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.

***

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.

Bitachon; and Doctor Who (2005)

I won the jackpot with the post today: new shoes, a book, a DVD and, most importantly, a corrected Asperger’s diagnosis report and resources leaflet. I’m glad that’s sorted. The resources leaflet turned out not to be that helpful, given that I’ve been aware of my autism for a long time and have already discovered many of the resources and got beyond the “But what is autism?” stage, but I feel more comfortable now speaking to my GP next week and trying to get referred for autism-adapted CBT.

I had a reasonably busy day today, going to the dentist, going for a walk, doing some Torah study and having therapy as well as tackling a few odd chores. I did run out of time and energy to work on my writing, which frustrated me, but didn’t surprise me. I jotted down a couple of ideas for the next novel, though, and I feel that that’s developing well, probably better than the first novel, which I fear lacks a clear plot and suffers from a lack of supporting characters.

Therapy was good, although I didn’t have enough to talk about for an hour, which itself is an indication that things are going well for me at the moment. I spoke about feeling that I have more resilience than I have had in the past. I also don’t think I wonder if things in my past could have gone differently any more. I guess I’ve got to the stage of thinking that everything in my life really had happen the way it did, even if I can’t really articulate why I feel like that. Perhaps this is finally bitachon (trust in God) or just acceptance of my childhood and difficult adolescence. I do still wonder what people from my past think of me and whether they might find my recent Asperger’s article and think differently of me, but that’s not really a thought about changing the past so much as wanting people to think well of me and not to think I’m an antisocial weirdo.

In therapy we also spoke about telling my parents that I’m back with E, which I plan on doing this coming Shabbat, but am rather nervous about. I’m not sure how they will react. I think my Mum worries about me being in an unending on/off relationship with E, which to be fair is something I worry about sometimes, although less so now that I think we can move the relationship on.

One thing that came up in therapy is that I think my relationship with E is a lot better than my relationship with PIMOJ was. E and I connect on a variety of levels, whereas I don’t think PIMOJ and I really connected as anything other than friends. Certainly I was unable to feel comfortable opening up emotionally to PIMOJ, and she was unwilling or unable to open up to me. Despite that, I probably did need to go through my relationship with PIMOJ to appreciate how rare my connection with E is (that bitachon/acceptance thing again).

***

E and I are starting to watch Doctor Who “together”, i.e. in our separate houses on separate continents, but roughly at the same time, allowing for the time difference. We’re initially watching the twenty-first century version. I prefer the twentieth century version, but appreciate that there are many obstacles to it for contemporary viewers in terms of very different pacing, production values, writing and acting styles and so on, plus nearly 100 episodes of the twentieth century version are lost from the archives and unwatchable, so starting at episode one and going straight through doesn’t really work. That said, I may suggest slipping in some twentieth century Who later for context, and because I’m not sure I want to watch the twenty-first century version indefinitely without a break.

We started tonight with Rose, which is showing its age in places, but still feels a fairly tight and lean revival of the franchise. I do definitely struggle with Russell T Davies’ writing style even in his better episodes (Rose is more a middling one). I’m not sure if I dislike his style in general or just for Doctor Who. The other distracting thing was that I did keep thinking about the recent Noel Clarke sexual harassment allegations, which are.

Fraught Day

I was expecting today to be a normal, dull work day, but it turned out to be fraught. Running in the background all day was my worries for the escalating violence in Israel. I’m not going to write a political post because I think everyone already knows what they think, I just feel anxious about family in Israel (literal family and metaphorical family) and want it to be over. I checked the news a couple of times while at work, something I wouldn’t normally do. I hope and pray the violence doesn’t escalate further, but I worry that it’s reached the point of self-perpetuation.

Then, on the way home I texted my parents to say that J and I were going home by a different route and I was going through the suburb where my maternal grandparents lived (I think I saw their house, which was some way away from the road, behind some trees, but if I did, the front has been massively remodelled). Mum then told me she had spent the afternoon at the hospital, having had a bad reaction to new medication. (She has to take bone-strengthening medication because chemotherapy weakens the bones.) Mum is home and OK now, just very tired.

I was in work today, as you may have gathered. J asked me to change work days this week, which is why I moved therapy to yesterday. While at work, I was called by a job agency about a job I applied for a few weeks ago. I didn’t think they would look twice at my CV, as I didn’t have the specialist subject knowledge they wanted, but they want to interview me next week. They wanted to do Monday, but that’s the festival of Shavuot, so they’ve agreed to do it on Wednesday. I have to do a cataloguing test first. I’ve had a few cataloguing tests in recent years and have generally done badly at them. I feel I’m very rusty, but we’ll see how I do. I am terrified at the prospect of getting the job though, silly though that sounds. I worry I can’t do the cataloguing (although, if I pass the test, I guess that will prove I can), I worry about what it will involve, that I’ll have to work four days a week (twice as much as I’m currently doing), that I’ll have to work on Fridays in the winter when Shabbat starts early, that I won’t have time to write fiction… A lot of worries. I’m trying to stick to what I said with my therapist about staying in the present, but it’s not easy.

Also at work, I had a difficult phone call related to the new task J was training me to do. This involves talking to people who are in a difficult emotional situation and talking them through various tasks and getting personal details from them while not overwhelming them. (I don’t want to go into more detail as it will make where I work too obvious.) I had to do this suddenly and thinking on my feet, as the situation wasn’t exactly the type J trained me for. J was listening and said I handled it well, which is good.

So all in all it was a fairly nerve-wracking day. I’m trying to stay in the present, as I discussed with my therapist. I don’t think I’ve been doing too badly about that, all in all, but I am pretty exhausted now.

***

I’m rather apprehensive of the week ahead too. I have tomorrow, Friday and Sunday to prepare for my cataloguing test, prepare for my interview, sit my test (unless I have to sit it on Wednesday morning, immediately before the interview) and get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festival), as well as trying to exercise and do Torah study (including Talmud preparation and maybe writing my devar Torah for next week as I will lose so much time to Yom Tov and interview stuff). Then there are Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are time off, but not always relaxing as they tend to involve a lot of shul (synagogue), Torah study and sleeping rather than recreational reading. I suppose I shall get through it somehow. Or I’ll flunk the test and the interview and that will be that. I could have done some preparation tonight, but I felt pretty punch drunk and not suited for anything more than TV.

***

My former landlady texted me to compliment me on my Asperger’s article and J initiated a long discussion about Asperger’s and related issues on the way home. I’m surprised about the positive feedback I’ve had. It’s strange, I’ve written things that have been published professionally or semi-professionally before, but I never really felt of my writing ability as a gift. But hearing how people have responded to my article makes me think that it is one, pretentious though that sounds. I used to think that literature couldn’t reach people the way the visual arts of music can. Art and music can cross the boundaries of language, unlike writing, but writing can explain things and share specific thoughts and thought processes in a way that more abstract arts can not.

***

This has been a fairly heavy post (albeit that some of it is positive even if it is scary), so time for something lighter: how I got back together with E!

E and I met via my blog back in 2018. We had two goes at long-distance dating which didn’t work out. When we broke up the second time, I decided that I wouldn’t date her again, as I was worried about ending up in an on/off relationship that never got resolved.

A few weeks ago, I started reading the anonymous blog of a Jewish woman who was becoming more religious. We had some comment conversations and seemed to connect and have similar outlooks and values as well as similar struggles. I did wonder vaguely (or not so vaguely) if one day we might date. She reminded me of E, but more spiritual and trying to be a better person. I actually wondered if it was E, but decided that coincidences like that only happen in romantic literature.

Then out of the blue I got an email from E saying that she was that anonymous blogger!

She was very apologetic about how things had been between us before and wanted to try again. I decided, based on her long email and her blog posts, that she seemed to have grown a lot and that dating her now would be different to dating the E that I dated in the past, to the extent that I felt my “No dating again” decision didn’t apply here. She is pursuing Orthodox Judaism for its own sake now, not just to fit in with me, and she’s done a lot of work on herself. I have also undergone changes, particularly my Asperger’s diagnosis and its positive knock-on effect on my self-esteem and understanding.

I think we are both nervous that this might not work, but the potential benefits seem to drastically outweigh the potential costs. We both have our difficulties and issues, but there seems to be tremendous potential for us to build something positive together.

I discussed this with my rabbi mentor and my therapist. The former felt that E and I have both matured a lot over the last nine months, while my therapist found it interesting that I liked E’s blog even without knowing it was her, which she felt showed a strong personality connection between us. So, we (E and I) are cautiously optimistic.

However, I have not told my family yet as I’m nervous of how they might respond. I guess I feel I want to have a bit more to tell them before I open up to them. I keep nearly letting it slip though — wanting to say, “I’m Skyping E in a minute” or “That reminds me of something E said…” I really am terrible at keeping secrets, let alone lying.

Dating to the Right and Left

I should say that “right” and “left” here refer to more or less traditionalist Jewish rather than politically right and left.

Yesterday my therapist encouraged me to stay in the present, to think about being able to succeed in my current job rather than worrying about my future career and to try to build a connection with someone rather than worrying about marriage. This is easier said than done. She suggested I “check in” with myself every few hours (I decided on every four hours) to see if I am staying in the present. I am not doing very well. Worries about marriage kept surfacing.

Early this morning I was thinking about a Jewish idea — possibly a popular spirituality idea rather than something in major primary sources; certainly I don’t think I’ve seen it there, but I’ve seen it on popular sites like Aish.com — that you have everything you need for your mission on earth. This is problematic when you think about people who lack the basics of life (historically, many important rabbis lived in extreme poverty at one point in their lives e.g. Hillel, Rabbi Akiva and others). Fortunately, my parents are supporting me financially, but, if I have everything I need, why do I feel such a need to give and receive love? It is a basic human need and I can’t pretend I don’t feel it. Maybe I need the need, but still, I don’t know what to do with it.

On the way to work, I was overtaken by hordes of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) primary school-aged girls on scooters, going to school. I see them every time I go to work. I found myself wondering where they would be in ten years time, how many would still be in the Haredi community and how many would be married. Statistically speaking, the answer to both questions is “Most of them.” The retention rate is much higher in the Haredi world than the Modern Orthodox one, and early marriage is the norm.

Thinking about the Haredi community and its higher retention rate, I found myself wondering if I should be looking for a moderate Haredi spouse. After all, I go to a moderate Haredi shul (synagogue) and have some friends there. I can, apparently, “pass” on a basic level, even if I’m not a complete match for the ideology, and even if I worry a lot about being caught out. I feel a bit like I may not get the choice, as there are not many frum (religious) young people in the Modern Orthodox (United Synagogue) community in the UK, while the Haredi community is booming, and is younger (thanks to a high birth rate and high retention rate). There is also a tendency in my family for the men to marry “up” religiously and the women to marry “down” i.e. more religious women marrying less religious men. My previous girlfriends have mostly been less religious. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong?

That would involve being set up on dates with Haredi women. The sex therapist from Intimate Judaism who responded to my email the other day offered to try to find a shadchan (matchmaker) specialising in people with “issues” for me. I’m not sure that she’s going to be able to do so, as I tried to find one myself some years ago, without success. But if she does manage it, I would imagine they would be more to the Haredi end of the spectrum, as shidduch dating (arranged dating) is more common there. So, again, that might push me in that direction.

Nevertheless, there is an issue here, which is my reliance on Doctor Who and other British TV science fiction as a coping mechanism as an autistic special interest and a coping mechanism for life stress. This is a bit weird even in the Modern Orthodox world (my Modern Orthodox rabbi mentor doesn’t even have a TV) and in the Haredi world TV is viewed with suspicion and even people who have one tend to keep it hidden. Being so into a TV programme (bear in mind I have even written and self-published a book on Doctor Who, for love rather than money) — well, it’s weird and geeky even in the secular world, let alone the Haredi world. I fear it would be a deal-breaker for many Haredi women and maybe even some Modern Orthodox ones.

I thought about the other obstacle I have to frum marriage, the fact I haven’t been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Realistically, not going was probably the right decision for me, although if I hadn’t been in the depths of despair, a gap year after university instead of before might have worked. I worry about not being attractive to frum women by not being able to study Talmud, and potentially teach it to my children.

My parents think that I’m a good person and should therefore find a good wife, sooner or later. I’m not strongly convinced that I’m a good person (I think it’s more that lots of other people are subpar, and society is OK with that), but I worry that the type of woman I’m looking for will be looking for a good Jew rather than a good person, and that I’m not a good Jew because of my problems studying Talmud. I don’t think a frum woman would be faced with a choice between me and a bad person, but between me and an equally good person who can also study Talmud. This pushes me to date more non-frum women who wouldn’t care about Talmud studying ability, despite the problems I’ve had there. Then again, I could also say that a woman (frum or otherwise) would be faced with a choice between me and an equally good person who doesn’t have a shedload of other “issues.”

Which brings me back to the “special needs” shadchan. I haven’t tried this, but I worry that I would not be set up with the right sort of women. My one brief attempt at dating with a shadchan ended badly when, possibly because I had mentioned my depression and autism, she set me up with someone with learning disabilities who simply was not on my intellectual level. Admittedly, it didn’t help that there was zero chemistry between us, but I do wonder what would happen if I go down this route. Asperger’s is frustrating as it can involve being extremely intelligent and functional in academic areas, but absolutely not functional in basic social skills, which doesn’t make finding a compatible partner any easier.

So, for a day when I was supposed to be in the present and not worrying about my future, I was worrying a lot about my future. It didn’t help that work was quite slow. The morning was OK, but the afternoon was largely spent on fairly mindless work that left my brain free to worry about things. Being at work probably didn’t help, as I couldn’t really write things down to get them out of my brain until I got home. I’m going to post now, rather than before I get ready for bed as I usually do, to see if that helps me get rid of the thoughts and lets me sit in the present more this evening.

Also, the Talmud thing is a big issue for me (you may have noticed…), not just with dating, but with self-esteem and social conformity generally, and I don’t know what to do about it. Actually studying Talmud (the obvious solution) doesn’t work as I struggle so much with it. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways: different types of classes, chevruta (one-to-one) study, private study, all without success (actually, I did have some success with the LSJS class, but that was years ago and it hasn’t run since). I’ve been told it’s not an issue and I shouldn’t worry about it, but it seems like a big thing to me. I don’t know how to fit in comfortably to the frum community, whether looking for friends, community or a wife, without it. But my brain seems not to have been designed for Talmud study and now lacks the plasticity to learn.

Fear of Living, Fear of Dying

We have local elections next week. An election for the Mayor of London and a by-election to replace a local councillor who died. I didn’t want to go to a polling station in the pandemic, so I have a postal vote and need to send it soon. I don’t know who to vote for. I still feel pretty annoyed about all the parties. If I’m a “Tory anarchist” (as George Orwell wrote), lately the anarchist part is dominant. I’m pretty angry at the moment with political parties of all stripes, and big business, especially Big Tech.

Local government, including the London Mayor, doesn’t really have much power in the UK, so the whole election seems pretty pointless. I don’t know who my local councillors are or have much of a sense of what they do. I did know the one who died, sort of, but only because he was well-known in the local Jewish community, and because he was the solicitor who acted for the people my parents bought their house from in the sale. As for the Mayor, in theory he has powers about a range of things, but I only really have a sense of him as the person who decides if the Tube fares go up. Most people just use local elections as a glorified opinion poll on whichever party is in power in central government.

In the last European elections, mid–Brexit, I spoiled my ballot and wrote abusive comments by the candidates’ names, the only time I have done this, because I was so angry that the parties could not get their act together to sort Brexit out, to the extent that we were having European Parliament elections while trying to leave the EU. I didn’t even have particularly strong views about Brexit, I just wanted to get it over with and get back to reality. When the last general election happened, I was still angry and voted mainly to keep Jeremy Corbyn out than because I was impressed with anything anyone else was offering. Now I’m mainly apathetic. I don’t think there’s one party that represents what I think, not even close. I don’t even think I have the energy to spoil my ballot.

I was brought up to take voting seriously because “people died to get you the vote” (which is actually a really stupid reason to do anything). And I think people should take voting and politics seriously, it’s just very hard to admire the current crop of politicians, and hard to feel that anyone listens to people like me at the moment. I’m not even sure what I would say if someone was listening.

Ugh, I didn’t mean to write 400 words on politics, I just feel annoyed and confused.

***

Other than that, it was a quiet day. I had therapy, I drafted my devar Torah (pretty much on autopilot, it’s not one I’m particularly proud of) and looked over the next Talmud section before shiur (religious class) on Shabbat. I didn’t go for a walk as it rained a lot and I was too drained to walk in the rain after therapy. I feel like I’m doing a lot of what I want to be doing… but I haven’t done any fiction writing for about two months! The friend who said she would read my novel said to wait until after Pesach, so I waited until then, but then I got cold feet about sending it to her as I wasn’t sure if she wanted to be paid, or how enthusiastic she was about reading it. I didn’t want her to do it out of some kind of sense of obligation. Now JYP is reading it, but I feel I ought to try to write something else to keep the writing habit going while I’m waiting, but I don’t know what. I have an idea for another novel, but I’m not sure it’s sensible to start it yet. I’m not sure what will happen to my work, exercise and Torah study regime when I try to factor in an hour or two of fiction writing a day, but we’ll see.

***

In therapy we spoke about being in the present rather than falling into anxiety about future careers and future relationships (or the lack of either). I said that I feel I missed some developmental stages when I was a teenager. Because I was autistic, but didn’t know it, and because I’d been bullied a lot, I withdrew into myself. Autism made me fear change and the unknown, and being bullied made me fear other people my age (I still struggle to feel comfortable with older children or teenagers). I didn’t go to youth groups the way most Jewish teenagers do. I didn’t date or party or do any kind of leadership or personal growth activity. A bunch of my friends went backpacking in Europe the summer after we finished school and I was originally going with them, but fairly early on in the planning I stage I panicked and backed out of it.

Now I find I need to go through the adolescent maturation stage, twenty years too late, regarding finding what I like to do and what I can do, career, friendships, relationships and so on. This was when my therapist spoke about staying in the present and not trying to worry about the “What ifs?” of career and relationships. To focus on being satisfied with the work I do and not worrying about how it will lead to a career, and to focus on making a connection with someone and not worrying about whether we will get married. I do feel like the clock is ticking on both things, though.

I didn’t mention this in therapy, but a while back I heard about Otto Rank, who was a student of Sigmund Freud. Unlike Freud, he saw the human psyche as being driven by two fears, the fear of living and the fear of dying. Rather than their literal meanings, he saw the fear of living as being the fear of individuation and separation, and the fear of dying as the fear of being absorbed into the collective. I tend to bounce between these two quite violently, wanting to individuate and be different from other people, particularly in a religious community that I find quite conformist, but I also want acceptance in the community, close friends and a romantic relationship, which involve, or seem to involve, making at least some concessions to the expectations of other people. What I want more than anything is to be fully accepted, with all my “issues” and geeky quirks and complicated history, but I’m scared of making myself vulnerable enough to discover whether anyone could accept me.

The email I received from Intimate Judaism yesterday said that they don’t have time to answer every email sent to them, but my “sense of isolation” was very apparent in the email I sent them and they wanted to respond. I guess it seems a bit strange to see that written down. I am a lonely person and have been so since my teens (if not earlier), but it’s just a kind of constant background noise for me. I do have a ‘loneliness’ tag on my blog, but I think I use it much less frequently than tags for ‘depression’, ‘autism’ and ‘anxiety’.

I wrote a whole essay for Hevria years ago on loneliness, where I think I said that the term obscures the fact that there are different kinds of loneliness. Someone can have family and yet still lack friends, for example. I myself have family and a few friends, especially online, but have few in-person friends (which I instinctively feel I would like, even if I can’t express why) and also lack anyone for my romantic/sexual side. I also, as I said, want to feel completely known and accepted. Above all, I feel that I want God to accept me, as only He can really know me, but I want to be accepted by human beings too, even though I’m hiding much of myself from them, even here.

***

I’m currently bearded, because of the omer, the period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost), part of which is observed as a time of national mourning, involving not holding celebrations, listening to music, cutting hair or shaving. I feel really self-conscious seeing myself bearded on Skype and Zoom calls. It just looks wrong. I kept looking at myself rather than my therapist on my Zoom therapy call today. Plus, people ask me why I’m growing a beard; “I’m not growing a beard, I’m just not shaving” is a confusing response. It itches too. At least I can shave it off on Friday.

Love and Autism

For those of you who don’t know, I broke up with PIMOJ yesterday. I think it was the right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel sad, or guilty about making her feel sad. I wanted to let myself sleep in this morning, but got woken just after 9am by an alarm I forgot to switch off (how can my phone alarms not wake me when I want to wake up and wake me when I don’t?). I tried to go back to sleep, but found myself thinking, “Macbeth hath murdered sleep, so Glamis shall sleep no more, Cawdor shall sleep no more.” (Yes, I did Macbeth for GCSE.) Then, a few minutes later, “Yet each man kills the thing he loves/By all let this be heard/Some do it withering look some with a flattering word/The coward does it with a kiss/The brave man with a sword.” (Quoting from memory. I’m not usually this literate first thing in the morning.) I guess there will be some guilt and processing for a while.

I cried a bit while davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers) this morning. I guess it was a release. The tears, I mean.

I can’t really complain. I got what I wanted when I went on JDate, which was to alleviate my loneliness and practise my social skills by being in a relationship for a while, one which might have progressed further, even if, in the event, it didn’t. I wasn’t looking to get married quickly, the way Orthodox Jews are supposed to do, so maybe it’s not a surprise that it didn’t last.

It’s funny, I’ve never been comfortable with the concept of “chemistry.” For years, I’ve felt guilty that I “click” with some people (I’m talking as friends, not necessarily romantically) and connect with them easily, and don’t “click” with other people. And I beat my self up about that. Sometimes the non-clicking ones turn out to be better friends in the long run. But I think chemistry is real and there’s only so far you can struggle against it, particularly in romantic relationships, and PIMOJ and I didn’t have the chemistry, among other issues.

I’ve been worrying about whether I could really love someone. I think that some of the reasons I broke up with PIMOJ would apply in any relationship, or most relationships. I think I probably could love someone, but it would have to be a special person who was willing to let me love her in my own way, and so far I haven’t met her.

I do wonder if I can express love a way someone else can accept. I don’t feel I express love strongly to my parents or my sister and I feel my relationships with my friends are somewhat distant. I tend not to miss people strongly when I don’t see them or want to catch up, but there I some people I like thinking about and I suppose I’m glad they’re alive — or that they lived, in the case of my grandparents. I’m trying to find words for feelings that I can’t really describe… I’m not sure if this is love or not.

I think I express love mostly by listening, by being there for someone else with issues. I did that for my first two girlfriends, but PIMOJ didn’t have many issues and I think she believed that women shouldn’t “burden” their boyfriends/husbands with their issues, which is not how I see it.

I don’t really express friendship overtly with friends at all, except by being open to listen to them, but this is less of a visible thing, as we live in a culture where men don’t really express their friendship very overtly.

There is the idea of love languages, that people express love primarily either through words of affirmation (praise), acts of service (doing things to help), giving gifts, spending quality time together or by physical touch. PIMOJ was a gift giver and I have all sorts of little things she gave me and which I didn’t quite know what to do with when we were together, let alone now. I probably express love for my parents and sister by spending time with them, although I do have to tell myself consciously to do so. At least Shabbat is a time to spend with family, particularly as I’ve lived with my parents for so long.

Touch is important too, but it complicated in general by autism (I am sensitive to touch and shied away from it for a long time) and, in romantic relationships, by the Jewish laws of shomer negiah, not touching people of the opposite sex, aside from close family. This has made touch in relationships fraught with guilt and difficulty for me. PIMOJ noticed my discomfort hugging, but thought it was about me feeling uncomfortable with the relationship, rather than with the concept of hugging. She didn’t come from the frum (religious Jewish) community and I think didn’t realise how guilt-inducing touch can be to frum people.

Related to this, a couple of years ago, the BBC made a very good (surprisingly good) documentary series on Mrs Thatcher and her government (Thatcher: A Very British Revolution – worth checking out if it’s online if you’re interested in politics or history). The first episode focused on her personality and I found myself wondering if she was on the autism spectrum (with all the usual caveats about “diagnosing” a dead person in absentia). She had a very logical and analytical mind (she was a research chemist and then a lawyer before going into politics, two jobs requiring logic and analysis). She saw the world in a very binary, black-and-white, with-me-or-against me way and couldn’t really accept that people who disagreed with her were acting in good faith. She didn’t have much of sense of humour, at least according to her speechwriters, who say she didn’t get the jokes they wrote for her. She didn’t express much emotion and (this was the bit that really interested me) her children said that she didn’t tell them she loved them or express it physically very much, they just knew it from the way she looked at them. It all sounded a bit autistic to me.

I wonder if my parents would say the same thing about me, that they know I love them from how I look or something else a bit distant. I worry that that would be how I would be with a wife and children.

***

Therapy was difficult, but good. I spoke about the breakup, but also about my autism diagnosis making me revise my view of myself and my life and that maybe it’s good, post-breakup, that I have time and space to learn to be myself. I also spoke about feeling a sense of agency from having realised that my life was not working, having seen autism as a possible explanation for this despite having been told otherwise, then researching and fighting for the diagnosis and finally getting it and now beginning to understand myself.

I didn’t do much other than therapy today. OK, that’s not quite true: I did a bit of Torah study and went walking and shopping. And I changed the time of my dentist appointment in May – a trivial task but it took nearly a dozen phone calls to do it, as the number was consistently engaged, went straight to answerphone or, on one occasion, I got through only to suddenly and mysteriously get cut off. It would seem dentists are much in demand post-lockdown.

Therapy was tiring and I didn’t do much afterwards. I gave myself time off after my breakup and spent time watching TV (Babylon 5: War Without End); I intend to follow up with The Simpsons (I’m only going to have Disney+ for another fortnight or so, so I might as well watch it) and maybe read for a bit. Oh, and I ate ice cream, because I broke up and it’s what you do if you break up, albeit classically watching rom coms rather than Babylon 5.

***

I’m wondering what to do with my novel again. I have an friend (email friend, I’ve never met her) who writes and edits professionally. I asked her a while back if she would be willing to read it. I meant it in a casual way, like would she glance over it, but she said she would write and edit it professionally, but I would have to wait until after Pesach (Passover). Pesach is now gone and I haven’t been back in touch. Partly I’m scared to show anyone my writing, partly I made a faux pas when I asked her, not talking about payment, but now have no idea how much to pay (typical Englishman, I don’t want to talk about money), but also I worry it would be straining the relationship, which is friendly, but not close. So now I’m wondering about other options. I don’t really need much in the way of proofreading, I just want someone to read the story and tell me if they like it, if the story is interesting and flows, and how rounded the characters are. Hmm.

Reaching Out

Aside from over-thinking some things I’m worried about, today was a normal Sunday (and arguably even the over-thinking was normal for me). I spoke to my sister on the phone. I went for a run in the cold and rain; even aside from the weather, it was not a great run. Pesach has left me even more out of shape than before. I did about fifty-five minutes of Torah study, but it felt a lot longer; the combined sedrot (Torah readings) of Tazria and Metzora (Vayikra (Leviticus) 12-16) are probably the hardest to get anything out of from a contemporary perspective (admittedly a lot of Vayikra is in that category), and Tazria in particular is full of weird Hebrew terms that don’t appear elsewhere just to make understanding it even harder. I have to write a devar Torah about this soon…

My mood went down after my run. I’m not sure why. Eating dinner helped, but not hugely. I got stuck in a lot of negative thoughts and feelings. I did some activities my therapist suggested, to try to clarify for myself what I’m worried about and get my thoughts in order so that I can hopefully do something about these anxieties. That helped a bit, but not hugely.

***

It occurs to me that while I have come across a few Jewish/frum mental illness blogs over the years (albeit not many), I don’t think I’ve come across any Jewish high functioning autism blogs. I’m not quite sure what to make of this or what to do about it.

Searching online, it looks like there’s a Jewish Autism Trust, but that it’s run by and for parents of children or teenagers with autism, not high functioning adults with autism. I want to reach out somehow, but I’m not sure what exactly I would want. Maybe some kind of discussion forum for high functioning Jewish adults on the spectrum? I suspect there may be Facebook groups, which I think are what people use these days instead of forums and chatrooms. Or do I want to speak to neurotypicals in the community about the needs of people on the spectrum? Or both?

I just searched and found a couple of (non-Jewish) autism discussion forums. I’m wondering if these will be useful to me, helping me to reach out to other people in the same situation, or if they will be a huge drain on my time and resources if I get involved with them (or both).

Short Post, Much Angst

Today I feel less burnt out than yesterday, but still subdued and struggling to do things, like I feel after a migraine. I would be tempted to take things easy, but it’s a week and a half until Pesach and I can’t really afford to do that.

I went out and did some shopping and spent well over an hour writing my devar Torah (I wasn’t sure I would have the time or energy this week) as well as doing a few small, but time-consuming, Pesach chores. However, my Dad cleaned the sinks in the garage that we use for Pesach, which was supposed to be my job yesterday; I was too tired yesterday and did not have enough time today. I vaguely feel I should do more things around the house.

The other important thing today was therapy. We spent a while talking about my autism diagnosis and what it means for me and my sense of self. We spoke about coming to terms with it being like grieving in a way and about whether I can use it as an opportunity to work on self-regard, which I feel very nervous about as I tend to assume that any positive self thoughts will lead to narcissism. In my head, someone gave Donald Trump (for example) too much praise as a child and now he has an ego the size of a planet, and I worry about that happening to me.

After therapy I found myself getting sucked into low mood and anxious thoughts again, some about my relationship and whether it can survive several more months of COVID, let alone other stresses. Then it segued into general feelings of gloom and impending doom. I found myself thinking about bad things I’d done in the past and being sucked back into bad experiences from childhood.

I really want to crash, but, again, there are things I have to do e.g. I told Mum I would do ironing and polish the silver over the next two days. I will do the ironing and watch The Simpsons, which I haven’t seen for years. Twice in the last twenty-four hours or so I thought about the episode The Mysterious Voyager of Homer, so I figured that, as I currently have access to it on Disney+, I might as well watch it. And then maybe another Babylon 5 episode before bed; I don’t really feel up to reading.

***

Today the oven cleaner (that’s a person who cleans ovens, not a spray) came to clean our ovens before Pesach. From here on in, things become increasingly Pesach-related and stressful for the next week and a bit. It feels increasingly “real” as we get past more pre-Pesach milestones (clean fridges, buy Pesach food, clean ovens, kasher ovens etc.). My rabbi mentor said that everyone’s entitled to one pre-Pesach meltdown, and I wonder how I can cope with that (my parents’ as much as my own).

Burnout and Worry

I didn’t sleep well again. My weighted blanket became bunched up in one side of the duvet cover I put it in to keep it clean and I kept waking up feeling I wasn’t covered up as I wanted, but I was too tired and burnt out to get up and even out the duvet. I had crazy dreams (something about going to see Hermann Goering about something, possibly stopping the Nazis coming to power, or making sure they did come to power to preserve history… I think this was based on the science fiction novel The Simulacra that I read recently). I think I woke up intermittently across the morning, partly woken by building noise from next-door (or was that yesterday? The mornings blur together), but I didn’t feel able to stay awake and get up until very late and I was very burnt out again.

Burnout feels like more than ordinary “tired,” more like jetlag, or the type of tired you get if you’ve been up for thirty-six hours straight, just totally drained of energy and really impossible to do anything or think straight. It gets a bit better after breakfast, but generally not a lot better until after lunch, which implies to me there might be a blood sugar element (low blood sugar has always affected my mood negatively, since childhood). I’m not sure what the solution is, if there is one. For the moment I’m waiting anxiously for 9 March and the final part of my autism assessment before I make firm plans about my mental health.

I got a text this morning offering me a COVID vaccination at my GP, but I was asleep when it came through and by the time I phoned through to make the appointment, they were all taken. I’m actually glad, as the appointment would have been on a Saturday. Some rabbis are permitting getting vaccinated on Shabbat, but as I’m not a priority (I think I’m only being offered it at this stage because my Mum is still listed as vulnerable), I don’t mind waiting until the next appointment, which I’ve been told is Friday 5 March. I just hope I am awake when I get the next message and can respond in time.

I had a fairly busy day: I wrote my devar Torah for the week (although I have a bit to add that I thought of later) and was glad to link the sedra (weekly Torah reading) to Purim. I did a little Torah study too and went for a run. When I got home, I ate some crackers with salty butter out of curiosity to see if the salt would stop me getting a headache, wondering if lack of salt rather than dehydration is what causes my exercise migraines (dehydration seems unlikely, as I drink a lot). I didn’t get a headache immediately, but one seems to have set in now, over four hours later, although that may be because my parents turn the heating up so high.

***

There’s a joke about a great sage who wanted to know the meaning of life. He spent years studying texts: Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah… Eventually he looked up from his books and said, “Life is good!” Then he paused for a moment, thought a bit longer and said, “But if life is so good… how come it’s so bad?”

I feel a bit like this. My life is objectively better than it’s been for at least two or three years. And yet, somehow I feel stressed a lot of the time. There is uncertainty. I don’t know if my job will continue long-term or if my novel will be published. I obviously don’t know what will happen with me and PIMOJ. I guess uncertainty about one’s career and relationship is going to lead to unsettled feelings, even if things are OK at the moment.

At the moment, PIMOJ and I still can’t see each other for another nearly two weeks because of the lockdown, which is proving very difficult and I certainly feel it’s putting a bit of strain on the relationship. I think my relationship with PIMOJ is different to my previous two relationships, in that PIMOJ and I are very different in personality and we have to consciously work harder on the relationship and to communicate effectively. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it means I have to engage in the relationship a lot more deliberately than I had to with previous relationships (not that I’ve been in many previous relationships), and that’s not easy when we can’t see each other.

Beyond this, I guess there are things I think about and worry about that I need to process, but which I don’t want to write here because they relate to other people who might not want me to write about them even anonymously. I need to find another way of processing them. I can talk in therapy, but that’s one hour a fortnight. I could try to switch back to once a week, but I’m not sure I will always have enough to say once a week; the amount of worry comes and goes. I speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes. I could try writing privately, as I occasionally do. I do feel that it’s better if I can write with an audience though. Aside from getting helpful comments, knowing I have an audience stops me drifting into catastrophising or self-pity. Just knowing that something will be read makes me careful to avoid that in a way that I fear is not the case in private writing.

Still, just as my intermittent low mood is not capital-D Depression, so my worries are not capital-A Anxiety, which is good.

OK, bed now, as my head hurts.

Unwritten Rules

I had dreams last night that reminded me of my insecurities. I know I’m insecure; I don’t need dreams to remind me!

***

I had NHS problems again, making lots of phone calls (which I hate doing), trying to get my psychiatrist to get the right information about my medication (coming off haloperidol and back onto olanzapine) in time to get a repeat prescription when I run out at the weekend. I won’t go into all the details, as it’s a long story, but a few things were messed up and by the end of the day, it wasn’t resolved, so my Mum and Dad are going to have to try to resolve it tomorrow when I’m at work. I am a bit worried whether I will get enough medication to get me through the weekend and the beginning of next week.

Therapy was good, although I don’t have much to write here about it. My therapist said I have good self-awareness and self-reflections, but I need to learn how to acknowledge my thoughts and feelings rather than judging them. We spoke a bit about writing down thoughts and fears to get them out of my system, which I do to some extent already.

Other than that I went for a walk, worked on my novel for an hour and did half an hour of Torah study. I would have liked to have done more writing and Torah study, but the phone calls to try to sort out my medication took far too long, really.

***

I’m still reading Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy by Yael Ziegler on the biblical book of Rut (Ruth). Rut is one of the shortest books of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), the shortest if you count the twelve minor prophets as one volume, so I’m not sure how this book about it ends up as one of the longest so far in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series. It is good though, and very thorough, which I guess is why it is so long.

I saw this sentence referring to Rut the Moabite convert: “The social mores of Judaism tend to be more difficult to apprehend than the unambiguous halakhic [legal] guidelines.” (p. 263) This seems very true, for myself on the autism spectrum as much as for the Moabite Rut. I sometimes wish all the unwritten rules were written down, so I could learn them properly. In particular, the rules about fraternisation between the genders; I can’t work out why my shul (synagogue) absolutely prohibits this in some events, but allows it in others and in others still makes only a token gesture towards it.

Lurgy

I woke up in the night again, but not for long. I still woke up feeling very tired, after disturbing dreams, and a bit anxious, although not as much as the last few days. I thought I would have to scale back my plans for the next week or two and try to be kind to myself while I adapt to the new medication.

I went for a walk for half an hour before therapy, which I thought was important even though the weather was awful. I had therapy and spoke about some difficult stuff, but it felt good to get it off my chest. I was a lot less anxious afterwards. I did some Torah study and worked on my devar Torah for the week.

By the evening, I was worried that my symptoms were increasingly physical and not like anxiety, particularly change in temperature (hot and cold) and light-headedness. I don’t seem to have a temperature, but I don’t feel well and don’t think that it’s a good idea to go to work tomorrow. Even if I’m not infectious and am able to work, I’m not sure I want to be exposing myself to COVID (or anything else on the Tube) in this state. I’ve texted my boss to say that I don’t think I can come in as I honestly don’t feel that I’m in a state to get much work done. Unfortunately, I’ve already had one sick day this month, although I’m technically a freelance contractor, which makes my situation a little easier.

***

My shul (synagogue) agreed to my paying reduced fees for a while, which is something of a relief.

Rebel Rebel

I’m not sure where I am today, emotionally. I had two big things going on, the pandemic and the autism assessment. Now there’s a third, potentially even bigger, and I am not coping well. I don’t want to talk about it here yet. Or rather I do want to talk about it, but I’m not sure that I should, so I won’t for now. Suffice to say that I went to bed late last night because I was dealing with a lot of anxious and self-critical thoughts. Then I couldn’t sleep, probably because I was over-tired and hadn’t done anything to relax. Then I overslept this morning and didn’t want to get up because of the anxiety. I eventually got up because my phone was ringing, but I didn’t get there in time and whoever they were, they didn’t leave a message and I didn’t recognise the number. Hopefully it was just a cold caller, but I worry it might have been something about the autism assessment, although I know it’s unlikely that they would contact me within twenty-four hours of the last assessment.

I’ve felt lately that I was getting ahold of my life, that I was making progress with work and writing and my relationship, that I was moving towards some kind of definitive autism diagnosis, and that I was feeling like depression and mental illness, while not “cured” (I don’t know that I will ever be “cured”), are less prominent in my life. I was even wondering if I should carry on blogging here, or blogging so regularly. What is the point of a mental health blog if my mental health is reasonable?

And then, WHAM! To be honest, I knew this would happen for some time, it just happened faster than I thought it would, and it hit me harder than I expected. I still can’t talk about what is actually happening except in the vaguest of terms, but I’ve been in a state of anxiety since the weekend, and I’m not sure if it’s going to change any time soon. I guess I’m just psychologically vulnerable to mental illness at times of stress, the way some people have reduced immunity and vulnerability to physical illness.

I was able to talk about it a lot in therapy today. We ended up speaking a lot about ideas of community, individuality, conformity and so on and particularly how these apply in the Orthodox Jewish community.

I spoke about feeling a burden at the moment, a bag full of guilt and critical voices from the community and who knows what else. I want to put the bag down, if only to breathe, but I can’t, I have to keep carrying it up the hill. How much of this is actually real (real guilt, real people criticising me) and how much is just in my head is hard to tell. I do feel, on some level, like I’m responsible for the world and that I’m judged to the minutest level of detail, in a way that no one (or no one other than a total tzaddik (saint)) is judged.

My therapist suggested there was anger there too, which is correct, but I’ve never known what to do with anger other than repress it, which is not good in the long-run and arguably leads to depression. I think in the summer, when our Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighbours were having lockdown-breaching prayer services in their garden three times a day, I wrote a letter, with no intention of sending it, saying how angry they made me. I think that helped somewhat, but my current anger seems too nebulous and undirected at the moment for that to be a viable strategy.

More surprisingly, I found myself suggesting that maybe on some level I like or need the friction with my community. I’m not entirely sure why I said this, but I suspect that I noted that I’ve spent two decades or more trying to be an Orthodox Jew and to “fit in” to the Orthodox community, but I’ve also spent two decades or more complaining (quietly) about the conformism, narrow-mindedness and bourgeois mentality that often operates in the Orthodox community, trying to not to be socialised out of my geekiness, my non-Jewish friends, the books I read. I guess I have a “can’t live with it, can’t live without it” attitude to the Orthodox world.

I can see it with my novel. Sometimes I’m terrified about the backlash I might face for suggesting that domestic abuse exists in the Orthodox community and that the autistic and mentally ill are not well-catered for there, but other times I will admit to myself that I hope there is some controversy, that it “shakes things up a bit.”

It’s hard to come to terms with this, as I was a well-behaved child and I was the absolute most well-behaved, non-rebellious teenager imaginable. But here I am, worrying that I’m going to bring the Temple crashing down around me, Shimshon (Samson) style, without really wanting to do it, just feeling driven to it by loneliness and desperation, the longing for a place where I can be accepted by people who aren’t like me. I feel I should (“should” again) be able not to care what people think about me, but somehow I can’t.

I told PIMOJ I was anxious and she called. It was a difficult conversation, not least because it was late and I didn’t really want to speak, but I felt I should as she was concerned about me. It really did become apparent that there is a psychological difference between us, that she doesn’t care who does or doesn’t like her, whereas I want to be liked and accepted, something that I don’t think she really understood. I don’t think she understood why it matters to me if other Orthodox Jews reject me. I don’t think I really understand why it matters to me, to be honest. My life would be a lot easier if I didn’t care who liked me, but I find myself unable to find the switch to turn it off.

***

There was no volunteering today, but I was supposed to be doing some work from home and I got up later than I intended for that. I got the work done (stuffing envelopes and stamping them) as well as having therapy, but I didn’t get out for a walk. Add in the call from PIMOJ and I ran out of time for more than five minutes of Torah study, although I did write my devar Torah for the week and liked it more than I expected. It’s going to be another late night. I don’t know if I’ll have time to relax before I go to bed again so sleeplessness is likely.

***

When I started this job, the Department of Work and Pensions said I was OK working part-time and still receiving some benefits. Now they’ve written to ask for more details about the work. I accept that I probably earn too much to justify the benefits, I just wish they would make their minds up. I do wonder whether other government departments and bodies (e.g. the Treasury, the Foreign Office) are as useless and bureaucratic as the DWP and the NHS. It’s easy to look at the lockdown mess and think that they are.

Out of Spoons Error

I volunteered again today. I tried very hard not to feel stupid and useless. It’s probably not the best environment for someone on the autism spectrum, bearing in mind there are lots of people, we get verbal instructions (sometimes implicit ones) and need to use short-term memory and logical planning… It’s probably not surprising that I’m not always at my best. To be honest, the times I’ve felt most helpful have been when I’ve been given one repetitive job to do by myself for a prolonged period. I don’t mind if it’s incredibly boring, I just get into a pattern and think my own thoughts while mechanically putting tea lights in bags or whatever. I spoke a bit about this in therapy today and am now wondering if I should email in advance to volunteer for those kinds of jobs. It’s a bit scary to volunteer like that, even if I don’t say why that pattern of work suits me.

I also had a bad experience early on. I was supposed to bring some large cardboard boxes full of packets of granola down the outside fire escape staircase and into the car park. I was a bit worried about tripping down the stairs so I was going slowly to start with, but then I started feeling really faint and struggling to breathe in my mask and had to stop. I think it was primarily a blood pressure thing (my blood pressure used to be a little low), having to bend down to pick up these boxes. Wearing my mask definitely did not help, though, and I felt very faint and had to sit down outside without my mask for a few minutes to recover.

On the plus side, I do find volunteering rewarding and I think I do help. I certainly hope I don’t just get in the way. And someone I was at Oxford with who now works for the organisation that prepares the food packages was there today and I didn’t cycle down into self-criticism about not being where he is in life.

In the afternoon I wrote my devar Torah rather hurriedly. I hope it’s OK. I need to proof-read and send tomorrow. It’s frustrating not finishing things, but I didn’t want to write it all tomorrow. I tried to buy a wedding present for my closest shul (synagogue) friend’s daughter, but had problems getting it to deliver to their house rather than mine, so left that hanging over me too. Mum phoned John Lewis for me to find out what was happening; I did not have the spoons (energy). Again, I didn’t have envious thoughts of married people, which was positive.

I had a good therapy session this afternoon, but by early evening I was a bit grumpy and overwhelmed. I snapped at my Dad, which I shouldn’t have done, although I felt my point was justified if not my tone. I was buying my sister and brother-in-law an anniversary card online; Dad said I could change the font and colour and I said I was far too tired to care about that this time. It’s a question of spoons.

***

I am still feeling overwhelmed generally. I don’t think I’ve adjusted yet to going back to work, even if it is only two days a week. I suddenly have less time for writing, chores, religious obligations, exercise… I’m trying to do as much as I was doing, plus two days of work. It doesn’t really work. I did at least do some Torah study on the bus to volunteering.

***

Guilty pleasure time. I had intended to watch Blade Runner again this evening, in advance of watching Blade Runner 2049 in a week or two. But I was too exhausted and brain-not-working for something like that, so I ended up watching the James Bond film Moonraker again. Any James Bond film is a guilty pleasure for me, as I feel it’s not something a frum person “should” be watching (“should” again). But even among James Bond fans, Moonraker is considered awful. I don’t think it’s the worst Bond film by a long shot, although it probably is the silliest, not that I think that any Bond film is particularly ‘realistic.’

I could probably fill a paragraph or two on why I think Moonraker is actually a decent film, at least if you can accept a degree of silliness, but will just note Michael Lonsdale (who died recently) whose performance as villain Hugo Drax is arguably better than this film really deserved. There is definitely in my head a fruitful comparison of late seventies Bond to late seventies Doctor Who, both franchises indulging in greater humour to public acclaim, but receiving criticism from die-hard fans who complained that it was better in the sixties when it was “serious.” But I should probably not go too far down that route here, and not this late at night.

Living the Life, and Intermittent Depression

I got up at 6.30am to go to volunteering. I got there on time. Unfortunately, the fresh fruit and vegetables we were supposed to be packing (for the needy) did not. We packed the dry and tinned food, toilet paper and so on, but when I left at 11.00am the fruit and veg had still not arrived, even though most of the food parcels had been sent on their way to their recipients. The delivery company blamed traffic. It must be disappointing to the recipients. Doing this has really made me appreciate how close some people live to the breadline, a fact I knew intellectually, but not emotionally before now.

I had some awkward autistic moments at volunteering, one big, embarrassing executive function malfunction and some minor communication difficulties, but I think I was mostly OK, even making a bit of small talk.

When I got home I was too tired to do very much. It’s strange how much two and a half hours of volunteering plus an early start takes out of me. I did a little Torah study (I had done some on the bus to volunteering, but wasn’t sure if it technically counted as “Torah” – the letters of Rav Kook and a psychological analysis of Iyov (Job)). I procrastinated a bit, and then it was time for therapy.

Therapy was good. I was awake, thanks to the power of coffee. This therapy is more about practical coping strategies than delving into my past, which is what I need right now. The therapist suggested spending time checking in with my thoughts to see if I am drifting into anxiety or depression, which for me is often about losing present-focus. I said that I’m already kind of doing that with my blog – when I read it through before posting I can sometimes see that I’m beating myself up unnecessarily or worrying or whatever. (I’m even doing that now as I proof-read, because I’m aware that I’ve got some more depressed thoughts coming up in a minute.) We (it’s not always obvious at the end of a session who suggested what) also had some practical ideas for interview practise and to see if there are exercises online to improve executive function. I did look for these, but they seem to mostly be things I’m already doing.

We had a family Zoom meeting in the evening, me, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law, uncle, aunt and five cousins (at different times). It was good, but I feel I don’t talk much when I’m around my extended family. Actually, that’s not quite true; I talk more when we’re present in person, but not on Zoom. We spoke a bit about different COVID regulations in Britain and Israel; when you compare different countries, a lot of it begins to seem arbitrary (not in the sense that it’s unnecessary, but that no one government seems to really know what to do).

I feel I’m not as close to my extended family as I would like. I guess it’s not surprising, as my uncle, aunt and eldest two cousins moved to Israel decades ago; the younger three cousins were born there. Mum and Dad go out there a lot, but I haven’t always gone with them. And I always feel that as the eldest of the seven cousins (I’m nine years older than my eldest cousin), I’m in this strange position of not quite being one of the adults, but not being one of the children either (this could be my epitaph). And life in Israel is very different to life in the UK. But I guess it is partly that I can’t always connect with other people, and why would my family be different? I count myself lucky that I have a good relationship with my parents and my sister. It would be easy to drift into autistic solitary seclusion. The fact that I live at home is obviously a help there, and I think COVID and Mum’s cancer has brought me closer to my parents.

***

While I was at volunteering, I got a phone call from the hospital that will be doing my autism assessment. I asked them to phone back when I was at home. They didn’t. I’m probably going to have to chase this.

***

I wrote a bit yesterday about not feeling able to live the sort of life I’m “supposed” to lead according to mainstream twenty-first century Western or frum (Jewish religious) standards. I’m trying to feel that my worth isn’t related to those standards, the standards of being rich and successful (mainstream) or studying a lot of Torah and being very involved in the community (frum) or being married and having children (mainstream and frum), but it’s hard. I suppose I don’t have some other standard of worth on which to measure myself in a positive way. I try to judge myself based on what I can do, but it’s hard to tell what that is sometimes. I try to be a good son, a good brother, a good friend, but it’s hard to tell if I am objectively those things. Likewise I try to be a good Jew, keep halakhah (Jewish law) and connect with God as much as I can, but, again, it often feels like I could do more and I don’t know how realistic that feeling is. Sometimes (often) I wish I could see myself objectively, as God or other people see me.

***

I’ve been feeling depressed on and off today and I don’t know why. I can see external triggers, like seeing a clip (on Twitter, inevitably) of Orthodox Jews showing support for Black Lives Matter at a BLM march being threatened by BLM supporters, and the comments this got on Twitter. But that’s superficial. I’m not sure why I feel down persistently over the last few days. It feels like a few weeks ago I felt better. Now… I don’t feel constantly bad, as I did from 2003 until a few years ago (I’m not sure when exactly), but there are down times, particularly today. Some is probably tiredness and hunger, and – if not boredom, then frustration and wanting escapism (see below for more on this). Some is frustration with dating in lockdown and wanting to be able to spend more time with PIMOJ, in different settings than just cold walks in parks. Some is the days getting shorter, which always sets me back. I guess I’m also having some doubts about my novel, about why I’m even trying to write a mainstream literary novel (because I want to tell my story and my story doesn’t involve time machines or monsters), whether I will ever get it in good enough shape that I want to share it with anyone else, let alone look for a publisher. I wonder if I will ever have a job again and what that would mean for me. Intermittently at least I feel dysfunctional (like when messing up at volunteering today). I guess I don’t know where my life is going. In some ways the surprising thing is that I’m still on a reasonably even keel. I can see that I have a lot of non-present-focused fears and recrimination here, it’s just hard to know how to bring back present-focus. Perhaps by going to bed?!

***

I was warned that Twin Peaks goes rapidly downhill in the second half of its second season, but I was not prepared for just how far down it goes and how quickly. Pretty much as soon as Laura Palmer’s murder is solved (the initial “hook” of the plot), the whole thing falls apart. The suspense, sense of danger and emotional depth is gone and without that the horror effects, soap operatic sub-plots and moments of surrealism just seem silly, camp and pointless. I’m invested enough in the series and the characters to keep watching, especially as I’ve heard it does pick up again at the very end of the season, but I don’t think I’ll be binge-watching three episodes in a day again. (Well, or so I thought. I was planning to watch a film this evening, but then I couldn’t decide which one and the family Zoom call went on longer than I expected so I ended up watching more Twin Peaks instead, and the episode was a little better than the one I watched earlier.)

Writing Again, and Therapy

I went (on Zoom) to a time management at work webinar this morning. I thought it might be useful for general life as well as work and it was free so I thought I might as well go. I found that I knew a lot of what I was told, which in a way is good because it shows I’m doing the right sort of things. It was good to hear that everyone is busy, everyone procrastinates and so on.

I struggled to get down to work on my novel in the afternoon. I hadn’t worked on it for a while because of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and preparing for job interviews, so it took a while to pick up the thread again. I worked on it for a while. I am not sure how much actual work I did and how much procrastination (and, to be fair, how much being called away by my parents to help them with things). I did some editing and rewriting, perhaps the first bit of significant rewriting. The goal was really just to sit down and resume work on the manuscript for the first time in a month or so; the actual time spent and quality of output was not as important as just bringing it back into my life.

I had therapy, which was exhausting. I’m seeing my therapist once a fortnight now, as things felt reasonably stable; I still want to check in and talk regularly, but I don’t have so much to say. Even so, it can be a struggle to talk for an hour. I just don’t have much new to say, but I need that first fifteen or twenty minutes when I can just offload and everything comes rushing out. I think if I move to monthly sessions, there will be too much of a build-up of things I want to say in between sessions.

I find therapy is as much about letting me see things differently for myself as the therapist saying things that make me see things differently. I realised today that I should focus on the number of things I do every day (a lot) rather than the time spent on things, because somehow saying “I did two hours of job applications, one hour on my novel, half an hour of Torah study” seems less than “I did job applications and worked on my novel and did Torah study.” It’s like once you put a number on it, it can never be enough. Plus sometimes I do a lot of tasks that don’t take up much time individually, but do build up cumulatively.

I still have times of depression during the day, including today, where at times I felt that I wanted to cry, but fortunately these times tend not to be long lasting. I spoke a bit in therapy about trying to be more present-focused as a way of getting out of these depressed periods and also about seeing this way of dealing with depression by being present-focused as a process to learn rather than a skill I either have or don’t have.

I went for a walk right after therapy, as the rain (which had been heavy during therapy) had stopped and I didn’t know when it would restart. I managed some Torah study too, a reasonable amount considering how busy the day was. So it was a fairly busy day.

Interview and After

I think my job interview this morning went quite well. I got a bit put off by the multiple images on the video conference, especially when I could see myself talking. They didn’t ask any questions about my presentation, which hopefully means it was amazing and not terrible! It sounded like a nice place to work and the panel (of four) were very friendly and I think I connected with them quite well, which is good. Flexible working is a possibility, including working part-time or from home, which is very encouraging, although they sounded a bit unsure about part-time. The work sounds interesting, although I still suffer from confidence problems about accuracy in technical library jobs. I used to be really accurate, but then at jobs in unsuitable environments, I became inaccurate, and now I’ve lost my confidence. I answered all the questions in the interview, but some I definitely answered better than others. I can’t always think of responses including concrete examples from my life/work experience, which may be an autistic thing on several levels. I did try to force myself to give such examples, but one or two questions I just answered in the abstract because I couldn’t think of examples. I should hear back on 12 October.

I had therapy afterwards, but had time to kill before then. I was too tired to do much. I watched another episode of The Civil War, Ken Burns’ documentary on the American Civil War, which I started watching on DVD a few weeks ago after watching Lincoln. It’s a good documentary series, but was really too heavy-going for post-job interview viewing, especially as the episode I was watching was over an hour and a half long, and also focused mainly on the battles rather than the politics and the personalities of the major figures, which I am more interested in.

I tried to go for a walk after lunch, but literally seconds after I stepped out, it started to rain heavily so I beat a hasty retreat indoors.

I didn’t have much to say in therapy, mostly because things seem to be going well. I haven’t had much to say for a couple of weeks, as things have mostly been OK, but I don’t want to cancel the sessions just yet, as some issues may come up associated with the potential new job or dating. I brought this up in therapy and we agreed to move from a weekly session to a fortnightly one, which I think is a good idea for the moment.

I tried to do some Torah study between therapy and dinner. As I was too tired to read (again), I listened to another online shiur. It was on piyyutim (Medieval Jewish liturgical poetry) and was really designed to be listened to before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement), to prepare for the prayers, although as I davened (prayed) at home this year and skipped most of the piyyutim it probably wouldn’t have made much practical difference to me. It was an interesting shiur, but an hour on Medieval liturgical poetry was probably at least fifteen minutes too long for me, certainly on such a depleting day as today.

***

I did something I rarely do, which is to write an angry comment somewhere. It was on an article on Unherd, about mental illness in the young, which made some valid points about over-prescription of drugs and treating ordinary negative emotions as pathological, but whose author wrapped her message in a shell of stigma, using the words “mad” and “madness” to describe the mentally ill four times in one article. The author’s biography describes her as a campaigner against sexual violence; I’m really surprised that she fails to grasp that many mental illness sufferers are also survivors of violence and abuse, and that’s why they’re mentally ill. I am somewhat worried about receiving negative comments, but I had to get my thoughts off my chest because it was really annoying me.

Exhausted

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

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

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

***

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

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

Anxiety, Romance and Masks

Things are going well, but I still feel a little anxious, although less so today. I spoke a lot about this in therapy today. Things with PIMOJ are going better than I expected, but I worry they won’t work out. PIMOJ is a lot more positive than me, and a lot more active in her life, and I worry she’ll find me negative and lazy (among other things). I’m trying just to sit with the anxiety rather than give in to it and worry, but it’s not always easy. Anxiety can sneak up on you when you’re looking the wrong way.

It could be several years before we overcome the obstacles in the way of the relationship (including, but not exclusively, my lack of income). I guess the difference between me and PIMOJ is that she thinks it might take just a few years whereas I think it could take quite a few years. I guess it’s a difference of presentation rather than substance, and I’m trying to look at it her way, but it’s hard sometimes. I guess I worry how I will get through things sometimes, and the psychological barrier of realising that I’ll probably be over forty before I can marry (PIMOJ is younger than me and potentially would be in her thirties still). Mind you, regardless of what happens romantically, I feel like I’ll probably be over forty before I really feel myself started in a career, whether writing or librarianship. I feel a bit like God is telling me I can have everything I want BUT I have to trust that He will deliver in His own time. Still, it’s good to have found someone who seems so caring and religious when I thought I was going to have to compromise on those things, and if PIMOJ can’t get me to trust God then no one can.

***

When does discomfort become exemption? I hate wearing a mask. I find it hugely uncomfortable. I have a friend, also on the autism spectrum, who has an exemption card because she literally can not wear a mask. It’s just impossibly uncomfortable for her. Do I find it difficult because I’m autistic or because everyone finds it uncomfortable? How long can I wear one for? I’m OK wearing it for half and a hour or so, but I’m dreading going to shul (synagogue) with one or commuting into London. It is hard to know what to do. At the moment I’m trying to comply, out of courtesy to others and to avoid attracting negative attention. Still, I wonder how long I’ll be able to bear it, as the new normal becomes as busy and demanding as pre-COVID, but with masks and other difficulties. But I don’t think I could bear to get a exemption card, particularly before being formally diagnosed, so I would just avoid situations that require masks (which I’m basically already doing).

***

I missed a phone call, and then found I had an email from someone from shul (synagogue) asking me to call him back. I struggled with social anxiety, but I called him back and found out that he wanted to check that we’re still shielding Mum on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, this weekend) as the shul is sending a small gift (I’m guessing some kind of food, probably sweet) to people who are shielding and unable to attend services.

I thought this was really nice. I know I don’t always feel 100% comfortable in my shul, but they are friendly and welcoming and the community is small enough that I get noticed even if I don’t really say anything. The thing I was really pleased about was phoning him back with minimal procrastination, which was hard given that my social anxiety has worsened lately.

I also went to Tesco today to challenge the anxiety around shopping at the moment. It was OK, but it was a small Tesco and I couldn’t find reasons to stay there for more than a few minutes. I’m hoping to spend as long or longer in a shop or shops tomorrow.

Trying to Do Things

I think I may have found a really simple way to improve my kavannah (mindfulness) during prayer: speak slower. Like a lot of frum (religious) Jews, I have a bad habit of gabbling my prayers, perhaps because of the sheer amount of prayers that Jewish men are expected to say every day. If I speak slower, my brain gets the opportunity to take in the meaning of the Hebrew. I’m sure I will still end up gabbling them sometimes, from lack of time, energy or concentration, but it’s something to bear in mind for the coming year.

***

I got up a little earlier today again, but still later than I wanted, and, again, I ended up checking emails and blogs after breakfast because I felt too tired to get dressed straight away. I felt very drained today, perhaps a product of going to the Zoom depression group meeting yesterday, which I tend to find draining.

I applied for a school librarian job. I’m not really sure that I have the right experience for school librarianship, or that I’m really suited to it, particularly after my experiences in further education (although these children would be much younger). I applied via the job website where the job was advertised, only to get an email from HR at the school saying that they can’t accept applications that way and I have to send in an application form (one of those fiddly Word document ones too). Why did they not say that on the advert? I would not have wasted my time sending it. I don’t know why so many employers try to make things deliberately difficult for job applicants. I will try to fill out the proper application tomorrow.

The application and therapy were my main tasks today, although I had to bring in the supermarket delivery by myself as my parents were out, which seemed to take longer than usual, perhaps because I was tired. I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, but struggled to concentrate. I spiralled downwards towards sadness as therapy time approached and I’m not sure why.

Therapy was helpful, although I felt I struggled for words a lot and stumbled over them semi-incoherently. We spoke about career stuff, about the fact that I feel out of my depth a lot of the time with work and job applications. My therapist said that lots of people are struggling with coming out of lockdown even if they aren’t depressed or anxious and that I shouldn’t beat myself up about it and to try to stay in the present and not catastrophise. I did feel overwhelmed not just after therapy, but even during it, feeling the desire to withdraw and cut myself off from the world, to retreat to bed and wrap myself in my duvet. Just feeling too tired to say or do anything. I did get through the whole session though.

I wanted to go for a walk after therapy, but it was raining, so I didn’t. I still felt rather tired, but wanted to Do Stuff because I felt I hadn’t done much earlier (which is not strictly true, as I applied for a job; it wasn’t my fault I have to apply again).

I did write an email I’ve been putting off, asking a friend if they want to go on my devar Torah mailing list. This person I suspect would want to go on the list, but I was scared of asking her because of social anxiety and not wanting to appear presumptuous. I did about twenty minutes of Torah study too, which is a lot less than I’ve been doing recently, but I was very tired in the evening.

I can see that I did quite a lot today, but it never feels like I’ve done enough. That’s true every day, but particularly on a day like today when I feel I wasted time and accomplished few of my aims.

It is not yet 10.30pm, but I need to go to bed as I’m completely exhausted, so goodnight.

Bad Day (Breaking Up Again)

I had therapy for the first time in a month or so, as my therapist is back from holiday. I told her the things I’ve been writing here, about thinking my depression is mainly reactive now, about the job exam, finishing the first draft of my novel and about dating. She was really pleased with my progress. She gave some suggestions for dealing with anxiety. I think a lot of the anxiety is “normal” for now, just a result of things everyone would find anxiety-provoking.

My therapist spoke about writing down my feelings when I’m anxious. She felt that anxiety is a “headline” emotion, but there are often other, deeper feelings behind it. So, my anxiety about telling E. that I don’t think we can stay friends is about not wanting to hurt her feelings.

I felt very tired after therapy and struggled to do anything. At first I felt that I was just tired, maybe even a little burnt out emotionally, but there was some low mood which snowballed, albeit triggered by specific things today and not ongoing depression. The tiredness tied in with something we spoke about in therapy, about my body seeming to need nine or ten hours of sleep a night, with consequent late rising even if I go to bed early (although by nature I’m a night owl anyway). Some of it may be sleeping so long I start another sleep cycle, as my therapist suggested, but I think people on the spectrum do tire easily, especially when tackling social or emotional activities (e.g. autism group and family dinner yesterday, therapy today).

I feel frustrated that autism makes me feel this way, but I’m trying to come to terms with it. I’ve mentioned before that, writing my novel, I realised that my main character’s main need is to realise that his autism is going to make his life different to other people’s, and that I need to do the same thing. It won’t necessarily be worse than other people’s lives, but different. I don’t know how well I’ve shown that in fiction, but since realising that, I’ve found it a bit easier to accept in my own life.

I had someone else message me on JDate today to start a conversation. I always get a bit panicked when I end up messaging two women at once, not that it’s happened to me often. I know it’s considered normal on dating sites and not unethical, but it always seems vaguely wrong to me, plus I hate comparing people, even unconsciously, which I feel is unfair. I always hope one will be a clearly much better connection or one will have an obvious red line, so that I don’t have to choose between two people, who are probably both really nice and pleasant. I have to trust that God will sort it out so I marry the right person.

Speaking of which… I drafted an email to E. responding to an email she sent me. I said that I’m sorry, but I don’t think we can stay friends, important though she is to me still. However, I couldn’t send it at first. When I managed to send it, I was so upset it felt like it opened the wound up again. Then she responded almost immediately to say that she’d like to get in touch as a friend if she comes to London and I had to spell it out all over again that I didn’t want to do that, which just made it harder.

It just hurts so much. I still care about E. a lot. A lot. In a parallel universe where COVID never happened, I could see us being happily married. But COVID did happen, and I can’t pretend otherwise. I would have liked to stay friends, but I think that our connection is strong that we can’t be friends without becoming involved romantically, and I don’t think romantic involvement is healthy any more. But I hate thinking that this is going to hurt her, and she’ll blame herself for what happened. The thought of never hearing from her again is painful too. I hope things get better for her.

I’m remembering a friend I asked out at Oxford who turned me down and later cut me off completely because she couldn’t cope with my suicidality. It was one of the most painful events in my life. I still think about it (it’s ended up as a key event in my novel). Now I feel like I’m doing the same thing to E.

Mum had an MRI scan today, which I think also brought my mood down further, just making me think about her illness and her surgery. I’ve been upbeat about that, I think we all have in the family, but there is a degree of risk in any medical procedure, particularly one involving general anaesthetic, and with any cancer, even one that is normally highly treatable. So that’s all scary.

I know it’s normal to be upset by break-ups and illness in the family, but I just feel overwhelmed by my emotions today. Overwhelmed by all the pain and suffering in the world. I believe that life is about growth rather than happiness, and that growth is more often spurred by pain and suffering, than by happiness and contentment. Therefore, there is a reason for suffering. Even so, sometimes it just feels overwhelming.

Because of all of this, I really struggled to concentrate or get motivated to do anything this afternoon. I’m “reheating” a devar Torah (Torah thought) I wrote years ago this week, just planning to expand it a bit, as I don’t really feel up to doing much research or writing from scratch this week, feeling exhausted yesterday, exhausted and down today and having a test of some kind tomorrow or possibly Thursday for a job (actually the email I got today implied it might be even later than that. They haven’t been very clear). I wanted to work on that devar Torah today, but in the end I didn’t manage to do anything, I felt too bad. I don’t think I’m going to get much work done on my novel this week either, but that’s OK. I just hope I don’t slump back into a major depression.

In the afternoon, while my parents were out at Mum’s scan, the house felt so empty. In lockdown having the house to myself is precious, but I wasted it wishing they were home. I didn’t really have much to say to them, I just wanted someone around as being alone seemed unbearable. I thought of phoning Samaritans, but talking to a stranger wasn’t what I needed, I really needed a hug or personal contact with a loved one.

I titled this post “Bad Day” because of something my GP at Oxford said when I was first diagnosed with depression, that “a good day is just a good day and a bad day is just a bad day.” The rest of this week will probably be hard, but I’m hoping things will get better, that I won’t drift back into capital-D Clinical Depression. That I can continue to communicate on JDate without being terrified of being hurt again or of hurting someone else. That I can do OK on my work test and get the job. That I can accept that I’m not the most evil man in the world (or the most stupid) for cutting myself off from E.

***

Achievements: not so many, but they were very draining and important, so I think it was a productive day. I had a draining therapy session, wrote to E. finalising our break-up, wrote an email to the second person to email me on JDate, emailed a friend and emailed the email helpdesk about a problem with bouncing emails problem that has returned. I cooked dinner, because I had promised. Mum offered to do it, but I didn’t want her to have to do it after her scan. I didn’t go for a walk, because I felt too drained and the weather looked too bad. I will try to do some Torah study after dinner, but I don’t expect to do more than a few minutes.

***

UK weather is notoriously unpredictable. This year in the spring we had glorious sunny weather while we were all inside on lockdown. Summer has alternated between heatwaves and rain, but over the last week it feels like autumn has set in early, colder, wet, overcast, windy… not nice at all. I think that while my depression is now reactive, it’s worth noting that seasonality seems to be part of that reaction; autumn and winter are my worst months, depression-wise, so it’s upsetting to be heading towards them.

Catastrophising and Fatalism

The Doctor: Where’s your optimism?

Romana: It opted out.

– Doctor Who: The Armageddon Factor by Bob Baker and Dave Martin

I seem to be stuck back in the habit of waking up late and depressed, even if I go to bed a bit earlier.  I think some of the slump is finishing the first draft of my novel and contemplating the next mountain to climb, which is redrafting, which is looming and ominous, but which I can’t even get started on yet, as I want a short break so I can come to it fresh.  Something else happened that I won’t go into here that brought me down too and is on my mind today.  Plus, I had a weird, upsetting dream last night.  I can’t remember the details, but it was about getting in trouble with my religious community for having the wrong religious beliefs/practices.

I looked at the chart I made for dealing with depression and, yes, some of this probably is my critical voice talking and maybe some “shoulds” and, yes, a lot of it is catastrophising.  I don’t know what’s happening with my career or my writing, which is scary, and it’s hard not to catastrophise that.

There’s a lot of catastrophising about relationships too, feeling that I don’t have ways to meet someone.  There are some ways, but I feel they all have drawbacks and most are unlikely to succeed.  I also feel that I would have the best chance of building a relationship with someone who also has “issues,” but there’s no way of trying deliberately to meet such a person, certainly not within the frum (religious Jewish) community.  There are actually shadchanim (matchmakers) in the USA who specialise in “sensitive shidduchim (matches)” where both parties have some kind of issue (not necessarily mental health), but I couldn’t get any to work with me, largely because I’m not in the US, but in one case because I’m too modern, religiously.  Maybe it’s not sensible to think like that anyway; both my exes had issues and that was at least partly responsible for the failure of both relationships.  Maybe I need someone very stable and kind, although what she would see in me is anyone’s guess.

I also worry that I won’t be able to have children, partly because my issues are too ever-present and exhausting to make it a good idea, particularly if I marry someone with similar issues; partly because, as I get older, having children means finding a wife significantly younger than me, which seems unlikely to happen.   Some shadchanim and dating sites seem to divide the dating pool in two, under-forties and over-forties, the former being presumably for people who can have children, the latter for people who are too late, or who are assumed to already have children from a previous relationship and not to want more.

As I said, this is all catastrophising.  My parents still think I’ll get married and have at least one child, which seems wildly optimistic to me.  It’s hard to turn off the catastrophising voice though, particularly when there seems so little evidence against it.  I need to focus on stuff in the present, as I was recently, but it seems hard today when I feel to depressed to concentrate on anything and when my mind just wanders down the path of least resistance, which is the path of catastrophising and wallowing in self-pity.

I try to tell myself that if God wants me to have a career and a wife and children then it will happen and if He doesn’t, it won’t, and there’s not much I can do about that… except that just reinforces the fear that he doesn’t want me to have those things and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Certainly he hasn’t wanted me to have them so far.  I don’t think belief in God is supposed to make me so fatalistic, certainly not Jewish belief, which is supposed to be proactive.  We’re supposed to think that God wants the best for us, and if it doesn’t suit our desires or plans, that’s because we’re limited whereas He’s omniscient and knows what would be good for us better than we do.  I just wish I knew what His plan is and had some idea if I would ever get there.

Do I even know what I want out of life?  I’m not sure.  Part of me suspects I wouldn’t be happy even in a loving relationship, that I’m just too negative and depressed a person to be happy for long.  I don’t know what would make me happy or bring fulfilment to my life.  Maybe I’ve hit on things like love and career as goals because they make other people happy and I assume they would make me happy too, but perhaps they would not.

Being frum, doing mitzvot (commandments) and studying Torah, which, according to rabbis, are what my soul wants to do and which should make me happy do very little for me.  Does that make a bad Jew?  Or are depression and low self-esteem just too corrosive to happiness for a frum life to make a difference?  Nothing really seems to help conquer the sense of insecurity, loneliness and despair.  Would it help if God Himself told me that He thought I was a good person and a good Jew?  I’m not sure that it would at this stage.

I want to be grateful for the good things in my life, and I’ve been stating them each day for years, but somehow often I feel too lonely, anxious and despairing about the future to internalise that.  I just end up feeling guilty for not being happier and more grateful.  Maybe I’m just selfish and ungrateful, but I just feel like my psychological needs are not being met (as per Maslow) and I can’t fully function.

***

My therapist is away, and maybe that’s hard too.  I share a lot of my life here on the blog, but not all of it.  There’s some that seems too trivial, or too personal, or too shameful or perhaps too weird to share here.  I’m not sure how much of that I would share with my therapist either, but some of it.  Lately it’s also been hard to tell my parents when I feel depressed and to talk to them about things and I’m not sure why.  I think on some level I feel I’ve let them down by being depressed for so long.  I could phone Samaritans.  I’m not suicidal, but the service is technically not just for people who are suicidal or even intensely depressed, but somehow I can’t bring myself to phone just to chat, perhaps because I can’t bring myself to open up to a stranger unless in serious need.

***

This week I’ve been writing letters to people who have upset me or aroused strong, difficult emotions in me.  The letters are not intended to be sent, just to work my feelings through.  I decided to write one to the frum community, which was a slightly flippant idea, but I thought I would see what came out, as I’ve been writing these letters in a fairly stream of consciousness way.  I was quite surprised that it really didn’t go the way I expected, so I thought I’d share:

Dear frum community,

I tried so hard to fit in, but I never felt accepted.  That’s my gut feeling.  Is it true?  I  don’t know.  I think people were willing to accept me at youth stuff at shul when I was a teenager, but I was too scared, and maybe a bit arrogant.  Did I think I was better?  Or smarter?  Or did I just think I could not be friendly with someone who was not a geek?  To be fair, I was carrying a lot of hurt, trauma and guilt, and that only got worse at Oxford, where people were also willing to accept, but I was too scared again.

Nowadays I’m terrified I’m too Modern, too “heretical,” too weird, too guilty to fit in, especially being single, childless, depressed and autistic.  Is that your fault or mine?  Neither really, it just is.

It’s true you do stuff that upsets me.  The casual sexism and racism that exists [in the frum community].  The focus on ritual over ethics.  The anti-gentile feeling.  The lack of culture and imagination, the conflicts over science and sex and gender and work and Israel.  But I think ultimately that’s not the point.  The point is that I think I don’t deserve you and that I think you couldn’t cope with me.

Yours sincerely…

Reading back this letter makes me think that if I look back at thirteen year old Bar Mitzvah Me, I see the me who tried going to the shul (synagogue) youth service, but who couldn’t talk to anyone there, and who was scared of being bullied, as some of the kids there went to his school and weren’t always nice to him and he couldn’t always tell if they were bullying him or not.  The me who got fed up with no one talking to him even though he wouldn’t have known what to say if they had.  The me who was being asked (which he understood as “pressured”) to lein (chant from the Torah) in the youth service because he “leined so well at his bar mitzvah,”  but who was suffering from extreme stage fright post-bar mitzvah because he felt overwhelmed by praise that he didn’t think he deserved and who didn’t want to lein ever again.  The me who was going to start feeling increasing guilt over the next few years about his family’s lax standards of Shabbat and kashrut observance, but not know how to change that, and who was soon going to start feeling a lot of guilt around sex, and not know how to change that either.  And I suppose I should say that I want to hug him or tell him not to worry, but I just feel angry and want to shout, “Why couldn’t you just cope with it?  Why couldn’t you just stick it out and make friends and become part of the community?  And then maybe I wouldn’t be depressed and single and childless and lonely.”  That’s not really very self-loving.

I could say the same about Oxford Me, which was probably the last chance I had to really turn things around.  “Just talk to people!  Just go to events, even if they bore you!  Go on the Jewish Society committee, even though you hate the idea of doing so and you think you have no talents to bring to the table, and even though you think your tutorial work leaves you no time for things like this!  Make the time!  Ask girls out, even if you’re not sure they’re 100% compatible!  Just do something!”

But even now I would make the same mistakes again, there just isn’t the social circle to make it in.  Everyone’s got their friendship circle now, and usually their spouses and children (some I guess are on Spouse Number 2 by now).  There aren’t organisations that cater for single frum people approaching forty (nebbukh).  I wouldn’t be able to go anyway, for the same reason I didn’t go then.  Getting angry with Past Mes is just getting angry with Present Me.  I can’t even keep close friendships going any more.  I don’t really have any close friends any more, and the only people I really open up to (aside from my blog) are my therapist and my rabbi mentor.

***

Achievements: some time finishing off my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week (although I had some negative thoughts about that, about my divrei Torah not being worthwhile).  I did a bit of Torah study.  I read more of Healing from Despair too, which is a Jewish book, but the chapter I read had no religious content and was just about the author’s experience of feeling suicidal, which was probably not the best thing to read.

I did some chores and went for a walk.  I basically did what I normally do, without two hours of writing my novel, so I feel a bit like I underachieved.  The time I would normally spend on the novel was partly spent on procrastination, partly on fiddling around with playlists on iTunes, and writing this mammoth post.

Another Busy Day

I woke up early today, at least by my usual standards.  I usually wake up in the early morning, but then I feel tired and usually fall asleep again until much later.  I decided the other day that I would try to force myself to stay up, which I managed today.  I was pretty tired (even though I had about seven hours of sleep), but I managed it.  I was OK once I drank coffee and I was glad to get an earlier start on the day and say the morning Shema and Amidah on time.

I did doze for half an hour in the afternoon though.

Achievements (although the above are really achievements too): I spent two hours on my novel and finished another chapter.  Only one more chapter to go!  I’m up to 72,000 words too, which is novel length, just about.  Hopefully the manuscript will grow a bit in redrafting.  The time taken to write each chapter seems to be becoming shorter too, even though they chapters are mostly the same length.  I have mixed feelings about the quality though.  Some of that is probably low self-esteem and it is just a first draft.  My English teacher used to say that a first draft is 99% of the work, and for non-fiction I would tend to agree, but I think writing fiction is more organic and individual and I need to redraft more, particularly as I’ve never written something this long before.

I did an hour of Torah study, much of it difficult Mishnah, which was good.

I also went for a half hour walk.  My ankle felt a bit strange when I woke up.  I’m not sure how to describe it – kind of weak and fragile.  It wasn’t painful, but I didn’t want to put too much weight on it.  I think something is wrong when I run, but I’m not sure if it’s my trainers or if I’m running incorrectly (it can happen).  I don’t really want to go shopping for new trainers at the moment because I’m avoiding shops except for essential items to shield Mum.  I could mail order, but my parents have put me off that by saying that returning them would be hard if they’re a bad fit.

I attended depression group online via Zoom.  I hadn’t attended for a while because I’ve been having therapy on Mondays and was too tired after that to go, but I’ve moved therapy to Wednesdays so that I can go again, plus my therapist is away this week anyway.  I mentioned my novel and people were really supportive, which was nice.

My mood was mostly good today, although it was drifting downwards when I dozed off in the afternoon, so maybe it was just as well that I fell asleep at that point.  My mood did dip slightly into self-recrimination and worry while walking, but mostly I was able to focus on the present.

Someone at depression group asked if I find it easier or harder online.  I find it harder, but I’m not sure why.  I think some of it is feeling that I’m being stared at by the camera the whole time, whereas in person I can see people are focusing on the person speaking, not me.  I also think there’s blurred boundaries when Zooming in from home (am I at home or in the group?) and less of a transition from home to group and back again and transitions are really important for people on the autism spectrum.  I find it hard to give people my full attention on Zoom, harder than in person, and I was getting fidgety by the end, which I know is autistic stimming and my way of trying to focus (rather than boredom), but I was glad that people couldn’t see that I was tapping my fingers because it might have looked rude.

I didn’t stick exactly to my limits on internet usage/email checking that I agreed with my therapist, but I did mostly stick to them and that does seem to help stay present-focused, not to compare myself with others so much and to avoid negative thoughts.  Actually, depression group can provoke comparing thoughts, a kind of procrustean bed where if they’re doing well, I feel I should be doing as well as they are, but if they aren’t doing well, I feel that I should be doing more things as I’m not so depressed.  I try not to think like that, but it’s not always easy.

I didn’t feel like I’d done much today, but writing it down I see that I have done quite a bit.

***

I made a mistake online.  Not a major one (it was less something I didn’t know and more something I phrased badly), but normally I would beat myself up about it, but I’m trying not to, which I guess is good.  With CBT for social anxiety, one technique is to make deliberate mistakes to become inured to them (one nineteenth/early twentieth century yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) used to get the students to do something similar, and there is an XKCD cartoon with a similar point…).  I did not do that when I did CBT for my social anxiety; as I think I’ve said, I don’t think I tried hard enough with CBT for social anxiety, although what I did seemed quite difficult at the time.

***

This passage in Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World (by Rabbi Elie Kaplan Spitz and Erica Shapiro Taylor) resonated with me: “A sensitive child, burdened by his natural physical desires and the emotional and intellectual demands he inherited… Rebbe Nachman entered into depressed periods throughout his life.”  My emotional and intellectual demands were not inherited, but came partly from social expectation and partly from my own inner drive for excellence, but otherwise it was very similar to my childhood and adolescence.