Shrugs Shoulders

The last two days of Pesach (Passover) went quite well. No real religious OCD-type anxiety, which was good. I went to shul (synagogue) every evening. Today I decided not to wear a coat, as it was still quite warm in the afternoon, only to discover that we were praying in the outside area so we didn’t have to wear masks. I like not wearing a mask, but when we finished Minchah (Afternoon Service) and had a shiur (religious class) before Ma’ariv (Evening Service) it got cold quickly, especially once the sun went down.

I left soon after shul finished, not really staying to help tidy up as I normally would do, partly because I’m not sure where things go in our new socially distanced layout, partly because I wanted to get home and help Mum and Dad clear up the Pesach things (which normally takes several hours). I was pretty tired, though, and felt I didn’t do much to help and spent more time eating than tidying, although Mum and Dad said I did help significantly. ūü§∑‚Äć‚ôāÔłŹ

Communicating in emoji rather than words indicates how burnt out I feel. I wish I knew what tires me out so much. I struggled to sleep last night, but slept through most of the morning and napped in the afternoon after a walk. I just seem to be tired a lot of the time and can’t function in mornings at all. Is it really autistic burnout? ūü§∑‚Äć‚ôāÔłŹagain.

I enjoyed most of Pesach, but I again have the feeling that my chag (festival) lacked meaning and spirituality. Did I really meditate on the meaning of freedom? Did I really come closer to God? I feel like I didn’t. Do some people really manage this? I don’t know again, and I’m scared to ask anyone. This is when I feel like I struggle from not having many frum (religious) friends to talk to. Sometimes I wish I was an FFB (frum from birth i.e. raised as a religious person) who could take the basics of the festival for granted and concentrate on the deeper meaning. Or a BT (ba’al teshuvah, ethnic Jew who became religious later on in life) who had a major inspirational experience at some point to reflect on when feeling distant from God, to re-energise. I just became religious because I felt guilty for not being religious, which is probably exactly the sort of thing I would do, engage in a major life-change from guilt and obligation rather than inspiration and then try to keep it going. But I feel like I’m immune to inspiration. Even now I’m apparently over the depression (for now), I don’t seem to have much of an inspirable soul, at least not with the things that are supposed to inspire Orthodox Jews.

Possibly I assume everyone else is doing a lot better than me when that is not the case.

I have a date with PIMOJ tomorrow and should go to bed, but I want to watch TV for a bit to unwind or I doubt I will sleep easily. I’m going to try not to catch up with my missed blog posts from the weekend, part of an attempt to be online less. I skimmed down my friends list to see I wasn’t missing anything important, and I admit I read one or two posts, but I’m going to try not to read the rest. Sorry if I missed your opus, it’s nothing personal!

Time Warp Pesach

Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the first two days of Pesach (Passover) were, on the whole, good. I wanted to do a blow-by-blow account, but it’s too late and I don’t have the time, so I’ll do bullet points. (I’m also not catching up on blog posts I’ve missed tonight; hopefully tomorrow, but even then maybe not all of them.)

  1. I saw a beautiful rainbow on the way to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. This got Yom Tov off to a good start.
  2. Shabbat was weird. (I’m not even going to try to explain how or why Shabbat the day before Pesach is so weird. Sorry, it’s just too complicated. If you don’t know, you might just want to skip to the next bullet point.) We had egg matzah for hamotzi. This is not entirely in the spirit of not eating matzah on Erev Pesach, but I felt the alternative was to eat pita bread and freak out about chametz (leaven) crumbs all through Pesach. I managed to get up around 8.00am to daven (pray) a bit and make hamotzi before the cut off time.
  3. Having Shabbat the day before Yom Tov gave the whole experience a weird Groundhog Day time warp effect where none of us were sure what day it was, something only compounded by the clocks going forward on Saturday night, when religious Jews can’t change them (because of Yom Tov) — except that some modern clocks adjust themselves, so on Sunday and Monday we kept having to check what time it was on different clocks to work out what time it really was.
  4. The sederim went pretty well. Even though there were only three of us (me, Mum and Dad), we had some back and forth of questions and suggested answers. I learnt some things, which was good. We had a good pace, not too fast or too slow. I do feel I’m too old to look for the afikoman, especially alone. I didn’t mind saying the Mah Nishtanah (the Four Questions, traditionally said by the youngest person present), and sang it, something my sister generally refuses to do. I do feel sorry for people doing solo sedarim though.
  5. My OCD anxious thoughts were mostly under control, more so as time went on. I am still struggling with a few thoughts intermittently. My rabbi mentor is usually uncontactable during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) and won’t talk about Pesach after the event, but I have some questions to ask him for next year.
  6. I went to shul a few times. This occasioned some social anxiety, although I pushed through it, as well as discomfort (feeling suffocated) from wearing a mask too long.
  7. I read a bit: more of Seder Talk: The Conversational Haggadah by Erica Brown, the Haggadah I used at the seder this year (it has eight essays, one for each day of Pesach); a bit of Grant Morrison’s Batman arc; and Anno Dracula 1918: The Bloody Red Baron, Kim Newman’s follow-up to Anno Dracula, itself a spin-off from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, positing a world in which Dracula was not defeated and became Prince Consort of the British Empire. In the sequel, expelled from Britain, Dracula becomes Commander-in-Chief of the German and Austro-Hungarian armies in World War I. One hundred pages in, not a lot has actually happened, but the “vampires in spiked helmets” imagery is strong and there are lots of cameos from real and fictional figures from the early twentieth century.
  8. I think I feel more comfortable in my head at the moment. I’m OK sitting with myself without reading, watching TV or listening to music. On Friday and today I got exhausted and took time out just to lie on the bed silently. I think I need to decompress from sensory overload more than I realised in the past, or maybe I actually need to do it more often as I get older. I’m wondering if I should set a “No screens for the first half-hour after I get home from work” rule so I can decompress properly. I’ve been feeling lately that I want to be on my computer less, but unsure how to do it when my main social interactions are through the internet: my blog and other people’s.
  9. I went for a walk today without a coat or jumper. Spring is finally here.
  10. It occurred to me today that so many of my thoughts about not fitting into my community because I don’t feel I’m appropriately religious (Haredi) might actually be about not fitting in because I’m autistic. I realised that while I have a few possibly mentally ill Jewish hero figures (with the usual caveats about trying to diagnose people who have been dead for centuries), I don’t have any high functioning autistic Jewish heroes and its hard to find my place in the community without them. I know there are not many female role voices and models in Orthodox Judaism but there isn’t a single autistic one.

Pre-Pesach Update

I’m pretty burnt out, which is why I’m writing with two hours until Shabbat (the Sabbath). Fortunately I’ve done all my chores, but I wanted to help my parents more. We haven’t laid the seder table yet.

I woke up feeling burnt out after everything I did yesterday and only managed to get up when PIMOJ phoned me at 10.00am. I managed to get going and do various Erev Pesach (day before Passover) chores that have to be done today because actual Erev Pesach is Shabbat. I did a lot, but by 3.00pm I was struggling. I’m just totally out of energy (or spoons, if you want to go that route). I booked to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, but I’m not sure I’m going to manage it. I just want to sleep. Actually, I just want to vegetate in front of the TV, but that’s not an option for the next seventy-five hours or so. I’ve also cut myself on the edge of the thick aluminium foil we covered the edge of the kitchen sink with.

In terms of OCD, I’ve been worried about a lot of stuff. However, I’ve mostly got the worries under control quite quickly. I resisted the temptation to message my rabbi about a worry too. So I’m probably not drifting into actual OCD, I’m just getting spikes of anxiety that I can slowly bring under control, always with a residual sense of “I hope I’m doing the right thing and don’t really need to ask a shayla (religious question)…”

I’m going to eat something, read for a bit, and try to get the energy to shower and go to shul.

Chag kasher ve’sameach to those celebrating!

The Hardest Task of the Year

On the day before Pesach (Passover), it’s customary for first-born Jewish males to fast, in memory of the plague of the first-born in the exodus story. The custom has also arisen to get out of this fast (unlike other fasts) by attending a siyum a religious celebration, usually for finishing some religious study. When Pesach starts on a Sunday, this all gets pushed back to the Thursday beforehand. This is why I got up early this morning to attend a siyum on Zoom. I decided it wasn’t realistic for me to go to shul (synagogue) for this. I couldn’t sleep last night, but even before that, I thought I was too tired to manage it. I don’t know what I would have done in a “normal” year, but this year there is still COVID, so I attended virtually. I didn’t manage to get up early enough to pray beforehand (the siyum is usually immediately after the morning service) or even to get dressed; I just got up and switched on my phone, leaving the camera switched off as I sat there in my pyjamas.

After I managed to eat breakfast, get dressed and pray, I hoovered my room and went for a walk. My mood dropped quite a lot while out. I was feeling negative (depressed and anxious) about Pesach, but also about my writing. Coming home and eating lunch helped quite a lot. Tiredness and low blood sugar can push my mood very far down, very quickly.

In the afternoon I made the charoset and baked cinnamon balls (biscuits). I was pretty exhausted after that, and after my anxiety got pushed up by something that happened, so I had to take time out to watch Babylon 5 to try to regain my composure.

Then came the worst task of the year: kashering the kitchen sink i.e. getting it ready for Pesach by pouring boiling water over it to remove any trace of food. The difficulty is that it has to be boiling water not boiled water, i.e. poured within just a few seconds of the kettle turning off. And it has to reach the surface of the sink (bottom, walls, drainer, taps) from an area of a couple of inches of where the spout hits the sink, or it will have cooled off too much. And ideally you should do it in one go.

I don’t know why I find it so hard. My rabbi mentor and my parents’ rabbi have both said it’s easy. Mashgiachs (kashrut supervisors) do it all the time. But something – perhaps some autistic body coordination problem, the reason I’m awful at ball games? – stops me doing it. Of course, OCD kicks in too: after two or three seconds I stop, convinced I’ve spent too long pouring when I probably still have a second or two to keep pouring.

Whatever the reason, I can’t do it in one go. I take seven or eight, maybe more, doing the drainer and taps, than the base of the sink, then the walls one by one, sometimes repeating bits I’m not happy with. This time I got to the end and couldn’t remember if I’d done the side nearest me. I was 80% sure I had, but not 100%. I decided 80% would have to be good enough; do it again, and I’ll be there all night doubting myself, redoing bits, fuelling the OCD. My rabbi mentor says I only have to get 51% of the sink for it to be considered done. I have no idea if I managed that. We put a plastic bowl in on Pesach anyway, which is a useful belts and braces approach.

It didn’t help that Mum and Dad were in and out of the kitchen the whole time while I was doing this, which just made me feel more awkward. I felt pretty rotten afterwards, not sure if I’d done the right thing and feeling undischarged anxiety pent up inside me. I hate this job, but I worry my parents wouldn’t do it the way I would like, so I have to do it myself.

I appreciate that this is probably very far from what most people would see as the place of religion. For what it’s worth, I feel that if I do this every year, despite hating it, purely because it is what God wants, according to the rabbis, then that is a kind of sacrifice.

Even this was not the end of the day. After dark, we did the traditional search of the house by candlelight for chametz. We were all pretty exhausted and not in the best temper. Usually this would be done on the night before Pesach, but that’s Shabbat (the Sabbath) this year, so we do it earlier.

With all of this, it’s probably no surprise I barely managed ten minutes of Torah study. Hopefully I can catch up over Pesach.

***

I feel that maybe I shouldn’t talk about OCD thoughts and anxiety here. Or at least, it’s hard to know what to say about them. They aren’t anywhere near the intensity of when my OCD was at its height a few years ago. Although I would like to hear from my rabbi mentor about one or two things, I’m mostly feeling OK, although something happened today that (frankly) freaked me out for five or ten minutes into stronger anxiety. Everyone has OCD-type “weird” thoughts all the time. The difference is that most people dismiss them easily, but people with OCD fixate on them and worry about them and their implications. I’m not at the OCD end of obsessing about things endlessly, but I’m not at the point of just brushing things off either.

The problem is that checking is bad for OCD, as it just fuels it. You can never be 100% certain, so checking just encourages double and triple checking. In Orthodox Jewish culture, it feels normal to check questions with a rabbi, particularly at Pesach, when the dietary rules are so different from the rest of the year, but that’s counter-productive with OCD. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes. I’m just trying to focus on trying my best and hoping that’s enough, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like it would be.

***

Ashley pointed me in the direction of this article on autistic burnout. I found it interesting that it sees burnout as being long-term, over a period of weeks or months. I have probably had burnout like that (possibly some of my depressive episodes were actually major burnout), but I experience extreme fatigue and desire to withdraw also on a regular basis for short periods (days or even hours). I certainly agree that burnout can cause loss of skills. I am fairly sure I lose skills in the short-term when burnt out, and I suspect I have lost skills long-term too, particularly my librarian skills. I also seem to make more mistakes in writing than I used to (wrong words, apostrophes), and find it harder to spot them. I used to be a good proof-reader; I’m not sure that I still am.

***

I’m not sure if I’ll get the time to write tomorrow. It’s not technically Erev Pesach (the day before Pesach), but as Erev Pesach is Shabbat, most of the usual Erev Pesach tasks get done tomorrow. It’s the busiest day of the year and I don’t know if I’ll get time to write. And then I’ll be incommunicado until Monday evening! I’ll be glad to actually get to Pesach after such a stressful build up.

Busy Busy Busy

I woke up at 9.30am, but didn’t feel well enough to get up until nearly 11.00am. I don’t know if autistic burnout is my least favourite part of autism, but it’s up there. The hardest thing is not really having a clear conception of it (I haven’t seen much written about it) and blaming myself for laziness even though I know, on some level, it goes deeper than that.

I planned a busy afternoon and early evening of Pesach preparation, but forgot and in some cases did not know, that other stuff would be happening and had to delay while people got out of my way or I got roped in to helping them. We had our burglar alarm serviced today, which was not a good idea (not mine).

I actually did quite a bit: kashered the hob (put pots on it and heated it up to purge it for Pesach, then covered the grates with aluminium foil), thoroughly cleaned the kitchen sink so I can kasher it tomorrow, put away the non-kosher for Pesach over-the-counter medicines (most medicine is kosher for Pesach, but soluble tablets or stuff with taste like throat sweets and cough mixture is problematic) and went for a half-hour walk. I spent some time writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week too, which is good, as I didn’t think I would get it written this week. My other Torah study was listening to a recorded shiur (religious class) while I ate dinner. I was too tired to read any more of my new haggadah.

Writing this down, it doesn’t seem like I did so much, considering how close it is to Pesach, but I got roped into a few other chores too and some of these things had preparation time, so by the time it got to 6.30pm I was ready to drop, even if I hadn’t made the charoset (the thick dip eaten at the Pesach seder) which I had hoped to do today.

There were a few things I did for Pesach that were not necessarily done the ideal way. This makes me worry a bit, in terms of religious OCD worries about things being done perfectly, but I’ve been trying to just push through my OCD fears. It is draining, though, and probably does contribute to my exhaustion. It’s just another thing for me to be juggling. I also feel sorry for my rabbi mentor who still has to put up with nervous WhatsApp messages from me checking that I’ve done things correctly.

***

I haven’t seen PIMOJ for a while. I’m actually not sure how long, which is bad of me. We couldn’t see each other for ages because of lockdown and mutual Pesach stress, plus she’s having to do a lot of overtime at work lately. We were going to meet next Wednesday, but it turned out I was double-booked with my sister and brother-in-law. I thought we were seeing them on Tuesday, but it turns out to be Wednesday. PIMOJ was very good about changing the date. I’m seeing PIMOJ on Monday 5 April (bank holiday). At least we’ll be able to stay out all afternoon with Pesach stress over (I will be naughty and leave some of the post-Pesach tidying to my parents).

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Pesach

I got up a little earlier today, arguably not as early as I needed to, and need to do for the rest of the week, but a bit earlier. My main achievement of the day was cooking almond macaroons for Pesach. It took quite a while, although the recipe is easy, because I didn’t know where all the stuff was in the garage (which functions as our Pesach kitchen, or part of it – it has sinks, fridge-freezer and cupboards, but no oven or hob) and because I was the first person in our house to do Pesach cooking this year, so everything was still boxed up after last year.

The biscuits turned out OK, although I’m worried they will fall apart when we take them off the baking paper. However, I had a big shock when I opened the oven to put the biscuits in: a blob of brown goo like cake mixture on the door of the oven and matching splash mark on the floor of the oven where it impacted. I went into panic mode thinking we had somehow let chametz (leavened) food into our oven after it was cleaned and/or kashered, rendering it unusable for Pesach. I sent some panicked texts to my rabbi mentor. After I calmed down, I looked at it again with my Dad and we both felt it was extremely unlikely that the professional oven cleaner missed this or that chametz somehow got into the oven after it had been cleaned. The most likely explanation is that a dollop of oven cleaning chemical stuck to the door of the oven when the oven cleaner cleaned it, and when the door was shut it dripped down the door and splashed at the bottom. I decided to act as if it was all OK and baked the biscuits. My rabbi mentor later said I did the right thing. I guess the good thing is that I didn’t freak out with religious OCD about it, at least, not for more than a couple of minutes.

I was pretty exhausted after that. I walked to the shops with my Dad, which I didn’t really want to do, as I was tired, but I said I would help him carry the milk home. My Torah study for the day was listening to an online shiur. I started writing my devar Torah for the week while cooking dinner (it was vegetarian kedgeree, which doesn’t require much active work once the rice and eggs are cooking, so I can sit nearby and type). I feel it’s a bit lightweight, but writing one this week is hard with so much Pesach stuff going on. I thought of finishing writing it after dinner, but decided I was too tired and left it for tomorrow. I would have liked to have baked more biscuits (cinnamon balls), but ran out of time and energy. Oh well. Perhaps from misplaced guilt, I polished more of the silver while watching This is Us, but I ran out of energy long before the end.

I want to do more than I was able to do (again). I feel bad, because I wouldn’t be able to make Pesach without my parents doing a lot, but then, I wouldn’t get through an ordinary week without my parents, at least not easily. Despite supposedly being recovered from depression, I couldn’t survive without their help, even without the financial question of how I could support myself on two days of work a week. I feel that, aged thirty-seven, I ought to be more self-sufficient, but I’m not and maybe I never will be, and that’s something I somehow need to come to terms with.

The Talmud states that no one dies with even half their desires fulfilled. It’s tempting to read this as no average person dies with half their desires fulfilled, but I think it applies to righteous people too. It’s just that their desires are nobler. I don’t know if I’m righteous, but I feel this a lot, that I don’t manage the Torah study and prayer and chesed (kindness, in this case helping around the house) that I would like, and maybe I never will.

The OK Day I Nearly Ruined; and Fear of Sin

I think today was an OK day that I nearly turned into a bad day by trying to fix it badly.

Work was OK, but dull, mostly going through old papers to see if I could throw them away. Looking at the paper trail left by office politics and arguments from a decade ago feels both voyeuristic and depressing – events that clearly angered people to the point that legal action was considered has now left no discernible trace, except for a few letters that have now gone in the bin. It really will all be the same in a hundred years.

I feel that my Pesach (Passover) religious OCD has really kicked in. I’m anxious about a couple of Pesach-related things. However, my parents don’t think I’m much more anxious than the last few years. To be fair, I’ve been a lot worse in the past, I just thought I was over this. I thought Pesach didn’t make me anxious any more, or not this anxious. Maybe it’s not something you are ever “over” just as getting over depression doesn’t mean you won’t have days when you feel depressed.

I got back from home fairly early and decided I would go for a run. This was where I wanted to fix the day. I thought exercise would help shift the OCD anxiety and boost my mood, but it went a bit wrong. I didn’t manage my usual 5K run because my foot hurt. I also got tired, probably because I’d already walked a lot today (to the station and then to the bank and back at work). I probably continued running longer than I should have done, given that my foot was hurting. So I came home feeling tired and down rather than tired and satisfied.

Possibly on an unconscious level, going for a run was influenced by having a bad body image day. I don’t have particularly great body image (does anyone?), but I don’t really think about it much either, except when I see myself in the mirror getting in and out of the shower. I’m on the fringes of being overweight, and have been since being put on clomipramine, but I’ve learned to accept it (sort-of) as the price I pay for a medication combination that keeps me reasonably well. But today I was just feeling fat. It’s not exactly an easy time of year from a healthy eating point of view, as we try to finish all the leftover chametz (leavened) food and then spend eight days eating matzah, which is pretty fattening, especially as you have to eat it with something (butter, cheese, jam, etc.) which makes it more fattening.

I did feel somewhat better after dinner, just very tired and apprehensive about the rest of the week. I’m not sure why this Pesach feels so hard. It’s a lockdown Pesach, but so was last Pesach, and last Pesach Mum was undergoing chemotherapy and while the prognosis was good, we had no way of knowing that it would ultimately be successful. The stakes should feel a lot lower this time. I guess there are a few factors that make this Pesach hard: it starts on Saturday night, which adds a whole load of hassle for reasons that would take a long time to explain (just trust me, it’s not good); I’m working for the first time around Pesach since 2018 (I’m glad that J basically told me not to come in on Thursday, which is a big help); and I have a girlfriend for the first time since I broke up with my first girlfriend on Pesach in 2013 (that was a bad Pesach), which is good, but adds a lot of stressful thoughts about how we can meet during lockdown and how the relationship is going and whether we will weather all the difficulties inherent in it. I think what I’m saying is that this is a Pesach where I’m juggling a lot of non-Pesach-related balls along with the usual Pesach ones, in a way that I haven’t had to do for a while (even last year when Mum had chemo it didn’t impact me so much personally, except that I did a bit more cooking).

I made a tactical decision not to do any more Torah study after dinner, even though I had only managed about thirty-five minutes today and worry I won’t finish the haggadah commentary I’m reading before Pesach. I thought that trying to study more would just deplete me and make me feel worse. I watched Babylon 5 and helped Mum and Dad by polishing some of the silver, although I was too tired to do much of that.

So it was an OK day in the end, but I nearly tipped it over to a bad one by trying to hard to turn it around. There is probably a message there.

***

It’s weird. I don’t think I have a particularly punitive view of God. With other people, if they do even very slightly good things (religiously speaking), I praise and encourage them. And I genuinely believe God will look favourably on them. I don’t know who exactly gets in to Heaven, but I know I don’t believe in a God who condemns billions to eternal suffering. And yet. It’s so hard to take the view of, “I do the best I can and leave the rest to God” as at least one rabbi encouraged me to do.

I think I’m a person who fears sin. This is a concept in the Talmud. It’s very different to a person who fears punishment. Fearing punishment is a low level, kind of the lowest level of doing the right thing, just doing it to avoid being punished. Fearing sin, on the other hand, is much higher, a sensitivity to the spiritual consequences of apparently trivial actions.

The way it seems to me is like I’m in a palace made of delicate crystal or even ice, representing the world as it exists on a spiritual level, not necessarily the spiritual universes described in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), but a metaphor for the way the life prescribed by Judaism creates a way of life with tangible effects in the physical world. Moving without the correct attention, as laid out in the Torah, risks cracking or even breaking off the delicate ornamentation. Do enough wrong and the fabric of the building is at risk.

Switching metaphors, I also fear the consequences for my relationship with God of transgressing His word. Even if I do it unintentionally, I worry if I could have tried harder or found some other solution. I don’t want to risk cutting myself off from Him, which is cutting oneself off from life, as God is the source of life. The thought of doing that is horrifying. This is why Pesach is such an ordeal, because the punishment for eating chametz (leaven) on Pesach is karet, being “cut off” from God (probably referring to losing one’s share in the next world and possibly to premature death in this world too; it’s debated among the authorities). The fact that Pesach is once a year doesn’t really help. Shabbat is a major commandment with a serious punishment too (I actually wrote a devar Torah on this recently; the Talmud says keeping – or breaking- Shabbat is equivalent to keeping or breaking the entire Torah), but it comes around every seven days, so I get a lot of exposure therapy that means that most of the time I can enjoy Shabbat without thinking of the potential consequences of error. But Pesach is once a year, so I don’t get much exposure therapy. (Although the thought of doing Pesach once a week is pretty terrifying!)

***

OK, considering I didn’t think I had enough material for a post today, this has got too long. I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I think I’ve had enough screen time for today (or will have soon, as PIMOJ asked me to text her about my day).

I Want To Break Free

I couldn’t sleep last night. I had slept during the day, I often struggle to sleep after a migraine, and the migraine itself meant that I didn’t take my antidepressants until after midnight, and I usually rely on them to knock me out, so it wasn’t a surprise. Still, it was frustrating not to fall asleep until 4am. I did get up about 10am today, which was good, as there was a lot of Pesach cleaning to do.

The cleaners we booked to come in addition to our usual cleaner to do a lot of basic cleaning downstairs before Pesach have cancelled two weeks running now, so we’re having to do more. I appreciate that “Our cleaners – and not regular cleaner, just our Pesach back-up cleaners – have cancelled” is probably the epitome of middle class first world problems. There’s a global pandemic, the worst recession in centuries, genocide in China, a coup in Myanmar etc. Cleaners cancelling is not a big deal, even a week before Pesach. To be honest, I’m a bit glad: if this is the worst of our Pesach trouble, we should be OK.

I’m not sure how long I cleaned for, probably about two hours. I also managed a walk and some Torah study, and Mum cut my hair, but I would have liked to have done more cleaning. I ran out of time and energy. I wish I knew why my energy depletes so quickly. Possibly I’m just getting older, although I don’t hit forty for a couple more years. I did speak to PIMOJ for over an hour, which was good, although would have liked to speak more had I not been conscious that it was getting late and I have work tomorrow.

As the day went on and my stress levels increased and I got tired and hungry, I became more prone to religious OCD-type thoughts again. They are essentially contamination fears about our food, only with the fear being about religious contamination (non-kosher contamination into kosher food; chametz (leaven) into Pesach food) rather than germs. It’s frustrating and I worry what state I will be in by the end of the week, but I did mostly cope OK even if I want to check some things with my rabbi mentor. One book I have on “pure O” OCD (obsessive thoughts without compulsions including religious OCD) is called The Imp of the Mind and it does feel a bit like this external monster stirring up my thoughts when I’m stressed and hungry.

It’s tempting to want to carry on cleaning or doing Torah study and/or seder preparation late at night, but deep down I know I need to unwind a bit or I’ll be a mess tomorrow, emotionally and possibly physically too. It’s hard to see watching TV as necessary and justified even though it probably is. This is the first year I’m juggling Pesach and paid work and a relationship, so maybe it’s not a surprise that I’m a bit more stressed than usual even without lockdown complicating things further.

While cleaning I Want to Break Free by Queen came on my ipod on shuffle. That would seem appropriate anthem for this Pesach on so many levels: the usual Pesach level of the story of the exodus, the usual Pesach cleaning, lockdown, trying to stay free of OCD…

***

I finished reading Contact last night. I’m glad I stuck with it, as it did get better, and the end was more open to religion than I expected, but I do wish non-religious writers wouldn’t assume that all religious people think like Bible Belt Evangelicals. Also, I now have a serious space issues on my bookshelves. I could buy another bookcase, but I couldn’t fit it in my bedroom easily, and I already have most of my Jewish books downstairs in the dining room on one of my parents’ bookcases.

***

After my headache subsided last night, I said the prayers I had skipped when I was feeling sick. The Ma’ariv for Motzei Shabbat (Evening prayers for the evening after the Sabbath) contain a long anthology of verses of blessing for the new week and finish with a Talmud passage to start the new week with Torah study. It says (Megillah 31a, translation from the Chief Rabbi’s Siddur):

Rabbi Yochanan said: Wherever you find the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be He, there you find His humility. This is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings. It is written in the Torah: “For the LORD your GOD is GOD of gods and LORD of lords, the great, mighty and awe-inspiring GOD, who shows no favouritism and accepts no bribe.” Immediately afterwards it is written, “He upholds the cause of the orphan and widow and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing.” It is repeated in the Prophets, as it says: “So says the High and Exalted One, who lives for ever and whose name is Holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with the contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” It is stated a third time in the Writings: “Sing to GOD, make music for His name — and exult before Him.” Immediately afterwards it is written: “Father of the fatherless and Judge of widows is GOD in His holy habitation.”

What struck me yesterday is that the verses about humility have very little to do with what in English we would think of as humility. Rather than being about putting yourself down or avoiding praise, they focus on hesed (love, kindness) and tzedakah (charity, justice, social justice). This would seem to indicate that humility is more about openness and care for others than anything about the self; if anything, it is putting aside thinking about the self (either in either a positive or negative way) and focusing your attention on the other.

Rabbi Twerski z”tl also said that humility is focusing on others, while pride is focusing on the self. Also that pride is past-focused (“I did X”) and humility is future-focused (“I will do X”).

The Long Twilight Struggle

I struggled with burnout again on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, as well as thoroughly hoovering and dusting my room for Pesach, including moving my bed and bedside table to hoover under them (not my desk though – too heavy, and food is unlikely to get under it as the three exposed sides are flush with the floor). At least that’s out the way for now; I won’t eat food (other than water) in there now until after Pesach.

I embarrassed myself phoning the hospital about the report from my autism assessment. I had misunderstood when it would be available, which turns out not to be for another two or three weeks. I was very apologetic to the secretary for wasting her time, but I felt bad.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) went well. I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. We davened Kabbalat Shabbat (said some of the Evening Prayers) outside so that we could sing. It was good to sing, but very cold, even if Saturday was the first day of spring.

I got up earlier than usual on Saturday morning, although I went back to bed after breakfast and dozed for a bit. I napped in the afternoon too, which I didn’t want to do. I didn’t do much Torah study, partly because of napping, partly because when Shabbat went out I got an awful migraine that took hours to shift. I didn’t even feel up to saying all of the Ma’ariv (Evening) prayers; usually I somehow soldier on, but I skipped the after Shabbat verses of blessing because just reading made me feel like I was going to throw up. This is an improvement, as in the past I would carry on. The last time I had a bad headache when davening (praying) was on Simchat Torah, when bowing at the end of the Amidah prayer actually made me throw up. Perhaps I’m willing to make more excuses for myself now.

I spent much of the evening wrapped in my weighted blanket, watching Babylon 5 (hence the title of this post from one of the episodes, used in a rather humorously melodramatic way). The painkillers I took finally kicked in, along with the cool and soothe strip. I feel a bit tired now, but not particularly sleepy. I’m going to have something to eat (I need to take my antidepressants with food) and maybe go to bed. My room is freezing cold; I opened the windows wide before as I prefer to be cold if I have a migraine, but I wonder how I will fall asleep now.

***

I’ve been missing PIMOJ a lot lately. I realised that I experience this not as pining after her the way I pined after various crushes in my earlier life, but in worrying that she will lose interest in me, that I’m not good enough for her and so on. I’m not sure what to do about this. Hopefully we can meet after Pesach or maybe even during it. We had a text conversation tonight, a bit more in-depth than either of us has had the time or energy for this week, and we’re hoping to speak tomorrow.

***

It’s strange thinking that not only do I now have autism, but I have had autism all my life, even when I was a child doing well at school. It still seems a little strange how well I did at school compared with how badly I’ve done since then, but school was a strange micro-environment, plus “doing well” is relative, as I had undiagnosed depression and anxiety when I was in the sixth form and maybe earlier, and I struggled a lot socially, with bullying and (not) making friends. I would do a lot differently if I knew what I know now, but it’s too late. Still, the thought of being autistic and still doing well academically seems slightly jarring, even though many people on the spectrum are the same. I wish I could identify how I succeeded then and work out how to apply it now, but the answer seems to be to seek out opportunities for rote memorisation of lists and tasks, focus 100% on work with no social or romantic life, and concentrate very hard on doing what I’m told, which does not necessarily make for a healthy adult life.

I was looking over Shabbat at a new haggadah (Passover prayer book) commentary I just bought. It has open questions to stimulate discussion at the seder service. Many of them ask the participants to think about major life events. I keep coming back to my autism diagnosis for so many of these questions. I definitely haven’t worked it through yet.

***

I search for the truth, in what I suppose is a very old-fashioned way. I took a decision at some point, initially unconsciously, lately very consciously, not to cut out of my life people I disagreed with purely on matters of religion or politics. I feel that this is unusual. I try not to read material that is just supporting my views, although it’s hard to find the time to read things from “my” side let alone other opinions in depth, and naturally I prioritise material I think is going to be more accurate which correlates with material I agree with. But I do tend to try to work out what the other side thinks, more or less automatically, probably a hold-over from my university days, where my essays tended to sit on the fence and examine both sides of the issue without really being drawn to one over the other. Anyway, I feel that this behaviour is unusual and most people do not do this. I’m not sure what to think about this.

“To be more like people better than you”

(Title quote from Amateur Hour by Sparks)

Today was not good, although I suppose it could have been worse. But I felt overwhelmed (my new keyword) most of the day. I overslept this morning. Actually, I didn’t oversleep; I was awake, I was just too tired to get up and then suddenly it was half an hour later and I had to rush. On the way in to work I felt overwhelmed and anxious: about Pesach (Passover), about autism, my relationship, my life, and the guy opposite me on the Tube not wearing his mask so he could drink beer 9am. (I’m open to the idea of beer-drinking at 9am being OK for some people, but I don’t consider it sufficient reason to remove one’s mask.)

At work I made mistakes, and also discovered mistakes made earlier e.g. the stationery order I placed on Monday arrived and I discovered that I had ordered one ream of printer paper instead of one box as J, my line manager, had requested. There were other mistakes, and J noticed some of them. He didn’t say much about it, which is good, but also makes it hard for me to judge how satisfied he is with my work. I think there tends to be a programme running in my head all the time wondering about that.

At lunch J asked what book I was reading, the first time he’s shown any interest in my lunchtime reading. Perhaps because my interests were the focus of much childhood bullying, I tend to get really nervous about talking about my interests with anyone outside of narrow “boxes” – so I only feel comfortable talking about Doctor Who with people I know from fandom, only talk about Judaism with other frum (religious) Jews and so on. (Somehow the internet is OK to share and overshare all kinds of stuff, don’t ask me why.)

In the afternoon, J got me to start going through old papers from the office, the start of a long clear out. I tend to be a hoarder with my own papers and property, but if I’m not responsible for the articles in question, I end up wanting to throw everything away. I asked J about a lot of the papers and he told me to keep a lot of it, so I’m not sure how much autonomy I’ll actually have over this task. To be honest, I’m not terribly keen on having autonomy over other people’s things. I did throw away a load of invoices from before 2010 that were unlikely to be used again, but I do feel vaguely apprehensive thinking about it. Unfortunately, it was a dull task that did not use much of my brain and I got stuck in negative thoughts and feelings again and wondered if I am becoming depressed again.

My Mum said that I should tell J about the autism diagnosis. I’m reluctant to do so, partly I admit because J is a friend from before when he gave me the job. I mentioned above about compartmentalising things, and I’ve been reluctant to tell people from shul (synagogue) even about my depression history, let alone something like autism that is understood and accepted even less well than depression. If I do that, I would want to prepare what I would say about autism (if people ask me suddenly I tend to blank and struggle to articulate the symptoms, let alone how it affects me personally) as well as what adjustments, if any, I would want.

That was not the end of the day. The journey home was stressful, with a lot of traffic. I don’t know why sitting in traffic is stressful. A half-hour journey with heavy traffic seems more stressful than a forty-five minute with no traffic. So I came back pretty frazzled, only to be thrown into dealing with Pesach OCD stuff. I’m OK, I know things are OK and I’m not falling back into serious religious OCD, I’m just trying to stay calm and cope with things. My OCD is always worst when I’m hungry and tired and I was both of those things when I got home from work. It’s OK now.

PIMOJ haven’t been able to meet much recently, not that we can really go anywhere at the moment anyway because of lockdown. She is doing a full-time job with significant compulsory overtime two nights a week, plus she’s doing a degree and getting ready for Pesach. At least once the clocks go forward we can buy coffee or takeaway dinner after work and eat in a park, but at the moment it still gets dark too early. I know she’s not avoiding me, but I miss her and I still worry about the stress it puts on our relationship.

So, now I write, write, write, because it helps to get things out of my head and process them. I’m only writing on my blog, as I’ve put my novel on hold until I can show it to someone, which won’t be until after Pesach. To be honest, I’ve lost faith in it. I’d be tempted to start working on a different novel that I’ve been thinking about (is that writing bigamy? Or cheating?), but it requires significant research, both factual (details for the setting) and literary (reading other books in the genre) and I don’t have the time or headspace for that at the moment.

I feel too exhausted to do any Pesach preparation or further Torah study tonight. Yesterday, I said on my blog that I was going to watch more TV, but then felt too tired to actually do so, so I’m not going to do anything as reckless as say I’ll watch TV now. I feel tired, but I want to unwind more before I go to bed. I guess it’s a race to see if I can stay awake long enough to read or watch Babylon 5.

Short Post, Much Angst

Today I feel less burnt out than yesterday, but still subdued and struggling to do things, like I feel after a migraine. I would be tempted to take things easy, but it’s a week and a half until Pesach and I can’t really afford to do that.

I went out and did some shopping and spent well over an hour writing my devar Torah (I wasn’t sure I would have the time or energy this week) as well as doing a few small, but time-consuming, Pesach chores. However, my Dad cleaned the sinks in the garage that we use for Pesach, which was supposed to be my job yesterday; I was too tired yesterday and did not have enough time today. I vaguely feel I should do more things around the house.

The other important thing today was therapy. We spent a while talking about my autism diagnosis and what it means for me and my sense of self. We spoke about coming to terms with it being like grieving in a way and about whether I can use it as an opportunity to work on self-regard, which I feel very nervous about as I tend to assume that any positive self thoughts will lead to narcissism. In my head, someone gave Donald Trump (for example) too much praise as a child and now he has an ego the size of a planet, and I worry about that happening to me.

After therapy I found myself getting sucked into low mood and anxious thoughts again, some about my relationship and whether it can survive several more months of COVID, let alone other stresses. Then it segued into general feelings of gloom and impending doom. I found myself thinking about bad things I’d done in the past and being sucked back into bad experiences from childhood.

I really want to crash, but, again, there are things I have to do e.g. I told Mum I would do ironing and polish the silver over the next two days. I will do the ironing and watch The Simpsons, which I haven’t seen for years. Twice in the last twenty-four hours or so I thought about the episode The Mysterious Voyager of Homer, so I figured that, as I currently have access to it on Disney+, I might as well watch it. And then maybe another Babylon 5 episode before bed; I don’t really feel up to reading.

***

Today the oven cleaner (that’s a person who cleans ovens, not a spray) came to clean our ovens before Pesach. From here on in, things become increasingly Pesach-related and stressful for the next week and a bit. It feels increasingly “real” as we get past more pre-Pesach milestones (clean fridges, buy Pesach food, clean ovens, kasher ovens etc.). My rabbi mentor said that everyone’s entitled to one pre-Pesach meltdown, and I wonder how I can cope with that (my parents’ as much as my own).

Ground Control to Major Tom

Today was an out of spoons day. I felt very burnt out, probably no surprise after a busy day Zooming shiurim (religious classes) on Sunday and then work yesterday. I’m glad I wasn’t working today, but had a lot of Pesach (Passover) stuff to do and didn’t really want to get up as late as I did. Even when I got up, I was very tired and struggled to get going. I went back to bed for a bit after breakfast, just enjoying being in the dark and quiet and not being over-stimulated. I hoped I would feel better after lunch, but I just wanted to eat and watch TV. It’s a bit easier to give myself permission to be burnt out now I have my autism diagnosis, but it doesn’t help when I have external deadlines to meet, in this case Pesach in under two weeks!

Probably because of this, I felt some Pesach anxiety. When I break down what needs doing into individual tasks, I feel a bit better, but just thinking about EVERYTHING that needs to be done is daunting (and the amount I’m actually doing is pretty small in comparison with what will be done by my Mum and the paid cleaners, not to mention the guy who takes our oven apart to clean it). I’m also a bit worried about the Shabbat (Sabbath) the day before Pesach. For complicated reasons, this is very difficult and I’m particularly worried about burnout and missing deadlines for things that need to be done in the morning, although I have back-up plans for some of them.

I also miss PIMOJ. It’s hard not seeing each other in lockdown. At least we can meet outdoors now, but as she works full-time it’s still difficult as it’s too dark to go to the park at 6pm and we can’t go indoors to cafes or restaurants. Plus, we still have the practical obstacles to our relationship to negotiate, which I feel hang over the relationship a bit, even though we can probably overcome them. I’m trying to be honest with PIMOJ about my autism and sometimes precarious mental health, but I do worry about scaring her off, even though I don’t think she would leave me over that (not least because she would have done it already if she was going to).

***

I’m still thinking about my autism diagnosis. Maybe there’s a Kubler-Ross grief thing happening, although I’m not sure if I’m still on anger or sometimes on depression. I guess I feel that I know who I am now, and that to some extent explains or even excuses things I’ve done (or not done), but also I wonder just how much can I live with this or even change it, or am I locked into a predestined life forever (worth thinking about in the run up to Pesach, the festival of freedom).

I was thinking about the diagnosis when I went for a walk and came back feeling insignificant and somewhat depressed (I know I’m not supposed to say “depressed” any more now I’m not clinically depressed, but this felt as bad as some of my worst depressed days) even before my Mum started talking about my brother-in-law being made a director of the company he works for and a trustee of a charity he’s involved with. What, I wonder, not for the first time, am I actually doing here? On Earth, I mean. I wonder what PIMOJ sees in me, and when she’ll realise I’m not a good catch.

Then I was phoned by my friend from shul (synagogue) to ask about contributing to the fund for the new building. He spoke a bit about the amounts raised so far and the amount still needed. I didn’t realise that there are some very generous, not to mention wealthy, people in my community. When they want four-figure sums and some people have given five-figure sums, to offer ¬£100 (as I was thinking) seems paltry. My parents actually convinced me not even to give ¬£100 in one go, but to give some now and decide about the rest in six months’ time (the appeal is over two years). This is probably good, as I didn’t really want to give as much as ¬£100. I wouldn’t say I was trying to save face exactly, but it did make me feel like I’m not a real adult among people my age… which brings me back to autism and my negative experiences in the workplace.

***

I managed to do some things: hoovering the garage (which basically functions as our Pesach kitchen, although we don’t have an oven out there); cooking dinner (macaroni cheese, my easiest recipe); a thirty minute walk; and finished typing up my notes from Sunday’s talks and a tiny bit of Torah study. I did feel that the more I did, the worse my mood got, so there is definitely a trade off there between activity and mood. There was a lot I wanted to do that I didn’t do, mostly preparation for Pesach (Mum and Dad offered to do some of it).

When I was out walking, I noticed someone had parked their car and left their lights on. I would normally go and tell them, but I just did not have the social energy to ring the doorbell and speak to them. I felt awful about it, but I was just too drained to fight the social anxiety enough.

***

A book I ordered a while back arrived today, a haggadah (prayer book for the Pesach seder service). I wanted a new haggadah as it would have a different commentary, so I could read some new things out at the seder to go beyond the set text. I was worried in particular about not having time this year for much research, so I wanted to get a new haggadah with a commentary I hadn’t read before that hopefully would be full of new ideas. This one in particular (Seder Talk by Erica Brown, who I’ve heard lecture twice at the LSJS on Zoom) has prompts for conversations too. Ideally the seder should lead to flowing conversations on the story of the exodus from Egypt and the concept of freedom in Jewish thought. I find interesting ideas to share at the seder, but I struggle to get actual conversations going, so I thought this would help, even though it’s just going to be my parents and me at our seder this year because of lockdown.

(Why do I always think haggadah should be spelt with one ‘g’ and two ‘d’s while I think armageddon should be the reverse?)

***

I feel a little better now, but I do feel bad that I didn’t do as much as I wanted (not just Torah study for once), but also aware that realistically I probably did as much as I could, maybe even a little more than I should have done. It’s frustrating, but I guess I need to learn to live with it. This is part of the reason I find it hard to identify autism as a ‘difference’ rather than a ‘disability.’ It feels disabling when I can’t do what I want (or even need) to do, just as it feels disabling when I’m aware of not having a good job, let alone a career, compared with my peers.

Getting Inside Other People’s Heads

Today was a difficult day. Perhaps the stress of the season is beginning to hit me, or perhaps I just did too much Zooming yesterday. I experienced intrusive thoughts of different kinds in the morning and felt overwhelmed and anxious at work. The anxiety was fairly unfocused, touching work, Pesach (Passover) preparations and my relationship (not the relationship itself but the obstacles to moving it forward). I felt an inner tension. At work, I was continuing with the inventory of relatively expensive objects and when I stood on a chair to reach those on the top shelf, I felt a bit of vertigo and anxiety about falling off the chair or dropping the objects and breaking them. I had to get J to help me get one of them down because I was worried I would shake and drop it, although I made out that I just couldn’t reach it (J is taller than me).

After that, J and I practised the new task he wants me to do and I found it difficult. There’s a lot to memorise and it requires quick thinking to follow different permutations of responses based on what the other person says. I’m unwilling to play the autism card yet, but I need to see how I can cope with it in real life rather than role play. He suggested that we role play it some more. I agreed, and also said that the next time the situation arises in real life, he should let me take the call with him in the room so he can prompt me if necessary, rather than waiting until he’s out of the office and I have to do it alone.

On the way home, J reiterated that he’d like to give me a permanent part-time job. I had thought this was dependent on finances, but it sounds like it’s more dependent on institutional politics. I couldn’t follow all of what he was saying as he had the radio on and I find it hard to tune background noise out and was too socially anxious to ask him to turn it off, but it sounds like there’s someone in the organisation who would potentially block making my job permanent, but he retires in June, so if I can stay for another four months, I’m likely to get a permanent job. This would be very good.

Otherwise the journey home was a bit stressful with more depressing news on the radio, more on misogyny and murder, as well as the withdrawal of the AstraZeneca vaccine in much of Europe. This was the vaccine I had, so I’m vaguely nervous, although I think there’s a lot of politics at work here and the number of deaths supposedly related to the vaccine seems tiny. I came home to news of another alleged abuse story, this time in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community. Abuse seems depressingly prevalent in all societies.

***

I could have gone to depression group tonight, but was too exhausted for more Zooming. Also, last time I spoke about my then-upcoming autism assessment, but I don’t feel ready to talk about my diagnosis yet. I can’t really explain why, I just don’t feel ready. I haven’t spoken to my therapist about it yet (my first therapy session since the diagnosis is on Wednesday) and there’s an aspect of the diagnosis that I have not told anyone else about yet that I really want to speak to my therapist about and maybe that has something to do with it.

***

I managed about twenty-five minutes of Torah study on the Tube into work and spent half an hour typing up some of my notes of things I learnt yesterday that I want to share at the seder. I’m trying to look at the average amount of time I study Torah each week rather than the amount each day; doing five or six hours yesterday should stand me in good stead for a bit.

***

I’m still watching Babylon 5. It’s very well-written, particularly the character arcs for G’Kar and Londo. How the writers (mostly J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote about 85% of the series) turn G’Kar from a violent hothead into a man of peace, and turn Londo from a washed up joke into a ruthless politician and war criminal and then give him a hint of redemption without any of this progress seeming forced or unnatural. How G’Kar and Londo go from being bitter enemies to firm friends. How neither character is unlikeable or two-dimensional even when doing terrible things. Most of this is ahead of me (I’m only halfway through season two of five), but it already makes my own writing feel inferior, reminding me how I failed to make the abuser in my novel into a rounded character and how I’m not sure how to change that.

I guess thinking myself into the head of an abuser is on my mind today because of the murder and misogyny in the news. Some of the intrusive thoughts have been around this. I’ve wondered for many years about how people can hurt other people. I find it hard to get into their heads. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about murder, how people can do it, how they can live with it. I can’t even imagine living with myself if I killed someone in self-defence or in a just war, let alone in cold blood. I guess this is the writer (and reader) in me, the part of me that wants to explore other lives, although I’m not so good at thinking it through beyond the initial revulsion, let alone writing about it.

There’s a short story by perhaps my favourite author, Jorge Luis Borges, called Deutsches Requiem, where he writes from the perspective of an unrepentant Nazi war criminal on the eve of his execution. It’s a chilling piece of writing that somehow makes you see the world through the eyes of a thoroughly evil person and feel some kind of empathy for him. I have a long way to go to get to that level of writing.

Day of Learning

I was excused from Pesach (Passover) cleaning today to go to the London School of Jewish Studies’ Pesach day of learning on Zoom. It was very interesting, if rather draining: six hour long Zoom sessions and a further fifteen minute Zoom shorter session. That’s a lot of Zooming for one day. Chief Rabbi Mirvis spoke about the need to look forward to seder even more than usual this year because of the COVID restrictions and lack of guests. I am looking forward to it, I’m just nervous too, about preparation (doing it correctly and getting everything done in under two weeks). And I’m tired now!

My favourite quote was from Rabbi Joseph Dweck, that we prefer questions without answers to answers that can’t be questioned.

Now I need to turn twelve pages of handwritten notes into something ordered that can be used to stimulate discussion at the sederim.

The Napoleon of Higher Education

I don’t have much to say again today, but I feel the need to write something again…

It occurred to me today that “I won.” I thought I was autistic, despite my first assessment, I fought for reassessment, I got it and I got the diagnosis I wanted. I won. I’m not sure where I go now. I thought that a diagnosis would lead to greater self-knowledge and support. I feel I’ve won, but I can’t work out where that leaves me, what I can do next. I guess I need to wait a while to see how things develop, as well as waiting for the official report from the hospital, which will contain a list of available resources. At the moment I’m pretty focused on getting through Pesach (Passover), but maybe after that I can think about my options.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty normal. I slept too much, considering I need to be up early tomorrow morning for the LSJS Pesach study day on Zoom. I don’t want to be up late tonight with insomnia.

My parents are out shopping. One of the kosher supermarkets opens after Shabbat around this time of year so people can do Pesach shopping and my parents like to go then, believing it’s less crowded than during the week or on Sunday. It makes me realise how rarely I’ve had the house to myself for any length of time over the last year, particularly at night. Moments alone have mostly been during the day, when Mum has been at the hospital and Dad has been going to or from the hospital (not being allowed to stay and wait for her because of COVID). It’s been a pretty tough year for all of us, but I guess it’s been a pretty tough year for the whole world. And yet somehow I’ve got a job and a girlfriend, neither of which I had this time last year.

***

I watched another episode of This is Us. I probably wouldn’t be watching if PIMOJ didn’t want to watch it with me, but it’s inoffensive enough, the type of light comedy/drama that tends to be broadcast on Sunday evenings in the UK. There’s a sense that situations that could be difficult or emotional, like abandoning your baby because of your drug addiction, or the USA’s ingrained racial tensions are dealt with in an offhand way, as if they are the same type of thing as changing your job or envying your partner’s ex, these all being ongoing plot threads at the same time. As in the various Star Trek series, no one gets angry at anyone else for more than a few minutes, leading to a stable worldview in which support networks are always there and nothing incurably bad could ever happen to anyone. This is false, on one level, but also reassuring and soothing.

***

The college I worked at in Higher Education is advertising for an Assistant Librarian (my job) again, I think for the second or third time since I left. I don’t know if it’s for a replacement for my replacement or if it’s a result of expansion. When I was there, the college had four sites and three semi-separate colleges across one side of London, but their website now lists six colleges over nine sites and the job advert says they’re intending to take over colleges in a couple of other cities too.

I am not sure what I think about that. It’s like hearing your ex has moved on when you haven’t. On the other hand, the fact that they keep advertising for the job could mean that morale is low (it wasn’t great when I was there). It was bad enough being forced to go to staff training days at [redacted place that was miles away, where one of the other sites was] occasionally, let alone going to the Midlands! The same principal is still there, and it does feel that he’s expanding aggressively. To be fair, the college has a record for taking over failing colleges in poor parts of London and turning them round. They get decent results and help teenagers from poor backgrounds get into good universities and I can’t criticise that, but I wonder if they are overstretching themselves. Certainly staff were not happy about the constant expansion when I was there.

To be honest, I don’t know, and will never know, if I made the right decision in leaving, but my life since then would be rather different if I had stayed and not necessarily for the better. Whether I made the right decision or not, the life I have now is my life, including all the social and work difficulties I had that prompted me to leave, difficulties that I can now place under the umbrella heading of ‘autism.’

Feeling Withdrawn

I didn’t write yesterday. I didn’t have much to say and just felt too tired in the evening after work, housework and doing some Pesach (Passover) stuff. I guess I’m also still processing things in the light of my autism diagnosis. I still don’t know what it means for me in terms of career, telling friends, telling my community and so on. Maybe I won’t know for some time, until after Pesach when I have more time to think.

I don’t have much to say today either. I don’t feel that I have much to say at the moment except for relatively mild Pesach anxiety, but the blog is my main social outlet, so I feel the need to post most days even if I don’t have much to say.

I had an OCD moment today when I worried that I had missed part of the freezer when I cleaning it for Pesach on Sunday and was about to clean it again before deciding that it was OCD and I shouldn’t give in to it. It’s good that I stopped myself.

I’m going to go to shul (synagogue) later today. Aside from Purim, this is the first time I’ve been in months, not considering the risk of COVID worth running for an normal Shabbat (Sabbath). I just feel drained right now and I don’t know why. I guess I’ve had a busy and emotional week, although it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

***

J gave me a lift home from work yesterday and had the radio on in the car. He listens to talk radio and they were talking about violence against women in the light of the Sarah Everard murder case (an ongoing murder investigation that has pushed COVID and the royal family off the front pages for the last few days).

In the light of this conversation, I’ve been trying to work out if it’s good or bad that my novel deals with domestic violence in the Jewish community (I know I’ve wondered about this here before; it does still worry me). I worry about being accused of appropriation. I don’t find appropriation a particularly helpful concept, but that isn’t really the point: I can be judged whether I agree with it or not. My thinking is that the number of Orthodox Jewish women willing and able to write about abuse is very small — able in terms of both skills and time, and willing in a community where saying anything provocative tends to be seen as risking jeopardising marriage chances (yours, your children’s, your grandchildren’s…), not least given the tiny size of the Orthodox community as a whole. My feeling from reading the anonymous website neshamas.com is that abuse and violence against women is a very real problem in the community, but also that almost no one is willing to talk about it publicly. I feel like I can’t be pushed much further out on the fringe than I already am and I feel that if I’m not willing to talk about it, maybe no one else will. But I worry about being patronising, or being whatever the feminist equivalent of a white saviour is.

Chief Rabbi Mirvis’ devar Torah email this week states, “Here, there is a call for us always to speak out; to try our utmost to neutralise the forces of persecution and never to be silent when we witness the suffering of others.” So I guess that means I’m doing the right thing.

Pesach OCD, and Mood Dips

My vaccine side-effects seem to have gone now, except for a soreness on my arm where I was injected.

***

We started Pesach (Passover) cleaning today. Pesach demands the complete removal of leavened bread, leavened bread products, utensils used for them and food cooked with those utensils. Moreover, while the usual Jewish dietary laws don’t worry about tiny crumbs, the Pesach laws do. Historically, this has been a target for my Pesach OCD, which manifests as much as a contamination OCD as a religious OCD (religious OCD more often manifests as obsessive doubt, about one’s own righteousness or the existence of God or worry about impure thoughts).

Cleaning the fridges and freezers, as we started doing today, is OKish, as we don’t worry too much about cold surfaces (we worry more about heated areas where food might get baked in) and it’s quite easy to drench everything with cif or other cleaners to ensure any crumbs are inedible (chemical-drenched crumbs are inedible and therefore no longer considered “food”; the dietary laws only apply to food, not inedible items). I have been worrying a bit that I didn’t do it well enough, though, which may be because I think I forgot to take my clomipramine this morning (anti-depressant that also helps with OCD).

I saw a greetings card in a Jewish shop a while back that annoyed me. It showed a Jewish OCD support group where the members were saying that they loved Pesach cleaning. There’s a lot wrong with this. First, people with OCD don’t enjoy their compulsions. If they do, then it’s not OCD; anxiety about the compulsion is part of the diagnostic criteria. Second, OCD doesn’t equal cleanliness. It can manifest in all kinds of ways, and even hygiene OCD, which is what the cartoonist was probably thinking about, doesn’t necessarily go with neatness and cleanliness. You can be obsessive about sterilising door handles and still leave your clothes strewn across the floor every evening. Third, as I mentioned above, OCD can manifest as contamination OCD at Pesach, fear of leavened food contaminating Pesach food, which can lead on to fear of inadequate cleaning or kashering (heating a surface or item to remove traces of leavened food).

***

After Pesach cleaning for an hour and a bit, I did some food shopping and went for a walk. My mood dipped significantly after that. I thought it might be low blood sugar and it did get better after eating a cereal bar, but it dipped again a while after that. I did half an hour of Torah study and spent ten minutes planning my devar Torah for the week. I would have liked to have spent more time on either of these, but I just got too depressed for it to be viable. As I noted above, I’m wondering if I forgot to take my meds this morning. It’s possible and it would explain the way my mood suddenly got worse this evening in a way that hasn’t happened for a long time.

***

When my mood dipped today, I’ve been having negative thoughts, or just negative feelings (I don’t accept the CBT idea that negative feelings are always caused by negative thoughts). Some of these have been about my relationship, that I can’t cope with being in a relationship, making sacrifices for someone else, even doing things with someone else rather than by myself and needing lots of time alone. But the thoughts were more about my writing ability. I guess people who try to work with their creativity are liable to worry that their talent and inspiration will just dry up, or weren’t even good enough to start with. Doubly so as I haven’t really sold anything yet, just one or two odd pieces of non-fiction writing (which isn’t where I’m trying to work now). I keep thinking that my mainstream novel of character is a mistake because I don’t read a huge amount of mainstream fiction any more and I’m not great at understanding people. So then I think about my plans for a series of Jewish fantasy/horror time-travel novels, but then I think about not having read enough of those genres. I don’t feel I could write a science fiction novel, even though it’s the genre I read the most.

I feel I don’t read the way I should to be a writer. I tend to read a lot of specific authors rather than reading lots of authors within a genre, or lots of genres to get an idea of what’s been done in that genre and what the tropes and cliches are. I still haven’t really found my voice and when I think about writing I admire that I’d like to take as an inspirational starting point, I think of TV as much as novels (Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel, Twin Peaks).

***

Medication issues aside, I guess I’m just stressed, like every other Jew who takes Pesach seriously is at this time of year. I guess stressed is OK. Hopefully I’ll be better tomorrow, once my meds are back in my system.

***

A friend emailed to say he really enjoyed my non-fiction Doctor Who book (the one I self-published) and has reviewed it for a fanzine/fan website. I’m pleased, although I wish I had the time and energy to set about making a second edition with a lower price and better cover. However, a second edition would really need a revised text too, to cover the last season of episodes and I don’t have the time. More importantly, my creative energies are directed to fiction now.

Not Anxious, Slightly Surprisingly

I got up at 10.00am today, which was good, but I was still very tired and went back to bed briefly after breakfast. Sometimes it’s hard just to keep going and I struggle to understand why I still feel like that when I’m not really depressed any more and don’t have obvious sources of autistic burnout. Even at the best of times, I tend to go slowly with things, which is why my current job is good for me, both because the work is not so high-pressure and because J tends not to stress or work flat out either. PIMOJ is very energetic and leads a busy life and sometimes I wonder if she thinks I’m too slow.

I had an emotional and draining therapy session. Other than that it was the usual: working on my devar Torah, Torah study, a short walk in the rain. I got a weird text that purported to be from the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits. It looked like a scam, but I realised it came from a number that I’ve had genuine DWP communications from before and what details were given seemed to be accurate. Also, in my experience, poor writing does not stop a communication being from the DWP. I didn’t click on the link in the text, because it looked too dodgy, but I’m vaguely worried about the consequences. If they want me for something important, they should write to me properly, not send texts HALF WRITTEN IN CAPITALS FOR NO REASON with no clear contact details.

I spent an hour (!) discussing Pesach (Passover) cleaning, kashering and other Pesach preparations with my parents. Things are extra difficult this year as Pesach starts as Shabbat (the Sabbath) finishes. I don’t really have time or energy to explain this if you don’t know what it involves or why Pesach after Shabbat is so tricky (it’s all quite complicated). Suffice to say, I now have some idea of what I need to do and when, but am a bit freaked out about how much I have to do in the next three weeks, alongside my paid job. I’m glad my writing was already on hold and I don’t know how much exercise I’m going to get in the next few weeks. I hope to still have some time to see PIMOJ when the lockdown ends. I also want to find some time to prepare some extra ideas to share at the seder although I don’t know when, or how I can fit that in with my weekly devar Torah. PIMOJ and I are going (online) to a Pesach seminar day at the London School of Jewish Studies, so I’m hoping to pick up some ideas there that will be suitable to share at the seder. A frantic month starts here. I just hope my religious OCD, which is worse about Pesach than anything else, doesn’t come back.

On the plus side, if it’s nearly Pesach, then it’s nearly spring! Although before I really get into Pesach mode, I’ve got my vaccination on Friday (there’s some “new situation” anxiety although the whole thing is likely to be over in a few minutes) and my autism diagnosis on Tuesday, so there’s potentially a lot of anxiety around in the next few days. I feel OK at the moment though.

The Understudy

I didn’t have a very good night’s sleep. I used my new weighted blanket and it was good, but I wonder if it was warm enough as I kept waking up in the night. If I continue to have interrupted sleep, I may put a summer weight duvet over it and see how that is. I slept badly anyway through going to bed late and having slept too much in the afternoon, so it took me a long time to fall asleep. I had weird dreams, although none interesting enough to be worth sharing, and woke up late and burnt out so that I lay in bed a long time trying to get the strength to get up. I felt a bit better after breakfast, but I don’t usually feel 100% until after lunch, even on work days when I do manage to get up early.

I feel like I’m just trying to keep my head above the water at the moment. Some of it is the time of year, as I’ve mentioned, when the days are still short and cold and wet, but the anxiety about the spring Jewish festivals is growing. In addition, my sleep is still disrupted, I’m still worried about doing the wrong thing at work, I feel negative about my novel (vaguely wondering if I should give up on it and start a new one, although I don’t realistically feel that would be a good idea at this stage) and I miss PIMOJ in the lockdown. And, like pretty much everyone in the world, I’m sick of COVID and lockdowns in general, I just want life to be normal again (for all that I struggle with “normal”). PIMOJ is stressed about things in her life too, which only magnifies the problem.

I know other frum (religious) Jews don’t get so anxious about Jewish observance. They perform the mitzvot (commandments) to the best of their ability and that’s that. I don’t know how they get to that point. Some of it is probably being brought up frum from a young age (which I wasn’t) and some is feeling a strong level of community integration and support (which I don’t have).

I was feeling today that I’m an understudy in my own life, thrust onto the stage unprepared. Or, I’m a new actor playing the Doctor in Doctor Who, trying to play it my way, while keeping faith with my predecessors (i.e. other Jews, especially my ancestors).

I went for a run and while running I started thinking about the two questions Babylon 5 is built around, “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” I want to be a good Jew and a good writer. I’m not sure if that answers the “Who?” or “What?” question and I’m not sure how to achieve either of them. I feel like I should have better answers and more of a plan for achieving them now I’m in my late thirties.

After my run, though, I started thinking about gratitude, how grateful I am for supportive parents and a supportive sister, for a brother-in-law I get on with even though we’re quite different, for friends online and in person, for the fact that I’m in work with a tolerant boss, for the fact that I’m reasonably psychologically stable at the moment, and for the fact that I have a supportive girlfriend. I know not everyone has these things, and I’m grateful for them.

Last Wednesday, my therapist encouraged me to focus on “I can cope” as an affirmation. I’ve not found affirmations hugely useful in my recovery from mental illness, but this seemed fairly pithy and realistic. I know I can cope. I’ve coped with my mental health for years and I’ve had several reasonably good Purims and Pesachs, at least from a mental health point of view, since the ones that were my nadir (around 2015 and 2016). So I can cope – I just have to learn to believe it.

***

Other than that, it wasn’t much of a day. I did some Torah study (less than I wanted) and, as I said, I went for a run, but that was about it. I didn’t get to work on my novel. There are some changes I want to make to the current draft before I send it out for feedback and I don’t know when I will have time to make them. I guess I feel I wasted time, although given how I felt on waking, I probably shouldn’t blame myself too much, not that that has ever stopped me.

***

I feel I’ve put myself “out here” a bit more in my blog over the last few months, occasionally posting more potentially controversial political and religious things. I guess that means I have a certain degree of trust in the people who read and comment. I don’t want to post a huge amount of this type of stuff, I still see this as primarily a daily journal-type blog about surviving with autism and residual mental illness on a day-to-day level, but it’s interesting because it suggests I can put these feelings out here in some circumstances, bearing in mind that I tend to hide my thoughts about politics and religion in Real Life. I do still get the, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that, what will people think of me?/what will they say?” feeling though, the desire to go back and edit or delete what I’ve written.

Listless

Today I just feel exhausted and depressed, a bit anxious.¬† I would like to be vegetating in front of the TV.¬† What I don’t want to do is be preparing for another bout of DVD-free Shabbat, but that’s where I am today.¬† I could really have done with a few more days before¬†Shabbat.¬† I’ve done some TV watching anyway.¬† I don’t really feel up to writing or¬†Torah study today, not even writing here.¬† I just want to crash.

***

I increasingly feel like I really need to see a therapist again.¬† I just feel a bit of a mess.¬† Some of that is post-Pesach mental hangover, but I feel I also need some help to process some emotions to do with Mum’s cancer, and to do with my relationship with E, which is good, but hard to process because taking me into completely new territory on multiple levels.¬† I think I want to stay in lockdown, on some level, because it stops me needing to engage with my life.

Struggling

I found the last two days of¬†Pesach (Passover) a struggle.¬† I was still dealing with some religious OCD from earlier in the week.¬† Added to this was depression, anxiety and pure O OCD (obsessively worrying I’m a bad person who could do illegal things).¬† The latter has not been seen for a long time and I was upset by its return, although in many ways it’s easier to deal with than the other OCD.

I did the usual¬†Yom Tov (festival) stuff: pray, eat too much, sleep too much, go for one government-sanctioned exercise walk each day, study Torah and read.¬† I didn’t do so much¬†Torah study or recreational reading as last week, as I was feeling too depressed and anxious.¬† I finished¬†The Ritual Bath, a mystery novel set in the¬†Haredi community, and decided that I don’t like police procedural mystery novels as much as Golden Age mystery novels.¬† I think I prefer impossible crimes, locked rooms, bizarre clues and eccentric detectives to sordid crimes, gangs, detectives with dysfunctional lives and mundane police work.¬† I started re-reading Decalog, a¬†Doctor Who short story collection that I know I have read, but about which I can remember very little.

After Yom Tov ended, I helped with the big tidying up, even though I felt very tired and depressed and drank Coke Zero (I prefer Diet Coke) and ate chocolate to try to get energy, without much success.  I accidentally broke a dish that previously belonged to my grandmother and that was older than I am (from the seventies).  I put it in a cardboard box that I thought was sealed at the bottom, but the sellotape had rotted or been pulled away and the dish fell through.

Eventually I became exhausted and had to stop helping, although I would have liked to have continued.

***

I have a feeling today that I’m not coping so well.¬† I had various coping strategies and some of them were very maladaptive, but I stuck with them for lack of alternatives.¬† Now I can’t use them and I wonder how I will cope.¬† Maybe I’m catastrophising.¬† I hope so.¬† I wish I was in therapy still.¬† I feel being able to talk to someone objective would help.

***

I had a weird dream where I stood for election as chairman of my¬†shul (synagogue).¬† I only stood to see if I could get any votes, as I thought someone else would win, but there was a split vote between the two leading candidates and I won.¬† I panicked, thinking I couldn’t cope with this, especially not with my mental health situation and Mum’s illness, but before I could resign, I was removed by the community, who felt I wasn’t involved enough in the shul and that I didn’t rebuke people enough for break Jewish law.¬† Then the dream shifted into upsetting stuff about antisemitism.

***

There probably is more to say, but I feel exhausted.¬† I’m thinking of watching TV even though it’s really late, as I don’t think I’ll sleep, despite exhaustion, as I slept too much today, as well as drinking caffeinated Coke Zero.

Cargo Cult

I was thinking about something for my novel, and it turned into a wider thought which is this: there is a danger, probably in any religion, but certainly in Judaism, that it could turn into a Cargo Cult.¬† This refers to islanders in the Pacific who saw the US armed forces build bases and airstrips in World War II and, magically (it seemed to them), after they built them, big planes would land with boxes of food and supplies.¬† So after the war, the tribes-people cleared airstrips and built imitation military bases, thinking planes would come and bring them food, but, of course, they didn’t.

So there’s a danger of thinking that “I keep¬†Shabbat, I keep kosher, I pray, I learn¬†Torah therefore I’m a good Jew.”¬† Whereas¬†Shabbat, kashrut, davening, Torah etc.¬†are preconditions for being a good Jew, they hopefully help send us on the direction to being a good Jew, but they are not the same as being a good Jew.¬† One needs to have a whole bunch of other emotions and intuitions towards God and towards other human beings: love, awe, compassion, enthusiasm, self-denial, generosity… the things that frum (religious) Jews label as good middot (character traits).¬† One needs in particular to have the emotional connection with God.

I struggle with this, partly because of alexithymia and not understanding my own emotions very well, partly because perhaps I don’t have such a road map or checklist of things to do, which is not good for my autistic mind.¬† Autistic mind copes fine with¬†Shabbat, for example.¬† Shabbat is thirty-nine forbidden (primary) actions not to do and a couple of positive commanded actions to do.¬† Oneg Shabbat, the delight of¬†Shabbat, is another matter because that’s an emotion.¬† It comes from keeping the forbidden and commanded actions, but it’s possible to keep all those commands without experiencing it.¬† As it happens, I usually do experience Oneg Shabbat these days, but there have been times in my life when I didn’t, even though I kept all the¬†Shabbat laws, because Oneg Shabbat is an emotion, and I was not in a good place emotionally, so I had no¬†Oneg Shabbat and¬†Shabbat seemed more of a chore.

There are categories within the¬†halakhah (Jewish law) that delineate these ideas, concepts like¬†naval bereshut haTorah, a vulgar person with the permission of the¬†Torah, meaning someone who acts over-indulgently, but within permitted bounds e.g. gluttonously eating¬†kosher food; or the hassid shoteh, the pious fool, who focuses on the wrong issues in a clash of values, the classic hassid shoteh being a man who won’t save a drowning woman because he doesn’t want to see her in disarranged dress.

It’s something to think about anyway.¬† I do want to have that kind of emotional connection with God, but I’m not sure how to go about it or if it’s even possible to consciously move towards it.

***

Otherwise it’s been a slightly stressful day with religious OCD.¬† I’m just trying to tell myself that I’m not responsible for the behaviour of other people; that it’s unlikely that any of the things I’ve seen are a serious breach of religious laws; and that I’m trying to do the right thing and even if I’m making a mistake, it’s a genuine mistake and not a deliberate attempt to break the¬†Pesach laws.¬† It’s hard though.

Off for another two days of¬†Yom Tov (festival) now…

Defensive and Anxious

I felt really defensive on waking today.¬† I think it was because I dreamt about one of my secondary school Jewish Studies teachers last night.¬† He was telling me off because I had come to class without shoes, as I had left them in the P.E. changing room locker.¬† In reality, this was the teacher who really introduced me to Torah study at a more advanced level, the level of Mishnah and¬†Gemarah (Talmud).¬† I guess he also made it seem possible to be¬†frum (religious) while still being a ‘normal’ person with a sense of humour.¬† He was an important person in my journey to becoming¬†frum.

I know I disappointed him and some of the other Jewish Studies teachers by not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) after school, although it wasn’t really where I was on my journey of religious growth or personal development when I was eighteen.¬† I think the dream came about because I assume he would not approve of my relationship with E. either, that he would want me to marry someone more conventionally religious.¬† Like I said, this left me defensive today.¬† I could not articulate my reasons for not going to yeshiva when I was eighteen, but I don’t think I would have been ready, realistically, at that age, particularly given what I know now about how I function, or don’t function, in high stress academic environments, social environments, and especially noisy social environments (yeshiva is really noisy, because everyone studies out loud, in pairs, arguing loudly to be heard above everyone else arguing loudly).¬† I also think that E. is right for me, and that¬†frum people who haven’t had issues with mental illness, high functioning autism and difficulty fitting in socially in the sometimes narrow and conformist frum world shouldn’t judge our relationship.¬† Ashley Leia asked the other day if the idea of bashert (destiny, especially a destined soul-mate) affects my thinking about E., and really it doesn’t, but inasmuch as I believe in¬†bashert at all, I strongly suspect that E. is my¬†bashert and people who haven’t been through everything I’ve been through in the last twenty years don’t really have a right to judge me for thinking that (cf. Pirkei Avot 2.4: “do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place.”).¬† Plus, as E. said when I told her about this dream, it’s not fair for people not to support me in the community then turn on me for dating someone from outside it.

Reading the last paragraph back, it seems very defensive.¬† I guess I feel defensive today, maybe because I feel anxious and depressed.¬† ¬†I’ve never been one to follow fashions and I’ve always been myself privately, but it’s hard to openly break with one’s community.¬† I do find it hard to be frum socially a lot of the time, even though I am objectively very religious.¬† I guess being in frum society brings up a lot of fears about where I stand religiously, where I should stand, am I good enough and so on, as well as fears about my relationship with E., what the stresses would be with that and so on.¬† E. was saying that she’s enjoying a Jewish book I recommended for her, but that its description of how Jewish communities should work does not match her experience of how they do work in reality and she has a point.¬† I guess I’ve always just tried to get on with my own stuff and not worry about fitting in so much, except that I get lonely and now I feel that I do need to put down roots somewhere where I fit in.

***

As for activity, today I worked on my short story for an hour or so, writing nearly 900 words, which was very good.¬† I spent half an hour writing my devar Torah (Torah¬†thought) for the week.¬† I stopped when I felt I had run out of energy.¬† Soon afterwards I started feeling very depressed.¬† I went for a run (thirty-five minutes, mostly running with little walking), but while I was out I started feeling really anxious.¬† I wish I was in therapy at the moment; there are so many things that are making me anxious and I can’t tell which ones are legitimate and which aren’t.¬† I suppose all anxieties are “legitimate” in that it isn’t “wrong” to have an anxiety, but I feel some would worry anyone and others are more pathological and unique to me.¬† I would like to be able to talk things through with someone objective.¬† I speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes, and he is a trained counsellor, but I feel like I impose too much on him and it isn’t always easy to find time to talk, plus it’s hard to do it long-distance.

My sister and brother-in-law came around to drop some stuff off and have a socially distanced, two metres away conversation on the doorstep, which was nice, particularly for my parents.

I decided I needed a break from the weekly COVID-19 depression group Zoom meeting.¬† I just didn’t have the energy and mindset to relate my feelings and listen for long periods to other people’s experiences.¬† I feel that I’m still recovering from Yom Tov, plus my worries at the moment are mostly religious OCD/Pesach-based rather than COVID-19/lockdown-based.¬† Perhaps I’ll participate again next week.

It was a reasonable day for Pesach OCD worries.¬† I feel bad that this year has not gone as well as last year, but that was probably unfeasible, given everything happening to my family and in the wider world.¬† I’m still better than all the years where I ended up a quivering wreck of anxiety at some point before or during the festival.

Re-framing and Brokenness

I realised I was so busy complaining yesterday that I forgot to mention two bits of good news.¬† One is that I will be getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA – benefits, basically) for a year, assuming my employment position doesn’t change, which is something of a relief after all the hassle I went to in order to claim.

The second is a more positive thing that came out of the¬†seder experience.¬† I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but I realised that I could re-frame the narrative of my life in a more positive way.¬† It possibly came from something by Rabbi Lord Sacks that I read out at seder about Moshe (Moses) using his speech immediately before the exodus (in Shemot/Exodus 12) to focus on the idea of how to tell the story to our children, which Rabbi Sacks used to talk about the idea of telling our own personal story in a way that supports us.

In the past I have cast the narrative of my life in a very negative way: school, Oxford, my MA, work, dating, religious growth, I have presented all of them in a very negative way, focusing on the difficult times I had and the lack of clear progression to where I wanted my life to be, in terms of marriage, career, community, a certain sort of religious life and so on.

I realise that there were some positives that came out of all of these things.¬† For example, I tend to present Oxford as the worst time of my life, but I did get my BA in end, with a decent mark, and I made a number of friends that I’m still in contact with fifteen years on.¬† And it was a worthwhile experience that I learnt from, even if it wasn’t often a happy one.¬† I won’t bore you by going through the whole list of life events, but I can sort of see that I can do this positive re-framing for most of my life if I try hard enough.

***

I read Giles Fraser’s latest essay on UnHerd (here, but don’t bother to read the comments which are tedious “God does/doesn’t exist” arguments by people who have missed the point of the article…¬† I already regret wishing that UnHerd had a comments section and they’ve only had it a few weeks).¬† I find Fraser’s articles interesting and provocative for me, as much of his Christian theology resonates with me, and yet much of it seems utterly alien, from a Jewish point of view.¬† Usually both at the same time.

The engagement with brokenness and vulnerability in Christianity as opposed to in secular liberalism is something Fraser has written about a lot.¬† It makes me wonder how much this acceptance is present in Judaism.¬† One would expect it to be present in Judaism, given how much of Jewish history has been written in tears of exile and persecution, but I’m not sure how much it does appear, at least not on a personal level.¬† There is Iyov/Job, as Fraser says; there is some of Tehillim/Psalms.¬† Perhaps you could count Eichah/Lamentations, but that’s really about¬†national brokenness, not individual brokenness.¬† Which is kind of my point.¬† Judaism is a lot more about¬†communal or national experiences than private and personal ones.¬† Unsurprisingly, because Christianity is pitched as an individual quest for personal salvation, whereas Judaism is at heart a national quest to build a social utopia (even if many religious Jews appear to have forgotten that).¬† That’s why (topically for this time of year) the key event of Christianity is Jesus dying on the cross, whereas the key event in Judaism is a nation of slaves leaving for freedom.

This can make Judaism a difficult source of support for someone dealing with private, personal pain as opposed to communal disaster.¬† While there are plenty of Christian conversion stories along the lines of, “I was at rock bottom, but I opened the Bible/heard a preacher/accepted Jesus into my life and suddenly felt loved and accepted,” I don’t think I’ve ever heard a religious Jew offer a parallel story using Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) or the¬†Talmud, nor have I ever come across¬†kiruv organisation (outreach organisations attempting to make non-religious Jews more religious) using such tactics.¬† Kiruv organisations prefer a mixture of intellectual engagement with supposed proofs of the truth of Judaism, which are really a pretext to encourage people to experience celebrating Shabbat or going to Israel, particularly in a group.

(The reverse is true: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Christian parallel to the outpouring of concern and love that Jews of all stripes and religious levels share when there is war or terrorism in Israel or antisemitism in the diaspora; many Western Christians seem utterly unaware of the persecution of their coreligionists in much of the Middle East, let alone upset by it, something that is simply unthinkable for the global Jewish community.)

I’m not familiar enough with the rabbinic literature, the¬†Talmud and the¬†Midrash, to know if there are many more stories of individual brokenness there.¬† I can think of one or two.¬† This one comes to mind (Talmud Brachot 5b, translation from the Steinsaltz edition via Sefaria – the bold text is direct translation of the original, the non-bold text is explanation):

The Gemara relates that Rabbi Elazar, another of Rabbi YoŠł•anan‚Äôs students, fell ill. Rabbi YoŠł•anan entered to visit him, and saw that he was lying in a dark room. Rabbi YoŠł•anan exposed his arm, and light radiated from his flesh, filling the house. He saw that Rabbi Elazar was crying, and said to him: Why are you crying? Thinking that his crying was over the suffering that he endured throughout his life, Rabbi YoŠł•anan attempted to comfort him: If you are weeping because you did not study as much Torah as you would have liked, we learned: One who brings a substantial sacrifice and one who brings a meager sacrifice have equal merit, as long as he directs his heart toward Heaven. If you are weeping because you lack sustenance and are unable to earn a livelihood, as Rabbi Elazar was, indeed, quite poor, not every person merits to eat off of two tables, one of wealth and one of Torah, so you need not bemoan the fact that you are not wealthy. If you are crying over children who have died, this is the bone of my tenth son, and suffering of that kind afflicts great people, and they are afflictions of love.

Rabbi Elazar said to Rabbi YoŠł•anan: I am not crying over my misfortune, but rather, over this beauty of yours that will decompose in the earth, as Rabbi YoŠł•anan‚Äôs beauty caused him to consider human mortality. Rabbi YoŠł•anan said to him: Over this, it is certainly appropriate to weep. Both cried over the fleeting nature of beauty in the world and death that eventually overcomes all.

Meanwhile, Rabbi YoŠł•anan said to him: Is your suffering dear to you? Rabbi Elazar said to him: I welcome neither this suffering nor its reward. Upon hearing this, Rabbi YoŠł•anan said to him: Give me your hand. Rabbi Elazar gave him his hand, and Rabbi YoŠł•anan stood him up and restored him to health.

Still, these type of stories do seem to be the relatively rare in Judaism and I do feel like I struggle for inspiration and guidance on how to connect with God through my suffering and depression.¬† I think that’s why I’ve re-read Arthur Green’s biography of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav three times, because it deals extensively with his bouts of despair and self-criticism (possibly the result of bipolar disorder, undiagnosable and untreatable in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries).¬† Rebbe Nachman’s own stories are also important to me; they also deal a lot with longing and spiritual desire.¬† Still, I would be interested in finding more sources of Jewish inspiration and acceptance of brokenness.

***

As for my day today, I did half an hour of Torah study and went for a half-hour walk.¬† E. and I tried to do a virtual museum tour as an online date, but the picture resolution was poor, as was the navigation, and there wasn’t any text to explain what we were seeing.¬† We found the experience disappointing and switched to a straightforward video date after a while.¬† We spoke for over an hour and a half.

I found I was exhausted this evening, I think from the emotional stress of the last three days more than from my activity today.¬† I would have liked to have done more Torah study, or to have written my¬†devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week or to have worked on my short story, but I’m just too exhausted.¬† I’m also intermittently anxious (OCD anxiety mainly, although some general anxiety) and depressed; anxiety and depression tend to worsen when I’m tired, as at the moment.¬† I am going to turn off my computer and watch TV and read before bed, because I don’t feel I can do anything else, sadly.¬† I’m just trying to stay afloat and not end up too exhausted and depressed tomorrow.

***

A question that is bothering me, but which I’m reluctant to ask more widely for fear of being misunderstood: what is the additional number of COVID-19 deaths?¬† Because while over 100,000 people have died globally, a proportion of those, statistically speaking, would have died anyway from something.¬† The people most likely to die from COVID-19 are also largely the people most likely to die in general (elderly, seriously ill, having compromised immune systems etc.).¬† I would like to know what is the number of deaths so far over and above what we would expect for a normal first quarter of a year?¬† I am not trying to be callous or to say that it doesn’t matter that they died as they would have died anyway.¬† Obviously any death is a tragedy.¬† I’m just curious to know what the global scale of COVID-19 is likely to be.¬† Are we talking thousands more deaths, hundreds of thousands or (God forbid) millions?¬† How does that compare with normal mortality rates?

I heard that when the ebola virus was at its worst in Africa, there was a sudden increase in deaths from malaria, because resources that would have been used in the fight against malaria were diverted to fight ebola, because it’s a “scarier” (or perhaps just less common) illness.¬† I am wondering if anything like that could happen here.

I think they are legitimate questions, but I’m afraid they make me sound callous and uncaring.¬† The autistic part of me has learnt that some genuine questions are off-putting emotionally to many people, however intellectually justified, just as the politically aware part of me is aware that people with strong political opinions generally see the world through the lens of their opinions and don’t always like questions that probe that too deeply or challenge their core assumptions.

***

The annoying computer problem I used to have, where the mouse touchpad would default to tapping mode whenever I turned the computer on and it would last until I went to turn it off, whereupon it would switch off before I got to the screen where I should have been able to turn it off, is back.¬† I’m not sure what to do about that.¬† It’s another step in the protracted decline of my laptop, but I’m hoping to, um, protract it some more as I can’t really afford to buy a new computer right now.¬† If anyone knows how to deal with this, please let me know!

Post-Yom Tov Post

I’m breaking with my usual post-Yom Tov (festival) habit of trying to catch up on blogs and stuff in the hope of getting to bed before 2am.¬† For the same reason, this is going to be more of a summary of the last three days than a blow-by-blow account.

The shortest version is that the first two days (Yom Tov proper) where an emotional rollercoaster, but I was broadly coping, but¬†Shabbat (the Sabbath) was just too much and I was not good.¬† To be honest, three day¬†Yom Tovs, or “Three Day Events” as my parents call them, are pretty draining for everyone even without COVID-19 disruption and without depression and OCD.

As for the more detailed version… well, the first two days I was up and down.¬† At times I was worried or depressed about some things, but mostly I was able to calm myself by reminding myself that my rabbi mentor told me not to worry about chametz (leaven food, forbidden on¬†Pesach) smaller than an olive (although I know he is being lenient with me here, so it doesn’t always help) and by reminding myself that I’m not responsible for what my parents choose to do.¬† I think there was probably in the background the usual current worries: worries about my Mum, her cancer, and her risk of COVID-19 infection; worries about COVID-19 in general; worries about E.; worries about my relationship with E. (which is going well, I hasten to add, but is at a crossroads, which is exciting but also scary, or was at a crossroads until COVID-19 put our plans on a back burner).¬† And so on.

The¬†sederim went quite well, considering there were just three of us, although it felt a bit weird.¬† Usually we would have about ten or so people in total one night; the other would be me, my parents, my sister and my brother-in-law.¬† This year it was just three of us both nights (“Why is this night so different?”).¬† We did have some more discussion than usual, which gives me an idea of how to do things differently in the future.¬† I had a migraine on the afternoon of the first day, but it had subsided by the second seder, which was good.¬† I still struggled to learn anything new at the¬†seder, and to connect emotionally with the ideas of the night.¬† I still end up over-thinking things and not feeling them.¬† I wish I could get more out of¬†seder, and out of Judaism in general.¬† The only real feeling of connection I had was via guilt and anxiety when I did something wrong (see below).

One interesting thing while I was eating the matzah (unleavened bread) was a strong feeling that freedom is being able to “just go,” which obviously connects with the story of the¬†matzah in the¬†Torah, that the Israelites did not have time to bake bread before leaving slavery in Egypt, but is interesting in terms of my usual procrastination and my awareness that my relationship with E. is going to require quite a bit of risk-taking and adventurous departures if it’s going to work.

I made some mistakes, in terms of forgetting to do a few things.¬† Most of them were rectifiable, but in opening some celery I had forgotten to open before Yom Tov I tore some writing on the packaging, a big no-no on Shabbat and¬†Yom Tov (it’s considered erasing).¬† I felt very upset about this, and then managed to do it again the next day on something else (that was less obviously my fault though).¬† As I say, I felt upset, but I did manage to move on.

And then we got to¬†Shabbat…¬† It was going well, and then there was an Issue.¬† There was an oversight in the kitchen (I won’t go into the details which are fairly complex) and potentially we had messed up the¬†Pesach kosher-ness of some food.¬† I was 80% sure it was OK, but still couldn’t bring myself to eat it.¬† I didn’t argue with my parents, but they did eat it, and put it on our plates, which meant that the plates were now potentially problematic.¬† I tried to stay calm, but it was hard to do that with all the worries I mentioned above in my head plus the minor Pesach worries and now plus this.¬† I tried not to eat anything potentially ‘contaminated’ for the rest of the day, but it was hard to keep track of what cutlery had gone where and by lunchtime on Saturday I was¬†de facto relying on my opinion that the food was OK (which at least had now grown to 90% certainty).

After¬†Shabbat we emailed my parents’ rabbi and he said what I had thought: it was OK, we had just infringed a protective measure intended as an extra level of safety.¬† But it’s hard to spend¬†Pesach every year wrestling with feelings that God is going to deny me any reward in the afterlife because of confused and panicked decisions I take at¬†Pesach, especially as those are motivated more by a desire to avoid arguing with my parents than some selfish desire to eat¬†chametz on¬†Pesach.¬† I thought I was past this stage, but apparently not, or at least, not in this crazy year.

It’s hard to treat OCD at a time of the year when we are supposed to be worried about what we eat.¬† I suppose the analogy would be to someone who had germ contamination OCD and was trying to treat it with exposure therapy, but now has to deal with COVID-19 and suddenly being told to wash her hands all the time.

I also ate a load of junk over the three days and little fruit and veg, again because of a complicated religious/not-arguing-with-parents reason (I usually eat a lot of fruit and veg).  On the plus side, my biscuits tasted good, despite the cinnamon balls turning into macaroon shape and the almond macaroons ending up as a solid block that my Mum had to hack into smaller chunks.

Other than that it was the usual¬†Yom Tov mix of over-eating, oversleeping, praying and reading.¬† My parents more or less forced me to go for a half-hour walk each day, which I needed.¬† I worked through a couple more Tehillim/Psalms in Hebrew and read more of¬†Ani Maamin as well as more than half of a murder mystery set in a¬†Haredi community, the first in a long sequence.¬† I’m enjoying it enough to stick with it to see how it ends, but I’m not sure if I’ll be reading any more.¬† It’s not really as interesting as I thought it would be, maybe because the Haredi community doesn’t seem so exotic; if anything, it seems less strict than my own community, which probably wasn’t the intention.

***

I should really go to bed.¬† I’m already violating my “No screens after 11pm” rule just to write this, but I’ve been struggling for the last few days with trying to keep going without being able to off-load.¬† I feel like I need to watch some TV to unwind.¬† I know it might keep me awake, but not relaxing will also keep me awake and I don’t really feel like reading any more.

200 Hours (Approximately)

… being the approximate length of time from the start of the¬†Pesach food restrictions to the end of the holiday (in the diaspora).

Firstborns are supposed to fast the day before Pesach, but it’s generally accepted that they can go to a¬†siyum (party for finishing studying some¬†Torah) to avoid it.¬† I woke up at 7.00am as intended, got up a little later than I wanted, but “went” to an online siyum.¬† I had trouble logging in and missed the first half, although this is all kind of stringent this year anyway as no one should really be fasting in a health crisis even if they didn’t get to a¬†siyum.

I fell into OCD anxiety while eating breakfast.¬† I mostly got it under control by the time Mum got up, but then she was sick, which set up a whole load more anxiety – worry about her, worry about getting everything ready on time for¬†Pesach.¬† Once I start worrying, I can worry about everything, so I started worrying about me and E., feeling that the history of my life shows that good things rarely happen for me and never last and worrying that something will stop us being together, even though I don’t know what.¬† E. is basically the best thing that ever happened to me, so I’m terrified she’s going to be taken from me somehow.

We did get the house changed over to¬†Pesach mode on time.¬† Having done the negative side of the festival (removing forbidden food), we are now busily doing the positive (cooking and preparing¬†Pesach food).¬† I am struggling intermittently with OCD and anxiety.¬† I am washing my hands far too often, even for COVID-19.¬† I have to keep telling myself that I’m doing my best and that that’s all that God can expect of me, and also that I’m not responsible for what other people choose to do or not do.¬† I tell myself that God is probably more like my rabbi mentor (empathetic, understanding, patient, forgiving) and less like [insert name of any fire and brimstone clergyman].

We’ve got about an hour and a half until Pesach now.¬† My parents have excused me from further food preparation, as I’ve been helping all day, and I only got about five and a half hours sleep last night.¬† I’m going to shower and get into my Yom Tov clothes and probably chill in front of the TV for a bit so that I’m in a reasonable state of mind for the seder service this evening, the centrepiece of Pesach celebrations.¬† It’s tempting to try to continue helping now, or do more¬†Torah study or something, but then I’ll be a mess by this evening, so I’m going to take my time off knowing that I will be doing a lot to help the smooth running of the seder later.

I will be out of contact for three days now, until Saturday evening, as we engage in what Ze’ev Maghen refers to as Judaism’s annual Existential War on Leaven Bread.¬†¬†Chag kasher vesameach to those celebrating.¬† Stay well to everyone else.

Pesach Fail/OCD Success?

I got up about the same time as yesterday, which was good.¬† I felt very anxious and struggled with some OCD thoughts, but avoided asking my rabbi mentor about most of them.¬† I told myself that I was 90% sure what I was doing was OK, and if I was wrong, it was a genuine mistake, and that not asking unnecessary questions is a positive thing for me, otherwise the OCD gets out of control.¬† Nevertheless, I felt intermittently overwhelmed and struggled to get going.¬† I tried to focus on gratitude for my family and friends and especially for E.¬† I guess I do still worry that I’ll scare E. off sooner or later, either with my issues or my religiosity, but she cares about me more than anyone except my parents.

The one thing I really struggled with was¬†kashering the kitchen sink.¬† This involves purging the sink of any trace of food by pouring boiling water over it.¬† There are quite strict rules about this.¬† The water has to be boiling, not boiled, so you only get a few seconds to do it before the kettle is considered too cold.¬† Also, only water within a couple of inches of where the spout of water hits the sink or drainer counts as close enough to still be boiling.¬† And you have to hit 51% of the sink and drainer in this way.¬† And, of course, it’s impossible to tell just by looking what was hit in this way and what was not because the water just flows everywhere.

The truth is, I didn’t feel like I managed it this year, but I was also worried about getting stuck in a OCD spiral of doing it again and again and again, trying to get it “perfect”.¬† So I tried to make sure I got each part of the sink once (which still took several goes) and then I left it.¬† I just sent my rabbi mentor an email asking if he thinks that was the right approach, especially as we don’t actually put anything directly in our sink on¬†Pesach, which mitigates the need for this somewhat.¬† As I said to my rabbi mentor, my intuition is that this is the best possible option available, and I also note that, while writing that email to him and writing this blog post and accepting what I’ve done, I can feel my confidence level about the sink rising a little bit.

Did I do the right thing?¬† God knows (literally).¬† I tried my best, and probably did as good as most people would, but they wouldn’t agonise over it.¬† I think we have a good enough solution for now, with the caveat that we may need to ask a rabbi a question if anything drops into the sink over Pesach.¬† At the moment, looking for “good enough” solutions is all I can do.

There then followed a slightly frantic hour or so as I tried to make dinner for all of us in a kitchen that is half unusable (because in Pesach mode, not in everyday mode, where we still are).¬† I could feel anxiety rising in me from the sink, but also about Pesach in general, what time I will go to bed tonight, if I will sleep, if I will get up on early tomorrow morning as I want and really need to do…¬† I’ve had stomach pains again this evening, which seems to be an anxiety thing and which hasn’t been present for the last few weeks.

I’m currently waiting for my parents to be ready to do the nocturnal search for chametz (leavened food), done the night before¬†Pesach.¬† I hope not to get to bed too late, although that’s somewhat up in the air at the moment.¬† I did a bit of¬†Torah¬†study today, but not much, but I think I was doing important things for the family.¬† I didn’t go for a walk in the end though which I would have liked to have done.¬† I want to get up early in the morning (although it would take to long to explain why… another complicated religious thing), so would like to get to bed reasonably early.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to blog tomorrow.¬† It’s the busiest day of the year.¬† If not, I won’t get the chance to blog again until Saturday evening, so¬†Pesach kasher vesameach to those celebrating, and stay healthy to everyone.

Anxiety Mostly Contained

I did quite a lot today, although it was mostly¬†Pesach (Passover) preparation, so not terribly interesting to record here.¬† I went shopping and extended my walk home a bit for exercise, although not for as long as I would have liked if I hadn’t had so many other things on today or been nervous about staying out with COVID-19.¬† I kashered the hob for¬†Pesach, which basically involves boiling pots of water on each burner until it all gets really hot, then, when it’s cooled, covering the tops of the grates in aluminium foil.¬† I cooked some biscuits, almond macaroons, which spread too much and turned into two giant biscuits.¬† I think Mum cut them back into biscuit shape; from a baking point of view they were fine.¬† I cleaned the kitchen sink thoroughly to kasher it tomorrow and printed a load of signs so we can see where the Pesach and non-Pesach stuff is in the rearranged kitchen (then discovered we had some from last year).

I’ve been trying hard to fight the¬†Pesach OCD that worries about the special dietary laws of the festival and the necessity of cooking not just different food, but in different utensils and with purged work surfaces, sinks, ovens and the like.¬† I’ve been trying hard not to give in if I want to physically check something multiple times; or email my rabbi mentor to check I’ve done something correctly; or to look up a detail that I know about, but want to double-check; or to ask my parents if they’ve washed their hands before touching Pesach food stuff…¬† It’s hard to do exposure therapy for Pesach OCD because unlike my ordinary¬†kashrut OCD, where I was able to gradually expose myself to my irrational fears until the anxiety subsided, I’m not able to expose myself to Pesach OCD over a prolonged period of time.¬† I just have to sit with the anxiety and push through things despite it.¬† Dialing back the handwashing is harder, though, as Pesach and COVID-19 team up against me there and it usually feels like at least one of them mandates washing my hands in any given situation.¬† My hands are cracked, itchy and sometimes painful, but, to be honest, I’ve had worse Pesachs from a chapped hands point of view.

The other thing I had today was another depression group online meeting.¬† I found myself feeling very anxious during this meeting.¬† Some of it may have been residual anxiety from¬†Pesach preparations, but I think a lot of it was social anxiety.¬† I can find the in-person depression groups challenging sometimes, but I find the online meetings so far much harder.¬† I’m fine Skyping E. one-to-one, and I’ve had one-to-one Skype therapy and meetings with my rabbi mentor, but a group meeting (and this was a slightly larger group than last time) seems to be exponentially harder.¬† I think I feel self-conscious with my picture on the screen, I don’t always talk loudly enough for the microphone to pick my voice up and the problems I have in sessions in terms of judging when I can speak and what to say somehow seems even more difficult to deal with online.¬† I still struggle with what I feel comfortable talking about and feel self-conscious of not expressing myself as clearly and as confidently as I would like.¬† I would like to continue going to these meetings as the lockdown continues, but I need to think about the best way of dealing with them.

It also occurred to me in the meeting that I’ve been completely focused on getting Pesach done despite COVID-19 and Mum’s cancer.¬† Soon, Pesach will be over, but the two Cs (as Mum calls them) will still be here and I will probably need to think of a new coping strategy or at least something else to occupy my time.

***

This post on trans-generational trauma was interesting.¬† I was interested because the case study is of a Holocaust survivor and his family.¬† My family had surprisingly little Holocaust connection, thankfully, although I’m sure every Jewish family suffered from institutionalised or persistent violence and persecution at some point.¬† I don’t think anything was passed down my family in that way, but perhaps because I take my Jewish identity very seriously I feel a sort of inchoate responsibility for the world in general and the Jewish people in particular and a desire to change things for the better without really knowing how, beyond a vague hope/fear that my suffering will somehow achieve some kind of¬†vicarious atonement.

***

I feel a bit bad, as I just did give in to the OCD on a relatively minor thing, but I could see it spiralling out into something bigger (with OCD once you give in to one doubt or anxiety, it often snowballs into something much larger) and drew a line in the sand.¬† But it does indicate that I am too tired to function.¬† I will do a few minutes of¬†Torah study as I haven’t done any today and don’t want to go a whole day without even five minutes, break my “No screens after 11pm” rule even further to relax a little for twenty minutes, and go to bed.

The Banality of Lockdown

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

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

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

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

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

Feedback Loop

Yesterday finished badly.¬† I went to bed earlier than usual (although still late) because I felt tired and depressed.¬† I tried to do my hitbodedut meditation/prayer/talking to God, but got overwhelmed with guilt, anxiety and despair halfway through and had to stop.¬† At least I was feeling something, lately it’s been hard to feel anything while doing it.

Then today started badly.¬† It was a real struggle to get up.¬† I woke up around 10am, but fell asleep again.¬† I eventually got up around 12.30pm, after an indeterminate amount of time lying in bed feeling awful, just depressed and exhausted.¬† I’ve been having weird dreams recently too.¬† There was one that involved Hitler’s head (in a They Saved Hitler’s Brain sort of way, but I don’t remember the details), and last night I dreamt about people from shul (synagogue) coming round, but just sitting in the lounge silently studying Talmud.¬† In the dream, this seemed like a success, as they seemed to think I was on some level capable of¬†Talmud study.¬† There was also a ten year old boy who I managed to speak to in Hebrew, at least to offer him a drink.¬† I’m not sure what any of this means.

Events today were mostly trivial, but also somewhat frustrating or upsetting.¬† I’ve put on weight, about 1kg since I last weighed myself.¬† It’s not surprising, as I’ve only had time/energy to exercise intermittently and have been eating more junk than usual since the coronavirus lockdown started.

Then the latest Doctor Who Magazine arrived.¬† They didn’t print the letter I had sent them, which isn’t a surprise as I admitted to not enjoying the most recent series.¬† They don’t print negative letters any more, even one like mine which basically argued that Doctor Who is large and diverse and if some fans don’t like the current version, they can just focus on what they like and not throw their toys out of the pram on Twitter.

Writing this down, it doesn’t seem like so much, but I felt very overwhelmed and really just wanted to go back to bed and start the day again.

I didn’t have much to do today, in terms of Pesach preparation or anything else, so I wrote my devar Torah¬†(Torah thought) for the week, which ended up being quite a bit shorter than usual, from lack of inspiration as much as depression.¬† This week’s sedra (Torah¬†portion) has some long legal passages about the sacrificial laws and a description of the inauguration ceremony of the priests, which had been previewed a view weeks ago in Shemot (Exodus), so it can be hard to find something interesting and relevant to a contemporary audience.

I went for a run, but as I was too depressed and exhausted to run for more than a few metres at a time, it was mostly a walk.¬† I passed a bunch of six teenagers, split up on both sides of the road so I couldn’t safely pass while keeping two metres distant from both groups.¬† I think this is the first really flagrant lockdown breach I’ve seen.¬† My uncle says that the Israeli lockdown is stricter, with people limited to a 100m radius area around their residence and police and army enforcement.

I’m struggling with religious OCD, in some ways more so than yesterday, wanting to email my rabbi mentor to chase up the answers to yesterday’s questions.¬† I did email in the end, and although I turned it into a general venting email, it really was to seek reassurance, which I know is wrong with OCD.¬† It is hard to do exposure therapy for¬†Pesach OCD when exposure therapy requires repeated exposures over time and¬†Pesach is only one week a year, plus a week or two of preparation beforehand.

Despite being at home with my parents, I felt lonely today.¬† I don’t always find it easy to communicate with my parents when I feel very depressed (or even when I don’t feel depressed).¬† I felt alone.¬† In the evening I actually did some social (or virtual-social) stuff: a massive thirteen person extended family Zoom call (which was basically certain family members shouting a lot and others of us sitting quietly) and a Skype call with E.¬† I was glad to speak to E., but I just had a knot of anxiety in my stomach the whole time and worried I was going to alienate her somehow, even though I knew this was irrational and that E. cares about me a lot.¬† I think at times like this my anxiety just transfers from subject to subject depending on what I’m doing at the time so that I always feel anxious.¬† I did speak a bit to my parents about my anxieties in the end, which was good.¬† I’m lucky to have them, and to have E.¬† I don’t know where I would be without them.

***

There was an interesting discussion today over on Ashley Leia’s blog about whether the term “high functioning” is a useful descriptor for mental health.¬† I would say not, and most if not all commenters there agreed.¬† Certainly in my case functionality is not static and binary, but fluctuates with time, with different situations and with other factors like tiredness and hunger, as well as the interaction of different aspects of my issues (so today high anxiety/religious OCD anxiety and depression are feeding back into each other and making things worse).¬† The same goes for my high-functioning autism.

There can also be a judgmental element to functionality, where high functional people are not allowed to have bad days/episodes or are not given adequate support because it’s assumed they are coping and that high functionality equates to mental stability and consistently positive mental health.¬† I function well inasmuch as I get dressed every day, look after my health and hygiene needs, eat reasonably healthily, exercise, look for work and so on, but whenever I get a job, my stress levels rocket up and I’ve had trouble meeting all my work obligations; I think at least two previous managers thought I was incompetent and probably regretted hiring me.¬† I don’t know if I’ll ever manage to work full-time.¬† So it’s hard to see myself as functional, even though I know that I am compared to some people, or even compared with myself as I was from circa 2003 to 2009 or so.