Out of Spoons Error

I volunteered again today. I tried very hard not to feel stupid and useless. It’s probably not the best environment for someone on the autism spectrum, bearing in mind there are lots of people, we get verbal instructions (sometimes implicit ones) and need to use short-term memory and logical planning… It’s probably not surprising that I’m not always at my best. To be honest, the times I’ve felt most helpful have been when I’ve been given one repetitive job to do by myself for a prolonged period. I don’t mind if it’s incredibly boring, I just get into a pattern and think my own thoughts while mechanically putting tea lights in bags or whatever. I spoke a bit about this in therapy today and am now wondering if I should email in advance to volunteer for those kinds of jobs. It’s a bit scary to volunteer like that, even if I don’t say why that pattern of work suits me.

I also had a bad experience early on. I was supposed to bring some large cardboard boxes full of packets of granola down the outside fire escape staircase and into the car park. I was a bit worried about tripping down the stairs so I was going slowly to start with, but then I started feeling really faint and struggling to breathe in my mask and had to stop. I think it was primarily a blood pressure thing (my blood pressure used to be a little low), having to bend down to pick up these boxes. Wearing my mask definitely did not help, though, and I felt very faint and had to sit down outside without my mask for a few minutes to recover.

On the plus side, I do find volunteering rewarding and I think I do help. I certainly hope I don’t just get in the way. And someone I was at Oxford with who now works for the organisation that prepares the food packages was there today and I didn’t cycle down into self-criticism about not being where he is in life.

In the afternoon I wrote my devar Torah rather hurriedly. I hope it’s OK. I need to proof-read and send tomorrow. It’s frustrating not finishing things, but I didn’t want to write it all tomorrow. I tried to buy a wedding present for my closest shul (synagogue) friend’s daughter, but had problems getting it to deliver to their house rather than mine, so left that hanging over me too. Mum phoned John Lewis for me to find out what was happening; I did not have the spoons (energy). Again, I didn’t have envious thoughts of married people, which was positive.

I had a good therapy session this afternoon, but by early evening I was a bit grumpy and overwhelmed. I snapped at my Dad, which I shouldn’t have done, although I felt my point was justified if not my tone. I was buying my sister and brother-in-law an anniversary card online; Dad said I could change the font and colour and I said I was far too tired to care about that this time. It’s a question of spoons.

***

I am still feeling overwhelmed generally. I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet to going back to work, even if it is only two days a week. I suddenly have less time for writing, chores, religious obligations, exercise… I’m trying to do as much as I was doing, plus two days of work. It doesn’t really work. I did at least do some Torah study on the bus to volunteering.

***

Guilty pleasure time. I had intended to watch Blade Runner again this evening, in advance of watching Blade Runner 2049 in a week or two. But I was too exhausted and brain-not-working for something like that, so I ended up watching the James Bond film Moonraker again. Any James Bond film is a guilty pleasure for me, as I feel it’s not something a frum person “should” be watching (“should” again). But even among James Bond fans, Moonraker is considered awful. I don’t think it’s the worst Bond film by a long shot, although it probably is the silliest, not that I think that any Bond film is particularly ‘realistic.’

I could probably fill a paragraph or two on why I think Moonraker is actually a decent film, at least if you can accept a degree of silliness, but will just note Michael Lonsdale (who died recently) whose performance as villain Hugo Drax is arguably better than this film really deserved. There is definitely in my head a fruitful comparison of late seventies Bond to late seventies Doctor Who, both franchises indulging in greater humour to public acclaim, but receiving criticism from die-hard fans who complained that it was better in the sixties when it was “serious.” But I should probably not go too far down that route here, and not this late at night.

ANXIOUS!!! Scrupulous?

In the last few days I’ve been feeling confident in some ways, not in others.  I feel curiously confident about my ability to write – I don’t think I’m a great author and I’ve definitely got a lot to learn, but I feel I could write.  However, I don’t feel confident about my ability to get published, in terms of producing what publishers want as well as persevering through rejection and learning the technical procedures for laying out submissions and so on.

I’ve found a job to apply for that might be good for me.  It’s slightly unusual.  The job description was not detailed, but it involves working to improve search engines by rating keywords and search terms.  From the company site, I think it is really about training AI algorithms, although I won’t be doing the technical stuff, just collecting data.  The attraction is (a) although not intended for a librarian/information manager, my information management skills may be useful, (b) I can work from home, (c) I have flexible hours, maximum 20 hours a week.  So this would be in a non-stressful environment (home), allowing me to work, say, 10am-6pm each day, three days a week with two days for writing!  It is a freelance, contract position, so no job security, but you can say that about most jobs nowadays (even before COVID).  I spent nearly two hours applying (one of those annoying cases where they want a CV plus an online application form that just paraphrases your CV).

***

Eliza recommended Shabbat.com as a dating site, which I had not heard of (I’d possibly heard of it as a site to find a Shabbat host, but not as a dating site).  I signed up and created a profile.  Unlike JDate, it’s free.  There were a lot of Anglo-Jewish women on there (including the daughter of friends of my parents who lives down the road and who my Dad has been trying to set me up with for years, but I’ve never seen the slightest sign that she’s interested in me), but I just got overwhelmed and shut it down.  Sigh.  Maybe I don’t have the stamina for online dating, to contact so many people to try to find The One.  It’s an effort for me to open up to anyone.  I suppose it does reassure me that there are women out there, if only I could work out how to meet them.  Someone has to like me, right?  (No, they don’t, says my inner critic.)

I couldn’t cancel my JDate subscription (the three day grace period turned out to be only in parts of America) so am committed for three months and might as well use them.  Losing £90 is a pain, but it’s only money, and money isn’t a huge problem for me right now (I have no job, but I also have no life beyond buying occasional books and DVDs, mostly second-hand and cheap; my parents aren’t charging me rent).  I’m trying to focus on trusting God that everything is for the best, even if nothing works out and it all just turns out to be expensive social anxiety exposure therapy.

That was my thought in the early afternoon, when I realised I couldn’t cancel.  Since then, four people sent me a “flirt” on JDate, which as far as I can tell is a way of signifying interest in someone’s photo and profile without saying anything substantive in case they don’t reciprocate.  You just get a message saying “Person X sent you a flirt” and you can decide whether to respond with a more substantial message or not.  Two of the flirters didn’t have information or photos on their profiles beyond living in the US, so I put them to one side for now.  Both looked slightly suspicious (beyond the lack of data) in apparently being willing to date anyone from 35 to 75, which seemed an suspiciously large age range.

As for the women who looked more legitimate, one is Modern Orthodox, but living in the States – which is not impossible given my experience with E.  The other is from someone whose profile says she’s “culturally Jewish,” but when I responded to her flirt with a short message introducing myself, she sent me a longer message which seems very religious.  It is true that some people really don’t like labels and particularly “Orthodox” (which admittedly is kind of a dour and unattractive thing to call yourself: “Right-thinking”).  I’m going to respond to her before going to bed, and to the American woman tomorrow – I don’t think I have the stamina to reply to both now (see below for why).

I guess it’s nice to be thought attractive, given that these women “flirted” me based on a photo and a short profile.  Still, the thought of actually messaging them, or anyone else on either site, makes me feel anxious.  When I’m single and lonely, I just feel how nice it would be to be in a relationship with someone I like and trust.  I forget that to build a relationship of love and trust, I have to start by talking to a lot of women I don’t know and am scared of, and face a lot of rejection.  At the moment, I want to cower under the table until my bashert (soul-mate) finds me.   Sadly, life doesn’t work like that.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased at getting a reaction, though, nor that both these women, but particularly the UK-based one, seem like the type of person I would be looking to meet.

***

I’ve been feeling very anxious today about both applying for the job and internet dating and I wonder if the latter at least is not more than just social anxiety.  ‘Pure O’ OCD (obsessions without compulsions) can sometimes be called “scrupulosity,” because sufferers are often obsessed with being morally perfect.  In the past I have had this with Jewish dietary laws (on the plus side: yesterday someone did something at home that would have sent me into a huge panic and sending emails to rabbis just a couple of years ago and I was fine with it, so I’ve made progress there at least).

While I’m not sure I have scrupulosity regarding dating in a strictly clinical sense sense, I do have a lot of worries about not wanting to mislead women, not wanting to waste their time dating them if I think it won’t work out and so on.  It adds to general social anxiety about dating and makes it hard to cope.  I can have it a bit (to a much lesser extent) with job applications, trying to be honest in my application about my skills and experience.  Whether because of autistic black-and-white thinking or scrupulosity (autistic people are disproportionately likely to suffer from OCD), I have always struggled with the idea that it’s OK to bend the truth a little on job applications, or that it’s OK to chat on dating sites with women up to a point without being sure that you want to go out with them.

Because of the tendency in frum circles to only date if ready to marry, I kind of feel I shouldn’t date without a firm career and good mental health, but if I pursue a career as a writer, I may never have real job security (if anyone does these days) and I don’t think my mental health is ever going to be perfect.

After I’d done all of this, I remembered an email from my rabbi mentor some time ago where he said I should just try to meet a lot of women to see what I want/need from a relationship.  That sounds weirdly unrabbinic advice, but I’m pretty sure it’s what he said (although I can’t find the email).

I did find the email where he said it’s OK to email two or more women at once, as long as I don’t do that once I move one relationship to the point where we’re actually dating.

***

Achievements: aside from job application, setting up a dating profile and messaging on JDate… thirty-five minutes of Torah study (I might try to do a little more) and a run.  So a pretty busy day.  The run led to another exercise migraine, sadly.  I only realised after the run, and after the headache had set in, that I hadn’t davened Minchah (said afternoon Prayers), so it was a struggle to do that by the deadline.  I pushed myself to start, then I stopped and had to go to the toilet because I was retching, came back and restarted, stopped and actually threw up… even then I wanted to finish the service until I realised how silly it seemed.  I suppose it shows how much I push myself to do what I feel I “should” do religiously without taking into account my health.

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.

Someone to Watch Over Me

I’m dealing with difficult feelings today.  I felt overwhelmed when I got up, although I feel calmer now.  Some of it was sitting waiting for the doctor to phone (see below), which is always anxiety-inducing – social anxiety as much as medical anxiety, plus now autistic “new situation” anxiety about socially isolated phone appointments (I’ve only had phone appointments before for follow up calls about mental health which didn’t need to be in person).

Dad phoned the doctor for me at 8.30am and got me a telephone appointment.  The line was quite bad, so I was struggling with the phone call even more than usual.  I was supposed to get a text beforehand allowing me to send a photo of the mole, but somehow I didn’t get it, although I got my Dad to take a photo.  The surgery is not really good at admin things like that.  The doctor said he couldn’t do much without a photo, but said that I could send one on the surgery website – I didn’t know that there is an online consultation feature now for minor illnesses, which is good.  I hope that stays after COVID, as it would be a useful way of getting around the problems booking an appointment.

The online consultation was difficult too.  There was a list of options, but there wasn’t an option for moles and the like.  I did eventually find a “My problem is not listed” option.  There are loads and loads of pages of questions to go through, but I did eventually get to an option to upload photos.

On the plus side, they answered within a couple of hours.  The doctor wants to send it to a dermatologist to be sure, but is pretty confident that it’s benign, which is definitely good.

***

I still feel confused some of the time about whether I made the right decision to break up with E.  I don’t want to explain why I broke up here, because that’s not fair on her, but my parents, who I did tell, thought it was the right decision, but still I worry.  Did I mess up my last chance at happiness?  I hope not.  I don’t think so, but sometimes it’s hard to be sure, particularly late at night, as happened last night.  It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that I continually make bad decisions (in general, not just regarding dating), which is not true, but it does feel that way sometimes.

***

I’m trying not to wallow in guilt right now.  We’re in the time of the Jewish calendar called The Three Weeks.  It’s a time of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, the exile of the Jewish people and many other tragedies of our history.  The last nine days are even more intense, leading up to Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, next Thursday.  In the Three Weeks, we don’t hold weddings or celebrations, shave or cut hair or listen to music.

One is not supposed to wear clean clothes in the last nine days, but it is permitted to “pre-wear” them for ten minutes or so before the nine days start.  I usually do this, but forgot this year, so I’ve been wearing clean shirts.  I feel bad about this.  Everything has just been so crazy this year.  I feel like I’m hardly observing the Three Weeks as I can’t fast the rabbinic fasts that bookend it on my medication and I have listened to music when feeling depressed, although not when feeling OK.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about this and other things and to accept that I’m fallible, but it doesn’t seem entirely right somehow.  I know my therapist said to focus on values rather than “shoulds.”  I am still trying to live in accordance with my values generally, even if I can’t keep these laws properly this year.  It doesn’t feel right, though.  I’m glad that I’m not shaving for the Three Weeks, even though my beard itches like crazy.  I’ll be glad to shave it off next Friday.

***

I managed some writing today, getting close to finishing another chapter.  There’s one important passage that I don’t think I’ve got right, but I’m not sure how to change it.  It’s hard to write something of a religious experience when I haven’t exactly had one myself.

***

I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode Someone to Watch Over Me.  I vaguely remembered watching this one on original UK transmission, but I didn’t remember much of the plot.  It’s basically a Pygmalion rip-off as the Doctor and Tom Paris bet whether the Doctor can educate Seven of Nine enough to get, and keep, a date in a few days, with the Doctor inadvertently falling in love with her while educating her in human interactions.  Seven is a human who was converted to a cyborg and then back to a human.  She is pretty emotionless and remorselessly logical and efficiency-focused.  She comes across as somewhat autistic in some ways, particularly in her inability to make small talk, to build friendships or to intuit the emotional needs of others.  I find her the most interesting character in the programme because of that (and not because of Jeri Ryan’s figure-hugging costume…).

At the start of this episode she’s unable to understand why B’Ellana Torres is angry at her for using her relationship with Tom as a case study on sexual relationships.  Captain Janeway and the Doctor take this curiosity as a sign that Seven unconsciously wants to be in a relationship.  Around the time this was broadcast, I was in my late teens and similarly curious about relationships, but uncertain what to do about them (I didn’t go on a date until I was twenty-seven), so I used to linger when my Mum or my sister were watching soap operas and rom coms, while pretending not to be watching them.  In retrospect, soap operas and rom coms probably were not the best role models, although I don’t think I ever “learnt” all that much from them.  I didn’t know how else to find out about relationships.

The episode was pretty cringey overall, in terms of Seven’s lack of social graces and the Doctor’s inability to express his feelings for her.  I’ve been there regarding both of those things.  It does make me wonder if I’m ever going to be socially graceful and build the friendships and romantic relationship I want.  I’m not sure if I (or anyone else) can really learn small talk and interpersonal interactions from a book or lecture.  I’m also not sure I can really learn them in my late thirties.  It does feel that I should have learnt these things in childhood or adolescence, when my brain was more plastic.

Flow, Masks and News Media

The world is just so horrible at the moment that I want to steer clear of news and Twitter, but there is some kind of masochistic attraction.  I think it’s partly fear of not being informed about something important, even if there isn’t much I can do about it (like COVID), but mostly boredom and procrastination.  It’s easy to click on something and read it, and the news is always updating.  However, we seem to have abandoned the idea of analysis.  It feels like every media or social media outlet is just a list of things or people to hate, mostly things or people I have not heard of and have no opinion on until goaded by the media or social media to come up with one.

Mind you, when I gave in to temptation today, I did read an interesting and possibly career-pertinent Twitter discussion (actual discussion, not argument, rant or invective) about whether literacy standards in children’s books and young adult books have slipped over the last few decades.

***

Away from the real world, Mum cut my hair.  That’s the most noteworthy thing about today.  I’m glad not to have to go to the barber, given how anxiety-provoking that can be for me because of autism, social anxiety and tremor.

My novel writing flowed quite nicely today, the way I feel it “should” for a professional writer.  I wrote quite a lot, although towards the end I realised I’ll have to re-order the sequence of events in this chapter a bit to make them flow better.  I’m also reconsidering the ending of the story, which is a slightly nerve-wracking thing – I’m not entirely sure where I’m going now, when previously I thought I knew.

I went for a walk to pick up my prescription.  I wore a mask because I was going to the pharmacist.  I still can’t get used to wearing it and I’m dreading when I have to use public transport again.  I suspect that they will be around for a long time.  Even if the official requirement to wear a mask on public transport is lifted, I am guessing people will still wear them out of caution and a kind of politeness.  Who knew that rush hour on the Tube could get more depressing and uncomfortable?  Then again, given what happened when lockdown regulations were eased last week, maybe I’m wrong about that.  Maybe everyone will just go crazy and mask-free.

I managed quite a bit of Torah study today too, including Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and Mishnah.  The Mishnah’s point seemed straightforward, but as usual the commentary made it seem more complicated until I couldn’t understand it all, which is not good.  I spent some time thinking about what to write in my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I admit I’m finding it a bit harder than I expected to find something to write about for 500 to 1,000 words each week.

***

I was feeling quite self-critical last night and this morning.  I had an interaction elsewhere on the internet that I felt went badly, which may have been catastrophising.  This led me to over-generalise that all my interactions go badly.  It’s easy to think that I can’t cope with interacting with people in general.  It is true that sometimes I try to say the right thing and fail, but I need to focus on the fact that that does not always happen.  It is more correct to say that there are certain types of interaction that I handle badly, but I’m not sure what I can do about that.

Otherwise, my mood was reasonably good today, but I feel like there’s stuff bubbling under the surface that might come up soon and I’m not sure what that’s going to feel like.

***

I realised that I’m not thinking about E. much.  In a weird way, I feel guilty that I’m mostly over the ending of the relationship.  I felt like it  (the ending of the relationship) should have affected me more.  I don’t think it means I didn’t care about her, or that the relationship wasn’t real, just that I realise it was not really possible to save it the way things turned out.  I think I also worry more about bad things that might happen before they happen; once they’ve happened, I can generally deal with them.  If only I could channel some of that emotional energy back in time to before it happens and stop the worrying in advance.

I am still trying to work out if E. and I could still be friends, if that is sensible or something I want.  I definitely lack friends at the moment and would benefit from another one, but I worry about us being sucked into an unending on/off relationship, plus if I do ever end up dating again within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, having close female friends will probably not go down well.

It’s hard not to endlessly probe at the, “Will I ever be in a lasting relationship?” question, although I wish I didn’t.  That’s part of what I mean about agonising over relationships before they’ve started.  It is, I suppose, the emotional equivalent of probing a painful tooth.  No good can come of it, yet it’s compulsive.

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.

Wanderer in the Fourth Dimension

It’s been a very difficult day.

I was feeling quite anxious on waking up this morning.  Then Mum was quite ill very suddenly.  I was going to write what happened, but then I thought she might not want me to.  She’s OK now, but I was very worried for a time and thought briefly I might have to phone for an ambulance.  It was very frightening.  So that added a new level of anxiety.  Fortunately she’s seeing her surgeon tomorrow, so she can tell him about it.  I’m not sure he’s the best person to tell, but it’s a start.  But it’s a reminder of my parents’ mortality, and of the fact that while Mum’s prognosis is good, she is still seriously ill.

After a while Mum seemed to be OK and the adrenaline rush from dealing with the situation wore off, and I drifted back into depression, possibly worse for being post-adrenaline.  I managed to work on my novel and wrote quite a bit without too much procrastination, but once I had stopped, the depression came rushing back at me again, with agitation and probably also anxiety and loneliness, although it’s hard to be sure.  I felt pretty overwhelmed.

I tried to get myself to do some Torah study without using “should” language about it, but it was hard.  It was just a slog to get through it.  Here are some things that are hard to read in the Torah, from a contemporary perspective: genealogies, descriptions of sacrificial Temple rituals and censuses, because they are all very long and repetitive and it’s hard to connect them to anything in modern spirituality.  I struggle to connect them.  And they were all in this week’s sedra (Torah reading).  There was a little bit of narrative, but not much.  I did get through it and technically I didn’t “should” myself into it, but I think that was because autistic determination/absorption took over, and not in a good way, and I sort of forgot that I had the option of stopping.

I’m also trying not to think about the future, but it’s hard.  And it’s hard not to do it without “shoulding” myself into not doing it (“I should not think about the future.”).

About 8pm it hit me that it’s been a really hard day.  I hadn’t really thought about it that way before then, I’d been too busy living through it.  I felt a bit tired, but really tense.  It was late, but I wanted to go for a run before dinner to relieve some of the tension.  Possibly there was some “shoulding” there, but I did feel that I would be tense all evening unless I went out for a bit.  I had a reasonable run, and didn’t get an exercise migraine, so that was good.  I was still feeling stressed, so I ate ice cream for dessert after dinner, which probably put back the calories I lost running.  Oh well.

***

I felt a bit bad that my sister seemed more worried about Mum than I was.  Of course, by the time Mum told her, I’d seen that Mum was feeling a lot better, whereas my sister didn’t know and was probably imagining the worst, so in some ways it’s not surprising that she was very upset while I was calm.

I spend all my time worrying about some fairly abstract things in my life and the world at large (if I’ll ever have a proper job, if I’ll ever get married, if antisemitism is getting worse), but I can be pretty detached about people who I actually care about.  I feel like it makes me a bad person, but I’m not sure what worrying would achieve; if anything, I’d rather worry less about myself than more about my family and friends.   I guess it can be hard distinguishing caring from worrying, the former being good and the latter bad.  Maybe this is another “should” to avoid.  I just wish I didn’t feel inhuman and uncaring sometimes.

Detachment can be another autism symptom too, of course.  It could be that I do care about my family and friends, I just express it in a different way to most people.

***

NB: this next isn’t really anything to do with today or anyone I mentioned here today, just something I’ve been thinking about recently.

I find it hard to understand people.  They’re… complicated.  Sometimes one person has apparently contradictory character traits.  They can be supportive to some people, but cold to others, or caring when they’re in a good mood, but unbearable when they’re angry.  I find it difficult to understand.  Maybe I’ve been an avid reader since childhood to try to get inside other people’s heads.  I know autism doesn’t make it any easier.  I wonder if I will struggle to invent believable characters in my writing because of this.  Already I think my second most important character is flat and bland, while the villain is probably too nasty.  He’s a psychopath; psychopaths are usually very charming to most people and I think I’ve struggled to show that.

I struggle to understand people on a societal level too.  I don’t feel like I belong to either twenty-first century Western society or to contemporary frum society.  I can “pass” in both, but not always very well.  I’m not good on details like slang or popular culture in either society.

Maybe I’m just afraid of opening up.  Maybe people would be OK with my idiosyncrasies if I did so.  Or maybe not.  I suspect on some level I studied history to try to understand societies better.  I’m not sure if it helped any more than reading novels helped me understand individuals.  Sometimes I try to look at our current society as if I were an outsider, a future historian.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked time-travel stories.  I’d much rather have a time machine than a spaceship.  Maybe that’s why I prefer Doctor Who to Star Trek (OK, among several other reasons).  The idea of being lost in time is scary, but sometimes that feels how I live my life.

“Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension?  Have you?  To be exiles…?” – Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child by Anthony Coburn

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.

Walking Away from Omelas

Ashley pointed out yesterday that I use a lot of “shoulds.”  It’s hard to know what to do with that, other than to tell myself that I “shouldn’t” use them, which is just another “should.”  I always wonder how people without shoulds avoid being bad people and just acting hedonistically.  Donald Trump, for example, clearly does not have many “shoulds” in his brain, and I don’t want to end up like him.  Serial killers like Ted Bundy also come to mind.  Maybe there’s a model for people who don’t have “shoulds,” but who aren’t total narcissists or psychopaths.  I think Orthodox Judaism does involve a lot of “shoulds.”  Maybe I could talk to my rabbi mentor about this, but I’ve been avoiding him since I became worried (on slender evidence, I must admit) that I had upset him.

***

My fear that I’ve upset my rabbi mentor may be more evidence that my social anxiety has got worse during lockdown.  Obviously there’s social anxiety in the obvious sense of worrying about saying the wrong thing, but also there’s a feeling of inadequacy, that I can’t give people what they want.  I emailed some friends this week to try to work on my loneliness, and they emailed back, but I felt strong feelings of my not being “good enough” to deserve a response, in some vaguely-defined way.  That sounds like a grey area between social anxiety and low self-esteem.

***

I did a little work on my novel, but quickly became stuck.  I went for a walk and thought about what I was writing and decided to change my plans a bit, but I worry that this chapter is going to be short, and I was already worried that some of the later chapters are going to be short.  I hope I don’t run out of story before I reach the minimum word count.

***

Depressing thought for the day (non-mental health related): I saw a Tweet thread from a teacher who asked his students what side they would think of slavery if they had lived in the Antebellum South in the USA.  They said they would all be abolitionists.  He was trying to teach them that they probably would at least passively accept slavery, because they would have values and ethics conditioned by the society they lived in and would be wary of exposing themselves and their families to scorn, social ostracism and possibly violence by supporting radical minority opinions like abolitionism.  Although the thread did not say this, in fact, most European liberals in the 1860s wanted the South to win the Civil War, despite not even coming from slave-owning societies.  This was because the war was widely seen as being about a tyrannical central government restricting states’ rights, rather than about slavery.  Our perspective on the war (that it was a moral fight against slavery) is arguably simply the perspective of the victors, and not even all of them (even Lincoln spent the early part of the war insisting it was being fought to save the Union, not to end slavery).

One could pick many societies to play this game with e.g. Nazi Germany or the USSR.  There’s a famous story by Ursula K. Le Guin called The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas, about a utopian society called Omelas that exists in complete bliss for all, except that one small child must be kept in misery and degradation to prevent the society falling into anarchy.  Most people accept this; only a few are the titular ones who walk away from Omelas, preferring an uncertain future of exile to condoning such a situation.  (The idea is also found in Dostoyevski’s The Brothers Karamazov and William James.)

This is something I’ve often thought about.  How can I tell I’m not making morally wrong decisions or passively supporting immoral actions that are so “normal” that I don’t even think about them?  In fact, I probably am, on some level.  I’m semi-vegetarian (I only eat meat on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbaths and festivals)) and I do think of going fully vegetarian or even vegan because industrial meat production is so cruel to animals (I don’t think eating meat is wrong per se, just that we should treat the animals more humanely before slaughter).  It’s a tough choice.  Then there’s the fact that a lot of our goods come from developing world countries where people are paid very little for their labour; in terms of cotton, there’s a real issue over actual slavery in some cotton-producing countries.  However, boycotting these countries would harm the poor of those countries much more than the rich and powerful, so how can we protest effectively?  Once you start thinking things through, it can be hard to know what workable solutions exist (unworkable solutions are much easier…  abolish this or that Bad Thing without wondering what the consequences will be).

I do have some minority beliefs that I would characterise as moral beliefs that most people disagree with (i.e. they see my unusual viewpoint as the immoral one, whereas I would see their dominant one as immoral, or at least mistaken), most of which I don’t talk about because I am conflict-avoidant.  I do sometimes wonder if I should “stand up and be counted” for them more.

It is scary to think that I am wrong about some of my core beliefs (I’m not talking just about ethical beliefs now, but general religious, political, social etc. beliefs), although doubtless I am.  It’s scarier to think that our society as a whole is wrong about major things and we’re all too close to see it.  I have often wondered what people will think of our society in a few decades’, or centuries’, time.  One wonders what statues our great-grandchildren will pull down.

On the other hand, it’s possible that I spend too much of my ruminating on unanswerable questions and expecting an impossible degree of moral perfection for myself…

“Sunday’s on the phone to Monday”

I managed to get up a little earlier today than usual (around 10.20am, which is still late by most people’s standards), which was good.  It poured with rain all day, so no run today.

I felt really lethargic today and a bit depressed, becoming very depressed in the evening.  It was a struggle to do anything.  I guess I did a lot over the last couple of days.  Pushing myself to do new things always brings some more anxiety in its wake.  I worry that I won’t be able to keep up with my weekly divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) or to keep them up to a high standard.  I shall really have to just wait and see, which is the hard thing.

I did at least manage to do some more work on my Doctor Who book’s bibliography.  I’m grateful for the Index that Doctor Who Magazine recently produced to the magazine’s first forty years (1979-2019).  It must have saved me some extended rooting in back issues trying to locate half-remembered articles.  I spent an hour and a quarter on the bibliography, finishing the references to magazine articles.  I’ve still got to add in a few references to DVDs and websites, but I hope to finish it in the next couple of days and be able to resume formatting the book for publication.

I also spent fifty minutes or more reading this week’s sedra (Torah portion), which was a very complicated, largely legal section with some linguistically-challenging bits, bearing in mind that I’m reading in Hebrew, and that Orthodox Bibles tend to translate according to accepted Jewish law, which is not always the literal meaning, so putting together the literal, legal and sometimes idiomatic readings can be a challenge.  I felt mentally exhausted by the time I had finished.

I also spent somewhere between one and two hours cooking vegetable curry for dinner.  I hadn’t cooked curry for ages.  So I suppose I have managed quite a bit today, but still it feels that there is more to do, and more that I Should do.

***

The institution I was working at in January never got back to me about extending my contract.  I’ve been job hunting again and today I emailed a couple of job agencies to tell them I’m looking for work again.  I’m somewhat concerned about the lack of librarian jobs around at the moment.  Most of the ones I have seen are full-time and/or the other side of London.  I’m still surprised how few part-time librarian jobs are available generally, as I thought it would be a sector that encouraged such flexibility.

I need to think of alternative jobs.  My Mum is still encouraging me to look at primary school teacher/teaching assistant roles, on the grounds that I’m “good with children” although I don’t feel that I’m that good with children, particularly when their parents aren’t around.  She did suggest volunteering to read with children in schools to get experience.  Someone from the OCD support group I went to when my OCD was at its worst did that.  It’s a possibility.  I do feel somewhat stuck despite all the job search help/careers advice I’ve had, which doesn’t do much for my self-esteem.  It’s not that I can’t find anything as much as the feeling that I’m still looking for the wrong job or in the wrong places, but don’t know how to change things.

***

My digital scales said my weight was up to 77.3kg this morning, which seemed a big increase even with the comfort eating I’ve done over the last week or two.  My parents’ mechanical scales said 75kg, which seemed a lot more reasonable.  If my digital scales are faulty, it would explain a lot about why my weight seems to have fluctuated wildly lately.  I would definitely prefer to be 75kg to being 77.3kg!  Although I feel so depressed that comfort eating may follow before bed, even though I know I should resist.  Actually, experience indicates that eating lots of ice cream (my comfort food of choice) will probably make my mood worse, so I really should resist.

***

Doctor Who was not good again.  This whole series seems to have turned into a prolonged exercise in missing the point, like someone read a lot of articles about Doctor Who online and tried to write some episodes without ever having actually seen the programme.

***

I’m just feeling depressed and alone now.  I wrote some further thoughts, but cut them as too personal and too… I don’t know what.  Incoherent, possibly.

Maybe I did too much over the last few days, although it doesn’t feel like I’ve done much; if this is “too much” how will I ever manage anything?

I miss E. too.  Long-distance relationships are hard, especially when it feels like there are so many practical barriers to us ever being together.

I should probably go to bed, or at least move towards going to bed…

SAD, References and Eminent Victorians

This is always the worst time of year for me.  February may get more daylight than December, but it’s four months or more since we had a reasonable amount of daylight and the cumulative effect of deprivation is getting to me, even with my SAD light box.  I also have chapped hands and lips, despite using moisturiser and lip balm, although they aren’t as badly affected as they have been in the past.  I want winter to end, even though I’m aware that the end of winter brings with it the Jewish festivals of Purim and Pesach, with all their attendant difficulties of religious OCD and social anxiety, as well as sometimes depression, not to mention the usual stress of Pesach preparation (seriously, Christmas has nothing on Pesach).  It’s going to be super-hard this year, as Mum will probably in the midst of cancer treatment.  Still, like it or not, Monday is Tu B’Shvat, a very minor Jewish holiday (not really a holiday at all) that nevertheless signals the start of spring, at least in Israel.  Purim and Pesach are coming…  and so is spring, if I can hold out long enough.

***

I had a Shabbat (Sabbath) struggling with Shoulds.  I struggled to get to shul (synagogue) on Friday and Saturday evenings.  I felt this was probably a good Should, as staying at home would be giving in to social anxiety and depression and make going again next week harder.  I didn’t push myself to go to shul on Saturday morning though and let myself eat a lot of junk food, which I regret a bit now.  I drank too much Diet Coke on Friday night too, which may have been why I didn’t sleep.   After lunch today I was tired and a bit depressed and did the autistic thing I sometimes do of going back to bed and wrapping the duvet around me because it feels reassuring (I think that’s why I do that.  It’s not always easy to tell).  Inevitably, I fell asleep, although it was not my intention, and when I woke I had to eat seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal) in a hurry and was still late for shul.

More troublingly, I accidentally broke Shabbat twice, which was not good.  One was too complicated to explain here and maybe not such a problem, but the other problem was that the phone woke me up this morning and my brain thought it was Friday and I answered it before realising my mistake, thinking it might be about my benefits appointment on Monday.  It wasn’t even important, just cold-calling, ambulance-chasing lawyers, “Have you been in an accident that wasn’t your fault?”  I’m not generally in favour of banning lots of things, but I wish someone would ban them.  Anyway, I felt bad about breaking Shabbat even if it was accidental.

I was given the honour of gelilah at Minchah (wrapping up the Torah scroll and putting its decorations back on it after the Torah reading in the Afternoon Service), which made me feel a bit that I was receiving some kind Divine approbation after all the stuff in the previous paragraph, but I don’t believe that worldly honour is a sign of Divine approval; one can find honoured people who are not at all worthy.  Hmm.

***

After Shabbat, I spent twenty-five minutes finishing another chapter of my novel, which I was glad to do.  I’m still unsure how good it is, but E. has liked what she has read so far (not this chapter yet).  I also spent some time (not sure how long) working on the bibliography for my Doctor Who book.  While I was writing the book I had wavered as to whether I would produce a bibliography, with the result that my note-taking for one was fairly shoddy, I’m sad to say, as a librarian and a historian.  Some references are just a title or a description, because I know my Doctor Who books and magazines well enough that I expected my future self (which is now my current self…) to be able to locate them and create proper references later if necessary without much bother.  That plan now looks slightly stupid as I’m faced with digging through piles and piles of magazines to find particular articles.  I do know where most things are, at least roughly, it’s just a pain to dig them out, especially as I have to move my bedside cabinet just to get to them.  Later on I think I realised this was stupid and started constructing proper references that can just be cut and pasted in.

I started with a couple of these more finished references.  The first to be polished and included in the bibliography happened by a nice coincidence to be an article by a friend who sometimes comments here.  More problematic was trying to create references for some pages on the BBC website that turn out not to exist any more.  I did get worried, as these were references to actual archival documentation that the BBC had scanned and put up, I think to celebrate Doctor Who‘s fiftieth anniversary in 2013 and really should be referenced.  Obviously they had been deemed obsolete and deleted from the BBC website some time in the last year or two (not for the first time in Doctor Who‘s history).  Fortunately, I managed to find preserved versions of all the pages via the Internet Archive.  I was pleased with this, not least because I had never managed to find anything on that site before.  So in the end I got five references done, which is the daily target I have set myself.

I’m not sure whether I could/should produce a reference for every single televised Doctor Who story (nearly 300, depending on how you define “story”), on whatever format I own it, not to mention other series where I’ve referenced them (e.g. the Cathy Gale episodes of The Avengers in a discussion of Sara Kingdom).  I mean, I should, but I’m going to be here FOREVER if I do and, given that it’s aimed at the fan market rather than the academic market, maybe there’s no need.  Can something this obvious be taken as a given?  Hmm…  Suggestions on a postcard (or comment) please!

***

I’m re-reading The Lion and the Unicorn: Gladstone vs. Disraeli on the two titanic figures of mid-nineteenth century British politics.  I had been thinking about re-reading it for a while, as I couldn’t remember much about it, but Brexit and the prospect of major political realignment in this country and perhaps elsewhere pushed it up my reading list as I wanted to read about the previous realignment that happened after the repeal of the Corn Laws fractured the Tory Party with the Whigs, radicals and free trade Tories becoming the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party formed out of the protectionist Tory rump.  I’m not sure if “It reads like a novel” is always a compliment for a history book, but in this case it is.  A very interesting and readable account of Victorian politics.

So far I don’t find either Gladstone or Disraeli particularly likeable: Gladstone was a prig and bore and emotionally constipated even by Victorian standards; Disraeli on the other hand was a cynical opportunist.  I find Gladstone easier to empathise with, though, as many of his flaws are my own: he also tended to see everything as a question of principle (once resigning from the Cabinet on a point of principle so trivial that everyone thought he had just destroyed his career for no good reason, but then voting in support of the legislation he had just resigned to oppose apparently because he thought he shouldn’t vote against his party), struggled with human contact and beat himself up endlessly about fairly normal aspects of sexuality.  Again, hmm.

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.

Bad News, and Shoulds

At lunchtime I had bad news: that my Mum had been called to the hospital to get test results from last week (this is what I have been worried about, but not talking about here lately).

My Mum’s diagnosis was what we’ve been fearing for a couple of weeks, namely breast cancer.  My pessimism prepared me for this, but it still seemed like a shock and a worry.  The doctor said it’s “very treatable” which is good, but still scary.  Living with my parents means I can take on some of the burden of cooking and housework.

I just feel wiped out by all the anxiety I had yesterday and today.  Now I just feel numb and surprisingly shocked (more on general anxiety levels below).  I know that this is “very treatable,” that my parents have lots of friends who have survived cancer, as did my paternal grandfather (in his eighties!) and my sister’s mother-in-law.  Still, it is a worry as there is always the risk of the unexpected and certainly family life will be hugely disrupted for the next six months.

***

I was just about to go for a run when my Dad said my Mum had been called back to the hospital.  I still went, because I didn’t want to give in to anxiety, but my stamina was poor probably because I was worried.  I was glad that I was able to go.  I was also able to clean the microwave for her as she requested while she was out.  I managed half an hour of Torah study too.   So the day was not totally consumed by the test results, but obviously they drowned out the more positive aspects.

I spent over an hour after dinner fiddling with my non-fiction Doctor Who to self-publish it.  I couldn’t work out how to convert a Word document to a pdf (I can’t open the zip files Lulu.com recommends, even looking up how to open zip files without WinZip online) or how to delete the page number on the last page so that it meets distribution requirements.  I tried following these instructions, but all that did was weird things to the formatting of the other pages (so far as I could tell it seemed to be fiddling with the margins of the pages so that more text pages were needed for the same content so that if page 431 was the last page initially, suddenly there would be another ten pages and I was deleting the number on the wrong page; at any rate, if I tried deleting the last page number (441 now), all the page numbers disappeared).

I don’t know why simple stuff just always goes wrong for me.  I’ve had this “knack” of having stuff spontaneously go wrong for me since I was a young child, when my birthday and Chanukah presents would invariably be broken and have to be taken back to the shop.  Sometimes I feel cursed (not that I believe in such things).  It does seem that everything I touch goes wrong sometimes (analogous to the Pauli Effect).

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the book.  It’s tempting to just abandon it, but I’ve invested goodness knows how many hours in it so that I need to keep trying, but I’m neglecting my novel, which has a chance (albeit not a very big one) of being sold commercially.

***

I decided to pause watching Star Trek Voyager for a day or two to watch Doctor Who as it’s better at cheering me up.  I decided I wanted to watch something no more than four episodes (old-style twenty-five minute episodes) long, more silly than serious and not a favourite (which would feel wasted while mood is low and concentration is poor).  I also decided on something with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor.  I’m not sure why I decided on that as he’s not a particular favourite.  Perhaps he’s a reassuring presence (let’s face it, he’s the Doctor you’d want to be with in a crisis) or perhaps I just wanted to watch something in that weird zone between seriousness and camp which so much Doctor Who sits in, but especially the Doctor Who of his era.  I ended up watching episode one of The Three Doctors, but I don’t know if I will watch the rest of it tonight as I intended.  I’m just drifting downwards into an abyss of depression, anxiety, nihilistic despair and self-loathing and don’t feel able to do much to get myself out of it.  I ate junk food yesterday (ice cream) and will probably do so again today, especially as Mum bought us Cadbury’s Creme Eggs a few days ago and I haven’t eaten mine yet.  Goodbye diet.  I drank Diet Coke today too, which I normally only do on Shabbat and at Thursday shiur when the water runs out.  The caffeine probably wasn’t good with anxiety and needing to sleep soon.

***

I woke up feeling super-anxious again like yesterday.  I felt a lot better after breakfast, but the anxiety restarted once Mum got called to the hospital at midday.  After that there was a mixture of anxiety and numbness, with some despair.  I feel like I’ve messed up my life and, whether it’s my fault or not, everything I touch seems to get ruined beyond repair: writing, career, friendships, relationships, even my religious life, which shouldn’t be susceptible to such entropy without neglect or wilful destruction.

I think anxiety for me can be linked to the “Shoulds” in my life that Ashley Leia commented about yesterday.  I tend to be most anxious when I think I’m in a situation where I have to break Jewish law or do something I see as unethical, particularly where I feel the only alternative is an argument with someone I’m close to, like my parents.  The problem is that I tend to view a lot of problems as fundamentally about morals or halakhah (Jewish law), even if it arguably isn’t the case.  Or perhaps I’m sensitive to aspects of morality that maybe most people are not sensitive to.  Obviously it is the nature of Orthodox Judaism to stress rules and ethics, but other people don’t seem to feel the same tension as I do, which may be because they are more settled within the community and have less issues in conforming to it and/or are less worried about alienating outsiders by practising Judaism.  (Of course, some people are able to compartmentalise their lives and strictly keep ritual law while massively neglecting ethical teachings, as many recent scandals have shown.)

Autistic black-and-white thinking can be an issue for me here too, assuming that my perspective is correct in all particulars when it may be only partially correct or even totally incorrect.  Likewise assuming that if my perspective is correct then my proposed actions must be correct too, which may also be incorrect (cf. Greta Thunberg).

For what it’s worth (and I’m not rating my opinion as being worth very much at the moment), I think I have been slightly less Should-focused lately, in terms of letting myself do various things that I wouldn’t do in the past.  It still is hard to accept that some things do not have to be Shoulds, though.  Incidentally, I write the word with a capital S here to show how important my Shoulds seem, but really they feel like SHOULDS – hugely important and demanding attention.