The Hive Switch

I’m still reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt. I had a bit of a paradigm shift reading it, which I think ties in to one I had a while back reading Rabbi Shagar. Haidt talks about people being 90% chimpanzee, 10% bee — not in a literal, biological sense, but that most of the time we are individuals who compete against each other (chimpanzee), but occasionally we can form a group that cooperates to compete against other groups (a bee hive). The competition doesn’t have to be violent, just in the evolutionary sense that we compete for resources.

Haidt talks about “The Hive Switch,” a metaphorical switch in our brains that can shift us rapidly from individual mode to group mode. Examples of things that can flick that switch include: ecstatic religious dancing (once common in every society except the individualist West); raves (the contemporary Western substitute); being in nature (I think similar what Freud termed the Oceanic Emotion, the awe on seeing nature); group singing; marching in formation with others; going to a political rally or protest; and taking hallucinogenic drugs. These things promote group identification, enhanced empathy for group insiders[1], improved morale, improved cooperation and increased willingness to die for comrades [2]. They are also connected with a religious sense of connection to the Infinite and intense love for everything.

(Incidentally, you can see here that the only contemporary Jewish movement really plugging into this is Hasidism, which has very much been about group singing, ecstatic dancing and alcohol (no hallucinogenic mushrooms in Poland or the Ukraine) since its origins in the eighteenth century, very much the return of the Jewish repressed, although even Yeshivish or Modern Orthodox weddings can get a bit like this.)

Reading this argument, I was struck by seeing two of my major struggles, as recorded in this blog, connected: my struggles to connect emotionally with God and my struggles to connect with other people. You can even locate the two at once in the ecstatic dancing in shul (synagogue) on Simchat Torah. I assumed that both problems were unrelated. My social struggles and anxiety often occur within the Jewish community, but I assumed that was simply because that is my main social environment. But Haidt suggests (although he doesn’t explicitly state it, so I could be wrong) that having experiential encounters with God/the Divine/the Infinite/whatever you want to call it is the same sort of thing as feeling accepted as part a group of people.

Now, I have had that Hive Switch flipped at times, but generally in ways that are hard to replicate. Paradoxically, I had it sometimes when in a period of suicidal depression, where I sort of got overwhelmed with how awful the world seemed and emotionally exhausted by my thoughts and feelings (and sometimes physically exhausted by anxious pacing or walking) then felt an intense feeling of God’s presence. One year I managed to get into Simchat Torah and really enjoyed the dancing (I’ve never worked out how I did that or how to replicate it). I have had it a bit with being in nature and maybe a tiny bit at pro-Israel rallies, although I usually feel out of place at any kind of political event, even if I agree with the platform. So it is possible to flip my Hive Switch, just very difficult. Incidentally, Haidt says the switch is an analogue slide switch rather than a binary on/off switch, meaning it’s possible to be a bit groupish and a bit individual; it’s not one or the other at a given time.

So this makes me wonder if autistic people, the mentally ill or maybe even all introverts have difficulty moving this switch along. I know that when my switch gets pushed, it sometimes encounters resistance. When I’m somewhere where people are bonding over shared political, religious or cultural views, a voice starts up in my head with opposing views (an extreme version of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ idea that the Jews are the question mark in the margin of the record of the conversation of mankind). I probably have some resistance to God too, which is probably a strange thing for a religious person to say, inasmuch as I’m resistant to miracle stories and proofs of God’s existence; for me, God has to exist alongside the Abyss, at least in this world.

The focus on awe in nature and very ‘real’ emotions reminded me of the essay My Faith: Faith in a Postmodern World by Rabbi Shagar (Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg), which I read over Sukkot and which had a powerful affect on me. I want to re-read it before I feel I fully understand it, but the main thing I took away from it was the idea of faith being experienced in what Rabbi Shagar terms ‘the Real.’ This is a term from Lacanian psychology, referring to the early stages of infancy, where the baby can not distinguish between different people and objects, but experiences the world as a sense of wholeness, not as separate objects. Not only that, but he doesn’t experience himself as a body or identity, but as “an amalgam of organs, energies, and urges.” Faith is rooted in experiencing the world as the Real and is about acceptance of the self, which is not narcissistic if accompanied by unity with God; or, alternatively, a creative search for meaning of one’s own. (I would have liked greater detail here.)[3]

I had been trying to live more in the moment, without really knowing how to do it. Then, when I read Rabbi Shagar’s essay, I started trying to note down if I felt myself to be living in the moment and experiencing absorption in the Real when doing anything, or if I feel any connection to God (my hypothesis being that if I experience God, then I’m in the Real even if I don’t know it). This is obviously hard to notice, because as soon as I notice it, I am coming out of it. I find it hard to experience it for more than a few moments and it is impossible for me to go into it deliberately. It’s also hard to tell if I’m really in the Real, so to speak, or if I feel I should be in there, or I want to be there, or I expect to be there. The easiest way to get there seems to be prayer or hitbodedut spontaneous prayer/meditation, but the connection only comes intermittently, maybe every few days, and often for no more than a few seconds. It doesn’t come so often with formal Torah study, but does happen sometimes (often on Shabbat evenings), when a creative interpretation of a passage of Torah, Midrash or Talmud suddenly comes to me even without formally studying the texts.

Being in the Real and flipping the Hive Switch seem to go together, although I’m not sure what is cause and what is effect yet. I would like to know how to trigger them both in myself, and whether I’m always going to struggle with that from autism, introversion, mental illness, personality or anything else.

[1] I think Haidt thinks that, contrary to what is often stated, groupishness doesn’t automatically lead to reduced empathy for outsiders, but I haven’t checked.

[2] Haidt’s argument is that soldiers in battle are willing to die primarily for the fellow soldiers in their unit, rather than nebulous ideas about nationalism or political ideology.

[3] Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz said something similar about the Talmudic statement about babies in the womb learning the whole Torah, which he understands as referring to experiencing God as a nurturing, undifferentiated whole.

***

Other than that, it’s been a fairly quiet couple of days. I somehow got up early yesterday and today. I went to bed early yesterday too, but I was very tired at work this morning. I submitted my manuscript (or the first ten pages of it) to another literary agent. It took me two hours to fill in the online submission form, but I guess it’s good experience even if I don’t get accepted. I do worry that the early parts of my novel (the bits agents ask to see) aren’t interesting enough to capture the attention of anyone not predisposed to like it.

I did various bits of chores and Torah study yesterday and today and I had work today. We had an audit of various valuables the organisation owns. If ever I wanted to see a demonstration that autism is not the same as introversion, it was this. J is typically quiet and introverted like me, but he had a long ‘small talk’ conversation with the external auditor, while I hardly said anything to her that wasn’t an answer to a direct question.

Peopled Out

I felt I had lots to do today. Actually, I probably didn’t, although I did want to get a run in before my sister, brother-in-law and BIL’s sister came for dinner in our sukkah. In the end, I didn’t do that much. I didn’t get for a run. I wrote my devar Torah, one of those where I’m talking to myself as much as anyone else about changing our perspectives on our lives (how the “failure” of God’s first attempt at making humanity teaches us that it’s OK to fail). I did a little extra Torah study and also posted the short story I wrote recently.

I emailed J to ask how much I should invoice him for last week’s work. I said I did half a day to a whole day of work over three days, but, honestly, I’m not sure how much I did. I’m still unsure whether I can count time spent thinking about the task or waiting for people to phone me back or just the moments when I’m actually phoning someone. I don’t know how to bring this up with him. I’m very scrupulous about financial honesty and this can trigger some OCD-type fears in me; should I have said “half a day to a whole day of work” when it is probably three or four hours, closer to half a day than a whole one? At any rate, he said just treat it as a whole day.

My sister, brother-in-law and BIL’s sister came to have dinner in the sukkah with my parents and me. I struggled to get into the socialising zone. Maybe I’m peopled out after the last few days. Fortunately, I won’t have to ‘people’ much more over the next few days. I did get a bit more into the evening as it went on, but then I had to leave early to Skype E. E and I are getting excited about her trip to the UK, but also nervous in case C*V*D nixes it, one way or another. Sigh.

I feel frustrated at being so far from E. I’m glad she is (hopefully, COVID-permitting) coming to the UK soon, but it’s frustrating to live so far from each other, and to have so many factors preventing moving our relationship on (from being long-distance to neither of us really being financially secure). All that said, it is exciting to think we could get engaged in 2022. At this stage, we both want to move things on.

***

I’ve had a muffled feeling in my ears for a while now, along with some ringing. I don’t really have a problem hearing anything, everything just sounds a bit muffled. I actually notice it more when it’s quiet, because then I can hear the ringing.

Consulting Dr Internet, it seems it’s most likely to be a build up of wax, but could be an infection. I know I should see the GP, but it’s been difficult to find time with work and Yom Tov, plus the surgery makes it hard enough to get an appointment at the best of times (you have to phone at exactly 8.30am, really good for those of us with sleep issues). It’s been almost impossible to get an appointment since COVID started and I just feel too intimidated to even try. Maybe I’ll try next week, after all the Yom Tovim are over.

***

At the end of last week, my computer wouldn’t open iTunes. It kept telling me to reinstall it. I guessed that some updates had somehow messed it up, but I didn’t have time to reinstall because of work and Shabbat. Today it’s working fine. I guess procrastination does have some advantages.

“Deep in my heart/There’s a house/That can hold/Just about all of you”

Just a quick note on Shabbat Chol HaMoed. It was mostly OK. Friday night was fine. I went to shul as usual. I realised that the really loud clapping was coming from just three people. I’m not sure if that’s good, bad or indifferent. After dinner, I read the essay My Faith: Faith in a Postmodern World by Rabbi Shagar (Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg) in the collection Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the Postmodern Age. It affected me quite powerfully. It suggested that my approach to issues like religion, inspiration and living in the moment wasn’t as unusual or inadequate as I thought. I don’t really want to discuss the specifics of the essay yet. I need more time to think and process. It affected me so much that I thought I would re-read it a couple of times, maybe about a month apart, until I feel I’ve learnt what I can from it (it’s not a very long essay, I read it in about an hour).

My parents had friends here for lunch, not people I really know. I sat in the sukkah with them, the portable hut/home we eat in during the festival of Sukkot, the festival which is ongoing. I coped with the social interactions and even joined in the conversation a little, but crashed afterwards and slept for a couple of hours, which I didn’t want to do. This was partly because I’m trying to improve my sleep pattern, or at least not mess it up further, but also because I’m trying not to sleep in the afternoon during Sukkot. During Sukkot, one should ideally sleep in the sukkah. This far north, that’s not really feasible as it’s too cold and there is an exemption, but I felt that at least I shouldn’t sleep outside the sukkah during the day, when it’s somewhat warmer and I could theoretically sleep in there. However, my parents and their friends were in the sukkah and, in any case, there is no bed out there and I can’t sleep sitting, so I slept in my room.

By the time I woke up, there wasn’t really time for much more than davening Minchah (saying Afternoon Prayers), which I did at home as I couldn’t really face more peopling, and eating seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal).

I had a headache by the evening and watched The Twilight Zone in my room, hoping it wouldn’t turn into a migraine. I was mostly OK there; it seems to have gone now, although I’ll probably try to go to bed soon.

***

This was supposed to be a quick note on today, but as I don’t have a Doctor Who blog any more, I can’t resist a quick reflection on today’s Doctor Who news. Feel free to skip the rest of the post if you aren’t interested.

It was announced today that Russell T Davies would be returning to Doctor Who as showrunner, the position he held from 2005 to 2009 (or 1 January 2010, if you want to be pedantic). It’s probably a sign that the BBC see the show as being in crisis with falling ratings and popularity, whereas Davies’ period had high ratings and critical acclaim. The BBC want to turn the clock back.

I’ve never really connected with Davies’ work on the show (something driven home to me by re-watching his stories with E — we just finished Evolution of the Daleks). There were stories I enjoyed, but a lot that I didn’t enjoy, and even in the ones I did enjoy, there would be things that annoyed me. Then again, I didn’t really connected with current showrunner Chris Chibnall’s last season either (I preferred his first one (2018), flawed though it was). I did mostly enjoy Steven Moffat’s time as showrunner (2010-2017), but even then odd things would annoy me. I had been hoping for Toby Whithouse as the new showrunner, most of whose scripts for the series I enjoyed, but I did not think it likely that he would get it.

It’s true that I don’t really connect with twenty-first century Doctor Who on the whole for many reasons, except in comic strip format in Doctor Who Magazine, strangely (seriously, the comic is amazing, probably because it doesn’t have space for the stuff that annoys me in the current TV episodes). The problem is probably that I don’t connect with contemporary culture in general, and Doctor Who is now very of-its-time. I hate being the stereotypical reactionary fan who jumps onto the computer as soon as an episode is finished to declare it the “Worst episode ever,” but I can’t like something that doesn’t connect with me emotionally. Possibly I would be happier if I stopped watching, but I can’t see myself doing that somehow, certainly not while it’s available for free (free-ish — my Dad pays the TV licence).

There’s a monograph to be written on fandom as a form of addiction or masochism, not being able to let go even when you don’t like it. I’ve been there before and I’ve seen other people there too, and it isn’t pretty. I kind of admire people who can say, “This isn’t for me any more, I’ll just stick with the old episodes,” rather than constantly hoping for it to be something it isn’t. To be fair, I think last year’s season was the first since the series returned where I hardly liked any of the stories on any level. But I don’t feel hopeful for the future.

Tomorrow Never Knows

I’m wondering if the Very Scary Task should be renamed the Very Stressful Task, as that’s how it seems today. I wanted to get up at 7.30am to be dressed and have davened (prayed) the long Chol HaMoed prayers before I had to deal with it, but I was too tired and didn’t get up until after 9.00am. At 9.30am I did some work phone calls, still in my pyjamas, and discovered that things were a little bit better than yesterday evening. Apparently computer problems among the bureaucrats delayed the paperwork yesterday.

I had to try to set a time for something where everyone involved wanted different times. Actually, most people wanted one time, but one person was being difficult, so I tried to move it half an hour later to help them, but that annoyed someone else who swore at me, which was unprofessional, especially as he was just trying to leave early. It’s hard juggling these people and knowing what to say or do sometimes. I want to please everyone, which is probably a bad trait in some ways, and I don’t know the job well enough yet to tell when people really can’t do something or are just being difficult. As ever with social things, I need a guide to the unwritten rules of human interaction, like so many autistic people do. Then someone had to have a COVID test and I had to find a potential replacement in case he tests positive and can’t do what he needs to do. It seemed a nightmare.

I got it finished in the end, although I’m worried that something will go wrong. In particular, the person who wanted it later has not confirmed that he had my confirmation text. I told him about the new time on the phone, but I felt he wasn’t really listening and worry that he’s going to suddenly say he wants it even later. I guess the blame is on him if that happens, for not listening to me, but I’m still nervous about it.

I should feel good about what I achieved, but I just feel drained and exhausted, as well as anxious that something will still go wrong. Possibly I’m mentally taking responsibility for things that aren’t under my control. I don’t know if this is just a really hard task generally, or if I’ve been unlucky in having things go wrong when I’ve had to do it, or if I struggle because of autism or social anxiety or all of the above. Not knowing what the problem is makes troubleshooting difficult. Obviously there would be little point in asking for adjustments for autism if the problem is that the job is inherently stressful and draining.

After I got everything sorted, the anxiety turned into a sort of lethargy and it was hard to do anything. I wanted to write, to work on my new novel, but I didn’t want to do writing for money on Chol HaMoed. For the same reason, I didn’t want to send out query emails for my written novel. Instead I went out for a walk and to do some shopping. The nearest kosher supermarket unfortunately has for poor COVID compliance, with all staff members and most customers not wearing masks. I was only in there for two or three minutes, but I felt uncomfortable. Then I watched my weekly Twin Peaks episode, delayed by Yom Tov (Jewish festival). Now it’s nearly time to get ready for shul (synagogue) for Shabbat (the Sabbath).

***

I was wondering recently if my life would have been different if I had been born into a frum (religious Jewish) household. I wouldn’t have had to have struggled so much to become frum. On the other hand, I may have found it stifling and stopped being frum, the opposite trajectory of my real life. I might have gone to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and fitted in to frum society better as a result, or I might have had fallen into depression (as I did at university) and dropped out. I might have got married to someone who was willing to settle for me (or even really wanted me) or I might have been a weird reject in the shidduch (arranged dating) scene. I don’t think about this much now that I’m with E, but I used to wonder a lot if I could have been married and happy (and I don’t think I thought much about being one without the other) if I had just been born into a different, more religious, family. The whole train of thought assumes there’s a ‘me’ that is somehow separate to my experiences and I guess the only really worthwhile thing about it is that it shows how uncomfortable I feel with my current place in the frum community and how unlikely I feel it is that I could be more comfortable in it or find somewhere else that’s a better fit.

Overthinking

I struggled with insomnia again last night. I still managed to get up reasonably early to do the Very Scary Task for work. At first it seemed to be becoming a bit more manageable with experience, although it still is quite scary as I have to balance the needs of lots of stakeholders alongside important halakhot (Jewish laws), as well as making phone calls, which socially anxious and/or autistic people tend to see as one of the hardest social tasks. I feel that I’m not good at reading people, particularly on the phone, and I lack the experience of doing the task to make judgement calls and see how things are going, especially judging timescales, which is important. I feel J can judge these things, but I can’t, and he was not checking his texts all the time today. Hopefully I will gain experience with time, but reading people is hard, although it’s an issue in any work situation. It’s still a struggle to do something involving so many people, so little time, and which is a very serious and important thing in itself.

As time went on, the task became harder. As is often the case when I have the VST, I found myself hanging around waiting for phone calls, not willing to start anything in case I suddenly have to stop. I wish I understood this process and the time it takes better, but I guess I will only learn by doing it. I had time to think and overthink what I had done, which was not good, especially as there was no one around to talk it over with. Mum was at work, Dad with his friend, E asleep and J out with his family. This left me too much time to overthink and catastrophise. I wrote essentially the same work ‘to do’ list twice in the space of a few minutes without realising what I was doing, trying to get my thoughts out of my head. I don’t like being left by myself to brood on things, as well as feeling as if I’ve dropped off the planet when people don’t answer phones or texts. I shouldn’t be so insecure in my work and emotional needs to require constant reassurance that I’m doing the right thing, but given that I do feel like that I don’t know what to do about it, especially as the consequences of making a mistake are potentially quite serious.

I feel like I spent all day working on this and it’s still not completed, so I need to get up early to work on it tomorrow too. I actually only spent an hour or two in terms of actual activity, but I’ve been on edge all day waiting for phone calls, and planning phone calls, and I haven’t been able to do anything else. By the mid-afternoon, I felt really tense and uncomfortable. I also don’t know many hours I can justifiably bill J for. In the end I texted some people instead of phoning, as it was 7pm and I was totally out of energy spoons. I think if this becomes a regular part of my job, I need to think seriously about how I manage the stress and if I can claim any adjustments. And I’ve still got to deal with it again tomorrow, because we’re waiting on some bureaucrat to get off their backside and send the paperwork so people can do their actual jobs. I would be quite worried about what will happen tomorrow and how I will cope, except that I’m now too tired to care, which I guess is good. Isn’t it?

“Let go and let God” is a term from addiction treatment. I’d seen it before, but today I saw it right when I was struggling with things. It seems to apply to me. Unfortunately, I’m not good at letting go, particularly when I feel I’m letting other people or God down, or both, in the case of the VST.

***

In terms of other scary things, I survived a prolonged social interaction with my Dad’s best friend (despite having eaten lunch quickly to avoid him). He seemed a lot older than when I last saw him and more subdued than he used to be. I think he’s been through a lot. I shouldn’t have mentioned his criminal conviction yesterday, as it makes him sound like a career criminal, rather than someone who made some bad decisions. I’d also forgotten that he has mental health issues that influenced those bad decisions. So, I feel a bit guilty. He asked me a lot of questions about work, which is good in that it makes me seem normal, but bad in that sometimes I’m unsure of the answers. Despite having been there for ten months, I feel there’s a lot I don’t know.

Then I had to have dinner with my parents’ other friends in the sukkah, with no spoons (of the energy kind, but it was pizza so no literal spoons either). I didn’t want to “people,” I just wanted to watch TV, but it’s Sukkot, so I had to eat in the sukkah, which meant people and no TV (and no spoons). It wasn’t as bad as I feared, mostly because I tuned out of the conversation and just ate my food and went. Then I skyped E, which is strange for me, as it seems to be a social interaction that doesn’t drain me and maybe even restores me, which obviously bodes well for our future.

***

I decided I didn’t have the wherewithal to write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, especially as there is no regular Torah reading because of Sukkot. I missed last week too, which makes me feel a bit bad. Next week is back to the beginning of the Torah, so hopefully I’ll be able to write one there. I tried to do some Torah study, but first was too on edge waiting for phone calls, then too tired and stressed, and worried about tomorrow. Sigh. I did a little, but not much.

I did at least spend a little time on my short story. I got it to a point where I was happy enough with it to be able to let E see it (she liked it). I’ll probably post the short story in a day or two in a locked post. Please let me know if you want me to email you the password so you can read it.

I did realise recently that the novel I’ve written is about the demons and mistakes of my adolescence and early adulthood, whereas the one I want to write next is about the demons of my childhood and also the present day, at least in some sense. I’m not a rabbi who is secretly a porn addict, but in other ways it is about me. I’m very drawn to the idea that a novel about addiction is really a novel about teshuvah (repentance/return to God/return to the true self/soul), at least in a Jewish context, an idea that is hard to explore in the secular Western setting, which has become a lot more about public shame than private guilt.

***

I went for a walk to try to destress (it didn’t entirely work, I got two work-related calls). I went to the book box and re-donated IT, along with Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas, a big history book that I bought at a charity shop years ago and instantly regretted because the cover was such a mess (coffee stains) that I could never bring myself to read it. It is now easily the most intellectual thing in the box. I hope someone else can see past its cover.

***

E booked her tickets to the UK for later this year, which is exciting, although because of COVID there is a layer of uncertainty and the worrying feeling that everything could get called off at the last minute because of a bad test or an escalation of infection in the US or UK. It seems strange to think there was a time when you could book a plane ticket and, aside from extreme unforeseen incidents, you would know that you would definitely be in that country on that date. We seem to have drifted back to a pre-twentieth century idea of travel.

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps

At this time of year, no sooner is one festival finished than we start preparing for the next one. The last few days have seen Dad and me building our sukkah, the portable ‘home’ (shack sort of thing, with tent like walls, but a bamboo-thatched roof) for the next festival, Sukkot. Timewise, we’re halfway through the festival season, but Sukkot, and the semi-independent, semi-connected festival of Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah that follows it, go on for nine days. On about half of those (Chol HaMoed), many types of work are permitted, so it’s not a massive enforced break from the norm, but the flipside of that is that I may have to do the Very Scary Task again to cover for J’s Chol HaMoed daytrip with his family on Thursday. Sukkot isn’t as emotionally intense as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, as it’s a time of great joy, but it’s also more time in shul (synagogue) and with guests for meals — my parents’ friends rather than mine (my parents would let me invite friends over, but I won’t do it right now for a variety of reasons). And no TV to help me switch off; immersing in Doctor Who or whatever is more restorative for me than reading, important though books are to me, but while I can do it on Chol HaMoed, I can’t on the other days.

Shul was quite difficult over Shabbat (the Sabbath), which is one reason I’m apprehensive of the approaching festival. I found the clapping in Kabbalat Shabbat really loud and almost physically painful; at one point I wanted to run out the room, which was a strong reaction for me. There was dancing after Lecha Dodi (well, holding hands and shuffling around in a circle — there isn’t really room for real dancing). Someone tried to get me to join in; I just shook my head. I feel bad staying out, but I would feel bad if I joined in too. It’s hard to know what to do sometimes. I missed prayers on Shabbat morning as usual, but I did go back to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), as I didn’t want the social anxiety to grow. I need to work out how to beat it back a bit. I did manage to cope OK, although not brilliantly, with some jealousy-provoking thoughts. I was OK with seeing someone I was at school with in shul with his young daughter, but struggled more with him leading Kabbalat Shabbat (I used to be able to lead prayer services, but haven’t done it much in the last six years through social anxiety).

Today, aside from helping Dad with the sukkah for a while, I made a few small, but hopefully significant, changes to my novel before submitting it. Other than that, I didn’t achieve much. Typed up some notes to (hopefully) help me stop making mistakes at work, went for a walk, managed a few (very few) minutes of Torah study, did some ironing and Skyped E. My mood was rather down and I’m not sure if I was down because I didn’t do much or if I didn’t do much because I was down. I suspect a bit of both, but I think some of the “down” was exhaustion from shul recently and awareness that there’s a lot more to come (plus sukkah guests and possibly the Very Scary Task).

***

E and I both feel frustrated that we haven’t got where we expected to be in life by this point (our thirties), and that other people seem to manage it so effortlessly. We aren’t really sure how we catch up or get to where we want to be. Maybe other people don’t really manage it, or not so effortlessly, or maybe they do manage it, but it’s not our fault that we haven’t managed it too because we have our own challenges, but it’s easy to fall into self-blame and negativity (neither E nor I could ever be mistaken for an optimist).

***

Do I enjoy being scared? I always think of myself as a nervous child who avoided anything scary. I was too scared to watch Doctor Who for years after I first came across it, and I remember running from the room at the opening minutes of the James Bond film Live and Let Die. I also remember being terrified by the cover of a murder mystery novel my mother borrowed from the library; it showed nothing more frightening than a blood-stained shirt, although the black skull icon on the spine that indicated it came from the library mystery and thriller section was just as scary. Doctor Who and Sapphire and Steel were programmes that were intended to be somewhat scary, but they were also aimed at a family audience, not an 18-rated one, and by the time I watched most of them, I was too old to be really scared. Then again, I was probably in my twenties when I watched Invasion of the Body-Snatchers (the 1950s version) and found it mesmerising and chilling, even though it was probably a PG by modern standards.

Yet as a teenager or even a pre-teen, I read a lot of Victorian pot-boilers that laid the foundations of the horror genre: Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (I’ve read that so many times I’ve lost count, probably half a dozen; the image clearly resonates with me), The Island of Doctor Moreau. I missed The Invisible Man, but picked it up later. None of these particularly scared me and most of them didn’t gross me out (Dracula a little bit, but Doctor Moreau was the only one I found really uncomfortable). Even before then, when I was seven or eight, I was always reading “non-fiction” children’s books about UFOs and ghosts (I don’t believe in either now, but was more agnostic then and wanted to find the yeti and the Loch Ness Monster when I grew up) and not-quite scaring myself.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Jewish fantasy series I’d like to write and how it is somewhat on the boundaries between fantasy and horror: vampires, dybbuks etc. I wonder if I should read some horror novels to get a sense for the genre. Aside from those Victorian classics, I’ve only really read a couple of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula alternative history/horror novels (“What if Dracula hadn’t been defeated?”). I did watch Twin Peaks, which I mostly put off watching in the past because I worried it would be too scary or gory. The original series turned out not to be much scarier than Doctor Who, but the 2017 series had some gory moments. Yet I seem to be able to put up with some scares or gore if the essential story is good enough (Twin Peaks, the Blade Runner films). Similarly, I’m watching The Twilight Zone and I definitely prefer the eerie stories to the fantasy or funny ones, but there isn’t anything gory about them and the scares are mostly psychological.

This came to a head a few days ago. Someone has set up one of those free book-swap boxes in a nearby road. I look inside periodically, but hadn’t found anything I wanted to take. Then the other day they had IT by Stephen King and I picked it up impulsively. I have never read it, even what I’ve heard about it scared me (although I’m not coulrophobic). It was almost like I was daring myself to read it. (It’s also flipping enormous, over 1,100 pages, longer than The Lord of the Rings and not much behind War and Peace.) It’s been sitting on my shelf since then. I’ve flicked through a couple of times, but can’t decide what to do with it. Should I read it or send it back to the book-swap box? I haven’t entered it on my Goodreads account yet, because I know once I’ve done that it will be hard to return it. The logical thing to do would be to start it and see what it’s like, but I don’t really do logical. Maybe that’s why I scare easily, because I can’t see how illogical most of my phobias and fears are. Or maybe I worry that I would be the impulsive kid who goes down to the cellar alone in the middle of a storm.

I guess the bottom line is that I like eerie atmosphere a lot, but I don’t like gore or sadism and I certainly don’t like jump-scares (which aren’t really an issue in prose as opposed to TV or film). And I’m not at all sure about how this fits in to my writing ambitions.

Spiritual Experiences, Conformity, and Autism in the Workplace

I couldn’t sleep last night, which perhaps was inevitable after sleeping so much during the day (even if it was Yom Kippur) and having an evening that was not-brilliant from a sleep hygiene point of view. I just have to deal with it now. I lay in bed resting for a while and got up around 5.45am to eat breakfast. I had therapy at 10.30am, so trying to sleep through the morning wasn’t an option. I napped for an hour and a half before therapy, which was probably a good thing even if it meant I wasn’t fully present in therapy.

Therapy was good. We spoke a bit about my frustration at not having intense religious experiences on festivals. I mentioned that my rabbi mentor said that probably most people were not having them, whatever the Jewish websites say. I also reflected that I do have some religious experiences, sometimes, as I think happened on Wednesday evening at shul (synagogue) and I shouldn’t discount them just because they are fleeting and/or inchoate and hard to put into words afterwards. I also feel that Shabbat is a time when I’m less distracted by social anxiety in shul and anxiety over ritual than on festivals and that I do have spiritual experiences on Shabbat more frequently as a result, and that I could be more accepting of them, but also unconsciously discounting them. One of the things I want to work on about myself this Jewish year is being more “present in the moment” and not worrying about the future or focusing on abstract thoughts. I think this openness to fleeting, inchoate spiritual experiences is something I can work on in this area too.

***

When I couldn’t sleep, I finished skim-reading the autism memoir I’ve been reading. The main thing I take away from it is that it’s important to ask for adjustments if you want to get them, as people aren’t psychic and often don’t know much about autism. I can see that it will be hard for me to learn this lesson, as I was diagnosed relatively late in life (thirty-seven) and have spent most of my life being told to “force myself” to do things that I don’t feel I can’t do because “everyone else can do them.” My mentality (probably for psychological and religious reasons as well as experiential ones) is indeed to try to force myself to do things and hope they will become easier with practice. Some of the things the author got adjustments to avoid doing (such as making phone calls) are things I struggle with, but “force myself” to do with a lot of anxiety and internal resistance.

Also, in my current office set-up it’s just me and J, so if I can’t do something, I’m putting it all on him, which is uncomfortable. I’m mostly OK with what I have to do (my occasional absent-minded incompetence aside), aside from the Very Scary Task and one or two other things. J usually handles the Very Scary Task that unless he really can’t. It’s basically our core task, and it has to be dealt with quickly for halakhic (Jewish law) and other reasons and it is basically a mitzvah (religious commandment), all of which make it hard for me to back out of it. On which note, I may have to do it next Thursday, when J will be at a theme park with his family on Chol HaMoed (the semi-festive middle days of the festival of Sukkot, when the work restrictions are looser than on the other days). The unpredictability of when I have to do the VST is another issue, and, again, unchangeable given the nature of the task (which I don’t want to go into here).

The author of the book is also a lot more obviously autistic and in many ways less functional than me, although sometimes I feel that I’ve spent so long masking, I’m not sure I can do it much longer. It makes me feel that I “should” be able to cope better. If she can hold down a full-time job, I should be able to too, if I’m not so autistic. But it doesn’t really work that way, especially if you don’t have the fortunate autistic ‘good at numbers’ gift as she does.

***

I helped Dad put up more of the sukkah. Dad and I putting up the sukkah, or doing any DIY really, is worryingly like Laurel and Hardy (or the Chuckle Brothers, depending on what your comedy frame of reference is). I worry how I could put up a sukkah by myself, even a (supposedly) easy-to-assemble one like ours. More worries for the future.

Aside from that, I spent forty-five minutes or so finishing the first draft of the short story I was writing. I’m glad to have made progress on it.

***

Reading Ashley’s post on conformity, I commented:

I find it hard to tell how influenced by conformity I am. I pretty much always feel ‘different’ in a social group, but I’m not sure how much I am different or how much it’s just my perception. Maybe on some level I want to feel like a non-conformist.

I certainly have beliefs and practices that are different to my religious community, but I’m not sure whether there’s any pluralistic ignorance going on (thanks for the term!).

Politically, I’ve shifted quite a bit from where I was brought up. I have friends across the political spectrum, but my more political friends are the ones most different to me. But mostly I keep quiet about politics, even more so than religion, to avoid that kind of trouble.
I do feel that in politics, like religion, I don’t really fit in one ‘box’, but, again, that could be more my self-perception.

I do find it very hard to disagree with people to their face, though, even if I disagree strongly in my head, even on trivial things like whether I enjoyed a particular film or book. I don’t often leave disagreeing blog comments; I would more likely walk away from a situation like that unless I felt extremely strongly or felt very secure in my relationship with that person.

Thinking about this after posting, I can see that not being authentic in my social interactions and fearing rejection would be stressful, particularly as authenticity is an important value for me that I am often not observing. However, I also feel that hiding my opinions has let me have a wider friendship network than many people have, in the era of social media echo chambers, not in terms of absolute numbers, but in terms of the diversity of the views they hold.

Prejudice

I’m not sure what I feel about dinner with the rabbi yesterday. It was basically OK. I didn’t say much, but I did say a bit and mostly felt comfortable except when I spilt some water and then worried that I had tried to mop it up in a way that was not permitted on Shabbat, although I don’t know why I got this impression. On the downside, I felt some people were talking about non-Jews in a less-than-respectful way. This kind of casual racism in the frum (religious Jewish) world bothers a lot of people, including me, but it’s hard to know how to challenge it. A lot of Jews seem to have an attitude that Jews have been the victims of prejudice so often that we can’t perpetuate it, which is illogical (as illogical as the parallel view in the woke world that Jews can’t be the victims of real prejudice because many of them are pale-skinned).

It would annoy me in the abstract, but having had a lot of non-Jewish friends over the years, through Doctor Who fandom and the blogosphere, I take it somewhat personally. Plus, the Torah says that all human beings are made in the image of God, and human dignity is a fundamental Jewish value.

There was also some discussion at dinner over whether the mission in life of a Jew is just to study Torah or whether there is room for political engagement (or artistic endeavour, which wasn’t explicitly stated, but was hinted at). I said that it’s impossible to know what an individual’s mission in life is; for one person it might indeed be significant Torah study, but for another it might be something else. Fortunately, the rabbi agreed with me. I did not think to mention an idea I once heard that the descendants of Leah have the role of engaging in pure spirituality, whereas the descendants of Rachel have the role of bringing the spiritual into the physical world, although as I heard this from a Modern Orthodox Rosh Yeshivah, maybe it’s as well I didn’t.

It’s things like this (racism and narrow viewpoints) that make me feel that I will never fully fit into this community, even though it has many aspects I like and appreciate, such as good decorum (Orthodox shuls (synagogues) are notorious for talking during prayers and even Torah reading and for young children running in and out the whole time) and a davening (praying) pace that is neither too fast nor too slow for me, as well as an attitude to davening and Torah study that is serious and committed, but with humour and self-awareness as well as not supposing that everyone is at the same place religiously or working at improving the same practices and character traits. I wish I could find a shul with these positives, but a slightly more modern social attitude. It does seem that a strong sense of “us” can only be inculcated by demonising “them.” I feel that Torah wants us to disprove this, but most Jews are unable to meet the challenge, either with too weak a sense of Jewish identity or negative feelings about outsiders.

One thing I noticed was that when the rabbi blessed his children, as is the norm in the frum world on Shabbat, the rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) blessed them too. I don’t think I’ve seen that in an Orthodox household before.

I got home very late. I spent a little time in Torah study, as I hadn’t done much in the day, concentrating on work. Then I read for a bit, as I was drained and needed some relaxation time before bed, but I was too tired to read for long. I couldn’t sleep when I got to bed, but I was too tired to get up and read and just lay there.

Inevitably, I struggled to get up this morning. I also napped after lunch and had to rush to get to shul for Talmud shiur (religious class). I hurried out of the house with no tie to save time and felt under-dressed in shul. Talmud shiur was OK, but I began to get a headache during Minchah (Afternoon Prayers). It wasn’t a bad one by any means and has mostly gone by now, but it’s left me feeling tired and, bizarrely, craving carbohydrates. I should do more Torah study and do my hitbodedut meditation/unstructured prayer before bed, but I don’t really feel I have the energy, although I don’t feel that I would fall asleep if I went to bed, so I’m uncertain what to do for the next hour or so.

Behind-the-Sofa Scary

(There’s a cliche in the UK about children watching Doctor Who from behind the sofa because it’s so scary, at least for a family programme. For Doctor Who fans, that’s kind of the litmus test of genuine terror.)

I didn’t blog yesterday as not much happened. Today I had weird dreams, overslept and went into a panic about Shabbat (the Sabbath) and the Yom Tovim (Jewish festivals) in the next few weeks. I did some work today. I’m working from home on Monday, but I worried about oversleeping and not working enough, so I thought I would do some work today and tomorrow, but it’s been a bit of a rush. I’m about to do a little bit more, although I won’t do much Torah study today. I might have to leave writing next week’s devar Torah (Torah thought) until Thursday evening. I usually like to have it almost finished by then, so I can just proof-read it and send it, as I’m usually tired from work, but I can’t see how I’m going to get the time. I do at least know what I’m going to say (unlike the week after).

I am going to the rabbi’s house tonight for dinner. I’m a bit nervous about this, although I surprised E by saying that I’m usually OK talking to rabbis without additional social anxiety from their position, just ordinary social anxiety of talking to anyone. I’m not sure why that is, probably because I’ve been talking to rabbis from a young age and I know they’re just people, usually with a corny sense of humour. Usually quite laidback too. I know some people who leave the frum (religious Jewish) community complain of strict upbringings (or abusive upbringings, which is something else entirely), but most frum people I know are laidback, often surprisingly so. I find it’s hard to get frum people to commit to things because they often have a “Whatever, we’ll work it out eventually” attitude. This always seems at odds with how I think religious people should behave, which is precise and even a little anxious. Maybe this is something to do with trusting in God that everything will work out. Or maybe it’s just my Yekkish background. Yekkes (German Jews) are stereotypically precise, punctilious, and the only Jews who are remotely punctual. I’m actually only one-eighth Yekkish, but I feel a strong affinity for the stereotype.

***

E found me an article on autistic burnout! It doesn’t say much I didn’t already know, but it’s useful to show family and it’s reassuring to be told that it’s “a thing.” It’s unclear on the thing I’m unclear on, which is the extent to which autistic burnout is a short-term thing triggered by a few hours of that can be alleviated by a few hours of rest and sleep or a long-term thing somewhat like depression that sets in after weeks or months of stress and can last indefinitely. My feeling is that it can be both, but I don’t think everyone agrees.

***

After I saw my rabbi and told him about my autism, I sent him the article I wrote about being autistic in the frum community. He really liked it and asked if I would like him to circulate it in the community. I’m not sure what I feel about that. I can see pros and cons. I don’t have time to list them in detail (maybe next week), but I can see big pros in starting a conversation about autism and neurodiversity in the local community and maybe finding some more understanding and support at shul (synagogue). On the other hand, telling literally everyone in shul seems scary and awkward, and I could end up defined as “that autistic guy,” at least for a few years until I become defined as “that frum author who writes a lot about sex.”

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams”

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a mixed bag, and, again, I find I need to break my rule, or at least aspiration, about not going online after Shabbat in the summer as I need to blog to get some of my thoughts out of my head.

On Friday night we davened (prayer) outside again. This seemed at odds with the shul‘s (synagogue’s) policy of no longer keeping COVID protocols in place, now that it is legal not to do so (unlike my parents’ shul, which still has a lot of safeguards in place, and is even apparently adding more). This was pleasant for me, as I would wear a mask inside, but felt no need to do so outside. The reason may have been that we do not own the building where we daven, which is usually a school. The hall where we daven is currently being significantly remodelled, which is going to make services difficult, particularly the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur festival services next month. I am not sure what the shul will do. We raised funds to buy our own premises earlier this year, but I think we do not have planning permission to build yet, and even when we do, the building project is estimated to take eighteen months.

I did not sleep particularly well last night and had some strange dreams, partly focused on some silly thing I did when I was ten. I don’t know why I carry around guilt from two decades ago, when I wasn’t even an adult. It did leave me in a negative state of mind, and I stayed in bed because I felt anxious and self-critical. When I did finally get up, I was carrying other guilt, which I don’t want to go into here, for various reasons, but which was equally irrational.

I slept for three hours after lunch, which was not sensible, as I will probably struggle to sleep tonight. Even then, I only woke up because I set an alarm before Shabbat. I’m not sure how long I would have slept if I had awakened naturally.

I nearly didn’t get back to shul, as I had a lot of social anxiety. I more or less forced myself out of the house and down to shul. The hall, now I saw it properly, looked very different as a result of the ongoing building works. About a third of the hall has already been partitioned off, and even in the area still accessible to us, some tables were missing. This was somewhat upsetting to my autistic mind.

After Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), the seudah shlishit (third Sabbath meal) was held in a classroom. I didn’t want to go and eat, but I did want to attend the Talmud shiur (religious class) that would be held partway through the seudah. I stayed in the hall and read for a bit, but then thought that they were about to start the shiur, so went and found the classroom. I felt awkward sitting there and not eating, but I did get to hear the shiur. I’m not sure how well I followed it, but I would have followed it even less had I not prepared in advance yesterday.

One thing I noticed was a couple of people addressing me by name and trying to make small talk with me. It always surprises me when people know me or want to talk to me. I suppose I’ve had so many bad social interactions, so many communities of one kind or another (shul, school, scouts, university, workplace) where I’ve felt I haven’t been accepted or didn’t fit in (or was even bullied) and just stood around “being autistic” and not really being able to talk to people that I’m still amazed when people know my name and want to talk to me. I don’t know how to progress this to make friends though.

I don’t know how rational my COVID fears are. I travel on public transport (with a mask) to get to work or volunteering, and shul is probably no less safe than that. Is it safe enough not to wear a mask, or to eat? I don’t know. According to the government, it’s fine, but I don’t feel safe. Is this sensible caution or the beginnings of health anxiety/OCD?

I feel a bit down now, and vaguely headachey. I probably need something to eat, and to shower (it’s got hot again) relax a bit before bed.

I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper

I struggled to sleep again last night, although the temperature has dropped a bit. I’m not sure why I’m having trouble sleeping at the moment (trouble falling asleep; I have no trouble staying asleep, unfortunately!); maybe it’s connected with the slight uptick of anxiety and irrational (I think irrational) guilt I’ve had lately. Drinking hot chocolate seemed to help, and it’s far fewer calories than eating porridge, which I had been doing when insomniac. I think I’m adjusting to the sweetness, which may not be a good thing.

Work was pretty dull and I felt I was clock-watching even more than usual. I don’t know how people do dull office jobs 9.00am-5.00pm and five days a week. Part of the day was spent looking for invoices that we didn’t have, and which probably don’t exist, which is irrationally more frustrating than if I’d spent an identical amount of time and energy searching for invoices we do have.

I was surprisingly busy when I got home, doing some late research for my novel (see below), cooking dinner (plain pasta, I didn’t have that much energy) and trying to do more Torah study (I do some on the Tube into work), but being too tired to do much, and then feeling vaguely guilty about prioritising novel research over Torah, although I honestly thought there would be a period after dinner where I would feel more alert and less distracted for having eaten before the tiredness set in.

I told E yesterday that I’m vaguely anxious lately, and vaguely anxious about why I’m getting anxious, which I suppose is meta-anxiety (anxiety about anxiety).

***

I’m currently reading Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side, an ethnographic study of a yeshiva (“rabbinical seminary” although many of the students are not intending to become rabbis, and certainly not communal rabbis) in New York by Jonathan Boyarin. It was supposed to plant ideas of incidents or anecdotes for my novel, but it’s not really the same type of institution my protagonist (I can’t really think of him as a ‘hero’ despite/because he’s based on me) attended. It is interesting to read, though.

It did make me wonder whether I misunderstood what yeshiva study involves somewhere along the line, although the institution in the book isn’t the type of yeshiva that I could have studied at, not least because it isn’t residential (the thought of communal living and shared dorms is hugely off-putting). Boyarin spends some time looking at the intersection between the yeshiva and popular culture. He says there are more references to popular culture than would have been the case at a more “right-wing” (=fundamentalist) yeshiva, but at the same time I think references are mainly to popular culture that people grew up with (either before becoming religious or when a child and allowed more freedom), rather than contemporary popular culture they might experience as an adult. In other words, it’s OK to have had access to popular culture, but not necessarily to have access to it now. I’ve noticed this in my shul (synagogue) too (the rabbi referenced Space 1999 this week!). I saw something similar on a blog years ago, where the blogger said that even in very fundamentalist communities where university was forbidden, it was OK, even celebrated, to have gone to university in the past, particularly if you got a prestigious qualification like medicine, just as long as you weren’t currently at or planning to go to university.

Watching Boyarin navigate the multiple levels of meaning and depth (religious, political, social, humorous) in the conversations at the yeshiva, I realise that maybe it’s not surprising that I struggle in similar situations. After all, Boyarin struggles at times, and he isn’t (I assume) on the autism spectrum. And when I say conversations, I don’t just mean the study conversations; even the casual bantering can work on multiple levels and require effort to keep up with it. (I have seen this at shul too.)

Reading the book, I’m brought back to what I think I’ve wanted since university, even if I haven’t always been able to articulate it: a chevra, a group of friends who I really connect with and can feel comfortable talking to and joking around with, like I used to have at school, where there were only about five people I could talk to (out of a school of 1,500), but I was completely unselfconscious with them. This is possibly not something I should be looking to replicate (even aside from Asperger’s/autism).

***

At least E knows what to say to me. Her verdict on Doctor Who: Rise of the Cybermen (new series, 2006): “that episode just sort of seemed like an inferior reworking of Genesis of the Daleks” (original series, 1975).😍

Shabbat Hazon and Tisha B’Av (Mood Diary, Not Another Religious Post)

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, except that I did not manage to fall asleep until 3am on Friday night, possibly because of the heatwave, so I overslept and missed shul in the morning again.

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), then went again after seudah for a pre-Tisha B’Av drasha. It was good, but I felt self-conscious not just in a blue shirt, but no jacket or tie. I think I could have got away with no tie, but I should have worn a jacket. My parents said I would be too hot and I agreed, but deep down I knew that everyone in my shul would be wearing a jacket even if they took it off on reaching shul. Also, the rabbi had said something about my wearing a blue shirt during the Talmud shiur — not critical, but it made me feel self-conscious.

I didn’t have a low chair for Tisha B’Av and was planning on just sitting on the floor (Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; in Judaism, sitting low down or on the floor is a sign of mourning). Someone lent me a low chair, but I didn’t want to use it. I’m not sure why. I was a little worried it was higher than permitted, but I think mainly I just felt too self-conscious by that stage: was he being friendly or did he think I was a total am ha’aretz? And my non-leather trainers (not wearing leather shoes is another mourning custom) weren’t particularly comfortable either, although that could have been from sitting on the floor. I also got confused too about when to wear a COVID mask, and realised that I gave my mother mistaken instructions regarding end of Shabbat ceremonies when Tisha B’Av starts immediately afterwards.

Along with this, I couldn’t really follow Eichah (The Book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av). I don’t know why I’ve found it so hard to engage with it the last few years. I just can’t follow or connect. To be fair, I find the Hebrew quite hard to translate in my head, but even following along seems to be hard. I just can’t concentrate that much at 10pm, especially in a heatwave and while sitting on the floor (and feeling socially awkward). Then in my shul we do kinot (laments) to ourselves, really quickly rather than slowly and communally as in my old shul. I read some kinot in Hebrew without really connecting with the poetic Hebrew, so I switched to English (really the only time of the year where I say set prayers in English), but still ran out of time. I did the last kinah at home, in Hebrew, but looking at some of the English, which felt a bit better.

As usual after Shabbat when I’m in shul I helped to fold up the tablecloths, but I’m so bad at that that I feel I would be better off not helping, except that it feels wrong to just walk out without helping. I was reminded of something I said on Ashley’s blog last week about autistic people wanting to help, but actually just getting in the way.

I struggled to sleep again last night, because of the heatwave, because of creative thoughts I kept having that I kept getting up to write down, and perhaps because shul had left me feeling disquieted. Perhaps consequently I overslept today, and when I woke up, I was not able to get up for a long time. I felt utterly drained again, and perhaps somewhat depressed, and aware that I didn’t want to break my fast until halakhic midday, a little after 1pm. I missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers. I think I finally got up about 2.30pm, made havdalah (on tea) and had something to eat. I felt a bit better after that, but I did feel that I wasn’t quite in the right mindset for Tisha B’Av, but also that I was scared to get into that dark mindset. I read Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust for a bit (a book I’ve been reading only on Tisha B’Av; in about five years, I have not finished it yet, although I might try to finish the few remaining pages before next year) and listened to a Zoom talk on antisemitism via my shul. I also went to a Zoom shiur (religious class), again through my shul, but the organiser hit “Mute all” and forgot to unmute the speaker’s computer, so it was inaudible. Someone posted in the chat to say there was no sound, but it took a while for someone present at the shiur to notice and unmute it.

I feel like I don’t find Tisha B’Av as meaningful as I used to, and I don’t know why. Not fasting (because of the danger of fasting while taking lithium tablets) is probably a big part of it. Fasting used to make me ill (headache, nausea, sometimes vomiting), but not fasting feels like not really participating. I tended to avoid shul during the day even pre-COVID, because I don’t want to have to turn down a mitzvah because I’m not fasting. Plus, I often experience burnout after the night of Tisha B’Av from the shul experience (as much social anxiety as religious devotion this year, as I said above) and then crash on the morning and struggle to get up, especially as I try to fast until halakhic midday. Or maybe not being depressed means that Tisha B’Av is not the day that I most connect with emotionally any more, the one where I can easily get into the right state of mind. To be honest, I feel like as a general rule I’m not as connected to the festivals and fasts as I’d like to be, and I don’t know how to change that. I spend so much of holy days either worried about social interactions or sleeping and trying not to oversleep that religion struggles to get in there.

I did write a Tisha B’Av thought, on the suggestion of my rabbi mentor that it would make the day more meaningful for me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, though. In the end I posted it here, although it’s not really a good match for my blog, but I don’t want to send it to my devar Torah mailing list as it doesn’t seem right for there either — maybe not quite frum (religious) enough and a bit too daring.

Fear of Normality

I had a stressful day at work today, but mostly tied up in the difficult task that I sometimes have to do that I don’t really want to talk about here for confidentiality reasons. So I’m a bit stuck with my usual strategy of blogging to offload stress. I told E and my parents, which seemed to help. The other problem at work was the water cooler leaking, which was quite a big thing, but isn’t really worth relating here.

***

I just emailed a friend and, without really thinking about it, said that I’m a bit nervous about elements of coming out of lockdown. That surprised me a bit, but when I thought about it, I realised that I am nervous, although I hadn’t really considered it before, and although part of me wants to be out of lockdown. I hate wearing a mask, but I think I’m now scared to be in crowded settings without one, and with other people not wearing one. Already people on the Tube are not wearing masks, even though Transport for London has made it clear that masks will be required for the indefinite future. And from next week I will (probably) be travelling home on the Tube at rush hour. Sooner or later I’ll have to start coming in during morning rush hour too.

I am also nervous of the return to socialising – or not socialising, in my case. The feeling of being left out when everyone else socialises and I’m too anxious (or friendless), and also the discomfort I feel generally in social situations that I might try to join in, like shul kiddush (refreshments after synagogue services). Then there’s the fear that COVID will return, or something like it, or something worse (there are viruses more infectious and deadly than COVID).

The good thing about coming out of lockdown is that it brings nearer the time when E will be able to come over here to visit! But that’s still not looking like it’s going to happen soon, given the restrictions on US-UK travel. So it feels a bit like all the scary social stuff I’ve avoided for nearly eighteen months is coming back, but the one thing I really want to happen seems as far away as ever, which doesn’t really seem fair.

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.