Renaissance Man

Today was a fairly quiet day, busy enough at work to stop me getting bored, but not so busy that I was rushing the whole time. Plus, I had to go to the bank and the shops for work reasons, albeit in the rain, which is good.

Yesterday, however, was very busy, so busy that I didn’t have time to blog. So this is yesterday’s blog post today.

I started my proofreading job. I worry that I am too formal and pedantic for the professional blog posts I was proofreading. I feel my writing style is slightly formal (or stuffy, if you prefer). I know that a more informal style is considered acceptable even for some professional materials and try to adapt, but it’s hard sometimes. I let contractions go through, but struggle with “But” at the start of a sentence (twice). I know it’s done, it just seems wrong to me. I want to put “However” or “Nevertheless”. I can’t remember how I left it. I left “paycheck to paycheck” in as there isn’t really a British English equivalent without significantly re-writing the sentence. I think it probably makes sense to most English people, but I might add a note when I return it. I proofread two posts of about 500 words each and have one of 1,000 left to do, but one of the 500 word posts took twice as long as the other, so it’s hard to estimate how long it will take to finish.

In the evening we had a family Zoom call for my father’s seventieth birthday. This was a semi-surprise. We couldn’t think how to get Dad on the call without telling him it was happening, but he thought it would just be my parents, me and my uncle and aunt (Mum’s brother and sister-in-law; Dad is an only child). Instead, as well as all of us, there was E, Sister, Brother-in-law, Nephew and some of my first cousins (Cousins 1, 4 and 5). This was the first time Uncle, Aunt and Cousins had “met” E as well as the first time all of them bar Uncle had met Nephew. It was a good call, but E and I found it draining. My extended family are very boisterous.

In between these two things, I had therapy. It was a successful session. We spoke a lot about masking and trying to fit in to the frum world. I feel like I have two identities, a frum (religious Jewish) one and a worldly one. These don’t feel like they go together and I feel bifurcated. My therapist suggested I could see myself as a Renaissance man, one engaged with the world, but also deeply religious. This appeals to me as I studied the Renaissance at university. Figures like Copernicus, Sir Francis Bacon and Johannes Kepler invented the scientific method while being deeply religious. Similarly Sir Thomas More was a courtier and writer (humanist in the sixteenth century sense of a student of the humanities) as well as devout Catholic, at least until it cost him his head for resisting Henry VIII’s break with Rome. My therapist said that even if the frum world doesn’t share my interests, I can still feel part of both the frum world and the wider world in this way.

This reminded me of a couple of things. One was a letter Rabbi Sacks  z”tzl referred to in one of his books. It was written by Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner z”tzl, a prominent twentieth century thinker and halakhicist (jurist). A young man who had studied in yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) for several years and was about to go to medical school wrote to him saying that he worried he was living a double life, religious and secular (career). Rav Hutner wrote to him to say that to own an apartment, but live in a hotel is to live a double life, but to own an apartment with two rooms is not to live a double life, but a broad one. Similarly, to have a secular career, particularly a socially useful one like medicine, is not a contradiction to a religious life, but simply a broadening of it. This is a letter that I have taken some comfort from for a long time, even if it is not really about engaging with Western culture (I’ve never had any qualms about having a career).

I was also reminded of a story (I have no idea if it’s true) about a famous nineteenth century rabbi (I can’t remember who) who was quite cultured. One day he was walking around depressed, having heard that the poet Johann Goethe had died. Some people asked why he was depressed and he said “Goethe has died.” None of the people knew who Goethe was, but they guessed he must be a great rabbi if their rabbi was mourning his death, so the community went into mourning for “Rabbi Goethe.” The story suggests that frum people may not understand me, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily dislike me or oppose me; they might even support me, in their way.

We also spoke a bit about whether I underestimate other frum people and whether they might be more open to the outside world than I think. I remembered when a friend of mine from the more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul (synagogue) I used to go to asked if I liked music. I said I didn’t, because I was worried he would find my musical taste (a lot of rock and pop) too modern. However, he listed some of his favourite musicians, who turned out to be people I like listening to, like Sting and Billy Joel (I haven’t listened to Sting so much recently, but I still listen to Billy Joel quite a bit). I had definitely underestimated him (this is someone who doesn’t own a TV, by the way).

***

I have lost a little weight, despite having largely given up on even token dieting. I’ve seen a couple of blog posts in the last few days from people who say diets don’t work and are dangerous, although they are both in recovery from eating disorders. I think the weight loss is probably due to cold weather and using more “fuel” staying warm, so I don’t know if it will stay off. I also ate ice cream yesterday as I felt I needed a reward for my busy day.

***

Novel-writing is on hold for now, which is frustrating, but I have other priorities: work, proofreading work (including setting up profiles on more sites) and especially wedding preparation. We hope to confirm the date in the next week or so.

***

For reasons that I don’t want to go into now beyond saying “wedding preparation,” I am looking to buy two toy Daleks, preferably one black and one white. I have been looking on eBay. The problem is that E and I are trying to avoid buying from China if possible (because of ongoing genocides and slavery), but 90% of toys seem to come from there. We’re not sure what to do about this. We are not fully consistent on this, as both of us do sometimes buy from China or from other unethical sources (like cheap clothes from Primark which is made in Third World sweatshops – ignoring for now the question of whether it’s better to patronise these and let people earn some money or avoid them and probably force them out of business rather than raising wages). It is a very difficult question. But we don’t feel that toy Daleks are sufficiently necessary to justify buying them. E feels that buying second-hand isn’t the same as buying new and she may be right. I’m not sure what to do and am procrastinating, as I always do when confused. It’s hard to be an ethical shopper.

Wedding Venue Scouting

I had some sub-OCD thoughts last night. I call them “sub-OCD” rather than OCD, because, while they were OCD-type thoughts, I stopped them turning into obsessions, let alone compulsions. I just refused to think about them, which is the correct way to deal with these kinds of thoughts. Nevertheless, it was a bit of an effort and, rather than reading Dune to unwind before bed as I intended, I watched The Simpsons instead as I needed something more light and distracting. The feeling that I had to concentrate on not concentrating on the thoughts (if that makes sense) was still present when I woke up this morning and I worried that I would have over four months of this until the wedding, but it subsided after a while, which was good.

Dad and I went to a shul (synagogue) in Central London to scout out its potential as a wedding site. It wasn’t really suitable. It was a pretty enough shul, but there was not enough natural light or room. Dad and I had some awkward moments getting there. Dad was running late and I thought I would be good for once and not nag him. After about twenty minutes, I thought I should say something. It turns out he was waiting for me, even though I was waiting for him. Then I thought we were driving there, as Dad had said that he had found parking round there, but we went by Tube. I didn’t realise until we were driving to the station (Dad doesn’t like walking) and I didn’t want to ask to go back to get something to read, but I was a little bored on the trip. I would have liked to have done some Torah study on the trip, as I haven’t had much time today, and I wasn’t dressed as warmly as I would have been if I had known we were not going by car. I read some news articles on my phone, including a very long, very scary article about the state of the NHS that avoided the usual knee-jerk responses (“Evil Tory cuts,” “Too many managers,” etc.).

I am still struggling to communicate effectively and politely with Dad. I realised today that it’s no surprise that I struggle to talk to people when my parents are so talkative and I have to really push and assert myself to be heard when they are around otherwise they dominate the conversation. It’s hard to know what to do with a realisation like that, because obviously my parents aren’t going to change (if anything, both have become more talkative in recent years) and my social anxiety isn’t going to go away by itself. Again, I think I’m just waiting until I leave home.

I got a headache on the way home. I suspect it was a stress headache. It didn’t last too long, but I hope I don’t get stress headaches any time I do anything wedding-related! Because of that, and the fact that we left late, I didn’t do much else, just some dusting and a tiny bit of Torah study. I put away some of my bric-a-brac, mementoes of things and wargaming miniatures (except a few that I thought I painted particularly well). It felt like getting my life ready for adulthood and a shared life with E.

***

Chaconia’s comment the other day has left me a bit nervous about changing my medication right before I get married. Of course, I tried to see a psychiatrist to do this months ago, when I was thinking there was lots of time before my marriage, not least because E and I were operating on a worst case scenario of a six month wait for the visa. I don’t think I’ve been clinically depressed or had clinical OCD for some years, even if I have bad moments or even bad days. Really there isn’t a lot I can do about it now other than wait to see what happens.

My Family and Other Anxieties

I feel overwhelmed with emotions that I’m struggling to feel and understand.

I’m happy about E getting her visa, but frustrated it’s going to be a while before E comes to the UK, let alone before the wedding. E needs to spend time in the States working out what to take to the UK, what to ship, what to leave with her parents and what to sell. I’m also nervous about the stress organising the wedding and finding somewhere to live will involve as well as what it will be like living as a married couple with my parents, which we’re probably going to have to do at first in order to get married as quickly as possible and not rush into getting the first flat we see.

I feel mildly anxious, the kind of mild anxiety I used to get every Sunday evening before school (although I didn’t recognise it as anxiety at the time; if I had, it would have been an alarm bell regarding my mental health), so maybe this is just that “start of the work week” anxiety, but it’s more likely wedding anxiety. Mum and Dad are already throwing ideas at me, which is nice, but overwhelming. Mum said she’s worried about having another heart attack; I certainly don’t see her being that involved, or the preparation being that stressful (although what do I know? It’s not like I’ve organised a wedding before).

I’m also stressed about Nephew’s baby blessing, which is taking up far too much of everyone’s time and energy. It’s not that big a thing in itself, although it’s been combined with a birthday meal for my sister (her birthday is in a little over a week). My parents have found a guest house that seems to allow them to be Shabbat- (Sabbath-) observant and is quite near to Sister and Brother-in-Law’s house. Unfortunately, they only have one room for the time in question. This has led to me being asked a lot of difficult questions like, “Would you be happy sleeping on Sister’s sofa even though they have a night nurse with them at the moment?” (No, and I wouldn’t be that happy sleeping in a house with an eight week old baby even without the nurse) and “Would you be happy sharing a room with Dad in the guest house while Mum sleeps on the sofa?” (No, because if I’m going to the family meal, I need alone time afterwards, not time with Dad). Other suggestions were sleeping in Nephew’s room (and presumably being woken every couple of hours when he needs feeding or changing) or staying with brother-in-law’s uncle and aunt who live down the road (no. Just, no). So it looks like my parents are going, but I’m staying home, which I’m sort of relieved about, but also sort of a sad about, as well as irrationally guilty, like I’ve made all these problems myself to sabotage things. I just hope no one falls out with me over this. Just think, we have only thirteen short years to sort out bar mitzvah arrangements…

E can’t understand why everyone in my family is making such a big thing out of this. I think her family is a LOT less sentimental about these little life-cycle events than my family is. I guess I was told from a young age that life-cycle things, and even anniversaries of life-cycle things (good and bad) are hugely important. For example, while many Jews observe the yortzeit, the anniversary on the Hebrew calendar, of a death, my parents, while not exactly observing them, are very aware of the English calendar dates, as well as the death dates of other, less close, relatives and I think even the anniversaries of things like dates when people went into hospital, which is morbid, in my opinion. Dad was really excited when it looked like Nephew might be born on the date of my paternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary, which I didn’t understand at all. To be honest, I think my natural inclinations are closer to E and her family on this.

The other thing stressing me is that a few things in the last few days have made me conscious that my parents are at an age where they are going to get ill a lot. There’s nothing serious going on, but a few minor (at the moment) things have made me realise this. It’s three years since Mum was diagnosed with cancer and eight or nine months since her heart attack, and either of those things could easily reappear. I feel that at the age of forty (nearly), I should be in a position where I can look after my parents and I’m really not, either financially or practically. They’re still looking after me. And E isn’t even going to be in the same country as her parents, and she’s an only child. So it’s vaguely scary stuff.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor about some of these things and also about some of my thoughts about other people judging me religiously. We spoke a bit about other people probably not being that judgmental, and it not really mattering what they think anyway. I feel like it’s going to take some time for me to internalise this, especially as I feel I have objective proof from past experience that some people in the frum (religious Jewish) world are judgmental and not inclined to view me favourably, although you could ask why I would want to please people who have no real connection to me and who seem predisposed to be unpleasant to others.

This ties in a bit with what I was talking to my therapist about regarding unmasking, so I may bring this up with her too.

Other than that, I went for a walk (I decided I had too much to do to go for a run) and did some proofreading (unpaid, to try to get a review) and a bit of Torah study (I lost track of how much). I feel annoyed that I didn’t do much else, particularly as I really need to dust my room and would  have liked some time to work on my novel, although realistically that’s going to go on the backburner for the next few months.

The Visa

The good news: E’s visa has arrived! So now we can plan the wedding in earnest. It will be a while before she can even come of the UK, as she needs to work out what she’s shipping here, what will stay with her parents and what will be sold/given away/thrown away. It’s a bit frustrating, as I was focused on this stage for so long that I almost forgot there was a long way to go afterwards and that she wouldn’t be able to get here for a while. At least now we can begin to move things on.

Otherwise, it’s not been a great couple of days. I was exhausted yesterday. I still made it to shul (synagogue), but felt really tired afterwards. I did more than an hour of Torah study after dinner, but, once I’d also included time thinking about the implications of what I was reading, I didn’t have long to read for fun before feeling too tired and having to go to bed.

I don’t think I slept well and I woke up exhausted again, after dreaming that the next episodes of Doctor Who were really amazing (which I do not currently expect it to be, given the return of David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Russell T Davies). I managed to avoid sleeping in the afternoon, but did lie down for forty minutes and felt like I struggled to do much Torah study, although I think I actually did a reasonable amount.

I struggled a lot with feeling religiously inadequate over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I won’t go into the whole train of thought. I realised a lot of it is related to how other people see me, which is probably due to autism and social anxiety as much as how religious I actually am. I know that it doesn’t matter what other people think, even if they are important rabbis, but I find it does still matter to me.

After Shabbat was over, I found the text E had sent me about the visa and sent out some texts and emails about that. I was feeling tired and surprisingly a bit low, which I think is primarily exhaustion, and I just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV. I ended up watching GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut James Bond adventure. It has a slightly uncertain tone as the film makers tried to work out where James Bond fitted in a post-Cold War, post-feminism world. Nice character parts for a young-looking Robbie Coltrane and Joe Don Baker (still being typecast as eccentric CIA agents a decade after classic BBC eco-thriller Edge of Darkness).

As for baby blessing news, it continues to get more and more complicated. Watch this space. The uncertainty is stressing me out, as are some health concerns my parents have (both have separate concerns). I don’t want to go into details, but it’s confusing and potentially worrying and I don’t know what to feel right now.

Pathetic

Because I saw the psychiatrist yesterday, I went in to work today instead. This meant that I was there without J, who usually works from home on Tuesdays. It wasn’t as lonely as it can be when I’m there by myself as it was very busy. I struggled with a number of autistic issues: getting distracted when the phone rang or people came into the office and forgetting what I was doing; mishearing people on the phone and sounding, I fear, incoherent myself (I planned what I was going to say, but then got confused when the other person didn’t say the “right” thing, so I ended up asking for someone’s name after she had given it to me); and jumping with shock whenever the phone rang (is that a sensory thing?). I didn’t get time to do anything else, so I didn’t try switching J’s phone with mine, but I was listening to a text sent to J’s phone (you can do this on some phones) when my line started ringing. It took me a few minutes to realise and get there, but when I picked up the receiver, it was dead, so either the person rang off exactly as I got there, or there’s a problem with my phone.

***

The psychiatrist phoned while I was on the Tube home. She left a message, but didn’t say what I should do to reduce my medication. I suppose she wants to make sure I can understand. She only works on Mondays and Tuesdays (many NHS doctors have a private practice some days), so I will have to wait until next week to hear. I hope she doesn’t phone when I’m on the Tube again. I also need to remember to leave the volume up on my phone, as I usually have it on silent in the office. I can see this going on for weeks. She called from a private line so I can’t phone back or text back to explain any of this. I can’t even phone the main switchboard and leave a message for her (not that I would expect it to be passed on…) as I can’t actually make out what her name is.

***

After I mentioned Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig, who is trying to promote mental health awareness among the rabbinate, E suggested I emailed him about my questions about Jewish practice with autism, even if autism isn’t strictly a mental illness. I had coincidentally been having similar thoughts. I couldn’t find any contact details for him online, but I did discover that the organisation he set up has an “ask a rabbi a mental health-related question” email service. I intend to send an email, although I need to work out what exactly I want to ask.

***

The latest in Nephew’s baby blessing saga: Mum and Dad contacted the only hotel in the area that has vacancies for the Shabbat (Sabbath) of the baby blessing. They asked if we could come in without using electric key cards as we don’t use electricity on Shabbat and the hotel said that we should just ring the electric buzzer. Not very helpful. And we can’t try to attract someone’s attention as the reception is on the sixth floor (the hotel is above a shop and some offices). I’m a bit surprised this hasn’t come up before as an issue because it is quite a Jewish area.

***

I got upset by something on the Orthodox Conundrum group. There was a post asking for questions for Rabbi Kahn’s other podcast, Intimate Judaism (about Judaism and sexuality), which is going to be about “older singles” (which in the Orthodox world is anyone over the age of twenty-five), divorcees and widows. Two people immediately said that this was a terrible idea as it would be promoting extra-marital sex and that “older singles” have the choice of “pathetic celibacy or transgressive intimacy”. This annoyed me, as celibacy has been my avodah (religious work) for decades. While I felt myself to be “pathetic” at times, I don’t think my celibacy was pathetic. I recognise that heterosexual marriage is the cornerstone of Judaism and millennia of persecution has led to disparagement of clerical celibacy, but I feel my celibacy was (is, as E and I aren’t being intimate until our religious wedding) somewhat noble, albeit in a very unconventional way for a frum person. (I think it’s obvious by this stage that I am not conventionally frum.)

(There is probably also an argument to be made about the religious priorities of someone who insists on saying “intimacy” to avoid saying “sex,” but is willing to publicly brand a whole bunch of Jews as either “pathetic” or “transgressive,” but I’ll leave that for now.)

I was going to give an angry response, but I feared getting into an argument with one of the most argumentative people on the group. Then I was going to make a general “thank you” post to Rabbi Kahn and Dr Rosenbaum, but I decided it made more sense to wait for the podcast to drop. I do still feel angry, and hopeful that E’s visa comes soon so we can get married (again) and start our life together properly.

***

Looking for an anniversary card for my parents, it seems that “six month anniversary” cards are now a thing, because presumably the card manufacturers haven’t made up enough fake holidays so far. Although E thinks it’s weird that my sister and I get Mum and Dad anniversary cards, so obviously my resistance to Big Stationery could go further.

***

I’ve been trying to avoid Prince Harry. For someone who says he just wants to live a quiet life in obscurity, he is in the news a lot. Possibly someone should tell him that not saying controversial things about his family might be a better way of avoiding press attention. I’m hoping the success of his book will lead to republication [1] of other books supposedly written by royals, such as Charles I’s Eikon Basilike (published ten days after he was beheaded, so Harry got off lucky) and King Alfred’s Old English translation of Boethius’ Consolations of Philosophy (definitely bestseller material). I can’t remember the title of the book Henry VIII supposedly wrote. I think it was arguing that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon should be annulled. Extracts from Queen Victoria’s diary were published during her lifetime. They sold well, but Harry would probably find them dull. You could probably put together, if not a library, then at least a little bookshelf of them.

[1] I think Harry wants it to lead to republic-ation.

Fear and Loathing

I somehow got up at 10.15am, which isn’t early, but is early for me on a non-work day. I was feeling frustrated early on from seeing the conversation on the autism forum. I really need to psych myself up to write a post on the autism forum called, “Some of my Best Friends are Neurotypicals”. I feel there is a lot of prejudice or even hatred of neurotypicals on the forum and assumptions that their lives are perfect, which is obviously not true, and also that they are all shallow and inauthentic, which is also not true. There also sometimes seems to be a belief that neurotypical behaviours are inherently inferior to autistic ones. I’m not sure you can really argue that autism is a value-neutral difference to allism (non-autism) while also arguing that autism is better than allism.

I see the same thing in some Jews who have negative views of non-Jews. For example, some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews will insist that non-Jews are incapable of acting from true altruism, even towards their own children. It seems likely that any persecuted minority group is capable of turning around and hating the out-group, which is not necessarily completely synonymous with the persecutors.

People on the forum would probably say that I have internalised ableism, which may be true, although I think it’s more likely I don’t feel comfortable asserting myself or disappointing people.

I do feel that Judaism is a more important part of my identity than autism, which would probably also get me in trouble on the autism forum, where relationships with “neuro-kin” are seen as stronger than with society at large. I was born Jewish, but on some level I choose to be Jewish every day, whereas autism is something that has passively happened to me. Also, Judaism gives me a sense of purpose, whereas autism just is how I interact with the world automatically.

I’m wondering if I should step back from the autism forum and FB for a bit. Not completely, but a bit. Even aside from the neurotypical hate, I feel I can get sucked into too much. There was a thread on the autism forum about a teenager with delusions where I don’t know if I suggested the right thing; certainly other people suggested very different things. People sometimes ask things that strangers on the internet can’t really answer, although I suppose they’re desperate.

***

I spent fifteen minutes or so changing my LinkedIn profile from one primarily for an academic librarian to one primarily for a proofreader and copy editor. I feel a bit of a fraud about this, as I haven’t had any paid proofreading work yet and am not sure I can market myself aggressively enough to get any. I also quietly removed the university where I got my library MA (a not-very-good university) from high on the profile so that my BA from Oxford is more prominent, although the MA one is still there in case I look for more library work. Fortunately, my current employer doesn’t have a LinkedIn page and is unlikely to get one, so people can’t see that it’s unrelated to either of my “careers.”

The whole of this process made me feel like an incompetent fraud who hasn’t really achieved anything since finishing at Oxford, if not earlier. I think I probably peaked in my first year at university, where I was two marks off a first (first class result, the highest possible) in Mods (Honour Moderations, first year exams for historians when I was there). I honestly don’t know how I turn my work life around.

***

Similarly, I had more, “I don’t have enough ideas for my novel, I’m a terrible writer, I’m never going to get a novel finished to the standard I would like”-type angst. I try to tell myself I’m writing for myself, but then I hit the barrier of, “If I’m writing for myself, isn’t that selfish? Shouldn’t I do more of my religious obligations (learn more Torah, daven with a minyan more often, do more chesed (kindness)) or something that might bring in more income for E and myself when we marry?” There isn’t really an answer to this, except that it seems I need to write for my mental health (including research reading and novel reading to continually learn how to write), and that’s that.

I guess because I’m a perfectionist, it’s hard to write knowing not just that this won’t be the greatest novel ever written, but that it may not even be publishable, or that I might not even finish it.

***

There was plenty of aimless internet surfing, which I know is a product of loneliness as much as boredom. I miss E. I did manage to do some Torah study and cook dinner for tonight and tomorrow (lentil dal) and made some time to work on planning my novel, although in the last week or so, my computer, which is about eight years old (that’s about ninety in computer years) has slowly started dying, suddenly freezing periodically. The problem I’m having writing is that my autism wants to plan every detail before I start writing, so I know I won’t run out of inspiration, but my writing is better when semi-improvised, particularly for humour.

***

There seems to be a hole in my bedroom wall through which rainwater is coming…

***

I spoke to my sister about the baby blessing. I feel a bit better about it now. She said I didn’t have to come, as Brother-In-Law’s brother and his family aren’t coming. Paradoxically, this makes me feel better about going, as it feels less of an order now and more something I can choose to do. I guess I don’t like feeling I’m being taken for granted.

***

I’ve been listening to The Beach Boys a lot recently. I’ve never really liked them, and the topics of their songs (hedonistic teenagers in California in the 60s) don’t really resonate (unusual for me, as the lyrics are usually very important to me), but I like the actual music, which is mostly upbeat and cheers me up. I tend to listen mostly to music that can cheer me up.

Neurodivergence and the Frum Community

I’m still feeling torn between my Jewish and autistic identities. They don’t automatically conflict, but they do pull in different directions, autism towards solitude and quiet as well as extreme individualism, Orthodox Judaism towards family, community, the notion of religious obligation and structure which can run counter to individualism and (let’s face it) noise and sensory overload. It’s hard to even describe to one group the “other side” of my identity or to feel that they would even be interested in knowing, let alone care about how I feel. The online autism community also contains a fair amount of anger towards allistics, which to me seems to run across religious obligations to love others and not bear grudges or get angry.

 ***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor today. He encouraged me to raise the issue of autism in the frum community online, and to keep writing fiction even if it reduces time or energy for religious observance, which was reassuring. Also with his encouragement, I posted something on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group about being autistic in the frum world.

This is what I wrote:

This is something that has been on my mind for a while. I was diagnosed with autism in 2021. It was a late diagnosis, when I was aged thirty-seven. Obviously it had been present all my life, I just didn’t know.

Diagnosis explained a lot about my difficulties fitting in to the frum world from my teenage years onwards e.g. I struggled to fit in at the youth minyan at my shul and soon went back to davening in the main shul; I refused to go to Jewish youth movements; I didn’t go to yeshivah; I had a difficult time fitting in to the frum student group at university; I struggled hugely with dating and I’m only getting married now at the age of thirty-nine (and to someone who is also not part of the mainstream frum community).

All these things were at least partially a result of my autism and co-morbid mental health issues that I’ve struggled with all my adult life, particularly depression and social anxiety, as well as my experience of being bullied a lot at school, like many autistic children. Even when I did go to shul, shiurim or frum social events, I struggled to speak to anyone and fit in.

I feel my lack of attendance at so many events and institutions that socialise young people into the frum community mean that I really struggle to fit even now. I definitely feel there were points in my life where I could easily have stopped being frum had my commitment to Judaism not been so great, because I felt so socially isolated and depressed.

I have a lot more I could say about this (e.g. my troubles with shul attendance and with chevruta learning), but I would like to hear what other people think first. Do you have experience of neurodiversity in the frum world? What challenges have you or those you know faced? What would you like to see done differently? What is already positive?

So far I’ve had some pleasantly empathetic responses, but only one fellow frum neurodivergent (someone with ADHD) and no advice or support beyond, “Find a less frum community with more tolerant people who probably didn’t go to yeshivah,” which is sort of what I discussed with my rabbi mentor t his morning (we discussed that E and I are looking at a less-frum community, partly for financial reasons, partly because I know I’m more likely to participate if I’m one of the more knowledgeable and frum congregants). However, put that bluntly it feels a bit like I’m being kicked out of the frum world for being broken and not a good enough Jew.

Someone else spoke about the frum world being rigid and unwilling to make exceptions for its rules. This is most obviously true of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, where I think, if they were honest, the leaders would admit to accepting that a certain number will have to leave (for a whole bunch of different reasons) in order to preserve a stable community for the 85% who stay. To be honest, most human societies in history have functioned like this, putting the needs of the collective before the needs of the individual, and most non-Western societies still do e.g. China, Iran. It’s still depressing, and hard when I don’t want to leave, particularly as the Modern Orthodox community is supposed to be more welcoming. The Orthodox Conundrum group is, on the whole, very supportive of minority rights in Orthodoxy (women, LGBT, abuse survivors), so it feels even worse being met with this muted response from them. Neurodivergence is a lot less problematic, in terms of Jewish law, than LGBT rights.

E asked if I thought that this was why I struggle to find frum autistic Jews, that they just can’t cope with the community and leave, so there simply aren’t many frum autistic Jews around. The thought had already occurred to me, and also about mentally ill Jews. When I was involved with a Jewish mental health charity, I met a couple of people who had become more religious, then had mental health problems and decided, for their mental health, to go back to being non-religious. I’m sure they aren’t the only ones (and realistically some people become religious because of mental illness, or because of traumatic events that are going to lead to mental illness down the line). Mental Health Shabbat is becoming an established annual event in Modern Orthodox communities, but there’s still a long way to go with that, and acceptance of neurodivergence has even further to go than acceptance of mental illness.

I’ve been on a cycle for a number of years of feeling that the frum world has let down me and other people with mental illness or neurodivergence. Then I’ll try to reach out and I’ll find a bit of support and feel better, but then I get isolated again and the cycle repeats. It’s hard not to look at my neurotypical, mentally healthy (or apparently so) peers who have found a way to succeed in the community and in general and not feel let down, frustrated, lonely, maybe angry, and probably other things too. I’ve felt for a while that the frum world in general, and the Haredi world in particular, has an amazing amount of chesed (kindness, support) for those inside the frum box, but those outside are often left to fend for themselves. And I know others have it much worse than I do; I at least have a supportive wife and family, my rabbi mentor and enough ability to “pass” for a time in the frum world, even if it’s stressful and draining. I certainly feel a lot better about the situation than I did when I was still looking to marry someone from within the frum world. Still, it’s painful to feel rejected (again).

(Someone also wanted to argue with me about whether autism was a disability or an eccentricity. I just walked away from that conversation as no good come from it, as I knew from other threads that this person just likes to argue.)

***

It rained much of the afternoon, so I didn’t get out for a walk and writing that short post for FB and responding to comments took longer than you might think, so I didn’t do much else. I did some Torah study, but not much else.

***

So, the baby blessing (again). I’ve discovered the baby blessing isn’t at the end of the service, but in the middle, during the leining (Torah reading). So I’m going to have to get there earlier and stick around even though I don’t feel comfortable davening there. I know I’m going to have to do it, but it feels like every time I try to make a compromise regarding this, I just get told to make another compromise. And it’s really not going to be fun being at a big family thing afterwards without E, as virtually the only adult there without a spouse (the only other one will be Brother-in-Law’s severely intellectually disabled sister).

We haven’t spoken to the hotel yet about electronic keys etc.

***

I’m still watching Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot with an all-female Ghostbusters team. This was hugely controversial at the time, to the extent that the fandom website Den of Geek had to turn off commenting on all posts about the film because of the amount of anger and abuse the comment section filled up with, supposedly at the idea of rebooting the franchise, but, a lot of people suspected, about the female leads.

To be honest, the female cast is probably the film’s greatest asset. They’re charismatic and reasonably funny and it honestly is good to see women playing scientists/heroes rather than love interest/eye candy in a science fantasy adventure film like this. And the film remembered that the original Ghostbusters was a comedy, unlike Ghostbusters II and Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which had a couple of good jokes, but weren’t primarily comedies. However, whereas the original film was very dry and ironic, this film is much cornier and over-reliant on people being stupid or getting slimed. It is fitfully funny, though, and better than its reputation.

First Drafts

I had a dull day at work without J, who is on annual leave (I’d say holiday, but he’s at home, using up unused holiday days before they expire on 31 January). I had to make a phone call which I handled badly, or at least not as well as I would have liked. Other than that, it was mostly sorting old papers again, but at least I’m making some progress with it, however slight. Tomorrow I need to go to the bank before the end of the month, which is usually the highlight of my working month, except in January when I usually go multiple times as people send so many membership fee cheques in (some people still write cheques, particularly as our members tend towards the elderly and technophobe).

After waiting fifteen minutes and having the rabbi make some phone calls, we got a minyan (prayer quorum) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but someone had to leave at the end so we couldn’t daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and had to do that at home instead. It’s hardly the worst problem ever, but it was frustrating. The minyan is usually made up of people who work in offices locally, as there isn’t much of a local Jewish population, and at the moment many people are on holiday.

***

As usual, I read a Torah study book on the Tube in to work, but I skimmed How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by science fiction author Orson Scott Card at lunch and on the way home. A lot of it is intuitive, or related to types of science fiction I have no intention of writing (at the moment), and much of the rest I suspect I picked up from another book he wrote about writing technique. I’ve never been sure how much you can teach writing, or any art. I guess there’s a part which is technique, which can probably be taught as a craft, and another part that is raw talent that has to be honed by actually writing, if you’re lucky enough to have it.

One thing that did interest me was the idea that you might need to do a first draft to try out ideas and then rewrite it into something completely different. This was shocking to me, as my English teacher at school used to insist that a first draft was 99% of the final product. Talking of a “rough draft” was even worse, and anyone saying that to him would be told, “Rough is what the doggie says.” Similarly, Steven Moffat, the greatest of the Doctor Who new series writers and showrunners (in my humble, but controversial, opinion) says that a first draft is most of the work; the subsequent drafts are just polish. And who am I to argue with the author of Blink and Heaven Sent?

It’s a strange concept for me to get my head around: a draft that I go into knowing very little of it will survive into later drafts is just not how I have written up until now (although part of me wants to perform a drastic re-write on my first novel one day). I can see that it makes sense for science fiction or fantasy in a way that it might not with more realistic fiction. With these genres, as well as the usual plot and characterisation common to all fiction, there’s a lot of literal world-building to test, finding rules for an environment and for pseudo-science or magic that are consistent and don’t cheat the reader or make things too easy for the hero. I can see it might be easier doing that on paper than in your head, but it is a paradigm shift for me, even if I was already tentatively going down that path.

A related question is research. I want my book to involve virtual reality (like Meta), but realise I know very little about actual contemporary virtual reality to extrapolate from. My instinct is to search bookshops for non-fiction about it as well as famous science fiction books like Neuromancer and other classics from the cyberpunk sub-genre (I’ve read the seminar cyberpunk short story Johnny Mnemonic. But don’t mention The Matrix or I’ll scream. It’s an over-rated pile of Philip K. Dick fanfic). But maybe it’s better to just write at this stage and look at other people’s thoughts (real-world and fiction) after I’ve got something down on paper. That will also save my bank balance and give me more time to read the BIG PILE OF OTHER BOOKS I’ve acquired lately.

***

The baby blessing has come up again. This is the family event Sister and Brother-in-Law are planning for next month, with attendance at their shul (synagogue), at the communal refreshments afterwards and two big family meals, a week before another family/social event my parents are planning for Dad’s seventieth birthday. This has made me anxious on multiple levels, some religious, some autism- and mental health-related.

The latest issue is that the hotel where we would have to stay has electronic locks, which would be problematic on Shabbat (the Sabbath) when electricity can’t be used. When I was in New York, the staff at the hotel I stayed at were used to religious Jews asking (or more usually hinting, as it’s not really permitted to ask non-Jews to perform work on Shabbat) to have doors opened for them, but this might not be the case here and they might see it as suspicious behaviour.

Even beside that, I still feel deeply negative and anxious about the whole thing, doubly so as I feel I have no right to express my discomfort, whether from religious or autistic/socially anxious reasons, even though I worry what kind of state I will be in by the end of January if I go through all this, which I feel is a legitimate worry and not me being difficult.

Then there is the fact that, at the moment, it looks like I would have to go through these events without E, which just feels so painful now and I don’t know how much anyone in my family understands that.

***

I was thinking today about not achieving the level of halakhic (Jewish law)observance that I wanted or expected I would have by now. This is partly because E and I are now growing together and religious growth needs to be at a pace that both of us can bear, and I’m OK with that, but, even beyond that, I have been relying on leniencies in some areas or relaxing my standards for a while now, as I’ve mentioned before. As I said the other day, I think it’s hard being frum (Jewishly observant) with mental health issues, neurodiversity, less frum relatives and without feeling integrated into a supportive community, let alone juggling all of these. I hate to use ‘privilege’ language, but I increasingly feel that being fully halakhically observant is a privilege. It’s not something all Jews can attain, even if they want to, but as a community we are not accepting of that.

As I thought about it, I realised that I am disabled, but for twenty years I was trying to be frum without knowing I was disabled, not knowing that there were legitimate leniencies I could rely on (sometimes I knew I could rely on things because of depression or living with less frum parents, but I did not know about autism). It’s a strange situation to be in, to become retroactively aware that you were disabled all your life. I doubt it happens to many people; I would think usually disability announces itself very clearly! It’s something I haven’t really come to terms with.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, beyond my reiterated desire to say something to other frum people about this, but not knowing what I want to say or who I want to say it to or how I want to say it and being afraid of the reaction I would get for essentially justifying my non-observance of halakhah.

One Autistic and a Baby

I went to bed late again last night with little downtime. This is a problem at Chanukah, as a key part of relaxation for me is watching TV in my room while eating dinner, but during Chanukah I tend to eat with my family at the dining room table where we can see the Chanukah candles. This is not religiously required, but somehow it seems wrong not to do it, even though it’s not an old tradition for us, just something we’ve started doing in the last few years. To make matters worse, I find eating with my parents extra draining. So I feel like I haven’t had much downtime for the last few days.

I did go to volunteering. I feel comfortable enough there now to make a slightly teasing joke to one of the other volunteers; he responded in kind a while later. I felt a bit awkward, though. Perhaps because of my history of being bullied as a child, I feel uncomfortable when people tease me, even when I know it’s meant in a friendly way, or perhaps it was just that it took me a minute for me to understand the joke (it hinged on my having red hair, but I feel that my hair is brown with bits of red in it, which isn’t the same). We had jam donuts with our coffee as it’s Chanukah. I ate one, even though I usually avoid the biscuits during the coffee break (to lose weight) and even though I knew I would have another one in the evening. Chanukah is not really a time for dieting.

Afterwards I went to Golders Green for lunch. Years ago, I used to periodically find myself needing to eat lunch in Golders Green and I used to go to a particular cafe where they served a tuna melt that I really liked. I hadn’t had it for years, not least because nowadays I’m semi-vegetarian and only eat fish and meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals). As these are mostly days when one can’t eat in restaurants, I don’t eat the tuna melt. However, I do eat fish on Chanukah, when work is permitted (as it’s a minor festival – yes, even though it’s perhaps the best-known Jewish festival, Chanukah ranks low in the official pecking order), so I decided to make a special trip to eat it.

I was rather stunned when I got there by how crowded and noisy it was, but I decided to go in nonetheless. I certainly wonder how I coped with such noise and overload in the past. I really think that, before lockdown and before my autism diagnosis, I didn’t notice how much things like this stressed me out, or, if I noticed, I suppressed my feelings as silly or childish. I did very much notice my feelings today, but I really wanted the tuna melt and coming back wasn’t really an option, so I braved it. It was worth it. I’d forgotten how big the slices of bread are that they use for the sandwich. Very filling.

On the bus, I listened to the latest Orthodox Conundrum podcast on The REAL History of ChanukahAnd Why It Matters Today, which I would definitely recommend to all religious Jews (regardless of denomination) and anyone who thinks they know the Chanukah story. It was really good, so good that I immediately recommended it to E, who texted me later to agree how good it was. If you only listen to one podcast this Chanukah

I came home exhausted, but not for very long, as we (me and my parents) went out to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. Nephew was asleep when we got there, so we lit Chanukah candles or at least Sister and BIL did – I was prepared to compromise on this occasion and light there and blow them out when it came time to go (which I think you can do if they’ve burnt for half an hour), but my Dad for once was the machmir (strict) one who wanted to light and home and let the lights burn themselves out.

More donuts were consumed, this time chocolate-filled.

After a while, Sister and BIL decided to wake Nephew as he needed to feed. I got to hold him for longer this time. I sat on the sofa, where I was more comfortable and supported. I shook a little, but my parents didn’t notice, and I felt more comfortable with him. I did struggle to know what to say to him, but my Mum said I was fine and the photos people took of me holding him show me looking relaxed. He is still a very little thing, and very sleepy. I did feel good holding him, though.

My sister is suddenly very maternal, which is not a side to her that I’d seen before. She’s already got a unique term of endearment for Nephew, although maybe that’s not surprising, because as a child she was always making up words.

When my Mum was holding Nephew, she said to him that she was going to come on Tuesdays to help Sister and that she would see him too. Nephew reacted to this news with what can only be described as a look of sheer horror, or it would have been, if a three week old baby could understand what someone is saying to him. It was very funny.

One thing we did speak about was the baby blessing for my nephew, which is back on the agenda. Sister and BIL want to do it at the end of January, as a combined baby blessing/Kiddush (refreshments) in shul to thank the community for their help/family birthday celebration for Sister. This would be a week or so before another party, this time for my Dad’s seventieth birthday. I am not entirely happy about all this, although I have agreed to at least to try to go to all these things. Even aside from my discomfort about davening (praying)at a non-Orthodox shul (synagogue) (nothing against non-Orthodox shuls, it’s just not right for me), which I can get around (daven at home on Friday night, daven early on Shabbat morning and then go to shul afterwards), it’s a LOT of peopling in a week and especially over that Shabbat, doubtless with little recovery time. It can be hard doing things with Sister and BIL, as I’m very conscious that they are further on in life than me (married, child, much more financially secure than E and I are likely to be in the foreseeable future, accepted and given a role in their shul community) and at the moment it’s even harder, as doing family things without E just seems so painfully wrong, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And I find family events can be hard anyway, as I can’t always work out how to join in the conversation.

I do feel a bit nervous about all this, although I realise that I really just have to do it somehow, that I shouldn’t try to make it about me, and that there are many worse things in life. But these things are stressful to me, much more so than for an allistic (non-autistic) person.

Speaking of nervous, I’m a bit nervous of tomorrow, when I feel I have a lot to do: Torah study, novel stuff (I know I’m on hold with it, but I have a few ideas I want to type up anyway), go for a walk (much neglected lately), renew my library ticket, try to move forward with setting myself up as a freelance proof-reader (which I’ve been procrastinating about too much)… All this coming from not having relaxed properly tonight (and instead having procrastinated online…).

Plus, I have to be alone in the house with the cleaner for a couple of hours. I really don’t like doing this, as it’s against Jewish law for two unrelated people of opposite sexes to be alone together (yichud), but having flagrantly broken this with E, I feel I can’t protest, even though I intended my breaking of the halakhah to be specifically because of our relationship and not a general abandonment of yichud.

I have now woken up and feel I ought to try to do a little more Torah study now I have the energy, even though it’s 11.15pm (there’s a lot of guilt here for internet procrastination instead of Torah or real relaxation).

Monotropic Learning, Being Frum and More

It’s been hard to do anything today. I guess the weather being awful doesn’t help. It’s been raining here. The snow is melting a bit, but the rain water is probably going to freeze over tonight making the pavements even more icy and dangerous tomorrow. And, of course, it gets dark at about 3.30pm.

I feel like I miss E more every day, and it feels wrong to be doing Chanukah without her tonight. It’s also hard to do it without my sister and brother-in-law, who are still too overwhelmed with their new baby to come out. We might go there later in the week. It’s so easy to get stuck thinking this is how it will always be. When I was in New York with E, it felt like we would get married and be together soon, but living with my parents makes it feel like the next forty years will be like the last forty (almost). It’s hard to believe things can change sometimes, especially when it feels like I’ve been dealing with the same issues all my adult life. This is not entirely true, as I am not really dealing with depression now, but I have been dealing with autism the whole time, even if I didn’t know it.

I didn’t do much today other than Torah study and getting ready for Chanukah (which did not take long). As a child, I would wait excitedly for Chanukah. As an adult, it lost some of its sparkle, but when my religious OCD was bad, it was a still point, a festival where the religious obligations could be fulfilled at home (so no social anxiety), with little halakhic (Jewish legal) complexity that might trigger the OCD. This year it just feels like I want to get on with it so that E can get her visa and come to the UK. We’re hoping for a Chanukah miracle, but we’re running out of time for that.

I guess I feel kind of down today (actually, really quite down) and not sure what to do with my time today. Maybe I do need fiction writing in my life, if only as a focus for my energies. I feel kind of stuck with that, though. Part of my mind wants to solve plot problems and part wants to stay away for now. So far I’m staying away.

***

I’ve been thinking about this image (by Rit Rajarshi) for the last few days, from a Wikipedia article on monotropic learning, referring to the way monotropic autistic minds fixate on one topic intensely, while polytropic allistic (non-autistic) minds can focus on many things at once or quickly switch topics.

The picture is interesting, as it seems to show that the monotropic mind can focus on many aspects of one subject or many topics branching off from it. I have a wide general knowledge, but tend to link subjects to one another in my head. A lot of what I have learnt, I have learnt directly or indirectly from Doctor Who or Doctor Who fandom. Admittedly Doctor Who was (possibly still is, I find it hard to tell) an unusually literate programme, and certainly 1990s fandom was highly literate and intelligent, but beyond this, I can pick up information and access it faster if it somehow links to Doctor Who (although Judaism seems to be on a separate circuit, as there is very little overlap between the two).

I do not know how to turn this to financial advantage the way some autistic people can.

***

I feel that in order to really live a frum (Jewishly observant) life, you need to be: (1) reasonably well-off financially, (2) physically healthy, (3) mentally healthy, (4) neurotypical, (5) have a frum family and (6) be accepted into a frum community.

The frum community does help people who are poor and who have a short-term physical health issue. It is much, much worse at supporting people who have ongoing physical health issues, mental health issues or neurodiversity. It is not great at reaching out to people who do not have frum family or who do are not well-integrated into an Orthodox community. Sadly, many ba’alei teshuvah (non-religious people who become religious) end up cutting themselves off from their family for various reasons, sometimes because they find it easier than dealing with less religious relations.

I would like to post this on the Orthodox Conundrum group, but I’m scared of the reaction I’ll get. I really don’t mean it to be a “privilege-attacking” or victimhood post, just to signpost what I think is a real issue, but I’m not sure that’s how it will be taken.

***

I mentioned the other day that, when I went for a blood test, I got a stabbing pain in my forearm, a couple of inches below where the needle went in. Over the last few days, I have had some discomfort there at times, although it’s hard to work out when (I think it’s certain movements or positions, but I haven’t worked out which ones). I am getting vaguely worried about it (as my Mum said, it seems to be on the vein), but it seems silly to go to the doctor over slight and vague feelings.

***

I got some more books! For Chanukah, from E I got A Guide for the Jewish Undecided: A Philosopher Makes the Case for Orthodox Judaism by Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens (who wrote The Principles of Judaism which I read a few months ago. A Guide for the Jewish Undecided is supposed to be a more accessible book to the lay reader, although from glancing inside it, I’m not sure how much that’s the case). From my parents, I got Isaiah: Prophet of Righteousness and Justice by Yoel Bin-Nun and Binyamin Lau, from the Koren Maggid Tanakh series. I also got some Doctor Who socks from my in-laws! (It’s still slightly weird to think that I have in-laws, especially considering how little time I’ve spent with them.)

Coincidentally, I also received some Doctor Who novelisations from my parents’ friends. These are more books that belonged to their son who died a few months ago. I feel vaguely uncomfortable about this, like I’m profiting from his death. Maybe it feels like that because these are books that I’m adding to my collection of Doctor Who novelisations, rather than books I’m in a hurry to read (I have read some of them before, years ago).

Fears

I’m feeling down today. I got up more or less on time to discover that, because of snow, virtually every Tube (London Underground) line was running with delays and/or part suspended. I ended up going to work on the bus, which was OK, but I was nearly half an hour late and had to take a shorter lunch break to make up the time. Coming home on the bus was actually OK and I might consider doing it regularly, if the travel times are similar and there isn’t suddenly more traffic on a non-snowy day.

The office was cold (the boiler is still broken) and I had to do the Very Scary Task. I still struggle with that, no matter how much I do it. Some of it is lack of practice, as I don’t do it very often, but I’m sure my brain refuses to memorise some of it out of panic/spite, and having to deal with social interactions over the phone at a high-stress time is not good for autism and social anxiety.

I had intended to work on my novel plan at lunch, but because I got to work late, I didn’t have time to do more than eat lunch and go back to work. When I got home, I spent too long reading blog posts, dealing with emails and comments and writing this to do anything useful on my novel. Now after an evening looking at clichéd, alarmist writing by supposed public intellectuals and leading journalists as well as Facebook fights full of self-importance, passive aggression and fake apologies (“I’m sorry you twisted my words and were offended by them”), not to mention woke buzzwords, I wonder if I can accurately mimic a world gone mad, let alone parody something already beyond parody.

E said I just need to write for myself and not worry about anyone else reading it until I’ve finished a first draft. This is true. It’s hard not knowing if I’m wasting my time, but if I’m enjoying it, I guess I’m not wasting my time, even if no one else ever reads it.

The buzzwords and the clichés do annoy me. I’ve read a lot of Orwell, not just Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, but a lot of his non-fiction, and tired language indicates a lack of original thought. It’s scary to go on social media and see how little thought seems to go into so much writing, including by people who should know much better.

***

I thought a bit on the way home about my feelings about going to my sister’s baby blessing. Although there are some halakahic fears, I think most of my discomfort is about (a) being in an unfamiliar environment and especially (b) having yet another public example of how adult and competent my little sister is compared with me. I am not proud of this (and it’s not true that my sister has had things easy), but there you go. The fact that E is almost certain not to be in the country doesn’t help.

Anyway, I spoke to Mum and it turns out the nearest hotel has no rooms and the next-nearest one seems to be further from the shul than my parents feel comfortable walking, so we may not go anyway.

***

I was going to write some political stuff, but I really can’t be bothered. The world is too awful right now. I also wonder if I should be allowed to vote, given how changeable my thoughts are. I wonder at what point “open-minded” gives way to “indecisive” or just “gullible”? Or mindlessly following (or mindlessly contradicting) the last person who spoke? Walt Whitman said “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “An artist is someone who can hold two opposing viewpoints and still remain fully functional.” I might contain many multitudes and great artistic potential.

***

There is a widely-accepted idea in Judaism that Avraham (Abraham) epitomised kindness, Yitzchak (Isaac) strength/justice and Yaakov (Jacob) truth. This is challenging, as Avraham seems to be motivated by justice as much as kindness (in Judaism, love and justice are to some extent in opposition), Yitzchak seems to have very little strength and Yaakov seems outright deceitful much of the time. This article I printed out and read over Shabbat suggests that it’s more likely that these were traits they struggled with rather than embodied.

I find this reassuring. I feel very much that the interpersonal should be the focus of my religious awareness, but I find that difficult because of autism. Now I can see it as an area of focus and struggle rather than an area where I should expect to achieve perfection.

***

Chana Marguiles writes movingly for Chabad.org about her infertility. She’s brave to do so in a community where typically people have families as large as Chabadniks typically have (nine or ten children in a family is common).

This post is about asking people to change the subject when they are focused on speaking about their children so that she does not feel left out. She says, “The belief that asking for what I need is pathetic because I shouldn’t need it leads to undignified speech that remains muffled within.”

I wonder if I can learn from this. I used to feel alone when all the talk was of marriage, careers, babies. Marriage is less of an issue now, but still a bit, while we’re waiting for E’s visa. And I’m obviously not going to go to my sister’s house and tell her not to talk about her new baby. But I wonder if I could challenge the assumptions of the frum dinner table and say, “Actually, X is not my experience”? I remember a difficult conversation at shiur (religious class) years ago, when the rabbi and one of the other people there had new babies (it was a young rabbi, my age) and they were talking a lot about babies, and someone asked how old my children were and I had to say I wasn’t married (and then got told I should be married…).

I guess the problem is that so many different topics of conversations, or so many parts of “normal” life, seem to be areas of struggle and lack for me, and I don’t have the confidence to ask for “adjustments,” even just to change the subject. Although my lack of connection to the frum world means that I have probably experienced this less than some other people with “issues.”

Baby Blues

I took a COVID test and it came up negative, so I went to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. Unfortunately, E and I stoked each other’s COVID fears beforehand, as I was worried about COVID tests not being accurate, and also that I’d had slight discomfort swallowing once or twice in the last few days. This was probably not significant, but it blew out of proportion in my mind. I think I made the right decision to go, but I wore a mask and mostly kept my distance from my sleeping nephew, except for just before we left, when he woke up and my BIL gave him to me to hold. I felt very anxious about this for non-COVID reasons: he passed my nephew to me awkwardly and Dad had to help me adjust how I was holding him. In addition, I felt anxious about holding him at all, supporting his head and not dropping him, especially as he was wriggling a lot and kicking out with his legs (which I think was just him experimenting with moving his limbs and not a sign that he didn’t like me holding him). This led me to fears of shaking, which in turn led to some tremor, although not serious (fear of shaking is the main cause of my tremor).

I’ve had some health anxiety lately about myself too, and that was probably feeding into anxiety about this. Other people around me have health anxiety too, and one of them didn’t take his health seriously enough in the past, which probably doesn’t help me decide what is a realistic fear. When I was at my sister’s house, I did feel anxious, but it was the kind of anxiety that I used to get with OCD, where it feels overwhelming, but there’s also a sense that I know it’s not realistic. I do have some anxiety now about being able to hold a baby and cope with baby things if E and I have a baby (we want to). Part of me thinks I can only cope with children aged about three to twelve. Kindergarten and primary school age, basically. Babies are a lot of work and teenagers are a different lot of work, and neither are easy to understand. Primary school aged children can and will speak to you whereas babies can’t and teenagers won’t. I think I probably have the mentality of a primary school-aged child, or me as a primary school-aged child: curious and capable of being absorbed in a task that seems trivial to others while lacking interest in the whole concept of inter-personal relations not to mention things like career and earning money.

There was also some slight anxiety in the air over nephew’s preference for bottled milk over breast milk and general concerns about how the new mother and father are coping, which probably didn’t help my anxieties. Then my sister told us they’re thinking of having some kind of baby blessing in their shul (synagogue) at the end of the month and they wondered if we would stay in a nearby hotel so we could go. This made me worry as (a) I get thrown by all changes to routine, particularly those at short-notice and (b) it’s a non-Orthodox shul and I won’t feel entirely comfortable there and I don’t know how I’ll manage that (I didn’t think I’d have to deal with it until nephew is bar mitzvah in thirteen years). I can see why my parents want to go, but I feel like I need to find a polite way of asking my sister if she really wants me there. Although as I missed the brit, maybe it would be wrong to miss this too. I’m aware that this anxiety isn’t entirely rational, but also that that doesn’t make it less powerful.

I tried to fit as much as possible around this visit. It was too icy to run, but I went for a walk. I wanted to work on my novel. I didn’t really get much time to actually sit and write, but I feel like I’ve made progress with plotting the novel recently, partly in New York and partly while walking today, even though I haven’t actually written anything down yet, which I need to do before I forget chunks of it. I feel happier with where it’s going as a dystopian science fiction social satire rather than some kind of precise real-world political satire requiring a lot of research. I do need to write a proper future history/background to the novel before I start writing in earnest, though, otherwise I’ll start contradicting myself about the background to the story. I’m not sure I’m going to manage to do much of this in the months before I get married, particularly as I want to invest some time setting up as a freelance proof-reader in the next few weeks. Life feels very overwhelming sometimes.

I guess I just really had the feeling that things were moving forward last week with E, but now we’re back in limbo and on different continents, while things are moving forward for other people. Our trip feels like a dream now, like it didn’t really happen. The fact that it’s winter doesn’t help. It’s irrational, but it feels like nothing positive can happen now until spring.

New York and Back Again

I’m not going to give a day by day account of my trip to New York as I did for the two previous trips this year, partly as I don’t have time, but also because much of it felt to personal and intimate to share. It was effectively E and my civil honeymoon, as I had to go back to the UK twenty-four hours after our civil wedding ceremony in August, and a lot of those twenty-four hours were taken up with paperwork and a really good, but far from intimate, dinner celebration with E’s family and friends. This trip was our first real time to be together as husband and wife (in the eyes of the US and UK governments, but not the eyes of God and the Jewish community, yet). So, I don’t really want to write much about it.

I will say that E and I got on really well even sharing a studio apartment that was not really built for two people. We had no arguments and my religious OCD was under control. We had a lot of fun and both feel even closer than before and REALLY ready for marriage now. I also spent some time with E’s mother and E and I had dinner with my rabbi mentor, who was also in New York.

My hidden disabilities lanyard seemed to get me positive attention at the airports and on the plane, so I will wear it again in the future.

One place I will briefly talk about was Torah Animal World, a museum in a converted house in Boro Park. It’s a strange, but fascinating place, more like a seventeenth century Cabinet of Curiosities than a modern museum, full of taxidermied animals and ancient artifacts (coins, pots, etc.) mentioned in ancient Jewish texts. You can even touch many of the objects, which was fascinating and slightly troubling (from the perspective of someone more aware of how modern museums function and why).

The rabbi who founded it, who gave us the tour, told us that he was always being told off at school for asking questions about the Torah, such as, “How much water would Rivka (Rebecca) have to draw to water ten camels?” or “How did they sew gold into the High Priest’s vestments?” He decided that he would find the answers and make them available to other people. I’m inspired that he took an experience that could have turned many people off religion totally and made something positive out of it, and that he has found a way to be himself while staying in the frum (religious) community.

The other notable thing about the trip was the staggering number of books I acquired. I came back with about fifteen books that I hadn’t had in my possession when I went out (versus one I left behind, a siddur (prayerbook) I gave to E). I did not buy all of these and I bought few at anything approaching full price. Two are Chanukah presents to me from different people, one was a book E wanted to lend me and several are cheap or free from second-hand bookshop The Book Cellar (free advertising for them as it’s a great bookshop). The Book Cellar haul came to seven books plus a further one for E for under $10 total! Finding time to read them all is another question. The books were a mixture of Jewish religious non-fiction, history, thrillers and mysteries, humour and an autism-themed rom com (the book E lent me). My attempt to run a “one in, one out” policy for books (only buy/acquire one book when I donate another one to a charity shop or free book shelf) seems to be in ruins already (like my diet, something else that slipped and then totally went to pieces in New York).

I did spend some time thinking about my novel on the flight out and had some ideas while in New York, but as yet I haven’t actually written down my emerging story plan.

***

The other big news is that my sister’s waters broke two nights before I left. She didn’t go into labour, so the hospital induced labour while I was away. I am now the uncle of a little nephew! I haven’t met him yet. I was still travelling when he had his brit and, given that I have been in recent contact with someone who now has COVID (E’s mother), I am not sure when I will.

***

Today was a back to reality day. I overslept and got to work late, so I stayed late this afternoon to catch up. The office was very cold as the boiler is broken and noisy as the carpets were being cleaned. I dodged a bullet on phoning people to ask for unpaid payments (I suggested writing to some of them), but probably not for long. When I got home, I learnt that I had missed out on the job I had an interview for. They must have given it to someone else while I was away.

Not having slept on Tuesday night, having spent most of Tuesday and night and Wednesday morning travelling, then having spent Wednesday evening unpacking and not relaxing, then having a stressful day at work today, I decided to watch a James Bond film to try to unwind. I opted for perhaps the most low-key Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, but having watched the first eighteen minutes over dinner, I then got distracted writing an angry comment on a Jewish website. I am very concerned about rising antisemitism too, but saying that the USA today is literally the same as Nazi Germany isn’t helping anyone. Some people seem to have a psychological need to believe that they live in the worst period of history ever or to feel like the biggest victim ever (I’m not saying that I haven’t thought those things myself at some time). I then Skyped E and now I’m writing this and about to put my books on Goodreads, so I hope I still get time to watch the rest of the film, otherwise I suspect I will crash tomorrow (which I may well do anyway).

***

Someone on the autism forum apparently likes Jeremy Corbyn enough to have Corbyn’s surname and the year he became Labour Party leader as his username, yet he seems unaware of how Corbyn actually spells his surname. I find this oddly hilarious, although I hope I never have any interactions with him.

Exhaustion and Leaving Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Had One Job, Hamlet

I feel somewhat depressed again today. It’s hard to tell if it’s SAD or missing E or both. I don’t think it’s general depression. At least, I hope it’s not.

My sister and brother-in-law came for lunch. My sister is less than a month from her baby’s due date. I’m vaguely worried the baby will arrive while I’m in the USA, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

I sent off my CV for the job I mentioned the other day, but I realised it’s actually less money for more work I’m not ruling it out at this stage, as it is a library job that could potentially restart my library career. My current job isn’t in the library sector and has no prospect for promotion or career development. Even so, I suspect the selection committee will be put off by the gaps on my CV, long gaps where I was working in non-library jobs, or not working at all.

I felt tired after seeing my sister and BIL and skyping my rabbi mentor for a while. I didn’t have time or energy to go for a run, and it was probably too wet outside anyway, so I went for a brisk walk. That and some Torah study were my main activities today.

***

Lately I have been wanting to read Hamlet again, or (given I have a stack of unread books to read) at least to watch the five hour Kenneth Branagh unedited film version again (I have it on DVD). I’m not sure if this is related to feeling depressed. I tend to think about Hamlet when I’m feeling depressed for some reason.

There’s an internet meme about “You had one job,” mostly depicting badly-done practical workmanship e.g. handrails that go up while the stairs go down or toilet bowls placed so they stop the cubicle door shutting. But I feel that Hamlet “had one job” and messed it up too. All he had to do was avenge his father by killing his uncle. Instead, he procrastinated about killing his uncle; broke up with his girlfriend and then killed her father, driving her insane and ultimately to her death; nearly killed his uncle, but decided killing him at prayer would allow him to Heaven and decided he wanted to send him to Hell; got into a duel with his late girlfriend’s brother; finally killed his uncle, but was killed in the process; was also responsible for the deaths of his mother and late girlfriend’s brother at the same time; got a couple of his friends killed along the way; and finally handed over Denmark to the Norwegians. I feel that Richard III would have handled this job a lot better. Sometimes over-thinking doesn’t help.

Perhaps I empathise with Hamlet as I often get set simple tasks which I fail to do properly. Like Hamlet, I stand around trying to be clever and good with words, but don’t actually get the job done.

(No, of course I didn’t spend twenty minutes looking at silly “You had one job” photos online, why would I do that? That would certainly have been a waste of time and procrastination, not to mention making light of other people’s misfortune…)

***

I watched Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life last night. I had to buy a copy of the DVD, as I didn’t have one, unlike the TV series and the other two films. I think I thought it wasn’t funny enough. I enjoyed it more than I expected, more than my recent re-viewings of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. I’m not sure why. It could be that I’m less familiar with the jokes from The Meaning of Life than the earlier two, which were quoted endlessly by my friends at school. The sketch format of The Meaning of Life is a double-edged sword: there’s a lack of engaging narrative to hold the attention through it, but it’s more similar in style to the TV series. I think the Pythons have subsequently said that they should have worked harder on the script to fuse the sketches into some kind of narrative, maybe the story of one person’s life, although I’m not sure how that would have worked.

It’s interesting that I’ve been watching Python for the first time in years now I’m thinking I should try to write my satirical novel, because I guess I want to have Python-esque feel, not so much in terms of surrealism or even sometimes bad taste, but in terms of mocking authority and saying things that society doesn’t want you to say.

Wedding Fair

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. I’m trying to get there early, as I got fed up of always being late, and am trying to ‘centre’ and calm myself before services these days (this generally doesn’t work if I’m in a shul, as everyone is talking loudly until right up to the start of the service). On the way in, I saw Rabbi L, the rabbi of the shul, and the rabbi E and I have asked to marry us. He said he would like to catch up with me, then said something else I didn’t hear as he was walking away from me. This left me with mild anxiety throughout the service that he would want to talk to me afterwards. He dashed off after the service, so I emailed him today with details of where we are with the visa and wedding situation. Hopefully this was all he wanted.

I had some anxiety in general over Shabbat because of things going on at home. I am really ready to move out and live with E, scary though that sounds when I’ve spent most of my life either living at home or in the sheltered environment of Oxford. The exception was about two years where I lived by myself, but I used to go home for Shabbat (Sabbath) most weeks, so it wasn’t entirely independent.

I slept too much again and had a slight headache after Shabbat, so I didn’t do as much stuff as I’d wanted to do on Saturday night.

Today I went to a Jewish wedding and bar/bat mitzvah fair with my parents. When we got into the hotel where it was being held, I was immediately hit by the loud music.  A DJ or singer was advertising himself very loudly. I wish someone had told him to turn it down. My whole experience there was overload, from the music, the people, the expectation to speak and my lack of knowledge of organising or even going to parties. My parents did most of the talking, not least because I could barely hear anything or think of even basic stuff to say. This was good, because I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gone by myself (I would probably have just picked up some business cards and left without talking to anyone), but bad because I think people wondered why I wasn’t much/anything. I was wearing my invisible disability sunflower lanyard, so maybe people thought I was deaf or had some other issue (I mean, I did have another issue). My parents are organising an anniversary party for themselves, so they did have a reason to be there independently of me.

It was worth going overall, but it made me wonder how I went so many years without being diagnosed autistic. I guess I used to think that I didn’t like loud music because I didn’t like the genre of music or music in general, or that I didn’t like busy places because of social anxiety rather because of sensory overload. My parents and I spoke about my uncle’s wedding, when I was six. I really hated the party and for decades afterwards everyone assumed I was in a foul mood and determined to make everyone’s life miserable. Now of course we know that I was probably suffering social and sensory overload, as well as confusion about what happens at parties and frustration from not knowing when it would end. At my sister’s wedding in 2017, we were prepared and made sure there was a quiet room for me to go to when it got too much.

Someone at the fair thought that I was still at university! This was because of my Oxford-related email address (not an actual university one, but it looks like it). I guess I was flattered that I look twenty years younger than I am. It’s thought that autistic people often look young; it’s speculated that we show our emotions on our faces much less than allistics (non-autistics), so we don’t wrinkle as much.

I went for a run when I got home and got an exercise headache again. Between the headache and the fair, I didn’t do much else, although I did have a longer-than-usual Skype call with E, talking largely about wedding plans. I only managed a little over ten minutes of Torah study, which is disappointing. I did no work on my novel aside from a few minutes of research reading, and few of the long list of chores I wanted to get through today.

I tried to see if I could get help at the airport when I go to New York because of my autism, but I couldn’t find anything for autism, only for physical disabilities. I was looking for help navigating the airport with sensory overload, sometimes leading to difficulties hearing what staff are saying, as someone on the autism forum says he manages to get help (of course, he may have a physical disability too for all I know).

It’s got very late, but I feel I need to watch some TV to unwind after an overloading day, otherwise I won’t sleep and/or will be in a bad state tomorrow.

Exhaustion and Annoying Social Media

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

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

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

***

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

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

Cause Without a Rebel

There’s been some anxiety hanging around over the last few days, partly around social media use and whether I should try to make friends on it, if I just make a fool of myself trying to connect with people, if we’ll argue about politics and so on. When I went back on Facebook, I intended to use it mainly for groups to avoid this kind of drama, but I guess inevitably as I get to know people in groups, I will want to connect with them outside the groups.

Another worry is that I feel I want to get to a place where my life is ‘sorted’ and stable, at least for a while, but that may never happen. At least I have E, even if she is on another continent at the moment, but I want my life to be stable so our life together will be stable and easier for her, but I think we both have too many ‘issues’ for that. I just feel that E is having to sacrifice so much for me that I just want to make things easier for her.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but not great. I got to shul on Friday night for the first time in a couple of weeks. I was feeling somewhat down, not literally clinical depression, but colloquially depressed. I spent a lot of time in bed, as usual, not just at night/morning, but after shul (synagogue) on Friday night and again after breakfast this morning and twice in the afternoon. Going to bed was more seeking autistic sensory comfort than from tiredness; I wrap myself in my duvet and/or weighted blanket and/or curl up in the foetal position and it calms me down.

I spent a lot of time (in bed and outside it) thinking about autism, disability, autistic superpowers and whether I would be better off without being autistic and this probably contributed to the depressed feeling. I know I’ve written about this before, but I just can’t share the view that autism is merely a difference or even a strength and that the only struggles from being autistic come from the supposed “ableism” of society. In the end, I concluded there were too many variables to meaningfully describe what my life would be like without autism, and that God clearly wants me to be autistic. Even so, without knowing what my mission in life is, what He wants me to accomplish by being autistic, it is hard to work out if my focus should be on paid work, writing or religious obligations.

I really missed E a lot too.

Other than that, I ate far too many pretzels (the little kind) and probably too many biscuits (although not nearly as many as the pretzels) and had a very mild, but persistent headache intermittently from Friday night until an hour or so ago.

After Shabbat, I discovered I had a begging letter from the University of Oxford again, this time from the History Faculty (my BA was in History). I get them every so often, because even Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of the most prestigious and highly-rated, has money trouble (within reason. A lot of the colleges are vast landowners and completely loaded). To be fair, the cause they wanted to raise money for is worthwhile (to increase access for students from poor backgrounds), but I had a miserable time at Oxford and prefer to send my money (a) elsewhere and (b) to causes that are more ‘life and death’ e.g. food for refugees or those on the breadline. But getting these begging letters just reminds me that I went to Oxford and I should therefore now be a super-successful, super-rich hot-shot lawyer, politician or high-ranking civil servant and not a poor, part-time office administrator. It’s sad that, so many years after making me more miserable than I have ever been in my life (I very nearly attempted suicide), Oxford is still making me miserable.

Other than that, I’ve spent too long this evening writing this post and reading autistic forum and autistic relationship FB group posts, and I’m not entirely sure why. Something about trying to connect with people and understand myself as well as deal with fears that being autistic means not being able to manage relationships. I don’t think this is the case, but it’s disturbing to read, on two different forums (fora!), two different people talking about essentially being verbally and emotionally abused by their autistic partner, who says everything they do wrong is down to autism and therefore (they argue) beyond reproach.

On one forum someone wrote about getting meltdowns from, “seeing everything in great details, hearing every minute sound at the same level, pretending to be happy when inside they are dying and not liking the fake people surrounding them, smelling everything that each person has used in bodycare/fragrance/hair products etc, feeling exhausted from the pointless chat about weekends to a point where disassociation happens, feeling like people training you are talking but you can’t hear it because you feel so stressed and in shock that your mind cannot connect” and more. I’ve experienced some of this, but I don’t really get meltdowns. Very rarely I get panic attacks that probably verge on meltdowns, but I haven’t had one since knowing more about autism to be sure.

I wonder why I don’t get meltdowns when so many autistic people do. Not that I want them, but not getting them reinforces the feelings I still occasionally get that I’m not “really” autistic, or that I’m not autistic “enough” to justify the work and social problems I have. Maybe I’m just good at masking and then end up burnt out. I do get shutdowns, but, again, not as bad as some people get.

***

A couple of thoughts from things I’ve been reading/listening to lately:

Both a devar Torah (Torah thought) I read from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl and an Orthodox Conundrum podcast about Rav Shagar z”tzl spoke about parents and the need to differentiate from them, and then later to realise how much you have in common with them and how much you are indebted to them.

As a teenager, I never really tried to rebel. I just spent all my time in my room, working and driving myself to a breakdown/burnout. But I didn’t have much in common with my parents either. Now I find it can be hard to find common ground with them. Some of this is living at home into my late thirties, some is being autistic with allistic (non-autistic) parents and some is me having classic “first generation to go to university” differences from them. Some is probably my being more religious and more Jewishly-educated, which often creates a dynamic where my parents look to me for Jewish education and halakhic (Jewish law) guidance. There’s a Jewish saying that when a parent teaches a child, both laugh, but when a child teaches a parent, both cry, and I feel that a bit sometimes. I’m not sure how to explain it to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. I had a psychiatrist who said that I never really bonded with my parents as a child and therefore could not rebel as a teenager, and now I can’t separate properly from them which is probably true. It’s only with marrying E that I’m really trying to move away from home. I did live in my own flat for two years when my OCD was bad, but I deliberately lived within walking distance of my parents’ house and I used to come home for Shabbat. I don’t know what I can do about this at this stage.

***

On the same Orthodox Conundrum podcast, R’ Zachary Truboff spoke about Rav Shagar thinking that the problem with Orthodoxy is that it’s Orthodox: i.e. that, as a society, it’s driven by what other Orthodox people think is appropriate, not by what God wants. He said there are things that are against halakhah and ethics that do not lead to people getting thrown out of the Orthodox community (he didn’t say what, but tax and benefits fraud spring to mind). He didn’t mention, but could have, that there are things that aren’t violations of halakhah or ethics, but which can get you thrown out of the community all the same (this varies from one community to another, but in some communities for a teenager to talk to someone of the opposite might fall in this category, or even refusing to marry a particular person in some communities). I think this is my biggest struggle with the Orthodox community. Aside from the moral aspects of this, being on the autism spectrum means I’m OK with clear rules (halakhah), but bad at intuiting, let alone following, unspoken social conventions.

***

Anyway, my parents are noisily watching No Time to Die, the latest James Bond film, in the room below me, which is a bit distracting as I can hear incidental music and bangs. I wasn’t tempted to re-watch it with them, as, while technically accomplished, I found the film overlong, confusing and too sad. James Bond isn’t supposed to be sad! I much prefer the supposedly “silly” Roger Moore films. I could probably find ten reasons why the much-maligned Moonraker is a great film, not in “so bad it’s good,” but actually good.

Grief and Autistic Halakhah

Being away from E seems to be getting harder and harder. It feels just as bad as when my loneliness was at it’s worst, except focused on one person rather than an abstract desire for a relationship. Hopefully her visa will come soon…

***

I’m still thinking about Ashley, but not quite so much, although I don’t know how much of that was being distracted by other stressors. I’m reluctant to say much here, as it feels vaguely like I’m appropriating pain that should really belong to her family. I felt some other guilt too. I’m not sure I can remember all of it, but some of it was feeling guilty that I’ve been more affected by Ashley’s death than those of my grandparents. I feel that that’s wrong, that the death of my grandparents should have affected me more. The two aren’t exactly comparable, though. My grandparents were quite old, mostly in their eighties. It was sad when they died, but it didn’t have the tragic aspect of young death, or suicide.

Another factor is that, in a strange way, I feel I didn’t know all my grandparents in an adult way, in the way I knew Ashley, even though I was sixteen when the first of my grandparents to die passed away and had known them all my life. They were just there, like my parents.

My paternal grandmother died when I was sixteen and about the same time my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (the symptoms had been there for quite a while, but from this point on it became very noticeable). I feel like I didn’t know them as an adult, only as a child. I remember my paternal grandmother as very anxious and I didn’t really understand why (or is that an adult interpretation? Did I just accept it at the time?). I think I would better understand her depression, anxiety and agoraphobia (all unspoken of at the time) now.

I felt that I was only beginning to get to know my maternal grandfather when he died when I was nineteen, a few months after my maternal grandmother. I felt like he had begun to talk to me more as an adult in the last few years and suddenly that stopped. I did know my paternal grandfather rather better as he died when I was nearly twenty-seven. But I think in retrospect it’s my maternal grandfather I think of more often. Since my autism diagnosis, my parents have speculated that he was on the spectrum too, so maybe that explains why he felt more comfortable talking to me than his children about his past.

Episodes of depression/burnout followed in the months after the deaths of my grandparents, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that there was a causal link, except perhaps the death of my maternal grandfather, as the depression really did follow in just a few weeks. The others were more spaced out.

Another factor is that, when most of my grandparents died, I was still very emotionally immature. I know I write about my feelings most days now, but in my teens and twenties, I really didn’t understand what I felt and couldn’t put it into words, even more so than nowadays. It’s taken years of therapy and, I suppose, blogging, to get to a point where I can begin to understand what’s going on in my head.

Anyway, I managed to get an appointment with my therapist for this week, so hopefully it will help to be able to talk about these feelings.

***

Away from this, further guilt came when J said that I asked for three days off later this year to go to New York to see E, but I only had two days of holiday left. I felt bad about this, although I think the confusion came because he’s rounded down my number of holiday days, given that my contract didn’t start until February whereas the holiday year started in January. Even so, I felt vaguely bad for not realising. I made loads of these terms of work mistakes at my job in further education and still feel embarrassed. I think HR must have hated me. Taking one day less holiday doesn’t affect my plans, I will just have to work the day before I fly instead of packing.

***

J sent me to Selfridges to try to get some duplicate keys cut. Selfridges seemed more crowded than I was comfortable with (although probably less crowded than it should have been, less than two months before Christmas; I guess people are not spending on luxuries). I had one of those moments when I think that everyone I see is a human being with their own thoughts and emotions and I freak out a bit. I don’t know why this happens. Aside from the crowd, the muzak drove me crazy. Different parts of the store were playing different music and I could hear bits of different songs at once in painful aural mush. I don’t think this is an autism thing so much as a ‘having taste’ thing. When I finally found the key-cutting stall, I struggled to hear the assistant over the shoe repair machinery, but they didn’t have the right size blank keys to cut the new ones. I will probably have to go elsewhere on Thursday

The whole experience left me feeling overwhelmed and near to tears. I feel like I used to be able to cope with experiences like this (I used to commute into town on the Tube and buses every school day at rush hour!), but no longer can. Some of it may be getting older (it is a recognised phenomenon that autistic people become less able to cope with sensory overload and less able to mask their autistic symptoms as they get older), but I wonder if COVID lockdown has eroded my tolerance for these things, along with boosting my social anxiety? Or if I recognise the overwhelm more since my diagnosis.

Similarly, when I stayed after work for Minchah and Ma’ariv at the shul (Afternoon and Evening Prayers at the synagogue), I felt overwhelmed even though there were only fifteen or so people in the Beit Midrash (not a huge room, but not tiny either). Is this social anxiety or autistic overwhelm?

I was still feeling overwhelmed when I got home, but not light-headed, perhaps because I ate an apple in the office mid-afternoon and a cereal bar after Ma’ariv. I used to eat on the way home from work, but COVID has scared me off eating on the Tube.

***

Between Minchah and Ma’ariv, the rabbi quickly taught a halakhah (Jewish law). What it was isn’t relevant, but he took the mundane nature of the halakhah in question as an example for halakhah (in the wider sense of the Jewish legal system) being all-encompassing and supportive no matter what happens, that it “has our back” in his words.

I did not feel 100% comfortable with this. I do not feel that halakhah always has my back. I feel that there’s a lot I should be doing, according to halakhah, that I can’t cope with right now or perhaps ever because of my social anxiety and autism. I feel I would need an “autistic halakkah” to help me.

A while back I heard that Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig has set up an institute to try to train more rabbis in mental health awareness so that they will be able to respond to people with mental illness more effectively. He has also published a book of answers to halakhic questions regarding mental illness. I feel that someone needs to do the same thing for neurodiversity.

***

The other day Suzanne said that my life is interesting. My immediate thought was that my life isn’t interesting, so it must just be the way I write about it. Then I realised that I was in a low self-esteem double bind: either my life is interesting or my writing is interesting! I’m not sure what I think about this (just kidding).

More Disrupted Sleep, LinkedIn, and Ashley

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. I felt ill on Friday evening and didn’t go to shul (synagogue). I was light-headed again and had a bit of a headache, but I think it was side-effects from the flu jab I had on Thursday rather than work stress.

Mum and Dad’s conversation at dinner exhausted me again. Their conversation is usually small talk, generally about work, shul, their friends or football. I don’t have much to say about most of that, but Dad was trying to bring me into the conversation again. I’m not sure why he’s started doing that recently. He doesn’t really get that I struggle to engage with this conversation and I don’t like being asked questions to which he already knows the answers to just to bring me in. I prefer just to tune out, but I probably shouldn’t say that. I don’t know why I’m struggling with this more now than in the past. It’s probably partly Dad trying to engage me, but also because I’m impatient to live with E and have conversations about things that interest both of us.

I guess dinner at the moment reminds me on some level of my childhood, when I was called an “intellectual elitist” for trying to have deeper conversations and using words no one else understood (I didn’t know they didn’t understand). It’s partly the familiar syndrome of university-educated children from families that have not had access to higher education ending up on a different level to their parents and struggling to communicate, but also the issue of children with autism communicating differently to their neurotypical families and also being intensely interested in certain subjects and boring people with constant talk about them as well as being less interested in, and able to engage in, small talk.

After this I was tired, but did some Torah study. I managed some Talmud study, which I was pleased with, especially as it was a new page (I study each page three times: the first is really to get myself familiar with the subject and vocabulary, on the second I begin to understand better and by the third I usually have a reasonable understanding, at least on a basic level). I re-read bits of Jewish Meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, but it didn’t elaborate on the things I had heard about on a podcast last week.

After this, about 11pm, I fell asleep, fully dressed and on top of the bed. I slept until about 3.30am. This is a bad habit I seem to be getting into, as if my sleep wasn’t disrupted enough as it is. I got into my pyjamas, but decided I needed some relaxation time and read more of Flowers for Algernon before going to sleep again.

I slept through most of the morning, then fell asleep again after lunch. I got up in time for Minchah (Afternoon prayers) (at home, I didn’t go to shul). I probably won’t be able to sleep on Shabbat afternoons after the clocks go back tonight. I read The Guide for the Perplexed for a bit – the translator’s introduction; I still haven’t got to the actual text. After half an hour, this got too heavy-going, and the print was too small, so I switched to Judges: The Perils of Possession by Rabbi Michael Hattin, from the Maggid Koren Tanakh series.

After dinner I checked my blog list and heard that Ashley Peterson, frequent commenter here, had died (see below). This brought my mood down. When I had dinner, I tried to finish reading Flowers for Algernon, which was a bad choice for my mood, but I just wanted to finish it; I was saving some comedy for later in the evening which I will definitely watch before bed, as I feel very depressed now. Unfortunately, Mum had the TV on, which made it hard to read (alternating between Strictly Come Dancing and The Chase, which were about the most distracting things it could have been, but anything would have distracted me really). I did finish the book after dinner.

I saw a post on the autism forum this evening from someone who says he’s suicidal because he’s lonely and still a virgin and has (in his opinion) no chance of changing any of this. I don’t think he gave his age, but I guessed twenties from a few things he wrote. I wanted to write something sympathetic, because I’ve been there, but also I’m nearly forty and kind of married and still a virgin, so it was hard to be fully sympathetic, especially as I’ve been missing E a lot recently, and I really wanted to say that thinking you have no hope for anything good in your life because you’re a twenty-something virgin is not clear thinking. In the end, I didn’t write anything; I decided the post was just triggering me because of missing E and thinking about Ashley’s death. I don’t think I can really help; not tonight, anyway. Then I found another post on the same forum by a twenty-five year old threatening suicide because he’s still a virgin. I feel I should be able to say something, but anything I say would be coming from a particular religious context and personal history context and probably won’t be helpful. I do think Western society places too much emphasis on sex and being sexually attractive. I’m glad the forum is moderated and the moderator posted links to crisis lines and the like.

***

LinkedIn keeps sending me emails to “connect” (equivalent of friend, follow, etc.) with my first girlfriend. Apparently we have a mutual connection, although I’m not sure who. I have no desire to connect with her. She does not work in any field that I am likely to work in. We parted on reasonably good terms, but I have not seen or heard from her for nine years and have no desire to do so. But there is no button for “Do not ask me again,” or “Block,” just one for “Connect.”

Seeing her photo or even her name sparks a load of strange and difficult feelings whenever LinkedIn sends me an email trying to connect me with her. It reminds me that she trampled over my boundaries about physical contact in our relationship and refused to support me with my mental health struggles the way I supported her in hers. There is more to say, but don’t think I should in public.

I don’t use LinkedIn much (at all, really – I only have twenty-three contacts, which is why I’m surprised I can’t work out who is the link with first girlfriend), but will probably have to if I try to set up as a freelance proof-reader, so I want to get it sorted.

***

This evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ashley Peterson. I knew her online for several years; I’m not sure how many, exactly, but quite a long time. She was one of the most frequent commenters on my blog.

I noticed recently that she hadn’t commented on my blog for a while, or anywhere else that I had seen, and certainly she hadn’t posted on her own blog for a while. I thought about emailing her, but she had said in the past that she gets got annoyed when people chase up on her when she’s depressed, as she doesn’t didn’t like the attention. So I didn’t do anything. Then a few days ago, two other bloggers emailed me in the space of about half-an-hour to ask if I’d heard from her. I said I hadn’t. We were all worried by that stage, and I think we guessed what happened (she’d been open about her depression worsening and having suicidal ideation), but didn’t want to say what we were thinking. None of us knew what to do.

Then after Shabbat, I saw that her family had posted on her blog that she had died. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t sure what I did feel. Sad. Maybe numb. Then, quite a lot later, anger, not at her, but at other things, particularly those commenters on the autism forum.

I haven’t told my parents, I’m not sure why. They don’t know Ashley, but I should tell them I’ll be sad for a while. I should tell them before I go to bed. I can’t tell E for a bit, as it’s still Shabbat in New York. I feel like I want to cry writing this, and part of my brain says that’s crazy, as I didn’t know her that well (she was very private and I wouldn’t claim to be one of her closest blogging friends), but I feel I miss her already.

I don’t think a friend of mine has died before. I’ve lost friends to arguments or (more usually) drifting apart, but not through death.

I was thinking about what Ashley meant to me and I remembered a quote from the theologian and civil rights and anti-war protestor Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that “Spiritual freedom means: flattering no one, neither oneself nor the world; not being subservient to anyone, neither to the self nor to society.”

I had actually posted that on my blog once, and she liked it. That’s how I think of her: independent, honest and vocal in speaking her mind, especially in the cause of justice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

List A. Things I would be very good at:

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

List B. What I would be hopeless at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Family, Friends and Idols

My sister was here for Shabbat, without her husband. He’s in the USA for a family wedding, but her pregnancy is too advanced for her to fly, so she came to spend Shabbat with us instead of spending it alone. I worry that I kept staring at her bump; part of my mind doesn’t accept that it’s real and half-expects her to pull a football out from under her jumper. Shabbat was strangely like a Shabbat of years ago, with just the four of us (parents, sister, me). We had a very long dinner which mostly consisted of my Mum and my sister telling us about the very difficult days they had that day. It was fun, though, and I didn’t get too drained.

I ended up doing nearly an hour of Torah study afterwards, which I didn’t intend. I’m currently studying Sefer HaMadah, the first volume of the Mishnah Torah, the Jewish law code of Rambam (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, generally known to the Western world as Maimonides). I’m studying it largely because I got it free from a pile of books that were going to be buried which I plundered (with permission) at volunteering. The book deals with the metaphysical foundations of the Torah, the laws of improving character, Torah study, idol worship and repentance.

I’m currently on the idol worship treatise and I’m wondering if it was a mistake as it’s triggering some religious OCD thoughts about idolatry. I think I worry more about idolatry, and am simply a lot more conscious of it, than most Orthodox Jews seem to be. Even in a post-Christian culture that hasn’t been pagan for a thousand years, there is idolatry in lots of places, from Beatles songs to Asterix books to all kinds of segulah nonsense in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, let alone more metaphorical idolatry (technically, putting any value ahead of God is idolatry, so the ultra-nationalism of parts of the Religious Zionist world or the “gadolatry” (veneration of elderly scholars) in the Haredi world could count).

It’s more literal idolatry that triggers the OCD, but I get interested in non-Jewish religion sometimes and want to learn about it, mainly as part of my interest in history, but I guess also from my tendency to want to ‘test’ my Jewish beliefs. I go to the British Museum a lot. Possibly I am a strange, conflicted person (browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community I just joined makes me think that this is probably true, and some things E has said, although she put it more politely). However, I don’t like leaving books half-read, and I only have a few more pages of this section, so I will probably stick with it.

I went to bed rather late because of this. I woke up about 7.20am, got up to go to the toilet, said the Shema prayer (as I guessed, correctly, I would sleep through the time to say it) and went back to bed. I probably should have stayed up, but I wanted more than six hours sleep after a stressful week with several early starts.

After lunch I managed to stay awake and did some Talmud study, doing it more seriously than I have for a while, looking up Aramaic words I don’t know in the dictionary and quotations from Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the original source rather than relying on the translation and commentary. I did get quite tired after that, and haven’t done a lot else with the day except read A Wrinkle in Time and browsing on the frum/no-longer-frum dialogue community after Shabbat.

***

The FB group has inspired some thoughts in me, some of which probably are a bit OCD. I’ll need to watch that and check it doesn’t get out of control. I’m not sure that I made the right decision joining that FB group and am already wondering if I should leave. Now I’m inside the group and can read posts, I think it’s going to be triggering. I assumed it would be roughly equal numbers of frum and ex-frum people, but perhaps inevitably it’s most ex-frum. Most are polite, but I feel I don’t have to scroll far down the page for people being unnecessarily snarky about Judaism and assuming everyone has the beliefs and attitudes of the most Haredi (which presumably is what they grew up with).

I also find it strange reading people’s accounts of their doubts with Judaism growing as they researched various areas, leading ultimately to disbelief and leaving the community (or sometimes being stuck in it because of family ties). This prompts strange feelings in me, as I feel I had all those doubts at times, and sometimes still do have them, but that I was never convinced enough by them to leave. To borrow a phrase from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl, I sometimes feel that I am a “lapsed atheist.” So many of my character traits, interests, experiences, friends, thoughts would seem to push me to atheism, but ultimately I still believe and live as a Jew, and think I have good reason to do so, and I think, peering through the alexithymia, on some level I find believing and living Jewishly to be true and meaningful for me. (I don’t know how to ‘sell’ this belief to others though.)

***

Speaking of the FB group, there was some discussion there about frum people often only having friends within the frum community and who cut off ties to friends or family who stop being religious. I find I’m the reverse: I seem to find it easier to make friends outside the frum community (including people who aren’t Jewish at all). I don’t know why this is the case, although I can think of several reasons:

Although as an autistic, I’m always ‘masking,’ I mask less with non-frum people because I’m not worried about being judged as ‘not frum enough.’

I find it easier to connect with people with a shared interest like Doctor Who, literature and writing or mental health blogging. Judaism could be a shared interest, but, again, I get scared to speak about it from impostor syndrome (or whatever you want to call it).

I have few friends, but that makes me value them more despite any differences of opinion.

I don’t try to force my beliefs down other people’s throats, so non-frum/non-Jewish people don’t feel threatened/bored/annoyed by me.

Living with less-frum family members has meant I had to learn how to navigate differences of practice from a young age (although my family tend to believe the same things I do. If anything, they’re probably more ‘fundamentalist’ as I have a fairly rationalistic approach to issues like Torah/science conflicts, Midrash, miracles, kabbalah and so on these days that they don’t necessarily share).

***

I have a lot to do tomorrow, getting ready for Sukkot (Jewish festival starting in the evening), so I should probably get to bed soon, although I don’t feel particularly tired.

Quotidian Piety

I struggled today at work again. There was actually a reasonable amount of work for me to do; I didn’t have to do the paper-sorting (which isn’t make-work, but also isn’t a priority if there are other things going on). However, I felt like I was struggling and making mistakes again. I was going to go to the bank as it’s the end of the month. In the afternoon, J gave me a new task to do. I spent a while on it, then realised I needed to go to the bank if I wanted to be back by the end of the day. That in turn meant I needed to close off the banking. So I rushed through the new task and then didn’t finish it when I realised I was making mistakes, and I rushed to close off the banking. I had made a mistake on the banking spreadsheet too which took a while to find. I just hope I didn’t make a mistake paying in the cheques. I’ve done that before. I’ve put the wrong number on the paying-in slip and the bank queried it.

I found the bank trip difficult too. The crowds in London, the noise, the omnipresent video screens… it was just autistic overload for me. When I got back, J said I could finish for the day (not because of the overload, but because it was the end of the day), but I felt overwhelmed and sat in the Beit Midrash upstairs for a bit (it was quiet, and I turned off most of the lights, but the security guard turned them back on and told me to leave them on. I didn’t realise they were supposed to be on), then davened Minchah (said Afternoon Prayers) before coming home. The journey was stressful, with too many people and someone next to me invading my personal space. I would say ‘manspreading,’ but it was a teenage girl! Someone in the carriage had noisy music on their phone too. I felt pretty much physically attacked by all of it.

Then my sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner. It was fun, but I was feeling really burnt out and overloaded. Then I spoke to E (we Skype every day that isn’t Shabbat or Yom Tov), which at least didn’t exhaust me further. I should really go to bed, but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down.

Some autistic people see autism as a “super-power,” like the homo superior of the David Bowie song Oh! You Pretty Things. I don’t really experience it that way. On days like today, it feels like a real disability.

***

Someone on the autism forum said she was a failure because she hasn’t achieved anything except getting married and having children. Unthinkingly, I said that I didn’t think she was a failure, mostly because I would say that to anyone. I do think that getting married is an achievement for someone on the spectrum, and having children is an achievement for anyone (strictly speaking, it should be that raising children well is an achievement). I realised, of course, that I view myself as a failure despite being married (sort of) and having a part-time job. I feel that I do my job badly, and that it’s not full-time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have children or how I would cope with them. It made me think a bit about what I mean by ‘achievement.’

Everyone says that Western society prioritises wealth, fame, status, looks, power – lots of things I think are not worthwhile. Realistically, most people are probably the same. Apparently research shows that most people really care about more spiritual or caring goals, but that they think that no one else does. Even so, it’s true that the media promotes wealth, fame, status etc. But I’m not interested.

I should say that my religion provides meaningful achievements for me, but too often it turns into a list of things I don’t do, or don’t do “enough”: (communal)(meaningful) prayer, Torah (Talmud) study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, charity and so on. At work I sometimes come into contact (albeit usually through looking at old minutes and letters) with extremely rich people who are able to devote significant amounts of money and time to charity and community work. I can’t do this. I feel that my ‘issues’ (autism, social anxiety, disordered sleep etc.) interferes too much with my religious life.

Today I came across the term, ‘quotidian piety,’ coined by historian Elisheva Baumgarten to describe the daily religious practices of Medieval Jews and how they were intertwined to their lives. I wonder if I have ‘quotidian piety.’ I do religious things every day. I wonder if they are ‘achievements’ in this sphere. I wrote the other day about trying to move towards God instead of more concrete, but often unachievable, goals. I guess that is a similar idea in terms of seeing small steps as an achievement.

Lately I have been thinking less about wanting/needing to write and be published as an achievement. This is probably because I’ve been too busy with E’s visa application and Yom Tov to think about it, but I’d like to try to keep it up. I don’t think it’s sensible to think of writing as an achievement or peg to hang my self-esteem on at the moment.

Cometh the Facebook

I struggled to sleep again last night, getting a minor, but irritating, headache pretty much as soon as I got into bed. I got up for a while, texted E a bit (as Rosh Hashanah was now over where she was) and watched Monty Python while I waited for the paracetamol to kick in. Then I overslept this morning, having one of those dreams where an alarm is sounding and I can’t work out how to turn it off, which turned out to have been my alarm clock sounding in the real world.

I finished Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World at last on the way in to work. I did have one or two thoughts on it, but I don’t  have time to share them now.

At work I had little to do other than the ongoing sorting of old papers. I’m scared to throw them away, as so many seem to be legal and I don’t know what’s still relevant. I need to ask J. I worry a bit that I threw away too many papers when I began this task; now I worry I’m keeping too many. There’s also a lot of papers belonging to the shul (synagogue) we inhabit and I don’t know if J wants to offer them to the shul. Some might refer to joint projects; again, I need to ask J.

J was working from home today, so the office was empty and I felt more than a little lonely, even though we don’t usually speak that much. Today was a minor Jewish fast day (the Fast of Gedaliah, another fast that has a personal connection to me, but not one I want to write about here). I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts because fasting on lithium is dangerous. I feel bad about this, but also glad, as I fast badly and get headaches and nausea (I’m not looking forward to Yom Kippur next week). On fast days, I usually go out of the shul to eat my lunch, as I feel guilty about eating in a shul on a fast day, but my hands are quite badly chapped, painful and bleeding, so I didn’t really want to sit in the cold and wind. Particularly as J was not in the office, I decided to eat indoors and hope no one would come in. Then the non-Jewish security guard came in with the post.

***

I forgot to mention a couple of things from my trips to shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New  Year). One was hearing the Prayer for the King, instead of the Queen, and finding that strange. I wonder how long it will take for that to seem normal?

The other was reading the extra-long version of the Atah Kadosh prayer in the Amidah that we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a prayer which is normally about two lines, but gets expanded to nearly two pages on these days. Something I hadn’t really paid attention to before is the way it speaks about the utopian future and in amongst ideas about joy for the righteous and the pride of the Davidic dynasty is a a line about granting “confidence to speak into all who long for You” (translation from Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Machzor; the literal translation is more like “an opening of the mouth”) and then a few lines later, “injustice will have nothing more to say” (from Rabbi Sacks again, the literal translation is more like “injustice will shut its mouth”). The idea that this world is a world where people are silent who should speak, and people speak who should be silent, and that the Messianic era will be the reverse captured my imagination, although I’m not sure where I’m going with it at the moment.

***

I joined Facebook yesterday. So far, my fears that I would spend too much time on there have been misplaced, as I found it profoundly user-unfriendly, counter-intuitive and somewhat overwhelming. I’m not quite sure why I think that, but it feels like you can do a lot more on it than you could when I was first on it, a decade ago, but also that there’s so much you can do now that it feels totally overwhelming. Is that just me being autistic? I feel like a lot of the world is overwhelming to me these days, in terms of sensory things and the speed of life and the number of possibilities available as much as anxiety about specific things, and it feels related to my autism even if I’m not always sure how.

I’ve been struggling to find friends and family members on Facebook. FB can’t access the webmail portal I use for email, so it’s not suggesting people to me based on that, which is just as well, as I never delete old email addresses, so it would be suggesting a lot of people I have no desire to run into again. I did find E, and connected our pages to say we’re married (which we sort of are and sort of aren’t, but if I put “It’s complicated,” people would really get the wrong idea) and also my sister, my oldest friend and, surprisingly (as she turned up on the list of people I might know before I’d added any other family), one of my cousins (the neurodivergent one with mental health issues that I’ve become a bit closer to in recent years because I feel I know what she’s going through more than the rest of the family). I haven’t found my Mum yet and I’m not sure whether to hunt for other friends. I don’t know if I want to know their political thoughts, to be honest. My Dad isn’t on FB.

I joined/applied to join a couple of Jewish autism groups as well as the Orthodox Conundrum discussion group. I noticed that the person who convinced me (not deliberately) that I was a lesser Orthodox Jew because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) is an active participant in the latter. I’m not sure what I feel about that.

I put my time at Oxford on my profile, but not the university where I did my MA because it’s a rubbish university and (a) I’d rather forget my time there, which led to very little that was good and (b) it’s such a bad university I worry it would actually discourage people from using my professional services, if/when I try to set up as a proof-reader and/or copy editor. But I’m open to changing my mind about this. I did put my secondary school on there, which might also have been a mistake, if I get friended by people who bullied me, or who I’m just not interested in reconnecting with (which is probably most of them, to be honest).

***

On my way to work this morning, I saw four boxes of books outside the charity shop, and sighed. The charity shops all have signs asking people not to leave donations outside, because (a) they get stolen and (b) they’re not allowed to use stuff dumped outside because of some kind of contamination fears. I’m not entirely sure what contamination they’re afraid of (this goes back pre-COVID), but all the different charity shops have these signs, so I assume it’s some kind of real fear. And yet people continue to leave donations outside. When its bags of clothes I don’t worry so much (although I probably should, given that people need them), but the thought of four boxes of books ending up in landfill saddened me all day.

The reality is that a lot of charity shop book donations end up in landfill anyway, as lots of books don’t sell and the shops periodically remove old stock to make way for new, but this seems even worse. Although now I’ve sort of convinced myself to buy that copy of short stories by Shalom Aleichem for £1 just to save it!!!

Too Much

I’m feeling quite upset today. I woke from an distressing dream and was lying in bed digesting it when my Mum came into my room, visibly upset. I knew immediately that her friends’ son had died of cancer (the one who I mentioned a week or two ago as receiving palliative care). The funeral is today, but my parents couldn’t go, as Mum was having a medical procedure and Dad had to drive her home (she’s OK, it was all clear). I will probably go with them to the shiva (house of mourning) on Saturday night as they are close family friends I’ve known since childhood, even though I know it might be crowded, overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.

It made me think about the fear of God, which I’ve been thinking about lately anyway. This is not fear of punishment, which is seen in Judaism as a much lower and less effective and important motivator. People describe the fear, or better, the awe, of God as being like the awe a person experiences in seeing the ocean or the mountains, and I think that’s part of it, but lately I think it’s more about the realisation that God is so essentially, ontologically (in the nature of His Being) different to human beings, that His Mind operates on a scale and in a way that we can’t comprehend, that He can make decisions of who should live and who should die for reasons that we can’t begin to understand. If a human being tried to do this, he would be a terrible dictator, but God is essentially different to us such, that, as the prophet Yishayah (Isaiah) says, “For My plans are not your plans, nor are My ways your ways, —declares the LORD. But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and My plans above your plans.” (Yishayah 55.8-9, translation from Sefaria.org, capitalisation altered slightly). It is the awe of encountering an intelligence totally different from our own, with a different morality that comes from being different and beyond us. Admittedly I’ve seen no sources that confirm this, but it seems true to me.

Of course, we are supposed to go beyond this understanding to the love of God, which is even greater.

***

I struggled to get going in the afternoon. I think I was too upset about my parents’ friends’ son. I didn’t even know him that well, but I guess I feel I could have died (from suicide) at various points in my twenties and thirties and left my parents like his parents. I would never have met E or made the plans we’re making to try to turn my life around. It’s just so sad. Mum always thought I could be friends with him, but I didn’t speak to him much, mainly from social anxiety and autistic communication issues. I tend to get on better with people older than me than younger than me anyway.

I did a few things in the afternoon: a little Torah study, a quick walk to the shops, and I polished my thoughts about the death of the Queen from a Jewish perspective and submitted them to a Jewish website, although I suspect it’s probably too late for consideration now. I started dusting my room, but didn’t get very far.

I did feel there was a lot I didn’t do. My To Do list seems to grow much faster than I can actually do tasks and tick them off at the moment, particularly as so many tasks are multifaceted and require multiple actions. I also don’t think I’ll get to listen to all the LSJS shiurim (religious classes) from Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, as I have three left still.

E tried to submit our information and documents for the visa application, but the website was broken and not loading a necessary drop-down menu properly. I tried to do it on my computer, but had the same problem. There was no help button. She tried using the contact form, but it’s meant for feedback, not technical help. She sent them a message on Twitter. We’re waiting for a response. Suggestions welcome.

After my walk, I felt light-headed. I can never work out if this is due to lack of food, lack of salt or low blood pressure. I ate some crackers with butter to try to deal with food and salt, but it was extra calories close to dinnertime. My diet is stuck in an awkward place of restricting some food, but probably not enough, and weight loss and willingness not to eat junk have tailed off. When I say not to eat junk, I don’t even mean excessively. It only takes one bad day to get me thinking, “Oh, I had a bad day. I deserve one biscuit OR one piece of chocolate as a reward before bed,” and then it’s hard not to do it again the next night. Even if I resist, it’s started a “Bad day = chocolate” precedent. Today certainly feels like a junk food day. Knowing my weight gain is mostly caused by clomipramine doesn’t make things any easier.

Overall, I feel overwhelmed again, and anxious. Anxiety always feels worse on dark autumn/winter evenings, for some reason. There’s just so much to do (admittedly reading about Kristallnacht in The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939, was probably a bad move). I worry about falling depressed again at this time of year; most of my episodes started in the autumn or early winter. I feel unprepared for work tomorrow, but — bed!

Frustrations Not Balanced By Chocolate

I wrote a shortish post yesterday, but WordPress ate half of it and it was too late, and I was too tired, to rewrite. This post is some of what survived and more.

I felt down and lonely as soon as my parents left yesterday for their short holiday in sunny (or not sunny) Arundel. I’m not sure why I should feel down when I saw them a couple of hours earlier. As I’ve mentioned before, I like my own company, but for some reason I don’t understand, I don’t like being in the house by myself. It’s probably partly a product of the size of the house. I didn’t get so lonely when living in a tiny studio flat, but I did get somewhat lonely, particularly on non-work days when I had no distractions. And, unlike in the past, I have my frustrations at being so far from E and not knowing when we will be together again, which feels worse than being single, somewhat to my surprise (I know that’s probably naive to anyone who has been in a long-term relationship before, but my relationship experience up to this point has not been great). It may also be true that I have worse abandonment fears than I thought, which would make sense, given some formative childhood experiences.

I went for a run yesterday, but came back with a relatively mild, but intermittent headache, nausea and a feeling of dizziness and light-headedness that didn’t fully pass until I went to bed. I find the latter most troubling as it’s new and has no obvious cause (not that the exercise migraines have much of an obvious cause, but at least they’re an acknowledged thing).  I did some Torah study and spent a bit of time on my tax return, but feel it would probably be better if I did no work/chores at all and relaxed OR worked hard and got some of these tasks out of the way, but I seem to be unable to do either. I think of myself as a person of extremes, but it’s probably more accurate that I aim for the middle ground, I just don’t always reach it.

I went to bed late, partly because of the failed blog post, and then I struggled to sleep again. The advantage of a five hour time difference with my wife is that she’s still awake when I can’t sleep at 1.30am! I was ruminating again on autism/Asperger’s and feeling I have plenty of negative symptoms, but none of the “superpowers” some people on the spectrum talk about. E thinks my care for grammar and spelling might become a superpower if I can set myself up as a proof-reader and copy editor. She’s probably right, but working out the practical steps to set up my own business and find clients is frightening.

I did eventually fall asleep, but had a disturbed night’s sleep. I can’t remember clearly what happened; I remember feeling ill during the night and suspect it was trouble breathing (sleep apnoea), but can’t remember in detail. I’m left more with an impression of spending the night feeling ill in an unspecified way and worrying that I would have to call in sick today. It’s strange how something so potentially disturbing can happen and not get into my brain properly to be dealt with on waking because I’m more than half asleep.

Work today began with J giving me Galaxy chocolate. It had come free with the printer cartridges, for some reason, and he doesn’t eat chalav stam (milk not supervised by a Jew from milking).  He tried to give me three bars, but I only took one as three seemed a lot, particularly as Mum and I are trying to lose weight.  This seemed like a good start to the work day, but I was bored at work and slightly ill from lack of sleep, resulting in being easily distracted and therefore feeling guilty.  The Economist said last week that attempting to achieve perfection at work is counter-productive.  There we should aim for excellence, which doesn’t seem much more possible to me.  I think vague competence is all I’m likely to achieve at work at the moment, and maybe not even that.

On the way home, I went to the pharmacy only to discover that my clomipramine won’t be in until tomorrow evening.  I only had two 50mg tablets left, but I take two at night and two in the morning.  I am splitting the dose so I took 50mg tonight and will take another 50mg before volunteering in the morning, which I hope will keep me on an even keel until the afternoon.

***

One paragraph I couldn’t salvage from yesterday’s post was about writing.  I have so much going on with my life at the moment that I have neither the time nor the inclination to write or to try to find an agent.  It’s not even on my radar at the moment.  Inasmuch as I have creative thoughts at all, they’re focused on my plans for a Facebook group for people on the margins of the Orthodox Jewish community.  I am now pretty certain that I will go back on Facebook at some point (ugh) to do this.

I started writing a list of potential group posts and got up to twenty.  Granted some probably won’t work out, but it’s a good start for my first day of serious thought about it.  I’m worried about finding members, though, as I don’t really know people to invite to start it off.  Most of my friends aren’t Orthodox (or aren’t Jewish) so wouldn’t want to join, and I probably wouldn’t want to invite the Orthodox friends I do have, as I wouldn’t want them to see some of the things I want to say in this forum, to realise that I see myself on the margins of the Orthodox world and why I feel like that.

***

A thought while shopping after work: when I was a child, I was, at least to some extent, a “little professor,” Dr Hans Asperger’s term for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning a child who is very serious and ‘lectures’ on his special interests.  My Mum even called me an “absent-minded professor.”  Yet I was not a little adult; when I became an adult, I was not suddenly better at communicating with people.  I still could not connect with people.  I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it seemed worth noting.

***

I finished A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn, but am not sure what I think about it.  E said she felt the same when she finished it.

After the Event

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

How to Destupidify myself?

I didn’t have work today, J having switched my days this week.  This was probably for the best, as I slept a long time after all the stuff I was doing yesterday (tax return, visa form).  The house was almost empty when I woke up, just me and Dad.  I know that’s the usual number of people on a weekday, but after so many being around for the last few days, it felt empty.  Dad made some enquiries on my behalf about changing shul (synagogue) membership to get married by my parents’ rabbi. We don’t have to change it for a while.  When we do change, I think we get a year of free membership in any shul in the United Synagogue, so it’s worth not changing that until nearer the time, although Dad feels I should continue with membership of my current shul until then “just in case” (this is him being morbid, meaning so that I’m not left without burial membership anywhere for a number of months, just in case I drop dead suddenly). I’ll go to my parents’ shul for the Yom Tovim (festivals) as my shul will be in its new premises, twice as far away. If I wasn’t getting married, or was getting married there, I might have still gone there, but it seems silly when I won’t be going there much longer anyway.

Today was mostly spent on the tax return (which was a real headache, but which I still need to spend some time on, despite having spent about three hours on it already) and scanning documents for E’s visa application.  I didn’t manage much of the latter, as the tax return left me exhausted. I did get a walk in, which I didn’t manage yesterday, but I only did a few minutes of Torah study, compared with more yesterday.

I miss E a lot and I know she misses me.  It’s hard being apart for so long when we already feel married.

I did manage to phone about pre-marriage classes for E and myself, which is positive, especially as I had a lot of social anxiety about the call beforehand.

***

As I mentioned, I’ve been filling in my tax return.  It seems really difficult.  I feel like, “I’m autistic, I’m supposed to be good with numbers and methodical; I am (or at least I was) a librarian, which is also supposed to make me methodical; so why do I always struggle to find the documents I need, and to find the right figures on the documents once I’ve got them?”  The papers aren’t even in that much of a mess, they’re actually organised reasonably well, but somehow the piece of paper I need isn’t ever where it should be.  And I’m not that good with numbers.  Even at school, where I got good grades in maths and even did A-level physics, I wasn’t intuitively good with numbers the way some of my geeky friends were.  Maths was always a second language I could translate into in my head, but not intuitively think in.

Doing things like this just leaves me confused as I go from document to document.  I have to keep reminding myself which tax year I’m doing this for, otherwise I’ll forget and enter the wrong data.  Just to confuse myself further, midway through the last tax year, I switched from being a freelance contractor to a permanent staff member, although still doing the same job in the same institution.

I just feel incompetent these days.  At school, I was a high achiever, academically (socially was another story), but I think I survived by putting myself in a protective bubble for fourteen years, memorising vast amounts of data and filtering out the real world (noise, smells, social interactions, bullies, eventually even out-of-school-activities and almost everything other than work in the end).  My good memory for trivia stood me in good stead in exams, but after that, I had to go into university and then into the world, and suddenly critical thinking skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, flexibility and creativity were all more important than just being able to remember lots of facts or even remembering other people’s arguments.

I have two degrees, but I work two days a week in a low-skill job which I am over-qualified for, but in which I still regularly make big mistakes.  The mistakes are probably partly out of boredom, but also from having to work on multiple documents at once or just my inability to remember things nowadays.  My mistakes fuel my low self-esteem, which in turn probably causes more mistakes as I assume I will fail.  I feel like somewhere along the line, after years of autistic burnout and mental illness, I just got stupid and I don’t know how to destupidify myself.  Sadly, I think anecdotal evidence indicates that prolonged autistic burnout, and prolonged bouts of mental illness, can both lead to a decline in cognitive ability.  It now looks like I have a sleep disorder too, so I can throw sleep deprivation into the mix too.

***

Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister.  I don’t really have any thoughts about this, except that it cements my feeling that I can’t vote for any current political party.  I think I dreamt about Gladstone last night, although I don’t remember the details.   I do feel the world in general has a terrible crisis of leadership at the moment, although realistically great leaders only come around every quarter-century or so.

The Bravest Orangutan in Britain

The title isn’t relevant, I’m just too stressed and overwhelmed to think up something more appropriate. It’s a joke from the Fawlty Towers episode I just watched (The Psychiatrist).

I’m feeling very stressed today.  My aunt and uncle have been here over the weekend.  We had enjoyable Shabbat (Sabbath) meals and I was, apparently, “on form” (meaning funny and witty), but after Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch I fell asleep immediately.  On Friday night I slept for an hour or so, woke up, changed into my pyjamas, read for five minutes and went back to sleep for ten hours or more.  On Saturday afternoon I slept for nearly three hours.   Last night I was exhausted and went to bed early (for me) at 11.30pm and slept for twelve hours or so again.  I find peopling very draining, especially when the people in question are very loud and exhausting.  I didn’t go with my Mum and aunt and uncle to my sister’s today as I got up too late, which was probably a blessing in disguise.

The other reason I went to bed early last night is that we found out that the son of good friends of my parents is receiving palliative care for leukaemia.  He’s a few years younger than me and he’s basically spent his entire adult life fighting it.  He would go into remission and try to get his life back on track (I think he kept dropping out of higher education because of it), but then after a year or two it would come back.  Then he would have another bone marrow transplant or aggressive chemo or whatever and would get better for a while, until it would come back again.  I know it sometimes (often) feels like I lost so much of my adult life to undiagnosed autism and mental illness, but he has lost basically all of his to leukaemia, and now it seems he’s going to lose the fight completely.  It’s really tragic.  It upset all of us a lot and we don’t really know what to do.  I just felt overwhelmed and exhausted and went to bed early.

I’ve been struggling with family stress today (beyond what I’ve written here), and guilt at bad interactions with my parents.  I also started to fill out my tax return for the tax year April 2021 to April 2022, which was stressful and confusing, and then I helped E fill out her visa application, which was also stressful and confusing.  This was a lot of bureaucracy and form-filling for one day, and there is more to do tomorrow (I’m working on Tuesday this week rather than Monday).  It has left me pretty exhausted, burnt out and unable to do very much except maybe watch TV.

***

I described myself as “married” on my tax return.  It felt slightly strange.

***

Mum was speaking to one of her friends and mentioned my airport issues.  Friend said that she has asked for “assisted travel” at airports when travelling with her mother (who is elderly and frail) and/or daughter (who has ME).  Someone then comes around the airport with them and guides them through check-in, security and so on.  Mum said I should do the same.

I had a visceral reaction against this and I’m not sure why.  After all, I’ve just bought a hidden disability lanyard, so it’s not that I’m in denial or afraid of identifying as disabled.  I guess I just feel that I should (“Should”) be able to cope by myself with a minimum of help or that I can cope by myself, as long as people give me extra processing time and allow for sensory overload (which they may or may not do if they see the card and lanyard, particularly outside the UK where it isn’t known).  Maybe I feel that I don’t need that level of help or even that I don’t deserve it.  I guess it has taken me a long time to accept that I am “disabled” (rather than “ill” – weirdly, the things seem very different to me) and need help and maybe there are limits to what I can accept about this right now.

***

I feel like I’m reading too many books, and too many heavy books, but I’m not sure how to stop.  Do I just focus on one book at a time, or try to creep forward slowly with all of them?  Or something between the two?  Most of them are so heavy-going that I often get to a point in the evening when I need to relax and unwind and can’t face reading any of them because they’re so heavy, so I watch TV instead.

They are good books and I don’t want to abandon them, but they mostly aren’t fun.  Even the novel I’m reading, Dara Horn’s A Guide for the Perplexed suffers from two unlikeable protagonists.  One is a super-clever person who was bullied as a child because of her intelligence, which I relate to, but then again she remained super-clever as an adult and became a tech millionaire, which I do not relate to.  She’s also quite manipulative and arrogant.  Her sister is pretty much a failure in life, which I relate to, but she’s also ruthless and manipulative, even more so than her sister.  I don’t really relate to either of them or feel that invested in their story; I’m carrying on because of curiosity about the narrative and themes and especially for the historical sub-plots featuring real-life Jewish figures Solomon Schechter and Rambam (Maimonides).

Just to make things more complicated, I started reading The Hafetz Hayyim on the Holy Days in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  I was already reading several Jewish books, but I felt I should read something related to the upcoming festivals in addition to my other Torah reading.  At least it’s a short book, so I should finish it in time reading about five pages a day.

***

Lately I feel as if I need to pick my first novel apart and abandon the autobiographical stuff about a Jewish man autism and depression and expand the other part, about a Jewish woman trapped in an abusive marriage, into a whole novel, or at least a novella.  I would need to think up some more plot to get to novel length.  I just did an experiment and deleted all the chapters solely dealing with the autistic character.  I was left with about 60,000 words.  80,000 is considered the minimum length for an adult novel, so I would have to write about 20,000 words, probably more, as I would have to cut some material in the chapters that feature both characters.  That’s probably a minimum of two or three months of consistent writing for me at the moment (part-time, low energy, sleeping through mornings), probably more as I’ll be using time for wedding planning and similar tasks instead of writing.

***

I have things I want to say that I don’t have the time or energy to write here, or which I feel would not interest readers here, or which I can’t write here for reasons of lashon hara (gossip).  The time/energy factor is actually the biggest one; the others I could deal with by writing a private or password-protected post, but not having time or energy prevents that.  I feel it might help me to process things.  I feel there are a lot of unprocessed thoughts whizzing round my head lately, some related to where I am in life, but others unrelated.  I feel that I need to set some of them down, but struggle to find the time even to get my thoughts in order.  Most of them aren’t relevant to bring up in a therapeutic context either.

Similarly, I would like to have the time and energy to write a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) too, as that feels like something else where I need time to process the sedra (Torah reading) each week.

And, yes, I know that I am currently/will shortly be: getting married/organising a wedding; moving house; and setting myself up as self-employed and looking for additional work (which will involve increasing my social media presence), all while still coming to terms with my autism and trying to work out if I have a sleep disorder and how to treat it.  Any of these things would be challenging individually, but I’m juggling them all at once, as well as other things like my current job and getting ready (practically and spiritually) for the autumn Jewish festival season, doing my tax return, helping E with her visa application and so on.  So I guess it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, but that doesn’t make it easier to cope with.

I’m sufficiently overwhelmed that I will probably watch TV for a bit before bed, as reading seems too daunting…