Halfway There Day

Yesterday was my half-birthday, for those of you who take note of such things. I don’t really see any significance, but my oldest friend was born on 19 January and another friend on 20 January, so the date leaps out at me. I am now closer to my fortieth birthday than my thirty-ninth, which vaguely troubles me, although it shouldn’t.

I also worked out that if E and I get one of the two wedding dates we’re currently aiming at, both in the second half of May, we’re more or less halfway now between the civil wedding last August and the chuppah (religious wedding). We should have more of an idea this week if that’s a realistic date.

***

This week was the baby blessing week for Nephew. I couldn’t go in the end because of difficulty finding somewhere suitable to stay. I was OK home alone. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night because I felt too tired, which was a shame and vaguely troubling in terms of how frequently it seems to be happening. The house was cold and I have chapped hands again, but otherwise things were fine.

I did some Torah study: Talmud and The Guide to the Perplexed, which is currently full of stuff about the Aristotlean view of the universe as a series of living spheres, one inside the other, definitely not made of atoms and definitely not containing any vacuum. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, but this bit is not really relevant to modern day theology. Hopefully it will get back to more relevant stuff (from a contemporary perspective) soon.

I finished reading Dune yesterday. I intend to go on to the second book, Dune Messiah. It was a good book, but hard to get into, and weirdly structured.

I slept too long as usual, about twelve or thirteen hours at night. I still went back to bed after lunch today, more because I was cold than tired. I think I drifted into that state of mind between sleeping and wakefulness and was late for seudah (the third Shabbat meal).

It was a struggle to do things after Shabbat. It always is, as I feel lethargic, even at 5.30pm. I did manage to tidy up and do a bit of Torah study. I did a little novel planning too. I would have done more, but I had a headache for a while.

***

I tried to friend someone on the autism forum a while back. We have some things in common (librarians, Doctor Who fans). He didn’t respond to the friending and accompanying message, but has chatted with me on threads since then. He’s got other friends. Friending doesn’t really do anything other than allow direct messaging, but I do feel weirdly unliked from only having two friends, both people who are not there any more and who didn’t stay on the forum long. But I’m nervous about friending people (in general and after this). I wonder if the friend request didn’t go through properly to this person and if I should send it again, or if that would make things worse if he was deliberately not responding to me.

I also wonder if it’s worth friending other people. I would be open to making friends on the site, which would realistically only happen if I friended people, but I don’t see it as essential. Still, I wonder what to do. I feel really self-conscious about being the only (open) Jew on the site, but can’t stop mentioning it. I don’t think anyone is antisemitic, but a lot of people have funny ideas about Jews, particularly if they haven’t met any (which is feasible as Jews make up about a half of per cent of the UK population, largely concentrated in just a couple of cities).

Mistakes

Today was difficult in some ways, albeit mostly fairly minor ones. I spent most of the day wrestling with some thoughts that I’m not willing to share here yet, triggered (not in the trauma sense) by an Intimate Judaism podcast I am in the middle of listening to. Both the Intimate Judaism and Orthodox Conundrum podcasts and associated Facebook page seem to be talking a lot about the links between sex, relationships and identity in the Orthodox world (LGBT, older singles etc.). Both podcasts are run by Rabbi Scott Kahn, the former along with Dr Talli Rosenbaum. It’s interesting, and I have things to say, but I worry about saying too much, or the wrong thing for a public forum. I am vaguely thinking about messaging Rabbi Kahn, but part of me feels I share too much with strangers online, and that people don’t really want to hear my thoughts and I shouldn’t look for other people to validate my life choices.

***

I sent a question about autism to the email helpline for people who want to ask mental health-related questions to a rabbi/religious expert trained in mental health. Autism isn’t strictly a mental illness, but I feel I need some specialist help and don’t know where to turn, even if they just send me a different email address to write to. I just want to discuss how much I can “realistically” force myself to conform or, alternatively, allow myself to depart from communal standards in things like communal prayer, amount of religious study and so on, given the things I deal with on a daily basis (more on that below).

***

The psychiatrist has reduced my clomipramine, but she isn’t sure whether the dosage she prescribed is actually manufactured. She gave me an alternative in case I can’t get 25mg tablets, but it’s annoying to be put in the situation of having to check this out when the reason I waited a week to hear from her was because she wanted to check this!

***

The main struggle today was with mistakes at work. I made quite a few, just when I was hoping I was getting the hang of things again (you may remember I periodically feel like this, then make a load more mistakes).

Yesterday, when I was doing proofreading at home, I spotted and corrected a number of very minor mistakes immediately (in text I hadn’t written). Today, in the office, I made loads of mistakes, both in written text and in terms of entering data wrongly. I’m struggling to understand why. I have a couple of suggestions:

  • The office is quiet (just me and my line manager, with only a few more people in the building), but I get over-stimulated and sensorily overloaded on the commute in on the Tube before I arrive. It’s not as crowded as it was at rush before COVID, but it’s still quite a lot of people to deal with first thing in the morning, and the announcements go right through me (particularly the super-annoying “See it, say it, sorted” anti-terrorism announcement that they make every couple of minutes, which could probably drive someone to committing an act of terrorism just to stop it).  This puts me in the wrong mindset from the start.
  • The lighting in the office is very bad, with minimal natural light and dull light bulbs (possibly LEDs, I’m not sure). I know autistics are supposed to prefer soft, muted lighting, but I find clear, bright light often more helpful for being in a work state. Dull light just makes me feel tired and struggle to focus (literally).
  • The work I was doing at home yesterday was one, focused task. At work I have to switch between different documents and programs as well as between tasks, which raises the likelihood of executive function issues.
  • Related to this, I don’t really take any breaks during the day except a forty-five minute lunch break (aside from toilet breaks). This is because I work somewhat shorter days and it feels wrong to take breaks if I’m finishing early. I’m beginning to wonder if this is a false economy and I should finish later so I can take longer lunches and maybe a mid-afternoon break to try to adjust between tasks better. I’m not sure if my line manager would want this.
  • I’m probably too tired most of the time, which is partly my fault for going to bed late, albeit that my sleep pattern is largely fixed by things outside my control at the moment (e.g. being in a long-distance marriage with someone in a different time zone, so I’m online late at night Skyping). Hopefully this will change soon, although if I have a sleep disorder (the NHS hasn’t decided yet), there may be a limit to how much things can change.
  • I’m distracted. There isn’t really a way around the fact that my job is boring and I only survive it by thinking of other things at the same time.
  • Masking. I’m not sure if this is an issue. There is only one other person in the office with me, but I feel like I’m masking from the moment I step out the front door in the morning until the moment I get back in the evening (if not later, as I mask with my parents too, just not as much). It’s very draining even if there aren’t many people around at any given time and if anyone else does walk in, I feel even more tense.
  • Not autism-related, but it is easier to spot mistakes in someone else’s writing than your own. With text you have written, your brain tends to read what you want to be there rather than what’s actually there.

Sex, Friends, Books (No, the Genie Didn’t Give Me Three Wishes)

I had my last chatan (bridgegroom i.e. marriage) class last night. I think there might be another one closer to the wedding (no, still no news on the visa). I learnt more than in the previous one, although I still struggled to work out if I was expected to say anything and if so, what. I did wonder what someone who isn’t already committed to observing at least some of the laws of taharat mishpacha (family purity) would make of it, particularly if they were already having sex with their fiancée, as, realistically, many couples getting married through the United Synagogue would be. I don’t know whether taharat mishpacha contributes to keeping marriages fresh the way that it’s often claimed. Probably it sometimes does, but not always. I’m committed to the idea for religious reasons, regardless of any other benefits. I am, as a rule, sceptical of the idea of non-religious benefits from mitzvot (commandments) such as the purported (and mostly spurious) health benefits of kashrut (the dietary laws). Inasmuch as I see non-religious benefit in taharat mishpacha, it’s to stop men pestering their wives for sex when they’re on their period. I guess my view is different to most people’s anyway; if you’ve been celibate until the age of thirty-nine, abstaining from sex for two weeks a month doesn’t seem particularly daunting. It’s the being able to have sex for two weeks a month bit that is novel.

***

This morning neither of my alarms went off, for some reason, so I overslept by quarter of an hour, although I hurried and got to work on time. Work was busy again as it’s the time of year when most people pay their membership fees. I went to the bank and paid in fifty cheques to the astonishment of the clerk until she realised we are a charity, not a business, although we’re not a typical charity (“communal organisation” would probably be a better term), hence the membership fees.

I came home and intended to spend some time unwinding without screens, but went online instead. Big mistake. After a while, I felt ill from too much screen time, which was my fault, and from not eating which was not my fault, as dinner was very late. I hope E’s visa comes soon so we can set up home together; like me, but unlike my parents, she prefers to eat dinner early.

I would have liked to do some more Torah study or novel work after dinner, but felt too exhausted. I’d like to read some more of Dune before bed (I’m about three-quarters of the way through now), but don’t know if I’ll have the energy/brainpower. I’d rather not push myself too hard and burn out tomorrow, although it may be too late for that by now.

***

In therapy we touched on a subject that I’ve discussed a bit with E, about the fact that I mask my autism (as a general rule, masking in autistics tends to result in burnout in the end). I try to be what people expect me to be, to do what is “normal” or “right” rather than – well, I don’t actually know. I can’t really say “rather than what I want to do,” as I don’t actually know what I would do without masking, because I’ve been doing it from a very young age, maybe four or five, but more so from adolescence.

I don’t really know what I would like to do or who I really think I am. I remember Ashley saying a while back to imagine how I would behave if I was on a desert island just with E. It’s hard to tell, as I’m not terribly imaginative in that way. I probably wouldn’t be that different from how I am with E now, but it’s hard to map that on to interactions with other people. I would probably be a bit freer to voice opinions, including controversial ones, to make jokes or explain things to people.

***

The flipside of this is the online autism forum, where I’m beginning to wonder if people are deliberately not “talking” to me. Other people seem to have conversations, but that rarely happens to me. There’s a core of people who seem to connect and refer back and forth to each other and I can’t seem to get “in” to the group. Possibly they comment a lot more than I do, I’m not sure, so maybe it’s a visibility thing. I try to only say things if it’s going to be helpful or incisive, I don’t just joke around. And, as I mentioned the other day, I tried to “friend” someone on there, but he didn’t respond and I don’t know if he didn’t see it or didn’t want the contact.

The worst thing is, because I’ve mentioned being an Orthodox Jew a number of times, I wonder if that’s why people aren’t responding, not so much from antisemitism, but because they have an image of Orthodox Jews being judgmental, ascetic, humourless, and who knows what else. In a word, “Other.”

Probably I should stay away from there. I feel I’m on the forum and the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group too much at the moment, trying to get noticed, in a “I want to be friendly and talk to people” way, not an ego way, but I don’t think it’s really working. I look forward to E being here; hopefully I won’t need to feed my social needs in this unhealthy way when we can interact normally like most couples instead of through WhatsApp texts and limited Skype time.

***

I found a substack by someone who experienced child abuse in the Jewish community. I am not sure whether to follow it. I don’t know why I have this fascination with abuse survivors. Is it because I dated one? I suspect not. I think I became more aware through being in group therapy-type spaces (support groups etc.). It made me realise how many survivors are out there, and how invisible they are unless they tell you what happened to them.

I worry that it’s some kind of morbid emotional vampirism, as I’ve mentioned before. I think a more likely reason is that for decades, I’ve been aware of myself on the margins of the frum community because of neurodivergence and mental illness. Somewhere along the line, I got interested in other people on the margins of the frum world, and abuse survivors are about the most marginal people there, often actively thrown out by people who don’t want to believe that abuse happens in the community, and that it’s often the most powerful, influential or “religious” people who perpetrate it. Hence, I am more interested in survivors from frum backgrounds. What I have experienced isn’t anything like what they have experienced, but I see some similarities about feeling unwanted in the community, feeling anger at being marginalised, wanting to fit in, but not knowing how, feeling shame just for being who you are…

“Tali Steine” writes: “My light speaks to me, enveloping me with goodness, with beauty, with love. You aren’t bad or worthless, she says. This wasn’t your fault… You don’t have to carry this shame.” I feel if she can tell herself this, then I should be able to tell myself. But somehow I can’t. I feel, “If I suffered as much as she did, I could say it wasn’t my fault, because it would clearly be disproportionate to anything I might have done, but I haven’t, so maybe it is my fault.”

I’m still not sure what to do about the substack.

***

I’m a bit stressed at all the books on my To Read shelf, particularly those in series. Herewith, a list of book series I’m in the middle of at the moment. To qualify, it has to be a series where there is reasonable continuity beyond one recurring character and I have to want to read the whole series; I’d like to read all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Poirot stories, and all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories, but the links between stories in these series are slight and the series are long enough that I doubt I’ll read all of them (I think Christie wrote something like seventy-nine mystery/thriller stories, plus half a dozen pseudonymous romances and a couple of memoirs).

James Bond: I figure these just about have enough continuity to qualify. I’m reading them in a completely random order, for various reasons. I’ve got about two thirds of the way through the series in two years or so, so I guess I like them… I currently have copies of Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me on my To Read shelf, then there are another three to read after that. In recent years, a bunch of people have written other James Bond books, but at the moment I only plan on reading Ian Fleming’s ones.

Dune: I just started this a few weeks ago, but I do want to see how it plays out, even though it consists of two trilogies (or one hexalogy) of very long books.

Harry Potter: I’ve read the first two and I have most of the others and I will read them, but I’m not in a huge hurry, as I felt the first two were a bit over-rated. On the other hand, I like the word “Azkaban,” so I’ll probably read book three sooner rather than later.

A Wrinkle in Time: I’m not sure what the overarching title for this is, so I’ve just gone with the title of the first one. I read it a couple of months ago. It was OK, but I’m not sure whether I’ll read the others. As with Harry Potter, it seems to clearly be a children’s series and I wonder a bit why so many adults read it.

Robot/Galactic Empire/Foundation: in the 1940s (I think; I’m too tired to check), Isaac Asimov wrote three science fiction short story series, collected into books: the Robot, Galactic Empire and Foundation series. The three series were totally unconnected (technically, you could argue that he originally wrote two very different series of a robot stories, some short stories and longer murder mysteries with a human and robot detective team) [EDIT: Wikipedia tells me that there were light connections between the Galactic Empire and Foundation stories from the start]. Then he stopped writing them for decades, but in the 1980s, he went back and expanded the Robot and Foundation stories and tried to join them together, with the Galactic Empire stories in the middle, into one big future history sequence.

I’ve read the Robot and Foundation series and I keep thinking I should read the Galactic Empire books (there are only three novels and a short story), but I’ve never been that enthused by the concept. The Galactic Empire was the only series he didn’t later expand to make the connections clearer and I feel it will be disconnected and galactic empires don’t really grab my attention, unlike the premises of the Robot and Foundation series. But I also feel I should read them while re-reading the other books, as a lot of the connections between the books and the overarching narrative went over my head on first reading (I’m not actually sure what the best reading order is: internal or external chronology). I should also say that, as an end to this massive series of about fifteen books over five decades, Foundation and Earth was really weird. Not exactly bad, but weird, with a strange “The end… or is it?” moment just when it seemed finished that makes me feel vaguely negative about the whole sequence. On the other hand, Asimov is a light read, so I could probably get through fifteen of his books in the time taken to read the six Dune novels.

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy: technically, I haven’t started this yet, but I got the first two volumes from the free book box a few weeks ago and I’d like to read them, but I feel I ought to make progress on some of the other series first.

Richard J. Evans’ Third Reich trilogy (I didn’t say this was only for fiction series!): I still have the third book in this series to read, The Third Reich at War but I know it will be the hardest, given that it deals with the bloodiest war in human history and is permeated by the Holocaust (the Holocaust has its own chapter, but Evans says in the introduction that it’s really present in every chapter because it was so tied to the Nazi war aims and conduct). I actually have a big book on the Soviet Union to read afterwards, because I told myself to concentrate on one totalitarian dictatorship at a time! Thankfully, that’s a one-volume history.

Midwinter Blues

Trigger warning: reality

“Human kind/Cannot bear very much reality” — T. S. Eliot Four Quartets

While it is, technically, the middle of winter, I actually always feel like the new year is less the turning point towards spring and more the start of the worst part of winter, January and February. The days still feel as short as ever, the weather (in the UK) is even worse and, unlike December, there are no festivals to look forward to and create a general atmosphere of cheer. And then I have the awareness that the end of winter (which I want) is marked by the two hardest Jewish festivals for me, from an autism and mental health point of view, Purim and Pesach, which makes the onset of spring more challenging than simply the advent of longer days and warmer weather.

***

I stayed up late. I can’t remember what I was doing. Probably looking at the responses to the Facebook group post I made or just trying to process the answers I got. I was too tired to watch the whole of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. It’s not really a good enough film to be split over three evenings, let alone four, as may still happen.

I slept a long time again (ten or eleven hours) and woke up feeling tired. When I woke up, I couldn’t move at all at first. This happens to me periodically. I used to think that I wasn’t fully awake, or I was dreaming I was awake, but wasn’t really, but I’m pretty sure I was at least somewhat awake this time and I’m wondering if it’s sleep paralysis. I did mention this in the questionnaire for the sleep study, as I’ve been aware of it for a while, but I can’t remember how much emphasis I placed on it, because I wasn’t sure if it was “real” or not. I recall that the questionnaire placed more emphasis on things like, does your “bed-partner” report snoring (I don’t have a bed-partner. I did have a room-mate (E) for a week who reported that I snore a little, but that was after I sent the questionnaire back).

I couldn’t get going once I got up either. I’m not sure why. I didn’t feel physically drained, but maybe emotionally drained. After a while, low mood set in, or maybe I only just noticed it. I struggled with low mood all day. I’m monitoring my mood at the moment to check that I’m not becoming clinically depressed. I don’t think I am, but I am having some monstrously bad days, like today. Being off work so long probably doesn’t help, as it’s too easy to get out of the habit of doing anything productive and to avoid contact with people other my parents. And missing E is so difficult.

I didn’t revise my proofreading profile as I wanted. I did do some work on planning my novel. It’s hard to see it as productive as the productive bits (ideas) were just a few moments out of an hour and a quarter of mostly procrastinating (plus another fifteen minutes or so typing up notes) BUT I probably need the procrastinating time to let my brain tick over and the ideas were, I think, reasonable. There’s such a long way to go, though.

I did a little Torah study, but not much else. I’m trying to be kind to myself and not beat myself up for not managing more than I did (and not for not reading any more of Dune either – I’m enjoying it, but feel frustrated that it’s a book that needs to be read slloooowllly, and it’s really not a good book to read when down), but it’s hard.

***

I think discussion has died out on the Orthodox Conundrum post I wrote about neurodiversity in the frum (religious Jewish) community. I got some supportive responses, and ‘care’ likes (or whatever they’re called; I’m not great at emoji), but no practical suggestions and I only found one other actual neurodiverse frum Jew (with ADHD). And someone said I shouldn’t call myself disabled and I decided to let it go rather than get into an argument. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do.

The hard thing about the response was that a couple of people said that the frum world isn’t going to change and one said I should consider finding a less frum community or less frum friends. This was painful to hear because, having seen them comment on other posts (and one is a well-known activist in the Anglo-Jewish community), I know these are the more tolerant, inclusive people in the group, the ones who advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and abuse survivors’ rights in the frum community. While I don’t think they were saying I should leave, they did seem pessimistic about any kind of change in the near future.

I am a member of a couple of Jewish autism FB groups, but they aren’t very active or very frum and some are pretty American-centric. Either way, there don’t seem to be many people specifically struggling with autism issues in the Orthodox community. Part of me wonders why I don’t just walk away. I guess I do sometimes, to some extent, but I always come back. I have some kind of loyalty that goes beyond just belief. And I guess I feel there must be other autistic Jews in the frum community, even if they’re masking, even if they don’t actually know they’re autistic. I would think in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community in particular there it would be considered shameful and there would be the desire to hide it “for shidduchim” (marriage prospects), for those of siblings as well as the person with autism. I feel I should do something, but I don’t know what. I’m not really an activist-type person and autism by its nature makes it hard to know what to do in a social context like this.

***

Someone on the autism forum was asking about positive traits we have from autism. I find this kind of question hard to answer, but I tried anyway:

I really struggle with this question, as I find it so hard to tell what is because I’m autistic and what would be the same if I was allistic. Or is that even a valid question? I don’t know. It’s also hard to separate nature and nurture. I guess there’s part of me that is reluctant to ascribe positives to my autism as I still experience it primarily as a disability (which I know is not a popular opinion here).

Anyway, in the hope that this will make me feel more positive about my autism, I feel it at least contributes towards my being:

Intelligent;

Independent-minded;

Empathetic;

Honest;

Diligent;

And perhaps also resilient.

(Several of these factors helped me stay religious in a culture (Orthodox Judaism) that isn’t always accommodating to difference, neurodiversity or mental illness, so I’m grateful for that at least.)

***

I’m feeling depressed about the state of the world too. American and Israeli politics have both been like watching a car crash in slow motion for many years now. At least I’m saving E from America’s post-imperial self-destruction. I worry about Israel. There’s nothing I can do, but I care. It’s frustrating that I probably know people who voted for the crazies in both country. At least in the UK our politicians are “merely” incompetent, hypocritical and sometimes mildly corrupt. They aren’t racist, theocratic and seriously corrupt as a matter of course.

(This thought triggered by this Times of Israel blog. Compared with some things the new Israeli government has promised to do, allowing unlicensed therapists is pretty trivial, but it’s just the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.)

***

Is anyone else sick of “journey” being an all-purpose metaphor for everything? When I was working in further education, the college used to refer to the students’ “Learning journeys,” which used to drive my boss crazy. “They aren’t on a “learning journey,” they’ve gone to college!” She wasn’t always an easy person to work for, but I did think she was right there.

***

My Ghostbusters marathon has revived my one of my earliest career ambitions: to be a ghostbuster! The problem is that I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t really believe in anything supernatural other than a (rather Maimonidean) God (who I think isn’t supernatural in the way ghosts would be supernatural). Although maybe I could claim this as proof of my ghostbusting skills. “How many ghosts have you seen? None? Well, that just shows how good I am at catching them!”

Autism (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) vs. Asperger’s Syndrome

I woke up late, feeling very tired again. I hope I get my sleep disorder diagnosis soon. I had a dream where I was listing missing Doctor Who episodes. My unconscious did pretty well (albeit only getting halfway through the list before going onto something else), but missed The Celestial Toymaker, possibly because it’s over-rated rubbish (one of my least favourite original series stories). Mind you, I think I also missed The Smugglers, which I’m quite fond of, so maybe it was just my unconscious not focusing.

I feel down today. Some of it is the winter, and knowing I’ve got another two months or more before the days start getting noticeably longer and the weather improves. But a lot of it is missing E and not even knowing when we will be together again. I think we would both find it easier if we knew when we will be in the same country, and when we will get married, but not knowing makes it harder.

I set up a profile on a particular freelance work site for work as a proofreader and copy editor. To set up a profile in the writing and translation area, I was presented with a load of tick boxes and told to tick a minimum of two boxes. The only relevant one was for proofreading and editing (one box). In the end I had to tick “Other” just to be allowed to move on, because I don’t want to do copywriting, write press releases and so on. I don’t know why they want you to tick at least two boxes.

It was getting dark, so I stopped in the middle of setting up my profile and went for a run. I had to stop after thirty minutes (I usually aim for forty-five) as I was feeling shaky and faint. I did a bit under 4k, which I guess isn’t awful, even if my pace was. I do need to run more than once a month, but it’s hard with UK winter weather and daylight hours, my inability to get up in mornings and my tendency to get exercise headaches, plus lately I’ve been busy on Sundays, which is my main day for running. When I got home I ate a load of salty food, which seemed to help with the shakiness, but I felt too shaky to do any cool down exercises for ten minutes or so, so I’ll probably ache all over tomorrow. The shakiness went a bit, but not completely, and I got a bit of a headache. I took some tablets and eventually felt well enough to cook dinner (pasta with sauce from a jar), but spent the evening watching Ghostbusters: Afterlife as I didn’t feel well enough to finish the proofreading profile or do any Torah study or anything productive.

I’m not sure what is wrong with me. It’s possibly some kind of autistic interoception issue (difficulty understanding the messages my body is sending me), which I didn’t think was a problem I have, but actually might be one. It would explain why I let myself get dehydrated a lot when I was a child, until I learnt to drink even if I didn’t feel thirsty, likewise for eating. Maybe interoception issues would explain why I often feel vaguely shaky or vaguely faint without really being able to identify clear symptoms or causes. Interoception issues might also explain why I also think I’m really hungry late at night when I’m probably not.

I haven’t done any Torah study today. I’d like to do some, but it’s late and I still don’t feel 100%. I might see if I can find a short article to read for five or ten minutes as I don’t really feel up to reading much else.

***

There’s a post on one of the Jewish autistic Facebook groups I’m on about an argument on a crafting FB group where someone used the term “Asperger’s” as in Asperger’s Syndrome. Apparently some autistic people on the group complained about the term as Hans Asperger was Nazi and things spiralled out of control from there with a lot of anger. I don’t know why the internet is so good at bringing out the anger in people. Some of it is the anonymity, but I feel there’s more to it than that. I feel people often say offensive things through ignorance rather than malice, but then other people respond in a way that makes them feel attacked in public and it escalates from there. Sometimes I think people would better respond in a tactful private message rather than posting a “You’re ABLEIST” public comment.

That said, I really have no idea why the person reporting this on the autism group spelt “Nazis” as “N4zis”, supposedly “to avoid triggering people”. Does substituting one letter make such a difference? And do people really get that triggered by seeing the word Nazi? I’m Jewish and easily upset and I don’t get triggered. Although I think the cases where trigger warnings are helpful are fairly limited.

Although the anger of this post turned me off, I thought it was a good prompt to explain why I still use “Asperger’s” as a tag, even though I know Asperger cooperated with the Nazi euthanasia plan for the mentally ill. Partly it’s that “Asperger’s” is on my diagnosis report from the NHS. I know DSM-5 (psychiatric diagnostic manual) has switched to “autism” for all autism spectrum disorders, but the NHS isn’t using DSM-5 (I can’t remember what they’re using). I thought it was strange when I got it, but that’s the NHS. From the autism forum (which is mostly UK-based), it seems that, depending where you live in the UK, you can actually get different diagnoses. Some places give “autistic spectrum disorder” with no further details, while others specify a level of severity, and some places are still using “Asperger’s”.

In addition, I felt that “Asperger’s” would be better for finding people searching for high-functioning autism blogs via WordPress, but that does not really appear to have been the case. Also, when I previously contemplated stopping using “Asperger’s,” I felt I wanted something to distinguish me from people with more severe autism. However, I no longer see such a big difference between myself and people with more severe autism. We all struggle to function in a noisy, busy, social world. It’s true that I can talk, and do (some) paid work and have a wife, but I still struggle a lot and I feel that at the moment. So I’m thinking of stopping using or even deleting the Asperger’s tag. I’d like to merge the Asperger’s tag with the autism one, but I don’t think WordPress will let me do that. I probably will stop using the tag, although I don’t know if I’ll delete it.

***

Ghostbusters: Afterlife was the Ghostbusters sequel released last year after being delayed by COVID. I didn’t see it in the cinema, as I was still nervous about going to the cinema for COVID reasons (I actually still haven’t been to the cinema since COVID although I was hardly a frequent cinema goer before then).

It’s a slightly strange film, reverent towards the original film, if anything excessively so, as it struggles to find its own voice, but, like Ghostbusters II, it somehow missing the fact that the original film was a comedy. There are a few jokes, but it’s really a fantasy/adventure story, and a somewhat slow one, particularly compared with the original.

I’m not sure who the audience was meant to be. The huge connection to the original film suggests it’s aimed at die-hard fans, but the adolescent main characters suggest a younger audience that wouldn’t be expected to know a film from 1984.This is further undermined by the 12 certificate, which would prevent pre-teens watching. The main character, Phoebe, is twelve; children and teenagers tend only to identify with characters their age or older, so that’s pretty much ruling out a teenage audience too. I did like Phoebe and wondered if she was supposed to be autistic, although geeky characters in fiction tend to read as autistic generally, or at least are open to that reading.

Overall it was a decent film and I probably will watch it again at some point, as I think some plot points, and probably some in-jokes, escaped me, but it’s not as good as the original film.

Bumper Last Night of Chanukah Post!!!!

My mood slumped last night and didn’t really rise all day, at least not until I Skyped E. I went to bed late last night as I was reading Quantum of Solace, a James Bond short story that isn’t really about James Bond. It’s a story told to him by someone else, a story that has nothing to do with spies or anything usually associated with James Bond. I thought it was still quite engaging; I think Ian Fleming is under-rated as a write, like many successful authors of “pulp” fiction.

Despite that, I got up early this morning (about 9.30am – early for me, anyway), mostly because I woke up early and felt hungry. I even stayed awake, although I went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast. It was a struggle to daven even an abbreviated Shacharit and Musaf (say Morning Prayers), as I felt so tired.

That said, I think I woke early because I woke struggling to breathe again. I’m still waiting for the results of my sleep study to see if I have sleep apnoea. I might have to wait another two months for the results! I believe the results can be downloaded as soon as the sensors are returned to the hospital; the huge delay is in getting the personnel to interpret said results. All E and I seem to be doing these days is waiting…

I went for a longish walk for an hour. This helped my mood a little, but not totally.

I didn’t do much else. I spent far too long messing about on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page (see below). I’m enjoying being on there, slightly more than my annoyance at how awful FB is nowadays, but I’m not sure that I’ll achieve any of my aims for joining the group, such as making frum (religious Jewish) friends, becoming more integrated to the frum community or starting a conversation about the place of the mentally ill and neurodivergent in the frum community (again, see below).

I did spend a little time working on my novel plan, even though I said I wouldn’t, because apparently I really can’t keep away from it (see below). It looked better than I thought it would, although there’s still a lot to do.

***

It’s really hard being away from E, especially not knowing when we’ll be together, let alone when we’ll get married. I read an article on a Jewish site (that will go unlinked, as I’m going to criticise it) about the laws of taharat mishpachah in Judaism (essentially, not having sex when the woman is having her period and for a while afterwards). The author repeated the standard frum line about this preventing divorce. Which it may do, as I think the divorce rate in the frum community is still lower than in the secular world, but it’s clearly not a panacea, as divorce is still a very real thing in the frum world. The type of married people (not just Jewish ones) who write essays about relationship breakdown seem to think that there’s one simple mistake that all divorced couples make that dooms their relationship and other people can easily avoid it, and I really don’t think there is. That’s what makes it scary.

That said, the thing that really annoyed me was where the article stated that newlyweds are “young and carefree, with no grey hairs or wrinkles.” Although aimed at less frum people, the article seemed to be based on the idea that everyone marries young and no one has any life problems until they have children. Um, maybe you were, but E and I are in our late thirties and come with suitcase loads of “baggage”! But we love each other despite this (actually, E doesn’t have wrinkles, although I do).

In the wake of this, I did think of posting something about conformity in the Jewish community on the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group, perhaps based on the thing I wrote here a few days ago about the difficulty of being frum if you’re mentally ill, neurodivergent, poor, etc., but I held back because it was too long, unfocused and ranty and because I didn’t know what response I even wanted (cf. my discussion with JYP in the comments to that post). The OC group does show care about some marginalised groups in the Orthodox world, such as abuse survivors, LGBT Jews and agunot, as well as about women’s rights in the Orthodox world in general, but I haven’t really found a way of starting a conversation about mental illness or neurodivergence there. I searched for older threads about mental illness and they tended to be focused on issues like rabbis answering mental illness-related questions badly rather than integrating the mentally ill or neurodivergent into the community.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing at the moment instead of actually writing, as I’m on a break to try to calm down about it. I felt a kind of urgency about writing as I wanted to get something published and try to build a career as a writer to help support E and our potential children. This is clearly not happening, as we will be married long before I get anything published, particularly as I’ve stopped sending out my first novel to agents, as I’m not sure whether I want to rewrite it. I do want to get set up as a freelance proofreader in the next few weeks, as that seems a more practical way to earn money.

I am slightly ashamed to admit that I do still feel the need to prove myself with writing, to show I’m as good as all my school and university peers who went on to good jobs (or any jobs, really), not to mention the other writers and newspaper columnists who I read and think, “I could do better than that,” although I probably can’t. Spite and envy probably isn’t a good reason to do anything, let alone to make art.

I probably will keep writing as a hobby/psychological need. It’s hard to work out how to balance it with religious obligations and family obligations. E supports my writing more than I do and wants me to keep writing despite family obligations, but the frum world doesn’t really see writing or creativity generally as an important activity. I don’t think I can justify my writing on the grounds of supplying an important need to the frum/Jewish community or increasing Jewish visibility in the wider world, as I really don’t think I’ll get published. It’s just something I need to do.

I used to get annoyed with the Hevria people for prioritising writing and creativity over religious obligations, but maybe they were right. Maybe you need to be ruthless about family and community to get published. Then again, I think Mattue Roth was the only Hevrian who actually got any fiction published professionally.

 I’ve mentioned before that David Bowie said the worst thing God can do to you is make you an artist, but a mediocre artist. I feel that’s true of me. I have basic writing skills, but I lack imagination, unsurprisingly, as that seems to be common with alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions).

As I said above, I did do some work on the novel plan today, which was good, and I do feel very drawn to writing it, but I am struggling a bit with where the novel is going and what to write, while feeling that I need very much to write.

***

Books: if I’m not writing them, I’m reading them (which is not a bad thing).

I finished re-reading Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. It was a good 90s fandom nostalgia trip, but other books came out later and went further than it did. I also tried to put my pile of new Doctor Who novelisations away. These were the books I felt a little guilty about, as I was pleased to add them to my collection for free, but wasn’t likely to read/re-read them in the near future, and wasn’t sure if I should have accepted them.

My bedroom is hardly minimalist. It’s got four bookcases (three big and one not so big), one packed full with DVDs, most lying on their side, warehouse-style, so I can fit more on the shelves. The other three are full of books (and some CDs), many of them also lying on their side. (I also have books in a couple of cupboards and a bookcase full downstairs too.) There are also several piles of books on top of one of the bookcases, containing over 150 Doctor Who books (fiction, as the non-fiction is on another shelf) along with a couple of other TV/film tie-in books. I have about 1,300 books in total. Yes, E is right that I should get rid of some. It’s hard! I might donate some non-fiction books I’m never likely to read to the charity shop in a week or so, although I don’t know who will buy books on Medieval Scotland.

I went to add the new books to the pile on top of the bookcase. I hadn’t realised how far the case has come forward from the wall with the weight of all the books on it and one of the books fell down the back. It was Doctor Who – The Daleks, the novelisation of the first Dalek story, which I disliked as a child because it departed from the TV series in its depiction of the events of the first ever TV episode (which isn’t even part of the Dalek story on screen), but which now, in the age of DVD, seems significant for precisely that reason, for being an entirely new take on the events of the TV story.

I’m not sure how to get the book back from the black hole behind the bookcase. I quickly decided that I wasn’t going to take the hundreds of books off the bookcase (not to mention wargaming models) to move it out, especially as it’s the middle bookcase and I might have to move one or two others too to get to it! So the book will sit there in the black hole for now.

I noticed a while back the bookcases wobble a bit, and I am vaguely worried about them falling on me one day. I guess I just have to hope that when E and I move somewhere of our own, we have enough space that taking a reasonable chunk of my books is a good idea and that I can move the bookcase then. I think we’re unlikely to be able to afford a place big enough to hold all my books along with those E brings over from the US.

***

My parents bought me an extra Chanukah present, even though I said they didn’t need to: A Fire Burns in Kotsk: A Tale of Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland by Menashe Unger. Even though I own every English language book I can find about the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk), I’ve put off buying this for years because (a) it’s expensive (about £30) and (b) it’s a weird book, sitting on the boundary between history and historical fiction, presenting itself as the true story of the Kotzker Rebbe and his Hasidim, but also written in novelistic style with (presumably) invented dialogue. I’m not quite sure what to make of it and probably won’t be until I’ve read it (if then). At least it’s something to read on the way home from work while I’m reading The Great Dune Trilogy, which is too big and heavy to take to work.

***

Contemplating all this stuff (low mood, not fitting into society, struggling to sell my writing, lack of imagination), I’m having one of my “I hate being autistic” days. I think I get fewer of these than I did a couple of months ago, but I’m still not at peace with myself, and I still see ASD as a bad hand I’ve been dealt, albeit one I want to play as well as I can, and admitting that it’s better than some other people’s cards. It frustrates me enormously that so-called “high functioning” autism means I can write literary fiction, read in a dead language, read and understand (at least partially) twelfth century Jewish rationalist philosophy… and still screw up basic stuff like editing  an invoice template at work (why? This is like proofreading; I should be good at it, unless it’s the pressure of masking in the office), speaking on the phone (or at all), doing tasks in the right order, promoting my writing, networking, etc., etc., etc.

It doesn’t help that I have a lack of mentors or guides to help me integrate into the frum world or for raising the profile of my writing. It’s sad, because I do feel I have stuff to say to the frum world and the wider world, but I don’t know how to say it because of my autism, while people who might know how to help me say it don’t know that I have anything to say.

I did just dig out an email from my parents’ friends’ son-in-law from an earlier attempt to set myself up as a proofreader. He is a freelance proofreader and said to persevere as work is out there. He also said YOU HAVE TO NETWORK!!!!!!!! (I put it in capitals because that’s how scary it is.) That email was pre-COVID, though, so I don’t know if it is still true.

***

I saw the Doctor Who trailer. I wasn’t impressed, but I didn’t expect to be. David Tennant + Catherine Tate + Russell T Davies = pretty much my least favourite Doctor/companion/showrunner combination.

Post-Shabbat Slump

I was really exhausted on Friday and felt very burnt out again, a bit ill and incapable of doing much. I did my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, but then lay down on my bed for an hour instead of going to shul (synagogue). I guess it’s a kind of “autistic shutdown,” where I get overloaded and have to lie still in quiet for a while. I’m not sure why they seem to be more common than they used to be, or why I don’t remember getting them as a child.

I did some Torah study last night and read a bit more of Dune, although I’m going slowly with it. I guess it’s the kind of book that demands to be read slowly: little plot (I’m 100 pages in, about a quarter of the way, and very little has actually happened), but lots of description and science fictional detail. I’m enjoying it, but I don’t think it will be a favourite story as it seems to be for many people. It is frustrating that the volume, The Great Dune Trilogy, is too heavy and bulky to take to work, as I do a lot of my reading during lunch and on the Tube. I’m always in a hurry to read books and it’s frustrating me that, because of size and complexity (among other things), it’s going to take me ages to read The Great Dune Trilogy and also The Guide to the Perplexed (see below). There isn’t a lot I can do about it, though. Some books are just slow reads, because of size, content and style.

I think I woke up a couple of times in the night. About 6.30am I woke up and contemplated getting up, but I decided that even if I did get up, I wouldn’t go to shul. This is where I’ve got to with my social anxiety post-COVID, sadly. In the end I fell asleep again and slept through the morning.

I lay down for two twenty minute periods this afternoon too, although I’m not sure whether they were mini-shutdowns. Other than that, I haven’t done much else other than Torah study (about fifty minutes reading The Guide of the Perplexed) and watching Ghostbusters II, the neglected first sequel, although I did send a couple of overdue emails. I’m feeling a post-Shabbat slump. I had a slight headache earlier, which didn’t help much.

I don’t celebrate Christmas or New Years and when I initially planned to watch Ghostbusters II, I’d forgotten that it’s a seasonal film, although it’s only slightly seasonal (the climax of the film takes place on New Years’ Eve, which necessitates Christmas decorations being visible in some earlier scenes, but no one really says much about it). Unlike the first film, it’s not really a comedy being more of a family fantasy/mild horror film with occasional funny lines, although I appreciated the line about spoilt middle class children being “Ungrateful yuppie larvae.” There’s also a lot less smoking than the first film, which may be another sign of aiming more for a family audience. Incidentally, nowadays the river of evil slime that feeds off anger and hate is called Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing: Just Do It or Pause?

Today was a stressful day. The snow has turned to ice. The pavement of my road was gritted, apparently for the benefit of the bin men, as the other roads were not gritted. My Mum suggested that if a bin man slipped and hurt himself, he could sue the council for not providing safe conditions, but mere taxpayers are not entitled to such consideration. (Gosh, I’m getting cynical and reactionary in my old age…) I slipped several times walking to the station, but managed to regain my balance without falling over. A car didn’t see me on the zebra crossing and nearly ran me over; luckily I saw it. When I got to the station, the departure board said the train was not supposed to leave for a minute, yet the doors suddenly started to shut. I jumped on, but my rucksack got caught, and I collided with someone who was standing near the door. Then there were Tube delays again, but this time I didn’t find out about them until I was actually on the train and had to improvise my way to work, just getting there on time.

And that was just up to 9.30am!

After that things settled down, but I made stupid mistakes, probably as a result of thinking about my novel when I should have been working. The afternoon was largely spent trying to reconcile differences between two different presentations of data from a database. I eventually solved it, but it was tiring, although I suppose tasks like that do make a change from my usual work, and it’s good to solve a problem completely, even if I’m not sure I always manage to explain what the problem wasto J.

I didn’t fancy walking on the ice in the dark on the way home from the station, so did what I rarely do and phoned my parents for a lift. I then spent far too long online responding to an article someone had posted to the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page. I didn’t really have much new to add to the discussion, I just wanted to make contact with other frum (religious) Jews, or maybe just other people. Like the Jewish joke about the never-ending conference, “Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it.”

***

I was thinking a lot about my satirical novel today, probably too much, especially when working, as I said. I feel like I want to write, but I also need to work, I want to widen my work to work from home proof-reading to increase my (low) income, E and I will be getting married soon and we want to have children, then there are my various daily religious obligations. All these things take time and energy. Writing seems like a luxury at best, a distraction at worst. Yet it’s the thing I most want to do, after marrying E (which isn’t an activity in the same sense). E indulges my novel writing, which is good, but sometimes I wonder if it’s a good idea.

I feel I should blog less and write fiction more, but they don’t really take up the same store of psychic energy. Fiction is about understanding the world and I have to be pretty alert to do it, blogging is about processing my emotions and I can do it when tired (like now). It would be easier if I slept less and was less exhausted when awake, but it’s hard to change those things with a suspected sleep disorder and autism. Autistic exhaustion seems to be commonly self-reported among autistics, even if the psychiatric world doesn’t really recognise it.

Like a baby, the novel will probably come when it comes, if it comes. An article in the Jewish Review of Books that I read today stated that writing success requires “talent, persistence, an almost naive self-belief, and courage.” I’m not sure how much I have any of those, except perhaps persistence. I think it also requires imagination, and I’m not sure how much I have of that either as people with alexithymia are not supposed to have much imagination. Part of me feels I should JUST DO IT; another part feels I should take a break for a couple of weeks, although my  mind will probably continue to think about the plot of the novel, as the monotropic (singularly-focused) autistic mind doesn’t let things go easily.

***

The Facebook article I commented on is political, and so is my novel, in some sense, and I’ve drifted back into a “My political thoughts are confused and contradictory and all too often I just mindlessly agree (or mindlessly disagree) with the last opinion I heard and I really should not be allowed to vote or have opinions” mood. There is nothing constructive I can say about this, so I will stop.

***

Someone on the autism forum started a thread about being autistic and Christian. I think my response sums up a lot of what I’ve been trying to say here for the last couple of years:

I’m Jewish, not Christian, but I definitely struggle with synagogue: too many people, too much noise, and sometimes we have a cantor who doesn’t sing so much as shout (very uncomfortable for me). The refreshments after the service are also difficult: being expected to make small talk, difficulty hearing what people say to me over the general noise, etc.

Religious study in the Jewish community is supposed to be in pairs, which I have not been good at. My brain just stops working when someone is sitting opposite me expecting me to say something insightful. I just study by myself.

Then there’s the social expectations to be married by age twenty-five and have a big family. Also the fact that Judaism expects people to have a lot of energy and focus to meet the requirements of prayer, religious study, ritual observance and family, alongside work, and that’s hard even without factoring in autistic exhaustion and being “out of spoons,” not to mention the issues I noted above.

Excursions, No Alarms

I started reading Dune a few days ago and read it to relax before bed yesterday evening rather than watching Doctor Who. It’s good, but not an easy read. There is a glossary of fictional words at the back, but I don’t like to keep turning to it and disrupting the flow of the novel, instead using it just for what seem like key words and working out the rest from context or just letting them go. The world-building is extremely complex, more so than anything I could write. This is positive, but intimidating. The fact that the book (the first three Dune novels in one volume) is too big to take to read on public transport means that it will take twice as long to read as the average novel even without the complexity, as I usually do a lot of my reading on public transport.

I got up later than I intended this morning and was tired. I miss sleeping on E’s sofa, where my sleep seemed more refreshing than in my bed in London, although it was probably more proximity to E and the absence of work in New York that made the difference. On which note, I’m still waiting for my sleep study results.

This morning, instead of going to volunteering, I went for my appointment with the psychiatrist to speak about reducing my medications. Except when I got there, I was told there was no record of my parents changing the appointment date (from 9 January) while I was away. They said something about a doctor having left and I wondered if someone was going to see me out of hours from kindness. The receptionist said appointments for new referrals (which I am, having been discharged years ago) are at 9.30am and 1.00pm and never at 12.00pm which was when mine was supposed to be. It’s yet another awful NHS incident. I hope I never have to see a proctologist on the NHS, as I don’t think an NHS employee could find their backside with both hands. I do at least still have my 9 January appointment, but I’m annoyed to miss volunteering, especially as I will be missing two or three consecutive sessions in a few weeks as I’ll have to rearrange my work days around the winter bank holidays and then so that I can go to the 9 January appointment.

I came home for lunch and went out again as I had a blood test in the afternoon. That at least went OK, except that when the needle went in, I suddenly got a stabbing pain in my forearm, a couple of inches below where the needle was, which continued until after the blood had been taken. I’m not sure what caused this (psychosomatic?). By this stage, the snow had largely turned to ice and I slipped twice on the way to and from the hospital, but didn’t fall over. I went into some charity shops. I bought the complete BBC Chronicles of Narnia on DVD for £4 as I knew that E wants to watch it. I also picked up the DVD of Donnie Darko, as it’s a film I vaguely feel I should watch and there seems to be a copy in every single charity shop in the country, like the universe wants me to buy it. I nearly bought Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate, which I sort of want to read, but I decided my reading list is long enough, and my mood low enough, as it is right now without adding a thousand page book about the Battle of Stalingrad.

My Torah study today was mostly listening to the latest Orthodox Conundrum podcast while walking to and from different appointments. It was on Rabbi Sacks’ Jewish philosophy, with Dr Tanya White and Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens, two of my favourite contemporary Jewish educators. They spoke about Rabbi Sacks’ communitarianism. This appeals to me, but I struggle to be community-minded with social anxiety and autism, which impair socialising. Then again, I do volunteer, and I do a job that is inherently socially worthwhile, even though my role is mostly paperwork. Is this enough? I don’t know. I do feel disconnected from shul (synagogue) and real world contact with other religious Jews, especially since COVID. Am I wholly or partially exempt because of my “issues”? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t an easy answer. It did occur to me that I study Torah from a Jewish perspective, through Jewish texts and commentaries rather than just from my own thoughts, so that’s a kind of communal connection, albeit more with dead people than living ones.

I worked on plotting my novel. However, I feel frustrated by having to do so much planning, and that so much of it is so difficult. I do feel that my satirical dystopian thriller is likely to be a failure as a satire, as science fiction and as a thriller, but I do want to persevere with it for myself, if only to see how it turns out. I do feel at the moment that I will probably never be a published fiction writer, but I’m trying to accept that. It’s frustrating as I feel the things I want to say exceed my ability to say them. I’ve been told I’m a good writer on more than one occasion, but there’s good writers and there’s good writers. My sister used to be a talented amateur artist, and my parents have three of her paintings on the wall, but I don’t know if she could sell any of them, certainly not for enough to justify the time spent on them, which was probably a lot less than the time I would spend writing a novel. I do feel a little envious that my parents’ friends can see and admire the paintings whereas my writing is harder to casually show off (although one of my parents’ friends did buy and apparently read and enjoy my non-fiction Doctor Who book).

That said, I do feel a sort of general pessimism at the moment, some worry and frustration about when E’s visa will come and general feelings of inadequacy. A couple of conversations, in blogs and the real world, lately have hinged on the idea of how one copes with feeling inadequate compared with other people’s achievements, which in my sake would include people with children, successful careers and comfort and respect in where they stand in the Jewish community. I try not to be bitter or envious, but it is hard sometimes knowing that to some extent I’ve been set up to fail by my autistic genes and my childhood and adolescent experiences. However, there really is very little I can do about it at the moment, so I try not to think about it too much. I also wish I knew why I was here on Earth so I could get some sense of whether I’m doing what I’m supposed to do or not, but there’s no real way of knowing.

I also feel vaguely nervous about chatan (marriage) class tomorrow without really being sure why except for it being a late night before a work day, and the embarrassment if the teacher offers me a lift home again – not driving is another thing to feel inadequate about. I suppose a lot of it comes from feeling I know a lot of what I’m being taught, but I’m too shy to make that clear, and also that I struggle to contribute to the class, in both cases because of social anxiety and autistic communication issues.

Airport Anxiety

I woke up about 10am, very tired, but I somehow managed to get up, and stay up, which was good, as on past experience I could easily have slept for another two hours. I really hope I get this sleep disorder diagnosed soon!

It was a very grim and overcast day today, with lots of rain. We had to turn the lights on before 2pm, which made everything feel later than it actually was.

I did most of my packing (although there’s a bit more to do tomorrow, once I’ve finished with my rucksack for work) and tried to get documents ready for my trip. Virgin have an online thing where you can fill out paperwork and upload proof of vaccination to save time at the airport. Supposedly, anyway. My experience is that they make you go through it again at the airport. I wasn’t going to upload proof of vaccination, as I know they check it again, and I find doing anything technical on my phone a pain, but in the end I had a go to try reduce anxiety, but failed, because they rejected my vaccination on the grounds that the “manufacturer is not accepted” and I have no idea why. I hope it was just a glitch.

I can’t work out if they’ve rejected the vaccine or the NHS COVID app or the pdf I downloaded from the COVID app. In terms of vaccines, I’ve had two Astra-Zenecas, one Moderna booster and, last week, a Pfizer booster, all of which are accepted. The only thing I can think of is that my last booster was less than fourteen days ago and I’m worried they will stop me even though I should still be covered by the one before that. The CDC says:

You are considered fully vaccinated…

  • 2 weeks (14 days) after your second dose of an accepted 2-dose series…

If you don’t meet these requirements, you are NOT considered fully vaccinated. A booster dose is not needed to meet this requirement.

This sort of implies that as long as I’m two weeks after the second dose of my initial vaccine I should be OK regardless of my booster situation, but I’m still worried. Bureaucrats, particularly immigration ones are not noted for their flexibility of mind and tolerance of error and confusion.

(Before anyone says just don’t show them the documentation for the booster, my experience is that they get me to open the NHS app on my phone and then take it from me and flip through it themselves.)

The email says that if I think the rejection is mistaken, I can go through this again at the airport, but it’s extra stress for someone who finds airports stressful and anxiety-provoking at the best of times.  I am now having worries about going into full autistic not understanding/coping mode at the airport and not being understood…

Anyway, I wasted a lot of time and energy on that and made myself very anxious. I ran out of time to go for a run, although it was raining so I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway. I did go for a walk (in the rain) and did some Torah study as well as the packing, so I did quite a bit, I just wish that travel didn’t have to be so anxiety-provoking even without COVID. It’s the unfamiliar, sensory overload and lots of strangers in my personal space and the need to communicate with scary officials, not things I manage well, plus the risk of migraine.

More Shoulds

I woke up feeling depressed and self-critical again, although perhaps not as much as yesterday. E wants to try to help me feel less exhausted and depressed from activity, and I want to too, but I wonder if it’s possible. It depends if it’s from a sleep disorder (potentially treatable, although I’m not sure to what extent) or autistic exhaustion (not really treatable except through energy accounting, and I’ve mentioned my problems with that) or SAD (light therapy didn’t work so well in the past, but I’m trying again). It’s worrying. Reducing my meds might give me more energy, but might make my mood worse. Although I’m not sure how much I trust a psychiatrist regarding this, I plan to take the appointment offered to me in January (J let me switch work days) and I probably will ask to reduce clomipramine, but not to come off it completely.

On the Tube this morning I was sat opposite someone with a persistent, horrible cough. I changed carriage at the next station, but ended up in a carriage full of sniffers and coughers. I guess it’s winter. Did this worry me before COVID? I think so, but not so much. I was sat next to someone who sniffed the whole way this morning. It was probably just the warm air in the carriage after the colder air outside. I was less worried about catching something and more irritated by the noise.

My brain was not working well today. I missed out bits of very familiar tasks at work and found it hard to do any work. I did at least have various tasks in the morning, but I was just sorting old papers again in the afternoon, a job with no clear end in sight, and I’m not entirely sure I’m tackling it the best way.

I do wonder if changing job, if I pass the interview, would lead to renewed energy and motivation or if I would be just as miserable in a new places with new procedures to learn just as I was getting used to this job and its procedures.

I used my light box in the morning. It seemed to help a bit, although the effect disappeared soon after I switched it off.

I felt more self-criticism about writing. I think I need to JUST WRITE. I have written for four consecutive days this week, writing over 2,000 words in four hours or less. I have no idea how good it is and I feel guilty about leaving the other novel and writing this without a clear plan, like I’m cheating on my other, worthier, novel with a more fun, less serious one.

It’s hard to know if I “should” be writing or what I “should” be writing. I always feel obliged to try to do what God wants beyond what I want or what I think is right. This adds another layer of complexity to decision-making. I say “always”; that’s not quite true any more. Over the last five years or so, I’ve started to feel that some halakhahs are beyond me and that I can’t keep them now, or maybe ever, so I’m not trying. Then again, there probably aren’t many of these (listening to recorded women’s singing and hugging E are the ones that spring to mind). I should probably just not think about what God wants me to write and just write. At least I’m finding writing reviving rather than draining at the moment.

I miss E. At least I can see her in five days! However, we are worried that the government are going to crack down on immigration and arbitrarily refuse her visa request. I don’t think the migration crackdown will take effect that quickly, although E got scared by a Guardian headline that was probably just another attempt to make Suella Braverman look like a Fascist. Still, it’s a worry.

Demons

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Bits and Pieces

I think I’ve put on all the weight I lost over the last few months, perhaps even some more. I really don’t eat that much junk! I do get hungry late at night (when I should really be in bed) and eat cereal and sometimes I eat too much when I get home from work as dinner is almost always late in our house. It is hard to make myself go to bed hungry, or deny myself one biscuit or small piece of chocolate after a stressful day. I’m not sure what else I could do to reward myself. If we’re talking empty calories, I also eat a lot of prunes (which I’m sure have a lot of natural sugar), because it’s the only way I’ve found to combat the constipation caused by taking clomipramine (sorry if that’s TMI), another reason I’m anxious to reduce my meds.

***

I did the second night of the sleep study. I slept a lot more first night than the second because of work. That shouldn’t make any difference, as they’re just checking whether I stop breathing in my sleep, but I am vaguely nervous, especially given the problems I had with the questionnaire, which asked a lot of questions that I could not answer, either because they required a “bed-partner” who knew if I snore or referred to my experience of fatigue while driving, which I don’t do. I wrote a whole long covering email when I returned the questionnaire explaining the situation. I just hope someone takes note of it. I would really like an accurate to answer to the question of whether my disrupted sleep and constant tiredness is at least in part due to a sleep disorder.

***

Some thoughts about chatan (bridegroom) class from last night: I knew a lot of the material that I was being taught, and even spotted the teacher’s mistakes on a couple of occasions. I am generally too polite to point out other people’s mistakes, but maybe I should have done so here to show that I was pretty au fait with the material.

The topic was mostly standard Jewish texts on love and marriage. I felt that I was told that I should love E as much as I love self, which I already knew (it’s from the Talmud), but that I didn’t get much advice on how to do this. (If I was teaching the class, I would have referred to Rav Dessler’s idea that giving rather than receiving generates love.)

The teacher gave me a lift home. I felt embarrassed that I don’t drive. I don’t think he realised how old I am (forty next birthday), particularly as discussion of my university background and efforts to move into proofreading work made me sound as if I have joined the labour market relatively recently (and not because of years of depression and burnout). It’s not uncommon for Modern Orthodox Jews to meet their future spouse at university and get married soon after graduation and, as I mentioned the other day, I look a lot younger than I actually am. I also hid my MA, as I’m embarrassed about that too (the fact that it was not at a good university, that I had to struggle to get the degree and took three and a half years to do a degree that should have taken one year, and that my library career did not go anywhere afterwards).

On the plus side, the teacher is somewhat geeky and likes Doctor Who. Unlike me, he prefers the new series to the old. Like me, he thinks it has gone downhill lately. Unlike me, but like many other people, he thinks it’s too woke. I don’t really think it is that much more woke than it has been at other points in the past, and I don’t think being woke is necessarily a problem here. The problem is a lack of original, interesting, fun competently-written stories.

***

Today I’ve been struggling with having negative thoughts about other people and then obsessing over my thoughts and thinking I’m a bad person for not only thinking positive things about other people. I’m not sure where this has come from.

***

Work was a bit stressful. I had trouble with the very user unfriendly website we use for stationery orders. I also made some mistakes that were at least in part because J fired too much at me at once and I tried to multitask, which is something I do badly (autism).

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul  (Afternoon and Evening Prayers in the synagogue).I got pretty overwhelmed by the noise and the people, and by thinking that not only does autism stop me functioning in the frum (religious) community, but no one even understands my problems because there are so few frum autistics (who I have come across, at least). I did think of posting something on the autism forum, but I’m not sure who would understand and it would just come across as bad mouthing my own community to people who know nothing about it and perhaps just reinforcing anti-Jewish/anti-religious sentiments.

I managed to do some shopping after work, but I’ve been pretty exhausted since I got home.

***

E and my therapist both said I should stop writing my novel for now, and, as a good Jewish boy, I know not to argue with my wife or my therapist (or my mother, but she doesn’t know what I’m writing). E encouraged me to work on the satirical novel I want to write in the meantime. I feel I should do research, but also that I don’t have the head for that with everything going on in my life right and now and that I should just jump in. How much can you research comedy anyway, even if it is satire? Unfortunately, while I feel confused and angry about much in the world, it’s hard to frame my confused and angry thoughts coherently in my head, let alone in a dystopian satirical novel. I also worry about the attitude (on the part of readers) of “If you disagree with X, then you must want Y instead” which isn’t necessarily true. I might satirise the extremes of X, but be absolutely in favour of it in moderation, but satire isn’t so good at reflecting that level of nuance, or the concept of moderation at all.

Therapy, A Cat, and Growing Up in the 1980s

I started my sleep study last night. I had to wear a sensor on my finger and stick another one to my neck (it was wireless). The instructions for the neck sensor were on the phone that came with it and not on paper (I thought they had forgotten to send it to me). I didn’t sleep so well and I think I woke up a few times in the night, probably because I was worried I would knock the sensor off, although it stayed in place all night.

I did spend some time working on a profile for myself as a freelance proofreader and researched what fees I could charge. I still feel nervous about this, but I’m getting closer to it.

In therapy, I spoke about the negative feelings that I think working on my novel is prompting inside me (inchoate feelings of guilt and anxiety, mostly around sex). E thought I should put my novel on hold until we’re married. My therapist agreed, suggesting I put it in a box for now (metaphorically) as engaging with ideas around sex is just “re-traumatising” me and triggering feelings of guilt and anxiety when I work on novel. (I’m not sure I would have described these feelings as “trauma,” but I’ll put that aside for now.)

My therapist also suggested that I label as “undermining” my thoughts of guilt and anxiety rather than paying attention to them. We spoke about focusing on “empowering” voices about the love, good communication and so on that E and I have in our relationship instead.

In the evening I had chatan (bridegroom) religious class. I’m not sure it was a good idea to agree to do this in person the night before work. I’m not going to write about the class itself, as I’m still processing thoughts from it. I will say I found it hard to concentrate at times, at first from the heavy rain falling on the skylight ceiling, then from tiredness, and also from the cat that was walking in and out all the time. At one point she jumped on the table, stood in front of me and stared into my eyes as if she was trying to work out who I was and what I was doing in her house.

***

This was a comment I posted on the autism forum in a discussion about whether it is better to live as an autistic person now or in 1980 that I thought might be of interest:

As someone a bit younger (I think) than other commenters here, I’m finding this interesting.

I was born in the early eighties, so not born online, but computers, and then the internet, slowly crept into my life in my teens.

Things are mostly better now, certainly in my personal life, but partly because of technological change. I wouldn’t have met my wife without the internet, or managed a long-distance relationship without Skype or Zoom. And, while I’ve never really felt I “found my tribe,” I have made good friends online and am a lot less isolated than I would be without it. Blogging has been good for me to process my emotions, but private journaling never worked for me; it’s the interactions with readers that help me to write. Plus, like Shardovan [another commenter on the thread] said [of himself], I was probably “born old” and wouldn’t have fitted in whenever I was born (most of the music and TV I like are from the 60s and 70s, and the books I read tend to be even older!).

Also, although it came too late for me, it’s good that high-functioning autism is picked up now whereas there was really no awareness of it when I was at school (hence I didn’t get diagnosed until years later).

The downsides are the total sensory overload from omnipresent “devices” nowadays not to mention video adverts in shop windows and on the streets and even more noise. I find this makes me very uncomfortable, more so as I get older, and I’m not sure how much is my resistance to it declining and how much is that there are just more noises and moving pictures now. Sometimes I would like to live in a quieter era. As an Orthodox Jew, I don’t use computers, TV, phones etc. on the Sabbath and it’s very calming, but I still end up back on them straight afterwards (the downside of having most of my social life online, and of my wife being stuck in the US until her visa arrives).

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like being a teenager in the era of social media. Would I have made friends online more easily than I managed at school? Or would the kids who bullied me at school just bully me at home via Facebook? It’s scary to think about. The secondary school I attended has had three student suicides in the last five years or so, which terrifies me.

“The red-eyed scavengers are creeping”

I kept waking up this morning and not getting up. I don’t know why. This left me feeling bad when I finally did get up around midday. I don’t know how much is habit, tiredness, autistic comfort or something else. I did get woken up about 7am and kept awake for a while by the rain – not by the rain itself, but by something (I guess a gutter or something similar) that was dripping loudly and regularly and was driving my autistic brain crazy. But eventually I did get back to sleep.

I feel pretty bad today, very depressed. I felt like I was fighting back tears a lot of the day. I know it’s too early to say if I’m having a few bad days or relapsing into depression, SAD or autistic burnout, but I worry that I am, and how that will make things so hard for E. I’m trying to stay focused and in the present, but it’s hard when I just want to curl up and sleep. I’m supposed to be seeing a psychiatrist on the 15th of November to discuss cutting my meds, but it looks horribly like I may have to stay on them, and who knows when I’ll get to see a psychiatrist again on the NHS?

I went for a run, just to do something. I hadn’t been for a run in nearly two months. It was a poor run, but I knew it would be; I’m just glad I managed forty-five minutes and nearly 5.5km (far from continuous running, though). There was very loud music playing, I think Jewish rock. Then, suddenly, about five o’clock, the music stopped and a lot of frum (religious Jewish) parents appeared with children. I guess there was a big birthday party nearby. Seeing the children made me feel vaguely bad that if E and I manage to have children, we’re not going to be able to afford a lot of stuff for them. I know loving your children is more important than giving them toys or expensive holidays, but it’s sad for the children, who won’t appreciate that at a young age, and who will have to deal with the school bullies for not having the fashionable toys.

Now the noise is all Guy Fawkes Night fireworks. I guess I should be glad people are still celebrating it, as I thought everyone had switched to celebrating Halloween (not a major event in the UK when I was growing up), but it’s not necessarily good with an exercise headache and autistic reactions to loud noises. I tried to do some Torah study, but it just made my head hurt more. I will try to do a little before bed, if I can.

I still felt depressed after the run. While running, the line came into my head, “The red-eyed scavengers are creeping/ From Kentish Town and Golder’s Green” from T.S. Eliot’s A Cooking Egg (I got the quote a bit wrong, but corrected it here). I probably shouldn’t quote it, as it’s antisemitic. The “red-eyed scavengers” are almost certainly Jews (or “jews” as Eliot would have written it; as Rodger Kamenetz pointed out, Eliot repeatedly denied the Jews the dignity of a capital letter), as Kentish Town and Golders Green were (and Golders Green still is) very Jewish parts of London. Strangely, the material I’ve found about the poem online doesn’t mention this (you can be sure they would have pointed it out if he’d used a slur against various other minority groups). Even so, the line is powerful and I feel comfortable repurposing it to refer to the scavengers of depression, anxiety and OCD trying to creep in to my consciousness (or unconscious) when I’m exhausted. It’s an effort to keep them out, but if I make that effort, where will I get the energy needed to work, do household chores, fulfil religious obligations, write, exercise and so on? In short, how can I have a life if all my energy and brainpower goes on staying mentally healthy and vaguely functional?

***

It’s also harder and harder every day to function without E.

***

Responding to a comment from Adventuresofagradgirl (is this how you would like to be referred to here? Please let me know!) on my last post that God wants us to be good and to be happy and whether I write or not is secondary, I wrote:

I want to be good, but I feel I would find it easier to be good if I wasn’t on the spectrum. But presumably God dismissed that thought for some reason. I don’t know if God wants me to be happy, or how to achieve that. I worry that God wants me to write for some purpose, and if I don’t achieve it, that will be consider sinful or at least negative. But if I’m not supposed to write and devote time to it that should be spent on Torah study, volunteering, family, etc., that will also be considered sinful. It’s hard to know what to do or how other people navigate thoughts like this.

***

I want to post the following on the autism forum, at least the first point if not the second, but I lack the courage:

It’s over eighteen months since I was diagnosed autistic and I feel that I’m still processing what that means to me.

I still feel that autism is a disability to me rather than a difference and definitely not a “superpower.” My autistic traits are mild enough to be irritating and somewhat disabling, but don’t come with any benefits I’ve found yet. The only partial exception is my ability to spot errors of spelling and grammar. I would like to use this to work as freelance proof-reader, but I worry that that will involve a lot of skills I don’t have for networking and self-promotion. Autism is a drawback for those things. (My proof-reading skill doesn’t work so well in the office either, for some reason, and I make mistakes there.)

I want more than anything to write serious literary fiction, but I struggle with creating and motivating characters as well as using metaphorical language (I can understand non-literal language, but I seem to struggle to write it). I also think my writing tends to be overly-formal.

Also, unlike many people on this forum, I don’t feel that I’ve found my “tribe.” Autistic people seem to be too heterogeneous a group, and many of them too different from me, to be a group I can fully identify with. I dislike the term “intersectionality,” but my struggles seem to be primarily located at the intersection between autistic identity and Orthodox Jewish identity. I struggle with my autism particularly because I’m trying to live in Orthodox Jewish spaces, resulting in issues other autistics don’t have and I struggle with my Judaism because I’m practising it while struggling with autism, resulting in issues other Orthodox Jews don’t have.

Orthodox Jewish identity is fundamentally communal, whether regarding prayer (private, individual prayer is definitely considered inferior to communal prayer), religious study (which is ideally done in pairs and often in noisy, crowded rooms full of people arguing) and acts of kindness. As the title of an anthropological study of the shtetl (semi-autonomous Jewish towns in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust) notes, “Life is with People”. It is not clear what can be done in the community for people who struggle to be around other people. This is before taking into account that Jews are, culturally, often loud and social, sometimes intrusively so (a generalisation, obviously, but rooted in reality, I think).

Orthodox Judaism lags some years behind the trends in the secular Western world. It is still catching up on awareness of mental illness; it will probably be some years before people begin talking about provisions or adjustments and leniencies for the neurodivergent. I’m not sure where I go in the meantime.

***

Facebook has been good and bad today, with some angry spost I didn’t really understand and a question on the Orthodox Conundrum group about non-Jewish books that have spiritual value. I probably over-thought this, and also realised that while I think Hamlet and The Brothers Karamazov have spiritual worth, I don’t remember enough detail about either to really justify recommending them, which is sad (especially as I’ve read Hamlet twice, once without notes and once with, and seen it (on TV) twice). In the end I went  for The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (on the dangers of playing God) and Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. One plot thread is proto-Zionist, but it’s actually the other one, about a not-very-good person who’s made big mistakes trying to live a better life that is more spiritual (and more engaging, I thought).

There was political stuff (actually economic stuff) I wanted to disagree with on a blog, but I just didn’t feel up to getting in an argument. As I’ve said before, I think people rarely change their minds based on internet debate. I don’t like feeling people think I’m cruel or callous for decisions that are taken for pragmatic reasons when they know nothing about my thoughts, feelings or wider life (volunteering, charity, etc.). I do wish economics was a compulsory school subject, though.

It occurs to me that by avoiding discussion, I am perpetuating the problem, as well as potentially avoiding views that contradict my own and that may be true (although, to be fair, I do read some opposing views, I just don’t vocalise my responses. I think I’m probably better than most people about listening to the other side of the debate and being open to criticism of my own views). But I don’t really have the stamina to get into fights and there are not many places that I feel are safe for this kind of discussion.

***

I finished reading The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who over Shabbat. It wasn’t bad, I just wish there could have been a more balanced presentation of late seventies Doctor Who.

On to Doctor Who: The Discontinuity Guide. In the introduction, the authors (Paul Cornell, who would go on to write for the revived TV series, plus Keith Topping and Martin Day) state, “We only mock Doctor Who because we are here to celebrate the fan way of watching television, a close attention to detail matched by a total willingness to take the mickey.” I feel that this doesn’t exist any more, or at least that I can’t find it. It’s possible that character limits on social media prevent such a complex way of engaging with a text.

Then a few lines later they state that calling stories with no name on screen by their official name on BBC paperwork rather than by the names common in fandom, “might be a mark of strict accuracy, but it could also be a sign of elitism” which, aside from referring to a now largely subsided fan argument of the nineties, shows that making something completely non-political into a angry and self-righteous political point for no good reason was happening even twenty-seven years ago.

“I think we are in rats’ alley/Where the dead men lost their bones”

I went to bed late last night. It’s hard having E in a time zone behind me, as it makes going to bed earlier hard, although I’m pretty good at staying up too late even without that and indeed was online late yesterday blogging and social media-ing. I wanted to watch an episode of The Avengers yesterday (I’d say the John Steed and Emma Peel Avengers to distinguish from Marvel, but I wanted to watch a Cathy Gale episode), but I ran out of time and ended up reading instead. I recently started Accidental Presidents, a non-fiction book about the eight men who succeeded to the American presidency via the vice-presidency when the elected incumbent died. It’s interesting and not particularly heavy-going, but it assumes a greater knowledge of nineteenth century American politics and history than I have, and the writing verges on the clichéd, with some weirdly anachronistic metaphors (e.g. saying President Tyler’s plans hit a “speed bump”). It probably wasn’t hugely relaxing to read at night, though.

Whether I did too much yesterday or didn’t relax enough or both or neither, I was exhausted this morning. I had to get out of bed at 10.30am to help with the Tesco order and stayed up afterwards to daven (pray) before the time for Morning Prayers was over (now an hour earlier due to the clocks going back). But my mind felt “scattered” and unfocused the way it does when I’m feeling exhausted, and my mood was low. I revised my plans for today, as I didn’t think I had the time or headspace to listen to the hour and a half shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg that I wanted to listen to today (the only one of the LSJS’ pre-Rosh Hashanah shiurim that I haven’t listened to yet).

I did manage half an hour or so of novel writing, but I found it hard to focus. I had therapy. It was a good session, but the sadness came back afterwards. I went for a walk and listened to some of a religious podcast in lieu of Torah study, which I really couldn’t face.

I still feel vaguely obliged to help people on the autism forum, and slightly guilty if I can’t. A teenage girl posted something there today, but I could barely understand it and I had no idea what to say to a troubled, possibly suicidal and psychotic (her words), teenage girl with a personality disorder that would help her. Admittedly it’s hard to know how to help someone whose post title is a string of swearwords directed at people trying to help her, but I still feel sad and vaguely guilty.

I’m also beating myself up for general social media use and difficulty knowing how to communicate with people online. I hope this is just another bad day and not the start of depression or SAD. 

***

People write about famous people with autism (supposedly) e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Steven Spielberg, Dan Ackroyd, Elon Musk, Alan Turing, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci and so on (to be honest, I find the historical attributions speculative at best and often fanciful. The fact that someone was clever and a bit eccentric doesn’t automatically mean they were neurodiverse). I find these lists difficult to read, as it suggests I could succeed like them. Which makes me feel that if I can’t succeed, it must be my fault, rather than because autism manifests differently in different people and they got lucky with traits that helped them do what they wanted to do, rather than holding them back.

Related: it occurred to me that many of the frum people I know who had mental health issues ended up not frum. I don’t know if there’s causation there or just correlation, and my survey is certainly not statistically significant, but it makes me feel good (that I stayed frum) and bad (that having mental health issues correlates with leaving the frum world and there’s no guarantee I will stay frum in the future, particularly if my depression comes back). I don’t really know enough Jewish people with autism to tell if there’s a correlation with leaving frumkeit there, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

  ***

Reading about the Israeli elections (the likely return of Netanyahu, the success of the far-right) just made me feel worse. I felt I should write something to say that Itamar Ben-Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich don’t represent me, as an Orthodox Jew and Zionist, but really I was too depressed to face up to it. I just felt awful.

***

It’s extra hard being away from E when I feel like this. I need hugs, really.

***

The good news: my sleep study apparatus (if that’s the right word) should be sent to me next week, so hopefully that will help me move forward with working out what (else) is wrong with me. It can take up to twelve weeks to get the results. And E’s other birthday present arrived today (I ordered her two books, but only one arrived last week). It really is coincidence that I keep buying E books that I would like to read as presents! Or rather, it’s less coincidence and more a reflection that we do have a lot of shared interests. She was pleased with the present, but she won’t get to read them for a while.

E and I also had a Zoom marriage class in the evening, which this week was about the structure of the Jewish wedding ceremony. I learnt a few things, which was good. I feel less depressed now, so maybe some of it was anxiety. I’m very tired though and going to bed soon. The class did make me marvel again at how allistic (non-autistic) people can often chat and make small talk so easily. Talk about super-powers…

More Disrupted Sleep, LinkedIn, and Ashley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnout Fears

Today was an OK day at work, enlivened (if that’s the right word), by feeling particularly awful when I got home. I hope I can go to volunteering tomorrow. I posted the following on the autism forum:

I feel exhausted after work. OK, many people, ND and NT [neurodivergent and neurotypical] do. It often feels like autistic exhaustion and I can’t do anything else that day and sometimes not the next either (I work two days a week). But over the last few months (I’m not sure when exactly), “exhausted” has become light-headed, dizzy, faint and generally unwell, although articulating more precise symptoms than “unwell” is hard. Sometimes it persists into the next day.

Has anyone else experienced autistic exhaustion like this?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of other potential suspects to eliminate:

– dehydration (but it doesn’t always go after drinking).

– low blood sugar (but it doesn’t always go after eating).

– low blood pressure (I do have low blood pressure, but this doesn’t seem like a normal ‘standing up too fast’ headrush and lasts a long time).

– medication side-effects (entirely possible, but I haven’t changed meds for a while, so it seems strange that it would just start).

– sleep issues (I’m being investigated for a sleep disorder, so it could be tiredness related to that, although sometimes it persists after sleeping).

Thanks for helping!

[End of quote.]

I’m probably going to go to the GP about this, either this week or next week. I can’t decide how urgent it is. Some people suggested diabetes or iron deficiency. I think I was checked for iron deficiency a few months ago, but I don’t remember when I was last checked for diabetes (years ago I had a GP who would test me annually for reasons I could never understand). Unfortunately, the comment that resonated most with me was the person who said it sounded like her “stress” symptoms, which in retrospect seem a lot like autistic burnout to her (and to me when she related it).

I do not want to burnout again!!!

I struggled through my BA and MA because of depression which seems to have involved a burnout component, at the very least. I spent years unemployed and pretty much doing nothing because of it! This is not how I want to start my married life! Even aside from the fact that burnout is not really well-understood or even acknowledged by all of the medical establishment. I really hope this doesn’t mean I can’t work at all, or even not in the going out to work sense as opposed to working from home (although if I can find a way to work from home, that would obviously be better).

***

E and I had a Skype call, but both of us were feeling exhausted and ill. Long-distance is hard when you feel ill and can’t just curl up together.

I started a rewatch of The Evil of the Daleks, a seven episode Doctor Who story from 1967. Only one episode survives, but the missing episodes have been animated using off-air audio recordings of the missing episodes. I watched this with E in the spring, but as it was the first Doctor Who story we watched together, and the first animated reconstruction she had seen, I was rather nervous and focused on her reaction. The animation on these reconstructions is not exactly Pixar standard and takes some getting used to and I wasn’t sure if she was put off by it. I wanted to rewatch to focus on the episodes. As E’s mother is staying with her, we can’t really watch Doctor Who ‘together separately’ as we had been doing for a while, so I thought this was a good time to watch it, especially after feeling disappointed and confused by last night’s new episode.

Come Back Bill Hartnell, All is Forgiven

I went to bed at 1am, but somehow woke up before 8am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I guess it was because I slept so much during the day. Anyway, I got up early, which was good, as long as I’m not sleep deprived tomorrow (I’m likely to go to bed late tonight because I speak to E late because of the time difference. And also because there was a feature-length episode of Doctor Who on this evening). It was good to be up early and to daven more of Shacharit (say more of the Morning Prayers) than I usually manage.

I looked into the demand for a tax return for the tax year ending April 2021. From both the dates and the reference number, I’m pretty sure that this is the tax year for which I submitted a tax return less than a month ago on the HMRC website. I do have an email receipt for that form, but it doesn’t specify the year, it just says that a copy was received. I don’t have a copy of the form itself, because it was all online (the problem of the all-digital approach). I will have to phone on Tuesday and find out what is going on. Worryingly, the tax return I filled in doesn’t seem to be on the ‘track progress’ page. Why is bureaucracy such a pain?

My alexithymia post on the autism forum met with some positive responses. Someone said that they try to identify their emotions by “birdwatching”: noting all their physical traits and working out what emotions they would indicate. It did make me think that, having to deduce my own emotions logically or empirically, and do the same for other people’s emotions, which I also struggle to read, then it’s no wonder I find personal interactions so draining! I spent quite a while responding to the comments on that post and reading and contributing on some other interesting/relevant posts.

It was quite a busy day besides this: my sister and brother-in-law came for lunch, I went for a walk and did some Torah study. I thought maybe I should try to see what I enjoy, in terms of recent thoughts here about trying to understand myself and what I would like to do better, and I enjoyed the walk (listening to a podcast) and the Torah study. I didn’t really get any new insights, but I think I found some good questions to think about in the future. It’s that kind of engagement with Torah that I enjoy, rather than passive reading. This was the fairly quiet day I hoped for last week and didn’t think I was going to get (I don’t think I could do literally nothing all day). I wanted to do some writing too, but ran out of time.

***

As a rule, I don’t get into political discussions online, but I read a blog post on The Times of Israel about a panel discussion by a couple of academics about the rise of Hitler, which inevitably concluded that “OMG, the USA today is like Germany in 1933!!!!!!!” This angered me so much that I wrote 500 word comment, which I had to halve because of a word count limit in comments, pointing out how wrong this is (I’m not linking as I commented under my real name). I know I’m bound to be criticised, but I just could not stand such ridiculous alarmism. Saying “There was inflation in the 1920s, there’s inflation now, IT’S THE SAME”is just nonsense. The hyper-inflation of Germany in the early 20s was much worse than today’s inflation: prices in stores rose hourly and people’s life savings were wiped out over night. That’s not happening today.

I said more and would have said even more if the word count had been longer, but the bottom line is that the world is bad enough as it is without make-believing that it’s much worse. I recommended people read The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans to learn what Weimar Germany was really like. There seems to be a certain type of person who loves to feel that the Fascists are at the door, and only they can save civilisation.

***

The rest is about Doctor Who, feel free to skip.

In the evening, the BBC Centenary special episode of Doctor Who was on. I feel that the BBC celebrating itself is rather arrogant. I’m not feeling particularly well-disposed to the BBC at the moment, not least because The Jewish Chronicle has just submitted a petition to Parliament asking for a parliamentary inquiry into reporting of Jews, antisemitism and Israel at the BBC,  but also from a broader feeling that the BBC, for all it plugs itself as “for everyone” is actually for a very particular subset of the population: middle class, centre-left, secular, probably Boomer, culturally bourgeois, with some quite rigid views while preening itself as tolerant and cosmopolitan.

Moreover, I’ve lost a lot of interest in new Doctor Who over the last couple of years as a result of some uninspired episodes. I don’t even care enough to hate it, it’s just there. It’s clearly not made for someone of my aesthetic tastes any more, and I can’t even be bothered to complain about David Tennant and Russell T Davies coming back. Some things are just inevitable.

I found tonight’s episode badly-plotted, confusing to the point of unintelligibility, focused on spectacle rather than content, and loud and sentimental, but that’s par for the course. I liked some of the references to the past, but thought the sheer number of them was overdoing things. I don’t think that any of the three new series era Doctor Who showrunners have particularly liked science fiction or shown much interest in science fiction-based stories, although Steven Moffatt was clearly fascinated by time-travel stories, and all three are long-term Doctor Who fans. This lack of interest in science fiction among the showrunners for the BBC’s flagship science fiction show perhaps seems strange to non-fans, but Doctor Who has never been a straightforward science fiction show, more a genre hybrid with science fiction trappings, and many of the most avid fans (and some of its past creatives) have little interest in the genre as a whole. Even so, some affinity in writers is useful, to put it mildly.

In the twentieth century, Doctor Who was made on a relatively low budget and prioritised plot and character over effects and spectacle. In the twenty-first century, that situation is reversed, perhaps inevitably, as the show competes with TV and film blockbusters in the CGI era, working on a much smaller budget than the likes of the Star Wars and Marvel franchises. Even so, some of the greatest episodes of the new series era have been relatively low key in terms of effects, and probably filmable fifty or sixty years ago without too much rewriting concentrating on character and suspense, not spectacle (e.g. Father’s Day, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, Blink, Midnight, The Doctor’s Wife, Heaven Sent, Rosa).

Chris Chibnall’s first season as showrunner was oddly low-key and had no absolute classics, although Rosa (about Rosa Parks) came close. But it had a number of stories that made me think, “I didn’t know Doctor Who could do that” and left me interested and hopeful for the future. But since then Chibnall has mostly focused on spectacle with only Flux: Village of the Angels really standing out in my memory, and having only seen it once, I’m not sure how much of that is my memory cheating. The scenes in the later episodes of Flux with Yaz, Dan and Professor Jericho having fun, clever, adventures left me wishing that the whole series could be like that, but now Doctor Who is made by fans, for fans and the series thinks that Time Lords, Daleks, Cybermen and the Master are inherently interesting on screen without doing anything interesting. This was how I reacted to the programme as a child, but then I grew up and found secondary layers of meaning. But, with a budget twentieth century Doctor Who producers could only dream of, twenty-first century Doctor Who doesn’t need to grow up, it can show us that Dalek-Cyberman-Master team up that the twentieth century version would never have dared show us (I guess The Five Doctors is the closest). The problem is for those of us who want something more, some original ideas rather than plot contrivances or eerie atmosphere rather than wall-to-wall explosions.

I feel I’ve written this review a lot over the last seventeen years, and I don’t want to upset or offend anyone, as I’ve got to a point where I realise this (Doctor Who, but popular culture generally) isn’t really made for me and I have to find my entertainment elsewhere or make it myself. I don’t privilege my opinion any more or feel any more that there’s some kind of “spirit of Doctor Who” that has been betrayed and that I am more in touch with it than other people. It’s just not really made for me any more, although I still watch out of a mixture of curiosity and hope. I feel better knowing this, less bitter and rejected.

Black Box

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

What Do You Want?

I struggled with sleeping again last night. I couldn’t sleep, then had to get up early for work. J sent me to get some food for a meeting tomorrow, including kosher sandwiches. Apparently a couple of supermarkets in the West End have them. I duly went to these and couldn’t get the sandwiches. I did get some drinks and crisps, which turned out to be so heavy that the bag I was carrying them in tore and I had to carry them awkwardly in my arms. J thinks it is possible that Selfridges had the sandwiches and I didn’t look in the right place (they aren’t with the other sandwiches, apparently), which led me to feel self-critical, as I had had that thought after I left the shop, but decided not to go back and look again.

As well as that, I managed to walk in an area that was cordoned off for building works. I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, or why I thought it was a pedestrian walkway and not cordoned off. Things went downhill from there, as I started to feel very overwhelmed by the numbers of people, not just the crowds, but thinking that these are all individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes… It’s quite an overwhelming thought to have. I tried to shut out some of the noise with music (silence might have been better, but wasn’t an option as the street was so busy), but the headphones I found to replace the ones that broke last week are not very effective. I haven’t had a panic attack for years, and I don’t generally have meltdowns (which are technically just intense panic attacks), but I felt like I was on the verge of one. I didn’t have one in the end, although not due to anything I did to prevent it. I just got lucky.

Just to cap it all off, I got home to discover that HMRC (the taxman) has fined me £100 for not filling in a tax return for the tax year ending April 2021. I didn’t send a tax return for the very good reason that I was unemployed for half the year and then working varying amounts in the remaining months and, even counting the benefits I was receiving that I’ve subsequently been told to pay back (even though I told them NOT to pay them to me in the first place as I was working), I was still earning less than the minimum needed to pay tax. But I’ll need to work out exactly what I earned for that year, including the benefits and bank account interest. More likely is that the tax return I filled for the tax year ending April of this year has made some jobsworth pen-pusher at HMRC decide that I must have earned the same amount the previous tax year. I don’t really swear, but I want to award lots of choice four-letter words to him (or her).

This does make me worry about how efficient the Home Office will be with E’s visa application. There’s no logical reason why one would impact the other, but I’ve had such a hard time lately with the HMRC (who recently paid me rather more than £100 that they had wrongly taken from me) and the Department of Work and Pensions (the benefits overpay issue) that I am pessimistic about any government department functioning efficiently.

I felt physically ill from the stress of the day, coming in the midst of other recent stresses. I was physically exhausted, light-headed and headachey. Eating and drinking didn’t help. Mum suggested drinking orange juice, and it did seem to help, so maybe my potassium/lithium levels were out of whack. Really I should have taken time out to chill without computer or phone, but I had so much to do, so when I got home I went online and started dealing with the tax thing and blogging.

I did feel a lot better after dinner, Doctor Who and Skyping E, so that’s good. I am a bit nervous about coping with tomorrow, though.

***

The worry that I was going to have a panic attack earlier fits with how I’ve been feeling lately: overwhelmed and at times very sad without really understanding why, as well as intensely missing E. These feelings generally do not always long, but I worry about drifting back into clinical depression or burnout (I’m not sure the two are easily distinguishable for me), especially as my previous episodes of depression mostly started in the autumn, as the days grow shorter and the weather less pleasant.

Alexithymia (difficulty recognising and understanding my own emotions) makes it harder to tell what my general emotional state is, because intense negative feelings are easier to recognise, thus potentially making my emotional state seem worse than it really is.

An additional problem with alexithymia that I’ve only just really noticed is in recognising emotions related to my religious experience. If I can recognise depression, anxiety and loneliness more easily than joy, love and equanimity, it’s no surprise that I find the former more than the latter in my religious experience. Does that mean my religious experience is overwhelmingly negative? I don’t think so, but more because I can’t see how I could have stuck with it for so long if it had been negative. But the question, which has been nagging at me for years, but is more urgent now I’m starting my own family, is how to increase the joy, love and equanimity and make it more tangible.

A question I’ve never really asked myself in a religious context is, “What do I want to do?” I don’t really know how to answer this question at this stage. Until now I’ve tried to do what the halakhah (Jewish law) requires, sometimes being overwhelmed by temptation or mental health and neurodiversity issues and sometimes compromising to fit in with my parents. What I want hasn’t really come into it much, or doesn’t feel like it has. I wonder, if I searched myself, if I would find that it has been there, but subtextually, disguised as other questions.

Also, I have never really understood how people can be so certain about what God thinks: “God will punish X” or “God will forgive Y.” Heinrich Heine said on his deathbed that, “God will forgive me. It’s His job.” Heine had done some bad things and I wouldn’t have been so sanguine in his position. Would I go to the other extreme and assume that God would want to punish me? It is hard to tell. When my religious OCD was bad, I was more focused on the awfulness of breaking halakhah in itself rather than punishment, but a part of me also took it as read that I would have no share in the next world.

(There is a specific question here that I’m thinking about, but I’m not sure I should discuss it here, and I certainly don’t have the time today.)

***

When I got my invisible disability lanyard for the airport, Mum mentioned that her friend, who usually travels with a disabled family member (either her mother, who has dementia, or her daughter, who has CFS and severe depression), lets the airport authorities know in advance and gets fast-tracked through the airport. She (Mum, not the friend) felt I should do the same. I felt uncomfortable with this idea, primarily because I didn’t feel my problems are “bad enough” to do that and felt that it would almost be dishonest to do so.

Today I saw someone on the autism forum say that he does this. This is someone I see as much more capable than myself, as he was in regular employment as a research scientist for decades, has been married for many years and has two adult children. So I am slowly considering that this may be an “acceptable” thing for me to do, although I don’t know if I’ll feel ready when I hopefully go to New York to see E later this year.

Guilt, and Being

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

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

***

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

***

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

 ***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

Yom Tov Burnout

The last two days were the first two days of Sukkot, the Jewish festival where we live in temporary huts in the garden to experience the transient nature of life and the security of trust in God. In theory, anyway; in the UK it can be a struggle with the elements to stay out there. I find it hilarious when I see Israelis, and some Americans, complaining that their sukkot are too hot to stay in. Cold and wet is more normal here.

On the plus side, we ate dinner and lunch out in the sukkah every day and this afternoon it was warm enough that I sat out there for a while studying Torah (although it was getting a bit on the cold side). I also got to shul (synagogue) for two sets of Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).

Unfortunately, there were some downsides too. The biggest is Yom Tov (festival) burnout, about two thirds of the way through the autumn festival season. The next few days are semi-festival (although I have to work) and then next Monday and Tuesday are full festivals again, although I will be deliberately avoiding shul during Simchat Torah on Monday night and Tuesday (only Purim rivals it as the most autism-unfriendly festival). I feel exhausted, and spending so much time with my parents hasn’t helped (no offence intended to them, but I need more downtime alone). Not only do I have to do this again next week (plus Shabbat (the Sabbath) in between, when my parents have invited people for Kiddush after the morning service), but I have to work for the next two days (and risk doing the Very Scary Task without J being around to hand-hold), and get up extra-early for extra prayers and to eat breakfast in the sukkah, and I will probably have to eat dinner with my parents and their friends on Thursday. This is not going to be a fun, stress-free few days.

I also have been eating very unhealthily, from the point of view of sugar as well as cholesterol. So far, so Yom Tov. I have chapped hands again from sitting out in the cold, I think I struggled breathing while asleep again, and I’ve had a lot of, probably irrational, guilt feelings the last few days over all sorts of things, particularly not going to shul in the mornings and not going to a Kiddush in my parents’ friends’ sukkah even though I knew a friend I haven’t seen for years (pre-COVID) would be there. Also irrational things like guilt over the content of dreams I’ve been having (no, not sexual, but weird and upsetting). I can’t work out if the guilt is religious OCD, low self-esteem, both or neither. It’s hard to tell.

I do think I need to work on my social anxiety, which has got worse because of the COVID lockdowns, as a matter of urgency, but I’m not sure how. CBT, the main treatment for social anxiety, tends not to work for autistics. I’m technically on the waiting list for autism-adjusted CBT on the NHS, but who knows if that will ever materialise? I think it’s pretty much impossible to get autism-adjusted CBT privately, although I haven’t looked. CBT did work for me for OCD, where it was mostly exposure therapy and it didn’t matter whether I believed the cognitions, so maybe it would work again. I did have CBT for social anxiety a few months before COVID, and it didn’t help much, but I think that was partly due to the short number of sessions and my failure to really push myself hard enough and keep pushing myself with the exposures to social situations. But it just joins the huge amount of things going on in my life right now or soon: the wedding and flat-hunting, trying to write one novel and sell another or possibly re-write it, setting myself up in business as a proof-reader, learning to drive… I feel overwhelmed just writing the list!

***

I feel pretty anxious about tomorrow. I’m likely to be somewhat sleep-deprived, as I don’t know if I’ll sleep well tonight (I often don’t after Shabbat or Yom Tov) and, as I said, I have to be up extra early for extra prayers tomorrow, then off to the office where I need to speak to the security guard (who I worry doesn’t like me) about using the shul sukkah for my lunch and where I may have to do the Very Scary Task without J being around and where I certainly will be in the office by myself , which gets lonely. The office also has little in the way of natural light and that alone sets me in a bad mood for six months of the year. And then I have to do it all over again the next day. J has already told me what my first task tomorrow is and mentioned I should do it straight away, so now I’m worried about messing that up, forgetting to do it or getting in late and not doing it in time…

***

On top of all this, I miss E a lot. I thought that it would be easier being celibate in a relationship than being single, and just as easy being engaged as in a relationship, especially long-distance, which shows what I know. Even regardless of sex, I just want to spend time with her. Pretty much everything I’ve written about in this post, good and bad, would be better in a context of us living together.

***

A weird thought I had in a shiur (religious class) yesterday: being autistic, I can’t understand other people easily, what they’re thinking and feeling, especially about me (cf. the security who worry doesn’t like me). How can I even hope to understand what God thinks or feels about me? Where “thinks” and “feels” are metaphors at best for something beyond my comprehension.

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!