It’s All Here Tonight: Wedding, Baby, Work, Social Interactions, Judaism

Today was busy, so busy that it feels more like a couple of days than just one.

I went to volunteering in the morning. I tried to make myself speak to people a bit more. I’m not sure how well I did, but I did try to sit with them when we had coffee. Initially I had ended up at the other end of the table to everyone else, but after a while I moved to sit with the others. I also asked to be put on the WhatsApp group. And we were given nice thick, warm fleeces with the organisation’s logo on it. They’re bright purple (the organisation’s colour) which is a bit more vibrant than my usual taste, but they look nice and were very warm.

Afterwards, I went with my parents to a potential wedding venue nearby. It was more or less ideal.  Nothing is ever perfect, but this was 99% perfect. As well as having the features we want, it’s relatively local, in an area I’m familiar with (I used to work down the road) which is probably good from an autistic point of view (dislike of the unknown), plus Sister and Brother-in-law live nearby, which will make it easier for them to bring Nephew. There are other venues that may be as good, but as E and I want to get married quickly, there doesn’t seem to be much point in looking at them, particularly as they would probably be not quite as good overall. So now the next step is to find a caterer that can do one of the dates we would like, then confirm with the rabbi and book the wedding!

A few emotional/autistic things that came out of this: I felt Mum and Dad drowned me out a bit when we were talking the site manager (I don’t know what her real title is, but that will do for here). I don’t mean that in a critical way, but they are quite loud personalities and I struggled to be heard, both literally and metaphorically. I needed their moral support there or I would have just frozen up, but it is my wedding and I felt that I wasn’t saying much. It doesn’t help that I notice they have a way of switching from “serious” to “joking” and back again in conversations of this kind that I just can’t do. I can do that with people I know well and trust, but not with a total stranger I only met ten minutes previously. I get stuck in “serious” then feel awkward when everyone else starts joking.

I am excited about the wedding, but I don’t think it shows much. When I was with my parents, I did feel a little excited, but it was only when I discussed it over Skype with E that I really felt it, although it probably still didn’t show much. I don’t know how much of that is just my personality and how much is alexithymia (difficulty feeling and understanding my own emotions). When we had the civil wedding last August, E’s mother filmed us when we were pronounced married. E starts bouncing up and down with a big smile on her face, whereas I look a bit confused and then hug her. When my cousin saw the video, she said I looked like I was happy, but didn’t know what to do, which is basically true. I don’t really know what to do with my emotions sometimes and it’s mostly the positive ones I struggle with, perhaps because I experience them less frequently or maybe because I feel there’s more social expectation around them.

After that we went to Sister and Brother-in-law’s house nearby. BIL was at work. We ate lunch and chatted to Sister for a bit, then she went to do work elsewhere in the house while we looked after Nephew. I held him a couple of times and helped feed and wind him (E thought it was funny when I said I winded him, so I guess it’s not an American usage. I mean to I tried to get him to burp). I ducked out of changing him this time. I am still a somewhat nervous uncle not used to babies, but I am becoming a bit more confident with him. I shook slightly while holding him, but not much, which is probably a sign of growing confidence. Nephew often has a somewhat startled expression, like he’s surprised to see the world’s still there, and is not entirely happy about it. Sister says at his age (not yet two months), he can’t focus on things that aren’t near his face. He did seem to make intense eye contact with me for a while, though.

Sister showed us the book she bought him. It’s made of fabric and is about farm animals. It reads, “Dog. Sheep. Cow,” with relevant pictures. I said I was impressed by the unexpected twist ending…

As if that wasn’t enough for one day, I have some paid proofreading work! It’s not much, and my rate is artificially low at the moment (well below minimum wage), but I hope that will generate reviews. It’s a slightly strange request for reasons that I don’t want to go into here, but it seems to be legitimate, but it’s left me with vague unease. I hope it really is legitimate.

***

A few days ago I emailed a rabbinic email helpline for people in the Orthodox Jewish community who have mental health issues. You can email a rabbi for advice on halakhah (Jewish law) as it pertains to mental health. The rabbis on the helpline have mental health training, unlike most communal rabbis. I asked about the way my autism leads to frequent exhaustion and difficulty in religious situations that are also social situations, and also how to cope with any religious obligations when feeling autistically exhausted. Autism isn’t a mental illness, but I felt out of other options for the kind of halakhic support I wanted.

I heard back from the helpline yesterday. The rabbi said that as autism is a spectrum and manifests in different people in different ways, so too halakhic adjustments can vary. From what I described, he felt I should not push myself to go to shul (synagogue) when exhausted or push myself to any social interaction related to a mitzvah (commandment) when I feel incapable and not to feel pressure regarding mitzvot generally. He said I could email him with more details of my situation for a more specific response. He also suggested davening (praying) at the same time as my shul even if I don’t feel able to go there, which is an idea I have heard before and tried to do during the first COVID lockdown, but drifted out of the habit of doing. I might try to go back to it, at least some times. The idea is that if you pray at the same time as the community, your prayer is still with them, even if you aren’t in the same building.

I’m not sure what I think of reply. It’s good that the rabbi told me that I shouldn’t force myself to do things that are just making me exhausted or burnt out. It’s not very specific, but I don’t really have very specific questions at the moment, just a general feeling of overwhelm at everything that’s expected of me religiously. I guess I feel that there’s a lot of grey area there inasmuch as it boils down to “Do what you feel able to do and don’t worry about the rest.” That’s probably my fault (“fault” isn’t the right word, but you know what I mean) because I didn’t ask very specific questions, but I worry it will just shift my worries from “Do I need to do more religiously?” to “Am I exhausted enough that I don’t need to do more religiously?” which might not be much of an improvement. I’m going to think about what they wrote and maybe write back if I can think of a more specific question.

Halfway There Day

Yesterday was my half-birthday, for those of you who take note of such things. I don’t really see any significance, but my oldest friend was born on 19 January and another friend on 20 January, so the date leaps out at me. I am now closer to my fortieth birthday than my thirty-ninth, which vaguely troubles me, although it shouldn’t.

I also worked out that if E and I get one of the two wedding dates we’re currently aiming at, both in the second half of May, we’re more or less halfway now between the civil wedding last August and the chuppah (religious wedding). We should have more of an idea this week if that’s a realistic date.

***

This week was the baby blessing week for Nephew. I couldn’t go in the end because of difficulty finding somewhere suitable to stay. I was OK home alone. I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) on Friday night because I felt too tired, which was a shame and vaguely troubling in terms of how frequently it seems to be happening. The house was cold and I have chapped hands again, but otherwise things were fine.

I did some Torah study: Talmud and The Guide to the Perplexed, which is currently full of stuff about the Aristotlean view of the universe as a series of living spheres, one inside the other, definitely not made of atoms and definitely not containing any vacuum. It’s interesting from a historical point of view, but this bit is not really relevant to modern day theology. Hopefully it will get back to more relevant stuff (from a contemporary perspective) soon.

I finished reading Dune yesterday. I intend to go on to the second book, Dune Messiah. It was a good book, but hard to get into, and weirdly structured.

I slept too long as usual, about twelve or thirteen hours at night. I still went back to bed after lunch today, more because I was cold than tired. I think I drifted into that state of mind between sleeping and wakefulness and was late for seudah (the third Shabbat meal).

It was a struggle to do things after Shabbat. It always is, as I feel lethargic, even at 5.30pm. I did manage to tidy up and do a bit of Torah study. I did a little novel planning too. I would have done more, but I had a headache for a while.

***

I tried to friend someone on the autism forum a while back. We have some things in common (librarians, Doctor Who fans). He didn’t respond to the friending and accompanying message, but has chatted with me on threads since then. He’s got other friends. Friending doesn’t really do anything other than allow direct messaging, but I do feel weirdly unliked from only having two friends, both people who are not there any more and who didn’t stay on the forum long. But I’m nervous about friending people (in general and after this). I wonder if the friend request didn’t go through properly to this person and if I should send it again, or if that would make things worse if he was deliberately not responding to me.

I also wonder if it’s worth friending other people. I would be open to making friends on the site, which would realistically only happen if I friended people, but I don’t see it as essential. Still, I wonder what to do. I feel really self-conscious about being the only (open) Jew on the site, but can’t stop mentioning it. I don’t think anyone is antisemitic, but a lot of people have funny ideas about Jews, particularly if they haven’t met any (which is feasible as Jews make up about a half of per cent of the UK population, largely concentrated in just a couple of cities).

Wedding Venue Scouting

I had some sub-OCD thoughts last night. I call them “sub-OCD” rather than OCD, because, while they were OCD-type thoughts, I stopped them turning into obsessions, let alone compulsions. I just refused to think about them, which is the correct way to deal with these kinds of thoughts. Nevertheless, it was a bit of an effort and, rather than reading Dune to unwind before bed as I intended, I watched The Simpsons instead as I needed something more light and distracting. The feeling that I had to concentrate on not concentrating on the thoughts (if that makes sense) was still present when I woke up this morning and I worried that I would have over four months of this until the wedding, but it subsided after a while, which was good.

Dad and I went to a shul (synagogue) in Central London to scout out its potential as a wedding site. It wasn’t really suitable. It was a pretty enough shul, but there was not enough natural light or room. Dad and I had some awkward moments getting there. Dad was running late and I thought I would be good for once and not nag him. After about twenty minutes, I thought I should say something. It turns out he was waiting for me, even though I was waiting for him. Then I thought we were driving there, as Dad had said that he had found parking round there, but we went by Tube. I didn’t realise until we were driving to the station (Dad doesn’t like walking) and I didn’t want to ask to go back to get something to read, but I was a little bored on the trip. I would have liked to have done some Torah study on the trip, as I haven’t had much time today, and I wasn’t dressed as warmly as I would have been if I had known we were not going by car. I read some news articles on my phone, including a very long, very scary article about the state of the NHS that avoided the usual knee-jerk responses (“Evil Tory cuts,” “Too many managers,” etc.).

I am still struggling to communicate effectively and politely with Dad. I realised today that it’s no surprise that I struggle to talk to people when my parents are so talkative and I have to really push and assert myself to be heard when they are around otherwise they dominate the conversation. It’s hard to know what to do with a realisation like that, because obviously my parents aren’t going to change (if anything, both have become more talkative in recent years) and my social anxiety isn’t going to go away by itself. Again, I think I’m just waiting until I leave home.

I got a headache on the way home. I suspect it was a stress headache. It didn’t last too long, but I hope I don’t get stress headaches any time I do anything wedding-related! Because of that, and the fact that we left late, I didn’t do much else, just some dusting and a tiny bit of Torah study. I put away some of my bric-a-brac, mementoes of things and wargaming miniatures (except a few that I thought I painted particularly well). It felt like getting my life ready for adulthood and a shared life with E.

***

Chaconia’s comment the other day has left me a bit nervous about changing my medication right before I get married. Of course, I tried to see a psychiatrist to do this months ago, when I was thinking there was lots of time before my marriage, not least because E and I were operating on a worst case scenario of a six month wait for the visa. I don’t think I’ve been clinically depressed or had clinical OCD for some years, even if I have bad moments or even bad days. Really there isn’t a lot I can do about it now other than wait to see what happens.

Volunteering and Wedding Planning

I overslept a little this morning. It wasn’t surprising, as I stayed up late last night eating. I often feel hungry at bedtime, but sometimes I feel incredibly hungry and can’t get full and that’s what happened. I’m beginning to wonder if this is really hunger or habit or some kind of interoception issue. I know interoception is my go to autistic issue at the moment, but even so it might be the problem here. I only overslept by a few minutes, but I felt I had to rush to get ready on time. Then the bus was late, but I did manage to get to volunteering on time.

Volunteering was cold. The food bank is in a large garage area with no proper doors, just gates, and it’s freezing at the moment. In the summer it’s hot (although cooler than outside), in the winter it’s cold and much of the time it’s damp. I pack tins and other dry food with two other men, there are three women who pack fresh vegetables and a couple of people who pack toiletries and things like kitchen towels. The women who prepare the vegetables were able to work indoors, but there wasn’t enough room for all of us and it’s not really feasible to carry all the tinned food (etc.) upstairs and indoors anyway. We were a bit slow starting as things were not set-up for us to start straight away either. This meant that by the time we stopped for our coffee break, later than usual, the drivers who deliver the food parcels had arrived, so we didn’t get much of a break. I did eat a very nice, but very diet unfriendly, chocolate brownie. At least it was very small. Everyone was pleased that E got her visa.

I had a couple of moments that would have triggered kashrut OCD six years ago that I was unfazed by, which is good. I did unfortunately break a jar of jam. Someone had donated a bag of food that was left on a chair. I took out the packets of rice that were in there, but the jar of apricot jam rolled out of the bag and fell onto the concrete floor and smashed. My fault for leaving it on a curved chair. Odd donations of one or two jars of something aren’t hugely useful to us anyway as we donate in bulk, but I felt a bit bad.

***

I think there’s a WhatsApp group that the other volunteers are on that I’m not on, and I don’t know how to tactfully find out and ask to be put on it. I think I’m not on it because it was originally for planning a meal which I wasn’t going to, as it was going to be at a non-kosher restaurant, but now it’s just a communication channel. Suggestions for what I should do would be welcome.

***

I felt really tired by the time I got home. I must have been expending more energy than normal to keep warm as well as do the packing. It was a struggle to do anything in the afternoon. I did manage to cook dinner and to make a prioritised list of potential wedding venues.

***

More mistakes: I was cooking dinner and missed a step in the recipe. I managed to rectify it, and I tell myself I was tired and distracted, but it feels like yet another reason I can’t really function in the world like a ‘normal’ (read: neurotypical) person.

***

In the evening, we had a Zoom meeting to discuss E and my wedding: E, E’s parents, my parents and me. It went well. We got through a lot. We decided that getting married before Pesach (Passover) isn’t feasible, given that it will take a while for E to sort out her stuff and ship some to the UK, store others at her parents’ apartment and sell/donate the rest before she comes to the UK. It’s not permitted to get married for the first month or so after Pesach, so we will be getting married at the end of May (please God!), exact date to be decided on the availability of the rabbi and venue.

I did try to participate, but I found it hard to get heard sometimes. E’s father, who is more than a little like me, sent me a private message at one point saying something about us being quiet. I guess it’s good he connected with me, as I still worry that E’s parents see me as weird and overly religious. I’m not sure how to be myself while simultaneously appearing “normal.”

I did notice that when my Dad is speaking and starts to go off on a tangent, I start frowning quickly and automatically, which is probably why he gets annoyed at me for being inpatient. I’m not sure how I can fix something that is so instinctive.

***

I finished listening to an Intimate Judaism podcast I was listening to about sex and dating in the frum (religious Jewish) community in middle age or older (singles, divorcees, widows). They counted middle age as forties or above, so I just dodged the bullet on that one. Many parts of the frum community consider an “older single” any unmarried person over twenty-five.

E listened to the podcast too. She felt from listening to this that the frum community just makes people in this demographic needlessly miserable, by refusing to allow non-marital sex. I can see her point, and certainly some people in this demographic are miserable. I was miserable as a thirty-something celibate single before I met E, so I can only imagine what a forty- or fifty-year old single would how. That said, I’m not sure how much the frum community is contributing to this misery or how much the misery is just there from the situation. It’s not like sex-related misery, or celibacy-related misery, are unique to the frum world. I’ve seen plenty of men on the autism forum complain that they want girlfriends, or just hook-ups, but don’t know how to get them and so are really lonely. I think there are also autistic women who get pressured into sex they don’t really want (particularly via dating apps) in the hope it will lead to a relationship (doubtless these genders are sometimes reversed, but this is the way they usually present). Autistics are particularly vulnerable in this area because we often have poor social skills and a lot of naivety, but I think “single and miserable” is a wider demographic than any particular neurotype, religion or culture. Whether non-marital sex is allowed might help some people in this category, but not everyone, and for some it might make things worse by opening them to other pressures.

I don’t think halakhah (Jewish law) needs to permit non-marital sex, but the frum world does really need to do a lot more to include older singles, divorcees and widows generally, to accept them as adult individuals and active parts of the community and not as pity objects or people who are waiting to start their lives when they marry (or re-marry). In the Haredi world in particular, an unmarried forty year old is a “boy” or a “girl” whereas a married nineteen year old female (with or without baby) is a “lady” (the Haredi world prefers “lady” to “woman” for some reason, which I find slightly weird).

My Family and Other Anxieties

I feel overwhelmed with emotions that I’m struggling to feel and understand.

I’m happy about E getting her visa, but frustrated it’s going to be a while before E comes to the UK, let alone before the wedding. E needs to spend time in the States working out what to take to the UK, what to ship, what to leave with her parents and what to sell. I’m also nervous about the stress organising the wedding and finding somewhere to live will involve as well as what it will be like living as a married couple with my parents, which we’re probably going to have to do at first in order to get married as quickly as possible and not rush into getting the first flat we see.

I feel mildly anxious, the kind of mild anxiety I used to get every Sunday evening before school (although I didn’t recognise it as anxiety at the time; if I had, it would have been an alarm bell regarding my mental health), so maybe this is just that “start of the work week” anxiety, but it’s more likely wedding anxiety. Mum and Dad are already throwing ideas at me, which is nice, but overwhelming. Mum said she’s worried about having another heart attack; I certainly don’t see her being that involved, or the preparation being that stressful (although what do I know? It’s not like I’ve organised a wedding before).

I’m also stressed about Nephew’s baby blessing, which is taking up far too much of everyone’s time and energy. It’s not that big a thing in itself, although it’s been combined with a birthday meal for my sister (her birthday is in a little over a week). My parents have found a guest house that seems to allow them to be Shabbat- (Sabbath-) observant and is quite near to Sister and Brother-in-Law’s house. Unfortunately, they only have one room for the time in question. This has led to me being asked a lot of difficult questions like, “Would you be happy sleeping on Sister’s sofa even though they have a night nurse with them at the moment?” (No, and I wouldn’t be that happy sleeping in a house with an eight week old baby even without the nurse) and “Would you be happy sharing a room with Dad in the guest house while Mum sleeps on the sofa?” (No, because if I’m going to the family meal, I need alone time afterwards, not time with Dad). Other suggestions were sleeping in Nephew’s room (and presumably being woken every couple of hours when he needs feeding or changing) or staying with brother-in-law’s uncle and aunt who live down the road (no. Just, no). So it looks like my parents are going, but I’m staying home, which I’m sort of relieved about, but also sort of a sad about, as well as irrationally guilty, like I’ve made all these problems myself to sabotage things. I just hope no one falls out with me over this. Just think, we have only thirteen short years to sort out bar mitzvah arrangements…

E can’t understand why everyone in my family is making such a big thing out of this. I think her family is a LOT less sentimental about these little life-cycle events than my family is. I guess I was told from a young age that life-cycle things, and even anniversaries of life-cycle things (good and bad) are hugely important. For example, while many Jews observe the yortzeit, the anniversary on the Hebrew calendar, of a death, my parents, while not exactly observing them, are very aware of the English calendar dates, as well as the death dates of other, less close, relatives and I think even the anniversaries of things like dates when people went into hospital, which is morbid, in my opinion. Dad was really excited when it looked like Nephew might be born on the date of my paternal grandparents’ wedding anniversary, which I didn’t understand at all. To be honest, I think my natural inclinations are closer to E and her family on this.

The other thing stressing me is that a few things in the last few days have made me conscious that my parents are at an age where they are going to get ill a lot. There’s nothing serious going on, but a few minor (at the moment) things have made me realise this. It’s three years since Mum was diagnosed with cancer and eight or nine months since her heart attack, and either of those things could easily reappear. I feel that at the age of forty (nearly), I should be in a position where I can look after my parents and I’m really not, either financially or practically. They’re still looking after me. And E isn’t even going to be in the same country as her parents, and she’s an only child. So it’s vaguely scary stuff.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor about some of these things and also about some of my thoughts about other people judging me religiously. We spoke a bit about other people probably not being that judgmental, and it not really mattering what they think anyway. I feel like it’s going to take some time for me to internalise this, especially as I feel I have objective proof from past experience that some people in the frum (religious Jewish) world are judgmental and not inclined to view me favourably, although you could ask why I would want to please people who have no real connection to me and who seem predisposed to be unpleasant to others.

This ties in a bit with what I was talking to my therapist about regarding unmasking, so I may bring this up with her too.

Other than that, I went for a walk (I decided I had too much to do to go for a run) and did some proofreading (unpaid, to try to get a review) and a bit of Torah study (I lost track of how much). I feel annoyed that I didn’t do much else, particularly as I really need to dust my room and would  have liked some time to work on my novel, although realistically that’s going to go on the backburner for the next few months.

The Visa

The good news: E’s visa has arrived! So now we can plan the wedding in earnest. It will be a while before she can even come of the UK, as she needs to work out what she’s shipping here, what will stay with her parents and what will be sold/given away/thrown away. It’s a bit frustrating, as I was focused on this stage for so long that I almost forgot there was a long way to go afterwards and that she wouldn’t be able to get here for a while. At least now we can begin to move things on.

Otherwise, it’s not been a great couple of days. I was exhausted yesterday. I still made it to shul (synagogue), but felt really tired afterwards. I did more than an hour of Torah study after dinner, but, once I’d also included time thinking about the implications of what I was reading, I didn’t have long to read for fun before feeling too tired and having to go to bed.

I don’t think I slept well and I woke up exhausted again, after dreaming that the next episodes of Doctor Who were really amazing (which I do not currently expect it to be, given the return of David Tennant, Catherine Tate and Russell T Davies). I managed to avoid sleeping in the afternoon, but did lie down for forty minutes and felt like I struggled to do much Torah study, although I think I actually did a reasonable amount.

I struggled a lot with feeling religiously inadequate over Shabbat (the Sabbath). I won’t go into the whole train of thought. I realised a lot of it is related to how other people see me, which is probably due to autism and social anxiety as much as how religious I actually am. I know that it doesn’t matter what other people think, even if they are important rabbis, but I find it does still matter to me.

After Shabbat was over, I found the text E had sent me about the visa and sent out some texts and emails about that. I was feeling tired and surprisingly a bit low, which I think is primarily exhaustion, and I just wanted to vegetate in front of the TV. I ended up watching GoldenEye, Pierce Brosnan’s debut James Bond adventure. It has a slightly uncertain tone as the film makers tried to work out where James Bond fitted in a post-Cold War, post-feminism world. Nice character parts for a young-looking Robbie Coltrane and Joe Don Baker (still being typecast as eccentric CIA agents a decade after classic BBC eco-thriller Edge of Darkness).

As for baby blessing news, it continues to get more and more complicated. Watch this space. The uncertainty is stressing me out, as are some health concerns my parents have (both have separate concerns). I don’t want to go into details, but it’s confusing and potentially worrying and I don’t know what to feel right now.

Sex, Friends, Books (No, the Genie Didn’t Give Me Three Wishes)

I had my last chatan (bridgegroom i.e. marriage) class last night. I think there might be another one closer to the wedding (no, still no news on the visa). I learnt more than in the previous one, although I still struggled to work out if I was expected to say anything and if so, what. I did wonder what someone who isn’t already committed to observing at least some of the laws of taharat mishpacha (family purity) would make of it, particularly if they were already having sex with their fiancée, as, realistically, many couples getting married through the United Synagogue would be. I don’t know whether taharat mishpacha contributes to keeping marriages fresh the way that it’s often claimed. Probably it sometimes does, but not always. I’m committed to the idea for religious reasons, regardless of any other benefits. I am, as a rule, sceptical of the idea of non-religious benefits from mitzvot (commandments) such as the purported (and mostly spurious) health benefits of kashrut (the dietary laws). Inasmuch as I see non-religious benefit in taharat mishpacha, it’s to stop men pestering their wives for sex when they’re on their period. I guess my view is different to most people’s anyway; if you’ve been celibate until the age of thirty-nine, abstaining from sex for two weeks a month doesn’t seem particularly daunting. It’s the being able to have sex for two weeks a month bit that is novel.

***

This morning neither of my alarms went off, for some reason, so I overslept by quarter of an hour, although I hurried and got to work on time. Work was busy again as it’s the time of year when most people pay their membership fees. I went to the bank and paid in fifty cheques to the astonishment of the clerk until she realised we are a charity, not a business, although we’re not a typical charity (“communal organisation” would probably be a better term), hence the membership fees.

I came home and intended to spend some time unwinding without screens, but went online instead. Big mistake. After a while, I felt ill from too much screen time, which was my fault, and from not eating which was not my fault, as dinner was very late. I hope E’s visa comes soon so we can set up home together; like me, but unlike my parents, she prefers to eat dinner early.

I would have liked to do some more Torah study or novel work after dinner, but felt too exhausted. I’d like to read some more of Dune before bed (I’m about three-quarters of the way through now), but don’t know if I’ll have the energy/brainpower. I’d rather not push myself too hard and burn out tomorrow, although it may be too late for that by now.

***

In therapy we touched on a subject that I’ve discussed a bit with E, about the fact that I mask my autism (as a general rule, masking in autistics tends to result in burnout in the end). I try to be what people expect me to be, to do what is “normal” or “right” rather than – well, I don’t actually know. I can’t really say “rather than what I want to do,” as I don’t actually know what I would do without masking, because I’ve been doing it from a very young age, maybe four or five, but more so from adolescence.

I don’t really know what I would like to do or who I really think I am. I remember Ashley saying a while back to imagine how I would behave if I was on a desert island just with E. It’s hard to tell, as I’m not terribly imaginative in that way. I probably wouldn’t be that different from how I am with E now, but it’s hard to map that on to interactions with other people. I would probably be a bit freer to voice opinions, including controversial ones, to make jokes or explain things to people.

***

The flipside of this is the online autism forum, where I’m beginning to wonder if people are deliberately not “talking” to me. Other people seem to have conversations, but that rarely happens to me. There’s a core of people who seem to connect and refer back and forth to each other and I can’t seem to get “in” to the group. Possibly they comment a lot more than I do, I’m not sure, so maybe it’s a visibility thing. I try to only say things if it’s going to be helpful or incisive, I don’t just joke around. And, as I mentioned the other day, I tried to “friend” someone on there, but he didn’t respond and I don’t know if he didn’t see it or didn’t want the contact.

The worst thing is, because I’ve mentioned being an Orthodox Jew a number of times, I wonder if that’s why people aren’t responding, not so much from antisemitism, but because they have an image of Orthodox Jews being judgmental, ascetic, humourless, and who knows what else. In a word, “Other.”

Probably I should stay away from there. I feel I’m on the forum and the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook group too much at the moment, trying to get noticed, in a “I want to be friendly and talk to people” way, not an ego way, but I don’t think it’s really working. I look forward to E being here; hopefully I won’t need to feed my social needs in this unhealthy way when we can interact normally like most couples instead of through WhatsApp texts and limited Skype time.

***

I found a substack by someone who experienced child abuse in the Jewish community. I am not sure whether to follow it. I don’t know why I have this fascination with abuse survivors. Is it because I dated one? I suspect not. I think I became more aware through being in group therapy-type spaces (support groups etc.). It made me realise how many survivors are out there, and how invisible they are unless they tell you what happened to them.

I worry that it’s some kind of morbid emotional vampirism, as I’ve mentioned before. I think a more likely reason is that for decades, I’ve been aware of myself on the margins of the frum community because of neurodivergence and mental illness. Somewhere along the line, I got interested in other people on the margins of the frum world, and abuse survivors are about the most marginal people there, often actively thrown out by people who don’t want to believe that abuse happens in the community, and that it’s often the most powerful, influential or “religious” people who perpetrate it. Hence, I am more interested in survivors from frum backgrounds. What I have experienced isn’t anything like what they have experienced, but I see some similarities about feeling unwanted in the community, feeling anger at being marginalised, wanting to fit in, but not knowing how, feeling shame just for being who you are…

“Tali Steine” writes: “My light speaks to me, enveloping me with goodness, with beauty, with love. You aren’t bad or worthless, she says. This wasn’t your fault… You don’t have to carry this shame.” I feel if she can tell herself this, then I should be able to tell myself. But somehow I can’t. I feel, “If I suffered as much as she did, I could say it wasn’t my fault, because it would clearly be disproportionate to anything I might have done, but I haven’t, so maybe it is my fault.”

I’m still not sure what to do about the substack.

***

I’m a bit stressed at all the books on my To Read shelf, particularly those in series. Herewith, a list of book series I’m in the middle of at the moment. To qualify, it has to be a series where there is reasonable continuity beyond one recurring character and I have to want to read the whole series; I’d like to read all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Poirot stories, and all of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey stories, but the links between stories in these series are slight and the series are long enough that I doubt I’ll read all of them (I think Christie wrote something like seventy-nine mystery/thriller stories, plus half a dozen pseudonymous romances and a couple of memoirs).

James Bond: I figure these just about have enough continuity to qualify. I’m reading them in a completely random order, for various reasons. I’ve got about two thirds of the way through the series in two years or so, so I guess I like them… I currently have copies of Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me on my To Read shelf, then there are another three to read after that. In recent years, a bunch of people have written other James Bond books, but at the moment I only plan on reading Ian Fleming’s ones.

Dune: I just started this a few weeks ago, but I do want to see how it plays out, even though it consists of two trilogies (or one hexalogy) of very long books.

Harry Potter: I’ve read the first two and I have most of the others and I will read them, but I’m not in a huge hurry, as I felt the first two were a bit over-rated. On the other hand, I like the word “Azkaban,” so I’ll probably read book three sooner rather than later.

A Wrinkle in Time: I’m not sure what the overarching title for this is, so I’ve just gone with the title of the first one. I read it a couple of months ago. It was OK, but I’m not sure whether I’ll read the others. As with Harry Potter, it seems to clearly be a children’s series and I wonder a bit why so many adults read it.

Robot/Galactic Empire/Foundation: in the 1940s (I think; I’m too tired to check), Isaac Asimov wrote three science fiction short story series, collected into books: the Robot, Galactic Empire and Foundation series. The three series were totally unconnected (technically, you could argue that he originally wrote two very different series of a robot stories, some short stories and longer murder mysteries with a human and robot detective team) [EDIT: Wikipedia tells me that there were light connections between the Galactic Empire and Foundation stories from the start]. Then he stopped writing them for decades, but in the 1980s, he went back and expanded the Robot and Foundation stories and tried to join them together, with the Galactic Empire stories in the middle, into one big future history sequence.

I’ve read the Robot and Foundation series and I keep thinking I should read the Galactic Empire books (there are only three novels and a short story), but I’ve never been that enthused by the concept. The Galactic Empire was the only series he didn’t later expand to make the connections clearer and I feel it will be disconnected and galactic empires don’t really grab my attention, unlike the premises of the Robot and Foundation series. But I also feel I should read them while re-reading the other books, as a lot of the connections between the books and the overarching narrative went over my head on first reading (I’m not actually sure what the best reading order is: internal or external chronology). I should also say that, as an end to this massive series of about fifteen books over five decades, Foundation and Earth was really weird. Not exactly bad, but weird, with a strange “The end… or is it?” moment just when it seemed finished that makes me feel vaguely negative about the whole sequence. On the other hand, Asimov is a light read, so I could probably get through fifteen of his books in the time taken to read the six Dune novels.

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy: technically, I haven’t started this yet, but I got the first two volumes from the free book box a few weeks ago and I’d like to read them, but I feel I ought to make progress on some of the other series first.

Richard J. Evans’ Third Reich trilogy (I didn’t say this was only for fiction series!): I still have the third book in this series to read, The Third Reich at War but I know it will be the hardest, given that it deals with the bloodiest war in human history and is permeated by the Holocaust (the Holocaust has its own chapter, but Evans says in the introduction that it’s really present in every chapter because it was so tied to the Nazi war aims and conduct). I actually have a big book on the Soviet Union to read afterwards, because I told myself to concentrate on one totalitarian dictatorship at a time! Thankfully, that’s a one-volume history.

Wouldn’t It Be Nice

I woke up late, Dad getting me up to help me bring the Tesco grocery order in. I admit I did not rush myself getting dressed afterwards, or having lunch, so it was soon time for my Skype therapy call without my having done very much. Perhaps fortunately, my chatan (marriage) class was postponed by the teacher, although I vaguely worry about what would happen if E gets her visa soon and we want to have the wedding in February – would we do all the classes in time? Although I’m more worried about the visa not coming until March…

Therapy was good, but intense and took up a chunk of the day, as usual. Even having therapy on Skype, I feel I need a few minutes to mentally prepare beforehand, and more than a few minutes to come out of the therapy mindset afterwards.

I did about half an hour of Torah study, which wasn’t much, but I arguably did an hour and a half yesterday, if you count the Jewish podcast I listened to while walking to and from appointments, and I’m going to a virtual shiur (religious class) tomorrow, so hopefully it averages out.

I did spend a little time on my novel plan. I feel that the chunk I wrote needs to be re-written, but not until I’ve finished planning. I’m finding planning this novel is like doing a 1,000 piece jigsaw with no picture, while blindfolded, in the dark, with the pieces hidden around the house and no guarantee that I’ll find them, or that they even exist, and no way of telling if I’ve finished it, or if I’ve made such a mess that you should give up. It is interesting, though. Planning novels of character seemed much easier, which may suggest that I under-estimate how complicated actual people are compared to the understanding of science and the trends in contemporary society needed for a satirical dystopia.

Mary Harrington’s article today for UnHerd was really useful, though, and I’m thinking  of subscribing (despite the financial issues E and I are facing) because she writes so insightfully about things that matter to me (especially developing a communitarian conservatism instead of one focused entirely on low taxes and high growth) and what I want to write about. (Judging from the comments, it seems that many UnHerd readers think that Harrington is the best thing about the site, even though she only started writing political commentary three years ago and isn’t a “famous” journalist like some of the other writers there.)

To be honest, I probably needed the slower day, but it’s hard to see it that way and not blame myself for being “lazy.” This is part of the problem I have with “energy accounting” (trying to balance the energy I use with the energy I take on): I am constantly pushing myself to do more, even when I need to rest. As I said to Paula in the comments of yesterday’s post I need to remind myself that I’m dealing with a lot at the moment, especially as so much feels up in the air right now. I have to remember that even if I’m not doing so much practically at this stage, things are still on my mind and stressing me out.

***

I weighed myself this morning. I don’t often remember to do this. My weight seems to be more or less stable, which is good, as I haven’t been eating as healthily as I was, but also bad, because I need to lose some weight, and because failure to lose weight discourages me and makes me feel weight loss is hopeless while I’m on the current dose of clomipramine, which will continue until 9 January at the earliest.

***

On the plane last week I listened to Wouldn’t It Be Nice by The Beach Boys, which I hadn’t heard for years. Looking at the lyrics now, it does seem appropriate, or overly-appropriate for where E and I are now. It’s about teenagers who want to be older so they can get married. E and I are definitely not teenagers, but we’re still stuck living separately. “And wouldn’t it be nice to live together/In the kind of world where we belong” probably isn’t about neurodivergence or finding a suitable religious community when you can fit in even though you aren’t “normal,” but it might as well be.

I’m glad that E and I are engaged and getting married, which I thought would never happen, and I’m glad that we hope to improve our careers and communal lives, but it is still frustrating having to be separated for so long.

Therapy, A Cat, and Growing Up in the 1980s

I started my sleep study last night. I had to wear a sensor on my finger and stick another one to my neck (it was wireless). The instructions for the neck sensor were on the phone that came with it and not on paper (I thought they had forgotten to send it to me). I didn’t sleep so well and I think I woke up a few times in the night, probably because I was worried I would knock the sensor off, although it stayed in place all night.

I did spend some time working on a profile for myself as a freelance proofreader and researched what fees I could charge. I still feel nervous about this, but I’m getting closer to it.

In therapy, I spoke about the negative feelings that I think working on my novel is prompting inside me (inchoate feelings of guilt and anxiety, mostly around sex). E thought I should put my novel on hold until we’re married. My therapist agreed, suggesting I put it in a box for now (metaphorically) as engaging with ideas around sex is just “re-traumatising” me and triggering feelings of guilt and anxiety when I work on novel. (I’m not sure I would have described these feelings as “trauma,” but I’ll put that aside for now.)

My therapist also suggested that I label as “undermining” my thoughts of guilt and anxiety rather than paying attention to them. We spoke about focusing on “empowering” voices about the love, good communication and so on that E and I have in our relationship instead.

In the evening I had chatan (bridegroom) religious class. I’m not sure it was a good idea to agree to do this in person the night before work. I’m not going to write about the class itself, as I’m still processing thoughts from it. I will say I found it hard to concentrate at times, at first from the heavy rain falling on the skylight ceiling, then from tiredness, and also from the cat that was walking in and out all the time. At one point she jumped on the table, stood in front of me and stared into my eyes as if she was trying to work out who I was and what I was doing in her house.

***

This was a comment I posted on the autism forum in a discussion about whether it is better to live as an autistic person now or in 1980 that I thought might be of interest:

As someone a bit younger (I think) than other commenters here, I’m finding this interesting.

I was born in the early eighties, so not born online, but computers, and then the internet, slowly crept into my life in my teens.

Things are mostly better now, certainly in my personal life, but partly because of technological change. I wouldn’t have met my wife without the internet, or managed a long-distance relationship without Skype or Zoom. And, while I’ve never really felt I “found my tribe,” I have made good friends online and am a lot less isolated than I would be without it. Blogging has been good for me to process my emotions, but private journaling never worked for me; it’s the interactions with readers that help me to write. Plus, like Shardovan [another commenter on the thread] said [of himself], I was probably “born old” and wouldn’t have fitted in whenever I was born (most of the music and TV I like are from the 60s and 70s, and the books I read tend to be even older!).

Also, although it came too late for me, it’s good that high-functioning autism is picked up now whereas there was really no awareness of it when I was at school (hence I didn’t get diagnosed until years later).

The downsides are the total sensory overload from omnipresent “devices” nowadays not to mention video adverts in shop windows and on the streets and even more noise. I find this makes me very uncomfortable, more so as I get older, and I’m not sure how much is my resistance to it declining and how much is that there are just more noises and moving pictures now. Sometimes I would like to live in a quieter era. As an Orthodox Jew, I don’t use computers, TV, phones etc. on the Sabbath and it’s very calming, but I still end up back on them straight afterwards (the downside of having most of my social life online, and of my wife being stuck in the US until her visa arrives).

Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like being a teenager in the era of social media. Would I have made friends online more easily than I managed at school? Or would the kids who bullied me at school just bully me at home via Facebook? It’s scary to think about. The secondary school I attended has had three student suicides in the last five years or so, which terrifies me.

Always Winter and Never —

I’ve mentioned before about not being in touch with my emotions. Today I’m not even that sure how the day went. Either a good day in which quite a few stressful things happened, or a stressful day in which nothing really bad happened.

J wasn’t in the office today. He’d picked today to drive to one of our other sites, but it turned out there were floods from the heavy rain and he couldn’t get in, so he went home and worked from there. I go in on the Tube, so it didn’t affect me. There wasn’t a lot to do, so I ended up phoning people who hadn’t paid their membership fees yet. It led to some awkward calls, although no one got angry with me (which has happened once or twice) and I did get two credit card payments and a couple of other people promising to pay soon, including someone who didn’t realise she’d cancelled the standing order to us, thinking it was going to somewhere else.

It got a bit lonely in the office by myself. I felt overwhelmed by the afternoon, which might have been the phoning or the several cups of tea I’d drunk. I probably drink too much caffeine at work, given I have low-level anxiety much of the time there. I have a cup of coffee at home over breakfast, a second when I get to the office, and sometimes a third if I feel really tired. Then a cup of tea for lunch and three or four more during the afternoon to keep myself going. I could drink decaf tea, but I sometimes find it tastes funny to me, plus part of me feels I need the caffeine, even if it makes me anxious.

I usually struggle with winter, but I feel much worse than I usually do at this stage. We’re still in the midst of autumn, let alone actual winter (in my head, winter starts in December) and already I feel I can’t cope. I miss E a lot. We’re not likely to get married before spring, which makes it (spring) seem impossibly distant. Winter usually feels like it won’t ever end, especially once we get past Chanukah and the bank holiday season and it feels like endless January followed by interminable February. Starting chatan and kallah (groom and bride) classes yesterday should be a step forward, but somehow it doesn’t feel that way. I guess I still can’t believe I found someone who wants to marry me, with all that entails and feel it will somehow go wrong, because “obviously” I can’t be happy.

At the moment we’re waiting nervously for E’s visa. There shouldn’t be any issues, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any, especially given the Home Office is not the most efficient (or compassionate) organisation, and it’s under stress with Ukrainian refugees and the stuff in the news about over-crowding in refugee centres. At least I have my trip to New York at the end of the month to look forward to, even if there may be a very long wait until we can see each other again afterwards (I couldn’t go later in the year for fear I would miss my sister’s baby being born).

***

Yesterday in therapy I somehow got on to the subject of wanting to share controversial political views with people online. I say I don’t want to do it, then I seem to seek out people who don’t share my views and read what they post online as if I’m daring myself to disagree. (I didn’t say this in therapy, but another view comes to mind, which is that I’m trying to “collect” online friends with all sorts of different views to my own to prove to myself how tolerant and broadminded I am. I hope this isn’t true, because it’s basically using people for my own ends.)

I mentioned that earlier this year, I got annoyed about an antisemitic news story and wrote a two or three page satirical squib, a dystopian satire, to let off steam. It started connected strongly to the news story, but grew to take in a lot of other stuff I don’t like. E loved it and said I should expand it to a novel and for a while I did think about it, but I was already working on my current novel and decided to leave it for now. I am collecting ideas for it, though, and I would like to have a go at it at some point.

The fact that I was working on a different novel (although not far enough to absolutely have to stick with it) was a good reason to leave it for now, but I was also scared. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to keep being funny for 80,000 words. I’m learning tricks to jump-start narrative and character development in my writing when I get blocked, but I don’t know how to do it for humour. I guess I feel there is no way of doing it for humour: you’re either funny or you’re not. And I worry I’m not. I know this is the voice of the school bullies, and, as my therapist said, a bunch of teenage boys are probably not the best arbiters of whether something is really funny. But it’s hard to turn that voice off.

A bigger worry is offending people or upsetting people. I would really like to write a Swiftian satire parodying everything I hate about the modern world and that’s bound to upset people in our intolerant and cancelling age.

My therapist asked if there was an image that summed up my thoughts about creativity and putting controversial or satirical ideas out there and immediately I thought of the traditional sign for the theatre, with two masks, one smiling for comedy and one miserable for tragedy. It’s like I’m only allowed to use the tragic one (actually, tragedy can be comic e.g. Hamlet). The therapist suggested satire as a bridge between tragedy and other forms of comedy. It’s an interesting idea to play with, but I’m not sure where it will take me.

 ***

Doctor Who time: E and I are watching The Invasion (1968). It’s ahead of its time in that it’s about an evil Big Tech genius who wants to take over the world – so far, so 2022 – but it’s of its time in that the focus is on innovative hardware, not software (as it would have been in the eighties or nineties) or algorithms (as it would be now).

There’s a weirdness about some Doctor Who stories of the late sixties, in that the Doctor (a time-traveller from a super-advanced civilisation) doesn’t like computers. It’s never made entirely clear why, but it seems to be on the spurious (to us) grounds that they’re inhuman and inauthentic, stifling true creativity and humanity. The Ice Warriors is the story where this really comes to the fore, but it appears in others too, including this one. It’s where the programme shows its roots as primarily Romantic and concerned with emotional authenticity rather than scientific progress per se. This is why the Cybermen are the most frequently-appearing foe in this era, as they represent technology without humanity.

Although my main takeaway so far is that the music and sound effects in this story are really good. Sixties Doctor Who was more about the sound effects than the visual effects, with the late sixties stories blurring the lines between incidental music, sound effects and ambient atmospheres. This story has a score that sounds like a Western and sound effects that sound unearthly.

Black Box

I did not have a good Shabbat (Sabbath). I felt too exhausted and ill to go to shul (synagogue). I feel exhausted from the Jewish festivals and that I’ve been on the go for months without a break (wedding, visa application, festivals and work disruption). Having dinner with my parents when drained can be difficult, as they make small talk the whole time and I often find it overwhelming, particularly if Dad starts asking me questions to try to “bring me into the conversation.” I haven’t really been able to explain to him that my brain is wired in a way that small talk is difficult and uninteresting for me.

After dinner I read the Chofetz Chaim on Pirkei Avot (Torah study) book for fifteen minutes and finished it, but then I fell asleep. I woke up around 2am. I was too tired to quickly get ready for bed and go back to sleep, which paradoxically meant that I began to wake up before I could get back to bed and I couldn’t sleep. I spent the next couple of hours reading, then fell asleep around 4am. Then I fell asleep again this afternoon, after lunch with my parents. Last Monday (Shmini Atzeret), they were out for lunch and I ate on my own, and I didn’t fall asleep afterwards, although I felt tired. I wonder if this is connected. I didn’t used to react like this. I feel like I’m becoming more autistic, which is impossible; more likely, I find it harder to mask and pass as allistic (non-autistic).

I felt very overwhelmed both when I woke up in the night and during the day today. I still felt tired and had loads of thoughts in my head about what I wanted to do, needed to do and so on. I managed very little Torah study and was glad that I managed to pray at all, although my kavannah (mindfulness in prayer) was rubbish.

After Shabbat, I looked at my existing To Do list, and the list of things that needed to go on the To Do list. Quite a lot of the existing tasks are long-term things related to the wedding that we can’t move forwards with until E gets her visa, so at least I don’t have to worry about them right now. There is still a lot to do, though, including sorting the whole tax situation from last week; booking at trip to New York; setting myself up as a proof-reader; and trying to get back into a regular pattern of exercising, novel researching and novel writing.

I miss E a lot too. Long-distance is hard.

***

I just posted the following on the autism forum, about the ‘Black Box’ that is the emotional part of my brain:

Does anyone else have alexithymia (difficulty understanding and describing their own emotions)? I do have emotions, but I often struggle to understand or describe them, especially if they’re subtle or conflicted. This has arguably been a problem when trying to access mental health services or even being aware of my slides into depression.

Some emotions are powerful enough to make their presence felt, particularly the terrible trio of depression, anxiety and despair, but others can be harder to feel. Even strong positive emotions can be hard to find; sometimes I have to look for practical evidence to prove that I really do love my family, because I’m not sure what I feel. A lot of the time I feel rather numb and blank, sometimes with a faint undertone of mild depression or mild anxiety.

My main way of processing emotions is through writing. I’ve written a journal-type blog most days since 2006 (excluding an eighteen month period where I stopped) and that helps me process the events of the day, as well as get feedback from my small, but supportive readership. This probably sounds strange, but sometimes I don’t really know how I feel about things until I write them down. I’ve tried private journaling, but somehow I need a sense of an audience, even a very small one, to give me the impetus to communicate. If I can’t write on one day for some reason, I tend to carry around all the thoughts of that day with me and feel a need to offload.

I write fiction to try to understand bigger emotions, including ones that I haven’t personally experienced. I’ve always read a lot too and I think that’s probably an attempt to learn about emotions, on some level. I guess I get that from TV and film too, although I find modern TV and film overwhelming in its amplified display of emotions sometimes, at least what I see of it (which isn’t much).

I would be interested to hear of anyone else who struggles with this, as it feels quite isolating sometimes, something that even other autistic people don’t experience. I would also like to know if anyone has tips or coping mechanisms.

***

Another thing I’ve been thinking about lately is how much my identity has become located at the intersection (to use an over-used and over-politicised, but useful, word) of autism and Orthodox Judaism. I feel like being autistic gives me struggles that allistic (non-autistic) Orthodox Jews don’t have, but being an Orthodox Jew gives me struggles that other autistic people don’t necessarily have, in terms of things I’ve described here about Judaism being such a social religion. I don’t know which I would consider my primary identity; I think both are pretty integral to who I am. I probably need to think about this some more to find practical solutions.

What Do You Want?

I struggled with sleeping again last night. I couldn’t sleep, then had to get up early for work. J sent me to get some food for a meeting tomorrow, including kosher sandwiches. Apparently a couple of supermarkets in the West End have them. I duly went to these and couldn’t get the sandwiches. I did get some drinks and crisps, which turned out to be so heavy that the bag I was carrying them in tore and I had to carry them awkwardly in my arms. J thinks it is possible that Selfridges had the sandwiches and I didn’t look in the right place (they aren’t with the other sandwiches, apparently), which led me to feel self-critical, as I had had that thought after I left the shop, but decided not to go back and look again.

As well as that, I managed to walk in an area that was cordoned off for building works. I’m not quite sure how I managed to do that, or why I thought it was a pedestrian walkway and not cordoned off. Things went downhill from there, as I started to feel very overwhelmed by the numbers of people, not just the crowds, but thinking that these are all individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes… It’s quite an overwhelming thought to have. I tried to shut out some of the noise with music (silence might have been better, but wasn’t an option as the street was so busy), but the headphones I found to replace the ones that broke last week are not very effective. I haven’t had a panic attack for years, and I don’t generally have meltdowns (which are technically just intense panic attacks), but I felt like I was on the verge of one. I didn’t have one in the end, although not due to anything I did to prevent it. I just got lucky.

Just to cap it all off, I got home to discover that HMRC (the taxman) has fined me £100 for not filling in a tax return for the tax year ending April 2021. I didn’t send a tax return for the very good reason that I was unemployed for half the year and then working varying amounts in the remaining months and, even counting the benefits I was receiving that I’ve subsequently been told to pay back (even though I told them NOT to pay them to me in the first place as I was working), I was still earning less than the minimum needed to pay tax. But I’ll need to work out exactly what I earned for that year, including the benefits and bank account interest. More likely is that the tax return I filled for the tax year ending April of this year has made some jobsworth pen-pusher at HMRC decide that I must have earned the same amount the previous tax year. I don’t really swear, but I want to award lots of choice four-letter words to him (or her).

This does make me worry about how efficient the Home Office will be with E’s visa application. There’s no logical reason why one would impact the other, but I’ve had such a hard time lately with the HMRC (who recently paid me rather more than £100 that they had wrongly taken from me) and the Department of Work and Pensions (the benefits overpay issue) that I am pessimistic about any government department functioning efficiently.

I felt physically ill from the stress of the day, coming in the midst of other recent stresses. I was physically exhausted, light-headed and headachey. Eating and drinking didn’t help. Mum suggested drinking orange juice, and it did seem to help, so maybe my potassium/lithium levels were out of whack. Really I should have taken time out to chill without computer or phone, but I had so much to do, so when I got home I went online and started dealing with the tax thing and blogging.

I did feel a lot better after dinner, Doctor Who and Skyping E, so that’s good. I am a bit nervous about coping with tomorrow, though.

***

The worry that I was going to have a panic attack earlier fits with how I’ve been feeling lately: overwhelmed and at times very sad without really understanding why, as well as intensely missing E. These feelings generally do not always long, but I worry about drifting back into clinical depression or burnout (I’m not sure the two are easily distinguishable for me), especially as my previous episodes of depression mostly started in the autumn, as the days grow shorter and the weather less pleasant.

Alexithymia (difficulty recognising and understanding my own emotions) makes it harder to tell what my general emotional state is, because intense negative feelings are easier to recognise, thus potentially making my emotional state seem worse than it really is.

An additional problem with alexithymia that I’ve only just really noticed is in recognising emotions related to my religious experience. If I can recognise depression, anxiety and loneliness more easily than joy, love and equanimity, it’s no surprise that I find the former more than the latter in my religious experience. Does that mean my religious experience is overwhelmingly negative? I don’t think so, but more because I can’t see how I could have stuck with it for so long if it had been negative. But the question, which has been nagging at me for years, but is more urgent now I’m starting my own family, is how to increase the joy, love and equanimity and make it more tangible.

A question I’ve never really asked myself in a religious context is, “What do I want to do?” I don’t really know how to answer this question at this stage. Until now I’ve tried to do what the halakhah (Jewish law) requires, sometimes being overwhelmed by temptation or mental health and neurodiversity issues and sometimes compromising to fit in with my parents. What I want hasn’t really come into it much, or doesn’t feel like it has. I wonder, if I searched myself, if I would find that it has been there, but subtextually, disguised as other questions.

Also, I have never really understood how people can be so certain about what God thinks: “God will punish X” or “God will forgive Y.” Heinrich Heine said on his deathbed that, “God will forgive me. It’s His job.” Heine had done some bad things and I wouldn’t have been so sanguine in his position. Would I go to the other extreme and assume that God would want to punish me? It is hard to tell. When my religious OCD was bad, I was more focused on the awfulness of breaking halakhah in itself rather than punishment, but a part of me also took it as read that I would have no share in the next world.

(There is a specific question here that I’m thinking about, but I’m not sure I should discuss it here, and I certainly don’t have the time today.)

***

When I got my invisible disability lanyard for the airport, Mum mentioned that her friend, who usually travels with a disabled family member (either her mother, who has dementia, or her daughter, who has CFS and severe depression), lets the airport authorities know in advance and gets fast-tracked through the airport. She (Mum, not the friend) felt I should do the same. I felt uncomfortable with this idea, primarily because I didn’t feel my problems are “bad enough” to do that and felt that it would almost be dishonest to do so.

Today I saw someone on the autism forum say that he does this. This is someone I see as much more capable than myself, as he was in regular employment as a research scientist for decades, has been married for many years and has two adult children. So I am slowly considering that this may be an “acceptable” thing for me to do, although I don’t know if I’ll feel ready when I hopefully go to New York to see E later this year.

“…an almost Proustian display of modern Existentialist football…”

(Title quote from one of the Monty Python sketches I think about periodically, which happened to be in the episode I watched earlier, about a pretentious football commentator interviewing a monosyllabic footballer. It’s not really relevant, I just think it’s funny.)

There’s a lot I want to say, but I am totally exhausted, and overwhelmed with things to do. However, as I’m too exhausted to do much now, I’ll try to blog at least some of the things on my mind.

I flippantly remarked on Angela’s blog the other day that I’ve been tired for decades. I felt somewhat bad about it afterwards, as that was a post about tiredness through serious physical illness, but I’m not sure that tiredness from depression, autistic exhaustion and a sleep disorder is really less “real” or worthy of note. At any rate, I struggled to sleep again last night, although not so badly as some nights, and then struggled to get going in the morning, only to discover that while I was asleep, E had asked me to send her a particular document needed for the visa again, as I had forgotten to sign it. To be honest, I hadn’t forgotten, so much as not realised I need to do it (yes, classic autistic, “If you don’t explicitly ask for it, he won’t realise he needs to do it”). This delayed me a little, but I cut my usual truncated Shacharit (Morning Prayers) even shorter and got to work on time.

Work was exceedingly dull and I found some mistakes I had made weeks ago that at least went unnoticed by my boss. I listened to podcasts while sorting through papers then felt guilty that I had decreased my efficiency, although I’m not at all sure that that was the case, as the task is dull, but also difficult, as most of the papers I’m dealing with at the moment are legal or financial, but also twenty years or more old. They should be ripe for throwing away, but I worry that my legal and financial ignorance will lead me to throw away something we need. At the moment, I’m just trying to produce a general list of what everything is.

***

I have a tendency to take the world’s troubles on my shoulders, at least sometimes. Lately I’ve been feeling concern for lonely people on the autism forum, abuse survivors and current victims in the Jewish community, as well as continuing sadness and perhaps anger at God for my parents’ friends’ late son. I do worry sometimes that abusers and gett refusers (men who refuse to give their wives the religious divorce they want) in the frum (religious Jewish) community will find a loophole to the Next World via their Torah study and communal involvement and somehow evade punishment. This is irrational, as I don’t believe God is as easily deceived, or has His values as warped, as the frum community sometimes is and, in any case, I believe spiritual punishment is inherent in the action in ways that are too complicated for me to explain now; you can’t avoid Divine punishment any more than you can avoid being in your own body. But I do think about it a lot.

***

I came across the idea a number of years ago that lots of frum people want to fast-forward through this time of year, the Jewish autumn festival season. For them it’s a time of painful self-examination and guilt. It is that for me too, with added autistic exhaustion and peopling, social anxiety, low self-esteem and disordered sleep issues, not to mention autistic issues with work routine changes and overload from working more intensively. I could also say that their guilt over sins is excessive and misplaced, whereas mine is logical and deserved, but I’m not going to go there (which is probably a good sign in and of itself). I feel like that now, with all the extra overwhelm of my life at the moment too, but today for the first time I felt frustrated that I haven’t worked on my novel for weeks because I’ve been focused on my wedding and E’s visa application. I’m glad, as I wondered if I had given up on writing. However, I still doubt I will have time to put pen to paper (or word processor) for another month.

One extra thing that is hard at this time of year is having alexithymia, difficulty noticing and understanding my own emotions. It’s hard to be sure I love and am in awe of God and that I love Torah, or that I have joy in the festivals and in being Jewish when I struggle to notice love for my family, let alone a being I can’t see and Who is the source of everything bad that ever happened to me as well as everything good. Mostly I try to “deduce” my emotions by my actions, which I guess must mean I feel something positive about God if I do all this religious stuff.

Related to this is my feelings about the frum community. On an Orthodox Conundrum podcast I listened to today, they spoke about the importance of being part of a community for spiritual growth. I’ve never really had this, at least not in the way they meant. Someone on the autism forum the other day suggested that while I say I want to be part of a community, I also seem to have negative feelings about it (I said making friends in the community seemed “terrifying and impossible”). I don’t really have an answer this.

***

I suspect the answer to all of the above is to “Let go and let God,” as the 12 Step movement says, but I’ve never been very good at that. It’s hard to “Let go and let God” when you can’t work out how much you trust God.

***

Good things that happened today:

E sent the visa application off, despite consistent issues with the third-party website.

I was told I can keep paying reduced shul (synagogue) membership fees because I’m on a low salary. I feel vaguely guilty about this and don’t know why, although as I have been paying money to a shul I haven’t been attending, and as I will continue doing this for some months more, I feel the shul is still getting a good deal.

My birthday present from E, The Hidden Order of Intimacy: Reflections on the Book of Leviticus by Aviva Gottleib Zornberg finally arrived. The delay, I should say, was on the part of Foyles Bookshop, not E. Zornberg has written several deep books on Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), mixing traditional commentary with ideas from Western philosophy and literature and psychology. She’s very good, but no one expected her to write about the almost entirely legal and purity-focused Vayikra (Leviticus). So I am curious to read it, but will wait until it comes around on the annual Torah cycle next spring.

Also arriving today was the latest Jewish Review of Books (finally) and Doctor Who: The Dis-Continuity Guide. Actually, the latter came yesterday, but it seemed inappropriate to write about it on such a sad day. Then today I went into the charity shop and found a load of interesting-looking books. I already owned a couple of them, perhaps fortunately, but I did buy a copy of Yehudah HaLevi’s Medieval Jewish anti-philosophical philosophical work, The Kuzari for £2, which goes nicely with the Guide for the Perplexed I got for free a few months ago.

Yes, my plan to avoid getting new books until I work my way down the To Read pile is going well. Wait a minute…

Too Much

I’m feeling quite upset today. I woke from an distressing dream and was lying in bed digesting it when my Mum came into my room, visibly upset. I knew immediately that her friends’ son had died of cancer (the one who I mentioned a week or two ago as receiving palliative care). The funeral is today, but my parents couldn’t go, as Mum was having a medical procedure and Dad had to drive her home (she’s OK, it was all clear). I will probably go with them to the shiva (house of mourning) on Saturday night as they are close family friends I’ve known since childhood, even though I know it might be crowded, overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.

It made me think about the fear of God, which I’ve been thinking about lately anyway. This is not fear of punishment, which is seen in Judaism as a much lower and less effective and important motivator. People describe the fear, or better, the awe, of God as being like the awe a person experiences in seeing the ocean or the mountains, and I think that’s part of it, but lately I think it’s more about the realisation that God is so essentially, ontologically (in the nature of His Being) different to human beings, that His Mind operates on a scale and in a way that we can’t comprehend, that He can make decisions of who should live and who should die for reasons that we can’t begin to understand. If a human being tried to do this, he would be a terrible dictator, but God is essentially different to us such, that, as the prophet Yishayah (Isaiah) says, “For My plans are not your plans, nor are My ways your ways, —declares the LORD. But as the heavens are high above the earth, so are My ways high above your ways and My plans above your plans.” (Yishayah 55.8-9, translation from Sefaria.org, capitalisation altered slightly). It is the awe of encountering an intelligence totally different from our own, with a different morality that comes from being different and beyond us. Admittedly I’ve seen no sources that confirm this, but it seems true to me.

Of course, we are supposed to go beyond this understanding to the love of God, which is even greater.

***

I struggled to get going in the afternoon. I think I was too upset about my parents’ friends’ son. I didn’t even know him that well, but I guess I feel I could have died (from suicide) at various points in my twenties and thirties and left my parents like his parents. I would never have met E or made the plans we’re making to try to turn my life around. It’s just so sad. Mum always thought I could be friends with him, but I didn’t speak to him much, mainly from social anxiety and autistic communication issues. I tend to get on better with people older than me than younger than me anyway.

I did a few things in the afternoon: a little Torah study, a quick walk to the shops, and I polished my thoughts about the death of the Queen from a Jewish perspective and submitted them to a Jewish website, although I suspect it’s probably too late for consideration now. I started dusting my room, but didn’t get very far.

I did feel there was a lot I didn’t do. My To Do list seems to grow much faster than I can actually do tasks and tick them off at the moment, particularly as so many tasks are multifaceted and require multiple actions. I also don’t think I’ll get to listen to all the LSJS shiurim (religious classes) from Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, as I have three left still.

E tried to submit our information and documents for the visa application, but the website was broken and not loading a necessary drop-down menu properly. I tried to do it on my computer, but had the same problem. There was no help button. She tried using the contact form, but it’s meant for feedback, not technical help. She sent them a message on Twitter. We’re waiting for a response. Suggestions welcome.

After my walk, I felt light-headed. I can never work out if this is due to lack of food, lack of salt or low blood pressure. I ate some crackers with butter to try to deal with food and salt, but it was extra calories close to dinnertime. My diet is stuck in an awkward place of restricting some food, but probably not enough, and weight loss and willingness not to eat junk have tailed off. When I say not to eat junk, I don’t even mean excessively. It only takes one bad day to get me thinking, “Oh, I had a bad day. I deserve one biscuit OR one piece of chocolate as a reward before bed,” and then it’s hard not to do it again the next night. Even if I resist, it’s started a “Bad day = chocolate” precedent. Today certainly feels like a junk food day. Knowing my weight gain is mostly caused by clomipramine doesn’t make things any easier.

Overall, I feel overwhelmed again, and anxious. Anxiety always feels worse on dark autumn/winter evenings, for some reason. There’s just so much to do (admittedly reading about Kristallnacht in The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939, was probably a bad move). I worry about falling depressed again at this time of year; most of my episodes started in the autumn or early winter. I feel unprepared for work tomorrow, but — bed!

Overwhelmed

I wrote the following long post on the autism forum. I’m too exhausted to write a long forum post and a long blog post, so I’m just going to copy and paste. Much of this is probably familiar to regular readers, but it’s a handy summary of how I’ve been feeling for the last few weeks and why things are probably not going to get any better any time soon.

I’ve been feeling very overwhelmed lately. The background is that at the end of August, I went to New York for my civil wedding (my wife is from the USA). After one day of married life, I had to come back to the UK alone, so that she can apply for a spouse visa to come to the UK. She can’t come to the UK until she gets that. For religious reasons, we won’t live together until we have a second, religious, wedding (in the UK, hopefully early next year). At the moment, I’m still living with my parents, with my wife on another continent for the foreseeable future, which I guess would be difficult even for an NT. I’m certainly finding it very hard.

Then, when I got home from the US I had a lot of disruption: extended family staying with us, then my parents going away, which left me in the house by myself, which was good in some ways, but stressful in others. And now I’m a few days away from the autumn Jewish festival season (I’m an Orthodox Jew) which, again, is stressful even for Jewish NTs without social anxiety (which I have too) who don’t care about work/schedule disruption, having to go to crowded religious events, peopling and so on. Also, despite being a festival season, parts are quite sombre and focused on personal growth, which, with my low self-esteem, I tend to apply to myself as guilt and shame rather than anything healthier

 So, there is a lot going on, and three weeks on, I feel I haven’t processed my wedding yet; but then eighteen months on from my Asperger’s diagnosis, I feel increasingly I haven’t fully processed that either. In terms of the Kubler-Ross model for dealing with grief (my grief over the NT life I won’t have), I worry I’m stuck on “bargaining” for the NT life I thought I was going to get, or the next best thing (“If only I wasn’t autistic… If only I was diagnosed younger… If only I was good with numbers or could get a job related to my special interests…”). I’m not proud of this, I’d like to see the positives in my diagnosis, but I feel I missed all the useful autistic skills and just got some relatively mild sensory issues, some worse executive functioning issues, and a lot of social/inter-personal difficulties that I disguise with masking so no one can see how desperate I feel so much of the time, how much I’m just pretending that I’m doing OK in social situations.

I’m rejoicing to be getting married to the most supportive woman in the world, but I worry about how we will make ends meet or cope with practical things (she has her own “issues” too, including possible ASD that we aren’t sure whether to investigate further). I don’t want to let her down, even though she’s not pressuring me. I have a job, two days a week. It frustrates me, as I’m over-qualified for it, but still constantly make stupid mistakes. I’m not sure if that’s because of ASD or (ahem) boredom and incompetence on my part. It’s humbling to feel like I’m failing all the time, but also to feel that I can’t do anything better at the moment. Once we’ve made progress with the immigration issues, I’d like to try to get some supplementary work as a proof-reader and maybe a copy-editor, working from home. I have most of the skills, but getting clients is scary. Proof-reading is potentially an autistic skill, but networking and marketing myself is definitely an NT skill.

Plus, I want so much to be more integrated into the Orthodox Jewish community that I’m on the fringes of. I’ve been better-integrated at times in the past, but a lot of other things in my life had to be in the right place for that to happen, and right now they aren’t. Not only did COVID push me away from communal involvement, but it has strengthened my social anxiety, and the type of religious involvement (going to synagogue, going to religious classes (not on Zoom)) I could cope with at least some of the time a few years ago is currently a real effort, and often too much for me. The thought of actually making more friends in the community seems terrifying and impossible.

Unfortunately, the Orthodox Jewish community tends to lag somewhat behind the rest of the Western world on social issues. I feel we’re currently having the conversations about mental health that the wider Western world was having ten years ago; neurodiversity is going to take another ten years to seriously get on people’s radar. Possibly I’m being overly-pessimistic here. I hope so.

It just all seems too much stuff happening at once and I don’t really know what to do except try to hold on. I’m also on a break from therapy for a couple of months various reasons, which has not come at a good time, as everything feels so huge and overwhelming and I really need to talk to someone dispassionate. Ridiculously, given how long this is, there is more I could say, but I will stop here for now. Thanks for reading!

(End of autism forum post.)

Immigration Woes, Religious Growth on the Autism Spectrum and Performative Judaism

Most of today was spent scanning documents for E’s visa application and sending them to her. I didn’t have much time for anything else, although I cleaned the kitchen a bit as we haven’t got a cleaner coming this week.

I phoned the building society to try to get a printout of my savings account statement for the last year. I couldn’t get it to show as a pdf through online banking and a screen shot wasn’t good enough for the Home Office (for E’s visa). The woman I spoke to said that my account was for a book, not individual statements. This sent me into autistic/socially anxious panic, as I was pretty sure I didn’t have an account book, and I hung up.  I decided it would be easier to sort out in person, so I walked to the building society, wearing my invisible disability lanyard (just in case), which may have helped.  They said they would print my statement, but first one cashier and then the other had printer problems.  I thought I would have to come back another day or go to another branch (which would also have to be another day), but at the last moment they managed to print what I wanted.

I later discovered the printout only has the last four digits of my account number, which I suppose is for security reasons. I hope the Home Office still accept it. E and I are both terrified concerning every little detail that is not 100% the way they want or which we just had to work out on our own initiative. We are sure they will use this to refuse the visa application. E says what if the Home Office website is like Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and we need the Immigration Talmud to understand it properly because its literal meaning is deceptive? It’s a frightening thought. Likewise concerning the problems I had with the benefits I was mistakenly paid, which the Home Office will see from the bank statements they are making me submit. I wrote a whole piece for them explaining what happened and that it was not my fault, but we’re still terrified that the Home Office will think I’m some kind of benefits fraudster and assume that E is the same and refuse her visa. I hate bureaucracy.

Then I came home and tried to phone to confirm the psychiatrist appointment I’ve been sent. Once again, the call went to the answerphone even though the office was supposed to be open. I got annoyed about this, particularly as I wasn’t sure that it’s the right number to call, although the only other phone numbers on the letter were the crisis team and the “smoking cessation” line (?!), and it certainly isn’t either of those. I worried they would cancel my appointment because I haven’t confirmed on a number they haven’t given me. The answerphone gave another number, so I called that, only to be told that I should have phoned the first number! I said I left a message on the answerphone and the receptionist said that would be fine, but who knows with the NHS? I would say I need the NHS Talmud too, but I suspect it exists as an oral tradition only.

There was a Mussar (Jewish ethical development movement) yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) in the early twentieth century where students were sent to do stupid tasks, such as going into a hardware shop and asking for milk, so that people would get annoyed with them, in the process teaching them that self-esteem comes from within, not from other people.  I feel that, with autism and social anxiety, most of my social interactions that aren’t with a small, select group of people feel like that. It hasn’t done much for my self-esteem, though.

I feel I haven’t really adapted to post-depression/burnout life or to ‘normal’ life with autism, a suspected sleep disorder and social anxiety. In particular, I ignored my social anxiety in the past as it seemed insignificant compared to my depression and OCD, but now they’re under control, it feels like a real impediment. I did CBT for it on the NHS, but I only had ten sessions and didn’t push myself hard enough or sustain the effort afterwards. Then COVID came along and knocked back what progress I had made.

I wonder what I should be doing right now in terms of growth i.e. dealing with autism and social anxiety and also growing as a person and growing religiously (this being the time of year when we think about these things in the Jewish world). I just got married and usually someone who just got married would be told to focus on that relationship for the first year, but it looks like half or more of our first year will be spent on different continents. More generally, I don’t know enough autistic or socially anxious adults in the Orthodox community (with or without significant sleep and energy issues) to try to gauge what is typical or even possible behaviour from someone in my situation.

In particular, trying to assess my relationship with God, as one Jewish site suggested, is hard. Being on the spectrum, I find it hard to assess my relationships with people who are actually communicating with me, let alone those who aren’t. I know I have a good relationship with E, but that’s partly because I can judge interactions, like how we resolve disagreements, and partly because she explicitly tells me that she thinks we have a good relationship. I’m sorry, I’m autistic, I find it hard to read these things without being told. With God, I have to intuit how He feels about me with really no evidence at all, and it’s all too easy for that to be distorted by low self-esteem. I’m not really a person who has a “sense” of God’s presence in their life and I find it hard to really know what that would feel like, although I perhaps have felt it at very specific points in my life.

***

On a somewhat related note, I’ve read/listened to some things about Judaism and feminism in the last few days. I don’t want to get into that debate, but I find it interesting that they present Judaism as primarily performative, not contemplative. In other words, Judaism is something you do (study, lead religious services, lein), rather than something you think about or contemplate. Women’s exclusion from Orthodox Judaism is seen as stemming from exclusion from doing certain things and can be rectified by letting them do those things.

Judaism is primarily a performative/action-based religion rather than a contemplative/faith-based religion like Christianity or Buddhism. That has certain advantages (setting aside the issue of gender segregation for the moment), but it arguably does lead to the marginalisation of those in the community who, for whatever reason, can’t do Jewish things (whereas fundamentalist Christianity leads to the marginalisation of those who, for whatever reason, can’t believe Christian things, which is a whole other set of issues). When it comes to feminism, we frame the argument around what women are allowed to do and who is allowing, or not allowing, them to do it, but I’m interested in people who aren’t able to do for pragmatic rather than societal/halakhic reasons and what happens to them. Do they just leave? Or get excluded, or at least demoted to second-class status? I want to start my Facebook group to find out!

There is an idea of meditation in Judaism (Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”tzl wrote three books on it, one of which I have), but it’s not very prominent except in the Breslov Hasidic community. (I’ve tried meditating, but struggle with it currently.)

The thing that I keep thinking about in this context is a story I haven’t seen in the original (I saw it paraphrased in Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerksi’s book Let Us Make Man). I think it comes originally from the Jerusalem Talmud. The story is that Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who was one of the leading sages of the Talmudic era, was severely ill and all his students came to visit him. They tried to cheer him up by saying what a great Torah teacher he was and he just got more depressed because he knew he was not going to recover enough to teach again. Then Rabbi Akiva said, “Suffering can be precious” (as a way of developing character and earning spiritual reward), which caught his attention because accepting suffering was something he could do in his passive state. I feel that kind of intellectual/contemplative, even passive, approach of “Suffering can be precious,” is generally not discussed in contemporary Orthodox Judaism. Rather, people in crisis are pushed to do more, even if that’s not really feasible for them.

Energy Budgets and NHS Budgets

I was exhausted last night and went to bed at 10.30m, slept for nearly ten hours, overslept slightly and woke up with the sense of having woken short of breath several times in the night, but uncertain as to whether this was really the case, or to what extent.

It was good to go back to volunteering after a break of several weeks. I find it’s good to do something social without the actual pressure of socialising. Mostly I just the other volunteers talk and I listen. Everyone wanted to hear about the civil wedding and was excited for E and me. They wanted to see photos and I felt a bit bad that I don’t actually have that many photos of the day on my phone. I didn’t take any (I was too busy, and I can’t take good photos on my phone because of tremor issues), but I have a couple E’s mother took and one or two from the dinner we had with E’s friends and family in the evening, but that’s it. To be honest, the wedding itself took literally one minute. There wasn’t much time to take a photo, although we do have a short video of E jumping up and down excitedly and hugging me when we were told we were married.

I was pretty tired when I got home, even though volunteering doesn’t actually take that long.  I did a few things this afternoon (collected my prescription, collected the parcel a neighbour took in for us yesterday, and cooked dinner, somehow forgetting to add the coriander and so cooking it extra long once I added it in), but I felt I didn’t actually do that much.  It is hard to do energy accounting to balance my activity level with my energy level when I don’t know how much energy things will need, nor is it easy to reduce my desired activity level when I feel so overwhelmed with things to do.

One thing I did do today was a cheshbon nafesh. This literally means “an accounting for the soul,” which sounds very pompous and portentous, but it basically means a self-assessment of how I’ve been over the last (Jewish) year, in advance of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). I won’t go into what I wrote, but it seemed less illuminating than in previous years, but maybe that just means I have a more realistic view of where I am in my life than in previous years.

***

I got a letter offering me an appointment with a psychiatrist, I assume to talk about reducing my medication. It spelt my name wrongly (my first name, the most popular boys’ name in the country for the year I was born). The letter said I needed to phone to confirm the appointment or it would be cancelled, but it didn’t specify the number to call. I called the appointments line number printed on the letterhead, but no one answered. So NHS. I phoned a second time, more than five minutes before 5pm, but it went to the answerphone even though the message said they’re open until 5pm. I left a message saying that I didn’t know if this was the right number and could they phone back to either confirm my confirmation or give me the right number, but I was flustered enough that I forgot to give my number, so had to phone back again.  It is a worryingly Kafkaesque thing: you have to phone to confirm, but we won’t tell you the number and we won’t answer the phone.

Coincidentally, someone on the autism forum was complaining about lack of NHS funding for autism support and mental healthcare in general. I didn’t say anything, but lately I’ve been wondering how much it would cost to fund the NHS to such a level that everyone who used it got good treatment, equivalent to the lowest level (at least) of private healthcare. I don’t know how to calculate this, but I suspect it would be far more costly than any government could ever afford, even without taking into account the fact that some healthcare is potentially limitless in application.

I did a quick back of an envelope calculation with some statistics via the internet (from The Office of National Statistics and health charities).

UK population: ca68,000,000.

Adult population (approximate, as the statistics did not break down easily that way): ca56,000,000.

Approximately one in four people experience a mental health problem each year.

Therefore the adult mentally ill population each year: ca14,000,000.

I’m not sure how much “good enough” therapy costs.  I’ve usually been charged around £30 an hour, but those have been discounted rates as I am on a low income.  Looking online gave anything up to £100 as hourly rates, so I guessed at £50 as an average “normal profit” level (“normal profit” is the economic term for the rate where all costs are covered with no extra profit).

This being the case, one hour of therapy per person in the UK: ca£700,000,000.

Therefore one hour therapy per person per week for one year: ca£36,400,000,000 (£36.4 billion).

Annual NHS annual budget for the next few years is currently predicted in the range of £175,000,000,000p.a. (£175 billion).  (Incidentally, the table shows that, in real terms, the NHS budget has risen a little since the last Labour government, not fallen.)

Therefore funding one weekly therapy session for a year for every person diagnosed with a mental health issue in the UK would take up more than 20% of the entire annual NHS budget – not the mental health budget, the entire budget.  This is clearly not feasible.  I don’t know what the solution is, if there is one. At any rate, it shows why NHS admin is so far below par; it really isn’t a priority in an inherently overloaded system.

(Obviously there are a number of assumptions here that may not be correct, as this was just a quick calculation.  For one thing, not all patients would need a full year of treatment, although others would need more than one session a week. But I just wanted to illustrate my thesis that the NHS is always going to be overloaded; it’s not the fault of this government strategy or that funding cutback.)

Not Functioning

I feel completely burnt out today. I had some not very restful sleep with a strange and slightly disturbing dream. I’m struggling to do anything, although I’m trying to do my pre-Shabbat chores and some visa document scanning/printing. I feel almost physically ill with exhaustion. I lay down in a dim room for half an hour just now which helped, although I’m still not sure if I’ll go to shul (synagogue) tonight.

I discovered that the guy I spoke to yesterday from the building society, who supposedly told me how to print an official PDF statement from my online account, was wrong, or the site isn’t working properly. Either way, I can’t get what I need for the visa, so I’ll have to phone the local branch next week and collect it in person, if I can explain myself adequately, which I worry about after the difficult phone calls yesterday. I hate doing stuff over the phone and in person. I feel like I really can’t cope with those when I’m burnt out and at the end of my tether. (Awareness of my autism has definitely sapped my self-confidence.)

I’m also worried about E’s visa application being rejected for some trivial reason or other. This fear has been worsened by the realisation that I have to declare the benefit money I was mistakenly paid by the Department of Work and Pensions (they continued paying me benefits after I repeatedly told them I was now earning too much to qualify) as it will be visible on the bank statements requested, so I can’t deny it or even just omit it. Incompetent bureaucrats.

I worry how E and I would cope with having children, given our low energy levels (for different reasons). Hopefully E’s energy will return soon, but I worry that she has long COVID. As for myself, I am wondering if I should pay for a private sleep study to get some idea of whether I really do have a sleep disorder, but private medical care is so rare here that I’m not entirely sure how I would do it. I did google and found somewhere that looks possible, but I have not had time yet to investigate how reliable it is. To be honest, I feel that, if nothing else, I need to know I have a real issue to stop feeling guilty for having missed so much shul (synagogue) over the years, although, as I can get up for work, realistically social anxiety is probably a factor there too, combined with my feelings of not fitting in to the frum (religious Jewish) community. That feeling of guilt is always bad at this time of year, both because of the emphasis on growth and repentance and the many long shul services over the festivals with much greater than usual attendance, including the special mitzvah (commandment) of hearing the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

After the Event

I miss E.   I feel this a lot.  To my surprise, living on different continents turned out to be a lot harder now we’re legally married, even though I think of the religious wedding, which we haven’t had yet, as the main wedding, not the civil one last week.  Even if the civil wedding was just a piece of paper, it’s changed the dynamic of the relationship forever.  I’m not sure if this proves or disproves the various rabbis and religious teachers I’ve heard over the years say that marriage is different to living together even if it is just a piece of paper.  It does feel different, but they presumably meant that a religious wedding performed by a rabbi was not just a piece of paper, not a civil one performed the City Clerk of New York.

I struggled at work for other reasons too.  I texted E that “I feel pretty awful, physically as well as emotionally.”  Then I was worried she would panic and texted that I felt, “Not awful awful, but not great, overloaded, exhausted, sleep-deprived, peopled out, nearly burnt out awful.”  Then I stayed late after work to phone my bank and building society to get statements on headed paper to submit to the Home Office for E’s visa.  This was a whole complicated thing that took forty-five minutes, but fortunately for you, I’m too tired to go into it now.

***

I had a slightly awkward goodbye to my aunt and uncle last night.  I was incredibly tired and just wanted to go to bed (I had in fact been getting into bed when I remembered they were leaving very early in the morning and I wouldn’t see them), but they wanted to talk.  That was awkward in itself, but my aunt asked if I was OK hugging.  I wasn’t, but I didn’t manage to express the mixture of religious and autistic reasons why not. She was OK with it, but I still felt guilty as, if I’m OK hugging E, surely I should not observe the rules of shomrei negiah (not touching women I’m not closely related to by blood or marriage – an aunt by marriage isn’t close enough) at all?  But I don’t feel like that, although explaining why is hard.  It’s also hard to separate religious reasons for not touching from autistic reasons, which are just as significant. It doesn’t help that my relationships with so many of my relatives are complex and hard to describe and fitting physical contact into them is even harder.

I actually was late getting up this morning because I thought I heard my uncle and aunt still up and couldn’t face peopling at 6.30am.  Eventually I had to get up for work and discovered they had long gone.

***

JYP said that, “holding yourself to an expectation about work based on school performance from a decade or two ago is not going to help you in any way.”  This is true, but I think my perseverating over my childhood success and current failure is a way of trying to grieve the life I thought I would have and which I do not have due to my autism.  I think this is part of the “bargaining” phase of the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross grief model.  I can’t change the fact that I’m autistic, or that I was bullied at school, that I was lonely and depressed at Oxford, that I haven’t built a career, and that I messed up various friendships, all because of autism, so I toy with the idea of somehow living in a different past to make it better for myself.

***

As long-term readers have probably noticed, I worry a lot that I’m not a good Jew, in part because of my various health and brain-wiring issues. I worry about this more at this time of year, in the run up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement).  Maybe I have reasonable excuses for my behaviour, but it’s still not the ideal state, and that’s hard to deal with.  It’s easy to compare myself to other frum (religious) people who seem to be doing much better. I spend all year struggling so hard to live my Jewish life, and then it gets to the month Elul (the current month, immediately before these festivals) and suddenly I’m supposed to give 110% (even before the immense practical effort needed to get through the festivals).

It’s hard. I usually end up looking for reassurance around this time of year. I try to focus on what I am doing despite the effort involved. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said to look for “good points,” in your personality and history, even if only one or two things that are good about you so that you don’t give up on yourself.

I feel like I have spent my life telling myself I will live the frum life I want when I leave home, when I’m over depression, when I have a ‘proper’ job, when I sort my sleep issues, when I’m married… Along the way I ended up a different Jewish life, maybe better, maybe worse, maybe just different.  I feel like it’s the Torah of bedieved, meaning “after the event.”  Often there is a halakhic (Jewish legal) ruling that in the first instance do X, but if that’s not possible, or if you did Y instead of X for some reason, bedieved, after the event, that’s OK.  I feel that everything I do is bedieved, OK after the event, but far from ideal.

On the other hand, if I hadn’t led this after the event life, maybe my family and E would not have been moved to become more religious, and certainly it would have been harder to stay on good terms with them.  Maybe the after the event of kashrut or Shabbat is the in the first instance of honouring parents and ensuring domestic harmony.  Life is complicated.

***

I find to my surprise that I have things to say about the queen, alehah hashalom, but not the energy or wherewithal to write them.  This blog is less a record of my interesting (or possibly interesting) thoughts and more an attempt to structure and process my life to try to make sense of it.

One In, One Out

I spent the afternoon printing and scanning bank statements for E’s visa application (to prove we will have enough money), only to discover they need to be on bank stationery, stamped by the bank or accompanied by a letter from the bank to authenticate them.  I know from experience that my bank simply will not print bank statements more than three months old, so it looks like I’m going to have to phone them to get some kind of appointment to get the statements printed or authenticated there, and also at my building society, as I need proof for both my current account and my savings account.  This is yet another hassle and has left me feeling close to burnout.  Other than that, I did go for a walk (I need it after that), but did very little Torah study, or anything else productive.

I feel exhausted and close to being overwhelmed and perhaps burning out.  I’ve gone in the space of a week and a half from getting married (civil wedding) in a foreign country, to leaving my bride of one day (who is still weak from COVID) to come back to the UK, to going straight back to work, then having my aunt and uncle staying with us (me and my parents) and trying to sort out the visa so E can follow me to the UK ASAP.  I haven’t had time to process the civil wedding, to process being separated from E for an indeterminate period, or even to just be myself for long periods without having to mask around other people.  And on top of all that, I have the oncoming stresses (religious, emotional, practical, social) of the Jewish autumn holiday season and the slow dying of the light as we get to autumn, with the risk of triggering depression and maybe anxiety in me.  I really feel like I need some self-care time, but I’m not sure when I can do that and I feel guilty about even thinking about it.  I watched Doctor Who for twenty-five minutes over dinner, but it doesn’t really begin to address that.

My parents are away next week.  That sounds like it might be a break from peopling, but my mood does tend to dip when I’m in my house alone, even aside from extra chores.  What I really need is to live with my best friend, but she’s in New York.

***

I sometimes I feel I have a “one in, one out” system on my blog whereby when I gain a new reader, I lose an old one, and I feel that’s happened recently.  I’m sad and vaguely worried that I did something wrong, but also aware that friendships tend to be transient, particularly online ones.  I do wonder sometimes about blog readers of years past who just vanished one day, particularly if they weren’t active bloggers themselves for me to see if they were still doing anything, but I know I’ve also stopped reading blogs for reasons that have nothing to do with the writers and everything to do with where I was with my life.

I did write something in comment on someone else’s blog recently about being diagnosed autistic (this was someone who doesn’t know about this blog and only knows me via my old, non-anonymous, pre-autism Blogger identity).  I felt in a way that I needed to apologise for and explain my sometimes-inept behaviour over the years, but I think I just freaked her out.  I guess it is a big thing to suddenly write about in a post that wasn’t entirely connected.  I do tend to feel the need to apologise to people for how I behaved before I knew I was on the spectrum when maybe I should just draw a line under it and move on.  My first novel was, on some level, a way of doing this, which I guess is one reason why I’m tempted to just rewrite to remove most of the autism stuff.

How to Destupidify myself?

I didn’t have work today, J having switched my days this week.  This was probably for the best, as I slept a long time after all the stuff I was doing yesterday (tax return, visa form).  The house was almost empty when I woke up, just me and Dad.  I know that’s the usual number of people on a weekday, but after so many being around for the last few days, it felt empty.  Dad made some enquiries on my behalf about changing shul (synagogue) membership to get married by my parents’ rabbi. We don’t have to change it for a while.  When we do change, I think we get a year of free membership in any shul in the United Synagogue, so it’s worth not changing that until nearer the time, although Dad feels I should continue with membership of my current shul until then “just in case” (this is him being morbid, meaning so that I’m not left without burial membership anywhere for a number of months, just in case I drop dead suddenly). I’ll go to my parents’ shul for the Yom Tovim (festivals) as my shul will be in its new premises, twice as far away. If I wasn’t getting married, or was getting married there, I might have still gone there, but it seems silly when I won’t be going there much longer anyway.

Today was mostly spent on the tax return (which was a real headache, but which I still need to spend some time on, despite having spent about three hours on it already) and scanning documents for E’s visa application.  I didn’t manage much of the latter, as the tax return left me exhausted. I did get a walk in, which I didn’t manage yesterday, but I only did a few minutes of Torah study, compared with more yesterday.

I miss E a lot and I know she misses me.  It’s hard being apart for so long when we already feel married.

I did manage to phone about pre-marriage classes for E and myself, which is positive, especially as I had a lot of social anxiety about the call beforehand.

***

As I mentioned, I’ve been filling in my tax return.  It seems really difficult.  I feel like, “I’m autistic, I’m supposed to be good with numbers and methodical; I am (or at least I was) a librarian, which is also supposed to make me methodical; so why do I always struggle to find the documents I need, and to find the right figures on the documents once I’ve got them?”  The papers aren’t even in that much of a mess, they’re actually organised reasonably well, but somehow the piece of paper I need isn’t ever where it should be.  And I’m not that good with numbers.  Even at school, where I got good grades in maths and even did A-level physics, I wasn’t intuitively good with numbers the way some of my geeky friends were.  Maths was always a second language I could translate into in my head, but not intuitively think in.

Doing things like this just leaves me confused as I go from document to document.  I have to keep reminding myself which tax year I’m doing this for, otherwise I’ll forget and enter the wrong data.  Just to confuse myself further, midway through the last tax year, I switched from being a freelance contractor to a permanent staff member, although still doing the same job in the same institution.

I just feel incompetent these days.  At school, I was a high achiever, academically (socially was another story), but I think I survived by putting myself in a protective bubble for fourteen years, memorising vast amounts of data and filtering out the real world (noise, smells, social interactions, bullies, eventually even out-of-school-activities and almost everything other than work in the end).  My good memory for trivia stood me in good stead in exams, but after that, I had to go into university and then into the world, and suddenly critical thinking skills, analytical skills, problem-solving skills, flexibility and creativity were all more important than just being able to remember lots of facts or even remembering other people’s arguments.

I have two degrees, but I work two days a week in a low-skill job which I am over-qualified for, but in which I still regularly make big mistakes.  The mistakes are probably partly out of boredom, but also from having to work on multiple documents at once or just my inability to remember things nowadays.  My mistakes fuel my low self-esteem, which in turn probably causes more mistakes as I assume I will fail.  I feel like somewhere along the line, after years of autistic burnout and mental illness, I just got stupid and I don’t know how to destupidify myself.  Sadly, I think anecdotal evidence indicates that prolonged autistic burnout, and prolonged bouts of mental illness, can both lead to a decline in cognitive ability.  It now looks like I have a sleep disorder too, so I can throw sleep deprivation into the mix too.

***

Liz Truss is the new Prime Minister.  I don’t really have any thoughts about this, except that it cements my feeling that I can’t vote for any current political party.  I think I dreamt about Gladstone last night, although I don’t remember the details.   I do feel the world in general has a terrible crisis of leadership at the moment, although realistically great leaders only come around every quarter-century or so.

The Civil Wedding

Work today was dull and very quiet as J wasn’t in the office. I did get to go to the bank. I went into the charity shop on the way home from work (despite having acquired several new books in New York) and bought a copy of the third Harry Potter book for £1, which was good. Otherwise, things are quiet although my uncle is coming to stay for the weekend, and my aunt for a whole week, which I’m slightly nervous about, as I really feel I need a quiet pause after my civil wedding New York trip and before the many, many things I still have to do in the near future. Regardless, I don’t have much to say about today, so I will write up my New York trip/wedding.

Tuesday 23 August

I flew to New York. I got through the check in and security at Heathrow Airport in the morning, but found the whole experience very overwhelming. The crowds, the noise, the invasiveness of security checks, the difficulties I had communicating with staff because of sensory overload and processing issues… I decided that before my next trip I will buy a “invisible disability” lanyard [I’ve just checked and these are actually called hidden disability lanyards]. It has no legal status and may not do much, but it might alert the staff to the fact that I might look lost or overwhelmed, need to be spoken to patiently and clearly or need instructions repeated. It’s kind of depressing that I’m that disabled, though, and that not everyone will recognise it. I would probably only wear it at the airport and similar places; I can cope with everyday shopping and the like.

I texted my parents to tell them this, and in the resulting WhatsApp conversation, “invisible disability lanyard” became “invisibility lanyard” (I guess because of autocorrect), which I think I would like more.

I had some awkward interactions on the plane too, an awkward attempt to get past a stewardess in a narrow aisle where I panicked and asked if I could squeeze past her instead of just waiting for her to go past me, and an Israeli guy who asked me about kosher food in Hebrew without my being able to hear what he was saying over the plane noise, or to understand more than a few words of what I did hear of his Hebrew or to know what his personal kashrut standards are to judge whether he would eat the food or not. Beyond that, I was masked (although it was not compulsory and few other people were), which just made things worse as it was impossible to smile and seem open and friendly.

To my surprise, I got through immigration quickly. When I went in January, the immigration officer seemed suspicious of me, and I got flustered and struggled to remember things (autism lanyard needed again). This time the officer seemed bored and uninterested in me, which I suppose was good. I didn’t get a headache on the plane, perhaps because I bought a lot of water at the airport, but I did feel sick in the taxi to the hotel. I listened to ABBA to drown out the loop of TV adverts being played in the taxi and tried to shut my eyes to avoid seeing the little TV (why are video screens everywhere these days? Really not good for those of us who get overloaded easily), although looking out the window too much worsened the travel sickness.

When I got to the hotel I had a nice view over the East River and one of the bridges as well as the streets far below. I was on the fourteenth floor (actually the thirteenth, but not labelled as such) and at that height even New York traffic seemed peaceful. I met with E, who was still too sick from COVID to come to meet me at the airport, and we did some shopping and went for dinner at a pita place (well, I had dinner; she wasn’t hungry). There was a Modern Orthodox-looking guy there who I guessed was the owner and a Haredi-looking one who seemed like the mashgiach (kashrut supervisor). They had an argument and I really thought they were going to start trading blows, but they pulled back from the brink, at least while we were there. I got to bed about 11.30pm, which seemed early, but to me it was 4.30am BST.

Wednesday 24 August

I slept badly. The pillow was uncomfortable, the air conditioning was too loud and I woke with a slight headache that lasted intermittently all day. E and I tried to go to The Book Cellar, a nice second-hand bookshop, but it was shut all week. Then we tried to go to the Metropolitan Museum, but it turned out to be shut on Wednesdays. By this time E was feeling unwell and my headache was getting worse, so we went to E’s apartment, ate takeaway pizza and watched Doctor Who.

Thursday 25 August

This was another headachey day. I had insomnia in the night as well as a headache and woke at 5.50am feeling very hot. I had to get up early, but not that early, but I couldn’t get back to sleep.

We went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau to get our wedding licence, and I felt really happy. I had seen the civil wedding merely as a legal technicality, but from this point I was really excited about it. After getting the licence E and I wandered around the nearby area, which was Chinatown. It was interesting looking at the Chinese shops, including live lobsters and crabs. We moved into more of a hipster area where we knew there was a kosher pickle shop (yes, a shop that sells only pickled vegetables) and an adjoining kosher pickle restaurant (yes, all the items on the menu involve pickled vegetables). We ate there on my last trip too and liked it. You wouldn’t want to eat there every day, but it was fun. We had lunch, on the way passing the only yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) left on the Lower East Side, which I think was Rabbi Moshe Feinstein’s yeshivah, and we browsed a second-hand bookshop (yes, we both like bookshops a lot).

We went to an open air rooftop Italian restaurant for dinner (E still only eats outdoors in restaurants). It was nice and my ravioli was good, but the portions were small and my headache had got quite bad and was threatening to turn into a full-blown migraine, so we went back to E’s apartment and watched Doctor Who again. After a while I went back to my hotel room. The headache was easing, but I pottered around the room without really doing anything until late as I often do when recovering from a headache.

Friday and Saturday 27 August

On Friday I massively overslept, perhaps unsurprisingly. E and I did Shabbat (Sabbath) food shopping and not much else, aside from just hanging out together. We spent most of Shabbat together too. We had bought some sushi. Due to a misunderstanding between us about what constitutes a “roll” of sushi (one little morsel or a whole bunch of them together before cutting — I admit that I was incorrect here), we ended up with a LOT of sushi, but it was very nice. We read a lot and talked. I didn’t get a headache, which I suspect was because I didn’t wear my tzitzit (fringed under-garment religious Jewish men wear) and undershirt (tzitzit should not be worn directly against the skin). I did get a bit of a stomach ache in the evening, though.

Sunday 28 August

I had a weird dream that I was in school with one of my science teachers. I had forgotten my books or homework and felt I needed to apologise as I used to be efficient, but was now diagnosed autistic so I couldn’t be efficient any more. There is, I suspect, a lot to unpack here about my feelings of incompetence currently contrasted with my high achievement at school, my feelings that that incompetence is permanent despite my history of academic success, and my desire to apologise to people, now and in the past, for my actions and especially for my autism.

After I got up, E and I went shopping, but E was soon overwhelmed with COVID exhaustion, so we went back to her apartment and I read while she worked. In the evening, her parents arrived in New York and came to see us. I had only met her mother briefly before this and I only knew her father from Zoom. I tried to speak more than I usually do, but I’m not sure how well I managed. I feel that I’m more than a little like her father, which I hope is good.

Monday 29 August — The Civil Wedding

Monday was the big day. E and I went to the Office of the City Clerk/Marriage Bureau again to get married! Because of continuing COVID provisions, only one person was allowed in with us (as the witness), so E’s mother came in and her father waited outside (my parents decided not to come due to Mum’s heart attack). We had a long wait, then filled in some more paperwork, then waited again, in the wrong place (either because we were misinformed or because it was so noisy that we could not hear the correct information) before being summoned into a secular chapel.

The chapel was a fairly empty room with a sofa and a lectern fitted with an anti-COVID screen. E and I vowed to love and cherish each other, which I was pleased about, as vows and saying “I do” are not part of the traditional Jewish wedding service. The service lasted about one minute. There is video footage E’s mother recorded of E bouncing up and down with joy and me smiling and standing a bit rigidly before hugging. This quickly went around the family WhatsApp groups; apparently one of my cousins said I looked really happy, but like I didn’t know what to do. This was pretty much true. I’m glad I realised I was happy, as alexithymia means I often have to deduce my emotions from my actions, but I’ve been able to recognise happiness for the last few days.

Then, instead of enjoying the day, we had to wait some more to get an extended marriage certificate, and then go to another building to get that notarised, as the British Home Office requires a more detailed marriage certificate than is usually issued by the State of New York (possibly I’m getting some of the legal terms wrong here, but you get the idea). When we got the certificate notarised, the queue for the notary was next to the queue for divorce papers, which was somewhat sobering, the secular equivalent of the Jewish custom of breaking a glass at a wedding. We possibly also need an apostille, which is apparently another certificate so that the Home Office will accept the marriage certificate. However, it was not clear if we need this and it would entail a wait of several weeks, so we decided to leave that for now.

I spent most of the day just following E, as she was much more on top of what we needed to do, plus I couldn’t really hear anything in the Marriage Bureau because it was so noisy and I was having sensory overload and processing issues again. I’m glad the actual wedding was quiet.

On the way back to E’s apartment, we passed a free bookshelf, and I picked up a graphic novel called everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too (sic) by jomny sun (sic). It’s a good day when a free book isn’t remotely the most exciting or joyous thing that happens.

In the evening, we went for dinner with some of E’s friends and family. I was nervous about doing something so social with so many people I didn’t know (eight people, plus E’s parents who I don’t know that well). However, I had a really good time. I tried to speak a bit, admittedly with mixed success. But it was very enjoyable. Everyone seemed very nice and welcoming. Slightly surreally, one person asked me to explain what A-levels and O-levels are, as he watches a lot of Inspector Morse and apparently the terms come up a lot.

E and I watched some more Doctor Who afterwards, which was a nice end to the day.

Tuesday 30 August

Tuesday was a somewhat sad day, as I had to return home. To mitigate it somewhat, we went to the now-open Book Cellar. I bought five books for $10 (actually $10.07, but they waived the change), one for E and four for myself. The four I bought myself were a science fiction short story anthology, a warped-but-readable copy of James Bond novel Live and Let Die (a bargain at $1 due to the warping, probably the result of water-damage), a copy of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Man is Not Alone and a hardback book on the eight vice-presidents of the United States who became president as a result of their predecessor dying. The latter was another bargain: $1 for a hardback, and a signed one at that[1]. The shop assistant was rather sad that someone gave away a signed copy; that it ended up on the $1 clearance shelf was adding insult to injury. I had wanted to read up on American history, plus I have a weird interest in politicians who end up in power unexpectedly due to death, scandal or political machinations ending the career of their predecessors, so this was really a good find.

E and I hung out together until it was time for me to go. We were both sad at having to leave so soon, but, given that I have limited holiday time and we don’t know when E will get her visa to come to the UK, it made sense to save some of my holiday days for another visit later in the year. JFK seemed even busier than Heathrow and security was a bit of a nightmare, including sniffer dogs (searching for drugs or explosives? I wondered). After getting past security, I listed to my playlist of James Bond music, which made mass transit, economy-class travel seem much more exciting than it actually is. Then I nearly missed the flight because I was confused about when I should board.

The plane sat on the tarmac on the runway for about an hour before we took off. I’m not sure why. The outward plane had been delayed too, caught up the time, nearly landed, then flew off again because of something on the runway. It makes me worry a bit about JFK airport. I read the everyone’s a aliebn book in the hour of waiting. I have mixed feelings. It wants to a be a twenty-first century The Little Prince, but it’s not as good. It’s a bit twee. There’s a lot about the importance of love, friendship, creativity and self-expression, as you would expect from this type of book, but there’s nothing more. I don’t know if that’s a problem I have with the book or the culture that produced it. And the ‘cute’ incorrect spelling becomes annoying very quickly (my brain just autocorrected everything after a while).

It was a night flight. I can’t sleep on planes, so I read until I was too tired and then rested and, in desperation, watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory, which was even less funny than I remembered (I feel the series presents a very selective and somewhat negative view of people with Asperger’s, even though none of the characters officially has it). My parents met me at the station, I struggled through a day of jet lag without falling asleep, and that’s pretty much it.

E and I feel really weird now. We feel that we should be together now, but we aren’t, and we don’t have even a vague idea of when we will be together again. I probably feel weirder than E, as I’m back with my parents and feeling very much not like a mature and married man and more like an autistic man-child again. Nevertheless, we’re both really happy to have got this far. There probably is much more to say about processing the emotions of the civil wedding and all it entails (which I have only just begun doing, realistically) and I might write more over the coming days, but it’s 1am and I should be getting to bed.

[1] Signed by the author and not one of the presidents, sadly.

Just Married and Sleep-Deprived (Not Like That)

I have notes on my phone for a long post about the last week (or more likely several posts, over a number of days). Suffice to say for now that E and I are married, in the eyes of the City Clerk of New York if not necessarily in the eyes of God (yet). It is strange to be married, which I thought would never really happen for me. It’s strange to be married and on a different continent to my wife with no way of knowing when we’ll be together again, or together permanently. It’s strange to be married and not knowing when I will actually be able to live with (sleep with) my wife. I understand that people often take a while to adjust to getting married, but I think for E and me, it will be harder than for most.

As I say, I hope to relate some (not all) of what happened over the last nine days soon. I hope to also relate some of the thoughts I think I’ll have about adjusting to being married and separated for immigration reasons as well as some thoughts about religious differences between spouses. I might also add thoughts on Elul, the month of moral and religious introspection that is the run up to the Yamim Noraim, the Jewish High Holy Days, and wondering how to balance the desire for growth and religious connection (with God, but also with other Jews doing this now and in the past) with my emotional needs as someone with low self-esteem and perhaps still on some level adjusting to my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis.

However, I may not have time. I have a huge list of things to do soon to move on with the second part of E and my marriage (applying for spouse visa, organising the religious wedding and house-hunting), plus other chores like filling in my tax return and my desire to have another go at trying to set myself up as a freelance proof-reader and editor to earn more money for when E and I are married. Then there is my work-in-progress novel to work on, plus, I think I need to reformat my first novel and my work-in-progress to a more up-to-date format, and to keep submitting the first novel to agents. I feel that there’s other stuff to do that I can’t even remember right now. Some of these things are probably going to fall by the wayside until after the religious wedding.

I even had a long list of things to do today, although I have put some aside for now. It also has to be said that for some time now, I’ve felt that I haven’t had the time for more discursive posts about my thoughts of Judaism, autism, mental illness and the links between them, and when I have had the time, I’ve used it for fiction writing. So who knows what I will write or when?

Certainly today I don’t feel up to blogging anything detailed or complicated. I’m operating on not nearly enough sleep. Monday was a very busy day with an early start, civil wedding ceremony, then dinner with a whole bunch of E’s friends and relations. I slept for about seven hours after that, but really I needed more time to recover. However, I had to check out of my hotel. Then last night I had a night flight and didn’t get any sleep at all. I’m currently surviving on coffee and tea. I feel not so much tired as lightheaded and sleep-deprived, but I didn’t want to doze during the day as that would mess up my sleep patterns further. I’d like to get an early night, as I have work tomorrow.

All that said, I do intend to blog the wedding here while moving forward with “processing” thoughts, so posts will probably split between the present and the recent past for a bit while I catch up. I hope that’s not too confusing.

***

I watched a James Bond film to try to stay awake. I picked The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton’s first film as Bond and an attempt to move the franchise in a more serious and realistic direction after the Roger Moore films. It was good, although the double agent/triple agent plot is more like John le Carre than James Bond. It’s slightly weird how rarely the James Bond film franchise actually dealt directly with the Cold War (even here technically the villains are a rogue Russian spy and an American arms dealer, not the Soviet spy master who seemed to be the villain at first).

T-Minus One

I was woken up too early by my work alarm, which I’d forgotten to turn off. I didn’t feel too tired, but went back to sleep, then overslept and felt tired. I’m beginning to feel I have to sleep for several hours for my sleep disorder to kick in. It seems that I sleep quite rigidly on my side for a few hours and am fine, but then I turn over and probably start having problems breathing. This would explain why it’s easier to get up on work days, when I tend to sleep less, or why I can be refreshed from a two hour nap more than a whole night’s sleep. This is all speculation, but if it’s true, maybe I should sleep less at night and nap during the day.

I woke up (second time) quite anxious and in “stay in bed to avoid the world” mode. I’m worried about my trip, not seeing E, but the practical things like keeping Shabbat in a non-kosher hotel and getting up early most mornings. Also the fact that my hotel is significantly further from E than the airbnb I stayed at in January. My anxiety ebbed and flowed during the day, but I stayed pretty nervous. Maybe that’s normal, as I’m doing some things that are relatively anxiety-provoking in general (travelling, with COVID around; getting married; spending time with my in-laws who I still don’t really know) or for someone on the spectrum (travelling alone, staying in a hotel for the first time in years). I just want to fast forward through the next twenty-four hours until I’m settled in New York, or, more accurately, the next X months until E and I are fully married and living together.

I tried to cope with anxiety by trying to focus on doing just one thing, then the next thing, and so on. I spent a lot of the day packing. It took a long time because I would be anxious or get distracted or both. I did also go for a walk. I didn’t really do any Torah study, unless you count listening to half an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on mental illness and halakhah (Jewish law). That was about it for the day.

I am probably taking too many books with me: two novels (one serious, one lighter), two Jewish books for Torah study (again, one heavier than the other) as well as When Rabbis Abuse because I thought I could make some progress with it on the long flight out (probably not on the night flight home, but maybe). Also my siddur (prayerbook), the latest Doctor Who Magazine and a couple of printed out articles from the internet (I dislike reading long things online). That’s probably a lot for eight and a bit days, but I like to have some choice of reading material in general and particularly on the flight, as I struggle to read one thing for eight hours solid.

Well, this time tomorrow, all going to plan, I will be in New York. This time next week, all going to plan, I will be civilly married. The other good news for the day is that E’s Jewish and single status has been certified by the Beth Din (rabbinical court) of America. They spelt her name wrong, though, so we have to get that corrected before we send it on to the London Beth Din. Once we’ve done that, we can move on with aspects of the religious wedding, although we won’t be able to really make progress until E gets her spouse visa from the Home Office, which could be another six months after the civil wedding next week.

I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again. I might do so during the next week, but if I do, I will be posting from my phone and I have fat fingers, so any post will probably be shorter and less accurate than usual.

“On and on and on/Keep onrocking, baby/Till the night is gone”

Another post pasted from Word because of WordPress problems.  I hope the formatting is OK!  EDIT: It isn’t, but it’s too late, and I’m too tired, to sort it.  Sorry!  Try guessing where the paragraph breaks go!  Think of it as an educational game! Shabbat (the Sabbath) was OK, albeit without shul (synagogue) for reasons I explained in my last post. I often wonder if/how I’m going to get back into being a regular shul-goer. I also slept too much.  I drank some really strong coffee (about twice as strong as I usually make it) after Shabbat lunch to stay awake, but I fell asleep anyway. I really do think Shabbat meals with my talkative parents really wipes me out at the moment. I just end up going into autistic shutdown (lying down with eyes shut, not doing anything) and after that, it’s really easy to fall asleep, even after having drunk coffee. I do wonder how I will cope with having children in my forties, with autism. Today I struggled to get up again and felt pretty anxious and overwhelmed when I did.  I spoke to my rabbi mentor and did a few things, mostly preparation for my New York trip, although I haven’t really started packing yet.  I’ll have to do that all tomorrow.  I feel like I wasted the day, but that’s probably being a little unfair on myself.  The temperature is lower than in the heatwave(s), but it’s been quite humid and uncomfortable, which just makes things even harder for me. *** Shabbat is going out (finishing — we anthropomorphise Shabbat as a person who “comes in” and “goes out”) about nine o’clock now, down from about ten-thirty in the midst of summer, a reminder that autumn is round the corner. I don’t mind autumn so much, at least in theory, but it tends to be dominated by the autumn Jewish festivals which I find increasingly difficult to navigate, for some reason. It’s also a reminder that winter, with its lack of sunlight, bad weather and low mood, is coming. Of course, this year I want winter, as E and I need to get through it, or most of it, to get to our religious wedding, although it’s going to be hard struggling through winter on separate continents (neither of us is good at wintering). I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, just that everything feels a bit overwhelming. *** It’s probably not that surprising that I feel overwhelmed, as I have to travel alone to the US in two days, masking (in the “wearing a mask” sense, not the “pretending not to be autistic” sense, although doubtless there will be some of that too), which I’ve got out of the habit of doing.  It’s no longer compulsory on planes, but E and I are worried about me catching COVID and missing our wedding, especially as the COVID rate in New York is about four times higher than the rate in London at the moment.  Then we’re getting married, or at least what I’m thinking of as Wedding Phase 1 (civil wedding). Then there will be perhaps eight months dealing with civil and religious wedding bureaucracy, planning a wedding in the space of a few weeks and house-hunting, probably also while trying to set up some kind of subsidiary career for myself as a proof-reader. All this while still dealing with autism (obviously) and probably some kind of sleep disorder.  I guess it does seem a lot, put that way. Somewhere along the line I’ll hopefully become an uncle too, which is exciting, but will entail more family time. E and I are both completely ready, emotionally, to get married now, so it’s frustrating that we’re going to be delayed for months. Given that we’ve both had some nerves at one time or another, it’s good that we’re both ready now! Even so, the wait is difficult. I spoke to my rabbi mentor today. Aside from being another person on the growing list of people who want to see photos of the civil wedding when it happens (I didn’t know that many people cared!), he agreed with me that living with E rather than my parents will be very good for my mental health and lifestyle generally.  I love my parents, but their personalities and lifestyles are different to my own, or how I want mine to be, whereas E’s are a lot closer. *** I checked my NHS COVID pass (vaccination certification) to check it would be easily visible at the airport.  My heart skipped a beat when it said that the COVID pass was no longer available!  However, this turns out to be for domestic use; the travel pass is still there. *** I finished reading Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. SPOILERS!  I was pleased that the romantic plot was left somewhat unresolved.  Other than that, a lot happened the way I thought it would, except that I thought Eleanor was going to make a mess of planning the office Christmas lunch. Weirdly, the predictability doesn’t really feel like a drawback.  I wanted things to go that way. The novel won the Costa Book Award for First Novel; I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I’m fairly confident that I can write something vaguely in the same ballpark in terms of quality, although attracting an agent, a publisher and readers depends on a lot more than just that.  I think I should include Eleanor… on my standard query letter for my first novel as one of the novels that the agent should compare mine too (as in, “This novel will appeal to readers who enjoyed the portrayal of loneliness in Eleanor Oliphant is  Completely Fine”).  All my other comparison novels are Jewish-themed ones, albeit mainstream ones, which is perhaps off-putting for agents looking for a mainstream novel rather than a “niche” one. I’m reading a couple of big, hardback books that I can’t take to New York and I’m trying to get to sensible pausing points in them, as well as finishing The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, which continues to make me feel uncomfortable in various different, and perhaps contradictory, ways.  That’s probably a conversation better suited for therapy (or E) than my blog, although it probably is a conversation(s) worth having sooner rather than later.  To be fair, I have started both conversations, but they’re really the type of conversations you have to keep coming back to periodically and I’m less good at that. I’ve got to a reasonable pausing point with the novel I’m writing too.  I find that I’m still doing research as I write as I was too excited to start writing to do all my research first.  In any case, I remembered that, for my MA dissertation, I was advised to start writing early in the research process, as research informs writing, but writing also informs research.  I think that holds for fiction as much as academic writing.  I’m also still revising my plan for later chapters.  Writers supposedly divide into planners (who plan) and pantsers (who, I presume, “write by the seat of their pants”).  I’m not really either.  I don’t think I could start a novel without a good idea of where I’m going with it, but I don’t think I could stick rigidly to a plan either.  As I write, I sometimes get a better idea of what the characters would do, and it isn’t always what I planned for them to do. Alternatively, I realise a plot device is too contrived, or something isn’t working, or I think of a better way of doing things, or a new plot thread, so I tweak the plan as I go along. I’ve written five chapters already, but I think I need to go back and add some passages or chapters with some of my more minor characters, so it’s not a shock when I develop them more later in the novel. That’s the sort of stuff that I can’t really plan in advance, I just intuit it as I go along.  I think I’m a much more intuitive person than a logical one, but I tend to discredit intuition, or just not notice and understand it perhaps due to alexithymia (trouble noticing and understanding emotions), so I try to be super-logical and it doesn’t really work because I’m not really that sort of person.  It’s only really in my writing that I give rein to that intuition. I should probably not write so much about writing fiction when I’ve only written one and a bit unpublished novels and a few unpublished short stories!  It’s not like I’m Stephen King.  I find my creative process fascinating, though, maybe because it’s the only area where I really let myself be intuitive and emotional so openly.

Social Interactions

I started to write this post yesterday and ran out of time and energy, as I had a busy day.

Sunday

I had a night of disrupted sleep largely due, I suspect, to the heat.  I struggled to fall asleep, then woke about 6.00am or 7.00am, worried about the blog post I had posted before I went to bed, whether it was too proud, too graphic or even fully true.  I cut a couple of paragraphs and went back to bed, but I was not sure I should have posted second half of the post at all and later removed it completely.  I’m still not sure what was right or wrong in this situation.  It’s hard to be one of the first people to talk about a controversial subject in a particular community. I wrote a long thing in this post that was related and cut that too (but saved it in Word, just in case).

After going back to bed, as I had only had three or four hours of sleep, I slept until noon, which was not good.  Along the way, I had a dream which underlined to me how really scared I am of making a single mistake, so that I never achieve anything.  This is depressing, but I don’t know how to change.   I guess the CBT approach would talk about making deliberate mistakes to get accustomed to them.  I do have a CBT book aimed at teenagers with social anxiety that has a picture of The Person Who Never Made a Mistake.  It’s a blank frame.  I take the point, but it’s still hard to avoid thinking that people aren’t waiting to laugh at me mess stuff up after my childhood bullying experiences.

I’m scared of praise too.   It was getting so much praise for leining (chanting from the Torah) at my bar mitzvah that scared me off doing it again.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came over for tea.  As usual, I struggle to keep up with the five-way (or four-way, as I hardly spoke) conversation.  It has been noted that, for autistic people, the difficulty of keeping up with conversation seems to increase exponentially with the number of people involved.  I would have liked some food, but no one provided any, and I wasn’t sure whether that was deliberate, and, anyway, I’m supposed to be on something vaguely resembling a diet, so I didn’t say anything or get any.

I haven’t mentioned until now that my sister is pregnant, and it is now beginning to show visibly.  My brother-in-law was speaking about his leining (of my bar mitzvah sedra, which somehow made it harder).  I was glad that my civil wedding is soon so that I had something to feel proud of.  By this stage I am used to my (younger) sister being rather ahead of me in life stages. My sister was excited for my civil wedding, but I didn’t realise how much until Mum and Dad told me, as I am not good at reading faces, so I felt a bit bad about that.

Otherwise it was a fairly busy day, with novel writing, wedding paperwork, a little Torah (less than I would have liked), a walk and cooking dinner (very quickly, macaroni cheese).

E and I had a fairly emotional conversation in the evening, in the sense of anxious (not angry).  We’re both worried about some things connected with the wedding, particularly the risk of COVID interfering (E still has COVID at the moment) and are just frustrated that we’re ready to move ahead and immigration bureaucracy is going to freeze us up for months.  We just want to be married.  We finished calmer, but I went to bed a bit emotional and not relaxed.

***

Monday

My recent pattern of sleeping in a heatwave seems to be to struggle to sleep from the heat, then to wake up in the early hours when it cools off.  I really need a duvet to sleep well and lately I’m sleeping under an empty duvet cover or nothing at all.  I feel haven’t slept well for weeks.  I got about for and a half hours sleep.  I am definitely becoming aware of not breathing when wake up.

I struggled at work.  I was in the office by myself for much of the day.  I’m not sure if that was good or bad.  Work was mostly dull and my brain was not working properly to do very much.  I listened to an Orthodox Conundrum podcast on the way to work and while doing boring photocopying and felt bad that I’m not doing anything as socially useful as helping agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious divorce) like the woman in the podcast. I had some more frustration at being away from E. I came home feeling more than a little ill. Dinner helped, but Skyping E again helped more. We are good for each other. And on that note, bed.

Wedding Stuff

Today was a difficult Shabbat (Sabbath) because of the heat.  I went to shul (synagogue) on Friday night, but not today, as it was too hot and Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) were at an awkward time.  I fell asleep quite quickly last night, but woke up in the early hours and struggled to get back to sleep, probably because of the heat.  I think I woke a couple of times in the night gasping for breath again, although I’m not sure how many times or whether it’s happening more often or I’m just paying attention to it now I think I may have sleep apnoea rather than thinking I must have just woken up from a nightmare or similar.

I did some Torah study, including some Talmud study, and a little recreational reading, but it was too hot to do much of anything really.  I ended up sleeping in the afternoon despite not wanting to because the heat made me so drowsy.

***

I can’t believe my civil marriage is in under three weeks (God willing)!  I am nervous, but more about travelling alone, which I’ve only done twice before, than about the wedding itself.  The fears that something would go wrong and E and I would be stuck in engaged or semi-married (civil wedding, but not religious wedding) limbo indefinitely seems to have gone away.  Now there’s some nervousness about all the paperwork (civil and religious) this is going to take, as well as house-hunting and organising the religious wedding.

We want a very small party, although we’re still not sure how many people.  E would like to do just close family.  For a while I wanted some close friends and a couple of more distant cousins I see frequently, but now I’m wondering if close family (counting first cousins, and one or two extras, like my rabbi mentor) might be better.  I’m worried about getting autistically exhausted for days afterwards if I invite too many people, and it’s easier to say ‘No friends’ than to decide who can and can’t come, especially as, realistically, I think some of my closest friends won’t be able to make it.  I worry that all my parents’ friends are expecting to be invited to a Big Fat Jewish Wedding like my sister had, and like their children had, and invited my parents to.  Reciprocity can be a tricky thing.  My biggest worry is that I would like a quorum at the party for shevah brachot (wedding blessings) and I don’t think we’re going to get that with a very small guest list.

By this stage, after having dated on and off since 2018, and having been together continuously since May of last year, but having only spent a total of a couple of weeks together in person, E and I just want to be married.  We are hoping to be married by next Pesach (April 2022), but I’m worried that we won’t manage it.  We can’t submit E’s spouse visa application until after the civil wedding (29 August) and it will take about six months, unless things have improved at the Home Office.  The last we heard, things were delayed as the Home Office struggled to deal with Ukrainian refugees.  That takes us up to the end of February, not leaving much time for organising the wedding and finding somewhere to live, not to mention stocking a new kitchen (small party = few presents).

It is very frustrating being this far apart for so long, as well as not being able to live together (with everything that entails).  It’s kind of embarrassing to say this, but I think it’s only now, age thirty-nine, that I’m ready to get married, or to have sex, not that I would have done one without the other.  Sex in particular has been something I’ve struggled with for years in a way that is not really acceptable to talk about in either the frum (religious Jewish) world or the secular world, wanting to explore it, but being scared to do so as well as subject to religious prohibitions that generated guilt. 

Being a virgin at thirty-nine isn’t particularly normal or acceptable in either community (frum or secular), the assumption being something must be wrong, whereas I think I just wasn’t ready and hadn’t been in the right relationship.  I realise that my previous relationships (mostly just crushes; other than E, I’ve only had two real relationships) wouldn’t have worked, and I sort of intuitively feel that God was making me wait for the right time (and that therefore the religious wedding will come at the right time too), even though I didn’t believe it at the time.  But now I’m ready… and we have to wait another six months or more.

Why D W Stdy Tlmd Wtht Vwls r Pncttn

I’ve been listening to a number of Orthodox Conundrum podcasts about Talmud study lately. On one of them Rabbi Kahn said something along the lines of, “If you don’t know what Talmud study involves, it’s tort law, in a dead language, with no punctuation.” In fact, there are no vowels either, although it’s not all tort law; it actually covers all aspects of life, or at least all aspects of Jewish life in Israel and Babylon a thousand years ago. Tort law is what yeshivahs generally focus on, though, as it’s very hard and is supposed to be good for intellectual development.

I was thinking about the “no punctuation and no vowels” thing. Nowadays you can get editions of the Talmud like the Steinsaltz and the Artscroll that do have the vowels and punctuation added, but these are definitely viewed by most people as lesser and a crutch for poor students, particularly those who did not have a traditional yeshivah education. All these editions with vowels and punctuation include the “classic” page layout too, with the implication being that you should “graduate” to the traditional page at some point. When I study Talmud (which I haven’t been doing so much lately), I do try to study in the original Hebrew/Aramaic, even though I have to use the translation, but these days I study on the page with vowels and punctuation, not the “Vilna Shas” page without them.

I wonder why this is. Torah scrolls are traditionally written without vowels and punctuation too. However, the Masoretes, a group of scribes in the land of Israel from the fifth to tenth centuries, established the authoritative text of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) including vowels and punctuation. Nowadays, Hebrew Bibles are generally printed with vowels and punctuation. If you want to learn how to read from the unpunctuated, unvocalised Torah scroll, you have to use a special book called a Tikkun which recreates the look of a scroll. I have never encountered anyone who says that this is a crutch and that ideally we should read the Torah unvocalised and unpunctuated.

There may be a few reasons for this. The one that seems most important to me is that the idea of mass Talmud study only goes back seventy years or so. Before then, only the intellectual elite were taught it. However, all boys were taught the Torah (at least in theory), but it would be too much to expect five year olds not just to read an ancient text in a dead language (which is quite a big thing to ask in itself), but to read it without vowels or punctuation too. So everyone was taught with those and it just became accepted as normal.

Another possibility is that some difficult passages in the Talmud can be read multiple ways without vowels and punctuation and that can have halakhic (Jewish legal) impact. Bear in mind that the Talmud is structured as a series of debates, not a law code. Without punctuation, it’s not always easy to tell if it is making a statement, asking a question, asking a rhetorical question or just being sarcastic (yes, the Talmud uses sarcasm). So that might be why we aspire to study in a way that makes those ambiguities more visible, so we are aware of the multiple readings possible and not tied to one specific reading. I’m not 100% convinced by this, though, as the same ambiguities can be found in the Torah. The Torah tells us three times not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk, which is seen as the source for the prohibition on eating meat and dairy together, a major part of the kosher (dietary) laws. Yet in the unvocalised text it can be read just as legitimately as “Do not cook a kid in its mother’s fat,” which would obviously be a very different reading. We rely on oral tradition that it should read ‘milk’ and I think the people who see only unvocalised Talmud study as legitimate would be resistant to making “the masses” aware of an ambiguity like this in such a key halakhic area.

I just think it’s very, very strange and I wonder if on some level it’s about creating artificial boundaries and setting a high entrance bar, initially to ensure only the best students could study, but now to force a high standard on all men (perhaps to separate them from women?).

***

Last night I had a very slight headache before I skyped E. I took some tablets anyway, in case it got worse. Over the course of our conversation, it got a lot worse and I had to leave a bit abruptly when it got too much, although it was probably time to end the call anyway, as it was getting late. I don’t know why it got so much worse after taking meds. It did eventually go after I started using a “kool ‘n’ soothe” strip, but, as is often the case after bad headaches, when it went, I was not feeling at all sleepy — even though by this stage it was 1am! I went to bed very late, although I did fall asleep quickly once I got to bed despite the heat.

I ate some ice cream late at night which seems to be becoming a regular Thursday treat, at least while the heatwaves last. I feel like I can go through the week without junk a bit easier knowing I can have this at the end (I also eat less healthily on Shabbat, although better than in the past). The overall trend for me at the moment is to lose weight, though, which is good. It is a struggle to cut back, even though I actually wasn’t eating that much junk objectively, but clomipramine made all the calories go straight to my belly. It is hard sometimes to get to the end of a hard day and not even allow myself one biscuit.

I woke up again struggling to breathe this morning, lying on my stomach. I go to sleep on my side, but apparently turned over in my sleep. Lying flat is worse for sleep apnoea. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I hadn’t been looking for signs of sleep apnoea, as I would have thought I just woke with a start from a dream and that was why I was gasping. This explains to me why I never noticed signs of breathing issues before the doctor suggested it as a reason for disturbed and unrefreshing sleep.

Otherwise it’s the usual end of the week exhaustion/autistic exhaustion/poor sleep exhaustion/whatever exhaustion, worsened by heatwave exhaustion. I did do some novel writing, although I’m a bit ashamed that I had to disconnect the internet to focus. Putting some music on very quietly helped too. Loud music stops me concentrating, but quiet music was neutral or even beneficial for concentrating, which is interesting. I will have to experiment some more with it. I’ve written over 26,000 words now, which is basically a quarter of a novel. I have mixed feelings about it, but I think most authors do.

I’m a bit daunted by the thought of sorting out the wedding paperwork (partly worried I’m going to forget something or leave something out and delay the wedding further), but it’s exciting that E and I will hopefully be married before Pesach (Passover), albeit that that timeline really depends on the Home Office.

Honest Jewish Experience and Novel Submission

I’ve mentioned before that I read therapist Elisheva Liss’ weekly “schmoozeletter,” which combines thoughts on the weekly sedra (Torah reading) with insights from modern psychology and psychotherapy. This week she spoke about people in struggling (but not abusive or clearly not working) marriages. She tries to get them to label their interactions and other aspects of the marriage with marks out of ten, with one for the worst possible experience and ten for the best. Then she tries to get people to accept that a set of perfect tens is unrealistic and that a wider range of values can result in a marriage that, while imperfect, is still rewarding and enjoyable. “Maybe getting to a range of 5-7 would be transformative and beautiful in its own imperfect way, if we stopped fixating on the elusive, unrealistic 10?”

I wondered if I should apply this to my religious life. Maybe I’m looking for perfect tens for my davening (prayer), Torah study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, middot (character traits), emunah (faith) and so on. Perhaps I can accept a religious life that is good enough rather than perfect. I haven’t, as yet, assessed the different parts of my religious life and I’m not sure that giving them an exact score is a good idea, but instead I should try to feel that I don’t have to have perfect concentration and connection when davening, I don’t have to have amazing insights every time I study Torah and so on in order to have a meaningful religious life. I just have to be having a better than average experience regularly.

Part of the problem is knowing what I actually FEEL when davening/studying Torah/etc.? I don’t have an official diagnosis of alexithymia (difficulty recognising and distinguishing my own emotions), but one therapist was very sure that I have that difficulty and that is my own experience too. When I feel that my davening or my Torah study lacks a feeling of connection or joy, perhaps the issue is recognising and distinguishing the emotions rather than actually feeling them. This is supported by the fact that I continued with davening and Torah study during the years when I was severely depressed, often at a reduced level, but it was important for me to do something and that probably indicates more than fear and certainly more than just habit.

Likewise, I believe that God exists, and I can tell that I hold this belief much more strongly than I have in the past, so the fact that I don’t feel a strong connection to Him may be a product of unrecognised emotions rather than absent emotions. That said, thinking about connection with God is an inherently subjective and emotional subject, so maybe I shouldn’t see that as the be all and end all of my religious life.

***

Another thought was prompted by an Orthodox Conundrum podcast featuring Rabbi Pesach Sommer talking about whether it is possible to educate for faith (not indoctrinate). He spoke about Orthodox thinkers that teenagers should be introduced to (I had read most of them, pleasingly) and one was Hillel Zeitlin. Zeitlin is a fairly obscure figure who was raised in a strict Hasidic family in late nineteenth century Poland, stopped being frum as a teenager, getting into secular philosophy and Russian literature, then later became frum again, but combined his passion for philosophy and literature with Judaism, writing about religion in Dostoyevski and Tolstoy from a Jewish perspective alongside articles on Jewish figures like Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Rav Kook and, if I remember correctly, trying to compare Judaism with Eastern religions. He was eventually murdered in the Holocaust.

I was familiar with Zeitlin from a volume of his writings that Jewish Renewal rabbi Arthur Green published a number of years ago and he did inspire me, albeit more by his example than by the writings themselves (as with Franz Rosenzweig). The relevance of this here is that Rabbi Sommer saw Zeitlin as a useful writer because he was not a rabbi and was therefore freer to write about his religious doubts and growth than ordained rabbis. He can therefore be a model of the religious quest, rather than a static view of Judaism and Jewish belief and practice.

The point of all this is that it made me wonder if there is benefit to my recording my thoughts about Judaism and my religious growth, including false starts and wrong turns, after all, precisely because I’m not a rabbi and I don’t need to pretend to be living a perfect religious life. I can be honest and authentic without needing to pretend I have all the answers. I can, in fact, try out different answers without having to be sure that they are “correct.”

***

I struggled to sleep again last night. I got four or five hours sleep and I got up alright this morning, but I made a lot of mistakes at work, perhaps due to tiredness, or to sensory overload from the noise of the air conditioner — or autistic executive function issues, or incompetence, or, or, or…

A small victory: doing mundane tasks while listening to podcasts at work, I listened to a therapist critique the shidduch system of arranged dates in the Orthodox world. She said single young people should enjoy the best years of their lives and not worry about being on the shelf in their early twenties. The “best years of their lives” bit would have depressed me in the past as my teens and twenties were mostly spent unemployed, clinically depressed and very lonely, not doing very much at all, and desperately needing the autism/Asperger’s diagnosis I wouldn’t get for years. I did wince a bit, but I just went on with what I was doing. Yes, I had a miserable time. Yes, lots of people had more fun. Probably the net amount of fun they have over their lifetimes will be greater than mine. But there isn’t much point in going over that all over again. I guess things can only get better? (And, yes, we’ve discussed here before whether teens and twenties really are the best years of your life.)

I got the marriage paperwork I was trying to get hold of yesterday, so we’ve got that to look forward to…

***

I submitted my novel to another agent. I wanted to submit to two, but this one wanted so much stuff that I had didn’t have to hand (elevator pitch, one page synopsis) that I ran out of time. It took well over an hour to submit. It’s frustrating that agents all want different things. One wants a one page synopsis, another wants a two page synopsis and it’s harder than you might think to turn one into the other. When what they want is straightforward, I can submit in twenty minutes or so, but this took nearly four times as long.

The agent that I submitted to was the one who found Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. I can’t pretend that this didn’t leap out to me because I’m currently reading it, but I guess there are some similarities, although I didn’t list it as a published novel similar to my own (I thought that would be gauche; if there are similarities, she can spot them for herself). I broke my informal rule of not submitting to the CEO of an agency (unless it’s a very small one) because she genuinely seemed like the best fit at this agency. I just hope she has the time to deal with the books she represents.

To be honest, I feel my first novel is a mess, an attempt at writing autobiographical fiction that mutated into more imaginative fiction, but not enough. Some of the autobiographical bits are OK, but the strongest part is the non-autobiographical plot thread about a frum woman being abused by abused by her husband. If I wasn’t involved in other writing (and wasn’t afraid of charges of appropriation?), I’d be tempted to try to expand that to a whole novel on its own. Of the three people (other than me) who have read it, two liked it (and the third arguably was not the target audience), which I guess counts for something. I feel that my current novel is better, but also significantly flawed (I just realised a major flaw in it so far). I guess it’s a learning process.

As is often the case when I submit my manuscript, I was left feeling that I am a bad writer and reader for not reading modern fiction. In a weird way, this is probably due to autism/Asperger’s. Like many people on the spectrum, I like to stick with things I know I will like and can understand deeply rather than trying to understand something new. I read the same authors and sometimes I re-read the same books multiple times, although I’m trying to do that less. I’ve read all the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges (most of them multiple times), all the surviving fiction of Franz Kafka (ditto), all of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels, much of the prodigious outputs of Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (all the Professor Challenger stories as well as the more famous Sherlock Holmes ones), Agatha Christie, John le Carre and various other writers. I haven’t read anything from contemporary writers who have only written one or two books. Reading broadly is more of a problem than reading deeply, and reading modern is more of a problem than reading classics.

“What’s so interesting about an ox?”

I really struggled to get up today, feeling utterly drained and self-critical (it goes without saying I got up really late, as it was a non-work/volunteering day — no volunteering this week for the summer holiday). The fact that another heatwave seems to have started probably didn’t help. Even if I can sleep when it’s hot, I tend not to sleep well (or, even less well than usual). Dad was watching the news when I went down for breakfast, so I got to see the latest on the Conservative Party leadership contest (“Tax cuts will fix everything in our broken society”) and Donald Trump being raided by the FBI, which is the least surprising “unexpected” story ever (I would not be surprised if he eventually goes out in a hail of bullets). None of this helped my mood much. I did manage to get dressed in about ten minutes to just about say some of Shacharit (Morning Prayers) while it was still time, which was good, and unexpected.

I waited over an hour at the dentist, as there was a child (I think) who needed emergency treatment. I was OK with that, although I had nothing to read, and the waiting room would probably have been too noisy for me to read anyway (radio, child playing videos on a phone without headphones). I think the dentist said I shouldn’t have gone to the dentist until I had two separate instances of pain, but possibly she was just saying that she wouldn’t extract the tooth for just one instance of pain. She said the gum was inflamed and cleaned it out, and suggested I rinse after meals with salt water to keep it clean, but that was about it.

Because of the long wait, I lost a lot of time. I tried to do some Torah study while cooking to save some time, but I struggled to find an appropriate shiur (class) to listen to. I ended up listening to a short ten minute thing and then some more Orthodox Judaism, which was interesting, but more pedagogy than actual Torah study. There was more discussion about teaching Talmud to schoolchildren, which made me think maybe I know some more things than I thought, not so much in terms of facts, but concepts, like knowing some of the history of the Talmud and the way it uses particular topics to discuss general concepts.

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz spoke about speaking to a meeting of three hundred (I think) Haredi single mothers who wanted to understand their sons’ schoolwork (Haredi women are generally not taught Talmud). One woman asked why her son is always talking about oxen. I was already aware that the Talmud uses four different types of dangerous items (foot, ox, pit and fire) as shorthand for various ways of causing damage, so I felt somewhat ahead of the game here. It was also good to hear a Haredi rabbi admit that one hundred years ago, only the top one per cent of Jewish schoolboys would have even gone to yeshivah and studied Talmud. Again, I knew that already, but it’s not really admitted to in the Haredi world. I recently saw someone arguing that while most Jewish men in pre-war Eastern Europe did have to work, they dreamt of spending all their time studying Tosfos (Tosfos, or Tosafot in the Modern Hebrew pronunciation I use, is a collective Medieval commentary on the Talmud, even more complicated and difficult than the Talmud itself). I can’t prove that this is untrue (I don’t have access to the dreams and fantasies of every Jewish man in pre-war Eastern Europe), but it seems unlikely given the social and economic situation of the time. Study was important to people even quite low down the social scale, but of much less challenging texts, and it seems unlikely that all Jewish men wanted to spend as long as possible in religious study.

I tried to phone the United Synagogue Marriage Authorisation Department to get the paperwork to move on the religious marriage. I got the answerphone, as I did when I phoned last week, which worried me a bit. I will try again…

The other thing I did was spend an hour or so working on my novel. I feel a bit bad about writing instead of studying Torah, but I tell myself writing is my livelihood, even though it actually isn’t, I’m just hoping it will contribute to it one day. I did make myself do a few minutes of Torah study on this week’s sedra (Torah reading), which happens to be my bar mitzvah portion (although I no longer remember how to lein it — I got so much praise for my bar mitzvah leining that I freaked out with social anxiety and refused to lein again, except when my parents forced me to lein haftorah for my sister’s bat mitzvah).

There are other things I would like to write about, but I am tired and between struggling to get up and get going this morning and the wait at the dentist, I am out of time.