A Very Good Disguise

Today was a not-very-good day, full of waking too early on not enough sleep, a pigeon on the Tube train, Tube delays, boring work and sukkah-building (which was actually good, but I was exhausted by then from less than five hours sleep after a day of fasting). I also miss E a lot and being long-distance is just SO HARD now. The most annoying thing was someone on the autism forum claiming that Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t a disability, but actually involves advanced sensibilities and special abilities (superior to NTs) and that if only we could end neurotypical (NT) stigma, Asperger’s sufferers would be fine. I thought this was nonsense and got angry.

When I get angry, it tends to result in pedantry as much as fury. I did think of posting the response below on the forum, but chickened out. I foresaw an endless discussion of what adjustments are “realistic” and just how much NT society would have to change, and how self-destructive those changes would be, to NTs and to society and the economy as a whole, to make things tolerable for those of us on the spectrum. But I’m still angry enough to post it here:

There is a lot I could say to this. I will endeavour to be brief and polite.

Yes, people with Asperger’s are, on the whole, better off than those with severe autism, such as the man in the article [an article about a man with severe autism who was kept essentially in solitary confinement in a psychiatric hospital for years on end]. Yes, some people with Asperger’s survive and even thrive in neurotypical society.

However, living in a neurotypical society is difficult for us, and inherently so, not just because of NT stigma or ableism. The fact is that many aspects of NT communication are difficult or impossible for us. This affects many spheres of life (work, family, friendships, dating/romance/sex). It’s not a case of simply removing supposed NT “ableism.” Asking NTs to stop using eye contact, body language, metaphor, sarcasm, indirect commands etc. would be imposing a serious disability on them in the interests of a more level playing field. This is not the kind of “reasonable adjustment” that equalities law requires. The same goes for ending competitive interview as a method of recruitment, ending team work at school and in the workplace, ending networking and self-promotion in the workplace and so on. If we want to exist in NT world, we have to play by their rules. It just wouldn’t work any other way. And the word for being at a permanent, inherent disadvantage in society is… disabled.

This is without getting into the autistic exhaustion and autistic burnout that are a very real part of high functioning autistic life.

The upshot is this is that I have two degrees, but work part-time in a job I don’t like and am not good at and which isn’t the one I trained for.

As for the “special abilities” and superpowers we supposedly have… well, maybe the lucky few, the Steve Jobses and the Greta Thunbergs, have these, but most of us don’t. I used to be able to hyperfocus, but rarely manage it now. My sensory sensitivities are acute enough to cause me irritation, but not to be useful. I’m not good with numbers or computer code. I am reasonably good at proof-reading, but no more so than many NTs. My encyclopaedic knowledge of Doctor Who has not helped me earn money. To quote Winston Churchill out of context, if Asperger’s is a blessing in disguise, it’s in a very good disguise.

***

If I wanted to personalise this a bit more, I would say that I struggle with noise levels in workplaces and that I find the Tube, and the crowds in London, increasingly difficult, but adjustments are difficult here. My brain tends not to work fast enough for me to speak coherently when I haven’t planned what I’m going to say, again especially in the workplace and in job interviews; again adjustments are hard, as well as to problems with eye contact and body language, not to mention issues around autistic psychological rigidity and difficulty working in teams in a job market that values flexibility and collaboration. Again, it’s not enough to talk about adjustments: what they want just isn’t what I’m offering. Then there are issues around networking and self-marketing (both important for the self-employed, including writers), or, as autistic people might think of them, small talk and lying, neither of which come easily to us (slight exaggeration, but not much). And I didn’t even mention alexithymia…

***

Yesterday I broke my quasi-diet because I’d had a difficult fast and felt I’d earned a treat, and then I started feeling shaky and tried to work out what I needed to eat. Today I’m tempted to break it because I had a hard day and miss E. I probably need a better selection of non-calorific rewards, although that leads on to buying things, particularly books and DVDs and I probably have too many of both…

Yom Ki-Migraine

Yom Kippur was a mixture of good and bad. I had a very moving Kol Nidrei service at shul (synagogue) last night. I was on the brink of tears a lot. It took me a while to realise that there were a lot of different emotions inside of me, some good, some bad, or rather, some positive, some negative (I don’t think negative emotions are ‘bad’ as such). I worked out what some of them were and just sat with the other ones. It’s strange having emotions and not knowing what they are (alexithymia), but I’m trying at least to become attuned to when I’m having the emotions, even if I can’t understand them.

When I got home, I wanted to do some Torah study, but after a little over ten minutes, I felt too tired. I switched to reading A Wrinkle in Time (one of those books I should have read as a child, but didn’t), but soon was too tired to read that and went to bed.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a headache. I think it was a migraine. In the past, my migraine headaches tended to be incredibly painful over a wide area, like someone had hit me on forehead or crown with a metal bar or axe, a really all-consuming form of pain to the extent that I can’t focus on anything else. Lately, I’ve been getting headaches in a small point, about an inch or two above my right eyeball, like someone was drilling into that point. The pain is very strong there, but not anywhere else. Sometimes after a while the pain spreads to the eye itself, which I don’t usually get. I wasn’t going to take medication for a non-life-threatening condition on Yom Kippur and tried to sleep it off. I drifted in and out of sleep for the rest of the night, but the headache/migraine stayed. Once we got to morning, I wanted to try to get up, thinking that, with localised pain, I could make it back to shul, but I didn’t manage it. It hurt too much, and soon I was feeling the exhaustion I can get with or after migraines.

The migraine went of its own accord around 3pm, but I was still exhausted and by this stage, I was beginning to feel faint and light-headed from fasting, as happens to me every year. I usually spend more of the afternoon of Yom Kippur outside the shul, trying to get some fresh air and feel less headachey and nauseous than in shul davening (praying). I went for a walk for a few minutes to see if that would clear my head, but I just felt dizzy and worried about going back to shul in that state. Even then, I might have made it, but I couldn’t catch up to where they were, so I just davened at home at my own pace.

I feel a bit bad about spending yet another year when I wasn’t in shul much for Yom Kippur. Between migraine (not to mention fasting headaches), COVID, sleep disruption (whatever causes it) and social anxiety and/or depression, I’ve rarely been in shul much on the holiest day of the Jewish year for many years.

When not catching up on davening at home, I read some of a book of the Chofetz Chaim’s (pseudonym for Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan) teachings on Pirkei Avot, the volume of Talmud dealing with ethics. It seemed appropriate reading matter. But I was only really awake, up and even vaguely functional for about four hours today (excluding last night).

I still found myself thinking a lot while davening about child abuse in the Jewish community and wondering how we (collectively) can be forgiven if so many people are still abusing or covering up abuse. I’m not sure what I can do about this. I also don’t know why this has become such a big obsession for me.

I drank three energy drinks yesterday, to try to boost my sodium level before the fast and avoid getting a headache. Despite the migraine, it might have worked: I think the migraine was triggered by stress, or was just one of those things (I have had a couple of migraines like this (the ‘drilling above my eye’ type) in recent months, always after I’ve gone to bed, if not to sleep). I did feel light-headed and faint in the afternoon, but I don’t think I got a dehydration headache. On the other hand, as when I tried drinking the energy drinks last year, I didn’t actually do very much during the day. So it’s unclear whether they helped.

Alexithymia

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cometh the Facebook

I struggled to sleep again last night, getting a minor, but irritating, headache pretty much as soon as I got into bed. I got up for a while, texted E a bit (as Rosh Hashanah was now over where she was) and watched Monty Python while I waited for the paracetamol to kick in. Then I overslept this morning, having one of those dreams where an alarm is sounding and I can’t work out how to turn it off, which turned out to have been my alarm clock sounding in the real world.

I finished Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World at last on the way in to work. I did have one or two thoughts on it, but I don’t  have time to share them now.

At work I had little to do other than the ongoing sorting of old papers. I’m scared to throw them away, as so many seem to be legal and I don’t know what’s still relevant. I need to ask J. I worry a bit that I threw away too many papers when I began this task; now I worry I’m keeping too many. There’s also a lot of papers belonging to the shul (synagogue) we inhabit and I don’t know if J wants to offer them to the shul. Some might refer to joint projects; again, I need to ask J.

J was working from home today, so the office was empty and I felt more than a little lonely, even though we don’t usually speak that much. Today was a minor Jewish fast day (the Fast of Gedaliah, another fast that has a personal connection to me, but not one I want to write about here). I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts because fasting on lithium is dangerous. I feel bad about this, but also glad, as I fast badly and get headaches and nausea (I’m not looking forward to Yom Kippur next week). On fast days, I usually go out of the shul to eat my lunch, as I feel guilty about eating in a shul on a fast day, but my hands are quite badly chapped, painful and bleeding, so I didn’t really want to sit in the cold and wind. Particularly as J was not in the office, I decided to eat indoors and hope no one would come in. Then the non-Jewish security guard came in with the post.

***

I forgot to mention a couple of things from my trips to shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New  Year). One was hearing the Prayer for the King, instead of the Queen, and finding that strange. I wonder how long it will take for that to seem normal?

The other was reading the extra-long version of the Atah Kadosh prayer in the Amidah that we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a prayer which is normally about two lines, but gets expanded to nearly two pages on these days. Something I hadn’t really paid attention to before is the way it speaks about the utopian future and in amongst ideas about joy for the righteous and the pride of the Davidic dynasty is a a line about granting “confidence to speak into all who long for You” (translation from Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Machzor; the literal translation is more like “an opening of the mouth”) and then a few lines later, “injustice will have nothing more to say” (from Rabbi Sacks again, the literal translation is more like “injustice will shut its mouth”). The idea that this world is a world where people are silent who should speak, and people speak who should be silent, and that the Messianic era will be the reverse captured my imagination, although I’m not sure where I’m going with it at the moment.

***

I joined Facebook yesterday. So far, my fears that I would spend too much time on there have been misplaced, as I found it profoundly user-unfriendly, counter-intuitive and somewhat overwhelming. I’m not quite sure why I think that, but it feels like you can do a lot more on it than you could when I was first on it, a decade ago, but also that there’s so much you can do now that it feels totally overwhelming. Is that just me being autistic? I feel like a lot of the world is overwhelming to me these days, in terms of sensory things and the speed of life and the number of possibilities available as much as anxiety about specific things, and it feels related to my autism even if I’m not always sure how.

I’ve been struggling to find friends and family members on Facebook. FB can’t access the webmail portal I use for email, so it’s not suggesting people to me based on that, which is just as well, as I never delete old email addresses, so it would be suggesting a lot of people I have no desire to run into again. I did find E, and connected our pages to say we’re married (which we sort of are and sort of aren’t, but if I put “It’s complicated,” people would really get the wrong idea) and also my sister, my oldest friend and, surprisingly (as she turned up on the list of people I might know before I’d added any other family), one of my cousins (the neurodivergent one with mental health issues that I’ve become a bit closer to in recent years because I feel I know what she’s going through more than the rest of the family). I haven’t found my Mum yet and I’m not sure whether to hunt for other friends. I don’t know if I want to know their political thoughts, to be honest. My Dad isn’t on FB.

I joined/applied to join a couple of Jewish autism groups as well as the Orthodox Conundrum discussion group. I noticed that the person who convinced me (not deliberately) that I was a lesser Orthodox Jew because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) is an active participant in the latter. I’m not sure what I feel about that.

I put my time at Oxford on my profile, but not the university where I did my MA because it’s a rubbish university and (a) I’d rather forget my time there, which led to very little that was good and (b) it’s such a bad university I worry it would actually discourage people from using my professional services, if/when I try to set up as a proof-reader and/or copy editor. But I’m open to changing my mind about this. I did put my secondary school on there, which might also have been a mistake, if I get friended by people who bullied me, or who I’m just not interested in reconnecting with (which is probably most of them, to be honest).

***

On my way to work this morning, I saw four boxes of books outside the charity shop, and sighed. The charity shops all have signs asking people not to leave donations outside, because (a) they get stolen and (b) they’re not allowed to use stuff dumped outside because of some kind of contamination fears. I’m not entirely sure what contamination they’re afraid of (this goes back pre-COVID), but all the different charity shops have these signs, so I assume it’s some kind of real fear. And yet people continue to leave donations outside. When its bags of clothes I don’t worry so much (although I probably should, given that people need them), but the thought of four boxes of books ending up in landfill saddened me all day.

The reality is that a lot of charity shop book donations end up in landfill anyway, as lots of books don’t sell and the shops periodically remove old stock to make way for new, but this seems even worse. Although now I’ve sort of convinced myself to buy that copy of short stories by Shalom Aleichem for £1 just to save it!!!

A Shulchan Aruch for the Mentally Ill and Neurodivergent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Yours Exhaustedly

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

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

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

“…an almost Proustian display of modern Existentialist football…”

(Title quote from one of the Monty Python sketches I think about periodically, which happened to be in the episode I watched earlier, about a pretentious football commentator interviewing a monosyllabic footballer. It’s not really relevant, I just think it’s funny.)

There’s a lot I want to say, but I am totally exhausted, and overwhelmed with things to do. However, as I’m too exhausted to do much now, I’ll try to blog at least some of the things on my mind.

I flippantly remarked on Angela’s blog the other day that I’ve been tired for decades. I felt somewhat bad about it afterwards, as that was a post about tiredness through serious physical illness, but I’m not sure that tiredness from depression, autistic exhaustion and a sleep disorder is really less “real” or worthy of note. At any rate, I struggled to sleep again last night, although not so badly as some nights, and then struggled to get going in the morning, only to discover that while I was asleep, E had asked me to send her a particular document needed for the visa again, as I had forgotten to sign it. To be honest, I hadn’t forgotten, so much as not realised I need to do it (yes, classic autistic, “If you don’t explicitly ask for it, he won’t realise he needs to do it”). This delayed me a little, but I cut my usual truncated Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even shorter and got to work on time.

Work was exceedingly dull and I found some mistakes I had made weeks ago that at least went unnoticed by my boss. I listened to podcasts while sorting through papers then felt guilty that I had decreased my efficiency, although I’m not at all sure that that was the case, as the task is dull, but also difficult, as most of the papers I’m dealing with at the moment are legal or financial, but also twenty years or more old. They should be ripe for throwing away, but I worry that my legal and financial ignorance will lead me to throw away something we need. At the moment, I’m just trying to produce a general list of what everything is.

***

I have a tendency to take the world’s troubles on my shoulders, at least sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling concern for lonely people on the autism forum, abuse survivors and current victims in the Jewish community, as well as continuing sadness and perhaps anger at God for my parents’ friends’ late son. I do worry sometimes that abusers and gett refusers (men who refuse to give their wives the religious divorce they want) in the frum (religious Jewish) community will find a loophole to the Next World via their Torah study and communal involvement and somehow evade punishment. This is irrational, as I don’t believe God is as easily deceived, or has His values as warped, as the frum community sometimes is and, in any case, I believe spiritual punishment is inherent in the action in ways that are too complicated for me to explain now; you can’t avoid Divine punishment any more than you can avoid being in your own body. But I do think about it a lot.

***

I came across the idea a number of years ago that lots of frum people want to fast-forward through this time of year, the Jewish autumn festival season. For them it’s a time of painful self-examination and guilt. It is that for me too, with added autistic exhaustion and peopling, social anxiety, low self-esteem and disordered sleep issues, not to mention autistic issues with work routine changes and overload from working more intensively. I could also say that their guilt over sins is excessive and misplaced, whereas mine is logical and deserved, but I’m not going to go there (which is probably a good sign in and of itself). I feel like that now, with all the extra overwhelm of my life at the moment too, but today for the first time I felt frustrated that I haven’t worked on my novel for weeks because I’ve been focused on my wedding and E’s visa application. I’m glad, as I wondered if I had given up on writing. However, I still doubt I will have time to put pen to paper (or word processor) for another month.

One extra thing that is hard at this time of year is having alexithymia, difficulty noticing and understanding my own emotions. It’s hard to be sure I love and am in awe of God and that I love Torah, or that I have joy in the festivals and in being Jewish when I struggle to notice love for my family, let alone a being I can’t see and Who is the source of everything bad that ever happened to me as well as everything good. Mostly I try to “deduce” my emotions by my actions, which I guess must mean I feel something positive about God if I do all this religious stuff.

Related to this is my feelings about the frum community. On an Orthodox Conundrum podcast I listened to today, they spoke about the importance of being part of a community for spiritual growth. I’ve never really had this, at least not in the way they meant. Someone on the autism forum the other day suggested that while I say I want to be part of a community, I also seem to have negative feelings about it (I said making friends in the community seemed “terrifying and impossible”). I don’t really have an answer this.

***

I suspect the answer to all of the above is to “Let go and let God,” as the 12 Step movement says, but I’ve never been very good at that. It’s hard to “Let go and let God” when you can’t work out how much you trust God.

***

Good things that happened today:

E sent the visa application off, despite consistent issues with the third-party website.

I was told I can keep paying reduced shul (synagogue) membership fees because I’m on a low salary. I feel vaguely guilty about this and don’t know why, although as I have been paying money to a shul I haven’t been attending, and as I will continue doing this for some months more, I feel the shul is still getting a good deal.

My birthday present from E, The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg finally arrived. The delay, I should say, was on the part of Foyles Bookshop, not E. Zornberg has written several deep books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), mixing traditional commentary with ideas from Western philosophy and literature and psychology. She’s very good, but no one expected her to write about the almost entirely legal and purity-focused Vayikra (Leviticus). So I am curious to read it, but will wait until it comes around on the annual Torah cycle next spring.

Also arriving today was the latest Jewish Review of Books (finally) and Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide. Actually, the latter came yesterday, but it seemed inappropriate to write about it on such a sad day. Then today I went into the charity shop and found a load of interesting-looking books. I already owned a couple of them, perhaps fortunately, but I did buy a copy of Yehudah HaLevi’s Medieval Jewish anti-philosophical philosophical work, The Kuzari for £2, which goes nicely with the Guide for the Perplexed I got for free a few months ago.

Yes, my plan to avoid getting new books until I work my way down the To Read pile is going well. Wait a minute…

Autism and Becoming Myself

I had the usual I’ve slept too much during the day sleep problems last night, plus when I finally did fall asleep, I woke up after an hour or two with a headache (migraine? It was localised intensely over one eye, but I’ve had more general headaches that have felt worse). Inevitably, I slept late this morning.

The main thing I did was go to two of the six online shiurim (religious classes) run today by the London School of Jewish Studies in advance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement) starting next year. One was Rabbi Sam Lebens talking about God changing history so that penitents never sinned. This is interesting, but I was familiar with his argument from his book The Principles of Judaism and I’m not convinced that it’s really a necessary or credible hypothesis, either from Jewish religious texts or from logic. I’m more convinced by the argument he rejected, that repentance changes the meaning and consequences of our misdeeds, but that we still did those misdeeds.

The other shiur was more helpful for me. This was Rabbi Joseph Dweck talking about teshuvah (repentance) as a process of self-discovery. This is the type of existential/personal growth-focused shiur I like.

He quoted Rav Kook on teshuvah (translated as response or return) being a return to the self, leading to the return to God. Rabbi Dweck spoke about God’s first word in Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) being “Yehi” “Be” (a literal translation of what is usually rendered “Let there be [light]”). God in Tanakh does not mechanically create the world out of parts (he didn’t say this, but this is essentially what happens in a lot of pagan creation myths), He wills it into being as itself. God’s fundamental charge to us and to the universe is simply to be ourselves. Similarly, Avraham (Abraham) is commanded to “Go for yourself” i.e.  become an individual for yourself.

He said we should spend our life working on becoming our ideal self or fullest potential and that to call ourselves stupid, ugly, useless (etc.) is to blaspheme against God Who created us. Becoming ourselves is thus the first step to returning to God through the integration of our parts.

This was good to hear in terms of my continuing struggle to come to terms with my autism and how that impacts on my religious life, particularly regarding shul (synagogue) attendance (admittedly due to the intersection of autism with social anxiety and disordered sleep) and my general feelings of being a failure at work, Judaism and life in general. Quite how I will assimilate the ideas and what I will do with them remains to be seen. I’ve heard similar messages before without shifting my low self-esteem, even before autism diagnosis. I hope that one day I will hear a critical mass of such teachings and something will shift inside me. Beyond that, I think I really need some practical way of internalising this message. Any ideas would be welcome (affirmations tend not to work well for me).

Other than that, I went for a walk and finished scanning documents to go to the Home Office for E’s visa application. E put together a cute PowerPoint presentation of photos of us and screenshots of our emails and texts to prove the legitimacy of our relationship to the immigration bureaucrats.  I briefly checked out a couple more autism forums to see if there’s one that suits me more than the one I’m currently on, but I don’t think there is, although it doesn’t help that I can’t really articulate what I’m looking for, just that I haven’t seen it yet. I did come across a Jewish autistic Facebook group, which I will check out when I rejoin Facebook, although it looks like it only has twenty-nine members. It has a sibling group for people with “‘lived experience’ of autism”, which I guess means family of autistic people as well, which is somewhat larger with over two hundred members, but still fairly small. They were both created this year, so may grow over time.

Shabbat and Lying-in-State

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy Budgets and NHS Budgets

I was exhausted last night and went to bed at 10.30m, slept for nearly ten hours, overslept slightly and woke up with the sense of having woken short of breath several times in the night, but uncertain as to whether this was really the case, or to what extent.

It was good to go back to volunteering after a break of several weeks. I find it’s good to do something social without the actual pressure of socialising. Mostly I just the other volunteers talk and I listen. Everyone wanted to hear about the civil wedding and was excited for E and me. They wanted to see photos and I felt a bit bad that I don’t actually have that many photos of the day on my phone. I didn’t take any (I was too busy, and I can’t take good photos on my phone because of tremor issues), but I have a couple E’s mother took and one or two from the dinner we had with E’s friends and family in the evening, but that’s it. To be honest, the wedding itself took literally one minute. There wasn’t much time to take a photo, although we do have a short video of E jumping up and down excitedly and hugging me when we were told we were married.

I was pretty tired when I got home, even though volunteering doesn’t actually take that long.  I did a few things this afternoon (collected my prescription, collected the parcel a neighbour took in for us yesterday, and cooked dinner, somehow forgetting to add the coriander and so cooking it extra long once I added it in), but I felt I didn’t actually do that much.  It is hard to do energy accounting to balance my activity level with my energy level when I don’t know how much energy things will need, nor is it easy to reduce my desired activity level when I feel so overwhelmed with things to do.

One thing I did do today was a cheshbon nafesh. This literally means “an accounting for the soul,” which sounds very pompous and portentous, but it basically means a self-assessment of how I’ve been over the last (Jewish) year, in advance of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). I won’t go into what I wrote, but it seemed less illuminating than in previous years, but maybe that just means I have a more realistic view of where I am in my life than in previous years.

***

I got a letter offering me an appointment with a psychiatrist, I assume to talk about reducing my medication. It spelt my name wrongly (my first name, the most popular boys’ name in the country for the year I was born). The letter said I needed to phone to confirm the appointment or it would be cancelled, but it didn’t specify the number to call. I called the appointments line number printed on the letterhead, but no one answered. So NHS. I phoned a second time, more than five minutes before 5pm, but it went to the answerphone even though the message said they’re open until 5pm. I left a message saying that I didn’t know if this was the right number and could they phone back to either confirm my confirmation or give me the right number, but I was flustered enough that I forgot to give my number, so had to phone back again.  It is a worryingly Kafkaesque thing: you have to phone to confirm, but we won’t tell you the number and we won’t answer the phone.

Coincidentally, someone on the autism forum was complaining about lack of NHS funding for autism support and mental healthcare in general. I didn’t say anything, but lately I’ve been wondering how much it would cost to fund the NHS to such a level that everyone who used it got good treatment, equivalent to the lowest level (at least) of private healthcare. I don’t know how to calculate this, but I suspect it would be far more costly than any government could ever afford, even without taking into account the fact that some healthcare is potentially limitless in application.

I did a quick back of an envelope calculation with some statistics via the internet (from The Office of National Statistics and health charities).

UK population: ca68,000,000.

Adult population (approximate, as the statistics did not break down easily that way): ca56,000,000.

Approximately one in four people experience a mental health problem each year.

Therefore the adult mentally ill population each year: ca14,000,000.

I’m not sure how much “good enough” therapy costs.  I’ve usually been charged around £30 an hour, but those have been discounted rates as I am on a low income.  Looking online gave anything up to £100 as hourly rates, so I guessed at £50 as an average “normal profit” level (“normal profit” is the economic term for the rate where all costs are covered with no extra profit).

This being the case, one hour of therapy per person in the UK: ca£700,000,000.

Therefore one hour therapy per person per week for one year: ca£36,400,000,000 (£36.4 billion).

Annual NHS annual budget for the next few years is currently predicted in the range of £175,000,000,000p.a. (£175 billion).  (Incidentally, the table shows that, in real terms, the NHS budget has risen a little since the last Labour government, not fallen.)

Therefore funding one weekly therapy session for a year for every person diagnosed with a mental health issue in the UK would take up more than 20% of the entire annual NHS budget – not the mental health budget, the entire budget.  This is clearly not feasible.  I don’t know what the solution is, if there is one. At any rate, it shows why NHS admin is so far below par; it really isn’t a priority in an inherently overloaded system.

(Obviously there are a number of assumptions here that may not be correct, as this was just a quick calculation.  For one thing, not all patients would need a full year of treatment, although others would need more than one session a week. But I just wanted to illustrate my thesis that the NHS is always going to be overloaded; it’s not the fault of this government strategy or that funding cutback.)

Frustrations Not Balanced By Chocolate

I wrote a shortish post yesterday, but WordPress ate half of it and it was too late, and I was too tired, to rewrite. This post is some of what survived and more.

I felt down and lonely as soon as my parents left yesterday for their short holiday in sunny (or not sunny) Arundel. I’m not sure why I should feel down when I saw them a couple of hours earlier. As I’ve mentioned before, I like my own company, but for some reason I don’t understand, I don’t like being in the house by myself. It’s probably partly a product of the size of the house. I didn’t get so lonely when living in a tiny studio flat, but I did get somewhat lonely, particularly on non-work days when I had no distractions. And, unlike in the past, I have my frustrations at being so far from E and not knowing when we will be together again, which feels worse than being single, somewhat to my surprise (I know that’s probably naive to anyone who has been in a long-term relationship before, but my relationship experience up to this point has not been great). It may also be true that I have worse abandonment fears than I thought, which would make sense, given some formative childhood experiences.

I went for a run yesterday, but came back with a relatively mild, but intermittent headache, nausea and a feeling of dizziness and light-headedness that didn’t fully pass until I went to bed. I find the latter most troubling as it’s new and has no obvious cause (not that the exercise migraines have much of an obvious cause, but at least they’re an acknowledged thing).  I did some Torah study and spent a bit of time on my tax return, but feel it would probably be better if I did no work/chores at all and relaxed OR worked hard and got some of these tasks out of the way, but I seem to be unable to do either. I think of myself as a person of extremes, but it’s probably more accurate that I aim for the middle ground, I just don’t always reach it.

I went to bed late, partly because of the failed blog post, and then I struggled to sleep again. The advantage of a five hour time difference with my wife is that she’s still awake when I can’t sleep at 1.30am! I was ruminating again on autism/Asperger’s and feeling I have plenty of negative symptoms, but none of the “superpowers” some people on the spectrum talk about. E thinks my care for grammar and spelling might become a superpower if I can set myself up as a proof-reader and copy editor. She’s probably right, but working out the practical steps to set up my own business and find clients is frightening.

I did eventually fall asleep, but had a disturbed night’s sleep. I can’t remember clearly what happened; I remember feeling ill during the night and suspect it was trouble breathing (sleep apnoea), but can’t remember in detail. I’m left more with an impression of spending the night feeling ill in an unspecified way and worrying that I would have to call in sick today. It’s strange how something so potentially disturbing can happen and not get into my brain properly to be dealt with on waking because I’m more than half asleep.

Work today began with J giving me Galaxy chocolate. It had come free with the printer cartridges, for some reason, and he doesn’t eat chalav stam (milk not supervised by a Jew from milking).  He tried to give me three bars, but I only took one as three seemed a lot, particularly as Mum and I are trying to lose weight.  This seemed like a good start to the work day, but I was bored at work and slightly ill from lack of sleep, resulting in being easily distracted and therefore feeling guilty.  The Economist said last week that attempting to achieve perfection at work is counter-productive.  There we should aim for excellence, which doesn’t seem much more possible to me.  I think vague competence is all I’m likely to achieve at work at the moment, and maybe not even that.

On the way home, I went to the pharmacy only to discover that my clomipramine won’t be in until tomorrow evening.  I only had two 50mg tablets left, but I take two at night and two in the morning.  I am splitting the dose so I took 50mg tonight and will take another 50mg before volunteering in the morning, which I hope will keep me on an even keel until the afternoon.

***

One paragraph I couldn’t salvage from yesterday’s post was about writing.  I have so much going on with my life at the moment that I have neither the time nor the inclination to write or to try to find an agent.  It’s not even on my radar at the moment.  Inasmuch as I have creative thoughts at all, they’re focused on my plans for a Facebook group for people on the margins of the Orthodox Jewish community.  I am now pretty certain that I will go back on Facebook at some point (ugh) to do this.

I started writing a list of potential group posts and got up to twenty.  Granted some probably won’t work out, but it’s a good start for my first day of serious thought about it.  I’m worried about finding members, though, as I don’t really know people to invite to start it off.  Most of my friends aren’t Orthodox (or aren’t Jewish) so wouldn’t want to join, and I probably wouldn’t want to invite the Orthodox friends I do have, as I wouldn’t want them to see some of the things I want to say in this forum, to realise that I see myself on the margins of the Orthodox world and why I feel like that.

***

A thought while shopping after work: when I was a child, I was, at least to some extent, a “little professor,” Dr Hans Asperger’s term for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning a child who is very serious and ‘lectures’ on his special interests.  My Mum even called me an “absent-minded professor.”  Yet I was not a little adult; when I became an adult, I was not suddenly better at communicating with people.  I still could not connect with people.  I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it seemed worth noting.

***

I finished A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn, but am not sure what I think about it.  E said she felt the same when she finished it.

Thoughts on an Autumn Shabbat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Functioning

I feel completely burnt out today. I had some not very restful sleep with a strange and slightly disturbing dream. I’m struggling to do anything, although I’m trying to do my pre-Shabbat chores and some visa document scanning/printing. I feel almost physically ill with exhaustion. I lay down in a dim room for half an hour just now which helped, although I’m still not sure if I’ll go to shul (synagogue) tonight.

I discovered that the guy I spoke to yesterday from the building society, who supposedly told me how to print an official PDF statement from my online account, was wrong, or the site isn’t working properly. Either way, I can’t get what I need for the visa, so I’ll have to phone the local branch next week and collect it in person, if I can explain myself adequately, which I worry about after the difficult phone calls yesterday. I hate doing stuff over the phone and in person. I feel like I really can’t cope with those when I’m burnt out and at the end of my tether. (Awareness of my autism has definitely sapped my self-confidence.)

I’m also worried about E’s visa application being rejected for some trivial reason or other. This fear has been worsened by the realisation that I have to declare the benefit money I was mistakenly paid by the Department of Work and Pensions (they continued paying me benefits after I repeatedly told them I was now earning too much to qualify) as it will be visible on the bank statements requested, so I can’t deny it or even just omit it. Incompetent bureaucrats.

I worry how E and I would cope with having children, given our low energy levels (for different reasons). Hopefully E’s energy will return soon, but I worry that she has long COVID. As for myself, I am wondering if I should pay for a private sleep study to get some idea of whether I really do have a sleep disorder, but private medical care is so rare here that I’m not entirely sure how I would do it. I did google and found somewhere that looks possible, but I have not had time yet to investigate how reliable it is. To be honest, I feel that, if nothing else, I need to know I have a real issue to stop feeling guilty for having missed so much shul (synagogue) over the years, although, as I can get up for work, realistically social anxiety is probably a factor there too, combined with my feelings of not fitting in to the frum (religious Jewish) community. That feeling of guilt is always bad at this time of year, both because of the emphasis on growth and repentance and the many long shul services over the festivals with much greater than usual attendance, including the special mitzvah (commandment) of hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

After the Event

I miss E.   I feel this a lot.  To my surprise, living on different continents turned out to be a lot harder now we’re legally married, even though I think of the religious wedding, which we haven’t had yet, as the main wedding, not the civil one last week.  Even if the civil wedding was just a piece of paper, it’s changed the dynamic of the relationship forever.  I’m not sure if this proves or disproves the various rabbis and religious teachers I’ve heard over the years say that marriage is different to living together even if it is just a piece of paper.  It does feel different, but they presumably meant that a religious wedding performed by a rabbi was not just a piece of paper, not a civil one performed the City Clerk of New York.

I struggled at work for other reasons too.  I texted E that “I feel pretty awful, physically as well as emotionally.”  Then I was worried she would panic and texted that I felt, “Not awful awful, but not great, overloaded, exhausted, sleep-deprived, peopled out, nearly burnt out awful.”  Then I stayed late after work to phone my bank and building society to get statements on headed paper to submit to the Home Office for E’s visa.  This was a whole complicated thing that took forty-five minutes, but fortunately for you, I’m too tired to go into it now.

***

I had a slightly awkward goodbye to my aunt and uncle last night.  I was incredibly tired and just wanted to go to bed (I had in fact been getting into bed when I remembered they were leaving very early in the morning and I wouldn’t see them), but they wanted to talk.  That was awkward in itself, but my aunt asked if I was OK hugging.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t manage to express the mixture of religious and autistic reasons why not. She was OK with it, but I still felt guilty as, if I’m OK hugging E, surely I should not observe the rules of shomrei negiah (not touching women I’m not closely related to by blood or marriage – an aunt by marriage isn’t close enough) at all?  But I don’t feel like that, although explaining why is hard.  It’s also hard to separate religious reasons for not touching from autistic reasons, which are just as significant. It doesn’t help that my relationships with so many of my relatives are complex and hard to describe and fitting physical contact into them is even harder.

I actually was late getting up this morning because I thought I heard my uncle and aunt still up and couldn’t face peopling at 6.30am.  Eventually I had to get up for work and discovered they had long gone.

***

JYP said that, “holding yourself to an expectation about work based on school performance from a decade or two ago is not going to help you in any way.”  This is true, but I think my perseverating over my childhood success and current failure is a way of trying to grieve the life I thought I would have and which I do not have due to my autism.  I think this is part of the “bargaining” phase of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross grief model.  I can’t change the fact that I’m autistic, or that I was bullied at school, that I was lonely and depressed at Oxford, that I haven’t built a career, and that I messed up various friendships, all because of autism, so I toy with the idea of somehow living in a different past to make it better for myself.

***

As long-term readers have probably noticed, I worry a lot that I’m not a good Jew, in part because of my various health and brain-wiring issues. I worry about this more at this time of year, in the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  Maybe I have reasonable excuses for my behaviour, but it’s still not the ideal state, and that’s hard to deal with.  It’s easy to compare myself to other frum (religious) people who seem to be doing much better. I spend all year struggling so hard to live my Jewish life, and then it gets to the month Elul (the current month, immediately before these festivals) and suddenly I’m supposed to give 110% (even before the immense practical effort needed to get through the festivals).

It’s hard. I usually end up looking for reassurance around this time of year. I try to focus on what I am doing despite the effort involved. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said to look for “good points,” in your personality and history, even if only one or two things that are good about you so that you don’t give up on yourself.

I feel like I have spent my life telling myself I will live the frum life I want when I leave home, when I’m over depression, when I have a ‘proper’ job, when I sort my sleep issues, when I’m married… Along the way I ended up a different Jewish life, maybe better, maybe worse, maybe just different.  I feel like it’s the Torah of bedieved, meaning “after the event.”  Often there is a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling that in the first instance do X, but if that’s not possible, or if you did Y instead of X for some reason, bedieved, after the event, that’s OK.  I feel that everything I do is bedieved, OK after the event, but far from ideal.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t led this after the event life, maybe my family and E would not have been moved to become more religious, and certainly it would have been harder to stay on good terms with them.  Maybe the after the event of kashrut or Shabbat is the in the first instance of honouring parents and ensuring domestic harmony.  Life is complicated.

***

I find to my surprise that I have things to say about the queen, alehah hashalom, but not the energy or wherewithal to write them.  This blog is less a record of my interesting (or possibly interesting) thoughts and more an attempt to structure and process my life to try to make sense of it.

One In, One Out

I spent the afternoon printing and scanning bank statements for E’s visa application (to prove we will have enough money), only to discover they need to be on bank stationery, stamped by the bank or accompanied by a letter from the bank to authenticate them.  I know from experience that my bank simply will not print bank statements more than three months old, so it looks like I’m going to have to phone them to get some kind of appointment to get the statements printed or authenticated there, and also at my building society, as I need proof for both my current account and my savings account.  This is yet another hassle and has left me feeling close to burnout.  Other than that, I did go for a walk (I need it after that), but did very little Torah study, or anything else productive.

I feel exhausted and close to being overwhelmed and perhaps burning out.  I’ve gone in the space of a week and a half from getting married (civil wedding) in a foreign country, to leaving my bride of one day (who is still weak from COVID) to come back to the UK, to going straight back to work, then having my aunt and uncle staying with us (me and my parents) and trying to sort out the visa so E can follow me to the UK ASAP.  I haven’t had time to process the civil wedding, to process being separated from E for an indeterminate period, or even to just be myself for long periods without having to mask around other people.  And on top of all that, I have the oncoming stresses (religious, emotional, practical, social) of the Jewish autumn holiday season and the slow dying of the light as we get to autumn, with the risk of triggering depression and maybe anxiety in me.  I really feel like I need some self-care time, but I’m not sure when I can do that and I feel guilty about even thinking about it.  I watched Doctor Who for twenty-five minutes over dinner, but it doesn’t really begin to address that.

My parents are away next week.  That sounds like it might be a break from peopling, but my mood does tend to dip when I’m in my house alone, even aside from extra chores.  What I really need is to live with my best friend, but she’s in New York.

***

I sometimes I feel I have a “one in, one out” system on my blog whereby when I gain a new reader, I lose an old one, and I feel that’s happened recently.  I’m sad and vaguely worried that I did something wrong, but also aware that friendships tend to be transient, particularly online ones.  I do wonder sometimes about blog readers of years past who just vanished one day, particularly if they weren’t active bloggers themselves for me to see if they were still doing anything, but I know I’ve also stopped reading blogs for reasons that have nothing to do with the writers and everything to do with where I was with my life.

I did write something in comment on someone else’s blog recently about being diagnosed autistic (this was someone who doesn’t know about this blog and only knows me via my old, non-anonymous, pre-autism Blogger identity).  I felt in a way that I needed to apologise for and explain my sometimes-inept behaviour over the years, but I think I just freaked her out.  I guess it is a big thing to suddenly write about in a post that wasn’t entirely connected.  I do tend to feel the need to apologise to people for how I behaved before I knew I was on the spectrum when maybe I should just draw a line under it and move on.  My first novel was, on some level, a way of doing this, which I guess is one reason why I’m tempted to just rewrite to remove most of the autism stuff.

“Oddly Fond But Also Mocking Bits”

Today was a not terribly good day, although not an awful one, and not for any reasons I haven’t written about here before.  I struggled to sleep last night, probably because I didn’t have enough time to relax before bed.  It’s strange how much difference watching half an hour of TV or reading something light for a bit can make.  I did read briefly before bed, but not for long and, I suspect, not something that I enjoyed enough.  In the end I got out of bed and watched Fawlty Towers for a bit, which helped.

I worked today instead of volunteering as J asked me to switch days.  Work was draining, for all the usual reasons.  I thought I was going to have to phone people to ask for money that they owe us, which I hate doing.  I didn’t, but I probably will have to do it on Thursday.  I read more of When Rabbis Abuse at lunch and on the way home, which probably didn’t help my mood much.  I wanted to scan documents needed for E’s visa application when I got home, but I felt incredibly drained and overloaded, so I left my computer and read Dara Horn for a while, and ate carbs, which made me feel better, but isn’t good for my diet (or quasi-diet).  I do feel the urge to eat junk tonight too – not good.  I still feel rather overloaded.  I should probably not be on the computer and be aiming for low sensory stimulation activities (reading, maybe familiar TV), but there’s so much to do.

The best part of the day was going to the small shul (synagogue)/library upstairs after work and davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers).  It was very quiet and peaceful and I had good kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).  I’m not sure what it says about me that my best kavannah is in a shul, but when there are no people around as Jewish prayer is supposed to be communal.  I vaguely recall a story in Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim about a future rebbe who used to break into the shul after the congregation had gone so he could daven alone, but I can’t remember the details.

***

I was going to try to write about the thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for a long time now about trying to believe in a loving and forgiving (rather than punitive) God, but also wanting abusers to suffer, and trying to work out how Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur  fit with that.  However, I couldn’t untangle my thoughts sufficiently to write them down.  I still feel down and overwhelmed, and missing E, so instead here’s a thousand words on nostalgia for the Doctor Who fandom of thirty years ago.  Feel free to skip the rest of the post!

I have the book-buying bug again.  I’m tempted to buy a couple of humorous or semi-humorous Doctor Who non-fiction books from the 90s.  As I’ve mentioned before, I am nostalgic for the fandom of the 90s, when fandom seemed to be about being either super-literate and analytical about the programme or mercilessly making fun of it (out of love).  At the time, Doctor Who wasn’t on TV and seemed destined never to return.  The BBC had minimal interest in brand management and Doctor Who Magazine and Virgin Publishing (who had the licence to produce Doctor Who-related books) were given a huge amount of freedom, far more than producers of any kind of spin-off merchandise usually get.

Doctor Who: The Completely Useless Encyclopedia was essentially a bunch of jokes about Doctor Who, Doctor Who merchandise and Doctor Who fandom, ordered alphabetically to look like an encyclopaedia.  It was spoofing Jean Marc Lofficier’s Programme Guide and related books The Universal Databank and The Terrestrial Index.  It’s going on eBay for about £5, lots of copies available, so it’s probably not that rare.  I have the follow-up book, Doctor Who: The Completely Unofficial Encyclopedia.  This is precious to me, as it spoofs the first couple of years of the new series (post-2005) and the merchandising frenzy that accompanied it.  By that stage, the BBC were much stricter about brand management and clamped down on that sort of thing (satire or even gentle spoofing or affectionate mockery), which is probably why the book wasn’t so much as mentioned in Doctor Who Magazine.  I came across it by chance in Forbidden Planet, the science fiction bookshop.

However, the book I’m really thinking of buying is The Dis-Continuity Guide.  This came out a couple of years before Doctor Who: The Completely Useless Encyclopedia and was really the first Doctor Who non-fiction book not to take the programme totally seriously.  It had some serious material (capsule reviews of every story to date, suggestions of their inspiration, quotable dialogue, attempts to smooth out the programme’s most notorious continuity errors and establish a consistent future history) with much sillier stuff (quotably bad dialogue, double entendres, technobabble, goofs, fashion disasters and more).   Some of the reviews were snarky too; one story, dull and the 70s equivalent of woke, is described as “like watching socially-aware paint dry”.  To me, it’s the epitome of 90s fandom: very serious and very silly at once, utterly reverent and taking the mickey simultaneously.  I don’t own either book; at the time, I borrowed them from my oldest friend.

The Dis-Continuity Guide goes for quite a hefty price on eBay, but someone is selling a copy, along with two books I don’t want (Jean Marc Lofficier’s aforementioned The Universal Databank and The Terrestrial Index)) and one that’s vaguely interesting (Lofficier’s book on unmade Doctor Who films) for £9.99 plus postage.  Really I ought to buy them just for resell value.  However, I can’t quite bring myself to buy even more books at the moment.

I am also worried about being disappointed.  The Television Companion, which I bought for £2 a few months ago was another 90s nostalgia hit, but it disappointed me, with reviews that repeated the fan consensus of the 80s.  At the risk of totally alienating my readers, I should explain that for various reasons, the Doctor Who stories of the late 70s were superficially more humorous and less violent and scary than those of the mid-70s.  This was not at all to the liking of nascent fandom, largely made up of people in their teens and older, who remembered Jon Pertwee, if not William Hartnell, but convinced themselves, in the absence of videos and repeats, that in those far-off days the programme was a Serious Drama and not a children’s/family programme and that the new episodes were a childish betrayal of the legacy.  Then in the 80s there was a change of regime and episodes more to their liking were made (followed a while later by a massive decline in quality and viewers, which may or may not be a direct result).  Then, in the 90s, a new generation of fans who had grown up on the late 70s stories started championing those stories as intelligent, proto-postmodern and simply more entertaining than those of the 80s.  They also saw the series as a family entertainment programme and not some kind of Serious Drama.

This is the fan era I walked into around 1996, just as the tide was turning.  When I got to see these late 70s stories (which were only just being released on VHS perhaps because they were so unpopular initially) in the coming years, I came to side with the revisionists who loved them, although I do love some of the 1980s stories too: life is complicated, and so is Doctor Who.

Despite first being published in 1998, The Television Companion is very much in the 1980s Serious Drama camp, its analysis section bolstered by quotes from reviews from fanzines – not a bad idea, but most of the fanzines are those of the 80s, not the 90s.  It’s predictable and annoying in parts.

I know there are more up-to-date non-fiction Doctor Who works out there that I haven’t read and might enjoy: fanzine collections or the massive and still-being-published Black Archive cultural studies books on individual stories, which I’ve never even got around to reading, not even the volume written by my friend!  (I think these are written by and for “aca-fans,” fans working in academia in fields like media studies and cultural studies.  I’m not exactly a fit for that group and feel that that’s another boat I perhaps missed.)  That said, I feel less and less interested in what fans think these days as I often think differently.  Instead, I feel drawn nostalgically to my adolescence, the style if not the content, even though I know it’s bound to disappoint, and even though I own far too many books already.

I probably should just spend £13 on the book; I can always resell it for £40…

How to Destupidify myself?

I didn’t have work today, J having switched my days this week.  This was probably for the best, as I slept a long time after all the stuff I was doing yesterday (tax return, visa form).  The house was almost empty when I woke up, just me and Dad.  I know that’s the usual number of people on a weekday, but after so many being around for the last few days, it felt empty.  Dad made some enquiries on my behalf about changing shul (synagogue) membership to get married by my parents’ rabbi. We don’t have to change it for a while.  When we do change, I think we get a year of free membership in any shul in the United Synagogue, so it’s worth not changing that until nearer the time, although Dad feels I should continue with membership of my current shul until then “just in case” (this is him being morbid, meaning so that I’m not left without burial membership anywhere for a number of months, just in case I drop dead suddenly). I’ll go to my parents’ shul for the Yom Tovim (festivals) as my shul will be in its new premises, twice as far away. If I wasn’t getting married, or was getting married there, I might have still gone there, but it seems silly when I won’t be going there much longer anyway.

Today was mostly spent on the tax return (which was a real headache, but which I still need to spend some time on, despite having spent about three hours on it already) and scanning documents for E’s visa application.  I didn’t manage much of the latter, as the tax return left me exhausted. I did get a walk in, which I didn’t manage yesterday, but I only did a few minutes of Torah study, compared with more yesterday.

I miss E a lot and I know she misses me.  It’s hard being apart for so long when we already feel married.

I did manage to phone about pre-marriage classes for E and myself, which is positive, especially as I had a lot of social anxiety about the call beforehand.

***

As I mentioned, I’ve been filling in my tax return.  It seems really difficult.  I feel like, “I’m autistic, I’m supposed to be good with numbers and methodical; I am (or at least I was) a librarian, which is also supposed to make me methodical; so why do I always struggle to find the documents I need, and to find the right figures on the documents once I’ve got them?”  The papers aren’t even in that much of a mess, they’re actually organised reasonably well, but somehow the piece of paper I need isn’t ever where it should be.  And I’m not that good with numbers.  Even at school, where I got good grades in maths and even did A-level physics, I wasn’t intuitively good with numbers the way some of my geeky friends were.  Maths was always a second language I could translate into in my head, but not intuitively think in.

Doing things like this just leaves me confused as I go from document to document.  I have to keep reminding myself which tax year I’m doing this for, otherwise I’ll forget and enter the wrong data.  Just to confuse myself further, midway through the last tax year, I switched from being a freelance contractor to a permanent staff member, although still doing the same job in the same institution.

I just feel incompetent these days.  At school, I was a high achiever, academically (socially was another story), but I think I survived by putting myself in a protective bubble for fourteen years, memorising vast amounts of data and filtering out the real world (noise, smells, social interactions, bullies, eventually even out-of-school-activities and almost everything other than work in the end).  My good memory for trivia stood me in good stead in exams, but after that, I had to go into university and then into the world, and suddenly critical thinking skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, flexibility and creativity were all more important than just being able to remember lots of facts or even remembering other people’s arguments.

I have two degrees, but I work two days a week in a low-skill job which I am over-qualified for, but in which I still regularly make big mistakes.  The mistakes are probably partly out of boredom, but also from having to work on multiple documents at once or just my inability to remember things nowadays.  My mistakes fuel my low self-esteem, which in turn probably causes more mistakes as I assume I will fail.  I feel like somewhere along the line, after years of autistic burnout and mental illness, I just got stupid and I don’t know how to destupidify myself.  Sadly, I think anecdotal evidence indicates that prolonged autistic burnout, and prolonged bouts of mental illness, can both lead to a decline in cognitive ability.  It now looks like I have a sleep disorder too, so I can throw sleep deprivation into the mix too.

***

Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister.  I don’t really have any thoughts about this, except that it cements my feeling that I can’t vote for any current political party.  I think I dreamt about Gladstone last night, although I don’t remember the details.   I do feel the world in general has a terrible crisis of leadership at the moment, although realistically great leaders only come around every quarter-century or so.

The Bravest Orangutan in Britain

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

T-Minus One

I was woken up too early by my work alarm, which I’d forgotten to turn off. I didn’t feel too tired, but went back to sleep, then overslept and felt tired. I’m beginning to feel I have to sleep for several hours for my sleep disorder to kick in. It seems that I sleep quite rigidly on my side for a few hours and am fine, but then I turn over and probably start having problems breathing. This would explain why it’s easier to get up on work days, when I tend to sleep less, or why I can be refreshed from a two hour nap more than a whole night’s sleep. This is all speculation, but if it’s true, maybe I should sleep less at night and nap during the day.

I woke up (second time) quite anxious and in “stay in bed to avoid the world” mode. I’m worried about my trip, not seeing E, but the practical things like keeping Shabbat in a non-kosher hotel and getting up early most mornings. Also the fact that my hotel is significantly further from E than the airbnb I stayed at in January. My anxiety ebbed and flowed during the day, but I stayed pretty nervous. Maybe that’s normal, as I’m doing some things that are relatively anxiety-provoking in general (travelling, with COVID around; getting married; spending time with my in-laws who I still don’t really know) or for someone on the spectrum (travelling alone, staying in a hotel for the first time in years). I just want to fast forward through the next twenty-four hours until I’m settled in New York, or, more accurately, the next X months until E and I are fully married and living together.

I tried to cope with anxiety by trying to focus on doing just one thing, then the next thing, and so on. I spent a lot of the day packing. It took a long time because I would be anxious or get distracted or both. I did also go for a walk. I didn’t really do any Torah study, unless you count listening to half an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on mental illness and halakhah (Jewish law). That was about it for the day.

I am probably taking too many books with me: two novels (one serious, one lighter), two Jewish books for Torah study (again, one heavier than the other) as well as When Rabbis Abuse because I thought I could make some progress with it on the long flight out (probably not on the night flight home, but maybe). Also my siddur (prayerbook), the latest Doctor Who Magazine and a couple of printed out articles from the internet (I dislike reading long things online). That’s probably a lot for eight and a bit days, but I like to have some choice of reading material in general and particularly on the flight, as I struggle to read one thing for eight hours solid.

Well, this time tomorrow, all going to plan, I will be in New York. This time next week, all going to plan, I will be civilly married. The other good news for the day is that E’s Jewish and single status has been certified by the Beth Din (rabbinical court) of America. They spelt her name wrong, though, so we have to get that corrected before we send it on to the London Beth Din. Once we’ve done that, we can move on with aspects of the religious wedding, although we won’t be able to really make progress until E gets her spouse visa from the Home Office, which could be another six months after the civil wedding next week.

I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again. I might do so during the next week, but if I do, I will be posting from my phone and I have fat fingers, so any post will probably be shorter and less accurate than usual.

Leaps Into the Unknown

There’s not a lot to report today.  I woke up an hour early and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I decided to rest in bed rather than get up early.  Work was OK.  I was supposed to photocopy pairs of sheets of paper onto single, double-sided pages, and I kept doing it wrong, starting to copy the same page on both sides instead one on each side.  I stopped the printer in time each time, but I felt stupid the first time I did and stupider the second time.

There were Tube problems (a stretch of the Northern Line closed because of someone on the line, unfortunately) which necessitated me going on the other branch of the Northern Line and then getting a bus.  I did eventually get to the barber.  I was somewhat scared by the fact that, of the two people already there, one was having his head shaved and one was having some weird treatment involving waxing his eyebrows and nasal hair or something.  I didn’t think it was that kind of a barber! I was worried the barber would want to do more than just trim my hair!  In the event, it was OK.  I shook slightly, but not much, and the barber either didn’t notice or was too polite to mention it. I sent E a selfie when I got out and she liked it, which was a bit of a relief.

***

I’ve nearly finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  I read a big chunk today, at lunch and on my extra-long journey home.  I’ve got about seventy pages left.  I have enjoyed it, but I felt Eleanor’s naivety was too inconsistent.  I thought that early on, she didn’t have a TV in her flat, but then suddenly she did.  Perhaps that was my mistake, but the types of things she knew and did not know seemed to vary according to the jokes the author, Gail Honeyman wanted to tell.  She knew about Power Rangers but not about Spongebob Squarepants and so on.

Honeyman has apparently said that Eleanor is not autistic, but she sometimes comes across as autistic.  This led to a strange situation where I empathised with some of her thoughts and actions as things I might have done, but was alienated by others.  I should say that I don’t intend this as a criticism.  Unfortunately, representation, being “seen” or “erased” by a work of literature or art, has become a key criterion of its worth or success, and I don’t think it is, really. But it did feel strange to strongly connect with Eleanor’s struggles one minute and then feel totally astounded by them a moment later.

What I did find interesting was my reaction to the scenes of Eleanor’s breakdown and therapy (actually, it was called “counselling,” but the counsellor had a PhD, which to me implies therapy).  It made me feel strangely nostalgic for my worse days.  I don’t mean nostalgic in the sense of wanting to be like that again (I was more or less completely non-functional for several years, doing nothing other than go to meetings with my psychiatrist(s) and therapist(s), when I was able to get one), but it seemed somehow easier.

In those days I had no real responsibilities.  Unlike many people with mental illness, I had no real risks, aside from suicide, because my parents were supporting me financially and I lived with them.  At some times, at least, I felt I was constantly making new discoveries about myself and my history in therapy, which was exciting and, over time, changed how I saw myself.  I would not want to go back to that world at all, but I guess it brought home to me that my current life is a leap into the unknown: marriage, writing and various other things I haven’t even started on yet. I hope they will turn out well, but I have no idea if they will. It scares me sometimes that we can’t see one minute into the future. Anything could happen. It does seem strange looking back from where I am now: I’ve come so far, yet I feel I still have so far to go.  At least now I will be going there with E.

Social Interactions

I started to write this post yesterday and ran out of time and energy, as I had a busy day.

Sunday

I had a night of disrupted sleep largely due, I suspect, to the heat.  I struggled to fall asleep, then woke about 6.00am or 7.00am, worried about the blog post I had posted before I went to bed, whether it was too proud, too graphic or even fully true.  I cut a couple of paragraphs and went back to bed, but I was not sure I should have posted second half of the post at all and later removed it completely.  I’m still not sure what was right or wrong in this situation.  It’s hard to be one of the first people to talk about a controversial subject in a particular community. I wrote a long thing in this post that was related and cut that too (but saved it in Word, just in case).

After going back to bed, as I had only had three or four hours of sleep, I slept until noon, which was not good.  Along the way, I had a dream which underlined to me how really scared I am of making a single mistake, so that I never achieve anything.  This is depressing, but I don’t know how to change.   I guess the CBT approach would talk about making deliberate mistakes to get accustomed to them.  I do have a CBT book aimed at teenagers with social anxiety that has a picture of The Person Who Never Made a Mistake.  It’s a blank frame.  I take the point, but it’s still hard to avoid thinking that people aren’t waiting to laugh at me mess stuff up after my childhood bullying experiences.

I’m scared of praise too.   It was getting so much praise for leining (chanting from the Torah) at my bar mitzvah that scared me off doing it again.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came over for tea.  As usual, I struggle to keep up with the five-way (or four-way, as I hardly spoke) conversation.  It has been noted that, for autistic people, the difficulty of keeping up with conversation seems to increase exponentially with the number of people involved.  I would have liked some food, but no one provided any, and I wasn’t sure whether that was deliberate, and, anyway, I’m supposed to be on something vaguely resembling a diet, so I didn’t say anything or get any.

I haven’t mentioned until now that my sister is pregnant, and it is now beginning to show visibly.  My brother-in-law was speaking about his leining (of my bar mitzvah sedra, which somehow made it harder).  I was glad that my civil wedding is soon so that I had something to feel proud of.  By this stage I am used to my (younger) sister being rather ahead of me in life stages. My sister was excited for my civil wedding, but I didn’t realise how much until Mum and Dad told me, as I am not good at reading faces, so I felt a bit bad about that.

Otherwise it was a fairly busy day, with novel writing, wedding paperwork, a little Torah (less than I would have liked), a walk and cooking dinner (very quickly, macaroni cheese).

E and I had a fairly emotional conversation in the evening, in the sense of anxious (not angry).  We’re both worried about some things connected with the wedding, particularly the risk of COVID interfering (E still has COVID at the moment) and are just frustrated that we’re ready to move ahead and immigration bureaucracy is going to freeze us up for months.  We just want to be married.  We finished calmer, but I went to bed a bit emotional and not relaxed.

***

Monday

My recent pattern of sleeping in a heatwave seems to be to struggle to sleep from the heat, then to wake up in the early hours when it cools off.  I really need a duvet to sleep well and lately I’m sleeping under an empty duvet cover or nothing at all.  I feel haven’t slept well for weeks.  I got about for and a half hours sleep.  I am definitely becoming aware of not breathing when wake up.

I struggled at work.  I was in the office by myself for much of the day.  I’m not sure if that was good or bad.  Work was mostly dull and my brain was not working properly to do very much.  I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on the way to work and while doing boring photocopying and felt bad that I’m not doing anything as socially useful as helping agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce) like the woman in the podcast. I had some more frustration at being away from E. I came home feeling more than a little ill. Dinner helped, but Skyping E again helped more. We are good for each other. And on that note, bed.

Wedding Stuff

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

Why D W Stdy Tlmd Wtht Vwls r Pncttn

I’ve been listening to a number of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts about Talmud study lately. On one of them Rabbi Kahn said something along the lines of, “If you don’t know what Talmud study involves, it’s tort law, in a dead language, with no punctuation.” In fact, there are no vowels either, although it’s not all tort law; it actually covers all aspects of life, or at least all aspects of Jewish life in Israel and Babylon a thousand years ago. Tort law is what yeshivahs generally focus on, though, as it’s very hard and is supposed to be good for intellectual development.

I was thinking about the “no punctuation and no vowels” thing. Nowadays you can get editions of the Talmud like the Steinsaltz and the Artscroll that do have the vowels and punctuation added, but these are definitely viewed by most people as lesser and a crutch for poor students, particularly those who did not have a traditional yeshivah education. All these editions with vowels and punctuation include the “classic” page layout too, with the implication being that you should “graduate” to the traditional page at some point. When I study Talmud (which I haven’t been doing so much lately), I do try to study in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, even though I have to use the translation, but these days I study on the page with vowels and punctuation, not the “Vilna Shas” page without them.

I wonder why this is. Torah scrolls are traditionally written without vowels and punctuation too. However, the Masoretes, a group of scribes in the land of Israel from the fifth to tenth centuries, established the authoritative text of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) including vowels and punctuation. Nowadays, Hebrew Bibles are generally printed with vowels and punctuation. If you want to learn how to read from the unpunctuated, unvocalised Torah scroll, you have to use a special book called a Tikkun which recreates the look of a scroll. I have never encountered anyone who says that this is a crutch and that ideally we should read the Torah unvocalised and unpunctuated.

There may be a few reasons for this. The one that seems most important to me is that the idea of mass Talmud study only goes back seventy years or so. Before then, only the intellectual elite were taught it. However, all boys were taught the Torah (at least in theory), but it would be too much to expect five year olds not just to read an ancient text in a dead language (which is quite a big thing to ask in itself), but to read it without vowels or punctuation too. So everyone was taught with those and it just became accepted as normal.

Another possibility is that some difficult passages in the Talmud can be read multiple ways without vowels and punctuation and that can have halakhic (Jewish legal) impact. Bear in mind that the Talmud is structured as a series of debates, not a law code. Without punctuation, it’s not always easy to tell if it is making a statement, asking a question, asking a rhetorical question or just being sarcastic (yes, the Talmud uses sarcasm). So that might be why we aspire to study in a way that makes those ambiguities more visible, so we are aware of the multiple readings possible and not tied to one specific reading. I’m not 100% convinced by this, though, as the same ambiguities can be found in the Torah. The Torah tells us three times not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk, which is seen as the source for the prohibition on eating meat and dairy together, a major part of the kosher (dietary) laws. Yet in the unvocalised text it can be read just as legitimately as “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s fat,” which would obviously be a very different reading. We rely on oral tradition that it should read ‘milk’ and I think the people who see only unvocalised Talmud study as legitimate would be resistant to making “the masses” aware of an ambiguity like this in such a key halakhic area.

I just think it’s very, very strange and I wonder if on some level it’s about creating artificial boundaries and setting a high entrance bar, initially to ensure only the best students could study, but now to force a high standard on all men (perhaps to separate them from women?).

***

Last night I had a very slight headache before I skyped E. I took some tablets anyway, in case it got worse. Over the course of our conversation, it got a lot worse and I had to leave a bit abruptly when it got too much, although it was probably time to end the call anyway, as it was getting late. I don’t know why it got so much worse after taking meds. It did eventually go after I started using a “kool ‘n’ soothe” strip, but, as is often the case after bad headaches, when it went, I was not feeling at all sleepy — even though by this stage it was 1am! I went to bed very late, although I did fall asleep quickly once I got to bed despite the heat.

I ate some ice cream late at night which seems to be becoming a regular Thursday treat, at least while the heatwaves last. I feel like I can go through the week without junk a bit easier knowing I can have this at the end (I also eat less healthily on Shabbat, although better than in the past). The overall trend for me at the moment is to lose weight, though, which is good. It is a struggle to cut back, even though I actually wasn’t eating that much junk objectively, but clomipramine made all the calories go straight to my belly. It is hard sometimes to get to the end of a hard day and not even allow myself one biscuit.

I woke up again struggling to breathe this morning, lying on my stomach. I go to sleep on my side, but apparently turned over in my sleep. Lying flat is worse for sleep apnoea. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for signs of sleep apnoea, as I would have thought I just woke with a start from a dream and that was why I was gasping. This explains to me why I never noticed signs of breathing issues before the doctor suggested it as a reason for disturbed and unrefreshing sleep.

Otherwise it’s the usual end of the week exhaustion/autistic exhaustion/poor sleep exhaustion/whatever exhaustion, worsened by heatwave exhaustion. I did do some novel writing, although I’m a bit ashamed that I had to disconnect the internet to focus. Putting some music on very quietly helped too. Loud music stops me concentrating, but quiet music was neutral or even beneficial for concentrating, which is interesting. I will have to experiment some more with it. I’ve written over 26,000 words now, which is basically a quarter of a novel. I have mixed feelings about it, but I think most authors do.

I’m a bit daunted by the thought of sorting out the wedding paperwork (partly worried I’m going to forget something or leave something out and delay the wedding further), but it’s exciting that E and I will hopefully be married before Pesach (Passover), albeit that that timeline really depends on the Home Office.

Honest Jewish Experience and Novel Submission

I’ve mentioned before that I read therapist Elisheva Liss’ weekly “schmoozeletter,” which combines thoughts on the weekly sedra (Torah reading) with insights from modern psychology and psychotherapy. This week she spoke about people in struggling (but not abusive or clearly not working) marriages. She tries to get them to label their interactions and other aspects of the marriage with marks out of ten, with one for the worst possible experience and ten for the best. Then she tries to get people to accept that a set of perfect tens is unrealistic and that a wider range of values can result in a marriage that, while imperfect, is still rewarding and enjoyable. “Maybe getting to a range of 5-7 would be transformative and beautiful in its own imperfect way, if we stopped fixating on the elusive, unrealistic 10?”

I wondered if I should apply this to my religious life. Maybe I’m looking for perfect tens for my davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, middot (character traits), emunah (faith) and so on. Perhaps I can accept a religious life that is good enough rather than perfect. I haven’t, as yet, assessed the different parts of my religious life and I’m not sure that giving them an exact score is a good idea, but instead I should try to feel that I don’t have to have perfect concentration and connection when davening, I don’t have to have amazing insights every time I study Torah and so on in order to have a meaningful religious life. I just have to be having a better than average experience regularly.

Part of the problem is knowing what I actually FEEL when davening/studying Torah/etc.? I don’t have an official diagnosis of alexithymia (difficulty recognising and distinguishing my own emotions), but one therapist was very sure that I have that difficulty and that is my own experience too. When I feel that my davening or my Torah study lacks a feeling of connection or joy, perhaps the issue is recognising and distinguishing the emotions rather than actually feeling them. This is supported by the fact that I continued with davening and Torah study during the years when I was severely depressed, often at a reduced level, but it was important for me to do something and that probably indicates more than fear and certainly more than just habit.

Likewise, I believe that God exists, and I can tell that I hold this belief much more strongly than I have in the past, so the fact that I don’t feel a strong connection to Him may be a product of unrecognised emotions rather than absent emotions. That said, thinking about connection with God is an inherently subjective and emotional subject, so maybe I shouldn’t see that as the be all and end all of my religious life.

***

Another thought was prompted by an Orthodox Conundrum podcast featuring Rabbi Pesach Sommer talking about whether it is possible to educate for faith (not indoctrinate). He spoke about Orthodox thinkers that teenagers should be introduced to (I had read most of them, pleasingly) and one was Hillel Zeitlin. Zeitlin is a fairly obscure figure who was raised in a strict Hasidic family in late nineteenth century Poland, stopped being frum as a teenager, getting into secular philosophy and Russian literature, then later became frum again, but combined his passion for philosophy and literature with Judaism, writing about religion in Dostoyevski and Tolstoy from a Jewish perspective alongside articles on Jewish figures like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Rav Kook and, if I remember correctly, trying to compare Judaism with Eastern religions. He was eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

I was familiar with Zeitlin from a volume of his writings that Jewish Renewal rabbi Arthur Green published a number of years ago and he did inspire me, albeit more by his example than by the writings themselves (as with Franz Rosenzweig). The relevance of this here is that Rabbi Sommer saw Zeitlin as a useful writer because he was not a rabbi and was therefore freer to write about his religious doubts and growth than ordained rabbis. He can therefore be a model of the religious quest, rather than a static view of Judaism and Jewish belief and practice.

The point of all this is that it made me wonder if there is benefit to my recording my thoughts about Judaism and my religious growth, including false starts and wrong turns, after all, precisely because I’m not a rabbi and I don’t need to pretend to be living a perfect religious life. I can be honest and authentic without needing to pretend I have all the answers. I can, in fact, try out different answers without having to be sure that they are “correct.”

***

I struggled to sleep again last night. I got four or five hours sleep and I got up alright this morning, but I made a lot of mistakes at work, perhaps due to tiredness, or to sensory overload from the noise of the air conditioner — or autistic executive function issues, or incompetence, or, or, or…

A small victory: doing mundane tasks while listening to podcasts at work, I listened to a therapist critique the shidduch system of arranged dates in the Orthodox world. She said single young people should enjoy the best years of their lives and not worry about being on the shelf in their early twenties. The “best years of their lives” bit would have depressed me in the past as my teens and twenties were mostly spent unemployed, clinically depressed and very lonely, not doing very much at all, and desperately needing the autism/Asperger’s diagnosis I wouldn’t get for years. I did wince a bit, but I just went on with what I was doing. Yes, I had a miserable time. Yes, lots of people had more fun. Probably the net amount of fun they have over their lifetimes will be greater than mine. But there isn’t much point in going over that all over again. I guess things can only get better? (And, yes, we’ve discussed here before whether teens and twenties really are the best years of your life.)

I got the marriage paperwork I was trying to get hold of yesterday, so we’ve got that to look forward to…

***

I submitted my novel to another agent. I wanted to submit to two, but this one wanted so much stuff that I had didn’t have to hand (elevator pitch, one page synopsis) that I ran out of time. It took well over an hour to submit. It’s frustrating that agents all want different things. One wants a one page synopsis, another wants a two page synopsis and it’s harder than you might think to turn one into the other. When what they want is straightforward, I can submit in twenty minutes or so, but this took nearly four times as long.

The agent that I submitted to was the one who found Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I can’t pretend that this didn’t leap out to me because I’m currently reading it, but I guess there are some similarities, although I didn’t list it as a published novel similar to my own (I thought that would be gauche; if there are similarities, she can spot them for herself). I broke my informal rule of not submitting to the CEO of an agency (unless it’s a very small one) because she genuinely seemed like the best fit at this agency. I just hope she has the time to deal with the books she represents.

To be honest, I feel my first novel is a mess, an attempt at writing autobiographical fiction that mutated into more imaginative fiction, but not enough. Some of the autobiographical bits are OK, but the strongest part is the non-autobiographical plot thread about a frum woman being abused by abused by her husband. If I wasn’t involved in other writing (and wasn’t afraid of charges of appropriation?), I’d be tempted to try to expand that to a whole novel on its own. Of the three people (other than me) who have read it, two liked it (and the third arguably was not the target audience), which I guess counts for something. I feel that my current novel is better, but also significantly flawed (I just realised a major flaw in it so far). I guess it’s a learning process.

As is often the case when I submit my manuscript, I was left feeling that I am a bad writer and reader for not reading modern fiction. In a weird way, this is probably due to autism/Asperger’s. Like many people on the spectrum, I like to stick with things I know I will like and can understand deeply rather than trying to understand something new. I read the same authors and sometimes I re-read the same books multiple times, although I’m trying to do that less. I’ve read all the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges (most of them multiple times), all the surviving fiction of Franz Kafka (ditto), all of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, much of the prodigious outputs of Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (all the Professor Challenger stories as well as the more famous Sherlock Holmes ones), Agatha Christie, John le Carre and various other writers. I haven’t read anything from contemporary writers who have only written one or two books. Reading broadly is more of a problem than reading deeply, and reading modern is more of a problem than reading classics.

Perchance to Dream

This is mostly about a weird dream I had last night. I know some people don’t like to read about dreams, so I usually don’t post about them (I don’t usually remember them, to be honest), but this one seems pertinent to the theme of this blog, such as it is, of trying to fit in at work and in the Jewish community with autism and social anxiety. I’ll put the dream in the next paragraph and the relevance in the ones after, if you want to skip. I’m cutting a lot of weird detail that I can barely remember and isn’t relevant (this isn’t Freudian psychoanalysis). To be honest, I’m reconstructing the dream from fragments, as I can’t remember everything (my dreams are fairly stream-of-consciousness and I usually can’t remember much of them). I’m also cutting the random Donald Trump cameo (seriously, he just walked in and walked out again).

In the dream I was travelling with my boss, J. We were at someone’s house for Friday night dinner, and I said I wanted to leave early as I was tired. In reality, I had autistic burnout. J said we were going to lunch somewhere after shul (synagogue) in the morning, and he wanted me there on time as he didn’t like making excuses for me. I felt that I wasn’t really able to control my sleep pattern and autistic exhaustion, but I didn’t say anything. I went back to where we were staying (which was a sort of self-storage center where we had to sleep in drawers of filing cabinet-type things), but I got lost getting out of some sort of factory place, so when J came to check on me, I wasn’t in bed yet and he got annoyed as he said I would get up too late now. I didn’t tell him I’d got lost as I thought it would just start an argument. I also felt some guilt, as I felt I had wasted some time myself through procrastinating, although it wasn’t clear how this had happened. I somehow knew that I would not be able to get up in time in the morning and J would have to go without me and make excuses for me. I knew this was due to my autism, that I would crash and oversleep and that I would need to do so, but somehow it did not feel a good enough excuse. I spoke to my parents and sister and said that J didn’t understand my autism and I didn’t know how to explain it to him. There was then a load of stuff about not being able to sleep because of too much light and noise, again because of autism (and also failing to sleep in a filing cabinet drawer, which somehow didn’t seem weird) and talking to various people, but this was the relevant part of the dream.

It seems pretty clear this is about my autism and my disrupted sleep and my lack of shul attendance over the years. Obviously in the dream I felt I wouldn’t make an early start as I’d already had a couple of early starts on the trip and I would be suffering autistic exhaustion; further, I struggle with sleep and getting up as it is, for reasons that are still to be determined, but might be some kind of sleep disorder. J is easy-going in real life, but in the dream he was really annoyed with me, which probably reflects my fears that I am going to exhaust his patience in the workplace with my mistakes, mistakes that may be due to autistic issues like executive function deficits and trouble multitasking, or might just be due to boredom and incompetence. Somehow (I can’t quite remember how), my boss from my job at the further education library was in there too; she was less accepting of my mistakes in real-life and told me at my annual evaluation I was frankly not turning out as well as she had expected, which largely soured me on pursuing a library career. To be fair, I didn’t have an autism diagnosis at that point; even so, I feel I’ve made a lot of mistakes in both jobs, beyond my diagnosis. Of course, the worry in the dream was about getting up for shul. My disrupted sleep may be autism-related or may not, I don’t know at this stage. It’s led me to have very poor shul attendance over the years I’ve been struggling with mental illness and autism (really back to teenage years). I worry that I “Should” be going to shul more, and doing more generally to be a “good Jew.”

At the root of all this is the fear that I am asking for huge amounts of adjustments from J, from my parents, and from E, and, in a sense, from my community and God and that one day they will get fed up with making them. I have asked for adjustments for mental illness and I’m still asking for adjustments for autism and disrupted sleep, as well as feeling slightly incompetent generally and prone to procrastination instead of doing things well first time, which may or may not be a side-effect of autism. I am getting reduced shul fees because I’m on a low income. I’m not doing the things a frum Jewish man should do and which God apparently wants me to do, in terms of shul attendance, Torah study and mitzvah performance. There is a fear that I don’t deserve these adjustments, that I’m taking advantage of my parents, E, my community and God, and that one day they will realise.

In reality, I’m making adjustments in return for E, which she is aware of, and arguably also for my parents, who are not really aware of it. Still, there is a feeling of being a thirty-nine year old child, still not fully functional and independent. To be honest, I feel Western society puts too much emphasis on independence. It’s nice if you have it, but many people will not have it for at least some of their lives and that’s not a fault or a problem. Still, I think these are pretty deep-seated fears coming out in the dream.

***

I did a bit more today than yesterday, but I feel that I’m still being subpar. Part of that is sleeping late, of course. Now there’s a big garden party going on somewhere nearby. I hope it doesn’t keep me up late. It’s not looking good on that score, and I feel I’m going to have to shut the windows when I should really keep them open.

***

I had a weird thought last night. People say that no one is a supporting character in their own life, but I kind of feel that I am a supporting character in my life. That’s why huge chunks of my life have been ignored (career; friends; aspects of religious life; until recently, love life) — the author hasn’t thought them out! It’s like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, I’m a main character in my play, but really a minor character in a much more important play.

Of course, this isn’t fully true. My inner monologue is loud enough and important enough to me to make me feel a lot more real than anyone else. Still, I do feel like I’m not really here in the same way that other people are. I don’t achieve anything, I’m like a ghost or a neutrino that passes through without changing anything, at least until E and I got together.

On another level, it is true, of course. I’m a main character in my life, but a minor character in, say, the story of the Jewish people or England or humanity . I guess it’s hard to think of oneself as unimportant, as I’ve said before. It’s not that I want to be important in itself or for fame (yuk), but to feel I haven’t wasted my life and made some kind of difference. I’m trying to teach myself not to care.

***

OK, I really wish the party would stop now. It’s VERY loud and late.

Tisha B’Av Continued (Briefly)

(This really continues from the post I posted last night.)  I think I finally fell asleep about 4am (on two pillows, as I worried I was hurting my neck on one).  I slept through until almost halakhic (Jewish law) midday (the midpoint of daylight hours, which, because of daylight savings time, is currently 1.05pm).  I felt relieved, but also guilty for missing so much of Tisha B’Av (the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, see yesterday’s post for more).  Then I discovered, in rapid succession (a) that there’s been fighting again between Israel and Gaza (Islamic Jihad this time instead of Hamas); (b) that because of the fighting, and rockets fired at Israel, my cousin, who has PTSD, has been running to the bomb shelter again; and (c) that E definitely has COVID and is feeling bad, both physically and emotionally.  I can’t do anything about any of these things, other than send texts, and pray.

These thoughts got mixed up with other thoughts about my disrupted sleep, and not knowing if it’s because of a physical sleep disorder, autistic exhaustion or medication side-effects, and how so much of my life, particularly my religious life, seems to be making the best of difficult situations.  Sometimes it feels like only my life with E is completely good (there are challenges there, but I feel we can meet them).

I read some of Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World and The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, although I’m not sure how much either of them really made me feel the “right” feelings for the day.  To be honest, I’m not really sure what I felt today, and I feel bad about sleeping through the morning.  I really wish I could sort my sleep pattern out, or get some kind of idea of what the problem is so I can move towards it, as I don’t think I’ll get my work or religious lives anywhere near to where I want them to be without doing so.  I’m pleased I was able to support E and my cousin via text.  I guess I feel I should have somehow got more into the day, but, having struggled with depression for decades, it’s hard to push myself back to that mindset.  Maybe I’m just making excuses for myself.

Insomnia B’Av

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Difficult Thoughts, and Staying Frum

I slept until 11am, which I probably needed.  Then I spent a while in bed, which was a mistake, as I fell asleep until 12.30pm, which I did not need and was not good.  I felt self-recriminatory after that, and about the over-excited post I wrote yesterday.  Sometimes I get stuck in fantasy that things are suddenly going to improve and then it’s painful coming back down to earth.

I also noticed that I’ve had a lot of difficult thoughts lately, not self-criticism so much as pure O OCD-type thoughts (e.g. thoughts about saying hurtful things to strangers).  Apparently everyone has these thoughts, or thoughts like them, all the time, but people with OCD can’t dismiss them as ‘just thoughts.’  I do wonder why people don’t discuss them more if this is true.  They do lead on to self-criticism, because I think, “How can I have thoughts like that in my head, even subconsciously?  I don’t want to say these things, so why is my brain suggesting that I should?”  I’m not obsessing over them and I don’t really think I’m a bad person, so it’s not reached OCD-level, but I just wish it would shut up.

To be honest, I would probably be a lot happier generally if my brain would just shut up sometimes.  I know someone who seems to wander around broadcasting their entire inner monologue constantly to avoid the silence.  If that really is what they’re doing, their inner monologue is a lot quieter and more banal than my inner monologue.  I do wish I could turn things down sometimes.

***

I felt down today, I’m not sure why.  The day has been a bit of a struggle.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about this.

I did phone the GP surgery this afternoon and managed to get an appointment with the doctor I spoke to last time.  This was regarding wanting to reduce my medication and being told by the psychiatrist not to do so.  The GP seemed a bit annoyed that I hadn’t been able to speak to the psychiatrist directly to explain my situation, but had to speak through a “link worker.”  This was the person I spoke to on the phone, who I thought was a psychiatrist, but apparently was not.  The GP is going to write again to request a direct phone call between me and the psychiatrist.

I spent a while psyching myself up to phone the United Synagogue about moving forward with E and my marriage application paperwork, but got the answer phone.

So many things at the moment can’t be done in one go.  A lot of this relates to going to the US and getting married, but also to other things like filling in my tax return (which I’ve never had to do before).  I just keep pushing things off or only managing to do the next step and I find it frustrating that nothing is ever finished.  Maybe that’s contributed to feeling down.

***

Sometimes I wonder how I’ve stayed frum (religious Jewish).  It’s hard to stay frum if you don’t feel connected to the community, or aren’t getting positive feelings from Jewish practice, or are just struggling to do all the stuff that being Jewish entails, and I’ve struggled with all three things at different times.  I guess I’m struggling with most or all of them now, if not necessarily to the same extent as in the past.  And autism/Asperger’s and mental health issues just makes everything even harder.  My main mental health issue at the moment is social anxiety, which isn’t as bad for me as depression and OCD were, but it’s particularly good at sabotaging anything I try to do related to being in a community, and a lot about Orthodox Judaism is ideally done in a community.  Alexithymia (difficulty sensing and understanding my feelings) probably also means that I miss some positive feelings from Judaism and community, strange though that may seem.

Does that make me a good Jew for persisting despite all this or a bad one for not being so enthusiastic, committed or involved?  I don’t know.  I feel like a good Jew wouldn’t be struggling with these things in the first place, but I also feel that I didn’t choose to be in this situation.   I once saw one rabbi write that “A good Jew is trying to be a better Jew,” but I worry that in the last few years, rather than improving, I’ve even cut back on things to try to consolidate what I’m still doing.

I am aware that people on the fringes of the Orthodox Jewish community, for whatever reason, tend to drop out.  I’ve known a number of people who became frum as a young adult, but dropped out of observance later due to mental health issues (sometimes becoming observant is a symptom of mental illness, although I don’t think that was the case with me).  So I know I should feel that I’m doing OK.  It would just be nice to have some certainty that I’m a good Jew and a good human being.  Although, as I realised a while back, but still haven’t internalised, there isn’t going to be a day when someone gives me a medal to officially recognise that I’m a good person or a good Jew, and I should really stop wanting it to happen.  At least E thinks I’m a good person and a good Jew; it probably is too much to hope for other people to say the same.

Tangentially-related to this, on one of the Orthodox Conundrum podcasts I listened to, Elisheva Rishon (fashion designer and Jew of colour) spoke about connecting with other Orthodox Jews online, but struggling to overcome stigma in real-world Orthodox settings.  I don’t think I experience stigma per se (although it’s easier for me to mask), but it nudges me towards going back on social media to try to find people I can connect with.  But then I remember how awful being on Facebook was, and I scare myself off it.

***

I am currently reading The Third Reich in Power by Richard J Evans; When Rabbis Abuse: Power, Gender, and Status in the Dynamics of Sexual Abuse in Jewish Culture by Elana Sztokman; and Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World by Yael Ziegler[1].  These are all good books, but very heavy-going [2].  I tried to read the Third Reich book this evening and struggled with it.  I think I have to throw a novel in there or something lighter.  It’s frustrating, as the Third Reich book is very long and I don’t want to be reading it for months on end.  I don’t want to take any of those books to New York in a few weeks (not least because they’re too heavy in a literal sense), so I’ll have to start something soon anyway.  I do want to finish the spring Jewish Review of Books first (the summer issue is out, but it takes ages to get to the UK).

[1] I am also occasionally reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who by David J. Howe and Steven James Walker, which is annoying in another way entirely, but that’s not a topic for now.

[2] When Rabbis Abuse is also in desperate need of a proof-reader, as I’m not sure I’ve seen a professionally-published book with so many typos and errors, but, again, that’s not a problem for now.

The Elevator Pitch

The important bit: E booked an appointment for us to get a wedding licence when I’m in New York.  We can’t book the civil wedding itself until next week, as they only release the slots three weeks in advance.  But we’re another step closer to marriage!

***

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I don’t know why.  I often find it hard to sleep after a headache and it was hot again too.  I got about two hours sleep in the end and somehow got up in time for work.  I drank a lot of coffee…  I’m not sure if that’s the reason I made some mistakes at work.  To be honest, I don’t really need sleep deprivation as an excuse.  Some of it is executive function issues.  Some of it might be incompetence.  Or maybe not.  I don’t really know any more.

I had to do a rotten job at work too which I won’t go into here, but it involved the phone, asking people for money they owed and some other stressful stuff, but it left me feeling lousy and still not getting the money we were owed.

When I got home I did some small chores, thinking I would submit my novel to an agent after dinner, but by the time dinner came (my parents eat late), I was burnt out and light-headed from lack of food and still felt bad after eating.

I feel like eating junk (rogelach or cake), but really shouldn’t as I had too much over the last couple of days.  I might use the autistic exhaustion heter (dispensation) to listen to music despite the Three Weeks of mourning, as I feel pretty bad, but don’t think I should go to bed just yet.

***

I was thinking again last night, when I couldn’t sleep, about people I know/knew who get paid to write, or who write for a wide audience (paid or free).  I felt despairing that I would ever get there, although the number of people I could think of being paid to write wasn’t that great, and I think they’re mainly making money from their substack email newsletters.  Feeling a failure at work and even wondering today if I would get fired didn’t help.  J is pretty easygoing, but I imagine he doesn’t have infinite patience.  There is definitely a trend on the autism forum for people to fail to hold jobs down for long, although they tend to blame the social aspects of work rather than executive function issues.

Instead of feeling like an inadequate, failed writer, I tried to focus on my life and what I have, especially E.  I remember when I was single and lonely for so many years and now have someone who loves me more than I ever thought possible.  But I would like to be able to contribute more to the family.  I am sufficiently ‘modern’ to be OK being the lower earning partner and being a house husband, but I would like our life not to involve money being very tight, or relying on our parents.

***

I went to the free book box on the way home, partly because it was such a stressful day, and I ended up over-compensating.  I took three books: Doctor Who: The Time Lord Victorious: The Knight, The Fool and the Dead by Steve Cole; The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale; and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

I don’t really read Doctor Who books any more, but I couldn’t not take a free one.  Eleanor Oliphant is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read, but never got around to, and is probably the sort of literary/commercial novel that I should be reading to understand the field.  That probably applies to The Suspicions of Mr Whicher too, although it’s more of a stretch in terms of genre (historical fiction, murder mystery, fiction-based-on-fact).

***

I’m still on the front page of the Jewish website with my autism/Asperger’s story.  I noticed today that they put a note on it about winning the award, which I guess is why it’s still up there.  It did occur to me to wonder if I should email Rabbi Kahn from the Orthodox Conundrum podcast to suggest he does a neurodiversity episode or a high-functioning autism/Asperger’s episode.  But I’m a bit scared in case he asks me to be on it.  Then again, it’s not likely that he would ask some random stranger onto his podcast.  Usually the people he interviews are experts or activists of some kind, often rabbis.  Anyway, I wrote a sort of fan letter, saying I like the podcast and asking him to do an episode on Asperger’s/high functioning autism, but I think it came across as “LET ME BE ON YOUR PODCAST!!!!”

I suppose I would like to be able to talk in a more honest way than I was in the article I wrote.  Not that I was dishonest, but I had to omit and compress a lot to get it down to a thousand words, and I did the thing I complained about yesterday of making my life seem linear and positive when it isn’t always those things.  Podcasts – conversation – are not going to be great for any autistic people, though.  We tend to freeze when forced to answer quickly, and are not always good at social niceties (my old friend executive function issues again).  Anyway, it probably won’t happen.

***

It is very hot again and I don’t like it.

The Sense of an Ending

I had insomnia again last night, then overslept today and was a bit drained all day. I’m not sure if that’s the result of heat or exhaustion, as it has been quite hot again (although not as hot as during the heatwave), but I also spent Shabbat (the Sabbath) mostly focusing on religious things (prayer, shul (synagogue), Torah study) and not relaxing. I did manage to do a few things today despite this.

E and I filled out the online application form for a wedding licence. We hope to book an appointment to get that licence tomorrow, when the licenses for the week we want are released. It’s a slow, bureaucratic process, filling in a form to get an appointment to get a licence, but at least if feels like we’re moving forward.

I’m also making slow, but steady progress with my novel. I don’t have much to say about that. I went for my first run in a couple of weeks too. Again, not great pace, and I did get a headache, but it was good to be exercising. I did experience some dizziness intermittently in the evening afterwards and I’m not sure what caused that. The headache did stop me doing much in the evening. I really just watched episodes of The Simpsons and listened to a religious podcast as I didn’t feel up to reading to study Torah (some episodes of the Orthodox Conundrum, like the one I listened to today, are strongly religious or even halakhic (based on Jewish law), whereas others are more cultural or political (in broad terms) with little directly religious content).

***

I have a couple of wisdom teeth that have been partially erupted for some years now. Dentists have never bothered to remove them, as they weren’t causing any pain. The gum over one of them has suddenly started become raw and sensitive over the last few days, and I can see the gum where the tooth is coming through is white, indicating the tooth is pressing on it from beneath. I really hope I don’t have to have the teeth removed right before I go to the US. For the moment it’s irritating, but not too painful, but I’ll have to see if it gets better or worse.

***

JYP commented on my previous post to say that there is a tendency in frum (religious Jewish) personal stories to “wrap [the story] up neatly and relatively quickly”. I think that’s true, but I’m not sure it’s unique to frum journalism.

Today I was reading an article on a Jewish website about a frum influencer’s struggle with alcoholism. It again had the narrative of descending to a low point, then steadily improving. This is unlikely to be the whole story, as addicts usually relapse at least once before achieving sobriety.

I think narratives are partly determined by the technical requirements of genre and medium, which is a fancy way of saying that in a personal story of one to two thousand words (which seems to be the average for personal stories like this on Jewish websites), you don’t get a lot of time to detail long and perhaps somewhat cyclical processes of change and relapse. There is also an expectation of closure at the end of a story in the Western tradition. In People Love Dead Jews, Dara Horn identifies this as primarily a Christian or post-Christian trope, saying that Yiddish and Hebrew prose fiction from the last couple of centuries often just ends abruptly with nothing resolved[1], but these religious sites are largely aimed at Westernised, secular readers.

In a wider sense, it’s common (cliched, even) nowadays for people to refer to life as a “story” or a “journey” [2], suggesting (at least in the Western tradition, according to Horn) a process with a clear beginning and ending with a linear path between them. Reality is more meandering and unfocused. Perhaps we need more stories, fiction and non-fiction, that meander and end inconclusively. For what it’s worth, my current novel is structured around the protagonist’s repeated falls from attempted sobriety and I am toying with the idea of an open, inconclusive ending. How to maintain interest despite the repetition is going to be hard, as will making the novel seem finished and not abandoned at the end.

[1] I’m not an expert on Hebrew and Yiddish literature, but from what I have read, Mendele Mocher-Seforim’s The Travels of Benjamin the Third ends very abruptly (it feels like the author lost interest) and a couple of Shalom Aleichem’s stories about Jewish rail passengers telling tales to each other stop suddenly when the storyteller’s station appears and he gets off. As for the kind of non-Jewish literature that Yiddish readers might have encountered, I’m not an expert on Russian literature either, but Crime and Punishment has quite a rushed ending (the ‘crime’ takes up most of the novel, the ‘punishment’ only a few pages) and The Brothers Karamazov ends very abruptly and with a lot left hanging, to the extent that, after 1,300 pages, I wasn’t sure it was actually the end. War and Peace meanders a lot through very different situations with no clear plot thread, but I can’t remember how it finishes, beyond the huge non-fiction appendix with Tolstoy’s weird ideas about history.

[2] When I was working in further education, whenever the institution would refer to the students’ “learning journeys,” my boss would comment derisively, “They’re not on a ‘learning journey!’ They’ve gone to college!”