Shabbat and Lying-in-State

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Energy Budgets and NHS Budgets

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

UK population: ca68,000,000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bravest Orangutan in Britain

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Existential Spirituality

I wonder sometimes about my spiritual life. I feel I have more of a religious life than a spiritual one. I would like to have a more spiritual life, but it’s hard to know where to start, especially from inside a major religion — where do you go when you’re already where you’re supposed to be, and don’t want to leave, but aren’t fully fulfilled? I want more spirituality, not less Judaism. Further, I find ‘spirituality’ a vague and unhelpful term, and Hebrew words like ruchniut aren’t any better.

I used to read a lot of Jewish religious existentialists (not all Orthodox). I found Jewish existentialism an approach that resonated with me more than many approaches in the Orthodox world, so out of curiosity, I searched online for stuff on existentialist spirituality, despite knowing that secular existentialism is very different to religious existentialism.

I found an article on existential spirituality in psychotherapy the other day that says the following:

There are four primary existential ways of being-in-the-world. They include:

  1. Umwelt: Being-with-nature or the physical world.
  2. Mitwelt: Being-with-others or the social world.
  3. Eigenwelt: Being-with-oneself or the world of the self.
  4. Uberwelt: Being-with-the-spiritual or over world.

Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), and May et al. (1958) described the first three of these existential ways of being. van Deurzen (1988) added the fourth.

I do struggle with several of these areas. I’m able to experience nature well when I’m in a natural setting, but I struggle to find one in the suburbs. It might be good for me to walk more often in a little area of land left wild at the edge of the nearby park (although it only takes five or ten minutes to walk the length of it).

Skipping number two for the moment, I am a lot more OK at being with myself than before. I still have low self-esteem, something worsened by autism-induced mishaps, and some social anxiety and catastrophising, but I’m mostly comfortable being inside my head. I feel positive about my sense of integrity, which ties into my Jewish practice as I practise Judaism less to feel “positive” or “spiritual” in the moment and more because overall I have a feeling of integrity and rightness from acting in accordance with my religious beliefs and as part of a three thousand year old community.

The really hard areas are two and four. I think being with others is very important (this is perhaps the biggest thing I take from Jewish existentialism), and it does help me when I find a way I can interact with others well, but finding that way can be hard. I definitely missed volunteering the last couple of weeks when it was on a break and I felt depressed until it restarted yesterday. The downside is that I feel depressed and burnt out today, which may be cause and effect or may be coincidence.

The fact that I go to shul (synagogue) a lot less than I did seven or eight years ago is probably a negative here too, from a social point of view as much as anything. Communal prayer does create social bonds. In recent years I have gone to shul a lot less, as a result of sleep disruption, social anxiety, changing communities and then COVID. I’m now totally out of the habit of regular shul attendance and struggling to get back into it.

I think my marriage to E might be the biggest positive change I can make here. Following the Talmud, I see marriage as the primary model of a loving relationship (the Talmud sees “Love your neighbour as yourself” applying particularly to marriage) and I think the intimacy (emotional as well as physical) there will help me feel more spiritually-fulfilled. I think already our emotional intimacy has led me to feel better in this way. It is hard at the moment, though, when we are so far apart and know it will be so long until we get married. E said it feels like we should be married now and our current status is a weird aberration, and I agree with her. E also thinks that God wants us to marry so I can help her be more religious and so she can help me to have more fun, which may be true too.

Connecting with God directly is harder. I struggle to connect with God through Torah study, except on occasions when I suddenly gain some new insight. That doesn’t happen often, but maybe I have to do a lot of study to provide “scaffolding” for those moments of connection. But often it’s easy to forget God while studying Torah and just focus on the text as a text. Possibly I should try to get back to reading something inspirational or about personal growth every day.

I have improved my kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer lately, but even then it can be hard to concentrate on God. I can focus on God or on the words of the prayer, but it’s hard to focus on both at once.

I guess a lot of the problem is the subjectivity of what constitutes a spiritual experience or a connection with an invisible God. Maybe I’m trying to over-analyse.

***

I got a phone call from A, the person who seems to be a middleman between me and the psychiatrist. He turned out to be a psychiatric nurse. He said that before my medication was reviewed by the psychiatrist with a view to reducing it, could I tell him what happened about the autism assessment I was referred for in 2019, as they had no further information. I was pretty shocked he didn’t know about my diagnosis. In fact, I don’t think he even knew I was referred for an autism assessment, as he thought it might have been for ADHD (the hospital assesses for both). I offered to scan the report and send it to them, which was fortunate as he said he could write to the GP, but that would take weeks (!). You would think that an advantage of a single, national healthcare provider would be some kind of shared data base, at least within the locality. Honestly, this service is just so useless.

***

I was going to go for a pre-wedding haircut after this, but it started raining really heavily and I decided to go after work tomorrow instead. It’s still quite hot and I think the rain and heat/humidity combination along with the disruption to my plans brought my mood down. I am nervous of having my hair cut by a stranger again. I’ve always found haircuts intrusive, probably for autistic reasons about personal space and sensory stimuli, but for many years now I’ve had tremor in some social situations and haircuts are a major trigger, indeed, they were the first trigger when it started. I hope it doesn’t happen tomorrow.

I forgot to go to shul (I want to go on Wednesday evenings), although I wouldn’t really have had much time to spare. Instead, I submitted my first novel to two more agents, both UK-based. I’m trying to focus on UK agents at the moment. One is Jewish, but is super-influential and well-connected, so I probably won’t be accepted by him. To be honest, I suspect all the agencies on the list I’m using are too big for me and that I need some small boutique agency. E disagrees with me here; I hope she’s right.

***

I got sent £3.34 from Lulu.com, which means someone bought my non-fiction Doctor Who book!

Social Interactions

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

Sunday

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

Monday

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

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

“Why were you not Luftmentsch?”

I was somewhat late for volunteering today, partly because I overslept, partly because there were no buses.  To be fair, the two other people who get the same bus were similarly late.  I hung around to drink coffee with the other volunteers afterwards.  I tried to speak.  I find it hard.  There are some things I don’t really want to talk about, and other things where I can’t work out whether I should talk about them or not.  There are some questions that I would naturally answer with a yes/no answer, but I have learnt that allistics (non-autistics) often prefer an explanation or elaboration, so I try to give that where it doesn’t seem too intrusive.  Believe it or not, I’m a private person away from my blog.

I did mention that I’m engaged and having my civil wedding soon.  I’d been wondering whether to say something, then I had the opportunity to drop it into the conversation casually, so I did.  Everyone was pleased for me, although I had to explain the immigration/two weddings situation.

More difficult to handle was when I was asked if I would join everyone at a non-kosher restaurant for lunch next week (there is no actual volunteering next week).  I was not comfortable doing that, although I was pleased to be asked.  But I find these situations awkward, as I don’t want to appear holier-than-thou.  To be honest, part of me was glad, as if it was at a kosher restaurant, I would feel obliged to go and I’m not sure I’m ready for that level of social contact with these people yet.  But I know E would be inclined to go in this situation and it does make me wonder how we will deal with our different kashrut-based socialising decisions.  It can be a bit of a minefield at the best of times.

I volunteer putting together the food packages at the food bank, and then other volunteers come to distribute them in their cars.  One of those drivers was wearing a kippah like the one I was wearing.  These were produced uniquely for my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding guests, so it would seem he was there (I guess as a guest on my brother-in-law’s side as I didn’t know him, most likely a relative or close friend of my BIL’s parents).  I didn’t have the confidence to ask him about it.  My Dad has actually had at least one conversation with a stranger started by the shared wedding kippah connection and I felt that my Dad would want me to ask him, but I didn’t have the confidence.

In the afternoon I spent some time on my novel.  I spent about an hour on it, not as much as I would have liked, but I wrote over 500 words, and it was a difficult passage (not yet finished), about my characters’ reactions in an art gallery.  Art is not a subject I know a lot about, so it is a learning curve.  I think this chapter will take some time

I submitted my first novel to another agent.  I had to pick one from a bunch of agents at the agency.  They did have them tagged by genre, which made it easier, although I’m not sure what I feel about ‘mental illness’ and ‘neurodivergent’ apparently being considered genres now, useful though that is to me, given my novel’s subject matter.  I feel vaguely bad that I discounted one agent for having two typos on her profile page, although it then turned out that she’s not currently looking for new writers anyway (phew, no guilt!).  I did find another one to submit to.

***

I saw a blog post yesterday about not having a victim mentality.  Then today I was in a discussion about the same subject.  I probably do have something of a victim mentality when I look back at my earlier life, in particular the bullying and the years lost to depression/autistic burnout.  I’m finding it hard to learn to accept my life without letting the negative parts of it define me, and not to see it as leaving me with something to prove or a need to redeem my life.  It’s possible that I still haven’t processed the fact that I’ve discovered that I’m disabled and have been all my life, or at least that I haven’t processed it as much as I thought I had.

Today I was thinking (for unrelated reasons) about wanting to be myself, about the famous story about the eighteenth century Hasidic master Zusia of Hanipol.  On his deathbed, he said he was scared.  His Hasidim asked why.  He said, “I’m not scared that they will say [in the afterlife], ‘Why were you not Avraham (Abraham)?’ because I am not Avraham.  I’m not scared they will say, ‘Why were you not Moshe (Moses)?’ because I am not Moshe.  I’m scared they will say, ‘Zusia, why were you not Zusia?’”

It is scary to think of going through life trying to be someone else and I have no idea if I’m doing that.  I was thinking yesterday that I wished I was more spontaneous and confident enough to say and do things in an off-the-cuff way.  Then I asked myself if I really wished I could do that or if I just had an image in my head that being spontaneous is a good thing to be and that I’m not spontaneous and don’t need to be.

Impostor!

I struggled to get up for volunteering, even though I had slept for nearly eight hours. In a weird way, I hope I do have an issue like sleep apnoea, because it feels like it might be easier to deal with than assuming this is a medication side-effect (I probably can’t come of my meds completely) or autistic exhaustion (which is more or less incurable). Although E might not want me to have sleep apnoea as sufferers tend to snore. If I ever shared a bed with someone, that might have made it easier to have an objective view of my sleep patterns and behaviour.

Volunteering was good, although I felt socially awkward again at times. Sometimes I feel I would like to know what other people really think of me, to see if it really is as bad as I sometimes fear when I feel I’m being very autistic and am not doing the right thing in a group situation. I also wasn’t always sure if people were teasing me or genuinely annoyed with me. I’m really not great at reading middle-aged women. For what it’s worth, I think they were teasing me. Someone said I looked young for my age, which is nice, although weirdly it’s common for people to think this about people on the spectrum. It’s been suggested we don’t show emotions on our faces so we wrinkle less than neurotypicals. Who knows? The same woman asked me what I do for a living, which is never a question I like to have to field; lately I’ve been telling people “I work in an office and am building a career as a writer and proof-reader,” although the proof-reading is really an aspiration for after E and my wedding and when we’re settled in together. It’s funny that Ashley posted something today on Impostor Syndrome and used the example of an author as something which has a social role beyond the literal meaning of the term. I struggle to see myself as a writer as I have written so little that has been professionally published, let alone that I have received money for.

I struggled to get down to some novel writing in the afternoon, being distracted by outside events and also procrastinating, but I did eventually manage at least an hour of writing, which was good. The procrastination did mean that I didn’t have time to submit my first novel to more agents (I stopped when I applied for the emerging writer’s programme as I was supposed to be unpublished), especially as I cooked dinner, went to online shiur (religious class) and skyped E. I might submit my manuscript on workday evenings rather than working on my new novel, so that I don’t burn out the next day.

***

I got an official rejection from the emerging writers’ programme. I’m trying not to take it too personally, or to see it as a sign that I will never be published or am wasting my time writing. I guess that would be Impostor Syndrome again.

***

More on Impostor Syndrome. A number of years ago, I was assistant librarian at a non-Orthodox Jewish educational institution. One day I overheard one of the library users, a Reform rabbi and academic, describe herself as suffering from “Impostor Syndrome.” I didn’t think anything of it at the time. A number of years later, I read a newspaper article she wrote about doing Daf Yomi (the daily Talmud study cycle) and how she felt uncomfortable that (male) Orthodox rabbis might not want her to study it. She said this not in a “they’re so sexist” way and more in a “wanting to be accepted” way. It is doubtful that the Impostor Syndrome comment referred to this, but it linked the two concepts in my head.

A while later, another female rabbi and academic passed away and donated her books to the library. I spent a long time searching through them and cataloguing them. I feel that I can get to learn a person more through looking at their books than anything else (not literally anything else, but than a lot of things). I was interested and surprised that she had a lot of books on Orthodox sub-groups, the Hasidism and the Mitnagedim (originally, the opponents of the Hasidim, although these days to an outsider they would doubtless seem very similar, and the rivalry no longer exists in the same way). Later, I came across a journal article by her where she said that she worried that the Hasidic rabbis she read about and admired would reject her because of her gender and that she wanted to be accepted by them.

These anecdotes surprised me because I thought the women involved, both very successful in multiple spheres (rabbinate, academia) and at least one very feminist and with a reputation for, as the cliche goes, “not suffering fools gladly”[1], would have no interest in what Orthodox rabbis, and especially Orthodox rabbis from centuries ago, would have to say about their lives. I would have thought that if they thought about being rejected by these men, they would simply tell them to “**** off.” And yet they clearly were conscious of the fear of rejection, and conscious enough to share that vulnerability in print. I have to say it endeared them to me enormously because of my own feelings of inadequacy. I was pleased to see two people who I saw as successful and psychologically balanced in a way that I was not suffering from similar doubts to me. I also feel I am not fully accepted in the Orthodox world, and unlike them, it is where I focus most of my spiritual life.

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, except to say that Impostor Syndrome is probably a lot more widespread than most people are willing to admit.

[1] I’ve never been entirely sure who is glad to suffer a fool.

***

I finished reading the James Bond novel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (SPOILERS). I’ve read about half the Bond books now and I think this might have been my favourite, which surprised me as I don’t rate the film that highly (the second half of the film is good, but I find the first half slow). Blofeld’s plan is bizarre though: set up a super-expensive Alpine resort for the treatment of allergies, then use it to hypnotise “nice” but somewhat naive young women, all of whom work in agriculture (but come somehow afford treatment at this exclusive resort), into spreading biological warfare agents back home to destroy British agriculture. This is apparently funded by the KGB, and Blofeld will profit by selling sterling at a profit before the economy tanks. A lot of Doctor Who stories have the problem of the villain’s plans being far too crazy, convoluted and impractical to work in the real world (particularly when the Master is around) and this is in the same category.

(If I’m talking about Blofeld and the Master in the same breath, I should probably note that The Mind of Evil is Thunderball in a prison and Frontier in Space retells You Only Live Twice on an interstellar scale.)

I think Ian Fleming missed a trick by killing off James Bond’s wife shortly after their wedding. Tracy would have been an interesting recurring character and the series could have done with a strong female character, although it would have killed off the bed-hopping aspect of the novels (which doesn’t interest me anyway). Even though I don’t like sad endings, I thought the ending of the novel did work, which I don’t feel about the film, perhaps because there is more foreshadowing in the novel.

The Glittering Prizes

I spent an hour writing a whole long post yesterday evening and then WordPress ate it! The autosave somehow jammed mid-save and when I went to publish, I could not, because it was still trying to save. I tried to save manually, but that didn’t work either. In desperation, I refreshed the page. I’ve done this in the past when the autosave has jammed, and I’ve lost a minute or two of work, but this wiped the whole hour. I rewrote most of what I wrote yesterday, plus more on today, but I struggled with my energy and didn’t write in as much detail in places. So apologies for a somewhat abbreviated post.

***

Rabbi B phoned me at work yesterday. I got rather anxious waiting for him to phone, more because I was worried about being interrupted or missing the call than for what he would say, but I was a bit worried about that too. He said E and I should get in touch with a beit din (rabbinical court) in America about confirming E’s Jewish (and unmarried) status. E got upset about this, fearing extra bureaucracy and wait time. I felt we should get in touch with the Beth Din while also moving forward with our civil wedding in the US. I think E was surprised that I wanted to commit to the civil wedding without being 100% certain the religious one will happen as we want. But I am very committed to making this happen no matter what, and I think the chance of us not getting married at all religiously is pretty remote. We did eventually agree about this and wrote to the American beit din today. There is a $100 charge, though, which is annoying.

Otherwise work yesterday was dull, with a sudden burst of stuff near the end of the day. I did get to listen to some good podcasts while doing boring work copying and pasting or copy typing data and also walking home from the station.

One podcast was the Orthodox Conundrum interview with lesbian Orthodox Jewish comedian Leah Forster. It was interesting to hear her say she forgives the community that disowned her and that she still identifies with it, given my difficulties fitting into the frum world. I also found it interesting that she feels strongly that God loves her, something I struggle with a lot. I would have liked to have heard more about her beliefs here.

I also listened to a Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast on Jewish inspiration. I struggle with inspiration a lot. Listening to this made me wonder if this is due to alexithymia (difficulty identifying and understanding my own emotions) and poor autobiographical memory, both autistic traits. This would explain why I invest so much time and energy in Jewish activities (prayer, religious study, mitzvah performance) while struggling consciously to explain why Judaism matters so much to me. Beyond this, as I’ve mentioned recently, I see the religious life as being more about the quest for a God Who “hides His face” and the journey to Him (which is also an inner journey to the self and journey to connection with others) than about times of connection and inspiration. I also have a strong connection to other Jews, now and in the past, and to Judaism as a body of literature and thought.

This podcast and another Orthodox Conundrum interview with Rabbi Yonah Bookstein about “kiruv versus outreach” made me think about what kind of Jewish household E and I will build together. It is clear that it will have to be one that presents Judaism as interesting and fun and not just something that must be done. I (somehow) inspired my parents, my sister and E to increase their observance levels by example rather than by actively trying to argue with them. I am not at all sure how I did this, but apparently I did it. This relates to the difference Rabbi Bookstein described in the podcast between kiruv, which he sees as religious people essentially condescending to teach non-religious Jews about Judaism with the aim of making them become fully religious, and outreach, which he sees as about giving non-religious Jews meaningful Jewish experiences even if they go no further religiously and about seeing them as equals and people who can teach as well as learn. I greatly prefer the latter approach.

***

Today I found out that I had won a Jewish journalism award for the article I wrote for a Jewish website in 2021. I won the ‘honourable mention’ in my category, which is basically third place, but as first and second place went to professional journalists, this seemed impressive. Weirdly, the award also went to the editor of the site. He was very apologetic and didn’t know why they gave him the award too as he didn’t help me with it. There’s no money, but it’s a weird and somewhat annoying mistake. I wonder if they thought my autism prevented me from writing without help? Or if they thought I must have had help because I’m not a professional journalist?

I went to volunteering too and stayed for coffee afterwards this week, speaking to the woman in charge of the volunteers. We spoke a bit about my writing aspirations and I wanted to speak about the award, but found it hard to find the confidence and an opportunity and then hesitated and lost the chance.

In the afternoon, I phoned the hospital about the blank appointment letter I received. It turns out it is for the sleep clinic, but the appointment is just the doctors discussing the referral. Theoretically they could phone me then for more information if the GP left something out, but I probably won’t hear from them that day. Hopefully I would get an appointment call from the secretary the next day offering me an appointment.

More adventures in bureaucracy: I signed up to pay self-assessed income tax for the 2021-2022 tax year (when I was working in my current job, but not on a permanent contract). This was about as exciting as it sounds, but it took a non-trivial amount of time, energy and brainpower, so I’m mentioning it.

I did some novel writing after dinner, but after a while I ran out of energy, motivation, concentration or something and just ended up procrastinating, so I quit for the night. Shiur (religious class) was cancelled as the rabbi who takes it is ill, but he’d done the early afternoon class (the class takes place at 1pm and again at 8pm) and recorded it, so I watched that. I tried to sort my cluttered desk drawers at the same time, which didn’t work very well, so I had to pause it. The shiur went deeper than the previous shiurim in this series, which I appreciated, although it made multitasking harder than expected.

Turning Points

The last few days have been fairly busy. I surprised myself by not being very anxious on Shabbat (the Sabbath) even knowing I had the meeting with Rabbi L on Sunday. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue), though. I felt slightly ill (headache, light-headed) on Friday night and while it passed fairly quickly, by that stage I had missed a lot of the service. I had insomnia on Friday night and, when I woke up at 8am on Saturday morning, I went back to sleep instead of forcing myself to get up as I did on the first day of Shavuot. Minchah (Afternoon Service) is at an awkward time at the moment, either 6pm for the early service or 9pm for the late service, so I missed that too. I want to try to make more of an effort to get to shul next week. I did some Torah study, went for a walk and read a lot of Harry Potter. I felt vaguely under the weather on Saturday evening and my parents made me take a COVID test ahead of their brief holiday in Tunbridge Wells this week, but it was negative.

On Sunday I did some novel-writing, although not so much and with poor concentration, perhaps partly from anxiety about E and my Zoom meeting with Rabbi L about getting married. That meeting went very well, and I’m now a lot happier about feeling we don’t have any insurmountable halakhic (Jewish law) obstacles to our getting married, and am reasonably confident of getting married in early 2023. The Zoom call ended abruptly when the forty minutes free call finished. Rabbi L phoned me for a few minutes to finish the call and seemed genuinely pleased that I’m getting married and approving of E, more than he would be for someone he didn’t know. I guess he knows some of my story (I used to bombard him with some of my religious OCD (kashrut) questions when my OCD was bad), so he can see how far I’ve come.

Strangely, immediately after the call, I drifted into depression and OCD anxiety. There was also some anxiety (not OCD) when I woke up this morning, but it drifted away after breakfast. I’m not sure why my mood went down when things were going well. Some of it was probably the tension release. Some of it is probably that E and I have a lot to do in the next eight or nine months, starting this week. And some of it is probably the expected response to a looming major life-change. I also have some “I don’t deserve to be so happy” thoughts. I wonder why I get to get married when so many people I know are single, divorced, widowed, or in struggling marriages. I have to remind myself that I had decades of loneliness, singledom and rejection to get to this point.

I had a lot of racing thoughts last night. After a while, they weren’t anxious or depressed thoughts, but they would not stop and I struggled to sleep. I got about four hours in the end before I had to get up for work.

Work today was boring, but when I got home I had some energy so worked on my novel for forty-five minutes and wrote about 500 words before I started to feel burnt out and went downstairs to make dinner. I feel pretty exhausted now, but not sleepy. I’ll probably watch something light on TV to unwind; I don’t really feel up to reading, not even Harry Potter, but I need some proper relaxation time or I won’t sleep and I’ll be burnt out tomorrow.

***

I feel like I’ve had some paradigm shifts in how I view aspects of the world in the last few days:

  1. I find it easier to believe that God supports me and that good things have happened to me and been achieved by me. I don’t focus so much on the bad things that have happened to me or see enduring mental illness as my only real achievement. (That said, I wish I could have seen this article about enduring depression and anxiety being spiritual success and holy work when I was at my worst. Like the author’s husband, I’ve also put on tefillin moments before sunset. I never really thought of it as anything holy.)
  2. I’m trying to move from thinking, I don’t fit in whenever I’m in a group, I have so many differences to most of the people, because I’m not normal to I can connect with many people even if I don’t have a lot in common with them.
  3. In the past I’ve felt I owed people from my personal history an explanation: “I’m like this [weird, different] because I’m depressed/autistic, and I’m sorry if I hurt you as a result.” It’s actually been a major motivator for me to write, fiction, articles and blogging. But today I wonder if I do owe anyone an explanation. There are people I have hurt, undoubtedly, and it would be nice if I could explain that, but I didn’t deliberately hurt anyone. I had a major neurodevelopmental disorder that I didn’t know about, which resulted in my spending nearly forty years trying to push a very square peg in a succession of round holes. I even wonder a bit what I would hope to gain from explaining myself to people.

***

Lately I’ve been listening to a big Glam Rock compilation CD I bought. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, although you could probably have a long and pointless argument over genre demarcations and how much of it is really Glam (Glam vs. Bubblegum Pop vs. early Disco etc.).

I’ve never really worked out why I like Glam Rock. Words I associate with Glam are: loud, theatrical (even camp), quirky, gender-bending, attention-grabbing. I am not any of those things, except maybe quirky. I am not David Bowie with lightning on his face or Noddy Holder in a glittery tailcoat and mirrored top hat. Maybe that’s the appeal, that it’s really not me, in the way I like the James Bond novels because they’re really not me. Or maybe I just find the upbeat nature of the music fits with the way I use music, to cheer myself up and motivate. Certainly it’s often not particularly clever music in the way other music I like is (The Beatles, The Kinks, Paul Simon, Sting), except for Bowie again (who isn’t on the CD). Unless you can find deep meaning in Cum on Feel the Noize or Tiger Feet.

I think someone (JYP?) should write a Perfect Day parody: Pluperfect Day: “It was such a pluperfect day/I was glad I had spent it with you…”

***

On the way home today I saw someone wearing a Visit Rwanda shirt and couldn’t tell if it was dark satire or if they had actually been to Rwanda (for non-UK readers, the British government is going to be deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, beginning tomorrow, to widespread dismay and bewilderment).

Autistic Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

Rumination and Peopling

I tried to relax a bit before going to bed last night. I watched some Doctor Who and broke my diet to eat a couple of Quality Street chocolates. Even so, I struggled to sleep. I just feel too stressed at the moment. I’m not sure what time I finally fell asleep, but I did somehow manage to get up for work in the morning.

Work was dull today, and left too much time for rumination. I still feel like a dry drunk, full of uncured neuroses and poor coping strategies, just waiting to plunge into another episode of depression. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced. I’m not sure how I move on from this. I mean, some people do move on from worse issues than mine. But lots don’t. As I’ve said, psychodynamic-type therapy definitely helps me to understand myself (and write novels about thinly-veiled Mary Sues) and often brings about short-term clarity, but I have not had any catharsis. My problems did not magically solve themselves by my transferring them onto my therapist and working through them in therapy. As for CBT, I’ve said before that it doesn’t really work on people on the spectrum. For every reason I can give why I’m not worthless and a failure, I can give another ten reasons why I am exactly those things. It’s scary thinking that I’m coming into a marriage with all this hanging in the background.

Maybe I can cope better than I think I can. Maybe I have dealt with some of my issues in therapy. It just feels like I haven’t and I don’t know what to do.

I was wondering if E and I hadn’t broken up in 2018, and I had kept my job in further education (my last job that felt like part of a career, not a time-filler), maybe my life would have been better. But E and I needed the separate growth time, that job wasn’t right for me, and Mum and Dad needed my help when Mum had cancer in the first lockdown. You can go mad thinking like that. It seems that God has a plan, difficult though it is for us to comprehend it.

***

I had dinner with my sister and brother-in-law. It was a mistake on several levels. I was exhausted from work and not able to ‘people’ well. We had takeaway from a kosher restaurant (actually two, due to an order mix up), but a regular delivery company and it wasn’t double-sealed as it should be to stop contamination if they are carrying non-kosher food too. Then we brought some back for my parents because we had too much raising issues about our crockery and microwave. Having conferred with my rabbi mentor, I think it’s OK, but I hate the struggle between my “wise mind” and my OCD mind, with my halakhic (Jewish law) mind caught in-between trying to figure it all out correctly. To be fair to me, a couple of years ago I’d have gone into a terrible, non-functional, anxious state, and this time I did not do that and kept some proportion. I thought that it would probably be OK, and it was. But I did still get somewhat anxious and concerned.

On the other hand, I feel like a terrible goody-goody caring about this (the delivery packaging) and talking about it here. I know lots of people think God doesn’t care about the details, only the bigger picture. I could write a whole essay on why the details are the big picture, but I doubt it would change anyone’s mind, so I’ll just say that I wouldn’t want my brain surgeon or airline pilot to do roughly the right thing, not worrying about the details, and I don’t see why God’s Law is less important or fine-tuned than brain surgery or flying a 747.

On the plus side, my sister and BIL gave me a lot of help regarding booking travel and COVID tests (they’re also going to the US in January) and my sister lent me a stack of driving instruction books, although that just reminds me that that’s another terrifying thing I have to confront at some point, probably sooner rather than later. It was good to see them, but in future I will try to schedule some relaxation time between work and socialising.

I’m pretty exhausted now. I will watch some Doctor Who and go to bed, I think.

Energy Accounting and God’s (Lack of) Emotions

I struggled to sleep last night, and then massively overslept today (again). Then I felt wiped out in the afternoon, although I managed to go mattress shopping with my parents. (I was astounded as usual at the ease with which my parents can chat to the shop assistant. I can’t do this at all!)

I still feel like I’m struggling with all the stuff I’m supposed to do (generally, not just today), even without my near-permanent exhaustion. And I know that no one makes me do regular prayer and Torah study, or write a weekly devar Torah, or write novels and try to get them published and I could cut all these things from my life easily, except that it would be even smaller and less meaningful than it already is. I can accept that some of these things might have to be cut down or put on hold for a year or two as E and I move towards marriage. It doesn’t make it easier to decide what gets cut, and how much.

In terms of keeping up with writing while struggling to do other things, I’ve heard of “microwriting,” writing in tiny bursts of just a couple of minutes. I can see they would add up, but I feel that I need a longer period to really get in to some writing, so I’m not planning on microwriting my next novel.

I would like to do some “energy accounting” to balance my energy output and intake to try to stop the burnout. The hardest part of energy accounting is having no real knowledge of how much energy tasks require, or how much I get back from different types of relaxation, which makes it all seem like guesswork. Ashley suggested that factoring in more relaxation time might improve energy levels overall, and it might, but I feel I already have some relaxation and I’m wary of factoring too much. It’s hard to work out how much is “correct.” If I could swap procrastination time for relaxation time, that might work, but reducing procrastination time is difficult, as it creeps in when trying to do other things rather than being scheduled. I have been trying to turn to blogs and sites online that I want to read for novel research rather than the Jewish and news sites I usually turn to when looking to procrastinate, but spending ages reading about addiction probably isn’t the best thing to do for other reasons. (It’s also constantly expanding. I just discovered that Chabad.org has a whole section of their site, which I think is still the largest Jewish website in the world, for Jewish addicts of all descriptions.)

Aside from the mattress, I tried to write my devar Torah for the week, but was really stumped. It’s not even a ‘difficult’ sedra (Torah reading). I just couldn’t think what to say. I found a sermon in the Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 1939-1942, the Holocaust sermons of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the Piasczno Rebbe that I will try to summarise and, if I feel up to it, add to. But I’m not sure if I’ll be able to add much, or when exactly I’m going to get the time or energy to do this.

I basically spent much of the day feeling exhausted and depressed (like clinical depression in intensity) and I don’t know why. Actually, I wonder if it’s because I’ve been off work for a few days. I think I do need the structure, even if it exhausts me.

I will try to relax tonight and tomorrow and again at the start of next week when I have another bank holiday-induced break. I think going to work on the Thursdays will probably be for the best.

***

I had a thought today. I mentioned I’ve been spending time recently reading things by frum (religious Jewish) addicts as novel research. An idea that comes up a bit and is supposed to be inspirational is: “If I avoid acting out, it will give HaShem (God) nachas.” Nachas ruach or nachat ruach is the Hebrew term for contentment; in Yiddish, nachas refers more to the reflected glory from your children or grandchildren doing something successful. The idea is that God is emotionally pleased when an addict chooses not to act out or that He is generally pleased when people overcome the temptation to sin, like a parent who is pleased when their child does something significant.

I feel uncomfortable with all of this. Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon aka Moses Maimonides) says that God has no emotions, because if God had emotions, we could divide God into ‘God’ and ‘God’s emotion(s)’. This would disrupt God’s unity and is a big no-no from the point of view of Rambam’s Medieval rationalism. The most we can say is that the Torah anthropomorphises God, saying He is angry, joyful etc. because it’s the only way to understand something that is beyond human understanding (the nature of God). But God Himself is never angry, joyful etc.

I wonder if this is why I struggle with the idea that God loves me. Because I view it as a metaphor for something I can’t understand and not something literally true, as the addicts were suggesting. I would agree with Rambam that the mitzvot (commandments) were given for our benefit; keeping or not keeping them makes no difference to God, Who is eternal and unchanging no matter what we do.

I do feel that Rambam and other Medieval rationalists only appeal to a very limited number of people, I suppose very intellectual people who don’t need much emotional connection to Judaism, or at least can separate the emotional connection from the intellectual. My feeling, having mostly studied Rambam second-hand, is that he neglected the affective side of Judaism and wanted everything to come through the intellect. So he wants Jews not to believe, but to know via logical proof that God exists and, while he is very open to the idea that mitzvot teach us behaviour and positive character traits, he sees this teaching as happening in a very intellectual way, making us think about something, not through the mitzvah making us have a particular emotion (this is the source of my disagreement with him about animal sacrifice which he struggled with, whereas I see it as building on fairly straightforward emotions even if it’s not exactly to modern tastes). I feel that the Medieval rationalists were right, or more right than the kabbalists (mystics) (from my limited knowledge of Medieval rationalism and kabbalah). But I find it hard to live my religious life like that. It’s too dry and unemotional.

(Aside: I just ordered this book. Even with a 30% discount code, it cost A LOT, for a book that I’m worried I won’t understand. I spent eighteen months procrastinating over whether to get it. But I feel that some of the things I struggle with intellectually in Judaism could be eased a little by serious academic Jewish philosophy. I am, generally speaking, be willing to pay a lot of money to learn things that I think are true and meaningful.)

(Actually, while the credit card was processed, it really looks like something went wrong with the order, as I haven’t had a confirmation email, and my order history on the publisher’s site is empty. Something else to worry about and deal with…)

***

I am nervous about buying plane tickets to go to New York to visit E tomorrow (buy the tickets tomorrow, not go to New York tomorrow, obviously), which is super scary, but I will try to do it. It would be scary even without COVID and the need for PCR tests, but with COVID it’s even worse. But I’m going to do it!

Long Division

I don’t have much to say, but I feel I need to offload a bit. Work was OK. I went to the bank, which I always like as it’s good to get out of the office (which I’m finding increasingly dark and claustrophobic as we head further into winter), even if it was cold outside. Coming home wasn’t fun though. I had my first proper Tube ‘packed like sardines’ crush since COVID started, and it wasn’t even rush hour. I don’t know how I managed to cope with this regularly for so much of my life despite my autism. No wonder I kept burning out! And now I have COVID fears about being stuck with a crowded carriage of people breathing on me. Mask compliance was perhaps a bit better than it has been for a while, but not like it was last winter. Everyone was wearing a mask in shul (synagogue) tonight, but it’s hard to feel confident about that when it feels such a retrograde step.

I have been pretty burnt out this evening. I had a good time with my family last night, but I had to ‘people’ all evening and then go to bed without much downtime. Then I had work today, the Tube crush and then eating dinner with my parents again, which is still ‘peopling.’ I desperately need some TV time. I did half an hour of Torah study on the train to work; I would have liked to have done some more, but I just don’t feel up to it.

Also, E and I are facing some big decisions, but we’re facing them together, which is good. We both feel anxious, though, and frustrated at being so far apart. I’m not saying more about this for now.

***

I laughed out loud a couple of times when I was listening to Hancock’s Half-Hour on my headphones while walking home from the station (despite it being a very dated episode in multiple ways). I’m glad it was dark and people couldn’t really see me as it would look pretty odd.

***

I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who. It was mostly quite good and I wasn’t going to comment here, but then there were some bits, small and, unfortunately, very big, that were very, very bad. So feel free to skip the rest of this post, unless you’re a fan, or you just want to see me angry.

I liked the Yaz/Dan/Professor Jericho stuff. It felt like proper Doctor Who, exciting, funny, mysterious and different. More please.

The Grand Serpent was nasty. Somehow he seemed to do more than Swarm and Azure, who look good, but, in my mind at least haven’t done much (they killed some abstract people in a somewhat abstract way), a big ‘show don’t tell’ violation. And I find myself guiltily thinking the programme is better without the Doctor being engaged in the main storyline — no slight on Jodie Whittaker, just on the general level of bombast that new series Doctors are supposed to exhibit in comparison with the original series (Yaz and Professor Jericho arguably both seemed more Doctorish in their plotline).

The mildly irritating stuff: the Ood mask was rubbish (eyes too big, tentacles too rubbery and the whole thing screaming ‘fake’). The story as a whole is sort of beginning to make sense, but some stuff just isn’t explained properly. And no upper class British general in the 1950s would use ‘task’ as a verb.

The small, but annoyingly awful bit: the in-joke vocal appearance by Lethbridge-Stewart. No one of his class and accent and paternal background (see Twice Upon a Time) rose through the ranks. He’d have gone to Sandhurst and trained as an officer from the start. And even if you take the latest dating for the UNIT stories of (our) 1970s, he must have risen through the ranks superfast to get from corporal to colonel in time for the dates to work. It’s even worse if you assume the scene takes place after The Web of Fear (as is also a possible reading) and he somehow got demoted from colonel and re-promoted. Sometimes one badly-thought through in-joke is not just unfunny, but actively annoying and undermines any good feeling the in-joke might have generated.

The very big and very awful bit (MASSIVE SPOILERS with spoiler space, although WordPress blocks might mess that up EDIT: it did mess it up, sorry):

We really didn’t need to meet the Doctor’s mother, even if she is her adopted mother. It was bad enough seeing this much of her past in The Timeless Children. Even Russell T Davies held back from overtly doing this (the woman in The End of Time is supposed to be his mother, but it isn’t actually stated on screen). It’s just a silly soap opera thing, particularly if it isn’t done for any reason other than the cliched ‘villain says the Doctor is “Just like me”; Doctor says, “No I’m not!”-parallelism.

There is an argument that the Doctor hasn’t had any real mystery since The War Games revealed his/her/their background back in 1969 (real world chronology), but this is taking it to a ridiculously self-obsessed extreme. Doctor Who isn’t fundamentally about the Doctor, it’s a show that takes the Doctor as a character and uses him/her/them to explore different environments and story styles. The problem is that the programme goes through cyclical periods of thinking that the show is absolutely about the Doctor and the Time Lords and now Division and obsessing over them until the programme can’t breathe under the weight of its own mythology. Then someone else comes along and hacks the whole thing back to basics, which is what needs to happen right now. I hope maybe the Flux will provide some way of resetting the whole universe, because I can’t see where we can go from here.

Now I feel like I need to watch some other TV to recover from the TV which upset me instead of calming me down.

The Ever-Expanding ‘To Read’ Shelf

I went to bed late last night because I suddenly got a headache late at night, probably because my room had been too cold and I overcompensated in heating it (although it wasn’t that hot). I didn’t go to bed, as I was worried I would be sick if I did, so I sat up watching an episode of The Twilight Zone (In His Image — a little corny, but well-executed). Regardless, when I woke up at 9am today, I forced myself to get up rather than letting myself fall asleep again as usual, which was good.

I didn’t do much today. Chanukah started this evening and my sister and brother-in-law came over to light candles with us (I say candles, but I use olive oil lights, as does my Dad). I didn’t go for a run as I didn’t want to risk getting an exercise migraine on the first night of Chanukah, especially with guests. I did some Torah study and went for a walk, did a bit of shopping (or tried to; the nearby shops turned out to be too small for the large bottles of vegetable oil that Mum wanted to cook with).

Chanukah candle lighting with family was good, but I got very peopled out by the end, and then went to Skype E, which was also good. I’m quite tired now, but I feel I will need some time to unwind before bed if I’m to get to sleep and to be in a reasonable state for work tomorrow. I’d like to watch tonight’s new Doctor Who episode (despite being underwhelmed by this season, and really by most episodes since late 2017), but it’s nearly an hour long and I should really go to bed soon, so I’ll probably just read for fifteen minutes or so. I just started the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery Gaudy Night.

***

Tonight’s Chanukah presents: from Mum and Dad, The God Book by Rabbi Jack Abramowitz, a modernised and (I admit it) simplified rendering of sections from various classic Medieval and Early Modern philosophical and pietistic theological works dealing with the nature of God

From my sister and BIL, Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life by Peter Godfrey-Smith, a book on the evolution of intelligence in cephalopods and whether their intelligence is radically different to our own. The back cover blurb says, “How did the octopus, a solitary creature with little social life, become so smart?” — that sounds awfully close to home to me! They also gave me a big slab of chocolate halva, which was a surprise, unlike most of my presents

From rom E, People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present, Dara Horn’s latest collection of essays on Jewish life, Jewish death and antisemitism. “Sounds cheery” was everyone else’s view when they saw the title, but it was the title that attracted me. I’ve thought for a while that the non-Jewish world is sadly often more comfortable with dead Jewish martyrs than with live Jews and their “difficult” religious or political views, but I didn’t think of such a pithy way of phrasing it.

Of course, as I had to admit to my sister, I haven’t quite finished the books I got for my birthday in July yet. My excuse is that Chanukah is very early this year…

Tonight’s donut: jam. I resisted the lure of a second donut, or the rogelach (chocolate pastries) that Mum was eating.

Useful Phrases and Toxic Positivity (and Doctor Who)

Work today was mostly OK, except for a bit when I was on the phone to someone I often struggle to understand and then J started talking to me. I could not listen to both people and once and I heard nothing. At the time, I thought this was an autistic sensory or processing thing, but it’s probably something lots of people would struggle with it.

***

I’ve been thinking today about a couple of useful phrases for mental wellbeing. One was something I heard on an NHS group therapy thing I went to a few years ago. “I’m not responsible for the first thought, I am responsible for the second.” I can’t remember the exact context where I first heard this. I think it was mostly directed at self-esteem, as in I’m not responsible if a self-critical thought comes into my head, but I don’t have to follow it up with more. It’s good for dealing with those kinds of thoughts, but I use it with a lot of other difficult thoughts, particularly the type which, if dwelt upon, can push me towards pure O OCD (idolatrous thoughts, violent thoughts, sexual thoughts). I can just say that I’m not responsible for random thoughts that come into my head, so no guilt and catastrophising about being a terrible person for having such a thought, but also that I have the power not to dwell on them so I can move on, which is empowering.

The other phrase was something I learnt on a confidence and self-esteem course I did many years ago. I think some of the course veered towards toxic positivity, but one thing that was useful was the mantra, “It’s none of my business what other people think of me.” That’s actually quite powerful and I focused on it today after the telephone awkwardness. I do tend to think that a lot of people have negative thoughts about me (people who don’t know my issues/struggles, but who witness my social awkwardness), but I can at least try not to care about it.

***

Speaking of toxic positivity, I listened to a Normal Frum Women podcast on the subject yesterday. It was good, but I felt that they didn’t really get into the issue of toxic positivity in a Jewish religious setting. They spoke a bit about the sociological side of things, like mourning rituals creating time and space for sadness, but they didn’t really get into the theology. A lot of people would argue that Jews are supposed to be grateful and joyous all the time. This is an idea that is identified most strongly with Hasidism (particularly Breslov Hasidism), but can be found in other places too. This can be hard to accept or follow.

Part of the problem is that most of the sources dealing with joy and sadness date from before the development of modern psychology, so they don’t really distinguish sadness from clinical depression. Even accepting that, I think it is OK to say that sometimes the emphasis on joy and happiness isn’t always healthy or achievable, and that there is a place for sadness (they said this on the podcast, just not with religious sources). I used to know a Yeshivish rabbi who used to say that he was very glad that he isn’t a Breslov Hasid as he couldn’t be happy all the time. (It is also worth noting that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was also far from being joyous all the time and quite possibly had bipolar disorder, so we shouldn’t feel bad about not living up to a standard even he didn’t reach.)

Beyond that, I think there is a sense that joy is not the same as happiness or positivity. Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl wrote an essay on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) in his Sukkot machzor (Tabernacles prayerbook). It’s a while since I read it, but I think he says that Kohelet is a book permeated with death and the sense of the shortness and futility of life, but it also has the word ‘joy’ more than any other book in Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible). The paradox is resolved because joy is not about always being happy and more about living in the moment and being grateful for what you do have, something that is compatible with feeling sadness from time to time.

***

Doctor Who thoughts, feel free to skip: I watched The Fires of Pompeii with E (long-distance). It’s a strange story, full of postmodern comedy, then it ends with the city being destroyed and loads of people dying. Doctor Who has done this before (the original series story The Myth Makers, about the fall of Troy, is very similar, tonally, although it’s hard to compare them directly as the older story no longer survives), but it seems weirdly awkward.

It seems like when Doctor Who, original or modern, does a historical story set within living memory, the writers and designers bust a gut to get every detail right and it’s all taken very seriously. No one is going to suggest the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Rosa) or the partition of India (Demons of the Punjab) were anything other than serious, tragic episodes, and while there is humour (e.g. the Doctor claiming to be Banksy in Rosa), it’s low-key and it doesn’t send up the period. Nothing like the Cockney Roman stallholder in The Fires of Pompeii.

If it’s set beyond living memory, however, suddenly the most outrageous errors (beyond artistic licence), anachronisms and silliness are permissible, even if it ends badly. The Witchfinders in particular sticks in my craw, for many reasons. Hence The Fires of Pompeii, an episode that mostly feels like Asterix… right up until the city gets destroyed. Weird.

There is a sense that, if no one in the audience can remember it, it’s ripe for comedy, which is a bit shocking for a programme that was originally supposed to teach children about history and to present the past on its own terms, as being as valid as the perspective of the present. Admittedly it wandered from this attitude very quickly, also in a story set in the ancient Roman Empire ending in catastrophe (the Fire of Rome in The Romans, a story very much in the same vein as The Fires of Pompeii). The Fires of Pompeii is far from being unique here, but the tragic nature of the climax, combined with the broadness of the comedy beforehand, make it particularly noticeable. I would like it if we could go back to really well-researched historical stories, but I suspect I’m in a minority here.

(Actually, I’ve just remembered Let’s Kill Hitler, a story that isn’t actually about killing Hitler, but does not exactly get to grips with the brutal reality of the Third Reich. It’s more about River Song trying to kill the Doctor, but I guess if I were inclined I could see it as more evidence of Jews not being considered a real oppressed minority in the eyes of the woke/BBC, although 2011 is a bit early for true wokeness. Anyway, as a general rule, my point still stands: recent tragedy: serious; further back: mockery.)

(Trivia point I noticed a while back: The War Games (1969) is closer in time to World War One (1914-1918) than Rosa (2018) is to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), yet it doesn’t feel that way.)

Meet the Parents

***

I felt so drained today. It was hard to get up or do anything. I did eventually cook dinner (vegetarian red bean chilli). By the time I finished that, I had only a little over an hour until my Zoom call with E’s parents. The call was nerve wracking, and longer than I expected (nearly an hour and a half), but it went well, I think. I didn’t get much else done today, between being drained and then anxious about meeting E’s parents. I guess that’s understandable. I wish I didn’t have work tomorrow, but I do, unfortunately (J has a meeting so rearranged his in-office days and I had to follow suit).

***

A job I was vaguely thinking of applying for, even though it was full-time, has closed. I’m not sure if they found someone early or if I’ve been so busy with other things that I ran out of time. I’m not greatly upset, as I think my parents’ idea of applying for full-time jobs and then asking to do it as a job share is not the most realistic. Nevertheless, I would be happier if I heard from the places I’ve written or pitched to recently about articles and my novel. I wish I could feel I was moving forward a little with my career(s).

***

I feel like I wasn’t expressing myself clearly in my post yesterday. I was trying to say that I should not argue back with culture warriors, but to write the truth of my own personal life instead, what I know experientially to be true, rather than what I think is true on a political, economic, cultural or religious level. I don’t think arguing on a political (etc.) level really works. I think that didn’t come across (despite the title), maybe because I was too tired. So I just want to clarify that.

***

I dreamt about turkeys last night. I’m obviously hanging around with too many Americans, or reading American-Jewish websites.

Post-Shabbat Blues

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was tranquil on the surface, but I think it pointed out hidden tensions in my mind and I feel quite drained and low now.

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. When I got home, I had quite a long talk with my parents about the cremation they had been to for my Mum’s cousin. I hadn’t really been able to speak to them about it before, as they only got back from it an hour or so before Shabbat and I was busy showering and getting ready for Shabbat. There was something Mum said that I won’t talk about here that I think I need to spend some time internalising, maybe in therapy.

***

Mum told me that my oldest friend was in one of the Jewish newspapers. I had emailed him last week as I hadn’t heard from him for ages. He hasn’t got back to me yet. I struggled with some thoughts again. I’m pleased that he’s doing well with his life, but sometimes it seems like our lives were so similar in primary school and the early years of secondary school and then we grew apart as we got older, although we never fell out or lost touch, just went in different directions. The fact that I’m not on social media probably doesn’t help us stay in touch, as I think he uses Facebook quite a bit for life announcements.

I try really hard these days not to feel jealous of other people’s lives, when they seem to be doing much better than me, and a lot of the time I succeed, but my oldest friend is ultra-hard given how parallel our lives once were. We even looked alike, except that he was a lot taller – people assumed he was my older brother. I kept thinking of the two identical goats for Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) in ancient times, the one for God and the other thrown off the cliff (the origin of the word ‘scapegoat’). I think I was the one who got thrown off the cliff.

After a bit of time on Friday night I got to a point of relative equanimity about this, but then I dreamt about my friend last night, so it’s obviously still bothering me unconsciously.

***

The other dream I had last night was about Rabbi Sacks. I feel like I’m still grieving him, and grieving the guidance I feel he could have given me about my life if I’d been able to engineer a situation where I met him. If I could have had the confidence to go to some events where he was, or if I had been in a Jewish youth movement especially as a youth leaders, or a leader at the university Jewish Society, as so many prominent people in the Modern Orthodox community were. But I was terrified of most people my own age as a teenager because of being bullied at school and perhaps also because autism meant I simply couldn’t communicate easily with them and understand unspoken communication. The result was that I avoided most group social stuff until it was too late. By the time I was in my late twenties or thirties and wanted to meet people, they were all married and settling down.

I should probably stop going on about this. I’m not sure how I can grieve someone I never met and only knew through his writing, which I still have.

***

After lunch I could have had seudah (the Third Sabbath meal) and gone to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), Talmud shiur (religious class) and Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers), but I went to bed for a bit and then davened (prayed) at home, and did Talmud study at home after Shabbat. I’m not sure why I did this, but it’s definitely an anxiety thing, probably fear of being asked to lead Minchah in shul as the second Minchah has few people and fewer who are willing/able to lead the service. I struggle to keep up in shiur and I feel uncomfortable helping to tidy up after Ma’ariv; I always feel I just get in everyone’s way and I don’t know how to help (I’ve mentioned before Amanda Harrington’s idea about people on the spectrum wanting to help, but just getting in the way). There’s probably some common or garden social anxiety too. It’s also hard to go out on Shabbat when it’s cold and overcast; it’s harder when the event I’m going to inspires so many negative feelings.

I feel like I’ve gone backwards over COVID time and the social anxiety that used to be around Shabbat morning prayers has spread to the afternoon too. Lately I’ve given up even trying to go in the mornings.

***

I finished reading The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim by Rabbi Michael Rosen, about the rabbis of Przysucha (pronounced Peshischa) and Kotzk. It’s a book that clearly resonates with me as this was the third or fourth time I’ve read it in thirteen years.

In the closing pages of the appendices (p. 355-356), Rabbi Rosen writes:

Yet with all its concern for the people, it must be said that the average Jew would not have found his place in Przysucha. The Kotzker might have been more strident, but the value system of Przysucha by definition excluded the Jew who did not want to think deeply, who did not want to extend himself, who wanted neither the agony nor the ecstasy, but who just wanted to identify and feel heimish (at home). There was no place in Przysucha for the Jew who simply wanted to pay his dues to the religious party, as it were, without being forced to ask the question, “But why?”…

By its very nature, membership or identification with a group entails some personal compromise. Przysucha was strongly opposed to such compromise. Thus its very nature entailed a dilemma, and perhaps the seeds of its end. However, for many of those who have a reflective personality, the quest for authenticity must have been almost irresistible.

I think I’ve been very reluctant to make real or apparent compromises over the years, hence my resistance to so many groups where perhaps I might have made friends and been accepted if I’d just let my guard down and gone. I also feel that nowadays most of the Jewish community is closer to the “feeling heimish” end of the Jewish spectrum than the “quest for authenticity” end. Maybe, post-Enlightenment and post-Holocaust, heimish is the most we can hope for from the community as a whole. Or maybe it was ever thus. Or maybe organised yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) and sem (women’s seminary) study for young people provides a mechanism for some people to grow and develop, although I’m not convinced that this is always the case from what I’ve heard. Ironically, it is the sense of authenticity and fear of dropping my guard that contributed to my not going to yeshiva (as well as my not being a youth/Jewish Society leader), although there were other reasons too.

***

There’s a lot of negativity in this post. I don’t really feel negative, just a bit down. I mostly feel cautiously positive these days, but I guess there’s a lot of anxiety and fear below the surface about the fact that I’m still trying to get my life together. I can see the next step or two, but not beyond that, and that’s scary when you’re nearly forty, only working part-time and, in some sense, disabled, and want to settle down and try to start a family.

Kafkaesque

I woke up again at 7am after only having had about six hours of sleep. I thought about getting up, but six hours sleep didn’t seem enough, so I went back to sleep and, inevitably, slept through most of the morning. I think it’s weird that this keeps happening. Maybe my body is trying to tell me I really don’t need so much sleep, but I do find it hard to get by on six hours, so I wonder why I keep waking up after that amount, and why I sleep for so long afterwards if I don’t need it. I think I need to bite the bullet and get up at 7am or whenever I wake up and see what happens, but it’s hard to think like that when I’ve only just woken up and I only get a few seconds to decide what to do before I fall asleep again.

After I fell asleep again, I was having some weird bad dream when my Dad knocked on the door. I think I gasped audibly or even screamed, but I’m not sure.

***

When I filled in the job agency registration form yesterday, they asked for references. I gave two, but I thought I ticked (or tried to tick — it’s hard on a Word document) the box for not asking them for references yet. However, J texted me today to say he’s been asked for a reference. There isn’t much I can do about it now, and it’s probably not a bad thing that J knows that I’m looking for supplementary work especially as I’m still hoping he’ll make my current role permanent (technically I’m a freelance contractor even though I’ve been there for a year now). Still, it was a conversation I was hoping to push off for a bit.

***

More fun with bureaucracy: the autism hospital phoned me back, which surprised me a bit. The person I spoke to said that they need a referral form from the GP rather than a letter, which may be what the problem was. She said that she doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, but that she thought the people who do would have sent the form to the GP. I’m not sure that this has been done, although it’s hard to tell, because there is apparently a huge backlog of referrals that they are working through (I assume because of COVID). I didn’t think to ask for contact details for those people when I was on the phone (because I’m autistic and have issues with dealing with conversations, especially on the phone!). I phoned back afterwards to do so, but it went straight to voicemail. So I may be on the waiting list already, or I may not be, but I’m not sure how I find out for sure. Honestly, it’s like something out of Kafka.

***

I emailed my oldest friend. We haven’t Skyped for a while and I wondered how he was getting on. More selfishly (not exactly selfish, but focused on the self), as my relationship with E gets more serious, I feel I need to mention her to my friends, so it won’t be a shock (or too much of a shock) when we get engaged.

***

I had a positive therapy session, but in many ways my biggest breakthrough was outside therapy. It was in realising that, while I do not have good Talmud studying skills, I do have some good Midrash study skills. The Midrash is the rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative, like fan fiction that explores the characters and themes of the original text. Midrash can be hard to understand, as it can be intensely symbolic, even surreal, but the meaning of the symbolism may be unique to the individual passage, so there isn’t a set of universally-applicable ‘keys’ to learn. There is a tendency in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world to take Midrash very literally and to see the text as revealed by God in a straightforward way (similar to the Haredi understanding of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)), but in the Modern Orthodox world, it is seen as more literary and authored by individual rabbis rather than an objective description of factual events.

I find this a lot easier to understand that legal arguments. Yesterday I went from being curious about a passage in the Torah to looking up some Midrashim (in translation), finding a relevant Midrash, being baffled about the meaning, figuring out what seemed a likely symbolic reading and linking that symbolic reading to an understanding of the wider narrative in the Torah that it related to and writing a devar Torah about this with a homiletic conclusion all in the space of an hour or so. I think not many people would have been able to do that, even if they could understand halakhic (legal) passages of Talmud easily. It’s really a creative process not a rational/logical one. You stare at it for a bit and either the meaning of the passage suddenly hits you or it doesn’t and you go to the next one. Certainly having experience in reading serious literature helps here. (In fairness, there were other Midrashim I looked at that I couldn’t understand.)

I would like to build wider Midrash study skills further, but that would require investing time on improving my rabbinic Hebrew and also investing money on buying some volumes of Midrash rather than relying on Sefaria.org (there isn’t much Midrash easily available in parallel Hebrew-English translation). It is something to keep in mind for the future.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner. I had warned my parents that I would probably be drained after therapy (I feel like I’m just expected to fall in with everyone else’s plans). I definitely got ‘peopled out’ partway through the evening, around the time I had to listen to the story of my parents’ recent holiday for the second time (the first was the Shabbat after they got home, but sister and BIL weren’t here then). Perhaps because I was drained, my inner filter switched off and I was — not rude exactly, but cheeky. I have to admit they are still here, and I just slipped away from the meal because I needed a break. Even though my sister, BIL and I have early starts tomorrow, the meal is still ongoing. It is getting rather late and I really want it to be over, not because it’s bad, but because I just need some downtime before bed. I should probably go back downstairs and rejoin everyone as I’ve been up here for quarter of an hour…

Then and Now

I feel that sometimes bad things happen and I write about them, but when they get resolved, I forget to mention it. I think I forgot to mention that the ringing I had in my ears a while back stopped after a few days of steam inhalation. Similarly, I had a couple of recent days of emotional lowness and worried I was drifting into depression, but I mostly seem to have been OK since then, albeit with the caveat that my ‘normal’ mood is generally somewhat lower in the winter than the summer, and that I can dip into low mood for a while during a day in response to external events, or just being hungry or tired.

***

Yesterday I applied for the writing job I wrote about recently. That took much of my Sunday afternoon. I didn’t do much else. I went for a walk, skyped E, did some Torah study. That was about it.

Today at work I had to go to one of our other sites, which at least got me out of the office. I was absolutely exhausted when I got home (then had to make supper as Mum wasn’t feeling well). I couldn’t do the things I was hoping to do tonight, although planning to do anything after work is always risky. I worry how I will cope if I work more hours.

J pointed out that I’d made a fairly big mistake last week. It’s possible I just misheard what someone said to me over the phone. The more worrying interpretation is that my brain simply wasn’t working properly as I was trying to listen, write and think (and ‘people’ a bit, which is harder over the phone) all at the same time, while also trying not to give in to social anxiety. I guess Explanation 2 is just an elaborated version of Explanation 1. All of which makes me worry about my future in the workplace (any workplace). It’s hard to tell how annoyed/concerned J is about this, as he’s pretty laid back about everything and I can’t work out if that means this is OK or he’s angry, but chooses not to show it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, a nicely put together (and surprisingly long) tribute book to Rabbi Lord Sacks published by the United Synagogue for his first yortzeit (death anniversary). The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of Rabbi Sacks taken at various events during his Chief Rabbinate. The Anglo-Jewish community is very small and I’ve already spotted a number of people I know in the photos with him.

Today I spotted my first girlfriend in one of the group photos. According to the caption, it was almost certainly taken while we were together. It was a bit of a shock, being reminded of my previous life. I was a different person back then. It did make me reflect, not for the first time, that E is really the best person for me. None of my other girlfriends/dates/crushes (not that there were many of the first two) came close to connecting with me, understanding me or caring for me as well as she does.

The downside of reminiscing is that part of me still struggles in the way I did back then with a lot of day-to-day tasks, and with sleep and energy levels, and I am not sure how to deal with that, because finding True Love apparently doesn’t magically stop you being autistic and socially anxious.

***

This week’s new Doctor Who episode was pretty much typical new Doctor Who. I was going to say something about the fact that I could barely understand it and none of it really resonated with me, but I keep coming back to the idea that the programme isn’t made for people like me (resolutely non-fashionable middle aged fans), it’s being made for a family audience and especially children of the twenty-first century. If it didn’t have the name Doctor Who I probably wouldn’t watch it and I probably wouldn’t care, but because it has the name on it, and because I’m emotionally invested in ‘Doctor Who‘ (whatever that means), I care.

It’s funny how much of my fan life has been spent trying to define the difference between the Doctor Who I like most and the Doctor Who I don’t like as much (or at all). There’s a fan joke that goes, “What’s the definition of a Doctor Who fan? Someone who hates Doctor Who” and, while I don’t think that’s entirely true, it does define a certain type of person, and certain part of most fans. We (i.e. fans) try to maintain that there’s just one big thing called Doctor Who, but really it’s made up of lots and lots of little bits and it’s OK to like some of it and not other parts without needing to explain yourself (he said, explaining himself).

***

I posted this on Margaret’s blog and thought it was probably better here than in a comment thread. It was responding to a meme about books being more lavish, detailed and beautiful than the films that are based on them. I wrote:

I don’t think that meme about the book vs. the movie/film is always true. I can think of a number of stories where the film is as good or better than the book, although to be fair, in some cases the book was written primarily as the first stage in writing the screenplay (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Third Man). I think the meme discounts the artistry present in good direction, acting, cinematography and even design e.g. Blade Runner, which purely in plot terms is worse than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, cutting out the subplots as well as over-simplifying plot and character, but the direction and design work add a whole level resulting in a film that feels like an immersive environment.

As a librarian, bibliophile and aspiring novelist, I feel vaguely treacherous for saying that the film can be better than the book, but I am a Dispassionate Truth-Speaker and will not lie!

First World Problems

(If I had a band, First World Problems could be my first album.)

My parents have gone for a few days in sunny (probably not that sunny) Bournemouth, so I’m home alone. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Aside from when they went to Ipswich for a few days earlier in the year, I haven’t been home alone since before COVID, so it still feels strange.

I wanted to go for a run today, but because I got up late, and because I prefer to do various tasks before I go for a run, knowing that I have a strong likelihood of getting an exercise headache afterwards, it was dark before I was able to go. I had a weird intuition that I shouldn’t run in the dark today. My parents never like me running in the dark, and, while I’ve done it before, running in the dark while the streets are full of piles of potentially slippery fallen leaves didn’t seem a good idea, especially when there was no one around to come looking for me. I do wonder how much I’ll be able to run in the winter if I stick to this plan. As it happens, I went for a walk instead, and it was drier and better-lit than I thought/expected (why did I think it had rained over the weekend when it hadn’t?), but I think I probably made the right decision regardless.

I didn’t do much else today aside from that walk. I cooked dinner (macaroni cheese, with enough pasta to go with a bought sauce tomorrow) and did some Torah study. I have no real ideas for my devar Torah at this stage; the story of Yaakov (Jacob), his wives and children in the household of Lavan is always one that seems bizarre and hard to understand, even understanding some of the history behind it (using maidservants to bear children for their barren mistresses who would then adopt the children by having them born while the maidservant sat on the mistress’ lap was a real practice in the ancient Middle East, strange though it seems to us now).

I’m thinking of stopping volunteering for a while. I feel very overwhelmed with my life at the moment. I’m not sure how much time it would free up, as I’m unlikely to get up that early without a reason, but it does leave me drained all day, from physical exertion and probably also from ‘peopling,’ so it might leave me with more of an afternoon, particularly on weeks where I don’t have therapy.

I feel that lately I’ve disagreed with people here and in real life about what my next move should be in life. Not big arguments, but I always doubt myself when people see things differently to me. Part of me says, “I’m the subject matter expert on my life, and I’ve researched what I want to do more than they have,” but part of me says, “I catastrophise from anxiety and I get stuck on particular ideas from autistic rigidity, so I should listen to other people.” Probably there is a medium to be struck somewhere.

***

Doctor Who was better than last week. Still a lot that didn’t seem to make much sense, and a lot I would have done differently, but it was broadly entertaining, although it was too long and I got fidgety.

I finished reading People of the Book:A Decade of Jewish Science Fiction and Fantasy too. It was pretty good overall, but the author biographies at the back are basically just lists of all the awards the writers have won, which I found intimidating when thinking of my own writing.

Opportunities, Missed and Otherwise

I am OK today. I am quite a bit down, but I’ve been used to that over the years. It’s a rush today because Shabbat starts at 4.10pm, but I wanted to note a few things briefly.

I’m hoping for a restful Shabbat (the Sabbath). My parents are out for dinner tonight, so I should have some time for recreational reading. E says I should read more for fun on Shabbat even if that means doing less Torah study and she may be right. Tomorrow Talmud shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue) returns and I’d like to go, even though that means staying on for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and then staying afterwards to help, where I feel I usually just get in the way, however hard I try to be helpful. But I’ll see how I feel tomorrow afternoon. It’s eighteen months since we’ve had this format for the shiur, because of COVID and because the timetable is different in the summer when Shabbat afternoons are very long compared with the winter when they’re very short.

There is an oneg being hosted by someone from my shul tonight. An oneg is a kind of Shabbat party where you sit around a table and there are snacks and soft drinks and alcohol, and people talk and sing religious songs and share divrei Torah. I used to try to force myself to these things to make friends. Usually I just sat there terrified, not speaking. Sometimes I stood outside crying at my social anxiety and social impairments and my inability to face my fears. I can’t really be bothered with that now, but I do wonder how else to make friends.

***

I found, lurking in my email inbox, an email from over a year ago from a job agency that helps people on the autism spectrum into work. I think I didn’t go down that path a year ago because I wasn’t diagnosed then, and because my current job appeared soon afterward. I might contact them again soon.

***

There’s a woman who keeps writing for Chabad.org about her fertility issues and the fact that she might never have children, and I want to read her articles, but I can’t, perhaps because they’re too close to home. Not that I have fertility issues per se, but that E and I worry that with all the mental health, neurological and financial issues that we have between us that we’ll never be able to support children, practically and financially. I guess that’s my main worry at the moment. I think E and I will be together, but I worry how we’ll cope, even without children.

***

I keep being drawn back to this interview with the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl where the interviewer lists Rabbi Sacks’ achievements and asks if he ever failed anything and Rabbi Sacks bursts into laughter and says, “I nearly failed my first year in university. I nearly failed my second year in university. I was turned down for virtually every job that I applied for. Since I was a kid, I wanted to write a book. I started when I was 20 and I gave it every minute of spare time that I had. Even when Elaine and I went to a concert I would be writing notes during intervals or between movements during a symphony. Yet, I failed for 20 years! From 20 to 40 I had a whole huge file cabinet of books I started and never finished.” I heard another interview where he said that being a rabbi was his fourth career choice, after he failed at becoming an economist, an academic philosopher and a barrister (lawyer). So that gives me a little hope, because I’m nearly forty and I haven’t done anything with my life.

He also says, “I think all that goes with the affective dimension of Judaism, the emotional life, is being neglected…  I think we haven’t done enough with the affective dimension, and music is probably the most important… Cinema, too, isn’t used enough in this regard. I think we haven’t done enough with that to tell people what the life of faith does for you. I have so many stories that I think ought to be made into film. Stories of ordinary people I know who have done extraordinary things.”

He doesn’t talk about prose fiction, but I think it applies there too, particularly in terms of telling stories. Although the stories I want to tell are not necessarily ones he would want to tell. But I think/hope there is an audience out there, although not necessarily or purely a frum one or even Jewish one. I just hope I can convince the gatekeepers (agents, publishers, reviewers) of that.

I know I say things like this a lot, but, honestly, I have to keep saying it or otherwise I stop believing in it myself.

***

The reason the interview was posted is that it’s just over a year since Rabbi Sacks died. I still feel his loss acutely, even though I never really met him (although I was in the same room as him a few times). I wish I had had the opportunity, or made the opportunity, to speak to him — really to speak to him about my Jewish life, my creative life and my aspirations to unite them both. I struggle to understand my place in the world in general and Jewish world in particular. I don’t understand why God made me autistic, or what He wants from me. I feel he would have understood, and would have had good advice. It’s too late now.

Help, I’m Trapped in a Blog Post Factory

(Again, I don’t have much to say, but feel the need to reach out.)

I decided not to go to shul (synagogue) last night as I was too exhausted, so instead of putting on my suit after my pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) shower, I wore casual trousers. There was still quite a bit of time before Shabbat, so I watched an episode of The Simpsons, after which I felt less exhausted, so I hurriedly changed into my suit and went to shul. I got pretty tired there, but I was glad I went.

Shabbat was pretty good with my uncle staying with us, although there’s a certain family dynamic that I feel increasingly uncomfortable with and don’t know what to do about it. I’ve spoken to my therapist a bit about it, but I feel I should discuss it again with her and/or with my rabbi mentor. It has to be said, though, that our Shabbat meals, which are prolonged at the best of times, become even longer when my uncle is around due to certain family members going into talking overdrive. The result was that by the time we finished dinner and I did some Torah study and my hitbodedut and a little bit of recreational reading, I went to bed very late, then overslept in the morning (as usual). Then after lunch I wanted to stay awake and do some Torah study in the short gap before Minchah, but, perhaps from too much peopling, I was exhausted and lay in bed for a while, albeit awake, just tired.

It occurred to me over Shabbat that I have, or at least am developing, my own personal religious worldview. By which I mean, not that I’m abandoning Orthodox Judaism, but that I feel there is space within Orthodox Judaism to develop a personal view of God, Torah, Jewish identity and the world as a whole, based on teachings that appeal to me as an individual, and that I am doing that. I wonder if this is an achievement that many people in Jewish world (Orthodox or otherwise) do not manage, inasmuch as it seems to require a high degree of textual literacy combined with serious thought about oneself, the Jewish tradition, the wider world, and the interactions between all of the above as well as a willingness to think independently and not just parrot other people’s ideas.

After Shabbat my Mum logged checked her phone and discovered that her cousin had died this morning. This has shaken me a little. The cousin was about twenty years older than her, but it’s still an intimation of my parents’ mortality.

My Dad took some photos of E and I on the last night she was here and I just downloaded them. They’re pretty good, but I feel I look awkward and wooden in most of them, except for one where E blinked as the photo was taken.

My father, and to a lesser extent my mother, were in a bad mood as their football team lost. This caused me to wonder why they would put themselves through the stress of following a football team who lose a lot, especially as the ‘down’ of losing seems to be bigger than the ‘up’ of winning. Then I remembered that Doctor Who is back tomorrow, and I’m not hopeful of it being good, given the standards of the last two seasons, and given that I have rarely fully connected with the new series. I hope my twenty-five year old Doctor Who Magazine back-issue arrives soon…

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.