Checking In

I struggled to sleep again last night. It was probably from being on screens too late, but after forty or fifty minutes in bed, I had some racing thoughts so took olanzapine (it was one of my ‘off’ days for olanzapine — at the moment I take every other day). It seemed to help, but maybe I was just exhausted by that point and would have fallen asleep anyway. I will try to monitor my mood and sleep and compare against olanzapine use to see if I need to return to taking it daily.

It snowed on the way to work this morning. I felt annoyed about it, until I saw a boy of about eight absolutely delighted to be out in it. It woke me up a bit to the beauty of it.

Work was a bit crazy, but I can’t write much about it here. I can say that I had an issue with a simple task that I struggled with. I had about fifteen Excel spreadsheets, all bar one with two tabs (the exception was slightly more complicated, but it doesn’t really matter here). I had to compare some statistics on the tabs and bring them up to date, then print one tab once and the other three times for each of the spreadsheets. I struggled hugely with this, forgetting to update the statistics and printing sheets too often, partly from executive function issues with changing task and partly because I kept forgetting that if I set the printer to print a document three times, it would not default back to printing once the next time I printed. I felt a bit guilty about that, although wasting twenty or thirty sheets of paper (at most) is hardly the biggest crime, but more than guilty I felt a bit stupid and incompetent. I am also worried whether I have actually performed the task properly, and may need to double-check on Monday.

I picked a bit of anger from other people today, on my blog list and the autism forum. I got a bit upset and had some quasi-anxious ruminations, but then I remembered something my therapist said about being careful not to pick up other people’s anger or anxiety, to ask myself, “Is this my problem? Do I need to be concerned about it?” That did help me to distance myself from it a bit.

I was pretty tired when I got home, but E wanted to Skype earlier than usual, so we spoke before dinner rather than later. I struggled with lack of energy in the early evening, but around 10.00pm, I suddenly had energy and concentration, so I spent nearly an hour working on my novel. It was pretty productive (over 600 words) and seemed to flow relatively easily. I haven’t checked against my previous manuscript, but the prose style seems somehow freer to me, less stilted and Victorian, more like my blog than my previous fiction. Not that I literally write fiction like a Victorian, but I feel my first novel in particular seemed a bit stilted and artificial to me.

***

I finished re-watching Twin Peaks yesterday. I was originally planning to watch one episode a week, but I sped up a while back so I would finish long before I got married.

Twin Peaks‘ third season, broadcast twenty-five years after the original run finished, seemed somewhat better second time around. The plot made more sense overall, and the weird, surreal bits seemed deliberately bizarre rather than just incoherent. And the final scene is strange and haunting as well as tantalisingly unresolved. It is a bit frustrating if you were expecting more of the same of the first two seasons, or even the prequel film, but if you can accept that it’s a very different beast only tangentially related, that most of the earlier characters are seen briefly if at all, and that although Kyle MacLachlan is in it quite a bit, he’s mostly not really playing the same character as before, then it’s an interesting addition, certainly adding a lot more overt symbolism and mystery, if you like that sort of thing.

And now I ought to go to bed before I ruin my sleep pattern again…

“Marry the freak”

I was looking today at websites for couples therapy for couples where one is autistic and one neurotypical. Some were fine, speaking about difficulties both partners might experience. Others were — I hesitate to throw around words like ‘ableist,’ and maybe this is partly my paranoia, but some definitely felt like, “Well, you could be in a relationship with an autistic person [or man, as female autism hasn’t really registered on most of these sites], but you should know that they won’t love you, care for you, or understand you and you’ll spend your entire life bending yourself out of shape to fit in with their crazy whims. And they probably won’t even want to have sex with you, at least not as often as you want or in the way you want. But, here are some resources if you do still want to marry the freak.” Obviously they didn’t literally say that, but it seemed to be the subtext.

E and I struggle with some things (particularly finances), but we’re both pretty good and communicating our needs and trying to meet each other’s needs (the couples therapy is to help with one very specific topic that we think we might need some objective support with). I know living together will be harder in some ways than living separately, but I’m not really worried about that. Of course, we’re wondering if E is on the spectrum too, which might make a difference.

***

I don’t think it was because of those therapy sites (although they didn’t help), but I’ve felt somewhat down all day. I’m still wondering if I should up my olanzapine dosage towards what it was previously. I was on 2.5mg twice a day; I’m now on 2.5mg every other evening, so one quarter of what I was on before. I should probably try to monitor that more rigorously and think about increasing to 2.5mg every day if necessary.

I realise that the last year and a bit have seen a number good things for me. I got my autism diagnosis, my family accepted my diagnosis and support me, I got engaged to E, my part-time job was made permanent. Still, I often feel overwhelmed at the thought of all the things I still want/need to do, in both the short and long term.

In the short-term, Pesach (Passover) is getting really close now and the tension is beginning to rise (I had a few Pesach OCD thoughts which I managed to keep under control so far). In the longer-term (in no particular order) I want to: organise a wedding; deal with my exhaustion/burnout/oversleeping/whatever it is so I can do more during the day; try to find a way to work more days in the week and earn more money; learn to drive; investigate whether E is neurodivergent; find a place in the Jewish community for E and me; and find the right balance of work/writing/religion/family/relaxation for me. And more.

There’s a lot of fear of the “will I ever get the life I want: wife, kids, some financial independence, friends, life balance?” Reading on the autism forum can be dispiriting, because, on the one hand, there are people who seem to have got their lives completely together, and I can’t seem to do that, but on the other hand there are parents with young children who are school-refusing or otherwise having extreme difficulty, and part of me thinks: “I could manage school. I was mostly fine at school (bar some bullying and loneliness), even though many people on the spectrum think that school is just Hell for autistics. I coped. So why can’t I cope now, when, in theory, I have more self-awareness and more control over my life?”

***

I did manage to submit my novel manuscript to two agencies and spent half an hour writing my next novel, so from a writing point of view it was quite good. I’m trying to use fewer Hebrew and Yiddish terms in my second novel than in my first one, as I worry that that has put agents off, but without them, dialogue for frum (religious Jewish) characters sounds ridiculously stilted and unrealistic. Imagine writing a teenage character, but not allowing yourself to use any contemporary slang in case people don’t understand; it’s a similar thing. It just sounds wrong.

I came across a literary agent today who is also a practising lawyer. Last week, I found an agent who is also a dentist (not sure if she’s practising though). Sometimes it feels like other people are living several lives, while I don’t even have one.

I used to feel that “good sense of humour” is a stupid thing to put on a dating profile, as it’s completely subjective and no one in the world thinks that they have a bad sense of humour, even if others disagree. I think “strong storytelling” is the literary agency equivalent. So many agents say they are looking for “strong storytelling.” Are there are lots of fiction writers thinking, “Well, I can’t tell a story at all, but I have beautiful prose”? Perhaps some, but many? I find it a profoundly unhelpful thing to ask for.

***

Other than that, I went for a walk and did some shopping, but didn’t accomplish much else other than some emails. I wanted to do more, but by the evening, I was drained and very low, bordering on depressed (by which I mean, if I felt like this consistently for two weeks, it would be diagnosed as depression). I thought of posting some of these thoughts on the autism forum to see what response it would get, but I’m scared to admit these complicated feelings about autistic people struggling more or less than I am. I’m also wary of talking about my religious practices and community there, because I don’t know what response I would get (I haven’t seen anyone else talk on there about religion, any religion). I’ve already asked about autistic burnout/exhaustion and no one really seems to have any solutions.

Job Interview and Changing the Past

I was very early for my job interview today and hung around at the bus stop for twenty minutes, killing time. As my therapist suggested, I tried to use positive affirmations to get in a good state of mind, although I’ve never had much success with this. Telling myself, “I will do the best I can today; I don’t need to worry about tomorrow” helped a bit.

I feel I had my usual autistic problems in the interview: long pauses while I tried to process things and sentences that started confidently, but then trailed off as I realised I didn’t know what to say, or didn’t have as much to say as I thought, sometimes awkwardly ending on “and…” I had prepared notes and had them open, but when the questions came, I got focused on them and didn’t look at the notes. I made bland assertions rather than using the STAR method I’ve frequently been told to apply in interviews, where you talk about a Situation you were in, the Task involved, the Action you took and the Result. I find it hard to think of the concrete examples needed by the STAR method. I was also distracted by my surroundings, not lights or noises, but the very noticeboard on the wall behind the interviewers, with colourful animal photos, and a large photograph of a gorilla perched on the windowsill. Once I noticed that, it was hard to un-notice it (the weird opposite of the famous psychology experiment where subjects failed to notice a gorilla). I should add that neither wildlife nor photography have anything to do with this organisation’s purpose.

I think I answered most of the questions OK, but I got a bit stuck on being asked about a time when I gave excellent customer service. I have had this question before and I don’t like it. I had prepared an answer, but at the last moment, I felt that it wasn’t appropriate, and instead said that I always give the same excellent level of customer service to everyone (complete attention, politeness, etc.). It was not a great answer.

So, I don’t think I embarrassed myself, but I don’t think I did brilliantly either. I have had some help with interviews in the past, but nothing seems to really help once I get into one and my autistic brain is left to fend for itself.

***

When I got home, I wrote the full (800 word) synopsis that one literary agency were asking for. Looking at my manuscript, much of it makes me cringe, both in terms of quality and in terms of the parts that were based on my own life — there is much I would like to have done differently if I lived my life again. I felt initially that not enough happens in the novel too, although I feel that not enough happens in literary novels generally (I’m probably not supposed to say that). However, on looking at the novel as a whole, I think things do happen, they just start slowly, held up by stuff that mattered to me emotionally, but which probably isn’t necessary for the plot, but I don’t know how to change it now.

The agency seemed a bit picky in what they wanted, and on their submission guidelines they said they wanted the first five pages of the manuscript, but on the submission form itself they said they wanted the first twenty pages. I don’t think the agency will be a great fit, but having written the synopsis, I felt I ought to submit it.

***

I noticed today that although Transport for London are encouraging passengers to wear masks, none of the staff seem to wear them any more. It’s very hard to feel engaged in doing it any more.

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about embarrassing events from my past, mostly from my childhood and teenage years. I was mostly well-behaved, but did misbehave occasionally. When I did, I was not usually caught, but somehow I feel I should have been. I’m not sure why I feel guilty for harmless actions from a quarter of a century ago, but I do. Then, as I wrote above, looking at my novel today made me think about the events that inspired it, which are bound up in regrets and self-recrimination from a bad time of my life. Curiously enough, Paula wrote today about regretting or not regretting past actions. As I said there, it’s hard to imagine changing the bad without changing the good, or at least the necessary, and the most significant things were often out of my hands anyway. I feel it’s counter-productive to have these thoughts, but it’s easy to get stuck in it.

Then today I was reading The Principles of Judaism were Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens argues that God can and will rewrite history so nothing bad ever happened. (Or “hyper-happened” as he would say, as something bad happened, but God “hyper-will” change it so it didn’t.) I didn’t really agree with this, although it was hard to find the logical flaw. It just seems wrong. The book had some surprising propositions, but this was one I really struggled to accept.

I think I preferred the theodicy Rabbi Lebens quoted from Gabriel Citron (who I knew slightly years ago) that, from the afterlife, our suffering in this world will seem as insubstantial as a nightmare. This is closer to my thinking. I’m surprised Rabbi Lebens rejects it, saying “I don’t see much religious value in the skeptical possibility that we’re not really awake right now,” as it doesn’t seem all that different to Lebens’ suggestion earlier in the book that we’re just ideas in God’s mind.

Exhaustion, Coping, and Career Paths

I was really trying not to post today. This is as much a note to myself for the future as a communication for anyone else.

I had insomnia again last night. There is definitely a work connection. I sometimes have insomnia on Friday nights, but generally only get it the night before work. It’s annoying.

Work was full of minor irritations. I got through it OK, but I was exhausted afterwards. I should really have come home and crashed, but I felt I should attend to emails, even though I was trying to stay offline. I was home a bit earlier than expected, and I thought I was not too tired initially, so I did a little more Torah study, but that was a mistake, as I was soon completely exhausted.

I don’t think I’ve really spelled out here before that when I’m exhausted, I’m not just tired, but feel a heaviness all over, especially my head/brain (a horrible feeling as if someone is squashing my brain). Sometimes there can be light-headedness, particularly if I’m hungry too. I can’t always tell the difference between tiredness and hunger, which I guess is another gift of autistic alexithymia (difficulty understanding emotions).

I did feel better after dinner and did some ironing, but really only out of necessity, as I’m worried what state I’ll be in tomorrow.

I do feel that I don’t know where to start with my life at the moment. There seem so many things to do, and all of them urgent and important and worthwhile, and most of them should have been done ages ago and many of them really need to be done before I can marry E. Autistic executive function issues can come into play here too.

Tonight I was thinking about applying for my provisional driver’s licence (which I postponed because I wanted to talk to the optician about how well I can see with and without glasses, and never did). This was because of a hit-and-run accident on Twin Peaks which, frankly, terrified me. I am terrified of driving in general and of losing concentration for a moment and hitting someone. Alternatively, of driving too slowly and cautiously and someone running into me. This is probably not the most immediate priority, but I feel it should be soon.

It is true that if I can deal with the exhaustion and hypersomnia and have a healthy sleep pattern, that would get me several more hours per day in which to do things, so that seems to be the place to start. I will hopefully speak to the occupational therapist tomorrow and see if that might be one way of approaching it. I also hope to speak to the doctor next week to see if there might be a physical cause unrelated to autism, depression or antidepressant medication.

***

I do feel that one of the things I should do urgently is to learn coping skills. For what? That is the question, I suppose. At any rate, my previous strategies have not been healthy or useful. I don’t know where I would learn them. My therapist has shared a few things, so I could ask her, although I’m wary as my previous therapist was very against giving practical help like that; she just wanted me to talk and think things through.

How do other people learn coping skills? Is there a Big Book of Coping Skills somewhere? I feel that even the phrase “coping skills” is too vague and I should be looking for more precise skills, like dealing with disappointment, dealing with messing things up at work (again), dealing with the fear that my relationship will end, dealing with the feeling that I will never achieve anything worthwhile…

***

I don’t do much with LinkedIn, but I noticed today that it was trying to show me “career paths” that other people had followed, to reassure me that a career does not have to be linear and can move at my own pace. I was curious to see if people had had unusual or delayed career paths, to see if there was hope for me.

Of the two career paths they showed me, apparently taken from real people’s LinkedIn profiles, one went from university and student journalism, to mainstream journalism and on to becoming “Director of Audience” at some kind of media outlet, whatever that means. So, a fairly swift and linear career path. The other was a little more twisty (and relevant to my interests), from teaching to a Jewish social justice leadership scheme, then a detour to paralegal work, then on to being a rabbinic intern and Jewish educator. That was vaguely less linear because of the teaching and paralegal detours, but mostly focused on Jewish leadership. If this is supposed to reassure me that my career can meander slowly and over a wide area, it is not doing it. It makes me feel most people’s careers go like this: do something worthwhile as a student; pursue a career related to worthwhile student activity; achieve success quickly and easily; become acclaimed as some kind of leader, with status, wealth and social acceptance.

I’m not sure what happens to those of us who missed the boat. I was not really involved in any student activities at university, except the Doctor Who Society. I was too busy burning out and breaking down. I did write for the Doctor Who Society fanzine and vaguely hoped that might lead on to writing for Doctor Who Magazine, but, as I’ve lamented here before, they weren’t interested.

Exciting, But Scary

The exciting, but scary thing that happened late yesterday was that a friend sent a job advert to me, for a librarian role as maternity cover for a year. The unusual aspect was that this was in the institution where I had my first job. I would basically be covering for the person who replaced my former boss.

There are advantages to this: it’s familiar (assuming it hasn’t changed much in five years) and I meet all of the essential and most of the desirable skills on the job description, at least on paper. It might also jump-start my library career.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of disadvantages too: aside from my usual fear in applying for library jobs, that my skills are rusty and perhaps not as instilled in me as they should be, I would have to be self-driven in this role in a way I haven’t had to have in most previous roles — no one to tell me what to do when I come in each day. I would be telling other people what to do. I would have to work a lot more than I am now, both in terms of days per week and, some days at least, hours per day. Then there is the fact that previous work there resulted in depression, which was probably at least in part autistic burnout, which may or may not have been caused by the working environment — I mean the physical layout of the building, which is unlikely to have changed for reasons I can’t go into here. I also worry that they remember the depression/burnout, as they became distinctly less sympathetic as time went on. Even in the best case scenario, the job is only for one year, then I will be looking for work again, having given up my current permanent role.

The other difficulty is that, if I was working four days a week, I would not have time or energy to write. This sounds trivial, as all the money I’ve ever been paid for writing amounts to a tiny amount, probably about £100 in all. However, in the last five years I’ve had almost no praise for the library jobs I’ve had (except one role on a short contract which I was technically over-qualified for as it wasn’t really a role for a trained librarian), whereas I’ve had quite a lot of praise for my writing. I certainly feel I get into my ‘flow’ while writing sometimes and I haven’t felt like that in a librarian role for a very long time.

It’s not an abstract fear, as even though I have not had anywhere near as much time for writing in recent months as I would like, I feel that the plan for my second novel is going well. I never really thought I would be able to devise a whole plot and characters (my first novel was partly autobiographical, which is a bit of a cheat). I guess I’m reluctant to put that aside for a year for work reasons, although I had more or less come to the conclusion that it would have to go on pause for a while when E and I get married, househunt, etc., so maybe I should just write the rest of the year off.

I did apply for the job, despite my misgivings, but I feel like I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours remembering every workplace mistake I’ve made in the last five years or more. My CV seems to be a mess of unemployed gaps and irrelevant non-library work. I always thought that having a job was better than no job, even if it wasn’t part of my career plan (not that I ever really had one), but potential employers might not think the same way when they see just how much of my career has been spent in non-library work, long after I qualified as a librarian and began that career. Not for the first time, I feel that I don’t have a career in the way that I’m “supposed” to or at least in the way most middle class, university-educated people are supposed to do. Those huge unemployment gaps are scary too.

In terms of other career moves, I have been trying to think of ideas for articles to try to sell to the Jewish website I wrote for before, but have not really succeeded. Their articles tend to link either to pop culture or relationships, to attract a non-religious audience, and those are not my strong points.

E and I have also spoken about trying to get me set up as a paid proofreader or copy editor, which I think could be good for me (I could do two days a week in my current job and split the rest between editing and writing), but it will take some time to organise and my previous attempt did not work out at all. It would be good to work from home and have greater control over my hours.

As I say, I did apply for the library job, and if I get called for interview, I will go, and maybe try to have a conversation about autism and workplace adjustments, but it is scary and I have been a bit more anxious than usual today.

Other than that, the day was a bit better than recently. I got up a bit earlier than usual, admittedly to help Dad with the Tesco delivery and to be up for therapy, which I had earlier than usual today. I have resolved to go back to the doctor next week to talk again about my exhaustion and hypersomnia, this time trying to get to speak to the doctor who knows me better. I am also speaking to the OT on Friday to see if I can get any help there.

***

My therapist suggested that I have too many files open in my brain all the time and can’t switch off from anything. This is a reasonable description of the difficulties people on the spectrum can have with moving from one task to another. It also suggests why we sometimes “crash.” We just have too much running in our brains. She suggested visualising shutting down windows or files, which I will try to keep in mind.

The friend who sent the job description to me is also on the spectrum, and wrote about her own struggles with work at the moment, the office environment as well as the commute. I am sorry for her, but also a bit pleased that it’s not just me who struggles with this stuff. It makes me feel a bit less useless.

***

I do feel I need better coping skills, or some coping skills, but I’m not sure where to go to find them. I suppose I could ask my therapist. Therapists I’ve seen in the past have been reluctant to give such practical help, although this one has been more willing. I suppose I could ask the OT too.

I do wonder if blogging is such a great coping skill. It does help me process my emotions and I do intend to continue with it, but I think I should try to make more of an effort not to blog on work days, as being on the computer after a day in front of screens is exhausting rather than relaxing and restoring, but is also addictive. Once I get on the computer, it’s hard to come off again.

***

The weather has been a bit warmer and sunnier, and the days are noticeably longer, although still fairly short. For all that the Jewish spring festivals inspire anxiety in me, it is good to be heading towards spring at last. By coincidence, Here Comes the Sun has just come on my music on shuffle.

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.

Coping Strategies

I got a rejection from another agent this morning, I think it’s the fastest rejection I’ve had (two days). I’m up to ‘B’ in the alphabetical list of agents I’m using. I guess when I get to ‘Z’ I’ll have to stop and hope my next book is better.

***

In better news, I had a Zoom talk with my oldest friend. He was really happy about my engagement and asked a lot of questions about E. I think I knew all the answers! My Dad does the same thing, asking lots of questions, and it makes me feel strange, that I apparently just focus on the present in the relationship and don’t ask so many questions about E’s family or personal history. I don’t know if that is an autistic thing or just a personal idiosyncrasy. I suspect the former; autistics are not known for their interest in small talk and inter-relationships (for comparison, my oldest friend immediately searched for mutual Facebook friends he has with E). I’m more focused on the life E and I are building together than the ones we used to have separately. Maybe that’s strange.

After that I went for a walk and had therapy, an extra session squeezed in because I was very anxious over the weekend. We spoke a lot about coping strategies, which I hadn’t really discussed with a therapist before, except in a CBT context, and, as I’ve said before, like a lot of autistic people, I struggle with CBT. I hope some of these alternative strategies will help.

They included:

  • Being mindful in the moment.
  • Mental filter: is this MY problem or am I absorbing someone else’s problem?
  • Writing.
  • Exercising.
  • Focusing on image of water flowing through me, washing away the worries.
  • Listing practical solutions and whether I can do them now – if not, put to one side.
  • Seeing problems as finite and definite.
  • Asking, “Am I frightening myself?”
  • Asking, “What can I do to calm/nourish myself?”
  • Remembering that worrying does not help!

I think they are a mixed bag of practical and more ‘symbolic’ strategies and I guess which ones are more useful will vary from person to person or perhaps from time to time. Certainly I can see some that I’m more willing to try than others. Some seem more of a starting point; being mindful in the moment is good, but I’m not sure how to achieve that at the best of times, let alone when anxiety is running crazy. We didn’t mention the worry tree, but I guess it’s related to the point about listing practical solutions and whether I can implement them now.

I printed off two copies of the list, one to go on my wardrobe door where I’ll see it and one to go with my siddur (prayerbook) on the grounds that blue tacking papers to my wardrobe door makes them visible at random moments for a while, but eventually they blend in and become part of the furniture, whereas if I have to move the sheet every time I daven (pray), I’ll be confronted with the list regularly. I also printed off a copy of the worry tree too, as I’ve lost my copy.

***

We don’t get as much interesting wildlife in our garden in this house compared with our old house (we moved six years ago), but lately we’ve had a green woodpecker with a red head. S/he was in the garden for quite a while today.

Super-Neurotypicals and Functional Autistics

I had to do the Very Scary Task today at work. It’s not so bad when I’m in the office, as J is around if I get stuck, but I still feel that I don’t 100% know what I’m doing. I do still find the phone calls draining and a bit scary. I also had to do another task that involved checking and editing details back and forth on two spreadsheet tabs and compared with a print out with teeny tiny print on it. It was not fun, and I have more to do on that on Wednesday (Wednesday rather than Thursday this week).

I was pretty exhausted/burnt out/punch drunk/whatever it is after work. There was a long wait for dinner, so I did some novel research, but by the time I got to dinner, I was too exhausted to answer Mum and Dad’s small talk questions in anything other than monosyllables. E thinks my parents are sort of super-neurotypicals, meaning more social, chatty and small talk-ey than most neurotypical people, let alone autistics. That may be true (Mum is an extrovert; Dad self-describes as an introvert, and he does need alone time, but I think he may be an ambivert or a very social, social introvert). It certainly feels like family dinners on Mondays tend to fall into a pattern of Dad throwing questions at me and me not knowing what to say, or having the energy to say it. There are autistic issues too e.g. Dad asked if the Tube was busy and I wasn’t sure what to say without a parameter of what a ‘normal’ Tube day is (pre- or post-COVID? Rush hour or off-peak?).

I would have liked to have done some more Torah study this evening, but my energy went into research instead.

***

I’m not sure that asking my therapist for an extra session tomorrow was such a good idea. To be fair, she chose to give it to me even though she is on holiday; I just said (honestly) that I couldn’t remember if she was on holiday this week or next week. I just feel that the anxiety I was feeling over the weekend has subsided somewhat.

***

I read this article on The Lehrhaus (Orthodox Jewish site, much more rigorous and intellectual than most), reading a couple of Talmudic narratives through an autistic lens (the author is on the spectrum). Even before I read it, I was excited to find something in the frum (religious Jewish) world about autism. I noticed that the author, Rabbanit Dr Shayne, gave her email in the biography section and decided I would email, less because I had anything to say about the article and more to reach out to another frum autistic. Working out what to say was hard, though. The author seems so confident and comfortable in her autistic identity, not to mention her rabbinical and secular educational qualifications. I often feel like some kind of awkward thing, barely functional in practical, educational, religious and social areas and barely recognisable as the excellent student I once was. She talks about the way autism “informs and deepens” our relationships with Judaism, but to me it feels like a fairly impenetrable barrier to ‘real’ Judaism.

***

OK, crashing now, TV…

“You silly, twisted boy, you.”

I emailed my therapist yesterday evening. We weren’t due to have a session this week, but I couldn’t remember if that was because we only meet every other week or if she is on holiday too. It turns out she is on holiday, but is fitting in a Skype session for me, which is very kind of her.

I wanted the session because I feel so overwhelmed at the moment. The lack of sunlight makes me depressed, I’m worried about E and anxious about various other things. I find it hard to know what to prioritise at the moment. Prioritising one thing means de-prioritising several others and they all seem important, except for relaxation (as opposed to mindless internet procrastination, which I seem to do a lot of) and novel-writing, which I suspect deep down are the things that keep me sane and which I have not done enough of lately.

I had anxiety dreams last night, and slept too long. The anxiety dreams were unique to my anxieties (about birds and safety pins) rather than classic “turning up for an exam you haven’t revised for then realising you’re naked and then your teeth start to fall out” type of anxiety dream. Yes, I probably did too much yesterday after Shabbat and I certainly stayed up too late. It was partly because E was anxious and I wanted to Skype her and partly because I was trying to cram as many chores as I could in.

The grimness of winter really hit me today, the lack of natural light even during what was notionally daytime (it was very overcast), my lack of energy (probably a mixture of my usual residual depression and/or autistic fatigue plus doing too much last night plus winter and wanting to hibernate), my distance from E. E and I just want to spend some time doing couple stuff and hanging out together, but there’s an ocean in between and a pandemic going on (you may have noticed).

I feel like I never developed good coping strategies for anxiety and depression — or wedding worries, long-distance relationship sadness and winter blues, as I have right now. My depression went away because it was driven, or had become driven, by undiagnosed autism; when the autism was diagnosed, it left. I don’t think it’s come back, but the last few days have made me aware of how finely-balanced I often am, and that I lack the skills to healthily comfort myself and cope with life. Worse, I feel I have bad coping strategies waiting in the wings, trying to tempt me to use them again. I am not sure why I’ve never really learnt good coping strategies. It’s partly that I’ve mostly done unstructured therapy, partly that my experiences with CBT, in individual therapy and groups, which is more structured and strategy-focused has mostly been a failure, perhaps unsurprisingly, given its low success rate with autistic sufferers. But any hope of getting autism-adapted CBT is three years away.

I also wonder if I should speak to a doctor about my tiredness and oversleeping. It seems to have persisted long past the end of the rest of my depression and I’m not sure if ‘autistic fatigue’ really covers it. The problem, or problems, are that autistic fatigue is poorly understood and not always acknowledged as a real thing; that my doctor’s surgery will try to stop me seeing a doctor I feel comfortable with; and, in any case, it seems irresponsible to take up the doctor’s time with something as relatively minor as this as we get hit by another wave of COVID and probably another lockdown. Even if I did decide to make an appointment, the wait times, both to speak to a receptionist and to be seen by a doctor, are probably unbearably massive. Even then, I feel there won’t be much the doctor would/could do other than send me for blood tests which will doubtless not show any physical symptoms — and then what?

In terms of achievement, I filled in some forms related to my job becoming permanent. I did some Torah study and pitched my novel to another agent. That was about all I managed. I Skyped E and we both felt frustrated about not being able to hug or do anything fun together. Sometimes 5,000km feels exactly like 5,000km.

It wasn’t good weather for running, and I was low on time and energy, so I went for a walk in the dark and fog. I continued listening to old BBC radio comedy while I was walking, this time The Goon Show. It was quite funny, but more dated than Hancock’s Half-Hour, or maybe my tastes have changed. Hancock is mostly character-based humour, which is perhaps more timeless than The Goon Show‘s reliance on surrealism, weird sound effects and running jokes; that it was occasionally racist doesn’t help.

Alexander the Great and Me

I’m still feeling overwhelmed. I had hoped for a quiet Shabbat (Sabbath) and one where I wouldn’t need/want to blog much afterwards, so I could use the Saturday evening for chores, writing or relaxation. I did have a fairly quiet Shabbat, but it brought up a lot of thoughts, not all of which I’m recording here.

I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not today. I felt in shul that I’m drifting away from the community. I stopped going to shul so much when I moved from my old community in 2016, partly because of social anxiety about attending a new shul and then because I changed jobs in 2017 and was working longer hours. By the time that job finished in 2018, I was back in depression for a while. COVID has pushed me further from regular attendance. I’m out of the habit, and I no longer feel the connection to my community that I once felt.

In a way this is good, as I can’t see E feeling comfortable in my current community. I think E would prefer a United Synagogue community. The problem is, I would not feel fully comfortable. Nothing like the US (United Synagogue) really exists in the USA or Israel. It’s a type of community where the official hashkafah (worldview) is Modern Orthodox, but many of the rabbis are Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), while most congregants are not particularly religious and don’t keep Shabbat or kashrut (the dietary laws), to the extent that I would not feel comfortable eating at their houses. It leads to a weird type of community where a core of congregants can be very religiously knowledgeable and involved, while most aren’t interested at all and see shul as a social or traditional thing more than a religious one. In the past, I’ve been one of those very knowledgeable and involved people. I guess it gave me a role, but I didn’t have many friends, although that was at least partly because there were so few people my age in that community. I wanted to be in a frummer (more religious) community, one where people cared about davening (prayer) and Torah study as my previous shul struggled to get a weekday minyan (prayer quorum) and had few shiurim (religious classes). In reality I feel (perhaps not accurately) that I’ve struggled to be accepted in a frummer community, so maybe I would be better in a US shul. However, the local US shul (my parents’ one) is not right for me, too large and impersonal and too many people who know my parents and think of me as my parents’ son rather than a person in my own right.

After shul was dinner. I spent some time after dinner doing Torah study (quite a lot, about an hour and a half, I think) and also reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion — very interesting so far, with the caveat that social psychology as a discipline has a replication problem (i.e. famous experiments have not yielded the same results when repeated by other researchers).

I went to bed late, but couldn’t sleep. Eventually I read a Doctor Who graphic novel for a bit as I didn’t have a head for more Righteous Mind. While I was lying in bed, I had the following thought. I only recently heard the term “rainbow baby” for a child born after a miscarriage or stillbirth. I don’t know if it’s a new term or American English or if I just hadn’t heard it. It occurred to me that my Dad is a “rainbow baby.” His mother had five miscarriages before he was born, which is a lot. Then he was three weeks late and a breech birth; he had to be delivered by emergency caesarean at a time when this was still somewhat dangerous. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that he was basically a miracle child, his parents doted on him. They were kind and gentle people anyway, but I think that made it impossible for him to do wrong in their eyes. He was very close to both his parents, but especially his father. It occurred to me that I am wary of having positive self-regard in case I become “narcissistic” or “selfish.” Yet my father has a strong positive self-regard from his stable and loving childhood, but he’s a very generous and caring person and not at all narcissistic. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this, exactly, but it made me think.

Today was a pretty normal Shabbat. It feels like an autumn/winter Shabbat both with bad weather and Shabbat finishing earlier. I did some Torah study and reading. I wanted to stay awake after lunch and drank coffee to help, but I still dozed for a while. Eating a heavy lunch just makes me tired these days and maybe I have to accept that. I just hope I don’t have insomnia again tonight.

I struggled all day with wanting to work on my novel, which obviously I could not do on Shabbat, but even after Shabbat, I’m not sure where to make my first move, so to speak. I really want to start writing it, for reasons that are probably wrong. I think it’s a story worth telling, but I think I also want to use it to help understand and process my emotions and personal history, which may or may not be a good idea. I think I have a lot of research and planning to do before I write, but I’m burning up inside; just the idea of this novel has triggered so many thoughts connected with parts of my life that I’ve repressed as well as childhood — I don’t want to say “trauma,” as it wasn’t the type of trauma other people I’ve met have carried, but therapists have presented it to me as traumatic, at least in the colloquial sense. Maybe I need to take this to therapy first, before I do anything with it.

With my previous novel (which I have to keep reminding myself is not yet published and I need to make sure I don’t forget to keep looking for an agent and a publisher just because that bit involves too much rejection), I had some support in building on my own experiences, which I have a bit here, but nowhere near as much. I guess I feel excited and nervous about this project at the same time, like Alexander the Great when he woke up one morning and said to himself, “You know what might be a good idea? Conquering THE ENTIRE KNOWN WORLD!”[1] And then I think what that will entail, and how long it will take, and that no one will pay me until after it’s all finished, and that writing about sex and porn addiction in the frum community might lead to people making all kinds of assumptions about me, and I think, “Do I really want to do this?” Yes, I do, but it’s still scary.

I bought some books I want for research tonight. One was for research, but also touches on the area of “trauma,” or pseudo-trauma, in my own history that I wanted to confront. I also cleared out my email inbox, which wasn’t directly relevant to my writing project, but was something I needed to do, and I set some goals for this week, which may need refining, but hopefully will get me doing chores AND looking for agents AND doing research without overloading me. I won’t be going to volunteering this week, though, as I need time to focus on myself after Yom Tov. So I think I’ve made a good start on things, but it’s gone midnight now and I ought to be thinking about winding down for the night.

[1] Or, if you prefer The Pinky and the Brain: “What are we going to do tonight, Brain?” “The same thing we do every night, Pinky: try to take over the world!!!!!”

Spiritual Experiences, Conformity, and Autism in the Workplace

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

Reading Ashley’s post on conformity, I commented:

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

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

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

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

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

Talk with the Rabbi

Today was one of those days that got away from me. I had therapy in the morning, which was good. Then I went to speak to my shul (synagogue) rabbi about my Asperger’s in the afternoon. The meeting went well. He was very understanding and supportive. We spoke a bit about being strategic in my shul attendance to handle burnout, maybe trying to go less often but more focused or to more inspiring services. I need to think about what that would mean in practical terms. We spoke a bit about social anxiety too, and wanting to challenge that, but in a safe way, and about COVID making that harder by adding a new layer of anxiety to social situations. He said I looked more animated than he had ever seen me before (we hadn’t really had a one-on-one conversation before).

When I got back from that I spent a while speaking to my parents about the meeting and some other things and then, unfortunately, wasting time. I wanted to do things, but couldn’t get down to anything. In the end I did some Torah study and spent half an hour on my short story, writing about 500 words, which was good. But other than that I haven’t done much, and I need to be up early for work tomorrow. I’ll watch the rest of the pilot episode of Twin Peaks before bed, which I started at dinner, but I don’t feel particularly sleepy. I probably should have taken time to relax after speaking to the rabbi instead of just procrastinating.

Mid-Week Twin Peaks

I woke up late, drained, but not particularly anxious, which was good. No one contacted me about the ending of the Very Scary Task today, so I guess it went OK, otherwise someone would have phoned in anger or dismay or J would have texted to say something. So that’s good. I did have a bit of a headache after lunch, which may have been a delayed stress response. J contacted me after lunch to say I may well have to do the Very Scary Task again tomorrow, which is stressful, but hopefully won’t be made more stressful by bureaucratic mistakes outside of my control as the previous one was.

***

I had therapy for the first time in a month or so as my therapist has been away. It was good, although I don’t really want to say much about it here, except we spoke a bit about acting with integrity, which is one of my core values. We spoke about thinking (with regard to work and elsewhere) that “I acted with integrity and did the best I can; I can’t blame myself for external factors or how other people reacted.” That was helpful and I will try to keep it in mind in the future, including tomorrow.

***

I mentioned on here a few days ago that I wanted to do a Twin Peaks re-watch, but didn’t want to disrupt watching Doctor Who with E, and also that I was aware that there are periods with Twin Peaks when it gets into a rut of silliness or being bizarre to the point of incoherence and that those episodes are hard to watch in one go. So I’ve come to the conclusion that I will watch one episode a week, on Wednesdays, as I’m usually at volunteering and/or therapy on Wednesdays and am exhausted by the evening and just vegetate in front of TV, so I can watch both Twin Peaks and Doctor Who. I wanted to come up with a snappy title, probably with alliteration (I’m not sure why, as I’m doing this alone), but the best I could come up with was “Mid-Week Twin Peaks” which is a rhyme, but not a very good one. If you count the feature film prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, there are forty-nine episodes of Twin Peaks, so this should take me about a year.

Today I watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. As a prequel, it adds more to the original story than the Babylon 5 prequel In the Beginning did, inasmuch as the latter doesn’t do much more than show what the original series said had happened, whereas Fire Walk with Me is interesting even if you know how Laura Palmer died from the original Twin Peaks. I’m not sure why it has such a bad reputation, although the likes of Kim Newman and Mark Kermode have pushed for positive reassessment.

It’s a sometimes disturbing film about a disturbing subject (abuse), and the surreal elements don’t really detract from that. I like that there is redemption at the end, with the dead Laura appearing in the red room (Twin Peaks‘ Heaven/Hell/Purgatory) and crying tears of joy as she becomes an angel. The film lacks humour compared with the original series and probably doesn’t have as much of a sense of place (actually the opening section which isn’t in the town of Twin Peaks probably has more of a sense of place), but I found the balance of surreal moments amidst mostly realistic drama good. There probably is some truth in the criticism that Laura Palmer isn’t enough of a character to fully hold the film together. In the original series, the late Laura was as much a symbol as a character and we don’t learn much more about her here than we already knew, that she had been abused since she was twelve and has turned to alcohol, drugs and casual sex to cope. Nevertheless, I found it intense and compelling.

(I don’t intend on doing an episode-by-episode review, I just wanted to write a few thoughts as I didn’t have much else to say today.)

Very Scary

I feel stressed. I guess some of it is the usual mid-summer “I haven’t had therapy for weeks because my therapist is on holiday” feeling. Some of it is worry about the upcoming Yom Tovim (festivals) and the soul-searching that accompanies them. Some of it is worrying about whether E will be able to visit the UK this year. Then there was working from home yesterday, which was more intense than I expected/hoped. I woke up this morning very drained and somewhat low and went back to bed after breakfast… at which point J phoned. He wanted me to do the Very Scary Task I sometimes have to do. I was taken by surprise and asked if it could wait an hour, and he said not really and that he would do it. I felt very bad about this, as he is on holiday and I had said I would cover, so I hurriedly changed out of pyjamas and phoned him back to say I could take over. I think I did OK, but it’s quite a bit of phoning. Hopefully it will get easier with practise. There still will be more to do, as the task will have to carry on for some time as other people do things and I have to coordinate.

I know I’m late to the Working From Home party, but I am really not enjoying it. It exacerbates my usual problems with getting up and while I don’t have the problems some people have with motivation during the day (or not to the same extent), I find the blurring of boundaries between work and home uncomfortable, particularly with the Very Scary Task, which involves dealing with difficult topics that I don’t want to bring into my bedroom. Possibly I should make the calls from another room tomorrow, if I can find one that is quiet. With this task in particular I also dislike the uncertainty: not knowing when exactly I will have to phone or who I will have to speak to or even how many times this task will come up in the next week and a half.

I am going to skip volunteering tomorrow, even though I may not be able to go for a while afterwards as I have therapy next week and the Yom Tovim start afterwards. It will let me take over the Very Scary Task from J (I had told him I couldn’t do Wednesdays), which might get me back in his good books after panicking and running away today. It will also give me some time to catch up on other tasks that I think I will not get done today.

Possibly feeling emboldened by my success with the Very Scary Task, I tried to phone the autism hospital again to find out where my application for autism-adapted CBT has got to. I got the psychiatrist’s secretary’s answerphone again. I left a message, as she doesn’t seem to be contactable otherwise.

I had dinner with my parents, sister, brother-in-law and cousin (cousin 4) who is over for Israel on a busman’s holiday, essentially childminding. I wasn’t really in the mood initially, being exhausted from the day, but I did feel more comfortable after a while. I do find it hard to relate to my cousins sometimes. There’s the age difference. I’m the eldest of all the cousins, nine years older than my eldest cousin and over twenty years older than the youngest. Then there’s the culture shock. Jewish life in Israel is very different to Jewish life anywhere in the diaspora. Jewish life in Israel exists naturally, without effort, whereas in the diaspora Jewish identity has to be created consciously or it lapses into assimilation. But life in Israel is also different to life in any other Western country; no other Western country exists in a state of permanent existential war. But there are personality differences too. My Israeli family tend to be relaxed and impulsive by temperament, while my immediate family and I are not.

I did have a good time with my family (and another ‘piece’ of my next novel ‘puzzle’ clicked into place), but I am feeling very drained now. I have not gone for a walk today or done any Torah study yet (although I did spend half an hour working on my devar Torah). I would like to do a little Torah study and relax for a bit before bed, but I’m conscious that I’m likely to be phoned at 9am with the next stage of the Very Scary Task — or even if not at 9.00am, if left to my own devices I will sleep until 11.00am or 12.00pm, and the Very Scary Task will almost certainly be looking for me before that.

Meanwhile the days are getting noticeably shorter, a sure sign that autumn is on the way, with all that entails both in terms of festivals and the return of gloomy weather and lack of sunlight (not that this summer has been particularly sunny). There is a feeling of the summer, such as it was, in terms of weather and COVID, is drawing to a close.

“Am I a good person?” ‘Pure O’ OCD

I’m slightly wary of writing this in case it exacerbates a delicately-balanced situation, but here goes: lately I’ve been having thoughts that verge on ‘pure O’ OCD (obsessive thoughts without compulsions). These never completely went away before, but had been quiescent for a while. Lately, they’ve sprung up again. I’m not sure why, perhaps, perversely, a response to various things in my life going better (job, getting back together with E, progress on my novel, feelings of religious progress).

Pure O OCD can take many forms. It often manifests in ways centred on moral worth, one way or another, hence its other name of ‘scrupulosity.’ It can appear as doubt about moral or religious worth: “Am I a good person?” or “Do I really believe in God?” It can also manifest in other ways, particularly where a concern about moral worth shades into fear of performing immoral actions: “Am I a racist? Do I want to hurt people? Do I want to abuse children?”

I’ve been having thoughts like this recently. Actually, I’ve had them for years, but they might be more frequent and disturbing lately. I don’t think they meet the requirements for diagnosis with OCD, certainly in terms of distress. I do not feel hugely distressed the way my OCD distressed me in the past. I know this is my brain, not me. Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the “Am I a bad person?” thoughts completely, especially when they are pushing on an open door inasmuch as I wonder about my moral life a lot anyway.

The other, related, thing I’ve been doing lately is ruminating on certain things I’ve done in the past that were less than morally perfect. I’m aware that, objectively, the misdeeds were minor. If we have a scale of bad deeds from 1 to 10 where 1 is a minor breach of traffic law, for example, and 10 is genocide, then these are a 3 at most, probably lower (small breaches of lockdown laws included). And they were a long time ago, some going back to adolescence. There also isn’t really anything that I can do to change what happened or rectify things. But I keep thinking about them.

Part of me wishes there was some kind of ritual I could do to atone, or in Jewish terms, to make a tikkun (rectification), to draw a line under the past. But then, wanting to do a ritual to remove obsessions is OCD, so it’s probably not a good idea.

Like I said, I don’t think this is pathological OCD, so I don’t want to go to a doctor or psychiatrist. I might talk to my therapist, as I’m seeing her anyway. I’m not hugely distressed by the thoughts, I just worry where they might lead. I would be tempted to do some exposure therapy, but I find exposure therapy for thoughts without compulsions tricky and would probably need a CBT therapist to help, which, as I said I don’t want to do, particularly as I don’t think I’m actually diagnosable. If anything, I would worry that focusing on my thoughts for exposure therapy would make things worse. But the situation is there, and it’s upsetting and worrying me a little.

Obsessive Thoughts, and Finding Your Mission

I had volunteering this morning. For some reason we were preparing fewer bags of food this week. The number varies from week to week (I’m not entirely sure why), but not usually this dramatically. There were also some leftover bags of non-perishable food, which further reduced the number we needed to get ready. The result was that I was finished before 10.00am, rather than between 10.30am and 11.00am as usual. I think there were other tasks I might have been able to help with, but I was not unhappy to leave earlier, as days when I do both volunteering and therapy are tiring and I was glad of the extra time to recover and do other things.

In the afternoon I tried to create a revised version of my Doctor Who book on Lulu.com so I could sell it at a lower price, but the system is still misbehaving, telling me I need to select a book size even though I already have done so. I emailed the helpdesk again, although I did not find their previous response particularly helpful. They emailed back to say that I can’t publish a new version of my book without starting from scratch (which admittedly wouldn’t be a huge problem, but still isn’t right) because since I published the book, they’ve changed the site. This is a bug, apparently. Hmm.

I worked on my novel for a little under an hour. I procrastinated, I didn’t make much progress and I’m not happy with what I did write, but I wrote something, which I guess is the important thing, just to keep hammering away at it.

***

Therapy was good. I spoke about my obsessive pure O OCD-type thoughts, which have got a bit worse in the last few days. I sometimes get intrusive violent thoughts. This leads to obsessive worrying that I could become violent or a murderer. I tend to worry in particular when I read news stories about rapists and serial killers and see similarities with myself (usually that they are loners with few/no relationships and friendships). I know it isn’t likely that I would hurt someone (I’m terrified of hurting people even verbally and unintentionally, let alone physically and intentionally), but it’s easy to get sucked into “How can I know for sure that I wouldn’t do that?”-type of thoughts, or even to think that if I have intrusive violent thoughts for long enough, I’ll somehow act on them by default. The thing to do with these thoughts is just not to pay any attention to them, although it’s very hard not listening to a voice in your head saying that if you aren’t careful, you’ll turn into Jack the Ripper.

In therapy today I realised that these thoughts aren’t all that different from the “Am I a bad person?” thoughts I get. It’s a more extreme form of “bad,” but the thought itself is not that different in nature. And I realised that I haven’t really got very far trying to prove to myself that I’m not a bad person (or a serial killer), so maybe I should just try not to respond to these thoughts. I noticed that I got to shul (synagogue) last week without really thinking about it much, rather than spending ages thinking that I had to go and worrying that I wouldn’t make it, so maybe ignoring obsessive thoughts is the way to go.

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As well as Lulu.com, I’m angry at victim-blaming antisemitism, but what can you do? There’s a lot more of them than there are of us.

***

Looking for a particular quote for my devar Torah, I was looking at Rabbi Lord Sacks’ z”tl book To Heal a Fractured World. It ends with a two page list of reflections on an ethical life. A lot of this resonated with thoughts I’ve been having recently about trying to work out what I’m here on Earth for, what I can actually do with my life. I’m not going to quote all of it, but here is some of it:

I make no claims to wisdom, but this I have learned:

  • that each of us is here for a purpose;
  • that discerning that purpose takes time and honesty, knowledge of ourselves and knowledge of the world, but it is there to be discovered…
  • that where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be;
  • that even the smallest good deed can change someone’s life…
  • that those who spend at least part of their lives in service of others are the most fulfilled and happiest people I know…
  • that each situation in which we find ourselves did not happen by accident: we are here, now, in this place, among these people, in these circumstances, so that we can do the act or say the word that will heal one of the fractures in the world…
  • that it is not the most wealthy or powerful or successful or self-important who make the greatest difference or engender the greatest love;
  • that pain and loneliness are forms of energy that can be transformed if we turn them outward, using them to recognize and redeem someone else’s pain or loneliness…
  • that we can make a difference, and it is only by making a difference that we redeem a life, lifting it from mere existence and endowing it with glory;
  • and that if we listen carefully enough — and listening is an art that requires long training and much humility — we will hear the voice of God in the human heart telling us that there is work to do and that he needs us.

***

E and I have been watching the 2005 season of Doctor Who, the first of the revived run. It’s strange to think that I was doing my undergraduate finals when these episodes were broadcast. I didn’t have a TV at Oxford, and the episodes were broadcast on Shabbat, so I couldn’t get myself invited to someone else’s room/house, so I only saw episodes one to three around the time of original transmission; the rest my parents taped for me and I binge-watched them after finals. It seems like yesterday. It also seems a lifetime ago.

It’s also strange that “new” Who has very nearly been around for more of my life than the original series. In fact, as I was eight when I discovered Doctor Who, for me the new Who era is longer than the era when I was a fan, but Doctor Who was not on TV regularly, even though that feels like the default for me.

***

I finished reading Moonraker (SPOILERS ahead!). I think prose James Bond is rather better than film Bond. Maybe that’s a bit unfair, as they are trying to do somewhat different things, although it takes a while to realise that. Prose Bond is not by any means realistic, but his actions have consequences; he’s not a superhero like film Bond. Here, Bond gets badly hurt and ends up in hospital. His detonation of an atomic bomb in the North Sea (to avoid it destroying London) leads to hundreds dead and missing and M worrying about the fall out, in all senses of the term. The “girl,” Gala Brand, is a capable undercover policewoman and she, rather than Bond, works out what the villain’s plan is and how to stop it. Most surprising of all, not only does Bond not have any real amorous encounters (one kiss is about it), Brand turns out to be engaged and chooses not to spend a month with Bond on the continent, but to get married to her fiance instead. I was impressed.