Autistic Day

Today seems to have been an autism-focused day. I guess they all are, on some level, but this more than most.

In the morning, at work, the rabbi from my parents’ shul (synagogue) phoned the office and I answered. He didn’t recognise me, and in the past I might have pretended not to recognise him, but I identified myself to him, which I guess was a victory over social anxiety. However, afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about this interaction, which probably took all of two minutes and had no negative aspects. It sort of “echoed” around in my head. I’ve heard other people on the spectrum describe similar experiences of mental perseveration.

In the afternoon, I mostly corrected other people’s mistakes for a change, instead of making my own. This was when I was searching for missing data on our database. A lot of it was there, just entered wrongly (typos or names from one column on the spreadsheet transposed with those in another when entered on the database). I was a bit relieved to see it’s not just me who makes mistakes. The errors date from about five years ago, so I have no idea who made them.

J was on a video call while I was doing this and I could not concentrate at all. I had to listen to music to blot out the talking. I didn’t really want to listen to music, as it was a somewhat complicated task and I only really listen to music when doing mindless tasks, but I needed to blot it out.

Then I went to Primark to return the clothes I bought last week, because I am not a size medium any more (thank you, psych meds). I was overwhelmed with the number of people in the shop, which I still can’t get used to. It took two years of lockdown and not seeing people for me to realise how difficult I find these environments. Now I wonder how I ever coped with them. It’s strange how I just coped with things, not realising how difficult I found it. The silly thing is that I feel somehow less entitled to call myself “autistic” or “struggling” than the autistic people who would have a meltdown in the shop, or just refuse to go in.

It wasn’t just the noise and crowds that was an issue. Like lots of people on the spectrum, I seem to have some proprioception issues i.e. difficulty being aware of where my body is at times and finding it hard to get out of other people’s way. I think this is partly behind the autistic phenomenon I have written here before about autistic people wanting to help with tasks, but just getting in the way of other people.

There was something on the autism forum too today about autistic brains working fast, faster than we can follow. I do feel like that at times, although not all the time. It seems to happen most when I hyperfocus on a train of thought that I like (often about Judaism or perhaps Doctor Who) or when I’m anxious and depressed about something. Certainly when autistically fatigued/exhausted/burnt out/whatever it’s called my thoughts become slow and almost physically painful.

***

In terms of consumerism, I’ve had mixed success the last few days. The Simpsons: The Complete Seventh Season DVD box set I bought second-hand on Music Magpie (second-hand DVD/CD website) turned out to be region 1, which means it won’t play on UK DVD players. I’m not sure why they were selling it, but I didn’t think to look at what region it was for when I ordered, so I can’t swear that it was advertised wrongly. I am trying to return it.

I’ve found some real bargains on Music Magpie, but also had some problems with damaged or incorrectly-sent goods. I feel I should stop using them, but the alternative is eBay, which I have used, but don’t really like, I’m not sure why. I don’t like bidding for stuff at auction, but you can get items to buy immediately. Nevertheless, I just somehow find the site awkward to use and the items often expensive. The other alternative is Amazon, but E and I are both boycotting them over their poor employee treatment and for driving small booksellers out of business as well as underpaying authors. We were boycotting them independently, before we met — a meet-boycott-cute.

The items I’ve been buying on Music Magpie are cheap (a few pounds for a CD or DVD box set), so I’m not at risk of losing much money, but complaining and returning items is a hassle, and I worry that after I’ve made a certain number of complaints they’ll assume I’m lying. They refund damaged goods priced under £5 without asking for the item to be returned, so technically someone could steal a lot of free stuff by buying cheap items and then complaining that they were damaged and asking for a refund without it ever being checked.

On the plus side, I found a copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle in the free book box, one of those books I’ve always meant to read, but never have.

***

E and I have been watching the Doctor Who story The Robots of Death (1977). E was not impressed; I didn’t tell her fan wisdom sees it as a Classic, whatever that means. I see it as somewhere between Classic and E’s “ok”. It has one of my favourite Doctor Who put-downs: “You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain.” I should warn you that I tried to use it on the bullies at school and it did not work as well as it did for Tom Baker. I don’t have that air of Bohemian cool.

Anxiety and Possible Shutdown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zzzzzzzzzz, OCD, and the Countdown to Pesach

I massively overslept again on Friday morning and woke up drained. I’m back to wondering counter-factuals like whether writing late at night after work costs too much the next day. I had some weird dreams that I’m not going to relate here, but shul (synagogue) stress and missing E figured. Also Purim anxiety — my unconscious tends to feed stuff into my dreams a couple of weeks after things have happened, for some reason.

I did my usual Shabbat chores and managed to carve out forty or fifty minutes to work on my novel, which was good, especially as it’s likely to be interrupted now for a few weeks because of Pesach (preparations then the festival) and E being here. In the evening, I went to my parents’ shul (synagogue) with Dad. Their usual chazzan (cantor) was leading the service. I’d forgotten just how much his style of davening (praying) does not fit with my tastes. Very loud and elongated, like opera; even the bits we’re supposed to read silently, he reads loud enough to be heard (and I was sitting near the back), which annoyed me immensely. But I guess we’re back to looking for perfect “unicorn shuls” again.

Dinner with my parents was pretty long, although mostly fun. I did some Torah study afterwards, but it meant I went to bed very late, without much time for recreational reading to relax after a busy day. Then I slept through the morning and napped again after lunch.

I think some of the oversleeping, or going back to bed, is an autistic sensory thing about feeling cozy and ‘held’ wrapped up in my duvet and now my weighted blanket. I’ve always slept wrapped up tight in my duvet, but when I became depressed in my teens and twenties, staying in bed became a way to avoid the world as well as feeling comfortable and held close (by the duvet/blanket). I do wonder if I can use this information somehow – get up and sit wrapped in my weighted blanket?

(It also occurs to me that E and I may need two duvets when we get married to stop me hogging it!)

When I napped this afternoon, I had a dream about my maternal grandparents that I found upsetting, although I’m not entirely sure why. To be honest, I can’t really remember it clearly any more, but I lay in bed for a while coming to terms with my feelings. Then it was time for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Seudah Shlishit (the Third Sabbath Meal) so I didn’t have time for Torah study or recreational reading. It feels like I spent most of the day eating and sleeping with some davening and not a lot else. I would have liked to have gone for a walk as I haven’t had even mild exercise since Thursday.

Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) of the month of Nisan. This is a hard time of year for me. Late winter is very hard, when I struggle from lack of sunlight, so passing the equinox and putting the clocks forward is somewhat helpful, albeit not so much of a difference at this stage. But then we go straight into Pesach preparations. Even if I can avoid religious OCD, it’s time-consuming and tiring, with little time for non-essential tasks like exercise, recreation or fiction writing. And this year E is coming, which makes me feel even more anxious. My brother-in-law found the way we do Pesach somewhat extreme the first time he came, so I worry what E will think. Still, as my Dad says, Pesach comes and goes. Every year it seems hard, but every year we manage it. We even managed it in 2020, when we were in lockdown and Mum was sick from chemotherapy.

***

I’m reading a book on OCD, not actually for my OCD issues, but there has been some useful stuff in there for me, reminding me that OCD thoughts never go away fully and their return at this time of year doesn’t mean I’m backsliding into OCD. What matters is how you deal with them, not whether you have them. Also, some useful stuff about grieving even during positive life events for “The Road Not Taken“. E and I are both very happy with each other, but I guess there’s stuff about us both that isn’t 100% what we would have chosen in an ideal world (which doesn’t exist!) that we need to grieve a bit. It reminds me of something in William Kolbrener’s Open-Minded Torah: Of Irony, Fundamentalism and Love where he talks about Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s idea that moods are simple and unipolar whereas emotions are complex and multidimensional. Judaism wants us to have emotions, not moods, hence our festivals contain sombre moments amidst the joy.

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

My shul (synagogue) is meeting in an cramped classroom (apparently — I haven’t actually seen it) some way away from my parents’ house for the next six months. As a result, I decided I would rather go to my parents’ shul this week. It was a bit surprising. There were more people there than attended my shul even pre-COVID, but the room is large and it didn’t feel over-crowded. There was more background noise than in my shul, the noise of a large crowd of people, but also some talking, which we don’t get at my shul, but there was no real clapping or thumping tables and I felt less overwhelmed than I have done in my shul for a while. This is possibly an indication that the United Synagogue has more to offer me than I thought, although the issues around the chazzan (cantor) and choir would emerge if I went more often (I dislike chazzanut (cantorial singing) as well as choral singing, and the chazzan at my parents’ shul is controversial even among people who do like chazzanut as he tends to drag things out with his singing). My ideal shul is probably some non-existent unicorn shul (a shul that exists no more than unicorns do, not a shul for unicorns to go to).

I did some Torah study over Shabbat, but slept too much. After lunch, I felt so tired that I had to lie down. I knew I should drink coffee and try to stay awake, but bed was too inviting. I don’t know how well I’ll sleep tonight, and I will lose an hour as the clocks go forward.

***

We turned on the news after Shabbat to see President Biden giving a speech that would have been denounced by the Left as “Fascist” and “warmongering” if delivered by George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. I say this not to take sides, but just to point out another example of how topsy-turvy politics in the West in general and the USA in particular have become over the last ten years or so.

I sought refuge from The World in Pigs Have Wings, the P. G. Wodehouse novel I’m currently reading. It is about as far from the real world as you can get. It’s so light, it threatens to float towards the ceiling if you let go of it.

I was imagining it taking place in the inter-war era, but, checking the copyright page, I found it was first published in 1952. I always imagine Wodehouse as inter-war, but he started writing over a decade before World War I and continued into the 1970s. I think most people would associate him and his books with the high society of the twenties and thirties, regardless of when they actually appeared. It’s similar with Agatha Christie, who did indeed start writing in the twenties, but was also writing well into the seventies, but somehow carries the atmosphere and outlook of the the twenties and thirties into her later works so that they seem earlier.

***

I was sufficiently awake tonight from sleeping in the afternoon that I did half an hour of late-night novel writing. It wasn’t terribly productive, but it was something. My parents were actually asking me questions about my novels on Friday night. They asked about my finished novel and I struggled to explain what it is about. I think one failing of that novel is that I can’t really summarise it in one sentence. What editors and publishers refer to as a “logline pitch” (for reasons I do not understand). I said something about it being about an autistic young man in the frum community, trying to downplay the autobiographical aspects, which I’m now a bit worried about. I’m bad about talking about (a) myself, (b) things I’ve done and (c) things that matter to me at the best of times (except to E, strangely), so it is hard to cope with these questions.

Then my parents asked about the novel I just started writing: what was that one about? “You don’t want to know,” was all I could say. I couldn’t face discussing pornography-addicted rabbis with my parents at the Shabbat dinner table, not without advanced warning. I do think that, if I want to become a writer, and if I carry on writing in this vein, I’m going to need to do some careful thinking about talking to people about my writing. I don’t mean agents, editors and reviewers, but family, friends and other shul-goers. What I’ve written and planned so far is… not what people might expect me to write about.

***

I feel that I’m torn between part of me that feels the urge to Do Things and to be busy and productive all the time (as some commenters here have noticed), and another part that likes time to do nothing and think and contemplate and be mindful of the world. It is good to have time for that on Shabbat at least, without work, TV or internet.

In his book Yeshiva Days, anthropologist Jonathan Boyarin tries to present yeshiva (rabbinic seminary) study as anti-capitalist, because it’s done for no material reward. I think, like a lot of critics of capitalism, Boyarin misses the point that capitalism isn’t about money, but about utility, defined in economic terms as “the ability to satisfy want.” Yeshiva study seeks to maximise utility in the Next World (afterlife) by building up the biggest possible Heavenly reward through the most valuable action (in Yeshivish theology), studying Torah. It simply replaces earning money in this world with earning spiritual reward in the next. That is sort-of anti-capitalist, but not exactly.

I feel like I could present a theory of why I increasingly like wasting time, not doing much, and thinking about things that would explain it in capitalist or religious terms. I could say that it gives me time to think about topics I would like to write about, and get paid to write about (please God, one day…). Also, that taking time to let my thoughts percolate is when I have interesting insights in Jewish topics, so that it can be seen as Torah study. I’m not sure how much either of these theories are true, however. I think I just find the pace of the modern world overwhelming and seek escape (although it often involves escape into thoughts about the world that I am trying to escape). In this I am like many autistic people, and probably many non-autistic people. I just like to retreat into myself rather than external distractions (although I do that too). I do often feel guilty though, that I should be earning money and/or doing religiously-valuable tasks, or at least writing, and trying to sell, novels.

I’m Going Slightly Mad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Cold turkey has got me on the run”

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

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

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

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

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

Purim and Accepting My Feelings

I had insomnia again last night. Then I woke up at 8am and couldn’t get back to sleep (I didn’t have to get up until 9am). I feel like I’m in one of those Twilight Zone episodes where people get what they wish for and it all goes horribly wrong. “You want to sleep less? How would you like it if you couldn’t sleep at all?” Can’t I sleep a normal amount, seven or eight hours a night? No more, no less?

I lay in bed for an hour this morning feeling anxious about my interview next week. I’m not sure if I’m more anxious about making a fool of myself; being offered the job and not knowing if I should take it; or taking it and being out of my depth. Can I work four days a week? Should I take a one year job, knowing I’ll be unemployed and probably with a mortgage at the end of it? It’s hard and I don’t really know how to solve these problems. My gut says I should stick with my current job, which will still be there in a year, but I worry my gut is just scared of pressure and change. My parents and E say to just get through the interview before I worry about whether I should accept the job, which is probably true.

I went to a daytime Megillah (Book of Esther) reading at my parents’ shul (synagogue) again. It was a late morning one and, as I expected, somewhat quieter than yesterday’s reading. I was annoyed by someone sometimes (but not always) singing along with the reader, not exactly under his breath. He wasn’t even close to me! (Other than my Dad, there was no one really close to me.) I think even allistic (non-autistic) people would find that annoying; to me it was really distracting.

I think I heard everything, even when I stumbled over one of the bits we do read aloud (the ten sons of Haman, who all have long, difficult Persian names) and the rabbi re-started leining (reading) aloud before I had quite finished. This was the rabbi who waved at me yesterday. I actually asked him afterwards if what I did was OK which may not be good from an OCD perspective, as I shouldn’t check stuff, but I realised I feel more comfortable asking him questions than my own shul rabbi, which I guess is good if I’m thinking of asking him to marry me and E. I think she’ll like him, but it’s hard to know. I might try to introduce her to him when she comes here for Pesach (I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned before that she’s coming for Pesach).

I nearly cried twice today, once when the Jews were saved in the Megillah (why? It’s not like this was news to me) and once over my lunch/Purim seudah (feast), which was me eating beans on toast by myself. I guess it upsets me that I almost always eat Purim seudah on my own, as my parents usually work and I don’t have enough frum (religious) friends to get invited out much. I’m not sure why this upsets me so much, as I’ve eaten alone before on Shabbat (Sabbath) or even sometimes on Yom Tov (festival) when my parents have been invited to eat at their friends. Perhaps there’s something about Purim that means I want to celebrate it more gregariously. Hopefully I won’t be alone next year.

After that, I helped my Dad deliver mishloach manot (presents of food) to his friends. By the time we’d done that, I was pretty exhausted from the day. We live in a frum area, so outside all day had been kids in fancy dress (cute), cars blaring loud music (annoying) and, by 4pm, a couple of very drunk adult men. I was peopled out just being around so many people all day, even though I hadn’t had many actual interactions. The article someone posted here the other day about Purim on the spectrum was right; just the carnival wrongness of the day is draining if you’re on the spectrum, the not being sure of what will happen next or even who people are under the make up and fancy dress. Even though I’d eaten seudah already, I decided to have some Purim bread with my parents at their seudah, wearing my jester’s hat, which I hadn’t worn earlier as the cleaner was here.

I think some of the problem for me on Purim, and every Yom Tov really is the feeling that I need to internalise the message of the Yom Tov in a very tangible way and experience noticeable spiritual growth, not just doing the relevant mitzvot (commandments) and enjoying the day. I wonder how many Jews actually do this? Aside from super-tzadikim (saintly people)? I had a bit of a discussion along these lines with my rabbi mentor after last Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement). I got the impression that he didn’t think that many people do achieve this. I don’t know how many even care about achieving this.

Sometimes it feels that contemporary Judaism is full of messages that I’m supposed to take with a pinch of salt (like very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities where iphones are banned, but everyone has them, but won’t admit to it), but I struggle to do that, perhaps because of autistic literalness. I guess it’s harder than most festivals on Purim because the theme of the day is so out of my comfort zone. The same applies to Simchat Torah, but I’ve largely stopped going to shul for that, whereas on Purim I still want to hear the Megillah, which means engaging more than praying/studying at home.

So did I have a good Purim overall? It wasn’t how I expected. I had intended to spend time watching TV to chill out, which I didn’t really do, as I helped Dad with his mishloach manot and then ate a second seudah with my parents for the company. But I did enjoy that time with my parents, and I did do all the mitzvot, which matters to me a lot, and I did get something from the Megillah readings. In a weird way, I think I even enjoyed dropping off the mishloach manot, at least to my parents’ friends who I know reasonably well. So I guess it was good even if it didn’t exactly feel good. I just wish I could feel and accept my positive feelings more, but then I guess I need to learn to understand and accept all my feelings better (alexithymia). It’s hard to know where to start with something like that, although my therapist might have some ideas. I think I’ve got a bit better at it over the years, but there’s still a long way to go.

The Autism Treadmill

I woke up late again and drifted quickly into self-criticism. I feel I have to sort this oversleeping (actually hypersomnia, as my sleep pattern is longer than it should be, not just shifted later in the day) and lack of energy, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I can work it out without knowing what is causing it: medication, autistic exhaustion (which in itself is not well-understood) or something else like avoidance. I’m not even remotely sure how much of it is a physical issue and how much an emotional one. But I feel it’s one of the main factors – arguably the main factor – holding back E and me from getting married.

One of the few things I took from Sara Gibbs’ autism memoir Drama Queen was the metaphor that if being neurotypical is like walking on a treadmill going at a walking pace, being autistic is like being on a treadmill going at a fast running pace, all the while being expected to keep up with the walking neurotypicals who don’t understand why you’re struggling to stay level with them. More than any other issue I have, I think of my energy issues here.

I had to do some shopping, which stopped me going for a (literal) run, although I’m not sure I would have had time anyway. I did walk quite briskly, so it was not a total failure in the exercise department.

I had hoped to finish the plan for my second novel today. In the event, I did about forty minutes of work on it, but still have a lot more to do, even though I’m deliberately not planning down to the last detail as my experience with my first novel is that things grow organically during the writing process (at least for me) and it’s better not to over-plan in advance. Writing seems very daunting, particularly if I want to actually get published and earn money from it. Then again, everything seems daunting: marriage, work, getting up on time, shul and community (see below).

I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow (albeit very late) as I’m feeling that I can’t take much more of living alone for now. I do feel quite depressed (and glad I haven’t completely come off my olanzapine) and stressed about additional housework and, well, everything. Everything just seems overwhelming and difficult at the moment. I just emailed the mental health charity that helped me years ago again to try to see if they can help me now with sleep/life skills, but I’m not sure if I’m still eligible.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to help with moving books and the like to our temporary premises and then on to our new premises later in the year (hopefully). Part of me would like to help, but I just feel completely disconnected from them at the moment. I’m scared of being asked about my wedding and I just feel that my time there is running out. I never really felt accepted the way I hoped, which is probably at least partly my own fault. The temporary premises are about twenty minutes from my house (rather than ten minutes for the current ones) and in what is probably going to be a small, cramped room and full of autistic “new experience” anxiety. Then when they (we?) move to the new premises, that’s also twenty minutes away, and hopefully by then I’ll have a clearer idea of when I’m getting married and probably moving somewhere else (E doesn’t really want to live around here).

I sometimes get to a point with something where I just feel, “This is over” and lose all motivation to do anything to keep it going and I feel that’s where I am with my shul. I liked their commitment to quiet davening (prayer) and sense of humour and perspective about frum life, but it obviously was not enough for me to feel accepted, given the generally more moderate-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) outlook as well as my mental health and autism situation, not to mention being one of the few unmarried “older” people and the lack of interest in setting me up on dates as I expected/hoped (obviously not an issue now, but more of an issue a few years ago). My fear is that the social anxiety and autism will still be there in future shuls, and I’m already dreading going back to a shul where people talk in the davening (which is most Orthodox shuls, sadly).

***

Since finishing The Twilight Zone, and as E and I aren’t watching any Doctor Who together at the moment, I sped up my viewing of Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, I then hit the third season. The original Twin Peaks had charm, warmth, wit and strong characters. The third season has none of this, substituting semi-incoherent weirdness and long, aching, empty scenes, with occasional good bits that prevent me skipping it. The lack of incidental music makes the whole thing feel even stranger, like watching raw footage. However, I’m curious to re-watch to see if it makes more sense second-time around. So far the answer is yes, just about. And I recall that the final two episodes were pretty good, so I’m sticking with it for that.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been too down to want to watch this, so I decided to watch Doctor Who. As I want to watch good episodes of Doctor Who with E, I decided to watch something too awful to suggest watching with her, so — Silver Nemesis. It’s really not good at all. Maybe I should try to persuade E to restart watching good Doctor Who with me.

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Authenticity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

The Square Root of Infinity

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

The Great Journey of Life

We went out for dinner last night: me, my parents, my uncle (who was staying with us) and my sister and brother-in-law. Just before we left the house, the lights went out. We quickly ascertained that the whole road had lost power (actually, some of it hadn’t, weirdly, including the street lamp in front of the house, but most of it had). By the time we got to the restaurant, we realised that the whole area was out of power, including the restaurant, so we quickly made a reservation at the restaurant’s sister restaurant a couple of miles away. We had a good dinner, but, as usual, I spaced out at times, and lost my ability to concentrate properly before the end.

When we got home the power was back, which was good, as it turned out I couldn’t sleep, so I needed power to watch DVDs to try to unwind and to make hot chocolate. I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep. I probably needed more downtime to transition from peopling to sleep, but it could also have been caused by caffeine (I had a diet coke at the restaurant) or my recent work night insomnia or coming off olanzapine.

In the end I got two or three hours of sleep and somehow survived through a day of work today, although I fear I made even more mistakes than usual. I decided not to stay for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) at the shul (synagogue), as I wanted to leave early, but J ended up staying later than usual and I didn’t want to ask to leave before him, so the benefit was fairly marginal. I got tired and very bored at work, but not really depressed, which is good, given my medication-reduction situation.

Speaking of work mistakes, I did post on an autism forum the other day about tips for managing executive function issues. I didn’t get many answers and I’m not sure how feasible the ones I did get are in my situation, other than write checklists, which I do, and still forget things.

***

I feel I need to say that I’m in love with E, as some blog readers apparently thought I was marrying her out of obligation or purely to have children. I would not advise anyone to do either of these two things. I’m not sure if I need to say this, but, just to reassure anyone else who is wondering, our relationship is built on a mixture of mutual love and care, trust, acceptance, shared values and outlooks, and chemistry/physical attraction. And joint Doctor Who viewing. But I’m not going to say more than that, as it’s private between the two of us.

***

I participated in a Zoom call from my shul about our proposed new premises. It was quite a lot of doom and gloom, and then a sort-of positive ending. It looks like I’ll have to stop going to my shul in a month or two’s time, as we’re losing our current premises without having any replacement until the autumn. Various alternative options are being considered, but I’m not sure any are ideal for someone with autistic overload and social anxiety issues. Then in six months, they hope to start using new premises. People are excited about this, but I feel like I am halfway out the community already and it isn’t a time for new beginnings. I need to decide if I want to stay a member for now (probably, for complicated reasons to do with the burial scheme).

As it’s clear that my current shul isn’t the right one for E, even if we live in this area, which is not likely, it does seem to accelerate my departure. I guess I’ll have to go to my parents’ shul in the meantime, which is not ideal, but I guess will get me used to going to a United Synagogue shul again (too much talking, too much cantorial and choral music).

Doing Things, Reading Books

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Whoops, I Accidentally Bought a Library…

Work was difficult today, comparing data from a database with a spreadsheet and trying to find the discrepancy, which inevitably was something I did wrong. To be fair, I knew it was wrong at the time and tried to rectify it, but the system messed up the rectification. Then I struggled with another problem with a different database later, not my fault this time.

I nearly led services in shul (synagogue). I’m getting closer to doing it, but I’m still too scared of being too slow, and also of not starting the communal repetition of the Amidah prayer as soon as I’ve finished the private prayer, but waiting until I can see that nine other people have finished as required by halakhah (Jewish law). This, I suspect, will not be popular, because it also slows things down.

Perhaps because of this, on the way home, when I saw that the local charity shop was still selling books (I thought they had stopped), I went in “Just to look” and ended up with a couple of books by science fiction author Olaf Stapledon, one of those authors I’ve always meant to read and never quite got around to it. This is why I have so many books that I haven’t read, and no shelf space…

Work Keys, and Burning Out on Holiday

On the way into work, I got in a panic about not having completed a tax return, until my Mum pointed out that the return would be for the 2020-2021 financial year, where it’s unlikely I earnt enough (even including benefits) to pay tax, rather than the 2021-2022 financial year, where I probably will have to pay tax. However, I spent some time worrying about it before she pointed it out, and I do need to check the figures.

When I got into work, J told me I had made a mistake before going on holiday. Some people send in record books with their membership fees, which is supposed to be a way of recording how much they have paid. I am always worried that I will absent-mindedly send their cheques back with the books. It turns out that I did do that a few weeks ago. At least J wasn’t angry, but I feel embarrassed about these kind of executive function errors, even though I know they come with the autistic territory. We are not using the record books in the coming year, so I do at least have limited opportunities to make this mistake again.

J asked me to take a photo of some forms and send them to two contractors, which I did, but then realised I was charged by my phone company for sending media texts; I should have WhatsApped them (which I wasn’t sure I could do, but I now think I can).

Other than that there was a lot of basic admin work and a trip to the bank, which does break up the day. It was my last day as a contractor; tomorrow I become a permanent member of staff! Because of this, J gave me an electronic fob key for the front door, so I’ll be able to get in even if the security guard isn’t at his desk, although I need to get the key activated (or something technical) first.

I went to the shul (synagogue) in the building for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening services). No one wanted to lead the services. I sort of wanted to take the initiative, but held back because of social anxiety; fear that I would start shaking (which is a medication side-effect, but triggered by social anxiety and shortness of breath when masked); and fear that I would lead the prayers too slowly. I can not daven (pray) as fast as most people in this shul, and I would not daven that fast even if I could, as I think it’s insulting to God to speak to Him like that. I know most people at this minyan are taking time out from work and need to get back quickly, but I feel an extra two minutes would not hurt. But I worry what response I would get.

It is funny how some services seem to have ‘prestige’ and others don’t. People will fight for the right to lead some services (e.g. Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday evening), Mussaf (additional prayer service on Sabbaths and festivals), leining (Torah reading) and haftarah (reading from the prophets)), however those same people will fight not to have to lead weekday services, which seem to be seen as unimportant, probably because they are chanted rather than sung ‘properly’ and because relatively little skill is required to lead them compared with the more ‘prestigious’ services. You need to be able to read Hebrew reasonably well, but you don’t have to be able to sing, or memorise the vocalisation and musical notation of a passage.

***

Holiday: Thursday 20 January

E and I went to the Metropolitan Museum for a couple of hours, looking mainly at the Ancient Egyptian and Medieval Art galleries. It was fascinating and there was a lot to see, but we both got uncomfortable in our masks and I felt that I was tiring easily (which may have been due to masking, cold weather, autism and/or who knows what else). We ate lunch in Central Park (or I did; E doesn’t really eat lunch) and went for a bit of a walk around it, but it was uncomfortably cold and I was starting to get a headache (again), so we went back to E’s apartment so she could work and I read. It was nice just being in the same room, to be honest.

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant, in a COVID ‘outdoor’ seating area, a hut with a raised roof to let the air circulate, essentially a secular sukkah. I got them to turn the music down as it was giving me painful sensory overload. Sometimes I surprise myself (in this case regarding my confidence and ability to speak up for myself).

When we went out on this day, E noticed that the lockbox I was supposed to store the keys in at the end of my holiday had disappeared. It was fortunate that she noticed this, as I was able to get the landlord to buy a new one in time, otherwise my plans for my last day could have gone dramatically wrong. Sometimes it does feel like God is looking out for me (see also: having a free seat next to me on both plane journeys).

Friday 21 January

I felt pretty exhausted on this day. It led me to feel that, because of my autism, I can only do one thing per day, at most. This disappoints me, particularly after the packed holidays that my parents used to take me on as a child. I know E finds my lack of stamina hard to deal with too, but I don’t know what I can do to boost it.

Because of lack of stamina and exhaustion, I didn’t do much on this day, mostly just shopping for Shabbat, although Shabbat started so early I wouldn’t have managed much else anyway. My mood slumped at lunchtime and I’m not sure why.

E came over to my apartment for Shabbat dinner, although we didn’t get what we really wanted (sushi) and ended up making bad decisions about alternatives due to feeling stressed and overloaded (sensory overload and social overload).

Saturday 22 January

This was a chill out day, with E in my apartment for much of it. I had been enjoying being in an Airbnb, but from this point on, I began to find it a little creepy, like there was a ghost haunting the flat, by which I mean the presence of the landlord, who usually lived there when not abroad. I had amused myself making Sherlock Holmes-type deductions about her from her books and the newspaper clippings on the fridge, but I began to feel an impostor, like she wouldn’t want me to be there if she knew me (this was partly political, feeling that she wouldn’t agree with me politically and would think me a bad person). Things were made worse when we dripped some wax on a chair when making havdalah (ritual at end of the Sabbath involving a multi-wicked candle). She was OK about it, but I felt she ought to be angrier, even though the ‘house manual’ provided did not say anything about not lighting candles (contrary to what she said).

More practically, the bed was uncomfortable for me: the mattress too soft, the pillows too thin and the cushion I used to try to raise my head was the wrong shape and too hard, as it was a beanbag cushion. Perhaps as a result of this, I had weird dreams all week.

After the Holiday; The Holiday Retrospect

I think the Talmud says it takes three days to recover from a journey (this had practical halakhic (legal) consequences in Talmudic times that don’t apply any more). A journey in Talmudic times was obviously likely to be longer, more difficult and more dangerous that the one I’ve got back from, but I still feel exhausted. To my surprise, I found the energy to go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, albeit somewhat late. I sat at the back and didn’t talk to anyone after the service. I didn’t really want to socialise. I was probably exhausted at dinner and everything I said seemed to come out sounding more angry than I intended. I napped for an hour and a half after dinner and consequently couldn’t sleep at night. I might still be running on Eastern Standard Time instead of Greenwich Mean Time.

Today was mostly spent sleeping and doing Torah study again. I didn’t feel up to going to shul or shiur (religious class), which did not surprise me, as it’s such a struggle to go at the moment (post-COVID) even without jet lag and travel stress. After Shabbat, and helping to tidy up, I didn’t do much except plough through some emails and write this.

***

I argued with Dad about COVID restrictions. I said I might not wear a mask to shul in future, which he thought was risky. I said that I’m triple-vaxxed so COVID is unlikely to be like more than a bout of flu for me, and I accept the risk of catching flu every year. My sister currently has COVID and says it feels like a bad cold. To be honest, I vacillate on this. Sometimes I do feel that we have to accept COVID as being like flu and live with it; other times I worry about going to places with no masks. I think my father is similarly confused; he went to the theatre (masked) with Mum while I was away, which I am currently very reluctant to do, even though I travel on the Tube a couple of times a week. I find it hard to work out a consistent level of COVID safety that satisfies me, as so much depends on habit (I’m used to using the Tube in the pandemic by now; I’m not used to going to the theatre or cinema), media influence (if I’ve been reading articles for or against greater opening up) and peer pressure (including the negative peer pressure of masking to allow myself to look down on anti-maskers).

***

Over Shabbat I finished reading Talmudic Images, a series of short biographical essays on leading figures in the Talmud by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz that I bought and started reading in New York. I find it has given me more of a grasp of the chronology of the Talmud and how it fits together, particularly for the post-Mishnaic period. Perhaps strangely for someone on the spectrum, I find it easier to understand abstract arguments if I understand a little of the people proposing them. This approach was controversial with the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world, though; one of the reasons why Rabbi Steinsaltz’s Talmud translation/commentary was rejected by that community was the (much shorter) biographical sketches he provided there of leading Talmudic figures. Rabbi Steinsaltz’s willingness to state that great rabbis had human flaws, and his suggestion that their personalities and worldviews might have influenced their halakhic (legal) reasoning are seen as incorrect and even immoral in the Haredi world, which prefers to see great rabbis as perfect saints operating in a universe of pure logic and reason.

***

Holiday: Tuesday 18 January: Coming to America

I arrived at the airport only to feel rather overwhelmed by the number of people and the confusion about what I had to do. Airports are not the most autism-friendly places. I managed to check in at the automated check in point and then drop off my luggage and get my COVID vaccination and test details checked. A baby in a parallel queue started waving to me; I waved back at her, but felt sad that she couldn’t see me smile because of my mask. As humans are social beings, and communication is through body language as much as speech, mask-wearing is not a cost-free option.

I got through security OK and eventually onto the plane. I was lucky enough to have a free seat next to me on both the way out and the way back, despite both planes being nearly full. This made me feel more comfortable and less crammed in. One of the air stewardesses looked and sounded exactly like Jodie Whittaker (the current Doctor Who), at least as far as I could tell with her mask on.

I did get a headache on the flight which approached being a migraine. It probably kicked in about three-quarters of the way through the flight. I’m not sure if I was dehydrated, as the amount of liquid they give you on an eight hour flight is minimal and I forgot to buy a bottle of water after clearing security, or if it’s a form of travel sickness, as I got a migraine last time I travelled abroad too. A quick internet search shows that aeroplane headaches are apparently a thing lots of people suffer. I hope this isn’t going to be a regular feature of air travel for me. I took some painkillers, but they didn’t help much.

I passed the time with reading The Psychology of Time Travel (very good science fiction mystery novel), listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast and, listening to episodes of The Goon Show and Round the Horne. When the headache became too bad to read I tried watching a wildlife documentary on the in-flight entertainment console, but it had a rather more sadistic focus on the brutal death of young chicks than I felt able to deal with in my headache-weakened state, so I gave up and watched The Simpsons. From what I’ve seen, recent episodes are not as funny as the early episodes, but they are still amusing compared with most comedy on TV.

I met E at the airport without any trouble, but my headache was worsened by the long taxi journey to the apartment I was renting, and I was glad I didn’t throw up in the cab. E and I were both driven quietly crazy by the cab’s audio system, which seemed to be playing the same half-dozen adverts over and over and over. When we arrived, we found the lockbox that was supposed to contain the apartment keys open and the keys missing. We were about to find a cafe where we could try to message the landlord when I remembered she had a cleaner and thought that she might be in there. I buzzed the apartment to find that, yes, the cleaner was running late and still up there.

I was more intimidated than I thought I would be by the loft bed (a sort of bunkbed for grown-ups), but someone had made the bed on a mattress on the floor instead, so I didn’t have to climb up every evening. I was also intimidated by the copper kettle, to be boiled on the gas stove. I was terrified of breaking it somehow, so simply refused to drink hot drinks in my apartment. I also realised that American toilet paper is awful, far too thin and flimsy.

When my headache felt better, E and I ventured out for dinner. We went to a kosher pizza restaurant relatively close by and ordered one pizza to take away for the two of us. I was worried if this would be enough, but when it arrived, it was big enough for two. We ate in my apartment, after which E left me so I could have an earlyish night.

Late/Early Post

I’m not sure if this is a late post for Saturday night or an early one for Sunday night.

My holiday seems to have taken over my life right now, and not in a good way.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was quiet. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) to minimise my risk of contracting COVID in the days before my flight.

After Shabbat I intended to do some trip-planning and printing of documents, as well as getting a birthday card for my sister. The planning and printing took hours, far longer than expected, and resulted in worries about whether I was getting the right COVID tests before and after the trip. I didn’t have time for getting a card. I think I was still doing holiday stuff midnight. I was stressed and tired, but not sleepy (too stressed). I watched The Simpsons for a bit and got to bed around 2am.

I woke up four hours later with a headache and feeling nauseous. I took some tablets, used a kool and soothe strip and sat up reading. I’m trying to finish The Impossible Office? The History of the British Prime Minister before my trip (or the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership, whichever is the sooner…). I’m not taking it with, as it’s a big, heavy hardback, and I’d rather not have to come back to it for the last twenty or thirty pages after a break. At 7am I tried going back to bed, but felt ill lying down, so I got up again. I did some more checking about the COVID test (see below)

***

My big worry is the COVID test before leaving. My Dad has asked in a local pharmacy and they say they do COVID antigen testing. I’ve been pushing my search engine skills to the limit, trying to check if they’re a government-approved COVID tester. It looks like the pharmacy rents part of the building to Medicspot, who are a government-approved COVID tester, but it’s not 100% clear and it’s panicking me. I have at least confirmed that I can get a self-test kit from Boots pharmacy chain for the return trip test.

The whole situation is difficult. The government’s list is not user-friendly, and it’s hard to be sure that other information online is up-to-date.

I’m still worried that a test will reveal asymptomatic COVID and keep me grounded in the UK, or I’ll catch COVID and get stranded in New York, but I just have to keep planning and getting ready on the assumption/hope that everything will go fine.

***

Since getting up early, as well as checking for COVID tests, I’ve bought my sister a card, so that’s something out of the way at least. My headache seems to be coming back though. I should start packing soon, but I ought to take some more painkillers first.

“The silence you hear is Mr Neddie Seagoon sitting and waiting”

Work was stressful as I spent nearly five hours inputting cheques for membership fees onto the system and then going to the bank to pay them all in, about fifty cheques in all plus some cash. J pointed out some mistakes in previous work, and I worry that working on this for so long with just one real break for lunch would lead to more errors. In addition, one of the cheques I took to the bank on Monday went missing. I think it was the bank’s error (I’m not sure how it could have been mine), but it worries me a bit, and I worry that today’s lot could easily have a mistake made by me as well by as the bank teller. One of the cheques had somehow got a bit sticky, and I worry that it will stick to another cheque and not be processed separately, which is probably what happened on Monday.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) at the shul in the building where I work. It was super-fast as usual. I suppose people davening (praying) in this shul during the week are mostly working and need to get back to work, but it’s far too fast for me and I’m still davening when the service is over. It’s hard to find a shul that davens at the right pace for me; sadly, I don’t think I’m going to find it in the United Synagogue.

***

I’m not going to shul this Shabbat (Sabbath) as I want to avoid COVID before my trip by isolating as much as possible, although my Dad will go to his shul. I had a close call today when I heard that the rabbi of the shul in the building where I work is isolating after getting COVID. I had seen him in shul (albeit from a distance) on Monday and don’t know if he was infected then. I did a test when I got home and it was negative, so hopefully I’ll be OK if I just avoid people between now and Tuesday (hence the title of this post, from The Goon Show: The Junk Affair, about sitting in silence and waiting).

I have some anxieties about travel, beyond getting asymptomatic COVID and being grounded, but I’m trying not to give in to catastrophisation. Wish me luck…

***

I admit I was too zonked after work to read this properly, but someone sent me to Temple Gradin’s article about good jobs for people on the autism spectrum. She did at least mention librarian (so I wasn’t in the wrong field entirely, I just went about it in completely the wrong way, albeit for reasons that were perhaps outside of my control). Many of the other jobs are IT/maths/technical jobs. Sometimes I feel like I got all the bad parts of autism and none of the good parts, skills with maths and computers. There are also some very low-grade jobs too. Gradin does say to opt for jobs where you have to sell your work, not your personality, which suggests I’m right to look at writing, copywriting and proof-reading, but I’ve never been able to build up the portfolio of work needed to get more work, and anything freelance requires a leap in the dark about how much to charge and how quickly I can promise to do things. I have no idea how long it should or would take me to proof-read a thesis, or how much to charge for doing so, or how to prove to someone I can do it when I’ve never done it before.

***

This article asks what holiness is. I’ve always struggled with this, perhaps surprisingly, given how religious I am. I’m not a mystic, so I’m not convinced it is a “metaphysical substance” that our souls can perceive. Although Judaism generally sees the holy as that which is ‘beyond’ or ‘set aside,’ with my religious existentialist leanings, I tend to see it as being ‘between’ — between human beings or between human beings and God. I think there was holiness at the food bank and the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer. In this regard I think of what Rabbi Sacks said about the holiest place in Judaism being the gap between the wings of the cherubs on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, from where God’s voice emanated, to teach us that holiness is about between spaces, interactions, between people and God and between different people. Rabbi Sacks also used to talk about the importance of listening as a religious act. But if holiness is between human beings, then I’m very bad at accessing it, or being able to access it, given my autism and social anxiety, so I feel like I’ve defeated myself in a way. That said, I do feel something on Shabbat that I can’t describe, and that may be holiness; at least, I hope it is.

More Anxieties

I’ve been so focused on holiday stuff lately that Shabbat (the Sabbath) felt like something of a pause. I went to shul on Friday night and had some COVID anxiety. I might have had it anyway, but the windows and doors, which had usually been left open since COVID started, were mostly shut because of the cold, and that made it worse. I didn’t go back today, which may be COVID anxiety-related or that may be a way of rationalising something I wouldn’t do anyway, as I haven’t been to shul on Saturday afternoon much since the clocks went back. But I am worried of catching COVID and not being able to fly to the USA next week. Perhaps strangely, my biggest fear is getting asymptomatic COVID and not being able to go despite feeling fine, which somehow seems worse that not being able to go because I’m too ill to get out of bed.

I’m also wary of going to shul in case people ask when my wedding will be (this has already happened to me once, from someone who I thought would not do it). I guess the norm in the frum (religious Jewish) world is for a gap of six weeks to three or four months or so from engagement to wedding, although I admit this is partly guesswork on my part, as I haven’t known anyone frum enough to watch the process play out for them. The reality is that E and I are hoping to get married sometime this year (as in 2022, not Jewish year), but probably later rather than sooner. E has some anxiety issues that we want to work on first, to make sure they really are anxiety in the psychological sense and not misgivings about us, so we’re dealing with that in various ways, including my forthcoming trip. We probably won’t start organising the wedding until the spring. But I don’t really want to say that to people

I had some slight anxiety myself today, probably because I forgot to take my morning meds. The anxiety focused on my trip, mostly about practical things about my trip, particularly getting mugged. My mind associates New York with muggers, although I think statistically it is about as crime-free/crime-ridden as London these days. Possibly I’ve read too much Batman. I did get mugged in London several years ago, on a quiet suburban street, in broad daylight, round the corner from where I lived at the time, which probably is a lesson that the things we worry about are not exactly the things that happen. But mostly I was OK today, which is a good sign, showing that I’m not as dependent on my antidepressants as in the past.

E and I both have some COVID anxieties about restaurants too, and that came up today too. I have eaten in restaurants in the UK since COVID started, but not often and generally preferring those establishments that were not full or that allowed outside eating (before winter set in). I think E and I may have to play our eating out by ear, or eat a lot of takeaway, which would be a shame, but this is going to be an unusual trip and a learning curve in so many ways. The important thing for me is to see (and hug) E and make her feel less anxious, rather than to have an amazing holiday in terms of food and sightseeing.

I drank a cup of coffee at seudah shlishit (the Third Sabbath meal, although really a snack at this time of year, when Shabbat finishes a little after 5pm) and that stopped me falling asleep in the afternoon as I have done too much lately. I did some Talmud study instead. That said, it is 11.30pm and I am not in the slightest bit tired, so I probably still slept too much.

I’m still recording energy intake and expenditure to do some energy allocating/budgeting. I want to do it for a while longer before I make any decisions, and allocating numerical values to show how much various activities drain or energise me is a bit arbitrary, but already I’ve noticed massive energy deficits on weekdays, particularly on workdays, but even to some extent on other weekdays. No wonder I always feel tired. I feel I ‘balance the books’ more over Shabbat, but at a cost of limited shul attendance and perhaps less Torah study than I would have liked.

More On Energy Allocation

I didn’t blog yesterday as nothing much happened. I was off work as it was a bank holiday. I went in to the office today. I missed my stop on the Tube as I was engrossed in my reading. This was good, in a way, as I was reading Mishnah (the oldest stratum of the Talmud) and was surprised that I got so involved in it that I missed my stop.

Work itself was boring. I spent about three and a half hours stuffing invoices into envelopes and then putting stamps on them. I couldn’t listen to music, as I had forgotten to charge my iPod and wanted to leave what battery it had left for the journey home. For variety, I had to take a few credit card payments over the phone, which I still find awkward, but it is getting less scary with experience. I spent a little bit of time on the large statistics-collating task I started last week, which wasn’t as fearsome as it first seemed, although there is a lot to do, including the hardest bits.

There was some bad mask compliance on the Tube. Most people are actually wearing masks, but the few who aren’t are sometimes overly-conspicuous or downright stupid, like the woman today not wearing her mask so she could speak on the phone, but with her hand over her mouth, or the guy last week who not only was not wearing a mask, but was also picking his nose (gross!).

I was exhausted/burnt out/whatever it is by the time I got home. I’ve been trying to allocate values showing how much each activity drains or replenishes my energy and just from one working day I can see better how draining work is for me, even with the reduced hours I’m doing and even without taking into account commuting and going to the shul in the building for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) after work. Interestingly, going online to catch up on emails and blogs as soon as I get in (well, after I’ve spoken to my parents, anyway) was definitely draining rather than replenishing today, which surprised me a bit. I’m not sure how to cut or reduce that without falling behind on things, but it does look like a seriously bad idea. Last summer I sometimes came home and sat in the garden and read a book for half an hour before going online, which might be a sensible habit to get back into, albeit indoors until the weather improves.

***

For the last few days I’ve been going through cycles of higher and lower anxiety. I get anxious about my trip to New York, then I do research on whatever it is I’m anxious about or move forward with booking things and I feel less anxious until the next thing comes up to worry about.

In terms of trip planning, I thought finding an Airbnb near E would be easier and cheaper than finding a kosher or Shabbat-compliant hotel. This may not have been true, I’m not sure. I tried looking on Airbnb, but struggled to get a sense of what was close to E. My sense of geography is not great regarding places I’ve been to, let alone places I’ve only seen on a map, plus Airbnb will only give the rough location until you confirm you are going. E helped me find somewhere that looked reasonable and I booked it. I’m very worried about COVID ruining this, but hopefully I’ll be in New York in two weeks!

It will be good to spend time with E and to be able to do couple things again. Dating long-distance is hard, and dating long-distance with mental health issues and neurodiversity to factor in is extra-hard, but I think ultimately it could make our relationship stronger in the long-term. Certainly we have an ability to talk to each other very honestly and openly about our feelings and come away feeling closer to each other, and I know that’s a massively important and powerful thing to have in a relationship, especially given that I’m autistic and not always good at emotional and interpersonal things. I’m excited about my holiday and seeing E, albeit also scared to acknowledge that excitement lest it somehow jinx things through C*V*D.

Good Year for the Roses

As Elvis Costello so nearly sang, “It’s a good year for the Roses/Also the Cohens and the Goldbergs…” I don’t really do Gregorian New Years, I focus on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn, but I have been feeling a bit more introspective than usual the last few days. 2021 was, in many ways, and for many people, an awful year, but for me there were many positives (autism diagnosis, getting back with E, getting engaged, having my job made permanent, getting to a stage where I felt able to start submitting my novel manuscript to agents, having an idea for my second novel) in amidst the continuing COVID awfulness. I am ready for COVID to be over now, though.

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was unexciting. I got to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not on Saturday. COVID has made shul attendance so much harder than it was before, and social anxiety had already made it patchy before COVID. One person asked if I had set a date yet for the wedding. I said that COVID is making wedding planning hard, which is true, but E and I have agreed not to start planning at least until I’ve been out there. We just want to spend some more time doing couple stuff before we plan the wedding, given how little time we’ve been able to spend together in person, thanks to COVID.

I did some Torah study, and finished reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, largely due to a bout of insomnia on Friday night. It held my attention, and I can see why children like it so much, but I’m not quite sure why it was so popular with adults. I’m feel like I’m too old to believe ten year olds know better than adults what to do in a crisis, and the book is permeated by the ethos of all the main characters being the best in the school at something, as if we won’t empathise with normal people, a motif that was annoying in Star Trek too. I probably will read the other books in the series, but I’m not rushing out to get them all right now.

I am hoping to get to bed by midnight and up by 10am (on non-work days, obviously I get up earlier on those). This is not a New Year’s Resolution as such, just something I wanted to do and 1 January was a good time to start. I seem to have blown the midnight idea tonight though. If I can manage to get up and go to bed earlier, I will reward myself with doughnuts, despite my somewhat half-hearted diet.

***

Doctor Who today was not great. I think it was supposed to be a comedy thriller, but I didn’t find it funny. Repeatedly saying “Daleks are not [fill in the blank]” does not count as comedy. The premise was intriguing, but the story did not develop enough, nor the characters. I said I wouldn’t write any more negative reviews, but I don’t know what else to say. It wasn’t bad, just underwhelming, and the waste of a good idea.

And Yaz has fallen in love with the Doctor! Why do they keep doing this? In the original series, the companion never fell in love with the Doctor (even when the actress did and that bled through to the performances). And only once did he fall in love with someone or anyone else fell in love with him, and that was in the first season, before they really decided what the parameters of the programme were. Since the 1996 TV Movie, we’ve had Grace, Rose, Martha, Amy, River Song, Queen Elizabeth I, Clara (according to Madam Vastra), perhaps Bill (according to Twice Upon a Time) and now Yaz, plus Idris/the TARDIS. Why? It is really not why I’m watching. If I wanted to watch a romance, I would watch a romance. As far as I’m aware (Paula?) romance stories don’t generally feature random time-travellers or aliens just in case someone wants that (I’m not counting The Time-Traveller’s Wife), so why should Doctor Who feature numerous repetitive love stories? Love stories that we know won’t go anywhere, because the nature of the format is that the Doctor isn’t going to settle down somewhere. Or is it just me? Possibly. As I’ve said before, I don’t think modern Doctor Who is bad so much as totally out of sync with my taste, and the things I like from the original series.

Monsters: Anxious, Insomniac, Green-Eyed and Antisemitic

At shul (synagogue) yesterday evening, they announced my engagement to E. Quite a few people wished me mazal tov and several wanted to talk a bit about E and me. Only one person seemed too inquisitive and unwilling to heed my hints that I didn’t want to talk about particular things (in this case, why E will probably be moving here rather than me moving to the US), which was probably a minor miracle, as people can sometimes be nosy. I think I was even a little bit pleased at the attention, although it did bring back some anxiety.

I was drained all day, but shul finished me off. I didn’t manage to do much Torah study in the evening, although I did a little.

I was pretty anxious over Shabbat, partly because of this, but also because I know E is struggling with anxiety too and it’s really hard not being able to be present physically for her. Over Shabbat I can’t even text or Skype. I just want to give her a hug! I decided that I want to go to the US as soon as possible in the new year. I was planning on going in January or February, but now I want to do it as early as possible (or safe). Unfortunately, the COVID news is not good. Today the Mayor of London declared COVID in London to be a “major incident,” (a term usually reserved for terrorist attacks) and the Netherlands went back into lockdown. A post-Christmas lockdown in the UK and/or US looks pretty likely, sadly, so I’ve no idea when I’ll be able to go to the States.

(As an aside, I feel like we’re only going to get out of this COVID situation with mandatory vaccinations to ensure herd immunity. I’m triple vaxxed, but I’m wary of giving any government that much control over people’s bodies. But the alternative seems to be endless lockdowns. COVID feels more and more like one of those horror film franchises that goes on until everyone’s sick of it (literally)).

Going back to Friday, I dozed after dinner, which was probably a mistake, as I had insomnia when I went to bed later. I had finished reading Gaudy Night and started People Love Dead Jews by Dara Horn. It’s a well-written, but depressing book about Jews and non-Jews. It’s about antisemitism, but also other ways people look at Jews. For example, the first chapter sees Anne Frank as being presented by the world as an innocent uniquely empowered to grant absolution to the non-Jewish world (Horn explicitly draws the parallel with Jesus) rather than engaging with her story and the complexities of her life and what she would have experienced in the death camps (the diary stops before then). She compares Anne Frank’s diary with diaries and memoirs written inside the death camps or afterwards by survivors which are more brutal in their lack of redemption, but which are not as well-known.

This essay reminded me of something I’ve thought of myself. As Horn says, most people have never met a Jew. This is pretty much inevitable given the small Jewish global population and the fact that it’s concentrated in just a few places. People think about Jews using the images in the wider culture, and with Jews I feel the religious imagery of Jesus and Judas as the most prominent Jews in the Christian story is very powerful, even in post-Christian Europe. The expectation is that Jews should be morally perfect and all-forgiving (again, see Anne Frank). If not, we must be the worst of all possible people. It’s very black and white. This turns up in the media a lot, news media and fiction (it appears several times in the works of John le Carre, for example).

I did feel some envy for Dara Horn, who seems to have the life as an academic and writer that I would have liked. It’s a futile thing to think about, but it’s there. I wonder what I would want more, the kudos of being an acclaimed writer, or simply the financial security it would bring E and me? Anyway, I try not to think like this, but it’s hard not to sometimes.

When Dara Horn got too depressing, I switched to Batman (Batman: The Dark Knight Detective Volume 5). I go in and out of Batman phases. I think relatively few Batman stories conform to what I want from a Batman story, which is primarily deduction, rather than endless fight scenes. These stories were woke, or the nineties equivalent thereof. I don’t really see a problem with being anti-pollution or in favour of helping disadvantaged schoolchildren, but a Batman story is a pretty blunt instrument to use to get that moral across, particularly when you only have twenty-two pages to do that and tell a story.

I did eventually fall asleep last night. Today I was drained. I skipped shul (synagogue) and shiur (religious class). I just didn’t feel up to it. I dozed in the afternoon, which was probably a bad move. Since then I’ve been doing the usual post-Shabbat tidying chores and other chores, as well as some Torah study. I Skyped E briefly, to check in with her and just to connect, really.

***

I still feel overwhelmed by everything that is going on in my life. I feel like I’ve been falling between two stools, sometimes trying to do too much and staying up late to do it, other times trying to get up early and get an earlier start on my days, but not really managing either of these consistently, and being burnt out too much of the time. I want to set myself a challenge of getting to bed earlier and getting up earlier, or at least trying to do so, but it’s hard to go to bed with so many things to do. I feel desperate to start work on my novel in earnest, and my Torah study seems to have dropped from about an hour a day to half an hour. Not for the first time, I feel like my religious life is bedieved, Hebrew for ‘after the event’ meaning, you shouldn’t do this in the first instance, but if you did it accidentally, it’s OK after the event. I would like to be living a more ideal religious life, but it doesn’t seem to be possible.

***

My therapist suggested trying some affirmations to stay focused on the here and now and avoid drifting into anxiety. I have had mixed results with these in the past. Years ago I had an occupational therapist (through a Jewish mental health charity) who printed and laminated some cards with affirmations for me. I tried to find them, but the only ones I found were “People have learnt from me” and “I am a well-respected person.” I’m not sure whether the second one is even true, and the first seems oddly specific, but maybe I need to have something specific rather than a general “I am worth it” statement that feels empty and meaningless.

Shabbat and the Meaning of Suffering

I went to shul (synagogue) last Friday as usual. Because it’s near the solstice, Shabbat (the Sabbath) starts really early in London, about 3.35pm. I got home from shul about 4.45pm, which is too early for dinner. Normally I would do some Torah study in the intervening time, but I just wanted to crash, so I read more of Gaudy Night and planned to do Torah study after dinner. Unfortunately, after dinner my bedroom was very cold. I crawled under the covers for what I intended would be a few minutes to warm up, but I fell asleep and woke up around 10pm with a headache. Fortunately, it was amenable to medication and I did get some time for Torah study and hitbodedut (meditation/spontaneous prayer).

I dreamt about Rabbi Lord Sacks again last night. I think I was working for him. I don’t really remember much about the dream. It’s strange that I keep dreaming about him, but I guess he is still a part of my life as I have been reading about him and re-reading some of his essays. It just seems strange as my Dad dreams about family a lot, living and especially dead (his parents, aunts and uncles) and is always excited to share these dreams with us because he sees it as a way of connecting with people he loves who are gone. I’m not sure if he believes he is, in some way, in contact with their souls, or if he just likes thinking about them. I think he would find it strange for me to react in a similar way to someone I never really met, but a Torah teacher can be a very important person in a religious Jew’s life, someone who really shapes their worldview.

Today I surprised myself by getting to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class). I did struggle to follow the class though. I think I go as much to join in with the community as too study, as I understand the Talmud text better when I prepare before class or revise afterwards (when I can take things at my own pace) than when I’m actually in the class (when I have to keep up and am also ‘peopling’ with people I don’t always feel comfortable with).

I tried to eat less junk over Shabbat. I cut down during the week too, but I don’t eat a lot of junk during the week. I want to lose some weight before I get married, although as my weight-gain was mainly medication-induced, and I’m definitely not coming off my meds, I’m not sure if this is a vain hope.

After Shabbat I caught up on some chores that I feel have been hanging over me for a while. I feel a bit less overwhelmed. Marriage and house-hunting still feel like big things, but hopefully we can break them down into manageable chunks once we get started on them. As for writing, I hope to get into a pattern of submitting my manuscript to a couple of agents each week. Although I’m about to get very busy, I’d like to start work on my new novel, as I feel not writing is doing bad things to me, emotionally as well as to my writing skills. I’m wary of starting writing without having done enough research, but I feel that, with a bit more research, I’ll feel able to at least start a first draft, while doing more research alongside it. At any rate, it’s a start.

***

I was thinking about my residual beliefs in a punitive God over Shabbat. I’ve always known that ‘officially’ I’m ‘supposed’ to see God as merciful, but I’ve always struggled to do so.

In one of the Jewish newspapers there was an article by a Reform rabbi who, as a hospital chaplain, had a conversation with a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) patient who asked what he had done for God to punish Him. The rabbi could not believe in a punishing God, while the patient could not believe in an understanding of suffering that wasn’t rooted in punishment.

I felt that both perspectives were flawed. I find it hard to believe in a religiously-grounded moral order without some kind of punishment. I don’t think Hitler and Stalin got off scot-free. However, I don’t think that all or even most suffering is punishment.

To some extent the problem is semantic. As something of a Maimonidean religious rationalist, I feel that God has made a world of consequences and then told us how to avoid (some of) the bad consequences. People who smoke tend to develop cancer. God doesn’t “punish” smokers with cancer, but he created a world of cause and effect and if you ingest carcinogens on a regular basis, you have an increased chance of getting cancer.

Similarly, the moral world has its consequences. If you are persistently unkind, unsympathetic, stingy, critical, unhelpful (etc.) you are likely to find yourself without friends. God is not “punishing” you for not performing acts of chessed (kindness), but He has set up a world where being kind and community-minded creates bonds of friendship while being misanthropic does not.

I feel there are several reasons why God might cause or allow suffering (probably not an exhaustive list, and I’m not going into the free will/predestination conflict if Person A inflicts harm on Person B and God does not intervene — the Medieval Jewish philosophers really went to town on that one):

  1. Suffering is the consequence of unhealthy actions (physical or moral) by an individual ;
  2. Suffering is a reminder of mortality and human finitude intended to prompt introspection and growth;
  3. Related to this, suffering is an external cause of growth (whereas 2 is an internal process of introspection and repentance, 3 is about practical growth to overcome an external obstacle);
  4. The suffering is an inherent part of fulfilling an individual’s or collective’s mission in life.

To be honest, 2 and 3 shade into each other to a significant extent and could probably be reduced to a single point if I tried hard enough and even 1 is not that far off.

When I was very depressed, I wondered if God wanted me to be miserable forever as part of my mission on Earth (4). This has turned out not to be the case, but I do still worry about being faced with an external challenge that I fail (3). My mind tends to anxiously posit scenarios where I am forced to choose between two unappealing outcomes, one religiously forbidden and one merely awful, but religiously permitted. I struggle to imagine myself having the strength of will to choose the awful, but permitted over the forbidden. I suppose it’s another way of saying that I’m afraid that God will take away the good things in my life, but rather than Him doing that suddenly, by an Act of God (so to speak), He puts me in a position where I have to choose to forgo them, which somehow seems worse, not least because I fear I will choose short-term pleasure instead.

At root of this is a lack of trust in God, a feeling that anything good I have might be taken away from me, and that my destiny is to spend my life in loneliness and misery. The events of the last year or so have challenged this outlook: I’ve been in regular (if part-time) work, I finally got my autism diagnosis (which hasn’t led to many practical benefits yet, but has been a game-changer in terms of self-esteem), I got back together with E, and got engaged, but there is still the fear that everything could be taken away from me, suddenly and without warning, like Iyov (Job).

It is hard to know what to do with this thought. It is not how a religious Jew is supposed to think about God — we are supposed to trust Him — but one good year struggles to be heard over nearly twenty fairly miserable and lonely years beforehand. In many ways, the hardest part is that I can see how adversity helped me grow as a person, so I can’t deny that future adversity might help me grow more, I just hope there’s a way I can grow without it, or at least without the challenge of losing the things I hold most dear.

Trying to Engage With the World

I wrote the following paragraph in a private blog post yesterday:

I realised that my desire not to tell friends about E and my engagement is perhaps partly to try to make a sudden change (‘not engaged’ to ‘engaged’) more manageable by slowing it down, but mostly I’m just avoiding difficult conversations, particularly with my shul rabbi. I think I need to grasp the nettle and tell him we don’t want him to marry us. And that if people in my shul think it’s weird that we’re taking longer than three months to organise a wedding — well, it’s really not my problem either (easier said than done though).

E and I spoke a bit about this today. I hope to start telling some friends, J at work, and my community, about my engagement next week. I intend to do it slowly, not all of them in one go. Telling people is scary, but I need to do it, otherwise I’ll just turn up one day with a wife they weren’t expecting.

***

Now I’m engaged, I feel I should try to earn more money to contribute to the family income. E doesn’t care that she will be the main breadwinner, but I want to do more than I currently am doing, even though at times I feel extended to my maximum. This is frustrating, as I’m not always sure why I’m so exhausted all the time. I need to send my novel manuscript to more agents, but it’s hard to get the time or the relationship between fatigue, autism and residual depression.

I get job search emails, but can’t find anything suitable, especially as I have lost confidence in my identity as a librarian. I do want to brainstorm article ideas for the Jewish site I wrote for (about Asperger’s in the frum (religious Jewish) community) and to look at old divrei Torah and see if any can be repurposed.

I did get permission for the site to republish an article I wrote for Den of Geek on religious OCD, but, aside from needing to wait for some paperwork, I’m unsure whether to go through with it. It’s from the past, for one thing. My religious OCD is mostly under control, and I don’t want to dwell on it or make people think that it’s still a major issue. Beyond that, I think the Jewish site would want to publish under my real name and they would have to credit Den of Geek too, which means that, theoretically, someone with good Google skills could find the Den of Geek article, which uses my Luftmentsch pseudonym and match it up with my real name. Then again, maybe I don’t have much to hide; after all the article about being autistic in the frum community was published under my real name and got positive feedback. I worry about putting off potential employers if I associate myself with too much mental health and autism material online, but maybe I should be more concerned with building up a portfolio of powerful articles under my real name. However, I’m not sure whether I’d want people (especially from the Jewish site) to find the Hevria articles I wrote with the Luftmentsch pseudonym, especially the one about being scared of sex. I don’t actually remember much of what I said in that article, but I suspect it wasn’t entirely frum world-friendly.

I still feel as if I’ve been struggling to get on top of things since the autumn festivals a couple of months ago. Maybe the struggle is more perceived than real, I’m not sure. I think I am catching up on the chores I was behind, but I haven’t sent out my manuscript to many agents, nor have I made much progress with research for my next novel, let alone with writing. I’m not sure whether to dive in with writing while researching. I feel like research might influence my writing in a big way, which indicates waiting until more research is done, but I worry about my writing skills atrophying. If I could get up earlier on my non-work days, it would be a big help, just in terms of helping me to do more things in a day. At the moment I feel like I’m constantly focusing on the most urgent things and not necessarily the most important.

***

Face masks are mandatory in lots of places again, including shul (synagogue). I think there’s going to be a winter lockdown. I’m just feeling pessimistic about ever getting out of COVID (which in my case also includes being able to hug see my fiancée again and ultimately be able to get married). I had a whole long thing here about when do we decide to live with COVID, like flu and pneumonia, but I cut it because it seems callous. I’m not callous, or a COVID-denier, I just want to know what the exit strategy is. It’s hard to think that there is one sometimes. It was supposed to be vaccines, but here we are, with antivaxxers in the West and much of the developing world unvaccinated (because of lack of vaccines) and generating new variants.

***

I’m still reading Gaudy Night. I said previously that it’s a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, but I’m over halfway through and he’s barely appeared. I’m not complaining, as Harriet Vane is an interesting substitute.

It’s set in Oxford. I’ve been away for so long that I can only half-remember the geography. There was a bit I read today with with an overworking student who doesn’t take any time off and ends up attempting suicide. This was horribly like how I was in my time there, although unlike the student in the book, I wasn’t being sent anonymous letters telling me I was useless and should kill myself. I did that all by myself. Even so, the scene seemed only familiar in a vague sense. I think the negative associations I once had with Oxford have subsided somewhat. It all seems a very long time ago now, almost another life.