Blood Test Manoeuvres in the Dark

I had a blood test today at 11.20am. I booked it for earlier than usual (I would normally go for the afternoon) to force myself to get up earlier and get more out of the day. I did struggle to get up on time, and went back to bed for a while after I got home.

The blood test was in a room where the lights were off and the blinds half-drawn. I’m guessing the phlebotamist had a headache rather than there being some problem with the lights, but this is the NHS, so who knows? I was a little nervous of someone sticking needles in me in poor light. At least I didn’t seem to shake much, or maybe the phlebotamist didn’t notice in the dark.

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital in the afternoon to try to find out what my GP needs to do to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but there was no answer. I left a message, but am not hopeful of getting a response.

Other than that, my main task for today was to fill in registration forms for a job agency. I’ve been with them for a number of years, but apparently it’s been so long that I need to register again. This probably reflects badly on my ability to find permanent work, although I suppose it reflects equally badly on their ability to find permanent work for me.

That was very boring and I got sidetracked into reading politics stuff online, which initially reinforced the curmudgeonly feelings I had woken up with, but eventually turned into guilt and self-disgust for bothering to read this stuff. Honestly, I’d rather avoid politics. Sometimes I feel like I’m overwhelmed by political opinions and unable to process them rationally in the time available, so I swing into sudden anger or impulsive policy decisions that I disagree with later. Structural changes in journalism due to technological and social change, including the advent of social media, seem to have had a negative affect on the mainstream media, making it less researched and more clickbaity, less focused on telling us what happened and more focused on telling us what to think (or rather, feel) about what happened. I’m aware that this is not an original perspective by any means, and that it might even be a product of the situation it describes, which is a scary thought.

Even so, the banality of politics continues to annoy me. The local Labour Party sent a flier through the door the other day promising a “Stronger Future Together”. I’m not sure how the future can be stronger (or weaker, for that matter). Not that the Conservatives are any better, somehow winning a landslide with the vapid “Build Back Better” slogan in the last general election. You can take alliteration too far. Still, someone must have liked it, as Joe Biden stole it for his presidential campaign the next year. (Not the first time Biden has borrowed from British politicians. He withdrew from the Democratic primary race in 1987 partly for having plagiarised a famous speech by then Labour leader Neil Kinnock.)

(Don’t take the above paragraph too seriously, I’m just feeling cynical today.)

My mood did pick up after a while, although I wish I had not wasted so much time today as there was more I wanted to do.

I did work on my devar Torah for the week, but I struggled to find the source I wanted. I have a book called The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities. The name is somewhat misleading, as it mostly lists Midrashic (rabbinic) material on biblical characters rather than summarising the biblical narrative. It is a useful way of finding rabbinic perspectives on particular figures or locating specific Midrashim (rabbinic expansions of the biblical story), but I like to try and check the sources in full, as sometimes the passages are highly edited. However, I could not find the source even in Hebrew on online Jewish library Sefaria. This may be because the referencing in the book wasn’t accurate. I can use the source as quoted in the Encyclopedia, but I do feel vaguely guilty about doing so.

I think the devar Torah was OK though. This is a part of it:

There are a number of Hasidic tales that have a similar structure whereby a Hasid wants God to grant him wealth or health, not for its own sake, but so that he can study and pray more. However, the Rebbe tells him that God does not want his prayer, study or service, but rather He wants the struggle the Hasid has to endure, and the sighs that he makes, in his effort to serve God while still living as a human being with a need for sustenance and health.

I’ve written things along these lines, about God wanting effort rather than achievement, a number of times in my divrei Torah. I really hope I can start believing it!

The Difficulty of Finding Joy in Connection to God

E and I wandered around the West End today and went into St James’ Park. The park has a lot of wild birds: aside from the inevitable pigeons, also ducks, swans, geese, crows and pelicans, the latter of which were rather mysteriously pink (they have been white on previous visits). People were feeding them, in violation of the various signs that said not to feed them. E says that if people can’t follow a sign about not feeding wild birds which gives four different reasons why not to feed them, then it’s no wonder that they won’t wear masks for COVID. It made me wonder if I should write a zombie apocalypse story where people refuse to hide in their homes from a “government and media zombie hoax” (although zombie films are bound to be cancelled soon on the grounds that they appropriate Haitian culture).

***

I’m re-reading The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, a book on three Hasidic rebbes, primarily Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Przysucha (Peshiskha), but also his rebbe, the Yehudi (“the Jew,” Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Peshiskha) and his disciple and successor, the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). I’ve read it several times before; with its emphasis on authenticity, individuality, spiritual freedom, personal growth and the balancing of prayer and Torah study, I find the form of Judaism it describes engaging and meaningful, and wonder where I could find it in the present (the rabbis lived in the nineteenth century).

Every so often I explore Hasidism, and the problem (or one of them, but this is the main one with these thinkers) is the focus on continual joy. It’s not quite the same as toxic positivity, but it’s not always easy to distinguish it. Rabbi Rosen writes, “In the world of Przysucha, joy is not some sort of palliative or ‘feel-good factor.’ Real happiness comes from being connected to the Divine, believing that there is an umbilical cord between humanity and God that cannot be severed.”

I feel I would like to experience real joy in life itself (not in objects or achievements), but it is hard to struggle through the anhedonia and alexithymia that I still feel even though I am no longer depressed. Moreover, this religious joy is, as Rabbi Rosen writes, rooted in feeling an unbreakable connection to God. I worry that my connection is not unbreakable, and that I have broken it, or at least strained it. Rabbi Rosen implies the connection is unbreakable in everyone, but it is difficult to think that Hitler or Stalin had a connection to God. The traditional Jewish response would be to say that Jews at least have an unbreakable connection to God, but the Talmud challenges this too. If someone can lose their connection to God, then I will still worry about losing my connection.

I worry about this less often now I am not depressed and my religious OCD is more under control. Still, I wish I could feel real connection. I would like to talk to Rabbi Rosen about it, but he died soon after the book was published.

Ironically, reading this passage and having these reflections seems to have brought my mood down, although the fact that E is only here for one more full day probably also contributed.

The Hive Switch

I’m still reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. I had a bit of a paradigm shift reading it, which I think ties in to one I had a while back reading Rabbi Shagar. Haidt talks about people being 90% chimpanzee, 10% bee — not in a literal, biological sense, but that most of the time we are individuals who compete against each other (chimpanzee), but occasionally we can form a group that cooperates to compete against other groups (a bee hive). The competition doesn’t have to be violent, just in the evolutionary sense that we compete for resources.

Haidt talks about “The Hive Switch,” a metaphorical switch in our brains that can shift us rapidly from individual mode to group mode. Examples of things that can flick that switch include: ecstatic religious dancing (once common in every society except the individualist West); raves (the contemporary Western substitute); being in nature (I think similar what Freud termed the Oceanic Emotion, the awe on seeing nature); group singing; marching in formation with others; going to a political rally or protest; and taking hallucinogenic drugs. These things promote group identification, enhanced empathy for group insiders[1], improved morale, improved cooperation and increased willingness to die for comrades [2]. They are also connected with a religious sense of connection to the Infinite and intense love for everything.

(Incidentally, you can see here that the only contemporary Jewish movement really plugging into this is Hasidism, which has very much been about group singing, ecstatic dancing and alcohol (no hallucinogenic mushrooms in Poland or the Ukraine) since its origins in the eighteenth century, very much the return of the Jewish repressed, although even Yeshivish or Modern Orthodox weddings can get a bit like this.)

Reading this argument, I was struck by seeing two of my major struggles, as recorded in this blog, connected: my struggles to connect emotionally with God and my struggles to connect with other people. You can even locate the two at once in the ecstatic dancing in shul (synagogue) on Simchat Torah. I assumed that both problems were unrelated. My social struggles and anxiety often occur within the Jewish community, but I assumed that was simply because that is my main social environment. But Haidt suggests (although he doesn’t explicitly state it, so I could be wrong) that having experiential encounters with God/the Divine/the Infinite/whatever you want to call it is the same sort of thing as feeling accepted as part a group of people.

Now, I have had that Hive Switch flipped at times, but generally in ways that are hard to replicate. Paradoxically, I had it sometimes when in a period of suicidal depression, where I sort of got overwhelmed with how awful the world seemed and emotionally exhausted by my thoughts and feelings (and sometimes physically exhausted by anxious pacing or walking) then felt an intense feeling of God’s presence. One year I managed to get into Simchat Torah and really enjoyed the dancing (I’ve never worked out how I did that or how to replicate it). I have had it a bit with being in nature and maybe a tiny bit at pro-Israel rallies, although I usually feel out of place at any kind of political event, even if I agree with the platform. So it is possible to flip my Hive Switch, just very difficult. Incidentally, Haidt says the switch is an analogue slide switch rather than a binary on/off switch, meaning it’s possible to be a bit groupish and a bit individual; it’s not one or the other at a given time.

So this makes me wonder if autistic people, the mentally ill or maybe even all introverts have difficulty moving this switch along. I know that when my switch gets pushed, it sometimes encounters resistance. When I’m somewhere where people are bonding over shared political, religious or cultural views, a voice starts up in my head with opposing views (an extreme version of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ idea that the Jews are the question mark in the margin of the record of the conversation of mankind). I probably have some resistance to God too, which is probably a strange thing for a religious person to say, inasmuch as I’m resistant to miracle stories and proofs of God’s existence; for me, God has to exist alongside the Abyss, at least in this world.

The focus on awe in nature and very ‘real’ emotions reminded me of the essay My Faith: Faith in a Postmodern World by Rabbi Shagar (Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg), which I read over Sukkot and which had a powerful affect on me. I want to re-read it before I feel I fully understand it, but the main thing I took away from it was the idea of faith being experienced in what Rabbi Shagar terms ‘the Real.’ This is a term from Lacanian psychology, referring to the early stages of infancy, where the baby can not distinguish between different people and objects, but experiences the world as a sense of wholeness, not as separate objects. Not only that, but he doesn’t experience himself as a body or identity, but as “an amalgam of organs, energies, and urges.” Faith is rooted in experiencing the world as the Real and is about acceptance of the self, which is not narcissistic if accompanied by unity with God; or, alternatively, a creative search for meaning of one’s own. (I would have liked greater detail here.)[3]

I had been trying to live more in the moment, without really knowing how to do it. Then, when I read Rabbi Shagar’s essay, I started trying to note down if I felt myself to be living in the moment and experiencing absorption in the Real when doing anything, or if I feel any connection to God (my hypothesis being that if I experience God, then I’m in the Real even if I don’t know it). This is obviously hard to notice, because as soon as I notice it, I am coming out of it. I find it hard to experience it for more than a few moments and it is impossible for me to go into it deliberately. It’s also hard to tell if I’m really in the Real, so to speak, or if I feel I should be in there, or I want to be there, or I expect to be there. The easiest way to get there seems to be prayer or hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation, but the connection only comes intermittently, maybe every few days, and often for no more than a few seconds. It doesn’t come so often with formal Torah study, but does happen sometimes (often on Shabbat evenings), when a creative interpretation of a passage of Torah, Midrash or Talmud suddenly comes to me even without formally studying the texts.

Being in the Real and flipping the Hive Switch seem to go together, although I’m not sure what is cause and what is effect yet. I would like to know how to trigger them both in myself, and whether I’m always going to struggle with that from autism, introversion, mental illness, personality or anything else.

[1] I think Haidt thinks that, contrary to what is often stated, groupishness doesn’t automatically lead to reduced empathy for outsiders, but I haven’t checked.

[2] Haidt’s argument is that soldiers in battle are willing to die primarily for the fellow soldiers in their unit, rather than nebulous ideas about nationalism or political ideology.

[3] Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said something similar about the Talmudic statement about babies in the womb learning the whole Torah, which he understands as referring to experiencing God as a nurturing, undifferentiated whole.

***

Other than that, it’s been a fairly quiet couple of days. I somehow got up early yesterday and today. I went to bed early yesterday too, but I was very tired at work this morning. I submitted my manuscript (or the first ten pages of it) to another literary agent. It took me two hours to fill in the online submission form, but I guess it’s good experience even if I don’t get accepted. I do worry that the early parts of my novel (the bits agents ask to see) aren’t interesting enough to capture the attention of anyone not predisposed to like it.

I did various bits of chores and Torah study yesterday and today and I had work today. We had an audit of various valuables the organisation owns. If ever I wanted to see a demonstration that autism is not the same as introversion, it was this. J is typically quiet and introverted like me, but he had a long ‘small talk’ conversation with the external auditor, while I hardly said anything to her that wasn’t an answer to a direct question.

Shabbat with Rav Shagar and Rav Kook

Friday felt like the first “early Friday” of the winter, when sunset, and the start of Shabbat (the Sabbath), are early and Friday is just a rush to get things done. I woke up late, at 10.40am, and jumped out of bed as I was Skyping my rabbi mentor at 11.00am. I don’t usually oversleep that badly if I’ve got an actual commitment (rather than just wanting to get up to get an early start or to daven (pray)). I felt awkward at talking to him before having davened, but I didn’t have time. The conversation was good. He reminded me that we have only just had one ‘normal’ week after all the autumn festivals and that it’s normal to still feel overwhelmed at this time of year, even without the nervous excitement of E visiting soon. He also suggested that I should talk to J about my work mistakes and see if he has any suggestions. Even being able to take a five minute break every hour might help with concentration. J sometimes talks to other people who work in the same building (including his father) who come into our office on pretexts or just to chat, but I generally stay out of the conversations because of autism and social anxiety, as well as feeling I should work, but, as my parents said, I probably do need breaks. I am pretty nervous about the conversation, although it’s unlikely that he hasn’t noticed the number of mistakes I’m making, even if he hasn’t made a big thing out of it.

I decided I would go to shul (synagogue) early after all, contrary to what I said in my last post, as I felt guilty about not helping to set up. However, E had a last minute problem and I prioritised helping her and so didn’t make it to shul early after all. I still felt overwhelmed by all the table thumping and clapping during Kabbalat Shabbat (part of Friday evening prayers). I wondered if it has got louder in the last year or if I just can’t cope at the moment. Autistic tolerance for noise can vary a lot based on factors like tiredness and general well-being. My parents pointed out that the layout of the room has changed twice in the last year and a bit, first when it was rearranged to socially distance everyone after the first lockdown and then when a third of the room was walled off by the school who own the building, so that may have changed the acoustics somewhat and made them more overwhelming.

I struggled to sleep again. I’m not sure why, and on Fridays it certainly isn’t screen time before bed. I wonder if I do need a new mattress. I read more of The Righteous Mind, and, when non-fiction got too heavy for me, half a Doctor Who graphic novel. I did eventually fall asleep, I think around 3.00am.

I didn’t go to shul today, morning or afternoon. I do feel that I’m drifting away from it and I don’t know what to do about it. I have so much to focus on at the moment and I’m trying just to narrow it down to a couple of things, otherwise it’s not achievable, and shul doesn’t seem urgent or important enough right now. I slept late in the morning and napped in the afternoon, so I’ll probably struggle to sleep tonight too.

***

I was reading Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the Postmodern Age by Rabbi Shagar (Shimon Gershon Rosenberg) over Shabbat and found a couple of interesting quotes.

One was in the essay Love, Romance and Covenant:

The romantic metaphor for intimacy is one of self-discovery. But the self cannot be grasped, and neither can the Other, the object of love. At best, the self will briefly flicker into view, always through its attributes, which may bear the imprint of the other’s uniqueness. Like the hidden God who reveals Himself only through His actions — “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live” (Ex. 33:20) — so too the self. The very attempt to grasp something obstructs intimacy. Paradoxically, only through distraction can the self be discovered. (p. 141)

This made me think less about romantic relationships and more about my search for a sense of self, and for a sense of God. It suggests I can’t find either directly, only grasp them briefly, while doing something else, and probably through things I say or do or God says or does rather than from seeing myself or God directly. This connects with other thoughts I’ve been having recently based on my reading of Rabbi Shagar that I’m not ready to share here yet, but connected with the idea of finding God ‘in passing.’

The other is a passage, actually a quotation from Rav Kook, in the essay Mysticism, Postmodernism and the New Age which needs some introduction. The “Shattering of the Vessels” is the kabbalistic (Jewish mystical) creation myth. It differs somewhat from that in Bereshit (Genesis) (I think the Shattering of the Vessels is thought to have occurred before creation as described in Bereshit). According to this, God poured His “light” into “vessels” that were not strong enough to contain it, shattering and sending sparks across the now-created universe. The myth functions in part as an explanation of the problem of evil: how can evil exist in a universe created by a benevolent God? In answer, it suggests that evil was a by-product of the shattering of the vessels. The universe is broken and in need of repair. However, this provokes another question: why did God not make the vessels stronger to begin with? This is where Rav Kook begins:

Why does the shattering of the vessels occur? For, as the Godhead provides according to Its capacity, while the recipient is limited, the benefit would be limited as well. That is why He provides influence without limit, according to His aspect… even thought the created recipient cannot receive it without shattering completely, and then rebuilding himself through his desire to return to his unbounded source… And thus the created can make himself and attain the perfection of a creator, and transcend the limitations of the created. (Orot HaKodesh, quoted in Rabbi Shagar p. 127)

Rav Kook takes this in a mystical way and Rav Shagar uses it as part of an argument about postmodernism, but I want to use it in a psychological way.

We (those of us with mental health issues or trauma) are like the broken vessels. Previously, we were formed (in childhood) by nature and nurture, our DNA and childhood experiences. As we grew, we were overwhelmed by something we could not contain (trauma or mental illness triggers), like vessels shattering from the Infinite Light. However, the breakage is not irreparable. The process of therapy and recovery allows us to actively rebuild ourselves, instead of passively accepting our identities. In this way, we become (self-)creators and not passive creations.

Overthinking

I struggled with insomnia again last night. I still managed to get up reasonably early to do the Very Scary Task for work. At first it seemed to be becoming a bit more manageable with experience, although it still is quite scary as I have to balance the needs of lots of stakeholders alongside important halakhot (Jewish laws), as well as making phone calls, which socially anxious and/or autistic people tend to see as one of the hardest social tasks. I feel that I’m not good at reading people, particularly on the phone, and I lack the experience of doing the task to make judgement calls and see how things are going, especially judging timescales, which is important. I feel J can judge these things, but I can’t, and he was not checking his texts all the time today. Hopefully I will gain experience with time, but reading people is hard, although it’s an issue in any work situation. It’s still a struggle to do something involving so many people, so little time, and which is a very serious and important thing in itself.

As time went on, the task became harder. As is often the case when I have the VST, I found myself hanging around waiting for phone calls, not willing to start anything in case I suddenly have to stop. I wish I understood this process and the time it takes better, but I guess I will only learn by doing it. I had time to think and overthink what I had done, which was not good, especially as there was no one around to talk it over with. Mum was at work, Dad with his friend, E asleep and J out with his family. This left me too much time to overthink and catastrophise. I wrote essentially the same work ‘to do’ list twice in the space of a few minutes without realising what I was doing, trying to get my thoughts out of my head. I don’t like being left by myself to brood on things, as well as feeling as if I’ve dropped off the planet when people don’t answer phones or texts. I shouldn’t be so insecure in my work and emotional needs to require constant reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, but given that I do feel like that I don’t know what to do about it, especially as the consequences of making a mistake are potentially quite serious.

I feel like I spent all day working on this and it’s still not completed, so I need to get up early to work on it tomorrow too. I actually only spent an hour or two in terms of actual activity, but I’ve been on edge all day waiting for phone calls, and planning phone calls, and I haven’t been able to do anything else. By the mid-afternoon, I felt really tense and uncomfortable. I also don’t know many hours I can justifiably bill J for. In the end I texted some people instead of phoning, as it was 7pm and I was totally out of energy spoons. I think if this becomes a regular part of my job, I need to think seriously about how I manage the stress and if I can claim any adjustments. And I’ve still got to deal with it again tomorrow, because we’re waiting on some bureaucrat to get off their backside and send the paperwork so people can do their actual jobs. I would be quite worried about what will happen tomorrow and how I will cope, except that I’m now too tired to care, which I guess is good. Isn’t it?

“Let go and let God” is a term from addiction treatment. I’d seen it before, but today I saw it right when I was struggling with things. It seems to apply to me. Unfortunately, I’m not good at letting go, particularly when I feel I’m letting other people or God down, or both, in the case of the VST.

***

In terms of other scary things, I survived a prolonged social interaction with my Dad’s best friend (despite having eaten lunch quickly to avoid him). He seemed a lot older than when I last saw him and more subdued than he used to be. I think he’s been through a lot. I shouldn’t have mentioned his criminal conviction yesterday, as it makes him sound like a career criminal, rather than someone who made some bad decisions. I’d also forgotten that he has mental health issues that influenced those bad decisions. So, I feel a bit guilty. He asked me a lot of questions about work, which is good in that it makes me seem normal, but bad in that sometimes I’m unsure of the answers. Despite having been there for ten months, I feel there’s a lot I don’t know.

Then I had to have dinner with my parents’ other friends in the sukkah, with no spoons (of the energy kind, but it was pizza so no literal spoons either). I didn’t want to “people,” I just wanted to watch TV, but it’s Sukkot, so I had to eat in the sukkah, which meant people and no TV (and no spoons). It wasn’t as bad as I feared, mostly because I tuned out of the conversation and just ate my food and went. Then I skyped E, which is strange for me, as it seems to be a social interaction that doesn’t drain me and maybe even restores me, which obviously bodes well for our future.

***

I decided I didn’t have the wherewithal to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, especially as there is no regular Torah reading because of Sukkot. I missed last week too, which makes me feel a bit bad. Next week is back to the beginning of the Torah, so hopefully I’ll be able to write one there. I tried to do some Torah study, but first was too on edge waiting for phone calls, then too tired and stressed, and worried about tomorrow. Sigh. I did a little, but not much.

I did at least spend a little time on my short story. I got it to a point where I was happy enough with it to be able to let E see it (she liked it). I’ll probably post the short story in a day or two in a locked post. Please let me know if you want me to email you the password so you can read it.

I did realise recently that the novel I’ve written is about the demons and mistakes of my adolescence and early adulthood, whereas the one I want to write next is about the demons of my childhood and also the present day, at least in some sense. I’m not a rabbi who is secretly a porn addict, but in other ways it is about me. I’m very drawn to the idea that a novel about addiction is really a novel about teshuvah (repentance/return to God/return to the true self/soul), at least in a Jewish context, an idea that is hard to explore in the secular Western setting, which has become a lot more about public shame than private guilt.

***

I went for a walk to try to destress (it didn’t entirely work, I got two work-related calls). I went to the book box and re-donated IT, along with Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas, a big history book that I bought at a charity shop years ago and instantly regretted because the cover was such a mess (coffee stains) that I could never bring myself to read it. It is now easily the most intellectual thing in the box. I hope someone else can see past its cover.

***

E booked her tickets to the UK for later this year, which is exciting, although because of COVID there is a layer of uncertainty and the worrying feeling that everything could get called off at the last minute because of a bad test or an escalation of infection in the US or UK. It seems strange to think there was a time when you could book a plane ticket and, aside from extreme unforeseen incidents, you would know that you would definitely be in that country on that date. We seem to have drifted back to a pre-twentieth century idea of travel.

A Few Thoughts

Just a few quick thoughts from today. I spoke to my rabbi mentor about my Yom Tov (Jewish festival) inspiration problem. He felt that most people are not that inspired by Yom Tov on a regular basis. We also spoke about the difficulty of repeating inspiration or spiritual joy from the first day on the second (the festivals are really supposed to be one day rather than two; the doubling is for complex historical reasons).

I listened to this shiur (religious class) about not being fearful of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement). The shiur is only about forty minutes; the rest of the time is for questions. I was not sure how good it would be, but I found it interesting, particularly to hear about working on yourself so that you can cope with negative feelings about God and life and coping with life in general as being a kind of teshuvah (repentance) even without doing anything regarding your religious level. This fitted in with Rabbi Dweck’s shiur last week and also one I heard from a rabbi and psychotherapist last year. I was also interested to hear that feeling suicidal, but not killing yourself, portrayed as being a kiddush hashem (sanctification of God’s name) on a par with being martyred to stay Jewish, and that this kiddush hashem continues constantly afterwards, even after the suicidal crisis has passed.

Otherwise it was an ordinary Friday: chores, a bit of shopping/walking and shul (synagogue) later. I managed to find forty minutes to work on my short story, which was good.

Nature and Nurture Vs. Me

Another dull day at work, which I don’t mind so much, but it’s another day when I made what seemed to me like foolish mistakes and generally handled myself badly. I don’t know what to do about that. Whenever this happens, I start to self-blame and pretty soon I’m comparing myself to school or Oxford peers who are doing better than I am (or who I assume are doing better than I am). To be fair, I mostly kept that in check today, but it’s there in the background. I would like to be doing a job that I felt good at, doubly so if it was one that seemed socially-acceptable given my level of academic success and/or allowed me to support a family, or at least to support myself. Contrary to what your parents and teachers told you, success at school or even at university does not correlate exactly with financial, social or cultural success later in life.

It didn’t help that I only had about four hours of sleep last night as Yom Tov finished late and then I felt I needed to blog to process my thoughts about it and then watch TV to try to unwind a bit. Then I just couldn’t sleep. At least it’s not so hot today.

***

Ashley and Margaret commented on my previous post, about God moving away as I try to move closer to Him. Margaret’s comment reminded me of the comment I posted recently from the Kotzker Rebbe, that “the moments of labouring are the finding.” It’s strange how it’s easy to say that in the abstract, but not when confronted by my actual feelings of hollowness or even failure. I think I was happy after the first day of Yom Tov, despite my failure to get to shul (synagogue) for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) or even to pray at home at the correct time. However, I was upset more by the second day, when I was too burnt out to do much and missed shul in the morning completely. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I wonder what other frum people manage, those without autistic burnout or social anxiety. From the outside, it looks like they mostly make it to shul early in the morning on Shabbat and Yom Tov (at the very least).

I guess related to this is the difference, as I said yesterday, between a punitive God and a loving God. This is, in part, the difference between God in the Written Torah (Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible) and God as presented in the Oral Torah (Midrash and Talmud). You can get into this very deeply, about the Written Torah coming from the side of din (strictness and justice) and the Oral Torah coming from the side of hesed (lovingkindness) and the fact that I generally tend to line up with din in numerous ways. I don’t really want to get so kabbalistic. But obviously there are these two different sides to God which we believe is a difference more apparent than real, because obviously we’re monotheists and not dualists (like the Gnostics or the Manicheans).

I can believe that a loving God exists, but it’s hard to feel that a loving God could love me. I know this is rooted in childhood experiences and my lack of self-love, but I don’t know how to move on from that. No one has given me practical steps I could do to love myself, let alone to believe that God loves me. Even so, I’m not sure how my inability to love myself corresponds to my inability to find meaning on festivals. Unless I expect too much from them. Similarly, why do I struggle to feel the kind of spiritual joy I feel I am ‘supposed’ to feel or that others seem to feel — is it my old friends anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and alexithymia (inability to recognise emotions) again? Or something else?

It’s uncomfortable to feel that I’m still held hostage by my autism (nature), as shown by my experiences at work today, and also by my formative years (nurture). I’m not sure what the solution is.

***

I feel torn between trying to find an agent for my novel, working on the short story I started recently or planning my next novel, but it’s too late to work on any of them (too late at night, not too late to ever work on them). I doubt I will have much time in the next couple of weeks given Yom Tov. Which is a shame, as I feel somewhat creatively-stifled at the moment. I also feel like a bad writer, and the only real cure for that is to write. But, it’s probably on hold for a while.

Success but Hollow Inside

I’ve only got a short time to write, but I wanted to write something and try to process my feelings about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

The background to Rosh Hashanah was a mini-heatwave that hit us unexpectedly. I was expecting it to be pleasant, but it was uncomfortably hot, which had an impact on my mood throughout. The other background is that I had asked to sit in the covered area outdoors, by the window of the shul (synagogue), intended for people who were unwilling or unable to sit indoors because of COVID anxiety or reduced immunity. The acoustics at the window were bad and I spent a lot of my time at shul round the corner by the door, where I could hear and see what was going on rather better.

I don’t really remember much special about the first night in shul. I think I did feel pretty positive, despite the poor acoustics. At home we ate the simanim, special symbolic foods eaten to symbolise a good new year. We have only been doing this for a couple of years and it still has novelty value. Even though it was late, I did some Torah study after dinner, as I hadn’t done much during the day and felt that I wanted to connect to God. I struggled to sleep that night, whether from the heat or the mixed feelings I had being at shul, feeling I was missing out by being outside, but also feeling that I would have a lot of COVID anxiety inside.

I woke up early the next morning, but struggled to get up, I think because of social anxiety rather than burnout, although maybe a bit of both. I find it hard to accept social anxiety as a legitimate excuse for missing shul, even though it happens a lot. I got to shul in time for the sermon and the blowing of the shofar, the ram’s horn trumpet. Even though I was very late, I still stayed for another three hours until the end of the service; Rosh Hashanah services are very long. I slipped into the shul standing just inside the doorway to hear the shofar, otherwise staying outside except when I was asked to open the Ark for Alenu. I felt I couldn’t really turn it down as I had come in for the shofar, and I think it was an hour to be asked for that particular prayer (where we bow on the floor, something we only do here and on Yom Kippur).

I napped after lunch, then went to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and then on to the brook for Tashlich, then came home. I was getting a headache, which I managed to stop turning into a massive migraine with early intervention, but I felt drained and justified in my decision not to go back for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).

I didn’t sleep well again and I struggled to get up in the morning. I had the “flat battery” feeling where I just don’t have the energy to sit up, let alone get dressed and go to shul. I eventually managed to get up around lunchtime. I was upset to have missed shul, but not surprised to be so burnt out. I was too burnt out to catch up on prayers and I didn’t want to delay my parents’ lunch.

After lunch I was still tired, so I napped again before saying the Mussaf prayers. I read the Jewish Review of Books for a bit, then went to shul for Minchah. I somehow found the confidence to tell the rabbi I had missed the morning prayers and the shofar blowing and he arranged for someone to blow it for me before Minchah started. I was pleased, and surprised that I found the confidence to do it, but I felt so socially anxious about drawing attention to myself asking for this that I struggled to focus on the shofar, and later on the prayers for Minchah. I decided I did not have the energy left for the shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv, so I went home.

J left the same time as I did and said he didn’t see me in the morning and asked if I was OK. I said I’d been unwell, but was OK now; I didn’t want to go into a big thing about autistic burnout in the street. He said if I’m unwell tomorrow not to force myself to come into work, which was nice.

On the whole Rosh Hashanah must be a success, as I got to shul quite a bit and heard the shofar both days. However, I feel kind of hollow and down now and I don’t know why. Some of it is lack of passive relaxation time or alone time. I’ve spent most of my waking hours the last two days with other people, at shul or at home. Beyond this, I suppose I just wonder if I’ll ever get back to being the person who can go to every single service and shiur during the festival.

I suppose I also always focus on the next goal rather than the one just completed. There’s a story about a Hasidic rabbi (I think the Maggid of Mezeritch; I don’t have time to check) who was asked by a Hasid why, whenever he tried to move closer to God, God seemed as far away as ever. The Maggid said that it’s like a father with a toddler. The father calls the child to him, who takes a few faltering steps towards him, but as he gets near, the father moves a few steps away and calls him again, and so on. This is frustrating for the child, but is how he learns to walk. Similarly, God moves further and further away to call us towards Him, but I don’t know how to deal with the lack of self-esteem that results from feeling I have not reached God and am as far away as ever.

I actually spent a lot of time over Rosh Hashanah thinking about what it would mean to accept that God loves me. I’m not sure I came to any great conclusions. I find it easier to see God as punitive than loving, at least towards me, and I’m not sure why or how to change that. I don’t see God as punitive in an abstract, theological sense, or towards other people, but I find it hard to believe He could love me unconditionally.

The other thing I thought about a bit over Yom Tov was abuse (child abuse, get withholding etc.) in the Jewish community. It’s been in the news again lately. I wonder how God can forgive us while it goes on. There isn’t really anything I can do about it, except write about it, which makes me want to get my novel published. On which note, a book I’d ordered, a guide to publishers, editors and literary agents, arrived today, which may help me to plan my next step.

OK, I’m off to get ready for tomorrow, and to see if I can have something to eat and fit in Midweek Twin Peaks before bed.

Last Day of the Year

I couldn’t sleep last night, possibly the result of eating ice cream late at night (it can give me a sugar rush, I think). It was a bad decision, but I felt that, after several difficult days, with several more to come, I needed a treat. About 3.00am, I decided to get up and do some work in the hope it would bore me to sleep. At the very least, I would wake up to less work in the morning. I did just under an hour of work at night and another hour today. All the bits I’ve done since Friday work out at roughly a full day for me, and I’ve also conveniently finished all the work I had to do at home, which I guess is a good way to finish the Jewish year.

I filled in the form for the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits. I didn’t have the payslips they wanted as I’m freelance and invoice J every month. I hadn’t kept all the invoices either, which I should have done, because the taxman may want them. I found the last two. I wish I wasn’t so vague and clumsy about practical and financial things. I don’t know what I’d do without my Dad here, really. There are courses in personal finance and the like for people on the spectrum. I’ve always resisted going on them, because I felt I’m too high-functional, but maybe I’m not really.

In a few hours it will be the start of a new Jewish year, 5782. I like that Jewish year numbers are so big, even though the count was only started (retroactively) in the Middle Ages and I don’t believe that Adam and Chava (Eve) were created literally 5782 years ago tomorrow. Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is about crowning God as our King. This entails accepting that He knows what He’s doing with everything He does. To this end, I’m going to try not to worry about stuff over the next two days and accept everything He has planned for me for the next year, regardless of whether it’s what I want or expect. This includes trying not to worry about getting to shul, hearing the shofar, about talking to people or about walking in hours after the service has started and the like.

Shana tova – happy new year! May we all be signed and sealed for life, and a good life at that!

Answering

It’s the last day of August, which seems unbelievable. The year has dragged with regard to COVID, but in other ways it has sped past. It is also Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) next week, which also seem unbelievable. Rosh Hashanah is very rarely this early in the solar year (the Jewish lunar calendar moves about with regard to the solar calendar).

The Jewish year has been good for me on the whole. I feel a bit bad about that, when COVID has made it so terrible for so many people. But it’s good that I’m back together with E, that I’m working, albeit part-time (all I can cope with), and that I finished my novel. I just feel a lot of gratitude at where my life is, albeit coupled with a desire for help in moving it on to the next level (which would be marrying E and monetising my writing at least by getting my novel published).

Despite this, my mood today has been up and down, largely because of more boring data entry work and nervousness about speaking to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my autism/Asperger’s (yes, that’s happening). I have tried to hold on to the good things, like Skyping E.

***

I listened to the Jewish educator Erica Brown speak about her book on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe. She spoke about the difficulty of translating ‘teshuva,’ which means ‘penitence,’ which sounds rather heavy. It can also mean ‘returning’ and that’s a common translation in frum (religious) circles, but she prefers ‘recovery,’ having worked with addicts.

It occurred to me when listening to this that teshuva also means ‘answer’ in Hebrew. Perhaps our teshuva is an answer to God. What is the question? Perhaps the primordial question that God asked Adam and Chava (Eve) in the Garden of Eden: “Where are you?” (Bereshit/Genesis 3.9) The Midrash sees this as a question designed to tease out a repenting/returning/recovering/answering response from Adam and Chava, but instead they blamed other people and refused to take responsibility for their actions. At this time of year we can ‘answer’ God realistically about our lives.

Erica Brown talked about the importance of not focusing solely on the negatives in our lives, but also on the positives, asking ourselves what we are doing right morally and religiously. I think I have grown and improved in some ways over the year, although I won’t go into that here. I have also come to feel confident that my life should be with E, and that I should also be trying to write fiction professionally, tough though it will probably be to get published. This was reinforced by listening to the latest Intimate Judaism podcast, where they were talking about the way sex is spoken about at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) and whether there is a rape culture, a hookup culture or a generally unhealthy sexual culture in these places, and how the frum (religious) community should be encouraging young adults to view their burgeoning sexuality.

The podcast made me desperate to write my idea for a novel about a pornography-addicted rabbi. This is probably not what Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Scott Kahn intended as a response to their podcast, nor what Erica Brown intended as a positive to focus for the coming year, but that’s where I am at the moment. I need to get some books on pornography addiction as background reading before I can go any further with planning (I know Joshua Shea sometimes reads this so – yes, your books are on the top of my list!) which I probably won’t do until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals). I have a short story to work on until then, but I hope I can find the time to write between work, therapy, Yom Tov and general religious practice (Torah study, prayer). It’s a busy time of the year for religious Jews.

At any rate, I feel that writing is my current ‘answer’ to God, that I want to move on with my relationship and my writing, but that I need a lot of divine help.

The Existential Threat

The Very Scary Task today had different people angry with me, or in my direction. Trying to help Person 1, I inadvertently annoyed Person 2. Sometimes I find it difficult to know what to do. I’m glad this is only a small part of my job, as it’s not really very suitable for someone on the autism spectrum with social anxiety and low self-esteem. By 10.00am, I was pretty much ready to crawl back into bed and cry, but couldn’t. I didn’t have anyone to vent to either, as Dad was davening (praying), Mum was on her way to work, E was asleep (stupid time difference) and I didn’t want to tell J that in trying to appease Person 1, I had annoyed Person 2, and still failed to get an answer that would mollify 1. Then the call to Person 1 that I was dreading went fine, to my surprise.

I did eventually get it all sorted just after lunch, but even that was not the end of my anxiety which manifested as more of an OCD-type anxiety, doubting whether I had organised the VST properly and making me want to phone everyone back and re-confirm what is supposed to happen tomorrow. I didn’t do that, as it would annoy everyone and I giving in to anxiety just fuels the self-doubting, but I felt anxious much of the day. I went for a walk hoping that would help, but I just catastrophised more.

I told J before he went away that I can’t work tomorrow as I have another commitment (therapy, although I did not say that). It’s just as well I do, as I could not do this job for three days running. I would be an anxious mess. I do worry a bit about what kind of job I can do, as so many seem impossible for autistic reasons: too much interpersonal interaction, workplace too noisy, needs too much multitasking or switching tasks. I miss social cues and then anxiety kicks in and I annoy people by looking for reassurance or not knowing when to leave them alone. There aren’t really reasonable adjustments I can ask for regarding not accidentally annoying other people in the workplace.

I’m not the kind of person who is good with numbers or computers, to pick the most stereotypical autistic jobs. At least this job is mostly OK. Even doing the Very Scary Task in the office isn’t so bad, as J is around to advise or take over if I get stuck. But doing it without him, from home, is too draining, and I couldn’t handle a third week of it. Also, I would like the chance to start some kind of career where I can earn realistic amounts of money to live on, but that doesn’t seem likely working part-time with limited capabilities.

I know that I need to be less dependent on other people for my self-esteem needs, but no one has ever told me how to do that. It’s not like I have an “Need of Esteem of Others for Self-Esteem” dial that I can set to “Low.” I’m not good taking the at initiative either. Neither of these things are good in the workplace, or in general.

****

I did the one hour of work I set aside from yesterday, as I thought the VST would take an hour or so today. Then I did an hour of work in advance for Thursday, so I won’t have to force myself through a six hour day when I may already be exhausted from this week (the advantage of working from home).

Other than work and a walk, I cooked dinner, drafted my devar Torah and did a little extra Torah study, but really I spent the day wrestling with anxiety and just trying to function. I guess it’s good that I managed all that with such high anxiety levels. The title of this post refers to the Sparks song The Existential Threat which came to mind today. I’d pick a verse, but almost all of them seem relevant (it’s a good song about anxiety). It’s good that I don’t often lose days to mental illness like this any more, but it is frightening when it suddenly reappears. It reminds me how thin the ice I’m skating on sometimes feels.

On the plus side, when I went for a walk, I was catastrophising, but it struck me that there are four people who will stick by me no matter what (E, my parents and my sister), plus my rabbi mentor who gives me more time than I really deserve. I feel this makes me luckier than a lot of people.

***

This will probably sound weird, but I feel more afraid of other people than God. By this I mean that I trust God to understand why I do the things I do, and how powerless I feel over my life sometimes, and that whatever He puts me through is in that context, but I worry that other people will not understand and will do I-don’t-know-what in response. I would much rather face God on Judgement Day than a jury of my peers. This is why I worry so much about doing things wrong at work, the fear that I would never be able to convince anyone that I acted in good faith and to the best of my abilities.

Normalising Religious Struggle

Yesterday and today I listened to an episode of the Normal Frum Women podcast on Normalizing Religious Struggle. I thought it was a brave episode for opening up the whole idea of religious struggle, whereas usually in the Orthodox world people suppress any religious struggles they are having and don’t talk about them with others.

I did find it interesting that the podcast focused mainly on halakhic and sociological struggles, that is, practical struggles rooted in Jewish law or the Jewish community, rather than theological struggle. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a lot of theological struggles over the years (a while back I listed about a dozen different potential philosophical or textual arguments against God and Judaism, and I’ve wrestled with most of them in my time) or maybe it’s because when I joined the blogosphere around 2005/2006, there was a lot of fierce discussion of theological challenges, particularly evolutionary science (the fallout from the Slifkin Affair[1] was still, well, falling out) and Biblical Criticism (Higher Criticism; Lower Criticism didn’t seem to bother people as much).

Either way, it did make me wonder if people were too scared to voice doubts about the existence of God or the divine origin of the Torah in public or if people simply care more about a practical issue (how women should dress or how to clean vegetables of insects) than anything more abstract. Certainly the “how should women dress?” issue is probably on some level a proxy for deeper, and perhaps partially philosophical, discontent about women’s role in the Orthodox world. This was actually voiced by one woman on the podcast, a lawyer, who felt more respected for her intelligence and professionalism in her non-Jewish workplace than in the Orthodox community.

Despite this, it was a very brave topic to broach, so I thought I would talk about some of my own struggles.

My big halakhic struggle was around 2016-17 (I think… to be honest, that period of my life is a mess of anxiety and despair when I look back it). At this time, my religious OCD was at its height and the whole issue of kashrut, the dietary laws, particularly regarding separating dairy and meat, and the special Pesach (Passover) dietary laws became almost unmanageable to me in the volume and intensity of anxiety they threw at me. It wasn’t until I did exposure therapy that I began to realise that most of the conflicts were imaginary, inasmuch as the halakhic (Jewish law) issues I saw simply weren’t there. Until then, I was consumed almost constantly with anxiety that we (my parents and I) had treifed up (made religiously inedible) our kitchen. I asked almost daily questions of rabbis and the London Bet Din Kashrut Division question service (which was probably not intended to be used that way). Almost everything was OK, but I was terrified of having done the wrong thing, particularly with regard to Pesach (where, to be fair, we had done some things wrong in the past).

I felt that God would punish me for doing wrong, but I was also terrified of having some major fall-out with my parents where I wouldn’t eat in their home. The fear of argument with my parents is telling, as it seems likely that the OCD was largely triggered by our moving house when I didn’t want to move, as well as the fact that I was conscious of still living with my parents in my thirties due to my history mental of illness. (I did in fact move out at one point to try to get things under control.) The OCD made my already existent depression worse and for a while I was deeply depressed and struggling to have any kind of joy in my religious life (or any other aspect of my life, for that matter) and I viewed kashrut and Pesach with a mixture of dread and anger. For a while I became very angry and resentful of God and the calmer religious lives other people seemed to lead. Fortunately, I’m a lot better these days, although I have to be vigilant against falling back into bad habits of checking and questioning; even this week I’ve felt myself slipping slightly and needing to be strong.

My main problem nowadays is sociological rather than halakhic. I still struggle desperately to fit in to an Orthodox world that seems geared up for neurotypical, confident, healthy married couples, not an autistic, socially anxious and sometimes depressed older unmarried person. I would of course suffer in any neurotypical social environment, but the Orthodox world has a lot of specific stressors, from an approach to prayer and religious study that is often louder and more vocal than in other religions to a culture of intricate ritual even in interpersonal interactions. This is compounded by consciousness of being a ba’al teshuva (someone not raised religious who became religious later in life) and my regret at not having gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), even though I doubt I would have been happy there.

Related to the last point is my consciousness of not being able to study Talmudic texts independently or even really to keep up in group discussion, even when I prepare in advance (which I do at least try to do). I do feel like there is something lacking almost in my masculinity, in Jewish terms, from my not being able to study Talmud, something which is only compounded by my failure (so far) to marry and procreate. The fact that I am (I think) reasonably good at understanding aggadic (non-legal) Jewish religious texts is a strange kind of consolation prize, as this skill is not rated highly in the Orthodox community, particularly among men. I used to be able to daven from the amud (lead services), but since moving communities, my social anxiety has kicked in there too and I try to avoid it, so that’s another area where I could have felt that I was fitting in, but don’t and instead seem passive and ‘useless’ (by the community’s standards).

The reality I have come to lately is that my problems are as much due to my faulty autistic brain wiring than the community itself. I struggled to feel accepted in online Doctor Who fandom too, a much more open and less rule-bound environment, so maybe it is too much to ask to feel accepted in the Orthodox Jewish world. As with my religious OCD, my fears are probably more imagined than real. I don’t know how other people at my shul (synagogue) view me, but lately I’ve become more open to the idea that they don’t hate me and think I’m an idiot, which I guess is progress.

A side-light on this comes from Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side, Jonathan Boyarin’s ethnographic study of yeshiva study (“learning”) in a New York yeshiva, which I’ve been reading the last few days. Part of the interest for me is the way Boyarin negotiates his situation being, on the one hand, an ethnographer doing a study project and, on the other, being a Jew wanting to study Torah for its own sake (albeit by his own admission a Jew less Orthodox and strictly observant than the other people he meets at the yeshiva). It’s a kind of hokey cokey of being an insider and an outsider successively or even at the same time. I find it interesting that I understand and relate to my own community better through the eyes of ethnographers like Boyarin or Sarah Bunin Benor (Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism) than I do in person. Maybe that’s the autism/Asperger’s again.

Ultimately, as the podcast stated, Judaism is ultimately a relationship, involving trade-offs and compromises. I’ve never got to the point with Judaism where I’ve walked out — not a trial separation and certainly not a divorce. I suppose that must count for something. Past theological issues notwithstanding, I think I have a deep level of faith in God and Torah that transcends any particular doubts or social awkwardness. The thought of not being Jewish in an Orthodox sense seems barely imaginable, even as I acknowledge that the vast majority of Jews, let alone non-Jews, are happy with living their lives that way. This is my identity in a very deep-seated and secure way, even if I can’t articulate it to others. In some ways, the inarticulacy is the proof of how embedded it is in my psyche; it’s deeper than words.

I feel uncomfortable with much of the discussion around intersectionality, but I feel that the last five months, since my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis, have led me to a re-examination of the “intersection” of my Jewish and autistic identities and a sense that, even if my behaviour and socialisation doesn’t meet the required standards of the community, it is at least the best I could do. Perhaps a better, if darker, image than ‘intersectionality’ is drawn from Kafka’s unfinished novel The Castle, which he said would end with the main character, K, being told on his deathbed, that his legal claim to live in the village was not recognised, yet he was permitted to live and work there, an image that combines acceptance and isolation at once.

[1] Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, as he then was, wrote three books on Torah/science controversies, including, but not limited to, creationism and apparent scientific errors in the Talmud. He only quoted accepted mainstream rabbinical sources. He largely accepted modern science and reinterpreted problematic statements in the Torah as metaphorical, and saw those in the Talmud as simply errors coming from the rabbis relying on the science of day rather than being based on a religious tradition that had to be accepted as revelation. This approach is based on major Jewish thinkers like Rambam (Moses Maimonides) and Rabbi S. R. Hirsch and initially gained cautious acceptance even in parts of the Haredi world (ultra-Orthodox), but eventually the books were banned by a number of prominent Haredi rabbis, causing a huge ruckus about both science and Torah and about the limits of rabbinic power that still thunders on in parts of the internet. In the early days of the Jewish blogosphere, where someone stood on the Slifkin controversy became an indicator of how Haredi or ‘modern’ they were.

***

As for today, the morning was taken up with volunteering for the food bank. We were short-staffed again (I guess some of the younger people are still leading summer camps and maybe others are on holiday), so I was glad I went. It was cooler this week and I didn’t get a migraine. I did have to shleppe a lot of stuff, especially as we didn’t seem to have the trolleys we usually use. The afternoon was mostly taken with writing this post, which may not have been the most productive use of my time, but helped me unwind a bit. I also spent an hour or so writing a glossary for the (nearly 100) Hebrew and Yiddish words and phrases used in my novel. I’m not sure how consistent and thorough I was. It’s really intended as a quick reference and not a detailed philological guide! Also, the word ‘Yiddishkeit‘ is really hard to define. But this means that my novel is pretty much ready to go out into the world and try to find an agent and a publisher!

I watched another episode of The Blue Planet and was struck by the penguins: ungainly and even comical on land; graceful and elegant in the water. There is probably a lesson in there about fitting in to your environment, although I’m not sure how it applies to me and shul.

Arguments from Design

I’m in two minds about blogging today. I feel the need to offload a bit, but I am aware that I can’t actually say that much here about my job, plus I feel tired and want to get away from computer screens (although I was barely on the computer at all at work today).

Suffice to say I had to go somewhere by myself this morning for work without preparation, somewhere vaguely eerie to be by yourself if you haven’t been there much. I dealt with it OK, I think. To be honest, I was more worried about missing my bus stop than anything once I actually got there.

In the afternoon J and I went over the valuables I inventoried some time ago. Unfortunately, it was some months since I worked on this and I had forgotten some of what I had done. J was also critical of the way things had been assigned reference numbers in the past. I had not done this, I had just used the reference numbers provided, but I worried irrationally that he was annoyed with me too.

I didn’t feel autistically burnt out today, but I was exhausted by the time I got home. I read a novel for a while as I didn’t want to sit at my computer, but reading was a bit of a struggle. I really just wanted to vegetate, but I didn’t want to watch TV until later in the evening when I was really tired.

***

Lately I feel as if I’ve had OCD-type thoughts and catastrophising thoughts lurking at the fringes of my consciousness. I try not to give in to them, but the more I think about not thinking about them, the more I think about them. I’ve also noticed that over the years I’ve had varying level of discomfort about some things, like wearing shoes and watches, something I now associate with autistic sensory issues. It’s got worse recently, to the point where I regularly take my watch off while at work and put it in my pocket (possibly rendering wearing it redundant, although it’s easier to look at it quickly on my journey to work than getting my phone out of my pocket). I don’t take my shoes off at work, although sometimes I wish I could, but I do take them off at home. I’m not sure why this would suddenly get more difficult and intense, but I wonder if it’s part of a general feeling of being overloaded recently.

Speaking of which, I’m not going to volunteering this week. I do get a lot out of it, but I feel exhausted and can’t really face the early morning. I feel like I need to take some recuperation time. I feel a little bad, as I know they probably have fewer volunteers this week, but I feel that I need to look after myself to avoid more burnout.

***

I’m still watching The Blue Planet wildlife documentary. The undersea photography is as awe-inspiring as the sundry whales, sharks and other marine life. Watching nature reminds me of something my rabbi mentor once said to me, that two people can look at the night sky and say diametrically opposite things. One can say, “How can you look at that and not believe there is a God?” and the other can say, “How can you look at that and believe there is a God?” I guess you can say the same about the wonders of the plant and animal kingdoms, that some people see in them God’s handiwork and others just see nature. And it’s not even a creationism/evolution issue. I can accept evolution as a proof of God’s prowess. There’s a quote I think from Rav Hirsch in the nineteenth century that evolution proves God’s creative power more than separate individual creations, as all He did was create one single-celled creature and the principle of evolution and from that millions of species evolved. I think the point is that nature can point to God, but you have to be leaning that way in the first place. It doesn’t necessarily point there of itself.

For myself, I have always tended to find God more in the apparent vicissitudes of history, particularly Jewish history as well as my own personal history, and also in the depth of the Jewish tradition, as well as in human dignity and moral fortitude, but I’m aware that these don’t necessarily point to God of themselves either.

Dig A Pony

I’ve been feeling really drained all over the weekend, really drained and burnt out rather than just fatigued. On Friday I was drained even before I went to shul (synagogue). I was a bit late, for various reasons, and someone was sitting in my usual seat, which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Then there was a lot of noise, clapping, thumping tables and so on during Kabbalat Shabbat. I’m not sure if there was more than usual or if I’m just worse at coping with it mid-autistic burnout. I thought a bit about leaving in the middle of the service, which I haven’t done for a long time, but I stuck with it until the end. I’m still not sure if that was the right decision.

I didn’t do much in the way of hitbodedut/spontaneous prayer at home in the evening, and I didn’t do any extra Torah study, I just read for a bit and went to bed about as early as is possible on a summer Friday, about midnight. Even so, I slept for thirteen hours, completely sleeping through the morning and missing shul. I slept for another hour and a half after lunch too, despite drinking coffee to try to stay awake as I was worried about not sleeping in the evening.

I did get to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards. I struggled with external things again. This time the table where I usually sit was simply not there; I’m not sure where it was moved to. Then I was given Peticha (opening the Ark and taking out/putting back the Torah scrolls), but there were no tallitot (prayer shawls) and there was some confusion over who should do what as we come out of COVID regulations (should I take out the Sefer Torah and put it back or should the chazan etc.). I know this doesn’t sound like much, but with autism this kind of confusion and uncertainty can be a great deal, particularly if I’m already burnt out. I did cope with it, but I was drained again by the evening and read in my room after seudah (the third Shabbat meal) instead of playing a game with my parents.

Perhaps inevitably, I had insomnia after all that sleeping during the day, although I felt too tired to do anything useful. I ended up watching The Twilight Zone, which may not have been the best thing to watch, although it was a good episode – ten episodes in, I feel I’ve reached the type of eerie stories with a twist that I was expecting. I do admire the economy of storytelling needed to create characters and tell a whole story in just over twenty minutes, usually including establishing a fantastical premise, even if it sometimes seems like it could have done with another five or ten minutes to breathe.

Today I woke up drained again, too drained to do very much, certainly too drained to go for my usual Sunday run. I went for a walk instead, primarily to buy coffee, so I got some exercise. I relied on the heter (permission) to listen to music in the Three Weeks of mourning if you’re depressed. My rabbi mentor said it applies to autistic burnout too, but I’m not sure how to distinguish burnout from ordinary fatigue any more. There seem to be different views among people on the spectrum and researchers on whether burnout is just a long-term phenomenon (months or years), or if it can apply over a day or a number of days. My instinct is that it can be over a number of days, and that I’ve burnt myself out doing too much last week, so I let myself listen to the music to try and get myself to a normal state of mind, but it didn’t really help.

If anything, my mood slipped over the afternoon and now I feel drained and also somewhat depressed and lonely. Loneliness is more apparent than real as my parents are here (albeit absorbed in the football) and E has been texting during the day. I do miss E, though, and it’s frustrating not knowing when we will be able to see each other in person. Perhaps it’s harder to bear the uncertainty on a day like today when I don’t feel well.

I did a bit of Torah study in the early afternoon, but I didn’t feel up to doing any work on my novel. I would have liked to have done more Torah study, or just read a novel (I stopped awkwardly in the middle of a chapter of The Master and Margarita at lunchtime), but I was too drained to concentrate. I did go on a virtual tour of Jewish Rome (as in ancient Rome) which was booked for the afternoon, and I did enjoy it although my attention wandered by the end. E was supposed to come on the tour with me, but she had to duck out as she’s going to look after a friend who had surgery. She tried going at an earlier timeslot, but it didn’t work out; hopefully she’ll be able to watch a recording. After that I was exhausted and watched TV, The Twilight Zone and The Blue Planet, where, bizarrely, David Attenborough kept talking about “The twilight zone,” by which he meant the deep part of the ocean where there is almost no sunlight light.

It feels like I didn’t do as much as I wanted, but also that I probably did more than was wise, which just makes me feel that coping with autism is like navigating a maze in the dark while blindfolded. Just trying to feel myself along and often falling over. I’m just glad I have my parents and E to help me.

***

While I was listening to music this afternoon, The Beatles’ song Dig A Pony came on. It’s one of John Lennon’s “nonsense poetry” songs where the words don’t really mean anything and are just there for the sounds and rhythms. This lack of coherence seemed appropriate to how I feel today, or rather, how I am (or am not) thinking, hence it became this post’s title.

***

I’ve been thinking about my life again and trusting in God. For a long time trust in God seemed impossible. My life seemed dominated by bad decisions that I had made that had ruined everything. Now I feel that even if I had changed small things in my life (choice of school, not going to yeshiva), I probably would not have changed the outcome that much. It was determined too much by the big things. And if I had changed any of those big things, I would have been a totally different person. Maybe a better or happier person, but not me. And these days I have a degree of peace of mind in the thought of being me, certainly enough not to want to be someone else, at least not as much as I might have wanted to be in the past. So now I have some peace when I look back on my life and feel that it probably was for the best, and that it’s harder to totally derail my life than I thought it was.

Busy and Fast Day

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty good. I went to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat morning as well as Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, which was good. People were shaking hands. This seems to be permitted now, although I didn’t think it was and shied away from it. I mostly didn’t get too upset about someone I was at school with having his daughter’s bat mitzvah on Shabbat. It’s hard to get my head around someone my age having a twelve year old daughter. In the past this would have made me very envious and depressed, but I was mostly (if not quite completely) OK about it this time. I skipped the kiddush (refreshments) after the service. The shul had been doing this in a socially-distanced way, but, perhaps because of the hand shaking, I got it in my head that they didn’t need to do that any more and I didn’t feel comfortable going back to a less distanced form of kiddush. In retrospect I may have got that wrong, perhaps influenced by general social anxiety and repressed negative feelings about my peer’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.

I followed quite a bit of the Talmud shiur (religious class) in the afternoon, which was good. I was pretty exhausted by the evening, though, and read instead of playing a game with my parents after seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).

I still feel “crashed” today. After having “only” slept nine hours over Shabbat (less than usual, seven at night and a two hour doze in the afternoon), I slept for twelve hours last night and got up in the afternoon. Even that was a struggle, as I felt so drained I think I could have happily slept for a few more hours.

Today is a Jewish fast day. I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts for health reasons, as fasting is dangerous while taking lithium, which makes fast days feel a bit weird to me. I guess they’re weird anyway. With this fast (17 Tammuz), there’s the knowledge that we’re three weeks away from a much more serious fast (albeit not a lot longer). In between is a period of mourning, with no weddings, celebrations, music, haircuts or shaving. I find it an awkward time. I use music a lot to motivate myself, and while there are exemptions for workouts, depression and autistic burnout, I find it hard to work out when I “qualify” for these things, and sometimes clearly do not qualify, particularly now I’m mostly not depressed. And not shaving for three weeks itches like crazy.

I worked on my novel for an hour or so. It was OK. I didn’t procrastinate as much as usual, but I definitely lost momentum after my sister interrupted by phoning me, after I’d been working for twenty minutes. It doesn’t help that I’m in the most difficult part of the novel for me, drawing on painful experiences from years ago.

I somehow managed to fit in about half an hour of work on my devar Torah for this week, my usual Torah study pattern being somewhat disrupted by the fast and adding in some extra shiurim (two today for the fast; one an ongoing thing for the next few Tuesdays that I haven’t adapted to yet). By the afternoon I was feeling subdued and vaguely blood-sugar deprived and not sure why, given that I had been eating. I think some of this might be psychosomatic; I seem to feel weak and even ill on fast days even though I don’t fast. But I think some might be from cutting down a bit on snacking during the day, even though I only snack on fruit and nuts. Caffeine deprivation might be another issue, even though I go without caffeine fine on Shabbat.

As it was a fast day, my shul was running some Zoom shiurim (religious classes). One was a mixture of religious and historical ideas about Jerusalem, the other was purely religious. I went to both in the end, which was quite a lot, with all the other things I did today.

The other thing in a very busy day (or afternoon) was Skyping E. I think we’re both frustrated at the way we can’t move our relationship on because of COVID and being long-distance, especially knowing that even after COVID we’re going to face problems with finances and immigration and who knows what in trying to be together. And we’re both aware that we want to have children, but that that’s something that will depend on a lot of practical issues currently outside of our control. However, by this stage in my life I feel ready to tentatively accept that God has some kind of plan for us, having got this far in our very complicated relationship history, not to mention my life as a whole. I know that’s kind of a puny declaration of faith for someone who is supposedly frum (religious), but it’s taken me nearly thirty-eight years to get to a point where I can accept that maybe things in my life happen for a reason and might turn out OK in the end.

I Blog Therefore I am

I haven’t blogged for a few days. There’s nothing wrong. Quite the reverse, really. Nothing really happened. When I was very depressed and had a lot of emotional stuff to offload, it was easy to blog every day — hard not to blog, in fact, as I wanted to process and off-load a lot of thoughts and feelings. But at the moment not a lot is happening, and I didn’t feel like writing very trivial stuff. I’m wondering if I should blog less, or maybe blog differently. I toyed again with the idea of writing more analytical posts about Judaism or antisemitism, but I think I’d rather use extra writing time on my novel (sorry). But we’ll see; previous attempts to blog less haven’t really worked. And whenever I say my life is dull and good, something goes wrong, so we’ll see what happens.

As for what happened, Thursday was dull. There were some negative things, but nothing really bad or worth going into. The highlight was Skyping E from the garden (I wasn’t sure the wifi would work out there). On Friday I did some chores, worked on my novel and went to shul (synagogue). I missed shul on Saturday morning, probably because I was up late reading Tanakh (Daniel, which is really hard to understand!), having earlier spent quite a while studying Talmud to prepare for the class on Shabbat (the Sabbath) — there seems to be a trade-off between studying Torah on Fridays and getting up in time for shul.

On Shabbat, I did the usual Shabbat things: spent time with my parents, went for a walk, slept too much, went to Talmud shiur (class) and found I’d prepared much more material than we got through, as we spent ages on a long Tosafot (Medieval commentary on the Talmud written over about 200 years by a group of rabbis in what’s now Northern France and Germany, plus one or two in England) — I don’t prepare Tosafot as I don’t have a translation and my Hebrew isn’t good enough. Plus, I mostly don’t understand Tosafot anyway. I played Scrabble in the evening and came second despite getting (I thought) some good words, “nodules” probably being the best of them. Unfortunately, a good word is not necessarily a high-scoring word, which depends on which letters you use. By largely staying off-line after Shabbat, I went to bed early for a summer Saturday evening i.e. 1am (bear in mind that Shabbat didn’t finish until after 10.30pm!), but couldn’t sleep, whether because I slept too much during the day or because I took my meds late.

As for today, I got up quite late after falling asleep so late (after 3am) . I spent a bit over an hour working on my novel, writing five or six hundred words, which is probably the most I’ve written in one session for some time, although I’m a bit uncertain of where this current passage is headed and whether it justifies it’s existence as a late addition to the end of the novel. Is it deepening the resolution or just padding out the end? It is hard to tell at this stage. It’s said that writers divide into two groups, planners (who plan out their stories in detail) and pants-ers who don’t and instead write by the seat of their pants (I assume that’s the etymology). I haven’t fitted easily into either category on this novel, planning the general flow, but improvising a lot of the details, but this bit is very much pants-ing, if that’s a word, which it isn’t.

Other than that, I Skyped E and did some Torah study and thought a bit about my devar Torah for the week. I didn’t do any exercise (run or walk) as it was too hot and I didn’t want to get an exercise migraine, as I was going to a Zoom talk/shiur in the evening. This was Rabbi Dr Sam Lebens talking about his new book on Jewish philosophy from an analytical philosophical perspective of examining the fundamental principles and axioms of Judaism i.e. given Judaism exists, what things are necessary to make these practices meaningful (not proving that God exists or that Judaism is true). It was very interesting. I’m in two minds about buying the book though. It sounds fascinating, but I’m not sure if I will understand it (I have a mixed record with philosophy), and it costs £75. We (people on the Zoom call) were given a 33% discount code, but that’s still £50, which is a lot of money to spend on a book I might not understand.

A couple of things I picked up from the talk that tempt me to buy the book: (1) this is very much a book about believing in a personal God and not an abstract “God of the philosophers”/Deism — I think sometimes my understanding of God becomes too abstract; (2) he mentioned in passing an idea from Chief Rabbi Jakobovits z”tl that God tells a different story through each individual’s life and through each community/group of people and that multiple communities can be “chosen” — something I’ve thought, and seen suggested in Rabbi Sacks z”tl and Rav Kook z”tl, but would like to see spelt out in more detail (Rabbi Sacks got in very hot water over a milder version of this in The Dignity of Difference); (3) the idea that the universe exists in mind of God, which I had heard, but not really advanced in a very serious philosophical way — I guess it appeals to me as a solipsism/Philip K. Dick fan, and also because it suggests that negative parts of my life might not be ‘real,’ which is probably a strange thing to think, but strangely reassuring, and I guess it ties in with Rabbi Lebens’ view (which he admitted was “wacky”) that not only can God redeem the future, He can redeem the past by changing history and will do so at some point.

Obsessive Thoughts, and Finding Your Mission

I had volunteering this morning. For some reason we were preparing fewer bags of food this week. The number varies from week to week (I’m not entirely sure why), but not usually this dramatically. There were also some leftover bags of non-perishable food, which further reduced the number we needed to get ready. The result was that I was finished before 10.00am, rather than between 10.30am and 11.00am as usual. I think there were other tasks I might have been able to help with, but I was not unhappy to leave earlier, as days when I do both volunteering and therapy are tiring and I was glad of the extra time to recover and do other things.

In the afternoon I tried to create a revised version of my Doctor Who book on Lulu.com so I could sell it at a lower price, but the system is still misbehaving, telling me I need to select a book size even though I already have done so. I emailed the helpdesk again, although I did not find their previous response particularly helpful. They emailed back to say that I can’t publish a new version of my book without starting from scratch (which admittedly wouldn’t be a huge problem, but still isn’t right) because since I published the book, they’ve changed the site. This is a bug, apparently. Hmm.

I worked on my novel for a little under an hour. I procrastinated, I didn’t make much progress and I’m not happy with what I did write, but I wrote something, which I guess is the important thing, just to keep hammering away at it.

***

Therapy was good. I spoke about my obsessive pure O OCD-type thoughts, which have got a bit worse in the last few days. I sometimes get intrusive violent thoughts. This leads to obsessive worrying that I could become violent or a murderer. I tend to worry in particular when I read news stories about rapists and serial killers and see similarities with myself (usually that they are loners with few/no relationships and friendships). I know it isn’t likely that I would hurt someone (I’m terrified of hurting people even verbally and unintentionally, let alone physically and intentionally), but it’s easy to get sucked into “How can I know for sure that I wouldn’t do that?”-type of thoughts, or even to think that if I have intrusive violent thoughts for long enough, I’ll somehow act on them by default. The thing to do with these thoughts is just not to pay any attention to them, although it’s very hard not listening to a voice in your head saying that if you aren’t careful, you’ll turn into Jack the Ripper.

In therapy today I realised that these thoughts aren’t all that different from the “Am I a bad person?” thoughts I get. It’s a more extreme form of “bad,” but the thought itself is not that different in nature. And I realised that I haven’t really got very far trying to prove to myself that I’m not a bad person (or a serial killer), so maybe I should just try not to respond to these thoughts. I noticed that I got to shul (synagogue) last week without really thinking about it much, rather than spending ages thinking that I had to go and worrying that I wouldn’t make it, so maybe ignoring obsessive thoughts is the way to go.

***

As well as Lulu.com, I’m angry at victim-blaming antisemitism, but what can you do? There’s a lot more of them than there are of us.

***

Looking for a particular quote for my devar Torah, I was looking at Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book To Heal a Fractured World. It ends with a two page list of reflections on an ethical life. A lot of this resonated with thoughts I’ve been having recently about trying to work out what I’m here on Earth for, what I can actually do with my life. I’m not going to quote all of it, but here is some of it:

I make no claims to wisdom, but this I have learned:

  • that each of us is here for a purpose;
  • that discerning that purpose takes time and honesty, knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the world, but it is there to be discovered…
  • that where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be;
  • that even the smallest good deed can change someone’s life…
  • that those who spend at least part of their lives in service of others are the most fulfilled and happiest people I know…
  • that each situation in which we find ourselves did not happen by accident: we are here, now, in this place, among these people, in these circumstances, so that we can do the act or say the word that will heal one of the fractures in the world…
  • that it is not the most wealthy or powerful or successful or self-important who make the greatest difference or engender the greatest love;
  • that pain and loneliness are forms of energy that can be transformed if we turn them outward, using them to recognize and redeem someone else’s pain or loneliness…
  • that we can make a difference, and it is only by making a difference that we redeem a life, lifting it from mere existence and endowing it with glory;
  • and that if we listen carefully enough — and listening is an art that requires long training and much humility — we will hear the voice of God in the human heart telling us that there is work to do and that he needs us.

***

E and I have been watching the 2005 season of Doctor Who, the first of the revived run. It’s strange to think that I was doing my undergraduate finals when these episodes were broadcast. I didn’t have a TV at Oxford, and the episodes were broadcast on Shabbat, so I couldn’t get myself invited to someone else’s room/house, so I only saw episodes one to three around the time of original transmission; the rest my parents taped for me and I binge-watched them after finals. It seems like yesterday. It also seems a lifetime ago.

It’s also strange that “new” Who has very nearly been around for more of my life than the original series. In fact, as I was eight when I discovered Doctor Who, for me the new Who era is longer than the era when I was a fan, but Doctor Who was not on TV regularly, even though that feels like the default for me.

***

I finished reading Moonraker (SPOILERS ahead!). I think prose James Bond is rather better than film Bond. Maybe that’s a bit unfair, as they are trying to do somewhat different things, although it takes a while to realise that. Prose Bond is not by any means realistic, but his actions have consequences; he’s not a superhero like film Bond. Here, Bond gets badly hurt and ends up in hospital. His detonation of an atomic bomb in the North Sea (to avoid it destroying London) leads to hundreds dead and missing and M worrying about the fall out, in all senses of the term. The “girl,” Gala Brand, is a capable undercover policewoman and she, rather than Bond, works out what the villain’s plan is and how to stop it. Most surprising of all, not only does Bond not have any real amorous encounters (one kiss is about it), Brand turns out to be engaged and chooses not to spend a month with Bond on the continent, but to get married to her fiance instead. I was impressed.

Gimme Some Truth

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weirdness Vibes

I woke up drained as usual. The news didn’t help; it’s full of bad news today. The news is always full of bad news, but today it hits a little closer to home: more than forty killed in a crush at the Meron Lag B’Omer celebrations in Israel, and a Doctor Who actor accused of sexual harassment and bullying. I did feel better once I got going and I’m glad it’s Lag B’Omer and I can listen to music when I want and not just when I’m struggling with depression, and that I’ve shaved. I used the hair clippers we bought for COVID haircuts rather than the beard-trimmer on my razor. It was not painful at all (usually it pulls at the hairs) and took less than ten minutes (it usually takes twenty or more). So some good has come out of lockdown.

***

I’m wondering if the Intimate Judaism sex therapist is going to be able to find a shachan (matchmaker) willing to work with me. I also wonder whether I will go to that shadchan if she finds one, at least in the near future. I feel I shouldn’t be dating so soon after PIMOJ (fair enough) and that I shouldn’t be dating until I build a career and “sort out” what my autism diagnosis means for me. But a career may (probably will) take years to build, and “sorting out” my diagnosis, whatever that means, is an ongoing process with no obvious end point. So I could end up postponing dating indefinitely, which looks a lot like procrastination and avoidance. I do need to work out if I can cope with a wife and children, being on the spectrum, but I have no idea how I test that out. It’s not like I can borrow some children for a few days. For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has mostly encouraged me to look for love despite work and mental health issues, even though this seems to go against the usual frum (religious Jewish) approach of sorting out your own issues before dating.

***

I went through a phase a few years ago of looking for stories of miracles people had experienced on websites like Hevria.com and Aish.com (setting aside for the moment the question of when a mere coincidence becomes a “miracle” — these were not things that subverted the laws of nature, but were just somewhat improbable coincidences). They are usually framed as, “I wasn’t religious, and I didn’t think I could become religious, but God did something amazing for me, so I became religious.” I think I used to read these things to get angry. (I think reading or watching things purely to get angry is more common than you might think, whether it’s conservative “clean up TV” campaigners or woke cancel culture.) I used to wonder why God wouldn’t help me. Was it because I became religious without miracles so He didn’t need to get my attention (which seemed unfair on me, like I should have held out for a better offer)? Was I particularly sinful? Did He hate me?

It comes to mind a bit when I read this article: ” I recently met a woman who went to a school with heavy amount of fear [of God] and guilt, and she confided in me that several years ago she and her friends would have so much fun mocking me and my positivity [about Judaism], but what she realized is that they were all actually jealous of my relationship to Hashem as it was so pure and sincere and not sullied with all the garbage theirs was.” I think this is partly why I used to get angry, not because I wanted miracles per se, but because I wanted a closer relationship with God, one that these people had achieved, even if it was jump started by a miracle/coincidence. Maybe this was why I didn’t connect with PIMOJ, because I couldn’t understand her close relationship with God and her constant positivity, to the extent that I didn’t feel able to share the more negative aspects of my life in our relationship, which resulted in it being a lie.

***

I find myself wondering if I’m trying to be miserable and negative at the moment, about my position in the frum world and about marriage. No one (parents, rabbi mentor) else seems to feel as negatively about my life as I do. I think I fret about the future to try to get other people to reassure me that it will be OK, but they never manage it. How could they? They can’t prove everything will turn out OK, and I’m still dealing with the ramifications of something going very wrong for my entire life up to this point (not being diagnosed as autistic), so my experience of life this far is that something fundamental will always be wrong that affects every aspect of my life negatively. Maybe I can try to feel positive that, now I’ve got my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, I can (somehow) sort my life out. That said, I would want to have some kind of road map for “soring my life out” before I get my hopes up.

***

I did a few things today, Shabbat chores, Torah study, tried to begin to piece together a plan for my second/fall-back novel, went for a walk and picked up my prescription… just after I left the pharmacist, some kids on bikes passed me and shouted stuff at me. I didn’t really hear as I had music on my headphones, so I can’t be 100% sure they were shouting at me, but it wouldn’t be the first time if they were. It’s brought my mood down, whether they were shouting at me or not, because I do get shouted at even if it wasn’t happening this time. Sometimes it’s stuff because I’m Jewish, but sometimes people (usually kids) can intuit that I’m “different.” I give off weirdness vibes. It used to happen a lot at school. I went to Jewish schools, so there was no antisemitism (although I did get pushback from others kids as I became more religious, because most of the kids were not religious and probably felt threatened by my religiosity), but there was bullying for being clever and, I guess, for being different and vulnerable, because not all the clever kids were bullied, or not as much. And it wasn’t just kids in my class, even younger kids would sometimes shout stuff at me in the corridors.

It makes me feel negative about my ability to interact effectively meaningfully with people even now. They’re restarting the volunteering I was doing last year at the Jewish food bank. No one is rude to me there, but I worry I’m ineffectual and mess stuff up there and just generally seem weird and unapproachable. Ditto at shul (synagogue), although that’s less of an issue now the social side of it has been reduced. But random people shout stuff at me in the street periodically. It’s probably not coincidental that the three relationships I’ve had have been with people who ‘met’ me through writing (via a dating site or my blog) before we met in person. They had a chance to meet the competent Writing Me before the Weird In Person Me.

***

J is hosting a kiddush (refreshments after the service) at shul tomorrow for his daughter’s bat mitzvah. I’m not going, because of social anxiety. I haven’t told my parents, because I know they’ll say I should go. I feel bad, but I just don’t feel I can cope with it right now. This (social anxiety) is another reason not to date right now.

The Turkey Prince

I couldn’t sleep last night. I don’t know if it was from taking my tablets late, sleeping too much in the day, drinking tea late at night or something else. I got about four hours of sleep in the end, but I had to be up early to see PIMOJ. Yesterday it was so warm that I went for a walk in the afternoon without a coat or jumper. This morning, it snowed. I wrapped up warm, but it was difficult to tell what to wear, as it was warm when sunny, but cold in the shade.

***

I think PIMOJ had been having some of the thoughts I had been having about our lack of emotional intimacy and vulnerability, although she phrased it differently, saying we haven’t really got to know each other well yet. We had a long talk (in the park, not ideal – thank you COVID) and PIMOJ opened up to me about some things in her past and I tried to be a bit more open about my mood dips and persistent lack of energy. I think we’re OK, we just agreed to try to be more honest and open with each other in the future. Not that we were lying previously, but we were both hiding things, I guess from fear of rejection. I had some further thoughts after the date and texted PIMOJ to tell her that I’m often not good at talking things over spontaneously and need time to think about responses because of autism (hence texting her later because I didn’t think of this at the time!) and maybe it’s worth discussing things over a few days and/or letting me text some ideas later after I’ve thought it over. Unfortunately, neither of us likes video calling much, which is hard at the moment. She hasn’t got back to me about that.

The rest of the date was good, except that we were seen by two of my parents’ friends. I’m not sure if they recognised me, but it’s the type of thing that can start rumours in small communities. PIMOJ and I were together for over four hours and did a lot of walking. We got takeaway falafel. Still, I was left with some anxiety. I worry that my autistic brain simply isn’t wired for a relationship. “Autism” etymologically refers to morbid self-absorption (you may have noticed this here…). Meaning, being unable to relate to others. That although I pine away in loneliness while single, I’m not able to be in a relationship “properly.” Now I’m in a relationship with someone where I know there will be lots of extra obstacles beyond a regular relationship if we want to make this permanent. I want to do that, but I’m worried I’ll burn myself out trying or just won’t make it, and perhaps that fear is stopping me from fully committing to the relationship (unconsciously), along with guilt feelings that the relationship came about in a “wrong” way, religiously. Life is hard. Relationships are hard. Autism is hard. Life + relationships + autism = very hard.

I keep thinking of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s parable of The Turkey Prince. The prince goes mad and believes that he is a turkey, sitting naked under the table and eating food off the floor. No one can cure him until a wise man takes off his clothes and sits naked under the table with the prince, claiming to be a turkey too. Once the prince accepts him, the wise man puts on trousers, saying a turkey can wear trousers. When the prince wears trousers, the wise man puts on a shirt until the prince does the same, and so on until the prince is fully clothed and eating normally and is (we are told) fully cured.

Superficially, the story is about the need of the religious mentor to descend to the level of his followers to win their trust and to understand them and inspire them. However, as Arthur Green noted in his biography of Rebbe Nachman (Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav), there is a uneasy air about the conclusion of the story. Is the prince really “cured” or has he just been tricked into acting in a more socially acceptable way? Does he really think he is a human again, or just a turkey who wears clothes and eats off a plate? (This is surely a big question in clinical psychology: how much are we “curing” people and how much socialising them into “normal” behaviour even when the “abnormal” behaviour is harmless?) Green suggests that the wise man, and even the other courtiers may be just as insane as the prince.

I feel I need someone to model behaviour for me, to show that an autistic person with a history of mental illness can: get a full-time job; make friends; write fiction; build a relationship and a family; and so on. But maybe this is not addressing the fundamental problem, which is my tendency to see myself as defective and to assume that everything I try to do will be affected by this defectiveness. Otherwise I’m in danger of being a Turkey Prince, acting in a socially acceptable way while still believing myself to be a turkey (“defective” autistic person).

***

Another thing that happened this afternoon has been on my mind. PIMOJ asked if my family were as religious as I was, and we got onto the subject of how religious I am. PIMOJ felt I am quite religious, but not exceedingly so, as I perform the mitzvot (commandments) as God commands, but have no interest in the spiritual reality behind them. I let this go at the time, but it’s annoyed me a bit since then and I don’t know whether to say anything (my natural conflict aversion versus our newly-stated desire to be honest with each other). I know kabbalists (Jewish mystics) say there are spiritual realities behind the mitzvot, and perhaps there are, but I have never managed to get my head around them. Rather than the mystics, I prefer the religious rationalists like Rambam (Moses Maimonides) who said that every mitzvah “serves to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits.” Some mitzvot have an obvious logic (don’t murder, don’t steal etc.). Those that don’t have obvious social benefits are symbols that teach important historical/theological concepts (like eating matzah on Pesach to remember the exodus) or inculcate character traits (eating only kosher food might instil self-control). Thinkers like Rambam and Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch spent a lot of time and energy finding rational reasons for symbolic actions and it bothers me a bit to see that dismissed as not religious (see especially Rav Hirsch’s Horeb, which provides reasons for all the mitzvot observed today).

Maybe I ought to bring this up with PIMOJ tomorrow, although I feel that there are other things that might be more important to discuss. I guess it just makes me realise that we see the role of religious observance differently. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure I can communicate the way I see it. It’s somewhat similar to the way she sees connection with God, and “hearing” His answers, as relatively easy things, whereas I see them as very hard, even a life’s work. It’s not that one is right and one is wrong, but they are very different.

***

There are actually other things that came up on the date that I’d like to discuss with someone, but don’t feel it’s appropriate to speak about here. I hope to speak to my rabbi mentor on Friday, and it would be good to raise some of this with my therapist too next week (I’m on fortnightly therapy at the moment). Still, it adds to the feeling of juggling a lot of balls and not knowing if I can keep them all in the air or what will happen if I drop one or two.

***

I was pretty exhausted when I got home after this, maybe not surprisingly. I took some time to write parts this post, which was hard as it meant focusing on the anxiety-provoking parts of the date as well as the more successful parts, and focusing on the work I will need to do in the relationship. I did a little Torah study, but I was too tired to do much. I watched some TV. My mood has been variable and I’m definitely dealing with some anxiety about the relationship, even though I think today went well.

The OK Day I Nearly Ruined; and Fear of Sin

I think today was an OK day that I nearly turned into a bad day by trying to fix it badly.

Work was OK, but dull, mostly going through old papers to see if I could throw them away. Looking at the paper trail left by office politics and arguments from a decade ago feels both voyeuristic and depressing – events that clearly angered people to the point that legal action was considered has now left no discernible trace, except for a few letters that have now gone in the bin. It really will all be the same in a hundred years.

I feel that my Pesach (Passover) religious OCD has really kicked in. I’m anxious about a couple of Pesach-related things. However, my parents don’t think I’m much more anxious than the last few years. To be fair, I’ve been a lot worse in the past, I just thought I was over this. I thought Pesach didn’t make me anxious any more, or not this anxious. Maybe it’s not something you are ever “over” just as getting over depression doesn’t mean you won’t have days when you feel depressed.

I got back from home fairly early and decided I would go for a run. This was where I wanted to fix the day. I thought exercise would help shift the OCD anxiety and boost my mood, but it went a bit wrong. I didn’t manage my usual 5K run because my foot hurt. I also got tired, probably because I’d already walked a lot today (to the station and then to the bank and back at work). I probably continued running longer than I should have done, given that my foot was hurting. So I came home feeling tired and down rather than tired and satisfied.

Possibly on an unconscious level, going for a run was influenced by having a bad body image day. I don’t have particularly great body image (does anyone?), but I don’t really think about it much either, except when I see myself in the mirror getting in and out of the shower. I’m on the fringes of being overweight, and have been since being put on clomipramine, but I’ve learned to accept it (sort-of) as the price I pay for a medication combination that keeps me reasonably well. But today I was just feeling fat. It’s not exactly an easy time of year from a healthy eating point of view, as we try to finish all the leftover chametz (leavened) food and then spend eight days eating matzah, which is pretty fattening, especially as you have to eat it with something (butter, cheese, jam, etc.) which makes it more fattening.

I did feel somewhat better after dinner, just very tired and apprehensive about the rest of the week. I’m not sure why this Pesach feels so hard. It’s a lockdown Pesach, but so was last Pesach, and last Pesach Mum was undergoing chemotherapy and while the prognosis was good, we had no way of knowing that it would ultimately be successful. The stakes should feel a lot lower this time. I guess there are a few factors that make this Pesach hard: it starts on Saturday night, which adds a whole load of hassle for reasons that would take a long time to explain (just trust me, it’s not good); I’m working for the first time around Pesach since 2018 (I’m glad that J basically told me not to come in on Thursday, which is a big help); and I have a girlfriend for the first time since I broke up with my first girlfriend on Pesach in 2013 (that was a bad Pesach), which is good, but adds a lot of stressful thoughts about how we can meet during lockdown and how the relationship is going and whether we will weather all the difficulties inherent in it. I think what I’m saying is that this is a Pesach where I’m juggling a lot of non-Pesach-related balls along with the usual Pesach ones, in a way that I haven’t had to do for a while (even last year when Mum had chemo it didn’t impact me so much personally, except that I did a bit more cooking).

I made a tactical decision not to do any more Torah study after dinner, even though I had only managed about thirty-five minutes today and worry I won’t finish the haggadah commentary I’m reading before Pesach. I thought that trying to study more would just deplete me and make me feel worse. I watched Babylon 5 and helped Mum and Dad by polishing some of the silver, although I was too tired to do much of that.

So it was an OK day in the end, but I nearly tipped it over to a bad one by trying to hard to turn it around. There is probably a message there.

***

It’s weird. I don’t think I have a particularly punitive view of God. With other people, if they do even very slightly good things (religiously speaking), I praise and encourage them. And I genuinely believe God will look favourably on them. I don’t know who exactly gets in to Heaven, but I know I don’t believe in a God who condemns billions to eternal suffering. And yet. It’s so hard to take the view of, “I do the best I can and leave the rest to God” as at least one rabbi encouraged me to do.

I think I’m a person who fears sin. This is a concept in the Talmud. It’s very different to a person who fears punishment. Fearing punishment is a low level, kind of the lowest level of doing the right thing, just doing it to avoid being punished. Fearing sin, on the other hand, is much higher, a sensitivity to the spiritual consequences of apparently trivial actions.

The way it seems to me is like I’m in a palace made of delicate crystal or even ice, representing the world as it exists on a spiritual level, not necessarily the spiritual universes described in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), but a metaphor for the way the life prescribed by Judaism creates a way of life with tangible effects in the physical world. Moving without the correct attention, as laid out in the Torah, risks cracking or even breaking off the delicate ornamentation. Do enough wrong and the fabric of the building is at risk.

Switching metaphors, I also fear the consequences for my relationship with God of transgressing His word. Even if I do it unintentionally, I worry if I could have tried harder or found some other solution. I don’t want to risk cutting myself off from Him, which is cutting oneself off from life, as God is the source of life. The thought of doing that is horrifying. This is why Pesach is such an ordeal, because the punishment for eating chametz (leaven) on Pesach is karet, being “cut off” from God (probably referring to losing one’s share in the next world and possibly to premature death in this world too; it’s debated among the authorities). The fact that Pesach is once a year doesn’t really help. Shabbat is a major commandment with a serious punishment too (I actually wrote a devar Torah on this recently; the Talmud says keeping – or breaking- Shabbat is equivalent to keeping or breaking the entire Torah), but it comes around every seven days, so I get a lot of exposure therapy that means that most of the time I can enjoy Shabbat without thinking of the potential consequences of error. But Pesach is once a year, so I don’t get much exposure therapy. (Although the thought of doing Pesach once a week is pretty terrifying!)

***

OK, considering I didn’t think I had enough material for a post today, this has got too long. I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I think I’ve had enough screen time for today (or will have soon, as PIMOJ asked me to text her about my day).

Fears for the Future

Lately I have a lot on my mind that I don’t want to share here, or at least not yet. This is hard, as I like to work things through in writing. I may try writing private posts. I’ve done that in the past. I find it helpful to work things through a little in writing to get inchoate thoughts and feelings into a shape where I can take them to therapy or to my rabbi mentor.

***

Shabbat was OK. I struggled a lot with burnout again which made it hard to do much. I wish I knew what burns me out so much. I didn’t get up until 1pm, although I woke briefly several times across the morning, as I was just too tired. Other than that, it was the usual mix of eating, sleeping, Torah study, prayer and recreational reading.

I had some negative or difficult thoughts over Shabbat, but I can’t remember about what, exactly. I have quite a few areas giving me difficulty at the moment, so it could be one of a number of things. I’ve been thinking about trusting God lately. PIMOJ gave me a book about it, and it’s annoying me a lot even though I’m not yet a quarter of the way through the book. I can accept intellectually that if God is benevolent and all-powerful, everything that will happen to me is for the best. I can even accept that bad things that happened for me are for the best, especially as some bad things seem to have led to good results down the line, something I can see now I’m heading for forty that I couldn’t see when I was in my teens and twenties. What is hard to accept is that I can be happy and confident that everything will be fine, as so much of my life was painful to experience and there is no guarantee that everything good will be painless (in fact, it is extremely unlikely to be painless) or even bearable. So often things are painful, and that scares me. It scares me on a personal level and it scares me on a national and global level. Like many Jews, I worry about a second Holocaust (admittedly my generation worries about this less than my parents and grandparents). I worry something will happen to me that will hurt terribly, physically and/or emotionally (I can probably handle emotional pain better than physical, but that’s a whole other post). And I worry a lot about something happening to me that is so painful and difficult that I lose my Jewish belief and practice. I know that’s a strange thing to worry about, or at least I’ve rarely heard anyone with strong faith worry that they will lose it – usually people only worry when they start to lose it, or so it seems. But I do worry about it.

***

I watched the Star Wars film Rogue One with my parents. I had seen it in the cinema. They tried to watch it a while back, having recorded it off the TV, only to discover the end hadn’t recorded. It was OK, but I felt disengaged remembering the ending as the characters and dialogue were not enough to engage me by themselves.

***

I tested my Babylon 5 DVDs. The season one to four box sets each have at least one disc that won’t play, usually more. The season five discs seem OKish, in that they all play, but one or two start by making some horrible clunking noises which make me think the DVD players is going to reject them, but they do eventually play. I think the cost of replacing them with second-hand DVDs from eBay is similar to the cost of paying to stream them. I’m not sure whether to buy seasons one to four or to assume that season five will stop working at some point and buy that too. I’m also still clueless as to what has happened to stop them working.

***

Googling to find details about Babylon 5 downloads, I found out that Mira Furlan (Delenn) died last month. It’s weird, loads of Babylon 5 cast members have died quite young. Furlan joins Michael O’Hare (Commander Sinclair), Andreas Katsulas (G’Kar), Jerry Doyle (Mr Garibaldi), Richard Biggs (Dr Franklin), Jeff Conaway (Zack Allan) and Stephen Furst (Vir) (I didn’t know about Furst either until checking the details on the list). Compare with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was broadcast around the same time with a similar sized cast, but only one regular cast member has died to date. There were two married couples where both partners appeared in Babylon 5 too (Jerry Doyle and Andrea Thompson (Talia), and Bruce Boxleitner (Captain Sheridan) and Melissa Gilbert (Anna Sheridan)) and they both ended in divorce. I also just discovered that O’Hare left the programme after one season because of severe mental health issues. I don’t believe in curses, but it is vaguely eerie, although I imagine that statistically it’s not that odd, just one of those random clumpings of data that happen. It makes me feel a bit sad at any rate.

***

WordPress is showing this post to me in what looks like Times New Roman font, or some other font with serifs. I wonder if it’s going to post in Times New Roman. I used to like fonts with serifs, but I’ve gone off them since discovering that they decrease readability, particularly on screens.

Trust and Control

I slept badly again last night, waking up in the night and struggling to get back to sleep. I’ve taken a bigger pillow and wonder if that will help. As a result, I was very tired at work in the morning and had to drink coffee to stay awake. I don’t like it when I feel I’m drifting off at work. The work was a bit depressing too. Aside from dealing with subscription payments, I was processing death records for this year and came across one for someone ten years younger than me with bipolar disorder who had committed suicide. This really upset me and I’m not entirely sure why, just a feeling that I wish I could have done something to help her, not that I ever met her. Then PIMOJ texted to say she was upset because of a suicide in her workplace and it seemed like it was catching.

I went to the bank in the afternoon, which probably left me too much time to think and brood while I walked there and back and spent a long time queuing. I think I’ve been less anxious today, but a lot more depressed.

J gave me a lift home again and the conversation on the radio was all about the UK COVID death toll reaching 100,000, so it was a pretty bleak day all round.

I had a shiur (religious class) in the evening on Zoom, perhaps appropriately on Yishayahu (Isaiah), the chief prophet of hope. This was interesting. I knew some of it, but not all of it. I tried to psyche myself up for the bit where we broke into smaller groups to discuss a passage, but my microphone took that moment to break, although I suppose it was interesting to observe other people doing group work from a distance, as it were, and see I’m not necessarily as bad at it compared with other people as I thought.

***

I worry a bit whether I could do a full days’ work at the moment. At the moment, J is letting me come in forty-five minutes or so late so I can avoid the Tube at rush hour because of COVID, and we finish work around 4pm. I only take forty-five minutes for lunch, but even so, that makes for a day that’s not much more than five hours long. Which is nice, but I worry if I’ll ever have the stamina for full working days again.

***

I had a thought about bitachon, trust in God. I find this very hard. I believe in a benevolent God Who wants the best for His creation, but I also believe that sometimes the best option is still something very painful to undergo. But I realised today that a lot of my problem is about control, specifically about accepting that I don’t have very much control over my life, which is scary. I probably have rather less control over my life than many people, certainly people of my age, class and educational level, because of my autism and mental health issues and chequered work history.

It’s easy to tell myself that I can somehow control my career or my romantic life or my mental health by thinking about them (which mostly means being despairing or anxious about them), but really I can’t. I have no idea if I’ll ever get married, to PIMOJ or to anyone else; or whether I’ll build any kind of a career as a writer or a librarian; or how I will support myself when my parents aren’t here; or umpteen other things. That’s very scary, to give up that degree of control. I guess it could be liberating. People with a lot of bitachon (e.g. PIMOJ) seem to live very liberated, carefree lives. But I find it terrifying.

Minor Trials and Tribulations

Today seemed quite busy. I slept badly again, struggling to fall asleep and then struggling to get out of bed. Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) I managed to get up a little earlier to say some of the extra prayers, although I’m still saying a much-reduced Shacharit (Morning Service).

I spent the morning at work processing cheques people have sent in to pay fees. I think I had a few moments of autistic executive function block where my mind went blank and I didn’t know what I was doing and possibly I didn’t save data properly. I think/hope that I caught all of those. I intended to check all of them at the end, but checking forty-six payments seemed excessive (not to mention likely to send me back down the path of OCD compulsive checking), so I checked three or four random accounts and the data was always saved properly, so hopefully it was all OK. Later I processed a credit card payment over the phone and made a mistake, but the payment still went through when it probably shouldn’t have done. I put the wrong name on the card because I was confused by a woman paying on behalf of her mother. Hopefully that won’t be a mess that I need to sort out next week. Other than that, the main diversion was another trip to the bank to pay in the cheques. The cashier looked at the big pile of cheques and said I obviously hadn’t done any banking for a while. “Not since Monday” was my response. Almost everyone pays their annual fees in January, so we have to pay a lot of cheques in, although J says more people are paying by phone or online this year, which is easier for us.

J and I left work early today and despite going a different route home to avoid traffic, I had time this evening to finish and send my devar Torah (Torah thought) and work on my novel for twenty minutes or so.

I spoke to PIMOJ for an hour. She wanted to call on WhatsApp, which was fine, but I didn’t realise my phone hadn’t connected to the wifi properly when I came home, so I used 80% of my data for the next month (it just refreshed a few days ago). Not good. It’s not disastrous, as I don’t generally use much data, but it is frustrating.

PIMOJ bought me chocolate, which she sent in the post. I feel a bit apprehensive about the amount of gifts she gives me. They’re mostly small things, but I don’t really express affection that way and I wonder how she wants me to express affection to her. I wouldn’t know what presents to buy her and it wouldn’t really occur to me to do so without prompting. I’d say it’s an autistic thing, but it’s probably a male thing. Possibly PIMOJ and I need to talk about “love languages” (if you believe in love languages), but we already had one serious conversation today and it’s probably just as well we didn’t have another. At least we were on the same page about the serious conversation we did have.

I got given a confectionary package from my shul (synagogue) today too. Do they think I’m still shielding? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure who to ask/tell. It was probably a bit unfortunate that it came today as I sent off the email asking for a shul fee reduction given my employment/financial situation.

But certainly dieting with this much junk food around will be hard!

***

My glasses broke last night. I’m not sure how. The arm came off the little hinge. I suspect it’s either really easy to fix, or completely impossible and I need a new pair. Dad tried to take them in to Specsavers today. In ordinary times, it would be a simple thing, but because of COVID you have to get an appointment just to speak to someone about a broken pair of glasses and they forgot to phone him back. I wore my spare pair of glasses to work, but they have an old prescription. They were OK, but after a day wearing them, I think my eyes were getting strained, so I took them off. I generally only get new glasses when my prescription changes; then I take the older pair as an imperfect spare. I rarely need to use my spare glasses and even then usually for only a day or two, so it’s not usually a problem, but of course COVID makes everything a problem.

***

From my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week:

Finally, Rashi tells us that sometimes Moshe [Moses] is put before Aharon [Aaron] and sometimes Aharon is put before Moshe to teach us that they were equal.[1]  This is puzzling, as we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet, so how could Aharon be his equal?  According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Aharon was equal to Moshe in two senses.  First, that Moshe would not have succeeded without him, so his participation, like Moshe’s, was essential even if Moshe was greater.  Second, Aharon achieved the maximum of his potential, just like Moshe.  Although Moshe’s achievement in absolute terms was greater, both brothers achieved 100% of their potential and are equal in God’s eyes, as He judges success by the proportion of a person’s mission that is achieved and not the amount achieved in absolute terms.[2]


[1] Rashi Commentary to Shemot 6.26

[2] Quoted in Rabbi Nosson Scherman ed, The Stone Edition Chumash: The Torah: Haftaros and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings

This idea, about achievement being relative to a person’s potential in God’s eyes rather than an absolute value, is not a new idea to me. So why it is so hard to accept?

***

The pharmacy I use is one of the six in the country that are providing COVID vaccinations. It’s just been on the TV news because the minister in charge of vaccine roll-out was there today. Selfishly, I am vaguely worried about whether this (the vaccinations, not the minister or the news) will have any impact on how fast and easily I can collect my monthly repeat prescriptions, particularly as I have one that needs collection on Monday.

***

None of what I have written here is serious, but it has all left me pretty exhausted. I’m going to do a bit more Torah study, then watch Doctor Who for a bit and go to bed.

Thinking/Worrying

Another day that got away from me…

I think my negative self-talk is back. I think it went away, or more likely reduced without entirely going away, over the last few weeks as I felt more stable, but it seems to be back again now. Some “I’m useless, I hate myself” thoughts, and guilt feelings that are objectively probably out of proportion to anything I might have done, but it’s hard to be sure.

In Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks says that Maslow and Rogers, the psychologists who did more than anyone to put self-esteem at the centre of healthy psychology, actually both went off the idea late in life. Maslow did research that suggested that people with high self-esteem were more likely to take advantage of other people in various ways, while Rogers switched from self-esteem to self-discipline as a key character trait of psychologists he wanted to employ at his institute. Although I think there is probably room for me to have more self-esteem without ending up taking advantage of other people.

***

I went to bed very late last night, feeling a bit agitated. I slept through the morning again and struggled to get going, despite knowing that I had a lot I wanted to do today. I just feel that my life is a mess and don’t know how to change it. I feel like I try to do the right thing, but God constantly puts me in situations where I can’t. I know that sounds like excuses, but I don’t know how else to describe what happens to me. I know when I choose to do something that is perhaps against Jewish law or Jewish ethics and I know when I feel pushed into something by events or feeling overwhelmed.

I went back to bed after breakfast. This was after 1pm because I got up so late. I just couldn’t face the day. It took ages to get dressed. I had too many negative thoughts about myself and my future. I wonder if I will ever get my life in order, whatever that might mean (career, family, feeling at peace with myself on some level etc.). Just paralysed thinking/worrying.

I guess this is olanzapine withdrawal. Unfortunately, I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to get haloperidol (the replacement mood stabiliser); hopefully by the end of the week, but I’m at the mercy of the NHS bureaucracy.

***

I made myself work on my novel for an hour as leaving it alone was just worrying me. I actually wrote nearly 1,000 words, without much procrastination, which I guess shows I can write fluently if I know what I’m doing and it’s not too emotionally draining for me (this bit wasn’t autobiographical or dark). Then I went for a walk. I replied to some emails too and filled in a form for the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits (which I think are about to be stopped now I’m in work, even though it’s only part-time work). I guess I did quite a bit (I fitted in a brief call with PIMOJ and a little bit of Torah study too), but not as much as I would have liked.

***

I had fluctuating depression and anxiety during the day. I know it’s partly triggered by coming off the olanzapine, but I feel I have real things to worry about too. At the moment I’m mainly worried about my relationship with PIMOJ for various reasons I can’t really discuss here. It’s hard to know what to think about it sometimes, there are so many different thoughts and feelings, so much that could go wrong. I want to live in the present with it, but that’s hard when COVID is restricting what we can do in the present so much.

PIMOJ wants me to live in the present too (she very much does this) and to accept that God loves me and thinks I’m good enough, but I have a lot of psychological resistance to these ideas. She suggested I should try to see the spiritual beyond the physical. I don’t know if it’s depression or autism or low self-esteem or just me, but I find that hard. Almost impossible, really. It’s the type of thing that makes me wonder if I’m really cut out to be frum (religious Jewish). Or if PIMOJ is right for me. I try to tell myself I thought we were good for each other last week and it’s just olanzapine withdrawal that is making me doubt it now, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. She is very different to me in outlook, very positive and spiritual. I don’t think she understands my depressions and anxieties at all, they’re completely alien to her. Do I need her to understand? I’m not sure. I wonder what it would be like if we were living together and I had a few days like the last few days. I’m in full-blown, “I’m going to be lonely and miserable forever” mode today, even though I know that in the worst case scenario I can go back on olanzapine and be tired all the time and over-weight, but less miserable. I’m telling myself not to make any major decisions until I’m stable, but it’s easy to catastrophise.

***

I have a list of birthdays and anniversaries for family and friends and I copy the dates into my diary each year, alongside reminders of when to buy cards where relevant (yes, I prefer dead tree format despite the effort). Looking at the list today, I see so many friends I am no longer friends with, mostly because they got angry with me, often for reasons I did not understand. Sometimes there were complicated romantic feelings going on in one or other direction. It makes me sceptical of my ability to manage friendships, let alone relationships.

***

I can see that my unhelpful coping strategies are back. At the very least, I’m unable to reduce my junk food intake soon or eating cereal late at night. Not that I eat so much junk in absolute terms, but my medication means whatever I eat goes straight to my waist, and it’s hard to keep up with exercise (a) while working, (b) in the winter and (c) in lockdown.

***

I’m struggling with relaxation at the moment. America During the Cold War is interesting (especially to see how much of our contemporary political crisis parallels that of the 1970s), but is proving a slow read as I’m not really in the mood for non-fiction at the moment. I am trying to decide whether to switch to fiction. Similarly, The Sandbaggers on DVD is excellent, but dark and even nihilistic, so I’ve been watching Doctor Who instead recently. I re-watched The God Complex today – an under-rated story, in my opinion, with a positive presentation of religion that is rare for TV nowadays, let alone Doctor Who.

Very Anxious Day

I had the second part of my autism assessment this afternoon. It was a Zoom call with a psychiatric nurse (I think the one who interviewed my Mum a while back). I don’t know how I did. They said it would take an hour to an hour and a half, but it only lasted forty minutes or so. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. The psychiatric nurse asked me some questions about emotions: what makes angry, happy, sad, etc. and what those emotions feel like. I think I struggled to put those emotions into words and tended to speak more about what I do when I’m angry, happy, sad, etc. Which I guess would suggest autism. We also spoke about friends and having a partner and what that was like emotionally and practically. Also if I coped with living alone, cooking, cleaning, etc. and whether I can handle my own finances. I know I can live alone OK because I just set up routines so I know what I’m doing, but I find that I can’t handle my finances as well as I feel I should be able to do and need to ask my Dad for help sometimes. Again, this might suggest autism.

I also had to narrate a picture book, describe how to brush my teeth and tell a story using five random objects as props. The psychiatric nurse narrated a story with five objects first, to show me what to do. I noticed that while her story was very abstract (e.g. a pen representing a boy, a sellotape roll representing a cake), mine was more literal (e.g. a Lego man for a person, a leaf for a forest), which again would suggest autism to me, although I’m not sure what they are looking for there. I don’t really know if this went well or not, or what “well” really means in this situation. I was told I should hear about the next stage (the actual diagnosis appointment) within six weeks, probably less, but I’m not sure if the actual diagnosis appointment will be within six weeks or just if I should hear when it will be.

The story test makes me wonder if I will really be able to make a career as a novelist, although a quick internet search reveals there are other autistic writers out there. I guess with my current novel, one plot strand is about my experiences with depression and autism in the Jewish community and the other strand is based on a lot of research I did into real life domestic abuse. I suspect I would be the type of author who wears his influences visibly and sticks to existing generic tropes rather than the type of daring, avant garde literary author part of me would like to be. So more of a Terry Nation than a Steven Moffat. Fine, I think Terry Nation is under-rated and I should only make as much money as Terry Nation did… (Nation created a number of popular programmes for British and American television, but was most famous for creating the Daleks for Doctor Who and making a fortune out of them thanks to canny merchandising and rigorous copyright enforcement.)

***

Yesterday J gave me nearly 300 invoices to put in envelopes, stick on stamps and post (he is paying me for this, don’t worry!). Today I put over 100 invoices in envelopes and sealed them; tomorrow I hope to put the rest in and put stamps on them all. It would probably have been more efficient to put a stamp on each envelope after sealing it, but I knew that if I did that, then I would constantly be having OCD worries about whether or not I put one on each one and would be going back to check. Easier, I thought, to do the lot at once, check them, and be done with it.

There’s no volunteering tomorrow, as the paid staff are worried about COVID and are reviewing their procedures to check everything is safe. The packing will be done just by the paid staff this week. Hopefully I can use the morning for envelope stuffing before I have therapy in the afternoon.

***

In the evening I had a rather anxiety-provoking experience. I don’t feel that I can go into much detail. It’s going to be an ongoing thing for a while. I think it’s the right thing to happen, absolutely, but it’s important and scary.

The hardest part isn’t actually the difficult and scary bits. I’m very dependent on the opinion of others, particularly those in religious authority. I worry about appearing like something other than the person I want to be, even though I ended up where I am in good faith and on rabbinic advice. I guess if you have low self-esteem, it’s easy to think everyone thinks badly of you, just as it’s easy to think that every difficulty (or anxiety) is a punishment from God for trivial infractions.

***

Because of everything that happened today, I didn’t do much Torah study. I read Rabbi Sacks’ Morality book for a while, but that was about it. I don’t know if that counts. Is it Torah study if I read a book by a Chief Rabbi about morality, but mostly couched in terms of secular philosophy and psychology rather than Torah sources? I don’t know, but it’s a very good book. I’m pretty tired now, but I need to shower and probably to watch some TV to unwind before going to bed as I still feel very tense, although the anxiety is slowly dissipating. I ate dinner very late, because I was too anxious before, and then I ate a ton of ice cream for dessert. So much for being on a diet.

What Happened?

I blamed myself for a couple of things that went wrong at work, at least one of which was not my fault. I made some mistakes typing some invoices from a template, which was a bit of carelessness on my part. Also, Dropbox was not working on my computer properly, which meant that J couldn’t access the files I was working on and vice versa. J suggested deleting Dropbox and reinstalling. I deleted, but was having trouble reinstalling when J said we should go home and leave it for Thursday. I feel like we are leaving earlier and earlier (probably because the traffic is getting worse and worse), but I guess J is the boss and he gets to decide when we go. I am concerned about sorting the Dropbox problem, but ultimately it’s not my responsibility (yes, I do take responsibility for things that are outside my control).

I texted PIMOJ in the morning to see how she was as we always do. I didn’t hear from her all day until I got a thumbs up emoji from her just before I left work this afternoon. We exchanged one or two texts, but nothing like what we usually do. We “went” (on Zoom) to a shiur (religious class) just now and I texted her to see what she thought of it, but she hasn’t replied yet, or even looked at the text. I’m not sure what is going on there any more and I feel pessimistic about it. Maybe she’s just giving me space, as yesterday I think I came across as passive-aggressive and when she asked if I was OK I said I was in my “cave.” Maybe she thinks I’m still there, my texts notwithstanding.

I guess I feel a bit hurt by everything that happened in the last few days. I do wonder what she thinks of me, whether she thinks I’m some immoral or irreligious person. I think our religious outlooks are different. She sees God and signs of His goodness everywhere, particularly in nature and in positive things in her life; I find it harder to find God in a world of suffering and a life that has really not gone to plan, and inevitably that was reflected in my writing. That’s what the situation with my book boils down to, beyond the sex, that she sees God everywhere in the world, and I struggle to find Him anywhere.

I feel a bit responsible, but also like I got hit by something out of nowhere. I didn’t want to let PIMOJ read my novel at this stage (albeit as much because I didn’t think it was polished enough than because of the content), but I felt pushed into it, and now who knows what is happening between us. This may be me trying to take responsibility for things that are not in my control again.

***

Perhaps because I was feeling depressed, I bid on eBay yesterday for a back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine (#242), the issue before I started reading the magazine regularly. I’ve mentioned recently my nostalgia for the DWM of that period (my teenage years) and wanted to read a couple of articles and interviews in that issue that I missed out on at the time. I hope I don’t start regularly buying back issues though, as it could be expensive. I only bid for this because, with just a couple of hours left, there were no bidders and a starting bid of £1. In the end I got it for £1, plus £2 postage, which is cheaper than the cover price of the current issue. I’m not sure if that’s the first time I’ve won a bid on eBay.

Also, this Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition is in stock again, surprisingly, and I put in an order for it, so it looks like I’m having a good time on the DWM front if nothing else!

Argument

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fine, same as usual. I went to shul (synagogue) for the first time since the second lockdown ended. It still feels very subdued there, and we were reminded not to sing. We did go outdoors for a few minutes so we could sing Lecha Dodi, which was good, but colder than when we were doing it a month ago.

I had a dream last night that I won’t describe, as I don’t remember enough of it, and what I do remember I don’t want to share, but it made me worry that my unconscious was thinking of my time being single (which is most of my life), but primarily the loneliness of being single, and the stress and guilt of not coping well with it and having dysfunctional coping strategies at the time.

I argued a bit with PIMOJ tonight after Shabbat, via text. We clashed over my novel. I think there were some communication difficulties too, some language difficulties and some outlook difficulties. I felt my novel was about as religious as a mainstream novel can be and am already worried it will be accused of being too pious or frum (religious) and too simplistic in showing that hurt people can find solace in God. PIMOJ feels that it needs to show more of God’s goodness. I can’t explain her position in detail, because I don’t understand it all (like I said, there are some communication difficulties here, perhaps some language issues) and I’m not going to re-read her email and texts at the moment. I felt the novel was reflecting my experience and the experience of people I’ve encountered online and in person, and it would be wrong to change that or to provide easy answers to difficult questions. I think it’s a book about resilience rather than simple piety.

We calmed down in the end, shelved the novel question for now and said that we both value our connection to each other more than what we feel about the novel. I guess I find arguments scary because in both my previous relationships, the arguments came as we were moving towards breaking up and were a sign of deep-seated issues, so it’s hard not to see it as an ominous sign, even though I know healthy couples can argue a lot (too many examples to mention from my family!).

I had planned to re-watch Blade Runner 2049 this evening, but after the argument, I felt it was too long and downbeat. I started to watch the Doctor Who story City of Death, which is the Doctor Who fan equivalent of eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when depressed. It was written, pseudonymously, by Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, and has a reputation for being the funniest and most elegantly-structured of his three sets of scripts for Doctor Who. I’m not sure if I will watch all of it tonight. I’m currently halfway through, with another fifty minutes to go. It’s getting late, but I have a bit of a headache, which I think will stop me sleeping, and I don’t feel sleepy. I probably still feel energised from arguing, as well as from sleeping too much over Shabbat.

EDIT: I complained recently about someone reblogging a post of mine without asking permission or even telling me. I just had a look in my spam folder and found a comment in there saying that they were reblogging it, so apologies there, although I still don’t know why they particularly wanted to reblog that post.

The World War I Flying Ace

I didn’t post on Friday because I ran out of time before Shabbat (the Sabbath). That’s probably going to be the case for all Fridays until late spring. I didn’t have a lot to say anyway. Now I have the post-Shabbat in the winter “wanting to curl up and not do much” feeling. Not a lot happened in the last two days anyway.

On Friday I did manage to get my medication before Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue). It wasn’t raining, so we had the first half of the service (Kabbalat Shabbat) outside so we could take off our masks and sing, which was good (the singing and the masklessness, although I took care to stand over two metres from anyone else regardless). I intended not to do so much Torah study after dinner so I didn’t burn out the next day, but I got involved and did over an hour, which I guess is good (that I was so involved). Then I read the Jewish Review of Books and went to bed late, but couldn’t sleep, so read more of the Jewish Review of Books. Today was much the same, eating, sleeping, praying and reading.

I had a settled feeling over Shabbat. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. A feeling that I’m looking for a stronger connection with God, but that I no longer feel victimised and attacked by Him, or that I can never find religious meaning. I guess PIMOJ has something to do with that, but it’s not entirely down to her. I feel like I know what I should be doing with my life, which is writing Jewish books. At the same time, I do still worry that I’m not a good enough writer, or that I won’t be able to handle the more practical aspects of writing (finding an agent and a publisher etc.). I also feel obliged to look for other work so I’m not entirely dependent on my parents and the state hence my intention to send off some more job applications this coming week, even though I increasingly feel that I’m not going to get work that way.

That was really it for the last two days. After Shabbat I did some stuff around the house for my parents, but nothing much.

***

After about two years, I finished reading all the daily and Sunday Peanuts (Snoopy) cartoons. That’s 17,897 comic strips. There is actually another volume in The Complete Peanuts series, containing various one-off strips and ephemera; I’m not sure if I’m enough of a completist to buy it. It’s pretty well-known that American culture celebrates heroes, not “losers.” Just look at the way Donald Trump shouts “Loser” at everyone he doesn’t like (which is a lot of people). Somehow Charles Schulz managed to take a comic strip about a loser and make it popular in the States, which is not easy. I mean “loser” in the nicest possible sense, from someone who considers himself a loser and thinks that losers are more interesting than winners. It’s a surprisingly deep and existential comic about failure and frustration, but also very funny and endearing, perhaps because it’s not actually pitched as a comic about failure, it just happens to go there a lot.

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.