“The silence you hear is Mr Neddie Seagoon sitting and waiting”

Work was stressful as I spent nearly five hours inputting cheques for membership fees onto the system and then going to the bank to pay them all in, about fifty cheques in all plus some cash. J pointed out some mistakes in previous work, and I worry that working on this for so long with just one real break for lunch would lead to more errors. In addition, one of the cheques I took to the bank on Monday went missing. I think it was the bank’s error (I’m not sure how it could have been mine), but it worries me a bit, and I worry that today’s lot could easily have a mistake made by me as well by as the bank teller. One of the cheques had somehow got a bit sticky, and I worry that it will stick to another cheque and not be processed separately, which is probably what happened on Monday.

***

I went to shul (synagogue) for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Services) at the shul in the building where I work. It was super-fast as usual. I suppose people davening (praying) in this shul during the week are mostly working and need to get back to work, but it’s far too fast for me and I’m still davening when the service is over. It’s hard to find a shul that davens at the right pace for me; sadly, I don’t think I’m going to find it in the United Synagogue.

***

I’m not going to shul this Shabbat (Sabbath) as I want to avoid COVID before my trip by isolating as much as possible, although my Dad will go to his shul. I had a close call today when I heard that the rabbi of the shul in the building where I work is isolating after getting COVID. I had seen him in shul (albeit from a distance) on Monday and don’t know if he was infected then. I did a test when I got home and it was negative, so hopefully I’ll be OK if I just avoid people between now and Tuesday (hence the title of this post, from The Goon Show: The Junk Affair, about sitting in silence and waiting).

I have some anxieties about travel, beyond getting asymptomatic COVID and being grounded, but I’m trying not to give in to catastrophisation. Wish me luck…

***

I admit I was too zonked after work to read this properly, but someone sent me to Temple Gradin’s article about good jobs for people on the autism spectrum. She did at least mention librarian (so I wasn’t in the wrong field entirely, I just went about it in completely the wrong way, albeit for reasons that were perhaps outside of my control). Many of the other jobs are IT/maths/technical jobs. Sometimes I feel like I got all the bad parts of autism and none of the good parts, skills with maths and computers. There are also some very low-grade jobs too. Gradin does say to opt for jobs where you have to sell your work, not your personality, which suggests I’m right to look at writing, copywriting and proof-reading, but I’ve never been able to build up the portfolio of work needed to get more work, and anything freelance requires a leap in the dark about how much to charge and how quickly I can promise to do things. I have no idea how long it should or would take me to proof-read a thesis, or how much to charge for doing so, or how to prove to someone I can do it when I’ve never done it before.

***

This article asks what holiness is. I’ve always struggled with this, perhaps surprisingly, given how religious I am. I’m not a mystic, so I’m not convinced it is a “metaphysical substance” that our souls can perceive. Although Judaism generally sees the holy as that which is ‘beyond’ or ‘set aside,’ with my religious existentialist leanings, I tend to see it as being ‘between’ — between human beings or between human beings and God. I think there was holiness at the food bank and the asylum seekers’ drop-in centre where I used to volunteer. In this regard I think of what Rabbi Sacks said about the holiest place in Judaism being the gap between the wings of the cherubs on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, from where God’s voice emanated, to teach us that holiness is about between spaces, interactions, between people and God and between different people. Rabbi Sacks also used to talk about the importance of listening as a religious act. But if holiness is between human beings, then I’m very bad at accessing it, or being able to access it, given my autism and social anxiety, so I feel like I’ve defeated myself in a way. That said, I do feel something on Shabbat that I can’t describe, and that may be holiness; at least, I hope it is.

“Only stupid Earth brains like yours would have been fooled.”

I struggled to sleep last night. I’m not sure why Sundays are becoming my night for insomnia. Work today was OK, quite busy, but not really anything worth reporting. I did some shopping on the way home.

I was wondering if I would be able to go to depression group on Zoom, but I didn’t make it. I was quite tired when I got home and then I had to cook dinner (macaroni cheese, one of my quick, emergency recipes) and by the time I’d done that, I was totally burnt out. Even eating dinner and watching The Twilight Zone didn’t help. I had to sit for a while in a dimly-lit, quiet bedroom until I got through the burnout/sensory overload/exhaustion (I’ve never been entirely sure if this counts as an autistic shutdown or not).

It was a shame to miss depression group, but I wasn’t 100% looking forward to it. I wasn’t sure how to tell people about my engagement. I get a bit overwhelmed when I share positive news like that and people want to congratulate me and ask questions. It also takes a lot of energy and will-power for E and I to run this relationship long-distance, and I’m not sure how people will react to that. It’s made harder by our respective issues, and the fact that we can unconsciously pick up each other’s anxieties, even if we don’t consciously share them. I spoke to my therapist a bit about this, and she stressed the need to make sure I’m only worrying about the things that worry me. In addition, E and I are really looking forward to spending more time together next week, COVID-permitting, but I’m still anxious about travelling with all the COVID-prevention requirements. So I was worried I would come across as negative, which is probably an occupational hazard in a depression group, but I still was nervous of seeming that way when I felt everyone would expect me to uncomplicatedly happy.

Even after all this, I was still feeling quite drained. I decided to eat ice cream (despite my half-hearted diet) watch some original series Doctor Who, as I needed something safe and familiar to vegetate in front of. I opted for The Moonbase, as it’s not very good, so I don’t feel bad about not watching with E, plus it’s a story with half its episodes missing and reconstructed with animation which means I definitely wouldn’t watch it with E, as I felt watching the reconstructed The Evil of the Daleks didn’t work out well (I might, however, suggest watching The Invasion at some point, two animated episodes out of eight notwithstanding).

The Moonbase is very silly, complete with sarcastic, gloating, supposedly-emotionless Cybermen, as in my title quote, and I’m enjoying it a lot. I watched two episodes, with two more to go. I’m not sure if I’ll watch tonight or tomorrow. I don’t know why I can find episodes of the original series silly and endearing, but episodes of the new series that are probably objectively the same or better just annoy me.

Ben and Polly are two of the great, overlooked companions in Doctor Who. I don’t agree with the argument that they worked with William Hartnell, their “Swinging Sixties” style contrasting with Hartnell’s Victorian amateur inventor vibe, but didn’t work with Patrick Troughton’s quiet anarchism. Jamie is also a great companion, but the production team’s fondness for him, and their desire to slimline the TARDIS crew, deprived us of something good. To be fair, three companions is too many, certainly after the slower and often more thoughtful stories of the first two seasons.

Brief Update

I didn’t blog again yesterday as I didn’t have much to say. I don’t have much to say today either, but as I doubt I will have time to blog tomorrow, and may not have much to say after Shabbat, I thought I would post something so I didn’t suddenly go silent for several days and worry people.

Today I got a permanent contract at work, which means I get National Insurance (social security) payments made on my behalf and am eligible for pension contributions, which is all good, plus I have more job security now. It also shows that J has confidence in me. I think this is the first time I’ve had a permanent contract at work since 2017 or even earlier, so it’s very positive.

I’m feeling a bit less anxious about my trip to New York, especially as the testing requirements for the return trip have been eased. I am trying to look forward to it without feeling that doing so will somehow jinx it and lead to a COVID-influenced disruption.

That’s really all I have to say for now. I think it’s a case of “No news is good news,” to use a favourite phrase of my Mum’s.

More On Energy Allocation

I didn’t blog yesterday as nothing much happened. I was off work as it was a bank holiday. I went in to the office today. I missed my stop on the Tube as I was engrossed in my reading. This was good, in a way, as I was reading Mishnah (the oldest stratum of the Talmud) and was surprised that I got so involved in it that I missed my stop.

Work itself was boring. I spent about three and a half hours stuffing invoices into envelopes and then putting stamps on them. I couldn’t listen to music, as I had forgotten to charge my iPod and wanted to leave what battery it had left for the journey home. For variety, I had to take a few credit card payments over the phone, which I still find awkward, but it is getting less scary with experience. I spent a little bit of time on the large statistics-collating task I started last week, which wasn’t as fearsome as it first seemed, although there is a lot to do, including the hardest bits.

There was some bad mask compliance on the Tube. Most people are actually wearing masks, but the few who aren’t are sometimes overly-conspicuous or downright stupid, like the woman today not wearing her mask so she could speak on the phone, but with her hand over her mouth, or the guy last week who not only was not wearing a mask, but was also picking his nose (gross!).

I was exhausted/burnt out/whatever it is by the time I got home. I’ve been trying to allocate values showing how much each activity drains or replenishes my energy and just from one working day I can see better how draining work is for me, even with the reduced hours I’m doing and even without taking into account commuting and going to the shul in the building for Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) after work. Interestingly, going online to catch up on emails and blogs as soon as I get in (well, after I’ve spoken to my parents, anyway) was definitely draining rather than replenishing today, which surprised me a bit. I’m not sure how to cut or reduce that without falling behind on things, but it does look like a seriously bad idea. Last summer I sometimes came home and sat in the garden and read a book for half an hour before going online, which might be a sensible habit to get back into, albeit indoors until the weather improves.

***

For the last few days I’ve been going through cycles of higher and lower anxiety. I get anxious about my trip to New York, then I do research on whatever it is I’m anxious about or move forward with booking things and I feel less anxious until the next thing comes up to worry about.

In terms of trip planning, I thought finding an Airbnb near E would be easier and cheaper than finding a kosher or Shabbat-compliant hotel. This may not have been true, I’m not sure. I tried looking on Airbnb, but struggled to get a sense of what was close to E. My sense of geography is not great regarding places I’ve been to, let alone places I’ve only seen on a map, plus Airbnb will only give the rough location until you confirm you are going. E helped me find somewhere that looked reasonable and I booked it. I’m very worried about COVID ruining this, but hopefully I’ll be in New York in two weeks!

It will be good to spend time with E and to be able to do couple things again. Dating long-distance is hard, and dating long-distance with mental health issues and neurodiversity to factor in is extra-hard, but I think ultimately it could make our relationship stronger in the long-term. Certainly we have an ability to talk to each other very honestly and openly about our feelings and come away feeling closer to each other, and I know that’s a massively important and powerful thing to have in a relationship, especially given that I’m autistic and not always good at emotional and interpersonal things. I’m excited about my holiday and seeing E, albeit also scared to acknowledge that excitement lest it somehow jinx things through C*V*D.

Exciting News and Energy Accounting

I got up before 10am (just)! I told myself I could have a doughnut if I got up by 10am twenty times in January. I guess the lure of a doughnut at the end of the month (despite my diet) is strong enough to break my usual desire to sleep in. (That’s not the exciting news, by the way.)

***

I booked tickets to New York to see E later this month! (That is the exciting news.) Because of the need to do pre-flight COVID tests; my inability to do said tests on Saturday (because of Shabbat) or Sunday (because the pharmacy I want to use is shut); my unwillingness to spend less than a week with E after travelling over 5,000km to see her; and the need to isolate on coming home until after another COVID test, my trip is going to require my taking two weeks off work, even though I’ll only be out of the country for nine and a bit days. This is rather a lot at our busy time of year. Fortunately, J is OK with it.

I did some research on COVID travel rules and restrictions. I feel more confident about them as they’ve become more familiar, although I still worry about going to get turned away at the airport for doing the wrong tests or having the wrong papers, or that I’ll get COVID and be stranded in New York for an extra fortnight. Getting COVID on the return flight doesn’t bother me so much, I’m less scared of COVID (I’m triple vaxxed) than I am of disruption to my plans and all that would entail, although it would be annoying to miss work just as my new contract starts.

***

I spoke to my rabbi mentor. He was happy that my life is going well (engagement to E, job made permanent, depression hasn’t come back despite it being winter, etc.). I did mention that I feel overwhelmed a lot of the time and that I’m struggling to get back in the shul (synagogue) habit post-COVID and that I am struggling to spend an hour a day in religious study as I was a few months ago. He felt that doing one hour of Torah study a day at my age was more than most people would manage (which made me feel vaguely bad that this was largely because I am unmarried, childless and only working part-time) and that doing less would be fine. He asked if there’s anything in my life that I could/would like to just drop and, aside from procrastinating, I said there wasn’t anything, which made me realise that most of the stuff in my life (work, prayer, Torah study, writing fiction, blogging, exercise) is important to me; I just have to work out how to balance it rather than cut anything out entirely.

On a related note, at the suggestion of someone from the National Autism Association forum, I watched a YouTube video on energy accounting by ‘Purple Ella’ (autistic content creator). To be honest, I’m still somewhat sceptical at my ability to get energy accounting to work, but she suggested just recording your activity and energy levels for a fortnight to work out what’s working well and what isn’t. This sounded like a good place to start.

Purple Ella also suggested energy accounting on a weekly basis as well as a daily one, in other words, not just making sure you balance your energy budget (intake vs. expenditure) over the course of a day, but also over the course of a week, taking extra relaxation time before or after a busy day. I do this a bit already, in terms of leaving recovery days after draining experiences, but it’s probably better to think in a weekly mindset as well as a daily one.

***

My revised article on religious OCD is up on the Jewish site. Which is good, but I need to figure out a way to get them to pay me for writing. It’s strange, I never really thought of myself as a confessional writer, but it’s definitely the way my writing has gone over the last decade. Confessional writing is different to novel writing, but I guess they both tap into the same level of emotions, or the novels I want to write do.

***

I’m watching The Twilight Zone episode The Incredible World of Horace Ford, about a man obsessed with his childhood. I could probably write a list of weirdo Twilight Zone characters who are probably on the autism spectrum. Just off the top of my head, there’s Ford, Mr Beavis (from the episode of the same name), the guy from the episode Miniature and probably several more if I thought about it properly. I’m not sure if it’s reassuring or not that they seem to avoid social conformity at the cost of living a ‘normal’ life.

Horace Ford clearly had a happier childhood than I did, as I’m not in much of a hurry to return to it. He has somehow managed to get himself married, which is strange as his wife is intelligent and attractive, yet appears to want to spend her life with a man who has a mental age of ten. His mother lives with them too, for added infantilisation. You can tell The Twilight Zone is pre-feminism, because apparently woman are falling over themselves to play housewife and mother to man-children. Although the guy from Miniature married an Edwardian doll, which probably is even less feminist.

Rumination and Peopling

I tried to relax a bit before going to bed last night. I watched some Doctor Who and broke my diet to eat a couple of Quality Street chocolates. Even so, I struggled to sleep. I just feel too stressed at the moment. I’m not sure what time I finally fell asleep, but I did somehow manage to get up for work in the morning.

Work was dull today, and left too much time for rumination. I still feel like a dry drunk, full of uncured neuroses and poor coping strategies, just waiting to plunge into another episode of depression. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m not convinced. I’m not sure how I move on from this. I mean, some people do move on from worse issues than mine. But lots don’t. As I’ve said, psychodynamic-type therapy definitely helps me to understand myself (and write novels about thinly-veiled Mary Sues) and often brings about short-term clarity, but I have not had any catharsis. My problems did not magically solve themselves by my transferring them onto my therapist and working through them in therapy. As for CBT, I’ve said before that it doesn’t really work on people on the spectrum. For every reason I can give why I’m not worthless and a failure, I can give another ten reasons why I am exactly those things. It’s scary thinking that I’m coming into a marriage with all this hanging in the background.

Maybe I can cope better than I think I can. Maybe I have dealt with some of my issues in therapy. It just feels like I haven’t and I don’t know what to do.

I was wondering if E and I hadn’t broken up in 2018, and I had kept my job in further education (my last job that felt like part of a career, not a time-filler), maybe my life would have been better. But E and I needed the separate growth time, that job wasn’t right for me, and Mum and Dad needed my help when Mum had cancer in the first lockdown. You can go mad thinking like that. It seems that God has a plan, difficult though it is for us to comprehend it.

***

I had dinner with my sister and brother-in-law. It was a mistake on several levels. I was exhausted from work and not able to ‘people’ well. We had takeaway from a kosher restaurant (actually two, due to an order mix up), but a regular delivery company and it wasn’t double-sealed as it should be to stop contamination if they are carrying non-kosher food too. Then we brought some back for my parents because we had too much raising issues about our crockery and microwave. Having conferred with my rabbi mentor, I think it’s OK, but I hate the struggle between my “wise mind” and my OCD mind, with my halakhic (Jewish law) mind caught in-between trying to figure it all out correctly. To be fair to me, a couple of years ago I’d have gone into a terrible, non-functional, anxious state, and this time I did not do that and kept some proportion. I thought that it would probably be OK, and it was. But I did still get somewhat anxious and concerned.

On the other hand, I feel like a terrible goody-goody caring about this (the delivery packaging) and talking about it here. I know lots of people think God doesn’t care about the details, only the bigger picture. I could write a whole essay on why the details are the big picture, but I doubt it would change anyone’s mind, so I’ll just say that I wouldn’t want my brain surgeon or airline pilot to do roughly the right thing, not worrying about the details, and I don’t see why God’s Law is less important or fine-tuned than brain surgery or flying a 747.

On the plus side, my sister and BIL gave me a lot of help regarding booking travel and COVID tests (they’re also going to the US in January) and my sister lent me a stack of driving instruction books, although that just reminds me that that’s another terrifying thing I have to confront at some point, probably sooner rather than later. It was good to see them, but in future I will try to schedule some relaxation time between work and socialising.

I’m pretty exhausted now. I will watch some Doctor Who and go to bed, I think.

A Hot Mess and a Dry Drunk

The expression “a hot mess” was one I learnt online. I don’t think it exists in British English. Our messes are apparently cold or lukewarm at best. But it’s pretty much how I feel right now.

I felt burnt out again today. It was a struggle to do anything. I managed to cook a very basic dinner (rice and lentils — the ‘cooking’ is mostly just letting it simmer away). I tried to phone Oxford University Press to find out whether an order I made online went through properly yesterday or not. It said it had initially, but then it said it hadn’t and I didn’t get a confirmation email. The order was nearly £60 after it had a discount on it, so I really don’t want to get it messed up. However, it seems they are shut for the holidays, which was not clear from the website.

I tried to book some airline tickets to see E. My Mum likes to go through every possible travel permutation to find the best deal. However, this type of process gives me autistic ‘too many options’ overload and I want to narrow the field to something I can cope with. This led to some tension, as I got stuck and needed her help, which meant doing it her way. There were some autistic communication issues too. Stress + autism = short temper, anxiety and rigid thinking. Mum did save me from making a huge mistake renting an Airbnb (accidentally booking a room rather than an apartment). I also have COVID travel bureaucracy anxiety (what if I forget to take a test?) and general travel anxiety (I have only travelled by myself once and, although I’ve travelled many times with my parents, I do not have a brilliant memory for what I have to do in an airport and they are generally overloading environments for someone on the spectrum). It’s weird to think that some people enjoy travelling and do it for fun, as their main hobby, even in COVID times. Weird.

I was all set to book flights, then I realised that, travelling on a Sunday (outward) and Monday (homeward) would make it hard or impossible to avoid taking COVID tests on Saturdays. So now I’m going to travel midweek, but I’ll need to find new flights. I just feel too stressed now to deal with this, and I don’t want to book anything while stressed in case I screw it up (not an unlikely scenario, sadly). I feel really stressed and just want to curl up and forget about the world (shutdown).

Other than that, I didn’t do much because I felt so burnt out. I didn’t write a devar Torah. I’m going to have to call this week a mental health week and not write one. I did ten minutes of Torah study, which I forced myself to do so that I had done some. I also did not get time to go for a walk. Aside from going to buy a mattress yesterday, I haven’t been out of the house since Sunday, which is not good for health, physical as well as psychological.

I felt dizzy while cooking again. I do need to try to see a doctor next week, if I can find a way to navigate the super long phone wait times, and then get an appointment that doesn’t clash with therapy or work.

I hope work tomorrow and having more structure to the day makes me feel better. I’m having dinner in the evening with my sister and brother-in-law, which should be good, but now is going to be stressful, as I’ll just want to come home and book flights. Possibly I should just wait until Saturday night or even Sunday, if it’s not more expensive to book for the same month of travel (I have no idea if this is the case).

I feel so overwhelmed with LIFE right now, living from day to day when I should be making longer-term plans, from travel next month to marriage and career and writing moves. Writing, finding an agent, applying for new jobs and learning to drive are probably going on the back burner for the next month (at least). And I don’t know how I’ll sleep tonight in this state.

I feel like I’m a dry drunk. I’m not currently clinically depressed, but it’s really easy to tip me over into anxiety and despair because I still have underlying issues and poor coping skills. And, for all that religion is such a big part of my life, I still struggle to really connect with God. If I didn’t have an understanding of God that transcended the purely experiential, I doubt I could stay religious, because I don’t feel God the way some people (apparently) do. And that saddens me, not least because I’m doing all the right things and have been for years, and it’s still not working.

Super-Neurotypicals and Functional Autistics

I had to do the Very Scary Task today at work. It’s not so bad when I’m in the office, as J is around if I get stuck, but I still feel that I don’t 100% know what I’m doing. I do still find the phone calls draining and a bit scary. I also had to do another task that involved checking and editing details back and forth on two spreadsheet tabs and compared with a print out with teeny tiny print on it. It was not fun, and I have more to do on that on Wednesday (Wednesday rather than Thursday this week).

I was pretty exhausted/burnt out/punch drunk/whatever it is after work. There was a long wait for dinner, so I did some novel research, but by the time I got to dinner, I was too exhausted to answer Mum and Dad’s small talk questions in anything other than monosyllables. E thinks my parents are sort of super-neurotypicals, meaning more social, chatty and small talk-ey than most neurotypical people, let alone autistics. That may be true (Mum is an extrovert; Dad self-describes as an introvert, and he does need alone time, but I think he may be an ambivert or a very social, social introvert). It certainly feels like family dinners on Mondays tend to fall into a pattern of Dad throwing questions at me and me not knowing what to say, or having the energy to say it. There are autistic issues too e.g. Dad asked if the Tube was busy and I wasn’t sure what to say without a parameter of what a ‘normal’ Tube day is (pre- or post-COVID? Rush hour or off-peak?).

I would have liked to have done some more Torah study this evening, but my energy went into research instead.

***

I’m not sure that asking my therapist for an extra session tomorrow was such a good idea. To be fair, she chose to give it to me even though she is on holiday; I just said (honestly) that I couldn’t remember if she was on holiday this week or next week. I just feel that the anxiety I was feeling over the weekend has subsided somewhat.

***

I read this article on The Lehrhaus (Orthodox Jewish site, much more rigorous and intellectual than most), reading a couple of Talmudic narratives through an autistic lens (the author is on the spectrum). Even before I read it, I was excited to find something in the frum (religious Jewish) world about autism. I noticed that the author, Rabbanit Dr Shayne, gave her email in the biography section and decided I would email, less because I had anything to say about the article and more to reach out to another frum autistic. Working out what to say was hard, though. The author seems so confident and comfortable in her autistic identity, not to mention her rabbinical and secular educational qualifications. I often feel like some kind of awkward thing, barely functional in practical, educational, religious and social areas and barely recognisable as the excellent student I once was. She talks about the way autism “informs and deepens” our relationships with Judaism, but to me it feels like a fairly impenetrable barrier to ‘real’ Judaism.

***

OK, crashing now, TV…

The Road Goes Ever On

Perhaps inevitably after such a busy day yesterday, I crashed last night/this morning. I slept until after noon and woke up feeling very anxious, partly because of weird dreams about family bereavement and also about James Bond/explosions (I don’t like long build ups to explosions in action films). I spent most of last night and a chunk of today feeling like I’d been run over by a steamroller. Eleven hours sleep clearly didn’t help, or did too much.

I feel like I’ve been relying for the last couple of days a lot on the idea I posted the other week, about, “I’m not responsible for the first thought; I am responsible for the second” to deal with anxiety. Actually, it would probably also be good to think that, “My thoughts are not always my friends.”

On the plus side, I think E and I are both very aware that, given our mental health histories, having some difficult thoughts and feelings at the moment is inevitable, and we can accept and support each other in that (even if we are not always so good at accepting ourselves!). That makes me feel safer. It is hard to do this long-distance, when half the time we both know that we really just need a hug! No one has ever invented a good long-distance hug alternative, although Mark Zuckerberg is probably trying (anything to remove the humanity of humans).

My parents have now told all their (many) friends about E and me. A lot of people seem happy for us. My parents were excited today at the responses they got and couldn’t work out why I was so withdrawn this evening — a mixture of autistic fatigue (even autistic regression, horrible phrase), autistic difficulty processing and responding to other people’s emotions, and social anxiety, the feeling that my parents’ friends now expect things of me, even if only that I will have an exemplary happy marriage. I hope I do have an exemplary happy marriage, but it’s hard to be happy when it feels like dozens of people are staring at you, expecting you to be happy. Or it is for me, anyway.

Still, I am glad they are happy for us, and I am happy at getting engaged. I just feel this would be easier if people had more acceptance of atypical emotional responses. At least E understands it, which is the main thing.

***

E and I had a serious conversation about jobs and finances as we’re both worried about that aspect of our lives together. It’s hard to know what to do. It’s hard knowing that I’m not able to work full-time and might never be able to do so. Only 20% of autistic people are in work and while some of the 80% unemployed are probably much more severely autistic than me, not all are. It’s just very, very hard to find the right workplace with the right desired skillset. The National Autistic Society work with some employees to promote jobs for people on the spectrum, but they seem pretty “typically autistic” jobs with numbers or computing. I’m not sure how I could find writing work or the like. It’s also hard to tell if I really have blown my chances at librarianship or if I should keep applying for jobs in the sector. Some jobs I’ve been interviewed for have told me, “You weren’t right for this job, but if we advertise again, we’d like to see you,” while others have responded as if I’m a total idiot and probably lied about my qualifications. It’s scary to think that it might just be environment or mood that produced one outcome rather than the other.

***

I terms of actual achievements today, I cooked dinner (lentil dal — I forgot how easy the recipe is), emailed my shul (synagogue) to inform them of E and my engagement and revised my OCD article with a view to publication on the Jewish website (I’m still waiting for copyright clearance). I wrote a devar Torah that I’m not at all happy with, about a biblical mixed metaphor that has long interested me. I’m not sure I really got to grips with it. I found one interesting perspective, but didn’t develop it as I would have liked (I had an idea for development that didn’t go anywhere) and had to pad it out with a idea taking largely at random from Chabad.org. I spent forty minutes doing research for my second novel, which I want to spend more time focusing on (but I also want to focus on practising my cataloguing skills for work, sending my first novel to agents and exercising, so something’s going to get neglected).

Doing things did perhaps help me shake myself out of my drained state, although I tend to be at my best in the afternoon generally. It’s now after midnight and I finally feel alert, in a good mood, and ready to do things, posing the classic question of staying up late Doing Things or going to bed hoping tomorrow will be a better day. I stayed up a bit late and did a few things, which is probably falling between two stools.

***

This Unherd article predicts some kind of lockdown soon. It also says the omicron variant will be “on the level of a very bad flu season”, which I guess begs the question of whether we would/could/should lockdown for bad flu. The Evening Standard is claiming that “Omicron takes over in London” which annoys me because (a) I hate articles that anthropomorphise COVID, (b) it’s stupidly melodramatic and extreme and (c) it sounds like a plot synopsis of a Doctor Who episode (“While the Doctor and Romana are on Skaro, Omicron takes over in London”). Meanwhile, in Parliament, nearly one hundred backbench Conservative MPs rebelled against Government plans to move back towards lockdown yet again while still insisting there will be no Christmas lockdown.

I honestly don’t know what to think any more. As Andrea Leadsom said in Parliament earlier today, we don’t lockdown every year for flu. Flu lockdowns sound ridiculous to us. But I don’t want 50,000 people to die this winter (although I’m not sure how many excess deaths we’re talking about i.e. people who wouldn’t have died of something else). But I don’t want to ruin a generation of children’s chance of education or to self-destruct the economy either. I also don’t want to wear a mask all the time or to be stopped from visiting my fiancée in the new year, but I think those are basically foregone conclusions at the moment. I very much want COVID to end, but I’m still quite nervous of being indoors with unmasked people. I don’t trust people who think a “Zero COVID” policy is viable, but I trust the horse de-wormer quaffing antivaxxers even less. It is hard to know what to think. A predicted six week lockdown has gone on for nearly one year and nine months. I just want it to be over.

Life is With People

I had another draining day at work. Not a huge amount to do, but draining, especially as I had to make some phone calls for the Very Scary Task. I was able to do some of the Task by text, which made it a bit easier. J doesn’t seem to have much of a preference for one medium unless there’s an urgent need to contact someone. I’m torn between makeshift exposure therapy from phoning versus not being in a state from texting. By the end of the day I was feeling exhausted and hungry, which fuelled anxiety. It wasn’t until after dinner that I felt completely recovered. I guess it’s a reminder that mental health ‘wobbliness’ persists even at the happiest of times, or, if we’re being honest, especially at the happiest of times. I say wobbliness because I’m not sure whether I’d technically meet the criteria for mental illness at the moment, but there are definitely a lot of overwhelming feelings around sometimes.

I told J about E too. He was pleased and asked me some questions about us. E and I are a bit wary about who we feel comfortable telling our whole story to: the on/off bit and the fact that we haven’t actually spent all that long together in person. You, dear reader, know that there has been a lot of skyping and deep conversations, that we have thought a long time about this and know what we want; the rest of the world has no idea. Only a couple of my friends are sufficiently frum (religious Jewish) to see getting engaged after a dozen dates as ‘normal.’ I would rather not spend a lot of time telling our story to the others.

I came home and sent some more emails to friends to tell them about E and me. I’ve now told all my friends, which didn’t take long. I thought I had more friends, but some of the names in my address book I haven’t communicated with for years and I didn’t feel comfortable suddenly getting back in touch for this.

When I got home, my parents were in the middle of telling all their friends, by email and by phone. They have a lot more friends than I do and they prefer to phone where possible, so this was more of an undertaking. Even so, some people got emailed. Everyone is happy for us, which is good, but it feels overwhelming. If the engagement feels this overwhelming, how will I cope with the wedding?! Somehow everyone wishing me mazal tov makes me feel that I’ve done something terribly wrong and everyone will be upset with me soon. Is that a weird type of Imposter Syndrome? That I don’t believe I deserve people’s good wishes and will end up showing them how useless I am?

My parents want to host an engagement party for their friends. I guess in Hebrew we would say a lechaim i.e. people drink a toast to us. They say I wouldn’t have to attend, although I would feel obliged to make some kind of nerve-wracking appearance, however brief. They’re planning on inviting quite a lot of people. I don’t think E thinks that this is normal. It seems somewhat normal to me, but possibly only because my parents went to a similar engagement party last night for the engagement of the daughter of two of their friends (I’m not sure if the engaged couple were there either or if it was just their parents’ friends). I think E is surprised that my parents have often met their friends’ children’s spouses at shul (synagogue) or family celebrations long before the wedding. I think some of my parents’ friends were surprised that I got engaged because no one had told them I was even dating. I’d say that the frum world can be incestuous, but not all these friends are even that frum, it’s just the North-West London Jewish bubble. As the title of an anthropology book on the shtetl (Jewish towns in Easter Europe pre-Holocaust) proclaimed, “Life is with People“.

***

I went to a Zoom class at the LSJS. It was on three recent English Bible translations: that by Robert Alter, the Steinsaltz Tanakh (Bible), which isn’t actually by Rabbi Steinsaltz, although it is based on his modern Hebrew commentary, and the Koren Tanakh, which is being promoted as being translated by Rabbi Sacks, but he died after only completing the Torah (in the narrow sense of the Five Books of Moses) and Tehillim (Psalms).

To be honest, I didn’t get a lot from the class. Having spent about twenty years reading the sedra (weekly Torah portion) every week in Hebrew, trying to translate it myself and comparing with an English translation, I have a good sense of the pitfalls of translation and the difficulties a translator must face.

Of the translations, the Alter one sounded the most interesting to me, now that my Biblical Hebrew is reasonable, because he has a detailed commentary on problems of translation and alternative word choices and sometimes suggested amendments. Nevertheless (and this may sound crazy fundamentalist), I heard Alter speak when the translation came out and he said translating Tanakh only moved him in a literary/aesthetic way, not a spiritual way. That upset me in ways that I did not expect and can not really describe. I knew he wasn’t Orthodox, but somehow only getting aesthetic pleasure from Tanakh troubles me. It reminds me of what T. S. Eliot said when people speak about “The Bible as literature,” that the influence of the Bible for English literature was that it was seen, not as literature, but as the word of God, and now it is seen as literature, it is unlikely to have much literary influence in the future. Strangely, Alter’s use of Higher Criticism (the type of Bible criticism that tries to break the Five Books of Moses into putative ‘sources,’ an activity that has never been accepted in Orthodox Judaism and which I do not believe in) does not bother me as much and I’m not sure why.

***

I have more things to say, but I’m too tired and ready to crash. I’m not sure what I’ll crash in front of, though. I have half of a so-so episode of The Twilight Zone that I started watching over dinner, before I had to stop for the class. I’m still reading Gaudy Night, but my inability to distinguish half the characters from each other and the falling off of the escalating tension in the second half of the book has left me longing for the end with another seventy pages to go. I’m invested enough to want to finish it, but not tonight. I think I’m too tired to read anyway.

I am tempted to break my diet to reward myself for a stressful day, but I should try to be strong. I am definitely hungry enough to want to eat cereal before bed, though, a bad habit I should try to break. It would probably save me more calories than skipping my one biscuit a day.

“You remind me today of a small Mexican chihuahua”

Today was another day when I felt that things got on top of me and I didn’t really do what I wanted to do, or only some of it.

J asked me to go with him to one of our other sites today, so I ended up doing a morning of work even though I don’t usually work on Wednesdays. I will get paid for it, but, given that I’m already feeling overloaded, it felt like just another thing to do. I didn’t get much time to relax last night (partly Chanukah taking up time, partly my own fault for procrastinating) and woke up still tired and unrefreshed. When I got home from work at lunch today, I made some coffee to try to wake myself up, but I fell asleep just the same.

My parents were encouraging me to go to the local pharmacy that is offering a walk-in COVID vaccine booster service. I did want to go, but it was raining heavily and then I ran out of time before therapy. It was perhaps for the best, as I didn’t really want to be suffering vaccine side-effects during therapy or work tomorrow. I tried to book an appointment at the doctor’s surgery instead, but was on hold for five minutes and didn’t advance in the queue, so I decided I didn’t have the time to deal with this today. I’ll try to go to the walk-in centre next week.

I struggled to do much else. Between work (which was only a couple of hours, but involved an early start, a bit of peopling, being out in the cold, and being jumped on twice by a dog), being tired and napping, and then having therapy and Chanukah it was hard to do much. We ate dinner as a family again in front of the Chanukah lights; then I spent the rest of the evening ironing, and writing an email to the website I pitched to write for after they sent me an email that seemed to miss the point of my previous email.

I am struggling to get my head around working tomorrow; working on consecutive days seems wrong now somehow. I also wonder how I’m going to get through the next three months of winter if I feel like this on 1 December…

***

I got an email from the job agency that wanted to update my details. I’m a bit annoyed with them. They had asked me for two references, which seemed slightly odd (I would expect references once they had got me an interview). Now they don’t like one of my references, as it was for a job I got via them, so apparently they (the agency) supply the reference for that rather than my former line manager (?!) and so they need another reference. They also want recent proof of residence and proof of my librarianship MA, even though neither of these have changed since I first signed up with them. And they want all this “urgently,” although there’s no sign that they have a job lined up for me. I feel disinclined to panic myself about this when I have so much else going on, bearing in mind the last job they got for me was in getting on for two years ago, and that they are asking for details they already have on record that they’ve decided they have to update for their own reasons.

Thoughts on Work and Other Things

I had my phone meeting with the person from the neurodiverse work-support organisation (also called E). The organisation does offer interview practise, at £10 for half an hour, either a hypothetical interview with general questions or one where they ask specific questions based on the job description of a job I’m actually applying for. I might go down that route if I start finding lots more jobs to apply for, although I think I could get interview practise at a more local Jewish into work scheme, possibly for free (although I would probably make a donation if I got the job).

We spoke a bit about autism-suitable jobs. I mentioned my career path so far and that librarianship hasn’t turned out the way I hoped, either in terms of job availability, working part-time and the environment not always being autism-suitable. She felt that, if I’m looking for part-time work, then administration, particularly in the charity and non-profit sector, is a good place to look, so I said that that’s where I am at the moment. We spoke a bit about writing. I got a bit shy about talking about my writing experience and ambitions, I’m not sure why, but we did talk about trying to find voluntary work for one day a week at a local newspaper or similar publication just to get some experience to put on my CV, which sounds like a good idea. She said the organisation has contacts with a magazine about health and disability and she would look into finding work experience for me there, which would be a good thing, particularly if it’s remote, as she thinks it would be at the moment.

The call only lasted fifteen minutes, and I think the woman speaking to me felt a bit like she was short-changing me, as she apologised and asked if I had other questions, but I feel like I got some useful answer to get to the next step in my attempts to get more work life improved.

Afterwards I went for a walk while it was still light, or a bit light, as it was overcast and the sun was setting. I listened to incidental music from Blade Runner until I realised it was contributing to making me feel depressed (along with the weather) and switched to The Beatles. When I got home I drafted my devar Torah and cooked dinner, but found it hard to focus or get motivated. Winter evenings are always bad for motivation, and I find that, while I enjoy Chanukah a lot, lighting candles takes up a huge chunk of time in the early evening (setting up the lights, waiting for Mum and Dad to be ready, eating dinner together in front of the lights instead of eating while watching dinner…). Unfortunately, the early evening is a time when I am often trying to cram activities in before bed, or trying to relax; it’s also currently when I Skype E, because of the time-difference, so it was hard to cram things in.

***

I just came across the following factoid from an Office of National Statistics article about religion in the UK census data for 2011:

Volunteering was higher among those who identified as Jewish (44%), Buddhist (31%), “‘any other religion” (30%) or Christian (23%) than remaining religious groupings in England and Wales in 2016 to 2018.

I feel ridiculously proud of the Jewish community apparently volunteering significantly more than any other religious group in the country. (The groups counted in the census were ‘no religion’, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and ‘any other religion’.)

***

The Omicron Variant should be the title of a horror film from the fifties or sixties. Delta Variant is more of an action film, I feel.

***

E asked for a list of my favourite and least favourite Doctor Who stories.  As I don’t have a Doctor Who blog any more, I thought I would stick it here. Feel free to skip the rest of the post.

I’m putting the favourites on one list, because good new series Doctor Who episodes are broadly as good as original series ones to me, but I’m splitting the bad ones into two lists, as the original series ones are mostly boring and badly-made, whereas the new ones have a whole load of other fan embarrassment buttons to press, from overt stupidity to an overly-sexualised Doctor to (sadly) unconscious antisemitism (at least I hope it’s unconscious).

Also, I’m hugely indecisive and find that repeated viewings can reveal new sides to disliked stories, so the lists could change.

Favourites

  • The Mind Robber
  • The War Games
  • City of Death
  • Warriors’ Gate
  • The Caves of Androzani
  • Ghost Light
  • Human Nature/The Family of Blood
  • Heaven Sent

Least Favourites (Original Series)

  • The Celestial Toymaker
  • The Invisible Enemy (? I think I enjoyed this a bit more last time I saw it)
  • Underworld
  • Meglos
  • Arc of Infinity
  • Planet of Fire
  • The Twin Dilemma
  • Timelash

Least Favourites (New Series)

  • The Runaway Bride
  • Voyage of the Damned
  • The Doctor’s Daughter
  • The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End
  • The End of Time
  • Into the Dalek
  • Kill the Moon
  • The Husbands of River Song
  • Twice Upon a Time
  • The Witchfinders
  • Orphan  55

To honest, if I was rigorously consistent, I would add or remove various stories, but this is more intuitive than scientific.

Other observations: I really don’t like Christmas specials (four on the least favourite list).  I do apparently like stories with a reputation for being confusing (Warriors Gate, Ghost Light), and also stories set in some kind of void and/or bizarre realm outside the normal universe (The Mind Robber, Warriors’ Gate, Heaven Sent).  My choice of favourites is pretty catholic in terms of Doctors and styles, but surprisingly nothing from the years 1975-77, generally seen by fans as the programme’s Golden Age, although there were several stories from that era that narrowly missed a place on the favourites list, and it is an era I view positively on the whole. Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker are the only Doctors to get more than one story in the best list.

Long Division

I don’t have much to say, but I feel I need to offload a bit. Work was OK. I went to the bank, which I always like as it’s good to get out of the office (which I’m finding increasingly dark and claustrophobic as we head further into winter), even if it was cold outside. Coming home wasn’t fun though. I had my first proper Tube ‘packed like sardines’ crush since COVID started, and it wasn’t even rush hour. I don’t know how I managed to cope with this regularly for so much of my life despite my autism. No wonder I kept burning out! And now I have COVID fears about being stuck with a crowded carriage of people breathing on me. Mask compliance was perhaps a bit better than it has been for a while, but not like it was last winter. Everyone was wearing a mask in shul (synagogue) tonight, but it’s hard to feel confident about that when it feels such a retrograde step.

I have been pretty burnt out this evening. I had a good time with my family last night, but I had to ‘people’ all evening and then go to bed without much downtime. Then I had work today, the Tube crush and then eating dinner with my parents again, which is still ‘peopling.’ I desperately need some TV time. I did half an hour of Torah study on the train to work; I would have liked to have done some more, but I just don’t feel up to it.

Also, E and I are facing some big decisions, but we’re facing them together, which is good. We both feel anxious, though, and frustrated at being so far apart. I’m not saying more about this for now.

***

I laughed out loud a couple of times when I was listening to Hancock’s Half-Hour on my headphones while walking home from the station (despite it being a very dated episode in multiple ways). I’m glad it was dark and people couldn’t really see me as it would look pretty odd.

***

I watched yesterday’s Doctor Who. It was mostly quite good and I wasn’t going to comment here, but then there were some bits, small and, unfortunately, very big, that were very, very bad. So feel free to skip the rest of this post, unless you’re a fan, or you just want to see me angry.

I liked the Yaz/Dan/Professor Jericho stuff. It felt like proper Doctor Who, exciting, funny, mysterious and different. More please.

The Grand Serpent was nasty. Somehow he seemed to do more than Swarm and Azure, who look good, but, in my mind at least haven’t done much (they killed some abstract people in a somewhat abstract way), a big ‘show don’t tell’ violation. And I find myself guiltily thinking the programme is better without the Doctor being engaged in the main storyline — no slight on Jodie Whittaker, just on the general level of bombast that new series Doctors are supposed to exhibit in comparison with the original series (Yaz and Professor Jericho arguably both seemed more Doctorish in their plotline).

The mildly irritating stuff: the Ood mask was rubbish (eyes too big, tentacles too rubbery and the whole thing screaming ‘fake’). The story as a whole is sort of beginning to make sense, but some stuff just isn’t explained properly. And no upper class British general in the 1950s would use ‘task’ as a verb.

The small, but annoyingly awful bit: the in-joke vocal appearance by Lethbridge-Stewart. No one of his class and accent and paternal background (see Twice Upon a Time) rose through the ranks. He’d have gone to Sandhurst and trained as an officer from the start. And even if you take the latest dating for the UNIT stories of (our) 1970s, he must have risen through the ranks superfast to get from corporal to colonel in time for the dates to work. It’s even worse if you assume the scene takes place after The Web of Fear (as is also a possible reading) and he somehow got demoted from colonel and re-promoted. Sometimes one badly-thought through in-joke is not just unfunny, but actively annoying and undermines any good feeling the in-joke might have generated.

The very big and very awful bit (MASSIVE SPOILERS with spoiler space, although WordPress blocks might mess that up EDIT: it did mess it up, sorry):

We really didn’t need to meet the Doctor’s mother, even if she is her adopted mother. It was bad enough seeing this much of her past in The Timeless Children. Even Russell T Davies held back from overtly doing this (the woman in The End of Time is supposed to be his mother, but it isn’t actually stated on screen). It’s just a silly soap opera thing, particularly if it isn’t done for any reason other than the cliched ‘villain says the Doctor is “Just like me”; Doctor says, “No I’m not!”-parallelism.

There is an argument that the Doctor hasn’t had any real mystery since The War Games revealed his/her/their background back in 1969 (real world chronology), but this is taking it to a ridiculously self-obsessed extreme. Doctor Who isn’t fundamentally about the Doctor, it’s a show that takes the Doctor as a character and uses him/her/them to explore different environments and story styles. The problem is that the programme goes through cyclical periods of thinking that the show is absolutely about the Doctor and the Time Lords and now Division and obsessing over them until the programme can’t breathe under the weight of its own mythology. Then someone else comes along and hacks the whole thing back to basics, which is what needs to happen right now. I hope maybe the Flux will provide some way of resetting the whole universe, because I can’t see where we can go from here.

Now I feel like I need to watch some other TV to recover from the TV which upset me instead of calming me down.

Running to Stand Still

I am still looking for agent for my novel. I submitted to two today. They are only the third and fourth agent I’ve sent to in last four weeks. I’m not sure why I’ve been going slowly; some of it is feeling that there are still a lot of things in my life that I need to deal with NOW (the treading water feeling that I am not progressing, just running to setand still). I have to prioritise, and it is easy to say that submitting my manuscript is not a high priority, which might not be correct.

Finding an agent and then a publisher is definitely a marathon, or a series of marathons, and not a sprint, but it is easy to get disheartened particularly when (a) I don’t have great self-esteem in general or belief in my writing ability, (b) I’m also looking for writing and other paid work and not getting anywhere and (c) I’m in a job where I frequently end up feeling incompetent and inadequate, which just undermines my self-esteem further.

***

Reading Orlando, there is a lot about Orlando struggling to fit in with the spirit of the literature of her age. Reading between the lines, I assume this is about author Virginia Woolf and her lover Vita Sackville-West (the model for Orlando) struggling to fit into the still-pervading atmosphere of Victorian conservatism and patriarchy in literature and society in the 1920s. Ironically, Orlando‘s gender-fluid and feminist themes mean that Orlando is very much in tune with twenty-first century Western literary mores, probably more so than Woolf could ever have dreamed. I am still hoping that the ‘diversity’ agenda that dominates contemporary publishing will work to my advantage, but so far as I can tell from the books that get the praise and the prizes, ‘diversity’ is primarily about being black, gay or trans (or all of the above), not disabled (autistic or depressed) and definitely not Orthodox Jewish. Which is a shame, as I feel that many people know rather less about Jews than they think they do, and that this ignorance leads to a lot of avoidable antisemitism.

(Don’t get me started on viewpoint diversity in publishing or elsewhere.)

***

I did a few other things today. I wrote my devar Torah in an hour. I felt like I was winging it. Sometimes reading the sedra (Torah portion) early in the week prompts an idea to talk about or sends me doing research in other books. Sometimes I already have an idea that I want to impart and look for a link in a sedra (Torah portion) where I can relate it. But today I was stumped for ideas and just thought about things I’d already heard about the sedra until I found one I felt I could write about for about 600 words. I think it’s OK, and I did try to write in a slightly different style to my usual one, with more of an arresting opening and a bit more inspirational than usual. This was partly to make my writing more attention-grabbing and purposeful, largely to nudge my style a bit closer towards that of the Jewish website I applied to write, to see if I can actually write in their style.

***

I phoned the autism hospital to try to get a number I can phone to find out if I’m on the waiting list for autism-adapted CBT. I phoned the person I spoke to last week who says she doesn’t deal with it any more. At the time I didn’t think to ask her for the details of whoever does deal with it and now I’m struggling to find out. I feel stupid about not doing this at the time, but I know autism + on-the-spot interpersonal interactions + telephones is not a good combination and I do end up thinking of things I should have said when I look back on these types of calls.

***

Overall, I did quite a bit today (I skyped E too, and went for a walk and did some shopping), but my ‘to do’ list is still so long, and I might have to submit to so many agents, that it can all seem very dispiriting at times.

Useful Phrases and Toxic Positivity (and Doctor Who)

Work today was mostly OK, except for a bit when I was on the phone to someone I often struggle to understand and then J started talking to me. I could not listen to both people and once and I heard nothing. At the time, I thought this was an autistic sensory or processing thing, but it’s probably something lots of people would struggle with it.

***

I’ve been thinking today about a couple of useful phrases for mental wellbeing. One was something I heard on an NHS group therapy thing I went to a few years ago. “I’m not responsible for the first thought, I am responsible for the second.” I can’t remember the exact context where I first heard this. I think it was mostly directed at self-esteem, as in I’m not responsible if a self-critical thought comes into my head, but I don’t have to follow it up with more. It’s good for dealing with those kinds of thoughts, but I use it with a lot of other difficult thoughts, particularly the type which, if dwelt upon, can push me towards pure O OCD (idolatrous thoughts, violent thoughts, sexual thoughts). I can just say that I’m not responsible for random thoughts that come into my head, so no guilt and catastrophising about being a terrible person for having such a thought, but also that I have the power not to dwell on them so I can move on, which is empowering.

The other phrase was something I learnt on a confidence and self-esteem course I did many years ago. I think some of the course veered towards toxic positivity, but one thing that was useful was the mantra, “It’s none of my business what other people think of me.” That’s actually quite powerful and I focused on it today after the telephone awkwardness. I do tend to think that a lot of people have negative thoughts about me (people who don’t know my issues/struggles, but who witness my social awkwardness), but I can at least try not to care about it.

***

Speaking of toxic positivity, I listened to a Normal Frum Women podcast on the subject yesterday. It was good, but I felt that they didn’t really get into the issue of toxic positivity in a Jewish religious setting. They spoke a bit about the sociological side of things, like mourning rituals creating time and space for sadness, but they didn’t really get into the theology. A lot of people would argue that Jews are supposed to be grateful and joyous all the time. This is an idea that is identified most strongly with Hasidism (particularly Breslov Hasidism), but can be found in other places too. This can be hard to accept or follow.

Part of the problem is that most of the sources dealing with joy and sadness date from before the development of modern psychology, so they don’t really distinguish sadness from clinical depression. Even accepting that, I think it is OK to say that sometimes the emphasis on joy and happiness isn’t always healthy or achievable, and that there is a place for sadness (they said this on the podcast, just not with religious sources). I used to know a Yeshivish rabbi who used to say that he was very glad that he isn’t a Breslov Hasid as he couldn’t be happy all the time. (It is also worth noting that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was also far from being joyous all the time and quite possibly had bipolar disorder, so we shouldn’t feel bad about not living up to a standard even he didn’t reach.)

Beyond that, I think there is a sense that joy is not the same as happiness or positivity. Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl wrote an essay on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) in his Sukkot machzor (Tabernacles prayerbook). It’s a while since I read it, but I think he says that Kohelet is a book permeated with death and the sense of the shortness and futility of life, but it also has the word ‘joy’ more than any other book in Tanakh (The Hebrew Bible). The paradox is resolved because joy is not about always being happy and more about living in the moment and being grateful for what you do have, something that is compatible with feeling sadness from time to time.

***

Doctor Who thoughts, feel free to skip: I watched The Fires of Pompeii with E (long-distance). It’s a strange story, full of postmodern comedy, then it ends with the city being destroyed and loads of people dying. Doctor Who has done this before (the original series story The Myth Makers, about the fall of Troy, is very similar, tonally, although it’s hard to compare them directly as the older story no longer survives), but it seems weirdly awkward.

It seems like when Doctor Who, original or modern, does a historical story set within living memory, the writers and designers bust a gut to get every detail right and it’s all taken very seriously. No one is going to suggest the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Rosa) or the partition of India (Demons of the Punjab) were anything other than serious, tragic episodes, and while there is humour (e.g. the Doctor claiming to be Banksy in Rosa), it’s low-key and it doesn’t send up the period. Nothing like the Cockney Roman stallholder in The Fires of Pompeii.

If it’s set beyond living memory, however, suddenly the most outrageous errors (beyond artistic licence), anachronisms and silliness are permissible, even if it ends badly. The Witchfinders in particular sticks in my craw, for many reasons. Hence The Fires of Pompeii, an episode that mostly feels like Asterix… right up until the city gets destroyed. Weird.

There is a sense that, if no one in the audience can remember it, it’s ripe for comedy, which is a bit shocking for a programme that was originally supposed to teach children about history and to present the past on its own terms, as being as valid as the perspective of the present. Admittedly it wandered from this attitude very quickly, also in a story set in the ancient Roman Empire ending in catastrophe (the Fire of Rome in The Romans, a story very much in the same vein as The Fires of Pompeii). The Fires of Pompeii is far from being unique here, but the tragic nature of the climax, combined with the broadness of the comedy beforehand, make it particularly noticeable. I would like it if we could go back to really well-researched historical stories, but I suspect I’m in a minority here.

(Actually, I’ve just remembered Let’s Kill Hitler, a story that isn’t actually about killing Hitler, but does not exactly get to grips with the brutal reality of the Third Reich. It’s more about River Song trying to kill the Doctor, but I guess if I were inclined I could see it as more evidence of Jews not being considered a real oppressed minority in the eyes of the woke/BBC, although 2011 is a bit early for true wokeness. Anyway, as a general rule, my point still stands: recent tragedy: serious; further back: mockery.)

(Trivia point I noticed a while back: The War Games (1969) is closer in time to World War One (1914-1918) than Rosa (2018) is to the Montgomery Bus Boycott (1955-1956), yet it doesn’t feel that way.)

Meet the Parents

***

I felt so drained today. It was hard to get up or do anything. I did eventually cook dinner (vegetarian red bean chilli). By the time I finished that, I had only a little over an hour until my Zoom call with E’s parents. The call was nerve wracking, and longer than I expected (nearly an hour and a half), but it went well, I think. I didn’t get much else done today, between being drained and then anxious about meeting E’s parents. I guess that’s understandable. I wish I didn’t have work tomorrow, but I do, unfortunately (J has a meeting so rearranged his in-office days and I had to follow suit).

***

A job I was vaguely thinking of applying for, even though it was full-time, has closed. I’m not sure if they found someone early or if I’ve been so busy with other things that I ran out of time. I’m not greatly upset, as I think my parents’ idea of applying for full-time jobs and then asking to do it as a job share is not the most realistic. Nevertheless, I would be happier if I heard from the places I’ve written or pitched to recently about articles and my novel. I wish I could feel I was moving forward a little with my career(s).

***

I feel like I wasn’t expressing myself clearly in my post yesterday. I was trying to say that I should not argue back with culture warriors, but to write the truth of my own personal life instead, what I know experientially to be true, rather than what I think is true on a political, economic, cultural or religious level. I don’t think arguing on a political (etc.) level really works. I think that didn’t come across (despite the title), maybe because I was too tired. So I just want to clarify that.

***

I dreamt about turkeys last night. I’m obviously hanging around with too many Americans, or reading American-Jewish websites.

On and On and On

Today I’ve been up and down. I’m fine, I’m low, I’m fine, I want to cry, I’m fine… It’s hard to tell what triggered this, or maybe there are too many possible causes. Possible causes:

1) I haven’t had any response for my pitches to the Jewish newspaper, Jewish website or from the last couple of novel agents I submitted to. I haven’t had any time to submit to more agents. I don’t know what other websites or publications I might pitch to at the moment. This probably isn’t unusual and might not even mean that those publications/agents aren’t interested at this stage, but I’m finding the total radio silence unnerving. I’d like to hear something, even if it’s to say that I’m pitching the wrong way or to the wrong people.

2) I’m a bit upset that social anxiety seems to be winning in my life, at least at shul (see yesterday’s post) and a bit at work, inasmuch as I hope to avoid the Very Scary Task, although to be fair I’m not actively avoiding it. I would like to do autism-adapted CBT to work on this, but who knows when I will be able to do so?

3) I’m frustrated at not having much time for writing either, although I did spend some time on novel research last night. To be fair, part of my frustration is about being stuck in research and not writing mode.

Not everything is in limbo: I have E, and I have a job, even if it’s only two days a week. Being long-distance with E is hard now we’ve been in person, but it’s better than nothing. I also feel like I only get things when I’m at my wits’ end about them, and I’m not there yet with work and writing (or writing for work). I’m somewhat nervous about meeting E’s parents on Zoom later this week, but I have to do it sooner or later, and it’s better to do it sooner.

Otherwise it was a dull day: I got up a little earlier than usual, did some Torah study, went for a run, and Mum cut my hair. C’est tout.

***

Doctor Who was good (Village of the Angels), surprisingly so, although perhaps not so surprising given that it basically rehashed tried and tested set-pieces from other Weeping Angels stories. I feel there is only so much you can do with the Weeping Angels. I suspect it will turn out to be the best episode of the six part season story, as I’m expecting the concluding episodes to drift into technobabble and incoherence; already I feel I’m vague on anything to do with the ongoing storyline about the Flux and the villainous Swarm and Azure (good costumes, though) and more focused on the plotlines of individual episodes like the Sontarans in the Crimean War in episode two or the Village of the Angels tonight.

Autistic Regression, A Tail to Foxes, and More

You can’t become autistic. You’re either born on the autism spectrum or not. However, autistic people can mask their autistic traits, suppressing their desire to stim or forcing themselves to endure sensory overload, using their cognitive skills to engage in social interactions that allistics (non-autistics) do intuitively and so on. Sometimes they can mask so well and for so long that they don’t even know that they are autistic until it suddenly becomes to much and — BANG! — they start showing autistic symptoms because they’re too drained to mask any more. Hence adults appear to suddenly “become” autistic, to the surprise (and often horror) of family, friends and work colleagues. (This is kind of what happened to me, although not entirely.) This process of losing the ability to mask and “power through” disability has the rather brutal title of “autistic regression,” where people can lose skills (possibly permanently, although research into this is ongoing).

As well as coming at a time of autistic burnout, autistic regression can happen at any time as a result of autistic overload. One autistic person whose blog I read can lose the power of speech when she is very overloaded. I don’t lose speech totally, but when I’m overloaded I can become monosyllabic and irritably refuse to engage with anyone who tries to talk to me.

The last few days I seem to have been struggling with sensory sensitivity and I’m not sure why. Yesterday I was really overwhelmed by the smell of the mint in the chicken Mum cooked and served (I’m vegetarian on weekdays, so I didn’t taste it, which was a bit of a relief). Today the highlighter pen I was using at work had a smell that made me feel a little ill, even from a distance of a foot or more. I went into the shopping centre on the way home and there is a stall there that has some kind of flashing light thing that I usually tolerate or even like, but today it was just too overloading. I definitely am less able to tolerate sensory stuff at the end of a long work day, but I’m not sure why the mint was so overwhelming yesterday. It is a bit scary when this happens, when I suddenly seem to slip towards the less functional end of the autism spectrum.

***

Work was difficult today. There was an element of helping with the Very Scary Task. I also realised I had thrown away something that J wanted me to keep. To be fair, I think he said to throw it away, although there was probably a communication error. This has not stopped me being self-critical, although not as much as in the past. I also had a very difficult task, trying to reconcile four pairs of accounts. I sorted the first two pairs and am still on the third; I haven’t touched the fourth yet. It took me a while to work out how even to approach the third pair, but I got there in the end (hopefully).

***

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul (synagogue) building where I work. The speed of davening (prayer) was incredibly fast as usual. I am used to the slower speed of my shul. I am trying to remember if the fast speed is typical for the United Synagogue. I think it was fast even for the US, but the average US speed is faster than my current shul.

I was thinking about this because I’ve been reflecting on the future and one day moving back to a US shul. I would not like to have a shul that davened as fast as the work shul as my main place to daven. However, I had reflected recently that I may feel more comfortable in a US environment where I am one of the more religiously learned and capable members, partly because there is less fear of being rejected, but mostly because I am more likely to engage with the community and do things (lead prayers, share my divrei Torah, give shiurim) if I feel there are few people in the community who can do these things. The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot says that it is better to be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox, but I think I’m more comfortable as a fox head. But should I be trying to be comfortable?

***

Tomorrow is going to be hectic, as my parents are going to the cremation of my Mum’s cousin, who died a week or two ago. She wasn’t religious; cremation is not allowed in Orthodox Judaism, nor is leaving a body unburied for so long without a good reason. For some reason this has disturbed me and I’m not sure why. To clarify, cremation is believed to cause great pain to the soul and that is why it disturbed me. What I don’t know is why this particular cremation upset me. I wasn’t close to the cousin (I think I only met her once) and I’ve had other relatives cremated without feeling the same way about them. But something about this has got to me, and I’ve been thinking about her periodically. Feeling that I want to do something, but there isn’t anything I can do. Maybe it feels worse because she has fallen out with her sister, who isn’t sitting shiva (mourning) for her.

The reality of Judaism in the twenty-first century is that frum (religious) Jews are a minority of a minority. This means that many frum Jews have non-frum relatives. The options are either to accept that you can’t control other people, even family, even your children; or to cut people who think or act differently to you out of your life. Some frum Jews do the latter quite ruthlessly and, to be fair, there are non-frum Jews who cut newly-frum relatives out of their lives. I made the choice many years ago to go down the “accept I can’t control other people” route. It’s hard sometimes, but I’m sure in my mind that it’s the best option, morally, religiously and pragmatically. It does sometimes lead to thoughts and feelings that have nowhere to go, though.

***

I am currently reading Orlando, which E gave me for my birthday. I wanted to read it as it’s her favourite book and I thought that as she is watching Doctor Who, I should do something in return. I’m finding it more readable than I expected. I didn’t have very clear expectations, but I guess I had an idea of Virginia Woolf as an austere litterateur and humourless political radical who wouldn’t believe in joking around until Patriarchy is destroyed. Actually, Orlando is pretty funny. However, I can see why Philip K. Dick described Woolf as someone who wrote about nothing at all, meaning that there isn’t much plot.

***

I listened to episodes of Hancock’s Half-Hour while walking to and from the station on work days this week. Hancock’s Half-Hour was a sitcom on the radio and later the TV in the fifties and early sixties. I grew up listening to it and recently bought what survives of the first radio series on CD (as with early Doctor Who and many, many other TV and radio programmes, not all of it survives). It is dated in places, but remarkably modern-sounding in others. It’s hard to listen to dialogue when walking along busy roads, but it has cheered up my walk home when exhausted at the end of the day this week and makes a change from music.

Kafkaesque

I woke up again at 7am after only having had about six hours of sleep. I thought about getting up, but six hours sleep didn’t seem enough, so I went back to sleep and, inevitably, slept through most of the morning. I think it’s weird that this keeps happening. Maybe my body is trying to tell me I really don’t need so much sleep, but I do find it hard to get by on six hours, so I wonder why I keep waking up after that amount, and why I sleep for so long afterwards if I don’t need it. I think I need to bite the bullet and get up at 7am or whenever I wake up and see what happens, but it’s hard to think like that when I’ve only just woken up and I only get a few seconds to decide what to do before I fall asleep again.

After I fell asleep again, I was having some weird bad dream when my Dad knocked on the door. I think I gasped audibly or even screamed, but I’m not sure.

***

When I filled in the job agency registration form yesterday, they asked for references. I gave two, but I thought I ticked (or tried to tick — it’s hard on a Word document) the box for not asking them for references yet. However, J texted me today to say he’s been asked for a reference. There isn’t much I can do about it now, and it’s probably not a bad thing that J knows that I’m looking for supplementary work especially as I’m still hoping he’ll make my current role permanent (technically I’m a freelance contractor even though I’ve been there for a year now). Still, it was a conversation I was hoping to push off for a bit.

***

More fun with bureaucracy: the autism hospital phoned me back, which surprised me a bit. The person I spoke to said that they need a referral form from the GP rather than a letter, which may be what the problem was. She said that she doesn’t deal with the autism-adapted CBT any more, but that she thought the people who do would have sent the form to the GP. I’m not sure that this has been done, although it’s hard to tell, because there is apparently a huge backlog of referrals that they are working through (I assume because of COVID). I didn’t think to ask for contact details for those people when I was on the phone (because I’m autistic and have issues with dealing with conversations, especially on the phone!). I phoned back afterwards to do so, but it went straight to voicemail. So I may be on the waiting list already, or I may not be, but I’m not sure how I find out for sure. Honestly, it’s like something out of Kafka.

***

I emailed my oldest friend. We haven’t Skyped for a while and I wondered how he was getting on. More selfishly (not exactly selfish, but focused on the self), as my relationship with E gets more serious, I feel I need to mention her to my friends, so it won’t be a shock (or too much of a shock) when we get engaged.

***

I had a positive therapy session, but in many ways my biggest breakthrough was outside therapy. It was in realising that, while I do not have good Talmud studying skills, I do have some good Midrash study skills. The Midrash is the rabbinic expansion of the biblical narrative, like fan fiction that explores the characters and themes of the original text. Midrash can be hard to understand, as it can be intensely symbolic, even surreal, but the meaning of the symbolism may be unique to the individual passage, so there isn’t a set of universally-applicable ‘keys’ to learn. There is a tendency in the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world to take Midrash very literally and to see the text as revealed by God in a straightforward way (similar to the Haredi understanding of Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)), but in the Modern Orthodox world, it is seen as more literary and authored by individual rabbis rather than an objective description of factual events.

I find this a lot easier to understand that legal arguments. Yesterday I went from being curious about a passage in the Torah to looking up some Midrashim (in translation), finding a relevant Midrash, being baffled about the meaning, figuring out what seemed a likely symbolic reading and linking that symbolic reading to an understanding of the wider narrative in the Torah that it related to and writing a devar Torah about this with a homiletic conclusion all in the space of an hour or so. I think not many people would have been able to do that, even if they could understand halakhic (legal) passages of Talmud easily. It’s really a creative process not a rational/logical one. You stare at it for a bit and either the meaning of the passage suddenly hits you or it doesn’t and you go to the next one. Certainly having experience in reading serious literature helps here. (In fairness, there were other Midrashim I looked at that I couldn’t understand.)

I would like to build wider Midrash study skills further, but that would require investing time on improving my rabbinic Hebrew and also investing money on buying some volumes of Midrash rather than relying on Sefaria.org (there isn’t much Midrash easily available in parallel Hebrew-English translation). It is something to keep in mind for the future.

***

My sister and brother-in-law came for dinner. I had warned my parents that I would probably be drained after therapy (I feel like I’m just expected to fall in with everyone else’s plans). I definitely got ‘peopled out’ partway through the evening, around the time I had to listen to the story of my parents’ recent holiday for the second time (the first was the Shabbat after they got home, but sister and BIL weren’t here then). Perhaps because I was drained, my inner filter switched off and I was — not rude exactly, but cheeky. I have to admit they are still here, and I just slipped away from the meal because I needed a break. Even though my sister, BIL and I have early starts tomorrow, the meal is still ongoing. It is getting rather late and I really want it to be over, not because it’s bad, but because I just need some downtime before bed. I should probably go back downstairs and rejoin everyone as I’ve been up here for quarter of an hour…

Blood Test Manoeuvres in the Dark

I had a blood test today at 11.20am. I booked it for earlier than usual (I would normally go for the afternoon) to force myself to get up earlier and get more out of the day. I did struggle to get up on time, and went back to bed for a while after I got home.

The blood test was in a room where the lights were off and the blinds half-drawn. I’m guessing the phlebotamist had a headache rather than there being some problem with the lights, but this is the NHS, so who knows? I was a little nervous of someone sticking needles in me in poor light. At least I didn’t seem to shake much, or maybe the phlebotamist didn’t notice in the dark.

More NHS fun: I phoned the autism hospital in the afternoon to try to find out what my GP needs to do to refer me for autism-adapted CBT, but there was no answer. I left a message, but am not hopeful of getting a response.

Other than that, my main task for today was to fill in registration forms for a job agency. I’ve been with them for a number of years, but apparently it’s been so long that I need to register again. This probably reflects badly on my ability to find permanent work, although I suppose it reflects equally badly on their ability to find permanent work for me.

That was very boring and I got sidetracked into reading politics stuff online, which initially reinforced the curmudgeonly feelings I had woken up with, but eventually turned into guilt and self-disgust for bothering to read this stuff. Honestly, I’d rather avoid politics. Sometimes I feel like I’m overwhelmed by political opinions and unable to process them rationally in the time available, so I swing into sudden anger or impulsive policy decisions that I disagree with later. Structural changes in journalism due to technological and social change, including the advent of social media, seem to have had a negative affect on the mainstream media, making it less researched and more clickbaity, less focused on telling us what happened and more focused on telling us what to think (or rather, feel) about what happened. I’m aware that this is not an original perspective by any means, and that it might even be a product of the situation it describes, which is a scary thought.

Even so, the banality of politics continues to annoy me. The local Labour Party sent a flier through the door the other day promising a “Stronger Future Together”. I’m not sure how the future can be stronger (or weaker, for that matter). Not that the Conservatives are any better, somehow winning a landslide with the vapid “Build Back Better” slogan in the last general election. You can take alliteration too far. Still, someone must have liked it, as Joe Biden stole it for his presidential campaign the next year. (Not the first time Biden has borrowed from British politicians. He withdrew from the Democratic primary race in 1987 partly for having plagiarised a famous speech by then Labour leader Neil Kinnock.)

(Don’t take the above paragraph too seriously, I’m just feeling cynical today.)

My mood did pick up after a while, although I wish I had not wasted so much time today as there was more I wanted to do.

I did work on my devar Torah for the week, but I struggled to find the source I wanted. I have a book called The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities. The name is somewhat misleading, as it mostly lists Midrashic (rabbinic) material on biblical characters rather than summarising the biblical narrative. It is a useful way of finding rabbinic perspectives on particular figures or locating specific Midrashim (rabbinic expansions of the biblical story), but I like to try and check the sources in full, as sometimes the passages are highly edited. However, I could not find the source even in Hebrew on online Jewish library Sefaria. This may be because the referencing in the book wasn’t accurate. I can use the source as quoted in the Encyclopedia, but I do feel vaguely guilty about doing so.

I think the devar Torah was OK though. This is a part of it:

There are a number of Hasidic tales that have a similar structure whereby a Hasid wants God to grant him wealth or health, not for its own sake, but so that he can study and pray more. However, the Rebbe tells him that God does not want his prayer, study or service, but rather He wants the struggle the Hasid has to endure, and the sighs that he makes, in his effort to serve God while still living as a human being with a need for sustenance and health.

I’ve written things along these lines, about God wanting effort rather than achievement, a number of times in my divrei Torah. I really hope I can start believing it!

Then and Now

I feel that sometimes bad things happen and I write about them, but when they get resolved, I forget to mention it. I think I forgot to mention that the ringing I had in my ears a while back stopped after a few days of steam inhalation. Similarly, I had a couple of recent days of emotional lowness and worried I was drifting into depression, but I mostly seem to have been OK since then, albeit with the caveat that my ‘normal’ mood is generally somewhat lower in the winter than the summer, and that I can dip into low mood for a while during a day in response to external events, or just being hungry or tired.

***

Yesterday I applied for the writing job I wrote about recently. That took much of my Sunday afternoon. I didn’t do much else. I went for a walk, skyped E, did some Torah study. That was about it.

Today at work I had to go to one of our other sites, which at least got me out of the office. I was absolutely exhausted when I got home (then had to make supper as Mum wasn’t feeling well). I couldn’t do the things I was hoping to do tonight, although planning to do anything after work is always risky. I worry how I will cope if I work more hours.

J pointed out that I’d made a fairly big mistake last week. It’s possible I just misheard what someone said to me over the phone. The more worrying interpretation is that my brain simply wasn’t working properly as I was trying to listen, write and think (and ‘people’ a bit, which is harder over the phone) all at the same time, while also trying not to give in to social anxiety. I guess Explanation 2 is just an elaborated version of Explanation 1. All of which makes me worry about my future in the workplace (any workplace). It’s hard to tell how annoyed/concerned J is about this, as he’s pretty laid back about everything and I can’t work out if that means this is OK or he’s angry, but chooses not to show it.

***

Lately I’ve been reading Rabbi Sacks and the Community We Built Together, a nicely put together (and surprisingly long) tribute book to Rabbi Lord Sacks published by the United Synagogue for his first yortzeit (death anniversary). The book is lavishly illustrated with photos of Rabbi Sacks taken at various events during his Chief Rabbinate. The Anglo-Jewish community is very small and I’ve already spotted a number of people I know in the photos with him.

Today I spotted my first girlfriend in one of the group photos. According to the caption, it was almost certainly taken while we were together. It was a bit of a shock, being reminded of my previous life. I was a different person back then. It did make me reflect, not for the first time, that E is really the best person for me. None of my other girlfriends/dates/crushes (not that there were many of the first two) came close to connecting with me, understanding me or caring for me as well as she does.

The downside of reminiscing is that part of me still struggles in the way I did back then with a lot of day-to-day tasks, and with sleep and energy levels, and I am not sure how to deal with that, because finding True Love apparently doesn’t magically stop you being autistic and socially anxious.

***

This week’s new Doctor Who episode was pretty much typical new Doctor Who. I was going to say something about the fact that I could barely understand it and none of it really resonated with me, but I keep coming back to the idea that the programme isn’t made for people like me (resolutely non-fashionable middle aged fans), it’s being made for a family audience and especially children of the twenty-first century. If it didn’t have the name Doctor Who I probably wouldn’t watch it and I probably wouldn’t care, but because it has the name on it, and because I’m emotionally invested in ‘Doctor Who‘ (whatever that means), I care.

It’s funny how much of my fan life has been spent trying to define the difference between the Doctor Who I like most and the Doctor Who I don’t like as much (or at all). There’s a fan joke that goes, “What’s the definition of a Doctor Who fan? Someone who hates Doctor Who” and, while I don’t think that’s entirely true, it does define a certain type of person, and certain part of most fans. We (i.e. fans) try to maintain that there’s just one big thing called Doctor Who, but really it’s made up of lots and lots of little bits and it’s OK to like some of it and not other parts without needing to explain yourself (he said, explaining himself).

***

I posted this on Margaret’s blog and thought it was probably better here than in a comment thread. It was responding to a meme about books being more lavish, detailed and beautiful than the films that are based on them. I wrote:

I don’t think that meme about the book vs. the movie/film is always true. I can think of a number of stories where the film is as good or better than the book, although to be fair, in some cases the book was written primarily as the first stage in writing the screenplay (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Third Man). I think the meme discounts the artistry present in good direction, acting, cinematography and even design e.g. Blade Runner, which purely in plot terms is worse than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, cutting out the subplots as well as over-simplifying plot and character, but the direction and design work add a whole level resulting in a film that feels like an immersive environment.

As a librarian, bibliophile and aspiring novelist, I feel vaguely treacherous for saying that the film can be better than the book, but I am a Dispassionate Truth-Speaker and will not lie!

The Fire Sermon

I felt exhausted all day on Friday. Shul (synagogue) in the evening was OK. It seemed quieter than usual. I’m not sure why, possibly there were fewer people. There was a devar Torah that I didn’t like that much. It was based on a very mystical worldview that I didn’t really buy into, and an approach towards Midrash that I don’t really accept, taken to some very strange conclusions. The person who gave it (it’s a slot open to the community) asked if I understood it. I said yes, which is true, I understood it, I just didn’t agree with it. I still struggle to disagree with people, and I feel a more Maimonidean religious rationalist understanding wouldn’t go down well in my community.

I had dinner with some friends, which was nice. It was just four of us, so I wasn’t as overwhelmed as I feared I might be. When I got home I had a long chat with my parents about their holiday. I also had a treat: I read Eliot’s The Waste Land, which I hadn’t read for years. I suspect Eliot’s worldview and understanding of literature is about as far from fashionable as is possible at the moment, and I have never really been able to analyse and understand the poem, but I’ve always found it beautifully written. There are lines embedded in my memory.

I woke up about 7am and thought about getting up. I knew I wasn’t going to go to shul in the morning, as I thought I needed to recuperate after socialising yesterday, but I thought I should get up to try to sort out my sleep pattern, but I just couldn’t face it, and ended up sleeping again. I napped twice in the afternoon too, once briefly, but once for an hour (my parents were also asleep, and we all slept through the end of Shabbat). I had wanted to go to shul for Minchah (Afternoon Prayers) and Talmud shiur (religious class), but didn’t make it. It’s hard to unpick why; I think the napping is avoidance, driven by social anxiety and feelings of disconnection with the community. I had these before COVID, but the prolonged periods without shul, or with uncomfortable regulations, has just made them worse. I’m not sure what to do now. It presumably is something I could work on in autism-adjusted CBT, but I’m not even on the waiting list for that yet, with the GP currently refusing to apply to the CCG for funding. I need to phone the hospital to ask what I should tell the GP, but I feel (a) like I’m playing Piggy in the Middle, (b) that the GP should know and (c) that the hospital won’t be any more cooperative than the GP. I will try to phone the hospital during the week, if I have the time.

I might not have the time because I’m juggling several possibly job opportunities. I need to prepare for my meeting with the autism job agency; fill in various forms for the job agency that got me work in the past; apply for a job that I’m not helpful about (it’s full-time. I don’t think I can work full-time, but my parents tell me to apply and see if they’ll let me have a job-share. I am sceptical about this); and, most excitingly, the Jewish website that published my article a few months ago is advertising for staff writers. This seems about the most promising job opportunity I’ve had for a long time, so I’m applying there as my first priority. In the past I would have been either thinking I can’t write inspirational posts or link Jewish concepts to pop culture and the news (as is their style), or I would be thinking that, as my Jewish worldview doesn’t match the sites 100%, I shouldn’t write for them, but I’m mostly feeling positive,so I guess that’s good.

I’ve got Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned on as I write. I wouldn’t usually watch TV and write (I can’t multitask), but it’s long and dull, but it’s the next episode on E and my new Who watch. It’s one of those episodes where I wonder how I can have such different views of Doctor Who, and storytelling, than Russell T Davies (although “You couldn’t even sink the Titanic!” was quite a good line). I hope there are people out there who like my type of stories (or writing).

The One with all the Writing Pitching and Job Hunting

I had a bad start to the day. I decided to let myself sleep in, which was probably a bad idea. I got woken up at 11.30am by the phone. It was someone phoning from a job agency. I thought it was a cold call and asked them to phone back this afternoon. It was only later that I remembered that I had made the appointment to speak to them and forgotten to put it in my diary. Then I fell asleep again for a couple more hours and the afternoon was a rush to fit things in. The call, when I had it, was OK, just confirming that I am looking for more work, either one day a week, to fit with my current job, or up to three days a week, which would involve leaving my current job, something I have mixed feelings about based on my current sense of my ability to function with the workplace, but probably a nettle that needs to be grasped at some point. This job agency has managed to get me one or two jobs in the past, one that was very good and I think another that was awful, albeit for reasons none of us could really have guessed (just how badly working in an open-plan office 9am-5pm would affect me given my autism, which had not been diagnosed back then). On the downside, I’m already registered with one agent at this agency, so I’m not expecting many more possible jobs, and I don’t think this agency has got me an interview for a year or more.

After that, I hurriedly sent my article pitch to a Jewish newspaper while I was feeling vaguely confident (or just efficient) about my ability to cope with work. Now I’m terrified of either a positive or a negative response. I think I just want to be forgotten. I also pitched my novel to another agent in the evening.

Dinner was a bit of a mess. I got back from my walk to realise that I didn’t have the courgettes I needed for vegetable couscous. I feel like my brain just isn’t working today. I didn’t feel up to going out again in the dark, and I thought the recipe would be OK without them.It tasted OK in the end, but it would have benefitted from the added colour and taste of the courgettes.

I did some other things. As my parents are away, I did some laundry (Dad usually does that). I spent half an hour writing a devar Torah. I wasn’t hugely happy with it, but I guess if I want to be a writer it’s good that I can spin out 500 words of something vaguely meaningful on the sedra easily. Not that I necessarily want to write Jewish stuff (or only Jewish stuff), but as a measure of my ability to write at length with time pressure.

I booked an initial meeting with Enna, an organisation that offers employment mentoring to neurodivergent people (help with CVs and interviews, help finding relevant jobs, help asking for adjustments in the workplace etc.). I have a half-hour meeting with them in a couple of weeks to see how they can help me. That meeting is free, but meetings after that have to be paid for (it’s not a charity), so I’ll need to get an idea of how much they might be able to help me and whether it’s likely to be value for money. I’ve had help with CVs before, but some interview practise might help. To be honest, I’ve had interview help too. It’s not that I don’t know what to do and more that I can’t do it in the moment. In particular, I struggle to know what to do when my mind goes totally blank in response to a question and I freeze up. In theory notes would help, but I’ve never really had sufficient brainpower to look at them in that situation.

***

I’m watching the Doctor Who story The Green Death with E. I’d forgotten how slow the first two episodes are. Fan Wisdom states that the ideal length for a Doctor Who story is four episodes, each twenty-five minutes long (or rather it stated that, until single episode, forty-five minute stories became the norm with the new series) and that all six part stories have two episodes of padding. I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but it is in the case of The Green Death. Then, at the end of episode two, as the real story starts, the giant maggots turn up. I’d forgotten how gross they look too. Anyone who thought that BBC special effects in the 1970s weren’t up to much should watch them. They even have functional mouths (and teeth, weirdly). For a generation of children, this is known as The One with the Maggots. Then just in case they hadn’t traumatised a nation of children enough, the next year they did it all over again, but with giant spiders (Planet of the Spiders). The giant spiders weren’t anywhere near as effective as the maggots, though. Apparently they had to make the spiders less scary because the BBC had an internal policy on spiders not being too scary on TV. I’m amused (and vaguely jealous) that the BBC in the 1970s had enough horror/science fiction/fantasy output to need a policy on spider-scariness.

Neither Here Nor There

I went to bed late last night, which was my fault, and then I struggled to fall asleep and to stay asleep, which was not my fault. I overslept a bit, but got to the office more or less on time despite train delays.

I got to leave work earlier than usual today, which was good, as it gave me more recovery time before depression group (see below). This was a double relief after having done some of the Very Scary Task again, although J will be handling most of it tomorrow.

I went to depression group on Zoom. I hadn’t been for ages as I find it too draining after work. I didn’t have much to say, as I didn’t want to talk too much about my situation with E (I’m still pretty private about it and don’t want to say anything until there’s something to say), but I also didn’t want to sound too negative from having had a few bad days in the last week or so. I was just glad that I went, as going has felt too much for some time now, and that I spoke, as I was somewhat anxious about speaking. The group will be restarting in-person meetings soon and I might try to go to them as well as, or instead of, Zooming in the future. The time demands are greater in person, as I have to get there by bus or get a lift from my parents and come home by bus, but I think it’s easier to speak in person (although this could be selective memory after eighteen months) and it feels less confusing blurring the boundaries between home and group by being in my room and in the group at the same time. As for the journey time, I find those transitions are actually important to me, being on the spectrum, to help me handle changing tasks and situations, particularly switching from peopling to be alone. Also, the day of the meeting is shifting to Tuesday, which suits my work schedule much better.

***

Although I said I don’t want to say anything until there’s something to say, E and I are having Serious Conversations about moving our relationship on. It’s hard to move things on while we have limited income, although we both are 100% committed to finding a way to do so, somehow. That’s where the conversations come in, to plan what to do. I think I unconsciously assumed that sorting my career out would happen at the same time as finding my relationship, but I guess there is no reason why they should have done so. I just spent so many years praying and fantasising that I would get over my depression and get a “real” job and get married… it’s hard to avoid seeing it all as one big thing, especially as the first time E and I dated was the highpoint of my working life (I can’t really say ‘career’).

This also ducks the question of whether I really am ‘over’ my depression; certainly depression group tonight reminded me that many people experience depression as cyclical, with periods of remission and relapse. This has certainly been my experience, and it is worrying when I think about the future. Winter has traditionally been a period of relapse for me, relapses that do not always depart with the arrival of spring. I certainly feel bored and somewhat anxious and down at work at the moment, but I think it’s just that the job is a bit boring and the premises dreary. In other ways it’s fine, and my mood at home is much better, at least if I make allowances for the time of the year. I hope this is the end of the cycles, but who knows?

Opportunities, Missed and Otherwise

I am OK today. I am quite a bit down, but I’ve been used to that over the years. It’s a rush today because Shabbat starts at 4.10pm, but I wanted to note a few things briefly.

I’m hoping for a restful Shabbat (the Sabbath). My parents are out for dinner tonight, so I should have some time for recreational reading. E says I should read more for fun on Shabbat even if that means doing less Torah study and she may be right. Tomorrow Talmud shiur (religious class) at shul (synagogue) returns and I’d like to go, even though that means staying on for Ma’ariv (Evening Prayers) and then staying afterwards to help, where I feel I usually just get in the way, however hard I try to be helpful. But I’ll see how I feel tomorrow afternoon. It’s eighteen months since we’ve had this format for the shiur, because of COVID and because the timetable is different in the summer when Shabbat afternoons are very long compared with the winter when they’re very short.

There is an oneg being hosted by someone from my shul tonight. An oneg is a kind of Shabbat party where you sit around a table and there are snacks and soft drinks and alcohol, and people talk and sing religious songs and share divrei Torah. I used to try to force myself to these things to make friends. Usually I just sat there terrified, not speaking. Sometimes I stood outside crying at my social anxiety and social impairments and my inability to face my fears. I can’t really be bothered with that now, but I do wonder how else to make friends.

***

I found, lurking in my email inbox, an email from over a year ago from a job agency that helps people on the autism spectrum into work. I think I didn’t go down that path a year ago because I wasn’t diagnosed then, and because my current job appeared soon afterward. I might contact them again soon.

***

There’s a woman who keeps writing for Chabad.org about her fertility issues and the fact that she might never have children, and I want to read her articles, but I can’t, perhaps because they’re too close to home. Not that I have fertility issues per se, but that E and I worry that with all the mental health, neurological and financial issues that we have between us that we’ll never be able to support children, practically and financially. I guess that’s my main worry at the moment. I think E and I will be together, but I worry how we’ll cope, even without children.

***

I keep being drawn back to this interview with the late Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tl where the interviewer lists Rabbi Sacks’ achievements and asks if he ever failed anything and Rabbi Sacks bursts into laughter and says, “I nearly failed my first year in university. I nearly failed my second year in university. I was turned down for virtually every job that I applied for. Since I was a kid, I wanted to write a book. I started when I was 20 and I gave it every minute of spare time that I had. Even when Elaine and I went to a concert I would be writing notes during intervals or between movements during a symphony. Yet, I failed for 20 years! From 20 to 40 I had a whole huge file cabinet of books I started and never finished.” I heard another interview where he said that being a rabbi was his fourth career choice, after he failed at becoming an economist, an academic philosopher and a barrister (lawyer). So that gives me a little hope, because I’m nearly forty and I haven’t done anything with my life.

He also says, “I think all that goes with the affective dimension of Judaism, the emotional life, is being neglected…  I think we haven’t done enough with the affective dimension, and music is probably the most important… Cinema, too, isn’t used enough in this regard. I think we haven’t done enough with that to tell people what the life of faith does for you. I have so many stories that I think ought to be made into film. Stories of ordinary people I know who have done extraordinary things.”

He doesn’t talk about prose fiction, but I think it applies there too, particularly in terms of telling stories. Although the stories I want to tell are not necessarily ones he would want to tell. But I think/hope there is an audience out there, although not necessarily or purely a frum one or even Jewish one. I just hope I can convince the gatekeepers (agents, publishers, reviewers) of that.

I know I say things like this a lot, but, honestly, I have to keep saying it or otherwise I stop believing in it myself.

***

The reason the interview was posted is that it’s just over a year since Rabbi Sacks died. I still feel his loss acutely, even though I never really met him (although I was in the same room as him a few times). I wish I had had the opportunity, or made the opportunity, to speak to him — really to speak to him about my Jewish life, my creative life and my aspirations to unite them both. I struggle to understand my place in the world in general and Jewish world in particular. I don’t understand why God made me autistic, or what He wants from me. I feel he would have understood, and would have had good advice. It’s too late now.

Falls the Shadow

I went to bed late last night because I was trying to Do Stuff. This was basically a mistake, as I struggled to get up in time for work today. Although if I hadn’t done it, I would probably be feeling even more useless and even further behind with all the things I have to do. I felt intensely depressed today and was wondering again if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, or an element of it. My depressive episodes tend to start at this time of year, although they can persist through spring and summer, so it’s probably SAD co-existing with an underlying vulnerability to depression. Although I should see how I feel over the coming weeks, as I’ve only had a couple of bad days; I might feel better next week (maybe).

I don’t think I made any mistakes at work, but J discovered a bad one I must have made recently, not updating the address on an invoice that I was revising from a template. I’m not quite sure how it got to the right person. But even without many obvious errors, I was stuck in self-criticism and negativity today. I felt that it’s so hard to change my life, particularly to change it enough to be able to get married (having enough money to support ourselves, but also so that E can be allowed to immigrate). I wish I could work more and earn more, just for those practical reasons rather than because I want money or consumer goods in and of themselves.

Since I’ve got home from work and have snacked on some fruit, I feel quite a bit better. I think work is a not-ideal environment for me. The people are really nice, but the building itself is dark and gloomy and that does affect my mood, doubly so when I’m also tired or hungry. I don’t really begin to feel myself until after lunch most days because of that.

***

On the way home I listened to an Intimate Judaism podcast about whether Judaism is ‘sex positive’. There was some talk on the podcast about how the Jewish community should think about people who can’t have sex in the way that Judaism wants because they’re gay, transexual and so on. The sex therapist on the podcast was probably more liberal here than the rabbi. I’m not gay or trans, but that feeling of moral dissonance is something I’ve been experienced I hit adolescence over twenty years ago. E says I’m “strong” for staying a virgin for so long, but I rarely had the option not to be one. The actual times I’ve consciously made a choice not to have sex can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. On the other hand, the times I’ve deliberately or unintentionally broken Jewish law around sex and sexual fantasy (without ever actually having sex) are far too many to be counted. However, I really feel strongly against any kind of “making excuses” for myself. But at the same time, I want people to understand what I’ve been through, hence the books I want to write. I want people to understand without lowering their standards, but having more compassion.

***

Some months ago, E sent me a link to an Instagram post from Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt where she said:

How about we invest in real Orthodox art? What if instead of investing in askanim & bloggers to whine about misrepresentation – we empower frum independent-minded artists to do creative work, tell stories of our communities, bravely, *candidly*? The beautiful & challenging, the inspiring but also the systemic issues that emerge in communities in which there is the inevitable tug-of-war between individualism & conformity, tradition & modernity...

No, not “my Orthodox life is fun & perfect” tales, but stories of faith, conflicts, struggles? Not sanitized hagiography, but flesh & blood. Not “content,” but art. Stories that show we are human & nothing more.

I want to do this, to the limit of my ability, and it’s one of the main things that motivates me to want to keep writing and keep searching for an agent/publisher even when (as at the moment) things are hard both in my head (mood) and in the world (rejection or just lack of time and energy).

I don’t think I’ve suffered more than most people, although I don’t think I’ve suffered less than them either. I’m not sure that many people are free of suffering for long. When I think of other people suffering, it motivates me to want to write to let people know that this suffering exists. However, when I think of my own suffering, I just want to give up. It’s hard to get to the right mindset.

It did occur to me last night that Rebbetzin Chizhik-Goldschmidt, as a prominent Jewish journalist and also as a rebbetzin (rabbi’s wife) might have contacts in the world of publishing and I was vaguely thinking about trying to email her to say what I’ve just said here and outlining some of my projects and ask if she had any suggestions of where to look for an agent or publisher. But when I started to look for contact details online I discovered that her husband has literally just been fired from his job and the family has been made homeless, as well as facing a huge amount of criticism from their former community. So it’s probably not the best time to try that.

***

There was a time when I tried to read one poem a day. I stopped doing that in an earlier episode of depression; it was just one more ‘should.’ Now I only read poetry when blog friends post it, and not always then (sorry). I have been wanting to re-read T. S. Eliot lately, though, primarily The Waste Land, but The Hollow Men has been on my mind a bit, thinking about wanting to write and writing not being the same thing:

Between the idea
    And the reality
    Between the motion
    And the act
    Falls the Shadow
                                    For Thine is the Kingdom
   
    Between the conception
    And the creation
    Between the emotion
    And the response
    Falls the Shadow
                                    Life is very long

“Don’t think you knew you were in this song”

I woke up late again, and drained/fatigued. I feel that I need to make more money so E and I can get married, but I don’t know how. I feel I have so little confidence on my abilities in the workplace in general, and librarianship (the career I’m actually trained for) in particular. My attempts to sell magazine articles have not succeeded up until now, although I find it hard to think of ideas and worry that I don’t pitch them properly. I have a vague idea of writing something about being high-functioning on the autism spectrum and frum for one of the Jewish newspapers (my Mum has been saying for ages that I should write this), but I feel that professional magazines and newspapers publish from a small group of regular journalists they know they can trust. As with anything, I feel I don’t know how to get accepted in the first place. It’s hard even to find submissions guides and find out what word count or format they want.

I guess it’s come to a head partly from having a serious conversation about finances with E yesterday, and also because I keep coming across things written by Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who is a very successful frum (religious Jewish) journalist (and community rebbetzin!) and I wonder how other people can juggle creative (or non-typically-frum) careers and frumkeit and I can’t — is it just because I’m neurodivergent? How do I get around that? I really hope I’m not just congenitally useless. I know other people who juggle creativity and frumkeit. I guess they are not autistic, but then they have families and other responsibilities too.

I know, it’s hard to get established as a creative. Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime. Stephen King was rejected by thirty publishers and gave up on writing completely until his wife secretly saved his manuscript and sent it to another publisher. The Beatles were told that “Guitar bands are on the way out.” And so on. It’s hard to stay positive sometimes. At least I’m trying to think of ideas. Autism and low self-esteem tend to shut me straight into “I can’t do this, it won’t work” catastrophising mode.

Other things bringing me down: it’s less than a week since E went back to the States, but it feels like longer, especially as we don’t know when we’ll be together again. And now the clocks have gone back, it feels like winter is suddenly here. The nights have been getting longer, but suddenly they feel a lot longer, an effect that is probably at least in part psychological, as the clocks only go back one hour, but it still feels grim, especially with gloomy weather. I’m aware that this is exactly the time of year when I usually relapse into depression, even if I’ve been in recovery since spring. I hope this is just a bad day and not the start of a relapse.

I feel like both my chosen careers are very woke and focused with inclusion, diversity and minority voices — but not for Jews. Today I was looking at a supplement produced by CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals) on children’s books, very focused on racial and gender minorities; no Jews. Although judging by what I’ve read, including the Jewish science fiction and fantasy anthology I’m currently reading, most Jewish writers have little interest in or knowledge of most of Jewish history and culture, particularly the traditional and religious parts (which is most of it, historically).

E suggested I have a rest day, but I wanted to try to do something productive. Possibly this attitude just stores up trouble for me. Maybe I should listen when my body/mind tells me it’s tired. I seem to be caught in a no-win situation sometimes of feeling exhausted and needing rest, but also feeling like time is running out on me and I need to sort out my career ASAP, and that taking a day off (other than Shabbat) will just leave me feeling lazy and useless. So I push myself to do things and feel exhausted again the next day.

I sent my updated CV to a recruitment agent. She is supposed to specialise in library jobs and did actually get me one or two short-term jobs (I can’t remember exactly which ones, I think the really awful one outside the library sector and the surprisingly good one at a university library). I just wish looking at my CV didn’t make me feel like I totally failed at building a CV.

I also wrote a pitch email to a major Anglo-Jewish newspaper, pitching that article on high-functioning autism in the frum community. I do feel it’s problematic that most of the stuff I’ve had published in professional or semi-professional websites isn’t stuff I really want to show to prospective editors, given the subject matter, often depression, suicide or sexuality (but not in a good way, rather about loneliness and celibacy). I probably spent two hours or more in pitching mode today, whether talking about it with E and my parents; sketching a plan; and writing a pitch email (that took nearly an hour and a half by itself). I should probably apologise to E and my parents for being negative; I feel I have to vent a load of negativity before I can actually start a scary task. It’s generally just best to let me vent and then quietly wait for me to start regardless.

All this meant I didn’t get a chance to pitch my novel to another agent or to research the second novel. I wish I could do more in a day, but there it is. I probably won’t send the pitch email until Tuesday, as one site I read advised not to pitch on Thursday night or Fridays (no one wants to deal with a new project at the end of the week), over the weekend or on Mondays (editors are dealing with the weekend email backlog on Mondays and will delete pitch emails unread).

Other than that I went for a walk and spent some time on my devar Torah, but most of the stuff on my To Do list is still there.

Twice Exceptional

Yesterday was fairly ordinary. I submitted my manuscript to another agent, went for a run and Skyped E. I got an exercise headache again. I didn’t blog because there didn’t seem much need for it.

Today was more difficult. I had some OCD-type anxiety in the morning and again this evening. I had vague anxiety and intermittent vaguely low mood across the day. It’s hard for me to understand my feelings sometimes (often), but I felt some gloom and lethargy, albeit that that’s probably usual for me when I’m at work. Work was OK, though, not too many mistakes.

I came home determined to work on my novel(s). I did manage about half an hour of work on them, doing some research for my second novel and also trying to track down the publisher and agent of someone who has written an award-winning Young Adult novel that is Jewish-themed (frum), but aimed at a general audience. I am tempted to submit my first novel to the agency, and maybe the publisher, although I’ve been warned to be wary of approaching publishers directly even when they permit it.

I would have liked to have done more, but it wasn’t really possible for reasons I can’t go into here. I did some Torah study too and ate dinner with my parents (we try to eat together on Mondays) so it was pretty productive. I’m too tired to read now, so will probably vegetate in front of the TV. I guess there is always a price (although I did read quite a bit on my commute and during my lunch break).

***

There was Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers) in the shul (synagogue) where my workplace is housed this afternoon and I went, my first weekday prayer service in quite a while. The rabbi asked if I wanted to lead Minchah and I turned him down pretty much instinctively from social anxiety. I wish I had had the confidence to lead the service, as I’d like to find that talent again. Also, the people who did lead the service were too fast. I like Goldilocks davening (praying): not too fast and not too slow. Unfortunately, davening at this shul is, as J says, “Nusach Einstein: davening at the speed of light.”

***

I’m in the middle of a Norman Frum Women podcast episode where they are talking to a psychiatrist about parenting neurodivergent children. I’m finding it interesting, not least from hearing the parents’ perspective, although my neurodivergence was undiagnosed when I was a child, so my parents didn’t deal with it in the same way. (I was walking while listening to this and so could not take detailed notes, so any mistakes are mine not theirs.)

There was an interesting functional definition of neurodivergence as being about having a brain that accumulates excess stress in everyday situations. There was a stress on the idea of neurodivergent disability being environmental (I think ‘situational’ might be a slightly better word), in that it manifests in a particular set of circumstances, but not others. I can cope with noise and people being in my space sometimes, but then throw in a day of work stress or my HALT triggers (being Hungry, Anxious, Lonely or Tired) and suddenly I’m not coping (that’s my example, not theirs, again in case of errors).

I was particularly interested to hear about “twice exceptional” children: children who are exceptional in being neurodivergent, but also exceptional in terms of being clever and often also well-behaved (which sounded like it could be a bad thing if they’re avoiding testing boundaries for the wrong reasons). These twice exceptional children can find it hard to get support in school, because everyone assumes they’re doing well. This definitely resonated with my school experiences, although realistically I’m not sure what help was actually available for me twenty-plus years ago when high-functioning autism was even less well-understood than it is now.

There was a positive note about adult neurodivergents often finding a “better fit” for their lives once they no longer have the artificial and stressful environment of school. I think there is some survivorship bias here, as the psychiatrist seemed to be judging based on some of her academic mentors/supervisors who she thinks are on the spectrum. I would suggest there are a lot more people on the spectrum who aren’t in high-powered academic jobs. Certainly I feel that the kind of life that would work for me is not one that is really on the table at the moment, if ever. I’m really only functioning with any kind of independence because a lot of people (my parents, E, J) are not making the demands of me at home or in the workplace that would perhaps normally be expected of a thirty-something with two degrees. I would like to build some kind of career of a writer, either full-time or with a small amount of part-time office work, but I have no idea if I’m going to be able to do so; my steps so far have been extremely faltering and rarely successful. I don’t mean this as a criticism, just my viewpoint.

I would be interested in a follow-up episode on adult neurodivergence in the frum (religious Jewish) community. Although maybe Normal Frum Women isn’t the best place for that, as there is a lot to say about men. The frum community makes considerable demands on both men and women. Men are more forced to do particular things at particular times (especially communal prayer) and are forced into noisy, crowded communal spaces like shuls and batei midrash (study halls). Women are encouraged/expected to support large and often noisy and messy families, so I can see there would be problems for neurodivergent women too. It would be interesting to hear how other autistic or otherwise neurodivergent people, male or female, manage it. I’ve struggled to find a place for myself communally, in shul and “learning” (adult education) and lately I feel as if I’m detaching myself from my current community. If anything, COVID has only accelerated this trend, by adding health anxiety to already existent social anxiety and showing me that I can survive well enough without communal prayer or Torah study. I’m not sure if our shul has got louder in recent since we got a more Hasidish rabbi about a year before COVID, but I am definitely struggling with the noise more since lockdown. By noise I mean clapping and thumping tables during Kabbalat Shabbat, rather than talking (there is very little of that at least). There is also occasional dancing, which I can’t cope with at all.

***

Yesterday saw the start of the new series of Doctor Who, structured as one big, six episode story. It was vaguely diverting, but I think twenty-first century Doctor Who isn’t really for me. I used to think it was due to things like pop cultural references, sexualising the Doctor/companion relationship, and hyper-sexual characters like Captain Jack and River Song, but even without all these things, I struggled to get involved. I just find it fast, loud, melodramatic, self-important and portentous in a way the twentieth century version was not (OK, the twentieth century version was melodramatic, I’ll give you that). I think it’s a charge you can level at a lot of popular culture e.g. superhero films, the Daniel Craig Bond films and so on.

I wouldn’t say it’s bad, just that it’s not for me. But I watch, perhaps out of loyalty or nostalgia, and I’ll probably give it a second viewing at some point, because re-watching when I know where the bad bits are helps me to find more good bits. Possibly I’m the epitome of the obsessive self-hating (or insane) fan. Even so, I’m glad the second-hand back-issue of Doctor Who Magazine from 1996 that I ordered arrived today. The issue is a tribute to third Doctor actor Jon Pertwee, tying in with the fact that I’m about to introduce E to him via one of his most memorable stories, The Green Death.

Opening Up

Today was a dull day at work. I went to the bank, which was about the most exciting bit. On the Tube, I finished reading both The Righteous Mind and Faith Shattered and Restored. I probably won’t read much over the next week and a half, with E here, so I was glad to finish them. I re-read the essay My Faith: Faith in a Postmodern World in Faith Shattered and Restored and I struggled to see why it had made such an impression on me when I first read it a month or so ago, as it left me more with questions than answers about how to live a life of self-acceptance and moral creativity. Strange. Maybe it just chimed with things I was thinking when I first read it about trying to live more in the moment, especially religiously.

J ask what I’m going to be doing on my week and a half off work, so I told him about E. He asked some questions including about where she will be staying (with us, which is not something I really wanted to advertise to frum people even if she will be in the spare bedroom), how long we’ve been going out (either three years or six months, depending on how you count the on/off nature) and whether we met online (yes, but not on a dating site, but via my blog). It was the first time I’ve told someone from my shul (synagogue) community about E. It went reasonably well. J is probably towards the more modern end of the shul spectrum (even if he doesn’t have a TV). People do date long-distance in the frum community, but I think they try to move to marriage faster than E and I are likely to be able to do. The whole idea of being in a ‘relationship’ is a bit un-frum (unreligious). People in the frum world date. If they connect, they get married pretty quickly; if they don’t, they break up quickly.

It only hit me later that it’s the first time I’ve really told a work colleague anything very personal about my private life, aside from stuff about depression, anxiety and autism that I felt I had to tell them to explain my behaviour and struggles. It felt a bit weird, but OK, better than I expected.

I’m going to get an early night as I have to be up early to meet E at the airport! I’m not sure that I’m going to blog much over the next week and a half.

Shabbat with Rav Shagar and Rav Kook

Friday felt like the first “early Friday” of the winter, when sunset, and the start of Shabbat (the Sabbath), are early and Friday is just a rush to get things done. I woke up late, at 10.40am, and jumped out of bed as I was Skyping my rabbi mentor at 11.00am. I don’t usually oversleep that badly if I’ve got an actual commitment (rather than just wanting to get up to get an early start or to daven (pray)). I felt awkward at talking to him before having davened, but I didn’t have time. The conversation was good. He reminded me that we have only just had one ‘normal’ week after all the autumn festivals and that it’s normal to still feel overwhelmed at this time of year, even without the nervous excitement of E visiting soon. He also suggested that I should talk to J about my work mistakes and see if he has any suggestions. Even being able to take a five minute break every hour might help with concentration. J sometimes talks to other people who work in the same building (including his father) who come into our office on pretexts or just to chat, but I generally stay out of the conversations because of autism and social anxiety, as well as feeling I should work, but, as my parents said, I probably do need breaks. I am pretty nervous about the conversation, although it’s unlikely that he hasn’t noticed the number of mistakes I’m making, even if he hasn’t made a big thing out of it.

I decided I would go to shul (synagogue) early after all, contrary to what I said in my last post, as I felt guilty about not helping to set up. However, E had a last minute problem and I prioritised helping her and so didn’t make it to shul early after all. I still felt overwhelmed by all the table thumping and clapping during Kabbalat Shabbat (part of Friday evening prayers). I wondered if it has got louder in the last year or if I just can’t cope at the moment. Autistic tolerance for noise can vary a lot based on factors like tiredness and general well-being. My parents pointed out that the layout of the room has changed twice in the last year and a bit, first when it was rearranged to socially distance everyone after the first lockdown and then when a third of the room was walled off by the school who own the building, so that may have changed the acoustics somewhat and made them more overwhelming.

I struggled to sleep again. I’m not sure why, and on Fridays it certainly isn’t screen time before bed. I wonder if I do need a new mattress. I read more of The Righteous Mind, and, when non-fiction got too heavy for me, half a Doctor Who graphic novel. I did eventually fall asleep, I think around 3.00am.

I didn’t go to shul today, morning or afternoon. I do feel that I’m drifting away from it and I don’t know what to do about it. I have so much to focus on at the moment and I’m trying just to narrow it down to a couple of things, otherwise it’s not achievable, and shul doesn’t seem urgent or important enough right now. I slept late in the morning and napped in the afternoon, so I’ll probably struggle to sleep tonight too.

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I was reading Faith Shattered and Restored: Judaism in the Postmodern Age by Rabbi Shagar (Shimon Gershon Rosenberg) over Shabbat and found a couple of interesting quotes.

One was in the essay Love, Romance and Covenant:

The romantic metaphor for intimacy is one of self-discovery. But the self cannot be grasped, and neither can the Other, the object of love. At best, the self will briefly flicker into view, always through its attributes, which may bear the imprint of the other’s uniqueness. Like the hidden God who reveals Himself only through His actions — “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live” (Ex. 33:20) — so too the self. The very attempt to grasp something obstructs intimacy. Paradoxically, only through distraction can the self be discovered. (p. 141)

This made me think less about romantic relationships and more about my search for a sense of self, and for a sense of God. It suggests I can’t find either directly, only grasp them briefly, while doing something else, and probably through things I say or do or God says or does rather than from seeing myself or God directly. This connects with other thoughts I’ve been having recently based on my reading of Rabbi Shagar that I’m not ready to share here yet, but connected with the idea of finding God ‘in passing.’

The other is a passage, actually a quotation from Rav Kook, in the essay Mysticism, Postmodernism and the New Age which needs some introduction. The “Shattering of the Vessels” is the kabbalistic (Jewish mystical) creation myth. It differs somewhat from that in Bereshit (Genesis) (I think the Shattering of the Vessels is thought to have occurred before creation as described in Bereshit). According to this, God poured His “light” into “vessels” that were not strong enough to contain it, shattering and sending sparks across the now-created universe. The myth functions in part as an explanation of the problem of evil: how can evil exist in a universe created by a benevolent God? In answer, it suggests that evil was a by-product of the shattering of the vessels. The universe is broken and in need of repair. However, this provokes another question: why did God not make the vessels stronger to begin with? This is where Rav Kook begins:

Why does the shattering of the vessels occur? For, as the Godhead provides according to Its capacity, while the recipient is limited, the benefit would be limited as well. That is why He provides influence without limit, according to His aspect… even thought the created recipient cannot receive it without shattering completely, and then rebuilding himself through his desire to return to his unbounded source… And thus the created can make himself and attain the perfection of a creator, and transcend the limitations of the created. (Orot HaKodesh, quoted in Rabbi Shagar p. 127)

Rav Kook takes this in a mystical way and Rav Shagar uses it as part of an argument about postmodernism, but I want to use it in a psychological way.

We (those of us with mental health issues or trauma) are like the broken vessels. Previously, we were formed (in childhood) by nature and nurture, our DNA and childhood experiences. As we grew, we were overwhelmed by something we could not contain (trauma or mental illness triggers), like vessels shattering from the Infinite Light. However, the breakage is not irreparable. The process of therapy and recovery allows us to actively rebuild ourselves, instead of passively accepting our identities. In this way, we become (self-)creators and not passive creations.