Answering

It’s the last day of August, which seems unbelievable. The year has dragged with regard to COVID, but in other ways it has sped past. It is also Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) next week, which also seem unbelievable. Rosh Hashanah is very rarely this early in the solar year (the Jewish lunar calendar moves about with regard to the solar calendar).

The Jewish year has been good for me on the whole. I feel a bit bad about that, when COVID has made it so terrible for so many people. But it’s good that I’m back together with E, that I’m working, albeit part-time (all I can cope with), and that I finished my novel. I just feel a lot of gratitude at where my life is, albeit coupled with a desire for help in moving it on to the next level (which would be marrying E and monetising my writing at least by getting my novel published).

Despite this, my mood today has been up and down, largely because of more boring data entry work and nervousness about speaking to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my autism/Asperger’s (yes, that’s happening). I have tried to hold on to the good things, like Skyping E.

***

I listened to the Jewish educator Erica Brown speak about her book on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Return: Daily Inspiration for the Days of Awe. She spoke about the difficulty of translating ‘teshuva,’ which means ‘penitence,’ which sounds rather heavy. It can also mean ‘returning’ and that’s a common translation in frum (religious) circles, but she prefers ‘recovery,’ having worked with addicts.

It occurred to me when listening to this that teshuva also means ‘answer’ in Hebrew. Perhaps our teshuva is an answer to God. What is the question? Perhaps the primordial question that God asked Adam and Chava (Eve) in the Garden of Eden: “Where are you?” (Bereshit/Genesis 3.9) The Midrash sees this as a question designed to tease out a repenting/returning/recovering/answering response from Adam and Chava, but instead they blamed other people and refused to take responsibility for their actions. At this time of year we can ‘answer’ God realistically about our lives.

Erica Brown talked about the importance of not focusing solely on the negatives in our lives, but also on the positives, asking ourselves what we are doing right morally and religiously. I think I have grown and improved in some ways over the year, although I won’t go into that here. I have also come to feel confident that my life should be with E, and that I should also be trying to write fiction professionally, tough though it will probably be to get published. This was reinforced by listening to the latest Intimate Judaism podcast, where they were talking about the way sex is spoken about at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) and whether there is a rape culture, a hookup culture or a generally unhealthy sexual culture in these places, and how the frum (religious) community should be encouraging young adults to view their burgeoning sexuality.

The podcast made me desperate to write my idea for a novel about a pornography-addicted rabbi. This is probably not what Talli Rosenbaum and Rabbi Scott Kahn intended as a response to their podcast, nor what Erica Brown intended as a positive to focus for the coming year, but that’s where I am at the moment. I need to get some books on pornography addiction as background reading before I can go any further with planning (I know Joshua Shea sometimes reads this so – yes, your books are on the top of my list!) which I probably won’t do until after all the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals). I have a short story to work on until then, but I hope I can find the time to write between work, therapy, Yom Tov and general religious practice (Torah study, prayer). It’s a busy time of the year for religious Jews.

At any rate, I feel that writing is my current ‘answer’ to God, that I want to move on with my relationship and my writing, but that I need a lot of divine help.

Busier Than I Think

I woke up earlyish (9.00am), probably because I slept so much yesterday. I actually managed to get up, albeit partly because I worried that if I stayed in bed, I would just feel anxious. I spent some time writing some notes about the way autism affects me at shul (synagogue) and in my religious community so that I can speak to my communal rabbi when he gets back from holiday later this week. I’m not really happy with what I’ve written, but it’s a start and I still have time to talk about it with my parents (I already spoke to E), although probably not with my therapist, who is on holiday until next week.

I also spent some time typing up my notes on my “pornography-addicted rabbi” novel idea. Notebooks are good for jotting ideas down, but Word documents are better for moving things around and ordering them. At the moment I have some characters and vague story ideas, but no real plot. Well, I have an idea of where I want to go, but not how I get there. I’m already scared of what publishing such a story would mean for me as a member of the frum (religious Jewish) community, whether there would be any backlash like the backlash around Unorthodox and My Unorthodox Life. I don’t intend the book to be anti-religious (if anything the reverse, but I can see that some people might not see that). However, this seems the best way (well, a way, maybe not the best way) to talk about issues around sex and gender, and around addiction and mental health, in the frum community.

I guess this has become an ‘aspiring writer’ blog, now that it’s not exactly a ‘mental illness blog’ or a ‘fighting for an autism diagnosis’ blog. I probably shouldn’t say much about ongoing projects, but I find it hard to keep total radio silence. If I speak about my projects, I feel I have to follow through with them. I can’t chicken out of writing a novel I’ve ‘trailed’ here. I probably also should call myself a ‘writer’ rather than an ‘aspiring writer,’ but I still feel that I’m not there yet.

***

Despite this, and having also gone for a run, done over an hour of Torah study and Skyped E, I have a vague feeling of not having done enough, and of having procrastinated online (despite my attempt to limit my internet use at the moment) instead of actually relaxing. I really do need to talk to my therapist about this.

Writer’s Thoughts and Religious Styles

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve had the idea for a while that someone should write a novel about pornography addiction in the frum (religious Jewish) community, but that I didn’t think I was the person to do it. Except that the idea has roosted in my head overnight and now I find myself thinking up supporting characters and details, like, “What if he has a feminist teenage daughter who is struggling with Orthodox gender boundaries and her father’s addiction tips her over the edge into stopping being religious?” So I wrote some notes in my ideas notebook to one day come back to when I’m looking for a project. It’s a scary topic to even think about writing about, though, far more so than my thoughts about a Jewish fantasy/time-travel series of novels.

One of the reasons I was always reluctant to go down the route of writing fiction (for publication or for fun) was the fear that I would eventually (and probably quite quickly) run out of inspiration. Related to this was a belief that a “real” writer would intuit a story in its entirety from the start without really needing to work on it. I realise now that ideas are regularly floating through my head ripe for development and in the past I’ve quite deliberately pushed them away for fear of where they would lead, in terms of feeling the need to write them and the potential for failure inherent in that. I also realise that even “real” writers have to work on their stories and sometimes significant things need to be changed quite late in the writing process.

Of course, that doesn’t make writing less scary, particularly when the ideas that find me sometimes seem to have to do with difficult, rarely-discussed subjects like abuse or addiction, but I suppose it’s the “not being discussed” element that makes me want to write them, because I want to read those books, but they don’t exist (yet).

Just to note why this might be important, I just looked on Aish.com, a popular Orthodox Jewish inspirational site, and found five articles on pornography addition in the frum community, three from the point of view of the addict and two from the point of view of the spouse. So, it is out there, whether we want to admit in the frum community or not.

***

I spent nearly an hour working on redrafting my novel (my current one). Initially, I tried to work for an hour as usual, without much success, as I procrastinated online. I switched to intense twenty minute blocs of writing interspersed with online breaks. It seemed to work better that way. I did about fifty-five minutes of work. I would have liked to have made it to a round hour, but I was at a chapter break before a long passage that would take more than five minutes to read and redraft and too tired to keep going beyond that.

Redrafting seems to be going quite quickly. I’m not sure if that’s good or not. It’s good that I don’t seem to need to change much, but maybe I should be changing more and I just can’t see the flaws in my writing because I’ve spent so long working on it (getting on for two years by this stage).

***

I wrote the following in my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week (for those of you on my mailing list, consider this a sneak preview):

In a lecture entitled Religious Styles,[1] Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik describes Torah transmission as being two-fold.  There is the aspect of learning halakhah, the details of the various Jewish laws.  This can be learnt from any scholar or from a book.  However, there is also the aspect of learning how to develop “a Torah style of living,” to find the unique way that God wants you, and you alone, to live a Torah-based life, and this can only be learnt “by osmosis” from attendance on a personal teacher.  Even then, because style is ultimately unique and individualistic, the real creation of a religious style has to be done alone, through the experience of living a Jewish way of life.  In particular, it is only by developing a unique religious style that one can develop happiness, meaningfulness and satisfaction with Judaism, even ecstasy, and it is these that allow a person to transmit a Jewish way of life to his or her children – who can then develop their own unique style based on what they receive.[2]


[1] In Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah

[2] Rabbi Soloveitchik, Halakhic Morality pp. 196-201

This passage helped me to understand my own feelings about Judaism, the way I feel that I do what is required of me, at least as far as I can, given my “issues,” but somehow feel a lack of something “more.” I think what I lack is the sense of having my own religious style, what Judaism means to me, and the distinctive way I live it. Maybe I’m so allergic to contemporaries who talk about “MY Judaism” (as if there were no objective content to Judaism) that I’ve over-compensated, or maybe I haven’t had a close enough relationship with rabbis and mentors. Certainly for a long time now I have felt that it is this, the close contact with great scholars and righteous people, that I feel that I missed out on by not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), as much as the actual content I would have learnt there. Or maybe I’m a work in progress. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, Rav Soloveitchik could be read as implying that developing a religious style is a work in progress across a lifetime as personality develops.

I am trying to convince myself that it is OK to have my own unique relationship with Judaism, which sometimes means doing things differently to my community and can mean doing things like writing fiction that aren’t traditionally seen as religious. Including potentially writing about Jewish pornography addicts.

Gimme Some Truth

Warning: this is rather more rambling and pity partyish than usual. Please don’t feel obliged to read.

Nietzsche wrote about mental illness being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” I think they’ve been barking a lot more in the last few days and I don’t know why. I was practically in tears while davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers) again today, and again at lunch, and a third time in the afternoon when doing Torah study, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know why specifically Shacharit and not the other prayers either; Shacharit is the least logical service for me to cry in, as I’m invariably late and rushing through just a few prayers before the final deadline. It would make more sense if I was in tears in the other services where I say the whole thing and at least try to have some kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).

I was actually doing OK early today at trying to stay in the present and not worry and obsess about the future, but over the day I drifted into one of my “I’m Fouled Up Beyond All Hope” moods.

***

Early today I felt that I should just rip up my novel and my Asperger’s article and start over, because neither of them have truth in them. Perhaps truth is the main thing distinguishing a good writer from a hack. George Orwell wrote about this, I think. Not some transcendent religious or philosophical truth, but simply the truth of someone’s experiences. I think my blog sometimes has truth, but not my other writing.

I thought of a particular saying from the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic leader) “The Evil Urge has found a new method, in which it succeeds; no longer must it do battle day and night. It toils only to take from you the delicate chord of truth in your heart, and afterwards it lets you do as you will: to work, to study, to pray… for without the point of truth, whatever you do is no longer important to the Evil Urge.” (The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk [sic] edited by Simcha Raz, ellipsis in original) I think it’s a long time since I’ve had the “point of truth” in my writing, my study or my prayer.

I don’t think I’m that truthful in friendships and relationships either. By truthful I don’t mean ‘not lying’ (I’m not dishonest), but being fully open and ‘myself.’ I’m quite truthful with my parents, but I generally only talk about the dark stuff when it gets unbearable. I’m not always truthful with my sister. I can joke around with her, and my parents, but not always talk about the dark stuff. With most of my friends, I’m not really myself and not open at all. I would want to be truthful and to be myself in a relationship, but I don’t know if I could. I think I did with E. There were things that didn’t work in that relationship, but that aspect did work. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision in breaking up, although it was already an on/off relationship, so clearly something wasn’t working. I wasn’t able to be truthful with PIMOJ at all, which is why the relationship failed, although to be fair she expected me to be truthful without being the same herself. I was truthful with my first girlfriend, but, again, she wasn’t with me, and again, it contributed to the failure of the relationship.

I was going to say I’m truthful with my therapist and my rabbi mentor, but even then I’m not entirely. I’m fairly truthful with my rabbi mentor, probably more than with other people. I try to be truthful with God. I don’t know how much I succeed. I can’t hide anything from God, although a lot of things seem too trivial to mention to him, even though they upset me a lot. I don’t joke with Him much, but it hardly seems important to do so with Him.

***

On a more positive note, when I went to look up that quote from the Kotzker, I found a bookmark pointing to the page that had this quote that I had forgotten about: “We have not found in any place in the Torah that a person is commanded to be a scholar and erudite in all the chambers of the Torah. For the purpose of study is not to be a scholar, but to be a good man, to do what is good and to act beneficently towards your fellow.” This is pretty much entirely against the prevailing worldview of the Haredi world, or at least the Yeshivish part of it, which sees becoming a great scholar as the only purpose of Judaism, at least for men. It reminds me of the man who boasted to the Kotzker Rebbe that he had been through the whole Talmud three times. “Yes, but how many times has the Talmud been through you?” the Rebbe responded.

Of course, it’s entirely open to question whether I’m a good man who does what is good and acts beneficently towards my fellow, but it’s a more viable target for me than going through the Talmud three times.

***

I did eventually sit down to work on my article. I read some published articles about Asperger’s and learning disabilities on Aish as research and I think my article isn’t hugely wide of the mark, although there are still many reasons it might be rejected. I spent about an hour reading and re-writing. I think tomorrow I will actually write the pitch and see what happens. I tend to be less successful at pitching things than writing them, I think.

I went for a walk after that. It was very windy, the wind blowing clouds of blossom around so that it felt like walking through snow or confetti.

I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah (Torah thought), using the English translations on Sefaria more than I would like (Sefaria translations are often crowdsourced and sometimes inaccurate). I have an idea of what topic to write about, but not really what to say, which probably means it’s going to be another week where I feel like I’m bluffing my way through it. I think writing a devar Torah each week is a good exercise for multiple reasons, but some weeks I do feel a bit of a fraud (truth again). I doubt I could do it if I worked full-time.

***

It gets REALLY pity partyish from here. Honestly, I won’t mind if you don’t read it.

I wish I knew how to cope with being celibate. The internet is monumentally unhelpful about this. After more than twenty years of celibacy since I hit adolescence, I feel at my wits’ end. I emailed Intimate Judaism about this, but the sex therapist there didn’t respond to that aspect of the email, only saying she would try to set me up with a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with special needs in the UK. She said she has asked her colleagues and is waiting for an answer. I am doubtful, as I have made similar inquires in the past. Even if she finds one, there is also the realistic likelihood of me being too modern for such a shadchan and her clientele. And I still need help to cope with celibacy in the interim, especially as I’m not sure if I should go to a shadchan while only working two days a week and financially insecure, not to mention being emotionally fragile.

(I should probably add in terms of the special needs shadchan that when I tried looking for one a few years ago, my father asked the wife of the then-assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) if she knew anyone who could help someone with depression get married — at that stage, depression seemed to be the main issue as I wasn’t diagnosed on the spectrum. She said “Rebbetzin D” who I never got around to phoning. There always seemed to be good reasons (it was nearly Pesach; I found a relationship independently; I went to a different shadchan that seemed more promising and so on), but I suppose unconsciously I was socially anxious and unsure whether she could help or even how I would start the conversation as Rebbetzin D isn’t a shadchan and I was wary of what “help” she might be able to provide and how she would respond to being phoned out of the blue by a stranger. I suppose I could try to contact her now, although it’s three or four years down the line, and, as I said, I don’t know if I should be looking to get married in my current financial situation.)

I need touch sometimes. I live with my parents, so I can still get hugs, although physical contact with my parents can still be awkward for autistic reasons and reasons based on my past. I do long to be with someone I really connect with again. That wouldn’t necessarily be a partner, but could be a close friend; nevertheless, since adolescence, I’ve only had such close friendships with women, which makes them awkward when they are platonic, because usually I want them to be more, but the other person doesn’t, or because the other person isn’t Jewish or isn’t religious enough for me, which is also awkward. I have dated women less religious than me, at my rabbi mentor’s encouragement, but I don’t know how viable such a relationship would be in the long-term. Certainly it put strains on those relationships which contributed to their ending.

Above all, I want to learn how to deal with sexual and romantic desire when single from a halakhic (Jewish law) point of view. I don’t think I have a particularly high sex drive, but I do have a greater desire for love and sex when depressed and lonely — in other words, when marriage seems most distant from me. This is rather cruel. I can’t say that I live my life entirely halakhically regarding sex. I just try to do the best I can, but I don’t know whether I could do better if someone guided me, or if I had more willpower or more control over my thoughts and emotions (autistic emotional regulation is not always the best). And I don’t know what God thinks about me, whether He thinks I’m at least trying to keep halakhah or if He thinks that frankly I could do better and wants to punish me. Or is punishing me. To be honest, while my low self-esteem is rooted in negative childhood experiences like bullying (among other things) the constant level of sexual guilt since I was thirteen and hit puberty probably hasn’t helped much. The Orthodox world’s only answer to this is early marriage, which doesn’t really work when you’re thirty-seven.

(And I should say that although I feel hugely guilty about my sexuality, I’ve still never had anything approaching actual intercourse, which somehow makes the whole thing seem even more pathetic.)

It feels like the most realistic option for me is to learn to be happy alone and celibate, but everyone just says, “No, you can get married,” without doing anything practical to advance that outcome. It’s weird, because I’m used to people saying that you should be “happy with your lot” rather than endlessly daydream about some eventuality that might never come to pass. Yet everyone encourages me to stay positive about finding a mate even after so many years and so many rejections. It’s like everyone was suggesting I should solve my financial problems by trying to win the lottery when I want to find a job.

I feel that what I want more than anything is for God to tell me that He thinks I’m a good person (God, not human beings who don’t know me and might lie to make me feel better). But He won’t, not in this world.

Beating Myself Up

Today seems to have been a day for beating myself up. Most of the things below happened independently of each other, but all seem to have provoked me to beat myself up. I kind of take my low self-esteem for granted and don’t write about it much, but it is there a lot of the time, closely linked with social anxiety and autistic communication difficulties.

***

I was tired when I woke up this morning, but my mood was initially OK. I did spend too long online before getting dressed though. I don’t know why mornings are so hard. I went out to get my lithium blood test form and do some shopping and my mood dropped. I was somewhat self-critical and negative about the future. When I’m at home, I can feel OKish about where I am in my life: part-time work, single, living with my parents. But when I go out, I see other people and start to compare. Even if I’m not consciously comparing, I think I’m doing it unconsciously. I live in an area with a lot of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) families, so I invariably see people ten years or more younger than me with children, which just makes me feel like I totally missed the boat regarding marriage and family.

I used to rate my mood each day out of ten, to track my progress. It occurs to me that maybe I should do that again to see how it fluctuates from day to day and even across the day. Today I felt bad compared to the last few days, but, trying to rate it objectively, I doubt my mood was less than 5/10, which is obviously much better than when it never rose above 3/10 even on a “better” day.

***

Someone at depression group last night spoke about people on the autism spectrum being good at noticing things and spotting patterns and discrepancies. This is an idea I struggle with. I have heard it often; I know the psychologist Simon Baron Cohen has published a book recently about autistic people being “pattern seekers” and therefore able to contribute to society in that way. I know some finance firms deliberately recruit people on the spectrum on the grounds that they can see patterns in the money markets better than neurotypical people.

I feel uncomfortable with that because I don’t know if I “pattern seek” at all; if I do, it’s not in a socially useful way. I do notice some things other people don’t. I stop suddenly in the street to look at an interesting insect and it’s hard for me to walk past writing without reading it, whether on a billboard, on a scrap of paper or leaflet on the street or on the newspaper of someone opposite me on the Tube. That might count as noticing things and seeking patterns, although it might just be that my interests are weird (which would also be typical for someone on the spectrum).

I can find patterns within the things I like. For instance, it excites me that David Bowie had a cameo appearance in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me because it’s two things I like (David Bowie and Twin Peaks) meeting unexpectedly. However, I don’t feel I can do anything useful with this ability, if it even is an “ability.” I can’t do anything that other people can’t do and I don’t think I am particularly good at finding patterns in the abstract or noticing things. In fact, in many ways I’m very bad at noticing things. I notice immediately if anyone moves anything in my bedroom, because I jealously guard my own territory, but I don’t necessarily notice if my parents rearrange the furniture downstairs, because “their” territory doesn’t really interest me or register on my consciousness.

I guess I would like to find an area where my autism/Asperger’s gives me some kind of advantage, if only to feel better about myself, but it’s hard to think of one.

***

A related issue is that of analytical ability. People on the spectrum are often very analytical. I’m not and I’m not sure if I ever was, or if it was eroded by depression. I did well at school, including in science, so I must have had some analytical ability as a child and teenager. Somewhere along the line I lost it though. In particular, I’ve never been good at studying Talmud, whether Mishnah or Gemarah (Mishnah, the earlier part of the Talmud, is somewhat clearer and easier than Gemarah, the later part of the Talmud which analyzes the Mishnah), back from when I first encountered it in voluntary lunchtime lessons at school. This was one reason among several why I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Why would I spend a year of my life in a foreign country studying texts I can’t understand and don’t enjoy?

The problem, as I was reminded today listening to a shiur (religious class) online while I cooked dinner, is that Talmudic study is considered the paramount religious activity in the frum (religious Jewish) world, at least for men. Tanakh study (biblical study), which is probably my favourite Torah activity, along with the study of Midrash (the rabbinic expansions of the biblical text, which function as both creative commentaries and non-literal ways of exploring theological and ethical topics). It is more intuitive and creative that Talmud study, which tends to be strongly based on logic, but is largely ignored for men, except in parts of the Religious Zionist world.

The shiur I listened to was poorly recorded and had lots of untranslated Hebrew, neither of which endeared it to me (to be fair, the fact that I was cooking at the same time probably didn’t help matters), but it was mostly about the importance of studying Torah for its own sake, which mostly means Talmud. Even when I study Tanakh, I’m not sure how much I’m studying to “know the mind of God” and how much just because I’m frum and it’s what I’m supposed to do, just as I don’t enjoy fasting on Yom Kippur, but I do it anyway.

It’s strange that I have a strong connection to a form of Judaism that I’m unable to really practice or enjoy. If you look at the major aspects of frum life, I can’t study Talmud and halakhah; I find it hard to connect to God with prayer, whether set prayers or spontaneous prayers (years ago I could connect this way, but I haven’t been able to for a long time, at least not consistently); I’m too socially anxious to really engage in communal activity or chessed (acts of kindness); I have failed to get married and start a family… I can’t do these things well or at all, no matter how hard I try, and I do not enjoy most of them (which admittedly is not a brilliant measure of anything, as I’m pretty anhedonic even when not actually depressed and struggle to enjoy anything, but certainly the idea of enjoying studying Torah and enjoying doing mitzvot are key ideas in Judaism). Yet I continue to try to be frum, and to beat myself up for not succeeding. I’m not sure what spiritual or psychological drive is pushing that. It’s like I want to set myself a target I can’t attain. I suppose that no other religion or philosophy of life seems to offer a better alternative to me, and I believe in God and the Torah, and want to connect to the Jewish people, my contemporaries and my ancestors. But it’s very hard to actually do it.

***

I also heard back from the Intimate Judaism sex therapist. I just cringed when the email came in, the way I always do when I reach out to people and they respond positively — yes, I mean positively; positive responses can be as shame-inducing as negative ones, with less reason. I guess I feel that I am not worth it, or that there will now be another stage of possible failure e.g. the sex therapist says that she can suggest shadchanim (matchmakers) who might be willing to work with me to find a spouse, which raises all the fears around dating and rejection there. Actually, even beyond a further stage of failure, I’m so used to being ignored that when people are nice to me, I panic and don’t know what to do, and don’t feel like I deserve it. I think across my life the times when I wanted the ground to swallow me up were as much for compliments and positive attention as for shame and negative attention.

Now I need to find the confidence to respond…

***

Where has WordPress moved the tags box to? Why do they keep changing things? EDIT: it’s back now. Maybe the page wasn’t loading properly.

Coming Out As Autistic

I didn’t watch The Favourite in the end last night. After about ten minutes of it, my parents decided that, for a comedy, it was too weird and unfunny and stopped watching. I don’t mind weird, so I carried on for another twenty minutes or so, but I felt self-conscious, like there was a voice in my head asking me all the time if I was really enjoying it. Plus, I was getting annoyed by all the anachronisms. There was no “Prime Minister” or “Loyal Opposition” in Queen Anne’s reign and, although I wasn’t sure about this, I doubted that there was grouse shooting either (it seems I was right — I think in the early eighteenth century we’re still talking about guns that are difficult to aim accurately and take ages to reload). Also, while I can see that authentic eighteenth century dialogue would be off-putting, Tory leader Robert Harley saying something was “cute” just sounded weird (I was more offended by that than by conspicuous use of another four-letter word beginning with ‘c’ which was at least more authentic). So, I stopped watching, but I do vaguely wonder if I should have persevered.

I was a little burnt out on waking today, tired and a bit low, but I did manage to get ready for work. I had a small moral dilemma at work. Nothing huge, an issue of copyright law, but I feel a bit bad thinking about how I dealt with it. Other things being equal, I would not have done what I was asked to do, but I didn’t feel it was important enough to complain about, but now I feel vaguely guilty. I feel similarly bad about not socially distancing properly when I was dating PIMOJ, which was again something I sort of went along with to avoid making a fuss. I definitely find it easier to make a stand when I’m by myself, which is not a good thing.

At work I did tell J about my Asperger’s (I used that term rather than autism, although he did mention autism as something similar and I said it was a spectrum without going into details). I mentioned it in regard to processing verbal information, multitasking and phone conversations, as they seemed to be the most relevant areas. With regard to the first point, he said it’s OK to take notes. As for the other points, I didn’t make any specific requests or suggestions. It was a bit of a non-event and I suppose he may have been wondering why I brought it up, as nothing practical really came out of it, which I guess is a lesson for when I talk to the rabbi (which I still haven’t decided about yet).

We finished work early. We were going to one of our other sites briefly and J wanted to go before the rush hour traffic started, so I had a very truncated work day.

I wrote to the Intimate Judaism podcasters. I feel rather nervous about it. I worry I said too much. I would be a useless spy, I have the urge to confess all my secrets (see also: this blog). I’m also worried they’ll remember I wrote to them a year or so ago, when my life situation was rather different. I thought they wouldn’t remember, as they get loads of emails, so didn’t mention it, but now wonder if I should have done so. I asked for tips dealing with long-term celibacy and religious guilt, as well as feeling on the fringes of the frum (religious) community because of autism and mental illness. I’m not sure if a rabbi and a sex therapist were the best people to ask about the latter, but, having mentioned that I feel on the margins of the community as both a cause and a result of being single, it seemed silly not to mention it.

I had depression group in the evening. I wasn’t feeling particularly depressed, but wanted to go to support others, although I don’t say much in these meetings, aside from when it’s my turn to speak. I do this even when they’re in person, let alone on Zoom. I can’t always think of something to say and rarely work up the courage to say it; if I manage both of those things, the moment has usually gone by the time I’m ready to say anything. But I’m glad I went. I do feel more self-conscious at these meetings now I’m talking more about autism than depression, though. I’m not entirely sure why that is.

***

Recreation-wise, I finished reading Vampire Romance (amusing, but I found there were too many characters to keep track of in such a short novella). I just started reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. I’ve read all of Orwell’s essays, even the not-famous ones, but not any of his book-length non-fiction. In terms of TV, I’ve been watching The Simpsons while I still have access to Disney+, although the more recent episodes are not very funny. My Babylon 5 re-watch is on hold (at an exciting bit) as the season four DVDs needed replacing like the earlier ones (why? WHY??). I’m also watching Doctor Who: The Time Monster, probably the least successful serial from Jon Pertwee’s five years in the title role. I’m not sure why I picked it. I think I wanted to watch something with Pertwee and, because this isn’t very good, I haven’t watched it as much as some of the others. It is silly, although not in the deliberate way something like The Creature from the Pit or Love & Monsters is silly. Nevertheless, I marvel that, in 1972, dialogue like “Being without becoming — an ontological absurdity!” was deemed suitable for a family show with a large child audience.

***

Names encountered today at work: Abraham Abrahams and Nathan Nathan (genuine names, but from the nineteenth century). Reminds me of Catch-22 and Major Major.

Shul, and the Terrible Allure of Pity Parties

My mood over Shabbat (the Sabbath) was not as low as I feared, although it did dip at times. Friday night was mostly OK. I went to shul (synagogue) and we did Kabbalat Shabbat outside as normal so we could sing. I overslept this morning also as normal and dozed for a bit after lunch too, which made me late for shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). This is awkward, as we were praying outdoors again and the only way to get to the seats was to walk in front of the makeshift bimah (the table where the service is led from), which isn’t really consider the proper shul etiquette. Also, the only seat free was right down the front, which increased my feeling of being painfully conspicuous.

Social anxiety plays a big part in my oversleeping on Shabbat. I haven’t been to shul for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) more than a few times in the last couple of years, and I’m sure I oversleep because if I wake up, I have to confront my social anxiety about going. Similarly, I struggled with social anxiety again this afternoon. Some of it is probably feeling I don’t fit in to my shul, but a lot of it is fear of getting an aliyah (being called to say the blessings over the Torah or otherwise get involved with the Torah reading), which is why I don’t get it on Friday nights to anything like the same extent. I’ve had an aliyah loads of times, but I still worry about it. I get flustered and do the wrong things, I worry I will start shaking and I generally feel conspicuous. I really don’t like it, but it’s considered an honour and you can’t really decline it.

I sat through Talmud shiur although I’m not sure how much I understood, even having prepared on Friday night. By the time I got home, I was getting a headache; I did a little Torah study and read a bit (Vampire Romance is a novella included in Anno Dracula 1918: The Bloody Red Baron — if The Bloody Red Baron is “Biggles with vampires,” Vampire Romance is a blend of P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie with vampires, and it’s a lot more fun). Eventually my headache got too bad to read, although it responded quickly to medication after Shabbat.

Something that was at the back of mind, and sometimes at the front (where it shouldn’t have been) during Shabbat was my idea to email the Intimate Judaism people to speak to them about my circumstances and see if they have any suggestions. I do want to formulate one or two actual questions; I don’t want to just write a self-pitying email. I don’t think anyone still reading this used to read my comments on Hevria.com, but I used to write these enormous “pity party” comments about my depression, social anxiety and loneliness (I can’t remember whether autism was on my radar at the time). The silly thing was that I used to convince myself that they were relevant and responding to the articles in a meaningful way. I honestly don’t know why I didn’t get banned from the site. Eventually I started this blog and drifted away from Hevria for various reasons. Anyway, I don’t want to do that again, tempting though it is to just offload my issues on people (which I suppose I do here).

(I Don’t Believe In) Modern Love

I thought I would be very burnt out today after such a busy day yesterday and I was more or less right. I think I’ve been somewhat more optimistic since my autism diagnosis (which was less than two months ago, so quite fresh, even if I’d thought I was on the spectrum for years), but today I feel in “No one could ever love me, or if she could, I wouldn’t know how to meet her” mode. I’m not that hopeful about my novel either after the freelance editor I sent the first chapter to sent me feedback. She was reasonably positive, although she felt the type of editing I need was too far outside her experience for her to accept the work, which is fair enough. She did mention something E said on the early chapters she saw, though, about feeling too distant from the action, as if it was autobiography, telling rather than showing as E put it. There is an autobiographical element to the novel, but I didn’t want it to feel like that. So that’s one thing to think about for the next redraft, which will have to be quite drastic. I do feel that the parts that seemed to flow best and felt most engaging when I was writing them (if that proves anything about how things read) were the small bits of action, which is part of what is pushing me to genre fiction next time (“next time”!). I’m not sure what to do now though. The thought of going through the manuscript and doing a total, line-by-line rewrite is quite daunting, even if I had confidence in my ability to “show, don’t tell” the story, which at this stage, I don’t have. Maybe this is why Kafka hardly finished anything.

I actually had a dream related to writing anxiety last night. In the dream I was putting stuff online about what happened with the first woman I asked out (I asked her out; she said no; I stupidly didn’t stop off-loading my depressive thoughts on her; she panicked when I got suicidal and cut off all contact with me) and she understandably got annoyed. I’m not surprised I dreamt this, as I’ve been wondering whether it was a good idea to use that experience in the novel. I don’t know if she would recognise what happened between us in the novel (it was a long time ago and I have tried to fictionalise it somewhat) if she ever read it, but I do feel nervous about that sometimes. I know they (they = people who speak about writing) say to write what you know and I know some authors draw more heavily from their own experience than others, but I worry about crossing a line, although the reality is that even if I get published, she probably won’t read it. Last I heard, she doesn’t even live in this country any more.

***

After my post yesterday, I found myself wondering why I think about sex so much. Someone (I haven’t been able to source the quotation) said that “Sex is like water: if you have it, you don’t think about it; if you haven’t got it, you can’t think about anyone else.” To be honest, with me it’s probably a shorthand for love, intimacy, closeness and the absence of loneliness rather than just sex. Possibly it’s a shorthand for those things because the idea of touch is very difficult for me, on the spectrum: it can be very good, but often is very uncomfortable, even with people I love, like my parents. So the thought of someone I feel completely comfortable with touching me is very powerful and also very elusive and tied to ideas about trust and intimacy (especially as my first girlfriend rather trampled on my boundaries about touch).

In a low, burnt out mood this morning, I found myself wondering if I made a mistake in breaking up with PIMOJ and even if I made a mistake in breaking up with E last year (she tried to get back with me a while back, which I don’t think is a good idea rationally, but has a certain amount of emotional appeal). It’s hard to avoid feeling that I didn’t make a mistake in one of those breakups. It’s also easy to start thinking that I’ll be alone forever. I suppose the trick is just not to think about love and relationships and focus my attention elsewhere (where?).

***

Inasmuch as I did anything today, it was a chore day, as usual for a Friday. I did my usual Shabbat (Sabbath) chores; sorted out my desk drawer, which gets into a mess as I just shove stuff in it to keep my desk clear; phoned the GP’s surgery to request the form for my next lithium blood test (more NHS bureaucracy and I spent ages on hold); and went for a walk. During the walk, my mood, which had been OKish, mostly just tired, dropped quite a bit into “My life is never going to come together” mode, which makes me a bit nervous about my mood going through Shabbat.

My shul (synagogue) is bringing in Shabbat early during summer, so I won’t get time to look at this week’s Talmud page before Shabbat. I’ll try to look at it tonight, but I suspect I’ll be too tired to make much of it. I feel bad that the shiur (class) has only been going one week and I’m already slipping in my desire to look over it once before the shiur and revise it once afterwards.

Eventful Day; Also Sex and the Single Orthodox Jew

Today was a pretty good day, but some unpleasantly familiar thoughts hovered in the background and at times came into the foreground.

Work was quite eventful. In the morning, J and I went to one of the organisation’s other sites. I’m not really able to say here what site it was, because it would make it too easy to work out where I work although it was somewhere people don’t usually go. I didn’t feel I contributed much, but it was interesting to see it. We weren’t there for long, about half an hour, but the length of the journey there and back meant we were out for most of the morning.

In the car on the way back, J and I went over the new task he’s training me for again, roleplaying a typical situation again. I felt I did badly at this, although I didn’t have my notes or the forms I would normally be filling in as part of the process; obviously it’s easier to remember what to say if you have a form of blank spaces to fill in right in front of you. Still, I felt a bit self-critical, something made worse by a mistake I caught this morning (by chance) that I must have made on Monday. I do worry about how many mistakes I must make that I don’t catch in time. I feel that I should be better at handling these tasks; after all, people on the autism spectrum are supposed to be good at routine tasks. I think the problem is that I have to have different spreadsheets and data bases open at the same time and people on the spectrum are not good at multitasking and going from one thing to another like that.

In the afternoon, a situation arose when I had to actually work through a type of situation that we had been practising in the morning. Again, I’d love to say what I had to do, but it would make where I work too obvious. Suffice to say that the task is not particularly autism-friendly or social anxiety-friendly, involving phoning various people, some of whom might be emotional, and getting quite a bit of information verbally and transcribing it correctly. I think I did OK, and J was listening in to the call and nudged me once or twice about some things, but I also think that maybe the time has come to tell J about my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis and what it means for me, especially about the way I struggle to take in rapid verbal information (J has a habit of throwing a lot of information at me at once). I’m not sure what exactly to say though.

One other awkward thing happened at work: I can’t easily check my emails on my phone and was hoping for an email from a friend who I was worried about, so during lunch I logged on to webmail on my work computer, only to be confronted with a not safe for work email subject line from the Intimate Judaism podcast. This features an Orthodox rabbi and sex therapist talking about sex and intimacy in the Orthodox world. I would not have done that if I had known the message would be there, but they email very rarely.

Best moment of the day: realising on the way to the other site that we were driving across a bridge that appeared in Doctor Who. Tom Baker stood here. It’s the little things…

***

I like the Intimate Judaism podcast (when it’s not embarrassing me at work), but after the awkward email today I found myself wondering why. I started listening to it when I was dating E. Although she was not frum (religious Jewish), she thought it might help me deal with some of the questions and anxieties I have about sex (in general and also in terms of Jewish law). Which it does, and it also has given me insight into parts of the frum world that I would not otherwise know about, which has been useful in my writing. I doubt I would have written a novel that highlights issues of sexual consent in Orthodox marriage without several discussions of this issue on the podcast making me aware of it.

However, it also highlights my feeling that I’m some kind of freak for being a virgin at thirty-seven, doubly so in a community where people typically marry in their early twenties and where kiruv (out-reach) professionals like to boast that Judaism celebrates marital sexuality. As well as feeling freakish, it makes me wonder if I can ever get married. For one thing, is there anyone left to marry? And can someone like me (autistic, socially anxious, prone to bouts of depression, not on a real career path) find someone to love him? I guess it turns sex into a spectator sport for me. Not in a pornographic sense, but in the sense that I’m listening to other people discuss their sex lives, knowing full well it’s of only academic interest to me, that I can’t get involved myself.

I actually feel like a freak and a child a lot, although I feel like a freak less often since I started making progress towards my autism diagnosis. These feelings are not just from being a virgin, they’re also from living with my parents; not working full-time; finding social interactions awkward; not being well-socialised into the frum community and so on. Nevertheless, being a virgin is a big part of it, not least because “being a virgin” is tied up so much with living with my social and emotional issues and lack of socialisation into the frum community.

Having only just broken up with PIMOJ, I don’t have any intention of dating again soon, nor do I feel optimistic that I will find the right person quickly (or at all) when I do try to date again, or even have a good idea what “dating again” would look like for me. I feel I’m out of options other than professional shadchanim (match-makers), a prospect that terrifies me. I’m not sure how I navigate the feelings of difference and inadequacy in the meantime.

I think about sex too much for a frum person. I wish I didn’t, it seems like I’m tormenting myself endlessly with what I can never know. I also feel that I write about it too much here, but feel I have to because (a) no one else does and (b) I need to vent periodically and I don’t have anywhere else to do it.

I am vaguely thinking about emailing the Intimate Judaism presenters about this, although I’m not sure what I’d say or what kind of response I’d be hoping for.

***

Related to this, I was trying to think what lessons I learnt from the three relationships I have managed to keep together for a few months (I think eight or nine months is the record).

Relationship 1) My first relationship, rather late (aged twenty-seven) so lots of things learnt for the first time: that someone could want to go out with me for a longish period; that I could actually maintain a relationship; and that I could care about someone else and make sacrifices for her. From the ending of the relationship, I learnt that I could set boundaries and end a relationship when I realised those boundaries were being trampled on (I used to wonder if I would stay in a painful relationship indefinitely for fear of being single).

2a) I’m not sure what I learnt from dating E first time around. Maybe that I could make a long-distance relationship work for a bit. Or maybe that even someone who really cared about me and wanted to marry me could still not cope with my “issues” in the long run.

2b) I suspect the main thing I learnt from dating E second time around was that on/off relationships are not a good idea and that if I’ve come to feel that a relationship could not have worked, restarting it because of loneliness and the excitement of the other person saying she made a mistake and still cares about me is not a good idea.

3) That a relationship needs chemistry as well as shared values to work (which is not always the Jewish dating experts’ message) and that while relationships need trust based on shared vulnerability, it has to be mutual or it won’t work.

Something I learnt from all my relationships is not to look back and wonder if it was a mistake to break up or there is no end to the potential regret and self-doubt.

Special Souls and Scapegoats

I’m feeling down today. I feel drained and listless. Also guilty. These days most of my guilt comes from wrestling with my sex drive and loneliness. I want to love and be loved, but I feel incapable of either of these, which sets me on a downward spiral to emotional places I don’t want to go (“sin” if you want to use stark Victorian words). Also, periodically I think about PIMOJ and feel sad that it didn’t work out for us and guilty that I upset her by breaking up with her. Watching Babylon 5 just reminds me that I thought she was like Delenn: gentle spiritual and intelligent, but even then the relationship didn’t work; I couldn’t open up to her or be myself with her. So who could I be myself with if I can’t be with someone who was practically my dream partner?

My sister and brother-in-law came over for socially distanced tea and biscuits this afternoon. I ate too much cake and biscuits, but otherwise had a good time. Then I left early to work on a job application and my mood came down again as I realised how my skills have atrophied and my career stagnated (see below). I went for a run after my Torah study, but it failed to boost my mood much.

There’s an idea in Judaism, particularly in Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) that people with severe learning disabilities, including severe autism, have special souls. I’m not particularly mystically minded (a problem PIMOJ had with me), but I wonder how this applies to high functioning autism. Somehow it doesn’t seem like the same idea applies to me, given how functional I am compared to a non-verbal person. Yet autism is a spectrum; at what point on it does having a special soul not apply? It would help me feel less broken and defective, and less of a disappointment to God and my parents, if this was the case, but maybe this idea is not coming from a good place in me. Maybe I just want to feel special, or at least special in a good way, rather than just feeling like a “broken” failure and freak.

I don’t know what can be done for someone like me who wants to fit in to the frum (religious Jewish) community, but doesn’t know how, who wants to love, but can’t find someone willing to love him and so on.

***

I read this week’s sedrot (Torah portions) of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Acharei Mot starts with the High Priest’s Temple service on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), including the choosing of two goats by lot, one sacrificed in the Temple and one sent into the wilderness and thrown off a cliff, symbolically carrying away the sins of the Jewish people. This goat is known in Christian Bibles as the scapegoat (hence the term). The Talmud talks about this at some length and speaks about the two goats being, as far as possible, identical in size and colour, like twins. People talk about the symbolism of this, the two goats that looked identical and expected the same fate, but the High Priest drew lots and one goat was sacrificed in the Temple (which is supposed to be the best thing that can happen to a goat) and one died horribly in the wilderness, symbolising that we don’t really know what will happen to us.

When I was at primary school, I had a “mentor friend” (as Tony Attwood describes a neurotypical child who befriends an autistic child and models social behaviour for him). We looked quite similar, except that he was a lot taller than me and had redder hair. We were together a lot and people thought we were brothers. We went on to secondary school together, where we drifted apart a bit, but stayed friends. We went on to Oxford together, although I ended up a year ahead of him, as he took a gap year at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) first. We are still friends (we didn’t end up enemies like the Doctor and Master!).

I wonder about us in the light of the scapegoat. He started dating someone at the age of fourteen or fifteen; they have been married for many years now, with children. He has (non-Orthodox) rabbinic ordination and his own community as rabbi. He is very charismatic, was the centre of our geeky friendship group at primary and secondary school and was active in the Jewish Society at university, an environment that I completely failed to adapt to. I imagine he’s a popular rabbi in his community. He was once named on an annual Jewish newspaper list of the forty most influential people under the age of forty in the Anglo-Jewish community.

He has not by any means had an easy life, but somehow I feel he is like the goat sacrificed in the Temple, and I’m the one who has to carry the sins and get thrown off the cliff. I don’t feel jealous exactly, but I do kind of feel like I’m a failure in comparison to him, even though we were once so similar. And I know I shouldn’t compare, but I find it hard to see what I’ve achieved by myself. I’ve never really been happy, so being “happy with my lot” doesn’t really come into it, and I think my moods are unlikely to improve much (although I’m not sure why). I haven’t got tangible achievements (except one book no one bought and one novel that isn’t finished yet), I don’t think I’m particularly devout or spiritual, or a great scholar (Torah or secular) and I haven’t done much for other people in terms of acts of kindness or charity. I’m not sure what else I could do that I would value. I try to be nice to people and to listen, but I don’t think I’m good at that sort of thing.

I feel guilty about these jealous or comparing thoughts, just as I feel guilty about the sexual thoughts. I suppose that the fact that he was a mentor friend to me growing up, and that our lives ran so much in parallel from the ages of four or five until our early twenties mean that it’s harder to avoid comparing myself to him than it is to avoid comparing myself to other peers. Not that I find it easy to avoid comparing myself to them.

I just want to feel that I’ve done something meaningful and good with my life, which inevitably leads me to compare myself negatively to people who I feel have done something meaningful and good. That’s why I feel so uncomfortable about my shul‘s (synagogue’s) fundraising drive, that it puts a precise numerical value on my worth to the community, in tens where other people are worth tens of thousands.

I hope that writing about these things here will exorcise them, put them in a box and let me forget about them, but perhaps it just encourages them.

***

I wonder a bit why I’m still subject to so many low moods even though I’m “officially” not depressed any more. Also why I’ve so rarely been happy in my life, from adolescence (I can’t really remember childhood) to the present, even when I haven’t been depressed. The best I ever seem to get is a state of neutral contentment. I’m not sure what happiness would actually feel like. Some people say antidepressants can “even out” moods, getting rid of lows, but also highs. I’m not sure if that’s true. Or maybe I just feel so uncomfortable and out of place, being on the spectrum in a world designed for neurotypicals, that I just can’t get happy. Lots of people on the spectrum do struggle with depression and anxiety at clinical or sub-clinical levels.

***

I’m applying for the job I mentioned the other day, but I don’t feel positive about it. It’s a larger library than I hoped (seventy staff members and eight thousand users) and regular issue desk duties are a key part of the role, even though this is the part of librarianship that I have struggled with the most. The first role on the job specification is providing inductions, support workshops and training sessions to students and researchers. I have done things like that in the past, albeit in a very limited way, but I’m not sure I would want it to be a main part of the role. I think it’s as much a teaching role (teaching library use and general information literacy) as a traditional librarian role, which is not uncommon in modern libraries. Plus, looking at my CV, a lot of my skills are rusty, unsurprising given how little I’ve worked in the sector in recent years, and having my current admin job at the top of the list doesn’t look good, although the alternative is saying that I haven’t worked since January of last year.

That said, I’m doubtful that I’ll even be called for interview given that I don’t have much experience with the teaching work they want, so I’m not too concerned, although it does make me wonder why I’m filling in the application (to satisfy my parents? For practice? To feel like I’m still a librarian?). I’ve been told many times to apply for jobs where I don’t meet 100% of the criteria in case no applicant completely fits, but I think I often have far too few of the desired attributes and experiences. Sometimes I wonder if I actually fit more of the categories, but have too rigid a view of my experiences. If I didn’t think in such black and white terms, I could see I’ve had done of these things. Maybe.

Making this application is also a reminder that of the six jobs I’ve had, two weren’t in the library sector at all and one did not really need a librarian qualification (although it was actually a job I enjoyed a lot and got a lot out of).

***

The other news today is that I contacted a professional editor about my novel. She is an acquaintance from the online mental health community, but not a close friend, so I thought this might be less awkward then asking my writer friend for free feedback. She wanted to know a bit more about the novel before saying if she can take it on, so I just sent her an email with a bit more information and a sample chapter.

I feel pretty nervous now. E saw the first draft of the first few chapters when we were dating and liked them; PIMOJ saw the whole of the second draft and didn’t like it; both possibly had a distorted view from the fact that we were dating. Also, PIMOJ doesn’t read much fiction and was rather shocked by the discussion of sex and domestic abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. I’ve written another draft since PIMOJ saw it. So, it is nerve-wracking showing someone my writing, and also wondering how much professional editing would cost. I guess I have to ask myself how much I want this book to be publishable.

***

This blog post is too long and I should go to bed as I have to be up early for work tomorrow, but I don’t feel tired, just melancholy…

Sir Galahad

I wonder how much of my low self-esteem comes from guilt about sex. Religious guilt about thinking about sex, but also feminist guilt about being attracted to women. Did the low self-esteem, guilt and shame start when I hit adolescence? I was shy as a child, but did I have low self-esteem before adolescence? I can’t remember.

Is it hard for any “normal” male (or female? I don’t know) who cares deeply about a traditionalist religion to get through adolescence any more without feeling hugely guilty? Such is the culture clash between highly sexualised, even pornified, Western sexual culture and religious culture. Then there was my first relationship, much of which was spent negotiating what levels of physical contact we were comfortable with (contrary to stereotype, she wanted to be much more physical than I did; she was a lot more experienced than I was too). Whenever I try to think positively about myself, I feel my libido is there to indict me.

It’s weird being thirty-seven and still a virgin, or at least it seems that way from the world around me. Certainly in the Orthodox Jewish world it’s weird and rather pitiable, although no one voices that opinion. In the Western world its weird for for different reasons. I suppose I seem inadequate, or dangerous (the “dangerous misogynistic incel” meme). The first psychiatrist I saw thought I was gay because I was twenty and had never had a girlfriend. I wonder what he would have thought if he could have known I wouldn’t even go on a date until I was twenty-seven.

Maybe it’s different in a religious community that encourages monasticism and religious celibacy. In the Orthodox Jewish community, where early marriage and large families are the norm, I feel this weird pseudo-child, a fact not helped by my autism and mental illness history rendering me childish and helpless more often than I would like. I agree with the Orthodox Jewish prohibition on sex before marriage, but I wonder if I will ever get there — or if, when I do, it will be one more thing that autism renders difficult and uncomfortable for me. Many people on the spectrum struggle with sex for a variety of reasons, usually tied to sensory discomfort or issues around interpersonal relationships. My experiences with my first relationship don’t make this any easier, just adding more guilt and fear.

Now I’m in a relationship, which makes these worries both more and less pertinent: fewer worries of the “No one could ever love me?” type, but more of the “What if she decides I’m too broken?” or “What if I’m just too autistic to do make this work?” type, as well as the specific obstacles our relationship faces.

I’ve mentioned before my asexual childhood fictional heroes (possibly I had already intuited on some level that sex and relationships would be hard for me) have all been sexualised now. Not for the first time, I reflect that the diversity agenda (which I see a lot in librarianship) is, in many ways, not all that diverse.

I feel haunted by the question, “Am I normal?” Haunted both religiously and generally. Also, “Am I good?” I wonder if God thinks I am a good person or a good Jew. These questions are not uniquely related to sex, but they are not absent from it either. I would like to know very much if God thinks I’m a good Jew.

***

I don’t know if it was a cause or a result of these thoughts, or something entirely unrelated, but today I had a bit of a mid-Pesach slump. Actually, in OCD anxiety terms, it was good: some things that would normally have been very triggering were overcome quite easily, but my mood was low. I just felt down and struggled to get involved in anything. I managed about forty minutes of Torah study, which surprised me, as it was difficult to concentrate.

I went for a run, which was good in terms of pace and moved my low mood a bit, but also refocused the low mood as general angst: “What if PIMOJ breaks up with me?” “What if our relationship doesn’t work out for some other reason?” “What if I never progress past my autism to build a career?” “What if I never get published?” (Published more than I have been already, I guess.) It’s telling that I was worried about not getting published and didn’t even think about a librarianship career.

I do think lockdown has made my relationship with PIMOJ hard, particularly the last few weeks when we’ve both also been busy with Pesach preparation and she’s been working compulsory overtime several days a week and speaking on video, let alone in person, has been almost impossible. Hopefully things will get a bit easier from here on.

***

In the evening I had a Zoom call with a couple of university friends. It was good, but also hard in parts, partly because I’m not comfortable on Zoom, partly because I feel our lives are very different. One friend teaches in a law school, the other at a university and I feel a bit inferior. On the other hand, they’re really impressed with my novel, but I don’t like to talk about it for reasons I can’t understand. I was trying to say that someone had read the novel and not liked it without saying it was PIMOJ, because I haven’t told them about PIMOJ and don’t want to at this stage. I didn’t want to talk about my autism assessment either and was vague there when talking about bad Microsoft Teams experiences, which I had at my assessment. I don’t know why I hide so much from people in real life. I’m scared of making myself vulnerable, which is probably an issue I have with PIMOJ too. I’m trying to make myself more vulnerable to her and share more, but it’s not always easy. I’m scared of how she might respond. I also had the issue I had yesterday of wanting to know how long the meeting would last. It was a free meeting and so should have been forty minutes, but went on longer, which made me vaguely anxious. All that said, my mood was better afterwards and I’m glad I managed it.

***

Perhaps because my mood was better after the call, I decided to send the devar Torah (Torah thought, although this was shorter and less textually-based and possibly less well-reasoned than normal) I wrote earlier in the week after all, after having been on the point of dumping it because I disliked it so much. My belief that Judaism is fundamentally anarchist in outlook (not voiced in so many words) is one I have hinted at before, although I’m wary of stating it explicitly for fear of the response it will get. Obviously it’s a different kind of anarchism to that of modern anarchist thinkers, based on individual responsibility and self-restraint.

***

All day, when my mood was bad, I was saying I would just vegetate in front of the TV. But then I thought I would do some Torah study first and then I would run first and in the end I’ve only watched forty minutes of TV. I wonder if I do more than I give myself credit for, but I haven’t actually done much today, just thought about doing things.

Neurotypicalism

I went to my autism support group on Zoom this morning. I was wary of it, as I find it a lot less helpful than depression group, but it was about relationships and I wanted to see if I would learn anything. The main thing I learnt is that the person who runs the meetings seems to have issues with neurotypicals and needs to work them through somewhere else rather than just ranting about them in the meeting. I left early because it was just too much. There wasn’t really much helpful advice, just some stuff about being authentic and making room for yourself in the relationship and feeling free to have non-standard relationships if that works for you. Someone there had been married for nearly fifty years, which is reassuring, although other people were speaking about not wanting to live with anyone at all. It makes me feel vaguely weird for wanting a “neurotypical standard” relationship involving marriage and living in the same house. I felt there wasn’t really enough talk about how to make compromises for a relationship rather than expecting your neurotypical partner to make compromises for you. The final straw was when the presenter said that, for autistic people, no means no, but neurotypical people are “play games” and often say no when they mean yes, which struck me as a misleading and dangerous thing to say.

I was also a bit worried by the number of people in the group who are quite happy living by themselves. Not worried for them, if they’re happy, but I’ve had mixed feelings about that. I have lived by myself at times and I coped and enjoyed parts of it, but I also found it very lonely and isolating at times. Realistically, there isn’t any easy way I can have people around me when I want them, but not when I don’t, so either living alone or with someone involves trade-offs. I also think that some of the people in the “want to live alone forever” group were OK with having casual sex, and I’m not, for various reasons, so that certainly does alter the cost/benefit analysis.

I spent an hour or so working on my devar Torah for the week, partially abandoning my original plan when I was unable to locate some quotes in the primary sources. I prefer to use primary sources than secondary ones, but I don’t always know where to find the primary sources for concepts and sayings I’ve picked up over the years, plus I’m often reliant on online sources and my imperfect Hebrew translation skills. I know I’m not alone in struggling to remember where I heard things as the internet is full of Jews either misattributing quotes and concepts or saying vaguely that, “It’s a Jewish idea that…” or “The rabbis say that…” Someone should make an index of well-known Talmudic and Midrashic stories and quotes. Famously, a lot of Jews, including some very frum (religious) ones, misremember the story about Avraham (Abraham) smashing up his father’s idol workshop as an actual passage in the Torah (it isn’t, it’s a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative)).

After that, I did a mixture of Torah study and cooking and went for a 5K run, but I did feel a bit lost without either paid work or my novel to work on. I’m resting the novel for a few weeks until my writer/editor friend can look at it. I feel pretty negative about it at the moment, to be honest, and keep wondering what possessed me to try to a mainstream novel of character. Part of me wants to start on a new novel, but I know I have to stick with this one until it’s either ready for publication or definitely unpublishable.

I spoke to PIMOJ in the evening. To be honest, during and after my run I was having negative thoughts (personal worries, worries about antisemitism… the usual), but I did feel better after speaking to PIMOJ. We didn’t even talk about my issues, we just talked. It was good.

Lately I’ve had some minor religious OCD, not the Purim Megillah issue I wrote about, but “idolatrous” thoughts when I was trying to pray. I’ve had this a lot over the years. The easiest way to get rid of them is exposure therapy. Trying not to think about something tends to make you think about it, so the anxiety about not thinking X immediately prompts thoughts of X. The solution is to deliberately think about X a lot, so I spent time this evening repeating the phrase where I usually have the trouble while thinking the things I usually try not to think in the hope that I will get to a point where I’m so desensitised to thinking about them that I don’t try not to think about them (if that makes sense). I may have to do this for a number of days until it works, but I’ve responded well to this in the past.

Vulnerable and Fragile

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Relationship, Weight, Twitter and Doctor Who

I had another date with PIMOJ. We’ve had a lot of “walk and picnic in a park” dates of necessity, because of COVID, but we have been enjoying each other’s company enough for them to stay interesting. Today I asked if PIMOJ was ready for us to call ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend and she was really pleased and said yes. We had a good time, we make each other laugh a lot. We have very different personalities, but I think we share a lot of core values, and we find the personality differences stimulating.

We were together for about four hours, with maybe an hour and a half more travel time to and from the park, so I felt pretty exhausted when I got home. I was too tired to do much after that. I spent an hour or so finishing reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. I was pleased to see that it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know, indicating that my research has been thorough. I just hope that comes across in the novel. Tomorrow I hope to start the third draft. I did about an hour of Torah study too, somewhat to my surprise.

My mood dipped a lot in the evening, to a level that would probably be mild depression if sustained over time. Sometimes when something good happens, my mood dips afterwards, perhaps as I realise that my life is going to change, even if in a positive way (autism doesn’t like change, even for the better). I also have a lot of guilt flying about at the moment, perhaps needlessly, connected in different ways to dating PIMOJ, whether it’s the guilt about my sexuality that I’ve been carrying for years or the fact that I know that E cared about me and that, even though we were not right for each other, and even though I did not rush from E to a relationship with PIMOJ, I still feel that E would be hurt if she knew that I have moved on and am serious about someone else.

***

I did feel a bit short of breath at times when PIMOJ and I were walking today, not bad enough that I had to stop, but I did slow down a little once or twice. I can’t tell if this is real or if it’s psychosomatic and I’m overthinking it. This is worrying me as it’s new.

It may be connected with being overweight, which is problematic as my weight gain has been from my medication and has not responded well to exercise. I haven’t really made significant dietary changes, although I did reduce my cheese and egg consumption a while back when I was told my cholesterol was a bit high (it’s crept up a bit again since then). I think I have put on more weight, although it’s hard to tell as I don’t weigh myself regularly. I do eat some junk food, but I feel not much, except on Shabbat when admittedly I do eat quite a lot, eating chocolate nuts mindlessly while reading or studying Torah.

I may have to try harder to control my weight with diet, but I’m not entirely sure how. I don’t want to quit eating junk food completely, but I may have to. In the past I’ve never managed to quit junk food entirely as, when I was depressed, I wanted to have some small treat to reward myself for getting through the day. I say I’m not depressed now, so maybe I can go without any junk at all, as if I was diabetic, but the thought of it does not fill me with enthusiasm.

I probably eat too many carbohydrates, but I don’t know how to cut them out without being hungry all the time. For reasons that would take a long time to explain, I think work has made my diet a little worse, in terms of eating more white bread and less wholemeal and more eggs again. I also often get hungry at bedtime and eat cereal and I don’t know whether that’s medication-induced or a bad habit or what. I already eat a lot of fruit and vegetables during the day, but I still get hungry, so it’s hard to switch more fruit and veg in instead of junk or carbs. I will try to go for a run tomorrow and see what happens in terms of shortness of breath.

Anyway, I’m not happy that I’m thinking about my weight in this negative way and having negative body image as even when my depression was at its worst, I didn’t have particularly bad body image. I didn’t have particularly good body image either, I just didn’t think about how I looked much and was too busy beating myself up for my thoughts and actions. But I have always wanted to be broadly healthy and I don’t think I am any more.

***

I deleted my Twitter account. I’d been thinking about it for a while, but the final straw was this post. Possibly I was a little impulsive, but I’ve felt that I’ve been on there too much lately, getting caught up in performative outrage. I don’t even post, just read, so I’m not even building online relationships, just watching other people get angry.

I worry sometimes about being in an echo chamber where I don’t hear opposing views. Then again, I constantly modify my political views, and I must get those new ideas from somewhere. I try to be open-minded, and to listen to people even if I don’t always go looking for ideas I disagree with, not least because I feel those views often attack me as a person. I probably do have a kind of Overton Window in my head that shifts back and forth.

This decision was confirmed by my starting to read Morality, Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book about the shift in the moral culture of the West from a communal focus to individualism with a resulting polarisation and inflaming of the public sphere.

***

I watched some Doctor Who (I didn’t feel in the right mood for the relative realism and cynicism of The Sandbaggers). Lately I’ve been watching season eighteen of the original run of Doctor Who, broadcast from 1980 to 1981, Tom Baker’s seventh and last in the lead role. I’m about halfway through, although I’ve seen the stories in it many times before. I’m not sure why I decided to watch the whole thing. I think DVDs have changed the way I watch TV from individual stories to whole seasons, even though the original run of Doctor Who didn’t have much continuity from one story to the next (although this season did, perhaps why I’m watching it as a whole).

It’s an odd season, based more around real science than most Doctor Who, and lacking in humour, but rich in world-building and atmosphere, albeit that I think the atmosphere comes from the direction, electronic incidental music and even costume design as much as the writing; certainly Logopolis, the season finale (in modern terms), lacks a lot of coherence in the writing and works more from imagery and the sobriety of Baker’s valedictory performance.

It’s a polarising season too; from broadcast onwards there was been a fan discourse that saw it as “adult” and “serious” and an improvement on earlier stories that were seen as “childish” and “silly,” but then revisionists switched those views around. The advantage of coming to original Doctor Who after it finished is not needing to take sides in debates like this; I can appreciate both sides.

This should probably have been on my Doctor Who blog, but it’s hard to feel bothered to write there when no one reads it, and when I feel I should post coherent essays, not little reflections.

Celibacy

Despite my worries, I managed to get up early for volunteering and got there on time. It was fine. A couple of people asked if I was OK as I haven’t been for a fortnight, which was nice. I’m always amazed when people notice I’m absent. Someone donated fresh jam donuts for the volunteers and I had one. Possibly my waistband says I shouldn’t have. I still feel that I make mistakes and do stupid things there, although it’s more that what seems logical to me doesn’t always seem logical to other people and vice versa for various (autistic?) reasons. Sometimes it’s probably poor executive function or me not processing spoken instructions properly, but other times it can be me applying rules over-rigidly. Then again, maybe I’m being perfectionist and looking to autism to excuse behaviours that don’t really require excusing (again).

I was pretty exhausted in the afternoon and didn’t do very much other than a few minor chores. I intended to listen a shiur (religious class) that I missed, but it wasn’t up online. I did some other Torah study, but it was just bits and pieces, little audio vorts (short religious ideas) and articles in a religious magazine. I couldn’t face anything heavier. I did a little bit of ironing and thought about trying to force myself to do more chores, but I was worried about being burnt out tomorrow when I have work. I wish I knew why I still get so tired so easily even with the mood aspect of depression being rather easier than in the past. I just read and watched DVDs. I had been eating dinner in front of the Chanukah candles this week, but at dinner today I was drained and couldn’t face eating dinner alone with noise from my parents’ TV and ended up eating in my room, which was also alone and with TV, but at least it was my TV.

Reading this back, I see I actually did quite a lot, but I still feel guilty about not doing “enough” and not having “enough” energy considering I’m not depressed “any more”. There probably are imaginary standards of “normality” and “mentally ill” here that aren’t helpful to me.

***

I saw the next two paragraphs a few days ago on Elisheva Liss’ Jewish mental health blog. The bit I’m about to quote actually isn’t the main point of the post, but is the part that is pertinent to me and set me thinking.

As a woman, I don’t pretend to understand what it’s like for a young man to grow up in a society where extra-vaginal ejaculation is forbidden, especially in such stark contrast to the permissive sexual norms of the broader secular culture. I see the struggle, the emotional and sexual complexity involved…

What I do know, is that from the onset of puberty at anywhere from around ages 9-14, until marriage, which doesn’t happen until at least the ages of 18-22, boys are expected to both not have sex and to try not to ejaculate. I’m fairly certain that the majority are unable to completely refrain from any masturbation, fantasy, or ejaculation during these hormonal and turbulent developmental years. The way they navigate this challenge often impacts their self-concept and adult relationships. Some repress developing libido and disassociate from their sexual selves. Others split, embracing one conscious, religious identity, and another secret sexual life, often involving pornography and sexual experimentation. Still others recognize that the ideal they are presented with might be unrealistic for them, and try to limit sexual behavior, while allowing for and forgiving their human needs.

This isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish world). I’m conscious of not wanting to reveal my entire life history online, but also of wanting to talk about this for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. (I’ve tried speaking about it in therapy, but I feel that writing this has made me realise there’s a lot more to say there.) My background is that I was brought up traditional, but not fully Torah observant and gradually became more observant in my teens. At the same time, I went to a co-educational (Modern Orthodox Jewish) school and eventually became interested in girls when I was about sixteen (I was a late developer, which I definitely think was a blessing). I also had sex education, at home and at school, but it was pretty functional. It was not the Haredi minimal or no sex education, but it focused on the biological “How do we make babies?” side of things. It was a long time before anyone ever really spoken to me about the emotional side of things, and probably most of the conversations I have had about dating and sex have been in therapy.

The problem with this is, being (probably) on the autism spectrum, I do not always pick things up easily if they aren’t explicitly spelt out to me, particularly regarding social interactions. No one ever said anything about masturbation, but somehow I intuited that it was wrong, and that sexual fantasy was likely to lead to it. Pornography was a lot harder to access when I was a teenager than it is these days, but there was already a lot of quasi-pornographic imagery in society; I think the infamous Wonderbra “Hello Boys” billboard advert (the one that supposedly caused numerous car crashes from men looking at the model’s cleavage and not at the road) came out shortly before I hit puberty, and there was a lot of similar adverts around and, anyway, you shouldn’t underestimate what sexually-frustrated teenage boys can find arousing (illustrations of Dark Elf warrior women in the Warhammer rule book…).

Being autistic, depressed and socially anxious did not make it easy to find girlfriends, or to work out how to find girlfriends (to this day, my few relationships have been either via dating websites or from the other person making the first move). During my time at school, I hardly spoke to girls, except a bit to my best friend’s girlfriend. In retrospect I wish I had, as looking back I see that there were intelligent, gentle girls in my year and even in my social group, and maybe my life would have gone differently if I’d just tried to talk to them, not necessarily to date, but just to get practise socialising with women, but I was too shy to really speak to them. I had a huge crush on one girl throughout my time in the sixth form (equivalent of high school, broadly), but was rarely able to speak to her and when I did, I think she was bored and embarrassed by me.

I did manage to build female platonic friendships at university, but that backfired when I asked one out. I was twenty, and it was the first time I had ever done that. She wasn’t interested and it ended badly.

I didn’t actually go on a date until I was twenty-seven. I’m now thirty-seven and still a virgin and unmarried. I don’t have any particular animus about the Jewish “no sex before marriage” rule, as I know that, emotionally, I couldn’t cope with casual sex anyway. I’m sure some people can, and chafe at the rule, but I know I can’t. I have just slowly begun another relationship, but there are reasons, that I won’t go into here, that mean that it will be years before we can get married, should we decide to do so, so I’m stuck with celibacy for now.

I can’t really put into words the huge amount of frustration, fascination, confusion, envy, guilt and even anger I feel around sex and celibacy. There is also fear, but I wrote about that on Hevria a number of years ago. (That’s aside from the worry that I have so much anxiety around sex that I’ll never be able to have a genuine healthy sexual relationship, even if I get married.) As a frum Jew, I’m not supposed to talk about it; as someone somewhat internet-savvy, I’m worried about being branded a misogynist “Incel” just for raising the topic. I’ve spoken about it in therapy quite a lot, and in more detail than I will go into here, but somehow I feel that I’ve never got to the bottom of it. I’ve barely spoken about it with my current therapist, even though I’ve been seeing her for over seven months. I don’t have the words. I’m not sure if that’s because of my upbringing or my issues.

From adolescence onwards, I’ve had a huge amount of guilt and shame around my sexual thoughts and feelings. For many years I tried to repress them and mostly failed. I’m not sure if it is really feasible to repress sexual thoughts and feelings long-term; it’s certainly not possible if one is at all engaged in hyper-sexualised Western society. Sometimes I can see why Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews try to avoid Western society entirely, but I know that’s not my path.

One of the reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) between school and university as many people expected to was because of feelings of guilt around sex and the belief (which I now realise was completely mistaken) that I was the only frum or would-be frum teenage boy struggling with it. Admittedly there were half a dozen other reasons I didn’t go to yeshiva, but that decision had massive repercussions for the rest of my life, down to today, including why I feel so unmarriable in the frum community. I already had low self-esteem and a tendency to over-intellectualise things, and that and the added sexual guilt probably triggered an emotional downward spiral that fed in to my depression. It may not be coincidental (although it has only occurred to me writing this) that my first episode of depression followed about six months after the start of my first “real” crush (by which I mean the first one where I actively thought and fantasised about her all the time when she wasn’t around, rather than simply feeling vaguely anxious and attracted when I saw her).

Sometimes I feel that it’s eating away my insides. I feel that, at thirty-seven, I should not be desperate to have sex, and certainly I know it’s a bad idea to get married just to have sex. I wonder if I will ever be “ready,” emotionally. I can’t shake the feeling that middle aged sex (which is all that’s left for me) is dull and perfunctory and that if I was going to ever enjoy sex, it would have happened before now. I know this isn’t true, but it’s another lie the media perpetuates, and I can’t shake free of it.

Another thing I’ve never really got to the bottom of is whether I really want sex, or just (“just”?) intimacy. To be honest, I probably want both, and that’s probably healthy; I don’t think secular society, which says you can have healthy sex without intimacy, is particularly well-adjusted in that way. But if I absolutely had to choose, I think I would choose emotional intimacy over sex. I think that’s my absolute desire in many areas: marriage, yes, but also I want a few close friends (rather than many distant ones) and my conception of Heaven is an intimate closeness with God and perhaps with loved ones. But a successful, intimate marriage is the one I want most of all. Although I don’t feel myself particularly successful at achieving intimacy in those other areas either. I think I’m a very lonely person, and have been since my teens. Again, I can blame autism, depression and social anxiety, but I’m not sure how helpful that is.

I’m not sure what I want in writing this. I think a lot of it is about recognition. That I think I’m carrying some kind of burden by following Jewish law in this area, and especially doing it while more open to the sexualised Western culture than some parts of the community. I think it’s the best – or least worst – option for me right now, for a host of halakhic (Jewish legal), emotional and moral reasons, but it’s still a burden and one I hope I will put down one day, but fear that I will be carrying it for a long time. And somehow I want that acknowledged, which it isn’t, not by hyper-sexualised Western society or by the frum world, where most people are married by twenty-five. In some ways I don’t mind that many non-religious would not understand why I’m doing this, but I feel that I would like people in the frum community to understand the strain of long-term celibacy for “older singles,” beyond issues like loneliness, not fitting into the community etc. (not that those are particularly well-appreciated).

Actually, I’m not sure how much is recognition from society and how much is recognition by myself. That I really want to hear (ideally from God, but at least from someone frum who knows me well and who I respect) that I’m a good person, that I’ve done well in staying a virgin all these years, despite my failure to be 100% Torah observant in other areas of sexuality.

***

Today’s donuts: jam (very fresh) at volunteering.

Lockdown Working, and Going Slooooowly

The first day of my new job went quite well. The train was relatively empty at 9.00am. There were still a lot of people on it, but we could sit with at least one empty seat between us and everyone wore masks. Also, I’m pleased that London Underground has put up signs reminding people that some disabilities are invisible, but I found their “Be Kind” signs a bit patronising.

Once arrived at work, I was in an office with my friend/line manager (who I will refer to as J for convenience). It was a small office and although we were socially distanced most of the time, at times we were not. The work he had me doing today was mostly checking data, comparing hardcopy records with the database and noting discrepancies. I got through about three-quarters of the data today, which was faster than he expected. I hope that doesn’t mean I’ve been sloppy. I was trying to be careful, and the office was mostly quiet, which hopefully means my concentration will be better than the previous data-entry jobs where I struggled with noise and interactions with others. I also hope that it doesn’t mean that the job won’t last long. J said he would look for other work for me when I finish this. He said there is work to be done migrating data from an existing database to Access, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that, although I was trained in using Access many years ago.

I felt awkward at lunch, as J just ate at his desk and seemed to keep working except when he went off to pray. I stopped for lunch, but felt too awkward too read my novel in the office as I would normally do to recharge during lunch. I ended up not taking a full hour because I was just sitting there messing around on my phone. My Dad says I should query this, or say that I need a full hour, which is already making me feel anxious. Part of me feels I shouldn’t ask for a full lunch as I’m already coming in to work an hour late (to avoid the Tube in rush hour with COVID) and probably leaving half an hour early most days (as J offered me a lift home and implied he always would, and he likes to leave around 4.30pm to beat the rush hour traffic). I can’t leave the office later, as we were the last ones out and I don’t want the responsibility of locking up. On the other hand, if J seems to be OK with this, maybe I shouldn’t argue. He seems to have an attitude of working towards the job rather than the clock.

As I said, J gave me a lift home as he lives near me. I sat in the back to socially distance, but I felt a bit uncomfortable, although I’m sure it’s safer than the Tube would have been at rush hour.

I was pleased that J did not talk much in the office, so I wasn’t distracted or too socially anxious. He did put the radio on in the car on the way home and then talked over it, so that I couldn’t hear and concentrate on either him or the radio. I probably should have said something, but I thought it would be rude. As he seemed to be making neurotypical small talk, I just made “Yes, right”-type noises and tried not to worry too much if I couldn’t hear everything.

On the whole I think it went well. It’s not a terribly interesting job and it’s not where my career should be going, but it keeps me occupied, plugs a gap on my CV and earns me some money at a time when the whole world is struggling, not just me.

***

I went to a Hasidut chaburah on Zoom via my shul (synagogue). I’m not sure how to translate chaburah. I guess it’s more informal than a shiur (religious class). The word is etymologically related to the idea of fellowship, of people getting together to work on their personality traits together, in this case via Hasidut, specifically the teachings of the Hasidic Rebbe of Piaseczno. To be honest, I was probably too tired to get much from it, and talks about character traits just tend to make me feel useless and bad, full of bad traits, but I was interested to hear the rabbi say that we are not our character traits, because I tend to identify overly with my character traits, especially the negative ones. I tend to struggle to identify myself away from my thoughts and traits.

***

I’m mostly feeling OK now, just very tired. But I do feel a bit daunted. Things are going reasonably well for me at the moment, but I’m daunted by how long it will be before anything can come to fruition. The job I just started is not going to be a career. It probably won’t last more than two or three months. I don’t know where I go with my career after that. My novel is progressing, but I blow hot and cold as to whether it is any good. I think it will be a year or so before I feel able to share any of it with anyone else (OK, strictly speaking E saw some early chapters, but I’m not in contact with her any more and I think she was biased as we were dating at the time).

Above all, things are going well with PIMOJ, but we can’t even see each other properly because of lockdown. I think things are good, but it’s hard to be sure when we get to spend such little time together. She’s not like me at all in terms of personality, but we have a lot of core values in common. I do feel that I can’t always communicate with her so well via text and I’m not completely sure why, given that I usually find text easier although, as I’ve said in the past, if we do communicate better in person, that’s better for our long-term relationship prospects (I’ve also said that the fact that English isn’t her first language probably complicates things). For various reasons this is not going to be a typical ultra-Orthodox-style whirlwind romance (in the Haredi/ultra-Orthodox world, people will typically go on six or eight dates at most before deciding to marry someone). Even conservatively, if not much goes wrong, it’s going to be several years before we could think about getting married (and we’re both religious, so my thirty-seven years of celibacy are set to continue indefinitely).

***

I know I’ve vacillated back and forth here about posting something about my politics, wanting to write something from a social anxiety point of view as anything else i.e. about feeling isolated in certain gatherings rather than advocating X, Y and Z. I actually wrote a long post which has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while now. I want to add a bit to it, but perhaps I’ll post it later this week, assuming I don’t lose my nerve.

I often seem to be in situations where most people don’t share my beliefs, whether political or religious (religiously, I’ve shared Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl notion that Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority or a minority of a minority). This is often uncomfortable, but it does mean that I can’t take anything for granted, I have to articulate what I believe and why constantly, at least to myself if not to other people. That’s probably a worthwhile exercise to undertake regardless of what you believe.

***

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.

Heat and Light

Shabbat (Sabbath) was OK, but a bit of a struggle.  It’s just too hot.  I know that in some places it gets hotter and more humid, but bear in mind houses in the UK are built for cold.  They are insulated and sometimes poorly ventilated.  So it’s pretty sweltering.  I couldn’t sleep at all last night.  I stayed up reading.  I eventually fell asleep around 5.00am.

Once I slept a lot again over Shabbat, despite the insomnia.  I slept late once I got to sleep and I napped in the afternoon, so I’m super-awake now, which is not good.

***

Today we ate in the garden, both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).  I was apprehensive about this, because I had a vague sense it ought to be religiously prohibited, but I couldn’t think of a reason why, or at least, not a reason I couldn’t argue against.  That said, if I hadn’t seen our super-Hasidic next-door neighbours do it last week, I don’t think I would have done it.  Still, I guess it’s progress in being less religious OCD-defined, and more open to things generally.  There’s probably a good deal of autistic “I don’t want to do anything new” in the “It’s halakhically forbidden (forbidden by Jewish law),” as much as OCD and over-caution.

***

My mood was variable.  I had the weird thought that in terms of dates, I’m doing about as well by just posting stuff on my blog and occasionally meeting people romantically that way (meeting online or in person) than I am being proactive in the real world or even hoping non-internet women would want to date me.  Obviously my online presence is more confident, more charming, more I-don’t-know-what than my in-person presence (unsurprising, as in-person presence is socially crippled by social anxiety and autism).  Who knows whether I’ll meet someone else that way?  Still, I do feel the odds are against my finding anyone soon, or even really being able to manage a relationship soon.  It’s just counter-productive to dwell on those thoughts.

(It’s strange, but despite my shyness and social anxiety, I do quite like meeting people in person who I have “spoken” to online.  I’ve done it quite a lot.)

I realised that somewhere along the line I stopped praying to find my spouse.  I’m not sure why.  I know in the last year or so I’ve cut down a lot of voluntary/spontaneous prayer because of feeling depressed and tired and overwhelmed and far from God.  That was probably a bad idea, making me more distant from God, but it’s hard to know how to get back to it.

I never know what to pray for about dating anyway.  I don’t exactly feel like I could get married at the moment, certainly financially and maybe emotionally.  Maybe I should pray to find some other activity or social network that would take away the loneliness?  But it feels unJewish to be in my late thirties and unmarried and not doing the one proactive thing I can really do about it (prayer).

Plus, how would I pray to feel less sexually frustrated, from a Jewish point of view, without praying to get married?  There isn’t another option.  It’s pretty clear from the Talmud that praying to reduce your libido doesn’t work (“There are no half blessings from Heaven”); marriage is the only option.  But what if, financially and emotionally, that isn’t possible right now, maybe never?  What should I pray for?

***

Those thoughts about finding a spouse by just waiting until she finds my blog (maybe) cheered me up a bit, but others brought me down.  I started crying while I was davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), I’m not sure why.  I had been thinking about a chiddush (novel Torah thought) I had and I’m not sure if it was connected.

In Bereshit (Genesis) chapter 6, God tells Noach (Noah) to build the ark and that it should have a “tzohar.”  It is not clear what a “tzohar” is.  The Medieval commentator Rashi (based on the Midrash in Bereshit Rabbah) gives us two options: “Some say this is a window and some say this is a precious stone that gave light to them.”

However, contrary to the way a lot of people read it, Midrash isn’t just about finding quirky facts about the Torah.  It is about finding deeper meanings.  What is this teaching us?

In his book Genesis: From Creation to Covenant, Rabbi Zvi Grumet notes that the description of the flood undoes the Creation narrative from chapter 1 of Genesis, with the world being uncreated stage by stage in reverse order as everything is destroyed, back to the point where the waters above and the waters below were divided on day two, leaving only the light created on day one.  The only thing not mentioned are the luminaries, created on day four.  We can assume they were covered by clouds, from the point of view of the ark, but this is not explicitly stated.

We might then argue that the “window” opinion assumes that the luminaries were still visible and all that was needed was a window to let the light of the sun and moon in, whereas the “luminescent stone” opinion assumes that the luminaries were invisible, and some artificial (quasi-supernatural) light source was necessary for the ark’s inhabitants.

Perhaps the deeper symbolism is this.  The “window” option assumes that even at a time of strict justice, when God withdraws his mercy and lets destruction reign on the world, even then there is hope as a natural part of the world.  There are intrinsically positive aspects of creation still around, still shedding their light from a distance.  God’s Presence can always be felt.

The “luminescent stone” approach is darker, in all senses.  It says that sometimes the world is so dark that you can find no natural source of light altogether.  The world outside is absolutely awful with no exceptions.  At a time like this, we have to rely on God to cast light for us directly and miraculously because the outside world is just too dark and horrible for us.  (I feel that this is a post-Holocaust type of perspective.)

I thought about the above, then I immediately went to daven Minchah, as I said, and I suddenly started crying and I didn’t know why.  I strongly suspect it is connected to what I was thinking, but I don’t know if I felt overwhelmed that God was providing light for me after all, or upset and alone that I feel He is not providing light for me.

***

My parents and I didn’t play a game on Shabbat this week, partly as Shabbat is finishing earlier now and partly because our neighbours came to the door for a socially distanced conversation with my parents towards the end of Shabbat, when we’d been playing (we all nap in the afternoon).  I’m trying to persuade my parents to play a longer, more involved game on a Sunday afternoon, as we’re all in at the moment, maybe Trivial Pursuit or Risk (my family don’t like to play Trivial Pursuit with me because I win.  I think at one stage they would only play if I answered the Genius Edition questions and they answered questions from a similar, but easier, quiz game).  I don’t remember the rules to Risk, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want to play it again.

***

I’m trying to listen to a long playlist on Spotify, but someone keeps editing it, so every time I open Spotify to listen to it, the track order has been changed and it’s hard to keep track of what I’ve heard to and what I haven’t.  Very annoying.  It’s one of the Spotify-produced (as opposed to user-produced) playlists too.

Trying to Be Present in the Present

Today my mood has been OK when I’m busy doing things, but it drops pretty quickly when I’m not.  I especially low at the moment (see final section).

I feel sexually frustrated again, not the in obvious way, but just wishing that I was with someone I loved and could give to that way.  Also, to have that type of intimacy.  I think I’m generally a sensible, play it safe, type of person.  I don’t take risks.  I don’t drink or smoke and illegal drugs scare me.  Yet, for most of my adult life, I’ve found myself constantly wishing that I was in a relationship, even though I know that would not have been a sensible thing for me to do most of the time, given how much I’ve been struggling with mental illness since I was sixteen (at least).  I guess it’s loneliness and feeling that I’ve never been completely accepted and understood.  I felt that acceptance with E., until suddenly it wasn’t there, which was frightening.

I’m trying not to think like that (about wanting to be in a relationship), but it’s hard.  I guess it’s better to accept those feelings, and to sort of make space for them in my head, but to acknowledge that I shouldn’t be focusing on them right now.  It’s hard not to focus on them.  Lately my mood has been OK when I’m doing something, but then I stop and suddenly the depression and loneliness rush in.

We’re in the introspective time of year.  The Three Weeks of Mourning are introspective, thinking about what we’ve done wrong to contribute to the exile of the Jewish people and the destruction (or non-rebuilding) of the Temple in Jerusalem, then we go into Elul which is the month of introspection before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and then we have the Ten Days of Repentance bookended by Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement).  Even though this introspection is only really starting, I already feel that I know what to focus on this year.  I need to learn to be in the present and not worry about the future and to stop trying to predict it, because it’s impossible to predict accurately.

The Medieval Torah commentator Rashi says (on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 18.13): “‘You shall be wholehearted with HaShem Your God’: walk before him whole-heartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you accept it whole-heartedly, and then you shall be with Him and become His portion.” (translation via Sefaria, slightly modernised)

I think Rashi is quoting or paraphrasing the halakhic Midrash (I haven’t checked which).  It’s talking primarily about not engaging in soothsaying, divination and the like (that’s the context of the verse), but Rashi makes a wider homiletic point about having faith in the future and accepting whatever happens.

I’d like to have the mindful/present-centred mindset of not worrying about the future or feeling excessive guilt and shame about the past, but it’s hard.  I worry a lot, and when I think about my past, it almost always seems to lead to guilt or self-blame.  It would be so nice to think of myself married to someone who I love and who loved me, just as it would be nice to think of myself as making a career writing Jewish novels, but both seem so distant that they seem like I’m taunting myself rather than setting realistic goals.

I guess I feel scared because it seems like I’ve passed the point in my life where I could have the things I want in life.  I could still get married any time until I’m ancient, but if I want children (and I do) I have to either find a wife in the next few years or marry someone significantly younger than me.  I know people who have happy marriages who do have a big age gap, but I feel it’s not so likely for me.  Likewise with careers, it’s really hard to be building a career from nothing in my late thirties, especially as I am struggling with librarianship, but not confident enough in my writing ability and struggling to get started with that too.  If I built some kind of career and if I got married, then I think I could have some happiness even if I couldn’t have children, but I struggle to feel positive about being unemployed, single and living with my parents in the long-term.  And of course in the frum community almost everyone my age is married, just as most of my Oxford peers (that I still know of) have important jobs in law, politics, academia, the rabbinate or the like.  This is why I left Facebook, to try to stop myself from comparing myself to others.  I have to accept that my life is going to be very different to other people’s (including my sister’s), but it’s hard to do that when I don’t have a clear idea of what type of life I could realistically build.

***

I woke up early, about 7.15am.  Despite only having had four or five hours sleep (I went to bed late and then struggled to sleep, probably from sleeping too much in the day), I didn’t feel too tired, but I didn’t feel inclined to get up and just stayed wrapped up in my duvet.  It wasn’t a particularly sensible thing to do, as I eventually fell asleep again, for several hours and ended up getting up no earlier than usual.

Achievements: an hour and twenty minutes spent on the novel (admittedly with some procrastination).  I finished another chapter.  I’m up to 66,000 words, with two chapters left to go, so hopefully the word count will be OK.  There’s a lot to do in redrafting, though.  I see this taking at least four drafts, maybe more.

I also did forty-five minutes of Torah study, reading this coming Shabbat’Torah portion (Va’etchanan, my bar mitzvah portion).

I got changed to have a run, put insoles in my trainers to see if that makes them more cushioned and stops hurting my feet, and warmed up, but once I started running, I could feel my ankle hurting again.  Not badly, but I didn’t want to risk making it worse, so I decided not to run for a few days.  I went for a walk instead, which isn’t as good at sublimating negative feelings, but is better than nothing.

***

Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or think.  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about China persecuting the Uighurs, and also the Tibetans, Chinese Christians and adherents of Falun Gong, who are also being persecuted, but aren’t in the news.  I want to do something, but I don’t know what.  I feel very small and insignificant.  It’s hard even to talk about it without sounding like I’m making a point about some other issue.  The Jewish newspapers have been drawing parallels between the treatment of the Uighurs and the Holocaust, but it is hard to know what can be done.  There aren’t large numbers of refugees here that I could help in some practical way (I used to volunteer at a refugee drop-in centre, although it’s been shut from COVID), nor is escalated confrontation with China a promising option, when it could easily become a nuclear standoff that would destroy the planet.

***

The Doctor Who bit; also the antisemitism bit (skip if not interested):

Asking for the Doctor Who Series Twelve box set for my birthday looks more and more like it was a mistake.  I watched episode three, Orphan 55, which I hated first time around, in the hope that I would find something to like now I know what the bad bits are.  I didn’t.  In a word, awful.  In two words, really awful.

Unlike first viewing, I’m not completely sure that there’s an antisemitic bit.  There’s a montage of images of natural disasters and riots that includes a shot of fighter planes flying over Jerusalem, the only identifiable place in the sequence.  I feel it shows that BBC-types see “Israel” as a shorthand for “evil” in a way they wouldn’t with other countries.  At least, I hope it’s “Israel”; it’s possibly “Jews,” a thought not dispelled by the BBC’s low-key coverage of the weekend’s Twitter antisemitism storm compared  with the coverage of other forms of prejudice.

I told myself I wouldn’t write negative reviews any more, for various reasons, so I’m going to let it go rather than reviewing it on my Doctor Who blog, but I hope I get more out of the rest of the series or this will be a waste of time and money.  I think the series did get somewhat better as it went on.

The sad truth is that I’m enough of a completist that I still want to have every TV episode and that I will watch episodes at least twice because I know a first viewing sometimes obscures good points.  Experimental episodes in particular can improve on second viewing once you can see what they are trying to do, although very little of this series was experimental.  You can call that autistic obsession on my part if you want, and certainly the BBC makes a lot of money out of people like me.  Still, there are more expensive hobbies out there.  I’m just glad I don’t have the need to own every Doctor Who novel, audio drama, comic strip, computer game, etc. which would be an enormous drain of time as well as money.

Ghost in the Machine

I thought on waking that, although I still felt quite depressed today, I was not as paralysingly depressed and exhausted as the last couple of days, but soon my mood dipped down again.

The supermarket delivery came an hour early this morning, while Mum and Dad were still at the hospital for Mum’s chemo.  I was still in pyjamas as I wasn’t expecting them yet.  I didn’t even have my dressing gown on.  I know, realistically, I’m not the only person in pyjamas at 11am during lockdown, but it’s still embarrassing, not least because I’m aware it could easily have happened outside lockdown given my disrupted sleep pattern.

I’m still struggling with bank account stuff.  I feel bad for saying it, but it is making feel completely overwhelmed.  I’m not sure if that’s depression or autism or what.  I did start to make progress with it, but then their website crashed and seemed to be not working generally, rather just for me, and I had to give up.

I did manage to go out to post Doctor Who Magazine a review copy of my book.  I would like them to review it, but I’m not so hopeful.  They basically only review official merchandise these days, and there’s so much of that that they only review a fraction of it.  I did at least overcome the autistic anxiety of going to a new place as I hadn’t used this post office before.  I am also hopeful that Doctor Who Magazine might at least mention my book on the merchandise news page.

I did spend an hour putting together a devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I was relieved to get it done, as I was not sure I had anything to say, but I felt I was over-reliant on secondary sources this week, particularly Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in Bamidbar Numbers and some badly-referenced Midrashim in the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash.  I guess it can’t be great every week.  It did bring me a bit out of my low mood, which was good.  I wanted to do some more Torah study later on, but didn’t manage more than a few minutes.

As I was having trouble with the building society site, I used the time for working on my novel.  As is often the case when starting a new chapter, I struggled to get into it, but eventually managed an hour or so of work and about 400 words, which was not bad considering how depressed I felt.  The depression may have helped channel my narrator’s frustrations.

I went for a run too.  It wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad considering that I was very depressed and I hurt my foot somehow halfway through.  I think it helped my mood a bit as I felt a bit better afterwards.  I think I have lost some body fat in the last few months, which is good.

***

We’re in the annual Jewish national mourning period known as The Three Weeks, where frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) men don’t shave.  One week in and my beard is itchy, and it’s worse when wearing a mask I discovered today.  I wonder if compulsory masks will end the hipster stylised facial hair that’s become common in the last decade or so?

***

I guess part of what I find so frustrating about not being married is not just the celibacy, but not being able to talk about what I feel about being celibate.  There is, supposedly, a “shidduch crisis” in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world where, for reasons that are debated, there may be a surplus of unmarried frum women over frum men.  There is supposed to be a similar, but somewhat different, “singles crisis” in the wider Jewish community of a surplus of unmarried women (not frum) who want to marry a Jew over Jewish men who want to marry a Jewish woman.  And there is, apparently, a different crisis entirely of single men in the secular world who can’t find partners, again for contested reasons.

What bothers me about all of this (aside from the obvious fact that despite there being a two-fold shortage of Jewish men, I still can’t find a partner, which makes me feel useless beyond all repair), is that no one talks much about what this means emotionally.  There’s a lot of of talk about “fixing the shidduch crisis” in the frum world i.e. making matches, but not about the emotional fall out of being single.  In the wider world the only people talking about it are violent and misogynistic “Incels,” who I wouldn’t want to associate with.  I tried to talk about it a bit in my novel, but perhaps I shied away from the full extent of it.  Or maybe I don’t even have the vocabulary to talk about something that is so hidden and repressed.  Maybe that’s something to fix in the redrafting, if I can find the right words.

Then the Star Trek: Voyager episode I watched today was not helpful.  Ensign Kim fell in love with an alien and was given an official reprimand for breaching protocol.  Almost every iteration of Star Trek has one character who is persistently unlucky in love.  In Voyager, it’s Harry Kim.  After spending the first season or two pining after his fiancée on the other side of the galaxy, he fell in love with a succession of unobtainable women: a hologram, a cyborg, “the wrong twin” (one who didn’t like him, unlike her sister, who he didn’t like) and now an alien from a xenophobic race.  Later, if I recall correctly, he falls in love with a reanimated corpse (um, yeah).  The character feels like a virgin, even though he isn’t.

I feel I have a certain amount in common with him, as I suspect that I too tend to fall for unobtainable women.  Or maybe they’re all unobtainable for me?  The first woman I asked out, insisting that we did not have much in common, said that if I liked myself more, I would like someone who I had more in common with.  The reality is that I’m not sure there is such a person, or what difference it would make.  I suppose E. and I had a lot in common, although we had some big things not in common (particularly religion).  It still wasn’t enough to keep us together.  Maybe in some ways we had too much in common, in terms of needyness and low income.

Ensign Kim’s formal reprimand was unfair, though.  Star Trek characters are always having flings with aliens with no repercussions.  Captain Kirk and Commander Riker slept their way around the Alpha Quadrant without so much as a warning.  As Commander Chakotay said, Captain Janeway was being strict with Harry because he always kept to the rules in the past.  I feel like that a lot – not regarding sex, but generally.  When I was a child, I felt that my observance of the rules was never noticed by authority figures, but I was too scared to break them.  Lately I feel like God is punishing me more than most people because He expects more from me, although it’s hard to tell what He expects me to do differently, or how I should do it.  I do feel at times that my loneliness and single state is somehow a punishment for something, although I know that’s not particularly logical.

***

A different type of loneliness: Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Torah email this week is a eulogy for his teacher, Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, who died recently.  He speaks movingly of the idea of the teacher in Judaism.  “In Judaism, study is life itself, and study without a teacher is impossible.  Teachers give us more than knowledge; they give us life.” (Emphasis in original)  When I think about whether I made a mistake in not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) for a gap year, the actual content I would have learnt is only third on my list of regrets.  My bigger regrets are not “learning how to learn” and not having come into contact with great Torah scholars who I would have learnt from, from their personalities as much as their lessons.  There’s a wonderful essay by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (in the book Halakhic Morality) where he says that the content of Judaism can be learnt from books, but each person also has to develop their own unique “religious style” which can not be taught, only aroused within them by watching a great teacher.

My rabbi mentor is of course a teacher to me, but only in an ad hoc way.  He has never been in the position of formal teacher to me in any long-term way.  I am lucky that he has set aside so much time for me over the years, but it is not the same as being at a yeshiva with teachers.  I have learnt from teachers in books: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook and (lehavdil bein chayim le chayim) Rabbi Sacks himself and Rabbi Steinsaltz (among others).  Still, I feel book learning from dead or distant rabbis is not good enough, just as my Talmudic studies seem too small and low-level and my general Torah studies disconnected and lacking focus.

I do not know what to do about this.

***

Another line in Rabbi Sacks’ essay resonated for different reasons.  “Early on, he said to me, ‘Don’t be surprised if only six people in the world understand what you are trying to do.'”  I feel like that sometimes when contemplating my own writing, what I write now and what I want to write.  Maybe I’m being arrogant.  I would prefer to say that I’m doing what all good writers should do – writing for myself – and I know from experience that I have unusual tastes.

***

I keep coming back to the feeling that everything just seems so difficult and endless.  I was feeling earlier today that I should be glad that I’m hurtling unstoppably towards death because life just seems so painful and meaningless.  Lonely and painful.  I don’t know what I really enjoy or find meaningful any more, except writing, but even then I struggle to get anything published or to get any money from it.  I just feel so pessimistic about my life ever being good.  My childhood had problems, but could have been a lot worse had I not had one really good friend, but from adolescence to adulthood, my life has pretty much never been good.  It’s hard to hold out on a hope that things will go back to how they were when I eight years old.

Porcupines in Winter

Oh dear, this is going to be one of those posts again, the very despairing and depressed type.  Sorry.  You don’t have to read it.

I thought I’d used the title of this post before, but apparently not.  The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about porcupines that want to huddle together for warmth in winter, but if they do, they hurt each other with their spines.  This is how I feel: I want to draw closer to others, yet I find they “hurt” me and I apparently hurt them, not always for obvious reasons.

I woke up feeling very depressed and exhausted today; also rather lonely and “touch hungry.”  I feel a lot that I want to love and be loved.  I also feel a lot that I want to have sex, particularly when depressed.  Neither of these statements are hugely socially acceptable (in Western society, let alone Orthodox Jewish society), but the second is absolutely unacceptable.  I find it hard to live with knowing that I feel like that without being able to express it.  It is hard to know what to do with it for decades on end.

It was hard to get going today.  I just wanted to stay in bed.  Actually, I didn’t really want to be anywhere, but bed was easier than anywhere else.  I’m feeling a lot of self-loathing today and I don’t know why.  I just seem so socially inept.  I also seem pretty useless at living a good or productive life (not the same thing, I know), by either Western or Jewish standards.  It was hard to put on tallit and tefillin and daven (pray).  This is a struggle every morning, yet I do, usually rather late, and in the winter, when the days are short, I often miss Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and have to skip straight to Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but I do put on tallit and tefillin and daven, after breakfast, but before engaging with the day, yet I never give myself credit for it, I just beat myself up for doing it late.  I wish I could give myself credit for it.

I felt really depressed and exhausted even after lunch, when my mood usually peaks.  I wanted to cry, but didn’t feel able to do so.  I just wanted to curl up and hibernate.  I did very nearly go and do that; at any rate I went and lay on the bed.  I had told myself to do chores today rather than write my novel, but apparently the motivation I had to write the novel, inconsistent as it can be, can’t be transferred to chores.

The main chore opening a new ISA (tax-free savings account).  Dad is always getting me to open new bank accounts and ISAs because I will get more interest in the new one than my old one.  I do it because I am weak and always do what other people tell me to do, especially my parents.  I think the amount of interest I get on the amount of money I have to save is minimal, and probably not worth the hassle.  Also, having so many accounts confuses someone who is increasingly bad with numbers (unbelievably, I got an A* at GCSE maths.  I’ve got no idea how I did that.  I think I’ve become rusty in the intervening twenty years.  Being vague about money is one of the things E. did not like about me).  I can’t work out how to transfer money into this account and I think I may have messed something up.  I think I need to open a savings account with the same building society and then pay money from there into the ISA, but it’s a lot of hassle for what amounts to a relatively small amount interest over two years, which my Dad would probably then advise me to reinvest elsewhere anyway.

And, yes, I know having too many bank accounts is a first world problem, and being able to write off the small amount of interest is a sign of privilege (although the privilege in this case is more that I have practically zero expenditure because I have no life than that I have lots of money).  I’m not even sure what this money is being saved for; notionally to pay a deposit on a house or flat, I suppose, but it seems less and less likely that I’m ever going to be in a fit state to do that.  I can’t drive and am scared of learning, so it’s not going on a car, and I don’t really go on holiday, so it’s not going on that.  I live with my parents, so it’s not going on rent or white goods.  There isn’t much else to spend on it.

So that wasted an hour or two.  Then I wasted more time by going to the post office, which was shut despite saying online that it would be.  I also went to the pharmacist, which didn’t have what I was looking for.  At least I went for a walk.

I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too depressed to concentrate and only managed ten or fifteen minutes.

My main achievement for the day, aside from the walk, was cooking dinner, which I had already decided macaroni cheese, fortunately, as it is very quick and easy to cook.  I also phoned the mental health clinic to check that the appointment I had booked with the psychiatrist for this coming Thursday (from before lockdown) has been cancelled.  I feel I should have had some kind of official cancellation letter, but don’t think I have.  There was no answer when I phoned, so I’m guessing they haven’t reopened for non-emergency mental health yet.

I ended up just watching Doctor Who this evening in lieu of doing anything productive, because I just felt too depressed.  I ended up watching new series episodes for some reason (Asylum of the Daleks and The Name of the Doctor), even though I don’t generally like them as much as the original series.

***

I get a sort of pressure in my skull when I try to force myself to concentrate on things when I’m too exhausted and depressed.  I’ve never seen that listed as a depression symptom, but I get it quite a bit.  Also, when I get agitated, I start thinking as much in images than words, which I think is an autism symptom, but it would usually be constant for someone rather than only during times of agitation.

***

I think, far from being nearly over E., I’m only just beginning to mourn the loss of the relationship.  In Heaven Sent (perhaps the definitive Doctor Who episode), the Doctor reflects that the day someone dies isn’t the hardest day – that day you’re busy.  The difficult days are all the subsequent days when they’re still dead.  I think the fact that the relationship is still dead is hitting me.  I still think I did the right thing to end it, not least because I think E. would have ended it soon if I hadn’t, but still…  I miss her.  Or do I just miss having someone to talk to?  Can you even have “someone to talk to” in the abstract?

***

Sometimes I feel I could die or go mad from how “wrong” my life feels, but I don’t know how to change it, or if the changes I want are even possible (certainly being in a relationship is not possible now, and maybe not ever).  I just want to scream.  And I struggle to let other people understand how wrong my life seems to be, which makes me wonder if it’s just catastrophising, yet their suggestions for change all seem impossible and unworkable.

I just feel sad and lonely right now.  I’m hiding it from my parents again, or trying to (they can usually tell).  I’m not sure why I can’t tell them.  I’m just struggling to cope today.  I don’t feel tired, but I might go to bed because I’m too depressed to read (and reading The Jewish Review of Books today just makes me feel that should have been a journalist, essayist, novelist, academic… something shaping the Jewish experience and the world of ideas).  It’s either that or sit up late watching DVDs.  I feel that I hate myself, my life, my blog… except “hate” is too strong a word for what I feel.  I’m too depressed to feel hate today.

Well, at least today’s post is shorter than yesterday’s.

More Loneliness, and Writing Progress

I feel lonely again, and I feel “touch hungry” like crazy.  “Touch hunger” was a term I learnt from the sex therapist Talli Rosenbaum on the Intimate Judaism podcast, but I had felt the concept for a long time without knowing that there was a word for it.  It’s the feeling of wanting to be touched and held.  I feel that a lot at the moment.  I want someone to touch me romantically/sexually.  I can hug my parents, but it’s not the same, and I don’t always feel comfortable asking my parents for hugs; I’m not sure why (it’s not because of anything they’re doing).  My first girlfriend was the only person I’ve hugged in anything approaching a sexual way because E. and I had a long-distance relationship.  Even then, with my first girlfriend, it took me a long time to feel able to touch her because I wanted to keep Jewish law about not having physical contact before marriage and there was a lot of guilt in just hugging.  The whole experience was distinctly confusing emotionally, especially in terms of the way that relationship developed and the way it ultimately fell apart.  So there’s a lot of guilt, shame and confusion as well as loneliness, longing and despair around these feelings.

I’m thinking of E. today and wondering how our relationship fell apart so fast.  Was the initial attraction and the way it became very serious very quickly (we were speaking seriously about marriage) just infatuation?  Or would we have been OK if lockdown hadn’t been so difficult for her?  I guess I’ll never know.  Sometimes I wonder if I should have tried to stay with her for longer, until after lockdown, to see if things went back to normal, but I couldn’t cope with the psychological strain of the way she suddenly wanted the relationship to be.  It was as much a trust thing as anything else.  It does make me wonder if anyone could ever really love me, for more than a few months until the infatuation ended.  I don’t blame E. for what happened.  I just want to know if the situation could repeat in future relationships.  I want to know how I can trust anyone else.

***

I feel I haven’t said much that is new here in months.  Every day (except Shabbat/Saturday) I work on my novel, take exercise, do some Torah study or work on my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought), occasionally go to a shiur (religious class) on Zoom, go to therapy via Skype once a week, cook dinner or iron or do other chores a couple of times a week…  To be honest, the repetition doesn’t bother me so much (I guess there are advantages to being autistic after all), but I feel it must be dull to my readers and it’s no wonder I seem to get even fewer ‘likes’ than I did before lockdown.

Today’s repetition: I spent one and three-quarter hours on my novel.  I wrote 1,000 words and also edited a long fragment that I wrote almost exactly a year ago into the main body of the text.  It was the first bit of the novel that I wrote, when I was excited and just needed to get something down on paper even if it wasn’t starting from the beginning.  I reduced it from 4,000 words to 2,500, which makes me worry how much the entire book will shrink in redrafting.  I did cut a lot of unnecessary stuff though.  I slip into pretentious waffle if I’m not careful.

The writing was difficult, as I was challenging difficult thoughts and experiences from my past (particularly my further education job).  I was glad that I got through it without much procrastination, just fairly solid working.

It’s scary writing something so personal and which makes me so vulnerable.  The rest of the chapter is going to make me just as vulnerable and also risky in terms of content, especially from a frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) point of view.  There is certainly a risk with some of my writing in this book that people are going to be surprised that a frum person could write those things, still less apparently have experience of them.  I think some things need to be said, although it’s hard to judge what to say explicitly and what to leave unsaid sometimes.  I think I’m writing about things that lots of people sort-of know go on in the frum community, but prefer not to think about it.  If the book does get published, I could well end up hoping that not many people I know actually read it, or at least that they don’t tell me they’ve read it, otherwise there could be some awkward conversations.

***

By late afternoon, I was feeling depressed again.  I’m not sure if that was from writing or just generally.  I went for a thirty-five minute run, just managing to dodge the showers which helped a little.  I felt depressed and lonely while running, but tried to focus on getting through the day and not worrying about the future, as per my post yesterday.

I didn’t do much Torah study as I got an exercise migraine and had trouble shifting it.  I was OK for an hour or more after running, then I suddenly had a massive headache that stopped me from doing anything.  I ended up watching The Avengers (The Bird Who Knew Too Much) on the grounds that The Avengers is upbeat and requires relatively little concentration (this is the British 1960s espionage/science fiction TV series The Avengers, not the Marvel superhero films of the same name).  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of Torah study in small bursts.

And now I should go to bed as it’s nearly 1am, but I don’t feel sleepy.  After I have a migraine, I end up feeling too tired to do much, but not actually sleepy and it’s hard to know what to do.

Crushes and Being in the Present

There are things I think about talking about here, drop hints about, but back away from talking about openly.  I’m not sure why I do this.  I know why I’m too nervous to talk about them (a whole bunch of different reasons for different topics), but I’m not sure why I keep wanting to bring them up.  Maybe because they seem important to me, or simply because I often go into confessional mode on my blog and want to offload everything.  Or maybe I’m just trying to provoke people into stopping reading.

One topic I’ve been thinking about for the last few days is crushes.  I’ve had some kind of crush most of the time since I was sixteen when I haven’t been in a relationship, which is most of the time.  As soon as one crush drops out of my life or marries someone else, I find someone else to fixate on.  It’s very adolescent.  I suppose it’s a product of wanting love, but being too afraid to be open and vulnerable with someone, so I just obsess about people from a distance.  It’s worth noting that of my two “proper” relationships, one was not originally a crush at all (she messaged me on JDate), the other was a mild crush at best (we were emailing, originally just as friends, and I felt a bit of attraction, but only acted on it when she said she felt the same way).  So that may be significant, that crushes almost never turn out well.

I can feel the Crush Wraith (I was going to say Crush Monster, but really a crush is ghostly and insubstantial) coming back even though it’s not long since I broke up with E., and even though the circumstances of our break up arguably ought to make me think twice about ever being in a relationship again, or at least not until a whole bunch of other criteria are met (now I’m talking about my love life like an economist…).

It’s not just that.  Part of me wants to get back in touch with E., not to date again, I tell myself, but just to be friends.  She was a good friend, and I don’t have many friends, ergo I should get back in contact, or so the logic goes.  Then comes the guilt: E. doesn’t have many friends either.  Maybe she’s in a worse state than I am.  Maybe it’s an matter of kindness to get back in contact with her.  I’m worried if I do that, we’ll end up with a permanently unresolved on/off relationship that will get in the way of other relationships.  I think the attraction is too strong for us to be friends; not close friends, at any rate.

***

The sermon from Shabbat Shoftim 30 August 1941 in Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the sermons of the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, resonated with me over Shabbat.

He starts with a verse from the sedra, which the translator (J. Hershy Worsch) translates as, “Be guileless with God your Lord.” (Devarim/Deuteronomy 18.13)  I don’t like that translation very much.  I would prefer something like “Have integrity in your relationship with God your Lord” or “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God” (which is Sefaria.org’s translation).  Tamim has connotations of integrity and wholeheartedness.

He then quotes the Medieval commentator Rashi (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak).  I’m going to give a mash-up of Worsch’s translation of Rashi and the translation on Sefaria as I don’t like either of them completely and I’m too tired to translate from scratch (it’s gone midnight here): “Walk before Him wholeheartedly; put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future.  Simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.”  This is my favourite Rashi comment, but I’m bad at living up to it, so it got my attention.

In sermonic style, Rabbi Shapira discuss some other things, moving to the situation of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, and in Europe in the Holocaust in general, saying a Jew would be unable to respond to hope or good news because he has been so “beaten and tortured that he that he is utterly broken and effaced by pain and poverty… there is no longer a person capable of rejoicing.”  This is common in Sacred Fire, the acknowledgement that faith and joy depend on physical and psychological wholeness (another meaning of tamim), which I think is crucially missing from a lot of other attempts to deal with suffering religiously.

He says that if the Jews knew that they would be saved tomorrow, they would find courage.  “The problem is that they cannot see any end to the darkness.”  Then he returns to Rashi’s comment: “Even if you are broken and oppressed, nevertheless be artless and whole. Take strength in God your Lord because you know that God your Lord is with you in your suffering.  Do not attempt to project into the future, saying, “I cannot see an end to the darkness,” but simply accept whatever happens to you, and then you will be with God — to be His portion.” (Emphasis added.)

That seemed very meaningful to me, the idea of being mindfully in the present and not trying to see the future, and to see that was seen as having what I would translate as integrity (being “artless and whole”), which is important to me.  Whether I can do that is another question.  It’s hard when I’m feeling lonely and unlovable and unemployable.

***

Today I slept a lot.  When I was awake, I felt mildly depressed.  I did some Torah study and read more of The Siege.  I played a game of Rummikub with my parents after seudah (dinner), but didn’t want to play a second game and went off to read.

I’m trying to feel grateful for things like being able to spend time with my parents (and getting on well with them) and not being in lockdown by myself, but it can be hard.  I had difficult feelings today, things that were probably vague feelings of anxiety, as well as feelings of sexual frustration that can be triggered by strong negative emotions like anxiety, depression or anger.  It is very hard to know what to do with those feelings.

Autism and Depression in the Workplace and More on Meaning

I dreamt about doing my A-Levels (equivalent of High School) and struggling with self-organisation because of my high functioning autism.  In reality, I was OK academically/organisationally at A-Level.  It was socially where I was beginning to struggle, as I couldn’t cope with more complex forms of adolescent friendship compared with childhood friendship, or with the greater levels of freedom I was being given.  Drink, drugs and sex scared me a lot; maybe it’s appropriate that they did, but they didn’t seem to scare my peers.  In reality, it was only when I got to the world of work, much delayed by depression, that my autistic issues became really noticeable.  I woke up with 17 Again by Eurythmics in my head (I sincerely hope I am never seventeen again).  I wanted to go back to sleep, as I had only slept for seven hours (I generally sleep much more because of depression), but it was too hot, so I got up.

I sleep badly when it’s hot anyway, partly from the heat, partly perhaps because I usually wrap myself up in a duvet, one of my more autistic traits, and I can’t do that when it’s too hot.  I’ve wrapped myself up in my duvet like a cocoon since I was a child.  I suppose it makes me feel secure.  When I was a child, I had an idea that if burglars broke into the house and stabbed me, the duvet would protect me.  I’m not sure if I really believed this, nor do I know if I really thought I was living in a production of Richard III and was likely to be stabbed by housebreakers.  I do feel more secure wrapped in my duvet though.  They sell weighted duvets now for people on the spectrum.  I’ve thought about getting one.

***

I got a weird response from the place I applied for a job the other day.  They said they have had a lot of responses; also that the library is small, but that they will get back to me.  I think they were saying they don’t want a trained librarian, just someone who will do admin for books, but it seemed an odd way of saying it.  Am I hoping I get the job or not?  I don’t know.  It would be good to have some income and structure, and the esteem that comes from work, in other people’s eyes if not my own.  On the other hand, I like having time to write when I’m most productive (afternoon/early evening) and working five afternoons a week was not my preferred part-time structure.  I would prefer two or three full days a week, giving me time to recover from work days as well as time to write on non-work days.

***

I got a letter saying my benefits have gone up as they now don’t think I’m able to work at the moment (although I understand I’m still allowed to look for low-paying part-time work).  Previously the benefits were lower because I was expected to be looking for work.  I’m not complaining, but I’m not sure why they’ve suddenly made this change, which makes me worry it’s a mistake and I will have to pay the money back, so I’m scared to spend any of it.  It’s not like the Department of Work and Pensions don’t have form with that sort of thing.  I would be generally suspicious of any government body giving away free money, to be honest.

***

I watched Rabbi Rafi Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies interview Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman who is a rabbi who became a psychotherapist.  They spoke about meaning and the danger of religion making people do things because they have to do it rather than because it’s an authentic expression of what they want to do.  Rabbi Engelman reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about framing doing religious things that I don’t really want to do as, “I’m doing it because I’m in a relationship with God” rather than “I’m doing it because God said so,” which is perhaps a subtle difference, but an important one.  It’s about prioritising the aspects of Judaism that I have chosen to be present in, on some level, (having a relationship with God) over the dry ritualistic aspects (doing as I’m told).  Even if the outcome is the same, the mindset is very different.  Just as I do things that I think are pointless or counterproductive sometimes because my parents want me to do them and I value keeping the relationship more than I value my freedom not to do that thing, so I do things that God wants me to do for the sake of my relationship with Him rather than because I worry that I will “get zapped” (as they would say in my shiur (religious class)).

***

A paragraph from my novel sums up how I felt struggling with depression and high functioning autism in the workplace:

I have always worked hard and achieved despite my troubles.  Now there is no correlation between effort and achievement; I do my best, but it is not good enough, I can not function as I am supposed to do, there are problems I can not solve without requesting help.

I still feel like this sometimes.  I am sure it would be worse if I was in work rather than job hunting.  It felt like that at times in all the jobs I have had, except perhaps the first one, but some were particularly bad.

Writing this chapter is probably what triggered the autism dream last night.

***

Achievements today: two hours on my novel, almost exactly 1,000 words.  I could have done a little more, but it’s so hot, and I’m tired from Shabbat chores and need a passive TV break before Shabbat.

Control and Meaning

I wonder if a lot of my fears are about control.  The fear about not being in employment again, the fear about dating and marriage and being alone forever… what worries me is not just the object of my fear, but not knowing.  Not being able to psychologically prepare myself for it somehow.  Keeping on trying in vain to sort my life out.  Even the fear about being alone forever, which is my biggest fear.  It would be sad never to experience love and sex, but I’ve been without them for nearly thirty-seven years now, so I should know I can survive them.  It’s true I’ve never been completely alone, but there have been times (particularly when I was at Oxford) when I was pretty cut off from family and friends and I survived, and I have better coping skills and social skills now than I did then.

No, the fear is control.  Not knowing what will happen.  Not being ready for it, for the choices I will have to make.

I think a lot of my anger with God comes down to this.  To not knowing.  I feel like I’m sitting a exam without being taught the subject first.  That I can’t prepare myself.  Feeling that I’ve been set up to fail.  That He wants me to fail.  That He wants me to be lonely in This World, essentially so that I will fail my test and lose the Next World too.  That if I knew what was going to happen to me, I could prepare, and pass the test, and be happy in This World and the Next World.  Perhaps some people do get to prepare themselves (hence, Torah and mitzvot), but not everyone.  For some of us, the whole of life is the test (Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi says in a couple of places in the Talmud that “Some acquire their World over many years, and some acquire their world in a single moment.”).

I think we are defined by the choices we make.  So it’s probably not surprising that I take that seriously and want to ensure I make the best choices.  It’s probably not helped by low self-esteem that makes me fear I’m going to make much worse choices than I actually would make (no, I don’t realistically think I’m going to turn into a misogynist, incel or Viking, according to this depressing article, even if no woman ever consents to go on a date with me ever again).  There is the fear that if I was given a sudden choice, I would make the wrong decision.  That I need to think (over-think) everything first.  That’s also probably not true.

I also feel that my life will only have meaning if I do a “meaningful” job, or write meaningful books or get married and have children.  Maybe that’s not true either.  I feel life in the abstract has meaning.  I would not feel that anyone should commit suicide.  Yet I back away from assuming that my own life has absolute value.  I feel I have to justify it somehow.  It’s not helped by getting a lot of signals from society (general Western society as well as frum society) that everyone should have a job and a partner and children.

I’m not sure how I can find my inherent meaning.  Logotherapy is the school of psychology devoted to meaning, but I’ve never met a logotherapist.  I’ve read Man’s Search for Meaning, which is the founding document of logotherapy, but I’m still unsure of what meaning means for me (so to speak).

I guess things like learning about history and the society around me, making ethical choices, being part of the Jewish people across time and space and appreciating literature give my life meaning.

In a strange way, I find meaning in watching Doctor Who.  Not just the stories that are objectively worthy of artistic response, but the not-so-good ones too, or even more so.  It’s easy to find merit in City of Death or Heaven Sent, but to find it in The Space Museum or Terminus is harder and finding something enjoyable in them feels like somehow rescuing something that the world, and even fandom, had written off.  Like finding hidden treasure.  Or showing gratitude to the writers, performers and producers: that they aren’t forgotten or despised.

***

It’s funny, I wrote the above, and then I felt overwhelmed with depression about probably being single forever.  So it’s not the whole of the reason for my depression.  I clearly don’t want to be alone forever even if I can prepare somehow.  I want to get married.  But I think control and meaning are parts of it.

***

Achievements: I sent off my CV for the job I mentioned yesterday.  I still feel inadequate for it, a thought only reinforced by drawing on memories of an earlier job and interview for my novel-writing today.  I felt quite anxious while writing because of this.

I spent nearly two hours working on my novel.  I tried to to do another ten or fifteen minutes to take it up to two hours.  I didn’t get far with that, but I did at least write over 1,500 words, which is I think the most I have written of the novel in one day and is especially good given that the writing revisited some difficult times for me.

I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for fifty minutes, as well as managing about twenty-five minutes of Torah study.  I also went for a half-hour walk, plus did some ironing, so I guess it was a busy day.  I still wish I could do more though.  I still feel inadequate and not fully adult.

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

I feel like I’ve become rather misanthropic lately.  That without consciously choosing to do so, I’m retreating into a sulk.  Lockdown is being eased, but I want to stay in my room.  I see myself as too scared to try dating again, and I’m worried that one day I will not feel like that and I’ll get hurt again, as I always do.  Perhaps “fortunately” I see no point in trying to date while my financial position is so negative, and I see little chance of that changing any time soon.

As I’ve said before, consciously I say I want love, but deep down, what I unconsciously need is to accept that depression and autism mean that my life is going to be different to other people’s, that I will probably never be financially self-sufficient and that I will almost certainly not get successfully paired off, as well as never having many friends or fitting in to a community.  If I could accept that most of my life is going to be miserable, perhaps I could enjoy parts of it.  But I keep getting my hopes up that I can beat the odds, somehow, and then I get disappointed and hurt all over again.  Silly boy.

***

I’m still feeling super-lonely.  I feel sexually and romantically frustrated (is “romantically frustrated” a thing?  I want to love someone), but I’m lonely in a wider sense too.  I’m thinking about (not) fitting in, one of the well-worn themes of my inner monologue, let alone this blog.

I mostly don’t say anything about my mental health or autism away from this blog and similar blogs.  It’s just easier than dealing with embarrassment, confusion and sometimes stigma.  It’s easier to let people think I’m unusually dysfunctional than to admit what the issue is.

I don’t say much about my religion or politics either.  I worry that my religious and political views are sufficiently idiosyncratic to put off everyone who knows them, so I keep them fairly private.

I don’t mind talking about religion here, but I’m not sure why.  I suppose I don’t go into details about theology here, just say what “weird” stuff I do and how it affects me emotionally.  Sometimes strangers see that I’m Jewish and ask me questions in the street.  Strangely, I’m kind of OK with that.  At least they’re curious, not belligerent (I’ve had belligerence too, and attempted proselytisation).  The Jewish population of the UK is sufficiently small that it’s doubtful whether many people have ever met a Jew in many parts of the country, let alone a frum one, although in London that’s less likely.

I don’t like to pin down my views when talking to other religious Jews.  As Rabbi Lord Sacks said, Modern Orthodox Jews are a minority of a minority of a minority (Jews are about 0.02% of the world population; Orthodox Jews are about 10% of Jews; Modern Orthodox Jews are a small percentage  of Orthodox Jews).  I know I’m more “modern” in many ways than most frum (religious Orthodox) Jews.  Actually, I avoid talking about religion outside the community too, for fear of scorn from militant atheists, but sometimes I have to bring the subject up (usually at work) to ask for special dispensation e.g. not eating the same food as everyone else, leaving early on Fridays in the winter etc.

I don’t talk about my politics with anyone at all.  I talk politics a little bit with my parents, but somewhat abstractly.  They don’t know how I vote (which assumes I vote consistently…).  I don’t really fit with any party and I’m not sure that any ideology is an adequate model of a complex reality.  I dislike most politicians and activists these days.

I don’t like the current political atmosphere.  Too violent and opinionated on all sides; also pretentious.  “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

My chosen professional sector is often more radical than I am (unsurprisingly, as most members are working in the public sector).  I know a lot of my friends, particularly my online friends, wouldn’t agree with me if they knew my views.  I left an autism WhatsApp group a while back because they were criticising a particular type of political viewpoint without it apparently occurring to them that people like that could be on the list, let alone that they might pass as “normal” people.

I get very angry about antisemitism, but mostly don’t say anything about that either, because it feels like almost no one outside the Jewish community really understands or cares, or is willing to listen.

I don’t like identity politics, which I find aggressive.  I prefer existentialist encounter and dialogue.

I just try to be kind and non-judgmental, and to really listen to people.

I change my mind quite a bit.  I like reading new ideas, if they’re argued well, and I try to be open-minded about things.  I get the impression that most people don’t do that.

I don’t mind having friends who have different views, but my experience is that fewer and fewer people are willing to do that (see here for the way acceptance of inter-political (progressive + conservative) marriage has declined even as acceptance for inter-racial and same-sex marriage has grown).  These days people seem to just want to hate people who are different (often in the name diversity, ironically) and mute or unfriend people with different views.  I just keep my head down and try to avoid arguments.  Life’s easier that way, but lonelier and scarier: I don’t feel accepted for who I am and I worry about slipping up and being rejected.  I sometimes wonder how many of my friends (particularly online) would ditch me if they knew what I really think about some things.

I do feel that there’s no one like me: religiously, politically, psychologically.  It was a relief to meet E., who was like me in many ways even if she wasn’t religious.  (Maybe we were too much alike; probably we were both too unstable.)

***

Today I just feel unlovable and unacceptable to anyone I might want to befriend me, date me or employ me.  I feel utterly useless in any context.  The only thing I feel vaguely good at is writing, and I don’t feel great at that.  I’ve certainly struggled to get paid for anything I’ve written.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt good at my job as a librarian, and I only intermittently see myself as a good son, brother, friend or good boyfriend/husband material.

***

Today’s achievements: a couple of library jobs have come up.  I’m was going to apply for both even though both are full-time, short-term jobs (both are maternity cover), where I really want a part-time, long-term job.  I would go for part-time short-term, but I’m not sure whether I would take a full-time job.  I don’t think I could cope, even for nine months.  If I got offered the job, I would probably ask to job share.

I spent twenty minutes trying to navigate a badly-designed website to apply for one job, only to eventually be told that it was open to internal candidates only.  (Then why was it advertised publicly?  I suspect it has to be, legally.)

With the other job I think there would be higher risk of COVID – or any infectious illness – for reasons I won’t go into here, and we’re still supposed to be shielding Mum who will have reduced immunity for some more months.  It is in any case a high stress, full-time job on multiple sites that could involve long travel times.  I really don’t feel I could do either job, but I feel under pressure (from myself as well as other people) to apply for whatever jobs are available, which at the moment is not many.  I would rather be working on my novel…

I’m not sure how long I spent dealing with job applications in total, but I didn’t actually write much of an application.  I just looked at job descriptions etc.

I did forty-five minutes Torah study, reading this week’s Torah portion, but I didn’t get much out of it and felt very stressed while I was doing it.  I would have liked to have done more, but did not have the time or energy.

I went for a thirty-five minute run; my pace was better than it has been for a while.  I didn’t get a migraine even though it was hot out; thank Heaven for small mercies.

I wanted to work on my novel after dinner, but I was too tired.  I realise that as we come out of lockdown, job applications are going to encroach on my writing time more and more.

We had a family Zoom meeting, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and my aunt and uncle from Israel.  I hardly said anything again.  I’m pretty quiet even in in-person meetings, but on Zoom I just clam up completely.

***

I’ve made my blog find-able on search engines again.  My reasons for making it hidden (that I worried that I was saying too much about other people who might be identifiable) seemed less realistic, and so many people were finding it through my comments elsewhere on the blogosphere that it didn’t seem such an issue any more.  I thought about adding a contact form again so people can email me, but I’m more reluctant to do that.  I’ve made a couple of good friends through having that in the past (and ended up going out with E.), but I had a bad experience with it recently (not E.) and don’t know if I should do it again.

Of course, a few hours on and I already think it was a bad idea to make my blog fina-able and that I should switch it back to hidden again.  I can flip back and forth indefinitely, and probably will.

“Your love gives me such a thrill/But your love won’t pay my bills/I want money/That’s what I want”

(Please forgive the frivolous title.  I hate thinking up titles every day.  It is vaguely relevant to some of what I’ve written.)

I felt depressed and exhausted on waking again today, and lonely.  In terms of exhaustion and depression, maybe I did too much yesterday.  It seems that even a half-day for an ordinary person wears me out.  Or maybe my break-up just hit me again.  I did feel better in the afternoon.

This is what I have been thinking about in terms of loneliness.  Supposedly the Orthodox world has a “shidduch crisis” or a “dating crisis” of single Orthodox Jews who can’t get married.  There is a lot of discussion on Jewish websites and newspapers about (a) whether the shidduch crisis actually exists and (b) if it does exist, what is responsible for it (generally phrased as, “Whose fault is it?”)?  You can google for more information, if you dare (it’s a rabbit hole you may never return from).

I’m not sure the shidduch crisis actually exists, and I’m not sure that any of the proposed explanations for it hold water, but a lot of people seem to think that there is such a crisis and generally the crux problem is supposed to be, for variously suggested reasons, a surplus of single women over single men.  Supposedly this means that the men get to pick and choose between women, which results in them never committing and always looking for a “better” woman than the one they have currently been set up with.  Meanwhile the women end up being urged to “settle” for sub-standard men because of their ticking biological clocks.

At the time when we were friends rather than dating, E. said that her experience was that frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) single women in their thirties are all desperate to get married and have children and so will “settle” for anyone who can be a father, including me.  See, for example, the woman, who tellingly signs herself “Pretty Desperate”, who is asking here about dating someone with a stable mental illness (the whole letter is a really sign of how narrow-minded the Orthodox world of dating can be, with the writer considering herself on the shelf at age twenty-eight!)  I’m not sure that I really want to be a live-in sperm donor, but it depresses me that no one is even willing to “settle” for me.  I think I would be a good husband, aside from the fact that I’m unlikely to ever earn enough to support a family solo.  I’m honest, kind and gentle and probably a better listener than most men, even if things said to me verbally don’t always stick in my memory because of autistic processing issues.  Nevertheless, I can see that my “issues,” my finances and my general geekiness would put most frum women (and many women generally) off.  It’s sad.

It occurs to me that although the frum community sets marriage as a universal standard, it also writes off whole classes of people and gives them little support in finding a spouse (converts, ba’alei teshuva (people raised non-religious who became religious later in life), people with physical and mental health issues, divorcees and children of divorcees all spring to mind).  I’m not sure how these people find mates, if they somehow attract each other as the more eligible candidates pair off and leave the field or if they remain unmarried.  I think the USA there are some shachanim (matchmakers) who specialise in helping people with “sensitive” issues to find their spouses.  Meaning, if you have issues you will be matched with someone with similar issues, which in some ways is logical, in other ways is crazy and is also basically eugenics (similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, rabbinic families also interbreed, selecting for intelligence).

These thoughts were distracting me today as I tried to write my novel.  The fears, and the loneliness and sexual frustration, won’t go away.  If someone could tell me, “You will get married and have children, but not for another five years,” I could get on with my life in the meantime, but as it is I constantly worry about things, I suppose in the hope that some great idea about how to find and keep a mate will come to me that I haven’t had in the last twenty years or so.

(Have I really been single and lonely for twenty years, with just a couple of little gaps?  No wonder I’m so depressed.)

***

I suppose related to this is the fact that not only is loneliness rarely mentioned in frum society (where it is assumed that most adults are happily married), but sexual frustration (within or outside marriage) is never mentioned, not least because of the understanding that no one should talk about sex.  It is only listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast recently that I’ve realised that other people also struggle with celibacy in a culture where the only legitimate sex is within marriage, and even then only at certain times.  I am at least not having forbidden pre-marital sex as some “older singles” apparently do according to the sex therapist on Intimate Judaism.  Even so, there’s a lot of guilt around sex and sexual thoughts and behaviours for me and I worry about the guilt poisoning my sex life if I ever do manage to get married.  The guilt around sex for me probably doesn’t help me when dating, giving me more reasons to feel inadequate compared to my date, even beyond my general feelings of inadequacies when compared to frum Jews.  I feel too ashamed to think anyone could accept me with my not-always-fully-repressed sexuality, even if they got past all the other issues.

I spoke about this a bit with my therapist this week, about thinking and doing stuff sexually that, as a frum Jew, I shouldn’t.  I can’t remember her exact words, but it was along the lines of accepting my sexuality as natural, having compassion on myself and realising I’m in a difficult situation that Orthodox Judaism was not really designed for.  It’s difficult though.  I wish I could just turn my lust off.

***

Achievements today: I did an hour and a half to two hours of novel writing, about 900 words.  The exact amount is hard to estimate because of procrastination time.  I was pleased to get to 900 words and reached a sensible point to stop, so I did.  It was hard to write with all of those lonely, despairing thoughts, but I try to force myself through those thoughts and feelings and do some writing five or six days a week.  If I want to be a professional or semi-professional writer, I need to be able to work every working day, even if I’m having a lousy time with depression.

I did thirty-five minutes of Torah study.  It’s hard to get up to an hour a day at the moment except over Shabbat.  I’m not sure why.  I wanted to do more, but procrastinated and ran out of time and got too tired.  I should prioritise Torah study more, but I also want to prioritise writing, exercising and helping around the house.  I can’t prioritise everything all at once.  Sigh.

I went for a half hour walk.  I also did some ironing.  I would be a good house husband, I can clean, cook, launder and iron as well as shop for groceries.  However, my sewing is lousy.  Half the time I can’t even thread the needle.

I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my university days.  We meet up once or twice a year to catch up on what we’ve been doing since we last met.  One had had COVID and nearly been hospitalised (she was triaged and judged well enough to cope at home).  I always feel vaguely awkward that they’ve moved on with their lives in a way that I haven’t.  All have good careers and one is married with a baby.  I did impress them by saying I’m working on a novel.  When I set it was partly set in Oxford, I had to reassure them it wasn’t a roman à clef and they don’t have to worry about being in it.  In fact, this isn’t quite true, as part of the novel is based heavily on my experiences with another person, not in this group, although by this stage in the writing process a lot of details have been changed or invented.  The person I’m thinking of would probably see certain resemblances, but I don’t think anyone else will.

I didn’t get the job for which I did a cataloguing test a couple of weeks ago.  I asked for feedback on the test, although I’m nervous of what it might say.

***

I wrote the following about my experience of depression on Kacha’s blog and thought I would copy it to here as it’s a useful summary of how I experience depression now and in the past.  I think depression will always be around for me most days, but I am able to control it more than I used to do.  I find it hard to ever see myself living a “normal” or “full” life though:

I had a period of many years when the depression was a constant daily phenomenon. Then I started to experience periods of remission for some months, mixed with periods of depression. I still feel very depressed for some time every day (usually in the mornings), and still sometimes have to take a mental health day every so often. However, I am able to do quite a few things during the day most days now, even if it is not like working a nine to five job plus having family and social commitments, which is what I think of as a “full” life.

I think activity helps. Once I can start doing things, that can push the depression away, although events during the day (usually things I see or read or hear) can trigger it again.

I would add that I’m glad I’m not at the stage I was at from 2003 to circa 2008 (or possibly later) when I was not able to work at all, or from 2008 to 2017 or so when extreme depression was common on many days even when I was working a fairly full week.  I think clomipramine, which I was put on after a mental health crisis in late 2017 has done a lot for me in that regard, as well as the occupational therapy of work, then job hunting (awful though that is) and, now, trying to write books.