Prayer Mindsets

I went to bed late last night, as I didn’t think I would sleep, having forgotten to take my meds when I got home from the restaurant, plus I needed passive unwinding time in front of the TV. I watched Doctor Who (Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways), and felt myself frustrated by Russell T Davies’ writing style again. To be fair to him, some of it is just contemporary TV in general rather than him in particular, but I can put up with other writers more easily.

When I did get to bed, I remembered something I need to do today, but I was too tired to get up and write a note, which was a very bad idea, as if it’s not written down, I don’t remember it and now I can’t work out what it is. I think I figured it out in the end, but frustrated and worried me for much of the day.

I woke up very late and after breakfast was so tired I went back to bed (or laid on the bed, as it was hot). I’m not sure if I dozed; I think just lying in a cool (ish), quiet, dark room helped restore me after all the social interactions, social anxiety and sensory overload of yesterday. I felt a bit fatigued afterwards, but not burnt out. Unfortunately, it was 3.30pm by that stage and I was still in pyjamas.

I spent a while trying to track down the complete Hebrew original of a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical story) that I had only read in part for my devar Torah; when I finally found it, I couldn’t make much of the bits that I didn’t have the translation for, which was frustrating. Aside from that, I spent about half an hour starting to write my devar Torah. I’m glad to have got the bones of it down, although I need to work on it some more tomorrow. I am conscious that I could have done more if I hadn’t been burnt out, which is frustrating, but there isn’t a lot I can do about it.

I didn’t really have time to exercise today, and I thought it was too hot even for a walk.

After dinner it was cooler outdoors than in. I sat in the garden and worked on my novel. Making amendments after having finished a couple of drafts turns out to be like remodelling the bottom layers of a house of cards after I’ve finished it; one false move and everything collapses. That’s how it feels, anyway. I’m terrified of accidentally repeating myself or introducing a continuity error or just introducing a very obviously interpolated and out-of-place passage. When writing a new passage, I “merely” have to think up something interesting, original and true and write it down, but rewriting requires revisiting written (and half-forgotten) passages and restructuring them, keeping them doing what they were doing, but also fitting with my new writing.

***

One of my religious targets for this Jewish year was improving my kavannah, my concentration, or, better, mindfulness, in prayer, although I wasn’t really sure how to do this.

There is a kind of paradox in Jewish prayer, that if God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent, He knows what we need and supplies it, so what is the point of praying? There are many approaches to this. I once gave a shiur (religious talk) about just three of them. To summarise very briefly:

  1. Prayer is a process of building a relationship with God by asking Him for everything we need and telling Him all our thoughts. The content is less important than the interaction, which builds relationship. (Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)
  2. Prayer is a means of establishing a “covenantal community” which happens to include God as a member. Asking for things isn’t the point as much as establishing the community. (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith)
  3. Prayer is a self-reflexive process of examining ourselves and whether we truly need the things we want and whether we will use them well. If we undergo the process correctly, we can become worthy of things that we did not deserve previously. (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb)

(1 and 2 are quite similar, except 1 is personal and 2 is communal, including other Jews. I’m not sure if Rav Soloveitchik views the covenantal community as being the local community or the entire Jewish people.)

The last week or two I have been trying to focus on one of these mindsets of prayer while saying the Amidah, the most important prayer and the centrepiece of every prayer service. It’s been an interesting experiment and it has definitely helped with kavannah. I’ve mostly been focusing on numbers 1 and 2, as 3 is more self-reflexive than I’ve felt up to lately and doesn’t really apply on Shabbat (when I have most time and energy for prayer) as Shabbat prayers are not petitionary, at least not to the same extent as weekday prayers.

Noise Pollution

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

Hidden Joy

I had some somewhat confusing task at work today, looking over bank statements and papers related to investments. I don’t really know about shares or serious financial investment stuff. I found it somewhat confusing. I had a couple of social mishaps too, which I’m deliberately not going to relate, as I suspect that rehashing things like that here as I usually do just encourages my social anxiety rather than discouraging it.

I also went to the bank, which got me out of the office on a nice sunny day, but also took me into parts of London that are becoming very busy again, which perhaps left me more drained than normal by the end of the day (although I get pretty drained even on a normal day).

***

I was thinking about my religious life and whether I find joy in it. I’ve worried in the past that I don’t, which makes me wonder if I really am just being frum (religious Jewish) out of habit or fear. I don’t think that’s the case, but it was only today that I realised why. I think it all gets mixed in with the remnants of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and autistic alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand one’s own emotions).

I think I do get joy and/or meaning out of at least some davening (prayer), Torah study and other Jewish activities. I can’t necessarily feel or understand it directly, but I know some prayers feel less fulfilling than others, some Torah study sessions are harder going than others and so on, so by comparison at least some of the time I must be more engaged or it would all seem the same. I can see a difference, even if I can’t always put that difference into words. Even with Talmud study, which I do find hard and a bit of a chore, there are times when it clicks and it doesn’t seem a chore, and times when I find it interesting even if not necessarily for the reasons I’m supposed to feel it (for historical reasons as much as because I’m “thinking God’s thoughts”).

I do get a lot of pleasure from sitting and thinking about Jewish concepts, playing with ideas and putting them, and disparate texts, together to try to generate new ideas (chiddushim). Even though I’m not sure how many rabbis would list “sitting and thinking” as a legitimate or productive religious activity, even if some of the ideas do end up going into my divrei Torah.* Certainly my parents find it a little weird when I’m just sitting staring into space, or pacing up and down rapidly (I tend to pace when thinking).

Similarly, although not religious, I used to worry that I didn’t love my family enough. However, lately I’ve been having some morbid thoughts about death and I realise that losing my parents would be devastating for me, beyond any practical or selfish thoughts about the change that would necessitate in my life. I can, so to speak, see the hole it would leave and infer the love that must surround it unseen.

Less morbidly, socialising often leaves me feeling awkward, anxious and miserable, but the times when I have socialised and not been left feeling awkward, anxious and miserable were presumably the times I enjoyed myself (as with the Shabbat lunch I went to a few weeks ago), even if I wasn’t sure that that was what I was feeling. So I must enjoy some social events.

Possibly I was living a life of (at least some) joy and love all along and I never realised…

*This is a digression, but I think contemporary society in general and frum society in particular has a real problem prioritising busy-ness over idleness. I mean real idleness, not staring at your phone. Sometimes idleness can be very productive. It’s no surprise most of these “sitting and thinking idly about Torah” sessions happen on Shabbat when there is no phone, computer or TV.

Cope/Not Cope/Cope?

Today felt stressful, although objectively not a lot happened. Actually, “objectively” is a bit of a weasel word there, as not a lot happened for a “normal” person. “Normal” in scare quotes because no one is “normal”; I mean that some people would have coped OK, but others, including, but not limited to people on the spectrum, would not, and I am one that did not.

The Tube is definitely more crowded in the mornings now, which is good inasmuch as it means things are opening up again, bad inasmuch as I’m afraid of infection. The person sitting next to me for several stops had a persistent (albeit mild-seeming) cough which worried me a bit. I did consider changing carriages, but I wasn’t sure of finding anywhere better to sit. He was at least wearing a mask correctly.

Work this morning was routine. In the afternoon, J asked me to phone some people who hadn’t paid their membership fees to remind them. Most of the calls were not answered, or had “number not available” messages. One was answered by someone who said she is seriously ill, immobile and has poor eyesight. I wasn’t sure how to respond and J was out of the office. I didn’t want to pressure her to pay, and thought that J wouldn’t want that either, but I didn’t want to leave the payment hanging indefinitely. She said she would pay over the phone, but struggled to read her credit card number. In the end I said she could leave paying until she can get a relative to help her make the payment, whether by cheque in the post or credit card over the phone. J was fine with that, but the call (which went on for ten or fifteen minutes) left me drained. I’m OK when I have a “script” to follow, but a call like that where I had to make a number of on the spot decisions, is extremely draining.

This was worsened by another call, where the person I called said they had already sent a cheque. On inspection, I had processed it this morning. I checked the database, and the payment had not been processed. I thought I had made a mistake and not processed it correctly (I have done this by mistake in the past) until I realised that none of the mornings’ payments had been processed. I didn’t think I could have forgotten to process all of the cheques. Fortunately, I then remembered that J and I had accidentally been logged into the database at the same time, which can mess up saving data, so I saved myself from unnecessary self-criticism.

Curiously enough, I feel I’m more confident using the phone at work. I have a role, so to speak, and it’s easier to write a script for myself. I was able to do that when I was doing library work too, although the number of scripts I had to have to hand was not always easy to manage. I certainly didn’t have the gnawing anxiety in the pit of the stomach that I would get if I had to make a phone call at home.

My final task for the day wasn’t emotionally/socially draining like the phone calls, but was difficult and I came home exhausted. The heavy traffic on the roads didn’t help, especially as J had a very political talk radio programme on in the car, and news of violence in Israel. When I got home, I just crashed and watched Babylon 5. I tried to do more Torah study, but felt ill and stopped, focusing on getting in a good state of mind for depression group later.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel less exhausted as time went on. In fact, I started to feel light-headed, even after dinner, so I ended up missing depression group and vegetating in front of James Bond (Skyfall). I did eventually feel better. I don’t know what made me feel ill, if it was just a response to the emotions of the day, or if I’m coming down with something, but I did at least accept that it was OK to feel drained after the phone calls and that it wasn’t my “fault” or that I should have done “better,” which is progress.

I realise that I started this post saying that I didn’t cope, whereas the reality, now I read the post back, is that I did cope, even though I had to deal with stress and possibly psychosomatic light-headedness. It’s good that I can realise that I can actually cope.

***

Today was the second and final day of my shul’s (synagogue’s) fundraising campaign to raise money for new premises. I feel a bit bad as I couldn’t afford to contribute much (particularly compared to the millions of pounds needed, or even the tens of thousands being raised in this part of the campaign) and haven’t been trying to get friends and family to pay. Some of my friends are from shul so don’t need me to prompt them to give; the others are mostly non-religious and non-Jewish and I don’t feel comfortable asking for them to donate, although I’m not sure how much I would feel comfortable asking even if they were Orthodox and frum (religious Jewish). It’s not easy to ask people to donate money. I think most of the money has come from a very small number of presumably super-wealthy congregants and philanthropists/philanthropic trusts, which makes me feel like I can’t contribute much.

I do feel generally that I don’t contribute much to my shul. I don’t mean just or even primarily financially. I know I’m not in a position to donate much money anywhere right now. However, before I moved to this area, I was a regular shul-goer (two or even three times a day) and service-leader in my old shul, but now shul-going is hard because of social anxiety, more draining work and living further from the shul, and while I have led services a couple of times in this shul, I don’t feel at all comfortable doing it in this community which is more frum (religious) and which I still don’t feel completely comfortable in even after having attended for five years or so. It probably is true that my anxiety of not being “good enough” or “frum enough” for the shul means that I am discouraged from doing even what I could manage to do.

***

I had a lot of feedback about my article on Asperger’s/high functioning autism for the Jewish website. It’s all been positive, although I haven’t looked at the comments on the site yet. My friends and family have been very positive (my aunt said it showed “guts and integrity” while my Mum’s cousin said it moved her to tears). My sister’s sister-in-law was also very positive (her son just got diagnosed with Asperger’s) and I’ve only met her a couple of times, so that feels like a “real” person, not just someone close to me.

I’m doing what I always do when I’m praised, which is run away and hide. OK, in this instance there isn’t anywhere physically to run away to, but when I think about it, I feel embarrassed about the positive attention I’ve been getting. However, the main reason I haven’t responded to most of the comments and emails about this is simply that I didn’t feel well enough to do so earlier and now I’m tired and it’s late. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and reply then, but thank you everyone who left positive comments about the article (and my smile).

***

I’m getting annoyed by the anthropomorphism of COVID. Today I heard that it is “retreating,” but also that it might “bite back.” Perhaps people can’t cope with the idea of an abstract, indifferent problem and prefer some kind of sentient “enemy.”

My Friends, and Other Animals

I went to bed at 10.30pm last night, which is early for me even for a work night. I was just completely exhausted, although I didn’t fall asleep straight away. I wonder if the emotional stress of the week is affecting me physically.

Work was a bit slow today and I was doing a mundane, repetitive task that gave me too much time for thought. I think I made the right decision breaking up with PIMOJ, but it sunk in that I think she was quite angry with me when we broke up. She doesn’t usually get angry, and she didn’t scream and shout, but I think she was angry about some things, although I’m not good at reading situations like that. I think in particular she felt that our being boyfriend and girlfriend meant more than I thought it did, inasmuch as I think she felt it was a significant commitment, almost like marriage, and that I should work on the relationship rather than breaking up. I agree that being boyfriend and girlfriend is serious and I was “dating for marriage” (in frum-speak), but I thought that what she wanted was so far from what I could offer, or be, that it would be wasting both the time and energy of both of us trying to get me to give or become it and would only end in more pain for both of us down the line. Plus, there were things she wanted that I thought were a bit unreasonable or at least not what I had signed on for.

But it made me think about other times people I liked and trusted got angry with me, perhaps unjustifiably. The worst was when I was at university and I managed to anger a friend by relying on her too much when I was depressed until she was no longer able to cope with me, a fact made more complicated by the fact that I had a huge unreciprocated crush on her. Nowadays I would not use someone else for support to the same extent (maybe partly why I was scared to open up to PIMOJ) and I know realise that having a crush on someone who you’re also offloading your darkest thoughts onto isn’t sensible. This is the type of situation where I really feel my autism and lack of social skills made me mess things up.

The other situation I handled badly was when I was close friends with two sisters who lived at the other end of the country. They read my blog (I knew they read it) and got angry when I mentioned that I was tired after phoning them when their mother died. I still don’t entirely see their point; I wasn’t blaming them for being tired, and people who read my blog regularly know I tire easily, especially after social contact. They read it as blame, however, and cut off contact with me.

It does make me wonder if I’m an accident waiting to happen, socially. It seems that most of my friendships stay in a sort of neutral space where we see each other socially every so often (usually six months to a year), but never really open up about personal things, just engage in light conversation. No risk, but no gain. Then there are the people I really open up to, often encountered in some kind of mental health safe space, such as depression group or the online mental health blogging community. Some of these fade away when their lives change or they move on, literally or figuratively, but there’s definitely a sub-set that get angry with me eventually. I wonder if it’s my fault and what I can do about it, or how it will affect future friendships or relationships.

***

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been thinking about getting pets again, to deal with loneliness in a safer way. It might also be a way of seeing if I might be able to cope with having children, to see if I can cope with being responsible for someone else, and for dealing with excrement and mess. I went down this path a number of years ago, almost psyching myself into getting guinea pigs, but I chickened out, mostly from social anxiety. I didn’t really know where to start in terms of thinking what to get and I frankly freaked out at the thought of talking to pet shop or rescue workers about animals, because I have zero experience. The only pets I’ve ever had were goldfish. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to hold the guinea pigs (I can be nervous with animals) and wasn’t sure if I could to hold them before buying them to see if I was confident with them. My parents weren’t keen on the idea of pets either. So all of that put me off, but given that I feel it’s not a good idea to date again for a while, having pets seems like a good idea again.

***

My autism assessment report arrived today. The diagnosis they have technically given me is “Asperger syndrome” [sic], which interested me as I didn’t think it was given as a separate diagnosis any more, being subsumed in autism spectrum disorder. Apparently it depends on which diagnostic manual is being used. In some ways, I prefer Asperger’s as a diagnosis as ASD covers such a range of people, from the non-verbal to the highest functioning. However, it was discovered a while back that Hans Asperger was involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, and now I feel incredibly uncomfortable whenever the syndrome named after him is named. Which is a shame, because I used to like the term “Aspie.”

The report recommended that I have CBT, a type specially adapted for people on the spectrum (ordinary CBT tends not to work well for people on the spectrum, which is my personal experience). Unfortunately, there is a very long waiting list, and it is not clear how I ask to be put on it, whether I would have to go back to my GP or what — I suspect there is more NHS bureaucracy to manage. Also, I wasn’t sure what the CBT would actually be treating, exactly. Would it just be life skills?

The report also managed to have me down in places as a “woman”, “Ms [Luftmentsch]” and “she”. I am not sure how they managed to get so many typos misgendering me in there! Most of the time they did get my gender right, although I got thrown for a bit until I realised that with one exception the person they referred to as “Ms Luftmentsch” was my mother, not me. I would have expected them to say “Mrs Luftmentsch”.

There was supposed to be a leaflet about ASD resources included too. This was not included, so I need to phone tomorrow to complain. Why is it never easy with the NHS?

Other than that, it was weird to read the report. It’s strange to see myself analysed so dispassionately and at such length (twenty pages). It was actually uncomfortable in places. The descriptions of my poor social skills read like criticism, even though I knew they weren’t. One line in the report said that my Mum reported that I would not spontaneously share as a child, but would share happily if prompted to do so. Future girlfriends please note, I suppose.

***

Other than that, it was a slightly boring day. I did some miniature model painting when I got home while listening to some of the last series of Just A Minute, although I felt that I have too much tremor, and too little patience, to paint as well as I did as a teenager. I should probably stop comparing myself to my fourteen year old self and accept I just don’t paint as well.

Surprisingly Social

I’ve been feeling better today, although I still feel that I’ve got things to process and think about. I’ve actually been more social than I’ve been in a long time. I had a Skype call with my oldest friend. I had already told him about the autism diagnosis and we spoke about that a bit. He had had some (very different) long-term health issues when we were at school, and he felt there’s a difference between before and after diagnosis, even if you know that the diagnosis is coming; a switch from reading things and saying, “Is that me?” to saying “That is me.” It was good to catch up with him again. In recent years we haven’t seen each other so often for various reasons, but we still connect well. I did shake a little while talking though, which I found a bit strange and frustrating.

Then in the evening I went out with PIMOJ, largely because it was the first chance we had after lockdown. It was raining and windy and we couldn’t go anywhere because most of the lockdown restrictions are still in force, it’s only the ban on meeting people outdoors that has been lifted so far. So we walked around Golders Green in the rain and cold, but we had a good time. I think we were just glad to meet in person again after over two months. But “seeing” two people in a day is a big step for me.

Other than that I did a little Pesach cleaning and some Torah study and that was about all I had time for. While I was doing the Pesach cleaning I listened to the Tradition journal podcast tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl. Not for the first time, I wished I could have spoken to him. I mean, really spoken to him, not just meet him at an event and say hello (as my father did, I think). On the podcast, Dr Daniel Rynhold spoke about the way Rabbi Sacks supported young people into positions of leadership in the Jewish community. It made me feel that I missed out, not just on the chance to meet him, but on the chance to have some kind of role in Orthodox Jewish life in this country. Jewish teenagers tend to join youth movements which gives them contacts and experience as they move into university, where they tend to become active on campus Jewish life and then on into adulthood in communities. I missed that because I was too withdrawn and scared of being bullied if I was around people my own age when I was a teenager. At university I knew people who were involved in the Jewish Society, but I felt it was mostly a social group and I didn’t know how to run social groups, so I didn’t get involved, to the anger of at least one person who thought I was being selfish and stand-offish. I didn’t even go to events much as I was scared of talking to people and didn’t think I would enjoy socialising with other people much anyway. The reality was I was mostly scared and uncertain: of myself, of other people, of what needed doing. Then my depression started and I was on a downward spiral that took over my life until I was on the way out from the “young person” label.

Speaking of community involvement, I have mentioned that my shul wants to buy its own premises, having rented space in other people’s institutions since the community was founded thirty years ago. I was supposed to get a fundraising brochure about it, which was not delivered, although I eventually got a pdf version that I squinted at on WhatsApp. I’m going to be phoned to ask how I can help. I’m not sure what they mean by “help” – is it a polite way of saying how much money can I give? The pdf brochure had a list of possible donations; the smallest is in four figures and most are in five or even six. The cheapest thing listed is that for £1,800 I could donate a cover for a lectern for the small Beis Hemedrash, which is about two orders of magnitude greater than I could afford. That’s if I want to get my name on something, of course. You can give less, but I think they will still want a heftier donation than I feel able to give. But my real worry is what if “help” actually means “do something”? A WhatsApp message from the shul yesterday said that they are looking for people to help with admin, fundraising and marketing. I guess I might be able to help with admin, but fundraising and marketing sound worryingly like talking to people, probably on the phone.

I don’t want to sound negative. I don’t have a problem with the shul trying to raise money for a good cause, and promising to slap someone’s name on a wall or bit of furniture is a time-tested way of doing that, even if it means that some people are in more of a position to give (and be seen to be giving) than others. If it comes to practical help, it’s a nice idea, I just worry that I’m at capacity already, even just working two days a week and trying to help at home. Plus, I worry that I have an ability to screw up even the simplest of tasks lately.

I appreciate that this sounds a lot like I sounded when I was at university and not helping the Jewish Society. Maybe the photos of people having fun at shul events in the brochure sent me back in time a couple of decades, the feeling that everyone fits in and has a good time except me. I don’t know. I have a few days to think about things before I have to have that phone call about how I can help. The hardest thing is that it’s my closest friend in shul who is going to be phoning me, which makes the whole thing ten times more awkward.

Pre-Shabbat Fragment

PIMOJ texted me before I went to bed last night and we texted back and forth for a few minutes. We texted again today. I feel better than I did after our call yesterday. Certainly I’m not worried that she’s about to break up with me.

I feel burnt out and overwhelmed again today. I didn’t really mention this to the psychiatrist yesterday, except in a general sense about lacking energy, because I assumed that, inasmuch as it has any medical origin, it’s because I’m autistic and perhaps still mildly depressed sometimes and therefore easily tired, especially by emotional stress and social contact. However, that does not make it easier to deal with. Maybe I should have mentioned it, although I’m not sure what I would have said.

The feelings of being overwhelmed are probably further rooted in the stresses and changes of a new job, as well as the COVID situation, rather than anything I can change right now. I am trying to focus on the present, and the good, and PIMOJ is good at bringing my attention back to these things.

My main concern today is trying to support someone who I fear needs different support to anything I can offer. I want to help, but I’m worried I’m just going to make a bad situation worse if I try. I guess knowing my limitations is also good, but it doesn’t feel good.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, and my inability to really change anything for the better, my inability often to even know what “better” would look like for many other people. I try to hold onto the belief that helping anyone is worthwhile, even if you can’t help everyone, and that sometimes just listening to people is all you can do to help them. Still, the urge to be Superman and fix the world for everyone is strong, despite my increasing convictions that dramatic plans to fix the world are often a way of making it a lot worse for lots of people.

This afternoon I have booked to go to shul (synagogue) for Shabbat (Sabbath) services for the first time since the second lockdown started. I’m vaguely nervous after having been away for a month again, although I’m more used to wearing a mask for long periods now. Friday nights in the winter can be hard; walking to and from shul in the dark can be cold and uncomfortable and make it hard to look forward to services, even without the usual Friday end of week exhaustion, let alone the feelings of being overwhelmed that I currently have..

Overwhelmed and Teenaged Socialising

I stayed up (ridiculously) late again last night, even later than usual (2.00am). It was the usual thing of getting up late, feeling burnt out for much of the day and then trying to cram too much into the evening when I felt better. At least I don’t have so much to do today. The upshot was that I woke up later than usual and just as exhausted and struggled to get going. Perhaps fortunately, this week I’m working on Tuesday and Thursday instead of Monday and Thursday. I’m glad I am speaking to my psychiatrist on Thursday and will try to talk about chronic oversleeping and burnout. Although I’m not sure how the conversation is going to work, as it will be on video, but on my phone, at work – I’m going to have to ask to take some of my lunch break later when the call is scheduled.

After lunch I went out for quite a while doing shopping and errands in the local area and also a lot of fighting through crowds of children as school was just finishing. I like children, but lately part of me sees them as asymptomatic plague carriers.

I feel like I’m only just catching back up to where I was before the autumn Jewish holidays started, over two months ago. The festivals themselves, followed by the second lockdown and my new job have all made it hard to tackle the To Do List and left me drained. I’ve been feeling a bit down lately, but I don’t think that I would meet the clinical definition of depression. I certainly seem to be doing better than I usually am at this time of year, when the seasonal aspect of my depression would kick in.

***

I’m having a break from my novel for a bit. I haven’t decided for how long, but possibly until PIMOJ has read it. She wanted very much to read it. I tried to tell her that it’s still very unfinished, but she insisted. I am now wondering if it is too personal to show to her, which also makes me wonder if it is too personal for anyone to read.

I’m wondering a bit of lockdown hasn’t made our relationship a bit topsy-turvy. That we have engaged a lot more in text (email, text, instant messenger) than in person. In previous relationships, that would not have bothered me, but I feel my connection with PIMOJ is much better in person than in text.

***

A comment I left on a blog post about autism and group dynamics:

Very interesting. I think I would have eaten alone the whole time! I actually went on a week-long residential programme when I was about seventeen. It was intended for teenagers from state schools who were planning on applying to Oxford or Cambridge University.

On the first day, the attendees went into Cambridge. I stayed behind, as I’d gone with my school a few weeks previously. I now realise I missed a key bonding stage, but it’s taken me years to realise that. Instead, I remember phoning my Mum in a panic and saying I was not able to talk to anyone and that I wanted to come home. I did eat with the other students (the way the dining hall was arranged, I had to), but initially I went back to my room in the breaks between sessions. After a while someone must have told me that really I should be with the other students in the recreation room, as I went down there and joined in with the games of table tennis, but I found it hard to talk to people. I did what I usually do in these situations, which is to find a couple of people I feel reasonably “safe” with and stick around them, probably excessively.

To be fair, I did feel a bit more bonded with the group by the end of the week, but then all the students and teachers went down to the pub on the last night and I completely panicked. (I don’t know if it was the concept of going to a pub, which I’d never done before.) I stayed behind, unable to adequately explain even to myself why I couldn’t go with them. Twice people came back for me and tried to get me to join them and twice I said no. I hated myself for it, but I just could not do it. I guess this is the grey area where autistic social issues blend into social anxiety.

In retrospect, I handled the week badly, but compared with how I was functioning at school, I probably handled it well…

I would also add that I’ve found that the Jewish dietary laws significantly impede socialisation in situations like this (which is probably the point, at least in part). If everyone is eating together, then the fact that I’m eating somewhere else, or eating with them, but eating different food, marks me out as “different” even before I say anything. It also stops me tagging along when people are going to eat and just focusing on eating rather than speaking until I feel more comfortable in the group, which is a strategy I have used in Jewish environments.

Fear of Rejection (Mini-Post)

Last night (well, this morning, really), I dreamt about the friends who cut me off when I mentioned them on my blog in a way that they thought was critical, although that was not my intention. When I woke up, I wondered if my unconscious was telling me that my comments about PIMOJ yesterday could be seen as critical. She is unaware of the blog at the moment, but who knows what could happen in the future. I looked over the post today and was unsure, although the comments I received were positive about my conversation with her (i.e. positive about her as well as the interaction). So now I am confused. I feel I may make yesterday’s post private in a day or two to be on the safe side. My rabbi mentor once encouraged me not to mention anyone else on my blog, but I’m not sure how that’s really possible given that a major part of my struggles involves dealing with a social communication disorder, which means I struggle with interactions and need to write them down to process them, and it can help to have feedback from other people here.

I woke to find that PIMOJ had sent me several long messages continuing our conversation from yesterday. I did worry that this meant that she would reject me, but she also sent me messages saying that she is still here for me… It feels strange… I tend to assume if people disagree with me, that’s it, they will leave me, even though my (adult, as opposed to childhood) experience of that does not always fit entirely with that worldview.

I haven’t done much today other than get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I feel so burnt out. I will try not to mind if I can’t do much Torah study over Shabbat, or if I can’t write my novel tomorrow evening after Shabbat. I feel I just need some recharging alone time with a novel (or classic Doctor Who after Shabbat) or whatever.

Exhausted

I woke up exhausted again and struggled to get going. I guess I did a lot yesterday, but it frustrates me. This is fast turning from a mental health/autism blog into an exhaustion/burnout blog. What bothers me a bit is not knowing why I feel like this. If it’s depression, why is my mood mostly good? And if it’s autism, why is it so bad even on days when I have not had obvious triggers, and why didn’t it affect me this way as a child? I’m beginning to wonder if I should be researching other issues, like CFS, although a glance at a website on CFS reveals more differences to my symptoms as similarities.

I helped Dad put up the sukkah, the portable dwelling we “live” in during the festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) which is coming soon. In warmer climates, like Israel and parts of America, people basically live out there for the whole week of the festival, but in the UK we consider ourselves lucky if it’s dry enough to eat out there once a day. There is still a lot to do to prepare the sukkah. I was up on ladders helping. I don’t like being on ladders outdoors. I’m OK being on ladders indoors (changing lightbulbs), but somehow I feel that if I stand on the top step of a ladder on the patio, I’m going to lose my balance, fall off and crack my head open on the paving stones. Being on a lower step doesn’t bother me. I can even stand on the second-highest rung of the taller ladder, which is as high as the top of the short ladder. It’s something about the top rung, and the stone floor. Anyway, I managed to do what needed doing, but I wish I wasn’t mildly anxious about so many things.

I spent a bit over an hour working on my presentation for my job interview next week, getting the new one mostly written, but between waking up exhausted, helping Dad with the sukkah and therapy, I did not have much time to spend on it, especially as by mid-afternoon I was exhausted. I didn’t even go for a walk after therapy. Therapy was just too tiring this week. I’ve been exhausted all evening. I’ve been reading and watching the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War (on the American Civil War) while sloooowly scanning the forms my Mum and I had to fill in yesterday about my autism symptoms. I’m scanning so we’ve got a backup copy when if the NHS loses it. Our scanner is very slow. I’m vaguely worried about the box where they asked for previous psychiatric medicines and I put “Too many to mention.” I don’t remember all the psych drugs I’ve been on, and I know the NHS has lost the details over the years.

***

Something that came up in the autism questionnaires yesterday was whether I treat other people like objects. Now, obviously I want to say, “NO!” On reflection, I think in some sense I do treat people like objects. I empathise with people and don’t want to cause them pain (if anything, I’m over-cautious about that), but I think I have to consciously tell myself what other people might be feeling and I often get surprised because people don’t react the way I expect them to react. I think I probably also treat people like objects in the sense of sometimes forgetting that they have a life that goes on when I’m not around (since childhood I’ve been obsessed with solipsism) and that they have emotions that they might not show. That’s not a very nice thing to admit to and I’m wrestling with the idea that I may be being too hard on myself, but when I saw the question, I felt fairly instinctively that there was some truth in it for me.

I feel there is probably more to say, but it’s late and I’m tired, once again…

A Matter of Trust

I had a headache when I went to bed last night which got worse when I was lying down, as often happens to me, so I ended up getting up and watching Star Trek: Voyager at two in the morning and then sleeping even later than normal, which was not good.  At least it was a comedic episode, rather than some heavy emotional drama or political parable.  Then I feel asleep in the afternoon today from the heat.

I think the combination of heat, continued lockdown and shielding Mum, and finishing the first draft of my novel have left a bit of a “now what?” feeling.  I’m not depressed exactly, just exhausted, but it’s hard to get motivated to do anything.  I do think having a short break from writing is a good idea, but I think deep down I really want to get back to it.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think more of a break would be helpful.  I’m still reading books about writing and wondering if they are helpful of counter-productive.  It’s hard to tell.

***

I’m struggling with Torah study from lack of engagement.  I’m not studying anything that really excites me at the moment.  My Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) study currently is Mishlei (Proverbs), which I’m struggling with.  I think it’s the “wisdom literature” outlook that good is always rewarded and evil always punished in this world, which I find simplistic.  “Wisdom literature” was a genre in many countries in the Ancient Near East, not just Israel and Judea, associated with the scribes at royal court.  It aimed to set out advice for living a good life, based on following the dictates of wisdom rather than other impulses.  It tends towards pithy aphorisms which makes Mishlei one of the more quotable books of Tanakh, but also feels like it’s making sweeping statements.  I think Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is something of a critique of this outlook.  Kohelet is in many ways structured like wisdom literature, but is very conscious that the righteous are often not rewarded in this world.  (I have a whole theory of why some books of the Bible assume that reward and punishment occurs in a very obvious and simplistic sense and others take a different, more complex, view that I can share if anyone’s interested.)

To be honest, I find studying Tanakh challenging at times in general, although I do at times find it very rewarding too.  There’s such a weight of expectation on “The Bible” to be life-changing and inspirational that it can be hard to engage with it.  I don’t really understand how Protestants in particular seem to be able to “converse” with the Bible in a very personal way, although I used to be able to do that more than I can now.  I find the Koren Maggid Tanakh series of books really helpful at explaining the historical background and literary style of the books of Tanakh, but it’s an ongoing series and they haven’t published volumes on all the books of Tanakh yet – plus the Koren books focus on the straightforward contextual meaning of the text, which isn’t always the inspirational side – the sense of “Why did someone find this meaningful enough to canonise it?”

The weight of history on Tanakh can be off-putting too, like watching a classic film like Citizen Kane for the first time and not knowing if you like it or merely think you should like it.  Citizen Kane is a good example, as nowadays it doesn’t look so impressive because so many of its startling innovations have become cinematic standards.  Similarly, a lot of what Western civilisation took from biblical ethics is so ingrained that we assume that all societies believe the same thing and don’t realise how revolutionary Tanakh was and only notice where the biblical ethic does not match modern standards.

(Sorry, that was a big tangent.  I guess that was autistic special interest mode.)

Likewise the Mishnah I’m studying, Seder Zeraim, Masechet Terumot, agricultural laws, is rather dry and separate from my life.

Because of this feeling of disconnection I just ordered Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, both because I want to read more Levinas (observant Jewish Existentialist philosopher) and because I want to study some Talmud without moving on from my weekly Talmud class, which is on hold during lockdown.  I also ordered Rav Kook’s Lights of Penitence because I also want to read more Rav Kook and it’s appropriate as we move towards Elul and Tishrei, the time of the year focused on introspection and repentance.  Hopefully that will give me more variety in my Torah study and something more inspirational and meaningful to my everyday life.  Still, I am conscious that I just spent nearly £50 on books.  Buying too many books (more than I can read, at any rate) is not the worst vice, but I do tend to assume that all my problems can be solved by buying more books, which is not necessarily the case here (or elsewhere).

***

Achievements: I posted on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a while, which was good (posting something I mostly wrote a few days ago, but hadn’t posted).  Also, despite what I wrote above about Torah study, I did manage about fifty minutes of Torah study again today.  I also cooked dinner (Hungarian pepper ragout with rice, which I had only cooked once before; this time I topped it with a fried egg, which is not healthy, but tasted good).

I’m not sure what the opposite of “achievements” is, but in terms of negative things, I got a rejection from a job I applied for some time ago and I think I messed up a social interaction online with someone I particularly didn’t want to upset (not that there are people I do want to upset, but you know what I mean).  I also wanted to go for a walk at dusk as I did yesterday, but it started raining.  By the time I realised it had stopped, I was too tired and it was too late.  It looks like thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, which will limit my ability to go out.

***

When my therapist suggested limiting my internet time, she said not to see it as another “Should,” but just an experiment.  She was worried that if I couldn’t stick to it, I would beat myself up.  I haven’t completely stuck to it, but I haven’t beaten myself up either.  I am pleased to be online less and seem to be happier, although I do worry a bit about not being well-informed of the news.  I am procrastinating less, although I’m not sure where the gained time is going.  Certainly the whole experiment has made me more mindful of when I go online or check my emails; I don’t do that casually any more, without thinking, but do it consciously and deliberately even if I’m doing it outside the approved times.

***

A thought I had last night: I need to learn to trust myself and to trust God.

I want to feel that I’ve achieved something with my life, that I’ve fulfilled my mission, or at least that I am on course to fulfil it.  I don’t think a person’s mission is necessarily tied up completely with his or her career or family responsibilities, but I do feel that I have achieved very little that is worthwhile in my life.  This is why I find it so hard to trust myself or love myself, because I feel unworthy because I am not doing what I was put here to do.

On the other hand, I find it hard to trust God because I want to know that I will have a successful, loving marriage at some point, or at least to know that I can cope with being alone (without my parents, which will happen one day).  I find it hard to trust that God will arrange for me to get married, or that He will give me the tools I need to cope with being single forever.  Or perhaps I feel that He will give me the tools, but I won’t use them, in which case it’s about trusting myself again.

I’m not sure how I find this trust.  I certainly don’t know how to learn to accept being single forever.  Sometimes I feel I could explode from loneliness and sexual frustration.

***

I posted this comment on Ashley’s blog post about self-stigma today and thought I would share here:

I think I have a lot of self-stigma, partly about my depression and social anxiety, but also about autism, paradoxically, often combined with “Maybe I’m not really on the autism spectrum and I’m just a freak” thoughts.

I suppose that, like a lot of people on the spectrum, well-meaning adults socialised me to think that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to do or think the things I wanted to think. That I shouldn’t stim and I should force myself to talk to people because “it will get easier if I try” among other things. Maybe they were right about some of these things, but I guess the cumulative effect is to make me doubt myself and to feel that there is a “normal type of person” and that my behaviour as a depressed autistic person is abnormal and that this is wrong in itself and responsible for many of my issues, such as unemployment, singledom and loneliness. If only I could stop being a “freak” (one of my favourite terms for myself, you may have noticed) and become “normal,” all my problems would be solved.

Of course, none of the authority figures in my life had any knowledge of high functioning autism when I was a child; the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (as it was called) didn’t even get into the DSM [psychiatric diagnostic manual] until I was eleven and wasn’t well-known for many years after that.

Even now I make more eye contact than many people on the spectrum even though my natural preference, like many autistic people, is to avoid eye contact. This is because I was told to make eye contact as a child and I internalised that message (not knowing about autism at that age) so I very consciously force myself to make eye contact, and usually quietly freak out in my head about making too much eye contact, or too little, or the wrong type; if I feel I’m not making enough eye contact, or too much, I blame myself rather than accept it.

It’s Too Darn Hot

I slept better last night than Friday night, but it’s still far too hot for me to feel comfortable.  I feel like I could give in to negative thoughts if I let myself, so I’m trying to stay in the present and not in my head.

It’s been hard to do anything today, the whole house is a big sauna.  I’m sweltering.  I never worked out if I’m extra-sensitive to heat as an autistic sensory sensitivity thing, or if I just don’t like it when it’s very hot.  I tried to write a job application, but I struggled to concentrate, because of the heat.  To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m as proactive and confident as they want.  Apparently I should have “The confidence to challenge and persuade where appropriate” – yikes!

After an hour and a half of trying to fill in the application and not getting too far, I gave up for the day.  It’s too hot.

***

Other achievements today: nearly an hour of Torah study.  I saw my sister and brother-in-law (with social distancing) for a bit when they came in their new car, although I went off to my room after a while as the conversation had become completely about cars and I don’t drive.  I very hurriedly wrote a Doctor Who review for my other blog (I can sometimes write these quickly when I have something to say although I haven’t posted it yet).  It was too hot to walk, let alone run, so no exercise.

I watched a film with my parents.  It was good to do something different together.

I do feel I didn’t do everything I wanted to do today, but that’s partly because of the heat, partly because of something that came up and took up a lot of time.  I’m staying up late now, although it’s not particularly cool, just because I don’t feel tired and I want to catch up on some of the things I missed during the day.  There doesn’t seem much point in going to bed yet, as I doubt I’ll sleep in this heat.

***

I was online more than I should have been according to my new “only go online twice a day” rule.  I thought I had good reason to bend the rules, but arguably it was just anxiety on my part.

Also related to anxiety, I think I messed up another social interaction, perhaps with negative consequences.  Sometimes the world in my head and objective reality don’t correspond very closely and it’s difficult to get out of my head and into the real world.

***

I feel a bit bad that when I posted here the letter I wrote to vent my feelings about the frum (religious Jewish) community, I didn’t make it clear that my concerns about racism, sexism etc. where about feelings I’ve found in parts of the community, not everywhere in it.  I don’t want to slander the whole community.  But there are parts I struggle to accept.

***

I am very bad at checking the spam folder on WordPress.  From the few times I’ve looked at it in the past, it seemed it generally did not deleted anything it shouldn’t.  I think once I found a comment that had gone in there by mistake.  However, I just had a look and found a couple of legitimate comments from earlier in the week that it had marked as spam.  Now I’m thinking I need to check more regularly, and I wonder if I’ve missed comments completely in the past.  Apologies to anyone whose comment got eaten, I will try to check more regularly in the future.

Someone to Watch Over Me

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

Porcupines in Winter

Oh dear, this is going to be one of those posts again, the very despairing and depressed type.  Sorry.  You don’t have to read it.

I thought I’d used the title of this post before, but apparently not.  The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote about porcupines that want to huddle together for warmth in winter, but if they do, they hurt each other with their spines.  This is how I feel: I want to draw closer to others, yet I find they “hurt” me and I apparently hurt them, not always for obvious reasons.

I woke up feeling very depressed and exhausted today; also rather lonely and “touch hungry.”  I feel a lot that I want to love and be loved.  I also feel a lot that I want to have sex, particularly when depressed.  Neither of these statements are hugely socially acceptable (in Western society, let alone Orthodox Jewish society), but the second is absolutely unacceptable.  I find it hard to live with knowing that I feel like that without being able to express it.  It is hard to know what to do with it for decades on end.

It was hard to get going today.  I just wanted to stay in bed.  Actually, I didn’t really want to be anywhere, but bed was easier than anywhere else.  I’m feeling a lot of self-loathing today and I don’t know why.  I just seem so socially inept.  I also seem pretty useless at living a good or productive life (not the same thing, I know), by either Western or Jewish standards.  It was hard to put on tallit and tefillin and daven (pray).  This is a struggle every morning, yet I do, usually rather late, and in the winter, when the days are short, I often miss Shacharit (Morning Prayers) entirely and have to skip straight to Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), but I do put on tallit and tefillin and daven, after breakfast, but before engaging with the day, yet I never give myself credit for it, I just beat myself up for doing it late.  I wish I could give myself credit for it.

I felt really depressed and exhausted even after lunch, when my mood usually peaks.  I wanted to cry, but didn’t feel able to do so.  I just wanted to curl up and hibernate.  I did very nearly go and do that; at any rate I went and lay on the bed.  I had told myself to do chores today rather than write my novel, but apparently the motivation I had to write the novel, inconsistent as it can be, can’t be transferred to chores.

The main chore opening a new ISA (tax-free savings account).  Dad is always getting me to open new bank accounts and ISAs because I will get more interest in the new one than my old one.  I do it because I am weak and always do what other people tell me to do, especially my parents.  I think the amount of interest I get on the amount of money I have to save is minimal, and probably not worth the hassle.  Also, having so many accounts confuses someone who is increasingly bad with numbers (unbelievably, I got an A* at GCSE maths.  I’ve got no idea how I did that.  I think I’ve become rusty in the intervening twenty years.  Being vague about money is one of the things E. did not like about me).  I can’t work out how to transfer money into this account and I think I may have messed something up.  I think I need to open a savings account with the same building society and then pay money from there into the ISA, but it’s a lot of hassle for what amounts to a relatively small amount interest over two years, which my Dad would probably then advise me to reinvest elsewhere anyway.

And, yes, I know having too many bank accounts is a first world problem, and being able to write off the small amount of interest is a sign of privilege (although the privilege in this case is more that I have practically zero expenditure because I have no life than that I have lots of money).  I’m not even sure what this money is being saved for; notionally to pay a deposit on a house or flat, I suppose, but it seems less and less likely that I’m ever going to be in a fit state to do that.  I can’t drive and am scared of learning, so it’s not going on a car, and I don’t really go on holiday, so it’s not going on that.  I live with my parents, so it’s not going on rent or white goods.  There isn’t much else to spend on it.

So that wasted an hour or two.  Then I wasted more time by going to the post office, which was shut despite saying online that it would be.  I also went to the pharmacist, which didn’t have what I was looking for.  At least I went for a walk.

I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too depressed to concentrate and only managed ten or fifteen minutes.

My main achievement for the day, aside from the walk, was cooking dinner, which I had already decided macaroni cheese, fortunately, as it is very quick and easy to cook.  I also phoned the mental health clinic to check that the appointment I had booked with the psychiatrist for this coming Thursday (from before lockdown) has been cancelled.  I feel I should have had some kind of official cancellation letter, but don’t think I have.  There was no answer when I phoned, so I’m guessing they haven’t reopened for non-emergency mental health yet.

I ended up just watching Doctor Who this evening in lieu of doing anything productive, because I just felt too depressed.  I ended up watching new series episodes for some reason (Asylum of the Daleks and The Name of the Doctor), even though I don’t generally like them as much as the original series.

***

I get a sort of pressure in my skull when I try to force myself to concentrate on things when I’m too exhausted and depressed.  I’ve never seen that listed as a depression symptom, but I get it quite a bit.  Also, when I get agitated, I start thinking as much in images than words, which I think is an autism symptom, but it would usually be constant for someone rather than only during times of agitation.

***

I think, far from being nearly over E., I’m only just beginning to mourn the loss of the relationship.  In Heaven Sent (perhaps the definitive Doctor Who episode), the Doctor reflects that the day someone dies isn’t the hardest day – that day you’re busy.  The difficult days are all the subsequent days when they’re still dead.  I think the fact that the relationship is still dead is hitting me.  I still think I did the right thing to end it, not least because I think E. would have ended it soon if I hadn’t, but still…  I miss her.  Or do I just miss having someone to talk to?  Can you even have “someone to talk to” in the abstract?

***

Sometimes I feel I could die or go mad from how “wrong” my life feels, but I don’t know how to change it, or if the changes I want are even possible (certainly being in a relationship is not possible now, and maybe not ever).  I just want to scream.  And I struggle to let other people understand how wrong my life seems to be, which makes me wonder if it’s just catastrophising, yet their suggestions for change all seem impossible and unworkable.

I just feel sad and lonely right now.  I’m hiding it from my parents again, or trying to (they can usually tell).  I’m not sure why I can’t tell them.  I’m just struggling to cope today.  I don’t feel tired, but I might go to bed because I’m too depressed to read (and reading The Jewish Review of Books today just makes me feel that should have been a journalist, essayist, novelist, academic… something shaping the Jewish experience and the world of ideas).  It’s either that or sit up late watching DVDs.  I feel that I hate myself, my life, my blog… except “hate” is too strong a word for what I feel.  I’m too depressed to feel hate today.

Well, at least today’s post is shorter than yesterday’s.

“Just pretend I’m Sherlock Holmes”

Warning: this is a mammoth post.  I don’t think I’ve written a blog post at this length for quite a while.  Don’t say you weren’t warned…

I spoke too soon last night when I said I didn’t get an exercise migraine.  Just when I was about to get ready for bed, about three hours after running, I suddenly got hit by a migraine.  Fortunately it was responsive to solpadeine and a “kool ‘n’ soothe” gel strip, but it did result in my going to bed about an hour later than I would have otherwise done, as I stayed up watching Fawlty Towers (The Kippers and the Corpse) while I waited for the medication to help (if I lie down with a migraine, it gets worse).

I slept late as usual.  I do wish I didn’t sleep for so long.  It would be nice to have some morning again.  Nevertheless, on some level that amount of sleep seems to be what I need to do to recover from all the activity I crowd into the afternoons and evenings.  Being nocturnal isn’t such a bad thing when I’m unemployed (although Jewish law assumes that men get up very early in the morning for morning prayers, which have to be said early), but it would be better if I slept for seven or eight hours a night instead of nine or ten, sometimes more.  I guess there’s not much point complaining when I’ve spent fifteen years trying to shift this pattern with no success, except when I have some external event in the morning like work or a psychiatrist appointment.

I had an anxiety dream last night about having to lead a shul (synagogue) service and not feeling able to do so.  Maybe that’s a reaction to shuls reopening, even though I’m not going yet because we’re shielding Mum.

***

Yesterday was the start of what looks set to be a week of not working on my novel so I can catch up with some real world stuff that needs doing.  I feel a bit stifled just at the thought of not writing for a week, which I guess is good (that I want to write so much).

Unfortunately, after lunch, when I tried to get down to things, I felt more tired and depressed than in the morning, which is unusual.  Usually I feel better after lunch.  I guess I didn’t really want to get down to chores, plus it was hard to work out what I could reasonably get done before therapy at 4pm.

***

I tried to set up an Amazon seller account so I could buy some adverts for my self-published Doctor Who non-fiction book.  However, it turns out it costs $40 a month!  I thought payment was per ad click, but there’s a subscription to pay first just to have a seller account.  I don’t have that kind of money at the moment.  I’d need to sell nearly two thousand copies a year just to break even and I doubt I could manage that.  So that plan is going on the back-burner now, unless it turns out I’ve misunderstood how it works, which is possible.

I’m not terribly good at marketing.  My marketing plan basically now consists of sending a free copy of the book to Doctor Who Magazine and hoping they review it, or at least put a mention in the merchandise news section.  I spent some time today writing a covering letter for that.  I hope to post the copy tomorrow.

***

I had Skype therapy today.  The connection was interrupted twice and the therapist let it run over by five minutes to make up for it, which was good of her.

I went for a walk for half an hour after therapy.  I ended up feeling like I’m in the wrong time.  I guess it’s not uncommon for people from conservative religious groups (e.g. me) to feel out of sync with the wider world.  Usually they fit in their own community, though.  I feel I don’t fit anywhere.  I feel like “the traveller from beyond time” (Doctor Who: The Savages).  Yesterday I was thinking what historical society I would want to live in.  My Mum always says she wants to live in the 1920s, but only if she was rich, so she could be a Flapper.  I thought I’d like to be an eccentric Victorian gentleman scholar of independent means.  Then I realised I basically just wanted to be Sherlock Holmes (as well as solving crimes, Holmes wrote a number of monographs on criminology, not to mention other, unrelated, subjects).

It’s not just that I have different ethics, tastes and mores from other people.  Sometimes I feel a bit as if I’m trying to think differently to other people.  It feels like most people think in three dimensions, and I want to think in four, but I can’t do it because I’m not a mathematician or physicist.  Not literally a mathematician, but the type of person who could think differently to most people.  That I want to be a great visionary, but haven’t got the ability to think anything new, just an inability to think what everyone else thinks.

A better analogy might be that I feel like I’m on a different frequency to other people a lot of the time, primarily because of autism.  Other people can’t quite “get” me, and I can’t get them.

After dinner I think my thoughts went somewhat downhill.  I tried to do some Torah study, but only managed fifteen minutes before feeling overwhelmed by depression and exhaustion.

***

My Dad spoke to me again about working in a local primary school as a teaching assistant.  I do not think that this is a good idea at all, but my parents are convinced that I am good with children.  I have not seen any real evidence of this, but they are convinced.  Nor do I think working in a primary school is a particularly good idea from an autistic point of view.  I think Dad was annoyed I was so dismissive.  He said it is local (which is undoubtedly true) and that I could do with the money (also true) and that it would give me something to do.  The latter is technically true as well, but I would still need to job hunt to get a library job, which would be a better fit, plus I’m already working on a novel and see myself as having more chance of a career as a writer than as a teacher/TA, not that I see myself as having much of a chance of getting any sort of career.  Taking a full-time TA job would basically put my novel-writing on indefinite hold and even a part-time job would cause some disruption.

***

I thought I was over E.  I guess I spoke too soon about that too.  I keep thinking about what happened.  I don’t really think it could have worked out between us, but I have thoughts and nebulous feelings about her at times.  It’s mostly feelings that I can’t really pin down and analyse.  I guess wishing things could have worked out.  Some worry about how she is coping without me and hoping she is OK.  Wishing I had someone who cared for me and could see past all my issues.  Someone I could care for.

I hate the fact that I always have crushes when I’m not in a relationship (which is the vast majority of the time).  They’re always painful and make me act stupidly and they never lead to anything.  I wish I could just turn my libido off.  I’m blatantly never going to get married, so it’s kind of pointless.  I should just focus on my writing, and Jewish stuff (except getting married is a Jewish thing, so there’s an obvious problem right there).

I have been thinking about a story from the Talmud (Menachot 44a) today.  I have blogged about it before, but I’m going to blog about it again, because I think it’s a good story.  I don’t know if it really happened; it doesn’t really matter.  The story is about a young Jewish yeshiva (seminary) student who went illicitly to visit a prostitute in a distant land.  As he undressed, he saw his tzitzit, the fringes on a four-cornered garment that Jewish men wear, and couldn’t go through with the act.  He sat there naked and the woman joined him, asking what flaw he saw in her.  He said that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but that his tzitzit seemed like four witnesses testifying that God punishes sin and rewards virtue and he could not go through with the sin of sleeping with her.  The woman asked the man to write down his name, the name of his city, the name of his Torah teacher and the yeshiva where he studied.  This the man did.  Then he left.  Meanwhile the woman sold her property, gave a third to the government and a third to the poor and uses the remainder to travel to the man’s city, where she asked his rabbi to convert her.  He was sceptical, thinking she wants to convert simply to get married to a Jewish man, but when he sees the list of names he seems to intuit the story and that she had a meaningful connection and oversees her conversion and she married the man who came to her.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits has a whole long analysis of the story in his essay A Jewish Sexual Ethics (reprinted in Essential Essays on Judaism ed. David Hazony).  He sees the moment of contact, when the yeshiva student and the prostitute sit together, and he gives her all the names in his life, symbolising his sense of self and personal history, as being an I-Thou moment (according to Martin Buber’s philosophy, which we covered a bit in the recent Jewish philosophy shiur (religious class) I went to).  “It is redemption from impersonality” says Rabbi Berkovits.

This is what I want from life, really, certainly from a relationship.  To be redeemed from impersonality.  To really connect with someone.  I thought I had that, but obviously I didn’t.  The online world is particularly bad for tricking you into thinking that you are closer to someone than you really are, and it’s probably no surprise that my first relationship was formed via a dating website and involved a lot of emailing and texting back and forth even after we moved off JDate and my second one was formed via my blog and involved a lot more emailing and texting, not least from being long-distance.  This may be part of the reason they failed.  Maybe we both had a false image of each other.  I don’t know.  If I dated again, I don’t know what method I would use to meet someone (dating site, dating app, professional shadchan (matchmaker), hope for a date arranged by friends or family, etc.).  They all seem pretty problematic in different ways.  I certainly wouldn’t try speed dating, which just terrifies me (little known fact: speed dating was invented by an Orthodox rabbi.  It is very much how frum people date: short, to the point, a lot of information passed very quickly to see if you’re compatible, then move on to the next one).

We actually spoke about this in therapy today.  Not about speed dating, about wanting connection, and missing that.  I get on OK with my parents, but we don’t have the close rapport that my Dad had with his Dad and my Mum had with her Mum.  We don’t always receive each other’s frequencies.  I don’t really have close friends I can talk to any more.  I fell out with them, or they drifted away.  I’m avoiding E. at the moment and don’t know if we can continue as platonic friends.  The friends I do have don’t live locally either, which is problematic at the moment.

My parents have lots of local friends, and during lockdown they’ve been going round to each others’ houses on Shabbat and having socially distanced conversations on the driveways.  I can’t really do that easily; even my local friends live quite a way away, but I would be too scared to just turn up on someone’s doorstep unannounced.  What if they didn’t want to see me?  What if I ran out of conversation?  I guess this is social anxiety.

We spoke about this today in therapy too, the way I drifted away from friends in my teens when socialising became less about playing a game together with clear rules as per childhood and more about “chilling.”  I never got the hang of that, or ever felt confident inviting myself to other people’s parties the way my peers did.  It didn’t help that I was terrified of drink, drugs, tobacco and sex and most of my peers were into at least one of those.  To be honest, forget cannabis or booze, I was terrified of people talking to me, or my crush talking to me, although I wanted that to happen… I had a crush on one girl during the whole two years of the sixth form (equivalent to high school).  Sometimes I tried awkwardly try to talk to her, but mostly I just stood around near her and hoped she would say something to me.  Nowadays I think she didn’t like me much and found me irritating, but was too polite to say so, especially as her best friend was dating one of my close friends.

I feel the touch hunger today too.  I guess I could ask my parents for a hug, but somehow I feel I can’t, and it’s not quite the same anyway.  It would be good to be in a relationship where my physical and emotional needs are both met, but that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.  I’ll be thirty-seven this time next week.  Somehow I feel that I could easily turn forty and still be a virgin.  I can’t see my life changing quickly, except possibly for the worse.  I think it could easily be at least five years before I’ve established myself as a writer and only once I have a career do I feel that I can even think of dating again.

Ugh, I’m catastrophising again.

I wrote a huge post, but I still feel that I haven’t really expressed what I feel.  It’s hard to describe loneliness, even though I’ve experienced it for so much of my life.  I probably do live inside my head too much.

I’m about to eat ice cream, because I feel I need it, and maybe impulse buy/retail therapy buy some Doctor Who DVDs, although I probably shouldn’t, because I just feel rotten today.  I hope this is just the “mental hangover” from “peopling” yesterday and not anything more serious.

Barbecue and Torah Study as a Process

My parents and I went to a barbecue at my sister and brother-in-law’s house.  I was slightly apprehensive that either my religious OCD would come into play regarding the kosher standard of the food, or that I would feel left out of the conversation and be bored.  In the event, I had a good time.  There was lots of food, and there was vegetarian for me (I only eat meat and fish on Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals)).  I was mostly engaged in the conversation, which is good, because sometimes I feel a complete outsider.  I’m not sure if that’s autistic communication issues or just that the conversation is often career and house stuff that I can’t relate to, sadly.  I did start feeling “peopled out” after a few hours and struggled through the last hour we were there, then started suggesting maybe we should leave as it was getting late.  I guess I always get anxious when I don’t have a clear exit strategy.  It was good, but I came away feeling pretty exhausted and glad that I hadn’t really planned to do much today other than barbecue, Torah study and run.

I mostly did not get the usual “My younger sister is married and owns a house, when am I going to get married and buy a house?” thoughts, but I did briefly have some “What woman would be messed up enough to date me?” thoughts on the way home.

I also managed an hour of Torah study and a run.  The run started badly and I got out of breath easily, plus at one point I developed a pain in my knee and thought I was going to have to stop, but the second half was a lot better.  I doubt the run burnt off all the calories from the salt and pepper kettle chips I ate at the barbecue…  Still, I haven’t got an exercise migraine (although they can start hours later), which is good.

***

I had two positive emails in response to my devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, which was good.

***

I had a thought today that I’m still mulling over; it hasn’t led to a change in attitude yet.  Maybe I should think of Torah study as process rather than an action.  The emphasis is supposed to be on studying (“learning” in Yeshivish, the argot of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world) rather than on content studied.  In other words, the goal is to spend as much time as possible studying, not to master so many volumes of Talmud, albeit that more recently the idea of Daf Yomi (studying one folio a day to complete the Talmud in seven and a half years) has gained traction.  Still, that’s not how it is taught in yeshivot (seminaries), where they focus on only two of the six orders of the Talmud (the Talmud is divided topically into six divisions, known as “orders” and subdivided into volumes) and not by any means the most relevant.  They focus on marriage law and tort law, because these are considered the most difficult volumes, which sharpen the intellect most.  A great Torah scholar is known as a talmid chacham which means literally a “wise student” emphasising that the idea is to study, not to know.

Of course, this may not help, as I don’t study Torah that much as a percentage of my day, even if it is a mainstay of my life.

***

That was it, really.  I didn’t do very much today.  It’s actually hard to say that, because I felt I should have done more, particularly as yesterday was Shabbat (the Sabbath) so I didn’t do anything and I didn’t do much on Friday either.  Mood was quite good most of the time, although there was some stuff lurking underneath the surface.  I guess it was a good day, although it’s strangely hard to say that too.

Flow, Masks and News Media

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

Autism and Depression in the Workplace and More on Meaning

I dreamt about doing my A-Levels (equivalent of High School) and struggling with self-organisation because of my high functioning autism.  In reality, I was OK academically/organisationally at A-Level.  It was socially where I was beginning to struggle, as I couldn’t cope with more complex forms of adolescent friendship compared with childhood friendship, or with the greater levels of freedom I was being given.  Drink, drugs and sex scared me a lot; maybe it’s appropriate that they did, but they didn’t seem to scare my peers.  In reality, it was only when I got to the world of work, much delayed by depression, that my autistic issues became really noticeable.  I woke up with 17 Again by Eurythmics in my head (I sincerely hope I am never seventeen again).  I wanted to go back to sleep, as I had only slept for seven hours (I generally sleep much more because of depression), but it was too hot, so I got up.

I sleep badly when it’s hot anyway, partly from the heat, partly perhaps because I usually wrap myself up in a duvet, one of my more autistic traits, and I can’t do that when it’s too hot.  I’ve wrapped myself up in my duvet like a cocoon since I was a child.  I suppose it makes me feel secure.  When I was a child, I had an idea that if burglars broke into the house and stabbed me, the duvet would protect me.  I’m not sure if I really believed this, nor do I know if I really thought I was living in a production of Richard III and was likely to be stabbed by housebreakers.  I do feel more secure wrapped in my duvet though.  They sell weighted duvets now for people on the spectrum.  I’ve thought about getting one.

***

I got a weird response from the place I applied for a job the other day.  They said they have had a lot of responses; also that the library is small, but that they will get back to me.  I think they were saying they don’t want a trained librarian, just someone who will do admin for books, but it seemed an odd way of saying it.  Am I hoping I get the job or not?  I don’t know.  It would be good to have some income and structure, and the esteem that comes from work, in other people’s eyes if not my own.  On the other hand, I like having time to write when I’m most productive (afternoon/early evening) and working five afternoons a week was not my preferred part-time structure.  I would prefer two or three full days a week, giving me time to recover from work days as well as time to write on non-work days.

***

I got a letter saying my benefits have gone up as they now don’t think I’m able to work at the moment (although I understand I’m still allowed to look for low-paying part-time work).  Previously the benefits were lower because I was expected to be looking for work.  I’m not complaining, but I’m not sure why they’ve suddenly made this change, which makes me worry it’s a mistake and I will have to pay the money back, so I’m scared to spend any of it.  It’s not like the Department of Work and Pensions don’t have form with that sort of thing.  I would be generally suspicious of any government body giving away free money, to be honest.

***

I watched Rabbi Rafi Zarum of the London School of Jewish Studies interview Rabbi Yehoshua Engelman who is a rabbi who became a psychotherapist.  They spoke about meaning and the danger of religion making people do things because they have to do it rather than because it’s an authentic expression of what they want to do.  Rabbi Engelman reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had about framing doing religious things that I don’t really want to do as, “I’m doing it because I’m in a relationship with God” rather than “I’m doing it because God said so,” which is perhaps a subtle difference, but an important one.  It’s about prioritising the aspects of Judaism that I have chosen to be present in, on some level, (having a relationship with God) over the dry ritualistic aspects (doing as I’m told).  Even if the outcome is the same, the mindset is very different.  Just as I do things that I think are pointless or counterproductive sometimes because my parents want me to do them and I value keeping the relationship more than I value my freedom not to do that thing, so I do things that God wants me to do for the sake of my relationship with Him rather than because I worry that I will “get zapped” (as they would say in my shiur (religious class)).

***

A paragraph from my novel sums up how I felt struggling with depression and high functioning autism in the workplace:

I have always worked hard and achieved despite my troubles.  Now there is no correlation between effort and achievement; I do my best, but it is not good enough, I can not function as I am supposed to do, there are problems I can not solve without requesting help.

I still feel like this sometimes.  I am sure it would be worse if I was in work rather than job hunting.  It felt like that at times in all the jobs I have had, except perhaps the first one, but some were particularly bad.

Writing this chapter is probably what triggered the autism dream last night.

***

Achievements today: two hours on my novel, almost exactly 1,000 words.  I could have done a little more, but it’s so hot, and I’m tired from Shabbat chores and need a passive TV break before Shabbat.

The Return of the Job Applications

Work (positive): my Mum came into my room excited today just when she was about to go to chemo.  I was still in bed and had barely woken up.  “There’s a perfect job for you on [Jewish mailing list]!”  Dad said the same thing later on.  When I eventually got up and looked… it is potentially a very good job for me.  I don’t know about “perfect” (I’m not sure that anything’s perfect), but it would hopefully be a long-term job, within my skill set and maybe within my experience too.  It’s part-time and maybe would even give some writing time, although I’m not sure about that (I would probably have to crack getting up early if I wanted writing time – I don’t want to give up on writing fiction, so I might have to think laterally to find some time, as I do need a day job).  It would also be completely OK with Jewish holidays and early leaving on winter Fridays because it’s at a Jewish institution.  I don’t want to say too much about it, though, because it’s early days and because there aren’t so many institutions like this around and I don’t want to give too much away online.  I also think the job was advertised before, and I didn’t even get to interview stage, so I’m not getting my hopes up at this stage.

There are some scary aspects – I think all work is scary for me, on some level, because of social anxiety and low self-esteem (I don’t think I can do anything right) and because a job is something new and autism, even high functioning autism, does not like new things – but hopefully it would be manageable.  I have failed to get similar jobs in this sector (or sub-sector of the library sector) before though; I’m not hugely experienced in this area.  So, I’m not as excited as my parents were, but it is potentially interesting.

I psyched myself up to phone and ask for an application form as I thought I need to challenge my social anxiety more, especially as I have hardly done anything social for months, but there was no answer when I phoned.  I emailed for an application form instead.

***

Work (negative): I got feedback on my cataloguing test from the other week.  It wasn’t great.  Some of it was my confusion over how they wanted it done, but some of it is that I have got rusty over the years when I haven’t been consistently cataloguing.  Even when I have been cataloguing, the library standards I’ve been using have perhaps been less stringent than would be necessary for a pure cataloguing job.  I feel guilty about that.  This dented my confidence a bit for the other job application, even though that would probably not involve so much cataloguing and especially not up to the standards required for the cataloguing test job.  It doesn’t take much to reinforce my feelings about being an inadequate librarian, and an inadequate everything else.  If I hadn’t been depressed, and had finished my MA in a year and gone straight to a cataloguing job… but there’s really no point in playing those games.

It’s upsetting though.  Sometimes it feels like my low self-esteem is eminently justified: I can’t hold down a job permanently, or work full-time, or maintain a relationship properly, or make friends easily, or do other things like drive a car.  I know I need to focus on the positives, the things I can do, but sometimes there just seem so many negatives.

***

I still feel lonely.  I find myself endlessly checking emails, blog comments, and my blog reader, hoping for some spark of communication.  Anything to feel less alone.  The problem is that true I-Thou moments of connection are rare and, as I learnt at my religion/philosophy shiur (class) on Monday, impossible to manufacture.  You must be open to them (which often I am not) and, I suppose, lucky (which I also am not).  Perhaps also skilled at communication (again, I’m not – you may be noticing a pattern here).  It probably doesn’t help that I keep so many of my opinions to myself, on religion, politics, culture and life in general, because I’m so scared of rejection.

***

Achievements today: I tried to phone about the job and emailed instead when no one answered the phone.  That took longer than I would have expected.  I also brought in the weekly food delivery and put it all away; I do that most weeks, but I only realised today it takes about fifteen minutes, rather more than I would have thought, enough to qualify as a proper weekly chore, at least from the point of view of doing it with lowered depressive energy levels.  It would certainly take time and energy away from other things.

I spent an hour and forty minutes writing my novel, managing about 800 words, which is OK, but not great.  I also did some planning for the next bit, which was easier than I expected.  One of the minor characters is trying to force herself into the story more.  I want her to be in it more, as she’s more fun than all my other characters (Doctor Who fans: think Amelia Ducat or Professor Rumford), but I’m not sure I can justify it from a narrative point of view.

I spent about fifteen minutes working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which I am not entirely happy with, but I am running out of time to work on it.  I also had my other shiur (religious class) for an hour and a half, which I’m still struggling with.  On the one hand, I know a lot already and am not being stretched so much.  On the other hand, I’m too socially anxious to really participate, especially as being on Zoom is even harder than being in a class in person.  Not only am I reluctant to answer questions, I won’t even read out (in English, let alone Hebrew), which is pure social anxiety.

***

It is hard to function when it is so hot.  I’ve had my fan going all afternoon with my windows shut all day (except for the small air vents) to see if it helps shutting out the hot air, but I’m not sure it has done much except make it stuffy.  I went for a walk after shiur, when it was late and cool, which was refreshing, but I came back to my room which is so hot.

***

Stuff I’ve been beating myself up about today: thoughts and feelings connected with loneliness that are probably normal and not to be ashamed of, but I feel ashamed of them anyway.  Other thoughts that are probably also normal, but I feel ashamed of them too, as if they were nasty and offensive.  I try to remember, as someone said in a therapy group I was in, “I’m not responsible for my first thought, but I am responsible for my second one” which I take to mean that sometimes “bad” (hateful, angry, aggressive, rude, lustful, spiteful, etc.) thoughts come into my head, but that’s not my fault if I don’t pursue them.

I also wrote a blog comment late last night that probably came out wrong.  I was trying to say that I find God as written literally in Tanakh to be often strict and difficult to see as moral, whereas Jews read Tanakh in the light of Talmud and Midrash which give the impression of a kinder, forgiving God, which is then read back into Tanakh based on clues in the text that point towards the kinder God (I think there is an idea that the Written Torah (Tanakh) comes from God’s attribute of justice while the Oral Torah (everything else, but especially Talmud) comes from His attribute of kindness, hence the difference).  I don’t think I expressed that well.  I communicate better in writing than in any other medium, but sometimes I feel that I just can’t communicate well at all.

Against a Sea of Troubles

I’m still feeling pretty bad, very depressed and anxious.  I feel like my life has unravelled and I don’t know what to do next.  I feel like I’ve lost so many people who mattered to me in the last year or two, and a lot of it has been my fault, albeit that I doubt I could have known it beforehand.  I suspect autistic difficulties reading people and situations is part of the problem, or maybe that’s just an excuse.  It doesn’t help that because there are so few people in my life, they take on disproportionate importance.  I don’t think that people whose blogs I read or who comment on my blog should really matter that much to me, but they do, because I have so few friends.  I feel withdrawn.  I want to hide in my room from the world.

I forced myself to do some things today: fifty minutes or so working on the novel (it felt like crawling over broken glass, but I did get a bit done), just over an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, a thirty-five minute run.  I feel a little bit proud of getting the devar Torah written while I felt so bad, although it was mainly based on one book rather than several as I usually like to do.

I feel like I have tried everything you’re “supposed” to try for depression: therapy, CBT, medication, routine, volunteering, working, exercise, seeking social contacts, involvement in a religious community, creativity… nothing seems to work for very long and most of it doesn’t work at all.  It is hard to know what to do.  I’m hoping that a firm autism diagnosis will help, but I’m not sure how, and I could be two years away from such a diagnosis.  I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the years, but I’m not sure if I’m a better person, or a better Jew, as a result.  And self-knowledge is good, but also limited: it won’t buy you food or comfort you when you’re down.

I feel like my one remaining chance in life is to manage to make some kind of a career as  a professional writer, which is a big thing to ask of myself with almost no experience of professional writing and a few rejections already.  I feel I’ve pretty much failed at librarianship although I’m still looking for work in the sector.

I’m going to try to go easy with myself over the next few days.  I’ll try to do some Torah study tonight, but probably not much else.  Tomorrow I have my usual Friday pre-Shabbat chores and I told Mum I would clean the oven.  I will try to do some work on the novel on Friday and Sunday, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t manage much.  Monday I have therapy and then a Zoom shiur (religious class) in the evening; I’m not planning on doing much else.

***

I don’t know who is still reading this, if anyone (I think maybe two or three people).  I wonder again if I should make it a private blog, but I worry that when I’ve tried that in the past, I ultimately end up stopping writing; it’s hard for me to write without some kind of implicit audience.  I’d be tempted to try password-protected posts, but in the past when I’ve tried them my experience is that no one is interested enough to log in, particularly as they don’t usually show up in blog reader feeds.  I do feel a bit exposed here at the moment, which is the whole point, in a sense, but also feels a bit dangerous sometimes.  I worry that I experience my life by writing about it, which probably isn’t healthy.

“It’s like watching a car crash in slow motion”

Thus spake Detective Inspector Drake in Ashes to Ashes, and it feels a lot like my life at the moment.

Lately I just want to withdraw.  I spent a lot of Shabbat in bed, wrapped in my duvet even when I wasn’t sleeping.  It’s a classic autistic self-comforting tactic.  I’ve been wanting to do it today too, although I’ve fought against the urge.

I’m scared to talk to anyone, even to blog or to read other blogs, for fear of getting into an argument.  There’s too much anger in the world at the moment.

I did at least manage to watch a talk between Rabbi Rafi Zarum (British, half Yemenite) and Rabbi Shais Rishon (American, black) about race and Judaism so I’m not totally running away from the world.  It was about as depressing as I expected (I’ve read some of Rabbi Rishon’s writing before so I knew what to expect; Rabbi Zarum apparently didn’t judging by his shocked reactions), although there was one funny joke.

Achievements: forced myself to work on my novel for an hour and wrote 650 words even thought I was too depressed to write anything today.  Went for a thirty-five minute run that was surprisingly good, although an exercise migraine set in hours later.  I tried to do some Torah study, but the migraine set in then and I only managed five minutes.  I haven’t felt well enough to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) yet either.  Going to watch TV until hopefully the solpadeine kicks in, although I feel like I could throw up any time now.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor this morning.  I’m still processing the conversation.  He said that everyone in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) struggles with trying to feel inspired or to find meaning in Judaism and that I’m not the only person to struggle with the way the frum community can be narrow-minded or lacking in dynamism or inspiration.

This is all true, but I wonder where this leaves me.  I still feel that I have less meaning and inspiration going for me than a lot of religious Jews, and perhaps more frustration with the frum world than most frum Jews.  Sometimes (not all the time) lately it feels like I’m very close to walking out on the frum world and there are only a few things keeping me here.  If it were possible to be some kind of Jewish hermit, I probably would be one.  I guess I am one, in a way.

***

I know I have it easy compared to a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.  A wise person once said, the worst thing that ever happened to you is still the worst thing that ever happened to you, even if even worse things have happened to other people.  While it’s true that a man who has had his legs eaten by an alligator should be grateful that he still has his life, arms, eyes, hearing etc. I’m not sure that makes it any easier to cope with the loss of legs.  I haven’t lost my legs, but I’ve never really got my life functioning properly and I feel that I’m running out of time to sort that, plus most of the time I feel too depressed, anxious and tired to do anything about it, not to mention too alone in the world (yes, despite family and friends).

***

OK, TV now, and trying hard not to throw up…

Loneliness and Fitting In

I woke up feeling depressed and lonely again.  E. is concerned about my tendency to turn everything into guilt, that I assume that everything bad in my life is my fault and if I was a good person I could change it.  She thinks that this is not really the case.  She feels in particular that I shouldn’t feel guilty about not being emotionally connected to Judaism.  I guess it’s hard not to when Judaism presents a lot of things (perhaps most things) in moral terms and assumes that good people can change them, at least with the right tools.  It’s assumed that a person who wants a better relationship to God or Judaism can ‘fix’ that; it doesn’t take into account that my brain chemistry might prevent that, or say what I should do instead or how I should cope.

That said, I wonder if this is really guilt or if I’m misunderstanding my emotions again.  I don’t think what I see as guilt is really sadness, but maybe it’s loneliness or disconnection.  I was reading about domestic abuse again (see below) and came across the idea that abusive men express all their emotions as anger; I wonder if I express all my emotions as depression or guilt.  I don’t know if that idea even makes sense.  At the very least, alexithymia (difficulty understanding my own emotions) makes it hard to understand what I feel.

I’m worried about the future too.  I want lockdown to be over, but at the same time, that would shift my worries about career and relationship up a gear as I have to confront things again.  I’m already dreading the cataloguing test I have to do soon for a job application.

***

I’m also struggling with political thoughts that I don’t really want to write about here, worries about the situation across the Atlantic, worries about my participation in racist societies, but also about the much greater coverage of and sensitivity around racism by most people in the West compared with antisemitism.  Jews aren’t more likely than most people to be killed by the police, but they are more likely than many to experience violence.  In the USA, Jews are the victim of well over half religious hate crimes, far more than any other religious group.  I don’t feel this is a particularly appropriate time to talk about antisemitism.  We need to concentrate on racism right now.  The problem is that much of the world has shown that it never thinks the time is right to talk about antisemitism.

Mind you, I can get upset by little things, for instance, a letter in an old Jewish Chronicle criticising Orthodox rabbis unfairly.

I’m not sure how these thoughts would be classified.  They’re kind of on the boundary between depression and anxiety, with some anger, but not what people generally mean when they refer to those feelings in a psychotherapeutic context.

***

I spent an hour or more trying to work on my novel.  I wrote about 450 words, which was not bad, but not great either.  I procrastinated a lot, got upset about irrelevant things (see the paragraph above) then read abuse survivors’ accounts to try to get me back into the mindset of writing about abuse, but that just made me feel more miserable and made it harder to concentrate.

I tried to look at my notes from my librarianship MA on cataloguing in preparation for doing a cataloguing test some time this week or next for a job application.  It was hard to concentrate because I felt so depressed, and because I was aware that I probably know this stuff as well as I ever will.  I feel I probably know the stuff, I just have no confidence in my ability to show it.  I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do librarian stuff in recent years.  It’s hard to remember that I once thought that I would be a good librarian, even a professional cataloguer.

***

I didn’t do much Torah study (about fifteen minutes).  I  wrote this rather long email to my rabbi mentor instead (slightly edited here):

I’m really struggling religiously lately.  It’s hard to daven and to learn Torah in particular. It also feels like I have no meaningful connection to HaShem [God] and to Torah much of the time. It’s hard to work out why. Or, there are many possible reasons:

– my depression/general mental health (which has got worse the last couple of weeks) – one rabbi once told me that I wouldn’t be able to connect emotionally to God and Torah until I recover, but it increasingly looks like there is no recovery for me, just being able to manage my condition better;

– resentment of simplistic theologies in the frum world that see working at Judaism and especially having bitachon [trust in God] as immediately positive results.  I think these are wrong, but they make part of my brain think, “God must be angry with me, or He would have healed me/got me a job/let me get married by now;

– feelings of despair regarding my life, relationship, career, etc. and feeling that I won’t be able to build anything because HaShem keep testing me by making me suffer and taking away what I’ve achieved;

– generally feeling like a social misfit in the frum world: the United Synagogue doesn’t take Torah and davening [prayer] seriously enough for me, in the Federation I feel like have to hide various beliefs and interests because they’re unacceptable, and the people at the London School of Jewish Studies are mostly a generation older than me. I felt in particular that my local shul has not always supported me well in terms of helping me be part of the community or regarding my mental health (as well as setting me up on shidduch dates [arranged blind dates]), although things had been a bit better at the start of the year and I felt that after four years, I was fitting in a little bit better… and then coronavirus came and disrupted even that.

Lately I wonder if I won’t fit in anywhere, ever. It seems everywhere I go, I feel that I don’t fit in, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s just in my head, or from my autism. I really feel that I struggle to fit in and to follow the unspoken social codes, which is a classic autistic symptom. On the other hand, I’ve never had the kind of support that the frum world is said to provide to most people in need.

And underneath it all is the feeling of emptiness, loneliness, isolation.  Of feeling that HaShem is so far from me and indifferent to me, or that He will invalidate all my mitzvot on some technicality.  I feel I can’t connect with Him.  Sometimes I feel that I don’t know what it would be like to feel joy at all.  I saw something the other day about the need to have spiritual pleasure, but I’m not even able to have physical pleasure.

Sometimes I worry I’m frum more out of habit than anything else these days, which does not make me feel good. To be honest, the non-Orthodox/non-religious world is just as off-putting to me as the frum world, but I know E. finds aspects of the frum world difficult, especially the lack of appreciation of serious culture, and I find it hard to “sell” her the frum life when I feel so negative about it.

I do still enjoy Shabbat, even though I feel that is partly a relaxation thing as much as a spiritual one.  Occasionally I do see Torah that resonates, but it’s hard to build on it; likewise if I daven well one day.  I do enjoy writing my weekly divrei Torah [Torah thoughts], although I do experience that as a stress sometimes, and a drain on time for Torah study.

This is what I’ve been feeling.  Would it be possible to discuss it, by Skype or email, please?  I don’t know if there is an answer, but I feel I need to try something new.  I mean a new strategy to engage with my religious life.  It’s just so hard to keep going sometimes.

I’m not sure what I expect to get from it.  He can’t wave a magic wand and solve my troubles and we have spoken about this in the past.  I suspect if I was more confident in myself and worried less about what other people think of me, I would fit in to frum society better, and if I fitted in better socially, a lot of my lack of religious connection would go away.  But I’m not sure how to do that.

Building Characters

I spent the day wrestling with negative feelings of depression and despair. I would feel OK, and then something would set me off again. It has to be said, though, that my mood was mostly reasonably good and optimistic, particularly in the afternoon (mornings are still hard). That said, little things can bring me down.

***

Every year there is a “Forty Under Forty” list in The Jewish News listing the top forty communal leaders in the Jewish community under the age of forty, whether religious, political or cultural leaders. It’s a fairly horrible concept and I try to avoid it, as there are always people I know on the list, and it makes me feel like I’ve wasted my life while other people have built careers and made a difference to the world, particularly as I won’t be “under forty” for much longer. Looking at part of the list today (it’s always published in installments) I saw someone I knew, but I didn’t feel as jealous or despairing as I might have done in the past. Likewise, lately I don’t feel as jealous and lonely when people much younger than me get married or have children. And I don’t carry as much anger and resentment as I used to about my childhood and adolescence. I feel I’ve made a lot of progress in therapy dealing with my issues. And yet I can’t seem to permanently shake the depression, despair, loneliness and other negative feelings. I feel like I’ve done everything I should do to recover, but it still doesn’t help. Somehow it persists.

***

I keep checking my email, blog reader, WhatsApp… I know when I do this it’s a mixture of boredom and loneliness. Just wanting to connect with someone, but usually not finding anyone or, worse, making the wrong kind of connection, usually by seeing something that upsets me, typically by making me feel attacked.

***

I probably shouldn’t relate all my dreams here (the ones I can remember anyway) as other people’s dreams are not usually as interesting as they think they are, but I had a classic anxiety dream about being in my rabbi mentor’s yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) on the day he was taking his rabbinical exams and feeling that everyone was looking down on me for not being religious enough. I wonder what that could be about? Sometimes you don’t need to be Sigmund Freud to work it out. There was also some weirdly OCD stuff about trying to do the ritual hand washing on waking and before eating, but not being able to find a big enough cup.

***

I have a new webcam, which I ordered weeks ago, and which has finally arrived. So that’s good. I had been borrowing my Dad’s laptop for every Zoom or Skype interaction. In other ways I feel like I’m ready for lockdown to be over. I know, everyone else reached this point weeks, if not months, ago. But lockdown seemed to suit me: I didn’t have to meet people, there weren’t jobs to worry about applying for, I didn’t have to go anywhere or do anything, I had time to write. But I feel I probably should be trying to move my life on and get back in the habit of actually doing things other than writing, jogging, cooking and cleaning. Plus, it would be good to move towards moving my relationship with E. on. And seeing other people, actually going to shul (synagogue) and to physical shiurim (religious classes) would probably be good for me, not least because I feel like my social anxiety is getting worse while I avoid people. Online socialising isn’t working so well for me, as it’s just made me more dependent on likes and follows, behaviour which I thought I had grown out of, and, as I’ve said before, I struggle with Zoom calls – too many people, too many things happening at once, too easy to psychologically check out and refuse to interact with other people.

***

I felt blocked in my writing this week, so I emailed a writer friend to ask for advice. She recommended some books and also some exercises to try to clarify (to myself) who my characters are and what they want. I learnt two things from this. The first is that I have a weak idea of what my secondary hero wants or needs, which is probably why she has felt like the biggest weak link in the novel so far, too vaguely written to really cohere or stand out.

The second is… well, this is a slightly edited version of the character profile I created for the hero, who is kind of a fictionalised version of myself (I was going to say “Mary-Sue,” the fan term for a character who is a wish-fulfillment figure for the author, but this character is more an anti-Mary Sue, annoying, self-obsessed and useless).

  • Wants/needs: consciously wants love, acceptance.  Unconsciously needs to accept himself, his autism, his depression
  • Weakness: lack of self-knowledge
  • Obstacles that play to weaknesses/show growth: struggle in environments not designed for autistics; contemplate suicide because can’t cope with self.  Not upset with God or world, just with himself.  Can’t accept his autism/depression means that he needs to live differently to other people.
  • Choice: choose life or death, which is choosing to love himself
  • What he learns to achieve his goal: to choose life because even without God, he recognises his own uniqueness and worth.

I think it’s helped clarify my main character, but it’s certainly helped clarify my own needs. To be honest, “lack of self-knowledge” isn’t really my fault, but that of the character (who is really me some years ago, not me now). I understand myself, I just struggle to put what I’ve learnt in therapy and elsewhere into practice, hence the comment above about having addressed issues, but been unable to move on. Still, it was interesting to realise I still haven’t really accepted my depression and autism (the latter partly because it’s still undiagnosed) and my consequent need to live a different life to other people with different standards of success. For example, for me success might be maintaining reasonably positive mood over time, engaging on some level with my community and friends and getting some kind of job (which probably won’t be high-powered/high-stress) as opposed to having a dynamic career, getting married and having children, having lots of friends and taking some kind of community leadership position.

Quick, Let’s Drink a Million Cups of Tea While We Procrastinate

That title…  I think I’m clever and funny when really, I’m not.

I just feel inadequate today.

I was pretty exhausted last night after Skype therapy and Zoom shiur (religious class) and I went to bed early (for me at any rate – midnight) hoping I would get up earlier today, but I still slept very late.  I just feel so depressed and exhausted on waking.  Maybe it’s not surprising given that I had a very draining day yesterday.  I think a lot of the problem about waking tired is to do with low blood sugar, which has always affected me badly, although I don’t plan on getting up in the middle of the night to eat.

Even after breakfast and getting dressed, I still felt really depressed and exhausted.  Struggling to do anything.

***

I feel like I’ve sunk into some kind of religious crisis (again) without really realising how.  Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav says that religious crises are inevitable and unending in this world; as soon as you achieve some kind of certainty about something, it brings with it a whole load of new unknowns for you to worry about (it’s not clear if the unknowns are completely new, or old ones on a deeper or more intense level).  I believe in God, but I find it harder and harder to connect to Him and to Torah and mitzvot (commandments).  I know a lot stems from not fitting in to a religious community for moral and practical support and also feeling like I’ve transgressed the community’s standards in ways that I’m not always sure about (as in, I’m not sure if I’ve transgressed them or not).  I’ve always felt alone, even in my religious practice, even when I was a more regular attendee at shul (synagogue).  I’ve always felt that in the final analysis, it came down to just me and God without other people really being involved.  That’s probably a horrible thing to say, but it ties in with my lack of friends, my difficulties communicating with my parents, the fact that I was single for most of my adult life and my fascination with solipsism and solipsistic fiction.

I guess now I feel that I have to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to E. or she won’t join me in it and I don’t know how to sell something I feel so increasingly equivocal about.  Depressive anhedonia is a big part of the problem too, more so than anything theological.  It’s hard to enjoy Judaism when I can’t enjoy anything, even things that are easier to enjoy.

Ashley Leia asked me on the last post if I felt that God causes my suffering.  I said yes.  Conceptually that doesn’t bother me so much. I came to the conclusion a while back that we aren’t here on Earth to be happy, but to grow, and growth often requires suffering as a stimulus, therefore suffering is to be accepted as part of the human condition in this world.  Nevertheless, I feel exhausted and not sure how to carry on sometimes. It just feels so overwhelming and unending. There is definitely a difference between accepting suffering intellectually and feeling emotionally accepting of it.  I can accept it intellectually (I know other people have it much worse than I do), but it’s hard to accept emotionally.  Hard to accept that I might always feel like this, that I’ve lost the life I thought I would have at this stage of life (career, wife, kids, community, self-love).  It’s hard to see so many other people apparently living that life with no idea if I will ever achieve it.

***

It doesn’t help that I’m feeling quite blocked with my writing at the moment.  I sit in front of the computer, drink a lot of tea, idly surf online and blog, but it’s a struggle to write anything for the novel.  I wonder if the story I’m trying to tell is too complicated for me, or if I’m cut out to be a writer at all.  Maybe it was absurd to think I could write about domestic abuse, a subject which I have not experienced directly.  All my writing about  it seems crass and ill-formed.

***

Religious crisis, low mood and writer’s block are probably connected with isolation.  I haven’t been on the depression group Zoom call for weeks as I get too tired after therapy now, which is on the same day.  E. and I haven’t spoken much for the last few days because of Shabbat and my shiur yesterday and E.’s workload, although we did speak today.  Some people who used to comment here haven’t done so for a while and nor have some bloggers I follow/am friends with posted on their blogs lately and I’m worried if everyone is OK, or if they’re angry with me and are avoiding me/have taken me off their friends’ list.  I guess I feel isolated.  I didn’t have much in the way of social contact even before lockdown, but I feel like I’m losing more of it.  My shul (synagogue) is doing another Zoom Kabbalat Shabbat service (beginning of the Friday evening service), but I found the last one awkward and uncomfortable, so I probably won’t do it again.  My parents are hoping to have my sister and brother-in-law over either socially distanced in the garden or via Zoom on Sunday to celebrate my Mum’s birthday, so hopefully that will help, although I’m nervous about even socially distanced meeting.

***

The Kotzker Rebbe spoke about the evil inclination stealing “the delicate chord of truth from your heart”.  After that, it no longer worries if you work or pray or study, because without the chord of truth, whatever you do is of no interest to him (i.e. it’s meaningless).  I feel like I lost the chord of truth a long time ago.

***

I’m just feeling today that I failed at everything.  I failed at being a good Jew.  I failed at being a good writer.  I failed at being a good blogger.  I worry that I’ve failed at being a good friend and boyfriend, and probably also at being a good son and brother.

I feel that other people I meet online have a reason to be mentally ill (often abuse or trauma of some kind), but I haven’t experienced anything bad, I’m just too useless to function properly.  I should get over myself.  Alternatively, they produce something with their pain, some art or something to help others, something that somehow justifies and explains what they endured.  I haven’t managed that either.

Part of me says that this is just my inner critical voice speaking, but it seems kind of reassuring to say that.  Much harder to confront the reality of having failed at everything I tried.

The sudden upswing of depression might also be because Mum has asked me to go with her to her oncologist appointment tomorrow.  Mum likes to have someone with her, as she gets overwhelmed sometimes and misses information.  Dad went to the first few meetings, then COVID-19 happened and non-patients were not allowed in the hospital.  Now one non-patient is allowed in “At their own risk” (which is a bit scary in itself).  Mum wants it to be me rather than Dad because he may not be able to park the car there (I’m not sure why) so will have to drop us off, go home, and come back to collect us later.

There is also some genuine fear about me and E., in that we know that we both have real anxieties about the relationship over things that we can’t do anything about at the moment and we have to just sit with those feelings and see what happens in the long term.

***

Achievements today: I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils), and spent forty minutes or so researching and writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week.  It’s easier to write a devar Torah sometimes (like today) than it is to study Torah for some reason, perhaps to do with concentration and motivation.  I was also anxious that I would not find enough material for this weeks’ sedra (Bamidbar, focusing on the census of the Israelites in the wilderness – not easy to talk about) so was I trying out ideas and looking for sources when I found something.

I went for a run, which I hoped would help my mood, but I struggled to run, walking lots of the time, partly because of depression, but also because of the heat and, in the second half, an exercise migraine.  I had a lot of negative thoughts buzzing around my brain: that I’ve disappointed my parents and never given them any naches (reflected glory from children or grandchildren); that E. will realise sooner or later what a useless, pathetic, needy, screwed up boyfriend I am and leave me (she’s told me I’m catastrophising about this, but it was still what I was thinking); that I’ll probably die lonely, impoverished and unloved, maybe even homeless and living on the streets…  just a negative thought spiral.

I came back too exhausted and migrainey to think negative thoughts; post-migraine I tend to feel physically fragile, but emotionally OK (a rather extreme and counter-productive way of shifting a low mood).  However, the negative thoughts are already creeping back.  I need to daven Ma’ariv (say Evening Prayers) and I want to do a little Torah study if I can today, even if it’s only a few minutes.  I want to chill out in front of the TV for a bit, but it’s getting late and I’m not sure if that will just keep me awake later.

***

The rabbi from my shul WhatsApped me to check how I am, which was nice.  I do feel a bit more a part of the community when he does that.  I’m not quite sure what to say at the moment, though.

***

There aren’t many jobs being advertised at the moment, unsurprisingly, but I just got an advert for a “Cybrarian” which sounds (a) horribly like something out of Doctor Who*, (b) horribly like something from dot-com boom of the nineties and (c) like a overly-modern company where I would not fit into the corporate culture, particularly as they put “The ability to laugh at yourself” on the job description.  How do they interview for that?  I worry they make fun of you and then say, “What’s the matter?  Can’t you laugh at yourself?”  Mind you, they put “a profound love and passion for Technology [sic]” on the list too, which sounds even more disturbing, particularly as “Technology” was capitalised throughout the advert and job description.

* Which has given us Cyberman, Cybergun, Cybercontroller, Cybermat, Cyberplanner, Cyber-megatron bomb, Cyberleader, Cyberwar, Cyberbomb (“The most explosive devices in the universe!”), Cyberlieutenant, Cybermite, Cyberiad, Cyberium and Cyberdrone.

The Fall’s Gonna Kill You

I’m trying not to start every post writing about my sleep from the previous night, but there’s no denying that I went to bed late, slept badly, had weird dreams that upset me without being entirely sure why, and got up late, feeling depressed and exhausted. Whether that’s a symptom or a cause of what followed is not clear at this point.

I have a rush of thoughts in my head and I’m not sure I can put them all down, but they centre on Judaism and my relationship to it.  I don’t think Judaism provides much meaning to me, in a tangible everyday sense, rather than a more abstract theoretical one, and it certainly doesn’t provide much joy, although I do appreciate Shabbat (the Sabbath) even if I sleep through much of it.  It’s come to the fore lately because of my relationship to E. and the fear I have that I won’t be able to “sell” Orthodox Judaism to her if I don’t like it enough myself.  I feel that I can’t get by on autopilot any more as I’ve done for many years, but that if I don’t find a way of making it enjoyable for her, we won’t be able to get married and live together.  But I can’t leave Judaism either, because I really believe in it.  I mean, really believe.  Which I suppose must mean I get some meaning from it, even if I can’t describe how or why.

I enjoy Shabbat, as I said, which is just a wonderful sacred time away from the world.  I don’t always get meaning from Torah study, but I enjoy the “archaeological” side of studying ancient texts in foreign languages.  You decode the meaning of words and sometimes it’s something truly alien to the modern experience (of life, let alone religion), but sometimes a vivid image or idea hits you and there’s a connection across hundred s or even thousands of years between you and the author (whoever he really was).  I find that exciting.  Lately I’m getting something out of studying Sacred Fire, the sermons of Rabbi Kalonymous Kalmish Shapira in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.  I know that’s not thousands of years ago, but (thankfully) it still seems a very different time, even though it’s technically still within living memory.  He seems to understand suffering in a way that few rabbinic sources I’ve read do, understands how it can destroy you from within and stop you keeping up with religious life, which is how I feel at the moment.

I don’t think that I get much else that’s tangible out of Judaism, though, certainly not from the social aspect, although I doubt I would fit in anywhere.  As I said in a comment on the last post, I think unconsciously I don’t want to fit in anywhere; at any rate, whenever I join a new community, I start thinking up reasons why they could never accept me, which causes me to hold back and not be accepted.  Possibly I should just wait until people actually reject me rather than preempting them.  I can’t imagine living a life without Judaism though.  Secularism, in both its Enlightenment and Postmodern guises just seems so hollow and meaningless, far more so than Orthodox Judaism.  But Orthodox Judaism as it is usually presented, in both its Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) guises just seems impossible for someone with all my issues.

The previous rabbi at my shul (synagogue) said that one needs to separate the emotional religious questions from logical ones.  Not that one is right and the other wrong, but that emotional questions need emotional answers, not logical ones and vice versa.  From that point of view, I’m in need of emotional answers, not logical ones.  Similarly, my rabbi mentor told me that when he was training as a counsellor and Jewish student chaplain that he was taught that when presented with a question of faith to address the personal problem beneath it.  He said that at the time he thought that was really offensive (to assume that every question of faith is really hiding a personal problem), but as he became more experienced, he saw that there was some truth in it.

From that point of view, the personal problem is obvious.  It is well-known that the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community assumes every adult is married.  It is also true that being married “locks” a person into frumkeit (religious culture) by making it harder to drop out (because of the difficulties it would entail for the marriage).  Perhaps if I’d found a frum spouse in the UK I would have swallowed my reservations about the frum world(s) to get married, whether the lack of passion and religious commitment in the Modern Orthodox world or the numerous intellectual reservations I have about the Haredi worldview.  Maybe I would have lived with the cognitive dissonance in either world, locked in by my marriage.

But I was unable to find a spouse in the frum community, and then I ended up with E., who is not frum.  Now I feel pulled in two directions: I still have an intellectual commitment to frumkeit, but I struggle to have an emotional connection with it, and now I am aware that I could make E. and my life much easier and probably more fun by simply dropping a lot of frum commitments.  It is hard to know what to do.

***

I feel upset with myself for what I wrote in the comment to this post.  It was true, but I felt I shouldn’t have written it.  I shouldn’t involve other people in my issues (as if I haven’t done that already to E. and my family) and I shouldn’t voice my resentment at my failure to be frum.

I worry about not fitting in with people here online too, although if ever people have chosen to be around me based on my deepest inner thoughts, it’s on my blog.  I wonder what people make of me, whether they think I’m a good person, and whether I give a negative impression of Orthodox Judaism.  I hope I don’t present Judaism in a really bad way just because of my issues.

***

That’s pretty much where my brain was all day today.  Feeling that I’m a bad Jew and that the system is rigged against people like me, but that there’s nothing I can do about it, and worried about what it means for my relationship.  Feeling like a fraud and not sure what I should do or where I should go.

I tried to work on my novel for an hour and a half, but I was too distracted.  I procrastinated a lot and only wrote 200 words before giving up.  I felt that my writing isn’t going anywhere, not this book and quite possibly not any books.  Which is another reason E. shouldn’t date me, because I don’t bring anything to the relationship financially.  As well as my inability to function for prolonged periods of time, whether due to depression or autism.

I’m going to post this earlier than usual, because I need to dump these thoughts out of my head.  Then I’m going to go for a run and see if that helps my mood.

Darker Than Expected

I struggled to get going again.  It’s difficult.  Once I get going, I’m OK, but I really struggle with depression, exhaustion and motivation for the first couple of hours that I’m awake.  Today I was missing E. a lot and feeling quite overwhelmed and depressed.  Once I’ve had breakfast, got dressed and davened (prayed) a little bit (only a fraction of the morning prayers, and sometimes skipping straight to the afternoon ones because I’m too late for the morning) I do tend to feel better, but even then I don’t feel 100% until after lunch.  Even when I was working full days I had a similar situation.  I had to rush out in the morning and I managed that OK, somehow, but the mornings at work would pass slowly and not always terribly well, bolstered by coffee, and only after I had eaten lunch would I feel that I could really do any good work.

Then I wasted far too much time at lunch trying to answer one of the questions in the Doctor Who Magazine crossword and failing to get it.  I can usually answer about three-quarters of the clues fairly easily, others with some difficulty and a few I need to look up online, but I was really stuck on one today, even after looking at a couple of scenes from the story in question.  This sort of thing really irritates me.  I’ve only been unable to find an answer once or twice before!

I procrastinated a lot in the afternoon, partly at least because I kept getting hit by waves of anxiety and depression.  I did eventually manage to email the Amazon seller I bought the broken DVD box set from that I mentioned yesterday.  I also emailed four psychotherapists to ask if they have client vacancies and if they charge lower rates for the unemployed.  One replied promptly by email, which was good.  Another phoned me, which was not good!  I dislike talking on the phone at the best of times and I was taken by surprise, which meant my anxiety level shot up.  Then he tried to get me to commit to an initial appointment, when I was hoping to compare the different fees, but obviously I didn’t want to say that to him.  I asked for time to think.  Still, I guess it’s good to know he could see me next week if I want.  I felt that he was a bit pushy, but maybe that was because I was so anxious.  I’m not sure if I really want a male therapist anyway; I seem to be able to open up more to female mental health professionals than males, although there have been exceptions.

I tried to get back to work on my novel, but procrastinated and then got roped into helping my parents with some stuff.  I did eventually manage about thirty minutes of work on the novel, redrafting a chunk previously written in the first person into the third person.  It seems to work better that way, leaving questions for me about how to write the rest of the book.  I also went for a walk for thirty-five minutes or so.  Even when walking I drifted into negative emotions, particularly anxiety and depression, despite listening to a podcast for distraction.  I did manage twenty-five minutes Torah study too.

Writing this down, I see that I achieved quite a bit, but would have liked to have done more Torah study and novel writing.  I also feel like I’m struggling a bit with emotional regulation at the moment, inasmuch as there are a lot of strong, difficult and sometimes conflicting emotions in my head, but I lack the ability to get rid of them or do much other than acknowledge their existence.  I’m struggling to just sit with them.

I wasn’t aware of this so much during the day, but looking back Mum has been struggling a bit today and I think that was also in my mind on some level and adding to the anxiety and depression.

I watched Star Trek Voyager to unwind, but it was unexpectedly dark.  Basically, the holographic doctor wanted to learn to experience family life, so he made a holographic family.  But he made them too sickeningly perfect, so one of the other characters introduced some changes and random program elements, which meant that his wife now had a life aside from pleasing him and his kids were now rebellious.  So far, so good and I thought we would stop there with the holographic doctor having Learnt An Important Lesson Today About Real Life (not coincidentally, Real Life was the title of the episode).  Except there was another quarter of an hour left, and his daughter rather shockingly had a fatal sporting accident and he had to deal with that, which was quite a lot darker than I needed today, or than the previous three seasons of the programme had led me to expect.

After this I had my daily call with E.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t be there in person for her.  We both want so much to have a ‘normal’ relationship without coronavirus and without the Atlantic Ocean being in the way.  But, at least we have Skype and WhatsApp, without which we really would be too far apart.  I can’t imagine having even an email long-distance relationship, let alone an old-fashioned one via letters (taking weeks to cross the ocean in a steamer, no doubt).

***

I find it increasingly hard to deal with all the applause and plaudits for the NHS.  Today we had the weekly applause for the NHS and carers as well as the slightly bizarre Doctor Who thank you (also: Jo Martin is a ‘real’ Doctor, but Michael Jayston isn’t? Hmmm…).

I acknowledge that NHS staff are doing a huge amount at the moment, and some have become ill (including my sister’s former flatmate) or even died as a result.  At the same time, I can’t forget the often appalling way I feel I have been treated over the years.  In my experience, there is a big difference in quality between NHS psychiatric care and care in other front line areas like accident and emergency or oncology.

I feel like a child whose father’s appearances in his life were erratic, unpredictable and highly variable in quality suddenly seeing his father lauded as a diligent, conscientious and a great man.  It is hard to deal with the dissonance.

Light a Candle

We haven’t stocked up on post-Pesach (Passover) food yet, so when I was hit by hunger late last night I sat up late eating matzah and jam because the alternatives were toast or cornflakes, both of which I had already had earlier in the day.  More matzah and jam was not the healthiest option, and I know I’ve put on weight again over Yom Tov (the festival).

I did manage to get up at 11am again today, although I felt quite sluggish and struggled to get going.  I went shopping and went for an extended walk on the way back.  I hadn’t been shopping in a supermarket for a while, so I was surprised to see the aisles measured out into two metre long blocks, although there were still bottlenecks at the tills and doors.

I cooked dinner, which was the reason for going shopping.  I cooked vegetable curry, even though I cooked it recently, as it’s pretty basic and I wasn’t sure what ingredients would be available.  As it was, I couldn’t get the beans I wanted.  We also had a load of potatoes, so I knew I could use some of them.  Cooking took longer than expected, though, and I didn’t have time for much else, particularly not looking for a therapist which I rashly said I would do today without considering my desire to go shopping and cook.

I attended (online) the weekly depression group lockdown session.  I think it’s useful for me to have the social contact, even though I don’t say much at these things.  I always feel self-conscious, or even more self-conscious than usual, with the online meetings and I don’t know why, as I’ve had Skype therapy and Skype dates, so one would think Zoom depression group should not be harder.  Some of it might be that therapy and dates were one-to-one, whereas with depression group there are eight or ten or people and the time lags and the cutting to the wrong screens based on accidental noise are more obvious.  Next week it has been suggested that we talk about books we’ve read recently.  I have an idea of a book to talk about, although it’s not one I’ve read recently, but I’m not sure if I’ll have the confidence.

During the short break in the depression group session I went downstairs and lit a yellow yortzeit candle for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day – the Jewish one, as distinct of International Holocaust Memorial Day in January).  The candle is in memory of a named child who was murdered; Dad said he was told we should also add in the children we lit for last year (this could potentially lead to very long lists of names in a number of years time).  There are four modern Jewish festive or memorial days at this time of year, Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) and I have never been entirely sure how to celebrate or commemorate them, although this is a matter of discussion in the wider Jewish community too, generally with a Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist vs. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) split, but even in the Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist world there are widely divergent opinions.  There was an online Yom HaShoah service tonight, but I decided depression group would be better for my mental health.  I don’t know how I would have responded to a one and three-quarter Holocaust memorial service.

After depression group I squeezed in a Skype call with E. and half an hour of Torah study, but I feel pretty tired now and it has got very late again, so I should get to bed, although as with yesterday I feel very hungry…

The Masque of COVID-19

It’s probably no surprise to every one that more and more stuff is shutting down: doctor’s surgery, shul (synagogue), depression group…  Shiur is potentially continuing, but online via video conference software.  It makes me realise that I wasn’t quite as socially isolated as I assumed I was.  I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t emailed one of my American email friends for a couple of months and wanted to check how her baby is getting on.  I’m struggling to stop touching my face, though, as that’s the main form of autistic ‘stimming’ that I do to keep calm.

It seems weirdly like the world is slowing down to my pace.  Now almost everyone is stuck at home all the time.  No schools, no religious services, no public recreation, shopping for essentials only.  No inessential medical care.  It’s just occurred to me that I have no idea if the blood test I’m supposed to have next week is still going ahead.  It’s not immediately essential, but if I delay and my lithium level has shifted, that’s potentially life-threatening.  I wish I’d thought to ask my doctor yesterday.  I will have to try to phone tomorrow.

It’s scary how things can collapse so quickly… although it’s also remembering that in Western countries at least, it’s unlikely that law and order, government etc. will collapse, which is a good thing.  A recession is pretty much certain, but hopefully the economy won’t completely collapse in a Venezualan way.  It’s still scary though, especially as The Spectator‘s daily politics email is suggesting some kind of compulsory lockdown looms for London.  I don’t know if we would be too far out in the suburbs for that to affect us.

I should probably stop reading the news (again), as it’s too scary and makes me anxious about getting through the next few weeks/months.  (Apparently Chinese newspapers are suggesting limiting coronavirus news to 40% of the information one receives, which still seems like a lot, although I’m not sure if reading old Doctor Who novels and Snoopy comics counts as “information” in this context.)

***

Back in what passes for the real world, I’m still struggling with mornings; today even managing to get up, eat and drink coffee didn’t fully lifted my mood or given me energy.  I’m trying not to beat myself up about all of this, as it doesn’t achieve anything, and if I had a physical illness that made it hard to get up and get going I wouldn’t beat myself up, but somehow even after so many years of this, I still think I ought to be able to force myself to get up earlier, or to get dressed faster, or just to be more efficient even when I feel lousy.  After that, I’m OK during most of the day, but I’ll get ambushed by sadness or worry at points.  Or guilt, for doing something dangerous, reckless and immoral like rubbing my nose.

***

In terms of achievements, I spent half an hour researching ideas to bring to the table for the seder at Pesach (the Pesach (Passover) seder is the meal where we retell the story of the Exodus from Egypt.  There is a set text, but I like to add some new ideas each time).  I did think of doing more, but I felt it was better to mix seder preparation with ordinary Torah study over a couple of weeks.  I’ve earmarked some stuff as I came across it during the year anyway, so it’s mostly a case of writing summaries of longer ideas and perhaps finding a few ideas in a haggadah (seder book) at some point.  I also spent twenty minutes on general Torah study; I hope to take that up to half an hour before bedtime.

I also went for a run.  My stamina was not great, but it’s good to keep active.  I had a Skype chat with E., which was good, although we both feel frustrated that we won’t be in the same country for months.  I explained to E. about the Three Day Week in the seventies, which made me feel older than I actually am (I wasn’t around in the seventies!).

My Doctor Who book is now available for sale on Amazon UK and US!  There’s even a look inside preview.  I sent off an application to have my Goodreads page registered as a Goodreads author, which I can do now my Doctor Who book is up on Goodreads and Amazon.  I also ordered a copy of my book to send to Doctor Who Magazine as a review copy.  It’s unlikely much will come of that as, in a crowded marketplace, pretty much no non-official merchandise gets reviewed there any more, but I felt it was worth gambling about £10 on.

On a related note, apparently Amazon are not restocking books due to COVID-19.  I don’t know how that will affect me, as my book is essentially print on demand.  If anything, it might push people direct to the publisher at Lulu.com, where I get to keep a bigger profit as Lulu take a tiny slice compared with Amazon’s chunk.

***

I’ve complained about the reception staff at my doctor’s surgery before, but today they impressed me.  They phoned to ask if they should post me my medical certificate as I can’t pick it up (I hadn’t told them about the problem printing it, so either lots of people have problems or the doctor made a mistake in saying I wouldn’t need to come in to get it).  They also informed me of the new system for collecting prescriptions, whereby I have to go directly to the chemist, who will request the prescription from the surgery, who then send it back.  I nominated a new chemist that is much more local than Boots, who I was using previously.

***

In terms of distractions, I’m enjoying Life on Mars rather more than Star Trek Voyager and rationing the former in regard to the latter.  Life on Mars is really my type of thing: clever, funny, slightly scary, and weird.  I’m trying not to beat myself up for not watching it on first airing; at any rate, if I had watched it then, it wouldn’t cheer me up to discover it now.  There’s a moral there, somewhere.  Voyager is OK, but I remember almost none of the episodes, even though I must have seen most of them at least once in the past, which is telling – I’ve remembered much more of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine when revisiting them on DVD.

That said, I haven’t watched any TV today and do not intend to, due to my “no TV after 11pm” rule (which I’ve failed at again, as it’s 11.30pm already, but I’m trying to minimise late night TV).

I’m also re-reading The Also People, a Doctor Who spin-off novel from the 90s.  I used to read loads of these as a teenager and was never entirely happy with them.  I remembered this one as being fun and light, which it is in comparison with some of The New Adventures (the umbrella name for one of the ranges of Doctor Who novels), but I’d forgotten how confusing the books’ internal continuity could get if you weren’t reading all the novels, in order, and also how annoying I found their conception of the Doctor, presenting him as a ruthless, manipulative quasi-superbeing.  This was not without precedent in the television series, but at the time I did feel as if many of the novels were an exercise in missing the point of the programme, not unlike my feelings about this year’s Doctor Who TV episodes, albeit for slightly different reasons.  Of course, as with this year’s episodes, for a large chunk of the audience, this was not a mistake at all, but genuine quality.  Fandom sometimes feels like a conglomeration of people who all like the same TV series, but for wildly different and sometimes contradictory reasons.  At least this novel isn’t too depressing, and is well-written (I recently showed E. the latest chapter of my novel and she praised a few bits; it occurred to me afterwards that they were really in the style of the better New Adventures).  For some reason my copy is falling to pieces physically, which upsets me a bit, as I didn’t think I’d treated it badly.

Achievements

I felt totally exhausted on waking today, which probably isn’t surprising after the last couple of days.  It was a real struggle to get up, eat and get dressed.  I did manage it eventually.

In terms of achievements today, I worked on this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought) for nearly an hour, although I still have a bit to do tomorrow.  I spent thirty-five minutes working on my novel.  I also went for a run.  I am not sure how well I ran as I didn’t set my iPod to record it properly, which is frustrating as I would like to know.  I seemed to get out of breath and drop into a walk quite a bit early on, but then get back into running and run for longer periods, although in no recent runs have I been running as well as I was last summer, when I was hardly lapsing into a walk at all.  I’m not sure what’s behind that, weather, depression or something else.

I was very tired in the evening after my run and for a while I had some strong negative thoughts (self-critical and religious OCD), unsurprisingly as I had all four HALT warnings going (Hungry, Anxious, Lonely and Tired, although Anxious was as much an effect as a cause).  I guess I’ve been lonely all day without realising it.  I’ve been checking my blog readers a lot, although I don’t subscribe to many so there have been few updates.  I think this checking tends to be from loneliness (wanting to connect with people) as much as from boredom and procrastination.  There probably is an element of habit in it too.

I did feel a lot better after dinner, although still tired.  I spent another fifteen minutes on my novel. I also emailed the shul (synagogue) rabbi to ask if we can meet.  He suggested Sunday morning.  I feel slightly awkward about it, as I don’t have much to actually ask him, aside from asking if he knows any frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) therapists, it’s more to let him know a bit about my situation in case the OCD is bad before or during Pesach (Passover) or if something happens with Mum.  Still, rabbis are supposed to give pastoral care, and I’m paying a lot for my shul fees, considering I’m unemployed, so I might as well get my money’s worth.  (Whether I should ask for reduced fees is a whole other issue.  I probably should, but I’m ashamed to ask.)

Speaking of which, I’m not sure whether I absolutely need a frum therapist or simply one who has had frum patients and/or some awareness of Judaism.  The latter might be easier to find.  It probably would make some aspects of treatment easier, but then again it might make others harder.

***

A side light on Purim: I mentioned I stayed for dinner after Megillah reading at shul (synagogue) on Monday evening.  The meal was not gender-segregated and I sat with the person I sit with in shul, plus his wife and adult daughter.  I find the extremes of gender segregation in the Orthodox world off-putting at times (not always), but what I really find difficult in my shul is the confusion, in that there is usually gender segregation, but not always, and I can’t work out what the rule is that governs it, if there is one.  It’s not like some shuls where mixed seating would never, under any circumstances, happen, but it only happens occasionally and I can’t work out why.  I guess as someone on the autistic spectrum I like clear rules, especially for nebulous social interactions, and the absence of one is confusing.

Inaugural

I had another difficult morning/early afternoon when I struggled to get up and get going because of depression and exhaustion.  My day was to be structured around two fixed points (not in the Doctor Who sense, I assume), Skyping E. and going, or trying to go, to the new rabbi’s inauguration at shul (synagogue).  In addition, I wanted to do some Torah study and my parents wanted me to do some chores; I wanted to watch Doctor Who after the inauguration, but was aware that it was an extra-long episode and I might not get the time.

Once I got going, I felt a bit better, as usual, but during the afternoon, while doing Torah study, I suddenly felt quite depressed again.  Admittedly the Torah portion for this week, which I was reading, is hard to get inspiration from, focusing on the design of the High Priest’s vestments and the inauguration ceremony for the Tabernacle (which involved more slaughtering of animals than the rabbi’s inauguration did).  I was glad to get through such a difficult sedra (portion) when not feeling great, particularly as I am going to have to spend much of my Torah study time this week researching an idea for this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought), which requires some research and thought, so I didn’t want to have to come back to finish this later.

***

The rabbi’s inauguration pretty good.  Some interesting speeches/drashas (religious homilies).  There were quite a lot of people there, packed into the relatively small hall.  Ma’ariv (the Evening Service) followed by the inauguration took about two hours.  There were cakes, drinks and whisky afterwards, but I decided sitting for two hours in a crowded hall counts as ‘peopling’ and two hours of peopling + loud music + a crowded room did not make for a situation I wanted to continue being in, even if the cakes were good (I couldn’t see clearly enough to tell) – plus I really wanted to eat dinner before moving on to sweet things.  Of course, as I sat at the back, near the door (in case I needed to leave during the inauguration) no one is going to realise I was there, but at least I felt that I was doing the right thing and being part of a community.  On the way home, I noticed I was getting the stomach cramps I’ve had intermittently lately, which I think are anxiety-related, so I probably did the right thing in getting out while the going was good, especially as the stomach cramps went after I got home.

I did have complex feelings about fitting in and not fitting in to the community.  Feeling like I was part of the community by being there, but also that I don’t fully subscribe to the community’s outlook, and I know that E. wouldn’t feel comfortable there and that if I had children I would probably not want them to be brought up with that outlook, or at least not without being exposed to other outlooks too.  It’s not so much that I disagree with major articles of faith as social and cultural assumptions and general worldview.

At the same time there were thoughts about what would have happened if I had become Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or had gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) after school and so on.  My life might have gone in a different way, but it is impossible to tell what way.  Sometimes I think I could have become a conforming Haredi Jew, perhaps with a more strained relationship with my parents, probably married with children.  Other times I think force-feeding could lead to vomiting, so to speak, and I would have stopped being frum (observant) entirely.  And I have no idea how my mental health issues would fit in here.

 

***

(The last bit is Doctor Who, but also some stuff on autism and popular culture if you want to skip to the last paragraph.)

So, Doctor Who, after being atypically good last week was back to being pants and not worth hurrying home for.  The plot thread I really liked last week turned out to be a throwaway thing that wasn’t very relevant.  I actually nearly gave up on the episode twenty minutes from the end, I was so uninterested, which I think is unprecedented.  It wasn’t even a car crash awful story like Timelash or Kill the Moon.  Just really boring and incoherent while trying to be pointlessly epic and definitive, as well as hitting a load of my dislike buttons.  Maybe one day I’ll review it properly for my semi-defunct Doctor Who blog, and doubtless the two people reading this who might be interested in more detail from me will discuss it on their own blogs soon enough and I will comment there.

For now I’ll just paste this comment I saw on Twitter (I broke my “No Twitter” rule briefly out of curiosity to see if anyone else was so dissatisfied): “Most of this series of Dr Who has given me the same sense of disorientation I had when reading most of the New Adventures – a feeling it’s made by & for people who see something very different in the programme to me. Which is fine I suppose, but for me just 😕”  (Hoping I got the right emoji there as I had to paste from another source.)  To be honest, I think it’s just that I dislike, on some level, much of post-1989 (original series) Doctor Who, and it’s just fluke that Steven Moffat provided enough bits I like to get past the usual dislike of New Who much of the time when he was showrunner.

Quite why I react so differently to pre-1990s Doctor Who and pre-1990s popular culture in general – to contemporary iterations is an interesting question I’ve never solved.  I basically like the stuff that was already old and unfashionable when I found it as a child in the 90s or later.  It’s not just nostalgia, as I have liked some new Doctor Who as well as old programmes like Sapphire and Steel and The Prisoner that I discovered when an adult.  I do genuinely believe that popular culture has changed in recent decades (as it always does) and is now less autism-friendly.  I think contemporary culture is much more information-dense and difficult to keep up with if you have slower processing time.  Likewise, the idea that everyone has to go on an Emotional Journey preferably involving love/sex is difficult if you struggle reading and understanding emotions and especially hard to empathise with if you are still a virgin.  There were emotional journeys in the past, but not always foregrounded so much (compare the original 1982 Blade Runner with Blade Runner 2049 from 2017.)  Things are also much bigger and more “epic” – I’m not really sure how to explain that if you don’t watch modern science fiction or superhero films and TV, but the hero has to be shown not just as competent, but superheroic and almost godlike, which I find pompous.  Plus there’s all the postmodern identity politics stuff which just irritates me.  But I still wonder why I like some things more than others.  I really liked Star Trek Discovery season one (looking forward to season two after I’ve finished Voyager), which was mostly up-to-date stylistically and appropriately diverse, but still managed to avoid hitting too many of my dislike buttons.