Be Anything You Want To Be???

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Lurgy

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

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

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

***

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

More Anxiety

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Fragment (Burnout)

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

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

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

Here’s hoping for a restful Shabbat

Writing Success, Financial Embarrassment

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Thinking/Worrying

Another day that got away from me…

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

More Anxiety

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

Back here in London…

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Feeling Positive

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

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

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

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

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

Draining Day

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Relationship, Weight, Twitter and Doctor Who

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

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

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

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

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

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

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Short Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Day Where I Counted My Blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boy in the Bubble

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Writer’s Woes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHS Fun and Games, Giving Up on Books, and A Slight Bit of Politics

I was expecting to be burnt out today after yesterday, and I was. I got up very late and felt burnt until late in the day, whereupon I tried to cram too much into too little time. There is only one job to apply for on my job application spreadsheet at the moment, and I feel it is really unlikely that I will get it (librarian at a big law firm), so I’m leaving that for the moment. I would like to have worked on my novel, but focused today on chores that absolutely needed doing. Hopefully I will get to the novel tomorrow.

***

More NHS fun and games: when I saw the psychiatrist a few weeks ago, she said that the company that manufactures my lithium was stopping production, so I would have to change brand. As I understood it, she wanted to decrease dosage and then build up on the new one. She said the details would be in a letter to my GP which she would copy to me. I haven’t received the letter. I tried to phone, but the number I had for (what I thought was) the clinic, which was also on the top of a (different, recent) letter from the psychiatrist was not recognised even though I’ve phoned it in the past. The second number on the letter wasn’t recognised either. Mum noticed a third number on the letter, which turned out to be the clinic main phone number; they said to phone the secretary and gave me a number which was the same as the first one, the one I thought was the clinic main phone number. I said it wasn’t connecting and they just insisted that was the right number. So I tried that number again (because insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome) and this time it connected and rang and rang, but no one answered. I hung up, waited twenty minutes, phoned again, and it rang and rang and no one answered. I think they shut at 4pm and I’m guessing they were being naughty and not answering the phone at 3.50pm so they wouldn’t be kept after 4pm. So I guess I have to try again tomorrow. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the impression that there are people working at the NHS who enjoy playing elaborate pranks on patients. Remember, kids, we ❤ the NHS!!!!!! 👏👏👏 🌈

***

I’m struggling with the novel I’m reading, Dominion. It’s a “What if the Nazis won World War II?” novel. I only really realised after I bought it that I already have three or four of these. I think there’s only so much mileage in these books. Dominion is a thriller, but so far I’m 150 pages in and very little that is thrilling has happened and its vision of a pro-Fascist Britain isn’t terribly interesting (Oswald Mosley and Enoch Powell in the government, who would have guessed….). It was OK when the book was focused on the main character, but currently it’s focused on a possibly autistic man in a psychiatric hospital and I feel really uncomfortable with it. Maybe it’s just too close to home.

Maybe close to home in more ways than one. I don’t believe in the author’s alternative history. I can see a Lord Halifax-led government making peace with Germany in 1940, but I can’t see Britain becoming Fascist without invasion. Appeasement was popular in Britain in the 1930s because of fear that another World War would lead to massive carnage, which it did, but I don’t see Fascism having enough support in Britain for a Fascist government of the kind described here. I guess chimes with some experiences I’ve had recently, talking with friends who feel that the contemporary USA is on the verge of becoming a dictatorship. I don’t like Donald Trump at all, and I hope he loses the election, but I really can’t see America becoming Fascist overnight. I don’t believe that countries with a long experience of democracy suddenly become dictatorships without war, invasion or severe economic and social trauma. So maybe this is reinforcing my fears that I see the world very differently to my friends, and worrying that they would stop being my friends if they knew, the feeling I have alluded to in the past here when I say I want to write about the way my political views make me feel alienated.

All this said, I’m bad at giving up on books. E. used to tell me to be more ruthless, saying time spent forcing myself to read a book I don’t enjoy is time wasted that could have been spent with a book I do enjoy. But I’m not sure I really want to spend another 550 pages with this one. I’m not sure what else I would read at the moment though. I feel I probably need something light, but don’t have anything obviously to hand. The thoughts about what could make a country become a dictatorship have been pushing me to have another go at my Mum’s copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I started when I was fourteen or fifteen and gave up on after a couple of hundred pages. I was probably not old enough for it, but I think it might be to heavy (in all senses of the word) for me at the moment.

***

Achievements: I went for a longish (forty-five minutes) walk. I did nearly an hour of Torah study and dealt with a lot of emails and little chores, but felt that I didn’t manage that much overall. It feels a bit like a wasted day.

I’m Only Sleeping

I didn’t sleep well last night again. I thought/hoped I would sleep better now the interview is out of the way, but obviously not. First I couldn’t get to sleep, although I felt incredibly tired. I think I didn’t have enough “introvert alone time” after “peopling” for so long. Then I woke up about 5.30am feeling anxious. I can’t even remember what I was anxious about, although I know it was connected with the other job interview, the one I had last week and haven’t heard back from yet where I wanted the job more than the job interview I had yesterday. I think I was worried about being able to take off Jewish festivals and “early Fridays” in the winter when Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts early. I did eventually fall asleep again, and slept through until gone 10.30am and still woke up exhausted and burnt out. I don’t know if it’s depression, autistic burnout or medication side-effects (or a combination of the three) that makes me so tired in the mornings, but it’s hard to know what I can do about it. I know this increasingly feels like a sleep/burnout blog, which I guess is good, as it means the depression is less of an issue during the day and my other autism and social anxiety symptoms are under control (albeit probably because I’m not doing much that is social), but I’m not sure how interesting it is for anyone else.

***

I try not to use the word “triggering” regarding myself, as I feel that it trivialises the term for people who really have c-PTSD (just as I don’t like people saying they’re “depressed” when they mean vaguely down, or they’re “OCD” when they mean they’re neat and tidy). Still, some things are more likely to upset me and start negative thoughts than others. These upsetting thoughts can be vaguely obsessional, in the correct sense this time of being hard to get rid of, spiralling in on themselves and making me anxious and agitated. These kinds of thoughts tend to come from newspapers, news sites and the dreaded Twitter (Twitter is a bit like swimming in raw sewage that occasionally tells a good joke). I’m most vulnerable to these types of thoughts when feeling burnt out and mildly depressed… but I’m more likely to encounter these things when procrastinating (online or leafing through the hardcopy newspapers at home) because I’m feeling burnt out and mildly depressed, as happened today. I actually coped OK with coming across them today and dismissed said thoughts reasonably easily, but it can be difficult sometimes.

I probably should delete my Twitter account, just as I deleted my Facebook account seven years ago, but I think I would still be able to see other people’s Tweets, which is the dangerous bit and I have vague thoughts that I could use my Twitter account to job hunt or join in with Doctor Who fandom, although if I avoided doing either of those two things during lockdown, the likelihood of doing them afterwards seems very remote.

***

Achievements: after a lot of procrastinating (see above about the risks of this) I wrote a first draft of this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought). I managed to write a thought for every week this year, excluding a couple of weeks when Yom Tov (festivals) fell on Saturday and the regular Torah reading was postponed. The thoughts were about 600 to 1,000 words long, which is longer than it sounds (for comparison, I think most of my blog posts are around 1,000 words), and I do try to do some research for them rather than just rely on secondary sources; even if I find something in a secondary source, I like to trace the reference back to the original source in the Talmud or the Midrash or whatever, if I can find it and if my Hebrew/Aramaic is up to it (Sefaria.org is a blessing).

I didn’t manage a lot else. The main thing was a half-hour walk. I did some Torah study – as yesterday, listening to a shiur (religious class) for fifty minutes or so as I was too depressed to read much. Even so, I struggled to concentrate and drifted in and out of it. I think I should consider listening to shiurim more on days when I feel depressed and/or burnt out, although I need to work out how to get shiurim from YU Torah Online on my phone or ipod.

Otherwise, I watched TV: another episode of The Civil War (after talking of gore here the other day, there were some graphic photographs of wounded soldiers that I couldn’t look at) and I’m about to watch Star Trek Voyager.

EDIT: I forgot to say, I had dinner in the sukkah with my parents and two of their friends. I feel more comfortable with these friends than with some others, but I still was really only eating with them so I could eat in the sukkah. It started raining heavily after a while and we all went in; fortunately I had just about finished my pizza and went upstairs.

Suffering and Psychiatry

There is a price to a busy day like yesterday. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really anxious, suddenly concerned that I would forget to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that I’m working (if I get the job) and shouldn’t be receiving benefits any more (the situation is actually more complicated than that, because my doctor’s note for the benefits states that I can work part-time, but not full-time, so a lot would depend on the nature of my contract). This led to catastrophising about going to jail for benefit fraud, but I didn’t want to write a note out of a superstitious fear that would “jinx” the job interview. I did write a note in the end, deciding piece of mind from the anxiety outweighed superstition.

***

I slept late, but when I awoke had to hurry as I had a video call with my psychiatrist. Annoyingly, the NHS expect you to log on ten minutes early (OK), but then play you awful lift muzak! Hands up who has no understanding of neurodiversity… There was also a recorded message that kept telling me to read the messages on the screen, even though there weren’t any.

The psychiatrist call itself was pretty good. She was pleased that I’ve been feeling better lately and said I looked a lot better. I told her about the job interview, but not about PIMOJ. The psychiatrist said that the brand of lithium I take is being discontinued, so I’ll have to switch to another brand, which is frustrating. Hopefully it will work just as well. She said I can try cutting back on my olanzapine and seeing if that makes a difference to my energy levels. If my mood gets worse, I can just resume the old dosage. I probably will do that, but not necessarily just yet, as in the past trying to come of olanzapine has led to significant mood changes and I think I would rather see if I’m going to be starting a new job and get started on it before doing anything. We both felt that the clomipramine should stay as it is, as it seems to be the most effective medication I’m on.

***

I helped Dad some more with setting up the sukkah, the portable shelter Jews eat in during the Sukkot festival (starting tomorrow night). I went shopping, initially going with my Dad to get the arbah minim (too complicated to explain, see here) then going to a Jewish bookshop and a charity shop to browse because I like browsing bookshops, but haven’t done it much lately because of COVID, as well as buying more vitamin D supplements from Boots. I still feel uncomfortable being around people in shops and did wonder if the browsing was a good idea. Mask compliance was very good, but social distancing and use of one way systems was not so good. I’m partially to blame here myself, but it’s not always easy to distance in a shop with narrow aisles or while queuing to pay.

I spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening sorting through emails and papers on my desk. It’s amazing how “Stuff” just builds up even without my apparently doing very much to generate it. I was too tired to do much and would have liked to unwind, but could not really relax feeling my desk and my inbox were disappearing under things.

***

I managed about forty-five minutes of Torah study; as usual, I wish I could have done more, but ran out of time and energy. Maybe it’s good that I always want to do more Torah study, even if sometimes I simply wish I could have got to a full hour. However, sometimes, like today, I wish I could spend more time exploring ancient and modern texts. The Talmud (I’m too tired to search for the reference, sorry) states that no one dies with even half his desires fulfilled. I realised that this applies to the righteous as well as ordinary people; the difference is that the righteous’ unfulfilled desires are spiritual rather than material. At least my desires here are spiritual.

In my ongoing (if sometimes intermittent) re-reading of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), I recently started Iyov (Job), to me one of the most challenging books of Tanakh. Alongside the biblical text, I started reading Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation by a psychiatrist called Jack Kahn. It’s a study of the book that assumes that Job’s sufferings, while triggered by external events (the loss of his family and wealth) take on a psychological aspect based around depression, obsession and paranoia as seen in his speeches; his skin affliction is seen as psychosomatic. Job’s dialogues with his friends, with Elihu and finally with God enable him to reintegrate his personality and develop his psyche beyond his situation before his troubles started. “The vehicle by which his maturation is accomplished is, in fact, the very suffering which he undergoes.”

I’ve only read the introduction so far, so I’m not sure what the book will be like, but I’m intrigued by the premise and looking forward to reading it. I’m not sure if the author is Jewish (although Kahn is a Jewish name), but I’ve come across other Jewish quasi-psychological readings of Iyov that see the book as charting his growth from a religiosity based on fear of God and distance from other people to one based on love for both God and other people. I’m not sure if the book is still in print or easily available; I rescued my copy from the “duplicates/for sale” pile when I worked in a Jewish library. My copy also features some of William Blake’s illustrations to the biblical text.

***

Surprisingly, I got another job interview, this time for a school librarian position I applied for. I didn’t really expect to get this, as I have no experience of primary school librarianship. Unfortunately, the interview is next Tuesday and I have a date booked with PIMOJ and she has taken time off work, so I can’t cancel. I have emailed the school to ask if an alternative date is possible.

***

Speaking of the date, I’m worried and trying not to catastrophise. Try to stay in the present…

***

This short video from the National Autistic Society nicely illustrates the problems of dealing with a lot of questions/statements if you have autistic sensory overload and slower processing speed. This is how I feel in job interviews, or even just noisy kiddush halls.

Yom Kippur

I nearly forgot to blog about today, I was so busy instant messaging PIMOJ after breaking my fast (which is good). Yom Kippur was strange, but I guess it was strange for almost every Jew this year. I didn’t go to shul at all as I’m still wary about infection risks. I’m hoping to go over Sukkot (next week), but Dad isn’t planning on going until after Mum has finished radiotherapy, saying he is worried about falling ill (from COVID or anything else) and not being able to drive her to her appointments (Mum can’t drive at the moment because she’s still recovering from surgery and has limited use of her arm).

Yom Kippur is the only biblical fast day in Judaism and the only one I’m allowed to fast on while on lithium. My medication gets disrupted, as I take the first dose early, before the fast starts (before 6.00pm yesterday) and then skip the morning dose entirely. As a result, I became very tired in the evening and dozed off as soon as I finished davening (praying) last night, slept for two and a half hours, woke up, did some Torah study and recreational reading, struggled to fall asleep again, then slept for something like ten hours or more and struggled to get up and get going without being able to eat breakfast, which I usually rely on to kick-start my day.

I lay in bed for quite a long time (I think several hours), feeling too faint and drained to get up, but apparently not tired enough to fall asleep again. I tried to think about teshuva (repentance), but my mind kept coming back to the idea that I am getting better (as a person/Jew, I mean, not necessarily mental health-wise) and that, considering what I’ve been through, it’s quite amazing that I do still believe in God and am still frum (religious). I’ve met autistic people who have left religion, lots of mentally ill people who have left it, plus there are “older singles” in the frum community who leave the community in their thirties feeling, regardless of God, that the community has no place for them at that age without a spouse and children.

Once I got going I davened, going through the set liturgy of confession as well as my own private one (the idea is that Jews confess a set liturgy in the plural as a sign of collective responsibility which covers everything anyone might have done at a basic level; I then add in specific things that I’ve done and want to atone for, but not everyone does this). I did feel I have room for growth, obviously, but I still felt that I’m doing well. Which I guess is good, although I’m not sure how much it was in the spirit of the day. I wrote the other day of a shiur (religious class) I heard the other day from the psychotherapist Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman, where he spoke about the importance of having a mature and honest dialogue with God about our relationship to Him and how we feel honestly about the mitzvot (commandments) and why we are meeting them or not meeting them, rather than expecting to get a list of praise/blame like a school report, so I guess it was in that spirit.

As I said, I did eventually get up and get dressed and davened some of the prayers, albeit that some can’t be said without a minyan (prayer quorum) and others I was too late for. My parents and I mostly davened together in the dining room though, which we haven’t done until now in lockdown (I usually daven in my bedroom) and it was nice to sing some bits together; we also read Yonah (Jonah), the haftarah (reading from the prophets) for Yom Kippur afternoon together, which was nice.

So, although I was not really conscious for most of it, that was a fairly meaningful Yom Kippur. I didn’t even get ill for once. No headache at all and just some dizziness when standing in the afternoon.

Oversleeping and Social Anxiety

I am feeling somewhat self-critical today. As often happens, I woke up about 8.00am to go to the toilet and wanted to stay up, but ended up going back to bed again and sleeping for another couple of hours. I feel really bad when I do this, and it happens quite a lot, as if I had minimal self-control and will-power, which I know is not the case. It’s just that I get overwhelmed with exhaustion and maybe some mild depression (and, probably, habit too, I admit) and just feel that I have to get back to bed ASAP. PIMOJ has taken to sending me Skype messages on her way to work, around 8.00am, and sometimes I wake up enough to hear the phone ping, and I want to message her back, but I’m just too tired and end up replying at 11.00am or later and feeling embarrassed. This has been a problem for years and years, through different medications and therapies and occupational therapy. Sometimes I have made progress on it during periods of remission from depression (there was a period six years ago or so when I was getting to early morning services in shul (synagogue) three or four times a week), but whenever the depression comes back, it knocks me right back to square one and it’s a struggle to get my sleep pattern sorted out all over again even if, as at the moment, depression isn’t a huge problem in any other aspect of my life. The only thing that works is scheduling stuff to do in the morning, but it has to be an external thing like work or a psychiatrist appointment; if it’s something I just want to do like getting an early start on the day, it won’t happen.

As a side-light on this, I forgot to take my evening dose of anti-depressants until nearly midnight last night and I suddenly had a lot of energy in the evening. My meds definitely do make me tired and slow me down, but I don’t think I can be so sure of being over the depression to ask to come off them completely, given that in the past that has always made my symptoms get much worse very quickly, and given that autumn is traditionally the time of year where my mood dips as the days shorten and the weather worsens.

***

I find not only do I hate wearing a mask, I realised that I hate that other people are wearing them too. Partly it’s that there’s a part of my brain that says, “Mask in a hospital = doctor or nurse; mask in the high street = bank robber,” but beyond that it’s a feeling that I find it hard enough to understand body language and facial expressions as it is (being autistic) without having the lower half of the face completely covered and voice muffled.

***

Ugh, I don’t want to finish the Jewish year on a bad note!

Good things #1: someone came to the door today while I was davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers). My parents were at the hospital again. I got to the end of the Amidah (the most important prayer) and hurriedly removed my tefillin and tallit (the prayer boxes and prayer shawl worn by men for weekday morning prayers) and rushed downstairs. It was someone from my shul (synagogue) bringing a small gift to those of us who are shielding and won’t make it to shul over Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, starting tonight). I was grateful, but also feeling hugely embarrassed that I had kept him waiting; I also didn’t want to admit I was davening as it was long past the ideal time for morning prayers. I think he thought I had been in the toilet. I also realised I was wearing a bright red polo shirt, which I tend not to wear when I think I might meet people from shul, as some Orthodox Jews avoid wearing red (more women than men, admittedly). So I felt hugely embarrassed and socially awkward, but it was nice to be thought of. Then I got further flustered and wished him the greeting that is really for Yom Kippur in two weeks’ time rather than for Rosh Hashanah. Because of all this I had a big rush of social anxiety, it took me a while to feel comfortable again, but I suppose there was no harm done and it was nice to be thought of.

Good thing #2: I finished Rav Kook’s The Lights of Penitence yesterday. It was very difficult to understand in parts, very mystical, and as with all mysticism, I wonder where it comes from and how much is authentic, but it was also a very moving and inspiring book and helped me perhaps to conceptualise my life differently, to think of teshuva (penitence) as something ongoing and lifelong rather than a hurdle that I should have overcome by now, and also to see teshuva as something leading to growth and joy rather than being fixated on my negative traits and deeds. Definitely something to re-read before Rosh Hashanah in future years, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur being times to focus on teshuva and growth.

Good thing #3: I emailed a bunch of friends to wish them shana tova (good new year) and my oldest friend, who I haven’t seen in person for years, emailed back to say we should have a virtual coffee soon. I was pleased, as I had thought the same thing, but hadn’t really dared to suggest it, as he’s a communal rabbi and I know they’re busy pretty much 24/7. So hopefully we’ll be able to do that in a few weeks.

***

So ends the Jewish year 5780. It was pretty bad in parts, but my family made it through OK in the end. I’m hoping for a better 5781 though. Shanah tovah – have a good new year!

“Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”

I was half-awake when the phone rang this morning.  It was the mental health clinic saying I had an appointment with the psychiatrist today after all, but on the phone.  Phone appointments are my least favourite kind.  Like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I do not like the phone at all.  I feel very anxious and self-conscious on the phone, even more so than in person, and I find it hard to connect to the person on the other end.  I often struggle to hear and process information on the phone too, particularly if the line is not great.  Then there is the fact that NHS telephone appointments rarely seem to happen as scheduled, but often are very late (leading to anxious waiting) or very early (when I’m not ready and am doing something else).

Fortunately, the psychiatrist phoned when she said she would, at midday.  I know I’ve had bad experiences on the NHS before, and have been critical of that, but this psychiatrist seems really good (I think I saw her twice before lockdown).  I did struggle to hear everything on the phone call though and am worried I may have missed something.  I said that I’ve been feeling worse in the last few weeks and we spoke about increasing or changing medication, but both agreed to wait a few more months to try and get out of lockdown and see if the real-world triggers (Mum, E.) subside a bit.  She did want me to go for my regular lithium blood test now (over three months after the last one) rather than in September (six months) when the GP surgery wants me to go.  She also said she would also try to see where my autism referral has got to.  I assumed it was completely frozen where it was before lockdown, but the psychiatrist said she thinks they are doing some video assessments.  We booked another appointment for October.  Hopefully things will be a bit more normal by then, the Jewish autumn holiday season notwithstanding.  Whatever “normal” is.

I tried to book the blood test, but the online appointments are not working due to COVID (?!) and I will have to phone tomorrow.  Did I mention I hate phoning?

***

I don’t feel quite so depressed today, but I am still feeling some level of depression.  I also feel lethargic and drained, lacking in energy and motivation.  I start something, but then I hit an obstacle, however small, and grind to a halt.  A few minutes later, I start up again, until I hit another obstacle.

In terms of achievements, I advanced quite a bit with the bank accounts.  I think I’ve got it all set up now, I just need to transfer the money to the right account.

I did about an hour of novel writing.  I procrastinated a bit in the middle of it, but I felt better for having done it, although I realised I’m going to have to revisit one of my worst experiences at my further education job for the novel.  Sadly, my narrator’s life has to be as difficult as mine was.  At least I know he gets an ending that, if not exactly happy, is at least on some level redemptive.  I should be so lucky.

I did some Torah study, but I lost track of how much.  I think about fifty minutes, plus some time finishing my devar Torah (Torah thought).  I also did a bit of ironing and quickly wrote a review of a Doctor Who episode which I will post to my other blog once I’ve posted this and can log off my Secret Identity and onto my real name.

***

Today’s anxious/autistic stress moment: I went to pick up my blood test form from the doctor’s surgery (walking to/from there was my exercise for today).  I hadn’t been there since lockdown started and was not sure what to expect.  When I got there the doors were locked and there were signs saying only people with an appointment could come in.  Anxiety set in – social anxiety and autistic “new situation” anxiety.  I thought of ringing the buzzer, but was too scared of being told I was doing the wrong thing and being stupid.  In the end I phoned the surgery (while standing right outside) and asked them what to do.  They said to ring the buzzer and say why I was here and they would bring the form out, which I did, so it was OK in the end, but it made me feel useless again, and anxious.

Ordinarily I would probably have gone to the charity shop around the corner from the surgery afterwards and browsed the books to try to restore myself a bit, but I decided it wasn’t worth the risk with COVID, thus potentially depriving the economy of the pound I might have spent on a second-hand book.

***

Why do I feel the desperate need to love someone?  It seems so pointless, as I struggle to imagine ever being in a relationship again, both from a practical point of view of being ready and in terms of finding someone.  “More than the calf wants to suckle, the cow wants to nurse” says the Talmud.  It does seem hopeless, though.  I don’t know how I would even go about it now.  I guess via a professional shadchan (matchmaker), although I’m sceptical of them, or a dating website, although they seem expensive.

I feel like Orthodox Judaism is supposed to be about trading a degree of independence and freedom for security: security in terms of family, community, meaning and, above all, God.  I never got the security.  Maybe I didn’t make enough sacrifices.  I don’t know.  There is a part of me that says, “I won’t give up my books and Doctor Who and other telefantasy even if God wants it of me.”  That’s part of why I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and part of why I’ve never been able to fully embrace Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism.  There’s a part of me — arguably a neurodivergent, autistic part of me — that won’t give those things up for God, because they’re too important to me.  I can give them up for periods of time, but not permanently.  That’s a blemish in my service of God, from a religious perspective.  But, given who I am and how much a part of myself these things are, from an autistic special interest perspective, I don’t think I could ever have passed that test.  So maybe I do deserve to suffer, on some level, or at least not to be accepted by the community whose values of religious self-sacrifice I do not fully embrace.

***

I think I’m having a lot of vaguely morbid thoughts lately, sometimes going into suicidal ideation, perhaps because it’s my birthday next week.  I had hoped that thirty-six would be a good year, but it largely wasn’t.  I had vague hopes of finding work, finding love, even becoming more involved in my community.  I hoped it would be the year of “twice chai” (in gematria, Hebrew numerology, “chai” (life) is eighteen, so multiples of eighteen e.g. thirty-six are seen as auspicious).  I was also aware that the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism was thirty-six according to legend when he started publicising his teachings.

The reality was that I was unemployed for all bar one month, Mum got ill, the world imploded with COVID lockdown and exploded with riots.  I had a girlfriend for a few months, but it didn’t work out, leaving me despondent.  My one month of employment didn’t lead on to anything bigger.  I spent three months not moving more than a mile from the house.  I did a few minor things — I led some services in shul (synagogue) and started writing and publicising my divrei Torah as well as self-publishing my Doctor Who book — but it hasn’t been a great year.

I feel that I’ve missed out on so much of life.  I haven’t done a lot of the things people say make life meaningful, whether somewhat self-indulgent (I don’t mean that in a judgemental way) things like travel or going to concerts or using alcohol (etc.) or sex, or more religious/self-denying things like helping others (I have obviously helped others, but not enough), significant Torah study, meaningful prayer and so on (actually, Judaism would say that good sex should be in the religious/helping others category, but that’s not strictly relevant to my point).

What have I done?  Written a book on Doctor Who that couldn’t find a publisher and which one person has read.  Written three-quarters of a first draft of a novel.  Some library work.  A few divrei Torah and shiurim (religious classes).  It’s not nothing, but it’s not very much.  I might be over a third of the way through my life.  (I might fall under a bus tomorrow, of course, which just makes me feel worse.)  I want to help people, I want to connect with other people and with God, I want to feel good about myself.  I want to write, and to be read.  I want to feel that there’s meaning in my being here, which I fear I have not felt since childhood (if I even felt it then).  I did two good things in my life, which I won’t mention here, but I don’t feel I can keep relying on them as sources of merit.

In his biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, Tormented Master, Arthur Green quotes Rebbe Nachman, in his depression, as saying that we believe in two worlds, This World and the Next World.  However, while the latter certainly exists, maybe This World does not exist, because a lot of the time it feels like Gehennom (Purgatory).  That’s an image that resonates with me, and turns up a bit in stories that resonate with me (TV and prose).  It feels that way at the moment, the endless loneliness and self-loathing.

Do I really feel so self-loathing right now?  I used the word instinctively, but have I been feeling self-loathing recently so much as frustration with myself and my world?  That’s not the same thing.

Sometimes I feel the reverse, that I’m somehow carrying the world on my shoulders.  That my suffering should be redemptive in some sense.  That’s probably just as dangerous a thing to think.

I just want my life to have meaning.  I don’t know what I’m here for.

“It’s so bittersweet now/When you know what you lost”

Title quote: Donnie by Ace of Base

This morning I started thinking about my birthday, which is in a month, which led on to thinking about the last five years.  Whether things have changed a lot or a little, for better or for worse, to try and work out the odds of the next five years changing substantially for the better.  We moved to this house, and this community, almost exactly five years ago, in the summer of 2015, so it’s a useful cut-off point.  At the time I was in the midst of deep depression and also religious OCD (itself at least partly caused by the house move) and I didn’t really want to move, but I was vaguely hopeful of making a new start in a frummer (more religious) community.  I had vague hopes of making friends and finding a spouse.

My depression was not initially affected by moving.  It probably has been better since going on clomipramine in late 2017, although it’s still present, mostly just in mornings now, but occasionally during the day or on mental health days.  My social anxiety is almost as bad as it used to be, despite having CBT last year.  My religious OCD is a lot better though, thanks to exposure therapy a few years ago, which is good – probably the biggest positive psychological change since moving.  I have gone to various support groups since moving, which has also helped a bit, plus I’ve been in and out of various therapies with various degrees of success.  I’ve been screened for autism and found out that I’m probably on the spectrum, but I’m still waiting for a formal diagnosis, and every new month in lockdown only pushes that further away.

I was working part-time when we moved.  Since then I’ve had four more jobs.  Only one was really a potential long-term career-type job, rather than a short contract.  I felt I messed up that job and left when they wanted to change the job description to something that I felt would give me more social anxiety, especially as I felt my boss had made clear that she didn’t have confidence in my ability to do the job properly.  That was probably a big mistake, though, as I’ve struggled to find permanent work since then.  I’ve largely lost faith in my ability to do a librarian-type job, as well as discovering that my autism stops me doing regular office work, so I feel useless and unemployable.

I wrote my non-fiction Doctor Who book (partly based on material going back to 2012 or so, but with a lot of new research done in the last five years) and self-published it after failing to interest any publishers in it.  I’m also working on a novel.

When we moved to this area, I initially went to a Modern Orthodox shul (synagogue) with my parents, but I felt swamped by the large numbers of people, I didn’t like the chazan (cantor) and choir, and I felt no one spoke to me other than my parents’ friends, so I switched to another shul, more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), but smaller and friendlier.  I did feel like an outsider at times because I am more Modern and not so Haredi.  I was slowly beginning to feel a part of that shul when lockdown happened.

Before lockdown I was still struggling to get to shul, especially considering I was going to two or three services a day before we moved.  I feel that my current shul is too Haredi in outlook and I have to hide aspects of myself, but I don’t have an alternative.  I used to lead services and give drashas (religious talks) in my old shul, but haven’t had the confidence to do that much in the new one.  I feel like the least religious person in the shul.

I do write my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) now which I sort of enjoy.  I send it to various people, although only two from my shul.  I don’t feel I’ve grown religiously in the last five years and in some ways am probably less religious than I used to be.

I did for a while move out of my parents’ home when I was in a nearer-to-full-time job and had more money.  That was good for my independence, but lonely at times.  I used to go home for Shabbat (the Sabbath) anyway.  I’m glad I moved back in with my parents long before lockdown started.

My social life has been as insignificant as ever.  I’ve made some friends over the last few years, mostly online, but I’ve lost a lot too, which is partly my fault.  I feel bad about that, although some were probably disasters waiting to happen.  People with mental health issues probably understand me more than most people, but putting lots of people with mental health issues together is probably a recipe for Drama with a capital ‘D’.

I’ve dated five (I think) women in the last five years, plus someone tried to set me up on a further shidduch date (arranged blind date) which didn’t happen because the woman went super-Haredi and started doing lots of background checks on me and perhaps found something she didn’t like; at any rate, she did not communicate and eventually I gave up.  The three shidduch dates I really did go own were not great, usually due to lack of shared interests and values, and one had a problem with my mental health issues.  (One of the dates was with a “real” matchmaking agency, two were set up by friends or friends-of-friends.)

I had another go at online dating, but didn’t get much of a response, except for one person who I ruled out because I felt she was dishonest (no, I’m not going into details).  Maybe that was a mistake too.

I had one nearly-girlfriend (a friend of my sister’s who I asked out).  We only went on four dates, but we texted between them a lot as she was out of the country.  That seemed to be going well, but we weren’t really that similar and she didn’t like my indecision and social anxiety.

Then I dated E., who seemed almost ideal for a while, but then wasn’t right for me.  I think I’ve posted enough about that recently to avoid the need for further elaboration.

Given that my experience with shidduch dates was so awful, not to mention limited (three in five years), I’m not hopeful for finding someone in the frum community in the future, given that shidduch dating is the normal way of dating there (I haven’t seen solid evidence, but anecdotal and semi-scientific evidence suggests most frum people meet their spouses through informally-arranged dates via friends and family, not professional matchmakers/agencies).  I wouldn’t ask out any more of my sister’s friends, partly as the others aren’t frum enough, partly as most of them are married now, partly as I don’t think my sister approved.  I do vaguely feel I should try online dating again, but it was a massive drain on my income for minimal response, so it’s hard to justify it.  I did find myself looking on one site briefly today though.

E. just dropped out of the sky and found me, which is unlikely to happen again, but is sadly the most likely way I could meet someone.

Overall there are some positives in the last five years: I’ve held down some jobs, sometimes, working four days a week even when very depressed, as part of a team and using my librarian skills as well as some (admittedly limited) ability to deal with problems and queries on the spot.  I dealt with my OCD and my depression is somewhat better.  I wrote my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I’ve found shul that is a slightly better fit than the previous one and felt like I was beginning to fit in.  I write my devar Torah.  I lived alone for a while successfully.  I made a few friends and successfully dated E. for a while which at least exercised my relationship muscles and showed me that I can still be kind and compassionate and to listen.

On the downside, my depression and social anxiety are still present.  I don’t feel I’ve grown religiously and feel in some ways like I’ve gone backwards.  I’ve done badly in a couple of my jobs.  I couldn’t find a publisher for my book.  My shul is far from being a perfect fit.  I lost about as many friends as I gained, partly through my own fault.  Most of my dating experiences were negative and none worked out in the long-term.  I felt like I did prove that I could still be “present” and emotionally supportive in a relationship, but I also proved that I lack what lots of women seem to look for (stability, confidence, the ability to support a family, having “normal” interests and hobbies).

I spoke about some of this unemployment angst and dating angst in therapy.  The therapist said to reframe my experiences to try to focus on positives from them and things I can be curious about rather than negatives and self-criticism.  This is hard.  While there are some positives, as I noted above, there are lots of negatives too and little about this analysis really makes me feel optimistic for the future, except being able to cope practically and psychologically with living alone and also the improvement in my mood since being on clomipramine.

***

Filling in a job application reminds me of how long I’ve been out of work, how hard I’m finding it to find a suitable job, how badly I’ve fared in so many of my jobs, how out of place and incompetent I feel in the “real world” so much of the time…  It’s not a good feeling.  I just feel so useless.  I don’t have a lot of the skills and experience they want.  This often happens to me.  I haven’t managed my career and CPD well enough.  I just feel like a useless librarian (also a useless person, son, brother, friend, etc.).

Also, they wanted job references.  OK, that’s normal.  But they want character references to cover periods of unemployment.  Because I might be normal when in work, but turn into a psychopath when unemployed, presumably.  Do they think I’m Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde?

***

Today’s achievements: an hour and a half or so working on the job application, plus therapy and shiur (religious class, although it was more of a philosophy class, or at least philosophy of religion – are God and religion needed for meaning?).  I felt a bit ill after therapy and I knew I wanted to feel better for shiur, so I didn’t go for a walk after therapy as I usually do.  Because shiur was philosophy as much as Torah, I wanted to do some additional Torah study, but after five minutes reading Sacred Fire decided I was too tired.  No time to work on the novel today because of job application, therapy and shiur.

“Your love gives me such a thrill/But your love won’t pay my bills/I want money/That’s what I want”

(Please forgive the frivolous title.  I hate thinking up titles every day.  It is vaguely relevant to some of what I’ve written.)

I felt depressed and exhausted on waking again today, and lonely.  In terms of exhaustion and depression, maybe I did too much yesterday.  It seems that even a half-day for an ordinary person wears me out.  Or maybe my break-up just hit me again.  I did feel better in the afternoon.

This is what I have been thinking about in terms of loneliness.  Supposedly the Orthodox world has a “shidduch crisis” or a “dating crisis” of single Orthodox Jews who can’t get married.  There is a lot of discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about (a) whether the shidduch crisis actually exists and (b) if it does exist, what is responsible for it (generally phrased as, “Whose fault is it?”)?  You can google for more information, if you dare (it’s a rabbit hole you may never return from).

I’m not sure the shidduch crisis actually exists, and I’m not sure that any of the proposed explanations for it hold water, but a lot of people seem to think that there is such a crisis and generally the crux problem is supposed to be, for variously suggested reasons, a surplus of single women over single men.  Supposedly this means that the men get to pick and choose between women, which results in them never committing and always looking for a “better” woman than the one they have currently been set up with.  Meanwhile the women end up being urged to “settle” for sub-standard men because of their ticking biological clocks.

At the time when we were friends rather than dating, E. said that her experience was that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) single women in their thirties are all desperate to get married and have children and so will “settle” for anyone who can be a father, including me.  See, for example, the woman, who tellingly signs herself “Pretty Desperate”, who is asking here about dating someone with a stable mental illness (the whole letter is a really sign of how narrow-minded the Orthodox world of dating can be, with the writer considering herself on the shelf at age twenty-eight!)  I’m not sure that I really want to be a live-in sperm donor, but it depresses me that no one is even willing to “settle” for me.  I think I would be a good husband, aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ever earn enough to support a family solo.  I’m honest, kind and gentle and probably a better listener than most men, even if things said to me verbally don’t always stick in my memory because of autistic processing issues.  Nevertheless, I can see that my “issues,” my finances and my general geekiness would put most frum women (and many women generally) off.  It’s sad.

It occurs to me that although the frum community sets marriage as a universal standard, it also writes off whole classes of people and gives them little support in finding a spouse (converts, ba’alei teshuva (people raised non-religious who became religious later in life), people with physical and mental health issues, divorcees and children of divorcees all spring to mind).  I’m not sure how these people find mates, if they somehow attract each other as the more eligible candidates pair off and leave the field or if they remain unmarried.  I think the USA there are some shachanim (matchmakers) who specialise in helping people with “sensitive” issues to find their spouses.  Meaning, if you have issues you will be matched with someone with similar issues, which in some ways is logical, in other ways is crazy and is also basically eugenics (similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, rabbinic families also interbreed, selecting for intelligence).

These thoughts were distracting me today as I tried to write my novel.  The fears, and the loneliness and sexual frustration, won’t go away.  If someone could tell me, “You will get married and have children, but not for another five years,” I could get on with my life in the meantime, but as it is I constantly worry about things, I suppose in the hope that some great idea about how to find and keep a mate will come to me that I haven’t had in the last twenty years or so.

(Have I really been single and lonely for twenty years, with just a couple of little gaps?  No wonder I’m so depressed.)

***

I suppose related to this is the fact that not only is loneliness rarely mentioned in frum society (where it is assumed that most adults are happily married), but sexual frustration (within or outside marriage) is never mentioned, not least because of the understanding that no one should talk about sex.  It is only listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast recently that I’ve realised that other people also struggle with celibacy in a culture where the only legitimate sex is within marriage, and even then only at certain times.  I am at least not having forbidden pre-marital sex as some “older singles” apparently do according to the sex therapist on Intimate Judaism.  Even so, there’s a lot of guilt around sex and sexual thoughts and behaviours for me and I worry about the guilt poisoning my sex life if I ever do manage to get married.  The guilt around sex for me probably doesn’t help me when dating, giving me more reasons to feel inadequate compared to my date, even beyond my general feelings of inadequacies when compared to frum Jews.  I feel too ashamed to think anyone could accept me with my not-always-fully-repressed sexuality, even if they got past all the other issues.

I spoke about this a bit with my therapist this week, about thinking and doing stuff sexually that, as a frum Jew, I shouldn’t.  I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of accepting my sexuality as natural, having compassion on myself and realising I’m in a difficult situation that Orthodox Judaism was not really designed for.  It’s difficult though.  I wish I could just turn my lust off.

***

Achievements today: I did an hour and a half to two hours of novel writing, about 900 words.  The exact amount is hard to estimate because of procrastination time.  I was pleased to get to 900 words and reached a sensible point to stop, so I did.  It was hard to write with all of those lonely, despairing thoughts, but I try to force myself through those thoughts and feelings and do some writing five or six days a week.  If I want to be a professional or semi-professional writer, I need to be able to work every working day, even if I’m having a lousy time with depression.

I did thirty-five minutes of Torah study.  It’s hard to get up to an hour a day at the moment except over Shabbat.  I’m not sure why.  I wanted to do more, but procrastinated and ran out of time and got too tired.  I should prioritise Torah study more, but I also want to prioritise writing, exercising and helping around the house.  I can’t prioritise everything all at once.  Sigh.

I went for a half hour walk.  I also did some ironing.  I would be a good house husband, I can clean, cook, launder and iron as well as shop for groceries.  However, my sewing is lousy.  Half the time I can’t even thread the needle.

I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my university days.  We meet up once or twice a year to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last met.  One had had COVID and nearly been hospitalised (she was triaged and judged well enough to cope at home).  I always feel vaguely awkward that they’ve moved on with their lives in a way that I haven’t.  All have good careers and one is married with a baby.  I did impress them by saying I’m working on a novel.  When I set it was partly set in Oxford, I had to reassure them it wasn’t a roman à clef and they don’t have to worry about being in it.  In fact, this isn’t quite true, as part of the novel is based heavily on my experiences with another person, not in this group, although by this stage in the writing process a lot of details have been changed or invented.  The person I’m thinking of would probably see certain resemblances, but I don’t think anyone else will.

I didn’t get the job for which I did a cataloguing test a couple of weeks ago.  I asked for feedback on the test, although I’m nervous of what it might say.

***

I wrote the following about my experience of depression on Kacha’s blog and thought I would copy it to here as it’s a useful summary of how I experience depression now and in the past.  I think depression will always be around for me most days, but I am able to control it more than I used to do.  I find it hard to ever see myself living a “normal” or “full” life though:

I had a period of many years when the depression was a constant daily phenomenon. Then I started to experience periods of remission for some months, mixed with periods of depression. I still feel very depressed for some time every day (usually in the mornings), and still sometimes have to take a mental health day every so often. However, I am able to do quite a few things during the day most days now, even if it is not like working a nine to five job plus having family and social commitments, which is what I think of as a “full” life.

I think activity helps. Once I can start doing things, that can push the depression away, although events during the day (usually things I see or read or hear) can trigger it again.

I would add that I’m glad I’m not at the stage I was at from 2003 to circa 2008 (or possibly later) when I was not able to work at all, or from 2008 to 2017 or so when extreme depression was common on many days even when I was working a fairly full week.  I think clomipramine, which I was put on after a mental health crisis in late 2017 has done a lot for me in that regard, as well as the occupational therapy of work, then job hunting (awful though that is) and, now, trying to write books.

Frazzled

Late last night (about 1am), I was still wide awake, and feeling rather tense and agitated.  Yes, I’d forgotten to take my meds again.  I had something to eat and took them, but I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and looked for something calming to watch.  I decided on my childhood favourite, Mr Benn.  My sister bought me the DVD years ago.  This was a series of short cartoons from the early seventies about a man who tries on clothes from the fancy dress shop; when he wears them, he gets caught up in an adventure related to the type of clothes he’s wearing.  It’s for very young children, so the “adventure” is usually something simple, non-violent, and with a clear moral, like “Be grateful for what you have” or “Don’t cheat” (from the two episodes I watched last night).  That said, one proposed episode was never made, banned as politically subversive (Mr Benn becomes a convict and cheers the other convicts up by decorating the prison in bright colours).  The animation is extremely basic, often just still pictures, but I find the incidental music really haunting and atmospheric.  David McKee, who created and wrote all the episodes also did some of the animation too.  In the USA he’s best known for creating and drawing Elmer the Patchwork Elephant.  The series was probably the gateway drug that introduced me to classic British telefantasy.  Little did my parents realise what they were getting me into…

I didn’t fall asleep until about 3am or later.  I got woken up around 8.00am by the *cough cough* in the garden next door, but shut the windows and went back to sleep.  I was too depressed and exhausted to see much of the morning and the early afternoon.  I felt somewhat better after lunch, but still fragile and drained.

I did manage to write 500 words of my novel after lunch, my minimum daily target.  I somehow wrote that in under an hour, which was good, because I was too tired to carry on after that.  I felt pretty frazzled after yesterday.  After that I had therapy today because yesterday was bank holiday, but I was not really looking forward to doing it while drained.  I still “gushed forth” a flood of thoughts and feelings.  I spoke mainly about my interactions with my religious community.  My therapist noted that with autism it is much harder to judge the informal rules of a community as opposed to the formal ones, but autism can also create a greater desire for clear formal rules.  She also said some useful stuff about some people in the community being higher up the hierarchy and therefore able to make comments and jokes that would not be permitted to other people because they are risque mocking or e.g. the previous rabbi in my shul (synagogue) used to joke about the Moshe (Moses) grumbling about having to tell the Israelites about tefillin (“We have to strap leather boxes to our arms and heads during morning prayers”) which other people might not be able to do.  We also spoke about religious communities not always encouraging individuality and self-expression; I said that’s true, but that perhaps having something to kick against gives me a reason to write.  I would be much less likely to write a novel about a depressed, autistic person in the secular community because I think the Jewish nature of my novel is a new angle on the topic.

Just as I was writing this bit about community, there was a knock at the door and someone dropped off a box of chocolates and a packet of flowery paper napkins, from my shul.  Some people in the community have sponsored this for everyone in the community as a way of uniting us for the festival of Shavuot this week when we’re still in lockdown.  I’m slightly puzzled as to the significance of the paper napkins.

I was quite exhausted after therapy and spent longer decompressing than I would have liked.  Since childhood, I have always taken longer decompressing and moving from one activity to another than I would have liked.  I think it’s primarily an autistic trait, although it can probably be worsened by depression.  It’s one of the reasons I fail to stick to plans.  I was OK moving between lessons at school, possibly because there was an order to packing and unpacking my stuff and, as I went to a large school, there would be several minutes in the crush of getting to the next lesson and then waiting outside talking before the teacher came.

I was going to try to cook something for dinner, but as I was tired, I just cooked plain pasta to eat with bought sauce.  I did also manage to go for a half-hour walk and Skype E.  But other than that, I was too exhausted to do anything this evening.

Productive Day

In my rush to get to my Zoom shiur (religious class) last night I forgot to take my medication.  I remembered before bed, but it meant that I didn’t feel tired when I went to bed, despite it being late.  My default is basically insomnia, and if I fall asleep easily most nights nowadays, it’s because of my medication making me drowsy, something driven home when I forget to take it, to the extent that if I can’t sleep, the first thing I do is check if I took my meds.  I did eventually fall asleep after doing my usual insomnia trick of eating porridge as a way of eating warm milk (I don’t like the taste of ‘neat’ milk, and we don’t have hot chocolate), but I had to spend quite a long time in bed wrestling with agitated thoughts first.  Not necessarily ‘bad’ thoughts, but agitated ones that I couldn’t stop.

Today was reasonably productive.  I spent an hour and three quarters or so working on my novel.  Admittedly some of that was procrastination time, but I wrote 500 words and went over my plans for the current chapter and some of the later ones to make them more detailed and coherent so that I’m sure that the plot develops more smoothly and I’m not improvising important details.  I am beginning to get worried that this isn’t going to stretch to a full-length novel, at least not on the first draft.  Then again, I know I’ve got stuff to go back and add in the second draft, so maybe that’s not such a huge problem.

I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for fifteen minutes and did fifty minutes of Torah study, which is the most I’ve managed to do on a weekday for a while.  I went for a half hour walk and was a bit frightened by the fact that more people seemed to be out now that the lockdown restrictions have been loosened a little.  I don’t blame them, but I was worried about carrying some kind of infection home to Mum, who has a low immune system at the moment from chemotherapy, and it was difficult to avoid everyone.  At one point I was walking in the middle of the road to avoid people on both pavements; even then I think I passed near to some people.

I would have liked to have made my novel writing time up to a round two hours, but I can’t deny that my day was fairly productive.  My mood was more variable.  It was mostly OK, but every so often I’d hit something that would trigger difficult (depressive, agitated, anxious) thoughts for a bit.  The subjects were typical for me: religion (theology and sociology of religion); politics; dating anxieties.  I think the thoughts mostly didn’t stay around too long, but I’m not sure how much that was due to me neither fighting nor wallowing in them.  I think I did wallow in them a bit, or at least some of them.  Well, maybe “wallow” is too harsh, but I wasn’t always able to welcome my thoughts, learn from them and dismiss them.  It’s hard to remember how to deal with these thoughts when they hit me.  Still, some of the stuff I was thinking of would have upset me all day in the past and that wasn’t the case today.  Nor did E. being too busy to Skype for long leave me worrying that she was about to dump me, as it probably would have done in the past.

I guess that was a pretty good day overall, even if that doesn’t make for the most interesting blog post.  Even Ashes to Ashes was reasonably good, even if it did rip off Edge of Darkness and have some whopping big plot holes (Gene and Alex get into a top secret military establishment with one forged pass between them; then Ray, Chris and Shaz get in with no ID at all.  Riiiiiight.  Possibly there was a cut scene somewhere).

***

My sister came over this morning while I was still asleep and left some stuff on the doorstep for us: cooked meat for Shabbat (Saturday) meals and, more importantly, chocolate rogelach (pastries).  I think she feels frustrated that she can’t really help with Mum’s cancer because of lockdown.

***

Mum asked me why I didn’t applaud the NHS as per usual.  The real answer is that I was busy and didn’t want to interrupt what I was doing, but also that it’s beginning to annoy me.  As I’ve mentioned before, my experience of the NHS (for mental health) has been so variable and sometimes so awful.  It seems disloyal to say that publicly now though.  I feel a bit like I’m the first person to stop applauding Stalin and now I’m going to be sent to the gulag as a traitor (I mean in relation to everyone else on the street, not Mum).  Then again,

Are Friends Electric?

I got up a little later today, at 10.30am, but still before 11.00.  When I got up, I found myself struggling with difficult emotions that I couldn’t really put into words.  It’s hard when I can’t put things into words, as I can’t write about them or speak about them in therapy, although sometimes I try to take the feelings to therapy and the therapist or the therapy process helps me to find the words.

Dad took Mum to hospital for chemo soon after I got up.  He’s not allowed to stay there at the moment because of social distancing, so has to come home and then go out again to pick her up.  It meant both my parents were out for a while, which is not so common at the moment, at least not for more half an hour or so.  This can be good or bad.  I like the quiet, but maybe I need other people around on some level, particularly when I’m depressed.  I just moped around after breakfast and missed E.  Maybe that would have happened even if my parents were here.  It probably would, to be honest.

***

I did two hours of work on my novel, writing about fourteen hundred words,  which is probably a record for me in terms of amount of fiction written in one day (and also the length of this post… blogging is much easier than fiction writing).  I was mostly writing a surreal interlude.  These are easier for me to write than the realistic bits.  Writing something as autobiographical as this has locked me into realist narrative,  but I’m not really that comfortable with it.  It’s a shame, as I have two or three other ideas for realist, literary novels that I think could be really good, but I don’t think I could write them (yet?).  Fortunately, lately I’ve been having ideas for a non-realist book/series of books that I hope to work on when this novel is finished, although I’m keeping quiet about this for now…

In other activity, I spent ten minutes polishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and half an hour on Torah study.  I did some serious textual study, Tehillim (Psalms) and Mishnah in Hebrew.  The Artscroll Mishnah commentary confuses me.  It goes into too much detail about what is in the Talmud Bavli and the Talmud Yerushalmi and the different commentaries and super-commentaries, the Rishonim and the Acharonim (the Medieval commentaries and post-Medieval commentaries).  I get completely confused and have no idea what the Mishnah is talking about when I probably could understand it on a basic level if it was simplified.  Sadly, the Kehati Mishnah which is much more succinct and guides you through the basic meaning of the Mishnah is now out of print and hard to get hold of and I don’t think Koren have an English language Mishnah yet, so I’m stuck with the Artscroll.

I ran for thirty-five minutes again, for the third time this week, which I haven’t managed for a very long time.  I was out at 8pm when everyone applauds the NHS.  It was amusing, feeling like I was finishing a marathon when I was only halfway through my run, but I was irritated by the number of people coming out of their drives and onto the pavement, making me either run in the road or risk coming close enough to get infected.  This only exacerbated my mixed feelings about the whole exercise (the NHS applause, not the run).  I realised that if anyone wants to be a populist dictator in this country, they shouldn’t whip up racial hatred, start a war or press for emergency powers – just present themselves as the champion of the NHS.  It worked for Tony Blair.

The problem is that despite a lot of activity, I still wish I had done more.  If I had got up earlier, or been less depressed when I did get up, I might have managed more Torah study or been able to go to bed earlier tonight.  If I hadn’t got an exercise migraine I might have managed a little more Torah study, or to talk to E. for longer…  It’s an unhelpful attitude, but it persists in me.  Nevertheless, I can see that this has been a very productive week.

***

I weighed 75kg this morning, nearly 12 stone.  Admittedly that was after breakfast (I’m really bad at remembering to weigh myself before breakfast.  I’m really bad at doing anything before breakfast, to be honest).  I know I need to lose weight, but it’s hard.  I do eat quite a bit of junk on Shabbat and I’m not entirely sure why my self-control deserts me then, but otherwise I limit myself to one unhealthy thing a day.  I try not to eat ice cream more than once a week, if not even less frequently (ice cream is my biggest comfort eating temptation, and is something we currently have loads of as Mum can eat it when chemo side-effects make it hard for her to eat more solid things).  But I feel it’s so hard to cut junk out entirely when I’m depressed, I just need something nice before I go to bed.  I tried cutting the calories different ways, eating less at lunch, but that didn’t work either, I just got really hungry in the late afternoon long before dinner (we usually eat quite late, which doesn’t help).  I already eat a lot of fruit and veg every day, so I can’t substitute them in to replace more fattening alternatives.  I do worry about being overweight and unhealthy, but I don’t know how to shift it – as far as I can tell, my weight gain is completely driven by my psychiatric medications, all of which have weight gain as a common side-effect, but I can’t come off them (I’ve tried).  I’m trying to exercise more too, but that can lead to weight gain, as muscle weighs more than fat.  I find it quite depressing.

***

Oh what tangled webs we weave…  I’ve mentioned about losing friends in the last few months.  One was someone whose blog I read.  We weren’t really friends, but I did comment there a lot.  Then I worried that I had said the wrong thing.  I felt my comments were becoming unintentionally combative because I was being upset (I won’t say ‘triggered’) by blog discussions of dating in the frum world.  I wasn’t trying to start a fight, but I worried it looked that way and wasn’t sure if my comments were ignored deliberately or just missed.  Then there was a reply to me that might have been angry or might not.

So, I resolved to stop reading and commenting, but I was weak, so I went back to reading and swore not to comment.  There was a post today with a religious question for which I think I have a helpful answer.  But I’m too scared to post.  I thought of posting under a different name, but worried that it could be identified as coming from me, possibly provoking further anger.  So, as of now, I haven’t commented, but it is frustrating when I think I could help.

The bottom line is that it was probably another online communication that I over-invested in and thought was friendlier than it actually was.  I used to think that my in-person social anxieties and awkwardnesses were mitigated online.  To some extent that’s true, but I think I do still have the ability to make people think I’m weird and rude.  I think I’ve upset people online before by not counting online friendships as “real” friendships, but to some extent it’s a defence strategy in a situation where I don’t know how much weight and significance the other person gives to interactions that mean a lot to me.

***

Related to the above: I have to say, writing a semi-autobiographical novel has really driven home how much other people might see me as a self-obsessed, moody, standoffish drama queen.  Not the type of person you would want to be friends with.  So much for “We’re all the heroes of our stories.”  I think I’m probably the irritating geeky character who gets killed off three quarters of the way through.

I did at least put “might see me as a self-obsessed (etc.)”.  In the past I would have been sure.

Therapy Hunting

I got up at 11.00am again today, although as with the last few days I struggled to get going.  I wasn’t feeling overtly depressed in the sense of despairing, but I did lack energy and motivation, which I guess is still depression of a kind.

I weighed myself for the first time since Pesach.  I have put on weight, but not much (half a kilo), which is a weird kind of victory.  I feel fat though.  Some of my clothes don’t fit so well (despite buying some larger ones a while back) and I know I’m two or three kilos overweight, which I haven’t been able to shift for years, since I was put on clomipramine.  I did go for a run again today.  I ran for most of the thirty-five minutes without going into a walk much, which was good.

I discovered that my self-published Doctor Who book is now available from Barnes and Noble as well as Lulu.com and Amazon UK.  I still can’t find it on Amazon US though.  I had an email from Lulu on Friday saying I should receive payment for the copies I’ve sold so far, but the money hasn’t reached my account yet.

I finished the short story I was writing and sent it to E. to see what she thinks.  E. and I Skyped again as we have been doing most days since the lockdown started.  I did twenty-five minutes of Torah study too, although I would have liked to have done more.

***

I spent nearly two hours looking for a therapist online.  I tried the questionnaire to find a therapist at welldoing.org.  The questionnaire had a long, long, looooong list of possible issues and I could easily have ticked six or seven that pertain to me, but I was only allowed to click three, so I went with depression, autism/Asperger’s and interpersonal relationships.  I hope the latter can cover my relationship with my Mum and need to come to terms with her mortality as well as my relationship with E. and understanding the changes that could entail in my life.  Autism isn’t exactly something I need to discuss in itself, but it informs my thoughts about my relationship with E. in particular and I would like to get someone who understands it if possible.  I think in many ways I’d prefer a therapist who understands autism to one who understands Orthodox Judaism, as I have a lot of experience explaining the latter to people, whereas autism is much harder to explain, especially as I feel like I don’t fully understand how it manifests in me.

Narrowing down the list of therapists is difficult, especially as I would be willing to do Skype sessions and would have to start with them.  I know it’s slightly weird to say this, but I have had male and female therapists/counsellors and I find it easier to open up to women than men (despite having had one positive male therapist and my rabbi mentor being male).  So I found myself biased in favour of women, even though that’s somewhat irrational.  Although a disproportionate amount of therapists and counsellors are female anyway.

Aside for checking BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy) membership, so far I’ve narrowed down primarily by cost and partly by locality (just in case I ever want an in-person meeting post-COVID-19), and also by type of therapy.  I am quite clear that I don’t want CBT, as it has never helped me much (except with my OCD, but that’s a different type of CBT) and, having had a some psychodynamic therapy in the past (I think… therapists do not always make it clear) I was interested in trying a new approach.  I looked primarily at therapists offering existential therapy, although I know little about it.  I did this because of my interest in Jewish existentialist thinkers, although I’m not sure how much overlap there is (therapists would probably have heard of Martin Buber and maybe Emmanuel Levinas, but are less likely to have heard of other Jewish figures).  Existentialism generally focuses on issues like purpose, choice and authenticity, which obviously inform my thoughts on a lot of subjects I would like to address, like my relationship with E. and my attitude to my sexuality generally, my position in the wider world/working world and my relationship with the wider Jewish community (the latter two not issues I would bring to therapy per se, but which are likely to come up in passing).

Tomorrow I might try to find some other names and then narrow down the list to a few who I can email to ask for more information about their fees for unemployed people.  Most therapists seem to offer concessions for those in financial need, but I need to see if I would qualify and what the concession rates are.

***

Overall it was another good day and I’m glad to have made progress with the therapy hunt.  Now that Pesach (Passover) is over, I feel like I’m coping with lockdown quite well.  There are no jobs to apply for giving me time to help around the house and write and study Torah, although I probably procrastinate too much and I struggle with mornings and compensate by staying up late, which probably isn’t healthy.  E. and I have been able to Skype most days because of the greater flexibility she had when working from home which paradoxically may have been good for our relationship (not that I wanted her potential trip to the UK to be postponed).

The Banality of Lockdown

I’m mostly doing OK today, but I’ll be going along, doing what I need to do, and then suddenly feel sad or anxious for no obvious reason.  Fortunately it seems to shift after a while.  Credit that to Shabbat (Sabbath) and sunshine.  I’m not sure what will happen next week when Pesach (Passover) preparation goes to the next level and rain is forecast.

I went out to do some shopping earlier, to pick up my prescription and some fruit and veg.  The didn’t have my lithium tablets in 400mg dose tablets, only 200mg.  I accepted those (although I didn’t think the pharmacist was supposed to change dosage like that, although maybe these are special times), but it means taking four lithium tablets an evening instead of two, alongside two clomipramine, one olanzapine and some vitamin supplements, plus of course my three morning tablets.  It’s frustrating, but I’m glad to have got the tablets at all, as I don’t know if I would be allowed to go to a different pharmacy at the moment, at least not without difficulty.

I had to wait outside the greengrocer’s for a long time as they were only allowing two people in at a time.  By the time I had finished there, I was feeling extremely anxious.  I’m not sure how much was health anxiety, how much social anxiety (I had to ask the shop assistant some things) and how much is just me beating myself up for stuff that isn’t my fault, in a borderline pure-O OCD way (not Pesach OCD for once).  I could have got home in about five minutes, but I took a detour for fifteen minutes to get some kind of walk as exercise and to fight off the anxiety, but it wasn’t particularly effective.  I would have liked to have gone for a longer walk, but I didn’t as I wanted to do some Pesach preparation alongside my Shabbat preparation.  Now the clocks have gone forward, Shabbat starts later, so as well as Shabbat chores and shopping I’ve done some Pesach preparation, which hopefully will “buy” me some time to bake or exercise next week.

Mum it seems is on the high risk COVID-19 list after all, although this is not completely clear to me.  However, we’re struggling to have the government website to recognise her as such, which we would need to get priority for shopping delivery slots.  The automated phone line flatly refused to recognise her NHS number.

This post seems banal even by my usual standards and I’m not sure that anyone will be interested.  Coronavirus seems to have given us a lots of time to talk, but nothing to talk about.  Aside from Pesach preparation, I’m not really being upset (I’m trying not to use the word ‘triggered’) by anything.  I just feel surprisingly lonely, and worried about E. and frustrated at being so far from her at this time.

Sudden Sadnesses

It seems that I forgot to take my medication yesterday, morning and evening.  While I can believe I forgot the evening dose, as I was rushing to go to depression group, I’m a bit surprised I forgot the morning dose.  But it would explain why I was so anxious and despairing yesterday.  I do feel a lot better today.

It’s also worth noting that my parents are really proud of how well I’ve coped with things this week, the things I’ve written about here and the things I don’t think I should share yet, if at all.  They said that I’ve coped a lot better than they expected/feared.

There isn’t a lot left to say.  I was feeling OK today, but suddenly my mood will drop with no obvious trigger.  I feel quite sad at the moment, without really being sure why (possibly empathy for a friend whose family are going through a very tough time right now).  I hope I feel well enough later to get to shul (synagogue) tonight, because that is very important to me, even though I have been struggling with it lately.

Big events are happening in the geopolitical world and part of me would like to write about how that affects me emotionally, but I haven’t really got the time or, if I’m honest, the inclination.  Writing about my emotional response is likely to lead me sooner or later into writing about my political response, which I have no real wish to do.  Politics in general just seems so poisonous these days, although one can probably overstate it; I’m not convinced by arguments that global politics is as broken and dangerous as it was in the 1930s.