Renaissance Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

It’s All Here Tonight: Wedding, Baby, Work, Social Interactions, Judaism

Today was busy, so busy that it feels more like a couple of days than just one.

I went to volunteering in the morning. I tried to make myself speak to people a bit more. I’m not sure how well I did, but I did try to sit with them when we had coffee. Initially I had ended up at the other end of the table to everyone else, but after a while I moved to sit with the others. I also asked to be put on the WhatsApp group. And we were given nice thick, warm fleeces with the organisation’s logo on it. They’re bright purple (the organisation’s colour) which is a bit more vibrant than my usual taste, but they look nice and were very warm.

Afterwards, I went with my parents to a potential wedding venue nearby. It was more or less ideal.  Nothing is ever perfect, but this was 99% perfect. As well as having the features we want, it’s relatively local, in an area I’m familiar with (I used to work down the road) which is probably good from an autistic point of view (dislike of the unknown), plus Sister and Brother-in-law live nearby, which will make it easier for them to bring Nephew. There are other venues that may be as good, but as E and I want to get married quickly, there doesn’t seem to be much point in looking at them, particularly as they would probably be not quite as good overall. So now the next step is to find a caterer that can do one of the dates we would like, then confirm with the rabbi and book the wedding!

A few emotional/autistic things that came out of this: I felt Mum and Dad drowned me out a bit when we were talking the site manager (I don’t know what her real title is, but that will do for here). I don’t mean that in a critical way, but they are quite loud personalities and I struggled to be heard, both literally and metaphorically. I needed their moral support there or I would have just frozen up, but it is my wedding and I felt that I wasn’t saying much. It doesn’t help that I notice they have a way of switching from “serious” to “joking” and back again in conversations of this kind that I just can’t do. I can do that with people I know well and trust, but not with a total stranger I only met ten minutes previously. I get stuck in “serious” then feel awkward when everyone else starts joking.

I am excited about the wedding, but I don’t think it shows much. When I was with my parents, I did feel a little excited, but it was only when I discussed it over Skype with E that I really felt it, although it probably still didn’t show much. I don’t know how much of that is just my personality and how much is alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding my own emotions). When we had the civil wedding last August, E’s mother filmed us when we were pronounced married. E starts bouncing up and down with a big smile on her face, whereas I look a bit confused and then hug her. When my cousin saw the video, she said I looked like I was happy, but didn’t know what to do, which is basically true. I don’t really know what to do with my emotions sometimes and it’s mostly the positive ones I struggle with, perhaps because I experience them less frequently or maybe because I feel there’s more social expectation around them.

After that we went to Sister and Brother-in-law’s house nearby. BIL was at work. We ate lunch and chatted to Sister for a bit, then she went to do work elsewhere in the house while we looked after Nephew. I held him a couple of times and helped feed and wind him (E thought it was funny when I said I winded him, so I guess it’s not an American usage. I mean to I tried to get him to burp). I ducked out of changing him this time. I am still a somewhat nervous uncle not used to babies, but I am becoming a bit more confident with him. I shook slightly while holding him, but not much, which is probably a sign of growing confidence. Nephew often has a somewhat startled expression, like he’s surprised to see the world’s still there, and is not entirely happy about it. Sister says at his age (not yet two months), he can’t focus on things that aren’t near his face. He did seem to make intense eye contact with me for a while, though.

Sister showed us the book she bought him. It’s made of fabric and is about farm animals. It reads, “Dog. Sheep. Cow,” with relevant pictures. I said I was impressed by the unexpected twist ending…

As if that wasn’t enough for one day, I have some paid proofreading work! It’s not much, and my rate is artificially low at the moment (well below minimum wage), but I hope that will generate reviews. It’s a slightly strange request for reasons that I don’t want to go into here, but it seems to be legitimate, but it’s left me with vague unease. I hope it really is legitimate.

***

A few days ago I emailed a rabbinic email helpline for people in the Orthodox Jewish community who have mental health issues. You can email a rabbi for advice on halakhah (Jewish law) as it pertains to mental health. The rabbis on the helpline have mental health training, unlike most communal rabbis. I asked about the way my autism leads to frequent exhaustion and difficulty in religious situations that are also social situations, and also how to cope with any religious obligations when feeling autistically exhausted. Autism isn’t a mental illness, but I felt out of other options for the kind of halakhic support I wanted.

I heard back from the helpline yesterday. The rabbi said that as autism is a spectrum and manifests in different people in different ways, so too halakhic adjustments can vary. From what I described, he felt I should not push myself to go to shul (synagogue) when exhausted or push myself to any social interaction related to a mitzvah (commandment) when I feel incapable and not to feel pressure regarding mitzvot generally. He said I could email him with more details of my situation for a more specific response. He also suggested davening (praying) at the same time as my shul even if I don’t feel able to go there, which is an idea I have heard before and tried to do during the first COVID lockdown, but drifted out of the habit of doing. I might try to go back to it, at least some times. The idea is that if you pray at the same time as the community, your prayer is still with them, even if you aren’t in the same building.

I’m not sure what I think of reply. It’s good that the rabbi told me that I shouldn’t force myself to do things that are just making me exhausted or burnt out. It’s not very specific, but I don’t really have very specific questions at the moment, just a general feeling of overwhelm at everything that’s expected of me religiously. I guess I feel that there’s a lot of grey area there inasmuch as it boils down to “Do what you feel able to do and don’t worry about the rest.” That’s probably my fault (“fault” isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean) because I didn’t ask very specific questions, but I worry it will just shift my worries from “Do I need to do more religiously?” to “Am I exhausted enough that I don’t need to do more religiously?” which might not be much of an improvement. I’m going to think about what they wrote and maybe write back if I can think of a more specific question.

Comparison and Fitting In

The last couple of days have been busy, but without a lot of concrete achievements as yet. I’m not going to go over everything as it’s too much and not interesting enough. I will say I got quite depressed at work today (the type of feeling that would be clinical depression if it persisted for two weeks), but I felt a lot better once I had come home, had some non-screen time, and Skyped E. I also have some potential interest in a proofreading job, which is good. Unfortunately, my computer seems to be dying, right when I’m trying to start paid proofreading. I need to check what was wrong with my old computer, which I still have. I think it’s very slow and the battery doesn’t work, so it has to be plugged in, but it does actually work, whereas this one has periods where it keeps freezing every five seconds (although it seems to be OK at the moment).

When I was feeling depressed, I was comparing myself and E negatively to other people, in the sense of thinking that we will always be earning less than my sister and our peers. I don’t mind so much for myself, as I don’t have particularly extravagant needs (food, shelter, WiFi and second-hand books and DVDs covers most of it. I wish I could buy more time and energy, though), but I feel E is sacrificing a lot to be with me and I don’t want her to be miserable, and I definitely don’t want our children to be the poor kids who can’t have good toys or holidays. There isn’t really a lot I can do about this right now, but it upsets me that I drifted so rapidly and deeply into comparison when I’m working on not comparing myself. I’ve been doing this more often recently, particularly with money, which didn’t bother me much in the past. To be fair, work today was difficult anyway, as I spent much of the day moving from task to task or from spreadsheet to spreadsheet which is never easy for someone with autism.

I also find myself wondering about fitting in. I worry that I don’t fit in to the frum (religious Jewish) community because I’m too non-conformist and struggle with communal prayer and religious study. I wonder if I don’t fit in on the autism forum and the only reason I can find is that people find my mentioning of my Judaism off-putting. Or it could all be my paranoia. But I wonder why I can’t just say, “If they like me, good; if they don’t like me, and particularly if they don’t like me because of prejudice and conformity rather than because of who I am, then I wouldn’t want to be friends with them anyway.” It’s like part of me sees acceptance as a need regardless of whether I’m being accepted for myself or not. It’s probably better I don’t get private messages from the autism forum anyway, as I would probably end up giving out my blog url, and I do spend quite a bit of time here venting about the forum (there was DRAMA yesterday, but it seems to have resolved itself. Two people left owing to a misunderstanding, although one has now come back).

Tomorrow I have volunteering, am going to see a potential wedding venue and hope to spend some time with Nephew (who got taken on his first art gallery trip today, to celebrate Sister’s birthday). I also need some time to mull over a response I got from the rabbinic mental health email helpline about my autism and how far I need to push myself to meet various communal halakhic (Jewish law) requirements.

A Fire Burns in Kotzk

I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good idea to relate dreams, but I had a weird one last night based on The Twilight Zone episode Third from the Sun where a couple of scientists and their families flee imminent nuclear war in an experimental spaceship. We’re supposed to think they’re fleeing from contemporary Earth, but right at the end we discover they’re fleeing to it from a similar planet. (A lot of The Twilight Zone episodes reflect late fifties/early sixties nuclear war anxiety.) I think Doctor Who elements drifted into the dream too, but I don’t remember what. I was a bit surprised that the dream did seem to match the episode in broad outline, as I don’t usually dream coherent plots. I also don’t usually dream about fiction other than Doctor Who, I haven’t watched any Twilight Zone for months, and I don’t know why my unconscious is feeling anxious about nuclear war. Is it about Vladimir Putin? Or is it just a symbol for wedding anxiety? I mean anxiety about planning the wedding; I have no anxiety about marrying the wrong person.

I woke up a little early for work and not rested. I don’t know if it was from the dream or from not enough sleep. Work was OK. I got to go to the bank, which I like, but when I got back I had to do the Very Scary Task, which I dislike. I think I went into autistic and anxious incoherent speaking mode on the phone and gave some garbled instructions. In this situation we send a text afterwards to repeat instructions and give necessary contact details, so it wasn’t catastrophic, but I felt embarrassed.

***

The psychiatrist (or her secretary) seems not to have sent the letter about my prescription change to the GP and myself, so I can’t reduce the dosage yet, as the GP has to prescribe 25mg capsules for me to do so.

***

While I’ve been typing this, there’s been a “silly” thread running on the autism forum, with comments from many commenters flying much more quickly than usual, more or less in real time. It’s a deliberately silly thread, with a lot of joking and I’ve been contributing. I think I made a joke which could have been interpreted in a somewhat offensive way, although that was not my intention. I had a fan discussion with another Doctor Who fan and I then got into a discussion about Hebrew grammar with a Christian woman. I do feel as if I’ve become a bit more “accepted” there tonight although I’m still confused about the protocols for friending and sending private messages on there. I worry I upset someone or put them in an awkward situation because of that the other day.

***

I’m still reading A Fire Burns in Kotsk about the rebbes of Przysucha and Kotzk (I’m using my usual spelling of Kotzk for consistency except in direct quotes). It’s a retelling of oral traditions about the rebbes and their courts. It’s not an academic account and two of the stories in it, although well-known, have been debunked by academic scholars: the story that three rebbes tried to “force the end” (try to make God bring the Messiah) during the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars and the story that the Kotzker Rebbe apostatised and publicly broke Shabbat. It is true that the Kotzker spent the last nineteen years of his life as a relative recluse in his study, but he is now known to have had more contact with the outside world than was once thought. All that said, it’s interesting as an account of what these courts based on oral tradition (with the strengths and weaknesses that implies).

The Kotzker Rebbe is a very important religious figure for me. Of the “modern” Jewish thinkers (in Jewish thought “modern” begins after the publication of the law code the Shulchan Aruch in the sixteenth century), only Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl is as big an influence on my thought. This is very obvious if you read my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts), which quote them much more than anyone else.

A Fire Burns in Kotsk reinforced what I already suspected, that the anarchic atmosphere of Kotzk was not for me. The court was a weird cross-between yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) and secondary school locker-room, with intense Talmud study combined with what essentially amounted to hazing rituals designed to force new Hasidim to pay for alcohol and food for everyone. There was a lot of drinking going on and a general pushing of boundaries and lack of respect designed to see if Hasidim could reach a point of real disinterested spirituality, with no selfish motives at all and especially no arrogance. The Hasidim of Kotzk had a reputation for strong individualism and non-conformity, which I suppose is part of the appeal to me.

The other thing I couldn’t cope with, aside from the raucous nature of the court (which I think was unique to Kotzk), was the young Hasidim abandoning their wives and children for months on end, which was normal for early Hasidism.

It’s strange to think that the Kotzker Rebbe and his teachings are so important to me, yet even if I had lived in the mid-nineteenth century, I would have found his court and his Hasidim unbearable. I wonder, reading the book, if the Kotzker was autistic. To be honest, except for living in his study for nineteen years, I’m not sure he has that many symptoms, but he certainly didn’t like the numbers of people around him. Although if we want to play the “diagnose historical personages” game, bipolar disorder is probably a better fit for him.

I’ve mentioned before that the Kotzker represents the Romantic, ascetic, passionate side of my personality, the part that reads Kafka and Dostoyevski. Whereas Rabbi Sacks represents the calm, philosophical, Maimonidean side of my personality that values balance, harmony, and moderation. The former seeks to perfect myself, the latter to perfect the world around me. It’s not religion versus materialism, but a primarily introspective religious approach as opposed to a more outward-focused one. It’s hard to know how to get them to work together rather than to pull apart, although I think my writing comes from both of them.

Volunteering and Wedding Planning

I overslept a little this morning. It wasn’t surprising, as I stayed up late last night eating. I often feel hungry at bedtime, but sometimes I feel incredibly hungry and can’t get full and that’s what happened. I’m beginning to wonder if this is really hunger or habit or some kind of interoception issue. I know interoception is my go to autistic issue at the moment, but even so it might be the problem here. I only overslept by a few minutes, but I felt I had to rush to get ready on time. Then the bus was late, but I did manage to get to volunteering on time.

Volunteering was cold. The food bank is in a large garage area with no proper doors, just gates, and it’s freezing at the moment. In the summer it’s hot (although cooler than outside), in the winter it’s cold and much of the time it’s damp. I pack tins and other dry food with two other men, there are three women who pack fresh vegetables and a couple of people who pack toiletries and things like kitchen towels. The women who prepare the vegetables were able to work indoors, but there wasn’t enough room for all of us and it’s not really feasible to carry all the tinned food (etc.) upstairs and indoors anyway. We were a bit slow starting as things were not set-up for us to start straight away either. This meant that by the time we stopped for our coffee break, later than usual, the drivers who deliver the food parcels had arrived, so we didn’t get much of a break. I did eat a very nice, but very diet unfriendly, chocolate brownie. At least it was very small. Everyone was pleased that E got her visa.

I had a couple of moments that would have triggered kashrut OCD six years ago that I was unfazed by, which is good. I did unfortunately break a jar of jam. Someone had donated a bag of food that was left on a chair. I took out the packets of rice that were in there, but the jar of apricot jam rolled out of the bag and fell onto the concrete floor and smashed. My fault for leaving it on a curved chair. Odd donations of one or two jars of something aren’t hugely useful to us anyway as we donate in bulk, but I felt a bit bad.

***

I think there’s a WhatsApp group that the other volunteers are on that I’m not on, and I don’t know how to tactfully find out and ask to be put on it. I think I’m not on it because it was originally for planning a meal which I wasn’t going to, as it was going to be at a non-kosher restaurant, but now it’s just a communication channel. Suggestions for what I should do would be welcome.

***

I felt really tired by the time I got home. I must have been expending more energy than normal to keep warm as well as do the packing. It was a struggle to do anything in the afternoon. I did manage to cook dinner and to make a prioritised list of potential wedding venues.

***

More mistakes: I was cooking dinner and missed a step in the recipe. I managed to rectify it, and I tell myself I was tired and distracted, but it feels like yet another reason I can’t really function in the world like a ‘normal’ (read: neurotypical) person.

***

In the evening, we had a Zoom meeting to discuss E and my wedding: E, E’s parents, my parents and me. It went well. We got through a lot. We decided that getting married before Pesach (Passover) isn’t feasible, given that it will take a while for E to sort out her stuff and ship some to the UK, store others at her parents’ apartment and sell/donate the rest before she comes to the UK. It’s not permitted to get married for the first month or so after Pesach, so we will be getting married at the end of May (please God!), exact date to be decided on the availability of the rabbi and venue.

I did try to participate, but I found it hard to get heard sometimes. E’s father, who is more than a little like me, sent me a private message at one point saying something about us being quiet. I guess it’s good he connected with me, as I still worry that E’s parents see me as weird and overly religious. I’m not sure how to be myself while simultaneously appearing “normal.”

I did notice that when my Dad is speaking and starts to go off on a tangent, I start frowning quickly and automatically, which is probably why he gets annoyed at me for being inpatient. I’m not sure how I can fix something that is so instinctive.

***

I finished listening to an Intimate Judaism podcast I was listening to about sex and dating in the frum (religious Jewish) community in middle age or older (singles, divorcees, widows). They counted middle age as forties or above, so I just dodged the bullet on that one. Many parts of the frum community consider an “older single” any unmarried person over twenty-five.

E listened to the podcast too. She felt from listening to this that the frum community just makes people in this demographic needlessly miserable, by refusing to allow non-marital sex. I can see her point, and certainly some people in this demographic are miserable. I was miserable as a thirty-something celibate single before I met E, so I can only imagine what a forty- or fifty-year old single would how. That said, I’m not sure how much the frum community is contributing to this misery or how much the misery is just there from the situation. It’s not like sex-related misery, or celibacy-related misery, are unique to the frum world. I’ve seen plenty of men on the autism forum complain that they want girlfriends, or just hook-ups, but don’t know how to get them and so are really lonely. I think there are also autistic women who get pressured into sex they don’t really want (particularly via dating apps) in the hope it will lead to a relationship (doubtless these genders are sometimes reversed, but this is the way they usually present). Autistics are particularly vulnerable in this area because we often have poor social skills and a lot of naivety, but I think “single and miserable” is a wider demographic than any particular neurotype, religion or culture. Whether non-marital sex is allowed might help some people in this category, but not everyone, and for some it might make things worse by opening them to other pressures.

I don’t think halakhah (Jewish law) needs to permit non-marital sex, but the frum world does really need to do a lot more to include older singles, divorcees and widows generally, to accept them as adult individuals and active parts of the community and not as pity objects or people who are waiting to start their lives when they marry (or re-marry). In the Haredi world in particular, an unmarried forty year old is a “boy” or a “girl” whereas a married nineteen year old female (with or without baby) is a “lady” (the Haredi world prefers “lady” to “woman” for some reason, which I find slightly weird).

Mistakes

Today was difficult in some ways, albeit mostly fairly minor ones. I spent most of the day wrestling with some thoughts that I’m not willing to share here yet, triggered (not in the trauma sense) by an Intimate Judaism podcast I am in the middle of listening to. Both the Intimate Judaism and Orthodox Conundrum podcasts and associated Facebook page seem to be talking a lot about the links between sex, relationships and identity in the Orthodox world (LGBT, older singles etc.). Both podcasts are run by Rabbi Scott Kahn, the former along with Dr Talli Rosenbaum. It’s interesting, and I have things to say, but I worry about saying too much, or the wrong thing for a public forum. I am vaguely thinking about messaging Rabbi Kahn, but part of me feels I share too much with strangers online, and that people don’t really want to hear my thoughts and I shouldn’t look for other people to validate my life choices.

***

I sent a question about autism to the email helpline for people who want to ask mental health-related questions to a rabbi/religious expert trained in mental health. Autism isn’t strictly a mental illness, but I feel I need some specialist help and don’t know where to turn, even if they just send me a different email address to write to. I just want to discuss how much I can “realistically” force myself to conform or, alternatively, allow myself to depart from communal standards in things like communal prayer, amount of religious study and so on, given the things I deal with on a daily basis (more on that below).

***

The psychiatrist has reduced my clomipramine, but she isn’t sure whether the dosage she prescribed is actually manufactured. She gave me an alternative in case I can’t get 25mg tablets, but it’s annoying to be put in the situation of having to check this out when the reason I waited a week to hear from her was because she wanted to check this!

***

The main struggle today was with mistakes at work. I made quite a few, just when I was hoping I was getting the hang of things again (you may remember I periodically feel like this, then make a load more mistakes).

Yesterday, when I was doing proofreading at home, I spotted and corrected a number of very minor mistakes immediately (in text I hadn’t written). Today, in the office, I made loads of mistakes, both in written text and in terms of entering data wrongly. I’m struggling to understand why. I have a couple of suggestions:

  • The office is quiet (just me and my line manager, with only a few more people in the building), but I get over-stimulated and sensorily overloaded on the commute in on the Tube before I arrive. It’s not as crowded as it was at rush before COVID, but it’s still quite a lot of people to deal with first thing in the morning, and the announcements go right through me (particularly the super-annoying “See it, say it, sorted” anti-terrorism announcement that they make every couple of minutes, which could probably drive someone to committing an act of terrorism just to stop it).  This puts me in the wrong mindset from the start.
  • The lighting in the office is very bad, with minimal natural light and dull light bulbs (possibly LEDs, I’m not sure). I know autistics are supposed to prefer soft, muted lighting, but I find clear, bright light often more helpful for being in a work state. Dull light just makes me feel tired and struggle to focus (literally).
  • The work I was doing at home yesterday was one, focused task. At work I have to switch between different documents and programs as well as between tasks, which raises the likelihood of executive function issues.
  • Related to this, I don’t really take any breaks during the day except a forty-five minute lunch break (aside from toilet breaks). This is because I work somewhat shorter days and it feels wrong to take breaks if I’m finishing early. I’m beginning to wonder if this is a false economy and I should finish later so I can take longer lunches and maybe a mid-afternoon break to try to adjust between tasks better. I’m not sure if my line manager would want this.
  • I’m probably too tired most of the time, which is partly my fault for going to bed late, albeit that my sleep pattern is largely fixed by things outside my control at the moment (e.g. being in a long-distance marriage with someone in a different time zone, so I’m online late at night Skyping). Hopefully this will change soon, although if I have a sleep disorder (the NHS hasn’t decided yet), there may be a limit to how much things can change.
  • I’m distracted. There isn’t really a way around the fact that my job is boring and I only survive it by thinking of other things at the same time.
  • Masking. I’m not sure if this is an issue. There is only one other person in the office with me, but I feel like I’m masking from the moment I step out the front door in the morning until the moment I get back in the evening (if not later, as I mask with my parents too, just not as much). It’s very draining even if there aren’t many people around at any given time and if anyone else does walk in, I feel even more tense.
  • Not autism-related, but it is easier to spot mistakes in someone else’s writing than your own. With text you have written, your brain tends to read what you want to be there rather than what’s actually there.

My Family and Other Anxieties

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

The Visa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pathetic

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Failures on the Road to Developing Character and World Domination

I had an appointment with the psychiatrist today to review my medication, as I want to reduce the clomipramine a bit. I had to wait well over an hour to be seen. All the receptionist would tell me was that the psychiatrist I was supposed to see had not come in. In the end, a different psychiatrist, who had not prepared, had to see me. The NHS sends out letters in envelopes that say each missed appointment costs £140 (I think that’s the figure, although it must be an average as I can’t imagine a five minute blood test costs as much as a long appointment with a specialist). I once estimated that, by that standard, the NHS owes me £1,000 or more for appointments they’ve missed.

At least I did eventually get to see a psychiatrist this time. I went over some of my case history. This stretches back over twenty years now, so I simplified parts of it. I explained that I’ve been feeling better and want to reduce the medication to try to lose weight and sleep better. I mentioned the sleep study and that I might have a sleep disorder, but I haven’t got the results yet. They might not come for another month or more. I said I’ve had a couple of not so good days lately, but said that I think that’s from the lack of sunlight and being separated from E and she agreed, although we didn’t really discuss it at length. Because she saw me at short notice, the psychiatrist has to check some details about reducing clomipramine. She only works on Mondays and Tuesdays and said she would probably phone me tomorrow or next week, but it looks like I might be able to reduce the dose a bit. Hopefully that won’t negatively impact my mood.

Weirdly, she asked if I’d always been autistic. I would have thought a psychiatrist would know that you can’t suddenly become autistic, it’s always there even if not diagnosed. It doesn’t make me feel that confident about her.

***

I tried not to spend so long on the autism forum or on Facebook today, but it’s hard. Aside from the addictive quality of social media, I reach out for social contact, especially with E in the US and my parents both at work today. I should probably find something else to look at when in “bored, procrastinate” mode while sitting at my computer.

I did spend some time on FB for work reasons. I managed to send a promotional post for my FB page for my proofreading profile. I sent one to LinkedIn too, although so few people follow me in either setting that it probably won’t do much, and I’m not sure how to get more (and more relevant) followers. I don’t even know if it’s a sensible thing to try to get more FB friends. I don’t think I know enough people for that strategy to work and I doubt that many of them even remember me.

There are a LOT of people advertising proofreading services on the site I’m using, some for less than £5 for one thousand words or even two thousand words (minimum wage in the UK for adults is £9.50 an hour). I’m not sure how to undercut them or get noticed. Some people have very professional images on their profile pages (logos, headers, photos). I’ve just got a photo and not a brilliant one (not professional and the lighting is not great). I’m wondering how I even get started. E offered to let me edit some of her writing so she could write me a review and give me a rating, but I’m not sure how ethical that would be. I don’t know how else to do this.

I guess one thing to do would be to use PowerPoint to make a somewhat fancier page. I don’t have Photoshop or anything like that to make something really impressive. And then I guess work for below minimum wage for a while. I just slashed my asking price from $15 per thousand words to $5 (it’s an American site so you need to price in dollars and you can only charge increments of $5, but that’s just under £5). By the time you take the site’s cut out, that’s going to work out to just over £3 per thousand words, which is nothing! But if it gets me some positive reviews, it will (hopefully) be worth it.

I do also find it slightly sinister that, if you look on your stats page on the site, there’s a world map that shows where your orders are coming from marked “World Domination”. I’m sure it’s someone’s idea of a joke, but it sounds like something from a James Bond film.

***

The autism forum allows you to “friend” people. The main purpose of this, so far as I can tell, is to send direct messages. There was a thread about this in the past where people explained what they use it for. Only two people have ever friended me, both people who didn’t stick around on the site for long. I tried friending someone a few weeks ago, but he never responded. The friending functioning has not been working well, so I told myself that was the reason, but I doubt it. I feel that other people seem to connect on the site and talk about having friends there and I don’t. I wonder what people think about me. I can get paranoid, wondering if they avoid me because I talk about being a religious Jew, not that they don’t like Jews per se, but that they don’t like religious people or think all Orthodox Jews are intolerant or fundamentalist. We don’t have the best PR, which is sometimes our own fault, but not always. There are maybe two million Orthodox Jews in the world out of eight billion people so it’s not always easy to control our own narrative. Many people with strong views on Orthodox Jews have never really met one (actually, that really applies to all Jews).

The next bit isn’t really anything new, but I think I’ve expressed it in a clearer way: I feel that being autistic and frum (religious Jewish) means I have extra challenges, whether it’s the expectation of communal prayer multiple times a day, an ideal of religious study in group settings (paired or Beit Midrash/study hall), the expectation of having been to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary), which is not a healthy environment for autistics and so on. Mitzvot (commandments) and frum life are meaningful to me, but also hard and I struggle not having anyone to compare notes with. I worry that people on the forum wouldn’t understand or would encourage me to leave observance.

I also would like rabbinic guidance on exemptions. There are a number of exemptions from religious obligations for mental illness sufferers that I wish I had known about earlier, when my mental health was very bad. I wonder if there are exemptions I might use now, even if just to avoid beating myself up about not managing to do what I “should.” I have mentioned Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig who is trying to improve knowledge of mental health among rabbis, but I don’t know if he is doing much for the neurodivergent.

***

I feel an obligation to do something with my life. I won’t just let myself be. It is partly (at least) a religious impulse. I believe that people have a purpose in life. I struggle to believe (as some Orthodox Jews would) that “just” fulfilling the mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah is enough to fulfil that purpose. I feel I need to do something more. When people talk about having a purpose or mission in life, it’s probably meant in a positive way, to suggest possibilities for fulfilment, but for me it becomes another rule that my autistic, rule-obsessed brain has to obey.

I read an article today by Lionel Shriver where she that argued that nowadays identity is seen as something innate that you discover and which other people should affirm, whereas when she was younger, identity (or “character”) was something you developed by reading and by doing things (sometimes badly), and what other people thought about it wasn’t terribly relevant. I feel that the “develop character” approach is more realistic than the “innate identity” model, but it just reinforces my “I need to do things” mindset.

Fear and Loathing

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Same Old Scene

I struggled a bit with Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night despite feeling very tired. I found dinner with my parents exhausting. I know “selective mutism” is something a lot of autistics suffer from. I don’t really experience it, but I have noticed that when autistically exhausted from peopling (rather than just tired), I can become monosyllabic. By the end of dinner, I was communicating in gestures more than speech. It wasn’t conscious. It’s a bit frightening.

I fell asleep for an hour after dinner and then was too tired to move for an hour after that, so I didn’t do as much reading as I would have liked. I spent an hour reading The Guide for the Perplexed, but only managed a few pages as it was based on Medieval neo-Aristotlean philosophy which I didn’t really understand so I made slow progress. I’m not sure how much relevance those passages really have for contemporary Jewish thought. I also wonder how they were understood in Early Modern and Modern Eastern Europe, although not many people would have been reading it there – not many rabbis, let alone laymen. The Kotzker Rebbe is supposed to have said of the Guide that “If you are wise, it is a guide; if not, you will be perplexed,” which is probably true. I read a few pages of A Fire Burns in Kotsk and a couple of chapters of Dune, but not much else.

I slept late again this morning. Mum and Dad were out for lunch, so I ate by myself, reading the latest Doctor Who Magazine. I’m not at all optimistic about the return of Russell T Davies, David Tennant, Catherine Tate and others, or the deal with Disney. I worry it’s just a return to the worst aspects of Davies and Tennant’s first run, with added Big Business. As when Davies was showrunner previously, DWM is now full of coy preview articles that tease the new episodes without giving anything away, which I just find irritating. I don’t like spoilers, but just being told endlessly that the next series is going to be amazing when I’m not going to see it for a year or more is annoying, even if I wasn’t convinced that it won’t be amazing. I skim DWM more and more.

I dozed off for a bit after Minchah and ate seudah (the third Shabbat meal) after sunset, which is not ideal. I was too tired to do very much at all in the afternoon, although I did some Torah study (Shoftim/Judges in Hebrew and with a modern commentary) after Shabbat and also some work on the plan for my novel, but I mostly got distracted and procrastinated online. I think the beginning of my book is quite good, but after about chapter five, when the plot really kicks in, I run out of incident and jokes, which is not good for a satirical thriller. I’m not totally out of ideas, but there are definitely fewer as it goes on. I sort of want to just start writing (I feel like an athlete with muscles tensed to run, but unable to go yet), but I want to do more research to generate more ideas, both external research (reading relevant books) and internal research (thinking about my characters and how their world works). I’m feeling pessimistic about this actually resulting in a readable full-length novel, but I’m trying to tell myself I’m working for my own amusement. Then I read stuff online, as I did tonight, where people are saying, “We want more positive frum characters in books and TV” and I want to do something towards that, even though I think setting out to produce a “positive” image of the frum community would backfire badly (and this book is much lower than previous ones in frum content). I think/hope once I actually start that will generate more ideas. As I’ve said before, I’m a bit of a “pantser” in that some of my best ideas come up once I’ve begun writing, but it’s uncomfortable to bet on that.

***

I thought quite a bit about that post on the autism forum about connecting with people (where a lot of people said they connect with animals and soft toys more easily than they connect with neurotypicals) and also the lukewarm response to my post on the Facebook group about being autistic in the frum (religious Jewish) community. I feel it’s not really an option from me to cut myself off from other Jews or other people in general. I feel a specific religious commandment to try to love other Jews and people in general. Plus, I do feel connected to other Jews, whether I like it or not. I’ve been angry for days at the new Israeli government and I know that’s because I identify as an Orthodox Jew, and if other Orthodox Jews are corrupt, self-serving, racist or homophobic, I feel that my identity is attacked. If nothing else, people will assume I’m the same. So there is a connection there whether I like it or not.

I do wish I knew how to move forward with my life, whether that involves the frum community, the autistic community or both, or whether it involves my writing or proofreading or something else. I do know that, realistically, I should wait until I’m married before really doing anything new, but it’s so hard waiting without knowing when that will be or even when E’s visa will arrive. It feels SO HARD waiting and being separated.

I watched an episode of The Simpsons tonight where Homer complains he hasn’t done anything with his life at the grand old age of thirty-nine. That’s how old I am! At least he has a full-time job, three kids and a wife who he actually gets to live with! I am nowhere near as fat and I’m not bald (not even thinning) so that’s something.

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

I have heard that we have a fixed amount of self-control. You can practise self-control to increase the amount you have over time, but at any moment there are limits to how much is open to you (I wonder if this is still considered valid or if it’s one of those social psychology findings that’s been found to be unrepeatable).

I feel like I’ve been struggling with self-control for the last few months, in terms of eating more junk (not a huge amount, but I really would like to lose some weight, even if my weight gain was from medication) and going to bed later. Probably buying books too. I think I’m using up all my self-control waiting for E’s visa to arrive and lose control on other areas. Have I mentioned that I miss E?

***

I’ve been in my job for over two years and I still can’t use the phones properly. When someone calls, the call automatically goes through to the phone on J’s desk. Only if he’s using that does the phone on my desk ring. This means that if the phone rings while he’s out, I have to hurry over to his desk, answer the phone and then often transfer it back to my phone so I can do stuff on my computer for the caller. Except, as happened today, I still can’t get the hang of how to transfer calls. I cut someone off twice; the third time, she gave me her number and asked me to call her back, which was embarrassing.

My phone doesn’t work properly anyway and we were going to experiment with moving the phones around. I’m in without J next Tuesday, so I might play around with them, but I’m worried we’ll end up with my phone as the default and I’ll have to take all the calls. I guess it will be good exposure therapy for my phone anxiety, but most of the calls are for J and I worry I would cut them off transferring to him.

***

I led Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) in shul (synagogue) today. I didn’t really shake, but I was glad we were in the small Beit HaMidrash and not the larger main shul so I didn’t have to project my voice.

***

I feel that I’m being drawn slowly towards autism activism in the frum (religious Jewish) community without knowing what to do or how to do it and without feeling that I have the time, energy or skill-set to do it. I also feel the word “activist” is overused. Every journalist, writer, artist, musician and academic claims to be an “activist” these days. As they said on the Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast I listened to the other day about Sarah Schinerer, sharing something on social media does not make you an activist!

Dare I say it, I think the world might be in a better shape if there were fewer people being active and more being still and thinking. Don’t just do something, stand there.

***

I was thinking a bit about spirituality and alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand one’s own emotions, which I have). I struggle to define, understand or experience spirituality. Maybe it’s a nebulous, abstract concept that many autistics would struggle with. Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) and meet super-spiritual religious leaders who could give me experiential proof of it. Or maybe alexithymia stops me recognising when I experience spirituality or simchah (joy) e.g. simchah shel mitzvah (the joy of performing a religious commandment) or simchah shel Yom Tov (the joy of a festival). I feel my religious life is performed without joy, yet it doesn’t exactly feel “joyless” in a painful way, so maybe I’m feeling something I can’t recognise.

It doesn’t help that the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world sees spirituality in withdrawal from the wider world, while Modern Orthodoxy sees spirituality in bringing Jewish values to the wider world. I prefer the latter, but perhaps this is harder to notice and feel; it’s certainly in many ways harder to do. (This is the fundamental internal conflict of the Jewish people, the conflict between Leah and Rachel, which is later the conflict between Yosef and Yehudah (Joseph and Judah) and then between the Southern Kingdom of Yehudah and Northern Kingdom of Yisrael (Israel), but I don’t have time to elaborate.)

***

On the autism forum, someone asked who or what we identify with. Almost everyone who responded put animals or nature, then the marginalised and disadvantaged. Most people responding felt that they struggled to connect with most other human beings.

I think my response will not be popular:

The short answer is “Almost no one.” The longer answer:

As Franz Kafka said, “I have hardly anything in common with myself”.

  1. My wife. She is genuinely the only person who really “gets” me and is on the same wavelength, so I can unmask with her.
  2. Intellectuals, particularly ones who are dead, eccentric and/or Jewish, most especially those who were probably neurodiverse or mentally ill.
  3. Lonely people. I would say “marginalised” etc., but it sounds awkward.
  4. Children (but only quiet, well-behaved ones).
  5. I do genuinely try to care about everyone and feel obligation to care for them.

I don’t feel any connection with animals. They often frighten me. I find them unpredictable, especially dogs. I didn’t have any pets (except fish) as a child, plus I’ve been attacked by dogs and by a duck and twice had apples stolen from my hands from goats, so maybe that’s it.

I should really have put “Other Jews” in there before “everyone,” but I didn’t want to get into an argument about whether it’s OK to care about some people more than others (Judaism says it’s human nature to extend compassion outwards from the family to the community to the nation to the world, but lots of people would disagree).

I suspect there is a part of me that wants not to fit in, that looks for difference and existential incomprehension instead of finding common ground. I never feel more Jewish than when with non-Jews or less autistic than when with other autistics. I need to find a way to move past this if I want to make close friends.

***

Ugh, I’ve been online too long and now it’s midnight and I’m exhausted (QED regarding staying up late due to poor self-control). It will be good when E comes to the UK and at least some of my life can move offline.

Leadership

I spent most of my time at work today stuffing about 300 invoices into envelopes, sealing them, putting stamps on them and posting them. I also processed six credit card payments over the phone and dealt calmly with a phone call from someone who was angry over some stuff that she really should not have been angry about. I did at least get to listen to some podcasts while stuffing envelopes. I had forgotten I would be stuffing envelopes, so hadn’t saved up podcasts, which meant I listened to some that had been sitting on my iPod for a while, unloved.

One podcast that was more interesting than I thought it would be was about Sarah Schenerer, who founded the Bais Yaakov network of Jewish girls’ schools in twentieth century Poland (it’s now a global network). I didn’t realise that she had so little support for her school initially or that she was a divorcee. It was mentioned in the podcast that Jewish men define themselves by the yeshivah they went to. This was not exactly news to me, but did make me feel an outcast again.

The podcast also said that we should all be trying to be leaders. Rabbi Sacks z”tzl used to say this a lot too. I’ve never felt like a leader and wouldn’t know how to be one. The podcast said that, if nothing else, we should be leaders in our families. I am not sure I know how to do that either, although if ‘leadership’ in this context means ‘encouraging others to have more of a Jewish identity and/or religious observance,’ then I suppose I’ve done that without really knowing how.

Interestingly, my rabbi mentor said something similar on Sunday, not about leadership, but about my writing being a “gift” and part of my mission in the world (I can’t remember if he used the word “mission,” but that was the idea). As I think I said the other day, he explicitly said I should take time from Torah study and other religious requirements to devote to my writing, although I’m not sure how much exactly to take. It is reassuring, and flattering to know that he feels that way about my writing, although naturally I feel that I’m not all that gifted and that my current writing is far from anything that might be considered Jewishly relevant.

I’m still thinking about what I can do for frum (religious Jewish autistics/neurodivergents/misfits in general). I’m still struggling to find anything that is both practical and within my capabilities. I also wonder if, beyond a certain age, these people either find a way of settling in the community or they leave (or get forced out) and that’s why I can’t find them.

***

Today was a fast day (the fast of Tevet). As I was at work, I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services). I had not been to a fast day Minchah for so long, from general shul avoidance and specific fast day avoidance (I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts for medical reasons, but I don’t want that to become obvious if they try to call me to the Torah and I have to turn it down), that I could not remember what extra prayers we say. This is not good.

***

When I got to the Tube station on the way home, the down escalator was broken, but I didn’t realise this until I was on it and there was a crowd behind me, so I had to walk down on it. The staircase might have been easier, especially as I got stuck behind someone walking slowly with a stick and someone else carrying a bulky case. About five years ago I nearly had a panic attack/meltdown on a very long staircase at Kings Cross Tube Station and ever since I’ve been nervous of walking down the long stairs on the Tube. I get fear of heights-type feelings if I look too far down or over-think things. I just try to look at my feet and keep going at a steady speed, neither too fast nor too slow, but it’s hard when stuck in a slow moving queue of descending people. I did manage it, but I’m wondering if I should start walking down the stairs even when the escalator is working as a kind of exposure therapy.

***

I didn’t have such a stressful day, but foolishly went into the charity shop on the way home, ostensibly because it would get me out of the rain for a few minutes. The result was buying one of Dominic Sandbrook’s history books, State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974. It was only £2 for a hardback that looks very interesting! The money is not an issue; time (to read) and space (to store it) are. Sigh. And this, when I’m intending to buy a load of books for novel research soon. I think I need to find some books to donate to the charity shop in return; I already have a couple of ideas.

***

I had some more ideas for my novel today. It’s strange that I can spend an hour trying to think up ideas and getting nowhere and then, when I’m working and not trying to think about writing, they just keep coming.

Midwinter Blues

Trigger warning: reality

“Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality” — T. S. Eliot Four Quartets

While it is, technically, the middle of winter, I actually always feel like the new year is less the turning point towards spring and more the start of the worst part of winter, January and February. The days still feel as short as ever, the weather (in the UK) is even worse and, unlike December, there are no festivals to look forward to and create a general atmosphere of cheer. And then I have the awareness that the end of winter (which I want) is marked by the two hardest Jewish festivals for me, from an autism and mental health point of view, Purim and Pesach, which makes the onset of spring more challenging than simply the advent of longer days and warmer weather.

***

I stayed up late. I can’t remember what I was doing. Probably looking at the responses to the Facebook group post I made or just trying to process the answers I got. I was too tired to watch the whole of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. It’s not really a good enough film to be split over three evenings, let alone four, as may still happen.

I slept a long time again (ten or eleven hours) and woke up feeling tired. When I woke up, I couldn’t move at all at first. This happens to me periodically. I used to think that I wasn’t fully awake, or I was dreaming I was awake, but wasn’t really, but I’m pretty sure I was at least somewhat awake this time and I’m wondering if it’s sleep paralysis. I did mention this in the questionnaire for the sleep study, as I’ve been aware of it for a while, but I can’t remember how much emphasis I placed on it, because I wasn’t sure if it was “real” or not. I recall that the questionnaire placed more emphasis on things like, does your “bed-partner” report snoring (I don’t have a bed-partner. I did have a room-mate (E) for a week who reported that I snore a little, but that was after I sent the questionnaire back).

I couldn’t get going once I got up either. I’m not sure why. I didn’t feel physically drained, but maybe emotionally drained. After a while, low mood set in, or maybe I only just noticed it. I struggled with low mood all day. I’m monitoring my mood at the moment to check that I’m not becoming clinically depressed. I don’t think I am, but I am having some monstrously bad days, like today. Being off work so long probably doesn’t help, as it’s too easy to get out of the habit of doing anything productive and to avoid contact with people other my parents. And missing E is so difficult.

I didn’t revise my proofreading profile as I wanted. I did do some work on planning my novel. It’s hard to see it as productive as the productive bits (ideas) were just a few moments out of an hour and a quarter of mostly procrastinating (plus another fifteen minutes or so typing up notes) BUT I probably need the procrastinating time to let my brain tick over and the ideas were, I think, reasonable. There’s such a long way to go, though.

I did a little Torah study, but not much else. I’m trying to be kind to myself and not beat myself up for not managing more than I did (and not for not reading any more of Dune either – I’m enjoying it, but feel frustrated that it’s a book that needs to be read slloooowllly, and it’s really not a good book to read when down), but it’s hard.

***

I think discussion has died out on the Orthodox Conundrum post I wrote about neurodiversity in the frum (religious Jewish) community. I got some supportive responses, and ‘care’ likes (or whatever they’re called; I’m not great at emoji), but no practical suggestions and I only found one other actual neurodiverse frum Jew (with ADHD). And someone said I shouldn’t call myself disabled and I decided to let it go rather than get into an argument. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do.

The hard thing about the response was that a couple of people said that the frum world isn’t going to change and one said I should consider finding a less frum community or less frum friends. This was painful to hear because, having seen them comment on other posts (and one is a well-known activist in the Anglo-Jewish community), I know these are the more tolerant, inclusive people in the group, the ones who advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and abuse survivors’ rights in the frum community. While I don’t think they were saying I should leave, they did seem pessimistic about any kind of change in the near future.

I am a member of a couple of Jewish autism FB groups, but they aren’t very active or very frum and some are pretty American-centric. Either way, there don’t seem to be many people specifically struggling with autism issues in the Orthodox community. Part of me wonders why I don’t just walk away. I guess I do sometimes, to some extent, but I always come back. I have some kind of loyalty that goes beyond just belief. And I guess I feel there must be other autistic Jews in the frum community, even if they’re masking, even if they don’t actually know they’re autistic. I would think in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in particular there it would be considered shameful and there would be the desire to hide it “for shidduchim” (marriage prospects), for those of siblings as well as the person with autism. I feel I should do something, but I don’t know what. I’m not really an activist-type person and autism by its nature makes it hard to know what to do in a social context like this.

***

Someone on the autism forum was asking about positive traits we have from autism. I find this kind of question hard to answer, but I tried anyway:

I really struggle with this question, as I find it so hard to tell what is because I’m autistic and what would be the same if I was allistic. Or is that even a valid question? I don’t know. It’s also hard to separate nature and nurture. I guess there’s part of me that is reluctant to ascribe positives to my autism as I still experience it primarily as a disability (which I know is not a popular opinion here).

Anyway, in the hope that this will make me feel more positive about my autism, I feel it at least contributes towards my being:

Intelligent;

Independent-minded;

Empathetic;

Honest;

Diligent;

And perhaps also resilient.

(Several of these factors helped me stay religious in a culture (Orthodox Judaism) that isn’t always accommodating to difference, neurodiversity or mental illness, so I’m grateful for that at least.)

***

I’m feeling depressed about the state of the world too. American and Israeli politics have both been like watching a car crash in slow motion for many years now. At least I’m saving E from America’s post-imperial self-destruction. I worry about Israel. There’s nothing I can do, but I care. It’s frustrating that I probably know people who voted for the crazies in both country. At least in the UK our politicians are “merely” incompetent, hypocritical and sometimes mildly corrupt. They aren’t racist, theocratic and seriously corrupt as a matter of course.

(This thought triggered by this Times of Israel blog. Compared with some things the new Israeli government has promised to do, allowing unlicensed therapists is pretty trivial, but it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.)

***

Is anyone else sick of “journey” being an all-purpose metaphor for everything? When I was working in further education, the college used to refer to the students’ “Learning journeys,” which used to drive my boss crazy. “They aren’t on a “learning journey,” they’ve gone to college!” She wasn’t always an easy person to work for, but I did think she was right there.

***

My Ghostbusters marathon has revived my one of my earliest career ambitions: to be a ghostbuster! The problem is that I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t really believe in anything supernatural other than a (rather Maimonidean) God (who I think isn’t supernatural in the way ghosts would be supernatural). Although maybe I could claim this as proof of my ghostbusting skills. “How many ghosts have you seen? None? Well, that just shows how good I am at catching them!”

Neurodivergence and the Frum Community

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

 ***

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

This is what I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

Last Shabbat of 2022

I didn’t blog on Thursday night. I was tired and didn’t have much to say. Work was OK, but I ended up staying late, partly working, but mostly because we couldn’t get a minyan (prayer quorum) for Minchah (Afternoon Service) in the shul (synagogue), so after waiting quarter of an hour, the rabbi said we should daven (pray) privately, which we did, but then someone else turned up to complete the minyan and the rabbi made us do Minchah again, plus Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers). I’m not sure what the ratio of time spent hanging around to time spent davening was.

On Friday I was exhausted again and missed shul. I felt bad about that, but I’m not really sure what else I could have done. My parents were out for dinner and I enjoyed the time by myself, but felt a bit lonely. I also realised I had forgotten to take my medication on Thursday night and Friday morning. My parents assumed that’s why I was so tired, but I think it’s just autistic exhaustion.

I did forty-five minutes of Talmud study and read a bit of Dune. I couldn’t stop thinking about the post I want to write on the Orthodox Conundrum group about being autistic in the frum world. It was not appropriate to think about writing on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I couldn’t stop, which I guess is the autistic “monotropic focus” at work. I thought I had something worth writing by the end of the evening, but I either forgot some of it or I was overly optimistic about it, as when I tried to write it this evening, after Shabbat, it was just waffle. It doesn’t help that I don’t know what I want to say, beyond feeling a need to make excuses for my poor community involvement (which I should not do) or to express vague anger and resentment at the way my religious life has gone (again, not a good idea). And my comment discussion here with JYP a few days ago has shown that I have absolutely no idea of what practical steps anyone could take to make the community more welcoming to me, let alone anyone else, and I suspect different autistics would react in different ways anyway.

Today I did some more reading of The Guide to the Perplexed, but not much else. I only managed about half an hour of the Guide as I’m still tired and trying to do other things. I’m not sure how sensible it is for me to read the Guide with no formal training in philosophy or Medieval intellectual history. I’m not sure how much I understand, and I’m not sure how much of what I understand is still considered philosophically valid. However, I am enjoying it, but I feel I shouldn’t be spending Torah study time on something I enjoy, but don’t really understand. On the other hand, I persevered with Talmud study and now understand more of it, and enjoy it more too.

I was still tired and didn’t go with Dad to shul for Ma’ariv. He went as he has yortzeit (death anniversary) for his mother tonight and tomorrow, so he wanted to say Kaddish.

I spent an hour working on my novel plan this evening. It still feels like doing a jigsaw puzzle blindfolded in the dark, but I feel like I’m making slow progress. I do still worry about my proposed satirical science fiction thriller not being funny, original or thrilling, but I guess I won’t know until I actually start writing in earnest. It will be hard to keep it relevant if it takes years to write. I still have planning issues and I want to try to use some flow diagrams to map out how the novel should unfold. I’ve got the beginning and the end, it’s getting from one to the other that is the hard bit. I need to keep reminding myself that I’m doing this for fun and that I should enjoy it, as it’s not that likely that it will ever get published.

I probably shouldn’t write too much about my novel, but I have been meaning for a while to clarify what I’ve said about it being an anti-woke satire. When I say ‘woke,’ I don’t mean it as a synonym for ‘progressive.’ I don’t have a problem with progressives and even share some of the same worries albeit not always the same solutions. When I say ‘woke,’ I mean a type of progressivism combined with anger, self-righteousness and often hypocrisy of one kind or another. To me, that’s something else entirely from progressive politics, more a kind of virtue signalling ego trip, particularly when carried out by faceless corporations that try to appear woke while behaving appallingly (Amazon, Ben and Jerry’s). And, yes, I intend to satirise the similar tendency at the opposite end of the political spectrum, right-wing populism (which recently has been worrying me more, although I find it less funny). I want to satirise trends and maybe institutions, but not people. Even before writing, one character has gone from someone I wanted to satirise to someone I feel empathy for.

After that, I was going to watch Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, the all-female Ghostbusters reboot from 2016, but decided I’d rather read Dune. I finished the first part of the novel, but I’m not sure I want to read more tonight, but I’m not sure what I’d rather do instead either.

***

Carol Anne commented on an old post where the rabbi of my shul (the one I’ve now stopped going to) offered to share the article I wrote on being autistic in the frum (religious Jewish) community on the shul WhatsApp group. I said I would think about it, but I actually forgot to get back to him. It was probably for the best, as I left that shul, but it does make me think what I could/should do about this (this = finding a place for me in the Orthodox Jewish world, but I suppose it could also be trying to make the frum community more accepting of autistics).

The post I posted on the autism forum about masking and code-switching didn’t get much of a response, and what it did get, I found confusing and hard to understand. Possibly I shouldn’t assume I can really let people see the world the way I do.

***

It’s been a difficult year in many ways. I spent so much of it waiting to get married to E and we’re still not fully married. However, we are at least civilly married, even if we’re still separated by the Atlantic. Also, Nephew was born. That makes two new family members for clan Luftmentsch! On the downside, Mum and Sister both spent time in hospital, Mum with her heart attack and Sister with pregnancy issues in the spring (as well as when she actually gave birth this December) and I’m still a bit worried that Mum will have another heart attack. Pesach time was very stressful, with Sister in hospital immediately beforehand and Mum in hospital soon afterwards. Even more tragically, my parents’ friends’ son died, as did Ashley. It’s probably not sensible to divide years into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ years, as if every day was the same, but this does seem to have been a particularly varied one, so many good and bad things.

First Drafts

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Masking and Code-Switching

Warning: this is another long post. The short version is I miss E a lot and feel miserable without her, and (unrelated point) I also feel miserable trying to ‘pass’ in societies or sub-cultures I don’t feel I belong in. The long version…

I woke up feeling bad. I’m not exactly sure what “bad” means here, which I guess is the interoception issue again (difficulty understanding my body’s signals). Exhausted, maybe a bit achey and just generally wanting to withdraw from the world. I thought I was just tired, but it stayed after breakfast and coffee. I actually went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast, but forced myself to get up again, even though I didn’t really want to, so I could daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) before halakhic midday (which is almost the same as secular midday at the moment). I felt awful when davening, again, it’s hard to say how, but both physically and emotionally uncomfortable. The emotional side is easier to describe: it was one of those times when my memory decides to show me a blooper reel of all my worst mistakes, which are generally bad social interactions. I try to be kind to myself and tell myself that I have autism and social anxiety, and that for most of my life the autism was undiagnosed, so it’s not surprising I messed up a lot of social interactions over the years, but I still end up feeling useless and pathetic (I guess the pathetic is as much because of the autism as despite it).

I miss E a lot. Really A LOT. Mum thinks that my mysterious illness feelings are just missing E and worrying about when she will get her visa, which may be true. After lunch, the physical discomfort subsided, but I felt really depressed, and lonely (when my parents went out). I had the feeling of agitated (anxious?) depression that feels like desperation. I’m not really sure what to call it.

I tried to finish my proofreading profile on the freelance site. This involved looking at other proofreaders’ pages and trying to work out was a reasonable price/word count/speed combination to offer. This led to monumental procrastination to avoid both anxiety and decision-making (autistic executive function issues? Possibly). Also a lot of agitated pacing. People seem to be charging relatively large sums of money for small-seeming amounts of work, which makes me wonder if this is going to be more difficult than I’m expecting it to be. I worry about screwing this up and getting thrown off the platform (or worse), which I can see is catastrophising, but that doesn’t make it seem better.

I got the profile mostly sorted, but there was a FORTY MINUTE English test (US English) that I needed to pass to be allowed to call myself a proofreader on the site! I went for a twenty-five minute walk in the cold, dark and rain, which helped me calm down a bit, then I did the test, even though my computer was playing up a bit. I did in about fifteen minutes and got 95%. I was annoyed not to get 100% as it was very easy and repetitive. I don’t know which questions I got wrong. I think a couple were awkwardly phrased and I wonder if it was one of those. They were all multiple choice questions, usually involving picking the correct word to go in a sentence or the correctly punctuated sentence out of four options, but I felt some answers had two correct answers, although sometimes one was arguably more obscure than the other. I can’t remember all the problematic questions, but one was about whether a film won “awards” or “the awards” and I felt both answers could be right depending on context.

I wonder if I’ll get any clients. I feel like my profile was less engaging than other ones I saw on the site, but I wasn’t sure what to say, especially as I don’t have much experience yet. I feel that my writing style is overly formal and feels dated to most people. I don’t know if that’s autism; it may be.

There was a thread on the autism forum about whether it’s better for autistic people to work a nine to five job or be self-employed, given that the later requires a lot of extra stuff (networking, admin, taxes). Both ended up seeming pretty awful. At the moment, it looks like the best-case scenario is that I end up doing both. Hmm.

***

I had little time, energy or brainpower after that for Torah study. I tried to do a few minutes, but struggled to concentrate. It doesn’t help all my Torah study at the moment is from fairly heavy-going books or in Hebrew. I was still agitated and pacing.

***

Mum said I’ve been down a lot lately and I have been. I am going to go back to keeping a daily mood record for a bit to check how many days I’m depressed. I feel I haven’t been depressed for many consecutive days, but depression just needs to be over a majority of days in two weeks. That said, I feel I’m never going to get off my meds if I keep getting depressed again, even if it is SAD that should rectify in a few months. Three months is a long time, though…

***

My procrastination while trying to finish the profile involved messing around on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group, reading old posts and feeling that I’m never going to fit in to the Orthodox community, even the Modern Orthodox community, although also thinking that the Anglo-Jewish Modern Orthodox community is very different to the American and Israeli Modern Orthodox communities (or equivalent) and so direct comparison of what would be acceptable or successful between them is not helpful.

***

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about masking. In the autistic community, masking involves suppressing autistic behaviour that is not considered “normal” in the allistic (non-autistic) world. This can include stimming (repetitive motions intended to soothe and aid concentration), inappropriate eye contact (too much, too little) and body language, excessive conversation about special interests as well as behaviour or reactions that show the anxiety and confusion many autistics feel in social interactions. Masking can also involve using pre-planned “social scripts” to navigate social situations in “acceptable” ways. Too much masking is thought to lead to autistic exhaustion and autistic burnout, as well as hiding a person’s identity from others.

I felt that I don’t mask much, but on reflection I think I do. I don’t stim much, but I try not to do it in public. I avoid talking about my interests for fear of the response it will get. I don’t show my social anxiety, I try to consciously control my eye contact and body language, and I use social scripts a lot to manage conversations with people (I was going to say with “strangers,” but actually I do it with my family too).

It occurred to me that I deal with another layer on top of this because of my intersecting identities. Code-switching is the linguistic term from changing from one language or dialect to another. It’s a fairly neutral term for a phenomenon that anyone who is bilingual or belongs to some kind of minority experiences, although if you google it, you would get the impression that it only happens when ethnic minorities in white majority Anglophone countries are made to change their language to standard English by the white majority. To be clear, it can happen in an oppressive way (between classes and with regional dialects as well as between races, which isn’t really recognised by the articles I saw), but it can also be a fairly inevitable product of cross-cultural contact.

As a Jew, even more so as an Orthodox Jew, I code-switch all the time (typically, the internet doesn’t acknowledge this). What you get on the blog is roughly the amount of Hebrew or Yiddish in my internal monologue (more likely a bit less than I would use). In situations with lots of non-Jews, I would use no Hebrew or Yiddish, even if that meant using weird (to me) English translations (“Tabernacles” “Ecclesiastes”). With my family and friends, I would probably use language similar to the blog, but with very frum (religious) Jews, I would use more Hebrew and Yiddish. It’s a balancing act and one that I feel quite conscious of.

What is really hard for me is constantly masking or code-switching in other ways too, if not literally in the sense of words used, then in terms of identities and ways of looking at the world. There is literal code-switching between British English and American English because I know so many Americans online. I hide my autistic and mentally ill traits from most people. And I hide my Doctor Who fandom from lots of people too: I hide it in the frum world because I fear it’s too secular (even in the Modern Orthodox world, which is open to TV, I fear my interest is too intense[1]) and also because I grew up as a fan when Doctor Who was incredibly unpopular and I would be regularly mocked for liking it, so I don’t like talking to outsiders about it. On the other hand, with other fans I would talk in much more detailed ways about particular stories, plot points, writers, script editors and so on.

I feel like I’m masking and code-switching all the time and it feels really hard to cope at the moment. It’s hard at work, because it’s uncomfortable and probably contributes to my feelings of exhaustion and some of my stupid errors. It’s hard in the frum world, because that feels like a much more conformist and judgmental community generally and the consequences of making even a small mistake feel potentially much greater than a comparable mistake in another community, although this could be my paranoia.

That said, I don’t know how much I want to unmask. The assumption in the autism world is that masking is bad, but I feel that everyone masks to some extent (we don’t go around telling everyone our deepest feelings or talking/singing to ourselves in public even if we might in private). But I do feel that I need to mask less even if I still mask a bit.

I would like to share this somewhere, but I don’t know where. The autism community would know about autistic masking and probably not care that much about the Jewish stuff. I think it should be more known in the frum community, but I don’t really have a suitable place to share it. As an aside, lately I do feel that I have some kind of message, but I don’t know who it’s for or what it is and I won’t know until I’ve said it. I watched a YouTube lecture about autism recently where the researcher giving the lecture said she used autistic blogs in her research. I did email her to ask if she wanted to use mine, or could suggest someone who might, but she hasn’t got back to me yet (it was right before Christmas).

***

While researching the above, I came across this book and wonder if it could help? (I know it says it’s aimed at autistic women and girls. The assumption is that women are better at masking than men, which is a generalisation at best.) I am wary, as I do tend to buy self-help books and then struggle to implement them unguided. And I’m wary that it uses CBT, as CBT tends not to work on autistics, although it could be autism-adjusted CBT (in which case they should say so).

 [1] I’m actually not sure how intense my interest in Doctor Who is any more. I’ve largely lost interest in the new series and contemporary fandom, but I probably am still obsessive about the original series, if I can find anywhere to indulge that very specific obsession.

Bumper Last Night of Chanukah Post!!!!

My mood slumped last night and didn’t really rise all day, at least not until I Skyped E. I went to bed late last night as I was reading Quantum of Solace, a James Bond short story that isn’t really about James Bond. It’s a story told to him by someone else, a story that has nothing to do with spies or anything usually associated with James Bond. I thought it was still quite engaging; I think Ian Fleming is under-rated as a write, like many successful authors of “pulp” fiction.

Despite that, I got up early this morning (about 9.30am – early for me, anyway), mostly because I woke up early and felt hungry. I even stayed awake, although I went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast. It was a struggle to daven even an abbreviated Shacharit and Musaf (say Morning Prayers), as I felt so tired.

That said, I think I woke early because I woke struggling to breathe again. I’m still waiting for the results of my sleep study to see if I have sleep apnoea. I might have to wait another two months for the results! I believe the results can be downloaded as soon as the sensors are returned to the hospital; the huge delay is in getting the personnel to interpret said results. All E and I seem to be doing these days is waiting…

I went for a longish walk for an hour. This helped my mood a little, but not totally.

I didn’t do much else. I spent far too long messing about on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page (see below). I’m enjoying being on there, slightly more than my annoyance at how awful FB is nowadays, but I’m not sure that I’ll achieve any of my aims for joining the group, such as making frum (religious Jewish) friends, becoming more integrated to the frum community or starting a conversation about the place of the mentally ill and neurodivergent in the frum community (again, see below).

I did spend a little time working on my novel plan, even though I said I wouldn’t, because apparently I really can’t keep away from it (see below). It looked better than I thought it would, although there’s still a lot to do.

***

It’s really hard being away from E, especially not knowing when we’ll be together, let alone when we’ll get married. I read an article on a Jewish site (that will go unlinked, as I’m going to criticise it) about the laws of taharat mishpachah in Judaism (essentially, not having sex when the woman is having her period and for a while afterwards). The author repeated the standard frum line about this preventing divorce. Which it may do, as I think the divorce rate in the frum community is still lower than in the secular world, but it’s clearly not a panacea, as divorce is still a very real thing in the frum world. The type of married people (not just Jewish ones) who write essays about relationship breakdown seem to think that there’s one simple mistake that all divorced couples make that dooms their relationship and other people can easily avoid it, and I really don’t think there is. That’s what makes it scary.

That said, the thing that really annoyed me was where the article stated that newlyweds are “young and carefree, with no grey hairs or wrinkles.” Although aimed at less frum people, the article seemed to be based on the idea that everyone marries young and no one has any life problems until they have children. Um, maybe you were, but E and I are in our late thirties and come with suitcase loads of “baggage”! But we love each other despite this (actually, E doesn’t have wrinkles, although I do).

In the wake of this, I did think of posting something about conformity in the Jewish community on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group, perhaps based on the thing I wrote here a few days ago about the difficulty of being frum if you’re mentally ill, neurodivergent, poor, etc., but I held back because it was too long, unfocused and ranty and because I didn’t know what response I even wanted (cf. my discussion with JYP in the comments to that post). The OC group does show care about some marginalised groups in the Orthodox world, such as abuse survivors, LGBT Jews and agunot, as well as about women’s rights in the Orthodox world in general, but I haven’t really found a way of starting a conversation about mental illness or neurodivergence there. I searched for older threads about mental illness and they tended to be focused on issues like rabbis answering mental illness-related questions badly rather than integrating the mentally ill or neurodivergent into the community.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing at the moment instead of actually writing, as I’m on a break to try to calm down about it. I felt a kind of urgency about writing as I wanted to get something published and try to build a career as a writer to help support E and our potential children. This is clearly not happening, as we will be married long before I get anything published, particularly as I’ve stopped sending out my first novel to agents, as I’m not sure whether I want to rewrite it. I do want to get set up as a freelance proofreader in the next few weeks, as that seems a more practical way to earn money.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I do still feel the need to prove myself with writing, to show I’m as good as all my school and university peers who went on to good jobs (or any jobs, really), not to mention the other writers and newspaper columnists who I read and think, “I could do better than that,” although I probably can’t. Spite and envy probably isn’t a good reason to do anything, let alone to make art.

I probably will keep writing as a hobby/psychological need. It’s hard to work out how to balance it with religious obligations and family obligations. E supports my writing more than I do and wants me to keep writing despite family obligations, but the frum world doesn’t really see writing or creativity generally as an important activity. I don’t think I can justify my writing on the grounds of supplying an important need to the frum/Jewish community or increasing Jewish visibility in the wider world, as I really don’t think I’ll get published. It’s just something I need to do.

I used to get annoyed with the Hevria people for prioritising writing and creativity over religious obligations, but maybe they were right. Maybe you need to be ruthless about family and community to get published. Then again, I think Mattue Roth was the only Hevrian who actually got any fiction published professionally.

 I’ve mentioned before that David Bowie said the worst thing God can do to you is make you an artist, but a mediocre artist. I feel that’s true of me. I have basic writing skills, but I lack imagination, unsurprisingly, as that seems to be common with alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions).

As I said above, I did do some work on the novel plan today, which was good, and I do feel very drawn to writing it, but I am struggling a bit with where the novel is going and what to write, while feeling that I need very much to write.

***

Books: if I’m not writing them, I’m reading them (which is not a bad thing).

I finished re-reading Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. It was a good 90s fandom nostalgia trip, but other books came out later and went further than it did. I also tried to put my pile of new Doctor Who novelisations away. These were the books I felt a little guilty about, as I was pleased to add them to my collection for free, but wasn’t likely to read/re-read them in the near future, and wasn’t sure if I should have accepted them.

My bedroom is hardly minimalist. It’s got four bookcases (three big and one not so big), one packed full with DVDs, most lying on their side, warehouse-style, so I can fit more on the shelves. The other three are full of books (and some CDs), many of them also lying on their side. (I also have books in a couple of cupboards and a bookcase full downstairs too.) There are also several piles of books on top of one of the bookcases, containing over 150 Doctor Who books (fiction, as the non-fiction is on another shelf) along with a couple of other TV/film tie-in books. I have about 1,300 books in total. Yes, E is right that I should get rid of some. It’s hard! I might donate some non-fiction books I’m never likely to read to the charity shop in a week or so, although I don’t know who will buy books on Medieval Scotland.

I went to add the new books to the pile on top of the bookcase. I hadn’t realised how far the case has come forward from the wall with the weight of all the books on it and one of the books fell down the back. It was Doctor Who – The Daleks, the novelisation of the first Dalek story, which I disliked as a child because it departed from the TV series in its depiction of the events of the first ever TV episode (which isn’t even part of the Dalek story on screen), but which now, in the age of DVD, seems significant for precisely that reason, for being an entirely new take on the events of the TV story.

I’m not sure how to get the book back from the black hole behind the bookcase. I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to take the hundreds of books off the bookcase (not to mention wargaming models) to move it out, especially as it’s the middle bookcase and I might have to move one or two others too to get to it! So the book will sit there in the black hole for now.

I noticed a while back the bookcases wobble a bit, and I am vaguely worried about them falling on me one day. I guess I just have to hope that when E and I move somewhere of our own, we have enough space that taking a reasonable chunk of my books is a good idea and that I can move the bookcase then. I think we’re unlikely to be able to afford a place big enough to hold all my books along with those E brings over from the US.

***

My parents bought me an extra Chanukah present, even though I said they didn’t need to: A Fire Burns in Kotsk: A Tale of Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland by Menashe Unger. Even though I own every English language book I can find about the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk), I’ve put off buying this for years because (a) it’s expensive (about £30) and (b) it’s a weird book, sitting on the boundary between history and historical fiction, presenting itself as the true story of the Kotzker Rebbe and his Hasidim, but also written in novelistic style with (presumably) invented dialogue. I’m not quite sure what to make of it and probably won’t be until I’ve read it (if then). At least it’s something to read on the way home from work while I’m reading The Great Dune Trilogy, which is too big and heavy to take to work.

***

Contemplating all this stuff (low mood, not fitting into society, struggling to sell my writing, lack of imagination), I’m having one of my “I hate being autistic” days. I think I get fewer of these than I did a couple of months ago, but I’m still not at peace with myself, and I still see ASD as a bad hand I’ve been dealt, albeit one I want to play as well as I can, and admitting that it’s better than some other people’s cards. It frustrates me enormously that so-called “high functioning” autism means I can write literary fiction, read in a dead language, read and understand (at least partially) twelfth century Jewish rationalist philosophy… and still screw up basic stuff like editing  an invoice template at work (why? This is like proofreading; I should be good at it, unless it’s the pressure of masking in the office), speaking on the phone (or at all), doing tasks in the right order, promoting my writing, networking, etc., etc., etc.

It doesn’t help that I have a lack of mentors or guides to help me integrate into the frum world or for raising the profile of my writing. It’s sad, because I do feel I have stuff to say to the frum world and the wider world, but I don’t know how to say it because of my autism, while people who might know how to help me say it don’t know that I have anything to say.

I did just dig out an email from my parents’ friends’ son-in-law from an earlier attempt to set myself up as a proofreader. He is a freelance proofreader and said to persevere as work is out there. He also said YOU HAVE TO NETWORK!!!!!!!! (I put it in capitals because that’s how scary it is.) That email was pre-COVID, though, so I don’t know if it is still true.

***

I saw the Doctor Who trailer. I wasn’t impressed, but I didn’t expect to be. David Tennant + Catherine Tate + Russell T Davies = pretty much my least favourite Doctor/companion/showrunner combination.

Sex, Arguments and Sensory Overload

I went to bed early last night (well, by my standards), but couldn’t sleep and got up to watch Do Not Adjust Your Set [1] while drinking hot chocolate. Then I woke up early this morning, although I did fall asleep again. When I went out to work, the ice had thawed, which was good, and I got to work on time.

Work was dull and I had a couple of embarrassing moments (as usual). I came home on the bus. I’ve been going home by Tube as it’s faster, but it’s significantly more expensive than the bus (serious ££££), so, after having to use it on the day when the Tube was disrupted by snow, I thought I would try it again. However, it took much longer than the Tube and I got somewhat travel sick trying to read on it. The journey is far too long for me to get through it without reading. So it looks like I’m stuck with the Tube for now. At least I can read on it, and I get home faster.

I felt ill for a very long time after getting home, including after eating a lot. It took me a stupidly long time to realise it was probably autistic overload (see below). I’m not sure how the travel sickness fitted in. Then I still carried on at my computer even when I should have stepped away.

[1] I’ve mentioned in passing watching Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show recently, but I probably should explain that these are two comedy sketch shows from the 1960s. They are somewhat dated, but quite funny, and notable mainly for early appearances of people who would go on to become famous for other programmes.

 Do Not Adjust Your Set had Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones (all of whom would go on to Monty Python’s Flying Circus) and David Jason (Only Fools and Horses among other things) as well as Denise Coffey (who didn’t really become famous), plus animations by Terry Gilliam (Python again). Also, music from The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (mostly famous for I’m the Urban Spaceman). It was technically a children’s programme, but I’m slightly surprised at what they got away with, for a 60s child audience.

At Last the 1948 Show had John Cleese and Graham Chapman (Python again, and a lot more for Cleese), Tim Brooke-Taylor (The Goodies, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue), Marty Feldman (best known now as Igor in Young Frankenstein) and Aimi MacDonald (also not famous nowadays – I don’t know if it’s PATRIARCHY or something else that meant that the men on these programmes became famous and the women didn’t).

Like a lot of 1960s TV, many of the episodes were destroyed, but some have been released on DVD, nine episodes of Do Not Adjust Your Set and five of At Last the 1948 Show. I think some others have been rediscovered that haven’t been released commercially.

***

I spent most of the working day trying hard not to get distracted following the progress of an argument about sex on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group. I don’t want to go into detail, but I wanted to post on there saying that, while I may not know much (about sex or anything else), I bet I know about long-term celibacy than anyone else there. Fortunately, I controlled myself (anyway, I might have been wrong. Statistically unlikely, but possible). There was another argument starting on there this evening, and one on the autism forum too. I guess that’s the internet for you, but these seemed like mostly safe spaces so far.

The sex argument just reinforces the irrational feelings that I will never have sex, which now is the Home Office’s fault. I guess it makes it change from it being the fault of my autism/depression/general weirdness. We (E and I) just want to be together before we’re too old and decrepit to enjoy it! (I don’t just mean enjoy sex, but being together generally.) I still vaguely worry that before we can get married, I’m going to get hit by a meteorite or Putin will nuke London, just to stop me from moving on with my life.

***

I posted this on the autism group:

Does anyone feel like their capacity to cope with crowds or sensory overload has got worse since the COVID lockdowns? I seem to struggle with things like shopping centres and synagogue attendance much more than in the past. I was diagnosed in 2021 and I can’t work out if I’m just more aware of my sensory/peopling triggers now I have a diagnosis or if I’m actually struggling more now I’ve seen what it’s like to spend months living in quiet with only my parents for company. Certainly my social anxiety has got worse since lockdown.

It got a lot of responses very quickly, more than anything I’ve posted there before. Several other people also got their diagnoses during lockdown and also felt that was a factor, but a lot of people saw lockdown as eroding our ability to withstand crowds and noise, or perhaps just showing us how difficult it was all along, when we thought we had no alternative.

Monotropic Learning, Being Frum and More

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Fears

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

New York and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Calling Into the Void

After a good day yesterday, I’ve crashed again today, feeling exhausted, depressed and lacking in motivation. I feel really awful, probably a result of doing too much over the last couple of days (not that it felt like much), missing E, SAD, personal life news (see below) and real news (also see below). I’m not sure when I last felt this bad.

 I wish this wouldn’t happen. I guess it’s something you should just learn to live with, with an ongoing health condition, but I find it hard, even after all these years. I guess it doesn’t help that it isn’t clear whether it’s more down to autism or a sleep disorder.

I woke up at 10am and wanted to stay awake, but I must have fallen asleep again as the next thing I knew it was 11am and Dad wanted me to get up to help take in the Tesco order. I did that, and prayed a bit even though I was still in pyjamas as I didn’t have the energy to get dressed and knew it would be too late for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) if I waited until after breakfast. I had breakfast and messed about online, getting annoyed by how much of the internet is about hate. Even if it’s not actual hate speech, it’s people complaining about other people’s hate speech. At the moment I’m becoming more impressed with Chabad.org than with the other Jewish sites I follow, because, although it is too mystical for my tastes and has fewer articles that interest me, it rarely does an “Antisemites said X, how awful is that?”-type article of the kind that are common elsewhere, preferring to focus on meaningful Jewish content. I think this is a better response to antisemitism most of the time than “calling out” into the void.

At 12.30pm I got phoned by the job agency that sent me the job last week. Embarrassingly, I was still in my pyjamas, but I took the call anyway. I’ve got the interview, although I’m not sure when it will be, given that I’m away soon and that I work two days a week. I will go to the interview, although I’m not sure when I will prepare or if I even want the job. As I’ve said, it’s slightly less money for somewhat longer hours, but it would potentially be a job I enjoy and restart my library career, so I need to think carefully about it. It also just occurred to me that in my current job, because it’s for a Jewish organisation and is shut on Jewish festivals, I don’t need to take them out of my holiday time, which I would have to do in this job. So there’s a lot to consider, if I even get the job. Possibly this pushed my mood further down, although I was depressed before it.

I did eventually get up and manage to get dressed. I went for a walk and spent an hour or so writing. I’m not sure if this project is going well, and I’m trying not to think about it for now, or if I’m going about it the right way. Basically, I started my satirical novel without finishing the planning a few days ago, because I needed to write, but didn’t have a head for just sitting and planning with nothing to show for it. I’m not usually a “pantser” (a writer who writes by the seat of their pants i.e. without planning), so I’m not sure if this will be organic and natural or just a mess. It’s hard to judge comedy anyway.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) as I vaguely hoped to do and only managed about five minutes of Torah study, as I really am stuck in a black hole of despair today.

***

I phoned the psychiatric appointments line to try to change my psychiatrist appointment, which is supposed to be when I’m away. This is to replace the appointment that was supposed to be a few weeks ago, but was cancelled at the last minute with no explanation. I discovered I have a new appointment for 9 January, which I wanted to move, as I’m at work then, but the person on the phone said to change an appointment I had to phone back on a morning as “I don’t keep the diary, I’m just covering the phones.” Really efficient. My parents and E said it will be easier to change my work days that week rather than the appointment, which really shouldn’t be the case, but sadly is true. Moreover, if I try to move the appointment, I’m likely to get one in February and I would like to be seen by then, although if recent depressed days continue, I won’t be changing my medication anyway (the reason for the appointment).

***

On a theme of getting annoyed with public monopolies that other people seem to love, I wrote an angry email to the BBC complaining about their minimisation of violence against Israelis in their description of today’s twin bombings in Jerusalem as “rare” bomb attacks. My point was that this minimises the attacks and primes readers to see them as freak events, downplaying the two fatalities and pre-emptively implying that any Israeli response is an over-reaction. The reality is that over 2,000 attacks of varying kinds on Israelis have occurred so far this year, of which the BBC reported just thirteen (figures from CAMERA UK, who also stated “the BBC News website did not provide stand-alone or timely coverage of any of the 401 terror attacks – including three fatal ones – which took place during October. In contrast, a counter-terrorism operation in Schem (Nablus) was reported just hours after it concluded.”)

I doubt I’ll get a response. The Jewish Chronicle, which is running a major campaign against BBC bias in both domestic and foreign reporting of antisemitism and Israel, reports that complaints about Israel coverage can take up to a year to be answered by the BBC and are sometimes completely ignored, even though BBC guidelines say that all complaints should to responded to within ten days. I actually felt worse afterwards, like that calling into the void I mentioned earlier. The BBC have had enough criticism of their Israel/Jewish coverage for me to know that they won’t take my complaint seriously, and will remain entrenched in their narrative that Jews don’t belong in the Middle East and that the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a clear-cut case of alien colonists persecuting non-violent natives, rather than a complex, long-running conflict between two different indigenous peoples that has seen violence on both sides.

I’m worried about posting this publicly, as I don’t want to be drawn into arid arguments about Israel’s right to exist, but I’m too depressed and exhausted to start editing or posting privately.

Masks

I did quite a bit today: volunteering in the morning (I got there on time despite oversleeping again), I wrote a bit for my new writing project (which I’m not going to speak about for now as it may not work out), got my COVID booster and cooked dinner. I feel better today, partly because I wasn’t at work, but also because I did a reasonable amount of things and had some achievements without trying to do so much that I failed to do everything I wanted and felt bad about it (although I did plan to do a bit more than I managed).

I thought a lot about some blog comments I got yesterday. I don’t really get a sense of who regularly reads this other than the half-dozen or so regular commenters (I don’t really trust the “likes” button, as some people just “like” loads of blogs in the hope of getting people to like their blog and some people read, but don’t hit “like”). Every so often, I’ll get a comment from someone I haven’t heard from before or (in this case) who I didn’t realise reads this regularly and I’ll be a bit astonished that people are that interested in my writing. This is particularly true if they are remote from me, either geographically or in lifestyle or outlook.

Sometimes I feel that I have the ability to communicate with people with very different lives to me. I’m not sure how I do this, but I do seem to manage it in a way that a lot of frum (religious Jewish) people seem unwilling or unable to do. This reminded me of something Rabbi Sacks used to say, that if we (human beings) were completely different we would be unable to communicate, but if we were completely identical, we would have nothing to say. Our ability and desire to communicate therefore comes from having both commonalities and differences. This seems obvious, but we tend not to think about it.

It also made me think a bit about masks. Like many autistics, in real life, I mask i.e. hide my autistic traits and try to pass as “normal.” I don’t even think about it, and probably do it more than I am actually conscious of doing. Masking is generally seen as a bad thing in the autistic community, and certainly prolonged masking can lead to lack of authenticity, exhaustion and autistic burnout, but some masking is probably essential to human interaction in allistics (non-autistics) as well as autistics. It’s not polite to say every thought that comes through your head, or to behave in front of company the way you might by yourself.

The Aviva Gottleib Zornberg Torah essay I’ve been reading yesterday and today (for Toldot) dealt with masking. She quoted a number of famous writers about masks, but didn’t quote the person who immediately came to my mind, Oscar Wilde: “Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth.” (The Picture of Dorian Gray) On my blog I’m masked most of all (I’m anonymous and can’t be seen) but I probably tell the truth more here than in most other places. Certainly I feel more authentic and more myself here than elsewhere.

The same essay also spoke about liminality, about being on the border or doorway between two places or experiences, which is definitely related to what I’m talking about here, about being able to move from one environment and set of people to another, which again is not something everyone can do. It reminded me of Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and doorways (among other things) who had two faces, one looking forwards and one looking back. Being two-faced is usually considered a bad thing, but, as with masking, it is probably necessary on some level to function in society.

I feel like I should do something with this ability to connect with people, but I’m not sure what (except for blogging). It seems strange even to think about being good at connecting with people when I’m so used to thinking about being bad at it.

***

I like that E and I are both so geeky that what started as a conversation about what to do when I’m in New York turned into both of us reading the same article about attempts to backbreed the aurochs (an extinct form of Eurasian cattle that has the dubious distinction of being the only animal mentioned in the Bible to have subsequently become extinct).

Survival of the Normalest

I woke up in a self-critical mood, remembering how much I messed things up in my further education job (although it was four years ago) and being critical of my blog writing (I wonder why anyone at all reads it) and my fiction writing. At the risk of name-dropping, Matthue Roth (My First Kafka) told me off once years ago for calling my own writing “bilge” on Hevria, saying I was insulting myself, my history and my thoughts. I feel like I don’t care about insulting them.

At lunchtime I managed to locate the Hevria post where we had this discussion. Interestingly, nearly five years ago, I was already agonising over the fact that I have ideas for stories, but am unable to empathise with my characters and write them well, getting inside their inner lives, because I’m “somewhat autistic [I was undiagnosed at that stage and nervous of staking claim to autism under false pretences] and alexithymic (unable to feel or describe emotions)”. I asked Matthue whether he thought someone who can’t get in touch with their emotions could write good fiction or poetry, but I don’t think he understood the question (maybe he couldn’t understand that some people don’t understand or feel their own emotions) and spoke more about characters who don’t have emotions, which wasn’t really what I meant.

I do wonder about that still, whether I can get inside anyone’s head enough to write well. I quoted to Matthue something George Orwell wrote, that Tolsoy’s characters are so detailed that you can imagine having a conversation with them, and that I can’t really imagine a conversation with any fictional character. I mean, I struggle to imagine conversations with real people let alone those that only live in my head!

E suggested leaving my novels for now and writing a short story. She’s probably right. I had an idea for a short story recently, but I neglected to write it down and now I can’t remember it.

***

Work was dull. I spent the morning looking for missing invoices and the afternoon struggling with a mail merge. It doesn’t get much more fun than that. I felt depressed and self-loathing all day and unsure why: my job? The thoughts about my writing? Winter sunlight issues (our office is particularly gloomy and badly-lit)? Everything? Who knows.

On the Tube home, half a carriage was filled with young boys, all “manspreading” and some with their feet on the seats. I contrasted their unthinking possession of the world around them with myself, constantly apologising for getting in the way and squeezing myself into corners.

LinkedIn tells me someone I was at university with is now a “Publisher, writer and researcher”. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing something like that? I see parents of autistic children writing on the autism forum and think, “Those children are struggling much more than I ever did as a child, why can’t I just get my life together? Surely it should be easier as an adult?” But I don’t think my functionality, such as it is, is down to my efforts, just to the grace of God.

***

The Aviva Gottleib Zornberg essay I’m reading on this week’s sedra (Torah portion) notes talks about “Isaac – in whom any obliteration of limits and distinctions rouses profound anxiety”. I’m not sure I see that in the Torah, but I do see it in myself, which is interesting, as I identify with Yitzchak (Isaac) more than any other Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) character, for reasons that are not completely clear to me. Later on in the essay she quotes the Zohar, that Yitzchak’s love for Esav (Esau) is not based on opposites attracting, but on similarities. She sees Esav as a proto-existentialist searching for meaning in a meaningless world, which also resonates with me, although I don’t identify with Esav much. (There were a lot of Hamlet quotations in the essay, actually.)

***

A blogger I respect who married in her early thirties (ancient, in her Yeshivish community) said that she only had a couple of criteria for a husband, but that she took “normality” as a given before those criteria came into effect. It made me wonder how many other frum (religious) women feel the same, and how many autistic people could pass the “normality” test, even with masking.

Given how much of the energy of the frum community is focused on finding a spouse, and how other interests and goals are postponed until after marriage, not least for fear they might scare off prospective partners, I wonder if the frum world is a sort of Darwinian “survival of the normalest” contest, where the people who can appear most normal find the best partners and bring up their children to be even more normal (conformist), breeding out more individuality with each generation. I am glad I am out of the dating game now (not that I was ever really in it in the frum world – the few women who were ever serious about me were not typical frum women themselves), but I worry about other autistic people stuck in it, and about what happens to a community that tries to breed all individuality and eccentricity out of itself.

Demons

I feel rather down today. Shabbat (the Sabbath) started OK. The good news I had yesterday was a job agency wanting to put my name forward for a librarian job. I need to update my CV and say yes. So that put me in a good mindset. I coped with shul (synagogue) despite the SHOUTING chazzan (cantor). I did some Torah study, including Talmud study after dinner, but ran out of time to do much recreational reading.

Today was much worse. Mum and Dad were out for lunch, which inevitably meant my getting up and getting dressed even later than usual. I spent a lot of time today in bed with the duvet and weighted blanket wrapped around me, trying to feel calm and comforted. I had lunch by myself, which was fine (I read about the last days of Franklin Roosevelt and the surprising unpreparedness of Harry Truman in Accidental Presidents), but across the day as a whole, my mood went down, with some loneliness, low mood (depression-low, although hopefully not lasting long enough to be depression) and missing E and fear that I’m not going to get that good new job as I haven’t worked in the library sector properly for years and have all kinds of gaps on my CV. I didn’t do much Torah study, and then Shabbat was over just after 5pm. And I have a headache that is resisting medication.

***

After Shabbat, I checked email and worried I’d upset someone with my political views. I would much rather hide my thoughts than express myself and risk upsetting people with different views. I suspect this is not considered acceptable these days of extreme individualism and self-expression, but maybe it would be better if more people did it. However, I see things that are wrong in the world, and I want to protest. I don’t really think most people can actually change the world (another unacceptable view), so I’d rather keep my friends, but there is a “demon” inside me (metaphorically; I’m neither a kabbalist nor a psychotic) that makes me want to write “edgy” or “provocative” things in whichever community I find myself, whether sexual material in the Orthodox world or anti-woke material in the wider UK mediascape where the Left does indeed have a monopoly on satire. Not that I really think of myself as “right-wing” (ugh) or even “conservative” in the way most people use the term. Maybe I just want to be sui generis. Either way, if I write anything I feel I’ll offend people. But I desperately need to write and am suffering from not being able to do so right now!

(As an aside, I had a friend at secondary school who was very clever, but also very lazy and badly behaved. He loved to mock or joke around. In retrospect, he may have been neurodiverse himself. I suddenly find myself wondering if this is how he felt, wanting to say stuff just because “Everyone” says you shouldn’t say it?)

There is a further problem that my satirical novel is not really ready to start writing yet. It probably needs a whole new plot (I haven’t had either time or courage to look at my notes). I may need to do research, although I’m in two minds about that. It’s not going to be detailed, realistic satire like Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, but dystopian-science fiction-black comedy, inspired by things like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Gulliver’s Travels, lots of Philip K. Dick novels, maybe the Blade Runner films, Brazil (the Terry Gilliam film), V for Vendetta (the style, but not the content), The Prisoner and Doctor Who stories like The Macra Terror, The Happiness Patrol and The Beast Below.

***

My biggest negative thought recently (going on for some weeks now, but particularly the last two days), is feeling that my autism has stopped me from being socialised into the frum (religious Jewish) community. There’s a LOT I could say here, but I’ll mention that autism, and related social anxiety stemming from autism-related bullying, made me skip all the experiences that socialise teenagers in the Anglo-Jewish community into the Jewish and frum worlds:  shul youth services, youth movements, Israel tour and yeshivah (not going to yeshivah was because of a whole bunch of reasons mostly unrelated to autism, but I think autism would have made it damaging for me if I had gone). I then had a weird relationship with the Jewish Society at university, until my breakdown/burnout when I moved away from it. I then struggled to find a way into the community as a young adult (twenties and thirties) dealing with depression, social anxiety and undiagnosed autism, feeling that I wasn’t able to talk to people at social events and increasingly reluctant to try.

I’ve never had many frum friends, although I have a couple. I find it hard to socialise at Kiddush and other community social events, because there’s too much background noise so I can’t hear words properly. I used to leave kiddush after five minutes or so; then someone criticised me for that, and for not going to shul much in the morning (which is due to social anxiety and possibly a sleep disorder). Then COVID hit, and I got my autism diagnosis. Whether it’s an effect of COVID and being isolated for so long, or of being diagnosed and more conscious of my needs, or just of getting older (there is anecdotal evidence undiagnosed autistics’ tolerance for noise and people declines with age), I now find being in big rooms with lots of people (or even just a few people) being noisy very difficult and am less inclined to put myself into those situations. But it’s hard to be part of the frum world without going to shul regularly, particularly for a man.

Lately, I find it harder and harder to go to shul, because of the noise and people. I think this fuels my social anxiety. There have been times during my burnout when I’ve stopped going to shul completely, which I suspect was autism-influenced, although it was before my diagnosis. Of course, there was a period of several years when I went to shul daily, or several times a day, led services and gave drashot (Torah classes) and I would like to move back towards being in that place, but I think it was the result of a number of circumstances that are hard to replicate now. I wish I could make lightning strike twice in this area, but I’m not sure how.

I honestly don’t know what I could do to make things better for me, though. I spoke to a rabbi about it over a year ago and I think he was frustrated that I didn’t have any practical suggestions for change, but I find it hard to think what would make things easier for me, let alone how to make them materialise.

I would like to post this somewhere, but I don’t know where. I think the autism forum would not understand it, and might use it to make anti-religious points. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to post it to the Orthodox Conundrum group. The Jewish autism groups I belong to are small and don’t post much, and I haven’t really introduced myself on them, so I’m scared what the result would be of posting out of the blue.

***

This doesn’t really fit anywhere in this post, but Virgin Atlantic got back to me and I don’t think they can offer me any help at the airport beyond the sunflower “invisible disabilities” lanyard and their own invisible disabilities sign. Again, I want things to be different, and maybe they could be, but if I can’t articulate them, they won’t happen.

***

I feel like I wasted the whole evening writing this post, and I still didn’t really express what I want to say. It’s horrible not really knowing what I feel half the time, let alone being able to put it into words (when I’m supposedly hyper-literate and good with words).

Sigh. Politics is a bore, autism is a bore, writing is not a bore, but feeling impelled to write things that I am more than a little suspicious of myself is a bore. And headaches are a bore.

Going to watch Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life for a bit, then interrupt and try to do some of the chores I set for myself to do tonight and which I haven’t started yet, if I can, then finish the film and try not to go to bed too late.

What Is Wrong with the World?

I actually had some potentially good news today, although I don’t want to talk about it yet, and it’s very early days. Otherwise it was a normal winter “early Friday” (Shabbat (the Sabbath) starting early, before 4pm today) i.e. a total rush to do everything in time. Just going to shave, shower and try to get to shul (synagogue), although I’m feeling quite exhausted. I wouldn’t have blogged except I needed to vent about the following:

The Jewish Chronicle today has a front page story about the BBC’s Arabic service approvingly broadcasting folksongs glorifying violence against Jews. Inside is a story about yet another prominent rabbi plausibly accused of sexual harassment. What is wrong with the world?

Bits and Pieces

I think I’ve put on all the weight I lost over the last few months, perhaps even some more. I really don’t eat that much junk! I do get hungry late at night (when I should really be in bed) and eat cereal and sometimes I eat too much when I get home from work as dinner is almost always late in our house. It is hard to make myself go to bed hungry, or deny myself one biscuit or small piece of chocolate after a stressful day. I’m not sure what else I could do to reward myself. If we’re talking empty calories, I also eat a lot of prunes (which I’m sure have a lot of natural sugar), because it’s the only way I’ve found to combat the constipation caused by taking clomipramine (sorry if that’s TMI), another reason I’m anxious to reduce my meds.

***

I did the second night of the sleep study. I slept a lot more first night than the second because of work. That shouldn’t make any difference, as they’re just checking whether I stop breathing in my sleep, but I am vaguely nervous, especially given the problems I had with the questionnaire, which asked a lot of questions that I could not answer, either because they required a “bed-partner” who knew if I snore or referred to my experience of fatigue while driving, which I don’t do. I wrote a whole long covering email when I returned the questionnaire explaining the situation. I just hope someone takes note of it. I would really like an accurate to answer to the question of whether my disrupted sleep and constant tiredness is at least in part due to a sleep disorder.

***

Some thoughts about chatan (bridegroom) class from last night: I knew a lot of the material that I was being taught, and even spotted the teacher’s mistakes on a couple of occasions. I am generally too polite to point out other people’s mistakes, but maybe I should have done so here to show that I was pretty au fait with the material.

The topic was mostly standard Jewish texts on love and marriage. I felt that I was told that I should love E as much as I love self, which I already knew (it’s from the Talmud), but that I didn’t get much advice on how to do this. (If I was teaching the class, I would have referred to Rav Dessler’s idea that giving rather than receiving generates love.)

The teacher gave me a lift home. I felt embarrassed that I don’t drive. I don’t think he realised how old I am (forty next birthday), particularly as discussion of my university background and efforts to move into proofreading work made me sound as if I have joined the labour market relatively recently (and not because of years of depression and burnout). It’s not uncommon for Modern Orthodox Jews to meet their future spouse at university and get married soon after graduation and, as I mentioned the other day, I look a lot younger than I actually am. I also hid my MA, as I’m embarrassed about that too (the fact that it was not at a good university, that I had to struggle to get the degree and took three and a half years to do a degree that should have taken one year, and that my library career did not go anywhere afterwards).

On the plus side, the teacher is somewhat geeky and likes Doctor Who. Unlike me, he prefers the new series to the old. Like me, he thinks it has gone downhill lately. Unlike me, but like many other people, he thinks it’s too woke. I don’t really think it is that much more woke than it has been at other points in the past, and I don’t think being woke is necessarily a problem here. The problem is a lack of original, interesting, fun competently-written stories.

***

Today I’ve been struggling with having negative thoughts about other people and then obsessing over my thoughts and thinking I’m a bad person for not only thinking positive things about other people. I’m not sure where this has come from.

***

Work was a bit stressful. I had trouble with the very user unfriendly website we use for stationery orders. I also made some mistakes that were at least in part because J fired too much at me at once and I tried to multitask, which is something I do badly (autism).

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul  (Afternoon and Evening Prayers in the synagogue).I got pretty overwhelmed by the noise and the people, and by thinking that not only does autism stop me functioning in the frum (religious) community, but no one even understands my problems because there are so few frum autistics (who I have come across, at least). I did think of posting something on the autism forum, but I’m not sure who would understand and it would just come across as bad mouthing my own community to people who know nothing about it and perhaps just reinforcing anti-Jewish/anti-religious sentiments.

I managed to do some shopping after work, but I’ve been pretty exhausted since I got home.

***

E and my therapist both said I should stop writing my novel for now, and, as a good Jewish boy, I know not to argue with my wife or my therapist (or my mother, but she doesn’t know what I’m writing). E encouraged me to work on the satirical novel I want to write in the meantime. I feel I should do research, but also that I don’t have the head for that with everything going on in my life right and now and that I should just jump in. How much can you research comedy anyway, even if it is satire? Unfortunately, while I feel confused and angry about much in the world, it’s hard to frame my confused and angry thoughts coherently in my head, let alone in a dystopian satirical novel. I also worry about the attitude (on the part of readers) of “If you disagree with X, then you must want Y instead” which isn’t necessarily true. I might satirise the extremes of X, but be absolutely in favour of it in moderation, but satire isn’t so good at reflecting that level of nuance, or the concept of moderation at all.