Alexithymia

It was another difficult Shabbat (Sabbath). I miss E. This seems to be worse on Shabbat, for various reasons. It’s hard being “half-married.” I felt too burnt out and exhausted to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, with physical symptoms (light-headedness as well as exhaustion). I’m worried how often this has been happening lately. Otherwise, it was the usual type of Shabbat I have now: eating with my parents, reading a bit (I finally finished The Third Reich in Power; I’m hoping to read lighter things now, or once I finish the latest Jewish Review of Books), Torah study. I did some Talmud study for the first time in some weeks, which was positive. I napped in the afternoon, which was not good, but I didn’t sleep for as long as I have been doing recently, and I did at least feel refreshed on waking.

***

Frum (religious Jewish) therapist Elisheva Liss wrote on her blog:

But the essential purpose of life according to many Torah philosophers is to achieve spiritual pleasure through a connection to G-d and the world and our own sense of purpose. Pleasure, joy, love, connection- not exclusively, but predominantly.

I guess I find it hard to read that, when I struggle with alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my own emotions). I often don’t know what I’m feeling, or only vaguely. Big emotions are easier to be aware of than small ones, and negative emotions are easier to identify than positive ones, sadly.

I think I get so confused about my attitude to Judaism because so often I don’t know what I feel about it, or only vaguely. I know I enjoy Shabbat; that when I went to shul on Rosh Hashanah, I experienced something positive; that studying Torah is easier some times than others (not just for external reasons like tiredness), indicating I like it more sometimes. But it’s often hard to notice these emotions, to really feel and understand them. Sometimes these feelings are more abstract, more thoughts in my head than emotions I experience.

It is especially hard to feel that God loves me, or that I love Him. It is hard to know that I love anyone sometimes. I worry sometimes that I don’t love my parents, or not “enough.” I still wonder if I really loved my grandparents, if I really grieved for them or if I really miss them the way other people feel these emotions. I once told E that I didn’t think I loved her as much as she loved me and that this was a failure on my part. She said she wasn’t interested in comparisons like that because love can’t be measured and what mattered was that she felt loved by me. This helped our relationship a lot, although I haven’t told her this before.

I feel that I might have more to say about this deep down, but I can’t access it now, because it’s late and because I’m feeling some kind of big negative emotion that I can’t identify or really understand (coincidentally; it’s not why I started writing this post). I’m going to do something relaxing and go to bed, I think.

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

I was very exhausted yesterday, and had suddenly realised it was closer to Shabbat than I thought, but I managed to speak to E briefly before Shabbat started in the UK. We’re hoping to have a longer conversation tomorrow, but I’m worried about how I’ll manage it if there’s a lot to do for Yom Tov (festival). But if I can’t, we’ll have barely spoken for a week, from our last long call on Wednesday evening until this coming Wednesday evening, because of Yom Tov. And this pattern will repeat for three out of the next four weeks. Being long-distance is hard, at Yom Tov doubly so, and that’s not even counting the stress of doing Yom Tov without each other.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) after this. I was just too wiped out and feeling physically ill from exhaustion. I did daven (pray) at home, without much energy or enthusiasm. I did some Torah study after dinner, which may have been a mistake, I’m not sure. I just want to finish some of the books I’m reading (see below).

I had weird dreams last night, including my least-favourite ex-boss (the one who basically told me that I wasn’t as good at my job as she expected and that she didn’t really have confidence in me) refusing to acknowledge my existence. Also something I can’t really remember about crocodiles. I ended up sleeping after lunch, too. I didn’t really want to, as I knew it would just mess my sleep pattern up even more, but I struggled through lunch with my parents and then basically went to autistic shutdown mode, curled up in the foetal position in bed with my eyes shut. Inevitably, I eventually fell asleep, but I think it was more about trying to reboot myself after a couple of hours of listening to my parents talk than actually needing sleep. Then I went back to bed briefly in the early evening, but didn’t sleep. I didn’t go to the shiva (house of mourning) for my parents’ friends’ son. I felt too burnt out. It was probably just as well, as it was very busy. I will try to email them tomorrow.

It’s hard to unpick the autism, social anxiety and sleep disorder from each other to work out what is really keeping me away from shul. There may also be an element of SAD now to make things even more difficult, which hopefully won’t turn into full depression. It’s hard to know where to start. So many people on the autism forum also struggle with exhaustion and fatigue. None of us really know how to cope. The medical community seems baffled or perhaps uninterested.

(By coincidence, someone just shared this story about autistic fatigue on the autism group.)

I worry what it will be like when E and I are married. Will it be easier living with someone more on my wavelength and autism-friendly? Will I be able to work more? Will that make me more tired? (I assume so.) Will we be able to have kids? How will I cope with that? Kids are not autism-friendly, even/especially autistic kids (autistic kids are a possibility given how much neurodiversity (diagnosed and undiagnosed) that there seems to be in both E and my families).

Somewhat related, I feel that this Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur, I should work on forgiving myself. It just feels wrong even writing this, but I have beaten myself up so much over the years for things that were not within my control to change completely, or at all: depression, social anxiety, OCD, autism, alexithymia, exhaustion and sleep-disruption. (Also: being a heterosexual male with a normal sex drive, trying to be celibate, but that’s a whole other post.)

I don’t know how much I’m going to get to shul over the coming Yom Tovim (festivals), if I’m going to hear the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah, and it’s tempting to beat myself up about it in advance. I don’t think that will achieve much, but it’s easy to feel I don’t deserve forgiveness, that if I just pressure myself harder to have more energy, better sleep, a more positive mindset (etc.) that I need to study more Torah and fulfil more mitzvot (commandments), that will somehow happen. Even though it hasn’t worked for decades.

I feel someone should write a Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent, to try to set out ways of living Jewishly with these issues and how they affect halakhic (Jewish legal) observance (the Shulchan Aruch is the primary Jewish code of law). In Israel, a rabbi has set up some kind of institute to teach more rabbis how to handle halakhic questions regarding people with mental illness. This is positive, but I would like someone to do it for the neurodivergent too. Unfortunately, Orthodox Judaism tends to lag ten years or so behind the secular West regarding social issues and we are only just beginning to deal with mental health, so we probably won’t catch up to neurodivergence for another ten years.

***

On the subject of beating myself up, I felt recently that I hadn’t finished any books for a while and was upset about that. Actually, it’s not that long since I finished A Guide for the Perplexed and Faith Without Fear (is it really less than a month since I was in New York and getting married?), but even setting them aside, I realised that I’ve been reading really big books lately. I’m on page 623 (of 712 pages of main text) of The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, page 427 (of 712 or so pages) of The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who and page 491 (of 528) of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World. These are mostly heavy-going books (not the Doctor Who one, except inasmuch as I get annoyed with some of the views expressed in it, particularly hatred for late seventies Who) and I’m finally getting near the end of most of them. It’s been a long journey through them, but I would have read several novels or shorter religious works in the same time (I did read some, actually), so I should probably beat myself up less about that. I do definitely want to tear through some light novels soon, though.

***

Shana tova tikatev vetichatem! May you be written and sealed for a good new year!

Yours Exhaustedly

I feel totally wiped out today, physically and emotionally exhausted, even bordering on physically ill (light-headed and faint and that feeling of my brain being squashed). I got up late, had to eat not just breakfast, but also lunch, before I had the energy and concentration to put on my tefillin, and found it difficult to daven (pray), just struggling to concentrate and feeling physically ill when I tried. I did my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores and finished the dusting, but I currently feel too exhausted and ill to go to shul (synagogue). It worries and upsets me that lately I miss Friday night davening as I feel too physically and emotionally exhausted. It’s my favourite service and it’s a long time since I’ve been regularly too ill to go, so missing it so often feels like a backwards step.

It’s hard struggling with this exhaustion and sleep disruption, particularly when I don’t know what causes it: autistic exhaustion or burnout (which are not understood well at all), some kind of sleep disorder or returning depression (a fear around this time of year in particular, as the lengthening nights have signalled most of my previous episodes). It’s also difficult that high-functioning autism in adults is not understood well at all, as most of the research money goes on children. (People on the autism forum also complain that most of the money goes on research to see how autistic children can be made to behave more like neurotypical children, rather than how can we make autistic children/adults happier and more comfortable. I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds worryingly believable.)

My therapist has offered me a slot on Friday 7 October. This is because I haven’t seen her for weeks because my New York trip was followed by her holiday, and now the next month is disrupted by Yom Tov (the Jewish festivals) and my working on different days to accommodate them, meaning that I don’t have a free Wednesday (my usual therapy day) until 26 October. She doesn’t always work on Fridays, but offered to fit me in, which I’m very pleased about, as I really do feel the need to speak about a few things at the moment, and waiting another month was going to be painful.

Shabbat and Lying-in-State

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal Shabbat. In other words, I’m still struggling with sleep and social anxiety around shul (synagogue). I did go to shul on Friday night. I’ve decided the chazzan (cantor), who is notorious for SHOUTING when he sings during the service, is not terribly autism-friendly. I don’t like being shouted out, particularly not in what is supposed to be music. It’s unlikely that I will be going to this shul after E and I get married, except when we stay with my parents, so it’s not a huge problem, but it’s irritating for now.

On the way home, one of my father’s acquaintances (I’ll call him Fred) saw us and waited for us to catch up with him. He wished me mazal tov on my civil wedding and said his daughter lives in New York. After we got home, Dad said to me, “Did you not want to talk to Fred?” I had no idea what he meant. Apparently, Fred had been standing on my Dad’s right and after he spoke to me, I moved away from him and walked on my Dad’s left. I should also have known that his comment about his daughter was an opening conversational gambit inviting discussion of New York. I realised none of this until it was pointed out to me, and I doubt I would really notice in the future. This is what happens operating on a mixture of autism and social anxiety. I hope Fred was not offended.

Otherwise Shabbat was the usual mix of eating, davening (praying) and Torah study. Because Mum and Dad were away this week and didn’t want to cook on Friday, we ordered food from a kosher restaurant. It was delivered on Friday morning and we just heated it on our hot plate for Shabbat. It was very nice, but the portions were incredibly large. We had intended to eat it on Friday night only, but it lasted for Shabbat lunch too.

Despite being ‘leftovers,’ lunch was large enough that I didn’t even try not to sleep it off afterwards. I slept for about three hours, with disturbing dreams (I had different disturbing dreams last night too). Part of the problem was waking with bright light in my eyes from the window as I didn’t draw the curtains, which just makes me scrunch up my eyes and eventually fall asleep again. (It also gives me dreams where I experience uncomfortably bright light in my eyes.) But when I finally woke up properly, it felt like I had been buried alive and was climbing out of a grave, soil in my throat choking me and felt like I was panting for breath when I finally awoke, which I suppose may be more evidence of sleep/breathing issues.

***

I read more of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, the commentary on Eichah (Lamentations), which I’ve been reading since around the Fast of Av nearly two months ago. For a short book of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), it’s a very long commentary. I just passed page 400, but I still have more than a hundred pages to go. To be honest, part of me is tempted to stop for a break, and I probably will a bit this week, as I will want to listen to the shiurim (religious classes) at the London School of Jewish Studies’ study day tomorrow, listening to some live tomorrow and to the recording of others during the next week or two.  However, I worry that if I stop for too long, it will be impossible to start again, as it’s pretty bleak and heavy-going, although thorough and enlightening. I know Eichah better than many books of Nakh (the post-Mosaic Bible books) because it’s read every year on the  Fast of Av, but the book has made me appreciate it as a much more complex and literary text than I thought.

***

Other book-related news: after my post here the other week about the book Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide from the 1990s, I found a copy going for £1.99 on eBay. On a whim, I bid for it, not really expecting to get it, as I don’t think I’ve ever won an eBay auction before, or, if I have, only once. However, no one else even bid, so I got it for £5.34 including postage, which was pretty good when other copies on the site seem to be asking for something in the region of £40 (although this may be why those copies aren’t selling). Of course, it will probably disappoint my memories, but it’s good nostalgia. I really must stop buying books though, even ones I want that are going cheap.

***

I watched some of the Queen’s lying-in-state on TV on BBC Parliament after Shabbat. My parents put it on after Shabbat. I think they’ve been watching it for days. I haven’t, and I only really watched because I was in the room, but I did stick around for the changing of the guard, which was interesting to watch. My Dad is right that no one does this kind of ceremonial better than the British. Even though I’m not a terribly enthusiastic royalist, I kind of wish I could go there, but I’m not spending twenty-four hours queuing.

A lot of people were crossing themselves in front of the Queen’s coffin too. I know I got negative commentary about this when I said it before, but I find that religion has been routed from the public sphere so completely in this country that any kind of display of religion [1] seems counter-cultural, and reassuring to members of other religious minorities too small even to gain this level of recognition (e.g. Orthodox Jews like me). I remember Rabbi Lord Sacks discussing this on a podcast with Anglican priest Giles Fraser, that as a Jew he was grateful for the Church of England for keeping some kind of religion vaguely on the public radar in an otherwise very secular country. (I suspect some of my American readers, even the non-religious ones, don’t realise just how secular the UK generally is, established church notwithstanding.)

There probably is a lot to say about the intersection of religion and culture in ceremonial like this, the way this would feel inherently religious even without the large crucifix at the Queen’s head and other religious iconography, the way that the secular world simply does not seem to be able to handle something as weighty as the finality of death in this way. This is paradoxical, as atheists and agnostics ought to see death as more final than religious believers who believe in an afterlife, but somehow that belief adds to the finality for the religious, while the atheists avoid it with “celebrations of life.” But celebrating inherently subverts the seriousness of death, which is not celebratory.

Even beyond death, religion has a sense of the serious that is lacking in our constantly-moving, consumerist world. In Westminster Hall, people stand still or move slowly, which seems bizarre. I think of Philip Larkin’s poem Church Going (Larkin was not at all religious), “A serious house on serious earth it is”.

Moreover, the guards in uniforms with faces averted display the kind of selfless (or self-less) absorption in ritual, process and community that the Western world has abandoned in its constant quest for individual self-expression and independence. It’s a kind of selflessness and communal identification that I want so much to attain in my own religious practise and life, but which I self-sabotage and pull away from at the same time, too independent, too afraid of losing myself, to fully throw myself in, or perhaps just too autistic, socially inept and socially anxious to actually achieve it.

[1] Actual religion not quasi-religious secular displays of emotion like clapping for the NHS during the lockdown or kneeling during the national anthem at sports matches to express inchoate anti-racism.

Thoughts on an Autumn Shabbat

It seems like it was only a few days ago that we were in the middle of a summer heatwave and now suddenly it’s autumn and wet and cold, or at least colder. I think I experience a rise in my anxiety levels at this time of year, despite no longer being in the academic world; apparently, this is common, although the cause is unknown. In my case, the imminence of the Jewish autumn festivals is probably a part of it, but the longer nights are a part too.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was peaceful, although I still feel somewhat stressed and anxious about the week(s) ahead. I didn’t feel well enough to go to shul (synagogue). I was too exhausted. I slept a lot, as I usually do, and felt bad for not staying up when I got up to go to the toilet at 8am. This is far from the first time this has happened. I’m not sure if I go back to bed because of continuing tiredness, an autistic comfort desire to wrap myself in my duvet and weighted blanket, or, on Shabbat, social anxiety about going to shul if I get up. Possibly all three. It is hard to work on it if I don’t know what causes it — or maybe it’s not. Maybe I have to just tell myself to be strong and stay up. I don’t know how to do that, though, and, as I’ve said before, my shul-based social anxiety has definitely got worse over the last few years because of COVID. I still think lockdown was the right decision, but the hidden costs continue to mount up.

I am also developing a theory that napping is more restful for me than sleeping for a long time. If I do have sleep apnoea, it tends to be worse when lying on one’s back or front. I go to bed sleeping on my side, but I move when I sleep. My hypothesis is that when I nap, I don’t move; only if I’m sleeping for several hours do I move. Hence, short afternoon naps are refreshing, even after having slept for twelve hours (and woken up exhausted), and sleeping for five or six hours before work is not too bad, but sleeping a full night leads to a negative loop of sleeping, turning over, being unable to breathe and waking more tired than I went to bed. As a hypothesis, it probably requires more research, although I’m not sure how at the moment.

Other than that I read quite a bit, Jewish things and The Third Reich in Power, and also Asterix the Gaul when I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet, but was too tired for more Nazis, abusive rabbis, annoying characters being tortured by Islamists or anything else I’ve been reading about lately.

I didn’t really do a lot else other than sleep, read and eat. Just try to stay in the calm of Shabbat, away from wedding bureaucracy, work stress and the death of the Queen. I find myself getting more emotionally involved in the latter than I expected. I used to be a republican, then when I became more conservative (or, more accurately, realised that I was already conservative, and that it’s OK to be a unique kind of conservative that has very little in common with any actual conservative political parties), I developed a sort of abstract constitutional monarchism for coldly intellectual reasons, but none of the emotional attachment to flesh-and-blood royals I see in people on TV and, indeed, in my family (many of whom self-describe as socialists, but also strong monarchists. This is more common in the UK than you might think).

I’ve never really bothered watching royal stuff on TV, whether the Queen’s jubilees or various royal funerals, but I find myself watching now, at least the clips on the news if not the live coverage. Apart from wanting to show respect for the Queen’s immense hard work and dedication to duty, some of it is curiosity watching clips of the late Queen and now the King talking about religion and the Church of England, of which they both were/are head. I know this will seem strange to my American readers (which is most of them), but it’s almost unheard of these days for someone in public life in the UK to talk about God. The data from last year’s census about religion has not been released yet, but it’s expected to show “No religious belief” as the largest single religious descriptor. Most politicians are not religious and have no interest in presenting themselves as such. The few who are religious downplay it e.g. Tony Blair, who is a religious Christian, but whose Press Secretary and Spokesman Alastair Campbell would remind (or reprimand) him, “We don’t do God!” Similarly, Gordon Brown and Theresa May are both the children of clergymen, but rarely speak about religion. It’s really a relief to see traditional Judeo-Christian religion being spoken of on British TV as something other than backward, oppressive and irrational.

The King also seems more human somehow, a pain in his eyes that might be the sudden loss of his mother a year after the death of his father, but seemed to me more than that, a maturity that comes only from having made mistakes and experienced the painful consequences of them, which I suppose I don’t really associate with royals (having to live with the consequences of their actions).

I didn’t mean to write all this! I guess it made an impact on me. What I meant to write about was reaching the conclusion lately that I really have to go back on Facebook and try to see if there are groups for people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community who want to be a part of it, but can’t manage to do so, for whatever reason. Then either to join them if they exist or set one up if they don’t. This seems pretty daunting, as I’m only vaguely aware of how Facebook groups work (they didn’t have them when I was on Facebook a decade ago) and doing social-related stuff isn’t my forte. But I do feel there are people out there looking for support.

There probably is more to say, but it’s long gone midnight, and while I’m not tired (too much daytime sleep), I should probably wind down for the night and watch Doctor Who (The Ribos Operation — atypical and underrated character-based story).

The Bravest Orangutan in Britain

The title isn’t relevant, I’m just too stressed and overwhelmed to think up something more appropriate. It’s a joke from the Fawlty Towers episode I just watched (The Psychiatrist).

I’m feeling very stressed today.  My aunt and uncle have been here over the weekend.  We had enjoyable Shabbat (Sabbath) meals and I was, apparently, “on form” (meaning funny and witty), but after Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch I fell asleep immediately.  On Friday night I slept for an hour or so, woke up, changed into my pyjamas, read for five minutes and went back to sleep for ten hours or more.  On Saturday afternoon I slept for nearly three hours.   Last night I was exhausted and went to bed early (for me) at 11.30pm and slept for twelve hours or so again.  I find peopling very draining, especially when the people in question are very loud and exhausting.  I didn’t go with my Mum and aunt and uncle to my sister’s today as I got up too late, which was probably a blessing in disguise.

The other reason I went to bed early last night is that we found out that the son of good friends of my parents is receiving palliative care for leukaemia.  He’s a few years younger than me and he’s basically spent his entire adult life fighting it.  He would go into remission and try to get his life back on track (I think he kept dropping out of higher education because of it), but then after a year or two it would come back.  Then he would have another bone marrow transplant or aggressive chemo or whatever and would get better for a while, until it would come back again.  I know it sometimes (often) feels like I lost so much of my adult life to undiagnosed autism and mental illness, but he has lost basically all of his to leukaemia, and now it seems he’s going to lose the fight completely.  It’s really tragic.  It upset all of us a lot and we don’t really know what to do.  I just felt overwhelmed and exhausted and went to bed early.

I’ve been struggling with family stress today (beyond what I’ve written here), and guilt at bad interactions with my parents.  I also started to fill out my tax return for the tax year April 2021 to April 2022, which was stressful and confusing, and then I helped E fill out her visa application, which was also stressful and confusing.  This was a lot of bureaucracy and form-filling for one day, and there is more to do tomorrow (I’m working on Tuesday this week rather than Monday).  It has left me pretty exhausted, burnt out and unable to do very much except maybe watch TV.

***

I described myself as “married” on my tax return.  It felt slightly strange.

***

Mum was speaking to one of her friends and mentioned my airport issues.  Friend said that she has asked for “assisted travel” at airports when travelling with her mother (who is elderly and frail) and/or daughter (who has ME).  Someone then comes around the airport with them and guides them through check-in, security and so on.  Mum said I should do the same.

I had a visceral reaction against this and I’m not sure why.  After all, I’ve just bought a hidden disability lanyard, so it’s not that I’m in denial or afraid of identifying as disabled.  I guess I just feel that I should (“Should”) be able to cope by myself with a minimum of help or that I can cope by myself, as long as people give me extra processing time and allow for sensory overload (which they may or may not do if they see the card and lanyard, particularly outside the UK where it isn’t known).  Maybe I feel that I don’t need that level of help or even that I don’t deserve it.  I guess it has taken me a long time to accept that I am “disabled” (rather than “ill” – weirdly, the things seem very different to me) and need help and maybe there are limits to what I can accept about this right now.

***

I feel like I’m reading too many books, and too many heavy books, but I’m not sure how to stop.  Do I just focus on one book at a time, or try to creep forward slowly with all of them?  Or something between the two?  Most of them are so heavy-going that I often get to a point in the evening when I need to relax and unwind and can’t face reading any of them because they’re so heavy, so I watch TV instead.

They are good books and I don’t want to abandon them, but they mostly aren’t fun.  Even the novel I’m reading, Dara Horn’s A Guide for the Perplexed suffers from two unlikeable protagonists.  One is a super-clever person who was bullied as a child because of her intelligence, which I relate to, but then again she remained super-clever as an adult and became a tech millionaire, which I do not relate to.  She’s also quite manipulative and arrogant.  Her sister is pretty much a failure in life, which I relate to, but she’s also ruthless and manipulative, even more so than her sister.  I don’t really relate to either of them or feel that invested in their story; I’m carrying on because of curiosity about the narrative and themes and especially for the historical sub-plots featuring real-life Jewish figures Solomon Schechter and Rambam (Maimonides).

Just to make things more complicated, I started reading The Hafetz Hayyim on the Holy Days in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  I was already reading several Jewish books, but I felt I should read something related to the upcoming festivals in addition to my other Torah reading.  At least it’s a short book, so I should finish it in time reading about five pages a day.

***

Lately I feel as if I need to pick my first novel apart and abandon the autobiographical stuff about a Jewish man autism and depression and expand the other part, about a Jewish woman trapped in an abusive marriage, into a whole novel, or at least a novella.  I would need to think up some more plot to get to novel length.  I just did an experiment and deleted all the chapters solely dealing with the autistic character.  I was left with about 60,000 words.  80,000 is considered the minimum length for an adult novel, so I would have to write about 20,000 words, probably more, as I would have to cut some material in the chapters that feature both characters.  That’s probably a minimum of two or three months of consistent writing for me at the moment (part-time, low energy, sleeping through mornings), probably more as I’ll be using time for wedding planning and similar tasks instead of writing.

***

I have things I want to say that I don’t have the time or energy to write here, or which I feel would not interest readers here, or which I can’t write here for reasons of lashon hara (gossip).  The time/energy factor is actually the biggest one; the others I could deal with by writing a private or password-protected post, but not having time or energy prevents that.  I feel it might help me to process things.  I feel there are a lot of unprocessed thoughts whizzing round my head lately, some related to where I am in life, but others unrelated.  I feel that I need to set some of them down, but struggle to find the time even to get my thoughts in order.  Most of them aren’t relevant to bring up in a therapeutic context either.

Similarly, I would like to have the time and energy to write a weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) too, as that feels like something else where I need time to process the sedra (Torah reading) each week.

And, yes, I know that I am currently/will shortly be: getting married/organising a wedding; moving house; and setting myself up as self-employed and looking for additional work (which will involve increasing my social media presence), all while still coming to terms with my autism and trying to work out if I have a sleep disorder and how to treat it.  Any of these things would be challenging individually, but I’m juggling them all at once, as well as other things like my current job and getting ready (practically and spiritually) for the autumn Jewish festival season, doing my tax return, helping E with her visa application and so on.  So I guess it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, but that doesn’t make it easier to cope with.

I’m sufficiently overwhelmed that I will probably watch TV for a bit before bed, as reading seems too daunting…

“On and on and on/Keep onrocking, baby/Till the night is gone”

Another post pasted from Word because of WordPress problems.  I hope the formatting is OK!  EDIT: It isn’t, but it’s too late, and I’m too tired, to sort it.  Sorry!  Try guessing where the paragraph breaks go!  Think of it as an educational game! Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, albeit without shul (synagogue) for reasons I explained in my last post. I often wonder if/how I’m going to get back into being a regular shul-goer. I also slept too much.  I drank some really strong coffee (about twice as strong as I usually make it) after Shabbat lunch to stay awake, but I fell asleep anyway. I really do think Shabbat meals with my talkative parents really wipes me out at the moment. I just end up going into autistic shutdown (lying down with eyes shut, not doing anything) and after that, it’s really easy to fall asleep, even after having drunk coffee. I do wonder how I will cope with having children in my forties, with autism. Today I struggled to get up again and felt pretty anxious and overwhelmed when I did.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor and did a few things, mostly preparation for my New York trip, although I haven’t really started packing yet.  I’ll have to do that all tomorrow.  I feel like I wasted the day, but that’s probably being a little unfair on myself.  The temperature is lower than in the heatwave(s), but it’s been quite humid and uncomfortable, which just makes things even harder for me. *** Shabbat is going out (finishing — we anthropomorphise Shabbat as a person who “comes in” and “goes out”) about nine o’clock now, down from about ten-thirty in the midst of summer, a reminder that autumn is round the corner. I don’t mind autumn so much, at least in theory, but it tends to be dominated by the autumn Jewish festivals which I find increasingly difficult to navigate, for some reason. It’s also a reminder that winter, with its lack of sunlight, bad weather and low mood, is coming. Of course, this year I want winter, as E and I need to get through it, or most of it, to get to our religious wedding, although it’s going to be hard struggling through winter on separate continents (neither of us is good at wintering). I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, just that everything feels a bit overwhelming. *** It’s probably not that surprising that I feel overwhelmed, as I have to travel alone to the US in two days, masking (in the “wearing a mask” sense, not the “pretending not to be autistic” sense, although doubtless there will be some of that too), which I’ve got out of the habit of doing.  It’s no longer compulsory on planes, but E and I are worried about me catching COVID and missing our wedding, especially as the COVID rate in New York is about four times higher than the rate in London at the moment.  Then we’re getting married, or at least what I’m thinking of as Wedding Phase 1 (civil wedding). Then there will be perhaps eight months dealing with civil and religious wedding bureaucracy, planning a wedding in the space of a few weeks and house-hunting, probably also while trying to set up some kind of subsidiary career for myself as a proof-reader. All this while still dealing with autism (obviously) and probably some kind of sleep disorder.  I guess it does seem a lot, put that way. Somewhere along the line I’ll hopefully become an uncle too, which is exciting, but will entail more family time. E and I are both completely ready, emotionally, to get married now, so it’s frustrating that we’re going to be delayed for months. Given that we’ve both had some nerves at one time or another, it’s good that we’re both ready now! Even so, the wait is difficult. I spoke to my rabbi mentor today. Aside from being another person on the growing list of people who want to see photos of the civil wedding when it happens (I didn’t know that many people cared!), he agreed with me that living with E rather than my parents will be very good for my mental health and lifestyle generally.  I love my parents, but their personalities and lifestyles are different to my own, or how I want mine to be, whereas E’s are a lot closer. *** I checked my NHS COVID pass (vaccination certification) to check it would be easily visible at the airport.  My heart skipped a beat when it said that the COVID pass was no longer available!  However, this turns out to be for domestic use; the travel pass is still there. *** I finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. SPOILERS!  I was pleased that the romantic plot was left somewhat unresolved.  Other than that, a lot happened the way I thought it would, except that I thought Eleanor was going to make a mess of planning the office Christmas lunch. Weirdly, the predictability doesn’t really feel like a drawback.  I wanted things to go that way. The novel won the Costa Book Award for First Novel; I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m fairly confident that I can write something vaguely in the same ballpark in terms of quality, although attracting an agent, a publisher and readers depends on a lot more than just that.  I think I should include Eleanor… on my standard query letter for my first novel as one of the novels that the agent should compare mine too (as in, “This novel will appeal to readers who enjoyed the portrayal of loneliness in Eleanor Oliphant is  Completely Fine”).  All my other comparison novels are Jewish-themed ones, albeit mainstream ones, which is perhaps off-putting for agents looking for a mainstream novel rather than a “niche” one. I’m reading a couple of big, hardback books that I can’t take to New York and I’m trying to get to sensible pausing points in them, as well as finishing The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, which continues to make me feel uncomfortable in various different, and perhaps contradictory, ways.  That’s probably a conversation better suited for therapy (or E) than my blog, although it probably is a conversation(s) worth having sooner rather than later.  To be fair, I have started both conversations, but they’re really the type of conversations you have to keep coming back to periodically and I’m less good at that. I’ve got to a reasonable pausing point with the novel I’m writing too.  I find that I’m still doing research as I write as I was too excited to start writing to do all my research first.  In any case, I remembered that, for my MA dissertation, I was advised to start writing early in the research process, as research informs writing, but writing also informs research.  I think that holds for fiction as much as academic writing.  I’m also still revising my plan for later chapters.  Writers supposedly divide into planners (who plan) and pantsers (who, I presume, “write by the seat of their pants”).  I’m not really either.  I don’t think I could start a novel without a good idea of where I’m going with it, but I don’t think I could stick rigidly to a plan either.  As I write, I sometimes get a better idea of what the characters would do, and it isn’t always what I planned for them to do. Alternatively, I realise a plot device is too contrived, or something isn’t working, or I think of a better way of doing things, or a new plot thread, so I tweak the plan as I go along. I’ve written five chapters already, but I think I need to go back and add some passages or chapters with some of my more minor characters, so it’s not a shock when I develop them more later in the novel. That’s the sort of stuff that I can’t really plan in advance, I just intuit it as I go along.  I think I’m a much more intuitive person than a logical one, but I tend to discredit intuition, or just not notice and understand it perhaps due to alexithymia (trouble noticing and understanding emotions), so I try to be super-logical and it doesn’t really work because I’m not really that sort of person.  It’s only really in my writing that I give rein to that intuition. I should probably not write so much about writing fiction when I’ve only written one and a bit unpublished novels and a few unpublished short stories!  It’s not like I’m Stephen King.  I find my creative process fascinating, though, maybe because it’s the only area where I really let myself be intuitive and emotional so openly.

Wedding Stuff

Today was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath) because of the heat.  I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not today, as it was too hot and Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) were at an awkward time.  I fell asleep quite quickly last night, but woke up in the early hours and struggled to get back to sleep, probably because of the heat.  I think I woke a couple of times in the night gasping for breath again, although I’m not sure how many times or whether it’s happening more often or I’m just paying attention to it now I think I may have sleep apnoea rather than thinking I must have just woken up from a nightmare or similar.

I did some Torah study, including some Talmud study, and a little recreational reading, but it was too hot to do much of anything really.  I ended up sleeping in the afternoon despite not wanting to because the heat made me so drowsy.

***

I can’t believe my civil marriage is in under three weeks (God willing)!  I am nervous, but more about travelling alone, which I’ve only done twice before, than about the wedding itself.  The fears that something would go wrong and E and I would be stuck in engaged or semi-married (civil wedding, but not religious wedding) limbo indefinitely seems to have gone away.  Now there’s some nervousness about all the paperwork (civil and religious) this is going to take, as well as house-hunting and organising the religious wedding.

We want a very small party, although we’re still not sure how many people.  E would like to do just close family.  For a while I wanted some close friends and a couple of more distant cousins I see frequently, but now I’m wondering if close family (counting first cousins, and one or two extras, like my rabbi mentor) might be better.  I’m worried about getting autistically exhausted for days afterwards if I invite too many people, and it’s easier to say ‘No friends’ than to decide who can and can’t come, especially as, realistically, I think some of my closest friends won’t be able to make it.  I worry that all my parents’ friends are expecting to be invited to a Big Fat Jewish Wedding like my sister had, and like their children had, and invited my parents to.  Reciprocity can be a tricky thing.  My biggest worry is that I would like a quorum at the party for shevah brachot (wedding blessings) and I don’t think we’re going to get that with a very small guest list.

By this stage, after having dated on and off since 2018, and having been together continuously since May of last year, but having only spent a total of a couple of weeks together in person, E and I just want to be married.  We are hoping to be married by next Pesach (April 2022), but I’m worried that we won’t manage it.  We can’t submit E’s spouse visa application until after the civil wedding (29 August) and it will take about six months, unless things have improved at the Home Office.  The last we heard, things were delayed as the Home Office struggled to deal with Ukrainian refugees.  That takes us up to the end of February, not leaving much time for organising the wedding and finding somewhere to live, not to mention stocking a new kitchen (small party = few presents).

It is very frustrating being this far apart for so long, as well as not being able to live together (with everything that entails).  It’s kind of embarrassing to say this, but I think it’s only now, age thirty-nine, that I’m ready to get married, or to have sex, not that I would have done one without the other.  Sex in particular has been something I’ve struggled with for years in a way that is not really acceptable to talk about in either the frum (religious Jewish) world or the secular world, wanting to explore it, but being scared to do so as well as subject to religious prohibitions that generated guilt. 

Being a virgin at thirty-nine isn’t particularly normal or acceptable in either community (frum or secular), the assumption being something must be wrong, whereas I think I just wasn’t ready and hadn’t been in the right relationship.  I realise that my previous relationships (mostly just crushes; other than E, I’ve only had two real relationships) wouldn’t have worked, and I sort of intuitively feel that God was making me wait for the right time (and that therefore the religious wedding will come at the right time too), even though I didn’t believe it at the time.  But now I’m ready… and we have to wait another six months or more.

Insomnia B’Av

I didn’t go to the dentist on Friday. About an hour before the appointment, the surgery rang to say the dentist had gone home ill. I’ve got another appointment booked for Tuesday. My wisdom tooth is not really painful, more uncomfortable at times, at least if I can avoid prodding it with my tongue (harder than you might think).

***

I didn’t intend to post tonight, but I had a difficult day and now I can’t sleep. The two may not be connected, but I thought it would be worth trying to get my thoughts in order.

Lunch was difficult. Angela wrote recently about the “identified patient” in a family and the way that can change and the different family members can affect one another. In my family, I’m pretty sure everyone thinks of me as the identified patient. I’ve been… let’s say not functioning as expected for about twenty years now, I have a neurological diagnosis that is never going to change (Asperger’s/autism) and mental health issues that have come and gone (or come and stayed in some cases). I’ve been in different types of talking therapy a lot. But I think other family members have their own issues, issues that they aren’t necessarily aware of or addressing. I guess owning up to a mental health issue is hard and counselling or therapy can be quite intense and painful, in terms of confronting the negative sides of your history and personality. But it’s hard when this impacts everyone else in the family.

I don’t really want to go into more detail about this. Part of me would like to in a password-protected post, but part of me is overwhelmed at the thought of writing so much of my life history and how it intertwines with those of my parents and sister, and I’m not sure it’s very ethical to tell people about the skeletons in my family’s closets. I’ve spoken to therapists about it in the past, but while I feel I understand the family dynamic, now and in the past, well, I don’t always feel able to move on from it. For now, suffice to say I left lunch feeling very overwhelmed and had what I think must be an autistic shutdown (it’s not always clear to me). I just lay on the bed for two hours. I don’t think I fell asleep, or not for long. I just lay still until I felt well enough to move again.

After that I tried to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, but the description of loneliness was overwhelming too, and reminded me of how I used to be before E. I suppose I still am somewhat lonely; I don’t think E can/should be my only social contact, but I struggle to make friends I really connect with. My thoughts about starting online groups for autistic Jews or Jews on the fringes of the Orthodox community are as much for me as anyone else. I couldn’t face reading The Third Reich in Power, so I read The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy for a bit before shul (synagogue). I finished it, finally (it’s very short, but I was reading slowly). I still feel a bit that nearly forty is too old for me to learn to have sex, but I’m trying not to let that bother me. There was some stuff about dealing with guilt about previous sexual experiences (masturbation, not having kept the rules of shomer negiah (not touching before marriage)) that was somewhat helpful to me. But it does just remind me that we’re a long way from even knowing when our wedding will be.

***

After that I went to shul and ate seudah (the Shabbat third meal, which today was the last meal before the fast started — see below). I read Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World, which is also heavy-going. Most of the other books in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series have been organised on chunks of text, but this goes through Eichah (Lamentations) line by line, which is interesting in some ways, but very detailed. It gets quite draining quite quickly, and it’s a big book too (even though Eichah is one of the shorter books of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).

***

Tisha B’Av (the Fast of Av) started at 8.39pm. This is the saddest day of Jewish year, when we mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem and many, many, many bad things in Jewish history. It actually fell on Shabbat, but the holiness of Shabbat displaces it to Sunday, so to speak. Which means that it falls on 10 Av this year, which is my Hebrew birthday. I don’t make much of birthdays, and I celebrate my Gregorian calendar birthday anyway, but this is vaguely depressing.

I went to shul in the evening and found the service quite moving, which was good as I thought I was going to be too fed up from the day to get anything out of it. I came home and there wasn’t a lot to do, as we’re supposed to avoid anything fun on the fast, including Torah study (except sad bits like Eichah). I read the Lamentations book for a bit, then The Third Reich in Power, but decided to go to bed soon after. I couldn’t sleep though. I tried to sleep on one pillow rather than two, which is another mourning custom for the fast, but I couldn’t fall sleep. Then I tried with two pillows and still couldn’t sleep, so I’m now sitting on the floor (we sit on low chairs or the floor until midday tomorrow, another mourning custom) typing this and not feeling very tired.

Insomnia for me is often from not relaxing enough before bed. I didn’t really relax at all tonight. Normally I would read or watch something to relax myself, but I can’t really do that. Or I would drink hot chocolate, but I can’t do that either. I’m not supposed to fast given that I’m taking lithium, but I try to fast until midday as the afternoon is somewhat less sad. Technically the fast is an all or nothing thing and if I’m going to break it at lunchtime tomorrow (which I am going to do), I can break it now, but I like to keep at least some of the spirit of the day.

***

This was an interesting article about finding meaning on Tisha B’Av. I think a lot of it applies to Judaism in general for me. It can be hard to find the meaning in each specific mitzvah (commandment) or event; the meaning emerges from being part of the collective experience of a whole nation over three thousand years (how many people other than Jews have even the vaguest idea what their ancestors were doing three thousand years ago? Some, but not many). I probably do find more meaning in being Jewish as a totality across my whole life rather than in any particular mitzvah.

Sleep Apnoea, Reframing, The Three Weeks, and Podcasts

The last few days have been fairly quiet, just the usual mix of work, Torah study, novel writing and novel submitting, as well as Shabbat (the Sabbath). I woke up in the middle of the night last night panting and short of breath. I was somehow sufficiently alert to realise I was lying on my chest (I go to sleep on my side), so that’s all more evidence in favour of my having sleep apnoea, which tends to be worst when lying either face down or face up. I must have moved in my sleep. No idea when I’ll get to see a specialist to investigate it. I’d like some kind of answer about what my sleep/getting up problems are all about so I could try to work on them. I do need longer days if I want to earn more money, and I would like to be able to go to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat mornings again, both for religious and social reasons. I slept for several hours this afternoon, but tried to tell myself it was understandable if my sleep last night was poor.

I went to my parents’ shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) today. Someone from my shul (which I haven’t been to since it moved out of its regular premises into cramped temporary premises) sat in front of me, which disrupted my concentration for the whole service, as I was worried he would speak to me about why I stopped going to my shul. In the end he left early without speaking to me at all, so that was wasted worrying.

I had a weird Viktor Frankl/Man’s Search for Meaning reframing moment. I’ve felt frustrated for years about losing more than twenty years of my life to mental illness and/or autistic burnout, and during the supposedly “best years of my life” of adolescence and early adulthood too. Perhaps because the Torah reading lately has been about the end of the Israelites’ forty year sojourn in the wilderness, I found myself thinking, “It was only twenty years I lost. It could have been worse. It could have been forty.” I find it weirdly comforting. I’m not sure if this is rational or not.

We’re two-thirds of the way through the Three Weeks, the Jewish national mourning period in the summer when we mourn the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. I find it a difficult time. My beard (a sign of mourning) itches, it’s frustrating that I can’t listen to music unless exercising and the Fast of Av at the end is an intimidating day to get through. I have only felt autistically exhausted enough that I needed to listen to music once, though, which is good (there is a heter (permission) for people with depression to listen to music which my rabbi mentor said could apply to my autistic exhaustion).

Because I’m not listening to music, I have been binge listening (if that’s a thing) to the back catalogue of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts. Many of the podcasts have provoked thought, although I don’t always get the chance to record my thoughts, especially as I tend to listen when I’m walking to or from the station. Here are some thoughts on a couple of them.

Rabbi Lopes Cardozo was talking about his latest book (at the time of the podcast, a couple of years ago). He argued that mitzvot (commandments) are supposed to instil “radical amazement” (I recognised this a term from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel). Since I listened to this podcast, I have been trying to feel that amazement when saying blessings on food and the like, which is one of the main religious actions I do during the day, certainly in terms of frequency and it has been quite positive so far.

He also said that he believes in God, but doesn’t know what “God” means. This reminded me of the negative theology of Medieval Rationalist thinkers like Rambam (Maimonides) and Rav Saadia Gaon. The idea is that God is beyond understanding and description, so we can’t say what God is, only what God is not (e.g. “God is not weak” rather than “God is powerful”). This approached has been debunked by various people (Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits and Rabbi Samuel Lebens just from my bookshelf), but Rabbi Lebens argues that even if it’s not literally true, it’s a useful reminder of the limits of human knowledge.

Shira Lankin Sheps of The Layers Project Magazine was talking about how The Layers Project Magazine tells the stories of religious Jewish women who are otherwise ignored by the mainstream media (because it’s not interested in religious people) and the Orthodox Jewish media (which is not interested in women). She said that the Orthodox community is often governed by shame, where people think their negative experiences are unique and therefore shameful, but in fact they are often normal. The Layers Project Magazine aims to normalise those stories.

I think this is positive, but I felt that when she presented her own story, of struggling with an unknown chronic illness, it seemed very swift. She said she wrote one post about her illness and suddenly she was getting so many positive responses and support from other people. Then she wrote another post when her grandmother died and from that a doctor who read it identified her illness. It’s the kind of thing that makes me doubt myself, because, as I said above, it’s taken me twenty years to get to this point and I’m still not sure I’ll get exactly where I want to be. I never had that kind of miraculous quick fix. It reminded me of Hevria, where it seemed OK to have had an illness or trauma in the past, but not to be struggling with one on an ongoing basis. I haven’t really read the website, so I don’t know how those stories are framed.

(The only thing I could find on the site on high-functioning autism/Asperger’s was the beginning of this post covering several different women’s stories. It’s a shame, as autism in women is even less understood and accepted than autism in men.)

The Tribe of Dan and Not Being Left Behind

It’s the bit of summer when we get a heatwave in the UK and I feel too hot to go to bed, so I’m blogging, even though it’s nearly midnight (when I started. It’s nearly 1am now I’ve finished). It was a normal Shabbat (Sabbath) in terms of shul (synagogue) attendance, Torah study, walk and so on. I came back from Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) to find my parents in the garden with their friends. Their friends are very talkative and very loud, and the windows were all open because of the heat, so wherever I went in the house I had to listen to their conversation on health and the supposed inadequacies of the criminal justice system. (I wonder how expensive the penal system would be if we incarcerated every serious criminal literally for life as they seemed to want?) I tried to tune them out and read The Third Reich in Power, which isn’t the most cheerful read, but is interesting and engaging.

***

As well as reading about Nazis, I read a bit more of The Newlywed’s Guide to Physical Intimacy. I can’t read more than a few pages at a time, as it inspires a whole mixture of emotions: excitement at marrying E; frustration that immigration delays mean we probably won’t be under the chuppah until March; perhaps some sadness that I’m coming to my sexuality so much later than most people; and especially anxiety that this is going to be another thing I’m not good at (these days, I basically feel that I’m good at writing and nothing else, although E says I do have other skills). It sounds so complicated and scary! I am reliably informed that birds do it, bees do and even educated fleas do it. No information about uneducated fleas, but uneducated humans seem to manage OK, but I wonder how sometimes. I think the authors are trying to be realistic and even somewhat reassuring that “It’s not like movies and TV,” but it seems to make it worse for me.

***

I probably shouldn’t have written recently about “anxiety” as it’s mostly apprehension rather than real anxiety. I guess I still haven’t really come to terms with the fact that I lost most of my life between the ages of about nineteen and thirty-seven to depression and/or autistic burnout, and that social anxiety has been an issue since a very young age. I still feel that if anything can go wrong in my life, it will, and that God wants to make me suffer as some kind of test of faith or behaviour. I have to remind myself of many things I have successfully achieved, even if some of them went wrong in the long run (nothing lasts forever), so that I feel that I will be able to achieve more things in the future. I have to try to tell myself that God wants more for me than simply enduring suffering. There’s no way to be sure that that’s true, of course, but if I tell myself I’m going to suffer forever, I probably will.

***

A thought I’ve been mulling over for the last few weeks (which I’m not going to source properly as I normally would do, because it’s nearly half past midnight. Anyway, I’ve seen most of this in the secondary literature, not the primary sources): the Torah in Beha’alotechah (the third Torah reading from Bamidbar (Numbers)) states that the Israelites were divided into four camps in the wilderness, and moved through the desert in strict order. The fourth camp was led by the Tribe of Dan, who are described as the “me’asef” of all the camps. Modern translations render me’asef as something like ‘rear guard,’ but the literal meaning is more like ‘gatherer’. This led to the interpretation of Rashi that the Tribe of Dan gathered any property left behind after the other camps moved on and restored it to its owners (I assume Rashi is basing himself on a Midrash; he usually does. EDIT: I just checked Sefaria and it’s from a comment in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) Eruvin). The Bekhor Shor goes further and says that Dan gathered in the people who were late and missed travelling with their own tribal camps.

Elsewhere there’s an idea that Dan was the lowest of the twelve tribes of Israel and the most prone to idolatry, probably based on the fact that they were the only tribe that never conquered their allotted land in Israel (on the coastal plain) and a chunk of the tribe went off north towards what’s now Lebanon to find other land. On the way they ended up finding and essentially stealing an idolatrous sanctuary (Shoftim/Judges). There is also Shimshon (Samson), virtually the only significant Danite in Tanakh, who feels more like a Greek hero than a Jewish one.

Putting these two ideas together, maybe there’s a sense that, to reach the people on the margins, the people who are in danger of getting left behind (literally and metaphorically), you have to be halfway towards getting left behind yourself. I won’t deny that this is a further attempt to think myself into a more positive view of my life story, my religiosity and my place in the Jewish community, to try make something good out of years of depression/burnout and religious and community engagement that is perhaps a lot less than might have been expected from someone like me (maybe. Sometimes I think I do a lot more than someone dealt this hand could really be expected to do. It’s hard to tell what is right). I would like to reach Jews who are in danger of being ‘left behind’ with my writing, although I only have the vaguest ideas of how, or what would happen afterwards.

“Everyone’s a superhero, everyone’s a Captain Kirk”: Diversity and Me

News first, please scroll down if you just want the stuff on diversity.

The last few days have been busy, although there isn’t a huge amount out of the ordinary to note here.

I forgot to mention in my last post that on Wednesday we had a Zoom call involving myself, E, my parents and E’s parents. It went pretty well, especially considering I thought there were at least three cultural divides that might be difficult to bridge. The two sets of parents even want to Zoom again soon.

On Friday, as well as my normal pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, I worked on my novel for an hour and a half. I would have liked to have worked on it even longer, but I was getting eye strain.

In shul (synagogue) on Friday night, Rabbi L came up to me and asked if we had made progress with the wedding, which was nice. Dad also told him about Mum’s recent health issue, which he was unaware of. He was shocked and concerned.

Shabbat was fairly good. I managed to avoid sleeping in the afternoon (although I did lie down for twenty minutes), going instead for a brisk walk and doing fifty minutes of Torah study. I went to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Service) only. I tried to get to bed soon after the end of Shabbat, but still ended up going to bed at 1am. It’s difficult when Shabbat doesn’t finish until after 10.30pm.

Today was a somewhat difficult day. I woke up late, feeling drained after the last couple of days and struggled to get going. Unfortunately, I had a lot to do, looking at flights and hotels for my trip to New York to have a civil wedding, which will allow E to apply for a UK spouse visa for our religious wedding. In addition, my sister and brother-in-law were here. In the event, I only had time to look at the hotels. I didn’t have time for a run, unfortunately, or to work on my novel. I guess the wedding is going to take a lot of time from my novel for the foreseeable future (just don’t ask what happens if I get accepted on the emerging writers’ programme tomorrow).

Shul Minchah

Torah 50m

Today was a somewhat difficult day. I woke up late, feeling drained after the last couple of days and struggled to get going. Unfortunately, I had a lot to do, looking at flights and hotels for my trip to New York to have a civil wedding, which will allow E to apply for a UK spouse visa for our religious wedding. In addition, my sister and brother-in-law were here. In the event, I only had time to look at the hotels. I didn’t have time for a run, unfortunately, or to work on my novel. I guess the wedding is going to take a lot of time from my novel for the foreseeable future (just don’t ask what happens if I get accepted on the emerging writers’ programme tomorrow).

I somehow avoided eating rugelach when my sister and BIL were here. I am serious about losing some weight, despite the lack of time for running.

My sister and brother-in-law brought their wedding photo album. This has finally arrived, four and a half years after the wedding (Just. Don’t. Ask). It reminds me why I don’t like big parties, which I guess is good as E and I plan our small wedding.

My mood sank in the evening, under the weight of peopling and wedding planning. My Dad said he would do some searching for me tomorrow for plane fares, which will help me. I feel bad that when I’m struggling (like today), I find it hard to communicate with him for various reasons that aren’t really either of our faults, and we end up getting annoyed with each other.

***

(I should say that I didn’t have anywhere near as much time as I wanted to spend on the second half of the post, but I just want to vent about this anyway, even if it could be better written/argued.)

I’ve been thinking about a lot of things recently. One is about the trend towards greater diversity of representation in the media. This was partly prompted by the latest Doctor Who Magazine. The current Doctor is the first woman Doctor; her successor will be the first black Doctor, and there was recently an official Doctor Who podcast story written by a trans woman and starring a trans actress as a trans character. There was a lot in the article about the podcast about how good it is for LGBT people to see themselves represented positively. It made me think about the way I have seen myself in fiction, or not, over the years.

There is a bit more representation of autism than there used to be. I can think of The Imitation Game, which was a good film, although it left me very upset (it was one of the things that made me think I really am on the spectrum despite being initially assessed as neurotypical; it also made me feel I would be lonely and miserable forever as a result). On the other hand, I thought The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was a intent on making autistics look stupid and unfeeling, although the narrator was a lot less functional than I am.

There is some representation of secular Jews, mainly on American TV, where there are more Jews generally e.g. The West Wing. They aren’t allowed to show more than a little interest in Jewish ideas though. When The West Wing did an (unrealistic) plot-line about the President solving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Josh and Toby didn’t seem more emotionally involved than any of the other characters, despite being Jewish. The only real time Jewishness was involved in a substantial way was an episode about capital punishment, which had Toby’s rabbi argue against it. I didn’t really watch Friends, but several characters were Jewish, but not really Jewish. They were Jewish in a safe and non-threatening way, they didn’t do weird rituals (OK, the Chanukah Armadillo was weird, but that was deliberate).

Ivanova in Babylon 5 was not very religious either, but we saw her light Chanukah candles in one episode, and there was an episode that had a sub-plot about her sitting shivah for her late father, which was quite surprising in a secular science-fiction show.

Orthodox Jews are less prominent. They are usually shown as narrow-minded and backwards. (Incidentally, pretty much all Orthodox Jews on TV and film are Hasidic, even if this makes no sense.) The Attractive Young Rabbi was a Radio 4 sitcom about a female Reform rabbi living next-door to an Orthodox rabbi. I didn’t listen to more than a little bit of it, but I think the rabbis disagreed about everything, with the Orthodox rabbi presented to the audience as reactionary and wrong. I think his wife was more understanding because feminism or something. In reality, my oldest friend is the son of two Reform rabbis, male and female, who lived next-door to the local Orthodox rabbi, noted for being quite strict. My friend said they all got on well. I guess that makes for bad drama/comedy.

An exception was the 1970s Quatermass. Quatermass was a 1950s science fiction/horror series of serials. They revived it for a mini-series in the late 70s. There were a couple of Jewish characters in the 70s version. They mishandled pretty much every ritual and mispronounced every Yiddish word shown, but in a story built on binary divisions (young/old; superstition/science; irrationality/reason), they put Judaism on the science and reason team, for which I am grateful.

There are more representations of Judaism in novels now than previously e.g. Sisters of the Winter Wood. E has read more of these than I have, and finds the presentation of Orthodox culture variable.

I definitely think there is a problem that a significant minority of fictional Jews are in Holocaust stories, which does warp how both Jews and non-Jews see Jews past and present. There’s also an increasing tendency to universalise the Holocaust. Rather than seeing it as a specific crime directed at a specific culture because of a specific historical context, there’s a sense of “It could happen to anyone” and that (as Dara Horn argued in People Love Dead Jews), killing Jews is bad because it could lead on to normal people being killed too. As Horn argues, Holocaust fiction tends to focus on survivors, whereas the majority of Jews who were in the Holocaust were murdered. I think (although I haven’t done any real research) that Holocaust fiction also tends to focus on secular, westernised Jews from Western and Central Europe, rather than religious and Orthodox Eastern European Jews, even though the latter were again the majority of Holocaust victims..

I haven’t looked at other religions, but I think there’s a trend to see ‘open’ cultural expressions of religion as OK, but more traditional and more insular religious content as negative. Yaz in the last few seasons of Doctor Who is a Muslim, but she doesn’t do or believe much that’s religious, no mention of halal food and the only mention of prayer is in the context of her receiving Islamophobic insults on her way to the mosque. There is an episode about her grandmother marrying a Hindu with tragic consequences when her husband is killed by his fundamentalist brother. That there’s a type of religious identity that holds on to religious beliefs and practices strongly in a particularistic (non-syncretic) way, but which is open and tolerant towards the rest of the world isn’t really an idea that gets shown much.

The Doctor Who episode The God Complex did have a more religious and interesting Muslim character in Rita. It’s slightly weird that the Doctor Who character I connect with most religiously is a Muslim woman, which I guess gives the lie to the idea that we can only identify with people who are exact representations of ourselves.

Then there’s Zionists, who are increasingly only presented as racist land-grabbers who don’t belong in the Middle East. In America, I guess there are still some old-fashioned Mossad super-spies, like Ziva in NCIS. I’m going to leave this paragraph at that because I don’t want to get into an argument.

It also goes without saying that anyone even vaguely conservative on film or TV is absolutely Evil and usually in cahoots with Evil Big Business or Evil Religion (usually Christian or Jewish, sometimes Muslim). Big Business is always seen as conservative, even though in real-life many businesses are falling over themselves to be woke, particularly Big Tech, which is a big contributor to Democratic Party funds.

As for long-term celibates, don’t even bother looking. I was going to say that anyone celibate or sexually unsatisfied is likely to be either autistic, misogynistic, or an oppressed minority group in a conservative religious setting in need of liberation (woman, gay, etc.), but to be honest, I’m not sure if that’s even true. I think celibate people are pretty much not shown at all (I haven’t seen Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, but it sounds like it broadly fits the “sexist liberation” narrative).

Granted, this reflects my own weird interests and viewing patterns, which is mostly skewed to stuff from decades ago, but the impression I get from what I read and hear about modern shows is that these patterns still hold.

The thing I really want to stress is that I didn’t really care about this in the past. I assumed that Jews in particular were too small a population to really be noticed and didn’t object to their absence. Now the inattention of people very focused on representation (e.g. the makers of Doctor Who) makes me feel deliberately snubbed. I feel like there’s a list of “acceptable” identities in the Western media, and that most of the aspects of my identity aren’t on it, and in some cases are seen as primarily privileged and oppressive, which is not at all how I experience them. Now not being included seems like a calculated insult, which wasn’t the case twenty years ago. It feels like being a black trans lesbian is seen as normal or even praiseworthy, but being a celibate Orthodox Jew is something abnormal and shameful, and I’m not sure where that comes from or what we do about it, or how we can even label it ‘diversity.’

The Rain It Raineth Every Day

It’s not actually raining. It might rain later, but it might not. The title is a quote from Shakespeare (Twelfth Night. I was props manager on a production when I was in the sixth form, in one of the few non-academic things I ever did as a teenager). It just sums up how I feel when I get sucked back into exhaustion and burnout, like I can never escape from feelings of exhaustion, low mood and general non-functionality.

I had a busy week and a very busy day yesterday. Yesterday I had work. The morning was spent on the usual paperwork and similar jobs, I spent my lunch break looking at pictures of wedding venues and spent much of the afternoon doing a boring cut-and-paste task, but was able to listen to podcasts while doing it. Surprisingly, I felt OK after work so I did Torah study on the commute home (usually I just do it on the commute to work in the morning), went shopping, went for a slightly longer walk home from the station, listened to Mum’s description of her awful day at length, and did some novel writing when I got home. Then I had dinner with my Mum and sister (Dad and brother-in-law being at cricket together), heard about Mum’s awful day at length again, and skyped E. Realistically, this was far too much for one day. In my defence, no one actually told me my sister was coming for dinner until I got home, otherwise I might have not done all these things. I could still have skipped writing, but by that stage, I had my mind set on it and it’s hard for autistic people to change plans.

(I also broke my diet by eating ice cream last night, as I needed some kind of treat.)

The result was massive exhaustion today. I slept too long, couldn’t get up, couldn’t get dressed once I did get up, missed the time for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and basically couldn’t start my day until the early afternoon. My main task for the day was to phone the United Synagogue again about E and my wedding issues, to find out if Rabbi B is away or how to get hold of him, but by the time I did it, I just got the answer phone. They probably leave early on Fridays. I intend to email Rabbi B again on Sunday so that, if he’s been away, my email is on the top of his pile on Monday morning. I think I need to be the squeaky wheel on this, which is not something that comes easily to me.

After lunch (and Doctor Who) I had a little more energy, so I did some of my usual Shabbat chores, then tried to write, as I had by this time brainpower, but not much physical energy for hoovering, the main task left to do for Shabbat. I figured that being drained, fed up and frustrated probably wasn’t a bad mood to be in for the book I’m writing. Even so, it was very difficult. I did manage to write for nearly an hour, and to write about 700 words, but it was difficult and I suspect many of those words will vanish in the editing.

I’m struggling with the idea of the “male gaze”. The novel is very “male gaze-y” — which is rather the point, as the protagonist is a pornography addict, and one of the themes of the book is the way pornography can rewire a person’s brain in that way, and another theme is the way religious sexual restrictions can make people more aware of sex rather than less [1], but I worry readers will see it as reflecting my viewpoint and not the character’s and mark me down accordingly. E says you can’t write a book without offending some people, which is probably true, and I probably underestimate readers, but I just worry about not getting published or read.

It’s weird to write it though. It’s getting in touch with a part of myself that I have always repressed and been ashamed of, the part that notices women, and it’s been strange to try to channel that deliberately. I would never normally write (of a man in a supermarket queue) that he was “trying to avoid staring at the slim hips and wider backside of the attractive twenty-something in a tight miniskirt in front of him.” So it feels strange and more than a little wrong (from a feminist point of view as much as a religious one) to write it.

After writing, I hoovered, but ended up feeling rather ill, faint, headachey and generally bad. I may have done too much. The weather, hot and humid, doesn’t help. I do feel somewhat better now, but not really ready for Shabbat: no writing or blogging or DVDs and lots of peopling albeit probably just with Mum and Dad (that can still be draining, though, especially when I feel like this). I do have to go now, though.

[1] I understand that there is indeed evidence from psychological studies that people from religious backgrounds that forbid or restrict sexual thoughts have noticeably more sexual thoughts than other people, probably from the same effect that makes it impossible not to think of a pink elephant as soon as someone tells you not to think of one.

Turning Points

The last few days have been fairly busy. I surprised myself by not being very anxious on Shabbat (the Sabbath) even knowing I had the meeting with Rabbi L on Sunday. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue), though. I felt slightly ill (headache, light-headed) on Friday night and while it passed fairly quickly, by that stage I had missed a lot of the service. I had insomnia on Friday night and, when I woke up at 8am on Saturday morning, I went back to sleep instead of forcing myself to get up as I did on the first day of Shavuot. Minchah (Afternoon Service) is at an awkward time at the moment, either 6pm for the early service or 9pm for the late service, so I missed that too. I want to try to make more of an effort to get to shul next week. I did some Torah study, went for a walk and read a lot of Harry Potter. I felt vaguely under the weather on Saturday evening and my parents made me take a COVID test ahead of their brief holiday in Tunbridge Wells this week, but it was negative.

On Sunday I did some novel-writing, although not so much and with poor concentration, perhaps partly from anxiety about E and my Zoom meeting with Rabbi L about getting married. That meeting went very well, and I’m now a lot happier about feeling we don’t have any insurmountable halakhic (Jewish law) obstacles to our getting married, and am reasonably confident of getting married in early 2023. The Zoom call ended abruptly when the forty minutes free call finished. Rabbi L phoned me for a few minutes to finish the call and seemed genuinely pleased that I’m getting married and approving of E, more than he would be for someone he didn’t know. I guess he knows some of my story (I used to bombard him with some of my religious OCD (kashrut) questions when my OCD was bad), so he can see how far I’ve come.

Strangely, immediately after the call, I drifted into depression and OCD anxiety. There was also some anxiety (not OCD) when I woke up this morning, but it drifted away after breakfast. I’m not sure why my mood went down when things were going well. Some of it was probably the tension release. Some of it is probably that E and I have a lot to do in the next eight or nine months, starting this week. And some of it is probably the expected response to a looming major life-change. I also have some “I don’t deserve to be so happy” thoughts. I wonder why I get to get married when so many people I know are single, divorced, widowed, or in struggling marriages. I have to remind myself that I had decades of loneliness, singledom and rejection to get to this point.

I had a lot of racing thoughts last night. After a while, they weren’t anxious or depressed thoughts, but they would not stop and I struggled to sleep. I got about four hours in the end before I had to get up for work.

Work today was boring, but when I got home I had some energy so worked on my novel for forty-five minutes and wrote about 500 words before I started to feel burnt out and went downstairs to make dinner. I feel pretty exhausted now, but not sleepy. I’ll probably watch something light on TV to unwind; I don’t really feel up to reading, not even Harry Potter, but I need some proper relaxation time or I won’t sleep and I’ll be burnt out tomorrow.

***

I feel like I’ve had some paradigm shifts in how I view aspects of the world in the last few days:

  1. I find it easier to believe that God supports me and that good things have happened to me and been achieved by me. I don’t focus so much on the bad things that have happened to me or see enduring mental illness as my only real achievement. (That said, I wish I could have seen this article about enduring depression and anxiety being spiritual success and holy work when I was at my worst. Like the author’s husband, I’ve also put on tefillin moments before sunset. I never really thought of it as anything holy.)
  2. I’m trying to move from thinking, I don’t fit in whenever I’m in a group, I have so many differences to most of the people, because I’m not normal to I can connect with many people even if I don’t have a lot in common with them.
  3. In the past I’ve felt I owed people from my personal history an explanation: “I’m like this [weird, different] because I’m depressed/autistic, and I’m sorry if I hurt you as a result.” It’s actually been a major motivator for me to write, fiction, articles and blogging. But today I wonder if I do owe anyone an explanation. There are people I have hurt, undoubtedly, and it would be nice if I could explain that, but I didn’t deliberately hurt anyone. I had a major neurodevelopmental disorder that I didn’t know about, which resulted in my spending nearly forty years trying to push a very square peg in a succession of round holes. I even wonder a bit what I would hope to gain from explaining myself to people.

***

Lately I’ve been listening to a big Glam Rock compilation CD I bought. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, although you could probably have a long and pointless argument over genre demarcations and how much of it is really Glam (Glam vs. Bubblegum Pop vs. early Disco etc.).

I’ve never really worked out why I like Glam Rock. Words I associate with Glam are: loud, theatrical (even camp), quirky, gender-bending, attention-grabbing. I am not any of those things, except maybe quirky. I am not David Bowie with lightning on his face or Noddy Holder in a glittery tailcoat and mirrored top hat. Maybe that’s the appeal, that it’s really not me, in the way I like the James Bond novels because they’re really not me. Or maybe I just find the upbeat nature of the music fits with the way I use music, to cheer myself up and motivate. Certainly it’s often not particularly clever music in the way other music I like is (The Beatles, The Kinks, Paul Simon, Sting), except for Bowie again (who isn’t on the CD). Unless you can find deep meaning in Cum on Feel the Noize or Tiger Feet.

I think someone (JYP?) should write a Perfect Day parody: Pluperfect Day: “It was such a pluperfect day/I was glad I had spent it with you…”

***

On the way home today I saw someone wearing a Visit Rwanda shirt and couldn’t tell if it was dark satire or if they had actually been to Rwanda (for non-UK readers, the British government is going to be deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, beginning tomorrow, to widespread dismay and bewilderment).

Good, but Anxious

The three day Yom Tov (Shabbat/Sabbath plus two day festival Shavuot) was good, but also difficult. I had a lot of anxiety and missed being in contact with E a lot. I did manage to get to shul (synagogue) quite a bit, including for Shacharit (morning prayers) on Sunday morning. I woke up at 7.00am to go to the loo, and, even though I’d only had six hours sleep, I decided to try to stay up and awake until shul rather than going back to sleep as I normally would do. Over the three days, I did some Torah study, some recreational reading, went for one walk and slept too much.

I missed the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee street party in our road because I slept through it. Now I’ve missed the Gold, Diamond and Platinum Jubilees and the 2012 Olympic opening and closing ceremonies. For someone who is religiously conservative, which you would think would lead into a respect for tradition and ritual, I’m not good at paying attention to civic celebrations. I think unless tradition or ritual speaks to me in a personal way, I like it to happen, but not to directly get involved, particularly if it involves other people.

On the plus side, my parents’ rabbi, who I will refer to as Rabbi L, came up to me after shul on Friday and said his email was not working, but he thought I sent him an email saying I was engaged, but he couldn’t read the rest of it. So I explained a bit about E and I and the immigration situation and that we would like him to marry us. I was a bit more definitive than I meant to be about that, as really I think we should just meet with him first before we finalise things. He was delighted that I got engaged and also that I asked him to marry us and we spoke about setting up a meeting to move things on.

There was some positive news after the festival too, when I looked at my phone and found a text from my GP who confirmed that he has referred me back to my psychiatrist to talk about reducing medication and also that he referred me for a sleep study.

That was all positive, but I think the conversation with Rabbi L triggered some strong anxiety about getting married which lasted over the three days. I ended up talking about my engagement to several people at shul over the three days, and with every person I tell, I feel like God is just setting me up to be hugely embarrassed if this doesn’t work out for some reason (which at this stage would be some unforeseen problem of Jewish or civil law). I worry that God is pushing me to an extreme test of faith, to see if I could still love Him without E. Yesterday I had to stop reading On Repentance (by Rabbi Pinchas Peli, based on lectures by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik) because something written in it was just reinforcing this feeling that God was going to test me by taking away what I want the most. Alternatively, I worry that God is going to punish me for not being shomer negiah (not touching before marriage), even though realistically I could say that the salient fact is not that E and I touch, but that we’re not having sex, which is a much bigger thing (not having sex outside marriage is a biblical law, which “outranks” the rabbinic law against physical contact, which is primarily intended to protect against having sex). I suppose I have a lot of guilt about sex in general.

I also had some religious OCD, which I’ve been struggling with recently, since I started reading The Odyssey, but which seemed worse over Yom Tov. It seems whenever I read anything about other religions, particularly pagan ones, I set myself up for a lot of intrusive thoughts while davening (praying). It’s the classic “If you try not to think about a pink elephant (or pagan god), you immediately think of it.” The more I try not to think about paganism while davening, the more I think about it. I know stressing about this just makes it worse, so I try not to worry, but it’s hard. I think I should just steer clear of this sort of thing, either fiction or non-fiction, which is a shame, as I do have quite a bit of curiosity to learn more about ancient society and the wider context of the biblical/Talmudic eras. Strangely, it’s only reading things that’s an issue. I can spend hours looking at idols from different cultures in the British Museum without triggering anything. I’m hoping the OCD feelings will go away when I finish reading, but I don’t plan to try reading The Iliad soon, or reading this book which I really want to read, but I just think it’s not worth it[1].

I actually have enjoyed The Odyssey (I’ve got about twenty pages left) and I’ve learnt some things about ancient Greek society, some things that supported the stereotypes about paganism that are common in the frum (Jewish religious) world and some that undermine them. I could write more, but I don’t really have time.

As I said, I missed E a lot, and that feeling grew over the three days, either because of the length of time or because as my anxiety grew worse I just wanted to be with her. I suppose that probably reinforced the anxiety that something will stop us being together. I guess I don’t believe that I can be happy, and I certainly don’t believe I can do “adult” things like getting married, having sex or raising children. Especially having sex. I can imagine myself raising children more easily than I can imagine myself having sex even though the former generally involves the latter. It feels like one of those things that only happen to other people, like intense religious experiences. I suppose there were three or four points in my life before E when I could have had sex if I had not been frum, although to be honest to be sure if I was really being offered sex in any of the situations would require a greater ability to read other people and the nuances of social contact than my autistic brain really allows, so even if I hadn’t been frum I would probably have erred on the cautious side and not got involved.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given all of this, I did not sleep last night. I went to bed late as Yom Tov (festival) didn’t finish until 10.30pm; then I davened Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), emailed E about Rabbi L, got ready for work today and showered. I didn’t get much time for passive downtime, which sounds silly after three days of not working, but those days involved a lot of peopling (even meals with Mum and Dad rather than alone in front of a book or DVD) or mentally-draining activities like prayer, religious study or reading The Odyssey, which is interesting, but not light. I eventually got up to drink hot chocolate and watch The Simpsons, which helped me to unwind a bit.

Work today was OK, not really notable one way or the other. I decided not to go to Zoom shiur (religious class) tonight as I’m tired and wanted to Skype E. I will listen to the recording tomorrow. Otherwise, I’m tired. Speaking to E was good, but I should really be thinking about bed.

[1] I actually heard Amy-Jill Levene speak a while back at the LSJS (on Zoom, as it was during the pandemic), on the Jewish roots of the nativity story.

Bomb Scares, Jubilees and Other Interruptions

I haven’t written for a few days. I feel my life has become rather boring to write down (for me as much as for you) and I want to spend more time offline, so I’m trying to get out of the habit of blogging every day, and in such detail.

I was at work on Monday and Tuesday this week. I had to do the Very Scary Task on Monday, or at least to start it. I found it somewhat less scary, although I was conscious that J was there in case I got stuck. I don’t know how I would feel if I had to do it by myself.

On Tuesday I woke up late, feeling drained. Apparently I struggle to work two consecutive days. I was at work alone for the first time in this job. It was mostly OK, except for when I whacked my head really hard on an awkwardly-placed shelf. I finished the database printing job and handled some phone calls OK (I think). I was very bored and only briefly saw other people, which was surprisingly difficult. I tried to be positive, but sounded negative to E when I texted her.

I went to an online shiur (religious class) on Monday night and was booked on one for Tuesday night, but I decided that, as it was recorded, I would watch the recording the next day. That turned out to be not so involving. It was on Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs). I think I know Tanakh too well to get much out of the LSJS Tanakh lectures. The Monday night shiur, on the meaning and relevance of revelation, was more interesting.

I went to bed earlyish on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, but slept for ten or twelve hours. The suggestions people have made to me lately to help me get up earlier have not really helped. I set alarms, but I don’t wake up for long enough to think seriously about getting up. I just turn the alarms off and fall asleep again immediately, if I was really awake at all. The only thing that has helped me get up earlier recently, aside from work, has been forgetting to take my tablets the night before. I’m still waiting to get an appointment with the psychiatrist to talk about reducing medication in a safer way. I am not sure if the doctor has referred me yet, or how I can find out.

Wednesday was a busy day when I did a number of things, including some novel-writing and therapy, but it was mostly enlivened by a bomb scare. I went for a walk, turned around the corner and saw a shopping trolley abandoned on the pavement, not the type from the supermarket, but the kind old women (stereotypically) use to carry shopping home, like this (I’m not sure if they have these in the USA where everyone, even old women, drives). People dump all kinds of rubbish in the street these days, but I noticed this was chained to the lamppost with a bicycle lock, which seemed suspicious — why would you worry about someone stealing the junk you are dumping in the street? I didn’t like to open it in case it was booby-trapped, but I could see through the top that there was a large cardboard box inside.

It seemed unlikely that someone would want to blow up a quiet residential area like this, still less a small access road between residential roads, but with no houses actually on it, which is where it was. However, I was worried enough to phone the police. I didn’t think it was enough of an emergency to justify phoning 999, so I looked online for the phone number of the nearest police station, but couldn’t find it. It seems they prefer crime reported by email nowadays.🙄 In desperation, I phoned the anti-terrorism hotline and they did at least say I’d done the right thing. They said they would send someone to investigate. I didn’t see them, but an hour or two later the trolley was gone, so I guess they took it away.

In retrospect, it seems likely that it was not a bomb. My Dad’s theory, which seems sound to me, is that we regularly get glossy advertising pamphlets for local businesses through our door, and we’ve seen young children distributing them. Sometimes I’ve seen boxes of the leaflets left in the road. My guess is one kid was distributing them, went home for dinner, got lazy about carrying the trolley full of leaflets home and then out again later/tomorrow and chained it to the lamppost so that it wouldn’t get stolen. Hopefully he has learnt his lesson now.

Today’s big challenge was trying to change my mobile provider. After four attempts online, constantly getting error messages, I phoned and got it sorted in about twenty minutes, although I’m waiting for the new SIM card, which will take a while because of the extended bank holiday weekend. I tried to write, procrastinated, and eventually rewrote what I wrote yesterday (marginally) better rather than adding anything new. I tried to get my Dad a personalised Father’s Day card from Card Factory, but that didn’t work either, so it’s a bad day for online shopping. (I wonder if I’ve turned off cookies or something?)

I’ve had several busy days despite oversleeping on some of them, which is good, but I feel pretty drained and exhausted now. I’m ready for Shabbat, but not for a three day chag (three day festival i.e. one day of Shabbat combined with two days of festival (Shavuot)), the third day of which coincides with a street party in my street for the Queen’s Jubilee, and then back to work the next day with no non-religious relaxation time.

I won’t be doing tikkun leil, staying up all night on the first night of Shavuot studying Torah. My shul (synagogue) tends to have rather dull topics for shiurim, and my parents’ shul doesn’t have enough people I feel comfortable spending the night with — not like that, but being comfortable to sit and talk to them during the breaks between shiurim, nor am I particularly keen on disrupting my sleep pattern further. I might pop down to see the street party for the Queen’s Jubilee at the other end of our road on Sunday, although I doubt I will stay for longer than is necessary just to feel that I’ve seen it. I’m only really doing it because I deliberately avoided everything for previous Jubilees as well as the London Olympics and I feel I should have at least paid them a little attention, if only to tell any future progeny E and I might have.

Anxiety and Possible Shutdown

I didn’t want to write tonight, but I need to offload/process some thoughts before bed.

On Friday I woke up really drained, more or less physically ill and couldn’t do much until mid-afternoon. The afternoon was mostly taken up with pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores and a quick trip to the chemist. I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) inn the evening. I had agitated thoughts there and later about antisemitism and the recent terrorist attacks in Israel. The thoughts were very intense and I couldn’t shut them off. This used to happen to me a lot when my depression was bad. It happens less now, but still sometimes. I guess it was worsened this time by worry about Pesach (Passover) preparations this week ahead of us (basically the busiest, most stressful week of the year) and a family illness that I won’t talk about on an open post.

Now the clocks have gone forward, dinner on Friday is late, meaning by the time we finished eating it was very late. I hadn’t had time/energy to do more than a few minutes of Torah study before Shabbat. I wanted to do some because I needed to connect with something Jewish, but this kept me up very late. I read fiction briefly after that, but not for long, partly because it was very late, partly because the book I’m reading, Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, is interesting, but not a page-turner that I want to keep returning to.

It’s a science fiction history of the human race stretching millions of years into the future. Of course, it reflects the fears of the time it was written (1930 I think) more than current ones, but parts of it resonate. However there are no real characters to engage with; it’s written as a history book, and one with a broad scope and focus on social and even evolutionary change over thousands or millions of years. It makes it hard to get into. It’s not something I’m desperate to return to when I stop reading.

I also really disagree with the author’s cosmopolitanism, although writing why would take longer than I have to write tonight. It does feed in to why I stopped feeling part of the progressive left, while not feeling part of the political right either. The brief answer is that I think religious and national cultures are not something extraneous to us that can be removed, but something intrinsic in our upbringings that for many people forms part of their makeup even if they reject it. For various reasons (including the Reformation, Enlightenment and two World Wars), some Westerners over the last century or two have found it easier to detach religion and, to a lesser extent national culture from their lives, but it’s much more embedded in people (including me) from other cultures or even from other cultures in the West e.g. the American South. There is a lot more to say, but I’ve set a timer so I only write for thirty minutes tonight.

I slept late, as usual. I didn’t want to sleep after lunch, as I thought it would stop me sleeping tonight, plus I wanted to read and do more Torah study. To this end I went for a walk straight after lunch and when I got home I drank a cup of coffee, in the hope that activity and caffeine would help me stay awake. They did not. I slept for an hour and then spent another hour and twenty minutes in bed, too tired to move or even open my eyes. I wondered if this was an autistic shutdown. I thought of asking on the autism forum, but I’m wary of saying too much about Jewish stuff, and this situation really happens only on Shabbat and Yom Tov (festivals) and I’m not sure how that factors in. I might post a question there tomorrow.

After I woke up, I looked at the haggadah (Passover seder/ritual meal prayerbook) for twenty minutes or so, mostly at the commentary in the haggadah I bought last year. It has questions to ask to prompt debate as well as more detailed exposition. I always feel bad that we don’t discuss things much at seder. I read out ideas, but there is no give and take, and being on the spectrum, I struggle to know how to facilitate such debate. It’s hard on me, as I end up being the only one who doesn’t learn anything on the seder, because it’s just me reading things out (I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m usually the most Jewishly-educated person at our seder by a considerable margin). I hope the questions might help. I’ll just ask one or two a night this year and see how they go and maybe choose more next year. I would have liked to have spent more time on this, but I ran out of time.

There was one other thing that upset me a bit, but I don’t really want to write it on an open post and I’m not sure that I should write it at all. I’m also nearly out of the thirty minutes I gave myself to write this. Maybe I’ll post it on a password-protected post at some point, as it’s a long-term issue.

I’m Going Slightly Mad

The short version: I’m really struggling and am putting myself back on olanzapine.

The long version: I went to shul (synagogue) last night. I wasn’t sure whether I felt up to it. It was probably a mistake, as I felt overwhelmed by the noise and banging. The rabbi “eulogised” (in inverted commas, as one is not supposed to eulogise on Shabbat, but that’s essentially what it was) Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Yeshivish Haredi world (part of the ultra-Orthodox world), who died on Friday. It did underline to me that I never really fitted into the world where constant Torah study is seen as the ideal, nor do I feel I could ever have fitted. When I came home, I wished I hadn’t gone, but if I had gone, I doubtless would have felt I could have gone and been OK. These counter-factuals build up when I consider the week ahead.

I felt very anxious after dinner, and lay in bed for half an hour. I did some Torah study, but not a huge amount. I tried to be gentle with myself, particularly regarding autistic sensory things that I usually try to struggle through regardless e.g. Mum made chicken for dinner. Normally I would eat it, even though I dislike the taste, smell, texture, everything. However, when Mum offered me something else, I took it. After dinner I started reading a P. G. Wodehouse book, which is amusing enough, although I didn’t read much of it. It cheered me up a little.

I slept badly. I slept for a long time, but I woke up several times in the night, too anxious to get up. Today I was even more anxious. I slept for two hours after lunch. I went to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet and weighted blanket. I knew I would probably fall asleep, but I just needed it to self-soothe. I won’t sleep easily tonight as a result. I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too anxious.

The anxiety is multi-pronged. Some is OCD-type anxiety about Pesach, about which I now feel I have to completely control or E will be upset and think she can’t cope with me. Some is anxiety about my job interview this week, anxiety that I will make a fool of myself again, but also anxiety that I will get the job and make the wrong decision about whether to take it. I don’t know what the right decision would be, to choose a better, and more career-orientated job, but one which will leave me unemployed in a year, potentially with a mortgage, assuming I don’t burn out working four days a week, and knowing I won’t be able to write; or do I stay in my lower-paying, but steady and manageable job where I have an understanding boss and I could have time to write (at least if I didn’t feel so exhausted and overwhelmed all the time)? E and my parents say to wait and see what happens, which is probably correct, but it’s hard when I feel so anxious. Those counter-factuals build up again.

I’m anxious about E too. That we’ll never manage to get married. That maybe I’ll scare her off when she comes for Pesach.

There are two reasons why I dated her despite our religious differences, a negative and a positive reason. The negative reason was that most of the frum (religious) women I dated didn’t view me as acceptable (I didn’t go to yeshiva, I was “too worldly,” I was too depressed, I had nothing in common with them, there was no chemistry). Sometimes I dated people who were religious, but still differences would become apparent. There isn’t a thriving frum Modern Orthodox community in the UK, and I was not integrated enough into the Haredi one to get set up on dates, the only way to meet the opposite sex in that community. I don’t think many people outside the Haredi community in the UK take Judaism as seriously as I do, even the relatively frum ones.

The two women I did date seriously had religious differences with me, but the big reasons it didn’t work out with them had little to do with religion. The reasons were that the former did not respect my boundaries about what physical touch I was comfortable with (she was also losing her religion — just being on a certain level doesn’t mean you’ll stay there — but that wasn’t why we broke up) and the other lied to me about her family history and only told me the truth to make a point. The lack of success dating people on my religious level suggested that I would struggle to find anyone who is both on my religious level and compatible.

The positive reason, which is much more important, is that E understands me me more than anyone else I know and she cares about me more than anyone except my parents. And I understand and care about her, and I think I know how to care about her the way she wants, which is not insignificant as I don’t think I would know how to care for many people. We connect so well. I trust her completely not to trample on my boundaries and not to lie to me. I feel safe with her in a way that I don’t with anyone else. She says I talk to her differently to how I talk to other people, even my parents, that I’m much more open and “myself” with her. I just love her and want to be with her and I’m not coping well with the uncertainty of not knowing when that might be. I still feel overwhelmed about everything happening in my life right now and probably couldn’t cope if more was happening, but I just want to feel like there’s an end point in view.

I guess what I really want more than anything else right now is (a) to marry E and (b) to find a way to spend some serious time writing and trying to get published, to at least have a real go at achieving that. It seems hard sometimes to see what the right way to do those things is, particularly as the writing dream seems like a silly fantasy that I’ll never achieve and shouldn’t waste my life on. (E supports my writing, which again is not something to take for granted.)

The Babylon 5 episode Za’Ha’Dum ended the third season of the programme with the following voice-over, which sums up how I feel right now:

It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath, waiting.  All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quan wrote: ‘There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

***

I felt a little better this evening, especially after eating and taking olanzapine, although I’m sure it’s far too early to have any real effect. I spent half an hour working on my novel plan, wearing ear plugs that failed to appreciably blot out the incredibly loud music coming from some — unpleasant person down the road. I think it might be a party. Despite the noise, I think I have the plan more or less where I want it and I’m ready to start writing properly, albeit alongside some further research and with the knowledge that my story will doubtless evolve as I write it.

“Cold turkey has got me on the run”

I didn’t have insomnia last night, which was good. I woke up a bit earlier than usual this morning too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get up for hours (and eventually fell back to sleep) because I was feeling really strong anxiety. Once I actually got up, the anxiety subsided somewhat, but it was really hard to get up. Maybe the olanzapine was reducing my anxiety without my really realising it? I remember the morning anxiety feelings from when my religious OCD was bad. It was pretty terrible. I am going to see how I am over the weekend, but I might try to talk to a doctor on Monday (if the surgery gatekeepers deign to allow me…). I felt the ‘hot and bothered’ feelings again too, which is presumably withdrawal again.

J wants me to work on Tuesday instead of Monday next week. I was supposed to have therapy on Tuesday as my therapist can’t do Wednesday this week. I felt paralysed with anxiety not knowing what to do. My Dad said I have to go to work, which deep down I knew. J is a very understanding boss, but he does sometimes throw changes to what day I work at me at very short notice, as if I don’t actually do much on my non-work days, although I guess he doesn’t know that I’m in therapy. I emailed my therapist, and she thinks she can fit me in on Monday or Friday, which is good.

I’m also desperate to move things on with E, but nothing will happen until she comes over here for Pesach. At least that’s only a month away. On the downside — Pesach is only a month away! That’s anxiety-provoking too! I hope staying eases some of the anxieties E feels about taking on so much religious stuff. I said she should talk to my parents about living with me, as they aren’t as religious as I am. It is scary and I do understand what she feels. I feel it a bit myself, especially on an anxious day like today. Unfortunately, E’s medical insurance wouldn’t let her see a psychiatrist about changing her meds. She’s still trying to resolve that.

I wanted to work on my novel, but I ran out of time, partly because of anxiety. I’m doubtful that I will get time after Shabbat tomorrow, and now we’re in the run-up to Pesach (Passover), with all the time-eating preparation that implies. I just feel such pressure to change my life in so many ways at the moment, to make time for things from more paid work to more writing and submitting writing. I find it hard to work out where to start, everything seems interconnected; to change one thing, you have to change everything else first. I need to start looking for more support after my phone call with my occupational therapist last week. This week was lost to withdrawal and Purim. At least the weather is more spring-like.

I’m going to try to go to shul (synagogue), especially as it’s the last week in our current premises and I doubt I’ll go again for six months (to the interim premises), until the new premises are open. I don’t really want to ‘people’ any more after yesterday. I feel I shouldn’t give in to anxiety and autism, although the people on the autism community would perhaps disagree. Then again, if I fight my nature to work, I guess I should fight it in other ways. I feel like people send me mixed signals about which parts of my personality I should be fighting and which accepting. As someone with poor self-knowledge, esteem and confidence, it’s very confusing.

Racing Thoughts

This is really just a brief note. Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but I think coming off olanzapine has given me racing thoughts, poor concentration and insomnia (all inter-related). It’s not surprising as olanzapine is an anti-psychotic. I was prescribed it because it can help antidepressants work more effectively (for reasons that I think are poorly-understood medically), but also because I was having racing negative thoughts. My racing thoughts now aren’t negative (mostly about Judaism or E), but are stopping me getting on with my life and messing up my sleep even more than previously. I’ll give it another day or two to see if things settle down, but if they don’t, I’ll go back on, albeit probably on the lower dose (2.5mg once a day) I took for the last few weeks without problems rather than the slightly higher (although still low) dose I was on before I started coming off it (2.5mg twice a day).

Other than that, Shabbat was fine. I slept a little less than usual. I did quite a bit of Torah study, staying up quite late last night (this was probably a mistake, but also due to racing thoughts). I think I’m finding Talmud study a bit easier; maybe Rav Steinsaltz z”tzl was right that studying a large quantity of Talmud helps to build up the quality of study over time, even if you don’t initially understand much. However, I do worry that I’ve just hit an atypically easy few pages of Talmud and sooner or later it will get hard again. I was trying to read one side of a page a week, studying it once slowly with the full English commentary and then two more, faster, readings to revise, only reading the commentary if I can’t remember it. I’ve been going a bit slower for the last couple of weeks, though, as I’ve cut down my overall Torah study time as I try to readjust the balance of things in my life. I don’t read the unpunctuated and unvocalised traditional (Vilna Shas) page, but the vocalised, punctuated and broken into phrases version interspersed with the English translation in the Artscroll edition. I do try to have a good go at reading the Aramaic, though. My Aramaic is definitely improving, although it is still poor.

(I didn’t mean to write all of that. You see what I mean about racing thoughts.)

I didn’t want to read The Coming of the Third Reich over Shabbat, as it didn’t seem appropriate to read something so depressing, so I read The Twilight Zone Companion, which I got unexpectedly when I ordered a second-hand DVD of The Twilight Zone season one. It’s interesting enough, but could do with more detail in both production accounts and reviews. It does make me realise how much The Twilight Zone was fighting against the ultra-conservative social and institutional cultural forces in American society in the late fifties and early sixties, with strict limits not just on political commentary and satire, but on any kind of experimental or non-realistic drama. British TV of the time was much more free to experiment in comparison. I’m often critical of the current state of the BBC, but its mandate to challenge and provoke as well as to entertain meant that British TV was way ahead of the cultural curve in the fifties, sixties and seventies in comparison with American TV, and had a positive effect on commercial television too, which had to compete.

When I wrote about Purim and autism here the other day, someone pasted an article on the subject by a frum (religious Jewish) psychotherapist. I’m hoping to forward it to the family and friends on my devar Torah distribution list. Most of them know about me, but one or two don’t, so it’s a bit of a “coming out” as autistic. I hope it goes OK. I think it’s important to start these conversations about neurodivergence and mental illness (also treated in the article) in the frum community. I had the familiar quandary about defining myself as having “Asperger’s Syndrome” or “high-functioning autism.” I wish I didn’t have a syndrome that was discovered by a Nazi sympathiser.

I should probably go, because in the state of mind I’ve been in over the last couple of days, I could just sit here all night writing stuff that just comes into my head. So much for a “brief note.”

“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time”

I picked the title of the post, from The Beatles’ All You Need is Love before Shabbat, as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot lately. Except that over Shabbat things went downhill and alternative titles could be I’m Only Sleeping, I’ll Cry Instead or I’m a Loser. Also The Long and Winding Road, but I find that a maudlin and annoying song.

***

I felt drained on Friday. I’m not sure if it was more physical or emotional/psychological. I had a busy week, and a busy day on Thursday, but I also had an emotionally-draining week, being home alone and missing E. I am not sure whether occupational therapy or Access to Work help will be able to help me with any of this, if I can’t tell where it’s coming from, if it’s physical or emotional. I did the chores I needed to do to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I didn’t think I would go to shul (synagogue) as I was tired, but then I felt a bit better right before Shabbat, so I went after all.

This turned out not to be the best decision. I was worried people would ask if E and I had set a date for the wedding yet. My closest friend at shul has asked me this twice already. I was slightly relieved that he wasn’t there, but the rabbi asked me (I guess he assumes he’ll be mesader kiddushin (officiating)). It just reminds me that E and I are currently in limbo, engaged, but with no real idea when we’ll get married. Maybe I find this harder than E because of social expectation, that in frum (religious Jewish) circles marriages usually take place within a couple of months of engagements (we got engaged three months ago). I think I would want to move things on even if that wasn’t the case. Unusually for me, I just want to leap in to married life while E is the one who is more cautious and wants to check we both have enough energy and can earn enough money whereas I feel there’s no real way of knowing how we will both react to living together until it happens (one of the weird things about our relationship for me is that I’m the optimistic one, relatively speaking, although I guess we both overthink things).

There was dancing in shul too, as we’ve just begun the super-happy month of Adar II (“When Adar begins, we increase in joy”). No one tried to get me to dance this time, but it reminded me that Purim is in two weeks and Pesach in six weeks, with all the anxieties and potential mental health triggers those two festivals involve.

On the way home, I kept thinking that the kids who bullied me at school had won. I had always assumed that I would get my own back on them (so to speak), by having an amazing post-school life because of my incredible intelligence and diligence (these both turned out to be really over-estimated), but actually my life since school has mostly been awful, lonely, depressed and unsuccessful, with occasional short periods of vague competence.

I don’t know why the kids bullied me. My parents thought they were jealous of my academic success. I think they saw me as an easy target. In retrospect, some might have genuinely mistaken my autism and social anxiety for some kind of deliberate snub. It was hard to avoid thinking that they were right: I am a freak and I’m not going to have a good or happy life. Whatever the cause, they were not helpful thoughts. I’m not really sure what triggered them, but they bothered me obsessively all evening, until I focused on the few things I am proud of having done in my life, such as teaching people Torah. That helped me set those thoughts aside.

I do wonder why I just can’t ever be happy. Things have got better for me over the last year or so and maybe they will continue to improve, but somehow it feels like things have to peak and decline now. It feels like things could only go well for me when they were going badly for the rest of the world (COVID), and now COVID is ending it’s back to normal (bad) for me.

The rest of Friday night was OK. Mostly reading and Torah study. I read a bit of The Coming of the Third Reich, but it didn’t really seem appropriate for Shabbat (when one should try to feel positive) so I mostly read Doctor Who Magazine, but that frustrated me, because I feel I should be writing articles on the best Fifth Doctor comic strips (etc.). I’ve tried pitching article ideas and offering my writing services to DWM before, but they aren’t interested. I’m not sure if I pitched wrongly or they don’t like my writing style or what. Fifteen years ago, I was hopeful that my fanzine/internet fan writings would get me work from them, but it never did. I don’t know how they find their new generation of writers. The convention circuit or Doctor Who fan Twitter or some other outlet I don’t use.

***

I woke up at 7.30am this morning. I didn’t feel tired, but I thought it was too early to get up, especially as I hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am, and went back to bed, which turned out to be a mistake as, of course, I slept through the morning. I woke up the second time with a neck ache that I still have and a bunch of self-recriminatory thoughts, which I also still have. My mood was low and I struggled to do any Torah study. I worry I’ll never be well enough/energetic enough for E.

***

I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) much, so it tends to stick in my mind when I do. When I was at university, two students got married in term-time. The man had graduated the previous year, but the woman was in her final year when they got married. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t wait until she finished her finals and opined to this extent to a friend. It was wrong of me, although in retrospect, if that’s the worst lashon hara I ever speak, I’m probably not doing too badly. I have wondered in the past if my largely non-existent love-life was Divine payback for this. Now I wondered if it was delaying my marriage. I guess this comes from the Talmudic/Midrashic approach that views even trivial misdeeds as potentially the cause of significant suffering in this world, to avoid suffering in the next world. I don’t know what I could do about it now. I tried internet searching for those people, but I can’t find them.

***

I mentioned I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently. I had never bought their early albums as I don’t like them so much, but the completist bug got to me and I bought a whole bunch of albums very cheaply second-hand. I got five albums for about £17. (I’m still waiting for With the Beatles.) Listening to them, (a) their early songs are much better than I remembered, but (b) even so, they weren’t so good at the start. I guess it’s heartening to me to think that my first few novels don’t have to be my best…

***

This post seems rambling and self-obsessed even by my usual standards. Thanks if you got this far.

Authenticity

I had an introspective Shabbat (Sabbath). On the way to shul (synagogue) on Friday afternoon, I was thinking about something Rabbi Lord Sacks said, about cultures of sight versus cultures of sound. He said that the West is a culture of sight. In English, all our ‘thought’ words are based on sight. We talk of hindsight, insight, foresight. When we understand, we say, “I see.” Judaism is a culture of sound. “Shema” (hear/listen) is a key word in Devarim (Deuteronomy) in particular. The Talmud introduces an argument by saying, “Come and hear.” If a rabbi rejects an argument, the Talmud says, “He couldn’t hear it.” Rabbi Sacks sees sight cultures as focused on exteriors and sound cultures as focused on interiors.

It occurred to me that the West is even more sight-focused than when Rabbi Sacks said that (I’m not sure when exactly but probably about fifteen years ago). We talk a lot about how people ‘present’, particularly regarding race and gender. If someone feels a book resonated with her experience, she says, “I felt seen.” If not, she says, “It erased me.” Even the idea that the best moral value is to “be the best you that you can be” seems somehow superficial in the absence of detailed introspection about who you actually are and especially whether there is an objective standard of morality, which it seems to more or less assume doesn’t exist.

This led to thoughts about feeling that the (Western popular) culture around me is very superficial and it’s no wonder I don’t connect with it, leading to wondering whether frum (religious) Jewish culture is any better, because it’s possible to pray, study Torah, perform mitzvot (commandments) and acts of kindness and so on and still be superficial. The Kotzker Rebbe said, “Someone who studies Torah and isn’t moved by it, who sins and forgives himself, who prays today because he prayed yesterday – a completely wicked person is better than him!” It is, however, hard to tell if people are being superficial without knowing them in detail. Non-superficial people, pretty much by definition, can’t be identified from the outside, only by the depths of their souls.

I wondered what authenticity really is. I used to think it was about depth, being passionately into something worthwhile, but I wondered if it was also about breadth, having a balanced outlook and many different interests. If being into one thing, however positive it is in the abstract, is ultimately limiting (e.g. the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) super-focus on Talmud study ahead of things like being economically self-sufficient and serving the country you live in).

There is a saying from the Greek poet Archilochus that, “The fox knows many things; the hedgehog knows one big thing.” I used to think ideal people were foxes (Renaissance men), then I thought that they were hedgehogs (Romantics); now I wonder if they need to be a bit of both. I don’t know where I fall, but I want to be a bit of both.

However, I wonder if this argument moves us away from authenticity. I’m still reading Rabbi Samuel Lebens’ The Principles of Judaism. Today I saw the quote (in the context of what he terms “Extreme Hassidic Idealism,” namely the belief that the universe is just an idea in the mind of God, an idea that he perhaps surprisingly argues forcefully in favour of), “If God tells you that you’re a figment of his imagination, what would your prayer be? “Make it non-fictionally true that I’m a poignant character is your dream,” or “within the story of your dream, give me health, wealth and happiness”? Lebens seems to think everyone would naturally go for the second option, but I really don’t see it (this is assuming that poignancy is related to authenticity, which may be a leap). I’m not saying that I wouldn’t go for that option in the end, but I would really have to think about it, maybe trying to fudge it by saying that I need the latter to be the former (which is basically how Jewish prayer works, where we ask for God to inspire us to be good, but also to give us wisdom, health, wealth, etc. because they make it easier to be good).

Or is poignancy not the same of authenticity either? Maybe authenticity is something instinctive, something that vanishes if you overthink it. I’m not sure. I feel I haven’t really come to a conclusion here, after spending a whole day thinking about this.

***

Other than this, Shabbat was normal, or “new normal” (i.e. normal from the pandemic onwards). The rabbi led Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and started a circle dance (or “dance,” as the layout of the crowded room and, to be honest, the average age of the congregation means that it’s a slow shuffle around the room in a shape that’s more of a square than a circle, but holding hands, which I don’t like). He tried to drag me into it, which I felt uncomfortable with on multiple levels. I feel he should respect my feelings not to join in, which are mostly autistic with a little COVID fear. But I also wish I could be “normal” and get something out of bonding with people that way and entering into the moment and the emotion (back to authenticity, I guess).

Other than that I didn’t do much: some Torah study, mostly Yehoshua (Joshua) and Rabbi Michael Hattin’s book on it, a little Talmud and more of The Principles of Judaism, which I’m really enjoying and finding meaningful even if I don’t understand all of it. I read a little of The Coming of the Third Reich, but not much, as I fell asleep last night, in my clothes, about 11.30pm. I woke up at 1.00am and quickly changed into pyjamas and went to bed. I felt drowsy after lunch today and drank coffee to stay awake, but I still slept for nearly two hours in the afternoon. I fear I won’t sleep tonight, and also that I’m getting too old to be able to eat a heavy meal without needing to sleep it off.

The Square Root of Infinity

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was in the normal pattern for the last few months. I went to shul (synagogue) and got a bit overwhelmed by all the clapping and banging on tables. I’m sure it didn’t used to be this bad, but maybe it was easier to cope when the room was larger and more spaced, even though there were more people? That said, I think there has been objectively more clapping since we got a more Hasidishe rabbi about a year before COVID started. Before that, fewer people clapped and hit the tables, and they didn’t clap or hit as loudly.

I didn’t go to shiur (religious class) again, although I did quite a bit of Talmud study at home. My Talmud study is probably completely out of sync with the shiur by now. I’m not actually sure where they’re up to. I was ahead of them, but then I stopped for a few weeks when I went to America. But I’m trying to do one page (single side) every week or so, going over it three times, whereas they go through more slowly, looking at the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot, which I don’t tackle in the absence of a translation. I feel that I’m understanding it a little bit better than I was. That said, I had the insight a while back that Talmud study is not meant to teach you halakhah (Jewish law), but to teach you to think like a rabbi, to compare and analyse rabbinic sources and to learn how to connect orally-transmitted laws to the written Torah. I’m not sure that it’s working for me there, although I’m not sure how many people it does work for in that way.

I had trouble sleeping on Friday night and again on Saturday night, so maybe it is not just nights before work where I have trouble sleeping. I wonder if it might be related to my medication reduction, but I think it was happening before then.

***

Today did not start well: I overslept, slept through my phone ringing, which turned out to be a work-related phone call (which I wouldn’t have had the answer to anyway) and woke with some anxiety (albeit fairly mild). On Friday I had a burst of creativity, of ideas for a potential satirical novel (see below). This flood of inspiration started before Shabbat and continued into Shabbat, although I was trying not to think about it then, as it wasn’t appropriate. I wrote down a lot of ideas last night and laid out some kind of rudimentary plot outline. I wonder if this exhaustion is a consequence of that creativity? Usually I associate exhaustion with actually doing something, not just thinking about it, but it’s hard to see what else it could be.

***

I emailed the occupational therapist I saw a number of years ago to see if she can recommend someone who can work with me on fatigue management and maybe thinking about why I make so many mistakes at work. I did a quick online search and there are OTs out there in London who work with people with Asperger’s/high functioning autism, although I’m not sure how many work with adults.

***

I had an idea for satirical novel recently. On Friday (and to a lesser extent over the whole weekend), I had a burst of inspiration about it. I don’t intend to work on it right now, but perhaps as the next project, although I will continue to note ideas and maybe to slowly evolve plot and characters.

I am terrified of being ‘cancelled’ because of it as, while it satirises many things, it focuses on ‘wokeness’ and performative forms of politicised morality. Although it is more likely that I would simply not find an agent or a publisher who will touch it, as the publishing industry is very woke. E asked me if I would rather be cancelled or never do anything worth being cancelled for. I guess that makes sense. I would rather be cancelled than censor myself.

What I really wanted to do was just not to write about politics and fly under the radar, but obviously my unconscious disagreed. Orwell wrote that writers have to be honest, and not swayed by public opinion, political expediency or state censorship, which I guess is true, but the thought of losing friends upsets me more. I don’t mind having friends with different political outlooks, but I fear some of my friends wouldn’t want to associate with me if they knew some of my thoughts, which aren’t even particularly extreme, but the world is so polarised that even slight deviations are punishable. I feel the world divides at the moment into those who take offence at everything and those who vanish to avoid saying anything controversial. I don’t want to take offence at everything, but I am beginning to feel that vanishing is not much fun either, even if it’s my instinct.

I don’t really see myself as a satirist or a polemicist, and my impulse is to run away from controversy. But maybe that’s why part of me is pushing me towards this. Like wanting to go bungee jumping or skydiving. Live dangerously, not something I’ve ever done until now. And it does trouble me that not only does our society no longer have any shared values, we can’t even agree on basic facts any more. Where would you even go to find impartial facts? Not the supposedly-impartial BBC, nor the self-proclaimed fact checkers (who fact checks the fact checkers?). It’s troubling. How can a society function when there are two (or more) different sets of basic facts? And maybe neither are correct. It’s not that one group is saying 2+2=4 and the other says 2+2=5. It’s more like one group says 2+2=5 and the other says 2+2= the square root of infinity.

Doing Things, Reading Books

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty normal (for me, by recent standards). I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday, but not Saturday, and tried not to beat myself up about this. I got pretty overwhelmed (sensory overload) at shul on Friday and stayed that way through dinner. Mum and Dad were mostly talking about friends of theirs who I don’t really know so I didn’t join in the conversation and just felt uncomfortable from the overload. I fell asleep for an hour after dinner, which was not good, but was probably an inevitable reaction to the overload.

After Shabbat I helped my parents prepare for an annual online supper quiz for charity that they are hosting. Different houses host people and they send their answers in online. I have participated in the past, but, to stop people googling the answers, most of the questions are ‘mind-bender’ type puzzles that I’m not very good at and don’t enjoy, rather than the general knowledge questions that I am good at (my parents want me to go on the quiz show The Chase). I did at least manage to answer one question no one else could answer.

Instead, I listened to The Beatles (the Magical Mystery Tour quasi-album) and sorted through a lot of bank papers, work papers and other papers I needed to sort through. I thought it would take hours and hours, but fortunately it took about an hour and half to get through a fair chunk of it. I’ve still got one bulging folder to sort through, and a big pile of old bank statements and the like to shred. I did a bit of Torah study too, and a tiny bit of novel research, so I guess it was a busy evening. I hope I haven’t overdone things. I should go to bed, as it’s nearly 1am. I feel asleep after lunch, as well as sleeping late in the morning, which is probably why I don’t feel too tired.

I have Your Mother Should Know and Baby You’re a Rich Man by The Beatles stuck in my head now from the Magical Mystery Tour listening.

***

Lately I’ve started reading a couple of interesting Jewish books. The Principles of Judaism by (Rabbi Dr) Sam Lebens is an attempt to formulate the core doctrines of Orthodox Judaism according to the principles of analytical philosophy. He’s not proving Orthodox Judaism, but trying to show if Orthodox Judaism is correct, then what should its doctrines look like (he does apparently have a work in progress book for a more popular audience about why one might choose to be an Orthodox Jew).

I’m much more familiar with ‘Continental’ philosophers rather than ‘Anglo-American’ analytical ones, particularly regarding theology (e.g. Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emmanuel Levinas). The difference is bracing. I’m struggling at times, but I like the idea of testing each step in the chain of logic; I get fed up with philosophy that just seems to assert stuff (this was the problem I had with Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption, although most of the time I couldn’t even work out what he was asserting; strangely, I ended up stealing his surname for the main character of my first novel, I don’t remember why).

(Full disclosure: back in 2020, when this book came out, I did ‘go’ to a Zoom lecture where Lebens spoke about the book, and he gave a discount code to attendees, which reduced the significant price tag a bit, although it was still an expensive buy, hence my procrastinating about getting it for eighteen months.)

***

The other book I’ve been reading, fiction this time, is The Idiom and the Oddity by Sam Benito, or “Sam Benito” as it is apparently a pseudonym for a (so far) anonymous Haredi Rosh Yeshivah (ultra-Orthodox rabbinical seminary principal). It’s a coming of age novel in 1950s Jewish Brooklyn, which is not unusual, but it’s also a becoming frum (religious Jewish) novel, which is unusual. I’m just over halfway through. The first half was mostly about the narrator’s non-frum upbringing and relatives, so I’m only just getting to the yeshivah bits.

So far it’s been interesting, but hard to get through, partly because it needs a good proof-edit. It seems to be self-published, which explains it. Commas are a particular problem, perhaps because of the lack of punctuation in the traditional Talmud page. It also has a dense web of references to the canon of Western literature and complex wordplay in the narration, which also makes it heavy-going in places. I also struggle with the use of baseball as a master-metaphor for so much of the story. I know almost nothing about baseball! It’s very clever, perhaps too much so. I am enjoying it, but it’s not an easy read despite the short length (well, short-page count. The narrow margins, another sign of self-publication, probably means that it’s longer than it looks).