Writing Success, Financial Embarrassment

I had another difficult morning of oversleeping. To make it worse, when my clock-radio alarm went off, I couldn’t get it to turn off. I was too tired to work out if I was pressing the wrong button in tiredness and confusion or if it was actually broken and the increasing volume of the alarm was distressing me a bit, so I just yanked the plug out of the wall socket. I couldn’t get it back in the socket in the half-light, so I have no idea what time I actually woke up “properly” because I lay in bed for a long time before I got up and plugged the clock back in. Like yesterday, I went back to bed after breakfast (although it was afternoon) because I was tired and depressed.

***

I spent over an hour working on my novel in the afternoon. Some of the time was spent writing, and I’m more or less up to 80,000 words now (I’ve been told that 70,000 words is the bare minimum for an adult novel, but 80,000 to 100,000 words is safer). The rest of the time was spent reading online, trying to research what the arrest and prosecution process would be for someone making a rape claim weeks after the event and whether the police would realistically advise her to do so in the absence of evidence. I need to do more research and then probably rewrite the climax of the novel (again).

I had hoped to get the novel in a shape where I can get feedback from other readers and potentially send it to editors or agents by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn, but that was when I was unemployed and single. Meeting that deadline seems less likely as work and my relationship are taking up a lot of additional time. I have a three or four page document of changes I still want to make. Some are relatively brief, but some are more far-reaching.

I spent five minutes tidying up the bookmark folder on my internet browser where I had saved links to stuff relevant to writing, either sites for research for my current or potential future novels; or pages about finding an agent or publisher or pitching to magazines. I’m usually quite tidy, but the fact that I had not organised this is probably indicative of a deep-seated avoidance of the aspects of writing involving getting other people to read and judge my work, let alone pay me for it.

***

I worked on the novel straight after lunch, because I wanted to make sure I made progress with it today. This meant that when I went for a walk, it was dark again, although it had at least stopped raining. I feel the winter darkness is getting to me, as it usually is by this time of year. I haven’t been using my light box much, as I’ve been getting up too late, and using it in the afternoon can lead to insomnia later. On days when I work, I get up earlier, but I rush to leave and don’t always remember to use it or get enough time. I am wondering a bit if buying a weighted blanket will lead to more refreshing sleep, although it won’t help with sunlight deprivation.

***

I’m nervous about my relationship too, which is going well, but I’m increasingly aware that PIMOJ and I will face a lot of obstacles in making it more permanent. I’m also a bit concerned about my general mental health at the moment. My therapy is currently fortnightly and this was an ‘off’ week, but I should have asked to see if the therapist could add a session in. I thought I didn’t need it, but in retrospect I did. Next Wednesday afternoon seems a long way away.

***

I drafted an email to my shul (synagogue). They raised their membership fees recently. The increase was small, but I have been paying full fees over the last two years, even though I have only worked for five and a half months out of the last twenty-four, and that was part-time. I don’t feel that I can continue to pay at this rate. I did not say anything until now because I was hoping to find work and because I was ashamed to ask for special consideration. I have also been letting the synagogue collect gift aid from my contribution which really they shouldn’t do as I’m not a taxpayer. This was oversight on my part rather than a deliberate attempt to defraud HM Treasury, although I’m vaguely worried that the taxman may make me pay it back. I feel bad about the whole thing. I don’t like being dependent on others like this, but it was ridiculous that for so long I was making myself pay the full amount like people who are in full-time work. I don’t think I realised how ridiculous it was until in a Zoom shul a few weeks ago, meeting someone in authority said something off-hand about if you were made unemployed you would immediately arrange a fee reduction/cancellation and I realised that it hadn’t done it for so long.

It reminds me of something I heard ages ago from a rabbi, that shuls have funds to support the needy in the community, especially before festivals, which can be particularly expensive. He said that they don’t have a problem getting people to donate to the fund, the problem is getting people to accept the donations, as people feel embarrassed and ashamed. The Medieval halakhicist (jurist) Rambam (Maimonides) wrote about the best and worst ways of giving charity. The best is to make someone self-sufficient by giving them a job or an interest-free loan of start-up capital. Then it goes through various types of giving, but anonymous donation is seen as better, because less shaming. Double anonymity (donor doesn’t know recipient and vice versa) is the absolute best.

***

Other than that, my main achievement was drafting my devar Torah (Torah thought), but I was pressed for time and used some secondary sources (including Artscroll books) rather than going back to the primary sources (Talmud, Midrash). I usually do at least try to do that. I felt it wasn’t a great effort overall, and I’m not sure that my main point is either well-argued or correct.

***

I started to take the haloperidol. The information leaflet says it can cause delusions. Insert joke about Donald Trump here.

***

PIMOJ and I started watching The Mandalorian (Star Wars spin-off streamed TV series). We both got Disney+ the other week to watch the film Soul together. Then PIMOJ found The Mandalorian on there and started watching and asked if I would like to join her. PIMOJ isn’t a straightforward geek, but she likes science fiction, which is good. The series is entertaining. I find it a bit po-faced, but I feel that about Star Wars in general (the old Doctor Who/Star Wars rivalry). I might watch some Doctor Who before bed for something with more humour and imagination. Possibly The Happiness Patrol which is tonally as far from Star Wars as you can get.

***

I had an email from a job agency asking if they could put me forward for a potential job. I don’t think I’ll get it, as I don’t have all the necessary skills and experience, plus it’s a full-time job, which I don’t think I could handle right now, but I will probably tell the agency to put my name forward as a tactical move to show willing to the agency, as they handle a lot of library roles and might have a more suitable part-time role at some point.

***

After the scam phone call I got yesterday, I had another one today. Same scam, slightly different number (last three digits different). I think there was another scam call that I didn’t pick up. The frequency of this worries me a little.

“Everyone I know is lonely”

My Mum had a phone appointment today for my autism assessment. I’m a bit worried… I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and that’s why I struggle with some things like job interviews. It’s hard for my parents to remember thirty years ago or more, but part of the diagnosis is based on how I was as a child, so I may not get the diagnosis I think I need. I think I learnt to mask from a young age, and as a child I was quiet, well-behaved and self-contained, so adults generally left me alone and focused on more needy/vocal children. I have noted before that I have a presentation of autism that has more in common with autistic women than men (particularly masking and finding strategies to “pass” as neurotypical in conversation and life in general, and being more imaginative and creative than autistic stereotype) – unfortunately, autism in women is arguably under-diagnosed because it doesn’t seem like “classic” autism, and I suspect the psychiatrists will be even less receptive to finding “female” autism in me.

Ironically, while she was doing that, I had a classic autistic moment. I was helping Dad take down the sukkah, or some of it, and he said, “Go up the ladder,” which I did – without moving it to where it needed to be first. Classic autistic literalism. The thing is, things like this can seem autistic, but they can also just seem absent-minded or eccentric. When I was younger, my parents viewed me through the “absent-minded” lens (my Mum even used to call me her “Absent-Minded Professor”). Now I see myself more through the autism lens. Maybe I’m wrong to do so. I guess I’ll find out soon; usually the appointment with the suspected autistic person is within six weeks of the appointment with the parent/guardian, but lately they’re doing them faster online so I should get an appointment soon.

***

I opened up to PIMOJ about some of this (autism and also depression) and she’s been really supportive, but I can’t shake the fears that one day it will be too much for her and she will walk off, particularly if I can’t find a job soon. I guess because that has happened to me before.

***

Other than that, today felt like trench warfare: a lot of noise, but not much movement (possibly watching The American Civil War triggered that – trench warfare is more associated with World War I, but it was actually first used in The American Civil War). I’m struggling with the disappearance of daylight as days get shorter and cloudier; it is probably time to start using my light box again. I helped Dad with the sukkah, as I said, and spent quite some time catching up on emails, including one to a potential voluntary opportunity (more in a few days, hopefully, when I hear back from them). Other than that, I felt too tired to do much. Post-Yom Tov (festival) burnout, I guess. I spent a lot of time writing and answering emails. I feel like anyone who has a white-collar job spends a huge chunk of the day treading water answering emails, although technically none of these were about paid employment.

No time or energy for a walk, and it was too wet. Mum suddenly felt ill about 6.00pm, so I hurriedly made dinner – just plain pasta with a bought sauce as I was short of time and energy. Part of the lack of time was because I wanted to go to depression group on Zoom, which I did, although I always feel curiously uncertain as to what to say and how coherent I sound. It’s good to have somewhere I can admit to difficult feelings. I spoke about the job interviews and feelings of inferiority and wanting my autism diagnosis to reassure myself, but not about the worry that PIMOJ would not cope with my issues.

I didn’t have time to do any further job hunting today. I have four jobs to apply for on my job spreadsheet, but two are for school librarian positions and I feel reluctant to apply for them given that I was rejected from the other school librarian position for lack of relevant experience. One is a law library position which raises the same experience issues, plus that would, I imagine, be a very fast-paced, high-pressure environment. The other job, a research support librarian position at a major museum, scares me in terms of the responsibility involved and my fears about my skillset.

I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study so listened on an online shiur (religious class) on the goal of life. To be honest, it didn’t tell me much I hadn’t heard before from similar shiurim and books. Another problem with these types of class is that they tell you that true pleasure is eternal pleasure i.e. pursuing eternal, meaningful things like prayer and Torah study, but I can end up feeling despondent because depressive anhedonia means I don’t always enjoy spiritual things any more than narrowly material things, sometimes less so. Still, that was half an hour of Torah study that I probably wouldn’t have managed if I was still narrowly focused on reading religious texts for my Torah study.

***

I feel upset that so many people I know seem to be struggling right now (hence the title quote, from the Police song O My God). Some of that is COVID, but some, I guess, is that life really is hard for a lot of people. There’s a pithy rhyming quote, I think from Oliver Goldsmith (eighteenth century English poet) that I have been trying to locate again for some time now without coming across it, about how small are the elements of human suffering that can be relieved by governments and kings. I guess that is an unfashionable and conservative view nowadays, where we are supposed to think that the state could and should solve every problem and that social justice is best dealt out in real-time on Twitter, but a lot of people I know are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, autism, not fitting in, arguments with family, sometimes abuse… There can be a material aspect to these things, and sometimes governments can help, but it’s not always the main problem or the key to addressing things. Thank God, I’m not struggling financially because my family are looking after me, but my problems are still very real. It’s hard enough for government to try to secure access to the essentials of life, without factoring in that happiness or sadness are often driven by non-tangible factors, and that dependency on others, especially an impersonal state, can be a strong driver of low self-esteem and depression… I just felt on the brink of tears by dinner time today, thinking about things.

***

I noticed something interesting when I went to shul (synagogue) last week. Obviously masks are compulsory there and a couple of children had dinosaur masks on, so far as I could tell from a distance. I found this interesting, as our previous rabbi was a Creationist and I assumed that most of the congregation were too and I was in a minority for not being one. Moreover, the father of the boys wearing the masks is very religious and involved. Of course, it could be that these are children and no one minds; still, it made me think maybe I’m not as unusual as I thought and I don’t have to feel as constrained as I do to hide my thoughts.

Ups, Downs, Social Anxiety and Perfectionism

Mum’s first chemo session went well, aside from being kept waiting for an hour.  Unfortunately, Dad’s car was not functioning well on the way home and he thinks someone has stolen the catalytic converter (there is apparently a black market for them), which is both inconvenient and costly, especially as Mum’s car also needs repair work.  It never rains, but it pours (which is what is happening outside today too).

The other issue is that Mum got a letter today saying she has another nodule (I’m not quite sure what to call it) and needs a further scan, which she was told she should have before chemo, although as the letter only arrived today, this was not very helpful.  Another typical NHS screw-up.

***

I tried to get up by 11.00am today, which doesn’t sound very impressive, but I still couldn’t make it.  I did the thing of dreaming I had got up instead, which is always doubly frustrating when you really have to get up.  When I did get up at 11.45am, I felt incredibly drained and unable to do anything other than eat breakfast and check emails and blogs (which I was also trying not to do before getting dressed – failed again).  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, because it doesn’t really help, but part of me feels that if I don’t beat myself up about stuff, I won’t change.  Not that beating myself up has a great track record of inspiring change.

I used my SAD light box which I haven’t used for a few days.  It’s hard to tell if it helped.

One good thing that happened to today was the delivery of a parcel addressed to me.  I was puzzled by what it could be, but on opening was “surprised and delighted” to see it was my non-fiction Doctor Who book, arriving rather earlier than I expected.  It is pleasingly hefty.  I feel vaguely annoyed that I decided to credit it to [my first initials] [my surname] rather than [my first name] [my surname], which would be more satisfying to see on the cover, but I wanted to distinguish it from the fiction I hope to publish one day and the initials does make it seem slightly more serious for a non-fiction work somehow.

I gave my Doctor Who blog url on the blurb on the back, but that seems to be hard to out of commission (see below).  I’m not entirely happy with the cover either, but I’m no graphic designer.  I am vaguely worried that my bibliographic strategy (providing a comprehensive bibliography at the end, but only citing references in text for substantial use or direct quotation to balance between the popular and academic modes) was not good enough, but I think/hope that’s just anxiety (although part of me is worried about being sued for plagiarism).  I spotted a reference that got left off the bibliography, but that was an example I cited in the text at least; I’ve also spotted an incorrect italicisation, but that’s probably the price I pay for self-publishing and doing my own proof-reading.  This is probably self-blame trying to sabotage a good event again.

There is a temptation to revise and reprint with self-published books, but there’s a very real price on that in terms of having to pay for proof copies, not to mention the fact that I deliberately rushed the final stages through to get it finished around the time the latest series of Doctor Who was finishing.  As a result, I approved it for distribution, so it should be available through bookshops and websites in six to eight weeks, if chosen (Lulu.com seem a bit vague on how this works exactly), although I would prefer sales through Lulu.com, as I get a higher proportion of the price.

I went for a walk in the pouring rain to get some stuff I needed for Purim (upcoming Jewish festival on Monday night and Tuesday) and came back with a slight headache and feeling generally run down, although with depression I feel like that most days.  We’re all super-paranoid about colds and flu at the moment, not because of coronavirus, but because of Mum’s weakened immune system.  I hope I won’t need to self-isolate (although if I do have to, then I will agree with the man in this cartoon).

***
As for my struggles with my Doctor Who blog yesterday, it seems that WordPress are another high tech company that doesn’t do customer support, instead outsourcing to a free (for them) user discussion forum.  I tried to post a comment there to ask how I re-access my blog, only to be told that I was not allowed to post what I had written.  I do not know why I was not allowed or how to change it to something I am allowed to post.  I had been quite impressed with WordPress compared with other blog platforms I’ve used over the years (Blogger, Livejournal), but this is pretty rubbish behaviour.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) and then on to shiur (religious class) and ate a load of chocolate cranberries.  I didn’t eat biscuits, but that was mainly because they were down the other end of the table and I was too socially anxious to ask anyone to pass them down.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the shiur, which was not a good fit for my worldview, being very kabbalistic (mystical) and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox, although ‘insular’ is more the word here).  It ratcheted my pre-Purim nerves up a bit – not the religious OCD I’m worried about, more the sense that I can’t connect emotionally with Purim and grow from it, as we are supposed to connect with and grow from it.  This is the same for me with pretty much every single other Jewish festival and Jewish ritual which I do on some level by rote, but it feels worse here, perhaps because Purim is a day most people connect to, or think they have connected to (religiously-sanctioned drunkenness perhaps confuses the matter).  Sometimes I think it’s lucky that I believe so strongly and have a certain amount of cognitive engagement with Judaism, as I’m clearly not practising Judaism because of any meaning or joy I get directly from mitzvot.  Actually, that’s not entirely true, as I get something from Shabbat, difficult though it is to define what, and I do occasionally do some Jewish study that really appeals, but again, it’s mostly a cognitive process for me, I don’t know how to move things to the emotional and practical spheres.  I’m not sure how I’m supposed to encourage E. to think that what I do is worth doing when I struggle to explain even why I do it.

It also looks like I’m not being invited out for the Purim seudah (Purim festive meal) as I was last year.  Perhaps it’s for the best that I keep Mum and Dad company this year, if they’re around (I vaguely recall that they got invited out and accepted depending on chemo side-effects).  It wouldn’t feel bad had I not been invited out for the first time last year and enjoyed myself.  In the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community it’s generally considered OK to invite yourself to other people’s meals and events unless you know good reasons not to, but I don’t have the courage.  The one time I tried to invite myself to someone else’s meal, it ended badly and the social anxiety is too strong to try it again.  Another mismatch between my values and those of the wider community.  Purim is supposed to be such a day of joy and ahavat Yisrael (love of other Jews) that’s it a struggle to be alone.

Still Burnt Out

I’m still feeling burnt out from Sunday.  It can take me a while to recuperate from busy days, and Sunday was very busy.  I had the usual struggles to get up and get going with depression and exhaustion.  The depression and exhaustion stayed for most of the day and there were intermittent worries about the future (near and immediate).  Although the depression and exhaustion they fluctuated, at times they felt worse than yesterday rather than better.  I think I’ve had this before, when I’m exhausted for several days and the second day is worse than the first.  I wonder what the reason is.

I tried to do some things, although it was still like wading through quicksand.  I did some Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.  I read The Art of Biblical Poetry for about twenty-five minutes and had a cursory look over the content of last Shabbat‘s Talmud shiur (religious class) again as I’m supposed to do on my not-very-closely-followed weekly Torah study schedule.  I also cooked dinner.  I’m not entirely sure when I’m going to work on this week’s Torah thought, as I don’t really know what I’m going to say and I’m running out of time to research.  I don’t want to skip a week just as I’ve been trying to get people to read it.

***

I tried to get hold of my rabbi mentor, but he’s super-busy and then away.  I hope to speak to him at some point fairly soon.  It made me wonder if I should try to book a few sessions with my old therapist, as there’s a lot going on in my head at the moment: Mum’s cancer; my relationship with E. (which is good, but working out how we move it on is terrifying); my unemployment and fears it will be permanent; the stress of the coming Jewish festivals; and probably more stuff I can’t think of now…

I spoke to my parents about it, to check there was money available to pay her.  They felt it was worth booking a few sessions.  Mum said she has been worried about me lately, which made me feel bad, but I’m not entirely sure what “bad” is here.  I wasn’t exactly guilty or ashamed, but somehow it felt wrong for her to be worrying about me at the moment when she’s the one with the tumour.

***

I haven’t worked on my novel for a couple of weeks.  I’ve been focusing my creative energy on getting my non-fiction Doctor Who book published.  I feel that the novel is not going exactly the way I want, but it’s hard to work out why.  Related to this is a decrease in confidence and excitement about writing fiction.  Some is my natural tendency to self-criticism and the way depression blunts excitement and energy.  Some is that I am still at the beginning of learning how to write a novel and, realistically, some of it is probably quite bad, or at least unpolished.

However, I think some of it is that my tastes tend to be quite stylised and/or surreal.  Authors like Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick or TV programmes like Doctor WhoThe Prisoner and Sapphire and Steel.  I suppose some of it is experiencing the world as strange and threatening because of autism and mental illness, so I want to see that reflected in fiction, but some of it is just admiring art that has a strong vision e.g. Blade Runner and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which are strange in parts, but also create very clear worlds that are very different to our own even in the more “normal” parts.

That’s not really where my novel is or where any of the ideas I have for future novels are and I wonder why I’m writing things that aren’t exactly what I want to read.  That may be inevitable.  My novel and my ideas for future novels are really about Jewish fiction that is meaningfully about religious Jews, our lives, our thoughts, our beliefs and hopes.  Few contemporary authors are interested in the Jewish community in that way.

My novel so far is very realistic, although I have a more surreal dream sequence planned for a later chapter, but I wonder if I should try to expand on that style if I can do it without it being too jarring.  I intended to do that when I started writing, to try to reflect the way I perceive the world as strange, illogical and frightening sometimes, but it has been hard to do, partly because the times when I see the world as frightening and strange are usually when I’m too depressed to write; even if I’m writing, I feel I don’t have the vocabulary or skills to put into words what I feel, even here, let alone in fiction.  On the other hand, I worry about scaring people off if my book, which appears initially like a standard love triangle with added mental illness and Jewish colour, suddenly goes off into The Third Policeman territory (to pick a very good novel, in my opinion, that wasn’t published in the author’s lifetime because it was so surreal and sinister, although it’s probably on my mind because it seemed to be referenced by Ascension of the Cybermen, last Sunday’s Doctor Who episode).

I worry that the book isn’t Jewish enough or fannish enough either, but maybe a little goes a long way there too.

***

Speaking of fannish stuff, I’m feeling a bit of buyer’s remorse with Star Trek Voyager.  I’m halfway through series two and while there have been few truly awful episodes, there haven’t been any great ones.  Most series of Star Trek take a while to get going and season two of Voyager is apparently considered proverbially bad, so I’m hoping things will pick up once we get to season three (of seven).  But it is a bit of a struggle to watch at the moment when I’m looking for something light and fast-paced.  I might watch some Doctor Who or The Avengers before bed, as I need cheering up and feel too depressed and exhausted to read.

I don’t have buyer’s remorse about reading the graphic novel V for Vendetta as I borrowed it from the library, but I do have mixed feelings about it.  It’s written by Alan Moore, who is one of the biggest names in comics, and drawn by David Lloyd.  It’s a dystopian story of an anarchist rebelling against a future Fascist UK government (future when the comic was written, but past now, which makes it feel like like a weird alternate timeline that would not have been the effect at the time of publication).  The atmosphere is good, what I have termed ‘austeritypunk’ (after the ‘cyberpunk’ and ‘steampunk’ sub-genres), by which I mean a future that evokes the imagery, technology and fashions of the 1940s and 50s.  It’s diverting and evocative, but I don’t entirely believe the world-building or the characterisation and I feel the hero/anti-hero is let off to easily for doing terrible things.  Plus, the art, while appropriately bleak, is confusing – I struggle to tell the characters apart, and the dialogue doesn’t always help.  This all contrasts unfavourably with Moore’s previous graphic novel Watchmen, which was much better in every way.

I feel it would reward a second reading and maybe be better and certainly easier to read, but it’s also so grim that I’m not sure that I can bear to read it again.

***

There were a few flowers in bloom in the garden last week.  There are a lot more today.  The days are a little longer, albeit that they are still short.  Spring is on the way, and on the whole that’s a good thing, despite some nervousness about the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach.  It is true that when the stress and potential religious OCD hazards of Pesach swing around, the days will be a bit longer and brighter and I will hopefully be able to draw strength from that that I can’t access now.  I stopped using my SAD light box for a few days, but maybe that was a mistake; I might use it again tomorrow.  It’s not spring yet.

SAD, References and Eminent Victorians

This is always the worst time of year for me.  February may get more daylight than December, but it’s four months or more since we had a reasonable amount of daylight and the cumulative effect of deprivation is getting to me, even with my SAD light box.  I also have chapped hands and lips, despite using moisturiser and lip balm, although they aren’t as badly affected as they have been in the past.  I want winter to end, even though I’m aware that the end of winter brings with it the Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach, with all their attendant difficulties of religious OCD and social anxiety, as well as sometimes depression, not to mention the usual stress of Pesach preparation (seriously, Christmas has nothing on Pesach).  It’s going to be super-hard this year, as Mum will probably in the midst of cancer treatment.  Still, like it or not, Monday is Tu B’Shvat, a very minor Jewish holiday (not really a holiday at all) that nevertheless signals the start of spring, at least in Israel.  Purim and Pesach are coming…  and so is spring, if I can hold out long enough.

***

I had a Shabbat (Sabbath) struggling with Shoulds.  I struggled to get to shul (synagogue) on Friday and Saturday evenings.  I felt this was probably a good Should, as staying at home would be giving in to social anxiety and depression and make going again next week harder.  I didn’t push myself to go to shul on Saturday morning though and let myself eat a lot of junk food, which I regret a bit now.  I drank too much Diet Coke on Friday night too, which may have been why I didn’t sleep.   After lunch today I was tired and a bit depressed and did the autistic thing I sometimes do of going back to bed and wrapping the duvet around me because it feels reassuring (I think that’s why I do that.  It’s not always easy to tell).  Inevitably, I fell asleep, although it was not my intention, and when I woke I had to eat seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) in a hurry and was still late for shul.

More troublingly, I accidentally broke Shabbat twice, which was not good.  One was too complicated to explain here and maybe not such a problem, but the other problem was that the phone woke me up this morning and my brain thought it was Friday and I answered it before realising my mistake, thinking it might be about my benefits appointment on Monday.  It wasn’t even important, just cold-calling, ambulance-chasing lawyers, “Have you been in an accident that wasn’t your fault?”  I’m not generally in favour of banning lots of things, but I wish someone would ban them.  Anyway, I felt bad about breaking Shabbat even if it was accidental.

I was given the honour of gelilah at Minchah (wrapping up the Torah scroll and putting its decorations back on it after the Torah reading in the Afternoon Service), which made me feel a bit that I was receiving some kind Divine approbation after all the stuff in the previous paragraph, but I don’t believe that worldly honour is a sign of Divine approval; one can find honoured people who are not at all worthy.  Hmm.

***

After Shabbat, I spent twenty-five minutes finishing another chapter of my novel, which I was glad to do.  I’m still unsure how good it is, but E. has liked what she has read so far (not this chapter yet).  I also spent some time (not sure how long) working on the bibliography for my Doctor Who book.  While I was writing the book I had wavered as to whether I would produce a bibliography, with the result that my note-taking for one was fairly shoddy, I’m sad to say, as a librarian and a historian.  Some references are just a title or a description, because I know my Doctor Who books and magazines well enough that I expected my future self (which is now my current self…) to be able to locate them and create proper references later if necessary without much bother.  That plan now looks slightly stupid as I’m faced with digging through piles and piles of magazines to find particular articles.  I do know where most things are, at least roughly, it’s just a pain to dig them out, especially as I have to move my bedside cabinet just to get to them.  Later on I think I realised this was stupid and started constructing proper references that can just be cut and pasted in.

I started with a couple of these more finished references.  The first to be polished and included in the bibliography happened by a nice coincidence to be an article by a friend who sometimes comments here.  More problematic was trying to create references for some pages on the BBC website that turn out not to exist any more.  I did get worried, as these were references to actual archival documentation that the BBC had scanned and put up, I think to celebrate Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary in 2013 and really should be referenced.  Obviously they had been deemed obsolete and deleted from the BBC website some time in the last year or two (not for the first time in Doctor Who‘s history).  Fortunately, I managed to find preserved versions of all the pages via the Internet Archive.  I was pleased with this, not least because I had never managed to find anything on that site before.  So in the end I got five references done, which is the daily target I have set myself.

I’m not sure whether I could/should produce a reference for every single televised Doctor Who story (nearly 300, depending on how you define “story”), on whatever format I own it, not to mention other series where I’ve referenced them (e.g. the Cathy Gale episodes of The Avengers in a discussion of Sara Kingdom).  I mean, I should, but I’m going to be here FOREVER if I do and, given that it’s aimed at the fan market rather than the academic market, maybe there’s no need.  Can something this obvious be taken as a given?  Hmm…  Suggestions on a postcard (or comment) please!

***

I’m re-reading The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli on the two titanic figures of mid-nineteenth century British politics.  I had been thinking about re-reading it for a while, as I couldn’t remember much about it, but Brexit and the prospect of major political realignment in this country and perhaps elsewhere pushed it up my reading list as I wanted to read about the previous realignment that happened after the repeal of the Corn Laws fractured the Tory Party with the Whigs, radicals and free trade Tories becoming the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party formed out of the protectionist Tory rump.  I’m not sure if “It reads like a novel” is always a compliment for a history book, but in this case it is.  A very interesting and readable account of Victorian politics.

So far I don’t find either Gladstone or Disraeli particularly likeable: Gladstone was a prig and bore and emotionally constipated even by Victorian standards; Disraeli on the other hand was a cynical opportunist.  I find Gladstone easier to empathise with, though, as many of his flaws are my own: he also tended to see everything as a question of principle (once resigning from the Cabinet on a point of principle so trivial that everyone thought he had just destroyed his career for no good reason, but then voting in support of the legislation he had just resigned to oppose apparently because he thought he shouldn’t vote against his party), struggled with human contact and beat himself up endlessly about fairly normal aspects of sexuality.  Again, hmm.

Winter

I feel that the worst part of the year starts with 2nd January.  The days are getting minutely longer, it is true, but up until now I’ve had Chanukah and the bank holiday season as something to look forward to and keep me going.  Now the coldest, snowiest part of winter is about to begin and there’s nothing to look forward to for months on end (and even then the first things are Purim and Pesach, the two Jewish festivals that are most difficult with social anxiety, autism and religious OCD).  There’s a feeling of the hard slog through the guts of winter beginning now, or at least on Monday with my new job.  Hopefully my light box will help a bit this year, although I’m not sure that I can use it on work days.

***

I think I’m going to scream next time someone talks about being on a “journey.”  I’m not talking about literal journeys, but emotional, religious or educational ones.  It’s become such a cliché.  When I was working in further education, my boss used to complain of the way the college spoke about students being on “learning journeys.”  “They aren’t on a journey, they’re in college!”  I’ve seen it used a lot by religious leaders and secular inspirational speakers.  I imagine politicians use it, but I don’t really pay much attention to what they say any more.  Journalists certainly do.  I know I’ve used it myself, mostly to reassure myself that I’m making some kind of progress with my life when I’ve missed all the life-cycle events that my peers have achieved in the last decade and a half.  Like all clichés, it gets used out of convenience, to stop us having to think of something new.  But new metaphors bring new insights, while clichés do our thinking for us, as George Orwell pointed out.  Maybe that should be my secular New Year’s resolution, to think of a new metaphor for life that isn’t a “journey.”

***

The best sentence I’ve seen online in a long time (from Snopes.com): “Although these books contain some seemingly bizarre coincidences, they are not evidence that Donald Trump has access to a time machine.”  I’m glad we got that cleared up, I was worried for a moment there.  Let’s face it, if anyone was going to go back in time and try to become his own grandfather, it’s Donald Trump.

***

To business, such as it is: I went to bed early last night as I was feeling shattered, but I couldn’t sleep.  I didn’t fall asleep until nearly 2.00am, and then had the usual trouble waking up and getting up.  It’s frustrating.  I feel that this pattern is boring you as much as it’s worrying me by now.  I had weird dreams too, but I can’t really make much of what little I remember of the imagery, except that there was stuff about being in Oxford and staying up during the holidays to work, which I did in my final year (as well as my abortive penultimate year) because I was struggling so badly with work because of depression.  I’m not sure if that’s a disguised work anxiety or the result of going back over my Oxford experience for my novel.

***

I saw Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker today.  I get six free cinema tickets a year from my bank, (because they have lousy interest rates, so they need other tactics to keep customers) and usually I only use one or two.  I’m hoping to use more this year, although the ‘year’ started in mid-October and this is the first one I’ve used, so you can see how that intention is going.  I discovered that they cover VIP seats in 2D films as well as ordinary seats, so I picked a VIP seat, only to discover that VIP seats are not noticeably more comfortable than ordinary seats, they just have leather, or leather-effect, seat covers.  Then some kids or teenagers behind me talked through the beginning of the film.  I gave them a few minutes to quieten down, but when they didn’t, and one did nothing to stop his phone ringing, I moved elsewhere.  The cinema was two-thirds empty, so I found an empty spot easily enough, but I must have been annoyed with the kids to risk the “everyone staring at me” feeling of standing up in the middle of the film and walking several rows further forward to find a new seat.

I didn’t enjoy the film, finding it derivative.  The previous two episodes in the trilogy were also derivative, but I enjoyed them nevertheless, but this one was also confusing and boring, which are worse sins.  I do feel vaguely guilty that I criticised yesterday’s Doctor Who and now I’m criticising this, which makes me feel like I’m going back to being an troll, or at least one of those geeks who enjoys tearing the films and TV programmes he supposedly loves to pieces.  I don’t want to be like that, I want to like things, but I am honest about what I like.  I suppose it’s all relative; if I was going to write reviews of the Bond films I’ve been watching recently, I could write positive reviews of a number of fan-hated ones.  I think I have a general thing with big franchises and big fandoms of liking the “turkeys” and not always liking the “classics.”

That took up a big chunk of the afternoon (I slept through the morning), not least because I don’t have a local cinema so going to see a film always takes a while.  I did do a bit of Torah study, but that was about it.  Tomorrow will be a rush too (winter Friday).  Winter can be a killer like that.  The days just seem to shrivel up in the cold.

Invisible Sun

I didn’t have any insomnia yesterday.  I didn’t use my light box either.  Hmm.  As I mentioned in the comments the other day, there does seem to be a correlation between light box use and insomnia, but I’m not sure if there’s actually a connection.  I’m going to have to record this over time and see what happens.

I woke up incredibly exhausted and depressed, which didn’t surprise me after yesterday, but was still a shame.  I got woken up at 10.30am by a call from the GP’s surgery saying my medical certificate for benefits was ready for collection, although I don’t think I’m still eligible to use it now I have a job, even if it’s only two days a week.  I was sufficiently tired that I feel asleep for another hour or more, and still woke up exhausted and depressed.  Apparently oversleeping can leave you as exhausted as undersleeping, if that’s a word, but when I’m depressed I don’t naturally wake up at a sensible time, and usually sleep through alarms if I know I don’t have a major reason to get up (e.g. work).

I felt super-anxious about the new job.  I think over the winter break I need to think carefully about what I’m going to do on my first day and how I can go about reorganising the library, albeit that it’s hard to tell having only had a brief look around.  Breakfast, coffee and my light box have helped with the exhaustion and depression, at least to some extent.

Feelings of self-hatred kicked in around the afternoon.  I managed to do a few things: shopping and collecting the medical certificate, writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, a few other chores.  I was fighting depression and exhaustion.  The darkness, cold and wet outside didn’t help.  I had no time to work on my novel in the afternoon and by the evening I was feeling tense from going out (noise, people, cold streets and hot shops) and all the odd chores I was trying to cram in before shiur.  I decided it was better to use the evening to relax after shiur than work on the novel.  I did go to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv and then on to shiur.  I’ve started to do that, as my Dad’s shul is in the same road as the shiur, right afterwards, so it makes sense, but I felt super-tense while I was sitting in shul.

I did feel better in shiur, even if I still felt a bit out of place religiously.  The shiur was about the Jews in exile finding sparks of holiness in the world and radiating holiness out to the world and I while I agree with those sentiments, I think I probably interpret them very differently to the rather Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi giving the shiur.  I want to write novels with strong Jewish themes for a mainstream audience and I think he would not see that as a particular priority for a frum (religious) Jew to do and I don’t think he’d really approve of my reading and watching so much non-Jewish literature and television.  I did eat too much junk food there.  Feeling tense, it was hard to marshal much willpower, particularly when everyone else was eating so much and there was so much food.

***

As I’ve said before, most of the year went fast, but December is creeping round slowly and it feels like Chanukah will never get here.  In fact, I’m so used to Chanukah not being at the same time as Christmas that I keep feeling like it’s been and gone, or that it isn’t happening this year.  That’s partly because my family has scaled down the present-giving now my sister and I are older, and I’m still not sure how many doughnuts I should eat given that I’m trying to lose weight.  My sister and brother-in-law are coming round to my parents’ house for the last night and my second-eldest cousin with be here for a few days too.  It will be weird for her being in the UK, because she’s Israeli and almost no one celebrates Christmas there.

It’s weird to actually be celebrating something while people are celebrating Christmas, because usually 25 December is just a bank holiday to me (I often find work to do dafka).  Increasing numbers of Jews volunteer at hospitals, homeless shelters and the like to let the non-Jewish staff stay at home with their families, which is nice, but I never summon up the courage against social anxiety to do that.  Or people go to Limmud, the big multi-denominational Jewish`educational conference that is always around this time (although not usually on the bank holidays), but I get scared off by the sheer numbers there, and the unknown in going for the first time (autism and social anxiety again).

***

Invisible Sun by The Police is a song I sometimes listen to while depressed, even though it’s fairly depressing, on one level, and usually I prefer lively music when I’m depressed.  It’s about people living in war zones (primarily inspired by the Lebanese Civil War as song writer Stuart Copeland grew up in Beirut), but it has an optimistic edge because it’s about the “invisible sun” that helps people in awful situations keep going and gives hope for the future, which seems relevant to mental illness even if that wasn’t the intention.  Plus at the moment the sun literally is invisible most of the time, hidden behind clouds and only shining for a couple of hours a day even when not cloudy.

***

I was going to write some political stuff, but I can’t face.  I did observe myself, though, and it’s strange how, as a historian (my undergraduate degree was in Modern History, although “Modern” in the Oxford syllabus means “post-Roman”!) I can see that both sides in a debate can be partly right and partly wrong, but as soon as I look at modern debates, it’s easy to get caught up in the partisanship and wanting one side to be completely right and the other completely wrong.  And I’m not even a particularly partisan person: I don’t consider myself a supporter of any party, let alone being a member of one, and I feel rather politically homeless at the moment.

Bits and Pieces

The big news today is that the Jewish institution is going to phone tomorrow about my working there.  I’m guessing they want to negotiate something as they haven’t sent a straightforward yes/no email, although I could be wrong.  I asked them not to phone in the morning as I have a workshop then.  Since hearing, I’ve been feeling quite anxious, which is probably understandable, but might also stem from not being able to use my SAD light box for long today.  I’m also feeling somewhat depressed for the same reason, plus also because I’m wondering if E. and I will ever manage to get our lives sorted out enough to date again, let alone whether we’re right for each other.  I guess it’s good to know that she cares about me even if we aren’t technically together.

I had insomnia again, then slept too long and struggled to get up again.  I’m not sure where this insomnia has suddenly come from or, perhaps more accurately, why my antidepressants don’t knock me out the way they used to do.

I seem to have lost about 1kg of weight, which is good.  I just hope I really have lost it, as my weight can fluctuate.  Also, sometimes I don’t remember to weigh myself until after breakfast, which confuses things.  Of course, it’s nearly Chanukah, which is a super-fattening festival (potato latkes and doughnuts).  I don’t think I can forego the festive doughnuts!

The wifi problem has reached rock bottom.  It’s almost impossible for my computer to connect to our router from anywhere except right next to it, even though it can often locate the router of our neighbours two doors down, including when it can’t locate our router.  I have no idea how that works.  I want someone to look at it, but I suspect I’m going to need a new computer sooner rather than later.  My Dad wants to buy a power booster before we call anyone in to look at it.  I am ashamed to say that I argued with him about this, as it seemed obvious to me that that was a waste of time and money (why would only my computer have trouble connecting if it was a general wifi problem?  And why would it suddenly relatively recently rather than when we moved in four years ago?).  Sometimes it’s hard for me to tell the difference between arguing my case and autistic rigid thinking.

I finished the first draft of chapter three of my novel.  It’s not great, but it’s a start.  I’ve now written over 10,500 for the novel, which is good.

Tonight is the last of this series of Tuesday shiurim and then I need to get up early (about 7.30am) to go to an interview skills workshop, which will hopefully be easier than the last one, although doubtless there will be some scary mock-interview stuff to get through.  I spoke up at the shiur almost for the first time.  I had answered one or two questions in the past,  but only small things.  Here I ventured more of an opinion.  The shiur was on the Tower of Babel, looking at interpretations through the millennia from the Targumim (Aramaic translations) through the Midrash (ancient rabbinic expansions of the biblical story) to Medieval and modern commentaries.  This week we looked at the story modern Jewish religious works, but also in modern literature and art, including a short story by one of my favourite authors, Franz Kafka (The City Coat of Arms).  My contribution, after other people had spoken about the despair and futility evoked by the work, was to say that I found it quite funny.  I told the story that Kafka claimed to have read some of The Trial to his family consumed with laughter while they sat in stony-faced incomprehension and said I felt a bit the same here.  I meant it as a joke, but I worry it might not have been interpreted that way.  I did explain that I thought that the humour was the flip-side of the futility; either you laugh at the absurdity of the world or you fall into despair.  I didn’t say that I usually fall on the ‘despair’ side, which may be why I can find Kafka funny.

It would be a good thing if I could participate more in shiurim and classes and things, but I’m still held back a lot by social anxiety.

Achievements and a Rant

I spent an hour trying to work on my novel, but mostly procrastinated and only managed 275 words.  I feel like I’m in a writing rut today.  I probably need to delete the last couple of paragraphs, back up and start this bit again.  This happens sometimes and I guess it’s normal, but it is frustrating.

I managed thirty-five minutes of Torah study and a twenty-five minute run.  I want to run for longer periods, but I just don’t seem to have the stamina at the moment.  The way I run I end up passing my house every thirteen minutes or so, and while I wanted to carry on after the twenty-five minute mark I just could not go any further.  Running after dark doesn’t help, as my body wants to sleep (OK, it feels like that all day) and I have to be extra careful of puddles and fallen branches on the badly-lit and uneven pavements.  So far I haven’t got an exercise migraine, although I do have a slight headache.  I do still feel very tired even though I finished my run a couple of hours ago and have eaten dinner since then.

The other main task for today was checking I’d correctly filled in the benefits form that I started weeks ago.  I have to say I had forgotten about the benefits form after my holiday and then feeling extra-depressed afterwards and then by the potential new job, but I’m going to book an appointment at a JobCentre – the next step – in case I don’t get the new job.

I didn’t have the time or energy for any job hunting.  It doesn’t help that the only suitable job I could apply for at the moment is in Stratford, which is very far away and would be another killer commute.

My mood was mostly OK apart from some political worries (see below), so maybe my light box is helping after all.

***

As part of the BBC’s “neutral” election coverage, I saw this headline on their website “Working in the NHS ‘feels sometimes unbearable’“.   I feel in the interests of balance I should be allowed to write an article called “Using the NHS feels sometimes unbearable”.  I actually feel myself getting quite upset and angry at the whole “We ♥ the NHS” meme, which has gone into overdrive this election, because it doesn’t correspond with my own lived experience.  I have had good doctors, psychiatrists, therapists etc. who have gone the extra mile for me, but I have also had lousy ones who have wasted my limited resources of time, money and energy and made me feel like dirt, but I’m not allowed to say anything about that because it doesn’t fit with society’s narrative: that the NHS is full of “angels” who can’t do their job because the politicians won’t give them enough money and wrap them in red tape.

Economically speaking, if a service, particularly an expensive service, is provided for free, demand will always outstrip supply.  It’s just a basic economic truth.  I believe state-provided healthcare is necessary, but our debate about the best way to resource it should start from the reality that it will never be anywhere near perfect rather than pretending that there’s a magic solution somewhere out there, whether more money, internal markets or reorganisation of management.

Sorry, for a non-political blog, I’ve had a lot of politics lately, and this one isn’t even about antisemitism!  But I do feel that my personal experience of mental health treatment in this country is not reflected in the public discourse because it doesn’t fit a predictable ‘narrative’ which makes me feel uncomfortable, like my experience isn’t as ‘real’ somehow.

I’ll be very glad when this election is over.  As I’ve said before, the choice before us is frankly unenviable, with a multitude of parties and candidates all of whom are spectacularly awful, but for different reasons.  One cartoon had a pollster ask “Who are you voting against?” which seems all too realistic to me.  If it weren’t for the antisemitism issue, I’d be tempted to abstain, as I can’t see anything good coming from it.  And I’m still very, very scared that there’s going to be antisemitic violence if Labour win on Thursday… and even more antisemitic violence if they lose.  I’ve only been this worried about antisemitic violence when there have been wars or major terrorism campaigns against Israel  – and that was worries about violence in Israel, not spillover violence here.  It’s a very scary time to be Jewish in the UK, and all the more scary for the fact that so few people outside the Jewish community recognise that fear.

***
On a more fun note, I’m in the middle of watching From Russia with Love.  Where Dr No (which I watched last night) definitely felt like a James Bond film that was lacking a few elements of the formula, From Russia with Love feels like a typical, if not slightly slow spy film that just happens to have James Bond in it for some reason.  Not at all what we think of as a Bond Film.