Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

A fund-raising email from an autism charity told me today that autistic people are nine times more likely to commit suicide than non-autistic people, which is depressing, but I fear has the ring of truth. Elsewhere, a blog I follow tells me that only 16% of autistic people are in work (although I suspect there are more non-diagnosed autistic people who are in work and haven’t needed a diagnosis) and only 5% get married (it doesn’t say how many of those marriages work out). I’m not sure what happens if you take out the severe autism. Of course, secular Western society defines people by their career and Orthodox Jewish society largely defines them by their marriage and offspring, so it is easy to end up feeling like a failure – which I guess is where the suicide statistic comes in.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) felt like the first Shabbat of winter, cold and dark, and over early enough that it wasn’t worth eating dinner for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). I slept for something like thirteen or fourteen hours out of twenty-five, which was not good. I read two chapters of Iyov (Job) which was good, as Iyov is about the hardest book of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) from a linguistic point of view, very, very difficult poetry with lots of obscure words (hard from a theological point of view too, of course, but that wasn’t my main point). Other than that not a lot happened.

I was vaguely anxious, or at least apprehensive about a lot of things: maybe Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) which starts tomorrow night and certainly the job interview on Wednesday and my fears about what will happen if I get the job which is at a Very Important Institution (can I work full-time? Will they let me work part-time? Can I cope with work at all? What will it be like working somewhere so important and prestigious, not to mention high security? What about commuting with COVID restrictions?).

I also worried about dating PIMOJ. At the moment I feel inhibited from telling her when I have a depressive day, because she’s so positive and I worry how she will react if I’m depressed. However, that leaves me feeling like a fake and worrying that we can’t build a relationship on honesty if I feel I have to hide how I feel for fear of rejection. I also wonder if she is too religious for me, which seems a weird thing to think, compared with my previous relationships. It doesn’t help that we’ve never met in person because of COVID and it isn’t certain when we will be able to do so. I feel that things might be better, or at least clearer, if we met in person, but at the moment we’re stuck with instant messenger and Skype calls. I do like her, though, even if I worry we’re not on the same wavelength.

On Job Interviews and Autism

I’m feeling burnt out again. My brain has the “stuffed with cotton wool” feeling that I haven’t had for a while. I guess at this time of year, for religious Jews, things get rather fraught anyway, with so many Yom Tovim (festivals) in rapid succession. We had Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) last week; on Sunday night and Monday is Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) and then at the end of the week is the start of the mammoth nine day festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) and its semi-detached conclusion of Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Assembly) and Simchat Torah (the Rejoicing of the Torah). I’m not getting up at 5.30am for selichot (penitential prayers) at the moment as I “should” be doing; I can only imagine what state I would be in if I were. At least after Monday the festivals will be less psychologically intense, with a focus on joy rather than on repentance, even if there is still a lot to do practically, although I have the “threat” of going back to shul (synagogue) in COVID times hanging over me, which I still do not feel comfortable about.

Because of Shabbat and Yom Kippur, I only have one full day to prepare for my job interview, and maybe an hour or so squeezed in amidst preparation on Sunday. To be honest, today I don’t have much energy/will power for preparation. The interview schedule I was sent seems to indicate that they’re only going to ask questions about my presentation, but that seemed unlikely, unless there’s a second, more general, interview somewhere down the line, so I want to prepare for general questions. I feel that I’m not good at interviews any more. I had a lot of practise for them when I was at school, preparing for university applications, but I have gone rusty. With autism, it’s hard to respond to questions in speech and without pause to consider, as would be permitted with a written test, and sometimes I just stop for several seconds (or longer) as my brain tries to get in gear. Sometimes the question doesn’t even register properly first time around and I have to ask the interviewer to repeat it, another autistic trait. Other times I stumble over my words and don’t sound too coherent, plus there’s sometimes some thinking of good things to say after the interview is over. I don’t know why it’s thought that testing someone’s ability to think and speak on their feet is a good test for how they will behave in a job that is largely written. To be fair, when I’ve had tests of my cataloguing ability lately I’ve done badly with them too, which does my self-esteem no good either.

I just feel negative about stuff today: interview, work, dating… I’m trying not to think about anything important, as it all just seems impossible. Not thinking about things seems safer than being relentlessly negative.

Charlie Brown

The good news: Mum saw the oncologist today and he said that the cancer is completely gone, which is obviously very good. She will still have to have radiotherapy, and to continue to have regular injections of antibodies for a while, but the cancer itself is completely gone.

On to the less good…

I feel that I’m like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football and falling on his back every time. Every few years, my depression seems to shift for a bit, and I talk about being recovered, and then after a period of weeks or months, I fall back into depression again, usually in autumn. At least this time I didn’t say I was “recovered,” just that my depression was now mostly reactive to events going on around me rather than being rooted in my childhood experiences, which is probably true, but nevertheless, I still feel very depressed today.

I’m also feeling burnt out again. I struggled on with preparing my interview presentation, but it was hard work. I just wanted to curl up in bed. In terms of the stresses the depression is reacting to, I guess I’m worried about the interview next week, and what happens if I get the job, whether I can do it and whether I can cope with a masked commute every workday.

I also had problems setting up an account with Microsoft Teams, which I need for my interview on Wednesday. I set up an account and tried to log in, only to be told I couldn’t log in because I didn’t have an account. But when I tried to set up a new account, I was told I couldn’t because I already had an account. I was supposed to have an email that would let me use Teams, but I didn’t receive it for a while, and there wasn’t a helpdesk to complain to. I could somehow get through using the link the Very Important Institution sent me (they have already set the meeting up so I can get into the virtual waiting room), but I couldn’t open Teams from scratch. I was supposed to have a practice call with my sister, but it wouldn’t let me add her to my address book. Pressing the “accept” button on the notification email from her just opened another window with the same email notification, it didn’t actually add her to my address book. I did eventually get everything up and running, just about, but I’m pretty nervous about it working properly on Wednesday. The Doctor Who line about computers being very “sophisticated idiots” never seemed more true. Teams seems like it has a load of fancy features that get in the way and stop it from doing things that can more easily be done on Skype or Zoom. I did eventually manage a practice call with my sister, so I feel a bit more confident about it. It think that Microsoft really are the pits, though. The hollow thumping sound you can hear is the sound of me repeatedly hitting my head on my desk.

I’m also vaguely worried about my relationship with PIMOJ; it’s hard to tell what the relationship is like when we still haven’t met in person or even spoken long on Skype (Love in the Time of COVID), and when there are occasional communication problems from the fact that English isn’t her first language, and I’m not sure of her level of knowledge of English as well as of Hebrew and Yiddish. I don’t want to sound patronising to her by using simple language or explaining things, but I don’t want her to feel I’m showing off my knowledge or intimidating her with terms she doesn’t understand.

It also feels weird for me to be the less spiritual and perhaps also the less serious-minded person in a relationship and I’m not quite sure what to make of that, or about the fact that I don’t feel completely comfortable owning my negative feelings when I’m talking to her, as she’s so positive and I’m scared about how she would respond to me on a day like today when I just feel depressed. Again, it doesn’t help that we haven’t met in person; on instant messenger it’s hard to judge someone’s mood or level of empathy, even beyond my usual autistic struggles with that sort of perspective taking, especially given the language problem and the fact that there are often typos that just confuse the whole thing even further.

I don’t want to sound too negative, as I think PIMOJ meets a lot of my needs in terms of being intelligent, kind and religious and I also find her funny. I think there is chemistry there, even if instant messenger isn’t necessarily the best way of expressing it. I just wonder what will happen. I’m trying to stay in the present, but it isn’t always easy.

I don’t really want to talk about the relationship in detail here, but I don’t have anywhere else to talk about it, other than therapy for an hour a week. I also don’t know how much these worries are real or stem from feeling depressed today.

So, these are the thoughts that have been going through my head today. I guess I’m feeling rather overwhelmed, and I haven’t even mentioned that it’s going to be the most important day in the Jewish calendar on Sunday night and Monday (Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), and I don’t feel able to go to shul (synagogue) for it because of fear of infection, discomfort with masks and general autistic uncertainty about what exactly happens at shul with COVID and the new normal.

***

I listened to an audio shiur (religious class) by Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman, who is a therapist as well as a rabbi, on building a mature relationship with God. In some ways it crystalised things I’ve been thinking recently, but which I had not been able to put into words. Ideas that God is not judging us on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) or Yom Kippur like a parent or teacher judges a young child and awarding reward and punishment, but that He is being curious and inviting us to enter into a dialogue with Him about why we’ve done the things we’ve done, good and bad, and How we relate to Him through those actions and how we can change and grow and become more authentic towards our inner selves.

I hope to think about this and bring it into my life. I struggle a lot to believe in a God who loves me (as opposed to a loving God – I believe God loves, but I don’t believe I’m worthy of His love). I want to build a relationship with Him, but it’s hard to know what to say, especially when I feel so tired so much of the time, and when I’ve spent so much of my adult life feeling anxious and depressed. I am trying to get away from the “angry old man in the sky” image of God which is poisonous, but sometimes I think I move too far in the direction of abstraction (Ein Sof, the kabbalistic term for the Infinite) and feel too distant from Him.

***

Achievements: some time spent on interview preparation, no idea how long. Downloaded Microsoft Teams and had a practice call with my sister. Went for a half-hour walk. Finished reading a book on writing character and viewpoint; I think I knew a lot of it instinctively from reading a lot, but I do vaguely feel like I’m a bad writer. I had a bit of a headache in the evening, which may have been stress or just because the heating came on for the first time, which often makes me a bit ill. I listened to a shiur and finished and sent my devar Torah for the week. I finished scanning the autism forms. So, I did quite a bit despite the burnout and low mood, but somehow it never feels “enough” which I guess is something to talk to God about.

Things Happening

I was exhausted again today and slept through the whole morning and struggled to get dressed when I did wake. I did eventually get going and discovered that I have a job interview next week at a Very Important Institution. I have applied for jobs there before, but never got to interview stage. Because of COVID, it will be an online interview, on Microsoft Teams, which I have never used. I need to write a presentation and think of questions to ask the interview panel after their presentation on the project/institution. So the novel and other job applications are on hold for a bit. I’m nervous. I would probably be more nervous if I thought I had a chance of getting the job, but I can’t see myself getting a job at such a prestigious institution, still less my being able to cope with it. I know, I’m being negative about myself again.

I started working on the presentation. It’s supposed to be about an information management project I’ve worked on. I could only really think of one that was suitable. It was only two years ago that I finished it, but I can’t remember much that’s useful. One trait of autism that isn’t so widely known is poor recall of one’s own personal experiences (autobiographical memory) and this is something I have experienced a lot over the years. My parents took us on some expensive holidays when I was a child, but my memory of them is patchy, a fact that I always feel guilty about, even though it’s not my fault. It is making it hard for me to remember what exactly I did in previous jobs, the processes I learnt, what I would have done differently and so on. The presentation is currently about four minutes long and I don’t know what else to say. It doesn’t really present me as a brilliant worker either, but I’m stuck.

***

It has, I guess, been a day, if not for new beginnings, then for moving things on. As well as the job interview, I received an email from an agency asking if they could submit my CV for another job, plus in the post came a thick letter from the hospital that assess autism. There was a questionnaire for Mum before her interview in a couple of weeks’ time and a HUGE form for me to fill in (incidentally, why is “filling in” a form the same thing as “filling out” a form?).

As a result of all this, I didn’t do much of what I expected to be doing. I spent an hour and a half on the presentation and thirty-five minutes on Torah study; I would have liked to have done more of both, but ran out of time and energy (and positivity, in the case of the presentation). I cooked some plain pasta for dinner too. I did a couple of small chores, but that was most of my day.

Weird Stuff

I was in a deep sleep this morning and had some weird dreams. In one I had to control a very disruptive child, while also doing some important professional tasks and I struggled to do both at once. Perhaps the disruptive child is my negativity, which needs to be allowed to “play” a little, but also not to derail my job search, novel work or dating PIMOJ.

In the other dream, I was at school and had handed in some English homework, but I hadn’t done it properly. We were supposed to read and analyse a novel and I had read and analysed a short story because I felt too depressed (I think) to read a novel. I was waiting to see what my teacher would say, fearing he would tell me off.

I think this represents some thoughts I had last night about not being able to write “properly” because I read eclectically across genres, but paradoxically also focusing on reading specific authors that I read in depth and repeatedly (Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Philip K. Dick, John le Carré) rather than reading widely in a specific genre, as authors are “supposed” to do. This may be autistic, certainly sticking with favoured authors and re-reading them instead of reading something new seems somewhat autistic, not that that really makes a difference.

My current novel is mainstream fiction and I haven’t read much contemporary mainstream fiction since I stopped going to a book club a decade ago. My next novel I hope will be some weird merger of fantasy and/or science fiction with historical fiction and Jewish topics, possibly aimed at a Young Adult audience, and I don’t feel I read any of those genres enough and certainly not contemporary authors in those genres (it takes a long time for new authors to reach me, and for me to build up courage to read them). I would be willing to read a lot for research, although I don’t quite know where to start, plus I feel that although I would be advised to research, really I want my writing to be a bit weird and sui generis, deliberately not fitting with other authors.

I realised a while back that while I say I like science fiction, it isn’t really that simple. A lot of science fiction doesn’t interest me that much. I do watch and like programmes like Star Trek and Star Wars, but really my favourite stuff is in this weird zone (The Twilight Zone, if you like), where science fiction, fantasy, (mild) horror, surrealism and magic realism can meet, not necessarily all at once, but some of them. Authors like Borges, Kafka and Dick, and also Flann O’Brien and the Yiddish humourist Mendele Mocher-Seforim (Mendel the Book-Seller) are important to me and I think about them a lot. Also (perhaps more so) TV programmes like Doctor Who (particularly the original series), Saphire and Steel, The Prisoner, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, Quatermass, bits of The Avengers and even Mr Benn and The Clangers which were aimed at very young children, but amuse me. Stories where the normal and the weird are mashed against each other like a collage. Absurdist-type stories taking place in black or white voids. Mr Benn was probably the gateway drug to that, when I was a very young child, the idea that he would put on a costume in a fancy dress shop and then when he walked out the changing room door, he was in another time and place, something relevant to how he was dressed, and would have an adventure.

***

Today I did some shopping and ended up arriving at Tesco the same time as the children were coming out of the primary school next to the supermarket. I’d get frustrated by all the people at the best of times, but I just felt viscerally uncomfortable being there and worried that I was going to catch COVID, although I did at least do what I had to do and panic and run away. It showed that I really have work to do before I’m going to be comfortable at shul (synagogue) or busier shops.

I painted the garden shed again for Mum and Dad as it needed a second coat. I wanted to do a lot of hoovering (the stairs need hoovering), but postponed it until tomorrow as I was too tired to do more physical work. I spent some time redrafting another chapter of my novel. I hoped it would take an hour. In the end it took nearly two, partly because it was long, but also because I interrupted it to look after Mum who was feeling sick (we think indigestion rather than anything to do with cancer treatment, but still worrying). My concentration was pretty good, though.

I listened to a shiur (religious class) while painting the shed, although I didn’t have the time I wanted to do further Torah study in the evening. I’m finding it hard to balance everything that I want in my life and wish I could get up earlier, but I don’t know how to change that short of having some external reason to get up like a job. PIMOJ is an occupational therapist and part of me wants to ask her advice, but a bigger part is worried of scaring her off if she knew just how late I get up and how long it takes me to get going in the mornings (she is very much a morning person).

***

New reasons to hate the WordPress block editor: unless I’m missing something, you can’t easily insert letters with accents, as in ‘John le Carré’. Please let me known if you know how to do this!

Peopling

I got up just after 9.00am which was good and partially made up for sleeping through so much of Saturday.

Getting dressed, I started wondering why I can’t thrive in the world again. This probably came about from thinking how lucky I am that my parents don’t force me to take any job I can find, even if it’s not suitable. I ended up worrying what will happen when I finally have my autism assessment if they say I’m not really autistic (again)? Worrying that this makes me like, Jessica Krug, the white academic in the news who pretended to be black, just pretending to be autistic for my own reasons (and, incidentally, who else was not at all surprised that the person running away from her real identity is Jewish? There’s definitely a trend for some Jews to defend every minority identity except their own). I tell myself I did pass the preliminary screening, which would indicate that I am on the spectrum, but still I worry, just as I worry that, autism or not, I’m never going to find my niche in life.

OK, catastrophising over! I’m going to try to be positive for the rest of the post!

I had a Skype date with PIMOJ. It went well. The internet connection held (I was worried we would get cut off) and we seemed to connect well personally as well, even despite the fact that chemistry can be hard to see on Skype. She wants to Skype again, so it was positive in that respect. I don’t think either of us turned out to be dramatically different from the image we had presented online (physically or in terms of personality), which is always the big worry with dating websites. I was able to speak quite a bit despite nervousness. It was a short date, as she had other arrangements (the date was arranged at short notice), but she emailed afterwards and said she enjoyed it.

PIMOJ is really positive and upbeat. I worry that I will put her off with my negativity. Granted, I probably appear more negative on this blog than in real life, because I share my worries and fears here that I don’t always share in person. To some extent, I use the blog to vent my negativity. Even so, I would like to be more positive. Maybe this will help me. I think whereas E. had a similar personality to me, but some different values (although we had some similar values too), PIMOJ has more similar values, but a very different personality. I think values are more important than personality, as long as personalities don’t completely clash. I hope that PIMOJ and I will complement each other. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

There is more I’d like to say, but I’m wary of saying too much, too early, which I think has been a problem with previous dates, so I’m going to move on for now.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came over in the late afternoon and had a socially distanced chat in the garden. They wanted to see Mum before her operation, which has been brought forward from this coming Friday to Thursday. It was nice, although I was not expecting it and had made other plans. I was OK about the change in plans though, not always easy for someone on the spectrum.

***

Achievements: a Skype date and socially distanced family meeting made for an intense day in terms of peopling. Mum cut my hair too, which I also tend to feel uncomfortable about (an autistic thing about uncomfortable close contact). An hour and a half or so working on my novel (I’m getting there with the climax, but it still needs work). A half hour walk and an hour of Torah study, partly reading over the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) prayers, as Rosh Hashanah is not far away now. I’d forgotten how beautiful some of the prayers are.

Negativity and Value

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly low-key.  My Dad and I didn’t go to our reopened shuls (synagogues) because we were worried about shielding Mum, who has low immunity.  We were worried that even with social distancing, the risk of bringing home infection was high.  I was upset at missing my Talmud shiur (religious class) and tried to keep up with it at home by guessing how far they were likely to go.  This was the first time I had studied Gemarah (the later, more complex part of the Talmud) since the start of lockdown.  I went for a walk right after lunch, which meant that I didn’t fall into a deep sleep for hours as I’ve been doing recently after Shabbat lunches.  I did still end up in bed at times in the afternoon because I was feeling depressed and wanted to retreat a bit, but I don’t think I slept much, maybe dozed for ten or twenty minutes at most.  Hopefully my sleep won’t be so messed up tonight.

I beat my Dad at Scrabble (Mum didn’t feel well enough to play).  I thought I got a few good words; I was glad to get rid of both a difficult Z (zen) and a Q (quad).  I wasn’t sure if qi is allowed.  I think it is, but we don’t have an official Scrabble dictionary and then Dad used the square that I needed to do it – a shame, as it would have been on a triple word score.

The illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door disappeared, but returned tonight for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) just when I thought it was gone for good.

***

I want to be less negative, but it’s hard to work out how.  Just before Shabbat, I wrote a list of negative attitudes that I have.  I found six, corresponding fairly obviously to a few CBT unhelpful thinking styles.  The problem is working on them.  I have tried CBT a few times for depression and self-esteem and it has never worked very well, perhaps because it generally does not work for people autism spectrum (I think there’s an adapted CBT for autistic people).

I think I do find it easier to reframe things than I did in the past, but I still do find it hard, and it still takes me a while to realise I can reframe thoughts.  Plus, I do feel that I have had an objectively difficult life since adolescence, which does make it hard to think that things will improve.  And “shoulds” are particularly hard to get rid of.  Orthodox Judaism is not about possibilities and values, but obligations, precisely defined obligations at that.  (If I was Reform, it would be a different issue.)  That’s a hard barrier to get around.

***

Somewhat related: when I see people living (apparently) successful and happy lives, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that life should be joyous and feel inadequate for not having that type of life.  It’s only when I see other people who are suffering that I feel that life is a “vale of soul-making” (as Keats said) and feel that my life is meaningful for enduring mental illness and trying to support others with it.

***

I feel Western culture tends to put too much emphasis on individualism and not accepting help, and also on economic production as a indicator of worth.  It’s hard to feel that I’m worthwhile while unemployed “just” because I try to be kind, supportive and non-judgemental of others.  Even when I map out possible futures, the idea of earning money, as a librarian and/or writer comes up, as does marriage and children.  I want those things, but they may not be realisable for me.  But Western culture says without a job I’m not contributing much, just as Judaism says that without a family, I’m not “really” part of the community.

***

I have a nagging feeling that there were more thoughts that came up over Shabbat, when I couldn’t write them down, but I can’t remember them, and it’s late and I’m getting tired.  Hopefully I will remember them tomorrow, if they really existed.