More Anxiety

I slept badly again, waking up in the middle of the night. I actually slept in two blocs of five hours, which shouldn’t be bad, but somehow with a gap in the middle felt incomplete. Plus, I woke feeling very anxious, which I think was about my appointment at the optician, although I had some mildly disturbing dreams too. Autism hates the unknown, and I didn’t know how my appointment would go under COVID. Even not knowing if I was going to be left standing outside for a long time before they let me in made me nervous. Of course, some of it could be the general anxiety I’ve had lately, and the usual burnout after work and depression group.

I had managed to mostly cut out the cereal I was eating before bed, on the grounds that I was rarely genuinely hungry and it had just become habitual, but I’ve been eating porridge when I wake up in the night to help me get back to sleep. This is because warm milk helps me sleep, but I dislike the taste of milk by itself. I suppose I could try to get some cocoa or something, but aside from the fact that I’ve never had it so don’t know if I like it, I’m not sure it would have less calories than porridge. I tend to sweet the porridge with sultanas, which is better than sugar, but probably still quite calorific. More problematic, from a diet point of view, was the ton of ice cream I ate last night to reward myself for getting through a difficult day at work and depression group with anxiety…

***

I had sick-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach anxious nausea all day, as well as well as feeling myself to be in agitated in “fight or flight” mode. It’s unusual for me to have anxiety for so long without an obvious cause and I don’t know how to cope. I might look online. In the past I’ve been so depressed that I was actively suicidal and while I wouldn’t say that was better than this, over time I evolved coping strategies for depression. This feels very new and alien and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m pretty sure it’s a medication change issue.

***

I had my eyes tested and chose new glasses. I shook quite a bit while the optician was testing my eyes, although she said it didn’t matter. I’m not sure how much was anxiety and how much the usual I-shouldn’t-shake-so-I-worry-about-it-until-I-start-shaking tremor I get in situations like this (eye test, dentist, doctor, barber, etc.). More awkward was when I attempted to pay. My first credit card was rejected by the machine. I’m not sure why. With my second (debit) card I forgot the PIN and only remembered it after I was locked out of it. And I couldn’t remember the PIN for the third card at all. I’m not sure how much of this was the result of anxiety and how much is because when I buy stuff in person (which I haven’t done much recently), it’s usually under £30 and I can buy it without needing to type in my PIN, so I’ve just forgotten it. Fortunately, my Mum was also having her eyes tested, so I just had to wait for her to finish and she laid out and I paid back. It was very embarrassing though. I felt pretty useless and immature.

The other unhelpful thing I did today was buy a vitamin D supplement without realising that it was considerably higher dosage than Boots usually sell (75 micrograms rather than 10 micrograms). I almost certainly don’t get anywhere near enough vitamin D (mostly indoors, mostly covered up even in the summer), but I’m not sure if 75 micrograms is still too much. The NHS site would seem to indicate that it’s OK. I might phone 111 (NHS non-emergency helpline) later to double-check.

***

I didn’t work on my novel today or do much in the way of Torah study because the anxiety feelings were too strong, plus the eye test and cooking dinner (cashew nut casserole) took up a lot of time. I did get an idea of what I’m doing for my devar Torah this week which I can hopefully write up tomorrow.

***

I listened to the first episode of the Normal Frum Women podcast, even though I am not a woman and am probably not normal. It was quite useful for my understanding of myself vis-a-vis the frum (religious Jewish) world. They quoted psychotherapist Elisheva Liss as saying that rather than asking if we are “normal” we should ask if we are causing harm or distress and, if not, we shouldn’t worry about what we do. Other people being judgemental is not considered causing distress. This makes a lot of sense, although it’s hard to do something that other people in your community will consider “wrong” even if you know you are not harming anyone.

I think my problems with fitting into my shul (synagogue) community come partly from not always being sure of the community’s values, not least because it is a community with some more modern elements and some more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) elements. For instance, I know some people do have TVs and others do not and it is hard to know what the “official” line on TVs is. (I’ve also noticed in recent years that some people who won’t own a TV do stream on Netflix and the like, something that I don’t fully understand.)

More contentiously, I know that many (all?) people in my community would not approve if they saw me walking arm in arm with PIMOJ, and that does make me a little nervous. However, I feel that I’ve only stayed frum in the last few years by making compromises to my preserve my sanity. This mostly involved bending rules rather than breaking them, but I break the rule about touching women who aren’t relatives for PIMOJ because I just can’t cope any more, and I feel that people who haven’t got to their late thirties without a “legitimate” physical relationship (i.e. marriage) don’t really get to judge me here. It’s break the rules in a small way to stay sane and keep the “bigger picture.”

On a related note, I found this article about passing, intended from an autistic POV (although it is written by a religious Jewish autistic woman). I feel the need to pass, both as neurotypical and mentally healthy in the world in general, and as “normal” in frum world. However, the effort involved can be pretty soul destroying as the article noted. I would like not to feel that need all the time.

Time Travel

I feel somewhat better today. I don’t know if I was distracted from depression and anxiety by being at work. I had autistic executive function issues with tasks where I had to fill in multiple spreadsheets at the same time and I kept losing the place or forgetting which spreadsheets I was supposed to use. This was made worse by having to deal with people phoning to make credit card payments where I had to drop everything and sort out the credit card payment and then afterwards try to remember what I was doing before the phone rang. I am slowly learning what all the spreadsheets do, which makes it easier to work out what goes where, but I still forget things sometimes. I made a couple of mistakes that I caught; I hope there weren’t any that I didn’t catch.

I was at least proud of myself for answering the phone. I hate doing that (anxiety), so it was a big thing.

I went to the bank too. The nearest branch, about fifteen or twenty minutes away, is closed because of COVID. The second-nearest was just a little bit up the road from the nearest one, but had a long queue, so I was out of the office for about an hour. I didn’t get lost this time.

That was it, really. I’m not feeling particularly depressed or anxious, just tired. When I was getting dressed this morning, I had an image in my head from Twin Peaks: The Return, where one character removes her face off to reveal a murky darkness broken by a bright grin. I’m not quite sure why this image was in my head. Did I feel like that this morning? It’s possible. Certainly there have been times in my life where I would have felt like that, but I don’t feel like that right now. It’s possible that being at work helped me today, in which case we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when I’m at home (cooking dinner and hopefully working on my novel).

I do feel confused about my relationship, but I’m not sure what to do that. I think we were probably moving too fast. Our relationship faces a number of unusual challenges, and the pandemic is one of then. We can’t really move things on at the moment. I think we need to slow down for a bit, but also to spend time together, which we can’t really do right now because of the lockdown.

Other than work, I went to a shiur (religious class) in the evening. It was a bit late and I struggled to concentrate. It was more a mussar (ethical self-development) shiur than anything else, about keeping going if you fail in an area of personal growth. Discussions like this always make me feel weird, as I tend to put other people on a pedestal and assume everyone is doing amazingly and only I am struggling with all my middot (character traits). I still suspect that I have worse traits than everyone really, even if they struggle in the same area. Someone asked a question at the end about how to get non-religious Jews engaged religiously when there is so much they could enjoy in Judaism. The rabbi didn’t want to answer the question in the shiur, as it was a bit off-topic, but I did wonder a bit about whether there’s a way that I could enjoy Judaism more. I can enjoy and find meaning in mitzvot (commandments), Torah study and prayer on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but it seems hard to get that during the week.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m tired, but not sleepy. I feel I should do something to unwind to help me sleep, but I don’t know what. I’m tired enough that I just sent my sister a text meant for PIMOJ, fortunately just asking how her evening was going.

***

I realised recently that I would rather have a time machine than a spaceship. (I appreciate that this decision is unlikely to have many practical ramifications.) I have felt for a long time that I don’t belong in this time. It’s partly having “old-fashioned” interests in terms of books and TV, partly feeling my politics are not a great fit for any party currently around (although I revise my political views fairly frequently – I get the impression that most people don’t), partly feeling my general worldview (religious, cultural) is different. Not necessarily out-dated, just different. I’ve never got on well with contemporary slang and trends.

I used to feel that studying history (my BA is in history) gave me access to information about the past that allowed me to understand the present better than most people. Now I’m not sure that that’s true. In fact, I suspect it’s not true. I don’t think I really understand the world particularly well. If I have an advantage, it’s only knowing that I don’t understand it, and maybe being aware that the world is more complicated than most people suppose.

Still, I feel adrift in time, looking for a society that works for me, people that I can communicate with. I want to write about a Jewish time traveller, hopefully when I’ve finished my current novel.

Special Interests and American Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. As I mentioned on Friday, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue), as I thought the COVID risk was too high to be worth it. I spent quite a bit of time on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in bed, not from tiredness, but anxiety and an autistic desire to wrap up in my duvet to self-soothe. I’ve never got around to buying a weighted blanket, but I did wonder what it would be like to have one. Maybe it would just encourage me to stay in bed…

I did some Torah study and I read a bit more of America During the Cold War, but not much. I confess my recreational reading was mostly Mistress of Chaos, the latest compilation of comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine. The comic strip is arguably better (more imaginative, better-written), and more in tune with what I think Doctor Who should be like, than the TV version is at the moment. This has happened in the past, when David Tennant was the Doctor. Scott Gray, currently the main writer and editor on the strip, is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers, even though he’s never worked on the TV version.

I tried to accept that I was going to end up doing self-soothing things like reading comic strips and curling up in bed given that I’m struggling with my mood as a result of coming off olanzapine at the same time as some very stressful stuff in my personal life and in the wider world. Even so, I feel I wish I had done things differently.

A friend emailed after Shabbat to say that she now has an official high-functioning autism diagnosis. She has also gone through quite a long process to get diagnosed, so hopefully I’ll get my diagnosis soon.

My sister phoned after Shabbat and we had a long chat, mostly me talking about all the stresses I’m under at the moment. We hadn’t really spoken for a while. Later I watched the film Mr Holmes with my parents, about an ailing, nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes, losing his memory and revisiting his last case to try to remember why he retired. It was a character drama rather than a crime story, a little slow, and dark near the end, but it was OK. Sir Ian McKellan was very good as the elderly Holmes, nicely distinguished from his sixty year old self in flashback. I’m pretty sure it contradicted the original stories in several places (Sherlock Holmes is another autistic special interest for me), but not too violently.

I feel a bit agitated now. I don’t think it was the film, just anxiety about major things in my life right now. I feel like I have a lot going on. Aside from being in the middle of the autism diagnosis process, I’m a bit more settled into my new job, but still learning the ropes and conscious that it might end soon. I don’t think I’ve fully adapted to losing two days a week to work; I’m still struggling to fit everything in. Then I’m working on my novel and trying to move on my relationship in difficult circumstances (lockdown), while, like everyone, my ability to cope with COVID is getting less and less. I still get annoyed with people who don’t wear masks properly, but I feel less judgmental of people who are not social distancing or isolating properly. It’s hard. If even a shy, autistic introvert like me is struggling now, I guess almost everyone must be.

There’s not a lot else to say. I impulse-bought a lot of second-hand CDs on sale a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve been listening to recently. One CD was scratched and unplayable and I’m waiting for a replacement, but the others were good. I’ve been listening a lot to ABBA lately. I never liked ABBA, but in the last month or two, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert. I use music mostly to cheer myself up or to motivate myself, so I like fast and upbeat music, and much of ABBA’s output fits here. I bought ABBA Gold (greatest hits), which was the broken CD, and More ABBA Gold (greatest hits volume 2), which wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but surprised me by still being very good.

***

I just commented on a friends’ blog to say, “The riots in the Capitol were pretty shocking. I used to wish I had been born in the USA, where the Modern Orthodox Jewish community is so much stronger than the UK. I wondered if I would marry someone from there and emigrate [I nearly did, as E was from the US]. Now I’m grateful that I’m nowhere near. I worry what will happen to a country where the political class is divided into two groups that each think the other is irredeemably evil, where the President can’t accept he lost the election and where there are more guns than people.” I really can’t see this ending well. Maybe not immediately, but a decade or two down the line. People say Trump is like Hitler, but my worry is more that Trump is someone like Karl Lueger and that someone much worse is waiting twenty years down the line.

On that cheery note — bed!

Quick Post

I feel I need to write, but I only have a few minutes before having to shower for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I’m not going to shul (synagogue) this week as I’m too worried about COVID. The new lockdown has worried me, especially as we found out that Mum still has slightly reduced immunity. I know I’m going to work on the Tube (I’m a key worker, technically), but I don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I’m not seeing PIMOJ this week for the same reason, which I think she was a bit upset about. I’m upset too, but I don’t want to break the rules. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about volunteering, as they have changed the rules for volunteers to make it safer, and I’m not sure how they apply to me – I need time to read them again.

I feel a bit calmer today, mostly because I know none of the things that trouble me will be happening directly over Shabbat. I spoke to my rabbi mentor too, which was helpful. It wasn’t so much that he said anything new as that he validated some of my fears as understandable, but also validated my hopes that I was doing the right thing and should stick with it. Other people have said this, but I really needed his rabbinic approval rather than approval from my parents or therapist. He suggested a coping strategy for now as well.

That said, while getting ready for Shabbat some anxieties returned. I wonder if I’m being punished, or why God seems to put me in so many difficult situations. Situations which I feel someone frum (religious Jewish) should not have got in somehow. To be honest, I struggle to understand how to function in the frum community, not in terms of religious practise, but in terms of socialisation. Know what to do and say informally, when it’s not a matter of Jewish law. Knowing how to be accepted, how to present myself, what interests are allowed and so on.

OK, out of time now. See you in twenty-five hours.

More Anxiety

Wow, I feared that when the American Empire started to go, it wouldn’t go peacefully, but I didn’t expect a mob bearing the Confederate Flag storming Capitol Hill just yet. Crazy. Mind you, I was reading about the protests of the 1960s on my lunch break (civil rights, anti-war) and I think the scale and perhaps also the intensity of unrest greater then than now. It’s just that Twitter and 24 hour news coverage make it more visible now. Compare Capitol Hill with rioters storming the Pentagon in 1967. On the other hand, civil rights and Vietnam bubbled away for years, so who knows how things will look in 2030? The culture of the sixties was definitely better though.

Back here in London…

I had a lot of anxiety again today. I am going through an anxious time, but it occurred to me that I’m coming off olanzapine, which is probably making the anxiety worse. This morning on the Tube in to work, I was too anxious to do much Torah study as I usually do. I tried to practise mindful acceptance of my anxiety and guilt feelings. It helped a bit. The anxiety went away a bit during the morning as I was busy at work, but came back in the afternoon as there wasn’t much for me to do. Sometimes it felt like borderline religious OCD (anxiety that I’ve done/will do something religiously wrong). This leads to a feeling that everything I do to try and move my life on (careers, relationships) just provokes guilt for not being perfect. I try to tell myself it’s irrational guilt, but the slightest mishap (and mishaps are inevitable) just sets me to thinking that I’m being punished by God and that worse is in store for me. I am not sure how to cure myself of this dynamic.

I think I tend to see life very much in black and white terms (which is a classic autistic perspective), but specifically in black and white moral terms. It’s a kind of scrupulosity (religious OCD) whereby I want to be morally perfect and see any moral imperfection as heinous. This leads to things like me applying for jobs that are not right for me because I feel “ought” to do so. My moral integrity and honesty is a big part of my self-esteem (insofar as I have much self-esteem), so it’s hard to challenge it.

Similarly, in terms of dating, I’ve partly internalised a frum (religious Jewish) model of dating which sees the dating process in extremely moralised and black and white terms (e.g. avoiding platonic friendships with the opposite sex; no dating before being ready to marry, in terms of having a settled career and mental health; pre-screening dates to only date people with shared values; avoiding long-term relationships before marriage). I do this even though this model has not worked for me. This leads me to feel that everything I do in dating is wrong and that my dating difficulties are a punishment from God. However, I am not sufficiently integrated into the frum community to really be able to date that way even if I wanted to do so.

Both PIMOJ and my therapist struggled to understand yesterday how I can feel that I’ve never fitted into or been accepted by the Orthodox world and yet still want to be a part of it. I’m not sure that I have the answer to this question myself. I believe in Orthodox Judaism, even if I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community. That’s the best answer I have. I know that many people would, if not consciously then at least unconsciously, change their beliefs for ones that fitted better with a possible or desirable lifestyle. That has just never happened with me, for whatever reason.

***

As a side-note on black and white morality, I’ve encountered quite a number of rabbis over the years who claimed to be very badly behaved in their youth. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Are they exaggerating to try to connect with young people? Does a disobedient, questioning, cast of mind lend itself well to Talmudic study? Probably. Can the uncontrollable energy of the boisterous child be focused into the superhuman amounts of emotional energy needed by the congregational rabbi? Possibly. Sometimes I feel weirdly that if only I had been worse-behaved at school, I might be in a much better situation today. It will be weird if I go to Heaven and they tell me that I was too well-behaved to earn much reward.

***

Speaking of which, PIMOJ and I streamed (separately) Soul, the latest Pixar film, about a musician who dies, but wants to come back to Earth, and is set to mentor a soul that is resisting being born. It was amusing enough, but I found it hard to concentrate on and triggered a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about my not enjoying life or having a clear purpose (I want to be a writer, but worry I won’t make it). I couldn’t really explain to PIMOJ that I want to enjoy the small moments of life, but all too often I can’t, and I can’t will that enjoyment into being, particularly not if it’s still an element of depression.

Rebel Rebel

I’m not sure where I am today, emotionally. I had two big things going on, the pandemic and the autism assessment. Now there’s a third, potentially even bigger, and I am not coping well. I don’t want to talk about it here yet. Or rather I do want to talk about it, but I’m not sure that I should, so I won’t for now. Suffice to say that I went to bed late last night because I was dealing with a lot of anxious and self-critical thoughts. Then I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was over-tired and hadn’t done anything to relax. Then I overslept this morning and didn’t want to get up because of the anxiety. I eventually got up because my phone was ringing, but I didn’t get there in time and whoever they were, they didn’t leave a message and I didn’t recognise the number. Hopefully it was just a cold caller, but I worry it might have been something about the autism assessment, although I know it’s unlikely that they would contact me within twenty-four hours of the last assessment.

I’ve felt lately that I was getting ahold of my life, that I was making progress with work and writing and my relationship, that I was moving towards some kind of definitive autism diagnosis, and that I was feeling like depression and mental illness, while not “cured” (I don’t know that I will ever be “cured”), are less prominent in my life. I was even wondering if I should carry on blogging here, or blogging so regularly. What is the point of a mental health blog if my mental health is reasonable?

And then, WHAM! To be honest, I knew this would happen for some time, it just happened faster than I thought it would, and it hit me harder than I expected. I still can’t talk about what is actually happening except in the vaguest of terms, but I’ve been in a state of anxiety since the weekend, and I’m not sure if it’s going to change any time soon. I guess I’m just psychologically vulnerable to mental illness at times of stress, the way some people have reduced immunity and vulnerability to physical illness.

I was able to talk about it a lot in therapy today. We ended up speaking a lot about ideas of community, individuality, conformity and so on and particularly how these apply in the Orthodox Jewish community.

I spoke about feeling a burden at the moment, a bag full of guilt and critical voices from the community and who knows what else. I want to put the bag down, if only to breathe, but I can’t, I have to keep carrying it up the hill. How much of this is actually real (real guilt, real people criticising me) and how much is just in my head is hard to tell. I do feel, on some level, like I’m responsible for the world and that I’m judged to the minutest level of detail, in a way that no one (or no one other than a total tzaddik (saint)) is judged.

My therapist suggested there was anger there too, which is correct, but I’ve never known what to do with anger other than repress it, which is not good in the long-run and arguably leads to depression. I think in the summer, when our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours were having lockdown-breaching prayer services in their garden three times a day, I wrote a letter, with no intention of sending it, saying how angry they made me. I think that helped somewhat, but my current anger seems too nebulous and undirected at the moment for that to be a viable strategy.

More surprisingly, I found myself suggesting that maybe on some level I like or need the friction with my community. I’m not entirely sure why I said this, but I suspect that I noted that I’ve spent two decades or more trying to be an Orthodox Jew and to “fit in” to the Orthodox community, but I’ve also spent two decades or more complaining (quietly) about the conformism, narrow-mindedness and bourgeois mentality that often operates in the Orthodox community, trying to not to be socialised out of my geekiness, my non-Jewish friends, the books I read. I guess I have a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” attitude to the Orthodox world.

I can see it with my novel. Sometimes I’m terrified about the backlash I might face for suggesting that domestic abuse exists in the Orthodox community and that the autistic and mentally ill are not well-catered for there, but other times I will admit to myself that I hope there is some controversy, that it “shakes things up a bit.”

It’s hard to come to terms with this, as I was a well-behaved child and I was the absolute most well-behaved, non-rebellious teenager imaginable. But here I am, worrying that I’m going to bring the Temple crashing down around me, Shimshon (Samson) style, without really wanting to do it, just feeling driven to it by loneliness and desperation, the longing for a place where I can be accepted by people who aren’t like me. I feel I should (“should” again) be able not to care what people think about me, but somehow I can’t.

I told PIMOJ I was anxious and she called. It was a difficult conversation, not least because it was late and I didn’t really want to speak, but I felt I should as she was concerned about me. It really did become apparent that there is a psychological difference between us, that she doesn’t care who does or doesn’t like her, whereas I want to be liked and accepted, something that I don’t think she really understood. I don’t think she understood why it matters to me if other Orthodox Jews reject me. I don’t think I really understand why it matters to me, to be honest. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care who liked me, but I find myself unable to find the switch to turn it off.

***

There was no volunteering today, but I was supposed to be doing some work from home and I got up later than I intended for that. I got the work done (stuffing envelopes and stamping them) as well as having therapy, but I didn’t get out for a walk. Add in the call from PIMOJ and I ran out of time for more than five minutes of Torah study, although I did write my devar Torah for the week and liked it more than I expected. It’s going to be another late night. I don’t know if I’ll have time to relax before I go to bed again so sleeplessness is likely.

***

When I started this job, the Department of Work and Pensions said I was OK working part-time and still receiving some benefits. Now they’ve written to ask for more details about the work. I accept that I probably earn too much to justify the benefits, I just wish they would make their minds up. I do wonder whether other government departments and bodies (e.g. the Treasury, the Foreign Office) are as useless and bureaucratic as the DWP and the NHS. It’s easy to look at the lockdown mess and think that they are.

Celibacy

Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).

I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.

Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.

***

I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.

As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…

What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.

This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.

The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).

Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.

I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.

I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.

I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.

From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).

Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.

Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).

Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.

***

Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.

“Marital Relations” and Violence

I struggled to get up again this morning, even more than usual. I slept for about eight hours, after going to bed late, but then spent two hours in the zone between sleep and full wakefulness, too burnt out to get up. I guess, given the emotions of yesterday evening, it’s not surprising that I felt emotionally exhausted. It was well into the afternoon before I really felt able to get going.

I did various things today: shopping, cleaning the oven for Mum, various odd chores, and a 5K run, as well as half an hour of Torah study. Unfortunately, because I was late getting up, the run was after dark, which is always harder. It still felt like a slightly wasted day, with a late start and a big pause in the early evening when I got back from my run to exhausted to do anything for a while. I couldn’t really face doing any more than that, any more Torah study or any more stuff in general. I was too tired by the end, and rather depressed.

Possibly I’m just feeling pessimistic today.

***

PIMOJ’s reaction to my novel makes me worry a bit how other frum (religious) people will respond. There’s actually very little sex in it, but there is some: a rape (which is over in a couple of lines; the book focuses more on the emotional after-effects for the female character), and also some frank discussion of sex (although no actual sex scene) where one character is trying to emotionally manipulate his wife into agreeing to have anal sex. I would say this is not what people would expect from a frum novel, except that there is very little frum serious literature to compare it with.

I didn’t want it to be “just” a frum book, but to be relevant to a wider audience. I fear I have fallen between two stools, with a ridiculous unwillingness to show actual sex for a mainstream audience, but much too much for a frum audience. The frum world won’t talk about sex except with strained euphemisms (hence Haredi comedian Ashley Blaker did a joke about the Jewish punk rock group, The “Marital Relations” Pistols). But I felt I couldn’t duck these issues, having seen (from neshamas.com, the Intimate Judaism podcast and elsewhere) that the nature of consent within marriage and the existence of domestic abuse are real issues in the frum community that we are rather in denial about and I thought it would unrealistic and untrue to duck those issues.

As an example that I should have known — in a sense, did know — what I was getting myself into, just before I started work on my novel, The Jewish News, a free Jewish newspaper, not particularly frum, ran this article about abuse (trigger warning for all kinds of abuse). The next week, they got a lot of complaints, saying it was too graphic for a family newspaper. (I’m not sure how many young children read newspapers these days.) Certainly no frum newspaper (Hamodia, Mishpacha, etc.) would ever run an article like that. But where can articles like this be run — and be seen by those who need to see them — if not in a newspaper? So I knew that if I got my novel published, I was likely to have negative feedback, but that just convinced me of the need to write it. But maybe I was wrong and this will do harm rather than good. I don’t want people to see it as saying that Jews are particularly bad people or that Judaism is a bad religion. I wanted my characters to see Judaism as life-supporting even when they were at their worst.

***

On the plus side, PIMOJ and I are connecting again. Last night we “spoke” (in text — I wasn’t up to speak on Skype) about what we admire in each other and why we want to continue the relationship (although I’ve noticed PIMOJ doesn’t describe it as a relationship, just that we’re “getting to know” each other). We’ve been texting again today. I do want to talk about what happened in therapy and with my rabbi mentor, though, especially as I feel a bit self-conscious with PIMOJ now.

I worry that we are too different in terms of personality, and also that she doesn’t know many frum men; if she did, maybe she wouldn’t find me so interesting and unique. Sometimes, even before this, I feel guilty for dating her, when I should tell her to try dating other guys first.

I guess PIMOJ doesn’t fit my mental image of the type of person I would expect to marry. To be honest, the person who most fitted that image was my first girlfriend and that didn’t work out at all, because she was already becoming a different person. There was someone at university who I thought fitted the bill too, but she wasn’t interested in me. I’m not sure what this proves, except to note that a lot of people (most people?) end up with someone different from what they think their ideal mate would be.

***

Predictive text today wanted me to say “I’ll have to wait until I get… arrested.” Now I’m wondering what my phone thinks of me and why.

Épater Le Bourgeois

Work was fine. I finished the data checking and did a load of filing. My Dad said I looked happy when I came home, which partly may be the result of a truncated working day (six hours plus a forty-five minute lunch) and J giving me a lift home instead of commuting on the Tube, but is probably also from feeling that I achieved something practical and from being in a non-hostile, reasonably autism-friendly environment. I did come home feeling OK and not exhausted, which hasn’t really happened in a work environment for many years.

I got home reasonably early and for a while was hoping to work on my novel for a bit, but I started answering emails and responding to blog comments and suddenly it was an hour later. I did finish and send my devar Torah; did a little bit of Torah study, as I had done some on the Tube in to work, but not much; and did some ironing, so it wasn’t a wasted evening, but I felt that I didn’t get 100% out of it. This is possibly me being too self-critical.

***

I mentioned that last night I went to a virtual shiur (religious class). The rabbi said that given how hair-splittingly legalistic Judaism is (not his words, but not that far off), we would expect great Jewish leaders to be “bland and boring” (those were his words), yet they have vivid personalities. I thought about this. I can think of great Jewish religious leaders who did have vivid personalities. However, I also sometimes feel that contemporary Orthodox society can feel monolithic. That anyone who doesn’t fit the mould leaves, or gets thrown out. (I also don’t know if contemporary Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) leaders fit the “vivid personalities” model, but I’m prepared to admit there that I don’t know them well enough to pass judgement.)

I’ve been thinking about this today. I don’t have any great answers. Orthodox society probably is monolithic. This is partly from overt religious conformism, but more because it’s mostly middle class. Orthodox families are talking about the same things non-religious middle class families talk about. Maybe not TV and popular culture (at least not at the Haredi end of the spectrum), but politics and house prices and which are the best schools to send their kids to and where they’re going on holiday and so on. Middle class people in general are not always noted for being daringly original and avant-garde. It’s why “bourgeois” is a term of abuse, particularly in artistic circles (for all that many artists are also middle class, much of their work is about épater les bourgeois). After a while it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: people start to feel that they have to leave if they think differently almost without pausing to see what is actually available. The creatives assume religion is conformist and meaningless; the religious establishment assumes that art and individuality are dangerous (which is true) and unnecessary (which is not true).

For me, part of the attraction of figures like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (late eighteenth/early nineteenth century) and the Kotzker Rebbe (nineteenth century) is their willingness to shock the conventional religious and social pieties of their day while remaining fully Torah observant. As for today… I don’t know. I’ve met some unconventional Orthodox figures. I would like to meet more, although it’s hard to know how. For a while, Hevria.com was a place to “meet” creative frum (religious Jewish) people, but the conversations moved from the website to Facebook, and I won’t use Facebook, and I think they started focusing on in-person events instead of online content which is fine if you live in New York or Israel, but I don’t. Someone there really upset me too, on a very personal level, and that tainted it for me.

Of course, it has also occurred to me lately that maybe the reason I never fit in wherever I go is not because the sub-cultures I try to identify with are flawed, but because I have some kind of self-sabotaging fear of fitting in and conforming and start looking for reasons to feel like an outsider as well as an anxious fear of rejection that pre-empts future rejection by not getting connected in the first place.

***

According to my friend, who knows these things, this special Doctor Who magazine has sold out twice from the publisher’s website and once from a general magazine site. Science fiction shop Forbidden Planet seems to have sold out too. All this in the space of a week. Actually, as I’ve been looking since before it was published, I suspect it sold out largely from pre-orders. Certainly the publisher’s website seemed to sell out more or less immediately. I’m probably going to have to resign myself to not getting hold of it.

***

I’ve got four episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return left. It picked up around the halfway point, with the various plot strands coming together, which in turn helped me to figure out who on Earth all the new characters were, how they related to each other and what they were doing. I will probably have to watch it at least once more to really understand it. I have discovered that I’m not as squeamish for screen gore as I thought, coping with some on-screen nastiness, although I prefer the original series were the gore (and sex and swearing) was mostly implicit. I feel vaguely bourgeois for saying that (see above). I do believe gore (and sex and swearing) can be dramatically justified, but not everything here seemed to pass that test, although some did. It’s hard, something I have struggled with in my writing, not gore per se, but violence, sex and swearing. It’s hard to tell when less is more sometimes. Just this week I cut something from my novel (sexual rather than violent) because I felt it was a distraction, but the novel features sexual violence that I think is necessary to be true to the subject (domestic abuse).

The Much-Anticipated Politics Post

I’ve mentioned a few times about wanting to write something about politics, not in a party political way, but in the sense of my moral and political intuitions and how I feel nervous about talking about them to other people. This post probably isn’t perfect, but it’s a start and I think I should just post it by this stage, so here we go…

***

There’s a good quote I came across relatively recently: “if people seem slightly stupid, they’re probably just stupid. But if they seem colossally and inexplicably stupid, you probably differ in some kind of basic assumption so fundamental that you didn’t realize you were assuming it, and should poke at the issue until you figure it out.”

If you want, please consider what follows an explanation of my colossal and inexplicable stupidity…

Like a lot of diaspora Jews, I was raised in an environment that was at least mildly left-of-centre. There was a feeling growing up that one should vote Labour/socialist (arguably not the same thing when I came of age in the Blair years) or at the very least Liberal Democrat/liberal. (It’s weird that antisemites see Jews as monolithically conservative when the reality is that most diaspora Jews seem to be left-of-centre.) As I reached my teenage years, I was influenced by two things. One was studying economics at A-Level and feeling that socialism simply doesn’t work, although I was open to more moderate state intervention in the market. The other was the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. I don’t want to make this about Israel, but I felt that the news coverage and response from politicians and NGOs was increasingly one-sided. I felt that in the space of the first decade or so of the twenty-first century the “narrative” moved from a position of “There are faults on both sides, but Israel is heavy-handed” (which is a debateable point, but not necessarily antisemitic) to the demonisation of Israel as a uniquely evil state and which implicitly has to have its very existence questioned. This is much closer to antisemitism, at least in a world where no other state has had its legitimacy questioned like this. This attitude had been present among the hard-left for decades, coming ultimately out of Soviet Bloc propaganda (the USSR backed the Arabs), but seeped into the media, NGOs and the moderate left, particularly on campuses, where the atmosphere is increasingly hostile to Jewish students, something not really reported in the mainstream media, although it’s been reported widely in the Jewish press and online. Given that Zionism and the State of Israel are a major part of my identity, as they are for most Jews, this felt like an assault on my sense of self and poisoned my view of much of the left and made it harder and harder to see myself as a part of it, even though the right was not particularly appealing.

Contrary to what many people on the left feel, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsic about contemporary progressive thought that makes prejudice less likely than among conservatives, it’s just that the prejudice expresses itself in different ways. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Jews became identified on the left with capitalism, building on earlier antisemitic ideas about Jewish wealth and power. That idea was suppressed after the Holocaust, but has gradually crept back in, initially under the guise of anti-Zionism, but, as was seen in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, classic antisemitic conspiracy theories and even Holocaust denial are passed around quite openly now on the hard-left.

I suppose I had pulled on a thread and gradually my beliefs began to unravel. This all happened slowly, over a decade or more of time, but I guess by about 2010 I became interested in hearing views I had never really considered before.

I think my views achieved a kind of stasis for a few years where I didn’t really identify with anything other than a vague centrism. Then came Brexit, the most seismic event in British politics in my lifetime. I described myself as a “reluctant Remainer.” I disliked aspects of the EU, especially its lack of direct democratic accountability, but felt being in was better than being out. Still, when Leave won, I thought that was that. In the months that followed, I was horrified to see people I admired, working to annul a democratic vote because they disagreed with it. There seemed to me to be a class element to this: middle class, university-educated Remainers trying to block working class Brexiteers. All the Remainer talk of gullible working class voters being “tricked” into voting Leave made it hard to avoid feeling there wasn’t a sense of entitlement buried under there stemming from access to higher education.

As I read more over the coming years, I realised this paralleled the white working class’ embrace of Donald Trump in the USA. I hated Donald Trump, but I increasingly felt he was the only prominent person who had noticed that in the move to identity politics based on race, gender and sexuality, working class and lower middle class people, some of them living close to the breadline, had been forgotten. Their incomes have stagnated for decades while the rich and university educated have got richer. I felt that Trump was manipulative and probably had limited real regard for these people; like a businessman, he saw an attractive market. All the same, he signalled a failure in the democratic process that was most pronounced in America, but present in other Western countries.

(I suppose, if you want to go down this route, that I’m part of the lower middle class “left behinds” – fifteen years after leaving university, I’ve never had a full-time job or owned a home. Of course, in my case it’s due to autism and mental illness rather than “elite over-production” (briefly, the idea that there are now more people with degrees than there are good jobs that require degrees, resulting in unemployment among people who are already in debt from university fees that they were told they would easily pay off once they started working). Even so, there is some resentment of the prosperous middle class that I try to repress, but probably is in there to some extent, I can’t deny it.)

All the same, I feel uncomfortable calling myself a “conservative.” I don’t agree with all conservative policies, for one thing. For another, I find conservative political parties worldwide fairly repulsive. What works on a local scale as communal help ends up on a national scale as strict needs-testing and rooting out of “undeserving” claimants, backed up by occasional jingoism. COVID in particular has shown the British Conservative Party as inefficient when faced with a new challenge, while Donald Trump has shamelessly ignored the science and tried to make it a partisan issue (although I don’t see Trump as a conservative in any meaningful sense).

Nevertheless, I believe in evolutionary change and tradition; in localism and third sector involvement in social care; I believe that many problems are not solvable, not by government and certainly not within one electoral cycle; I am suspicious of simplistic mono-causal explanations; I am strongly opposed to monopolies and big corporations, whether public or private-sector; and I feel excluded from identity politics, which often seems antisemitic, and which in any case I see as socially divisive. So all these thoughts would mark me out as a conservative, albeit a very particular kind of conservative, what in Britain is sometimes referred to as One Nation Conservatism for its vision of a mutually responsible national culture that transcends the divisions of class. I care about many of the issues progressives care about (poverty, discrimination and injustice, the environment), I just find their answers simplistic and often unworkable.

I’ve tried other ways of looking at the political spectrum. One recent UK survey identified seven types of political ideologies and I’m don’t fit any one of them, so that didn’t help. Other people look at “Somewheres” versus “Anywheres” – those rooted in a place and culture against cosmopolitans who value global living and policies. This has the advantage of explaining Brexit and Trump well; both appealed to parts of the established right (but not the neo-liberals), but also to parts of the working class that had not previously voted conservatively. But my “Somewhere” place doesn’t exist; inasmuch as I want to conserve somewhere, it’s a construct of Jewish identity that only exists on an abstract plane, not in a real place (not even Israel).

George Orwell divided the world into moralists and revolutionaries. Moralists think there is no point in reforming institutions while human nature is in need of reform; revolutionaries think the reverse. I suppose I would mostly be a moralist. More pertinently, Orwell also coined the phrase “Tory anarchist,” defined by the political theorist Peter Wilkin as “a form of cultural dissident, out of step with and in opposition to many features of the modern world” who has “respect for privacy and the liberty of individuals, a fear of the state and its expanding power over social life; a nostalgic and melancholy temper… ; criticism of social conformism; and a pervasive sense of pessimism about the fate of the modern world.”

This is a phrase I’ve taken to heart. I like it partly because it’s loosely defined and allows me to avoid pinning myself down, but also because it suggests to me (although perhaps not to other people) a kind of dynamic tension between opposing outlooks that I feel strongly, as opposed to a synthesis or compromise.

I suppose I think that there is no one way of running a society/economy. It’s all about what trade-offs you are willing to make. I’m not a libertarian, but the libertarian saying that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” seems to me to be inherently true, but frequently ignored. You can trade off economic growth against economic redistribution or unemployment against employment laws and minimum wage legislation and so on. It depends if you think the gain is worth the cost. I think that’s entirely sensible behaviour. The problem is that politicians rarely frame the decisions in that way; they tend to try to mislead voters into thinking that you can have it all. I’m very much opposed to that kind of short-term, simplistic thinking, whether it comes from the left or the right. I do very much see politics as a pragmatic business of balancing different positives and negatives and I feel uncomfortable with people who see it in a very redemptive, almost messianic, way, about “saving the world.” I don’t think we can save the world, only God can do that. We can just try to make it marginally less awful.

Even though I’ve moved rightwards, a lot of my friends and family are more left-wing, particularly online. The library sector is very left-wing, unsurprisingly, being based on public sector and education sector employment. On the other hand, some people in the Orthodox Jewish community are far off to my right. I haven’t been able to work out if most Orthodox Jews are right-wing, or just the most vocal ones. I mostly walk away from fights that are impossible to win and let other people believe what they like. It does leave me feeling “They would hate me if they knew me,” which is not good for my self-esteem. I do feel a lot of the time that I have to hide my sense of self, which probably isn’t healthy for me. Hence, I want to write this, just so I can see what happens and whether I can afford to open up to the world a bit more.

Feeling Slightly Useless

I think I’m going to pause job-hunting for a bit, or at least scale it down. My new job will probably only last two or three months, so I do need to keep looking, but it’s not such an imminent thing that I’m willing/able to apply for jobs I’m less likely to want or get. So, for the moment I’m not applying for a very user-facing public library job that would have been hard with autism and social anxiety. I’m not sure what I’m doing about the cataloguing job at the institution where I did disastrously in the interview and exam for a similar job back in 2018.

***

I spent an hour trying to work on my novel. I proof-read half a chapter or so, but did not write much that was new. I got distracted a lot and I probably felt too depressed to do much that was useful – I’m not sure whether I made the right decision about not expanding some passages or cutting others. My brain is just not functioning today and I don’t know why, but I’m certainly less productive today than I was on Friday. Maybe I’m burnt out after a busy Friday and “peopling” yesterday (on Zoom rather than in person, but that can be more stressful). I’m now halfway through the second draft in terms of chapters, but probably much less than halfway in terms of time and work, as I know the latter chapters need a lot of redrafting to fix plot and character problems.

***

I wanted to go for a run, but my knee was hurting for a bit, so I went for a walk, but tried to walk further than usual, about five kilometres.

I did about forty-five minutes of Torah study; I wanted to do more, but I ended up going to my shul‘s (synagogue’s) Annual General Meeting on Zoom and felt I had to draw a line. I was in two minds about going to this given that I felt down, but PIMOJ is the Better Angel of My Nature and suggested I should go. I watched it without my webcam on, which is discouraged, but I did not feel up to being seen or having my room seen; plus, this way I could listen with one ear while eating dinner or working on other things. I don’t really like long-winded speeches at meetings; I’ve already noted the “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet” aspect of meetings that drives me crazy.

There was a lot of praise for people who have helped the community in different ways, which is absolutely correct, but I always feel, “Well, I can’t help, there’s nothing I can do.” When I was at Oxford, someone actually got really annoyed with me for refusing to go on the Jewish Society (JSoc) committee. My feeling was that the JSoc was a social group to enable Jews to meet and socialise (and date) rather than a religious society and that I knew nothing about running a social group. Thus spake undiagnosed autism and social anxiety. This person got really annoyed with me though and felt I was being selfish in taking from the society and not giving back (actually, I wasn’t taking that much as I hardly attended any events, but that’s another question). I drew on this for my novel too. Of course, shul brings up feelings of religious inadequacy compared with other people, which I didn’t have so much at Oxford. On Zoom there is also the “I can see everyone my age has a lovely house and I live in my parents’ second bedroom” inadequacy feeling.

Then they started talking about financial donations, which weren’t an issue at university where we were all impoverished students, but which now set me aside from people with successful jobs.

Then the internet, which had been ropey for the first hour of the meeting completely packed up (I’ve been having internet trouble again on my laptop lately). I did eventually manage to log back in on my phone, which has a better connection, but I was feeling even less engaged.

There was some stuff about finances and fees that panicked me and I need to look into.

I guess my overall impression of the AGM was personal inadequacy and something approaching awe for mentally healthy neurotypicals who are able (a) to do stuff to help the community and (b) stay interested and engaged for the whole meeting. To be honest, if they were able to sit through the finance presentation and ask pertinent questions, they beat me (yes, I know probably a huge chunk of the community are accountants).

The meeting is still ongoing as of 10.10pm, but I think I’m going to have to call it a night or my head will explode and I won’t be able to sleep.

***

I don’t know why I feel depressed today. I’m worried about getting COVID on the commute to my new job or to volunteering. I’m worried about performing badly in the new job and letting my friend down. I’m worried about sharing an office all day with someone (is he going to expect me to talk? To eat lunch together? I like to read on my lunch break…). I guess some of it is wanting to move on with my life (career, writing, PIMOJ) and feeling constrained by external factors (mental health and autism, financial situation and more), which is frustrating. I wonder if I will ever achieve the goals I’ve set for myself. I do know that whether I build a career as a writer or a librarian or something else, it’s going to take years; likewise, getting married will take years, even if PIMOJ is The One, and sometimes that time scale feels very daunting. How am I going to do anything with my life if it takes years just to get to the start? I know, I have started already, but it’s hard to see what I’ve achieved so far. Even on a smaller scale, I don’t like waiting to start the new job; I want to dive in and get started, so that’s another cause of anxiety and depression.

I guess more prosaically I miss PIMOJ. Unlike my previous relationships, I think we communicate better in person than online, which is probably good overall, but bad during COVID. It’s a real shame we can’t meet in person very often. I think we are both serious about this relationship and want to move things forward, but are being held back, partly by COVID, but also by other things going on in each of our lives, like my autism and job situation and some things in PIMOJ’s life. In terms of feeling bad, there’s also some loneliness and touch hunger too today, and not knowing when that will change.

***

Joe Biden’s middle name is ‘Robinette.’ I’m not quite sure how I avoided knowing that until today. I have a weird fascination with the middle names of US Presidents, which are often very unusual, at least from a British point of view. I’m guessing that some Americans still do the Victorian thing, which my grandparents did with my uncle, of giving the mother’s maiden surname to the first son as a middle name.

Rabbi Sacks, and Comparing Myself to Friends

I know, there’s been an election in America. That’s not what I want to write about. Shortly after Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished, the Anglo-Jewish community heard that Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Emeritus Chief Rabbi, had died. I still feel shocked and am struggling to process things. I never met him personally (although I’ve been in the same room as him a couple of times), but I own ten of his books, and that’s excluding his prayer books (siddur, five machzorim and hagaddah). I’ve read far too many of his divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) to count over the years as a long-term subscriber to his email essays and updates. Just this year, I’ve seen him speak live online several times on video during lockdown. I quote him a lot in my own divrei Torah. I knew he had cancer, but I had no idea that it was this far advanced.

Rabbi Sacks was a major influence on my thought. He was really the first rabbi who showed me that it’s possible to belong to both Orthodox Jewish society and wider Western culture, not just as a bidieved (exceptional, after-the-event circumstance), but as a deliberate choice. The Jewish community in the UK is very small, about 400,000 people, I believe the smallest mainstream religious community in the UK, but we have a much bigger societal presence than that. It’s not by any means entirely due to Rabbi Sacks, but his eloquence and media presence ensured that he was an ambassador for the community on the wider stage. I suspect the community under-rated him in his lifetime, partly due to a few controversies he was in, and also because his ability to explain difficult ideas from Judaism and Western philosophy in an accessible way made him sound less intelligent and original than he was; he was never a ‘difficult’ read in the way that e.g. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was.

To lose Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz within a few months of each other is a massive loss to global the Jewish community in general and the Centrist or Modern Orthodox community in particular. Barukh dayan ha’emet.

***

My second, and hopefully final, autism assessment appointment has been delayed until 2 December. I’m not quite sure why. It’s a little frustrating, but I feel OK about it. At least the NHS warned me in advance this time.

***

As for how I’ve been, I got up earlier than usual on Friday and managed to get in more than an hour of work on my novel before Shabbat. It was slow going, re-reading and editing, and my heart wasn’t really in it, but I slogged on.

I think my parents thought I was fairly grumpy on Friday night. To be honest, they were right. I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, but everything I said came out wrong, when I was able to do more than grunt and shrug. I’m not always good at understanding or even spotting my emotions, so if they hadn’t told me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. They asked if I was anxious about anything and I initially said no, but after a while I realised that I have a new job, where I’m worried about letting a friend down and about travelling on public transport during lockdown and catching COVID, and even beyond that I’m worried about juggling work, Torah study, writing my weekly devar Torah and working on my novel as well as looking for further work for when this finishes, so it’s not surprising that I am a bit anxious.

***

I finished reading the anthology of writings by Rav Kook that I’ve been reading for some weeks now (The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters and Poems). This post has already been dominated by Jewish stuff/rabbis, so I will not say much, just that, although I had read some of Rav Kook’s writings before, I had not realised his enormous relevance to the contemporary world. In a world where we are encouraged to think in terms of binary opposites (religion OR science; the individual OR the community; tradition OR modernity; nationalism OR universalism), Rav Kook says, “No, God is bigger than that, God is big enough for both, and more.” Essential reading.

***

After Shabbat I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my Oxford days. We tend to meet up every six months or so and are now doing it on Zoom because of COVID. I enjoy seeing them, even virtually, but I sometimes end up feeling a bit negative about myself as I’m the only one without a good job (university lecturer/writer and two lawyers, although one is a law teacher at the moment) and one had his baby daughter with him on the call for a while. I thought I was over this kind of looking over my shoulder and comparing myself to others, but obviously not.

I mentioned about my novel to them the last time we spoke, really to have something to say and not to sound pathetic for being long-term unemployed, but I feel really uncomfortable talking about it and I’m not sure why. It’s partly that I never like talking about myself, but I think also that I’ve told people that the novel is semi-autobiographical, which it is, but now I’m trying to walk that back because (a) a lot of it is NOT autobiographical and (b) I don’t want people assuming that certain bits are autobiographical when they are not (or, in some instances, when they are, but I don’t want to make that public. In particular, I’m vaguely worried about someone I used to know realising one of the characters was originally based on her, even though I’ve now developed her beyond that).

I wanted to do some work on my novel tonight, but after the Zoom call and dinner, it was too late, plus I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Sacks and wanting to write this post.

Living the Life, and Intermittent Depression

I got up at 6.30am to go to volunteering. I got there on time. Unfortunately, the fresh fruit and vegetables we were supposed to be packing (for the needy) did not. We packed the dry and tinned food, toilet paper and so on, but when I left at 11.00am the fruit and veg had still not arrived, even though most of the food parcels had been sent on their way to their recipients. The delivery company blamed traffic. It must be disappointing to the recipients. Doing this has really made me appreciate how close some people live to the breadline, a fact I knew intellectually, but not emotionally before now.

I had some awkward autistic moments at volunteering, one big, embarrassing executive function malfunction and some minor communication difficulties, but I think I was mostly OK, even making a bit of small talk.

When I got home I was too tired to do very much. It’s strange how much two and a half hours of volunteering plus an early start takes out of me. I did a little Torah study (I had done some on the bus to volunteering, but wasn’t sure if it technically counted as “Torah” – the letters of Rav Kook and a psychological analysis of Iyov (Job)). I procrastinated a bit, and then it was time for therapy.

Therapy was good. I was awake, thanks to the power of coffee. This therapy is more about practical coping strategies than delving into my past, which is what I need right now. The therapist suggested spending time checking in with my thoughts to see if I am drifting into anxiety or depression, which for me is often about losing present-focus. I said that I’m already kind of doing that with my blog – when I read it through before posting I can sometimes see that I’m beating myself up unnecessarily or worrying or whatever. (I’m even doing that now as I proof-read, because I’m aware that I’ve got some more depressed thoughts coming up in a minute.) We (it’s not always obvious at the end of a session who suggested what) also had some practical ideas for interview practise and to see if there are exercises online to improve executive function. I did look for these, but they seem to mostly be things I’m already doing.

We had a family Zoom meeting in the evening, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, uncle, aunt and five cousins (at different times). It was good, but I feel I don’t talk much when I’m around my extended family. Actually, that’s not quite true; I talk more when we’re present in person, but not on Zoom. We spoke a bit about different COVID regulations in Britain and Israel; when you compare different countries, a lot of it begins to seem arbitrary (not in the sense that it’s unnecessary, but that no one government seems to really know what to do).

I feel I’m not as close to my extended family as I would like. I guess it’s not surprising, as my uncle, aunt and eldest two cousins moved to Israel decades ago; the younger three cousins were born there. Mum and Dad go out there a lot, but I haven’t always gone with them. And I always feel that as the eldest of the seven cousins (I’m nine years older than my eldest cousin), I’m in this strange position of not quite being one of the adults, but not being one of the children either (this could be my epitaph). And life in Israel is very different to life in the UK. But I guess it is partly that I can’t always connect with other people, and why would my family be different? I count myself lucky that I have a good relationship with my parents and my sister. It would be easy to drift into autistic solitary seclusion. The fact that I live at home is obviously a help there, and I think COVID and Mum’s cancer has brought me closer to my parents.

***

While I was at volunteering, I got a phone call from the hospital that will be doing my autism assessment. I asked them to phone back when I was at home. They didn’t. I’m probably going to have to chase this.

***

I wrote a bit yesterday about not feeling able to live the sort of life I’m “supposed” to lead according to mainstream twenty-first century Western or frum (Jewish religious) standards. I’m trying to feel that my worth isn’t related to those standards, the standards of being rich and successful (mainstream) or studying a lot of Torah and being very involved in the community (frum) or being married and having children (mainstream and frum), but it’s hard. I suppose I don’t have some other standard of worth on which to measure myself in a positive way. I try to judge myself based on what I can do, but it’s hard to tell what that is sometimes. I try to be a good son, a good brother, a good friend, but it’s hard to tell if I am objectively those things. Likewise I try to be a good Jew, keep halakhah (Jewish law) and connect with God as much as I can, but, again, it often feels like I could do more and I don’t know how realistic that feeling is. Sometimes (often) I wish I could see myself objectively, as God or other people see me.

***

I’ve been feeling depressed on and off today and I don’t know why. I can see external triggers, like seeing a clip (on Twitter, inevitably) of Orthodox Jews showing support for Black Lives Matter at a BLM march being threatened by BLM supporters, and the comments this got on Twitter. But that’s superficial. I’m not sure why I feel down persistently over the last few days. It feels like a few weeks ago I felt better. Now… I don’t feel constantly bad, as I did from 2003 until a few years ago (I’m not sure when exactly), but there are down times, particularly today. Some is probably tiredness and hunger, and – if not boredom, then frustration and wanting escapism (see below for more on this). Some is frustration with dating in lockdown and wanting to be able to spend more time with PIMOJ, in different settings than just cold walks in parks. Some is the days getting shorter, which always sets me back. I guess I’m also having some doubts about my novel, about why I’m even trying to write a mainstream literary novel (because I want to tell my story and my story doesn’t involve time machines or monsters), whether I will ever get it in good enough shape that I want to share it with anyone else, let alone look for a publisher. I wonder if I will ever have a job again and what that would mean for me. Intermittently at least I feel dysfunctional (like when messing up at volunteering today). I guess I don’t know where my life is going. In some ways the surprising thing is that I’m still on a reasonably even keel. I can see that I have a lot of non-present-focused fears and recrimination here, it’s just hard to know how to bring back present-focus. Perhaps by going to bed?!

***

I was warned that Twin Peaks goes rapidly downhill in the second half of its second season, but I was not prepared for just how far down it goes and how quickly. Pretty much as soon as Laura Palmer’s murder is solved (the initial “hook” of the plot), the whole thing falls apart. The suspense, sense of danger and emotional depth is gone and without that the horror effects, soap operatic sub-plots and moments of surrealism just seem silly, camp and pointless. I’m invested enough in the series and the characters to keep watching, especially as I’ve heard it does pick up again at the very end of the season, but I don’t think I’ll be binge-watching three episodes in a day again. (Well, or so I thought. I was planning to watch a film this evening, but then I couldn’t decide which one and the family Zoom call went on longer than I expected so I ended up watching more Twin Peaks instead, and the episode was a little better than the one I watched earlier.)

Struggling Through

I had hoped to get up at 9am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism support group Zoom call at 11am, but I overslept by three-quarters of an hour and had to rush. The meeting got off to a bad start with someone challenging the group agreement. The agreement says something about we have to respect each others’ opinions and he got annoyed saying some things are empirical facts and need to be challenged, which was possibly an autistic way of looking at the exact details of the agreement rather than the general gist of the thing. I don’t know why he suddenly got annoyed about this today when he’s been in previous meetings without saying this; maybe he recently got in an argument with a conspiracy theorist or something. This incident put me on edge and made it hard for me to focus on the meeting and really listen to other people and I kept being distracted and found it hard to concentrate, doing other things, which I feel is unfair to the people speaking and usually avoid. I should probably have just left early, especially as it was only on Zoom.

Afterwards, I felt exhausted and somewhat depressed. It was hard to do anything as I felt so drained, but I know tomorrow will be worse (early start, volunteering and therapy, plus a family Zoom call in the evening) so I felt the need to try to do some things. I had poor executive function, making plans and not sticking to them, which is an autistic trait probably worsened by tiredness. I also had anxious/depressed thoughts about not experiencing autism the same way other people in the group do, leading to doubts about whether I’m on the spectrum.

I somehow fought through the tiredness to work for an hour on my novel, although I didn’t get a lot done beyond finishing off and tidying up the bit I was working on yesterday. I did manage to go for a walk. I had some negative feelings while walking. I was thinking that I don’t particularly want, or feel able, to live the type of life I’m “supposed” to live according to general consumerist society or according to frum (religious Jewish) society, but it’s hard to work out what type of life I actually could lead and find fulfilling.

***

I spent the better part of an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was despite the fact that I am reusing an old piece I wrote many years ago (I think about ten years ago). I just wanted to polish it a bit as well as bring the referencing in line with my usual standard (I don’t do Harvard referencing on something that seems so ephemeral and non-academic, but I do like to indicate where my sources came from). Even so, it took forty-five minutes or more to be happy with it.

***

Regarding telling PIMOJ about my blog, some commenters suggested not to do so. I think they’re probably right, but I do need to find a way to open up to her with more of my emotions. I possibly find it easier to speak to her in person than in text/instant messenger, which is unusual compared with previous relationships (perhaps because English isn’t her first language?), but because of COVID it’s hard to meet in person. We’re hoping to Skype on Thursday.

***

This post is being posted somewhat half-finished, as I just realised it’s 10pm and I need to be up in eight and a half hours so should get to bed soon.

Yom Kippur

I nearly forgot to blog about today, I was so busy instant messaging PIMOJ after breaking my fast (which is good). Yom Kippur was strange, but I guess it was strange for almost every Jew this year. I didn’t go to shul at all as I’m still wary about infection risks. I’m hoping to go over Sukkot (next week), but Dad isn’t planning on going until after Mum has finished radiotherapy, saying he is worried about falling ill (from COVID or anything else) and not being able to drive her to her appointments (Mum can’t drive at the moment because she’s still recovering from surgery and has limited use of her arm).

Yom Kippur is the only biblical fast day in Judaism and the only one I’m allowed to fast on while on lithium. My medication gets disrupted, as I take the first dose early, before the fast starts (before 6.00pm yesterday) and then skip the morning dose entirely. As a result, I became very tired in the evening and dozed off as soon as I finished davening (praying) last night, slept for two and a half hours, woke up, did some Torah study and recreational reading, struggled to fall asleep again, then slept for something like ten hours or more and struggled to get up and get going without being able to eat breakfast, which I usually rely on to kick-start my day.

I lay in bed for quite a long time (I think several hours), feeling too faint and drained to get up, but apparently not tired enough to fall asleep again. I tried to think about teshuva (repentance), but my mind kept coming back to the idea that I am getting better (as a person/Jew, I mean, not necessarily mental health-wise) and that, considering what I’ve been through, it’s quite amazing that I do still believe in God and am still frum (religious). I’ve met autistic people who have left religion, lots of mentally ill people who have left it, plus there are “older singles” in the frum community who leave the community in their thirties feeling, regardless of God, that the community has no place for them at that age without a spouse and children.

Once I got going I davened, going through the set liturgy of confession as well as my own private one (the idea is that Jews confess a set liturgy in the plural as a sign of collective responsibility which covers everything anyone might have done at a basic level; I then add in specific things that I’ve done and want to atone for, but not everyone does this). I did feel I have room for growth, obviously, but I still felt that I’m doing well. Which I guess is good, although I’m not sure how much it was in the spirit of the day. I wrote the other day of a shiur (religious class) I heard the other day from the psychotherapist Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman, where he spoke about the importance of having a mature and honest dialogue with God about our relationship to Him and how we feel honestly about the mitzvot (commandments) and why we are meeting them or not meeting them, rather than expecting to get a list of praise/blame like a school report, so I guess it was in that spirit.

As I said, I did eventually get up and get dressed and davened some of the prayers, albeit that some can’t be said without a minyan (prayer quorum) and others I was too late for. My parents and I mostly davened together in the dining room though, which we haven’t done until now in lockdown (I usually daven in my bedroom) and it was nice to sing some bits together; we also read Yonah (Jonah), the haftarah (reading from the prophets) for Yom Kippur afternoon together, which was nice.

So, although I was not really conscious for most of it, that was a fairly meaningful Yom Kippur. I didn’t even get ill for once. No headache at all and just some dizziness when standing in the afternoon.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

A fund-raising email from an autism charity told me today that autistic people are nine times more likely to commit suicide than non-autistic people, which is depressing, but I fear has the ring of truth. Elsewhere, a blog I follow tells me that only 16% of autistic people are in work (although I suspect there are more non-diagnosed autistic people who are in work and haven’t needed a diagnosis) and only 5% get married (it doesn’t say how many of those marriages work out). I’m not sure what happens if you take out the severe autism. Of course, secular Western society defines people by their career and Orthodox Jewish society largely defines them by their marriage and offspring, so it is easy to end up feeling like a failure – which I guess is where the suicide statistic comes in.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) felt like the first Shabbat of winter, cold and dark, and over early enough that it wasn’t worth eating dinner for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). I slept for something like thirteen or fourteen hours out of twenty-five, which was not good. I read two chapters of Iyov (Job) which was good, as Iyov is about the hardest book of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) from a linguistic point of view, very, very difficult poetry with lots of obscure words (hard from a theological point of view too, of course, but that wasn’t my main point). Other than that not a lot happened.

I was vaguely anxious, or at least apprehensive about a lot of things: maybe Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) which starts tomorrow night and certainly the job interview on Wednesday and my fears about what will happen if I get the job which is at a Very Important Institution (can I work full-time? Will they let me work part-time? Can I cope with work at all? What will it be like working somewhere so important and prestigious, not to mention high security? What about commuting with COVID restrictions?).

I also worried about dating PIMOJ. At the moment I feel inhibited from telling her when I have a depressive day, because she’s so positive and I worry how she will react if I’m depressed. However, that leaves me feeling like a fake and worrying that we can’t build a relationship on honesty if I feel I have to hide how I feel for fear of rejection. I also wonder if she is too religious for me, which seems a weird thing to think, compared with my previous relationships. It doesn’t help that we’ve never met in person because of COVID and it isn’t certain when we will be able to do so. I feel that things might be better, or at least clearer, if we met in person, but at the moment we’re stuck with instant messenger and Skype calls. I do like her, though, even if I worry we’re not on the same wavelength.

In Praise of Idleness

Today I felt tired with poor concentration. It is not surprising; I went to over six hours’ worth of shiurim (religious classes) on Zoom yesterday, so it’s only to be expected that I feel burnt out today. Still, I feel bad for struggling to do things. Beating myself up a bit, although trying not to. I really wanted to work on my novel, or at least read some more of the book I’m reading on characterisation, as well as do some Torah study, but I struggled to do anything. In the end I read a little of the characterisation book (it mostly made me feel like a bad writer), did about fifteen minutes of Torah study, quickly cooked some plain pasta for dinner and went for a walk. That was about all I could manage today. Mum and Dad spent the afternoon at the hospital, so I was lucky to have the house to myself. I felt too burnt out, and Zoomed out, to go to Zoom depression group this evening, so I plan to watch Star Trek Voyager until bedtime; I don’t really feel up to doing anything else.

I wish I could just do more with my life, that intermittent bouts of depression and autistic burnout didn’t regularly derail me, and impede my functioning even on better days. As Ashley said on her post today, “high functioning” is an unhelpful term, as functionality can vary over time or in different environments or with different tasks, not to mention the fact that “high functioning” is essentially an arbitrary term that means different things to different people. I certainly feel that my “high functioning” autism is not always very functional, and the same probably goes for when my depression was more severe, but I was still working. I was present at work, but my work was sub-par and getting through each day was an ordeal.

***

Perhaps because I feel burnt out, I’ve been thinking about idleness this afternoon. Orthodox Judaism is very intense and demanding, not just with work and family, but Torah study, mitzvot (commandments) and chessed (kindness, which covers a multitude of concepts: visiting the sick and cooking for them, visiting mourners and cooking for them; hospitality to guests, including strangers; giving to charity and volunteering; and more). Relaxation is allowed primarily as a way of recharging, or when it coincides with another religious activity (e.g. recharging by spending time with friends is praiseworthy if those friends are invited as guests for a Shabbat meal). It’s not just Jews who feel like this (I just went downstairs for something and an advert came on the TV saying, “Do you wish you felt less tired so that you could do more of the things you love?”) and one could talk about capitalism and the Protestant work ethic and so on, but I feel there are perhaps even more demands on our time in the frum (religious Jewish) community, combined with an ethic that stresses that we’re here on Earth to do things with our lives, to study Torah, help people and connect with God, not to relax.

Yet I feel much more comfortable just pottering. I don’t think I’m lazy, although I’ve called myself lazy often enough in the past. I think with autism and depression I just get overloaded really easily. It’s much more comfortable to do one thing at a time, slowly, with breaks than to try to fit everything in. Doing too much triggers burnout and, if it goes on too long, depression. I need lots of downtime to recuperate from things.

Part of it is being creative. I know I’ve noted here before that when I started writing my novel, I got frustrated by the amount of online procrastination I would do when trying to write; it took me a while to realise that my brain needs this. If I get stuck on something I’m writing, browsing aimlessly online lets my unconscious work on the problem. This is often better than trying to resolve it consciously. But I do genuinely feel I need to live my life at a much slower speed than most people, even though that makes me worry (a) how I will ever earn enough money to support myself and (b) how I will ever find anyone willing to be in a long-term relationship with me. Plus, I suppose, how to justify myself religiously, beyond saying that any other work-life balance seems simply impossible right now.

I drifted into mild depression in the early evening, perhaps because of the thoughts about earning a living and finding a partner. There were other anxieties or somewhat obsessive thoughts during the day which I’m too tired to write about now.

***

I said I would write some more about some of the shiurim I went to yesterday. Rabbi Rafi Zarum spoke about the idea that Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is about judging how existence is going and about our own potential and whether we’ve fallen short of our potential. To be honest, that talk didn’t say so much that I didn’t already know, but Rabbi Zarum is a very engaging speaker and always good to listen to. I didn’t take any notes on Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ brief message; he was talking about the idea of God’s House being a portable tent that we can take to our homes in COVID times.

The final shiur I went to was Rabbi Alex Israel talking about the paradox of Rosh Hashanah, that we stress that God is the powerful King, but also that he will pardon us for our sins if we repent. He quoted a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical story) where Avraham (Abraham), defending the people of Sodom, tells God that if He wants pure justice, He will have to destroy the world (because people are inherently imperfect and sinful); if He wants a world, He will have to suspend justice; He can’t “take the rope by both ends” and have strict justice and a world. A similar Midrash said that God had to allow the creation of the wicked because otherwise it would be impossible to create the righteous too. I thought that was similar to what Gila Fine said in the morning, which I blogged about yesterday, about God wanting our love and suppressing His justice to get it (there was some overlap with Rabbi Zarum too). Rabbi Israel stressed the idea that Rosh Hashanah is a day of love and mercy as well as justice and that God knows we are flawed. I thought this was important for me to hear, given that I get fixated on my flaws, as shown by the “lazy” worries today.

Trying to Live My Life as Well as I can

I had a slight headache when I went to bed last night, too slight to take anything for it, or so I thought.  Once I was lying down, it got considerably worse, as sometimes happens to me, so I ended up taking painkillers and waiting until they kicked in and I could lie down again.  I watched Star Trek: Voyager to pass the time, but the episode, although well-written and acted, turned out to be very dark and bleak, not the best thing to watch with a headache at 1.00am.

Once I did get to sleep, I had a weird dream.  I was at the Biblical Museum of Natural History in Israel, the museum I did a virtual tour of last week.  In reality, they have a few small live animals in small enclosures in the museum, but in the dream they were pretty much a fully-fledged zoo.  They had a large area for primates.  They wanted to introduce an orphan baby orangutan to their orangutan family, but the adults rejected him and they could not keep him in the enclosure for fear they would harm him.

On waking up, I realised that I’m the baby orangutan, or I fear I am.  I’m very fond of orangutans and gorillas; when I was a child, I had a big poster of an orangutan over my bed.  I fear that my “tribe” (the frum (religious Jewish) community) would reject me if they “really” knew me, just like the baby orangutan was rejected.  I’m not sure what prompted this thought right now, as I thought that lately I’d become more accepting of the fact that I’m never going to 100% fit in to frum society, or any other society and that I can still try to make friends there, daven (pray) there and so on.  Maybe I still have a long way to go before I can accept it emotionally.

***

I woke up to find that E. had emailed me.  She apologised for what happened at the end of our relationship and is really sorry for it and takes the blame for it.  She said that she’s trying to fix aspects of her life that I won’t go into here.  She said if I want to get in touch “in any capacity” she is willing too.

I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to get back together romantically, even if I wasn’t already talking to someone on JDate.  We had two attempts at that, and I think a third would be a bad idea.  In theory I’m open to staying friends.  I miss her a lot, as a friend.  I think she was a good friend, and I don’t think she gives herself enough credit for that.  I didn’t really blame her for what happened.  I think it was mostly a product of lockdown and the bad place she was in, literally and metaphorically.  However, I worry that the mutual attraction between us is so strong that we couldn’t stay platonic friends and we would end up in some never-ending on/off relationship, which I do not want, not least because it would stop me moving on.  So, I need to spend some time to think about this and whether I can manage a close platonic friendship that doesn’t “boil over” into something more dangerous and complicated.  To be honest, my gut instinct is that I can’t, which saddens me, but I’m not sure what I can do about it.

***

Just a few weeks ago everything seemed stagnant.  I was feeling a little frustrated, but also aware that a return to movement would be a return to anxiety.  Now, movement has come back: JDate, work (the exam I will hopefully have this week), E., the approaching Jewish festival season…  From this coming Friday my parents and I go back into very strict shielding for the two weeks before Mum’s operation, so that’s another thing approaching.  There is some anxiety at times, particularly late at night.  It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s a good anxiety (ish), from things moving on.

***

As for today, I felt a bit down initially today, despite saying the other day that my depression is not such an issue and is mainly a reaction to autistic burnout.  I felt little motivation and low energy early on today, as well as somewhat low mood, but nowhere near as bad as it’s been in the past.  I feel today’s depression is probably primarily a response to anxiety, to things that I’m anxious about and to the experience of anxiety in the last few days.  I guess too much anxiety can lead to burnout too.

I tried to fight through the tiredness and lack of motivation to read over more of my novel.  I wrote notes to myself for when I’m redrafting, mostly to add or remove words or expand passages (especially “show don’t tell”), but I found myself writing DO NOT LIKE at one passage I particularly disliked.  I find it hard to judge how well-written the novel is.  I can perhaps tell with individual paragraphs, but assessing the ongoing narrative and character arcs is a lot harder.  This is why I’m re-reading the whole novel before really getting to grips with redrafting, to get an idea of the bigger picture.

Working on the novel helped lift my mood a bit, even if I worry that I won’t be able to get it into good enough shape to find a publisher.  At the moment, it’s a target to focus on.  I am trying to break down rewriting into small, finite, tasks, starting with re-reading the whole novel and listing the major incidents to get a better idea of how the plot is flowing, if it is unfolding evenly or not.

***

I felt anxious again by the early evening, and I wasn’t sure if it was about dating, E.’s email, or worrying that I would get an exercise migraine if I went for a run.  Or maybe something else entirely that I was consciously unaware of.  Sometimes it is hard even for me to read myself.  I had the sudden horrible worry that all I’ve done is swap depression for anxiety.  I guess time will tell.

Some stuff happened in the evening that was very anxiety-provoking, but I don’t feel comfortable sharing it here.  I think I navigated it OK, although perhaps not great.

***

Achievements: an hour or two of working on my novel (I lost track of exactly how long); a 5K run (no exercise migraine, thankfully); about forty-five minutes of Torah study.  It doesn’t look like so much, but I was fighting depression and anxiety at times, so it’s a bigger achievement than it appears.  I guess even if I think my depression and anxiety are now largely driven by external events and autistic burnout, that doesn’t mean they are going to vanish or suddenly become easier to deal with.  It’s a process every day of forcing myself to get up, to get going, to do some productive activities, to make sure I get the food, rest and relaxation that I need to avoid burnout.  Just to keep going, trying to live my life as well as I can.

The King is in the Field

I felt quite calm today, although the last half hour has seen some dating anxiety resurface. My friend Stoic Wannabe recently posted on a her blog a lists of books she wishes someone would write, and I would add to that list How to Find Your Soul-Mate, and Be Completely Sure He/She/They are the Right One, Without Suffering Rejection Along the Way. But I don’t think life works like that.

Today was mostly pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, dusting and working on my novel. Working on the novel was hard to day. I think I wrote last week about the “running out of energy” feelings of Fridays, that the mystics say that the world is rejuvenated every week on Shabbat, and that I can believe that because Friday always seems to be a day when the world is running down and out of energy, as am I. Even if I don’t do much on Fridays, somehow it’s all a bit of a struggle. I did read over another chapter of my novel. There’s a lot of rewriting to do, but somehow it seems a bit funnier than I remembered. It’s a serious book, but there is some observational humour in there.

***

It occurred to me today that perhaps most of my mental health issues now are rooted in autism and the general uncertainty of my life (which is also related to autism and the way it impacts my career and dating, particularly while I’m self-diagnosed rather than by a psychiatrist). I know in the past I had childhood issues to work through, but I think I’ve mostly processed those in therapy now. I can accept that the adults around me did not always do the right thing for me, but that this was because they were imperfect humans like the rest of us and not malicious. OK, I never felt they were malicious as such, but I did feel a lot of blame. Likewise I accept that I was bullied a lot by the other children, but that there isn’t much point still hanging on to that.

My depression tends to flare up now at times of tiredness (particularly first thing in the morning) and at times of stress and exhaustion, especially when I’m around people, which also triggers social anxiety. This could mean that it’s related to autistic burnout as much as anything else. A day of draining activity will leave me burnt out and depressed the next day; prolonged draining activity (such as working in an environment that is stressful for me, as when I had an office job for several months), might trigger a more prolonged burnout. “Draining” in this context means emotionally draining more than physically draining; a day of housework and work on my novel might be significantly less tiring than a few hours in a noisy environment where I have to “mask” my autism, such as a busy shopping centre.

I will try to observe over the coming weeks and see if this hypothesis is correct, but I think it is at least partially correct.

***

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul. This is the introspective month before the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, the most solemn festivals in the Jewish calendar. Elul is a time of personal reflection and soul-searching about how we’ve grown over the last year, but it’s also seen as a time when God is particularly close and accessible to those who seek Him (“The King is in the field” as the mystics say).

I think this time two years ago I was in a bad state, deeply depressed about life and very angry with God. I believed in Him, but I was angry about how much pain He had put me through with depression, loneliness and autism. By 2019, I had more of a sense that I wanted to be a writer, but I was still struggling with getting there. I was also on the waiting list for an autism assessment and I think that just knowing that I probably am on the spectrum helped me to accept myself and my “weird” characteristics more, but of course I’m still waiting for the assessment itself because of COVID halting so much non-urgent NHS treatment.

This year I feel a lot better. It has been a very strange year that no one was expecting, and we’ve had the additional challenge of Mum’s cancer, but I’ve used much of the lockdown time to make progress on my novel, which I think in a curious way has helped work through some of those childhood/adolescent issues that I mentioned above (the novel has a semi-autobiographical thread). I also self-published my non-fiction book about Doctor Who. That has not sold well, but I feel due to marketing issues rather than anything else. I’m not sure how to promote it.

I don’t feel anger towards God any more, but I do feel some apprehension. I’m trying to accept that I’m never going to completely fit into the Orthodox community, and that that’s OK (partly the effect of autism and mental illness, partly that I have a more “modern” outlook for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, but am more passionately engaged than most people in United Synagogue shuls (synagogues)). It would be nice to feel more accepted, but I’m not sure what that would feel like. I feel like I have made a couple of friends at shul, but also that I have not managed to build up the close friends that I’ve lost over the last couple of years, now including E.

I didn’t mean this to turn into a formal cheshbon nafesh (self-analysis)! That’s how I feel contemplating Elul this year: a bit more confident and happier than previously. Of course, some of that is knowing that I will probably escape some of the harder parts of the festivals this year, particularly spending so much time in shul, because of lockdown limitations. But I definitely feel more upbeat about the new year and the autumn festival season than I did for the last couple of years.

Happiness is a Warm DVD

I sat outside last night watching a DVD on my laptop.  The weather was a little cooler.  I couldn’t get my Star Trek Voyager DVD to play (my laptop DVD player is temperamental), so I watched Doctor Who instead.  I started a re-watch of my favourite season, the 1978-1979 season, in my opinion the apogee of Doctor Who as science fantasy children’s series (thus, hated by fans who think Doctor Who is Serious Adult Drama… the fault line between fans who think Doctor Who is a children’s programme and those who think it is a Serious Adult Drama is one of the biggest in fandom).  I felt quite happy watching it, despite the fact that I could hear my parents talking despite my earphones, that the security light kept coming on and shining in my eyes, and that the picture quality was not great (my screen needs cleaning and I kept seeing my reflection in it because of the ambient light).  Normally when I watch TV, I try to immerse myself in it, but I was able to enjoy it without doing that 100%.  I suppose it does show that I can be happy, and with quite small things.  My Mum noticed I was smiling.

I had another unrestful night’s sleep.  It’s a little cooler, but still too hot for me.  There is a breeze, and around four o’clock the heavy rain we were forecast finally arrived, but only lasted a few minutes.  It started raining heavily again just before seven, with thunder, to the extent I had to shut the windows, but, again, it didn’t last long.  It’s still quite hot, with a bit of a cooling breeze, but very humid and I still feel quite uncomfortable.  I can concentrate a little better than the last few days, but not brilliantly.

***

Last night I had the thought of logging on to JDate and seeing if there were many women my age and frumkeit (religiosity) level on there, but I couldn’t log on.  I thought I still had a profile on there, but apparently not.  I assume they delete profiles if they’re inactive for a long period of time as I don’t remember deleting it.  I don’t think I could have used JDate since I met my first girlfriend on there in 2012.  My experience at the time made me feel there weren’t enough frum (religious) enough women on the site for me, but maybe I would be willing to be more flexible on “frum enough” now.  I think I probably have to be.  It’s hard to tell what “frum enough” looks like, though, as I worry that I compromised too much when I was dating E. and that it would not have worked in the long-term.

JDate is probably better for me right now than its competitor, JWed.  JWed, as its name implies, is a dating-for-marriage site, not a dating-for-dating site.  It also asks users to categorise themselves religiously, offering them seven different types of Orthodox Jewish identities and several more non-Orthodox ones.  Jews like pigeon-holing other Jews, you might have noticed.  It also asks you to say how often you pray and study Torah, whether you wear tzitzit (ritual fringed garment) if you are a man and if you would cover your hair after marriage if you are a woman, all questions designed to further pigeon-hole religiously.  These are supposed to be proxies to gauge religious devotion, but aren’t always in reality, but the problem of using them as such stretches far beyond the dating world, or even the frum world.  JDate doesn’t quite offer such craziness, although if I recall correctly, it does still offer several different flavours of Orthodoxy (I doubt there are many Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews on JDate though even if there is an option for them).

My main concerns with JDate are that I can’t afford to pay the monthly subscription; and that there are more men than women on dating sites, so women tend not to respond to men on dating sites unless they appear amazing.  I do still have some concerns about not “dating for marriage.”  However, my biggest concern is how to talk about my employment situation or about trying to be a writer in my profile without having sold much, and while worrying that I’m not going to be able to make much of a success of writing.

I feel that E., like my first girlfriend, thought that I was a good boyfriend, but also that my emotional neediness and unemployed status was a lot to cope with, and eventually was too much to cope with.  I find it hard to believe anyone else could see past that permanently, not just for a few months until the novelty of having an attentive and listening boyfriend wore off.

There is also the practical problem, of course, of dating in the time of COVID and social distancing.  This may be less of a problem now, as I think we can stop shielding Mum soon as her chemo is finished.  We have to shield around the time of her surgery, but I think not when she has radiotherapy after that.

I wrote to my rabbi mentor about this today and I look forward to reading his response.  Writing it down did make me think that some of my concerns were due to anxiety or even a kind of ‘pure O’ OCD, in terms of taking the morality an action very seriously, paying more attention to it than it needs, in moral terms.  I think dating at this time is probably not against my values, although I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a product of those values at this time.  Whether it’s sensible is another question.

***

Speaking of being a writer, I’m feeling pessimistic today.  I finished If You Want to Write, the writing book I was currently reading.  It was kind of hippie-ish (although written in the 1930s), all about doing what you want and finding your own truth, which is true, but the opposite is probably true too.  I wasn’t surprised by this, as the book was recommended to me by a hippie-ish friend who I fell out with, someone who described himself as being all about empathy and compassion and then treated me quite badly.    I don’t think I can internalise the “rules” of writing from the books I’m reading, not even this one, which just says to be honest (and is against genre fiction).  I feel a great writer wouldn’t need to internalise rules, but a merely competent one probably does need to do so.  I certainly feel my book could do with more structure and more vivid characters.  But, as I’ve said before, I oscillate between thinking that there are no rules for literature and that there are rules for it, like any other skill, if only I could learn them.

I did half an hour of research for the novel, reading a rape survivor’s statement, which was understandably depressing.  I struggle to see why some men find the concept of “consent” so difficult to grasp.

I also spent twenty minutes or so working on my list of things that I want to add or change in the next draft of my novel, so overall this was a reasonably productive day for the novel.

***

Other achievements: I spent an hour on my devar Torah (Torah thought), getting it mostly sorted to my satisfaction, although I had a vague sense of not having explained it clearly enough to myself, let alone anyone else.  The sense that I sort of understand what I’m saying, but not quite perfectly.  I spent another hour on Torah study, so it was quite a productive day from a religious point of view too.

It’s funny how my feelings writing my devar Torah every week mirror my feelings writing my Oxford tutorial essays: the initial blank incomprehension with nothing to write, the slow research and analysis, the gradual revelation of what I’m going to write, then the actual writing, followed by relief, but a feeling of not having really nailed it.

I also finished re-reading Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World.  I didn’t get much from this except to recall that I didn’t like it much the first time I read it.  I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t like it.  I think maybe its use of biblical and historical models for healing from despair was too simplistic.

Incidentally, I have finished three books in two days, although as I was reading them concurrently and not consecutively, it’s not such a notable achievement.

***

Sometimes I just stand, staring into space, completely lost in thought.  My parents invariably then ask if something’s wrong or what I’m doing.  This completely breaks the chain of thought.  (This happened today.)  I’ve never been sure if this is “normal” behaviour or “autistic” behaviour or just a personal quirk.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t just stand and think without someone thinking I’m ill.  I guess if I get married, I’ll have to tell my wife to ignore me when I do this.

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

OCD Slightly Resurgent, Otherwise Quiet

I woke up and got up early again (at least by my standards), which was good.  Less good was that I woke up from a very disturbing dream, in which I had tried to do something to promote unity between different groups of Jews and instead inadvertently created a situation which led to more division, and the burning of some religious papers by someone else out of spite (religious papers in Judaism should be buried respectfully, not burned).  The dream ended with me crying uncontrollably as a rabbi said I had done the right thing, but had been let down by other people.

I think the dream was primarily about my feelings of discomfort with the frum (religious Jewish) community.  I feel some (not all) people in it can be divisive and even spiteful, like the people in my dream.  However, I also feel that my feelings of discomfort are a product of my own prejudices as much as reality, so I could be the spiteful people in the dream too.  It is hard to be objective.  I woke up feeling sombre and upset, but I somehow managed to get up rather than just go back to sleep as part of me wanted.

The dream did at least get me up early again today, so I could say the most important morning prayers at the right time, and say more of the morning prayer service than I usually manage.

***

I spent two and a half hours working on my novel.  My main character/narrator just got assessed and diagnosed with high functioning autism.  It brought to mind my worries about whether I am on the spectrum and (different question) whether I will be diagnosed as being on the spectrum, bearing in mind I’ve been assessed twice and told that I’m not on the spectrum, but am challenging that diagnosis given that I have now done more research and have observed myself in new work and social environments (my previous assessments were before I had worked or even volunteered).

I started to worry that I’m not on the spectrum.  I made myself worried enough that I did an online screening (similar to the one I had in person eighteen months ago) which showed that I probably am on the spectrum, but I wish I didn’t have this kind of obsessive worrying about it.  As someone in my novel says, getting a diagnosis won’t change who I am or what I experience, even if it explains it.  However, it would change my perception of myself, so it is no wonder that it seems important and anxiety-provoking.

***

Other than that, today was mostly the usual stuff: cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree, because it’s one of my easy recipes), a walk, nearly an hour of Torah study.  I lost a lot of the time I had gained by getting up early.  I’m not sure where it went.

I did write a letter to E., not to send to her, just to express my feelings to myself.  Reading it back, I sounded a lot angrier than I thought I was.  Maybe I’ve been carrying a lot of anger around for the last couple of months since we broke up, or even before then.  I worry about how E. is doing, but I still haven’t got back in contact with her.  I noticed she’s posting stuff on Goodreads (I didn’t unfriend her, I’m not sure why, maybe because I don’t use Goodreads as a social media, only as an online catalogue of my books), so I know she’s still alive and functioning, but I am still reluctant to communicate directly.

***

My religious OCD has been dormant for a while, but it never goes away fully.  Everyone has “crazy” thoughts sometimes; what turns them into OCD is when they won’t go away and you end up obsessing about them (‘pure O’ OCD) or performing compulsions to get rid of them (more stereotypical OCD).  I have in the past had ‘pure O’ OCD about the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), among other things.

Lately there have been a few kashrut issues where I thought on balance they were OK, but I wasn’t 100% sure.  When my OCD was at it’s height, I would have asked a question of a rabbi or the London Bet Din (yes, I emailed their food technologist a lot when my OCD was raging a few years ago.  I still blush to think of it).  I was trying hard not to ask the question, because asking just provokes more questions – the way OCD grows is that you can never be 100% sure of anything, so every answer provokes more questions, as well as accustoming you to asking questions rather than relying on your own judgement.  I was fairly sure things were OK and was intent on just leaving it like that.

Unfortunately, today I gave in to ask a question, and then it snowballed.  I think I’ve got it under control now, and even for the hour or so that it happened, my anxiety levels were nothing compared with a few years ago.  Nevertheless, it’s a reminder of how fragile my mental health can be and how easily things can unravel.

***

I haven’t got much else to say today.  I feel a lot calmer and present-focused now I’ve cut a lot of internet use.  I haven’t strictly kept to only using the internet and email twice a day as my therapist suggested, but I’m not doing a lot more than that, except for novel research.  I’m also not looking at news and opinion sites much and not at Twitter at all (I haven’t been on other social media sites for years).  I feel a lot happier and peaceful, but I worry that I’m becoming ignorant of the world.  I guess I feel I can’t change the world much anyway, and the areas where I could change it, I still keep up with.  Still, we’re constantly being bombarded with messages about the importance of making a stand, demanding change, “silence is violence” (which I think is a glib and misleading phrase, although it has an element of truth) and so on that not being super-aware of what’s going on seems vaguely immoral.

Bonus Post: Why I’m Religious

I’ve been thinking lately about why I stay frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) when I struggle a lot with Orthodox Jewish practice because of my depression, social anxiety and autism, as well as feeling uncomfortable with some attitudes in the frum community.  At a basic level it’s that I believe in God and Judaism, I just struggle on a practical level with keeping it sometimes.  But I think there’s more to it than that.  I know lots of Jews believe in God on some level without translating that to religious observance.  My fears that God does not love me could have been a push factor away from observance; certainly my religious OCD (which thankfully is largely under control now, although it still takes effort to keep it that way) was a push factor that made it hard to stay frum, although I did manage to stay.

Some kiruv (outreach) organisations talk about proofs of Judaism, generally arguments for the existence of God and the divine origin of the Torah.  I’m not going to go into them here.  I don’t really find them convincing.  I don’t think you can “prove” that God exists in the way that you can prove that 2 + 2 =4 or that the atomic number of hydrogen is 1.  I don’t think that standard of proof exists outside of maths and the physical and natural sciences.  As someone with a background more in the humanities, it doesn’t bother me so much these days that I don’t have that same degree of certainty in my beliefs, although it did in the past.

I think the survival of the Jewish people through thousands of years of statelessness, exile and persecution is inspiring, and a little eerie, especially our return to our homeland, as predicted by the Torah.  That fills me with a kind of awe, although it’s not strictly speaking a “proof” of anything.

I also find it interesting how much Judaism has shaped Western culture, and to a lesser extent global culture.  The historian Paul Johnson, who is not Jewish, says the following in his History of the Jews:

“All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time.  The Jews had this gift.  To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.  Without the Jews it might have been a much emptier place.”

(If this interests you then The Gifts of the Jews by another non-Jewish historian, Thomas Cahill, explores this theme in greater depth.)

I find this inspiring.  I’m not sure it’s really at the core of what motivates me to be Jewish, but it does help.

In terms of other things that motivated me to stay observant, while I don’t want Jewish observance to sound like a quid pro quo, there are a few things that I get from Judaism that I probably wouldn’t get in secular postmodern Western society if I wasn’t religious.

I think Judaism gives me structure.  I would probably structure my days even if I wasn’t frum, but I don’t think I would observe Shabbat as a day totally without work, chores, TV, laptop, phone, etc. without being religious.  I just know that without it seeming an absolute commandment, the outside world would slowly creep into it and ruin it.  Shabbat helps me structure my week in a very clear way, making sure I have time for physical pleasure, rest and spiritual re-connection.  And I don’t think I would structure my year the way Judaism makes me do.  The festivals are mostly connected with particular seasons and bring with them times for doing particular things, like thinking about freedom and Jewish history at Pesach or repentance and personal growth before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It provides a shape to the whole year that I would not otherwise have.

I enjoy the richness and complexity of the Jewish tradition.  The fact that it is so vast, and that there is always so much to learn and that people have spent three thousand years thinking about the big questions of life.  There is definitely something enjoyable about discovering a new idea in Judaism, a new perspective on a text or on life, particularly when it involves translating a text in a dead language or finding a sudden insight into an apparently bizarre or meaningless story or saying.

Connected to this, I find it meaningful that there is a bond between me and other Jews in other times and places.  I find the Jewish community difficult at times, but there is something to be said for being part of a three thousand year global tradition.  While it is easy to complain about the internal divisions in contemporary Jewish life (Orthodox vs. Progressive vs. secular; Israel vs. diaspora; Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi/Mizrachi), I think when the chips are down, so to speak, when Jews are in serious crisis, 90% of the global Jewish community will come together to pray together, send practical help, volunteer, whatever is needed.

I think the Jewish ethic appeals to me too.  One can obviously find aspects of Jewish/Biblical ethics that are challenging from a modern day perspective and I’m not going to deny that (religious war, sexuality).  But the Jewish ethic as a whole appeals to me.  I find it very balanced.  It praises learning above everything, but also sees the importance of putting learning into practice.  It admits that this world involves suffering, but it wants to make it better, rather than postpone happiness until Heaven, yet it also admits that utopian perfection is for the End of Days; in this world, we do small acts to make things better.  It has a strong ethic of not hurting others, not just physically or financially, but also with words; it’s understanding of the power words speaks a lot to me.  Also the fact that in Jewish thought all people are equal because created by God, but there are multiple paths to God, both within Judaism and outside Judaism; non-Jews don’t have to convert to be “good.”

Love Your Neighbour

I don’t have much to write today.  It was a normal lockdown Shabbat.  I slept too much, and at the wrong times, but that’s also normal.  I won at Scrabble this week.  I started playing strategically.  I think in the past I would just have gone for the longest or most obscure word, but sometimes a really basic word can get a higher score, if it has a high-scoring letter or hits a double word (etc.) square.  I do get a bit frustrated that it’s hard to play a lot of obscure words that I know, but I guess that’s just showing off.

I tried to stay in the present and not worry about the future or beat myself up about past decisions (breaking up with E., going to the school I went to and not the one my Mum wanted me to go to).  I probably have made some bad decisions in my life, albeit partly because a big part of my life was unknown until recently (high functioning autism – which technically has still not been diagnosed, so who knows where this will go?).  There’s not a lot I can do about that now, though.  If I do manage to build a career as a Jewish author, then I think a lot of my past decisions and difficulties will have led me to it.  If I can’t do that…  who knows, really?

My big struggle today is with loving my neighbour, literally and metaphorically.  Literally, I have a lot less time for our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours than I did in the past, because of the illegal minyanim (prayer service).  They have stopped most of these since shuls (synagogues) reopened (although they are still doing Saturday nights).  I still feel angry and resentful.  I still feel that they were risking our lives, especially Mum’s life, for the sake of their spirituality, even though the actual risk to Mum was probably small, even when she was in our garden at the same time they were davening (praying) in their garden.  People breaking the rules annoys me a lot.  In my experience, people on the autism spectrum either obsess over every tiniest rule and can’t bend a rule no matter how justified or alternatively can’t stand any rules at all, however logical.  I’m definitely in the former camp.  It was not always easy at work to work out when I should bend the rules for people and when I should be strict.  Maybe I should write a letter to the neighbours and not send it?  That was a technique my therapist suggested for dealing with feelings about E.; I should probably try it there too.

In a more general sense, I am in this weird situation of being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and wanting to stay frum, but also having a lot of resentment against the frum community.  I think it’s mainly about feeling I don’t fit in, which is probably largely because of the lack of a vibrant, committed, Modern Orthodox community in this country, unlike America and Israel.  Here the United Synagogue has a hashkafa (philosophical outlook) I agree with, but most US members are not shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments), not even close.  Most are “traditional” and are members of an Orthodox shul (synagogue) out of family tradition, convenience or a vague sense that Reform Judaism isn’t “real” Judaism.

The Haredi world is a lot more committed to Torah study, meaningful prayer and mitzvah performance (keeping the commandments), yet has an outlook I often disagree with, whether over the place of secular study and the sciences, the role of women or various other things.  I could probably cope with that if that was all, although it does make me feel that I’m hiding myself, but I feel there is a level of casual sexism, racism/anti-non-Jew feeling and so on that sometimes appears and upsets me.

I think there is a lot of hesed (kindness) in the frum world, but not much empathy.  If you have a “normal” problem, people will help, but if you have an unusual situation or something that is stigmatised and not spoken about (the classic “bad for shidduchim” (potential marriage chances) problem) people won’t help and probably won’t even be able to understand what your problem is.  My thought on this matter were provoked from reading about a Haredi woman who adopted a black girl and has experienced a huge amount of unthinking racism, but it applies to mental health stigma, homosexuality, children who stop being religious… lots of things.

I feel that I do have a lot of anger and resentment towards what really is my own community that I have to work through somehow if I’m to keep functioning and I’m not really sure how to do it.  I kind of hope that one day I’ll marry someone who fits into the community better than I do and somehow things will slot into place, that suddenly I’ll have more frum friends and feel able to be myself, but I’m not sure that that’s a realistic idea.  Realistic in that I don’t think finding a wife would necessarily let me fit in a lot better and in that I’m not sure how likely it is that I will find a frum wife.

Tisha B’Av in Auschwitz

Today I felt depressed and subdued, but it kind of goes with the territory, as it was Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day we’re supposed to be sad to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.  (It might sound surprising, but we’re not supposed to be sad most of the time.)  I read some more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.  I’ve been reading this book for about five or six years, only on Tisha B’Av.  I can’t bear to read it on any other day, it’s too upsetting.  I hope to finish it in a couple of years.  Some of the stories did move me to tears, I admit, although I’m probably more sceptical about the supernatural than some of the people who related the stories.  I also went to some online shiurim (religious classes) via my shul (synagogue).

In the afternoon I went on a virtual tour of Auschwitz organised by a Jewish educational group.  (Thanks to Eliza for pointing me in their direction!)   I’ve never been there in person.  I feel vaguely uncomfortable about going to Holocaust sites, although I can see why it’s important for some people.  I discovered there’s not actually much there at Auschwitz any more, which I think I knew, but it had never really registered.  The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and the crematoria to hide the evidence of the Holocaust.  I was surprised how big the site it was.

It was quite moving, but sometimes with Holocaust things I feel I’m not feeling what I “should” feel, maybe because most of my family did not directly experience it.  Perhaps it’s also hard in a way for me, being frum (religious).  With some secular Jews, their entire Jewish identity is built around the Holocaust and/or Israel; whereas I have so much more to my Jewish identity than that.  There is definitely a danger of being overly-obsessed with how Jews died rather than how they lived (to paraphrase Rabbi Lord Sacks*), but Tisha B’Av is a day to confront these memories.

I still would like to feel that I’m moving on somewhere as well as just focusing on the past.  It’s easier to focus on the Holocaust rather than the destruction of the Temple, because the former is more relatable.  There hasn’t been Judaism based around the Temple ritual for nearly 2,000 years, so it’s difficult to understand what it was like.  But the Holocaust isn’t much easier to focus on, although it has the human dimension, because it’s just unlike anything else.

(As an aside, it’s depressing doing a virtual Auschwitz tour and then after the fast was over going online to see the latest iterations of the “Jews are all rich, powerful, privileged and racist” stuff that’s been coming out in the last few weeks.)

In this respect the rabbi leading the virtual tour said something similar to what my shul (synagogue) rabbi said yesterday, about trying to find areas to grow.  I’ve already said here that I want to focus more on being present in the present and not obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.  That doesn’t sound a very Jewish or religious thing, but I think it is.  It’s connected with ideas like bitachon (trust in God) and kavannah (mindfulness, particularly in prayer).  But to do that, I need to be able to trust that God has my best interests at heart, even if painful things happen to me.  That’s hard on a day like today, when I confront the many tragedies of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.

It’s just an effort to focus on NOW with gratitude and mindfulness, not what I fear/hope will happen in the future.  I will try it for six or seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and see what happens.

***

I already mentioned I believe less in the supernatural than some Orthodox Jews, so I’m taking this with an Everest-sized mountain of salt, but at one of the shiurim today, the guest rabbi presenting told a story about a frum (religious) Jew who was in a coma four days with COVID and had a near-death experience.  He says that his soul was tried in Heaven and he discovered that although keeping all the mitzvot (commandments) are important, the afterlife primarily depends on loving other people and being kind.

As I say, I am sceptical about how true that story is, but it did make me think that while I agree that love and kindness are of the utmost importance (regardless of the afterlife), I struggle to show them the way I should.  I get irritable with my family.  I get annoyed by other people and although I don’t usually show it, I find it hard to love people sometimes (as Linus said in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”).  I have a some inchoate anger and resentment towards the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community sometimes because of how I feel I’ve been treated, which I need to work through in a healthier way.  I want to be kind, but so often social anxiety stops me from acting on my kind impulses, or autism means that I can see someone is in need, but don’t know how to respond correctly.  My parents say I’m kind (usually when I say I have no assets to attract a potential spouse), but I guess they would.

I know this is turning into yet another “should” and another “beat myself up” session, so I don’t want to pursue it too far, but it has been on my mind this evening, thinking about how I could be more kind and loving in the future.

 

* What he actually said was that an educationalist complained to him that at Jewish schools, students “Learn about the Greeks and how they lived, and they learn about the Romans and how they lived, and they learn about the Jews and how they died.”  Both Rabbi Sacks and the educationalist felt that with a curriculum like this, it was no wonder so many Jews are just looking to escape from their Jewish identity through assimilation.

Looking for Work, Writing and Thinking

I used to think that if I was unemployed, I would take any job available, even if it was stacking shelves in the supermarket.   The reality has been different, as I’ve discovered that (a) there aren’t that many jobs I’m actually qualified to do and (b) there aren’t that many jobs that I would feel comfortable and capable of doing with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I’ve also discovered that employers view people who are over-qualified as being as unsuitable as people who are under-qualified.

To be honest, I increasingly feel anxious about getting another job as I don’t believe I will be able to cope with it with all my issues.  I feel there probably are some jobs I could do, but finding them and getting them is hard.  Part of me is glad to be out of work.  In part this is because I want the time to work on my novel, but also because I am terrified of getting another job that is bad for my mental health and bad for my autism, and because I am even more terrified of getting a job that I can’t do.  I have begun to doubt whether I still have the librarian skills that I used to have.  I have had too many cataloguing tests that I have done badly.

It is hard to tell how much of this is realistic and how much is low self-esteem and anxiety.  It does feel like the job I was happiest at in the last couple of years was the one I was probably a bit over-qualified for, although the happiness was only partly from that and partly from having a supportive manager and pleasant colleagues.  Even then, I had social anxiety at times (even though it was a backroom job) and used to come away exhausted at the end of the day, even though I was only working two days a week.  And I still felt I made some stupid mistakes, albeit usually from social anxiety when I was with my manager.

***

I worry sometimes about whether my thoughts are really my own.  Not in a psychotic sense, I hasten to add.  I just worry I pick things up from news media, social media, adverts, my religious community, everywhere really.  Political views, religious views, cultural views, desires, fantasies.  My image of what a good life would be.  I think everyone does this, but I don’t like the thought of my doing it.

I’m not so worried about religious thoughts, because I think I’m quite good about balancing belief and scepticism there and looking for sources I trust.  However, I worry about picking up political views unthinkingly sometimes.  It’s hard to tell.  I think I’m more trusting of some sources than others.  Much of social media seems to consist of being told that certain things are intolerable, but I’m not sure that they all are intolerable, or even worth mentioning.  George Orwell wrote (Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels) that the highest form of totalitarianism is when there is no secret police and conformity is enforced simply by peer pressure.  I think we’re getting there on Twitter.

Cultural views, desires, wants, fantasies and so on are very hard to see past, particularly all-pervasive advertising, which is about selling an idea of a fantasy life (involving conspicuous consumption) as much as selling individual products.  I don’t think I’m very materialistic, but I can see that I might pick up ideas of what sort of life I should lead.  I can see why Haredi people and other religious fundamentalists try to tune out secular culture, but then that would just leave me with frum (religious) Jewish culture, which I don’t always agree with either (the cultural aspect, more than the religious aspect).

I think I want to have a job, with the caveats mentioned above.  I think I really want to get married and have children.  I think I really want, on some level, to be a “good” Jew, davening (praying) at shul (synagogue) three times a day and doing significant religious study, but lately that feels less achievable and possibly less desirable.  But to what extent are these really my thoughts and desires.  I certainly find aspects of both secular and frum culture hard to deal with.  I think my rabbi mentor said that everyone in the frum community finds aspects of it narrow-minded.  That everyone thinks it can be narrow-minded and prejudiced.  I’m not sure how true that is (I mean, how true that everyone finds aspects hard to deal with).

***

As agreed with my therapist, I’ve been trying to stay offline today, except for one period first thing when I get up and one in the early evening (now).  It’s hard to go without constant checking of email, blog comments and blog reader.  It makes me realise how much I did it mindlessly, out of boredom, desire for distraction and desire for connection with other people.  It’s going to be hard to wean myself off it, but I’m trying.  I did have to use the internet a bit today for novel research, but I tried not to use it for email and blogs except in those two periods.

I think when I get stuck on my writing, my brain goes into ‘idle’ for a few minutes and I read online or check emails and meanwhile my unconscious is looking for a solution to the writing problem.  So maybe I shouldn’t be trying to cut all that “unnecessary” online activity.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour writing.  Then, after a break, I tried to write my devar Torah for the week, but it just was not coming, so I went out to go for a walk and do some shopping.  I did nearly another hour on the novel after that.

I didn’t finish my devar Torah.  I wrote about a third or a half and then I got stuck.  I know what I could say, but I’m not sure I really want to go down that route.  I don’t have many alternatives, though.  I’ve been trying to get it sent on Thursday evening lately, because if I send it on Friday my Israeli readers don’t always get it before Shabbat.  The problem this week is that Thursday is the Fast of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and Torah study is forbidden except for the sad bits of Tanakh (the Bible) and Talmud, so I can’t work on it then.  Which means I need to finish it tomorrow afternoon.  (I shouldn’t really work on it then, as the studying restrictions ideally start the afternoon before, but I don’t really have an alternative.)  So, I feel a bit stressed and disappointed about this.  I’m not sure how long I spent on it, but the creative juices just weren’t flowing.

I did about half an hour of straightforward Torah study and later might start re-reading Healing from Despair, a Jewish book about dealing with despair written by a rabbi.  To be honest, I don’t remember it being great first time around, but I’ve been desperate lately for Jewish texts about suffering and despair and even if this book isn’t so good, it might point me towards some useful primary or secondary sources.

***

I felt very depressed and sad on my walk, as I had intermittently at least all day.  It definitely feels like my mood slumps when I have free time at the moment, which I guess argues in favour of finding work, assuming it’s work that keeps me occupied.  I think of ‘sad’ and ‘depressed’ as two different states.  I think a person can be sad without being depressed, and I think I’m often depressed without being particularly sad.  Despairing and exhausted, but not sad.  I think sadness is about losing something, whereas maybe depression and despair are about not having something at all, particularly hope.  Maybe that’s not true.  I don’t know.

I felt sad partly about breaking up with E.  There isn’t a lot of point in going over this again, here or in my head, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

My novel isn’t the most cheerful thing either; currently one of my characters is trying to flee her abusive husband.  I think I need to contact a women’s charity and ask exactly what the process would be if someone asked for help, because it’s not completely clear from the websites I’ve been looking at, but I can see that they might not want to tell me, either because they don’t have time to help a writer or because they don’t tell people much for security reasons, to protect their clients.

I know it’s going to sound pretentious and arrogant, but I really hope writing is something I could make some kind of difference with.  Even with my plans for future novels, which will hopefully not be quite so heavy-going.  In the future I want to write Jewish fantasy/science fiction/historical novels that might encourage Jews to investigate their heritage more and make non-Jews more aware of Jewish history and the issues Jews have faced and still faced in non-Jewish societies.  This novel is heavier and more obviously “worthy” in that I’m trying to write about mental illness, autism and domestic violence in the frum community, where these things are not always discussed.  As the cliché goes, if even one person gets help or understands their situation from my writing, it will be worthwhile.  But first I have to write the thing!  But it does help with motivation, whereas I struggle with motivation for library jobs, even though they are also socially worthwhile, because I feel I’m just not making a difference; if anything, I worry I make things worse through messing stuff up at work.

“Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”

I was half-awake when the phone rang this morning.  It was the mental health clinic saying I had an appointment with the psychiatrist today after all, but on the phone.  Phone appointments are my least favourite kind.  Like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I do not like the phone at all.  I feel very anxious and self-conscious on the phone, even more so than in person, and I find it hard to connect to the person on the other end.  I often struggle to hear and process information on the phone too, particularly if the line is not great.  Then there is the fact that NHS telephone appointments rarely seem to happen as scheduled, but often are very late (leading to anxious waiting) or very early (when I’m not ready and am doing something else).

Fortunately, the psychiatrist phoned when she said she would, at midday.  I know I’ve had bad experiences on the NHS before, and have been critical of that, but this psychiatrist seems really good (I think I saw her twice before lockdown).  I did struggle to hear everything on the phone call though and am worried I may have missed something.  I said that I’ve been feeling worse in the last few weeks and we spoke about increasing or changing medication, but both agreed to wait a few more months to try and get out of lockdown and see if the real-world triggers (Mum, E.) subside a bit.  She did want me to go for my regular lithium blood test now (over three months after the last one) rather than in September (six months) when the GP surgery wants me to go.  She also said she would also try to see where my autism referral has got to.  I assumed it was completely frozen where it was before lockdown, but the psychiatrist said she thinks they are doing some video assessments.  We booked another appointment for October.  Hopefully things will be a bit more normal by then, the Jewish autumn holiday season notwithstanding.  Whatever “normal” is.

I tried to book the blood test, but the online appointments are not working due to COVID (?!) and I will have to phone tomorrow.  Did I mention I hate phoning?

***

I don’t feel quite so depressed today, but I am still feeling some level of depression.  I also feel lethargic and drained, lacking in energy and motivation.  I start something, but then I hit an obstacle, however small, and grind to a halt.  A few minutes later, I start up again, until I hit another obstacle.

In terms of achievements, I advanced quite a bit with the bank accounts.  I think I’ve got it all set up now, I just need to transfer the money to the right account.

I did about an hour of novel writing.  I procrastinated a bit in the middle of it, but I felt better for having done it, although I realised I’m going to have to revisit one of my worst experiences at my further education job for the novel.  Sadly, my narrator’s life has to be as difficult as mine was.  At least I know he gets an ending that, if not exactly happy, is at least on some level redemptive.  I should be so lucky.

I did some Torah study, but I lost track of how much.  I think about fifty minutes, plus some time finishing my devar Torah (Torah thought).  I also did a bit of ironing and quickly wrote a review of a Doctor Who episode which I will post to my other blog once I’ve posted this and can log off my Secret Identity and onto my real name.

***

Today’s anxious/autistic stress moment: I went to pick up my blood test form from the doctor’s surgery (walking to/from there was my exercise for today).  I hadn’t been there since lockdown started and was not sure what to expect.  When I got there the doors were locked and there were signs saying only people with an appointment could come in.  Anxiety set in – social anxiety and autistic “new situation” anxiety.  I thought of ringing the buzzer, but was too scared of being told I was doing the wrong thing and being stupid.  In the end I phoned the surgery (while standing right outside) and asked them what to do.  They said to ring the buzzer and say why I was here and they would bring the form out, which I did, so it was OK in the end, but it made me feel useless again, and anxious.

Ordinarily I would probably have gone to the charity shop around the corner from the surgery afterwards and browsed the books to try to restore myself a bit, but I decided it wasn’t worth the risk with COVID, thus potentially depriving the economy of the pound I might have spent on a second-hand book.

***

Why do I feel the desperate need to love someone?  It seems so pointless, as I struggle to imagine ever being in a relationship again, both from a practical point of view of being ready and in terms of finding someone.  “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse” says the Talmud.  It does seem hopeless, though.  I don’t know how I would even go about it now.  I guess via a professional shadchan (matchmaker), although I’m sceptical of them, or a dating website, although they seem expensive.

I feel like Orthodox Judaism is supposed to be about trading a degree of independence and freedom for security: security in terms of family, community, meaning and, above all, God.  I never got the security.  Maybe I didn’t make enough sacrifices.  I don’t know.  There is a part of me that says, “I won’t give up my books and Doctor Who and other telefantasy even if God wants it of me.”  That’s part of why I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and part of why I’ve never been able to fully embrace Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism.  There’s a part of me — arguably a neurodivergent, autistic part of me — that won’t give those things up for God, because they’re too important to me.  I can give them up for periods of time, but not permanently.  That’s a blemish in my service of God, from a religious perspective.  But, given who I am and how much a part of myself these things are, from an autistic special interest perspective, I don’t think I could ever have passed that test.  So maybe I do deserve to suffer, on some level, or at least not to be accepted by the community whose values of religious self-sacrifice I do not fully embrace.

***

I think I’m having a lot of vaguely morbid thoughts lately, sometimes going into suicidal ideation, perhaps because it’s my birthday next week.  I had hoped that thirty-six would be a good year, but it largely wasn’t.  I had vague hopes of finding work, finding love, even becoming more involved in my community.  I hoped it would be the year of “twice chai” (in gematria, Hebrew numerology, “chai” (life) is eighteen, so multiples of eighteen e.g. thirty-six are seen as auspicious).  I was also aware that the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism was thirty-six according to legend when he started publicising his teachings.

The reality was that I was unemployed for all bar one month, Mum got ill, the world imploded with COVID lockdown and exploded with riots.  I had a girlfriend for a few months, but it didn’t work out, leaving me despondent.  My one month of employment didn’t lead on to anything bigger.  I spent three months not moving more than a mile from the house.  I did a few minor things — I led some services in shul (synagogue) and started writing and publicising my divrei Torah as well as self-publishing my Doctor Who book — but it hasn’t been a great year.

I feel that I’ve missed out on so much of life.  I haven’t done a lot of the things people say make life meaningful, whether somewhat self-indulgent (I don’t mean that in a judgemental way) things like travel or going to concerts or using alcohol (etc.) or sex, or more religious/self-denying things like helping others (I have obviously helped others, but not enough), significant Torah study, meaningful prayer and so on (actually, Judaism would say that good sex should be in the religious/helping others category, but that’s not strictly relevant to my point).

What have I done?  Written a book on Doctor Who that couldn’t find a publisher and which one person has read.  Written three-quarters of a first draft of a novel.  Some library work.  A few divrei Torah and shiurim (religious classes).  It’s not nothing, but it’s not very much.  I might be over a third of the way through my life.  (I might fall under a bus tomorrow, of course, which just makes me feel worse.)  I want to help people, I want to connect with other people and with God, I want to feel good about myself.  I want to write, and to be read.  I want to feel that there’s meaning in my being here, which I fear I have not felt since childhood (if I even felt it then).  I did two good things in my life, which I won’t mention here, but I don’t feel I can keep relying on them as sources of merit.

In his biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, Tormented Master, Arthur Green quotes Rebbe Nachman, in his depression, as saying that we believe in two worlds, This World and the Next World.  However, while the latter certainly exists, maybe This World does not exist, because a lot of the time it feels like Gehennom (Purgatory).  That’s an image that resonates with me, and turns up a bit in stories that resonate with me (TV and prose).  It feels that way at the moment, the endless loneliness and self-loathing.

Do I really feel so self-loathing right now?  I used the word instinctively, but have I been feeling self-loathing recently so much as frustration with myself and my world?  That’s not the same thing.

Sometimes I feel the reverse, that I’m somehow carrying the world on my shoulders.  That my suffering should be redemptive in some sense.  That’s probably just as dangerous a thing to think.

I just want my life to have meaning.  I don’t know what I’m here for.

Ghost in the Machine

I thought on waking that, although I still felt quite depressed today, I was not as paralysingly depressed and exhausted as the last couple of days, but soon my mood dipped down again.

The supermarket delivery came an hour early this morning, while Mum and Dad were still at the hospital for Mum’s chemo.  I was still in pyjamas as I wasn’t expecting them yet.  I didn’t even have my dressing gown on.  I know, realistically, I’m not the only person in pyjamas at 11am during lockdown, but it’s still embarrassing, not least because I’m aware it could easily have happened outside lockdown given my disrupted sleep pattern.

I’m still struggling with bank account stuff.  I feel bad for saying it, but it is making feel completely overwhelmed.  I’m not sure if that’s depression or autism or what.  I did start to make progress with it, but then their website crashed and seemed to be not working generally, rather just for me, and I had to give up.

I did manage to go out to post Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my book.  I would like them to review it, but I’m not so hopeful.  They basically only review official merchandise these days, and there’s so much of that that they only review a fraction of it.  I did at least overcome the autistic anxiety of going to a new place as I hadn’t used this post office before.  I am also hopeful that Doctor Who Magazine might at least mention my book on the merchandise news page.

I did spend an hour putting together a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I was relieved to get it done, as I was not sure I had anything to say, but I felt I was over-reliant on secondary sources this week, particularly Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in Bamidbar Numbers and some badly-referenced Midrashim in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash.  I guess it can’t be great every week.  It did bring me a bit out of my low mood, which was good.  I wanted to do some more Torah study later on, but didn’t manage more than a few minutes.

As I was having trouble with the building society site, I used the time for working on my novel.  As is often the case when starting a new chapter, I struggled to get into it, but eventually managed an hour or so of work and about 400 words, which was not bad considering how depressed I felt.  The depression may have helped channel my narrator’s frustrations.

I went for a run too.  It wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad considering that I was very depressed and I hurt my foot somehow halfway through.  I think it helped my mood a bit as I felt a bit better afterwards.  I think I have lost some body fat in the last few months, which is good.

***

We’re in the annual Jewish national mourning period known as The Three Weeks, where frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men don’t shave.  One week in and my beard is itchy, and it’s worse when wearing a mask I discovered today.  I wonder if compulsory masks will end the hipster stylised facial hair that’s become common in the last decade or so?

***

I guess part of what I find so frustrating about not being married is not just the celibacy, but not being able to talk about what I feel about being celibate.  There is, supposedly, a “shidduch crisis” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world where, for reasons that are debated, there may be a surplus of unmarried frum women over frum men.  There is supposed to be a similar, but somewhat different, “singles crisis” in the wider Jewish community of a surplus of unmarried women (not frum) who want to marry a Jew over Jewish men who want to marry a Jewish woman.  And there is, apparently, a different crisis entirely of single men in the secular world who can’t find partners, again for contested reasons.

What bothers me about all of this (aside from the obvious fact that despite there being a two-fold shortage of Jewish men, I still can’t find a partner, which makes me feel useless beyond all repair), is that no one talks much about what this means emotionally.  There’s a lot of of talk about “fixing the shidduch crisis” in the frum world i.e. making matches, but not about the emotional fall out of being single.  In the wider world the only people talking about it are violent and misogynistic “Incels,” who I wouldn’t want to associate with.  I tried to talk about it a bit in my novel, but perhaps I shied away from the full extent of it.  Or maybe I don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about something that is so hidden and repressed.  Maybe that’s something to fix in the redrafting, if I can find the right words.

Then the Star Trek: Voyager episode I watched today was not helpful.  Ensign Kim fell in love with an alien and was given an official reprimand for breaching protocol.  Almost every iteration of Star Trek has one character who is persistently unlucky in love.  In Voyager, it’s Harry Kim.  After spending the first season or two pining after his fiancée on the other side of the galaxy, he fell in love with a succession of unobtainable women: a hologram, a cyborg, “the wrong twin” (one who didn’t like him, unlike her sister, who he didn’t like) and now an alien from a xenophobic race.  Later, if I recall correctly, he falls in love with a reanimated corpse (um, yeah).  The character feels like a virgin, even though he isn’t.

I feel I have a certain amount in common with him, as I suspect that I too tend to fall for unobtainable women.  Or maybe they’re all unobtainable for me?  The first woman I asked out, insisting that we did not have much in common, said that if I liked myself more, I would like someone who I had more in common with.  The reality is that I’m not sure there is such a person, or what difference it would make.  I suppose E. and I had a lot in common, although we had some big things not in common (particularly religion).  It still wasn’t enough to keep us together.  Maybe in some ways we had too much in common, in terms of needyness and low income.

Ensign Kim’s formal reprimand was unfair, though.  Star Trek characters are always having flings with aliens with no repercussions.  Captain Kirk and Commander Riker slept their way around the Alpha Quadrant without so much as a warning.  As Commander Chakotay said, Captain Janeway was being strict with Harry because he always kept to the rules in the past.  I feel like that a lot – not regarding sex, but generally.  When I was a child, I felt that my observance of the rules was never noticed by authority figures, but I was too scared to break them.  Lately I feel like God is punishing me more than most people because He expects more from me, although it’s hard to tell what He expects me to do differently, or how I should do it.  I do feel at times that my loneliness and single state is somehow a punishment for something, although I know that’s not particularly logical.

***

A different type of loneliness: Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Torah email this week is a eulogy for his teacher, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, who died recently.  He speaks movingly of the idea of the teacher in Judaism.  “In Judaism, study is life itself, and study without a teacher is impossible.  Teachers give us more than knowledge; they give us life.” (Emphasis in original)  When I think about whether I made a mistake in not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) for a gap year, the actual content I would have learnt is only third on my list of regrets.  My bigger regrets are not “learning how to learn” and not having come into contact with great Torah scholars who I would have learnt from, from their personalities as much as their lessons.  There’s a wonderful essay by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (in the book Halakhic Morality) where he says that the content of Judaism can be learnt from books, but each person also has to develop their own unique “religious style” which can not be taught, only aroused within them by watching a great teacher.

My rabbi mentor is of course a teacher to me, but only in an ad hoc way.  He has never been in the position of formal teacher to me in any long-term way.  I am lucky that he has set aside so much time for me over the years, but it is not the same as being at a yeshiva with teachers.  I have learnt from teachers in books: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook and (lehavdil bein chayim le chayim) Rabbi Sacks himself and Rabbi Steinsaltz (among others).  Still, I feel book learning from dead or distant rabbis is not good enough, just as my Talmudic studies seem too small and low-level and my general Torah studies disconnected and lacking focus.

I do not know what to do about this.

***

Another line in Rabbi Sacks’ essay resonated for different reasons.  “Early on, he said to me, ‘Don’t be surprised if only six people in the world understand what you are trying to do.'”  I feel like that sometimes when contemplating my own writing, what I write now and what I want to write.  Maybe I’m being arrogant.  I would prefer to say that I’m doing what all good writers should do – writing for myself – and I know from experience that I have unusual tastes.

***

I keep coming back to the feeling that everything just seems so difficult and endless.  I was feeling earlier today that I should be glad that I’m hurtling unstoppably towards death because life just seems so painful and meaningless.  Lonely and painful.  I don’t know what I really enjoy or find meaningful any more, except writing, but even then I struggle to get anything published or to get any money from it.  I just feel so pessimistic about my life ever being good.  My childhood had problems, but could have been a lot worse had I not had one really good friend, but from adolescence to adulthood, my life has pretty much never been good.  It’s hard to hold out on a hope that things will go back to how they were when I eight years old.

Doing

Today I don’t have much to say other than achievements, which is good because it means I’m doing things more than I’m ruminating about things.

I had an early (by my standards) Skype call with my rabbi mentor.  Usually when I speak to him, I have some kind of problem to talk through, but this time I just wanted to catch up.  I guess I needed to speak to someone other than my parents, my sister and my therapist.  It was good to catch up.   He encouraged me to promote my Doctor Who book more, but I’m still not sure how best to do that.  I wish I was more involved in online fandom, but, as I’ve said before, modern fandom = Twitter = scary.

I had a scary few moments when I thought I had lost the 1,300 or so words I wrote yesterday, then again when found them, but thought I had lost the first chapter of the novel.  Chapter 11 had saved as Chapter 1 on both my laptop and my USB back-up, replacing the original Chapter 1.  Fortunately I had another back-up.

I wrote for over two hours, with little procrastination (although a short research break).  I wrote another big chunk, as well as cutting and pasting some sections into a different order.  When I get into the “flow” like this, I feel that I could really do this for a career.  Then I stop and think about my failed previous attempt at a career, the bouts of writer’s block, the difficulty of getting published (e.g. my Doctor Who book) and then it’s harder to feel positive.

It was a draining passage to write (domestic violence and rape), because of the emotional subject matter; because I wanted to do it justice as a heinous crime, not a trivial thing as sometimes happens when men write about rape; and because it’s one of the key events of the novel, so I wanted to write it well.  I haven’t looked over it again since finishing for the day.  I do feel vaguely worried about writing it, but I feel that if I want to write seriously about domestic abuse, I have to take it to its conclusion, otherwise it’s trivialising.

I found an interval between the showers to go for a run.  It was reasonably good.  I spent about an hour on Torah study too, which was also good.

***

This article was interesting, by someone who had had a very strict and repressive Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish upbringing and left her family to find a more modern and spiritual type of Orthodoxy.  Quote, “I believe that He [God] is much less judgmental of myself than I am, or that my parents are. After all, he made me with all my challenges. I believe He sees my growth and that I am letting go of religious scrupulousness in order to find my true path to Him.”

I wish I could really internalise that viewpoint.  Even though I did not have a Haredi upbringing, I find it hard to let my emotional self connect with HaShem (God) the way I would like.  I don’t see Him as punitive per se, but often as distant, the Ein-Sof (Infinite) of kabbalah and philosophy, and also as constantly planning painful challenges for me which, regardless of how positive they may work out for me in the long term, are extremely unpleasant in the short term (which can last decades!) and make me worry that I will not be able to hold onto my faith and practice amidst adversity.  There is a Hasidic idea that goes something like, “We’re not allowed to say that life is bad, but we are allowed to say that life is bitter,” and that’s a bit how I feel.

I have some idea how I ended up with this instinctive viewpoint, but that has not been much of a help in shaking it, and I don’t know how to internalise a healthier one.

The article I linked to is really to promote the group Project Makom, which helps Haredi Jews who want to leave their community, but stay frum (religious), to integrate into the Modern Orthodox community rather than leaving Judaism completely.  I assume I would not be able to make use of them, as I didn’t have a repressive upbringing, I’ve just developed the mindset of someone who did; also, I think they only exist in the USA.  I do vaguely wonder what would happen if I emailed them, but I’m not sure what I would say.  So my search to find a community I would fit into goes on…

Flow, Masks and News Media

The world is just so horrible at the moment that I want to steer clear of news and Twitter, but there is some kind of masochistic attraction.  I think it’s partly fear of not being informed about something important, even if there isn’t much I can do about it (like COVID), but mostly boredom and procrastination.  It’s easy to click on something and read it, and the news is always updating.  However, we seem to have abandoned the idea of analysis.  It feels like every media or social media outlet is just a list of things or people to hate, mostly things or people I have not heard of and have no opinion on until goaded by the media or social media to come up with one.

Mind you, when I gave in to temptation today, I did read an interesting and possibly career-pertinent Twitter discussion (actual discussion, not argument, rant or invective) about whether literacy standards in children’s books and young adult books have slipped over the last few decades.

***

Away from the real world, Mum cut my hair.  That’s the most noteworthy thing about today.  I’m glad not to have to go to the barber, given how anxiety-provoking that can be for me because of autism, social anxiety and tremor.

My novel writing flowed quite nicely today, the way I feel it “should” for a professional writer.  I wrote quite a lot, although towards the end I realised I’ll have to re-order the sequence of events in this chapter a bit to make them flow better.  I’m also reconsidering the ending of the story, which is a slightly nerve-wracking thing – I’m not entirely sure where I’m going now, when previously I thought I knew.

I went for a walk to pick up my prescription.  I wore a mask because I was going to the pharmacist.  I still can’t get used to wearing it and I’m dreading when I have to use public transport again.  I suspect that they will be around for a long time.  Even if the official requirement to wear a mask on public transport is lifted, I am guessing people will still wear them out of caution and a kind of politeness.  Who knew that rush hour on the Tube could get more depressing and uncomfortable?  Then again, given what happened when lockdown regulations were eased last week, maybe I’m wrong about that.  Maybe everyone will just go crazy and mask-free.

I managed quite a bit of Torah study today too, including Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and Mishnah.  The Mishnah’s point seemed straightforward, but as usual the commentary made it seem more complicated until I couldn’t understand it all, which is not good.  I spent some time thinking about what to write in my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I admit I’m finding it a bit harder than I expected to find something to write about for 500 to 1,000 words each week.

***

I was feeling quite self-critical last night and this morning.  I had an interaction elsewhere on the internet that I felt went badly, which may have been catastrophising.  This led me to over-generalise that all my interactions go badly.  It’s easy to think that I can’t cope with interacting with people in general.  It is true that sometimes I try to say the right thing and fail, but I need to focus on the fact that that does not always happen.  It is more correct to say that there are certain types of interaction that I handle badly, but I’m not sure what I can do about that.

Otherwise, my mood was reasonably good today, but I feel like there’s stuff bubbling under the surface that might come up soon and I’m not sure what that’s going to feel like.

***

I realised that I’m not thinking about E. much.  In a weird way, I feel guilty that I’m mostly over the ending of the relationship.  I felt like it  (the ending of the relationship) should have affected me more.  I don’t think it means I didn’t care about her, or that the relationship wasn’t real, just that I realise it was not really possible to save it the way things turned out.  I think I also worry more about bad things that might happen before they happen; once they’ve happened, I can generally deal with them.  If only I could channel some of that emotional energy back in time to before it happens and stop the worrying in advance.

I am still trying to work out if E. and I could still be friends, if that is sensible or something I want.  I definitely lack friends at the moment and would benefit from another one, but I worry about us being sucked into an unending on/off relationship, plus if I do ever end up dating again within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, having close female friends will probably not go down well.

It’s hard not to endlessly probe at the, “Will I ever be in a lasting relationship?” question, although I wish I didn’t.  That’s part of what I mean about agonising over relationships before they’ve started.  It is, I suppose, the emotional equivalent of probing a painful tooth.  No good can come of it, yet it’s compulsive.