“I’m not gonna talk about Judy!”

I did manage to work on my novel today, although I could not quite manage to get to two hours before I felt burnt out and unable to continue. I would have liked to have got to the round number. The burnout was as much from stopping in the middle of working on the novel to go for a 5K run before it got dark, which left me exhausted. I was really lucky to get through anything in the second hour of work. I am nearly finished with the second draft of the novel, although the penultimate chapter is proving hard work and I don’t know when I will finish it. I feel like I’m missing a few links in the chain of the plot. I know what needs to happen emotionally, but I can’t quite find a plausible rationale for it to happen yet.

I still have mixed feelings about the novel and whether it “works,” or will work once I’ve finished redrafting it, but I just have to keep going for now.

I thought I had escaped an exercise migraine after running today, but I had a slight headache that was coming and going and eventually I took solpadeine when it looked like it was going to get worse.

We had takeaway for dinner. I had a vegan cheeseburger: pseudo- (non-meat) meat and pseudo- (non-dairy) cheese. I’ve never had real cheeseburger as it’s not kosher and I don’t think I had ever had pseudo-cheeseburger before. It was OK, but I don’t think I’m missing out on much, even allowing for the fact that non-dairy cheese doesn’t taste much like real cheese in my experience.

Something that happened around dinner set off my kashrut OCD thoughts for a few minutes. I did get it under control, but it frustrates me a bit that OCD thoughts are always lurking in the background and have to be kept under control. This is true for everyone. Even people without clinical OCD have OCD-type thoughts, they just control them almost without thinking. It is people who have OCD who have to consciously dismiss the thoughts. OCD never entirely goes away, you just (hopefully) get better at dismissing the thoughts.

After dinner, I spoke to PIMOJ, which was good. I started speaking to her right after I had watched the end of Twin Peaks: The Return, which turned out to be a mistake, as my head was still full of the ambiguous and scary ending. Maybe it wasn’t such a mistake, though, as I opened up about this, which led to a conversation about what we’re scared of which was interesting.

I had a second wind in the evening after talking to PIMOJ and did an hour of Torah study. Vayetze (Genesis 28.10-32.3) is a sedra (weekly Torah portion) I’ve always struggled with on multiple levels (language, meaning, morality), but I have at least a couple of initial thoughts to investigate for my devar Torah for this week.

I guess it was a busy day overall, looking back over this post, but I am apprehensive about tomorrow. This is a late night (nearly 1am) and I feel wide awake, as I forgot to take my meds and have only just taken them. They usually knock me out, but I think my natural state without them is insomnia. I have a lot to do tomorrow and I may not be able to fit in more work on the novel. Still, I was glad to work on it for so long today. Although I don’t like the penultimate chapter and it needs a lot of work, at least I have some idea of where I’m going with it.

***

I need to unwind for a few minutes before bed, so here are some thoughts on completing Twin Peaks.

Looking at my DVD shelves, I own a few series that varied widely over their run, either in terms of style (Doctor Who, The Avengers) or quality (Blakes’ 7, Star Trek: The Next Generation). Even so, the variety of styles and quality across just forty-nine episodes of Twin Peaks (counting the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me as an “episode”) is astounding, to the extent that I think of them as sub-units, almost separate series.

  1. Twin Peaks: the pilot episode, season one and season two episodes 1-10 (the investigation into the murder of Laura Palmer): absolutely astounding. By turns scary, funny, moving and weird. If this was all there was of Twin Peaks, it would be one of my all-time favourite TV series.
  2. Twin Peaks: season two episodes 11-22: the first few episodes after the solving of the murder are not very good. Although there is a slow return to quality by the end of the season, only the last episode or two are anywhere near the quality of the first batch of episodes. Some of the rest almost seem like self-parody.
  3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me: this prequel film seems to be hated by fans and critics alike, but I rather liked it. The early section (the Chester Desmond/Teresa Banks investigation) is the bit of later Twin Peaks that is most like section 1. The second part (the last week in the life of Laura Palmer) is different stylistically to section 1, but I think it works as an examination of the mental collapse of someone suffering serious abuse, with the paranormal parts working as both horror and metaphor for psychological trauma. I have to say, when I saw the end, where the dead Laura arrives in the Black Lodge (a kind of afterlife) and bursts into tears of joy at being released from the hell of her life on Earth, I did think of the darkest days of my own depression and OCD where the thought of death seemed like a release.
  4. Twin Peaks: The Return episodes 1-16: I kept going back and forth about this in my mind while I was watching it. Around episode four or five I wanted to give up, but it did improve. Or maybe it just took me time to get to know the unwieldy and poorly-introduced number of new characters and to understand their relationships? Actually, I still have no idea what was going on with some bits of it. Apparently a mini-series pitched at nine episodes was expanded by the network to eighteen and it shows, with a slow pace, plot threads that seem to go nowhere and characters that are bloodily killed off when they’ve served their purpose (this reminded me of the worst excesses of mid-1980s Doctor Who, only gorier). I coped with the gore (exploding heads etc.), but could have done without it. All that said, I’m prepared to concede that it might make more sense on a second viewing if I can find the stamina, especially now the internet has primed me to look for some details I missed first time around.
  5. Twin Peaks: The Return episodes 17-18: I’m really not sure about this. Episode 17 seemed pretty good. Episode 18 was slow and confusing again, but building up to a disturbing final five minutes or so (the bit that freaked me out before Skyping PIMOJ), a deliberately ambiguous and psychologically-scary ending that makes you question the rest of mini-series, if not the original series too. A second viewing might elevate it up as high as section 1.

I could easily watch sections 1, 3 and maybe 5 again right away, so haunting are they and so much do I want to revel in their weirdness, their eeriness and also their humour and, in the case of section 1, the strong sense of place and theme (loss). I don’t want to watch section 2 and I don’t know if I have the stamina for section 4 again. I will probably watch again in a few months or a year, hopefully remembering enough to understand section 4.

I guess in the past, with confusing things, like The Prisoner or The Waste Land I would try logically to tease out meaning from symbolism. I think I approach things with less logic now and try to feel the experience on an emotional level. Certainly Twin Peaks seems to be something you feel more than understand. That said, while I haven’t found much Doctor Who presence on WordPress (or maybe it’s hard to find posts when searches get filled up with posts about “a doctor who did…”), there seems to be a Twin Peaks presence that I might investigate in the coming days…

Stories like Twin Peaks live on in my head in a way that I find hard to explain. I begin to see the world through the filter of their worldview. I would put Doctor Who and The Prisoner in the same category, maybe also Sapphire and Steel. In prose, parts of Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges and Philip K. Dick and (in a different way) John le Carré. Although it’s not a story, I would add The Waste Land too.

Humdrum

Mum phoned about the mysterious autism appointment. It turned out it’s not for her. For a moment it looked like they had moved my second appointment, but it’s not that either. It doesn’t seem to have been booked properly at all, they just sent a reminder for a non-existent appointment! So, nothing to worry about there. NHS incompetence, etc.

On a related note, I heard today from a friend who is also in the midst of an autism assessment; hers has been very different to mine. I can think of a few reasons why that might be the case, as he life situation is rather different.

I overslept again today, although burnout was at least expected after my first day in my new job yesterday. I struggled to get up, get going and to do anything. I feel exhausted and frustrated today, frustrated by how tired I get and the diminished life I have a result of losing time sleeping and doing things slowly. Still, given that I don’t seem to be able to change it, I need to adapt to it, or at least not to beat myself up for not managing to do more. I’m slowly getting better at that, I think (or hope).

I didn’t get a chance to work on my novel today or to go for a run, and I wonder how I will juggle work, writing, religious obligations, dating (in a lockdown), exercise and family obligations in the coming weeks. Certainly I feel overwhelmed today. It’s also problematic that I often get a migraine after running, which means I want to leave it until the end of the day, but at the moment sunset is around 4pm, which is not the end of the day. This leaves me with a choice of either potentially losing a lot of time after an early run if I do get a migraine or having to run in the dark. The area around here is safe, but I do worry about slipping, particularly at this time of year with lots of wet leaves on the pavements, or about being hit by a car when crossing roads.

I did manage to go for a half hour walk. I would have liked to have gone for a longer one, but I was too tired, had too much to do and the weather was not great. Mum cut my hair afterwards. Then I cooked dinner – macaroni cheese, one of my easy stand-by recipes for days when I’m short of time or energy. I listened to a half-hour shiur (religious class) while doing that, simply as a way of getting some Torah study done today. This was because I knew I also needed to write most of my devar Torah for the week today as tomorrow is very busy and I’m now working on Thursdays. Fortunately, I knew what I wanted to say and didn’t have to research much, although I did find one very useful article that added some depth. Still, it does all take time.

I was feeling rather depressed and a bit anxious earlier. I think the activity of the afternoon/evening has distracted me from those feelings somewhat, which I suppose indicates that they were not clinical depression and anxiety. I just hope I cope over the coming weeks as I get used to working again and as we move into the heart of winter.

Mini-Post: Shabbat and Jealousy

I don’t have much to say today. I mostly avoided worrying about my autism assessment over Shabbat. I did sleep too much though. I went to bed earlyish, slept for twelve hours and then had two half-hour naps in the afternoon. Not good. I am beginning to worry about this. I did quite a bit of Torah study yesterday, but not much today because of napping and because after Shabbat PIMOJ and I watched a film (Inside Out) “together separately” i.e. at the same time, but in different places. Then we Skyped afterwards.

One thing I did struggle with a bit was leafing through an old Jewish Chronicle from a month or so ago and seeing a big article about a schoolfriend/peer of mine. His life ran parallel to mine for many years and in some ways has the life I thought I would have. I knew he is a historian now and has written books (I catalogued one in a previous job), but somehow seeing the latest one promoted with an interview in the Jewish Chronicle raised thoughts about the way our lives had gone. Still, I think I managed not to drift into envy, jealousy, bitterness, frustration, self-criticism or the like. I do wish I had a clearer idea of where my life is going though, and whether I’ll manage to do anything worthwhile with it.

Sleeping, Walking, Writing

I went to bed early (for me, anyway), slept for twelve hours and woke up feeling burnt out again. By the time I got up the cleaner was here, but I was too tired to get dressed before going down for breakfast, so she saw that I was in pyjamas and dressing gown at midday. I suppose this could make me feel decadent, but mostly makes me feel lazy and useless. Then I ended up going back to bed for a bit, although I didn’t sleep. I just felt completely drained.

I can see that staying in bed so long might make me more tired, but I don’t usually wake up naturally after eight or nine hours. Even if I set an alarm, I don’t really wake up properly before I’ve turned it off in my sleep. An alarm on the other side of the room I just sleep through. Perhaps irrationally, it annoys me that I can’t work out if this is depressive burnout or autistic burnout. If depressive, why is it persisting when most of my other symptoms have gone? It’s it’s autistic, then why was I not like this as a child? I went to school every day without a problem until I was sixteen, when the depression started. Did I just have more energy or resilience then? It does make me worry about starting work next week; I hope I don’t have to cancel volunteering because it’s too much to do volunteering and therapy one day, then work the next.

I went for a walk even though it was a bit of a struggle because of exhaustion. It wasn’t terribly long, but I went slowly, because of exhaustion and because PIMOJ asked me to take some photos so she could see where I was going. That was quite a nice thing to do “together”, but stopping and starting probably neutralised the exercise aspect. I’m also not terribly good (or, to be fair, experienced) at taking photos with my phone. Still, it was a nice thing to do. I think PIMOJ would be good at getting me to do little things like that to bond or to decrease my depression (the whole photo thing came about because I said I was feeling depressed today and she said to go on a walk and then added to take photos so she could see where I’m going). I guess my fear is that sometimes I want to withdraw to my Fortress of Solitude and work things through or just sit with my emotions rather than being cheered up. Sometimes that’s the right decision for me; other times I do actually need to be cheered up (like today). I think it may take us a while to work out how to tell which is which.

I don’t know whether it was the walk or the fact that my mood usually peaks in the afternoon/early evening, but I managed to do an hour of work on my novel (admittedly with procrastination) and finished my devar Torah for the week.With the devar Torah, after saying yesterday I wasn’t satisfied with it, I actually feel happier with it now, feeling I’ve got a reasonable balance between primary sources, secondary sources and my own interpretations. Strangely, with the novel I currently feel happier with the plot thread I’ve invented from scratch than with the part that is rooted in my own experiences (and which was the original idea for the novel). The truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is better structured and probably more interesting. Also, I don’t really like the character based on me very much, which speaks volumes about my self-esteem.

This cartoon sums up a problem I’d already noticed in my novel. When I started writing a little over a year ago, I wrote an internal timeline of events (it’s a coming of age story that takes place over several years and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t accidentally have one character living through more time than the others by writing “a few months passed” too often), but I didn’t explicitly tie it to specific dates so that the book could be read as “roughly in the present” for a number of years. Then suddenly a massive, dramatic change to how we live occurred and I wonder if I should explicitly date it to be before COVID, otherwise the chronology doesn’t work. But then I worry it will feel almost like a period piece when (if?) we get to the other side of COVID.

***

I got an invitation, or a virtual invitation, to a wedding. It’s the daughter of one of my shul friends who is getting married. She is significantly younger than me as my friend is quite a bit older than me (a number of my friends are significantly older than me. I’m not sure if it speaks to my maturity or autism or something else). I’m glad I’m getting better at dealing with “older single in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community” element of my life. It’s still a bit difficult to get my head around it. I sit with my friend at shul (synagogue) and have been invited for Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festival) meals on a number of occasions, so I do know him and his family quite well. It just feels strange to be going to a wedding for someone so much younger than me, and a Zoom wedding at that. I’m not quite sure what the protocol is regarding presents. I would struggle to go if it was an in-person wedding with noise and strangers (autism and social anxiety), but the fact that it’s over Zoom and just the ceremony makes that easier at least although I’m not sure how it will fit with my new job.

***

From a pamphlet of quotations from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that PIMOJ gave me: “Whatever one is enduring, one must muster the inner strength, as the verse says, “If I ascend to the heavens, there You are, and if I make my bed in hell, here You are,” because even in the depths of hell one can become close to God, for He is there also.” (originally from Lekutey Moharan)

Blogging for Myself

When I started blogging, on some level at least I wanted to become internet famous. I’m not sure why exactly, as I’m fairly sure that fame would make me thoroughly miserable. Some of it was about wanting my voice to be heard, which on some level I still want, or I wouldn’t be trying to build a career as a writer. But I think a lot of it was to do with having mixed feelings about people I had been at university with. I started blogging less than a year after I came down from Oxford and I had a lot of confusing (to me) feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, friendship and maybe love towards various people which I had failed to make known to anyone in person. I think I hoped in some way that I would become known through my writing (at the time I was too depressed to become known in any other way) and people would find out. I’m not really sure what I thought/hoped they would feel or do.

A small part of me still feels like this, but it’s mostly transferred itself to my novel-writing ambitions. I think I keep those feelings reasonably in perspective these days, although there probably is a part of me that at least sometimes wants people I know to intuit my life story and battles with depression and autism from my writing, which is a dangerous thing to hope. Still, this does mean that my blog writing is more for myself nowadays.

When I wanted to be internet famous, I never had many followers (or friends, as they were called on Livejournal). Paradoxically, in the last year or two, as I’ve decided I write primarily for myself, to record my activity, thoughts and feelings each day, I have gained more readers. I’m now approaching 500, which is a milestone I didn’t expect to reach. I know many of these followers are spammy and others don’t actually read anything, but quite a number ‘like’ and comment on posts. I now have what I wanted years ago, when I was in the pits of depression, which is a place where I can post how I feel honestly and people will be supportive. I don’t mean that to sound mercenary or manipulative. I’m not trying to provoke positive comments, I’m just aware that people usually leave them and grateful for that.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I know my posts have become more repetitive and less interesting as my mental health has stabilised somewhat, and that today’s post is probably tedious and certainly short (or it was, until I appended this introduction), so I’m sorry for that.

***

I spent the morning volunteering, packing food parcels, which was fine, but we ran out of vegetables, which was sad, as those people aren’t going to get as much as they should, although I think we made sure that everyone got something.

I tried to work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) after lunch. After thinking the last two weeks’ divrei Torah were too reliant on my own untested ideas, I think this one is based too much on other peoples’ thoughts. I can’t really win. In any case, I was very tired and struggled to think coherently and will need to finish it off tomorrow. If I get this tired after spending a morning volunteering, I worry how I will cope when I’m working two days a week as well. I successfully avoided Twitter during the afternoon, but ended up reading an old article from The Atlantic on the QAnon conspiracy theory, until I realised it was just making me fret about American society without being able to do anything, so I stopped reading. I do worry about a country that combines so many conspiracy theorists with so many guns – it’s not a good combination.

***

A couple of things about volunteering today: I was putting tea lights in little bags that would then be put in bigger bags to be distributed with food (the tea lights were to be used as Shabbat candles). It was a repetitive job and there were several of us doing it. A couple of the other volunteers started chatting while they were doing it. It was clear from their conversation that they I had never met before, and I marvelled at how easily the spoke to each other and made small talk. I feel like whenever I try to do that, people can notice that I’m reading from a mental “script” and that after two or three minutes, I run out of things to say or start repeating myself.

The person who runs the volunteering side of the organisation wanted me to do a particular task which I hadn’t done before. Then before I could do anything, she said I “looked lost” and gave me a different, easier, job to do instead. I think she probably made the right decision, but I am not sure what to think about the fact that my thoughts and emotions are very easy to read on my face, even though I was wearing a mask, whereas I can’t read other people’s emotions at all. I know it’s autism that stops me reading other people, but I feel that the fact that I’m so easy to read gives other people an unfair advantage!

I had some thoughts that could easily have slipped towards OCD, thoughts about taking responsibility for things that are not my responsibility and about COVID contamination, but I recognised these thoughts for what they were and kept them under control, which was good. Nietzsche described mental illness as being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” Lately the dogs have been fairly quiet for me, but today they were barking again. Not too loudly, but enough to remind me that they’re still there.

***

This year is the first since I was a very young child where I haven’t worn a poppy for the British Legion. Some years I had lost it by the time armistice day came around, but I always wore one at some point. I did give them a donation online this year, but because of lockdown I haven’t been out much and haven’t seen anyone collecting in the street or collection tins in shops. Beyond the actual donation, I like to wear it to show empathy with those killed or wounded in action or bereaved by war. I guess it’s something else that 2020 has forced on us.

Poor Executive Function

I dragged myself out of bed to go to Zoom autism support group, which was probably not worth doing. I don’t know if I’m going to keep going, unless perhaps there’s a topic I find particularly interesting. I don’t really learn coping strategies, which is what I really want. My symptoms are often not the same as other people’s, so there isn’t necessarily the same empathy that exists in my depression group. I don’t know why there is such wide variation on the autism spectrum, but it’s true (hence the saying, common in high functioning autism circles, that “If you know one person on the autism spectrum, then you know one person on the autism spectrum”).

In addition, one of the moderators seems to have some prejudices against neurotypicals, which I find just as problematic as the reverse. I guess I also feel that although living in the neurotypical world is difficult, some neurotypical rules are worthwhile, even if I struggle with them. Maybe that’s autistic rule-keeping on my part, but some people in the group seem to think that neurodiverse people should be allowed to do what they want and neurotypicals should just deal with it; again, which, again I find as problematic as saying that neurodiverse people should just be forced to conform completely to neurotypical society. Adjustments should be reasonable. Society is about finding compromises, whether you’re on the spectrum or not.

It made me also think again about attention to detail and me. Attention to detail is generally recognised as something people on the autism spectrum usually have and can often put to good use in the labour market. I used to have good attention to detail, but I feel that in recent years I have lost this, particularly in the workplace. I hope that it’s just a consequence of being in environments that were not right for me (noisy, requiring multitasking or rapid task changes, or having a line manager I didn’t like) and when I was working in other environments without those challenges, I think I did have much better attention to detail. Still, I worry about it, particularly as I’m about to start a job that will probably require good attention to detail in an environment that might stress me out a bit because I’ll have a friend as my line manager.

All that said, the autism group session today was about executive function issues and then in the afternoon, I made a plan and then did something completely different to what I planned, which is a classic autistic executive function issue. Perhaps the fact that I fell into this behaviour again shows that the group really didn’t help.

***

I went for a 5K run, despite some slight pain in my foot and knee which mostly passed after a few minutes. It was good to get out again, as I hadn’t run for a while. I don’t know why I always seem to think about political stuff that annoys me when I’m running. I listen to music, but that doesn’t help. Maybe I should try something I have to concentrate on, like an audio drama or audio book. I came back feeling a bit ill, headachy and faint, as always seems to happen these days.

***

As well as thinking about politics when running, I procrastinate on Twitter too. 90% of Twitter consists of people being outraged about things they can’t change and the other 10% is videos of cute animals. I feel I should find out what people are outraged about, but a lot of the time it is stuff that is irrelevant out of their bubble, or stuff that simply isn’t true (everyone thinks it’s only the “other side” that does this; sorry, as someone who doesn’t easily fit on either side, I can tell you it’s both sides). Well, I do really know why I spend time on Twitter: it’s because I want to feel less lonely and confirmed in my views, but it’s pretty bad at doing that (particularly as I don’t post or comment, I just read). I’m not sure I should be trying to confirm my views, and I don’t think Twitter will stop me being lonely. Still, I get sucked in.

I did manage to spend about an hour on my novel after dinner, which was good. I felt a bit more positively towards it (I mean, positively about the quality of what I’m writing; I’ve always felt that the subject matter is worthwhile). I also cooked dinner (vegetarian kedgeree) and spent twenty-five minutes on Torah study and researching my devar Torah. I would have liked to have done more Torah study and more work on my novel. I always would like to do more of these things, but I always run out of time and energy. It’s frustrating that I never have enough time and energy (which may take us back to procrastination time and poor executive function). The Talmud says no one dies with even half their desires fulfilled; I think this refers to meaningful/spiritual desires as much as physical/hedonistic ones. At the same time, I know I procrastinate and get distracted (see above!). It is hard to change.

***

I felt a bit on edge for much of the day, although I think running got rid of this. I was vaguely irritable, although I think I kept from sniping at anyone. I do feel that I don’t know how I would like PIMOJ to react when I feel a mildly depressed. Do I want problem solving advice, empathetic support or just to be given space? The problem is, it could be any of those things at any time. With my first girlfriend, she largely ignored me when I was feeling depressed. My second girlfriend was long-distance, so there was a limit to what she could do as she was usually asleep or at work when I was feeling bad, although she would send supportive empathetic texts. But this feels like uncharted territory in that I think PIMOJ wants to support me and is in a position to do so. And I don’t really know what to ask her to do. I guess our relationship feels a bit like we’re making it up as we go along. Maybe everyone feels like that, or maybe we’re weird because I don’t think either of us has much relationship experience, despite our ages.

***

More thoughts about Twin Peaks: The Return; feel free to skip.

There’s basically no incidental music. Given that successive scenes can take place in totally different parts of the US (Twin Peaks; New York City; Las Vegas) with characters that don’t seem to relate to each other or interact, and that after the first couple of episodes, it seems to be largely played for comedy, the whole thing comes across as a bizarre experimental comedy sketch show with no laughter track, the type of thing the BBC seems so fond of, where a bunch of twenty-something comedians try to be Monty Python. Or maybe I just have a weird sense of humour.

Rabbi Sacks, and Comparing Myself to Friends

I know, there’s been an election in America. That’s not what I want to write about. Shortly after Shabbat (the Sabbath) finished, the Anglo-Jewish community heard that Rabbi Lord Sacks, the Emeritus Chief Rabbi, had died. I still feel shocked and am struggling to process things. I never met him personally (although I’ve been in the same room as him a couple of times), but I own ten of his books, and that’s excluding his prayer books (siddur, five machzorim and hagaddah). I’ve read far too many of his divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) to count over the years as a long-term subscriber to his email essays and updates. Just this year, I’ve seen him speak live online several times on video during lockdown. I quote him a lot in my own divrei Torah. I knew he had cancer, but I had no idea that it was this far advanced.

Rabbi Sacks was a major influence on my thought. He was really the first rabbi who showed me that it’s possible to belong to both Orthodox Jewish society and wider Western culture, not just as a bidieved (exceptional, after-the-event circumstance), but as a deliberate choice. The Jewish community in the UK is very small, about 400,000 people, I believe the smallest mainstream religious community in the UK, but we have a much bigger societal presence than that. It’s not by any means entirely due to Rabbi Sacks, but his eloquence and media presence ensured that he was an ambassador for the community on the wider stage. I suspect the community under-rated him in his lifetime, partly due to a few controversies he was in, and also because his ability to explain difficult ideas from Judaism and Western philosophy in an accessible way made him sound less intelligent and original than he was; he was never a ‘difficult’ read in the way that e.g. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was.

To lose Rabbi Sacks and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz within a few months of each other is a massive loss to global the Jewish community in general and the Centrist or Modern Orthodox community in particular. Barukh dayan ha’emet.

***

My second, and hopefully final, autism assessment appointment has been delayed until 2 December. I’m not quite sure why. It’s a little frustrating, but I feel OK about it. At least the NHS warned me in advance this time.

***

As for how I’ve been, I got up earlier than usual on Friday and managed to get in more than an hour of work on my novel before Shabbat. It was slow going, re-reading and editing, and my heart wasn’t really in it, but I slogged on.

I think my parents thought I was fairly grumpy on Friday night. To be honest, they were right. I didn’t mean to sound grumpy, but everything I said came out wrong, when I was able to do more than grunt and shrug. I’m not always good at understanding or even spotting my emotions, so if they hadn’t told me, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. They asked if I was anxious about anything and I initially said no, but after a while I realised that I have a new job, where I’m worried about letting a friend down and about travelling on public transport during lockdown and catching COVID, and even beyond that I’m worried about juggling work, Torah study, writing my weekly devar Torah and working on my novel as well as looking for further work for when this finishes, so it’s not surprising that I am a bit anxious.

***

I finished reading the anthology of writings by Rav Kook that I’ve been reading for some weeks now (The Lights of Penitence, the Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters and Poems). This post has already been dominated by Jewish stuff/rabbis, so I will not say much, just that, although I had read some of Rav Kook’s writings before, I had not realised his enormous relevance to the contemporary world. In a world where we are encouraged to think in terms of binary opposites (religion OR science; the individual OR the community; tradition OR modernity; nationalism OR universalism), Rav Kook says, “No, God is bigger than that, God is big enough for both, and more.” Essential reading.

***

After Shabbat I had a Zoom call with a bunch of friends from my Oxford days. We tend to meet up every six months or so and are now doing it on Zoom because of COVID. I enjoy seeing them, even virtually, but I sometimes end up feeling a bit negative about myself as I’m the only one without a good job (university lecturer/writer and two lawyers, although one is a law teacher at the moment) and one had his baby daughter with him on the call for a while. I thought I was over this kind of looking over my shoulder and comparing myself to others, but obviously not.

I mentioned about my novel to them the last time we spoke, really to have something to say and not to sound pathetic for being long-term unemployed, but I feel really uncomfortable talking about it and I’m not sure why. It’s partly that I never like talking about myself, but I think also that I’ve told people that the novel is semi-autobiographical, which it is, but now I’m trying to walk that back because (a) a lot of it is NOT autobiographical and (b) I don’t want people assuming that certain bits are autobiographical when they are not (or, in some instances, when they are, but I don’t want to make that public. In particular, I’m vaguely worried about someone I used to know realising one of the characters was originally based on her, even though I’ve now developed her beyond that).

I wanted to do some work on my novel tonight, but after the Zoom call and dinner, it was too late, plus I’ve been thinking about Rabbi Sacks and wanting to write this post.

Ambushed By A Day

I went to bed early last night, but slept for twelve hours or more and got up around midday. Even after getting up I felt burnt out and went slowly. I didn’t even have much energy to be surprised or upset about the US election dragging on. It’s strange and frustrating how much volunteering burns me out, particularly as it’s more physical (moving crates of food, packing tins) than social (masks make it hard even for neurotypicals to chit-chat). I’m apprehensive of how I’m going to cope when I have a full work day after a volunteering day, as could happen soon. I guess I can push through these things when I have to, particularly when it’s not too frequent or intense, but there can be a psychological cost e.g. when I was working four consecutive days a week in a noisy open-plan office for three months, which was painful.

***

I saw a cataloguing job advertised at a university where I applied before, back in 2018. I went through the presentation I had to give badly, stumbled through the interview and then completely failed the exam I had to sit. I couldn’t answer anything, I just wrote on it that I was not well and had not been able to prepare properly and that I was sorry. I don’t know if I dare to apply again after that. I feel so rusty applying for cataloguing jobs and this one has bad associations, and they may recognise my name and throw my application out straight away.

***

My second autism appointment is booked for 20 November. Hopefully that will be when I get a firm diagnosis and find out what help the NHS can offer me.

***

I didn’t manage to do much today until late afternoon, then I tried to cram too much in. Aside from feeling burnt out all day, we had a cleaner here and a window-cleaner and I struggled with that as an invasion of space. I realise that because I already felt exhausted and down I felt this invasion of space acutely and that I would have been OK otherwise. Then I procrastinated a lot thinking about America, checking the BBC News website and looking at Twitter more than I should. I worry what will happen and what it will mean for the world. In the UK, social and political trends from the US as well as cultural ones tend to hit us a few years later and both countries have lost a lot of social capital as a result of the controversies and polarisation of the last few years. There may also have been some depression related to the job offer. Positive things can make me depressed if I feel unworthy or, in this case, if it leads to anxiety about not being able to perform as expected. I have that anxiety about all jobs now as a result of previous bad work experiences, but here I am extra-worried about letting my friend down and about managing to do admin work rather than library work.

Despite all this, I applied for a job, another school librarian job. It looked like a simple “CV and cover letter” application (I have stock CVs and cover letters on file), but after submitting them, there was a huge application form too. Why do companies insist on this (CV, cover letter, application form), when it’s basically the same information three times? Proof that HR personnel really are evil, I suppose (like “Catbert, Evil HR Director” in the Dilbert comic). They want to know everything too, including all time off for illness, which in my case is a lot. It was a really badly-designed form too (if you saved, it logged you out, then you had to wait for the system to email you a link to get back in). Then I left the form for a few minutes and it logged me out without saving my changes and without warning that it would do that. It also wouldn’t let me submit the form, because I wouldn’t state the “province” my previous job was in. We don’t have provinces in this country (must be imported software). I put London as both city and province to get past the thing.

The wretched thing took about two hours in the end. This is the type of thing that provokes my inner Patrick MacGoohan, co-creator, star, executive producer, sometimes writer and director and main creative force on 1960s “spi-fi” series The Prisoner, which pitted the unnamed, numbered Prisoner against the unstoppable bureaucracy of The Village where he was trapped – The Prisoner would regularly rail against intrusive bureaucracy and surveillance as well as smashing things. If he saw what our contemporary information culture was like, he might not have bothered trying to escape.

Filling in this type of form makes me feel bad that I have so many gaps on my CV and that so many of my jobs have been so short-term. I’ve only had one job for more than eighteen months. This form asks for my interests and extra-curricular activities too, which I feel is intrusive, and also outdated. I know people used to ask that as a standard question, but I thought it had fallen out of favour.

I had no time for working on my novel again as a result of all this. I wrote about half the first draft in the first lockdown; conversely, I think this lockdown is going to be spent on paid work and volunteering with little writing at all. I suppose it took Tolstoy eleven years to write War and Peace (I think) and I’ve only been working on my novel for a little under eighteen months.

I did redraft and send my devar Torah for the week. I’m not as happy with it as I was when I wrote it earlier in the week. I feel like my argument (for understanding a particular Midrash) is not as rigorous as it should be. PIMOJ picked up on one bit that I should have phrased differently (actually just one word), but it’s too late to change it now.

I didn’t get time for much Torah study in all of this, less than half an hour, mostly a shiur (religious class) I listened to while doing some ironing. I’m trying not to beat myself up about it as I had a hard day.

It was a hard day, even though I didn’t do much. Actually, reading this back, I did do quite a bit despite feeling bad (I fitted in a half-hour walk too). I just feel exhausted. Sometimes a day kind of ambushes me and it’s a struggle to get through it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading a high-functioning autism memoir by someone whose blog I read. It’s by an autistic woman, which I hoped might be helpful to me as in many ways my autism is more typically female than male. It’s been less useful than I hoped as she experienced very different things to me. She was probably better at masking socially than I am, and just had a different personality with knock-on social differences.

I’ve also been re-reading Doctor Who Magazine comic strips. Doctor Who is typically thought of as a TV series, but it’s been in virtually every medium from musical theatre to a story on the back of chocolate wrappers. The three media where it’s been most successful, outside TV, are novels, audio dramas and comic strips. The latter is definitely seen as the poor relation of the three among fans, but I much prefer the comics (at least the ones from Doctor Who Magazine), to the novels and audios. I’m about a third of the way through a re-read of the tenth Doctor comics, which were a high point for the strip (better than the TV stories of the time, in my humble opinion).

In terms of TV, I’m now onto Twin Peaks: The Return, the follow-up series to Twin Peaks. One episode in, it’s probably weirder and certainly gorier than the original series. I’m not sure whether I like it or not yet – I think some of it is weird for the sake of being weird, whereas the original felt like there was a logic there even if we couldn’t always see it. The first episode was largely not set in Twin Peaks and barely featured any characters from the original series, so it was a bit disorientating, which was probably deliberate, but it does feel like starting all over again, inasmuch as it took several episodes of the first series for me to understand who everyone was and what their relationships were to each other and now I’m being presented with another set of new characters.

3 Shopping Days to Lockdown

When my alarm went off at 9.00am (I usually set an alarm, even though I often turn it off in my sleep when it goes off), I actually thought I would get up. My mind felt reasonably alert, but my body was just too drained and burnt out after yesterday and I couldn’t get up and I fell asleep again after a few minutes. I didn’t end up getting up for another two hours, which was not good. The vaguely ill feeling I had yesterday has gone, fortunately, but I do feel drained. I’ve become better at seeing this as a symptom of autism (social burnout) rather than a sign of weakness, even before my assessment, but it is frustrating.

I think I had a dream about my novel and suddenly getting an idea for a much better novel that I had all planned out in my head and not knowing whether to switch to work on it. It’s sort of reflective of where I am at the moment, inasmuch as I worry that my mainstream novel is not working and I should switch to an idea I’ve had for a series of Jewish fantasy novels. I’m not actually going to switch at the moment as I don’t like leaving things half-finished and I want to see this project through. I also know that many authors have doubts when sitting down to extensive redrafting, so I shouldn’t set too much store by them at this stage. Nevertheless, I do wonder if the mainstream novel is going to be readable, let alone sellable.

Since writing the above, I read something, a blog post about sexual harassment. Although this is not the same as my novel (which is about domestic abuse in the Orthodox community, culminating in marital rape), it was similar enough that it made me think that I have a mission to write this book to the best of my ability and try to get it published.

***

I bought the new trainers I’ve been meaning to buy for a while. Hopefully these will support my arches better when running. My Dad took me to a big retail park with a number of warehouse-sized shops, including a sportswear shop. I wouldn’t have been able to get there easily on public transport, so I was grateful for the lift. On the other hand, when I shopping with my parents, I tend to let them take over. I guess it’s lack of confidence and social anxiety as well as a sense that I don’t know what I’m doing. Dad felt that in the past I had been sold over-priced and unsuitable running shoes by asking the shop assistants what shoes they would recommend for running. Dad said instead to go for a well-known brand (he said Nike), find some I like and then ask the assistant if they’re suitable for running. I’m not sure this is necessarily a better strategy, but I tried it and have black Nike trainers now. Hopefully they will be better for running than the previous ones.

***

My other real achievement (aside from scanning my autism assessment from 2006 to send to the psychiatrist doing my current assessment) was writing my devar Torah for this week. I am reasonably, but not completely, happy with it. It has more of a moral or even slightly polemical point than usual.

I also attended (on Zoom) a shiur (religious class) at my shul (synagogue). I was attracted by the fact that it was based on the teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalmish Shapira, the early twentieth century Hasidic rebbe and Holocaust martyr. I read his book Sacred Fire a few months ago and was very moved; I quoted a few times here ideas about suffering and God’s empathy.

A few points I took from the shiur were that hinukh (education) should be about revealing the potential of the student; that we should aim for nothing less than spiritual greatness in our lives and not accept mediocrity; that we should daven (pray) as much as we are able, which sometimes might be less than other times (this was important to me as I can’t always daven properly due to depression and burnout) and to focus in prayer on consciousness of standing before God; and that we should be human and eat, drink and rejoice with our friends. The element that I struggled with was the injunctions to avoid sadness and worry; it is hard to tell what to do when these become pathological depression and anxiety.

If We Ever Get Out of Here

Trapped inside these four walls,

Sent inside forever,

Never seeing no one

Nice again,

Like You,

Mama, you,

Mama, you.

If I ever get out of here

Thought of giving it all away

To a registered charity

All I need is a pint a day

If I ever get out of here

If we ever get out of here

Band on the Run by Paul McCartney and Wings

The extended quote from Band on the Run by Wings is indulgent, but expresses better than I can how I feel with the latest COVID restrictions just announced as coming in this week, as England (and I mean England, not the whole UK) goes back into full lockdown, albeit with schools, colleges and universities staying open this time.

***

Despite what I wrote yesterday, I didn’t come to any great insights or peace of mind over Shabbat about my autism diagnosis. I’m still too scared that I don’t have a 100% definite diagnosis yet (if you can ever have a 100% diagnosis of something as subjective as high-functioning autism), even if the psychiatrist did describe the rest of the process as “just dotting ‘i’s and crossing ‘t’s.” I think it’s probably something that will sink in more over time. My parents are hopeful that I will find more help in the workplace now. That may be true, but I need to find a job first, something that will be harder with the return to lockdown.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was a normal semi-lockdown Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue), ate with Mum and Dad, read, did Torah study etc. I was not intending to do so much Torah study after the assessment, but I got into it and did an hour or so on Friday and Saturday. I guess it shows that I do really enjoy Torah study when I feel able, particularly when I’m studying topics I’m interested in, which over Shabbat was Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), specifically Iyov (Job), which I’m now halfway through, as well as teachings from Rebbe Nachman of Bratlav and letters of Rav Kook.

Other than that, nothing really happened until after Shabbat. I had a list of chores to do, most notably getting ready the stuff that the psychiatrist wanted to see before my final assessment. This was interrupted by the news of the new lockdown. PIMOJ and I were supposed to be going on our third in-person date on Thursday, which is now out of the question. We’re hoping to have a hurried date tomorrow, although I’ll have to reorganise the call I had scheduled with my rabbi mentor. Technically I can still go to volunteer on Wednesdays (I think… the announcement is not completely clear to me), but I don’t drive and I’m not sure that I want to risk travelling on the buses with infections and the “R-number” rising. I was also due for a checkup at the dentist next week which has been delayed since the summer for various reasons. I don’t have a toothache, but I have always been good about dental checkups, so it feels worrying postponing it indefinitely. I guess I’ve been vaguely worried about my teeth since I had my first filling (at the age of thirty-six!) last year. My parents were also supposed to be going to the dentist soon, in Mum’s case for quite important reasons about seeing whether she can take a particular cancer drug she’s been prescribed. Then there is shul. I was just getting back into the habit of going regularly and now we’re not sure if places of worship will close down again.

Things feel grim. At least in the first lockdown the weather was good and the days were getting longer. This feels like a cold, dark, bleak time. The government are hoping to ease the lockdown by Christmas, but I worry it won’t happen. That may just be pessimism and negativity talking, though. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I feel sad for those who do, especially the children. (Of course, we’ve gone through five Jewish festivals already this year with limited or no shul access or ability to meet friends and family.)

Struggling Through

I had hoped to get up at 9am to give me lots of time to get ready for my autism support group Zoom call at 11am, but I overslept by three-quarters of an hour and had to rush. The meeting got off to a bad start with someone challenging the group agreement. The agreement says something about we have to respect each others’ opinions and he got annoyed saying some things are empirical facts and need to be challenged, which was possibly an autistic way of looking at the exact details of the agreement rather than the general gist of the thing. I don’t know why he suddenly got annoyed about this today when he’s been in previous meetings without saying this; maybe he recently got in an argument with a conspiracy theorist or something. This incident put me on edge and made it hard for me to focus on the meeting and really listen to other people and I kept being distracted and found it hard to concentrate, doing other things, which I feel is unfair to the people speaking and usually avoid. I should probably have just left early, especially as it was only on Zoom.

Afterwards, I felt exhausted and somewhat depressed. It was hard to do anything as I felt so drained, but I know tomorrow will be worse (early start, volunteering and therapy, plus a family Zoom call in the evening) so I felt the need to try to do some things. I had poor executive function, making plans and not sticking to them, which is an autistic trait probably worsened by tiredness. I also had anxious/depressed thoughts about not experiencing autism the same way other people in the group do, leading to doubts about whether I’m on the spectrum.

I somehow fought through the tiredness to work for an hour on my novel, although I didn’t get a lot done beyond finishing off and tidying up the bit I was working on yesterday. I did manage to go for a walk. I had some negative feelings while walking. I was thinking that I don’t particularly want, or feel able, to live the type of life I’m “supposed” to live according to general consumerist society or according to frum (religious Jewish) society, but it’s hard to work out what type of life I actually could lead and find fulfilling.

***

I spent the better part of an hour working on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was despite the fact that I am reusing an old piece I wrote many years ago (I think about ten years ago). I just wanted to polish it a bit as well as bring the referencing in line with my usual standard (I don’t do Harvard referencing on something that seems so ephemeral and non-academic, but I do like to indicate where my sources came from). Even so, it took forty-five minutes or more to be happy with it.

***

Regarding telling PIMOJ about my blog, some commenters suggested not to do so. I think they’re probably right, but I do need to find a way to open up to her with more of my emotions. I possibly find it easier to speak to her in person than in text/instant messenger, which is unusual compared with previous relationships (perhaps because English isn’t her first language?), but because of COVID it’s hard to meet in person. We’re hoping to Skype on Thursday.

***

This post is being posted somewhat half-finished, as I just realised it’s 10pm and I need to be up in eight and a half hours so should get to bed soon.

The World War I Flying Ace

I didn’t post on Friday because I ran out of time before Shabbat (the Sabbath). That’s probably going to be the case for all Fridays until late spring. I didn’t have a lot to say anyway. Now I have the post-Shabbat in the winter “wanting to curl up and not do much” feeling. Not a lot happened in the last two days anyway.

On Friday I did manage to get my medication before Shabbat. I went to shul (synagogue). It wasn’t raining, so we had the first half of the service (Kabbalat Shabbat) outside so we could take off our masks and sing, which was good (the singing and the masklessness, although I took care to stand over two metres from anyone else regardless). I intended not to do so much Torah study after dinner so I didn’t burn out the next day, but I got involved and did over an hour, which I guess is good (that I was so involved). Then I read the Jewish Review of Books and went to bed late, but couldn’t sleep, so read more of the Jewish Review of Books. Today was much the same, eating, sleeping, praying and reading.

I had a settled feeling over Shabbat. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it. A feeling that I’m looking for a stronger connection with God, but that I no longer feel victimised and attacked by Him, or that I can never find religious meaning. I guess PIMOJ has something to do with that, but it’s not entirely down to her. I feel like I know what I should be doing with my life, which is writing Jewish books. At the same time, I do still worry that I’m not a good enough writer, or that I won’t be able to handle the more practical aspects of writing (finding an agent and a publisher etc.). I also feel obliged to look for other work so I’m not entirely dependent on my parents and the state hence my intention to send off some more job applications this coming week, even though I increasingly feel that I’m not going to get work that way.

That was really it for the last two days. After Shabbat I did some stuff around the house for my parents, but nothing much.

***

After about two years, I finished reading all the daily and Sunday Peanuts (Snoopy) cartoons. That’s 17,897 comic strips. There is actually another volume in The Complete Peanuts series, containing various one-off strips and ephemera; I’m not sure if I’m enough of a completist to buy it. It’s pretty well-known that American culture celebrates heroes, not “losers.” Just look at the way Donald Trump shouts “Loser” at everyone he doesn’t like (which is a lot of people). Somehow Charles Schulz managed to take a comic strip about a loser and make it popular in the States, which is not easy. I mean “loser” in the nicest possible sense, from someone who considers himself a loser and thinks that losers are more interesting than winners. It’s a surprisingly deep and existential comic about failure and frustration, but also very funny and endearing, perhaps because it’s not actually pitched as a comic about failure, it just happens to go there a lot.

The Boy in the Bubble

I went to bed very early last night, but I slept for over twelve hours, so I got up late again this morning. I’m slightly embarrassed to say it, but I feel like I could have slept longer. I did feel drained and burnt out today, particularly in the morning and early afternoon. I’ve got to a point where I’m at least somewhat accepting that this is just what happens to me when I do things. Still, I wish I had more hours awake and alert.

I had a dream about being back at Oxford University. I was trying to get more time to do my work as I was depressed and autistic, but there was some kind of problem, I don’t know what. It may just have been that I did not have the courage to go to my tutor and explain. There were some people from my current shul (synagogue) there too for some reason. It’s pretty obvious that the dream was about feeling bad for needing support with my issues. I’ve never really got over that feeling of shame.

***

A librarian who turned me down for a job a while back saying my cataloguing wasn’t good enough has added me to his network on LinkedIn. I’ve never really got the hang of LinkedIn (like Facebook, but boring), but I reciprocated, because nowadays I mostly do if someone I vaguely know as a real person adds me (not random strangers). I’ve been on LinkedIn for years, but still haven’t got up to the thirty connections they say you should have for it to work well; a number of the connections I do have are family and friends in different sectors, not colleagues. It also reminds me of this cartoon.

***

PIMOJ and I were planning a date, when I realised it contravened COVID regulations (indoors with people outside my “bubble”). My sister and brother-in-law are our household’s “bubble,” so I can’t count PIMOJ as one. They (the regulations) are complicated enough now that I have to look them up as I don’t remember them. I think it will be a long, cold winter if we can’t meet indoors except in cafes and restaurants (where I don’t feel comfortable at the moment anyway). I was a bit nervous of mentioning this to PIMOJ in case it looked like I was backing out, but she was fine with it. When dating, I get so scared of being negative or just disagreeing in case; ironically, one date got angry with me because I was indecisive through fear of contradicting her, the opposite of what I intended. Dating in COVID is hard. Dating with low self-esteem and fear of rejection is harder. I need to learn that (a) PIMOJ seems to like me, other things being equal and (b) when it comes to values questions (like breaching lockdown or not), we’re usually on the same page. The latter is a somewhat unfamiliar place for me to be.

***

I started writing a new bit for my novel, plugging a plot-hole that I noticed. I wrote about 800 words in an hour, but feel I might be approaching the scene the wrong way and need to rewrite. As ever, I wanted to write more, but ran out of time. It can be hard to lead a full life when I only really have afternoons and evenings.

***

Other achievements today: I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. It was a little shorter than usual, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say and it seemed silly to pad it needlessly. I did some Torah study, albeit a disproportionate amount was spent tracing a reference in Rabbi Lord Sacks’ devar Torah to Ramban’s Torah commentary, but when I found it, I didn’t fully understand what Ramban was saying or why.

I went for a walk and did some shopping; I also failed to pick up my repeat prescription as the surgery has been slow in processing the pharmacy’s request (the lockdown procedure for requesting repeat prescriptions). I hope it’s ready before late afternoon tomorrow or I will run out over the weekend.

I did some ironing while watching Twin Peaks, which was a mistake, as Twin Peaks required atmosphere and concentration that were not possible while ironing. I find myself wanting to wallow in Twin Peaks. It has a unique atmosphere. Doctor Who is also capable of being mysterious, funny and scary in quick succession or even at the same time, but with Twin Peaks there is a sense of something else as well, I’m not sure what. Twin Peaks certainly has a sense of place which Doctor Who, by virtue of its time-space travelling format, does not, and Twin Peaks can have a greater sense of fear being aimed at an adult, post-watershed audience unlike Doctor Who, which has mostly been aimed at a family audience. There is something else, though, maybe a dreamlike atmosphere that I can’t pin down. Maybe Twin Peaks has a sense of fear that Doctor Who can’t have, because Doctor Who hasn’t really scared me since I was a child, whereas I know (from the classification warning on the DVD box) that Twin Peaks probably will have scenes that will scare or horrify me and I’m sitting on the edge of my seat in nervous anticipation.

Whatever the reason, I want to wallow it and binge-watch episodes, which is unusual for me, although not unknown. I don’t usually watch more than an hour of television in a day. I suppose the serial nature of the programme helps. When I watched Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes earlier in the year, it was quite obvious that I was only going to get answers in the last episode of the season, if not the last episode of the programme as a whole, whereas here there are limited answers and more questions all the time.

The Owls Are Not What They Seem

I went to volunteer this morning, packing food parcels to be donated to Jewish communities in London, for people who are either struggling to make ends meet or are unable to go shopping because of COVID. It was outside and rather cold. It was at least sheltered, but I got soaked in the rain going to and from there. I was glad I went, as it felt fulfilling. I did have to try not to overthink things though or take responsibility for things that were not in my control. I managed this despite not having had much sleep, as I couldn’t fall asleep last night, then I woke around 4.00am and struggled to get back to sleep. I had to phone Dad for a lift from the bus stop on the way home, as it was raining very heavily and my foot was still hurting if I walked on it.

I came home to a busy house. Now we aren’t shielding Mum any more, we’ve had various people in to sort things in the house. My parents’ friend who fixes computers came over in his capacity as computer-fixer rather than friend the other day to fix Mum’s computer; the handyman came yesterday and today, and we also had industrial cleaners in today giving the house the first deep clean since COVID. The bathroom stinks of chemicals and I feel uncomfortable in it at the moment. This all seems vaguely alien, given how diligently we shielded. I’m sure I’m not the only one struggling psychologically with the strange semi-lockdown rules; without thinking, I removed my mask on the bus for a minute while using the phone. In some ways, complete lockdown was easier than this; at least I knew what I could (not) do.

I felt pretty exhausted after lunch. I felt that I shouldn’t feel so exhausted, as all I was doing when volunteering was putting fruit and vegetables in carrier bags and then moving the carrier bags into piles and then into cars, but it did involve (1) peopling, (2) a new situation and (3) new people as well as (4) an early start and (5) wearing a mask almost non-stop for well over four hours, none of which are easy for me, doubly so in heavy rain, so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. I tried to work on my novel, but only managed half an hour of research reading. Ended up idly browsing internet, mostly politics sites, making myself miserable. Probably looking for connection in the wrong places, or just procrastination. I managed to catch up on one or two outstanding chores and felt like I can finally catch my breath properly after a month of Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) followed by an intense week and a bit. I tried to get off the computer. I binge-watched three episodes of Twin Peaks. I don’t usually watch that much TV in one day. Now I’m too tired for anything other than bed and it’s not yet 10pm.

I did plan out a future devar Torah for a couple of weeks’ time – reading an article in the latest Jewish Review of Books hit me with inspiration and quickly checked some sources and typed out a plan that I like.

***

The professional body for librarians in this country is polling members on a new fees structure that could potentially see me paying a lot more for the same services I get now. The main benefit I get currently is the weekly job email and job website. I think I got my job in further education via the website. I get a monthly magazine, which generally doesn’t interest me much, except when it scares me into thinking that I’m a bad librarian because I’m not doing innovative things or doing CPD (Continual Professional Development). Other times it makes me feel that you have to have a certain set of socio-political views to be a librarian these days, and that I don’t have them, making me scared that I’ll get caught out one day. There are networks that people use to, well, network, but I’ve struggled to get involved. When I’m working, I don’t have the time and energy for CPD and networking; when I’m unemployed I’m too embarrassed, plus working or not I have social anxiety. However, letting my subscription lapse would feel like a final admission that I’m not going to make a career as a librarian, which somehow seems very final, even though I did actually let my membership lapse in the past and resume later when it was more convenient.

Writer’s Woes

It’s been a slightly difficult day, a day when it was hard to do things. In some ways, I feel very “blocked;” in others, I’m making progress, of varying degrees. It’s hard to assess how it’s been overall. The good news first.

I’m going to be volunteering tomorrow morning, packing food packages for the vulnerable. Hopefully this will be every Wednesday morning until at least the end of the year. I will have to get up about 6.30am, as if I was going to work! However, it will be finished by 11.00am, so I should be home by lunchtime and able to take things easy in the afternoon. It is through a major Jewish organisation, the one that ran the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer until that was stopped by COVID. I just hope I can do what I’m supposed to do; at the drop-in centre, I came to feel that I was not doing much good, if not actually being a liability. I’ve heard autistic people say they just get in the way when people want them to help and I fear that describes my attempts to help too. I don’t know if it’s something about not being able to “read” a large group of people and follow implicit or unspoken instructions well enough to do what needs doing and not get in the way, but I seem to get stuck and get in the way, more so than if I’m just left to sort something out by myself.

PIMOJ is really positive about my volunteering, which is good, as I worry she will lose interest in me if I can’t find work, although she has shown no sign of that so far.

I did manage to get through to the psychiatrist’s secretary today, but there is no sign of a letter from the psychiatrist to the GP. The secretary said she would speak to the psychiatrist. I’m worried that I may have misunderstood something about changing lithium brands.

Other achievements: I tried to go for a run, but after changing and warming up, my foot started hurting. The pain didn’t go after a minute or two of running, so I decided not to risk pulling something and went home. I cooked dinner, but had an, um, culinary malfunction (too much salt fell into the pasta and changing the water didn’t help), so it was rather salty, less than ideal (or healthy), although still edible. I spent half an hour editing something I wrote here a while back into a devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s a bit shorter than what I usually write, but will probably be OK. I’d like to add 100 words to it, but I’m not sure that I will be able to do so. I tried to do some Torah study after that, but was too tired and a bit depressed and also anxious about tomorrow (this was late at night; I’m not narrating in chronological order).

The main thing I did this afternoon was some redrafting on my novel. It was one of those days when it’s really hard to write, and I was dealing one of the most autobiographical passages, and one that brings up difficult memories for me. I did more cutting than anything else. I cut a load of stuff as irrelevant and/or verbose and over-written, including one of the surreal interludes I wrote that I now think simply didn’t work, much as I like the idea of having them in theory. I think I only spent about forty-five minutes on working it, excluding procrastination time.

I feel a lot more negative about the last couple of chapters I’ve redrafted than I did about the first couple. I guess some days go like that, particularly as I had other things to do. It just makes me think that I’ve got a lot to learn and do if I want to be a writer, or even to get this book into a sellable shape. Sometimes it’s so hard to find the words to express what I think and feel. Do other writers feel like this sometimes, struggling to write anything at all? I guess I associate the “churn it out regardless” type of writing with people who write reams of genre fiction of little depth as opposed to more emotionally-real, thoughtful or experimental writing, but maybe that’s me being a literary snob. Part of me feels I should just give up, except that I feel that I have something to say and don’t know how not to say it any more. Plus, I’m beginning to doubt whether a career other than writing is really open to me any more.

A different problem about self-expression is the fact that I increasingly feel I need to write something here about politics – not policies and people, but how lonely and scared I feel at the moment. Scared that I’ll be rejected for what I think. Scared because there are people I respect who I fear don’t respect people like me. Writing something about it, however short or inadequate, has become a challenge I feel I need to meet regardless of the outcome, in the name of fighting social anxiety and self-censorship, but I’m lacking bravery or, today, time.

The other reason to write about politics is that I feel I’m running out of things to say, while still needing my blog as an outlet. I feel that at the moment things are OK, but there isn’t a lot that’s changing that I can comment on. I write this for myself, but I don’t really want to either bore or alienate my readers. I guess I don’t really know why anyone reads this, but I feel dependent on my blog commenters as part of my support network, alongside more traditional support like therapy, my parents and depression and autism support groups.

Who Killed Laura Palmer?

I wrote the first chunk of this yesterday, but the internet died when I was trying to send it and didn’t come back until after I’d gone to bed. As today is a “short” day i.e. Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts in the afternoon and I would have to post early, before that, it seemed easiest to just add to this post rather than post in the morning, then post briefly again in the afternoon.

Thursday

Today was another day when I made a plan and completely failed to stick to it. This is another occasion where I think, “If I’m autistic, then this (poor executive function) is understandable and expected, but if I’m not autistic, then I’m just useless.” This is probably not a compassionate train of thought, but I’m not sure what to change it to, particularly not knowing if I’m autistic or not.

I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I find I tread a fine line with these divrei Torah between wanting to put forward my own ideas and explanations and wanting to look at those of other commentators, to engage with the tradition, and also because I know some people in the Orthodox community would rather see traditional sources than new ideas from someone who isn’t a rabbi. This week it was mostly my own ideas on a topic I hadn’t seen much about before (Chanoch (Enoch) the son of Cain, of Cain and Abel fame). That always makes me vaguely nervous about how people will respond. Then, after sending out the devar Torah I happened to look at the devar Torah I wrote this time last year, and I was arguing something very different, really something contradictory, from the same point! In Judaism there’s a surprising openness to interpretation of the Torah’s text in non-halakhic (non-legal) matters, so having two contradictory views isn’t necessarily a problem, but it made me wonder if I was jumping to conclusions, especially given that I wasn’t 100% confident that what I had written made complete sense. It’s too late to change it now though.

I Skyped my oldest friend, who I hadn’t seen for years – we didn’t fall out or anything, just both got busy with our lives. It was really good to speak to him again.

I found it hard to get back down to working on my novel after Skyping my friend. It is hard to “change gears” with autism, and the shift from social mode to work mode seems to be particularly hard. I did manage an hour or so in the end (I know, I said yesterday not to count time spent on things). I feel like I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence in my work, but as I don’t feel ready to share it with anyone yet, I have to contain those feelings by myself for the moment.

One problem with writing something semi-autobiographical is that it can be upsetting to revisit bad experiences from the past, which is what happened today. The other fear, which I can push away for now, but not forever, is that people might realise the book is semi-autobiographical and make incorrect assumptions about which bits are autobiographical and which bits aren’t. This is less of a problem for a general readership and more for people who know me and might feel unfairly (or fairly) insulted or guess things I don’t want them to know.

I went for a dusk run, which was fun in the summer (later in the day, obviously), but seemed a bit miserable and damp today. It was a reasonably good run though. My iPod told me afterwards that it was my longest workout, timewise, which isn’t quite as positive as it sounds, as I’ve been running the same route for a while now, so it means I was running a bit slower, although looking at my jogging record, I’m not convinced there was a significant change. More positively, it was my first run in about five weeks, having been focused on Yom Tov (Jewish festivals) and job interview preparations as well as put off by bad weather. I had a slight headache afterwards that did come and go across the evening even after I’d taken medicine, which was irritating, but fortunately it was not a full-blown exercise migraine.

**

I’ve felt on and off for many months now that I want to write something about my political opinions here, less in terms of parties and policies and more about feeling fearful of sharing my opinions with people (online and in real life) in an increasingly turbulent and judgemental society. Also, I guess, to write about the non-religious aspects of Jewish identity, the “Israel, peoplehood and antisemitism” aspects which are as much about politics and ethnicity as religion and which have come to affect my general political views and how I feel in non-Jewish society. To write about how those fears of rejection fit with my general social anxiety and also with my feelings of not fitting in completely in my religious community, as well as my thoughts that maybe I’m not actually that weird and I’m just catastrophising and assuming the worst about other people and what they might think of me when they probably don’t care. I’m also concerned about the fact that our political culture (politicians, media, social media, right and left) has become dependent on manufactured outrage, performative virtue and competitive victimhood, which I can’t really cope with, but seem strangely addicted to. But every time I try to write about all of this, I panic and delete what I’ve written without completing it or else save it as a draft to be returned to later, but I never do. I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, as I don’t really intend to write about it now, but maybe if I put this out there I’ll return to it one day when I feel braver (or angrier).

Friday

Today has been a busy day, mostly doing Shabbat preparation. I am going to shul (synagogue) later, which I am a little anxious about, but I’m more focused on feeling drained and wanting to curl up and needing to push through this until the evening.

I don’t have a lot else to say about today, so I’m going to talk about television again. I’m rapidly losing myself in the world of Twin Peaks. I’ve seen the first three episodes; the first was double-length. It’s a strange programme, pitched as a murder mystery that unfolds like a soap opera, but with increasingly supernatural elements and horror overtones alongside moments of mild surrealism. It has awkward silences, interruptions, eccentrics and eccentricities, and moments of pure incongruity and surrealism. In a weird way, it feels like being autistic, in the sense that I feel that ordinary social interactions for me do feel confused and confusing, taking turns that I can’t predict, people seem to do things I don’t understand and that seem irrational to me and I’m just left to deal with it. I guess that’s why I like weird TV drama; sometimes “realistic” drama feels a lot less like how I experience life than Twin Peaks or The Prisoner.

“Everyone I know is lonely”

My Mum had a phone appointment today for my autism assessment. I’m a bit worried… I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and that’s why I struggle with some things like job interviews. It’s hard for my parents to remember thirty years ago or more, but part of the diagnosis is based on how I was as a child, so I may not get the diagnosis I think I need. I think I learnt to mask from a young age, and as a child I was quiet, well-behaved and self-contained, so adults generally left me alone and focused on more needy/vocal children. I have noted before that I have a presentation of autism that has more in common with autistic women than men (particularly masking and finding strategies to “pass” as neurotypical in conversation and life in general, and being more imaginative and creative than autistic stereotype) – unfortunately, autism in women is arguably under-diagnosed because it doesn’t seem like “classic” autism, and I suspect the psychiatrists will be even less receptive to finding “female” autism in me.

Ironically, while she was doing that, I had a classic autistic moment. I was helping Dad take down the sukkah, or some of it, and he said, “Go up the ladder,” which I did – without moving it to where it needed to be first. Classic autistic literalism. The thing is, things like this can seem autistic, but they can also just seem absent-minded or eccentric. When I was younger, my parents viewed me through the “absent-minded” lens (my Mum even used to call me her “Absent-Minded Professor”). Now I see myself more through the autism lens. Maybe I’m wrong to do so. I guess I’ll find out soon; usually the appointment with the suspected autistic person is within six weeks of the appointment with the parent/guardian, but lately they’re doing them faster online so I should get an appointment soon.

***

I opened up to PIMOJ about some of this (autism and also depression) and she’s been really supportive, but I can’t shake the fears that one day it will be too much for her and she will walk off, particularly if I can’t find a job soon. I guess because that has happened to me before.

***

Other than that, today felt like trench warfare: a lot of noise, but not much movement (possibly watching The American Civil War triggered that – trench warfare is more associated with World War I, but it was actually first used in The American Civil War). I’m struggling with the disappearance of daylight as days get shorter and cloudier; it is probably time to start using my light box again. I helped Dad with the sukkah, as I said, and spent quite some time catching up on emails, including one to a potential voluntary opportunity (more in a few days, hopefully, when I hear back from them). Other than that, I felt too tired to do much. Post-Yom Tov (festival) burnout, I guess. I spent a lot of time writing and answering emails. I feel like anyone who has a white-collar job spends a huge chunk of the day treading water answering emails, although technically none of these were about paid employment.

No time or energy for a walk, and it was too wet. Mum suddenly felt ill about 6.00pm, so I hurriedly made dinner – just plain pasta with a bought sauce as I was short of time and energy. Part of the lack of time was because I wanted to go to depression group on Zoom, which I did, although I always feel curiously uncertain as to what to say and how coherent I sound. It’s good to have somewhere I can admit to difficult feelings. I spoke about the job interviews and feelings of inferiority and wanting my autism diagnosis to reassure myself, but not about the worry that PIMOJ would not cope with my issues.

I didn’t have time to do any further job hunting today. I have four jobs to apply for on my job spreadsheet, but two are for school librarian positions and I feel reluctant to apply for them given that I was rejected from the other school librarian position for lack of relevant experience. One is a law library position which raises the same experience issues, plus that would, I imagine, be a very fast-paced, high-pressure environment. The other job, a research support librarian position at a major museum, scares me in terms of the responsibility involved and my fears about my skillset.

I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study so listened on an online shiur (religious class) on the goal of life. To be honest, it didn’t tell me much I hadn’t heard before from similar shiurim and books. Another problem with these types of class is that they tell you that true pleasure is eternal pleasure i.e. pursuing eternal, meaningful things like prayer and Torah study, but I can end up feeling despondent because depressive anhedonia means I don’t always enjoy spiritual things any more than narrowly material things, sometimes less so. Still, that was half an hour of Torah study that I probably wouldn’t have managed if I was still narrowly focused on reading religious texts for my Torah study.

***

I feel upset that so many people I know seem to be struggling right now (hence the title quote, from the Police song O My God). Some of that is COVID, but some, I guess, is that life really is hard for a lot of people. There’s a pithy rhyming quote, I think from Oliver Goldsmith (eighteenth century English poet) that I have been trying to locate again for some time now without coming across it, about how small are the elements of human suffering that can be relieved by governments and kings. I guess that is an unfashionable and conservative view nowadays, where we are supposed to think that the state could and should solve every problem and that social justice is best dealt out in real-time on Twitter, but a lot of people I know are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, autism, not fitting in, arguments with family, sometimes abuse… There can be a material aspect to these things, and sometimes governments can help, but it’s not always the main problem or the key to addressing things. Thank God, I’m not struggling financially because my family are looking after me, but my problems are still very real. It’s hard enough for government to try to secure access to the essentials of life, without factoring in that happiness or sadness are often driven by non-tangible factors, and that dependency on others, especially an impersonal state, can be a strong driver of low self-esteem and depression… I just felt on the brink of tears by dinner time today, thinking about things.

***

I noticed something interesting when I went to shul (synagogue) last week. Obviously masks are compulsory there and a couple of children had dinosaur masks on, so far as I could tell from a distance. I found this interesting, as our previous rabbi was a Creationist and I assumed that most of the congregation were too and I was in a minority for not being one. Moreover, the father of the boys wearing the masks is very religious and involved. Of course, it could be that these are children and no one minds; still, it made me think maybe I’m not as unusual as I thought and I don’t have to feel as constrained as I do to hide my thoughts.

More Burn Out, and Fitting In

I still feel very drained today, perhaps more than yesterday in some ways, which may not be surprising given that I had to “people” a bit yesterday evening as well as making myself draft my devar Torah (Torah thought). Getting up was hard, getting dressed was hard, davening (praying) was hard, shaving was hard… everything today has been hard, really.

It does make me wonder about what I should do if I get the job I was interviewed for last week, but they want me to work full-time (it was a full-time position, but the online application form said that they were possibly open to flexible working, but at the interview they were unsure of that).

I forced myself to go for a half-hour walk and to finish off my devar Torah, but it was hard. I just want to shut down. The weather out was cold and I wore my anorak for the first time this autumn. On Saturday, Jews worldwide will start praying for rain, and summer will well and truly feel over (although it’s still warm and dry in some places with large Jewish populations e.g. Israel and parts of the USA).

I listened to an audio shiur (religious class) because I didn’t feel up to reading any Torah, but wanted to do some Torah study regardless. It made me feel a bit bad as it was on Simchat Torah (The Rejoicing of the Torah), the final festival of the Jewish autumn holiday cycle, which is this Sunday. It’s always a challenging day for me, as it’s celebrated by ecstatic (and often alcohol-fuelled) dancing with the Torah scrolls in shul (synagogue). Obviously that won’t be happening this year due to COVID, but usually I find it very hard: too much joy that I can’t connect with from depression, too much noise that I can’t cope with from autism, too much emphasis on being visible in front of others that I can’t cope with from social anxiety. Often I don’t go to shul for this at all, or I leave early (I have a whole semi-autobiographical scene about this day in the novel I’m writing). In the past I’ve judged myself negatively for not being able to fit in with this festival and I guess I still am doing that, on some level, as the shiur made me feel bad. One year or maybe two I did actually manage to really get into it, really dance and feel happy and connect, I don’t know how, but I’ve never been able to get back there since then.

***

I’ve been thinking recently a lot about fitting in. I guess even the Simchat Torah feeling is about fitting in, as I hate being in shul and seeing other people let go and dance and feel happy and not be able to do that. I wrote and then deleted some paragraphs here about religion and politics and not fitting in. The religious stuff I’ve mostly said before and if I cut it, it’s to avoid repeating myself (although I’ve picked up some new readers since then, so maybe there would be a point in repeating it). But as for the politics… I’ve been edging around the topic for months now, wanting to write something, drafting things, deleting them or cutting and pasting them out and saving them elsewhere. I know roughly what I want to write, but I’m scared of the consequences. It occurs to me that as the Very Important Institution where I was interviewed the other week might not want me writing political stuff, so maybe that’s another reason not to write, even anonymously here. I don’t know.

The essence of the matter is that I want to fit in, but am always scared of upsetting people by holding an opinion on religion or politics or anything that really matters, so I sit quietly and don’t say anything. I don’t know if I seem boring, but I do sometimes wish I could say more. But I’m scared of rejection and of conflict, so being quiet seems the easier option.

I know it’s a problem with dating PIMOJ. She’s so positive in outlook that I feel bad for feeling so negative all the time, but I’m scared to open up too much about my depression and autism. I’ve mentioned both to her, but downplayed the autism and really put the depression in the past tense, whereas it’s probably not over permanently. She asked me on our date why I became depressed, which was difficult to answer adequately in a way I felt comfortable with. I worry that she’s too positive for me and that her intense religiosity and constant mystical sense of God’s immanent presence is incompatible with my religious existentialist unending search for God and meaning in a universe of darkness and doubt. I want to open up and see how she reacts, and so far when I have opened up a bit, her reaction has been positive, but I’m just too scared. Maybe I need to force myself out to her by degrees.

***

That’s all I’ve got for today really. Brain is just not working properly. Off to watch Star Trek Voyager as I’m too depressed and drained to read the huge brick of a novel I tried to start yesterday and didn’t get far with (Dominion by C. J. Sansom, another “What if the Nazis won World War II?” alternative history novel).

I’m Only Sleeping

I didn’t sleep well last night again. I thought/hoped I would sleep better now the interview is out of the way, but obviously not. First I couldn’t get to sleep, although I felt incredibly tired. I think I didn’t have enough “introvert alone time” after “peopling” for so long. Then I woke up about 5.30am feeling anxious. I can’t even remember what I was anxious about, although I know it was connected with the other job interview, the one I had last week and haven’t heard back from yet where I wanted the job more than the job interview I had yesterday. I think I was worried about being able to take off Jewish festivals and “early Fridays” in the winter when Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) starts early. I did eventually fall asleep again, and slept through until gone 10.30am and still woke up exhausted and burnt out. I don’t know if it’s depression, autistic burnout or medication side-effects (or a combination of the three) that makes me so tired in the mornings, but it’s hard to know what I can do about it. I know this increasingly feels like a sleep/burnout blog, which I guess is good, as it means the depression is less of an issue during the day and my other autism and social anxiety symptoms are under control (albeit probably because I’m not doing much that is social), but I’m not sure how interesting it is for anyone else.

***

I try not to use the word “triggering” regarding myself, as I feel that it trivialises the term for people who really have c-PTSD (just as I don’t like people saying they’re “depressed” when they mean vaguely down, or they’re “OCD” when they mean they’re neat and tidy). Still, some things are more likely to upset me and start negative thoughts than others. These upsetting thoughts can be vaguely obsessional, in the correct sense this time of being hard to get rid of, spiralling in on themselves and making me anxious and agitated. These kinds of thoughts tend to come from newspapers, news sites and the dreaded Twitter (Twitter is a bit like swimming in raw sewage that occasionally tells a good joke). I’m most vulnerable to these types of thoughts when feeling burnt out and mildly depressed… but I’m more likely to encounter these things when procrastinating (online or leafing through the hardcopy newspapers at home) because I’m feeling burnt out and mildly depressed, as happened today. I actually coped OK with coming across them today and dismissed said thoughts reasonably easily, but it can be difficult sometimes.

I probably should delete my Twitter account, just as I deleted my Facebook account seven years ago, but I think I would still be able to see other people’s Tweets, which is the dangerous bit and I have vague thoughts that I could use my Twitter account to job hunt or join in with Doctor Who fandom, although if I avoided doing either of those two things during lockdown, the likelihood of doing them afterwards seems very remote.

***

Achievements: after a lot of procrastinating (see above about the risks of this) I wrote a first draft of this week’s devar Torah (Torah thought). I managed to write a thought for every week this year, excluding a couple of weeks when Yom Tov (festivals) fell on Saturday and the regular Torah reading was postponed. The thoughts were about 600 to 1,000 words long, which is longer than it sounds (for comparison, I think most of my blog posts are around 1,000 words), and I do try to do some research for them rather than just rely on secondary sources; even if I find something in a secondary source, I like to trace the reference back to the original source in the Talmud or the Midrash or whatever, if I can find it and if my Hebrew/Aramaic is up to it (Sefaria.org is a blessing).

I didn’t manage a lot else. The main thing was a half-hour walk. I did some Torah study – as yesterday, listening to a shiur (religious class) for fifty minutes or so as I was too depressed to read much. Even so, I struggled to concentrate and drifted in and out of it. I think I should consider listening to shiurim more on days when I feel depressed and/or burnt out, although I need to work out how to get shiurim from YU Torah Online on my phone or ipod.

Otherwise, I watched TV: another episode of The Civil War (after talking of gore here the other day, there were some graphic photographs of wounded soldiers that I couldn’t look at) and I’m about to watch Star Trek Voyager.

EDIT: I forgot to say, I had dinner in the sukkah with my parents and two of their friends. I feel more comfortable with these friends than with some others, but I still was really only eating with them so I could eat in the sukkah. It started raining heavily after a while and we all went in; fortunately I had just about finished my pizza and went upstairs.

Suffering and Psychiatry

There is a price to a busy day like yesterday. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling really anxious, suddenly concerned that I would forget to tell the Department of Work and Pensions that I’m working (if I get the job) and shouldn’t be receiving benefits any more (the situation is actually more complicated than that, because my doctor’s note for the benefits states that I can work part-time, but not full-time, so a lot would depend on the nature of my contract). This led to catastrophising about going to jail for benefit fraud, but I didn’t want to write a note out of a superstitious fear that would “jinx” the job interview. I did write a note in the end, deciding piece of mind from the anxiety outweighed superstition.

***

I slept late, but when I awoke had to hurry as I had a video call with my psychiatrist. Annoyingly, the NHS expect you to log on ten minutes early (OK), but then play you awful lift muzak! Hands up who has no understanding of neurodiversity… There was also a recorded message that kept telling me to read the messages on the screen, even though there weren’t any.

The psychiatrist call itself was pretty good. She was pleased that I’ve been feeling better lately and said I looked a lot better. I told her about the job interview, but not about PIMOJ. The psychiatrist said that the brand of lithium I take is being discontinued, so I’ll have to switch to another brand, which is frustrating. Hopefully it will work just as well. She said I can try cutting back on my olanzapine and seeing if that makes a difference to my energy levels. If my mood gets worse, I can just resume the old dosage. I probably will do that, but not necessarily just yet, as in the past trying to come of olanzapine has led to significant mood changes and I think I would rather see if I’m going to be starting a new job and get started on it before doing anything. We both felt that the clomipramine should stay as it is, as it seems to be the most effective medication I’m on.

***

I helped Dad some more with setting up the sukkah, the portable shelter Jews eat in during the Sukkot festival (starting tomorrow night). I went shopping, initially going with my Dad to get the arbah minim (too complicated to explain, see here) then going to a Jewish bookshop and a charity shop to browse because I like browsing bookshops, but haven’t done it much lately because of COVID, as well as buying more vitamin D supplements from Boots. I still feel uncomfortable being around people in shops and did wonder if the browsing was a good idea. Mask compliance was very good, but social distancing and use of one way systems was not so good. I’m partially to blame here myself, but it’s not always easy to distance in a shop with narrow aisles or while queuing to pay.

I spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening sorting through emails and papers on my desk. It’s amazing how “Stuff” just builds up even without my apparently doing very much to generate it. I was too tired to do much and would have liked to unwind, but could not really relax feeling my desk and my inbox were disappearing under things.

***

I managed about forty-five minutes of Torah study; as usual, I wish I could have done more, but ran out of time and energy. Maybe it’s good that I always want to do more Torah study, even if sometimes I simply wish I could have got to a full hour. However, sometimes, like today, I wish I could spend more time exploring ancient and modern texts. The Talmud (I’m too tired to search for the reference, sorry) states that no one dies with even half his desires fulfilled. I realised that this applies to the righteous as well as ordinary people; the difference is that the righteous’ unfulfilled desires are spiritual rather than material. At least my desires here are spiritual.

In my ongoing (if sometimes intermittent) re-reading of Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible), I recently started Iyov (Job), to me one of the most challenging books of Tanakh. Alongside the biblical text, I started reading Job’s Illness: Loss, Grief and Integration: A Psychological Interpretation by a psychiatrist called Jack Kahn. It’s a study of the book that assumes that Job’s sufferings, while triggered by external events (the loss of his family and wealth) take on a psychological aspect based around depression, obsession and paranoia as seen in his speeches; his skin affliction is seen as psychosomatic. Job’s dialogues with his friends, with Elihu and finally with God enable him to reintegrate his personality and develop his psyche beyond his situation before his troubles started. “The vehicle by which his maturation is accomplished is, in fact, the very suffering which he undergoes.”

I’ve only read the introduction so far, so I’m not sure what the book will be like, but I’m intrigued by the premise and looking forward to reading it. I’m not sure if the author is Jewish (although Kahn is a Jewish name), but I’ve come across other Jewish quasi-psychological readings of Iyov that see the book as charting his growth from a religiosity based on fear of God and distance from other people to one based on love for both God and other people. I’m not sure if the book is still in print or easily available; I rescued my copy from the “duplicates/for sale” pile when I worked in a Jewish library. My copy also features some of William Blake’s illustrations to the biblical text.

***

Surprisingly, I got another job interview, this time for a school librarian position I applied for. I didn’t really expect to get this, as I have no experience of primary school librarianship. Unfortunately, the interview is next Tuesday and I have a date booked with PIMOJ and she has taken time off work, so I can’t cancel. I have emailed the school to ask if an alternative date is possible.

***

Speaking of the date, I’m worried and trying not to catastrophise. Try to stay in the present…

***

This short video from the National Autistic Society nicely illustrates the problems of dealing with a lot of questions/statements if you have autistic sensory overload and slower processing speed. This is how I feel in job interviews, or even just noisy kiddush halls.

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.

Slightly Down

I had a slightly stressful morning. I woke up from what was probably a bad dream around 4am. I don’t like it when I feel like I’ve had a bad dream, but can’t remember the content. I guess it feels like missing an important message. Then my parents woke me before 7am to say goodbye before Mum went for her surgery. She doesn’t usually wake me when she goes to the hospital, but I guess she wanted to say goodbye; I certainly did. Then I was woken a third time at 8.30am by our former neighbour (from our old house) dropping off some home-grown vegetables from his garden for us (he’s a very nice man). I felt awkward, as I had assumed the ring at the door was the postman, so had jumped out of bed and come downstairs in toothpaste-stained pyjamas. I was more than half-asleep and certainly not prepared for conversation from an autism/social anxiety point of view, so I didn’t say much and I didn’t even bring the food in immediately as I didn’t have slippers on and didn’t want to go onto the porch in bare feet. So, I hope ex-neighbour doesn’t think I was being rude. I didn’t even recognise him for a moment, because I was tired and not expecting to see him, which was extra-awkward.

When I woke up and got up properly, far too late in the morning, I found I had messages from PIMOJ, who is very much a morning person (I’m a night owl even without the depression/autistic burnout/whatever it is that leaves me so drained every morning). I’m pleased that she wants to message me daily, but I worry what she would say if she found out that I’m not usually up at 8.00am if I’m not working (8.00am? I’m often not up by 10.00am!).

***

I don’t know if it was because of what happened this morning, but I’ve felt slightly down for much of the day. Just tired and disinclined to do anything, but painfully forcing myself to do things. I spent part of the afternoon painting my parents’ garden shed, or trying to do so, as parts of it are inaccessible due to fencing and plants growing in front of it. It will need another coat of paint next week. I used to find doing things like this relaxing, but I finished tired and a bit down, so I didn’t go for a run as I had hoped.

I listened to a Doctor Who audio drama while I painted, but mostly found it confusing. I don’t really connect with Doctor Who audio dramas (of which there are now a vast number, produced mostly by the company Big Finish Productions). I’ve never worked out why this is. Is it difficulty following the medium, a dislike for Big Finish’s take on Doctor Who‘s format or something else? Either way, I found this one hard to follow and in general they don’t really engage my attention or linger in my imagination the way TV stories do.

I forced myself to go for a walk afterwards. I originally intended to go for a run, but I did not have enough energy. I didn’t have the time for any work on my novel. I finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought), but I’m not hugely enamoured with what I’ve written. It was light on sources and deep thoughts. I guess they can’t be good every week. I want to write something good for next week, which will be Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), but have been struggling for ideas.

I didn’t do much Torah study today, or this week, which is frustrating; with the Yamim Noraim (High Holy Days) around the corner, I feel I should be increasing my Torah study, not decreasing, but I’ve just been busy. I know: Mum has been ill, I’ve been helping at home and so on. However, I’ve signed up for a day of Zoom shiurim (religious classes) on Sunday at the London School of Jewish Studies, which I hope will be interesting and get me in the appropriate frame of mind.

One thing I did do today was listen to a short shiur (Rethinking Failure) from Rabbi Lord Sacks. He spoke about our deficiencies often being our strengths. I need to think about this in terms of autism and depression.

***

I read a blog post about people on the autism spectrum having to adapt to new rules post-COVID when we weren’t even sure about the old ones. I responded there that, “Very true about having to adapt to the new normal in real time, and having to learn new rules even though we didn’t understand the old ones. Even as lockdown has eased, I’ve avoided social areas because I’m uncertain of how to act in them now. I’m hoping to slowly build up to it. I find wearing a mask uncomfortable, but not impossible, so I’m trying to stick with that, but I haven’t had to wear it for more than half an hour yet and am apprehensive about doing e.g. long Tube journeys into Central London with it.”

***

I may have to do those Tube journeys soon. A job agency offered to put me forward for a job and I accepted. It’s in a library, but a library assistant job rather than a librarian job, so lower pay and status, but perhaps also less stressful. It potentially won’t look so good on my CV, but I’m so desperate for work that I don’t care. It’s afternoons only. There may be a problem with Fridays, as I won’t be able to work on Friday afternoons in the winter because of Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) and moving my hours may not work as the library is not always open due to COVID. It is at a library where I worked before, and enjoyed working, although it will probably be in a different place (it’s a big library) and certainly won’t be with the people I was with last time.

Peopling

I got up just after 9.00am which was good and partially made up for sleeping through so much of Saturday.

Getting dressed, I started wondering why I can’t thrive in the world again. This probably came about from thinking how lucky I am that my parents don’t force me to take any job I can find, even if it’s not suitable. I ended up worrying what will happen when I finally have my autism assessment if they say I’m not really autistic (again)? Worrying that this makes me like, Jessica Krug, the white academic in the news who pretended to be black, just pretending to be autistic for my own reasons (and, incidentally, who else was not at all surprised that the person running away from her real identity is Jewish? There’s definitely a trend for some Jews to defend every minority identity except their own). I tell myself I did pass the preliminary screening, which would indicate that I am on the spectrum, but still I worry, just as I worry that, autism or not, I’m never going to find my niche in life.

OK, catastrophising over! I’m going to try to be positive for the rest of the post!

I had a Skype date with PIMOJ. It went well. The internet connection held (I was worried we would get cut off) and we seemed to connect well personally as well, even despite the fact that chemistry can be hard to see on Skype. She wants to Skype again, so it was positive in that respect. I don’t think either of us turned out to be dramatically different from the image we had presented online (physically or in terms of personality), which is always the big worry with dating websites. I was able to speak quite a bit despite nervousness. It was a short date, as she had other arrangements (the date was arranged at short notice), but she emailed afterwards and said she enjoyed it.

PIMOJ is really positive and upbeat. I worry that I will put her off with my negativity. Granted, I probably appear more negative on this blog than in real life, because I share my worries and fears here that I don’t always share in person. To some extent, I use the blog to vent my negativity. Even so, I would like to be more positive. Maybe this will help me. I think whereas E. had a similar personality to me, but some different values (although we had some similar values too), PIMOJ has more similar values, but a very different personality. I think values are more important than personality, as long as personalities don’t completely clash. I hope that PIMOJ and I will complement each other. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

There is more I’d like to say, but I’m wary of saying too much, too early, which I think has been a problem with previous dates, so I’m going to move on for now.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came over in the late afternoon and had a socially distanced chat in the garden. They wanted to see Mum before her operation, which has been brought forward from this coming Friday to Thursday. It was nice, although I was not expecting it and had made other plans. I was OK about the change in plans though, not always easy for someone on the spectrum.

***

Achievements: a Skype date and socially distanced family meeting made for an intense day in terms of peopling. Mum cut my hair too, which I also tend to feel uncomfortable about (an autistic thing about uncomfortable close contact). An hour and a half or so working on my novel (I’m getting there with the climax, but it still needs work). A half hour walk and an hour of Torah study, partly reading over the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) prayers, as Rosh Hashanah is not far away now. I’d forgotten how beautiful some of the prayers are.

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.

Guilt

Shabbat was OK. There was all the usual stuff: praying, eating, sleeping, Torah study and recreational reading (mostly The Islamist and the latest Doctor Who Magazine, my subscription to which I am contemplating cancelling. I have contemplated cancelling it every couple of years since about 2003, but this time I’m really not sure what’s stopping me).

The afternoon was hard. I was reading The Lights of Penitence by Rav Kook (in the volume Abraham Isaac Kook: The Lights of Penitence, The Moral Principles, Lights of Holiness, Essays, Letters, and Poems) and came across a passage that talks about someone who feels pervaded by sin, immoral, uneducated, distant from God, and “stirred by dark and sinister passions that revolt him.” I thought, “This is me.” Unfortunately, the passage goes on to say that penitence will cure this and all healing and acceptance. Nothing about what happens if a person does teshuva (repentance) and feels just as wicked as before.

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik says something similar about repentance curing self-criticism in Halakhic Man, so that’s the two greatest “Modern Orthodox” rabbis, of very different outlook and temperament, agreeing that teshuva should remove self-hatred and needless guilt. I don’t know how to feel that. No wonder that in recent years Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, the holidays of judgment and repentance) have been hard for me and I struggle to get to shul (synagogue). Of course, this year I have decided not to go for Rosh Hashanah at least because I’m so worried about COVID and passing it on to Mum (who has surgery a week before Rosh Hashanah). I haven’t had to decide what I’m doing about Yom Kippur yet.

The guilt is pervasive and multifaceted. Some of it is feeling disconnected from God, which I’ve felt for a long time. Feeling that I don’t pray well enough, don’t study Torah enough, don’t connect enough. Feeling that I don’t have enough spirituality or meaning in my life. I don’t have much of either. But I also have guilt around my sexuality. Feeling that it’s pretty much impossible to get to the age thirty-seven as an unmarried virgin without having infringed on some at least some of the Jewish sexual laws, but as no one talks about it, I feel that maybe it is just me. Maybe I could do better. Maybe other people do manage to do better.

So, I spent the afternoon somewhat depressed because of this. I was initially upset to have napped for an hour and a half after lunch, but when I started to feel depressed, I was glad to have escaped being trapped in my head for a while. Despite Shabbat finishing nearly two hours earlier than at the height of summer, it’s still hard to get through when depressed.

I worry what PIMOJ (as sarnhyman has suggested I dub the Person I’m Messaging On JDate) would make of this. I’ve told her about my depression, but presented it in the past tense. Well, I thought I was mostly over it and now it was just reactive to things in my life, not an ongoing presence. I should have remembered that whenever I declare my depression over, it returns. PIMOJ works in mental health and I don’t know how that would shape her reaction to me. I want to open up to her about some things, but I’m scared. I want to get to know her better and get to a stage where we can both be more open, but I don’t know how to do that or how to judge when we’ve got there.

It’s not just the persistence of depression, but also the fact that she comes across in her messages as an ebullient person and one with a deep and sincere ahavat Shamayim (love of God). I had hoped some of that would rub off on me, but now I feel it’s more likely that I’ll scare her off. That she wouldn’t want to be with someone so quiet and downbeat, and intermittently (at least) depressed.

***

I just found this quote from Rav Kook, from The Lights of Holiness further on in the same volume:

The greater the person, the more he must seek to discover himself. The deep levels of his soul remain concealed from him so that he needs to be alone frequently, to elevate his imagination, to deepen his thought, to liberate his mind. Finally his soul will reveal itself to him by radiating some of its light upon him.

A Step Closer to Employment?

I slept a lot last night, perhaps unsurprisingly given how little I slept the night before and how much I did during the day.  I woke up feeling drained, depressed and anxious and thought it would be a written off “mental hangover” day (which I guess I should call a “burnout” day, but I prefer my term), but I was pleasantly surprised that after breakfast I managed to stop catastrophising and focus on the present and feel a lot calmer.  That didn’t last the whole day as there was still some anxiety (job hunt and dating) and tiredness, but not so bad.  The anxiety came and went during the day in response to things that happened.

The big thing that happened was that I got an email saying I was through to the next round on a job application.  I had to read some terms and conditions information, fill in a questionnaire to show I’d done that and then put myself forward for a test.  If I pass the test, I will be doing some crowd-testing work on software.  I don’t think I can really go into more details because of nondisclosure of trade secrets.  The pay is low and it’s not a good career-progression job (because only tangentially related to librarianship and not at all to writing), but it would be a job at a time of high unemployment.  It would also be working from home (no exhausting commute or autistically-difficult office environment) and only working 20 hours a week with flexible timing, so I would have time to work on my novel and could potentially work 10am-6pm, which would suit me a lot better than 9am-5pm.

I do feel nervous about work though.  My experiences in the workplace in the last few years has led to a loss of confidence in my ability to work, a loss not repaired by doing good work in my last couple of jobs.  The fact that I know that my difficulties are caused by depression and autism rather than inherent incompetence doesn’t really make me feel that much better.  I know the problem is my issues, not me, but it still means that I am stuck with them for a while at least.  I hope doing relatively easy work in a safe, quiet environment (home) will boost my self-esteem.

There was a lot to read through, so it took most of the afternoon.  I had done a little work on my novel before the job details came through, but will probably have to do that again tomorrow because of the interruption.

It was a busy day and I was exhausted by the early evening and that brought my mood down a bit.  I kept thinking that people on the autism spectrum often end up in jobs they’re over-qualified for (like the one I’m applying for) and that people on the spectrum often struggle to build friendships and relationships.  I know there are some very successful autistic people out there, and some in successful relationships, but statistically the odds are not great for me.  These are thoughts I’ve had many times, and rehearsed here many times, and I’m trying to stay present-focused and not to worry about them (and also to remember that aspiring writers often take low-status jobs to give some income while writing).  Still, it’s difficult.

***

In the evening, I went on a virtual tour (via Zoom, as is everything these days) of The Biblical Museum of Natural History in Israel, via the London School of Jewish Studies.  I’ve wanted to visit it in person for a while, but that looks unlikely to happen any time soon, so this was an alternative.  The Director of the Museum, Rabbi Dr Natan Slifkin has written some interesting (and controversial, in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world) books on Judaism and science, although the Museum, unlike his books and blog, deliberately avoids controversial issues like creationism or the factual accuracy of statements about the natural world in the Talmud so that Haredi schools and families can visit.  It was very interesting, although the picture and sound quality were not always great.

***

I didn’t have much time or energy for Torah study today, only about ten minutes, although some of the Museum tour could be considered Torah study I suppose.

***

I also signed up for an online site from a Jewish mental health charity.  To be honest, I’m not sure what exactly it offers.  I think there’s some articles on the site and also a forum with other people with mental health issues and a chat function with mental health professionals.  I’m not sure how much I will use it, but it might be useful in the future, particularly if more people sign up for it.

***

Writing my devar Torah (Torah thought) yesterday led me to re-read a transcript of a lecture by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the leading Modern Orthodox thinkers until his death a few years ago.  The lecture was on trust in God.  Rabbi Lichtenstein suggested there are two types of trust, “faithful trust”, thinking that God will always make the best option happen, and “loving trust,” thinking that even if the worst happens, I will stay loyal to God and assume that everything has happened for a good reason, even if I don’t understand what that is.  He says both are valid, but laments a focus on the first at the expense of the second in the Orthodox community and educational system.  I find “loving trust” easier, difficult though it sometimes is.  I find it hard to assume that what I think is best will happen, because usually it does not.  I might post the whole devar Torah here later in the week, as I think it might be of interest.

Trying to Trust

I had some anxiety again today, mostly work/job hunt anxiety and dating anxiety.  I’m trying to keep my focus on the present, and trusting that what God plans for me is for the best, but it’s not always easy, particularly when I feel hungry or tired.

The tiredness is because I didn’t sleep very much last night.  I went to bed early (for me), before midnight, but I couldn’t sleep.  Then I woke up at 5.15 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I didn’t feel tired, so I rested in bed for a while and then got up.  I think I dozed for an hour or so mid-morning, but I’ve been going on about five hours of sleep in total, which probably hasn’t helped my anxiety level.

***

I watched a disturbing documentary on domestic violence in lockdown as research for my novel.  I worked on my novel after this, but it was hard to focus.  I was probably a bit upset from the documentary, then there was a thunder storm and we think the house got hit by lightning, damaging the phone.  I tried to help Mum and Dad a bit with sorting the phone problem, so that took some time.  I felt tense after this and struggled to concentrate and couldn’t work out if it was from the disturbing documentary or the loud thunder that made me jump.

I also stopped working on the novel so I could discuss some things with my parents.  One was a possible job that’s come up at the institution I worked in back in 2019, but with a very different job and a different part of the (very big) library team.  I’m not sure it’s a great job for me, but I’m going to put my name forward to get more information, as I found the information I was sent (via an agency) unclear.

I did manage some work on my novel (aside from the documentary), re-reading the first two chapters to refresh my memory so that I can see how the plot flows.  It’s many months since I looked at the early chapters, and I have not read the whole novel straight through to see how it reads as a whole.  I would have liked to have done more, as ever, but ran out of time and energy.

I wrote most of my devar Torah for the week too, which took over an hour and led me to re-read a transcript of a lecture by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein on trust in God, to help with the feelings I mentioned above.  I went on a Zoom call with my family in Israel too, so from a productivity point of view, today was pretty good, although I left the Zoom call a bit early as I was exhausted coming straight to it from a webinar.

***

The webinar was on autism in the workplace.  It was interesting, although I’m not sure how much of it is relevant to me at the moment without an autism diagnosis.  It was interesting to hear that a lot of autistic people end up self-employed because it gives them more control over their workplace and interactions; that’s part of what has pushed me towards writing.  It was reassuring to hear that other people have problems with things like needing extra processing time during job interviews or struggling with informal office procedure like who makes the tea.

***

I’ve been hearing lately about autistic burnout.  This is a newly-discovered concept that researchers have only become aware of in the last few years.  It is when autistic people become exhausted and unable to function.  One website states:

Burnout is often a consequence of camouflaging, or masking, a strategy in which autistic people mimic neurotypical behavior by using scripts for small talk, forcing themselves to make eye contact or suppressing repetitive behaviors. These strategies can help autistic people in their jobs and relationships but require immense effort.

It can also result from sensory overstimulation, such as a noisy bus commute; executive function demands such as having to juggle too many tasks at once; or stress associated with change.

It’s obviously difficult to say what is autistic burnout and what is depressive burnout, but I certainly experience a different type of exhaustion after work outside the home or intensive socialising as opposed to working a lot at home.

This post speaks about a more severe burnout, when masking and over-stimulation continue in the long-term, resulting in a more long-lasting burnout that can lead to, or be mistaken for, clinical depression.  I am beginning to wonder if, while I am genuinely depressed, my major episodes of depression have often been triggered by autistic burnout rather than anything else, particularly the huge episode that lasted from around 2003 to around 2010, during and after my undergraduate degree.  Unfortunately, I am still on the waiting list for assessment, the waiting list having been frozen for months due to COVID.

***

I mentioned yesterday that I realise that lockdown would have been very hard on my parents if I had not been here.  That’s been helpful to me in understanding why I’ve struggled with depression for so long.  I believed that logically, God could make me struggle for any number of justifiable reasons, but I always found it hard to accept emotionally.  Now I feel that I have a reason why I have struggled, I find it easier to accept, and also to accept that maybe I can move on now.

 

Anxiety and Trust

I struggled to sleep last night.  Often, after experiencing a migraine, I feel tired, but not actually sleepy.  I don’t know what the migraine does to my brain chemistry to do that.  I didn’t fall asleep until long after 2.00am.  Despite that, I woke up at 9.15am, feeling very tired, but also upset by an unpleasant dream I had (no relation to my usual worries) and feeling rather anxious about dating.  I decided there was no point in lying in bed feeling anxious, so forced myself to get up and have breakfast, which was a good decision.  I did at least say some of the Morning Prayers on time.

I tried to focus on staying in the present, difficult though it feels at times.  I learnt a grounding technique recently that works for me, so I’m trying to stick with that (when I spiral into depressive or anxious thoughts, I try to notice five things I can see, four things I can hear, three I can touch, two I can smell and I you can taste.  The last two are not always easy.  I think some people carry sweets or smelling salts, but I haven’t gone that far).  Despite this, I did have quite a bit of anxiety over the day.

***

I applied for another job.  It was a simple application on LinkedIn, just sending them my CV and profile page link.  Much easier than yesterday’s one.  There was an unexpected question at the end about how many years of experience I have with a particular software that I’ve never heard of before.  I don’t know why that wasn’t on the job specification.  It’s not a library job, but would use some information management skills.  The hours sound a lot though – forty hours a week.  I think that would be too much for me, if that’s all they will accept.  About fifteen minutes after I sent the application, I got phoned by the agency who was recruiting for the position.  They talked me through some questions.  I felt I did badly, because I was unprepared and on the phone and couldn’t always understand the person I was talking to well (I hate the phone), but they said that they would forward my application to the company.

I also emailed a recruitment agency who got me two jobs in the last two years to say that I’m still looking for work.

***

I spent some time working on my novel, reading about plot structure.  I can see what I was already intuiting: that my novel is under-plotted, particularly in the middle.  What is harder is to see how to change it.  I may have to ditch some of what I have written completely and re-plot some of it.  That’s somewhat dispiriting.  On the other hand, I feel the structure the “how to write” book suggests is overly schematic and forcing myself to follow it slavishly will disrupt the flow of the novel.  I need to work out what will work and what won’t, which may involve trial and error.  It’s also possible that my novel, or the autobiographical plot-line, is based too much on my own life.  I changed chunks to make it flow better, but even so, I think some things don’t “fit” properly.  Real life doesn’t always flow the way fiction should.

I ran into these issues right before dinner.  I couldn’t come back to it after dinner because I was going to a Zoom depression group meeting , so I finished work today on a downer, worrying if my novel was workable.  This led to some catastrophising about the novel, my career, my dating prospects, everything really.  It was partly anxiety and partly low blood sugar – this was late afternoon and I had not eaten much.  After dinner I had better perspective, especially as I got an email from a writer friend saying not to feel bad if my novel seems bad when I re-read the first few times.

***

I attended depression group on Zoom.  I was glad I went, as it’s good to talk to people, but the meeting was emotionally draining and I felt exhausted afterwards even though it wasn’t yet 10.00pm.

I signed up for an autism group peer support meeting on friendships and relationships next week too (not the informal autism group I used to go to, a more formal one).

***

Overall, I felt very anxious today with dating (waiting for responses to my messages or getting one line answers that imply that the person doesn’t really want to engage any more), job applications and working out what I need to do to my novel.  Part of me thinks, “Why am I doing all this if it’s going to make me so anxious?”  But I guess the anxiety is itself the reason why I have to push through this, if I’m going to make any progress with my life.  I’ve been feeling “stuck” lately, with lockdown and loneliness and depression.  Maybe that was why I unconsciously felt the sudden need to move on with things, so suddenly signed up for dating services and applied for jobs and support group things.  It is all scary, but I have to go through with it.

I’m trying to be gentle with myself.  I’m going outside my comfort zone suddenly and that’s going to be difficult even without the ongoing COVID situation.

***

I’m about two thirds of the way through Mishlei (The Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible).  It’s more interesting than I remembered, although there seems to be a lot of repetition of similar ideas (ancient societies had greater appreciation for repetition than we do, perhaps because it made memorisation easier in mostly oral cultures).  The terse, context-free, stand-alone proverbs can be very hard to translate, often just seven or eight words.  A couple of verses stand out strongly.  “The heart alone knows its bitterness,/And no outsider can share its joy.” (14.10).  I’ve felt that a lot over the years.  Also, “A man’s spirit can sustain him through illness;/But low spirits — who can bear them?” (18.14) is something I’ve often thought.  People say things like “I had cancer, but I kept going because I was happy,” but what do you do if a symptom of your illness is the inability to be happy?  (Translations from The JPS Bible).

***

I’ve been a bit sceptical of Divine Providence stories in the past, but I find myself finding them in my own life suddenly.  At Purim this year, I was upset not to be invited to friends for the seudah (meal), especially as Mum and Dad were at a medical appointment so I had to eat alone.  But the friend who I was hoping would invite me came down with COVID soon afterwards and perhaps I would have contracted it from him if I had gone (it has been suggested that Purim parties and seudahs partially explain the disproportionately high fatality rate in the Jewish community.  Purim this year was just as COVID hit, but before most people were taking it seriously and many parties and events went ahead as planned with large numbers of people together, some of whom may have been carrying the virus).

Similarly, if I had still been living away from home, I would either have been in lockdown alone (including doing Pesach alone) or would have had to pay rent on an empty flat while I locked down with my parents.  If I hadn’t been here (because I had my own flat or because I was married), my parents would have had much more of a struggle dealing with lockdown and shielding with Mum’s cancer, both in terms of practical things like the fact I’ve been cooking a lot and also emotionally from being separated from both their children for months on end.

I tell myself things like this to try to “prove” to myself that I shouldn’t assume that God only wants to do negative things to me and that He won’t let my life get any better.  It is difficult to believe that sometimes, but I’m trying.

Happiness is a Warm DVD

I sat outside last night watching a DVD on my laptop.  The weather was a little cooler.  I couldn’t get my Star Trek Voyager DVD to play (my laptop DVD player is temperamental), so I watched Doctor Who instead.  I started a re-watch of my favourite season, the 1978-1979 season, in my opinion the apogee of Doctor Who as science fantasy children’s series (thus, hated by fans who think Doctor Who is Serious Adult Drama… the fault line between fans who think Doctor Who is a children’s programme and those who think it is a Serious Adult Drama is one of the biggest in fandom).  I felt quite happy watching it, despite the fact that I could hear my parents talking despite my earphones, that the security light kept coming on and shining in my eyes, and that the picture quality was not great (my screen needs cleaning and I kept seeing my reflection in it because of the ambient light).  Normally when I watch TV, I try to immerse myself in it, but I was able to enjoy it without doing that 100%.  I suppose it does show that I can be happy, and with quite small things.  My Mum noticed I was smiling.

I had another unrestful night’s sleep.  It’s a little cooler, but still too hot for me.  There is a breeze, and around four o’clock the heavy rain we were forecast finally arrived, but only lasted a few minutes.  It started raining heavily again just before seven, with thunder, to the extent I had to shut the windows, but, again, it didn’t last long.  It’s still quite hot, with a bit of a cooling breeze, but very humid and I still feel quite uncomfortable.  I can concentrate a little better than the last few days, but not brilliantly.

***

Last night I had the thought of logging on to JDate and seeing if there were many women my age and frumkeit (religiosity) level on there, but I couldn’t log on.  I thought I still had a profile on there, but apparently not.  I assume they delete profiles if they’re inactive for a long period of time as I don’t remember deleting it.  I don’t think I could have used JDate since I met my first girlfriend on there in 2012.  My experience at the time made me feel there weren’t enough frum (religious) enough women on the site for me, but maybe I would be willing to be more flexible on “frum enough” now.  I think I probably have to be.  It’s hard to tell what “frum enough” looks like, though, as I worry that I compromised too much when I was dating E. and that it would not have worked in the long-term.

JDate is probably better for me right now than its competitor, JWed.  JWed, as its name implies, is a dating-for-marriage site, not a dating-for-dating site.  It also asks users to categorise themselves religiously, offering them seven different types of Orthodox Jewish identities and several more non-Orthodox ones.  Jews like pigeon-holing other Jews, you might have noticed.  It also asks you to say how often you pray and study Torah, whether you wear tzitzit (ritual fringed garment) if you are a man and if you would cover your hair after marriage if you are a woman, all questions designed to further pigeon-hole religiously.  These are supposed to be proxies to gauge religious devotion, but aren’t always in reality, but the problem of using them as such stretches far beyond the dating world, or even the frum world.  JDate doesn’t quite offer such craziness, although if I recall correctly, it does still offer several different flavours of Orthodoxy (I doubt there are many Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews on JDate though even if there is an option for them).

My main concerns with JDate are that I can’t afford to pay the monthly subscription; and that there are more men than women on dating sites, so women tend not to respond to men on dating sites unless they appear amazing.  I do still have some concerns about not “dating for marriage.”  However, my biggest concern is how to talk about my employment situation or about trying to be a writer in my profile without having sold much, and while worrying that I’m not going to be able to make much of a success of writing.

I feel that E., like my first girlfriend, thought that I was a good boyfriend, but also that my emotional neediness and unemployed status was a lot to cope with, and eventually was too much to cope with.  I find it hard to believe anyone else could see past that permanently, not just for a few months until the novelty of having an attentive and listening boyfriend wore off.

There is also the practical problem, of course, of dating in the time of COVID and social distancing.  This may be less of a problem now, as I think we can stop shielding Mum soon as her chemo is finished.  We have to shield around the time of her surgery, but I think not when she has radiotherapy after that.

I wrote to my rabbi mentor about this today and I look forward to reading his response.  Writing it down did make me think that some of my concerns were due to anxiety or even a kind of ‘pure O’ OCD, in terms of taking the morality an action very seriously, paying more attention to it than it needs, in moral terms.  I think dating at this time is probably not against my values, although I’m not sure if it’s necessarily a product of those values at this time.  Whether it’s sensible is another question.

***

Speaking of being a writer, I’m feeling pessimistic today.  I finished If You Want to Write, the writing book I was currently reading.  It was kind of hippie-ish (although written in the 1930s), all about doing what you want and finding your own truth, which is true, but the opposite is probably true too.  I wasn’t surprised by this, as the book was recommended to me by a hippie-ish friend who I fell out with, someone who described himself as being all about empathy and compassion and then treated me quite badly.    I don’t think I can internalise the “rules” of writing from the books I’m reading, not even this one, which just says to be honest (and is against genre fiction).  I feel a great writer wouldn’t need to internalise rules, but a merely competent one probably does need to do so.  I certainly feel my book could do with more structure and more vivid characters.  But, as I’ve said before, I oscillate between thinking that there are no rules for literature and that there are rules for it, like any other skill, if only I could learn them.

I did half an hour of research for the novel, reading a rape survivor’s statement, which was understandably depressing.  I struggle to see why some men find the concept of “consent” so difficult to grasp.

I also spent twenty minutes or so working on my list of things that I want to add or change in the next draft of my novel, so overall this was a reasonably productive day for the novel.

***

Other achievements: I spent an hour on my devar Torah (Torah thought), getting it mostly sorted to my satisfaction, although I had a vague sense of not having explained it clearly enough to myself, let alone anyone else.  The sense that I sort of understand what I’m saying, but not quite perfectly.  I spent another hour on Torah study, so it was quite a productive day from a religious point of view too.

It’s funny how my feelings writing my devar Torah every week mirror my feelings writing my Oxford tutorial essays: the initial blank incomprehension with nothing to write, the slow research and analysis, the gradual revelation of what I’m going to write, then the actual writing, followed by relief, but a feeling of not having really nailed it.

I also finished re-reading Healing from Despair: Choosing Wholeness in a Broken World.  I didn’t get much from this except to recall that I didn’t like it much the first time I read it.  I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t like it.  I think maybe its use of biblical and historical models for healing from despair was too simplistic.

Incidentally, I have finished three books in two days, although as I was reading them concurrently and not consecutively, it’s not such a notable achievement.

***

Sometimes I just stand, staring into space, completely lost in thought.  My parents invariably then ask if something’s wrong or what I’m doing.  This completely breaks the chain of thought.  (This happened today.)  I’ve never been sure if this is “normal” behaviour or “autistic” behaviour or just a personal quirk.  I do find it frustrating that I can’t just stand and think without someone thinking I’m ill.  I guess if I get married, I’ll have to tell my wife to ignore me when I do this.

A Matter of Trust

I had a headache when I went to bed last night which got worse when I was lying down, as often happens to me, so I ended up getting up and watching Star Trek: Voyager at two in the morning and then sleeping even later than normal, which was not good.  At least it was a comedic episode, rather than some heavy emotional drama or political parable.  Then I feel asleep in the afternoon today from the heat.

I think the combination of heat, continued lockdown and shielding Mum, and finishing the first draft of my novel have left a bit of a “now what?” feeling.  I’m not depressed exactly, just exhausted, but it’s hard to get motivated to do anything.  I do think having a short break from writing is a good idea, but I think deep down I really want to get back to it.  This is not a bad thing in itself, but I think more of a break would be helpful.  I’m still reading books about writing and wondering if they are helpful of counter-productive.  It’s hard to tell.

***

I’m struggling with Torah study from lack of engagement.  I’m not studying anything that really excites me at the moment.  My Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) study currently is Mishlei (Proverbs), which I’m struggling with.  I think it’s the “wisdom literature” outlook that good is always rewarded and evil always punished in this world, which I find simplistic.  “Wisdom literature” was a genre in many countries in the Ancient Near East, not just Israel and Judea, associated with the scribes at royal court.  It aimed to set out advice for living a good life, based on following the dictates of wisdom rather than other impulses.  It tends towards pithy aphorisms which makes Mishlei one of the more quotable books of Tanakh, but also feels like it’s making sweeping statements.  I think Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) is something of a critique of this outlook.  Kohelet is in many ways structured like wisdom literature, but is very conscious that the righteous are often not rewarded in this world.  (I have a whole theory of why some books of the Bible assume that reward and punishment occurs in a very obvious and simplistic sense and others take a different, more complex, view that I can share if anyone’s interested.)

To be honest, I find studying Tanakh challenging at times in general, although I do at times find it very rewarding too.  There’s such a weight of expectation on “The Bible” to be life-changing and inspirational that it can be hard to engage with it.  I don’t really understand how Protestants in particular seem to be able to “converse” with the Bible in a very personal way, although I used to be able to do that more than I can now.  I find the Koren Maggid Tanakh series of books really helpful at explaining the historical background and literary style of the books of Tanakh, but it’s an ongoing series and they haven’t published volumes on all the books of Tanakh yet – plus the Koren books focus on the straightforward contextual meaning of the text, which isn’t always the inspirational side – the sense of “Why did someone find this meaningful enough to canonise it?”

The weight of history on Tanakh can be off-putting too, like watching a classic film like Citizen Kane for the first time and not knowing if you like it or merely think you should like it.  Citizen Kane is a good example, as nowadays it doesn’t look so impressive because so many of its startling innovations have become cinematic standards.  Similarly, a lot of what Western civilisation took from biblical ethics is so ingrained that we assume that all societies believe the same thing and don’t realise how revolutionary Tanakh was and only notice where the biblical ethic does not match modern standards.

(Sorry, that was a big tangent.  I guess that was autistic special interest mode.)

Likewise the Mishnah I’m studying, Seder Zeraim, Masechet Terumot, agricultural laws, is rather dry and separate from my life.

Because of this feeling of disconnection I just ordered Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings, both because I want to read more Levinas (observant Jewish Existentialist philosopher) and because I want to study some Talmud without moving on from my weekly Talmud class, which is on hold during lockdown.  I also ordered Rav Kook’s Lights of Penitence because I also want to read more Rav Kook and it’s appropriate as we move towards Elul and Tishrei, the time of the year focused on introspection and repentance.  Hopefully that will give me more variety in my Torah study and something more inspirational and meaningful to my everyday life.  Still, I am conscious that I just spent nearly £50 on books.  Buying too many books (more than I can read, at any rate) is not the worst vice, but I do tend to assume that all my problems can be solved by buying more books, which is not necessarily the case here (or elsewhere).

***

Achievements: I posted on my Doctor Who blog for the first time in a while, which was good (posting something I mostly wrote a few days ago, but hadn’t posted).  Also, despite what I wrote above about Torah study, I did manage about fifty minutes of Torah study again today.  I also cooked dinner (Hungarian pepper ragout with rice, which I had only cooked once before; this time I topped it with a fried egg, which is not healthy, but tasted good).

I’m not sure what the opposite of “achievements” is, but in terms of negative things, I got a rejection from a job I applied for some time ago and I think I messed up a social interaction online with someone I particularly didn’t want to upset (not that there are people I do want to upset, but you know what I mean).  I also wanted to go for a walk at dusk as I did yesterday, but it started raining.  By the time I realised it had stopped, I was too tired and it was too late.  It looks like thunderstorms are predicted for the rest of the week, which will limit my ability to go out.

***

When my therapist suggested limiting my internet time, she said not to see it as another “Should,” but just an experiment.  She was worried that if I couldn’t stick to it, I would beat myself up.  I haven’t completely stuck to it, but I haven’t beaten myself up either.  I am pleased to be online less and seem to be happier, although I do worry a bit about not being well-informed of the news.  I am procrastinating less, although I’m not sure where the gained time is going.  Certainly the whole experiment has made me more mindful of when I go online or check my emails; I don’t do that casually any more, without thinking, but do it consciously and deliberately even if I’m doing it outside the approved times.

***

A thought I had last night: I need to learn to trust myself and to trust God.

I want to feel that I’ve achieved something with my life, that I’ve fulfilled my mission, or at least that I am on course to fulfil it.  I don’t think a person’s mission is necessarily tied up completely with his or her career or family responsibilities, but I do feel that I have achieved very little that is worthwhile in my life.  This is why I find it so hard to trust myself or love myself, because I feel unworthy because I am not doing what I was put here to do.

On the other hand, I find it hard to trust God because I want to know that I will have a successful, loving marriage at some point, or at least to know that I can cope with being alone (without my parents, which will happen one day).  I find it hard to trust that God will arrange for me to get married, or that He will give me the tools I need to cope with being single forever.  Or perhaps I feel that He will give me the tools, but I won’t use them, in which case it’s about trusting myself again.

I’m not sure how I find this trust.  I certainly don’t know how to learn to accept being single forever.  Sometimes I feel I could explode from loneliness and sexual frustration.

***

I posted this comment on Ashley’s blog post about self-stigma today and thought I would share here:

I think I have a lot of self-stigma, partly about my depression and social anxiety, but also about autism, paradoxically, often combined with “Maybe I’m not really on the autism spectrum and I’m just a freak” thoughts.

I suppose that, like a lot of people on the spectrum, well-meaning adults socialised me to think that I shouldn’t do the things I wanted to do or think the things I wanted to think. That I shouldn’t stim and I should force myself to talk to people because “it will get easier if I try” among other things. Maybe they were right about some of these things, but I guess the cumulative effect is to make me doubt myself and to feel that there is a “normal type of person” and that my behaviour as a depressed autistic person is abnormal and that this is wrong in itself and responsible for many of my issues, such as unemployment, singledom and loneliness. If only I could stop being a “freak” (one of my favourite terms for myself, you may have noticed) and become “normal,” all my problems would be solved.

Of course, none of the authority figures in my life had any knowledge of high functioning autism when I was a child; the diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome (as it was called) didn’t even get into the DSM [psychiatric diagnostic manual] until I was eleven and wasn’t well-known for many years after that.

Even now I make more eye contact than many people on the spectrum even though my natural preference, like many autistic people, is to avoid eye contact. This is because I was told to make eye contact as a child and I internalised that message (not knowing about autism at that age) so I very consciously force myself to make eye contact, and usually quietly freak out in my head about making too much eye contact, or too little, or the wrong type; if I feel I’m not making enough eye contact, or too much, I blame myself rather than accept it.