Work from Home

I was working from home today. I wanted to get up early, not as early as if I was commuting, but still early. I failed. I overslept and got up after 11.00am. Whoops. I’m going to have to work tomorrow to catch up, which in some ways suits me, although it means postponing work on my novel again.

My work transcribing data turns out to be GDPR-compliant after all as data protection only applies to the living and not the dead, so it’s permitted to collect data about them (typical “living privilege”). This is something of a relief to me. When I was transcribing the data in the office last week, I was fine. I managed to concentrate even though it was boring. Today, at home, it just seems impossible and I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. Maybe it’s something about being in my room, or maybe it’s a cumulative effect. I listened to some classical music while doing it, which helped a bit, but not much. Besides being boring, it’s also depressing going through so much funeral data.

I don’t know if it was bored or immersion in funeral data, but I felt quite depressed this afternoon too; work was a struggle because of depressive poor concentration and executive function issues as well as boredom. I felt like I wanted to cry too.

I realise I’m nearly a year late to the “working from home is awful” pity party, but this is the first time I’ve ever worked from home for a paid job, unless you count my parents paying me to paint the shed.

Anyway, I managed to work on it for a bit over three hours and I got through approximately half the data J gave me. As he wasn’t expecting me to complete all of it, if I do another two or three hours tomorrow and finish most or all of the remainder, that seems quite reasonable for a day’s equivalent work.

Fun fact about transcribing funeral data onto an Excel spreadsheet: if you aren’t careful, Excel turns birthdates from the 1920s into the 2020s and you end up with people died nearly a hundred years ago, but haven’t been born yet.

***

No exercise today because of trying to get through work, and limited Torah study for the same reason, although I did spend fifty minutes writing my devar Torah for the week. I can’t really win with this; if (as I did this week) I focus on my thoughts inspired by something in the sedra (weekly Torah portion), I worry that I’m not engaging with the texts, particularly the secondary sources, enough, but if I’ve mostly taken it from secondary sources, I worry that I’m just parroting other people’s ideas.

***

More NHS fun and games. I was on hold for twenty-five minutes, trying to speak to my GP’s receptionist, only to find that the psychiatrist has not written yet about my medication change (going back to olanzapine). I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary, but the psychiatrist doesn’t work on Mondays or Tuesdays, so it’s questionable whether anything will happen before Wednesday. I only have enough olanzapine to last until Saturday, so I’m worried about running out if the psychiatrist does not inform the doctor of the change promptly or if there’s a hold-up at the pharmacist.

Also NHS: my sister got vaccinated today, as she’s NHS staff (but not front-line). As my brother-in-law may have had a vaccine a while back as part of a clinical trial (he hasn’t been told if he had the vaccine or a placebo), I could be the only person in my close family not to have been vaccinated yet.

***

I’m pretty fed up with lockdown and left a miserable comment on a friend’s blog saying that even as an autistic introvert with social anxiety who self-isolated before it was cool, I have had enough of not seeing friends and family, of avoiding shops and public places and of mask wearing. Even so, I saw a news email with the subject “New variant spreads” and for a moment part of my mind thought it was about new varieties of jam…

Dude, Where’s My Life?

I couldn’t sleep last night.  When we came home from the restaurant I blogged for a bit, then did my night routine, but even though I got to bed late, I couldn’t sleep.  Eventually I got up and ate porridge even though I wasn’t hungry in the hope that the warm milk would help me sleep.  I read for a while (about the false messiah Shabbetai Tzvi – while I knew about him, his story was even crazier than I thought.  I always feel sorry for him, as he probably suffered from bipolar disorder, but in the seventeenth century no one had any idea what that was, so he was just allowed to run riot with disastrous results) and eventually fell asleep.  I think, as with some Friday nights recently, doing something social (dinner with family) and then going to bed without taking time to really unwind stops me from sleeping.

The heat didn’t help either.  My bedroom turns into a blast furnace in the afternoons at the moment as the sun shines right through the main window all afternoon.  I have the blinds drawn to keep the sun out of my eyes; I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.  It is still hot in my room by the time I go to bed.

***

I’m looking for proofreading work again.  Someone advertised for a proofreader on the website I’m on; within quarter of an hour they had five offers.  I’m not sure how I can compete with that as someone with no professional proofreading experience.  I pitched for one job, potentially a long-term post, but I’m not optimistic.  This took much longer than it should have done, because I felt overwhelmed and anxious about putting myself out there.

I struggled again to get an answer about whether I can claim benefits.  The government website had a dead link and I struggled to find the number of the Citizens [sic] Advice Bureau on their website; when I did find it and called, it was shut for the day, even though it was supposed to be open for another ten minutes.

I’m also struggling to work out which job, of a pile of unsuitable jobs, is the least unsuitable and most worth applying for.  It would be hard to tell even without executive function issues.  Scarily, it seems to make sense to apply for a library assistant job, even though I would be very over-qualified, it is very low pay and has very short hours (ten or twelve hours a week).  I’m beginning to think that I can’t actually do a librarian job and I should just accept that if I’m lucky I’m going to be stuck in an unskilled job forever.

I started to apply for the job, but I had to write about how I meet the job specification and I am ridiculously over-qualified (it requires five GCSEs and I have an MA) for a job that is just carting books around a library…  I couldn’t face it.  I spoke to my parents about it.  They think I should go for it.  I worry they think I’m just being difficult or precious and that I should apply for whatever work I can do.  Or perhaps I should try applying for a school librarian position, but I can’t see that going well, both from the point of view of my lack of experience and my previous sojourn in further education.

I applied for the library assistant job in the end and also for a law librarian post.  I’m hoping that the library assistant employers will see me as overqualified and not interview me, although I messed up a library assistant interview a few months ago so I’m possibly not that overqualified.  I did keep saying in the personal statement area that I’m a qualified librarian to try to ram the point home.  I feel such a screw up.

Similarly, my parents are trying to get me to do some voluntary work with a charity my sister’s in-laws are involved with.  I’ve been emailed with some information, but not enough to tell what I would be doing.  I want to email for more information, but they want me to phone.  Like a lot of autistic people, I hate using the phone.  I just get confused when I have to talk on the phone, even more so than I do in person.  I’ve seen other autistic people online say, “I have an issue with X because of autism, so I just avoid it and I don’t care what neurotypicals think/say.”  I wish I could be that forceful, but whenever autism comes up and I say something to other people, I end up feeling like I’m being weak, petty and precious again.  Maybe what other people think only hurts because I half believe I’m weak, petty and precious myself.  Would things be better with an autism diagnosis?  At least in terms of self-acceptance?  Who knows.

I know I’ve written in the past about not knowing what my mission in life is.  I now think it is something to do with writing, but I don’t know what exactly.  But I have to live, so I  have to try to find some dead-end job I can vaguely do to earn a crust and try to cram writing in during lunch, evenings and weekends.  When I’m writing, at least about things I know about, things actually make sense and seem achievable, which is not the case when I do pretty much anything else.  On that note: I finished another chapter of the fourth draft of my Doctor Who book today.

I probably did manage quite a few hours of “work” today, between the job application, the search for proofreading work and the work on my book, although only the latter is satisfying.  I also cooked dinner (very easy recipe because I didn’t have time) and went for a run – only twenty minutes as I got a bad headache again and this time was actually sick; I guess it really is too hot to run at the moment, but I needed to burn off my frustrations.  I don’t think I’ll run again until the heatwave is over, unless by some miracle I wake up at 5.00am one day.  I’m not sure whether I will do any Torah study today as a result of the headache, and I won’t be eating the spicy rice I cooked today.  I feel better now having spent time watching TV; I didn’t feel I could give Smiley’s People the attention it deserved, so deliberately picked a silly episode of The Avengers (Take Me To Your Leader).

***

This story probably doesn’t reflect well on me, but here goes: I have just met (online) someone frum (religious Orthodox Jewish), female and with mental health issues.  Naturally, I immediately started to wonder if we were compatible in other ways and would end up dating.  Googling, I discovered she is married.  A relationship created out of nothing and destroyed in an hour or so.  I live in a fantasy world.  Sometimes I feel pathetic.

I suppose if I do periodically meet women who are frum and have mental health issues it must be within the realms of possibility to meet someone who could match with me one day.  It is hard to keep believing that when most of the women I meet are not frum or not Jewish or not single or not accepting of mental health issues.  I just wish I didn’t jump from crush to crush with few things going beyond the crush stage.  If I’m going to be single long-term, I’d much rather not having crushes at all.  I find crushing a horrible, painful state, but I’ve been stuck in it for twenty years.

***

It’s not all doom and gloom: my other birthday presents arrived: the Maggid Studies in Tanakh volume on Bereshit/Genesis and volume three of the complete short fiction of Philip K. Dick.  I’ve got several of the Maggid Studies books on the Hebrew Bible and have mostly found them really useful (mixture of traditional and modern scholarship).  Philip K. Dick is one of my favourite authors and I have the first two volumes of this set already.

And today’s real world news makes me think there is hope for me as any clown can be a success in life (all it takes is the right schools and relatives…).  It’s given me a new game too: take a famous quotation from a previous Prime Minister, add the word “Dude” and see how instantly less intelligent and sophisticated it sounds e.g. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few dudes,” “You turn if you want to, the dude’s not for turning,” “Most of our dudes have never had it so good,” and so on.  Hours of fun.  I think my favourite is “It’s time to put up or shut up, dude” for the image it gives of a Bill and Ted remake with John Major and John Redwood in the lead roles.

Self-Acceptance

I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with writing about how much sleep I get.  I’m not obsessed with chronicling other aspects of my life tangentially related to my mental health, such as exercise or diet.  Maybe because it’s an index of normality: eight or nine hours good quality sleep = good, anything more or less or bad quality = depression.  Sleep is always the first thing to go wrong when an episode of depression starts and the last thing to improve.

Be that as it may, I went to bed too late last night (I had a burst of energy after dinner and stayed up blogging and writing emails), slept too much, but had poor quality sleep with strange dreams again (not sure why I’m having so many lately; I don’t usually remember my dreams) and woke up with a slight headache to discover the gas man was just arriving to service our boiler.  Which is in the kitchen.  So I had to be visible while getting breakfast ready while in pyjamas and dressing gown, which makes me feel self-conscious, but I was feeling too tired and depressed to get dressed before eating, as is usually the case (according to strict halakhah (Jewish law) one should always get dressed and pray before eating, but I almost never feel well enough to do that).

Dad and the gas engineer were having a very neurotypical small talk conversation.  Part of me wonders why I can’t manage to do that and another part thinks I would go out of my mind with boredom if I could do it.

***

I went back to bed after breakfast.  Normally that’s something I would try to avoid, usually by being online, but I’ve now blocked most of my procrastination/distraction sites as triggering in one way or another, so in the absence of energy to do anything productive, I ended up going back to bed.  It was good to just lie in the semi-darkness, not being stimulated by anything other than birdsong and the ticking of the clock, even if I did feel guilty (and lonely.  Being in bed by myself makes me feel lonely, even though I’ve never actually shared a bed with anyone; even as a child although my parents would let me fall asleep in their bed if I was upset by a nightmare or thunderstorm, they would carry me out once I fell asleep.  But I can imagine what it must feel like).

Staying too long in bed, it occurs to me, might not just be about exhaustion, laziness, running away from the world or any of the other labels I rightly or wrongly ascribe to it.  My world divides into concentric circles of safety and danger.  Some are probably in flux depending on my experiences (e.g. shul (synagogue), which sometimes feels safe and sometimes feels very dangerous), but my home is safe, my bedroom is very safe and my bed is safest of all.

***

My job search has become very cursory.  I really want to stay in my current job, even though a job that only employs me two days a week is, on a purely financial level, not very satisfactory, even if they do extend my contract past March.  But I feel comfortable in the role demanded of me, which was not the case in my last two jobs, and I get on well with my boss (again, unlike the last two jobs) and the time off to recover, go on mental health courses and work on my writing is useful, even if recently I have been too exhausted and depressed to make much use of the writing time.  But I feel I should still be job hunting for my parents’ sake.  After all, they are supporting me financially.

***

New insights continue to come from my autism identification.  I thought that I don’t have the problems some autistic people have with executive function (planning and decision making).  I acknowledge that I’ve always been indecisive and prefer to have limited choices or even to have someone else make decisions for me.  Sometimes I completely seize up when someone offers me a choice and I don’t know what to say or how to decide, to the point where this is visible to other people (one date got really annoyed with me for this, fuelling my ‘no one could ever love me’ thoughts).  It has taken a long time for me to realise that this could be autism.

More surprising is to realise that I’m not that good at planning.  I make lots of lists and plans, but, since my mid-teens (before severe depression), I’ve had a habit of drifting away from plans once I’ve made them, sometimes within minutes.  I regularly and dramatically underestimate how long it will take me to complete tasks and the amount of energy and concentration that will be expended by them and I let myself procrastinate and get distracted by things if I am not that interested in what I should be doing.  I guess it’s one of those things that is hard to judge, though, because lots of people aren’t good at plans or are easily distracted without being autistic and some of it is that on some level I still assume I have non-depressed reserves of energy even though I’ve been depressed for seventeen-plus years.

Similarly, I always thought that I didn’t have autistic meltdowns, but reading up on them, I think I might, but that they don’t manifest primarily as screaming or physically lashing out, but as crying, catastrophising and asking excessively for reassurance from other people.  I think I tended to interpret these as panic attacks or worsening of depression rather than as meltdowns, but perhaps I have been mistaken.  I probably have also got in the habit of avoiding situations that I find triggering or leaving when things become difficult, which is good, but makes it hard to know how I would react if pushed further.

I think I may have had more explosive meltdowns when I was younger, but I learnt pretty early on that there were other people around me who could shout a lot louder and longer than I could and that explosive anger is just too dangerous, so over time I had fewer angry-type meltdowns and more anxious ones, or just repressed my feelings so that they turned into depression and OCD, what this site calls “implosive” rather than “explosive” meltdowns (“Visible symptoms of this may include withdrawing from communication, hiding, self-harming, curling up in a ball, rocking intensely and may make random sounds and noises to drown out the world around them” – withdrawal, self-harm, crying, curling up in a ball all sound familiar, perhaps also acting out in other ways that would only be obvious to myself).

Past examples might be the crying and catastrophising that I assumed were panic attacks  (again, this site calls meltdowns a form of panic attack) when I went to stay with my first girlfriend’s family for the first time and the occasions when I stood outside social events at shul crying because I felt too overwhelmed to go inside.  Perhaps also the strange feeling, that I assumed at the time was a straightforward panic attack, that I had on the London Underground a few months ago when, after having to suddenly change my usual travel route to work because of a station closure, and while in a big, stimulating crowd of commuters, I felt emotionally overwhelmed while trying to walk up a stationary escalator at Kings Cross Tube station and for a few moments was worried I was going to be so overwhelmed with anxiety and despair that I would not be able to move any further up or get back down to the bottom either.  A similar situation occurred a few minutes later in a very uncomfortable crowd on the platform where I started worrying that I was going to fall under the train and felt a similar unbearable rush of anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.

This might even explain the unexpressed anger and agitation that appears as racing thoughts, often slightly paranoid, self-loathing, or furious at other people, that can appear after social overload, including in positive situations but particularly in negative ones.  This used to happen to me a lot at the Jewish Society when I was at university, where I wanted to fit in and make friends, but found it painfully hard to do so; once depression was added to the mix, I would often leave Shabbat meals early and walk very briskly around Oxford for an hour thinking how angry I was at myself and everyone else, sometimes even mentally composing aggressive suicide notes, until I would finally arrive back home and collapse exhausted onto the bed.

At any rate, it is worth looking out for similar behaviour in the future.

(I would welcome feedback on meltdowns from other people on the spectrum, as it’s the part of autism I understand the least and have greatest difficulty identifying with.)

***

I think I’m learning slowly – very slowly – that I’m autistic and that’s OK.  It was one thing to think I was autistic, but quite a different thing to be able to accept and make allowances for myself.  This is the case even though I still don’t have a diagnosis and I worry what would happen to my self-image if I was told yet again that I’m not on the spectrum.  I’m even being more accepting of some of my religious ‘failings’ (not davening (praying) with a minyan (community) or with kavannah (mindfulness); not liking Purim and Simchat Torah, etc.), even the ones that are due to depression and social anxiety as much as autism.

It’s funny that I never felt that depression or social anxiety were valid reasons for being ‘this way’ but that autism is valid.   I suppose autism explains oddities of my personality that aren’t explicable by depression or social anxiety or were present even when everything else is OK, from the indecisiveness mentioned above to difficulties with eye contact, body language and reading emotions (in other people and myself) to the fact that when I was a child I used to like making Lego models as per the instructions rather than experimenting with my own designs (although I did make Lego Daleks of my own design because my Doctor Who special interest trumps everything).

***

I wrote a not-quite-angry letter written to HMRC querying why they are now pressing me for money they told me I didn’t have to pay months ago.  I also found directions to my course on Friday and emailed the matchmaker from the values dating service.  I have mixed thoughts about how sensible dating is for me right now, although it’s hard to imagine a time when it would ever be substantially easier.  I also read this week’s Talmud page in advance of Shabbat’s shiur (and failed to understand it).  i didn’t have time for much work on my books, but spending a long time writing my thoughts on poor executive function and meltdowns here was really helpful in understanding myself and could be useful for my mental health/misery memoir book, which is all good.  Even so, I didn’t do everything I wanted or planned, and not just because I had a headache, which is frustrating, albeit another demonstration of impaired executive function.

***

I try not to be political here, but I have to say this or my head will explode: every time I see or hear the words “Donald Tusk” on the news, I have a vision of a Babar-type elephant with big tusks, dressed in a suit, standing on his hind legs and carrying a briefcase.  This has bothered me for years.

Fancy Dress and Aliens

I mentioned that at shul (synagogue) for Purim a lot of people were in fancy dress, as per custom.  I forgot to mention that a lot of people were in costume as characters from popular culture (Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Batman, those adverts with the Russian meerkats) so maybe having a TV is more acceptable than I thought/feared.  Maybe I’ll wear my Doctor Who scarf next year.  Although I still think that extreme fandom (i.e. writing a book about Doctor Who) is seen as eccentric in lots of places, not just frum (religious) ones.

Also, I discovered today that the Dewey schedules have a number for the history of extraterrestrial worlds.  They marginalise non-Christian religions in the religion section (Christianity gets over sixty classes, and several more are about religion in general, but assume a Christian viewpoint and sense of priorities,  while other religions are divided up over just eight classes.  Also, the Bible is seen as a Christian book, not Jewish one), but if there are aliens out there, we’re ready to write about their history and put those books in the library!

Reflections on Work, Social Anxiety and Related Issues

1) My sister’s wedding is in less than a month.  I know it is likely that the morning afterwards, which is a workday, I am likely to be exhausted (I’m only expecting to get four or five hours sleep whereas I need at least seven, preferably eight or nine – at the moment I’m getting around eight hours on work nights, but that includes getting up half an hour later than I would like).  It is almost certain that being around such a big crowd of people for so long at an event that drives home my single and lonely status will push so many depressive, socially anxious and autistic buttons that I will be very depressed and struggle to work the next day.  It’s entirely possible that I simply won’t function for at least a day or two afterwards.  I mean literally not function, barely able to get up, let alone leave the flat.

My parents say I should ask for some time off in lieu from work, at least an hour or two on on the morning afterwards.  However, I have already had three days and a couple of hours off as time off in lieu for Yom Tov and I don’t want to push my luck (and build up a huge debt of time I will have to pay back at some point), especially as a couple of unfortunate events and a big mistake on my part this term have left me worried that my boss mistakenly thinks that I’m a slacker.  So I am not sure what to do.  I am thinking about ‘warning’ her and leaving it up to her to decide how to respond (give me time off, say I can phone in ill if I’m too depressed, etc.), but I’m not sure what to say or how.  She knows I have mental health issues, but not much detail.  She doesn’t know about the Asperger’s and I’m wary of mentioning it given that I don’t have an official diagnosis (indeed, have twice officially been told I don’t have it, although I have been told unofficially by a psychiatrist and I think also a therapist who knew me well that I probably do).  Any thoughts?  I would be grateful for advice from people with more experience of work.

2) My boss was shepping naches (basking in reflected glory) over her son getting a distinction in his MA and having a poem published professionally.  I decided that this was not the time to mention that I also passed my MA with distinction and have had things published professionally.  I never know when is the socially acceptable time to blow my own trumpet, so I usually stay quiet about my achievements and let people write me off as inadequate.  I know I made the right decision today, but I wish I could have the courage to speak up sometimes, when it is socially acceptable, so that I could have some esteem from my peers.

3) I work in a college where a lot of the staff and probably 80-90% of the students are Muslims.  I’ve only come across two other Jews, both students.  A couple of times I’ve thought I heard students whisper “Jewish” behind my back when I walked past, but I put it down to my paranoia.  However, today I definitely heard a girl whisper “… he’s Jewish…” after I walked past, but I couldn’t hear the context.  I don’t think she was a student, but a prospective student there for the open evening (so probably about fifteen or sixteen years old).  I don’t know what to do about this.  No one has actually done anything unpleasant or threatening and I don’t want to come across as paranoid or confrontational, but I don’t want things to escalate either.

4) I came across a ‘found story’ (like a found poem) today in the library catalogue.  The subject word authority file had four consecutive subjects that read, “Teenage boys/Teenage girls/Teenage horror/Teenage pregnancy”, which is actually a properly-structured story with a beginning, a middle and an end.

5) Not work-related, but I keep phoning the rabbi who is supposed to be finding out if my potential date wants to go out with me, but he does not answer.  This is frustrating and I don’t know what to do.  When I phoned on Friday, he hadn’t spoken to her and told me to phone on Monday or Tuesday.  I didn’t want to be too persistent (and I was running short of time anyway), so I didn’t phone on Monday.  I phoned several times on Tuesday but didn’t get through, so left a message asking him to phone me back.  I didn’t think he would phone, but I wanted to remind him that I exist.  I phoned a couple of times again too, but again no answer and I didn’t leave a message because I wasn’t sure what to say.  I feel very frustrated and am wondering if he turns his phone off after 7.00pm (which would be a stupid thing for a rabbi to do – rabbis can’t keep office hours) and if I should phone from work during my lunch break, which could be awkward.  Again, any advice gratefully accepted.