Hallo Spaceboy

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

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

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

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

I wish E was here.

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

Energy Budgets and NHS Budgets

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

UK population: ca68,000,000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frustrations Not Balanced By Chocolate

I wrote a shortish post yesterday, but WordPress ate half of it and it was too late, and I was too tired, to rewrite. This post is some of what survived and more.

I felt down and lonely as soon as my parents left yesterday for their short holiday in sunny (or not sunny) Arundel. I’m not sure why I should feel down when I saw them a couple of hours earlier. As I’ve mentioned before, I like my own company, but for some reason I don’t understand, I don’t like being in the house by myself. It’s probably partly a product of the size of the house. I didn’t get so lonely when living in a tiny studio flat, but I did get somewhat lonely, particularly on non-work days when I had no distractions. And, unlike in the past, I have my frustrations at being so far from E and not knowing when we will be together again, which feels worse than being single, somewhat to my surprise (I know that’s probably naive to anyone who has been in a long-term relationship before, but my relationship experience up to this point has not been great). It may also be true that I have worse abandonment fears than I thought, which would make sense, given some formative childhood experiences.

I went for a run yesterday, but came back with a relatively mild, but intermittent headache, nausea and a feeling of dizziness and light-headedness that didn’t fully pass until I went to bed. I find the latter most troubling as it’s new and has no obvious cause (not that the exercise migraines have much of an obvious cause, but at least they’re an acknowledged thing).  I did some Torah study and spent a bit of time on my tax return, but feel it would probably be better if I did no work/chores at all and relaxed OR worked hard and got some of these tasks out of the way, but I seem to be unable to do either. I think of myself as a person of extremes, but it’s probably more accurate that I aim for the middle ground, I just don’t always reach it.

I went to bed late, partly because of the failed blog post, and then I struggled to sleep again. The advantage of a five hour time difference with my wife is that she’s still awake when I can’t sleep at 1.30am! I was ruminating again on autism/Asperger’s and feeling I have plenty of negative symptoms, but none of the “superpowers” some people on the spectrum talk about. E thinks my care for grammar and spelling might become a superpower if I can set myself up as a proof-reader and copy editor. She’s probably right, but working out the practical steps to set up my own business and find clients is frightening.

I did eventually fall asleep, but had a disturbed night’s sleep. I can’t remember clearly what happened; I remember feeling ill during the night and suspect it was trouble breathing (sleep apnoea), but can’t remember in detail. I’m left more with an impression of spending the night feeling ill in an unspecified way and worrying that I would have to call in sick today. It’s strange how something so potentially disturbing can happen and not get into my brain properly to be dealt with on waking because I’m more than half asleep.

Work today began with J giving me Galaxy chocolate. It had come free with the printer cartridges, for some reason, and he doesn’t eat chalav stam (milk not supervised by a Jew from milking).  He tried to give me three bars, but I only took one as three seemed a lot, particularly as Mum and I are trying to lose weight.  This seemed like a good start to the work day, but I was bored at work and slightly ill from lack of sleep, resulting in being easily distracted and therefore feeling guilty.  The Economist said last week that attempting to achieve perfection at work is counter-productive.  There we should aim for excellence, which doesn’t seem much more possible to me.  I think vague competence is all I’m likely to achieve at work at the moment, and maybe not even that.

On the way home, I went to the pharmacy only to discover that my clomipramine won’t be in until tomorrow evening.  I only had two 50mg tablets left, but I take two at night and two in the morning.  I am splitting the dose so I took 50mg tonight and will take another 50mg before volunteering in the morning, which I hope will keep me on an even keel until the afternoon.

***

One paragraph I couldn’t salvage from yesterday’s post was about writing.  I have so much going on with my life at the moment that I have neither the time nor the inclination to write or to try to find an agent.  It’s not even on my radar at the moment.  Inasmuch as I have creative thoughts at all, they’re focused on my plans for a Facebook group for people on the margins of the Orthodox Jewish community.  I am now pretty certain that I will go back on Facebook at some point (ugh) to do this.

I started writing a list of potential group posts and got up to twenty.  Granted some probably won’t work out, but it’s a good start for my first day of serious thought about it.  I’m worried about finding members, though, as I don’t really know people to invite to start it off.  Most of my friends aren’t Orthodox (or aren’t Jewish) so wouldn’t want to join, and I probably wouldn’t want to invite the Orthodox friends I do have, as I wouldn’t want them to see some of the things I want to say in this forum, to realise that I see myself on the margins of the Orthodox world and why I feel like that.

***

A thought while shopping after work: when I was a child, I was, at least to some extent, a “little professor,” Dr Hans Asperger’s term for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning a child who is very serious and ‘lectures’ on his special interests.  My Mum even called me an “absent-minded professor.”  Yet I was not a little adult; when I became an adult, I was not suddenly better at communicating with people.  I still could not connect with people.  I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it seemed worth noting.

***

I finished A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn, but am not sure what I think about it.  E said she felt the same when she finished it.

Difficult Thoughts, and Staying Frum

I slept until 11am, which I probably needed.  Then I spent a while in bed, which was a mistake, as I fell asleep until 12.30pm, which I did not need and was not good.  I felt self-recriminatory after that, and about the over-excited post I wrote yesterday.  Sometimes I get stuck in fantasy that things are suddenly going to improve and then it’s painful coming back down to earth.

I also noticed that I’ve had a lot of difficult thoughts lately, not self-criticism so much as pure O OCD-type thoughts (e.g. thoughts about saying hurtful things to strangers).  Apparently everyone has these thoughts, or thoughts like them, all the time, but people with OCD can’t dismiss them as ‘just thoughts.’  I do wonder why people don’t discuss them more if this is true.  They do lead on to self-criticism, because I think, “How can I have thoughts like that in my head, even subconsciously?  I don’t want to say these things, so why is my brain suggesting that I should?”  I’m not obsessing over them and I don’t really think I’m a bad person, so it’s not reached OCD-level, but I just wish it would shut up.

To be honest, I would probably be a lot happier generally if my brain would just shut up sometimes.  I know someone who seems to wander around broadcasting their entire inner monologue constantly to avoid the silence.  If that really is what they’re doing, their inner monologue is a lot quieter and more banal than my inner monologue.  I do wish I could turn things down sometimes.

***

I felt down today, I’m not sure why.  The day has been a bit of a struggle.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about this.

I did phone the GP surgery this afternoon and managed to get an appointment with the doctor I spoke to last time.  This was regarding wanting to reduce my medication and being told by the psychiatrist not to do so.  The GP seemed a bit annoyed that I hadn’t been able to speak to the psychiatrist directly to explain my situation, but had to speak through a “link worker.”  This was the person I spoke to on the phone, who I thought was a psychiatrist, but apparently was not.  The GP is going to write again to request a direct phone call between me and the psychiatrist.

I spent a while psyching myself up to phone the United Synagogue about moving forward with E and my marriage application paperwork, but got the answer phone.

So many things at the moment can’t be done in one go.  A lot of this relates to going to the US and getting married, but also to other things like filling in my tax return (which I’ve never had to do before).  I just keep pushing things off or only managing to do the next step and I find it frustrating that nothing is ever finished.  Maybe that’s contributed to feeling down.

***

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve stayed frum (religious Jewish).  It’s hard to stay frum if you don’t feel connected to the community, or aren’t getting positive feelings from Jewish practice, or are just struggling to do all the stuff that being Jewish entails, and I’ve struggled with all three things at different times.  I guess I’m struggling with most or all of them now, if not necessarily to the same extent as in the past.  And autism/Asperger’s and mental health issues just makes everything even harder.  My main mental health issue at the moment is social anxiety, which isn’t as bad for me as depression and OCD were, but it’s particularly good at sabotaging anything I try to do related to being in a community, and a lot about Orthodox Judaism is ideally done in a community.  Alexithymia (difficulty sensing and understanding my feelings) probably also means that I miss some positive feelings from Judaism and community, strange though that may seem.

Does that make me a good Jew for persisting despite all this or a bad one for not being so enthusiastic, committed or involved?  I don’t know.  I feel like a good Jew wouldn’t be struggling with these things in the first place, but I also feel that I didn’t choose to be in this situation.   I once saw one rabbi write that “A good Jew is trying to be a better Jew,” but I worry that in the last few years, rather than improving, I’ve even cut back on things to try to consolidate what I’m still doing.

I am aware that people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community, for whatever reason, tend to drop out.  I’ve known a number of people who became frum as a young adult, but dropped out of observance later due to mental health issues (sometimes becoming observant is a symptom of mental illness, although I don’t think that was the case with me).  So I know I should feel that I’m doing OK.  It would just be nice to have some certainty that I’m a good Jew and a good human being.  Although, as I realised a while back, but still haven’t internalised, there isn’t going to be a day when someone gives me a medal to officially recognise that I’m a good person or a good Jew, and I should really stop wanting it to happen.  At least E thinks I’m a good person and a good Jew; it probably is too much to hope for other people to say the same.

Tangentially-related to this, on one of the Orthodox Conundrum podcasts I listened to, Elisheva Rishon (fashion designer and Jew of colour) spoke about connecting with other Orthodox Jews online, but struggling to overcome stigma in real-world Orthodox settings.  I don’t think I experience stigma per se (although it’s easier for me to mask), but it nudges me towards going back on social media to try to find people I can connect with.  But then I remember how awful being on Facebook was, and I scare myself off it.

***

I am currently reading The Third Reich in Power by Richard J Evans; When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender, and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture by Elana Sztokman; and Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World by Yael Ziegler[1].  These are all good books, but very heavy-going [2].  I tried to read the Third Reich book this evening and struggled with it.  I think I have to throw a novel in there or something lighter.  It’s frustrating, as the Third Reich book is very long and I don’t want to be reading it for months on end.  I don’t want to take any of those books to New York in a few weeks (not least because they’re too heavy in a literal sense), so I’ll have to start something soon anyway.  I do want to finish the spring Jewish Review of Books first (the summer issue is out, but it takes ages to get to the UK).

[1] I am also occasionally reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who by David J. Howe and Steven James Walker, which is annoying in another way entirely, but that’s not a topic for now.

[2] When Rabbis Abuse is also in desperate need of a proof-reader, as I’m not sure I’ve seen a professionally-published book with so many typos and errors, but, again, that’s not a problem for now.

Otherstide[1]

Well, it’s cooler than it was, but I still came home really sweaty, even though I had the air conditioner on at work. Work was dullish. It was a bit weird being in the office without J. I was the only person in our office, although there were a couple of other people in the building. I would normally be worried the phone would ring and I would have to deal with it, but J still had the office phone diverting to his mobile, as he does when he’s working from home, so there wasn’t any risk of that happening. I don’t know how many mistakes I made; I printed a couple of pages by accident, but that’s a fairly minor thing, and I caught someone else’s mistake (sending us paperwork intended for someone else), albeit not before I’d wasted some time trying to deal with it.

I came home to discover that the NHS psychiatrist has decided that because of “previous complexity in [my] presentation”, I should stay on my psychiatric medication at the current levels, presumably for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to come off my meds completely and I accept I will be taking meds for a long time, but I would like to try to reduce the clomipramine given it has some unpleasant side-effects and that I’m on quite a high dose still (I think). There was no indication that the psychiatrist (who has never met me and is basing this on my notes) realised that my depression seems to have been strongly linked to the problems of being an undiagnosed, and frequently burnt out, autistic and that things are much better now I have a diagnosis. I know my mood dipped when I tried to stop my olanzapine, but even given that, I managed to significantly reduce the amount of olanzapine I was taking.

E was furious about this and my parents weren’t much more pleased. I just greeted it with a resigned “typical NHS” shrug, but they have all convinced me that I should at least try to speak to one of the two GPs I have seen before from our practice, although it’s hard to get an appointment and technically we aren’t supposed to ask for a particular GP. E asked about seeing a psychiatrist privately. I’ve done that before when I’ve run into problems with the NHS, and it costs £££. E thinks it would be worth it if I could end up healthier in body and perhaps mind, which I guess is true, although I’m not sure I agree that we should divert money from our wedding to pay for it (we haven’t had the talk with my parents yet about who is paying for what and how much — contrary to what you might think, my parents are willing to pay a lot and it’s E who is sceptical).

I wanted to do some writing when I got home, but after I’d showered, I had the “brain squashed” feeling I associate with autistic exhaustion. I watched an episode of The Simpsons instead (The Joy of Sect, where the Simpsons join a cult that isn’t at all based on Scientology, no). Pleasingly, it had a reference to one of my favourite James Bond stunts (from Live and Let Die, where Roger Moore’s stuntman really did run over the backs of a bunch of live crocodiles[2], in a sequence that would doubtless be unfilmable that way today, due to animal welfare concerns, and perhaps also insurance issues for the stuntman) followed immediately by a The Prisoner spoof sequence. Geek heaven!

***

Well, today is my thirty-ninth birthday. It will be a special year, as (barring acts of God) E and I will get married. That makes me feel more positive than on many other birthdays for the last decade or so. Other than that, I can’t find any great significance in the number thirty-nine. There are thirty-nine forbidden primary labours on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I’ve seen it argued that that should really be seen as forty (thirty-nine forbidden actions plus the one command to remember Shabbat).

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner and we (me and my parents) had dinner with them in the garden. It was getting cooler, and by the end of the evening we were feeling a little bit cold for the first time in ages. We had takeaway, a mixture of pizza and fish. I had pizza. I wanted to try something new and had a pizza with vegetarian sausage, real meat sausage not being eaten with cheese according to the Jewish dietary laws, but the taste was a little disappointing and I’m not sure why real sausage is a popular topping. So much for trying new things (says the Aspie). The chocolate cake was nice though. My parents lit candles in the shape of the letters of my name on it. Unfortunately, they’ve been using the same candles for some years now and the wax is half burnt down and misshapen, which made the whole thing seem a bit silly.

My BIL arrived when my parents were picking up my sister from the Tube station (she had been working in town) as well as the food so I had to make small talk with him for some time. I think I did OK. He appreciated my likening the Conservative Party leadership election process to reality TV (reality TV is more believable, though[3]).

I did get some nice books as presents: Yael Ziegler’s Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World (commentary on Eichah/Lamentations for the Koren Maggid Tanakh series), which I am glad to get in time for Tisha B’Av; Faith Without Fear: Unresolved Issues in Modern Orthodoxy by Rabbi Michael J. Harris; and The Great Dune Trilogy by Frank Herbert. The latter is one of those famous science fiction books (or series of books) that I’ve never read. I was intimidated by the length, even before I saw the telephone directory-sized volume my sister and BIL gave me (and this is just the first trilogy; there’s a second one!). Still, my future in-laws insisted I ought to read it, so hopefully this will give me something to talk to them about in the future. Probably not when I go for the civil marriage in August, though, as I’m not going to read this while still reading The Third Reich in Power, and that will keep me going for quite a while longer. One doorstop at a time is enough.

Faith Without Fear is a book of essays on Modern Orthodoxy. One of them is titled Modern Orthodoxy and Haredi Orthodoxy: Heirs to Historical Jewish Tradition or New Departures? Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidences), this has been on my mind over the last few days, as Haredi commenters on the Rationalist Judaism blog tend to insist that Haredi Judaism is the only “Torah-true” form of Judaism and that Modern Orthodoxy is a disingenuous cop-out. I think this is nonsense, but don’t have the time to marshal a serious counter-argument, so it’s good that this will do it for me. I wouldn’t make the argument to the Haredi commenters, though, as if you quote a secular historical source, it will be dismissed as biased, whereas if you quote an actual Haredi rabbi, you’ll be told he “Isn’t really Haredi” or even that “There is no such thing as Haredi Judaism, it exists only in the mind of its enemies.” You can’t argue with people like that.

I did think of writing an essay called Why I am not Haredi today, but don’t really have the time for that, or anyone to try to sell it too. It wouldn’t be accepted on the kiruv (outreach) site I’ve written for in the past. It probably would have gone on Hevria, although they wouldn’t have paid me.

Anyway, I had a good time with my family, but I wish E could have been here too, and I feel like I need alone time now (or possibly I’m crashing from the sugar in the cake), but it’s really time for bed as I have work tomorrow.

[1] This is possibly my most esoteric Doctor Who reference. It’s to The New Adventures novel Lungbarrow, a novel I’ve always loved despite its flaws, and despite not being the biggest New Adventures fan.

[2] The crocodiles were somewhat sedated, but very real and conscious.

[3] Let’s not forget that Boris Johnson became famous as a panellist on Have I Got News for You when he was just a journalist. Incidentally, I always felt that they should have done a special edition of HIGNFY during the Labour antisemitism scandal with Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell as guest panellists called Have I Got Jews for You.

Impostor!

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

Brief Update and Amusing Photo

Things I did on Wednesday

I don’t weigh myself consistently, and really I should work out if there’s a problem with my digital scales (they seemed to be giving inconsistent readings when I was using them years ago) instead of using my parents’ traditional scales. But I think I’ve lost a couple of kilograms of weight recently and am now technically not overweight (just barely), although I still have a tummy.

I spoke to an NHS psychiatrist. I told him about my problems coming off olanzapine and he felt I would have to stay on a low maintenance dose indefinitely. On the plus side, he felt that I could reduce my clomipramine (which is the drug I am most anxious to reduce, because of side-effects including weight gain). He said he would write to my GP to tell him how I should reduce it safely and that he would copy me in, so hopefully I can start on that soon.

I did some novel writing. I wanted to write for a solid hour before therapy; as it happened, it was interrupted by the psychiatrist phoning, but I still wrote about 900 words, which is very good.

Things I Did On Thursday

After work, I did over an hour of novel writing, writing 700 words. I’m not sure it’s healthy to be so focused on how much time I spend writing and especially how many words I write, but it does help me to see that I’m making progress, especially when it feels hard, like today, writing things outside of my comfort zone. I do wish I could spend a longer period writing. I feel like the first twenty minutes are spent ‘warming up’.

I find out if I’ve been accepted to the emerging writers’ programme on Monday. I am quite nervous. I’m not sure if I’m more worried about being rejected or accepted. I do not know what, exactly, the programme entails. I know there are seminars, peer support, and networking sessions, but I don’t know how many or when. I’m worried about potential conflicts with work, volunteering and especially getting married on two continents. I don’t know if I will have to read out my rather personal writing to a group. I worry about being too sexually explicit, but also about being too coy and ‘religious’ and not explicit enough. I worry about being thought sexist or too religious. Part of me is hoping I don’t get accepted to avoid all of this. I guess I’ll know soon enough.

***

I saw this near the station this morning:

I should probably explain to non-UK readers that a barrister is a type of lawyer, one who represents you in court (as opposed to a solicitor, who deals with documents, commerce, property and so on). I assume they are actually looking for a barista, or perhaps they just want to sue people who take too long to drink their morning coffee.

Bomb Scares, Jubilees and Other Interruptions

I haven’t written for a few days. I feel my life has become rather boring to write down (for me as much as for you) and I want to spend more time offline, so I’m trying to get out of the habit of blogging every day, and in such detail.

I was at work on Monday and Tuesday this week. I had to do the Very Scary Task on Monday, or at least to start it. I found it somewhat less scary, although I was conscious that J was there in case I got stuck. I don’t know how I would feel if I had to do it by myself.

On Tuesday I woke up late, feeling drained. Apparently I struggle to work two consecutive days. I was at work alone for the first time in this job. It was mostly OK, except for when I whacked my head really hard on an awkwardly-placed shelf. I finished the database printing job and handled some phone calls OK (I think). I was very bored and only briefly saw other people, which was surprisingly difficult. I tried to be positive, but sounded negative to E when I texted her.

I went to an online shiur (religious class) on Monday night and was booked on one for Tuesday night, but I decided that, as it was recorded, I would watch the recording the next day. That turned out to be not so involving. It was on Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs). I think I know Tanakh too well to get much out of the LSJS Tanakh lectures. The Monday night shiur, on the meaning and relevance of revelation, was more interesting.

I went to bed earlyish on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but slept for ten or twelve hours. The suggestions people have made to me lately to help me get up earlier have not really helped. I set alarms, but I don’t wake up for long enough to think seriously about getting up. I just turn the alarms off and fall asleep again immediately, if I was really awake at all. The only thing that has helped me get up earlier recently, aside from work, has been forgetting to take my tablets the night before. I’m still waiting to get an appointment with the psychiatrist to talk about reducing medication in a safer way. I am not sure if the doctor has referred me yet, or how I can find out.

Wednesday was a busy day when I did a number of things, including some novel-writing and therapy, but it was mostly enlivened by a bomb scare. I went for a walk, turned around the corner and saw a shopping trolley abandoned on the pavement, not the type from the supermarket, but the kind old women (stereotypically) use to carry shopping home, like this (I’m not sure if they have these in the USA where everyone, even old women, drives). People dump all kinds of rubbish in the street these days, but I noticed this was chained to the lamppost with a bicycle lock, which seemed suspicious — why would you worry about someone stealing the junk you are dumping in the street? I didn’t like to open it in case it was booby-trapped, but I could see through the top that there was a large cardboard box inside.

It seemed unlikely that someone would want to blow up a quiet residential area like this, still less a small access road between residential roads, but with no houses actually on it, which is where it was. However, I was worried enough to phone the police. I didn’t think it was enough of an emergency to justify phoning 999, so I looked online for the phone number of the nearest police station, but couldn’t find it. It seems they prefer crime reported by email nowadays.🙄 In desperation, I phoned the anti-terrorism hotline and they did at least say I’d done the right thing. They said they would send someone to investigate. I didn’t see them, but an hour or two later the trolley was gone, so I guess they took it away.

In retrospect, it seems likely that it was not a bomb. My Dad’s theory, which seems sound to me, is that we regularly get glossy advertising pamphlets for local businesses through our door, and we’ve seen young children distributing them. Sometimes I’ve seen boxes of the leaflets left in the road. My guess is one kid was distributing them, went home for dinner, got lazy about carrying the trolley full of leaflets home and then out again later/tomorrow and chained it to the lamppost so that it wouldn’t get stolen. Hopefully he has learnt his lesson now.

Today’s big challenge was trying to change my mobile provider. After four attempts online, constantly getting error messages, I phoned and got it sorted in about twenty minutes, although I’m waiting for the new SIM card, which will take a while because of the extended bank holiday weekend. I tried to write, procrastinated, and eventually rewrote what I wrote yesterday (marginally) better rather than adding anything new. I tried to get my Dad a personalised Father’s Day card from Card Factory, but that didn’t work either, so it’s a bad day for online shopping. (I wonder if I’ve turned off cookies or something?)

I’ve had several busy days despite oversleeping on some of them, which is good, but I feel pretty drained and exhausted now. I’m ready for Shabbat, but not for a three day chag (three day festival i.e. one day of Shabbat combined with two days of festival (Shavuot)), the third day of which coincides with a street party in my street for the Queen’s Jubilee, and then back to work the next day with no non-religious relaxation time.

I won’t be doing tikkun leil, staying up all night on the first night of Shavuot studying Torah. My shul (synagogue) tends to have rather dull topics for shiurim, and my parents’ shul doesn’t have enough people I feel comfortable spending the night with — not like that, but being comfortable to sit and talk to them during the breaks between shiurim, nor am I particularly keen on disrupting my sleep pattern further. I might pop down to see the street party for the Queen’s Jubilee at the other end of our road on Sunday, although I doubt I will stay for longer than is necessary just to feel that I’ve seen it. I’m only really doing it because I deliberately avoided everything for previous Jubilees as well as the London Olympics and I feel I should have at least paid them a little attention, if only to tell any future progeny E and I might have.

Playing the Autism Card

I somehow got up early, ate breakfast and did some things online, but felt depressed and went back to bed. I don’t think I fell asleep again, but I’m not sure; certainly I was in bed for over an hour. I hope these depressed feelings pass soon and don’t turn into another episode of clinical depression.

I did some work on my application for the Emerging Writers’ Programme I’m applying for. I’m not sure how well it’s going to be honest. I am playing the “autism” card as well as the “Orthodox insider” card, hinting that I might write an UnOrthodox-style anti-religious story when that is not my intention, while also talking about wanting to show the Orthodox in a realistic light, which can mean positive or negative, however the judges want to read it. I do mention God, though, and repentance, which might be a bad idea, but at least it’s a Unique Selling Point. It’s not like there are many contemporary literary authors writing about pornography addiction, or anything really, through the prism of repentance and encountering God.

It reminds me of an article in Tablet Magazine a while back about university bursaries and scholarships intended to go to disadvantaged teenagers going to middle-class teenagers who are taught by their (private) schools and their (middle-class) parents (probably working in academic, law or HR) how to write applications with the correct narrative, a narrative of, “I struggled against prejudice because I’m a member of minority X, but I triumphed over it because I’m strong, resilient and successful, therefore you should accept me both for reasons of diversity and because of my skills and capabilities in fighting oppression.” Less-privileged teenagers are not taught how to write this way and fail to get the money and places intended for them.

***

I went for a run, but ended up feeling light-headed, dizzy and slightly nauseous at times, even after my warm-up, let alone the run. I was slow and sluggish while running, with low stamina. I only managed to run for thirty minutes rather than my usual forty and got a headache when I got home. I wondered about this, and about other health issues on my mind lately.

I’ve mentioned that my cholesterol is slightly high. I looked on the NHS patient site and it looks like my cholesterol has been increasing for several years now (with one slight dip), which worries me as I certainly haven’t been steadily increasing the amount of cholesterol-heavy foods I eat. In fact, I rarely eat meat and especially not red meat and I’ve cut back my consumption of cheese (and eggs, although apparently that’s considered less of an issue now) so I’m not sure why my cholesterol continues to rise, unless it is a(nother) medication side-effect.

Then I have frequent issues with low energy and feeling “ill” in vague and undefined ways, particularly when tired after work or days out with E, plus I have problems sleeping too long and struggling to get up. I assumed these were medication side-effects and/or autistic exhaustion, but now I’m not sure. Also troubling is that several times recently I felt like I have nearly lost my balance and just stabilised myself in time, twice in the shower and a couple of times on the stairs.

Unfortunately, some of these issues cut across each other. When I got an exercise headache after running, I knew (or at least suspected) that eating crisps (for salt) would help, but crisps are hardly good for weight loss or cholesterol, so I put off eating them. It got to dinner time and I felt headachey, nauseous and my hand was shaking as I tried to drink my soup, so I ate a packet of crisps. Before I had even finished the packet, the headache was less intense, the nausea went and I stopped shaking. Sometimes I have these “salt-withdrawal” issues without having exercised first. I know salt issues can be related to taking lithium, which I do.

I think I should see my GP, even if it means waiting ages on the phone to get through to the receptionist and then playing the autism card again to get an in-person appointment and one with my preferred GP (currently appointments are supposed to be on the phone in the first instance and with the first GP available, not my preferred one). I will have to say that, being on the spectrum, I struggle with phone calls and new people, which is completely true, even if it feels a little disingenuous to say it.

***

Looking at my unpublished novel to find an excerpt to submit for the Emerging Writers’ Programme application, I’m struck by how many references there are to toilets in it. I didn’t mean to be vulgar, but since childhood I’ve been struck by how artificial it is that toilets, and toilet functions, aren’t mentioned in “realistic” fiction. My toilets appear for solid narrative reasons, not to gross people out (although one of them smells bad), but do seem somewhat unusual. I guess I’m aware of it because the toilet has long been an escape room for me when suffering from autistic overload in social spaces, which is how it appears in the novel.

***

I should probably mention that they announced the new Doctor in Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa. I can’t judge whether he’ll be any good, as I haven’t seen him in anything. As I mostly watch old TV, I generally don’t know new Doctors in advance, unless, like Peter Capaldi, they already appeared in the show as another character. But he’s the first new Doctor to be younger than I will be when his first episode airs (you know you’re getting older when the Doctors get younger). I still feel the Doctor should be older. I know I liked Matt Smith a lot, and I don’t dislike Peter Davison, but I still feel the Doctor should be played by someone over forty. I definitely feel David Tennant was too young (and too good-looking…) although that’s the least of my problems with the Tennant Doctor. Not for the first time, I feel returning showrunner Russell T Davies has a very different understanding of the show to me.

OCD-Fighting Day

Perhaps due to tiredness and/or stress, I took the wrong medication last night. I took my morning dose instead of my evening one (I had them ready in my medicine box, I just went to the wrong hole): clomipramine by itself, rather than clomipramine with olanzapine and lithium. When I realised the mistake this morning I took last nights’ tablets. I haven’t had any serious side-effects, but I have been tired today which may be from taking evening tablets in the morning.

E is here! She arrived this morning. We (Dad and me) collected her from the airport. We haven’t seen so much of each other, as she had a nap when she got here and then we were busy, her with work, me with Pesach (Passover) stuff. We did go for a walk in the park, until it started to rain. I hadn’t been to that park in ages. It looked pretty bleak, to be honest. Some of the trees around here are blooming (our magnolia has been flowering for ages and our pear tree is blooming), but the park still seemed pretty dead and wintry. There were some saplings that were at weird angles. I hope it was from the storm we had recently and not vandalism.

We did get to spend some other time together, mostly little breaks together with each other during the afternoon where we stopped what we were doing for a while. It’s going to be a slightly odd holiday, as E is here for three weeks, longer than we’ve ever spent together before, but we will both have to work as normal (she can work remotely), so won’t be going on so many days out, although we hope to have some. Still, we can spend time together over Pesach and in the evenings. I hope to introduce her to some of my friends.

I had a pretty good day re: OCD. I had some relationship OCD-type thoughts that I managed to push aside, silly things like “Oh, she hasn’t smiled at me for five minutes, maybe she doesn’t love me any more!!!!!!” I also kashered the hob, preparing it for Pesach by heating it (by boiling water on all the burners at once) and covering it with foil. I had some questions about whether I was doing the right thing during this that would normally have prompted “checking” texts to my rabbi mentor, but I just sat with the uncertainty this time and told myself that I thought that I had resolved things correctly and if not, it was a genuine mistake and not like deliberately eating (forbidden) leavened bread on Pesach. That sounds an obvious distinction, but when my religious OCD was at its worst, I really did think that having a slight doubt about whether something was done correctly was equivalent to deliberately not doing it correctly. So, a pretty good day overall.

The Stressed Time of Year, Forum Discussions, and Culture in the Frum World

We’re in the busiest time of year, the weeks before Pesach (Passover), when we’re focused on preparations. Think Christmas plus spring cleaning, multiplied by ten (or a hundred). I tend to be OK during the day because I’m busy, but at night I feel stressed and anxious when I’m not doing things, but also lack significant relaxation time to unwind. Yesterday I cleaned the larder for Pesach, but I was too tired to continue to clean the Pesach worktops and sinks in the garage as I had intended. Afterwards, I had difficulty sleeping, being very agitated and anxious (fidgeting/stimming in bed, which is unlike me). I had taken olanzapine that night, but I wonder if it had not got into my bloodstream yet, given that I am taking it every other day at the moment.

Work was dull today and difficult on four hours of sleep, but I got through it. I did a little bit of writing when I got home and went to an online Pesach shiur (religious class). Which is a lot, on four hours sleep.

In between times, I was online. I was on the autism forum quite a bit. There are lots of people in distress there and I can only respond to some for reasons of time, emotional capacity, and knowing what to say without saying the wrong thing. I have some guilt for arbitrarily connecting more with some people than others. I have long had this feeling, that I should like everyone equally, which is not really possible (or Jewish; Judaism is about loving individuals for their individuality as opposed to agape). We just connect with some people more than others; it’s normal. Still, I feel bad that things like typos can influence whether I respond.

I am also less likely to respond to people who are very blunt about being depressed and suicidal and don’t give much of an opening to respond or seem open to conversation/suggestions from other commenters. I feel bad about this, as I’ve done my own share of self-focused blog writing/commenting when severely depressed, but I know that when I was in that mood, I really wanted to vent (or possibly to argue that my life would inevitably be awful) rather than be open to suggestions. I was trying to speak to someone in crisis just now, but I think another user was doing much better.

Elsewhere online, on a Jewish site, I saw an article by a woman I had a crush on years ago (she was the person who rejected me because I didn’t go to yeshiva, which pretty much made me despair of ever finding a frum wife). I don’t have any crush feelings for her now, but I feel an envious kind of feeling that I can’t get paid for my writing or do something with my life the way she seems to have done.

The article was on finding religious messages in popular culture, part of a series of articles on this site. I have argued this myself in the past (e.g. that Doctor Who has Jewish messages), but now I’m sceptical. I think most of it is the residual Judaism in the residual Christianity in now mostly-secular art and much of it is not really significant or profound enough to be worth mentioning. I think it’s OK to like popular culture, but I don’t think much of it is profound, religiously or otherwise.

The debate always seems to be organised around popular culture. There are obviously big things to discuss about religion in writers like Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, Graham Greene and so on, but they don’t get mentioned, possibly because they don’t lead to pat, “And this teaches us to do tikkun olam!” messages (this seems to be the main “Jewish” message of Doctor Who, that and questioning/learning). Years ago I found an article online by Rabbi Dr Alan Brill complaining that Orthodox culture is so bourgeois and unchallenging, and I agree (although I think most culture full stop is bourgeois and unchallenging, pretty much by definition). I know that this is one of E’s biggest reservations about joining the Orthodox world, the conformism and the lack of serious culture, and I share her reservations while not seeing any alternatives for myself.

Checking In

I struggled to sleep again last night. It was probably from being on screens too late, but after forty or fifty minutes in bed, I had some racing thoughts so took olanzapine (it was one of my ‘off’ days for olanzapine — at the moment I take every other day). It seemed to help, but maybe I was just exhausted by that point and would have fallen asleep anyway. I will try to monitor my mood and sleep and compare against olanzapine use to see if I need to return to taking it daily.

It snowed on the way to work this morning. I felt annoyed about it, until I saw a boy of about eight absolutely delighted to be out in it. It woke me up a bit to the beauty of it.

Work was a bit crazy, but I can’t write much about it here. I can say that I had an issue with a simple task that I struggled with. I had about fifteen Excel spreadsheets, all bar one with two tabs (the exception was slightly more complicated, but it doesn’t really matter here). I had to compare some statistics on the tabs and bring them up to date, then print one tab once and the other three times for each of the spreadsheets. I struggled hugely with this, forgetting to update the statistics and printing sheets too often, partly from executive function issues with changing task and partly because I kept forgetting that if I set the printer to print a document three times, it would not default back to printing once the next time I printed. I felt a bit guilty about that, although wasting twenty or thirty sheets of paper (at most) is hardly the biggest crime, but more than guilty I felt a bit stupid and incompetent. I am also worried whether I have actually performed the task properly, and may need to double-check on Monday.

I picked a bit of anger from other people today, on my blog list and the autism forum. I got a bit upset and had some quasi-anxious ruminations, but then I remembered something my therapist said about being careful not to pick up other people’s anger or anxiety, to ask myself, “Is this my problem? Do I need to be concerned about it?” That did help me to distance myself from it a bit.

I was pretty tired when I got home, but E wanted to Skype earlier than usual, so we spoke before dinner rather than later. I struggled with lack of energy in the early evening, but around 10.00pm, I suddenly had energy and concentration, so I spent nearly an hour working on my novel. It was pretty productive (over 600 words) and seemed to flow relatively easily. I haven’t checked against my previous manuscript, but the prose style seems somehow freer to me, less stilted and Victorian, more like my blog than my previous fiction. Not that I literally write fiction like a Victorian, but I feel my first novel in particular seemed a bit stilted and artificial to me.

***

I finished re-watching Twin Peaks yesterday. I was originally planning to watch one episode a week, but I sped up a while back so I would finish long before I got married.

Twin Peaks‘ third season, broadcast twenty-five years after the original run finished, seemed somewhat better second time around. The plot made more sense overall, and the weird, surreal bits seemed deliberately bizarre rather than just incoherent. And the final scene is strange and haunting as well as tantalisingly unresolved. It is a bit frustrating if you were expecting more of the same of the first two seasons, or even the prequel film, but if you can accept that it’s a very different beast only tangentially related, that most of the earlier characters are seen briefly if at all, and that although Kyle MacLachlan is in it quite a bit, he’s mostly not really playing the same character as before, then it’s an interesting addition, certainly adding a lot more overt symbolism and mystery, if you like that sort of thing.

And now I ought to go to bed before I ruin my sleep pattern again…

“Marry the freak”

I was looking today at websites for couples therapy for couples where one is autistic and one neurotypical. Some were fine, speaking about difficulties both partners might experience. Others were — I hesitate to throw around words like ‘ableist,’ and maybe this is partly my paranoia, but some definitely felt like, “Well, you could be in a relationship with an autistic person [or man, as female autism hasn’t really registered on most of these sites], but you should know that they won’t love you, care for you, or understand you and you’ll spend your entire life bending yourself out of shape to fit in with their crazy whims. And they probably won’t even want to have sex with you, at least not as often as you want or in the way you want. But, here are some resources if you do still want to marry the freak.” Obviously they didn’t literally say that, but it seemed to be the subtext.

E and I struggle with some things (particularly finances), but we’re both pretty good and communicating our needs and trying to meet each other’s needs (the couples therapy is to help with one very specific topic that we think we might need some objective support with). I know living together will be harder in some ways than living separately, but I’m not really worried about that. Of course, we’re wondering if E is on the spectrum too, which might make a difference.

***

I don’t think it was because of those therapy sites (although they didn’t help), but I’ve felt somewhat down all day. I’m still wondering if I should up my olanzapine dosage towards what it was previously. I was on 2.5mg twice a day; I’m now on 2.5mg every other evening, so one quarter of what I was on before. I should probably try to monitor that more rigorously and think about increasing to 2.5mg every day if necessary.

I realise that the last year and a bit have seen a number good things for me. I got my autism diagnosis, my family accepted my diagnosis and support me, I got engaged to E, my part-time job was made permanent. Still, I often feel overwhelmed at the thought of all the things I still want/need to do, in both the short and long term.

In the short-term, Pesach (Passover) is getting really close now and the tension is beginning to rise (I had a few Pesach OCD thoughts which I managed to keep under control so far). In the longer-term (in no particular order) I want to: organise a wedding; deal with my exhaustion/burnout/oversleeping/whatever it is so I can do more during the day; try to find a way to work more days in the week and earn more money; learn to drive; investigate whether E is neurodivergent; find a place in the Jewish community for E and me; and find the right balance of work/writing/religion/family/relaxation for me. And more.

There’s a lot of fear of the “will I ever get the life I want: wife, kids, some financial independence, friends, life balance?” Reading on the autism forum can be dispiriting, because, on the one hand, there are people who seem to have got their lives completely together, and I can’t seem to do that, but on the other hand there are parents with young children who are school-refusing or otherwise having extreme difficulty, and part of me thinks: “I could manage school. I was mostly fine at school (bar some bullying and loneliness), even though many people on the spectrum think that school is just Hell for autistics. I coped. So why can’t I cope now, when, in theory, I have more self-awareness and more control over my life?”

***

I did manage to submit my novel manuscript to two agencies and spent half an hour writing my next novel, so from a writing point of view it was quite good. I’m trying to use fewer Hebrew and Yiddish terms in my second novel than in my first one, as I worry that that has put agents off, but without them, dialogue for frum (religious Jewish) characters sounds ridiculously stilted and unrealistic. Imagine writing a teenage character, but not allowing yourself to use any contemporary slang in case people don’t understand; it’s a similar thing. It just sounds wrong.

I came across a literary agent today who is also a practising lawyer. Last week, I found an agent who is also a dentist (not sure if she’s practising though). Sometimes it feels like other people are living several lives, while I don’t even have one.

I used to feel that “good sense of humour” is a stupid thing to put on a dating profile, as it’s completely subjective and no one in the world thinks that they have a bad sense of humour, even if others disagree. I think “strong storytelling” is the literary agency equivalent. So many agents say they are looking for “strong storytelling.” Are there are lots of fiction writers thinking, “Well, I can’t tell a story at all, but I have beautiful prose”? Perhaps some, but many? I find it a profoundly unhelpful thing to ask for.

***

Other than that, I went for a walk and did some shopping, but didn’t accomplish much else other than some emails. I wanted to do more, but by the evening, I was drained and very low, bordering on depressed (by which I mean, if I felt like this consistently for two weeks, it would be diagnosed as depression). I thought of posting some of these thoughts on the autism forum to see what response it would get, but I’m scared to admit these complicated feelings about autistic people struggling more or less than I am. I’m also wary of talking about my religious practices and community there, because I don’t know what response I would get (I haven’t seen anyone else talk on there about religion, any religion). I’ve already asked about autistic burnout/exhaustion and no one really seems to have any solutions.

Pesach Preparation Begins in Earnest

Apologies for the rather unsnappy title, but nothing very exciting happened today.

I wasn’t tired last night as I slept so much in the day, so I stayed up late working on my novel, then when I went to bed I couldn’t sleep anyway, which may have been a self-fulfilling prophecy. The clocks went forward, so it was about 5am (British Summer Time) before I fell asleep. I then got up late and was in the middle of late lunch when my sister and brother-in-law made a surprise visit, which was nice, but threw me a bit as I had planned to help with Pesach (Passover) cleaning. I did a little, but my Dad did most of it. I don’t cope with changes of plan well, although I managed OK with this.

This time of year always makes me feel very dependent on my parents. I would struggle to prepare for Pesach on my own, although I would have less to clean and kasher if I was living away from my parents. I guess if E and I were living together, we would have to prioritise what was essential to clean and kasher and what we could leave. I don’t know if we could afford to have professional cleaners to deep-clean the house as my parents are having shortly, although we would probably be living in a small flat, not a big house. I would want to get the oven professionally cleaned if we were kashering it for Pesach use. All this does make me feel inadequate and ill-prepared for life.

I did do some Pesach cleaning after my sister and BIL were gone and then went for a brisk walk (no time for a run, sadly). I also prepared some stuff to read out at the Pesach seders. This year I’m reusing a lot of material from last year, as last year only my parents and I were at our seder last year (because of COVID), so most people won’t have heard it. I feel a bit lazy, but I also feel pressed for time and overwhelmed at the moment, so I’m using the old material.

My mood dipped in the evening, possibly from doing too much, possibly because I didn’t take any olanzapine yesterday. I will monitor my moods and see if I need to go up to 2.5mg every day instead of every other day. The mood dip wasn’t helped by seeing some stuff about antisemitism (classic antisemitic motifs passed off as “political activism” again). This type of thing annoys me, and really I should just ignore it, but it’s there. At least skyping E brought my mood back up again. I have let it get late as I tried to catch up with things this evening. I need to shower and go to bed to be up early for work tomorrow.

Less Anxious

I woke up late, but rather less anxious than the last few days, albeit somewhat anxious still. I guess this is unsurprising as I have a stressful week ahead of me. I’m glad to feel somewhat calmer than the last few days. I thought this was a good time to think about reducing medication and hopefully getting a grip on my sleep pattern before E and I get married, as that seemed to be some way off, but then the job interview came up, and the medication washout period stretched into Purim, and then Pesach came on the horizon, and suddenly everything seemed too much and I was catastrophising about the interview, E and me, and everything else, without any real reason.

I’m going to try to stick to 2.5mg of olanzapine every other day for now, but I’ll increase back to 2.5mg every day if I’m still anxious. I can even go back to what I was on before this started, 2.5mg twice a day, if I need to. I might try to speak to a GP tomorrow, but I’m sceptical (a) of my ability to get an appointment and (b) of their ability to help much with this. Once E and I are married and settled maybe I’ll try to find a private psychiatrist to do a proper medication review and see about possible reduction. I doubt I would be allowed to see one on the NHS at the moment.

***

I did some preparation for my interview on Wednesday. I feel OK with handling the day-to-day running of the collection; I basically did that in the past short-term when I was working at that library, when the then Head Librarian was on holiday or at conferences. The difficulty I feel is the administrative/bureaucratic, personnel management, fundraising and promotion aspects of the job, going to committee meetings, helping with the running of the wider institution and so on, which I have little or no experience of, and for which, the job description implies, I would have very little supervision and support, but for which I would be expected to do a lot. If I could handle it, it would be amazing for my career, but I worry I couldn’t handle it even without worries about my mental health and energy levels and how autism-friendly the environment would be.

E and I have reflected in the past that the skills needed to get a job are not necessarily those needed to be good at the job, and that’s doubly true on the spectrum. I feel like the skills needed for interviews are really not those that people on the autism spectrum tend to have. Interviews need an ability to predict what other people think, good and fast verbal processing, strong autobiographical memory and an ability to think on your feet. I have none of these skills. They are really not common for those of us on the spectrum. I can barely remember half the stuff it says I’ve done on my CV and answers to common interview questions.

For example, I’ve been told to use the acronym STAR when answering interview questions: mention Situation, Task, Achievement and Result when describing what you did. I find it hard to remember this under pressure, if I can even think of an instance that meets the interviewer’s question, a result of poor autobiographical memory and rigidity in interpreting questions.

Despite this, I did some interview preparation, although I struggled to concentrate and kept getting distracted, which was a sign of nerves. After that I went for a walk, which I haven’t done much recently. I tried to answer Ashley’s question about three things to tell someone just diagnosed with your condition. Maybe I’m still too close to my own diagnosis after a year, but I can’t think of anything useful. I know many autistics would say I should say that autism is a difference, not a disability, but it really doesn’t feel that way on days like today. I have above-average intelligence and good paper qualifications, but I’ve struggled the whole time with the world of work. Unless you’re good at numbers or computers, the outlook is not great. Likewise, I have not been good at romantic relationships, and, judging by the autism forum, I am not alone in this. Then there’s the fact that people on the spectrum are prone to many co-morbid issues like anxiety, OCD and depression.

***

On the plus side, I had a talk with my rabbi mentor, addressing some issues relating to Pesach (Passover). Since my Pesach OCD started, we’ve had a rule that I can only ask Pesach questions in the four weeks between Purim and Pesach. I usually have a long list of questions. I did have a few questions, but mostly I was thinking that they were OK and I just wanted to check my reasoning. It’s good that I feel more able to sit with these questions and to say that I think I’m right and they aren’t problematic. Ideally I wouldn’t need to double-check with my rabbi mentor, but it is helpful to see that I can reason these things through properly.

This year is a bit scarier than most because E will be here and I worry what she will think of the way we/I do things. I know my brother-in-law (also from a less frum background) was a bit overwhelmed when he first came to us for Pesach, and when he saw what my sister did in their home. I hope things are OK. I’m hopeful E will enjoy our sederim (ritual discussion of the exodus/meal, although the food is quite late in the day!). We run sederim that people of different religious backgrounds and knowledge levels seem to enjoy and get something out of. I admit I do quite a lot of the religious preparation for that, in terms of trying to find interesting ideas to go beyond the text of the hagaddah (seder prayer book).

I’m Going Slightly Mad

The short version: I’m really struggling and am putting myself back on olanzapine.

The long version: I went to shul (synagogue) last night. I wasn’t sure whether I felt up to it. It was probably a mistake, as I felt overwhelmed by the noise and banging. The rabbi “eulogised” (in inverted commas, as one is not supposed to eulogise on Shabbat, but that’s essentially what it was) Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Yeshivish Haredi world (part of the ultra-Orthodox world), who died on Friday. It did underline to me that I never really fitted into the world where constant Torah study is seen as the ideal, nor do I feel I could ever have fitted. When I came home, I wished I hadn’t gone, but if I had gone, I doubtless would have felt I could have gone and been OK. These counter-factuals build up when I consider the week ahead.

I felt very anxious after dinner, and lay in bed for half an hour. I did some Torah study, but not a huge amount. I tried to be gentle with myself, particularly regarding autistic sensory things that I usually try to struggle through regardless e.g. Mum made chicken for dinner. Normally I would eat it, even though I dislike the taste, smell, texture, everything. However, when Mum offered me something else, I took it. After dinner I started reading a P. G. Wodehouse book, which is amusing enough, although I didn’t read much of it. It cheered me up a little.

I slept badly. I slept for a long time, but I woke up several times in the night, too anxious to get up. Today I was even more anxious. I slept for two hours after lunch. I went to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet and weighted blanket. I knew I would probably fall asleep, but I just needed it to self-soothe. I won’t sleep easily tonight as a result. I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too anxious.

The anxiety is multi-pronged. Some is OCD-type anxiety about Pesach, about which I now feel I have to completely control or E will be upset and think she can’t cope with me. Some is anxiety about my job interview this week, anxiety that I will make a fool of myself again, but also anxiety that I will get the job and make the wrong decision about whether to take it. I don’t know what the right decision would be, to choose a better, and more career-orientated job, but one which will leave me unemployed in a year, potentially with a mortgage, assuming I don’t burn out working four days a week, and knowing I won’t be able to write; or do I stay in my lower-paying, but steady and manageable job where I have an understanding boss and I could have time to write (at least if I didn’t feel so exhausted and overwhelmed all the time)? E and my parents say to wait and see what happens, which is probably correct, but it’s hard when I feel so anxious. Those counter-factuals build up again.

I’m anxious about E too. That we’ll never manage to get married. That maybe I’ll scare her off when she comes for Pesach.

There are two reasons why I dated her despite our religious differences, a negative and a positive reason. The negative reason was that most of the frum (religious) women I dated didn’t view me as acceptable (I didn’t go to yeshiva, I was “too worldly,” I was too depressed, I had nothing in common with them, there was no chemistry). Sometimes I dated people who were religious, but still differences would become apparent. There isn’t a thriving frum Modern Orthodox community in the UK, and I was not integrated enough into the Haredi one to get set up on dates, the only way to meet the opposite sex in that community. I don’t think many people outside the Haredi community in the UK take Judaism as seriously as I do, even the relatively frum ones.

The two women I did date seriously had religious differences with me, but the big reasons it didn’t work out with them had little to do with religion. The reasons were that the former did not respect my boundaries about what physical touch I was comfortable with (she was also losing her religion — just being on a certain level doesn’t mean you’ll stay there — but that wasn’t why we broke up) and the other lied to me about her family history and only told me the truth to make a point. The lack of success dating people on my religious level suggested that I would struggle to find anyone who is both on my religious level and compatible.

The positive reason, which is much more important, is that E understands me me more than anyone else I know and she cares about me more than anyone except my parents. And I understand and care about her, and I think I know how to care about her the way she wants, which is not insignificant as I don’t think I would know how to care for many people. We connect so well. I trust her completely not to trample on my boundaries and not to lie to me. I feel safe with her in a way that I don’t with anyone else. She says I talk to her differently to how I talk to other people, even my parents, that I’m much more open and “myself” with her. I just love her and want to be with her and I’m not coping well with the uncertainty of not knowing when that might be. I still feel overwhelmed about everything happening in my life right now and probably couldn’t cope if more was happening, but I just want to feel like there’s an end point in view.

I guess what I really want more than anything else right now is (a) to marry E and (b) to find a way to spend some serious time writing and trying to get published, to at least have a real go at achieving that. It seems hard sometimes to see what the right way to do those things is, particularly as the writing dream seems like a silly fantasy that I’ll never achieve and shouldn’t waste my life on. (E supports my writing, which again is not something to take for granted.)

The Babylon 5 episode Za’Ha’Dum ended the third season of the programme with the following voice-over, which sums up how I feel right now:

It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath, waiting.  All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quan wrote: ‘There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

***

I felt a little better this evening, especially after eating and taking olanzapine, although I’m sure it’s far too early to have any real effect. I spent half an hour working on my novel plan, wearing ear plugs that failed to appreciably blot out the incredibly loud music coming from some — unpleasant person down the road. I think it might be a party. Despite the noise, I think I have the plan more or less where I want it and I’m ready to start writing properly, albeit alongside some further research and with the knowledge that my story will doubtless evolve as I write it.

“Cold turkey has got me on the run”

I didn’t have insomnia last night, which was good. I woke up a bit earlier than usual this morning too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get up for hours (and eventually fell back to sleep) because I was feeling really strong anxiety. Once I actually got up, the anxiety subsided somewhat, but it was really hard to get up. Maybe the olanzapine was reducing my anxiety without my really realising it? I remember the morning anxiety feelings from when my religious OCD was bad. It was pretty terrible. I am going to see how I am over the weekend, but I might try to talk to a doctor on Monday (if the surgery gatekeepers deign to allow me…). I felt the ‘hot and bothered’ feelings again too, which is presumably withdrawal again.

J wants me to work on Tuesday instead of Monday next week. I was supposed to have therapy on Tuesday as my therapist can’t do Wednesday this week. I felt paralysed with anxiety not knowing what to do. My Dad said I have to go to work, which deep down I knew. J is a very understanding boss, but he does sometimes throw changes to what day I work at me at very short notice, as if I don’t actually do much on my non-work days, although I guess he doesn’t know that I’m in therapy. I emailed my therapist, and she thinks she can fit me in on Monday or Friday, which is good.

I’m also desperate to move things on with E, but nothing will happen until she comes over here for Pesach. At least that’s only a month away. On the downside — Pesach is only a month away! That’s anxiety-provoking too! I hope staying eases some of the anxieties E feels about taking on so much religious stuff. I said she should talk to my parents about living with me, as they aren’t as religious as I am. It is scary and I do understand what she feels. I feel it a bit myself, especially on an anxious day like today. Unfortunately, E’s medical insurance wouldn’t let her see a psychiatrist about changing her meds. She’s still trying to resolve that.

I wanted to work on my novel, but I ran out of time, partly because of anxiety. I’m doubtful that I will get time after Shabbat tomorrow, and now we’re in the run-up to Pesach (Passover), with all the time-eating preparation that implies. I just feel such pressure to change my life in so many ways at the moment, to make time for things from more paid work to more writing and submitting writing. I find it hard to work out where to start, everything seems interconnected; to change one thing, you have to change everything else first. I need to start looking for more support after my phone call with my occupational therapist last week. This week was lost to withdrawal and Purim. At least the weather is more spring-like.

I’m going to try to go to shul (synagogue), especially as it’s the last week in our current premises and I doubt I’ll go again for six months (to the interim premises), until the new premises are open. I don’t really want to ‘people’ any more after yesterday. I feel I shouldn’t give in to anxiety and autism, although the people on the autism community would perhaps disagree. Then again, if I fight my nature to work, I guess I should fight it in other ways. I feel like people send me mixed signals about which parts of my personality I should be fighting and which accepting. As someone with poor self-knowledge, esteem and confidence, it’s very confusing.

Sick Day, and Purim Evening

I slept badly again, insomnia and early waking. I did some internet searching at 6.00am; my symptoms could be olanzapine withdrawal, but they could also be one of 165 (according to Web MD) other things, from hay fever (?!) to multiple sclerosis. Withdrawal seems increasingly likely, though. I felt OK at 6.30am, so decided to get up and try to go to work. Unfortunately, as I had breakfast (today was a Jewish fast day, but I can’t fast minor fasts on lithium tablets), I started feeling like I was burning up and feeling light-headed, so decided to call in sick and go back to bed.

I tried to speak to the doctor. The doctor’s phone line opens at 8.30am and gets jammed immediately. This was the case before COVID and it’s worse now. I phoned at 8.29 and it was still shut; at 8.31 and I was in a long queue. I got through to a receptionist about forty minutes later and all the appointments for today had gone. She gave me the number for the out of hours service, which opens at 6.30pm. Unfortunately, by the time I got back from shul (see below) at 8pm, they were shut again. I’m not sure what the point of an after hours service is, if it’s only open for an hour and a half after hours.

I slept for about five hours and woke up feeling somewhat better. I got into an autistic black and white thinking state thinking that I wouldn’t be able to hear the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading in shul (synagogue). I talked things over with my parents and decided that, if I still felt OK, I would go to their shul (synagogue) for it rather than mine, so I wouldn’t have to walk and so I could have support if I felt ill, albeit mainly the moral support of sitting next to Dad as there’s not much practical that anyone can do during the reading, which is supposed to be uninterrupted (except for the noise when the wicked Haman is mentioned).

Written at 8pm:

I just got back from the Megillah reading. I’m not sure if it was a good idea. I feel bad, physically and emotionally, but I might have felt bad anyway. My parents’ shul was noisier than mine would have been, which was bad for all kinds of reasons (the law of needing to hear every word, my autism, religious OCD, and withdrawal symptoms) but it was significantly faster too, which was good given that I spent the second half of the reading feeling very ill and wanting to leave. Plus, going with my Dad, I did get a lift.

I repeated a few words that I was pretty sure that I didn’t hear, but I didn’t repeat any of the words that I was unsure about, as (a) there were a lot of them and (b) I was worried about fuelling the OCD. I feel like I won’t know until I die and go to Olam HaBa (The Next World) how many times I correctly heard the Megillah in my life, but I guess you could say that about a lot of things.

There’s a saying in the Talmud that “Sometimes the Torah is upheld by breaking it.” It’s open to abuse, but it basically means sometimes you have to break the letter of the law to save the spirit of the law, or to support a more important law. In religious OCD treatment, it can mean not taking any extra precautions or corrections beyond those absolutely mandated by Jewish law (if that), which is what I tried to do.

I also feel that I pushed myself as far as I could given I have autism/Asperger’s, and then a bit further given I’m undergoing bad withdrawal, and I really could not have done more.

There are four mitzvot (commandments) on Purim: to hear every word of the Megillah twice, evening and morning (I’ve never really understood why twice); to give gifts of food or money to the poor; to give gifts of food to friends; and to eat a festive meal on the afternoon of Purim (i.e. tomorrow). To be honest, I’m not sure I do that well at any of them, as my meal is usually alone (or at work) as my parents usually work on Purim and I tend not to get invited out.

Purim is supposed to be a day of serving God with pure joy. Unfortunately, different people have different definitions of joy. I would rather watch Doctor Who with E. But we have a halakhic definition, about celebrating in a particular way, just like we have a halakhic definition for telling the story of the exodus from Egypt on Pesach or mourning on Tisha B’Av.

Other things: my parents’ rabbi waved at me in the shul, which is good, as he’s high on the list of rabbis who might marry E and me (of all the United Synagogue rabbis I know, I think he’s the one she would connect with best, although it’s hard to tell). And my Mum has been unwell this evening too. She fasted badly on the Fast of Esther and has not recovered now it’s Purim. We do seem to be struggling this year.

***

Lately I’ve had various letters from HMRC (the taxman) and the Jobcentre saying that my benefits have been stopped now I’m working. The worrying thing is that it looks like they were stopped retroactively, so I may have to pay back more than a year of benefits! The letters are typically clear as mud. Why can’t government employees speak good English? My Mum thinks it’s just a typo, but I’m worried I’m going to get some kind of demand soon.

***

I got called for interview for the maternity cover role I applied for at the place where I had my first job. It’s next Wednesday, which is before they were planning on closing applications, so I guess that means they like me. I really don’t feel up to it right now, and I have zero confidence in my ability to do library work currently. I worry they’ve called me early because they think I’m a good candidate and I’m going to disappoint, the way I’ve disappointed so many potential, and actual, employers in the past. I also worry about having the energy to cope with working essentially four days a week. The former point is partly low self-esteem, but the latter is more objective. I feel like this is yet another thing I have to worry about right now.

I just seem to have so much on my To Do list, alongside work, relationship and all my religious and other obligations (e.g. exercise, which I have definitely been neglecting lately) and the novels I want to write, but can’t make the time and energy for. As an example, for years I used to like to keep my email Inbox clean of unread (i.e. unresponded to) mail each evening. Occasionally I would leave something marked unread that I would need to deal with in the next few days. But for weeks now I’ve had multiple unread emails — not literally unread, but not dealt with. Some of it is avoidance, but a lot of it is just not getting around to things. On the advice of my rabbi mentor, I’ve cut back on my religious obligations (which I am not entirely happy about) and I haven’t written a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week or last week, but I still feel like I’m struggling. A lot of it is about exhaustion and not having the energy to do much more than the two days of paid work I’m currently doing plus my household chores.

***

In a vague attempt at drawing all this together, I’m going to turn off my computer in a moment, leaving a lot of unanswered emails, and eat hamantashen (Purim pastry — I’ve already had two slices of Purim challah – sweet Purim bread) and watch Doctor Who, sadly without E, but to try to feel physically and emotionally better so that I can go to a morning Megillah reading. I’ve given up on the idea of going for Shacharit (Morning Prayer) at 7.30am and will go to my parents’ shul again for 11am, where hopefully it will be less rowdy than today (there will be fewer people and the children will be in school — the Jewish schools open on Purim, as it’s not a day when work is forbidden, but have celebrations instead of lessons).

I guess I feel that I would like to be able to celebrate the Jewish festivals better, the way they are supposed to be celebrated, uniting joy and physical celebration with understanding and internalising deep spiritual meaning on an intellectual and especially an emotional level. I guess, given that I have trouble understanding my own emotions, it’s not surprising I struggle with this, even before factoring in the stuff about socialising, noise, OCD and so on.

Withdrawal, Virus, Or What?

I slept for twelve hours last night, then I think I drifted in and out of sleep for another two. I dreamt about the Nazis, which I guess is what I get for reading The Coming of the Third Reich. By the time I woke up properly, I was still feeling very drained and somewhat ill. I struggle to put into words what exactly I mean by “ill,” although it includes an uncomfortable awareness of my own body (I can’t put it more precisely than that) which I associate with autistic exhaustion (particularly the feeling that my brain is being squeezed) as well as feeling hot and bothered and generally not having the energy or inclination to do anything other than lying still. I also occasionally get muscle spasms or unwilled muscle tension. I’ve been shivering a bit too. I am not sure if this is autistic exhaustion from working on two hours of sleep yesterday, withdrawal from olanzapine, lack of vitamin D or something else.

This prompts the vague thoughts I’ve had recently wondering if I have some physical illness or condition draining my energy that has been overlooked because I’ve been focused on depression, autistic exhaustion and medication side-effects as causes, but I’m not sure how to take that forward. Obviously going to the GP would be a good start, although I’ll wait for the high doses vitamin D I’ve been prescribed to kick in and the withdrawal to hopefully pass, or I think the GP will just tell me to go home and wait for those things to happen first. My experience is that GPs do not react well to being presented with vague, “I feel sick and tired all the time” statements, so I am not feeling hugely optimistic about that.

I don’t have racing thoughts though. If anything sometimes they are slow and sluggish, as when I’m autistically exhausted. However, I did do a COVID test, just in case. It came back negative, but it was one of the ones where you have to swab your tonsils, which I’m not good at, so I worry I didn’t do it properly. I may just have picked up some kind of bug/virus.

***

It occurs to me that tomorrow night will be my first Purim knowing for sure that I’m on the autism spectrum. I was quite sure last year, but wasn’t officially diagnosed yet. Anyway, last Purim was a weird, COVID Purim, with few people in the Megillah reading (my shul (synagogue) did multiple small readings instead of one big one) and no young children allowed (usually there would be loads of kids around, mainly in fancy dress). The tzedaka (charity) collection was online only too (usually there would be lots of people with tins and buckets collecting for different charities). It was very, very strange and, even though it was in many ways an ideal autistic Purim for me, it just felt wrong. I’d like to find a small, quiet Megillah reading, but not if that means that other people can’t get their raucous reading or that children can’t hear the Megillah at all! Of course, if I feel like this tomorrow evening, I may not hear the Megillah anywhere after all.

***

I found this article quite useful. I need to be reminded periodically that I can be empathetic, polite, imaginative and creative, and not great at maths, and still be on the autism spectrum. To be fair, I was reasonably good at maths in school, in the top set and I got A* at GCSE, but I was never intuitively good at maths the way some of my schoolfriends were, and the way stereotypical autistic children are. Certainly my maths skills are rusty now.

***

I’ve nearly finished The Coming of the Third Reich. It’s been interesting, if depressing, reading, and I’d like to read Richard J. Evans’ two follow up books on Nazi Germany, although I imagine they’re even more depressing.

I found the book a cause of optimism and pessimism. Optimism, because we’ve been hearing since 2016 that our democracies are simmering hotbeds of extremism and racism “Just like Germany in the 20s and 30s.” Evans’ book, although written long before 2016, tacitly debunks this theory, by demonstrating that the democratic Weimar Republic was in a state of near-permanent crisis from its creation in 1918, in the closing days of World War I. It had no political legitimacy in the eyes of much of the population, being seen as at least indirectly imposed by the victorious Allies. Many people, including parts of the governing class, openly longed for a return to autocratic rule (which, again, had only just come to an end in 1918), either under a restored Kaiser or a military dictatorship. This number grew over time. The Republic suffered two major financial crises, a hyperinflation crisis in the early twenties that impoverished many and an unemployment crisis from 1929 that left a third of the workforce out of work. Moreover, throughout the period, political violence and, initially, assassination were rife. Most of the major political parties had large, armed paramilitary wings that used to get in regular fist-fights and sometimes gunfights with each other, not just extremist parties like the Nazis and the Communists, but even the moderate left-wing Social Democrats (the main supporters of Weimar democracy). These are not really present in the contemporary West. Sure, we can see what could be the seeds of something worse, and we certainly live in politically-polarised times, full of conspiracy theories on both right and left (often antisemitic, again like Germany) and occasional rioting. I certainly think it would be good if we could turn down the political temperature and debate more politely. But I think anyone who thinks we are literally like Germany in 1930 is either ignorant or disingenuous.

The pessimism, however, came from the fact that Evans presents the Nazis’ rise as — not inevitable, but lacking in clear points where meaningful and appropriate action could have been taken to stop them. Evans doesn’t really deal with counter-factuals, but he makes it sound like the Weimar Republic would have struggled a lot even in a better world than the one we got, and that after the Depression hit, some kind of autocratic military dictatorship was more or less inevitable, although not necessarily as brutal as the Nazi one.

He says of the Social Democrat Party in 1933 (again, the main support of the Weimar Republic):

In retrospect, its [the Social Democratic Party’s] chances of survival had been diminishing rapidly for nearly a year. Decisive in this context was its failure to mount any effective opposition to the Papen coup of 20 July 1932; if there had been any moment when it might have stood up for democracy, that was it. But it is easy to condemn its inaction with hindsight; few in the summer of 1932 could have realized that the amateurish and in many ways rather ludicrous government of Franz von Papen would give way little more than six months later to a regime whose extreme ruthlessness and total disregard for the law were difficult for decent, law-abiding democrats to grasp. In many ways, the labour movement leaders’ desire to avoid violence in July 1932 was thoroughly to their credit; they were not to know that their decision was to play a key role in opening the way to much greater violence later on.

Sleep-Deprived

Last night I had insomnia from racing thoughts, aches and pains, and feeling alternately hot and cold. I think they are withdrawal symptoms from coming off the olanzapine, but the racing thoughts might be a sign that I still have agitated thoughts that I need to control with medication. I just have to see how things develop. Eventually I fell asleep, but I woke up after two or three hours, could not get back to sleep. Perhaps surprisingly, I felt mostly OK when I got up. My thoughts seemed “fast,” so to speak, but not racing. My concentration was a little impaired from the thoughts and the lack of sleep, but I seemed OK on the whole, so I went to work. I was a bit late, but I’d texted J beforehand to explain and he was understanding.

I got through the day despite struggling with tiredness and, in the afternoon, more aches and pains. The day passed slowly and I nearly went home mid-afternoon, because I was feeling worse, but I managed to get the energy to keep going despite everything.

I’m worried about the rest of this week, particularly the (super-autism-unfriendly) Jewish festival of Purim on Wednesday night and Thursday. I was going to write my worries here to offload, as I usually do, but it occurred to me that maybe that just makes them worse and I should just do my best and try to accept whatever happens. So here goes.

***

When I woke up this morning I thought I had an idea for an article to pitch to the Jewish website I’ve written for before that I’d been thinking about when my thoughts were racing at night. I didn’t have time to write it down before work and now I can’t work out what it was. I feel I have an opening, then a bit for about three-quarters of the way through, but I can’t link those two passages or work out what the conclusion was supposed to be. It is possible that my thoughts were racing so much, and I was so tired this morning, that I didn’t actually have any more of the article than that, and it only seemed like a really good idea because I was too tired to think straight and see that it was only half a good idea. Either way, it’s frustrating.

***

I’ve been thinking a bit about my recently-diagnosed-with-autism cousin. He’s not really like me at all. (His elder brother is a lot more like me, but my parents think he’s on the spectrum too.) So then I started wondering if I would be more like him if various negative events hadn’t happened when I was a child, or if my parents were more like his parents. But there really is no end to those thoughts once you start down that route. I guess the root of this is my fear that I wouldn’t be diagnosed, which still sometimes raises it’s head as a fear that I’m not “really” autistic, just useless. Also, my attempts to try to find the boundaries between my autism and my personality, which is probably not possible.

***

I think I should go to bed, although it’s not yet 9.30pm. I don’t actually feel that tired; I’ve gone through the tiredness, and I’m wondering if I should watch TV for a little to unwind, but I think I will probably just go to bed and hope I fall asleep once I get in there.

In My Family

I realised I missed the first anniversary of my high-functioning autism/Asperger’s diagnosis a few days ago. I got the date wrong in my head (thought it was the 19th, but it was the 9th). It seems strange to think that it was only a year ago. I had been living with the suspicion of autism for some time, so maybe that makes the date of confirmation less significant somehow, but it was a major turning point in my life, and things have been better since then, even if still difficult in many ways.

I definitely feel that “high-functioning” autism is a misnomer. I think technically it just means that I don’t have any learning disabilities, but it gives people the impression that I am mostly OK and functional. I am high-functioning in some ways and at some times. But some tasks that are considered “simple” regularly defeat me (like basic conversation with people I don’t know very well) and being stressed, particularly being hungry, anxious, lonely or tired (what I call being HALTed) can sweep away my coping strategies and ability to mask and put me in a much worse state very quickly.

My cousin was diagnosed with high-functioning autism recently, although I only found out last night. It was a bit of a surprise, as we all thought he has ADHD, although I think a second diagnosis has not been ruled out. There’s a lot of neurodivergence (autism and ADHD, diagnosed and suspected) on that side of the family. I think out of me, my sister and my five cousins, it’s only my sister and maybe one cousin who present as neurotypical! My parents think that my grandfather (the common grandfather) was on the spectrum, so I guess that could explain it (autism and ADHD are often found in the same family, for reasons that aren’t really understood yet). It’s good inasmuch as at least it makes it easier to feel accepted, but I guess I worry a bit about how some of us will cope, especially those of us dealing with mental health issues on top of neurodiversity.

On a related note, I sent my email about Purim on the spectrum to my devar Torah group and got a positive response from one friend who I hadn’t previously told about my diagnosis. He said I was brave to open up about it.

***

I had racing thoughts again last night and couldn’t fall asleep until 5.00am, then woke up around midday feeling tired and a little sick, but with more subdued thoughts (because the racing thoughts have passed or because I was so tired? It’s not clear at this stage). I struggled all day with vague aches and pains as well as feeling run down and hot and bothered. They got worse rather than better as the day went on and I started feeling light-headed in the evening. I did a COVID test (not because of this, because my sister came over) and I was negative, so it’s not that. It could be from sleeping at the wrong time and probably having bad quality sleep or it could be physical withdrawal from the olanzapine, as I’ve only been off it for a couple of days. I’m leaning towards withdrawal as an explanation. I feel better at the moment, but I warned J that I might not be in tomorrow if I wake up feeling awful.

***

I spent a chunk of the day talking about financial things with my parents and sister. I’m not going into money matters here, but it was all positive and hopefully lets E and I move closer to getting married. I do feel uncomfortable discussing finances, though — whenever I discuss them, I feel like a child playing at being an adult, like I don’t really know how these things work and I can’t really understand them. E says I underestimate my practical skills a lot and that I’m a lot better at “adulting” (hate that word) than I give myself credit for. I really hope she’s right!

***

While I couldn’t sleep, I thought a lot about gratitude. The word ‘Jew’ essentially means ‘one who is thankful’. I’m grateful to my parents for their support over the years and I’m very, very grateful to E for caring about me so much and accepting me for who I am (even when I am HALTed and not coping). And I’m grateful for my readers here. I don’t have, and don’t want to have, thousands of readers. I have about nine or ten readers who read frequently and comment supportively and perceptively and I appreciate it so much, especially as I know some read and comment despite having a lot of issues of their own (and I also know that I don’t always have the time to comment on their blogs). I don’t know how I would cope without it, as I don’t really contact my non-blog friends very often (something I should probably work on, but that’s another story). I know I struggle with a lot of stuff online and try to avoid sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as they just aren’t good for me, but I’m very glad to have this space to write and be read. (Also, without the blog, I would never have met E, who basically liked my writing so much she decided to marry me, but that’s a whole other story…)

Racing Thoughts

This is really just a brief note. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but I think coming off olanzapine has given me racing thoughts, poor concentration and insomnia (all inter-related). It’s not surprising as olanzapine is an anti-psychotic. I was prescribed it because it can help antidepressants work more effectively (for reasons that I think are poorly-understood medically), but also because I was having racing negative thoughts. My racing thoughts now aren’t negative (mostly about Judaism or E), but are stopping me getting on with my life and messing up my sleep even more than previously. I’ll give it another day or two to see if things settle down, but if they don’t, I’ll go back on, albeit probably on the lower dose (2.5mg once a day) I took for the last few weeks without problems rather than the slightly higher (although still low) dose I was on before I started coming off it (2.5mg twice a day).

Other than that, Shabbat was fine. I slept a little less than usual. I did quite a bit of Torah study, staying up quite late last night (this was probably a mistake, but also due to racing thoughts). I think I’m finding Talmud study a bit easier; maybe Rav Steinsaltz z”tzl was right that studying a large quantity of Talmud helps to build up the quality of study over time, even if you don’t initially understand much. However, I do worry that I’ve just hit an atypically easy few pages of Talmud and sooner or later it will get hard again. I was trying to read one side of a page a week, studying it once slowly with the full English commentary and then two more, faster, readings to revise, only reading the commentary if I can’t remember it. I’ve been going a bit slower for the last couple of weeks, though, as I’ve cut down my overall Torah study time as I try to readjust the balance of things in my life. I don’t read the unpunctuated and unvocalised traditional (Vilna Shas) page, but the vocalised, punctuated and broken into phrases version interspersed with the English translation in the Artscroll edition. I do try to have a good go at reading the Aramaic, though. My Aramaic is definitely improving, although it is still poor.

(I didn’t mean to write all of that. You see what I mean about racing thoughts.)

I didn’t want to read The Coming of the Third Reich over Shabbat, as it didn’t seem appropriate to read something so depressing, so I read The Twilight Zone Companion, which I got unexpectedly when I ordered a second-hand DVD of The Twilight Zone season one. It’s interesting enough, but could do with more detail in both production accounts and reviews. It does make me realise how much The Twilight Zone was fighting against the ultra-conservative social and institutional cultural forces in American society in the late fifties and early sixties, with strict limits not just on political commentary and satire, but on any kind of experimental or non-realistic drama. British TV of the time was much more free to experiment in comparison. I’m often critical of the current state of the BBC, but its mandate to challenge and provoke as well as to entertain meant that British TV was way ahead of the cultural curve in the fifties, sixties and seventies in comparison with American TV, and had a positive effect on commercial television too, which had to compete.

When I wrote about Purim and autism here the other day, someone pasted an article on the subject by a frum (religious Jewish) psychotherapist. I’m hoping to forward it to the family and friends on my devar Torah distribution list. Most of them know about me, but one or two don’t, so it’s a bit of a “coming out” as autistic. I hope it goes OK. I think it’s important to start these conversations about neurodivergence and mental illness (also treated in the article) in the frum community. I had the familiar quandary about defining myself as having “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “high-functioning autism.” I wish I didn’t have a syndrome that was discovered by a Nazi sympathiser.

I should probably go, because in the state of mind I’ve been in over the last couple of days, I could just sit here all night writing stuff that just comes into my head. So much for a “brief note.”

A Perfect Storm

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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