Yom Ki-Migraine

Yom Kippur was a mixture of good and bad. I had a very moving Kol Nidrei service at shul (synagogue) last night. I was on the brink of tears a lot. It took me a while to realise that there were a lot of different emotions inside of me, some good, some bad, or rather, some positive, some negative (I don’t think negative emotions are ‘bad’ as such). I worked out what some of them were and just sat with the other ones. It’s strange having emotions and not knowing what they are (alexithymia), but I’m trying at least to become attuned to when I’m having the emotions, even if I can’t understand them.

When I got home, I wanted to do some Torah study, but after a little over ten minutes, I felt too tired. I switched to reading A Wrinkle in Time (one of those books I should have read as a child, but didn’t), but soon was too tired to read that and went to bed.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache. I think it was a migraine. In the past, my migraine headaches tended to be incredibly painful over a wide area, like someone had hit me on forehead or crown with a metal bar or axe, a really all-consuming form of pain to the extent that I can’t focus on anything else. Lately, I’ve been getting headaches in a small point, about an inch or two above my right eyeball, like someone was drilling into that point. The pain is very strong there, but not anywhere else. Sometimes after a while the pain spreads to the eye itself, which I don’t usually get. I wasn’t going to take medication for a non-life-threatening condition on Yom Kippur and tried to sleep it off. I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the night, but the headache/migraine stayed. Once we got to morning, I wanted to try to get up, thinking that, with localised pain, I could make it back to shul, but I didn’t manage it. It hurt too much, and soon I was feeling the exhaustion I can get with or after migraines.

The migraine went of its own accord around 3pm, but I was still exhausted and by this stage, I was beginning to feel faint and light-headed from fasting, as happens to me every year. I usually spend more of the afternoon of Yom Kippur outside the shul, trying to get some fresh air and feel less headachey and nauseous than in shul davening (praying). I went for a walk for a few minutes to see if that would clear my head, but I just felt dizzy and worried about going back to shul in that state. Even then, I might have made it, but I couldn’t catch up to where they were, so I just davened at home at my own pace.

I feel a bit bad about spending yet another year when I wasn’t in shul much for Yom Kippur. Between migraine (not to mention fasting headaches), COVID, sleep disruption (whatever causes it) and social anxiety and/or depression, I’ve rarely been in shul much on the holiest day of the Jewish year for many years.

When not catching up on davening at home, I read some of a book of the Chofetz Chaim’s (pseudonym for Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) teachings on Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud dealing with ethics. It seemed appropriate reading matter. But I was only really awake, up and even vaguely functional for about four hours today (excluding last night).

I still found myself thinking a lot while davening about child abuse in the Jewish community and wondering how we (collectively) can be forgiven if so many people are still abusing or covering up abuse. I’m not sure what I can do about this. I also don’t know why this has become such a big obsession for me.

I drank three energy drinks yesterday, to try to boost my sodium level before the fast and avoid getting a headache. Despite the migraine, it might have worked: I think the migraine was triggered by stress, or was just one of those things (I have had a couple of migraines like this (the ‘drilling above my eye’ type) in recent months, always after I’ve gone to bed, if not to sleep). I did feel light-headed and faint in the afternoon, but I don’t think I got a dehydration headache. On the other hand, as when I tried drinking the energy drinks last year, I didn’t actually do very much during the day. So it’s unclear whether they helped.

Hallo Spaceboy

I had a stressful day at work yesterday. I’d say an awful day, except the nature of my job is that on the most awful days, it reminds me that at least everyone I care about is OK, so I don’t feel able to call it an awful day (it also reminds me that everyone I care about will one day die, which is less cheering). But it was one of those days when I felt totally autistic and unable to communicate effectively with people or do the right thing, no matter how hard I tried. It felt like I’m an alien who just beamed down from another planet and I haven’t done my research on humans properly, like Ford Prefect in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Except he functioned a lot better than I did. (Someone should create The Autistic’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

I also discovered that either the GP or the pharmacy has locked themselves into a situation of getting my meds after I’ve run out of clomipramine, so I have to skip a morning dose as I can’t get them until later. I need to sort this out, but won’t be able to do so next week because of Yom Tov. Also, it will involve talking to people, which I hate. I feel maybe I should have spoken to them about it yesterday or today, but I went into rigid autistic ‘This is awful and I can’t sort it out’ mode, and also socially anxious mode and now it’s too late because of Yom Kippur.

I slept for a long time last night and woke feeling OK, albeit later than I wanted, but then discovered the sports drinks I bought to help me prepare for fasting on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, tonight and tomorrow) don’t have the electrolytes I need. They’re just fizzy drinks. After breakfast, I managed to go out and get some actual sports drinks with electrolytes, but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and unready for a day of intense soul-searching and repentance, not to mention fasting (which makes me ill, hence the electrolyte drinks to try to prepare). I feel I could cope with the autumn festival cycle if it was spread out a bit more. And also if I wasn’t autistic, which is something I probably shouldn’t say. And, yes, I would probably cope with life as a whole a lot better if I wasn’t autistic. I shouldn’t say this as in the autistic community we’re supposed to be #actuallyautistic and proud. I don’t feel like that and worry that to do so would involve living a life that’s incompatible with my religious values, one way or another.

I haven’t been accepted to many of the Facebook groups I tried to join. I think I haven’t really got the hang of FB. It still seems very user-unfriendly and off-putting.

I wish E was here.

I feel I should do some Torah study or something religious, but I’m actually going to shower and then watch Monty Python and try to cheer myself up before the most intense day of the religious calendar (which is also supposed to be the happiest day, because we get forgiven, but it’s not always easy to tune into that).

Quotidian Piety

I struggled today at work again. There was actually a reasonable amount of work for me to do; I didn’t have to do the paper-sorting (which isn’t make-work, but also isn’t a priority if there are other things going on). However, I felt like I was struggling and making mistakes again. I was going to go to the bank as it’s the end of the month. In the afternoon, J gave me a new task to do. I spent a while on it, then realised I needed to go to the bank if I wanted to be back by the end of the day. That in turn meant I needed to close off the banking. So I rushed through the new task and then didn’t finish it when I realised I was making mistakes, and I rushed to close off the banking. I had made a mistake on the banking spreadsheet too which took a while to find. I just hope I didn’t make a mistake paying in the cheques. I’ve done that before. I’ve put the wrong number on the paying-in slip and the bank queried it.

I found the bank trip difficult too. The crowds in London, the noise, the omnipresent video screens… it was just autistic overload for me. When I got back, J said I could finish for the day (not because of the overload, but because it was the end of the day), but I felt overwhelmed and sat in the Beit Midrash upstairs for a bit (it was quiet, and I turned off most of the lights, but the security guard turned them back on and told me to leave them on. I didn’t realise they were supposed to be on), then davened Minchah (said Afternoon Prayers) before coming home. The journey was stressful, with too many people and someone next to me invading my personal space. I would say ‘manspreading,’ but it was a teenage girl! Someone in the carriage had noisy music on their phone too. I felt pretty much physically attacked by all of it.

Then my sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner. It was fun, but I was feeling really burnt out and overloaded. Then I spoke to E (we Skype every day that isn’t Shabbat or Yom Tov), which at least didn’t exhaust me further. I should really go to bed, but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down.

Some autistic people see autism as a “super-power,” like the homo superior of the David Bowie song Oh! You Pretty Things. I don’t really experience it that way. On days like today, it feels like a real disability.

***

Someone on the autism forum said she was a failure because she hasn’t achieved anything except getting married and having children. Unthinkingly, I said that I didn’t think she was a failure, mostly because I would say that to anyone. I do think that getting married is an achievement for someone on the spectrum, and having children is an achievement for anyone (strictly speaking, it should be that raising children well is an achievement). I realised, of course, that I view myself as a failure despite being married (sort of) and having a part-time job. I feel that I do my job badly, and that it’s not full-time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have children or how I would cope with them. It made me think a bit about what I mean by ‘achievement.’

Everyone says that Western society prioritises wealth, fame, status, looks, power – lots of things I think are not worthwhile. Realistically, most people are probably the same. Apparently research shows that most people really care about more spiritual or caring goals, but that they think that no one else does. Even so, it’s true that the media promotes wealth, fame, status etc. But I’m not interested.

I should say that my religion provides meaningful achievements for me, but too often it turns into a list of things I don’t do, or don’t do “enough”: (communal)(meaningful) prayer, Torah (Talmud) study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, charity and so on. At work I sometimes come into contact (albeit usually through looking at old minutes and letters) with extremely rich people who are able to devote significant amounts of money and time to charity and community work. I can’t do this. I feel that my ‘issues’ (autism, social anxiety, disordered sleep etc.) interferes too much with my religious life.

Today I came across the term, ‘quotidian piety,’ coined by historian Elisheva Baumgarten to describe the daily religious practices of Medieval Jews and how they were intertwined to their lives. I wonder if I have ‘quotidian piety.’ I do religious things every day. I wonder if they are ‘achievements’ in this sphere. I wrote the other day about trying to move towards God instead of more concrete, but often unachievable, goals. I guess that is a similar idea in terms of seeing small steps as an achievement.

Lately I have been thinking less about wanting/needing to write and be published as an achievement. This is probably because I’ve been too busy with E’s visa application and Yom Tov to think about it, but I’d like to try to keep it up. I don’t think it’s sensible to think of writing as an achievement or peg to hang my self-esteem on at the moment.

Cometh the Facebook

I struggled to sleep again last night, getting a minor, but irritating, headache pretty much as soon as I got into bed. I got up for a while, texted E a bit (as Rosh Hashanah was now over where she was) and watched Monty Python while I waited for the paracetamol to kick in. Then I overslept this morning, having one of those dreams where an alarm is sounding and I can’t work out how to turn it off, which turned out to have been my alarm clock sounding in the real world.

I finished Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World at last on the way in to work. I did have one or two thoughts on it, but I don’t  have time to share them now.

At work I had little to do other than the ongoing sorting of old papers. I’m scared to throw them away, as so many seem to be legal and I don’t know what’s still relevant. I need to ask J. I worry a bit that I threw away too many papers when I began this task; now I worry I’m keeping too many. There’s also a lot of papers belonging to the shul (synagogue) we inhabit and I don’t know if J wants to offer them to the shul. Some might refer to joint projects; again, I need to ask J.

J was working from home today, so the office was empty and I felt more than a little lonely, even though we don’t usually speak that much. Today was a minor Jewish fast day (the Fast of Gedaliah, another fast that has a personal connection to me, but not one I want to write about here). I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts because fasting on lithium is dangerous. I feel bad about this, but also glad, as I fast badly and get headaches and nausea (I’m not looking forward to Yom Kippur next week). On fast days, I usually go out of the shul to eat my lunch, as I feel guilty about eating in a shul on a fast day, but my hands are quite badly chapped, painful and bleeding, so I didn’t really want to sit in the cold and wind. Particularly as J was not in the office, I decided to eat indoors and hope no one would come in. Then the non-Jewish security guard came in with the post.

***

I forgot to mention a couple of things from my trips to shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New  Year). One was hearing the Prayer for the King, instead of the Queen, and finding that strange. I wonder how long it will take for that to seem normal?

The other was reading the extra-long version of the Atah Kadosh prayer in the Amidah that we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a prayer which is normally about two lines, but gets expanded to nearly two pages on these days. Something I hadn’t really paid attention to before is the way it speaks about the utopian future and in amongst ideas about joy for the righteous and the pride of the Davidic dynasty is a a line about granting “confidence to speak into all who long for You” (translation from Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Machzor; the literal translation is more like “an opening of the mouth”) and then a few lines later, “injustice will have nothing more to say” (from Rabbi Sacks again, the literal translation is more like “injustice will shut its mouth”). The idea that this world is a world where people are silent who should speak, and people speak who should be silent, and that the Messianic era will be the reverse captured my imagination, although I’m not sure where I’m going with it at the moment.

***

I joined Facebook yesterday. So far, my fears that I would spend too much time on there have been misplaced, as I found it profoundly user-unfriendly, counter-intuitive and somewhat overwhelming. I’m not quite sure why I think that, but it feels like you can do a lot more on it than you could when I was first on it, a decade ago, but also that there’s so much you can do now that it feels totally overwhelming. Is that just me being autistic? I feel like a lot of the world is overwhelming to me these days, in terms of sensory things and the speed of life and the number of possibilities available as much as anxiety about specific things, and it feels related to my autism even if I’m not always sure how.

I’ve been struggling to find friends and family members on Facebook. FB can’t access the webmail portal I use for email, so it’s not suggesting people to me based on that, which is just as well, as I never delete old email addresses, so it would be suggesting a lot of people I have no desire to run into again. I did find E, and connected our pages to say we’re married (which we sort of are and sort of aren’t, but if I put “It’s complicated,” people would really get the wrong idea) and also my sister, my oldest friend and, surprisingly (as she turned up on the list of people I might know before I’d added any other family), one of my cousins (the neurodivergent one with mental health issues that I’ve become a bit closer to in recent years because I feel I know what she’s going through more than the rest of the family). I haven’t found my Mum yet and I’m not sure whether to hunt for other friends. I don’t know if I want to know their political thoughts, to be honest. My Dad isn’t on FB.

I joined/applied to join a couple of Jewish autism groups as well as the Orthodox Conundrum discussion group. I noticed that the person who convinced me (not deliberately) that I was a lesser Orthodox Jew because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) is an active participant in the latter. I’m not sure what I feel about that.

I put my time at Oxford on my profile, but not the university where I did my MA because it’s a rubbish university and (a) I’d rather forget my time there, which led to very little that was good and (b) it’s such a bad university I worry it would actually discourage people from using my professional services, if/when I try to set up as a proof-reader and/or copy editor. But I’m open to changing my mind about this. I did put my secondary school on there, which might also have been a mistake, if I get friended by people who bullied me, or who I’m just not interested in reconnecting with (which is probably most of them, to be honest).

***

On my way to work this morning, I saw four boxes of books outside the charity shop, and sighed. The charity shops all have signs asking people not to leave donations outside, because (a) they get stolen and (b) they’re not allowed to use stuff dumped outside because of some kind of contamination fears. I’m not entirely sure what contamination they’re afraid of (this goes back pre-COVID), but all the different charity shops have these signs, so I assume it’s some kind of real fear. And yet people continue to leave donations outside. When its bags of clothes I don’t worry so much (although I probably should, given that people need them), but the thought of four boxes of books ending up in landfill saddened me all day.

The reality is that a lot of charity shop book donations end up in landfill anyway, as lots of books don’t sell and the shops periodically remove old stock to make way for new, but this seems even worse. Although now I’ve sort of convinced myself to buy that copy of short stories by Shalom Aleichem for £1 just to save it!!!

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

I was very exhausted yesterday, and had suddenly realised it was closer to Shabbat than I thought, but I managed to speak to E briefly before Shabbat started in the UK. We’re hoping to have a longer conversation tomorrow, but I’m worried about how I’ll manage it if there’s a lot to do for Yom Tov (festival). But if I can’t, we’ll have barely spoken for a week, from our last long call on Wednesday evening until this coming Wednesday evening, because of Yom Tov. And this pattern will repeat for three out of the next four weeks. Being long-distance is hard, at Yom Tov doubly so, and that’s not even counting the stress of doing Yom Tov without each other.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) after this. I was just too wiped out and feeling physically ill from exhaustion. I did daven (pray) at home, without much energy or enthusiasm. I did some Torah study after dinner, which may have been a mistake, I’m not sure. I just want to finish some of the books I’m reading (see below).

I had weird dreams last night, including my least-favourite ex-boss (the one who basically told me that I wasn’t as good at my job as she expected and that she didn’t really have confidence in me) refusing to acknowledge my existence. Also something I can’t really remember about crocodiles. I ended up sleeping after lunch, too. I didn’t really want to, as I knew it would just mess my sleep pattern up even more, but I struggled through lunch with my parents and then basically went to autistic shutdown mode, curled up in the foetal position in bed with my eyes shut. Inevitably, I eventually fell asleep, but I think it was more about trying to reboot myself after a couple of hours of listening to my parents talk than actually needing sleep. Then I went back to bed briefly in the early evening, but didn’t sleep. I didn’t go to the shiva (house of mourning) for my parents’ friends’ son. I felt too burnt out. It was probably just as well, as it was very busy. I will try to email them tomorrow.

It’s hard to unpick the autism, social anxiety and sleep disorder from each other to work out what is really keeping me away from shul. There may also be an element of SAD now to make things even more difficult, which hopefully won’t turn into full depression. It’s hard to know where to start. So many people on the autism forum also struggle with exhaustion and fatigue. None of us really know how to cope. The medical community seems baffled or perhaps uninterested.

(By coincidence, someone just shared this story about autistic fatigue on the autism group.)

I worry what it will be like when E and I are married. Will it be easier living with someone more on my wavelength and autism-friendly? Will I be able to work more? Will that make me more tired? (I assume so.) Will we be able to have kids? How will I cope with that? Kids are not autism-friendly, even/especially autistic kids (autistic kids are a possibility given how much neurodiversity (diagnosed and undiagnosed) that there seems to be in both E and my families).

Somewhat related, I feel that this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, I should work on forgiving myself. It just feels wrong even writing this, but I have beaten myself up so much over the years for things that were not within my control to change completely, or at all: depression, social anxiety, OCD, autism, alexithymia, exhaustion and sleep-disruption. (Also: being a heterosexual male with a normal sex drive, trying to be celibate, but that’s a whole other post.)

I don’t know how much I’m going to get to shul over the coming Yom Tovim (festivals), if I’m going to hear the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah, and it’s tempting to beat myself up about it in advance. I don’t think that will achieve much, but it’s easy to feel I don’t deserve forgiveness, that if I just pressure myself harder to have more energy, better sleep, a more positive mindset (etc.) that I need to study more Torah and fulfil more mitzvot (commandments), that will somehow happen. Even though it hasn’t worked for decades.

I feel someone should write a Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent, to try to set out ways of living Jewishly with these issues and how they affect halakhic (Jewish legal) observance (the Shulchan Aruch is the primary Jewish code of law). In Israel, a rabbi has set up some kind of institute to teach more rabbis how to handle halakhic questions regarding people with mental illness. This is positive, but I would like someone to do it for the neurodivergent too. Unfortunately, Orthodox Judaism tends to lag ten years or so behind the secular West regarding social issues and we are only just beginning to deal with mental health, so we probably won’t catch up to neurodivergence for another ten years.

***

On the subject of beating myself up, I felt recently that I hadn’t finished any books for a while and was upset about that. Actually, it’s not that long since I finished A Guide for the Perplexed and Faith Without Fear (is it really less than a month since I was in New York and getting married?), but even setting them aside, I realised that I’ve been reading really big books lately. I’m on page 623 (of 712 pages of main text) of The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, page 427 (of 712 or so pages) of The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who and page 491 (of 528) of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World. These are mostly heavy-going books (not the Doctor Who one, except inasmuch as I get annoyed with some of the views expressed in it, particularly hatred for late seventies Who) and I’m finally getting near the end of most of them. It’s been a long journey through them, but I would have read several novels or shorter religious works in the same time (I did read some, actually), so I should probably beat myself up less about that. I do definitely want to tear through some light novels soon, though.

***

Shana tova tikatev vetichatem! May you be written and sealed for a good new year!

Too Much

I’m feeling quite upset today. I woke from an distressing dream and was lying in bed digesting it when my Mum came into my room, visibly upset. I knew immediately that her friends’ son had died of cancer (the one who I mentioned a week or two ago as receiving palliative care). The funeral is today, but my parents couldn’t go, as Mum was having a medical procedure and Dad had to drive her home (she’s OK, it was all clear). I will probably go with them to the shiva (house of mourning) on Saturday night as they are close family friends I’ve known since childhood, even though I know it might be crowded, overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.

It made me think about the fear of God, which I’ve been thinking about lately anyway. This is not fear of punishment, which is seen in Judaism as a much lower and less effective and important motivator. People describe the fear, or better, the awe, of God as being like the awe a person experiences in seeing the ocean or the mountains, and I think that’s part of it, but lately I think it’s more about the realisation that God is so essentially, ontologically (in the nature of His Being) different to human beings, that His Mind operates on a scale and in a way that we can’t comprehend, that He can make decisions of who should live and who should die for reasons that we can’t begin to understand. If a human being tried to do this, he would be a terrible dictator, but God is essentially different to us such, that, as the prophet Yishayah (Isaiah) says, “For My plans are not your plans, nor are My ways your ways, —declares the LORD. But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and My plans above your plans.” (Yishayah 55.8-9, translation from Sefaria.org, capitalisation altered slightly). It is the awe of encountering an intelligence totally different from our own, with a different morality that comes from being different and beyond us. Admittedly I’ve seen no sources that confirm this, but it seems true to me.

Of course, we are supposed to go beyond this understanding to the love of God, which is even greater.

***

I struggled to get going in the afternoon. I think I was too upset about my parents’ friends’ son. I didn’t even know him that well, but I guess I feel I could have died (from suicide) at various points in my twenties and thirties and left my parents like his parents. I would never have met E or made the plans we’re making to try to turn my life around. It’s just so sad. Mum always thought I could be friends with him, but I didn’t speak to him much, mainly from social anxiety and autistic communication issues. I tend to get on better with people older than me than younger than me anyway.

I did a few things in the afternoon: a little Torah study, a quick walk to the shops, and I polished my thoughts about the death of the Queen from a Jewish perspective and submitted them to a Jewish website, although I suspect it’s probably too late for consideration now. I started dusting my room, but didn’t get very far.

I did feel there was a lot I didn’t do. My To Do list seems to grow much faster than I can actually do tasks and tick them off at the moment, particularly as so many tasks are multifaceted and require multiple actions. I also don’t think I’ll get to listen to all the LSJS shiurim (religious classes) from Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, as I have three left still.

E tried to submit our information and documents for the visa application, but the website was broken and not loading a necessary drop-down menu properly. I tried to do it on my computer, but had the same problem. There was no help button. She tried using the contact form, but it’s meant for feedback, not technical help. She sent them a message on Twitter. We’re waiting for a response. Suggestions welcome.

After my walk, I felt light-headed. I can never work out if this is due to lack of food, lack of salt or low blood pressure. I ate some crackers with butter to try to deal with food and salt, but it was extra calories close to dinnertime. My diet is stuck in an awkward place of restricting some food, but probably not enough, and weight loss and willingness not to eat junk have tailed off. When I say not to eat junk, I don’t even mean excessively. It only takes one bad day to get me thinking, “Oh, I had a bad day. I deserve one biscuit OR one piece of chocolate as a reward before bed,” and then it’s hard not to do it again the next night. Even if I resist, it’s started a “Bad day = chocolate” precedent. Today certainly feels like a junk food day. Knowing my weight gain is mostly caused by clomipramine doesn’t make things any easier.

Overall, I feel overwhelmed again, and anxious. Anxiety always feels worse on dark autumn/winter evenings, for some reason. There’s just so much to do (admittedly reading about Kristallnacht in The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939, was probably a bad move). I worry about falling depressed again at this time of year; most of my episodes started in the autumn or early winter. I feel unprepared for work tomorrow, but — bed!

Overwhelmed

I wrote the following long post on the autism forum. I’m too exhausted to write a long forum post and a long blog post, so I’m just going to copy and paste. Much of this is probably familiar to regular readers, but it’s a handy summary of how I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks and why things are probably not going to get any better any time soon.

I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed lately. The background is that at the end of August, I went to New York for my civil wedding (my wife is from the USA). After one day of married life, I had to come back to the UK alone, so that she can apply for a spouse visa to come to the UK. She can’t come to the UK until she gets that. For religious reasons, we won’t live together until we have a second, religious, wedding (in the UK, hopefully early next year). At the moment, I’m still living with my parents, with my wife on another continent for the foreseeable future, which I guess would be difficult even for an NT. I’m certainly finding it very hard.

Then, when I got home from the US I had a lot of disruption: extended family staying with us, then my parents going away, which left me in the house by myself, which was good in some ways, but stressful in others. And now I’m a few days away from the autumn Jewish festival season (I’m an Orthodox Jew) which, again, is stressful even for Jewish NTs without social anxiety (which I have too) who don’t care about work/schedule disruption, having to go to crowded religious events, peopling and so on. Also, despite being a festival season, parts are quite sombre and focused on personal growth, which, with my low self-esteem, I tend to apply to myself as guilt and shame rather than anything healthier

 So, there is a lot going on, and three weeks on, I feel I haven’t processed my wedding yet; but then eighteen months on from my Asperger’s diagnosis, I feel increasingly I haven’t fully processed that either. In terms of the Kubler-Ross model for dealing with grief (my grief over the NT life I won’t have), I worry I’m stuck on “bargaining” for the NT life I thought I was going to get, or the next best thing (“If only I wasn’t autistic… If only I was diagnosed younger… If only I was good with numbers or could get a job related to my special interests…”). I’m not proud of this, I’d like to see the positives in my diagnosis, but I feel I missed all the useful autistic skills and just got some relatively mild sensory issues, some worse executive functioning issues, and a lot of social/inter-personal difficulties that I disguise with masking so no one can see how desperate I feel so much of the time, how much I’m just pretending that I’m doing OK in social situations.

I’m rejoicing to be getting married to the most supportive woman in the world, but I worry about how we will make ends meet or cope with practical things (she has her own “issues” too, including possible ASD that we aren’t sure whether to investigate further). I don’t want to let her down, even though she’s not pressuring me. I have a job, two days a week. It frustrates me, as I’m over-qualified for it, but still constantly make stupid mistakes. I’m not sure if that’s because of ASD or (ahem) boredom and incompetence on my part. It’s humbling to feel like I’m failing all the time, but also to feel that I can’t do anything better at the moment. Once we’ve made progress with the immigration issues, I’d like to try to get some supplementary work as a proof-reader and maybe a copy-editor, working from home. I have most of the skills, but getting clients is scary. Proof-reading is potentially an autistic skill, but networking and marketing myself is definitely an NT skill.

Plus, I want so much to be more integrated into the Orthodox Jewish community that I’m on the fringes of. I’ve been better-integrated at times in the past, but a lot of other things in my life had to be in the right place for that to happen, and right now they aren’t. Not only did COVID push me away from communal involvement, but it has strengthened my social anxiety, and the type of religious involvement (going to synagogue, going to religious classes (not on Zoom)) I could cope with at least some of the time a few years ago is currently a real effort, and often too much for me. The thought of actually making more friends in the community seems terrifying and impossible.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Jewish community tends to lag somewhat behind the rest of the Western world on social issues. I feel we’re currently having the conversations about mental health that the wider Western world was having ten years ago; neurodiversity is going to take another ten years to seriously get on people’s radar. Possibly I’m being overly-pessimistic here. I hope so.

It just all seems too much stuff happening at once and I don’t really know what to do except try to hold on. I’m also on a break from therapy for a couple of months various reasons, which has not come at a good time, as everything feels so huge and overwhelming and I really need to talk to someone dispassionate. Ridiculously, given how long this is, there is more I could say, but I will stop here for now. Thanks for reading!

(End of autism forum post.)

Option B

I woke up late. I didn’t feel bad, but I was in one of those moods where I felt disinclined to do anything. I suppose this is a normal part of the human condition, but I always feel I should be super-motivated to do things, especially as I have so much on my To Do list, particularly with Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) a week away.

I watched little snippets of the Queen’s funeral. I didn’t watch the ceremony. I thought there might be halakhic problems with watching a church service (although the Chief Rabbi was there), but also the little bits I saw produced a feeling of disconnection. It reminded me of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s understanding of different religions as different covenantal communities with different ways of understanding the Divine, and that beyond a certain point those experiences are untranslatable. I did watch bits of the journey of the coffin to Windsor Castle. It didn’t move me as much as the last few days did. The pageantry was interesting to watch, but I didn’t find it particularly moving. I suppose I react more to the raw emotion of the public mourning than to pomp and pageantry.

I listened to another one of the LSJS shiurim (religious classes) from yesterday, by Dr Tanya White. This one caught my attention by talking about our lives being bedieved, or, as Dr White paraphrased it, “Option B.” This caught my attention because lately I’ve thought about my life as bedieved (even used that term) inasmuch as I feel I should “ideally” be high-achieving in my career (or at least have something I could describe as a career, or even a job I feel I do well rather than making so many mistakes); that I should be davening (praying) more, and with a minyan (community), and doing longer and more “serious” Torah study (whatever that might mean); and that I should be integrated to the frum (religious Jewish) community and that I should even be giving back to it somehow (probably involving leading prayer services or giving shiurim). I also feel I need to rely on many leniencies in my religious life, particularly for autism and mental illness. I used to think that I would eventually “graduate” to a more stringent religious lifestyle, but that seems unlikely to happen now, and I’m not sure I would want it any more, or be able to cope with it. I suppose I thought I would eventually graduate to a better career and a greater level of religious community involvement at some stage. Maybe those things will still happen. I did have a greater level of religious community involvement a number of years ago, but in a community where I grew up and felt more comfortable and at home than I do currently.

Anyway, the idea in the shiur was that the Option B existence is the norm for humanity. Dr White said that God never explains the suffering of the righteous in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) because it is unnecessary for us to understand it in this world. Our job is to make the world better, not to understand it (Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl wrote about this too). Searching for this understanding was in fact the sin of Adam and Chava (Eve), that they wanted to be like God, understanding good and evil (i.e. why they happen). This sin pushed mankind to a reality where hard work and patience become necessary as opposed to the immediacy of Eden, as well as the need to cultivate an inner self distinct from external appearances.

She also spoke of Kayin (Cain) as wanting to know why his sacrifice was rejected when God instead presented him with a choice of making his situation better or being drawn to negativity. This unfortunately reminded me of my thinking about all my peers who are doing better than me in life.

Tying into this somewhat, I felt intermittently overwhelmed today.  I have a lot going on at the moment and I’m not sure what the immediate triggers were. I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about the forthcoming festivals and my attempt/failure to integrate into the frum community. Judaism is a social-based “religion,” in fact it does not really see itself as a religion at all, but the attempt of a nation to build a model society. The question for me is how then can I integrate into it with a social communication disorder that impairs my interactions with other people and social anxiety that pushes me away from social settings?

Beyond this is the big question on my mind at the moment, and really since I got my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, is what am I supposed to do with it? How does it relate to the religious meaning of my life? Is it just an extra obstacle to overcome (or fail to overcome) or is there something more to it? I guess related to this is the question of self-esteem and how much I should value my achievements in life, particularly religious ones, whether I should see them as extra valuable because of the extra effort involved or less valuable because of the lower outcomes compared with other people such as my peers at school and Oxford. Put like that, it seems I should value them more, but it’s hard to quantify them and say, “Oh, I go to shul once or twice a week, but that’s the equivalent of going (say) four or five times a week as I’m battling with social anxiety, autistic exhaustion and autistic sensory overload from the chazan’s shouting.”

It doesn’t help that I’m going a long time without therapy. First I was in New York, now my therapist is away, and then October will be full of Yom Tovim and working on other days than my usual ones to catch up for them, so it’s doubtful that we will be able to have any sessions (unless perhaps she can do some on a Friday morning, but I don’t think she works on Fridays).

I feel this post hasn’t really expressed what I was trying to say, but it’s nearly 11.00pm and I have work tomorrow, so I need to post it now.

Autism and Becoming Myself

I had the usual I’ve slept too much during the day sleep problems last night, plus when I finally did fall asleep, I woke up after an hour or two with a headache (migraine? It was localised intensely over one eye, but I’ve had more general headaches that have felt worse). Inevitably, I slept late this morning.

The main thing I did was go to two of the six online shiurim (religious classes) run today by the London School of Jewish Studies in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) starting next year. One was Rabbi Sam Lebens talking about God changing history so that penitents never sinned. This is interesting, but I was familiar with his argument from his book The Principles of Judaism and I’m not convinced that it’s really a necessary or credible hypothesis, either from Jewish religious texts or from logic. I’m more convinced by the argument he rejected, that repentance changes the meaning and consequences of our misdeeds, but that we still did those misdeeds.

The other shiur was more helpful for me. This was Rabbi Joseph Dweck talking about teshuvah (repentance) as a process of self-discovery. This is the type of existential/personal growth-focused shiur I like.

He quoted Rav Kook on teshuvah (translated as response or return) being a return to the self, leading to the return to God. Rabbi Dweck spoke about God’s first word in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) being “Yehi” “Be” (a literal translation of what is usually rendered “Let there be [light]”). God in Tanakh does not mechanically create the world out of parts (he didn’t say this, but this is essentially what happens in a lot of pagan creation myths), He wills it into being as itself. God’s fundamental charge to us and to the universe is simply to be ourselves. Similarly, Avraham (Abraham) is commanded to “Go for yourself” i.e.  become an individual for yourself.

He said we should spend our life working on becoming our ideal self or fullest potential and that to call ourselves stupid, ugly, useless (etc.) is to blaspheme against God Who created us. Becoming ourselves is thus the first step to returning to God through the integration of our parts.

This was good to hear in terms of my continuing struggle to come to terms with my autism and how that impacts on my religious life, particularly regarding shul (synagogue) attendance (admittedly due to the intersection of autism with social anxiety and disordered sleep) and my general feelings of being a failure at work, Judaism and life in general. Quite how I will assimilate the ideas and what I will do with them remains to be seen. I’ve heard similar messages before without shifting my low self-esteem, even before autism diagnosis. I hope that one day I will hear a critical mass of such teachings and something will shift inside me. Beyond that, I think I really need some practical way of internalising this message. Any ideas would be welcome (affirmations tend not to work well for me).

Other than that, I went for a walk and finished scanning documents to go to the Home Office for E’s visa application. E put together a cute PowerPoint presentation of photos of us and screenshots of our emails and texts to prove the legitimacy of our relationship to the immigration bureaucrats.  I briefly checked out a couple more autism forums to see if there’s one that suits me more than the one I’m currently on, but I don’t think there is, although it doesn’t help that I can’t really articulate what I’m looking for, just that I haven’t seen it yet. I did come across a Jewish autistic Facebook group, which I will check out when I rejoin Facebook, although it looks like it only has twenty-nine members. It has a sibling group for people with “‘lived experience’ of autism”, which I guess means family of autistic people as well, which is somewhat larger with over two hundred members, but still fairly small. They were both created this year, so may grow over time.

Shabbat and Lying-in-State

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal Shabbat. In other words, I’m still struggling with sleep and social anxiety around shul (synagogue). I did go to shul on Friday night. I’ve decided the chazzan (cantor), who is notorious for SHOUTING when he sings during the service, is not terribly autism-friendly. I don’t like being shouted out, particularly not in what is supposed to be music. It’s unlikely that I will be going to this shul after E and I get married, except when we stay with my parents, so it’s not a huge problem, but it’s irritating for now.

On the way home, one of my father’s acquaintances (I’ll call him Fred) saw us and waited for us to catch up with him. He wished me mazal tov on my civil wedding and said his daughter lives in New York. After we got home, Dad said to me, “Did you not want to talk to Fred?” I had no idea what he meant. Apparently, Fred had been standing on my Dad’s right and after he spoke to me, I moved away from him and walked on my Dad’s left. I should also have known that his comment about his daughter was an opening conversational gambit inviting discussion of New York. I realised none of this until it was pointed out to me, and I doubt I would really notice in the future. This is what happens operating on a mixture of autism and social anxiety. I hope Fred was not offended.

Otherwise Shabbat was the usual mix of eating, davening (praying) and Torah study. Because Mum and Dad were away this week and didn’t want to cook on Friday, we ordered food from a kosher restaurant. It was delivered on Friday morning and we just heated it on our hot plate for Shabbat. It was very nice, but the portions were incredibly large. We had intended to eat it on Friday night only, but it lasted for Shabbat lunch too.

Despite being ‘leftovers,’ lunch was large enough that I didn’t even try not to sleep it off afterwards. I slept for about three hours, with disturbing dreams (I had different disturbing dreams last night too). Part of the problem was waking with bright light in my eyes from the window as I didn’t draw the curtains, which just makes me scrunch up my eyes and eventually fall asleep again. (It also gives me dreams where I experience uncomfortably bright light in my eyes.) But when I finally woke up properly, it felt like I had been buried alive and was climbing out of a grave, soil in my throat choking me and felt like I was panting for breath when I finally awoke, which I suppose may be more evidence of sleep/breathing issues.

***

I read more of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, the commentary on Eichah (Lamentations), which I’ve been reading since around the Fast of Av nearly two months ago. For a short book of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), it’s a very long commentary. I just passed page 400, but I still have more than a hundred pages to go. To be honest, part of me is tempted to stop for a break, and I probably will a bit this week, as I will want to listen to the shiurim (religious classes) at the London School of Jewish Studies’ study day tomorrow, listening to some live tomorrow and to the recording of others during the next week or two.  However, I worry that if I stop for too long, it will be impossible to start again, as it’s pretty bleak and heavy-going, although thorough and enlightening. I know Eichah better than many books of Nakh (the post-Mosaic Bible books) because it’s read every year on the  Fast of Av, but the book has made me appreciate it as a much more complex and literary text than I thought.

***

Other book-related news: after my post here the other week about the book Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide from the 1990s, I found a copy going for £1.99 on eBay. On a whim, I bid for it, not really expecting to get it, as I don’t think I’ve ever won an eBay auction before, or, if I have, only once. However, no one else even bid, so I got it for £5.34 including postage, which was pretty good when other copies on the site seem to be asking for something in the region of £40 (although this may be why those copies aren’t selling). Of course, it will probably disappoint my memories, but it’s good nostalgia. I really must stop buying books though, even ones I want that are going cheap.

***

I watched some of the Queen’s lying-in-state on TV on BBC Parliament after Shabbat. My parents put it on after Shabbat. I think they’ve been watching it for days. I haven’t, and I only really watched because I was in the room, but I did stick around for the changing of the guard, which was interesting to watch. My Dad is right that no one does this kind of ceremonial better than the British. Even though I’m not a terribly enthusiastic royalist, I kind of wish I could go there, but I’m not spending twenty-four hours queuing.

A lot of people were crossing themselves in front of the Queen’s coffin too. I know I got negative commentary about this when I said it before, but I find that religion has been routed from the public sphere so completely in this country that any kind of display of religion [1] seems counter-cultural, and reassuring to members of other religious minorities too small even to gain this level of recognition (e.g. Orthodox Jews like me). I remember Rabbi Lord Sacks discussing this on a podcast with Anglican priest Giles Fraser, that as a Jew he was grateful for the Church of England for keeping some kind of religion vaguely on the public radar in an otherwise very secular country. (I suspect some of my American readers, even the non-religious ones, don’t realise just how secular the UK generally is, established church notwithstanding.)

There probably is a lot to say about the intersection of religion and culture in ceremonial like this, the way this would feel inherently religious even without the large crucifix at the Queen’s head and other religious iconography, the way that the secular world simply does not seem to be able to handle something as weighty as the finality of death in this way. This is paradoxical, as atheists and agnostics ought to see death as more final than religious believers who believe in an afterlife, but somehow that belief adds to the finality for the religious, while the atheists avoid it with “celebrations of life.” But celebrating inherently subverts the seriousness of death, which is not celebratory.

Even beyond death, religion has a sense of the serious that is lacking in our constantly-moving, consumerist world. In Westminster Hall, people stand still or move slowly, which seems bizarre. I think of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going (Larkin was not at all religious), “A serious house on serious earth it is”.

Moreover, the guards in uniforms with faces averted display the kind of selfless (or self-less) absorption in ritual, process and community that the Western world has abandoned in its constant quest for individual self-expression and independence. It’s a kind of selflessness and communal identification that I want so much to attain in my own religious practise and life, but which I self-sabotage and pull away from at the same time, too independent, too afraid of losing myself, to fully throw myself in, or perhaps just too autistic, socially inept and socially anxious to actually achieve it.

[1] Actual religion not quasi-religious secular displays of emotion like clapping for the NHS during the lockdown or kneeling during the national anthem at sports matches to express inchoate anti-racism.

Immigration Woes, Religious Growth on the Autism Spectrum and Performative Judaism

Most of today was spent scanning documents for E’s visa application and sending them to her. I didn’t have much time for anything else, although I cleaned the kitchen a bit as we haven’t got a cleaner coming this week.

I phoned the building society to try to get a printout of my savings account statement for the last year. I couldn’t get it to show as a pdf through online banking and a screen shot wasn’t good enough for the Home Office (for E’s visa). The woman I spoke to said that my account was for a book, not individual statements. This sent me into autistic/socially anxious panic, as I was pretty sure I didn’t have an account book, and I hung up.  I decided it would be easier to sort out in person, so I walked to the building society, wearing my invisible disability lanyard (just in case), which may have helped.  They said they would print my statement, but first one cashier and then the other had printer problems.  I thought I would have to come back another day or go to another branch (which would also have to be another day), but at the last moment they managed to print what I wanted.

I later discovered the printout only has the last four digits of my account number, which I suppose is for security reasons. I hope the Home Office still accept it. E and I are both terrified concerning every little detail that is not 100% the way they want or which we just had to work out on our own initiative. We are sure they will use this to refuse the visa application. E says what if the Home Office website is like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and we need the Immigration Talmud to understand it properly because its literal meaning is deceptive? It’s a frightening thought. Likewise concerning the problems I had with the benefits I was mistakenly paid, which the Home Office will see from the bank statements they are making me submit. I wrote a whole piece for them explaining what happened and that it was not my fault, but we’re still terrified that the Home Office will think I’m some kind of benefits fraudster and assume that E is the same and refuse her visa. I hate bureaucracy.

Then I came home and tried to phone to confirm the psychiatrist appointment I’ve been sent. Once again, the call went to the answerphone even though the office was supposed to be open. I got annoyed about this, particularly as I wasn’t sure that it’s the right number to call, although the only other phone numbers on the letter were the crisis team and the “smoking cessation” line (?!), and it certainly isn’t either of those. I worried they would cancel my appointment because I haven’t confirmed on a number they haven’t given me. The answerphone gave another number, so I called that, only to be told that I should have phoned the first number! I said I left a message on the answerphone and the receptionist said that would be fine, but who knows with the NHS? I would say I need the NHS Talmud too, but I suspect it exists as an oral tradition only.

There was a Mussar (Jewish ethical development movement) yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) in the early twentieth century where students were sent to do stupid tasks, such as going into a hardware shop and asking for milk, so that people would get annoyed with them, in the process teaching them that self-esteem comes from within, not from other people.  I feel that, with autism and social anxiety, most of my social interactions that aren’t with a small, select group of people feel like that. It hasn’t done much for my self-esteem, though.

I feel I haven’t really adapted to post-depression/burnout life or to ‘normal’ life with autism, a suspected sleep disorder and social anxiety. In particular, I ignored my social anxiety in the past as it seemed insignificant compared to my depression and OCD, but now they’re under control, it feels like a real impediment. I did CBT for it on the NHS, but I only had ten sessions and didn’t push myself hard enough or sustain the effort afterwards. Then COVID came along and knocked back what progress I had made.

I wonder what I should be doing right now in terms of growth i.e. dealing with autism and social anxiety and also growing as a person and growing religiously (this being the time of year when we think about these things in the Jewish world). I just got married and usually someone who just got married would be told to focus on that relationship for the first year, but it looks like half or more of our first year will be spent on different continents. More generally, I don’t know enough autistic or socially anxious adults in the Orthodox community (with or without significant sleep and energy issues) to try to gauge what is typical or even possible behaviour from someone in my situation.

In particular, trying to assess my relationship with God, as one Jewish site suggested, is hard. Being on the spectrum, I find it hard to assess my relationships with people who are actually communicating with me, let alone those who aren’t. I know I have a good relationship with E, but that’s partly because I can judge interactions, like how we resolve disagreements, and partly because she explicitly tells me that she thinks we have a good relationship. I’m sorry, I’m autistic, I find it hard to read these things without being told. With God, I have to intuit how He feels about me with really no evidence at all, and it’s all too easy for that to be distorted by low self-esteem. I’m not really a person who has a “sense” of God’s presence in their life and I find it hard to really know what that would feel like, although I perhaps have felt it at very specific points in my life.

***

On a somewhat related note, I’ve read/listened to some things about Judaism and feminism in the last few days. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I find it interesting that they present Judaism as primarily performative, not contemplative. In other words, Judaism is something you do (study, lead religious services, lein), rather than something you think about or contemplate. Women’s exclusion from Orthodox Judaism is seen as stemming from exclusion from doing certain things and can be rectified by letting them do those things.

Judaism is primarily a performative/action-based religion rather than a contemplative/faith-based religion like Christianity or Buddhism. That has certain advantages (setting aside the issue of gender segregation for the moment), but it arguably does lead to the marginalisation of those in the community who, for whatever reason, can’t do Jewish things (whereas fundamentalist Christianity leads to the marginalisation of those who, for whatever reason, can’t believe Christian things, which is a whole other set of issues). When it comes to feminism, we frame the argument around what women are allowed to do and who is allowing, or not allowing, them to do it, but I’m interested in people who aren’t able to do for pragmatic rather than societal/halakhic reasons and what happens to them. Do they just leave? Or get excluded, or at least demoted to second-class status? I want to start my Facebook group to find out!

There is an idea of meditation in Judaism (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”tzl wrote three books on it, one of which I have), but it’s not very prominent except in the Breslov Hasidic community. (I’ve tried meditating, but struggle with it currently.)

The thing that I keep thinking about in this context is a story I haven’t seen in the original (I saw it paraphrased in Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerksi’s book Let Us Make Man). I think it comes originally from the Jerusalem Talmud. The story is that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who was one of the leading sages of the Talmudic era, was severely ill and all his students came to visit him. They tried to cheer him up by saying what a great Torah teacher he was and he just got more depressed because he knew he was not going to recover enough to teach again. Then Rabbi Akiva said, “Suffering can be precious” (as a way of developing character and earning spiritual reward), which caught his attention because accepting suffering was something he could do in his passive state. I feel that kind of intellectual/contemplative, even passive, approach of “Suffering can be precious,” is generally not discussed in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Rather, people in crisis are pushed to do more, even if that’s not really feasible for them.

Energy Budgets and NHS Budgets

I was exhausted last night and went to bed at 10.30m, slept for nearly ten hours, overslept slightly and woke up with the sense of having woken short of breath several times in the night, but uncertain as to whether this was really the case, or to what extent.

It was good to go back to volunteering after a break of several weeks. I find it’s good to do something social without the actual pressure of socialising. Mostly I just the other volunteers talk and I listen. Everyone wanted to hear about the civil wedding and was excited for E and me. They wanted to see photos and I felt a bit bad that I don’t actually have that many photos of the day on my phone. I didn’t take any (I was too busy, and I can’t take good photos on my phone because of tremor issues), but I have a couple E’s mother took and one or two from the dinner we had with E’s friends and family in the evening, but that’s it. To be honest, the wedding itself took literally one minute. There wasn’t much time to take a photo, although we do have a short video of E jumping up and down excitedly and hugging me when we were told we were married.

I was pretty tired when I got home, even though volunteering doesn’t actually take that long.  I did a few things this afternoon (collected my prescription, collected the parcel a neighbour took in for us yesterday, and cooked dinner, somehow forgetting to add the coriander and so cooking it extra long once I added it in), but I felt I didn’t actually do that much.  It is hard to do energy accounting to balance my activity level with my energy level when I don’t know how much energy things will need, nor is it easy to reduce my desired activity level when I feel so overwhelmed with things to do.

One thing I did do today was a cheshbon nafesh. This literally means “an accounting for the soul,” which sounds very pompous and portentous, but it basically means a self-assessment of how I’ve been over the last (Jewish) year, in advance of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). I won’t go into what I wrote, but it seemed less illuminating than in previous years, but maybe that just means I have a more realistic view of where I am in my life than in previous years.

***

I got a letter offering me an appointment with a psychiatrist, I assume to talk about reducing my medication. It spelt my name wrongly (my first name, the most popular boys’ name in the country for the year I was born). The letter said I needed to phone to confirm the appointment or it would be cancelled, but it didn’t specify the number to call. I called the appointments line number printed on the letterhead, but no one answered. So NHS. I phoned a second time, more than five minutes before 5pm, but it went to the answerphone even though the message said they’re open until 5pm. I left a message saying that I didn’t know if this was the right number and could they phone back to either confirm my confirmation or give me the right number, but I was flustered enough that I forgot to give my number, so had to phone back again.  It is a worryingly Kafkaesque thing: you have to phone to confirm, but we won’t tell you the number and we won’t answer the phone.

Coincidentally, someone on the autism forum was complaining about lack of NHS funding for autism support and mental healthcare in general. I didn’t say anything, but lately I’ve been wondering how much it would cost to fund the NHS to such a level that everyone who used it got good treatment, equivalent to the lowest level (at least) of private healthcare. I don’t know how to calculate this, but I suspect it would be far more costly than any government could ever afford, even without taking into account the fact that some healthcare is potentially limitless in application.

I did a quick back of an envelope calculation with some statistics via the internet (from The Office of National Statistics and health charities).

UK population: ca68,000,000.

Adult population (approximate, as the statistics did not break down easily that way): ca56,000,000.

Approximately one in four people experience a mental health problem each year.

Therefore the adult mentally ill population each year: ca14,000,000.

I’m not sure how much “good enough” therapy costs.  I’ve usually been charged around £30 an hour, but those have been discounted rates as I am on a low income.  Looking online gave anything up to £100 as hourly rates, so I guessed at £50 as an average “normal profit” level (“normal profit” is the economic term for the rate where all costs are covered with no extra profit).

This being the case, one hour of therapy per person in the UK: ca£700,000,000.

Therefore one hour therapy per person per week for one year: ca£36,400,000,000 (£36.4 billion).

Annual NHS annual budget for the next few years is currently predicted in the range of £175,000,000,000p.a. (£175 billion).  (Incidentally, the table shows that, in real terms, the NHS budget has risen a little since the last Labour government, not fallen.)

Therefore funding one weekly therapy session for a year for every person diagnosed with a mental health issue in the UK would take up more than 20% of the entire annual NHS budget – not the mental health budget, the entire budget.  This is clearly not feasible.  I don’t know what the solution is, if there is one. At any rate, it shows why NHS admin is so far below par; it really isn’t a priority in an inherently overloaded system.

(Obviously there are a number of assumptions here that may not be correct, as this was just a quick calculation.  For one thing, not all patients would need a full year of treatment, although others would need more than one session a week. But I just wanted to illustrate my thesis that the NHS is always going to be overloaded; it’s not the fault of this government strategy or that funding cutback.)

Thoughts on an Autumn Shabbat

It seems like it was only a few days ago that we were in the middle of a summer heatwave and now suddenly it’s autumn and wet and cold, or at least colder. I think I experience a rise in my anxiety levels at this time of year, despite no longer being in the academic world; apparently, this is common, although the cause is unknown. In my case, the imminence of the Jewish autumn festivals is probably a part of it, but the longer nights are a part too.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was peaceful, although I still feel somewhat stressed and anxious about the week(s) ahead. I didn’t feel well enough to go to shul (synagogue). I was too exhausted. I slept a lot, as I usually do, and felt bad for not staying up when I got up to go to the toilet at 8am. This is far from the first time this has happened. I’m not sure if I go back to bed because of continuing tiredness, an autistic comfort desire to wrap myself in my duvet and weighted blanket, or, on Shabbat, social anxiety about going to shul if I get up. Possibly all three. It is hard to work on it if I don’t know what causes it — or maybe it’s not. Maybe I have to just tell myself to be strong and stay up. I don’t know how to do that, though, and, as I’ve said before, my shul-based social anxiety has definitely got worse over the last few years because of COVID. I still think lockdown was the right decision, but the hidden costs continue to mount up.

I am also developing a theory that napping is more restful for me than sleeping for a long time. If I do have sleep apnoea, it tends to be worse when lying on one’s back or front. I go to bed sleeping on my side, but I move when I sleep. My hypothesis is that when I nap, I don’t move; only if I’m sleeping for several hours do I move. Hence, short afternoon naps are refreshing, even after having slept for twelve hours (and woken up exhausted), and sleeping for five or six hours before work is not too bad, but sleeping a full night leads to a negative loop of sleeping, turning over, being unable to breathe and waking more tired than I went to bed. As a hypothesis, it probably requires more research, although I’m not sure how at the moment.

Other than that I read quite a bit, Jewish things and The Third Reich in Power, and also Asterix the Gaul when I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet, but was too tired for more Nazis, abusive rabbis, annoying characters being tortured by Islamists or anything else I’ve been reading about lately.

I didn’t really do a lot else other than sleep, read and eat. Just try to stay in the calm of Shabbat, away from wedding bureaucracy, work stress and the death of the Queen. I find myself getting more emotionally involved in the latter than I expected. I used to be a republican, then when I became more conservative (or, more accurately, realised that I was already conservative, and that it’s OK to be a unique kind of conservative that has very little in common with any actual conservative political parties), I developed a sort of abstract constitutional monarchism for coldly intellectual reasons, but none of the emotional attachment to flesh-and-blood royals I see in people on TV and, indeed, in my family (many of whom self-describe as socialists, but also strong monarchists. This is more common in the UK than you might think).

I’ve never really bothered watching royal stuff on TV, whether the Queen’s jubilees or various royal funerals, but I find myself watching now, at least the clips on the news if not the live coverage. Apart from wanting to show respect for the Queen’s immense hard work and dedication to duty, some of it is curiosity watching clips of the late Queen and now the King talking about religion and the Church of England, of which they both were/are head. I know this will seem strange to my American readers (which is most of them), but it’s almost unheard of these days for someone in public life in the UK to talk about God. The data from last year’s census about religion has not been released yet, but it’s expected to show “No religious belief” as the largest single religious descriptor. Most politicians are not religious and have no interest in presenting themselves as such. The few who are religious downplay it e.g. Tony Blair, who is a religious Christian, but whose Press Secretary and Spokesman Alastair Campbell would remind (or reprimand) him, “We don’t do God!” Similarly, Gordon Brown and Theresa May are both the children of clergymen, but rarely speak about religion. It’s really a relief to see traditional Judeo-Christian religion being spoken of on British TV as something other than backward, oppressive and irrational.

The King also seems more human somehow, a pain in his eyes that might be the sudden loss of his mother a year after the death of his father, but seemed to me more than that, a maturity that comes only from having made mistakes and experienced the painful consequences of them, which I suppose I don’t really associate with royals (having to live with the consequences of their actions).

I didn’t mean to write all this! I guess it made an impact on me. What I meant to write about was reaching the conclusion lately that I really have to go back on Facebook and try to see if there are groups for people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community who want to be a part of it, but can’t manage to do so, for whatever reason. Then either to join them if they exist or set one up if they don’t. This seems pretty daunting, as I’m only vaguely aware of how Facebook groups work (they didn’t have them when I was on Facebook a decade ago) and doing social-related stuff isn’t my forte. But I do feel there are people out there looking for support.

There probably is more to say, but it’s long gone midnight, and while I’m not tired (too much daytime sleep), I should probably wind down for the night and watch Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation — atypical and underrated character-based story).

After the Event

I miss E.   I feel this a lot.  To my surprise, living on different continents turned out to be a lot harder now we’re legally married, even though I think of the religious wedding, which we haven’t had yet, as the main wedding, not the civil one last week.  Even if the civil wedding was just a piece of paper, it’s changed the dynamic of the relationship forever.  I’m not sure if this proves or disproves the various rabbis and religious teachers I’ve heard over the years say that marriage is different to living together even if it is just a piece of paper.  It does feel different, but they presumably meant that a religious wedding performed by a rabbi was not just a piece of paper, not a civil one performed the City Clerk of New York.

I struggled at work for other reasons too.  I texted E that “I feel pretty awful, physically as well as emotionally.”  Then I was worried she would panic and texted that I felt, “Not awful awful, but not great, overloaded, exhausted, sleep-deprived, peopled out, nearly burnt out awful.”  Then I stayed late after work to phone my bank and building society to get statements on headed paper to submit to the Home Office for E’s visa.  This was a whole complicated thing that took forty-five minutes, but fortunately for you, I’m too tired to go into it now.

***

I had a slightly awkward goodbye to my aunt and uncle last night.  I was incredibly tired and just wanted to go to bed (I had in fact been getting into bed when I remembered they were leaving very early in the morning and I wouldn’t see them), but they wanted to talk.  That was awkward in itself, but my aunt asked if I was OK hugging.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t manage to express the mixture of religious and autistic reasons why not. She was OK with it, but I still felt guilty as, if I’m OK hugging E, surely I should not observe the rules of shomrei negiah (not touching women I’m not closely related to by blood or marriage – an aunt by marriage isn’t close enough) at all?  But I don’t feel like that, although explaining why is hard.  It’s also hard to separate religious reasons for not touching from autistic reasons, which are just as significant. It doesn’t help that my relationships with so many of my relatives are complex and hard to describe and fitting physical contact into them is even harder.

I actually was late getting up this morning because I thought I heard my uncle and aunt still up and couldn’t face peopling at 6.30am.  Eventually I had to get up for work and discovered they had long gone.

***

JYP said that, “holding yourself to an expectation about work based on school performance from a decade or two ago is not going to help you in any way.”  This is true, but I think my perseverating over my childhood success and current failure is a way of trying to grieve the life I thought I would have and which I do not have due to my autism.  I think this is part of the “bargaining” phase of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross grief model.  I can’t change the fact that I’m autistic, or that I was bullied at school, that I was lonely and depressed at Oxford, that I haven’t built a career, and that I messed up various friendships, all because of autism, so I toy with the idea of somehow living in a different past to make it better for myself.

***

As long-term readers have probably noticed, I worry a lot that I’m not a good Jew, in part because of my various health and brain-wiring issues. I worry about this more at this time of year, in the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  Maybe I have reasonable excuses for my behaviour, but it’s still not the ideal state, and that’s hard to deal with.  It’s easy to compare myself to other frum (religious) people who seem to be doing much better. I spend all year struggling so hard to live my Jewish life, and then it gets to the month Elul (the current month, immediately before these festivals) and suddenly I’m supposed to give 110% (even before the immense practical effort needed to get through the festivals).

It’s hard. I usually end up looking for reassurance around this time of year. I try to focus on what I am doing despite the effort involved. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said to look for “good points,” in your personality and history, even if only one or two things that are good about you so that you don’t give up on yourself.

I feel like I have spent my life telling myself I will live the frum life I want when I leave home, when I’m over depression, when I have a ‘proper’ job, when I sort my sleep issues, when I’m married… Along the way I ended up a different Jewish life, maybe better, maybe worse, maybe just different.  I feel like it’s the Torah of bedieved, meaning “after the event.”  Often there is a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling that in the first instance do X, but if that’s not possible, or if you did Y instead of X for some reason, bedieved, after the event, that’s OK.  I feel that everything I do is bedieved, OK after the event, but far from ideal.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t led this after the event life, maybe my family and E would not have been moved to become more religious, and certainly it would have been harder to stay on good terms with them.  Maybe the after the event of kashrut or Shabbat is the in the first instance of honouring parents and ensuring domestic harmony.  Life is complicated.

***

I find to my surprise that I have things to say about the queen, alehah hashalom, but not the energy or wherewithal to write them.  This blog is less a record of my interesting (or possibly interesting) thoughts and more an attempt to structure and process my life to try to make sense of it.

The Bravest Orangutan in Britain

The title isn’t relevant, I’m just too stressed and overwhelmed to think up something more appropriate. It’s a joke from the Fawlty Towers episode I just watched (The Psychiatrist).

I’m feeling very stressed today.  My aunt and uncle have been here over the weekend.  We had enjoyable Shabbat (Sabbath) meals and I was, apparently, “on form” (meaning funny and witty), but after Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch I fell asleep immediately.  On Friday night I slept for an hour or so, woke up, changed into my pyjamas, read for five minutes and went back to sleep for ten hours or more.  On Saturday afternoon I slept for nearly three hours.   Last night I was exhausted and went to bed early (for me) at 11.30pm and slept for twelve hours or so again.  I find peopling very draining, especially when the people in question are very loud and exhausting.  I didn’t go with my Mum and aunt and uncle to my sister’s today as I got up too late, which was probably a blessing in disguise.

The other reason I went to bed early last night is that we found out that the son of good friends of my parents is receiving palliative care for leukaemia.  He’s a few years younger than me and he’s basically spent his entire adult life fighting it.  He would go into remission and try to get his life back on track (I think he kept dropping out of higher education because of it), but then after a year or two it would come back.  Then he would have another bone marrow transplant or aggressive chemo or whatever and would get better for a while, until it would come back again.  I know it sometimes (often) feels like I lost so much of my adult life to undiagnosed autism and mental illness, but he has lost basically all of his to leukaemia, and now it seems he’s going to lose the fight completely.  It’s really tragic.  It upset all of us a lot and we don’t really know what to do.  I just felt overwhelmed and exhausted and went to bed early.

I’ve been struggling with family stress today (beyond what I’ve written here), and guilt at bad interactions with my parents.  I also started to fill out my tax return for the tax year April 2021 to April 2022, which was stressful and confusing, and then I helped E fill out her visa application, which was also stressful and confusing.  This was a lot of bureaucracy and form-filling for one day, and there is more to do tomorrow (I’m working on Tuesday this week rather than Monday).  It has left me pretty exhausted, burnt out and unable to do very much except maybe watch TV.

***

I described myself as “married” on my tax return.  It felt slightly strange.

***

Mum was speaking to one of her friends and mentioned my airport issues.  Friend said that she has asked for “assisted travel” at airports when travelling with her mother (who is elderly and frail) and/or daughter (who has ME).  Someone then comes around the airport with them and guides them through check-in, security and so on.  Mum said I should do the same.

I had a visceral reaction against this and I’m not sure why.  After all, I’ve just bought a hidden disability lanyard, so it’s not that I’m in denial or afraid of identifying as disabled.  I guess I just feel that I should (“Should”) be able to cope by myself with a minimum of help or that I can cope by myself, as long as people give me extra processing time and allow for sensory overload (which they may or may not do if they see the card and lanyard, particularly outside the UK where it isn’t known).  Maybe I feel that I don’t need that level of help or even that I don’t deserve it.  I guess it has taken me a long time to accept that I am “disabled” (rather than “ill” – weirdly, the things seem very different to me) and need help and maybe there are limits to what I can accept about this right now.

***

I feel like I’m reading too many books, and too many heavy books, but I’m not sure how to stop.  Do I just focus on one book at a time, or try to creep forward slowly with all of them?  Or something between the two?  Most of them are so heavy-going that I often get to a point in the evening when I need to relax and unwind and can’t face reading any of them because they’re so heavy, so I watch TV instead.

They are good books and I don’t want to abandon them, but they mostly aren’t fun.  Even the novel I’m reading, Dara Horn’s A Guide for the Perplexed suffers from two unlikeable protagonists.  One is a super-clever person who was bullied as a child because of her intelligence, which I relate to, but then again she remained super-clever as an adult and became a tech millionaire, which I do not relate to.  She’s also quite manipulative and arrogant.  Her sister is pretty much a failure in life, which I relate to, but she’s also ruthless and manipulative, even more so than her sister.  I don’t really relate to either of them or feel that invested in their story; I’m carrying on because of curiosity about the narrative and themes and especially for the historical sub-plots featuring real-life Jewish figures Solomon Schechter and Rambam (Maimonides).

Just to make things more complicated, I started reading The Hafetz Hayyim on the Holy Days in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  I was already reading several Jewish books, but I felt I should read something related to the upcoming festivals in addition to my other Torah reading.  At least it’s a short book, so I should finish it in time reading about five pages a day.

***

Lately I feel as if I need to pick my first novel apart and abandon the autobiographical stuff about a Jewish man autism and depression and expand the other part, about a Jewish woman trapped in an abusive marriage, into a whole novel, or at least a novella.  I would need to think up some more plot to get to novel length.  I just did an experiment and deleted all the chapters solely dealing with the autistic character.  I was left with about 60,000 words.  80,000 is considered the minimum length for an adult novel, so I would have to write about 20,000 words, probably more, as I would have to cut some material in the chapters that feature both characters.  That’s probably a minimum of two or three months of consistent writing for me at the moment (part-time, low energy, sleeping through mornings), probably more as I’ll be using time for wedding planning and similar tasks instead of writing.

***

I have things I want to say that I don’t have the time or energy to write here, or which I feel would not interest readers here, or which I can’t write here for reasons of lashon hara (gossip).  The time/energy factor is actually the biggest one; the others I could deal with by writing a private or password-protected post, but not having time or energy prevents that.  I feel it might help me to process things.  I feel there are a lot of unprocessed thoughts whizzing round my head lately, some related to where I am in life, but others unrelated.  I feel that I need to set some of them down, but struggle to find the time even to get my thoughts in order.  Most of them aren’t relevant to bring up in a therapeutic context either.

Similarly, I would like to have the time and energy to write a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) too, as that feels like something else where I need time to process the sedra (Torah reading) each week.

And, yes, I know that I am currently/will shortly be: getting married/organising a wedding; moving house; and setting myself up as self-employed and looking for additional work (which will involve increasing my social media presence), all while still coming to terms with my autism and trying to work out if I have a sleep disorder and how to treat it.  Any of these things would be challenging individually, but I’m juggling them all at once, as well as other things like my current job and getting ready (practically and spiritually) for the autumn Jewish festival season, doing my tax return, helping E with her visa application and so on.  So I guess it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, but that doesn’t make it easier to cope with.

I’m sufficiently overwhelmed that I will probably watch TV for a bit before bed, as reading seems too daunting…

Crash Course

I had a blood test today. The seating area no longer has stickers on the chairs to stop people sitting next to each other, to enforce social distancing because of COVID. So it seems that even the NHS is beginning to see the pandemic as over (I was unclear on whether mask-wearing was still required; I think it was, but not everyone wore one). This is a sudden change for me from New York, where mask-wearing is still in force on public transport, although only about half the people using public transport were actually masked, and almost no one in shops.

I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on the way. I found it a little upsetting, as they kept quoting someone from a previous podcast, unfortunately the person who convinced me that I would never be fully accepted in the Orthodox community because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary). I should add that she didn’t say that explicitly or intend me to think that way, but that was what I was left with from her attitude to me.

The podcast was on sex education in the frum (religious Jewish) community. They spoke on the podcast about pre-marriage classes about Jewish ethics and laws around sexuality too, which just reminded me that I need to organise that for E and myself, and that’s probably the area where I have most anxiety that E and my different religious levels could lead to tension. I guess there are differences and tensions in most/all marriages, we just know where (some) of ours will be in advance. I might try to give E a crash course in various aspects of Jewish law, such as how to heat and serve hot food on Shabbat without breaking Shabbat. I am not sure how to teach this appropriately. Possibly the book I bought for her in New York, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg will help. She was pleased with it, as was her mother, which I was glad about, as I was worried she might see it as interfering or trying to change her.

The podcast also made me sad that there are, to my knowledge, no yo’etzot halakhah (female advisors on Jewish law, particularly around family purity) in the UK as there are in the USA and Israel, because I think E would really benefit from being able to talk to one if she needs to rather than a male rabbi.

Other than that, I didn’t do much else other than my usual Shabbat chores and some Torah study today. I am still processing and recuperating from everything that happened in the last two weeks, and already feel a bit awkward about my aunt and uncle being here, a sense of having to share personal space, time and energy when I feel I need to be left on my own for a bit, to get my energy back and to process everything about getting married and then being separated from E by immigration law. No novel-writing, revising or submitting today, and probably not for a while.

Existential Spirituality

I wonder sometimes about my spiritual life. I feel I have more of a religious life than a spiritual one. I would like to have a more spiritual life, but it’s hard to know where to start, especially from inside a major religion — where do you go when you’re already where you’re supposed to be, and don’t want to leave, but aren’t fully fulfilled? I want more spirituality, not less Judaism. Further, I find ‘spirituality’ a vague and unhelpful term, and Hebrew words like ruchniut aren’t any better.

I used to read a lot of Jewish religious existentialists (not all Orthodox). I found Jewish existentialism an approach that resonated with me more than many approaches in the Orthodox world, so out of curiosity, I searched online for stuff on existentialist spirituality, despite knowing that secular existentialism is very different to religious existentialism.

I found an article on existential spirituality in psychotherapy the other day that says the following:

There are four primary existential ways of being-in-the-world. They include:

  1. Umwelt: Being-with-nature or the physical world.
  2. Mitwelt: Being-with-others or the social world.
  3. Eigenwelt: Being-with-oneself or the world of the self.
  4. Uberwelt: Being-with-the-spiritual or over world.

Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), and May et al. (1958) described the first three of these existential ways of being. van Deurzen (1988) added the fourth.

I do struggle with several of these areas. I’m able to experience nature well when I’m in a natural setting, but I struggle to find one in the suburbs. It might be good for me to walk more often in a little area of land left wild at the edge of the nearby park (although it only takes five or ten minutes to walk the length of it).

Skipping number two for the moment, I am a lot more OK at being with myself than before. I still have low self-esteem, something worsened by autism-induced mishaps, and some social anxiety and catastrophising, but I’m mostly comfortable being inside my head. I feel positive about my sense of integrity, which ties into my Jewish practice as I practise Judaism less to feel “positive” or “spiritual” in the moment and more because overall I have a feeling of integrity and rightness from acting in accordance with my religious beliefs and as part of a three thousand year old community.

The really hard areas are two and four. I think being with others is very important (this is perhaps the biggest thing I take from Jewish existentialism), and it does help me when I find a way I can interact with others well, but finding that way can be hard. I definitely missed volunteering the last couple of weeks when it was on a break and I felt depressed until it restarted yesterday. The downside is that I feel depressed and burnt out today, which may be cause and effect or may be coincidence.

The fact that I go to shul (synagogue) a lot less than I did seven or eight years ago is probably a negative here too, from a social point of view as much as anything. Communal prayer does create social bonds. In recent years I have gone to shul a lot less, as a result of sleep disruption, social anxiety, changing communities and then COVID. I’m now totally out of the habit of regular shul attendance and struggling to get back into it.

I think my marriage to E might be the biggest positive change I can make here. Following the Talmud, I see marriage as the primary model of a loving relationship (the Talmud sees “Love your neighbour as yourself” applying particularly to marriage) and I think the intimacy (emotional as well as physical) there will help me feel more spiritually-fulfilled. I think already our emotional intimacy has led me to feel better in this way. It is hard at the moment, though, when we are so far apart and know it will be so long until we get married. E said it feels like we should be married now and our current status is a weird aberration, and I agree with her. E also thinks that God wants us to marry so I can help her be more religious and so she can help me to have more fun, which may be true too.

Connecting with God directly is harder. I struggle to connect with God through Torah study, except on occasions when I suddenly gain some new insight. That doesn’t happen often, but maybe I have to do a lot of study to provide “scaffolding” for those moments of connection. But often it’s easy to forget God while studying Torah and just focus on the text as a text. Possibly I should try to get back to reading something inspirational or about personal growth every day.

I have improved my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer lately, but even then it can be hard to concentrate on God. I can focus on God or on the words of the prayer, but it’s hard to focus on both at once.

I guess a lot of the problem is the subjectivity of what constitutes a spiritual experience or a connection with an invisible God. Maybe I’m trying to over-analyse.

***

I got a phone call from A, the person who seems to be a middleman between me and the psychiatrist. He turned out to be a psychiatric nurse. He said that before my medication was reviewed by the psychiatrist with a view to reducing it, could I tell him what happened about the autism assessment I was referred for in 2019, as they had no further information. I was pretty shocked he didn’t know about my diagnosis. In fact, I don’t think he even knew I was referred for an autism assessment, as he thought it might have been for ADHD (the hospital assesses for both). I offered to scan the report and send it to them, which was fortunate as he said he could write to the GP, but that would take weeks (!). You would think that an advantage of a single, national healthcare provider would be some kind of shared data base, at least within the locality. Honestly, this service is just so useless.

***

I was going to go for a pre-wedding haircut after this, but it started raining really heavily and I decided to go after work tomorrow instead. It’s still quite hot and I think the rain and heat/humidity combination along with the disruption to my plans brought my mood down. I am nervous of having my hair cut by a stranger again. I’ve always found haircuts intrusive, probably for autistic reasons about personal space and sensory stimuli, but for many years now I’ve had tremor in some social situations and haircuts are a major trigger, indeed, they were the first trigger when it started. I hope it doesn’t happen tomorrow.

I forgot to go to shul (I want to go on Wednesday evenings), although I wouldn’t really have had much time to spare. Instead, I submitted my first novel to two more agents, both UK-based. I’m trying to focus on UK agents at the moment. One is Jewish, but is super-influential and well-connected, so I probably won’t be accepted by him. To be honest, I suspect all the agencies on the list I’m using are too big for me and that I need some small boutique agency. E disagrees with me here; I hope she’s right.

***

I got sent £3.34 from Lulu.com, which means someone bought my non-fiction Doctor Who book!

Honest Jewish Experience and Novel Submission

I’ve mentioned before that I read therapist Elisheva Liss’ weekly “schmoozeletter,” which combines thoughts on the weekly sedra (Torah reading) with insights from modern psychology and psychotherapy. This week she spoke about people in struggling (but not abusive or clearly not working) marriages. She tries to get them to label their interactions and other aspects of the marriage with marks out of ten, with one for the worst possible experience and ten for the best. Then she tries to get people to accept that a set of perfect tens is unrealistic and that a wider range of values can result in a marriage that, while imperfect, is still rewarding and enjoyable. “Maybe getting to a range of 5-7 would be transformative and beautiful in its own imperfect way, if we stopped fixating on the elusive, unrealistic 10?”

I wondered if I should apply this to my religious life. Maybe I’m looking for perfect tens for my davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, middot (character traits), emunah (faith) and so on. Perhaps I can accept a religious life that is good enough rather than perfect. I haven’t, as yet, assessed the different parts of my religious life and I’m not sure that giving them an exact score is a good idea, but instead I should try to feel that I don’t have to have perfect concentration and connection when davening, I don’t have to have amazing insights every time I study Torah and so on in order to have a meaningful religious life. I just have to be having a better than average experience regularly.

Part of the problem is knowing what I actually FEEL when davening/studying Torah/etc.? I don’t have an official diagnosis of alexithymia (difficulty recognising and distinguishing my own emotions), but one therapist was very sure that I have that difficulty and that is my own experience too. When I feel that my davening or my Torah study lacks a feeling of connection or joy, perhaps the issue is recognising and distinguishing the emotions rather than actually feeling them. This is supported by the fact that I continued with davening and Torah study during the years when I was severely depressed, often at a reduced level, but it was important for me to do something and that probably indicates more than fear and certainly more than just habit.

Likewise, I believe that God exists, and I can tell that I hold this belief much more strongly than I have in the past, so the fact that I don’t feel a strong connection to Him may be a product of unrecognised emotions rather than absent emotions. That said, thinking about connection with God is an inherently subjective and emotional subject, so maybe I shouldn’t see that as the be all and end all of my religious life.

***

Another thought was prompted by an Orthodox Conundrum podcast featuring Rabbi Pesach Sommer talking about whether it is possible to educate for faith (not indoctrinate). He spoke about Orthodox thinkers that teenagers should be introduced to (I had read most of them, pleasingly) and one was Hillel Zeitlin. Zeitlin is a fairly obscure figure who was raised in a strict Hasidic family in late nineteenth century Poland, stopped being frum as a teenager, getting into secular philosophy and Russian literature, then later became frum again, but combined his passion for philosophy and literature with Judaism, writing about religion in Dostoyevski and Tolstoy from a Jewish perspective alongside articles on Jewish figures like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Rav Kook and, if I remember correctly, trying to compare Judaism with Eastern religions. He was eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

I was familiar with Zeitlin from a volume of his writings that Jewish Renewal rabbi Arthur Green published a number of years ago and he did inspire me, albeit more by his example than by the writings themselves (as with Franz Rosenzweig). The relevance of this here is that Rabbi Sommer saw Zeitlin as a useful writer because he was not a rabbi and was therefore freer to write about his religious doubts and growth than ordained rabbis. He can therefore be a model of the religious quest, rather than a static view of Judaism and Jewish belief and practice.

The point of all this is that it made me wonder if there is benefit to my recording my thoughts about Judaism and my religious growth, including false starts and wrong turns, after all, precisely because I’m not a rabbi and I don’t need to pretend to be living a perfect religious life. I can be honest and authentic without needing to pretend I have all the answers. I can, in fact, try out different answers without having to be sure that they are “correct.”

***

I struggled to sleep again last night. I got four or five hours sleep and I got up alright this morning, but I made a lot of mistakes at work, perhaps due to tiredness, or to sensory overload from the noise of the air conditioner — or autistic executive function issues, or incompetence, or, or, or…

A small victory: doing mundane tasks while listening to podcasts at work, I listened to a therapist critique the shidduch system of arranged dates in the Orthodox world. She said single young people should enjoy the best years of their lives and not worry about being on the shelf in their early twenties. The “best years of their lives” bit would have depressed me in the past as my teens and twenties were mostly spent unemployed, clinically depressed and very lonely, not doing very much at all, and desperately needing the autism/Asperger’s diagnosis I wouldn’t get for years. I did wince a bit, but I just went on with what I was doing. Yes, I had a miserable time. Yes, lots of people had more fun. Probably the net amount of fun they have over their lifetimes will be greater than mine. But there isn’t much point in going over that all over again. I guess things can only get better? (And, yes, we’ve discussed here before whether teens and twenties really are the best years of your life.)

I got the marriage paperwork I was trying to get hold of yesterday, so we’ve got that to look forward to…

***

I submitted my novel to another agent. I wanted to submit to two, but this one wanted so much stuff that I had didn’t have to hand (elevator pitch, one page synopsis) that I ran out of time. It took well over an hour to submit. It’s frustrating that agents all want different things. One wants a one page synopsis, another wants a two page synopsis and it’s harder than you might think to turn one into the other. When what they want is straightforward, I can submit in twenty minutes or so, but this took nearly four times as long.

The agent that I submitted to was the one who found Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I can’t pretend that this didn’t leap out to me because I’m currently reading it, but I guess there are some similarities, although I didn’t list it as a published novel similar to my own (I thought that would be gauche; if there are similarities, she can spot them for herself). I broke my informal rule of not submitting to the CEO of an agency (unless it’s a very small one) because she genuinely seemed like the best fit at this agency. I just hope she has the time to deal with the books she represents.

To be honest, I feel my first novel is a mess, an attempt at writing autobiographical fiction that mutated into more imaginative fiction, but not enough. Some of the autobiographical bits are OK, but the strongest part is the non-autobiographical plot thread about a frum woman being abused by abused by her husband. If I wasn’t involved in other writing (and wasn’t afraid of charges of appropriation?), I’d be tempted to try to expand that to a whole novel on its own. Of the three people (other than me) who have read it, two liked it (and the third arguably was not the target audience), which I guess counts for something. I feel that my current novel is better, but also significantly flawed (I just realised a major flaw in it so far). I guess it’s a learning process.

As is often the case when I submit my manuscript, I was left feeling that I am a bad writer and reader for not reading modern fiction. In a weird way, this is probably due to autism/Asperger’s. Like many people on the spectrum, I like to stick with things I know I will like and can understand deeply rather than trying to understand something new. I read the same authors and sometimes I re-read the same books multiple times, although I’m trying to do that less. I’ve read all the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges (most of them multiple times), all the surviving fiction of Franz Kafka (ditto), all of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, much of the prodigious outputs of Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (all the Professor Challenger stories as well as the more famous Sherlock Holmes ones), Agatha Christie, John le Carre and various other writers. I haven’t read anything from contemporary writers who have only written one or two books. Reading broadly is more of a problem than reading deeply, and reading modern is more of a problem than reading classics.

“You’re so sheer you’re so chic/Teenage rebel of the week”

The most important news: E booked a civil wedding ceremony for us, on 29 August! It’s a big moment. Even though we won’t live together until we have the chuppah (Jewish wedding), it’s a moment of commitment in that we would be a couple in the eyes of US and UK law, as well as allowing us to start the process of getting E a spouse visa to live in the UK.

I do feel impatient for the chuppah (religious wedding). I just feel I’m ready to be married now and it’s frustrating that we’ll have to wait many more months (depending on Home Office bureaucracy).

***

I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by life this morning. I had some post-Tisha B’Av thoughts about wanting to do something useful in the world and not being sure what. I do still think helping people who find themselves on the fringes of the frum (religious Jewish) community would be a good place to start, if I can work out what to do. As Rabbi Tarfon said in the Mishnah, “The work is not yours to finish, but neither are you free to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2.16)

It’s funny that this blog started as a mental health blog, then became a “moving towards autism/Asperger’s diagnosis” blog, then an “adjusting to autism/Asperger’s diagnosis” blog. Now it seems to be becoming an “I’m on the fringes of the frum community and don’t know what to do” blog. I guess that’s where my thoughts are nowadays.

***

Somewhat related, I read this article on religious abuse (possibly of interest to some of my readers, but it’s possibly triggering and contains a lot of untranslated Hebrew). It’s weird that I essentially have the mindset of a survivor of religious abuse without actually having suffered religious abuse. I tend to see God as distant and punitive, waiting to punish me. Actually, I only think He is like this towards me. I think He’s loving and forgiving towards everyone else.

I know this comes from various difficult childhood experiences with authority which I then project onto God. I don’t know if any of them are clinically describable as “trauma.” I’ve had therapists refer to them as “traumatic,” but that might have been in a colloquial sense rather than a clinical one. (If this was in therapy, my therapist would probably be asking me why it matters whether it was a clinical term or not and why I rely on authority figures (e.g. parents, rabbi mentor, therapists, God) for validation more than on my understanding of my own feelings, the feelings that I actually feel and that no one else has direct access to. I guess I feel that nowadays “trauma” is a politically-loaded term and only certain people get to use it.) Unfortunately, knowing what the experiences were that left me with this mindset does not equate to being able to change the mindset.

At the root of this is religious perfectionism. I feel I have to get my religious life 100% right or it’s not worth anything. Moreover, there are no exemptions or mitigating circumstances based on my neurodiversity, mental illness, possible physical illness, distance from the community and so on. As I’ve said before, frum Jews who do not have access to the community and its social support structure tend not to stay frum very long. I’ve had limited access (although not none at all) to this social support structure for years, alongside all those extra difficulties, and I’m still, on some level, here. But I struggle to give myself credit for that.

I believe God judges everyone on their own level, based on their background, education, experiences, strengths, weaknesses and so on. Yet it is hard to see what level I’m on. I can find the major decision points of my life, but I find it impossible to judge whether I could have chosen differently or what the consequences would have been if I had chosen differently. It also seems a lot easier to judge how things might have been for a neurotypical, mentally healthy person who took that decision (there are plenty of examples to draw from), but it’s harder to work out how I would have fared in those circumstances.

I guess I want to believe in a loving God, but it seems somehow too good to be true. Or a way of aggrandising myself and excusing my deficiencies and failures. I feel uncomfortable with people who cut God to fit their own conceptions of divinity, religion or ethics.

***

I was listening to Rabbi Yakov Horowitz talk on the Orthodox Conundrum, and he said the skills that helped him as an adult, as an educator, Rosh Yeshivah, and child safeguarding advocate, i.e. boundless energy and a lot of chutzpah, did not stand him in good stead at school when he was required to sit and obey instructions. He likes to reassure parents and students that “eighth grade” (which I think is more year nine (thirteen to fourteen) in the UK — I get confused when Americans assume everyone in the world has the same grade system) does not last forever. I feel like I’m the reverse, that I was really good at school when my life consisted of memorising and regurgitating large amounts of information, but it turns out that real life is not like that and I don’t have a useful skillset for it. My parents want me to go on the quiz show The Chase, and I probably do have more skills for doing well in general knowledge quizzes than for holding down an actual useful job.

***

I submitted my first novel to two more agents. It’s slow work, first weeding out the agencies that are totally wrong, then finding the best agent to submit to out of a list of agents in an agency. They have some blurb about what books they like, but there’s an element of pot luck. One agent said she wanted characters that she would want to hang out with. Great, so it’s not enough that I don’t know how to get people to want to hang out with me, but now I need to get them to want to hang out with my characters too! Not that this is adolescent or anything…

More seriously, I’m working from a list of American agents, and I wonder if I should try to find a list of UK agents, on the grounds that some agents may not want someone from abroad. I did search online and found a couple of lists quite quickly, but I’d have to do some research to check they’re reliable and up-to-date. I think they are mostly big agencies too, and I have a gut feeling (that may be completely wrong) that I should be looking for a smaller agency. I’m in the middle of the ‘J’s in the American alphabetical list and my tendency to want to finish things makes me want to stick with it to ‘Z,’ but, realistically, it’s probably worth trying some British agencies first.

To be honest, I think the novel I’m working will be better than the first novel, if I can finish it, which makes it hard to try to ‘sell’ the first one when I’m more excited about the second. Although I feel I have a weird, stodgy, overly formal, almost nineteenth century, style of writing. I feel that this should be an autism thing, but I’m not sure that it actually is. I’ve also read a lot of nineteenth century novels and not nearly enough contemporary ones. I feel it applies to my blog posts too, you may or may not agree.

***

I think I should cut down my reading/listening to stuff about abuse. It was becoming somewhat obsessive lately, and I think it was triggering some OCD-type thoughts. I think I’ve mentioned that I’ve noticed an increase in obsessive-type thoughts lately, not really frequent or intense enough to count as OCD, but still worrying. I suspect wedding anxiety is part of the problem, perhaps also Mum’s illness earlier in the year. I know the abuse research was partly for my novel, but I think I can put it aside for now.

Insomnia B’Av

I didn’t go to the dentist on Friday. About an hour before the appointment, the surgery rang to say the dentist had gone home ill. I’ve got another appointment booked for Tuesday. My wisdom tooth is not really painful, more uncomfortable at times, at least if I can avoid prodding it with my tongue (harder than you might think).

***

I didn’t intend to post tonight, but I had a difficult day and now I can’t sleep. The two may not be connected, but I thought it would be worth trying to get my thoughts in order.

Lunch was difficult. Angela wrote recently about the “identified patient” in a family and the way that can change and the different family members can affect one another. In my family, I’m pretty sure everyone thinks of me as the identified patient. I’ve been… let’s say not functioning as expected for about twenty years now, I have a neurological diagnosis that is never going to change (Asperger’s/autism) and mental health issues that have come and gone (or come and stayed in some cases). I’ve been in different types of talking therapy a lot. But I think other family members have their own issues, issues that they aren’t necessarily aware of or addressing. I guess owning up to a mental health issue is hard and counselling or therapy can be quite intense and painful, in terms of confronting the negative sides of your history and personality. But it’s hard when this impacts everyone else in the family.

I don’t really want to go into more detail about this. Part of me would like to in a password-protected post, but part of me is overwhelmed at the thought of writing so much of my life history and how it intertwines with those of my parents and sister, and I’m not sure it’s very ethical to tell people about the skeletons in my family’s closets. I’ve spoken to therapists about it in the past, but while I feel I understand the family dynamic, now and in the past, well, I don’t always feel able to move on from it. For now, suffice to say I left lunch feeling very overwhelmed and had what I think must be an autistic shutdown (it’s not always clear to me). I just lay on the bed for two hours. I don’t think I fell asleep, or not for long. I just lay still until I felt well enough to move again.

After that I tried to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but the description of loneliness was overwhelming too, and reminded me of how I used to be before E. I suppose I still am somewhat lonely; I don’t think E can/should be my only social contact, but I struggle to make friends I really connect with. My thoughts about starting online groups for autistic Jews or Jews on the fringes of the Orthodox community are as much for me as anyone else. I couldn’t face reading The Third Reich in Power, so I read The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy for a bit before shul (synagogue). I finished it, finally (it’s very short, but I was reading slowly). I still feel a bit that nearly forty is too old for me to learn to have sex, but I’m trying not to let that bother me. There was some stuff about dealing with guilt about previous sexual experiences (masturbation, not having kept the rules of shomer negiah (not touching before marriage)) that was somewhat helpful to me. But it does just remind me that we’re a long way from even knowing when our wedding will be.

***

After that I went to shul and ate seudah (the Shabbat third meal, which today was the last meal before the fast started — see below). I read Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, which is also heavy-going. Most of the other books in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series have been organised on chunks of text, but this goes through Eichah (Lamentations) line by line, which is interesting in some ways, but very detailed. It gets quite draining quite quickly, and it’s a big book too (even though Eichah is one of the shorter books of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).

***

Tisha B’Av (the Fast of Av) started at 8.39pm. This is the saddest day of Jewish year, when we mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem and many, many, many bad things in Jewish history. It actually fell on Shabbat, but the holiness of Shabbat displaces it to Sunday, so to speak. Which means that it falls on 10 Av this year, which is my Hebrew birthday. I don’t make much of birthdays, and I celebrate my Gregorian calendar birthday anyway, but this is vaguely depressing.

I went to shul in the evening and found the service quite moving, which was good as I thought I was going to be too fed up from the day to get anything out of it. I came home and there wasn’t a lot to do, as we’re supposed to avoid anything fun on the fast, including Torah study (except sad bits like Eichah). I read the Lamentations book for a bit, then The Third Reich in Power, but decided to go to bed soon after. I couldn’t sleep though. I tried to sleep on one pillow rather than two, which is another mourning custom for the fast, but I couldn’t fall sleep. Then I tried with two pillows and still couldn’t sleep, so I’m now sitting on the floor (we sit on low chairs or the floor until midday tomorrow, another mourning custom) typing this and not feeling very tired.

Insomnia for me is often from not relaxing enough before bed. I didn’t really relax at all tonight. Normally I would read or watch something to relax myself, but I can’t really do that. Or I would drink hot chocolate, but I can’t do that either. I’m not supposed to fast given that I’m taking lithium, but I try to fast until midday as the afternoon is somewhat less sad. Technically the fast is an all or nothing thing and if I’m going to break it at lunchtime tomorrow (which I am going to do), I can break it now, but I like to keep at least some of the spirit of the day.

***

This was an interesting article about finding meaning on Tisha B’Av. I think a lot of it applies to Judaism in general for me. It can be hard to find the meaning in each specific mitzvah (commandment) or event; the meaning emerges from being part of the collective experience of a whole nation over three thousand years (how many people other than Jews have even the vaguest idea what their ancestors were doing three thousand years ago? Some, but not many). I probably do find more meaning in being Jewish as a totality across my whole life rather than in any particular mitzvah.

I Come from Barcelona

Work is very slow at the moment, which possibly gives me too much time to think, or to overthink things. I thought more about trying to find my religious place and about trying to find some kind of purpose in life beyond doing boring work, badly, for inadequate pay (my pay is very generous compared to what I do, but inadequate to live on unsupplemented).

I woke up feeling a failure, I’m not sure why. The exception, the non-failure, is my relationship with E, which is a big exception, but still, I feel that I’m not achieving enough (what is “enough”? Enough to help support a family or enough to stroke my ego?). I sometimes feel like I interpret any error on my part or anyone with difference of opinion to me as a sign of failure on my part, that I should have spotted the error or predicted the difference of opinion and accounted for it in advance.

On the way to work, I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum discussing whether Modern Orthodox schools [1] teach too much Talmud. This was interesting, but also (for want of a better word) triggering. The argument in favour of as much, or more, Talmud included the need for immersion in the language (Aramaic and rabbinical Hebrew) and thought-system of the Talmud and Medieval commentators to really make progress in understanding, which I probably agree with, in a way, but I was left with the feeling that, having not gone to yeshivah and not studied/studying Talmud in depth or at length, my Torah study is at best “dilettante” (as the “pro-more-Talmud opinion said) or even that I am a “second class Jew.” I’m not sure what the context for this remark was, and I’m pretty sure it was being said along the lines of, “We mustn’t let people who don’t study/understand Talmud feel like second-class Jews…” but I still felt uncomfortable. On the other hand, Rabbi Kahn did argue that some students are simply not going to understand or enjoy Talmud study, particularly at age fourteen, and that they should study other Jewish topics (like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) or philosophy) and more creative ways of studying and engaging with Jewish tradition. I agree with this, and it is part of why I didn’t go to yeshivah, but it did prime me to spend the day introspecting about where I fit in the Jewish world (again).

If Torah study is the most important mitzvah (at least for men), and Talmud study is the most important form of Torah study (again, for men), then where does that leave me? Again, reading When Rabbis Abuse, it sometimes seems like being learned is more important than being good in the frum (religious Jewish) community. Certainly being able to study Talmud and lead prayer services seems to lead to status in the frum world in a way that just being a good person does not, or not necessarily. I am still haunted by the image of serial child abuser Todros Grynhaus leading Yamim Noraim (High Holy Day) services even after serious allegations of abuse had been made against him. This was in a Federation shul (synagogue), so moderate Haredi rather than extreme Haredi.

Less melodramatically, I worry that the people I admire would find little to admire in me (except E). I do have a need for approval.

I began to wonder if I need a clearer purpose in life than other people. I need to do more than work to earn money to buy food and pay rent/mortgage so I can live to work to earn money to buy food… I feel this should be important to everyone, but apparently it is not. For many people, work, family and conventional religious behaviour seems to be enough for them[2] and I wonder why it doesn’t seem to be the case for me. Is it just because my family is still hypothetical and my religious behaviour is fraught with difficulty because of autism, social anxiety and disrupted sleep? Or is it because I feel myself to have a weak sense of self and my own opinions, bouncing off other people’s ideas, so I look for a clear mission or guiding principle in life to manifest my life around? I feel that, even without all my “issues,” I would want more from my religious life than going to shul three times a day and studying Talmud (or even something else) for an hour or so a day. I need something more, but I don’t know what.

To some extent, I probably want something conventional Orthodox Judaism just isn’t offering. I went to the little shul (really a Beit Midrash) upstairs to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers) after work this afternoon. There wasn’t a service, I just wanted to pray in a shul and I knew I wouldn’t go this evening. Before I davened, I just sat in the quiet and calm of the empty room and it was very peaceful and comfortable, but that’s not really a Jewish way to respond to sacred spaces. There are kabbalists and Hasidim who meditate (I’ve done it in the past), hitbodedut, mantra meditation, other types of meditation, but it’s not considered mainstream. It’s not something most frum people would associate with Judaism.

Then again, maybe once I get married, I really won’t need anything else, particularly if we have children. Maybe being with someone I love and who loves me, in a genuinely reciprocal relationship (unlike previous relationships, which were always one-sided, despite my efforts) will be enough for me, and I won’t care any more about where I fit in the religious world beyond where we happen to be, or about getting published or being taken seriously or anything else (OK, I would probably still worry about money and boredom if I was in the same job). I hope so, because sometimes hoping for more than that seems foolish.

[1] I’m not sure how the American school system works and what grades correspond to what ages, but I think this was mostly about secondary schools.

[2] Admittedly not the scores of people who are all over the internet describing themselves as “activists,” but, then again, I’m not sure what these people do other than repost stuff on social media.

***

I tried to submit my first novel to another agent. The first agency I looked at didn’t want religious fiction. I’m not sure that my novel is “religious fiction,” exactly, but it’s probably near enough to make it not worth my time submitting. The second agency said something along the lines of, “Fiction doesn’t need to be Christian, but it should not conflict with a Christian worldview.” Talk about betwixt and between. The next agent is apparently autistic, and wants the usual standard marginalised voices, but doesn’t want “inspirational works including religious overtones.” What does that mean? (Please don’t tell me that religious people can’t be marginalised, or aren’t marginalised if they’re Jewish or Christian rather than Muslim or Hindu.) They only wanted the first five pages, which I don’t think is really enough to sell the story (what next, the first five words?), but I was just desperate to submit to someone so I hadn’t wasted the evening. In the end I sent to a different agent at the same agency. The agency wanted me to follow them on Twitter, which did lead me wonder just how desperate they think I am. I am desperate to get published, but not that desperate. I wanted to submit to another agency, but it was hard finding one that was suitable and I ran out of time.

Anyway, I have applied to twenty-five agencies in a year, which is NOT good going. Admittedly, there have been times when I stopped submitting for months on end, for various reasons (applying for jobs, waiting for the emerging writers’ programme to get back to me, E here or me going to the US, Pesach preparation…), but it’s still disappointing. I’m up to ‘J’ in the alphabetical agency list I’m using. Also, some of these agents sound really annoying, super-privileged middle class people super-proud of themselves for being on the side of a carefully-curated and approved set of Little People.

***

E read, and told me about, the recently-published novel Shmutz, about a Haredi woman who is addicted to pornography. I was worried about it stealing the thunder from the novel I’m working on about a pornography-addicted Haredi rabbi. She doesn’t know where my novel is going, but she has seen the first draft of the first couple of chapters. She says it didn’t seem like there was a huge overlap. Shmutz has apparently some very graphic descriptions of violent pornography, which there definitely won’t be in my novel.

After we spoke, I took the plunge and skimmed the first few pages on Amazon look inside, although I don’t want to read the whole thing until I’ve finished my first draft. It left me somewhat despondent. Shmutz gets off to a much quicker start than my novel, opening with the main character telling her doctor she doesn’t want to marry as that would involve giving up pornography on the first page. My first chapter tries to build up slowly to the reveal of the apparently too-good-to-be-true protagonist’s secret, but I worry it will bore people, and agents only seem to want to look at the first ten or even five pages, not the first twenty-five. Shmutz seems much more open about its subject matter than I’m able to be, much more fitting with the contemporary idiom. I struggle with things like slang and think my prose is probably ponderous (in general, including here, not just in the novel). In terms of explicitness, I want to balance between writing something vaguely suitable for religious Jews, pornography addicts and partners of pornography addicts to read without being triggered, while still trying not to be as coy as most Orthodox writing about sex.

I suspect Shmutz doesn’t have my pretentions to Serious Literature either; I want my novel to be deeply about things like the Jewish idea of repentance and redemption as much as about sex. I probably want to be taken seriously too much (again, in life as well as in writing). E thinks I’m wasting my talents writing serious fiction when she thinks I’m better at writing science fiction satire (based on a squib I showed her a while back), but I have to really be in the right mindset to write that, and I worry I can’t put myself in that zone, I just occasionally get pushed into it by things around me. Plus writing satire would involve being more aware of current events and the idiocies of the age (Big Tech, Trump, woke, etc.) than I want to be right now.

***

I’ve been re-watching some Fawlty Towers lately. Sometimes, at work or volunteering or occasionally in other places, someone says something to me and I just have no idea what they’re saying, whether through executive dysfunction, sensory overload, difficulty processing spoken instructions or something else. Whoever I’m talking to has to say the same thing multiple times and I stare blankly until it eventually sinks in on the fifth attempt. The reasons are different, but I think from the outside it looks exactly like Basil Fawlty trying to communicate with Manuel, only without the casual sadism. “Please try to understand before one of us dies!”

On the Fringes

My mood has been somewhat low again.  I’m not entirely sure why.  My religious wedding to E seems as far off as ever, and the fact that we can’t even set a date yet (because of immigration bureaucracy uncertainty) makes it worse.  The civil wedding is getting nearer (less than four weeks away), which is good, but that stokes travel anxiety.  There’s a lot to do to get married (civil and religious) and that’s daunting, but we can’t really start on much of it, which is frustrating in a different way.  Things might be easier next week, once we’re past Tisha B’Av and I can shave and listen to music again – it will just be easier to maintain a positive mood.  As I’ve said before, Tisha B’Av always seems a daunting day in advance because pretty much anything even vaguely fun is forbidden (including Torah study and, ideally, work).  It’s always a relief to get past it. My Dad says he’s struggling with no music too (and he’s shaving).

It doesn’t help that my wisdom tooth is still hurting, but I did eventually manage to get an appointment with the dentist for Friday afternoon, which was earlier than I hoped.  I’m just using clove oil to dull the pain at the moment; thankfully it’s not bad enough to need actual painkillers.

E and I had a call with someone from the United Synagogue about pre-marriage classes.  These will mainly be about the halakhot (laws) of what Orthodox people coyly refer to as “marital relations.”[1]  We can’t really move on with that until we’re further on with booking the chuppah (religious ceremony), which in turn we can’t do until we’ve had the civil ceremony and also got the American bet din (rabbinical court) to certify E as Jewish.  It’s very frustrating.

Other than that, I did some Torah study, went for a walk and worked on my novel a bit, but it was hard to get motivated or to concentrate.

[1] Haredi comedian Ashley Blaker did a joke about Jewish punk rock band The Marital Relations Pistols.

***

I’m not sure if the next bit is 100% accurate, but E said I should post it anyway.

I am still thinking about people on the fringes of the frum (religious Jewish) world.  I feel there ought to be some way to bring people together to support each other, if only virtually.  E thinks a Facebook group would be a good idea. I’m not sure.  You know my mixed feelings about Facebook, plus it’s hard to be anonymous on Facebook.  I feel inadequate to do this, but I don’t know if anyone else will.  I think there are online groups for people who are leaving or have left frumkeit, but few/none for those who want to stay, but need moral or practical support.

Yesterday I was listening to an Orthodox Conundrum episode with an anti-missionary rabbi.  He said that Jews who convert to Christianity are likely to be survivors of some kind of trauma, abuse, addiction etc.  I suspect this is probably true, although I disagreed about the wider conclusions he seemed to draw from this.  The frum community tends to refer to these people as “at risk” (i.e. at risk of “going off the derekh” (path) and stopping being frum), which I find ridiculously offensive and stigmatising in itself (as is the phrase “off the derekh,” actually). Another Orthodox Conundrum podcast reflected that the Haredi community has a lot of support for the poor or sick, but often victim-blames abuse survivors who go to the police instead of supporting them.

It makes sense to me that the community needs to provide some kind of support to these people, rather than trying to deal with the consequences them after they’ve left the frum community/converted to Christianity/had an overdose/attempted suicide/become homeless etc.

There are Jewish organisations offering specific help to groups like the mentally ill or abuse survivors or whatever, but often this is not specifically for people in the frum community, but for all Jews, even though the sociological experience of being (for example) frum and depressed is different to the experience of being depressed outside the frum community; a Jewish agnostic with depression won’t necessarily understand the needs of frum person with depression.  Even where people are offering support, it’s often practical support – which is good, but doesn’t necessarily deal with the loneliness of feeling on the fringes.  I feel there should be some kind of non-judgmental social support for people who just don’t fit in as well as people with specific issues. My hypothesis, based on my own experiences, is that someone on the fringes of the community for one reason will understand someone on the fringes for another reason, at least to some extent.

There probably is more to say about this, but it’s late and I have to go to work tomorrow…

Sleep Apnoea, Reframing, The Three Weeks, and Podcasts

The last few days have been fairly quiet, just the usual mix of work, Torah study, novel writing and novel submitting, as well as Shabbat (the Sabbath). I woke up in the middle of the night last night panting and short of breath. I was somehow sufficiently alert to realise I was lying on my chest (I go to sleep on my side), so that’s all more evidence in favour of my having sleep apnoea, which tends to be worst when lying either face down or face up. I must have moved in my sleep. No idea when I’ll get to see a specialist to investigate it. I’d like some kind of answer about what my sleep/getting up problems are all about so I could try to work on them. I do need longer days if I want to earn more money, and I would like to be able to go to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat mornings again, both for religious and social reasons. I slept for several hours this afternoon, but tried to tell myself it was understandable if my sleep last night was poor.

I went to my parents’ shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) today. Someone from my shul (which I haven’t been to since it moved out of its regular premises into cramped temporary premises) sat in front of me, which disrupted my concentration for the whole service, as I was worried he would speak to me about why I stopped going to my shul. In the end he left early without speaking to me at all, so that was wasted worrying.

I had a weird Viktor Frankl/Man’s Search for Meaning reframing moment. I’ve felt frustrated for years about losing more than twenty years of my life to mental illness and/or autistic burnout, and during the supposedly “best years of my life” of adolescence and early adulthood too. Perhaps because the Torah reading lately has been about the end of the Israelites’ forty year sojourn in the wilderness, I found myself thinking, “It was only twenty years I lost. It could have been worse. It could have been forty.” I find it weirdly comforting. I’m not sure if this is rational or not.

We’re two-thirds of the way through the Three Weeks, the Jewish national mourning period in the summer when we mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. I find it a difficult time. My beard (a sign of mourning) itches, it’s frustrating that I can’t listen to music unless exercising and the Fast of Av at the end is an intimidating day to get through. I have only felt autistically exhausted enough that I needed to listen to music once, though, which is good (there is a heter (permission) for people with depression to listen to music which my rabbi mentor said could apply to my autistic exhaustion).

Because I’m not listening to music, I have been binge listening (if that’s a thing) to the back catalogue of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts. Many of the podcasts have provoked thought, although I don’t always get the chance to record my thoughts, especially as I tend to listen when I’m walking to or from the station. Here are some thoughts on a couple of them.

Rabbi Lopes Cardozo was talking about his latest book (at the time of the podcast, a couple of years ago). He argued that mitzvot (commandments) are supposed to instil “radical amazement” (I recognised this a term from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel). Since I listened to this podcast, I have been trying to feel that amazement when saying blessings on food and the like, which is one of the main religious actions I do during the day, certainly in terms of frequency and it has been quite positive so far.

He also said that he believes in God, but doesn’t know what “God” means. This reminded me of the negative theology of Medieval Rationalist thinkers like Rambam (Maimonides) and Rav Saadia Gaon. The idea is that God is beyond understanding and description, so we can’t say what God is, only what God is not (e.g. “God is not weak” rather than “God is powerful”). This approached has been debunked by various people (Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits and Rabbi Samuel Lebens just from my bookshelf), but Rabbi Lebens argues that even if it’s not literally true, it’s a useful reminder of the limits of human knowledge.

Shira Lankin Sheps of The Layers Project Magazine was talking about how The Layers Project Magazine tells the stories of religious Jewish women who are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media (because it’s not interested in religious people) and the Orthodox Jewish media (which is not interested in women). She said that the Orthodox community is often governed by shame, where people think their negative experiences are unique and therefore shameful, but in fact they are often normal. The Layers Project Magazine aims to normalise those stories.

I think this is positive, but I felt that when she presented her own story, of struggling with an unknown chronic illness, it seemed very swift. She said she wrote one post about her illness and suddenly she was getting so many positive responses and support from other people. Then she wrote another post when her grandmother died and from that a doctor who read it identified her illness. It’s the kind of thing that makes me doubt myself, because, as I said above, it’s taken me twenty years to get to this point and I’m still not sure I’ll get exactly where I want to be. I never had that kind of miraculous quick fix. It reminded me of Hevria, where it seemed OK to have had an illness or trauma in the past, but not to be struggling with one on an ongoing basis. I haven’t really read the website, so I don’t know how those stories are framed.

(The only thing I could find on the site on high-functioning autism/Asperger’s was the beginning of this post covering several different women’s stories. It’s a shame, as autism in women is even less understood and accepted than autism in men.)

“Why were you not Luftmentsch?”

I was somewhat late for volunteering today, partly because I overslept, partly because there were no buses.  To be fair, the two other people who get the same bus were similarly late.  I hung around to drink coffee with the other volunteers afterwards.  I tried to speak.  I find it hard.  There are some things I don’t really want to talk about, and other things where I can’t work out whether I should talk about them or not.  There are some questions that I would naturally answer with a yes/no answer, but I have learnt that allistics (non-autistics) often prefer an explanation or elaboration, so I try to give that where it doesn’t seem too intrusive.  Believe it or not, I’m a private person away from my blog.

I did mention that I’m engaged and having my civil wedding soon.  I’d been wondering whether to say something, then I had the opportunity to drop it into the conversation casually, so I did.  Everyone was pleased for me, although I had to explain the immigration/two weddings situation.

More difficult to handle was when I was asked if I would join everyone at a non-kosher restaurant for lunch next week (there is no actual volunteering next week).  I was not comfortable doing that, although I was pleased to be asked.  But I find these situations awkward, as I don’t want to appear holier-than-thou.  To be honest, part of me was glad, as if it was at a kosher restaurant, I would feel obliged to go and I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of social contact with these people yet.  But I know E would be inclined to go in this situation and it does make me wonder how we will deal with our different kashrut-based socialising decisions.  It can be a bit of a minefield at the best of times.

I volunteer putting together the food packages at the food bank, and then other volunteers come to distribute them in their cars.  One of those drivers was wearing a kippah like the one I was wearing.  These were produced uniquely for my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding guests, so it would seem he was there (I guess as a guest on my brother-in-law’s side as I didn’t know him, most likely a relative or close friend of my BIL’s parents).  I didn’t have the confidence to ask him about it.  My Dad has actually had at least one conversation with a stranger started by the shared wedding kippah connection and I felt that my Dad would want me to ask him, but I didn’t have the confidence.

In the afternoon I spent some time on my novel.  I spent about an hour on it, not as much as I would have liked, but I wrote over 500 words, and it was a difficult passage (not yet finished), about my characters’ reactions in an art gallery.  Art is not a subject I know a lot about, so it is a learning curve.  I think this chapter will take some time

I submitted my first novel to another agent.  I had to pick one from a bunch of agents at the agency.  They did have them tagged by genre, which made it easier, although I’m not sure what I feel about ‘mental illness’ and ‘neurodivergent’ apparently being considered genres now, useful though that is to me, given my novel’s subject matter.  I feel vaguely bad that I discounted one agent for having two typos on her profile page, although it then turned out that she’s not currently looking for new writers anyway (phew, no guilt!).  I did find another one to submit to.

***

I saw a blog post yesterday about not having a victim mentality.  Then today I was in a discussion about the same subject.  I probably do have something of a victim mentality when I look back at my earlier life, in particular the bullying and the years lost to depression/autistic burnout.  I’m finding it hard to learn to accept my life without letting the negative parts of it define me, and not to see it as leaving me with something to prove or a need to redeem my life.  It’s possible that I still haven’t processed the fact that I’ve discovered that I’m disabled and have been all my life, or at least that I haven’t processed it as much as I thought I had.

Today I was thinking (for unrelated reasons) about wanting to be myself, about the famous story about the eighteenth century Hasidic master Zusia of Hanipol.  On his deathbed, he said he was scared.  His Hasidim asked why.  He said, “I’m not scared that they will say [in the afterlife], ‘Why were you not Avraham (Abraham)?’ because I am not Avraham.  I’m not scared they will say, ‘Why were you not Moshe (Moses)?’ because I am not Moshe.  I’m scared they will say, ‘Zusia, why were you not Zusia?’”

It is scary to think of going through life trying to be someone else and I have no idea if I’m doing that.  I was thinking yesterday that I wished I was more spontaneous and confident enough to say and do things in an off-the-cuff way.  Then I asked myself if I really wished I could do that or if I just had an image in my head that being spontaneous is a good thing to be and that I’m not spontaneous and don’t need to be.

Pitch Imperfect

I stayed up late last night blogging, which was probably a mistake, although I thought I wouldn’t fall asleep easily as I slept so much during the day, finally getting to bed about 2.00am, just before the fast of Tammuz (see below) started. This was probably a mistake, as at 5.30am I woke up with a headache and even after it went, I couldn’t get back to sleep. I did eventually fall asleep midmorning and sleep for another three hours or so.

This week is set to be a disrupted week. Today is 17 Tammuz, a Jewish fast day and the start of the Three Weeks of mourning (no haircuts, shaving, music, weddings, parties, etc.). Fast days always feel strange and disrupted to me, even though I haven’t been able to fast on the minor fasts for fifteen years or more because being on lithium makes the risk of serious dehydration too great. This year, my family aren’t fasting either; both the United Synagogue and the Federation of Synagogues put out warnings that people in various categories of vulnerability should not fast because of the heatwave and dehydration risk. So it feels a strange day.

J said I could work at home tomorrow because of the heatwave that we currently have in the UK, but there isn’t really any work I can meaningfully do at home right now and I didn’t want to do pointless make-work, so I suggested going in on Wednesday instead, when it should be cooler, as I don’t have therapy this week. I’m probably going to see a friend sit shiva (mourn) for his mother tomorrow. And it’s my birthday on Wednesday and my sister and brother-in-law are coming round. I’ve moved some other parts of my routine around to accommodate these changes. I hope I cope OK with everything, as disruption to my routine can be difficult. And the heat makes everything extra-hard.

***

I thought I had an idea for an article that I could sell to a Jewish website. I spent an hour procrastinating and not starting it, which was a bad sign (admittedly I did about fifteen minutes of novel research in the procrastination). I spent half an hour or so writing it, but only managed 400 words and don’t think it’s going anywhere. I could try to expand and improve it, but it’s a news-related story (Jewish websites like to be topical for some reason) so it has a limited shelf-life and I’d need to finish it soon.

Admittedly it is very hot today and hard to work, and there was also a lot of noise from children playing outdoors and people playing music with the windows open. Still, I don’t feel confident in the idea any more. Possibly I am too much of a perfectionist to be able to write for websites, magazines and newspapers, which seem to need a lot of copy to be produced very quickly to generate enough income to live off. I was discussing monetising blogs, and writing in general, on Ashley’s blog today and I gloomily concluded that I’m not good enough at selling myself to make writing a really good career for me, but as I don’t seem to be good enough at anything else, I feel I have to try it anyway.

I feel I should be able to pitch articles to various Jewish sites, but somehow I don’t know how to generate ideas, and, as I said, Jewish kiruv (outreach) sites tend to like a ‘hook’ linking the topic to the news (which means writing very quickly) or to popular culture (which means writing quickly and also having more pop cultural awareness than I’ve ever had). They generally aren’t interested in a straightforward devar Torah or textual/philosophical insight, as they’re aiming at people who aren’t frum, trying to show the relevance of Judaism to their own world of politics and pop culture. Some people I knew from Hevria write for the Haredi press, but I don’t think I have the right understanding of frum culture for that, and I don’t want to work for papers that won’t print photos of women (which is all of the Haredi papers now, sadly — despite this, the people I know who write for them are women. I don’t think they like the situation, but they seem to have accepted it, on some level). I tried pitching to less religious Jewish newspapers in the UK a number of years ago, but didn’t get anywhere.

***

Other than that, I didn’t do a lot today. I Skyped E for a while and went for a walk at dusk, when it was cooler and did a tiny bit of Torah study, but I didn’t get to write more of my novel, which was a shame.

The fast is over now, and I should think about heading for bed, but it’s too hot to sleep and despite/because my disrupted sleep last night/this morning, I don’t feel at all tired.

Self-Recrimination

I was tired even by my standards this morning. I struggled to get up and I think I fell asleep on the bus to volunteering. I think the heat has made my usual sleep issues (whatever they are) worse. I was worried that I would struggle with volunteering because I was so tired, but I actually felt OK, perhaps because I was on my feet the whole time. It did come out that I’m on psychiatric medication, which was slightly uncomfortable, but I feel like I have a load of issues that I have to accept will come out periodically with people I’m not close enough to in order to feel completely comfortable with them hearing it. And I came away with loot! There were too many vegetables and they wouldn’t last until next week, so I took some potatoes and carrots.

More excitingly, there was a big pile of religious books to be buried if no longer wanted (holy books are buried in Judaism), or to be thrown away if they were less holy. I asked if I could take some, and no one minded if I took one or two. Or ten. I’m not joking, I really took ten, as they were free and just going to be buried or even thrown away if I didn’t take them. Admittedly some I only took because they were free, but I was pleased to get a one volume translation of Rambam/Maimonides The Guide for the Perplexed (I don’t know if I’ll read it from cover to cover, but it’s good to have for reference), the The Hafetz Hayyim on Pirkey Avoth (not how I would transliterate, but anyway…) and Challenge: Torah Views on Science and Its Problems (quite a well-known Modern Orthodox book from the seventies). One of the books I ordered for novel research was at home when I got there too, which was good.

(Unfortunately, once I got home I discovered that I now have about 1,275 books and no space to store them in, particularly the Jewish ones, which can’t be stacked horizontally like the novels, for various reasons.)

I seemed to spend half the afternoon dealing with odd chores (adding the books to Goodreads and finding space for them; dealing with and filing a bunch of tax and financial letters) just to get to the point where I could do things for my trip to New York for E and my civil wedding in August. I then discovered that the airline had not sent me a confirmation email for the flights I booked on Sunday. I did eventually manage to retrieve the information, but it shocks me a bit how naive/clueless I can be; it had registered that they hadn’t sent anything, but I vaguely thought they would given time. Yes, I know executive function issues in autistics can mean that problems register on an abstract level, but don’t lead to the “Do this to fix it” thought that neurotypicals get and that’s probably more the case for me than I realise. I’m still not sure what the problem was, but I did get an email in the end, and then managed to find a hotel at a reasonable price.

My mood did go down a bit when confronted with all this, but it’s comforting that one feared obstacle after another has been surmounted or just melted away.

I wanted to do some Torah study, but I had a headache and Skyped E. I hopefully will do a few minutes before bed, but not much. The heat just feels really oppressive and it’s hard to do anything, particularly after a busy day and poor sleep last night. E and I spoke about the wedding, and I had a longer-than-intended discussion with my parents afterwards. Discussing in the heat and tiredness was not easy. I think I need to write my delayed password-protected post to process and understand my thoughts about the wedding.

***

I’ve been feeling some self-recrimination lately. A lot of it is wanting to explain myself to people, to explain how my autism affected me when I was younger. I think there are people who tried to befriend me who I ran away from; certainly there are people who tried to get me more involved in adolescent/university Jewish social/religious groups who I ran away from. I think some of the kids who bullied me at school did so because they misread my social anxiety as intellectual snobbery or worse. And there was the horrible situation I got into at university with the female friend I had a crush on where I overloaded her with my troubles until she stopped talking to me; I basically destroyed the friendship, or at least I partially did it. Sometimes I wish I could have my time again and be the somewhat more socially-functional person I am now, but back when I was a teenager. Or just to tell people that I’m on the spectrum and that’s why my reactions are weird (not neurotypical).

I’m particularly struggling with talking to my Dad. It’s at least partly my fault. We don’t communicate very well any more. I would like to say more, but don’t want to do it on a public post. This has been going on for years and getting worse. I’ve spoken to my therapist, but I really don’t know what to do about it. I blame myself and tell myself to be more patient, but I can’t seem to train myself to behave differently.

Novel Stuff and More

Yesterday was a wedding preparation day. I discussed some apprehensions with my rabbi mentor and felt better afterwards. I booked plane tickets to get to New York in late August for my civil wedding. I still need to book a hotel and get insurance. I had some difficulties booking, so that took a lot of time and meant I couldn’t do much else. I think that Torah study and exercise are going to go down the priority list for a while.

Today at work, J sent me out to get some keys cut (special keys that can’t be cut quickly). He said I should drop them off and he would collect them later, but when I got there, I was told they would be ready in forty-five minutes and so texted J to ask if he wanted me to wait. He said yes, so I went to a nearby park that was somewhat sheltered. Unfortunately, after forty-five minutes, the keys were not ready. I was told to come back in another fifteen minutes. I thought if I went back to the park, I would get there in time to come back, so I just hung around near the shop, which was a big mistake, as I had no hat and got a headache. I took solpadeine when I got back to the office, but the headache came and went all afternoon and then got worse on the way home (the Tube is hot, loud and jolts). I did eventually feel better (no headache) around dinner time, but I feel pretty exhausted.

Incidentally, when I went to get the keys cut, I saw Howard Jacobson. I was too shy to speak to him though. What do you say, anyway? “Aren’t you Booker Prize winning novelist Howard Jacobson? I read two of your books. I quite liked them.” Eh.

In the evening, I submitted my novel to two more agents. I’m trying to do this faster, so I can reach more agents, as I only reached agent number twenty today, which is not very good (admittedly I’ve paused the agent quest a number of times for various reasons, most recently to see if I was going to be accepted onto the emerging writers’ programme). The problem is that every agent has different requirements (first chapter, first ten pages, first three chapters, first fifty pages, synopsis, no synopsis…) so it’s hard to do a standardised query letter and just fire it out rapidly. Plus with larger agencies you could have to read half a dozen or more agent profiles trying to work out which would be the best fit. The profiles are full of unhelpful statements like, “I would like to see a horror novel that breaks new ground” or “I would like to see the next Harry Potter” — it’s easier to say that than to do it, or even to work out what doing it would actually mean. They all want POC and LGBT, but say nothing about frum (religious Jewish) Jews (are we not “other” enough?). Anyway, I’m aiming to submit to two a week from now on until I finish going through the big directory of agencies that I’m using. I also sorted out a big folder of receipts and invoices going back to 2018, so I guess it was a fairly productive evening, considering I didn’t feel great.

***

I’m worried I’m going to end up going back on Facebook, despite drama, politics and comparing myself to others. There are a few reasons. E is encouraging me to start some kind of social and/or support group for adult Jews with autism when we get married, and that would probably start with some kind of FB page. Lately I’ve been listening to the Orthodox Conundrum podcast and am curious about the discussions on their FB page that they plug on the podcasts, which might be interesting and a way of making contact with more Modern Orthodox Jews, which might help me feel more integrated into the community and less self-conscious about all the reasons I think frum people might reject me. Then yesterday I realised that the vague plans I have for doing freelance proofreading to supplement my income might be enhanced if I also offered proofreading services specifically for Jewish-themed documents with relevant non-English words. But this would mean networking, which nowadays means FB. I am not hugely happy about this, although I do wonder if it will have a positive side. (Also, bad though networking on FB is, it beats networking in a room full of scary, real-life people.)

***

I spent £55 on books for research for my novel. It was probably somewhat extravagant, given that I’ve already started writing and so perhaps should be thought to have done my research. I was beginning to wonder if there were things I didn’t know that I didn’t know, if that makes sense, and when I was doing my MA dissertation, we were told to start writing while researching, because research informs writing, but writing informs research too. I guess the purchase is probably also motivated a bit by the desire to indulge my curiosity on certain matters that may be relevant, but will probably be interesting either way.

***

I’ve been reading On Repentance on the way to work. It’s a sort of transcription of various shiurim (religious lectures) on repentance given by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, as reconstructed from notes by Rabbi Pinchas Peli. I struggled with it today, though. A while back, I listened to Haredi activist Yehudis Fletcher’s account of how she was abused by Todros Grynhaus, a respected Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) rabbi and school teacher. Part of her account is that, after a police investigation into Grynhaus was started, he was still allowed to lead Rosh Hashanah services in an Orthodox shul (synagogue).

On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the person leading the prayers is supposed to be representing the community before God in praying for forgiveness and life, so this was the ultimate hypocrisy. This image is somehow stuck in my head and I kept thinking about it while reading Rav Soloveitchik’s writing on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and repentance. I’m not sure I can really put it into words, but I guess it (Grynhaus being allowed to lead the services) seems to encapsulate the discomfort I sometimes feel about the contemporary Orthodox world, that there are people who are accepted and there are people on the margins, often through no fault of their own, and somehow Rav Soloveitchik’s words about repentance and forgiveness won’t apply until we root out abuse and victimisation and integrate those on the margins.

Unfortunately, I don’t really know what I can do about it. Is it even my fight? I think it’s everyone’s fight… but also it’s not a fight I know from the inside. Part of me feels I should stick to autism and mental illness. The same part thinks that writing about abuse in both my unpublished novel and my work in progress is an act of appropriation[1], and my interest in abuse in the frum community generally is mere ghoulishness and sensation-seeking. I don’t know.

I can’t remember how I started becoming interested in abuse, but I suspect it was partly from my OCD, that I was worried I could become an abuser, so I engaged in OCD ‘checking’ behaviours, reading about the lives and characteristics of abusers to check that I was different. This was probably not the best way to approach the subject. Somewhere along the line, I felt that I was on the margins of Orthodox life because of my mental health and neurodiversity, and that that somehow made me responsible for others who might not be able to speak out. This may be arrogance.

(There is also the issue that as a self-proclaimed “Tory anarchist” (if that even means anything) who thinks identity politics has gone too far and whose response to political news these days is mostly quietism, I would make an unlikely Social Justice Warrior.)

Among the books I ordered for my work in progress yesterday (in fact, making up about half of the £55 price tag) was When Rabbis Abuse by Elana Maryles Sztokman. To be honest, I’m not sure how relevant it is to my novel. My work in progress was supposed to be about addiction, rather than abuse, but somehow the idea of abuse got into it, and has grown and grown, and now I’m not sure where to take it, if anywhere. I hope the book might help me decide what to do. But I do vaguely wonder if I know what I’m doing, and why.

[1] I have issues about the whole concept of appropriation, which would potentially limit authors to autobiography if taken to its logical solution, but this isn’t the time to go into them. Suffice to say here that I’m worried of using someone else’s pain to sell my books.

Impostor!

I struggled to get up for volunteering, even though I had slept for nearly eight hours. In a weird way, I hope I do have an issue like sleep apnoea, because it feels like it might be easier to deal with than assuming this is a medication side-effect (I probably can’t come of my meds completely) or autistic exhaustion (which is more or less incurable). Although E might not want me to have sleep apnoea as sufferers tend to snore. If I ever shared a bed with someone, that might have made it easier to have an objective view of my sleep patterns and behaviour.

Volunteering was good, although I felt socially awkward again at times. Sometimes I feel I would like to know what other people really think of me, to see if it really is as bad as I sometimes fear when I feel I’m being very autistic and am not doing the right thing in a group situation. I also wasn’t always sure if people were teasing me or genuinely annoyed with me. I’m really not great at reading middle-aged women. For what it’s worth, I think they were teasing me. Someone said I looked young for my age, which is nice, although weirdly it’s common for people to think this about people on the spectrum. It’s been suggested we don’t show emotions on our faces so we wrinkle less than neurotypicals. Who knows? The same woman asked me what I do for a living, which is never a question I like to have to field; lately I’ve been telling people “I work in an office and am building a career as a writer and proof-reader,” although the proof-reading is really an aspiration for after E and my wedding and when we’re settled in together. It’s funny that Ashley posted something today on Impostor Syndrome and used the example of an author as something which has a social role beyond the literal meaning of the term. I struggle to see myself as a writer as I have written so little that has been professionally published, let alone that I have received money for.

I struggled to get down to some novel writing in the afternoon, being distracted by outside events and also procrastinating, but I did eventually manage at least an hour of writing, which was good. The procrastination did mean that I didn’t have time to submit my first novel to more agents (I stopped when I applied for the emerging writer’s programme as I was supposed to be unpublished), especially as I cooked dinner, went to online shiur (religious class) and skyped E. I might submit my manuscript on workday evenings rather than working on my new novel, so that I don’t burn out the next day.

***

I got an official rejection from the emerging writers’ programme. I’m trying not to take it too personally, or to see it as a sign that I will never be published or am wasting my time writing. I guess that would be Impostor Syndrome again.

***

More on Impostor Syndrome. A number of years ago, I was assistant librarian at a non-Orthodox Jewish educational institution. One day I overheard one of the library users, a Reform rabbi and academic, describe herself as suffering from “Impostor Syndrome.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time. A number of years later, I read a newspaper article she wrote about doing Daf Yomi (the daily Talmud study cycle) and how she felt uncomfortable that (male) Orthodox rabbis might not want her to study it. She said this not in a “they’re so sexist” way and more in a “wanting to be accepted” way. It is doubtful that the Impostor Syndrome comment referred to this, but it linked the two concepts in my head.

A while later, another female rabbi and academic passed away and donated her books to the library. I spent a long time searching through them and cataloguing them. I feel that I can get to learn a person more through looking at their books than anything else (not literally anything else, but than a lot of things). I was interested and surprised that she had a lot of books on Orthodox sub-groups, the Hasidism and the Mitnagedim (originally, the opponents of the Hasidim, although these days to an outsider they would doubtless seem very similar, and the rivalry no longer exists in the same way). Later, I came across a journal article by her where she said that she worried that the Hasidic rabbis she read about and admired would reject her because of her gender and that she wanted to be accepted by them.

These anecdotes surprised me because I thought the women involved, both very successful in multiple spheres (rabbinate, academia) and at least one very feminist and with a reputation for, as the cliche goes, “not suffering fools gladly”[1], would have no interest in what Orthodox rabbis, and especially Orthodox rabbis from centuries ago, would have to say about their lives. I would have thought that if they thought about being rejected by these men, they would simply tell them to “**** off.” And yet they clearly were conscious of the fear of rejection, and conscious enough to share that vulnerability in print. I have to say it endeared them to me enormously because of my own feelings of inadequacy. I was pleased to see two people who I saw as successful and psychologically balanced in a way that I was not suffering from similar doubts to me. I also feel I am not fully accepted in the Orthodox world, and unlike them, it is where I focus most of my spiritual life.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, except to say that Impostor Syndrome is probably a lot more widespread than most people are willing to admit.

[1] I’ve never been entirely sure who is glad to suffer a fool.

***

I finished reading the James Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (SPOILERS). I’ve read about half the Bond books now and I think this might have been my favourite, which surprised me as I don’t rate the film that highly (the second half of the film is good, but I find the first half slow). Blofeld’s plan is bizarre though: set up a super-expensive Alpine resort for the treatment of allergies, then use it to hypnotise “nice” but somewhat naive young women, all of whom work in agriculture (but come somehow afford treatment at this exclusive resort), into spreading biological warfare agents back home to destroy British agriculture. This is apparently funded by the KGB, and Blofeld will profit by selling sterling at a profit before the economy tanks. A lot of Doctor Who stories have the problem of the villain’s plans being far too crazy, convoluted and impractical to work in the real world (particularly when the Master is around) and this is in the same category.

(If I’m talking about Blofeld and the Master in the same breath, I should probably note that The Mind of Evil is Thunderball in a prison and Frontier in Space retells You Only Live Twice on an interstellar scale.)

I think Ian Fleming missed a trick by killing off James Bond’s wife shortly after their wedding. Tracy would have been an interesting recurring character and the series could have done with a strong female character, although it would have killed off the bed-hopping aspect of the novels (which doesn’t interest me anyway). Even though I don’t like sad endings, I thought the ending of the novel did work, which I don’t feel about the film, perhaps because there is more foreshadowing in the novel.