Same Old Scene

I struggled a bit with Shabbat (the Sabbath) again. I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night despite feeling very tired. I found dinner with my parents exhausting. I know “selective mutism” is something a lot of autistics suffer from. I don’t really experience it, but I have noticed that when autistically exhausted from peopling (rather than just tired), I can become monosyllabic. By the end of dinner, I was communicating in gestures more than speech. It wasn’t conscious. It’s a bit frightening.

I fell asleep for an hour after dinner and then was too tired to move for an hour after that, so I didn’t do as much reading as I would have liked. I spent an hour reading The Guide for the Perplexed, but only managed a few pages as it was based on Medieval neo-Aristotlean philosophy which I didn’t really understand so I made slow progress. I’m not sure how much relevance those passages really have for contemporary Jewish thought. I also wonder how they were understood in Early Modern and Modern Eastern Europe, although not many people would have been reading it there – not many rabbis, let alone laymen. The Kotzker Rebbe is supposed to have said of the Guide that “If you are wise, it is a guide; if not, you will be perplexed,” which is probably true. I read a few pages of A Fire Burns in Kotsk and a couple of chapters of Dune, but not much else.

I slept late again this morning. Mum and Dad were out for lunch, so I ate by myself, reading the latest Doctor Who Magazine. I’m not at all optimistic about the return of Russell T Davies, David Tennant, Catherine Tate and others, or the deal with Disney. I worry it’s just a return to the worst aspects of Davies and Tennant’s first run, with added Big Business. As when Davies was showrunner previously, DWM is now full of coy preview articles that tease the new episodes without giving anything away, which I just find irritating. I don’t like spoilers, but just being told endlessly that the next series is going to be amazing when I’m not going to see it for a year or more is annoying, even if I wasn’t convinced that it won’t be amazing. I skim DWM more and more.

I dozed off for a bit after Minchah and ate seudah (the third Shabbat meal) after sunset, which is not ideal. I was too tired to do very much at all in the afternoon, although I did some Torah study (Shoftim/Judges in Hebrew and with a modern commentary) after Shabbat and also some work on the plan for my novel, but I mostly got distracted and procrastinated online. I think the beginning of my book is quite good, but after about chapter five, when the plot really kicks in, I run out of incident and jokes, which is not good for a satirical thriller. I’m not totally out of ideas, but there are definitely fewer as it goes on. I sort of want to just start writing (I feel like an athlete with muscles tensed to run, but unable to go yet), but I want to do more research to generate more ideas, both external research (reading relevant books) and internal research (thinking about my characters and how their world works). I’m feeling pessimistic about this actually resulting in a readable full-length novel, but I’m trying to tell myself I’m working for my own amusement. Then I read stuff online, as I did tonight, where people are saying, “We want more positive frum characters in books and TV” and I want to do something towards that, even though I think setting out to produce a “positive” image of the frum community would backfire badly (and this book is much lower than previous ones in frum content). I think/hope once I actually start that will generate more ideas. As I’ve said before, I’m a bit of a “pantser” in that some of my best ideas come up once I’ve begun writing, but it’s uncomfortable to bet on that.

***

I thought quite a bit about that post on the autism forum about connecting with people (where a lot of people said they connect with animals and soft toys more easily than they connect with neurotypicals) and also the lukewarm response to my post on the Facebook group about being autistic in the frum (religious Jewish) community. I feel it’s not really an option from me to cut myself off from other Jews or other people in general. I feel a specific religious commandment to try to love other Jews and people in general. Plus, I do feel connected to other Jews, whether I like it or not. I’ve been angry for days at the new Israeli government and I know that’s because I identify as an Orthodox Jew, and if other Orthodox Jews are corrupt, self-serving, racist or homophobic, I feel that my identity is attacked. If nothing else, people will assume I’m the same. So there is a connection there whether I like it or not.

I do wish I knew how to move forward with my life, whether that involves the frum community, the autistic community or both, or whether it involves my writing or proofreading or something else. I do know that, realistically, I should wait until I’m married before really doing anything new, but it’s so hard waiting without knowing when that will be or even when E’s visa will arrive. It feels SO HARD waiting and being separated.

I watched an episode of The Simpsons tonight where Homer complains he hasn’t done anything with his life at the grand old age of thirty-nine. That’s how old I am! At least he has a full-time job, three kids and a wife who he actually gets to live with! I am nowhere near as fat and I’m not bald (not even thinning) so that’s something.

“There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.”

I don’t have much to say, but feel the urge to write something…

I had an OK Shabbat. I decided it was too icy to risk going to shul (synagogue). It was probably the right decision, but I feel bad. I’ve been completely out of the shul-going habit since COVID, and I’m very far from where I was seven or eight years ago, when I was going to shul two or three times every day. Days like this don’t help. I did some Torah study, including getting back into The Guide for the Perplexed and (after Shabbat) Shoftim (The Book of Judges). I did OK with the quite difficult Hebrew vocabulary of Devorah’s (Deborah’s) song. I did spend too long asleep and then spent another hour after lunch in bed with my eyes shut. I don’t know why I do this, except that I seem to need to, on some level. I suspect it’s an autistic recovery thing, although the only thing I can be recovering from is eating with my parents, unless it’s the week in general.

I’ve been thinking a lot about politics lately and feeling I don’t fit anywhere on the political spectrum. That wouldn’t bother me so much, except that I’m trying to write a satirical novel and can’t work out if it’s an advantage or disadvantage to be able to see both sides of an issue. Nowadays it seems that if you want to be taken seriously as a writer on anything political, you have to be totally unable to see anyone else’s viewpoint and, ideally, to insist that anyone who disagrees with you is a Fascist. Also to insist that everything is everyone’s fault, but your own. Well, maybe it really is someone else’s fault, but at some point you have to take responsibility for your own life regardless of your circumstances and try to make a difference by engaging constructively with other people. Or maybe I’m too self-critical to blame Society for everything wrong in my life.

I’m still struggling to know what to do with my writing. E says that she can see improvements in my fiction from my first novel to my second (the one on hold because it was upsetting me). It’s also hard to stop thinking about writing, even though I’m trying to pause for a fortnight or so until the end of the year as my thoughts were getting to intense. I guess I feel that if I’m going to be able to make money from writing (a very, very big if), I need to do it soon, so I can help support the family when E and I are fully married or at least by the time we have children. That’s pretty unlikely to happen at this stage. It looks like we’re going to be dependent on parent money for quite a while, which saddens me, not least because of my comments about taking responsibility.

I’ve only been on Facebook for a month or two, and I have few friends or groups I’ve joined, but my feed is already full of junk, mostly adverts and other groups FB is trying to get me to join. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve made a mistake. I am enjoying being on the Orthodox Conundrum group, but I’ve had no real interactions with people, so it seems unlikely I will make friends and I worry I’m just voicing my “issues” the way I did at Hevria.

I watched Ghostbusters again this evening. It’s my favourite film. I am actually revisiting the first two films because I’m hoping to watch the recent Ghostbusters: Afterlife soon (which I missed in the cinema as I’ve been too scared to go since COVID), but it was probably a good choice as I was feeling down. I always find funny lines I’ve forgotten since my last viewing, although I could probably recite chunks of the film more or less off by heart. I enjoyed it, but seeing something written, acted, directed and even scored so perfectly made me despair of ever producing any good art. Aren’t films supposed to get worse when you’ve seen them ten times? Neil Gaiman says that we read so much more than we write that we’re super-critical of our own writing, which is probably true, and applies to all stories, not just books.

I should probably go to bed now. This post is short, but I kept procrastinating online, so I spent over an hour or so writing it. Unfortunately, I’ve now discovered that every Dilbert cartoon since it started in 1989 is online…

Exhaustion and Leaving Home

On Thursday evening E was out for Thanksgiving, so we Skyped early, as soon as I got home from work, and for less time than usual. This did at least allow me more time for writing in the evening. I had a fairly unhurried evening and finished reading Accidental Presidents.

This didn’t stop me being completely exhausted again on Friday. I dreamt I was running late for Shabbat (the Sabbath), and when I woke up, I was. Tintin was in the dream too for some reason.

I dealt with an annoying NHS issue (yet another one). I had to phone to confirm that I would take the psychiatrist appointment they offered me, which would mean changing work days and probably missing volunteering that week, all because I was worried that if I didn’t take it, I would have to wait until February or later for another appointment. I also told them that I had noticed that both the letters they sent me recently had a letter for someone else at the bottom. It was actually another letter on another sheet, but I assume it was at the bottom of the file if it ended up on two different letters. At first they thought I was saying the letter was addressed to the wrong person and asked how I ended up with it, but I hope I clarified that my address was correct, they just added someone else’s details at the bottom, a breach of data protection. It’s like they haven’t got enough ways to mess stuff up in the natural order of things, so they have to invite new things to mess up. (They also spelt my very common first name wrong on both letters too, but I’ll graciously let that slide.) Now I’m worried they’re going to hold on to the words “mistake” and “address” and assume my address is wrong and send the letters somewhere else, probably to the person whose letter was sent with mine. That letter was about an appointment over a year ago, so goodness knows if that person heard in time. I’m imagining that letter and confidential information being sent out to random people for over a year now.

I did my pre-Shabbat chores in time and went to shul (synagogue). I was pretty exhausted by the time shul ended, but I waited for Dad and then walked home slowly with him and his friend, when I should have just gone home immediately. I was exhausted enough when I got home that I lay down for half an hour before dinner, which wasn’t particularly good. I did about an hour of heavy Torah study (Talmud and The Guide for the Perplexed), but it took more than an hour to do it, as I kept having to stop for breaks. Because of this, I had little time for recreational reading.

I started reading Science Fiction: The Best of 2001, an anthology I picked up in a second-hand bookshop last time I was in New York (that’s 2001 the year, not the Stanley Kubrick film/Arthur C. Clarke novel), but the first story was one of those stories that starts in mitten drinnen (that’s Yiddish for in medias res) with no indication of where or when the story is set, what all the technology mentioned does, who the protagonist is and so on. That’s not a problem per se, but I was too tired to cope with it, so I stopped after a couple of pages and had an earlyish night (with disturbing dreams).

Recent events have made me feel that I am (finally) ready to leave home. It’s just too much masking and coping with my parents’ conversation being so different to mine as some other things I won’t go into here. It occurred to me that some of my thoughts about being different and no one being interested in what I have to say come from growing up with my family as much as from school experiences. I seem to be able to talk to E and my friends OK.

I nearly fell asleep after lunch as I lay down for forty minutes or so. I probably would have fallen asleep had I not known that I had limited time to daven Minchah (say Afternoon Prayers) and eat seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, which is very much a token thing at this time of year as it’s so soon after lunch). I did a little Torah study, but tried not to push myself too hard. That said, after Shabbat was over, I spent hours doing various chores, so I didn’t get time to relax again (or to write), although I do have less to worry about doing tomorrow now other than packing. I probably do prioritise doing chores and important-seeming things over relaxing, which is probably bad for autistic exhaustion. I do wonder what will happen if I can’t improve my energy levels after marriage.

I was going to write some reflections here on the medical and social models of disability and why I think they break down with autism, but I’m too tired now. It’s pretty much midnight, so I ought to go to bed.

Demons

I feel rather down today. Shabbat (the Sabbath) started OK. The good news I had yesterday was a job agency wanting to put my name forward for a librarian job. I need to update my CV and say yes. So that put me in a good mindset. I coped with shul (synagogue) despite the SHOUTING chazzan (cantor). I did some Torah study, including Talmud study after dinner, but ran out of time to do much recreational reading.

Today was much worse. Mum and Dad were out for lunch, which inevitably meant my getting up and getting dressed even later than usual. I spent a lot of time today in bed with the duvet and weighted blanket wrapped around me, trying to feel calm and comforted. I had lunch by myself, which was fine (I read about the last days of Franklin Roosevelt and the surprising unpreparedness of Harry Truman in Accidental Presidents), but across the day as a whole, my mood went down, with some loneliness, low mood (depression-low, although hopefully not lasting long enough to be depression) and missing E and fear that I’m not going to get that good new job as I haven’t worked in the library sector properly for years and have all kinds of gaps on my CV. I didn’t do much Torah study, and then Shabbat was over just after 5pm. And I have a headache that is resisting medication.

***

After Shabbat, I checked email and worried I’d upset someone with my political views. I would much rather hide my thoughts than express myself and risk upsetting people with different views. I suspect this is not considered acceptable these days of extreme individualism and self-expression, but maybe it would be better if more people did it. However, I see things that are wrong in the world, and I want to protest. I don’t really think most people can actually change the world (another unacceptable view), so I’d rather keep my friends, but there is a “demon” inside me (metaphorically; I’m neither a kabbalist nor a psychotic) that makes me want to write “edgy” or “provocative” things in whichever community I find myself, whether sexual material in the Orthodox world or anti-woke material in the wider UK mediascape where the Left does indeed have a monopoly on satire. Not that I really think of myself as “right-wing” (ugh) or even “conservative” in the way most people use the term. Maybe I just want to be sui generis. Either way, if I write anything I feel I’ll offend people. But I desperately need to write and am suffering from not being able to do so right now!

(As an aside, I had a friend at secondary school who was very clever, but also very lazy and badly behaved. He loved to mock or joke around. In retrospect, he may have been neurodiverse himself. I suddenly find myself wondering if this is how he felt, wanting to say stuff just because “Everyone” says you shouldn’t say it?)

There is a further problem that my satirical novel is not really ready to start writing yet. It probably needs a whole new plot (I haven’t had either time or courage to look at my notes). I may need to do research, although I’m in two minds about that. It’s not going to be detailed, realistic satire like Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, but dystopian-science fiction-black comedy, inspired by things like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Gulliver’s Travels, lots of Philip K. Dick novels, maybe the Blade Runner films, Brazil (the Terry Gilliam film), V for Vendetta (the style, but not the content), The Prisoner and Doctor Who stories like The Macra Terror, The Happiness Patrol and The Beast Below.

***

My biggest negative thought recently (going on for some weeks now, but particularly the last two days), is feeling that my autism has stopped me from being socialised into the frum (religious Jewish) community. There’s a LOT I could say here, but I’ll mention that autism, and related social anxiety stemming from autism-related bullying, made me skip all the experiences that socialise teenagers in the Anglo-Jewish community into the Jewish and frum worlds:  shul youth services, youth movements, Israel tour and yeshivah (not going to yeshivah was because of a whole bunch of reasons mostly unrelated to autism, but I think autism would have made it damaging for me if I had gone). I then had a weird relationship with the Jewish Society at university, until my breakdown/burnout when I moved away from it. I then struggled to find a way into the community as a young adult (twenties and thirties) dealing with depression, social anxiety and undiagnosed autism, feeling that I wasn’t able to talk to people at social events and increasingly reluctant to try.

I’ve never had many frum friends, although I have a couple. I find it hard to socialise at Kiddush and other community social events, because there’s too much background noise so I can’t hear words properly. I used to leave kiddush after five minutes or so; then someone criticised me for that, and for not going to shul much in the morning (which is due to social anxiety and possibly a sleep disorder). Then COVID hit, and I got my autism diagnosis. Whether it’s an effect of COVID and being isolated for so long, or of being diagnosed and more conscious of my needs, or just of getting older (there is anecdotal evidence undiagnosed autistics’ tolerance for noise and people declines with age), I now find being in big rooms with lots of people (or even just a few people) being noisy very difficult and am less inclined to put myself into those situations. But it’s hard to be part of the frum world without going to shul regularly, particularly for a man.

Lately, I find it harder and harder to go to shul, because of the noise and people. I think this fuels my social anxiety. There have been times during my burnout when I’ve stopped going to shul completely, which I suspect was autism-influenced, although it was before my diagnosis. Of course, there was a period of several years when I went to shul daily, or several times a day, led services and gave drashot (Torah classes) and I would like to move back towards being in that place, but I think it was the result of a number of circumstances that are hard to replicate now. I wish I could make lightning strike twice in this area, but I’m not sure how.

I honestly don’t know what I could do to make things better for me, though. I spoke to a rabbi about it over a year ago and I think he was frustrated that I didn’t have any practical suggestions for change, but I find it hard to think what would make things easier for me, let alone how to make them materialise.

I would like to post this somewhere, but I don’t know where. I think the autism forum would not understand it, and might use it to make anti-religious points. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to post it to the Orthodox Conundrum group. The Jewish autism groups I belong to are small and don’t post much, and I haven’t really introduced myself on them, so I’m scared what the result would be of posting out of the blue.

***

This doesn’t really fit anywhere in this post, but Virgin Atlantic got back to me and I don’t think they can offer me any help at the airport beyond the sunflower “invisible disabilities” lanyard and their own invisible disabilities sign. Again, I want things to be different, and maybe they could be, but if I can’t articulate them, they won’t happen.

***

I feel like I wasted the whole evening writing this post, and I still didn’t really express what I want to say. It’s horrible not really knowing what I feel half the time, let alone being able to put it into words (when I’m supposedly hyper-literate and good with words).

Sigh. Politics is a bore, autism is a bore, writing is not a bore, but feeling impelled to write things that I am more than a little suspicious of myself is a bore. And headaches are a bore.

Going to watch Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life for a bit, then interrupt and try to do some of the chores I set for myself to do tonight and which I haven’t started yet, if I can, then finish the film and try not to go to bed too late.

What Is Wrong with the World?

I actually had some potentially good news today, although I don’t want to talk about it yet, and it’s very early days. Otherwise it was a normal winter “early Friday” (Shabbat (the Sabbath) starting early, before 4pm today) i.e. a total rush to do everything in time. Just going to shave, shower and try to get to shul (synagogue), although I’m feeling quite exhausted. I wouldn’t have blogged except I needed to vent about the following:

The Jewish Chronicle today has a front page story about the BBC’s Arabic service approvingly broadcasting folksongs glorifying violence against Jews. Inside is a story about yet another prominent rabbi plausibly accused of sexual harassment. What is wrong with the world?

Wedding Fair

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. I’m trying to get there early, as I got fed up of always being late, and am trying to ‘centre’ and calm myself before services these days (this generally doesn’t work if I’m in a shul, as everyone is talking loudly until right up to the start of the service). On the way in, I saw Rabbi L, the rabbi of the shul, and the rabbi E and I have asked to marry us. He said he would like to catch up with me, then said something else I didn’t hear as he was walking away from me. This left me with mild anxiety throughout the service that he would want to talk to me afterwards. He dashed off after the service, so I emailed him today with details of where we are with the visa and wedding situation. Hopefully this was all he wanted.

I had some anxiety in general over Shabbat because of things going on at home. I am really ready to move out and live with E, scary though that sounds when I’ve spent most of my life either living at home or in the sheltered environment of Oxford. The exception was about two years where I lived by myself, but I used to go home for Shabbat (Sabbath) most weeks, so it wasn’t entirely independent.

I slept too much again and had a slight headache after Shabbat, so I didn’t do as much stuff as I’d wanted to do on Saturday night.

Today I went to a Jewish wedding and bar/bat mitzvah fair with my parents. When we got into the hotel where it was being held, I was immediately hit by the loud music.  A DJ or singer was advertising himself very loudly. I wish someone had told him to turn it down. My whole experience there was overload, from the music, the people, the expectation to speak and my lack of knowledge of organising or even going to parties. My parents did most of the talking, not least because I could barely hear anything or think of even basic stuff to say. This was good, because I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gone by myself (I would probably have just picked up some business cards and left without talking to anyone), but bad because I think people wondered why I wasn’t much/anything. I was wearing my invisible disability sunflower lanyard, so maybe people thought I was deaf or had some other issue (I mean, I did have another issue). My parents are organising an anniversary party for themselves, so they did have a reason to be there independently of me.

It was worth going overall, but it made me wonder how I went so many years without being diagnosed autistic. I guess I used to think that I didn’t like loud music because I didn’t like the genre of music or music in general, or that I didn’t like busy places because of social anxiety rather because of sensory overload. My parents and I spoke about my uncle’s wedding, when I was six. I really hated the party and for decades afterwards everyone assumed I was in a foul mood and determined to make everyone’s life miserable. Now of course we know that I was probably suffering social and sensory overload, as well as confusion about what happens at parties and frustration from not knowing when it would end. At my sister’s wedding in 2017, we were prepared and made sure there was a quiet room for me to go to when it got too much.

Someone at the fair thought that I was still at university! This was because of my Oxford-related email address (not an actual university one, but it looks like it). I guess I was flattered that I look twenty years younger than I am. It’s thought that autistic people often look young; it’s speculated that we show our emotions on our faces much less than allistics (non-autistics), so we don’t wrinkle as much.

I went for a run when I got home and got an exercise headache again. Between the headache and the fair, I didn’t do much else, although I did have a longer-than-usual Skype call with E, talking largely about wedding plans. I only managed a little over ten minutes of Torah study, which is disappointing. I did no work on my novel aside from a few minutes of research reading, and few of the long list of chores I wanted to get through today.

I tried to see if I could get help at the airport when I go to New York because of my autism, but I couldn’t find anything for autism, only for physical disabilities. I was looking for help navigating the airport with sensory overload, sometimes leading to difficulties hearing what staff are saying, as someone on the autism forum says he manages to get help (of course, he may have a physical disability too for all I know).

It’s got very late, but I feel I need to watch some TV to unwind after an overloading day, otherwise I won’t sleep and/or will be in a bad state tomorrow.

Cause Without a Rebel

There’s been some anxiety hanging around over the last few days, partly around social media use and whether I should try to make friends on it, if I just make a fool of myself trying to connect with people, if we’ll argue about politics and so on. When I went back on Facebook, I intended to use it mainly for groups to avoid this kind of drama, but I guess inevitably as I get to know people in groups, I will want to connect with them outside the groups.

Another worry is that I feel I want to get to a place where my life is ‘sorted’ and stable, at least for a while, but that may never happen. At least I have E, even if she is on another continent at the moment, but I want my life to be stable so our life together will be stable and easier for her, but I think we both have too many ‘issues’ for that. I just feel that E is having to sacrifice so much for me that I just want to make things easier for her.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, but not great. I got to shul on Friday night for the first time in a couple of weeks. I was feeling somewhat down, not literally clinical depression, but colloquially depressed. I spent a lot of time in bed, as usual, not just at night/morning, but after shul (synagogue) on Friday night and again after breakfast this morning and twice in the afternoon. Going to bed was more seeking autistic sensory comfort than from tiredness; I wrap myself in my duvet and/or weighted blanket and/or curl up in the foetal position and it calms me down.

I spent a lot of time (in bed and outside it) thinking about autism, disability, autistic superpowers and whether I would be better off without being autistic and this probably contributed to the depressed feeling. I know I’ve written about this before, but I just can’t share the view that autism is merely a difference or even a strength and that the only struggles from being autistic come from the supposed “ableism” of society. In the end, I concluded there were too many variables to meaningfully describe what my life would be like without autism, and that God clearly wants me to be autistic. Even so, without knowing what my mission in life is, what He wants me to accomplish by being autistic, it is hard to work out if my focus should be on paid work, writing or religious obligations.

I really missed E a lot too.

Other than that, I ate far too many pretzels (the little kind) and probably too many biscuits (although not nearly as many as the pretzels) and had a very mild, but persistent headache intermittently from Friday night until an hour or so ago.

After Shabbat, I discovered I had a begging letter from the University of Oxford again, this time from the History Faculty (my BA was in History). I get them every so often, because even Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world and one of the most prestigious and highly-rated, has money trouble (within reason. A lot of the colleges are vast landowners and completely loaded). To be fair, the cause they wanted to raise money for is worthwhile (to increase access for students from poor backgrounds), but I had a miserable time at Oxford and prefer to send my money (a) elsewhere and (b) to causes that are more ‘life and death’ e.g. food for refugees or those on the breadline. But getting these begging letters just reminds me that I went to Oxford and I should therefore now be a super-successful, super-rich hot-shot lawyer, politician or high-ranking civil servant and not a poor, part-time office administrator. It’s sad that, so many years after making me more miserable than I have ever been in my life (I very nearly attempted suicide), Oxford is still making me miserable.

Other than that, I’ve spent too long this evening writing this post and reading autistic forum and autistic relationship FB group posts, and I’m not entirely sure why. Something about trying to connect with people and understand myself as well as deal with fears that being autistic means not being able to manage relationships. I don’t think this is the case, but it’s disturbing to read, on two different forums (fora!), two different people talking about essentially being verbally and emotionally abused by their autistic partner, who says everything they do wrong is down to autism and therefore (they argue) beyond reproach.

On one forum someone wrote about getting meltdowns from, “seeing everything in great details, hearing every minute sound at the same level, pretending to be happy when inside they are dying and not liking the fake people surrounding them, smelling everything that each person has used in bodycare/fragrance/hair products etc, feeling exhausted from the pointless chat about weekends to a point where disassociation happens, feeling like people training you are talking but you can’t hear it because you feel so stressed and in shock that your mind cannot connect” and more. I’ve experienced some of this, but I don’t really get meltdowns. Very rarely I get panic attacks that probably verge on meltdowns, but I haven’t had one since knowing more about autism to be sure.

I wonder why I don’t get meltdowns when so many autistic people do. Not that I want them, but not getting them reinforces the feelings I still occasionally get that I’m not “really” autistic, or that I’m not autistic “enough” to justify the work and social problems I have. Maybe I’m just good at masking and then end up burnt out. I do get shutdowns, but, again, not as bad as some people get.

***

A couple of thoughts from things I’ve been reading/listening to lately:

Both a devar Torah (Torah thought) I read from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl and an Orthodox Conundrum podcast about Rav Shagar z”tzl spoke about parents and the need to differentiate from them, and then later to realise how much you have in common with them and how much you are indebted to them.

As a teenager, I never really tried to rebel. I just spent all my time in my room, working and driving myself to a breakdown/burnout. But I didn’t have much in common with my parents either. Now I find it can be hard to find common ground with them. Some of this is living at home into my late thirties, some is being autistic with allistic (non-autistic) parents and some is me having classic “first generation to go to university” differences from them. Some is probably my being more religious and more Jewishly-educated, which often creates a dynamic where my parents look to me for Jewish education and halakhic (Jewish law) guidance. There’s a Jewish saying that when a parent teaches a child, both laugh, but when a child teaches a parent, both cry, and I feel that a bit sometimes. I’m not sure how to explain it to anyone who hasn’t experienced it. I had a psychiatrist who said that I never really bonded with my parents as a child and therefore could not rebel as a teenager, and now I can’t separate properly from them which is probably true. It’s only with marrying E that I’m really trying to move away from home. I did live in my own flat for two years when my OCD was bad, but I deliberately lived within walking distance of my parents’ house and I used to come home for Shabbat. I don’t know what I can do about this at this stage.

***

On the same Orthodox Conundrum podcast, R’ Zachary Truboff spoke about Rav Shagar thinking that the problem with Orthodoxy is that it’s Orthodox: i.e. that, as a society, it’s driven by what other Orthodox people think is appropriate, not by what God wants. He said there are things that are against halakhah and ethics that do not lead to people getting thrown out of the Orthodox community (he didn’t say what, but tax and benefits fraud spring to mind). He didn’t mention, but could have, that there are things that aren’t violations of halakhah or ethics, but which can get you thrown out of the community all the same (this varies from one community to another, but in some communities for a teenager to talk to someone of the opposite might fall in this category, or even refusing to marry a particular person in some communities). I think this is my biggest struggle with the Orthodox community. Aside from the moral aspects of this, being on the autism spectrum means I’m OK with clear rules (halakhah), but bad at intuiting, let alone following, unspoken social conventions.

***

Anyway, my parents are noisily watching No Time to Die, the latest James Bond film, in the room below me, which is a bit distracting as I can hear incidental music and bangs. I wasn’t tempted to re-watch it with them, as, while technically accomplished, I found the film overlong, confusing and too sad. James Bond isn’t supposed to be sad! I much prefer the supposedly “silly” Roger Moore films. I could probably find ten reasons why the much-maligned Moonraker is a great film, not in “so bad it’s good,” but actually good.

More Disrupted Sleep, LinkedIn, and Ashley

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK. I felt ill on Friday evening and didn’t go to shul (synagogue). I was light-headed again and had a bit of a headache, but I think it was side-effects from the flu jab I had on Thursday rather than work stress.

Mum and Dad’s conversation at dinner exhausted me again. Their conversation is usually small talk, generally about work, shul, their friends or football. I don’t have much to say about most of that, but Dad was trying to bring me into the conversation again. I’m not sure why he’s started doing that recently. He doesn’t really get that I struggle to engage with this conversation and I don’t like being asked questions to which he already knows the answers to just to bring me in. I prefer just to tune out, but I probably shouldn’t say that. I don’t know why I’m struggling with this more now than in the past. It’s probably partly Dad trying to engage me, but also because I’m impatient to live with E and have conversations about things that interest both of us.

I guess dinner at the moment reminds me on some level of my childhood, when I was called an “intellectual elitist” for trying to have deeper conversations and using words no one else understood (I didn’t know they didn’t understand). It’s partly the familiar syndrome of university-educated children from families that have not had access to higher education ending up on a different level to their parents and struggling to communicate, but also the issue of children with autism communicating differently to their neurotypical families and also being intensely interested in certain subjects and boring people with constant talk about them as well as being less interested in, and able to engage in, small talk.

After this I was tired, but did some Torah study. I managed some Talmud study, which I was pleased with, especially as it was a new page (I study each page three times: the first is really to get myself familiar with the subject and vocabulary, on the second I begin to understand better and by the third I usually have a reasonable understanding, at least on a basic level). I re-read bits of Jewish Meditation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, but it didn’t elaborate on the things I had heard about on a podcast last week.

After this, about 11pm, I fell asleep, fully dressed and on top of the bed. I slept until about 3.30am. This is a bad habit I seem to be getting into, as if my sleep wasn’t disrupted enough as it is. I got into my pyjamas, but decided I needed some relaxation time and read more of Flowers for Algernon before going to sleep again.

I slept through most of the morning, then fell asleep again after lunch. I got up in time for Minchah (Afternoon prayers) (at home, I didn’t go to shul). I probably won’t be able to sleep on Shabbat afternoons after the clocks go back tonight. I read The Guide for the Perplexed for a bit – the translator’s introduction; I still haven’t got to the actual text. After half an hour, this got too heavy-going, and the print was too small, so I switched to Judges: The Perils of Possession by Rabbi Michael Hattin, from the Maggid Koren Tanakh series.

After dinner I checked my blog list and heard that Ashley Peterson, frequent commenter here, had died (see below). This brought my mood down. When I had dinner, I tried to finish reading Flowers for Algernon, which was a bad choice for my mood, but I just wanted to finish it; I was saving some comedy for later in the evening which I will definitely watch before bed, as I feel very depressed now. Unfortunately, Mum had the TV on, which made it hard to read (alternating between Strictly Come Dancing and The Chase, which were about the most distracting things it could have been, but anything would have distracted me really). I did finish the book after dinner.

I saw a post on the autism forum this evening from someone who says he’s suicidal because he’s lonely and still a virgin and has (in his opinion) no chance of changing any of this. I don’t think he gave his age, but I guessed twenties from a few things he wrote. I wanted to write something sympathetic, because I’ve been there, but also I’m nearly forty and kind of married and still a virgin, so it was hard to be fully sympathetic, especially as I’ve been missing E a lot recently, and I really wanted to say that thinking you have no hope for anything good in your life because you’re a twenty-something virgin is not clear thinking. In the end, I didn’t write anything; I decided the post was just triggering me because of missing E and thinking about Ashley’s death. I don’t think I can really help; not tonight, anyway. Then I found another post on the same forum by a twenty-five year old threatening suicide because he’s still a virgin. I feel I should be able to say something, but anything I say would be coming from a particular religious context and personal history context and probably won’t be helpful. I do think Western society places too much emphasis on sex and being sexually attractive. I’m glad the forum is moderated and the moderator posted links to crisis lines and the like.

***

LinkedIn keeps sending me emails to “connect” (equivalent of friend, follow, etc.) with my first girlfriend. Apparently we have a mutual connection, although I’m not sure who. I have no desire to connect with her. She does not work in any field that I am likely to work in. We parted on reasonably good terms, but I have not seen or heard from her for nine years and have no desire to do so. But there is no button for “Do not ask me again,” or “Block,” just one for “Connect.”

Seeing her photo or even her name sparks a load of strange and difficult feelings whenever LinkedIn sends me an email trying to connect me with her. It reminds me that she trampled over my boundaries about physical contact in our relationship and refused to support me with my mental health struggles the way I supported her in hers. There is more to say, but don’t think I should in public.

I don’t use LinkedIn much (at all, really – I only have twenty-three contacts, which is why I’m surprised I can’t work out who is the link with first girlfriend), but will probably have to if I try to set up as a freelance proof-reader, so I want to get it sorted.

***

This evening, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ashley Peterson. I knew her online for several years; I’m not sure how many, exactly, but quite a long time. She was one of the most frequent commenters on my blog.

I noticed recently that she hadn’t commented on my blog for a while, or anywhere else that I had seen, and certainly she hadn’t posted on her own blog for a while. I thought about emailing her, but she had said in the past that she gets got annoyed when people chase up on her when she’s depressed, as she doesn’t didn’t like the attention. So I didn’t do anything. Then a few days ago, two other bloggers emailed me in the space of about half-an-hour to ask if I’d heard from her. I said I hadn’t. We were all worried by that stage, and I think we guessed what happened (she’d been open about her depression worsening and having suicidal ideation), but didn’t want to say what we were thinking. None of us knew what to do.

Then after Shabbat, I saw that her family had posted on her blog that she had died. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t sure what I did feel. Sad. Maybe numb. Then, quite a lot later, anger, not at her, but at other things, particularly those commenters on the autism forum.

I haven’t told my parents, I’m not sure why. They don’t know Ashley, but I should tell them I’ll be sad for a while. I should tell them before I go to bed. I can’t tell E for a bit, as it’s still Shabbat in New York. I feel like I want to cry writing this, and part of my brain says that’s crazy, as I didn’t know her that well (she was very private and I wouldn’t claim to be one of her closest blogging friends), but I feel I miss her already.

I don’t think a friend of mine has died before. I’ve lost friends to arguments or (more usually) drifting apart, but not through death.

I was thinking about what Ashley meant to me and I remembered a quote from the theologian and civil rights and anti-war protestor Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, that “Spiritual freedom means: flattering no one, neither oneself nor the world; not being subservient to anyone, neither to the self nor to society.”

I had actually posted that on my blog once, and she liked it. That’s how I think of her: independent, honest and vocal in speaking her mind, especially in the cause of justice.

Black Box

I did not have a good Shabbat (Sabbath). I felt too exhausted and ill to go to shul (synagogue). I feel exhausted from the Jewish festivals and that I’ve been on the go for months without a break (wedding, visa application, festivals and work disruption). Having dinner with my parents when drained can be difficult, as they make small talk the whole time and I often find it overwhelming, particularly if Dad starts asking me questions to try to “bring me into the conversation.” I haven’t really been able to explain to him that my brain is wired in a way that small talk is difficult and uninteresting for me.

After dinner I read the Chofetz Chaim on Pirkei Avot (Torah study) book for fifteen minutes and finished it, but then I fell asleep. I woke up around 2am. I was too tired to quickly get ready for bed and go back to sleep, which paradoxically meant that I began to wake up before I could get back to bed and I couldn’t sleep. I spent the next couple of hours reading, then fell asleep around 4am. Then I fell asleep again this afternoon, after lunch with my parents. Last Monday (Shmini Atzeret), they were out for lunch and I ate on my own, and I didn’t fall asleep afterwards, although I felt tired. I wonder if this is connected. I didn’t used to react like this. I feel like I’m becoming more autistic, which is impossible; more likely, I find it harder to mask and pass as allistic (non-autistic).

I felt very overwhelmed both when I woke up in the night and during the day today. I still felt tired and had loads of thoughts in my head about what I wanted to do, needed to do and so on. I managed very little Torah study and was glad that I managed to pray at all, although my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) was rubbish.

After Shabbat, I looked at my existing To Do list, and the list of things that needed to go on the To Do list. Quite a lot of the existing tasks are long-term things related to the wedding that we can’t move forwards with until E gets her visa, so at least I don’t have to worry about them right now. There is still a lot to do, though, including sorting the whole tax situation from last week; booking at trip to New York; setting myself up as a proof-reader; and trying to get back into a regular pattern of exercising, novel researching and novel writing.

I miss E a lot too. Long-distance is hard.

***

I just posted the following on the autism forum, about the ‘Black Box’ that is the emotional part of my brain:

Does anyone else have alexithymia (difficulty understanding and describing their own emotions)? I do have emotions, but I often struggle to understand or describe them, especially if they’re subtle or conflicted. This has arguably been a problem when trying to access mental health services or even being aware of my slides into depression.

Some emotions are powerful enough to make their presence felt, particularly the terrible trio of depression, anxiety and despair, but others can be harder to feel. Even strong positive emotions can be hard to find; sometimes I have to look for practical evidence to prove that I really do love my family, because I’m not sure what I feel. A lot of the time I feel rather numb and blank, sometimes with a faint undertone of mild depression or mild anxiety.

My main way of processing emotions is through writing. I’ve written a journal-type blog most days since 2006 (excluding an eighteen month period where I stopped) and that helps me process the events of the day, as well as get feedback from my small, but supportive readership. This probably sounds strange, but sometimes I don’t really know how I feel about things until I write them down. I’ve tried private journaling, but somehow I need a sense of an audience, even a very small one, to give me the impetus to communicate. If I can’t write on one day for some reason, I tend to carry around all the thoughts of that day with me and feel a need to offload.

I write fiction to try to understand bigger emotions, including ones that I haven’t personally experienced. I’ve always read a lot too and I think that’s probably an attempt to learn about emotions, on some level. I guess I get that from TV and film too, although I find modern TV and film overwhelming in its amplified display of emotions sometimes, at least what I see of it (which isn’t much).

I would be interested to hear of anyone else who struggles with this, as it feels quite isolating sometimes, something that even other autistic people don’t experience. I would also like to know if anyone has tips or coping mechanisms.

***

Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how much my identity has become located at the intersection (to use an over-used and over-politicised, but useful, word) of autism and Orthodox Judaism. I feel like being autistic gives me struggles that allistic (non-autistic) Orthodox Jews don’t have, but being an Orthodox Jew gives me struggles that other autistic people don’t necessarily have, in terms of things I’ve described here about Judaism being such a social religion. I don’t know which I would consider my primary identity; I think both are pretty integral to who I am. I probably need to think about this some more to find practical solutions.

Guilt, and Being

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a bit of a battle with exhaustion and guilt. I was too exhausted for shul (synagogue) last night. I felt a bit better after dinner and did some Torah study, but went to bed late as a result (juggling pros and cons of doing things vs. relaxing is hard). I woke up about 7.40am, decided I wasn’t going to shul, felt guilty for not going to shul because I felt it was basically social anxiety keeping me away, decided to say a few of the morning prayers (Birkat HaShachar and the Shema), then felt totally exhausted by that five minutes of praying and wondered if it was exhaustion keeping me away from shul after all. Slept for a while longer, hurried to get dressed and eat breakfast in the sukkah (the hut in the garden that we eat in during the festival of Sukkot) before my parents’ friends came for Kiddush. Alternated praying and stopping to recuperate, because I was that exhausted. Felt guilty for not answering the door while praying when one of my parents’ friends was late. I really was praying, but if I hadn’t had social anxiety, I probably would have interrupted one of the less important prayers. I was just scared of having to speak to someone I didn’t know well. No one heard her and by the time I got the courage to go downstairs, she had gone. We had lunch in the sukkah, but it started raining, so we went in after the soup. Then it stopped raining and we stayed inside and I felt slightly guilty, although halakhically there is no need to go back out. I did have seudah (the third Shabbat meal, more of a snack at this time of year) in the sukkah, and dinner after Shabbat. I dozed in the afternoon, which is bad because (a) it will mess up my sleep further, (b) it reduced the Torah study and recreational reading I could do and (c) arguably I should have slept in the sukkah, but I think it was too cold even at 3.30 in the afternoon. So, more guilt.

I know that wasn’t terribly readable, but I wrote it as it seems to me, just one thing after another, most of them bringing guilt with them. Not relaxing at all. Although the nap in the afternoon was quite refreshing.

***

Lately, when I’ve been experiencing (what I think is) autistic exhaustion, I feel light-headed. It seems to have been getting worse, or maybe I just notice it more. I am not sure if this is a normal symptom, or if it is related to low blood pressure (which I think I also have). So little is known about autistic exhaustion. There is also the feeling that my brain is being squished, which I’m pretty sure is autistic exhaustion, although goodness knows what actually causes it (I’m assuming my brain isn’t actually being squished, and I’m doubtful that there are nerves inside it that would experience a sensation if it was being squished).

***

In other news, I miss E and winter is approaching with all that entails, and there are still another three days of Chol HaMoed and Yom Tov (semi-festival and festival days)!!!!!! And then straight into two consecutive days of work again afterwards. I don’t want to sound sacrilegious, but I am ready for a return to normal weeks with normal schedules I can cope with and where I know what to expect.

 ***

On Friday night, I read a short devar Torah from a blog that I had printed out before Shabbat. Written by Tanya White, an English Orthodox Jewish educator living in Israel, it presents Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) through the lens of the story of Kayin and Hevel (Cain and Abel), via a wordplay that doesn’t really work in translation (Hevel is the same word-root as “Hevel hahevelim” “Vanity of vanities” at the start of Kohelet).

The devar Torah drew on Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchiks’ The Lonely Man of Faith. This looks at the different creation narratives in the first and second chapters of Bereshit (Genesis) and posits two different modes of human nature, the “Majestic” (creating, controlling, dominating) and the “Covenantal” (contemplative, spiritual, being). White’s argument is that Kayin was Majestic and Hevel Covenantal. To Kayin, focused on having things, the experience of not-having (not having God’s approval for his sacrifice) was too much to bear and he killed his brother to destroy the feelings of finitude, inadequacy and “nothingness” provoked inside him by Hevel’s sacrifice being accepted while his was not.

Reading Kohelet and living in the sukkah is, according to White, a chance to contemplate and accept the “nothingness” in our lives. By this, I think she means that Sukkot reminds us that we really own nothing, that our lives are fragile and transient, even our houses and possessions are really shacks that could blow down and this is OK because God is in control, not us.

The reason I thought about this so much over Shabbat was it resonated with a discussion I’d been having with Angela (Best/Worst of Times blog and Letting Go of Me podcast)  about disability and not being able to do things we once could do or want to do (although we have different disabilities) and about living a life of meaning rather than doing. The devar Torah reminded me of the concept of covenantal living, just experiencing being, and the importance of living life in this way (although Rabbi Soloveitchik’s point was that we need to live both majestically and covenantally, not one or the other).

This in turn made me think of Eichah (Lamentations) 3.28: “Let him sit alone and be silent, for He has laid it upon him.” The Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 3.2) sees this as proof that, although Torah is ideally studied in pairs, even if a person studies alone, God will reward him. In a religion focused on doing, this is a support for just being and contemplating.

***

From another blog: “The Torah has no commandment ‘Be normal.’”

Alexithymia

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Yours Exhaustedly

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

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

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

Shabbat and Lying-in-State

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on an Autumn Shabbat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bravest Orangutan in Britain

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wedding Stuff

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Insomnia B’Av

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Sleep Apnoea, Reframing, The Three Weeks, and Podcasts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tribe of Dan and Not Being Left Behind

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shul Minchah

Torah 50m

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rain It Raineth Every Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turning Points

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Good, but Anxious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bomb Scares, Jubilees and Other Interruptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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