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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Halfway There Day

Yesterday was my half-birthday, for those of you who take note of such things. I don’t really see any significance, but my oldest friend was born on 19 January and another friend on 20 January, so the date leaps out at me. I am now closer to my fortieth birthday than my thirty-ninth, which vaguely troubles me, although it shouldn’t.

I also worked out that if E and I get one of the two wedding dates we’re currently aiming at, both in the second half of May, we’re more or less halfway now between the civil wedding last August and the chuppah (religious wedding). We should have more of an idea this week if that’s a realistic date.

***

This week was the baby blessing week for Nephew. I couldn’t go in the end because of difficulty finding somewhere suitable to stay. I was OK home alone. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night because I felt too tired, which was a shame and vaguely troubling in terms of how frequently it seems to be happening. The house was cold and I have chapped hands again, but otherwise things were fine.

I did some Torah study: Talmud and The Guide to the Perplexed, which is currently full of stuff about the Aristotlean view of the universe as a series of living spheres, one inside the other, definitely not made of atoms and definitely not containing any vacuum. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, but this bit is not really relevant to modern day theology. Hopefully it will get back to more relevant stuff (from a contemporary perspective) soon.

I finished reading Dune yesterday. I intend to go on to the second book, Dune Messiah. It was a good book, but hard to get into, and weirdly structured.

I slept too long as usual, about twelve or thirteen hours at night. I still went back to bed after lunch today, more because I was cold than tired. I think I drifted into that state of mind between sleeping and wakefulness and was late for seudah (the third Shabbat meal).

It was a struggle to do things after Shabbat. It always is, as I feel lethargic, even at 5.30pm. I did manage to tidy up and do a bit of Torah study. I did a little novel planning too. I would have done more, but I had a headache for a while.

***

I tried to friend someone on the autism forum a while back. We have some things in common (librarians, Doctor Who fans). He didn’t respond to the friending and accompanying message, but has chatted with me on threads since then. He’s got other friends. Friending doesn’t really do anything other than allow direct messaging, but I do feel weirdly unliked from only having two friends, both people who are not there any more and who didn’t stay on the forum long. But I’m nervous about friending people (in general and after this). I wonder if the friend request didn’t go through properly to this person and if I should send it again, or if that would make things worse if he was deliberately not responding to me.

I also wonder if it’s worth friending other people. I would be open to making friends on the site, which would realistically only happen if I friended people, but I don’t see it as essential. Still, I wonder what to do. I feel really self-conscious about being the only (open) Jew on the site, but can’t stop mentioning it. I don’t think anyone is antisemitic, but a lot of people have funny ideas about Jews, particularly if they haven’t met any (which is feasible as Jews make up about a half of per cent of the UK population, largely concentrated in just a couple of cities).

A Fire Burns in Kotzk

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volunteering and Wedding Planning

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Mistakes

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

The Visa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex, Friends, Books (No, the Genie Didn’t Give Me Three Wishes)

I had my last chatan (bridgegroom i.e. marriage) class last night. I think there might be another one closer to the wedding (no, still no news on the visa). I learnt more than in the previous one, although I still struggled to work out if I was expected to say anything and if so, what. I did wonder what someone who isn’t already committed to observing at least some of the laws of taharat mishpacha (family purity) would make of it, particularly if they were already having sex with their fiancée, as, realistically, many couples getting married through the United Synagogue would be. I don’t know whether taharat mishpacha contributes to keeping marriages fresh the way that it’s often claimed. Probably it sometimes does, but not always. I’m committed to the idea for religious reasons, regardless of any other benefits. I am, as a rule, sceptical of the idea of non-religious benefits from mitzvot (commandments) such as the purported (and mostly spurious) health benefits of kashrut (the dietary laws). Inasmuch as I see non-religious benefit in taharat mishpacha, it’s to stop men pestering their wives for sex when they’re on their period. I guess my view is different to most people’s anyway; if you’ve been celibate until the age of thirty-nine, abstaining from sex for two weeks a month doesn’t seem particularly daunting. It’s the being able to have sex for two weeks a month bit that is novel.

***

This morning neither of my alarms went off, for some reason, so I overslept by quarter of an hour, although I hurried and got to work on time. Work was busy again as it’s the time of year when most people pay their membership fees. I went to the bank and paid in fifty cheques to the astonishment of the clerk until she realised we are a charity, not a business, although we’re not a typical charity (“communal organisation” would probably be a better term), hence the membership fees.

I came home and intended to spend some time unwinding without screens, but went online instead. Big mistake. After a while, I felt ill from too much screen time, which was my fault, and from not eating which was not my fault, as dinner was very late. I hope E’s visa comes soon so we can set up home together; like me, but unlike my parents, she prefers to eat dinner early.

I would have liked to do some more Torah study or novel work after dinner, but felt too exhausted. I’d like to read some more of Dune before bed (I’m about three-quarters of the way through now), but don’t know if I’ll have the energy/brainpower. I’d rather not push myself too hard and burn out tomorrow, although it may be too late for that by now.

***

In therapy we touched on a subject that I’ve discussed a bit with E, about the fact that I mask my autism (as a general rule, masking in autistics tends to result in burnout in the end). I try to be what people expect me to be, to do what is “normal” or “right” rather than – well, I don’t actually know. I can’t really say “rather than what I want to do,” as I don’t actually know what I would do without masking, because I’ve been doing it from a very young age, maybe four or five, but more so from adolescence.

I don’t really know what I would like to do or who I really think I am. I remember Ashley saying a while back to imagine how I would behave if I was on a desert island just with E. It’s hard to tell, as I’m not terribly imaginative in that way. I probably wouldn’t be that different from how I am with E now, but it’s hard to map that on to interactions with other people. I would probably be a bit freer to voice opinions, including controversial ones, to make jokes or explain things to people.

***

The flipside of this is the online autism forum, where I’m beginning to wonder if people are deliberately not “talking” to me. Other people seem to have conversations, but that rarely happens to me. There’s a core of people who seem to connect and refer back and forth to each other and I can’t seem to get “in” to the group. Possibly they comment a lot more than I do, I’m not sure, so maybe it’s a visibility thing. I try to only say things if it’s going to be helpful or incisive, I don’t just joke around. And, as I mentioned the other day, I tried to “friend” someone on there, but he didn’t respond and I don’t know if he didn’t see it or didn’t want the contact.

The worst thing is, because I’ve mentioned being an Orthodox Jew a number of times, I wonder if that’s why people aren’t responding, not so much from antisemitism, but because they have an image of Orthodox Jews being judgmental, ascetic, humourless, and who knows what else. In a word, “Other.”

Probably I should stay away from there. I feel I’m on the forum and the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group too much at the moment, trying to get noticed, in a “I want to be friendly and talk to people” way, not an ego way, but I don’t think it’s really working. I look forward to E being here; hopefully I won’t need to feed my social needs in this unhealthy way when we can interact normally like most couples instead of through WhatsApp texts and limited Skype time.

***

I found a substack by someone who experienced child abuse in the Jewish community. I am not sure whether to follow it. I don’t know why I have this fascination with abuse survivors. Is it because I dated one? I suspect not. I think I became more aware through being in group therapy-type spaces (support groups etc.). It made me realise how many survivors are out there, and how invisible they are unless they tell you what happened to them.

I worry that it’s some kind of morbid emotional vampirism, as I’ve mentioned before. I think a more likely reason is that for decades, I’ve been aware of myself on the margins of the frum community because of neurodivergence and mental illness. Somewhere along the line, I got interested in other people on the margins of the frum world, and abuse survivors are about the most marginal people there, often actively thrown out by people who don’t want to believe that abuse happens in the community, and that it’s often the most powerful, influential or “religious” people who perpetrate it. Hence, I am more interested in survivors from frum backgrounds. What I have experienced isn’t anything like what they have experienced, but I see some similarities about feeling unwanted in the community, feeling anger at being marginalised, wanting to fit in, but not knowing how, feeling shame just for being who you are…

“Tali Steine” writes: “My light speaks to me, enveloping me with goodness, with beauty, with love. You aren’t bad or worthless, she says. This wasn’t your fault… You don’t have to carry this shame.” I feel if she can tell herself this, then I should be able to tell myself. But somehow I can’t. I feel, “If I suffered as much as she did, I could say it wasn’t my fault, because it would clearly be disproportionate to anything I might have done, but I haven’t, so maybe it is my fault.”

I’m still not sure what to do about the substack.

***

I’m a bit stressed at all the books on my To Read shelf, particularly those in series. Herewith, a list of book series I’m in the middle of at the moment. To qualify, it has to be a series where there is reasonable continuity beyond one recurring character and I have to want to read the whole series; I’d like to read all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Poirot stories, and all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories, but the links between stories in these series are slight and the series are long enough that I doubt I’ll read all of them (I think Christie wrote something like seventy-nine mystery/thriller stories, plus half a dozen pseudonymous romances and a couple of memoirs).

James Bond: I figure these just about have enough continuity to qualify. I’m reading them in a completely random order, for various reasons. I’ve got about two thirds of the way through the series in two years or so, so I guess I like them… I currently have copies of Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me on my To Read shelf, then there are another three to read after that. In recent years, a bunch of people have written other James Bond books, but at the moment I only plan on reading Ian Fleming’s ones.

Dune: I just started this a few weeks ago, but I do want to see how it plays out, even though it consists of two trilogies (or one hexalogy) of very long books.

Harry Potter: I’ve read the first two and I have most of the others and I will read them, but I’m not in a huge hurry, as I felt the first two were a bit over-rated. On the other hand, I like the word “Azkaban,” so I’ll probably read book three sooner rather than later.

A Wrinkle in Time: I’m not sure what the overarching title for this is, so I’ve just gone with the title of the first one. I read it a couple of months ago. It was OK, but I’m not sure whether I’ll read the others. As with Harry Potter, it seems to clearly be a children’s series and I wonder a bit why so many adults read it.

Robot/Galactic Empire/Foundation: in the 1940s (I think; I’m too tired to check), Isaac Asimov wrote three science fiction short story series, collected into books: the Robot, Galactic Empire and Foundation series. The three series were totally unconnected (technically, you could argue that he originally wrote two very different series of a robot stories, some short stories and longer murder mysteries with a human and robot detective team) [EDIT: Wikipedia tells me that there were light connections between the Galactic Empire and Foundation stories from the start]. Then he stopped writing them for decades, but in the 1980s, he went back and expanded the Robot and Foundation stories and tried to join them together, with the Galactic Empire stories in the middle, into one big future history sequence.

I’ve read the Robot and Foundation series and I keep thinking I should read the Galactic Empire books (there are only three novels and a short story), but I’ve never been that enthused by the concept. The Galactic Empire was the only series he didn’t later expand to make the connections clearer and I feel it will be disconnected and galactic empires don’t really grab my attention, unlike the premises of the Robot and Foundation series. But I also feel I should read them while re-reading the other books, as a lot of the connections between the books and the overarching narrative went over my head on first reading (I’m not actually sure what the best reading order is: internal or external chronology). I should also say that, as an end to this massive series of about fifteen books over five decades, Foundation and Earth was really weird. Not exactly bad, but weird, with a strange “The end… or is it?” moment just when it seemed finished that makes me feel vaguely negative about the whole sequence. On the other hand, Asimov is a light read, so I could probably get through fifteen of his books in the time taken to read the six Dune novels.

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy: technically, I haven’t started this yet, but I got the first two volumes from the free book box a few weeks ago and I’d like to read them, but I feel I ought to make progress on some of the other series first.

Richard J. Evans’ Third Reich trilogy (I didn’t say this was only for fiction series!): I still have the third book in this series to read, The Third Reich at War but I know it will be the hardest, given that it deals with the bloodiest war in human history and is permeated by the Holocaust (the Holocaust has its own chapter, but Evans says in the introduction that it’s really present in every chapter because it was so tied to the Nazi war aims and conduct). I actually have a big book on the Soviet Union to read afterwards, because I told myself to concentrate on one totalitarian dictatorship at a time! Thankfully, that’s a one-volume history.

Pathetic

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Failures on the Road to Developing Character and World Domination

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Fear and Loathing

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Same Old Scene

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There!

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

I think my response will not be popular:

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Neurodivergence and the Frum Community

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

 ***

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

This is what I wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

Last Shabbat of 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

One Autistic and a Baby

I went to bed late again last night with little downtime. This is a problem at Chanukah, as a key part of relaxation for me is watching TV in my room while eating dinner, but during Chanukah I tend to eat with my family at the dining room table where we can see the Chanukah candles. This is not religiously required, but somehow it seems wrong not to do it, even though it’s not an old tradition for us, just something we’ve started doing in the last few years. To make matters worse, I find eating with my parents extra draining. So I feel like I haven’t had much downtime for the last few days.

I did go to volunteering. I feel comfortable enough there now to make a slightly teasing joke to one of the other volunteers; he responded in kind a while later. I felt a bit awkward, though. Perhaps because of my history of being bullied as a child, I feel uncomfortable when people tease me, even when I know it’s meant in a friendly way, or perhaps it was just that it took me a minute for me to understand the joke (it hinged on my having red hair, but I feel that my hair is brown with bits of red in it, which isn’t the same). We had jam donuts with our coffee as it’s Chanukah. I ate one, even though I usually avoid the biscuits during the coffee break (to lose weight) and even though I knew I would have another one in the evening. Chanukah is not really a time for dieting.

Afterwards I went to Golders Green for lunch. Years ago, I used to periodically find myself needing to eat lunch in Golders Green and I used to go to a particular cafe where they served a tuna melt that I really liked. I hadn’t had it for years, not least because nowadays I’m semi-vegetarian and only eat fish and meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals). As these are mostly days when one can’t eat in restaurants, I don’t eat the tuna melt. However, I do eat fish on Chanukah, when work is permitted (as it’s a minor festival – yes, even though it’s perhaps the best-known Jewish festival, Chanukah ranks low in the official pecking order), so I decided to make a special trip to eat it.

I was rather stunned when I got there by how crowded and noisy it was, but I decided to go in nonetheless. I certainly wonder how I coped with such noise and overload in the past. I really think that, before lockdown and before my autism diagnosis, I didn’t notice how much things like this stressed me out, or, if I noticed, I suppressed my feelings as silly or childish. I did very much notice my feelings today, but I really wanted the tuna melt and coming back wasn’t really an option, so I braved it. It was worth it. I’d forgotten how big the slices of bread are that they use for the sandwich. Very filling.

On the bus, I listened to the latest Orthodox Conundrum podcast on The REAL History of ChanukahAnd Why It Matters Today, which I would definitely recommend to all religious Jews (regardless of denomination) and anyone who thinks they know the Chanukah story. It was really good, so good that I immediately recommended it to E, who texted me later to agree how good it was. If you only listen to one podcast this Chanukah

I came home exhausted, but not for very long, as we (me and my parents) went out to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. Nephew was asleep when we got there, so we lit Chanukah candles or at least Sister and BIL did – I was prepared to compromise on this occasion and light there and blow them out when it came time to go (which I think you can do if they’ve burnt for half an hour), but my Dad for once was the machmir (strict) one who wanted to light and home and let the lights burn themselves out.

More donuts were consumed, this time chocolate-filled.

After a while, Sister and BIL decided to wake Nephew as he needed to feed. I got to hold him for longer this time. I sat on the sofa, where I was more comfortable and supported. I shook a little, but my parents didn’t notice, and I felt more comfortable with him. I did struggle to know what to say to him, but my Mum said I was fine and the photos people took of me holding him show me looking relaxed. He is still a very little thing, and very sleepy. I did feel good holding him, though.

My sister is suddenly very maternal, which is not a side to her that I’d seen before. She’s already got a unique term of endearment for Nephew, although maybe that’s not surprising, because as a child she was always making up words.

When my Mum was holding Nephew, she said to him that she was going to come on Tuesdays to help Sister and that she would see him too. Nephew reacted to this news with what can only be described as a look of sheer horror, or it would have been, if a three week old baby could understand what someone is saying to him. It was very funny.

One thing we did speak about was the baby blessing for my nephew, which is back on the agenda. Sister and BIL want to do it at the end of January, as a combined baby blessing/Kiddush (refreshments) in shul to thank the community for their help/family birthday celebration for Sister. This would be a week or so before another party, this time for my Dad’s seventieth birthday. I am not entirely happy about all this, although I have agreed to at least to try to go to all these things. Even aside from my discomfort about davening (praying)at a non-Orthodox shul (synagogue) (nothing against non-Orthodox shuls, it’s just not right for me), which I can get around (daven at home on Friday night, daven early on Shabbat morning and then go to shul afterwards), it’s a LOT of peopling in a week and especially over that Shabbat, doubtless with little recovery time. It can be hard doing things with Sister and BIL, as I’m very conscious that they are further on in life than me (married, child, much more financially secure than E and I are likely to be in the foreseeable future, accepted and given a role in their shul community) and at the moment it’s even harder, as doing family things without E just seems so painfully wrong, and there’s nothing I can do about it. And I find family events can be hard anyway, as I can’t always work out how to join in the conversation.

I do feel a bit nervous about all this, although I realise that I really just have to do it somehow, that I shouldn’t try to make it about me, and that there are many worse things in life. But these things are stressful to me, much more so than for an allistic (non-autistic) person.

Speaking of nervous, I’m a bit nervous of tomorrow, when I feel I have a lot to do: Torah study, novel stuff (I know I’m on hold with it, but I have a few ideas I want to type up anyway), go for a walk (much neglected lately), renew my library ticket, try to move forward with setting myself up as a freelance proof-reader (which I’ve been procrastinating about too much)… All this coming from not having relaxed properly tonight (and instead having procrastinated online…).

Plus, I have to be alone in the house with the cleaner for a couple of hours. I really don’t like doing this, as it’s against Jewish law for two unrelated people of opposite sexes to be alone together (yichud), but having flagrantly broken this with E, I feel I can’t protest, even though I intended my breaking of the halakhah to be specifically because of our relationship and not a general abandonment of yichud.

I have now woken up and feel I ought to try to do a little more Torah study now I have the energy, even though it’s 11.15pm (there’s a lot of guilt here for internet procrastination instead of Torah or real relaxation).

Monotropic Learning, Being Frum and More

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Excursions, No Alarms

I started reading Dune a few days ago and read it to relax before bed yesterday evening rather than watching Doctor Who. It’s good, but not an easy read. There is a glossary of fictional words at the back, but I don’t like to keep turning to it and disrupting the flow of the novel, instead using it just for what seem like key words and working out the rest from context or just letting them go. The world-building is extremely complex, more so than anything I could write. This is positive, but intimidating. The fact that the book (the first three Dune novels in one volume) is too big to take to read on public transport means that it will take twice as long to read as the average novel even without the complexity, as I usually do a lot of my reading on public transport.

I got up later than I intended this morning and was tired. I miss sleeping on E’s sofa, where my sleep seemed more refreshing than in my bed in London, although it was probably more proximity to E and the absence of work in New York that made the difference. On which note, I’m still waiting for my sleep study results.

This morning, instead of going to volunteering, I went for my appointment with the psychiatrist to speak about reducing my medications. Except when I got there, I was told there was no record of my parents changing the appointment date (from 9 January) while I was away. They said something about a doctor having left and I wondered if someone was going to see me out of hours from kindness. The receptionist said appointments for new referrals (which I am, having been discharged years ago) are at 9.30am and 1.00pm and never at 12.00pm which was when mine was supposed to be. It’s yet another awful NHS incident. I hope I never have to see a proctologist on the NHS, as I don’t think an NHS employee could find their backside with both hands. I do at least still have my 9 January appointment, but I’m annoyed to miss volunteering, especially as I will be missing two or three consecutive sessions in a few weeks as I’ll have to rearrange my work days around the winter bank holidays and then so that I can go to the 9 January appointment.

I came home for lunch and went out again as I had a blood test in the afternoon. That at least went OK, except that when the needle went in, I suddenly got a stabbing pain in my forearm, a couple of inches below where the needle was, which continued until after the blood had been taken. I’m not sure what caused this (psychosomatic?). By this stage, the snow had largely turned to ice and I slipped twice on the way to and from the hospital, but didn’t fall over. I went into some charity shops. I bought the complete BBC Chronicles of Narnia on DVD for £4 as I knew that E wants to watch it. I also picked up the DVD of Donnie Darko, as it’s a film I vaguely feel I should watch and there seems to be a copy in every single charity shop in the country, like the universe wants me to buy it. I nearly bought Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate, which I sort of want to read, but I decided my reading list is long enough, and my mood low enough, as it is right now without adding a thousand page book about the Battle of Stalingrad.

My Torah study today was mostly listening to the latest Orthodox Conundrum podcast while walking to and from different appointments. It was on Rabbi Sacks’ Jewish philosophy, with Dr Tanya White and Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens, two of my favourite contemporary Jewish educators. They spoke about Rabbi Sacks’ communitarianism. This appeals to me, but I struggle to be community-minded with social anxiety and autism, which impair socialising. Then again, I do volunteer, and I do a job that is inherently socially worthwhile, even though my role is mostly paperwork. Is this enough? I don’t know. I do feel disconnected from shul (synagogue) and real world contact with other religious Jews, especially since COVID. Am I wholly or partially exempt because of my “issues”? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t an easy answer. It did occur to me that I study Torah from a Jewish perspective, through Jewish texts and commentaries rather than just from my own thoughts, so that’s a kind of communal connection, albeit more with dead people than living ones.

I worked on plotting my novel. However, I feel frustrated by having to do so much planning, and that so much of it is so difficult. I do feel that my satirical dystopian thriller is likely to be a failure as a satire, as science fiction and as a thriller, but I do want to persevere with it for myself, if only to see how it turns out. I do feel at the moment that I will probably never be a published fiction writer, but I’m trying to accept that. It’s frustrating as I feel the things I want to say exceed my ability to say them. I’ve been told I’m a good writer on more than one occasion, but there’s good writers and there’s good writers. My sister used to be a talented amateur artist, and my parents have three of her paintings on the wall, but I don’t know if she could sell any of them, certainly not for enough to justify the time spent on them, which was probably a lot less than the time I would spend writing a novel. I do feel a little envious that my parents’ friends can see and admire the paintings whereas my writing is harder to casually show off (although one of my parents’ friends did buy and apparently read and enjoy my non-fiction Doctor Who book).

That said, I do feel a sort of general pessimism at the moment, some worry and frustration about when E’s visa will come and general feelings of inadequacy. A couple of conversations, in blogs and the real world, lately have hinged on the idea of how one copes with feeling inadequate compared with other people’s achievements, which in my sake would include people with children, successful careers and comfort and respect in where they stand in the Jewish community. I try not to be bitter or envious, but it is hard sometimes knowing that to some extent I’ve been set up to fail by my autistic genes and my childhood and adolescent experiences. However, there really is very little I can do about it at the moment, so I try not to think about it too much. I also wish I knew why I was here on Earth so I could get some sense of whether I’m doing what I’m supposed to do or not, but there’s no real way of knowing.

I also feel vaguely nervous about chatan (marriage) class tomorrow without really being sure why except for it being a late night before a work day, and the embarrassment if the teacher offers me a lift home again – not driving is another thing to feel inadequate about. I suppose a lot of it comes from feeling I know a lot of what I’m being taught, but I’m too shy to make that clear, and also that I struggle to contribute to the class, in both cases because of social anxiety and autistic communication issues.

Fears

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Baby Blues

I took a COVID test and it came up negative, so I went to see my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. Unfortunately, E and I stoked each other’s COVID fears beforehand, as I was worried about COVID tests not being accurate, and also that I’d had slight discomfort swallowing once or twice in the last few days. This was probably not significant, but it blew out of proportion in my mind. I think I made the right decision to go, but I wore a mask and mostly kept my distance from my sleeping nephew, except for just before we left, when he woke up and my BIL gave him to me to hold. I felt very anxious about this for non-COVID reasons: he passed my nephew to me awkwardly and Dad had to help me adjust how I was holding him. In addition, I felt anxious about holding him at all, supporting his head and not dropping him, especially as he was wriggling a lot and kicking out with his legs (which I think was just him experimenting with moving his limbs and not a sign that he didn’t like me holding him). This led me to fears of shaking, which in turn led to some tremor, although not serious (fear of shaking is the main cause of my tremor).

I’ve had some health anxiety lately about myself too, and that was probably feeding into anxiety about this. Other people around me have health anxiety too, and one of them didn’t take his health seriously enough in the past, which probably doesn’t help me decide what is a realistic fear. When I was at my sister’s house, I did feel anxious, but it was the kind of anxiety that I used to get with OCD, where it feels overwhelming, but there’s also a sense that I know it’s not realistic. I do have some anxiety now about being able to hold a baby and cope with baby things if E and I have a baby (we want to). Part of me thinks I can only cope with children aged about three to twelve. Kindergarten and primary school age, basically. Babies are a lot of work and teenagers are a different lot of work, and neither are easy to understand. Primary school aged children can and will speak to you whereas babies can’t and teenagers won’t. I think I probably have the mentality of a primary school-aged child, or me as a primary school-aged child: curious and capable of being absorbed in a task that seems trivial to others while lacking interest in the whole concept of inter-personal relations not to mention things like career and earning money.

There was also some slight anxiety in the air over nephew’s preference for bottled milk over breast milk and general concerns about how the new mother and father are coping, which probably didn’t help my anxieties. Then my sister told us they’re thinking of having some kind of baby blessing in their shul (synagogue) at the end of the month and they wondered if we would stay in a nearby hotel so we could go. This made me worry as (a) I get thrown by all changes to routine, particularly those at short-notice and (b) it’s a non-Orthodox shul and I won’t feel entirely comfortable there and I don’t know how I’ll manage that (I didn’t think I’d have to deal with it until nephew is bar mitzvah in thirteen years). I can see why my parents want to go, but I feel like I need to find a polite way of asking my sister if she really wants me there. Although as I missed the brit, maybe it would be wrong to miss this too. I’m aware that this anxiety isn’t entirely rational, but also that that doesn’t make it less powerful.

I tried to fit as much as possible around this visit. It was too icy to run, but I went for a walk. I wanted to work on my novel. I didn’t really get much time to actually sit and write, but I feel like I’ve made progress with plotting the novel recently, partly in New York and partly while walking today, even though I haven’t actually written anything down yet, which I need to do before I forget chunks of it. I feel happier with where it’s going as a dystopian science fiction social satire rather than some kind of precise real-world political satire requiring a lot of research. I do need to write a proper future history/background to the novel before I start writing in earnest, though, otherwise I’ll start contradicting myself about the background to the story. I’m not sure I’m going to manage to do much of this in the months before I get married, particularly as I want to invest some time setting up as a freelance proof-reader in the next few weeks. Life feels very overwhelming sometimes.

I guess I just really had the feeling that things were moving forward last week with E, but now we’re back in limbo and on different continents, while things are moving forward for other people. Our trip feels like a dream now, like it didn’t really happen. The fact that it’s winter doesn’t help. It’s irrational, but it feels like nothing positive can happen now until spring.

New York and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Bits and Pieces

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Exhaustion and Annoying Social Media

I was listening to a shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg from before Yom Kippur that I hadn’t had time to hear yet. It made me think, not for the first time, that it’s strange that the religious approach that resonates most with me (Jewish religious existentialism) is one of other-awareness and relationship (between God and myself and between other people and myself), yet I have a disability that makes forming relationships and perspective-taking difficult. Or maybe that’s the point: I have to do it consciously, because I can’t do it automatically.

Other than that, I was pretty wiped out today. I slept in late and didn’t do much other than listen to that shiur (it was pretty long, nearly an hour and a half) and go for a walk. I wanted to submit the religious thoughts I wrote a couple of months ago about the death of the Queen to a Jewish magazine, but on reading what I wrote again, it was very closely tied to that time, not just the Queen’s death (which they might potentially write about in their next issue, as it’s quarterly, so probably hasn’t been published since her death), but also to the time of the year, right before the Jewish High Holidays. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to see events in the world and suddenly get an idea of what to write about them and then quickly produce usable copy. I need time to think and plan and then I need to get time and energy to write, fitting around work and other obligations. It is difficult when so many Jewish publications seem to like very timely material. I don’t know how I can get inspiration faster.

I also wanted to work on getting together a profile to try to set myself up as a proof-reader, but ran out of time and energy, although doing this a couple of weeks before I go to America may not be a great idea anyway. I did have a Zoom chat with my parents and E about some things related to E and my future finances that was helpful and reassuring and E and I had our daily Skype call afterwards. I feel pretty video-ed out now.

***

Ugh, social media is awful. I’ve backed off from my tentative idea of friending more individuals on Facebook. I’d say it’s because of politics, but I’d be OK with calm and rational discussion of politics. It’s more because people online are over-excitable and looking for reasons to be offended. It’s like they regress to toddlers on a sugar high, complete with tantrums. I’m sticking as a member of some (fairly quiet) FB groups, but I was dismayed by how many people answering the “inspirational twentieth or twenty-first century Jewish book” question I posted about yesterday have listed books by Meir Kahane, the far-right, racist, anti-democratic, theocratic, pro-violence religious leader and politician who was for a long time beyond the pale in Orthodox Jewish circles, but who is now being posthumously rehabilitated in Israel.

It also seems that a lot of Doctor Who fandom is on video/YouTube now, which isn’t a format that I like or easily find the time to watch. I prefer fan thoughts in text form. So it seems unlikely I will be getting much further back into Doctor Who fandom. Even aside from a stupidly political fan blog post I saw today (there was a lot wrong with it, but I’ll just mention that it tried to argue that Doctor Who should only be produced directly by the state-funded BBC because capitalism is evil, then ended with a request to tip the author via his Patreon account, which seems a tad hypocritical).

Inspiring Jewish Books

Late last night I was very hungry and couldn’t stop being hungry, no matter what I ate. This occasionally happens to me and I don’t know why. I had hoped to get an earlyish night, but I couldn’t because I was eating. Inevitably, I struggled to get up early this morning, the third consecutive early morning (some people do this every day).

At work I had to make phone calls asking people for outstanding payments again. The more I did, the easier it got, as per exposure therapy, up until the point where I ended up with an extremely angry person who said we hadn’t sent her an invoice. She shouted at me a lot. I got quite upset, but stayed on the call until J (who was on a different call on the other line) signalled to me that I should tell her he would call her back.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that maybe I forgot to send her the invoice. There was no invoice in my sent mail folder. Perhaps I had sent it in the snail mail and it got lost in the post, but perhaps I had just forgotten to send it. To be fair to myself, she did admit she booked the event through a third party, which is not what people are supposed to do (they are supposed to call us directly), and they apparently did not make the charges clear to her either. So perhaps it was not my fault. But as, after this, I got confused when I had to multitask through several things at once, it’s not hard to believe that something similar happened.

On the plus side, after dinner I managed an extra half-hour of Torah study (in addition to the half-hour I did on the train in to work) and fifteen or twenty minutes of novel research. Then I got a really weird response to a comment I left on a FB post. I honestly don’t understand what it’s saying, whether it’s broadly agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, arguing with me, something else entirely. No idea.

***

A while back, the Tube started displaying posters saying that non-consensual touching or staring is sexual harassment and will be prosecuted. This resulted in a degree of ridicule, with people saying that the police often refuse to investigate serious crimes, even rape, because they say they don’t have the resources to do so, so are they really going to prosecute people for staring on the Tube?

Today I saw a Tube poster calling on passengers to intervene if they see sexual harassment. There was a disclaimer about only intervening if you can do so safely, which just introduced an element of mixed messaging and confusion. When I told E, she suggested that, in the absence of more funding, perhaps the police were starting a deliberate policy of encouraging vigilantism. I guess we’ll soon be having amateur Sherlock Holmes-types crawling over murder scenes while the actual forensic police officers fill in paperwork.

I have often wondered about this idea of intervening if I were to see some kind of harassment (sexual, racial, homophobic, transphobic). I see stories about harassment in the news and wonder what I would do if I saw that happening. Regardless of what the poster says, I am disinclined to do anything. I can see that sort of confrontation escalating very quickly and ending in my getting hit or stabbed. Unlike America, it’s unlikely that I would get shot, but the number of stabbings keeps rising and no one seems to know what to do about it.

***

On the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page, Rabbi Kahn asked for twentieth and twenty-first century Jewish books that have inspired us. This is what I wrote (reformatted for WP):

Hard to narrow it down to just a few but:

Rabbi Lord Sacks: many things, I’ll name Radical Then, Radical Now and the Torah commentary essays.

Rav Soloveitchik: The Lonely Man of Faith

Rabbi Michael Rosen: The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim

Chaim Feinberg: Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk

Arthur Green: Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav

Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Passion for Truth

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits’ essay: A Jewish Sexual Ethics

[End of passage from FB]

A few things that strike me from this list.

  1. In a list of books from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, I picked four books about nineteenth century rabbis. I’m not sure what this says about me. Possibly that I can’t answer a question in a straightforward way.
  2. Out of eight books and essays, three are wholly or partly about the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). I was thinking about my autistic special interests the other day and trying to work out what are autistic special interests and what are just interests. I felt Judaism probably isn’t a special interest, but the Kotzker probably is. This list seems to confirm that.
  3. Pretty much every text on this list is by or about someone who is considered a Jewish religious existentialist or proto-existentialist (I don’t think Rabbi Berkovits is, but in the essay he talks about Martin Buber and I-Thou encounters, so that probably counts on some level).
  4. I am a virgin, yet I picked an essay on sexual ethics as one of the most inspirational to me, and I wasn’t trying to be funny, sarcastic, clever or anything like that. That essay has really shaped how I view sexuality and what I would like it to be for me when E and I get married, and even by extension how to have meaningful non-sexual relationships.

“The red-eyed scavengers are creeping”

I kept waking up this morning and not getting up. I don’t know why. This left me feeling bad when I finally did get up around midday. I don’t know how much is habit, tiredness, autistic comfort or something else. I did get woken up about 7am and kept awake for a while by the rain – not by the rain itself, but by something (I guess a gutter or something similar) that was dripping loudly and regularly and was driving my autistic brain crazy. But eventually I did get back to sleep.

I feel pretty bad today, very depressed. I felt like I was fighting back tears a lot of the day. I know it’s too early to say if I’m having a few bad days or relapsing into depression, SAD or autistic burnout, but I worry that I am, and how that will make things so hard for E. I’m trying to stay focused and in the present, but it’s hard when I just want to curl up and sleep. I’m supposed to be seeing a psychiatrist on the 15th of November to discuss cutting my meds, but it looks horribly like I may have to stay on them, and who knows when I’ll get to see a psychiatrist again on the NHS?

I went for a run, just to do something. I hadn’t been for a run in nearly two months. It was a poor run, but I knew it would be; I’m just glad I managed forty-five minutes and nearly 5.5km (far from continuous running, though). There was very loud music playing, I think Jewish rock. Then, suddenly, about five o’clock, the music stopped and a lot of frum (religious Jewish) parents appeared with children. I guess there was a big birthday party nearby. Seeing the children made me feel vaguely bad that if E and I manage to have children, we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff for them. I know loving your children is more important than giving them toys or expensive holidays, but it’s sad for the children, who won’t appreciate that at a young age, and who will have to deal with the school bullies for not having the fashionable toys.

Now the noise is all Guy Fawkes Night fireworks. I guess I should be glad people are still celebrating it, as I thought everyone had switched to celebrating Halloween (not a major event in the UK when I was growing up), but it’s not necessarily good with an exercise headache and autistic reactions to loud noises. I tried to do some Torah study, but it just made my head hurt more. I will try to do a little before bed, if I can.

I still felt depressed after the run. While running, the line came into my head, “The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green” from T.S. Eliot’s A Cooking Egg (I got the quote a bit wrong, but corrected it here). I probably shouldn’t quote it, as it’s antisemitic. The “red-eyed scavengers” are almost certainly Jews (or “jews” as Eliot would have written it; as Rodger Kamenetz pointed out, Eliot repeatedly denied the Jews the dignity of a capital letter), as Kentish Town and Golders Green were (and Golders Green still is) very Jewish parts of London. Strangely, the material I’ve found about the poem online doesn’t mention this (you can be sure they would have pointed it out if he’d used a slur against various other minority groups). Even so, the line is powerful and I feel comfortable repurposing it to refer to the scavengers of depression, anxiety and OCD trying to creep in to my consciousness (or unconscious) when I’m exhausted. It’s an effort to keep them out, but if I make that effort, where will I get the energy needed to work, do household chores, fulfil religious obligations, write, exercise and so on? In short, how can I have a life if all my energy and brainpower goes on staying mentally healthy and vaguely functional?

***

It’s also harder and harder every day to function without E.

***

Responding to a comment from Adventuresofagradgirl (is this how you would like to be referred to here? Please let me know!) on my last post that God wants us to be good and to be happy and whether I write or not is secondary, I wrote:

I want to be good, but I feel I would find it easier to be good if I wasn’t on the spectrum. But presumably God dismissed that thought for some reason. I don’t know if God wants me to be happy, or how to achieve that. I worry that God wants me to write for some purpose, and if I don’t achieve it, that will be consider sinful or at least negative. But if I’m not supposed to write and devote time to it that should be spent on Torah study, volunteering, family, etc., that will also be considered sinful. It’s hard to know what to do or how other people navigate thoughts like this.

***

I want to post the following on the autism forum, at least the first point if not the second, but I lack the courage:

It’s over eighteen months since I was diagnosed autistic and I feel that I’m still processing what that means to me.

I still feel that autism is a disability to me rather than a difference and definitely not a “superpower.” My autistic traits are mild enough to be irritating and somewhat disabling, but don’t come with any benefits I’ve found yet. The only partial exception is my ability to spot errors of spelling and grammar. I would like to use this to work as freelance proof-reader, but I worry that that will involve a lot of skills I don’t have for networking and self-promotion. Autism is a drawback for those things. (My proof-reading skill doesn’t work so well in the office either, for some reason, and I make mistakes there.)

I want more than anything to write serious literary fiction, but I struggle with creating and motivating characters as well as using metaphorical language (I can understand non-literal language, but I seem to struggle to write it). I also think my writing tends to be overly-formal.

Also, unlike many people on this forum, I don’t feel that I’ve found my “tribe.” Autistic people seem to be too heterogeneous a group, and many of them too different from me, to be a group I can fully identify with. I dislike the term “intersectionality,” but my struggles seem to be primarily located at the intersection between autistic identity and Orthodox Jewish identity. I struggle with my autism particularly because I’m trying to live in Orthodox Jewish spaces, resulting in issues other autistics don’t have and I struggle with my Judaism because I’m practising it while struggling with autism, resulting in issues other Orthodox Jews don’t have.

Orthodox Jewish identity is fundamentally communal, whether regarding prayer (private, individual prayer is definitely considered inferior to communal prayer), religious study (which is ideally done in pairs and often in noisy, crowded rooms full of people arguing) and acts of kindness. As the title of an anthropological study of the shtetl (semi-autonomous Jewish towns in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust) notes, “Life is with People”. It is not clear what can be done in the community for people who struggle to be around other people. This is before taking into account that Jews are, culturally, often loud and social, sometimes intrusively so (a generalisation, obviously, but rooted in reality, I think).

Orthodox Judaism lags some years behind the trends in the secular Western world. It is still catching up on awareness of mental illness; it will probably be some years before people begin talking about provisions or adjustments and leniencies for the neurodivergent. I’m not sure where I go in the meantime.

***

Facebook has been good and bad today, with some angry spost I didn’t really understand and a question on the Orthodox Conundrum group about non-Jewish books that have spiritual value. I probably over-thought this, and also realised that while I think Hamlet and The Brothers Karamazov have spiritual worth, I don’t remember enough detail about either to really justify recommending them, which is sad (especially as I’ve read Hamlet twice, once without notes and once with, and seen it (on TV) twice). In the end I went  for The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (on the dangers of playing God) and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. One plot thread is proto-Zionist, but it’s actually the other one, about a not-very-good person who’s made big mistakes trying to live a better life that is more spiritual (and more engaging, I thought).

There was political stuff (actually economic stuff) I wanted to disagree with on a blog, but I just didn’t feel up to getting in an argument. As I’ve said before, I think people rarely change their minds based on internet debate. I don’t like feeling people think I’m cruel or callous for decisions that are taken for pragmatic reasons when they know nothing about my thoughts, feelings or wider life (volunteering, charity, etc.). I do wish economics was a compulsory school subject, though.

It occurs to me that by avoiding discussion, I am perpetuating the problem, as well as potentially avoiding views that contradict my own and that may be true (although, to be fair, I do read some opposing views, I just don’t vocalise my responses. I think I’m probably better than most people about listening to the other side of the debate and being open to criticism of my own views). But I don’t really have the stamina to get into fights and there are not many places that I feel are safe for this kind of discussion.

***

I finished reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who over Shabbat. It wasn’t bad, I just wish there could have been a more balanced presentation of late seventies Doctor Who.

On to Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. In the introduction, the authors (Paul Cornell, who would go on to write for the revived TV series, plus Keith Topping and Martin Day) state, “We only mock Doctor Who because we are here to celebrate the fan way of watching television, a close attention to detail matched by a total willingness to take the mickey.” I feel that this doesn’t exist any more, or at least that I can’t find it. It’s possible that character limits on social media prevent such a complex way of engaging with a text.

Then a few lines later they state that calling stories with no name on screen by their official name on BBC paperwork rather than by the names common in fandom, “might be a mark of strict accuracy, but it could also be a sign of elitism” which, aside from referring to a now largely subsided fan argument of the nineties, shows that making something completely non-political into a angry and self-righteous political point for no good reason was happening even twenty-seven years ago.

“I think we are in rats’ alley/Where the dead men lost their bones”

I went to bed late last night. It’s hard having E in a time zone behind me, as it makes going to bed earlier hard, although I’m pretty good at staying up too late even without that and indeed was online late yesterday blogging and social media-ing. I wanted to watch an episode of The Avengers yesterday (I’d say the John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers to distinguish from Marvel, but I wanted to watch a Cathy Gale episode), but I ran out of time and ended up reading instead. I recently started Accidental Presidents, a non-fiction book about the eight men who succeeded to the American presidency via the vice-presidency when the elected incumbent died. It’s interesting and not particularly heavy-going, but it assumes a greater knowledge of nineteenth century American politics and history than I have, and the writing verges on the clichéd, with some weirdly anachronistic metaphors (e.g. saying President Tyler’s plans hit a “speed bump”). It probably wasn’t hugely relaxing to read at night, though.

Whether I did too much yesterday or didn’t relax enough or both or neither, I was exhausted this morning. I had to get out of bed at 10.30am to help with the Tesco order and stayed up afterwards to daven (pray) before the time for Morning Prayers was over (now an hour earlier due to the clocks going back). But my mind felt “scattered” and unfocused the way it does when I’m feeling exhausted, and my mood was low. I revised my plans for today, as I didn’t think I had the time or headspace to listen to the hour and a half shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg that I wanted to listen to today (the only one of the LSJS’ pre-Rosh Hashanah shiurim that I haven’t listened to yet).

I did manage half an hour or so of novel writing, but I found it hard to focus. I had therapy. It was a good session, but the sadness came back afterwards. I went for a walk and listened to some of a religious podcast in lieu of Torah study, which I really couldn’t face.

I still feel vaguely obliged to help people on the autism forum, and slightly guilty if I can’t. A teenage girl posted something there today, but I could barely understand it and I had no idea what to say to a troubled, possibly suicidal and psychotic (her words), teenage girl with a personality disorder that would help her. Admittedly it’s hard to know how to help someone whose post title is a string of swearwords directed at people trying to help her, but I still feel sad and vaguely guilty.

I’m also beating myself up for general social media use and difficulty knowing how to communicate with people online. I hope this is just another bad day and not the start of depression or SAD. 

***

People write about famous people with autism (supposedly) e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Dan Ackroyd, Elon Musk, Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and so on (to be honest, I find the historical attributions speculative at best and often fanciful. The fact that someone was clever and a bit eccentric doesn’t automatically mean they were neurodiverse). I find these lists difficult to read, as it suggests I could succeed like them. Which makes me feel that if I can’t succeed, it must be my fault, rather than because autism manifests differently in different people and they got lucky with traits that helped them do what they wanted to do, rather than holding them back.

Related: it occurred to me that many of the frum people I know who had mental health issues ended up not frum. I don’t know if there’s causation there or just correlation, and my survey is certainly not statistically significant, but it makes me feel good (that I stayed frum) and bad (that having mental health issues correlates with leaving the frum world and there’s no guarantee I will stay frum in the future, particularly if my depression comes back). I don’t really know enough Jewish people with autism to tell if there’s a correlation with leaving frumkeit there, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  ***

Reading about the Israeli elections (the likely return of Netanyahu, the success of the far-right) just made me feel worse. I felt I should write something to say that Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich don’t represent me, as an Orthodox Jew and Zionist, but really I was too depressed to face up to it. I just felt awful.

***

It’s extra hard being away from E when I feel like this. I need hugs, really.

***

The good news: my sleep study apparatus (if that’s the right word) should be sent to me next week, so hopefully that will help me move forward with working out what (else) is wrong with me. It can take up to twelve weeks to get the results. And E’s other birthday present arrived today (I ordered her two books, but only one arrived last week). It really is coincidence that I keep buying E books that I would like to read as presents! Or rather, it’s less coincidence and more a reflection that we do have a lot of shared interests. She was pleased with the present, but she won’t get to read them for a while.

E and I also had a Zoom marriage class in the evening, which this week was about the structure of the Jewish wedding ceremony. I learnt a few things, which was good. I feel less depressed now, so maybe some of it was anxiety. I’m very tired though and going to bed soon. The class did make me marvel again at how allistic (non-autistic) people can often chat and make small talk so easily. Talk about super-powers…

Grief and Autistic Halakhah

Being away from E seems to be getting harder and harder. It feels just as bad as when my loneliness was at it’s worst, except focused on one person rather than an abstract desire for a relationship. Hopefully her visa will come soon…

***

I’m still thinking about Ashley, but not quite so much, although I don’t know how much of that was being distracted by other stressors. I’m reluctant to say much here, as it feels vaguely like I’m appropriating pain that should really belong to her family. I felt some other guilt too. I’m not sure I can remember all of it, but some of it was feeling guilty that I’ve been more affected by Ashley’s death than those of my grandparents. I feel that that’s wrong, that the death of my grandparents should have affected me more. The two aren’t exactly comparable, though. My grandparents were quite old, mostly in their eighties. It was sad when they died, but it didn’t have the tragic aspect of young death, or suicide.

Another factor is that, in a strange way, I feel I didn’t know all my grandparents in an adult way, in the way I knew Ashley, even though I was sixteen when the first of my grandparents to die passed away and had known them all my life. They were just there, like my parents.

My paternal grandmother died when I was sixteen and about the same time my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (the symptoms had been there for quite a while, but from this point on it became very noticeable). I feel like I didn’t know them as an adult, only as a child. I remember my paternal grandmother as very anxious and I didn’t really understand why (or is that an adult interpretation? Did I just accept it at the time?). I think I would better understand her depression, anxiety and agoraphobia (all unspoken of at the time) now.

I felt that I was only beginning to get to know my maternal grandfather when he died when I was nineteen, a few months after my maternal grandmother. I felt like he had begun to talk to me more as an adult in the last few years and suddenly that stopped. I did know my paternal grandfather rather better as he died when I was nearly twenty-seven. But I think in retrospect it’s my maternal grandfather I think of more often. Since my autism diagnosis, my parents have speculated that he was on the spectrum too, so maybe that explains why he felt more comfortable talking to me than his children about his past.

Episodes of depression/burnout followed in the months after the deaths of my grandparents, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that there was a causal link, except perhaps the death of my maternal grandfather, as the depression really did follow in just a few weeks. The others were more spaced out.

Another factor is that, when most of my grandparents died, I was still very emotionally immature. I know I write about my feelings most days now, but in my teens and twenties, I really didn’t understand what I felt and couldn’t put it into words, even more so than nowadays. It’s taken years of therapy and, I suppose, blogging, to get to a point where I can begin to understand what’s going on in my head.

Anyway, I managed to get an appointment with my therapist for this week, so hopefully it will help to be able to talk about these feelings.

***

Away from this, further guilt came when J said that I asked for three days off later this year to go to New York to see E, but I only had two days of holiday left. I felt bad about this, although I think the confusion came because he’s rounded down my number of holiday days, given that my contract didn’t start until February whereas the holiday year started in January. Even so, I felt vaguely bad for not realising. I made loads of these terms of work mistakes at my job in further education and still feel embarrassed. I think HR must have hated me. Taking one day less holiday doesn’t affect my plans, I will just have to work the day before I fly instead of packing.

***

J sent me to Selfridges to try to get some duplicate keys cut. Selfridges seemed more crowded than I was comfortable with (although probably less crowded than it should have been, less than two months before Christmas; I guess people are not spending on luxuries). I had one of those moments when I think that everyone I see is a human being with their own thoughts and emotions and I freak out a bit. I don’t know why this happens. Aside from the crowd, the muzak drove me crazy. Different parts of the store were playing different music and I could hear bits of different songs at once in painful aural mush. I don’t think this is an autism thing so much as a ‘having taste’ thing. When I finally found the key-cutting stall, I struggled to hear the assistant over the shoe repair machinery, but they didn’t have the right size blank keys to cut the new ones. I will probably have to go elsewhere on Thursday

The whole experience left me feeling overwhelmed and near to tears. I feel like I used to be able to cope with experiences like this (I used to commute into town on the Tube and buses every school day at rush hour!), but no longer can. Some of it may be getting older (it is a recognised phenomenon that autistic people become less able to cope with sensory overload and less able to mask their autistic symptoms as they get older), but I wonder if COVID lockdown has eroded my tolerance for these things, along with boosting my social anxiety? Or if I recognise the overwhelm more since my diagnosis.

Similarly, when I stayed after work for Minchah and Ma’ariv at the shul (Afternoon and Evening Prayers at the synagogue), I felt overwhelmed even though there were only fifteen or so people in the Beit Midrash (not a huge room, but not tiny either). Is this social anxiety or autistic overwhelm?

I was still feeling overwhelmed when I got home, but not light-headed, perhaps because I ate an apple in the office mid-afternoon and a cereal bar after Ma’ariv. I used to eat on the way home from work, but COVID has scared me off eating on the Tube.

***

Between Minchah and Ma’ariv, the rabbi quickly taught a halakhah (Jewish law). What it was isn’t relevant, but he took the mundane nature of the halakhah in question as an example for halakhah (in the wider sense of the Jewish legal system) being all-encompassing and supportive no matter what happens, that it “has our back” in his words.

I did not feel 100% comfortable with this. I do not feel that halakhah always has my back. I feel that there’s a lot I should be doing, according to halakhah, that I can’t cope with right now or perhaps ever because of my social anxiety and autism. I feel I would need an “autistic halakkah” to help me.

A while back I heard that Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig has set up an institute to try to train more rabbis in mental health awareness so that they will be able to respond to people with mental illness more effectively. He has also published a book of answers to halakhic questions regarding mental illness. I feel that someone needs to do the same thing for neurodiversity.

***

The other day Suzanne said that my life is interesting. My immediate thought was that my life isn’t interesting, so it must just be the way I write about it. Then I realised that I was in a low self-esteem double bind: either my life is interesting or my writing is interesting! I’m not sure what I think about this (just kidding).

Decompression Time

I weighed myself the other day. The good news is that I didn’t put on any significant weight over the Yom Tov (Jewish festival) period, despite eating lots of the wrong foods. The bad news is that if I didn’t put on any weight, it makes me feel that my weight is determined primarily by my medication and not by my diet. This makes it hard to really get the motivation to resume my diet, or quasi-diet. It just feels like my weight has only vague relation to what I eat. Ditto for my cholesterol, which has been slightly too high for ages despite cutting down (not totally) on high cholesterol foods.

***

Work was not particularly noteworthy today, but I finished in a better state than most work days recently, perhaps because I spent the last hour testing keys in the display cabinets to see which, if any, were duplicates, as J wants to make sure we have two keys for each cabinet in case we lose one. This at least got me away from my desk, my computer and my ruminations.

I got a flu jab on the way home. I’m not entirely sure why the NHS thinks I was eligible. I suppose they have Mum down as immuno-suppressed still. My attitude to government and NHS stuff these days is, if they offer it, take it, because I know how hard it is to get anything from them when you try to get it. I haven’t had any serious side-effects yet, but my arm is rather sore.

When I got home, I spent some time reading the Jewish newspapers and watching Doctor Who rather than going online. This was in line with my discussion with my therapist yesterday about taking time to decompress when I get home from work before going online, which is too stimulating, primarily in terms of the screen, but also in terms of engaging my brain to read blogs and news sites and to blog myself. I did feel a little faint, but that passed once I ate and drank, which makes me think dehydration and low blood sugar are distinct from whatever causes the lightheadness that doesn’t pass with food and water. I do keep forgetting to take my blood pressure.

My therapist said I should see decompression time as being distinct from relaxation time. I’m not sure that I fully understood this. I think she meant I should just take time to potter about, talk to my parents about my day (although I guess this could be stressful peopling), sort out odd things that need sorting out in my room and so on rather than setting aside time for a constructive relaxation activity (if that’s not a contradiction) like reading a novel or watching TV. However, I’m not really sure that I’ve understood this right.

Thinking about the distinction (if there is one) made me realise that I see relaxation time and creative time (writing) as the same because Judaism has no real concept of either. Both relaxation and creativity are really valued as means to other ends rather than ends in themselves. Neither are easily ‘justified,’ so it’s hard to say I need to devote time to relaxation and writing fiction as well work and religious obligations like prayer and Torah study. Relaxation and writing feel like things I do for me and should be kept in proportion when compared to religious things. Blogging is probably something else in this category. Relaxation, blogging and fiction writing are all things I need to do emotionally and things I think have value, but I feel guilty for doing one, let alone all three, when part of me thinks I should be praying or studying Torah. I am not sure what to do about this.

***

My favourite Doctor (Doctor Who Doctor, not GP) was always Tom Baker, perhaps the most eccentric of the Doctors, with his thick curly hair, long multicoloured scarf and general air of counter-cultural craziness. In recent years, however, I’ve felt it shifting to Patrick Troughton, whose more subtle performance evokes a quieter form of individualism and non-conformity.

At the risk of over-thinking this, I find myself wondering if this indicates a shift in the way I view the world, from thinking that the only alternative to drab conformity is a wilful, extrovert weirdness that I could never manage to thinking that it is possible to have a quieter, more thoughtful form of individuality that is willing to stand quietly at the back until it has something to say, but can still dominate when it needs to.

Or I maybe it’s just down to a shift in what I find funny and clever.

Black Box

I did not have a good Shabbat (Sabbath). I felt too exhausted and ill to go to shul (synagogue). I feel exhausted from the Jewish festivals and that I’ve been on the go for months without a break (wedding, visa application, festivals and work disruption). Having dinner with my parents when drained can be difficult, as they make small talk the whole time and I often find it overwhelming, particularly if Dad starts asking me questions to try to “bring me into the conversation.” I haven’t really been able to explain to him that my brain is wired in a way that small talk is difficult and uninteresting for me.

After dinner I read the Chofetz Chaim on Pirkei Avot (Torah study) book for fifteen minutes and finished it, but then I fell asleep. I woke up around 2am. I was too tired to quickly get ready for bed and go back to sleep, which paradoxically meant that I began to wake up before I could get back to bed and I couldn’t sleep. I spent the next couple of hours reading, then fell asleep around 4am. Then I fell asleep again this afternoon, after lunch with my parents. Last Monday (Shmini Atzeret), they were out for lunch and I ate on my own, and I didn’t fall asleep afterwards, although I felt tired. I wonder if this is connected. I didn’t used to react like this. I feel like I’m becoming more autistic, which is impossible; more likely, I find it harder to mask and pass as allistic (non-autistic).

I felt very overwhelmed both when I woke up in the night and during the day today. I still felt tired and had loads of thoughts in my head about what I wanted to do, needed to do and so on. I managed very little Torah study and was glad that I managed to pray at all, although my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) was rubbish.

After Shabbat, I looked at my existing To Do list, and the list of things that needed to go on the To Do list. Quite a lot of the existing tasks are long-term things related to the wedding that we can’t move forwards with until E gets her visa, so at least I don’t have to worry about them right now. There is still a lot to do, though, including sorting the whole tax situation from last week; booking at trip to New York; setting myself up as a proof-reader; and trying to get back into a regular pattern of exercising, novel researching and novel writing.

I miss E a lot too. Long-distance is hard.

***

I just posted the following on the autism forum, about the ‘Black Box’ that is the emotional part of my brain:

Does anyone else have alexithymia (difficulty understanding and describing their own emotions)? I do have emotions, but I often struggle to understand or describe them, especially if they’re subtle or conflicted. This has arguably been a problem when trying to access mental health services or even being aware of my slides into depression.

Some emotions are powerful enough to make their presence felt, particularly the terrible trio of depression, anxiety and despair, but others can be harder to feel. Even strong positive emotions can be hard to find; sometimes I have to look for practical evidence to prove that I really do love my family, because I’m not sure what I feel. A lot of the time I feel rather numb and blank, sometimes with a faint undertone of mild depression or mild anxiety.

My main way of processing emotions is through writing. I’ve written a journal-type blog most days since 2006 (excluding an eighteen month period where I stopped) and that helps me process the events of the day, as well as get feedback from my small, but supportive readership. This probably sounds strange, but sometimes I don’t really know how I feel about things until I write them down. I’ve tried private journaling, but somehow I need a sense of an audience, even a very small one, to give me the impetus to communicate. If I can’t write on one day for some reason, I tend to carry around all the thoughts of that day with me and feel a need to offload.

I write fiction to try to understand bigger emotions, including ones that I haven’t personally experienced. I’ve always read a lot too and I think that’s probably an attempt to learn about emotions, on some level. I guess I get that from TV and film too, although I find modern TV and film overwhelming in its amplified display of emotions sometimes, at least what I see of it (which isn’t much).

I would be interested to hear of anyone else who struggles with this, as it feels quite isolating sometimes, something that even other autistic people don’t experience. I would also like to know if anyone has tips or coping mechanisms.

***

Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how much my identity has become located at the intersection (to use an over-used and over-politicised, but useful, word) of autism and Orthodox Judaism. I feel like being autistic gives me struggles that allistic (non-autistic) Orthodox Jews don’t have, but being an Orthodox Jew gives me struggles that other autistic people don’t necessarily have, in terms of things I’ve described here about Judaism being such a social religion. I don’t know which I would consider my primary identity; I think both are pretty integral to who I am. I probably need to think about this some more to find practical solutions.

Precedented Times

I had a guilt dream last night about missing shul (synagogue) on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). As I had a migraine this year, I feel it was unjustified, although previous years are more ambiguous. Although arguably I shouldn’t be beating myself up for autistic exhaustion and social anxiety.

I got up early, but procrastinated, ran late and had to cut my curtailed Shacharit davening (Morning Prayers) even shorter. I woke up in a thunderstorm and was not happy about having to walk to the station in it. The thunder had stopped by the time I set out, but it was still raining heavily and the commute to work was uncomfortably wet.

It was a boring day without much going on. I sorted a lot of papers and wondered why I’m not better at this, given that I’m a librarian and should know how to organise data. On reflection, I thought that I’m not an archivist and what I’m doing is more like archival work than librarianship, even if both do involve organising bits of paper. Although I’m not sure it’s really archival work either. To be honest, I would really need to be a solicitor to know what to do with lots of legal documents and copies of documents. I worry about throwing away something important, then I worry that I’m just shuffling bits of paper from one box or shelf to another without getting rid of anything or really producing an ordered set of papers.

I keep coming home from work feeling physically ill. I was worried about walking home as I was feeling quite light-headed, but decided to be independent and try, which turned out OK, but might not have done. I think part of the problem is being unwilling to eat on the Tube on the way home post-COVID.

To try to deal with the anxious thoughts in my head, I started drawing up a long To Do list. This is in addition to the long one I already had, most of which is marginally less urgent at the moment. Sigh.

***

At work, there’s a room with inspirational quotes on the wall from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl. One I saw today says that Judaism is not a religion of private communion of the soul with God, but of the life we build together. This is similar to something I said the other week (I may have been quoting unconsciously). It does make me wonder what happens, in a social-based religion, if you have a neurological disability that stops you connecting and communicating socially. I mean what happens from God’s point of view – does He give some kind of dispensation? How much stuff would a person be excused from? A number of famous rabbis are supposed to have stood up respectfully for people with severe intellectual disabilities, saying that they are serving God better, on their level, than those famous rabbis were. Likewise, blind people are exempt from many mitzvot (commandments) as it was traditionally hard for them to fulfil them with their disability. But where would you draw the line? I have social deficits, but I’m not the equivalent of blind or severely impaired, so how much leeway would I get? I know what happens from a practical point of view: all too often you end up getting left behind by the community.

***

Speaking of Rabbi Sacks, I reflected that if you look at my divrei Torah, and possibly my blog, the two biggest influences on my hashkafah (religious philosophy) are Rabbi Sacks and the Kotzker Rebbe  (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). They’re the thinkers I quote most often. I feel like Rabbi Sacks is the Maimonidean philosopher: calm, balanced, focused on moderation and building society. Whereas the Kotzker is the Romantic, the individualist and anti-establishment rebel, the radical pushing himself to the brink in his quest for truth and the authentic self. Possibly they don’t go together very well. Emotionally, I’m closer to the Kotzker, who may have had bipolar disorder and/or social phobia (undiagnosed as he died in 1859) and certainly spent the last nineteen years of his life not leaving his study, although current research suggests he wasn’t as self-isolated as was once thought.

The Kotzker is someone many people quote, but few people are interested in emulating. I wonder sometimes what he would have made of me, really what either of them would have made of me. I was in the same room as Rabbi Sacks on a couple of occasions, but never spoke to him, which I now regret, although I have no idea what I would have said or what kind of conversation might have resulted. I do feel a kind of inner tension represented by these two different religious guiding lights. I think there’s a similar dissonance in my political views too. I think I probably am someone torn apart by different intellectual currents and competing ideas and approaches to life.

***

I started reading Flowers for Algernon. I’ve known about it for years, but I didn’t want to read it, as I thought it sounded too sad. Then I thought that, as a famous science fiction novel, I “Should” read it, if I want to think of myself as a science fiction fan (I’m honestly not sure that I do, but that’s a subject for another time) so bought a second-hand copy for £1 in a charity shop, but it has sat on my shelf for many years, as I couldn’t bring myself to start it. Then I thought that, as I’m thinking a lot about my childhood and teenage years and my struggles to fit in with undiagnosed high-functioning autism/Asperger’s, maybe it would help. It might help with my feeling of having a much higher level of intellectual maturity than emotional maturity (which admittedly is probably less pronounced now than at any time since adolescence – after all, I’m managing a long-distance marriage at the moment). So, I started it the other day.

I have some qualms about the presentation of learning disabilities and the usual problem in fiction like this where intelligence is confused with knowledge, so someone whose intelligence is augmented suddenly becomes more literate, knowledgeable and worldly, which would not necessarily happen. Charlie is supposedly reading a lot of serious books very quickly, but even setting aside the time factor, to be reading Dostoyevski and the like so soon after being functionally illiterate would require a lot of mental scaffolding. I could also question whether the “illiterate” language of the early sections is how an actual functionally illiterate person would write (admittedly I’m only aware of this because it was a plot point in an Inspector Morse novel). I admit most of these flaws are necessary to get the plot moving and produce something readable; ultimately, it’s a novel, not a documentary.

So far, it’s made me think about bullying. It turns out that being bullied for not being clever feels pretty much the same as being bullied for being too clever by half; the taunts are different, but the feeling is the same. I’m glad I had some friends as a child, and I was probably lucky that my naivety wasn’t abused as much as it might have been.

The book makes me worry a bit about having children, though. I’ve been worrying about this lately anyway, as Adventuresofagradgirl commented on one of my recent posts asking what I thought about the likelihood of E and I having a child with autism, either moderate like myself or severe, which is a possibility at least, given that I’m on the spectrum and E has a number of autistic traits. We have discussed it a bit, as we do both want children (although this further assumes a lot of things we don’t know yet about our fertility and ability to cope with life). We are fairly positive about our chances of having high-functioning children, certainly with early intervention. I have met (online) a number of autistic parents, and most of them don’t have severely autistic children, but then, as I’ve said here before, “high-functioning” is a fluid and unhelpful term; people can function in some situations, or in some mindsets, and not in others. So it’s been lurking in the background as something I’d like to ignore, but shouldn’t.

Other than that, the book makes me feel sorry for myself, although I find it hard to say why exactly. While I haven’t suddenly gained intelligence, I have gained insight into myself in the last eighteen months and, like Charlie, I’m still applying that to my personal history and current social interactions.

***

I didn’t really want to talk politics, but I feel I have to say something. In September 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago, but was only about three years ago, The Daily Telegraph’s pocket cartoonist, Matt Pritchard, drew a cartoon of a man saying that “Sometimes I wish we could go back to living in precedented times.” And that was just during Brexit and Trump’s impeachment! We didn’t know how lucky we were! That was before the COVID, the Capitol Riot, Partygate, Ukraine, the death of the Queen and Liz Truss’ forty-four day premiership![1] And the possible return of Boris — it’s like a zombie film![2] I definitely want to go back to precedented times. Is Sir Keir Starmer the dull, charisma-free, nonentity Britain needs to drift aimlessly back to normality?

[1] The brief Truss administration also saw a situation where, for an “unprecedented” first time, none the four great offices of state (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary) were held by a white man (white woman, black man, another black man, Asian woman). Strangely, the press is not terribly interested in this. Diversity doesn’t count when Tories do it.

[2] Boris, Trump, Netanyahu – why do none of these leaders know how to make a graceful exit?