The OK Day I Nearly Ruined; and Fear of Sin

I think today was an OK day that I nearly turned into a bad day by trying to fix it badly.

Work was OK, but dull, mostly going through old papers to see if I could throw them away. Looking at the paper trail left by office politics and arguments from a decade ago feels both voyeuristic and depressing – events that clearly angered people to the point that legal action was considered has now left no discernible trace, except for a few letters that have now gone in the bin. It really will all be the same in a hundred years.

I feel that my Pesach (Passover) religious OCD has really kicked in. I’m anxious about a couple of Pesach-related things. However, my parents don’t think I’m much more anxious than the last few years. To be fair, I’ve been a lot worse in the past, I just thought I was over this. I thought Pesach didn’t make me anxious any more, or not this anxious. Maybe it’s not something you are ever “over” just as getting over depression doesn’t mean you won’t have days when you feel depressed.

I got back from home fairly early and decided I would go for a run. This was where I wanted to fix the day. I thought exercise would help shift the OCD anxiety and boost my mood, but it went a bit wrong. I didn’t manage my usual 5K run because my foot hurt. I also got tired, probably because I’d already walked a lot today (to the station and then to the bank and back at work). I probably continued running longer than I should have done, given that my foot was hurting. So I came home feeling tired and down rather than tired and satisfied.

Possibly on an unconscious level, going for a run was influenced by having a bad body image day. I don’t have particularly great body image (does anyone?), but I don’t really think about it much either, except when I see myself in the mirror getting in and out of the shower. I’m on the fringes of being overweight, and have been since being put on clomipramine, but I’ve learned to accept it (sort-of) as the price I pay for a medication combination that keeps me reasonably well. But today I was just feeling fat. It’s not exactly an easy time of year from a healthy eating point of view, as we try to finish all the leftover chametz (leavened) food and then spend eight days eating matzah, which is pretty fattening, especially as you have to eat it with something (butter, cheese, jam, etc.) which makes it more fattening.

I did feel somewhat better after dinner, just very tired and apprehensive about the rest of the week. I’m not sure why this Pesach feels so hard. It’s a lockdown Pesach, but so was last Pesach, and last Pesach Mum was undergoing chemotherapy and while the prognosis was good, we had no way of knowing that it would ultimately be successful. The stakes should feel a lot lower this time. I guess there are a few factors that make this Pesach hard: it starts on Saturday night, which adds a whole load of hassle for reasons that would take a long time to explain (just trust me, it’s not good); I’m working for the first time around Pesach since 2018 (I’m glad that J basically told me not to come in on Thursday, which is a big help); and I have a girlfriend for the first time since I broke up with my first girlfriend on Pesach in 2013 (that was a bad Pesach), which is good, but adds a lot of stressful thoughts about how we can meet during lockdown and how the relationship is going and whether we will weather all the difficulties inherent in it. I think what I’m saying is that this is a Pesach where I’m juggling a lot of non-Pesach-related balls along with the usual Pesach ones, in a way that I haven’t had to do for a while (even last year when Mum had chemo it didn’t impact me so much personally, except that I did a bit more cooking).

I made a tactical decision not to do any more Torah study after dinner, even though I had only managed about thirty-five minutes today and worry I won’t finish the haggadah commentary I’m reading before Pesach. I thought that trying to study more would just deplete me and make me feel worse. I watched Babylon 5 and helped Mum and Dad by polishing some of the silver, although I was too tired to do much of that.

So it was an OK day in the end, but I nearly tipped it over to a bad one by trying to hard to turn it around. There is probably a message there.

***

It’s weird. I don’t think I have a particularly punitive view of God. With other people, if they do even very slightly good things (religiously speaking), I praise and encourage them. And I genuinely believe God will look favourably on them. I don’t know who exactly gets in to Heaven, but I know I don’t believe in a God who condemns billions to eternal suffering. And yet. It’s so hard to take the view of, “I do the best I can and leave the rest to God” as at least one rabbi encouraged me to do.

I think I’m a person who fears sin. This is a concept in the Talmud. It’s very different to a person who fears punishment. Fearing punishment is a low level, kind of the lowest level of doing the right thing, just doing it to avoid being punished. Fearing sin, on the other hand, is much higher, a sensitivity to the spiritual consequences of apparently trivial actions.

The way it seems to me is like I’m in a palace made of delicate crystal or even ice, representing the world as it exists on a spiritual level, not necessarily the spiritual universes described in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), but a metaphor for the way the life prescribed by Judaism creates a way of life with tangible effects in the physical world. Moving without the correct attention, as laid out in the Torah, risks cracking or even breaking off the delicate ornamentation. Do enough wrong and the fabric of the building is at risk.

Switching metaphors, I also fear the consequences for my relationship with God of transgressing His word. Even if I do it unintentionally, I worry if I could have tried harder or found some other solution. I don’t want to risk cutting myself off from Him, which is cutting oneself off from life, as God is the source of life. The thought of doing that is horrifying. This is why Pesach is such an ordeal, because the punishment for eating chametz (leaven) on Pesach is karet, being “cut off” from God (probably referring to losing one’s share in the next world and possibly to premature death in this world too; it’s debated among the authorities). The fact that Pesach is once a year doesn’t really help. Shabbat is a major commandment with a serious punishment too (I actually wrote a devar Torah on this recently; the Talmud says keeping – or breaking- Shabbat is equivalent to keeping or breaking the entire Torah), but it comes around every seven days, so I get a lot of exposure therapy that means that most of the time I can enjoy Shabbat without thinking of the potential consequences of error. But Pesach is once a year, so I don’t get much exposure therapy. (Although the thought of doing Pesach once a week is pretty terrifying!)

***

OK, considering I didn’t think I had enough material for a post today, this has got too long. I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I think I’ve had enough screen time for today (or will have soon, as PIMOJ asked me to text her about my day).

Pesach OCD, and Mood Dips

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), Joy and Living in the Moment

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Screens

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

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

***

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

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

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

More Burnout and Coping

I woke up feeling really burnt out again. I didn’t get up until nearly 1pm, which was very late. I feel worried about how easily I get burnt out. I want to have children one day and I know PIMOJ does too, but at the moment if we had children she would virtually be a single mother in terms of childcare. OK, not quite that bad, but it certainly wouldn’t be a 50:50 split. I’ve mentioned that we won’t be able to get married for a couple of years, even if we decide to do so, so I’m hoping that my life will magically turn around in that time and perhaps it could, if I get a firm autism diagnosis, get my novel published and maybe if my job with J becomes more permanent, but it seems a lot to hang on a lot of ifs.

I booked in for Megillah readings at shul (synagogue). The Megillah is the Book of Esther which is read twice on the festival of Purim (next week). There’s an obligation to hear it evening and morning in full – literally every word. There’s also a custom of making noise whenever the name of Haman (the villain, who tried to wipe out the Jews) is mentioned, which makes the idea of hearing every word rather harder. In the past this has provoked religious OCD in me and I’m still nervous of what might happen. Plus Purim has a carnival atmosphere with dressing up in fancy dress and partying (admittedly not so much this year because of COVID) which can be intimidating from a depression and autism point of view. I have had a some good Purims over the years, but also some difficult ones, and I think my first episode of depression started (or became obvious) on Purim many years ago. This year, COVID adds a whole other layer of uncertainty and anxiety.

My parents got my olanzapine, which saved me some time. I was glad it was there and I didn’t have to phone the GP again as I feared I might have to do. Speaking of olanzapine, my psychiatrist phoned just to check on how I’m doing being back on it. I said I’m doing well, aside from the continued tiredness and difficulty working out whether it was residual depression, medication side-effects or autistic burn out. I’m leaning towards the latter and she said autistic burnout is very real and might be the issue. We spoke a bit about what help might be available, but unfortunately I need a diagnosis first and am still waiting to hear when my final assessment will be.

I had a good therapy session too. We spoke about trying to remind myself daily that I can cope with things (work, COVID, unexpected events that faze me and so on). That’s particularly pertinent at this time of year as we approach the Jewish festivals of Purim (next week) and Pesach (a month later) which have historically been very difficult and triggering festivals for me for different reasons and which still provoke anxiety in me in advance, even knowing that for the last couple of years I’ve been coping with them much better (doubtless more on this in the coming weeks).

I just ordered a weighted blanket. I’m hoping this might improve my sleep and make it easier to wake up and get up in the mornings. To be honest, I don’t have much hope, but at this stage I’ll try almost anything. Perhaps more pragmatically, I’ve said I should set a time to get up on non-work days and make myself accountable to PIMOJ to get up then. Hopefully between them, those strategies will help.

Worries That Never Happened

There’s a famous quote from Mark Twain (which I think is really by Mark Twain, even though he’s someone that random quotes are often ascribed to on the internet, like Einstein and Lincoln) that says that, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” I feel like that today, as I slept badly (weird dream about a giant orangutan), and struggled to get up, worrying about something that didn’t really happen in the end. I felt relieved, but also somewhat guilty and very drained, which may have been relief rather than tiredness from sleeping badly.

I wonder if the giant orangutan in the dream was a wish-fulfilment me, so big that I could do what I liked and couldn’t be harmed by tranquiliser darts shot by anyone around me i.e. impervious to criticism and other people’s opinions. That is what I would like to be with regard to self-esteem and confidence.

***

I feel very depressed and burnt out again today. Some of it is probably sleeping badly. Some of it is that I always seem to feel like this the day after working, which does not bode well for the idea of me ever being in anything like full-time employment. Some of it is probably the time of year.

This is the worst time of year for me, late January/February. When the days are still short (albeit slowly growing longer), the weather is bad (it snowed again today), everything is cold and dead (even without lockdown) and when the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach (Passover) begin to loom on the horizon. This ought to be good, given that they herald the arrival of warmer and sunnier days, but these are the most difficult festivals for me. Purim is difficult with autism, depression, social anxiety and religious OCD. Pesach is super-difficult with religious OCD; it has, in fact, always been the worst focus of my religious OCD. I imagine I’ll write more on this when we get closer to those festivals so I won’t go into detail now.

Beyond that, lately I’ve found all religious festivals difficult because I feel a pressure to have some kind of intense religious experience. Not mystical hippie-tripping, but somehow feeling closer to God and becoming a better person. This is a lot of pressure to put on myself. Normally it’s enough just to cope with all the peopling from extra shul (synagogue) attendance and meal guests, and the stress and potential religious OCD of all the special festival mitzvot (commandments). I’m not sure how much of this pressure really comes from me or how much from “inspirational” articles. I don’t feel the pressure on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but paradoxically, I think I probably have more of a religious experience then. There’s probably a lesson there.

***

As someone who is influenced by Jewish religious existentialism, I feel that I should try to have “I-Thou” encounters. First identified by Martin Buber, an I-Thou encounter is when two people meet and relate in a very personal and authentic way as opposed to an I-it encounter, which is encountering the other person like an object. Yet I am scared of opening up to people, and when I do, I’m left feeling an awkward mixture of gladness, social anxiety, shame and self-blame. There’s a strong sense of “Did I say the right thing?” which I guess is social anxiety.

***

I feel that I can’t write here about the thing that is most troubling me at the moment. This is problematic, as I process things by writing. I tried writing just for myself, but it didn’t help so much. Hopefully I can talk to my rabbi mentor about it tomorrow. I did discuss it with my therapist last week. She said to try to note my thoughts and feelings without analysing them, which is hard when my thoughts and feelings do not exist in the abstract, but influence my actions in the present and future.

***

In practical terms, I phoned the doctor today and have hopefully got the issue about the dosage of my olanzapine sorted. I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils). I also went to my Tanakh shiur (Bible class), which this week was about Yechezkiel (Ezekiel). We did the “dry bones” passage in groups, which cheered me up a bit. That was about all I managed today though.

“There is a hole in your mind”

I got my olanzapine in time on Friday, so I won’t run out. It was a lucky escape. I’ve only been prescribed enough for two weeks though. I haven’t checked, but I suspect/hope that’s to ensure that I run out at the same time I run out of my other medication, so I can collect them all in one go. Having been put on different medications at different times in my adult life, there have been times when I’ve been going to the doctor and the pharmacist almost weekly to request and collect different meds.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) continued the pattern of lockdown Shabbatot being unmemorable. As usual, I did a lot of Torah study, ate too much junk food and slept too much. I’m not sure if I actually napped this afternoon; I went to bed, but I don’t think I actually slept. Still, it was probably a waste of time as I didn’t need the rest, except inasmuch as I still feel burnt out a lot and don’t know why.

I had hoped to work on my novel this evening, but ran out of time.

There’s not a lot else to report. I’ve started a big Babylon 5 re-watch, in part to keep myself busy without watching Twin Peaks again just yet or endless re-watching of original series Doctor Who (although I probably will interrupt for Doctor Who at times). Babylon 5 was structured as a single story told across five seasons, so it’s harder to break episodes off to watch by themselves than can be done for programmes like Doctor Who, Star Trek and so on. In practice, most of the first season consisted of more or less standalone episodes, to set up characters and setting. Seasons two, three and four told the bulk of the plot. Season five ended up feeling a bit tacked on for various reasons. The middle three seasons are very good, though, and benefit from being marathon-watched.

I think I last watched it about seven years ago, and ended up writing two essays about it that I was very pleased with and would have liked to have had published somewhere, but had no where to submit them to. One was an analysis of the whole series fifteen years after it finished transmitting and the other was about the influence of British science fiction on Babylon 5. Most American science fiction – most American culture – is autarkic and hardly admits to recognising influence from elsewhere, so the nods to the likes of Blake’s 7, The Prisoner and Doctor Who in Babylon 5, not to mention the more obvious Nineteen Eighty-Four seemed noteworthy.

Rants (Redacted and Otherwise)

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Unwritten Rules

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Work from Home

I was working from home today. I wanted to get up early, not as early as if I was commuting, but still early. I failed. I overslept and got up after 11.00am. Whoops. I’m going to have to work tomorrow to catch up, which in some ways suits me, although it means postponing work on my novel again.

My work transcribing data turns out to be GDPR-compliant after all as data protection only applies to the living and not the dead, so it’s permitted to collect data about them (typical “living privilege”). This is something of a relief to me. When I was transcribing the data in the office last week, I was fine. I managed to concentrate even though it was boring. Today, at home, it just seems impossible and I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. Maybe it’s something about being in my room, or maybe it’s a cumulative effect. I listened to some classical music while doing it, which helped a bit, but not much. Besides being boring, it’s also depressing going through so much funeral data.

I don’t know if it was bored or immersion in funeral data, but I felt quite depressed this afternoon too; work was a struggle because of depressive poor concentration and executive function issues as well as boredom. I felt like I wanted to cry too.

I realise I’m nearly a year late to the “working from home is awful” pity party, but this is the first time I’ve ever worked from home for a paid job, unless you count my parents paying me to paint the shed.

Anyway, I managed to work on it for a bit over three hours and I got through approximately half the data J gave me. As he wasn’t expecting me to complete all of it, if I do another two or three hours tomorrow and finish most or all of the remainder, that seems quite reasonable for a day’s equivalent work.

Fun fact about transcribing funeral data onto an Excel spreadsheet: if you aren’t careful, Excel turns birthdates from the 1920s into the 2020s and you end up with people died nearly a hundred years ago, but haven’t been born yet.

***

No exercise today because of trying to get through work, and limited Torah study for the same reason, although I did spend fifty minutes writing my devar Torah for the week. I can’t really win with this; if (as I did this week) I focus on my thoughts inspired by something in the sedra (weekly Torah portion), I worry that I’m not engaging with the texts, particularly the secondary sources, enough, but if I’ve mostly taken it from secondary sources, I worry that I’m just parroting other people’s ideas.

***

More NHS fun and games. I was on hold for twenty-five minutes, trying to speak to my GP’s receptionist, only to find that the psychiatrist has not written yet about my medication change (going back to olanzapine). I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary, but the psychiatrist doesn’t work on Mondays or Tuesdays, so it’s questionable whether anything will happen before Wednesday. I only have enough olanzapine to last until Saturday, so I’m worried about running out if the psychiatrist does not inform the doctor of the change promptly or if there’s a hold-up at the pharmacist.

Also NHS: my sister got vaccinated today, as she’s NHS staff (but not front-line). As my brother-in-law may have had a vaccine a while back as part of a clinical trial (he hasn’t been told if he had the vaccine or a placebo), I could be the only person in my close family not to have been vaccinated yet.

***

I’m pretty fed up with lockdown and left a miserable comment on a friend’s blog saying that even as an autistic introvert with social anxiety who self-isolated before it was cool, I have had enough of not seeing friends and family, of avoiding shops and public places and of mask wearing. Even so, I saw a news email with the subject “New variant spreads” and for a moment part of my mind thought it was about new varieties of jam…

Disabled?

I slept too much on Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. Not a lot else happened, other than reading and Torah study. I still don’t dare risk going to shul. J says hardly anyone is going at the moment. I’m glad I don’t belong to a crazy Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul where COVID safety guidelines are ignored. I think there’s quite a bit of that going around in the area though. There was a lot in the Jewish newspapers this week about illegal Haredi weddings with hundreds of unmasked guests in close proximity indoors. It’s pretty provoking, although I don’t think there’s much anyone from outside the Haredi world can do about it. It would only stop if the Haredi world’s leaders (read: rabbis) protested, and maybe not even then.

I tried to work on my novel after Shabbat, but was tired and easily distracted and only managed forty minutes or so.

I should go to bed soon as I’m getting up early in the morning for a Skype coffee and gardening session with PIMOJ. But something has been bothering me over Shabbat. It suddenly occurred to me that I’m probably disabled. I always thought of depression as an illness rather than a disability, something that I could theoretically one day recover from. Even when I was on disability benefits (as I am at the moment, although probably not for much longer), I still did not think of myself as “disabled” as such. But it’s increasingly looking like something keeps me back from full “recovery” (whatever that might mean), the worsening of my mental health as a result of my attempts to change medication and improve my sleep pattern being just the latest incident in a long list of relapses.

In the autistic world, there’s a very vocal school of thought that sees high-functioning autism as a difference, not a disability. I can see where those people are coming from, but I also think a lot depends on the individual’s skillset and life goals. It’s one thing if you are a brilliant pattern-finder with a high-salaried job for an investment bank or accountancy firm; it’s another if you are unable to function in the conventional workplace. Likewise, some people are happy without close friends or a partner, but others want these things, but are not good at finding them.

I feel that I’m not ready to label myself “disabled” and work out what that would mean for me, especially given my history of giving myself negative labels. I may have to decide soon though. I should have the final part of my autism assessment soon (NHS permitting…). If I do get a definite diagnosis, that will push me down the path of thinking of myself as disabled, especially if I can claim some kind of help in the workplace under disability law. On the other hand, if I don’t get diagnosed… I’m not sure what that would mean at all. I know I’ve written before about feeling that I’m either autistic or “useless.” I know it’s not that black and white in reality, but it feels like that. I would feel like I’ve been some kind fraudster pretending to be disabled as part of some kind of scam for all the years I’ve been calling myself autistic (although I’ve never had any autism benefits, either monetary or in the workplace, except for one job interview where I was allowed to see the questions in advance).

I want to talk to PIMOJ about this, but I can’t face having the discussion via text or even video and who knows when we will meet in person again?

Medication Change

I woke up in the middle of the night again – 4am this time. I had a slight headache that was threatening to turn into a migraine, so took some solpadeine. My thoughts were getting somewhat agitated, so I ate porridge to ate warm milk to calm me and make me sleepy, although I’m trying to stop eating cereal late at night as an easy win in my attempt to lose weight (and I think I have lost some weight recently, which is good).

I did fall asleep again eventually, but I didn’t manage to get up properly until after midday again and struggled to get going. I felt completely burnt out after yesterday.

***

Tonight and tomorrow is Tu BeShevat, the Jewish New Year for Trees and essentially the first day of spring in Israel. This provokes the normal mixed emotions in me: relief that winter will soon be over (doubly so in this awful lockdown winter), anxiety around the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach, which are difficult to handle with depression, autism and religious OCD. On the whole, if I can’t have lockdown ending, I would at least like the return of longer days, milder weather and more sunlight. Unfortunately, spring doesn’t really start in the UK for another month or two.

I was feeling very depressed and burnt out today and it was hard to do anything. I went for a walk and unlocked two of the credit cards I locked last week; I need to work out what the PIN is for the third. Walking was difficult, I just felt too tired and depressed. I was catastrophising and self-blaming a lot. Just feeling relentlessly negative. I managed about an hour of work on my devar Torah for the week, getting a first draft written, but I didn’t manage much other Torah study or any work on my novel.

When I got home from my walk, I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary to see if I could speak to my psychiatrist this week. The psychiatrist phoned me back within the hour, which surprised me because it was after 5pm and I didn’t think she even worked on Wednesdays. I explained that I’ve been having side-effects on haliperidol and that my mood has got quite a bit worse since stopping the olanzapine and we agreed that I could go back on the olanzapine immediately and cut out the haliperidol. She suggested that in six months, I can try to reduce the olanzapine a little while staying on it to see if that improves my sleep without destroying my mood.

“I keep on wondering if I sleep too long”

I keep on wondering if I sleep too long
Will I always wake up the same (or so)?
And keep on wondering if I sleep too long
Will I even wake up again (or something)?

Sitting by Cat Stevens

I woke up in the night again, although not I think for long. That seems to be a pattern of waking for a while around 5.00am and may be part of a natural sleep pattern as Suzanne suggested. I woke intermittently across the morning, but was too drained to get up before midday, despite the noise coming from the building works next door, which I felt bad about (sleeping in, not the building works), even though I didn’t have work today and had a busy day yesterday. I feel like if someone told me there was a reason for my being so drained, yet managing to get up when I absolutely have to (work, medical appointments, volunteering), I could accept it, but as it is, I just feel lazy and useless.

I did go back to bed after breakfast and took a while getting dressed just because I was so drained. It was hard to “psyche myself up” to daven (pray) too.

I spent about an hour working on my novel, but it was slow work today and I didn’t achieve much. I’ve gone from wanting to write an amazing novel to wanting to write something vaguely publishable to wanting to write something that doesn’t totally embarrass me when I show it to people.

I tried to go for a walk to unlock my credit card that I accidentally locked last week when I forgot the PIN. I thought the ice and snow from yesterday would have melted, but it was very icy and treacherous. I didn’t go for a particularly long walk, but it took longer than usual because of the dangerous ice. The cashpoint wasn’t working properly when I got there. It was probably working well enough to unlock the card, but I’m wary of using damaged cashpoints in case they’ve been tampered with, so I didn’t even get that done.

***

Today was my father’s birthday. We had takeaway in the evening and played The London Game (travel around the Tube map going to tourist sites — I won). I was rather anxious – really religious OCD anxiety about whether the food was delivered correctly from a kashrut (Jewish dietary law) point of view. I think everything was OK, but I worry… I do think my anxiety is worse since stopping olanzapine, even though I was not aware of anxiety as a major issue before.

***

Because of burnout and family time, I only managed twenty minutes of Torah study, which disappointed me a bit. I think Dad appreciated spending time together in the evening though.

***

I’m creeping slowly towards the idea of buying a weighted blanket, but they just seem so expensive and I don’t know what practical benefit I’ll get from it. Will it help me to sleep better? Or just feel good? I’m not good at doing things just because they feel good…

***

People used to debate which was the more realistic dystopia for the twenty-first century West: Nineteen Eighty-Four (totalitarian oppression, perpetual war, The Two Minutes’ Hate) or Brave New World (the masses kept lazy and passive with mass consumerism, compulsory promiscuity and narcotics). Gareth Roberts made an argument in Unherd a while back about The Prisoner becoming disturbingly relevant again. But lately I’ve been thinking about Fahrenheit 451 and whether I’m going to end up having to single-handedly memorise the cultural heritage of the past to preserve it for the future. I have an image of handing a subversive, battered copy of Hamlet or The Third Policeman to my son or daughter like Obi-Wan Kenobi giving Luke his father’s lightsabre in Star Wars: “It’s called a ‘book.’ An elegant weapon for a more civilised age.”

Surprisingly Busy Day

I had a dream over Shabbat about being put in herem (excommunicated) because some rabbis took exception to my novel. This is not likely to happen in reality for many reasons, but I think it does reflect fear of negative reviews of the “Why do they always say bad things about the Orthodox community? Why can’t they see the good in the community?” kind (I’m thinking of one Jewish site in particular here). I can sort of see their point. It’s possible that I haven’t seen as much of the good side of the community as other people despite my having spent my life inside it, to varying degrees. And I feel uncomfortable with people who say things like, “I can only speak my truth,” but beyond a certain point, everything else is impossible, and my experience of the frum (religious Jewish, and in this case, Orthodox) community has been complicated at best – partly my own fault, but I think that’s reflected in the novel too.

***

Just before I was due to go for my COVID test this morning, it started snowing heavily. Dad took me in the snow storm, but when we arrived, the drive-in tests were cancelled as unsafe. I’m not currently planning to book another one; if I still feel bad on Tuesday, I’ll try to get in contact with my psychiatrist and see what she says. I feel a lot better today, with no light-headedness or hot flushes and only brief tremor, although some restless legs, which suggests that the symptoms were from starting haloperidol. I’m still suffering some anxiety (see below) which may be from stopping olanzapine.

***

I spent some time working on my novel. I’m not sure how much I did, somewhere over an hour, without much procrastination once I got down to it. I read two chapters and made some minor changes, finally getting through the 80,000 word barrier.

I went on a rather long Zoom call with my parents, sister and brother-in-law because it was my sister’s birthday yesterday and my Dad’s tomorrow. As I’ve mentioned before, I find Zoom hard at the best of times and struggled through it, but even when my sister and BIL are around in person I have a tendency to drift out of the conversation a lot. I tend to feel that the conversation is either small talky or about “adulting” and that I can’t really join in. I feel rather stuck in immaturity sometimes as a result of autism and mental illness. The restless legs were hard to control by the end of the call too.

I did some work on my devar Torah for the week and some general Torah study. I didn’t get any exercise today because of the snow. I spoke to my rabbi mentor and realised I’ve been procrastinating about some things that really I need to confront. Not major things, thankfully, but I tend to get anxious about things as if they were major. I tried to help Dad when he accidentally deleted a load of email folders, but I couldn’t work out what he’d done or how. I suspect they haven’t been deleted, but hidden somewhere, but I’ve no idea where. I’m not terribly good at Outlook because I only use it at work.

***

I had some anxiety in the evening after having been OK for most of the day. This was probably in part the general tendency for my anxiety to get worse in the evenings and partly from watching The Sandbaggers (1970s/80s espionage drama) which tends to end in downbeat ways, in this case with a likeable character turning out to be a double agent and committing suicide to avoid shaming his family. I like the series a lot, but it’s probably just as well that I only have five episodes left.

***

J suggested I switch work days this week to give the snow a chance to clear before I go in to work, so I’ll be working on Tuesday instead of tomorrow. I was secretly relieved, as I didn’t really want to go in to work in the snow, but was reluctant to suggest changing days after having missed a day off sick last week.

Be Anything You Want To Be???

I woke up at 4.30am again and this time I couldn’t get back to sleep at all, although as I had gone to bed very early (10.30pm), I had still had about six hours of sleep, which is the absolute minimum I need to function. Despite that, I felt better than I had done all week, both emotionally and physically, and got up very early.

While davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers), I started to feel light-headed again, and when I had finished I went back to bed, and apparently feel asleep for three hours (interrupted by my parents briefly saying goodbye on their way to a routine hospital appointment), until I was woken by the cleaner arriving at midday, shortly before my parents. I was rather disorientated and unsure whether they had come back home or not, which confused things further.

As this indicates, I’m still getting hot flushes, light-headedness and tremor (more frequent and severe than my occasional social anxiety tremor) periodically through the day. I’ve gone back to thinking it’s a medication change side-effect, but who really knows at this stage? I feel rather confused and vaguely concerned.

***

In terms of activity, I managed a half-hour walk, an hour and a half of work on my novel and an hour or so of Torah study, as well as watching a film (Zootropolis) simultaneously with PIMOJ and then having a WhatsApp call afterwards.

***

Life can be an endless stream of self-doubt if you don’t have good self-esteem. I was worrying today if my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) have declined in quality lately. No one has said that, but then I haven’t had much praise for them either. I suppose most people don’t give me any feedback at all and I wonder what they think or if they are even still reading.

Somewhat related to this, Zootropolis, like a lot of Hollywood films, was about the idea that you can do anything if you want it enough and try hard enough. (Presumably Hollywood pushes this line because it’s safer than saying the system is rigged against the little guy and the only alternative is refusal to join in and revolution.) I don’t think this idea (you can do anything you try) is true, and I think I have made myself very unwell and unhappy over the years trying to do things that are beyond my (autistic, depressed, socially anxious) capabilities. However, I can’t deny that I have managed to push myself to do things in the past that now terrify me (e.g. public speaking). I want to write novels, but I don’t know if I can realistically do this or if I’m wasting my time. It is difficult to know what to think about this.

Lurgy

I woke up in the night again, but not for long. I still woke up feeling very tired, after disturbing dreams, and a bit anxious, although not as much as the last few days. I thought I would have to scale back my plans for the next week or two and try to be kind to myself while I adapt to the new medication.

I went for a walk for half an hour before therapy, which I thought was important even though the weather was awful. I had therapy and spoke about some difficult stuff, but it felt good to get it off my chest. I was a lot less anxious afterwards. I did some Torah study and worked on my devar Torah for the week.

By the evening, I was worried that my symptoms were increasingly physical and not like anxiety, particularly change in temperature (hot and cold) and light-headedness. I don’t seem to have a temperature, but I don’t feel well and don’t think that it’s a good idea to go to work tomorrow. Even if I’m not infectious and am able to work, I’m not sure I want to be exposing myself to COVID (or anything else on the Tube) in this state. I’ve texted my boss to say that I don’t think I can come in as I honestly don’t feel that I’m in a state to get much work done. Unfortunately, I’ve already had one sick day this month, although I’m technically a freelance contractor, which makes my situation a little easier.

***

My shul (synagogue) agreed to my paying reduced fees for a while, which is something of a relief.

More Anxiety

I slept badly again, waking up in the middle of the night. I actually slept in two blocs of five hours, which shouldn’t be bad, but somehow with a gap in the middle felt incomplete. Plus, I woke feeling very anxious, which I think was about my appointment at the optician, although I had some mildly disturbing dreams too. Autism hates the unknown, and I didn’t know how my appointment would go under COVID. Even not knowing if I was going to be left standing outside for a long time before they let me in made me nervous. Of course, some of it could be the general anxiety I’ve had lately, and the usual burnout after work and depression group.

I had managed to mostly cut out the cereal I was eating before bed, on the grounds that I was rarely genuinely hungry and it had just become habitual, but I’ve been eating porridge when I wake up in the night to help me get back to sleep. This is because warm milk helps me sleep, but I dislike the taste of milk by itself. I suppose I could try to get some cocoa or something, but aside from the fact that I’ve never had it so don’t know if I like it, I’m not sure it would have less calories than porridge. I tend to sweet the porridge with sultanas, which is better than sugar, but probably still quite calorific. More problematic, from a diet point of view, was the ton of ice cream I ate last night to reward myself for getting through a difficult day at work and depression group with anxiety…

***

I had sick-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach anxious nausea all day, as well as well as feeling myself to be in agitated in “fight or flight” mode. It’s unusual for me to have anxiety for so long without an obvious cause and I don’t know how to cope. I might look online. In the past I’ve been so depressed that I was actively suicidal and while I wouldn’t say that was better than this, over time I evolved coping strategies for depression. This feels very new and alien and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m pretty sure it’s a medication change issue.

***

I had my eyes tested and chose new glasses. I shook quite a bit while the optician was testing my eyes, although she said it didn’t matter. I’m not sure how much was anxiety and how much the usual I-shouldn’t-shake-so-I-worry-about-it-until-I-start-shaking tremor I get in situations like this (eye test, dentist, doctor, barber, etc.). More awkward was when I attempted to pay. My first credit card was rejected by the machine. I’m not sure why. With my second (debit) card I forgot the PIN and only remembered it after I was locked out of it. And I couldn’t remember the PIN for the third card at all. I’m not sure how much of this was the result of anxiety and how much is because when I buy stuff in person (which I haven’t done much recently), it’s usually under £30 and I can buy it without needing to type in my PIN, so I’ve just forgotten it. Fortunately, my Mum was also having her eyes tested, so I just had to wait for her to finish and she laid out and I paid back. It was very embarrassing though. I felt pretty useless and immature.

The other unhelpful thing I did today was buy a vitamin D supplement without realising that it was considerably higher dosage than Boots usually sell (75 micrograms rather than 10 micrograms). I almost certainly don’t get anywhere near enough vitamin D (mostly indoors, mostly covered up even in the summer), but I’m not sure if 75 micrograms is still too much. The NHS site would seem to indicate that it’s OK. I might phone 111 (NHS non-emergency helpline) later to double-check.

***

I didn’t work on my novel today or do much in the way of Torah study because the anxiety feelings were too strong, plus the eye test and cooking dinner (cashew nut casserole) took up a lot of time. I did get an idea of what I’m doing for my devar Torah this week which I can hopefully write up tomorrow.

***

I listened to the first episode of the Normal Frum Women podcast, even though I am not a woman and am probably not normal. It was quite useful for my understanding of myself vis-a-vis the frum (religious Jewish) world. They quoted psychotherapist Elisheva Liss as saying that rather than asking if we are “normal” we should ask if we are causing harm or distress and, if not, we shouldn’t worry about what we do. Other people being judgemental is not considered causing distress. This makes a lot of sense, although it’s hard to do something that other people in your community will consider “wrong” even if you know you are not harming anyone.

I think my problems with fitting into my shul (synagogue) community come partly from not always being sure of the community’s values, not least because it is a community with some more modern elements and some more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) elements. For instance, I know some people do have TVs and others do not and it is hard to know what the “official” line on TVs is. (I’ve also noticed in recent years that some people who won’t own a TV do stream on Netflix and the like, something that I don’t fully understand.)

More contentiously, I know that many (all?) people in my community would not approve if they saw me walking arm in arm with PIMOJ, and that does make me a little nervous. However, I feel that I’ve only stayed frum in the last few years by making compromises to my preserve my sanity. This mostly involved bending rules rather than breaking them, but I break the rule about touching women who aren’t relatives for PIMOJ because I just can’t cope any more, and I feel that people who haven’t got to their late thirties without a “legitimate” physical relationship (i.e. marriage) don’t really get to judge me here. It’s break the rules in a small way to stay sane and keep the “bigger picture.”

On a related note, I found this article about passing, intended from an autistic POV (although it is written by a religious Jewish autistic woman). I feel the need to pass, both as neurotypical and mentally healthy in the world in general, and as “normal” in frum world. However, the effort involved can be pretty soul destroying as the article noted. I would like not to feel that need all the time.

Fragment (Burnout)

I struggled to sleep the last few nights, not huge insomnia, but a bit, and I wonder if olanzapine was helping me sleep. I would have thought that clomipramine would do it by itself, but apparently not. I overslept today and felt tired and wanting to withdraw even after breakfast and coffee. This is looking to me more like burnout, either depressive or autistic, than medication issues either with coming off olanzapine or starting haloperidol, but it’s probably too early to tell.

I felt kind of low all day, although not very depressed, just mildly. I guess it’s burnout again, or mild depression. I thought I was doing better this week, but it has caught up with me. I just feel exhausted and worry about how much I’ll end up sleeping over Shabbat (the Sabbath). Particularly as reading (my main Shabbat alternative to sleep) is harder at the moment as I don’t have any glasses.

Speaking of which, Dad took my glasses to the optician and it turned out they were irreparable after all. I’ve got an appointment booked in at Specsavers for an eye test and to get a new pair on Tuesday. It’s a little frustrating as I wasn’t due for another eye test until the end of the year, but if I get new glasses now, if I need new lenses in December they will cost almost as much as new frames. It seems like a hassle I didn’t need, although I can see that objectively it’s not that much of a hassle. I guess everything seems like a hassle at the moment, I feel so over-extended.

Here’s hoping for a restful Shabbat

Writing Success, Financial Embarrassment

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Thinking/Worrying

Another day that got away from me…

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

More Anxiety

Wow, I feared that when the American Empire started to go, it wouldn’t go peacefully, but I didn’t expect a mob bearing the Confederate Flag storming Capitol Hill just yet. Crazy. Mind you, I was reading about the protests of the 1960s on my lunch break (civil rights, anti-war) and I think the scale and perhaps also the intensity of unrest greater then than now. It’s just that Twitter and 24 hour news coverage make it more visible now. Compare Capitol Hill with rioters storming the Pentagon in 1967. On the other hand, civil rights and Vietnam bubbled away for years, so who knows how things will look in 2030? The culture of the sixties was definitely better though.

Back here in London…

I had a lot of anxiety again today. I am going through an anxious time, but it occurred to me that I’m coming off olanzapine, which is probably making the anxiety worse. This morning on the Tube in to work, I was too anxious to do much Torah study as I usually do. I tried to practise mindful acceptance of my anxiety and guilt feelings. It helped a bit. The anxiety went away a bit during the morning as I was busy at work, but came back in the afternoon as there wasn’t much for me to do. Sometimes it felt like borderline religious OCD (anxiety that I’ve done/will do something religiously wrong). This leads to a feeling that everything I do to try and move my life on (careers, relationships) just provokes guilt for not being perfect. I try to tell myself it’s irrational guilt, but the slightest mishap (and mishaps are inevitable) just sets me to thinking that I’m being punished by God and that worse is in store for me. I am not sure how to cure myself of this dynamic.

I think I tend to see life very much in black and white terms (which is a classic autistic perspective), but specifically in black and white moral terms. It’s a kind of scrupulosity (religious OCD) whereby I want to be morally perfect and see any moral imperfection as heinous. This leads to things like me applying for jobs that are not right for me because I feel “ought” to do so. My moral integrity and honesty is a big part of my self-esteem (insofar as I have much self-esteem), so it’s hard to challenge it.

Similarly, in terms of dating, I’ve partly internalised a frum (religious Jewish) model of dating which sees the dating process in extremely moralised and black and white terms (e.g. avoiding platonic friendships with the opposite sex; no dating before being ready to marry, in terms of having a settled career and mental health; pre-screening dates to only date people with shared values; avoiding long-term relationships before marriage). I do this even though this model has not worked for me. This leads me to feel that everything I do in dating is wrong and that my dating difficulties are a punishment from God. However, I am not sufficiently integrated into the frum community to really be able to date that way even if I wanted to do so.

Both PIMOJ and my therapist struggled to understand yesterday how I can feel that I’ve never fitted into or been accepted by the Orthodox world and yet still want to be a part of it. I’m not sure that I have the answer to this question myself. I believe in Orthodox Judaism, even if I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community. That’s the best answer I have. I know that many people would, if not consciously then at least unconsciously, change their beliefs for ones that fitted better with a possible or desirable lifestyle. That has just never happened with me, for whatever reason.

***

As a side-note on black and white morality, I’ve encountered quite a number of rabbis over the years who claimed to be very badly behaved in their youth. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Are they exaggerating to try to connect with young people? Does a disobedient, questioning, cast of mind lend itself well to Talmudic study? Probably. Can the uncontrollable energy of the boisterous child be focused into the superhuman amounts of emotional energy needed by the congregational rabbi? Possibly. Sometimes I feel weirdly that if only I had been worse-behaved at school, I might be in a much better situation today. It will be weird if I go to Heaven and they tell me that I was too well-behaved to earn much reward.

***

Speaking of which, PIMOJ and I streamed (separately) Soul, the latest Pixar film, about a musician who dies, but wants to come back to Earth, and is set to mentor a soul that is resisting being born. It was amusing enough, but I found it hard to concentrate on and triggered a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about my not enjoying life or having a clear purpose (I want to be a writer, but worry I won’t make it). I couldn’t really explain to PIMOJ that I want to enjoy the small moments of life, but all too often I can’t, and I can’t will that enjoyment into being, particularly not if it’s still an element of depression.

Feeling Positive

Shabbat was pretty good, but not much to note. I went to shul in the evening and did a lot of Torah study on Friday night, including an hour on a really difficult Mishnah. I didn’t nap either Friday evening before dinner or this afternoon, and I got up early this morning, albeit that after ten minutes or so I fell asleep again, so maybe reducing the olanzapine is helping already. I feel a little more alert and I don’t feel more depressed, so maybe I won’t need the alternative anti-psychotic after all.

I reflected that I haven’t felt this good for a long time. I feel like I have some kind of structure and purpose in my life again: I work two days a week at a job that seems to be within my capabilities, even if it is fairly mundane; volunteer one morning; work on my novel; have therapy fortnightly; have a relationship that is going well; am doing quite a bit of Torah study… I feel like writing Jewish fiction is giving me a sense of purpose in my life, and working at the admin job is validated by feeling like I’m earning money to support myself writing, which is my real mission.

I had a lot of interesting thoughts last night, some prompted by one of the books I’m reading (Morality by the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl), one of which will hopefully become a devar Torah later in the year. I was pleased with these thoughts and am wondering if PIMOJ is right to see them as communications from God (not in a prophetic/psychotic sense, but in a “there’s no such thing as coincidence/hidden miracle” way, that positive things that happen, happen for a reason), but I wish they wouldn’t become so obsessive and “stuck in my head” (like a song) when I think of them on Shabbat and can’t write them down. I usually do have these kinds of thoughts on Shabbat, I don’t know whether it’s for spiritual reasons or just because it’s when I switch off from computer, phone and TV and let myself actually think about things. Or not think. Sometimes just sitting still and not thinking about anything in particular can lead to very interesting thoughts.

I had a headache today. It started about an hour before the end of Shabbat. The headache part went after a while, but there was still some nausea. As a result, I had to postpone a film night with PIMOJ (watching a film simultaneously in our different homes). We were hoping to go out tomorrow too. I was ready to commit to that, but PIMOJ was worried my headache would return and said to confirm tomorrow morning. We did speak on the phone (via WhatsApp) once my headache was better.

As my headache meant I couldn’t do much, I watched the New Year’s Special Doctor Who, which was broadcast after Shabbat started on Friday, so I had to wait until Saturday evening to watch it. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t get much out of it. I can’t work out if current Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall’s vision for the programme just doesn’t excite me in either positive or negative ways or if I’m just too old for it now. It is supposed to be a family programme, even if it’s always had a significant adult audience. I can watch the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who endlessly without much drop in enjoyment, and I can watch selected episodes of Russell T Davies and especially Steven Moffat’s versions of Doctor Who and get some enjoyment out of them, even if some bits annoy me (no, the Doctor doesn’t need a love interest, and his cultural references should be wider than those of a contemporary ten year old). But Chibnall’s vision of Doctor Who doesn’t even anger me much, except when it’s being inadvertently (I hope) antisemitic (The Witch-Finders, Orphan 55). It’s just there. Maybe I’ve finally grown up. His first season (2018) had moments of narrative, directorial and thematic innovation and daring, in a low-key way, but I haven’t really been excited by it since then.

Draining Day

Today was the last of my semi-holiday days, as J is still off work isolating (back tomorrow) and there was no volunteering this week. However, I feel tense and am running late, and did not manage to do everything I wanted to do.

I slept far too long again last night, with bad dreams that I don’t remember (thus sparing you the details). I finally got the letter from the psychiatrist about changing medication yesterday, so I reduced the dosage of my olanzapine today. We’ll see how that affects both sleep and mood. Obviously I want sleep to improve and mood to stay the same (good), but we’ll see. I’m on three different drugs that increase tiredness (and weight-gain), so changing one may not do enough, and the others seem too important and useful to change. I don’t think I’m far enough in my recovery to stop my meds entirely, and maybe I never will be. I do want to have a morning though, to have more hours in the day; to daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) at the proper time, maybe even at shul (synagogue) post-COVID; to align my body clock more with PIMOJ’s (she’s early to bed and very early to rise); to be less fearful of oversleeping when I have work or volunteering… I’m fed up with being quasi-nocturnal, really, especially in the winter when I don’t get enough daylight.

It’s strange… feeling that I want to hibernate at this time of year is not new, but feeling physically tired without feeling particularly emotionally low is new. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. To be honest, despite having slept through the morning, I wanted to go back to bed after breakfast, although I didn’t.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but my brain was basically doing what my body did this morning: retreating into hibernate mode with the bedclothes over its head. The main thing I did was delete 90% of what I wrote yesterday as it wasn’t working. As for what I did write… I sat in front of the document for an hour or so, of which about twenty or thirty minutes was productive. I wrote 300 words, leaving me 100 words behind where I was before I deleted yesterday’s work. I managed to use the word “gastronome.” I guess I’m quantifying my life again to try to “prove” to myself that I’m doing things…

***

I went for a walk and did some shopping, and I wrote my devar Torah – in the end, I did write a new one rather than reusing an old one. I did a little Torah study beyond the devar Torah, finishing Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings. I did not understand all of it, but what I did understand made me want to read more Levinas, at least his writings on Judaism and perhaps some of his more general ethical writings. His sense of a responsibility that precedes contracts, precedes even freedom and itself is necessary for it to exist is rather lacking in the world around us.

***

My uncle, in Israel, has had the COVID vaccine. He’s the first person I know personally to get it, at least that I know of – I can think of some people I know who should have had it, or should get it soon, but I haven’t heard that they have yet. I guess that’s the advantage for my uncle of living in small country (the entire population of Israel is about the same as that of Greater London, something not usually made clear in news coverage).

Meanwhile, our new cleaner refused to wear her mask properly (nose uncovered) on the grounds that she couldn’t breathe properly. This led to mild anxiety that she’s infected us. I don’t think she’s coming again, although for reasons unrelated to COVID precautions.

***

The COVID anxiety has subsided, but I’ve had bits of stress building up in the last hour or two, as I need to get ready for work tomorrow and feel that I haven’t done everything I want to do, and also that tomorrow is going to be busy. At least I can see that stress is not depression or anxiety.

Relationship, Weight, Twitter and Doctor Who

I had another date with PIMOJ. We’ve had a lot of “walk and picnic in a park” dates of necessity, because of COVID, but we have been enjoying each other’s company enough for them to stay interesting. Today I asked if PIMOJ was ready for us to call ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend and she was really pleased and said yes. We had a good time, we make each other laugh a lot. We have very different personalities, but I think we share a lot of core values, and we find the personality differences stimulating.

We were together for about four hours, with maybe an hour and a half more travel time to and from the park, so I felt pretty exhausted when I got home. I was too tired to do much after that. I spent an hour or so finishing reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. I was pleased to see that it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, indicating that my research has been thorough. I just hope that comes across in the novel. Tomorrow I hope to start the third draft. I did about an hour of Torah study too, somewhat to my surprise.

My mood dipped a lot in the evening, to a level that would probably be mild depression if sustained over time. Sometimes when something good happens, my mood dips afterwards, perhaps as I realise that my life is going to change, even if in a positive way (autism doesn’t like change, even for the better). I also have a lot of guilt flying about at the moment, perhaps needlessly, connected in different ways to dating PIMOJ, whether it’s the guilt about my sexuality that I’ve been carrying for years or the fact that I know that E cared about me and that, even though we were not right for each other, and even though I did not rush from E to a relationship with PIMOJ, I still feel that E would be hurt if she knew that I have moved on and am serious about someone else.

***

I did feel a bit short of breath at times when PIMOJ and I were walking today, not bad enough that I had to stop, but I did slow down a little once or twice. I can’t tell if this is real or if it’s psychosomatic and I’m overthinking it. This is worrying me as it’s new.

It may be connected with being overweight, which is problematic as my weight gain has been from my medication and has not responded well to exercise. I haven’t really made significant dietary changes, although I did reduce my cheese and egg consumption a while back when I was told my cholesterol was a bit high (it’s crept up a bit again since then). I think I have put on more weight, although it’s hard to tell as I don’t weigh myself regularly. I do eat some junk food, but I feel not much, except on Shabbat when admittedly I do eat quite a lot, eating chocolate nuts mindlessly while reading or studying Torah.

I may have to try harder to control my weight with diet, but I’m not entirely sure how. I don’t want to quit eating junk food completely, but I may have to. In the past I’ve never managed to quit junk food entirely as, when I was depressed, I wanted to have some small treat to reward myself for getting through the day. I say I’m not depressed now, so maybe I can go without any junk at all, as if I was diabetic, but the thought of it does not fill me with enthusiasm.

I probably eat too many carbohydrates, but I don’t know how to cut them out without being hungry all the time. For reasons that would take a long time to explain, I think work has made my diet a little worse, in terms of eating more white bread and less wholemeal and more eggs again. I also often get hungry at bedtime and eat cereal and I don’t know whether that’s medication-induced or a bad habit or what. I already eat a lot of fruit and vegetables during the day, but I still get hungry, so it’s hard to switch more fruit and veg in instead of junk or carbs. I will try to go for a run tomorrow and see what happens in terms of shortness of breath.

Anyway, I’m not happy that I’m thinking about my weight in this negative way and having negative body image as even when my depression was at its worst, I didn’t have particularly bad body image. I didn’t have particularly good body image either, I just didn’t think about how I looked much and was too busy beating myself up for my thoughts and actions. But I have always wanted to be broadly healthy and I don’t think I am any more.

***

I deleted my Twitter account. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but the final straw was this post. Possibly I was a little impulsive, but I’ve felt that I’ve been on there too much lately, getting caught up in performative outrage. I don’t even post, just read, so I’m not even building online relationships, just watching other people get angry.

I worry sometimes about being in an echo chamber where I don’t hear opposing views. Then again, I constantly modify my political views, and I must get those new ideas from somewhere. I try to be open-minded, and to listen to people even if I don’t always go looking for ideas I disagree with, not least because I feel those views often attack me as a person. I probably do have a kind of Overton Window in my head that shifts back and forth.

This decision was confirmed by my starting to read Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book about the shift in the moral culture of the West from a communal focus to individualism with a resulting polarisation and inflaming of the public sphere.

***

I watched some Doctor Who (I didn’t feel in the right mood for the relative realism and cynicism of The Sandbaggers). Lately I’ve been watching season eighteen of the original run of Doctor Who, broadcast from 1980 to 1981, Tom Baker’s seventh and last in the lead role. I’m about halfway through, although I’ve seen the stories in it many times before. I’m not sure why I decided to watch the whole thing. I think DVDs have changed the way I watch TV from individual stories to whole seasons, even though the original run of Doctor Who didn’t have much continuity from one story to the next (although this season did, perhaps why I’m watching it as a whole).

It’s an odd season, based more around real science than most Doctor Who, and lacking in humour, but rich in world-building and atmosphere, albeit that I think the atmosphere comes from the direction, electronic incidental music and even costume design as much as the writing; certainly Logopolis, the season finale (in modern terms), lacks a lot of coherence in the writing and works more from imagery and the sobriety of Baker’s valedictory performance.

It’s a polarising season too; from broadcast onwards there was been a fan discourse that saw it as “adult” and “serious” and an improvement on earlier stories that were seen as “childish” and “silly,” but then revisionists switched those views around. The advantage of coming to original Doctor Who after it finished is not needing to take sides in debates like this; I can appreciate both sides.

This should probably have been on my Doctor Who blog, but it’s hard to feel bothered to write there when no one reads it, and when I feel I should post coherent essays, not little reflections.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The main thing to report today is that I tried hard to get up when I woke up naturally this morning, not when I first woke around 5am, but when I awoke for the second time at 9am. I got up and sat on my bed, but I just felt so tired, I climbed back in and fell asleep again for nearly four hours! I wonder if I could force myself to eat something first, before getting back into bed, but there are prayers to be said on waking and when I feel burnt out and a bit low, it’s hard to get through them, although they only take a few minutes. Strictly speaking, one should say the whole of Shacharit, the Morning Prayer Service, before breakfast, which takes half an hour or forty minutes on a weekday (it varies a bit from day to day), and over an hour on Shabbat (Saturday), but I have been eating breakfast before Shacharit for many years because of depression. But I do like to say a few prayers before eating. But at the moment I also want to find a way to get up no later than 9am, and it’s hard to work out what to do.

There is no sign of the letter from my psychiatrist about changing my medication to sleep less. Realistically, it’s not going to arrive for a week or more now. She’s a good psychiatrist, but… NHS, useless at admin, etc…

I did about an hour and a half of Torah study on Friday night, which was good, except that I ate a lot of junk food at the same time. I’m not sure if there’s a causal relationship or not. I managed about an hour today. I seem to be doing OK on Torah study at the moment (where “OK” is a minimum of half an hour a day, and an hour or so most days).

And that was it for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Oh, I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. It was cold (the heating wasn’t on) and I sat in a draft from the door that we have to keep open because of COVID.

Tomorrow I’m seeing PIMOJ again. We’re rather stuck for ideas for dates when everything has to be outdoors. We just go to parks and eat lunch together. I guess it means we get to know each other well, but it would be nice if we could do something else. Anyway, tomorrow I hope to have the scary “I think we’re in a relationship, but I’m not sure if you do…” conversation.

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

I had mixed feelings about an online article on autism and left a comment, even though I don’t usually comment on that particular site (it’s mostly politics articles, and while the articles are interesting, the comments are often angry and lacking nuance). I’m not linking to it as I had to post the comment under my real name. I said that the difference between “high functioning” and “severe” autism is not always clear-cut, that I was extremely high functioning in the structured environment of school and got to a very good university, but I struggled there and even more since then. That I’m thirty-seven and have never had a full-time job or a relationship that lasted more than a few months, nor have I ever built my friendship network the way I would have liked (although I do have some friends, albeit many online). That like a lot of people on the spectrum I’ve spent much of my life struggling with mental health issues. I don’t consider myself to have “autistic superpowers” and I worry about how I will cope with the world when my parents aren’t here to help me.

In retrospect I’m not sure if I should have posted it. The line between “sharing experiences” and “self-pity” can be a fine one for me and I’ve crossed it many times in the past, usually when feeling upset and left behind by life or by my peers. That said, and very much to my surprise, within a couple of hours it had become the comment with the most upvotes on that article, and by a considerable margin, so I suppose some people thought it was a worthwhile contribution.

***

My main achievements for the day were cooking dinner (lentil dal and rice) and going for a run, the latter rather later than I wanted, after dark, as I made sure to cook dinner first in case I got an exercise migraine. I don’t think I was unusually short of breath, so perhaps the recent shortness of breath is a mask side-effect after all. I did come back with a headache though. I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study with a headache, so I listened to an online shiur (religious class) rather than read Torah. I’m trying to listen to shiurim more, particularly on days when I feel depressed, tired or otherwise unable to read Torah. I do see shiurim as somewhat second-best, though, as I internalise ideas much easier in written form than spoken, not to mention that I feel that written information is “denser” than spoken i.e. I will come across more new ideas in an hour of reading than an hour of listening to a shiur. I’m not sure how true that feeling is.

***

My line manager, J, texted me to say that he is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone with COVID at our shul (synagogue), I assume/hope not at a service where I was present, as I haven’t heard anything. He has been going to shul a lot more than me in the pandemic, so it’s quite likely that that’s the case. So, no work this Thursday, or next Monday, which is bank holiday anyway.

***

I phoned my psychiatrist’s secretary to chase the letter I was supposed to have about changing medication to make me less tired. The secretary says that she was not told to write a letter and that she will have to speak to the psychiatrist, so another NHS error. I’m worried that this won’t be resolved until the new year. We ❤ NHS.

***

The Economist does a “world next year” publication at the end of each year. I’m amused that they’re still doing one for 2021, even though I’m pretty sure their 2020 edition failed to predict the pandemic, which dominated every aspect of the year, even more than either Brexit and the US election (which had its own surprises, such as Trump increasing his vote in absolute terms, but still losing). The BLM protests in the USA were unprecedented in their size, and the fact that they spread to other countries and no one predicted that. No one guessed that Israel would normalise relations with a slew of Arab countries either. “Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future” is a saying attributed to many different people, but it’s very true whoever said it.

I wish journalists would stick to reporting facts rather than trying to seem super-clever by predicting the future. Unfortunately, it’s cheap copy – it’s much cheaper to sit at your desk guessing what might happen instead of going out and asking people what did happen. No one remembers the failed predictions, so there’s no downside to it from the journalists’ point of view. It also means people you don’t like don’t actually have to do bad things for you to be able to criticise them, it just has to be possible for them to do bad things at some point in the future.

For example, at one point this summer, there were four different articles on the BBC’s Middle East news page saying that Israel was going to annex the Jordan Valley and asking if this would start a war. In the event, Israel didn’t annex the Jordan Valley, and the idea that it might looks like a bit of diplomatic maneuvering to get the Emirates/Bahrain peace deal. The BBC never retracted anything. It never does. About the same time, there was a skirmish on the Indo-Chinese border in which several soldiers were killed, which potentially could have started a war between the two most populous countries in the world, both nuclear-armed. It barely registered in Western news media. There’s a lot of ways you could understand this, none of them good.

(Coincidentally, I just came across a load of newspaper clippings on Twitter showing senior US politicians and health experts (not just Trump and, yes, including Democrats) saying in February that COVID wasn’t a serious problem and that people should celebrate Chinese New Year in big crowds as normal.)

Short Update

Sorry for the meaningless title. I hate picking titles, and this post is less than 500 words long, with no real theme.

Not a lot to report today. Work was fine. I’m taking an inventory of various assets, mostly in the form of antique Jewish ritual objects. I don’t really want to go into what they are and why we have them, as I’m trying to avoid making where I work obvious. It’s at least different, but also a bit frustrating, inasmuch as I have some documentation, but it’s not always clear, and sometimes I’m comparing two or three different objects of the same kind to see which one best fits the description. But the day passed quite quickly. I did make some mistakes when writing invoices though. I hope these are learning experiences.

A job that I “should” have applied for (entry-level librarian job at a major London museum, part-time) came up just now and I don’t have the confidence to apply for it – no confidence in my ability to do the job or my ability to cope with more hours than I’m currently doing.

I decided not to contact my GP for now regarding sleep and tiredness issues, but I will try to phone the psychiatrist’s secretary tomorrow to chase the letter that will change my medication. I think it’s worth seeing if the medication change I agreed with the psychiatrist works before pursuing other avenues.

I “went” to Zoom depression group. I didn’t have much to say, but thought I could at least listen to other people. However, I struggled to concentrate. I find concentration hard on Zoom anyway and I think going after work meant that I just couldn’t keep up. It’s probably worth still going, though, as I would still like the option to talk, and it’s good to hear how other people are doing even if I probably won’t remember much of it half an hour later.

I spoke about my job and my fears of messing it up, but I didn’t go into details. I didn’t mention PIMOJ. Whenever I think I could mention her, I think that we could have broken up by the next time we speak and then I’ll have to tell everyone we’ve broken up. I’m also not sure what to say at the moment. PIMOJ keeps saying that we’re “getting to know one another” and I’m not sure if she’s waiting for me to say that we’re in a relationship. I’m pretty bad at knowing what to do in these situations and I think she is, if anything, less experienced and confident than me. I’m pretty sure that she’s keen to continue, but I’m not sure what to say.

The Day Where I Counted My Blessings

I’m not sure what to think about today. Work was OK. I was doing a lot of repetitive form-filling. It wasn’t terribly interesting, but it’s the type of thing where I can just focus on it and get into some kind of rhythm, I guess the type of day where I can make the autism work for me a bit. I just hope I didn’t make any mistakes.

I had a late lunch and went into an empty office to have a video call with my psychiatrist. We’re going to try to adjust my medication a little to see if we can reduce my oversleeping and lack of energy. I’m wary of altering medication in case I get worse, but I think it’s got to the stage where I have to take the chance. However, it was not a good connection and I didn’t want to get the psychiatrist to keep repeating things, so I’m going to have to wait for the psychiatrist’s letter to know exactly what to do.

I briefly joined a Skype call with my parents, aunt and uncle and had a longer call with PIMOJ. The latter was… interesting. She had been asking me for a while if she could read my novel. I wasn’t terribly happy with this idea, but eventually I gave in and I wonder if I made a huge mistake. PIMOJ is incredibly upbeat and also deeply spiritual, pure and connected to God, whereas my novel… well, it deals with issues like depression, questions of faith, unrequited and slightly obsessive love, self-harm, suicidality, late diagnosed autism and emotional, physical and sexual abuse. It isn’t terribly happy, although I gave it an ending that is at least open to hope. PIMOJ works in mental health, so she’s not naive, but I think she was a bit shocked by it, by the thought that someone would want to write this down and that other people would want to read it. She thought the ending was hopeful, but too open-ended for her liking.

Even though PIMOJ knows a bit about me and my issues, I think she possibly didn’t realise until she read it just how low I’ve been in the past, and maybe isn’t convinced that I’m not still there. She didn’t say it was a bad book. She kept saying it was “interesting” and that she experienced a lot of compassion for the main characters, which I guess means the writing was emotional. I’m not sure I really made it clear that my writing came from a place of deep religious engagement.

I’m a bit worried she’s going to break up with me now, but I guess it was better that it came out sooner rather than later. She was texting me attentively today, and I know she didn’t read the entire novel this evening, so I guess that means she still feels a connection.

Perhaps it was just as well that today I had a reminder that things are pretty good for me at the moment. My life is not perfect, but I have supportive family, no immediate financial worries despite only working two days a week and outlets for at least some of my emotional needs. I’m not in an unhappy relationship or struggling to support my family financially or emotionally or dealing with abuse. I guess I need to be reminded to count my blessings sometimes.

The Boy in the Bubble

I went to bed very early last night, but I slept for over twelve hours, so I got up late again this morning. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it, but I feel like I could have slept longer. I did feel drained and burnt out today, particularly in the morning and early afternoon. I’ve got to a point where I’m at least somewhat accepting that this is just what happens to me when I do things. Still, I wish I had more hours awake and alert.

I had a dream about being back at Oxford University. I was trying to get more time to do my work as I was depressed and autistic, but there was some kind of problem, I don’t know what. It may just have been that I did not have the courage to go to my tutor and explain. There were some people from my current shul (synagogue) there too for some reason. It’s pretty obvious that the dream was about feeling bad for needing support with my issues. I’ve never really got over that feeling of shame.

***

A librarian who turned me down for a job a while back saying my cataloguing wasn’t good enough has added me to his network on LinkedIn. I’ve never really got the hang of LinkedIn (like Facebook, but boring), but I reciprocated, because nowadays I mostly do if someone I vaguely know as a real person adds me (not random strangers). I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, but still haven’t got up to the thirty connections they say you should have for it to work well; a number of the connections I do have are family and friends in different sectors, not colleagues. It also reminds me of this cartoon.

***

PIMOJ and I were planning a date, when I realised it contravened COVID regulations (indoors with people outside my “bubble”). My sister and brother-in-law are our household’s “bubble,” so I can’t count PIMOJ as one. They (the regulations) are complicated enough now that I have to look them up as I don’t remember them. I think it will be a long, cold winter if we can’t meet indoors except in cafes and restaurants (where I don’t feel comfortable at the moment anyway). I was a bit nervous of mentioning this to PIMOJ in case it looked like I was backing out, but she was fine with it. When dating, I get so scared of being negative or just disagreeing in case; ironically, one date got angry with me because I was indecisive through fear of contradicting her, the opposite of what I intended. Dating in COVID is hard. Dating with low self-esteem and fear of rejection is harder. I need to learn that (a) PIMOJ seems to like me, other things being equal and (b) when it comes to values questions (like breaching lockdown or not), we’re usually on the same page. The latter is a somewhat unfamiliar place for me to be.

***

I started writing a new bit for my novel, plugging a plot-hole that I noticed. I wrote about 800 words in an hour, but feel I might be approaching the scene the wrong way and need to rewrite. As ever, I wanted to write more, but ran out of time. It can be hard to lead a full life when I only really have afternoons and evenings.

***

Other achievements today: I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. It was a little shorter than usual, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say and it seemed silly to pad it needlessly. I did some Torah study, albeit a disproportionate amount was spent tracing a reference in Rabbi Lord Sacks’ devar Torah to Ramban’s Torah commentary, but when I found it, I didn’t fully understand what Ramban was saying or why.

I went for a walk and did some shopping; I also failed to pick up my repeat prescription as the surgery has been slow in processing the pharmacy’s request (the lockdown procedure for requesting repeat prescriptions). I hope it’s ready before late afternoon tomorrow or I will run out over the weekend.

I did some ironing while watching Twin Peaks, which was a mistake, as Twin Peaks required atmosphere and concentration that were not possible while ironing. I find myself wanting to wallow in Twin Peaks. It has a unique atmosphere. Doctor Who is also capable of being mysterious, funny and scary in quick succession or even at the same time, but with Twin Peaks there is a sense of something else as well, I’m not sure what. Twin Peaks certainly has a sense of place which Doctor Who, by virtue of its time-space travelling format, does not, and Twin Peaks can have a greater sense of fear being aimed at an adult, post-watershed audience unlike Doctor Who, which has mostly been aimed at a family audience. There is something else, though, maybe a dreamlike atmosphere that I can’t pin down. Maybe Twin Peaks has a sense of fear that Doctor Who can’t have, because Doctor Who hasn’t really scared me since I was a child, whereas I know (from the classification warning on the DVD box) that Twin Peaks probably will have scenes that will scare or horrify me and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation.

Whatever the reason, I want to wallow it and binge-watch episodes, which is unusual for me, although not unknown. I don’t usually watch more than an hour of television in a day. I suppose the serial nature of the programme helps. When I watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes earlier in the year, it was quite obvious that I was only going to get answers in the last episode of the season, if not the last episode of the programme as a whole, whereas here there are limited answers and more questions all the time.

Writer’s Woes

It’s been a slightly difficult day, a day when it was hard to do things. In some ways, I feel very “blocked;” in others, I’m making progress, of varying degrees. It’s hard to assess how it’s been overall. The good news first.

I’m going to be volunteering tomorrow morning, packing food packages for the vulnerable. Hopefully this will be every Wednesday morning until at least the end of the year. I will have to get up about 6.30am, as if I was going to work! However, it will be finished by 11.00am, so I should be home by lunchtime and able to take things easy in the afternoon. It is through a major Jewish organisation, the one that ran the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer until that was stopped by COVID. I just hope I can do what I’m supposed to do; at the drop-in centre, I came to feel that I was not doing much good, if not actually being a liability. I’ve heard autistic people say they just get in the way when people want them to help and I fear that describes my attempts to help too. I don’t know if it’s something about not being able to “read” a large group of people and follow implicit or unspoken instructions well enough to do what needs doing and not get in the way, but I seem to get stuck and get in the way, more so than if I’m just left to sort something out by myself.

PIMOJ is really positive about my volunteering, which is good, as I worry she will lose interest in me if I can’t find work, although she has shown no sign of that so far.

I did manage to get through to the psychiatrist’s secretary today, but there is no sign of a letter from the psychiatrist to the GP. The secretary said she would speak to the psychiatrist. I’m worried that I may have misunderstood something about changing lithium brands.

Other achievements: I tried to go for a run, but after changing and warming up, my foot started hurting. The pain didn’t go after a minute or two of running, so I decided not to risk pulling something and went home. I cooked dinner, but had an, um, culinary malfunction (too much salt fell into the pasta and changing the water didn’t help), so it was rather salty, less than ideal (or healthy), although still edible. I spent half an hour editing something I wrote here a while back into a devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s a bit shorter than what I usually write, but will probably be OK. I’d like to add 100 words to it, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so. I tried to do some Torah study after that, but was too tired and a bit depressed and also anxious about tomorrow (this was late at night; I’m not narrating in chronological order).

The main thing I did this afternoon was some redrafting on my novel. It was one of those days when it’s really hard to write, and I was dealing one of the most autobiographical passages, and one that brings up difficult memories for me. I did more cutting than anything else. I cut a load of stuff as irrelevant and/or verbose and over-written, including one of the surreal interludes I wrote that I now think simply didn’t work, much as I like the idea of having them in theory. I think I only spent about forty-five minutes on working it, excluding procrastination time.

I feel a lot more negative about the last couple of chapters I’ve redrafted than I did about the first couple. I guess some days go like that, particularly as I had other things to do. It just makes me think that I’ve got a lot to learn and do if I want to be a writer, or even to get this book into a sellable shape. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the words to express what I think and feel. Do other writers feel like this sometimes, struggling to write anything at all? I guess I associate the “churn it out regardless” type of writing with people who write reams of genre fiction of little depth as opposed to more emotionally-real, thoughtful or experimental writing, but maybe that’s me being a literary snob. Part of me feels I should just give up, except that I feel that I have something to say and don’t know how not to say it any more. Plus, I’m beginning to doubt whether a career other than writing is really open to me any more.

A different problem about self-expression is the fact that I increasingly feel I need to write something here about politics – not policies and people, but how lonely and scared I feel at the moment. Scared that I’ll be rejected for what I think. Scared because there are people I respect who I fear don’t respect people like me. Writing something about it, however short or inadequate, has become a challenge I feel I need to meet regardless of the outcome, in the name of fighting social anxiety and self-censorship, but I’m lacking bravery or, today, time.

The other reason to write about politics is that I feel I’m running out of things to say, while still needing my blog as an outlet. I feel that at the moment things are OK, but there isn’t a lot that’s changing that I can comment on. I write this for myself, but I don’t really want to either bore or alienate my readers. I guess I don’t really know why anyone reads this, but I feel dependent on my blog commenters as part of my support network, alongside more traditional support like therapy, my parents and depression and autism support groups.