Other Planets

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

In My Family

I realised I missed the first anniversary of my high-functioning autism/Asperger’s diagnosis a few days ago. I got the date wrong in my head (thought it was the 19th, but it was the 9th). It seems strange to think that it was only a year ago. I had been living with the suspicion of autism for some time, so maybe that makes the date of confirmation less significant somehow, but it was a major turning point in my life, and things have been better since then, even if still difficult in many ways.

I definitely feel that “high-functioning” autism is a misnomer. I think technically it just means that I don’t have any learning disabilities, but it gives people the impression that I am mostly OK and functional. I am high-functioning in some ways and at some times. But some tasks that are considered “simple” regularly defeat me (like basic conversation with people I don’t know very well) and being stressed, particularly being hungry, anxious, lonely or tired (what I call being HALTed) can sweep away my coping strategies and ability to mask and put me in a much worse state very quickly.

My cousin was diagnosed with high-functioning autism recently, although I only found out last night. It was a bit of a surprise, as we all thought he has ADHD, although I think a second diagnosis has not been ruled out. There’s a lot of neurodivergence (autism and ADHD, diagnosed and suspected) on that side of the family. I think out of me, my sister and my five cousins, it’s only my sister and maybe one cousin who present as neurotypical! My parents think that my grandfather (the common grandfather) was on the spectrum, so I guess that could explain it (autism and ADHD are often found in the same family, for reasons that aren’t really understood yet). It’s good inasmuch as at least it makes it easier to feel accepted, but I guess I worry a bit about how some of us will cope, especially those of us dealing with mental health issues on top of neurodiversity.

On a related note, I sent my email about Purim on the spectrum to my devar Torah group and got a positive response from one friend who I hadn’t previously told about my diagnosis. He said I was brave to open up about it.

***

I had racing thoughts again last night and couldn’t fall asleep until 5.00am, then woke up around midday feeling tired and a little sick, but with more subdued thoughts (because the racing thoughts have passed or because I was so tired? It’s not clear at this stage). I struggled all day with vague aches and pains as well as feeling run down and hot and bothered. They got worse rather than better as the day went on and I started feeling light-headed in the evening. I did a COVID test (not because of this, because my sister came over) and I was negative, so it’s not that. It could be from sleeping at the wrong time and probably having bad quality sleep or it could be physical withdrawal from the olanzapine, as I’ve only been off it for a couple of days. I’m leaning towards withdrawal as an explanation. I feel better at the moment, but I warned J that I might not be in tomorrow if I wake up feeling awful.

***

I spent a chunk of the day talking about financial things with my parents and sister. I’m not going into money matters here, but it was all positive and hopefully lets E and I move closer to getting married. I do feel uncomfortable discussing finances, though — whenever I discuss them, I feel like a child playing at being an adult, like I don’t really know how these things work and I can’t really understand them. E says I underestimate my practical skills a lot and that I’m a lot better at “adulting” (hate that word) than I give myself credit for. I really hope she’s right!

***

While I couldn’t sleep, I thought a lot about gratitude. The word ‘Jew’ essentially means ‘one who is thankful’. I’m grateful to my parents for their support over the years and I’m very, very grateful to E for caring about me so much and accepting me for who I am (even when I am HALTed and not coping). And I’m grateful for my readers here. I don’t have, and don’t want to have, thousands of readers. I have about nine or ten readers who read frequently and comment supportively and perceptively and I appreciate it so much, especially as I know some read and comment despite having a lot of issues of their own (and I also know that I don’t always have the time to comment on their blogs). I don’t know how I would cope without it, as I don’t really contact my non-blog friends very often (something I should probably work on, but that’s another story). I know I struggle with a lot of stuff online and try to avoid sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as they just aren’t good for me, but I’m very glad to have this space to write and be read. (Also, without the blog, I would never have met E, who basically liked my writing so much she decided to marry me, but that’s a whole other story…)

Racing Thoughts

This is really just a brief note. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but I think coming off olanzapine has given me racing thoughts, poor concentration and insomnia (all inter-related). It’s not surprising as olanzapine is an anti-psychotic. I was prescribed it because it can help antidepressants work more effectively (for reasons that I think are poorly-understood medically), but also because I was having racing negative thoughts. My racing thoughts now aren’t negative (mostly about Judaism or E), but are stopping me getting on with my life and messing up my sleep even more than previously. I’ll give it another day or two to see if things settle down, but if they don’t, I’ll go back on, albeit probably on the lower dose (2.5mg once a day) I took for the last few weeks without problems rather than the slightly higher (although still low) dose I was on before I started coming off it (2.5mg twice a day).

Other than that, Shabbat was fine. I slept a little less than usual. I did quite a bit of Torah study, staying up quite late last night (this was probably a mistake, but also due to racing thoughts). I think I’m finding Talmud study a bit easier; maybe Rav Steinsaltz z”tzl was right that studying a large quantity of Talmud helps to build up the quality of study over time, even if you don’t initially understand much. However, I do worry that I’ve just hit an atypically easy few pages of Talmud and sooner or later it will get hard again. I was trying to read one side of a page a week, studying it once slowly with the full English commentary and then two more, faster, readings to revise, only reading the commentary if I can’t remember it. I’ve been going a bit slower for the last couple of weeks, though, as I’ve cut down my overall Torah study time as I try to readjust the balance of things in my life. I don’t read the unpunctuated and unvocalised traditional (Vilna Shas) page, but the vocalised, punctuated and broken into phrases version interspersed with the English translation in the Artscroll edition. I do try to have a good go at reading the Aramaic, though. My Aramaic is definitely improving, although it is still poor.

(I didn’t mean to write all of that. You see what I mean about racing thoughts.)

I didn’t want to read The Coming of the Third Reich over Shabbat, as it didn’t seem appropriate to read something so depressing, so I read The Twilight Zone Companion, which I got unexpectedly when I ordered a second-hand DVD of The Twilight Zone season one. It’s interesting enough, but could do with more detail in both production accounts and reviews. It does make me realise how much The Twilight Zone was fighting against the ultra-conservative social and institutional cultural forces in American society in the late fifties and early sixties, with strict limits not just on political commentary and satire, but on any kind of experimental or non-realistic drama. British TV of the time was much more free to experiment in comparison. I’m often critical of the current state of the BBC, but its mandate to challenge and provoke as well as to entertain meant that British TV was way ahead of the cultural curve in the fifties, sixties and seventies in comparison with American TV, and had a positive effect on commercial television too, which had to compete.

When I wrote about Purim and autism here the other day, someone pasted an article on the subject by a frum (religious Jewish) psychotherapist. I’m hoping to forward it to the family and friends on my devar Torah distribution list. Most of them know about me, but one or two don’t, so it’s a bit of a “coming out” as autistic. I hope it goes OK. I think it’s important to start these conversations about neurodivergence and mental illness (also treated in the article) in the frum community. I had the familiar quandary about defining myself as having “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “high-functioning autism.” I wish I didn’t have a syndrome that was discovered by a Nazi sympathiser.

I should probably go, because in the state of mind I’ve been in over the last couple of days, I could just sit here all night writing stuff that just comes into my head. So much for a “brief note.”

The Square Root of Infinity

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Danse Macabre

I’ve packed for my New York trip. Well, really Mum packed. I was torn between wanting to be independent and knowing that she can pack much better than I can, and just wanting to remember how she does it so I can pack on the way home. I don’t have great ability to do things like packing that involve imagining how different objects would fit when stacked differently in a space. I’ve never seen it listed as an autism symptom, just like I’ve never seen a bad sense of direction as an autism symptom, but to me they fit logically with acknowledged autism deficits in body coordination and spatial awareness.

My mood has been up and down today. I’m really excited at the thought of seeing E, but also terrified of travelling: terrified of COVID disruptions (or simply being sent home from the airport with asymptomatic COVID), of cold weather (everyone has terrified me by saying New York is cold, but I’m not sure it’s that much colder than London right now), of problems travelling with a mask (I’m particularly worried that my usual anxiety at going through airport security combined with shallow breathing from wearing a mask will trigger some kind of panic attack), of having made some terrible mistake in booking my flights and apartment, of just being overwhelmed by EVERYTHING. At the moment, after a Skype call with E, the excitement is winning. I hope it stays that way for the next forty-eight hours!

***

On an autism forum I’ve joined, people have been discussing school days. Interestingly, a lot of people who responded had a very negative time at school, reporting poor academic achievement, friendlessness and bullying, too much noise and bustle and difficulties fitting in and following rules.

It does make a me feel a bit ‘not autistic enough’ that I did better at school than some. Some people did respond with similar experiences to me, namely good academic achievement, but social isolation and bullying. I went to a very big secondary school and I wonder how I managed to cope with it for seven years. Work wasn’t so bad, but lunch could be very busy. I used to find a quiet corner, with or without my friends. For much of my time there, I went to extra optional Jewish studies shiurim (religious classes) during lunch break, which got me away from the busy lunch halls and playgrounds. I don’t know how I came home after a long day followed by a long journey on buses and the Tube at rush hour and then did a couple of hours of homework. No wonder I was burnt out by sixteen! I was bullied too, although perhaps not severely; not as severely as some people are, anyway. And I had a couple of friends. I think the rules were a positive thing for me, they gave structure and boundaries, and protected me from other children. I couldn’t really understand why my peers wanted to break them so much. They couldn’t understand why they mattered to me.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very glad I had what Tony Attwood calls a ‘mentor friend,’ a neurotypical friend who to some extent guided me and even sheltered me from some of the worst aspects of school for an autistic child. This is my oldest friend, who I’m still in contact with.

***

I watched The Old Man in the Cave, a post-apocalyptic episode of The Twilight Zone. A lot of episodes of The Twilight Zone revolve around fears of nuclear war, one way or another, as does a lot of science fiction of the fifties and sixties e.g. Philip K. Dick’s stories from the era are full of it. It’s unsurprising, given how real a threat nuclear war was (e.g. the Cuban Missile Crisis), but I wonder if it’s more reassuring to depict the end of the world when it’s humans who have destroyed it. At least we had some agency.

Stories that deal with catastrophe through man-made pollution and global warming are common, but I suspect that we won’t be seeing a bunch of plague stories post-COVID (cf. Survivors, the 1970s post-apocalyptic series created by Dalek creator Terry Nation, although that was a lab leak plague, so some human agency). I don’t think people want to be reminded how puny we are in comparison with nature.

In the wake of the Black Death, European art became distinctly morbid. There were depictions of the danse macabre, showing the Grim Reaper dancing with people in the fields. Rich people were buried in two-level transi tombs, with a human form depicted on the top and a decayed skeleton underneath, often accompanied by cheery messages like, “I was like you. You will be like me.” It would probably be a good thing if we were humbled in this way by COVID, but I don’t honestly see it happening.

Coping Strategies

I got a rejection from another agent this morning, I think it’s the fastest rejection I’ve had (two days). I’m up to ‘B’ in the alphabetical list of agents I’m using. I guess when I get to ‘Z’ I’ll have to stop and hope my next book is better.

***

In better news, I had a Zoom talk with my oldest friend. He was really happy about my engagement and asked a lot of questions about E. I think I knew all the answers! My Dad does the same thing, asking lots of questions, and it makes me feel strange, that I apparently just focus on the present in the relationship and don’t ask so many questions about E’s family or personal history. I don’t know if that is an autistic thing or just a personal idiosyncrasy. I suspect the former; autistics are not known for their interest in small talk and inter-relationships (for comparison, my oldest friend immediately searched for mutual Facebook friends he has with E). I’m more focused on the life E and I are building together than the ones we used to have separately. Maybe that’s strange.

After that I went for a walk and had therapy, an extra session squeezed in because I was very anxious over the weekend. We spoke a lot about coping strategies, which I hadn’t really discussed with a therapist before, except in a CBT context, and, as I’ve said before, like a lot of autistic people, I struggle with CBT. I hope some of these alternative strategies will help.

They included:

  • Being mindful in the moment.
  • Mental filter: is this MY problem or am I absorbing someone else’s problem?
  • Writing.
  • Exercising.
  • Focusing on image of water flowing through me, washing away the worries.
  • Listing practical solutions and whether I can do them now – if not, put to one side.
  • Seeing problems as finite and definite.
  • Asking, “Am I frightening myself?”
  • Asking, “What can I do to calm/nourish myself?”
  • Remembering that worrying does not help!

I think they are a mixed bag of practical and more ‘symbolic’ strategies and I guess which ones are more useful will vary from person to person or perhaps from time to time. Certainly I can see some that I’m more willing to try than others. Some seem more of a starting point; being mindful in the moment is good, but I’m not sure how to achieve that at the best of times, let alone when anxiety is running crazy. We didn’t mention the worry tree, but I guess it’s related to the point about listing practical solutions and whether I can implement them now.

I printed off two copies of the list, one to go on my wardrobe door where I’ll see it and one to go with my siddur (prayerbook) on the grounds that blue tacking papers to my wardrobe door makes them visible at random moments for a while, but eventually they blend in and become part of the furniture, whereas if I have to move the sheet every time I daven (pray), I’ll be confronted with the list regularly. I also printed off a copy of the worry tree too, as I’ve lost my copy.

***

We don’t get as much interesting wildlife in our garden in this house compared with our old house (we moved six years ago), but lately we’ve had a green woodpecker with a red head. S/he was in the garden for quite a while today.

Life is With People

I had another draining day at work. Not a huge amount to do, but draining, especially as I had to make some phone calls for the Very Scary Task. I was able to do some of the Task by text, which made it a bit easier. J doesn’t seem to have much of a preference for one medium unless there’s an urgent need to contact someone. I’m torn between makeshift exposure therapy from phoning versus not being in a state from texting. By the end of the day I was feeling exhausted and hungry, which fuelled anxiety. It wasn’t until after dinner that I felt completely recovered. I guess it’s a reminder that mental health ‘wobbliness’ persists even at the happiest of times, or, if we’re being honest, especially at the happiest of times. I say wobbliness because I’m not sure whether I’d technically meet the criteria for mental illness at the moment, but there are definitely a lot of overwhelming feelings around sometimes.

I told J about E too. He was pleased and asked me some questions about us. E and I are a bit wary about who we feel comfortable telling our whole story to: the on/off bit and the fact that we haven’t actually spent all that long together in person. You, dear reader, know that there has been a lot of skyping and deep conversations, that we have thought a long time about this and know what we want; the rest of the world has no idea. Only a couple of my friends are sufficiently frum (religious Jewish) to see getting engaged after a dozen dates as ‘normal.’ I would rather not spend a lot of time telling our story to the others.

I came home and sent some more emails to friends to tell them about E and me. I’ve now told all my friends, which didn’t take long. I thought I had more friends, but some of the names in my address book I haven’t communicated with for years and I didn’t feel comfortable suddenly getting back in touch for this.

When I got home, my parents were in the middle of telling all their friends, by email and by phone. They have a lot more friends than I do and they prefer to phone where possible, so this was more of an undertaking. Even so, some people got emailed. Everyone is happy for us, which is good, but it feels overwhelming. If the engagement feels this overwhelming, how will I cope with the wedding?! Somehow everyone wishing me mazal tov makes me feel that I’ve done something terribly wrong and everyone will be upset with me soon. Is that a weird type of Imposter Syndrome? That I don’t believe I deserve people’s good wishes and will end up showing them how useless I am?

My parents want to host an engagement party for their friends. I guess in Hebrew we would say a lechaim i.e. people drink a toast to us. They say I wouldn’t have to attend, although I would feel obliged to make some kind of nerve-wracking appearance, however brief. They’re planning on inviting quite a lot of people. I don’t think E thinks that this is normal. It seems somewhat normal to me, but possibly only because my parents went to a similar engagement party last night for the engagement of the daughter of two of their friends (I’m not sure if the engaged couple were there either or if it was just their parents’ friends). I think E is surprised that my parents have often met their friends’ children’s spouses at shul (synagogue) or family celebrations long before the wedding. I think some of my parents’ friends were surprised that I got engaged because no one had told them I was even dating. I’d say that the frum world can be incestuous, but not all these friends are even that frum, it’s just the North-West London Jewish bubble. As the title of an anthropology book on the shtetl (Jewish towns in Easter Europe pre-Holocaust) proclaimed, “Life is with People“.

***

I went to a Zoom class at the LSJS. It was on three recent English Bible translations: that by Robert Alter, the Steinsaltz Tanakh (Bible), which isn’t actually by Rabbi Steinsaltz, although it is based on his modern Hebrew commentary, and the Koren Tanakh, which is being promoted as being translated by Rabbi Sacks, but he died after only completing the Torah (in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses) and Tehillim (Psalms).

To be honest, I didn’t get a lot from the class. Having spent about twenty years reading the sedra (weekly Torah portion) every week in Hebrew, trying to translate it myself and comparing with an English translation, I have a good sense of the pitfalls of translation and the difficulties a translator must face.

Of the translations, the Alter one sounded the most interesting to me, now that my Biblical Hebrew is reasonable, because he has a detailed commentary on problems of translation and alternative word choices and sometimes suggested amendments. Nevertheless (and this may sound crazy fundamentalist), I heard Alter speak when the translation came out and he said translating Tanakh only moved him in a literary/aesthetic way, not a spiritual way. That upset me in ways that I did not expect and can not really describe. I knew he wasn’t Orthodox, but somehow only getting aesthetic pleasure from Tanakh troubles me. It reminds me of what T. S. Eliot said when people speak about “The Bible as literature,” that the influence of the Bible for English literature was that it was seen, not as literature, but as the word of God, and now it is seen as literature, it is unlikely to have much literary influence in the future. Strangely, Alter’s use of Higher Criticism (the type of Bible criticism that tries to break the Five Books of Moses into putative ‘sources,’ an activity that has never been accepted in Orthodox Judaism and which I do not believe in) does not bother me as much and I’m not sure why.

***

I have more things to say, but I’m too tired and ready to crash. I’m not sure what I’ll crash in front of, though. I have half of a so-so episode of The Twilight Zone that I started watching over dinner, before I had to stop for the class. I’m still reading Gaudy Night, but my inability to distinguish half the characters from each other and the falling off of the escalating tension in the second half of the book has left me longing for the end with another seventy pages to go. I’m invested enough to want to finish it, but not tonight. I think I’m too tired to read anyway.

I am tempted to break my diet to reward myself for a stressful day, but I should try to be strong. I am definitely hungry enough to want to eat cereal before bed, though, a bad habit I should try to break. It would probably save me more calories than skipping my one biscuit a day.

In Pursuit of Equanimity

I tried to spend today catching up on things, starting with emails. The Jewish website is chasing me about the article they want to republish, which reminded me that I hadn’t replied to the original publishers to ask for the form they need to send me if we republish. They emailed late on Wednesday; Thursday evening I was wiped out from work; Friday was just a rush with Shabbat stuff; and last night I prioritised other chores, as I thought they wouldn’t get the email until Monday morning anyway (which may not be true nowadays). I feel that I’m just not good at cramming stuff into my days. And, of course, engagement stuff has been running underneath this, and will continue to do so.

Despite this, I think I did make some progress on catching up with chores yesterday evening. It’s just a shame I couldn’t do much today, beyond running and some headachey Torah study. I do want to revise that article to bring it up to date and send it to the Jewish site soon, preferably this week.

I went for a run, which resulted in another exercise headache. I went for the run about 3.30pm, while it was still light, but that meant I lost a chunk of my afternoon and evening to the headache. If I’d gone later, after doing some things, I would have been running in the dark. The street lighting here is reasonable, so it’s not hugely dangerous, but I do tend to feel vaguely nervous when running after dark, more of having some kind of accident than anything else. I prefer it in the summer when I can go for a run later, so I don’t risk losing so much time.

I emailed half a dozen friends to tell them about my engagement. I found the experience weirdly anxiety-provoking, like I’m worried that there has been some huge misunderstanding and I’ll have to tell people that I’m not really engaged. Also, people are asking how we met and that’s not really a simple story! But it was a good experience, lots of mazal tovs and people who are pleased for us. I’m glad that I do have some friends to share my news with. I have a few more friends to tell during the week, plus J at work tomorrow.

***

The comments on yesterday’s post reminded me of something I started writing last week, but changed my mind about posting. Ashley asked if trust in God is the same as certainty, and I don’t think it is, or needs to be. Maybe it is for some people, but not everyone.

Tehillim (Psalms) 23 is perhaps the most famous Jewish expression of trust in God, but it seems pretty certain of suffering not relief: the valley of the shadow of death and God’s rod and staff. Despite this, the main theme of the psalm is equanimity and trust; these don’t conflict with the acknowledgement of suffering.

In The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim Rabbi Michael Rosen sees the idea of equanimity being essential to the thought of the rebbes of Przysucha and Kotzk. This does not come from being certain of things in the wider world, but from a sense of self. As I understand it, it is a sense that, “I know who I am and I am at peace with God, and as no one outside of me can do anything to change these two facts, I need not worry about anything. The important things are taken care of.”

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits wrote, in the context of Holocaust theology, about the Talmud‘s account of the execution of Rabbi Akiva in the second century, that he was calm while being brutally and painfully executed (flayed alive), focused on saying the Shema prayer, to the astonishment of his students. That feels to me like the same sort of equanimity, the sense that, I know who I am and am secure in my relationship with God; pain is just transitory and irrelevant.

In more modern times, someone like Martin Luther King exhibited a sense of calm assurance and bravery. He must surely have known that he was a likely target for the assassin’s bullet, but he knew who he was, and who his God was, and the justness of his cause, and that apparently was enough for him.

So the question I come to is, is bitachon (trust in God) as much about self-knowledge than anything more abstract? About cultivating a sense of, “I know who I am, and that I’m on good terms with my God, and nothing else matters”? Or is this equanimity something separate to trust in God? I’m not sure.

OTP (One True Pairing)

I don’t know how to start this post ‘gently,’ so I’ll just leap in: on Sunday I asked E to marry me, and she said yes! It was perhaps somewhat less anxiety-provoking than it could have been, as we’d been talking seriously about marriage for quite a while (we both tend to let our thoughts run away with us), so I knew the chances of her turning me down were slim. Even so, I was really nervous (my parents think I looked nervous for the whole of last week…). I feel a bit bad that it was a long-distance proposal and so not particularly romantic, but I knew we both wanted to get engaged soon, because we know that, with immigration and COVID, our engagement will probably have a some extra hassles and we both wanted to get started on planning things as soon as possible, rather than waiting until I get to the US in the new year or maybe even later if there are winter COVID lockdowns again.

I proposed on Zot Chanukah, the last day of Chanukah, which is supposed to be a spiritual time (and also a time for beginnings if you’re Hasidic and believe that the Jewish New Year season goes on until the end of Chanukah). Of course, because of the time difference, it was still day seven where E was. At least it was still spiritual there from Chanukah and also Rosh Chodesh (New Moon).

After I spoke to E, we both went separately to tell our parents, who are really pleased. I phoned my sister and said that I just proposed to E and she accepted, but there was poor reception and my sister said, “I can’t really hear you. Did you say what I think you said?” which I thought was hilarious, although it’s not objectively that funny. I told my uncle and aunt the next night, also by phone as they live in Israel, and then my rabbi mentor. I think E and I were both pleased that so far no one thinks we’re insane for marrying someone we’ve not spent much time with in the real world. As I said to my therapist, we haven’t spent so much time together in real life, but we probably have had more serious relationship conversations (over Skype) than many other newly-engaged couples. We’ve worked hard to build this relationship despite our differences and issues.

We’re keeping things fairly quiet at the moment, though. In my religious community, people would expect a short engagement and a swift marriage, which, as I said, might not be possible in our case, so I want to keep things private for a bit longer until we get a better idea of when the wedding might be. In particular, I don’t want the rabbi wanting to see me, as we’re pretty certain we don’t want to get married in my shul as it’s not the right type of community for E. My rabbi mentor says it’s OK to shop around until you find a rabbi you connect with, although I don’t particularly want to pick a shul (synagogue) where there is zero chance of us going after we marry. I did decide to post here, as even the people who know me in real-life reading this don’t know my religious community, plus I can’t believe that I won’t need to vent about wedding planning stresses and emotions in the coming months.

I feel really happy and excited. There is definitely some anxiety too. I’m not worried about anything in particular, but about the “unknown unknowns” — the things we don’t know about yet that will cause problems. In particular, I worry about some halakhic (Jewish law) problem arising, while E is more worried about secular immigration law posing problems for us. I told my sister I was nervous and she said that her engagement was a rollercoaster of emotions, so I’m sure there will be plenty to blog about.

Monday was actually a struggle. I wanted some time to process what happened, but I had to go to work and by the evening I was exhausted. Yesterday was a bit better, but I went to get my COVID booster jab and had some other things to do, so today feels like the first time I’ve had free just to process things quietly (albeit while aching from the booster). It feels good to know it’s real and not just a crazy fantasy E and I have.

Stay tuned…

Hinterland

I haven’t written for a few days as I have some good news, but I haven’t really been able to share it yet. I can do so now, but I’m too tired to write that post tonight, so it will have to wait. Sorry. It’s good news. I think you’ll find it worth the wait. I just wanted to write a few thoughts about something that just came to me.

I was reading a post by someone I used to count as a friend, but have long-since drifted away from. He left his Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) religious community for reasons that had more to do with politics than religion. He wrote a post about struggling with that change, as everything good in his life came from that community as well as everything bad, because it was a complete community. He had nothing outside it.

I’ve felt for a long time an element of negativity about things in my life that don’t fit into the Orthodox Jewish ‘image,’ particularly Doctor Who and other TV science fiction. I felt that if I could ditch these things, I would fit in better and be accepted in the Orthodox Jewish community. But I never did ditch them, because they meant too much for me, plus I can be stubborn and contrary when told what to do, at least sometimes.

Now I wonder if they are secretly keep me frum (religious Jewish). Maybe the fact that I have an escape valve for my energy and emotions outside of the frum world enables me to keep going inside it even when I disagree with things that happen there. That I’m not so completely invested in the frum community that I feel I have to completely conform. It’s not the whole of my life, it’s a part of my life. A big part, but there isn’t the 1:1 feeling that I have to mirror it in every way.

People sometimes complain about politicians these days not having a hinterland, meaning interests beyond politics. Many nineteenth and early twentieth century politicians had something beyond politics that they loved and devoted time to. Gladstone chopped trees. Disraeli wrote novels. Churchill wrote, painted and built walls. Attlee was a cricket fan. Macmillan read a lot. Modern politicians often have no interests other than politics, and arguably suffer as a result.

I wonder if my Doctor Who/science fiction TV hinterland has kept me sane, and kept me frum all these years. I have no idea if it’s true, but it’s worth thinking about.

Post-Shabbat Blues

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was tranquil on the surface, but I think it pointed out hidden tensions in my mind and I feel quite drained and low now.

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. When I got home, I had quite a long talk with my parents about the cremation they had been to for my Mum’s cousin. I hadn’t really been able to speak to them about it before, as they only got back from it an hour or so before Shabbat and I was busy showering and getting ready for Shabbat. There was something Mum said that I won’t talk about here that I think I need to spend some time internalising, maybe in therapy.

***

Mum told me that my oldest friend was in one of the Jewish newspapers. I had emailed him last week as I hadn’t heard from him for ages. He hasn’t got back to me yet. I struggled with some thoughts again. I’m pleased that he’s doing well with his life, but sometimes it seems like our lives were so similar in primary school and the early years of secondary school and then we grew apart as we got older, although we never fell out or lost touch, just went in different directions. The fact that I’m not on social media probably doesn’t help us stay in touch, as I think he uses Facebook quite a bit for life announcements.

I try really hard these days not to feel jealous of other people’s lives, when they seem to be doing much better than me, and a lot of the time I succeed, but my oldest friend is ultra-hard given how parallel our lives once were. We even looked alike, except that he was a lot taller – people assumed he was my older brother. I kept thinking of the two identical goats for Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) in ancient times, the one for God and the other thrown off the cliff (the origin of the word ‘scapegoat’). I think I was the one who got thrown off the cliff.

After a bit of time on Friday night I got to a point of relative equanimity about this, but then I dreamt about my friend last night, so it’s obviously still bothering me unconsciously.

***

The other dream I had last night was about Rabbi Sacks. I feel like I’m still grieving him, and grieving the guidance I feel he could have given me about my life if I’d been able to engineer a situation where I met him. If I could have had the confidence to go to some events where he was, or if I had been in a Jewish youth movement especially as a youth leaders, or a leader at the university Jewish Society, as so many prominent people in the Modern Orthodox community were. But I was terrified of most people my own age as a teenager because of being bullied at school and perhaps also because autism meant I simply couldn’t communicate easily with them and understand unspoken communication. The result was that I avoided most group social stuff until it was too late. By the time I was in my late twenties or thirties and wanted to meet people, they were all married and settling down.

I should probably stop going on about this. I’m not sure how I can grieve someone I never met and only knew through his writing, which I still have.

***

After lunch I could have had seudah (the Third Sabbath meal) and gone to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), Talmud shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), but I went to bed for a bit and then davened (prayed) at home, and did Talmud study at home after Shabbat. I’m not sure why I did this, but it’s definitely an anxiety thing, probably fear of being asked to lead Minchah in shul as the second Minchah has few people and fewer who are willing/able to lead the service. I struggle to keep up in shiur and I feel uncomfortable helping to tidy up after Ma’ariv; I always feel I just get in everyone’s way and I don’t know how to help (I’ve mentioned before Amanda Harrington’s idea about people on the spectrum wanting to help, but just getting in the way). There’s probably some common or garden social anxiety too. It’s also hard to go out on Shabbat when it’s cold and overcast; it’s harder when the event I’m going to inspires so many negative feelings.

I feel like I’ve gone backwards over COVID time and the social anxiety that used to be around Shabbat morning prayers has spread to the afternoon too. Lately I’ve given up even trying to go in the mornings.

***

I finished reading The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, about the rabbis of Przysucha (pronounced Peshischa) and Kotzk. It’s a book that clearly resonates with me as this was the third or fourth time I’ve read it in thirteen years.

In the closing pages of the appendices (p. 355-356), Rabbi Rosen writes:

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

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

I think I’ve been very reluctant to make real or apparent compromises over the years, hence my resistance to so many groups where perhaps I might have made friends and been accepted if I’d just let my guard down and gone. I also feel that nowadays most of the Jewish community is closer to the “feeling heimish” end of the Jewish spectrum than the “quest for authenticity” end. Maybe, post-Enlightenment and post-Holocaust, heimish is the most we can hope for from the community as a whole. Or maybe it was ever thus. Or maybe organised yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) study for young people provides a mechanism for some people to grow and develop, although I’m not convinced that this is always the case from what I’ve heard. Ironically, it is the sense of authenticity and fear of dropping my guard that contributed to my not going to yeshiva (as well as my not being a youth/Jewish Society leader), although there were other reasons too.

***

There’s a lot of negativity in this post. I don’t really feel negative, just a bit down. I mostly feel cautiously positive these days, but I guess there’s a lot of anxiety and fear below the surface about the fact that I’m still trying to get my life together. I can see the next step or two, but not beyond that, and that’s scary when you’re nearly forty, only working part-time and, in some sense, disabled, and want to settle down and try to start a family.

Kafkaesque

I woke up again at 7am after only having had about six hours of sleep. I thought about getting up, but six hours sleep didn’t seem enough, so I went back to sleep and, inevitably, slept through most of the morning. I think it’s weird that this keeps happening. Maybe my body is trying to tell me I really don’t need so much sleep, but I do find it hard to get by on six hours, so I wonder why I keep waking up after that amount, and why I sleep for so long afterwards if I don’t need it. I think I need to bite the bullet and get up at 7am or whenever I wake up and see what happens, but it’s hard to think like that when I’ve only just woken up and I only get a few seconds to decide what to do before I fall asleep again.

After I fell asleep again, I was having some weird bad dream when my Dad knocked on the door. I think I gasped audibly or even screamed, but I’m not sure.

***

When I filled in the job agency registration form yesterday, they asked for references. I gave two, but I thought I ticked (or tried to tick — it’s hard on a Word document) the box for not asking them for references yet. However, J texted me today to say he’s been asked for a reference. There isn’t much I can do about it now, and it’s probably not a bad thing that J knows that I’m looking for supplementary work especially as I’m still hoping he’ll make my current role permanent (technically I’m a freelance contractor even though I’ve been there for a year now). Still, it was a conversation I was hoping to push off for a bit.

***

More fun with bureaucracy: the autism hospital phoned me back, which surprised me a bit. The person I spoke to said that they need a referral form from the GP rather than a letter, which may be what the problem was. She said that she doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, but that she thought the people who do would have sent the form to the GP. I’m not sure that this has been done, although it’s hard to tell, because there is apparently a huge backlog of referrals that they are working through (I assume because of COVID). I didn’t think to ask for contact details for those people when I was on the phone (because I’m autistic and have issues with dealing with conversations, especially on the phone!). I phoned back afterwards to do so, but it went straight to voicemail. So I may be on the waiting list already, or I may not be, but I’m not sure how I find out for sure. Honestly, it’s like something out of Kafka.

***

I emailed my oldest friend. We haven’t Skyped for a while and I wondered how he was getting on. More selfishly (not exactly selfish, but focused on the self), as my relationship with E gets more serious, I feel I need to mention her to my friends, so it won’t be a shock (or too much of a shock) when we get engaged.

***

I had a positive therapy session, but in many ways my biggest breakthrough was outside therapy. It was in realising that, while I do not have good Talmud studying skills, I do have some good Midrash study skills. The Midrash is the rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative, like fan fiction that explores the characters and themes of the original text. Midrash can be hard to understand, as it can be intensely symbolic, even surreal, but the meaning of the symbolism may be unique to the individual passage, so there isn’t a set of universally-applicable ‘keys’ to learn. There is a tendency in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world to take Midrash very literally and to see the text as revealed by God in a straightforward way (similar to the Haredi understanding of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)), but in the Modern Orthodox world, it is seen as more literary and authored by individual rabbis rather than an objective description of factual events.

I find this a lot easier to understand that legal arguments. Yesterday I went from being curious about a passage in the Torah to looking up some Midrashim (in translation), finding a relevant Midrash, being baffled about the meaning, figuring out what seemed a likely symbolic reading and linking that symbolic reading to an understanding of the wider narrative in the Torah that it related to and writing a devar Torah about this with a homiletic conclusion all in the space of an hour or so. I think not many people would have been able to do that, even if they could understand halakhic (legal) passages of Talmud easily. It’s really a creative process not a rational/logical one. You stare at it for a bit and either the meaning of the passage suddenly hits you or it doesn’t and you go to the next one. Certainly having experience in reading serious literature helps here. (In fairness, there were other Midrashim I looked at that I couldn’t understand.)

I would like to build wider Midrash study skills further, but that would require investing time on improving my rabbinic Hebrew and also investing money on buying some volumes of Midrash rather than relying on Sefaria.org (there isn’t much Midrash easily available in parallel Hebrew-English translation). It is something to keep in mind for the future.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner. I had warned my parents that I would probably be drained after therapy (I feel like I’m just expected to fall in with everyone else’s plans). I definitely got ‘peopled out’ partway through the evening, around the time I had to listen to the story of my parents’ recent holiday for the second time (the first was the Shabbat after they got home, but sister and BIL weren’t here then). Perhaps because I was drained, my inner filter switched off and I was — not rude exactly, but cheeky. I have to admit they are still here, and I just slipped away from the meal because I needed a break. Even though my sister, BIL and I have early starts tomorrow, the meal is still ongoing. It is getting rather late and I really want it to be over, not because it’s bad, but because I just need some downtime before bed. I should probably go back downstairs and rejoin everyone as I’ve been up here for quarter of an hour…

The Fire Sermon

I felt exhausted all day on Friday. Shul (synagogue) in the evening was OK. It seemed quieter than usual. I’m not sure why, possibly there were fewer people. There was a devar Torah that I didn’t like that much. It was based on a very mystical worldview that I didn’t really buy into, and an approach towards Midrash that I don’t really accept, taken to some very strange conclusions. The person who gave it (it’s a slot open to the community) asked if I understood it. I said yes, which is true, I understood it, I just didn’t agree with it. I still struggle to disagree with people, and I feel a more Maimonidean religious rationalist understanding wouldn’t go down well in my community.

I had dinner with some friends, which was nice. It was just four of us, so I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I feared I might be. When I got home I had a long chat with my parents about their holiday. I also had a treat: I read Eliot’s The Waste Land, which I hadn’t read for years. I suspect Eliot’s worldview and understanding of literature is about as far from fashionable as is possible at the moment, and I have never really been able to analyse and understand the poem, but I’ve always found it beautifully written. There are lines embedded in my memory.

I woke up about 7am and thought about getting up. I knew I wasn’t going to go to shul in the morning, as I thought I needed to recuperate after socialising yesterday, but I thought I should get up to try to sort out my sleep pattern, but I just couldn’t face it, and ended up sleeping again. I napped twice in the afternoon too, once briefly, but once for an hour (my parents were also asleep, and we all slept through the end of Shabbat). I had wanted to go to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), but didn’t make it. It’s hard to unpick why; I think the napping is avoidance, driven by social anxiety and feelings of disconnection with the community. I had these before COVID, but the prolonged periods without shul, or with uncomfortable regulations, has just made them worse. I’m not sure what to do now. It presumably is something I could work on in autism-adjusted CBT, but I’m not even on the waiting list for that yet, with the GP currently refusing to apply to the CCG for funding. I need to phone the hospital to ask what I should tell the GP, but I feel (a) like I’m playing Piggy in the Middle, (b) that the GP should know and (c) that the hospital won’t be any more cooperative than the GP. I will try to phone the hospital during the week, if I have the time.

I might not have the time because I’m juggling several possibly job opportunities. I need to prepare for my meeting with the autism job agency; fill in various forms for the job agency that got me work in the past; apply for a job that I’m not helpful about (it’s full-time. I don’t think I can work full-time, but my parents tell me to apply and see if they’ll let me have a job-share. I am sceptical about this); and, most excitingly, the Jewish website that published my article a few months ago is advertising for staff writers. This seems about the most promising job opportunity I’ve had for a long time, so I’m applying there as my first priority. In the past I would have been either thinking I can’t write inspirational posts or link Jewish concepts to pop culture and the news (as is their style), or I would be thinking that, as my Jewish worldview doesn’t match the sites 100%, I shouldn’t write for them, but I’m mostly feeling positive,so I guess that’s good.

I’ve got Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned on as I write. I wouldn’t usually watch TV and write (I can’t multitask), but it’s long and dull, but it’s the next episode on E and my new Who watch. It’s one of those episodes where I wonder how I can have such different views of Doctor Who, and storytelling, than Russell T Davies (although “You couldn’t even sink the Titanic!” was quite a good line). I hope there are people out there who like my type of stories (or writing).

Opportunities, Missed and Otherwise

I am OK today. I am quite a bit down, but I’ve been used to that over the years. It’s a rush today because Shabbat starts at 4.10pm, but I wanted to note a few things briefly.

I’m hoping for a restful Shabbat (the Sabbath). My parents are out for dinner tonight, so I should have some time for recreational reading. E says I should read more for fun on Shabbat even if that means doing less Torah study and she may be right. Tomorrow Talmud shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue) returns and I’d like to go, even though that means staying on for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and then staying afterwards to help, where I feel I usually just get in the way, however hard I try to be helpful. But I’ll see how I feel tomorrow afternoon. It’s eighteen months since we’ve had this format for the shiur, because of COVID and because the timetable is different in the summer when Shabbat afternoons are very long compared with the winter when they’re very short.

There is an oneg being hosted by someone from my shul tonight. An oneg is a kind of Shabbat party where you sit around a table and there are snacks and soft drinks and alcohol, and people talk and sing religious songs and share divrei Torah. I used to try to force myself to these things to make friends. Usually I just sat there terrified, not speaking. Sometimes I stood outside crying at my social anxiety and social impairments and my inability to face my fears. I can’t really be bothered with that now, but I do wonder how else to make friends.

***

I found, lurking in my email inbox, an email from over a year ago from a job agency that helps people on the autism spectrum into work. I think I didn’t go down that path a year ago because I wasn’t diagnosed then, and because my current job appeared soon afterward. I might contact them again soon.

***

There’s a woman who keeps writing for Chabad.org about her fertility issues and the fact that she might never have children, and I want to read her articles, but I can’t, perhaps because they’re too close to home. Not that I have fertility issues per se, but that E and I worry that with all the mental health, neurological and financial issues that we have between us that we’ll never be able to support children, practically and financially. I guess that’s my main worry at the moment. I think E and I will be together, but I worry how we’ll cope, even without children.

***

I keep being drawn back to this interview with the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl where the interviewer lists Rabbi Sacks’ achievements and asks if he ever failed anything and Rabbi Sacks bursts into laughter and says, “I nearly failed my first year in university. I nearly failed my second year in university. I was turned down for virtually every job that I applied for. Since I was a kid, I wanted to write a book. I started when I was 20 and I gave it every minute of spare time that I had. Even when Elaine and I went to a concert I would be writing notes during intervals or between movements during a symphony. Yet, I failed for 20 years! From 20 to 40 I had a whole huge file cabinet of books I started and never finished.” I heard another interview where he said that being a rabbi was his fourth career choice, after he failed at becoming an economist, an academic philosopher and a barrister (lawyer). So that gives me a little hope, because I’m nearly forty and I haven’t done anything with my life.

He also says, “I think all that goes with the affective dimension of Judaism, the emotional life, is being neglected…  I think we haven’t done enough with the affective dimension, and music is probably the most important… Cinema, too, isn’t used enough in this regard. I think we haven’t done enough with that to tell people what the life of faith does for you. I have so many stories that I think ought to be made into film. Stories of ordinary people I know who have done extraordinary things.”

He doesn’t talk about prose fiction, but I think it applies there too, particularly in terms of telling stories. Although the stories I want to tell are not necessarily ones he would want to tell. But I think/hope there is an audience out there, although not necessarily or purely a frum one or even Jewish one. I just hope I can convince the gatekeepers (agents, publishers, reviewers) of that.

I know I say things like this a lot, but, honestly, I have to keep saying it or otherwise I stop believing in it myself.

***

The reason the interview was posted is that it’s just over a year since Rabbi Sacks died. I still feel his loss acutely, even though I never really met him (although I was in the same room as him a few times). I wish I had had the opportunity, or made the opportunity, to speak to him — really to speak to him about my Jewish life, my creative life and my aspirations to unite them both. I struggle to understand my place in the world in general and Jewish world in particular. I don’t understand why God made me autistic, or what He wants from me. I feel he would have understood, and would have had good advice. It’s too late now.

Overwhelmed, and Overwhelmed Friend

I woke up drained again today. I had gone to bed early (for me) last night, but I’d done a lot during the day and I overslept and woke up late. I felt overwhelmed for much of day. I feel bad about this, even though I know I wouldn’t if I had a physical illness (actually, given how I behave when I have a migraine, I possibly would feel bad about the effects of physical illness). I just feel I could/should do more despite autistic fatigue or the remnants of depressive fatigue or whatever it is.

I had my flu jab today. I don’t usually get one, but the NHS still seems to consider my Mum as vulnerable and I was offered one as I live with her. It seemed sensible to take it. I shook a bit when I was injected. That happens a lot when I am injected or have a blood test. It’s anxiety, not about needles, but about shaking; fear of shaking ironically triggers shaking. In the past I would breathe deeply to calm myself, but with a mask on that makes things worse if anything. The nurse got a bit worried about me and insisted that I sit in the waiting room for a few minutes. I think she was worried I would faint.

I cooked dinner while trying to listen to a podcast E had been on for her job, but I struggled to multitask and abandoned the podcast after twenty minutes. I struggled during the afternoon and evening with intrusive thoughts about antisemitism (not helped by watching an episode of The Twilight Zone about a former SS officer being put on trial by the ghosts of the people he killed). I don’t know why I sometimes get focused on this and can’t stop thinking about it.

My other main achievement, aside from planning E’s trip here with her over Skype, was writing my devar Torah (Torah thought). I wanted to write something about the balance of universalism and particularism in Judaism, but I couldn’t work out what to say, so I wrote about Sarah’s handmaid Hagar, mostly taken from Erica Brown’s Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe. It was one of those divrei Torah that I’m less proud of, where I’m taking my ideas from one (credited) source, rather than mixing sources or adding my own ideas.

I decided not to go to volunteering tomorrow, as I feel like I’m still recovering from the Yom Tovim (festivals) and have not made any progress on finding an agent for my novel, which is my main task for tomorrow. I did spend a bit of time planning the second novel, so I guess that’s another achievement. I do still feel a bit overwhelmed. I’m trying to focus on the positives, namely that E will be here next week (God-willing, COVID-permitting) and also on my excitement at writing my second novel, although with all the planning and research I want to do, it will probably be a long time before I sit down to write it.

***

I’ve been emailing a friend who is also on the spectrum who I hadn’t communicated with for a while. She is struggling with her job. She has been working at home because of COVID, but her employers want her to return to the office. She feels that public transport during rush hour is more than she can bear and would have left the job earlier if COVID had not allowed her to work from home. She sounds very overwhelmed in many aspects of her life.

I don’t know what to do about this. I feel I should do something to help, but I don’t know what. Although she is working full-time and I am not, her autism is worse than mine in many ways. She is much more sensitive to noise and crowding and perhaps more rigid in her needs and her ability to find solutions. Also, English is not her first language and I struggle to understand her sometimes. She has already contacted AS Mentoring. I don’t know how I could help her and I’m wary of taking on her troubles and overwhelmed feelings in addition to my own, especially as she is not a close friend. I suppose if I had some idea of what might help her I could see if I could take on some of it, but I’m wary of giving her a blank cheque. But I feel really bad at not helping someone else on the spectrum.

***

If I go into the artists section of iTunes and click on the label for George Harrison, iTunes shows me a photo of John Lennon. I guess, it’s understandable that in 2021 someone working for a massive music related company can’t tell the difference between Harrison and Lennon; it’s not the like The Beatles are the most successful band in history or anything. I like to think it’s the ghost of Lennon trolling from beyond the grave.

Damage Limitation

I feel burnt out again, unsurprisingly after yesterday. I feel like I’m in damage limitation mode at the moment and will be at least until J is back at work, if not until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) are over. I’m going to try to relax tonight and tomorrow. I had chores to do before Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I tried not to do other things, although I did some Torah study. I would like to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but as my cousin is staying with us for Shabbat, I’m not sure if I’ll go for Talmud shiur (religious class) and Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) tomorrow so I can spend more time with her instead.

In other news, my rabbi (my shul rabbi, not my rabbi mentor) said we could speak and that I should message him next week to arrange time. This is to tell him about my autism/Asperger’s and speak about my place in the community, although he doesn’t know that yet. I feel pretty anxious about it. It doesn’t help that I don’t know exactly what I want from the meeting, I just feel the need to open up to someone in the community so that I feel less alone and misunderstood.

***

In other other news, E and I have been watching the earliest Doctor Who episodes, from 1963 and 1964, and E is becoming a total fangirl. She is mostly enjoying it, but complaining about continuity errors in later stories. Having a girlfriend who was into Doctor Who was not one of my ‘essential needs’ in relationships, but it’s very good that it’s turned out that way. Otherwise, E and I have both been catastrophising about our relationship — not the relationship part, but the external things keeping us apart, like COVID and immigration law. But we both think we will be together in the end, somehow, if we can just hang on.

***

I wrote yesterday about having wanted to make friends online in the past, and it occurred to me afterwards that I do now have what I wanted on my blog, inasmuch as there are half a dozen or a dozen people who read most of my posts and leave friendly and helpful comments, which is what I really wanted from online interactions. So, thank you.

Work, Music, Friends

Work from home is making me exhausted and depressed.

I slept badly last night. I woke up about 5.30am after disturbing dreams, full of anxiety about work and the Very Scary Task (I should probably think of a better name for that here). I realised I had forgotten to tell someone something and that was worrying me. I got up and drank hot chocolate and read Philip K. Dick (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) for a while, which calmed me down a bit. I went back to bed, but as I was trying to fall asleep, J texted me at 6.30am to check some details. I guess he assumed I get up early for Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I went back to sleep, but didn’t sleep well, with more disturbing dreams. My alarm went at 9.20am and I probably would have fallen asleep again were it not for more work texts (not from J this time). I had breakfast and sent a text to resolve the problem of forgetting to tell someone something, but then J messaged me with another query. It wasn’t hard to resolve, but the whole process of this task is all quite nerve-wracking. I hope I don’t have to do this again next week — or for some time longer, really. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing in advance, and the odds are I will have to do it again next week.

I was very nervous of something going wrong with the Very Scary Task, but no one phoned me with a problem, so I guess it went OK. The main work for today, the data entry, was more tedious than ever. I found it hard to concentrate and I could not work out if that was related to Very Scary Task anxiety; being tired from yesterday and not sleeping well; or just the cumulative effect of doing this boring task for days on end.

I wanted to listen to music while doing the data entry, but I wasn’t sure what. Not the loud rock I usually listen to, because I needed to concentrate. I found some chazanut (Jewish liturgical music) CDs that belong to my parents and thought listening to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur music might get me in the appropriate mindset for those coming festivals, but I discovered that I dislike traditional chazanut as much when listened to as music as I do when listening to it in shul (synagogue). It’s all very emotional and wailing and loud and dragged out… I know some people feel the music and chazanut helps them to pray more intently, but I always get the feeling that the chazan just wants to show off and I would rather spend my time and energy focused on my private personal prayers. Maybe that’s why I struggle with going to shul; it’s certainly why I go to a shul where the focus is very much on personal prayers without much chazanut.

In the end I listened to incidental music from Twin Peaks. Similarly, on Monday I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner while I did the data entry. Incidental music isn’t as intrusive as other music, and evokes the atmosphere of enjoyable TV or film while I’m doing a boring task.

***

Towards the end of work, I started feeling very negative about myself, wondering why I’m doing basic data entry tasks of the kind that would normally be done by an intern when I’m in my late thirties and not being able to work full-time. It got mixed in with thoughts about the Jewish cultural website I wrote about yesterday, some resentment that many of the writers there have gone on to write professionally, or were already professional writers and got a boost, whereas for a long time I wanted to write for them, but wasn’t able to. (I did write a couple of guest posts eventually.) I also felt that a lot of the writers seemed to have mental health issues, but also managed to have families, careers, religious lives, community involvement and creative outlets and I never worked out how they did all of it. In the end, I became a sort of self-loathing troll, posting comments that attacked not others, but myself and wallowed in the misery of so much of my adult life.

I thought I had put the site behind me (it’s pretty much defunct now), but I realise I have such a mixture of thoughts about it. I thought, or at least hoped, I could make real friends there, I had a kind of “friendship crush” on so many of the writers, wanted to be noticed by them and converse with them in the comments. I made a couple of online friends I still sometimes connect with, including one who has been a bit of a writing mentor to me, but those were other commenters, not the writers. But then I remember that once I wrote a comment about being pretty suicidal and a bunch of the writers wrote messages to support me, so I guess they were friendly. I never quite worked out if they wrote it because they like me as an individual or if they just saw “A person is in trouble, we should help!” and it didn’t really matter who I was. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

E found my blog through my comments there, I think, so I guess that’s one tangible positive that came out of it for me.

Thinking about this also makes me realise that I’ve been so focused lately on getting my manuscript ready to try to find an agent, and brainstorming ideas for future projects, that I haven’t actually done any creative writing in ages, even though I have an idea for a short story. I would like to write it, but with the possibility of another week of crazy work next week and then the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish religious festivals), I’m not sure when I’ll have the time.

***

Aside from work, I went for a walk and did some shopping, which was where the negative thoughts got worse. I finished my devar Torah and skyped E and did a few minutes of Torah study, but that was about it. E is still the biggest positive in my life, even on stressful days.

***

The results from my recent blood test show my lithium level is slightly down. The results say it’s OK, but I thought 0.68 was sub-therapeutic. It might explain why my mood has been down a bit lately. My cholesterol is still a little high, but I don’t seem to be able to shift that much. I know, I should cut cheese, butter and eggs out of my life completely, but I can’t face it. I don’t eat much butter or eggs as it is, and I slashed my cheese consumption and, at the moment, can’t face cutting it further. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me one day.

There But For the Grace of God?

I was working from home today, as J is on holiday. Perhaps surprisingly after a year and a half of COVID, this was only the second time I have ever done paid work from home (the first time was last November or December, when J gave me 300 invoices to put in 300 envelopes and 300 stamps to stick on them — it took several hours!). I have two tasks to work on over the next fortnight. One requires accessing a desktop computer in the office remotely. Unfortunately, it looks like Windows downloaded some updates over the weekend and rebooted the computer, so the remote access software has been disconnected. The only way to reconnect it is to go back into the office. Sigh. The other job, data entry via an online database, is accessible from home and will keep me going for a while yet, but I was hoping to alternate two boring jobs to at least provide some small bit of variety. Now I’ll have to focus on one task over the next two weeks and the other in the office afterwards.

I overslept quite dramatically this morning and then I think I must have napped after I got up, which meant I lost most of the morning. I felt bad about this. I don’t know why I can only get up early if I absolutely have to do so and otherwise sleep through alarms. We’ve been working six hour days in the office under COVID, but I only managed five today. By 7.30pm I was too tired to continue working so I will catch up the extra hour tomorrow. To be honest, splitting the day is probably good for alleviating boredom, but not so good if I want a free day to relax and work on my writing.

I did at least add 116 records to the database.

Otherwise, I’ve mostly been worrying. I’m worrying about whether E will be allowed to travel to the UK while the delta variant continues to spread in the USA. The only thing spreading more like wildfire than delta are the actual wildfires (sorry to Californian readers). I also worry that I won’t be able to go to the USA, as I have the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the USA still has not recognised. I feel that they should concentrate on getting more of their population double vaccinated with any vaccine before engaging in vaccine nationalism.

Other than that, I’ve been generally down. The world is depressing again: COVID, Afghanistan, Haiti… I’ve been thinking a lot about Incels since the shooting in Plymouth last week, wondering if I would have fallen down the Incel rabbit hole if my life had gone slightly differently. It’s different now I’m in a relationship that is hopefully moving towards marriage (albeit slowly thanks to COVID), but I do still feel vaguely — inadequate? or just different? for being a virgin at thirty-eight (and not in a monastery).

I feel like I’ve done OK in not basing my self-esteem on money, material goods, power or fame (not that I have any of them either…), but I have a self-esteem need for social interaction: I want to get married, and I want to have a few friends I feel I close to. I want to feel that I matter to people, that they miss me when I’m not around (E definitely misses me!). As goals go, it’s not inherently unethical or unrewarding, it being generally agreed that positive relationships, of whatever kind, are rewarding in a way that money (for example) is not, but I feel I would have been a lot happier over the last twenty years if I didn’t need other people for my self-esteem needs.

Am I being too hard on myself? There have been times, particularly in the long period before I even went on a date (I didn’t get to go on a date until I was twenty-seven) when I had a lot of loneliness and inchoate anger about being single. However, I never saw myself as entitled to a partner nor was I angry with women, individually or collectively. I was just angry with my lot in life. I do wonder how many Incels are really angry (and how many of those are potentially violent) and how many are just very lonely and ashamed about being single in a world that puts romantic and sexual imagery everywhere, but seems to make it harder and harder to meet people in person (even pre-COVID), and where schoolchildren are taught how to have safe sex by law, but not how to build lasting relationships.

***

I possibly made a mistake in watching the last episode of The Blue Planet over dinner. I’ve got half the episode left, as I wanted to do some Torah study before my brain switched off from exhaustion, and I don’t think a wildlife documentary was really relaxing enough for me today. I did at least manage to squeeze a walk in, and did about forty minutes of Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.

Positive Shabbat

I have been trying not to turn on my laptop after Shabbat (the Sabbath), as it finishes so late at the moment (it finished after 10pm today, then there’s a longer Ma’ariv (Evening Service) afterwards and tidying up). However, I had a good day and didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to share.

I actually managed to get to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (Morning Service) today, something I hadn’t managed for months if not years because of a mixture of autistic burnout, depression, social anxiety and fear of wearing a mask for three hours straight. I managed this despite a not very good night’s sleep, where I think I woke up every time I turned onto my left side, which is where I was vaccinated yesterday. I didn’t have any side-effects other than that, fortunately.

I was only about fifteen minutes late (it started at 9.00am), which would be early in some shuls, but most people arrive on time in mine. I was so busy worrying about other things that I forgot until I got there that I might get an aliyah (called to make the blessing over reading the Torah). I did in fact get one, but was OK with it, including navigating the revised COVID restrictions on what we can and can’t touch while there. I feel relieved that that’s out the way for a while and I can try to get back to regular Shabbat morning shul-going.

My kavannah (concentration/mindfulness) in prayer was pretty good and I found the whole experience much more meaningful than shul or davening (prayer) have been for quite a while.

The reason I went to shul was because I had been invited to lunch with friends, now that COVID restrictions have been lifted somewhat. Technically only six people are allowed; my host informed me that there would be seven and gave me the option to leave if I was uncomfortable. I was a bit uncomfortable, but felt that it was too late to leave, so I went. I wonder a bit that even someone as law-abiding as me has bent or even broken the COVID rules in minor ways a few times, so I guess it’s no surprise that less scrupulous people have totally disregarded them.

Lunch was good. This my first real social event since my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis. I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, but I think I felt a bit more open speaking to people, also helped by the fact that there was only one person there that I didn’t really know. Interestingly, I owned up to feeling challenged by halakhic (legal) passages in Talmud and to preferring aggadah (narrative) only for other people to agree with me, which surprised and reassured me a little.

I came home tired and read a novel for a bit before going back to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Talmud shiur (religious class), the latter of which I followed a bit better this week. I also noticed that the number of people who speak up a lot to ask or answer questions in the shiur is very small, maybe four or five people out of a dozen or more attendees, so maybe I’m not the only one who struggles to follow the thread without actively participating. I do wonder a bit how much Talmudic ability is innate or acquired. I suppose you would expect lawyers and other people with very analytical jobs to do well, but the person who speaks up the most is a shopkeeper. His two teenaged sons also have sharp Talmudic minds, so maybe there is a genetic element (I think he also has two other children who have left home, one who is not religious, so there are obviously a lot of factors at play).

By the time I got home, I was exhausted and had a headache, which perhaps was not surprising. I read a little, but felt too headachey. I had seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) with my parents and that was it really. I would have liked to have gone back for Ma’ariv (Evening Service) and got a full house of Shabbat prayer services, so to speak, as I used to do, but I was too tired and headachey. Maybe next week. The headache did eventually go, and that has to be considered a successful day overall, part of a general upward trend over the last few months since my Asperger’s diagnosis, the occasional setback (like last week’s job interview) notwithstanding. I hope to continue my Shacharit shul attendance next Shabbat. Definitely the thing to do is keep up the momentum, as I know from experience that skipping a few weeks lets the social anxiety creep back in.

In Praise of Edward Jenner

I had my second vaccination today. I shook a bit again. I know this is just nerves and a side-effect of my psychiatric medication, but it is embarrassing, especially as the person giving the vaccine was worried and repeatedly asked if I was OK to go home or if I wanted to sit for a while. Of course, as soon as I was outside, I stopped shaking, because it’s the social anxiety aspect that is so triggering.

I was going to go for a walk afterwards, but it was very cold and windy and I had had to wait outside for quite a while as there is limited queuing space inside the pharmacy where I had the vaccination, and what space they did have was being used so people getting the Pfizer vaccine (I had AstraZeneca) could sit down for fifteen minutes afterwards. I’m hoping I don’t get any side-effects, but who knows?

I didn’t do much today other than get vaccinated and do my usual Shabbat chores. No writing and less than half an hour or so of Torah study. I may do a little more Torah study, although probably not much, as I want to go to bed early so I can get up early tomorrow, or as early as is possible when we can’t start dinner until nearly 9.00pm because of Shabbat coming in so late (it is nearly summer, as hard as that is to believe looking at the storm raging outside my window).

***

I had a call from the autism hospital after I emailed them again last night. They said I should have received a revised diagnostic report and leaflet by email. I checked and they had the right address. The guy tried to send it again, but I still haven’t got it. I receive email via Webmail for somewhat complicated reasons, and it sometimes has a sensitive spam filter, so that could be the problem. The guy who phoned said he would get a colleague to send the email from a different address in case that helps and that he’ll send a physical copy in the post today, so hopefully I will get the report and leaflet one way or another in the next week.

***

I hope to go to shul (synagogue) tomorrow morning and then on to friends for Shabbat lunch. This is all dependent on not having either autistic burnout or vaccination side-effects. I’m somewhat nervous, and a technical point about the laws of carrying on Shabbat in an area known as an eruv (which permits some forms of otherwise forbidden carrying) is causing me some confusion. I didn’t like to ask my rabbi mentor in Israel halakhic (Jewish law) questions while there was a war going on and my community rabbi is away on holiday. I tried contacting the halakhic question answering service provided by the umbrella body my shul belongs to, but they didn’t get back to me. I think I have a solution, but I’m not 100% happy about it. The whole thing is causing me more stress than it probably should. It gets tied up in a complicated way with the question of just how many prayer services I’m planning on going to tomorrow, which in turn ties into questions about social anxiety and autistic burnout.

With this as with so many other things, I wish my life didn’t have to make everything so complicated, but I guess that’s what living with a disability will do for you. It’s easy to forget that living with a disability is about living with a disability. The boring everyday living tasks don’t go away just because you’re dealing with an ongoing condition, you just have to use more energy and more time to get the same results. It’s not always possible to ask for adjustments, let alone get them.

I do hope I get to shul and the lunch, worries notwithstanding. I’m not hugely social, but it would be nice to socialise with someone other than my immediate family for a change.

***

Other worries: I have lots of confused thoughts about Israel and the ceasefire; antisemitism; and being Jewish at the moment, but I don’t really want to share anything political, and I don’t have time or energy to sit down and think about the more nebulous spiritual-type thoughts today.

I’m also worried about a long-distance friend who emailed me for the first time in months yesterday to say she’s having marital problems. I feel bad for her, but I don’t know what to say. I feel I once gave someone in a similar situation really bad advice (although I think it all turned out for the best in the end, fortunately). I want to be empathetic without giving advice as such, which is not always easy.

***

Reasons to be Cheerful

My main focus today was therapy. I didn’t have a lot to say, as things seem to be going well. The last week or so I have been fairly focused on the present rather than worrying about the future. I also seem to have coping strategies that help me to deal with things better than in the past, and my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis has made it easier for me to forgive myself for mistakes and quirks that would have upset me in the past. The two (coping mechanisms and forgiveness) go together, as a key coping mechanism is to know my limits and not force myself to go beyond them, even if part of me says I “should” be able to do so.

I mentioned in therapy that I have been reflecting recently that my life seems to be suddenly going a lot better. I’ve finally got my Asperger’s diagnosis (which seems to be the key turning point); I have a job I can manage which leaves me time to write; I have a core of online friends who read my blog and leave helpful comments (I’ve written blogs with no readers before, and writing does serve a purpose for me even without readers, but writing without an audience can be lonely); I am beginning to wonder if I am more accepted at shul (synagogue) than I thought previously; I have greater kavannah (concentration or mindfulness) in davening (prayer) than previously; I’m somewhat happier with the amount and content of Torah study I’m doing (an average of fifty to sixty minutes daily, with some Talmud study); and I’ve restarted volunteering. Best of all, E and I have got back together and think that this time we might be able to make the relationship work permanently.

The latter point is the thing I’ve been hinting at for the last week or so without explicitly stating, as I was curious to see what my therapist said before saying anything here. At the moment I haven’t told my parents or my sister, which I feel a little bad about, but I want to give the relationship a few weeks so that I can say it’s working before I tell them. This is because my Mum in particular was worried about E and I getting into an endless on/off relationship. To be fair, I worried about that too, but I think this time both of us have undergone significant changes and growth that make me feel a lot more positive about our future together now. There is much more to say about this (it’s quite a story), but I’m too drained from therapy tonight to write it, so you’ll just have to wait a little longer.

I’m always scared to say that things are going well, as it seems almost inevitable that they go wrong afterwards, but as my therapist and I discussed, the difference this time is that it’s as much about coping strategies and being able to stay in the present as about external things boosting my mood, which will hopefully enable me to stay well even when things go wrong, as something will eventually.

***

My boss, J, texted me to say that by chance, he had come across my article online. He liked it. I felt a little awkward, but it’s probably good that he saw it, although I’m glad I told him about my autism a couple of weeks ago so he wasn’t learning about it entirely from the article. The big question I’m wondering is whether anyone else from my shul has seen it and whether they will say anything when they see me on Shabbat. The site it was on is very well-known and read by a lot of people, so it’s entirely possible that some other people I know have seen it.

Gimme Some Truth

Warning: this is rather more rambling and pity partyish than usual. Please don’t feel obliged to read.

Nietzsche wrote about mental illness being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” I think they’ve been barking a lot more in the last few days and I don’t know why. I was practically in tears while davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers) again today, and again at lunch, and a third time in the afternoon when doing Torah study, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know why specifically Shacharit and not the other prayers either; Shacharit is the least logical service for me to cry in, as I’m invariably late and rushing through just a few prayers before the final deadline. It would make more sense if I was in tears in the other services where I say the whole thing and at least try to have some kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).

I was actually doing OK early today at trying to stay in the present and not worry and obsess about the future, but over the day I drifted into one of my “I’m Fouled Up Beyond All Hope” moods.

***

Early today I felt that I should just rip up my novel and my Asperger’s article and start over, because neither of them have truth in them. Perhaps truth is the main thing distinguishing a good writer from a hack. George Orwell wrote about this, I think. Not some transcendent religious or philosophical truth, but simply the truth of someone’s experiences. I think my blog sometimes has truth, but not my other writing.

I thought of a particular saying from the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic leader) “The Evil Urge has found a new method, in which it succeeds; no longer must it do battle day and night. It toils only to take from you the delicate chord of truth in your heart, and afterwards it lets you do as you will: to work, to study, to pray… for without the point of truth, whatever you do is no longer important to the Evil Urge.” (The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk [sic] edited by Simcha Raz, ellipsis in original) I think it’s a long time since I’ve had the “point of truth” in my writing, my study or my prayer.

I don’t think I’m that truthful in friendships and relationships either. By truthful I don’t mean ‘not lying’ (I’m not dishonest), but being fully open and ‘myself.’ I’m quite truthful with my parents, but I generally only talk about the dark stuff when it gets unbearable. I’m not always truthful with my sister. I can joke around with her, and my parents, but not always talk about the dark stuff. With most of my friends, I’m not really myself and not open at all. I would want to be truthful and to be myself in a relationship, but I don’t know if I could. I think I did with E. There were things that didn’t work in that relationship, but that aspect did work. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision in breaking up, although it was already an on/off relationship, so clearly something wasn’t working. I wasn’t able to be truthful with PIMOJ at all, which is why the relationship failed, although to be fair she expected me to be truthful without being the same herself. I was truthful with my first girlfriend, but, again, she wasn’t with me, and again, it contributed to the failure of the relationship.

I was going to say I’m truthful with my therapist and my rabbi mentor, but even then I’m not entirely. I’m fairly truthful with my rabbi mentor, probably more than with other people. I try to be truthful with God. I don’t know how much I succeed. I can’t hide anything from God, although a lot of things seem too trivial to mention to him, even though they upset me a lot. I don’t joke with Him much, but it hardly seems important to do so with Him.

***

On a more positive note, when I went to look up that quote from the Kotzker, I found a bookmark pointing to the page that had this quote that I had forgotten about: “We have not found in any place in the Torah that a person is commanded to be a scholar and erudite in all the chambers of the Torah. For the purpose of study is not to be a scholar, but to be a good man, to do what is good and to act beneficently towards your fellow.” This is pretty much entirely against the prevailing worldview of the Haredi world, or at least the Yeshivish part of it, which sees becoming a great scholar as the only purpose of Judaism, at least for men. It reminds me of the man who boasted to the Kotzker Rebbe that he had been through the whole Talmud three times. “Yes, but how many times has the Talmud been through you?” the Rebbe responded.

Of course, it’s entirely open to question whether I’m a good man who does what is good and acts beneficently towards my fellow, but it’s a more viable target for me than going through the Talmud three times.

***

I did eventually sit down to work on my article. I read some published articles about Asperger’s and learning disabilities on Aish as research and I think my article isn’t hugely wide of the mark, although there are still many reasons it might be rejected. I spent about an hour reading and re-writing. I think tomorrow I will actually write the pitch and see what happens. I tend to be less successful at pitching things than writing them, I think.

I went for a walk after that. It was very windy, the wind blowing clouds of blossom around so that it felt like walking through snow or confetti.

I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah (Torah thought), using the English translations on Sefaria more than I would like (Sefaria translations are often crowdsourced and sometimes inaccurate). I have an idea of what topic to write about, but not really what to say, which probably means it’s going to be another week where I feel like I’m bluffing my way through it. I think writing a devar Torah each week is a good exercise for multiple reasons, but some weeks I do feel a bit of a fraud (truth again). I doubt I could do it if I worked full-time.

***

It gets REALLY pity partyish from here. Honestly, I won’t mind if you don’t read it.

I wish I knew how to cope with being celibate. The internet is monumentally unhelpful about this. After more than twenty years of celibacy since I hit adolescence, I feel at my wits’ end. I emailed Intimate Judaism about this, but the sex therapist there didn’t respond to that aspect of the email, only saying she would try to set me up with a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with special needs in the UK. She said she has asked her colleagues and is waiting for an answer. I am doubtful, as I have made similar inquires in the past. Even if she finds one, there is also the realistic likelihood of me being too modern for such a shadchan and her clientele. And I still need help to cope with celibacy in the interim, especially as I’m not sure if I should go to a shadchan while only working two days a week and financially insecure, not to mention being emotionally fragile.

(I should probably add in terms of the special needs shadchan that when I tried looking for one a few years ago, my father asked the wife of the then-assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) if she knew anyone who could help someone with depression get married — at that stage, depression seemed to be the main issue as I wasn’t diagnosed on the spectrum. She said “Rebbetzin D” who I never got around to phoning. There always seemed to be good reasons (it was nearly Pesach; I found a relationship independently; I went to a different shadchan that seemed more promising and so on), but I suppose unconsciously I was socially anxious and unsure whether she could help or even how I would start the conversation as Rebbetzin D isn’t a shadchan and I was wary of what “help” she might be able to provide and how she would respond to being phoned out of the blue by a stranger. I suppose I could try to contact her now, although it’s three or four years down the line, and, as I said, I don’t know if I should be looking to get married in my current financial situation.)

I need touch sometimes. I live with my parents, so I can still get hugs, although physical contact with my parents can still be awkward for autistic reasons and reasons based on my past. I do long to be with someone I really connect with again. That wouldn’t necessarily be a partner, but could be a close friend; nevertheless, since adolescence, I’ve only had such close friendships with women, which makes them awkward when they are platonic, because usually I want them to be more, but the other person doesn’t, or because the other person isn’t Jewish or isn’t religious enough for me, which is also awkward. I have dated women less religious than me, at my rabbi mentor’s encouragement, but I don’t know how viable such a relationship would be in the long-term. Certainly it put strains on those relationships which contributed to their ending.

Above all, I want to learn how to deal with sexual and romantic desire when single from a halakhic (Jewish law) point of view. I don’t think I have a particularly high sex drive, but I do have a greater desire for love and sex when depressed and lonely — in other words, when marriage seems most distant from me. This is rather cruel. I can’t say that I live my life entirely halakhically regarding sex. I just try to do the best I can, but I don’t know whether I could do better if someone guided me, or if I had more willpower or more control over my thoughts and emotions (autistic emotional regulation is not always the best). And I don’t know what God thinks about me, whether He thinks I’m at least trying to keep halakhah or if He thinks that frankly I could do better and wants to punish me. Or is punishing me. To be honest, while my low self-esteem is rooted in negative childhood experiences like bullying (among other things) the constant level of sexual guilt since I was thirteen and hit puberty probably hasn’t helped much. The Orthodox world’s only answer to this is early marriage, which doesn’t really work when you’re thirty-seven.

(And I should say that although I feel hugely guilty about my sexuality, I’ve still never had anything approaching actual intercourse, which somehow makes the whole thing seem even more pathetic.)

It feels like the most realistic option for me is to learn to be happy alone and celibate, but everyone just says, “No, you can get married,” without doing anything practical to advance that outcome. It’s weird, because I’m used to people saying that you should be “happy with your lot” rather than endlessly daydream about some eventuality that might never come to pass. Yet everyone encourages me to stay positive about finding a mate even after so many years and so many rejections. It’s like everyone was suggesting I should solve my financial problems by trying to win the lottery when I want to find a job.

I feel that what I want more than anything is for God to tell me that He thinks I’m a good person (God, not human beings who don’t know me and might lie to make me feel better). But He won’t, not in this world.

Fear of Living, Fear of Dying

We have local elections next week. An election for the Mayor of London and a by-election to replace a local councillor who died. I didn’t want to go to a polling station in the pandemic, so I have a postal vote and need to send it soon. I don’t know who to vote for. I still feel pretty annoyed about all the parties. If I’m a “Tory anarchist” (as George Orwell wrote), lately the anarchist part is dominant. I’m pretty angry at the moment with political parties of all stripes, and big business, especially Big Tech.

Local government, including the London Mayor, doesn’t really have much power in the UK, so the whole election seems pretty pointless. I don’t know who my local councillors are or have much of a sense of what they do. I did know the one who died, sort of, but only because he was well-known in the local Jewish community, and because he was the solicitor who acted for the people my parents bought their house from in the sale. As for the Mayor, in theory he has powers about a range of things, but I only really have a sense of him as the person who decides if the Tube fares go up. Most people just use local elections as a glorified opinion poll on whichever party is in power in central government.

In the last European elections, mid–Brexit, I spoiled my ballot and wrote abusive comments by the candidates’ names, the only time I have done this, because I was so angry that the parties could not get their act together to sort Brexit out, to the extent that we were having European Parliament elections while trying to leave the EU. I didn’t even have particularly strong views about Brexit, I just wanted to get it over with and get back to reality. When the last general election happened, I was still angry and voted mainly to keep Jeremy Corbyn out than because I was impressed with anything anyone else was offering. Now I’m mainly apathetic. I don’t think there’s one party that represents what I think, not even close. I don’t even think I have the energy to spoil my ballot.

I was brought up to take voting seriously because “people died to get you the vote” (which is actually a really stupid reason to do anything). And I think people should take voting and politics seriously, it’s just very hard to admire the current crop of politicians, and hard to feel that anyone listens to people like me at the moment. I’m not even sure what I would say if someone was listening.

Ugh, I didn’t mean to write 400 words on politics, I just feel annoyed and confused.

***

Other than that, it was a quiet day. I had therapy, I drafted my devar Torah (pretty much on autopilot, it’s not one I’m particularly proud of) and looked over the next Talmud section before shiur (religious class) on Shabbat. I didn’t go for a walk as it rained a lot and I was too drained to walk in the rain after therapy. I feel like I’m doing a lot of what I want to be doing… but I haven’t done any fiction writing for about two months! The friend who said she would read my novel said to wait until after Pesach, so I waited until then, but then I got cold feet about sending it to her as I wasn’t sure if she wanted to be paid, or how enthusiastic she was about reading it. I didn’t want her to do it out of some kind of sense of obligation. Now JYP is reading it, but I feel I ought to try to write something else to keep the writing habit going while I’m waiting, but I don’t know what. I have an idea for another novel, but I’m not sure it’s sensible to start it yet. I’m not sure what will happen to my work, exercise and Torah study regime when I try to factor in an hour or two of fiction writing a day, but we’ll see.

***

In therapy we spoke about being in the present rather than falling into anxiety about future careers and future relationships (or the lack of either). I said that I feel I missed some developmental stages when I was a teenager. Because I was autistic, but didn’t know it, and because I’d been bullied a lot, I withdrew into myself. Autism made me fear change and the unknown, and being bullied made me fear other people my age (I still struggle to feel comfortable with older children or teenagers). I didn’t go to youth groups the way most Jewish teenagers do. I didn’t date or party or do any kind of leadership or personal growth activity. A bunch of my friends went backpacking in Europe the summer after we finished school and I was originally going with them, but fairly early on in the planning I stage I panicked and backed out of it.

Now I find I need to go through the adolescent maturation stage, twenty years too late, regarding finding what I like to do and what I can do, career, friendships, relationships and so on. This was when my therapist spoke about staying in the present and not trying to worry about the “What ifs?” of career and relationships. To focus on being satisfied with the work I do and not worrying about how it will lead to a career, and to focus on making a connection with someone and not worrying about whether we will get married. I do feel like the clock is ticking on both things, though.

I didn’t mention this in therapy, but a while back I heard about Otto Rank, who was a student of Sigmund Freud. Unlike Freud, he saw the human psyche as being driven by two fears, the fear of living and the fear of dying. Rather than their literal meanings, he saw the fear of living as being the fear of individuation and separation, and the fear of dying as the fear of being absorbed into the collective. I tend to bounce between these two quite violently, wanting to individuate and be different from other people, particularly in a religious community that I find quite conformist, but I also want acceptance in the community, close friends and a romantic relationship, which involve, or seem to involve, making at least some concessions to the expectations of other people. What I want more than anything is to be fully accepted, with all my “issues” and geeky quirks and complicated history, but I’m scared of making myself vulnerable enough to discover whether anyone could accept me.

The email I received from Intimate Judaism yesterday said that they don’t have time to answer every email sent to them, but my “sense of isolation” was very apparent in the email I sent them and they wanted to respond. I guess it seems a bit strange to see that written down. I am a lonely person and have been so since my teens (if not earlier), but it’s just a kind of constant background noise for me. I do have a ‘loneliness’ tag on my blog, but I think I use it much less frequently than tags for ‘depression’, ‘autism’ and ‘anxiety’.

I wrote a whole essay for Hevria years ago on loneliness, where I think I said that the term obscures the fact that there are different kinds of loneliness. Someone can have family and yet still lack friends, for example. I myself have family and a few friends, especially online, but have few in-person friends (which I instinctively feel I would like, even if I can’t express why) and also lack anyone for my romantic/sexual side. I also, as I said, want to feel completely known and accepted. Above all, I feel that I want God to accept me, as only He can really know me, but I want to be accepted by human beings too, even though I’m hiding much of myself from them, even here.

***

I’m currently bearded, because of the omer, the period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost), part of which is observed as a time of national mourning, involving not holding celebrations, listening to music, cutting hair or shaving. I feel really self-conscious seeing myself bearded on Skype and Zoom calls. It just looks wrong. I kept looking at myself rather than my therapist on my Zoom therapy call today. Plus, people ask me why I’m growing a beard; “I’m not growing a beard, I’m just not shaving” is a confusing response. It itches too. At least I can shave it off on Friday.

Powerless To Be Born

I’ve had a fragment of poetry in my head lately. Searching online, it’s from Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse by Matthew Arnold, a poem I don’t remember ever having read, although I have read Arnold’s Dover Beach, which is where I initially thought the line was from. It goes, “Wandering between two worlds, one dead/The other powerless to be born”. It sums up how I feel lately, in terms of my autism diagnosis, relationship breakdown and job situation.

I do think things can change. Ten years ago, I was twenty-seven. I had never had a paid job because of severe depression, was struggling with my Master’s degree again because of depression, had never been in a relationship or even gone on a date (actually, my first ever date was pretty much exactly ten years ago). I had largely put aside ideas of being on the spectrum after being assessed and told that I was not on the spectrum. I lived in a much smaller Jewish community and went to a shul (synagogue) that wasn’t an ideal match for me. I had occasional minor religious OCD, which would get a lot worse before I would get over it.

I still seem to struggle with low mood, even though I’m not sure I meet the diagnostic criteria for depression any more. And I’m still single and not in full-time work (or anywhere near), but I am in work and I have had enough relationships to think I’m not inherently unworthy of being in a relationship at least some of the time. And I’m diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism, which has been a relief to finally have confirmed, despite all the difficulties that I have to deal with because of it. And I live in a much larger Jewish community and go to a shul that fits me better, even if it isn’t perfect. So things can change, just geologically slowly. Or that’s how it feels.

It’s strange that things seem so finely balanced between the good and the bad at the moment. I don’t really know what to think. I still hope to have some kind of career, in a meaningful sense, and not just isolated jobs. I’d like to be a professional writer, but that seems an unlikely thing to aim for, especially given my lack of success pitching articles to people. I hope to become financially self-sufficient at some point, unlikely though that sometimes seems. I really, really hope I have a relationship that works out at some point (where “working out” ideally means successful marriage and children, although I’m getting to the stage where I wouldn’t rule out getting married in my fifties or older, if that’s how long it takes for me to get my life together and meet the right person).

The thing is, there’s very little I can do at the moment to advance any of these things at the moment. I have to wait and hope it all works itself out somehow, which is scary. I should trust in God (PIMOJ would have said to trust in God), but, as I’ve mentioned before, although I believe in God and consider myself to live a frum (religious) life, I have a mental block around bitachon (trust in God). I believe that He does what He feels is best for me, but I fear that “what He feels is best for me,” will involve a lot of emotional pain and suffering, as it apparently did ten years ago.

***

I went to bed late last night and woke up late this morning. I think my sleep was disturbed, judging by the state of the sheets when I woke, but I don’t remember particularly disturbing dreams or anything like that. I had a lot to do today and didn’t really want to do any of it. I needed to phone the autism hospital about the mistakes they made in my diagnostic report; cook dinner; continue with my job application and start my devar Torah (Torah thought). Usually when I read the week’s Torah reading on Sunday, I get an idea of what I want to write about, but this week I had no idea. The double sedra (portion) had lots of mitzvot (commandments), but none really grabbed me as something I wanted to write about, except for one bit that was too similar to something I wrote about a couple of months ago.

However, I just felt depressed and burnt out. At 2.45pm, I was still in my pyjamas and hadn’t done anything since eating breakfast. I would get up, fiddle around on the computer for a bit, and go back to bed to feel lonely and depressed. I played the “I’m depressed and burnt out enough to listen to music in the omer” card, as my rabbi mentor said I could, but quietly, because I still don’t feel comfortable explaining that to my parents. I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable explaining it.

I did eventually get dressed, somehow put on tallit and tefillin and davened Minchah (said the Afternoon Prayers) as I had missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I had lunch (watching The Simpsons to try to raise my mood a bit) and tried to Do Things. It was 4.30pm by this stage. I phoned the number my Mum has for the autism hospital (not the main switchboard, one of the secretaries’ work mobile number that she somehow got hold of and has been using as it’s more direct). There was no answer, but I left a message.

Dinner seemed the next priority, on the grounds that I could apply for the job tomorrow, but if I didn’t cook dinner, we’d all go hungry, especially as Mum was tired from treatment today. I listened to a twenty minute online shiur (religious class) while cooking, but it didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. I’ve been unlucky picking shiurim that way lately. The idea was to listen to the shiur while cooking so that I could do some Torah study even if I was too burnt out and depressed to read anything afterwards.

I went for a walk after cooking dinner. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings that are hard to categorise, beyond noting they are negative. I’ve noticed that my thoughts become more visual when I feel depressed and agitated, snatches of images, and also negative feelings without thoughts (I’ve never agreed with the CBT idea that negative feelings are always caused by negative thoughts). I’m not sure I can put anything I was feeling into words, just feelings of being useless, of my novel being bad, of not contributing anything online, of wanting to withdraw from people, but also, I suppose, hoping they will follow me if I do. Wondering how many of my thoughts (about politics, religion, culture) are my own and how much are other people’s. Not in a psychotic “I think the government is beaming ideas into my head” sense, but just that we pick up stuff without really thinking from friends and family, colleagues, broadcast media, social media… I find it’s hard to really think about things and reach meaningful conclusions that are completely my own, or at least rigorously interrogated by me until I am sure they are true. Is that just me?

When I got home, I tried to force myself to work on the job application, even though the format — separate boxes to write in for every essential and desirable criterion — made it quite clear that I don’t have all the skills and experience they want. I persevered, but mostly because I felt my parents wanted me to. They say to apply for jobs I don’t meet the criteria for in the hope that I will (somehow) still be the best candidate (see what I mean about not coming to my own conclusions). I worry for the academic library sector if I’m the best candidate for this job. I don’t even know what terms like “synchronous and asynchronous library inductions” and “bibliometrics” mean, although I can guess. I am certainly not up-to-date with developments in higher education and copyright law, let alone in pedagogy. And I don’t think I have the “Ability to think innovatively and creatively to solve problems and improve services”.

Some of the jobs I see require so many skills that I feel daunted to compare the skills and experiences of those who I imagine are applying with my own. And these aren’t even particularly high-flying jobs! I just feel like I somehow picked up a library MA and library work experience by muddling through somehow and have been floundering ever since.

Not for the first time, I feel like the man in Kafka’s Parable of the Law (originally from The Trial, but also published as a separate story) who tries everything to get to the Law, but never makes it, even though the door he was at was only made for him, eventually dying on the threshold. I feel like I keep trying to get a job, get published, get married, make friends, and fit in to my community, but I can never quite do it. But I keep trying. I’m not sure if that’s perseverance or stupidity.

I feel that, as an autistic/Aspie, I struggle with applications and interviews. They tend to ask open questions, and autistic people do not fare well with open questions. We don’t know what to say. I know when I get a statement like write about “Experience of providing excellent support in an academic or research library” I should try to find concrete examples of things I’ve done in different jobs, but it’s hard to even think of examples, let alone relate them. I’m sure I have provided excellent support (OK, “more than just adequate support”), but I find it hard to work out what exactly they mean and think of examples where I’ve done it.

I spent about fifty minutes on the application, although technically a big chunk of that time was spent writing part of this blog post to vent my irritation. I went back and did another ten or fifteen minutes after dinner too, so it’s nearly completed.

I was just sitting down to dinner (and Babylon 5) when my phone rang. It was one of my shul (synagogue) friends phoning to ask about the fundraising for the new building. We had arranged it, but I forgot to put it in my diary, and if it’s not in my diary, I forget about it. I was probably somewhat incoherent, from being taken by surprise and from the subject matter, but I did not agree to make a bigger donation than I can afford, and I did not agree to set up a “team page” for my family (i.e. me) on the shul‘s forthcoming fundraising page. It was awkward doing this with my friend, but I think if it was anyone else, I would not have had the confidence to say no.

After dinner I worked on the job application a while longer, as I mentioned, and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study, but then I started to get tired and decided to call it a night.

For a day where part of me would have stayed in pyjamas, feeling lonely, depressed and burnt out, I did manage to do quite a few things. It’s easy to focus on the negative (I didn’t write my devar Torah, or do as much Torah study as I wanted; I didn’t finish the job application), but I managed quite a bit despite low mood and energy. I just wish life on the spectrum for me wasn’t just damage limitation, constantly running to get things done without any sense of purpose or direction (there’s a line from Babylon 5: Signs and Portents where Londo says “I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment…afraid to look back, or to look forward.” He’s talking politically, about the decline of the Centauri Republic but that’s how I feel in my whole life). And I wish I didn’t still have such deep lows (whether I’m clinically depressed or not). And I wish I wasn’t lonely (although I’m probably less lonely than I was now I have an online support network to supplement my other support).

Anyway, this is a super-long post (really two posts in one), so thanks if you read to the end!

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

I felt short periods of sadness about breaking up with PIMOJ over Shabbat (the Sabbath), with some doubt about whether I did the right thing, but mostly I was OK.

I went to shul (synagogue) last night and again this afternoon, for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and the restarted Talmud shiur (religious class). As we were inside last night, I assumed we would be today and so brought a mask, but no coat and no glasses (as wearing a mask makes them steam up); I also wasn’t sure if the Talmud shiur would be restarting where we left off when COVID started last year or if we would be somewhere else, so I didn’t bring my copy of relevant volume. I was wrong on all counts, but was OK, aside from being a little cold towards the end of the shiur. At least I know for next week. I still can’t understand much of the Talmud shiur and feel a bit bad about not being able to do so when so many other people seem to be able to follow, although I don’t know how many can really follow and how many just seem to be doing so. I do want to go back to doing some preparation for the shiur each week as part of my Torah study, which may help. I try to remind myself that until about one hundred and fifty years ago, the proportion of Jews expected to understand Talmud was very small.

I’ve actually been timing the amount of time I spend on Torah study each day for the last five weeks, and finding the weekly average. It’s actually better than I expected. The first week was distorted by going to a six hour plus study day at the LSJS on Zoom, but the other weeks were never low than an average of forty-seven minutes a day and mostly over fifty minutes a day, which was much higher than I expected. This is counting my time writing my devar Torah as Torah study, though; I’m never sure if that’s legitimate.

The other thing that happened at shul was someone telling me that they are trying to get every family in the community to set up a “team page” to raise funds for the new building. Apparently I count as a family. I am not entirely sure what a “team page” is (some kind of fundraising page, I assume) and I feel uncomfortable asking people for money at the best of times, and raising for the shul is harder. I have very few friends. Of these a couple go to the shul and will be doing their own fundraising. The others are not frum (religious) or not Jewish and I don’t feel comfortable asking them for money for the shul. Most of my friends I only see once or twice a year anyway, so asking them for money does not seem polite. I feel this is something that I can’t really do as an autistic introvert with social anxiety.

I was actually wondering on the way to shul if it would be worth “coming out” as autistic to my community, or to select members (e.g. the rabbi), but as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t really know what kind of response or understanding I would want from them, besides understanding of my intermittent shul attendance and avoidance of things like circle dancing in Kabbalat Shabbat or Simchat Torah, as well as, I suppose, of not being married and not finding it easy to talk to people at kiddush or social events.

Perhaps because of the novel I’m reading (Anno Dracula 1918: The Bloody Red Baron — basically World War I with vampire flying aces) I had an idea of another metaphor for autism and social interactions, where neurotypical people are flying modern 747s, with all kinds of instruments (GPS etc.) and autopilots, only needing conscious thought from the pilot occasionally, whereas autistic people are flying World War I planes with fragile wings, limited instrumentation and no autopilot, requiring constant attention despite the distraction of being open to the freezing air. I have to navigate conversations consciously, not really knowing what to say or what the other person means, while also having to consciously make sure that I don’t interrupt them or, conversely, pause too long and try to find signs that indicate whether my interlocuter wants to continue the conversation, change the subject, or finish it. All this and also often having to ignore background noisy from a noisy kiddish hall or whatever. It’s no wonder that neurotypicals can manage conversations with several people at once or several conversations consecutively, and can do so without breaking a sweat while I find a two or three minute conversation in kiddish to be terrifying and confusing. Unfortunately, I don’t have a parachute.

Bits and Pieces

I spoke to my rabbi mentor today about my breakup. I actually texted him on the way home from breaking up to see if we could speak this week, which turned out to be a bit unnecessary, as I feel a lot more settled that my decision was right than I expected to be at this stage. Surprisingly settled, in fact. I’ve actually noticed with breakups, if I initiate them, that I feel a lot worse about breaking up and hurting the other person than about the end of the relationship itself. I seem to be fairly clear in my mind that a relationship is not working and is not salvageable by the time I break up.

***

I had a job advert come through for a job that I’m in two minds about. It should be ideal: librarian, part-time, higher education sector. And yet, I find that I worry about coping, about coping with liaising with so many other staff members, about how noisy the library will be, about whether I can even cope with doing a librarian job again, about whether I can cope with three full days of work a week (I currently work two days a week, but somewhat truncated because of COVID affecting travel), about having to work a few weekends a year and worrying about taking off Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Jewish festivals). I might apply for the job anyway and see what happens, given that I don’t have such a great rate for even getting through to interviews. I do feel that at the moment I do not feel confident working as a librarian, even though I trained for it and have done it, and I’m not sure how well I can cope with any job outside of the fairly sheltered position I’m currently in.

***

My brother-in-law’s promotion officially came through today. I find I’m not comparing myself negatively to him as much as I thought I would. I know it’s a horrible thing to say, but people my age moving on with careers and families often sets me off in a downward spiral of negative comparisons and feeling like I’ll never have a life of my own. Maybe I’m beginning to accept that I’m just different. I just wish I could define my life in a positive sense (“I am X, I do Y”) rather than a negative one (“I don’t have a career, I don’t have a wife and children”).

***

Today I’m pondering David Bowie’s statement that the worst thing God can do to you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist. That’s where I fear I am with my writing. I need to write. I need to blog every day, for my mental health. I increasingly feel I need to write fiction, although I’ve been on pause for a couple of months for various reasons. I feel that writing fiction is a way to try to understand other people (not always easy for me on the spectrum), as well as to explore political and social ideas that I would shy away from discussing openly with other people because I’m conflict-averse. And yet I feel that I can’t do these things well and wonder if I ever will. Part of the reason I write is to connect with others, and just writing fiction for myself seems kind of redundant.

I guess this is coming to a head as I try to find someone to read my novel, having had second thoughts about asking my writer friend. I don’t feel I need a proofreader; I know my spelling and grammar is good enough at this stage. After a quick online search, I find that I want an editor who will do a “manuscript critique” that tells me whether the plot, characters and writing style are any good. Prices look to be anything from £300 to £500 (yikes!), which is quite a lot to be potentially told that I’m a rubbish novelist. And I wouldn’t know where to start in terms of finding a reliable editor.

On the off chance (more to stop procrastinating and do something rather than because I thought it was likely to be successful), I emailed an online acquaintance who edits to she if she does this, although I think she mainly proofreads rather than critiques.

***

I went for a walk and my mood began to slip. I’m not sure why. I did reflect a bit on PIMOJ being angry with me and feeling like everyone I open up to gets angry with me in the end, which isn’t true, although most friendships are transitory for most people in our society, so I do lose people periodically. I feel a bit negative about my writing too (see above) and uncertain about so many aspects of my future: work, career (not the same thing), writing, friendship, relationships… I hope I’m not drifting into a depressive Shabbat (Sabbath).

My Friends, and Other Animals

I went to bed at 10.30pm last night, which is early for me even for a work night. I was just completely exhausted, although I didn’t fall asleep straight away. I wonder if the emotional stress of the week is affecting me physically.

Work was a bit slow today and I was doing a mundane, repetitive task that gave me too much time for thought. I think I made the right decision breaking up with PIMOJ, but it sunk in that I think she was quite angry with me when we broke up. She doesn’t usually get angry, and she didn’t scream and shout, but I think she was angry about some things, although I’m not good at reading situations like that. I think in particular she felt that our being boyfriend and girlfriend meant more than I thought it did, inasmuch as I think she felt it was a significant commitment, almost like marriage, and that I should work on the relationship rather than breaking up. I agree that being boyfriend and girlfriend is serious and I was “dating for marriage” (in frum-speak), but I thought that what she wanted was so far from what I could offer, or be, that it would be wasting both the time and energy of both of us trying to get me to give or become it and would only end in more pain for both of us down the line. Plus, there were things she wanted that I thought were a bit unreasonable or at least not what I had signed on for.

But it made me think about other times people I liked and trusted got angry with me, perhaps unjustifiably. The worst was when I was at university and I managed to anger a friend by relying on her too much when I was depressed until she was no longer able to cope with me, a fact made more complicated by the fact that I had a huge unreciprocated crush on her. Nowadays I would not use someone else for support to the same extent (maybe partly why I was scared to open up to PIMOJ) and I know realise that having a crush on someone who you’re also offloading your darkest thoughts onto isn’t sensible. This is the type of situation where I really feel my autism and lack of social skills made me mess things up.

The other situation I handled badly was when I was close friends with two sisters who lived at the other end of the country. They read my blog (I knew they read it) and got angry when I mentioned that I was tired after phoning them when their mother died. I still don’t entirely see their point; I wasn’t blaming them for being tired, and people who read my blog regularly know I tire easily, especially after social contact. They read it as blame, however, and cut off contact with me.

It does make me wonder if I’m an accident waiting to happen, socially. It seems that most of my friendships stay in a sort of neutral space where we see each other socially every so often (usually six months to a year), but never really open up about personal things, just engage in light conversation. No risk, but no gain. Then there are the people I really open up to, often encountered in some kind of mental health safe space, such as depression group or the online mental health blogging community. Some of these fade away when their lives change or they move on, literally or figuratively, but there’s definitely a sub-set that get angry with me eventually. I wonder if it’s my fault and what I can do about it, or how it will affect future friendships or relationships.

***

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been thinking about getting pets again, to deal with loneliness in a safer way. It might also be a way of seeing if I might be able to cope with having children, to see if I can cope with being responsible for someone else, and for dealing with excrement and mess. I went down this path a number of years ago, almost psyching myself into getting guinea pigs, but I chickened out, mostly from social anxiety. I didn’t really know where to start in terms of thinking what to get and I frankly freaked out at the thought of talking to pet shop or rescue workers about animals, because I have zero experience. The only pets I’ve ever had were goldfish. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to hold the guinea pigs (I can be nervous with animals) and wasn’t sure if I could to hold them before buying them to see if I was confident with them. My parents weren’t keen on the idea of pets either. So all of that put me off, but given that I feel it’s not a good idea to date again for a while, having pets seems like a good idea again.

***

My autism assessment report arrived today. The diagnosis they have technically given me is “Asperger syndrome” [sic], which interested me as I didn’t think it was given as a separate diagnosis any more, being subsumed in autism spectrum disorder. Apparently it depends on which diagnostic manual is being used. In some ways, I prefer Asperger’s as a diagnosis as ASD covers such a range of people, from the non-verbal to the highest functioning. However, it was discovered a while back that Hans Asperger was involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, and now I feel incredibly uncomfortable whenever the syndrome named after him is named. Which is a shame, because I used to like the term “Aspie.”

The report recommended that I have CBT, a type specially adapted for people on the spectrum (ordinary CBT tends not to work well for people on the spectrum, which is my personal experience). Unfortunately, there is a very long waiting list, and it is not clear how I ask to be put on it, whether I would have to go back to my GP or what — I suspect there is more NHS bureaucracy to manage. Also, I wasn’t sure what the CBT would actually be treating, exactly. Would it just be life skills?

The report also managed to have me down in places as a “woman”, “Ms [Luftmentsch]” and “she”. I am not sure how they managed to get so many typos misgendering me in there! Most of the time they did get my gender right, although I got thrown for a bit until I realised that with one exception the person they referred to as “Ms Luftmentsch” was my mother, not me. I would have expected them to say “Mrs Luftmentsch”.

There was supposed to be a leaflet about ASD resources included too. This was not included, so I need to phone tomorrow to complain. Why is it never easy with the NHS?

Other than that, it was weird to read the report. It’s strange to see myself analysed so dispassionately and at such length (twenty pages). It was actually uncomfortable in places. The descriptions of my poor social skills read like criticism, even though I knew they weren’t. One line in the report said that my Mum reported that I would not spontaneously share as a child, but would share happily if prompted to do so. Future girlfriends please note, I suppose.

***

Other than that, it was a slightly boring day. I did some miniature model painting when I got home while listening to some of the last series of Just A Minute, although I felt that I have too much tremor, and too little patience, to paint as well as I did as a teenager. I should probably stop comparing myself to my fourteen year old self and accept I just don’t paint as well.