Autism Fears

I had a usual eat/pray/Torah study/read/sleep too much Shabbat. I read more of Contact. I feel a bit like I do when I meet someone I objectively should like, but who somehow irritates me. I should like the book, and on some level I do, enough to stick with it, but part of me is getting annoyed. Maybe the feeling I’m getting from it is that the author feels that anyone who went down the humanities route at university (let alone anyone who didn’t go to university at all!) is an idiot and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Maybe even that wouldn’t annoy me if it didn’t chime with my worst fears about the “Believe science” movement. Yes, I think science (empiricism, falsifiability, repetition) is valuable and an important element in policy decisions. No, I do not think unelected scientists should be making policy decisions instead of elected policy-makers, even if that means you sometimes get an idiot in control ignoring the advice. Elected policy makers can be replaced; unelected government scientists often can’t, or not directly.

***

I just watched an episode of WandaVision followed by one of The Mandalorian, the latter along with PIMOJ (simultaneous, but in different houses). WandaVision has gone from being a strange, not really funny spoof of old television sitcoms to a fairly conventional superhero series in the space of six episodes. The Mandalorian is technically accomplished, but lacking in soul. It reminds me of the final and weakest season of Blake’s 7. I found myself struggling to care about the characters in a story when almost everyone is a ruthless killer. Also, the droid was clearly voiced by Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd, which was just weird.

***

I feel like I’m struggling to be a good boyfriend at the moment. To be fair, it’s hard. I can’t remember when the current lockdown actually started. Google says 5 January. Two months having a relationship on text and video has been difficult. It’s hard to be present and focused for someone I haven’t seen in person for months. Hopefully we’ll get to see each other soon, once the lockdown finishes on 8 March. We relate so much better in person.

***

Over the last couple of days I have been worrying a bit about my autism assessment. It’s on 9 March, a week and a half away. I worry that I’m going to be told that I’m not on the autism spectrum and I worry what that would mean for my self-esteem, when I’ve coped with work setbacks in recent years by telling myself that the environments were not suitable for someone on the spectrum. To be fair, I have done a lot better in jobs in healthier environments for me, which indicates that this is true. But the fear is there.

When I had the first part of the assessment, which consisted of me explaining to the psychiatrist why I think I’m on the spectrum, she said that it sounded like I was on the spectrum. However, after that I had to have a second assessment, where I was made to do various activities that would demonstrate whether I think in an autistic way and I have no idea how I did on this, so the fear of being told that (for example) I act autistic, but I don’t think autistic is strong. I don’t know what that would mean for me or my sense of self.

I felt on Friday that I wanted to do something I’ve never done before and ask some of my family and Jewish friends to pray for me. Praying to be autistic sounds weird and is probably against Jewish law, which says that you shouldn’t pray for things that can’t be changed, even if you don’t know what they are yet. The psychiatrist has probably decided her diagnosis, so I can’t pray for it to change. What I can pray for is to have self-understanding and acceptance. I would like others to pray for me partly, I suppose, because I think God may listen to them more than me, but also to feel supported by family and friends who were often long-distance people in my life even before COVID started, somewhat like Rav Soloveitchik’s view of prayer in The Lonely Man of Faith, where he sees it as less about asking God to do something and more about creating a “covenantal community” that includes God, but also other people. I do feel strange thinking about asking for it, though, so I’m not sure what to do.

Intense Day

I woke up feeling really burnt out again, and still felt that way after breakfast. I don’t know why I still feel like this. It’s usually this bad after a hectic day, but I haven’t had a really busy day since Thursday. It’s not just burnout. I feel quite depressed, although I’m not having many particular negative thoughts to trigger the feelings despite being at least vaguely concerned about several things in my life right now. After breakfast, I went back to bed with the lights off, wrapped myself tight in the duvet and listened to a classical music playlist (it was supposed to be calm music, but I think much of it was not actually that calm). This is behaviour that I would associate with being either very depressed or very overloaded and there was no obvious reason for either.

I wanted to go for a run today, as I thought it would help, but I couldn’t fit a run in. I went for a walk and spent much of it feeling like the “idiot child” who can’t get anything right. I also kept thinking about Eliot’s The Waste Land: “On Margate Sands/I can connect/Nothing with nothing”, which seemed to sum up how I felt. The main exception to this was when some horses and riders went past (there’s a riding school nearby and seeing horses in the streets is quite common). This made me wonder again about pet therapy or animal therapy, but I can’t work up the courage to take the leap of buying a pet or assuming that level of responsibility — which in turn makes me wonder why I think I’ll be able to have children one day. I think there’s a kind of event horizon of fantasy in my mind; having a career, a community, a wife and a family are things beyond the event horizon and I can’t devise logical strategies to get there.

I had an intense Skype call with PIMOJ after this. I had already intended to speak about some emotional issues (which may have triggered my depression) and being depressed just made me determined to open up about how I feel rather than brushing it aside and pretending to be fine. I think it was a good call, and important, but it was intense and draining. My relationship with PIMOJ is different to previous relationships. It’s more consciously considered, for reasons that I’m not ready to share yet, but we have to think very carefully about what we say and do. We are very different people and we have to work hard to understand each other (even without the language barrier).

I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah for the week. I wish I had more time to spend on it each week. I did some other Torah study and some miniature painting too, which probably helped unwind a bit. I watched two episodes of WandaVision too. As I suspected from the first episode, there is some clever and self-aware stuff going on, but the problem with spoofing the style of dated TV is that you have to sit through a lot of dated-seeming TV to get to the interesting parts. Maybe if I liked archival sitcoms as much as archival science fiction, I would like it more.

***

Looking at the Babylon 5 DVDs again, some discs seem scratched or dirty; one of the ones that looked pristine has a mark around the edge of the disc which I thought was part of the disc, but now looks more like damage to me. I need to investigate the discs some more. I found I can get replacement DVDs for about £5 per season on MusicMagpie, so I’m not too worried about having to break the bank to replace them any more. I ordered a replacement season one set as one or two of those discs seem irreparable, but I’ll spend some time with the latter seasons seeing if they can be cleaned up before I buy replacements.

Medication Change

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

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

***

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

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

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

Be Anything You Want To Be???

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Minor Trials and Tribulations

Today seemed quite busy. I slept badly again, struggling to fall asleep and then struggling to get out of bed. Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) I managed to get up a little earlier to say some of the extra prayers, although I’m still saying a much-reduced Shacharit (Morning Service).

I spent the morning at work processing cheques people have sent in to pay fees. I think I had a few moments of autistic executive function block where my mind went blank and I didn’t know what I was doing and possibly I didn’t save data properly. I think/hope that I caught all of those. I intended to check all of them at the end, but checking forty-six payments seemed excessive (not to mention likely to send me back down the path of OCD compulsive checking), so I checked three or four random accounts and the data was always saved properly, so hopefully it was all OK. Later I processed a credit card payment over the phone and made a mistake, but the payment still went through when it probably shouldn’t have done. I put the wrong name on the card because I was confused by a woman paying on behalf of her mother. Hopefully that won’t be a mess that I need to sort out next week. Other than that, the main diversion was another trip to the bank to pay in the cheques. The cashier looked at the big pile of cheques and said I obviously hadn’t done any banking for a while. “Not since Monday” was my response. Almost everyone pays their annual fees in January, so we have to pay a lot of cheques in, although J says more people are paying by phone or online this year, which is easier for us.

J and I left work early today and despite going a different route home to avoid traffic, I had time this evening to finish and send my devar Torah (Torah thought) and work on my novel for twenty minutes or so.

I spoke to PIMOJ for an hour. She wanted to call on WhatsApp, which was fine, but I didn’t realise my phone hadn’t connected to the wifi properly when I came home, so I used 80% of my data for the next month (it just refreshed a few days ago). Not good. It’s not disastrous, as I don’t generally use much data, but it is frustrating.

PIMOJ bought me chocolate, which she sent in the post. I feel a bit apprehensive about the amount of gifts she gives me. They’re mostly small things, but I don’t really express affection that way and I wonder how she wants me to express affection to her. I wouldn’t know what presents to buy her and it wouldn’t really occur to me to do so without prompting. I’d say it’s an autistic thing, but it’s probably a male thing. Possibly PIMOJ and I need to talk about “love languages” (if you believe in love languages), but we already had one serious conversation today and it’s probably just as well we didn’t have another. At least we were on the same page about the serious conversation we did have.

I got given a confectionary package from my shul (synagogue) today too. Do they think I’m still shielding? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure who to ask/tell. It was probably a bit unfortunate that it came today as I sent off the email asking for a shul fee reduction given my employment/financial situation.

But certainly dieting with this much junk food around will be hard!

***

My glasses broke last night. I’m not sure how. The arm came off the little hinge. I suspect it’s either really easy to fix, or completely impossible and I need a new pair. Dad tried to take them in to Specsavers today. In ordinary times, it would be a simple thing, but because of COVID you have to get an appointment just to speak to someone about a broken pair of glasses and they forgot to phone him back. I wore my spare pair of glasses to work, but they have an old prescription. They were OK, but after a day wearing them, I think my eyes were getting strained, so I took them off. I generally only get new glasses when my prescription changes; then I take the older pair as an imperfect spare. I rarely need to use my spare glasses and even then usually for only a day or two, so it’s not usually a problem, but of course COVID makes everything a problem.

***

From my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week:

Finally, Rashi tells us that sometimes Moshe [Moses] is put before Aharon [Aaron] and sometimes Aharon is put before Moshe to teach us that they were equal.[1]  This is puzzling, as we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet, so how could Aharon be his equal?  According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Aharon was equal to Moshe in two senses.  First, that Moshe would not have succeeded without him, so his participation, like Moshe’s, was essential even if Moshe was greater.  Second, Aharon achieved the maximum of his potential, just like Moshe.  Although Moshe’s achievement in absolute terms was greater, both brothers achieved 100% of their potential and are equal in God’s eyes, as He judges success by the proportion of a person’s mission that is achieved and not the amount achieved in absolute terms.[2]


[1] Rashi Commentary to Shemot 6.26

[2] Quoted in Rabbi Nosson Scherman ed, The Stone Edition Chumash: The Torah: Haftaros and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings

This idea, about achievement being relative to a person’s potential in God’s eyes rather than an absolute value, is not a new idea to me. So why it is so hard to accept?

***

The pharmacy I use is one of the six in the country that are providing COVID vaccinations. It’s just been on the TV news because the minister in charge of vaccine roll-out was there today. Selfishly, I am vaguely worried about whether this (the vaccinations, not the minister or the news) will have any impact on how fast and easily I can collect my monthly repeat prescriptions, particularly as I have one that needs collection on Monday.

***

None of what I have written here is serious, but it has all left me pretty exhausted. I’m going to do a bit more Torah study, then watch Doctor Who for a bit and go to bed.

Thinking/Worrying

Another day that got away from me…

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Rebel Rebel

I’m not sure where I am today, emotionally. I had two big things going on, the pandemic and the autism assessment. Now there’s a third, potentially even bigger, and I am not coping well. I don’t want to talk about it here yet. Or rather I do want to talk about it, but I’m not sure that I should, so I won’t for now. Suffice to say that I went to bed late last night because I was dealing with a lot of anxious and self-critical thoughts. Then I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was over-tired and hadn’t done anything to relax. Then I overslept this morning and didn’t want to get up because of the anxiety. I eventually got up because my phone was ringing, but I didn’t get there in time and whoever they were, they didn’t leave a message and I didn’t recognise the number. Hopefully it was just a cold caller, but I worry it might have been something about the autism assessment, although I know it’s unlikely that they would contact me within twenty-four hours of the last assessment.

I’ve felt lately that I was getting ahold of my life, that I was making progress with work and writing and my relationship, that I was moving towards some kind of definitive autism diagnosis, and that I was feeling like depression and mental illness, while not “cured” (I don’t know that I will ever be “cured”), are less prominent in my life. I was even wondering if I should carry on blogging here, or blogging so regularly. What is the point of a mental health blog if my mental health is reasonable?

And then, WHAM! To be honest, I knew this would happen for some time, it just happened faster than I thought it would, and it hit me harder than I expected. I still can’t talk about what is actually happening except in the vaguest of terms, but I’ve been in a state of anxiety since the weekend, and I’m not sure if it’s going to change any time soon. I guess I’m just psychologically vulnerable to mental illness at times of stress, the way some people have reduced immunity and vulnerability to physical illness.

I was able to talk about it a lot in therapy today. We ended up speaking a lot about ideas of community, individuality, conformity and so on and particularly how these apply in the Orthodox Jewish community.

I spoke about feeling a burden at the moment, a bag full of guilt and critical voices from the community and who knows what else. I want to put the bag down, if only to breathe, but I can’t, I have to keep carrying it up the hill. How much of this is actually real (real guilt, real people criticising me) and how much is just in my head is hard to tell. I do feel, on some level, like I’m responsible for the world and that I’m judged to the minutest level of detail, in a way that no one (or no one other than a total tzaddik (saint)) is judged.

My therapist suggested there was anger there too, which is correct, but I’ve never known what to do with anger other than repress it, which is not good in the long-run and arguably leads to depression. I think in the summer, when our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours were having lockdown-breaching prayer services in their garden three times a day, I wrote a letter, with no intention of sending it, saying how angry they made me. I think that helped somewhat, but my current anger seems too nebulous and undirected at the moment for that to be a viable strategy.

More surprisingly, I found myself suggesting that maybe on some level I like or need the friction with my community. I’m not entirely sure why I said this, but I suspect that I noted that I’ve spent two decades or more trying to be an Orthodox Jew and to “fit in” to the Orthodox community, but I’ve also spent two decades or more complaining (quietly) about the conformism, narrow-mindedness and bourgeois mentality that often operates in the Orthodox community, trying to not to be socialised out of my geekiness, my non-Jewish friends, the books I read. I guess I have a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” attitude to the Orthodox world.

I can see it with my novel. Sometimes I’m terrified about the backlash I might face for suggesting that domestic abuse exists in the Orthodox community and that the autistic and mentally ill are not well-catered for there, but other times I will admit to myself that I hope there is some controversy, that it “shakes things up a bit.”

It’s hard to come to terms with this, as I was a well-behaved child and I was the absolute most well-behaved, non-rebellious teenager imaginable. But here I am, worrying that I’m going to bring the Temple crashing down around me, Shimshon (Samson) style, without really wanting to do it, just feeling driven to it by loneliness and desperation, the longing for a place where I can be accepted by people who aren’t like me. I feel I should (“should” again) be able not to care what people think about me, but somehow I can’t.

I told PIMOJ I was anxious and she called. It was a difficult conversation, not least because it was late and I didn’t really want to speak, but I felt I should as she was concerned about me. It really did become apparent that there is a psychological difference between us, that she doesn’t care who does or doesn’t like her, whereas I want to be liked and accepted, something that I don’t think she really understood. I don’t think she understood why it matters to me if other Orthodox Jews reject me. I don’t think I really understand why it matters to me, to be honest. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care who liked me, but I find myself unable to find the switch to turn it off.

***

There was no volunteering today, but I was supposed to be doing some work from home and I got up later than I intended for that. I got the work done (stuffing envelopes and stamping them) as well as having therapy, but I didn’t get out for a walk. Add in the call from PIMOJ and I ran out of time for more than five minutes of Torah study, although I did write my devar Torah for the week and liked it more than I expected. It’s going to be another late night. I don’t know if I’ll have time to relax before I go to bed again so sleeplessness is likely.

***

When I started this job, the Department of Work and Pensions said I was OK working part-time and still receiving some benefits. Now they’ve written to ask for more details about the work. I accept that I probably earn too much to justify the benefits, I just wish they would make their minds up. I do wonder whether other government departments and bodies (e.g. the Treasury, the Foreign Office) are as useless and bureaucratic as the DWP and the NHS. It’s easy to look at the lockdown mess and think that they are.

Very Anxious Day

I had the second part of my autism assessment this afternoon. It was a Zoom call with a psychiatric nurse (I think the one who interviewed my Mum a while back). I don’t know how I did. They said it would take an hour to an hour and a half, but it only lasted forty minutes or so. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. The psychiatric nurse asked me some questions about emotions: what makes angry, happy, sad, etc. and what those emotions feel like. I think I struggled to put those emotions into words and tended to speak more about what I do when I’m angry, happy, sad, etc. Which I guess would suggest autism. We also spoke about friends and having a partner and what that was like emotionally and practically. Also if I coped with living alone, cooking, cleaning, etc. and whether I can handle my own finances. I know I can live alone OK because I just set up routines so I know what I’m doing, but I find that I can’t handle my finances as well as I feel I should be able to do and need to ask my Dad for help sometimes. Again, this might suggest autism.

I also had to narrate a picture book, describe how to brush my teeth and tell a story using five random objects as props. The psychiatric nurse narrated a story with five objects first, to show me what to do. I noticed that while her story was very abstract (e.g. a pen representing a boy, a sellotape roll representing a cake), mine was more literal (e.g. a Lego man for a person, a leaf for a forest), which again would suggest autism to me, although I’m not sure what they are looking for there. I don’t really know if this went well or not, or what “well” really means in this situation. I was told I should hear about the next stage (the actual diagnosis appointment) within six weeks, probably less, but I’m not sure if the actual diagnosis appointment will be within six weeks or just if I should hear when it will be.

The story test makes me wonder if I will really be able to make a career as a novelist, although a quick internet search reveals there are other autistic writers out there. I guess with my current novel, one plot strand is about my experiences with depression and autism in the Jewish community and the other strand is based on a lot of research I did into real life domestic abuse. I suspect I would be the type of author who wears his influences visibly and sticks to existing generic tropes rather than the type of daring, avant garde literary author part of me would like to be. So more of a Terry Nation than a Steven Moffat. Fine, I think Terry Nation is under-rated and I should only make as much money as Terry Nation did… (Nation created a number of popular programmes for British and American television, but was most famous for creating the Daleks for Doctor Who and making a fortune out of them thanks to canny merchandising and rigorous copyright enforcement.)

***

Yesterday J gave me nearly 300 invoices to put in envelopes, stick on stamps and post (he is paying me for this, don’t worry!). Today I put over 100 invoices in envelopes and sealed them; tomorrow I hope to put the rest in and put stamps on them all. It would probably have been more efficient to put a stamp on each envelope after sealing it, but I knew that if I did that, then I would constantly be having OCD worries about whether or not I put one on each one and would be going back to check. Easier, I thought, to do the lot at once, check them, and be done with it.

There’s no volunteering tomorrow, as the paid staff are worried about COVID and are reviewing their procedures to check everything is safe. The packing will be done just by the paid staff this week. Hopefully I can use the morning for envelope stuffing before I have therapy in the afternoon.

***

In the evening I had a rather anxiety-provoking experience. I don’t feel that I can go into much detail. It’s going to be an ongoing thing for a while. I think it’s the right thing to happen, absolutely, but it’s important and scary.

The hardest part isn’t actually the difficult and scary bits. I’m very dependent on the opinion of others, particularly those in religious authority. I worry about appearing like something other than the person I want to be, even though I ended up where I am in good faith and on rabbinic advice. I guess if you have low self-esteem, it’s easy to think everyone thinks badly of you, just as it’s easy to think that every difficulty (or anxiety) is a punishment from God for trivial infractions.

***

Because of everything that happened today, I didn’t do much Torah study. I read Rabbi Sacks’ Morality book for a while, but that was about it. I don’t know if that counts. Is it Torah study if I read a book by a Chief Rabbi about morality, but mostly couched in terms of secular philosophy and psychology rather than Torah sources? I don’t know, but it’s a very good book. I’m pretty tired now, but I need to shower and probably to watch some TV to unwind before going to bed as I still feel very tense, although the anxiety is slowly dissipating. I ate dinner very late, because I was too anxious before, and then I ate a ton of ice cream for dessert. So much for being on a diet.

Feeling Anxious

I’d like to be able to start a post without talking about my sleep pattern, but it seems to be a big part of my life at the moment, so here goes. I went to bed about 12.00pm. I wasn’t sure if I would sleep or not. Being sick can make you sleepy, but I had done nothing all evening since being sick except watch TV, so I didn’t feel particularly tired. I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if it was a lack of tiredness or the constant agitated thoughts about the Zoom meeting on Tuesday evening Rabbi B. Eventually I got up and watched some more Doctor Who to calm myself down. I did actually enjoy the second half of Logopolis more than the first, although that may be because it was 1.00am and my standards were not as high. I did eventually fall asleep around 2.00am, but slept through the morning again, which I was hoping to stop doing. I guess it was not entirely unexpected, given the evening I had (being sick, but also having a difficult conversation with my parents and arranging the call with Rabbi B). What did upset me a little was waking up with some religious OCD thoughts, which had not really bothered me for some time. I was a little surprised to experience them, although I know there’s always a risk of the religious OCD coming back at times of stress and exhaustion. They did at least go after I’d eaten breakfast – low blood sugar also exacerbates OCD for me.

After breakfast I felt better, but also a bit down and lethargic. It was hard to do very much. I guess it’s not surprising, given that I had been very sick less than twenty-four hours previously. At lunch I opened the box of vegetables that I was eating with PIMOJ yesterday and saw that the leftover cucumber had gone off. It was completely mouldy and furry. So I suspect I was sick from food poisoning from eating gone off cucumber. I knew it was a little past its best, but it still looked edible yesterday. Obviously not.

I was pleased to get thoughtful messages from PIMOJ, but also a message from J asking how I was, which was nice. He said I could do some work from home one day this week, putting 300 invoices in envelopes, stamping and posting them. I think I can do that on Wednesday, hopefully working around my therapy in the afternoon. I had already decided I was going to skip volunteering this week as I have too many stressful things even without being sick. I’m a bit upset at letting them down, but I need to look after my mental health. I skipped depression group tonight too, as I didn’t feel I had enough stamina to spend a long time on Zoom, as well as not feeling able to speak about the things that most concern me. I feel a bit bad about missing it again, but I feel that I need to focus on the autism assessment, meeting with the rabbi and paid work this week.

I spent an hour or so in the early evening working on my novel. Once I got into it, it flowed quite well for a while and I wrote 500 words, but around seven o’clock I suddenly became very anxious. It was a feeling of nausea and apprehension rather than specific voiced fears, but I suspect the meeting with Rabbi B tomorrow evening is at the root of it, and maybe also the autism assessment tomorrow afternoon.

I guess the Rabbi B fear is wondering what he will think of me, feeling that I’ve done something in good faith and on the advice of my rabbi mentor, but which on the face of it appears bad to someone from an Orthodox Jewish background. Although my rabbi mentor got in touch with Rabbi B before I made contact with him, I’m not sure how much of my story he told him. I guess below that is guilt, which probably isn’t justified. Beyond this, when I knew Rabbi B when I was at university, I felt that I was constantly embarrassing myself in front of him and looking like a freak or an idiot (for reasons I would now identify as being down to autism or social anxiety) and wondered what he thought about me…

Other than that, I didn’t achieve much. I didn’t go for a walk (I actually only just realised that I didn’t go out all day). I did some Torah study and preparation for my devar Torah, but wasn’t satisfied that I’d done enough, nor was I satisfied with my preparation. I may have to start from scratch, but it’s much too late to do that now.

I got distracted this evening reading stuff online that only left me upset, frustrated, guilty and uncertain of things, but I don’t really want to go into it here. Now it’s nearly midnight and I should go to bed as I have a busy day tomorrow (autism assessment, Rabbi B), but I feel very tense and unsleepy. And I haven’t even mentioned my thoughts about Lockdown 3: The Mutant Strain.

***

I was voicing my anxieties to PIMOJ and she was trying to calm me down. Then I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Castrovalva and saw the same scenario play out as the composed Nyssa tried to calm down the panicking Tegan, saying that panicking doesn’t achieve anything and so on. To be honest, there’s an element of geeky Adric about me too, and I’ve long suspected that I don’t appreciate Peter Davison’s Doctor as much as I should because he’s the Doctor who’s most like me (polite, but given to moments of panic and ultimately not that good at being the Doctor, with fatal consequences). Suddenly my future life seems like Season Nineteen of Doctor Who… I guess there are worse things it could be, although I hope it’s more Kinda than Earthshock.

***

I commented on someone else’s blog today to say that I’ve only been paid for one piece of writing, although I have done some professional or at least semi-professional writing for free. This, it occurred to me afterwards, is not true any more, as I have sold a couple of copies of my non-fiction Doctor Who book, and while so far only friends and family have bought copies, at least two people have read and enjoyed it (my oldest friend and my sister’s nephew). It’s a bit frightening how my mind can keep positive memories and thoughts away from me when I need it.

Short Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

Date and Memorial Service

I got up early to go for a walk with PIMOJ in Golders Green. Although PIMOJ is adventurous and likes doing new things, she seems quite comfortable doing things repeatedly too, which is useful as autism doesn’t like novelty much, and because there isn’t much to do in the winter with COVID shutting everything down. We had a good time and opened up to each other a bit, I think. It definitely seems that there’s some “opposites attract” with us, admiring the other’s traits that we don’t have.

After walking for a while, I began to feel a bit faint and short of breath and had to sit down for a few minutes. I was perhaps dressed a little over-warmly for the weather. Later, walking up the stairs at the Tube station with my mask on, I felt short of breath again. I have been slightly short of breath at volunteering lately, again with a mask, although I wasn’t wearing a mask when I had to sit down. It is hard to breath with a mask, but I guess it’s also something to mention to the GP.

In the afternoon I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for well over an hour, which was more than I expected, especially as it is still not finished. It is uses more sources than usual, and is also more creative, making me rather nervous about presenting it, worried that I have got carried away with my essential idea, that Rambam’s (Maimonides’) moral categories of “balanced” sage and “pious” saint are two complementary models of religious leadership, the former for times of stability and the later for times of crisis; and that Yehudah (Judah) and Yosef (Joseph) are, if not models of the two, then at least incline towards them. I wish I had more time or ability to bounce this idea off people and see what they think before sending it out into the world.

I then spent half an hour reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. Then in the evening I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a class. It was supposed to be the launch of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ latest book, except he passed away a few weeks ago, so it was part book launch, part memorial service. They had thirteen Jewish educators who were, in different ways, Rabbi Sacks’ students, speaking about him and his ideas.

I found it quite moving and at times difficult to watch. There were a lot of mixed feelings, some of which I have noted before. There was the feeling of loss about Rabbi Sacks’ death, and the feeling that I will never get to speak to him, and that maybe I could have spoken to him if I had tried hard enough, but what would I have said?

There was also the feeling of inadequacy I have at LSJS events, that I should get on with these people, that they are on my wavelength and must have a similar worldview, but I’m always too shy to speak up at classes, whether to ask or answer questions or volunteer ideas, so no one there really knows me. Also that many of these educators are not that much older than me, but I have not done anything with my life the way they have (PhDs, rabbinic ordination, written books etc.). I wonder how I can rectify this, and I don’t really know.

One teaching today impressed me so much as relevant here that I wrote it down so I could quote it correctly. Tanya White was speaking about suffering. Rabbi Sacks, inspired by Viktor Frankl, and said that suffering is inevitable, but that “Healing comes when we refuse the self-definition of victimhood,” that we can choose our response to suffering. It strikes me that this is hard today in a time of competitive victimhood; we have to consciously choose not to define ourselves as victims, but to find a more positive and proactive way of understanding ourselves.

What Happened?

I blamed myself for a couple of things that went wrong at work, at least one of which was not my fault. I made some mistakes typing some invoices from a template, which was a bit of carelessness on my part. Also, Dropbox was not working on my computer properly, which meant that J couldn’t access the files I was working on and vice versa. J suggested deleting Dropbox and reinstalling. I deleted, but was having trouble reinstalling when J said we should go home and leave it for Thursday. I feel like we are leaving earlier and earlier (probably because the traffic is getting worse and worse), but I guess J is the boss and he gets to decide when we go. I am concerned about sorting the Dropbox problem, but ultimately it’s not my responsibility (yes, I do take responsibility for things that are outside my control).

I texted PIMOJ in the morning to see how she was as we always do. I didn’t hear from her all day until I got a thumbs up emoji from her just before I left work this afternoon. We exchanged one or two texts, but nothing like what we usually do. We “went” (on Zoom) to a shiur (religious class) just now and I texted her to see what she thought of it, but she hasn’t replied yet, or even looked at the text. I’m not sure what is going on there any more and I feel pessimistic about it. Maybe she’s just giving me space, as yesterday I think I came across as passive-aggressive and when she asked if I was OK I said I was in my “cave.” Maybe she thinks I’m still there, my texts notwithstanding.

I guess I feel a bit hurt by everything that happened in the last few days. I do wonder what she thinks of me, whether she thinks I’m some immoral or irreligious person. I think our religious outlooks are different. She sees God and signs of His goodness everywhere, particularly in nature and in positive things in her life; I find it harder to find God in a world of suffering and a life that has really not gone to plan, and inevitably that was reflected in my writing. That’s what the situation with my book boils down to, beyond the sex, that she sees God everywhere in the world, and I struggle to find Him anywhere.

I feel a bit responsible, but also like I got hit by something out of nowhere. I didn’t want to let PIMOJ read my novel at this stage (albeit as much because I didn’t think it was polished enough than because of the content), but I felt pushed into it, and now who knows what is happening between us. This may be me trying to take responsibility for things that are not in my control again.

***

Perhaps because I was feeling depressed, I bid on eBay yesterday for a back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine (#242), the issue before I started reading the magazine regularly. I’ve mentioned recently my nostalgia for the DWM of that period (my teenage years) and wanted to read a couple of articles and interviews in that issue that I missed out on at the time. I hope I don’t start regularly buying back issues though, as it could be expensive. I only bid for this because, with just a couple of hours left, there were no bidders and a starting bid of £1. In the end I got it for £1, plus £2 postage, which is cheaper than the cover price of the current issue. I’m not sure if that’s the first time I’ve won a bid on eBay.

Also, this Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition is in stock again, surprisingly, and I put in an order for it, so it looks like I’m having a good time on the DWM front if nothing else!

The Day that Got Away

It feels like today was a day that got away from me.

First, I missed volunteering. I overslept by about forty-five minutes (having dreamt that I couldn’t go to volunteer because I had a temperature and suspected COVID). I hurried to get ready and could still have got there at a reasonable time, but then I waited twenty-five minutes for a bus which did not arrive (it was supposed to be every eight minutes). At this point I went home to see if one of my parents could give me a lift, but I could see there was heavy rush hour traffic everywhere and it would take at least forty-five minutes to get to volunteering even if my parents were ready to take me straightaway. At that point I felt it wasn’t worth going, as I wouldn’t really be there very long, so I texted to apologise.

I feel bad for letting them down, especially as I texted about 8.15am to say I was late, but on my way, and then texted again nearly an hour later say I couldn’t make it at all. I do wonder if working and volunteering for three consecutive days is too much for me and that if I have to work on Tuesdays in the future, I should not volunteer on Wednesdays because I need it as a recuperation day after work.

In the afternoon I did some shopping, mostly for essentials, but I bought a book as a Chanukah present for PIMOJ. I felt a bit bad that I spent more than I’ve spent on my parents’ presents (and my sister hasn’t even told me what she wants yet). It was not easy to work out what to buy, as I feel I’m still learning who PIMOJ is, so I ended up buying a book I’m 99% sure she’ll like, but which was rather expensive. I thought that getting something she wanted was more important than staying within budget, but now my inner critical voice is saying that I need to spend more on my parents. At least I’m earning money again at the moment.

***

And then, in late afternoon, I read something online and I just exploded. The article wasn’t particularly surprising to someone who reads the Jewish press and Jewish websites and is aware of the way the world is going, but it set something off in me. When I wrote my political post a few weeks ago, Ashley said she was surprised it wasn’t a rant from the way I had spoken about it. Well, brace yourselves, because this is a rant. Feelings I’ve been suppressing for a long time can’t be suppressed any more…

Rabbi Lord Sacks used to say that antisemitism is a virus that mutates; whenever a strain becomes discredited in society (equivalent to immunisation), it mutates into a new form that is still considered acceptable. So when religion lost influence to science in the Enlightenment, the religious antisemitism of the Middle Ages was replaced with the pseudoscience of racial antisemitism. Now racial pseudoscience is discredited, antisemitism has become based on the idea of Jews collectively being major human rights abusers.

I would add: when antisemitism mutates, it mutates in such a way that the Jews are seen as the embodiment of whatever that society hates the most. So in an era of human rights sensitivity, Jews will be seen as the worst possible human rights abusers. Hence the constant analogies between Jews/Israelis and Nazis.

Antisemitism is not just a prejudice, it’s an entire worldview that sees the Jews as responsible for the woes of the world. Hence the fact that it is often propagated as conspiracy theories about covert Jewish power. It’s as hard to argue rationally against this approach as it was to convince Torquemada that Jews weren’t really Christ-killers or to convince Hitler that Jews weren’t really racially impure. How do you “rationally” prove that you’re not a baby-killer? Even to entertain the question opens the possibility that you are, in fact, a baby-killer, just not guilty of killing this particular baby.

The scariest trend I’ve noticed in antisemitism recently, which I haven’t seen anyone else write about yet, is the idea that Jews are not “real” Jews, but white people pretending to be Jews. Who the “real” Jews are isn’t always spelt out, but it’s usually implied to be black people or Muslims. Louis Farrakhan (Nation of Islam) has been peddling this for years, but it’s suddenly gone mainstream (e.g. here for the assertion that Black people are the “TRUE Children of Israel” and that therefore Jews are “LYING antisemites”). Although perhaps directly rooted in Arthur Koestler’s disproven theory that most Jews are actually Khazars (a people from Medieval Crimea), this is basically an outgrowth of supersessionism or replacement theology, the idea in classical Christianity and Islam that the Jews were once chosen, but have now been replaced, with the church/the ummah having taken over. However, the modern version gives this a twist for the identity politics era: the Jews were once persecuted (chosen, effectively, in a system that correlates virtue to suffering), but have now been replaced. Because, again, if human rights abusers are the worst possible people, and if white people are the worst possible human rights abusers, then Jews will be white, or even the whites of the whites (the people who exploit the exploiters), regardless of how they were seen in the past; they can’t be seen as good people. Therefore stripping Jews of their “appropriated” Jewish identities (something even Hitler didn’t do) will become virtuous. This terrifies me, terrifies me enough to write about it here despite my usual fears of starting an argument.

***

The feelings of anger and perhaps some fear that triggered the rant persisted for a while. I did some ironing while listening to a shiur (religious class). I’m not sure it was a good thing for me to listen to. It was a mussar-type (ethics/personal development) shiur about being breaking lethargy. It boiled down to being more efficient. I’m not terribly efficient, which is possibly in part an autistic executive function issue. I think it’s easy for me to get caught up in self-blame and low self-esteem when I focus too hard on efficiency, although the shiur presented beating yourself up for falling short as a good strategy to succeed (I don’t think it is, certainly not for me). I also think I need some creative mind-wandering times for my writing, even for divrei Torah (Torah thoughts).

The shiur was based on the writings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piaseczno Rebbe. His idea of what a minimal amount of daily private Torah study for someone working (not in full-time yeshiva study) should be was two hours. I do not manage this. On the other hand, the rabbi giving the shiur went to the other extreme and said we should scale down to two minutes, which made me feel that most people are not studying privately if it can be reduced this much, but in pairs (chevruta) or in shiurim. I struggle with paired and group study. Either way, this just seemed to be provoking guilt. Similarly, the idea of celebrating when you achieve your aim sounded good, but I’m not sure I should be blaming myself if I do not succeed as was also suggested.

He also suggested writing a daily plan, which I do, but I fail to stick to very well, which is again probably autism. Also to set difficult goals and push yourself beyond your boundary. I feel I probably ought to be able to find a way to manage this, but I can’t.

I have drifted into total defeatism here, which may in part be hunger and tiredness, but either way, I didn’t get much out of the shiur.

It’s a shame, as the Piaseczno Rebbe‘s teachings have resonated with me in the past, but this just seem unsuited for me, given my autism and tendencies to low self-esteem and self-criticism. I feel there’s a focus on efficiency in the Orthodox world that is hard to live up to (Jewish Young Professional wrote about this here). Compared with some people on the spectrum, I’m pretty organised and efficient, but this type of thing just makes me feel inadequate.

***

I finished reading the novel The Naked Runner by Francis Clifford. It was pretty diverting, but I don’t really buy the premise that intelligence agencies would trick civilians into working for them in the way the book requires – not from scruples, but from practical reasons about training and ability.

***

I’m going to call time on this not very good (although not exactly awful) day. I’m going to post this, turn off my computer, and watch Doctor Who, if I can decide what to watch (the tyranny of choice… actually The Tyranny of Choice does actually sound like the title of a Doctor Who story!). Then go to bed and hope that tomorrow goes better. At any rate, I am spending part of the work day outside the office and have a call with my psychiatrist (hopefully… trying to set that up today was another problem which I haven’t got sorted), so at least tomorrow will be different even if it isn’t good.

Out of Spoons Error

I volunteered again today. I tried very hard not to feel stupid and useless. It’s probably not the best environment for someone on the autism spectrum, bearing in mind there are lots of people, we get verbal instructions (sometimes implicit ones) and need to use short-term memory and logical planning… It’s probably not surprising that I’m not always at my best. To be honest, the times I’ve felt most helpful have been when I’ve been given one repetitive job to do by myself for a prolonged period. I don’t mind if it’s incredibly boring, I just get into a pattern and think my own thoughts while mechanically putting tea lights in bags or whatever. I spoke a bit about this in therapy today and am now wondering if I should email in advance to volunteer for those kinds of jobs. It’s a bit scary to volunteer like that, even if I don’t say why that pattern of work suits me.

I also had a bad experience early on. I was supposed to bring some large cardboard boxes full of packets of granola down the outside fire escape staircase and into the car park. I was a bit worried about tripping down the stairs so I was going slowly to start with, but then I started feeling really faint and struggling to breathe in my mask and had to stop. I think it was primarily a blood pressure thing (my blood pressure used to be a little low), having to bend down to pick up these boxes. Wearing my mask definitely did not help, though, and I felt very faint and had to sit down outside without my mask for a few minutes to recover.

On the plus side, I do find volunteering rewarding and I think I do help. I certainly hope I don’t just get in the way. And someone I was at Oxford with who now works for the organisation that prepares the food packages was there today and I didn’t cycle down into self-criticism about not being where he is in life.

In the afternoon I wrote my devar Torah rather hurriedly. I hope it’s OK. I need to proof-read and send tomorrow. It’s frustrating not finishing things, but I didn’t want to write it all tomorrow. I tried to buy a wedding present for my closest shul (synagogue) friend’s daughter, but had problems getting it to deliver to their house rather than mine, so left that hanging over me too. Mum phoned John Lewis for me to find out what was happening; I did not have the spoons (energy). Again, I didn’t have envious thoughts of married people, which was positive.

I had a good therapy session this afternoon, but by early evening I was a bit grumpy and overwhelmed. I snapped at my Dad, which I shouldn’t have done, although I felt my point was justified if not my tone. I was buying my sister and brother-in-law an anniversary card online; Dad said I could change the font and colour and I said I was far too tired to care about that this time. It’s a question of spoons.

***

I am still feeling overwhelmed generally. I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet to going back to work, even if it is only two days a week. I suddenly have less time for writing, chores, religious obligations, exercise… I’m trying to do as much as I was doing, plus two days of work. It doesn’t really work. I did at least do some Torah study on the bus to volunteering.

***

Guilty pleasure time. I had intended to watch Blade Runner again this evening, in advance of watching Blade Runner 2049 in a week or two. But I was too exhausted and brain-not-working for something like that, so I ended up watching the James Bond film Moonraker again. Any James Bond film is a guilty pleasure for me, as I feel it’s not something a frum person “should” be watching (“should” again). But even among James Bond fans, Moonraker is considered awful. I don’t think it’s the worst Bond film by a long shot, although it probably is the silliest, not that I think that any Bond film is particularly ‘realistic.’

I could probably fill a paragraph or two on why I think Moonraker is actually a decent film, at least if you can accept a degree of silliness, but will just note Michael Lonsdale (who died recently) whose performance as villain Hugo Drax is arguably better than this film really deserved. There is definitely in my head a fruitful comparison of late seventies Bond to late seventies Doctor Who, both franchises indulging in greater humour to public acclaim, but receiving criticism from die-hard fans who complained that it was better in the sixties when it was “serious.” But I should probably not go too far down that route here, and not this late at night.

The Much-Anticipated Politics Post

I’ve mentioned a few times about wanting to write something about politics, not in a party political way, but in the sense of my moral and political intuitions and how I feel nervous about talking about them to other people. This post probably isn’t perfect, but it’s a start and I think I should just post it by this stage, so here we go…

***

There’s a good quote I came across relatively recently: “if people seem slightly stupid, they’re probably just stupid. But if they seem colossally and inexplicably stupid, you probably differ in some kind of basic assumption so fundamental that you didn’t realize you were assuming it, and should poke at the issue until you figure it out.”

If you want, please consider what follows an explanation of my colossal and inexplicable stupidity…

Like a lot of diaspora Jews, I was raised in an environment that was at least mildly left-of-centre. There was a feeling growing up that one should vote Labour/socialist (arguably not the same thing when I came of age in the Blair years) or at the very least Liberal Democrat/liberal. (It’s weird that antisemites see Jews as monolithically conservative when the reality is that most diaspora Jews seem to be left-of-centre.) As I reached my teenage years, I was influenced by two things. One was studying economics at A-Level and feeling that socialism simply doesn’t work, although I was open to more moderate state intervention in the market. The other was the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. I don’t want to make this about Israel, but I felt that the news coverage and response from politicians and NGOs was increasingly one-sided. I felt that in the space of the first decade or so of the twenty-first century the “narrative” moved from a position of “There are faults on both sides, but Israel is heavy-handed” (which is a debateable point, but not necessarily antisemitic) to the demonisation of Israel as a uniquely evil state and which implicitly has to have its very existence questioned. This is much closer to antisemitism, at least in a world where no other state has had its legitimacy questioned like this. This attitude had been present among the hard-left for decades, coming ultimately out of Soviet Bloc propaganda (the USSR backed the Arabs), but seeped into the media, NGOs and the moderate left, particularly on campuses, where the atmosphere is increasingly hostile to Jewish students, something not really reported in the mainstream media, although it’s been reported widely in the Jewish press and online. Given that Zionism and the State of Israel are a major part of my identity, as they are for most Jews, this felt like an assault on my sense of self and poisoned my view of much of the left and made it harder and harder to see myself as a part of it, even though the right was not particularly appealing.

Contrary to what many people on the left feel, I don’t think there’s anything intrinsic about contemporary progressive thought that makes prejudice less likely than among conservatives, it’s just that the prejudice expresses itself in different ways. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, Jews became identified on the left with capitalism, building on earlier antisemitic ideas about Jewish wealth and power. That idea was suppressed after the Holocaust, but has gradually crept back in, initially under the guise of anti-Zionism, but, as was seen in the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, classic antisemitic conspiracy theories and even Holocaust denial are passed around quite openly now on the hard-left.

I suppose I had pulled on a thread and gradually my beliefs began to unravel. This all happened slowly, over a decade or more of time, but I guess by about 2010 I became interested in hearing views I had never really considered before.

I think my views achieved a kind of stasis for a few years where I didn’t really identify with anything other than a vague centrism. Then came Brexit, the most seismic event in British politics in my lifetime. I described myself as a “reluctant Remainer.” I disliked aspects of the EU, especially its lack of direct democratic accountability, but felt being in was better than being out. Still, when Leave won, I thought that was that. In the months that followed, I was horrified to see people I admired, working to annul a democratic vote because they disagreed with it. There seemed to me to be a class element to this: middle class, university-educated Remainers trying to block working class Brexiteers. All the Remainer talk of gullible working class voters being “tricked” into voting Leave made it hard to avoid feeling there wasn’t a sense of entitlement buried under there stemming from access to higher education.

As I read more over the coming years, I realised this paralleled the white working class’ embrace of Donald Trump in the USA. I hated Donald Trump, but I increasingly felt he was the only prominent person who had noticed that in the move to identity politics based on race, gender and sexuality, working class and lower middle class people, some of them living close to the breadline, had been forgotten. Their incomes have stagnated for decades while the rich and university educated have got richer. I felt that Trump was manipulative and probably had limited real regard for these people; like a businessman, he saw an attractive market. All the same, he signalled a failure in the democratic process that was most pronounced in America, but present in other Western countries.

(I suppose, if you want to go down this route, that I’m part of the lower middle class “left behinds” – fifteen years after leaving university, I’ve never had a full-time job or owned a home. Of course, in my case it’s due to autism and mental illness rather than “elite over-production” (briefly, the idea that there are now more people with degrees than there are good jobs that require degrees, resulting in unemployment among people who are already in debt from university fees that they were told they would easily pay off once they started working). Even so, there is some resentment of the prosperous middle class that I try to repress, but probably is in there to some extent, I can’t deny it.)

All the same, I feel uncomfortable calling myself a “conservative.” I don’t agree with all conservative policies, for one thing. For another, I find conservative political parties worldwide fairly repulsive. What works on a local scale as communal help ends up on a national scale as strict needs-testing and rooting out of “undeserving” claimants, backed up by occasional jingoism. COVID in particular has shown the British Conservative Party as inefficient when faced with a new challenge, while Donald Trump has shamelessly ignored the science and tried to make it a partisan issue (although I don’t see Trump as a conservative in any meaningful sense).

Nevertheless, I believe in evolutionary change and tradition; in localism and third sector involvement in social care; I believe that many problems are not solvable, not by government and certainly not within one electoral cycle; I am suspicious of simplistic mono-causal explanations; I am strongly opposed to monopolies and big corporations, whether public or private-sector; and I feel excluded from identity politics, which often seems antisemitic, and which in any case I see as socially divisive. So all these thoughts would mark me out as a conservative, albeit a very particular kind of conservative, what in Britain is sometimes referred to as One Nation Conservatism for its vision of a mutually responsible national culture that transcends the divisions of class. I care about many of the issues progressives care about (poverty, discrimination and injustice, the environment), I just find their answers simplistic and often unworkable.

I’ve tried other ways of looking at the political spectrum. One recent UK survey identified seven types of political ideologies and I’m don’t fit any one of them, so that didn’t help. Other people look at “Somewheres” versus “Anywheres” – those rooted in a place and culture against cosmopolitans who value global living and policies. This has the advantage of explaining Brexit and Trump well; both appealed to parts of the established right (but not the neo-liberals), but also to parts of the working class that had not previously voted conservatively. But my “Somewhere” place doesn’t exist; inasmuch as I want to conserve somewhere, it’s a construct of Jewish identity that only exists on an abstract plane, not in a real place (not even Israel).

George Orwell divided the world into moralists and revolutionaries. Moralists think there is no point in reforming institutions while human nature is in need of reform; revolutionaries think the reverse. I suppose I would mostly be a moralist. More pertinently, Orwell also coined the phrase “Tory anarchist,” defined by the political theorist Peter Wilkin as “a form of cultural dissident, out of step with and in opposition to many features of the modern world” who has “respect for privacy and the liberty of individuals, a fear of the state and its expanding power over social life; a nostalgic and melancholy temper… ; criticism of social conformism; and a pervasive sense of pessimism about the fate of the modern world.”

This is a phrase I’ve taken to heart. I like it partly because it’s loosely defined and allows me to avoid pinning myself down, but also because it suggests to me (although perhaps not to other people) a kind of dynamic tension between opposing outlooks that I feel strongly, as opposed to a synthesis or compromise.

I suppose I think that there is no one way of running a society/economy. It’s all about what trade-offs you are willing to make. I’m not a libertarian, but the libertarian saying that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” seems to me to be inherently true, but frequently ignored. You can trade off economic growth against economic redistribution or unemployment against employment laws and minimum wage legislation and so on. It depends if you think the gain is worth the cost. I think that’s entirely sensible behaviour. The problem is that politicians rarely frame the decisions in that way; they tend to try to mislead voters into thinking that you can have it all. I’m very much opposed to that kind of short-term, simplistic thinking, whether it comes from the left or the right. I do very much see politics as a pragmatic business of balancing different positives and negatives and I feel uncomfortable with people who see it in a very redemptive, almost messianic, way, about “saving the world.” I don’t think we can save the world, only God can do that. We can just try to make it marginally less awful.

Even though I’ve moved rightwards, a lot of my friends and family are more left-wing, particularly online. The library sector is very left-wing, unsurprisingly, being based on public sector and education sector employment. On the other hand, some people in the Orthodox Jewish community are far off to my right. I haven’t been able to work out if most Orthodox Jews are right-wing, or just the most vocal ones. I mostly walk away from fights that are impossible to win and let other people believe what they like. It does leave me feeling “They would hate me if they knew me,” which is not good for my self-esteem. I do feel a lot of the time that I have to hide my sense of self, which probably isn’t healthy for me. Hence, I want to write this, just so I can see what happens and whether I can afford to open up to the world a bit more.

Sleeping, Walking, Writing

I went to bed early (for me, anyway), slept for twelve hours and woke up feeling burnt out again. By the time I got up the cleaner was here, but I was too tired to get dressed before going down for breakfast, so she saw that I was in pyjamas and dressing gown at midday. I suppose this could make me feel decadent, but mostly makes me feel lazy and useless. Then I ended up going back to bed for a bit, although I didn’t sleep. I just felt completely drained.

I can see that staying in bed so long might make me more tired, but I don’t usually wake up naturally after eight or nine hours. Even if I set an alarm, I don’t really wake up properly before I’ve turned it off in my sleep. An alarm on the other side of the room I just sleep through. Perhaps irrationally, it annoys me that I can’t work out if this is depressive burnout or autistic burnout. If depressive, why is it persisting when most of my other symptoms have gone? It’s it’s autistic, then why was I not like this as a child? I went to school every day without a problem until I was sixteen, when the depression started. Did I just have more energy or resilience then? It does make me worry about starting work next week; I hope I don’t have to cancel volunteering because it’s too much to do volunteering and therapy one day, then work the next.

I went for a walk even though it was a bit of a struggle because of exhaustion. It wasn’t terribly long, but I went slowly, because of exhaustion and because PIMOJ asked me to take some photos so she could see where I was going. That was quite a nice thing to do “together”, but stopping and starting probably neutralised the exercise aspect. I’m also not terribly good (or, to be fair, experienced) at taking photos with my phone. Still, it was a nice thing to do. I think PIMOJ would be good at getting me to do little things like that to bond or to decrease my depression (the whole photo thing came about because I said I was feeling depressed today and she said to go on a walk and then added to take photos so she could see where I’m going). I guess my fear is that sometimes I want to withdraw to my Fortress of Solitude and work things through or just sit with my emotions rather than being cheered up. Sometimes that’s the right decision for me; other times I do actually need to be cheered up (like today). I think it may take us a while to work out how to tell which is which.

I don’t know whether it was the walk or the fact that my mood usually peaks in the afternoon/early evening, but I managed to do an hour of work on my novel (admittedly with procrastination) and finished my devar Torah for the week.With the devar Torah, after saying yesterday I wasn’t satisfied with it, I actually feel happier with it now, feeling I’ve got a reasonable balance between primary sources, secondary sources and my own interpretations. Strangely, with the novel I currently feel happier with the plot thread I’ve invented from scratch than with the part that is rooted in my own experiences (and which was the original idea for the novel). The truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is better structured and probably more interesting. Also, I don’t really like the character based on me very much, which speaks volumes about my self-esteem.

This cartoon sums up a problem I’d already noticed in my novel. When I started writing a little over a year ago, I wrote an internal timeline of events (it’s a coming of age story that takes place over several years and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t accidentally have one character living through more time than the others by writing “a few months passed” too often), but I didn’t explicitly tie it to specific dates so that the book could be read as “roughly in the present” for a number of years. Then suddenly a massive, dramatic change to how we live occurred and I wonder if I should explicitly date it to be before COVID, otherwise the chronology doesn’t work. But then I worry it will feel almost like a period piece when (if?) we get to the other side of COVID.

***

I got an invitation, or a virtual invitation, to a wedding. It’s the daughter of one of my shul friends who is getting married. She is significantly younger than me as my friend is quite a bit older than me (a number of my friends are significantly older than me. I’m not sure if it speaks to my maturity or autism or something else). I’m glad I’m getting better at dealing with “older single in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community” element of my life. It’s still a bit difficult to get my head around it. I sit with my friend at shul (synagogue) and have been invited for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) meals on a number of occasions, so I do know him and his family quite well. It just feels strange to be going to a wedding for someone so much younger than me, and a Zoom wedding at that. I’m not quite sure what the protocol is regarding presents. I would struggle to go if it was an in-person wedding with noise and strangers (autism and social anxiety), but the fact that it’s over Zoom and just the ceremony makes that easier at least although I’m not sure how it will fit with my new job.

***

From a pamphlet of quotations from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that PIMOJ gave me: “Whatever one is enduring, one must muster the inner strength, as the verse says, “If I ascend to the heavens, there You are, and if I make my bed in hell, here You are,” because even in the depths of hell one can become close to God, for He is there also.” (originally from Lekutey Moharan)

3 Shopping Days to Lockdown

When my alarm went off at 9.00am (I usually set an alarm, even though I often turn it off in my sleep when it goes off), I actually thought I would get up. My mind felt reasonably alert, but my body was just too drained and burnt out after yesterday and I couldn’t get up and I fell asleep again after a few minutes. I didn’t end up getting up for another two hours, which was not good. The vaguely ill feeling I had yesterday has gone, fortunately, but I do feel drained. I’ve become better at seeing this as a symptom of autism (social burnout) rather than a sign of weakness, even before my assessment, but it is frustrating.

I think I had a dream about my novel and suddenly getting an idea for a much better novel that I had all planned out in my head and not knowing whether to switch to work on it. It’s sort of reflective of where I am at the moment, inasmuch as I worry that my mainstream novel is not working and I should switch to an idea I’ve had for a series of Jewish fantasy novels. I’m not actually going to switch at the moment as I don’t like leaving things half-finished and I want to see this project through. I also know that many authors have doubts when sitting down to extensive redrafting, so I shouldn’t set too much store by them at this stage. Nevertheless, I do wonder if the mainstream novel is going to be readable, let alone sellable.

Since writing the above, I read something, a blog post about sexual harassment. Although this is not the same as my novel (which is about domestic abuse in the Orthodox community, culminating in marital rape), it was similar enough that it made me think that I have a mission to write this book to the best of my ability and try to get it published.

***

I bought the new trainers I’ve been meaning to buy for a while. Hopefully these will support my arches better when running. My Dad took me to a big retail park with a number of warehouse-sized shops, including a sportswear shop. I wouldn’t have been able to get there easily on public transport, so I was grateful for the lift. On the other hand, when I shopping with my parents, I tend to let them take over. I guess it’s lack of confidence and social anxiety as well as a sense that I don’t know what I’m doing. Dad felt that in the past I had been sold over-priced and unsuitable running shoes by asking the shop assistants what shoes they would recommend for running. Dad said instead to go for a well-known brand (he said Nike), find some I like and then ask the assistant if they’re suitable for running. I’m not sure this is necessarily a better strategy, but I tried it and have black Nike trainers now. Hopefully they will be better for running than the previous ones.

***

My other real achievement (aside from scanning my autism assessment from 2006 to send to the psychiatrist doing my current assessment) was writing my devar Torah for this week. I am reasonably, but not completely, happy with it. It has more of a moral or even slightly polemical point than usual.

I also attended (on Zoom) a shiur (religious class) at my shul (synagogue). I was attracted by the fact that it was based on the teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the early twentieth century Hasidic rebbe and Holocaust martyr. I read his book Sacred Fire a few months ago and was very moved; I quoted a few times here ideas about suffering and God’s empathy.

A few points I took from the shiur were that hinukh (education) should be about revealing the potential of the student; that we should aim for nothing less than spiritual greatness in our lives and not accept mediocrity; that we should daven (pray) as much as we are able, which sometimes might be less than other times (this was important to me as I can’t always daven properly due to depression and burnout) and to focus in prayer on consciousness of standing before God; and that we should be human and eat, drink and rejoice with our friends. The element that I struggled with was the injunctions to avoid sadness and worry; it is hard to tell what to do when these become pathological depression and anxiety.

Autism Assessment (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boy in the Bubble

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Striving

It’s September. “Harvest has passed, summer is gone, but we have not been saved.” (Yirmiyah/Jeremiah 8.20) COVID is still with us and I still feel uncomfortable being near other people or entering a shop, as I had to do today. The autumn Jewish festivals are approaching and I feel unprepared for those too, uncertain of whether I will even feel comfortable setting foot in my shul (synagogue), given the risk of infection and the discomfort of having to wear a mask.

***

I got up at 10.15am again, which is good, but I wish I could get up an hour earlier (at least). I guess I wish I was a morning person when I’m really not one, but 10.15 seems very late, even if I’ve got up later. I did feel too tired to get dressed straight after breakfast and ended up reading online (including a depressing article on Minneapolis in Tablet Magazine, which probably wasn’t the best thing to read) while the coffee slowly kicked in. Again, this was a bad habit I wanted to kick, but haven’t managed to do so yet. I am probably trying to change too much of my life at the moment without enough of a plan; when I do a cheshbon nafesh (moral/religious self-assessment) later this week in preparation for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), I should try to set myself some realistic goals.

***

I was sent an email on high functioning autism and social interactions. This was as a result of the autism support group Zoom meeting last week. There was a list of attractive qualities in friends or partners often found in people on the spectrum. One was “detail orientated.” This is one of the things autistic people are known for, at least in stereotype, the trainspotter-type with an encyclopaedic and detailed knowledge of some very arcane topic, as well as the ability to focus on very mundane and repetitive tasks.

I wonder if I still have that detail orientation. I feel I used to have it, but I don’t any more, except I suppose about Doctor Who. As I’ve said before, in the last few years I feel I’ve lost my ability to focus on details when cataloguing or in the practise exam work I was doing the last few days. I don’t know what has caused this change. Maybe just a loss of confidence, maybe something more troubling.

I spoke about this a bit on the depression group Zoom call. People said that I should try to do things and see if that will bring my confidence back up, which I know is sensible, I’m just not sure how to go about it. I think that unemployment, and my previous unsuccessful jobs, have sapped my self-confidence about work just as lockdown and isolation have worsened my social anxiety and lack of self-confidence about socialising.

***

“The fact that a person is always prone to stumble, to deviate from justice and morality, does not discredit his perfection, since the basis of his perfection is the constant striving and the desire for perfection.” From The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems, emphasis added.

***

I finished The Islamist and moved on to the latest Jewish Review of Books. I find that the JRB covers all aspects of the Jewish experience: religion, history, Israel, culture and so on in a fairly balanced way not easy with a civilisation 3,000 years old and spread across the entire globe, but I feel it does ascribe slightly out-sized importance to various “classic” twentieth century American Jewish writers and critics. People like Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Lionel Trilling. This issue we got five pages on Philip Roth, which seemed excessive (articles in the JRB are usually two to four pages long); for comparison, last issue the Bible only got three pages. I’m being slightly facetious, but I do think there is sometimes an excessive focus on twentieth century American literature, although as it’s mostly an American publication, maybe there’s more desire for Philip Roth than (I don’t know) Mendele Mocher-Seforim, Rav Saadia Gaon, or Jewish society in eighteenth century Poland.

***

Achievements: I worked on my novel and finished reading through the book as a whole for the first time. There’s a lot I want to change and it’s hard to assess my own work, but it’s not as awful as it might have been. I think there are some good bits in there, or bits that could be good with more work. I also went for a walk and did shopping. I spent an hour and a half cooking dinner, which was a bit longer than I wanted. I only did half an hour of Torah study, but I did finish reading Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs) in Hebrew, a couple of weeks earlier than I expected. I went to depression group via Zoom too. I had some trouble with my connection which made it somewhat frustrating, especially as other people had connection problems too.

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

The Perfect Storm

I want to get into a better sleep pattern, so I asked my Dad to wake me up and open my blinds in the morning. It didn’t really work; I just went back to sleep. I’m so drained when I wake up in the mornings, even if I’ve had a lot of sleep, and also quite down, which is probably related to being drained. I used to say, “It’s depression,” but now I’m not sure if I’ve been clinically depressed in recent months. I guess now I can say, “It’s autistic burnout” although it probably isn’t, at least not every day.

I struggled with the job exam thing today. I had poor concentration and struggled to take in what I was trying to learn. I was just staring at the screen, unable to process what I was reading; alternatively, I procrastinated online. I’m struggling learn all the abbreviations and special words used in the process. I guess I’ve lost enthusiasm for it too. I felt tearful and depressed while trying to study for it, so maybe I am still depressed after all. I said a few days ago that my depression is now reactive to my life situation (unemployment; loneliness; Mum’s cancer) and the season/light level and not based on unresolved childhood issues. I think this is maybe not as significant a distinction as I had hoped.

I’m struggling on to try and get this job, and I’m not quite sure why, given it’s underpaid and not directly related to my career progression, as well as requiring unpaid self-training in a short timescale. I guess I’m desperate for a job, more for self-esteem than money (I don’t spend much and my parents are letting me stay without rent). Also, I suppose, to make myself more attractive to potential dates, but today I don’t feel like that that’s going to work out for me either (see below).

If I had more time, maybe I could learn this stuff, but I’m struggling to learn it in less than a week. I hope things might be a little easier once I practise with the practise data, but I need to read the user guide first, which is taking ages.

The fact that it feels like winter doesn’t help matters, with heavy rain. I wanted to go for a walk, but it was too wet. Dad had to drive me to the pharmacist to pick up my prescription. It’s less than ten minutes away on foot, but I would have got soaked.

Reading Ashley’s latest post, I wonder if I’ve internalised stigma. I feel I “only” have depression (the vanilla ice cream of mental illness), not anything that would “allow” me to be really ill, and that I would be better off if I had a job. Actually, the latter is probably true in my case, at least if I could find a job that was within my capabilities, part-time, in a safe environment, with a supportive line manager. My job in early 2019 was like that. I was hoping the job I’m applying for would be like that, but so far it has not been like that. However, I did feel a bit better after doing some ironing today, which I think was occupational therapy on some level.

***

I just feel exhausted and useless today, and rather desperate. A perfect storm of depression, despair, loneliness, low self-esteem and touch hunger. I’m trying to tell myself that I can build a career, preferably as a writer, and that I can find love, but it’s hard to believe sometimes. It feels like dating, job hunting and working are all necessary for my recovery, but all also require tremendous resources of energy, motivation, concentration and self-belief that I can’t access because of depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. I could probably say the same for other activities that are supposed to be good for me, like exercise, meditation and prayer.

I can see that there’s a lot of catastrophising going on today (“Everything is awful”), along with black and white thinking (“Things aren’t perfect, therefore they’re absolutely awful”) and emotional reasoning (“I feel bad, therefore everything must be objectively bad”). It’s not always easy to deal with those unhelpful thinking styles (black and white thinking in particular is basically the default autistic thinking style), but I guess it’s a start that I can spot them.

***

In terms of what may have triggered all this… aside from the onset of autumn… aside from the awful self-training I’m doing under pressure… aside from the stuff that has been in the background for months (COVID, Mum’s cancer)… it doesn’t help that I’m worried I scared off the women I was messaging on JDate. It’s probably too early to tell, but I do feel like I may have done that. I’m waiting for some replies and feeling very negative. I let my anxiety (possibly even OCD) get the better of me in one conversation the other day and said something stupid and now I’ve probably scared her off for good.

I’m questioning whether I did the right thing breaking up with E. again. Deep down, I know (in my “wise mind”) that I made the right decision, even if I can’t go into my reasons here (I know to readers here it seemed to be a sudden, impulsive decision, but it wasn’t). But emotionally it’s easy to think, “Oh, if only I was still in a relationship.”

In a weird way… I wonder if doing the job stuff instead of working on my novel today brought down my mood. Lately I have been feeling better; I’ve also been feeling that I’ve been making progress on my novel. Coincidence? Inasmuch as I believe I have any understanding of my mission in life (I believe everyone has a mission in life, it’s just not always easy to find it), it’s writing Jewish-related fiction. When I was pursuing that, I seemed happier. Suddenly I was talking to someone on JDate who also writes. Then I pause the novel, and suddenly my mood drops, I can’t function and I worry I’ve upset the JDater and cut her off. Some of that may be coincidence, but I don’t think I have to be superstitious to think that distancing myself from what I see as my vocation (writing) to do something that is strenuous, badly paid and which I worry will trigger my OCD (long story) might have triggered my depression again.

I don’t know how I “sell” this interpretation to other people though.

***

A WhatsApp devar Torah I listened to spoke about trust in God being rooted in awe of God, i.e. if we recognise that God controls everything in our lives, we will trust everything will be for the best. I find that hard when it seems like so much of my life has been negative (and I haven’t even had such a bad life compared to many people). I guess I feel that if God wanted my life to become good, He would have done it by now. It’s hard to think of having twenty really bad years and then suddenly everything is OK. I believe God could do that (He can do anything), yet from looking at the world, it seems such sudden and miraculous interventions are rare and I don’t know how I could deserve such a fate. An analogy: I believe that one day God will send the Messiah to redeem the world, but if I saw someone in the street claiming that he was the Messiah, I would assume he is probably suffering from a mental illness, even though I believe that theoretically it could be the real Messiah.

***

My GP at Oxford used to tell me “A bad day is just a bad day,” but there’s always a fear that one bad day will lead to two and then three and then keep snowballing.

***

Achievements: I spent a couple of hours trying to train for the job, but I don’t know how much sunk in. I did some ironing. I listened to divrei Torah for about five minutes.

Someone, Somewhere, Somehow, Some Time

I went to bed at midnight, which is relatively early for me. I was emotionally exhausted. I wanted to get up between 8.00am and 9.00am in case my work exam came through early, but although my parents woke me up when they went to the hospital at 8.30am, I fell asleep again until they came home just after 10.00am. I guess I was still emotionally exhausted. The good news is that when I finally did manage to get up, I was tired, but not particularly depressed, so hopefully I have avoided a relapse into full-blown clinical depression despite being so upset yesterday. I feel upset about what happened with me and E., yet I can’t see what I could have done differently. It’s sad knowing that we could have stayed together if COVID hadn’t intervened, but it does feel like something from God, something outside of my control. I think, given what happened, I made the right decision, but it’s hard.

I haven’t heard back from either the women I was talking to on JDate today. I’m mostly OK with that as I needed some space today after yesterday. I possibly messed up one conversation due to anxiety at the weekend and scared her off. I guess that’s one of those things. I probably was getting over-excited about those conversations anyway. It’s good to come back to reality a bit. I felt calm about dating this morning, quietly confident that I’ll find someone, somewhere, somehow, some time, even if it takes a long time.

***

The job application exam came through at 3.15pm… except that it isn’t just an exam. There’s a whole thick set of instructions to go through, nearly seventy pages, and a one hour webinar, followed by thirty sets of practise data and only then will I be sent the exam itself. I have to finish all the practice data and the exam by 11.59pm on Tuesday evening. It all looked complicated and daunting. I know, I have two degrees, one of which is from Oxford, but lately I doubt myself all the time and have no confidence in my ability to do anything. For example, I’ve wanted to play Risk with my parents recently, but it’s so long since I’ve played that I can’t remember the rules and I worry I won’t be able to relearn them, that’s how little self-confidence I have right now.

After half an hour reading the guidelines, I was not very far in and was in full “I can’t do this, I’m a screw-up, I’m not going to get the job, the women I’m talking to on JDate are going to stop talking to me because I can’t get a job” self-critical/catastrophising mode. The calm of the morning had gone.

I did regain some calm later. The worst that can happen is I try the test and fail the exam. Then I’ve wasted a few days. The job is not relevant to my career. It uses some librarian skills, but does not specifically require a trained librarian (hence low salary and no requirement for librarians on the job description). I have some reservations about the job, which I won’t go into here, but I won’t really know how justified they are without trying the practise data and exam. And, yes, I realise that I’m essentially being made to train myself quickly and for free, with no certainty of a job at the end of it, rather than being given a job and then being trained by the company, on their time. But I feel like I don’t have better options right now.

I had a chat with my parents about this. They say they’re happy to keep supporting me while I’m unemployed as long as I keep searching for new jobs and pestering the agencies (which I admit I’m not very good at, pestering people does not come easily to me, at least not deliberately). I feel stuck because I’m too advanced for graduate trainee roles, but my employment history and career progression are too inconsistent for higher jobs. A number of difficult jobs (or jobs that were made difficult by autism) and a bad result on some cataloguing tests have eroded my self-confidence in my ability to function as a librarian and especially to catalogue, or to work in any remotely noisy and busy environment. I apply for jobs that I think I can do, but there don’t seem to be that many. I’m not sure if that’s a self-confidence issue or a lack of jobs in the sector or COVID or all of the above.

There is, inevitably, also the feeling of “How will I get a girlfriend/spouse if I can’t get a job?” I don’t really have an answer to that at the moment, particularly as “I can write for money” isn’t working out well at the moment.

***

It’s nearly September and the nights are drawing in, which means the light level will soon start to bring my mood down. It would be a shame if I got over the depression, only to slump back because of autumn, unemployment and single-hood/loneliness and guilt over E.

***

I forgot to mention yesterday that Mum has now been told that the household only needs to shield for three days before her operation, not two weeks, as she was originally told. That will be a lot easier for all of us.

***

I’m reading The Islamist, Ed Husain’s account of his time as an Islamist (Islamic fundamentalist) and how he left the movement. It’s interesting to see the similarities and differences between Jewish fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism (the big difference is that Jewish fundamentalists don’t really want to change/convert/conquer the world, they just want to run away from it and build high walls so it can’t get in). I’m about two thirds of the way through; Husain is leaving radical Islam and looking for a more spiritual alternative.

It made me think about the lack of spirituality in my life. The person on JDate who I fear I scared off is very spiritual and more aware of God than pretty much anyone I’ve met before. I hoped maybe if the relationship worked out some of that would rub off on me.

In terms of spiritual thought systems and movements in Judaism, kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) doesn’t do much for me. Practical kabbalah (magic, essentially) is anti-rationalist in a way that does not work for me at all. More theoretical kabbalah just confuses me. I’m not sure how monotheistic it is, but beyond that I just can’t take in the complex systems describing God. I like the ethics of Hasidism, but struggle with the kabbalistic underpinnings, and the constant joy does not work for me with my melancholic personality, even aside from depression. Likewise the loud and performative attitude to davening (prayers) does not work well with autism. I like the teachings of the Kotzker Rebbe (Hasidic leader), but he’s been dead for 160 years and I don’t know how to bring that to the present. I’m interested in Mussar, the Jewish movement for ethical self-development, but I struggled to bring it into my life. For a while I tried reading Mussar texts and doing kabbalot (daily actions to stimulate certain ethical character traits; no relation to kabbalah), but it became just another “Should” for me to beat myself up about, so I stopped.

I just started reading a collection of texts by Rav Kook. The first text in the collection is The Lights of Penitence, so I thought it was appropriate for the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rav Kook was a mystical writer, but not a straightforward kabbalist and not an anti-rationalist at all, an interesting thinker who is not easily put in a box. Universalist as well as particularlist too. I’m hoping this volume will help me, but it’s taken the better part of a week to read the prefaces and introduction. What I’ve read of his writings in the past interests me, but, again, I don’t know where I go with those thoughts on a day to day level. Rav Kook is considered one of the founders of Religious Zionism, but the Religious Zionist movement homed in on just a part of his thought (settling the land of Israel) which doesn’t interest me so much.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour and twenty minutes on my novel, and nearly two more hours on job stuff (including the long chat I had with my parents about it). I went for a half hour walk (sadly no time/energy for a run today). I also spent forty minutes on my devar Torah, although I was really recycling an old devar Torah from years ago, expanding it and improving the use of sources. I spent about half an hour on additional Torah study. That’s not an insignificant amount of achievements, particularly considering my mood was all over the place, but I wanted to do more on the novel, more on the job stuff and more Torah study.

ANXIOUS!!! Scrupulous?

In the last few days I’ve been feeling confident in some ways, not in others.  I feel curiously confident about my ability to write – I don’t think I’m a great author and I’ve definitely got a lot to learn, but I feel I could write.  However, I don’t feel confident about my ability to get published, in terms of producing what publishers want as well as persevering through rejection and learning the technical procedures for laying out submissions and so on.

I’ve found a job to apply for that might be good for me.  It’s slightly unusual.  The job description was not detailed, but it involves working to improve search engines by rating keywords and search terms.  From the company site, I think it is really about training AI algorithms, although I won’t be doing the technical stuff, just collecting data.  The attraction is (a) although not intended for a librarian/information manager, my information management skills may be useful, (b) I can work from home, (c) I have flexible hours, maximum 20 hours a week.  So this would be in a non-stressful environment (home), allowing me to work, say, 10am-6pm each day, three days a week with two days for writing!  It is a freelance, contract position, so no job security, but you can say that about most jobs nowadays (even before COVID).  I spent nearly two hours applying (one of those annoying cases where they want a CV plus an online application form that just paraphrases your CV).

***

Eliza recommended Shabbat.com as a dating site, which I had not heard of (I’d possibly heard of it as a site to find a Shabbat host, but not as a dating site).  I signed up and created a profile.  Unlike JDate, it’s free.  There were a lot of Anglo-Jewish women on there (including the daughter of friends of my parents who lives down the road and who my Dad has been trying to set me up with for years, but I’ve never seen the slightest sign that she’s interested in me), but I just got overwhelmed and shut it down.  Sigh.  Maybe I don’t have the stamina for online dating, to contact so many people to try to find The One.  It’s an effort for me to open up to anyone.  I suppose it does reassure me that there are women out there, if only I could work out how to meet them.  Someone has to like me, right?  (No, they don’t, says my inner critic.)

I couldn’t cancel my JDate subscription (the three day grace period turned out to be only in parts of America) so am committed for three months and might as well use them.  Losing £90 is a pain, but it’s only money, and money isn’t a huge problem for me right now (I have no job, but I also have no life beyond buying occasional books and DVDs, mostly second-hand and cheap; my parents aren’t charging me rent).  I’m trying to focus on trusting God that everything is for the best, even if nothing works out and it all just turns out to be expensive social anxiety exposure therapy.

That was my thought in the early afternoon, when I realised I couldn’t cancel.  Since then, four people sent me a “flirt” on JDate, which as far as I can tell is a way of signifying interest in someone’s photo and profile without saying anything substantive in case they don’t reciprocate.  You just get a message saying “Person X sent you a flirt” and you can decide whether to respond with a more substantial message or not.  Two of the flirters didn’t have information or photos on their profiles beyond living in the US, so I put them to one side for now.  Both looked slightly suspicious (beyond the lack of data) in apparently being willing to date anyone from 35 to 75, which seemed an suspiciously large age range.

As for the women who looked more legitimate, one is Modern Orthodox, but living in the States – which is not impossible given my experience with E.  The other is from someone whose profile says she’s “culturally Jewish,” but when I responded to her flirt with a short message introducing myself, she sent me a longer message which seems very religious.  It is true that some people really don’t like labels and particularly “Orthodox” (which admittedly is kind of a dour and unattractive thing to call yourself: “Right-thinking”).  I’m going to respond to her before going to bed, and to the American woman tomorrow – I don’t think I have the stamina to reply to both now (see below for why).

I guess it’s nice to be thought attractive, given that these women “flirted” me based on a photo and a short profile.  Still, the thought of actually messaging them, or anyone else on either site, makes me feel anxious.  When I’m single and lonely, I just feel how nice it would be to be in a relationship with someone I like and trust.  I forget that to build a relationship of love and trust, I have to start by talking to a lot of women I don’t know and am scared of, and face a lot of rejection.  At the moment, I want to cower under the table until my bashert (soul-mate) finds me.   Sadly, life doesn’t work like that.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased at getting a reaction, though, nor that both these women, but particularly the UK-based one, seem like the type of person I would be looking to meet.

***

I’ve been feeling very anxious today about both applying for the job and internet dating and I wonder if the latter at least is not more than just social anxiety.  ‘Pure O’ OCD (obsessions without compulsions) can sometimes be called “scrupulosity,” because sufferers are often obsessed with being morally perfect.  In the past I have had this with Jewish dietary laws (on the plus side: yesterday someone did something at home that would have sent me into a huge panic and sending emails to rabbis just a couple of years ago and I was fine with it, so I’ve made progress there at least).

While I’m not sure I have scrupulosity regarding dating in a strictly clinical sense sense, I do have a lot of worries about not wanting to mislead women, not wanting to waste their time dating them if I think it won’t work out and so on.  It adds to general social anxiety about dating and makes it hard to cope.  I can have it a bit (to a much lesser extent) with job applications, trying to be honest in my application about my skills and experience.  Whether because of autistic black-and-white thinking or scrupulosity (autistic people are disproportionately likely to suffer from OCD), I have always struggled with the idea that it’s OK to bend the truth a little on job applications, or that it’s OK to chat on dating sites with women up to a point without being sure that you want to go out with them.

Because of the tendency in frum circles to only date if ready to marry, I kind of feel I shouldn’t date without a firm career and good mental health, but if I pursue a career as a writer, I may never have real job security (if anyone does these days) and I don’t think my mental health is ever going to be perfect.

After I’d done all of this, I remembered an email from my rabbi mentor some time ago where he said I should just try to meet a lot of women to see what I want/need from a relationship.  That sounds weirdly unrabbinic advice, but I’m pretty sure it’s what he said (although I can’t find the email).

I did find the email where he said it’s OK to email two or more women at once, as long as I don’t do that once I move one relationship to the point where we’re actually dating.

***

Achievements: aside from job application, setting up a dating profile and messaging on JDate… thirty-five minutes of Torah study (I might try to do a little more) and a run.  So a pretty busy day.  The run led to another exercise migraine, sadly.  I only realised after the run, and after the headache had set in, that I hadn’t davened Minchah (said afternoon Prayers), so it was a struggle to do that by the deadline.  I pushed myself to start, then I stopped and had to go to the toilet because I was retching, came back and restarted, stopped and actually threw up… even then I wanted to finish the service until I realised how silly it seemed.  I suppose it shows how much I push myself to do what I feel I “should” do religiously without taking into account my health.

A Matter of Trust

I had a headache when I went to bed last night which got worse when I was lying down, as often happens to me, so I ended up getting up and watching Star Trek: Voyager at two in the morning and then sleeping even later than normal, which was not good.  At least it was a comedic episode, rather than some heavy emotional drama or political parable.  Then I feel asleep in the afternoon today from the heat.

I think the combination of heat, continued lockdown and shielding Mum, and finishing the first draft of my novel have left a bit of a “now what?” feeling.  I’m not depressed exactly, just exhausted, but it’s hard to get motivated to do anything.  I do think having a short break from writing is a good idea, but I think deep down I really want to get back to it.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think more of a break would be helpful.  I’m still reading books about writing and wondering if they are helpful of counter-productive.  It’s hard to tell.

***

I’m struggling with Torah study from lack of engagement.  I’m not studying anything that really excites me at the moment.  My Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) study currently is Mishlei (Proverbs), which I’m struggling with.  I think it’s the “wisdom literature” outlook that good is always rewarded and evil always punished in this world, which I find simplistic.  “Wisdom literature” was a genre in many countries in the Ancient Near East, not just Israel and Judea, associated with the scribes at royal court.  It aimed to set out advice for living a good life, based on following the dictates of wisdom rather than other impulses.  It tends towards pithy aphorisms which makes Mishlei one of the more quotable books of Tanakh, but also feels like it’s making sweeping statements.  I think Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is something of a critique of this outlook.  Kohelet is in many ways structured like wisdom literature, but is very conscious that the righteous are often not rewarded in this world.  (I have a whole theory of why some books of the Bible assume that reward and punishment occurs in a very obvious and simplistic sense and others take a different, more complex, view that I can share if anyone’s interested.)

To be honest, I find studying Tanakh challenging at times in general, although I do at times find it very rewarding too.  There’s such a weight of expectation on “The Bible” to be life-changing and inspirational that it can be hard to engage with it.  I don’t really understand how Protestants in particular seem to be able to “converse” with the Bible in a very personal way, although I used to be able to do that more than I can now.  I find the Koren Maggid Tanakh series of books really helpful at explaining the historical background and literary style of the books of Tanakh, but it’s an ongoing series and they haven’t published volumes on all the books of Tanakh yet – plus the Koren books focus on the straightforward contextual meaning of the text, which isn’t always the inspirational side – the sense of “Why did someone find this meaningful enough to canonise it?”

The weight of history on Tanakh can be off-putting too, like watching a classic film like Citizen Kane for the first time and not knowing if you like it or merely think you should like it.  Citizen Kane is a good example, as nowadays it doesn’t look so impressive because so many of its startling innovations have become cinematic standards.  Similarly, a lot of what Western civilisation took from biblical ethics is so ingrained that we assume that all societies believe the same thing and don’t realise how revolutionary Tanakh was and only notice where the biblical ethic does not match modern standards.

(Sorry, that was a big tangent.  I guess that was autistic special interest mode.)

Likewise the Mishnah I’m studying, Seder Zeraim, Masechet Terumot, agricultural laws, is rather dry and separate from my life.

Because of this feeling of disconnection I just ordered Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, both because I want to read more Levinas (observant Jewish Existentialist philosopher) and because I want to study some Talmud without moving on from my weekly Talmud class, which is on hold during lockdown.  I also ordered Rav Kook’s Lights of Penitence because I also want to read more Rav Kook and it’s appropriate as we move towards Elul and Tishrei, the time of the year focused on introspection and repentance.  Hopefully that will give me more variety in my Torah study and something more inspirational and meaningful to my everyday life.  Still, I am conscious that I just spent nearly £50 on books.  Buying too many books (more than I can read, at any rate) is not the worst vice, but I do tend to assume that all my problems can be solved by buying more books, which is not necessarily the case here (or elsewhere).

***

Achievements: I posted on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a while, which was good (posting something I mostly wrote a few days ago, but hadn’t posted).  Also, despite what I wrote above about Torah study, I did manage about fifty minutes of Torah study again today.  I also cooked dinner (Hungarian pepper ragout with rice, which I had only cooked once before; this time I topped it with a fried egg, which is not healthy, but tasted good).

I’m not sure what the opposite of “achievements” is, but in terms of negative things, I got a rejection from a job I applied for some time ago and I think I messed up a social interaction online with someone I particularly didn’t want to upset (not that there are people I do want to upset, but you know what I mean).  I also wanted to go for a walk at dusk as I did yesterday, but it started raining.  By the time I realised it had stopped, I was too tired and it was too late.  It looks like thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, which will limit my ability to go out.

***

When my therapist suggested limiting my internet time, she said not to see it as another “Should,” but just an experiment.  She was worried that if I couldn’t stick to it, I would beat myself up.  I haven’t completely stuck to it, but I haven’t beaten myself up either.  I am pleased to be online less and seem to be happier, although I do worry a bit about not being well-informed of the news.  I am procrastinating less, although I’m not sure where the gained time is going.  Certainly the whole experiment has made me more mindful of when I go online or check my emails; I don’t do that casually any more, without thinking, but do it consciously and deliberately even if I’m doing it outside the approved times.

***

A thought I had last night: I need to learn to trust myself and to trust God.

I want to feel that I’ve achieved something with my life, that I’ve fulfilled my mission, or at least that I am on course to fulfil it.  I don’t think a person’s mission is necessarily tied up completely with his or her career or family responsibilities, but I do feel that I have achieved very little that is worthwhile in my life.  This is why I find it so hard to trust myself or love myself, because I feel unworthy because I am not doing what I was put here to do.

On the other hand, I find it hard to trust God because I want to know that I will have a successful, loving marriage at some point, or at least to know that I can cope with being alone (without my parents, which will happen one day).  I find it hard to trust that God will arrange for me to get married, or that He will give me the tools I need to cope with being single forever.  Or perhaps I feel that He will give me the tools, but I won’t use them, in which case it’s about trusting myself again.

I’m not sure how I find this trust.  I certainly don’t know how to learn to accept being single forever.  Sometimes I feel I could explode from loneliness and sexual frustration.

***

I posted this comment on Ashley’s blog post about self-stigma today and thought I would share here:

I think I have a lot of self-stigma, partly about my depression and social anxiety, but also about autism, paradoxically, often combined with “Maybe I’m not really on the autism spectrum and I’m just a freak” thoughts.

I suppose that, like a lot of people on the spectrum, well-meaning adults socialised me to think that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to do or think the things I wanted to think. That I shouldn’t stim and I should force myself to talk to people because “it will get easier if I try” among other things. Maybe they were right about some of these things, but I guess the cumulative effect is to make me doubt myself and to feel that there is a “normal type of person” and that my behaviour as a depressed autistic person is abnormal and that this is wrong in itself and responsible for many of my issues, such as unemployment, singledom and loneliness. If only I could stop being a “freak” (one of my favourite terms for myself, you may have noticed) and become “normal,” all my problems would be solved.

Of course, none of the authority figures in my life had any knowledge of high functioning autism when I was a child; the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (as it was called) didn’t even get into the DSM [psychiatric diagnostic manual] until I was eleven and wasn’t well-known for many years after that.

Even now I make more eye contact than many people on the spectrum even though my natural preference, like many autistic people, is to avoid eye contact. This is because I was told to make eye contact as a child and I internalised that message (not knowing about autism at that age) so I very consciously force myself to make eye contact, and usually quietly freak out in my head about making too much eye contact, or too little, or the wrong type; if I feel I’m not making enough eye contact, or too much, I blame myself rather than accept it.

Post-Success Depression and Negative Self-Talk

I still feel very depressed.  I don’t know if this is about finishing the first draft of my novel or something else, something I don’t want to talk about here.  If it is about my novel, I had something similar when I was doing my MA: I would struggle against depression to finish an assignment, but when I handed it in, instead of feeling positive, I would feel more depressed and often be unable to start the next assignment for weeks.  It took me nearly three and a half years to finish a course that should have taken one academic year.

***

I was thinking of buying some more music and graphic novels and maybe some war gaming miniatures to paint (I don’t play war games any more, but sometimes I paint the models).  Then I started thinking that this was retail therapy, and I felt more guilty about it, and just started procrastinating, which is a worse problem than retail therapy, at least with the relatively small sums of money I’m thinking of spending.  In the end I bought two graphic novels, but am undecided as to whether to buy the miniatures.  It would be good to do something that doesn’t involve thinking (I guess there’s running), but I feel depressed when comparing miniatures painted by me recently with the much better ones painted in my teens, before I had medication-related tremor, and perhaps when my concentration and will power were better.

***

I finished fiddling around with my iTunes playlists, which was good.  I’ve been meaning to sort them out for a while now.  That was my main achievement for the day, alongside my usual pre-Shabbat chores.  I did a little Torah study, and I’ll probably do a bit more later, but it’s hard to do anything today.  It’s partly depression and exhaustion, but also the heat and humidity, which are both high today and make me uncomfortable.

***

I had another weird dream about conflict with my religious community, where a bunch of thugs mobbed the car I was in when it pulled over (which for some reason was being driven by Hugo Drax, the villain of the James Bond film Moonraker) and then I realised they were frum men, with suits and fedoras, and then I recognised some of them from shul.  That might be part of the reason why I woke up depressed and exhausted again.

I’m not sure why that conflict is on my mind when I haven’t had any real contact with the community for five months or so and am not likely to have any for another couple of months at least.  Maybe that’s it, though.  Maybe I’ve forgotten the good parts and the people I like and am only thinking about the negative.  Certainly there’s a lot of social anxiety over going to shul (synagogue) again, wondering if I can remember what to do and how to behave (I mean behave socially more than religiously, although that too, I guess), as well as autistic anxiety about wearing masks and the changed layout of the shul being different and confusing.  Shul has been reopened for a few weeks now, but I haven’t gone as we’re still shielding Mum as she’s immuno-suppressed and the risk is just too great.

Related to that, I don’t know when going to a shop is going to feel safe again.  I’ve hardly been in any for months.  The only one I really go to is the pharmacist, to collect my anti-depressants, but that’s awkward as not only is it often busy, but the post office is in the same shop, separated by a partition wall and that’s also often busy and people have to queue from the post office section into the pharmacist section.  I’d like to go to the nearby charity shop to browse second-hand books and DVDs as I know that’s something that de-stresses me a bit, but I just don’t dare to.

***

I wrote in yesterday’s post about blaming my teenage/early twenties self for not being more social.  After I turned off my computer, I remembered something I once said in therapy, that if I think of my very young self, say five or six years old or younger, I feel a great deal of love and compassion towards him, but I think of my somewhat older self (eight or ten years old and up) suddenly a whole load of negative feelings and internalised anger/aggression comes out about him (me) being too clever, aloof, irritating, an unintentional show-off, a Doctor Who obsessive to the exclusion of all else (even more than I am now…) and so on.  I’m guessing this is because the difficulties of my childhood started when I was somewhat older and that’s the time that I internalised negative thoughts and feelings about myself.  It is hard to know what to do with these thoughts.

***

I just heard that Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz died today (barukh dayan ha’emet).  He was a great man.  Among his many achievements was translating the Talmud into Modern Hebrew (most of the Talmud is written in Aramaic) and writing explanatory commentary, and then overseeing its translation into English and, I think, Russian.  It’s not the only current English translation, but it is very accessible and while the Artscroll Talmud (its main competitor in English translation) is focused on the detail of halakhic (legal) debate and only uses traditional sources, the Steinsaltz one is more focused on basic comprehensibility and uses modern sources and photos (of plants, ancient artifacts, etc.) to illustrate the social and material context of the Talmud.

He wrote many other books too, including a few I own.  I’m very fond of his book Simple Words and his translation of some of the stories of Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav, again with commentary.

He was an important figure for me, not just because of the books that I have read, but also his attitude, being in some ways very traditional and Hasidic and in other ways very modern (he was originally a scientist before becoming a rabbi).  I believe his yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) taught Jewish philosophy and creative writing alongside the traditional yeshiva Talmud curriculum.  He once said, “An intellectual is not necessarily a university professor: he can also be a shoemaker.  An intellectual is a person of boundless curiosity, who has the desire and the ability to discuss everything, and the spark that can make something new out of anything.”  We can apply this to Rabbi Steinsaltz himself.

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

Another Busy Day

I woke up early today, at least by my usual standards.  I usually wake up in the early morning, but then I feel tired and usually fall asleep again until much later.  I decided the other day that I would try to force myself to stay up, which I managed today.  I was pretty tired (even though I had about seven hours of sleep), but I managed it.  I was OK once I drank coffee and I was glad to get an earlier start on the day and say the morning Shema and Amidah on time.

I did doze for half an hour in the afternoon though.

Achievements (although the above are really achievements too): I spent two hours on my novel and finished another chapter.  Only one more chapter to go!  I’m up to 72,000 words too, which is novel length, just about.  Hopefully the manuscript will grow a bit in redrafting.  The time taken to write each chapter seems to be becoming shorter too, even though they chapters are mostly the same length.  I have mixed feelings about the quality though.  Some of that is probably low self-esteem and it is just a first draft.  My English teacher used to say that a first draft is 99% of the work, and for non-fiction I would tend to agree, but I think writing fiction is more organic and individual and I need to redraft more, particularly as I’ve never written something this long before.

I did an hour of Torah study, much of it difficult Mishnah, which was good.

I also went for a half hour walk.  My ankle felt a bit strange when I woke up.  I’m not sure how to describe it – kind of weak and fragile.  It wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it.  I think something is wrong when I run, but I’m not sure if it’s my trainers or if I’m running incorrectly (it can happen).  I don’t really want to go shopping for new trainers at the moment because I’m avoiding shops except for essential items to shield Mum.  I could mail order, but my parents have put me off that by saying that returning them would be hard if they’re a bad fit.

I attended depression group online via Zoom.  I hadn’t attended for a while because I’ve been having therapy on Mondays and was too tired after that to go, but I’ve moved therapy to Wednesdays so that I can go again, plus my therapist is away this week anyway.  I mentioned my novel and people were really supportive, which was nice.

My mood was mostly good today, although it was drifting downwards when I dozed off in the afternoon, so maybe it was just as well that I fell asleep at that point.  My mood did dip slightly into self-recrimination and worry while walking, but mostly I was able to focus on the present.

Someone at depression group asked if I find it easier or harder online.  I find it harder, but I’m not sure why.  I think some of it is feeling that I’m being stared at by the camera the whole time, whereas in person I can see people are focusing on the person speaking, not me.  I also think there’s blurred boundaries when Zooming in from home (am I at home or in the group?) and less of a transition from home to group and back again and transitions are really important for people on the autism spectrum.  I find it hard to give people my full attention on Zoom, harder than in person, and I was getting fidgety by the end, which I know is autistic stimming and my way of trying to focus (rather than boredom), but I was glad that people couldn’t see that I was tapping my fingers because it might have looked rude.

I didn’t stick exactly to my limits on internet usage/email checking that I agreed with my therapist, but I did mostly stick to them and that does seem to help stay present-focused, not to compare myself with others so much and to avoid negative thoughts.  Actually, depression group can provoke comparing thoughts, a kind of procrustean bed where if they’re doing well, I feel I should be doing as well as they are, but if they aren’t doing well, I feel that I should be doing more things as I’m not so depressed.  I try not to think like that, but it’s not always easy.

I didn’t feel like I’d done much today, but writing it down I see that I have done quite a bit.

***

I made a mistake online.  Not a major one (it was less something I didn’t know and more something I phrased badly), but normally I would beat myself up about it, but I’m trying not to, which I guess is good.  With CBT for social anxiety, one technique is to make deliberate mistakes to become inured to them (one nineteenth/early twentieth century yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) used to get the students to do something similar, and there is an XKCD cartoon with a similar point…).  I did not do that when I did CBT for my social anxiety; as I think I’ve said, I don’t think I tried hard enough with CBT for social anxiety, although what I did seemed quite difficult at the time.

***

This passage in Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz and Erica Shapiro Taylor) resonated with me: “A sensitive child, burdened by his natural physical desires and the emotional and intellectual demands he inherited… Rebbe Nachman entered into depressed periods throughout his life.”  My emotional and intellectual demands were not inherited, but came partly from social expectation and partly from my own inner drive for excellence, but otherwise it was very similar to my childhood and adolescence.

Looking for Work, Writing and Thinking

I used to think that if I was unemployed, I would take any job available, even if it was stacking shelves in the supermarket.   The reality has been different, as I’ve discovered that (a) there aren’t that many jobs I’m actually qualified to do and (b) there aren’t that many jobs that I would feel comfortable and capable of doing with depression, social anxiety and autism.  I’ve also discovered that employers view people who are over-qualified as being as unsuitable as people who are under-qualified.

To be honest, I increasingly feel anxious about getting another job as I don’t believe I will be able to cope with it with all my issues.  I feel there probably are some jobs I could do, but finding them and getting them is hard.  Part of me is glad to be out of work.  In part this is because I want the time to work on my novel, but also because I am terrified of getting another job that is bad for my mental health and bad for my autism, and because I am even more terrified of getting a job that I can’t do.  I have begun to doubt whether I still have the librarian skills that I used to have.  I have had too many cataloguing tests that I have done badly.

It is hard to tell how much of this is realistic and how much is low self-esteem and anxiety.  It does feel like the job I was happiest at in the last couple of years was the one I was probably a bit over-qualified for, although the happiness was only partly from that and partly from having a supportive manager and pleasant colleagues.  Even then, I had social anxiety at times (even though it was a backroom job) and used to come away exhausted at the end of the day, even though I was only working two days a week.  And I still felt I made some stupid mistakes, albeit usually from social anxiety when I was with my manager.

***

I worry sometimes about whether my thoughts are really my own.  Not in a psychotic sense, I hasten to add.  I just worry I pick things up from news media, social media, adverts, my religious community, everywhere really.  Political views, religious views, cultural views, desires, fantasies.  My image of what a good life would be.  I think everyone does this, but I don’t like the thought of my doing it.

I’m not so worried about religious thoughts, because I think I’m quite good about balancing belief and scepticism there and looking for sources I trust.  However, I worry about picking up political views unthinkingly sometimes.  It’s hard to tell.  I think I’m more trusting of some sources than others.  Much of social media seems to consist of being told that certain things are intolerable, but I’m not sure that they all are intolerable, or even worth mentioning.  George Orwell wrote (Politics vs Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels) that the highest form of totalitarianism is when there is no secret police and conformity is enforced simply by peer pressure.  I think we’re getting there on Twitter.

Cultural views, desires, wants, fantasies and so on are very hard to see past, particularly all-pervasive advertising, which is about selling an idea of a fantasy life (involving conspicuous consumption) as much as selling individual products.  I don’t think I’m very materialistic, but I can see that I might pick up ideas of what sort of life I should lead.  I can see why Haredi people and other religious fundamentalists try to tune out secular culture, but then that would just leave me with frum (religious) Jewish culture, which I don’t always agree with either (the cultural aspect, more than the religious aspect).

I think I want to have a job, with the caveats mentioned above.  I think I really want to get married and have children.  I think I really want, on some level, to be a “good” Jew, davening (praying) at shul (synagogue) three times a day and doing significant religious study, but lately that feels less achievable and possibly less desirable.  But to what extent are these really my thoughts and desires.  I certainly find aspects of both secular and frum culture hard to deal with.  I think my rabbi mentor said that everyone in the frum community finds aspects of it narrow-minded.  That everyone thinks it can be narrow-minded and prejudiced.  I’m not sure how true that is (I mean, how true that everyone finds aspects hard to deal with).

***

As agreed with my therapist, I’ve been trying to stay offline today, except for one period first thing when I get up and one in the early evening (now).  It’s hard to go without constant checking of email, blog comments and blog reader.  It makes me realise how much I did it mindlessly, out of boredom, desire for distraction and desire for connection with other people.  It’s going to be hard to wean myself off it, but I’m trying.  I did have to use the internet a bit today for novel research, but I tried not to use it for email and blogs except in those two periods.

I think when I get stuck on my writing, my brain goes into ‘idle’ for a few minutes and I read online or check emails and meanwhile my unconscious is looking for a solution to the writing problem.  So maybe I shouldn’t be trying to cut all that “unnecessary” online activity.

***

Achievements: I spent an hour writing.  Then, after a break, I tried to write my devar Torah for the week, but it just was not coming, so I went out to go for a walk and do some shopping.  I did nearly another hour on the novel after that.

I didn’t finish my devar Torah.  I wrote about a third or a half and then I got stuck.  I know what I could say, but I’m not sure I really want to go down that route.  I don’t have many alternatives, though.  I’ve been trying to get it sent on Thursday evening lately, because if I send it on Friday my Israeli readers don’t always get it before Shabbat.  The problem this week is that Thursday is the Fast of Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, and Torah study is forbidden except for the sad bits of Tanakh (the Bible) and Talmud, so I can’t work on it then.  Which means I need to finish it tomorrow afternoon.  (I shouldn’t really work on it then, as the studying restrictions ideally start the afternoon before, but I don’t really have an alternative.)  So, I feel a bit stressed and disappointed about this.  I’m not sure how long I spent on it, but the creative juices just weren’t flowing.

I did about half an hour of straightforward Torah study and later might start re-reading Healing from Despair, a Jewish book about dealing with despair written by a rabbi.  To be honest, I don’t remember it being great first time around, but I’ve been desperate lately for Jewish texts about suffering and despair and even if this book isn’t so good, it might point me towards some useful primary or secondary sources.

***

I felt very depressed and sad on my walk, as I had intermittently at least all day.  It definitely feels like my mood slumps when I have free time at the moment, which I guess argues in favour of finding work, assuming it’s work that keeps me occupied.  I think of ‘sad’ and ‘depressed’ as two different states.  I think a person can be sad without being depressed, and I think I’m often depressed without being particularly sad.  Despairing and exhausted, but not sad.  I think sadness is about losing something, whereas maybe depression and despair are about not having something at all, particularly hope.  Maybe that’s not true.  I don’t know.

I felt sad partly about breaking up with E.  There isn’t a lot of point in going over this again, here or in my head, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

My novel isn’t the most cheerful thing either; currently one of my characters is trying to flee her abusive husband.  I think I need to contact a women’s charity and ask exactly what the process would be if someone asked for help, because it’s not completely clear from the websites I’ve been looking at, but I can see that they might not want to tell me, either because they don’t have time to help a writer or because they don’t tell people much for security reasons, to protect their clients.

I know it’s going to sound pretentious and arrogant, but I really hope writing is something I could make some kind of difference with.  Even with my plans for future novels, which will hopefully not be quite so heavy-going.  In the future I want to write Jewish fantasy/science fiction/historical novels that might encourage Jews to investigate their heritage more and make non-Jews more aware of Jewish history and the issues Jews have faced and still faced in non-Jewish societies.  This novel is heavier and more obviously “worthy” in that I’m trying to write about mental illness, autism and domestic violence in the frum community, where these things are not always discussed.  As the cliché goes, if even one person gets help or understands their situation from my writing, it will be worthwhile.  But first I have to write the thing!  But it does help with motivation, whereas I struggle with motivation for library jobs, even though they are also socially worthwhile, because I feel I’m just not making a difference; if anything, I worry I make things worse through messing stuff up at work.

“Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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