The Autism Treadmill

I woke up late again and drifted quickly into self-criticism. I feel I have to sort this oversleeping (actually hypersomnia, as my sleep pattern is longer than it should be, not just shifted later in the day) and lack of energy, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I can work it out without knowing what is causing it: medication, autistic exhaustion (which in itself is not well-understood) or something else like avoidance. I’m not even remotely sure how much of it is a physical issue and how much an emotional one. But I feel it’s one of the main factors – arguably the main factor – holding back E and me from getting married.

One of the few things I took from Sara Gibbs’ autism memoir Drama Queen was the metaphor that if being neurotypical is like walking on a treadmill going at a walking pace, being autistic is like being on a treadmill going at a fast running pace, all the while being expected to keep up with the walking neurotypicals who don’t understand why you’re struggling to stay level with them. More than any other issue I have, I think of my energy issues here.

I had to do some shopping, which stopped me going for a (literal) run, although I’m not sure I would have had time anyway. I did walk quite briskly, so it was not a total failure in the exercise department.

I had hoped to finish the plan for my second novel today. In the event, I did about forty minutes of work on it, but still have a lot more to do, even though I’m deliberately not planning down to the last detail as my experience with my first novel is that things grow organically during the writing process (at least for me) and it’s better not to over-plan in advance. Writing seems very daunting, particularly if I want to actually get published and earn money from it. Then again, everything seems daunting: marriage, work, getting up on time, shul and community (see below).

I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow (albeit very late) as I’m feeling that I can’t take much more of living alone for now. I do feel quite depressed (and glad I haven’t completely come off my olanzapine) and stressed about additional housework and, well, everything. Everything just seems overwhelming and difficult at the moment. I just emailed the mental health charity that helped me years ago again to try to see if they can help me now with sleep/life skills, but I’m not sure if I’m still eligible.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to help with moving books and the like to our temporary premises and then on to our new premises later in the year (hopefully). Part of me would like to help, but I just feel completely disconnected from them at the moment. I’m scared of being asked about my wedding and I just feel that my time there is running out. I never really felt accepted the way I hoped, which is probably at least partly my own fault. The temporary premises are about twenty minutes from my house (rather than ten minutes for the current ones) and in what is probably going to be a small, cramped room and full of autistic “new experience” anxiety. Then when they (we?) move to the new premises, that’s also twenty minutes away, and hopefully by then I’ll have a clearer idea of when I’m getting married and probably moving somewhere else (E doesn’t really want to live around here).

I sometimes get to a point with something where I just feel, “This is over” and lose all motivation to do anything to keep it going and I feel that’s where I am with my shul. I liked their commitment to quiet davening (prayer) and sense of humour and perspective about frum life, but it obviously was not enough for me to feel accepted, given the generally more moderate-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) outlook as well as my mental health and autism situation, not to mention being one of the few unmarried “older” people and the lack of interest in setting me up on dates as I expected/hoped (obviously not an issue now, but more of an issue a few years ago). My fear is that the social anxiety and autism will still be there in future shuls, and I’m already dreading going back to a shul where people talk in the davening (which is most Orthodox shuls, sadly).

***

Since finishing The Twilight Zone, and as E and I aren’t watching any Doctor Who together at the moment, I sped up my viewing of Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, I then hit the third season. The original Twin Peaks had charm, warmth, wit and strong characters. The third season has none of this, substituting semi-incoherent weirdness and long, aching, empty scenes, with occasional good bits that prevent me skipping it. The lack of incidental music makes the whole thing feel even stranger, like watching raw footage. However, I’m curious to re-watch to see if it makes more sense second-time around. So far the answer is yes, just about. And I recall that the final two episodes were pretty good, so I’m sticking with it for that.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been too down to want to watch this, so I decided to watch Doctor Who. As I want to watch good episodes of Doctor Who with E, I decided to watch something too awful to suggest watching with her, so — Silver Nemesis. It’s really not good at all. Maybe I should try to persuade E to restart watching good Doctor Who with me.

A Perfect Storm

I feel like I’m headed for a “perfect storm.” My parents are away leaving me in the house by myself, which always brings my mood down and makes me feel lonely (for an autistic person, I’m surprisingly bad at living on my own). It’s one of the worst times of the year for me, when the weather is still cold and wet and the days are short and dark, but it’s so long since summer that it’s hard to believe that it could ever be different. I’m feeling frustrated with my excessive sleeping and low energy on waking, doubly so as I know it’s a factor delaying my wedding. My parents are away, and the cleaner can’t come as I’ll be at work, so there is more shopping, cooking and cleaning that I should do (I’m not sure how much I will do — I’m already planning to eat mostly from the freezer on Shabbat to reduce cooking). I was also aware that I hadn’t dusted my room for ages and it looked unpleasant (it takes ages because of all the bric-a-brac and wargaming miniatures that I’ve painted that I have on display. Probably some of them at least should go, I’m not sure how many “spark joy”). And to cap it all, there’s a Tube strike tomorrow, so I will have to commute to work on the bus, which will take longer and I may not be able to read on the journey because reading on buses increasingly makes me travel sick, which was not previously the case, so no catching up on Torah study on the way in or relaxing on the way home (if reading The Coming of the Third Reich counts as “relaxing” which is questionable). It’s also Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) tomorrow which means longer prayers. I only do a small fragment of the morning prayers, but I try to do a bit more for Rosh Chodesh (Hallel and Musaf), so that adds another ten minutes before I’ve even factored in the Tube strike. It just feels like a lot to have to deal with, although it’s not exactly a catastrophe (just compare with the news).

I haven’t been able to speak to the occupational therapist who might be able to help me yet. I’m waiting for her to get back to me about when we can speak. I need to wait a bit longer before I can really chase it. I am on a massive dose of vitamin D, but as yet it hasn’t improved my energy levels. My therapist said her son was also vitamin D-deprived and he was told it could take a month to have any effect. I am also still on a lower dose of olanzapine without any change in my sleep pattern. I will come off it completely when my parents get home, but I know my mood dips when they are away, so I thought I would stay on it for another week just in case.

Because of all of this, my mood has been a bit down, although I’m not depressed, exactly. I feel like I should be able to cope better on my own, given that I’m an autistic introvert who doesn’t even like most people much. For all that I get annoyed when my parents want to talk and I don’t, the brief bits of conversation probably do keep me grounded and not entirely lost inside my head. Talking to people does probably help a bit with emotional regulation too, although I’m not sure why. It’s easy to think that everything is awful and I’m a failure at life when there isn’t anyone around to call me out on that, or just distract me.

I did manage to do a few things, therapy, dusting and other housework, a little novel planning and I finished my devar Torah and got it ready so I just have to hit ‘send’ when I get home tomorrow. I didn’t have much time/energy for Torah, but I have to remind myself that I am not just wasting time. I do feel pretty useless, though, and I miss E like crazy and wonder when we will be able to live our lives together. (I find time with E restoring, which is not the case for most people I know.)

Related to the idea of activity and energy levels, Ashley’s post the other day about goals versus identifying valued directions chimed with something I’ve been doing lately. I’ve tried to stop setting targets for the things I do during the day and how long I spent on them and recording them daily (which was relevant when I was too depressed to do much at all, but less so now) and focus on doing things in a more general way without obsessing over time (although I do still tend to notice it) e.g. I try to do some Torah study and some work on my novel without setting rigid targets. Doing ten minutes of set hitbodedut (informal, spontaneous prayer, talking to God) had stopped working and it was just becoming painful sitting and not thinking of anything to say, so I just do a few minutes or none at all if I don’t feel like it. I feel OK doing this as my kavannah (usually translated at ‘concentration,’ but I feel ‘mindfulness’ is a better term) on set prayers has been better lately.

***

To cheer myself up, I watched The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash while eating dinner and then dusting my room. It’s a spoof documentary, essentially about The Beatles, written and part-performed by former Monty Python Eric Idle. I’d seen it a number of years ago, but didn’t remember much about it. It was moderately amusing, but I think I’ve grown out of Monty Python-style humour (Michael Palin also had a small role). The cleverest aspect was Neil Innes’ Beatle-pastiche songs, that sounded authentic, but not quite close enough to prompt lawsuits. Innes also played John Lennon parody Ron Nasty.

I chose to watch it as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently, particularly their early music, which I don’t listen to as much. It did make me feel a bit better, but my mood went down again afterwards. I should just go to bed soon as I have an early start and long day tomorrow…

Dilemmas

I have the Buridan’s Ass feeling of being caught between two writing projects. Strategically, the literary novel of character is probably the one to go for before the controversial satire, to build some kind of audience, and because it’s somewhat further ahead, but who knows which, if either, would be well-received? Anton Chekov said that medicine was his wife and literature his mistress and when he got bored of one, he went to the other. I’m not sure where that leaves me, with a part-time job, two unwritten embryo novels, one written-but-unpublished novel, various ongoing religious obligations and (last, but definitely not least) a long-distance relationship.

Of course, I have a written novel that I want to get published and today I got another rejection for that, so maybe I should prioritise getting that to lots of agents. Except that sending to agents isn’t fun, unlike thinking of ideas and writing.

***

A number of people on the autism forum seem to be struggling with constant fatigue and disturbed sleep (too much or too little), so I guess it’s not just me. Someone else on the forum sounded like me a few years ago, really lonely and wanting a girlfriend, but not knowing how to get one. I felt I should respond, but I didn’t know what to say, because the fact that I’m not still there is largely due to factors outside of my control, not things I can advise him to replicate. I guess his post also triggered my self-loathing, the feeling that I don’t deserve to be loved. When I went back to the site later to try to give some moral support, even if I couldn’t advise, the post seemed to have been deleted.

I am also getting a bit annoyed at the number of people on the forum who don’t choose a username and just stick with the serial number generated by the site when you join. It makes it hard to remember who is who when half the people just have a string of digits for a name. I understand why people might want anonymity (I think the site actually forbids the use of information that could identify you in real-life), but I prefer to talk to people, not numbers. It’s not that hard to think up a pseudonym.

There But For the Grace of God?

I was working from home today, as J is on holiday. Perhaps surprisingly after a year and a half of COVID, this was only the second time I have ever done paid work from home (the first time was last November or December, when J gave me 300 invoices to put in 300 envelopes and 300 stamps to stick on them — it took several hours!). I have two tasks to work on over the next fortnight. One requires accessing a desktop computer in the office remotely. Unfortunately, it looks like Windows downloaded some updates over the weekend and rebooted the computer, so the remote access software has been disconnected. The only way to reconnect it is to go back into the office. Sigh. The other job, data entry via an online database, is accessible from home and will keep me going for a while yet, but I was hoping to alternate two boring jobs to at least provide some small bit of variety. Now I’ll have to focus on one task over the next two weeks and the other in the office afterwards.

I overslept quite dramatically this morning and then I think I must have napped after I got up, which meant I lost most of the morning. I felt bad about this. I don’t know why I can only get up early if I absolutely have to do so and otherwise sleep through alarms. We’ve been working six hour days in the office under COVID, but I only managed five today. By 7.30pm I was too tired to continue working so I will catch up the extra hour tomorrow. To be honest, splitting the day is probably good for alleviating boredom, but not so good if I want a free day to relax and work on my writing.

I did at least add 116 records to the database.

Otherwise, I’ve mostly been worrying. I’m worrying about whether E will be allowed to travel to the UK while the delta variant continues to spread in the USA. The only thing spreading more like wildfire than delta are the actual wildfires (sorry to Californian readers). I also worry that I won’t be able to go to the USA, as I have the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the USA still has not recognised. I feel that they should concentrate on getting more of their population double vaccinated with any vaccine before engaging in vaccine nationalism.

Other than that, I’ve been generally down. The world is depressing again: COVID, Afghanistan, Haiti… I’ve been thinking a lot about Incels since the shooting in Plymouth last week, wondering if I would have fallen down the Incel rabbit hole if my life had gone slightly differently. It’s different now I’m in a relationship that is hopefully moving towards marriage (albeit slowly thanks to COVID), but I do still feel vaguely — inadequate? or just different? for being a virgin at thirty-eight (and not in a monastery).

I feel like I’ve done OK in not basing my self-esteem on money, material goods, power or fame (not that I have any of them either…), but I have a self-esteem need for social interaction: I want to get married, and I want to have a few friends I feel I close to. I want to feel that I matter to people, that they miss me when I’m not around (E definitely misses me!). As goals go, it’s not inherently unethical or unrewarding, it being generally agreed that positive relationships, of whatever kind, are rewarding in a way that money (for example) is not, but I feel I would have been a lot happier over the last twenty years if I didn’t need other people for my self-esteem needs.

Am I being too hard on myself? There have been times, particularly in the long period before I even went on a date (I didn’t get to go on a date until I was twenty-seven) when I had a lot of loneliness and inchoate anger about being single. However, I never saw myself as entitled to a partner nor was I angry with women, individually or collectively. I was just angry with my lot in life. I do wonder how many Incels are really angry (and how many of those are potentially violent) and how many are just very lonely and ashamed about being single in a world that puts romantic and sexual imagery everywhere, but seems to make it harder and harder to meet people in person (even pre-COVID), and where schoolchildren are taught how to have safe sex by law, but not how to build lasting relationships.

***

I possibly made a mistake in watching the last episode of The Blue Planet over dinner. I’ve got half the episode left, as I wanted to do some Torah study before my brain switched off from exhaustion, and I don’t think a wildlife documentary was really relaxing enough for me today. I did at least manage to squeeze a walk in, and did about forty minutes of Torah study, although not as much as I would have liked.

The Review of Reviews

I only slept for about four hours last night. I’m not sure why I couldn’t sleep; probably from the heat. I tried to sleep on the sofa downstairs, as it was significantly cooler there, but I couldn’t get comfortable; I am really too tall to lie straight on it and the armrest was at the wrong angle even with a pillow. I did manage to get to volunteering on time this morning, but after less than an hour, I was getting a migraine, I guess from shlepping boxes around and moving up and down a lot in the heat. I usually come home on the bus, but I phoned Dad to ask for a lift, despite having to wait twenty minutes for him to arrive with nowhere to sit, because I was worried that the stopping and starting of the bus and having to wear a mask on it would make me throw up; as it was, even the car journey nearly made me ask Dad to pull over a couple of times in case I was sick.

By the time I got home, the solpadeine I had taken at volunteering was beginning to have an effect, but, unusually for me, I couldn’t shake the headache completely. I was OK if I sat still, but it hurt if I moved and later there was some pain behind my eyes. I took more solpadeine in the mid-afternoon, but I felt bad enough that I didn’t manage to do much today. Aside from some Torah study on the bus before the headache started, the main thing I did was draft my devar Torah for the week (I’m not hugely pleased with it — I quoted a number of sources, but couldn’t really synthesise them or draw them together). That took quite a while, admittedly because I kept getting distracted online. I didn’t feel well enough to work on my job application, or maybe I was just glad of the excuse not to deal with it.

Eventually, I decided to give up on trying to do anything. Trying not to move my head much, I watched Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace, one of the few Doctor Who overt love stories that I have much time for, and a relief after a bunch of not-so-good episodes in E and my new series marathon. I’ve been critical of David Tennant’s performance before, but, to be fair, his delivery makes some corny jokes and clumsy exposition seem naturalistic, and it’s really a performance that is not to my taste more than one that is bad. And I laughed at a couple of jokes I’d forgotten, and even jumped at one of the monster bits. When I’ve watched this episode in the past, I’ve usually empathised with the Doctor: “Oh, such a lonely childhood! Doctor, so lonely, so very alone… Such a lonely little boy. Lonely then and lonelier now. How can you bear it?” It was good that I still enjoyed it even now I’m not lonely. (I’ve also always been vague about money too.)

I felt better by the time my sister and brother-in-law came for my birthday dinner (takeaway pizza and chocolate fudge cake). It was good, although I always feel I don’t talk enough at family things. I got rather a lot of books as birthday presents (I was given a budget and just ordered things…). I might talk more about the books (six fiction and two non-fiction) another time as I’m rather pressed for time now — dinner went on quite late.

I also discovered my father had mistakenly put a fanzine that contains a review of my non-fiction Doctor Who book with the birthday presents. I think this is the first review of anything I’ve ever written! It took me a couple of minutes to read, as I got a little overcome with nerves mid-reading and paused, although (full disclosure) the reviewer is a good friend of mine and I knew he would only have bothered to write the review if he’d had positive things to say — “unjustly neglected” was his verdict! Maybe I’ll pick up a couple more sales off the back of it — and, indeed the one I registered the other day might be the first.

The dinner made up for the discomforts of earlier in the day, although I will now be rushing to get ready for bed now, and to snatch a few minutes alone time to recover from peopling, or I won’t sleep even without accounting for the heat. J has asked me to come in to work earlier than usual tomorrow as we will be going out of the office in the morning, which is probably not the best timing, but at least it means that tomorrow morning won’t be too intense.

“Such a lonely little boy. Lonely then and lonelier now. How can you bear it?”

(Title quote from Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace by Steven Moffat)

I went to bed late last night, nearly 2.00am, but it took me three quarters of an hour or more to fall asleep. I had a blog post I read echoing in my head; there were things I wanted to say in response, but it was too late, and I wasn’t sure if I would dare to post the comment anyway. I was tired, but it got too late for me to watch TV or otherwise relax before bed, which always makes it hard for me to sleep. Possibly I’d been online too late as well, with the laptop light waking me up. I was in the difficult state of being very tired, but not sleepy, or not falling asleep.

Somehow, I still managed to get up at 9.00am today. I’m not sure how I managed that, but I felt lonely and a bit on edge. I was on the verge of tears while davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers) and again while doing Torah study in the afternoon. I don’t know why. I just feel lonely. I am at least trying to do what my therapist suggested and “stay in the present” with my loneliness and just experience it for what it is, rather than slide down into anxiety (“Will I ever meet the right person?”), shame (“Who else is a virgin at thirty-seven?!”) and self-loathing despair (“No one would ever marry someone as messed up as me! I’m going to die alone and unloved!”).

I tried to write the article on Asperger’s Syndrome in the frum (religious Jewish) community that I want to pitch to Aish. It’s been a struggle. I keep thinking that it’s too factual, too boring. Not enough personal anecdotes. Too dry. Too many details, zero inspiration, for a site that aspires to be spiritually inspiring. Why would anyone who doesn’t know me want to read about why I struggle with the workplace, shul (synagogue) or dating? But, I go on. I try to write short, active sentences rather than over-long, passive ones (bad habits I have). I spent a couple of hours on the article and wrote a first draft (just under 1,500 words). It will need more work before I try to pitch it.

I wonder if I’m doomed to be a compulsive writer, but a writer only of things that other people don’t want to read. Now I’m back to David Bowie’s comment that, “The worst thing that God can do to you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist.” I worry that my style is dreary Victorian, like Dickens without the irony and humour.

***

I did try to stay in the present with my loneliness, and I did succeed, at least a bit. I tried to tell myself that loneliness is just an emotion. That it doesn’t mean anything. That if I can cope with migraine pain, I can cope with loneliness pain. But while out running, I began to wonder:

“I wouldn’t mind if I have to be lonely forever, if I could just know why I have to be lonely forever!”

But you know why you’re lonely.

“Why?”

Because you have a neurological disorder that impairs your communication and a mental illness that makes you avoid social situations, so it’s pretty much impossible for you to meet anyone or successfully talk to her. Duh.

“I meant more like the metaphysical reason for my loneliness. Why me, why now, why this?”

But there are no answers to those questions in this world. Honestly, you’re really not the worst example of the problem of suffering out there! Get over yourself! You’re like the Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch where Rowan Atkinson keeps taking the question of why God allows suffering to why he cut his finger when opening a tin of food for the neighbour’s cat!

“Can’t I just have a hint? Something to keep me going for the next thirty lonely years? Or won’t I be lonely forever? I mean, out of seven billion people in the world, one of them’s got to be right for me?”

Yes, except that once you narrow it down to those who are (a) female, (b) Jewish, (c) the right age, (d) single, (e) have a vaguely compatible hashkafah (religious outlook), and (f) have a life situation that makes it vaguely possible for you to meet her, you’re down to a few thousand people even before you talk about chemistry, personality and values. Or whether she would ever like you in a million years.

“A lot of help you are.”

Look, if you’ve been miserable and lonely for this long, maybe you just couldn’t cope with love and happiness. Maybe it’s just not for people like you.

“‘People like me’?”

Weirdo freaks.

“Some help you are. Whose unconscious are you anyway?”

***

After I went for a run, my mood dropped quite a bit. I hoped eating dinner would help, but it didn’t really. I watched some TV. I’m in the middle of three different things right now. My Babylon 5 re-watch reached season four, which is good, but really dark and I need something to break up the gloom. I bought the first season of The Simpsons, I’m not entirely sure why, but I’d forgotten it’s not as funny as later seasons. And I also just started re-watching the first thirteen episodes of Doctor Who, from 1963-64. I’m rationing myself to just one twenty-five minute episode a night. I hadn’t watched much Doctor Who lately and I’m sufficiently addicted not to be able to go too long without it. I find the original run of Doctor Who (1963-1989) to be calming and involving whatever my mood, the way most autistic special interests are for people on the spectrum.

I feel I ought to read more. I actually read quite a bit, but it’s hard when my mood is low. I tend to prioritise Torah study over recreational reading, even though, as an aspiring writer, I need to read fiction. I used to read novels on the way home from work, but I can’t at the moment as J is giving me a lift. I do Torah study on the way in and don’t want to stop that. I read when I have lunch and sometimes before bed, depending on how depressed I feel. Lately it’s hard to care about what I read or to really get involved in a book. I did get a bit involved in Vampire Romance. Homage to Catalonia is interesting when talking about the realities of life on the front-line in The Spanish Civil War, less so when talking about the politics. I can’t think of much else I’ve got involved in lately. It’s just hard to get energy to read for fun when I use up my energy on work, exercise, Torah study, writing…

I think that’s probably a lot of ‘shoulds’ for something that’s supposed to be fun. Should should should. I think I run my life around shoulds.

***

Overall it was a busy day (a significant chunk of writing, Torah study, a 5K run and cooking some plain pasta for dinner), and I think I was less obsessed with loneliness/anxiety than recently but my mood did definitely get lower as the day went on, and it wasn’t that great to start with.

Sometimes I wonder whether I would be happier with a partner. Maybe I’ve been alone in my thoughts for so long that no one else can reach me. Maybe. I don’t know. I think I’d like someone to try. But I’m conscious that I ended two relationships in the lockdown year-and-a-bit, and while I think both were the right decision, I wonder if I’ve become scared of what a relationship would be like. It’s hard to tell, as mine have mostly been atypical in different ways.

“Too many people preaching practices/Don’t let them tell you what you want to be”

It’s always difficult in the summer when Shabbat (the Sabbath) goes out late. By the time I’ve davened Ma’ariv (said Evening Prayers), helped tidy up at home (and at shul (synagogue), if I went there for Ma’ariv) and ploughed through the emails and blog posts that built up in the last 25+ hours, it’s very late, but I need to write or things will buzz around my head and I won’t sleep. I’ll try to be brief.

***

I spent much of Shabbat worrying about whether I will ever get married. This was despite my therapist saying I should try to stay in the present and not worry about things like whether I will ever get married. I’m not sure if this was a “don’t think of pink elephants” thing, where saying what not to think about brings it to mind, or if it was just a product of being told by the Intimate Judaism sex therapist that she would try to find an autism-friendly shadchan (matchmaker) for me and trying to work through what that would mean for me. To be honest, having just re-read the email, I’m not even sure if that’s what she said she is going to do. It was a bit ambiguous. So I don’t know where that leaves me. Except that I still feel lonely.

I’m pretty sure I want a wife and children, but I still don’t know (a) how to make that happen and (b) whether I could cope with the sacrifices, noise and confusion that relationships and especially children entail, particularly for someone on the autism spectrum. However, I don’t know how to find out without actually getting married and having children.

***

I slept too much again. I did a fair bit of Torah study, but not much else except eat and pray. This means I feel too awake now. I thought my long nap in the afternoon had made me late for shul (synagogue), which was a bit of a relief for my social anxiety, as I felt I wouldn’t be called up to do anything in the service, but shul was at 6.15pm rather than 6.00pm and I was early. I got given petecha (opening the Ark to take the Torah scroll out and put it back). I fumbled my way through it, as I’m not sure how it’s supposed to be done in a COVID world — the shul changed the procedure so that fewer people touch the Torah scroll now for hygiene reasons. I’m not sure I did it right, but no one told me I was doing it wrong (which has happened before, pre-COVID), so hopefully I was OK.

I had a weird idea in shul to change my kippah (skullcap). I wear a large white, crochet kippah on Shabbat. These are associated with Modern Orthodox and especially Religious Zionist communities, while black suede or velvet ones are more associated with Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities like mine. I don’t wear my kippah for any of those reasons, but simply because I like it, but maybe it’s worth wearing a black suede one to fit in (I do have one somewhere; I have a stack of twenty-odd kippot in my wardrobe; they just accumulate over time). Of course, if I go down this route, I’ll have to wear white shirts on Shabbat and coloured for work, which is the reverse of what I currently do. Changing things to fit in is conformist and desperate, but maybe that’s what I need to do to be accepted (let alone married off).

***

I had another idea over Shabbat, which was to try to write an article on being an Aspie in the frum (religious Jewish) community to raise the issues. I would like to get it published somewhere like Aish.com where they will pay me for it. The money is less important than the recognition of being published, and trying to raise my profile in the community, as well as it being a prominent platform to raise the issue. If all else fails, I could try Hevria again, but (a) I’d rather look somewhere more mainstream and prominent and (b) I kind of lost touch with the Hevria people (it’s a long story and one I don’t want to go into). The site seems a bit dead these days anyway.

I’m off work next week, so I have an opportunity to write it. On the downside, Aish have published stuff on autism before, although not so much on life in the frum community (a little surprisingly) and none for a couple of years, so maybe I’ll be accepted. Ideally I should pitch the article before I write it, but I don’t trust myself to write from scratch in time; this way if I don’t like what I write, I can just forget about it rather than being committed to writing something.

***

Well, I think that’s the essence of this last Shabbat. I’m trying to stay positive, but it’s hard, and a lot of the time I just feel like I want to curl up and sleep to get away from my thoughts. I’m going to watch Doctor Who and go to bed, I think.

Fear of Living, Fear of Dying

We have local elections next week. An election for the Mayor of London and a by-election to replace a local councillor who died. I didn’t want to go to a polling station in the pandemic, so I have a postal vote and need to send it soon. I don’t know who to vote for. I still feel pretty annoyed about all the parties. If I’m a “Tory anarchist” (as George Orwell wrote), lately the anarchist part is dominant. I’m pretty angry at the moment with political parties of all stripes, and big business, especially Big Tech.

Local government, including the London Mayor, doesn’t really have much power in the UK, so the whole election seems pretty pointless. I don’t know who my local councillors are or have much of a sense of what they do. I did know the one who died, sort of, but only because he was well-known in the local Jewish community, and because he was the solicitor who acted for the people my parents bought their house from in the sale. As for the Mayor, in theory he has powers about a range of things, but I only really have a sense of him as the person who decides if the Tube fares go up. Most people just use local elections as a glorified opinion poll on whichever party is in power in central government.

In the last European elections, mid–Brexit, I spoiled my ballot and wrote abusive comments by the candidates’ names, the only time I have done this, because I was so angry that the parties could not get their act together to sort Brexit out, to the extent that we were having European Parliament elections while trying to leave the EU. I didn’t even have particularly strong views about Brexit, I just wanted to get it over with and get back to reality. When the last general election happened, I was still angry and voted mainly to keep Jeremy Corbyn out than because I was impressed with anything anyone else was offering. Now I’m mainly apathetic. I don’t think there’s one party that represents what I think, not even close. I don’t even think I have the energy to spoil my ballot.

I was brought up to take voting seriously because “people died to get you the vote” (which is actually a really stupid reason to do anything). And I think people should take voting and politics seriously, it’s just very hard to admire the current crop of politicians, and hard to feel that anyone listens to people like me at the moment. I’m not even sure what I would say if someone was listening.

Ugh, I didn’t mean to write 400 words on politics, I just feel annoyed and confused.

***

Other than that, it was a quiet day. I had therapy, I drafted my devar Torah (pretty much on autopilot, it’s not one I’m particularly proud of) and looked over the next Talmud section before shiur (religious class) on Shabbat. I didn’t go for a walk as it rained a lot and I was too drained to walk in the rain after therapy. I feel like I’m doing a lot of what I want to be doing… but I haven’t done any fiction writing for about two months! The friend who said she would read my novel said to wait until after Pesach, so I waited until then, but then I got cold feet about sending it to her as I wasn’t sure if she wanted to be paid, or how enthusiastic she was about reading it. I didn’t want her to do it out of some kind of sense of obligation. Now JYP is reading it, but I feel I ought to try to write something else to keep the writing habit going while I’m waiting, but I don’t know what. I have an idea for another novel, but I’m not sure it’s sensible to start it yet. I’m not sure what will happen to my work, exercise and Torah study regime when I try to factor in an hour or two of fiction writing a day, but we’ll see.

***

In therapy we spoke about being in the present rather than falling into anxiety about future careers and future relationships (or the lack of either). I said that I feel I missed some developmental stages when I was a teenager. Because I was autistic, but didn’t know it, and because I’d been bullied a lot, I withdrew into myself. Autism made me fear change and the unknown, and being bullied made me fear other people my age (I still struggle to feel comfortable with older children or teenagers). I didn’t go to youth groups the way most Jewish teenagers do. I didn’t date or party or do any kind of leadership or personal growth activity. A bunch of my friends went backpacking in Europe the summer after we finished school and I was originally going with them, but fairly early on in the planning I stage I panicked and backed out of it.

Now I find I need to go through the adolescent maturation stage, twenty years too late, regarding finding what I like to do and what I can do, career, friendships, relationships and so on. This was when my therapist spoke about staying in the present and not trying to worry about the “What ifs?” of career and relationships. To focus on being satisfied with the work I do and not worrying about how it will lead to a career, and to focus on making a connection with someone and not worrying about whether we will get married. I do feel like the clock is ticking on both things, though.

I didn’t mention this in therapy, but a while back I heard about Otto Rank, who was a student of Sigmund Freud. Unlike Freud, he saw the human psyche as being driven by two fears, the fear of living and the fear of dying. Rather than their literal meanings, he saw the fear of living as being the fear of individuation and separation, and the fear of dying as the fear of being absorbed into the collective. I tend to bounce between these two quite violently, wanting to individuate and be different from other people, particularly in a religious community that I find quite conformist, but I also want acceptance in the community, close friends and a romantic relationship, which involve, or seem to involve, making at least some concessions to the expectations of other people. What I want more than anything is to be fully accepted, with all my “issues” and geeky quirks and complicated history, but I’m scared of making myself vulnerable enough to discover whether anyone could accept me.

The email I received from Intimate Judaism yesterday said that they don’t have time to answer every email sent to them, but my “sense of isolation” was very apparent in the email I sent them and they wanted to respond. I guess it seems a bit strange to see that written down. I am a lonely person and have been so since my teens (if not earlier), but it’s just a kind of constant background noise for me. I do have a ‘loneliness’ tag on my blog, but I think I use it much less frequently than tags for ‘depression’, ‘autism’ and ‘anxiety’.

I wrote a whole essay for Hevria years ago on loneliness, where I think I said that the term obscures the fact that there are different kinds of loneliness. Someone can have family and yet still lack friends, for example. I myself have family and a few friends, especially online, but have few in-person friends (which I instinctively feel I would like, even if I can’t express why) and also lack anyone for my romantic/sexual side. I also, as I said, want to feel completely known and accepted. Above all, I feel that I want God to accept me, as only He can really know me, but I want to be accepted by human beings too, even though I’m hiding much of myself from them, even here.

***

I’m currently bearded, because of the omer, the period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost), part of which is observed as a time of national mourning, involving not holding celebrations, listening to music, cutting hair or shaving. I feel really self-conscious seeing myself bearded on Skype and Zoom calls. It just looks wrong. I kept looking at myself rather than my therapist on my Zoom therapy call today. Plus, people ask me why I’m growing a beard; “I’m not growing a beard, I’m just not shaving” is a confusing response. It itches too. At least I can shave it off on Friday.

(I Don’t Believe In) Modern Love

I thought I would be very burnt out today after such a busy day yesterday and I was more or less right. I think I’ve been somewhat more optimistic since my autism diagnosis (which was less than two months ago, so quite fresh, even if I’d thought I was on the spectrum for years), but today I feel in “No one could ever love me, or if she could, I wouldn’t know how to meet her” mode. I’m not that hopeful about my novel either after the freelance editor I sent the first chapter to sent me feedback. She was reasonably positive, although she felt the type of editing I need was too far outside her experience for her to accept the work, which is fair enough. She did mention something E said on the early chapters she saw, though, about feeling too distant from the action, as if it was autobiography, telling rather than showing as E put it. There is an autobiographical element to the novel, but I didn’t want it to feel like that. So that’s one thing to think about for the next redraft, which will have to be quite drastic. I do feel that the parts that seemed to flow best and felt most engaging when I was writing them (if that proves anything about how things read) were the small bits of action, which is part of what is pushing me to genre fiction next time (“next time”!). I’m not sure what to do now though. The thought of going through the manuscript and doing a total, line-by-line rewrite is quite daunting, even if I had confidence in my ability to “show, don’t tell” the story, which at this stage, I don’t have. Maybe this is why Kafka hardly finished anything.

I actually had a dream related to writing anxiety last night. In the dream I was putting stuff online about what happened with the first woman I asked out (I asked her out; she said no; I stupidly didn’t stop off-loading my depressive thoughts on her; she panicked when I got suicidal and cut off all contact with me) and she understandably got annoyed. I’m not surprised I dreamt this, as I’ve been wondering whether it was a good idea to use that experience in the novel. I don’t know if she would recognise what happened between us in the novel (it was a long time ago and I have tried to fictionalise it somewhat) if she ever read it, but I do feel nervous about that sometimes. I know they (they = people who speak about writing) say to write what you know and I know some authors draw more heavily from their own experience than others, but I worry about crossing a line, although the reality is that even if I get published, she probably won’t read it. Last I heard, she doesn’t even live in this country any more.

***

After my post yesterday, I found myself wondering why I think about sex so much. Someone (I haven’t been able to source the quotation) said that “Sex is like water: if you have it, you don’t think about it; if you haven’t got it, you can’t think about anyone else.” To be honest, with me it’s probably a shorthand for love, intimacy, closeness and the absence of loneliness rather than just sex. Possibly it’s a shorthand for those things because the idea of touch is very difficult for me, on the spectrum: it can be very good, but often is very uncomfortable, even with people I love, like my parents. So the thought of someone I feel completely comfortable with touching me is very powerful and also very elusive and tied to ideas about trust and intimacy (especially as my first girlfriend rather trampled on my boundaries about touch).

In a low, burnt out mood this morning, I found myself wondering if I made a mistake in breaking up with PIMOJ and even if I made a mistake in breaking up with E last year (she tried to get back with me a while back, which I don’t think is a good idea rationally, but has a certain amount of emotional appeal). It’s hard to avoid feeling that I didn’t make a mistake in one of those breakups. It’s also easy to start thinking that I’ll be alone forever. I suppose the trick is just not to think about love and relationships and focus my attention elsewhere (where?).

***

Inasmuch as I did anything today, it was a chore day, as usual for a Friday. I did my usual Shabbat (Sabbath) chores; sorted out my desk drawer, which gets into a mess as I just shove stuff in it to keep my desk clear; phoned the GP’s surgery to request the form for my next lithium blood test (more NHS bureaucracy and I spent ages on hold); and went for a walk. During the walk, my mood, which had been OKish, mostly just tired, dropped quite a bit into “My life is never going to come together” mode, which makes me a bit nervous about my mood going through Shabbat.

My shul (synagogue) is bringing in Shabbat early during summer, so I won’t get time to look at this week’s Talmud page before Shabbat. I’ll try to look at it tonight, but I suspect I’ll be too tired to make much of it. I feel bad that the shiur (class) has only been going one week and I’m already slipping in my desire to look over it once before the shiur and revise it once afterwards.

Eventful Day; Also Sex and the Single Orthodox Jew

Today was a pretty good day, but some unpleasantly familiar thoughts hovered in the background and at times came into the foreground.

Work was quite eventful. In the morning, J and I went to one of the organisation’s other sites. I’m not really able to say here what site it was, because it would make it too easy to work out where I work although it was somewhere people don’t usually go. I didn’t feel I contributed much, but it was interesting to see it. We weren’t there for long, about half an hour, but the length of the journey there and back meant we were out for most of the morning.

In the car on the way back, J and I went over the new task he’s training me for again, roleplaying a typical situation again. I felt I did badly at this, although I didn’t have my notes or the forms I would normally be filling in as part of the process; obviously it’s easier to remember what to say if you have a form of blank spaces to fill in right in front of you. Still, I felt a bit self-critical, something made worse by a mistake I caught this morning (by chance) that I must have made on Monday. I do worry about how many mistakes I must make that I don’t catch in time. I feel that I should be better at handling these tasks; after all, people on the autism spectrum are supposed to be good at routine tasks. I think the problem is that I have to have different spreadsheets and data bases open at the same time and people on the spectrum are not good at multitasking and going from one thing to another like that.

In the afternoon, a situation arose when I had to actually work through a type of situation that we had been practising in the morning. Again, I’d love to say what I had to do, but it would make where I work too obvious. Suffice to say that the task is not particularly autism-friendly or social anxiety-friendly, involving phoning various people, some of whom might be emotional, and getting quite a bit of information verbally and transcribing it correctly. I think I did OK, and J was listening in to the call and nudged me once or twice about some things, but I also think that maybe the time has come to tell J about my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis and what it means for me, especially about the way I struggle to take in rapid verbal information (J has a habit of throwing a lot of information at me at once). I’m not sure what exactly to say though.

One other awkward thing happened at work: I can’t easily check my emails on my phone and was hoping for an email from a friend who I was worried about, so during lunch I logged on to webmail on my work computer, only to be confronted with a not safe for work email subject line from the Intimate Judaism podcast. This features an Orthodox rabbi and sex therapist talking about sex and intimacy in the Orthodox world. I would not have done that if I had known the message would be there, but they email very rarely.

Best moment of the day: realising on the way to the other site that we were driving across a bridge that appeared in Doctor Who. Tom Baker stood here. It’s the little things…

***

I like the Intimate Judaism podcast (when it’s not embarrassing me at work), but after the awkward email today I found myself wondering why. I started listening to it when I was dating E. Although she was not frum (religious Jewish), she thought it might help me deal with some of the questions and anxieties I have about sex (in general and also in terms of Jewish law). Which it does, and it also has given me insight into parts of the frum world that I would not otherwise know about, which has been useful in my writing. I doubt I would have written a novel that highlights issues of sexual consent in Orthodox marriage without several discussions of this issue on the podcast making me aware of it.

However, it also highlights my feeling that I’m some kind of freak for being a virgin at thirty-seven, doubly so in a community where people typically marry in their early twenties and where kiruv (out-reach) professionals like to boast that Judaism celebrates marital sexuality. As well as feeling freakish, it makes me wonder if I can ever get married. For one thing, is there anyone left to marry? And can someone like me (autistic, socially anxious, prone to bouts of depression, not on a real career path) find someone to love him? I guess it turns sex into a spectator sport for me. Not in a pornographic sense, but in the sense that I’m listening to other people discuss their sex lives, knowing full well it’s of only academic interest to me, that I can’t get involved myself.

I actually feel like a freak and a child a lot, although I feel like a freak less often since I started making progress towards my autism diagnosis. These feelings are not just from being a virgin, they’re also from living with my parents; not working full-time; finding social interactions awkward; not being well-socialised into the frum community and so on. Nevertheless, being a virgin is a big part of it, not least because “being a virgin” is tied up so much with living with my social and emotional issues and lack of socialisation into the frum community.

Having only just broken up with PIMOJ, I don’t have any intention of dating again soon, nor do I feel optimistic that I will find the right person quickly (or at all) when I do try to date again, or even have a good idea what “dating again” would look like for me. I feel I’m out of options other than professional shadchanim (match-makers), a prospect that terrifies me. I’m not sure how I navigate the feelings of difference and inadequacy in the meantime.

I think about sex too much for a frum person. I wish I didn’t, it seems like I’m tormenting myself endlessly with what I can never know. I also feel that I write about it too much here, but feel I have to because (a) no one else does and (b) I need to vent periodically and I don’t have anywhere else to do it.

I am vaguely thinking about emailing the Intimate Judaism presenters about this, although I’m not sure what I’d say or what kind of response I’d be hoping for.

***

Related to this, I was trying to think what lessons I learnt from the three relationships I have managed to keep together for a few months (I think eight or nine months is the record).

Relationship 1) My first relationship, rather late (aged twenty-seven) so lots of things learnt for the first time: that someone could want to go out with me for a longish period; that I could actually maintain a relationship; and that I could care about someone else and make sacrifices for her. From the ending of the relationship, I learnt that I could set boundaries and end a relationship when I realised those boundaries were being trampled on (I used to wonder if I would stay in a painful relationship indefinitely for fear of being single).

2a) I’m not sure what I learnt from dating E first time around. Maybe that I could make a long-distance relationship work for a bit. Or maybe that even someone who really cared about me and wanted to marry me could still not cope with my “issues” in the long run.

2b) I suspect the main thing I learnt from dating E second time around was that on/off relationships are not a good idea and that if I’ve come to feel that a relationship could not have worked, restarting it because of loneliness and the excitement of the other person saying she made a mistake and still cares about me is not a good idea.

3) That a relationship needs chemistry as well as shared values to work (which is not always the Jewish dating experts’ message) and that while relationships need trust based on shared vulnerability, it has to be mutual or it won’t work.

Something I learnt from all my relationships is not to look back and wonder if it was a mistake to break up or there is no end to the potential regret and self-doubt.

Special Souls and Scapegoats

I’m feeling down today. I feel drained and listless. Also guilty. These days most of my guilt comes from wrestling with my sex drive and loneliness. I want to love and be loved, but I feel incapable of either of these, which sets me on a downward spiral to emotional places I don’t want to go (“sin” if you want to use stark Victorian words). Also, periodically I think about PIMOJ and feel sad that it didn’t work out for us and guilty that I upset her by breaking up with her. Watching Babylon 5 just reminds me that I thought she was like Delenn: gentle spiritual and intelligent, but even then the relationship didn’t work; I couldn’t open up to her or be myself with her. So who could I be myself with if I can’t be with someone who was practically my dream partner?

My sister and brother-in-law came over for socially distanced tea and biscuits this afternoon. I ate too much cake and biscuits, but otherwise had a good time. Then I left early to work on a job application and my mood came down again as I realised how my skills have atrophied and my career stagnated (see below). I went for a run after my Torah study, but it failed to boost my mood much.

There’s an idea in Judaism, particularly in Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) that people with severe learning disabilities, including severe autism, have special souls. I’m not particularly mystically minded (a problem PIMOJ had with me), but I wonder how this applies to high functioning autism. Somehow it doesn’t seem like the same idea applies to me, given how functional I am compared to a non-verbal person. Yet autism is a spectrum; at what point on it does having a special soul not apply? It would help me feel less broken and defective, and less of a disappointment to God and my parents, if this was the case, but maybe this idea is not coming from a good place in me. Maybe I just want to feel special, or at least special in a good way, rather than just feeling like a “broken” failure and freak.

I don’t know what can be done for someone like me who wants to fit in to the frum (religious Jewish) community, but doesn’t know how, who wants to love, but can’t find someone willing to love him and so on.

***

I read this week’s sedrot (Torah portions) of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Acharei Mot starts with the High Priest’s Temple service on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), including the choosing of two goats by lot, one sacrificed in the Temple and one sent into the wilderness and thrown off a cliff, symbolically carrying away the sins of the Jewish people. This goat is known in Christian Bibles as the scapegoat (hence the term). The Talmud talks about this at some length and speaks about the two goats being, as far as possible, identical in size and colour, like twins. People talk about the symbolism of this, the two goats that looked identical and expected the same fate, but the High Priest drew lots and one goat was sacrificed in the Temple (which is supposed to be the best thing that can happen to a goat) and one died horribly in the wilderness, symbolising that we don’t really know what will happen to us.

When I was at primary school, I had a “mentor friend” (as Tony Attwood describes a neurotypical child who befriends an autistic child and models social behaviour for him). We looked quite similar, except that he was a lot taller than me and had redder hair. We were together a lot and people thought we were brothers. We went on to secondary school together, where we drifted apart a bit, but stayed friends. We went on to Oxford together, although I ended up a year ahead of him, as he took a gap year at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) first. We are still friends (we didn’t end up enemies like the Doctor and Master!).

I wonder about us in the light of the scapegoat. He started dating someone at the age of fourteen or fifteen; they have been married for many years now, with children. He has (non-Orthodox) rabbinic ordination and his own community as rabbi. He is very charismatic, was the centre of our geeky friendship group at primary and secondary school and was active in the Jewish Society at university, an environment that I completely failed to adapt to. I imagine he’s a popular rabbi in his community. He was once named on an annual Jewish newspaper list of the forty most influential people under the age of forty in the Anglo-Jewish community.

He has not by any means had an easy life, but somehow I feel he is like the goat sacrificed in the Temple, and I’m the one who has to carry the sins and get thrown off the cliff. I don’t feel jealous exactly, but I do kind of feel like I’m a failure in comparison to him, even though we were once so similar. And I know I shouldn’t compare, but I find it hard to see what I’ve achieved by myself. I’ve never really been happy, so being “happy with my lot” doesn’t really come into it, and I think my moods are unlikely to improve much (although I’m not sure why). I haven’t got tangible achievements (except one book no one bought and one novel that isn’t finished yet), I don’t think I’m particularly devout or spiritual, or a great scholar (Torah or secular) and I haven’t done much for other people in terms of acts of kindness or charity. I’m not sure what else I could do that I would value. I try to be nice to people and to listen, but I don’t think I’m good at that sort of thing.

I feel guilty about these jealous or comparing thoughts, just as I feel guilty about the sexual thoughts. I suppose that the fact that he was a mentor friend to me growing up, and that our lives ran so much in parallel from the ages of four or five until our early twenties mean that it’s harder to avoid comparing myself to him than it is to avoid comparing myself to other peers. Not that I find it easy to avoid comparing myself to them.

I just want to feel that I’ve done something meaningful and good with my life, which inevitably leads me to compare myself negatively to people who I feel have done something meaningful and good. That’s why I feel so uncomfortable about my shul‘s (synagogue’s) fundraising drive, that it puts a precise numerical value on my worth to the community, in tens where other people are worth tens of thousands.

I hope that writing about these things here will exorcise them, put them in a box and let me forget about them, but perhaps it just encourages them.

***

I wonder a bit why I’m still subject to so many low moods even though I’m “officially” not depressed any more. Also why I’ve so rarely been happy in my life, from adolescence (I can’t really remember childhood) to the present, even when I haven’t been depressed. The best I ever seem to get is a state of neutral contentment. I’m not sure what happiness would actually feel like. Some people say antidepressants can “even out” moods, getting rid of lows, but also highs. I’m not sure if that’s true. Or maybe I just feel so uncomfortable and out of place, being on the spectrum in a world designed for neurotypicals, that I just can’t get happy. Lots of people on the spectrum do struggle with depression and anxiety at clinical or sub-clinical levels.

***

I’m applying for the job I mentioned the other day, but I don’t feel positive about it. It’s a larger library than I hoped (seventy staff members and eight thousand users) and regular issue desk duties are a key part of the role, even though this is the part of librarianship that I have struggled with the most. The first role on the job specification is providing inductions, support workshops and training sessions to students and researchers. I have done things like that in the past, albeit in a very limited way, but I’m not sure I would want it to be a main part of the role. I think it’s as much a teaching role (teaching library use and general information literacy) as a traditional librarian role, which is not uncommon in modern libraries. Plus, looking at my CV, a lot of my skills are rusty, unsurprising given how little I’ve worked in the sector in recent years, and having my current admin job at the top of the list doesn’t look good, although the alternative is saying that I haven’t worked since January of last year.

That said, I’m doubtful that I’ll even be called for interview given that I don’t have much experience with the teaching work they want, so I’m not too concerned, although it does make me wonder why I’m filling in the application (to satisfy my parents? For practice? To feel like I’m still a librarian?). I’ve been told many times to apply for jobs where I don’t meet 100% of the criteria in case no applicant completely fits, but I think I often have far too few of the desired attributes and experiences. Sometimes I wonder if I actually fit more of the categories, but have too rigid a view of my experiences. If I didn’t think in such black and white terms, I could see I’ve had done of these things. Maybe.

Making this application is also a reminder that of the six jobs I’ve had, two weren’t in the library sector at all and one did not really need a librarian qualification (although it was actually a job I enjoyed a lot and got a lot out of).

***

The other news today is that I contacted a professional editor about my novel. She is an acquaintance from the online mental health community, but not a close friend, so I thought this might be less awkward then asking my writer friend for free feedback. She wanted to know a bit more about the novel before saying if she can take it on, so I just sent her an email with a bit more information and a sample chapter.

I feel pretty nervous now. E saw the first draft of the first few chapters when we were dating and liked them; PIMOJ saw the whole of the second draft and didn’t like it; both possibly had a distorted view from the fact that we were dating. Also, PIMOJ doesn’t read much fiction and was rather shocked by the discussion of sex and domestic abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. I’ve written another draft since PIMOJ saw it. So, it is nerve-wracking showing someone my writing, and also wondering how much professional editing would cost. I guess I have to ask myself how much I want this book to be publishable.

***

This blog post is too long and I should go to bed as I have to be up early for work tomorrow, but I don’t feel tired, just melancholy…

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.

Rebel Rebel

I’m not sure where I am today, emotionally. I had two big things going on, the pandemic and the autism assessment. Now there’s a third, potentially even bigger, and I am not coping well. I don’t want to talk about it here yet. Or rather I do want to talk about it, but I’m not sure that I should, so I won’t for now. Suffice to say that I went to bed late last night because I was dealing with a lot of anxious and self-critical thoughts. Then I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was over-tired and hadn’t done anything to relax. Then I overslept this morning and didn’t want to get up because of the anxiety. I eventually got up because my phone was ringing, but I didn’t get there in time and whoever they were, they didn’t leave a message and I didn’t recognise the number. Hopefully it was just a cold caller, but I worry it might have been something about the autism assessment, although I know it’s unlikely that they would contact me within twenty-four hours of the last assessment.

I’ve felt lately that I was getting ahold of my life, that I was making progress with work and writing and my relationship, that I was moving towards some kind of definitive autism diagnosis, and that I was feeling like depression and mental illness, while not “cured” (I don’t know that I will ever be “cured”), are less prominent in my life. I was even wondering if I should carry on blogging here, or blogging so regularly. What is the point of a mental health blog if my mental health is reasonable?

And then, WHAM! To be honest, I knew this would happen for some time, it just happened faster than I thought it would, and it hit me harder than I expected. I still can’t talk about what is actually happening except in the vaguest of terms, but I’ve been in a state of anxiety since the weekend, and I’m not sure if it’s going to change any time soon. I guess I’m just psychologically vulnerable to mental illness at times of stress, the way some people have reduced immunity and vulnerability to physical illness.

I was able to talk about it a lot in therapy today. We ended up speaking a lot about ideas of community, individuality, conformity and so on and particularly how these apply in the Orthodox Jewish community.

I spoke about feeling a burden at the moment, a bag full of guilt and critical voices from the community and who knows what else. I want to put the bag down, if only to breathe, but I can’t, I have to keep carrying it up the hill. How much of this is actually real (real guilt, real people criticising me) and how much is just in my head is hard to tell. I do feel, on some level, like I’m responsible for the world and that I’m judged to the minutest level of detail, in a way that no one (or no one other than a total tzaddik (saint)) is judged.

My therapist suggested there was anger there too, which is correct, but I’ve never known what to do with anger other than repress it, which is not good in the long-run and arguably leads to depression. I think in the summer, when our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours were having lockdown-breaching prayer services in their garden three times a day, I wrote a letter, with no intention of sending it, saying how angry they made me. I think that helped somewhat, but my current anger seems too nebulous and undirected at the moment for that to be a viable strategy.

More surprisingly, I found myself suggesting that maybe on some level I like or need the friction with my community. I’m not entirely sure why I said this, but I suspect that I noted that I’ve spent two decades or more trying to be an Orthodox Jew and to “fit in” to the Orthodox community, but I’ve also spent two decades or more complaining (quietly) about the conformism, narrow-mindedness and bourgeois mentality that often operates in the Orthodox community, trying to not to be socialised out of my geekiness, my non-Jewish friends, the books I read. I guess I have a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” attitude to the Orthodox world.

I can see it with my novel. Sometimes I’m terrified about the backlash I might face for suggesting that domestic abuse exists in the Orthodox community and that the autistic and mentally ill are not well-catered for there, but other times I will admit to myself that I hope there is some controversy, that it “shakes things up a bit.”

It’s hard to come to terms with this, as I was a well-behaved child and I was the absolute most well-behaved, non-rebellious teenager imaginable. But here I am, worrying that I’m going to bring the Temple crashing down around me, Shimshon (Samson) style, without really wanting to do it, just feeling driven to it by loneliness and desperation, the longing for a place where I can be accepted by people who aren’t like me. I feel I should (“should” again) be able not to care what people think about me, but somehow I can’t.

I told PIMOJ I was anxious and she called. It was a difficult conversation, not least because it was late and I didn’t really want to speak, but I felt I should as she was concerned about me. It really did become apparent that there is a psychological difference between us, that she doesn’t care who does or doesn’t like her, whereas I want to be liked and accepted, something that I don’t think she really understood. I don’t think she understood why it matters to me if other Orthodox Jews reject me. I don’t think I really understand why it matters to me, to be honest. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care who liked me, but I find myself unable to find the switch to turn it off.

***

There was no volunteering today, but I was supposed to be doing some work from home and I got up later than I intended for that. I got the work done (stuffing envelopes and stamping them) as well as having therapy, but I didn’t get out for a walk. Add in the call from PIMOJ and I ran out of time for more than five minutes of Torah study, although I did write my devar Torah for the week and liked it more than I expected. It’s going to be another late night. I don’t know if I’ll have time to relax before I go to bed again so sleeplessness is likely.

***

When I started this job, the Department of Work and Pensions said I was OK working part-time and still receiving some benefits. Now they’ve written to ask for more details about the work. I accept that I probably earn too much to justify the benefits, I just wish they would make their minds up. I do wonder whether other government departments and bodies (e.g. the Treasury, the Foreign Office) are as useless and bureaucratic as the DWP and the NHS. It’s easy to look at the lockdown mess and think that they are.

Date and Memorial Service

I got up early to go for a walk with PIMOJ in Golders Green. Although PIMOJ is adventurous and likes doing new things, she seems quite comfortable doing things repeatedly too, which is useful as autism doesn’t like novelty much, and because there isn’t much to do in the winter with COVID shutting everything down. We had a good time and opened up to each other a bit, I think. It definitely seems that there’s some “opposites attract” with us, admiring the other’s traits that we don’t have.

After walking for a while, I began to feel a bit faint and short of breath and had to sit down for a few minutes. I was perhaps dressed a little over-warmly for the weather. Later, walking up the stairs at the Tube station with my mask on, I felt short of breath again. I have been slightly short of breath at volunteering lately, again with a mask, although I wasn’t wearing a mask when I had to sit down. It is hard to breath with a mask, but I guess it’s also something to mention to the GP.

In the afternoon I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for well over an hour, which was more than I expected, especially as it is still not finished. It is uses more sources than usual, and is also more creative, making me rather nervous about presenting it, worried that I have got carried away with my essential idea, that Rambam’s (Maimonides’) moral categories of “balanced” sage and “pious” saint are two complementary models of religious leadership, the former for times of stability and the later for times of crisis; and that Yehudah (Judah) and Yosef (Joseph) are, if not models of the two, then at least incline towards them. I wish I had more time or ability to bounce this idea off people and see what they think before sending it out into the world.

I then spent half an hour reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. Then in the evening I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a class. It was supposed to be the launch of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ latest book, except he passed away a few weeks ago, so it was part book launch, part memorial service. They had thirteen Jewish educators who were, in different ways, Rabbi Sacks’ students, speaking about him and his ideas.

I found it quite moving and at times difficult to watch. There were a lot of mixed feelings, some of which I have noted before. There was the feeling of loss about Rabbi Sacks’ death, and the feeling that I will never get to speak to him, and that maybe I could have spoken to him if I had tried hard enough, but what would I have said?

There was also the feeling of inadequacy I have at LSJS events, that I should get on with these people, that they are on my wavelength and must have a similar worldview, but I’m always too shy to speak up at classes, whether to ask or answer questions or volunteer ideas, so no one there really knows me. Also that many of these educators are not that much older than me, but I have not done anything with my life the way they have (PhDs, rabbinic ordination, written books etc.). I wonder how I can rectify this, and I don’t really know.

One teaching today impressed me so much as relevant here that I wrote it down so I could quote it correctly. Tanya White was speaking about suffering. Rabbi Sacks, inspired by Viktor Frankl, and said that suffering is inevitable, but that “Healing comes when we refuse the self-definition of victimhood,” that we can choose our response to suffering. It strikes me that this is hard today in a time of competitive victimhood; we have to consciously choose not to define ourselves as victims, but to find a more positive and proactive way of understanding ourselves.

Celibacy

Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).

I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.

Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.

***

I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.

As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…

What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.

This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.

The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).

Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.

I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.

I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.

I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.

From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).

Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.

Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).

Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.

***

Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.

Argument

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fine, same as usual. I went to shul (synagogue) for the first time since the second lockdown ended. It still feels very subdued there, and we were reminded not to sing. We did go outdoors for a few minutes so we could sing Lecha Dodi, which was good, but colder than when we were doing it a month ago.

I had a dream last night that I won’t describe, as I don’t remember enough of it, and what I do remember I don’t want to share, but it made me worry that my unconscious was thinking of my time being single (which is most of my life), but primarily the loneliness of being single, and the stress and guilt of not coping well with it and having dysfunctional coping strategies at the time.

I argued a bit with PIMOJ tonight after Shabbat, via text. We clashed over my novel. I think there were some communication difficulties too, some language difficulties and some outlook difficulties. I felt my novel was about as religious as a mainstream novel can be and am already worried it will be accused of being too pious or frum (religious) and too simplistic in showing that hurt people can find solace in God. PIMOJ feels that it needs to show more of God’s goodness. I can’t explain her position in detail, because I don’t understand it all (like I said, there are some communication difficulties here, perhaps some language issues) and I’m not going to re-read her email and texts at the moment. I felt the novel was reflecting my experience and the experience of people I’ve encountered online and in person, and it would be wrong to change that or to provide easy answers to difficult questions. I think it’s a book about resilience rather than simple piety.

We calmed down in the end, shelved the novel question for now and said that we both value our connection to each other more than what we feel about the novel. I guess I find arguments scary because in both my previous relationships, the arguments came as we were moving towards breaking up and were a sign of deep-seated issues, so it’s hard not to see it as an ominous sign, even though I know healthy couples can argue a lot (too many examples to mention from my family!).

I had planned to re-watch Blade Runner 2049 this evening, but after the argument, I felt it was too long and downbeat. I started to watch the Doctor Who story City of Death, which is the Doctor Who fan equivalent of eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when depressed. It was written, pseudonymously, by Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, and has a reputation for being the funniest and most elegantly-structured of his three sets of scripts for Doctor Who. I’m not sure if I will watch all of it tonight. I’m currently halfway through, with another fifty minutes to go. It’s getting late, but I have a bit of a headache, which I think will stop me sleeping, and I don’t feel sleepy. I probably still feel energised from arguing, as well as from sleeping too much over Shabbat.

EDIT: I complained recently about someone reblogging a post of mine without asking permission or even telling me. I just had a look in my spam folder and found a comment in there saying that they were reblogging it, so apologies there, although I still don’t know why they particularly wanted to reblog that post.

Poor Executive Function

I dragged myself out of bed to go to Zoom autism support group, which was probably not worth doing. I don’t know if I’m going to keep going, unless perhaps there’s a topic I find particularly interesting. I don’t really learn coping strategies, which is what I really want. My symptoms are often not the same as other people’s, so there isn’t necessarily the same empathy that exists in my depression group. I don’t know why there is such wide variation on the autism spectrum, but it’s true (hence the saying, common in high functioning autism circles, that “If you know one person on the autism spectrum, then you know one person on the autism spectrum”).

In addition, one of the moderators seems to have some prejudices against neurotypicals, which I find just as problematic as the reverse. I guess I also feel that although living in the neurotypical world is difficult, some neurotypical rules are worthwhile, even if I struggle with them. Maybe that’s autistic rule-keeping on my part, but some people in the group seem to think that neurodiverse people should be allowed to do what they want and neurotypicals should just deal with it; again, which, again I find as problematic as saying that neurodiverse people should just be forced to conform completely to neurotypical society. Adjustments should be reasonable. Society is about finding compromises, whether you’re on the spectrum or not.

It made me also think again about attention to detail and me. Attention to detail is generally recognised as something people on the autism spectrum usually have and can often put to good use in the labour market. I used to have good attention to detail, but I feel that in recent years I have lost this, particularly in the workplace. I hope that it’s just a consequence of being in environments that were not right for me (noisy, requiring multitasking or rapid task changes, or having a line manager I didn’t like) and when I was working in other environments without those challenges, I think I did have much better attention to detail. Still, I worry about it, particularly as I’m about to start a job that will probably require good attention to detail in an environment that might stress me out a bit because I’ll have a friend as my line manager.

All that said, the autism group session today was about executive function issues and then in the afternoon, I made a plan and then did something completely different to what I planned, which is a classic autistic executive function issue. Perhaps the fact that I fell into this behaviour again shows that the group really didn’t help.

***

I went for a 5K run, despite some slight pain in my foot and knee which mostly passed after a few minutes. It was good to get out again, as I hadn’t run for a while. I don’t know why I always seem to think about political stuff that annoys me when I’m running. I listen to music, but that doesn’t help. Maybe I should try something I have to concentrate on, like an audio drama or audio book. I came back feeling a bit ill, headachy and faint, as always seems to happen these days.

***

As well as thinking about politics when running, I procrastinate on Twitter too. 90% of Twitter consists of people being outraged about things they can’t change and the other 10% is videos of cute animals. I feel I should find out what people are outraged about, but a lot of the time it is stuff that is irrelevant out of their bubble, or stuff that simply isn’t true (everyone thinks it’s only the “other side” that does this; sorry, as someone who doesn’t easily fit on either side, I can tell you it’s both sides). Well, I do really know why I spend time on Twitter: it’s because I want to feel less lonely and confirmed in my views, but it’s pretty bad at doing that (particularly as I don’t post or comment, I just read). I’m not sure I should be trying to confirm my views, and I don’t think Twitter will stop me being lonely. Still, I get sucked in.

I did manage to spend about an hour on my novel after dinner, which was good. I felt a bit more positively towards it (I mean, positively about the quality of what I’m writing; I’ve always felt that the subject matter is worthwhile). I also cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree) and spent twenty-five minutes on Torah study and researching my devar Torah. I would have liked to have done more Torah study and more work on my novel. I always would like to do more of these things, but I always run out of time and energy. It’s frustrating that I never have enough time and energy (which may take us back to procrastination time and poor executive function). The Talmud says no one dies with even half their desires fulfilled; I think this refers to meaningful/spiritual desires as much as physical/hedonistic ones. At the same time, I know I procrastinate and get distracted (see above!). It is hard to change.

***

I felt a bit on edge for much of the day, although I think running got rid of this. I was vaguely irritable, although I think I kept from sniping at anyone. I do feel that I don’t know how I would like PIMOJ to react when I feel a mildly depressed. Do I want problem solving advice, empathetic support or just to be given space? The problem is, it could be any of those things at any time. With my first girlfriend, she largely ignored me when I was feeling depressed. My second girlfriend was long-distance, so there was a limit to what she could do as she was usually asleep or at work when I was feeling bad, although she would send supportive empathetic texts. But this feels like uncharted territory in that I think PIMOJ wants to support me and is in a position to do so. And I don’t really know what to ask her to do. I guess our relationship feels a bit like we’re making it up as we go along. Maybe everyone feels like that, or maybe we’re weird because I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, despite our ages.

***

More thoughts about Twin Peaks: The Return; feel free to skip.

There’s basically no incidental music. Given that successive scenes can take place in totally different parts of the US (Twin Peaks; New York City; Las Vegas) with characters that don’t seem to relate to each other or interact, and that after the first couple of episodes, it seems to be largely played for comedy, the whole thing comes across as a bizarre experimental comedy sketch show with no laughter track, the type of thing the BBC seems so fond of, where a bunch of twenty-something comedians try to be Monty Python. Or maybe I just have a weird sense of humour.

Stalemate

I struggled to get up again this morning. I felt like my sleep was not at all refreshing, which is not unusual for me, but this time seemed particularly bad. I had weird dreams, which I can’t really remember, but I think shul (synagogue) was part of it, so I probably feel guilty for leaving the online AGM early or am just feeling again that I don’t fit in and that everyone else is doing “better” than me in life, whatever that means. To be honest, I probably would have stayed in bed longer, but I knew I had a dentist’s appointment at 2pm and wanted to get up and have lunch first.

I felt rather depressed for much of the day. I’m catastrophising a bit, worried that things won’t work with PIMOJ or in my new job, and that I’ll let my friend down in the latter. The slow pace things are going with PIMOJ is probably good overall, as I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, but it is frustrating.

I was also worried about the dentist, partly because I’ve been nervous about it since having my first filling a year or so ago, partly because it’s a dentist I haven’t been to before and there’s a lot of autistic “new situation” anxiety there. In the end, I was fine. I have receding gums because I brush too hard, but otherwise fine. I’m not sure how to stop brushing so hard; this is not the first time I’ve been warned about it. There was some slight tremor, but not much.

I went for a walk for about an hour. I have usually been walking for half an hour most days when I don’t run, but I think I should try to increase it a bit as it’s going to become harder to run now the days are shorter, the weather wetter and I’ll be working two days a week. That said, in retrospect, I wonder if walking too long exhausted me and brought my mood down as my mood seemed even worse in the afternoon, the opposite of what usually happens.

I spent an hour or so on my novel. I procrastinated quite a bit. I’m struggling with redrafting. I feel like I’ve lost all ability to judge the quality of my writing, so I have no idea what to change as it seems equally good/bad. Actually, what it seems like most of the time is just indifferent. Also, actually fixing stuff is a lot harder than realising that just spotting that something needs fixing!

While redrafting, I kept getting distracted by tinkering with a draft blog post I’ve got saved about politics that I may never get the courage to post. Eventually I gave up working on either novel or post as I clearly wasn’t getting anywhere and I wanted to be in a reasonable state of mind for Zoom depression group in the evening.

I only managed about fifteen minutes of Torah study, which upsets me a little, but there you go. Realistically, I probably did too much yesterday, especially that overlong AGM, and am suffering burnout today.

At depression group I had the courage to go first (no one ever wants to go first). I spoke about my anxieties about my new job and COVID Tube travel as well as my autism assessment. I didn’t speak about PIMOJ again. I don’t know why. I think I struggle to share with the group the way other people can, particularly on Zoom; I think when we met in person pre-COVID I shared more. I suppose it’s harder to feel a rapport and sense any kind of empathy over Zoom. I certainly find it harder just to speak and listen on Zoom. There’s a function to turn off your camera; I wish there was a function to turn off everyone else’s cameras when I speak as I find the movement (and, on speaker view, the cutting between cameras if someone hasn’t muted themselves) distracting.

I’m trying to focus on the present, otherwise I slip back into depression and self-criticism. I find myself missing PIMOJ and wondering how much of that is genuine and how much is just loneliness. I hope it’s genuine, but it’s probably too early to say. We’ve only been in contact for two months.

I also find myself feeling “touch hunger,” the need to be held. I feel this a lot lately. Hugging my parents helps a bit, but not completely and lately I’ve found it hard to hug my parents, I don’t know why. I guess I just feel withdrawn. As someone on the autistic spectrum, and as an Orthodox Jewish man who tries to keep the laws about not having affectionate physical contact with unrelated women, touch is doubly difficult for me even without COVID. PIMOJ and I hugged on our last date and I don’t really regret it, even though both Jewish law and COVID regulations forbade it. It is hard to know what to do sometimes. I feel like I did what I had to do, even though it’s probably objectively wrong from a variety of viewpoints. Just don’t tell my rabbi or the police (although the idea of being fined for hugging my date is amusing). I know this probably sounds strange from a secular perspective, where sexual contact is assumed to be the norm even in the under age, but for me just hugging is a big, guilt-inducing thing.

I guess today, and other recent days, feels like stalemate, with nothing moving. I’m aware that things are going to change from next week when I start work again. I just hope things change for the better.

***

I’m watching Twin Peaks: The Return, the sequel series to Twin Peaks. I’m in the middle of episode four of eighteen. I don’t think it’s as good as the initial series, or at least the initial series was until they solved the murder of Laura Palmer (halfway through the second season). The original series had a strong hook (the murder), interesting characters and an intense sense of place (Twin Peaks and the surrounding forest). With this background, the style was allowed to flow naturally into a strange and wonderful mash-up of police procedural, soap opera, paranormal horror story and surreal comedy. The Return feels all over the place: no focus of plot or place, no interesting characters. It feels like the only character we’ve really seen at length is Agent Cooper, and he’s done nothing except wander around in a daze, repeating words other people say.

In the original series the weirdness felt like it had an underlying logic that we could not understand. In The Return, it feels like weird things happen because this is Twin Peaks. Rather than juggling different genres expertly, it’s hard to find any genre for it. I can see why they wanted to avoid simply rehashing the original series and do something new, but I think they over-compensated. I’m sufficiently invested in the series to watch more, primarily in the hope that Agent Cooper’s consciousness returns and rejoins his body, but I doubt I would be interested if I hadn’t seen the original series.

Feeling Slightly Useless

I think I’m going to pause job-hunting for a bit, or at least scale it down. My new job will probably only last two or three months, so I do need to keep looking, but it’s not such an imminent thing that I’m willing/able to apply for jobs I’m less likely to want or get. So, for the moment I’m not applying for a very user-facing public library job that would have been hard with autism and social anxiety. I’m not sure what I’m doing about the cataloguing job at the institution where I did disastrously in the interview and exam for a similar job back in 2018.

***

I spent an hour trying to work on my novel. I proof-read half a chapter or so, but did not write much that was new. I got distracted a lot and I probably felt too depressed to do much that was useful – I’m not sure whether I made the right decision about not expanding some passages or cutting others. My brain is just not functioning today and I don’t know why, but I’m certainly less productive today than I was on Friday. Maybe I’m burnt out after a busy Friday and “peopling” yesterday (on Zoom rather than in person, but that can be more stressful). I’m now halfway through the second draft in terms of chapters, but probably much less than halfway in terms of time and work, as I know the latter chapters need a lot of redrafting to fix plot and character problems.

***

I wanted to go for a run, but my knee was hurting for a bit, so I went for a walk, but tried to walk further than usual, about five kilometres.

I did about forty-five minutes of Torah study; I wanted to do more, but I ended up going to my shul‘s (synagogue’s) Annual General Meeting on Zoom and felt I had to draw a line. I was in two minds about going to this given that I felt down, but PIMOJ is the Better Angel of My Nature and suggested I should go. I watched it without my webcam on, which is discouraged, but I did not feel up to being seen or having my room seen; plus, this way I could listen with one ear while eating dinner or working on other things. I don’t really like long-winded speeches at meetings; I’ve already noted the “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it yet” aspect of meetings that drives me crazy.

There was a lot of praise for people who have helped the community in different ways, which is absolutely correct, but I always feel, “Well, I can’t help, there’s nothing I can do.” When I was at Oxford, someone actually got really annoyed with me for refusing to go on the Jewish Society (JSoc) committee. My feeling was that the JSoc was a social group to enable Jews to meet and socialise (and date) rather than a religious society and that I knew nothing about running a social group. Thus spake undiagnosed autism and social anxiety. This person got really annoyed with me though and felt I was being selfish in taking from the society and not giving back (actually, I wasn’t taking that much as I hardly attended any events, but that’s another question). I drew on this for my novel too. Of course, shul brings up feelings of religious inadequacy compared with other people, which I didn’t have so much at Oxford. On Zoom there is also the “I can see everyone my age has a lovely house and I live in my parents’ second bedroom” inadequacy feeling.

Then they started talking about financial donations, which weren’t an issue at university where we were all impoverished students, but which now set me aside from people with successful jobs.

Then the internet, which had been ropey for the first hour of the meeting completely packed up (I’ve been having internet trouble again on my laptop lately). I did eventually manage to log back in on my phone, which has a better connection, but I was feeling even less engaged.

There was some stuff about finances and fees that panicked me and I need to look into.

I guess my overall impression of the AGM was personal inadequacy and something approaching awe for mentally healthy neurotypicals who are able (a) to do stuff to help the community and (b) stay interested and engaged for the whole meeting. To be honest, if they were able to sit through the finance presentation and ask pertinent questions, they beat me (yes, I know probably a huge chunk of the community are accountants).

The meeting is still ongoing as of 10.10pm, but I think I’m going to have to call it a night or my head will explode and I won’t be able to sleep.

***

I don’t know why I feel depressed today. I’m worried about getting COVID on the commute to my new job or to volunteering. I’m worried about performing badly in the new job and letting my friend down. I’m worried about sharing an office all day with someone (is he going to expect me to talk? To eat lunch together? I like to read on my lunch break…). I guess some of it is wanting to move on with my life (career, writing, PIMOJ) and feeling constrained by external factors (mental health and autism, financial situation and more), which is frustrating. I wonder if I will ever achieve the goals I’ve set for myself. I do know that whether I build a career as a writer or a librarian or something else, it’s going to take years; likewise, getting married will take years, even if PIMOJ is The One, and sometimes that time scale feels very daunting. How am I going to do anything with my life if it takes years just to get to the start? I know, I have started already, but it’s hard to see what I’ve achieved so far. Even on a smaller scale, I don’t like waiting to start the new job; I want to dive in and get started, so that’s another cause of anxiety and depression.

I guess more prosaically I miss PIMOJ. Unlike my previous relationships, I think we communicate better in person than online, which is probably good overall, but bad during COVID. It’s a real shame we can’t meet in person very often. I think we are both serious about this relationship and want to move things forward, but are being held back, partly by COVID, but also by other things going on in each of our lives, like my autism and job situation and some things in PIMOJ’s life. In terms of feeling bad, there’s also some loneliness and touch hunger too today, and not knowing when that will change.

***

Joe Biden’s middle name is ‘Robinette.’ I’m not quite sure how I avoided knowing that until today. I have a weird fascination with the middle names of US Presidents, which are often very unusual, at least from a British point of view. I’m guessing that some Americans still do the Victorian thing, which my grandparents did with my uncle, of giving the mother’s maiden surname to the first son as a middle name.

Overwhelmed

I had what I suppose were wish fulfilment dreams last night, first dreaming that I was James Bond and then (I think – it wasn’t so clear) that I was the Doctor from Doctor Who. I suppose I just want to feel capable, charismatic and worthwhile. My parents feel that I am capable and worthwhile, and PIMOJ seems to feel that too, but somehow that isn’t enough; part of me still wants to be Napoleon and conquer the world, not literally, but through some worthwhile act. The dreams were PG rated, but I still feel vaguely embarrassed about having had them, as they seem infantile things to dream, although not embarrassed enough to stop me sharing them with the world on my blog. They weren’t restful, though, as I woke up exhausted and burnt out after the first dream, fell asleep again and dreamed the second one and woke up exhausted again, but by then it was very late and I had to get up.

***

The main achievements of the day were (a) I helped Dad take down more the sukkah, wishing I was taller, stronger, and less prone to fearing that I’ll fall off ladders; and (b) I cooked Jewish-Ethiopian vegetable stew (wot), which I hadn’t cooked before. I was supposed to cook a half recipe, but then tried to adjust as it didn’t seem to have many filling ingredients, then I confused myself about how much to cook (this is when I feel incompetent and unable to do even basic tasks). Then it turned out that it was only supposed to be a side-dish, but I’d run out of time, so Mum defrosted some soya ersatz “meatballs” and cooked some rice to go with it. I also did some Torah study (not as much etc. etc.), but I haven’t really been out of the house, or at least off the property (I’ve been in the garden) for days, only partly because of the wet weather.

***

I felt rather overwhelmed today. I guess lots of religious Jews feel like that at this time of year, recovering from a month of religious festivals. I don’t have a paid job to catch up on, but I have chores that need doing, some of which have been pushed off for months because of lockdown, plus I have to find a new job. All of which is between me and what I want to do, which is work on my novel, something I felt too depressed to do today. I probably should schedule some novel time in over the next week or so and work on it even if I feel I should be doing something else, otherwise it will never get redrafted because naturally I put what I want to do at the bottom of the to do list.

Plus, this week I had depression group on Zoom yesterday, a Zoom panel discussion on autism and creativity/art today, a webinar on time management and Skype therapy tomorrow and a Skype call with my oldest friend (who I haven’t seen for several years) on Thursday. This would be busy for most people, even if they weren’t a semi-hermit like me (even pre-COVID, even more so with COVID). To hit this after a month of Yom Tov (festivals) really is too much. Of course, I didn’t think that when I booked all this stuff in.

Unlike many autistic people, I don’t get full-blown meltdowns, but when I’m stressed and overwhelmed I get sucked into a negative thought spiral of feeling overwhelmed, not being able to focus on the big picture, being unable to make even minor decisions, catastrophising and feeling everything is hopeless. Eventually it builds up and I have to be “talked down” by my parents, although it’s often the case that initially what they say just feels like another factor overwhelming me. This was what happened today, about my bank account, which is often a trigger for these things. My Dad and my sister read the financial papers and find good interest rates or whatever and persuade me to move my money around, but because I have a low (almost zero) income, it’s questionable whether it’s worth the hassle. Certainly it often leaves me confused about where my money is and what I should do with it. The problem is also that I have a tendency to do what authority figures in my life say, so I try to follow what Dad says while simultaneously confused, overwhelmed and vaguely resentful.

As I say, it’s often finance-related stuff that sets this off. I feel that I should be good at this sort of thing. I was good at maths at school, but somehow lost that with lack of practice. I did A-Level economics too, but that actually tells you very little about managing money, more about managing economies, which is not at all the same thing. I guess it’s not so much the maths but the details that I find overwhelming, the feeling of being overwhelmed on a sea of facts that are too many to be comprehended in their entirety in one go.

Shopping can also be overwhelming and I did that today too (online). Again, Mum was trying to get me to consider different stores and styles; I felt I had to impose boundaries on what I was going to look at, even if they were arbitrary, just to stop myself from getting overwhelmed. I can accept that I might lose a few pounds or not find the “perfect” style of shoe (whatever that would be) just to be able to get through the process.

As well as overwhelmed today, I feel burnt out and somewhat depressed. My mood is low, but it’s hard to tell why. I guess it comes from the burnt out and overwhelmed feelings.

***

In the evening I “attended” a Zoom panel discussion on autism and art. The three panellists, all women, were two autistic artists and an autistic writer/editor. I wasn’t sure if the (male) chair was also on the spectrum. I wondered if it was significant that all three panellists were female. It did make me feel somewhat “not good enough” about my writing, but I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the writer said that autistic writing is always very sensory, and I’m not good at describing sensory stuff which made me think I’m either not really autistic or not a good writer. There was an auction of art for charity afterwards, but I left before that.

***

I feel less overwhelmed now, but perhaps a bit lonely, I’m not sure (I’m not always good at understanding my own emotions, known as alexithymia). I feel that maybe PIMOJ is willing to support me despite my issues, but I’m still scared to open up about what I feel, partly because it’s led to rejection in the past, partly because I feel I misrepresented myself to her as no longer strongly depressed, when it looks like my apparent recovery was just seasonal (longer days and more sunlight in summer), partly I guess because I wonder how I will respond to her positivity on a depressed and overwhelmed day like today. But not saying anything just raises fears of the relationship collapsing through apathy (my apathy) so it’s a lose-lose situation.

We actually spoke a bit about this just now. We were talking about Sefer Iyov (The Book of Job) and somehow got onto it. She said that I should be open with her about when I actually want advice about something and when I just need to vent and she will try to respond appropriately, which is good of her. I do still worry about being too negative for her, though. And also that I think she’s far too good for me.

***

I’m thinking this evening… other autism sufferers seem to place a lot of emphasis on things like sensory sensitivity being their primary experience of autism or executive function issues or special interests or communication issues. I guess I feel that for me autism is… well, autism is literally from the Greek autos meaning self, the term ‘autism’ apparently meaning ‘morbid self-absorption’ (according to this etymology site anyway – I assume ‘morbid’ in the sense of ‘pathological’). That connects with the other aspects, particularly communication issues, but is also separate. I think autism for me is about being locked into my world – my brain – and being unable to connect with other people, lacking a vocabulary to describe what I feel and experience. I guess this is connecting to alexithymia, which I mentioned earlier, given that I don’t lack a vocabulary for describing emotions in the abstract, it’s labelling my own personal experiences that gives me the trouble. There’s a frequent feeling of being alone. I like being on my own a lot, but not always, I need a few good friends and I have spent most of my adult life wanting to be in a relationship and not knowing how to do that. Now I have it and I’m worried I’m going to mess it up.

The Perfect Storm

I want to get into a better sleep pattern, so I asked my Dad to wake me up and open my blinds in the morning. It didn’t really work; I just went back to sleep. I’m so drained when I wake up in the mornings, even if I’ve had a lot of sleep, and also quite down, which is probably related to being drained. I used to say, “It’s depression,” but now I’m not sure if I’ve been clinically depressed in recent months. I guess now I can say, “It’s autistic burnout” although it probably isn’t, at least not every day.

I struggled with the job exam thing today. I had poor concentration and struggled to take in what I was trying to learn. I was just staring at the screen, unable to process what I was reading; alternatively, I procrastinated online. I’m struggling learn all the abbreviations and special words used in the process. I guess I’ve lost enthusiasm for it too. I felt tearful and depressed while trying to study for it, so maybe I am still depressed after all. I said a few days ago that my depression is now reactive to my life situation (unemployment; loneliness; Mum’s cancer) and the season/light level and not based on unresolved childhood issues. I think this is maybe not as significant a distinction as I had hoped.

I’m struggling on to try and get this job, and I’m not quite sure why, given it’s underpaid and not directly related to my career progression, as well as requiring unpaid self-training in a short timescale. I guess I’m desperate for a job, more for self-esteem than money (I don’t spend much and my parents are letting me stay without rent). Also, I suppose, to make myself more attractive to potential dates, but today I don’t feel like that that’s going to work out for me either (see below).

If I had more time, maybe I could learn this stuff, but I’m struggling to learn it in less than a week. I hope things might be a little easier once I practise with the practise data, but I need to read the user guide first, which is taking ages.

The fact that it feels like winter doesn’t help matters, with heavy rain. I wanted to go for a walk, but it was too wet. Dad had to drive me to the pharmacist to pick up my prescription. It’s less than ten minutes away on foot, but I would have got soaked.

Reading Ashley’s latest post, I wonder if I’ve internalised stigma. I feel I “only” have depression (the vanilla ice cream of mental illness), not anything that would “allow” me to be really ill, and that I would be better off if I had a job. Actually, the latter is probably true in my case, at least if I could find a job that was within my capabilities, part-time, in a safe environment, with a supportive line manager. My job in early 2019 was like that. I was hoping the job I’m applying for would be like that, but so far it has not been like that. However, I did feel a bit better after doing some ironing today, which I think was occupational therapy on some level.

***

I just feel exhausted and useless today, and rather desperate. A perfect storm of depression, despair, loneliness, low self-esteem and touch hunger. I’m trying to tell myself that I can build a career, preferably as a writer, and that I can find love, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. It feels like dating, job hunting and working are all necessary for my recovery, but all also require tremendous resources of energy, motivation, concentration and self-belief that I can’t access because of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. I could probably say the same for other activities that are supposed to be good for me, like exercise, meditation and prayer.

I can see that there’s a lot of catastrophising going on today (“Everything is awful”), along with black and white thinking (“Things aren’t perfect, therefore they’re absolutely awful”) and emotional reasoning (“I feel bad, therefore everything must be objectively bad”). It’s not always easy to deal with those unhelpful thinking styles (black and white thinking in particular is basically the default autistic thinking style), but I guess it’s a start that I can spot them.

***

In terms of what may have triggered all this… aside from the onset of autumn… aside from the awful self-training I’m doing under pressure… aside from the stuff that has been in the background for months (COVID, Mum’s cancer)… it doesn’t help that I’m worried I scared off the women I was messaging on JDate. It’s probably too early to tell, but I do feel like I may have done that. I’m waiting for some replies and feeling very negative. I let my anxiety (possibly even OCD) get the better of me in one conversation the other day and said something stupid and now I’ve probably scared her off for good.

I’m questioning whether I did the right thing breaking up with E. again. Deep down, I know (in my “wise mind”) that I made the right decision, even if I can’t go into my reasons here (I know to readers here it seemed to be a sudden, impulsive decision, but it wasn’t). But emotionally it’s easy to think, “Oh, if only I was still in a relationship.”

In a weird way… I wonder if doing the job stuff instead of working on my novel today brought down my mood. Lately I have been feeling better; I’ve also been feeling that I’ve been making progress on my novel. Coincidence? Inasmuch as I believe I have any understanding of my mission in life (I believe everyone has a mission in life, it’s just not always easy to find it), it’s writing Jewish-related fiction. When I was pursuing that, I seemed happier. Suddenly I was talking to someone on JDate who also writes. Then I pause the novel, and suddenly my mood drops, I can’t function and I worry I’ve upset the JDater and cut her off. Some of that may be coincidence, but I don’t think I have to be superstitious to think that distancing myself from what I see as my vocation (writing) to do something that is strenuous, badly paid and which I worry will trigger my OCD (long story) might have triggered my depression again.

I don’t know how I “sell” this interpretation to other people though.

***

A WhatsApp devar Torah I listened to spoke about trust in God being rooted in awe of God, i.e. if we recognise that God controls everything in our lives, we will trust everything will be for the best. I find that hard when it seems like so much of my life has been negative (and I haven’t even had such a bad life compared to many people). I guess I feel that if God wanted my life to become good, He would have done it by now. It’s hard to think of having twenty really bad years and then suddenly everything is OK. I believe God could do that (He can do anything), yet from looking at the world, it seems such sudden and miraculous interventions are rare and I don’t know how I could deserve such a fate. An analogy: I believe that one day God will send the Messiah to redeem the world, but if I saw someone in the street claiming that he was the Messiah, I would assume he is probably suffering from a mental illness, even though I believe that theoretically it could be the real Messiah.

***

My GP at Oxford used to tell me “A bad day is just a bad day,” but there’s always a fear that one bad day will lead to two and then three and then keep snowballing.

***

Achievements: I spent a couple of hours trying to train for the job, but I don’t know how much sunk in. I did some ironing. I listened to divrei Torah for about five minutes.

Someone, Somewhere, Somehow, Some Time

I went to bed at midnight, which is relatively early for me. I was emotionally exhausted. I wanted to get up between 8.00am and 9.00am in case my work exam came through early, but although my parents woke me up when they went to the hospital at 8.30am, I fell asleep again until they came home just after 10.00am. I guess I was still emotionally exhausted. The good news is that when I finally did manage to get up, I was tired, but not particularly depressed, so hopefully I have avoided a relapse into full-blown clinical depression despite being so upset yesterday. I feel upset about what happened with me and E., yet I can’t see what I could have done differently. It’s sad knowing that we could have stayed together if COVID hadn’t intervened, but it does feel like something from God, something outside of my control. I think, given what happened, I made the right decision, but it’s hard.

I haven’t heard back from either the women I was talking to on JDate today. I’m mostly OK with that as I needed some space today after yesterday. I possibly messed up one conversation due to anxiety at the weekend and scared her off. I guess that’s one of those things. I probably was getting over-excited about those conversations anyway. It’s good to come back to reality a bit. I felt calm about dating this morning, quietly confident that I’ll find someone, somewhere, somehow, some time, even if it takes a long time.

***

The job application exam came through at 3.15pm… except that it isn’t just an exam. There’s a whole thick set of instructions to go through, nearly seventy pages, and a one hour webinar, followed by thirty sets of practise data and only then will I be sent the exam itself. I have to finish all the practice data and the exam by 11.59pm on Tuesday evening. It all looked complicated and daunting. I know, I have two degrees, one of which is from Oxford, but lately I doubt myself all the time and have no confidence in my ability to do anything. For example, I’ve wanted to play Risk with my parents recently, but it’s so long since I’ve played that I can’t remember the rules and I worry I won’t be able to relearn them, that’s how little self-confidence I have right now.

After half an hour reading the guidelines, I was not very far in and was in full “I can’t do this, I’m a screw-up, I’m not going to get the job, the women I’m talking to on JDate are going to stop talking to me because I can’t get a job” self-critical/catastrophising mode. The calm of the morning had gone.

I did regain some calm later. The worst that can happen is I try the test and fail the exam. Then I’ve wasted a few days. The job is not relevant to my career. It uses some librarian skills, but does not specifically require a trained librarian (hence low salary and no requirement for librarians on the job description). I have some reservations about the job, which I won’t go into here, but I won’t really know how justified they are without trying the practise data and exam. And, yes, I realise that I’m essentially being made to train myself quickly and for free, with no certainty of a job at the end of it, rather than being given a job and then being trained by the company, on their time. But I feel like I don’t have better options right now.

I had a chat with my parents about this. They say they’re happy to keep supporting me while I’m unemployed as long as I keep searching for new jobs and pestering the agencies (which I admit I’m not very good at, pestering people does not come easily to me, at least not deliberately). I feel stuck because I’m too advanced for graduate trainee roles, but my employment history and career progression are too inconsistent for higher jobs. A number of difficult jobs (or jobs that were made difficult by autism) and a bad result on some cataloguing tests have eroded my self-confidence in my ability to function as a librarian and especially to catalogue, or to work in any remotely noisy and busy environment. I apply for jobs that I think I can do, but there don’t seem to be that many. I’m not sure if that’s a self-confidence issue or a lack of jobs in the sector or COVID or all of the above.

There is, inevitably, also the feeling of “How will I get a girlfriend/spouse if I can’t get a job?” I don’t really have an answer to that at the moment, particularly as “I can write for money” isn’t working out well at the moment.

***

It’s nearly September and the nights are drawing in, which means the light level will soon start to bring my mood down. It would be a shame if I got over the depression, only to slump back because of autumn, unemployment and single-hood/loneliness and guilt over E.

***

I forgot to mention yesterday that Mum has now been told that the household only needs to shield for three days before her operation, not two weeks, as she was originally told. That will be a lot easier for all of us.

***

I’m reading The Islamist, Ed Husain’s account of his time as an Islamist (Islamic fundamentalist) and how he left the movement. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between Jewish fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism (the big difference is that Jewish fundamentalists don’t really want to change/convert/conquer the world, they just want to run away from it and build high walls so it can’t get in). I’m about two thirds of the way through; Husain is leaving radical Islam and looking for a more spiritual alternative.

It made me think about the lack of spirituality in my life. The person on JDate who I fear I scared off is very spiritual and more aware of God than pretty much anyone I’ve met before. I hoped maybe if the relationship worked out some of that would rub off on me.

In terms of spiritual thought systems and movements in Judaism, kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) doesn’t do much for me. Practical kabbalah (magic, essentially) is anti-rationalist in a way that does not work for me at all. More theoretical kabbalah just confuses me. I’m not sure how monotheistic it is, but beyond that I just can’t take in the complex systems describing God. I like the ethics of Hasidism, but struggle with the kabbalistic underpinnings, and the constant joy does not work for me with my melancholic personality, even aside from depression. Likewise the loud and performative attitude to davening (prayers) does not work well with autism. I like the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe (Hasidic leader), but he’s been dead for 160 years and I don’t know how to bring that to the present. I’m interested in Mussar, the Jewish movement for ethical self-development, but I struggled to bring it into my life. For a while I tried reading Mussar texts and doing kabbalot (daily actions to stimulate certain ethical character traits; no relation to kabbalah), but it became just another “Should” for me to beat myself up about, so I stopped.

I just started reading a collection of texts by Rav Kook. The first text in the collection is The Lights of Penitence, so I thought it was appropriate for the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rav Kook was a mystical writer, but not a straightforward kabbalist and not an anti-rationalist at all, an interesting thinker who is not easily put in a box. Universalist as well as particularlist too. I’m hoping this volume will help me, but it’s taken the better part of a week to read the prefaces and introduction. What I’ve read of his writings in the past interests me, but, again, I don’t know where I go with those thoughts on a day to day level. Rav Kook is considered one of the founders of Religious Zionism, but the Religious Zionist movement homed in on just a part of his thought (settling the land of Israel) which doesn’t interest me so much.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and twenty minutes on my novel, and nearly two more hours on job stuff (including the long chat I had with my parents about it). I went for a half hour walk (sadly no time/energy for a run today). I also spent forty minutes on my devar Torah, although I was really recycling an old devar Torah from years ago, expanding it and improving the use of sources. I spent about half an hour on additional Torah study. That’s not an insignificant amount of achievements, particularly considering my mood was all over the place, but I wanted to do more on the novel, more on the job stuff and more Torah study.

Anxiety and Trust

I struggled to sleep last night.  Often, after experiencing a migraine, I feel tired, but not actually sleepy.  I don’t know what the migraine does to my brain chemistry to do that.  I didn’t fall asleep until long after 2.00am.  Despite that, I woke up at 9.15am, feeling very tired, but also upset by an unpleasant dream I had (no relation to my usual worries) and feeling rather anxious about dating.  I decided there was no point in lying in bed feeling anxious, so forced myself to get up and have breakfast, which was a good decision.  I did at least say some of the Morning Prayers on time.

I tried to focus on staying in the present, difficult though it feels at times.  I learnt a grounding technique recently that works for me, so I’m trying to stick with that (when I spiral into depressive or anxious thoughts, I try to notice five things I can see, four things I can hear, three I can touch, two I can smell and I you can taste.  The last two are not always easy.  I think some people carry sweets or smelling salts, but I haven’t gone that far).  Despite this, I did have quite a bit of anxiety over the day.

***

I applied for another job.  It was a simple application on LinkedIn, just sending them my CV and profile page link.  Much easier than yesterday’s one.  There was an unexpected question at the end about how many years of experience I have with a particular software that I’ve never heard of before.  I don’t know why that wasn’t on the job specification.  It’s not a library job, but would use some information management skills.  The hours sound a lot though – forty hours a week.  I think that would be too much for me, if that’s all they will accept.  About fifteen minutes after I sent the application, I got phoned by the agency who was recruiting for the position.  They talked me through some questions.  I felt I did badly, because I was unprepared and on the phone and couldn’t always understand the person I was talking to well (I hate the phone), but they said that they would forward my application to the company.

I also emailed a recruitment agency who got me two jobs in the last two years to say that I’m still looking for work.

***

I spent some time working on my novel, reading about plot structure.  I can see what I was already intuiting: that my novel is under-plotted, particularly in the middle.  What is harder is to see how to change it.  I may have to ditch some of what I have written completely and re-plot some of it.  That’s somewhat dispiriting.  On the other hand, I feel the structure the “how to write” book suggests is overly schematic and forcing myself to follow it slavishly will disrupt the flow of the novel.  I need to work out what will work and what won’t, which may involve trial and error.  It’s also possible that my novel, or the autobiographical plot-line, is based too much on my own life.  I changed chunks to make it flow better, but even so, I think some things don’t “fit” properly.  Real life doesn’t always flow the way fiction should.

I ran into these issues right before dinner.  I couldn’t come back to it after dinner because I was going to a Zoom depression group meeting , so I finished work today on a downer, worrying if my novel was workable.  This led to some catastrophising about the novel, my career, my dating prospects, everything really.  It was partly anxiety and partly low blood sugar – this was late afternoon and I had not eaten much.  After dinner I had better perspective, especially as I got an email from a writer friend saying not to feel bad if my novel seems bad when I re-read the first few times.

***

I attended depression group on Zoom.  I was glad I went, as it’s good to talk to people, but the meeting was emotionally draining and I felt exhausted afterwards even though it wasn’t yet 10.00pm.

I signed up for an autism group peer support meeting on friendships and relationships next week too (not the informal autism group I used to go to, a more formal one).

***

Overall, I felt very anxious today with dating (waiting for responses to my messages or getting one line answers that imply that the person doesn’t really want to engage any more), job applications and working out what I need to do to my novel.  Part of me thinks, “Why am I doing all this if it’s going to make me so anxious?”  But I guess the anxiety is itself the reason why I have to push through this, if I’m going to make any progress with my life.  I’ve been feeling “stuck” lately, with lockdown and loneliness and depression.  Maybe that was why I unconsciously felt the sudden need to move on with things, so suddenly signed up for dating services and applied for jobs and support group things.  It is all scary, but I have to go through with it.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself.  I’m going outside my comfort zone suddenly and that’s going to be difficult even without the ongoing COVID situation.

***

I’m about two thirds of the way through Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible).  It’s more interesting than I remembered, although there seems to be a lot of repetition of similar ideas (ancient societies had greater appreciation for repetition than we do, perhaps because it made memorisation easier in mostly oral cultures).  The terse, context-free, stand-alone proverbs can be very hard to translate, often just seven or eight words.  A couple of verses stand out strongly.  “The heart alone knows its bitterness,/And no outsider can share its joy.” (14.10).  I’ve felt that a lot over the years.  Also, “A man’s spirit can sustain him through illness;/But low spirits — who can bear them?” (18.14) is something I’ve often thought.  People say things like “I had cancer, but I kept going because I was happy,” but what do you do if a symptom of your illness is the inability to be happy?  (Translations from The JPS Bible).

***

I’ve been a bit sceptical of Divine Providence stories in the past, but I find myself finding them in my own life suddenly.  At Purim this year, I was upset not to be invited to friends for the seudah (meal), especially as Mum and Dad were at a medical appointment so I had to eat alone.  But the friend who I was hoping would invite me came down with COVID soon afterwards and perhaps I would have contracted it from him if I had gone (it has been suggested that Purim parties and seudahs partially explain the disproportionately high fatality rate in the Jewish community.  Purim this year was just as COVID hit, but before most people were taking it seriously and many parties and events went ahead as planned with large numbers of people together, some of whom may have been carrying the virus).

Similarly, if I had still been living away from home, I would either have been in lockdown alone (including doing Pesach alone) or would have had to pay rent on an empty flat while I locked down with my parents.  If I hadn’t been here (because I had my own flat or because I was married), my parents would have had much more of a struggle dealing with lockdown and shielding with Mum’s cancer, both in terms of practical things like the fact I’ve been cooking a lot and also emotionally from being separated from both their children for months on end.

I tell myself things like this to try to “prove” to myself that I shouldn’t assume that God only wants to do negative things to me and that He won’t let my life get any better.  It is difficult to believe that sometimes, but I’m trying.

ANXIOUS!!! Scrupulous?

In the last few days I’ve been feeling confident in some ways, not in others.  I feel curiously confident about my ability to write – I don’t think I’m a great author and I’ve definitely got a lot to learn, but I feel I could write.  However, I don’t feel confident about my ability to get published, in terms of producing what publishers want as well as persevering through rejection and learning the technical procedures for laying out submissions and so on.

I’ve found a job to apply for that might be good for me.  It’s slightly unusual.  The job description was not detailed, but it involves working to improve search engines by rating keywords and search terms.  From the company site, I think it is really about training AI algorithms, although I won’t be doing the technical stuff, just collecting data.  The attraction is (a) although not intended for a librarian/information manager, my information management skills may be useful, (b) I can work from home, (c) I have flexible hours, maximum 20 hours a week.  So this would be in a non-stressful environment (home), allowing me to work, say, 10am-6pm each day, three days a week with two days for writing!  It is a freelance, contract position, so no job security, but you can say that about most jobs nowadays (even before COVID).  I spent nearly two hours applying (one of those annoying cases where they want a CV plus an online application form that just paraphrases your CV).

***

Eliza recommended Shabbat.com as a dating site, which I had not heard of (I’d possibly heard of it as a site to find a Shabbat host, but not as a dating site).  I signed up and created a profile.  Unlike JDate, it’s free.  There were a lot of Anglo-Jewish women on there (including the daughter of friends of my parents who lives down the road and who my Dad has been trying to set me up with for years, but I’ve never seen the slightest sign that she’s interested in me), but I just got overwhelmed and shut it down.  Sigh.  Maybe I don’t have the stamina for online dating, to contact so many people to try to find The One.  It’s an effort for me to open up to anyone.  I suppose it does reassure me that there are women out there, if only I could work out how to meet them.  Someone has to like me, right?  (No, they don’t, says my inner critic.)

I couldn’t cancel my JDate subscription (the three day grace period turned out to be only in parts of America) so am committed for three months and might as well use them.  Losing £90 is a pain, but it’s only money, and money isn’t a huge problem for me right now (I have no job, but I also have no life beyond buying occasional books and DVDs, mostly second-hand and cheap; my parents aren’t charging me rent).  I’m trying to focus on trusting God that everything is for the best, even if nothing works out and it all just turns out to be expensive social anxiety exposure therapy.

That was my thought in the early afternoon, when I realised I couldn’t cancel.  Since then, four people sent me a “flirt” on JDate, which as far as I can tell is a way of signifying interest in someone’s photo and profile without saying anything substantive in case they don’t reciprocate.  You just get a message saying “Person X sent you a flirt” and you can decide whether to respond with a more substantial message or not.  Two of the flirters didn’t have information or photos on their profiles beyond living in the US, so I put them to one side for now.  Both looked slightly suspicious (beyond the lack of data) in apparently being willing to date anyone from 35 to 75, which seemed an suspiciously large age range.

As for the women who looked more legitimate, one is Modern Orthodox, but living in the States – which is not impossible given my experience with E.  The other is from someone whose profile says she’s “culturally Jewish,” but when I responded to her flirt with a short message introducing myself, she sent me a longer message which seems very religious.  It is true that some people really don’t like labels and particularly “Orthodox” (which admittedly is kind of a dour and unattractive thing to call yourself: “Right-thinking”).  I’m going to respond to her before going to bed, and to the American woman tomorrow – I don’t think I have the stamina to reply to both now (see below for why).

I guess it’s nice to be thought attractive, given that these women “flirted” me based on a photo and a short profile.  Still, the thought of actually messaging them, or anyone else on either site, makes me feel anxious.  When I’m single and lonely, I just feel how nice it would be to be in a relationship with someone I like and trust.  I forget that to build a relationship of love and trust, I have to start by talking to a lot of women I don’t know and am scared of, and face a lot of rejection.  At the moment, I want to cower under the table until my bashert (soul-mate) finds me.   Sadly, life doesn’t work like that.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased at getting a reaction, though, nor that both these women, but particularly the UK-based one, seem like the type of person I would be looking to meet.

***

I’ve been feeling very anxious today about both applying for the job and internet dating and I wonder if the latter at least is not more than just social anxiety.  ‘Pure O’ OCD (obsessions without compulsions) can sometimes be called “scrupulosity,” because sufferers are often obsessed with being morally perfect.  In the past I have had this with Jewish dietary laws (on the plus side: yesterday someone did something at home that would have sent me into a huge panic and sending emails to rabbis just a couple of years ago and I was fine with it, so I’ve made progress there at least).

While I’m not sure I have scrupulosity regarding dating in a strictly clinical sense sense, I do have a lot of worries about not wanting to mislead women, not wanting to waste their time dating them if I think it won’t work out and so on.  It adds to general social anxiety about dating and makes it hard to cope.  I can have it a bit (to a much lesser extent) with job applications, trying to be honest in my application about my skills and experience.  Whether because of autistic black-and-white thinking or scrupulosity (autistic people are disproportionately likely to suffer from OCD), I have always struggled with the idea that it’s OK to bend the truth a little on job applications, or that it’s OK to chat on dating sites with women up to a point without being sure that you want to go out with them.

Because of the tendency in frum circles to only date if ready to marry, I kind of feel I shouldn’t date without a firm career and good mental health, but if I pursue a career as a writer, I may never have real job security (if anyone does these days) and I don’t think my mental health is ever going to be perfect.

After I’d done all of this, I remembered an email from my rabbi mentor some time ago where he said I should just try to meet a lot of women to see what I want/need from a relationship.  That sounds weirdly unrabbinic advice, but I’m pretty sure it’s what he said (although I can’t find the email).

I did find the email where he said it’s OK to email two or more women at once, as long as I don’t do that once I move one relationship to the point where we’re actually dating.

***

Achievements: aside from job application, setting up a dating profile and messaging on JDate… thirty-five minutes of Torah study (I might try to do a little more) and a run.  So a pretty busy day.  The run led to another exercise migraine, sadly.  I only realised after the run, and after the headache had set in, that I hadn’t davened Minchah (said afternoon Prayers), so it was a struggle to do that by the deadline.  I pushed myself to start, then I stopped and had to go to the toilet because I was retching, came back and restarted, stopped and actually threw up… even then I wanted to finish the service until I realised how silly it seemed.  I suppose it shows how much I push myself to do what I feel I “should” do religiously without taking into account my health.

“Eaten By the Monster of Love”

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK.  I slept too much again.  I did a bit of Torah study and not much else, not even much secular reading, although I finally started The Islamist, Ed Husain’s book about his experience as an Islamic fundamentalist, and why he finally left radical Islam.  It looks interesting, but serious, and I’ve been putting off starting it for several days (or years, if you consider how long it’s been on my shelf, but days since I told myself I would start it).

I was somewhat worried about whether I’ve made a bad idea with JDate.  It was a lot of money to subscribe.  I think I can cancel my subscription up to Tuesday.  I’m not sure whether to do it.  I think the money is less a problem than the fact I did something impulsive, and when I do that, I always second-guess myself.

There aren’t many frum (religious Jewish) British people on JDate.  Like, really not many.  When I browse, I only come up with a few profiles, even if I add in “traditional” Jews.  Actually, forget frum, there aren’t many British people on JDate.  I guess this is what it means to be a minority of a minority of a minority.  Do I feel up to another long-distance relationship?  I think there are more frum women on JWed, but that’s a site for people dating-for-marriage and I don’t feel I’m quite there, plus there’s still the limit on British people because of the small size of the Anglo-Jewish community.

Plus, dating-for-dating feels vaguely wrong, as I’ve said before.  I feel I should wait until I’m not depressed (which may never happen) or until I have a job or publish my novel (ditto) or until I have my autism assessment (why?) or…  I don’t know what.  It’s just easy to think of reasons it’s a bad idea.

My parents said to go for it.  My Dad says it’s a sign I’m ready to move on with my life.  I think it’s more a sign that I’m lonely, and that I periodically do crazy things when I’m lonely.  When I was growing up, when I used to procrastinate over something and then make a decision and then question it and start procrastinating again, my Dad said, “Whatever decision you made, it’s the right one.”  I think it was a quasi-religious statement about things turning out well (Dad is an optimist, not like me at all in that respect).  I just second-guess all my big decisions and then present them as moral failings.

I think some of the fear is that a lot of women on the site have posted very “glamorous” pictures of themselves on JDate, at parties or whatever, all made up, and I find that vaguely scary and off-putting, partly because “glamorous” isn’t really something I’m looking for, partly because I don’t think I could appeal to such a woman.  Mind you, my photo on there is of me in my dinner jacket after my sister’s wedding, just because it was a good photo.  You wouldn’t know that was one of two or three parties I’ve been to in the last ten years.

I suppose I should try to find something to write to someone on JDate tomorrow, or cancel my subscription.

Off to watch Doctor Who to try to cheer myself up…