Very Scary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad at Doing Nothing

I wanted to have an ‘off’ day as I’ve been feeling very stressed lately, building up to my shutdown (or whatever it was) on Monday. E also suggested I should do relaxing things, and I agreed with her, but, when I faced an ’empty’ day, I found the thought terrifying, which was interesting. I wanted to work on my next novel or do something useful like polishing the silver for my parents. I guess I could have worked on my presentation for the job interview that I may or may not attend.

I’ve already noticed that I find it hard to give myself ‘permission’ to read recreationally for long periods, rather just in small bursts during lunch or while travelling, and while I do watch TV most days, I usually do that while doing something else at the same time, even if just eating dinner or doing my pre-bedtime relaxation exercises, or at least have the ‘excuse’ of feeling too tired to do anything else. Not that I spend my whole time being ‘productive,’ far from it, but I spend time procrastinating online when it would be better to focus on work and then relax ‘properly’ at the end of the day. But even before the internet, I would procrastinate, not doing homework while I skimmed ahead in whatever novel I was reading, before going back to read it ‘properly.’ I’ve intermittently thought of setting time limits on my internet browsing, but that feels like more ‘rules,’ and in any case, I struggle to stick to it, because I suspect that procrastination in my case is a mixture of poor autistic executive function and (at least pre-E) loneliness.

I feel that I’m lazy, because I’m not particularly driven to do paid work, but at the same time I do feel pressure to ‘do things’ every day, as well as a different, more complex and deeper-rooted desire to write (blog, novel, devar Torah) and to read about things in the world around me. It’s hard just to do nothing. I used to think that was because lots of negative thoughts about myself would tumble out, but I’m now wondering if it’s simply because I interpret inactivity as ‘wrong.’ Even on Shabbat (the Sabbath) I find it hard to read for fun rather than to study Torah, although on Shabbat I can lose myself in thought for ages, albeit with a religious focus rather than just relaxing.

Hmm, there are a lot of ‘rules’ in the above passage about how I ‘should’ work and relax. I wonder if I should bring this up with my therapist when she gets back from her holiday.

Despite wanting to relax, I needed to write my devar Torah for the week as I wouldn’t have time tomorrow. I spent a little over an hour on that. It was not one of my most inspired divrei Torah. Sometimes a question or idea leaps out of me from the text of the week’s sedra (weekly Torah reading) and sometimes I find something in the sedra that lets me speak about a subject I want to talk about for other reasons (this can be somewhat contrived sometimes). But this week I was just stuck and had to look for ideas in the books of divrei Torah I own. The one I wrote was based largely on one of Nehama Leibowitz’s Studies in Devarim Deuteronomy.

I did postpone two scary phone calls I need to make. However, I still spent time complaining about a faulty second-hand DVD. The latter made me think about reconsidering the amount of second-hand DVDs I buy, but most of them are really cheap and probably 90% of them play fine, so I think they’re worth the risk. I also tried on two pairs of shoes and then tried to return the pair that didn’t fit, which ran into problems because of a mendacious returns information and incompatible technology. I’m not sure what to do about that. Given that I don’t like shopping, and hate returning things, these might not have been the best things to do on a supposedly relaxing day.

Other than that, I went for a walk and watched TV: The Blue Planet and Doctor Who. I don’t feel that I did much positive to relax overall, whatever that would mean, particularly as the episode of Doctor Who is not a favourite (see below). I feel in the evening in particular I was rushing around trying to do various things (returns, making lunch for tomorrow) and somehow the day just got away from me again, as it usually does on ‘quiet’ days. Plus I feel on the verge of worrying about various religious things I haven’t done, as we come closer to Rosh Hashanah and indeed to this week’s Talmud shiur (religious class). Maybe I need to be busy or do absolutely nothing at all, but not just a few ‘essential’ things.

***

Watching new Doctor Who season two (2006) with E brought us to Doomsday today, an episode which I hated on original transmission. This was unlike the rest of the season, which I liked a lot, but now don’t. Time has some equalised everything and now I think that the season is the least challenging (although probably not exactly the worst) of Russell T Davies’ four seasons as showrunner. The season in general and Doomsday in particular seem bombastic, sentimental and derivative (secret paramilitary organisations stealing alien tech were old hat even in 2006), but not totally unengaging.

Perhaps it’s autism, but familiarity often breeds not contempt, but cosiness and acceptance for me. While I’m never going to understand the people who see Doomsday as one of the greatest episodes ever, I found myself — not enjoying Doomsday hugely, but finding it reassuring and, as I said, cosy. “Cosy” is usually meant as abuse from the type of Doctor Who fan who insists the programme is Serious Adult Drama, but I don’t really believe that and tend to see cosiness as a strength, and something present in more stories than the Serious Adult Drama (SAD) Fan would think. Like other stories I once hated, it has turned into something I can occasionally tolerate and find “moments of charm” in, if not exactly love it.

E seems to have liked the “Daleks vs. Cybermen” aspect, something the original series was never allowed to do, as Dalek creator Terry Nation didn’t want to risk devaluing the Daleks by pitting them against an enemy they couldn’t defeat (other than the Doctor). I’ve always found it gimmicky, but I guess it was going to happen sooner or later.

Next up is a return to a certain junk yard in London 1963 as we watch Doctor Who‘s earliest episodes (at E’s request), episodes I will probably prefer to the 2006 vintage despite having last watched them a few months ago.

Noise

I’m writing after Shabbat (the Sabbath) again, to offload from a rather stressful (and ongoing) day. The ongoing bit is the people in the house behind us and to the left, who are having a party with loud music again. It’s currently 11.30pm and they haven’t turned it down. My Dad thinks they are students. I’m slightly sceptical, as we aren’t anywhere near a university or college let alone in a student area (it’s mostly families around here), but it would explain why they have loud parties regularly. I’m pretty angry with them, but have no real way of venting. I’ve got all the windows shut, which I don’t like to do even in the middle of winter, let alone August, but I can still hear the music through the double glazing.

***

I had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor on Friday. We spoke a bit about my current feeling of being overwhelmed and how to break my worries into smaller chunks, and also that, although I’m not doing much that’s particularly scary (except submitting my novel manuscript), a lot of things are going to happen in the next couple of months, and the cumulative effect is difficult, particularly with the autumn Yom Tov (festival) cycle starting in a month from tomorrow.

We also spoke a bit about how much Torah study I do. Although I haven’t been monitoring closely lately, I think I’m still averaging about fifty minutes a day, including some weekly Talmud study. My rabbi mentor said something to me about Talmud study that I don’t think I should repeat, but it did make me feel that maybe I am doing enough.

I woke up at 6.30am this morning and struggled with my conscience about getting up. It was far too early for shul (synagogue), but I wondered if I should try to stay awake so I could go. I fell asleep again, woke up when I thought I heard someone at the door, delivering my Twilight Zone box set, I guessed, although when I got downstairs, there was no one there. At some point I should have got up and stayed up, but I fell asleep again. It looks like social anxiety is taking over and stopping me getting to shul in the mornings again. I thought I’d made progress there, but the cost of liberty is eternal vigilance, and social anxiety exposure.

I don’t usually relate dreams unless I feel they are either very amusing or insightful. I think this is a bit of both: one of the occasions when I drifted back to sleep this morning, I dreamt I was back at school and rehearsing the lead in Hamlet. I’ve never really wanted to act, but I’ve long had an interest in Shakespeare’s great Dane, seeing parallels with myself (clever, moody, doesn’t have many real friends, messed up love life (OK that’s not relevant to me any more, but it was for a long time) and complicated relationships with his parents), although nowadays I don’t see him as a particularly positive figure. I’ve read Hamlet twice, once with notes, and I’ve seen two productions on TV/DVD, although never in the theatre. Anyway, I think dreaming of Hamlet was my unconscious’ way of chiding me for procrastinating about getting up for shul and falling asleep instead. I’m not sure why the dream seemed to focus on Hamlet’s death and my being stabbed, with a hidden pouch of fake blood to soak through my doublet, which would probably be excessively gory for a school production. Sherlock Holmes (another literary figure I identify with) was involved too, trying to solve the Elsinore murders. To be honest, Holmes would probably have made a better job of it than Hamlet did.

I did make it to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers), although it was a struggle, given how wet and miserable it was outdoors and that I didn’t really want to be around people. I stayed for Talmud shiur too and followed some of it, although we covered more material than I had prepared, which is almost unprecedented.

My parents invited their friends who live down the road for seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal). They are friendly, but very loud and talkative. I mean, they talk a lot, and loudly. Even the son, who is also on the spectrum, was talkative and loud. They were already here when I got home from shul. They were looking at my birthday cards, which are still up downstairs; I was glad I had removed the card from E with a very personal message.

I ate seudah with them, but slipped away after dessert while everyone sat around talking. Conversation was about school experiences (the son on the spectrum had a very different experience to me), COVID and the Olympics, none of which interested me. I went upstairs and read a bit, although not for very long as Shabbat was nearly over, and there was a lot of noise from outside (see above).

My Dad wanted me to lead bentsching (grace after meals) which I did, and then to make havdalah (prayer at the end of Shabbat), which I also did, but found myself getting annoyed. I think I was just drained from so much peopling and so much noise. I know my Dad doesn’t read Hebrew well, so likes me to lead any prayers when his friends are around, but I guess I feel a bit taken for granted. I mean, I’m already struggling just to handle his friends being there when I don’t want to be around people, without feeling obliged to ‘perform.’

Now I feel somewhat down and headachey. I’d like to watch The Twilight Zone, but the noise from outside is not conducive to the right atmosphere, so I’ll probably watch The Simpsons, which doesn’t need atmosphere. I don’t feel tired as I slept so much (morning and napped again after lunch).

Books, Sacred and Secular

I wrote a draft query letter for an agent about my novel. The process was pretty terrifying. I asked E for some advice as writing a query letter seems to be a very different skill to actually writing a novel, more like marketing and (self-)promotion than creative writing. I feel a bit like I’m writing a job application, and those have not always gone well for me, although I feel more confident submitting sample chapters than having an interview. E suggested a few changes and additions, which I hope to add later in the week, as I’m pretty exhausted now (see below).

I also made a couple of very small changes to my manuscript, rewriting a few of mentions of real-world things that could get me into copyright/product placement trouble of one kind or another.

That all took about an hour and a half, including some procrastination time. This was unfortunate, as today was another slow day with lack of energy and low mood, particularly on waking. I hope I am not drifting back into burnout or depression, although there’s really no way to tell at this stage. I went for a walk, but it left me more drained than reinvigorated. To be honest, I was more invigorated by spending an hour working on my (rather long) devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week, which was longer than I really predicted or intended. It’s on a topic that fascinates me, but which hardly ever gets asked in the frum (religious Jewish) world, namely, why was it so hard to stop the Israelites worshipping other gods?

I also read another chapter of the biblical book of Nehemiah; I have an idea why so many of the chapters of this book and that of Ezra are just long lists of names, but they are frustrating to read. I think people who haven’t read Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) assume it’s all like that, but mostly it isn’t, it’s mainly Bereshit (Genesis) and the last few books that are full of name-lists. Somehow takes longer to read the name-lists than ordinary narrative too, which seems counter-intuitive; I suspect my brain takes longer to process unfamiliar words like names, particularly as relatively few names in Tanakh are ever repeated. Apparently the idea of naming a child after an ancestor hadn’t taken root at that stage.

The Review of Reviews

I only slept for about four hours last night. I’m not sure why I couldn’t sleep; probably from the heat. I tried to sleep on the sofa downstairs, as it was significantly cooler there, but I couldn’t get comfortable; I am really too tall to lie straight on it and the armrest was at the wrong angle even with a pillow. I did manage to get to volunteering on time this morning, but after less than an hour, I was getting a migraine, I guess from shlepping boxes around and moving up and down a lot in the heat. I usually come home on the bus, but I phoned Dad to ask for a lift, despite having to wait twenty minutes for him to arrive with nowhere to sit, because I was worried that the stopping and starting of the bus and having to wear a mask on it would make me throw up; as it was, even the car journey nearly made me ask Dad to pull over a couple of times in case I was sick.

By the time I got home, the solpadeine I had taken at volunteering was beginning to have an effect, but, unusually for me, I couldn’t shake the headache completely. I was OK if I sat still, but it hurt if I moved and later there was some pain behind my eyes. I took more solpadeine in the mid-afternoon, but I felt bad enough that I didn’t manage to do much today. Aside from some Torah study on the bus before the headache started, the main thing I did was draft my devar Torah for the week (I’m not hugely pleased with it — I quoted a number of sources, but couldn’t really synthesise them or draw them together). That took quite a while, admittedly because I kept getting distracted online. I didn’t feel well enough to work on my job application, or maybe I was just glad of the excuse not to deal with it.

Eventually, I decided to give up on trying to do anything. Trying not to move my head much, I watched Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace, one of the few Doctor Who overt love stories that I have much time for, and a relief after a bunch of not-so-good episodes in E and my new series marathon. I’ve been critical of David Tennant’s performance before, but, to be fair, his delivery makes some corny jokes and clumsy exposition seem naturalistic, and it’s really a performance that is not to my taste more than one that is bad. And I laughed at a couple of jokes I’d forgotten, and even jumped at one of the monster bits. When I’ve watched this episode in the past, I’ve usually empathised with the Doctor: “Oh, such a lonely childhood! Doctor, so lonely, so very alone… Such a lonely little boy. Lonely then and lonelier now. How can you bear it?” It was good that I still enjoyed it even now I’m not lonely. (I’ve also always been vague about money too.)

I felt better by the time my sister and brother-in-law came for my birthday dinner (takeaway pizza and chocolate fudge cake). It was good, although I always feel I don’t talk enough at family things. I got rather a lot of books as birthday presents (I was given a budget and just ordered things…). I might talk more about the books (six fiction and two non-fiction) another time as I’m rather pressed for time now — dinner went on quite late.

I also discovered my father had mistakenly put a fanzine that contains a review of my non-fiction Doctor Who book with the birthday presents. I think this is the first review of anything I’ve ever written! It took me a couple of minutes to read, as I got a little overcome with nerves mid-reading and paused, although (full disclosure) the reviewer is a good friend of mine and I knew he would only have bothered to write the review if he’d had positive things to say — “unjustly neglected” was his verdict! Maybe I’ll pick up a couple more sales off the back of it — and, indeed the one I registered the other day might be the first.

The dinner made up for the discomforts of earlier in the day, although I will now be rushing to get ready for bed now, and to snatch a few minutes alone time to recover from peopling, or I won’t sleep even without accounting for the heat. J has asked me to come in to work earlier than usual tomorrow as we will be going out of the office in the morning, which is probably not the best timing, but at least it means that tomorrow morning won’t be too intense.

They Killed K9!

Today is my birthday according to the solar/Gregorian calendar. Although the tendency in the Orthodox Jewish world is to see the Jewish/lunar birthday as the real one (inasmuch as birthdays have any significance in traditional Judaism, which is not much), I keep the solar birthday, not least because a couple of Medieval authorities see birthdays as going by the solar calendar, plus I’m not sure how my family would cope with a switch to the lunar calendar (and when Tisha B’Av falls on a Saturday, the next day, my Hebrew birthday, becomes the saddest day of the year by default).

This is basically the first time I’ve ever been in a relationship on my birthday, albeit a long-distance one. Technically I had been dating my first girlfriend for two or three weeks when my birthday came around, but we weren’t ‘officially’ a couple and she was away leading a Jewish summer camp anyway.

I can’t find any particular significance in becoming thirty-eight, but according to tradition a number of Jewish figures had major life changes in their late thirties or early forties. According to one tradition, Moshe (Moses) spent forty years as an Egyptian prince, forty years as a Midianite shepherd and forty years as prophet and Jewish leader. Rabbi Akiva was an illiterate shepherd until he was forty, when he started to study Torah and the Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism, was thirty-six when he stopped being a humble worker and became a public tzaddik (righteous holy man and leader), at least according to tradition (I think recent scholarship has found a more public role for him earlier, although he still remains a fairly elusive figure in the historical sources).

***

I saw a library job going that I feel I ought to apply for, part-time at an mental health library. You may find some ambivalence in “I ought to apply”. I’m apprehensive about working three days a week rather than two and about having to deal with a more intense working environment. I feel I’m only just coping with my current, less intensive, job. I’m not even sure I really meet the criteria of the health library job: I have never worked in a health library and the job description seemed contradictory as to whether that was necessary. I don’t have much experience doing literature searches either, I haven’t really done any since my master’s. But I will apply if I get the time between now and the closing date, which is surprisingly close (the job was posted a few days ago, but expires on 28 July. My Mum wonders if they want to award the job to someone already in the organisation and are just posting it publicly to meet the legal requirements). I do feel that I’m applying from obligation as much as desire though.

At least I can use a previous application to the same organisation as a basis for the application. I’ve added some stuff on my new job to bring it up to date; the main thing I still have to do is the personal statement where I state why I want the job and would be a good fit for it. This is probably where I get into trouble these days, given that I’m so equivocal about my librarianship ability and have always been bad at selling myself. I also feel it’s not in my favour that I have so many gaps of unemployment, or employment in non-library jobs, something underlined by the insistence on the application that I provide a character reference to cover periods of unemployment. Presumably they worry that, if I wasn’t working, I must have been robbing banks to fund my crack habit and they want to talk to my rabbi to check that this was not the case.

My Mum was for many years in a secretarial job where there was less and less work to do and there were no real prospects for the future, but she stayed with it because it was local, because her bosses were friendly and let her take time off for Yom Tov, and especially because they would let her work flexible hours or miss time at short notice due to family emergencies. When we got to the point where I was very depressed, this became a bigger thing, as Mum would take me to psychiatrist appointments and the like. I wonder if my current job is becoming a bit like that: I stay with it because I know I can cope with it, because my boss is understanding and because it’s a Jewish organisation so I don’t need to worry about taking time off for festivals.

***

I didn’t want to apply for the job today, although I did fill in some basic parts of the form. I did some dusting, which was a dull birthday task, but needed doing. I hoover my room most weeks, but I don’t dust very often because it takes a while because of all the bric a brac I have (much of it not worth keeping out on display, I suspect, but I can’t let go) and the miniature models I’ve painted. Other than that I didn’t do much other than go to Zoom shiur (religious class); it was too hot for exercise and I decided we would celebrate my birthday en famille tomorrow because my shiur was this evening. I did have cake though, and a really nice birthday card from E (I got my cards today, but we are doing presents tomorrow).

Also, E really liked the novel I’m writing, which was a good present! Speaking of books, I think I recently had another payment for my self-published Doctor Who book, which I think is beyond the last sale I knew about, so I (probably) sold a copy to someone I don’t know! Like a real writer!

***

TV today was Doctor Who: School Reunion as part of my watching with E. The episode wasn’t as good as I remembered. These days I hesitate to criticise Doctor Who because (a) now I’m a writer, I realise how hard it is to write anything and regret how quick I was in the past to criticise (what I saw as) bad writing and (b) the Doctor Who format is flexible enough to be twisted into lots of different shapes, so I frame it more as “I don’t like this rather than “This is bad”, but even so, School Reunion hit a lot of my I don’t like this buttons that the programme regularly hit when Russell T Davies was showrunner, someone who I suspect has a very different opinion to me on what constitutes good Doctor Who (although the episode was actually written by Toby Whithouse, whose later writing on the show would sometimes be more to my liking). I did like Anthony Stewart Head as the villain, though. I wish we’d seen more of him.

***

It’s kind of depressing that trying to google a Talmudic quote by writing some relevant words and then “Talmud” leads to lots of results that are either hugely antisemitic or just proselytising for Jews for Jesus. Then I eventually found the quote offline and realised that I had misremembered it, and that I would have to write a completely different devar Torah

Shabbat Hazon and Tisha B’Av (Mood Diary, Not Another Religious Post)

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, except that I did not manage to fall asleep until 3am on Friday night, possibly because of the heatwave, so I overslept and missed shul in the morning again.

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), then went again after seudah for a pre-Tisha B’Av drasha. It was good, but I felt self-conscious not just in a blue shirt, but no jacket or tie. I think I could have got away with no tie, but I should have worn a jacket. My parents said I would be too hot and I agreed, but deep down I knew that everyone in my shul would be wearing a jacket even if they took it off on reaching shul. Also, the rabbi had said something about my wearing a blue shirt during the Talmud shiur — not critical, but it made me feel self-conscious.

I didn’t have a low chair for Tisha B’Av and was planning on just sitting on the floor (Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem; in Judaism, sitting low down or on the floor is a sign of mourning). Someone lent me a low chair, but I didn’t want to use it. I’m not sure why. I was a little worried it was higher than permitted, but I think mainly I just felt too self-conscious by that stage: was he being friendly or did he think I was a total am ha’aretz? And my non-leather trainers (not wearing leather shoes is another mourning custom) weren’t particularly comfortable either, although that could have been from sitting on the floor. I also got confused too about when to wear a COVID mask, and realised that I gave my mother mistaken instructions regarding end of Shabbat ceremonies when Tisha B’Av starts immediately afterwards.

Along with this, I couldn’t really follow Eichah (The Book of Lamentations, read on Tisha B’Av). I don’t know why I’ve found it so hard to engage with it the last few years. I just can’t follow or connect. To be fair, I find the Hebrew quite hard to translate in my head, but even following along seems to be hard. I just can’t concentrate that much at 10pm, especially in a heatwave and while sitting on the floor (and feeling socially awkward). Then in my shul we do kinot (laments) to ourselves, really quickly rather than slowly and communally as in my old shul. I read some kinot in Hebrew without really connecting with the poetic Hebrew, so I switched to English (really the only time of the year where I say set prayers in English), but still ran out of time. I did the last kinah at home, in Hebrew, but looking at some of the English, which felt a bit better.

As usual after Shabbat when I’m in shul I helped to fold up the tablecloths, but I’m so bad at that that I feel I would be better off not helping, except that it feels wrong to just walk out without helping. I was reminded of something I said on Ashley’s blog last week about autistic people wanting to help, but actually just getting in the way.

I struggled to sleep again last night, because of the heatwave, because of creative thoughts I kept having that I kept getting up to write down, and perhaps because shul had left me feeling disquieted. Perhaps consequently I overslept today, and when I woke up, I was not able to get up for a long time. I felt utterly drained again, and perhaps somewhat depressed, and aware that I didn’t want to break my fast until halakhic midday, a little after 1pm. I missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers. I think I finally got up about 2.30pm, made havdalah (on tea) and had something to eat. I felt a bit better after that, but I did feel that I wasn’t quite in the right mindset for Tisha B’Av, but also that I was scared to get into that dark mindset. I read Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust for a bit (a book I’ve been reading only on Tisha B’Av; in about five years, I have not finished it yet, although I might try to finish the few remaining pages before next year) and listened to a Zoom talk on antisemitism via my shul. I also went to a Zoom shiur (religious class), again through my shul, but the organiser hit “Mute all” and forgot to unmute the speaker’s computer, so it was inaudible. Someone posted in the chat to say there was no sound, but it took a while for someone present at the shiur to notice and unmute it.

I feel like I don’t find Tisha B’Av as meaningful as I used to, and I don’t know why. Not fasting (because of the danger of fasting while taking lithium tablets) is probably a big part of it. Fasting used to make me ill (headache, nausea, sometimes vomiting), but not fasting feels like not really participating. I tended to avoid shul during the day even pre-COVID, because I don’t want to have to turn down a mitzvah because I’m not fasting. Plus, I often experience burnout after the night of Tisha B’Av from the shul experience (as much social anxiety as religious devotion this year, as I said above) and then crash on the morning and struggle to get up, especially as I try to fast until halakhic midday. Or maybe not being depressed means that Tisha B’Av is not the day that I most connect with emotionally any more, the one where I can easily get into the right state of mind. To be honest, I feel like as a general rule I’m not as connected to the festivals and fasts as I’d like to be, and I don’t know how to change that. I spend so much of holy days either worried about social interactions or sleeping and trying not to oversleep that religion struggles to get in there.

I did write a Tisha B’Av thought, on the suggestion of my rabbi mentor that it would make the day more meaningful for me. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, though. In the end I posted it here, although it’s not really a good match for my blog, but I don’t want to send it to my devar Torah mailing list as it doesn’t seem right for there either — maybe not quite frum (religious) enough and a bit too daring.

Carry That Weight

I went to bed ridiculously late last night. I’m not sure why; I don’t really have an excuse except bad time management and the fact that I generally prefer to go to bed late and get up late unless I have a good external reason not to do so. Still, I felt shockingly drained and burnt out when I woke up today, low mood and zero energy, and I’m not really sure why. I didn’t think I did that much yesterday, but maybe I did, or maybe I’ve just been pushing myself too hard cumulatively lately, to try to finish the latest draft of my novel so that E can read it and so that I can start looking for an agent and a publisher; trying to keep up with my shiurim (religious classes) and divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) as well as prayer and other Torah study; trying to exercise (which has almost dropped off the radar totally), to help around the house a bit and so on.

I listened to music to try to lift my mood a little and get energy. I feel bad about doing that in the Three Weeks of mourning when religious Jews are not supposed to listen to music. I know my rabbi mentor said it was OK, but part of me at least feels too functional to take advantage of that, and I have a lot of uncertainty about whether what I feel is “really” autistic burnout or what. Autistic burnout is a poorly-understood phenomenon, only recognised as a real thing by the psychiatric world about five years ago. But what I really want is to shave my itchy Three Weeks beard off, which is driving me crazy. But I will wait until Monday afternoon for that, as I’m supposed to.

E is really supportive, but we both feel frustrated about being on different continents and not knowing when that will end.

After lunch, I felt a little better. I drafted my devar Torah. It ended up not being what I intended, as the introduction grew too long and became the bulk of the piece, with an also longer-than-intended unrelated Tisha B’Av thought at the end. In fact, the whole thing took longer to write than I’d hoped, about an hour and a half. I spent half an hour or more working on my novel too, which wasn’t much, but I was reasonably pleased with what I had done. I Skyped E in the evening too, so it ended up being a better day than I expected when I woke up. I do usually manage to get to a point where I can do some things regardless of how tired/depressed/burnt out/whatever you want to call it that I feel when I wake up, I just wish I could move that point earlier in the day.

Busy Weekend

The last few days have been busy. I went to shul (synagogue). I felt thrown, and I don’t know why. Our rabbi was away, which I knew, although had forgotten, but another rabbi was there, a rather prestigious one who I thought had moved out of the area. I don’t know if it was an autistic thing, being thrown by a small change in plan, or my usual self-esteem issues, feeling that he could sense that I wasn’t frum (religious) “enough” somehow (from my non-white shirt?), even though he had his back to me for most of the service, but I felt awkward the whole time I was there. When I got home, I found myself sniping at my parents over dinner even though there was no good reason for that. Plus, I found myself overly-focused on an ongoing argument in the Anglo-Jewish community and wanting to write an angry letter to the Jewish Chronicle (which so far I have not done).

I woke up about 7.30am on Saturday morning. I should really have got up so I could go to shul, even though it was a little early, but I stayed in bed and wanted to fall asleep again and miss shul, which is what happened. I’m not sure why I felt like that, if it was a reaction to the previous evening. I did go to shul later, for Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Talmud shiur (religious class), which I followed a bit better than usual.

Today I overslept a bit and had to rush to get ready for dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s house with them, my parents, my brother-in-law’s parents and his sister. It was inside, and technically an illegal number of people, which I felt bad about, but I also felt that I really had to go, particularly as they had got vegetarian food for me. I enjoyed it, but by 4.00pm, I was completely peopled out and spent the last hour or so catching up with blogs on my phone (I hadn’t really been online since Friday afternoon), even though I would normally consider it rude to sit at the table engrossed in my phone when everyone else is talking.

Other than that, I’ve just been depressed by reading about the Batley and Spen by-election, which seems to have had a lot of anti-Israel sentiment, alongside anti-Indian and anti-LGBT sentiment. Any election with George Galloway’s name on the ballot is going to involve a lot of excrement-throwing, but this seems particularly bad. Lots of traditional Labour voters were abstaining and I can’t say I blame them. Politics is too depressing for words at the moment.

I did manage to read most (although not quite all) of this week’s super-long double Torah portion today and still went for a run (I had a slight headache afterwards), so I guess it’s been a reasonably good and certainly very busy weekend. It’s not surprising I’m a little exhausted and in need of Doctor Who!

Writer’s Thoughts and Religious Styles

I mentioned yesterday that I’ve had the idea for a while that someone should write a novel about pornography addiction in the frum (religious Jewish) community, but that I didn’t think I was the person to do it. Except that the idea has roosted in my head overnight and now I find myself thinking up supporting characters and details, like, “What if he has a feminist teenage daughter who is struggling with Orthodox gender boundaries and her father’s addiction tips her over the edge into stopping being religious?” So I wrote some notes in my ideas notebook to one day come back to when I’m looking for a project. It’s a scary topic to even think about writing about, though, far more so than my thoughts about a Jewish fantasy/time-travel series of novels.

One of the reasons I was always reluctant to go down the route of writing fiction (for publication or for fun) was the fear that I would eventually (and probably quite quickly) run out of inspiration. Related to this was a belief that a “real” writer would intuit a story in its entirety from the start without really needing to work on it. I realise now that ideas are regularly floating through my head ripe for development and in the past I’ve quite deliberately pushed them away for fear of where they would lead, in terms of feeling the need to write them and the potential for failure inherent in that. I also realise that even “real” writers have to work on their stories and sometimes significant things need to be changed quite late in the writing process.

Of course, that doesn’t make writing less scary, particularly when the ideas that find me sometimes seem to have to do with difficult, rarely-discussed subjects like abuse or addiction, but I suppose it’s the “not being discussed” element that makes me want to write them, because I want to read those books, but they don’t exist (yet).

Just to note why this might be important, I just looked on Aish.com, a popular Orthodox Jewish inspirational site, and found five articles on pornography addition in the frum community, three from the point of view of the addict and two from the point of view of the spouse. So, it is out there, whether we want to admit in the frum community or not.

***

I spent nearly an hour working on redrafting my novel (my current one). Initially, I tried to work for an hour as usual, without much success, as I procrastinated online. I switched to intense twenty minute blocs of writing interspersed with online breaks. It seemed to work better that way. I did about fifty-five minutes of work. I would have liked to have made it to a round hour, but I was at a chapter break before a long passage that would take more than five minutes to read and redraft and too tired to keep going beyond that.

Redrafting seems to be going quite quickly. I’m not sure if that’s good or not. It’s good that I don’t seem to need to change much, but maybe I should be changing more and I just can’t see the flaws in my writing because I’ve spent so long working on it (getting on for two years by this stage).

***

I wrote the following in my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week (for those of you on my mailing list, consider this a sneak preview):

In a lecture entitled Religious Styles,[1] Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik describes Torah transmission as being two-fold.  There is the aspect of learning halakhah, the details of the various Jewish laws.  This can be learnt from any scholar or from a book.  However, there is also the aspect of learning how to develop “a Torah style of living,” to find the unique way that God wants you, and you alone, to live a Torah-based life, and this can only be learnt “by osmosis” from attendance on a personal teacher.  Even then, because style is ultimately unique and individualistic, the real creation of a religious style has to be done alone, through the experience of living a Jewish way of life.  In particular, it is only by developing a unique religious style that one can develop happiness, meaningfulness and satisfaction with Judaism, even ecstasy, and it is these that allow a person to transmit a Jewish way of life to his or her children – who can then develop their own unique style based on what they receive.[2]


[1] In Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Halakhic Morality: Essays on Ethics and Masorah

[2] Rabbi Soloveitchik, Halakhic Morality pp. 196-201

This passage helped me to understand my own feelings about Judaism, the way I feel that I do what is required of me, at least as far as I can, given my “issues,” but somehow feel a lack of something “more.” I think what I lack is the sense of having my own religious style, what Judaism means to me, and the distinctive way I live it. Maybe I’m so allergic to contemporaries who talk about “MY Judaism” (as if there were no objective content to Judaism) that I’ve over-compensated, or maybe I haven’t had a close enough relationship with rabbis and mentors. Certainly for a long time now I have felt that it is this, the close contact with great scholars and righteous people, that I feel that I missed out on by not going to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary), as much as the actual content I would have learnt there. Or maybe I’m a work in progress. Although he doesn’t say it explicitly, Rav Soloveitchik could be read as implying that developing a religious style is a work in progress across a lifetime as personality develops.

I am trying to convince myself that it is OK to have my own unique relationship with Judaism, which sometimes means doing things differently to my community and can mean doing things like writing fiction that aren’t traditionally seen as religious. Including potentially writing about Jewish pornography addicts.

Busy and Fast Day

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty good. I went to shul (synagogue) on Shabbat morning as well as Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon, which was good. People were shaking hands. This seems to be permitted now, although I didn’t think it was and shied away from it. I mostly didn’t get too upset about someone I was at school with having his daughter’s bat mitzvah on Shabbat. It’s hard to get my head around someone my age having a twelve year old daughter. In the past this would have made me very envious and depressed, but I was mostly (if not quite completely) OK about it this time. I skipped the kiddush (refreshments) after the service. The shul had been doing this in a socially-distanced way, but, perhaps because of the hand shaking, I got it in my head that they didn’t need to do that any more and I didn’t feel comfortable going back to a less distanced form of kiddush. In retrospect I may have got that wrong, perhaps influenced by general social anxiety and repressed negative feelings about my peer’s daughter’s bat mitzvah.

I followed quite a bit of the Talmud shiur (religious class) in the afternoon, which was good. I was pretty exhausted by the evening, though, and read instead of playing a game with my parents after seudah shlishit (the third Shabbat meal).

I still feel “crashed” today. After having “only” slept nine hours over Shabbat (less than usual, seven at night and a two hour doze in the afternoon), I slept for twelve hours last night and got up in the afternoon. Even that was a struggle, as I felt so drained I think I could have happily slept for a few more hours.

Today is a Jewish fast day. I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts for health reasons, as fasting is dangerous while taking lithium, which makes fast days feel a bit weird to me. I guess they’re weird anyway. With this fast (17 Tammuz), there’s the knowledge that we’re three weeks away from a much more serious fast (albeit not a lot longer). In between is a period of mourning, with no weddings, celebrations, music, haircuts or shaving. I find it an awkward time. I use music a lot to motivate myself, and while there are exemptions for workouts, depression and autistic burnout, I find it hard to work out when I “qualify” for these things, and sometimes clearly do not qualify, particularly now I’m mostly not depressed. And not shaving for three weeks itches like crazy.

I worked on my novel for an hour or so. It was OK. I didn’t procrastinate as much as usual, but I definitely lost momentum after my sister interrupted by phoning me, after I’d been working for twenty minutes. It doesn’t help that I’m in the most difficult part of the novel for me, drawing on painful experiences from years ago.

I somehow managed to fit in about half an hour of work on my devar Torah for this week, my usual Torah study pattern being somewhat disrupted by the fast and adding in some extra shiurim (two today for the fast; one an ongoing thing for the next few Tuesdays that I haven’t adapted to yet). By the afternoon I was feeling subdued and vaguely blood-sugar deprived and not sure why, given that I had been eating. I think some of this might be psychosomatic; I seem to feel weak and even ill on fast days even though I don’t fast. But I think some might be from cutting down a bit on snacking during the day, even though I only snack on fruit and nuts. Caffeine deprivation might be another issue, even though I go without caffeine fine on Shabbat.

As it was a fast day, my shul was running some Zoom shiurim (religious classes). One was a mixture of religious and historical ideas about Jerusalem, the other was purely religious. I went to both in the end, which was quite a lot, with all the other things I did today.

The other thing in a very busy day (or afternoon) was Skyping E. I think we’re both frustrated at the way we can’t move our relationship on because of COVID and being long-distance, especially knowing that even after COVID we’re going to face problems with finances and immigration and who knows what in trying to be together. And we’re both aware that we want to have children, but that that’s something that will depend on a lot of practical issues currently outside of our control. However, by this stage in my life I feel ready to tentatively accept that God has some kind of plan for us, having got this far in our very complicated relationship history, not to mention my life as a whole. I know that’s kind of a puny declaration of faith for someone who is supposedly frum (religious), but it’s taken me nearly thirty-eight years to get to a point where I can accept that maybe things in my life happen for a reason and might turn out OK in the end.

Adulting Fears and Empathy Overloads

Today I slept a lot, had anxiety dreams (I don’t know why I still get anxiety dreams about breaking Shabbat when I’ve been shomer Shabbat for twenty years), woke up still feeling burnt out, as well as overwhelmed at the things to do in the next few days, in particular fitting Talmud study and writing my devar Torah around work, dinner with my family and therapy, as well as buying Dad a belated Father’s Day present, collecting my repeat prescription and hopefully continuing to work on my novel.

Once I got going, things got a bit easier and I began to work out when I could do things. I spent an hour redrafting my novel. There was some procrastination, but I actually did quite a lot, writing about five hundred words, although I’m not sure if I should necessarily be writing much more at this stage. I probably need to cut and rewrite as much as write more. I do need to force myself out of narrating and into showing, and hopefully the new bits helped do that. It also showed my protagonist’s interactions with his family a bit more, another of my main targets for this redraft.

I was a bit stuck for both ideas and time for my devar Torah this week and spent forty minutes or so revamping an old one from years ago and expanding it significantly. I’m not really happy with this, but I feel overwhelmed this week and it seemed the best thing to do.

I went for a walk and my mood went down a bit. The future seems scary sometimes. Even the good things, like building my relationship with E, will lead to scary things, like possibly changing communities or even countries or dealing with immigration law in the UK or US, buying a house, and other scary “adult” things. Then there are the things that are scary without any positives, like the fear that I might never being able to hold down a full-time job, while simultaneously not being eligible for compensatory state benefits. E and I have been told to stay in the present and not race ahead to the future, but it’s hard, particularly when (a) we’re both pessimists and worriers by nature and (b) the present is frustrating because we don’t know when we can spend time in the same country due to COVID travel restrictions.

E and I “went” to a Zoom shiur (religious class), the first of five on Devarim (Deuteronomy). It was very interesting, with a lot of information to grasp in a short period. One thing that happened that I found curious, not related to the content, was that the teacher had made a mistake on one of the handouts, mistranslating “eleventh month” as “twelfth month,” which had a knock-on effect to which month was being referred to. I noticed the mistake, both spotting the word and knowing that the month should be the eleventh one, but I didn’t say anything because I was too shy. The strange thing was that I became filled with a lot of anxiety lest someone else point it out and embarrass the teacher. Eventually someone did pick up on it, and I felt quite embarrassed for several minutes on the teacher’s behalf, as it were.

I know people think that autistic people don’t feel empathy; I think the reality is the reverse, that we feel a lot of empathy and can “pick up” other people’s emotions without really understanding them or being able to process them properly, which is what happened here.

“Don’t get me wrong/If I come and go like fashion/I might be great tomorrow/But hopeless yesterday”

…or OK yesterday, but hopeless and burnt out today (quote from Don’t Get Me Wrong by The Pretenders). I probably did too much yesterday. I didn’t want to write a long, not to mention political, post, but I just had stuff in my head to let out. I stayed up too late writing it when I should really have been taking time out (or doing the ironing). The result is that today I feel drained and somewhat unwell. I didn’t pressure myself to work on my novel today, but I feel upset that I’ve lost valuable writing time. I also will at least try not to pressure myself to do a lot of Torah study. I’ve booked for shul (synagogue) tonight, tomorrow morning and tomorrow afternoon, but I think it’s likely that I’ll miss the morning service at least. I am still hoping to make it tonight.

I guess days like today are why it’s never been easy for me (and possibly mental health workers) to tell burnout from depression. I just feel drained physically with low mood. Whenever I think about the wider world, it just seems relentlessly negative.

I didn’t do very much other than my usual Friday pre-Shabbat chores, as well as twenty-five minutes of Torah study (all I could manage, and perhaps more than I should have done). I really just wanted to go to bed and wrap myself in my weighted blanket. I avoided doing this for most of the day, but eventually decided it would help, so I went back to bed for twenty minutes in the afternoon with no screens, music, etc., which helped a bit. I would have liked to do so much more (walk, ironing, work on my novel, more Torah study…), but I’m just trying to do what I can and try to get to shul later.

I watched an episode of Doctor Who to cheer myself up as well. I thought that now we’ve watched the first season of the new series, E might like to see a couple of older stories “together.” Plus, I admit, I couldn’t really face watching twelve seasons of the new series uninterrupted! We’ve started with City of Death from 1979, which is a very popular story with fans and one of my favourites, but I feel incredibly self-conscious, wondering what E makes of it and how it looks through modern eyes and compared with the modern version. She enjoyed the first two episodes at least, even though she enjoyed the 2005 season more, which is fair enough.

Prayer Mindsets

I went to bed late last night, as I didn’t think I would sleep, having forgotten to take my meds when I got home from the restaurant, plus I needed passive unwinding time in front of the TV. I watched Doctor Who (Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways), and felt myself frustrated by Russell T Davies’ writing style again. To be fair to him, some of it is just contemporary TV in general rather than him in particular, but I can put up with other writers more easily.

When I did get to bed, I remembered something I need to do today, but I was too tired to get up and write a note, which was a very bad idea, as if it’s not written down, I don’t remember it and now I can’t work out what it is. I think I figured it out in the end, but frustrated and worried me for much of the day.

I woke up very late and after breakfast was so tired I went back to bed (or laid on the bed, as it was hot). I’m not sure if I dozed; I think just lying in a cool (ish), quiet, dark room helped restore me after all the social interactions, social anxiety and sensory overload of yesterday. I felt a bit fatigued afterwards, but not burnt out. Unfortunately, it was 3.30pm by that stage and I was still in pyjamas.

I spent a while trying to track down the complete Hebrew original of a Midrash (rabbinic expansion of the biblical story) that I had only read in part for my devar Torah; when I finally found it, I couldn’t make much of the bits that I didn’t have the translation for, which was frustrating. Aside from that, I spent about half an hour starting to write my devar Torah. I’m glad to have got the bones of it down, although I need to work on it some more tomorrow. I am conscious that I could have done more if I hadn’t been burnt out, which is frustrating, but there isn’t a lot I can do about it.

I didn’t really have time to exercise today, and I thought it was too hot even for a walk.

After dinner it was cooler outdoors than in. I sat in the garden and worked on my novel. Making amendments after having finished a couple of drafts turns out to be like remodelling the bottom layers of a house of cards after I’ve finished it; one false move and everything collapses. That’s how it feels, anyway. I’m terrified of accidentally repeating myself or introducing a continuity error or just introducing a very obviously interpolated and out-of-place passage. When writing a new passage, I “merely” have to think up something interesting, original and true and write it down, but rewriting requires revisiting written (and half-forgotten) passages and restructuring them, keeping them doing what they were doing, but also fitting with my new writing.

***

One of my religious targets for this Jewish year was improving my kavannah, my concentration, or, better, mindfulness, in prayer, although I wasn’t really sure how to do this.

There is a kind of paradox in Jewish prayer, that if God is omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent, He knows what we need and supplies it, so what is the point of praying? There are many approaches to this. I once gave a shiur (religious talk) about just three of them. To summarise very briefly:

  1. Prayer is a process of building a relationship with God by asking Him for everything we need and telling Him all our thoughts. The content is less important than the interaction, which builds relationship. (Rebbe Nachman of Breslov)
  2. Prayer is a means of establishing a “covenantal community” which happens to include God as a member. Asking for things isn’t the point as much as establishing the community. (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith)
  3. Prayer is a self-reflexive process of examining ourselves and whether we truly need the things we want and whether we will use them well. If we undergo the process correctly, we can become worthy of things that we did not deserve previously. (Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, Horeb)

(1 and 2 are quite similar, except 1 is personal and 2 is communal, including other Jews. I’m not sure if Rav Soloveitchik views the covenantal community as being the local community or the entire Jewish people.)

The last week or two I have been trying to focus on one of these mindsets of prayer while saying the Amidah, the most important prayer and the centrepiece of every prayer service. It’s been an interesting experiment and it has definitely helped with kavannah. I’ve mostly been focusing on numbers 1 and 2, as 3 is more self-reflexive than I’ve felt up to lately and doesn’t really apply on Shabbat (when I have most time and energy for prayer) as Shabbat prayers are not petitionary, at least not to the same extent as weekday prayers.

I Blog Therefore I am

I haven’t blogged for a few days. There’s nothing wrong. Quite the reverse, really. Nothing really happened. When I was very depressed and had a lot of emotional stuff to offload, it was easy to blog every day — hard not to blog, in fact, as I wanted to process and off-load a lot of thoughts and feelings. But at the moment not a lot is happening, and I didn’t feel like writing very trivial stuff. I’m wondering if I should blog less, or maybe blog differently. I toyed again with the idea of writing more analytical posts about Judaism or antisemitism, but I think I’d rather use extra writing time on my novel (sorry). But we’ll see; previous attempts to blog less haven’t really worked. And whenever I say my life is dull and good, something goes wrong, so we’ll see what happens.

As for what happened, Thursday was dull. There were some negative things, but nothing really bad or worth going into. The highlight was Skyping E from the garden (I wasn’t sure the wifi would work out there). On Friday I did some chores, worked on my novel and went to shul (synagogue). I missed shul on Saturday morning, probably because I was up late reading Tanakh (Daniel, which is really hard to understand!), having earlier spent quite a while studying Talmud to prepare for the class on Shabbat (the Sabbath) — there seems to be a trade-off between studying Torah on Fridays and getting up in time for shul.

On Shabbat, I did the usual Shabbat things: spent time with my parents, went for a walk, slept too much, went to Talmud shiur (class) and found I’d prepared much more material than we got through, as we spent ages on a long Tosafot (Medieval commentary on the Talmud written over about 200 years by a group of rabbis in what’s now Northern France and Germany, plus one or two in England) — I don’t prepare Tosafot as I don’t have a translation and my Hebrew isn’t good enough. Plus, I mostly don’t understand Tosafot anyway. I played Scrabble in the evening and came second despite getting (I thought) some good words, “nodules” probably being the best of them. Unfortunately, a good word is not necessarily a high-scoring word, which depends on which letters you use. By largely staying off-line after Shabbat, I went to bed early for a summer Saturday evening i.e. 1am (bear in mind that Shabbat didn’t finish until after 10.30pm!), but couldn’t sleep, whether because I slept too much during the day or because I took my meds late.

As for today, I got up quite late after falling asleep so late (after 3am) . I spent a bit over an hour working on my novel, writing five or six hundred words, which is probably the most I’ve written in one session for some time, although I’m a bit uncertain of where this current passage is headed and whether it justifies it’s existence as a late addition to the end of the novel. Is it deepening the resolution or just padding out the end? It is hard to tell at this stage. It’s said that writers divide into two groups, planners (who plan out their stories in detail) and pants-ers who don’t and instead write by the seat of their pants (I assume that’s the etymology). I haven’t fitted easily into either category on this novel, planning the general flow, but improvising a lot of the details, but this bit is very much pants-ing, if that’s a word, which it isn’t.

Other than that, I Skyped E and did some Torah study and thought a bit about my devar Torah for the week. I didn’t do any exercise (run or walk) as it was too hot and I didn’t want to get an exercise migraine, as I was going to a Zoom talk/shiur in the evening. This was Rabbi Dr Sam Lebens talking about his new book on Jewish philosophy from an analytical philosophical perspective of examining the fundamental principles and axioms of Judaism i.e. given Judaism exists, what things are necessary to make these practices meaningful (not proving that God exists or that Judaism is true). It was very interesting. I’m in two minds about buying the book though. It sounds fascinating, but I’m not sure if I will understand it (I have a mixed record with philosophy), and it costs £75. We (people on the Zoom call) were given a 33% discount code, but that’s still £50, which is a lot of money to spend on a book I might not understand.

A couple of things I picked up from the talk that tempt me to buy the book: (1) this is very much a book about believing in a personal God and not an abstract “God of the philosophers”/Deism — I think sometimes my understanding of God becomes too abstract; (2) he mentioned in passing an idea from Chief Rabbi Jakobovits z”tl that God tells a different story through each individual’s life and through each community/group of people and that multiple communities can be “chosen” — something I’ve thought, and seen suggested in Rabbi Sacks z”tl and Rav Kook z”tl, but would like to see spelt out in more detail (Rabbi Sacks got in very hot water over a milder version of this in The Dignity of Difference); (3) the idea that the universe exists in mind of God, which I had heard, but not really advanced in a very serious philosophical way — I guess it appeals to me as a solipsism/Philip K. Dick fan, and also because it suggests that negative parts of my life might not be ‘real,’ which is probably a strange thing to think, but strangely reassuring, and I guess it ties in with Rabbi Lebens’ view (which he admitted was “wacky”) that not only can God redeem the future, He can redeem the past by changing history and will do so at some point.

Noise Pollution

Well, I made it to shul (synagogue) over Shabbat (the Sabbath), for Friday evening, Saturday morning and Saturday afternoon. I was there for the start of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) on Saturday morning and even helped set up (we were praying outside as the weather was good so that we didn’t have to wear masks). In the afternoon I followed parts of the shiur (Talmud class), although we covered more ground than I expected and went on to material I hadn’t prepared for, not that preparation always helps me follow any better. Also, even though I haven’t made many close friends at shul, I feel that quite a lot of people there know my name and will say “Good Shabbos” (typical Shabbat greeting) to me and seem pleased to see me, so I think on some level I’m accepted there.

I also went for a walk, did some extra Torah study, played (and lost) two games of Rummikub with my parents and did a little bit of recreational reading (still the James Bond novel Moonraker). I’ve kind of accepted that the way I live my Shabbatot, there isn’t much time for recreational reading. I don’t seem to have much time for recreational reading in general at the moment, because I’m prioritising Torah study, because I don’t travel home from work on the Tube (which used to be a reading time) and because I find I’m often exhausted in the evening and watch TV instead of reading. I grab brief moments to read a few pages over lunch or before bed.

I got to bed at 1.00am, which is late, but not so surprising when Shabbat didn’t finish until about 10.30pm. I avoided turning on my computer after Shabbat, which is what can keep me up until stupid o’clock in the morning, that and watching TV (I watched an episode of The Simpsons, but nothing longer).

I woke up late today (11.00am), but didn’t feel fatigued or burnt out, so I’m counting this as a success.

***

Today was good. I did some Torah study, went for a run (not brilliant stamina, but it was hot), did a little over half an hour of work on my novel despite an exercise headache and the distraction of loud music from outside (see below). Then I had a virtual lecture/tour about the Medieval Bible/Talmud commentator Rashi. It was interesting, but I had to shut all the windows to shut out the noise so that I could hear, which made me feel ill from the heat (or more ill, as I already had an exercise headache). Afterwards I wrote some emails. I worry that frustration from the noise made me somewhat abrupt in the emails. That and the fact that I felt I was running out of time this evening and just needed to stop procrastinating and write the emails. In particular, there was one to a friend who seems to be drifting towards divorce judging from her recent emails and I don’t really know what to say to her, or how serious her concerns are — is she just telling me to let off steam or is it a “near the end of her tether” situation? I’m not good at reading these things.

I did a lot, but felt like I was running out of time, and felt ill from the exercise headache and noise. I’m pretty exhausted now, and frustrated and ill from various factors (including the continuing noise) and in a weird way, I feel I did both too much and too little today, being hampered by the noise and the virtual tour being at a slightly awkward time, as well as my propensity for getting exercise headaches. I had a Skype call with E too, but felt that I wasn’t fully engaged, partly from the late hour and the noise outside.

***

I realised that a disproportionate amount of my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) deal with the question of individuality and the relationship between the individual and society. It seems a fundamental question to me in a religion which believes in the sanctity of the individual as the image of God, but also in the collective as the source of religious authority and locus of religious life. I had an idea over Shabbat of a triangular map of Jewish (or general?) religious life with God at the top and the individual and the community in the bottom corners. Sometimes the community tries to absorb the individual, or the individual tries to leave the community, or to leave God, resulting in the triangle getting bent out of shape. But I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

***

We had a neighbour who was playing really loud music today, either in the garden or with the windows open. They had some kind of party going on, with a lot of crowd noise too by the late afternoon. I could hear it with the windows shut (through double glazing), and I don’t want to shut the windows in this weather. During the afternoon I had to have the windows shut, fan going and still could hear the bass loud enough to stop me thinking clearly. It’s not an immediate neighbour, but someone down the street and in the street behind us, so it’s hard to work out who it is to complain, not that I would have the confidence to complain (just as we never complained about our Haredi neighbours’ illegal minyan in the lockdown). I tend to be sensitive to noise at the best of times. In our old house, we had a neighbour who would hold a charity concert in his garden once a year and would always warn us in advance, so I’m a bit annoyed. Things seem to have stopped now, but I worry it will happen again. I think we’ve had excessive noise in the past. We say we’ll complain, but we never do. I guess that’s very English.

Drained Again (Fragment)

I don’t have much to say today, which is good, because I don’t have much time to say it. I slept very late (after 1pm) and have been drained all day, whether that’s burn out or fatigue. I did my Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, but not a lot else. I didn’t have the time or brainpower for working on my novel. I went to the post office and did some shopping, but Dad gave me a lift as it was raining too much to walk and I wouldn’t have had the time for a long walk anyway.

I struggled through a very difficult chapter of the biblical book of Daniel for half an hour; “chapter” is not a precise measurement, but it took two or three times longer than it usually would for a passage that long. I’m not sure if that’s a reflection of my exhaustion, the difficulty of the passage (in terms of both language and concepts) or both. Daniel is definitely one of the harder biblical books to understand, even at a basic level, not least because half the book is written in Aramaic rather than Hebrew, although not the chapter I was studying.

I have booked to go to shul (synagogue) tonight, tomorrow morning and afternoon for prayers and Talmud class. I’m still reasonably confident about getting to the afternoon services, but I’m not sure that I’m going to manage to go tomorrow morning.

I feel that I’m doing as much as I can today (and, I hope, tomorrow), but it feels like that isn’t really very much.

Also, a glance at the Jewish Chronicle website has left me feeling anxious and unsafe, so I’m not in the best mindset for shul, but I have to go in a few minutes.

Hidden Joy

I had some somewhat confusing task at work today, looking over bank statements and papers related to investments. I don’t really know about shares or serious financial investment stuff. I found it somewhat confusing. I had a couple of social mishaps too, which I’m deliberately not going to relate, as I suspect that rehashing things like that here as I usually do just encourages my social anxiety rather than discouraging it.

I also went to the bank, which got me out of the office on a nice sunny day, but also took me into parts of London that are becoming very busy again, which perhaps left me more drained than normal by the end of the day (although I get pretty drained even on a normal day).

***

I was thinking about my religious life and whether I find joy in it. I’ve worried in the past that I don’t, which makes me wonder if I really am just being frum (religious Jewish) out of habit or fear. I don’t think that’s the case, but it was only today that I realised why. I think it all gets mixed in with the remnants of depressive anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure) and autistic alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand one’s own emotions).

I think I do get joy and/or meaning out of at least some davening (prayer), Torah study and other Jewish activities. I can’t necessarily feel or understand it directly, but I know some prayers feel less fulfilling than others, some Torah study sessions are harder going than others and so on, so by comparison at least some of the time I must be more engaged or it would all seem the same. I can see a difference, even if I can’t always put that difference into words. Even with Talmud study, which I do find hard and a bit of a chore, there are times when it clicks and it doesn’t seem a chore, and times when I find it interesting even if not necessarily for the reasons I’m supposed to feel it (for historical reasons as much as because I’m “thinking God’s thoughts”).

I do get a lot of pleasure from sitting and thinking about Jewish concepts, playing with ideas and putting them, and disparate texts, together to try to generate new ideas (chiddushim). Even though I’m not sure how many rabbis would list “sitting and thinking” as a legitimate or productive religious activity, even if some of the ideas do end up going into my divrei Torah.* Certainly my parents find it a little weird when I’m just sitting staring into space, or pacing up and down rapidly (I tend to pace when thinking).

Similarly, although not religious, I used to worry that I didn’t love my family enough. However, lately I’ve been having some morbid thoughts about death and I realise that losing my parents would be devastating for me, beyond any practical or selfish thoughts about the change that would necessitate in my life. I can, so to speak, see the hole it would leave and infer the love that must surround it unseen.

Less morbidly, socialising often leaves me feeling awkward, anxious and miserable, but the times when I have socialised and not been left feeling awkward, anxious and miserable were presumably the times I enjoyed myself (as with the Shabbat lunch I went to a few weeks ago), even if I wasn’t sure that that was what I was feeling. So I must enjoy some social events.

Possibly I was living a life of (at least some) joy and love all along and I never realised…

*This is a digression, but I think contemporary society in general and frum society in particular has a real problem prioritising busy-ness over idleness. I mean real idleness, not staring at your phone. Sometimes idleness can be very productive. It’s no surprise most of these “sitting and thinking idly about Torah” sessions happen on Shabbat when there is no phone, computer or TV.

In Praise of Edward Jenner

I had my second vaccination today. I shook a bit again. I know this is just nerves and a side-effect of my psychiatric medication, but it is embarrassing, especially as the person giving the vaccine was worried and repeatedly asked if I was OK to go home or if I wanted to sit for a while. Of course, as soon as I was outside, I stopped shaking, because it’s the social anxiety aspect that is so triggering.

I was going to go for a walk afterwards, but it was very cold and windy and I had had to wait outside for quite a while as there is limited queuing space inside the pharmacy where I had the vaccination, and what space they did have was being used so people getting the Pfizer vaccine (I had AstraZeneca) could sit down for fifteen minutes afterwards. I’m hoping I don’t get any side-effects, but who knows?

I didn’t do much today other than get vaccinated and do my usual Shabbat chores. No writing and less than half an hour or so of Torah study. I may do a little more Torah study, although probably not much, as I want to go to bed early so I can get up early tomorrow, or as early as is possible when we can’t start dinner until nearly 9.00pm because of Shabbat coming in so late (it is nearly summer, as hard as that is to believe looking at the storm raging outside my window).

***

I had a call from the autism hospital after I emailed them again last night. They said I should have received a revised diagnostic report and leaflet by email. I checked and they had the right address. The guy tried to send it again, but I still haven’t got it. I receive email via Webmail for somewhat complicated reasons, and it sometimes has a sensitive spam filter, so that could be the problem. The guy who phoned said he would get a colleague to send the email from a different address in case that helps and that he’ll send a physical copy in the post today, so hopefully I will get the report and leaflet one way or another in the next week.

***

I hope to go to shul (synagogue) tomorrow morning and then on to friends for Shabbat lunch. This is all dependent on not having either autistic burnout or vaccination side-effects. I’m somewhat nervous, and a technical point about the laws of carrying on Shabbat in an area known as an eruv (which permits some forms of otherwise forbidden carrying) is causing me some confusion. I didn’t like to ask my rabbi mentor in Israel halakhic (Jewish law) questions while there was a war going on and my community rabbi is away on holiday. I tried contacting the halakhic question answering service provided by the umbrella body my shul belongs to, but they didn’t get back to me. I think I have a solution, but I’m not 100% happy about it. The whole thing is causing me more stress than it probably should. It gets tied up in a complicated way with the question of just how many prayer services I’m planning on going to tomorrow, which in turn ties into questions about social anxiety and autistic burnout.

With this as with so many other things, I wish my life didn’t have to make everything so complicated, but I guess that’s what living with a disability will do for you. It’s easy to forget that living with a disability is about living with a disability. The boring everyday living tasks don’t go away just because you’re dealing with an ongoing condition, you just have to use more energy and more time to get the same results. It’s not always possible to ask for adjustments, let alone get them.

I do hope I get to shul and the lunch, worries notwithstanding. I’m not hugely social, but it would be nice to socialise with someone other than my immediate family for a change.

***

Other worries: I have lots of confused thoughts about Israel and the ceasefire; antisemitism; and being Jewish at the moment, but I don’t really want to share anything political, and I don’t have time or energy to sit down and think about the more nebulous spiritual-type thoughts today.

I’m also worried about a long-distance friend who emailed me for the first time in months yesterday to say she’s having marital problems. I feel bad for her, but I don’t know what to say. I feel I once gave someone in a similar situation really bad advice (although I think it all turned out for the best in the end, fortunately). I want to be empathetic without giving advice as such, which is not always easy.

***

Burnt Out, MARCed and Geek Girls

I had a lot of anxiety this morning, including at one point worrying seriously that there was a suicide bomber at the Tube station. The fire alarm went at work and I was worried about some kind of antisemitic incident (antisemitic incidents have gone up 500% since the flare up in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict). Sometime around midday the anxiety switched over to depression and lethargy, although I tried to do a reasonable amount of work. I texted E more than I normally would at work. When I said I feel useless, she said I have a lot to share with the world, but my abilities don’t translate to being good at typical jobs, which I guess is good, although frustrating (and impoverishing). I do struggle to hold on to a sense of my own worth and abilities though. E thinks that one day I’ll see my autism as the source of my good traits as well as bad ones. I hope so.

The journey home was pretty awful. J’s satnav suggested a really roundabout way home. We went the usual way instead, and hit really bad traffic. The journey took an hour and a half where it usually takes an hour or less. I read articles on my phone out of boredom and ended up feeling carsick. Then I had to do some shopping and walked home, so I got home much later than usual.

By that time, I felt pretty burnt out. There was quite a lot I wanted to do (writing important emails, Torah study, Skyping E), but I couldn’t do anything before dinner. Then as I was finishing dinner my sister phoned. I think I sounded a bit vague, but even at the best of times I get thrown by last minute disruptions like sudden phone calls, and I’m still feel burnt out a lot, not having had enough alone time lately to really recover. Plus, I haven’t told my sister or my parents that I’m back together with E, which lends an air of furtiveness to things when I should really say, “Oh, I can’t talk for long, I’m speaking to E soon.”

In the end I spoke to E, did a tiny bit more Torah study and wrote some important emails, but I wish I could have done more, as usual.

I’m still daunted by the things I’ve got to do before I can really have a day off to recuperate properly. I’ve just cancelled an interview I was having with a psychology student to talk about my experience of autism as it affects me at job interviews for her PhD. That was supposed to be on Sunday, but Shabbat is turning into an anxiety-inducing peopling event and not recovery, and if I had the interview on Sunday, the burnout would run on to work on Monday, dinner at a restaurant (I vaguely remember those…) for Mum’s birthday on Tuesday, therapy on Wednesday, work on Thursday…

I also ran out of time for writing a devar Torah this week, which I feel a bit bad about.

***

I didn’t get the job I was interviewed for yesterday, but I got some positive feedback from the interviewers, which is good (assuming they weren’t just being polite). However, I feel bad, as I may have cheated in the cataloguing test. I was required to include the MARC21 numbers and indicators indicating different descriptive categories (title, author’s name etc.). Usually a cataloguer would look these up. It’s not something we’re expected to just know. In the past, when I’ve had cataloguing tests, I’ve been allowed to look them up online or in a book. The test didn’t say I could do this, but it also didn’t say it couldn’t. To cut a long story short, I was in such an anxious state when I sat the test that I couldn’t think how to ask about this and I was so convinced I was going to fail, and that I would turn down the job even if it was somehow offered to me because it’s too much for me, that I just looked up the MARC21 numbers online so that I didn’t look a complete idiot. Now I wonder how much of the positive feedback was really for me and how much for my false MARC-memory skills.

Related to this, on yesterday’s post, Ashley suggested I’m applying for too many interviews for jobs that I feel I couldn’t get and wouldn’t manage to do if I did get them. I do this to please my parents and the recruitment agency; the latter in particular I treat as if they are doing me a big favour by trying to get me jobs and not like they are going to receive commission if I get one (hence they try to get me to apply for unsuitable jobs like library assistant, even while asking me what my precise requirements are). I had pretty much come to the same conclusion myself, but I’m not sure how to have the conversation with my parents, let alone the agency. I’m not sure which conversation I’m dreading more, this one or the one about E.

***

My uncle sent me an article on the author Holly Smale who was diagnosed with autism in her late thirties (I would link to the article, but it’s behind The Times‘ paywall, which I was somehow able to bypass on my phone before, but can’t now). A lot of it resonated with me, particularly the quote that “high functioning” regarding autism is just a euphemism for “good at faking it.” I feel like that’s how I went undiagnosed for so long. Although I disagree that Smale would have been diagnosed younger if she was a boy. I know under-diagnosis of autistic women is a genuine issue, but being male is no guarantee of correct diagnosis. I’m the proud owner of a Y-chromosome, and I got missed too, mostly because, like the author, I was good at faking being reasonably normal (or as normal as a geeky child/teenager gets). I feel that being high functioning just set me up for failure later in life, when work and social tasks got harder, there was less support and I was burnt out from excessive masking.

It Never Stops

Nothing like going away from the internet for a few days to come back to a huge pile of stuff. I’m only reading selected posts that appeared while I was away or I would be here forever, sorry.

***

I didn’t get to shul (synagogue) on Sunday night. I just felt so burnt out, I literally could not go. I felt a bit bad, but I honestly don’t think I could have made it. I did manage to go on Monday and Tuesday night, and for some of the shiurim (religious classes) bookending the prayer services. I slept too much, including over three hours on Monday afternoon and I had a headache on Monday evening, but I was basically OK. Aside from shul and shiurim, I did some private Torah study and read a novel (a sort of spin-off from Doctor Who spin-offs, not very good, but I’m vaguely invested to see how it ends).

I thought the NHS had sent me my revised Asperger’s diagnosis report and leaflet of resources, yet when I opened the envelope after Yom Tov, I found no report and a leaflet of resources on ADHD rather than ASD (autism spectrum disorder). By this stage, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the NHS is deliberately trolling me. I haven’t written or phoned back to complain yet (see below for why I ran out of “spoons” today).

***

Today I had my cataloguing test and interview. I floundered as usual in the interview, using the wrong words (which the interviewers then seized on to get me to elaborate on) and generally struggling to focus and say very much that was coherent. The cataloguing test was even worse. I haven’t been doing regular cataloguing for nearly four years and I really struggled with the test, especially as it seemed to require my remembering MARC21 numbers that I had never had to memorise before. The stupid thing is that the job sounded more attractive than it had in the job description in some ways, although it is also more client-facing than I thought, so it may be for the best that I did badly.

Mum says it was “one of those things,” that I didn’t get time to prepare. This is only partly true. I did get a little bit of time to prepare, but I was burnt out. Despite this, even if I had had more time, I’m pretty sure I would have flunked the cataloguing test.

We had workmen in today, which didn’t make things any easier. The house now smells of builder’s putty (I think), so I have to hold my breath when I go out of my room.

I didn’t mean to be bad-tempered after this, but I just wanted to be alone in my room to relax and was grumpy that I had things to do. When speaking to people, everything came out wrong, angry and sulky, even if I didn’t mean it to. Plus, little things went wrong, like the Tesco food delivery arriving twenty minutes early when I wasn’t ready. Being on the spectrum, quite small changes of plan on a good day can be frustrating; on a bad day they can trigger meltdowns. I don’t get full-fledged meltdowns the way some people on the spectrum do, but it can send me into a negative thought spiral of despair and anger. That didn’t quite happen, but it took a lot of mental energy to stay calm.

I went for a forty minute walk, which at least burned out some of the bad temper, or made me too tired to show it. I do feel pretty awful now though, but still unable to unpack the vague “badness” that I feel. Is it sadness, depression, guilt, self-criticism, frustration, anger (against who?) or something else?

I didn’t get much else done. It looks like I probably won’t write a devar Torah (Torah thought) this week, which is a shame, but I’m trying to avoid crashing. I have stuff to do every day from now until Monday inclusive, multiple things on most days, and most of them draining things. I may need to call off some things at the last minute, and I’m tempted to say no to something on Sunday to get some downtime.

I started watching Spectre (James Bond) over dinner because I needed mindless entertainment. I’ve stopped even though I’m not yet halfway through because I feel overwhelmed, without being able to define what I’m “overwhelmed” by. I’m not doing emotional self-awareness today. I will probably watch the rest before bed, at least with half an eye.

***

Every cloud has a silver lining. E has been super-supportive. I have my first social invitation of the post-COVID era, namely an invitation to friends for lunch on Shabbat (admittedly one of the busy, draining things). I plan to go, assuming I don’t have terrible side-effects from my second vaccination on Friday. And I managed to buy a second-hand omnibus edition of six James Bond novels for barely £5! Even accepting that I’ve already read one of them (Dr No), that still works out at £1 a book!

Pre-Yom Tov Burnout

I woke up still feeling burnt out and exhausted, but my mood was better on waking. It’s gone downhill as we get towards Yom Tov, I don’t know why. I don’t think Shabbat and Yom Tov are good for curing burnout, even though they are supposed to be relaxing. I spend too much time “peopling,” whether at shul (synagogue) or family meals and much of what time I do have alone (and not sleeping!) is spent on Torah study or prayer, which are not usually restoring for me, regardless of what other merits they may have.

I did sleep very late today, although that was probably inevitable given how late I went to bed, due to a late shiur (religious class) after Shabbat and a headache that wouldn’t shift. I’m resigned to not doing well on the interview and blaming it on burnout and Yom Tov (festival) even if the interviewers will probably think I’m useless.

I looked over some old interview notes with suggestions of how to answer frequently-asked questions, but I’m not sure how much it will help. I think the only way to practise at the moment is to do a practise interview, but this interview was at such short-notice that I haven’t had time for that.

I did half an hour or so of Torah study, so that I didn’t have to leave reading all of this week’s sedra (Torah) reading until later in the week, that being the one thing I absolutely always keep up with (even though I do it once rather than twice a week as required). I still have to do the end of the sedra, which is one of the most repetitive parts of the Torah (Bamidbar/Numbers chapter 7).

I intended to stay for the shiur between Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Ma’ariv (Evening Service), because it’s silly to go and come back again almost straight away, but I’m not going for the cheesecake (yuk) and alcoholic drinks and shiur before Minchah because I’m pushing myself up to and probably beyond the limit of “peopling” this Yom Tov as it is, even without going straight into a job interview the day afterwards. Indeed, I’m going in to Yom Tov already peopled out from Shabbat, and the closer I get to time for shul, the less I feel able to actually go.

My shul has relaxed the laws around mask wearing and food on the premises in accordance with the government’s new guidelines. This means that the things keeping me away from Tikkun Leil (all night Torah study on the first night of Shavuot) don’t actually apply any more. However, I feel disinclined to see if there are any spaces left. I guess I don’t feel up to that long and intensive a shul session, particularly for Tikkun Leil, which is a relatively recent custom and not a law (Tikkun Leil was introduced by kabbalists (mystics) in the sixteenth century and seems to correlate with the arrival of coffee in the land of Israel i.e. only after the introduction of coffee did anyone manage to stay up all night studying).

I do wonder how much other people get out of all the Torah study sessions scheduled over Shavuot (even excluding Tikkun Leil). As I mentioned yesterday, my shul seems to have scheduled an hour and a half to two hours of shiurim (religious classes) around afternoon and evening prayer services over the coming festival. These are often strongly halakhic, which isn’t my favourite type of study (although arguably I neglect it too much), but even the format of one speaker speaking for an hour or so isn’t going to be right for everyone, whether those who prefer something more interactive or those, like me, who prefer to study from books with time to re-read or pause and digest.

I watched some Babylon 5 to kill time before Minchah, which may not have been the best choice, as season four is pretty grim. I feel I should be helping my parents, but I genuinely do not have the energy. It’s going to be a struggle even to go to shul, particularly in the torrential rain. Plus, there have already been warnings of an increase in antisemitic incidents over the last few days so my shul is getting everyone to do security duty and that’s just another ball for me to juggle. Actually, I feel less like I’m juggling balls at the moment and more like flaming clubs, and like I’ve been juggling them for a week with no break.

Just in case things were getting too easy, I’ve felt for the last day or so that I’ve been just about keeping the lid on some pure O OCD thoughts and that it wouldn’t take much for them to suddenly become more anxiety-provoking.

I’m genuinely not sure if I’m going to make it to shul tonight, or at all over Yom Tov.

Fear of Success

Just a quick post, as it’s late and my head hurts. Shabbat (the Sabbath) wasn’t really great. Friday night was fine, but today I slept too much again and woke feeling depressed and burnt out again. Lunch was difficult for reasons I won’t go into here. I nearly didn’t make it back to shul (synagogue) this afternoon for Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Talmud shiur (religious class) as I felt too drained and depressed. However, I made it and actually followed the shiur better than usual.

After Shabbat I went to a late night Zoom shiur. I think it was a pseudo-Tikkun Leil. Tikkun Leil is staying up all night in shul on the eve of Shavuot (festival that starts tomorrow night) studying Torah. Because of COVID, not everyone can do that, so the LSJS was sort of filling that gap in advance. It was an interesting shiur, but over-ran massively. I also had a headache throughout despite taking medicine beforehand.

I worry I’m getting depressed again. I have a history of getting depressed after doing well and achieving things. I think I worry that I have to keep succeeding to meet people’s expectations of me. Hence, I feel depressed that my article was so well-received, perhaps. Or perhaps I’m just nervous about my job interview. Or apprehensive about Shavuot — my shul is running a LOT of shiurim and I don’t know how many I’ll make it to. Nor do I really know how many I want to go to, which is a different question. I will try to take it somewhat easy and not to overload myself.

I should probably go to bed, but my head hurts too much to sleep, so I will probably watch TV for a bit.

Reasons to be Cheerful

My main focus today was therapy. I didn’t have a lot to say, as things seem to be going well. The last week or so I have been fairly focused on the present rather than worrying about the future. I also seem to have coping strategies that help me to deal with things better than in the past, and my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis has made it easier for me to forgive myself for mistakes and quirks that would have upset me in the past. The two (coping mechanisms and forgiveness) go together, as a key coping mechanism is to know my limits and not force myself to go beyond them, even if part of me says I “should” be able to do so.

I mentioned in therapy that I have been reflecting recently that my life seems to be suddenly going a lot better. I’ve finally got my Asperger’s diagnosis (which seems to be the key turning point); I have a job I can manage which leaves me time to write; I have a core of online friends who read my blog and leave helpful comments (I’ve written blogs with no readers before, and writing does serve a purpose for me even without readers, but writing without an audience can be lonely); I am beginning to wonder if I am more accepted at shul (synagogue) than I thought previously; I have greater kavannah (concentration or mindfulness) in davening (prayer) than previously; I’m somewhat happier with the amount and content of Torah study I’m doing (an average of fifty to sixty minutes daily, with some Talmud study); and I’ve restarted volunteering. Best of all, E and I have got back together and think that this time we might be able to make the relationship work permanently.

The latter point is the thing I’ve been hinting at for the last week or so without explicitly stating, as I was curious to see what my therapist said before saying anything here. At the moment I haven’t told my parents or my sister, which I feel a little bad about, but I want to give the relationship a few weeks so that I can say it’s working before I tell them. This is because my Mum in particular was worried about E and I getting into an endless on/off relationship. To be fair, I worried about that too, but I think this time both of us have undergone significant changes and growth that make me feel a lot more positive about our future together now. There is much more to say about this (it’s quite a story), but I’m too drained from therapy tonight to write it, so you’ll just have to wait a little longer.

I’m always scared to say that things are going well, as it seems almost inevitable that they go wrong afterwards, but as my therapist and I discussed, the difference this time is that it’s as much about coping strategies and being able to stay in the present as about external things boosting my mood, which will hopefully enable me to stay well even when things go wrong, as something will eventually.

***

My boss, J, texted me to say that by chance, he had come across my article online. He liked it. I felt a little awkward, but it’s probably good that he saw it, although I’m glad I told him about my autism a couple of weeks ago so he wasn’t learning about it entirely from the article. The big question I’m wondering is whether anyone else from my shul has seen it and whether they will say anything when they see me on Shabbat. The site it was on is very well-known and read by a lot of people, so it’s entirely possible that some other people I know have seen it.

Fitting In at Shul

I didn’t write yesterday because I didn’t want to go online after Shabbat (the Sabbath), because I know that once I do that, I’ll be on the computer for hours, and it was already late (Shabbat didn’t finish until nearly 10.00pm). I’ll be trying to do that each week over the summer, assuming my willpower holds.

Shabbat was good, although I overslept as usual. I was hoping to get up earlier. I slept in the afternoon too which I also did not want to do and which probably had consequences later.

As an experiment, I wore a black suede kippah (skullcap) instead of my usual white crochet one, black suede kippot being considered less ‘modern’ that white crochet ones (there is a kind of etiquette about these things). No one at shul (synagogue) said anything or seemed to notice, which I guess is good. My Mum noticed. I’m not sure which kippah I will wear in the future. To be honest, the white one is probably too big and not a good fit for me anyway (although the fashion with white crochet kippot is to wear very big ones), so I might stick with the black one from that point of view.

At shul (synagogue) for Minchah (Afternoon Prayer) I was given an aliyah (called to do something in the service) again, this time actually called to make the blessings over the Torah reading. I was nervous and self-conscious, as I always am these when given an aliyah, but I think I did OK, aside from dropping my siddur (prayer book).

The last few weeks I’ve been wondering if I’m more accepted at shul than I thought I was. People do say Good Shabbos” to me and seem pleased to see me. I find it hard to read these situations, but it seems more positive than I previously thought.

The Talmud shiur (religious class) afterwards was taken by a guest rabbi, as it was last week. I’m not sure why, as our rabbi was around. I’m kind of hoping this new rabbi will take the class permanently, as I seem to follow him better. I’m not sure why. I think he goes somewhat slower and recaps more. Also, he seems to keep the shiur more focused. In a shiur, people often ask questions that take us from the point. In particular, practical halakhah (Jewish law) is often unclear in the Talmudic discussion and, in practice, sometimes what we do is not what the Talmud says we should do. This sometimes prompts questions that take us far from the topic at hand, and this rabbi seems to answer those quickly and stick with the discussion in the Talmud where other rabbis get diverted. This helps me focus a lot.

As I mentioned, I didn’t switch my laptop on after Shabbat. I did look on my phone to see how many emails and blogs I had to read, but I didn’t start reading them all. I went to bed before 1.00am, which for a late spring/summer Shabbat was good going. I woke up at 5.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep. I davened the whole of Shacharit (prayed the whole of the Morning Service), which I hadn’t done for ages, and went through my emails and blog posts. Then I got tired and lay down for a bit, and fell asleep for three hours. So in the end I had a normal amount of sleep, just interrupted. I lost my early start, but I did daven Shacharit at the right time for once.

I didn’t do a lot else today. I went for a run, despite having a stomach ache. It was OK, but at one point I felt flushed and had to stop for a few seconds until it passed. It felt like the headrush of standing up too fast, so I wonder if it’s a blood pressure thing (my blood pressure tends to be a bit low). The thing is, this has happened a couple of times recently, never for more than a few seconds, but usually when I’m not exerting myself particularly strongly e.g. going for a walk. I’m not too worried about it, but might mention it to a doctor at some point.

Other than that, the main thing today was promoting my article on Asperger’s/high functioning autism in the Orthodox Jewish community which is now up (I’m not linking to it from here as it has my real name on it). So far the feedback I’ve had from friends and family has been positive, although I haven’t dared to look at the comments on the article yet.

Actually, there was one other thing, but I don’t want to talk about it just yet… hopefully in a few days (trying not to be a tease, but also not to neglect something pretty important).

Planning

Surprisingly, I woke up about 7.00am today. I felt refreshed and alert, which is very rare for me, so I got up soon after. I think things seem to have been going well for me the last few days, which gave me the boost. I davened Shacharit before checking my emails and blogs too, which is also rare for a non-work, non-Shabbat (Sabbath) day.

I spent an hour or so preparing for tomorrow’s Talmud shiur (religious class). While I struggle to follow the legal arguments of the Talmud, I admit I do find it interesting as a social history document. The Talmud, and Judaism generally, sees religion/Torah as something that reaches into every aspect of human life, not just the conventionally “religious.” As a result, the Talmud goes into civil and criminal law, recipes, medicine, folk sayings and the work and family habits of Jews in Judea and Babylon in late antiquity, which I find interesting. Today’s passage spoke about kutakh, a Babylonian dish made of sour milk, mouldy bread and salt. I have to say that I’m not desperate to try that recipe out…

I spent some time working on a plan for a potential second novel. It’s slow going, and I procrastinated quite a bit, but some bits are slowly coming together. At the moment I’m just plotting out the main incidents for each chapter, then I hope to write a longer synopsis. It’s hard to create a plot from nothing (the nucleus of my first novel is my own experience, although the sub-plot was created from scratch, with help from research), but the problem-solving aspect is interesting. Doctor Who fans tend to be very writer-focused and fan discourse often looks at plotting, where it works and where it goes wrong. I tend to view a lot of books and TV in this way these days, looking at how the writing solves problems. It’s a struggle, but also an interesting quest to go from “I want to do a Jewish fantasy story” to a fully worked out plot with characters with realistic motivations and moments of drama that are properly integrated and not just random incident.

I have a long way to go with it still though (with the plan, let alone researching and writing the novel). It’s a bit disheartening how far I have to go with it and how crude it seems, but, again, as a Doctor Who fan, I know that many polished stories began as vague ideas and thin storylines (Doctor Who is genuinely the most researched TV programme in the world, thanks to a fandom obsessed with production as much as narrative).

I had another job rejection, although I hadn’t really expected to get anything from it. Then they sent the rejection twice more, just to drive the point home (I guess an email blip).

One of my parents’ friends has apparently bought my self-published Doctor Who book for her son, who is a fan. It makes me wish I had known how to promote it better, but it also makes me think again about making a second edition, at least with a better cover, if not a revised final chapter to cover the most recent series. I’m not sure what to do about that. I actually thought about it a while back, because for some reason Lulu.com (the self-publishing site) wouldn’t let me alter the cover price without fiddling with the design work, and I wanted to drop the price, but then life got in the way and I never did anything about it.

Gunslinger Librarian

I have noted before that, like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I’m not always good at understanding or even noticing my own moods, known technically as alexithymia. My mood all day yesterday was different. After the big thing that I’m not going to speak about directly yet happened, I felt what I thought was anxiety all day. It was only when I was getting ready for bed that I realised that it wasn’t anxiety. I’m not 100% sure what it was. I think excitement is the most likely, but maybe happiness as well or instead. It’s good either way. I don’t usually experience either of those things.

I went to bed early last night as I knew I had to be up early today for volunteering, but I struggled to sleep. I’m not sure if that’s related to the excitement; I don’t think so, but who knows? Despite that, I woke up early today (a little earlier than I needed). I was still a few minutes late leaving, and there was bad traffic so I was twenty minutes late for volunteering. No one seemed worried. I guess if you’re a volunteer, they’re just grateful for the help.

This volunteering is at the Jewish food bank where I was volunteering last year, until they tightened their COVID precautions in the third lockdown and only allowed people to volunteer in their “bubbles.” They’ve lifted that regulation now, so I went back today. We now have high vis jackets to wear, which I guess makes sense as we’re working in the car park and garage of the organisation, and there are some cars going in and out.

I was mostly putting frozen meals into crates, and sticking labels onto boxes of food. It was repetitive work, but I can do that kind of repetitive task mechanically while thinking about other things without feeling bored. I was working primarily with only one other person and we were in the garage and round the corner from the other volunteers, so I hardly saw the other staff and volunteers. I’m OK with that too. A few people seemed pleased to see me again, which was nice. I always think it’s strange when people are pleased to see me, or remember me at all. It was rather cold, though — underground, unheated, with a concrete floor that seems to suck the heat out of my feet. I was glad I had wore my anorak.

I was there for over two hours, excluding travel time. Also excluding worry about not being able to socially distance on the bus for fifteen minutes or so when a bunch of schoolchildren got on for a number of stops. This happens every time, so I guess I just have to live with it. I didn’t see if they were wearing masks today, but often some don’t. It’s sad that COVID has made sitting next to someone on the bus feel as dangerous as sharing a syringe.

I was pretty tired after I got home and had lunch. I did some more work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I’m happier with it now. I didn’t do much else. I wrote an email about some potential jobs (see below) and planned what I want to say when I speak to my rabbi mentor tomorrow morning. I procrastinated over this, because I’m nervous of how it will go and what might follow from it. I don’t want to go into more details for now, sorry.

***

I was contacted by a job agency with two potential jobs for me. Both were for more hours a week than I think myself capable of at the moment and both require specialist knowledge or experience that I don’t have (of art and health librarianship). I asked the recruiter to put my name forward for both, on the grounds I don’t have to fill in an application and that it’s good to show willing to the agency. I doubt I’ll be called for interview for either. The job specs are daunting, though. One admittedly was for a more senior position than I’ve had before, although perhaps where my career would/”should” have been, had my issues not intervened.

I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do the type of job I was trained for. If I was in a Western, I would be the gunslinger who has lost his nerve and can not sling his guns any more. Only I’m a librarian gunslinger (whatever that is).

There’s a Dilbert cartoon where Wally (the lazy one) is saying to the Pointy Haired Boss, “I’m pleased to report that I had no problems this week. I only had issues, opportunities, challenges and valuable learning experiences.” Then when the Pointy Haired Boss asks if he actually did any work, he replies that, “It didn’t seem necessary.” I feel like this has been my life for years, but since COVID, it’s been everyone’s life.

***

I don’t often post links, but given that I tend to feel insecure about rabbis being “better” than me, I was intrigued to read an Orthodox rabbi write about his own experiences of social media-driven insecurity.

Gimme Some Truth

Warning: this is rather more rambling and pity partyish than usual. Please don’t feel obliged to read.

Nietzsche wrote about mental illness being “fierce dogs in the cellar.” I think they’ve been barking a lot more in the last few days and I don’t know why. I was practically in tears while davening Shacharit (saying Morning Prayers) again today, and again at lunch, and a third time in the afternoon when doing Torah study, and I still don’t know why. I don’t know why specifically Shacharit and not the other prayers either; Shacharit is the least logical service for me to cry in, as I’m invariably late and rushing through just a few prayers before the final deadline. It would make more sense if I was in tears in the other services where I say the whole thing and at least try to have some kavannah (concentration/mindfulness).

I was actually doing OK early today at trying to stay in the present and not worry and obsess about the future, but over the day I drifted into one of my “I’m Fouled Up Beyond All Hope” moods.

***

Early today I felt that I should just rip up my novel and my Asperger’s article and start over, because neither of them have truth in them. Perhaps truth is the main thing distinguishing a good writer from a hack. George Orwell wrote about this, I think. Not some transcendent religious or philosophical truth, but simply the truth of someone’s experiences. I think my blog sometimes has truth, but not my other writing.

I thought of a particular saying from the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, nineteenth century Hasidic leader) “The Evil Urge has found a new method, in which it succeeds; no longer must it do battle day and night. It toils only to take from you the delicate chord of truth in your heart, and afterwards it lets you do as you will: to work, to study, to pray… for without the point of truth, whatever you do is no longer important to the Evil Urge.” (The Sayings of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk [sic] edited by Simcha Raz, ellipsis in original) I think it’s a long time since I’ve had the “point of truth” in my writing, my study or my prayer.

I don’t think I’m that truthful in friendships and relationships either. By truthful I don’t mean ‘not lying’ (I’m not dishonest), but being fully open and ‘myself.’ I’m quite truthful with my parents, but I generally only talk about the dark stuff when it gets unbearable. I’m not always truthful with my sister. I can joke around with her, and my parents, but not always talk about the dark stuff. With most of my friends, I’m not really myself and not open at all. I would want to be truthful and to be myself in a relationship, but I don’t know if I could. I think I did with E. There were things that didn’t work in that relationship, but that aspect did work. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right decision in breaking up, although it was already an on/off relationship, so clearly something wasn’t working. I wasn’t able to be truthful with PIMOJ at all, which is why the relationship failed, although to be fair she expected me to be truthful without being the same herself. I was truthful with my first girlfriend, but, again, she wasn’t with me, and again, it contributed to the failure of the relationship.

I was going to say I’m truthful with my therapist and my rabbi mentor, but even then I’m not entirely. I’m fairly truthful with my rabbi mentor, probably more than with other people. I try to be truthful with God. I don’t know how much I succeed. I can’t hide anything from God, although a lot of things seem too trivial to mention to him, even though they upset me a lot. I don’t joke with Him much, but it hardly seems important to do so with Him.

***

On a more positive note, when I went to look up that quote from the Kotzker, I found a bookmark pointing to the page that had this quote that I had forgotten about: “We have not found in any place in the Torah that a person is commanded to be a scholar and erudite in all the chambers of the Torah. For the purpose of study is not to be a scholar, but to be a good man, to do what is good and to act beneficently towards your fellow.” This is pretty much entirely against the prevailing worldview of the Haredi world, or at least the Yeshivish part of it, which sees becoming a great scholar as the only purpose of Judaism, at least for men. It reminds me of the man who boasted to the Kotzker Rebbe that he had been through the whole Talmud three times. “Yes, but how many times has the Talmud been through you?” the Rebbe responded.

Of course, it’s entirely open to question whether I’m a good man who does what is good and acts beneficently towards my fellow, but it’s a more viable target for me than going through the Talmud three times.

***

I did eventually sit down to work on my article. I read some published articles about Asperger’s and learning disabilities on Aish as research and I think my article isn’t hugely wide of the mark, although there are still many reasons it might be rejected. I spent about an hour reading and re-writing. I think tomorrow I will actually write the pitch and see what happens. I tend to be less successful at pitching things than writing them, I think.

I went for a walk after that. It was very windy, the wind blowing clouds of blossom around so that it felt like walking through snow or confetti.

I spent half an hour researching my devar Torah (Torah thought), using the English translations on Sefaria more than I would like (Sefaria translations are often crowdsourced and sometimes inaccurate). I have an idea of what topic to write about, but not really what to say, which probably means it’s going to be another week where I feel like I’m bluffing my way through it. I think writing a devar Torah each week is a good exercise for multiple reasons, but some weeks I do feel a bit of a fraud (truth again). I doubt I could do it if I worked full-time.

***

It gets REALLY pity partyish from here. Honestly, I won’t mind if you don’t read it.

I wish I knew how to cope with being celibate. The internet is monumentally unhelpful about this. After more than twenty years of celibacy since I hit adolescence, I feel at my wits’ end. I emailed Intimate Judaism about this, but the sex therapist there didn’t respond to that aspect of the email, only saying she would try to set me up with a shadchan (matchmaker) who works with people with special needs in the UK. She said she has asked her colleagues and is waiting for an answer. I am doubtful, as I have made similar inquires in the past. Even if she finds one, there is also the realistic likelihood of me being too modern for such a shadchan and her clientele. And I still need help to cope with celibacy in the interim, especially as I’m not sure if I should go to a shadchan while only working two days a week and financially insecure, not to mention being emotionally fragile.

(I should probably add in terms of the special needs shadchan that when I tried looking for one a few years ago, my father asked the wife of the then-assistant rabbi at his shul (synagogue) if she knew anyone who could help someone with depression get married — at that stage, depression seemed to be the main issue as I wasn’t diagnosed on the spectrum. She said “Rebbetzin D” who I never got around to phoning. There always seemed to be good reasons (it was nearly Pesach; I found a relationship independently; I went to a different shadchan that seemed more promising and so on), but I suppose unconsciously I was socially anxious and unsure whether she could help or even how I would start the conversation as Rebbetzin D isn’t a shadchan and I was wary of what “help” she might be able to provide and how she would respond to being phoned out of the blue by a stranger. I suppose I could try to contact her now, although it’s three or four years down the line, and, as I said, I don’t know if I should be looking to get married in my current financial situation.)

I need touch sometimes. I live with my parents, so I can still get hugs, although physical contact with my parents can still be awkward for autistic reasons and reasons based on my past. I do long to be with someone I really connect with again. That wouldn’t necessarily be a partner, but could be a close friend; nevertheless, since adolescence, I’ve only had such close friendships with women, which makes them awkward when they are platonic, because usually I want them to be more, but the other person doesn’t, or because the other person isn’t Jewish or isn’t religious enough for me, which is also awkward. I have dated women less religious than me, at my rabbi mentor’s encouragement, but I don’t know how viable such a relationship would be in the long-term. Certainly it put strains on those relationships which contributed to their ending.

Above all, I want to learn how to deal with sexual and romantic desire when single from a halakhic (Jewish law) point of view. I don’t think I have a particularly high sex drive, but I do have a greater desire for love and sex when depressed and lonely — in other words, when marriage seems most distant from me. This is rather cruel. I can’t say that I live my life entirely halakhically regarding sex. I just try to do the best I can, but I don’t know whether I could do better if someone guided me, or if I had more willpower or more control over my thoughts and emotions (autistic emotional regulation is not always the best). And I don’t know what God thinks about me, whether He thinks I’m at least trying to keep halakhah or if He thinks that frankly I could do better and wants to punish me. Or is punishing me. To be honest, while my low self-esteem is rooted in negative childhood experiences like bullying (among other things) the constant level of sexual guilt since I was thirteen and hit puberty probably hasn’t helped much. The Orthodox world’s only answer to this is early marriage, which doesn’t really work when you’re thirty-seven.

(And I should say that although I feel hugely guilty about my sexuality, I’ve still never had anything approaching actual intercourse, which somehow makes the whole thing seem even more pathetic.)

It feels like the most realistic option for me is to learn to be happy alone and celibate, but everyone just says, “No, you can get married,” without doing anything practical to advance that outcome. It’s weird, because I’m used to people saying that you should be “happy with your lot” rather than endlessly daydream about some eventuality that might never come to pass. Yet everyone encourages me to stay positive about finding a mate even after so many years and so many rejections. It’s like everyone was suggesting I should solve my financial problems by trying to win the lottery when I want to find a job.

I feel that what I want more than anything is for God to tell me that He thinks I’m a good person (God, not human beings who don’t know me and might lie to make me feel better). But He won’t, not in this world.

Dating to the Right and Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beating Myself Up

Today seems to have been a day for beating myself up. Most of the things below happened independently of each other, but all seem to have provoked me to beat myself up. I kind of take my low self-esteem for granted and don’t write about it much, but it is there a lot of the time, closely linked with social anxiety and autistic communication difficulties.

***

I was tired when I woke up this morning, but my mood was initially OK. I did spend too long online before getting dressed though. I don’t know why mornings are so hard. I went out to get my lithium blood test form and do some shopping and my mood dropped. I was somewhat self-critical and negative about the future. When I’m at home, I can feel OKish about where I am in my life: part-time work, single, living with my parents. But when I go out, I see other people and start to compare. Even if I’m not consciously comparing, I think I’m doing it unconsciously. I live in an area with a lot of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) families, so I invariably see people ten years or more younger than me with children, which just makes me feel like I totally missed the boat regarding marriage and family.

I used to rate my mood each day out of ten, to track my progress. It occurs to me that maybe I should do that again to see how it fluctuates from day to day and even across the day. Today I felt bad compared to the last few days, but, trying to rate it objectively, I doubt my mood was less than 5/10, which is obviously much better than when it never rose above 3/10 even on a “better” day.

***

Someone at depression group last night spoke about people on the autism spectrum being good at noticing things and spotting patterns and discrepancies. This is an idea I struggle with. I have heard it often; I know the psychologist Simon Baron Cohen has published a book recently about autistic people being “pattern seekers” and therefore able to contribute to society in that way. I know some finance firms deliberately recruit people on the spectrum on the grounds that they can see patterns in the money markets better than neurotypical people.

I feel uncomfortable with that because I don’t know if I “pattern seek” at all; if I do, it’s not in a socially useful way. I do notice some things other people don’t. I stop suddenly in the street to look at an interesting insect and it’s hard for me to walk past writing without reading it, whether on a billboard, on a scrap of paper or leaflet on the street or on the newspaper of someone opposite me on the Tube. That might count as noticing things and seeking patterns, although it might just be that my interests are weird (which would also be typical for someone on the spectrum).

I can find patterns within the things I like. For instance, it excites me that David Bowie had a cameo appearance in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me because it’s two things I like (David Bowie and Twin Peaks) meeting unexpectedly. However, I don’t feel I can do anything useful with this ability, if it even is an “ability.” I can’t do anything that other people can’t do and I don’t think I am particularly good at finding patterns in the abstract or noticing things. In fact, in many ways I’m very bad at noticing things. I notice immediately if anyone moves anything in my bedroom, because I jealously guard my own territory, but I don’t necessarily notice if my parents rearrange the furniture downstairs, because “their” territory doesn’t really interest me or register on my consciousness.

I guess I would like to find an area where my autism/Asperger’s gives me some kind of advantage, if only to feel better about myself, but it’s hard to think of one.

***

A related issue is that of analytical ability. People on the spectrum are often very analytical. I’m not and I’m not sure if I ever was, or if it was eroded by depression. I did well at school, including in science, so I must have had some analytical ability as a child and teenager. Somewhere along the line I lost it though. In particular, I’ve never been good at studying Talmud, whether Mishnah or Gemarah (Mishnah, the earlier part of the Talmud, is somewhat clearer and easier than Gemarah, the later part of the Talmud which analyzes the Mishnah), back from when I first encountered it in voluntary lunchtime lessons at school. This was one reason among several why I never went to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Why would I spend a year of my life in a foreign country studying texts I can’t understand and don’t enjoy?

The problem, as I was reminded today listening to a shiur (religious class) online while I cooked dinner, is that Talmudic study is considered the paramount religious activity in the frum (religious Jewish) world, at least for men. Tanakh study (biblical study), which is probably my favourite Torah activity, along with the study of Midrash (the rabbinic expansions of the biblical text, which function as both creative commentaries and non-literal ways of exploring theological and ethical topics). It is more intuitive and creative that Talmud study, which tends to be strongly based on logic, but is largely ignored for men, except in parts of the Religious Zionist world.

The shiur I listened to was poorly recorded and had lots of untranslated Hebrew, neither of which endeared it to me (to be fair, the fact that I was cooking at the same time probably didn’t help matters), but it was mostly about the importance of studying Torah for its own sake, which mostly means Talmud. Even when I study Tanakh, I’m not sure how much I’m studying to “know the mind of God” and how much just because I’m frum and it’s what I’m supposed to do, just as I don’t enjoy fasting on Yom Kippur, but I do it anyway.

It’s strange that I have a strong connection to a form of Judaism that I’m unable to really practice or enjoy. If you look at the major aspects of frum life, I can’t study Talmud and halakhah; I find it hard to connect to God with prayer, whether set prayers or spontaneous prayers (years ago I could connect this way, but I haven’t been able to for a long time, at least not consistently); I’m too socially anxious to really engage in communal activity or chessed (acts of kindness); I have failed to get married and start a family… I can’t do these things well or at all, no matter how hard I try, and I do not enjoy most of them (which admittedly is not a brilliant measure of anything, as I’m pretty anhedonic even when not actually depressed and struggle to enjoy anything, but certainly the idea of enjoying studying Torah and enjoying doing mitzvot are key ideas in Judaism). Yet I continue to try to be frum, and to beat myself up for not succeeding. I’m not sure what spiritual or psychological drive is pushing that. It’s like I want to set myself a target I can’t attain. I suppose that no other religion or philosophy of life seems to offer a better alternative to me, and I believe in God and the Torah, and want to connect to the Jewish people, my contemporaries and my ancestors. But it’s very hard to actually do it.

***

I also heard back from the Intimate Judaism sex therapist. I just cringed when the email came in, the way I always do when I reach out to people and they respond positively — yes, I mean positively; positive responses can be as shame-inducing as negative ones, with less reason. I guess I feel that I am not worth it, or that there will now be another stage of possible failure e.g. the sex therapist says that she can suggest shadchanim (matchmakers) who might be willing to work with me to find a spouse, which raises all the fears around dating and rejection there. Actually, even beyond a further stage of failure, I’m so used to being ignored that when people are nice to me, I panic and don’t know what to do, and don’t feel like I deserve it. I think across my life the times when I wanted the ground to swallow me up were as much for compliments and positive attention as for shame and negative attention.

Now I need to find the confidence to respond…

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Where has WordPress moved the tags box to? Why do they keep changing things? EDIT: it’s back now. Maybe the page wasn’t loading properly.