No Screens

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

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

***

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

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

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

Vulnerable and Fragile

The good news for today is that I have an appointment for the final part of my autism assessment booked in for 9 March, two weeks’ time. This is really all down to my Mum, who has been phoning to chase it up. Sadly on the NHS, or parts of it, there’s a benefit in having someone willing and able to make a certain amount of noise on your behalf when waiting for an appointment, in case you drop off the system, as I suspect I had done.

***

I was burnt out again this morning, sleeping for about twelve hours, although I intended to “only” sleep for ten. The problem is partly that I turn off my clock radio alarms in my sleep, or at least don’t wake up for long enough to really wake up and stay awake. I put my phone on the other side of the room, so I have to get up to turn the alarm off, but its alarm is too quiet to really wake me and I sleep through it. Even if I do wake up, I fall asleep again before I can summon the energy to get up. I’m sure this must be boring and repetitive to readers, but it’s how my life is at the moment, with this major obstacle (burnout and oversleeping) that I just can’t make progress on and don’t really understand, even though I’ve made a lot of progress with the rest of my life.

I went for a walk and to the post office. That was crowded. The post office is inside the pharmacy and the pharmacy is doing COVID vaccinations, so there were a lot of people trying to socially distance inside and outside the shop. My mood slumped again while I was out walking, which might be a late afternoon blood sugar thing, or maybe because I was listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast about sex and Orthodox Judaism and it made me think how slow and uncertain it will be to move my relationship with PIMOJ on to a point where we can marry. My mood dropped a bit again while I was cooking dinner (vegetable curry), although it improved as I focused on cooking, which suggests that not having a focus is a trigger for negative thoughts.

I went to a shiur (religious class), the last of this set of shiurim, this time on Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther). It was more in depth than the previous ones, presumably because Esther is one of the better-known books of the Hebrew Bible among Jews, as we read it every year (twice, morning and evening) on Purim, which is this Thursday night and Friday. There were some interesting points about liminal spaces and identity in Esther. It made me feel more positive about the upcoming Purim, a festival that traditionally inspires very mixed feelings in me.

Then I saw that my shul (synagogue) had sent out an email about social distancing over Purim. So the whole community can all hear the Megillah, morning and evening safely, they are running four different readings at night and another four in the morning in different rooms of the building. I’m not entirely sure where my room is, so I need to go early to make sure I get there on time. They said there will be stewards to guide us, but I’m slightly apprehensive about it and plan to get there ten or fifteen minutes early to be safe.

***

I’ve noticed that I’ve had to struggle against religious OCD thoughts more lately. So far I haven’t sent any panicked emails to my rabbi asking if things were OK, which means it’s mostly under control and no actual OCD, just thoughts. (Actually, there was one email, but it was realistically a necessary email, and I didn’t send follow-up emails even though I was still worried.) Even so, I’m a bit concerned about things spiralling out of control as we approach Pesach. I’m trying to remember my coping strategies and exposure therapy techniques. I’m also trying to tell myself “I can cope” as my therapist suggested.

I guess my life is far from perfect right now, but realistically, no one’s life is ever perfect, and my current life is manageable, at least for the foreseeable future. I’m going with that for now. I do feel kind of fragile and vulnerable though, as if I’m aware I don’t have great resilience at the moment and am worried how I might cope if things start to go wrong.

Misfits

I’m back in “I hate the NHS” mode. I realised that the reason the doctor only prescribed half the only olanzapine I need is because he (or she – prescriptions can be done by anyone in the practice) misread the letter from the psychiatrist and thought I was on one tablet a day, not two. I know, there’s a global pandemic, doctors are super-busy and stressed. Even so, it’s annoying, and makes me wonder how many other, more serious, mistakes have been made by over-stretched medical staff during the pandemic – there must be a number of indirect COVID casualties as well as those actually killed by the virus.

***

I got my new glasses (and walked back in the cold and snow after getting them). I tried them on in Specsavers, including tilting my head to see if they slipped, and they seemed to be OK, but they seem to be slipping now, so I may have to go back at some point and get them adjusted. I’m just glad to have them for now.

I spent a bit over an hour on my novel and finished the third draft. It ended up at 79,766 words, slightly under the 80,000 I was aiming for. Now I need to find some people willing to read it and give me feedback. I’m not quite sure how to do this; I don’t have other writer friends where we can exchange work, and I don’t want to go to a writers’ group at the moment. I’m also terrified of negative feedback.

Given the snow this morning, I thought my walk back home from Specsavers would be my exercise for the day, but mid-afternoon I started feeling anxious and depressed for no obvious reason and, as it wasn’t snowing, and the earlier snow hadn’t settled, I went for a run, despite the fact that it was fast getting dark. I did 5K again and I had a better pace than I’ve had for a while too. I don’t mind running in the cold (it can be bracing) although I worry about pulling muscles despite doing a longer warm up and cool down than usual.

I did some Torah study too, although not quite up to the hour I was aiming for as I ran out of time and energy.

***

I came across an interview today, a religious Jew interviewing someone raised in the Orthodox world, but now outside it. The non-religious Jew says he warns religious Jews thinking of leaving because they don’t fit into the frum (religious) community that they may not fit into the secular world either; they may, in fact, be misfits who won’t fit in anywhere.

I have long suspected that this would be true of me. For all my struggles to fit in to the frum world, I can’t really see myself fitting in to the wider Western world easily either. I guess I’m a bit of a misfit, or even that not fitting in is a part of my psyche; I’ve begun to suspect that when I fit in somewhere, I self-sabotage to find a way to feel like a misfit.

***

On a related note, a while back I wrote about feeling myself to be a “Tory anarchist.” Lately the anarchist part is stronger. I have limited patience for big business or big government and just want to be left alone. Sometimes it’s easy to want to pull society to pieces and start again. I feel a lot of anger and resentment at the ruling class and I’m not sure where it’s coming from, from politics or from my inner self as it’s the class so many of my peers from Oxford now belong to, people in politics, academia, law, and other places I might have been had depression and autism not intervened. I feel like a class traitor sometimes.

Rants (Redacted and Otherwise)

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Unwritten Rules

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Work from Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Medication Change

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

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

***

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

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

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

My Superpower: Super-Sleeping

I feel OK, mood-wise, if a bit low, but I’m frustrated about my super-sleeping. I slept for over twelve hours again last night. I woke up a couple of times in the morning, but was too tired (and too cold) to move and after a minute or two I fell back into a deep sleep. I find it frustrating as I would like a morning, and to be able to daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) at the right time. Or at all. Somehow I can get up for work and volunteering, but not in the absence of that obligation. I guess I should be looking for more obligations to get me up on other days, although I’m not sure that I could cope with more at the moment.

I think with both super-sleeping and putting on weight, that it’s easy to see myself as lazy and lacking self-control, which is probably not the root of the problem. Regarding weight: last night I didn’t eat junk or cereal, but I’m not sure if I can manage that tonight, when my mood is lower.

I guess, when I stop to think about where my life is at the moment, I’m glad, but also frightened. Frightened that I’m only halfway there (or less) and wondering if I’ll ever get anywhere close to 100% there, wherever “there” is. I’m glad I have a job, even if I can only manage a part-time, low-skilled admin job at the moment. I’m glad I have my parents and sister, I’m glad I have my friends, real-world and online. I’m glad I have a work-in-progress novel. I’m very glad I have PIMOJ. But I worry about getting stuck here, which would, in the long-term, mean going backwards, because some of these things are not sustainable in the long-term, at least not as they are now; I have to keep growing or regress. Often in life a lack of progress is really a regression; you can’t just stand still.

I don’t celebrate Christmas or New Year’s Day, but this time of year, the last week of the Gregorian calendar year, the “bleak midwinter” (if you will), is always tough. Everything is shut even without COVID, the days are short, the nights are long, the weather is cold and often damp and no one really wants to do anything other than slump in front of the telly and eat junk (or is that just me?). I guess it’s not a surprise that my mood has slipped a little today and that I didn’t make much progress on my novel. I did get 400 words written, which is something. Writing without inspiration can feel like trench warfare, where progress is measured not in miles or even feet, but inches. I spent about an hour and a half in front of the computer, but I suspect less than half of that could be called “writing.”

I went for a walk, only for half an hour, unfortunately. It was cold and, more to the point, I had to cook dinner (vegetarian curry). I did some Torah study and research for this week’s devar Torah, in an effort not to write about the topic(s) that I’m probably going to write about (one or the other). I was not particularly inspired this week, perhaps because I know I don’t need to be: I knew that I’ve got old divrei Torah for this sedra (Torah portion) that could be polished up and pressed into service this week. I don’t want to use them, I’d rather write something new, but I can’t think of anything new, and I’m running out of time. It’s not even a particularly boring or esoteric sedra (Yaakov (Jacob) blessing his sons on his deathbed).

***

A good NHS admin story! Last week I phoned my psychiatrist’s secretary to try to track down the letter that was supposed to have been sent to me and my GP about changing medication slightly to try to improve my sleep pattern. Well, today she (the secretary) phoned me back, told me she had sent the letter to the GP and offered to email it to me rather than post it to speed it up. Within a few minutes, I had received the email.

***

I’m not sure how much I agree with this old Psychology Today article about The Pathologizing of a Culture, but this section interested me:

A diagnosis has become confused with being an actual entity. A diagnosis should be a practitioner’s best effort to describe and summarize an individual’s challenges and circumstances and correlate that evaluation to a DSM descriptor. Instead, it has become concretized to be an actual thing.

Last week, as I was walking down the corridor from my office, I overheard a therapist speaking with another about their client. “Jane has ADD,” she offered. Tongue in cheek, I inquired, “What do you mean?” “My client Jane has ADD,” she once again proclaimed, bewildered by my feigned ignorance.

I corrected her as I asked, “You mean you see behaviors in Jane that conform to what we call ADD?” Diagnoses should not be confused with an actual material essence as much as they ought to be accurate descriptions for the purpose of coherent communication about a person’s circumstances. The diagnosis is a description, our best attempt to summarize the great complexity and inestimable variables that account for a person’s life.

“Diagnoses should not be confused with an actual material essence” seems to be something I should think about regarding my autism (the next stage of my assessment is next Tuesday…).

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Mini-Post: Venting/Worrying

I didn’t intend to write today, but I need to vent. I had another round of wild goose chases with the NHS. To cut a very long story short, I had a text that seemed to be changing the time of my psychiatrist appointment in December, but which seems in reality to refer to a meeting about my autism assessment which we were not actually told about previously. The appointment is also probably intended for my Mum rather than me. We still have not got to the bottom of it (the NHS being unable to organise the proverbial drinking party in a brewery), but just the thought that the Maudsley Hospital (which does the autism assessments) want to talk to Mum again has raised all kinds of fears about not “really” being autistic – or worse, that they will want to confirm my childhood behaviour with her, but she won’t remember or will say I didn’t exhibit certain autistic behaviours because I masked them so well that she never noticed them or because they were low-key and dismissed as personal idiosyncrasies and forgotten over time, it being well over twenty years since I could really be classed as a child. We don’t really have time to investigate further today because Shabbat starts soon, so I’m likely to worry all over the weekend.

Rabbi Sacks, and Comparing Myself to Friends

I know, there’s been an election in America. That’s not what I want to write about. Shortly after Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished, the Anglo-Jewish community heard that Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Emeritus Chief Rabbi, had died. I still feel shocked and am struggling to process things. I never met him personally (although I’ve been in the same room as him a couple of times), but I own ten of his books, and that’s excluding his prayer books (siddur, five machzorim and hagaddah). I’ve read far too many of his divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) to count over the years as a long-term subscriber to his email essays and updates. Just this year, I’ve seen him speak live online several times on video during lockdown. I quote him a lot in my own divrei Torah. I knew he had cancer, but I had no idea that it was this far advanced.

Rabbi Sacks was a major influence on my thought. He was really the first rabbi who showed me that it’s possible to belong to both Orthodox Jewish society and wider Western culture, not just as a bidieved (exceptional, after-the-event circumstance), but as a deliberate choice. The Jewish community in the UK is very small, about 400,000 people, I believe the smallest mainstream religious community in the UK, but we have a much bigger societal presence than that. It’s not by any means entirely due to Rabbi Sacks, but his eloquence and media presence ensured that he was an ambassador for the community on the wider stage. I suspect the community under-rated him in his lifetime, partly due to a few controversies he was in, and also because his ability to explain difficult ideas from Judaism and Western philosophy in an accessible way made him sound less intelligent and original than he was; he was never a ‘difficult’ read in the way that e.g. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was.

To lose Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz within a few months of each other is a massive loss to global the Jewish community in general and the Centrist or Modern Orthodox community in particular. Barukh dayan ha’emet.

***

My second, and hopefully final, autism assessment appointment has been delayed until 2 December. I’m not quite sure why. It’s a little frustrating, but I feel OK about it. At least the NHS warned me in advance this time.

***

As for how I’ve been, I got up earlier than usual on Friday and managed to get in more than an hour of work on my novel before Shabbat. It was slow going, re-reading and editing, and my heart wasn’t really in it, but I slogged on.

I think my parents thought I was fairly grumpy on Friday night. To be honest, they were right. I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, but everything I said came out wrong, when I was able to do more than grunt and shrug. I’m not always good at understanding or even spotting my emotions, so if they hadn’t told me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. They asked if I was anxious about anything and I initially said no, but after a while I realised that I have a new job, where I’m worried about letting a friend down and about travelling on public transport during lockdown and catching COVID, and even beyond that I’m worried about juggling work, Torah study, writing my weekly devar Torah and working on my novel as well as looking for further work for when this finishes, so it’s not surprising that I am a bit anxious.

***

I finished reading the anthology of writings by Rav Kook that I’ve been reading for some weeks now (The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters and Poems). This post has already been dominated by Jewish stuff/rabbis, so I will not say much, just that, although I had read some of Rav Kook’s writings before, I had not realised his enormous relevance to the contemporary world. In a world where we are encouraged to think in terms of binary opposites (religion OR science; the individual OR the community; tradition OR modernity; nationalism OR universalism), Rav Kook says, “No, God is bigger than that, God is big enough for both, and more.” Essential reading.

***

After Shabbat I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my Oxford days. We tend to meet up every six months or so and are now doing it on Zoom because of COVID. I enjoy seeing them, even virtually, but I sometimes end up feeling a bit negative about myself as I’m the only one without a good job (university lecturer/writer and two lawyers, although one is a law teacher at the moment) and one had his baby daughter with him on the call for a while. I thought I was over this kind of looking over my shoulder and comparing myself to others, but obviously not.

I mentioned about my novel to them the last time we spoke, really to have something to say and not to sound pathetic for being long-term unemployed, but I feel really uncomfortable talking about it and I’m not sure why. It’s partly that I never like talking about myself, but I think also that I’ve told people that the novel is semi-autobiographical, which it is, but now I’m trying to walk that back because (a) a lot of it is NOT autobiographical and (b) I don’t want people assuming that certain bits are autobiographical when they are not (or, in some instances, when they are, but I don’t want to make that public. In particular, I’m vaguely worried about someone I used to know realising one of the characters was originally based on her, even though I’ve now developed her beyond that).

I wanted to do some work on my novel tonight, but after the Zoom call and dinner, it was too late, plus I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Sacks and wanting to write this post.

Autism Assessment (1)

I slept badly last night. It probably wasn’t surprising that I had an anxious dream the night before my autism assessment, but the details were a bit odd. I dreamt about someone who was around (in the real world) at the worst time of my life who I hurt, and by whom I got hurt by in the process. I still feel I haven’t had closure on that and probably never will. It’s not that surprising I dreamt about her, as I still think about that situation a lot and am drawing on it for my novel, so it’s been at the forefront of my mind lately. The same dream also involved being in the library of a university I worked at for a while, where a (real life) Jewish lecturer was talking about the library having sixty-four windows representing sixty-four types of knowledge (philosophy, history, physics etc.) none of which included Torah study, which I think was about feeling sometimes that there is no place for religious Jews in secular Western society, and perhaps more broadly that there is no place for me in the world.

I woke feeling anxious and drained, which was not a good start, and I still didn’t know when my appointment was actually going to bed. I got ready for my appointment at 9.30am as per the email I received yesterday, only to be phoned a few minutes beforehand to be told the appointment was at 10.30am after all, as I was told on the phone. NHS, etc. At least they did get in touch.

The appointment itself went well. It lasted over an hour, with me talking for most of the time. We went over childhood experiences, recent history, general medical history and so on. I did use my prepared notes a bit. At the end, the psychiatrist said that I’m probably on the spectrum. However, before she finalises the diagnosis, she wants to look at the notes from my previous assessment ten years or more ago (which were not on file for some reason). I’m going to scan a copy of that over the weekend and email it along with my notes about why I think I’m on the spectrum so she can see the rest of that. Then we’ll have a shorter meeting in a few weeks to discuss diagnosis and recommendations. But it sounded like it was very likely that I’m going to be diagnosed as on the spectrum, or at least close enough that I won’t feel stupid for thinking that I’m there.

I think it’s all positive. It’s a relief just to hear that I’m probably on the spectrum. It explains a lot, and hopefully will stop me beating myself up so much about things when I can’t cope well with them.

I’m glad I have Shabbat to pause and process what happened today. Shabbat is good for processing. I am going to shul (synagogue) this evening. I did think about skipping a week as I’m tired, but I think it’s good to stay in the habit of going regularly and if I stay at home I’ll probably be just as tired. I might not do so much Torah study as usual though. I will probably be exhausted tomorrow, but that’s not a problem.

I might post more about this after Shabbat, if I have any more thoughts to add. I’ve got to dash now as Shabbat starts in an hour and a half now the clocks have gone back.

Autism Assessment Tomorrow

I was in bed, drifting in and out of sleep, trying to wake up properly and dreaming about living in a dystopia with an even worse pandemic than ours, when I got woken by my phone ringing. It was the autism hospital, phoning me back from yesterday. They wanted to give me an appointment for tomorrow. I was not keen as (a) it was sudden and I didn’t have time to adjust and (b) tomorrow Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts just after 4.30pm, so it will be tight to get done on time. Nevertheless, I accepted the appointment, as there didn’t seem much choice – they didn’t have any appointments next week, so I’m guessing I’ve been given someone else’s cancellation.

I feel really anxious and upset about it, and I’m already catastrophising. I feel I don’t have time to prepare. Twenty-four hours notice is not good for someone on the spectrum! We don’t like sudden changes of plan at the best of times. Dad said maybe this will play to my favour and show how anxious I get when things happen at short notice, but I’m not sure it will come out.

Some of the panic is that I’m currently reading a memoir by a woman with high functioning autism in the hope this would help me understand and present my symptoms better and get diagnosed (I feel my symptoms are closer to the female model of autism, with better masking and use of social scripts to function in social situations as well as special interests that can be more imaginative than mechanical), but I obviously won’t finish that in time now. Also, over the past few years I have also prepared a ten or so page list of my symptoms and why I feel I’m on the spectrum to give them in the assessment meeting. That was immediately scuppered by COVID and not having an in-person assessment; now I can’t easily send it to them in advance. My parents said just to mention it in the meeting and see if they want me to email it, but I worry they won’t.

I worry that I can’t summarise an understanding of myself that I have built up slowly over the last three years in ninety minutes, with limited preparation time, and over Microsoft Teams – I’m not great on video conference technology at the best of times, and I know teams less well than Zoom or Skype, plus the internet connection trouble I’ve been having lately means I have to use my Dad’s computer, and I’ll have to load Teams onto it today.

I just feel negative about the whole experience already, which is not the best mindset to go into it. I can see it’s probably mostly catastrophising and that having more time wouldn’t necessarily help me, but it’s hard to feel that emotionally.

Oh, and it wouldn’t be complete without an NHS admin mess up. I was told on the phone the appointment was at 10.30am, but when I got the confirmation email, it said 9.30am. I emailed to confirm, but haven’t received a reply yet, and I the phone number was withheld…

I’m going really slowly today because of this, feeling quite depressed without really knowing why, aside from catastrophising. I finished my devar Torah for the week and went for a walk, but I haven’t really done anything else. I had a brief text conversation with PIMOJ (she generally can’t message at work) and she said being seen quickly is what I wanted, which is true, but somehow it seems too quick and I seem too unprepared. I’m not sure what I could/should do today, both in terms of autism assessment preparation and other things, hence posting this early in case anyone has any suggestions – by the time I check emails tomorrow, it will probably be too late.

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Anxiety Again

I struggled to sleep again last night. I guess it’s my fault for napping for over two hours in the afternoon and then being up late on screens, messaging PIMOJ and watching Doctor Who before bed. The result was that I slept later than I wanted, which might also be post-Yom Tov burnout (not that I was doing much).

***

This morning brought a mysterious text message telling me that I have an appointment next Monday and I should call the team if I can not attend, but that I should “NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE” (in capitals). Unfortunately, there was no indication of who the message was from or how I should contact the team, whoever they are, or even whether the appointment is by phone, Skype, Zoom or whatever. This seemed to me like NHS incompetence, probably connected with my mother’s appointment about my autism assessment on Monday. She phoned the hospital and, yes, it was for her. They didn’t have her mobile number, so they messaged me instead, which I guess makes a sort of sense, even if it could have been handled better. It did make me worried for while though.

***

I felt somewhat depressed and anxious on and off all afternoon and evening. I’m not sure how much was anxiety about the job interview and date tomorrow and how much was getting annoyed with “performative virtue” online, including from the professional body I belong to. The job interview worries me as I have never worked in the primary school sector before and have limited experience with children (for all that my Mum insists I have a natural ability with them) and I worry that my experiences in further education won’t be transferable. I’m not sure what I’ll say if they ask me specific questions about what I would do in certain situations. I suppose I should just tell myself I’m pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

I guess the date could also be called pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. PIMOJ today encouraged me to share my negative feelings with her, but I worry that she’s so positive, she won’t put up with my depression and anxiety for long. I guess the only way to tell is to try, just as the only way to see if I’m capable of being a primary school librarian is to put myself up for the interview. I want to open up more to her, I’m just scared. Maybe it will be easier once we’ve actually met in the real world.

As for performative virtue, I wrote 400 words about politics, not fitting in and being anxious about antisemitism, but I don’t have the courage to post, not the first time this has happened (although I was quite proud of writing the phrase, “dialectical ping-pong”). I suppose one day I’ll post something before I think better of it and have to live with the consequences.

***

I thought going for a walk would help with my mood. It started raining heavily while I was walking, but I carried on as I thought the walk would do me good; I had hardly been out the house since Thursday. I did get soaked and lapsed back into depression on returning.

***

On to fear and anxiety of a different kind: I think I mentioned here a while back about wanting to watch the TV series Twin Peaks, but being worried about how gory and violent it might be. In the end I took the plunge and bought the DVDs having heard it wasn’t so gory, but when they arrived the other day, the packaging warned of “Very strong language, strong bloody violence, gore, sex, drug misuse”. I don’t care much about swearing or drugs and find sex on TV embarrassing more than anything, but I am nervous about violence and gore, which make me feel queasy. The most gory DVD in my collection up until now has been Blade Runner: The Final Cut, which is an excellent film, but one I have to fast-forward or look away from at a couple of points to avoid blood or other disturbing things. That said, I think the most disturbing thing I’ve seen on TV in recent years is Ken Burns’ excellent, but brutal documentary series on The Vietnam War; malevolent extra-dimensional beings are nothing compared to man’s inhumanity to man in the real world.

I think I probably will watch Twin Peaks (once I’ve finished Star Trek Voyager – I’ve got about half a dozen episodes of that left) – I’ve wanted to watch it for long enough and it now feels like some bizarre kind of endurance test I have to make myself go through with, but I probably will watch it with the lights on and the volume not too high, to stop it from being an overly-immersive experience, the opposite of how I usually like to watch TV.

***

Achievements: interview preparation (although I still feel unprepared, not really knowing what to expect regarding an interview from this sector); a half-hour walk; half an hour of Torah study (I would have liked to have done more, but as I averaged an hour for the last few days, maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up too much). It doesn’t feel like much, but I guess anxiety and depression eat up a huge amount of time. I did manage to eat both lunch and dinner in the sukkah, which ate up some more time, as it takes time to unlock the door into the garden, remove the sukkah‘s roof, wipe the table, carry food out the house and so on – I find meals in the sukkah take noticeably longer than meals inside.

I’m probably going to get an earlyish night, trying to sleep and not worry about the job interview or the date or whether PIMOJ will drop me as soon as she sees how fragile my mental health can really be. At any rate, by the time I post again, I should have a better idea about some of these things.

“I was shot and found myself in 1983”

Well, unlike Alex Drake in Ashes to Ashes, I wasn’t shot, but I did find myself in 1983 when I came into this world thirty-seven years ago.

My birthday got off to a bad start today.  Mum had a bad turn soon after I got up and we were worried about her for a while, although she’s fine now.

Then I tried to book my blood test, but failed because of COVID restrictions on where it can be done at the moment.  There’s a whole long story here that I won’t go into, but the short version is that I don’t know where I can have it done and am struggling to get hold of my psychiatrist to find out.  Typical NHS bureaucracy.  I know this sounds a trivial problem, and it is, but it leaves me feeling very flustered with social anxiety about asking people things and autistic confusion about new situations that I’m not prepared for, and being put through to receptionists who are short with me just leaves me feeling worse.

Also, on weighing myself, it looked like I hadn’t lost weight after all.

However, I was cheered up by getting a LOT of birthday messages here!  Thank you so much!  Also some messages from family during the day.  My ankle seems a lot better today too, although I need to work out what’s causing the pain to find a long-term solution.  Dad suggested insoles to cushion my feet more which might be a good first step.  That said, I did avoid going for a walk today to help it heal.

***

I did a bit of work on my novel, but between my problems phoning about my blood test, therapy, and decompressing from therapy afterwards, and then having family over for my birthday, I didn’t get much time today.  On the downside, I realised that when I sent Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my Doctor Who book last week, I forgot to put my email address and phone number on the covering letter, although I did put my physical address.  I tell myself, I had never sent such a letter before, but it still annoys me that I make sloppy mistakes like that, even though I know it’s the kind of practical/interpersonal thing that you might expect someone on the autism spectrum to get wrong.

I guess it’s frustrating as I never had the organisational issues at school or university that might have flagged up autism.  I had a friend at school who was very intelligent, but also not at all organised and (to be honest) rather lazy.  He never did his homework or had the right books with him and only engaged with his studies inasmuch as they interested him.  He didn’t go to university when the rest of us did, but didn’t really do much in the way of career-building; I don’t even remember if he even had a job when I last saw him, back when I was still doing my BA.  My sister knows his sister and ran into him a few years back.  He had a girlfriend who was pregnant; I got the impression he still didn’t have much of career, maybe not even a job.  His parents always seemed super-permissive and content to just let him coast through life.  They were a wealthy family, so maybe he didn’t need to do any more than that to survive.

My point is that in many ways he fitted the autism stereotype a lot more than I do, the stereotype of intense interest in some topics, but complete uninterest in others and total disorganisation and lack of social savvy.  I never forgot my books, but perhaps that was only because I was super-careful to follow my routine of packing every evening before bed, checking against the timetable and my diary notes so that I didn’t forget anything and even checking my bag multiple times on the way in to school to see if I had forgotten anything (autism loves routines).   The further I get from the organised routine of school and, to a lesser extent, university, the more I make sloppy mistakes and end up blaming myself.  My parents help me with some stuff (I’ve mentioned my Dad helping me with money), but they don’t know anything about writing and publishing.  I just feel so useless and incompetent at times.  I try to tell myself it’s not my fault, but I worry that it is my fault and that when I have my assessment, I’m going to get told I’m not autistic, just useless.

***

Therapy was good.  We spoke about loneliness a lot.  I also went back and forth with guilt and anxiety about breaking up with E., which I guess is looking for validation on some level.  I spoke about not always being aware of when my inner critic is talking when I’m depressed and not being able to think of practical strategies to beat loneliness when I feel lonely.  The therapist suggested making some charts (I guess I could do flow charts) e.g. “If I feel depressed –> ask if it’s my inner critic talking” or “If I feel lonely –> email a friend /or –> phone Samaritans” rather than sit ruminating.  I will try to do that this week.

I spoke a bit about dating too.  The therapist did say that someone who could cope with my issues is probably going to be a very “special” and kind person, which is something I’ve thought about myself, even down to describing her as “special.”  How do I even find such a person?  According to stereotype, every frum guy is looking for a kind (and pretty) wife; it’s hard to see how I can stand out from the crowd, especially as, also according to stereotype, every frum woman (outside of the yeshiva world of full-time “learning”) is looking for guy who can support a family while taking prayer and Talmud study seriously, which is not exactly me right now.  It would probably also have to be someone who had some kind of issues of her own or the relationship would be unbalanced.  I don’t know how I could deliberately find such a relationship with someone with issues, other than wait and hope God will intervene.  I don’t think dating is going to happen again for me for a very long time…  That may be just as well, as I think I still have a lot of difficult feelings to work through regarding E.

***

As today was my birthday, my sister and brother-in-law came over and we had takeaway pizza in the garden, socially distanced, followed by chocolate cake and ice cream.  It was good, but I always end up feeling vaguely guilty that I get “peopled out” before anyone else gets tired.  I always seem to get fidgety a good hour before anyone else seems to.

Presents: Doctor Who: The Complete Twelfth Series DVD from my parents.  This was the 2020 series.  I know, I was lukewarm about the series when it was broadcast earlier this year, so why did I ask for it as a present?  (We don’t really do surprise presents in my family, we just tell each other what we would like.)  I admit I did have second thoughts about that.  To cut a long story short, I wasn’t sure what could be ordered because of COVID hitting my favourite online bookshop with supply issues.  I decided I would rather have something on the day than wait for months.  I also know I do often dislike new episodes of Doctor Who on first viewing and then like them a lot more on repeated viewing.  I think it’s something about the area where fannishness meets autism that means I need time to adjust to new ideas in my favourite programme.  I used to think the 2008 series was absolutely the worst series of Doctor Who ever; now I think that its second half in particular is a really exemplary run of episodes.  I didn’t think most of these episodes (the 2020 series) were bad, just so-so (except Orphan 55, which was pants and antisemitic).  As Peter Davison (the fifth Doctor) said, if a Doctor Who fan thinks an episode is “bad,” that means he “only” watches it thirty times.  If nothing else, reviewing the episodes for my Doctor Who blog ought to be fun; I deliberately didn’t review them on first viewing because I was worried I would be overly negative.  And there is still £10 or so in the budget to get one or two books when the supply chain restarts.

From my sister and brother-in-law, I got Minority Report, which is volume four of The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, one of my favourite authors.  (I have volumes one to three of the short stories already.)  Also, Muck by Dror Burstein, which is a sui generis modern re-telling of the biblical book of Jeremiah, a “comedy with apocalyptic stakes” that looks fun and also worth checking out if I want to write Jewish-themed fantasy and science fiction.  I guess it’s appropriate Three Weeks reading too.

Mum and Dad also gave me a MoonPig birthday card with my picture on it.  It’s not such a bad picture, which I saying something as I usually hate looking at pictures of myself.

I’m pretty tired and “peopled out” now.  I did some late night Torah study just now (about half an hour, not bad considering how late it is) and I ought to go to bed, but I feel I need to decompress a bit with TV or something to unwind from therapy and peopling.

***

There’s been a weird, intermittent humming sound from somewhere nearby today, which makes my bedroom sound eerily like the TARDIS.  I really would like to be able to take my room anywhere in time and space.  But probably not to 1983.

Pause

I was thinking about the fact that my autism assessment has been delayed months by COVID-19 lockdown.  The NHS hadn’t given me an idea of when it would be even before lockdown (👏👏👏), but eighteen months was the likely amount.  It’s been on hold with lockdown so it will be eighteen months after things get back to normal, whenever that is.

My relationship with E. has been on hold too.  Not literally, as we’re still Skype dating, but we wanted to move it on.  E. was trying to come over here at some point this year so we could spend some time together.  Now we don’t know if that will happen until next year.  I’m still hopeful it might happen this year.  But our hopes of having a romantic time in the summer doing outdoors stuff like going to parks and outdoor attractions is looking less and less likely.  It’s more likely to be a wet and cold November or December (although if E. is her for Chanukah that might be nice, at least if she’s up for visiting my parents).

***

It was difficult to get going today.  I just struggled to do anything other than sit in front of my laptop in my pyjamas.  I wasn’t even reading anything, just flicking through pages, too depressed to get dressed.

Later, I had my windows open and could hear our neighbour’s teenage son “learning” Talmud with another boy, both speaking very fast, throwing concepts around in fluent Yeshivish (mixture of English, Hebrew, Yiddish and Aramaic, rather incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t spent a lot of time with Orthodox Jews, or rather Orthodox Jewish men as it’s something acquired in the men-only environment of yeshiva (rabbinical seminary)).  I feel bad that I can’t study like that.  It’s not just that I can’t study Talmud like that, I can’t study any Jewish texts like that, in a chevruta (paired study).  I’m not sure how much is social anxiety about not wanting to seem stupid, how much autistic issues about thinking quickly on my feet and interacting with my study partner and how much just the way my brain functions.

I tell myself that I wouldn’t thrive in a community where only one, very narrow, form of knowledge is valued, not even Torah/Jewish studies in general, but just Talmud and really only the halakhic (legal) parts of Talmud.  That’s some consolation, but I still feel my life would be better on several levels if I could study and understand Talmud better (it would help with my thoughts for future novels).  It probably is true that, if I want to write reasonably literate novels with a Jewish background at least partially for a Jewish audience, then I have to be roughly where I am.  Any more frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and I probably wouldn’t see writing as a worthwhile activity; any less frum and I wouldn’t have the inside knowledge to write about Judaism and Jewish life.  Still, I feel like I’m walking a weird tightrope sometimes, and I do sometimes wish I had spent a year in yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), even thought I probably would have found it awful from an autistic and social anxiety perspective.

I tried to work on my novel, but it was hard to focus for some reason.  It didn’t help that I was distracted by noise not only from the teenagers learning next door, but from ongoing building works somewhere nearby.  I’m not sure if they are supposed to be at work, but they have been for some days now, if not longer.  I got a load of emails too, which probably didn’t distract me so much as allow me to procrastinate more easily, but they didn’t help.  I did write about 500 words in an hour and a half or so, which isn’t too bad.  I’m glad when I’m just making progress.

I went for a walk, but I am still getting panicked by all the people outdoors and the difficulty of avoiding them.  I worry not so much for my own health, but for fear of infecting Mum with her compromised immunity.  However, I don’t think I should stay indoors all the time.  It’s difficult.  Maybe I should start doing some aerobics instead of/as well as running (which might be a good idea anyway, to use different muscles).

***

I’ve nearly finished Decalog 2, the Doctor Who short story collection I’m reading.  I’m getting a bit bored of re-reading Doctor Who novels, and re-reading in general.  I don’t have any unread novels that I feel like reading right now (generally they’re too heavy) and I’m trying not to mail order stuff during lockdown.  I fancy something a bit meatier anyway, so I’m looking at my non-fiction shelves, probably either The Islamist (Ed Hussein’s account of his experiences with radical Islam) or The Siege Connor Cruise O’Brien’s political history of the modern State of Israel.  The latter is dated (it was written in the mid-eighties), but had an intriguingly good review on The Jewish Review of Books a while back as still a valid and worthwhile work.

Either book would violate my “no heavy books in lockdown” but I’m getting a bit sick of just reading fluff to avoid upsetting myself.  I would probably balance with some Batman graphic novels for when I’m not feeling so intellectual.

Productive Day

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Are Friends Electric?

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Darker Than Expected

I struggled to get going again.  It’s difficult.  Once I get going, I’m OK, but I really struggle with depression, exhaustion and motivation for the first couple of hours that I’m awake.  Today I was missing E. a lot and feeling quite overwhelmed and depressed.  Once I’ve had breakfast, got dressed and davened (prayed) a little bit (only a fraction of the morning prayers, and sometimes skipping straight to the afternoon ones because I’m too late for the morning) I do tend to feel better, but even then I don’t feel 100% until after lunch.  Even when I was working full days I had a similar situation.  I had to rush out in the morning and I managed that OK, somehow, but the mornings at work would pass slowly and not always terribly well, bolstered by coffee, and only after I had eaten lunch would I feel that I could really do any good work.

Then I wasted far too much time at lunch trying to answer one of the questions in the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and failing to get it.  I can usually answer about three-quarters of the clues fairly easily, others with some difficulty and a few I need to look up online, but I was really stuck on one today, even after looking at a couple of scenes from the story in question.  This sort of thing really irritates me.  I’ve only been unable to find an answer once or twice before!

I procrastinated a lot in the afternoon, partly at least because I kept getting hit by waves of anxiety and depression.  I did eventually manage to email the Amazon seller I bought the broken DVD box set from that I mentioned yesterday.  I also emailed four psychotherapists to ask if they have client vacancies and if they charge lower rates for the unemployed.  One replied promptly by email, which was good.  Another phoned me, which was not good!  I dislike talking on the phone at the best of times and I was taken by surprise, which meant my anxiety level shot up.  Then he tried to get me to commit to an initial appointment, when I was hoping to compare the different fees, but obviously I didn’t want to say that to him.  I asked for time to think.  Still, I guess it’s good to know he could see me next week if I want.  I felt that he was a bit pushy, but maybe that was because I was so anxious.  I’m not sure if I really want a male therapist anyway; I seem to be able to open up more to female mental health professionals than males, although there have been exceptions.

I tried to get back to work on my novel, but procrastinated and then got roped into helping my parents with some stuff.  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of work on the novel, redrafting a chunk previously written in the first person into the third person.  It seems to work better that way, leaving questions for me about how to write the rest of the book.  I also went for a walk for thirty-five minutes or so.  Even when walking I drifted into negative emotions, particularly anxiety and depression, despite listening to a podcast for distraction.  I did manage twenty-five minutes Torah study too.

Writing this down, I see that I achieved quite a bit, but would have liked to have done more Torah study and novel writing.  I also feel like I’m struggling a bit with emotional regulation at the moment, inasmuch as there are a lot of strong, difficult and sometimes conflicting emotions in my head, but I lack the ability to get rid of them or do much other than acknowledge their existence.  I’m struggling to just sit with them.

I wasn’t aware of this so much during the day, but looking back Mum has been struggling a bit today and I think that was also in my mind on some level and adding to the anxiety and depression.

I watched Star Trek Voyager to unwind, but it was unexpectedly dark.  Basically, the holographic doctor wanted to learn to experience family life, so he made a holographic family.  But he made them too sickeningly perfect, so one of the other characters introduced some changes and random program elements, which meant that his wife now had a life aside from pleasing him and his kids were now rebellious.  So far, so good and I thought we would stop there with the holographic doctor having Learnt An Important Lesson Today About Real Life (not coincidentally, Real Life was the title of the episode).  Except there was another quarter of an hour left, and his daughter rather shockingly had a fatal sporting accident and he had to deal with that, which was quite a lot darker than I needed today, or than the previous three seasons of the programme had led me to expect.

After this I had my daily call with E.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t be there in person for her.  We both want so much to have a ‘normal’ relationship without coronavirus and without the Atlantic Ocean being in the way.  But, at least we have Skype and WhatsApp, without which we really would be too far apart.  I can’t imagine having even an email long-distance relationship, let alone an old-fashioned one via letters (taking weeks to cross the ocean in a steamer, no doubt).

***

I find it increasingly hard to deal with all the applause and plaudits for the NHS.  Today we had the weekly applause for the NHS and carers as well as the slightly bizarre Doctor Who thank you (also: Jo Martin is a ‘real’ Doctor, but Michael Jayston isn’t? Hmmm…).

I acknowledge that NHS staff are doing a huge amount at the moment, and some have become ill (including my sister’s former flatmate) or even died as a result.  At the same time, I can’t forget the often appalling way I feel I have been treated over the years.  In my experience, there is a big difference in quality between NHS psychiatric care and care in other front line areas like accident and emergency or oncology.

I feel like a child whose father’s appearances in his life were erratic, unpredictable and highly variable in quality suddenly seeing his father lauded as a diligent, conscientious and a great man.  It is hard to deal with the dissonance.

Here Comes Nisan/Do Do Do Do/Here Comes Nisan/And I Say/It’s Alright

I feel really depressed today.  On the verge of tears.  Mum had her second chemo session today.  Is that related?  Or is it coronavirus anxiety, or just bog standard depression?  Who knows.  And to think, just a few weeks ago, “going viral” was considered a good thing.

Today is Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of the month of Nisan, which means it’s two weeks until Pesach (Passover).  To be honest, by this stage I just want to get on with it.  With the arrival of Nisan, we stop saying Tachanun (penitential prayers) because this is the month of redemption.  It’s supposed to be a happy month.  I always struggle with that with depression, but it’s weird that everyone is struggling this year.  It doesn’t feel like a time of redemption for anyone.

I feel bad that coronavirus has hardly altered my routine.  There aren’t many jobs to apply for.  Other than that I’m still trying to help my parents around the house, care for my Mum (inasmuch as she needs it at the moment) and work on my novel.  Write a devar Torah every week, do my usual daily routine of prayer and Torah study.  Try to exercise most days.  If anything, I’m probably exercising more than I was, although that’s more due to the weather and the lack of jobs to apply for than government injunctions to exercise daily despite the virus.

I tried to work on my novel, but kept getting distracted, first by procrastination, then by external events, like Mum coming home from chemo and the Tesco delivery man arriving (he stood very far back as I unpacked the food into the house.  No toilet paper available either).  I eventually forced myself to do an hour or so of work on it, and despite procrastination, I managed a little over my daily five hundred word target.  I’m still struggling to write convincing dating dialogue and activities.  I don’t have much experience here.

Other than that, I Skyped E. and went for a half-hour walk; I would have liked to have gone for a run, but I was too tired and depressed.  I watched a very rubbishy episode of Star Trek Voyager (Warlord) while finishing polishing the silverware.

I did join in the eight o’clock doorway/window NHS applause, but I went stopped after a minute or so, partly because I was cold standing in the doorway, but partly because my feelings about the NHS are so mixed based on the treatment I’ve had in the NHS mental health system.  I wrote a big paragraph here and cut it, because I didn’t want to sound so negative at this time.  Suffice to say I did applaud and I do appreciate the efforts of NHS personnel to defeat COVID-19, as well as my Mum’s cancer care.  I just wish it was more universal.

***

Aside from watching the rubbish Voyager episode, I watched more of Life on Mars.  It was the silliest episode so far (Sam, Gene and Annie go undercover running a pub), but is still giving me Writer’s Envy.  Life on Mars is really the type of thing I want to write, but can’t manage to write, and, anyway, someone else already wrote it.  Over a decade ago.  Sigh.  I would like to put more surreal/absurdist/solipsistic stuff into my novel, but I’m not sure that I know how, or that anyone will read it if I do.  E. told me to “Go big or go home,” but I don’t feel that I can quite do either.

It’s frustrating, what I want to write is stuff that exists on the borderline between realism and surrealism, where the boundary becomes permeable, but not totally crossed into Alice in Wonderland nonsense, but that’s not a popular place to go.  The Philip K. Dick/The Prisoner Twilight Zone, where the real and the surreal flick back and forth.  Plus, while I do have ideas, for this novel and for possible future ones, they are relatively straightforward.

***

I am not sure how to kill the time before bed.  I don’t feel tired enough for a very early night.  I don’t want to spend the evening being depressed online, so I’m going to turn my computer off in a minute.  I have hardly done any Torah study today, but I don’t feel up to doing any more, except listening to a short devar Torah Rabbi Lord Sacks posted to WhatsApp today.  Nor do I feel like can read even the light Doctor Who novel I’m reading currently.  I will probably watch another DVD, maybe The New Avengers.  I just feel rubbish, in all senses of the word – ill/depressed, but also a failure.  I try to tell myself I’m not, that my parents care about me, that E. cares about me, but I worry I don’t care about them enough back, that I let everyone down in the end…  “My thoughts are not always my friends.”  Indeed.

***

I got a WhatsApp message from my shul, apparently written by a bunch of frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) doctors, saying that the frum community has been disproportionately hit by coronavirus because people are holding private minyans (prayer gatherings) and other gatherings.  I don’t know if there’s been anything here like there has been in New York and parts of Israel, where I think people got arrested for attending large weddings, or issued instructions to wedding guests not to take photos lest they be prosecuted.  Whether this will stop the private minyan next door I do not know.  They haven’t held a minyan since Sunday, but it’s possible they can’t get one during the week because people are still working, although where they are working is another question.  I guess I’ll find out tomorrow evening.

Mum’s Results

My Mum got her test results today.  The good news is that the cancer hasn’t spread beyond where they already knew it is (breast and lymph) and that it is treatable.  The bad news is that treatment (chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy) will take about a year, including recovery, so 2020 looks like being a stressful year for all of us.  We don’t have a proper treatment plan yet, so I’m assuming that is only a rough plan; I’m not sure exactly how that would differ from an official treatment plan.

This is a side of the NHS I’m not used to seeing: fast, friendly and effective.  I think Mum even has a support nurse who she can turn to with questions and for emotional support.  It’s scary how different mental healthcare provision is from cancer treatment.  I’m not sure why mental healthcare is so under-resourced, whether it’s stigma and public apathy or simply the fact that mental healthcare is very labour-intensive.  Psychotherapy in particular can go on for years with no clear end in sight, making mental health a potentially bottomless pit for funding.

The prognosis seems to be good, but it’s scary to be suddenly confronted with my parents’ mortality.  I’ve never entirely been independent from them because of my depression (and, perhaps, on some level, because of the autism) and I’ve worried in the abstract in the past about how I would cope without them, but this makes it all more real.  I’m also wondering how it will alter the family dynamic.  I’m used to being the only person who is ill and now that will change, which is likely to be disconcerting to all of us, at the very least.

My sister and brother-in-law came over in the evening to eat dinner and discuss my Mum’s treatment.  We had a reasonably good time, despite the conversation being initially very serious.

***

I seem to be struggling with sleep even more than usual since Mum has been ill.  I’ve gone from sleeping ten hours a night to twelve hours, and I wake feeling exhausted and depressed enough that I would probably sleep more, or at least stay in bed longer, if Dad didn’t insist that I get up.  I know it’s not surprising, as sleeping more is always the first sign of depression in me and the last thing to improve (I haven’t really had a fully healthy sleep pattern since my teens), but it is frustrating.  It’s pushing me into a more nocturnal life, as I stay up late because I’m not tired and because I want to accomplish some of the things I didn’t manage during the day, but that probably just perpetuates the problem.

Although I felt a bit better after breakfast, I still struggled to get dressed and start the day.  Perhaps that was inevitable given that Mum had her big appointment.  Maybe I was unconsciously trying to push it off somehow.  Even after lunch I felt listless and unwilling to do anything.  I tried to practise self-care, turn down the Shoulds and so on, but it’s hard.  I still struggle to turn off the Shoulds and the self-criticism for fear of turning into a bad person.  I don’t think genuinely bad people are much bothered by self-criticism and I’m worried that if I stop criticising myself, I will turn into a bad person.

I did manage to do a few things.  I signed up for my local public library on their website, which I had neglected to do since we moved here.  I stopped using my public library when I went to university because I didn’t want to risk losing public library books by taking them up to Oxford, and then I got out of the public library habit because I got into the charity shop habit.  I can be possessive about books anyway and buying books for £1 from charity shops reinforced that and created an expanding To Read pile that I felt I should address before borrowing other books.  Still, if I’m going to be unemployed for a while, it makes sense to join the library, particularly if I need to do research for writing projects.  Plus, I’ve come to accept that a lot of the books on my To Read pile are going to stay there indefinitely; when I’m depressed (and it seems I will be depressed for the foreseeable future), I’m not realistically going to read The Iliad or heavy non-fiction or to re-read books like Great Expectations and Crime and Punishment, much as part of me would like to.

I felt too distracted to do much that was useful today, at least until Mum phoned after her appointment.  I spent some time working on my bibliography, but was easily distracted.  I managed to write up about fifteen references.  I’m now about halfway through the bibliography, but some of the remaining references will require a lot of work to locate, and to find out how to reference properly (I need to check how to reference DVD production subtitles and supporting features).  I’m hoping to get it finished by the end of next week.

***

Chaconia commented to say that I might still be eligible for ESA (benefits), but I’m feeling quite confused by the whole situation.  I should probably find some time to sit down and work out how many National Insurance credits I have, if I’m still getting them and if there are any benefits I might be eligible for.  I find the government benefits website rather confusing to navigate, perhaps deliberately.

***

As if knowing I would need cheering up, my Doctor Who sonic screwdrivers arrived moments after Mum and Dad got home.  They are pleasingly chunky and usable, with sound effects and, in some cases, lights and extendable parts.  I suspect that the ones seen on TV more recently were designed with merchandising opportunities in mind, for collectors and cosplayers (people who dress up as fictional characters) as much as for children.  I suppose now I officially count as a cosplayer myself, if my Tom Baker/fourth Doctor scarf didn’t already qualify me.  To be honest, three of the six screwdrivers in the set are virtually identical to each other, but the other three are all very different designs, so I’m glad I spent the extra £10 to buy the set rather than just buying the fourth Doctor one and maybe spending more to buy another one somewhere down the line.  I showed them to my family after dinner and everyone was impressed, although I haven’t told anyone exactly how much they cost – at nearly £40 it was rather more than I am usually willing to pay for a fairly frivolous purchase and an impulsive one at that, but given that I don’t usually spend that much money on things, I think I can be forgiven one frivolous expense at a time of emotional stress.  It is making me rather more excited about Purim, which was the purpose of the exercise, although there’s another month to go.

What If… ?

I felt tired much of today.  I woke up around 10.00am and was lying in bed feeling exhausted when my Dad reminded me that I had a psychiatrist appointment that I had forgotten about.  I struggled to get dressed and go.  My Dad gave me a lift to the psychiatrist, but the twenty minute walk home afterwards was gruelling because I was so tired.  I suppose I could have phoned Dad for a lift, but I don’t like to ask for too many, plus I needed the exercise.  I was tired by the time I got home.

I’ve struggled to do much today.  I really want to sleep, but I felt that I shouldn’t for multiple reasons: I had to cook dinner and finish writing my devar Torah as well as going to shiur (religious class) later and I didn’t want to disrupt my sleep pattern even more.  Lately I’ve been going to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) before shiur on Thursdays because they’re practically next door to each other and the times work, but today I felt too drained to do two “peopling” events, so I decided to stick to shiur.

I also managed to spend about half an hour working on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was good, but I was dipping into very upsetting parts of my memory and psyche for my writing and after half an hour I felt far too depressed and tired to continue, although I would have liked to have written more.  When I told E., she felt it was a downside to writing a novel that draws so much on my personal experiences and mostly negative ones at that.  I agreed with her, but on reflection, while it is problematic in some ways, I think there are advantages.  I wouldn’t push someone with anxiety or PTSD to face their fears, but I think there are advantages to confronting your demons, if you can do it in a safe way.  Hiding behind trigger warnings and the like is ultimately a limiting existence.  Although I’m not sure if writing is the best therapy; I remember John Cleese saying in an interview that writing is therapeutic, but not very good therapy, which is why so many writers get stuck writing the same idea again and again.

***

More fun with the not-for-profit sector…  I had a meeting with my psychiatrist, which went well.  I said I’ve been feeling a lot better this week now I’ve got a new job and she was pleased with that.  She asked if I want to take anything for my anxiety, but I was reluctant to take more meds (I take three different psych meds already, all of which are multiple tablets some at multiple times of the day, plus three daily vitamin supplements).  She said I can see my GP if the anxiety gets bad and I change my mind.  I thought she was going to discharge me, but she offered me a review appointment in six months time, which I took just in case things don’t work out with my new job or for any other reason.  I always feel a bit bad taking these appointments when I might be fine, but it’s so hard to get back into the NHS system once you’ve been discharged that I usually take them when I can, which I guess in economic terms is a “perverse incentive” (when the system encourages you to do something that ought to be discouraged, in this case taking appointments that other people may need more than I do).

So that was positive.  The negative was hearing back from the charity that works with the NHS to get people with mental illnesses into work.  My case worker still wants me to sign papers and insists I have to sign them in person, and by tomorrow.  I got annoyed, but I’m basically a nice person so said I would sign them if she could meet me closer to my home than the office where I saw her (she had already suggested meeting in a coffee shop to sign).  It’s still a trip out of my way, but it’s not the end of the world and I won’t feel bad.

***

One thought I had today which is worth reflecting on and possibly expanding on in the future is that I realised that I tend to see all my mistakes as moral failings, even if they are morally neutral oversights or innocent errors (saying the wrong words, accidentally interrupting someone etc.).  If I can view simple mistakes as morally wrong, then it’s no wonder I magnify the moral enormity of genuine religious or moral failings.

***

On the way home I indulged in bad habits and went into a charity shop and bought a second-hand book.  I’m trying to cut down on my book buying as I have a stack of books to read, but most of those are heavy-going classic literature or non-fiction.  I am trying to get back into reading both of those, but I don’t think they will necessarily be suitable for work days, when I need something lighter to read on my lunch break and on the Tube on the way home (I’m trying to do Torah study during the trip there in the morning).  Plus, it was only £1.

The book, Dominion by C. J. Sansom, is a “what if the Nazis had won World War II?” alternate history.  There are rather a lot of these.  I actually own five of these now, I realise a little to my surprise, including one written before World War II had even started (it predicted what the Nazis would do if Appeasement failed to stop them); and that’s not counting two episodes of Star Trek that aren’t too far from the premise.  That’s probably not surprising, as a it’s a major and comparatively recent historical event where everyone agrees that the achieved outcome was better than most of the alternatives.  Still, it is a little surprising how relatively few other alternate history premise novels are films are out there in comparison.  There are more I think in books published for the science fiction market, but not so many mainstream ones, whereas there are a lot of mainstream “Hitler wins” novels.  Of the five I own, four (FatherlandDominion, Making History and Swastika Night) were published as mainstream novels, not specialist science fiction ones and the fifth, The Man in the High Castle, was I think originally published by a science fiction publisher, but my copy is the Penguin Modern Classics edition (so far as I know it’s the only Philip K. Dick novel to be published by that line, which is telling in itself) and of course now it’s a streamable TV series.  And that’s not counting ones I don’t own, like the Small Change series, the somewhat related The Plot Against America or the fake documentary film It Happened Here (all vaguely on my enormous ‘to read/watch’ list).

I realised I own a couple of other alternate history novels with other premises.  The novella Great Work of Time by John Crowley is a borderline time-travel/alternate history story focused on changing time to stop the British Empire falling.  It’s definitely worth a read if you like time-travel or alternate history stories.  Red Son is kind of a “what if the Communists had won the Cold  War?” story, albeit with the twist that they win because Superman lands in the Ukraine instead of Kansas.  Yes, it’s a Superman graphic novel, but an intelligent one and also worth a read.  And The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling is a steam-punk speculation on what would have happened if the Victorians had developed computers.  Strangely, Doctor Who has dealt more with threats to change history than scenarios where history has already been changed in an alternative history sense, but the parallel universe thread in Inferno is basically a “Hitler wins” type scenario, while Turn Left was a very personal alternate timeline story with major changes to the fictional narrative spiralling out from a minor difference.

It’s strange that I would not have mentioned it alternate history as a subgenre that particularly interests me until now, but my bookshelves say otherwise.  Maybe it’s not surprising, as I guess alternate history is where my interests in history and science fiction dovetail.

More Bits of Good News

This is only slightly good news at this stage, but the NHS have admitted they made a mistake in rejecting my application for funding for an autism assessment.  They are going to decide again (when?  Not sure).  If I get the funding this time, I will go on the waiting list for assessment.  Fortunately they have said that if I go back on the waiting list, I will go on it at the point I should have been on if they had approved the first application, not the second one.  I am so lucky that my Mum was willing and able to chase this and fight for me, otherwise I would have given up.  Not everyone would be so lucky.

The other good thing is that I have installed the new wifi adapter that my Dad’s computer repair man suggested.  So far it seems to be working, but we shall have to see what happens.

Acceptance

A few things were on my mind over Shabbat and afterwards.

One is whether my friends secretly hate me.  I know many of my friends think very differently to me regarding politics and religion.  I don’t judge them, but I wonder what they think about me.  A lot of people can be judgmental about religion and politics, particularly politics; in this country it’s assumed by a lot of people that anyone even slightly right of centre is just Evil and hates poor people and wants to exploit them.  I haven’t, for instance, mentioned my relief at the election result to those of my friends who think it’s terrible, because I know that while it was probably the least-worst outcome for me and the Jewish community, lots of other people think otherwise, and if they didn’t experience the fear of the last few months, they’re not going to understand the relief.  Nor am I going to give them a mini-tutorial in economics (I did A-Level Economics at school) and how that influences my voting, or explain how being on benefits and a long-term NHS user has influenced my views of state welfare (clue: it’s not the way it’s ‘supposed’ to have influenced me).

OK, my friends probably don’t hate me (I don’t think they’re two-faced), but do they think, “Luftmentsch, you’re a nice guy, but how does that fit with not voting for X” or “Luftmentsch, you’re really clever, so how come you believe in God?  And a really fundamentalist one at that?”  I’m not really one for debating with people.  If people feel differently to me, I’d rather change the subject to something we have in common than try to convince them or even explain my point of view (although I do get angry inside when I’m told how great the NHS is and how lucky I should feel to be in its caring hands).  I wonder if that’s the right thing to do.

***

One crazy thing that happened on Friday, which I ran out of time to blog, was that, when I fell asleep mid-morning (after a night of insomnia), my Dad went to get the medical certificate that I need to claim benefits only to be told that the doctor had not written it and it would be another ten working days.  Then, in the afternoon, someone phoned to offer me an appointment at the Jobcentre next week, which is pointless until I get the medical certificate.  The one time the state is actually efficient is the one time I could do with some stalling for time.  I had to turn down the appointment, and the woman I spoke to wasn’t authorised to offer me one in January, so I’ll have to spend nearly an hour on hold again in a couple of weeks to get approved again so that I can get another appointment somewhere down the line.

***

Despite having only had three and a half hours of sleep in the last thirty-five, I couldn’t sleep on Friday night, although unlike Thursday I did eventually fall asleep (and then slept through shul (synagogue again).  I sat up late reading Doctor Who: Ground Zero, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic strip compilation, containing a story I’ve waited literally twenty-three years to read.  So that was good.

***

Three thoughts I’ve had lately that are positive:

  1. I feel somewhat more accepted at shul.  A few people do talk to me in a friendly way, even if I am not always sure how to respond, or how to deepen the friendship.  The two people I sit with were concerned that I was not there last week, when I was staying with my sister and brother-in-law.  Also, although I complain about being more “modern” in outlook than the rest of the shul, I think part of me does like being on the boundary between the more modern and ultra-Orthodox streams.  That said, I did chicken out of going to a shul social event tonight, because I can’t see myself being happy in such a setting (lots of families, tempting junk food, people just milling around and chatting rather than something more structured).
  2. I am beginning to accept that my writing is somewhat good and that it can improve.  Some of my favourite authors clearly developed over time, not always for the better and sometimes not in a straightforward way.  Likewise, some of my favourite authors were not deemed successes in their lifetime.  My first novel doesn’t have to be my best.
  3. I am beginning to accept that I am, on some level, a good Jew, or at least trying my best to be one.  I am trying not compare myself to other people as much as I used to.  To be honest, hearing about the success (regarding religious involvement/prayer/Torah study, finances, career, or family) of my peers doesn’t seem to bother me so much these days, perhaps because I’m so far behind them that it’s like I’m living in a parallel universe.  Success in my world and success in their world are just two completely different things and I can’t cross into their world and succeed like them.  It’s just not possible.  So, I try to succeed in my world.

Awful Day

My psychiatrist phoned at midday.  I was still in bed, although I was awake, just feeling tired and depressed.  I think she didn’t really want to see me again.  I can understand that, as I don’t think there is much a psychiatrist can do for me, I just get scared to go out of the system completely because it’s so hard to get back into it again if/when I get worse.  She asked if I wanted to change my medication and I don’t, but maybe I should if I feel this bad.  Even though I am by no means “better,” my mood is somewhat better on clomipramine than off it, so I’m wary of changing despite the weight gain (which the psychiatrist didn’t believe was from clomipramine even though it started exactly then).  We spoke about exercise; I said I didn’t have an exercise routine, but she felt if I was walking for twenty minutes every other day that is an exercise routine, which is good I suppose, although I would still like to run more often.  She wanted me to go on social media to make friends, but I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea (see below for why this may in fact be a really bad idea).  I didn’t mention that I have friends through my blog and I’m not sure why.  I’m always reluctant to mention my blog to people.  I guess with most people I’m scared they might ask for the address, but the psychiatrist is hardly likely to do that.  The bottom line is that I have a short appointment booked in for January, which I guess is what I wanted, but I feel like I’m wasting everyone’s time.  Maybe I ought to think about medication change, but I’ve been through most types of antidepressants.

***

A letter turned up for me to day.  A proper one, not junk mail.  It turned out to be from the Maudsley Hospital, who do autism assessments, to tell me that I have not got funding for my autism assessment.  The way the NHS works is the GP refers you to the hospital, in this case the Maudsley, and then one hand of the NHS has to approve payment for the other hand and only then do you officially go on the waiting list for treatment.  My Mum phoned months ago and was told this was all approved and I was on the waiting list; now, suddenly, it seems I am not and I won’t be able to get assessed without paying crazy money to be seen privately.

My Mum tried phoning the Maudsley to find out what was going on, but the guy she spoke to who answered the number on the letter was not helpful and pretty much reduced her to tears with his lack of sympathy and unhelpfulness, as well as his refusal to tell her his name or his supervisor’s name so that we could say what had happened to anyone further up in the organisation.  She’s now emailed someone else from the Maudsley whose name and contact details she had from when she previously contacted them (when they said my funding was approved and I was on the waiting list) so we’ll have to wait and see what happens there.  We’ve also contacted Mencap, the charity that did my informal autism screening last year and which originally recommended to the GP that I be referred for full assessment.  They have said they will try to help and have asked to see the letters and emails that we already have.

Remember kids, WE ♥ THE NHS!!!!!  Without the NHS, Donald Trump would personally sell the organs of every sick person in Britain!!!!!

***

That did bring my mood down.  My main task for the day was to go to buy new trainers, which I did.  Other than that, I made the dental appointment that I wanted to make yesterday and spent an hour or more working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I’m actually getting a lot out of writing these divrei Torah, although I worry if I will be able to keep up with it long-term, especially once we hit the second half of Shemot (Exodus) and Vayikra (Leviticus) and the Torah readings become mostly legal and often focused on rituals that we don’t even do any more.

I did manage to go for a fairly late jog, which was reasonable given that it was late and my tracksuit trouser cord would not stay tied, so I had to keep stopping to retie it to prevent a “wardrobe malfunction” (modesty was preserved, rest assured).  Other than that I didn’t achieve much though.

***

I’ve had a toothache all day, where my wisdom tooth is coming through.  It’s been coming through for years and doesn’t usually hurt.  I’m sure this is a psychosomatic response to the autism diagnosis situation.

***

My wifi problem is getting worse.  I seem to hardly ever get wifi in my room now, and it’s even a struggle sitting on the stairs.  I even struggle to connect when I turn the laptop on for the first time in the day, which used to be OK.  I’m not at all sure why I can pick up wifi from two doors down, but not from this house.

***
I wasn’t going to post about politics, but apparently I’m “cold and uncaring and have no idea about the problems facing real people”.  This was from my autism What’sApp group, which I’ve now left.  They didn’t say it directly about me, just about the party I’ve voted for in the past and will vote for tomorrow.  I didn’t even get that upset, I’m used to this kind of thing, and it’s why I don’t really talk about who I vote for (for the record: not always the same party.  I consider myself a true floating voter, who genuinely tries to think about the issues and vote for the party with the best policies to address them).  Some people don’t think that a ‘normal’ person could vote differently to them or that there could be altruistic reasons for supporting something they don’t support.  (And that’s without addressing the Labour antisemitism issue.)  Given that I have never been to the meet-ups the group organised and given that they send a huge amount of texts without saying anything useful, I left the group.  I think Mencap are running some coffee mornings for people on the spectrum, which might be a better place to go to meet other autistic people, especially as there is probably a facilitator there.  That would only be possible if I’m not working full-time, or near to it.

I guess this is why I keep quiet about so many things: politics, religion, Doctor Who… Based on my experiences, both growing up (e.g. being bullied) and as an adult (e.g. this), it’s easier just to keep quiet and keep out of it than get people telling me I’m an Evil Tory-Imperialist-Zionist-Oppressor or a racist, patriarchal, homophobic Orthodox Jew or whatever.

There is, I suppose, an argument that I should confront people about these issues instead of just running off, whether it’s this or people in shul (synagogue) telling racist jokes or whatever.  I’m conflict averse and find it easier just to run, even if that means I’ll never win the argument or even engage with it.  It probably doesn’t help that I’m in a lot of groups where I don’t necessarily have the “right” thoughts about things whether it’s Orthodox Judaism or Doctor Who fandom or public sector workers or the mentally ill/disabled community.  The silly thing is that I don’t particularly identify as small-c conservative, and certainly not strongly as capital-C Conservative.  I just insist on thinking for myself and having “awkward” thoughts.

I wanted to work on my novel, but I was still tired from running even after dinner and this just finished me off.  I didn’t even feel anger, just a sense of ennui and a feeling that most people are going to think badly of me whatever I do and that nothing I can do will achieve very much.  So, DVD and bed, I think.  An appropriately awful end to an awful day.

(Someone from the WhatsApp group has texted to ask why I left.  They always do this.  I’m not sure how to respond, or whether to respond.  I don’t really want to engage and a text reading simply “Hi, why did you leave” without wondering if it was the conversation that was going on when I left doesn’t really encourage me to do so.)

Let’s Play “Bureaucracy!”

I felt depressed and really drained today without knowing why and even eating and sitting in front of my SAD lamp didn’t help much.  The year has passed really quickly, but the end is lingering; I can’t quite believe it’s December, but given that it is December, I can’t believe we’re not even halfway through it yet.  I feel a bit like I’m stuck in Narnia under the White Witch at the moment, always winter and never Christmas, or Chanukah.  Last year was the same.

I’m longing for the Christmas break, not because I celebrate it (I don’t), but because the job alerts and applications and workshops and meetings with employment advisers will stop for a bit and I will be able to spend time on relaxation and hobbies as well as my novel without feeling guilty.  I’m also longing for Chanukah, which is particularly late this year, starting on the night of 22 December, officially the first day of winter, although it’s felt wintry for weeks now.  On TV and in films, Chanukah is always at the same time as Christmas, but in reality it’s usually earlier.  Chanukah is a favourite festival not because we get presents, but because there are few rituals to trigger religious OCD (just lighting candles and a few extra prayers) and sitting with my family in front of the candles is peaceful, even if eating latkes and doughnuts is not going to be good for my weight and cholesterol.

I spent an hour trying to book an appointment about applying for sick benefits.  I spent a long time phoning the wrong numbers and then a long time on hold.  When I finally got through I was asked a load of questions to see if I qualify for benefits.  I was asked if I’m signed off work; I said I can only work part-time and asked if I still qualify.  The person I was talking to didn’t say whether I qualify, but implied that I wouldn’t and asked if I have a medical certificate.  I am still waiting for my certificate, so I don’t know what it will say.  It’s possible there is no such thing as being signed off only to part-time work and the doctor will not agree to write the certificate.  However, I could not face waiting another hour on hold next week waiting to get back to this stage, so I insisted that I have a certificate coming and made the appointment, thinking I can always cancel it later and if I turn up to the appointment and get turned away and told working part-time stops me getting benefits, then at least I will have tried.  My instinct is that I am not going to qualify for benefits, and that they only give these benefits to people who can’t work at all.  In theory there are other benefits I could apply for, but I’m not disabled “enough” for them or I have too many savings.  Still, I should at least get an in-person appointment with a real human being who can tell me if there are any benefits I might qualify for.  However, I am not hopeful.

I had another bad NHS moment.  When I last saw my psychiatrist, I think in October, she said she wanted to see me again in three months and I should hear about an appointment.  Not having heard anything about an appointment in early January, I phoned to find that I do not have an appointment.  The receptionist said she will ask the psychiatrist if she wants to see me again and then phone me back.  I know the NHS and I know it is by no means certain that the receptionist will speak to the psychiatrist or that the message will be delivered back to me.  Again, I am not hopeful, but what alternative do I have?  To be honest, I think there is little the psychiatrist can do for me at the moment anyway.

I had to phone the dentist too to make a routine check-up appointment, but first it was engaged and then there was no answer; possibly they had gone home as it was nearly 5pm.  I hate making phone calls and it exhausts me, and I didn’t even get all my calls finished as I still have the call to the dentist hanging over me for tomorrow or Thursday.

I did go to my shiur and also managed to squeeze in about forty minutes of work on my novel, writing nearly 500 words, completely reworking a passage I wrote the other day and was unhappy with, so it wasn’t a totally wasted day.

Achievements and a Rant

I spent an hour trying to work on my novel, but mostly procrastinated and only managed 275 words.  I feel like I’m in a writing rut today.  I probably need to delete the last couple of paragraphs, back up and start this bit again.  This happens sometimes and I guess it’s normal, but it is frustrating.

I managed thirty-five minutes of Torah study and a twenty-five minute run.  I want to run for longer periods, but I just don’t seem to have the stamina at the moment.  The way I run I end up passing my house every thirteen minutes or so, and while I wanted to carry on after the twenty-five minute mark I just could not go any further.  Running after dark doesn’t help, as my body wants to sleep (OK, it feels like that all day) and I have to be extra careful of puddles and fallen branches on the badly-lit and uneven pavements.  So far I haven’t got an exercise migraine, although I do have a slight headache.  I do still feel very tired even though I finished my run a couple of hours ago and have eaten dinner since then.

The other main task for today was checking I’d correctly filled in the benefits form that I started weeks ago.  I have to say I had forgotten about the benefits form after my holiday and then feeling extra-depressed afterwards and then by the potential new job, but I’m going to book an appointment at a JobCentre – the next step – in case I don’t get the new job.

I didn’t have the time or energy for any job hunting.  It doesn’t help that the only suitable job I could apply for at the moment is in Stratford, which is very far away and would be another killer commute.

My mood was mostly OK apart from some political worries (see below), so maybe my light box is helping after all.

***

As part of the BBC’s “neutral” election coverage, I saw this headline on their website “Working in the NHS ‘feels sometimes unbearable’“.   I feel in the interests of balance I should be allowed to write an article called “Using the NHS feels sometimes unbearable”.  I actually feel myself getting quite upset and angry at the whole “We ♥ the NHS” meme, which has gone into overdrive this election, because it doesn’t correspond with my own lived experience.  I have had good doctors, psychiatrists, therapists etc. who have gone the extra mile for me, but I have also had lousy ones who have wasted my limited resources of time, money and energy and made me feel like dirt, but I’m not allowed to say anything about that because it doesn’t fit with society’s narrative: that the NHS is full of “angels” who can’t do their job because the politicians won’t give them enough money and wrap them in red tape.

Economically speaking, if a service, particularly an expensive service, is provided for free, demand will always outstrip supply.  It’s just a basic economic truth.  I believe state-provided healthcare is necessary, but our debate about the best way to resource it should start from the reality that it will never be anywhere near perfect rather than pretending that there’s a magic solution somewhere out there, whether more money, internal markets or reorganisation of management.

Sorry, for a non-political blog, I’ve had a lot of politics lately, and this one isn’t even about antisemitism!  But I do feel that my personal experience of mental health treatment in this country is not reflected in the public discourse because it doesn’t fit a predictable ‘narrative’ which makes me feel uncomfortable, like my experience isn’t as ‘real’ somehow.

I’ll be very glad when this election is over.  As I’ve said before, the choice before us is frankly unenviable, with a multitude of parties and candidates all of whom are spectacularly awful, but for different reasons.  One cartoon had a pollster ask “Who are you voting against?” which seems all too realistic to me.  If it weren’t for the antisemitism issue, I’d be tempted to abstain, as I can’t see anything good coming from it.  And I’m still very, very scared that there’s going to be antisemitic violence if Labour win on Thursday… and even more antisemitic violence if they lose.  I’ve only been this worried about antisemitic violence when there have been wars or major terrorism campaigns against Israel  – and that was worries about violence in Israel, not spillover violence here.  It’s a very scary time to be Jewish in the UK, and all the more scary for the fact that so few people outside the Jewish community recognise that fear.

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On a more fun note, I’m in the middle of watching From Russia with Love.  Where Dr No (which I watched last night) definitely felt like a James Bond film that was lacking a few elements of the formula, From Russia with Love feels like a typical, if not slightly slow spy film that just happens to have James Bond in it for some reason.  Not at all what we think of as a Bond Film.

I Don’t ♥ the NHS

I had a lousy afternoon.  My doctor’s surgery didn’t tell me that my (routine) blood test today was supposed to be a fasting test, with the result that I didn’t fast and couldn’t have my blood test.  So that’s a wasted NHS appointment and a waste of my time – and energy – going to the hospital.  That wasn’t what made me angry.  The anger came from the contempt that the GP’s surgery receptionists treated me with when I tried to find out what was going on, if I was really supposed to have a fasting blood test or if it was a mistake, as if I had no right to ask why the doctor wanted someone to stick a needle in me and take my blood.  Because I’m just the patient and should shut up and do as I’m told.  I actually left because I could see they weren’t going to listen to me, but I was still angry.  When I realised I had forgotten to collect my repeat prescription from the surgery, I went back and decided to ask if they could check with the doctor that I was supposed to have a fasting blood test.  They said they had checked with him, presumably after I had left.  So either they were worried that they were not right to dismiss my questions, in which case they have even less justification for treating me so badly for asking, or they lied to me to shut me up.  I couldn’t say anything as I couldn’t prove that they had lied and was too tired to continue.

Seriously, I am coming to hate the NHS, although saying that publicly in this country makes me about as popular as Richard Dawkins on a tour of the Bible Belt, and for much the same reason.  I forget who said the religion of Britain is the NHS, but it is, and a useless little tin idol it sometimes is too.  Not that anyone will say that on this election campaign; the NHS has long been Labour’s not-so secret weapon.

Because of anger and tiredness, my shopping afterwards took longer than it should have done and I got home at 5.30pm exhausted and unable to do much useful.  I didn’t really do anything all day other than my two-hour-plus afternoon of trying to sort out the blood test and some related shopping and my shiur (religious class) in the evening, although I did find the time to speak to my sister and to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.

I’ve thought up a devar Torah for every week so far for this cycle of Torah readings (five weeks so far), although one was thought up while we were away and didn’t get written down.  I thought about sending them to some friends from shul (synagogue), but I’m too wary that people may not like my interpretations rather those of rabbis that are, so to speak, certainly kosher, particularly not when I do things like query whether there have been scribal errors in religious texts like the Midrash, as I did this week.  I suppose I can change my mind in the future.

And that’s it for today really.  I’m exhausted and don’t have anything else to say.  I was too busy being angry and frustrated to be depressed or particularly introspective.

Alarums and Excursions

Well, one little excursion and a couple of small “alarum” bells.

I had a meeting with a charity that helps people with mental health issues into work.  I was referred to them by my NHS CBT therapist.  Most of the session was spent on form-filling and taking details, so I’m still not entirely sure how they can help me.  I’m going again in two weeks time and hopefully will get a clearer idea of what they can offer me.  I was offered help with job hunting motivation, which might be helpful, as I’m not feeling very motivated at the moment, but the sessions were on Friday afternoons, which is not good now that the clocks have gone back and Shabbat starts very early.

I had some communication issues there which may have been autism-related.  There are some questions that people ask me a lot about libraries that I do struggle to answer well.  This becomes a problem when I struggle to explain the type of work I want to do and the type of work environment I want to work in, as people are often unclear as to what librarians actually do these days.  I did at least manage to explain why librarian skills are not easily transferable to working in a bookshop (not the first time that one has come up).  I don’t know how much of this communication problem was autism making me struggle to communicate, particularly in a noisy, open-plan space, and how much was me struggling to understand the other person’s accent (which would also not have been made easier by noise and autistic issues).

The other things I did today were a bit of shopping, Skyping E. for about an hour (which was good) and thirty or forty minutes of Torah study.  I feel frustrated that I didn’t achieve much, but I don’t really have much energy at the moment between my cold (which is lingering and turning into a cough), depression (which I’m guessing is lurking in the background even though it’s been displaced from consciousness by physical illness) and the onset of winter, which tends to make me want to hibernate.  I have the type of depression that makes me want to hibernate generally, just to eat stodgy food and sleep and watch DVDs (OK, so bears don’t actually watch DVDs when they hibernate…), so winter just makes things worse.  I did want to watch some TV today, but ended up online and also doing more Torah study than I expected to do, which was good.

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I mostly keep my religious OCD under control, but sometimes it threatens to flare up.  The OCD mostly focused on the Jewish dietary laws, particularly those requiring separation of meat and dairy products and utensils.  Usually these days I can spot what’s a real issue and what’s OCD, but today there was something I thought was probably OK, but wasn’t sure about.  It became a kind of meta-OCD question, where I moved from being anxious about whether the utensil in question was OK to being anxious whether I should ask the question or if that was giving in to the OCD.  It’s a problem, as giving in to the OCD fuels it, making it harder to resist next time.  In the end I did ask the question, but I am not sure that I did the right thing.  I haven’t heard back yet.

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My Mum chased my autism referral as we were worried that it has been ten months since I was referred and I have not heard a date for my assessment yet.  The reply was that it takes twelve to eighteen months from the referral date, which was 18 January 2019, so we’re looking at an assessment sometime in the first half of 2020 which is a lot later than we were expecting (we were told eight months to a year and we thought the referral went through earlier, so we were expecting any time from September just gone to the end of this year).

I’m more realistic about the limitations of a publicly-funded health service than many people are, so I’m not furious about it being so late, although it is frustrating when my life feels on hold and I’m not sure how to understand my sense of identity, but I do wonder why they can’t be clearer about when it will be.  If X is a finite and known number of people in front of me in the queue, and if the Maudsley Hospital can do Y number of assessments a day, then X ÷ Y = Z, the number of working days until my assessment.  Call it the provisional date in case you want to cover sickness, unexpected emergencies etc.  It is possible that assessments are not on a first in, first out, basis but are triaged (I think this is the case, thinking about it), so the date would be approximate, but it would be something.  It would be good to know whether we’re talking January 2020 or June 2020.

My Mum has apparently gone with the triage option too, as she just sent an email asking for me to be seen ASAP, given my depression and the way that the uncertainty is making me more anxious and depressed.  It is true that I feel a lot of uncertainty, both over what I can do with my life and what it means for me if I’m on the spectrum and, especially, what it means if I’m not on the spectrum.  I’ve become convinced that I am on the spectrum, but given the whole story of my previous assessments, sometimes I worry that I’m not on the spectrum and I feel that if I’m not then I’m just a useless person who has totally failed at building a career and building relationships and friendships.

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More books: I popped into a charity shop on the way home to look at their books and DVDs.  I do this sometimes to de-stress, as browsing through books calms me.  I thought of buying The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, which is a book I’ve wanted to read for a while and I could afford to pay £1 for it, but I have become worried about my habit of buying books faster than I can read them (usually second-hand and cheaply, as in this case, but it still seems a waste), and I feel the cumulative effect of my impulse/bargain purchasing does could add up while I’m unemployed.  Maybe that’s not such a worry as I once estimated my book spending amounted to about £1 a week, which isn’t much, but I feel I shouldn’t really be buying anything inessential at the moment.  I also thought the book would be a difficult, heavy, depressing read as it’s an alternate history story where Franklin Roosevelt is defeated in the US presidential election by Charles Lindburgh, the latter standing on an antisemitic, pro-Nazi, isolationist platform.  I was going to write a satirical joke here about the book and contemporary politics, but actually it’s all too depressing to joke about it.