The Turkey Prince

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Shrugs Shoulders

The last two days of Pesach (Passover) went quite well. No real religious OCD-type anxiety, which was good. I went to shul (synagogue) every evening. Today I decided not to wear a coat, as it was still quite warm in the afternoon, only to discover that we were praying in the outside area so we didn’t have to wear masks. I like not wearing a mask, but when we finished Minchah (Afternoon Service) and had a shiur (religious class) before Ma’ariv (Evening Service) it got cold quickly, especially once the sun went down.

I left soon after shul finished, not really staying to help tidy up as I normally would do, partly because I’m not sure where things go in our new socially distanced layout, partly because I wanted to get home and help Mum and Dad clear up the Pesach things (which normally takes several hours). I was pretty tired, though, and felt I didn’t do much to help and spent more time eating than tidying, although Mum and Dad said I did help significantly. 🤷‍♂️

Communicating in emoji rather than words indicates how burnt out I feel. I wish I knew what tires me out so much. I struggled to sleep last night, but slept through most of the morning and napped in the afternoon after a walk. I just seem to be tired a lot of the time and can’t function in mornings at all. Is it really autistic burnout? 🤷‍♂️again.

I enjoyed most of Pesach, but I again have the feeling that my chag (festival) lacked meaning and spirituality. Did I really meditate on the meaning of freedom? Did I really come closer to God? I feel like I didn’t. Do some people really manage this? I don’t know again, and I’m scared to ask anyone. This is when I feel like I struggle from not having many frum (religious) friends to talk to. Sometimes I wish I was an FFB (frum from birth i.e. raised as a religious person) who could take the basics of the festival for granted and concentrate on the deeper meaning. Or a BT (ba’al teshuvah, ethnic Jew who became religious later on in life) who had a major inspirational experience at some point to reflect on when feeling distant from God, to re-energise. I just became religious because I felt guilty for not being religious, which is probably exactly the sort of thing I would do, engage in a major life-change from guilt and obligation rather than inspiration and then try to keep it going. But I feel like I’m immune to inspiration. Even now I’m apparently over the depression (for now), I don’t seem to have much of an inspirable soul, at least not with the things that are supposed to inspire Orthodox Jews.

Possibly I assume everyone else is doing a lot better than me when that is not the case.

I have a date with PIMOJ tomorrow and should go to bed, but I want to watch TV for a bit to unwind or I doubt I will sleep easily. I’m going to try not to catch up with my missed blog posts from the weekend, part of an attempt to be online less. I skimmed down my friends list to see I wasn’t missing anything important, and I admit I read one or two posts, but I’m going to try not to read the rest. Sorry if I missed your opus, it’s nothing personal!

Vulnerability (Fragment)

I had killer burnout this morning and missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) completely, even though now the clocks have gone forward you can say it until after 1pm, although Chol HaMoed (semi-festive day) prayers are off-puttingly long, and the Anglo-Jewish custom is to wear tefillin even though it’s semi-festive (I feel uncomfortable wearing tefillin, which I’m sure feeds in to my tendency to pray Shacharit late).

I had a long WhatsApp conversation with PIMOJ which was good, as I was worried the relationship was burning out. It turns out she dislikes video calls as much as I do. So that makes me feel better. I told her about feeling burnt out and she was sympathetic, but I didn’t dare to tell her that I was still in pyjamas, and in bed, at 1pm. I realised last night that I need to make more of an effort to be vulnerable with PIMOJ. It’s hard, because she’s understanding, but also very different to me, very outgoing and happy, and I worry about scaring her off with my issues. Being vulnerable is scary. But I think the relationship will only move on if we open up to each other more. I think we’re both hiding some inner thoughts. It’s hard to work out how much to open up and when, though, especially as I didn’t always have good experiences with this in previous relationships.

Sir Galahad

I wonder how much of my low self-esteem comes from guilt about sex. Religious guilt about thinking about sex, but also feminist guilt about being attracted to women. Did the low self-esteem, guilt and shame start when I hit adolescence? I was shy as a child, but did I have low self-esteem before adolescence? I can’t remember.

Is it hard for any “normal” male (or female? I don’t know) who cares deeply about a traditionalist religion to get through adolescence any more without feeling hugely guilty? Such is the culture clash between highly sexualised, even pornified, Western sexual culture and religious culture. Then there was my first relationship, much of which was spent negotiating what levels of physical contact we were comfortable with (contrary to stereotype, she wanted to be much more physical than I did; she was a lot more experienced than I was too). Whenever I try to think positively about myself, I feel my libido is there to indict me.

It’s weird being thirty-seven and still a virgin, or at least it seems that way from the world around me. Certainly in the Orthodox Jewish world it’s weird and rather pitiable, although no one voices that opinion. In the Western world its weird for for different reasons. I suppose I seem inadequate, or dangerous (the “dangerous misogynistic incel” meme). The first psychiatrist I saw thought I was gay because I was twenty and had never had a girlfriend. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.

Maybe it’s different in a religious community that encourages monasticism and religious celibacy. In the Orthodox Jewish community, where early marriage and large families are the norm, I feel this weird pseudo-child, a fact not helped by my autism and mental illness history rendering me childish and helpless more often than I would like. I agree with the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex before marriage, but I wonder if I will ever get there — or if, when I do, it will be one more thing that autism renders difficult and uncomfortable for me. Many people on the spectrum struggle with sex for a variety of reasons, usually tied to sensory discomfort or issues around interpersonal relationships. My experiences with my first relationship don’t make this any easier, just adding more guilt and fear.

Now I’m in a relationship, which makes these worries both more and less pertinent: fewer worries of the “No one could ever love me?” type, but more of the “What if she decides I’m too broken?” or “What if I’m just too autistic to do make this work?” type, as well as the specific obstacles our relationship faces.

I’ve mentioned before my asexual childhood fictional heroes (possibly I had already intuited on some level that sex and relationships would be hard for me) have all been sexualised now. Not for the first time, I reflect that the diversity agenda (which I see a lot in librarianship) is, in many ways, not all that diverse.

I feel haunted by the question, “Am I normal?” Haunted both religiously and generally. Also, “Am I good?” I wonder if God thinks I am a good person or a good Jew. These questions are not uniquely related to sex, but they are not absent from it either. I would like to know very much if God thinks I’m a good Jew.

***

I don’t know if it was a cause or a result of these thoughts, or something entirely unrelated, but today I had a bit of a mid-Pesach slump. Actually, in OCD anxiety terms, it was good: some things that would normally have been very triggering were overcome quite easily, but my mood was low. I just felt down and struggled to get involved in anything. I managed about forty minutes of Torah study, which surprised me, as it was difficult to concentrate.

I went for a run, which was good in terms of pace and moved my low mood a bit, but also refocused the low mood as general angst: “What if PIMOJ breaks up with me?” “What if our relationship doesn’t work out for some other reason?” “What if I never progress past my autism to build a career?” “What if I never get published?” (Published more than I have been already, I guess.) It’s telling that I was worried about not getting published and didn’t even think about a librarianship career.

I do think lockdown has made my relationship with PIMOJ hard, particularly the last few weeks when we’ve both also been busy with Pesach preparation and she’s been working compulsory overtime several days a week and speaking on video, let alone in person, has been almost impossible. Hopefully things will get a bit easier from here on.

***

In the evening I had a Zoom call with a couple of university friends. It was good, but also hard in parts, partly because I’m not comfortable on Zoom, partly because I feel our lives are very different. One friend teaches in a law school, the other at a university and I feel a bit inferior. On the other hand, they’re really impressed with my novel, but I don’t like to talk about it for reasons I can’t understand. I was trying to say that someone had read the novel and not liked it without saying it was PIMOJ, because I haven’t told them about PIMOJ and don’t want to at this stage. I didn’t want to talk about my autism assessment either and was vague there when talking about bad Microsoft Teams experiences, which I had at my assessment. I don’t know why I hide so much from people in real life. I’m scared of making myself vulnerable, which is probably an issue I have with PIMOJ too. I’m trying to make myself more vulnerable to her and share more, but it’s not always easy. I’m scared of how she might respond. I also had the issue I had yesterday of wanting to know how long the meeting would last. It was a free meeting and so should have been forty minutes, but went on longer, which made me vaguely anxious. All that said, my mood was better afterwards and I’m glad I managed it.

***

Perhaps because my mood was better after the call, I decided to send the devar Torah (Torah thought, although this was shorter and less textually-based and possibly less well-reasoned than normal) I wrote earlier in the week after all, after having been on the point of dumping it because I disliked it so much. My belief that Judaism is fundamentally anarchist in outlook (not voiced in so many words) is one I have hinted at before, although I’m wary of stating it explicitly for fear of the response it will get. Obviously it’s a different kind of anarchism to that of modern anarchist thinkers, based on individual responsibility and self-restraint.

***

All day, when my mood was bad, I was saying I would just vegetate in front of the TV. But then I thought I would do some Torah study first and then I would run first and in the end I’ve only watched forty minutes of TV. I wonder if I do more than I give myself credit for, but I haven’t actually done much today, just thought about doing things.

Time Warp Pesach

Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the first two days of Pesach (Passover) were, on the whole, good. I wanted to do a blow-by-blow account, but it’s too late and I don’t have the time, so I’ll do bullet points. (I’m also not catching up on blog posts I’ve missed tonight; hopefully tomorrow, but even then maybe not all of them.)

  1. I saw a beautiful rainbow on the way to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. This got Yom Tov off to a good start.
  2. Shabbat was weird. (I’m not even going to try to explain how or why Shabbat the day before Pesach is so weird. Sorry, it’s just too complicated. If you don’t know, you might just want to skip to the next bullet point.) We had egg matzah for hamotzi. This is not entirely in the spirit of not eating matzah on Erev Pesach, but I felt the alternative was to eat pita bread and freak out about chametz (leaven) crumbs all through Pesach. I managed to get up around 8.00am to daven (pray) a bit and make hamotzi before the cut off time.
  3. Having Shabbat the day before Yom Tov gave the whole experience a weird Groundhog Day time warp effect where none of us were sure what day it was, something only compounded by the clocks going forward on Saturday night, when religious Jews can’t change them (because of Yom Tov) — except that some modern clocks adjust themselves, so on Sunday and Monday we kept having to check what time it was on different clocks to work out what time it really was.
  4. The sederim went pretty well. Even though there were only three of us (me, Mum and Dad), we had some back and forth of questions and suggested answers. I learnt some things, which was good. We had a good pace, not too fast or too slow. I do feel I’m too old to look for the afikoman, especially alone. I didn’t mind saying the Mah Nishtanah (the Four Questions, traditionally said by the youngest person present), and sang it, something my sister generally refuses to do. I do feel sorry for people doing solo sedarim though.
  5. My OCD anxious thoughts were mostly under control, more so as time went on. I am still struggling with a few thoughts intermittently. My rabbi mentor is usually uncontactable during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) and won’t talk about Pesach after the event, but I have some questions to ask him for next year.
  6. I went to shul a few times. This occasioned some social anxiety, although I pushed through it, as well as discomfort (feeling suffocated) from wearing a mask too long.
  7. I read a bit: more of Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggadah by Erica Brown, the Haggadah I used at the seder this year (it has eight essays, one for each day of Pesach); a bit of Grant Morrison’s Batman arc; and Anno Dracula 1918: The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman’s follow-up to Anno Dracula, itself a spin-off from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, positing a world in which Dracula was not defeated and became Prince Consort of the British Empire. In the sequel, expelled from Britain, Dracula becomes Commander-in-Chief of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies in World War I. One hundred pages in, not a lot has actually happened, but the “vampires in spiked helmets” imagery is strong and there are lots of cameos from real and fictional figures from the early twentieth century.
  8. I think I feel more comfortable in my head at the moment. I’m OK sitting with myself without reading, watching TV or listening to music. On Friday and today I got exhausted and took time out just to lie on the bed silently. I think I need to decompress from sensory overload more than I realised in the past, or maybe I actually need to do it more often as I get older. I’m wondering if I should set a “No screens for the first half-hour after I get home from work” rule so I can decompress properly. I’ve been feeling lately that I want to be on my computer less, but unsure how to do it when my main social interactions are through the internet: my blog and other people’s.
  9. I went for a walk today without a coat or jumper. Spring is finally here.
  10. It occurred to me today that so many of my thoughts about not fitting into my community because I don’t feel I’m appropriately religious (Haredi) might actually be about not fitting in because I’m autistic. I realised that while I have a few possibly mentally ill Jewish hero figures (with the usual caveats about trying to diagnose people who have been dead for centuries), I don’t have any high functioning autistic Jewish heroes and its hard to find my place in the community without them. I know there are not many female role voices and models in Orthodox Judaism but there isn’t a single autistic one.

The Hardest Task of the Year

On the day before Pesach (Passover), it’s customary for first-born Jewish males to fast, in memory of the plague of the first-born in the exodus story. The custom has also arisen to get out of this fast (unlike other fasts) by attending a siyum a religious celebration, usually for finishing some religious study. When Pesach starts on a Sunday, this all gets pushed back to the Thursday beforehand. This is why I got up early this morning to attend a siyum on Zoom. I decided it wasn’t realistic for me to go to shul (synagogue) for this. I couldn’t sleep last night, but even before that, I thought I was too tired to manage it. I don’t know what I would have done in a “normal” year, but this year there is still COVID, so I attended virtually. I didn’t manage to get up early enough to pray beforehand (the siyum is usually immediately after the morning service) or even to get dressed; I just got up and switched on my phone, leaving the camera switched off as I sat there in my pyjamas.

After I managed to eat breakfast, get dressed and pray, I hoovered my room and went for a walk. My mood dropped quite a lot while out. I was feeling negative (depressed and anxious) about Pesach, but also about my writing. Coming home and eating lunch helped quite a lot. Tiredness and low blood sugar can push my mood very far down, very quickly.

In the afternoon I made the charoset and baked cinnamon balls (biscuits). I was pretty exhausted after that, and after my anxiety got pushed up by something that happened, so I had to take time out to watch Babylon 5 to try to regain my composure.

Then came the worst task of the year: kashering the kitchen sink i.e. getting it ready for Pesach by pouring boiling water over it to remove any trace of food. The difficulty is that it has to be boiling water not boiled water, i.e. poured within just a few seconds of the kettle turning off. And it has to reach the surface of the sink (bottom, walls, drainer, taps) from an area of a couple of inches of where the spout hits the sink, or it will have cooled off too much. And ideally you should do it in one go.

I don’t know why I find it so hard. My rabbi mentor and my parents’ rabbi have both said it’s easy. Mashgiachs (kashrut supervisors) do it all the time. But something – perhaps some autistic body coordination problem, the reason I’m awful at ball games? – stops me doing it. Of course, OCD kicks in too: after two or three seconds I stop, convinced I’ve spent too long pouring when I probably still have a second or two to keep pouring.

Whatever the reason, I can’t do it in one go. I take seven or eight, maybe more, doing the drainer and taps, than the base of the sink, then the walls one by one, sometimes repeating bits I’m not happy with. This time I got to the end and couldn’t remember if I’d done the side nearest me. I was 80% sure I had, but not 100%. I decided 80% would have to be good enough; do it again, and I’ll be there all night doubting myself, redoing bits, fuelling the OCD. My rabbi mentor says I only have to get 51% of the sink for it to be considered done. I have no idea if I managed that. We put a plastic bowl in on Pesach anyway, which is a useful belts and braces approach.

It didn’t help that Mum and Dad were in and out of the kitchen the whole time while I was doing this, which just made me feel more awkward. I felt pretty rotten afterwards, not sure if I’d done the right thing and feeling undischarged anxiety pent up inside me. I hate this job, but I worry my parents wouldn’t do it the way I would like, so I have to do it myself.

I appreciate that this is probably very far from what most people would see as the place of religion. For what it’s worth, I feel that if I do this every year, despite hating it, purely because it is what God wants, according to the rabbis, then that is a kind of sacrifice.

Even this was not the end of the day. After dark, we did the traditional search of the house by candlelight for chametz. We were all pretty exhausted and not in the best temper. Usually this would be done on the night before Pesach, but that’s Shabbat (the Sabbath) this year, so we do it earlier.

With all of this, it’s probably no surprise I barely managed ten minutes of Torah study. Hopefully I can catch up over Pesach.

***

I feel that maybe I shouldn’t talk about OCD thoughts and anxiety here. Or at least, it’s hard to know what to say about them. They aren’t anywhere near the intensity of when my OCD was at its height a few years ago. Although I would like to hear from my rabbi mentor about one or two things, I’m mostly feeling OK, although something happened today that (frankly) freaked me out for five or ten minutes into stronger anxiety. Everyone has OCD-type “weird” thoughts all the time. The difference is that most people dismiss them easily, but people with OCD fixate on them and worry about them and their implications. I’m not at the OCD end of obsessing about things endlessly, but I’m not at the point of just brushing things off either.

The problem is that checking is bad for OCD, as it just fuels it. You can never be 100% certain, so checking just encourages double and triple checking. In Orthodox Jewish culture, it feels normal to check questions with a rabbi, particularly at Pesach, when the dietary rules are so different from the rest of the year, but that’s counter-productive with OCD. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes. I’m just trying to focus on trying my best and hoping that’s enough, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it would be.

***

Ashley pointed me in the direction of this article on autistic burnout. I found it interesting that it sees burnout as being long-term, over a period of weeks or months. I have probably had burnout like that (possibly some of my depressive episodes were actually major burnout), but I experience extreme fatigue and desire to withdraw also on a regular basis for short periods (days or even hours). I certainly agree that burnout can cause loss of skills. I am fairly sure I lose skills in the short-term when burnt out, and I suspect I have lost skills long-term too, particularly my librarian skills. I also seem to make more mistakes in writing than I used to (wrong words, apostrophes), and find it harder to spot them. I used to be a good proof-reader; I’m not sure that I still am.

***

I’m not sure if I’ll get the time to write tomorrow. It’s not technically Erev Pesach (the day before Pesach), but as Erev Pesach is Shabbat, most of the usual Erev Pesach tasks get done tomorrow. It’s the busiest day of the year and I don’t know if I’ll get time to write. And then I’ll be incommunicado until Monday evening! I’ll be glad to actually get to Pesach after such a stressful build up.

The Long Twilight Struggle

I struggled with burnout again on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, as well as thoroughly hoovering and dusting my room for Pesach, including moving my bed and bedside table to hoover under them (not my desk though – too heavy, and food is unlikely to get under it as the three exposed sides are flush with the floor). At least that’s out the way for now; I won’t eat food (other than water) in there now until after Pesach.

I embarrassed myself phoning the hospital about the report from my autism assessment. I had misunderstood when it would be available, which turns out not to be for another two or three weeks. I was very apologetic to the secretary for wasting her time, but I felt bad.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) went well. I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. We davened Kabbalat Shabbat (said some of the Evening Prayers) outside so that we could sing. It was good to sing, but very cold, even if Saturday was the first day of spring.

I got up earlier than usual on Saturday morning, although I went back to bed after breakfast and dozed for a bit. I napped in the afternoon too, which I didn’t want to do. I didn’t do much Torah study, partly because of napping, partly because when Shabbat went out I got an awful migraine that took hours to shift. I didn’t even feel up to saying all of the Ma’ariv (Evening) prayers; usually I somehow soldier on, but I skipped the after Shabbat verses of blessing because just reading made me feel like I was going to throw up. This is an improvement, as in the past I would carry on. The last time I had a bad headache when davening (praying) was on Simchat Torah, when bowing at the end of the Amidah prayer actually made me throw up. Perhaps I’m willing to make more excuses for myself now.

I spent much of the evening wrapped in my weighted blanket, watching Babylon 5 (hence the title of this post from one of the episodes, used in a rather humorously melodramatic way). The painkillers I took finally kicked in, along with the cool and soothe strip. I feel a bit tired now, but not particularly sleepy. I’m going to have something to eat (I need to take my antidepressants with food) and maybe go to bed. My room is freezing cold; I opened the windows wide before as I prefer to be cold if I have a migraine, but I wonder how I will fall asleep now.

***

I’ve been missing PIMOJ a lot lately. I realised that I experience this not as pining after her the way I pined after various crushes in my earlier life, but in worrying that she will lose interest in me, that I’m not good enough for her and so on. I’m not sure what to do about this. Hopefully we can meet after Pesach or maybe even during it. We had a text conversation tonight, a bit more in-depth than either of us has had the time or energy for this week, and we’re hoping to speak tomorrow.

***

It’s strange thinking that not only do I now have autism, but I have had autism all my life, even when I was a child doing well at school. It still seems a little strange how well I did at school compared with how badly I’ve done since then, but school was a strange micro-environment, plus “doing well” is relative, as I had undiagnosed depression and anxiety when I was in the sixth form and maybe earlier, and I struggled a lot socially, with bullying and (not) making friends. I would do a lot differently if I knew what I know now, but it’s too late. Still, the thought of being autistic and still doing well academically seems slightly jarring, even though many people on the spectrum are the same. I wish I could identify how I succeeded then and work out how to apply it now, but the answer seems to be to seek out opportunities for rote memorisation of lists and tasks, focus 100% on work with no social or romantic life, and concentrate very hard on doing what I’m told, which does not necessarily make for a healthy adult life.

I was looking over Shabbat at a new haggadah (Passover prayer book) commentary I just bought. It has open questions to stimulate discussion at the seder service. Many of them ask the participants to think about major life events. I keep coming back to my autism diagnosis for so many of these questions. I definitely haven’t worked it through yet.

***

I search for the truth, in what I suppose is a very old-fashioned way. I took a decision at some point, initially unconsciously, lately very consciously, not to cut out of my life people I disagreed with purely on matters of religion or politics. I feel that this is unusual. I try not to read material that is just supporting my views, although it’s hard to find the time to read things from “my” side let alone other opinions in depth, and naturally I prioritise material I think is going to be more accurate which correlates with material I agree with. But I do tend to try to work out what the other side thinks, more or less automatically, probably a hold-over from my university days, where my essays tended to sit on the fence and examine both sides of the issue without really being drawn to one over the other. Anyway, I feel that this behaviour is unusual and most people do not do this. I’m not sure what to think about this.

Day of Learning

I was excused from Pesach (Passover) cleaning today to go to the London School of Jewish Studies’ Pesach day of learning on Zoom. It was very interesting, if rather draining: six hour long Zoom sessions and a further fifteen minute Zoom shorter session. That’s a lot of Zooming for one day. Chief Rabbi Mirvis spoke about the need to look forward to seder even more than usual this year because of the COVID restrictions and lack of guests. I am looking forward to it, I’m just nervous too, about preparation (doing it correctly and getting everything done in under two weeks). And I’m tired now!

My favourite quote was from Rabbi Joseph Dweck, that we prefer questions without answers to answers that can’t be questioned.

Now I need to turn twelve pages of handwritten notes into something ordered that can be used to stimulate discussion at the sederim.

Pesach OCD, and Mood Dips

My vaccine side-effects seem to have gone now, except for a soreness on my arm where I was injected.

***

We started Pesach (Passover) cleaning today. Pesach demands the complete removal of leavened bread, leavened bread products, utensils used for them and food cooked with those utensils. Moreover, while the usual Jewish dietary laws don’t worry about tiny crumbs, the Pesach laws do. Historically, this has been a target for my Pesach OCD, which manifests as much as a contamination OCD as a religious OCD (religious OCD more often manifests as obsessive doubt, about one’s own righteousness or the existence of God or worry about impure thoughts).

Cleaning the fridges and freezers, as we started doing today, is OKish, as we don’t worry too much about cold surfaces (we worry more about heated areas where food might get baked in) and it’s quite easy to drench everything with cif or other cleaners to ensure any crumbs are inedible (chemical-drenched crumbs are inedible and therefore no longer considered “food”; the dietary laws only apply to food, not inedible items). I have been worrying a bit that I didn’t do it well enough, though, which may be because I think I forgot to take my clomipramine this morning (anti-depressant that also helps with OCD).

I saw a greetings card in a Jewish shop a while back that annoyed me. It showed a Jewish OCD support group where the members were saying that they loved Pesach cleaning. There’s a lot wrong with this. First, people with OCD don’t enjoy their compulsions. If they do, then it’s not OCD; anxiety about the compulsion is part of the diagnostic criteria. Second, OCD doesn’t equal cleanliness. It can manifest in all kinds of ways, and even hygiene OCD, which is what the cartoonist was probably thinking about, doesn’t necessarily go with neatness and cleanliness. You can be obsessive about sterilising door handles and still leave your clothes strewn across the floor every evening. Third, as I mentioned above, OCD can manifest as contamination OCD at Pesach, fear of leavened food contaminating Pesach food, which can lead on to fear of inadequate cleaning or kashering (heating a surface or item to remove traces of leavened food).

***

After Pesach cleaning for an hour and a bit, I did some food shopping and went for a walk. My mood dipped significantly after that. I thought it might be low blood sugar and it did get better after eating a cereal bar, but it dipped again a while after that. I did half an hour of Torah study and spent ten minutes planning my devar Torah for the week. I would have liked to have spent more time on either of these, but I just got too depressed for it to be viable. As I noted above, I’m wondering if I forgot to take my meds this morning. It’s possible and it would explain the way my mood suddenly got worse this evening in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time.

***

When my mood dipped today, I’ve been having negative thoughts, or just negative feelings (I don’t accept the CBT idea that negative feelings are always caused by negative thoughts). Some of these have been about my relationship, that I can’t cope with being in a relationship, making sacrifices for someone else, even doing things with someone else rather than by myself and needing lots of time alone. But the thoughts were more about my writing ability. I guess people who try to work with their creativity are liable to worry that their talent and inspiration will just dry up, or weren’t even good enough to start with. Doubly so as I haven’t really sold anything yet, just one or two odd pieces of non-fiction writing (which isn’t where I’m trying to work now). I keep thinking that my mainstream novel of character is a mistake because I don’t read a huge amount of mainstream fiction any more and I’m not great at understanding people. So then I think about my plans for a series of Jewish fantasy/horror time-travel novels, but then I think about not having read enough of those genres. I don’t feel I could write a science fiction novel, even though it’s the genre I read the most.

I feel I don’t read the way I should to be a writer. I tend to read a lot of specific authors rather than reading lots of authors within a genre, or lots of genres to get an idea of what’s been done in that genre and what the tropes and cliches are. I still haven’t really found my voice and when I think about writing I admire that I’d like to take as an inspirational starting point, I think of TV as much as novels (Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, Twin Peaks).

***

Medication issues aside, I guess I’m just stressed, like every other Jew who takes Pesach seriously is at this time of year. I guess stressed is OK. Hopefully I’ll be better tomorrow, once my meds are back in my system.

***

A friend emailed to say he really enjoyed my non-fiction Doctor Who book (the one I self-published) and has reviewed it for a fanzine/fan website. I’m pleased, although I wish I had the time and energy to set about making a second edition with a lower price and better cover. However, a second edition would really need a revised text too, to cover the last season of episodes and I don’t have the time. More importantly, my creative energies are directed to fiction now.

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), Joy and Living in the Moment

Last night wasn’t much fun. Around 6.00pm, I started getting aches in my joints. Within a couple of hours, I was shaking and shivering and felt alternately hot and cold. It seemed like I was having side effects from the COVID vaccine, as my body started an immune response. It got worse across the evening. I started crying uncontrollably at times, triggered by all kinds of thoughts: happy or sad, religious or secular or even just trivial. I tried to go to bed around midnight, but was shaking too much to sleep and just lay in bed for two hours. There didn’t seem much point in getting up, as I wasn’t well enough to read and, being Shabbat, I wasn’t able to watch a DVD.

I think I must have dozed off around 2.00am, but I woke up again after an hour or so. I was very thirsty, but so tired that it took me well over an hour to get the energy to get up to get a drink. By this stage the shaking had temperature changes had stopped, but I was getting a headache, one of the type I get where lying down makes it worse, so I sat up for a while. I took some solpadeine and tried to read, but reading just made the headache worse and made me feel that I was going to throw up, so I just sat in the dark for an hour. Eventually the headache lessened and I went back to bed. It was no surprise that I slept through the morning this time or that I slept for two and a half hours in the afternoon (nearly missing Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Seudah Shlishit (the third Sabbath meal)). By lunch time I was a lot better, although I still have a bit of achiness in my joints.

I was actually OK at spending all this time alone in my head with no books, music or TV to distract myself. I think I’m mostly OK about being in my own head these days without falling in to loneliness, self-loathing or despair. I thought a lot about religious/Torah topics; my thoughts tend to naturally drift this way on Shabbat (the Sabbath). I tried to stay reasonably upbeat, and I know that it just means that the vaccine is doing its work and its nothing to worry about.

***

There’s a lot on my mind tonight, but most of it will have to wait, as it’s late and I should try to get to bed soon, although my sleep is even more disordered than usual now. However, there’s something I’ve been thinking about all week, and was thinking about when sick last night, and I thought I would share it.

For the last week I’ve been reading Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) with a brief commentary from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl in his Sukkot Machzor (Prayerbook for the Tabernacles festival) as well as an essay on the book published in the same Machzor. Kohelet is often seen as a deeply downbeat book, its first significant verse (after an introductory one) being translated by The King James Bible as “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” This is a bad translation. It doesn’t help that “vanity” in a sixteenth century context means something worthless rather than something self-focused, but either way “vanity” is a very poor translation for a word that in Hebrew means “breath.” Rabbi Sacks translates as “Shallowest breath, said Kohelet; the shallowest breath, it is all but breath.” It is a book about the fragility of life; the living are just one breath away from the dead and everything is as insubstantial as breath.

The narrator of the book relates at length the inability of wisdom, wealth, or sex to provide any lasting meaning or joy. Ultimately, everything, even wisdom, passes on the day of death. Moreover, the world is a deeply unjust place, where the wicked thrive and the righteous suffer. So the book has a reputation for being downbeat and not obviously “religious.”

Interspersed between these passages, however, are statements that one should try to experience joy and live a God-fearing life. These are so unlike the bulk of the book that it has been suggested that the author wanted to tone down his negative tirade and appear superficially religious to avoid being suppressed, or that they were the work of a later pious or worried editor. However, Rabbi Sacks notes that there are seven of these interpolations; it is an established principle of Jewish hermeneutics that seven-fold repetitions in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) are always significant.

Rabbi Sacks suggests that the interpolations are the key to the book. While life is largely negative, one can still experience moments of joy by living in the moment and enjoying the “simple pleasures of life” that come our way, whether monogamous love and honest work or simply food and drink. Rabbi Sacks says that happiness depends on external factors and may be impossible, but joy “lives in the moment” and is essentially shared with others.

In Rabbi Sacks’ view Kohelet is about living in the moment in a deeply imperfect and unhappy world. This intrigued me and I’ve been thinking about it all week. While I don’t think it would have helped me when I was clinically depressed, I’ve been trying lately (before this) to be a bit more mindful and present-focused and this has just increased my desire to do that.

Is Kohelet’s joy of living in the moment the Jewish equivalent of mindfulness? I don’t know. I see it as being very different to “toxic positivity” though. Toxic positivity denies the reality of suffering and evil, whereas Kohelet spends a long time talking about its reality, whether the fact that we will die and all our wisdom will vanish with us or the fact that the world is full of injustice and oppression and clearly not a utopia. Joy for Kohelet is about living despite suffering rather than denying it, and still finding reasons to keep going.

No Screens

My vaccination this morning went OK. I got there on time and the long queue moved quite quickly, probably because a socially distanced queue looks a lot longer than it actually is. I was a bit overwhelmed on walking into the surgery, which was very busy, but my usual GP happened to be doing vaccinations today, saw me come in and said he would vaccinate me, which was helpful. I did shake a bit, which I know is a mixture or anxiety and olanzapine side effects, but which still upsets me a bit, although I’ve got a bit used to it after so many years. The jab itself was painless and only took a couple of seconds; in fact the whole process, from joining the queue to being outside the surgery again took only ten minutes. I’ve been critical of the NHS in the past, but they do seem to be managing this well.

Unfortunately, an hour later I was on the phone to the surgery again. I had tried to pick up my repeat prescription on the way home, but it had not arrived at the pharmacist. Having spoken to the pharmacist and the GP’s secretary, I’m not sure where the problem was, but I was going to run out of olanzapine tomorrow night and, because of Shabbat (the Sabbath), I needed the repeat prescription today. The GP’s secretary said she would pass the prescription request back to the doctors and I was able to collect the prescription from the pharmacist this afternoon before Shabbat started. I had been thinking about going to shul (synagogue) this evening, but held back for various reasons, which turned out reasonably well, as it would have been stressful getting the medication in time to go out again.

***

Reading this interesting article on online culture and the erosion of the difference between public and private space prompted a few thoughts:

  1. It’s weird to see two secular thinkers repeating something that a very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi said about twenty years ago about the internet: that its chief danger is that it brings the outside in. When I first heard that (from the person the Haredi rabbi said it to in the early days of the internet), I thought it was ridiculously reactionary, but reading the article, I wonder if he had a point after all.
  2. The article made me thankful for Shabbat and reminded me of David’s recent post on the subject. As I commented over there, I regard the outlawing of electricity use on Shabbat as nothing short of providential. Even though electricity use does not intuitively violate any of the forbidden labours, as far as I’m aware, no major posek (decisor of Jewish law) permitted its use on Shabbat, albeit for different reasons, sometimes simply because it was not held to be fitting for the atmosphere of the day, or because it had become customary to avoid it. Although it may seem impossible to those who have never tried it, Shabbat without internet, TV, computers and phones creates an island of peace and reflection in the midst of the week, a time for building relationships with family and friends (pre-COVID, anyway), reading, thinking and generally living at a slow and gentle pace, not constantly stimulated and provoked in different ways. Inasmuch as I have any profound ideas about anything, I’m pretty sure that most of them come on Shabbat.
  3. In terms of online echo chambers, I’m glad that blogging about autism and mental health has brought me into contact with a group of people who cut across borders of politics, nationality, religion and gender. It can be discomfiting to meet people who think differently, but the alternative is a world made of hostile cliques. I recently deleted my barely-used Twitter account because I worried I was only interacting with people I thought I would agree with. Twitter as a whole seems to be designed for performative anger and self-righteous virtue signalling rather than open-minded discussion.

And now it’s nearly Shabbat so I’m going to shut down for twenty-five hours!

I Am Not My Thoughts and Feelings

I didn’t have much to do at work today. I haven’t had much to do for the last couple of work days. I think the usual winter rush that J told me about is over. I hope that doesn’t mean that I won’t be needed for much longer, especially as I’m nearing the end of the long-term project I’ve been working on at times when there hasn’t been any more immediate work.

***

I’m re-reading Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s book The Strife of the Spirit. I read it years ago, but can’t really remember much about it. I lent it to PIMOJ recently and she really liked it and said I should re-read it, although I think the mysticism of the early parts (it’s a collection of essays and interviews from different places) is more to her religious taste than mine.

However, today, in a chapter on the soul, Rabbi Steinsaltz says that our souls are not our thoughts or emotions. This intrigued me. I have mentioned here before that I find it very hard to have any sense of selfhood that isn’t connected to my thoughts and, to a lesser extent, my feelings. I’m very bad at meditation, mindfulness and other techniques for “switching off” our thoughts. So I was interested to see him say that our souls are not the same as our thoughts and feelings. When I try to visualise the afterlife (which in recent years I’ve found myself doing a lot for some reason), it tends to be as disembodied thought or feeling, even though I suspected (and this agreed) that disembodied being would be closer to the mark. I don’t know what that would “disembodied being” would entail, though. Maybe it’s beyond human perception in this world.

***

“The universe doesn’t give you any points for doing things that are easy” was a quote from a Babylon 5 episode I watched today (The Geometry of Shadows by J. Michael Straczynski). I’d agree with that, replacing the quasi-pantheistic “The universe” with “God” (Straczynski self-describes as atheist, but much of Babylon 5 has a vaguely mystical pantheist feel). Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so hard though. It often feels that I have to struggle just to get to the starting line, let alone to finish the race.

On which note: I’m still worrying about my autism assessment next week, worrying what will happen (practically and to my self-esteem) if I’m not held to be on the spectrum. I should really try harder not to think about it, because the psychiatrist has almost certainly already decided her diagnosis and there’s nothing I can do about it. I asked some friends and family members to pray for me, something I don’t think I’ve done before, not like this anyway. I asked them not to pray for any particular diagnosis, but just that I should have understanding and acceptance of myself and peace of mind. I did it less because of any practical effect I thought it might have and more because I thought it would help me to feel supported and cared for.

I heard the Jewish biblical scholar Dr Erica Brown talking about The Book of Esther recently and she used the image of standing on the threshold at key moments of our lives, as Queen Esther stands at the threshold of the king’s throne room, risking death if she walks in without being summoned there. I immediately saw the relevance for my own position. It really feels like Tuesday morning (the diagnosis appointment) is a threshold moment that will either concretise my self-understanding as someone on the spectrum or force me to look in a completely different direction in order to understand and accept myself.

Neurotypicalism

I went to my autism support group on Zoom this morning. I was wary of it, as I find it a lot less helpful than depression group, but it was about relationships and I wanted to see if I would learn anything. The main thing I learnt is that the person who runs the meetings seems to have issues with neurotypicals and needs to work them through somewhere else rather than just ranting about them in the meeting. I left early because it was just too much. There wasn’t really much helpful advice, just some stuff about being authentic and making room for yourself in the relationship and feeling free to have non-standard relationships if that works for you. Someone there had been married for nearly fifty years, which is reassuring, although other people were speaking about not wanting to live with anyone at all. It makes me feel vaguely weird for wanting a “neurotypical standard” relationship involving marriage and living in the same house. I felt there wasn’t really enough talk about how to make compromises for a relationship rather than expecting your neurotypical partner to make compromises for you. The final straw was when the presenter said that, for autistic people, no means no, but neurotypical people are “play games” and often say no when they mean yes, which struck me as a misleading and dangerous thing to say.

I was also a bit worried by the number of people in the group who are quite happy living by themselves. Not worried for them, if they’re happy, but I’ve had mixed feelings about that. I have lived by myself at times and I coped and enjoyed parts of it, but I also found it very lonely and isolating at times. Realistically, there isn’t any easy way I can have people around me when I want them, but not when I don’t, so either living alone or with someone involves trade-offs. I also think that some of the people in the “want to live alone forever” group were OK with having casual sex, and I’m not, for various reasons, so that certainly does alter the cost/benefit analysis.

I spent an hour or so working on my devar Torah for the week, partially abandoning my original plan when I was unable to locate some quotes in the primary sources. I prefer to use primary sources than secondary ones, but I don’t always know where to find the primary sources for concepts and sayings I’ve picked up over the years, plus I’m often reliant on online sources and my imperfect Hebrew translation skills. I know I’m not alone in struggling to remember where I heard things as the internet is full of Jews either misattributing quotes and concepts or saying vaguely that, “It’s a Jewish idea that…” or “The rabbis say that…” Someone should make an index of well-known Talmudic and Midrashic stories and quotes. Famously, a lot of Jews, including some very frum (religious) ones, misremember the story about Avraham (Abraham) smashing up his father’s idol workshop as an actual passage in the Torah (it isn’t, it’s a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative)).

After that, I did a mixture of Torah study and cooking and went for a 5K run, but I did feel a bit lost without either paid work or my novel to work on. I’m resting the novel for a few weeks until my writer/editor friend can look at it. I feel pretty negative about it at the moment, to be honest, and keep wondering what possessed me to try to a mainstream novel of character. Part of me wants to start on a new novel, but I know I have to stick with this one until it’s either ready for publication or definitely unpublishable.

I spoke to PIMOJ in the evening. To be honest, during and after my run I was having negative thoughts (personal worries, worries about antisemitism… the usual), but I did feel better after speaking to PIMOJ. We didn’t even talk about my issues, we just talked. It was good.

Lately I’ve had some minor religious OCD, not the Purim Megillah issue I wrote about, but “idolatrous” thoughts when I was trying to pray. I’ve had this a lot over the years. The easiest way to get rid of them is exposure therapy. Trying not to think about something tends to make you think about it, so the anxiety about not thinking X immediately prompts thoughts of X. The solution is to deliberately think about X a lot, so I spent time this evening repeating the phrase where I usually have the trouble while thinking the things I usually try not to think in the hope that I will get to a point where I’m so desensitised to thinking about them that I don’t try not to think about them (if that makes sense). I may have to do this for a number of days until it works, but I’ve responded well to this in the past.

COVID Purim (2)

There is an idea I heard the other day that Purim is the celebration of the end of the Jewish year. Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) is in the autumn, but Pesach (Passover) in a month’s time is also the new year (we have about four different new years for different things…). So this is the celebration that we got through another year. It feels more like New Year’s Eve than the introspection and hours in shul (synagogue) of Rosh Hashanah.

This year, Purim also marks a year of COVID. During Purim last year, COVID was around, but no one was taking it seriously and a lot of people got sick. Some died. Now we’ve gone a complete circuit through the Jewish calendar with COVID. The thought of doing a second Pesach in lockdown in four weeks’ time is making me feel a bit queasy, but that’s where we are.

Despite struggling to fall asleep and waking several times in the night, I managed to get up at 6.30am for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) at shul (synagogue). We were divided into small groups in different parts of the building again for social distancing purposes. The Megillah reading was good and I didn’t have any worries about missing words.

After breakfast, Dad and I drove around the area giving friends (his and Mum’s as well as mine) mishloach manot (gifts of food). Then we had a rather hurried seudah (festive meal). By this stage I just wanted to crash. Between six hours interrupted sleep and autistic social burnout, I was pretty exhausted and just wanted to crash, even though this year’s Purim was very low key. I watched Babylon 5 for a bit, the season one finale Chrysalis. J. Michael Straczynski, the creator, executive producer and chief writer on Babylon 5 spoke about “Wham” episodes, the ones with major irreversible plot twists and the like. Chrysalis is the first Wham episode, chronologically, and feels like the first episode to be clearly part of a much bigger story even if you didn’t know about the projected five year narrative (which I didn’t on original transmission). Re-watching the series in order, it feels like the start of what I wanted to re-watch rather than just the introduction to the characters and set-up. Not that season one didn’t have some good episodes, because it did, but that they feel a bit disconnected from the plot that runs through series two to four (season five also feels a bit disconnected, but that’s another story). So that refreshed me a bit.

Now I’m trying to move into Shabbat mode, and trying to avoid the slightly hollow, “Did I really grow from this festival?” feeling that I get sometimes at the end of festivals. I don’t feel that I did grow, but then again I’m not sure if it would be noticeable if I had grown, least of all to me. I suspect that real personal growth, like real happiness, is something that happens when you aren’t staring at it, trying to will it into existence.

COVID Purim (1)

I struggled to sleep last night and had weird dreams again, but I got up earlier today. Not early early, not even as early as I do on work days (which are not so early given I currently leave at 8.30am to avoid rush hour), but 10.00am, earlier than midday (or later) as I’ve been getting up on non-work days for the last week or two. I actually woke up about 9.30am, before Dad came in about 9.50am to tell me to check my phone in case I’d been offered another vaccination appointment (no, not yet) and before PIMOJ rang me at 10.00am as we’d agreed to help me get up.

I wasn’t working today, as J and I both wanted to make sure we could get to shul (synagogue) in time in the evening for Purim and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading. J can work from home today, but I can’t, but part of me at least is glad to give up a day’s wages so that I could at least try to approach this strangest Purim with a degree of calm. I actually did feel quite calm when I woke up, despite all the worry I’ve had for the last few days (weeks), like I’m finally facing the fear. However, I did feel at a bit of a loose end and anxiety grew as I got a bit bored. I don’t usually get bored as there are always things I want to do, but here I just wanted to get to shul and get Purim under way. As well as OCD-type anxiety that makes me worry about not hearing a word of the Megillah reading (we are supposed to hear every word of the Megillah, both morning and evening), this year, because of COVID, there is autistic new situation anxiety about having to go to a different room in the building to the one where we normally daven (pray) and social anxiety about possibly having to ask someone for directions to said room.

I did about half an hour of Torah study, but I wanted to save myself for the Megillah reading later rather than exhaust myself with heavy concepts in advance. I tried to make some changes to my novel, but aside for one or two slight edits, I feel stuck with it. I need to hear from someone outside my head about whether it’s any good. I have got a friend who will do that, but not until after Pesach which is not for another month.

It was a strange Purim. Purim with masks, but not fancy dress masks as usual, but COVID masks. I wore my jester’s hat, but almost no one else seemed to have been in fancy dress. I don’t know if I really saw a representative sample (I didn’t see many people), but perhaps people must only dress up for parties or for their children (children under eight were banned from shul to keep the numbers down). Someone handed out sheets of paper, which I thought were Purim shpiels (satirical writing), but turned out to be solemn warnings not to congregate in groups or go to parties.

My shul ran three parallel Megillah readings in different rooms, and a fourth one later, so that people could socially distance instead of having seventy or eighty people in one room at a go. It was permitted to make noise when the villainous Haman’s name was read as per usual, but only stamping or using rattles, no vocal noise. The person who read the Megillah was a boy of about fourteen or fifteen, but very good.

From an OCD worrying about missing words perspective, it was pretty good. There were few enough people in the room that no noise was really a problem, and the reader was good at waiting for quiet, and he repeated words he thought might have been lost. I worried that at one point I thought I heard a wrong word, but wasn’t sure. This seems to happen to me every year since the really bad religious OCD year. This time I reflected that there were some very frum (religious) and Jewishly knowledgeable people in that room, and they had corrected one or two minor mistakes, so they were unlikely to all let a major mistake such as I thought I heard go. This has mostly caused the fear to subside without turning into OCD anxiety.

Howard Jacobson said in an article somewhere that Pesach is the best Jewish festival because it has the best story, but I think the Purim story is even better. In recent years, I find myself reading along with the Megillah in fear and anticipation. That’s partly OCD-type anxiety that I might miss a word, but it’s also becoming involved in the story. Not only was the fate facing the Jewish people worse at the time of the Purim story than at the exodus from Egypt, the salvation was more unexpected. God had promised Avraham (Abraham) that He would rescue his descendants from slavery and once the ten plagues started, the outcome was not in question, but Purim is a festival with no prophecies, no miracles and, on the face of it, no hope, which is why it’s a festival about finding hope, about finding Providence in random chance (the word ‘Purim’ means ‘lottery’). I’m trying to hold on to that at the moment, with the confusion in both my personal life and the world.

Tomorrow I need to be up even earlier than today (6.15am or at least 6.30) to get to the morning Megillah reading (we have to hear it night and day). Given that attendance has to be booked this year because of COVID, I don’t have the option of going to a later reading if I miss it. I feel very tired now as the tension of the day dissipates. I’m not too worried about tomorrow; even in a normal year, morning Megillah readings are quicker, quieter, more straight-forward affairs. I will turn off my computer after this. I want to watch TV, but I watched TV all afternoon. OK, it was about an hour and a half of TV, but I don’t usually watch TV in the afternoon at all. But my brain is just not in gear to read and I need to do something to unwind or I won’t sleep from all the tension I’m still storing inside my body.

Equanimity, and Reading

I struggled to fall asleep last night, probably as a result of having slept too much over the weekend. That’s probably the context in which the rest of this post falls, that I was a bit sleep deprived and not at my best. I think I was worrying when I couldn’t sleep, but I don’t think I was being kept awake by worry, just that with not much to think about, I worried. Again, that’s probably relevant later.

At work I spent five minutes looking for a cheque before I remembered that the person had paid twice by mistake and we posted their second cheque back to them. I had just forgotten to delete the second cheque from the incoming payments spreadsheet. Until I realised what was going on, I worried I had done something really stupid, like throw the cheque in the bin or post it back to the sender instead of their receipt, something I have nearly done on several occasions. I hope I didn’t seem too stupid to J.

In the afternoon, I worked on the inventory again. I struggled a bit emotionally. My therapist says it’s not so helpful to talk of “depression” now, given that my mood is mostly stable, and I think that’s true, but my mood did dip, perhaps because of my lack of sleep. The inventory is not a completely straightforward task, but it doesn’t require a huge amount of concentration either, which is a recipe for my mind to wander, apparently to worries and negative thoughts about myself, somewhat like last night when I couldn’t sleep. I did get through it, but I fear that my work was not particularly fast or efficient, and I’m still only about halfway through the inventory (or really through stage one of the inventory).

***

I worry a lot about not having peace of mind, including today while feeling like this, so it was interesting to see in the Jewish book I just started re-reading (The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz) that peace of mind is a negative thing in Judaism. We should feel inner conflict: “there are [spiritual] goals that cannot be attained except through struggle waged within the soul.” (p.5) Elsewhere (The Thirteen Petalled Rose p. 132) Rabbi Steinsaltz states that “The Jewish approach to life considers the man who has stopped going — he who has a feeling of completion, of peace, of a great light from above that has brought him to rest — to be someone who has lost his way. Only he whom the light continues to beckon, for whom the light is as distant as ever, only he can be considered to have received some sort of response.” This is rather different from what a lot of self-help books say. Alan Morinis writes that the Jewish idea of equanimity is like a surfer on a wave, staying balanced, but aware of what is around him. This approach intrigues me. It seems more feasible than complete calm and lack of emotional upsets.

***

I feel that I’m reading less. I should qualify that and say I’m reading less recreationally. I read a lot of religious material, in Hebrew and English. But I think I’m reading less for fun. Certainly I haven’t found a novel that really grabbed me, that I became immersed in, for quite a while. And I’m not sure if my idea of mixing more non-fiction into my reading schedule is so good. I like to learn about history, economics and politics, so setting aside time to read about them is good, but then I want to be a professional author, so I should read a lot of fiction. It can also be harder to get motivated to read non-fiction than fiction. Then again, I want to write Jewish historical fantasy, so a solid grounding in Jewish and world history and mythology is also important…

I also find that it’s easier to read blogs and news articles online than books or even longform online journalism. The Jewish Review of Books periodically posts long articles that they don’t include in the print magazine and I save them, but it’s hard to get around to reading them. Sometimes I print things like that off and read it on Shabbat as it’s easier to set aside the time to read then. Despite this, I still spend hours idly surfing blogs, BBC News and other news sites.

I guess the bottom line is that I haven’t found reading so much fun lately, so I’ve been prioritising television, particularly when tired (which is a lot of the time). I’m not sure what to do about this, or if this is even something I should do anything about. Reading has been my love since I was a toddler, it will probably reassert itself at some point, maybe when I’m sufficiently at peace with my own novel to be able to read other people’s work without taking it to pieces to see how it works and what I should (or shouldn’t) learn from it, which I’ve been doing lately (mind you, I do that with TV too).

***

I don’t normally post links, but as I was complaining about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) lockdown non-compliance recently, I want to link to this interesting post that says that the data suggests Haredi compliance was greater than the community has been given credited for, at least in the first lockdown. And while I find many aspects of Haredi life personally uncomfortable, not to mention antithetical to my understanding of Judaism, I agree that demonising “Them” isn’t helpful. It opens the door to all kinds of nasty social engineering projects once you decide that some life choices are inherently wrong and need policing (or “helping”) by other groups (with obvious caveats for where those life choices affect those unable to choose, whether children or people vulnerable to COVID).

The Understudy

I didn’t have a very good night’s sleep. I used my new weighted blanket and it was good, but I wonder if it was warm enough as I kept waking up in the night. If I continue to have interrupted sleep, I may put a summer weight duvet over it and see how that is. I slept badly anyway through going to bed late and having slept too much in the afternoon, so it took me a long time to fall asleep. I had weird dreams, although none interesting enough to be worth sharing, and woke up late and burnt out so that I lay in bed a long time trying to get the strength to get up. I felt a bit better after breakfast, but I don’t usually feel 100% until after lunch, even on work days when I do manage to get up early.

I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above the water at the moment. Some of it is the time of year, as I’ve mentioned, when the days are still short and cold and wet, but the anxiety about the spring Jewish festivals is growing. In addition, my sleep is still disrupted, I’m still worried about doing the wrong thing at work, I feel negative about my novel (vaguely wondering if I should give up on it and start a new one, although I don’t realistically feel that would be a good idea at this stage) and I miss PIMOJ in the lockdown. And, like pretty much everyone in the world, I’m sick of COVID and lockdowns in general, I just want life to be normal again (for all that I struggle with “normal”). PIMOJ is stressed about things in her life too, which only magnifies the problem.

I know other frum (religious) Jews don’t get so anxious about Jewish observance. They perform the mitzvot (commandments) to the best of their ability and that’s that. I don’t know how they get to that point. Some of it is probably being brought up frum from a young age (which I wasn’t) and some is feeling a strong level of community integration and support (which I don’t have).

I was feeling today that I’m an understudy in my own life, thrust onto the stage unprepared. Or, I’m a new actor playing the Doctor in Doctor Who, trying to play it my way, while keeping faith with my predecessors (i.e. other Jews, especially my ancestors).

I went for a run and while running I started thinking about the two questions Babylon 5 is built around, “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” I want to be a good Jew and a good writer. I’m not sure if that answers the “Who?” or “What?” question and I’m not sure how to achieve either of them. I feel like I should have better answers and more of a plan for achieving them now I’m in my late thirties.

After my run, though, I started thinking about gratitude, how grateful I am for supportive parents and a supportive sister, for a brother-in-law I get on with even though we’re quite different, for friends online and in person, for the fact that I’m in work with a tolerant boss, for the fact that I’m reasonably psychologically stable at the moment, and for the fact that I have a supportive girlfriend. I know not everyone has these things, and I’m grateful for them.

Last Wednesday, my therapist encouraged me to focus on “I can cope” as an affirmation. I’ve not found affirmations hugely useful in my recovery from mental illness, but this seemed fairly pithy and realistic. I know I can cope. I’ve coped with my mental health for years and I’ve had several reasonably good Purims and Pesachs, at least from a mental health point of view, since the ones that were my nadir (around 2015 and 2016). So I can cope – I just have to learn to believe it.

***

Other than that, it wasn’t much of a day. I did some Torah study (less than I wanted) and, as I said, I went for a run, but that was about it. I didn’t get to work on my novel. There are some changes I want to make to the current draft before I send it out for feedback and I don’t know when I will have time to make them. I guess I feel I wasted time, although given how I felt on waking, I probably shouldn’t blame myself too much, not that that has ever stopped me.

***

I feel I’ve put myself “out here” a bit more in my blog over the last few months, occasionally posting more potentially controversial political and religious things. I guess that means I have a certain degree of trust in the people who read and comment. I don’t want to post a huge amount of this type of stuff, I still see this as primarily a daily journal-type blog about surviving with autism and residual mental illness on a day-to-day level, but it’s interesting because it suggests I can put these feelings out here in some circumstances, bearing in mind that I tend to hide my thoughts about politics and religion in Real Life. I do still get the, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that, what will people think of me?/what will they say?” feeling though, the desire to go back and edit or delete what I’ve written.

Shabbat and “Organised Religion”

Shabbat was mostly good. I finished reading Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy. It was very detailed (it’s much longer than the other books I have in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series even though Ruth is a very short book), perhaps a little too detailed, but it was very thorough and gave me a new appreciation for the literary and theological depth of a book that I had perhaps dismissed in the past as merely a pleasant story and a bit of an “origin story” for the Davidic monarchy.

I couldn’t sleep at night and read a lot of the graphic novel Final Crisis. I found it fairly incomprehensible. I knew that was likely to happen, as it’s a “crisis” story where Detective Comics put all their superheroes together against a massive foe. As Batman, to a much lesser extent, Superman, are the only superheroes I know well, I was expecting to be faced with many characters I didn’t know well or even at all. However, no characters seemed to stick around for more than a page or two to get to know them, except for a long interlude of Superman with parallel universe Supermen in a weird limbo universe. I didn’t really understand what was going on or why an equation can drive the entire population of Earth to despair and servitude of a super-powerful alien being (Darkseid). I’m reading it as it’s part of Grant Morrison’s wider Batman story arc, but it doesn’t seem to be as good as the other, Batman-only, stories in the arc. Or maybe I’m still too much of a Detective Comics novice to appreciate it. I think Morrison isn’t such a great plot author and tends to rely on spectacle and innovation and reimagining existing characters to pull the reader along.

I told PIMOJ I would get up at 10am today. I’m trying to see if I can get up earlier if I make myself responsible to her. I didn’t manage it, but I did get up at 10.37 instead, which was reasonably good. Unfortunately I napped for two hours after lunch; not good, I won’t sleep tonight (hence it’s gone 12.30am and I’m still writing).

I had a headache after Shabbat. I hope I’m not getting back in the habit of getting a headache every week.

My parents and I watched a Zoom talk this evening. Someone from my shul (synagogue) was speaking about his life story, from birth into a non-Jewish Austrian family in the 1920s to conscription into the Hitler Youth and later the SS, to being captured by the Americans and being a prisoner of war in England and eventually converting to Orthodox Judaism quite late in life. It was interesting and he really had enough material to speak for two evenings.

After that I spoke to PIMOJ for a while and then did some Torah study that I hadn’t managed earlier because of my headache.

***

I had some thoughts about organised religion, based on the comments to my previous post. A number of people spoke about believing in God, or at least being open to God, but getting turned off by organised religion. I guess that’s something I can’t always understand emotionally, although I can see why some religious institutions would annoy people. Maybe it’s partially because Judaism doesn’t have the kind of structure that the Catholic and Anglican Churches have, the sense of a vast institution with wealth and power and a religious hierarchy.

When people say “organised religion” to me in a Jewish context I think of stuff like having a community with some kind of funding to own or lease a building for regular prayers, to ensure the lights and the heating there stay on, and having some kind of administrative set-up to ensure that the money is overseen safely, with no fraud, and that poorer people in the community can be supported from communal tzedaka (charity) funds and so on. Maybe also paying a rabbi to provide pastoral support. That’s not really anything that upsets or annoys me, or turns me off in other ways.

On the other hand, I do get annoyed by, and feel rebellious when confronted with various things. I don’t particularly care about being told what to eat or when to pray or who I can marry; I take that as coming with the territory of being an Orthodox Jew. However, I do react strongly if I feel people are telling me what I can read or are dismissing my beliefs, even if I know they’re minority views in the Orthodox community and more ‘modern’ than Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Also if I feel people are saying I can’t watch Doctor Who, which is an obsessive autistic special interest for me and looms larger in my life than it probably should; I feel I couldn’t cope without it.

I don’t really associate this with “organised religion” though. To me it seems more of a sociological thing, maybe because it’s enforced by peer pressure rather than by overt means. I mean, when I joined my shul (synagogue), no one asked if I take the Genesis Creation story literally or whether I think non-Jewish religions are religiously valid for their adherents. But then I hear people (including) rabbis taking a different line on these things to me and I feel out of place and worried of being “found out.” I doubt they would (or could) throw me out of the shul if they did find out, but it would probably change how some people interacted with me.

I feel a lot of it comes from the nature of my community, with some very Haredi congregants and certainly Haredi rabbis, but other congregants who are more ‘modern’ like me. I used to go to my parents’ shul, which is definitely more modern, but I felt that people at my current shul took prayer and Torah study more seriously. Plus my current shul is much smaller; I felt overwhelmed by the number of people at my parents’ shul even on ordinary Shabbats, let alone festivals. I have an identity in my own right in my shul too, rather than just being an adjunct of my parents. So I stick with my current shul even though doctrinally it’s not a perfect fit.

This may sound strange to Christians in particular, but doctrine or dogma isn’t such a big thing in Judaism. Jews tend to focus more on what you do than what you believe. If you dress in an acceptable way, don’t publicly violate Shabbat or Yom Tov (festivals), are polite to people, and attend prayer services and shiurim (religious classes) regularly, people will probably accept you, at least on a basic level, without asking what you actually believe.

Make-Believe Work

I got up reasonably early today, but somehow slowed down somewhere and was a bit late leaving for work. Then, when I was partway to the station, I realised I’d left my mask at home and had to walk back to get it, so I was a bit late for work, although J didn’t seem to mind. I tried to walk mindfully on the way to the station, but got rather overwhelmed by the sounds and smells. Maybe this is why I usually listen to music.

I felt impostor syndrome and negativity at work, feeling that I can’t really do my work. Sometimes it feels that I’m doing make-believe work like a child rather than a real job. I feel I can do difficult things like write books, but not easy ones (I messed up writing an invoice twice, even though it was based on a template). Not that I feel particularly confident about my novel at the moment; I actually feel quite negative about it and am wondering why I want to show it to my editor friend. I felt a bit better after lunch, but then I realised I’ve been going about an inventory of some property the wrong way and have wasted time in the process.

It’s funny, because after work I saw Ashley’s post for today, about mental health and Britney Spears. I’m not terribly interested in Britney Spears, but her comment that she is “taking the time to learn and be a normal person” didn’t seem that strange to me, or at least it feels like it’s what I’m trying to do now that I think I’m on the autism spectrum (if I don’t get diagnosed then there’s a whole new identity crisis… I need to chase when my final assessment appointment is as I should have heard by now). I think I still have a long way to go if I want to learn to be a normal person.

***

It’s my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary today. It’s a bit muted in lockdown, but we had a Zoom call with my sister and brother-in-law. I still find these difficult. Everyone seems to shout. I’m not sure if the microphones aren’t good enough or everyone just thinks you have to shout for some weird psychological reason. Either way, I find it painful. I’m not usually someone whose autism makes loud noisy physically painful, but Zoom shouting down my ear seems to do it. Plus, a lot of the conversation was about work, specifically BIL’s promotion at work and voluntary charity work, so I felt a bit like the idiot child with his make-believe job again (back to learning how to be a “normal” person again).

We had take away dinner to celebrate. It threatened to set off my religious OCD again, as although it was from a kosher restaurant, the delivery company was a mainstream company, and the restaurant did not package the food according to the London Bet Din’s ideal guidelines. It met the more lenient “What if my food turns up packaged wrongly?” minimum guidelines, so I ate it, but I felt a bit anxious about it. At least I didn’t go into full-blown OCD meltdown. I’m not sure whether to complain about it. It’s probably too late to complain to the restaurant, but I might ask the Bet Din for more guidance for the future.

I feel just about ready to crash now. I wanted to do some Torah study this evening, as I only managed twenty-five minutes on the Tube and of the book that wasn’t helpful, but I’m too tired.

***

PIMOJ gave me a book on emunah (faith) that I’ve been reading on the train but I think I will stop. It seems to be lacking in nuance and reinforcing negative thoughts I have about myself. It talks about the importance of emunah and that someone who has it will feel happy whatever happens. I have two problems with this. One, it doesn’t say how to get emunah. It just seems to assume it can be switched on by a conscious act of will. Two, I know that, given that I believe in an all-powerful, benevolent God, I should logically believe that everything in my life will work out for the best. And on one level I do believe that. But I also feel that the long-term, overall best can still involve a lot of suffering in the short-term, and usually does, and that upsets and worries me. What if God thinks it’s for the best that I be lonely and depressed forever so that I can be happy in the Next World? That’s not something I would look forward to, even if I can accept intellectually that it’s for the best.

The book says that most suffering is rooted in punishment for sin, which seems questionable to me, although when I’m in the depths of depression I can believe it. My depression started when I was in my teens, but the Talmud states that a person doesn’t get punished for their sins until they reach the age of twenty (to give them time to become mature and repent) and obviously my autism would be lifelong from birth, so it seems that it can’t be down to sin completely — unless you want to go down the route of previous lives, which the author does, but which I’m sceptical of (it’s fairly accepted in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), but seems relatively new to Judaism as a whole). I think using suffering as an opportunity for introspection and repentance is one thing, but assuming all suffering is due to sin is counter-productive and victim blaming.

Beyond this, it has a Hasidic attitude of sadness being a sin and a sign of ingratitude for God’s blessings, which, again, is something I don’t agree with and which I know is hardly universally accepted in the Jewish world. The book is based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who said it is a great mitzvah (commandment) to be happy all the time, but he himself had many intense bouts of depression (if you read Arthur Green’s academic biography, it seems likely he struggled with bipolar disorder) which makes me struggle to accept it as a rule. I’m actually very interested in Rebbe Nachman, but part of the interest is the dichotomy between the joy and despair in him.

Overall, the book seemed not to be the type of thing you would want to put in the hands of someone with a mood disorder. I didn’t want to do a big attack on the book (hence the fact that I’m not naming it), but I do feel like these attitudes, if unchallenged, can do a lot of harm in the frum (religious) community. So, I think I will rest this book for a while if not permanently. It makes me a bit sad, though, as PIMOJ says she got a lot from it and I’d like to see that, but I just don’t. I think we have quite different ways of looking at things, which I guess is part of the attraction.

***

I feel a bit bad that I complained here about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) children still going to school despite the lockdown. Apparently most of them are allowed to go, as they have crowded houses and no internet for online learning.

Fears for the Future

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Rants (Redacted and Otherwise)

More NHS woes. I wrote a rant here, but then deleted it. I had to make a lot of phone calls and still didn’t get my olanzapine. Mum did some more phoning for me (I was peopled out after the calls I made, and in autistic black-and-white thinking mode) and it looks like I should be able to get the olanzapine tomorrow, but I won’t feel happy until I’ve actually collected it. And I feel vaguely bad that in the end I dropped out before the crucial final call and my Mum got the answer I wanted for me.

It occurs to me that the NHS is less different to the US free market system than the NHS’s defenders admit. In the USA, treatment is triaged largely based on wealth. In the NHS, it’s triaged based on blind luck, location and the confidence and ability to navigate bureaucracy. I strongly suspect that, other than luck, those factors work more in favour of the educated middle classes than other people.

***

Other than that, today was OK. I overslept a little, rushed and caught up the time, but then spent too long davening (praying) and was a few minutes later than usual for work, although I don’t have an official start time. J was leaving early today, so I was allowed to finish early too; add in another trip to the bank, and I wasn’t actually in the office that long. I did a little more work on my novel in the evening, which may have been a mistake as I was tired and doing other things, but I wanted to have something to show for leaving work early other than all those phone calls to the NHS that went nowhere. I somehow managed to fit in some Torah and speaking to PIMOJ too. I’m not quite sure how I fitted everything in; I feel exhausted now and it’s rather late. I’m glad it’s nearly Shabbat as I’m likely to be burnt out tomorrow.

***

Second rant: today I’ve been pondering the difficult of the mitzvah (commandment) of loving my neighbour, when so many of my Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) neighbours (literal neighbours as well as metaphorical ones) are breaking the lockdown. I blogged last summer about the illegal minyan (prayer service) happening three times a day in our next-door neighbours’ garden. That’s stopped since the places of worship reopened, and they did at least make a vague show of social distancing, but you can still see loads of Haredi children going to school every weekday. I appreciate that Haredi households can have eight kids crowded in one house with few or even no computers or internet phones, not good conditions for home schooling. Even so, the numbers of children still going to school seems troubling. And that’s without mentioning the large weddings still going on, reported in the (non-Haredi) Jewish press. Or the jaw-droppingly awful super-spreader event like the wedding of a Hasidic rebbe’s son in America that had hundreds or even thousands guests from across the world, or the funerals for Haredi rabbis that had tens of thousands of mourners.

It’s very hard, in these cases, to feel at all loving towards people who are living in a different reality and/or who feel no obligation at all to anyone outside of their narrow community, not just in terms of COVID, but also in terms of giving the Jewish community as a whole a bad press and providing openings for antisemites everywhere (“Jews spread plague” is a libel that has been around for centuries, baselessly until now). Bear in mind that the Haredi community comprises only about 10% of the global Jewish population, but is easily the most visible part of it, and the part that non-Jews see as most authentically Jewish. Newspaper articles about Jews are invariably illustrated with pictures of bearded Hasidic men, even if the article has little to do with Hasidim in particular.

I find myself wondering what figures like Rav Kook and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, notable for their love for all Jews, would think or do. It’s hard to feel respect for people’s (genuine) dedication to prayer and Torah study when they are blatantly ignoring the commandments to follow the secular law of the country, preserve life and not give the Jewish God and Judaism a bad name. In fact, even thinking about trying to feel love for them just provokes the opposite, more anger and hatred. But God wants us to love idiots and scoundrels as well as pious people.

***

I’ve broken my iPod headphones (earbuds) again. I can’t seem to get them to last more than six months. I get a lot of use out of them (almost daily), but I feel they should last longer. I wonder if they aren’t built to be worn primarily while walking and jogging, or if I wind them too tightly or violently when putting them away. I can be heavy-handed with things.

***

PIMOJ and I watched WandaVision separately “together.” It was odd. I like odd, but I’m not sure what it was trying to do. Having looked briefly at the Wikipedia page (trying not to get spoilered), I think it is supposed to imitate TV from different decades, but it felt like the line between pastiching bad TV and actually being bad TV is a thin one.

Unwritten Rules

I had dreams last night that reminded me of my insecurities. I know I’m insecure; I don’t need dreams to remind me!

***

I had NHS problems again, making lots of phone calls (which I hate doing), trying to get my psychiatrist to get the right information about my medication (coming off haloperidol and back onto olanzapine) in time to get a repeat prescription when I run out at the weekend. I won’t go into all the details, as it’s a long story, but a few things were messed up and by the end of the day, it wasn’t resolved, so my Mum and Dad are going to have to try to resolve it tomorrow when I’m at work. I am a bit worried whether I will get enough medication to get me through the weekend and the beginning of next week.

Therapy was good, although I don’t have much to write here about it. My therapist said I have good self-awareness and self-reflections, but I need to learn how to acknowledge my thoughts and feelings rather than judging them. We spoke a bit about writing down thoughts and fears to get them out of my system, which I do to some extent already.

Other than that I went for a walk, worked on my novel for an hour and did half an hour of Torah study. I would have liked to have done more writing and Torah study, but the phone calls to try to sort out my medication took far too long, really.

***

I’m still reading Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy by Yael Ziegler on the biblical book of Rut (Ruth). Rut is one of the shortest books of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), the shortest if you count the twelve minor prophets as one volume, so I’m not sure how this book about it ends up as one of the longest so far in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series. It is good though, and very thorough, which I guess is why it is so long.

I saw this sentence referring to Rut the Moabite convert: “The social mores of Judaism tend to be more difficult to apprehend than the unambiguous halakhic [legal] guidelines.” (p. 263) This seems very true, for myself on the autism spectrum as much as for the Moabite Rut. I sometimes wish all the unwritten rules were written down, so I could learn them properly. In particular, the rules about fraternisation between the genders; I can’t work out why my shul (synagogue) absolutely prohibits this in some events, but allows it in others and in others still makes only a token gesture towards it.

Not Losing My Religion

I had a blood test this morning, my regular lithium level test. I had some slight tremor, which I often get at blood tests. I’m not scared of needles, but the fear of shaking actually causes shaking. It wasn’t too bad. I had a longish walk back.

In the afternoon I worked from home on the data collation again. I managed to finish it in under two hours, which was good, as J thought there was too much for me to get through in one day. I cooked dinner (chilli) and burnt it slightly, but it tasted OK.

I had my Tanakh shiur (Bible class) at the London School of Jewish Studies, on Yirmiyah (Jeremiah). I was able to participate in the chevruta (paired learning, although we were actually in groups of three) section this week, which was good. “Able to participate” both in the sense that the camera and microphone worked this week, unlike last week (I was on my Dad’s computer to be sure), and also in the sense of having the confidence to speak. I did also put something in the text chat facility right at the end recommending Dror Burstein’s novel Muck, which is a modern day version of Yirmiyah. I wasn’t sure if I was “allowed” to do that, or if anyone read it as it was right at the end, but I guess it was good I had the confidence to write it.

There’s not a lot else to report about today.

***

I saw this blog post about Rabbi Abraham Twerski, whose death I mentioned the other day. Granted that he came from a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinic background where university education was rare, but seeing the precautions he was advised to take against his religious observance slipping when he was in medical school makes me wonder if I’m unusual for coming out of university religious. Well, I know I’m unusual. Religious observance (any religion) is, I think, lower in graduates than in the general population. Lots of people lose their religion at university or college, for whatever reason (doubts based on secular studies; peer pressure; temptations; away from home community; lack of time, etc.). I just didn’t really notice it at the time as I was mixing with people who were also frum (religious Jewish) at the Jewish Society albeit that my other social group, the Doctor Who Society was mostly non-religious and non-Jewish.

I tend not to give myself credit for things like this, but maybe I should. I think the chances of me getting to this point in my life and still being this religious were not that great, in terms of becoming religious as a teenager from a not fully observant background, getting through university and getting through major depression with my faith and practice intact, as well as my difficulties being accepted in the frum community from autism and social anxiety and feeling rejected in my attempts to marry someone frum. Probably on some level at least that is better than someone who has been enclosed in the Haredi world all his life and never really encountered anyone who thinks or acts differently from “normal” frum people.

***

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Parliament today that there are “Eleven cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and thirty-two in Liverpool.” Life seems like a horror film at the moment, albeit a boring, slow-motion one. Although given how many governments are handling things, it’s less Quatermass and more Quite-a-mess.

Planting Seeds

I had an interesting start to the day. PIMOJ sent me some packets of seeds in the post and we spent some time planting them “together” via Skype. This was to do something to do with plants as it was Tu BeShevat (the Jewish New Year for Trees) during the week and PIMOJ wanted to do something to celebrate it, plus it was an excuse for a lockdown date that was a bit different from just Skyping or Zooming. I don’t really have much experience growing things, so we’ll have to see how it goes, but I planted a whole bunch of seeds: parsley, oregano, basil and more.

I spent time procrastinating over writing my novel, which wasn’t good. When I was finally about to start, my sister phoned and we had a long chat, which delayed things even more. I managed a bit over an hour of reading and redrafting, getting through another chapter, which doesn’t sound much, but it was a very long chapter.

I feel a bit conflicted by my book at the moment, like a parent who recognises moments of intelligence and flair in his child, but also feels that he’s very average a lot of the time and wonders what on Earth he’s going to do with his life when he grows up and goes into the world.

I went for a 5K run. It was good, my pace and stamina were good without much slowing to a walk from tiredness. Surprisingly, it was my first run of 2021 because of physical illness (medication side-effects), weather, Zoom calls with family etc. I actually ran in the rain because I didn’t want to put off running again.

***

I’m working from home tomorrow as J isn’t going in to the office and I can’t go in on Tuesday when he is going in. I’m continuing what I was working on last week, collating data that’s going to a major Jewish community organisation. My family have got me a bit worried about this, as it seems to be in breach of GDPR (data protection) law. I think it’s unlikely that the major community organisation would breach the law in this way, but I also feel uncomfortable working on it without having something in print to say that it’s OK, so I am going to ask J if he can ask for clarification on what is happening to the data before we send it on. This is provoking some worry.

***

I walked into the room while Mum was watching NCIS the other day. One of the characters was saying that she over-thinks things to stop herself feeling things and it occurred to me that this probably applies to me too. I’m probably also over-thinking things because it can be so hard to understand what I’m feeling.

***

Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerski z”tl died. He was a very well-known Orthodox Jewish rabbi, writer and educator, but also a practicing psychiatrist who did much to raise awareness of the taboo issues of mental illness, substance abuse and domestic abuse in the Orthodox community. He wrote prolifically on both psychology and Judaism and although I haven’t read much of his work, his book Let Us Make Man: Self Esteem Through Jewishness was a very useful work for me in distinguishing between self-esteem and arrogance. I recently read one of his books on domestic abuse as part of my research for my novel. He’s yet another great Jewish leader taken from us in this terrible last year, this time actually by COVID. Baruch dayan ha’emet (“Blessed is the True Judge,” the Hebrew expression said on hearing of a death, acknowledging that God is the True Judge who decides when a person’s life is over, but also expressing our grief and incomprehension over the death).

***

I finished watching The Sandbaggers. It was very good, but too cynical and bleak to be one of my favourite TV series, as witnessed by the downbeat, open-ended conclusion, which saw one character facing the sack for deliberately sabotaging an arms-limitation conference against his orders and another one shot, apparently fatally.

Minor Trials and Tribulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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


[1] Rashi Commentary to Shemot 6.26

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

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

***

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

***

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

Time Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Thinking/Worrying

Another day that got away from me…

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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