Not Anxious, Slightly Surprisingly

I got up at 10.00am today, which was good, but I was still very tired and went back to bed briefly after breakfast. Sometimes it’s hard just to keep going and I struggle to understand why I still feel like that when I’m not really depressed any more and don’t have obvious sources of autistic burnout. Even at the best of times, I tend to go slowly with things, which is why my current job is good for me, both because the work is not so high-pressure and because J tends not to stress or work flat out either. PIMOJ is very energetic and leads a busy life and sometimes I wonder if she thinks I’m too slow.

I had an emotional and draining therapy session. Other than that it was the usual: working on my devar Torah, Torah study, a short walk in the rain. I got a weird text that purported to be from the Department of Work and Pensions about my benefits. It looked like a scam, but I realised it came from a number that I’ve had genuine DWP communications from before and what details were given seemed to be accurate. Also, in my experience, poor writing does not stop a communication being from the DWP. I didn’t click on the link in the text, because it looked too dodgy, but I’m vaguely worried about the consequences. If they want me for something important, they should write to me properly, not send texts HALF WRITTEN IN CAPITALS FOR NO REASON with no clear contact details.

I spent an hour (!) discussing Pesach (Passover) cleaning, kashering and other Pesach preparations with my parents. Things are extra difficult this year as Pesach starts as Shabbat (the Sabbath) finishes. I don’t really have time or energy to explain this if you don’t know what it involves or why Pesach after Shabbat is so tricky (it’s all quite complicated). Suffice to say, I now have some idea of what I need to do and when, but am a bit freaked out about how much I have to do in the next three weeks, alongside my paid job. I’m glad my writing was already on hold and I don’t know how much exercise I’m going to get in the next few weeks. I hope to still have some time to see PIMOJ when the lockdown ends. I also want to find some time to prepare some extra ideas to share at the seder although I don’t know when, or how I can fit that in with my weekly devar Torah. PIMOJ and I are going (online) to a Pesach seminar day at the London School of Jewish Studies, so I’m hoping to pick up some ideas there that will be suitable to share at the seder. A frantic month starts here. I just hope my religious OCD, which is worse about Pesach than anything else, doesn’t come back.

On the plus side, if it’s nearly Pesach, then it’s nearly spring! Although before I really get into Pesach mode, I’ve got my vaccination on Friday (there’s some “new situation” anxiety although the whole thing is likely to be over in a few minutes) and my autism diagnosis on Tuesday, so there’s potentially a lot of anxiety around in the next few days. I feel OK at the moment though.

Neurotypicalism

I went to my autism support group on Zoom this morning. I was wary of it, as I find it a lot less helpful than depression group, but it was about relationships and I wanted to see if I would learn anything. The main thing I learnt is that the person who runs the meetings seems to have issues with neurotypicals and needs to work them through somewhere else rather than just ranting about them in the meeting. I left early because it was just too much. There wasn’t really much helpful advice, just some stuff about being authentic and making room for yourself in the relationship and feeling free to have non-standard relationships if that works for you. Someone there had been married for nearly fifty years, which is reassuring, although other people were speaking about not wanting to live with anyone at all. It makes me feel vaguely weird for wanting a “neurotypical standard” relationship involving marriage and living in the same house. I felt there wasn’t really enough talk about how to make compromises for a relationship rather than expecting your neurotypical partner to make compromises for you. The final straw was when the presenter said that, for autistic people, no means no, but neurotypical people are “play games” and often say no when they mean yes, which struck me as a misleading and dangerous thing to say.

I was also a bit worried by the number of people in the group who are quite happy living by themselves. Not worried for them, if they’re happy, but I’ve had mixed feelings about that. I have lived by myself at times and I coped and enjoyed parts of it, but I also found it very lonely and isolating at times. Realistically, there isn’t any easy way I can have people around me when I want them, but not when I don’t, so either living alone or with someone involves trade-offs. I also think that some of the people in the “want to live alone forever” group were OK with having casual sex, and I’m not, for various reasons, so that certainly does alter the cost/benefit analysis.

I spent an hour or so working on my devar Torah for the week, partially abandoning my original plan when I was unable to locate some quotes in the primary sources. I prefer to use primary sources than secondary ones, but I don’t always know where to find the primary sources for concepts and sayings I’ve picked up over the years, plus I’m often reliant on online sources and my imperfect Hebrew translation skills. I know I’m not alone in struggling to remember where I heard things as the internet is full of Jews either misattributing quotes and concepts or saying vaguely that, “It’s a Jewish idea that…” or “The rabbis say that…” Someone should make an index of well-known Talmudic and Midrashic stories and quotes. Famously, a lot of Jews, including some very frum (religious) ones, misremember the story about Avraham (Abraham) smashing up his father’s idol workshop as an actual passage in the Torah (it isn’t, it’s a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative)).

After that, I did a mixture of Torah study and cooking and went for a 5K run, but I did feel a bit lost without either paid work or my novel to work on. I’m resting the novel for a few weeks until my writer/editor friend can look at it. I feel pretty negative about it at the moment, to be honest, and keep wondering what possessed me to try to a mainstream novel of character. Part of me wants to start on a new novel, but I know I have to stick with this one until it’s either ready for publication or definitely unpublishable.

I spoke to PIMOJ in the evening. To be honest, during and after my run I was having negative thoughts (personal worries, worries about antisemitism… the usual), but I did feel better after speaking to PIMOJ. We didn’t even talk about my issues, we just talked. It was good.

Lately I’ve had some minor religious OCD, not the Purim Megillah issue I wrote about, but “idolatrous” thoughts when I was trying to pray. I’ve had this a lot over the years. The easiest way to get rid of them is exposure therapy. Trying not to think about something tends to make you think about it, so the anxiety about not thinking X immediately prompts thoughts of X. The solution is to deliberately think about X a lot, so I spent time this evening repeating the phrase where I usually have the trouble while thinking the things I usually try not to think in the hope that I will get to a point where I’m so desensitised to thinking about them that I don’t try not to think about them (if that makes sense). I may have to do this for a number of days until it works, but I’ve responded well to this in the past.

Vulnerable and Fragile

The good news for today is that I have an appointment for the final part of my autism assessment booked in for 9 March, two weeks’ time. This is really all down to my Mum, who has been phoning to chase it up. Sadly on the NHS, or parts of it, there’s a benefit in having someone willing and able to make a certain amount of noise on your behalf when waiting for an appointment, in case you drop off the system, as I suspect I had done.

***

I was burnt out again this morning, sleeping for about twelve hours, although I intended to “only” sleep for ten. The problem is partly that I turn off my clock radio alarms in my sleep, or at least don’t wake up for long enough to really wake up and stay awake. I put my phone on the other side of the room, so I have to get up to turn the alarm off, but its alarm is too quiet to really wake me and I sleep through it. Even if I do wake up, I fall asleep again before I can summon the energy to get up. I’m sure this must be boring and repetitive to readers, but it’s how my life is at the moment, with this major obstacle (burnout and oversleeping) that I just can’t make progress on and don’t really understand, even though I’ve made a lot of progress with the rest of my life.

I went for a walk and to the post office. That was crowded. The post office is inside the pharmacy and the pharmacy is doing COVID vaccinations, so there were a lot of people trying to socially distance inside and outside the shop. My mood slumped again while I was out walking, which might be a late afternoon blood sugar thing, or maybe because I was listening to the Intimate Judaism podcast about sex and Orthodox Judaism and it made me think how slow and uncertain it will be to move my relationship with PIMOJ on to a point where we can marry. My mood dropped a bit again while I was cooking dinner (vegetable curry), although it improved as I focused on cooking, which suggests that not having a focus is a trigger for negative thoughts.

I went to a shiur (religious class), the last of this set of shiurim, this time on Megillat Esther (The Book of Esther). It was more in depth than the previous ones, presumably because Esther is one of the better-known books of the Hebrew Bible among Jews, as we read it every year (twice, morning and evening) on Purim, which is this Thursday night and Friday. There were some interesting points about liminal spaces and identity in Esther. It made me feel more positive about the upcoming Purim, a festival that traditionally inspires very mixed feelings in me.

Then I saw that my shul (synagogue) had sent out an email about social distancing over Purim. So the whole community can all hear the Megillah, morning and evening safely, they are running four different readings at night and another four in the morning in different rooms of the building. I’m not entirely sure where my room is, so I need to go early to make sure I get there on time. They said there will be stewards to guide us, but I’m slightly apprehensive about it and plan to get there ten or fifteen minutes early to be safe.

***

I’ve noticed that I’ve had to struggle against religious OCD thoughts more lately. So far I haven’t sent any panicked emails to my rabbi asking if things were OK, which means it’s mostly under control and no actual OCD, just thoughts. (Actually, there was one email, but it was realistically a necessary email, and I didn’t send follow-up emails even though I was still worried.) Even so, I’m a bit concerned about things spiralling out of control as we approach Pesach. I’m trying to remember my coping strategies and exposure therapy techniques. I’m also trying to tell myself “I can cope” as my therapist suggested.

I guess my life is far from perfect right now, but realistically, no one’s life is ever perfect, and my current life is manageable, at least for the foreseeable future. I’m going with that for now. I do feel kind of fragile and vulnerable though, as if I’m aware I don’t have great resilience at the moment and am worried how I might cope if things start to go wrong.

Shabbat and “Organised Religion”

Shabbat was mostly good. I finished reading Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy. It was very detailed (it’s much longer than the other books I have in the Koren Maggid Tanakh series even though Ruth is a very short book), perhaps a little too detailed, but it was very thorough and gave me a new appreciation for the literary and theological depth of a book that I had perhaps dismissed in the past as merely a pleasant story and a bit of an “origin story” for the Davidic monarchy.

I couldn’t sleep at night and read a lot of the graphic novel Final Crisis. I found it fairly incomprehensible. I knew that was likely to happen, as it’s a “crisis” story where Detective Comics put all their superheroes together against a massive foe. As Batman, to a much lesser extent, Superman, are the only superheroes I know well, I was expecting to be faced with many characters I didn’t know well or even at all. However, no characters seemed to stick around for more than a page or two to get to know them, except for a long interlude of Superman with parallel universe Supermen in a weird limbo universe. I didn’t really understand what was going on or why an equation can drive the entire population of Earth to despair and servitude of a super-powerful alien being (Darkseid). I’m reading it as it’s part of Grant Morrison’s wider Batman story arc, but it doesn’t seem to be as good as the other, Batman-only, stories in the arc. Or maybe I’m still too much of a Detective Comics novice to appreciate it. I think Morrison isn’t such a great plot author and tends to rely on spectacle and innovation and reimagining existing characters to pull the reader along.

I told PIMOJ I would get up at 10am today. I’m trying to see if I can get up earlier if I make myself responsible to her. I didn’t manage it, but I did get up at 10.37 instead, which was reasonably good. Unfortunately I napped for two hours after lunch; not good, I won’t sleep tonight (hence it’s gone 12.30am and I’m still writing).

I had a headache after Shabbat. I hope I’m not getting back in the habit of getting a headache every week.

My parents and I watched a Zoom talk this evening. Someone from my shul (synagogue) was speaking about his life story, from birth into a non-Jewish Austrian family in the 1920s to conscription into the Hitler Youth and later the SS, to being captured by the Americans and being a prisoner of war in England and eventually converting to Orthodox Judaism quite late in life. It was interesting and he really had enough material to speak for two evenings.

After that I spoke to PIMOJ for a while and then did some Torah study that I hadn’t managed earlier because of my headache.

***

I had some thoughts about organised religion, based on the comments to my previous post. A number of people spoke about believing in God, or at least being open to God, but getting turned off by organised religion. I guess that’s something I can’t always understand emotionally, although I can see why some religious institutions would annoy people. Maybe it’s partially because Judaism doesn’t have the kind of structure that the Catholic and Anglican Churches have, the sense of a vast institution with wealth and power and a religious hierarchy.

When people say “organised religion” to me in a Jewish context I think of stuff like having a community with some kind of funding to own or lease a building for regular prayers, to ensure the lights and the heating there stay on, and having some kind of administrative set-up to ensure that the money is overseen safely, with no fraud, and that poorer people in the community can be supported from communal tzedaka (charity) funds and so on. Maybe also paying a rabbi to provide pastoral support. That’s not really anything that upsets or annoys me, or turns me off in other ways.

On the other hand, I do get annoyed by, and feel rebellious when confronted with various things. I don’t particularly care about being told what to eat or when to pray or who I can marry; I take that as coming with the territory of being an Orthodox Jew. However, I do react strongly if I feel people are telling me what I can read or are dismissing my beliefs, even if I know they’re minority views in the Orthodox community and more ‘modern’ than Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Also if I feel people are saying I can’t watch Doctor Who, which is an obsessive autistic special interest for me and looms larger in my life than it probably should; I feel I couldn’t cope without it.

I don’t really associate this with “organised religion” though. To me it seems more of a sociological thing, maybe because it’s enforced by peer pressure rather than by overt means. I mean, when I joined my shul (synagogue), no one asked if I take the Genesis Creation story literally or whether I think non-Jewish religions are religiously valid for their adherents. But then I hear people (including) rabbis taking a different line on these things to me and I feel out of place and worried of being “found out.” I doubt they would (or could) throw me out of the shul if they did find out, but it would probably change how some people interacted with me.

I feel a lot of it comes from the nature of my community, with some very Haredi congregants and certainly Haredi rabbis, but other congregants who are more ‘modern’ like me. I used to go to my parents’ shul, which is definitely more modern, but I felt that people at my current shul took prayer and Torah study more seriously. Plus my current shul is much smaller; I felt overwhelmed by the number of people at my parents’ shul even on ordinary Shabbats, let alone festivals. I have an identity in my own right in my shul too, rather than just being an adjunct of my parents. So I stick with my current shul even though doctrinally it’s not a perfect fit.

This may sound strange to Christians in particular, but doctrine or dogma isn’t such a big thing in Judaism. Jews tend to focus more on what you do than what you believe. If you dress in an acceptable way, don’t publicly violate Shabbat or Yom Tov (festivals), are polite to people, and attend prayer services and shiurim (religious classes) regularly, people will probably accept you, at least on a basic level, without asking what you actually believe.

Trying Not to Get Annoyed

I was at work again today. I found it difficult to concentrate and made some mistakes. I don’t think I made any really bad mistakes, but I think J noticed some of the mistakes and I certainly felt sheepish.

I had some stomach pains at work. I’ve had them intermittently for the last week or so. When my depression was very bad, I developed irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and I’m worried it’s returning, although why it would suddenly return now when things are much better for me than they were the first time I had IBS is a mystery. I wonder if the approach of Purim and my anxieties about it has played a part?

I try not to get upset (or “triggered” as everyone says nowadays, which strikes me as an inappropriate use of a psychiatric term) by things that are not worth getting upset about, but stuff sticks in my mind and annoys me. Last night I wanted to read for a few minutes before going to bed and wasn’t sure whether to read the novel I’m reading (Contact by Carl Sagan) or the graphic novel I’m reading (Final Crisis, a Detective Comics “event” story). I flicked through the next few pages of Contact to see how long the chapter was and saw something that annoyed me a bit, to the extent that I decided not to read it last night, but was still thinking about it when I went to bed and again intermittently today.

The passage was about the heroine’s childhood, how she discovered the wonders of science and technology as opposed to other ways of seeing the world. There’s a scene when she’s at Sunday school and finds the Bible contradictory and immoral. The contradictory thing just seemed wrong because if she was at a non-evangelical church in the sixties, as the text states, I’m sure someone would have pointed her in the direction of source criticism as a solution (I don’t personally accept source criticism, but I think it was accepted in the non-evangelical Protestant world by the sixties). It seemed like another example of where non-believers (Sagan) assume all believers believe the most extreme fundamentalist beliefs on offer in their faith.

It was the immoral stuff that really bugged me, mainly because it wasn’t focused on stuff that really conflicts with contemporary morals, like the Bible’s acceptance of genocide, slavery and polygamy. It was pointing out stories, like Jacob and Esau (using the English names rather than the Hebrew as I would normally do because it feels distanced from me) and various other stories and assuming because the Bible doesn’t say “THIS IS BAD” in big letters, it must think it’s good. The truth is, Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) almost never steps back to pass judgement on its characters. It leaves it up to the reader to decide what was right and wrong and sometimes things are complicated and hard to resolve. It assumes a level of maturity and intellectual involvement. The assumption that, “Oh Jacob is a hero of the Bible, he’s the ancestor of the Jews, therefore it’s on his side and assumes he’s right” simply doesn’t fit with millennia of rabbinic interpretation (Midrash and commentaries) that have felt free to criticise the heroes of Tanakh. In Judaism, no human being is perfect, not Jacob or Abraham or Moses. The Talmud (or possibly Midrash, but the same era) says that the persecution of the Jews by the Romans, the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile from the land of Israel was because Jacob wronged his brother and my him weep just three tears (Esau is seen as the ancestor of Rome). That’s not really accepting of Jacob’s actions.

To be honest, the literature on the story of Jacob and Esau alone is vast and there are serious questions to ask before the morality of the story can be thought of, like how do you steal blessings? Doesn’t God know who to bless? How do you sell your first-born status? Was the blessing Jacob “stole” the one he and Rebecca thought he was stealing? (Short answer, probably not.) There is a lot to engage with here. I’m not asking anyone to believe it, but to see that it’s a rich literature that withstands prolonged study.

I know, the history of the Bible and of organised religion, how these texts have been used to oppress, puts people off. I get that. It still annoys me, I guess because I take Tanakh seriously and find it meaningful and insightful; it’s hard to hear someone suggest I’ve wasted so much time on a stupid or immoral text. It reminds me of when a blogger I used to follow, a classicist who spent her days studying and teaching difficult ancient Greek and Latin texts made fun of of the Bible on her blog with a really superficial post. I just felt, you should know better. You should know that you can’t read ancient texts – in translation – like a contemporary novel and expect them to give up their secrets like that. You should read in the original language, if possible, in context, with secondary literature to explain the difficulties of the text, the language, the customs, the history.

So this was annoying me today. To be honest, the protagonist of the novel would probably annoy me anyway. A super-clever geek, she would have been an identification figure if I had read the book in my teens or twenties, but now I feel like an incompetent impostor, she just seems to taunt me, the type of person I feel I might have been without autism and depression. But I want to read the book for its plot and ideas, so I’m sticking with it for now.

Then, with bad timing, I watched Babylon 5 this evening, and the next episode up was Believers. Which is a very good episode, about Doctor Franklin being faced with an alien child who will die without surgery, but whose parents believe that if he has surgery, his soul will escape through the opening. It’s a strong episode. It has a powerful, but downbeat ending (I won’t spoil it). I probably should have skipped the episode, as it’s a relatively rare stand-alone episode that adds nothing to Babylon 5‘s five year story arc, but I’m a completist, and I didn’t want to “penalise” an objectively well-written episode, and possibly I have autistic rigid thinking, so I watched it, and it left me a bit down.

And then a thought struck me about Jewish-sounding dialogue given to the aliens and I consulted Wikipedia, and, yes, writer David Gerrold is a secular Jew, like Carl Sagan. Given that quite a number of science fiction authors were or are secular Jews, I wonder what percentage of alien races in science fiction are just how secular Jews see Orthodox Jews: weird in appearance and attitude, serious, humourless, rule-obsessed, inflexible… (The Ferengi in Star Trek are worryingly like antisemitic parodies of Jews, and are mostly played by Jewish actors.) Actually, on the whole Babylon 5 is pretty good at depicting alien religions, it’s one of the reasons I like it so much, but still…

***

Also done this evening: Torah study, which has reached Eichah (Lamentations), so not so cheery, and a call with PIMOJ who had had a stressful day, so the evening felt a bit relentless. I titled this post “Trying Not to Get Annoyed” when I thought it was going to be just about Contact, but actually the post progressed to where “Trying Not to Get Overwhelmed” might be more appropriate. I do feel a bit overwhelmed at the moment, on multiple levels, but I’m too tired to go in to all of that now. I’m going to watch another (less depressing) episode of Babylon 5, eat my first Cadbury’s creme egg of the year and go to bed.

Oh, and apparently I have really bad Impostor Syndrome. To be honest, I knew that, but I just went through a psychiatric test and now I have a number to put on it.

***

Believers does at least have my favourite line in the whole of Babylon 5: Ambassador Kosh’s “The avalanche has started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.” (Kosh was given cryptic utterances; that was one of his more understandable ones. It’s actually more cryptic in context.)

The Luftmentsch of Zur-En-Arrh

I feel really burnt out today. I was supposed to be going on a Zoom call from my autism support group about dealing with romantic relationships, but I slept through most of it and was too exhausted to think of hurrying to catch the end. I don’t think more Zoom would have been a good idea to be honest, especially as I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) in the evening which I didn’t want to miss because (a) I paid for it, (b) it’s with PIMOJ and (c) it’s a good teacher.

As well as missing the group, I decided I was too exhausted to write my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week today as I had intended. I jotted down some ideas on Sunday, but I’m not sure that I’ve planned anything long enough or coherent. I just have to hope I can sort it all out tomorrow, along with having therapy. I wanted to work on my novel today or tomorrow too, making some changes I thought of, but I don’t feel able to do so today and may not have time tomorrow, depending on how long my devar Torah takes (and what time I get up).

My blood test results seem to be fine, except my cholesterol is still a bit high. I had more NHS trouble, though. My Mum tried to phone about my autism assessment, but the person she usually speaks to wasn’t there. I tried to get my repeat prescription, but there was no olanzapine. This time they seem to have the new dose on my records, but no one thought to prescribe for the gap between when the mistakenly low dose ran out and the next repeat prescription.

In the evening I had shiur (religious class). It was OK, although I knew a lot of the material and I didn’t really participate in the group learning activity. Afterwards I tried to write to the Bet Din to tell them about the improperly delivered (from a Jewish law point of view) food from yesterday, but I’m not happy with the email and may not send it.

I would have liked to have had a mental health day today, but I had to collect my prescription, sort out the olanzapine issue and go to shiur. I was just doing all of this on autopilot because I felt so drained and burnt out. I’m re-reading Grant Morrison’s run as chief writer for Batman and just finished Batman RIP, in which a criminal gang known as The Black Glove drug and brainwash Batman, hoping to manipulate him, not realising he already prepared for this opportunity by preparing a kind of unconscious back-up personality, called The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh to take over his consciousness. That’s how I feel today, out of spoons and being controlled by The Luftmentsch of Zur-En-Arrh because I’m too burnt out to do anything myself, not in the sense of an alter as in a different personality, but just an auto-pilot that somehow gets through mundane tasks when mood-wise I’m not good for anything other than lying in bed.

PIMOJ was really supportive today. We had a Skype conversation after shiur, but I think I was too tired to say much. She said I’m “brave” for facing my fear and trying to keep going with my life. I don’t feel brave. I don’t feel like I had much choice.

Short Update

My novel is on pause again as I want to get some new perspectives on it, ideally from having other people read it (but who can I ask?), but at the very least by going on a break and coming to it fresh in a while, maybe after Pesach (nearly two months’ time). Strangely, as soon as I stop writing the novel, I had an idea for a longer, more analytical blog post than I’ve written for a while (on Judaism and social responsibility). It will probably take a bit of time to write it though. I spent a bit of time on it this evening.

As for today, I was reasonably busy. I drafted my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week and actually feel quite pleased with it. I went for a walk and requested a repeat prescription. I emailed a few friends and my Dad showed me how to use filters on MS Excel, which might come in useful at work. And I dusted my room, which is harder than it should be because of all the bric-a-brac I have out. I think I’ve written about that before. I’m not sure how much of it “sparks joy” (© Marie Kondo), but as of yet I haven’t been able to bring myself to put it away, much less throw it away. It’s probably that I don’t want to think about it – thinking about it would entail thinking about holidays I only vaguely remember (apparently due to autistic autobiographical memory issues), an unconsciously unhappy adolescence, the deterioration of my miniature painting skills due to medication-based tremor, and friends who fell out with me.

I Skyped my rabbi mentor too, which was helpful in dealing with some of the issues that I don’t feel I can write about here, although some of his advice was scary in terms of having to do scary social things.

Misfits

I’m back in “I hate the NHS” mode. I realised that the reason the doctor only prescribed half the only olanzapine I need is because he (or she – prescriptions can be done by anyone in the practice) misread the letter from the psychiatrist and thought I was on one tablet a day, not two. I know, there’s a global pandemic, doctors are super-busy and stressed. Even so, it’s annoying, and makes me wonder how many other, more serious, mistakes have been made by over-stretched medical staff during the pandemic – there must be a number of indirect COVID casualties as well as those actually killed by the virus.

***

I got my new glasses (and walked back in the cold and snow after getting them). I tried them on in Specsavers, including tilting my head to see if they slipped, and they seemed to be OK, but they seem to be slipping now, so I may have to go back at some point and get them adjusted. I’m just glad to have them for now.

I spent a bit over an hour on my novel and finished the third draft. It ended up at 79,766 words, slightly under the 80,000 I was aiming for. Now I need to find some people willing to read it and give me feedback. I’m not quite sure how to do this; I don’t have other writer friends where we can exchange work, and I don’t want to go to a writers’ group at the moment. I’m also terrified of negative feedback.

Given the snow this morning, I thought my walk back home from Specsavers would be my exercise for the day, but mid-afternoon I started feeling anxious and depressed for no obvious reason and, as it wasn’t snowing, and the earlier snow hadn’t settled, I went for a run, despite the fact that it was fast getting dark. I did 5K again and I had a better pace than I’ve had for a while too. I don’t mind running in the cold (it can be bracing) although I worry about pulling muscles despite doing a longer warm up and cool down than usual.

I did some Torah study too, although not quite up to the hour I was aiming for as I ran out of time and energy.

***

I came across an interview today, a religious Jew interviewing someone raised in the Orthodox world, but now outside it. The non-religious Jew says he warns religious Jews thinking of leaving because they don’t fit into the frum (religious) community that they may not fit into the secular world either; they may, in fact, be misfits who won’t fit in anywhere.

I have long suspected that this would be true of me. For all my struggles to fit in to the frum world, I can’t really see myself fitting in to the wider Western world easily either. I guess I’m a bit of a misfit, or even that not fitting in is a part of my psyche; I’ve begun to suspect that when I fit in somewhere, I self-sabotage to find a way to feel like a misfit.

***

On a related note, a while back I wrote about feeling myself to be a “Tory anarchist.” Lately the anarchist part is stronger. I have limited patience for big business or big government and just want to be left alone. Sometimes it’s easy to want to pull society to pieces and start again. I feel a lot of anger and resentment at the ruling class and I’m not sure where it’s coming from, from politics or from my inner self as it’s the class so many of my peers from Oxford now belong to, people in politics, academia, law, and other places I might have been had depression and autism not intervened. I feel like a class traitor sometimes.

Unwritten Rules

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

Work from Home

I was working from home today. I wanted to get up early, not as early as if I was commuting, but still early. I failed. I overslept and got up after 11.00am. Whoops. I’m going to have to work tomorrow to catch up, which in some ways suits me, although it means postponing work on my novel again.

My work transcribing data turns out to be GDPR-compliant after all as data protection only applies to the living and not the dead, so it’s permitted to collect data about them (typical “living privilege”). This is something of a relief to me. When I was transcribing the data in the office last week, I was fine. I managed to concentrate even though it was boring. Today, at home, it just seems impossible and I can’t concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. Maybe it’s something about being in my room, or maybe it’s a cumulative effect. I listened to some classical music while doing it, which helped a bit, but not much. Besides being boring, it’s also depressing going through so much funeral data.

I don’t know if it was bored or immersion in funeral data, but I felt quite depressed this afternoon too; work was a struggle because of depressive poor concentration and executive function issues as well as boredom. I felt like I wanted to cry too.

I realise I’m nearly a year late to the “working from home is awful” pity party, but this is the first time I’ve ever worked from home for a paid job, unless you count my parents paying me to paint the shed.

Anyway, I managed to work on it for a bit over three hours and I got through approximately half the data J gave me. As he wasn’t expecting me to complete all of it, if I do another two or three hours tomorrow and finish most or all of the remainder, that seems quite reasonable for a day’s equivalent work.

Fun fact about transcribing funeral data onto an Excel spreadsheet: if you aren’t careful, Excel turns birthdates from the 1920s into the 2020s and you end up with people died nearly a hundred years ago, but haven’t been born yet.

***

No exercise today because of trying to get through work, and limited Torah study for the same reason, although I did spend fifty minutes writing my devar Torah for the week. I can’t really win with this; if (as I did this week) I focus on my thoughts inspired by something in the sedra (weekly Torah portion), I worry that I’m not engaging with the texts, particularly the secondary sources, enough, but if I’ve mostly taken it from secondary sources, I worry that I’m just parroting other people’s ideas.

***

More NHS fun and games. I was on hold for twenty-five minutes, trying to speak to my GP’s receptionist, only to find that the psychiatrist has not written yet about my medication change (going back to olanzapine). I phoned the psychiatrist’s secretary, but the psychiatrist doesn’t work on Mondays or Tuesdays, so it’s questionable whether anything will happen before Wednesday. I only have enough olanzapine to last until Saturday, so I’m worried about running out if the psychiatrist does not inform the doctor of the change promptly or if there’s a hold-up at the pharmacist.

Also NHS: my sister got vaccinated today, as she’s NHS staff (but not front-line). As my brother-in-law may have had a vaccine a while back as part of a clinical trial (he hasn’t been told if he had the vaccine or a placebo), I could be the only person in my close family not to have been vaccinated yet.

***

I’m pretty fed up with lockdown and left a miserable comment on a friend’s blog saying that even as an autistic introvert with social anxiety who self-isolated before it was cool, I have had enough of not seeing friends and family, of avoiding shops and public places and of mask wearing. Even so, I saw a news email with the subject “New variant spreads” and for a moment part of my mind thought it was about new varieties of jam…

Fragments from a Day

There’s a famous story about Winston Churchill opening a speech by saying, “I’ve written a long speech because I haven’t had time to write a short one,” but this post is fragmentary because I really don’t have the time or energy to write a longer one.

I slept for about eight hours last night, albeit with a brief interruption, but still spent the morning at work struggling against tiredness and drinking coffee to stay awake. I had to go to the bank, which was good as I can’t sleep and walk at the same time. Then, when I came home, I was too exhausted to do much. I watched an episode of The Mandalorian (which I’ve basically decided is a Western that happens to take place in space) and spoke to PIMOJ for over an hour, which was good as it didn’t feel like that long.

I finished off my devar Torah (Torah thought). It’s OK, but I feel it’s a number of weeks since I’ve written any divrei Torah that I’m really proud of. I also feel that I have a long-term problem in my non-fiction writing, including divrei Torah, with endings. My pieces just sort of stop rather than reaching a real conclusion. I had this problem a lot with tutorial essays at Oxford.

Mum had the COVID vaccine today. She has been quite sick this evening, I’m not sure why or if it’s connected. She and Dad seem to think it is.

Mum was watching TV earlier and when I walked in one character said she over-thinks things to avoid feeling them. I think this is probably true of me, particularly in relationships. I’m not good at understanding or handling feelings. To be honest, I’m probably not great at thinking either.

Trust and Control

I slept badly again last night, waking up in the night and struggling to get back to sleep. I’ve taken a bigger pillow and wonder if that will help. As a result, I was very tired at work in the morning and had to drink coffee to stay awake. I don’t like it when I feel I’m drifting off at work. The work was a bit depressing too. Aside from dealing with subscription payments, I was processing death records for this year and came across one for someone ten years younger than me with bipolar disorder who had committed suicide. This really upset me and I’m not entirely sure why, just a feeling that I wish I could have done something to help her, not that I ever met her. Then PIMOJ texted to say she was upset because of a suicide in her workplace and it seemed like it was catching.

I went to the bank in the afternoon, which probably left me too much time to think and brood while I walked there and back and spent a long time queuing. I think I’ve been less anxious today, but a lot more depressed.

J gave me a lift home again and the conversation on the radio was all about the UK COVID death toll reaching 100,000, so it was a pretty bleak day all round.

I had a shiur (religious class) in the evening on Zoom, perhaps appropriately on Yishayahu (Isaiah), the chief prophet of hope. This was interesting. I knew some of it, but not all of it. I tried to psyche myself up for the bit where we broke into smaller groups to discuss a passage, but my microphone took that moment to break, although I suppose it was interesting to observe other people doing group work from a distance, as it were, and see I’m not necessarily as bad at it compared with other people as I thought.

***

I worry a bit whether I could do a full days’ work at the moment. At the moment, J is letting me come in forty-five minutes or so late so I can avoid the Tube at rush hour because of COVID, and we finish work around 4pm. I only take forty-five minutes for lunch, but even so, that makes for a day that’s not much more than five hours long. Which is nice, but I worry if I’ll ever have the stamina for full working days again.

***

I had a thought about bitachon, trust in God. I find this very hard. I believe in a benevolent God Who wants the best for His creation, but I also believe that sometimes the best option is still something very painful to undergo. But I realised today that a lot of my problem is about control, specifically about accepting that I don’t have very much control over my life, which is scary. I probably have rather less control over my life than many people, certainly people of my age, class and educational level, because of my autism and mental health issues and chequered work history.

It’s easy to tell myself that I can somehow control my career or my romantic life or my mental health by thinking about them (which mostly means being despairing or anxious about them), but really I can’t. I have no idea if I’ll ever get married, to PIMOJ or to anyone else; or whether I’ll build any kind of a career as a writer or a librarian; or how I will support myself when my parents aren’t here; or umpteen other things. That’s very scary, to give up that degree of control. I guess it could be liberating. People with a lot of bitachon (e.g. PIMOJ) seem to live very liberated, carefree lives. But I find it terrifying.

COVID Test, Reading, TV

I’m still not feeling great. My sister and my Mum have been badgering me for days to get a COVID test despite my not having any COVID symptoms. My symptoms are hot flushes, restless legs, tremor and occasional light-headedness, none of which are really COVID symptoms, plus neither my parents nor J have come down with anything despite being around me last week when I was ill. However, my sister’s mother-in-law apparently had mild COVID for days thinking it was just a cold until she got tested, so my sister has really been badgering me to get tested in case I have undiagnosed COVID, even though I’m worried about wasting NHS resources and, well, lying about my symptoms to get a test (integrity is a core value for me, so lying is painful). Anyway, I’m going to a drive-in test tomorrow morning. My Dad volunteered to take me (I don’t drive).

There’s not a lot else to say. I read a lot over Shabbat, not so much in terms of pages, but in terms of books. I finished Morality and America During the Cold War, read more of Ruth: From Alienation to Monarchy and started The Garden of Emunah (book on faith PIMOJ gave me) and The Simulacra (Philip K. Dick novel).

After Shabbat, I watched another episode of The Mandalorian (Sanctuary). It was quite good, but I was distracted by the fact that the plot was basically the same of the Doctor Who episode The Girl Who Died (outsiders train villagers to beat better-armed marauders), but tonally, the two were completely different. The Doctor Who episode was mostly comic, with a tragic bit and an open ending. The Mandalorian episode was like every other Mandalorian episode i.e. like Star Wars, flashy, but unemotional. (I have realised that I notice more about story structure now I write myself.)

Be Anything You Want To Be???

I woke up at 4.30am again and this time I couldn’t get back to sleep at all, although as I had gone to bed very early (10.30pm), I had still had about six hours of sleep, which is the absolute minimum I need to function. Despite that, I felt better than I had done all week, both emotionally and physically, and got up very early.

While davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers), I started to feel light-headed again, and when I had finished I went back to bed, and apparently feel asleep for three hours (interrupted by my parents briefly saying goodbye on their way to a routine hospital appointment), until I was woken by the cleaner arriving at midday, shortly before my parents. I was rather disorientated and unsure whether they had come back home or not, which confused things further.

As this indicates, I’m still getting hot flushes, light-headedness and tremor (more frequent and severe than my occasional social anxiety tremor) periodically through the day. I’ve gone back to thinking it’s a medication change side-effect, but who really knows at this stage? I feel rather confused and vaguely concerned.

***

In terms of activity, I managed a half-hour walk, an hour and a half of work on my novel and an hour or so of Torah study, as well as watching a film (Zootropolis) simultaneously with PIMOJ and then having a WhatsApp call afterwards.

***

Life can be an endless stream of self-doubt if you don’t have good self-esteem. I was worrying today if my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) have declined in quality lately. No one has said that, but then I haven’t had much praise for them either. I suppose most people don’t give me any feedback at all and I wonder what they think or if they are even still reading.

Somewhat related to this, Zootropolis, like a lot of Hollywood films, was about the idea that you can do anything if you want it enough and try hard enough. (Presumably Hollywood pushes this line because it’s safer than saying the system is rigged against the little guy and the only alternative is refusal to join in and revolution.) I don’t think this idea (you can do anything you try) is true, and I think I have made myself very unwell and unhappy over the years trying to do things that are beyond my (autistic, depressed, socially anxious) capabilities. However, I can’t deny that I have managed to push myself to do things in the past that now terrify me (e.g. public speaking). I want to write novels, but I don’t know if I can realistically do this or if I’m wasting my time. It is difficult to know what to think about this.

Lurgy

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

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

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

***

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

More Anxiety

I slept badly again, waking up in the middle of the night. I actually slept in two blocs of five hours, which shouldn’t be bad, but somehow with a gap in the middle felt incomplete. Plus, I woke feeling very anxious, which I think was about my appointment at the optician, although I had some mildly disturbing dreams too. Autism hates the unknown, and I didn’t know how my appointment would go under COVID. Even not knowing if I was going to be left standing outside for a long time before they let me in made me nervous. Of course, some of it could be the general anxiety I’ve had lately, and the usual burnout after work and depression group.

I had managed to mostly cut out the cereal I was eating before bed, on the grounds that I was rarely genuinely hungry and it had just become habitual, but I’ve been eating porridge when I wake up in the night to help me get back to sleep. This is because warm milk helps me sleep, but I dislike the taste of milk by itself. I suppose I could try to get some cocoa or something, but aside from the fact that I’ve never had it so don’t know if I like it, I’m not sure it would have less calories than porridge. I tend to sweet the porridge with sultanas, which is better than sugar, but probably still quite calorific. More problematic, from a diet point of view, was the ton of ice cream I ate last night to reward myself for getting through a difficult day at work and depression group with anxiety…

***

I had sick-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach anxious nausea all day, as well as well as feeling myself to be in agitated in “fight or flight” mode. It’s unusual for me to have anxiety for so long without an obvious cause and I don’t know how to cope. I might look online. In the past I’ve been so depressed that I was actively suicidal and while I wouldn’t say that was better than this, over time I evolved coping strategies for depression. This feels very new and alien and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m pretty sure it’s a medication change issue.

***

I had my eyes tested and chose new glasses. I shook quite a bit while the optician was testing my eyes, although she said it didn’t matter. I’m not sure how much was anxiety and how much the usual I-shouldn’t-shake-so-I-worry-about-it-until-I-start-shaking tremor I get in situations like this (eye test, dentist, doctor, barber, etc.). More awkward was when I attempted to pay. My first credit card was rejected by the machine. I’m not sure why. With my second (debit) card I forgot the PIN and only remembered it after I was locked out of it. And I couldn’t remember the PIN for the third card at all. I’m not sure how much of this was the result of anxiety and how much is because when I buy stuff in person (which I haven’t done much recently), it’s usually under £30 and I can buy it without needing to type in my PIN, so I’ve just forgotten it. Fortunately, my Mum was also having her eyes tested, so I just had to wait for her to finish and she laid out and I paid back. It was very embarrassing though. I felt pretty useless and immature.

The other unhelpful thing I did today was buy a vitamin D supplement without realising that it was considerably higher dosage than Boots usually sell (75 micrograms rather than 10 micrograms). I almost certainly don’t get anywhere near enough vitamin D (mostly indoors, mostly covered up even in the summer), but I’m not sure if 75 micrograms is still too much. The NHS site would seem to indicate that it’s OK. I might phone 111 (NHS non-emergency helpline) later to double-check.

***

I didn’t work on my novel today or do much in the way of Torah study because the anxiety feelings were too strong, plus the eye test and cooking dinner (cashew nut casserole) took up a lot of time. I did get an idea of what I’m doing for my devar Torah this week which I can hopefully write up tomorrow.

***

I listened to the first episode of the Normal Frum Women podcast, even though I am not a woman and am probably not normal. It was quite useful for my understanding of myself vis-a-vis the frum (religious Jewish) world. They quoted psychotherapist Elisheva Liss as saying that rather than asking if we are “normal” we should ask if we are causing harm or distress and, if not, we shouldn’t worry about what we do. Other people being judgemental is not considered causing distress. This makes a lot of sense, although it’s hard to do something that other people in your community will consider “wrong” even if you know you are not harming anyone.

I think my problems with fitting into my shul (synagogue) community come partly from not always being sure of the community’s values, not least because it is a community with some more modern elements and some more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) elements. For instance, I know some people do have TVs and others do not and it is hard to know what the “official” line on TVs is. (I’ve also noticed in recent years that some people who won’t own a TV do stream on Netflix and the like, something that I don’t fully understand.)

More contentiously, I know that many (all?) people in my community would not approve if they saw me walking arm in arm with PIMOJ, and that does make me a little nervous. However, I feel that I’ve only stayed frum in the last few years by making compromises to my preserve my sanity. This mostly involved bending rules rather than breaking them, but I break the rule about touching women who aren’t relatives for PIMOJ because I just can’t cope any more, and I feel that people who haven’t got to their late thirties without a “legitimate” physical relationship (i.e. marriage) don’t really get to judge me here. It’s break the rules in a small way to stay sane and keep the “bigger picture.”

On a related note, I found this article about passing, intended from an autistic POV (although it is written by a religious Jewish autistic woman). I feel the need to pass, both as neurotypical and mentally healthy in the world in general, and as “normal” in frum world. However, the effort involved can be pretty soul destroying as the article noted. I would like not to feel that need all the time.

Integrity

I spent too much of Shabbat (the Sabbath) in bed again, curled up in the duvet because it calms me, although I wasn’t conscious of feeling anxious, but perhaps I was feeling overwhelmed. I couldn’t sleep last night because I took my medication late and once I did fall asleep, I didn’t get up until midday again. I did quite a bit of Torah study and recreational reading on Friday night and today. I’m getting fed up with all the non-fiction I’m reading at the moment and want to read a novel, but also don’t want to abandon anything half-read. Hopefully I’ll finish Morality or America During the Cold War soon.

After Shabbat I helped tidy up and did some more Torah reading. I hoped to work on my novel, but I felt ill again: a headache, feeling hot (although I don’t think I have a temperature), nauseous, runny nose… I don’t think it’s COVID, but I think fear of COVID might turn me into a hypochondriac. I did feel better after making myself eat some toast and was able to eat enough to take my psych meds. The headache did seem to respond to paracetamol and a kool and soothe strip and once the headache was gone everything else seemed to go, so it seems that it was just a migraine.

I wanted to watch something fairly mindless as I recovered from the migraine, so opted to watch Wonder Woman (the film, not the TV series) with my parents. It was not a good choice, as I found it fairly incoherent and dull. I think superhero films are one of those things I think I “should” like (as a geek), but actually don’t.

***

Last night I had a dream that, while not a recurring dream as such, is a recurring dream scenario, where I’m put in some situation where I have to break Shabbat. I don’t know why I still dream about this when I’ve been keeping Shabbat for about two decades, about as long as the period before I kept it. I clearly still have anxiety about being forced to break it.

***

As I mentioned, I’m still reading Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Morality. He speaks about victim culture and is critical of it, saying it makes people look backward, and look for someone to blame. Inspired by Viktor Frankl and other Holocaust survivors, he advocates looking forwards for new challenges. I think this is true, or at any rate reflects my own experiences. I feel like I’ve only been able to move on from my mental health issues and my anger (not quite the right word, but I’m not sure what else it could be) about being on the autism spectrum in the last eighteen months or so, since feeling I could write. Before that, I had a period when I felt that I could be a librarian, but as that ran into difficulty, the depression and frustration came back. I worry what will happen if my writing doesn’t find an audience.

I guess I admire resilience rather than victimhood. By resilience I mean just carrying on, somehow, even at a level that would not be considered “normal” in the mainstream world. I admire people who can keep going without losing their integrity. Sometimes that’s the only thing you can hold onto. I think integrity in general is a much under-valued virtue these days. Maybe that’s why I have nightmares about breaking Shabbat; it would be a betrayal of my values and integrity.

Minor Trials and Tribulations

Today seemed quite busy. I slept badly again, struggling to fall asleep and then struggling to get out of bed. Today was Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) I managed to get up a little earlier to say some of the extra prayers, although I’m still saying a much-reduced Shacharit (Morning Service).

I spent the morning at work processing cheques people have sent in to pay fees. I think I had a few moments of autistic executive function block where my mind went blank and I didn’t know what I was doing and possibly I didn’t save data properly. I think/hope that I caught all of those. I intended to check all of them at the end, but checking forty-six payments seemed excessive (not to mention likely to send me back down the path of OCD compulsive checking), so I checked three or four random accounts and the data was always saved properly, so hopefully it was all OK. Later I processed a credit card payment over the phone and made a mistake, but the payment still went through when it probably shouldn’t have done. I put the wrong name on the card because I was confused by a woman paying on behalf of her mother. Hopefully that won’t be a mess that I need to sort out next week. Other than that, the main diversion was another trip to the bank to pay in the cheques. The cashier looked at the big pile of cheques and said I obviously hadn’t done any banking for a while. “Not since Monday” was my response. Almost everyone pays their annual fees in January, so we have to pay a lot of cheques in, although J says more people are paying by phone or online this year, which is easier for us.

J and I left work early today and despite going a different route home to avoid traffic, I had time this evening to finish and send my devar Torah (Torah thought) and work on my novel for twenty minutes or so.

I spoke to PIMOJ for an hour. She wanted to call on WhatsApp, which was fine, but I didn’t realise my phone hadn’t connected to the wifi properly when I came home, so I used 80% of my data for the next month (it just refreshed a few days ago). Not good. It’s not disastrous, as I don’t generally use much data, but it is frustrating.

PIMOJ bought me chocolate, which she sent in the post. I feel a bit apprehensive about the amount of gifts she gives me. They’re mostly small things, but I don’t really express affection that way and I wonder how she wants me to express affection to her. I wouldn’t know what presents to buy her and it wouldn’t really occur to me to do so without prompting. I’d say it’s an autistic thing, but it’s probably a male thing. Possibly PIMOJ and I need to talk about “love languages” (if you believe in love languages), but we already had one serious conversation today and it’s probably just as well we didn’t have another. At least we were on the same page about the serious conversation we did have.

I got given a confectionary package from my shul (synagogue) today too. Do they think I’m still shielding? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure who to ask/tell. It was probably a bit unfortunate that it came today as I sent off the email asking for a shul fee reduction given my employment/financial situation.

But certainly dieting with this much junk food around will be hard!

***

My glasses broke last night. I’m not sure how. The arm came off the little hinge. I suspect it’s either really easy to fix, or completely impossible and I need a new pair. Dad tried to take them in to Specsavers today. In ordinary times, it would be a simple thing, but because of COVID you have to get an appointment just to speak to someone about a broken pair of glasses and they forgot to phone him back. I wore my spare pair of glasses to work, but they have an old prescription. They were OK, but after a day wearing them, I think my eyes were getting strained, so I took them off. I generally only get new glasses when my prescription changes; then I take the older pair as an imperfect spare. I rarely need to use my spare glasses and even then usually for only a day or two, so it’s not usually a problem, but of course COVID makes everything a problem.

***

From my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week:

Finally, Rashi tells us that sometimes Moshe [Moses] is put before Aharon [Aaron] and sometimes Aharon is put before Moshe to teach us that they were equal.[1]  This is puzzling, as we know that Moshe was the greatest prophet, so how could Aharon be his equal?  According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, Aharon was equal to Moshe in two senses.  First, that Moshe would not have succeeded without him, so his participation, like Moshe’s, was essential even if Moshe was greater.  Second, Aharon achieved the maximum of his potential, just like Moshe.  Although Moshe’s achievement in absolute terms was greater, both brothers achieved 100% of their potential and are equal in God’s eyes, as He judges success by the proportion of a person’s mission that is achieved and not the amount achieved in absolute terms.[2]


[1] Rashi Commentary to Shemot 6.26

[2] Quoted in Rabbi Nosson Scherman ed, The Stone Edition Chumash: The Torah: Haftaros and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings

This idea, about achievement being relative to a person’s potential in God’s eyes rather than an absolute value, is not a new idea to me. So why it is so hard to accept?

***

The pharmacy I use is one of the six in the country that are providing COVID vaccinations. It’s just been on the TV news because the minister in charge of vaccine roll-out was there today. Selfishly, I am vaguely worried about whether this (the vaccinations, not the minister or the news) will have any impact on how fast and easily I can collect my monthly repeat prescriptions, particularly as I have one that needs collection on Monday.

***

None of what I have written here is serious, but it has all left me pretty exhausted. I’m going to do a bit more Torah study, then watch Doctor Who for a bit and go to bed.

Writing Success, Financial Embarrassment

I had another difficult morning of oversleeping. To make it worse, when my clock-radio alarm went off, I couldn’t get it to turn off. I was too tired to work out if I was pressing the wrong button in tiredness and confusion or if it was actually broken and the increasing volume of the alarm was distressing me a bit, so I just yanked the plug out of the wall socket. I couldn’t get it back in the socket in the half-light, so I have no idea what time I actually woke up “properly” because I lay in bed for a long time before I got up and plugged the clock back in. Like yesterday, I went back to bed after breakfast (although it was afternoon) because I was tired and depressed.

***

I spent over an hour working on my novel in the afternoon. Some of the time was spent writing, and I’m more or less up to 80,000 words now (I’ve been told that 70,000 words is the bare minimum for an adult novel, but 80,000 to 100,000 words is safer). The rest of the time was spent reading online, trying to research what the arrest and prosecution process would be for someone making a rape claim weeks after the event and whether the police would realistically advise her to do so in the absence of evidence. I need to do more research and then probably rewrite the climax of the novel (again).

I had hoped to get the novel in a shape where I can get feedback from other readers and potentially send it to editors or agents by Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) in the autumn, but that was when I was unemployed and single. Meeting that deadline seems less likely as work and my relationship are taking up a lot of additional time. I have a three or four page document of changes I still want to make. Some are relatively brief, but some are more far-reaching.

I spent five minutes tidying up the bookmark folder on my internet browser where I had saved links to stuff relevant to writing, either sites for research for my current or potential future novels; or pages about finding an agent or publisher or pitching to magazines. I’m usually quite tidy, but the fact that I had not organised this is probably indicative of a deep-seated avoidance of the aspects of writing involving getting other people to read and judge my work, let alone pay me for it.

***

I worked on the novel straight after lunch, because I wanted to make sure I made progress with it today. This meant that when I went for a walk, it was dark again, although it had at least stopped raining. I feel the winter darkness is getting to me, as it usually is by this time of year. I haven’t been using my light box much, as I’ve been getting up too late, and using it in the afternoon can lead to insomnia later. On days when I work, I get up earlier, but I rush to leave and don’t always remember to use it or get enough time. I am wondering a bit if buying a weighted blanket will lead to more refreshing sleep, although it won’t help with sunlight deprivation.

***

I’m nervous about my relationship too, which is going well, but I’m increasingly aware that PIMOJ and I will face a lot of obstacles in making it more permanent. I’m also a bit concerned about my general mental health at the moment. My therapy is currently fortnightly and this was an ‘off’ week, but I should have asked to see if the therapist could add a session in. I thought I didn’t need it, but in retrospect I did. Next Wednesday afternoon seems a long way away.

***

I drafted an email to my shul (synagogue). They raised their membership fees recently. The increase was small, but I have been paying full fees over the last two years, even though I have only worked for five and a half months out of the last twenty-four, and that was part-time. I don’t feel that I can continue to pay at this rate. I did not say anything until now because I was hoping to find work and because I was ashamed to ask for special consideration. I have also been letting the synagogue collect gift aid from my contribution which really they shouldn’t do as I’m not a taxpayer. This was oversight on my part rather than a deliberate attempt to defraud HM Treasury, although I’m vaguely worried that the taxman may make me pay it back. I feel bad about the whole thing. I don’t like being dependent on others like this, but it was ridiculous that for so long I was making myself pay the full amount like people who are in full-time work. I don’t think I realised how ridiculous it was until in a Zoom shul a few weeks ago, meeting someone in authority said something off-hand about if you were made unemployed you would immediately arrange a fee reduction/cancellation and I realised that it hadn’t done it for so long.

It reminds me of something I heard ages ago from a rabbi, that shuls have funds to support the needy in the community, especially before festivals, which can be particularly expensive. He said that they don’t have a problem getting people to donate to the fund, the problem is getting people to accept the donations, as people feel embarrassed and ashamed. The Medieval halakhicist (jurist) Rambam (Maimonides) wrote about the best and worst ways of giving charity. The best is to make someone self-sufficient by giving them a job or an interest-free loan of start-up capital. Then it goes through various types of giving, but anonymous donation is seen as better, because less shaming. Double anonymity (donor doesn’t know recipient and vice versa) is the absolute best.

***

Other than that, my main achievement was drafting my devar Torah (Torah thought), but I was pressed for time and used some secondary sources (including Artscroll books) rather than going back to the primary sources (Talmud, Midrash). I usually do at least try to do that. I felt it wasn’t a great effort overall, and I’m not sure that my main point is either well-argued or correct.

***

I started to take the haloperidol. The information leaflet says it can cause delusions. Insert joke about Donald Trump here.

***

PIMOJ and I started watching The Mandalorian (Star Wars spin-off streamed TV series). We both got Disney+ the other week to watch the film Soul together. Then PIMOJ found The Mandalorian on there and started watching and asked if I would like to join her. PIMOJ isn’t a straightforward geek, but she likes science fiction, which is good. The series is entertaining. I find it a bit po-faced, but I feel that about Star Wars in general (the old Doctor Who/Star Wars rivalry). I might watch some Doctor Who before bed for something with more humour and imagination. Possibly The Happiness Patrol which is tonally as far from Star Wars as you can get.

***

I had an email from a job agency asking if they could put me forward for a potential job. I don’t think I’ll get it, as I don’t have all the necessary skills and experience, plus it’s a full-time job, which I don’t think I could handle right now, but I will probably tell the agency to put my name forward as a tactical move to show willing to the agency, as they handle a lot of library roles and might have a more suitable part-time role at some point.

***

After the scam phone call I got yesterday, I had another one today. Same scam, slightly different number (last three digits different). I think there was another scam call that I didn’t pick up. The frequency of this worries me a little.

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?

I woke up a few times in the morning and even got up briefly, but didn’t manage to stay up and awake. I just felt too burnt out and depressed. I eventually got up after midday – not good. And I went back to bed after breakfast, which is worse. I still felt drained and low after lunch, which usually boosts my mood. PIMOJ said to focus on taking one step at a time and not worry about tomorrow, which is true, but I still felt like I’ve gone backwards.

I actually got woken up earlier by the phone ringing, but it was a number I didn’t recognise and I didn’t feel able to deal with it, so I didn’t accept the call. Later, I got called by an almost identical number. It was a recorded message saying my National Insurance number was compromised and I was going to be investigated by the police. It sounded like a scam (similar to these), so I hung up. There are very bad people out there in the world.

I struggled to do anything until mid-afternoon. I went for a walk and requested a repeat prescription; cooked dinner (vegetable curry); and bought birthday cards for my Dad and my sister, also a present for Dad (my sister hasn’t told me what she would like yet… we don’t really do surprise presents in this family, although I think my Mum would like to).

I spent about five minutes on research for my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week. This was probably not enough time, but I have an idea of what to write and spent another five minutes sketching out a plan. I wish I had a lot more time to invest in my divrei Torah than the hour or two a week I usually manage, most of which is spent on writing rather than researching. It would be good to have more resources too (books and Hebrew reading ability). I did some other Torah study too, but ran out of time for working on my novel, which frustrated me, as I feel I’ve been neglecting it since starting my job and that I’m running out of momentum with it, which worries me a bit.

I also submitted a comment online to support my synagogue’s attempt to get planning permission for a new site, which is exciting, but also makes me worry about the semi-detached relationship I seem to have to the community, something that will be worsened if it moves to the other side of the local area (it would be about a twenty minute walk, maybe a little longer, as opposed to currently a ten minute walk). I had been putting off writing the comment for a week and a half, so it was good to get it done.

***

I feel like I’ve gone back to a hand-to-mouth existence, in terms of time, energy and mood, never quite having the time or energy for everything. I’m still hopeful that coming off olanzapine will improve my sleep and get me two to four hours more awake most days, but it might not, if my over-sleeping is caused by depression not medication. There’s also no guarantee the haloperidol will work as a replacement, especially as I have a history of poor responses to antidepressant medication.

The biggest new drains on my time and energy in the last few months have been my new job and my new relationship, but I’m not willing to give up either, so I will just have to squeeze out time for working on my novel where I can. It could be that the winter lack of sunlight and poor weather is having an effect on me too.

In the meantime I find myself feeling a ridiculous amount of unnecessary anxiety about what TV to watch every evening. I’m not entirely sure where these thoughts came from.

***

People on the autism spectrum are supposed to be good at spotting patterns. Supposedly, there’s an entire autistic unit of the Israeli Military Intelligence because of this ability. I think I have that ability on some level, but the patterns I spot aren’t necessarily useful ones. I noticed lately three songs I’ve been listening to that could be taken as referring to mainline London train stations (Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks, which actually is about Waterloo Station; Victoria, also by The Kinks, and Waterloo by ABBA). I’m good at memorising bits of trivia for quizzes, but not really at anything useful. I’m not sure what I’m trying to say here.

More Anxiety

Wow, I feared that when the American Empire started to go, it wouldn’t go peacefully, but I didn’t expect a mob bearing the Confederate Flag storming Capitol Hill just yet. Crazy. Mind you, I was reading about the protests of the 1960s on my lunch break (civil rights, anti-war) and I think the scale and perhaps also the intensity of unrest greater then than now. It’s just that Twitter and 24 hour news coverage make it more visible now. Compare Capitol Hill with rioters storming the Pentagon in 1967. On the other hand, civil rights and Vietnam bubbled away for years, so who knows how things will look in 2030? The culture of the sixties was definitely better though.

Back here in London…

I had a lot of anxiety again today. I am going through an anxious time, but it occurred to me that I’m coming off olanzapine, which is probably making the anxiety worse. This morning on the Tube in to work, I was too anxious to do much Torah study as I usually do. I tried to practise mindful acceptance of my anxiety and guilt feelings. It helped a bit. The anxiety went away a bit during the morning as I was busy at work, but came back in the afternoon as there wasn’t much for me to do. Sometimes it felt like borderline religious OCD (anxiety that I’ve done/will do something religiously wrong). This leads to a feeling that everything I do to try and move my life on (careers, relationships) just provokes guilt for not being perfect. I try to tell myself it’s irrational guilt, but the slightest mishap (and mishaps are inevitable) just sets me to thinking that I’m being punished by God and that worse is in store for me. I am not sure how to cure myself of this dynamic.

I think I tend to see life very much in black and white terms (which is a classic autistic perspective), but specifically in black and white moral terms. It’s a kind of scrupulosity (religious OCD) whereby I want to be morally perfect and see any moral imperfection as heinous. This leads to things like me applying for jobs that are not right for me because I feel “ought” to do so. My moral integrity and honesty is a big part of my self-esteem (insofar as I have much self-esteem), so it’s hard to challenge it.

Similarly, in terms of dating, I’ve partly internalised a frum (religious Jewish) model of dating which sees the dating process in extremely moralised and black and white terms (e.g. avoiding platonic friendships with the opposite sex; no dating before being ready to marry, in terms of having a settled career and mental health; pre-screening dates to only date people with shared values; avoiding long-term relationships before marriage). I do this even though this model has not worked for me. This leads me to feel that everything I do in dating is wrong and that my dating difficulties are a punishment from God. However, I am not sufficiently integrated into the frum community to really be able to date that way even if I wanted to do so.

Both PIMOJ and my therapist struggled to understand yesterday how I can feel that I’ve never fitted into or been accepted by the Orthodox world and yet still want to be a part of it. I’m not sure that I have the answer to this question myself. I believe in Orthodox Judaism, even if I’m not really able to live the right sort of life, practically, that would enable me to function in the community. That’s the best answer I have. I know that many people would, if not consciously then at least unconsciously, change their beliefs for ones that fitted better with a possible or desirable lifestyle. That has just never happened with me, for whatever reason.

***

As a side-note on black and white morality, I’ve encountered quite a number of rabbis over the years who claimed to be very badly behaved in their youth. I’m not quite sure what to make of this. Are they exaggerating to try to connect with young people? Does a disobedient, questioning, cast of mind lend itself well to Talmudic study? Probably. Can the uncontrollable energy of the boisterous child be focused into the superhuman amounts of emotional energy needed by the congregational rabbi? Possibly. Sometimes I feel weirdly that if only I had been worse-behaved at school, I might be in a much better situation today. It will be weird if I go to Heaven and they tell me that I was too well-behaved to earn much reward.

***

Speaking of which, PIMOJ and I streamed (separately) Soul, the latest Pixar film, about a musician who dies, but wants to come back to Earth, and is set to mentor a soul that is resisting being born. It was amusing enough, but I found it hard to concentrate on and triggered a lot of uncomfortable thoughts about my not enjoying life or having a clear purpose (I want to be a writer, but worry I won’t make it). I couldn’t really explain to PIMOJ that I want to enjoy the small moments of life, but all too often I can’t, and I can’t will that enjoyment into being, particularly not if it’s still an element of depression.

Feeling Anxious

I’d like to be able to start a post without talking about my sleep pattern, but it seems to be a big part of my life at the moment, so here goes. I went to bed about 12.00pm. I wasn’t sure if I would sleep or not. Being sick can make you sleepy, but I had done nothing all evening since being sick except watch TV, so I didn’t feel particularly tired. I couldn’t sleep. I’m not sure if it was a lack of tiredness or the constant agitated thoughts about the Zoom meeting on Tuesday evening Rabbi B. Eventually I got up and watched some more Doctor Who to calm myself down. I did actually enjoy the second half of Logopolis more than the first, although that may be because it was 1.00am and my standards were not as high. I did eventually fall asleep around 2.00am, but slept through the morning again, which I was hoping to stop doing. I guess it was not entirely unexpected, given the evening I had (being sick, but also having a difficult conversation with my parents and arranging the call with Rabbi B). What did upset me a little was waking up with some religious OCD thoughts, which had not really bothered me for some time. I was a little surprised to experience them, although I know there’s always a risk of the religious OCD coming back at times of stress and exhaustion. They did at least go after I’d eaten breakfast – low blood sugar also exacerbates OCD for me.

After breakfast I felt better, but also a bit down and lethargic. It was hard to do very much. I guess it’s not surprising, given that I had been very sick less than twenty-four hours previously. At lunch I opened the box of vegetables that I was eating with PIMOJ yesterday and saw that the leftover cucumber had gone off. It was completely mouldy and furry. So I suspect I was sick from food poisoning from eating gone off cucumber. I knew it was a little past its best, but it still looked edible yesterday. Obviously not.

I was pleased to get thoughtful messages from PIMOJ, but also a message from J asking how I was, which was nice. He said I could do some work from home one day this week, putting 300 invoices in envelopes, stamping and posting them. I think I can do that on Wednesday, hopefully working around my therapy in the afternoon. I had already decided I was going to skip volunteering this week as I have too many stressful things even without being sick. I’m a bit upset at letting them down, but I need to look after my mental health. I skipped depression group tonight too, as I didn’t feel I had enough stamina to spend a long time on Zoom, as well as not feeling able to speak about the things that most concern me. I feel a bit bad about missing it again, but I feel that I need to focus on the autism assessment, meeting with the rabbi and paid work this week.

I spent an hour or so in the early evening working on my novel. Once I got into it, it flowed quite well for a while and I wrote 500 words, but around seven o’clock I suddenly became very anxious. It was a feeling of nausea and apprehension rather than specific voiced fears, but I suspect the meeting with Rabbi B tomorrow evening is at the root of it, and maybe also the autism assessment tomorrow afternoon.

I guess the Rabbi B fear is wondering what he will think of me, feeling that I’ve done something in good faith and on the advice of my rabbi mentor, but which on the face of it appears bad to someone from an Orthodox Jewish background. Although my rabbi mentor got in touch with Rabbi B before I made contact with him, I’m not sure how much of my story he told him. I guess below that is guilt, which probably isn’t justified. Beyond this, when I knew Rabbi B when I was at university, I felt that I was constantly embarrassing myself in front of him and looking like a freak or an idiot (for reasons I would now identify as being down to autism or social anxiety) and wondered what he thought about me…

Other than that, I didn’t achieve much. I didn’t go for a walk (I actually only just realised that I didn’t go out all day). I did some Torah study and preparation for my devar Torah, but wasn’t satisfied that I’d done enough, nor was I satisfied with my preparation. I may have to start from scratch, but it’s much too late to do that now.

I got distracted this evening reading stuff online that only left me upset, frustrated, guilty and uncertain of things, but I don’t really want to go into it here. Now it’s nearly midnight and I should go to bed as I have a busy day tomorrow (autism assessment, Rabbi B), but I feel very tense and unsleepy. And I haven’t even mentioned my thoughts about Lockdown 3: The Mutant Strain.

***

I was voicing my anxieties to PIMOJ and she was trying to calm me down. Then I watched the first episode of the Doctor Who story Castrovalva and saw the same scenario play out as the composed Nyssa tried to calm down the panicking Tegan, saying that panicking doesn’t achieve anything and so on. To be honest, there’s an element of geeky Adric about me too, and I’ve long suspected that I don’t appreciate Peter Davison’s Doctor as much as I should because he’s the Doctor who’s most like me (polite, but given to moments of panic and ultimately not that good at being the Doctor, with fatal consequences). Suddenly my future life seems like Season Nineteen of Doctor Who… I guess there are worse things it could be, although I hope it’s more Kinda than Earthshock.

***

I commented on someone else’s blog today to say that I’ve only been paid for one piece of writing, although I have done some professional or at least semi-professional writing for free. This, it occurred to me afterwards, is not true any more, as I have sold a couple of copies of my non-fiction Doctor Who book, and while so far only friends and family have bought copies, at least two people have read and enjoyed it (my oldest friend and my sister’s nephew). It’s a bit frightening how my mind can keep positive memories and thoughts away from me when I need it.

Feeling Positive

Shabbat was pretty good, but not much to note. I went to shul in the evening and did a lot of Torah study on Friday night, including an hour on a really difficult Mishnah. I didn’t nap either Friday evening before dinner or this afternoon, and I got up early this morning, albeit that after ten minutes or so I fell asleep again, so maybe reducing the olanzapine is helping already. I feel a little more alert and I don’t feel more depressed, so maybe I won’t need the alternative anti-psychotic after all.

I reflected that I haven’t felt this good for a long time. I feel like I have some kind of structure and purpose in my life again: I work two days a week at a job that seems to be within my capabilities, even if it is fairly mundane; volunteer one morning; work on my novel; have therapy fortnightly; have a relationship that is going well; am doing quite a bit of Torah study… I feel like writing Jewish fiction is giving me a sense of purpose in my life, and working at the admin job is validated by feeling like I’m earning money to support myself writing, which is my real mission.

I had a lot of interesting thoughts last night, some prompted by one of the books I’m reading (Morality by the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl), one of which will hopefully become a devar Torah later in the year. I was pleased with these thoughts and am wondering if PIMOJ is right to see them as communications from God (not in a prophetic/psychotic sense, but in a “there’s no such thing as coincidence/hidden miracle” way, that positive things that happen, happen for a reason), but I wish they wouldn’t become so obsessive and “stuck in my head” (like a song) when I think of them on Shabbat and can’t write them down. I usually do have these kinds of thoughts on Shabbat, I don’t know whether it’s for spiritual reasons or just because it’s when I switch off from computer, phone and TV and let myself actually think about things. Or not think. Sometimes just sitting still and not thinking about anything in particular can lead to very interesting thoughts.

I had a headache today. It started about an hour before the end of Shabbat. The headache part went after a while, but there was still some nausea. As a result, I had to postpone a film night with PIMOJ (watching a film simultaneously in our different homes). We were hoping to go out tomorrow too. I was ready to commit to that, but PIMOJ was worried my headache would return and said to confirm tomorrow morning. We did speak on the phone (via WhatsApp) once my headache was better.

As my headache meant I couldn’t do much, I watched the New Year’s Special Doctor Who, which was broadcast after Shabbat started on Friday, so I had to wait until Saturday evening to watch it. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t get much out of it. I can’t work out if current Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall’s vision for the programme just doesn’t excite me in either positive or negative ways or if I’m just too old for it now. It is supposed to be a family programme, even if it’s always had a significant adult audience. I can watch the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who endlessly without much drop in enjoyment, and I can watch selected episodes of Russell T Davies and especially Steven Moffat’s versions of Doctor Who and get some enjoyment out of them, even if some bits annoy me (no, the Doctor doesn’t need a love interest, and his cultural references should be wider than those of a contemporary ten year old). But Chibnall’s vision of Doctor Who doesn’t even anger me much, except when it’s being inadvertently (I hope) antisemitic (The Witch-Finders, Orphan 55). It’s just there. Maybe I’ve finally grown up. His first season (2018) had moments of narrative, directorial and thematic innovation and daring, in a low-key way, but I haven’t really been excited by it since then.

Draining Day

Today was the last of my semi-holiday days, as J is still off work isolating (back tomorrow) and there was no volunteering this week. However, I feel tense and am running late, and did not manage to do everything I wanted to do.

I slept far too long again last night, with bad dreams that I don’t remember (thus sparing you the details). I finally got the letter from the psychiatrist about changing medication yesterday, so I reduced the dosage of my olanzapine today. We’ll see how that affects both sleep and mood. Obviously I want sleep to improve and mood to stay the same (good), but we’ll see. I’m on three different drugs that increase tiredness (and weight-gain), so changing one may not do enough, and the others seem too important and useful to change. I don’t think I’m far enough in my recovery to stop my meds entirely, and maybe I never will be. I do want to have a morning though, to have more hours in the day; to daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) at the proper time, maybe even at shul (synagogue) post-COVID; to align my body clock more with PIMOJ’s (she’s early to bed and very early to rise); to be less fearful of oversleeping when I have work or volunteering… I’m fed up with being quasi-nocturnal, really, especially in the winter when I don’t get enough daylight.

It’s strange… feeling that I want to hibernate at this time of year is not new, but feeling physically tired without feeling particularly emotionally low is new. I’m not quite sure what to make of it. To be honest, despite having slept through the morning, I wanted to go back to bed after breakfast, although I didn’t.

***

I tried to work on my novel, but my brain was basically doing what my body did this morning: retreating into hibernate mode with the bedclothes over its head. The main thing I did was delete 90% of what I wrote yesterday as it wasn’t working. As for what I did write… I sat in front of the document for an hour or so, of which about twenty or thirty minutes was productive. I wrote 300 words, leaving me 100 words behind where I was before I deleted yesterday’s work. I managed to use the word “gastronome.” I guess I’m quantifying my life again to try to “prove” to myself that I’m doing things…

***

I went for a walk and did some shopping, and I wrote my devar Torah – in the end, I did write a new one rather than reusing an old one. I did a little Torah study beyond the devar Torah, finishing Emmanuel Levinas’ Nine Talmudic Readings. I did not understand all of it, but what I did understand made me want to read more Levinas, at least his writings on Judaism and perhaps some of his more general ethical writings. His sense of a responsibility that precedes contracts, precedes even freedom and itself is necessary for it to exist is rather lacking in the world around us.

***

My uncle, in Israel, has had the COVID vaccine. He’s the first person I know personally to get it, at least that I know of – I can think of some people I know who should have had it, or should get it soon, but I haven’t heard that they have yet. I guess that’s the advantage for my uncle of living in small country (the entire population of Israel is about the same as that of Greater London, something not usually made clear in news coverage).

Meanwhile, our new cleaner refused to wear her mask properly (nose uncovered) on the grounds that she couldn’t breathe properly. This led to mild anxiety that she’s infected us. I don’t think she’s coming again, although for reasons unrelated to COVID precautions.

***

The COVID anxiety has subsided, but I’ve had bits of stress building up in the last hour or two, as I need to get ready for work tomorrow and feel that I haven’t done everything I want to do, and also that tomorrow is going to be busy. At least I can see that stress is not depression or anxiety.

My Superpower: Super-Sleeping

I feel OK, mood-wise, if a bit low, but I’m frustrated about my super-sleeping. I slept for over twelve hours again last night. I woke up a couple of times in the morning, but was too tired (and too cold) to move and after a minute or two I fell back into a deep sleep. I find it frustrating as I would like a morning, and to be able to daven Shacharit (say Morning Prayers) at the right time. Or at all. Somehow I can get up for work and volunteering, but not in the absence of that obligation. I guess I should be looking for more obligations to get me up on other days, although I’m not sure that I could cope with more at the moment.

I think with both super-sleeping and putting on weight, that it’s easy to see myself as lazy and lacking self-control, which is probably not the root of the problem. Regarding weight: last night I didn’t eat junk or cereal, but I’m not sure if I can manage that tonight, when my mood is lower.

I guess, when I stop to think about where my life is at the moment, I’m glad, but also frightened. Frightened that I’m only halfway there (or less) and wondering if I’ll ever get anywhere close to 100% there, wherever “there” is. I’m glad I have a job, even if I can only manage a part-time, low-skilled admin job at the moment. I’m glad I have my parents and sister, I’m glad I have my friends, real-world and online. I’m glad I have a work-in-progress novel. I’m very glad I have PIMOJ. But I worry about getting stuck here, which would, in the long-term, mean going backwards, because some of these things are not sustainable in the long-term, at least not as they are now; I have to keep growing or regress. Often in life a lack of progress is really a regression; you can’t just stand still.

I don’t celebrate Christmas or New Year’s Day, but this time of year, the last week of the Gregorian calendar year, the “bleak midwinter” (if you will), is always tough. Everything is shut even without COVID, the days are short, the nights are long, the weather is cold and often damp and no one really wants to do anything other than slump in front of the telly and eat junk (or is that just me?). I guess it’s not a surprise that my mood has slipped a little today and that I didn’t make much progress on my novel. I did get 400 words written, which is something. Writing without inspiration can feel like trench warfare, where progress is measured not in miles or even feet, but inches. I spent about an hour and a half in front of the computer, but I suspect less than half of that could be called “writing.”

I went for a walk, only for half an hour, unfortunately. It was cold and, more to the point, I had to cook dinner (vegetarian curry). I did some Torah study and research for this week’s devar Torah, in an effort not to write about the topic(s) that I’m probably going to write about (one or the other). I was not particularly inspired this week, perhaps because I know I don’t need to be: I knew that I’ve got old divrei Torah for this sedra (Torah portion) that could be polished up and pressed into service this week. I don’t want to use them, I’d rather write something new, but I can’t think of anything new, and I’m running out of time. It’s not even a particularly boring or esoteric sedra (Yaakov (Jacob) blessing his sons on his deathbed).

***

A good NHS admin story! Last week I phoned my psychiatrist’s secretary to try to track down the letter that was supposed to have been sent to me and my GP about changing medication slightly to try to improve my sleep pattern. Well, today she (the secretary) phoned me back, told me she had sent the letter to the GP and offered to email it to me rather than post it to speed it up. Within a few minutes, I had received the email.

***

I’m not sure how much I agree with this old Psychology Today article about The Pathologizing of a Culture, but this section interested me:

A diagnosis has become confused with being an actual entity. A diagnosis should be a practitioner’s best effort to describe and summarize an individual’s challenges and circumstances and correlate that evaluation to a DSM descriptor. Instead, it has become concretized to be an actual thing.

Last week, as I was walking down the corridor from my office, I overheard a therapist speaking with another about their client. “Jane has ADD,” she offered. Tongue in cheek, I inquired, “What do you mean?” “My client Jane has ADD,” she once again proclaimed, bewildered by my feigned ignorance.

I corrected her as I asked, “You mean you see behaviors in Jane that conform to what we call ADD?” Diagnoses should not be confused with an actual material essence as much as they ought to be accurate descriptions for the purpose of coherent communication about a person’s circumstances. The diagnosis is a description, our best attempt to summarize the great complexity and inestimable variables that account for a person’s life.

“Diagnoses should not be confused with an actual material essence” seems to be something I should think about regarding my autism (the next stage of my assessment is next Tuesday…).

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The main thing to report today is that I tried hard to get up when I woke up naturally this morning, not when I first woke around 5am, but when I awoke for the second time at 9am. I got up and sat on my bed, but I just felt so tired, I climbed back in and fell asleep again for nearly four hours! I wonder if I could force myself to eat something first, before getting back into bed, but there are prayers to be said on waking and when I feel burnt out and a bit low, it’s hard to get through them, although they only take a few minutes. Strictly speaking, one should say the whole of Shacharit, the Morning Prayer Service, before breakfast, which takes half an hour or forty minutes on a weekday (it varies a bit from day to day), and over an hour on Shabbat (Saturday), but I have been eating breakfast before Shacharit for many years because of depression. But I do like to say a few prayers before eating. But at the moment I also want to find a way to get up no later than 9am, and it’s hard to work out what to do.

There is no sign of the letter from my psychiatrist about changing my medication to sleep less. Realistically, it’s not going to arrive for a week or more now. She’s a good psychiatrist, but… NHS, useless at admin, etc…

I did about an hour and a half of Torah study on Friday night, which was good, except that I ate a lot of junk food at the same time. I’m not sure if there’s a causal relationship or not. I managed about an hour today. I seem to be doing OK on Torah study at the moment (where “OK” is a minimum of half an hour a day, and an hour or so most days).

And that was it for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Oh, I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night. It was cold (the heating wasn’t on) and I sat in a draft from the door that we have to keep open because of COVID.

Tomorrow I’m seeing PIMOJ again. We’re rather stuck for ideas for dates when everything has to be outdoors. We just go to parks and eat lunch together. I guess it means we get to know each other well, but it would be nice if we could do something else. Anyway, tomorrow I hope to have the scary “I think we’re in a relationship, but I’m not sure if you do…” conversation.

Chores, Christmas and Punching Octopuses

Yesterday I was so tired that I went to sleep at 10.45pm. I slept until about 7am, then woke, but still felt tired and slept for another couple of hours. That may have been a mistake. I think maybe I should try to get up when I wake up, even if I feel tired or haven’t slept that long. (Realistically, I’m unlikely to wake before 6.00am unless a bomb goes off outside.) I had dreams that were slightly disturbing, but not interesting or insightful enough to be worth recording here.

Today was mostly another chores day. I went for a walk, did shopping and ironing, tidied my desk drawer and finished and sent my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I’m not entirely pleased with my devar Torah this week. I know I say that a lot, but I’m really worried about bending my facts to fit my big picture interpretation this week. I would have liked to discuss it with my rabbi mentor, but I haven’t been able to get hold of him. PIMOJ liked it though.

I didn’t get to work on my novel. “Working on my novel” currently is reading a book on domestic abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community by Hasidic rabbi and practising psychiatrist Rabbi Dr Abraham Twerski. I haven’t learnt much from it, which is good inasmuch as it means my previous research, and the way I (tried to) use it in my previous drafts, are accurate. I suspected that this might be the case, but I thought that I couldn’t write a novel about domestic abuse set in the Orthodox community without reading one of the few non-fiction works about domestic abuse in the Orthodox community.

I finished reading Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs/Song of Solomon) in Hebrew with Rabbi Sack’s commentary, making three complete (and difficult) books of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) that I’ve read in Hebrew this year, alongside much of Tehillim (Psalms). And I still have a week to try to squeeze in the very short book of Ruth! I haven’t read much commentary on them, though (the book I read on Iyov/Job was as much psychology as theology). I am hoping to get hold of this book, although probably not until the new year now. The other books I’ve read in that series have ranged been very good.

***

The rather self-pitying (or so I feared) comment about my experience of autism not meeting the “autistic superpower” narrative that I left on a mainstream news site has garnered twenty-eight upvotes in two days. I’m not sure what to make of this.

***

Tomorrow is 25 December. This is usually the day on which strange religious stuff is done, and for once it’s not me doing it. There are some amusing spoofs out there on what Christmas would be like if it was a Jewish festival e.g. the tree must be a minimum of three handbreadths tall and no more than twenty cubits tall; however a public tree may be any height because it is to publicise the miracle and no one fulfils their individual Christmas tree obligation through it. Rabbi Yehudah says the tree should be erected on 1 December, but the sages say it should be erected straight after Thanksgiving (this is all American) to go from one mitzvah to another. And so on.

However, this year 25 December coincides with the Fast of Tevet. I will not be fasting, because it’s not safe for me to do so on lithium (I only fast on Yom Kippur); still, it will be a bit more sombre than usual, although in the rush to get ready for Shabbat (which starts at 3.41pm) there won’t be much time for anything before shul (synagogue) in the evening and dinner after nightfall.

What I did do for Christmas was go to a Zoom class at the London School of Jewish Studies about the Jewish roots of the nativity story, given by Amy-Jill Levine, who is an Orthodox Jewish New Testament scholar. It was very interesting. There was an interesting suggestion that Jews are more open to multiple meanings of religious texts because Judaism is an ethnic identity rather than a religious one. Whatever interpretation a Jew makes of the Torah, they remain Jewish, whereas Christianity is a religion with a clearly-defined dogma, straying from which might conceivably carry a person out of the religion, so Christians see it as more important to find the correct interpretation of the Bible. I’m not sure that this is the only possible explanation, but it’s interesting.

***

We have a Brexit deal. I’m more confused than ever about what I think of this. Sometimes it’s tempting to wonder what it’s like to have the certainty of the single-minded on both sides. In any debate (not just Brexit), I tend to see points on both sides. My university essays were masterpieces of fence-sitting.

But the news story that I heard today that I keep thinking about is that scientists have discovered that octopuses sometimes “punch” fish out of “spite”. See here for video footage. Remind me never to upset a spiteful octopus. (They are actually really clever animals.)

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

I had mixed feelings about an online article on autism and left a comment, even though I don’t usually comment on that particular site (it’s mostly politics articles, and while the articles are interesting, the comments are often angry and lacking nuance). I’m not linking to it as I had to post the comment under my real name. I said that the difference between “high functioning” and “severe” autism is not always clear-cut, that I was extremely high functioning in the structured environment of school and got to a very good university, but I struggled there and even more since then. That I’m thirty-seven and have never had a full-time job or a relationship that lasted more than a few months, nor have I ever built my friendship network the way I would have liked (although I do have some friends, albeit many online). That like a lot of people on the spectrum I’ve spent much of my life struggling with mental health issues. I don’t consider myself to have “autistic superpowers” and I worry about how I will cope with the world when my parents aren’t here to help me.

In retrospect I’m not sure if I should have posted it. The line between “sharing experiences” and “self-pity” can be a fine one for me and I’ve crossed it many times in the past, usually when feeling upset and left behind by life or by my peers. That said, and very much to my surprise, within a couple of hours it had become the comment with the most upvotes on that article, and by a considerable margin, so I suppose some people thought it was a worthwhile contribution.

***

My main achievements for the day were cooking dinner (lentil dal and rice) and going for a run, the latter rather later than I wanted, after dark, as I made sure to cook dinner first in case I got an exercise migraine. I don’t think I was unusually short of breath, so perhaps the recent shortness of breath is a mask side-effect after all. I did come back with a headache though. I didn’t feel up to doing much Torah study with a headache, so I listened to an online shiur (religious class) rather than read Torah. I’m trying to listen to shiurim more, particularly on days when I feel depressed, tired or otherwise unable to read Torah. I do see shiurim as somewhat second-best, though, as I internalise ideas much easier in written form than spoken, not to mention that I feel that written information is “denser” than spoken i.e. I will come across more new ideas in an hour of reading than an hour of listening to a shiur. I’m not sure how true that feeling is.

***

My line manager, J, texted me to say that he is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone with COVID at our shul (synagogue), I assume/hope not at a service where I was present, as I haven’t heard anything. He has been going to shul a lot more than me in the pandemic, so it’s quite likely that that’s the case. So, no work this Thursday, or next Monday, which is bank holiday anyway.

***

I phoned my psychiatrist’s secretary to chase the letter I was supposed to have about changing medication to make me less tired. The secretary says that she was not told to write a letter and that she will have to speak to the psychiatrist, so another NHS error. I’m worried that this won’t be resolved until the new year. We ❤ NHS.

***

The Economist does a “world next year” publication at the end of each year. I’m amused that they’re still doing one for 2021, even though I’m pretty sure their 2020 edition failed to predict the pandemic, which dominated every aspect of the year, even more than either Brexit and the US election (which had its own surprises, such as Trump increasing his vote in absolute terms, but still losing). The BLM protests in the USA were unprecedented in their size, and the fact that they spread to other countries and no one predicted that. No one guessed that Israel would normalise relations with a slew of Arab countries either. “Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future” is a saying attributed to many different people, but it’s very true whoever said it.

I wish journalists would stick to reporting facts rather than trying to seem super-clever by predicting the future. Unfortunately, it’s cheap copy – it’s much cheaper to sit at your desk guessing what might happen instead of going out and asking people what did happen. No one remembers the failed predictions, so there’s no downside to it from the journalists’ point of view. It also means people you don’t like don’t actually have to do bad things for you to be able to criticise them, it just has to be possible for them to do bad things at some point in the future.

For example, at one point this summer, there were four different articles on the BBC’s Middle East news page saying that Israel was going to annex the Jordan Valley and asking if this would start a war. In the event, Israel didn’t annex the Jordan Valley, and the idea that it might looks like a bit of diplomatic maneuvering to get the Emirates/Bahrain peace deal. The BBC never retracted anything. It never does. About the same time, there was a skirmish on the Indo-Chinese border in which several soldiers were killed, which potentially could have started a war between the two most populous countries in the world, both nuclear-armed. It barely registered in Western news media. There’s a lot of ways you could understand this, none of them good.

(Coincidentally, I just came across a load of newspaper clippings on Twitter showing senior US politicians and health experts (not just Trump and, yes, including Democrats) saying in February that COVID wasn’t a serious problem and that people should celebrate Chinese New Year in big crowds as normal.)

Date and Memorial Service

I got up early to go for a walk with PIMOJ in Golders Green. Although PIMOJ is adventurous and likes doing new things, she seems quite comfortable doing things repeatedly too, which is useful as autism doesn’t like novelty much, and because there isn’t much to do in the winter with COVID shutting everything down. We had a good time and opened up to each other a bit, I think. It definitely seems that there’s some “opposites attract” with us, admiring the other’s traits that we don’t have.

After walking for a while, I began to feel a bit faint and short of breath and had to sit down for a few minutes. I was perhaps dressed a little over-warmly for the weather. Later, walking up the stairs at the Tube station with my mask on, I felt short of breath again. I have been slightly short of breath at volunteering lately, again with a mask, although I wasn’t wearing a mask when I had to sit down. It is hard to breath with a mask, but I guess it’s also something to mention to the GP.

In the afternoon I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for well over an hour, which was more than I expected, especially as it is still not finished. It is uses more sources than usual, and is also more creative, making me rather nervous about presenting it, worried that I have got carried away with my essential idea, that Rambam’s (Maimonides’) moral categories of “balanced” sage and “pious” saint are two complementary models of religious leadership, the former for times of stability and the later for times of crisis; and that Yehudah (Judah) and Yosef (Joseph) are, if not models of the two, then at least incline towards them. I wish I had more time or ability to bounce this idea off people and see what they think before sending it out into the world.

I then spent half an hour reading a book on domestic abuse in the Jewish community as research for my novel. Then in the evening I had a Zoom shiur (religious class) at the London School of Jewish Studies. Actually, it wasn’t exactly a class. It was supposed to be the launch of Rabbi Lord Sacks’ latest book, except he passed away a few weeks ago, so it was part book launch, part memorial service. They had thirteen Jewish educators who were, in different ways, Rabbi Sacks’ students, speaking about him and his ideas.

I found it quite moving and at times difficult to watch. There were a lot of mixed feelings, some of which I have noted before. There was the feeling of loss about Rabbi Sacks’ death, and the feeling that I will never get to speak to him, and that maybe I could have spoken to him if I had tried hard enough, but what would I have said?

There was also the feeling of inadequacy I have at LSJS events, that I should get on with these people, that they are on my wavelength and must have a similar worldview, but I’m always too shy to speak up at classes, whether to ask or answer questions or volunteer ideas, so no one there really knows me. Also that many of these educators are not that much older than me, but I have not done anything with my life the way they have (PhDs, rabbinic ordination, written books etc.). I wonder how I can rectify this, and I don’t really know.

One teaching today impressed me so much as relevant here that I wrote it down so I could quote it correctly. Tanya White was speaking about suffering. Rabbi Sacks, inspired by Viktor Frankl, and said that suffering is inevitable, but that “Healing comes when we refuse the self-definition of victimhood,” that we can choose our response to suffering. It strikes me that this is hard today in a time of competitive victimhood; we have to consciously choose not to define ourselves as victims, but to find a more positive and proactive way of understanding ourselves.

Grief and Nostalgia

I felt very drained on Friday and struggled to get up and get going in time for Shabbat (the Sabbath). Shabbat started earlier on Friday than any other day in the year, at 3.36pm. I went to shul (synagogue), but felt uncomfortable there. I’m not sure why; there were elements of mask discomfort and social anxiety. I probably have not adapted to the social distancing and other COVID safety measures, and Kabbalat Shabbat without communal singing is a rather sad and subdued affair.

In the evening, I spent quite a while on Torah study, reading the essay on Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) and love in Judaism by Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl in his Pesach Machzor (Passover Prayerbook) as well as the first chapter of Shir HaShirim with Rabbi Sacks’ commentary in the same book. I found it all rather moving and it felt a bit like one of the religious experiences I often want to have, but never manage. I did also feel grief about Rabbi Sacks’ recent death. I’d often wondered if I would get a chance to have a conversation with him one day and it suddenly hit me that that would never happen now and I felt a stab of grief.

I did some recreational reading too. When I got back from shul, feeling very drained and slightly depressed, I spent half an hour reading my recent purchase, Doctor Who Magazine #242 from August 1996 (the issue before I started reading regularly). I’m rather more excited about it than I am about the current issue of DWM, which seems less analytical and also less joyful. Or maybe modern DWM readers and writers just get excited about different things to me. At £3 including postage, my old DWM was cheaper too. It’s weird to think that this is a new thing that dates from my adolescence. I have a horrible feeling I’m going to start hunting eBay for DWM back issues, at least for the rest of Gary Gillatt’s time as editor. Nostalgia is as good as it used to be.

Friday’s Chanukah donut: chocolate-filled.

***

Today was a normal Saturday. I slept too much again. I actually woke up about 7.15am, but it was so dark outside that I couldn’t face getting up and ended up falling asleep again. I wish I could find a way out of this sleep disturbance. When I was awake, I davened (prayerd) and we had the usual Shabbat meals. The evening was mostly filled with Torah study.

I haven’t eaten today’s donut yet, but it will be chocolate-iced. I also had a kosher mince pie, which is as close as I get to celebrating Christmas.