Playing the Autism Card

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

OCD-Fighting Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Checking In

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

“Marry the freak”

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Pesach Preparation Begins in Earnest

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

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

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

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

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

Less Anxious

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

I’m Going Slightly Mad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Cold turkey has got me on the run”

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

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

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

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

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

Sick Day, and Purim Evening

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

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

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

Written at 8pm:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

Withdrawal, Virus, Or What?

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep-Deprived

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

In My Family

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Racing Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Perfect Storm

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

The Great Journey of Life

We went out for dinner last night: me, my parents, my uncle (who was staying with us) and my sister and brother-in-law. Just before we left the house, the lights went out. We quickly ascertained that the whole road had lost power (actually, some of it hadn’t, weirdly, including the street lamp in front of the house, but most of it had). By the time we got to the restaurant, we realised that the whole area was out of power, including the restaurant, so we quickly made a reservation at the restaurant’s sister restaurant a couple of miles away. We had a good dinner, but, as usual, I spaced out at times, and lost my ability to concentrate properly before the end.

When we got home the power was back, which was good, as it turned out I couldn’t sleep, so I needed power to watch DVDs to try to unwind and to make hot chocolate. I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep. I probably needed more downtime to transition from peopling to sleep, but it could also have been caused by caffeine (I had a diet coke at the restaurant) or my recent work night insomnia or coming off olanzapine.

In the end I got two or three hours of sleep and somehow survived through a day of work today, although I fear I made even more mistakes than usual. I decided not to stay for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) at the shul (synagogue), as I wanted to leave early, but J ended up staying later than usual and I didn’t want to ask to leave before him, so the benefit was fairly marginal. I got tired and very bored at work, but not really depressed, which is good, given my medication-reduction situation.

Speaking of work mistakes, I did post on an autism forum the other day about tips for managing executive function issues. I didn’t get many answers and I’m not sure how feasible the ones I did get are in my situation, other than write checklists, which I do, and still forget things.

***

I feel I need to say that I’m in love with E, as some blog readers apparently thought I was marrying her out of obligation or purely to have children. I would not advise anyone to do either of these two things. I’m not sure if I need to say this, but, just to reassure anyone else who is wondering, our relationship is built on a mixture of mutual love and care, trust, acceptance, shared values and outlooks, and chemistry/physical attraction. And joint Doctor Who viewing. But I’m not going to say more than that, as it’s private between the two of us.

***

I participated in a Zoom call from my shul about our proposed new premises. It was quite a lot of doom and gloom, and then a sort-of positive ending. It looks like I’ll have to stop going to my shul in a month or two’s time, as we’re losing our current premises without having any replacement until the autumn. Various alternative options are being considered, but I’m not sure any are ideal for someone with autistic overload and social anxiety issues. Then in six months, they hope to start using new premises. People are excited about this, but I feel like I am halfway out the community already and it isn’t a time for new beginnings. I need to decide if I want to stay a member for now (probably, for complicated reasons to do with the burial scheme).

As it’s clear that my current shul isn’t the right one for E, even if we live in this area, which is not likely, it does seem to accelerate my departure. I guess I’ll have to go to my parents’ shul in the meantime, which is not ideal, but I guess will get me used to going to a United Synagogue shul again (too much talking, too much cantorial and choral music).

Brief Life Update

That’s a life update that is brief, not an update to a life that is brief. (Reminds me of an anecdote I heard about the Jewish law code called the Chayei Adam (Life of Man). Why did it get this strange name? (Admittedly many pre-modern rabbinic texts have strange names, often puns or quotes based on the author’s name.) Because the author knew a previous law code, the Shulchan Aruch (Prepared Table) was republished in an edited form, as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Shorter Prepared Table). He didn’t want an edited version of his law code published, so he thought that no one would publish a book called the Kitzur Chayei Adam (Shorter Life of Man). However, they did still publish an edited version, just with a different name.)

Earlier I was going to complain about my life feeling stuck, but then suddenly a bunch of things happened today! Unfortunately, it’s only the least interesting ones I can share for now…

My parents managed to get me a phone appointment with the doctor today about my exhaustion. We’ve agreed to reduce and then stop the olanzapine (one of three psych meds I’m on, all of which can cause tiredness) and to do some blood tests to check vitamin levels and the like. Annoyingly, I had one of my regular lithium blood tests yesterday; I would have waited if I had known. I’m hoping coming off some of meds is helpful regarding exhaustion, although I suspect at least some of the exhaustion is autistic fatigue (the doctor didn’t comment when I mentioned that). I’m not sure how long it will take to come off the olanzapine. The doctor said take a lower dose of olanzapine for a couple of weeks, then stop entirely, assuming the depression doesn’t come back, but that will be around the time my parents are hoping to be away, and that’s often a time when I feel lonely and depressed, so maybe not the best time for a medication change.

I heard from the Benefits Centre too. The money I was getting wasn’t a mistake. Some people are eligible for more than a year’s worth of benefits and I was classed as vulnerable and so permitted to keep getting benefits even though I was earning over the usual limit. I wish they had made this clearer. My benefits have been suspended now, pending my sending them more information about my earnings over the last fifteen months or so, and I suspect it won’t be restarted now I’m working.

The End of the Holiday

I was physically exhausted by yesterday evening and cut down a lot of my evening activities. I had written my devar Torah (Torah thought) during the day, but planned to do some additional Torah study too, but I largely cut that out, as I largely cut out my hitbodedut (spontaneous prayer/meditation). I read for a short while and went to bed, but, although tired, I could not sleep. I knew it was because I had not really relaxed before bed. I got up, drank some hot chocolate, and watched The Twilight Zone (which was really not the best thing to watch). After that, I felt relaxed enough to go back to bed and sleep.

I dislike the fact that I tire so easily, and that I need so much relaxation time, as distinct from other activities that are, on some level, or seem to others, to be ‘me’ time, like prayer and Torah study. My parents and E have always been understanding about this, but I feel like somehow Torah study (etc.) should be enough for me, when necessary, without additional relaxation time. When really exhausted, just going to bed feels like it should be enough, but it isn’t.

I woke up about 10am today, which was late, but earlier than yesterday. Even so I lay in bed for forty-five minutes, until the Tesco delivery came and I went to help with that. Afterwards I felt ill until I had breakfast. I’m not sure if it was lack of food or drink that made me feel ill or just running around on an empty stomach. I’m not really getting the ‘headrush’ feeling that I was getting sometimes before my trip, but walking up three flights of stairs while wearing a mask to get to my apartment and to E’s apartment while I was in New York did make me feel ill too. I probably should see a doctor about this, and to see if I can reduce my medication to try to increase my energy levels (and lose weight). I am scared to do this, as in the past trying to come of medication has always led rapidly to severe depression, but I do think I’m in a better place right now than I have been since I was sixteen or so.

I spent an hour or so chasing a reference from something I’d seen years ago by Rabbi Lord Sacks for my devar Torah. I couldn’t find it, although I’m pretty sure it exists somewhere, as I doubt I would have made the quote up and I can’t imagine anyone else saying it. I will use the idea in my devar Torah and just note that I can’t locate the exact reference, as I don’t have time to write another one. I possibly do worry too much about finding references for these divrei Torah; it’s not like they’re being published professionally. I did find a somewhat relevant quote that helps a bit. Skimming through a lot of lectures and articles by Rabbi Sacks was at least a worthwhile revision session, and a reminder of how quietly radical his theology was.

***

Holiday: Tuesday 25 January

I woke up totally ‘out of spoons’ (autistically exhausted). I went to E’s apartment and slowly drank some coffee (remember I wasn’t making coffee or tea in my apartment as I was scared of breaking the fancy copper gas stove kettle). By this day E and I were feeling pretty museumed out and masked out and aware we had spent a lot of time masked indoors in the last week.

We decided to go for a walk on the Lower East Side instead of going to another museum, spending the afternoon walking around Chinatown and Little Italy. It was very interesting and different to London. We went to a kosher pickle restaurant — all the food they sell is pickle-related. It was a bit weird, but good. I would go again, if I was in that area! Although kosher, it’s not in a particularly Jewish area, so we think it must be aimed more at a general hipster market, being located in an area that is gentrifying.

In the evening I filled in the passenger locator form that I was supposed to fill in for my flight home the next day. This turned out to be total nightmare, fiddly to complete on my phone (I have fat fingers and should have asked to borrow E’s laptop) and crashing when I was nearly finished. Nor was this the only trouble I was to have with it…

We went for falafel again afterwards.

Wednesday 26 January

We had intended to go back to the Met Museum on this day, to fill in the time before my night flight home. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Met is currently shut on Wednesdays because of COVID (?!). There wasn’t really time to go anywhere else, so we sat in E’s apartment and read. E read the Doctor Who novelisation I bought earlier in the week while I read Drama Queen, an autism memoir E thought I might want to read. The book was familiar from other autism memoirs that I’ve read, but a few things resonated, particularly the difficulties of coping in a busy work environment, also familiar from my own work life. I did appreciate the description of life as being like walking on a treadmill and autistic life as being walking on a treadmill going much faster than a neurotypical person’s treadmill, resulting in the autistic person having to walk or run much faster just to stay in the same place, and incomprehension from the neurotypical person at why the autistic person is getting so tired.

As my flight was a night flight, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get dinner, or when, so we went for a couple of slices of pizza mid-afternoon, then on to the airport, avoiding a dog who barked repeatedly and aggressively at me as his owner tried to drag him down the pavement and away from me. At the airport, I had trouble getting my passenger locator form to open properly, perhaps connected with the fact that I don’t usually access email on my phone, as I use a not-terribly good webmail interface. The person trying to check my form fiddled with the phone, then she gave it to someone else and eventually sent me to the website for filling in the form, where I remembered the correct password (not easy, as the problems with it the previous night had led to me setting up two different passwords on two different sites, and I wasn’t sure which was which).

I checked in and was facing a long wait, as I had arrived very early. The long wait was extended, as it slowly became clear that the plane was being delayed as a previous flight had been cancelled for technical reasons and those passengers were going to be flown on our flight (I’m guess both flights were well below capacity) as this was the last one to the UK that day. I tried to sit calmly, not get agitated, and practise patience and acceptance, knowing I couldn’t make the wait any shorter by worrying or getting angry. We eventually boarded, and left two hours late, around midnight EST. I had an empty seat next to me again despite the extra passengers, for which I was grateful. I read Talmudic Images and Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon and watched The Simpsons. I feel I probably read or watched other things too, but I can’t remember what. I didn’t sleep, as I can’t sleep on planes. EDIT: I do remember what I did, I listened to The Kinks’ greatest hits. I think The Beatles were a better band than The Kinks, but The Kinks say “The Sixties” to me in a way that The Beatles don’t. Also, The Kinks’ music is much better at wry social observation. Kinks songs like Summer Afternoon, Plastic Man, Dedicated Follower of Fashion and A Well-Respected Man are neat portraits of social ‘types.’ We made up some lost time and landed one hour late rather than two hours.

And that was that. I eventually found the right door out of the airport to meet my parents and they brought me home. I tried to beat jetlag by staying awake despite not having slept the night before, but failed and slept for an hour and a half in the afternoon.

I enjoyed the trip a lot, although I’m not sure if I would stay in an Airbnb again. It did have some advantages over a hotel from a kosher/Shabbat point of view and a price point of view, but there were also disadvantages and there probably was a degree of luck/Providence in things turning out OK at several points. I would like to spend more time in the Met Museum at some point, as well as some of the museums I didn’t get to see, but preferably without wearing a mask.

Emotional Authenticity

I overslept massively today. It turns out that it’s not enough to ‘balance the books’ in terms of energy accounting; I also have to go to bed at a reasonable time to get up earlier! I stayed up too late procrastinating online and reducing an iTunes playlist with 400+ “favourite” songs down to a round 100, which wasn’t really a priority. I do sometimes get focused on these trivial, but compulsive, tasks, saying I’ll do it for ten minutes, but end up being sucked in to doing it for much longer, until it’s completed. I think I finally went to bed around 2am; getting very hungry late at night and needing to eat didn’t help either.

Today I got up well after noon and felt very drained. Of course, it could be that it wasn’t so much a result of last night as much as running a big energy deficit over the week and not paying it off over Friday and Saturday. Perhaps, just as I feel the government shouldn’t run a massive fiscal deficit, I should be more careful about my own energy deficits. But it’s hard when I have a looming, unmovable event (my trip to New York) that I need to prepare for, alongside work and other regular chores.

The other annoying thing when I got up was weighing myself for the first time in a while and discovering that I hadn’t lost any weight, despite trying (not always successfully) to cut back. It’s not exactly surprising, as I have, if anything, been exercising less lately, as a result of poor weather and general busyness, and I’m pretty sure my weight gain is medication-driven anyway. Still, I had hoped to shift a bit of weight before my trip, and especially before my wedding (which still hasn’t got a date, so there’s time there I guess, but I’m unlikely to succeed if it’s completely medication-driven).

My main task today was to book holiday insurance, which I did, although it took a while. I also went for a walk and did an hour of Torah study and skyped E, so it was not a wasted day, but I still feel overwhelmed at the thought of my trip, and the busy work days I’m likely to have this week in addition to getting ready.

***

I haven’t had time to work on my novels recently, either researching/writing the new one or submitting the old one. I’ve been too focused on relationship and travel stuff, which is fine, the novels can wait. Something came up recently that reinforced my desire to write the type of novels I’m trying to write.

Sadly, there has recently been another Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) abuse scandal. I won’t go into the details, because it’s not really relevant and is all over the internet anyway. It has produced a lot of outrage and debate online. One blog post I read used the abuse to make a more general point about the lack of emotional honesty in the Haredi world. “People pretend to feel things they do not feel, exaggerate feelings, especially when connected with spiritual matters, or quite frankly—are completely emotionally dissociated, such that all their actions stem from a place of artificiality… Many emotions are taboo—like anger, doubt, and pride. Which leads people to feel uncomfortable admitting that they have them.” The writer goes on to say that people present themselves as doing the right things and ignore the confusion of their inner lives, resulting in secrecy and a tendency to defend the image of the community and not acknowledge its complex reality, including abuse and corruption.

The blog post resonated with me for various reasons, partly because I have a religious mentality of trying to get to the truth of my beliefs and actions and see if I’m really doing things for the right reasons or not (this is not always healthy and can lead to overthinking and religious OCD, but at least avoids just telling myself that I’m doing what is expected). But also because, in my writing, to some extent here and especially in fiction, I want to get at the truth of my religious experience and try to represent that.

I’m not sure if I really succeeded with that in my first novel. I know I felt kind of forced by the nature of fiction to add some kind of epiphany for the main character that I felt rang a bit false. However, I didn’t know how to end it without that. Only later did I read Dara Horn’s essay on Jewish fiction in People Love Dead Jews, where she speaks about the idea of epiphany, ending, closure etc. in fiction being essentially Christian in origin, and about Yiddish and modern Hebrew novels often not having that closure and just stopping abruptly without the protagonist really having grown or changed. As an approach, it intrigues me, but I’m not sure I could write it, or accept it if I read it, or sell it to an agent or publisher.

I think in particular, there’s a lot of confusion and inner conflict and hypocrisy in the Haredi world around sex, of which abuse scandals are just a part, albeit the most troubling part. And there’s also a lot of confusion and inner conflict and hypocrisy in the secular Western world around sex, and, again, abuse scandals are just a part of that. I’m interested in what those two worldviews say to each other and what happens to people caught between the two of them. I suspect writing about this will not make me popular with either side.

(Of course, I need to actually write which I haven’t been doing recently…)

Work, Music, Friends

Work from home is making me exhausted and depressed.

I slept badly last night. I woke up about 5.30am after disturbing dreams, full of anxiety about work and the Very Scary Task (I should probably think of a better name for that here). I realised I had forgotten to tell someone something and that was worrying me. I got up and drank hot chocolate and read Philip K. Dick (We Can Remember It for You Wholesale) for a while, which calmed me down a bit. I went back to bed, but as I was trying to fall asleep, J texted me at 6.30am to check some details. I guess he assumed I get up early for Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I went back to sleep, but didn’t sleep well, with more disturbing dreams. My alarm went at 9.20am and I probably would have fallen asleep again were it not for more work texts (not from J this time). I had breakfast and sent a text to resolve the problem of forgetting to tell someone something, but then J messaged me with another query. It wasn’t hard to resolve, but the whole process of this task is all quite nerve-wracking. I hope I don’t have to do this again next week — or for some time longer, really. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing in advance, and the odds are I will have to do it again next week.

I was very nervous of something going wrong with the Very Scary Task, but no one phoned me with a problem, so I guess it went OK. The main work for today, the data entry, was more tedious than ever. I found it hard to concentrate and I could not work out if that was related to Very Scary Task anxiety; being tired from yesterday and not sleeping well; or just the cumulative effect of doing this boring task for days on end.

I wanted to listen to music while doing the data entry, but I wasn’t sure what. Not the loud rock I usually listen to, because I needed to concentrate. I found some chazanut (Jewish liturgical music) CDs that belong to my parents and thought listening to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur music might get me in the appropriate mindset for those coming festivals, but I discovered that I dislike traditional chazanut as much when listened to as music as I do when listening to it in shul (synagogue). It’s all very emotional and wailing and loud and dragged out… I know some people feel the music and chazanut helps them to pray more intently, but I always get the feeling that the chazan just wants to show off and I would rather spend my time and energy focused on my private personal prayers. Maybe that’s why I struggle with going to shul; it’s certainly why I go to a shul where the focus is very much on personal prayers without much chazanut.

In the end I listened to incidental music from Twin Peaks. Similarly, on Monday I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner while I did the data entry. Incidental music isn’t as intrusive as other music, and evokes the atmosphere of enjoyable TV or film while I’m doing a boring task.

***

Towards the end of work, I started feeling very negative about myself, wondering why I’m doing basic data entry tasks of the kind that would normally be done by an intern when I’m in my late thirties and not being able to work full-time. It got mixed in with thoughts about the Jewish cultural website I wrote about yesterday, some resentment that many of the writers there have gone on to write professionally, or were already professional writers and got a boost, whereas for a long time I wanted to write for them, but wasn’t able to. (I did write a couple of guest posts eventually.) I also felt that a lot of the writers seemed to have mental health issues, but also managed to have families, careers, religious lives, community involvement and creative outlets and I never worked out how they did all of it. In the end, I became a sort of self-loathing troll, posting comments that attacked not others, but myself and wallowed in the misery of so much of my adult life.

I thought I had put the site behind me (it’s pretty much defunct now), but I realise I have such a mixture of thoughts about it. I thought, or at least hoped, I could make real friends there, I had a kind of “friendship crush” on so many of the writers, wanted to be noticed by them and converse with them in the comments. I made a couple of online friends I still sometimes connect with, including one who has been a bit of a writing mentor to me, but those were other commenters, not the writers. But then I remember that once I wrote a comment about being pretty suicidal and a bunch of the writers wrote messages to support me, so I guess they were friendly. I never quite worked out if they wrote it because they like me as an individual or if they just saw “A person is in trouble, we should help!” and it didn’t really matter who I was. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

E found my blog through my comments there, I think, so I guess that’s one tangible positive that came out of it for me.

Thinking about this also makes me realise that I’ve been so focused lately on getting my manuscript ready to try to find an agent, and brainstorming ideas for future projects, that I haven’t actually done any creative writing in ages, even though I have an idea for a short story. I would like to write it, but with the possibility of another week of crazy work next week and then the autumn Yom Tovim (Jewish religious festivals), I’m not sure when I’ll have the time.

***

Aside from work, I went for a walk and did some shopping, which was where the negative thoughts got worse. I finished my devar Torah and skyped E and did a few minutes of Torah study, but that was about it. E is still the biggest positive in my life, even on stressful days.

***

The results from my recent blood test show my lithium level is slightly down. The results say it’s OK, but I thought 0.68 was sub-therapeutic. It might explain why my mood has been down a bit lately. My cholesterol is still a little high, but I don’t seem to be able to shift that much. I know, I should cut cheese, butter and eggs out of my life completely, but I can’t face it. I don’t eat much butter or eggs as it is, and I slashed my cheese consumption and, at the moment, can’t face cutting it further. I hope this doesn’t come back to haunt me one day.

The Nightmare

I feel bad today, what I would term “depressed” if it continued for a period of days. At the moment I’m just thinking/hoping it’s a one-off bad day, perhaps a result of a somewhat negative Shabbat. I have felt a bit overstretched recently, particularly at work, even though I’m not really doing that much. I feel like the famous Fuseli picture of The Nightmare, with the horrible imp thing squatting on the woman’s chest. I feel as if there’s something heavy sitting on my shoulders, and I have the old feeling that someone replaced my brain with cotton wool while I was sleeping. I hope this isn’t the start of another episode of depression.

My parents went to a lechaim (drinks) for the son of friends who just got engaged. He’s about ten years younger than me. I’m glad I have E so I won’t fixate on this as I would have in the past.

Because of all of this, I’ve postponed reducing my olanzapine for a few days, just in case.

E is being supportive, but it’s hard for us to be so far apart when one or other of us has our periodic ‘downs.’ It makes me worry how we would cope if we had children to deal with too, or how we are going to get to a work/financial situation where we can afford to have children when neither of us can work full-time. I wish we could just have a chill out day together, although I’m very bad at chilling out. Even today, feeling bad, I spent an hour on Torah study, half an hour sorting out bank statements and emails and went for a run. The run was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not very good, with poor stamina and a lot of walking, but at least I was running for the first time in month (thanks to family get-togethers and Jewish fasts, as well as bad weather).

I spoke to E in the evening. I had a bit of an exercise headache and she was really tired, but we had an interesting and fun chat regardless and my mood was rather better afterwards, which is very positive.

***

Why do I fixate on antisemitism when I feel depressed? I don’t know, but I have done so for years. I still can’t get over the fact that “#HitlerWasRight” was trending on Twitter earlier this year, during the conflict between Israel and Hamas. I assume it’s defended as, “Not antisemitic, just critical of Israel,” which is how antisemitism is usually normalised these days. How is supporting the Holocaust not antisemitic? Or the convoy of cars that toured Jewish parts of London with the drivers shouting “Fuck the Jews and rape their daughters!”

I suppose that I feel that I should be able to “fix” things somehow, but, of course, I can’t. It’s pointless to complain. The people who need to hear it won’t listen.

***

I’m reading We Need to Talk About Kevin, which probably isn’t the best thing to be reading right now, in terms of being down, as it’s about a high school shooter, told from the point of view of his mother. It’s well-written and involving, but also dark and heavy. Although the thing I’ve really noticed is how many metaphors and similes author Lionel Shriver uses. I hardly use any in my writing, I know, something which I put down to somewhat autistic language use. I also don’t write long descriptions. My Dad said the other day that I don’t waste a word in my writing, which is the positive way of looking at it, although I’m vaguely worried about publishers equating interesting metaphors with good writing, even in prose.

***

Otherwise I guess things are OK. I’m not into the Olympics, but my parents have been fascinated by dressage, BMX biking and skateboarding; I joked that Dad should take up the latter. I didn’t even know that skateboarding is a sport, let alone that it is Olympic-standard.

The Great Partnership

I have been trying not to go online after Shabbat (the Sabbath) goes out late in the summer (“goes out” is a metaphor for finishing, as Shabbat is anthropomorphised as a person, the Shabbat Queen or Shabbat Bride). However, I didn’t have a great Shabbat and feel the need to offload.

Shul (synagogue) last night was difficult. The previous rabbi, who took a position abroad some years ago, was visiting and the shul was packed with people who wanted to see him. I felt very uncomfortable, both for COVID reasons (even fewer people seemed to be wearing masks this week, as it’s no longer mandatory) and autism/social anxiety reasons. I just felt overwhelmed by the number of people, their proximity to me, and the noise from clapping and banging on tables when previous rabbi led a very noisy and enthusiastic Kabbalat Shabbat service. I felt uncomfortable and I left quickly once the service finished, hoping that previous rabbi didn’t recognise me with my mask on and no glasses, as I didn’t feel able to speak to him.

I spoke to my parents about some important stuff over dinner. The talk went well. I’ll elaborate on some of this below.

This morning I actually woke up early. I got up and said the Shema, perhaps the most important Jewish prayer, which is to be said early in the morning and again at night; I usually say the morning one far too late. But after I said it, I went back to bed. I’m not sure what my thought process was, but I’m pretty sure social anxiety and avoidance was part of it — I didn’t want to go to shul after what happened yesterday. I did think about getting up and just staying at home, but somehow drifted off to sleep again. This meant that I missed when a friend of mine who is visiting her parents in the area knocked on the door. I haven’t seen her since my sister’s wedding nearly four years ago (she is a close friend of my sister and a more casual friend of mine, but I rarely see her now she lives in Manchester).

I had lunch by myself, as my parents were at a friends’ house. I don’t mind that. I read a bit of the latest Doctor Who Magazine (which, despite its flaws, I’m probably going to keep subscribing to). I slept after lunch, which wasn’t particularly sensible, as I don’t feel tired now.

Shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) was still a bit distressing, but not as bad as last night. I mostly followed the Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards. I fell into a slight depression afterwards. I’m not sure why I feel down and slightly agitated. I probably need to do something relaxing, like watch TV before bed, as Shabbat was so stressful. The book I just started reading, We Need to Talk about Kevin, about a school shooter, is not exactly light reading either.

***

Of the things I spoke to my parents about last night, one is about changing my medication slightly. When I last saw my psychiatrist, she gave me a road map to reduce my olanzapine dose. This would hopefully help me be a bit more awake and lose some weight, without the rapid fall back into depression that happens when I try to come off it completely. However, the last few days I’ve felt somewhat stressed and overwhelmed, culminating in this not very good Shabbat, so I feel nervous of fiddling around with my meds, which often goes badly for me. I’m not sure what I’ll do now; maybe wait a week or so and see how I feel.

I also spoke to my parents about telling my community rabbi about my autism/Asperger’s in the run up to the autumn festival cycle (September this year), which is always extremely difficult. They agreed with me that it would be good to talk to him and suggested that I encourage him to read the article I had published online about being high functioning autistic in the Orthodox community, although I feel I need to make some kind of clear request of him rather than just dump all my negative thoughts on him and walk off. I’ve got some time to decide, as he’s going away on holiday this week.

***

A thought I’ve been wrestling with literally all Shabbat (it came to me in shul on Friday night):

Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl, in his book on science and religion, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, writes the following:

The story I am about to tell concerns the human mind’s ability to do two quite different things. One is to break things down into their constituent parts and see how they mesh and interact. The other is to join things together so that they tell a story, and to join people together so that they form relationships. The best example of the first is science; of the second, religion.

Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.

My first thought about this is, that while it’s probably true in general, halakhic study is a lot more like the first approach than the second. As Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik wrote in his classic work Halakhic Man, the scholar of Talmud and Halakhah (Jewish Law), which he dubs “Halakhic Man,” has as much in common with the secular scientist or philosopher (Cognitive Man) than with the mystical religious (Homo Religiosus). Halakhic study is very much about breaking things — laws, concepts, actions — into their parts and analysing them. It’s not really about telling stories or forming relationships, let alone spirituality or homiletics.

The Talmud does not just contain halakhah. A substantial minority of it is aggadah, non-legal material, much of it narrative. However, Orthodox society has come to focus on halakhah as the main topic of study for Jewish men. I believe in some yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries), students are advised to skip the aggadic passages.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, though, beyond noting that my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts are rarely halakhic and more about crafting, if not a narrative, then some kind of homiletic argument. Most divrei Torah are like that, but other people (communal rabbis, certainly) seem to be able to do that and still understand halakhic argument.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, and I’ve been on my computer for an hour (admittedly not writing the whole time) and it’s midnight, so I’ll leave things there for now. I guess it’s just about my feeling of not having a place in the Orthodox community. I wish I had asked Rabbi Sacks about this (somehow) while he was still alive.

Season Finale

Most days are just “filler episode” days, but some days are “season finale” days, when dramatic and unexpected life-changing things can happen. Today was definitely a season finale, with a dramatic and unexpected (if not entirely surprising in hindsight) revelation, but I don’t really feel comfortable in going into detail here yet.

What did happen that wasn’t dramatic, unexpected or life-changing was going for my regular lithium level blood test. I had tremor again, as I always seem to have when having my blood taken these days. It seems to be worse since lockdown, as I can’t breathe deeply to calm myself while wearing a mask. I actually got a bit out of breath with the mask on and I think the phlebotomist was concerned; at any rate, he kept asking if I was OK. I can accept occasional tremor as one of the prices I pay for being on medication that helps with my mental health, but I do feel awkward and embarrassed, especially when it happens at the blood test, as the phlebotomist always assumes I’m scared of needles. I’m not, it’s just that being conscious of the need to sit still and not shake actually starts me shaking.

Oh, another NHS story: I got home to discover an email saying my appointment had been shifted from 2.40pm to 2.35pm. The email was sent at 2.31pm! Fortunately, I was there early (or on time, depending on how you look at it).

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital again about getting my report corrected and the leaflet of resources. It turns out I had forgotten to email them about after my last phone call. Whoops. I could say that an autism hospital ought to know that autistic people have trouble processing verbal instructions, but really I should have written it down. I’ve sent that email now. Sometimes it’s not the NHS that’s at fault. I hope I get the corrected report and leaflet soon, as I’d like to get on the very long waiting list for autism-adapted CBT to (hopefully) help with my social interactions.

I submitted my article to Aish.com. I’ll have to wait and see what they think.

That was it, really. I walked back from my blood test, I cooked dinner and listened to some shiurim (religious class) while cooking. I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I have a better idea of what I’m writing, imperfect though it is. It was a busy day, but to be honest, very little of what I’ve written about here registered. I was just thinking about the thing that I don’t want to share yet.

Tomorrow I have volunteering at the Jewish food bank for the first time in several months, as they think it’s safe enough now to let people volunteer together and not just in family bubbles.