Noise Pollution

Well, I made it to shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath), for Friday evening, Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon. I was there for the start of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) on Saturday morning and even helped set up (we were praying outside as the weather was good so that we didn’t have to wear masks). In the afternoon I followed parts of the shiur (Talmud class), although we covered more ground than I expected and went on to material I hadn’t prepared for, not that preparation always helps me follow any better. Also, even though I haven’t made many close friends at shul, I feel that quite a lot of people there know my name and will say “Good Shabbos” (typical Shabbat greeting) to me and seem pleased to see me, so I think on some level I’m accepted there.

I also went for a walk, did some extra Torah study, played (and lost) two games of Rummikub with my parents and did a little bit of recreational reading (still the James Bond novel Moonraker). I’ve kind of accepted that the way I live my Shabbatot, there isn’t much time for recreational reading. I don’t seem to have much time for recreational reading in general at the moment, because I’m prioritising Torah study, because I don’t travel home from work on the Tube (which used to be a reading time) and because I find I’m often exhausted in the evening and watch TV instead of reading. I grab brief moments to read a few pages over lunch or before bed.

I got to bed at 1.00am, which is late, but not so surprising when Shabbat didn’t finish until about 10.30pm. I avoided turning on my computer after Shabbat, which is what can keep me up until stupid o’clock in the morning, that and watching TV (I watched an episode of The Simpsons, but nothing longer).

I woke up late today (11.00am), but didn’t feel fatigued or burnt out, so I’m counting this as a success.

***

Today was good. I did some Torah study, went for a run (not brilliant stamina, but it was hot), did a little over half an hour of work on my novel despite an exercise headache and the distraction of loud music from outside (see below). Then I had a virtual lecture/tour about the Medieval Bible/Talmud commentator Rashi. It was interesting, but I had to shut all the windows to shut out the noise so that I could hear, which made me feel ill from the heat (or more ill, as I already had an exercise headache). Afterwards I wrote some emails. I worry that frustration from the noise made me somewhat abrupt in the emails. That and the fact that I felt I was running out of time this evening and just needed to stop procrastinating and write the emails. In particular, there was one to a friend who seems to be drifting towards divorce judging from her recent emails and I don’t really know what to say to her, or how serious her concerns are — is she just telling me to let off steam or is it a “near the end of her tether” situation? I’m not good at reading these things.

I did a lot, but felt like I was running out of time, and felt ill from the exercise headache and noise. I’m pretty exhausted now, and frustrated and ill from various factors (including the continuing noise) and in a weird way, I feel I did both too much and too little today, being hampered by the noise and the virtual tour being at a slightly awkward time, as well as my propensity for getting exercise headaches. I had a Skype call with E too, but felt that I wasn’t fully engaged, partly from the late hour and the noise outside.

***

I realised that a disproportionate amount of my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) deal with the question of individuality and the relationship between the individual and society. It seems a fundamental question to me in a religion which believes in the sanctity of the individual as the image of God, but also in the collective as the source of religious authority and locus of religious life. I had an idea over Shabbat of a triangular map of Jewish (or general?) religious life with God at the top and the individual and the community in the bottom corners. Sometimes the community tries to absorb the individual, or the individual tries to leave the community, or to leave God, resulting in the triangle getting bent out of shape. But I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

***

We had a neighbour who was playing really loud music today, either in the garden or with the windows open. They had some kind of party going on, with a lot of crowd noise too by the late afternoon. I could hear it with the windows shut (through double glazing), and I don’t want to shut the windows in this weather. During the afternoon I had to have the windows shut, fan going and still could hear the bass loud enough to stop me thinking clearly. It’s not an immediate neighbour, but someone down the street and in the street behind us, so it’s hard to work out who it is to complain, not that I would have the confidence to complain (just as we never complained about our Haredi neighbours’ illegal minyan in the lockdown). I tend to be sensitive to noise at the best of times. In our old house, we had a neighbour who would hold a charity concert in his garden once a year and would always warn us in advance, so I’m a bit annoyed. Things seem to have stopped now, but I worry it will happen again. I think we’ve had excessive noise in the past. We say we’ll complain, but we never do. I guess that’s very English.

It Never Stops

Nothing like going away from the internet for a few days to come back to a huge pile of stuff. I’m only reading selected posts that appeared while I was away or I would be here forever, sorry.

***

I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) on Sunday night. I just felt so burnt out, I literally could not go. I felt a bit bad, but I honestly don’t think I could have made it. I did manage to go on Monday and Tuesday night, and for some of the shiurim (religious classes) bookending the prayer services. I slept too much, including over three hours on Monday afternoon and I had a headache on Monday evening, but I was basically OK. Aside from shul and shiurim, I did some private Torah study and read a novel (a sort of spin-off from Doctor Who spin-offs, not very good, but I’m vaguely invested to see how it ends).

I thought the NHS had sent me my revised Asperger’s diagnosis report and leaflet of resources, yet when I opened the envelope after Yom Tov, I found no report and a leaflet of resources on ADHD rather than ASD (autism spectrum disorder). By this stage, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the NHS is deliberately trolling me. I haven’t written or phoned back to complain yet (see below for why I ran out of “spoons” today).

***

Today I had my cataloguing test and interview. I floundered as usual in the interview, using the wrong words (which the interviewers then seized on to get me to elaborate on) and generally struggling to focus and say very much that was coherent. The cataloguing test was even worse. I haven’t been doing regular cataloguing for nearly four years and I really struggled with the test, especially as it seemed to require my remembering MARC21 numbers that I had never had to memorise before. The stupid thing is that the job sounded more attractive than it had in the job description in some ways, although it is also more client-facing than I thought, so it may be for the best that I did badly.

Mum says it was “one of those things,” that I didn’t get time to prepare. This is only partly true. I did get a little bit of time to prepare, but I was burnt out. Despite this, even if I had had more time, I’m pretty sure I would have flunked the cataloguing test.

We had workmen in today, which didn’t make things any easier. The house now smells of builder’s putty (I think), so I have to hold my breath when I go out of my room.

I didn’t mean to be bad-tempered after this, but I just wanted to be alone in my room to relax and was grumpy that I had things to do. When speaking to people, everything came out wrong, angry and sulky, even if I didn’t mean it to. Plus, little things went wrong, like the Tesco food delivery arriving twenty minutes early when I wasn’t ready. Being on the spectrum, quite small changes of plan on a good day can be frustrating; on a bad day they can trigger meltdowns. I don’t get full-fledged meltdowns the way some people on the spectrum do, but it can send me into a negative thought spiral of despair and anger. That didn’t quite happen, but it took a lot of mental energy to stay calm.

I went for a forty minute walk, which at least burned out some of the bad temper, or made me too tired to show it. I do feel pretty awful now though, but still unable to unpack the vague “badness” that I feel. Is it sadness, depression, guilt, self-criticism, frustration, anger (against who?) or something else?

I didn’t get much else done. It looks like I probably won’t write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, which is a shame, but I’m trying to avoid crashing. I have stuff to do every day from now until Monday inclusive, multiple things on most days, and most of them draining things. I may need to call off some things at the last minute, and I’m tempted to say no to something on Sunday to get some downtime.

I started watching Spectre (James Bond) over dinner because I needed mindless entertainment. I’ve stopped even though I’m not yet halfway through because I feel overwhelmed, without being able to define what I’m “overwhelmed” by. I’m not doing emotional self-awareness today. I will probably watch the rest before bed, at least with half an eye.

***

Every cloud has a silver lining. E has been super-supportive. I have my first social invitation of the post-COVID era, namely an invitation to friends for lunch on Shabbat (admittedly one of the busy, draining things). I plan to go, assuming I don’t have terrible side-effects from my second vaccination on Friday. And I managed to buy a second-hand omnibus edition of six James Bond novels for barely £5! Even accepting that I’ve already read one of them (Dr No), that still works out at £1 a book!

Fear of Success

Just a quick post, as it’s late and my head hurts. Shabbat (the Sabbath) wasn’t really great. Friday night was fine, but today I slept too much again and woke feeling depressed and burnt out again. Lunch was difficult for reasons I won’t go into here. I nearly didn’t make it back to shul (synagogue) this afternoon for Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Talmud shiur (religious class) as I felt too drained and depressed. However, I made it and actually followed the shiur better than usual.

After Shabbat I went to a late night Zoom shiur. I think it was a pseudo-Tikkun Leil. Tikkun Leil is staying up all night in shul on the eve of Shavuot (festival that starts tomorrow night) studying Torah. Because of COVID, not everyone can do that, so the LSJS was sort of filling that gap in advance. It was an interesting shiur, but over-ran massively. I also had a headache throughout despite taking medicine beforehand.

I worry I’m getting depressed again. I have a history of getting depressed after doing well and achieving things. I think I worry that I have to keep succeeding to meet people’s expectations of me. Hence, I feel depressed that my article was so well-received, perhaps. Or perhaps I’m just nervous about my job interview. Or apprehensive about Shavuot — my shul is running a LOT of shiurim and I don’t know how many I’ll make it to. Nor do I really know how many I want to go to, which is a different question. I will try to take it somewhat easy and not to overload myself.

I should probably go to bed, but my head hurts too much to sleep, so I will probably watch TV for a bit.

Planning

Surprisingly, I woke up about 7.00am today. I felt refreshed and alert, which is very rare for me, so I got up soon after. I think things seem to have been going well for me the last few days, which gave me the boost. I davened Shacharit before checking my emails and blogs too, which is also rare for a non-work, non-Shabbat (Sabbath) day.

I spent an hour or so preparing for tomorrow’s Talmud shiur (religious class). While I struggle to follow the legal arguments of the Talmud, I admit I do find it interesting as a social history document. The Talmud, and Judaism generally, sees religion/Torah as something that reaches into every aspect of human life, not just the conventionally “religious.” As a result, the Talmud goes into civil and criminal law, recipes, medicine, folk sayings and the work and family habits of Jews in Judea and Babylon in late antiquity, which I find interesting. Today’s passage spoke about kutakh, a Babylonian dish made of sour milk, mouldy bread and salt. I have to say that I’m not desperate to try that recipe out…

I spent some time working on a plan for a potential second novel. It’s slow going, and I procrastinated quite a bit, but some bits are slowly coming together. At the moment I’m just plotting out the main incidents for each chapter, then I hope to write a longer synopsis. It’s hard to create a plot from nothing (the nucleus of my first novel is my own experience, although the sub-plot was created from scratch, with help from research), but the problem-solving aspect is interesting. Doctor Who fans tend to be very writer-focused and fan discourse often looks at plotting, where it works and where it goes wrong. I tend to view a lot of books and TV in this way these days, looking at how the writing solves problems. It’s a struggle, but also an interesting quest to go from “I want to do a Jewish fantasy story” to a fully worked out plot with characters with realistic motivations and moments of drama that are properly integrated and not just random incident.

I have a long way to go with it still though (with the plan, let alone researching and writing the novel). It’s a bit disheartening how far I have to go with it and how crude it seems, but, again, as a Doctor Who fan, I know that many polished stories began as vague ideas and thin storylines (Doctor Who is genuinely the most researched TV programme in the world, thanks to a fandom obsessed with production as much as narrative).

I had another job rejection, although I hadn’t really expected to get anything from it. Then they sent the rejection twice more, just to drive the point home (I guess an email blip).

One of my parents’ friends has apparently bought my self-published Doctor Who book for her son, who is a fan. It makes me wish I had known how to promote it better, but it also makes me think again about making a second edition, at least with a better cover, if not a revised final chapter to cover the most recent series. I’m not sure what to do about that. I actually thought about it a while back, because for some reason Lulu.com (the self-publishing site) wouldn’t let me alter the cover price without fiddling with the design work, and I wanted to drop the price, but then life got in the way and I never did anything about it.

Exciting News

I woke up to really good news this morning: my article about being on the autism spectrum in the frum community is going to be published! Although I’m not sure whether to link from here when it goes up. It is related to what I write about here, but it will also be published under my real name, with my photo. So, I might publish a link in a password-protected post for those who might be interested and who I feel comfortable letting see that. (I do realise that I’ve written where I was submitting it in a previous post, so I might make that private.)

They edited the article a bit. I think they felt it was too long. I’m OK with the edits. I haven’t done a comparison with my draft, but the main thing that seems different is a paragraph they cut on my special interests, which I didn’t explain very well anyway and really put in partially as a dare to myself to mention Doctor Who to frum people to see what happened (answer: they cut it, but the sky didn’t fall in, and they still took the article). I think they’ve written a couple of summary quotes to use as sub-headings, which is also fine.

They asked for some photos of me and some of me with my family to illustrate the article. This was quite hard. I don’t generally think I photography well and there were some photographs that were good, but which I didn’t think would be deemed appropriate (either me wearing t-shirts with pictures from Doctor Who or the like, or with members of my family probably not meeting this site’s dress code). I found a few suitable ones in the end. I guess the lesson is, be careful what you wear, because you never know when your photo might end up on a religious website.

I didn’t have work today as J was working from home, and I’m not going in at the moment without him. I think it’s difficult for him to prepare my work in advance. As work comes in and he deals with it, it generates admin tasks for me like filing papers and processing cheques. It’s hard to prepare it in advance. I worked a little bit on my plan for a future novel and went for a run, which wasn’t particularly good as I had a bit of a stomach ache. I also had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor that went well.

I went to a virtual shiur (religious class) this evening. It was a fairly spontaneous thing, unusual for me; I just decided to go this morning. It turned out not to be the greatest shiur ever, although I don’t really want to go into why at the moment. On a more practical level, it was hard, as a delayed exercise headache started shortly before the shiur started. I took paracetamol in time to stop it turning into a severe migraine, but I was a bit uncomfortable for most of the shiur.

I feel quite tired now, which is quite common for me after a headache, so I’m winding down and hope to go to bed soon.

Trust and Control

I slept badly again last night, waking up in the night and struggling to get back to sleep. I’ve taken a bigger pillow and wonder if that will help. As a result, I was very tired at work in the morning and had to drink coffee to stay awake. I don’t like it when I feel I’m drifting off at work. The work was a bit depressing too. Aside from dealing with subscription payments, I was processing death records for this year and came across one for someone ten years younger than me with bipolar disorder who had committed suicide. This really upset me and I’m not entirely sure why, just a feeling that I wish I could have done something to help her, not that I ever met her. Then PIMOJ texted to say she was upset because of a suicide in her workplace and it seemed like it was catching.

I went to the bank in the afternoon, which probably left me too much time to think and brood while I walked there and back and spent a long time queuing. I think I’ve been less anxious today, but a lot more depressed.

J gave me a lift home again and the conversation on the radio was all about the UK COVID death toll reaching 100,000, so it was a pretty bleak day all round.

I had a shiur (religious class) in the evening on Zoom, perhaps appropriately on Yishayahu (Isaiah), the chief prophet of hope. This was interesting. I knew some of it, but not all of it. I tried to psyche myself up for the bit where we broke into smaller groups to discuss a passage, but my microphone took that moment to break, although I suppose it was interesting to observe other people doing group work from a distance, as it were, and see I’m not necessarily as bad at it compared with other people as I thought.

***

I worry a bit whether I could do a full days’ work at the moment. At the moment, J is letting me come in forty-five minutes or so late so I can avoid the Tube at rush hour because of COVID, and we finish work around 4pm. I only take forty-five minutes for lunch, but even so, that makes for a day that’s not much more than five hours long. Which is nice, but I worry if I’ll ever have the stamina for full working days again.

***

I had a thought about bitachon, trust in God. I find this very hard. I believe in a benevolent God Who wants the best for His creation, but I also believe that sometimes the best option is still something very painful to undergo. But I realised today that a lot of my problem is about control, specifically about accepting that I don’t have very much control over my life, which is scary. I probably have rather less control over my life than many people, certainly people of my age, class and educational level, because of my autism and mental health issues and chequered work history.

It’s easy to tell myself that I can somehow control my career or my romantic life or my mental health by thinking about them (which mostly means being despairing or anxious about them), but really I can’t. I have no idea if I’ll ever get married, to PIMOJ or to anyone else; or whether I’ll build any kind of a career as a writer or a librarian; or how I will support myself when my parents aren’t here; or umpteen other things. That’s very scary, to give up that degree of control. I guess it could be liberating. People with a lot of bitachon (e.g. PIMOJ) seem to live very liberated, carefree lives. But I find it terrifying.

Time Travel

I feel somewhat better today. I don’t know if I was distracted from depression and anxiety by being at work. I had autistic executive function issues with tasks where I had to fill in multiple spreadsheets at the same time and I kept losing the place or forgetting which spreadsheets I was supposed to use. This was made worse by having to deal with people phoning to make credit card payments where I had to drop everything and sort out the credit card payment and then afterwards try to remember what I was doing before the phone rang. I am slowly learning what all the spreadsheets do, which makes it easier to work out what goes where, but I still forget things sometimes. I made a couple of mistakes that I caught; I hope there weren’t any that I didn’t catch.

I was at least proud of myself for answering the phone. I hate doing that (anxiety), so it was a big thing.

I went to the bank too. The nearest branch, about fifteen or twenty minutes away, is closed because of COVID. The second-nearest was just a little bit up the road from the nearest one, but had a long queue, so I was out of the office for about an hour. I didn’t get lost this time.

That was it, really. I’m not feeling particularly depressed or anxious, just tired. When I was getting dressed this morning, I had an image in my head from Twin Peaks: The Return, where one character removes her face off to reveal a murky darkness broken by a bright grin. I’m not quite sure why this image was in my head. Did I feel like that this morning? It’s possible. Certainly there have been times in my life where I would have felt like that, but I don’t feel like that right now. It’s possible that being at work helped me today, in which case we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when I’m at home (cooking dinner and hopefully working on my novel).

I do feel confused about my relationship, but I’m not sure what to do that. I think we were probably moving too fast. Our relationship faces a number of unusual challenges, and the pandemic is one of then. We can’t really move things on at the moment. I think we need to slow down for a bit, but also to spend time together, which we can’t really do right now because of the lockdown.

Other than work, I went to a shiur (religious class) in the evening. It was a bit late and I struggled to concentrate. It was more a mussar (ethical self-development) shiur than anything else, about keeping going if you fail in an area of personal growth. Discussions like this always make me feel weird, as I tend to put other people on a pedestal and assume everyone is doing amazingly and only I am struggling with all my middot (character traits). I still suspect that I have worse traits than everyone really, even if they struggle in the same area. Someone asked a question at the end about how to get non-religious Jews engaged religiously when there is so much they could enjoy in Judaism. The rabbi didn’t want to answer the question in the shiur, as it was a bit off-topic, but I did wonder a bit about whether there’s a way that I could enjoy Judaism more. I can enjoy and find meaning in mitzvot (commandments), Torah study and prayer on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but it seems hard to get that during the week.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m tired, but not sleepy. I feel I should do something to unwind to help me sleep, but I don’t know what. I’m tired enough that I just sent my sister a text meant for PIMOJ, fortunately just asking how her evening was going.

***

I realised recently that I would rather have a time machine than a spaceship. (I appreciate that this decision is unlikely to have many practical ramifications.) I have felt for a long time that I don’t belong in this time. It’s partly having “old-fashioned” interests in terms of books and TV, partly feeling my politics are not a great fit for any party currently around (although I revise my political views fairly frequently – I get the impression that most people don’t), partly feeling my general worldview (religious, cultural) is different. Not necessarily out-dated, just different. I’ve never got on well with contemporary slang and trends.

I used to feel that studying history (my BA is in history) gave me access to information about the past that allowed me to understand the present better than most people. Now I’m not sure that that’s true. In fact, I suspect it’s not true. I don’t think I really understand the world particularly well. If I have an advantage, it’s only knowing that I don’t understand it, and maybe being aware that the world is more complicated than most people suppose.

Still, I feel adrift in time, looking for a society that works for me, people that I can communicate with. I want to write about a Jewish time traveller, hopefully when I’ve finished my current novel.

What Happened?

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

The Day that Got Away

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Volunteering, Religion, Politics and Spies

I volunteered again today. I got up even earlier than I did last week, but still arrived a few minutes late. It’s not hugely awful as people do drift in, but I would like to be there on time. I just seem to be late leaving whatever time I get up for volunteering. It’s not so bad with volunteering, but I want to stay punctual for work, although J seems pretty laid back about things like that. I know my line manager in my job in further education said on my last day that she was impressed that, despite my mental health issues, I was present and punctual. Considering she almost never gave praise, I thought that was quite something.

I was tired after that and didn’t do much all afternoon. I had a long chat with my rabbi mentor, which was good. He’s pleased with the way my life is going at the moment. I had to pick up a prescription and accepted my Dad’s offer of a lift, even though the round trip walking is only fifteen minutes, as I just felt too tired.

The only other thing I did today was go to an online shiur (religious class) in the evening. This was not through my shul (synagogue) or the LSJS, where I usually go to shiurim. It was being given by the former rabbi of my shul, who no longer lives in the area. I knew he has interesting things to say, so I went even though I knew I would be tired. It was very interesting and has given me a lot to think about, primarily in terms of what he said, but also in terms of thoughts it sparked about the nature of the frum (religious Jewish) community. However, I’ve already posted something political today (see below, if you haven’t seen it already) and I think it’s asking for trouble to post about politics and religion on the same day, so I will leave it there for now.

***

I published the post about politics that I’ve been tinkering with for a while. I hope I don’t get flamed. I know from experience that writing anything that even mentions Israel is asking for abuse, hence my staying away from politics posts for a decade or more. But lately I’ve felt a bit more comfortable here, so I wanted to push myself a bit. Even so, I spent so long discussing my personal political history that the mental health bit ended up as an afterthought, which is not really ideal on a mental health blog.

***

Wanting to read a spy novel about a week and a half ago, I borrowed an omnibus book of four spy novels from my Dad. I’d read the first one, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. It’s good, but I didn’t want to re-read it. The second was The Mask of Dimitrios by Eric Ambler. It was mostly good, but not really a spy novel; more a novel about criminals one of whom has moonlighted as a spy. The spy content was small. I wanted the type of book with detailed descriptions of spycraft like John le Carre, the kind not necessarily high in action, but high in detail, jargon, and internal politicking. This wasn’t the book I was looking for. It was pretty entertaining despite that, but I became less invested in the closing chapters, when the hero moved towards being an anti-hero; I struggle with books with anti-heroes. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m religious or because I have a rigid autistic moral sense (or both). I will probably carry on with the next book in the volume (The Naked Runner by Francis Clifford), although I had been switching between fiction and non-fiction books.

Lockdown Working, and Going Slooooowly

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

***

3 Shopping Days to Lockdown

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Tisha B’Av in Auschwitz

Today I felt depressed and subdued, but it kind of goes with the territory, as it was Tisha B’Av the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, the day we’re supposed to be sad to mourn the destruction of the Temple as well as subsequent tragedies of Jewish history.  (It might sound surprising, but we’re not supposed to be sad most of the time.)  I read some more of Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.  I’ve been reading this book for about five or six years, only on Tisha B’Av.  I can’t bear to read it on any other day, it’s too upsetting.  I hope to finish it in a couple of years.  Some of the stories did move me to tears, I admit, although I’m probably more sceptical about the supernatural than some of the people who related the stories.  I also went to some online shiurim (religious classes) via my shul (synagogue).

In the afternoon I went on a virtual tour of Auschwitz organised by a Jewish educational group.  (Thanks to Eliza for pointing me in their direction!)   I’ve never been there in person.  I feel vaguely uncomfortable about going to Holocaust sites, although I can see why it’s important for some people.  I discovered there’s not actually much there at Auschwitz any more, which I think I knew, but it had never really registered.  The Nazis destroyed the gas chambers and the crematoria to hide the evidence of the Holocaust.  I was surprised how big the site it was.

It was quite moving, but sometimes with Holocaust things I feel I’m not feeling what I “should” feel, maybe because most of my family did not directly experience it.  Perhaps it’s also hard in a way for me, being frum (religious).  With some secular Jews, their entire Jewish identity is built around the Holocaust and/or Israel; whereas I have so much more to my Jewish identity than that.  There is definitely a danger of being overly-obsessed with how Jews died rather than how they lived (to paraphrase Rabbi Lord Sacks*), but Tisha B’Av is a day to confront these memories.

I still would like to feel that I’m moving on somewhere as well as just focusing on the past.  It’s easier to focus on the Holocaust rather than the destruction of the Temple, because the former is more relatable.  There hasn’t been Judaism based around the Temple ritual for nearly 2,000 years, so it’s difficult to understand what it was like.  But the Holocaust isn’t much easier to focus on, although it has the human dimension, because it’s just unlike anything else.

(As an aside, it’s depressing doing a virtual Auschwitz tour and then after the fast was over going online to see the latest iterations of the “Jews are all rich, powerful, privileged and racist” stuff that’s been coming out in the last few weeks.)

In this respect the rabbi leading the virtual tour said something similar to what my shul (synagogue) rabbi said yesterday, about trying to find areas to grow.  I’ve already said here that I want to focus more on being present in the present and not obsessing over the past or worrying about the future.  That doesn’t sound a very Jewish or religious thing, but I think it is.  It’s connected with ideas like bitachon (trust in God) and kavannah (mindfulness, particularly in prayer).  But to do that, I need to be able to trust that God has my best interests at heart, even if painful things happen to me.  That’s hard on a day like today, when I confront the many tragedies of Jewish history, including the Holocaust.

It’s just an effort to focus on NOW with gratitude and mindfulness, not what I fear/hope will happen in the future.  I will try it for six or seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and see what happens.

***

I already mentioned I believe less in the supernatural than some Orthodox Jews, so I’m taking this with an Everest-sized mountain of salt, but at one of the shiurim today, the guest rabbi presenting told a story about a frum (religious) Jew who was in a coma four days with COVID and had a near-death experience.  He says that his soul was tried in Heaven and he discovered that although keeping all the mitzvot (commandments) are important, the afterlife primarily depends on loving other people and being kind.

As I say, I am sceptical about how true that story is, but it did make me think that while I agree that love and kindness are of the utmost importance (regardless of the afterlife), I struggle to show them the way I should.  I get irritable with my family.  I get annoyed by other people and although I don’t usually show it, I find it hard to love people sometimes (as Linus said in Peanuts, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand!”).  I have a some inchoate anger and resentment towards the frum (Orthodox Jewish) community sometimes because of how I feel I’ve been treated, which I need to work through in a healthier way.  I want to be kind, but so often social anxiety stops me from acting on my kind impulses, or autism means that I can see someone is in need, but don’t know how to respond correctly.  My parents say I’m kind (usually when I say I have no assets to attract a potential spouse), but I guess they would.

I know this is turning into yet another “should” and another “beat myself up” session, so I don’t want to pursue it too far, but it has been on my mind this evening, thinking about how I could be more kind and loving in the future.

 

* What he actually said was that an educationalist complained to him that at Jewish schools, students “Learn about the Greeks and how they lived, and they learn about the Romans and how they lived, and they learn about the Jews and how they died.”  Both Rabbi Sacks and the educationalist felt that with a curriculum like this, it was no wonder so many Jews are just looking to escape from their Jewish identity through assimilation.

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

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

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

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

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

Negativity and Meaning

I felt quite depressed again today.  Dad took Mum to her appointment with the surgeon and then for a socially distanced visit to my sister’s house, so I had the house to myself for a bit, which I like.  It’s nice to have personal space, not that we get in each others’ way very much (I’m usually in my bedroom, my parents in the lounge or office).  I did feel very depressed and lonely, trying not to catastrophise my thoughts about the future into complete despair (about marriage, children, having my writing “cancelled,” etc.).

I tried to work on my novel before therapy, but really I just wanted to cry.  I did, eventually get down to it and wrote quite a bit.  It was a violent scene, and although that was hard on one level, because domestic violence is pretty draining to write, I did find the actual writing flowed more than recently.  I definitely think that mainstream literary fiction is not 100% right for me (although I intend to finish the book) and I should be writing science fiction/fantasy adventure or something similar in the future.  It’s bits like that that have been easiest to write.

Therapy was difficult and very draining.  We spoke a lot about family and childhood.  Also about Mum’s illness and being increasingly conscious of my parents’ mortality.  I mentioned what Ashley has said about my having lots of “shoulds” and we worked a bit on finding alternative thoughts.  I don’t like replacing “should” with “could” because I feel I could do just about anything so saying, “I could do X” doesn’t help me make decisions, especially as it makes it hard to see how urgent or important a task is.  So we’re trying with phrases like “I would like to do this because…” or “This is in line with my values because…”  I like the latter, because sometimes I do things I don’t enjoy because it’s in line with my values e.g. prayer (which is not always enjoyable or uplifting, although it can be) and housework.  I’m also writing some questions to identify when I’m being self-critical e.g. “Is this my critical voice?” and “Would I talk to someone else like this?”

I often go for a walk after therapy, but I felt too tired today, especially as I knew I had shiur (religious class) later.  The shiur was on meaning, the last of three shiurim on the topic.  The first was on what meaning is; the second was on whether a person has to be religious to have meaning; and this one was on how can we make our lives more meaningful.  The shiurim were given by Dr Tamra Wright and Rabbi Dr Michael Harris.

The shiur this week was not so much a religious shiur as a talk on philosophy and positive psychology, but it was interesting.  Some points I took from it:

  • The optimal level for a meaningful element in your life is not always the maximal one.  In other words, if praying is meaningful for me, that doesn’t mean that praying 24/7 would be the most meaningful level of prayer.
  • Meaningful events/things can be small, not major life-changing things.
  • Recognising meaning or value that is already present is important.  Even increasing this recognition a little is good even without recognising the good perfectly.  (All of the above points taken from a book by the Israeli philosopher Iddo Landau.)
  • Writing a gratitude journal of things that went well and why they happened helps make life meaningful.  I already list things that I’m grateful for, but I don’t write it down or write why they happened.  Maybe I should change that.  Writing why they happened is supposed to show your agency more clearly.
  • One can have a flourishing, meaningful  life even without a cheerful disposition via pro-social emotions (e.g. compassion), engagement, relationships, a sense of something greater than me and achievement.
  • Spirituality is independent of religion (I knew that) and is “a sense of a close personal relationship to God (or nature or the universe or whatever term each person used for higher power) and a vital source of daily guidance. (From work by Lisa Miller)  This is associated with meaning.  I’m not sure how much I have this.  I struggle to feel a close personal relationship with God, although I believe in Him.  I suppose He is a source of daily guidance for me inasmuch as I try to live according to Jewish law and values, but I’m not sure that that was quite what was meant.
  • George Vaillant identified six tasks of adult development.  They’re too long to list here, but I’m not sure I’ve achieved any of them yet, maybe not even “identity” fully (separation from parents), which I should have managed by now.  The only one I might have achieved is “Becoming a keeper of the meaning – role of ‘wise judge’; impartial; conservation, preservation, passing on traditions.”  Because I’m more Jewishly observant and knowledgeable than my immediate family, they look to me for religious guidance.
  • Vaillant also says that self-worth is a dead end and meaning is found in thinking of ourselves less.  I find this hard.  I have noted my rather solipsistic self-absorption, which is perhaps partly from autism (after all, the name “autism” is about being self-contained), partly from social anxiety (not reaching out to others) and partly by temperament (tendency to ruminate).

Speaking of which, I did not really interact in the discussion because I was feeling too socially anxious.  Sigh.  I need to think about how to add some of those meaning-techniques to my life.

Negativity and Value

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Depressed, Lonely and Shielding

Chaconia mentioned that I have a habit of quantifying my depression into minutes or hours of activity, numbers of negative thoughts and so on.  I had noticed this, at least to some extent, but it doesn’t seem unhelpful so I’ve never challenged it.  If anything, it shows me most days that I do more than I would otherwise subjectively believe.  Nevertheless, I wonder if it’s connected to the fears of losing control that I wrote about last week.  That if I stopped monitoring myself, I would become out of control somehow, probably through inactivity.

***

I felt very so depressed and exhausted again today.  I’m not sure why I’ve been feeling worse the last few days.  It could be the break up, but I thought I was over that.  Maybe I’m not.  It wouldn’t be surprising if I wasn’t, as while it only lasted a few months (a) we had been together before and (b) it very intense both emotionally and in the amount of time we spent Skyping.  I also feel that lockdown is getting to me a bit, but I’m also very worried about what the end of lockdown means for me, in terms of applying for jobs again, but also in terms of other activities such as shul (synagogue).

***

My shul sent out an email the other day regarding services coming out of lockdown, but I didn’t get it.  I chased it and got it today.  They are limiting services to thirty people, outside when weather permits, with masks and bringing your own siddur (prayer book), tallit (prayer shawl) etc.  I have very mixed feelings about it.  Part of me would like to get back to the routine of shul, not least to challenge my social anxiety, which has probably got worse over the last four months without me pushing against my urge to run away from people and events.  There is also the fact that the social element of shul may help my mood (or worsen it).

On the other hand, I feel I don’t get much out of shul, certainly not at the moment, and maybe I should leave it to other people who get more out of it.  I would be sorry to miss Talmud shiur, which is resuming on Shabbat (Saturday), especially as that can be hard to catch up on subsequently, so if I miss a few weeks now I may never catch up (I would like to finish even one masechta (volume) of Talmud once as whenever I go to a shiur, we never complete one).  My big reservation is whether it would be dangerous for Mum if Dad and I to go back to shul.  We are still supposed to shield her until 31 July and even after then her immune system will be weak.  The government guidelines are that shielded people should not go to places of worship, but they don’t say anything about other members of the household.  My Mum has a meeting with the oncologist tomorrow and has promised to raise the question.

***

I found writing really difficult today.  My difficulty writing is not helped by the fact that I’m writing a novel with two different viewpoints, and whose characters do not intersect directly in the middle of the novel.  This has proved unexpectedly difficult to write.  Every time I alternate viewpoints, which happens with most new chapters, I struggle to get back into the head and situation of the main character of that chapter.

I went for a walk to try to jump start my brain.  I wrote for a short while when I returned, but still struggled.  Then I had to have dinner and get ready for shiur (religious class) on Zoom.

While out walking I had a lot of rapid images going through my head.  Autistic people often think in images rather than words.  I usually think in a mixture of the two, but when I’m feeling agitated the images become faster and more vivid, some times distressingly so.  Today’s images were not distressing, but they were rapid and agitated.

***

My therapist suggested getting in contact with friends to ease my loneliness.  The problem (aside from lockdown) is a lack of friends to contact, at least away from the blogosphere.  I emailed two friends, one of whom has already replied.  I’m not convinced email contact alone will do much to alleviate loneliness, and even without lockdown, it’s hard to see people, as so many of my friends are long-distance.  It is good to hear from other people though, and to get outside my own head for a bit.

I wish I had some way of contacting other religious Jews who are struggling religiously.  Ideally on a message board or mailing list or similar, probably not in person as I’m not good at that and we would probably all want to be anonymous.  I feel like I’m still struggling with being a good Jew, even though breaking up with E. reduced some of the cognitive dissonance I think I was under.

These thoughts were triggered by looking at the Beyond BT website again, which I shouldn’t do as it makes me feel inadequate, as no one there seems to have the same struggles I do.  When the Jewish blogosphere was more active years ago, there used to be “OTD” blogs (OTD = off the derekh (road) = people becoming non-religious) blogs, but they are not what I want.  Those were mainly for people with issues with Torah and science or Bible criticism.  I just struggle to have positive feelings about my religious life because of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and because I struggle to find meaning in my pain, which leads me to feel God must hate me to make me suffer so much pain with no obvious meaning.  I don’t really have much of a spiritual life at all, as distinct from a religious one.  I don’t think I’m a very spiritual person at the best of times, even without depression and anhedonia.  Maybe I’m being unfair to myself.

***

Zoom shiur was OK this week.  I participated rather more than usual, although the flipside was making more mistakes.  That was the last in that run of shiurim (on Rashi), although I have one more week of my Monday shiur (on meaning).

***

You may remember my Dad’s car’s catalytic converter was stolen a while back, right at the start of lockdown.  Now someone has stolen the replacement!  It’s unlikely to be the same thief, as the first time it was taken from the hospital car park and this time it was taken from our front drive.  It’s quite expensive to replace and needs to be fitted by a mechanic, so this is a huge expense and hassle.  Apparently they’re very easy to steal and very valuable, so there’s a lot of incentive for thieves.  They’ve damaged the car too.  This is very frustrating and we’re all angry about it.

Hedgehog Concepts and Seeming Intimidating

I slept a lot last night.  I went to bed early (well, for me) and got up late.  I’m not sure if it helped.  I felt a bit depressed today, and very tired, which is normal for me, and fuzzy-headed, which may be due to the heat or depression.  I feel more frustrated than upset that I’m still paying for the good day I had on Monday.  I guess this is what depression and high-functioning autism look like, but I still find it frustrating.

I spent some time writing my novel.  I’m not sure how long.  I procrastinated a bit and struggled feeling fuzzy-headed and still quite frazzled, but I wrote over 700 words.  I also managed half an hour of Torah study.  I would have liked to have done more writing and Torah study, but, frankly, I was surprised I managed to do what I did, given how fuzzy-headed I felt.

It was too hot to run outside, so I stayed in and tried to do an aerobic exercise.  I hadn’t tried to do any for a couple of years (I’ve been jogging, when I’ve been exercising) and got very exhausted very quickly and did fairly pathetically.  Still, I did work up a sweat.

***

I’m struggling with social/religious feelings and thoughts again, angry thoughts about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism.  A number of things I came across from the Haredi world today made me feel glad not to be Haredi.  Only one was a thing I was not previously aware of, but it was still annoying.  My life would be a lot easier if there was a local shul (synagogue) that met both my religious and social needs, but there isn’t.  This means that I feel a degree of disconnection and now even hostility to some of the values and educational resources of my shul.  It would probably also be easier if I could just “drink the kool-aid” about some things (about life in general, not just religion), but I seem to be resistant to that.  Not that there aren’t things I don’t agree with in the more modern parts of Orthodoxy, but there’s fewer of them.

Related to this, a while back I saw some articles on The Lehrhaus (here and here) that said that Modern Orthodoxy suffers from lack of a “Hedgehog Concept.”  I was unfamiliar with the Hedgehog Concept, but apparently it’s business jargon for a key core value, I assume from the Greek poet Archilochus’ saying that, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”  So the Hedgehog Concept of the Yeshivish/Litvish world (the part of the Orthodox world that came out of Early Modern Lithuania) is Torah study; that of the Hasidic world is devekut (mystic unity with God); that of Habad Lubavitch Hasidim is outreach (bringing non-religious Jews to greater observance); and that of Religious Zionism is settling the land of Israel.  These are things that all Jews in those communities can aim to achieve, to a greater or lesser extent (in some cases more by funding other people doing it than doing it themselves).

Modern Orthodoxy suffers from a lack of a Hedgehog Concept.  In theory, Modern Orthodoxy is about combining traditional practise and scholarship of Judaism with modern academic scholarship.  In reality, only a relatively small number of scholar-rabbis are able to do that.  This helps explain the lack of inspiration in my life, the lack of some kind of core to define and focus my religious experience.

In the articles, Gil Perl suggested Or Amim (A Light to the Peoples i.e. making God known in the world) as the Modern Orthodox Hedgehog Concept, which he says is “a charge to take the treasure chest of wisdom, guidance, and instruction that comprises our mesora [tradition], proudly place it on the proverbial table of global discussion, and help others, unfamiliar with it, to understand its content” (brackets added).  He goes on to state that this is not missionary and is compatible with pluralistic ideas of multiple truths, saying, “My mesora is my truth. The rhythms of halakhic life are my reality.  My calling is not to convince you of their certitude, but to humbly offer you a glimpse of their beauty.” (Emphasis added.)  This is at least something that I can do in my writing – or am already doing in my blogging (which, I realised today, I have been doing for fourteen years, although not without interruption).  Whether it will work as a Hedgehog Concept for me is another question.

***

A somewhat related thought that I had last night and which I returned to when I read Sadie/Blushy Ginger’s post this morning: do people find me intimidating?  I suspect that in real life I come across as either boring, serious and/or intense to a lot of people.  I know the rabbi who gives the weekly sedra shiur (religious class on the week’s Torah reading) I go to once said that he can’t read me and I just sit there and he doesn’t know what I think of what he’s saying.

Then of course there is the fact that my blog is very Jewish even though it doesn’t have many Jewish readers.  I worry that I have too much religious detail, which is off-putting, or that people who aren’t Jewish or aren’t religious or are atheists or whatever worry that I would have negative views of them and don’t like to comment.  (For what it’s worth, I think I’m a very tolerant and non-judgemental person and have non-Jewish friends.)  I guess this is the mirror of my “I’m not frum (religious) enough” fears in the Orthodox Jewish community.

It also has to be said that I sometimes go out of my way to give a negative impression of myself in my blogging, focusing on failures more than successes, holding up my errors and mistakes (see below) as if I’m daring people to reject me.  I used to hope people I knew would find my blog (this was when I was blogging with my real name) so that they would see what a mess I was and think, “OK, now I know why he is so weird, it’s not his fault, he’s just messed up.”

***

I’ve mentioned about being locked out of my non-anonymous Doctor Who blog I thought because I hadn’t paid pay the WordPress subscription last year.  Now they have offered me the chance to subscribe again, which implied I paid last year.  So I checked my bank statement, and I did in fact pay and forgot later.  I investigated, and I got locked out because I was using a an email address that I basically only used there (to keep it separate from this account, which is linked to my main email) and… I had typed the email in wrong once and it got stuck in the autofill, so I was using the wrong email address all the time.  I didn’t notice because there was only a full stop missing.  I am not proud of this.  I would like to blame depression and stress warping my brain, or autistic rigid thinking preventing me looking at options or social anxiety stopping me contacting WordPress to investigate, but I have to admit there’s an element of incompetence there too.

Once I regained access, I quickly whipped up a post publicising my non-fiction Doctor Who book with links to various websites where it’s being sold.  I’m tempted to renew the blog subscription, for the sake of £15, primarily so I can promote my non-fiction Doctor Who book there.

I just did a quick google search about advertising self-published books, and it seems a lot of people think it’s a waste of money, that the only way it’s effective is if you spend a lot on it.  Otherwise, the best way is through blogs and social media.  But I don’t really have any social media presence, and my blog has been in stasis for a year, and I never really got back into online Doctor Who fandom.  My experience is that online Doctor Who fandom these days is mostly on Twitter, which I have never got on with, rather than on blogs.

Unravelling the situation with my blog and writing the advert post took about half an hour today, but I think it was time well spent.  To be honest, I think I haven’t made any sales to anyone other than family and friends so far, so it would be good if I could sell just one copy to someone I don’t know in person (OK, one is an online friend I’ve only met once, but I’m still counting that as “in person”).

Religious Overtones

I felt a bit better today, at least once I managed to get up and get going.  I did give in to OCD compulsions before I ate breakfast.  Once I ate, I felt calmer though.  I feel better than I did yesterday at any rate.  It’s hard to tell when my thoughts are wonky, because what can I measure them with except other thoughts?  Philip K. Dick (one of my favourite authors) said at one point in his quest to discover if he was psychotic or religiously-inspired (or possibly having messages beamed into his head by aliens, or the CIA – all these were possibilities for him) “Either I’ve invented a whole new logic or, ahem, I’m not playing with a full deck.”  I feel like that sometimes.

I had early therapy today and then a shiur (religious class) over Zoom in the evening.  The timing pretty much made writing out of the question, even if I had felt less depressed.  I woke up early, but was depressed and fell asleep again.  By the time I managed to get up, get dressed, daven (pray) a bit and have lunch, there was less than an hour until therapy.

***

I went for a walk after therapy and got freaked out again at the number of people around.  I know this is an “You aren’t in traffic, you are traffic” situation and I’m just as much a part of the problem as anyone else.  Still, given Mum’s compromised immune system, I’m very afraid of bringing coronavirus in and I wonder if I should start taking my exercise indoors.  I know E. hasn’t left her apartment block for two months now.  I do think there’s a mental health benefit to going outdoors and I’m reluctant to lose it.

***

I’m still thinking about religious stuff.  Community stuff first:

This is a comment I left on a previous post that I thought worth adding here, as I don’t think I’ve said it in a post before:

I’m still hopeful about finding a Modern Orthodox shul [synagogue] in America if I marry E.  Unfortunately, in the UK, most people who go to MO [Modern Orthodox] shuls are not frum [religious] at all. They are just traditional [keep elements of Judaism, but not the entirety of Jewish law], and I find it hard to connect with them.  My parents’ shul is MO and is fairly frum as MO shuls go. I used to go there (and do go there sometimes in the week), but it’s a bad fit for so many reasons: too big, too much talking in services, a chazan [cantor] and a choir I can’t stand and, because it’s my parents’ shul, I have no identity of my own there, I’m just my parents’ son.

I didn’t add that that’s the only really local Modern Orthodox shul.  There is apparently one the other side of the town, but it would take me ages to walk there and one can’t go by car or public transport on Shabbat (the Sabbath), so everywhere has to be walking distance.

***

I’ve also been thinking more theological stuff.

I think my understanding of God is quite abstract.  To be honest, once you really get involved in Jewish theology or mysticism, God becomes pretty abstract.  Richard Dawkins’ “jealous angry God of the Old Testament,” as well as being an ancient antisemitic polemic, isn’t anything that educated Jews ever believed.  I’m wary of simplistic statements like, “God is love,” “God is life,” “God is existence,” “God is the Infinite,” “God is the Other,” but any of those would be nearer to what I believe in than The Angry Old Man in the Sky.

At the same time, we’re supposed to believe we can have a personal relationship with God, on some level, and that’s hard when I believe in something so abstract and impersonal even though I don’t think there’s any theological reason preventing it.  I just struggle to see it in my life.  I also struggle to connect with Someone who has made me suffer so much.  Even if I believe it’s for my ultimate good, it’s hard to connect when I’m just afraid that things will get worse “for my own good.”  It’s not that I don’t believe good can come of suffering, because I do, I just feel I can’t cope with any more of it.

***

I also wonder what will happen to the people I care about after death.  I don’t really care what happens to me, particularly as Judaism doesn’t believe in eternal damnation and non-existence doesn’t bother me conceptually.  Still, I wonder what will happen to my friends and family who aren’t frum or who even are atheists.

Judaism is pretty vague about the afterlife.  I won’t go through the theology, from the almost total lack of mention in Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), to its importance in the Pharisee-Sadducee split, the six (actually seven) questions asked of souls in the afterlife in the Talmud,  “All Israel have a share in The World to Come,” “The righteous of the nations have a share in The World to Come,” the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith, and so on.  It’s just that people don’t discuss it much, certainly not compared with Christianity (and possibly also Islam).

Growing up, I got the impression that most people (or most Jews?  This was vague) has a share in the Next Work (“go to Heaven” in Christian-speak).  The previous rabbi at my shul seemed to think that almost no one has a share in the Next World.  Rabbi Lord Sacks got in trouble years ago for saying all religions are sources of valid truth for non-Jews.  I worry about friends and family who aren’t so religious, or religious at all.  It is hard to know what to believe about something that is so rarely explicitly addressed.  Jews don’t really do theology overtly, only disguised in mysticism or Midrash (narrative).  We just assume God will sort everything out in the end.  Maybe that’s the best approach.

***

Part of the shiur this evening was about Sefer Vayikra (The Book of Leviticus) being about how to have a personal relationship with God, but I felt that this was not developed so much.  It’s something for me to think about though – tzarich iyun (this requires investigation).

***

I spoke about some of these worries in therapy today.  I also spoke about the fact that Judaism teaches that everyone has their own mission and their own expectations of what they can do, but that it can be hard to do that when the community has a “one size fits all” approach and there is a fear of stigma, both from depression and autism and from not fitting in completely with Jewish law.  The therapist did say that regarding my relationship with, even if E. and I didn’t have differences about religion and a need to compromise there, there would be other things we needed to compromise about.

***

Just because I can’t avoid religion at the moment, the next Star Trek: Voyager episode I watched to relax after therapy involved one of the characters having a near-death experience and then deciding that the afterlife is a lie as he didn’t experience it.  This might have been more affecting if he had mentioned his religious beliefs at all over the last three and a half years.  Star Trek generally assumes that religion is something clever people and cultures grow out of sooner or later.

Coughs and Sneezes Spread Diseases

“You’re a loser, Joni, or whatever your name is, because you live in fear and that isn’t really living at all, is it?  Now, I don’t live in fear.  I’m alive.” – Life on Mars episode 1.4 by Ashley Pharoah

I woke up at 10am today and got up at 11am, which was good.  It was late, but earlier than recently.  In terms of activity, I tried to work on my novel for an hour after lunch.  I made a little progress, but struggled to write light, witty, flirty date dialogue unsurprisingly.  I’m not sure how I’m going to get through this chapter.  Hard work, I suppose.  I wrote about 250 words, which is half of my usual hourly target.  I spent a lot of time procrastinating and read a “long read” article on the BBC news website about the US government’s response to coronavirus when I should have been writing.

I felt very anxious and depressed today, which also didn’t help me to get in the writing zone.  I had less specific anxiety about coronavirus or Pesach (although a little about the former) and more general feelings of depression and anxiety.  I know from my past that anxiety about X can manifest as worrying about Y, even though X and Y are totally unrelated and X may be vastly more important and serious than Y.  Some of that may be happening here.  I do over-analyse myself, “What am I feeling?  Am I feeling the right thing?”  As if there’s a “right” thing to feel.

I’ve never had much success with mental health/CBT affirmations, but I’m trying to tell myself “My thoughts are not always my friends” which helped somewhat with controlling my religious OCD in the past.  The anxiety and depression fluctuated throughout the day, getting better after my run (see below), but by the evening I was feeling awful, just wanting to curl up and sleep while the world went away.  I had a brief Skype call with E., but I felt bad at being in a state, although I know she cares enough to want to see me when I feel like that.

***

I went on my Officially Sanctioned Single Daily Exercise Session (I went for a run).  I added a bit more distance to my usual run, which coincidentally took the time taken up to exactly thirty minutes, which is good.  Pace and stamina were pretty good too, at least by my recent standards.  There were a few people around, but most looked like they were exercising rather than going anywhere in particular.  The run did seem to help with the anxious thoughts, which is good to know for the future.

***

I joined in with a global simultaneous Jewish prayer meeting.  No Skype/Zoom connection, just thousands of people praying at the same time.  I stuck with the shorter list of Tehillim (Psalms) and prayers on the Orthodox Union website rather than the longer, more mystical list of prayers sent out by my rabbi (although that list confirmed my suspicions that Tehillim chapter 120 on the OU list should have read 121).

The other virtual community thing I did today was watch a live shiur (religious class) given by Rabbi Lord Sacks via YouTube.  I haven’t really been part of a streamed event like that before, so it was interesting to see the number of viewers grow.  There were about 770 by the end, which was good considering that it was only advertised today.  It’s weird how social isolation is bringing people together.  I then spent nearly an hour researching and writing my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought).  So it was a fairly solid day from a religious point of view.

***

Back to anxiety and depression…

Another of parents’ friends had another baby.  I just feel… It’s like other people have bad times – illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment – and then after a while it goes and something good happens.  And with me, I have bad things, and they stick around, and eventually other bad things join them and I feel even worse.

Compared with the quote at the top, I do feel like I’m living in fear, of everything (illness, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment), and it isn’t really living, but it’s all I’ve got.  Which leads to all the “Why is this happening to me?  Am I a bad person?  Does God hate me?” questions.

Anyway, I need to go, or I’ll miss my “No screens after 11pm” deadline.

Pogo Stick

Today was another up and down day.  I coped with shul (synagogue) last night.  I enjoyed dinner with Mum and Dad.  I spent quite a bit of time on Torah study afterwards, including trying to prep for today’s Talmud shiur (class) after dinner at 10pm when my brain was just not working.  When I got to bed, I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up until 3am reading Doctor Who Magazine (some pretty good articles this month.  I just wish I had enjoyed the last series as much as the people writing in to the letters page appeared to do).

I woke up several times across the morning, but felt too depressed to get up and go to shul, or even just to get up.

I dozed after lunch again and when I woke up I again felt too depressed to want to go to shul Mincha (Afternoon Service), but forced myself to go anyway.  I probably got there late semi-deliberately to avoid being asked to lead the service.  I actually quite enjoyed Talmud shiur, although I was inwardly relieved when the rabbi admitted that even he had struggled with the sugya (discussion) in question.  It was so opaque and discursive that I’m not even going to try to summarise it here.  Talmud study is definitely better when I prep a day or so beforehand and review it a day or so afterwards, although that obviously makes a bigger time investment per page.

My sister and brother-in-law came over after Shabbat (Sabbath), mostly to see Mum post-chemo.  As my sister uses the Tube every weekday, she was wary of infecting Mum with something – not necessarily coronovirus, but some kind of virus that she might be incubating.  We had a good time, although I slipped away for a bit after a while.

Speaking of which, the coronavirus news coverage reminds me of the Tomato Flu episode of Broken News, particularly the bit where Pip Torrens warns of symptoms including “hot or cold sweats; hot or cold aches; sweaty acheyness; runny or sweaty or achey nose; tiredness; a sense of slight confusion; blinking; passing water; and, of course in extreme cases, death.”

I saw this comment in the Jewish Chronicle comparing the Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu with the first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion: While the Netanyahus have racked up huge bills at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer, Ben-Gurion’s greatest financial vice was his propensity to buy too many…books.”  I felt that I have something in common with him.  A few years ago I actually went to his apartment in Tel Aviv, which is a museum now, preserved as he had it, and there are books everywhere, on all kinds of topics: lots on Judaism and Jewish history, but also a lot on the sciences too, I think even on relatively obscure subjects like geology, and to my surprise a copy of The Zohar, the primary book of Jewish mysticism (Ben-Gurion was an atheist and secularist, albeit like many early Zionists he was a keen amateur Bible scholar).

Second Gear

I didn’t feel overtly so depressed or anxious today, but I felt emotionally run down.  It was not always easy to concentrate or get motivated to do anything.  I did manage to do some stuff (see below), but it was an uphill struggle.  I wasn’t necessarily consciously thinking about Mum’s cancer or my employment and benefits issues or my relationship with E., but I think they were probably there on an unconscious or semi-conscious way.  This is especially the case given that Mum starts chemo tomorrow, given that I filled in a form about my benefits situation and why I don’t have a medical certificate yet and given that I listened to a podcast about how people with different religious levels can be in a relationship together.

***

I did do a few things.  I cleared out some old papers in my top desk drawer.  I tend to be tidy, but also to stay tidy by shoving stuff in cupboards or drawers until they get really messy.  I was looking for papers about my benefits situation, but found some other important papers I had more or less forgotten about, including the form to claim money I paid into a pension fund when I was in regular work in 2017-18.  I had held off from taking the money in the hope that I would be in regular employment again soon and could pay the money directly into a new pension fund, but now it’s looking more like I should take the cash while I can and stick it in bank somewhere, not that interest rates are good for savers right now.  I also found some papers and leaflets about therapy from a much earlier therapy-hunting period that I thought I had somewhere, but wasn’t sure where.  These might be useful when I have the headspace to deal with that.

***

I still have abdominal pain.  I think it’s just anxiety, but I should probably talk to the doctor about it when I speak to him about my medical certificate.

***

I tried to work on my novel for an hour or so.  I felt very blocked until I started to write an unplanned 500 word semi-surreal, semi-religious fantasy dream sequence, which flowed straight out.  I had planned a fantasy interlude for when my narrator’s mental illness is at its height in a later chapter, but it seems to have “leaked out.”  I worry that my book is too straight-laced for me to write well, given that I tend not to be so interested in very straight realistic fiction, but I fear that a more magic realist perspective won’t sell and will jar in a novel about mental illness, autism and domestic abuse.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for a mini-shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers).  I want to get back to going to shul a couple of times during the week.  On my walk to and from shul, I listened to another Intimate Judaism podcast, this time on marriages where one spouse becomes more or less religious than the other.  It was talking more about marriages where both partners started more or less on the same level religiously and then one changes and becomes more or less religious, whereas E. and I have gone into our relationship knowing that we do and believe different things and will probably continue to do so indefinitely.  It was scary on one level, because there is obviously a lot of scope for argument and bitterness, but it was reassuring inasmuch as the rabbi and relationship therapist on the podcast felt that a couple who accept that the other person is different and where the communication is good should be able to navigate a lot of such issues, and E. and I do have very good communication and acceptance of our differences.

***

Just in case we didn’t have enough stress, the legal dispute my Dad is involved in has reached the courts.  Dad was in an accident a few years ago where his car and a motorbike collided at a turning (I blame myself a bit, as he had only come out to give me a lift home from the station).  It was hard to tell who was responsible, but no one seemed to be hurt and the damage to the car and bike was relatively minor.  We phoned for an ambulance for the motorcyclist, but she insisted she was fine and cancelled it.

Some time later, she launched a claim for damages, claiming she’s had health problems ever since.  It’s not impossible, but it did feel a bit like some ambulance-chasing lawyers are helping her make a quick buck out of ailments that may or may not be a consequence of an accident that may or may not be our fault.  Well, not a quick buck as the case has rumbled on for years, but some money at any rate.

The case reaches court next Thursday.  The lawyers are offering to settle out of court.  Mum wants to fight it, but Dad isn’t sure.  I’m inclined to agree with Dad; Dad’s insurance premiums have already gone up, so why waste the time and energy fighting this while Mum is very ill and the rest of us are feeling stressed and suffering minor ailments when the insurance company can take the hit instead?  This is the type of court case that only benefits the lawyers.

It reminds me of something W. S. Gilbert said, about if someone stops you in the street and demands your watch, punch him on the nose and walk on (I fear this would lead to assault charges nowadays…), but if someone threatens to take you to court to get your watch, just hand it over and consider that you’ve got off lightly.

***

I’m about to post on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a very long time.  It is good to get it going again.  I’d like to post there more often, but I’m glad not to be writing a review of each story on transmission, as that becomes a bit of a conveyor belt of instant emotion (often shock and upset, at any rate if you’re a fan like me who tends towards the possessive of things he loves and pessimistic about change) that considered thought would challenge.  I don’t know if I’ll go through with the plan I had years ago of posting selected old blog posts and reviews of mine there, a plan that got disrupted when I started moving more urgently to completing my Doctor Who book and then to start work on my novel.

Not Understanding Myself

I had insomnia last night.  I realised just before going to bed that I’d forgotten to take my evening meds, which was doubtless why I was alert enough to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for two hours after dinner.  My meds aren’t sleeping tablets, but they do make me drowsy and I struggle to fall asleep without them.  I think I eventually fell asleep around 4.00am.  So it was even less of a surprise than usual that I woke exhausted and depressed again.

The weekly job email from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) comes out on Thursdays.  I found one job that’s potentially worth applying for, but that was all.  It’s easy to feel disheartened when there seem to be so few jobs that fit my skills, experiences and especially my needs for a safe, calm environment with few people and the ability to work only two or three days a week.

I emailed the therapist I used to see if I could see her again.  She says that she doesn’t think she can help me any more and that if I want more therapy I should look for a new therapist who might offer something new.  On one level, I can see that might be valid (I was with this therapist for something like eight years, which is a long time, particularly when there isn’t much of an improvement), but looking for a new therapist from scratch is scary, particularly given that the family finances are worse off than they were a few years ago, and the old therapist was probably charging less than a new one would charge.  The finance problem is partly because my father now only works part-time (my Mum has worked part-time for years), with the added complication that it looks like my Mum’s paid sick leave is going to be a lot less than we had hoped.

In the past in this situation I would have been very despairing.  That’s not how I feel, but that’s probably because I haven’t been in therapy for a year or so, so I know I’m coping on some level.  I do feel that it’s hard to unpick my emotions at the moment and understand them and that I would like to talk to a therapist, but I’m daunted by the thought of finding one, let alone one in the right and geographical area and price bracket.  At the moment I feel “depressed” and “anxious,” but am struggling to define and understand my emotions in more detail.  As someone who has become perhaps over-reliant on such therapeutic analysis, it is scary and difficult.  I know I’ve focused a lot on the forthcoming Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach and the stress and mental health triggers around them as a target for worry, but maybe this is another case where what I overtly worry about is a proxy for something more nebulous and undefined, in this case issues about coping as an adult without my parents and the whole concept that my parents will die one day and I will be left alone, which connects with other issues (my autism assessment and benefits troubles; my relationship with E.; my relationships with my other family members).

I struggled a bit at depression group because of that.  I didn’t feel I understand myself well enough at the moment to say much that was meaningful.  Perhaps because of that, I felt that people asked a lot of questions to prompt me and I ended up with my conversation drifting in the direction of the questions.  It’s a criticism of myself rather than anyone else, but not really even of myself.  I simply didn’t know what to say and as nature abhors a vacuum, people guided me to say something.  Maybe I should have just signalled that we could move on.

I worry that some of my responses made me seem uncaring and incompetent, although it was really my autism that was the issue.  People asked how my family are coping and I didn’t really know, because autism means I can’t intuit how people are feeling unless they tell me, and it also means I don’t necessary think to ask people how they are feeling, certainly beyond the “how is your day going?” level.  I did ask my Mum how she was most days when she was first diagnosed, but I fell out of the habit.  I was also asked where my Mum is going to be treated and I couldn’t remember because my autism means I don’t remember a lot of stuff that my brain doesn’t label as important, and it has a different system of ranking importance to most people.  It doesn’t rank the name of the hospital as important, because I’m not going to have to go there myself, let alone go there alone, and I don’t have a special interest in hospitals, so my brain is quite happy just knowing that Mum is going to The Hospital without caring about which hospital it is (actually, it’s several hospitals for several treatments – that much did travel into my brain).

It’s a shame, as I wanted to go to depression group, but I don’t think I really had anything to say about how I’m feeling and I felt tense from being around people a lot of the time.

Shiur (religious class) got cancelled so I didn’t have to tell anyone that I was missing it to go to depression group.  This happened last time I was going to miss shiur for depression group too.  E. wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t tell anyone.  I’m not superstitious like that, but I wonder if the maths is against it.  Of the people in the WhatsApp group, three know a little bit about my depression, one knows I have some illness but not what it is and three I don’t think know anything. There are another two people who go who aren’t on WhatsApp so won’t see it.  It’s possible that the small numbers involved make this not worth worrying about.

I can see that if a lot of people at shiur and shul (synagogue) knew about my issues and were understanding that could lead to a big improvement in my life and in my relationship and comfort level with the community.  However, if they were not understanding then the reverse could happen.  Two of the people who know do seem to worry if I’m not in shul or shiur when normally I would be, which may be because they’re aware of the issues.  Other people don’t say anything.  So far no one who knows has said anything negative.  It is a bit of a conundrum.

“I am not an entity, I am an individual!”

I managed to push through my usual depression and exhaustion on waking to do a few things.  I moved closer to publication with my self-published book.  It’s technically available through Lulu.com now, but I’m not publicising it until it’s available through retailers.  That won’t be until I approve the proof copy, which is in the process of being printed and sent to me from the US.  I had to fill in a form in relation to taxes on my profits (ha ha), to certify that I’m not a US taxpayer.  I was pleased that I am classified as an “individual” and not an “entity,” hence the Prisoner-esque post title.

I managed to do a lot of work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week too.  I did some work on it in the afternoon and then I ended up staying up late working on it after dinner, for nearly two hours straight.  I didn’t intend to do so much, but I ended up hyperfocusing and suddenly it was two hours later.  It’s interesting that I can get the energy and concentration for that when I can’t for job hunting.  It makes me wonder if I’m looking for work in the right places, although I have no intention of becoming a rabbi.

In fact, I applied for no jobs at all today because I did not have the time or energy during the day.  I would not have stayed up until midnight doing job applications after dinner as I did working on my devar Torah, which makes me feel somewhat guilty.  Admittedly the reason I stayed up late was partly because I have a lot of shopping to do in the day tomorrow and then I’m probably going to depression group in the evening, so I needed to get the devar Torah done today rather than tomorrow.  I probably would not have stayed up so late otherwise, although it is true that when I’m depressed I become nocturnal, because my mood is so much better in the afternoon and evening than the morning.  It does show where my mind is, which, sadly, is in the autistic zone where I can hyperfocus on my interests and get bored of dull things like earning a living.

I did do some other things.  I went to my shul (synagogue) for the first time on a weekday in ages.  It was so long since I had been to the weekday premises that I had forgotten the door code, although that was partly because I have been davening (praying) at other shuls for various reasons, so it wasn’t as bad as it appeared.  I walked to and from shul too, so that was two twenty minute walks, good given that I’ve done no exercise all week.

As I said, tomorrow I may well go to depression group, despite the consequent late night, as I feel I need to talk.  I also emailed my therapist today to see if I could have some sessions in the near future.  I am trying to summon the courage to message the shiur (religious class) What’sApp group tomorrow and say that I’m missing shiur specifically “to go to my depression support group” rather than just saying I can’t make it without giving a reason as I have always done in the past.  To be honest, I feel scared that it’s just a weird thing to say beyond any mental health stigma (this is Britain where we don’t talk about emotions, and shiur is an all-male environment).  So, we shall see.

Mum had another test today and a pre-meeting about chemotherapy, which starts next week.

***

Today was the start of the Jewish month of Adar, the month of joy.  The Talmud says that when Adar starts, we increase in joy, at the coming festival of Purim in the middle of the month, which celebrates the Jews escaping genocide in the time of Queen Esther, and in anticipation of the further joy of the month afterwards, Nissan, the month of the redemption from Egypt and according to tradition the month when the Messiah will come (unless he comes at a different time…  It’s complicated).  In the past I’ve written negative things about the difficulty of feeling depressed at this time of year and the truth is I did feel quite depressed, exhausted and anxious today, not least with Mum’s pre-chemo meeting, but, in a manner of speaking, I’m exhausted and depressed about feeling exhausted and depressed and just want to get on with other stuff, so I’m just trying to get on with things.

Unglamorous Success

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a success, in an unglamorous sort of way.  I went to shul (synagogue) last night as usual and forced myself to shake hands with the rabbi afterwards as I think I chickened out of doing it last week.  I walked back with an elderly gentleman who lives further down our road.  I’ve walked home with him before, but neither of us is really into small talk, so the walk is rather quiet.  In the past that made me feel self-conscious and awkward, but last night I seemed to be OK with it, which seemed to be a social anxiety victory.

Dinner conversation was largely about my Mum’s illness and treatment.  I was OK, up until the point when I wasn’t and started feeling sad and anxious.  I’m not sure how much was worry about her per se and how much about how stressful the next few weeks, and the upcoming festivals of Purim and Pesach, are going to be and the fear that they will trigger depression and religious OCD.

I overslept in the morning again, but I’ve given up trying to go to shul in the mornings at the moment.  I was annoyed to doze for an hour after lunch, though, as it might stop me sleeping this evening.

I went to shul this afternoon for services and Talmud shiur (religious class) even though I felt a bit depressed and anxious.  I’ve felt a bit more comfortable and accepted at shul the last week or two, especially as I’m following Talmud shiur better (I prepare beforehand and revise afterwards) and as I’ve led services a couple of times.

I am wondering if I should speak to the new rabbi about some of my issues, at shul and in general.  My main reason is because Pesach might prompt religious OCD, in which case it would be good to have someone locally who can determine if a problem is real or in my head, as my rabbi mentor tends not to pick up his emails on Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the festival) and obviously will be out of contact on Yom Tov itself.  I don’t know if the new rabbi has much mental health experience, although it was something that people raised when the community was looking for a rabbi.  If I am going to speak to him, it would be good to do so in advance rather than in the rush immediately before Pesach.

I spent an hour and a quarter tonight working on my non-fiction Doctor Who book’s jacket.  I think I’ve got the hang of the cover designer on Lulu.com, although I still find it awkward in pages.  I’m not sure if that’s my ignorance or genuine design flaws.  I find my back cover blurb lacks punch and my biography seems perfunctory (I grew up reading The New Adventures series of Doctor Who spin-off novels where the authors often seemed in a competition to come up with most bizarre and comic biographies).  I’ve sent it to my sister (who works in marketing) and I might send it to E.  I feel slightly sick just using marketing hyperbole, like describing my book as “essential” when it’s clearly not literally essential in the way that water and food are essential.  I don’t have much of an eye for graphic design either and I’m limited by copyright law in terms of the images I could use (I decided not to use any).

I have a busy day tomorrow: a family get together at lunch time and a lecture by Rabbi Joshua Berman on historical accuracy in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) in the evening which I’m looking forward to.  So I should probably have something to eat and go to bed, given that it’s already 10.00pm.

The Voice of Conscience

I’ve been thinking about my attitude to self-care.  I struggle to think that self-care is OK for me.  I feel reluctant to be lenient on myself as I feel like I don’t do enough as it is, whether in comparison to others or comparison to my own standards.  However, I do have a lot of “issues” that most people don’t have, with major impacts on my own life experiences, such as work, friendships, relationships and community.  I’m slowly coming round to the idea that I can’t always expect the same as other people from myself or even what I used to expect from myself before I was depressed (which is such a long time ago that I hardly ever compare myself to how I was then).  Nevertheless, I do feel that that kind of attitude is a slippery slope to becoming a bad person, that I should do more for my parents (even before my Mum’s cancer), that I could get a job that I could do if I tried hard enough and so on.  It is hard to find the balance.

Yesterday Ashley Leia commented to the extent that I’m confusing my conscience with my inner critic.  If I understood her correctly, she felt that I could silence the inner critic without abandoning my conscience.  This made me pause as I’d never thought of it in those terms before.  On reflection, I do feel that I tend to rely on my inner critic for judgment about my life as much as my conscience.  The voice of my conscience possibly seems very weak and faint, which seems a bizarre thing to say for someone who takes his ethical life very seriously and thinks about it a lot, but I think I do rely on the inner critic, or on the heteronomous (externally imposed) voice of halakhah (Jewish law) rather than my morally autonomous sense of conscience.  Usually when I’m conflicted about what the moral thing to do is in a situation, I decide I should do very easily, but I worry about conflict with other people (usually family members or community members) who want me to do something else.  Perhaps I’m not analysing myself correctly, but it’s rare that I’m faced with two different outcomes and have to decide at length which is more moral or religiously acceptable.

My morality must seem very black and white to outsiders, which perhaps is quite normal for someone on the autistic spectrum, but it does not fit with the fact that I try to be non-judgemental and to see multiple sides of moral dilemmas, even when halakhah gives an unambiguous answer.  So, Judaism is fairly (although not absolutely) anti-abortion, yet I have a good friend who has had two abortions, and that does not affect how I relate to her.  I don’t know how I can see moral complexity in the abstract and be very forgiving of other people, yet be very regimented and strict on myself.

I guess with my depression in particular I struggle to make allowances for myself given that it’s been going on so long.  For example, I feel that, after over seventeen years, I ought to be better at mornings than I am (generally I sleep through most of them unless there’s something I absolutely must be up for).  Also as I do not have a clear high functioning autism diagnosis, so I feel that I shouldn’t play the autism card (so to speak) too much, even though it clearly explains a lot about me.

***

I did eventually get out and do various chores: collected a repeat prescription, bought an anniversary card for my uncle and aunt and went to the library and got my library card.  The library seems quite nice, not a huge selection of novels that interested me, but a lot of graphic novels, which is good as I like reading graphic novels, but they’re hugely expensive, even second-hand, and feel like a bit of a waste of money unless you’re going to re-read them a lot as they can be read in a couple of hours.  I borrowed V for Vendetta, which I’d been meaning to read for ages, but don’t think I’m going to enjoy enough to buy.

The chores took longer than expected and I didn’t get much else done, just a little work on my bibliography and restarting my spreadsheet of jobs I could apply for (nothing particularly interesting or relevant at the moment and I’m definitely struggling to find part-time work as opposed to full-time).

***

The shiur (religious class) today was on honouring parents.  It just reminded me how lacking I am in this area and that I need to work on it.  The next year is pretty much going to force me to work on it.  I suppose, trying to observe my thoughts and feelings this evening, that this is an area where conscience and self-criticism are intertwined and hard to distinguish.

I ate a lot of junk at shiur again.  I think some of it is that I tend to need fidget when I’m listening to someone.  It’s an autistic stimming thing.  I think I eat at shiur to give me something to do with my hands and perhaps also to distract myself from my self-consciousness in front of other people.  Likewise, when I read or watch TV at home, I tend to eat.  If I’m reading for work, as I often have to do when cataloguing, I fidget with a pen or pencil.  That’s also part of the reason why I eat more junk on Shabbat (the Sabbath) – because I’m reading a lot, but limited in what I can touch and play with.

***

Another scary thing: I think I’ve mentioned that since the annual Torah reading cycle restarted a few months ago, I have been writing a devar Torah (Torah thought) each week for my parents and I’ve been emailing it to my sister and E.  I’ve been struggling for a while with wanting to send it to some other friends from shul, but not feeling confident to do so.  It’s fear of rejection if they don’t want to read it, but also fear that they will object if I quote a non-traditional source (which I guess is another kind of rejection).  Perhaps there is also a fear of success, which tends to haunt me when things are going right: the feeling that I don’t deserve to succeed and that I will be punished.  I discussed it with my rabbi mentor who said I should go for it (and asked if I could add him to the list too).  So, I just messaged two shul friends to see if they’re interested in being added to the mailing list and so far one has said yes.  It’s scary, but exciting.

More Shoulds

Mum had a blood test today and has more tests next week.  I suppose this is the beginning of six months or so of stress and disruption for all of us, but especially her.  My parents have funerals to go to tomorrow and on Sunday.  The one tomorrow is for someone from our old shul (synagogue) who was in his eighties so it’s sad, but not tragic.  The Sunday one is for the sister of a friend of theirs, from cancer, which is probably going to be very emotionally-charged for them, as she must have been about the same age as Mum.

As for me, my main achievements today were to have a haircut, which I hate, but I didn’t shake much at all.  I had two twenty-five minute walks there and back again, which were surprisingly tiring, but I suppose the exercise was good for me.  I also managed to unlock the microwave after the cleaner accidentally set the child-proof lock (ovens and microwaves have child-proof locks now?  Obviously it’s only by luck that I escaped childhood physically unscathed) and found instructions to delete the last page number, and only the last page number, from my non-fiction Doctor Who book (Ashley Leia: it was almost what you suggested, but there was an extra step needed on Word).

I fiddled around a bit more with the formatting of the Doctor Who book and decided that I really do need to write the reference list, even if most of the readers (both of them) don’t read it.  I currently have about 100 references to write up.  Some are more or less written, but for others I just have an article name and maybe an issue number and will have to pull specific copies of Doctor Who Magazine out of the five piles on my shelves containing a total of over 300 back issues of that esteemed periodical.  I’m pretty bad at constructing Harvard references without looking the format up each time too (I am a bad librarian), so that will take a while.  I still hope to finish this phase in a few weeks and get on to uploading my completed book to Lulu.com.  I really want to get the book on sale by the start of spring.

In the meantime, I need to ensure my novel is not totally neglected, as I stopped in the middle of a chapter.  I wanted to do a bit of work on that this evening, but by the time I had finished what I wanted to do to my Doctor Who book and written to the benefactor of the library where I was working last month to ask if there is any news regarding extending my contract there, it was too late and I was too tired.  Maybe I will be able to find some time tomorrow before Shabbat (the Sabbath), but I’m not sure I will have the time or the energy.  Shabbat comes in earlier now we are over a month from the winter solstice, but it is still very early (we anthropomorphise Shabbat and talk about it (or her, the Shabbat Queen, if you’re very kabbalistic) “coming in” and “going out” rather than “starting” and “finishing”).

I went to my Dad’s shul (synagogue) for Ma’ariv (Evening Service) and then on to shiur (religious class) afterwards.  Shiur was difficult this evening.  I ate far too much junk food.  I don’t know why I lose control there so much lately.  There’s usually a lot out and everyone else there eats a lot too, which makes it harder to resist.  I felt a bit depressed.  Then about halfway through, there was a knock at the door.  I wasn’t sure whether I should go and see if it was someone for the shiur (although we weren’t expecting anyone else) as it would interrupt the shiur.  Usually the rabbi’s wife or children would answer so we wouldn’t have to disrupt the shiur.  After a minute or two, the rabbi told me to go and see who it was as I was nearest the door, so I called that one wrong.  He said if it isn’t anyone for shiur, I should just say there’s no one in.  I got to the door.  It was a boy of about twelve.  I realised I didn’t have a clue what to say, exactly.  I don’t know if this is autism or social anxiety, but I just could not think of anything to say.  I mumbled something about no one being in.  I thought he might be collecting tzedaka (charity), as it’s quite common in frum (religious Jewish) areas like this for older children to go out collecting for different charities or or looking for sponsorship for fund-raising activities.  I got into a panic, because I wasn’t sure if I should tell him to come back later so the rabbi could give him something or what.  I had forgotten that I had my wallet with me and could have given him something (even though as a rule I don’t give at the door, for various reasons, but many frum people will give something to all Jewish tzedaka collectors, even if it’s only a pound or two).  So I came back feeling even more depressed, anxious and self-critical and failed to really concentrate on the rest of the shiur which made the whole thing seem rather pointless.

Which brings me to “Shoulds.”  I had a lot of Shoulds at shiur this evening: what I Should eat, what I Should say, what I Should do.  I’m wondering how to deal with all the Shoulds in my life.  A lot of them seem really important.  For instance, today I’m beating myself up over not doing enough to help at home, and how that will have to change now that Mum is ill.  In other cases, stronger Shoulds could be a good thing, like if I could break my habit of looking at Twitter when procrastinating because it just angers or upsets me sooner or later and doesn’t help with my job search at all.  (I would like to engage with the lighter element of the Doctor Who fan community on Twitter, but I’m aware that a lot of it is stridently political and there isn’t much of a way to separate wheat from chaff.  I block Twitter from my browser, but then I turn it off and look anyway.  Of course, it’s a huge time-waster too and I don’t think I really want to get sucked any further into it.)

One of my friends at shiur asked me if I’m doing Daf Yomi, the daily study of one page (two sides) of Talmud to cover the whole thing in seven and a half years, which has just started a new cycle.  I said I’m not, as I didn’t think I could commit to it, which is true, but I felt vaguely guilty, probably because part of me already thinks I Should be doing it.  It’s an example of “mission creep” in the Orthodox community: something that was once the preserve of an intellectual elite (Talmud study) becomes the norm for most adult men, then one particular way of fulfilling that norm (Daf Yomi) increasingly becomes standard.   Daf Yomi as an idea is only about 100 years old.  Traditionally few Jewish men studied Talmud or went to yeshiva (rabbinical college), and the yeshivot focused (and I think largely still focus) on a small number of masechtot (volumes of Talmud), traditionally I think the volumes on marriage law and tort and criminal law, because these are the most complex and therefore the ones that “sharpen the mind” the most.  Studying the whole Talmud wasn’t really seen as an imperative for most people.

It’s hard to pick out the real Shoulds from the unnecessary ones in a community where there are a lot of Shoulds flying about and they are all seen as equally necessary.  Maybe I could talk to my rabbi mentor about it, but I’m worried that if I ask him something like this his counsellor training will kick in and he will try to get me to work out for myself what I should be doing.  As I see it, there are the absolutely non-negotiable Shoulds, like keeping Shabbat and kashrut; there are the ones I can try to do, but shouldn’t beat myself up if I don’t succeed, like daily davening, Torah study and trying not to lose my temper with my parents; and there are the ones that really I don’t need to think about at all at the moment, like Daf Yomi.  But it’s hard to tell what’s what.  I tell myself that a lot of stuff goes in the “try, but don’t worry” pile, but when I don’t succeed, I feel like it was really in the non-negotiable pile after all and feel guilty.  It’s hard to know what to do about that.

Hello, I Must Be Going

After the dream I recounted in my last post, I fell asleep again and slept through the morning, which was sad, but probably inevitable as I had only had about four and a half hours sleep at that point, having stayed up late last night blogging and watching Fawlty Towers to relax as otherwise I felt I would struggle to sleep.  I watched The Waldorf Salad episode, and vaguely want someone to make a GIF of the bit where Basil Fawlty starts shouting “This is exactly how Nazi Germany started!” at hotel guests who have the temerity to complain about substandard service, and then use it when people on Twitter are throwing “Nazi” accusations around at people who clearly aren’t Nazis (you can see the clip here).

I felt better on waking than I did yesterday, although it was still a bit of a struggle to get myself to go out for a jog and my pace and stamina were pretty bad when I did go.  I procrastinated during the afternoon, although I did spend half an hour or so writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study.  I didn’t do much work on my novel, or anything else, because a big thing happened that I can’t talk about here, which disrupted things.   I guess it’s OK to accept that that is going to happen sometimes.

***

There are so many things in my head at the moment and I can’t write them down here: because they concern other people; because I don’t understand them enough to find the words; or because I get overwhelmed with other stuff, with day to day anxieties and despair (if there is such a thing as “day to day despair”).  In the last category comes thoughts about things like politics or the Jewish community, things I write about a bit where they intersect clearly with my emotions, but not on a deeper level about why these things are so upsetting to me.  I’d like to write about them, but I guess most of my “excess” writing energy (more than what I use for blogging “day to day despair”) goes on my novel and my weekly devar Torah rather than on these potentially more thoughtful pieces.  It would be nice to step back and look at the bigger picture here, to explain why I want to fit into the Orthodox Jewish community yet find it so hard, or why so much political comment these days upsets me.

Yet for the moment I look set to be overwhelmed with the “can’t blog because it concerns other people” type of feeling… a lot of stuff happened today and I haven’t processed it yet, and I usually would write here to process, but I can’t.  Ugh, I feel I’m becoming incoherent (I’m very tired, about to go to bed).

***

A reason to be very, very careful about what I write about other people is that I feel bad about some stuff I’ve written here before, stuff I shouldn’t have said and deleted almost immediately after posting, but anyone who is subscribed to this on email rather than blog reader would have seen the original version.  Mostly I try to be good about not saying stuff that’s personal or identifiable, but sometimes, particularly when I’m very depressed or angry, things can slip out.  There isn’t any thing that can be done about this and it worries me.  There’s a story about someone who gossiped about a famous rabbi, then felt guilty and told the rabbi what he’d done and asked what he could do to make amends.  The rabbi told him to cut a pillow open outdoors and let the wind scatter the feathers.  He did this and asked the rabbi what to do next, only to be told to gather the feathers, spreading gossip being like scattering feathers because you can’t undo the damage.  I feel bad about that.

***

I’ve been feeling morbid today.  Thinking about death, and the death of people close to me.  There is no answer to this, death is the only certainty we face.  The best we can do is try to live in the present and appreciate the people around us while we can, which I have been trying to do today.  It is hard though.

***

On a happier note, I watched the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers with my Dad.  I’ve seen it many times before, but it was still funny.  It’s strange: it’s a profoundly dated film in terms of plot, character, direction, acting, design… and yet Groucho Marx seems very modern in both character and performance (I wonder how they got away with some of the jokes in 1930).  I suppose it shows how much modern comedy is still indebted to Groucho’s style ninety years on.  Harpo is sometimes modern, when not being awkwardly #metoo and chasing women around, Chico is occasionally modern, Zeppo not modern at all, but Groucho is modern, not all of the time, but a lot of it.

***

A big thing that I’d be interested to hear people’s opinion on before I make the decision: if I go to depression group tomorrow (Thursday), I will have to miss shiur (religious class).  I could message the shiur What’sApp group with a vague message that I’m busy or I could send them a message that “casually” mentions that I’m busy “at my depression support group.”  I’m wondering what sort of response the latter would get and whether it could be interpreted as melodramatic/attention-seeking.  The shiur rabbi and two people in the group know that I suffer from depression, but the others don’t, although I have vaguely mentioned health issues to one of them.

“When you open your heart/You can make a new start/When your crumbling world falls apart”

I’m stuck in post work exhaustion again.  I went to bed about 12.30am, which is reasonably good for me on a night when I don’t have work the next day, particularly as I was watching a long film which I kept pausing (I think because I was feeling overloaded, although I’m not entirely sure why beyond what I said yesterday about fast cutting in films and TV).  But I slept for twelve hours and woke up exhausted.  It was an effort to get up and eat some cereal and drink coffee.  The food and caffeine did eventually help a bit, but only up to a point.

I went back to bed after breakfast for a bit, from depression as much as exhaustion.  I thought about E.  I don’t get lonely any more, I just miss E.  I guess that’s telling.  I do worry we will never get our lives sorted out enough to be together, and I feel bad about that, because it’s much more my life that’s in a mess than hers.  I still worry that I’m not feeling the “right” emotions or “strong enough” emotions for her.  I am probably over-analysing again.  E. suggested today that we have some advantages in having got to know each other well as friends without trying to impress each other, which is true, and I think we have learnt that we have compatible personalities and core values.  It’s just that the practical aspects of our lives are so hard to align.  I’m not in a fit state to be dating.

I gave up on the idea of jogging again today.  I just had too much to do and too little energy, plus by late afternoon I started to develop a headache.  Likewise, I haven’t got any further with looking into self-publishing my non-fiction book.  I spent some time writing two work emails regarding setting up an online catalogue for the library.  I struggled to write the more technical one as I realised my ignorance in the technical side of library management systems and online catalogues, as well as my ignorance generally regarding the inner technological workings of the internet.  I’m reasonably confident that the IT person I emailed isn’t the person of the same name who bullied me at school as I found his LinkedIn page and the dates don’t quite fit (he must be a year or two older than me), which is something of a relief.

I forced myself to go to shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class) even though I was feeling depressed and withdrawn and my headache had not gone when I left, although the pain killer I had taken soon kicked in.  In the event, the shiur dealt with the same question I had looked at for my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, albeit taking it in a very different direction.  I found the focus on kabbalah (mysticism) confusing and I didn’t agree with some of the kabbalistic assumptions on which it was based.  I also ate a huge amount of junk food there.  I got into one of my comfort eating moods and just ate and ate.  I wish I’d had better self-control.  I find in places like shiur where there’s a huge amount of junk food and everyone is sitting around eating, it’s very hard to eat nothing at all, but surprisingly it’s even harder to eat just a little.  Total abstinence is easier than eating a little and when I reached for my first biscuit, thinking that would be the only one, I had already lost the battle.  Still, I did go there; at one point even that seemed unlikely.

I tried to work on my novel when I got home.  I was easily distracted and eventually became too tired to continue, but I did nearly an hour (including distractions) and wrote about 450 words, close to my target of 500.  I’m going to go to bed soon, although I want to finish the episode of Star Trek Voyager I was watching before, one of the irritating episodes where they meet some aliens with a religious belief and patronise them because the writers think that religion is silly and backwards, but can’t say so overtly.

No Man Is an Island

… and that goes double for members of traditional communities, who find themselves with strong communal obligations, but not necessarily communal support.  To put it another way, I had a good Shabbat (Sabbath) on a personal level, but a not so good one on a communal level.

On the plus side, I did a chunk of Torah study and mostly followed the Talmud shiur (class) this week.  I had mild insomnia again, but I read quite a bit of the novel I’ve just started, Penguin Lost, the sequel to the novel Death and the Penguin, about a Ukrainian obituary writer and his pet penguin who get involved with the Russian Mafia.  I read the first book in the worst period of my life, the winter of 2003-04, when I was in Oxford, depressed, suicidal, feeling desperately lonely and unable to work, but my tutors wanted me to stick around to see if my antidepressants could kick in at some point (they didn’t).  I’m not sure why I decided to read it then, as it has comedic elements, but is dark.  The sequel came out fairly soon afterwards, but I didn’t get it, although I enjoyed the first book, as I didn’t feel like re-reading the first one in preparation.  I eventually decided that Death and the Penguin lingers in my memory much more strongly than books I’ve read far more recently, so I might as well just get the sequel and read it.  So far it’s good, but not as good as the first one, although I might be mis-remembering after sixteen years.

The other good things were not freaking out with religious OCD when someone did something that I would not have done, but which my rabbi mentor tells me is OK; and not being jealous of the person my age at shul (synagogue) whose eldest son was bar mitzvah.  I think I can see other people’s lives as just so ridiculously different to mine that there is no point even getting upset over the differences any more.  While it’s still possible that I’ll work full-time, get married and have kids some day, it’s clearly not happening any time soon.

On the downside…

As I mentioned, there was a bar mitzvah in shul over Shabbat so there were a lot of extra people on Friday night and I couldn’t sit in my regular seat or anywhere near it.  This is the type of thing that I used to think didn’t worry me in an autistic way, but I now realise actually does throw me, particularly if there are knock-on social anxiety implications.  In this case, I was sitting next to someone I didn’t know so well and was worried about who I would have to shake hands with and wish gut Shabbos to after the service.  After Lecha Dodi, there was circle dancing again and this time I left the room because I just couldn’t face it… and one of the bar mitzvah guests followed me out!  On one level, I was kind of glad that I was not the only person who couldn’t cope with the dancing, but I also worried that he would initiate conversation, particularly about why I wasn’t dancing, so I spent several minutes moving around the rest of the shul trying to avoid him, which probably seemed rude or just weird.  I did manage to shake hands with the rabbi and father of the bar mitzvah boy after the service and wished the latter mazal tov, which for a while looked far too difficult for me to manage.

Then on the way out the person with some authority in the shul who has criticised me for not going to Shacharit (Morning Service) on Shabbat and made light of my saying that I have health issues asked if I was going to come the next day as he would call me to say the brachot (blessings) over the Torah.  I muttered something noncommittal, but I’m sure it made me feel super-anxious on Shabbat morning and unable to get up despite waking up early for once.

When I went to shul for Mincha (Afternoon Service) this afternoon, no one was willing/able to lead the service.  I wanted to volunteer as I used to do it in my old shul, but I was too shy.  It was partly social anxiety, partly fear of shaking and partly the fact that there’s a big paragraph of Aramaic in Mincha in this shul that we didn’t say in my old shul and which I read really slowly because I don’t understand Aramaic and I was worried about delaying everyone.  I felt bad, because, as with the divrei Torah (Torah essays) that I write, but am too scared to share with my community, it feels like a waste of whatever talents God has given me, but I’m just too scared of messing everything up and/or getting rejected by people.  I don’t know if they would even believe I can lead Shabbat Mincha if I volunteered, so little have I shown myself able to do things in this shul.

Then, after Mincha, when we were sitting around waiting for the Talmud shiur to start, someone asked why I led weekday Mincha the other week when I visibly did not look like I wanted to do it.  I didn’t realise it was so obvious.  I don’t know if he actually saw me shaking, but it will make me feel more self-conscious about it next time.  The dislike is more because of the shaking than anything else.  If I could get rid of that, I would feel a lot better about leading services, although I doubt I would actively volunteer for them (not least because that always seems arrogant and wrong to me).  Unfortunately, the shaking is caused by my taking olanzapine.  Various psychiatrists have tried to cut out the olanzapine, because it’s difficult to see what it’s doing for me when I’m also on clomipramine and lithium, but every time we try, my mood plummets dangerously and I have to come back on it.  So I guess I won’t be comfortable leading services for some time yet.

I wish I was good at something religiously in a way that I could use to fit in to my shul community.  If I could daven from the amud (lead services), write divrei Torah that I felt comfortable sharing, participate in the Talmud shiur more actively (ask and answer questions) or even just get to more services (like Shabbat mornings) so that I was a very regular shul-goer, particularly on weekdays when they struggle for a minyan (prayer quorum) it would be a start.  It’s things like that that help someone get accepted in a new community.  I feel I don’t have anything to buy my way in with (so to speak).

Oh, and someone told the story about when the rabbi of the Thursday shiur bet a £50 gift to tzedaka (charity) that no one would know the answer to his question and I answered it correctly.  I almost wish I hadn’t answered, so much has that question followed me around for the last few years.  So, on the whole a mixed Shabbat.

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday evening) has been a bit better.  I came back to see that an issue that has been ticking away in the background for a week and a half is still ticking away and I don’t know where it’s going or what I can do about it.  It’s worrying.  I did at least work for forty-five minutes or so on my novel, procrastinating a bit at the beginning, but being quite productive once I got down to it and writing 600 words (613 to be exact, a number loaded with Jewish significance).  I then watched Quantum of Solace, which apparently has a reputation for being one of the worst James Bond films.  I think it lived up to its reputation.  I am vaguely nostalgic for it, though, as I saw it in the cinema (one of only three Bond films I’ve seen in the cinema) with a group of people from a Jewish mental health support group.  I even squeezed in a Skype call with E., so the evening was better than the day.