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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always Winter and Never —

I’ve mentioned before about not being in touch with my emotions. Today I’m not even that sure how the day went. Either a good day in which quite a few stressful things happened, or a stressful day in which nothing really bad happened.

J wasn’t in the office today. He’d picked today to drive to one of our other sites, but it turned out there were floods from the heavy rain and he couldn’t get in, so he went home and worked from there. I go in on the Tube, so it didn’t affect me. There wasn’t a lot to do, so I ended up phoning people who hadn’t paid their membership fees yet. It led to some awkward calls, although no one got angry with me (which has happened once or twice) and I did get two credit card payments and a couple of other people promising to pay soon, including someone who didn’t realise she’d cancelled the standing order to us, thinking it was going to somewhere else.

It got a bit lonely in the office by myself. I felt overwhelmed by the afternoon, which might have been the phoning or the several cups of tea I’d drunk. I probably drink too much caffeine at work, given I have low-level anxiety much of the time there. I have a cup of coffee at home over breakfast, a second when I get to the office, and sometimes a third if I feel really tired. Then a cup of tea for lunch and three or four more during the afternoon to keep myself going. I could drink decaf tea, but I sometimes find it tastes funny to me, plus part of me feels I need the caffeine, even if it makes me anxious.

I usually struggle with winter, but I feel much worse than I usually do at this stage. We’re still in the midst of autumn, let alone actual winter (in my head, winter starts in December) and already I feel I can’t cope. I miss E a lot. We’re not likely to get married before spring, which makes it (spring) seem impossibly distant. Winter usually feels like it won’t ever end, especially once we get past Chanukah and the bank holiday season and it feels like endless January followed by interminable February. Starting chatan and kallah (groom and bride) classes yesterday should be a step forward, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. I guess I still can’t believe I found someone who wants to marry me, with all that entails and feel it will somehow go wrong, because “obviously” I can’t be happy.

At the moment we’re waiting nervously for E’s visa. There shouldn’t be any issues, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any, especially given the Home Office is not the most efficient (or compassionate) organisation, and it’s under stress with Ukrainian refugees and the stuff in the news about over-crowding in refugee centres. At least I have my trip to New York at the end of the month to look forward to, even if there may be a very long wait until we can see each other again afterwards (I couldn’t go later in the year for fear I would miss my sister’s baby being born).

***

Yesterday in therapy I somehow got on to the subject of wanting to share controversial political views with people online. I say I don’t want to do it, then I seem to seek out people who don’t share my views and read what they post online as if I’m daring myself to disagree. (I didn’t say this in therapy, but another view comes to mind, which is that I’m trying to “collect” online friends with all sorts of different views to my own to prove to myself how tolerant and broadminded I am. I hope this isn’t true, because it’s basically using people for my own ends.)

I mentioned that earlier this year, I got annoyed about an antisemitic news story and wrote a two or three page satirical squib, a dystopian satire, to let off steam. It started connected strongly to the news story, but grew to take in a lot of other stuff I don’t like. E loved it and said I should expand it to a novel and for a while I did think about it, but I was already working on my current novel and decided to leave it for now. I am collecting ideas for it, though, and I would like to have a go at it at some point.

The fact that I was working on a different novel (although not far enough to absolutely have to stick with it) was a good reason to leave it for now, but I was also scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep being funny for 80,000 words. I’m learning tricks to jump-start narrative and character development in my writing when I get blocked, but I don’t know how to do it for humour. I guess I feel there is no way of doing it for humour: you’re either funny or you’re not. And I worry I’m not. I know this is the voice of the school bullies, and, as my therapist said, a bunch of teenage boys are probably not the best arbiters of whether something is really funny. But it’s hard to turn that voice off.

A bigger worry is offending people or upsetting people. I would really like to write a Swiftian satire parodying everything I hate about the modern world and that’s bound to upset people in our intolerant and cancelling age.

My therapist asked if there was an image that summed up my thoughts about creativity and putting controversial or satirical ideas out there and immediately I thought of the traditional sign for the theatre, with two masks, one smiling for comedy and one miserable for tragedy. It’s like I’m only allowed to use the tragic one (actually, tragedy can be comic e.g. Hamlet). The therapist suggested satire as a bridge between tragedy and other forms of comedy. It’s an interesting idea to play with, but I’m not sure where it will take me.

 ***

Doctor Who time: E and I are watching The Invasion (1968). It’s ahead of its time in that it’s about an evil Big Tech genius who wants to take over the world – so far, so 2022 – but it’s of its time in that the focus is on innovative hardware, not software (as it would have been in the eighties or nineties) or algorithms (as it would be now).

There’s a weirdness about some Doctor Who stories of the late sixties, in that the Doctor (a time-traveller from a super-advanced civilisation) doesn’t like computers. It’s never made entirely clear why, but it seems to be on the spurious (to us) grounds that they’re inhuman and inauthentic, stifling true creativity and humanity. The Ice Warriors is the story where this really comes to the fore, but it appears in others too, including this one. It’s where the programme shows its roots as primarily Romantic and concerned with emotional authenticity rather than scientific progress per se. This is why the Cybermen are the most frequently-appearing foe in this era, as they represent technology without humanity.

Although my main takeaway so far is that the music and sound effects in this story are really good. Sixties Doctor Who was more about the sound effects than the visual effects, with the late sixties stories blurring the lines between incidental music, sound effects and ambient atmospheres. This story has a score that sounds like a Western and sound effects that sound unearthly.

That’s Me in the Corner

I had therapy today for the first time in about two months, since before my civil wedding. We spoke about quite a few things, including the wedding. One of the big ones was alexithymia and struggling to find and understand my emotions. We spoke a bit about just trying to recognise emotions and sit with them, rather than necessarily doing anything with/to them.

At the same time, we spoke about the Gestalt Cycle. As I understood this, the idea is that we have cycles where our emotions can lead on to actions (among other things). Googling it, I’m not sure I understood correctly, but that’s what I took from it.

It was interesting to me that emotion is linked to action in that way. In Judaism, there’s an argument that ritual actions should coincide with or even provoke emotions. The Medieval commentators and philosophers wondered how Judaism can command emotions (love God with all your heart, soul and might; love your neighbour as yourself; don’t covet etc.). One approach is that actions stimulate emotions so acting lovingly (etc.) can induce that emotion even if you don’t feel it initially (I don’t claim that this will always work, and I can say from experience if you already have strong emotions in the opposite direction, it probably won’t work at all).

Possibly, if I want to feel more Jewishly, I just have to open myself up to the religious actions I’m doing. I went through a phase a while back of trying to focus more on the words when davening (praying) and the feeling of joy and amazement when saying brachot (blessings) (cf. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel). I somehow fell out of the habit (I think when things got stressful before the civil wedding and then Yom Tov), but I could try to get back into that mindset. Not to over-think ritual and prayer, but step back and observe the emotions it induces.

***

My therapist also spoke a bit about integrating the autistic part of myself. This was in a context of saying that I think there’s still a part of me that is trying to “bargain” not to be autistic, or to have had a better autistic experience, rather than accepting that I am autistic and I had the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood that I had, difficult though much of it was. My therapist anthropomorphised it as a child who is sitting in the corner and not fully accepted. I’m not sure what to do with that thought at this stage.

***

We also spoke about the fact that, because I only work for two days in the week, even though I’ve been working there for nearly two years, it’s the equivalent of less than a year working full-time, so it’s no surprise I’m still learning how the office works. This came up because I was saying that it’s when I fully understand a process and why we do things a particular way that I consistently start doing it correctly (albeit that I can still make mistakes when my attention wanders, which happens too often). If I’m just doing something because J said so, I’m likely to make mistakes based on faulty processing or misunderstanding.

***

I joined a Facebook group for dialogue between frum (religious Jewish, although in this context, specifically Orthodox and possibly Haredi/ultra-Orthodox) and OTD (“Off the Derekh” – off the correct path, i.e. not frum, not a phrase I like using generally) Jews. I have no idea if this is going to be an environment where I can connect with open-minded people (presumably anyone joining such a group is more open-minded than most, but maybe not) or if it’s just going to be one huge argument. It’s frustrating that most FB groups are private and you can’t get an idea of what the group is like before joining. I can always leave if it gets too much. So far it seems most people are polite, but a few are less so, although they probably think they’re engaging in radical honesty rather than being rude.

I’ve joined five FB groups now, with two more still pending. Since joining, two of these groups have done a “Hello to new members” post, listing new members by name, and in both groups, they missed off my name. I was too shy socially anxious to say anything.  Honestly, this kind of thing has been happening to me since I was a young child, both “if anything can go wrong, it will” and, more troublingly, being completely ignored in social situations. I was assuming that I get ignored in person because I’m so quiet and skulk near the back of groups, not talking to anyone, but it seems that it happens online too, when I’m not even expected to have done anything, just to have my name added to a list automatically.

Rosh Hashanah

I should really get to bed soon, but I wanted to quickly write a few things about Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

I got to shul (synagogue) multiple times, including for the shofar both mornings, although I got to shul long after the start of the very long Rosh Hashanah morning service. I felt a bit overwhelmed by the large numbers in shul on the first evening, but was OK with the number of people, although I suspect to some extent I just focused on myself, my machzor (prayerbook) and the chazan (cantor) and tried not to think about the other people. I was mostly OK with the choir and the chazanut (cantorial singing), preferring to sit with Dad in the known quantity of the main shul despite these things (choir and chazan) rather than go by myself into unknown the parallel service, even though they finished a lot earlier without them. I mostly think I made the right decision, but I was annoyed by the amount of talking, which I’m not used to from my shul. Still, overall I felt comfortable at being back in the United Synagogue. I do wish people wouldn’t talk during the service, though.

I felt too tired to go back this evening for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services), which means my machzor and, more importantly, my tallit (prayershawl) is still in shul, so I’ll have to borrow Dad’s tomorrow morning (Dad has two talletot, one in shul and one at home).

I didn’t do much Torah study, although I went to the shiur (religious class) between Minchah and Ma’ariv yesterday. I did finish the ‘Chofetz Chaim on the festivals’ book.

I remembered there’s one type of therapy system (I can’t remember which) that talks about moving towards or away from values instead of abstract goals. For some reason that I’m not entirely sure about, I feel vaguely uncomfortable with moving towards values, but wondered if it would work to feel I’m moving towards God. I’ll have to see how that goes.

The main difficulty over Yom Tov, aside from missing E, was that my lips and especially hands have got quite chapped. I’m not quite sure how this happened, as it feels like it was summer five minutes ago, but apparently it’s not any more. Anyway, that was/is a bit uncomfortable. My left hand in particular has quite a lot of little cuts on it, which are surprisingly painful.

EDIT: I finally set up my new Facebook account. I haven’t set up a profile or found friends (or “friends”) or anything yet, as I don’t have time, but I wanted to do something towards setting up the group for people on the margins of the frum community. I did try to set my relationship status to married to E, but couldn’t work out how (isn’t FB supposed to be intuitive?) and ran out of time as I have to be up early for work tomorrow.

Yours Exhaustedly

I feel totally wiped out today, physically and emotionally exhausted, even bordering on physically ill (light-headed and faint and that feeling of my brain being squashed). I got up late, had to eat not just breakfast, but also lunch, before I had the energy and concentration to put on my tefillin, and found it difficult to daven (pray), just struggling to concentrate and feeling physically ill when I tried. I did my usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores and finished the dusting, but I currently feel too exhausted and ill to go to shul (synagogue). It worries and upsets me that lately I miss Friday night davening as I feel too physically and emotionally exhausted. It’s my favourite service and it’s a long time since I’ve been regularly too ill to go, so missing it so often feels like a backwards step.

It’s hard struggling with this exhaustion and sleep disruption, particularly when I don’t know what causes it: autistic exhaustion or burnout (which are not understood well at all), some kind of sleep disorder or returning depression (a fear around this time of year in particular, as the lengthening nights have signalled most of my previous episodes). It’s also difficult that high-functioning autism in adults is not understood well at all, as most of the research money goes on children. (People on the autism forum also complain that most of the money goes on research to see how autistic children can be made to behave more like neurotypical children, rather than how can we make autistic children/adults happier and more comfortable. I have no idea if this is true, but it sounds worryingly believable.)

My therapist has offered me a slot on Friday 7 October. This is because I haven’t seen her for weeks because my New York trip was followed by her holiday, and now the next month is disrupted by Yom Tov (the Jewish festivals) and my working on different days to accommodate them, meaning that I don’t have a free Wednesday (my usual therapy day) until 26 October. She doesn’t always work on Fridays, but offered to fit me in, which I’m very pleased about, as I really do feel the need to speak about a few things at the moment, and waiting another month was going to be painful.

Leaps Into the Unknown

There’s not a lot to report today.  I woke up an hour early and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I decided to rest in bed rather than get up early.  Work was OK.  I was supposed to photocopy pairs of sheets of paper onto single, double-sided pages, and I kept doing it wrong, starting to copy the same page on both sides instead one on each side.  I stopped the printer in time each time, but I felt stupid the first time I did and stupider the second time.

There were Tube problems (a stretch of the Northern Line closed because of someone on the line, unfortunately) which necessitated me going on the other branch of the Northern Line and then getting a bus.  I did eventually get to the barber.  I was somewhat scared by the fact that, of the two people already there, one was having his head shaved and one was having some weird treatment involving waxing his eyebrows and nasal hair or something.  I didn’t think it was that kind of a barber! I was worried the barber would want to do more than just trim my hair!  In the event, it was OK.  I shook slightly, but not much, and the barber either didn’t notice or was too polite to mention it. I sent E a selfie when I got out and she liked it, which was a bit of a relief.

***

I’ve nearly finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.  I read a big chunk today, at lunch and on my extra-long journey home.  I’ve got about seventy pages left.  I have enjoyed it, but I felt Eleanor’s naivety was too inconsistent.  I thought that early on, she didn’t have a TV in her flat, but then suddenly she did.  Perhaps that was my mistake, but the types of things she knew and did not know seemed to vary according to the jokes the author, Gail Honeyman wanted to tell.  She knew about Power Rangers but not about Spongebob Squarepants and so on.

Honeyman has apparently said that Eleanor is not autistic, but she sometimes comes across as autistic.  This led to a strange situation where I empathised with some of her thoughts and actions as things I might have done, but was alienated by others.  I should say that I don’t intend this as a criticism.  Unfortunately, representation, being “seen” or “erased” by a work of literature or art, has become a key criterion of its worth or success, and I don’t think it is, really. But it did feel strange to strongly connect with Eleanor’s struggles one minute and then feel totally astounded by them a moment later.

What I did find interesting was my reaction to the scenes of Eleanor’s breakdown and therapy (actually, it was called “counselling,” but the counsellor had a PhD, which to me implies therapy).  It made me feel strangely nostalgic for my worse days.  I don’t mean nostalgic in the sense of wanting to be like that again (I was more or less completely non-functional for several years, doing nothing other than go to meetings with my psychiatrist(s) and therapist(s), when I was able to get one), but it seemed somehow easier.

In those days I had no real responsibilities.  Unlike many people with mental illness, I had no real risks, aside from suicide, because my parents were supporting me financially and I lived with them.  At some times, at least, I felt I was constantly making new discoveries about myself and my history in therapy, which was exciting and, over time, changed how I saw myself.  I would not want to go back to that world at all, but I guess it brought home to me that my current life is a leap into the unknown: marriage, writing and various other things I haven’t even started on yet. I hope they will turn out well, but I have no idea if they will. It scares me sometimes that we can’t see one minute into the future. Anything could happen. It does seem strange looking back from where I am now: I’ve come so far, yet I feel I still have so far to go.  At least now I will be going there with E.

Planning Ahead

Today was a pretty good day.  I weighed myself when I got up and I was 71kg, which is quite comfortably in the healthy weight range for my height, albeit at the higher end.  I do still feel that I would like less of a visible tummy when I get married, so I’m not about to go and splurge on cake and ice cream.

I did some more novel-writing, had therapy, and went for a walk.  I also got to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).  I hadn’t gone to weekday prayers for a while, so I was pleased to go.  I would like to get back in the habit of going more often, although I’m not sure what sort of target to set at the moment.

Going to shul felt like a positive thing.  I have a lot of anxiety about going to shul, but often when I’m there I feel good.  It’s getting in the front door that’s hard, or talking to people afterwards, but the service itself helps me feel connected, perhaps to God, but certainly to the community.  It helps that it’s very scripted and much of Jewish prayer services is private prayer anyway rather than things read together.

***

My article about being high-functioning autistic in the Jewish community on a Jewish website seems to be trending again.  At any rate, it’s gone back to the the front page and then crawled up near the top, something usually reserved for new articles.  My sister suggested the site is promoting it again because I won an award for it, although I would expect some kind of banner on it if that was the reason.  Anyway, it raises my profile, which is good.

***

I realised this morning that I’m currently planning the time ahead of me in months if not years, rather than days and weeks.  This feels weird.  For most of the time from 2003 onwards, long-term goals went out the window as I focused on just getting through one day at a time because of my depression.  When I was able to work, I was mostly focused on getting through each day, not on career progression, and it was difficult enough to do that.  I think even when I dated, I wasn’t looking that far ahead, until recently.

It feels strange to be thinking in terms of months until my wedding, or years until we have children (hopefully).  Sometimes waiting until next spring to get married seems very far away and sometimes the fact that I’m actually planning it, rather than just hoping it will happen one day, makes it seem very close.

***

I was speaking about my place in the Orthodox Jewish community to my therapist in the context of not finding a suitable wife inside the community and marrying someone less religious than me.  She said I had an avant-garde, maverick status in the community.  I found that weirdly appealing.  It is true that I’m less willing to conform to certain non-halakhic (Jewish law) cultural standards and “unwritten rules” (which autistic people are famously bad at understanding).  I don’t always like not fitting in, but I wouldn’t want to be a conformist either.  I am trying to see my relationship with E as God calling me to learn to give and to live religiously in ways that I haven’t done before.

We also spoke a bit about mourning for the neurotypical life I will never have.  I feel I have a way to go with this still.  I thought I had processed and accepted my autistic/Asperger’s diagnosis, but I’m not sure that I have.  My therapist got me thinking about the Kubler-Ross model of grief.  I looked it up after therapy and I think I’m still in anger, at least some of the time, which is only the second stage out of five, although arguably I spent years in the past in depression (step four).  I think it is accepted nowadays that people don’t always go through the model sequentially, but can go back and forth between steps, so I don’t want to read too much into it.

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.