didn’t really say anything at all, even when I might reasonably have had something useful to say (explaining about Jewish religious customs to non-frum (non-religious) Jews). I did it because it seemed important to her that I went, even if I was not entirely sure what my role there was supposed to be.

I think it was the first time E has really seen how autism and social anxiety can shut me down in social settings. By the time we got home, I was struggling not to be in a bad mood (I think I probably snapped at my Mum a bit). E and I ate dinner and watched Doctor Who, and even though it was not a great episode (The End of Time part 2, David Tennant’s final episode in the title role), I felt a little better, but not much (dinner probably helped more than Doctor Who).

Then today I crashed, and although E tried to get me to wake up at 9am, I actually fell asleep afterwards, on and off until 1pm, feeling really burnt out and exhausted. After breakfast, I went back to bed for twenty minutes, cocooning myself in my duvet and weighted blanket until I realised I was just upsetting myself, thinking about antisemitism. Eventually I played the, “I can listen to music in the omer if I have autistic exhaustion” card to try to get dressed. I ate lunch before davening (praying), which I hate doing, but I had no choice, I just needed energy. I ate cheese on toast, which was probably a mistake given that I ate a lot of cheese over Pesach, have (marginally) high cholesterol and probably eat too much generally (although it was only an issue once I went on clomipramine), but I felt I needed a treat. I didn’t even like it that much, which made it all seem pointless.

I just feel tired and withdrawn, although I’m aware that to other people this probably looks like laziness and bad temper. I’m vaguely worried that this will just have added to E’s fears about my autistic dysfunctionality. Even if E is on the spectrum, she is a lot more functional in social settings and after draining days than I am. She was a bit surprised that I did nothing while she was out all day other than cook dinner.

***

I’ve been catching up with the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast (formerly Normal Frum Women). They did an episode on resilience, where the guest was someone I do actually know in person, who is a frum research psychologist and has written a self-help book on resilience as a psychologist, but also from a Jewish perspective.

One thing she said was that venting is counter-productive; it can make us feel better in the short-term, but worse in the long-term. However, reframing the situation is a positive thing. I feel I mostly vent here, although the comments do help me to reframe things sometimes. It did make me wonder if I should blog less or try to complain less or something. She did also talk about the need to normalise experiences like mental illness, which does make me feel there may be a point to writing even a very negative post like this one. For what it’s worth, I am aware that my mood and energy will probably be better tomorrow, which is positive reframing, but I do worry that the burnout days will always be there, which will be bad for me and might scare off E. I’m also aware I’m likely to have some more burnout days before E goes back to the US.

I actually knew about the book and I had vaguely thought of buying it. I guess I held off because I feel I’ve read a lot of self-help books and I struggle to act on them and integrate their teachings without some kind of therapist to guide me. But I do actually have the email address of the author of this one! Not that I would bombard her with questions, but maybe it’s worth getting the book. Particularly as it seems there isn’t much “wrong” with me that can be diagnosed or “fixed” medically/therapeutically at the moment, just a propensity for autistic exhaustion, which perhaps greater resilience could help with, if only to keep me going on the down days. It does seem to be difficult to get hold, possibly already out of print even though it was only published last autumn. It was published in hardback, so maybe a paperback will come out one day.

“They think it’s Passover… It is now!”

I haven’t blogged what happened so far during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the Pesach festival when work is permitted if necessary or contributing to the enjoyment of the festival). I was too busy and tired, and used my blogging energy for a password-protected post about Yom Tov that was more important. But I want to quickly catch up here.

For those who didn’t see the password-protected post, E and I mostly had a good Yom Tov, with interesting seders and E was OK meeting some my parents’ friends and family.

On Monday we (my parents, E and I) went to Cliveden, a National Trust stately home. The house is now a hotel, but we wandered around the grounds all afternoon. Thankfully, my parents left E and I to walk alone. E wanted to see bluebells, so we walked through the woodland until we found some big patches. We also walked around some of the more formal gardens on the site. It was the first time E and I really had proper alone time/date time since E came over last Tuesday and we both really enjoyed it.

In a second-hand bookshop on site, I found a Doctor Who book, The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Despite the name, this is a reissued and expanded edition of the official BBC Television Companion issued a few years earlier. I was uncertain whether to buy it, as I had read the online version of the first edition, which was on the official BBC Doctor Who website, but in the end nostalgia for the Doctor Who of the wilderness years when it was off TV (1990-2004) won out (the first edition was published in 1998 and the revised edition I bought in 2003). I’m not sure how much extra material there is, but for £2, it was probably worth it.

Yesterday E and I went on a Pesach LSJS tour of the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum. It was fascinating and even though I knew some of what was said (I’ve done my own research on biblical archaeology), I learnt a lot. The rabbi taking it, Rabbi Zarum, spoke to me briefly. I’m not sure if he recognised me or not; I’ve been to a number of his shiurim (classes) in the past, but I tend not to say much and try to blend into the background. He asked me which shul (synagogue) I go to, which is a standard Orthodox Jewish conversational opening gambit, and I explained about going to [Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul] but probably transferring soon to a Modern Orthodox one because of E. I probably cut a strange figure as a quasi-Haredi Jew, wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt and holding hands with someone I’d just identified as not married to me. I feel my life would be easier if I just found my “tribe” or community and stuck there, but I seem to have this restless desire to fit into several very different communities at the same time. (Similarly today I think someone from my current shul saw me wearing a Beatles t-shirt and holding hands with E again.)

In the afternoon E and I went to the Stonehenge exhibition, also at the British Museum. This was interesting to me as I know very little about prehistoric society. However, I felt the exhibition lacked context and was confusingly laid out, with the order you were supposed to read the exhibits unclear and poor signage. There was also ambient noise (sound effects and music) that annoyed me after a while. This seems to be becoming a thing in modern museums and galleries. They are super-diversity aware, but apparently have a blind spot when it comes to sensory sensitivity.

Afterwards we walked around Bloomsbury for a little while, but we got a bit bored and a bit lost and came home. We watched Doctor Who in the evening, Planet of the Dead, which E enjoyed more than I did.

***

Today I was burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, given everything we had done (including walking well over 10,000 steps both days – more like 14,000 yesterday). E had to go out for work all day. I wanted to get up to see her off, but failed and slept through most of the morning. I got up when the Tesco food delivery arrived, but went back to bed afterwards. I had weird dreams, but not particularly memorable, except for wanting to move in the dream and not being able to, which I think is an unconscious desire to get up. I also dreamt about snakes, I’m not sure why. E and I are both concerned about this (the sleep/exhaustion, not the snakes). I still don’t know whether I should be looking for help from doctors, occupational therapists or someone else, or if it’s just autistic exhaustion and I have to just accept it, or find workarounds, or if serious energy accounting might help and how I could manage going on fun days out if I know I’ll run a massive energy deficit the next day. All I know is that the exhaustion is very real and not just me being lazy (although I don’t always remember that).

In the afternoon helped Dad with some chores and spent an hour working on my novel, writing about a thousand words, which was extremely good. It was hard, though. My mood definitely declined in the afternoon, despite the good work on my novel, and I felt depressed and frustrated, and missed E even though I knew I’d see her later. I had the usual feeling of wanting to just be able to get up early and do more during the day. It’s frustrating.

I can’t believe tomorrow is Yom Tov again! E and I will be out for dinner at friends of mine from shul. They are really nice people, but I’ve been masking somewhat around them (and everyone else from that shul) and I wonder what will happen when the meet E and possibly see there’s more to my personality and outlook on life than I’ve let on in the past. I also don’t know if anyone I don’t feel as comfortable with will be there.

Autistic Day

Today seems to have been an autism-focused day. I guess they all are, on some level, but this more than most.

In the morning, at work, the rabbi from my parents’ shul (synagogue) phoned the office and I answered. He didn’t recognise me, and in the past I might have pretended not to recognise him, but I identified myself to him, which I guess was a victory over social anxiety. However, afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, which probably took all of two minutes and had no negative aspects. It sort of “echoed” around in my head. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum describe similar experiences of mental perseveration.

In the afternoon, I mostly corrected other people’s mistakes for a change, instead of making my own. This was when I was searching for missing data on our database. A lot of it was there, just entered wrongly (typos or names from one column on the spreadsheet transposed with those in another when entered on the database). I was a bit relieved to see it’s not just me who makes mistakes. The errors date from about five years ago, so I have no idea who made them.

J was on a video call while I was doing this and I could not concentrate at all. I had to listen to music to blot out the talking. I didn’t really want to listen to music, as it was a somewhat complicated task and I only really listen to music when doing mindless tasks, but I needed to blot it out.

Then I went to Primark to return the clothes I bought last week, because I am not a size medium any more (thank you, psych meds). I was overwhelmed with the number of people in the shop, which I still can’t get used to. It took two years of lockdown and not seeing people for me to realise how difficult I find these environments. Now I wonder how I ever coped with them. It’s strange how I just coped with things, not realising how difficult I found it. The silly thing is that I feel somehow less entitled to call myself “autistic” or “struggling” than the autistic people who would have a meltdown in the shop, or just refuse to go in.

It wasn’t just the noise and crowds that was an issue. Like lots of people on the spectrum, I seem to have some proprioception issues i.e. difficulty being aware of where my body is at times and finding it hard to get out of other people’s way. I think this is partly behind the autistic phenomenon I have written here before about autistic people wanting to help with tasks, but just getting in the way of other people.

There was something on the autism forum too today about autistic brains working fast, faster than we can follow. I do feel like that at times, although not all the time. It seems to happen most when I hyperfocus on a train of thought that I like (often about Judaism or perhaps Doctor Who) or when I’m anxious and depressed about something. Certainly when autistically fatigued/exhausted/burnt out/whatever it’s called my thoughts become slow and almost physically painful.

***

In terms of consumerism, I’ve had mixed success the last few days. The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season DVD box set I bought second-hand on Music Magpie (second-hand DVD/CD website) turned out to be region 1, which means it won’t play on UK DVD players. I’m not sure why they were selling it, but I didn’t think to look at what region it was for when I ordered, so I can’t swear that it was advertised wrongly. I am trying to return it.

I’ve found some real bargains on Music Magpie, but also had some problems with damaged or incorrectly-sent goods. I feel I should stop using them, but the alternative is eBay, which I have used, but don’t really like, I’m not sure why. I don’t like bidding for stuff at auction, but you can get items to buy immediately. Nevertheless, I just somehow find the site awkward to use and the items often expensive. The other alternative is Amazon, but E and I are both boycotting them over their poor employee treatment and for driving small booksellers out of business as well as underpaying authors. We were boycotting them independently, before we met — a meet-boycott-cute.

The items I’ve been buying on Music Magpie are cheap (a few pounds for a CD or DVD box set), so I’m not at risk of losing much money, but complaining and returning items is a hassle, and I worry that after I’ve made a certain number of complaints they’ll assume I’m lying. They refund damaged goods priced under £5 without asking for the item to be returned, so technically someone could steal a lot of free stuff by buying cheap items and then complaining that they were damaged and asking for a refund without it ever being checked.

On the plus side, I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle in the free book box, one of those books I’ve always meant to read, but never have.

***

E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death (1977). E was not impressed; I didn’t tell her fan wisdom sees it as a Classic, whatever that means. I see it as somewhere between Classic and E’s “ok”. It has one of my favourite Doctor Who put-downs: “You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I should warn you that I tried to use it on the bullies at school and it did not work as well as it did for Tom Baker. I don’t have that air of Bohemian cool.

Anxiety and Possible Shutdown

I didn’t want to write tonight, but I need to offload/process some thoughts before bed.

On Friday I woke up really drained, more or less physically ill and couldn’t do much until mid-afternoon. The afternoon was mostly taken up with pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores and a quick trip to the chemist. I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) inn the evening. I had agitated thoughts there and later about antisemitism and the recent terrorist attacks in Israel. The thoughts were very intense and I couldn’t shut them off. This used to happen to me a lot when my depression was bad. It happens less now, but still sometimes. I guess it was worsened this time by worry about Pesach (Passover) preparations this week ahead of us (basically the busiest, most stressful week of the year) and a family illness that I won’t talk about on an open post.

Now the clocks have gone forward, dinner on Friday is late, meaning by the time we finished eating it was very late. I hadn’t had time/energy to do more than a few minutes of Torah study before Shabbat. I wanted to do some because I needed to connect with something Jewish, but this kept me up very late. I read fiction briefly after that, but not for long, partly because it was very late, partly because the book I’m reading, Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, is interesting, but not a page-turner that I want to keep returning to.

It’s a science fiction history of the human race stretching millions of years into the future. Of course, it reflects the fears of the time it was written (1930 I think) more than current ones, but parts of it resonate. However there are no real characters to engage with; it’s written as a history book, and one with a broad scope and focus on social and even evolutionary change over thousands or millions of years. It makes it hard to get into. It’s not something I’m desperate to return to when I stop reading.

I also really disagree with the author’s cosmopolitanism, although writing why would take longer than I have to write tonight. It does feed in to why I stopped feeling part of the progressive left, while not feeling part of the political right either. The brief answer is that I think religious and national cultures are not something extraneous to us that can be removed, but something intrinsic in our upbringings that for many people forms part of their makeup even if they reject it. For various reasons (including the Reformation, Enlightenment and two World Wars), some Westerners over the last century or two have found it easier to detach religion and, to a lesser extent national culture from their lives, but it’s much more embedded in people (including me) from other cultures or even from other cultures in the West e.g. the American South. There is a lot more to say, but I’ve set a timer so I only write for thirty minutes tonight.

I slept late, as usual. I didn’t want to sleep after lunch, as I thought it would stop me sleeping tonight, plus I wanted to read and do more Torah study. To this end I went for a walk straight after lunch and when I got home I drank a cup of coffee, in the hope that activity and caffeine would help me stay awake. They did not. I slept for an hour and then spent another hour and twenty minutes in bed, too tired to move or even open my eyes. I wondered if this was an autistic shutdown. I thought of asking on the autism forum, but I’m wary of saying too much about Jewish stuff, and this situation really happens only on Shabbat and Yom Tov (festivals) and I’m not sure how that factors in. I might post a question there tomorrow.

After I woke up, I looked at the haggadah (Passover seder/ritual meal prayerbook) for twenty minutes or so, mostly at the commentary in the haggadah I bought last year. It has questions to ask to prompt debate as well as more detailed exposition. I always feel bad that we don’t discuss things much at seder. I read out ideas, but there is no give and take, and being on the spectrum, I struggle to know how to facilitate such debate. It’s hard on me, as I end up being the only one who doesn’t learn anything on the seder, because it’s just me reading things out (I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m usually the most Jewishly-educated person at our seder by a considerable margin). I hope the questions might help. I’ll just ask one or two a night this year and see how they go and maybe choose more next year. I would have liked to have spent more time on this, but I ran out of time.

There was one other thing that upset me a bit, but I don’t really want to write it on an open post and I’m not sure that I should write it at all. I’m also nearly out of the thirty minutes I gave myself to write this. Maybe I’ll post it on a password-protected post at some point, as it’s a long-term issue.

Counter-Factuals

Today I felt exhausted. The familiar feeling like I’ve been run over by a steamroller. I woke up early, was excited to wake up early, and immediately fell asleep again before I could get the energy to get up. This happens to me a lot and I wonder if there’s some way to extend the brief moment of early waking into one of early rising, but conscious thought doesn’t have a lot of time to kick in before I fall asleep again.

I wonder if I shouldn’t have worked on my novel after work yesterday. I might have been less exhausted today and put in more effective time on it. Or I might have been just as exhausted and not had any time or energy to work on it.

I missed out (if that’s the right term) on helping Dad with Pesach (Passover) cleaning because I got up so late and felt so awful until after lunch. Then I started getting a headache and feeling sick. I went for a walk, which didn’t make it better (or worse). I managed to skype E and read this week’s sedra (Torah portion), which is Tazria (Leviticus 12-13), which is probably the hardest sedra in which to find anything meaningful or even strongly understandable from a modern perspective (although next week’s sedra comes close — they are usually read together, but as this year is a leap year, they’re split). I sent a few emails too, and bought a new rucksack online, but didn’t manage to write fiction or a devar Torah or do seder preparation, submit my novel or anything else I had hoped to manage.

I feel a bit down about not achieving much (yes, I know we’ve discussed here before that I do more than I give myself credit for). As E said, I want to improve my sleep and energy levels to get more out of the day, but I can’t do the things that might help me to do that, as I don’t have the time/energy in the first place.

***

I got an email from the organisation where I was interviewed last week. I knew as soon as the email came that it was a rejection, as they haven’t even reached the closing date for applications yet, so it couldn’t be a job offer. They said they want someone with more experience of independent, senior-level work and also more teaching and management experience. It’s not really a surprise, despite the agonies I put myself through thinking about what I would do if I got the job. Part of me wonders if that’s the truth, or if I was just an awful candidate who shouldn’t be working in the library sector and who consistently under-performs at interviews. I guess there’s no way of knowing. I did email to thank them for the feedback to ask them to get in touch again if they need an assistant librarian at any point.

***

This last bit (which is most of the post) is a bit of a rant about the sociology of religions, so feel free to skip if you aren’t interested.

I often read the Rationalist Judaism blog (written by Rabbi Natan Slifkin) and I’m not sure why any more, as there is very little discussion in the posts or comments of what a rationalist Judaism would look like today and a lot of pointless arguing about the flaws and the future of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world. I mostly keep quiet even if I have something to say, as, to be honest, the conversation does not seem that pleasant. There’s a lot of flaming going on, perhaps unsurprising given the subject matter is mostly religion with an occasional bit of Israeli politics (often the points where it meets with religion).

At the moment, there is a big argument across multiple posts about a supposed miracle featuring Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the Haredi scholar who died less than a fortnight ago, which has been rumbling on pretty much since his death. The argument is now turning into a general argument about religion.

I find myself annoyed with both sides, but too intimidated to comment there – but I need to vent, so here goes:

There seems to be an assumption on both sides that how miraculous an event is can be measured on an objective scale (e.g. Normal-Unusual-Extraordinary-Freak Occurrence-Miracle) and beyond a certain point in one direction everyone would have to believe God did it. Both religious and anti-religious commenters seem to think this and just disagree on how much things move the needle. I think miracles largely take place in the mind (I heard the historian and sociologist Keith Hopkins advance a similar argument, but I can’t quote directly as it was twenty years ago), meaning, something happens and we decide what significance to accord it. It’s not immediately obvious. Not for nothing does Judaism see the miraculous as something that makes the observer feel the closeness of God rather than something necessarily beyond nature.

An extremely rare event might be dismissed as a freak of nature by an atheist, while a very natural event might be full of religious significance to the believer. In On the Reliability of the Old Testament, the archaeologist Kenneth Kitchen argues that most of the miracles of Exodus and Numbers (e.g. splitting of the sea, water from a rock, the ground swallowing Korach) are credible, given what we now know of natural conditions in Egypt, the Nile Delta and the Sinai Peninsula. What we do with this information is up to us. To a believer it might indicate that these stories are possible or even probable; to the non-believer, it simply shows that someone experienced freak, but natural, events and passed them on as a legend.

The more general point being made was that only weak-minded credulous people become religious. Someone spoke about some female ba’alei teshuvah (people who became religious late in life) who were successful in the secular world, but who said they became religious because the religious life offers more meaning. This was disputed by someone else, who insisted they must all be lying and actually be thirty-something women desperate to find a husband and father rather than people who really believe.

This annoyed me. It annoys me as much as the reverse case, which is when religious people assume people who stop being religious are all either extreme hedonists who want to abandon Jewish law or abuse survivors who are just escaping from their childhoods.

Taking on the entirety of Jewish law is a lot to take on just to find a husband, and thirty-something single women in the frum community seem to find it harder to find a husband compared with their secular counterparts rather than easier, there being far fewer single thirty-something frum men than non-frum men (and if they did become frum to get married, it would probably say something if they did see frum men as better husband/father prospects than secular men).

That aside, the reality is that people’s religious choices are intensely personal and that fair-minded, rational people can come to different decisions about major topics like God and meaning. I can accept that there are plenty of agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Christians (etc., just going a little way down the alphabet) who have freely and rationally chosen lifestyles and philosophies that work for them, but would not work for me. I find it hard to understand why so many people don’t get this and assume that the beliefs of people they don’t agree with (more religious or less religious) can be “explained away” on the grounds that those people are not acting rationally or are not being honest about their reasons. It’s OK and normal for rational, honest people to disagree!

Religions are sociologically-complex. Online arguments about religion seem to assume becoming religious is entirely a cognitive process: you reason about the world, this leads you to a metaphysical conjecture (religious/atheist), and then you live your life accordingly. But that’s simply not how it works for most people. Religion combines the purely cognitive with the sociological and emotional: family, friends, community, tradition, rootedness and so on. It’s not as simple as “Belief X is untrue, therefore religion Y which holds it is meaningless.”

As for the blog, inasmuch as I am interested in what a more rationalist contemporary Judaism would look, like the recent books Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman, To This Very Day: Fundamental Questions in Bible Study by Rabbi Amnon Bazak and The Principles of Judaism by Rabbi Samuel Lebens have all been much more informative and stimulating for me than the blog, alongside Rabbi Slifkin’s pre-blogging books The Challenge of Creation and Sacred Monsters. Rabbi Lebens in particular has some ideas that run completely counter to those of Rabbi Slifkin about what constitutes “rational” or useful ideas in twenty-first century Orthodox Judaism, despite starting from similar points.

Questions

I had another novel agent rejection. He said, “You have an interesting story to tell and there’s a lot to like about your approach. But in the end I’m afraid I didn’t come away quite fully convinced this was something I think I’d be able to represent successfully.” I’m confused by this. Is it the literary equivalent of “I like you, but only as a friend”? (I got that a lot too in the years before E.) It makes me wonder if agents are really put off by the Jewish nature of my novel and think they can’t represent it. If so, maybe I ought to seek out Jewish agents (how would I find them?), or apply to the one or two Jewish or Jewish-ish publishers I know.

***

I woke up this morning to a text telling me I could apply for a vaccine passport. As the text did not come from an NHS number (they always say “NHS”) and didn’t link to an NHS website, and as I already have the NHS COVID app, I concluded that this was a scam, probably asking for money for phishing for personal details. Things like this leave me a bit shaken though. Not to a huge extent, but I worry that I might fall for a scam one day, and just experiencing it makes me feel negative about the world.

***

At work J sent me to get a key cut. It was a special key, so I had to go on the bus to a particular hardware shop. He said that if it took up to an hour, I should just stay in the area and collect it, but if it took more than an hour, I should come back and he would collect it later. I was told it would take an hour, so I wandered around the area for a while. There wasn’t really time to go anywhere. There was a small park nearby, but I hadn’t brought a book to read, so I just wandered around listening to Eurythmics’ greatest hits on my headphones. So many shops have video screens in the windows now. I’m sure it contributes to autistic sensory overload.

Other than that, work left me feeling vaguely stupid again for not using my initiative or common sense, probably for no good reason, or only a mild reason. I vaguely recall that when I was a child, adults used to say I had intelligence, but not common sense. I’m not sure whether that is shorthand for autism or not.

***

Almost no one is wearing a mask on the Tube any more. I feel torn. The evidence for masks, particularly cloth ones, is not great, as I understand it. I suspect a lot of it is about wanting to feel one is doing something at a time when we couldn’t do anything. The college where I am having a job interview tomorrow still insists on masks in public spaces (I’m not sure what the define as ‘public’). Being autistic, I like clear rules, and the clash of different masking regulations (entirely voluntary/compulsory in places) is confusing to me. I fail to make up my own mind.

I am wearing a mask at the moment more to avoid panicking others than because I think it will help me, maybe because my Dad gets annoyed if people aren’t wearing masks. I wore one to shul (synagogue) over Purim, but took it off when I realised almost no one there was wearing one.

***

My ability to catastrophise about my job interview tomorrow is impeded by my inability to work out if I want the job or not. I feel like I’ll mess up the interview and still be faced with the difficult decision of taking the job or not, even though both of these things can not happen simultaneously.

I said to my parents that I feel I haven’t done well at a librarian job in the last five years. My Dad said this was untrue. I think it is largely true, although not entirely. I had a job that lasted one month in a shul library that went OK, although no one ever gave me real feedback on what I did, or even seemed to really look at it. I also, as my Dad said, did well at the job at a university library. However, as I said to him, it was not really a job for a professional librarian, although they advertised it as such, but a trainee; someone else at the institution asked if I was going to train as a librarian and was shocked that I was already qualified. Other than that, my only library work in the last five years was the further education job, which was not good at all, albeit mostly because I was in a terrible environment for an autistic person (because I didn’t know I was autistic at that stage).

I’m not sure how much of this negativity is low self-esteem and autistic rigidity and how much is real. Dad seemed to think a lot was rigidity, but I’m not convinced. I still remember how my boss at the further education job told me that I wasn’t doing as well as she expected. I don’t think I’d ever really disappointed anyone that much before.

I do feel my professional qualifications have withered over the intervening years and I’m depressed by the fact that I rarely get interviews for library jobs and when I do get them, I don’t seem to do well. I wish there was some kind of objective test I could take to see if I’m still a good librarian, like doing my MA coursework all over again (although I felt that, like job interviews, library MA coursework tested exam-passing skills as much as the skills I would use in the field). I feel that maybe I should look for a cataloguing course on CILIP, but I feel that my once-desired career as a cataloguer no longer excites me. I’m too scared that my concentration has gone and I make stupid mistakes. I don’t know if that’s due to autism-unfriendly environments or my own decline.

Someone on the autism forum was saying the other day that he has built a successful career for himself as a librarian and that he thinks that many of his colleagues are on the spectrum (diagnosed or otherwise) and that it’s an autistic-friendly career, so I feel particularly useless that I could never get this to work for me. I was dealt a bad hand in the early years of my career (and before, when I was doing my librarianship MA), having to deal with burnout, depression, social anxiety and OCD all while not actually knowing the root cause of everything, the fact that I am autistic, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

I guess I feel I’ve despaired of building a library career and am already focused on writing, which is even harder to get into (see above) or earn a living from. Except I don’t let myself write, because I enjoy it too much, so I prioritise everything else over it. To be honest, sticking in my current job and working hard at my writing would be the best thing for me, IF I could find a way to fight the autistic/medication-induced exhaustion and get some serious writing and submitting time in each week. But maybe even that is running away from librarianship because I feel I failed.

Withdrawal, Virus, Or What?

I slept for twelve hours last night, then I think I drifted in and out of sleep for another two. I dreamt about the Nazis, which I guess is what I get for reading The Coming of the Third Reich. By the time I woke up properly, I was still feeling very drained and somewhat ill. I struggle to put into words what exactly I mean by “ill,” although it includes an uncomfortable awareness of my own body (I can’t put it more precisely than that) which I associate with autistic exhaustion (particularly the feeling that my brain is being squeezed) as well as feeling hot and bothered and generally not having the energy or inclination to do anything other than lying still. I also occasionally get muscle spasms or unwilled muscle tension. I’ve been shivering a bit too. I am not sure if this is autistic exhaustion from working on two hours of sleep yesterday, withdrawal from olanzapine, lack of vitamin D or something else.

This prompts the vague thoughts I’ve had recently wondering if I have some physical illness or condition draining my energy that has been overlooked because I’ve been focused on depression, autistic exhaustion and medication side-effects as causes, but I’m not sure how to take that forward. Obviously going to the GP would be a good start, although I’ll wait for the high doses vitamin D I’ve been prescribed to kick in and the withdrawal to hopefully pass, or I think the GP will just tell me to go home and wait for those things to happen first. My experience is that GPs do not react well to being presented with vague, “I feel sick and tired all the time” statements, so I am not feeling hugely optimistic about that.

I don’t have racing thoughts though. If anything sometimes they are slow and sluggish, as when I’m autistically exhausted. However, I did do a COVID test, just in case. It came back negative, but it was one of the ones where you have to swab your tonsils, which I’m not good at, so I worry I didn’t do it properly. I may just have picked up some kind of bug/virus.

***

It occurs to me that tomorrow night will be my first Purim knowing for sure that I’m on the autism spectrum. I was quite sure last year, but wasn’t officially diagnosed yet. Anyway, last Purim was a weird, COVID Purim, with few people in the Megillah reading (my shul (synagogue) did multiple small readings instead of one big one) and no young children allowed (usually there would be loads of kids around, mainly in fancy dress). The tzedaka (charity) collection was online only too (usually there would be lots of people with tins and buckets collecting for different charities). It was very, very strange and, even though it was in many ways an ideal autistic Purim for me, it just felt wrong. I’d like to find a small, quiet Megillah reading, but not if that means that other people can’t get their raucous reading or that children can’t hear the Megillah at all! Of course, if I feel like this tomorrow evening, I may not hear the Megillah anywhere after all.

***

I found this article quite useful. I need to be reminded periodically that I can be empathetic, polite, imaginative and creative, and not great at maths, and still be on the autism spectrum. To be fair, I was reasonably good at maths in school, in the top set and I got A* at GCSE, but I was never intuitively good at maths the way some of my schoolfriends were, and the way stereotypical autistic children are. Certainly my maths skills are rusty now.

***

I’ve nearly finished The Coming of the Third Reich. It’s been interesting, if depressing, reading, and I’d like to read Richard J. Evans’ two follow up books on Nazi Germany, although I imagine they’re even more depressing.

I found the book a cause of optimism and pessimism. Optimism, because we’ve been hearing since 2016 that our democracies are simmering hotbeds of extremism and racism “Just like Germany in the 20s and 30s.” Evans’ book, although written long before 2016, tacitly debunks this theory, by demonstrating that the democratic Weimar Republic was in a state of near-permanent crisis from its creation in 1918, in the closing days of World War I. It had no political legitimacy in the eyes of much of the population, being seen as at least indirectly imposed by the victorious Allies. Many people, including parts of the governing class, openly longed for a return to autocratic rule (which, again, had only just come to an end in 1918), either under a restored Kaiser or a military dictatorship. This number grew over time. The Republic suffered two major financial crises, a hyperinflation crisis in the early twenties that impoverished many and an unemployment crisis from 1929 that left a third of the workforce out of work. Moreover, throughout the period, political violence and, initially, assassination were rife. Most of the major political parties had large, armed paramilitary wings that used to get in regular fist-fights and sometimes gunfights with each other, not just extremist parties like the Nazis and the Communists, but even the moderate left-wing Social Democrats (the main supporters of Weimar democracy). These are not really present in the contemporary West. Sure, we can see what could be the seeds of something worse, and we certainly live in politically-polarised times, full of conspiracy theories on both right and left (often antisemitic, again like Germany) and occasional rioting. I certainly think it would be good if we could turn down the political temperature and debate more politely. But I think anyone who thinks we are literally like Germany in 1930 is either ignorant or disingenuous.

The pessimism, however, came from the fact that Evans presents the Nazis’ rise as — not inevitable, but lacking in clear points where meaningful and appropriate action could have been taken to stop them. Evans doesn’t really deal with counter-factuals, but he makes it sound like the Weimar Republic would have struggled a lot even in a better world than the one we got, and that after the Depression hit, some kind of autocratic military dictatorship was more or less inevitable, although not necessarily as brutal as the Nazi one.

He says of the Social Democrat Party in 1933 (again, the main support of the Weimar Republic):

In retrospect, its [the Social Democratic Party’s] chances of survival had been diminishing rapidly for nearly a year. Decisive in this context was its failure to mount any effective opposition to the Papen coup of 20 July 1932; if there had been any moment when it might have stood up for democracy, that was it. But it is easy to condemn its inaction with hindsight; few in the summer of 1932 could have realized that the amateurish and in many ways rather ludicrous government of Franz von Papen would give way little more than six months later to a regime whose extreme ruthlessness and total disregard for the law were difficult for decent, law-abiding democrats to grasp. In many ways, the labour movement leaders’ desire to avoid violence in July 1932 was thoroughly to their credit; they were not to know that their decision was to play a key role in opening the way to much greater violence later on.

Sleep-Deprived

Last night I had insomnia from racing thoughts, aches and pains, and feeling alternately hot and cold. I think they are withdrawal symptoms from coming off the olanzapine, but the racing thoughts might be a sign that I still have agitated thoughts that I need to control with medication. I just have to see how things develop. Eventually I fell asleep, but I woke up after two or three hours, could not get back to sleep. Perhaps surprisingly, I felt mostly OK when I got up. My thoughts seemed “fast,” so to speak, but not racing. My concentration was a little impaired from the thoughts and the lack of sleep, but I seemed OK on the whole, so I went to work. I was a bit late, but I’d texted J beforehand to explain and he was understanding.

I got through the day despite struggling with tiredness and, in the afternoon, more aches and pains. The day passed slowly and I nearly went home mid-afternoon, because I was feeling worse, but I managed to get the energy to keep going despite everything.

I’m worried about the rest of this week, particularly the (super-autism-unfriendly) Jewish festival of Purim on Wednesday night and Thursday. I was going to write my worries here to offload, as I usually do, but it occurred to me that maybe that just makes them worse and I should just do my best and try to accept whatever happens. So here goes.

***

When I woke up this morning I thought I had an idea for an article to pitch to the Jewish website I’ve written for before that I’d been thinking about when my thoughts were racing at night. I didn’t have time to write it down before work and now I can’t work out what it was. I feel I have an opening, then a bit for about three-quarters of the way through, but I can’t link those two passages or work out what the conclusion was supposed to be. It is possible that my thoughts were racing so much, and I was so tired this morning, that I didn’t actually have any more of the article than that, and it only seemed like a really good idea because I was too tired to think straight and see that it was only half a good idea. Either way, it’s frustrating.

***

I’ve been thinking a bit about my recently-diagnosed-with-autism cousin. He’s not really like me at all. (His elder brother is a lot more like me, but my parents think he’s on the spectrum too.) So then I started wondering if I would be more like him if various negative events hadn’t happened when I was a child, or if my parents were more like his parents. But there really is no end to those thoughts once you start down that route. I guess the root of this is my fear that I wouldn’t be diagnosed, which still sometimes raises it’s head as a fear that I’m not “really” autistic, just useless. Also, my attempts to try to find the boundaries between my autism and my personality, which is probably not possible.

***

I think I should go to bed, although it’s not yet 9.30pm. I don’t actually feel that tired; I’ve gone through the tiredness, and I’m wondering if I should watch TV for a little to unwind, but I think I will probably just go to bed and hope I fall asleep once I get in there.

Trying to Move on from Exhaustion

I wanted to get up at 9.00am today, so I could get up, eat breakfast, get dressed and daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) in good time before my call with M, the occupational therapist at 11.00am. Inevitably, I got up at 10.00am (and went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast). I did eat breakfast and get dressed, but I didn’t have time to daven. By this stage, davening Shacharit before starting my day, or at all, has become more of a vague aspiration than something I regularly achieve. It’s just not feasible for me right now and I have to just hope that God understands. I do put on tefillin every weekday, though, even if I have to do it for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers).

On the call, I wanted to know if M could suggest an OT I could work with to improve my energy levels and maybe to look at changes I can make to my work environment to improve concentration with autism, as I’m still making mistakes at work (albeit fewer).

I mentioned the vitamin D issue to her and she said that from her personal experience, vitamin D takes a long time to build up in the body, so she thought I should stay on the tablets for several more weeks before going back to the doctor.

She said I could apply for vocational support through the charity she works for, which would be occupational therapy-orientated, although not necessary with an occupational therapist, to work on fatigue management.  I would have to apply the normal way, though, as she no longer works in that area.  I’m a bit worried about applying given that I’m no longer depressed and they’re really a mental health charity (this was why I assumed she would just recommend someone outside the charity), although M seemed to think if I was feeling anxious about the work situation that would be OK.

She also suggested applying to Access to Work, which is a government scheme to help people with disabilities in the workplace.  She felt that they might fund me to get a work coach specialising in autism who could help look at how my workplace is structured to improve my energy and concentration.

She also suggested another autism charity, but they seem to be only for people in a borough I don’t live in.  It did occur to me that the autism/learning difficulty charity that did my autism screening a few years ago might be able to help, or point me to someone who can help.

I think this was all very helpful and hope to follow through in the next few days (or weeks, given that it’s Purim next week and these things will take time).

M was also really pleased that I’m engaged, having seen me at my worst.

Exhaustion, Coping, and Career Paths

I was really trying not to post today. This is as much a note to myself for the future as a communication for anyone else.

I had insomnia again last night. There is definitely a work connection. I sometimes have insomnia on Friday nights, but generally only get it the night before work. It’s annoying.

Work was full of minor irritations. I got through it OK, but I was exhausted afterwards. I should really have come home and crashed, but I felt I should attend to emails, even though I was trying to stay offline. I was home a bit earlier than expected, and I thought I was not too tired initially, so I did a little more Torah study, but that was a mistake, as I was soon completely exhausted.

I don’t think I’ve really spelled out here before that when I’m exhausted, I’m not just tired, but feel a heaviness all over, especially my head/brain (a horrible feeling as if someone is squashing my brain). Sometimes there can be light-headedness, particularly if I’m hungry too. I can’t always tell the difference between tiredness and hunger, which I guess is another gift of autistic alexithymia (difficulty understanding emotions).

I did feel better after dinner and did some ironing, but really only out of necessity, as I’m worried what state I’ll be in tomorrow.

I do feel that I don’t know where to start with my life at the moment. There seem so many things to do, and all of them urgent and important and worthwhile, and most of them should have been done ages ago and many of them really need to be done before I can marry E. Autistic executive function issues can come into play here too.

Tonight I was thinking about applying for my provisional driver’s licence (which I postponed because I wanted to talk to the optician about how well I can see with and without glasses, and never did). This was because of a hit-and-run accident on Twin Peaks which, frankly, terrified me. I am terrified of driving in general and of losing concentration for a moment and hitting someone. Alternatively, of driving too slowly and cautiously and someone running into me. This is probably not the most immediate priority, but I feel it should be soon.

It is true that if I can deal with the exhaustion and hypersomnia and have a healthy sleep pattern, that would get me several more hours per day in which to do things, so that seems to be the place to start. I will hopefully speak to the occupational therapist tomorrow and see if that might be one way of approaching it. I also hope to speak to the doctor next week to see if there might be a physical cause unrelated to autism, depression or antidepressant medication.

***

I do feel that one of the things I should do urgently is to learn coping skills. For what? That is the question, I suppose. At any rate, my previous strategies have not been healthy or useful. I don’t know where I would learn them. My therapist has shared a few things, so I could ask her, although I’m wary as my previous therapist was very against giving practical help like that; she just wanted me to talk and think things through.

How do other people learn coping skills? Is there a Big Book of Coping Skills somewhere? I feel that even the phrase “coping skills” is too vague and I should be looking for more precise skills, like dealing with disappointment, dealing with messing things up at work (again), dealing with the fear that my relationship will end, dealing with the feeling that I will never achieve anything worthwhile…

***

I don’t do much with LinkedIn, but I noticed today that it was trying to show me “career paths” that other people had followed, to reassure me that a career does not have to be linear and can move at my own pace. I was curious to see if people had had unusual or delayed career paths, to see if there was hope for me.

Of the two career paths they showed me, apparently taken from real people’s LinkedIn profiles, one went from university and student journalism, to mainstream journalism and on to becoming “Director of Audience” at some kind of media outlet, whatever that means. So, a fairly swift and linear career path. The other was a little more twisty (and relevant to my interests), from teaching to a Jewish social justice leadership scheme, then a detour to paralegal work, then on to being a rabbinic intern and Jewish educator. That was vaguely less linear because of the teaching and paralegal detours, but mostly focused on Jewish leadership. If this is supposed to reassure me that my career can meander slowly and over a wide area, it is not doing it. It makes me feel most people’s careers go like this: do something worthwhile as a student; pursue a career related to worthwhile student activity; achieve success quickly and easily; become acclaimed as some kind of leader, with status, wealth and social acceptance.

I’m not sure what happens to those of us who missed the boat. I was not really involved in any student activities at university, except the Doctor Who Society. I was too busy burning out and breaking down. I did write for the Doctor Who Society fanzine and vaguely hoped that might lead on to writing for Doctor Who Magazine, but, as I’ve lamented here before, they weren’t interested.

The Autism Treadmill

I woke up late again and drifted quickly into self-criticism. I feel I have to sort this oversleeping (actually hypersomnia, as my sleep pattern is longer than it should be, not just shifted later in the day) and lack of energy, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I can work it out without knowing what is causing it: medication, autistic exhaustion (which in itself is not well-understood) or something else like avoidance. I’m not even remotely sure how much of it is a physical issue and how much an emotional one. But I feel it’s one of the main factors – arguably the main factor – holding back E and me from getting married.

One of the few things I took from Sara Gibbs’ autism memoir Drama Queen was the metaphor that if being neurotypical is like walking on a treadmill going at a walking pace, being autistic is like being on a treadmill going at a fast running pace, all the while being expected to keep up with the walking neurotypicals who don’t understand why you’re struggling to stay level with them. More than any other issue I have, I think of my energy issues here.

I had to do some shopping, which stopped me going for a (literal) run, although I’m not sure I would have had time anyway. I did walk quite briskly, so it was not a total failure in the exercise department.

I had hoped to finish the plan for my second novel today. In the event, I did about forty minutes of work on it, but still have a lot more to do, even though I’m deliberately not planning down to the last detail as my experience with my first novel is that things grow organically during the writing process (at least for me) and it’s better not to over-plan in advance. Writing seems very daunting, particularly if I want to actually get published and earn money from it. Then again, everything seems daunting: marriage, work, getting up on time, shul and community (see below).

I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow (albeit very late) as I’m feeling that I can’t take much more of living alone for now. I do feel quite depressed (and glad I haven’t completely come off my olanzapine) and stressed about additional housework and, well, everything. Everything just seems overwhelming and difficult at the moment. I just emailed the mental health charity that helped me years ago again to try to see if they can help me now with sleep/life skills, but I’m not sure if I’m still eligible.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to help with moving books and the like to our temporary premises and then on to our new premises later in the year (hopefully). Part of me would like to help, but I just feel completely disconnected from them at the moment. I’m scared of being asked about my wedding and I just feel that my time there is running out. I never really felt accepted the way I hoped, which is probably at least partly my own fault. The temporary premises are about twenty minutes from my house (rather than ten minutes for the current ones) and in what is probably going to be a small, cramped room and full of autistic “new experience” anxiety. Then when they (we?) move to the new premises, that’s also twenty minutes away, and hopefully by then I’ll have a clearer idea of when I’m getting married and probably moving somewhere else (E doesn’t really want to live around here).

I sometimes get to a point with something where I just feel, “This is over” and lose all motivation to do anything to keep it going and I feel that’s where I am with my shul. I liked their commitment to quiet davening (prayer) and sense of humour and perspective about frum life, but it obviously was not enough for me to feel accepted, given the generally more moderate-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) outlook as well as my mental health and autism situation, not to mention being one of the few unmarried “older” people and the lack of interest in setting me up on dates as I expected/hoped (obviously not an issue now, but more of an issue a few years ago). My fear is that the social anxiety and autism will still be there in future shuls, and I’m already dreading going back to a shul where people talk in the davening (which is most Orthodox shuls, sadly).

***

Since finishing The Twilight Zone, and as E and I aren’t watching any Doctor Who together at the moment, I sped up my viewing of Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, I then hit the third season. The original Twin Peaks had charm, warmth, wit and strong characters. The third season has none of this, substituting semi-incoherent weirdness and long, aching, empty scenes, with occasional good bits that prevent me skipping it. The lack of incidental music makes the whole thing feel even stranger, like watching raw footage. However, I’m curious to re-watch to see if it makes more sense second-time around. So far the answer is yes, just about. And I recall that the final two episodes were pretty good, so I’m sticking with it for that.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been too down to want to watch this, so I decided to watch Doctor Who. As I want to watch good episodes of Doctor Who with E, I decided to watch something too awful to suggest watching with her, so — Silver Nemesis. It’s really not good at all. Maybe I should try to persuade E to restart watching good Doctor Who with me.

“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time”

I picked the title of the post, from The Beatles’ All You Need is Love before Shabbat, as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot lately. Except that over Shabbat things went downhill and alternative titles could be I’m Only Sleeping, I’ll Cry Instead or I’m a Loser. Also The Long and Winding Road, but I find that a maudlin and annoying song.

***

I felt drained on Friday. I’m not sure if it was more physical or emotional/psychological. I had a busy week, and a busy day on Thursday, but I also had an emotionally-draining week, being home alone and missing E. I am not sure whether occupational therapy or Access to Work help will be able to help me with any of this, if I can’t tell where it’s coming from, if it’s physical or emotional. I did the chores I needed to do to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I didn’t think I would go to shul (synagogue) as I was tired, but then I felt a bit better right before Shabbat, so I went after all.

This turned out not to be the best decision. I was worried people would ask if E and I had set a date for the wedding yet. My closest friend at shul has asked me this twice already. I was slightly relieved that he wasn’t there, but the rabbi asked me (I guess he assumes he’ll be mesader kiddushin (officiating)). It just reminds me that E and I are currently in limbo, engaged, but with no real idea when we’ll get married. Maybe I find this harder than E because of social expectation, that in frum (religious Jewish) circles marriages usually take place within a couple of months of engagements (we got engaged three months ago). I think I would want to move things on even if that wasn’t the case. Unusually for me, I just want to leap in to married life while E is the one who is more cautious and wants to check we both have enough energy and can earn enough money whereas I feel there’s no real way of knowing how we will both react to living together until it happens (one of the weird things about our relationship for me is that I’m the optimistic one, relatively speaking, although I guess we both overthink things).

There was dancing in shul too, as we’ve just begun the super-happy month of Adar II (“When Adar begins, we increase in joy”). No one tried to get me to dance this time, but it reminded me that Purim is in two weeks and Pesach in six weeks, with all the anxieties and potential mental health triggers those two festivals involve.

On the way home, I kept thinking that the kids who bullied me at school had won. I had always assumed that I would get my own back on them (so to speak), by having an amazing post-school life because of my incredible intelligence and diligence (these both turned out to be really over-estimated), but actually my life since school has mostly been awful, lonely, depressed and unsuccessful, with occasional short periods of vague competence.

I don’t know why the kids bullied me. My parents thought they were jealous of my academic success. I think they saw me as an easy target. In retrospect, some might have genuinely mistaken my autism and social anxiety for some kind of deliberate snub. It was hard to avoid thinking that they were right: I am a freak and I’m not going to have a good or happy life. Whatever the cause, they were not helpful thoughts. I’m not really sure what triggered them, but they bothered me obsessively all evening, until I focused on the few things I am proud of having done in my life, such as teaching people Torah. That helped me set those thoughts aside.

I do wonder why I just can’t ever be happy. Things have got better for me over the last year or so and maybe they will continue to improve, but somehow it feels like things have to peak and decline now. It feels like things could only go well for me when they were going badly for the rest of the world (COVID), and now COVID is ending it’s back to normal (bad) for me.

The rest of Friday night was OK. Mostly reading and Torah study. I read a bit of The Coming of the Third Reich, but it didn’t really seem appropriate for Shabbat (when one should try to feel positive) so I mostly read Doctor Who Magazine, but that frustrated me, because I feel I should be writing articles on the best Fifth Doctor comic strips (etc.). I’ve tried pitching article ideas and offering my writing services to DWM before, but they aren’t interested. I’m not sure if I pitched wrongly or they don’t like my writing style or what. Fifteen years ago, I was hopeful that my fanzine/internet fan writings would get me work from them, but it never did. I don’t know how they find their new generation of writers. The convention circuit or Doctor Who fan Twitter or some other outlet I don’t use.

***

I woke up at 7.30am this morning. I didn’t feel tired, but I thought it was too early to get up, especially as I hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am, and went back to bed, which turned out to be a mistake as, of course, I slept through the morning. I woke up the second time with a neck ache that I still have and a bunch of self-recriminatory thoughts, which I also still have. My mood was low and I struggled to do any Torah study. I worry I’ll never be well enough/energetic enough for E.

***

I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) much, so it tends to stick in my mind when I do. When I was at university, two students got married in term-time. The man had graduated the previous year, but the woman was in her final year when they got married. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t wait until she finished her finals and opined to this extent to a friend. It was wrong of me, although in retrospect, if that’s the worst lashon hara I ever speak, I’m probably not doing too badly. I have wondered in the past if my largely non-existent love-life was Divine payback for this. Now I wondered if it was delaying my marriage. I guess this comes from the Talmudic/Midrashic approach that views even trivial misdeeds as potentially the cause of significant suffering in this world, to avoid suffering in the next world. I don’t know what I could do about it now. I tried internet searching for those people, but I can’t find them.

***

I mentioned I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently. I had never bought their early albums as I don’t like them so much, but the completist bug got to me and I bought a whole bunch of albums very cheaply second-hand. I got five albums for about £17. (I’m still waiting for With the Beatles.) Listening to them, (a) their early songs are much better than I remembered, but (b) even so, they weren’t so good at the start. I guess it’s heartening to me to think that my first few novels don’t have to be my best…

***

This post seems rambling and self-obsessed even by my usual standards. Thanks if you got this far.

A Perfect Storm

I feel like I’m headed for a “perfect storm.” My parents are away leaving me in the house by myself, which always brings my mood down and makes me feel lonely (for an autistic person, I’m surprisingly bad at living on my own). It’s one of the worst times of the year for me, when the weather is still cold and wet and the days are short and dark, but it’s so long since summer that it’s hard to believe that it could ever be different. I’m feeling frustrated with my excessive sleeping and low energy on waking, doubly so as I know it’s a factor delaying my wedding. My parents are away, and the cleaner can’t come as I’ll be at work, so there is more shopping, cooking and cleaning that I should do (I’m not sure how much I will do — I’m already planning to eat mostly from the freezer on Shabbat to reduce cooking). I was also aware that I hadn’t dusted my room for ages and it looked unpleasant (it takes ages because of all the bric-a-brac and wargaming miniatures that I’ve painted that I have on display. Probably some of them at least should go, I’m not sure how many “spark joy”). And to cap it all, there’s a Tube strike tomorrow, so I will have to commute to work on the bus, which will take longer and I may not be able to read on the journey because reading on buses increasingly makes me travel sick, which was not previously the case, so no catching up on Torah study on the way in or relaxing on the way home (if reading The Coming of the Third Reich counts as “relaxing” which is questionable). It’s also Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) tomorrow which means longer prayers. I only do a small fragment of the morning prayers, but I try to do a bit more for Rosh Chodesh (Hallel and Musaf), so that adds another ten minutes before I’ve even factored in the Tube strike. It just feels like a lot to have to deal with, although it’s not exactly a catastrophe (just compare with the news).

I haven’t been able to speak to the occupational therapist who might be able to help me yet. I’m waiting for her to get back to me about when we can speak. I need to wait a bit longer before I can really chase it. I am on a massive dose of vitamin D, but as yet it hasn’t improved my energy levels. My therapist said her son was also vitamin D-deprived and he was told it could take a month to have any effect. I am also still on a lower dose of olanzapine without any change in my sleep pattern. I will come off it completely when my parents get home, but I know my mood dips when they are away, so I thought I would stay on it for another week just in case.

Because of all of this, my mood has been a bit down, although I’m not depressed, exactly. I feel like I should be able to cope better on my own, given that I’m an autistic introvert who doesn’t even like most people much. For all that I get annoyed when my parents want to talk and I don’t, the brief bits of conversation probably do keep me grounded and not entirely lost inside my head. Talking to people does probably help a bit with emotional regulation too, although I’m not sure why. It’s easy to think that everything is awful and I’m a failure at life when there isn’t anyone around to call me out on that, or just distract me.

I did manage to do a few things, therapy, dusting and other housework, a little novel planning and I finished my devar Torah and got it ready so I just have to hit ‘send’ when I get home tomorrow. I didn’t have much time/energy for Torah, but I have to remind myself that I am not just wasting time. I do feel pretty useless, though, and I miss E like crazy and wonder when we will be able to live our lives together. (I find time with E restoring, which is not the case for most people I know.)

Related to the idea of activity and energy levels, Ashley’s post the other day about goals versus identifying valued directions chimed with something I’ve been doing lately. I’ve tried to stop setting targets for the things I do during the day and how long I spent on them and recording them daily (which was relevant when I was too depressed to do much at all, but less so now) and focus on doing things in a more general way without obsessing over time (although I do still tend to notice it) e.g. I try to do some Torah study and some work on my novel without setting rigid targets. Doing ten minutes of set hitbodedut (informal, spontaneous prayer, talking to God) had stopped working and it was just becoming painful sitting and not thinking of anything to say, so I just do a few minutes or none at all if I don’t feel like it. I feel OK doing this as my kavannah (usually translated at ‘concentration,’ but I feel ‘mindfulness’ is a better term) on set prayers has been better lately.

***

To cheer myself up, I watched The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash while eating dinner and then dusting my room. It’s a spoof documentary, essentially about The Beatles, written and part-performed by former Monty Python Eric Idle. I’d seen it a number of years ago, but didn’t remember much about it. It was moderately amusing, but I think I’ve grown out of Monty Python-style humour (Michael Palin also had a small role). The cleverest aspect was Neil Innes’ Beatle-pastiche songs, that sounded authentic, but not quite close enough to prompt lawsuits. Innes also played John Lennon parody Ron Nasty.

I chose to watch it as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently, particularly their early music, which I don’t listen to as much. It did make me feel a bit better, but my mood went down again afterwards. I should just go to bed soon as I have an early start and long day tomorrow…

“Yes, I think I’m falling in love with myself again”

Today was a hard day at work, lots of phoning. I phoned the utility company, multiple times, to sort out a problem with missing invoices, then phoned people who owe money to encourage payment, and although no one answered, I left messages that I hope were not too garbled. I find this draining. I also feel I have approached one task wrongly and am struggling to find a new approach because of autistic rigidity. On the other hand, it was late, I was tired and maybe I just wasn’t thinking straight.

It made me think about something I saw on the autism forum recently, about whether you want to cure your autism. A lot of people say they like their autistic traits. I tried, and largely failed, to find any autistic traits I have that I like or value. I am very trusting and ingenuous, which I like, although it’s dangerous as I don’t always realise when people are lying to me. I can see that some autistic frum (religious Jewish) people probably find autistic logic helps them to understand Talmud. It doesn’t work that way with me, but maybe my ability to draw connections between different Jewish texts is, on some level, an autistic pattern-identifying ability.

Is my integrity and search for personal authenticity an autistic trait? I think some autistic people would say yes, but I’m not at all convinced that neurotypical people have less integrity or authenticity.

That said, whether they are autistic traits or not, I do value my integrity and authenticity. I have quoted the following passage (from The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, p. 355-356) before, but it’s important to me, so I will quote it again:

Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…

By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.

Sometimes I feel I make trouble for myself by pursuing authenticity in this way. That I would like to feel heimish sometimes. It’s probably a spectrum. You can be Chabad, and do Chitas (study the Five Books of Moses, Psalms and the Tanya, the early modern mystical theology work by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi) every day, or you can be Chabad and go to a farbrengen (Hasidic gathering with songs, Torah thoughts, food and alcohol) every so often and get drunk. Who is to say which is more authentic or ‘better’?

I suppose this is how most Jews do what they do, daven (pray), learn (study Torah) and perform acts of chessed (kindness) without always asking themselves (as the Kotzker said) “Why? Why? Why am I doing this? Is it the best thing I could be doing? Am I doing it the right way?” Once you start down this road, you can’t stop, and maybe it’s just as well that most people don’t do this. But as Rabbi Rosen says, for some of us, it’s irresistible. Whether it comes from my autism or not, it is a trait I’m glad I have, even if it’s not always easy to cope with.

The Square Root of Infinity

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was in the normal pattern for the last few months. I went to shul (synagogue) and got a bit overwhelmed by all the clapping and banging on tables. I’m sure it didn’t used to be this bad, but maybe it was easier to cope when the room was larger and more spaced, even though there were more people? That said, I think there has been objectively more clapping since we got a more Hasidishe rabbi about a year before COVID started. Before that, fewer people clapped and hit the tables, and they didn’t clap or hit as loudly.

I didn’t go to shiur (religious class) again, although I did quite a bit of Talmud study at home. My Talmud study is probably completely out of sync with the shiur by now. I’m not actually sure where they’re up to. I was ahead of them, but then I stopped for a few weeks when I went to America. But I’m trying to do one page (single side) every week or so, going over it three times, whereas they go through more slowly, looking at the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot, which I don’t tackle in the absence of a translation. I feel that I’m understanding it a little bit better than I was. That said, I had the insight a while back that Talmud study is not meant to teach you halakhah (Jewish law), but to teach you to think like a rabbi, to compare and analyse rabbinic sources and to learn how to connect orally-transmitted laws to the written Torah. I’m not sure that it’s working for me there, although I’m not sure how many people it does work for in that way.

I had trouble sleeping on Friday night and again on Saturday night, so maybe it is not just nights before work where I have trouble sleeping. I wonder if it might be related to my medication reduction, but I think it was happening before then.

***

Today did not start well: I overslept, slept through my phone ringing, which turned out to be a work-related phone call (which I wouldn’t have had the answer to anyway) and woke with some anxiety (albeit fairly mild). On Friday I had a burst of creativity, of ideas for a potential satirical novel (see below). This flood of inspiration started before Shabbat and continued into Shabbat, although I was trying not to think about it then, as it wasn’t appropriate. I wrote down a lot of ideas last night and laid out some kind of rudimentary plot outline. I wonder if this exhaustion is a consequence of that creativity? Usually I associate exhaustion with actually doing something, not just thinking about it, but it’s hard to see what else it could be.

***

I emailed the occupational therapist I saw a number of years ago to see if she can recommend someone who can work with me on fatigue management and maybe thinking about why I make so many mistakes at work. I did a quick online search and there are OTs out there in London who work with people with Asperger’s/high functioning autism, although I’m not sure how many work with adults.

***

I had an idea for satirical novel recently. On Friday (and to a lesser extent over the whole weekend), I had a burst of inspiration about it. I don’t intend to work on it right now, but perhaps as the next project, although I will continue to note ideas and maybe to slowly evolve plot and characters.

I am terrified of being ‘cancelled’ because of it as, while it satirises many things, it focuses on ‘wokeness’ and performative forms of politicised morality. Although it is more likely that I would simply not find an agent or a publisher who will touch it, as the publishing industry is very woke. E asked me if I would rather be cancelled or never do anything worth being cancelled for. I guess that makes sense. I would rather be cancelled than censor myself.

What I really wanted to do was just not to write about politics and fly under the radar, but obviously my unconscious disagreed. Orwell wrote that writers have to be honest, and not swayed by public opinion, political expediency or state censorship, which I guess is true, but the thought of losing friends upsets me more. I don’t mind having friends with different political outlooks, but I fear some of my friends wouldn’t want to associate with me if they knew some of my thoughts, which aren’t even particularly extreme, but the world is so polarised that even slight deviations are punishable. I feel the world divides at the moment into those who take offence at everything and those who vanish to avoid saying anything controversial. I don’t want to take offence at everything, but I am beginning to feel that vanishing is not much fun either, even if it’s my instinct.

I don’t really see myself as a satirist or a polemicist, and my impulse is to run away from controversy. But maybe that’s why part of me is pushing me towards this. Like wanting to go bungee jumping or skydiving. Live dangerously, not something I’ve ever done until now. And it does trouble me that not only does our society no longer have any shared values, we can’t even agree on basic facts any more. Where would you even go to find impartial facts? Not the supposedly-impartial BBC, nor the self-proclaimed fact checkers (who fact checks the fact checkers?). It’s troubling. How can a society function when there are two (or more) different sets of basic facts? And maybe neither are correct. It’s not that one group is saying 2+2=4 and the other says 2+2=5. It’s more like one group says 2+2=5 and the other says 2+2= the square root of infinity.

Brief Life Update

That’s a life update that is brief, not an update to a life that is brief. (Reminds me of an anecdote I heard about the Jewish law code called the Chayei Adam (Life of Man). Why did it get this strange name? (Admittedly many pre-modern rabbinic texts have strange names, often puns or quotes based on the author’s name.) Because the author knew a previous law code, the Shulchan Aruch (Prepared Table) was republished in an edited form, as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Shorter Prepared Table). He didn’t want an edited version of his law code published, so he thought that no one would publish a book called the Kitzur Chayei Adam (Shorter Life of Man). However, they did still publish an edited version, just with a different name.)

Earlier I was going to complain about my life feeling stuck, but then suddenly a bunch of things happened today! Unfortunately, it’s only the least interesting ones I can share for now…

My parents managed to get me a phone appointment with the doctor today about my exhaustion. We’ve agreed to reduce and then stop the olanzapine (one of three psych meds I’m on, all of which can cause tiredness) and to do some blood tests to check vitamin levels and the like. Annoyingly, I had one of my regular lithium blood tests yesterday; I would have waited if I had known. I’m hoping coming off some of meds is helpful regarding exhaustion, although I suspect at least some of the exhaustion is autistic fatigue (the doctor didn’t comment when I mentioned that). I’m not sure how long it will take to come off the olanzapine. The doctor said take a lower dose of olanzapine for a couple of weeks, then stop entirely, assuming the depression doesn’t come back, but that will be around the time my parents are hoping to be away, and that’s often a time when I feel lonely and depressed, so maybe not the best time for a medication change.

I heard from the Benefits Centre too. The money I was getting wasn’t a mistake. Some people are eligible for more than a year’s worth of benefits and I was classed as vulnerable and so permitted to keep getting benefits even though I was earning over the usual limit. I wish they had made this clearer. My benefits have been suspended now, pending my sending them more information about my earnings over the last fifteen months or so, and I suspect it won’t be restarted now I’m working.

Cutting Away the Deadwood

Suzanne left this comment on one of my posts a few days ago, and it made me think:

It just struck me that you seem to to need to each end day feeling it was an action-packed day. Not just a day in which you you accomplished something. But a day for which every waking minute involved something meaningful on your part.

It’s true that I do feel pressure to make my time count. Maybe not every hour, and certainly not every minute, but at least every day. I don’t know how much is Judaism, which stresses the idea of having a mission on earth and not wasting time and how much is a bourgeois sense that time is money, or at least that it’s valuable. It also occurred to me that my experience of CBT might play a part, as it has pushed me down the route for years or even decades of recording and monitoring my activity every day, something that I might try to stop for a bit. And I want to move to a position where I can work more for when E and I get married, so that also pushes me down the route of focusing on squeezing out more productivity.

I do feel that most of my peers are working thirty-five hours or more a week and many have families; the frum (religious) ones are balancing prayer, religious study and other communal and religious commitments. I don’t even work full-time. I work two days a week, and those days are still a little short. So I feel that I need to do more. I do manage to do several things a day, but what I manage to do is mostly three or four hours of stuff, not what a full-time worker with three kids and shul (synagogue) roles would do.

I need to find balance in my life, and that, without any sudden changes in my medication and energy levels, that’s going to have to involve cutting back some activities to allow more time for others. And while internet procrastination is something I would like to cut back a lot, other, more productive activities will probably be cut back too, as procrastination has a habit of creeping in when not wanted. I would like to find more time for fiction writing and novel agent-hunting, both of which I have sorely neglected over the last six months or so, but also to ensure that I relax properly each day. Yesterday I did a few things (sorting papers, Torah study, 5K run), but I did not relax much and when I went to bed I could not sleep despite feeling exhausted. I had to watch an episode of The Simpsons before I could sleep.

I also have a focus on constantly monitoring how near I’m getting to the end of books or TV programmes, and worrying about my To Read list which is probably all unhealthy.

One thing I might stop doing is my hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation. Judaism has three obligatory (for men) set prayer services a day, reading prayers and biblical passages in Hebrew, but for years I have also been doing hitbodedut, which is speaking to God spontaneously in the vernacular. It was important for me in the past, but lately I can’t connect at all through it, whereas my kavannah (usually translated as ‘concentration’, but I prefer ‘mindfulness’) in the set prayers has been somewhat better, so I might focus on those.

I feel like I want to try to cut away some of the deadwood in my life and move forward.

The End of the Holiday

I was physically exhausted by yesterday evening and cut down a lot of my evening activities. I had written my devar Torah (Torah thought) during the day, but planned to do some additional Torah study too, but I largely cut that out, as I largely cut out my hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation). I read for a short while and went to bed, but, although tired, I could not sleep. I knew it was because I had not really relaxed before bed. I got up, drank some hot chocolate, and watched The Twilight Zone (which was really not the best thing to watch). After that, I felt relaxed enough to go back to bed and sleep.

I dislike the fact that I tire so easily, and that I need so much relaxation time, as distinct from other activities that are, on some level, or seem to others, to be ‘me’ time, like prayer and Torah study. My parents and E have always been understanding about this, but I feel like somehow Torah study (etc.) should be enough for me, when necessary, without additional relaxation time. When really exhausted, just going to bed feels like it should be enough, but it isn’t.

I woke up about 10am today, which was late, but earlier than yesterday. Even so I lay in bed for forty-five minutes, until the Tesco delivery came and I went to help with that. Afterwards I felt ill until I had breakfast. I’m not sure if it was lack of food or drink that made me feel ill or just running around on an empty stomach. I’m not really getting the ‘headrush’ feeling that I was getting sometimes before my trip, but walking up three flights of stairs while wearing a mask to get to my apartment and to E’s apartment while I was in New York did make me feel ill too. I probably should see a doctor about this, and to see if I can reduce my medication to try to increase my energy levels (and lose weight). I am scared to do this, as in the past trying to come of medication has always led rapidly to severe depression, but I do think I’m in a better place right now than I have been since I was sixteen or so.

I spent an hour or so chasing a reference from something I’d seen years ago by Rabbi Lord Sacks for my devar Torah. I couldn’t find it, although I’m pretty sure it exists somewhere, as I doubt I would have made the quote up and I can’t imagine anyone else saying it. I will use the idea in my devar Torah and just note that I can’t locate the exact reference, as I don’t have time to write another one. I possibly do worry too much about finding references for these divrei Torah; it’s not like they’re being published professionally. I did find a somewhat relevant quote that helps a bit. Skimming through a lot of lectures and articles by Rabbi Sacks was at least a worthwhile revision session, and a reminder of how quietly radical his theology was.

***

Holiday: Tuesday 25 January

I woke up totally ‘out of spoons’ (autistically exhausted). I went to E’s apartment and slowly drank some coffee (remember I wasn’t making coffee or tea in my apartment as I was scared of breaking the fancy copper gas stove kettle). By this day E and I were feeling pretty museumed out and masked out and aware we had spent a lot of time masked indoors in the last week.

We decided to go for a walk on the Lower East Side instead of going to another museum, spending the afternoon walking around Chinatown and Little Italy. It was very interesting and different to London. We went to a kosher pickle restaurant — all the food they sell is pickle-related. It was a bit weird, but good. I would go again, if I was in that area! Although kosher, it’s not in a particularly Jewish area, so we think it must be aimed more at a general hipster market, being located in an area that is gentrifying.

In the evening I filled in the passenger locator form that I was supposed to fill in for my flight home the next day. This turned out to be total nightmare, fiddly to complete on my phone (I have fat fingers and should have asked to borrow E’s laptop) and crashing when I was nearly finished. Nor was this the only trouble I was to have with it…

We went for falafel again afterwards.

Wednesday 26 January

We had intended to go back to the Met Museum on this day, to fill in the time before my night flight home. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Met is currently shut on Wednesdays because of COVID (?!). There wasn’t really time to go anywhere else, so we sat in E’s apartment and read. E read the Doctor Who novelisation I bought earlier in the week while I read Drama Queen, an autism memoir E thought I might want to read. The book was familiar from other autism memoirs that I’ve read, but a few things resonated, particularly the difficulties of coping in a busy work environment, also familiar from my own work life. I did appreciate the description of life as being like walking on a treadmill and autistic life as being walking on a treadmill going much faster than a neurotypical person’s treadmill, resulting in the autistic person having to walk or run much faster just to stay in the same place, and incomprehension from the neurotypical person at why the autistic person is getting so tired.

As my flight was a night flight, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get dinner, or when, so we went for a couple of slices of pizza mid-afternoon, then on to the airport, avoiding a dog who barked repeatedly and aggressively at me as his owner tried to drag him down the pavement and away from me. At the airport, I had trouble getting my passenger locator form to open properly, perhaps connected with the fact that I don’t usually access email on my phone, as I use a not-terribly good webmail interface. The person trying to check my form fiddled with the phone, then she gave it to someone else and eventually sent me to the website for filling in the form, where I remembered the correct password (not easy, as the problems with it the previous night had led to me setting up two different passwords on two different sites, and I wasn’t sure which was which).

I checked in and was facing a long wait, as I had arrived very early. The long wait was extended, as it slowly became clear that the plane was being delayed as a previous flight had been cancelled for technical reasons and those passengers were going to be flown on our flight (I’m guess both flights were well below capacity) as this was the last one to the UK that day. I tried to sit calmly, not get agitated, and practise patience and acceptance, knowing I couldn’t make the wait any shorter by worrying or getting angry. We eventually boarded, and left two hours late, around midnight EST. I had an empty seat next to me again despite the extra passengers, for which I was grateful. I read Talmudic Images and Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon and watched The Simpsons. I feel I probably read or watched other things too, but I can’t remember what. I didn’t sleep, as I can’t sleep on planes. EDIT: I do remember what I did, I listened to The Kinks’ greatest hits. I think The Beatles were a better band than The Kinks, but The Kinks say “The Sixties” to me in a way that The Beatles don’t. Also, The Kinks’ music is much better at wry social observation. Kinks songs like Summer Afternoon, Plastic Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and A Well-Respected Man are neat portraits of social ‘types.’ We made up some lost time and landed one hour late rather than two hours.

And that was that. I eventually found the right door out of the airport to meet my parents and they brought me home. I tried to beat jetlag by staying awake despite not having slept the night before, but failed and slept for an hour and a half in the afternoon.

I enjoyed the trip a lot, although I’m not sure if I would stay in an Airbnb again. It did have some advantages over a hotel from a kosher/Shabbat point of view and a price point of view, but there were also disadvantages and there probably was a degree of luck/Providence in things turning out OK at several points. I would like to spend more time in the Met Museum at some point, as well as some of the museums I didn’t get to see, but preferably without wearing a mask.

Looking in All the Right and Wrong Places

I think I did too much yesterday, between work, an hour or so of Torah study (about half after I got home from work rather than on the train in to work), dinner with my parents and doing a load of holiday-related banking stuff. I only got half an hour or so to relax, excluding reading at lunch at work and on the Tube home (which is not entirely relaxing), watching an episode of The Twilight Zone (Ninety Years Without Slumbering, not the best, but not the worst either). Today I was exhausted and didn’t get up until after 1pm, much to my father’s exasperation.

I felt somewhat depressed all day. Some of it was probably autistic exhaustion. Even so, there is so much wrong with the world that I can’t do anything about (Ukraine, the genocide of the Uyghurs, the incompetence of our political class…). It’s easy to get fixated on that.

I also had another novel rejection. There isn’t much more to say about that.

In terms of what I did achieve, I wrote to the JobCentre about my benefits again. I think these should have been stopped ages ago because (A) they were only supposed to last a year; (B) I am now working and earning more than the permitted amount; and (C) my diagnosis has changed, and while I still experience the same difficulties with energy, concentration and motivation in the workplace, I think autism, unlike depression, is (wrongly) not considered a genuine impairment to working. I know it’s silly to look for trouble if they’re still willing to give me free money, but I worry about being arrested for benefit fraud, or at least about being made to pay money back (for all that the amount I receive is pretty small).

It was a struggle finding the paper trail, though. I think of myself as an organised person, but I increasingly realise that I’m not, and that my filing for important papers (savings, work, tax, benefits etc.) need a serious overhaul. It still has the semblance of order, but has grown out of hand through lack of attention. I keep far too much stuff, a problem I had as a librarian too. I ought to sort it before getting married, but it just feels like Yet Another Thing to do alongside work, submitting my novel, researching/writing my second novel, learning to drive, keeping up with household chores, Torah study, relaxation (which I’m beginning to accept I need to take more seriously if I’m going to live with autism) and so on.

In an attempt to find fat to trim, I’m trying to cut internet time to an hour and a half a day. That’s for blogging, reading blogs, reading news sites and general internet browsing, not for using the internet for a non-recreational purpose, such as internet banking or shopping. I’m doing this partly to free up time, partly because, in monitoring what contributed to autistic fatigue and what restored me from it, prolonged internet use emerged pretty quickly as something I do a lot, but which rapidly becomes draining rather than restoring.

It is too early to say if it is working, although I haven’t had great success with similar attempts in the past. I just need more time in the day. If nothing else, I would like to relax by reading more actual books instead of blogs and news sites (important though those are). It would help my attempts to be more productive if I didn’t tire so easily and need so much sleep, particularly after work (see my first paragraph). It’s hard to get through life as an adult with adult responsibilities when I seem to need eleven, twelve or even thirteen hours of sleep most nights.

***

Holiday: Sunday 23 January

By this stage, E and I had established a pattern where she would work during the morning (her work hours are flexible, but she wasn’t on holiday) and I would sleep in a bit and slowly go through my morning routine, then we would go out late morning or early afternoon. Nevertheless, I was still feeling very frustrated at how tired I can get.

We went to The Jewish Museum, which we both found found disappointing. There weren’t enough exhibits on display and the most interesting thing was a special exhibit containing a collection of netsuke, seventeenth century Japanese miniature carved statues, which was not what you would expect to find in a Jewish museum. The exhibition it was part of was about a wealthy Austrian-Jewish family that lost their property, including the netsuke, in the Holocaust and tried to get it back afterwards. As E said, it was sad they lost their property, but lots of people lost their lives in the Holocaust (the family all seemed to flee to safety when the Nazis took over, just leaving their possessions behind to be seized), and it was hard to be too concerned over them, especially as they still seemed to be very wealthy. Still, the netsuke were interesting, if not exactly what I would have gone to the museum for.

The funniest thing was the (expensive) museum shop, which had a fair bit of what can only be described as Ruth Bader Ginsburg fan memorabilia. There was an RBG children’s book, which reminded me of something I saw in the paper a while back, where a columnist was complaining that one of the biggest bookshops in London had no children’s books about Chanukah, but did instead have a selection of children’s books on woke heroines like Greta Thunberg, Kamala Harris and RBG. What, she wondered, would an English five year old, make of a book about an American politician or judge?

But my favourite item in the shop was an RBG chanukiah (Chanukah lamp), with six inch high mini-RBG brandishing a gavel at the person lighting the lamp. The lamps stood on blocks that spelt out “I DISSENT,” which was also the title of RBG children’s autobiography, apparently to make her seem an exciting rebel rather than an accepted part of the political order. We saw a woman with an RBG tote bag later in the week too, so there’s obviously a market for this sort of “merch” (I hate that word). Welcome to the era of politics-as-lifestyle (and lifestyle-as-politics).

Afterwards we went to Central Park again, then on to some bookstores, new and second-hand. I picked up a copy of Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, the more excitingly-titled novelisation of the 1971 Doctor Who story Colony in Space. The Doctor Who novelisations are a subject of nostalgia in their own right for many fans, particularly older ones. I read the novelisations of most stories before I got a chance to see them and they were a huge part of my childhood. I do vaguely think sometimes about trying collect the complete set (I have about forty, only a quarter or so of the total). Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon, like many of the early novelisations (before they started churning them out mechanically) has ‘value added’ in terms of more detailed characterisation and world-building compared with the TV story, so it was enjoyable to read (on the plane home) even though I’ve got the TV version on DVD. It also shifts the focus from the Master’s attempt to steal the titular weapon to the human drama of the colony (despite the titles suggesting the opposite), which is probably an improvement. E read it too and was also impressed.

Some time after sunset I realised that I had forgotten to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers), and now it was too late. I seem to do this once every winter. In the evening, we got takeaway dinner from a kosher Mexican restaurant. We were impressed by the food, less so by the refusal of the kitchen staff to wear masks. Eating in E’s apartment, I realised the rubber sole was falling off one of my walking boots, and it did indeed fall off before I left for home. Fortunately, the boot still had a leather and plastic sole underneath that protected my foot during the ten minute walk back to my apartment, in the falling snow.

Monday 24 January

We visited The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, and I picked up three more books: Talmudic Images (which I’ve already blogged about), the second Harry Potter (after making sure it was an English edition and not one ‘translated’ into American English) and the first volume of Richard Evans’ three-volume non-fiction study of Nazi Germany. Including the Doctor Who book and two Jewish books I ordered to come to E’s apartment for me to collect (to avoid international postage), I was coming back with six more books than I left with! Fortunately, throwing away my walking boots gave me some more space in my suitcase… Even so, I was disappointed to have to leave the two-volume hardback Annotated Sherlock Holmes on the Book Cellar’s shelves.

In the afternoon, we went to The Museum of Modern Art. We enjoyed the galleries on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but struggled with the noise in the building, which came not from patrons, but from some extremely noisy art installations. I was also annoyed that the cloakroom was closed, inevitably because of COVID (?!), and I was not allowed to wear my rucksack and had to carry it around instead. Add in the usual mask discomfort and, again, we only stayed for a couple of hours whereas pre-COVID we might have stayed for longer.

In the evening we had dinner at a kosher pizza place with E’s mother, who was visiting New York. This seemed to go well. It was good to meet her in person. Afterwards E spent time with her mother while I went back to my apartment and started reading Talmudic Images and generally pottered about not feeling like doing much. This turned out to be a bad sign, an indication that I was rapidly running out of spoons.