COVID Test, Reading, TV

I’m still not feeling great. My sister and my Mum have been badgering me for days to get a COVID test despite my not having any COVID symptoms. My symptoms are hot flushes, restless legs, tremor and occasional light-headedness, none of which are really COVID symptoms, plus neither my parents nor J have come down with anything despite being around me last week when I was ill. However, my sister’s mother-in-law apparently had mild COVID for days thinking it was just a cold until she got tested, so my sister has really been badgering me to get tested in case I have undiagnosed COVID, even though I’m worried about wasting NHS resources and, well, lying about my symptoms to get a test (integrity is a core value for me, so lying is painful). Anyway, I’m going to a drive-in test tomorrow morning. My Dad volunteered to take me (I don’t drive).

There’s not a lot else to say. I read a lot over Shabbat, not so much in terms of pages, but in terms of books. I finished Morality and America During the Cold War, read more of Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy and started The Garden of Emunah (book on faith PIMOJ gave me) and The Simulacra (Philip K. Dick novel).

After Shabbat, I watched another episode of The Mandalorian (Sanctuary). It was quite good, but I was distracted by the fact that the plot was basically the same of the Doctor Who episode The Girl Who Died (outsiders train villagers to beat better-armed marauders), but tonally, the two were completely different. The Doctor Who episode was mostly comic, with a tragic bit and an open ending. The Mandalorian episode was like every other Mandalorian episode i.e. like Star Wars, flashy, but unemotional. (I have realised that I notice more about story structure now I write myself.)

Integrity

I spent too much of Shabbat (the Sabbath) in bed again, curled up in the duvet because it calms me, although I wasn’t conscious of feeling anxious, but perhaps I was feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t sleep last night because I took my medication late and once I did fall asleep, I didn’t get up until midday again. I did quite a bit of Torah study and recreational reading on Friday night and today. I’m getting fed up with all the non-fiction I’m reading at the moment and want to read a novel, but also don’t want to abandon anything half-read. Hopefully I’ll finish Morality or America During the Cold War soon.

After Shabbat I helped tidy up and did some more Torah reading. I hoped to work on my novel, but I felt ill again: a headache, feeling hot (although I don’t think I have a temperature), nauseous, runny nose… I don’t think it’s COVID, but I think fear of COVID might turn me into a hypochondriac. I did feel better after making myself eat some toast and was able to eat enough to take my psych meds. The headache did seem to respond to paracetamol and a kool and soothe strip and once the headache was gone everything else seemed to go, so it seems that it was just a migraine.

I wanted to watch something fairly mindless as I recovered from the migraine, so opted to watch Wonder Woman (the film, not the TV series) with my parents. It was not a good choice, as I found it fairly incoherent and dull. I think superhero films are one of those things I think I “should” like (as a geek), but actually don’t.

***

Last night I had a dream that, while not a recurring dream as such, is a recurring dream scenario, where I’m put in some situation where I have to break Shabbat. I don’t know why I still dream about this when I’ve been keeping Shabbat for about two decades, about as long as the period before I kept it. I clearly still have anxiety about being forced to break it.

***

As I mentioned, I’m still reading Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Morality. He speaks about victim culture and is critical of it, saying it makes people look backward, and look for someone to blame. Inspired by Viktor Frankl and other Holocaust survivors, he advocates looking forwards for new challenges. I think this is true, or at any rate reflects my own experiences. I feel like I’ve only been able to move on from my mental health issues and my anger (not quite the right word, but I’m not sure what else it could be) about being on the autism spectrum in the last eighteen months or so, since feeling I could write. Before that, I had a period when I felt that I could be a librarian, but as that ran into difficulty, the depression and frustration came back. I worry what will happen if my writing doesn’t find an audience.

I guess I admire resilience rather than victimhood. By resilience I mean just carrying on, somehow, even at a level that would not be considered “normal” in the mainstream world. I admire people who can keep going without losing their integrity. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can hold onto. I think integrity in general is a much under-valued virtue these days. Maybe that’s why I have nightmares about breaking Shabbat; it would be a betrayal of my values and integrity.

Fragment (Burnout)

I struggled to sleep the last few nights, not huge insomnia, but a bit, and I wonder if olanzapine was helping me sleep. I would have thought that clomipramine would do it by itself, but apparently not. I overslept today and felt tired and wanting to withdraw even after breakfast and coffee. This is looking to me more like burnout, either depressive or autistic, than medication issues either with coming off olanzapine or starting haloperidol, but it’s probably too early to tell.

I felt kind of low all day, although not very depressed, just mildly. I guess it’s burnout again, or mild depression. I thought I was doing better this week, but it has caught up with me. I just feel exhausted and worry about how much I’ll end up sleeping over Shabbat (the Sabbath). Particularly as reading (my main Shabbat alternative to sleep) is harder at the moment as I don’t have any glasses.

Speaking of which, Dad took my glasses to the optician and it turned out they were irreparable after all. I’ve got an appointment booked in at Specsavers for an eye test and to get a new pair on Tuesday. It’s a little frustrating as I wasn’t due for another eye test until the end of the year, but if I get new glasses now, if I need new lenses in December they will cost almost as much as new frames. It seems like a hassle I didn’t need, although I can see that objectively it’s not that much of a hassle. I guess everything seems like a hassle at the moment, I feel so over-extended.

Here’s hoping for a restful Shabbat

Special Interests and American Pessimism

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. As I mentioned on Friday, I didn’t go to shul (synagogue), as I thought the COVID risk was too high to be worth it. I spent quite a bit of time on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon in bed, not from tiredness, but anxiety and an autistic desire to wrap up in my duvet to self-soothe. I’ve never got around to buying a weighted blanket, but I did wonder what it would be like to have one. Maybe it would just encourage me to stay in bed…

I did some Torah study and I read a bit more of America During the Cold War, but not much. I confess my recreational reading was mostly Mistress of Chaos, the latest compilation of comic strips from Doctor Who Magazine. The comic strip is arguably better (more imaginative, better-written), and more in tune with what I think Doctor Who should be like, than the TV version is at the moment. This has happened in the past, when David Tennant was the Doctor. Scott Gray, currently the main writer and editor on the strip, is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers, even though he’s never worked on the TV version.

I tried to accept that I was going to end up doing self-soothing things like reading comic strips and curling up in bed given that I’m struggling with my mood as a result of coming off olanzapine at the same time as some very stressful stuff in my personal life and in the wider world. Even so, I feel I wish I had done things differently.

A friend emailed after Shabbat to say that she now has an official high-functioning autism diagnosis. She has also gone through quite a long process to get diagnosed, so hopefully I’ll get my diagnosis soon.

My sister phoned after Shabbat and we had a long chat, mostly me talking about all the stresses I’m under at the moment. We hadn’t really spoken for a while. Later I watched the film Mr Holmes with my parents, about an ailing, nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes, losing his memory and revisiting his last case to try to remember why he retired. It was a character drama rather than a crime story, a little slow, and dark near the end, but it was OK. Sir Ian McKellan was very good as the elderly Holmes, nicely distinguished from his sixty year old self in flashback. I’m pretty sure it contradicted the original stories in several places (Sherlock Holmes is another autistic special interest for me), but not too violently.

I feel a bit agitated now. I don’t think it was the film, just anxiety about major things in my life right now. I feel like I have a lot going on. Aside from being in the middle of the autism diagnosis process, I’m a bit more settled into my new job, but still learning the ropes and conscious that it might end soon. I don’t think I’ve fully adapted to losing two days a week to work; I’m still struggling to fit everything in. Then I’m working on my novel and trying to move on my relationship in difficult circumstances (lockdown), while, like everyone, my ability to cope with COVID is getting less and less. I still get annoyed with people who don’t wear masks properly, but I feel less judgmental of people who are not social distancing or isolating properly. It’s hard. If even a shy, autistic introvert like me is struggling now, I guess almost everyone must be.

There’s not a lot else to say. I impulse-bought a lot of second-hand CDs on sale a couple of weeks ago, which I’ve been listening to recently. One CD was scratched and unplayable and I’m waiting for a replacement, but the others were good. I’ve been listening a lot to ABBA lately. I never liked ABBA, but in the last month or two, I’ve become an enthusiastic convert. I use music mostly to cheer myself up or to motivate myself, so I like fast and upbeat music, and much of ABBA’s output fits here. I bought ABBA Gold (greatest hits), which was the broken CD, and More ABBA Gold (greatest hits volume 2), which wasn’t quite as good as the first one, but surprised me by still being very good.

***

I just commented on a friends’ blog to say, “The riots in the Capitol were pretty shocking. I used to wish I had been born in the USA, where the Modern Orthodox Jewish community is so much stronger than the UK. I wondered if I would marry someone from there and emigrate [I nearly did, as E was from the US]. Now I’m grateful that I’m nowhere near. I worry what will happen to a country where the political class is divided into two groups that each think the other is irredeemably evil, where the President can’t accept he lost the election and where there are more guns than people.” I really can’t see this ending well. Maybe not immediately, but a decade or two down the line. People say Trump is like Hitler, but my worry is more that Trump is someone like Karl Lueger and that someone much worse is waiting twenty years down the line.

On that cheery note — bed!

Quick Post

I feel I need to write, but I only have a few minutes before having to shower for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I’m not going to shul (synagogue) this week as I’m too worried about COVID. The new lockdown has worried me, especially as we found out that Mum still has slightly reduced immunity. I know I’m going to work on the Tube (I’m a key worker, technically), but I don’t want to take unnecessary risks. I’m not seeing PIMOJ this week for the same reason, which I think she was a bit upset about. I’m upset too, but I don’t want to break the rules. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about volunteering, as they have changed the rules for volunteers to make it safer, and I’m not sure how they apply to me – I need time to read them again.

I feel a bit calmer today, mostly because I know none of the things that trouble me will be happening directly over Shabbat. I spoke to my rabbi mentor too, which was helpful. It wasn’t so much that he said anything new as that he validated some of my fears as understandable, but also validated my hopes that I was doing the right thing and should stick with it. Other people have said this, but I really needed his rabbinic approval rather than approval from my parents or therapist. He suggested a coping strategy for now as well.

That said, while getting ready for Shabbat some anxieties returned. I wonder if I’m being punished, or why God seems to put me in so many difficult situations. Situations which I feel someone frum (religious Jewish) should not have got in somehow. To be honest, I struggle to understand how to function in the frum community, not in terms of religious practise, but in terms of socialisation. Know what to do and say informally, when it’s not a matter of Jewish law. Knowing how to be accepted, how to present myself, what interests are allowed and so on.

OK, out of time now. See you in twenty-five hours.

Feeling Positive

Shabbat was pretty good, but not much to note. I went to shul in the evening and did a lot of Torah study on Friday night, including an hour on a really difficult Mishnah. I didn’t nap either Friday evening before dinner or this afternoon, and I got up early this morning, albeit that after ten minutes or so I fell asleep again, so maybe reducing the olanzapine is helping already. I feel a little more alert and I don’t feel more depressed, so maybe I won’t need the alternative anti-psychotic after all.

I reflected that I haven’t felt this good for a long time. I feel like I have some kind of structure and purpose in my life again: I work two days a week at a job that seems to be within my capabilities, even if it is fairly mundane; volunteer one morning; work on my novel; have therapy fortnightly; have a relationship that is going well; am doing quite a bit of Torah study… I feel like writing Jewish fiction is giving me a sense of purpose in my life, and working at the admin job is validated by feeling like I’m earning money to support myself writing, which is my real mission.

I had a lot of interesting thoughts last night, some prompted by one of the books I’m reading (Morality by the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl), one of which will hopefully become a devar Torah later in the year. I was pleased with these thoughts and am wondering if PIMOJ is right to see them as communications from God (not in a prophetic/psychotic sense, but in a “there’s no such thing as coincidence/hidden miracle” way, that positive things that happen, happen for a reason), but I wish they wouldn’t become so obsessive and “stuck in my head” (like a song) when I think of them on Shabbat and can’t write them down. I usually do have these kinds of thoughts on Shabbat, I don’t know whether it’s for spiritual reasons or just because it’s when I switch off from computer, phone and TV and let myself actually think about things. Or not think. Sometimes just sitting still and not thinking about anything in particular can lead to very interesting thoughts.

I had a headache today. It started about an hour before the end of Shabbat. The headache part went after a while, but there was still some nausea. As a result, I had to postpone a film night with PIMOJ (watching a film simultaneously in our different homes). We were hoping to go out tomorrow too. I was ready to commit to that, but PIMOJ was worried my headache would return and said to confirm tomorrow morning. We did speak on the phone (via WhatsApp) once my headache was better.

As my headache meant I couldn’t do much, I watched the New Year’s Special Doctor Who, which was broadcast after Shabbat started on Friday, so I had to wait until Saturday evening to watch it. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t get much out of it. I can’t work out if current Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall’s vision for the programme just doesn’t excite me in either positive or negative ways or if I’m just too old for it now. It is supposed to be a family programme, even if it’s always had a significant adult audience. I can watch the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who endlessly without much drop in enjoyment, and I can watch selected episodes of Russell T Davies and especially Steven Moffat’s versions of Doctor Who and get some enjoyment out of them, even if some bits annoy me (no, the Doctor doesn’t need a love interest, and his cultural references should be wider than those of a contemporary ten year old). But Chibnall’s vision of Doctor Who doesn’t even anger me much, except when it’s being inadvertently (I hope) antisemitic (The Witch-Finders, Orphan 55). It’s just there. Maybe I’ve finally grown up. His first season (2018) had moments of narrative, directorial and thematic innovation and daring, in a low-key way, but I haven’t really been excited by it since then.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The main thing to report today is that I tried hard to get up when I woke up naturally this morning, not when I first woke around 5am, but when I awoke for the second time at 9am. I got up and sat on my bed, but I just felt so tired, I climbed back in and fell asleep again for nearly four hours! I wonder if I could force myself to eat something first, before getting back into bed, but there are prayers to be said on waking and when I feel burnt out and a bit low, it’s hard to get through them, although they only take a few minutes. Strictly speaking, one should say the whole of Shacharit, the Morning Prayer Service, before breakfast, which takes half an hour or forty minutes on a weekday (it varies a bit from day to day), and over an hour on Shabbat (Saturday), but I have been eating breakfast before Shacharit for many years because of depression. But I do like to say a few prayers before eating. But at the moment I also want to find a way to get up no later than 9am, and it’s hard to work out what to do.

There is no sign of the letter from my psychiatrist about changing my medication to sleep less. Realistically, it’s not going to arrive for a week or more now. She’s a good psychiatrist, but… NHS, useless at admin, etc…

I did about an hour and a half of Torah study on Friday night, which was good, except that I ate a lot of junk food at the same time. I’m not sure if there’s a causal relationship or not. I managed about an hour today. I seem to be doing OK on Torah study at the moment (where “OK” is a minimum of half an hour a day, and an hour or so most days).

And that was it for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Oh, I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. It was cold (the heating wasn’t on) and I sat in a draft from the door that we have to keep open because of COVID.

Tomorrow I’m seeing PIMOJ again. We’re rather stuck for ideas for dates when everything has to be outdoors. We just go to parks and eat lunch together. I guess it means we get to know each other well, but it would be nice if we could do something else. Anyway, tomorrow I hope to have the scary “I think we’re in a relationship, but I’m not sure if you do…” conversation.

Driven To Tiers

So, on we go to Tier 4 (in COVID restriction regulations), the COVID equivalent of “It goes up to eleven.” Apparently, I can still meet one person from not in my household if we meet outside, which means PIMOJ and I can still go out tomorrow, which is good, but Mum and Dad were hoping to have dinner in my sister’s garden later in the week, which is now forbidden.

I can’t actually remember much of what happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I was really tired on Friday, but forced myself to do my usual chores and get to shul (synagogue) on time. I still don’t like shul with COVID restrictions, but it’s good to go once a week. I read a lot, a lot of religious reading and some recreational reading, mostly Doctor Who Magazine, the current issue and also the twenty-four year old back issue I bought recently. I enjoyed the back issue a lot; the current one, more moderately. I read a bit of the book I’m reading at the moment, America During the Cold War, a reader on American history in the Cold War era, but I’ve been struggling to get into it so far.

I did have a dream that upset me a bit. I can’t remember the details now, and I wouldn’t go into them if I could, but it was bringing up things I’ve been feeling guilty about recently. Ashley asked recently if I think all my dreams are trying to tell me something; this is a good example of one that I do not think is telling me something, but is just processing recent thoughts and conversations, but it was still uncomfortable to wake up from.

As with the last few weeks, I intended to stay up reading, but got tired around 11.15pm and went to bed. I slept until 7.00am, when I decided I was still tired and would doze for another hour. I then slept for another five hours, and then napped for half an hour in the afternoon. This is beginning to feel wrong to me. I seem to be tired so much of the time, and to be sleeping so long, and it’s hard to see it as being part of my depression when my mood is so much better. I don’t remember being this tired while depressed for a long time (when I was very depressed I was hiding in bed as much as sleeping in it). I suppose it could be my medication, but in 2018, when I was very depressed, but on these meds, I was working four days a week at times, which I could not manage now (admittedly sometimes I had to dose myself up on coffee to avoid falling asleep at the desk).

I’m beginning to wonder if I have some other illness such as chronic fatigue syndrome, but am scared to investigate for fear of being a hypochondriac or diagnosis-shopping, and Occam’s Razor would suggest the medication is the issue. Something does feel “wrong” though, even though it’s hard to quantify what “wrong” is. How does one measure and quantify fatigue? And compare with fatigue of years ago?

My parents suggested trying to get a phone appointment with the GP this week, which I will try to do, but I do feel like a hypochondriac, even though something feels wrong and I am the expert on how I feel.

Grief and Nostalgia

I felt very drained on Friday and struggled to get up and get going in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Shabbat started earlier on Friday than any other day in the year, at 3.36pm. I went to shul (synagogue), but felt uncomfortable there. I’m not sure why; there were elements of mask discomfort and social anxiety. I probably have not adapted to the social distancing and other COVID safety measures, and Kabbalat Shabbat without communal singing is a rather sad and subdued affair.

In the evening, I spent quite a while on Torah study, reading the essay on Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) and love in Judaism by Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl in his Pesach Machzor (Passover Prayerbook) as well as the first chapter of Shir HaShirim with Rabbi Sacks’ commentary in the same book. I found it all rather moving and it felt a bit like one of the religious experiences I often want to have, but never manage. I did also feel grief about Rabbi Sacks’ recent death. I’d often wondered if I would get a chance to have a conversation with him one day and it suddenly hit me that that would never happen now and I felt a stab of grief.

I did some recreational reading too. When I got back from shul, feeling very drained and slightly depressed, I spent half an hour reading my recent purchase, Doctor Who Magazine #242 from August 1996 (the issue before I started reading regularly). I’m rather more excited about it than I am about the current issue of DWM, which seems less analytical and also less joyful. Or maybe modern DWM readers and writers just get excited about different things to me. At £3 including postage, my old DWM was cheaper too. It’s weird to think that this is a new thing that dates from my adolescence. I have a horrible feeling I’m going to start hunting eBay for DWM back issues, at least for the rest of Gary Gillatt’s time as editor. Nostalgia is as good as it used to be.

Friday’s Chanukah donut: chocolate-filled.

***

Today was a normal Saturday. I slept too much again. I actually woke up about 7.15am, but it was so dark outside that I couldn’t face getting up and ended up falling asleep again. I wish I could find a way out of this sleep disturbance. When I was awake, I davened (prayerd) and we had the usual Shabbat meals. The evening was mostly filled with Torah study.

I haven’t eaten today’s donut yet, but it will be chocolate-iced. I also had a kosher mince pie, which is as close as I get to celebrating Christmas.

Argument

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fine, same as usual. I went to shul (synagogue) for the first time since the second lockdown ended. It still feels very subdued there, and we were reminded not to sing. We did go outdoors for a few minutes so we could sing Lecha Dodi, which was good, but colder than when we were doing it a month ago.

I had a dream last night that I won’t describe, as I don’t remember enough of it, and what I do remember I don’t want to share, but it made me worry that my unconscious was thinking of my time being single (which is most of my life), but primarily the loneliness of being single, and the stress and guilt of not coping well with it and having dysfunctional coping strategies at the time.

I argued a bit with PIMOJ tonight after Shabbat, via text. We clashed over my novel. I think there were some communication difficulties too, some language difficulties and some outlook difficulties. I felt my novel was about as religious as a mainstream novel can be and am already worried it will be accused of being too pious or frum (religious) and too simplistic in showing that hurt people can find solace in God. PIMOJ feels that it needs to show more of God’s goodness. I can’t explain her position in detail, because I don’t understand it all (like I said, there are some communication difficulties here, perhaps some language issues) and I’m not going to re-read her email and texts at the moment. I felt the novel was reflecting my experience and the experience of people I’ve encountered online and in person, and it would be wrong to change that or to provide easy answers to difficult questions. I think it’s a book about resilience rather than simple piety.

We calmed down in the end, shelved the novel question for now and said that we both value our connection to each other more than what we feel about the novel. I guess I find arguments scary because in both my previous relationships, the arguments came as we were moving towards breaking up and were a sign of deep-seated issues, so it’s hard not to see it as an ominous sign, even though I know healthy couples can argue a lot (too many examples to mention from my family!).

I had planned to re-watch Blade Runner 2049 this evening, but after the argument, I felt it was too long and downbeat. I started to watch the Doctor Who story City of Death, which is the Doctor Who fan equivalent of eating a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream when depressed. It was written, pseudonymously, by Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, and has a reputation for being the funniest and most elegantly-structured of his three sets of scripts for Doctor Who. I’m not sure if I will watch all of it tonight. I’m currently halfway through, with another fifty minutes to go. It’s getting late, but I have a bit of a headache, which I think will stop me sleeping, and I don’t feel sleepy. I probably still feel energised from arguing, as well as from sleeping too much over Shabbat.

EDIT: I complained recently about someone reblogging a post of mine without asking permission or even telling me. I just had a look in my spam folder and found a comment in there saying that they were reblogging it, so apologies there, although I still don’t know why they particularly wanted to reblog that post.

Pre-Shabbat Fragment

PIMOJ texted me before I went to bed last night and we texted back and forth for a few minutes. We texted again today. I feel better than I did after our call yesterday. Certainly I’m not worried that she’s about to break up with me.

I feel burnt out and overwhelmed again today. I didn’t really mention this to the psychiatrist yesterday, except in a general sense about lacking energy, because I assumed that, inasmuch as it has any medical origin, it’s because I’m autistic and perhaps still mildly depressed sometimes and therefore easily tired, especially by emotional stress and social contact. However, that does not make it easier to deal with. Maybe I should have mentioned it, although I’m not sure what I would have said.

The feelings of being overwhelmed are probably further rooted in the stresses and changes of a new job, as well as the COVID situation, rather than anything I can change right now. I am trying to focus on the present, and the good, and PIMOJ is good at bringing my attention back to these things.

My main concern today is trying to support someone who I fear needs different support to anything I can offer. I want to help, but I’m worried I’m just going to make a bad situation worse if I try. I guess knowing my limitations is also good, but it doesn’t feel good.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, and my inability to really change anything for the better, my inability often to even know what “better” would look like for many other people. I try to hold onto the belief that helping anyone is worthwhile, even if you can’t help everyone, and that sometimes just listening to people is all you can do to help them. Still, the urge to be Superman and fix the world for everyone is strong, despite my increasing convictions that dramatic plans to fix the world are often a way of making it a lot worse for lots of people.

This afternoon I have booked to go to shul (synagogue) for Shabbat (Sabbath) services for the first time since the second lockdown started. I’m vaguely nervous after having been away for a month again, although I’m more used to wearing a mask for long periods now. Friday nights in the winter can be hard; walking to and from shul in the dark can be cold and uncomfortable and make it hard to look forward to services, even without the usual Friday end of week exhaustion, let alone the feelings of being overwhelmed that I currently have..

Accelerated Decrepitude

Shabbat was OK except that I slept too much again. I was going to go into more detail, but I’m actually too tired. I’m going to talk to my psychiatrist about it when I speak to her on Thursday.

I did a lot of Torah study on Friday (well over an hour), but feel drained today and only managed twenty-five minutes or so. I haven’t worked on my novel or done various other chores I hoped to do tonight either. I just feel tired. However, I don’t know what will happen if I go to bed, given how much I’ve slept today. I didn’t do much recreational reading either because of Torah study and tiredness. I thought I would read a novel for an hour before bed yesterday, but after about fifteen minutes I was so tired that it was pointless to carry on reading and I went straight to bed.

I tried to reduce the price on my self-published non-fiction Doctor Who book, but I it insisted that I couldn’t change the price until I finished designing the book, even though it was published months ago. It won’t tell me what it thinks is not finished and I don’t know how to find out. Weird. Strange how so many things I try to do go wrong in weird ways.

I didn’t feel able to do much tonight, so I re-watched Blade Runner, director Ridley Scott’s Final Cut of the 1982 film, from which I took my title quote. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it now, probably four or five. I find it a hugely immersive experience, even on the small screen. I’m sure it’s more impressive in the cinema. The plot is fairly slight and overly-dependent on coincidences and contrivances (a lot of detail and sub-plots were removed from the novel on which it is based, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), but the direction, design, cinematography and incidental music fuse into a comprehensive vision of a dystopian future rarely equalled in cinema.

On recent viewings I’ve found myself wondering about parallels between replicants and autistic people, as both are supposed to be empathy-deficient, but the comparison doesn’t really work. The replicants seem to have cognitive empathy (Roy Batty seems to be able to guess what Detective Deckard will do), but lack emotional empathy (they appear to have empathy for each other, but not for humans, not even J. F. Sebastian, who tried to help and befriend them). Whereas autistic people are the reverse, feeling emotional empathy for the suffering of others, but lacking the “perspective-taking” cognitive empathy needed to understand and predict what other people are doing and why. If anything, the replicants are like psychopaths, in the clinical sense (setting aside the philosophical questions of whether they were born like this or developed as a result of slavery and mistreatment).

Mini-Post: Shabbat and Jealousy

I don’t have much to say today. I mostly avoided worrying about my autism assessment over Shabbat. I did sleep too much though. I went to bed earlyish, slept for twelve hours and then had two half-hour naps in the afternoon. Not good. I am beginning to worry about this. I did quite a bit of Torah study yesterday, but not much today because of napping and because after Shabbat PIMOJ and I watched a film (Inside Out) “together separately” i.e. at the same time, but in different places. Then we Skyped afterwards.

One thing I did struggle with a bit was leafing through an old Jewish Chronicle from a month or so ago and seeing a big article about a schoolfriend/peer of mine. His life ran parallel to mine for many years and in some ways has the life I thought I would have. I knew he is a historian now and has written books (I catalogued one in a previous job), but somehow seeing the latest one promoted with an interview in the Jewish Chronicle raised thoughts about the way our lives had gone. Still, I think I managed not to drift into envy, jealousy, bitterness, frustration, self-criticism or the like. I do wish I had a clearer idea of where my life is going though, and whether I’ll manage to do anything worthwhile with it.

Rabbi Sacks, and Comparing Myself to Friends

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

If We Ever Get Out of Here

Trapped inside these four walls,

Sent inside forever,

Never seeing no one

Nice again,

Like You,

Mama, you,

Mama, you.

If I ever get out of here

Thought of giving it all away

To a registered charity

All I need is a pint a day

If I ever get out of here

If we ever get out of here

Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings

The extended quote from Band on the Run by Wings is indulgent, but expresses better than I can how I feel with the latest COVID restrictions just announced as coming in this week, as England (and I mean England, not the whole UK) goes back into full lockdown, albeit with schools, colleges and universities staying open this time.

***

Despite what I wrote yesterday, I didn’t come to any great insights or peace of mind over Shabbat about my autism diagnosis. I’m still too scared that I don’t have a 100% definite diagnosis yet (if you can ever have a 100% diagnosis of something as subjective as high-functioning autism), even if the psychiatrist did describe the rest of the process as “just dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s.” I think it’s probably something that will sink in more over time. My parents are hopeful that I will find more help in the workplace now. That may be true, but I need to find a job first, something that will be harder with the return to lockdown.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal semi-lockdown Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue), ate with Mum and Dad, read, did Torah study etc. I was not intending to do so much Torah study after the assessment, but I got into it and did an hour or so on Friday and Saturday. I guess it shows that I do really enjoy Torah study when I feel able, particularly when I’m studying topics I’m interested in, which over Shabbat was Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), specifically Iyov (Job), which I’m now halfway through, as well as teachings from Rebbe Nachman of Bratlav and letters of Rav Kook.

Other than that, nothing really happened until after Shabbat. I had a list of chores to do, most notably getting ready the stuff that the psychiatrist wanted to see before my final assessment. This was interrupted by the news of the new lockdown. PIMOJ and I were supposed to be going on our third in-person date on Thursday, which is now out of the question. We’re hoping to have a hurried date tomorrow, although I’ll have to reorganise the call I had scheduled with my rabbi mentor. Technically I can still go to volunteer on Wednesdays (I think… the announcement is not completely clear to me), but I don’t drive and I’m not sure that I want to risk travelling on the buses with infections and the “R-number” rising. I was also due for a checkup at the dentist next week which has been delayed since the summer for various reasons. I don’t have a toothache, but I have always been good about dental checkups, so it feels worrying postponing it indefinitely. I guess I’ve been vaguely worried about my teeth since I had my first filling (at the age of thirty-six!) last year. My parents were also supposed to be going to the dentist soon, in Mum’s case for quite important reasons about seeing whether she can take a particular cancer drug she’s been prescribed. Then there is shul. I was just getting back into the habit of going regularly and now we’re not sure if places of worship will close down again.

Things feel grim. At least in the first lockdown the weather was good and the days were getting longer. This feels like a cold, dark, bleak time. The government are hoping to ease the lockdown by Christmas, but I worry it won’t happen. That may just be pessimism and negativity talking, though. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I feel sad for those who do, especially the children. (Of course, we’ve gone through five Jewish festivals already this year with limited or no shul access or ability to meet friends and family.)

Autism Assessment (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The World War I Flying Ace

I didn’t post on Friday because I ran out of time before Shabbat (the Sabbath). That’s probably going to be the case for all Fridays until late spring. I didn’t have a lot to say anyway. Now I have the post-Shabbat in the winter “wanting to curl up and not do much” feeling. Not a lot happened in the last two days anyway.

On Friday I did manage to get my medication before Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue). It wasn’t raining, so we had the first half of the service (Kabbalat Shabbat) outside so we could take off our masks and sing, which was good (the singing and the masklessness, although I took care to stand over two metres from anyone else regardless). I intended not to do so much Torah study after dinner so I didn’t burn out the next day, but I got involved and did over an hour, which I guess is good (that I was so involved). Then I read the Jewish Review of Books and went to bed late, but couldn’t sleep, so read more of the Jewish Review of Books. Today was much the same, eating, sleeping, praying and reading.

I had a settled feeling over Shabbat. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. A feeling that I’m looking for a stronger connection with God, but that I no longer feel victimised and attacked by Him, or that I can never find religious meaning. I guess PIMOJ has something to do with that, but it’s not entirely down to her. I feel like I know what I should be doing with my life, which is writing Jewish books. At the same time, I do still worry that I’m not a good enough writer, or that I won’t be able to handle the more practical aspects of writing (finding an agent and a publisher etc.). I also feel obliged to look for other work so I’m not entirely dependent on my parents and the state hence my intention to send off some more job applications this coming week, even though I increasingly feel that I’m not going to get work that way.

That was really it for the last two days. After Shabbat I did some stuff around the house for my parents, but nothing much.

***

After about two years, I finished reading all the daily and Sunday Peanuts (Snoopy) cartoons. That’s 17,897 comic strips. There is actually another volume in The Complete Peanuts series, containing various one-off strips and ephemera; I’m not sure if I’m enough of a completist to buy it. It’s pretty well-known that American culture celebrates heroes, not “losers.” Just look at the way Donald Trump shouts “Loser” at everyone he doesn’t like (which is a lot of people). Somehow Charles Schulz managed to take a comic strip about a loser and make it popular in the States, which is not easy. I mean “loser” in the nicest possible sense, from someone who considers himself a loser and thinks that losers are more interesting than winners. It’s a surprisingly deep and existential comic about failure and frustration, but also very funny and endearing, perhaps because it’s not actually pitched as a comic about failure, it just happens to go there a lot.

400 Word Post

I think I may have overdone things on Friday. I went to shul (synagogue), which was quite good, at least by COVID standards. We went out for Lecha Dodi so we could sing it, as currently singing is only permitted outside. I sat with one of my shul friends who I hadn’t really seen for months. I do find shul hard at the moment and it’s hard to tell why. I don’t like wearing a mask, I know, but somehow the lack of talking and atmosphere affects me in a way that I did not expect. It feels like I needed the social aspect of shul to be there in the background, even though I did not like being involved in it myself, and even though it sometimes fed my social anxiety.

I came home and we went straight into dinner, then I did some Torah study for an hour or so. I was going to read a novel before bed, but I was too tired to read more than a couple of pages. Maybe I needed more downtime, as I got a headache today that reduced the amount of Torah study I did this afternoon. I didn’t really do much today because of that, just half an hour of Torah study and prayers. I slept for an hour and a half after lunch, which I didn’t want to do, but I was too tired to fight against it.

I guess it’s not surprising if the headache is a physical symptom of burnout, as I was busy all week last week and Shabbat (the Sabbath/Saturday) was my first day off. Tomorrow is set to be busy too, with a date with PIMOJ and then home for a Zoom meeting with my shul community. The shul has never had premises of it’s own, currently renting spaces in other institutions. There is the possibility of buying some land that would enable us to have a custom-built building, but obviously finance is a big question for a small community like ours, hence the meeting. I’m not sure how much of it will interest me bearing in mind (a) financial stuff tends to go over my head and (b) settings don’t matter so much to me, but I felt I ought to show my face and take an interest to be part of the community.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

A fund-raising email from an autism charity told me today that autistic people are nine times more likely to commit suicide than non-autistic people, which is depressing, but I fear has the ring of truth. Elsewhere, a blog I follow tells me that only 16% of autistic people are in work (although I suspect there are more non-diagnosed autistic people who are in work and haven’t needed a diagnosis) and only 5% get married (it doesn’t say how many of those marriages work out). I’m not sure what happens if you take out the severe autism. Of course, secular Western society defines people by their career and Orthodox Jewish society largely defines them by their marriage and offspring, so it is easy to end up feeling like a failure – which I guess is where the suicide statistic comes in.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) felt like the first Shabbat of winter, cold and dark, and over early enough that it wasn’t worth eating dinner for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). I slept for something like thirteen or fourteen hours out of twenty-five, which was not good. I read two chapters of Iyov (Job) which was good, as Iyov is about the hardest book of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) from a linguistic point of view, very, very difficult poetry with lots of obscure words (hard from a theological point of view too, of course, but that wasn’t my main point). Other than that not a lot happened.

I was vaguely anxious, or at least apprehensive about a lot of things: maybe Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) which starts tomorrow night and certainly the job interview on Wednesday and my fears about what will happen if I get the job which is at a Very Important Institution (can I work full-time? Will they let me work part-time? Can I cope with work at all? What will it be like working somewhere so important and prestigious, not to mention high security? What about commuting with COVID restrictions?).

I also worried about dating PIMOJ. At the moment I feel inhibited from telling her when I have a depressive day, because she’s so positive and I worry how she will react if I’m depressed. However, that leaves me feeling like a fake and worrying that we can’t build a relationship on honesty if I feel I have to hide how I feel for fear of rejection. I also wonder if she is too religious for me, which seems a weird thing to think, compared with my previous relationships. It doesn’t help that we’ve never met in person because of COVID and it isn’t certain when we will be able to do so. I feel that things might be better, or at least clearer, if we met in person, but at the moment we’re stuck with instant messenger and Skype calls. I do like her, though, even if I worry we’re not on the same wavelength.

Love of God; Loss and Gain of Friends

Shabbat was good. I slept too much though: about ten hours at night and another two and a half after lunch. It meant I didn’t have time for much Torah study or recreational reading.

***

I had a thought about being loved by God. I used to say that I couldn’t believe that God loves me, then that I could accept God loves me intellectually, but not emotionally. I thought this was all tied up with suffering, mine and that of the world in general. I realised yesterday that that’s not the issue, or not the main issue. While I’m not sure how much I accept that God loves me, my real worry is that I won’t be able to cope with the future suffering he makes me go through, whether it’s physical pain or even greater loneliness (when my parents aren’t here). I worry that I won’t cope and (a) will be in extreme pain (physical or emotional) and (b) will stop being religious out of anger or despair. I’m not sure where to go with these thoughts right now.

***

I realised I’ve changed a lot of my social contacts in the last six months or so. I’ve lost touch with shul (synagogue) friends and acquaintances because of lockdown. I have not been in touch with E. properly since we broke up (although she tried to get back together with me, or at least to get back in contact, I did not think it was a good idea). I think there has been a high turnover of people reading my blog in the last six months to a year, with some people vanishing and others starting to read. I guess I find all the change a bit disconcerting (blame autism if you want). I’m still blaming myself for friends that I lost a couple of years ago (real life and online), which was at least partially my fault.

***

I was trying not to think about my novel over Shabbat, but a possible solution, or part solution, to the problem of the climax came into my head suddenly. It will take a lot of restructuring, but I’m open to that at this stage.

***

More Rav Kook: “Every person who feels within himself the depth of penitential remorse and the anxiety to mend his flaws — both those whose redress is within his reach and those he hopes to redress in time by the mercy of God — should include himself in the category of the righteous.” from The Lights of Penitence in Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems p.65

***

I don’t like to use the word “hate,” but can I just say how much I hate the new WordPress editor? I thought I would get used to it over time, but the more I use it, the worse it seems. I can’t work out how to get back to the classic editor (properly, not just for a particular block). I can only assume the new editor was developed by a mole for rival blog platform, trying to bring the company down from within; I can’t believe someone actually thought it was a good idea.

Guilt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Quiet Shabbat

Someone is playing loud music outside at 10.30pm…

Shabbat was pretty good. No insomnia this week. I woke up at 9ish and said the Shema (the most important morning prayer, which at the moment should be said by 9.30ish). I wanted to stay awake, but was tempted to wrap myself in my duvet to self-comfort and fell asleep BUT I woke up in time for the later deadline for saying the Shacharit Amidah (second most important morning prayer), so I’m counting this morning as a win as usually I don’t manage those at all. I didn’t doze this afternoon either (read, studied Torah and went for a walk), so I might go to sleep at a reasonable time tonight (if the music stops).

I mentioned to my parents my theory that my depression is now mostly autistic burnout after doing too much and they agreed. They said they’d thought that for a while, but hadn’t known how I would react if they said anything. I definitely still have odd days when I hit clinically depressed-type lows when burnt out, but I don’t think they stick around long enough to be classified as clinical depression (which should last two weeks). I look forward to hearing what my therapist says about this on Tuesday. (For what it’s worth, I think I still do have things to bring to therapy at the moment.) I do still struggle with mornings, although as my Dad said, none of us in the family are morning people (actually my sister is now, but only since she married a morning person).

That was it, really, aside from some dating anxiety. I seem to be able to keep a lid on it during the day, but it explodes in the evening for some reason. I’m excited to be messaging the person I’m messaging and so far things seem good, we seem to be connecting well, but I’m just terrified some unsolvable problem will open up somewhere down the line. I know, it’s been LESS THAN ONE WEEK that we’ve been messaging each other, I really shouldn’t be worrying that far ahead. But I do jump ahead when thinking about dating. I get so terrified of rejection, or of losing someone who I have come to care about, that I worry about it from the off, which is not good on multiple levels.

***

Speaking of JDate, I got an amusing message from someone who does not think we are a match but who recognised me from primary school! I have to say I don’t recognise her, but I suspect her hair in her profile picture is not her natural colour or style. In any case, I don’t really remember most of the girls from primary school, I didn’t really speak to them much at that age. I mean, I didn’t speak to most of the boys, let alone the girls.

***

I mentioned that I’ve been reading Mishlei (Proverbs in Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible) and that I’ve struggled in the past with its rather rigid theology that good is always rewarded and evil punished in this world, which is not what I see. It’s fair to say that many of the proverbs do read like that, but some don’t. I found one I liked over Shabbat: “The way of a man may be torturous and strange/Though his actions are blameless and proper.” (21.8, The JPS Bible translation). I like that. I don’t know if my life is bad, but it does feel torturous and strange at times, so it’s good that I don’t have to blame myself for that. Also, the Hebrew word translated as ‘torturous’ is ‘hafakhpakh,’ which is a good word to say aloud (the ‘kh’ is a guttural like in the Scottish ‘loch’).

Running Out of Petrol

It rained a lot last night.  I stayed up for a while listening to the rain and thunder and watching the lightning.  It’s been raining on and off all day, but without thunder and lightning.  That’s brought the temperature back to the comfortable range (mid-twenties Celsius), although it’s still warm and humid.  The BBC is predicting more thunderstorms for this afternoon and evening.

I woke up late again, somewhat more refreshed than recently from sleeping in the lower temperature, but still depressed and tired.  I feel like I’ve been struggling against the weather the last few days, which distracted me from depression, but now the temperature is lower, the depression is back.

***

Mum was sick last night, probably side-effects from her final dose of chemotherapy, which I guess is a reminder that there’s still a long way to go with regard to her treatment, even if the chemo is over now.  It’s still scary if I think about it.

***

I created a JDate profile.  I hope I’m not making a big mistake.  I sometimes procrastinate about something for ages, then something in me snaps and I seem to do it very suddenly, as if on impulse, if you only saw my external actions and not the inner procrastination beforehand.

I described myself as a librarian and writer, which is true, I’m just not being paid to do either of those things at the moment.  There was a bit where you could pick interests from a list: no reading, but loads of different sports and genres of films.  Hmm.  I put running, cooking, writing and “sci-fi” (even though serious science fiction fans tend to prefer “SF” to “sci-fi”), but I found the lack of options, particularly unusual option, irritating.

They seem to have massively changed the site since I was last on it and I didn’t get time to experiment with searching.  It showed me a few women whose profiles seemed to match with mine, for what that’s worth, including someone I went to school with who I’ve come across on dating sites before – one could say that we are constantly being thrown together by FATE, except that I see zero chemistry or shared interests with her and am pretty sure she feels the same way about me.

I did see someone I might like to email, but am currently too nervous.  Her profile said she was looking in an age range that was somewhat younger than I am (she’s twenty-seven and interested in dating men up to thirty-two; I’m thirty-seven).  I think I look younger than I am, but who knows?  I was nervous even before I saw her preferred age range, just nervous about reaching out to someone even though the worst she can do is ignore me.  I would need to upgrade my access to the site to message her i.e. part with hard cash!  You have very limited access to the site without paying these days, it seems, but I am still nervous about this and not sure it’s a good idea.  I’m having a lot of “No one would want to be with me if she knew I’m depressed/autistic/unemployed/weird” thoughts.

***

It always seems so hard to do anything on a Friday, even in summer, when Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts at a sensible time.  I did my chores (still need to hoover), but I feel exhausted, without having done much else except the JDate profile.  The mystics say that God pumps new energy into the universe via Shabbat and that without it, the universe would run out of energy.  That seems to be empirically testable in my life.  Fridays are definitely a “running out of petrol” day, every week.

Heat and Light

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Bonus Post: Why I’m Religious

I’ve been thinking lately about why I stay frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) when I struggle a lot with Orthodox Jewish practice because of my depression, social anxiety and autism, as well as feeling uncomfortable with some attitudes in the frum community.  At a basic level it’s that I believe in God and Judaism, I just struggle on a practical level with keeping it sometimes.  But I think there’s more to it than that.  I know lots of Jews believe in God on some level without translating that to religious observance.  My fears that God does not love me could have been a push factor away from observance; certainly my religious OCD (which thankfully is largely under control now, although it still takes effort to keep it that way) was a push factor that made it hard to stay frum, although I did manage to stay.

Some kiruv (outreach) organisations talk about proofs of Judaism, generally arguments for the existence of God and the divine origin of the Torah.  I’m not going to go into them here.  I don’t really find them convincing.  I don’t think you can “prove” that God exists in the way that you can prove that 2 + 2 =4 or that the atomic number of hydrogen is 1.  I don’t think that standard of proof exists outside of maths and the physical and natural sciences.  As someone with a background more in the humanities, it doesn’t bother me so much these days that I don’t have that same degree of certainty in my beliefs, although it did in the past.

I think the survival of the Jewish people through thousands of years of statelessness, exile and persecution is inspiring, and a little eerie, especially our return to our homeland, as predicted by the Torah.  That fills me with a kind of awe, although it’s not strictly speaking a “proof” of anything.

I also find it interesting how much Judaism has shaped Western culture, and to a lesser extent global culture.  The historian Paul Johnson, who is not Jewish, says the following in his History of the Jews:

“All the great conceptual discoveries of the intellect seem obvious and inescapable once they have been revealed, but it requires a special genius to formulate them for the first time.  The Jews had this gift.  To them we owe the idea of equality before the law, both divine and human; of the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person; of the individual conscience and so of personal redemption; of the collective conscience and so of social responsibility; of peace as an abstract ideal and love as the foundation of justice, and many other items which constitute the basic moral furniture of the human mind.  Without the Jews it might have been a much emptier place.”

(If this interests you then The Gifts of the Jews by another non-Jewish historian, Thomas Cahill, explores this theme in greater depth.)

I find this inspiring.  I’m not sure it’s really at the core of what motivates me to be Jewish, but it does help.

In terms of other things that motivated me to stay observant, while I don’t want Jewish observance to sound like a quid pro quo, there are a few things that I get from Judaism that I probably wouldn’t get in secular postmodern Western society if I wasn’t religious.

I think Judaism gives me structure.  I would probably structure my days even if I wasn’t frum, but I don’t think I would observe Shabbat as a day totally without work, chores, TV, laptop, phone, etc. without being religious.  I just know that without it seeming an absolute commandment, the outside world would slowly creep into it and ruin it.  Shabbat helps me structure my week in a very clear way, making sure I have time for physical pleasure, rest and spiritual re-connection.  And I don’t think I would structure my year the way Judaism makes me do.  The festivals are mostly connected with particular seasons and bring with them times for doing particular things, like thinking about freedom and Jewish history at Pesach or repentance and personal growth before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  It provides a shape to the whole year that I would not otherwise have.

I enjoy the richness and complexity of the Jewish tradition.  The fact that it is so vast, and that there is always so much to learn and that people have spent three thousand years thinking about the big questions of life.  There is definitely something enjoyable about discovering a new idea in Judaism, a new perspective on a text or on life, particularly when it involves translating a text in a dead language or finding a sudden insight into an apparently bizarre or meaningless story or saying.

Connected to this, I find it meaningful that there is a bond between me and other Jews in other times and places.  I find the Jewish community difficult at times, but there is something to be said for being part of a three thousand year global tradition.  While it is easy to complain about the internal divisions in contemporary Jewish life (Orthodox vs. Progressive vs. secular; Israel vs. diaspora; Ashkenazi vs. Sephardi/Mizrachi), I think when the chips are down, so to speak, when Jews are in serious crisis, 90% of the global Jewish community will come together to pray together, send practical help, volunteer, whatever is needed.

I think the Jewish ethic appeals to me too.  One can obviously find aspects of Jewish/Biblical ethics that are challenging from a modern day perspective and I’m not going to deny that (religious war, sexuality).  But the Jewish ethic as a whole appeals to me.  I find it very balanced.  It praises learning above everything, but also sees the importance of putting learning into practice.  It admits that this world involves suffering, but it wants to make it better, rather than postpone happiness until Heaven, yet it also admits that utopian perfection is for the End of Days; in this world, we do small acts to make things better.  It has a strong ethic of not hurting others, not just physically or financially, but also with words; it’s understanding of the power words speaks a lot to me.  Also the fact that in Jewish thought all people are equal because created by God, but there are multiple paths to God, both within Judaism and outside Judaism; non-Jews don’t have to convert to be “good.”

Love Your Neighbour

I don’t have much to write today.  It was a normal lockdown Shabbat.  I slept too much, and at the wrong times, but that’s also normal.  I won at Scrabble this week.  I started playing strategically.  I think in the past I would just have gone for the longest or most obscure word, but sometimes a really basic word can get a higher score, if it has a high-scoring letter or hits a double word (etc.) square.  I do get a bit frustrated that it’s hard to play a lot of obscure words that I know, but I guess that’s just showing off.

I tried to stay in the present and not worry about the future or beat myself up about past decisions (breaking up with E., going to the school I went to and not the one my Mum wanted me to go to).  I probably have made some bad decisions in my life, albeit partly because a big part of my life was unknown until recently (high functioning autism – which technically has still not been diagnosed, so who knows where this will go?).  There’s not a lot I can do about that now, though.  If I do manage to build a career as a Jewish author, then I think a lot of my past decisions and difficulties will have led me to it.  If I can’t do that…  who knows, really?

My big struggle today is with loving my neighbour, literally and metaphorically.  Literally, I have a lot less time for our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours than I did in the past, because of the illegal minyanim (prayer service).  They have stopped most of these since shuls (synagogues) reopened (although they are still doing Saturday nights).  I still feel angry and resentful.  I still feel that they were risking our lives, especially Mum’s life, for the sake of their spirituality, even though the actual risk to Mum was probably small, even when she was in our garden at the same time they were davening (praying) in their garden.  People breaking the rules annoys me a lot.  In my experience, people on the autism spectrum either obsess over every tiniest rule and can’t bend a rule no matter how justified or alternatively can’t stand any rules at all, however logical.  I’m definitely in the former camp.  It was not always easy at work to work out when I should bend the rules for people and when I should be strict.  Maybe I should write a letter to the neighbours and not send it?  That was a technique my therapist suggested for dealing with feelings about E.; I should probably try it there too.

In a more general sense, I am in this weird situation of being frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) and wanting to stay frum, but also having a lot of resentment against the frum community.  I think it’s mainly about feeling I don’t fit in, which is probably largely because of the lack of a vibrant, committed, Modern Orthodox community in this country, unlike America and Israel.  Here the United Synagogue has a hashkafa (philosophical outlook) I agree with, but most US members are not shomer mitzvot (keeping the commandments), not even close.  Most are “traditional” and are members of an Orthodox shul (synagogue) out of family tradition, convenience or a vague sense that Reform Judaism isn’t “real” Judaism.

The Haredi world is a lot more committed to Torah study, meaningful prayer and mitzvah performance (keeping the commandments), yet has an outlook I often disagree with, whether over the place of secular study and the sciences, the role of women or various other things.  I could probably cope with that if that was all, although it does make me feel that I’m hiding myself, but I feel there is a level of casual sexism, racism/anti-non-Jew feeling and so on that sometimes appears and upsets me.

I think there is a lot of hesed (kindness) in the frum world, but not much empathy.  If you have a “normal” problem, people will help, but if you have an unusual situation or something that is stigmatised and not spoken about (the classic “bad for shidduchim” (potential marriage chances) problem) people won’t help and probably won’t even be able to understand what your problem is.  My thought on this matter were provoked from reading about a Haredi woman who adopted a black girl and has experienced a huge amount of unthinking racism, but it applies to mental health stigma, homosexuality, children who stop being religious… lots of things.

I feel that I do have a lot of anger and resentment towards what really is my own community that I have to work through somehow if I’m to keep functioning and I’m not really sure how to do it.  I kind of hope that one day I’ll marry someone who fits into the community better than I do and somehow things will slot into place, that suddenly I’ll have more frum friends and feel able to be myself, but I’m not sure that that’s a realistic idea.  Realistic in that I don’t think finding a wife would necessarily let me fit in a lot better and in that I’m not sure how likely it is that I will find a frum wife.

Because God is Infinite His Pain is Infinite

I made a crucial typo in yesterday’s post.  It should have read, “Therefore it’s impossible for something to exist without God knowing and understanding it.  Therefore God can’t find me weird and unlikeable.”  I put “with” instead of “without.”  Whoops.  Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable has a whole long list of historical editions of the Bible that, thanks to typos, enjoined readers to “sin on more” instead of “sin no more” or commanded them that “Thou shalt commit adultery” missing the “not” or suggested that “The fool hath said in his heart there is a God” (instead of “no god”).  Ahem.  At least my mistake won’t cost me anything; the missing “no” in the last quote cost the printers £3000 (a huge sum of money in the seventeenth century) and the edition was suppressed, so they couldn’t make anything back from it.

Anyway, Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK.  I was mostly bouncing back and forth between depression and sort-of OKness.  I worried a bit that I made a mistake in breaking up with E., or that I didn’t make a mistake, but I will still be single forever.  I think I had some other depressive thoughts, but I don’t remember what they were now.  I know I had a few morbid thoughts about my parents dying.  I slept a lot again, hence feeling really awake now (midnight) and not sure what to do.

The one really good thing that happened was something I came across in the holy book Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942 by the Piaseczno Rebbe, Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, translated by J. Hershy Worch.  It’s from a sermon delivered in the Warsaw Ghetto on Shabbat Shekalim (Mishpatim), 14 February 1942, in the middle of the Holocaust.  I’m going to quote it at length:

For behold!  A Jew, tortured in his suffering, may think he is the only one in pain, as though his individual, personal pain, and the pain of all other Jews, has no affect Above, God forbid.  But, as the verse (Isaiah 63:9) says, “In all their pain is His pain,” and as we learn in the Talmud (Hagigah 15b) in the name of R. Meir, “When a person suffers, to what expression does the Shechinah (Divine) give utterance? ‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’”  In sacred literature we learn that God, as it were, suffers the pain of a Jew much more than that person himself feels it.

Possibly because God is infinite – and hence unknowable in the world – His pain at the suffering of Jewish people is also infinite.  Perhaps it is just impossible for any human to feel such immense pain, it is impossible even to apprehend the level of God’s pain, to know that He bears it.

Hagigah is actually one of the few masechtot (volumes) of Talmud I actually own a hard copy of, so I looked up the reference.  In the Steinsaltz (Koren Noé) Edition Talmud, the translation explains that this pain (‘O woe!  My head, O woe!  My arms.’) is referring to someone who is in pain because he has been sentenced to lashes or to death by the court (in ancient times, when Jewish courts permitted corporal and capital punishment).  The Talmud goes on to say, if God feels so much pain when a wicked person is punished, how much more so when a righteous person is in pain.  In fact, the quotation comes in a whole long narrative about Elisha ben Avuyah the Talmudic rabbi who became a heretic, and how some of the rabbis tried to get him into Heaven (so to speak) after his death even though he was very wicked.

So this would indicate that God does feel my pain and care about me on an individual level, not just because I’m human/Jewish (I know it is a very particularist Jewish text, like a lot of Jewish texts, particularly mystical ones).  This is the question that has been bothering me for a couple of years now.  I’m not sure what I feel now I have an answer.  I think I do feel closer to God.  I’m not sure what else I feel.  My mood has been going up and down, as I said.

That’s all I have to say tonight.

“Boy, does that sound like a boring person’s idea of fun!”

I’m hearing Alice Otterloop’s dismissal from Cul de Sac applied to my life today (see the title comment).  It’s not so bad really.  Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner yesterday was fine, but late.  I then ended up spending an hour or more on Torah study, mostly trying to get back into Talmud Berachot to keep up with the resumed shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue), even though I can’t go to it because we’re shielding Mum.  I didn’t understand much of it and 10pm is probably too late for Talmud.  I read a bit and went to sleep around 1.30am.

Today I went for walk after lunch, which I hoped would stop me napping in the afternoon, as it seemed to do last week, but it didn’t help and I still slept for a couple of hours (not sure how long exactly as I forgot to look at the clock when I went to bed).  Hence, it’s just gone midnight and I’m quite awake, although listless and vaguely bad tempered.  I’m not sure why I feel like this.  It may connect to bursts of depression that I had on and off during the day.  I only managed forty-five minutes of Torah study today, much of it going over that Talmud passage again.  I spent some more time reading a novel.  Then we had seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal) and played two games of Rummikub.  Dad won both.  He usually does as he has a mathematical brain and it’s a numbers game.  Despite being autistic, I don’t really have a numbers brain.  It’s things like this that make me worry that I’m not actually autistic, just rubbish at living life.  Huh.

I’ve nearly finished the novel I’m re-reading (Doctor Who: The New Adventures: Bad Therapy).  I don’t think I enjoyed the Doctor Who spin-off novels enough for me to enjoy re-reading them too often.  I find a book I don’t think I remember much about, but once I start reading, it comes back to me.  With Doctor Who TV episodes, I enjoy them so much I can watch them umpteen times even knowing the plot (and dialogue, cliff-hangers, and more interesting shot compositions).  Ditto for some of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strips, but apparently not for the novels.

I’m back in a depressed mood, and too awake to sleep…  Not sure what to do.  I might break my “No screens after 11pm” rule (honoured much more in the breach than the observance) and watch TV.  Maybe The Avengers or something.  Something silly, to try to unwind and switch off the depressed thoughts.

Negativity and Value

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was fairly low-key.  My Dad and I didn’t go to our reopened shuls (synagogues) because we were worried about shielding Mum, who has low immunity.  We were worried that even with social distancing, the risk of bringing home infection was high.  I was upset at missing my Talmud shiur (religious class) and tried to keep up with it at home by guessing how far they were likely to go.  This was the first time I had studied Gemarah (the later, more complex part of the Talmud) since the start of lockdown.  I went for a walk right after lunch, which meant that I didn’t fall into a deep sleep for hours as I’ve been doing recently after Shabbat lunches.  I did still end up in bed at times in the afternoon because I was feeling depressed and wanted to retreat a bit, but I don’t think I slept much, maybe dozed for ten or twenty minutes at most.  Hopefully my sleep won’t be so messed up tonight.

I beat my Dad at Scrabble (Mum didn’t feel well enough to play).  I thought I got a few good words; I was glad to get rid of both a difficult Z (zen) and a Q (quad).  I wasn’t sure if qi is allowed.  I think it is, but we don’t have an official Scrabble dictionary and then Dad used the square that I needed to do it – a shame, as it would have been on a triple word score.

The illegal minyan (prayer quorum) next door disappeared, but returned tonight for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) just when I thought it was gone for good.

***

I want to be less negative, but it’s hard to work out how.  Just before Shabbat, I wrote a list of negative attitudes that I have.  I found six, corresponding fairly obviously to a few CBT unhelpful thinking styles.  The problem is working on them.  I have tried CBT a few times for depression and self-esteem and it has never worked very well, perhaps because it generally does not work for people autism spectrum (I think there’s an adapted CBT for autistic people).

I think I do find it easier to reframe things than I did in the past, but I still do find it hard, and it still takes me a while to realise I can reframe thoughts.  Plus, I do feel that I have had an objectively difficult life since adolescence, which does make it hard to think that things will improve.  And “shoulds” are particularly hard to get rid of.  Orthodox Judaism is not about possibilities and values, but obligations, precisely defined obligations at that.  (If I was Reform, it would be a different issue.)  That’s a hard barrier to get around.

***

Somewhat related: when I see people living (apparently) successful and happy lives, it’s easy to get sucked into thinking that life should be joyous and feel inadequate for not having that type of life.  It’s only when I see other people who are suffering that I feel that life is a “vale of soul-making” (as Keats said) and feel that my life is meaningful for enduring mental illness and trying to support others with it.

***

I feel Western culture tends to put too much emphasis on individualism and not accepting help, and also on economic production as a indicator of worth.  It’s hard to feel that I’m worthwhile while unemployed “just” because I try to be kind, supportive and non-judgemental of others.  Even when I map out possible futures, the idea of earning money, as a librarian and/or writer comes up, as does marriage and children.  I want those things, but they may not be realisable for me.  But Western culture says without a job I’m not contributing much, just as Judaism says that without a family, I’m not “really” part of the community.

***

I have a nagging feeling that there were more thoughts that came up over Shabbat, when I couldn’t write them down, but I can’t remember them, and it’s late and I’m getting tired.  Hopefully I will remember them tomorrow, if they really existed.

Crushes and Being in the Present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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