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.

***

Season Finale

Most days are just “filler episode” days, but some days are “season finale” days, when dramatic and unexpected life-changing things can happen. Today was definitely a season finale, with a dramatic and unexpected (if not entirely surprising in hindsight) revelation, but I don’t really feel comfortable in going into detail here yet.

What did happen that wasn’t dramatic, unexpected or life-changing was going for my regular lithium level blood test. I had tremor again, as I always seem to have when having my blood taken these days. It seems to be worse since lockdown, as I can’t breathe deeply to calm myself while wearing a mask. I actually got a bit out of breath with the mask on and I think the phlebotomist was concerned; at any rate, he kept asking if I was OK. I can accept occasional tremor as one of the prices I pay for being on medication that helps with my mental health, but I do feel awkward and embarrassed, especially when it happens at the blood test, as the phlebotomist always assumes I’m scared of needles. I’m not, it’s just that being conscious of the need to sit still and not shake actually starts me shaking.

Oh, another NHS story: I got home to discover an email saying my appointment had been shifted from 2.40pm to 2.35pm. The email was sent at 2.31pm! Fortunately, I was there early (or on time, depending on how you look at it).

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital again about getting my report corrected and the leaflet of resources. It turns out I had forgotten to email them about after my last phone call. Whoops. I could say that an autism hospital ought to know that autistic people have trouble processing verbal instructions, but really I should have written it down. I’ve sent that email now. Sometimes it’s not the NHS that’s at fault. I hope I get the corrected report and leaflet soon, as I’d like to get on the very long waiting list for autism-adapted CBT to (hopefully) help with my social interactions.

I submitted my article to Aish.com. I’ll have to wait and see what they think.

That was it, really. I walked back from my blood test, I cooked dinner and listened to some shiurim (religious class) while cooking. I worked on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I have a better idea of what I’m writing, imperfect though it is. It was a busy day, but to be honest, very little of what I’ve written about here registered. I was just thinking about the thing that I don’t want to share yet.

Tomorrow I have volunteering at the Jewish food bank for the first time in several months, as they think it’s safe enough now to let people volunteer together and not just in family bubbles.

Getting Inside Other People’s Heads

Today was a difficult day. Perhaps the stress of the season is beginning to hit me, or perhaps I just did too much Zooming yesterday. I experienced intrusive thoughts of different kinds in the morning and felt overwhelmed and anxious at work. The anxiety was fairly unfocused, touching work, Pesach (Passover) preparations and my relationship (not the relationship itself but the obstacles to moving it forward). I felt an inner tension. At work, I was continuing with the inventory of relatively expensive objects and when I stood on a chair to reach those on the top shelf, I felt a bit of vertigo and anxiety about falling off the chair or dropping the objects and breaking them. I had to get J to help me get one of them down because I was worried I would shake and drop it, although I made out that I just couldn’t reach it (J is taller than me).

After that, J and I practised the new task he wants me to do and I found it difficult. There’s a lot to memorise and it requires quick thinking to follow different permutations of responses based on what the other person says. I’m unwilling to play the autism card yet, but I need to see how I can cope with it in real life rather than role play. He suggested that we role play it some more. I agreed, and also said that the next time the situation arises in real life, he should let me take the call with him in the room so he can prompt me if necessary, rather than waiting until he’s out of the office and I have to do it alone.

On the way home, J reiterated that he’d like to give me a permanent part-time job. I had thought this was dependent on finances, but it sounds like it’s more dependent on institutional politics. I couldn’t follow all of what he was saying as he had the radio on and I find it hard to tune background noise out and was too socially anxious to ask him to turn it off, but it sounds like there’s someone in the organisation who would potentially block making my job permanent, but he retires in June, so if I can stay for another four months, I’m likely to get a permanent job. This would be very good.

Otherwise the journey home was a bit stressful with more depressing news on the radio, more on misogyny and murder, as well as the withdrawal of the AstraZeneca vaccine in much of Europe. This was the vaccine I had, so I’m vaguely nervous, although I think there’s a lot of politics at work here and the number of deaths supposedly related to the vaccine seems tiny. I came home to news of another alleged abuse story, this time in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community. Abuse seems depressingly prevalent in all societies.

***

I could have gone to depression group tonight, but was too exhausted for more Zooming. Also, last time I spoke about my then-upcoming autism assessment, but I don’t feel ready to talk about my diagnosis yet. I can’t really explain why, I just don’t feel ready. I haven’t spoken to my therapist about it yet (my first therapy session since the diagnosis is on Wednesday) and there’s an aspect of the diagnosis that I have not told anyone else about yet that I really want to speak to my therapist about and maybe that has something to do with it.

***

I managed about twenty-five minutes of Torah study on the Tube into work and spent half an hour typing up some of my notes of things I learnt yesterday that I want to share at the seder. I’m trying to look at the average amount of time I study Torah each week rather than the amount each day; doing five or six hours yesterday should stand me in good stead for a bit.

***

I’m still watching Babylon 5. It’s very well-written, particularly the character arcs for G’Kar and Londo. How the writers (mostly J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote about 85% of the series) turn G’Kar from a violent hothead into a man of peace, and turn Londo from a washed up joke into a ruthless politician and war criminal and then give him a hint of redemption without any of this progress seeming forced or unnatural. How G’Kar and Londo go from being bitter enemies to firm friends. How neither character is unlikeable or two-dimensional even when doing terrible things. Most of this is ahead of me (I’m only halfway through season two of five), but it already makes my own writing feel inferior, reminding me how I failed to make the abuser in my novel into a rounded character and how I’m not sure how to change that.

I guess thinking myself into the head of an abuser is on my mind today because of the murder and misogyny in the news. Some of the intrusive thoughts have been around this. I’ve wondered for many years about how people can hurt other people. I find it hard to get into their heads. Over the years I’ve thought a lot about murder, how people can do it, how they can live with it. I can’t even imagine living with myself if I killed someone in self-defence or in a just war, let alone in cold blood. I guess this is the writer (and reader) in me, the part of me that wants to explore other lives, although I’m not so good at thinking it through beyond the initial revulsion, let alone writing about it.

There’s a short story by perhaps my favourite author, Jorge Luis Borges, called Deutsches Requiem, where he writes from the perspective of an unrepentant Nazi war criminal on the eve of his execution. It’s a chilling piece of writing that somehow makes you see the world through the eyes of a thoroughly evil person and feel some kind of empathy for him. I have a long way to go to get to that level of writing.

Surprisingly Social

I’ve been feeling better today, although I still feel that I’ve got things to process and think about. I’ve actually been more social than I’ve been in a long time. I had a Skype call with my oldest friend. I had already told him about the autism diagnosis and we spoke about that a bit. He had had some (very different) long-term health issues when we were at school, and he felt there’s a difference between before and after diagnosis, even if you know that the diagnosis is coming; a switch from reading things and saying, “Is that me?” to saying “That is me.” It was good to catch up with him again. In recent years we haven’t seen each other so often for various reasons, but we still connect well. I did shake a little while talking though, which I found a bit strange and frustrating.

Then in the evening I went out with PIMOJ, largely because it was the first chance we had after lockdown. It was raining and windy and we couldn’t go anywhere because most of the lockdown restrictions are still in force, it’s only the ban on meeting people outdoors that has been lifted so far. So we walked around Golders Green in the rain and cold, but we had a good time. I think we were just glad to meet in person again after over two months. But “seeing” two people in a day is a big step for me.

Other than that I did a little Pesach cleaning and some Torah study and that was about all I had time for. While I was doing the Pesach cleaning I listened to the Tradition journal podcast tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl. Not for the first time, I wished I could have spoken to him. I mean, really spoken to him, not just meet him at an event and say hello (as my father did, I think). On the podcast, Dr Daniel Rynhold spoke about the way Rabbi Sacks supported young people into positions of leadership in the Jewish community. It made me feel that I missed out, not just on the chance to meet him, but on the chance to have some kind of role in Orthodox Jewish life in this country. Jewish teenagers tend to join youth movements which gives them contacts and experience as they move into university, where they tend to become active on campus Jewish life and then on into adulthood in communities. I missed that because I was too withdrawn and scared of being bullied if I was around people my own age when I was a teenager. At university I knew people who were involved in the Jewish Society, but I felt it was mostly a social group and I didn’t know how to run social groups, so I didn’t get involved, to the anger of at least one person who thought I was being selfish and stand-offish. I didn’t even go to events much as I was scared of talking to people and didn’t think I would enjoy socialising with other people much anyway. The reality was I was mostly scared and uncertain: of myself, of other people, of what needed doing. Then my depression started and I was on a downward spiral that took over my life until I was on the way out from the “young person” label.

Speaking of community involvement, I have mentioned that my shul wants to buy its own premises, having rented space in other people’s institutions since the community was founded thirty years ago. I was supposed to get a fundraising brochure about it, which was not delivered, although I eventually got a pdf version that I squinted at on WhatsApp. I’m going to be phoned to ask how I can help. I’m not sure what they mean by “help” – is it a polite way of saying how much money can I give? The pdf brochure had a list of possible donations; the smallest is in four figures and most are in five or even six. The cheapest thing listed is that for £1,800 I could donate a cover for a lectern for the small Beis Hemedrash, which is about two orders of magnitude greater than I could afford. That’s if I want to get my name on something, of course. You can give less, but I think they will still want a heftier donation than I feel able to give. But my real worry is what if “help” actually means “do something”? A WhatsApp message from the shul yesterday said that they are looking for people to help with admin, fundraising and marketing. I guess I might be able to help with admin, but fundraising and marketing sound worryingly like talking to people, probably on the phone.

I don’t want to sound negative. I don’t have a problem with the shul trying to raise money for a good cause, and promising to slap someone’s name on a wall or bit of furniture is a time-tested way of doing that, even if it means that some people are in more of a position to give (and be seen to be giving) than others. If it comes to practical help, it’s a nice idea, I just worry that I’m at capacity already, even just working two days a week and trying to help at home. Plus, I worry that I have an ability to screw up even the simplest of tasks lately.

I appreciate that this sounds a lot like I sounded when I was at university and not helping the Jewish Society. Maybe the photos of people having fun at shul events in the brochure sent me back in time a couple of decades, the feeling that everyone fits in and has a good time except me. I don’t know. I have a few days to think about things before I have to have that phone call about how I can help. The hardest thing is that it’s my closest friend in shul who is going to be phoning me, which makes the whole thing ten times more awkward.

No Screens

My vaccination this morning went OK. I got there on time and the long queue moved quite quickly, probably because a socially distanced queue looks a lot longer than it actually is. I was a bit overwhelmed on walking into the surgery, which was very busy, but my usual GP happened to be doing vaccinations today, saw me come in and said he would vaccinate me, which was helpful. I did shake a bit, which I know is a mixture or anxiety and olanzapine side effects, but which still upsets me a bit, although I’ve got a bit used to it after so many years. The jab itself was painless and only took a couple of seconds; in fact the whole process, from joining the queue to being outside the surgery again took only ten minutes. I’ve been critical of the NHS in the past, but they do seem to be managing this well.

Unfortunately, an hour later I was on the phone to the surgery again. I had tried to pick up my repeat prescription on the way home, but it had not arrived at the pharmacist. Having spoken to the pharmacist and the GP’s secretary, I’m not sure where the problem was, but I was going to run out of olanzapine tomorrow night and, because of Shabbat (the Sabbath), I needed the repeat prescription today. The GP’s secretary said she would pass the prescription request back to the doctors and I was able to collect the prescription from the pharmacist this afternoon before Shabbat started. I had been thinking about going to shul (synagogue) this evening, but held back for various reasons, which turned out reasonably well, as it would have been stressful getting the medication in time to go out again.

***

Reading this interesting article on online culture and the erosion of the difference between public and private space prompted a few thoughts:

  1. It’s weird to see two secular thinkers repeating something that a very Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbi said about twenty years ago about the internet: that its chief danger is that it brings the outside in. When I first heard that (from the person the Haredi rabbi said it to in the early days of the internet), I thought it was ridiculously reactionary, but reading the article, I wonder if he had a point after all.
  2. The article made me thankful for Shabbat and reminded me of David’s recent post on the subject. As I commented over there, I regard the outlawing of electricity use on Shabbat as nothing short of providential. Even though electricity use does not intuitively violate any of the forbidden labours, as far as I’m aware, no major posek (decisor of Jewish law) permitted its use on Shabbat, albeit for different reasons, sometimes simply because it was not held to be fitting for the atmosphere of the day, or because it had become customary to avoid it. Although it may seem impossible to those who have never tried it, Shabbat without internet, TV, computers and phones creates an island of peace and reflection in the midst of the week, a time for building relationships with family and friends (pre-COVID, anyway), reading, thinking and generally living at a slow and gentle pace, not constantly stimulated and provoked in different ways. Inasmuch as I have any profound ideas about anything, I’m pretty sure that most of them come on Shabbat.
  3. In terms of online echo chambers, I’m glad that blogging about autism and mental health has brought me into contact with a group of people who cut across borders of politics, nationality, religion and gender. It can be discomfiting to meet people who think differently, but the alternative is a world made of hostile cliques. I recently deleted my barely-used Twitter account because I worried I was only interacting with people I thought I would agree with. Twitter as a whole seems to be designed for performative anger and self-righteous virtue signalling rather than open-minded discussion.

And now it’s nearly Shabbat so I’m going to shut down for twenty-five hours!

Short Update

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

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

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

Not Losing My Religion

I had a blood test this morning, my regular lithium level test. I had some slight tremor, which I often get at blood tests. I’m not scared of needles, but the fear of shaking actually causes shaking. It wasn’t too bad. I had a longish walk back.

In the afternoon I worked from home on the data collation again. I managed to finish it in under two hours, which was good, as J thought there was too much for me to get through in one day. I cooked dinner (chilli) and burnt it slightly, but it tasted OK.

I had my Tanakh shiur (Bible class) at the London School of Jewish Studies, on Yirmiyah (Jeremiah). I was able to participate in the chevruta (paired learning, although we were actually in groups of three) section this week, which was good. “Able to participate” both in the sense that the camera and microphone worked this week, unlike last week (I was on my Dad’s computer to be sure), and also in the sense of having the confidence to speak. I did also put something in the text chat facility right at the end recommending Dror Burstein’s novel Muck, which is a modern day version of Yirmiyah. I wasn’t sure if I was “allowed” to do that, or if anyone read it as it was right at the end, but I guess it was good I had the confidence to write it.

There’s not a lot else to report about today.

***

I saw this blog post about Rabbi Abraham Twerski, whose death I mentioned the other day. Granted that he came from a Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) rabbinic background where university education was rare, but seeing the precautions he was advised to take against his religious observance slipping when he was in medical school makes me wonder if I’m unusual for coming out of university religious. Well, I know I’m unusual. Religious observance (any religion) is, I think, lower in graduates than in the general population. Lots of people lose their religion at university or college, for whatever reason (doubts based on secular studies; peer pressure; temptations; away from home community; lack of time, etc.). I just didn’t really notice it at the time as I was mixing with people who were also frum (religious Jewish) at the Jewish Society albeit that my other social group, the Doctor Who Society was mostly non-religious and non-Jewish.

I tend not to give myself credit for things like this, but maybe I should. I think the chances of me getting to this point in my life and still being this religious were not that great, in terms of becoming religious as a teenager from a not fully observant background, getting through university and getting through major depression with my faith and practice intact, as well as my difficulties being accepted in the frum community from autism and social anxiety and feeling rejected in my attempts to marry someone frum. Probably on some level at least that is better than someone who has been enclosed in the Haredi world all his life and never really encountered anyone who thinks or acts differently from “normal” frum people.

***

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Parliament today that there are “Eleven cases of mutations of concern in Bristol and thirty-two in Liverpool.” Life seems like a horror film at the moment, albeit a boring, slow-motion one. Although given how many governments are handling things, it’s less Quatermass and more Quite-a-mess.

Be Anything You Want To Be???

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

More Anxiety

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Anxiety and Autism

…which sounds like some kind of weird Jane Austen spoof.

I’ve been having trouble with sleep this week, trouble falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night.  Last night I went to bed early again as I was very tired, too tired to relax after the virtual museum tour I went on (I find Zoom events draining).  I thought I would be OK, but I woke up some time after 3.00am and couldn’t get back to sleep again.  I ate porridge (warm milk helps me sleep, but I don’t like drinking warm milk, hence eating porridge) and watched Doctor Who for a bit to unwind, but neither helped.  I went back to bed, but tossed and turned without falling asleep again.  I tried to stay in the present, but when you can’t sleep at 5.00am, it’s hard not to get sucked into worries.  Eventually, at about 6.30am, I decided to get up, despite feeling tired on only three or four hours of sleep.

A lot of the anxiety I’m experiencing at the moment is about dating.  I’ve been messaging someone on JDate.  I’m always scared to get my hopes up (for anything, not just dating) in case something goes wrong.  So many things could go wrong.  So I get sucked back into catastrophising.  I’m trying very hard not to do that, but rather to stay in the present, so I’m not going to say much more here for now, other than I’m pleased with what’s happening, but also anxious about whether good things can happen to me.

I have other anxieties too.  I’ve got the exam next week for the job I want (and apparently it’s not 100% sure that I’ll even get to the exam stage – today this is less clear than yesterday).  I know it’s normal to be anxious before a job application exam, normal to be nervous when contemplating a new job and normal to be nervous when messaging someone new on a dating site.  So everything is normal.   But I still feel anxious.  Like I say, I’m trying to stay in the present and tell myself that, one way or another, this won’t last indefinitely.  That probably sooner or later I will get a job, whether it’s this one or not.  That I do have some good qualities to offer a prospective partner.  And so on.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

***

Because of my complicated history with my autism diagnosis (being assessed and told I don’t have it, then going into the world of work and not coping at all, for reasons that sounded a lot like autism, then having a preliminary screening that suggests I do have it, and waiting and waiting for an assessment that could still be a year or even two away), I sometimes wonder if maybe I’m not on the autism spectrum and I’m just incompetent.  Then other days I do things that are so classically autistic that I wonder how it could ever have been missed.

Today I had a blood test (routine to check my lithium level because of my medication) and I planned to do some shopping afterwards.  My Dad gave me a lift to the hospital.  As I was about to get out of the car, he asked me to get some soap, and without thinking I went into classic autistic rigid thinking, saying I couldn’t do that because he hadn’t told me early enough for me to put it on my shopping list and why was he springing it on me suddenly?  Even as I was saying it, I could see it was an over-reaction and that it was the autism talking, but the scary thing is in the moment, it was hard to change it and back down and say I could do it.

I had some tremor when I had my blood taken.  I have tremor as a medication side-effect when I get anxious.  I get a little anxious about blood tests anyway (anxiety about possible tremor, ironically, rather than the needle), but I think COVID made things worse, because of the discomfort of wearing a mask and the “new situation” aspect of the hospital being socially distanced – autism again.  I was uncomfortable doing shopping for the same reason: my mask and confusion about the social distancing rules in the shopping centre, which I hadn’t been to since lockdown started.  I was also apprehensive about people standing close to me (everyone had masks, but I’m not convinced masks stop COVID being transmitted).  I got a bit agitated in Boots too.  I think it was a build up of autistic triggers.  The fact that they had changed the packaging on the vitamins I was trying to buy just threw me further – again, autism doesn’t like change.  Normally I wouldn’t care about a small change like that, but I think the fact that I was already agitated meant that it was just another factor.  Still, I guess it’s more evidence to put in my big document on my autism symptoms to take to my assessment, when I finally get it.

***

Otherwise it was a boring day, mostly doing odd bits of jobs: bits of housework, a bit on my novel, a bit on my devar Torah (Torah thought), a bit of Torah study.  Lots of bits.  I forced myself through the day until dinner and now I’m too tired to do anything so am off to bed soon.

***

As this is a shorter than usual post, and as it touches on some issues I’ve raised in the last few days about trusting God, I will post my devar Torah for this week in a minute, for those who are interested.

Two Years

Shabbat was good.  The usual mix of praying, studying Torah, eating, sleeping (too much) and reading.  I came last at Scrabble.  I had some rotten letters, far too many vowels.  I’m not very competitive, but I am getting annoyed that I’ve only won one game so far this summer.  There was some discussion as to whether ‘boxy’ (my word) is a word or not.  Our dictionary (Collins) says no, but now Shabbat is out, Merriam-Webster online says yes.  Maybe I’d have been better off with ‘oiled,’ but I couldn’t remember how many ‘L’s were in it.

I finished Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury, 1939-1942, kept up with weekly page of Talmud and read a bunch of Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew.  I didn’t do much recreational reading, just a little bit more of Muck, which is very good.  I didn’t go for a walk, partly because I slept and then wanted to study Torah and read, partly because it looked like rain.

***

Yesterday I realised it is nearly two years since I left my further education job (it’s nearly two years since I stopped working, although I was technically under contract for a couple of weeks in August when I was on holiday).  It feels much longer.  I think leaving may be the worst decision I ever made, and I’ve made some pretty bad ones.

For those of you who don’t remember or weren’t reading then, my initial contract was up.  I was not sure if it would be renewed, as everything in the library world, and the education world, is suffering from lack of funds.

I was offered a permanent contract, but my boss made it quite clear that she didn’t think I was handling the job as well as she expected.  The permanent contract was in many ways a new job, working all the time at the college’s secondary site (instead of once a week there and usually at the main site) where I would be expected to have much more contact with staff, talking to them, getting book recommendations from them and trying to get them to bring students to the library more often.  This terrified me given my social anxiety and the fact that the interpersonal aspects of the job so far had convinced me that I am autistic.  My boss had also made it clear that she felt that this interpersonal interaction side of the job was something I was particularly bad at.  I agreed, and decided to turn the job down, which seemed to astonish her, even though her vocal lack of confidence in my skills was a major factor in my turning it down.

If I’d realised how hard it would be to build a career or even to find a new job that is mostly backroom librarian stuff with minimal interpersonal interactions, maybe I would have taken that job.  Since then I’ve only worked for seven months in total out of twenty-three (not counting that August when I was paid, but not working).

I made a list of everything I’ve done in the last two years to try to work out if they were good or bad.  Aside from only seven months working, I had some interviews and tests and did badly in a lot of them, but not quite all (obviously two I did well in as I got the jobs).

I went on two dates with one person via a matchmaking site (not a success) and was in a long-distance relationship with E. for four or five months that also ended badly.

My mood (depression) has been extremely variable, and although I had some CBT last year for social anxiety, my social anxiety has got worse because of lockdown.  I also think I didn’t push myself hard enough with the CBT, although being restricted to ten sessions on the NHS didn’t help.

On the plus side, I finished my Doctor Who non-fiction book, but failed to get a publisher, or many readers when I self-published.  I have written most of the first draft of a novel.  This is the biggest thing in my life at the moment, aside from helping around the house now Mum has cancer.

My therapist, who I’d been seeing for years (seven?  Something like that) stopped seeing me in late 2018 because she said there was nothing else she could do for me.  That made me feel hopeless (not the first time mental health professionals have basically said that they can’t do anything for me as my issues are too difficult for them).  I started with a new therapist a few weeks ago.  She seems good, but I have seen so many therapists over the years, I see it as being more about letting off steam than being “cured” or one day having a “normal” life.

I still haven’t had an(other) autism assessment, despite being pushed towards it by the further education job and then by the following office job, which nearly drove me insane and made me realise my brain really isn’t wired like most people’s.

I made some new friends, mostly online, but quite a few friends have stopped talking to me, or I’ve stopped talking to them to prevent arguments (or from fear we would drift back into a relationship again in the case of E.).  I feel incredibly bad about this, but don’t know how to stop it happening again.

I think I had begun to fit in slightly better at shul (synagogue) and talk to one or two more people before lockdown.  I led services a couple of times too, but wonder if I should have done that (I had tremor issues again someone said I looked “like you were going to have a coronary”).  I still feel the community is not a perfect fit for me, but it’s the best on offer.  A few people know I have medical issues even if I haven’t told them the details, but I don’t always feel supported, although the rabbi has been messaging to check in regularly during lockdown, which is good.

Reading this back mostly makes me feel despairing, seeing how little has gone right in the last two years.  The plus side, I suppose, is that a lot happened, even if much of it was bad, so perhaps I should be hopeful that the next two years won’t be stagnant, even if I feel the chances of finding a job (let alone a good job), finding a girlfriend/wife or finding a publisher for my book all seem slim.

Flow, Masks and News Media

The world is just so horrible at the moment that I want to steer clear of news and Twitter, but there is some kind of masochistic attraction.  I think it’s partly fear of not being informed about something important, even if there isn’t much I can do about it (like COVID), but mostly boredom and procrastination.  It’s easy to click on something and read it, and the news is always updating.  However, we seem to have abandoned the idea of analysis.  It feels like every media or social media outlet is just a list of things or people to hate, mostly things or people I have not heard of and have no opinion on until goaded by the media or social media to come up with one.

Mind you, when I gave in to temptation today, I did read an interesting and possibly career-pertinent Twitter discussion (actual discussion, not argument, rant or invective) about whether literacy standards in children’s books and young adult books have slipped over the last few decades.

***

Away from the real world, Mum cut my hair.  That’s the most noteworthy thing about today.  I’m glad not to have to go to the barber, given how anxiety-provoking that can be for me because of autism, social anxiety and tremor.

My novel writing flowed quite nicely today, the way I feel it “should” for a professional writer.  I wrote quite a lot, although towards the end I realised I’ll have to re-order the sequence of events in this chapter a bit to make them flow better.  I’m also reconsidering the ending of the story, which is a slightly nerve-wracking thing – I’m not entirely sure where I’m going now, when previously I thought I knew.

I went for a walk to pick up my prescription.  I wore a mask because I was going to the pharmacist.  I still can’t get used to wearing it and I’m dreading when I have to use public transport again.  I suspect that they will be around for a long time.  Even if the official requirement to wear a mask on public transport is lifted, I am guessing people will still wear them out of caution and a kind of politeness.  Who knew that rush hour on the Tube could get more depressing and uncomfortable?  Then again, given what happened when lockdown regulations were eased last week, maybe I’m wrong about that.  Maybe everyone will just go crazy and mask-free.

I managed quite a bit of Torah study today too, including Tehillim (Psalms) in Hebrew and Mishnah.  The Mishnah’s point seemed straightforward, but as usual the commentary made it seem more complicated until I couldn’t understand it all, which is not good.  I spent some time thinking about what to write in my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week.  I admit I’m finding it a bit harder than I expected to find something to write about for 500 to 1,000 words each week.

***

I was feeling quite self-critical last night and this morning.  I had an interaction elsewhere on the internet that I felt went badly, which may have been catastrophising.  This led me to over-generalise that all my interactions go badly.  It’s easy to think that I can’t cope with interacting with people in general.  It is true that sometimes I try to say the right thing and fail, but I need to focus on the fact that that does not always happen.  It is more correct to say that there are certain types of interaction that I handle badly, but I’m not sure what I can do about that.

Otherwise, my mood was reasonably good today, but I feel like there’s stuff bubbling under the surface that might come up soon and I’m not sure what that’s going to feel like.

***

I realised that I’m not thinking about E. much.  In a weird way, I feel guilty that I’m mostly over the ending of the relationship.  I felt like it  (the ending of the relationship) should have affected me more.  I don’t think it means I didn’t care about her, or that the relationship wasn’t real, just that I realise it was not really possible to save it the way things turned out.  I think I also worry more about bad things that might happen before they happen; once they’ve happened, I can generally deal with them.  If only I could channel some of that emotional energy back in time to before it happens and stop the worrying in advance.

I am still trying to work out if E. and I could still be friends, if that is sensible or something I want.  I definitely lack friends at the moment and would benefit from another one, but I worry about us being sucked into an unending on/off relationship, plus if I do ever end up dating again within the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community, having close female friends will probably not go down well.

It’s hard not to endlessly probe at the, “Will I ever be in a lasting relationship?” question, although I wish I didn’t.  That’s part of what I mean about agonising over relationships before they’ve started.  It is, I suppose, the emotional equivalent of probing a painful tooth.  No good can come of it, yet it’s compulsive.

Good/Bad (Mostly Good)

More bureaucracy weirdness.  I got a letter last week saying that my doctor’s certificate was about to run out.  As I had been told I wasn’t going to be eligible for benefits, and as the letter telling me the certificate was about to run out was dated after the time it said the certificate would run out (classic Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) incompetence) I just shoved it in a drawer and forgot about it.  Now I’ve received a letter saying that I am going to be getting Employment Support Allowance for a year.  Despite being told that my doctor’s certificate was not correct and then being told it was out of date, as well as being told that I don’t have the right amount of NI contributions.  All very strange, but I’m not going to complain – but similarly if it somehow doesn’t materialise, I won’t be surprised either.  Hopefully by the time it runs out next year I’ll have a better idea of where I stand with my autism diagnosis and whether that leaves me eligible for anything, although I suspect I’m too high functioning.   I seem to be too high functioning to claim much for depression too, especially as the assessment forms are geared towards physical disability.  I swear the DWP live on another planet though.  Their communication skills are appalling.

***

Friday night was good, given how exhausted I was.  I got through shul (synagogue) OK, even joining the circle dance in Kaballat Shabbat.  I do find it awkward holding hands with other people, plus the room, full of chairs and tables, isn’t really laid out for that kind of thing and we get a bit squashed in (the “dance” is more of an awkward walk around the room).

I went to Shabbat dinner at one of my shul friends’ flat and enjoyed it.  I think I joined in the conversation more than I used to.  My friend and the other friend there are on the mailing list for my weekly devar Torah (Torah thought) email and I was persuaded to read it aloud at the table (he had printed it off in advance).  I only shook very slightly, interestingly when I was self-conscious, either about something that I had written (referencing a non-religious Bible critic) or just about shaking.  There were a couple of awkward moments, when I was asked how my parents were and I didn’t want to lie, but wasn’t sure how much to say, and when one of my friends suddenly asked me apropos of nothing in particular, if I had ever thought of writing a book.  I was rather astonished and I think I lapsed into incoherence before saying I’ve been published in a couple of places and am writing a novel.  I didn’t mention the Doctor Who book, partly because I wasn’t sure what frum (religious) people would say about a book about television, but also because I feel even for a non-frum audience, it’s a strange thing to admit to.  I mean, I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent on that book in the last seven years.  A lot.  It does seem slightly odd to invest so much time in a family TV programme for such little return.

I got home about 10.00pm, spoke to my parents for a bit and did some Torah study, although the Talmud I was trying to prepare just confused me.  I couldn’t sleep and stayed up late reading Alex cartoons.  I missed shul again this morning and fell asleep after lunch.  I don’t want to sleep so much, but heavy Shabbat lunch makes me so drowsy that I just want to wrap myself in my duvet (a classic autistic habit I’ve had since childhood) and inevitably I drift off after a few minutes.  When I woke up I finished re-reading The Art of Biblical Poetry and went to shul, where I was baffled by the Talmud shiur (I could not understand it easier with a group at 6.00pm than I had by myself at 10.30pm the previous night).  I managed to speak to the person I saw at the shiur (class) I went to last week, which I wouldn’t have done in the past.  I also told an (I hope) amusing anecdote to people in the car on the way home when my friend offered me a lift, which I also would not have done in the past.  So I guess Shabbat was more good than bad.

***

I got a couple of job rejections in the last few days.  I have nothing to say about this any more, so I will resort to emoji.  😦

***

I’m planning on going to the rabbi’s inauguration ceremony at shul tomorrow, but fortunately I didn’t need to book so I won’t feel bad if I don’t feel up to it.  To be honest, I expect it will be a bunch of long speeches and then refreshments where I’ll find it awkward to talk to anyone.  I suspect I will spend the whole evening longing to go back home and watch tomorrow’s Doctor Who series finale (the first episode I’ve been anxious to watch in some weeks, thanks to a quite good and intriguing first half last week).  Nevertheless, given my patchy shul attendance, I feel I should show my face if I can, even if I don’t last the entire evening (although walking out in front of the various dignitaries could be awkward.  I should try to get a seat near the door).

Successful Shabbat

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was good, overall.  Shul (synagogue) on Friday night was OK.  I had dinner with my family, which is still overshadowed by Mum’s cancer diagnosis, then back to shul at 8.30pm for an evening learning event.  There were twelve of us, including the rabbi running the event (not the regular shul rabbi).  First was chevruta (paired) study of the key sources in the Talmud and later commentators and law codes.  We spent about thirty or forty minutes coming to grips with these and then there was a short shiur (class) for fifteen or twenty minutes applying the principles from the texts.  I was paired with one of my friends, to my relief, and we did OK going through the texts.  We were on similar levels, I think, which made it better than these situations sometimes go with me, both in terms of confidence and thinking of things to say.  It was a highly technical discussion of a point of law in the Jewish laws of property and damages, not the type of thing I usually like study, but I found it quite interesting.  There was a short piece of aggadata (non-legal material, in this case narrative) in the midst of the halakhah (Jewish law) which made things a bit easier for me (about a caravan in the ancient Middle East that was being stalked by a lion, so every evening they left one of their donkeys for the lion in the hope that it would be satiated and not attack the caravan.  It made me wonder what they did if they ran out of donkeys).  Afterwards there was potato kugel (kugel is a kind of pudding that can be made of various things, sweet or savoury, but most often grated potato).  This was the one week when we had potato kugel for dinner at home, but I would never turn down more.  As I said to Dad, kugels are like buses, you wait ages and then two come along at once.  I was glad to be socialising in a ‘safe’ environment in shul and was glad there were relatively few people there, so I did not get overwhelmed and also was visibly joining in and not merging into the background.

When we were sitting around eating kugel and drinking whisky (not me, but the other men) the rabbi quoted something (I didn’t catch where from) that said that doing a mitzvah against difficulty means the reward is one hundred-fold.  He was thinking of all of us coming out in the cold, wet and wind at night, but I thought of my depression, social anxiety and autism.  Even if “one hundred-fold” is rabbinic hyperbole, I felt that maybe I should cut myself some slack for trying to be a good Jew under difficult circumstances.

I didn’t push myself to get up early for shul this morning, but I did go back for Minchah, Talmud shiur and Ma’ariv (Afternoon Service, Talmud class and Evening Service).  There was no one willing or able to lead Minchah so I was asked.  I hadn’t done it for about five  years, not since we came to this community.  I have been more tuneful, but I don’t think I made any obvious mistakes aside from misunderstanding the rabbi about when to start on two occasions.  I even coped with slowly reading the Aramaic passage recited when taking the Torah scroll out, although I felt that people were staring at me and mentally wondering why I didn’t restart.  I shook with anxiety a little, but not as violently I did when leading weekday services at this shul previously, so maybe I’m becoming more confident with participating in this shul.  I didn’t (thank G-d!) drop the Torah scroll from shaking as I was vaguely worried about.

My devar Torah (Torah thought) email that I shared with a slightly wider group of people before Shabbat this week also seems to have gone down well, so maybe I’m beginning to move outwards into the community again after a period of retrenchment and mental health struggle over the last five years.

***

Today is my parents’ wedding anniversary (before you ask, no, they didn’t deliberately go for a Valentine’s weekend wedding, it just ended up like that).  They bought a very rich chocolate cake for dessert for Shabbat meals.  They don’t normally do that for their anniversary, only for family birthdays, and I felt that it was partly a kind of reward because of the stressful few weeks we’ve had with Mum’s cancer diagnosis.  It was really good cake, though, and we’ve still got quite a bit left.

***

After Shabbat, I did a bit more work on the bibliography for my non-fiction Doctor Who book.  I got through a pile of books that came out between 1997 and 2006, basically from the point where Doctor Who seemed to be dead until the point where it had come back, but the new generation of fans had not quite arrived yet.  It’s the Doctor Who fandom I heard about and tentatively joined in via Doctor Who Magazine (particularly the editorships of Gary Gillatt, Alan Barnes and Clayton Hickman), books like Doctor Who: From A to ZLicence Denied and Doctor Who: The Book of Lists and later joined more fully in the Oxford University Doctor Who Society (Doc Soc) and its fanzine The Tides of Time.  It was a slightly strange fandom, a place where on the one hand people would take the programme extremely seriously and write lengthy quasi-scholarly articles about themes or characterisation, and then five minutes later they would be completely taking the Mickey and making fun of the whole thing, sometimes even in the same article.

I suppose I was only ever really on the fringes of that fandom; the Doc Soc was my greatest involvement, and that was only a small society when I was there.  In 2005 the programme came back on TV and completely changed the demographic of fandom; later the arrival of social media and Twitter would alter the way that fans communicated.  I’m not really involved in fandom any more.  I just read and comment on a couple of blogs run by people I consider friends as much as fellow fans.  I still read Doctor Who Magazine (and tried to pitch to write for it, without success), but it feels very much like an ‘official’ piece of merchandise now and not the upmarket glossy quasi-fanzine it once aimed to be.  You won’t see anyone criticise anything or lightly make fun of anything; in fact, they’re not even running reviews of the new episodes.

I’ve sometimes ventured onto Doctor Who Twitter, but I find it a bit scary: sometimes quick to take offense and rather political, plus I find Twitter in general a source of angst and time wasting and I try to avoid it.  I’ve never been to a convention, either pre- or post-new series.  Part of me would like to go, but part of me, particularly the autistic part of me, is scared stiff at the thought of it.  I would like to find that kind of fan commentary/appreciation/gentle mockery that I used to find in the late nineties and early noughties, but I’m not sure it even exists any more, let alone where to find it.  And I wish I had been a bit more involved in “my” fandom when it was thriving, even if I wasn’t in it now, although I suppose I was too young and socially anxious to get much more involved.

***

I wrote a long comment tonight about autism and my religious beliefs on MidWestAspie’s blog.  I’ve decided to cross-post my comment here (cutting off a bit that is a not relevant and correcting a couple of typos) as it touches on some issues I’ve raised here, but never really spoken about at length:

Interesting post. I have heard other people on the spectrum say that their ASD made them leave their religious upbringing. I’m the reverse. I’m a religious Orthodox Jew and in the process of getting an ASD diagnosis (I’m pretty sure I’m on the spectrum, and have been told I am by mental health practitioners, but don’t have the bit of paper yet). I was raised traditional, but not fully religious and became a lot more religious in my teens and early twenties. I’ve never really felt a clash between those aspects of my self (ASD and Judaism).

My university background is in the humanities (history and then information management) rather than science, so maybe that’s made me more open to the idea that things exist, and can be shown to be likely to exist or to be a certain way, without our being able to “prove” that they exist like a scientific or mathematical proof. For example, I think Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, but I can’t prove that in the way that a scientist can prove that e=mc2 or the way Decartes tried to prove that “I think therefore I am.” When I was in my twenties I went through a kind of religious crisis about this type of thing, but this was the position that I eventually came to. I think whether a system has meaning is not falsifiable in a Popperian sense. You can say that God is an unnecessary hypothesis, but if you find meaning in an idea or a practice, I think there is truth to that meaning even if the data it rests on is, in some sense, flawed (I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well).

OTOH, I have a quite existential approach to faith. A number of years ago I was reading a lot in Jewish religious existentialists (e.g. Rav Soloveitchik, Levinas, Heschel, Fackenheim, Buber) and am still very influenced by them. The emphasis on dialogue and encounter and ethics. I don’t feel much security from my faith in the way that you say your parents do and in the way that I see other people in my community react. I went through another religious crisis of a kind in recent years where I was sure that God hated me, but I eventually realised that I was just projecting my own low self-esteem. But I don’t feel that God is my Cosmic Buddy who will do what I ask, nor do I think much about the afterlife or reward or stuff like that. I talk to God, but I don’t expect Him to answer me in an immediate or overt way. I don’t expect my life to go well in this world just because I try to keep the Torah. Maybe it’s not part of my psychological make-up (or ASD), maybe it’s the pessimism that comes from two decades of mental illness, or maybe it’s just that Judaism is a very present-centred religion and we don’t talk much about Heaven or reward, even though we believe in them.

I’ve never had the type of religious experience you describe and I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did. I absolutely don’t believe Judaism means giving up my responsibility. On the contrary, Judaism, and especially Jewish existentialism, means accepting a huge amount of responsibility. Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, the nineteenth century proto-Jewish existentialist thinker, said, “The seeking is the finding” and that is how I relate to Judaism, it is an ongoing quest for me to find meaning in my life and in my people’s traditions, not a set of answers someone else is spoon-feeding me.

I know there are people in the Orthodox Jewish community who like being spoon-fed. I know that there are people who believe a lot of stuff I consider incorrect, silly or occasionally dangerous, whether its creationism or magical thinking (segulot) or whatever. And on my blog I write a lot about my trouble fitting in to my community and getting annoyed about things people believe or say. But the fact that other people believe things that I think are wrong doesn’t make me think that everything they believe must be wrong, if I find meaning in it. And I’m not bothered about other people finding meaning in their own traditions, because I believe that, as Rabbi Lord Sacks said (and got in trouble for saying with the ultra-Orthodox) God is bigger than religion and God speaks to people in different ways. I do believe the Torah to be a qualitatively different type of truth from other religions, but even if I felt that Judaism was exactly equal to other religious truths, there is a Burkean conservative aspect to my mind that makes me think there is meaning and goodness in following and maintaining the traditions, customs and festivals of one’s own people regardless of what others think or do.

There probably is more I could add to this, but it’s late and this post is too long already.  I will say that there probably was a time, when I was in my teens or twenties, when, if my life had gone differently, I could perhaps have become an atheist, possibly even the aggressively militant type.  I suppose I was lucky that I knew enough to convince myself that the militant atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens etc.) were overstating their case and didn’t really know much about Judaism from the inside.  It does make my head hurt a bit wondering what might have been and what that would mean for me, but you drive yourself mad thinking like that.

The Real Me

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was much like other recent Shabbatot: a mixture of shul (synagogue) and home stuff.  The home stuff was OK; the shul stuff was mostly OK, but I still missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers) again due to social anxiety.  I think trying to “build up” to morning shul isn’t going to work because the problem is more complex than straightforward social anxiety.  On a fundamental level, I’m scared of rejection in this community, partly from my mental health issues and autism (cf. the person who was dismissive of my explanation for not attending shul), and partly because I know my religious level is not completely right.  At the moment I can put up with things, but I worry how people would react if the “real me” came out, either through sending out some of my devar Torah (Torah thought) emails to people and seeing how they react or through something bigger.

I could have put myself forward to lead Mincha (Afternoon Service) today because no one else was willing/able, but I was too scared and in the end they got someone else.  I think no one actually believes I could do it.  It would be nice to prove them wrong, but I am too worried about shaking.

A different, scarier, way that the real me could come out presented itself today.  There are weekly devar Torah sheets in shul.  One is a weekly halakhah (Jewish law) digest.  This week the topic was separation of genders.  This is a big difference between Modern Orthodox and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities.  In Modern Orthodox communities there is division of men and women during prayer, but generally not in other events (Torah study events, shul social events, wedding parties etc.).  In Haredi communities gender segregation is the norm absolutely everywhere from fear that “immorality” will result from social contact.  If you get invited to dinner at someone’s house you will often find men at one end of the dining room table and women at the other, although this is not an absolute rule.

This halakhah sheet was very strict, probably more so than my shul, which can be a bit half-hearted, so at kiddush (refreshments after Shabbat morning service), men stand one side of the table and women on the other, but people talk across the table and not just to their spouse, which I find sillier than complete mingling.  I guess I worry what will happen if I get married.  I don’t really want a gender-segregated wedding, as I find it halakhically unnecessary and my friends and family would find it weird and disconcerting.  My understanding is that forty or fifty years ago even in the most ultra-Orthodox weddings there was mixed seating at the party and no one had an issue with it; the sexualisation of Western popular culture in the last half-century has prompted an extreme movement in the opposite direction in the Orthodox world and as is usually the case, both extremes are problematic and the best course is in the middle.  But then, would that mean that I couldn’t invite anyone from my shul to my wedding?

(Of course, first I need to sort out getting married…)

So that was Shabbat.  After Shabbat I spent about an hour working on my novel, with a bit of procrastination but not too much.  I wrote about 500 words again.  I spent some time researching self-publishing for my Doctor Who non-fiction book.  I’m now tempted to go with Lulu.com as I think it will be cheaper than IngramSpark, although it’s hard to guess how costs will mount up.  I’m worried that I have zero skill for graphic design (for the cover) and marketing, which will be major factors in making sales, but this has really turned into a vanity project and I just want to get it out there now.

And that’s about it for today.  Going to try to go to bed soon even though I don’t feel tired in the hope I might get up earlier tomorrow.

Miniature Pic Spam and More

I’ve been going to bed earlier the last few nights, but yesterday I went to bed later again.  Then I couldn’t sleep, because I forgot to take my medication at dinner time.  I remembered before bed, but that didn’t give them enough time to make me sleepy.  I didn’t feel like reading, so I watched the second half of For Your Eyes Only, which may not have been the best thing to do (TV in general + TV violence = still not sleepy).  Consequently, although my parents tried to wake me up when they went to football today with my (female) cousin, I slept through until gone midday.

When I woke, I was still very tired and somewhat depressed.  I’m not quite sure why, as I didn’t do that much yesterday, but it is the middle of winter and that does make me want to hibernate even if my light box helps a bit.  I had intended to go for a run after breakfast, but that was before I slept so late (I didn’t want to make lunch very late) and before I knew it would be raining heavily.  So, no run today.  My weight is the same as it was before Chanukah, which is good inasmuch as eating doughnuts hasn’t piled on the calories, but there are still another four days of doughnut-eating to go.

I did feel better after lunch.  I think when the depression makes me sleep a long time, I wake up with very low blood sugar, and I really need breakfast and lunch to feel “normal.”  I don’t know why breakfast isn’t enough.  It helps a bit, but not completely.  Maybe I’m eating the wrong thing (usually Weetabix or porridge)?

The main thing I did during the day (aside from taking the photos below) was more research on domestic abuse for my novel.  Although I feel a bit frustrated about pausing writing to research, I feel I’ve made significant progress with that research this week.  It turned out that many of my thoughts about abuse were correct (probably because I’ve met a number of abuse survivors of one kind or another in group therapy-type situations), but research has given me new ideas for plot developments as well as reminding me again that my characters have friends and family beyond my three narrators (I tend to forget, somewhat autistically, that my characters have relationships and don’t just exist in their own heads all the time.  This is probably because I exist in my own head too much).  I hope to finish the research in the next week or so and move back to writing.

I did about forty-five minutes of Torah study.  I would have liked to have done more, but my head felt that it would explode if I did.  I did a couple of chores too, but that was about it for the day.

***

There’s an oneg at my shul (synagogue) tomorrow evening.  I never know how to translate onegOneg Shabbat means ‘delight of the Sabbath’ which doesn’t get us very far.  It’s a kind of party or gathering to celebrate Shabbat with alcohol, junk food, songs, divrei Torah (Torah thoughts) and so on.  I’ve been to a few of these, or tried to go.  Sometimes I didn’t make it inside, being so overpowered by social anxiety that I just stood outside crying (and then inevitably met people who were going).  A couple of times I made it and even enjoyed it a little, but I’m not sure that I enjoyed it enough to really justify the anxiety and feelings of not fitting in that tend to accompany it.  Plus this one is being hosted by someone I was at school with, who is now a rabbi with a wife and kids and a house.  Lately I’ve been doing quite well at not being jealous of other people whose lives are different/better than mine, but I think this might be pushing my luck.

So, I tell myself not to go to the oneg, but then I feel that I’m avoiding social situations again (which is true), which will just reinforce the social anxiety, and that really I should be going to these things.  I tell myself that I want to spend time with my cousin on Shabbat, and that I will be volunteering on Sunday as well as spending time with my family, sister, brother-in-law and cousin on Sunday evening and will struggle to add another social event in, all of which is also true, but none of which makes me feel much better.

***

I mentioned yesterday feeling dispirited that the miniature models I paint nowadays aren’t as professional-looking as the ones I painted as a teenager and said I would supply photos.  Here goes!

These are the Doctor Who models I just painted (TARDIS, thirteenth Doctor (Jodie Whittaker), Davros):

Jodie2

I wasn’t too happy with the photograph, so here are the fourth and eleventh Doctors (Tom Baker and Matt Smith), which I painted some months ago:

TomMatt1

Here are some Daleks I painted and photographed a while back:

20190815_181934

On the other hand, here are some Warhammer dwarfs (Tolkien spelling!) that I painted as a teenager:

Dwarfs1

Dwarfs2

Even when the photos are blurred (because I’m not good at taking photos on my phone and because of my tremor), the earlier models (the dwarfs) seem a lot more professional to me than the latter ones (the Doctor Who ones).  Admittedly I did cheat slightly in that the most recent models are simply that, the most recent, whereas the dwarfs were some of the best ones of a collection of seventy or so.  But I did also include the fourth and eleventh Doctors, which I think are the best of the ones I’ve done recently, plus the Daleks which are very regular and simple in colour scheme, so they are not as difficult to paint as people despite the fine detail needed for the spheres.  My tremor is particularly clear on the fine detail, which doesn’t photograph well, especially eyes, which are a real pain to do well.  I used to have a technique for doing them with a cocktail stick, but I just can’t get it to work well any more.  It doesn’t help that the model of the thirteenth Doctor is not terribly dynamic, probably because of a lack of reference photographs of her compared with earlier Doctors (although the tenth Doctor model, not pictured, is even less dynamic!).

Quick Update

Not much to report today.  I decided I was too tired to go for a run.  I wrote my devar Torah (Torah thought) for this week and was pretty pleased to get something fairly coherent out of an idea that I was not initially sure was going to work.  I did some more research on domestic abuse for my novel, which is depressing, but I have a better idea of plot for the second half of the novel now.  I did some miniature painting, hopefully finishing the thirteenth Doctor, Davros and the TARDIS, but sometimes I find bits I’ve missed or done badly later.  I think I’m going to rest my painting for a bit so I can concentrate more on my novel.  To be honest, I get frustrated that my painting nowadays isn’t as good as when I was a teenager.  That’s partly due to my tremor and partly, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit, to lack of patience.  There’s a limit to how much time and energy I’m willing to invest in a hobby like this now; maybe that’s depression, or just growing up.  Maybe tomorrow or next week I’ll post a pic spammy post with my latest miniatures alongside some from my teenage years for comparison.

And that was it really. My parents were out most of the day, coming back in time to light Chanukah candles; one of my cousins from Israel arrived a little later.  I don’t “do” Christmas and there wasn’t anything I wanted to watch on TV.  I started watching the Bond film For Your Eyes Only, but it was dull and uninvolving so I stopped halfway and will probably finish it tomorrow.  A nice, quiet day.

Anxiety and OCD

I didn’t mention a dream I had the other day when I was doing my Mum’s job and doing it well.  I wouldn’t do my Mum’s job in real life because it’s very much a people person job that I would not cope in due to autism and social anxiety.  I don’t know if doing it in the dream was a sign of anxiety that I feel out of my depth with my new job as if it was my Mum’s job, or of confidence that I can do it like I did the dream job.  If my unconscious wanted to tell me something, I wish it would speak more clearly.

***

I led Mincha (the Afternoon Service) in shul (synagogue) on Friday.  I shook badly again, but somewhat less severely than last time and I was able to have a bit of kavannah (mindfulness, concentration) on the meaning of the Hebrew words this time, so at least the trend is good.  I don’t think anyone noticed the shaking, but someone said something to me that I could only half hear that could have been about it.  I’m not sure.  It took me about fifteen or twenty minutes to feel calm again afterwards.  Gone are the days when I could lead Mincha without breaking a sweat and step down from the bimah afterwards feeling fine.  Blame my olanzapine for making me shake when nervous, plus I feel less at home and secure in this shul than in the one I grew up in.

***

I enjoyed the long winter Shabbat evening, doing Torah study, meditation and recreational reading.  I finally got in to the novel I’m reading (a re-read of A Perfect Spy, a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman disguised as a spy novel by John le Carré, which I read for the first time about twenty years ago), which I’ve been trying to read all week without much success.  I went to bed early and had mild insomnia, but was probably asleep by 12.30am or so.  I did still sleep through the morning and missed shul.  It’s still hard to unpick why I can’t get up for shul: is it depression, social anxiety, or an unconscious rejection of the community or at least discomfort with it… ?  Consciously I want to go, but obviously a part of me very much does not want to go, and sabotages things week after week.

There was no second Mincha today, so by missing morning shul I missed that too.  There was no Talmud shiur (class) either, although it was replaced with another shiur which was OK, but not great being somewhat lightweight and unfocused.

***

I’ve had a worsening of OCD symptoms lately, some religious OCD (about the Jewish dietary laws), but most non-religious.  I’m wary of talking about it here because of what people might think of me, as it sounds pretty crazy, but I basically worry that I’ll commit a crime without realising it and get arrested.  I know this is rooted in guilt about stuff I do which is not by any means illegal, but is against Jewish law.  No one can arrest me for breaking Jewish law, so my guilty conscience imagines that God will arrange for me to do something illegal without realising it (because I would never consciously do anything illegal) so that I get my just deserts (which is the correct way of spelling ‘just deserts’ by the way).

I don’t know why these feelings have become more frequent recently.  Some of it is the increase in anxiety from the new job, I’m sure.  Something I saw online on the BBC news website also triggered intense OCD thoughts and fears.

This probably sounds crazy, and sometimes I feel pretty crazy, but my thoughts fall in a recognised sub-genre of OCD thoughts, like people who are worried that they ran over someone in their car without realising it and retrace their journeys looking for dead bodies.  This is “pure O” OCD, i.e. obsessions (guilty/anxious thoughts) without compulsions (actions done to try to calm down the obsessions).  Normally one deals with OCD by doing things that provoke the obsessions and then sitting with the anxiety without doing the compulsions, but with pure O OCD this can be hard because there aren’t compulsions to control so it feels unfocused; it’s not clear what ‘winning’ feels like.  I guess I just need to sit with the thoughts and accept that there isn’t anything I can do about it and accept the uncertainty of life – I can’t guarantee that I will never go to jail for a crime I didn’t commit, or didn’t mean to commit, it’s just very unlikely that I will.

***

Just to make things worse, I wanted to work on my novel, but that currently involves researching domestic abuse, so I spent forty minutes doing that and inexplicably did not feel full of the joys of spring afterwards.  I intend to watch Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers (as a break from James Bond) and go to bed, even though it violates my rule against watching TV late at night (because the light wakes you up) because I desperately need to watch something silly.  (I thought about an episode of Fawlty Towers, but if I’m trying to switch off from domestic violence I don’t really need John Cleese banging Andrew Sachs round the head with a frying pan.)

***

I can empathise with this tweet I saw tonight: “I still haven’t processed how people with nerdy, bitter, angry, over-analytical pop-culture blogs, like the ones I used to read 10-15 years ago, managed to channel their personality disorders into academic careers.”

To be honest, I hoped to be one of those nerdy, bitter over-analytical bloggers, but I never got the breaks.  My Doctor Who book is still languishing on my laptop and I really should have another go at finding a publisher, although there are only half a dozen small publishers who publish books on Doctor Who and none of them want it.  I did get over my anger and bitterness which is probably just as well, although I’m still nerdy and over-analytical.

Salvaging

I did manage to salvage some of the day after my last post.  I went for a haircut, which is one of my absolute least favourite things (because I don’t like being touched by strangers or spoken to when I can’t escape and because of my tremor issue).  I wrote a letter to my doctor requesting a medical certificate for my depression so that I can try to apply for benefits, and I handed the letter in at the surgery.  I walked quite a bit.  I did twenty-five minutes of Torah study and worked for fifty minutes on my novel, mostly redrafting what I had already written of the chapter I’m working on because I wasn’t happy with the way it was going.  I also cooked some plain pasta for dinner, to go with bought sauce.

As well as all of this, I watched most of the James Bond film Goldfinger.  I will probably finish it before bed.  I’ve watched three films in three days, which is unusual for me.  It’s partly that winter makes me want to hibernate, but also that I really need escapism right now, from the election and from my life.  Some of the things that turned me off James Bond years ago now seem like virtues: Bond’s smug complacency and amorality, meaning there are no major moral dilemmas; the improbable plots; the mindless action.  It’s an escape from my own reality.  James Bond never lies in bed feeling too depressed to get up in the morning, just as James Bond wouldn’t take and cr*p from antisemites.

I have all eight of these 8 Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Women that are Often Missed.  I don’t feel myself to be particularly feminine, but I know that women with autism are often able to mask their symptoms, particularly those around socialising and learning body language and eye contact.  Like many masking women on the spectrum, I have learnt to consciously control my eye contact and body language, at least to some extent, as well as writing “scripts” or “algorithms” for appropriate social behaviour and conversation, which I can not cope with intuitively.  This has, I think, impeded my diagnosis.  As that list suggested, I became a workaholic in my teens partly from low self-esteem (thinking I had to work super-hard to pass my exams), but probably also on some unconscious (?) level to avoid socialising, particularly at university.  I also have trouble at social gatherings where I don’t have a clear role.  I could socialise when I was a child and socialising meant playing a game together with some kind of rules (or plot if it was more imaginative play), but when I got to my teens and suddenly people were just “hanging out” I did not know how to cope with that at all.  I still struggle with these things.  I do sometimes think about helping in the kitchen or tidying, but I tend not to know what to do and invariably just get in the way.  I had most of the different eight autism symptoms here too, but it’s not a list that spoke to me so much, although I am definitely very territorial and don’t like people in my room and I do tend to do things one at a time in the order I want to do them and get annoyed if told to do them in a different order.

A Weigh To Go

I felt very depressed again today.  I actually managed quite a bit considering I felt unable to do anything at all, but it still doesn’t seem enough.  I feel like I’m bailing out the ocean with a teaspoon.  I applied for a job (fortunately only requiring me to send my existing CV and basic covering letter, no online forms that take hours), I cooked dinner (really easy kedgeree) and went to my new shiur (religious class).  I also unfollowed the few Twitter accounts I was following, but not looking at, in order to change it to a purely work/networking-based account.

The shiur was interesting, but I knew quite a lot of material already.  This is the kind of thing that fuels my wistful feeling that, if my life had gone differently, I could have been giving shiurim rather than listening to them.  As usual at the LSJS, pretty much everyone there was about twenty years older than me or more.  Also as usual, lots of the people seemed to know each other already (and not because I missed the class last week) and I didn’t know anyone.  I’d forgotten that this teacher gets people to read things out from the handouts.  I had to read something, which I mostly managed without shaking, but I did get very anxious about it.  I feel like I go to the LSJS for the Torah because I can’t connect to the people and I go to my Thursday shiur for the social side (not that I say much) because the Torah is sometimes uncomfortably too Haredi for me (mind you, some of what was said tonight was potentially too modern for me, so…).  The Thursday shiur is men only, so I won’t meet any women my age at either.

I finally remembered to buy new batteries for the bathroom scales and I even remembered to weigh myself (I’m terrible at remembering to do that).  I’ve put on more weight.  I’m quite overweight now, although I don’t really look it.  I know that this is almost certainly due to medication; all three of the psych meds I’m on can cause significant weight gain, and my weight only really started ballooning when I was put on clomipramine a few years ago; unfortunately, clomipramine is one of very few anti-depressants to actually do anything to my mood, so coming off it isn’t really an issue (I don’t think I would have been working as much as I have in the last few years without it).

I don’t eat much junk and I try to nosh on fruit and veg during the day, although I tend to eat quite a lot at dinner (not helped by Jewish cultural standards whereby I’m assumed to need staggering amounts of food because I’m male and young-ish and food is a primary means of expressing affection).  I probably eat too many nuts and raisins too.  I know I eat too much at Thursday shiur and kiddush and seudah at shul (when I go), which may be boredom and social anxiety as much as anything.  I’m not sure how to deal with that.  I do eat quite a lot of junk on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festivals); I used to be able to get away with that by eating more healthily on other days, but I don’t think I can any more.  I have been trying to cut down the Shabbat and shiur junk and there aren’t any festivals for a while now (although there will be the doughnutfest of Chanukah in late December), but my life is often so miserable that if I denied myself my single weekday small piece of nosh, my life would feel noticeably worse and I’m not sure I actually have the willpower to do that at the moment.  I am also too lazy (or pressed for time/energy) to eat salads at lunchtime rather than sandwiches or toast.

Good/Bad

A mixture of good and bad stuff happened over Shabbat (the Sabbath).

I led Mincha (the Afternoon Service) in shul (synagogue).  I was asked and, somewhat to my surprise, found myself saying yes.  I think the person who asked me was surprised I said yes too.  I shook really badly the whole time, to the extent that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to get through it, but no one said anything (not even the rabbi, who was only two feet away from me), so it probably wasn’t noticeable (or people were too polite to mention it).  It did mean that I had no real kavannah (mindfulness) though, which I feel bad about.  Hopefully it will be easier if I do it again.

***

I had an argument with my parents when I got home.  It came out of nowhere really.  It was probably partly my fault, or at least the fault of my poor communication skills.  It scares me when arguments come out of nowhere.  The reality was that we were all stressed and were probably a bit fed up of each other after spending eight days together all the time, but still, it upset me.  There’s a lot more I could say here, but I don’t want to talk even semi-publicly here.  It’s at times like this that I wish I was still in therapy, or could talk to my rabbi mentor.  On that note, I couldn’t get in touch with my rabbi mentor while I was in Israel and am now rather worried about him, but unsure how to contact him.  I do have a landline number for him, but am unsure if it’s still a current number, don’t know what time to phone, and have a great deal of social anxiety about using the phone and especially having to speak to his teenage and pre-teen children who I haven’t seen since they were young children.

***

I missed Shacharit (Morning Service) again today.  I woke up at 7.30am and thought I would stay in bed until 8.00am, even though I knew I would probably fall asleep again.  I forgot to tell myself to just get up and eat something and then make a decision about whether to stay up or not.  Everything (depression, social anxiety, motivation) is so much easier once I’ve eaten, but getting to that stage is hard.

***

In shul, the person who gave me the job of tidying up the papers after Shabbat said he really appreciates my doing it.  From the fact he said it out of the blue, I eventually realised he was politely reprimanding me for not doing it the last two weeks (two weeks ago I was sick and last week I was in Israel).  By the time I realised that, he was gone and I didn’t go back and explain it to him, which was more a product of social anxiety than humility.

***

Someone else who I am somewhat friendly with at shul and who knows I am a librarian made a joke about me sorting out his own personal library, but, he added, “I have some books you wouldn’t approve of.”  I was rather dumbfounded.  This was coming from someone with a long, untrimmed beard and black hat, the trappings of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) conformist piety.  The reality is that I probably would approve and may even have read them, but I was again too shy to say anything.  What could I say in that situation anyway?  It’s not like he said, “Oh, I’ve read book X” and I could say, “Oh, I’ve read that too.”  Still, it shows that my shul may be more diverse in practice and ideology than I thought.  And I guess he is indicating a degree of trust in me to make such a remark.

***

This Jewish year I set myself three targets to meet, to get to shul more frequently, especially on Saturday mornings; to be more patient and less angry or sarcastic with my father; and every evening to list three positive personal characteristics that I exhibited by my actions during the day (to boost self-esteem).  I didn’t really want to do three things, as I thought even one target would be difficult to meet if my depression is bad, but I could not decide what was the biggest priority; in any case, I read somewhere that one should make targets for mitzvot (commandments) between me and God (shul), me and other people (Dad) and me and myself (personal characteristics).  A little over one month into the year, I feel that I’m not doing well on any of them.  However, while I didn’t mean to focus on this, I have made some slight improvements on kavannah (mindfulness) in prayer and mitzvah performance and perhaps also in the amount of Torah study I do and how much I enjoy it.  I’m not quite sure what to make of all this.  Again, something I’d like to discuss with my rabbi mentor.

***

This is a post-Shabbat thing, but I stopped following a blog I’ve been following for many years.  The blog is by a somewhat geeky moderate Haredi woman who at the start of her blogging career was an “older single” (which in Haredi terms is anyone who gets to about twenty-five without being married).  For a long time it was a positive thing for me to see there were other frum (religious) geeky people out there, even in the Haredi world, and even women, and also that other people in the frum world were struggling to find their mates.  But lately the site has been difficult for me to read.  I’m not entirely sure why.  I don’t think it’s because she got married, but it seems to stem from around then, so maybe it is that, on some level.

The final straw was a piece she posted quoting a frum mental health professional who claimed that in the shtetl (the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe in the Medieval and Early Modern era until the Holocaust) people were too busy to suffer from mental health issues; they just forced themselves through things.  This is supposedly why there are no words for many contemporary mental health issues in Yiddish.  I left a polite comment saying that there was no real knowledge of mental illness anywhere in that period; there weren’t words for them in other languages either.  Minor “strange” behaviours were probably ignored as personal idiosyncrasy; more serious problems were dismissed as laziness, weakness, “female hysteria,” “nerves” and so on.  If someone was severely affected and ended up non-functional, they were written-off as “insane” and institutionalised, as probably happened to my great-grandmother (in the UK, not the shtetl).  I also pointed out that, if you know how to read between the lines, a lot of rabbis (the most documented figures) of the last few centuries have shown signs of mental illness.  I forgot to add that the fifth rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch was treated by Sigmund Freud himself.

She didn’t reply.

In the last few years, I have seen myself drifting from a friendly online relationship with her to one where I seem to be annoyed by her a lot and struggling not to show it and this was the final straw.  So, unfollowing seemed more sensible than ending up as a troll.  I would rather check out while we are still on reasonably good terms.  It saddens me, though, as the ending of all friendships do, especially as I have lost too many friends in the last eighteen months for reasons I still struggle to understand.

I do worry about ending up on my own one day.  As I’ve said before, many of my friendships are online, on blogs or via email, and those seem more fragile than in-person friendships.  Since university, I’ve had a lot of close female friends, one at a time, and the friendships often ended badly with some kind of argument; the ones that didn’t ended when they moved away or got married and we drifted out of touch.  E. is the only female friend I’m in regular contact with now.  Maybe the frum relationship advisers are right that men and women can’t be close platonic friends (there was sexual tension in some of those friendships that didn’t last), or maybe I’m just bad at friendship.  Or maybe all friendships are transient and situational and I’m stuck in my situation while my friends move on.

I worry that I will lose E. one day too, but also that I won’t date anyone else while I’m friends with her, because I can’t imagine anyone else being so accepting of me or being so much on my wavelength, nor can I imagine another woman accepting my having such a close friendship with another woman.  At the moment I don’t think I should be dating anyone anyway, so it’s not much of an issue, but I do worry that it will be one day.

Thoughts vs. Feelings

I felt pretty awful when I woke up today and was glad that I hadn’t scheduled anything for today other than going for haircut, and that no interesting-looking job adverts had landed in my inbox overnight to demand my attention.  The haircut was the usual awful experience.  I realise now that having my hair cut trips a lot of autism and social anxiety reflexes (being around strangers; being touched; perhaps feeling vulnerable and exposed without escape; worry the barber will start making small talk to me).  This has been the case since childhood, but has got worse over the last I-don’t-know-how-many-years (probably getting on for ten years) when I’ve had a problem with tremor.  When I go for a haircut now, I worry I will start shaking, but it’s worrying that I might shake that often sets off the shaking.  It wasn’t too bad today, but the barber did remember me from my previous haircut there, I suspect because he remembered me shaking.

On the plus side, today did give me a chance to try out some CBT techniques “in the field” so to speak.  I found I was able to challenge my thoughts in the way I was taught and “prove” to myself that I am not doomed to be single or unemployed forever.  The problem is that, contrary to CBT theory, I find that knowing that my thoughts are irrational does not affect the emotions I experience as a result of them.  Even though I may not have evidence strong enough to convict someone in court that I will be single and unemployed forever (CBT demands a high standard of proof to permit anxiety), I feel I do have a lot of circumstantial evidence that does justify worrying (I have had few jobs, no full-time jobs, many of those jobs went badly or I was overqualified for, etc.).  Nor do I think dismissing fears of the future as “hypothetical” really applies to something that will definitely happen one way or another (I will be employed or unemployed; I will be single or married (or divorced)).  I also have a growing suspicion that my depressed and anxious thoughts are caused by my depressed and anxious emotions rather than the other way around.  CBT theory states that thoughts cause emotions and doesn’t really acknowledge that the reverse can happen.  This means that disproving the thoughts does not necessarily dissipate the bad mood as it should.

I don’t want to sound too negative, as CBT is helping a bit, even if it does feel a bit like putting a small plaster on a gaping wound that needs stitches.  I am having more success with grounding techniques: telling myself that I am dealing with a lot of issues to calm myself and deal with self-blame.  I am also trying to be aware of physical sensations to distract myself from negative thoughts.  The latter is particularly good because my autistic stimming tends to take the form of applying pressure on parts of my body e.g. feeling the pressure of my chair on my spine or lightly trapping my fingers in the drawer and this can often be done discreetly in social situations although I fear that this would be considered an improper coping strategy that fuels the social anxiety.  Sometimes it feels as if I can’t win.

***

The haircut was my main achievement for the day.  I spent a bit of time working on my plan for  a novel, but it was hard to concentrate as it’s quite a scary thing to contemplate doing.  I still think I can do it and want to try.  It’s weird to think that I don’t believe I can hold down a job or get married, which are things lots of people do easily, but I do believe I can write books, which is something many people would not even dream of attempting.  Getting books published is another question.

I did a little bit of Torah study, but not much, but I did go to shul (synagogue).  We didn’t get a minyan (prayer quorum), so we went to the other shul that uses that building (it’s really their shul, I think we just lease a room).  They started fifteen minutes later, though, so we had to wait.  It was an even more Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul than my one and I felt a bit out of place and was glad when the service finished.

***

I finished watching I Claudius.  I could see that it was objectively good, but I found it hard to connect emotionally to it, even though I usually like “politicking” stories.  Too many characters to keep track of with unfamiliar and similar names, and too many of those characters were fundamentally unsympathetic.

***

E. asked yesterday what one thing would make the biggest difference to my life.  It’s hard to tell.  Money would make a big practical difference, but wouldn’t alter low mood or the psychological need to feel like a contributor to others rather than a burden.  I’ve wanted to be loved romantically for twenty years, and people around me say I always seem better when I’m in a relationship (which is a total of one year or so out of thirty-six) but I know that wouldn’t cure me and living with a wife (rather than parents) would bring in a whole load of new autistic, socially anxious and perhaps depressive issues.  A contract to write books would be nice, I suppose, and I can write while depressed.  But I find it hard to imagine being happy in the long term.

State of Decay

I’m back to being depressed again.  I woke up feeling depressed; then I had a trip to the dentist.  I shook a bit, which was what I was really scared of, plus I had to have a small filling.  I’ve never had a filling before and I always was proud of myself for not having had any.  I suppose I turned it into some kind of moral achievement, which I now don’t have, plus I feel weird that there’s something non-organic embedded in me now.  The dentist did say I take good care of my teeth, though.  It was a small filling, so the dentist did it without anaesthetic so there wasn’t any numbness afterwards.  It didn’t hurt.  Then, I got in a complete mess when I was paying because they didn’t take credit cards.  I had remembered that and brought my cheque book, but I messed it up; I’m so used to writing my date of birth on job applications, that I started to write it on the check and then I started worrying what else I was doing wrong and just got generally flustered.  I think the receptionist could see and asked if I was OK.  My CBT therapist says I shouldn’t think that other people think I’m weird, but sometimes it’s hard not to.

***

I tried submitting another job application, but I’m not nearly experienced enough for it.  I don’t meet all the essential criteria, let alone the desirable ones.  And I would struggle to pass myself off as “confident, organised and enthusiastic”.  They wanted a CV and a covering letter and an application form, which basically amounted to them asking for the same information three times over.  This is not much fun to do even if you aren’t depressed.

Someone using the website I’ve been using to try to get proofreading work has invited me to pitch for a job.  It’s translating and proofreading a Vietnamese Young Adult novel.  I suspect my Vietnamese-reading skills are probably not up to it.  I’m guessing the person wanting the work just tagged everyone who listed “proofreading” as a skill in the hope someone would be able to do it.

***

I got another job rejection yesterday, plus haven’t heard anything back from the people who gave me a proofreading test and so I am wondering if I set my number of words per minute too low.  I don’t really know what is considered ‘normal’ or what I could reasonably do.  I desperately want to build some kind of career, yet every time I try, I run into barriers I can’t get through.  I try to turn to friends for support where I can, but that doesn’t always help either, because I don’t always know how to phrase the questions or they’re not willing/able to help or I’m worried about overloading them.  Possibly I just need to accept rejection and push through, but it’s hard when I have zero income and am entirely dependent on my parents.

E. said that I put in a lot of effort to try to do things or change my life for the better, but it always seems to backfire and I get minimal positive outcome.  I’m glad she said that, because I was worried it was just my imagination/pessimism.  This is why I get so upset by the miracle stories I see on Jewish websites.  I can think of a couple of articles I’ve seen where the writer was facing serious economic problems and/or contemplating working in a soul-destroying menial job instead of following his/her dream of writing when suddenly they got a perfect writing job because God loves him/her.  Right.  So obviously God hates me.  I think I’d rather think I’m just useless and can’t get a job.

***

In other worried/depressed news, I’m worried that my Doctor Who book won’t get published and I’ll have wasted the time I spent on it.  I think I say some new and interesting things, but also there is a certain amount of necessary repetition of standard fan opinions.  I’ve tried to challenge them where possible, but sometimes the clichés are clichés because they’re true and need repeating for the new fans who haven’t read them in fanzines and Doctor Who Magazine for the last thirty years.  The problem is that I don’t really know anything about the economics of book publishing or the wider Doctor Who fan market, whether this is the type of thing that might appeal.  I worry that it’s a type of writing that is rather out of date in Doctor Who fandom.

I wish I had more fan friends who could give me feedback.  I wish I hadn’t fallen out with the fan friends I did have.  Although the book originated in blog posts, I never seemed to have more than a few readers, judging from the comments, and can’t tell how popular the posts were.  I suppose I shouldn’t worry as there isn’t much else I can do at this stage.  I’m just desperate to build some kind of writing career, having failed in my librarianship career.  I can at least self-publish, but I’m wary of doing that, as I have zero idea of how to promote a self-published book and can’t imagine it selling.  Plus, I would like the kudos of having an independent publisher.

Working on my book makes me feel somewhat less miserable and even refreshed, even despite my worries about publication and whether I’ve really said much that’s new or worthwhile.  It could be that rather than a publish/reject binary I could be sent a list of changes to make, which could be frustrating, but would also be a learning curve for me, given that I know little about writing and publishing books (as opposed to reading or cataloguing them).

I feel bad about prioritising my book over further job applications or Torah study (I managed less than a quarter of an hour today because of depression), but it is sort of my job at the moment and the only thing that I feel good about, so perhaps it’s inevitable that I will prioritise it.

***

That was about all the productive things I did today, other than cook dinner.  I started watching I Claudius, which I wouldn’t have done if I’d realised the first episode was well over an hour and a half long (it was split in two for the US audience).  It was good, but I wasn’t really in the mood for something requiring a fair amount of concentration because of complex character inter-relations and dialogue that consisted largely of exposition, setting out who is related to who, who is in love with who, who is plotting against who and so on.

I Have No Idea What to Call This Post And Don’t Have Time to Think About It (1.5 Hours to Shabbat)

I’ve had feedback from both the friends I wrote to about writing.  What they wrote seems really useful, but also daunting.  I suppose if it was easy, they wouldn’t have to pay people to do it.  I fee like I’m drowning in self-disbelief (is that a word?  The opposite of self-belief).  I struggle to see myself writing professionally.  Yet I want to write.  Writing feels like it’s the only thing I’m any good at.  (Despite having ended that last sentence with a preposition.)  And it’s restoring for me rather than draining, which is unlike most things.  I think I need to find a way to start small and build confidence.  The actual writing is less of a problem than finding the right market and submitting ideas and articles and coping with rejection, not to mention the social anxiety that stops me from making contact with publishers for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.  I did try to pitch an idea to a geeky website once and didn’t even get a response.  I don’t know if the idea was bad or I just pitched it badly.

I do feel a certain excitement about the thought of writing professionally that I haven’t felt with librarianship for a while.  The other thing I take from the experience of writing these emails is that two people who have never met me in person and just know me from my writing took a lot of time to respond to my emails which indicates (a) that they think my writing is fairly good and (b) I must, on some level, be a likeable person.

I keep positive emails from friends and blog comments in an email folder.  Periodically I print them out, so I can see them at times when my computer is off.  I printed some out today as I wanted to see them over Yom Tov earlier in the week and thought I might want them over Shabbat (I don’t use my computer on Shabbat and Yom Tov).  That does help to boost my confidence a little, at least when I remember to read them.  In the past I’ve had them blue tacked to my wardrobe doors, but after a while I stopped noticing them.

I went for a haircut.  I shook.  I feel a bit upset about that, even though it’s not my fault.  The shaking is a medication side-effect, but it was worst when the barber moved my head about rather roughly, which suggests that it is related to social anxiety and autistic problems with being touched.

On a purely materialistic level, a new graphic novel I pre-ordered ages ago and the publication of which was then much delayed finally arrived today (The Clockwise War, the latest Doctor Who Magazine comic collection).  Doctor Who Magazine comics tend to read better in one or two sittings than a handful of pages a month, particularly when they have long and complicated story arcs like this one, so I’ve been looking forward to this.

Variations on a Theme of Pesach Anxiety

Someone should write a thesis on the way that anxieties grow in the absence of sleep or food.  I couldn’t sleep last night and things that seemed OK during the day suddenly turned into bigger OCD anxieties when I was lying alone in the dark.  I ended up emailing my rabbi mentor, but I woke up today, very late again, to see that he hasn’t replied yet (as of 7pm, which is 9pm where he is), which just makes the worries worse.  I’m trying to keep things in perspective, as I’m not as anxious as I would have been in previous years, but I do feel that things are getting to me and I’ve got three more days of Pesach (Passover) preparation to get through.  As it is, I’ve got a knot of anxiety in my stomach that has come and gone all day.

I’m trying to accept that it’s OK to be stressed, and depressed, and OCD-anxious, even/especially at this time of year.  Trying not to think that other people seem to waltz through Pesach preparations without any worries, halakhic or otherwise.  It’s hard; I’m not on Facebook and I don’t use Twitter, but it’s still easy to compare my insides (horribly emotional) with other people’s calm outsides.

Clearing out some files on my computer last night (stuff that I thought would trigger OCD if I left it there) I found some notes following a meeting with my parents’ rabbi, who at the time was my rabbi too: “Torah was not given to the ministering angels [a rabbinic phrase that basically means that God doesn’t expect us to keep the Torah perfectly, because we aren’t perfect.  He has angels who are perfect, but He prefers our service to theirs because we have to struggle past our temptations and flaws].  We do our best, and leave the rest.  Pesach has fences and safeguards.  Don’t obsess over the last details of cleaning and kashering.  Enjoy Yom Tov.  Plan things to do, focus on things I enjoy about it.”  It’s hard to do that, though.  I’m actually struggling to think of enjoyable things I can do during the week.  I was nearly in tears davening (praying) before, just feeling overwhelmed by emotion and by events.  I feel that I’ve failed, that I’ve let everyone down, by giving in to my depression and anxiety again.

I went for a haircut this afternoon, which was awful.  I mean, the process of getting it, not how it has been cut.  I shook a bit, to the extent that the barber was unwilling to start at first, until his boss said something to him in a language I don’t understand.  I sat there with my eyes scrunched tight almost the whole time, repeating in my head that God loves me and that He has so much confidence in me that He has given me all these challenges (depression, OCD, social anxiety, loneliness etc.) because He knows I can cope with them.  Except that I don’t feel that I can cope with them.  The experience left me feeling shattered and exhausted.  I went into a couple of charity shops on the way home, but I didn’t buy anything.  Maybe I should have done.

I just keep thinking that I’ve let everyone down: family, friends, God, L. (who I’m not even quite dating yet).  It’s not my fault if I shake or feel depressed or feel OCD anxious… but somehow it feels like it is.

“You don’t know what it’s like to listen to your fears”

Mid-afternoon: There’s not a lot to say today.  Things have been continuing as they have been for the last week or so: I’m OK much of the time, but then suddenly my mood tanks and I have strong depression or (more usually) anxiety.  My anxiety is a mixture of religious OCD anxiety about the laws of Pesach (Passover), social anxiety about going to my shul’s (synagogue’s) weekday premises, which I haven’t been to much, and some kind of anxiety (I’m not quite sure what) about dating.  In the meantime, I’ve helped my parents with Pesach preparations.  That’s about it, really.

Evening: I wrote that paragraph above mid-afternoon, when I thought I would not have much to say today and just wanted to say that I’m coping.  However, I just had a stressful experience.  The prohibition on owning chametz (leavened bread and its derivatives) on Pesach is so severe, that religious Jews take a belt and braces approach: we destroy trivial amounts (usually by burning); larger amounts are sold to a non-Jew for the duration of the festival (it’s a binding sale and the non-Jew is under no obligation to sell it back afterwards, although the reality is that 99.99999% of the time they do as a matter of course) and, just in case we’ve missed anything, we declare any chametz that we own that is not destroyed or sold to be legally ownerless.  (I might write a post over Pesach about why we go to this extreme for a bit of bread, but I haven’t got time tonight.  Just accept it as another crazy thing Jews do.)

Today I sold my chametz or rather, gave my rabbi power of attorney to sell it on Friday morning.  I could feel my anxiety building in the afternoon.  I knew I was going to have to go to my shul‘s weekday premises and I felt uncomfortable and anxious about it.  I just haven’t been there enough to feel comfortable in the building, which is probably an autism familiarity thing as much as anything.  I was worried about doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing.  The anxiety was stronger for not being well-defined.  I just felt that I would do something wrong.

I got locked out when I arrived there, which was unfortunate.  I thought I knew the door code, but I didn’t.  Then the assistant rabbi said that he didn’t usually see me here.  It was an innocuous comment, but just made me feel that I’m being judged for not going to shul enough.  I felt very socially anxious during the afternoon and evening prayers.  There was then a long wait while the rabbi saw other people, during which my anxiety rose further.  I felt that I was going to say something wrong or the rabbi would judge me badly or think I was doing something sinful.  Of course, none of these things happened, but I did shake when I signed the document to give him power of attorney.  I walked home again feeling very shaken, physically shaken, and having OCD thoughts about having done things “wrongly”.

The positive thing to have come out of this is that I think I have an idea of why I struggle in the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) community.  My Jewish identity is very strong and positive, and I see my Judaism as my most important identity, much more so than being a Doctor Who fan, autistic, depressed, an Oxonian or anything else.  Yet I find it so hard to interact with other frum Jews.  Low blood sugar, an unfamiliar setting (difficult with autism) and social anxiety today probably didn’t help things, but I think a lot of it goes back to my autism.

I have mentioned before that the reason I think my autism went undiagnosed for so long is because I have developed mental ‘algorithms’ for dealing with social situations.  I have one for eye contact and body language, one for making small talk and so on.  But with frum people, the algorithms become much more complex.  I need to factor in not saying anything that seems too secular and working out what “too secular” is (sometimes very frum people make jokes or comments that I would never dream of trying to get away with, which just confuses me).  I need to process words from foreign languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Yiddish) that I may not be familiar with and which may be pronounced differently to how I would pronounce them (people in my shul tend to use Ashkenazi (Northern European) pronunciation, whereas I use Modern Hebrew pronunciation which is rooted in Sephardi (Iberian/Middle Eastern) pronunciation e.g. the final ‘t’ in Modern Hebrew often becomes ‘s’ in Ashkenazi pronunciation so Shabbat becomes Shabbos).  I need to process details of Jewish law and avoid transgressing it.  Then there are the social mores of the frum world, more formal in some ways (e.g. children refer to their elders as “Mr X” or “Mrs Y” not their first names), but more relaxed in others (e.g. people are far more relaxed about dropping in and out of their friends’ houses unexpectedly than in general, at least in anti-social London).  All this on top of my low self-esteem and feelings that I am religiously inadequate (e.g. the assistant rabbi’s comment), which just fuels the flames; it is hard to avoid a social/religious faux pas if you are in a state of some anxiety about making such a mistake.  It’s very difficult and it’s no wonder so much about my religious life leaves me feeling anxious, or that I have become such an infrequent shul-goer in recent years since moving to a new, frummer community.

Later: I’ve recovered now.  I’ve eaten (including a Magnum, reward for a difficult day) and watched some Doctor Who (I was supposed to have a break from it after watching so much as research for my book, but I’ve ended up watching the animated Shada because I’ve been stressed the last few days and needed the support that I can only get from my special interest).  I spoke to my parents about some of the ideas in this post and they felt that they made sense.  I know it seems silly to say that I worry how frum people will see me when I know that, compared with a lot of people I have a good understanding of Judaism and Jewish law and a reasonable Hebrew vocabulary, but there we go; anxieties aren’t rational.

More Peopling

By the time my sister and brother-in-law left last night, I was exhausted from ‘peopling’ with family and at the asylum seekers drop-in centre.  I watched Doctor Who (an old-style, twenty-five minute episode) for a bit.  By 10.30pm I did not feel relaxed and thought I would not sleep, but I went to bed anyway, because I thought I would feel guilty if I stayed up watching TV.  Sure enough, I couldn’t sleep.  An hour later I got up, watched Doctor Who and ate porridge (the only way I can consume warm milk to make me drowsy) which is what I probably should have done in the first place; I fell asleep soon afterwards, but by that time it was gone midnight and I only got six hours sleep.

I got into work feeling that I had walked into The Twilight Zone.  The library was completely empty of both students and staff, at least above the ground floor; the office I work in was also empty.  When I turned on my computer, I discovered that my line manager had food poisoning and her line manager, who shares our office and usually gets in to work at 8.00am, was out in the morning and working from home in the afternoon.

This was a bit problematic, as my line manager was supposed to be helping with the event/exhibition we were running.  Fortunately the other staff members who were helping were around.  I think I managed to do everything that was needed.  Nothing went disastrously wrong, at any rate.  I did end up standing up from about four hours straight, spending about two of those hours talking almost non-stop about rare books and the historical periods they came from.  I hadn’t really had time to revise these things from university or even school, so I hope I didn’t say anything too incorrect.  I think I was mostly coherent, but I have a bad habit of interrupting myself when explaining things to add information I should have mentioned earlier.  I shook a little bit, but not much and I think/hope not visibly to other people.

The event seemed to be popular with the people who came and the numbers were good (according to one of the other staff members, who had an idea of what is normal for these things).  The only negative thing was when one staff member said I was surely overqualified for my job.  She meant it as a compliment, but it just reminded me of what a mess my career is and how years of mental illness has sidetracked me.

I didn’t get to eat lunch until 1.30pm.  I usually have early lunch, because my blood sugar tends to drop by late morning, so you can imagine the state I was in by that stage, especially after all the standing and talking.  Work was difficult in the afternoon as I was exhausted and ready to shutdown.  It involved some rather tedious checking and amending of dates from catalogue records, which I kept messing up, probably because of exhaustion.  I went rather slowly and did much less than I would have liked.

By the time I finished for the day, rather late, I was exhausted and probably had low blood sugar again.  I felt depressed by being in a building full of undergraduates, remembering how miserable and lonely I was when I was an undergraduate and feeling what George Orwell described as the envy of the ghost for the living, although I was thinking more literally of the ghost soldier from Sapphire and Steel and his resentment.  By the time I got to the station I was feeling literally hopeless and making melodramatic comments to myself about wanting to die, but I was aware in some way that this was probably low blood sugar even if I didn’t have the energy or presence of mind to challenge the thoughts with CBT.  I ate an apple on the Tube which helped somewhat, although I had to stand for most of the journey.  I felt exhausted enough to phone my Dad for a lift home from the station, which I hate doing, but do a lot lately because work exhausts me so much.  By the time he arrived, I was virtually in shutdown and unable to say anything to him much more coherent than grunts.

I’m not sure how much this is genuine autistic shutdown or just depressive withdrawal.  I’m not sure whether I have ‘real’ autistic shutdowns, although I usually have things closer to shutdowns than meltdowns when exhausted and overstimulated.  Autism is a spectrum, which means a lot of the behaviours can be exhibited to a greater or lesser degree.  I’m slowly learning to recognise behaviour I exhibit in a lesser degree in myself where I once thought that I did not show this behaviour at all, which contributed to my negative diagnoses.  Of course, one doesn’t have to exhibit every form of autistic behaviour to be diagnosed on the spectrum.

This week I have two consecutive work days for the first time in a couple of months, so I need to somehow not crash tomorrow morning after two busy days.

One Better Day

Today was a better day.  I seem to be relying on work days to give me a jolt of energy and snap me out of depression and into active mode.  Which is good so far as it goes, but I worry about not having much positive in my life outside of work (my writing is positive, but as yesterday showed, the thought that I could/should be writing is not always depression-defeating).  I also worry what will happen if my contract doesn’t get renewed past March.

***

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that my part of the library where I work is running an event/exhibition later this month for students from an art school.  My line manager asked me to find material for it.  The theme is ‘protest’ so I picked a load of pamphlets and books dating from the English Civil Wars and Interregnum, Chartism, Jewish emancipation debate and early editions of famous satirical novels (before everyone jumps on me, I was going to include women’s suffrage too, but my line manager said that was the theme last year and to avoid duplication).  There was some other interesting material too, but I can’t really talk about it as it would make it more obvious (at least to some people) which university I’m working It’s a shame I can’t mention some of the unique material that would identify the university, as some of it is really interesting or exciting.  In particular, we’re the semi-official archive for the papers of writer I really like, so it’s quite exciting to work with that.

I was talking my line manager and one of the curators through my choices today.  My line manager has a PhD in history, but not in any of the periods I was dealing with and the curator I think didn’t have a direct history background.  I was really nervous about talking to them and trying hard not to shake, but I think they liked it.  To be honest, I hadn’t looked at the Civil Wars and Interregnum for nearly fifteen years (final year of my BA); Chartism for even longer (secondary school) so I probably made some mistakes, but it seemed to be good enough on the whole and my line manager was very pleased.  I’m terrified of having to go through this again in a few weeks with a bunch of strangers (art students!  Scary bohemian types, who probably drink pot and smoke acid!).

I did get a bit of a buzz from presenting, though.  I’ve done public speaking in the past, but it’s something I haven’t done for a long time, because my previous experience was mostly in my old shul (synagogue); at the current one there aren’t opportunities to present and I would feel too inadequate and shy to do so if there were.  I don’t lead services any more for the same reason.  I do get something from presenting, though, even if I drive myself crazy with fear of shaking and over-analysing my mistakes.

Other than that, work was fairly straightforward today, except that there were severe train delays on the way in and I had to go via an alternative route.  I was only a few minutes late in the end and I did work into my lunch to make up the time (and still ended up leaving late at the end of the day), but I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to tell anyone I was making up the time or if that just sounded silly and childish.  My line manager wasn’t in when I arrived, so I told her line manager why I was late, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do or if I should have told my line manager when she arrived.  It’s this kind of pragmatic social interaction that I find really difficult, being on the autism spectrum.

There were a couple of other moments of social awkwardness today, too trivial to mention, which could be plain old social anxiety and self-consciousness rather than autism, but I do feel like I’m in a world I don’t understand a lot of the time.  I follow a blog written by the co-carer for a boy with autism and I was thinking recently of commenting to say that if he seems sometimes to be unintelligible to his carers, from his point of view everyone in the world is unintelligible, and then it hit me that that’s exactly how I feel, albeit with the caveat that my autism is not so severe and I’ve learnt masking and coping strategies over time and built empathy and perspective-taking skills.

***

I have also had some anxiety around locking doors at work, especially the strong room where the rare books are stored.  I probably need to keep an eye on this to stop it turning into full-blown OCD.  I’ve been going back to double-check things and I probably should not do so and just tell myself that I’ve got to move on (exposure therapy).  This is easy to say, but hard to do.

***

I’m signed up to a newsletter with links to articles on autism on a health website and I came home to find a LOT today.  Some of them look useful, at least for my family if not for me, but I’m not sure when I’m going to get the time to read them.  Lots of useful-looking stuff about what “mild” or “high functioning” autism actually means and how to explain it to people, now that the term “Asperger’s Syndrome” has officially been scrapped.  On the other hand, reading this kind of stuff makes me worry that I’m not ‘really’ autistic, I’m just lazy and useless, which I guess is the problem of having some symptoms strongly, but others very mildly or not at all.

There is a whole article about how mild autism can be masked in some people by high intelligence and strong language skills which I guess is what happened to me.  I certainly learnt early on not to talk about my special interest (Doctor Who) to most people, and I remember my parents telling me after one parents’ evening that I didn’t make eye contact with my teachers all evening; ever since I’ve struggled consciously to make eye contact, even though it feels very uncomfortable and I have no idea if I’m doing it too much/not enough.  I don’t know if I exhibited any obvious stimming or echolalia when I was very young, but I’m pretty sure Authority would have stopped me soon enough if I had.  I do stim, but so subtly I’ve only become aware of it in the past couple of years and while I like the sound of some words (like ‘echolalia’) it would feel ‘wrong’ to say them aloud for no reason, although lately I have started to sometimes say words for no reason other than liking the sound when no one else is around.

A sympathetic psychiatrist might diagnose me, but an unsympathetic one would just reiterate all the assessments that said I was not on the spectrum.  Naturally, I hear the voice of the unsympathetic one in my head and tell myself I’m stupid, incompetent and lazy.  Actually, that’s not quite true.  Since my positive autism screening it has been a little bit easier to accept myself for who I am, but I do think another negative assessment could set me back a long way.  I don’t think I could easily be persuaded that I’m neurotypical now, though.  I think there’s something different about me, whether or not it’s autism.

***

I’m getting more into The Dispossessed, which turns out to be as much about loneliness as about science fictional technology or anarchism vs. capitalism.  There was a paragraph I read today, too long to quote in full, about how painful it is for a child to feel different and that the only way to alleviate this pain is to know adults who are also different to show that this is OK.  Like Shevek, I had loving adults in my life, but none who were different and could show me how to be different and cope with solitude.

***
I need to respond to the email from the dating service I signed up to.  I have very mixed feelings about that.  Part of me wants to leave it already or at least procrastinate over taking the next step, while part of me wants to go ahead with it.  I begin to suspect that Brexit will be quicker and easier to resolve than my love life…

The Five Year Old Child at Work

Work today was surprisingly good.  It was the first day of my new job, working in a university library (I won’t say which one and will have to be careful not to give away obvious clues).  I’m contracted for two days a week for a month with the possibility of extending it for another two months, but I don’t think there’s any possibility of the job being extended beyond that as I got the impression that the person I’m covering for will be back after that.

I was incredibly nervous on the way in.  As often happens, I felt like a child.  It’s hard to actually function as an adult when part of my brain insists that I’m five years old and shouldn’t be doing anything difficult by myself.  I was – and really still am – terrified that I can’t do anything right and that I’m bound to get fired.

The morning was largely taken up with induction stuff: seeing HR, getting my security pass made, setting up IT and email accounts and so on.  Stuff that is important to go through, but which isn’t the main part of my job.  I didn’t realise until I was alone in the staff room at lunchtime how overwhelmed I was by being in busy parts of the university, overwhelmed by the noise and the people.  I don’t know if that’s autism per se or just introversion.  I know I over-analyse feelings like that to try to pinpoint if they’re autism symptoms or not, when it might be impossible to tell.  All I know is that sitting by myself in a quiet room, I felt sudden relief and a desire not to leave.

Actually, I noticed today just how much information I’m trying to process when I’m in with other people, particularly when I’m with a group.  I was aware of what I was being told (i.e. what I was supposed to concentrate on), but also little things like the ticking of clocks and the posters on the walls as well as my constant internal monologue, often struggling with OCD thoughts or other ‘bad’ thoughts…  It’s hard to tell what is responsible for this.  Obviously the OCD thoughts are OCD, but I don’t know what causes the hyper-awareness.  I know autism is often seen as, in part, an inability to filter out information, resulting in overload and difficulty finding and remembering correct information, but I’m not sure whether what I was experiencing really corresponded to how I have seen sensory overload described.  I don’t know whether social anxiety could also contribute to this feeling of alertness and difficulty in filtering out irrelevant information.  Once again, I run up against the problem of trying to compare my subjective experiences and feelings against other peoples subjective experiences and feelings as well as with supposedly more objective clinical criteria.  It’s very hard.

In the afternoon my boss showed me some of the other team members in our department.  The university employs about 350 people in the library (I don’t think they’re all librarians) over a number of different sites.  I’ve never worked at an institution so big.  It’s probably good for my career (something has to be good for my career) that I’ve worked in a variety of libraries: a one-person library (library with only one full-time staff member) in a small college, the library of a busy further education college and now a very big library in a very big higher education college.  To be honest, they all had advantages and disadvantages, but I think higher education is probably a better fit for me than further education.

I was rather overwhelmed by all the people.  I’m not good at names at the best of times and obviously being introduced to a couple of dozen people in different rooms inside a labyrinthine building, trying to take in names, jobs and locations is not easy.  Everyone seems nice, especially my boss, but part of my brain was just thinking that that will only make it worse when I let her down and mess everything up.

This fear of messing everything up only worsened when I was introduced to the rare books.  This will be a key part of my work over the next month.  I was shown the rare books store and was taught how to handle old and fragile materials.  I’m terrified that I’m going to damage something unique and priceless (I would give some examples, but obviously identifying anything rare or unique will make it easier to identify the institution) or that I will simply do something stupid like forget to lock one of the rooms (or lock someone in – I nearly locked someone in the staff room).  When my boss and one of the conservators showed me how to handle the materials, it was difficult to focus on handling them correctly when I was trying really hard not to shake with anxiety (and of course, trying hard not to shake is likely to trigger shaking), more from the anxiety of being watched so intently as to fear of damaging something.

Still, it was interesting to deal with rare books, something that I haven’t had the chance to do for a long time and something that did attract me to librarianship.  It was also interesting to be part of a library staff so big that I didn’t have to play any client-facing role.  If my depression hadn’t started again when I was doing my librarianship MA in 2010, I think I could easily have ended up in a library like this, working as a cataloguer and/or with rare books.  But the depression and the consequent damage to my career, both direct (I’m not well enough to work full-time, I’m impeded by social anxiety) and indirect (my cataloguing skills have atrophied somewhat from lack of use and my MA course, although accredited by CILIP, was not one of the best in the country, thanks to the depression making it impossible to go to my first choice university) means that I’m now trying to work out what kind of career I can make for myself.

So, that was my first day in my new job.  It was probably the best day I’ve had at work in a long time, so it’s frustrating that I won’t be here for very long even if I don’t mess anything up.  Plus, I just did a somewhat scary thing regarding fighting my kashrut OCD, so I guess it was a good day overall even if I do now have a headache and feel exhausted.

One last thing: I didn’t mention the other day that my GP is fine with referring me for another autism assessment.  I’m not sure why he wanted to speak to me about it first.  So that’s also good news, although the waiting list for autism assessments means that I probably won’t be seen for nearly a year.

It’s Normality, Jim, But Not As We Know It

My sister and BIL didn’t leave until 11.00pm last night.  Then I desperately needed some of what I term my ‘introvert time’ after four hours of socialising (albeit with family).  I blogged and then WhatsApped E. for a while (she was trying to convince me to write the book on Judaism I’ve spoken about recently) and watched Doctor Who for a bit and I didn’t get to bed until nearly 2.00am.  I probably should have ducked out of the WhatsApp conversation earlier to get to bed, but I didn’t want to interrupt it, because I am genuinely conflicted about writing this book and wanted to hear what E. had to say.  Despite going to bed so late, I woke up at 7.30am and rapidly spiralled into anxiety and OCD.  It seemed pointless to stay in bed feeling so anxious, so I got up even though I was still tired.  I calmed down a bit after breakfast, but by that stage I was up and awake and caffeinated, so it seemed a bit pointless to go back to bed.

The scary thing about OCD anxiety is that it can come back to haunt you later and even if you feel better, it’s easy to find yourself thinking, “Well, it seemed really scary and important then – maybe I should still be anxious now?  Maybe it’s my current, non-anxious, state of mind that’s ‘wrong?'”  I did that a bit, and had to try hard not to be sucked back down.

***

25 December is always a weird day for me, as it’s the day crazy religious stuff is going on and it’s not me doing it (Easter at least often coincides with Pesach (Passover), which trumps pretty much everything in the crazy religious festivals stakes).  In recent years, some Jews have started doing voluntary work at hospitals and the like so people who do celebrate can have time off with their families, which is a nice idea.  I thought about doing that this year, but procrastinated from social anxiety until it was too late for me to do anything about it.  Maybe next year.

***

Because I woke up early, I had time to do some more miniature painting this morning.  I’m making good progress, but the perfectionist in me wants the miniatures to look better than I’m realistically likely to get them.  The frustrating thing is knowing that I used to paint better in my teens, but that was before I had issues with shaking, and perhaps when I had more patience (because I had less depression, I assume).

***

The other creative thing I’ve been thinking about is the book people said I should write about Judaism.  I still don’t know if I could do it.  As I explore ideas, I feel I’m getting drawn in two directions, both of them wrong.  One is apologetics, defending what Orthodox Jews believe and writing about it in prescriptive, rather than descriptive, tones.  The other is producing a personal account of what Orthodox Judaism means to me.  I find that once I start thinking about ideas for what to write, I inevitably drift towards one or the other of these two forms.  There is arguably a time and a place for both of these things, the apologetic and the personal, but neither was what I was aiming for.  Indeed, those people who were potentially interested in what I had to write were interested because it was neither of these things, particularly not apologetics.  And both of these things would be more likely to bring me into conflict with people in my community than the purely descriptive.

To pick one obvious example, I don’t know how I could deal with the fact that many ultra-Orthodox Jews are Young Earth Creationists without wanting to stress that I’m not and I believe I have strong religious grounds for not being one… but that is a belief that, if publicised, could bring me into conflict with the rabbis at my shul.  They would probably be polite about it, but it’s not a conversation I’m in a hurry to have.  And that’s just one example!  There are all kinds of other hot button issues I would have to deal with if I wanted to deal realistically with the frum (religious Orthodox Jewish) world, from the nature of the soul to gender roles to Israeli politics.  I feel my mission in life, if I have one (and I’m reliably informed I do) probably involves writing, as it’s the only thing I seem to do even vaguely well, but I can’t see it being this.

***

I did at least go to shul (synagogue) with Dad for Mincha and Ma’ariv (the Afternoon and Evening services) even though the noise in the Beit Midrash was uncomfortable for me.  Noise issues, among other things, seem to have got worse as the possibility of autism has grown and I don’t know if I’m observing my discomfort more now that I have a category to put it in or actually feeling it more from psychosomatic reasons.  I think it’s the former, as I used to get really angry about noise in shul when I was a more regular shul-goer, but it’s hard to be sure.

***

I feel a bit bad tonight, because I think my Dad wanted to watch TV as a family tonight and I ducked it, partly because I wanted to watch something in particular, but I think on some level I didn’t want to do a quasi-social thing after yesterday (it doesn’t help that I don’t like watching TV with my parents because I say they talk too much, which they dispute.  There aren’t many programmes I watch, but I watch those programmes with obsessive intensity).  I try to give myself a break now that I know that I may be autistic, but on the other hand I probably do isolate myself too much. I’m in two minds about whether to go out with my parents and cousin on Thursday.

***

Still, on balance I would have to say it was a good day.  The depression flared up at odd moments, as did the anxiety about antisemitism, about which I can do almost nothing, and I think I had one or two moments of anxiety about my new job, but mostly I was OK and I did a surprising number of things, so I’m counting that as a victory.