Not Anxious, Slightly Surprisingly

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

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

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

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

Autism Fears

I had a usual eat/pray/Torah study/read/sleep too much Shabbat. I read more of Contact. I feel a bit like I do when I meet someone I objectively should like, but who somehow irritates me. I should like the book, and on some level I do, enough to stick with it, but part of me is getting annoyed. Maybe the feeling I’m getting from it is that the author feels that anyone who went down the humanities route at university (let alone anyone who didn’t go to university at all!) is an idiot and doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously. Maybe even that wouldn’t annoy me if it didn’t chime with my worst fears about the “Believe science” movement. Yes, I think science (empiricism, falsifiability, repetition) is valuable and an important element in policy decisions. No, I do not think unelected scientists should be making policy decisions instead of elected policy-makers, even if that means you sometimes get an idiot in control ignoring the advice. Elected policy makers can be replaced; unelected government scientists often can’t, or not directly.

***

I just watched an episode of WandaVision followed by one of The Mandalorian, the latter along with PIMOJ (simultaneous, but in different houses). WandaVision has gone from being a strange, not really funny spoof of old television sitcoms to a fairly conventional superhero series in the space of six episodes. The Mandalorian is technically accomplished, but lacking in soul. It reminds me of the final and weakest season of Blake’s 7. I found myself struggling to care about the characters in a story when almost everyone is a ruthless killer. Also, the droid was clearly voiced by Richard Ayoade from The IT Crowd, which was just weird.

***

I feel like I’m struggling to be a good boyfriend at the moment. To be fair, it’s hard. I can’t remember when the current lockdown actually started. Google says 5 January. Two months having a relationship on text and video has been difficult. It’s hard to be present and focused for someone I haven’t seen in person for months. Hopefully we’ll get to see each other soon, once the lockdown finishes on 8 March. We relate so much better in person.

***

Over the last couple of days I have been worrying a bit about my autism assessment. It’s on 9 March, a week and a half away. I worry that I’m going to be told that I’m not on the autism spectrum and I worry what that would mean for my self-esteem, when I’ve coped with work setbacks in recent years by telling myself that the environments were not suitable for someone on the spectrum. To be fair, I have done a lot better in jobs in healthier environments for me, which indicates that this is true. But the fear is there.

When I had the first part of the assessment, which consisted of me explaining to the psychiatrist why I think I’m on the spectrum, she said that it sounded like I was on the spectrum. However, after that I had to have a second assessment, where I was made to do various activities that would demonstrate whether I think in an autistic way and I have no idea how I did on this, so the fear of being told that (for example) I act autistic, but I don’t think autistic is strong. I don’t know what that would mean for me or my sense of self.

I felt on Friday that I wanted to do something I’ve never done before and ask some of my family and Jewish friends to pray for me. Praying to be autistic sounds weird and is probably against Jewish law, which says that you shouldn’t pray for things that can’t be changed, even if you don’t know what they are yet. The psychiatrist has probably decided her diagnosis, so I can’t pray for it to change. What I can pray for is to have self-understanding and acceptance. I would like others to pray for me partly, I suppose, because I think God may listen to them more than me, but also to feel supported by family and friends who were often long-distance people in my life even before COVID started, somewhat like Rav Soloveitchik’s view of prayer in The Lonely Man of Faith, where he sees it as less about asking God to do something and more about creating a “covenantal community” that includes God, but also other people. I do feel strange thinking about asking for it, though, so I’m not sure what to do.

COVID Purim (1)

I struggled to sleep last night and had weird dreams again, but I got up earlier today. Not early early, not even as early as I do on work days (which are not so early given I currently leave at 8.30am to avoid rush hour), but 10.00am, earlier than midday (or later) as I’ve been getting up on non-work days for the last week or two. I actually woke up about 9.30am, before Dad came in about 9.50am to tell me to check my phone in case I’d been offered another vaccination appointment (no, not yet) and before PIMOJ rang me at 10.00am as we’d agreed to help me get up.

I wasn’t working today, as J and I both wanted to make sure we could get to shul (synagogue) in time in the evening for Purim and the Megillah (Book of Esther) reading. J can work from home today, but I can’t, but part of me at least is glad to give up a day’s wages so that I could at least try to approach this strangest Purim with a degree of calm. I actually did feel quite calm when I woke up, despite all the worry I’ve had for the last few days (weeks), like I’m finally facing the fear. However, I did feel at a bit of a loose end and anxiety grew as I got a bit bored. I don’t usually get bored as there are always things I want to do, but here I just wanted to get to shul and get Purim under way. As well as OCD-type anxiety that makes me worry about not hearing a word of the Megillah reading (we are supposed to hear every word of the Megillah, both morning and evening), this year, because of COVID, there is autistic new situation anxiety about having to go to a different room in the building to the one where we normally daven (pray) and social anxiety about possibly having to ask someone for directions to said room.

I did about half an hour of Torah study, but I wanted to save myself for the Megillah reading later rather than exhaust myself with heavy concepts in advance. I tried to make some changes to my novel, but aside for one or two slight edits, I feel stuck with it. I need to hear from someone outside my head about whether it’s any good. I have got a friend who will do that, but not until after Pesach which is not for another month.

It was a strange Purim. Purim with masks, but not fancy dress masks as usual, but COVID masks. I wore my jester’s hat, but almost no one else seemed to have been in fancy dress. I don’t know if I really saw a representative sample (I didn’t see many people), but perhaps people must only dress up for parties or for their children (children under eight were banned from shul to keep the numbers down). Someone handed out sheets of paper, which I thought were Purim shpiels (satirical writing), but turned out to be solemn warnings not to congregate in groups or go to parties.

My shul ran three parallel Megillah readings in different rooms, and a fourth one later, so that people could socially distance instead of having seventy or eighty people in one room at a go. It was permitted to make noise when the villainous Haman’s name was read as per usual, but only stamping or using rattles, no vocal noise. The person who read the Megillah was a boy of about fourteen or fifteen, but very good.

From an OCD worrying about missing words perspective, it was pretty good. There were few enough people in the room that no noise was really a problem, and the reader was good at waiting for quiet, and he repeated words he thought might have been lost. I worried that at one point I thought I heard a wrong word, but wasn’t sure. This seems to happen to me every year since the really bad religious OCD year. This time I reflected that there were some very frum (religious) and Jewishly knowledgeable people in that room, and they had corrected one or two minor mistakes, so they were unlikely to all let a major mistake such as I thought I heard go. This has mostly caused the fear to subside without turning into OCD anxiety.

Howard Jacobson said in an article somewhere that Pesach is the best Jewish festival because it has the best story, but I think the Purim story is even better. In recent years, I find myself reading along with the Megillah in fear and anticipation. That’s partly OCD-type anxiety that I might miss a word, but it’s also becoming involved in the story. Not only was the fate facing the Jewish people worse at the time of the Purim story than at the exodus from Egypt, the salvation was more unexpected. God had promised Avraham (Abraham) that He would rescue his descendants from slavery and once the ten plagues started, the outcome was not in question, but Purim is a festival with no prophecies, no miracles and, on the face of it, no hope, which is why it’s a festival about finding hope, about finding Providence in random chance (the word ‘Purim’ means ‘lottery’). I’m trying to hold on to that at the moment, with the confusion in both my personal life and the world.

Tomorrow I need to be up even earlier than today (6.15am or at least 6.30) to get to the morning Megillah reading (we have to hear it night and day). Given that attendance has to be booked this year because of COVID, I don’t have the option of going to a later reading if I miss it. I feel very tired now as the tension of the day dissipates. I’m not too worried about tomorrow; even in a normal year, morning Megillah readings are quicker, quieter, more straight-forward affairs. I will turn off my computer after this. I want to watch TV, but I watched TV all afternoon. OK, it was about an hour and a half of TV, but I don’t usually watch TV in the afternoon at all. But my brain is just not in gear to read and I need to do something to unwind or I won’t sleep from all the tension I’m still storing inside my body.

Burnout and Worry

I didn’t sleep well again. My weighted blanket became bunched up in one side of the duvet cover I put it in to keep it clean and I kept waking up feeling I wasn’t covered up as I wanted, but I was too tired and burnt out to get up and even out the duvet. I had crazy dreams (something about going to see Hermann Goering about something, possibly stopping the Nazis coming to power, or making sure they did come to power to preserve history… I think this was based on the science fiction novel The Simulacra that I read recently). I think I woke up intermittently across the morning, partly woken by building noise from next-door (or was that yesterday? The mornings blur together), but I didn’t feel able to stay awake and get up until very late and I was very burnt out again.

Burnout feels like more than ordinary “tired,” more like jetlag, or the type of tired you get if you’ve been up for thirty-six hours straight, just totally drained of energy and really impossible to do anything or think straight. It gets a bit better after breakfast, but generally not a lot better until after lunch, which implies to me there might be a blood sugar element (low blood sugar has always affected my mood negatively, since childhood). I’m not sure what the solution is, if there is one. For the moment I’m waiting anxiously for 9 March and the final part of my autism assessment before I make firm plans about my mental health.

I got a text this morning offering me a COVID vaccination at my GP, but I was asleep when it came through and by the time I phoned through to make the appointment, they were all taken. I’m actually glad, as the appointment would have been on a Saturday. Some rabbis are permitting getting vaccinated on Shabbat, but as I’m not a priority (I think I’m only being offered it at this stage because my Mum is still listed as vulnerable), I don’t mind waiting until the next appointment, which I’ve been told is Friday 5 March. I just hope I am awake when I get the next message and can respond in time.

I had a fairly busy day: I wrote my devar Torah for the week (although I have a bit to add that I thought of later) and was glad to link the sedra (weekly Torah reading) to Purim. I did a little Torah study too and went for a run. When I got home, I ate some crackers with salty butter out of curiosity to see if the salt would stop me getting a headache, wondering if lack of salt rather than dehydration is what causes my exercise migraines (dehydration seems unlikely, as I drink a lot). I didn’t get a headache immediately, but one seems to have set in now, over four hours later, although that may be because my parents turn the heating up so high.

***

There’s a joke about a great sage who wanted to know the meaning of life. He spent years studying texts: Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah… Eventually he looked up from his books and said, “Life is good!” Then he paused for a moment, thought a bit longer and said, “But if life is so good… how come it’s so bad?”

I feel a bit like this. My life is objectively better than it’s been for at least two or three years. And yet, somehow I feel stressed a lot of the time. There is uncertainty. I don’t know if my job will continue long-term or if my novel will be published. I obviously don’t know what will happen with me and PIMOJ. I guess uncertainty about one’s career and relationship is going to lead to unsettled feelings, even if things are OK at the moment.

At the moment, PIMOJ and I still can’t see each other for another nearly two weeks because of the lockdown, which is proving very difficult and I certainly feel it’s putting a bit of strain on the relationship. I think my relationship with PIMOJ is different to my previous two relationships, in that PIMOJ and I are very different in personality and we have to consciously work harder on the relationship and to communicate effectively. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it means I have to engage in the relationship a lot more deliberately than I had to with previous relationships (not that I’ve been in many previous relationships), and that’s not easy when we can’t see each other.

Beyond this, I guess there are things I think about and worry about that I need to process, but which I don’t want to write here because they relate to other people who might not want me to write about them even anonymously. I need to find another way of processing them. I can talk in therapy, but that’s one hour a fortnight. I could try to switch back to once a week, but I’m not sure I will always have enough to say once a week; the amount of worry comes and goes. I speak to my rabbi mentor sometimes. I could try writing privately, as I occasionally do. I do feel that it’s better if I can write with an audience though. Aside from getting helpful comments, knowing I have an audience stops me drifting into catastrophising or self-pity. Just knowing that something will be read makes me careful to avoid that in a way that I fear is not the case in private writing.

Still, just as my intermittent low mood is not capital-D Depression, so my worries are not capital-A Anxiety, which is good.

OK, bed now, as my head hurts.

Equanimity, and Reading

I struggled to fall asleep last night, probably as a result of having slept too much over the weekend. That’s probably the context in which the rest of this post falls, that I was a bit sleep deprived and not at my best. I think I was worrying when I couldn’t sleep, but I don’t think I was being kept awake by worry, just that with not much to think about, I worried. Again, that’s probably relevant later.

At work I spent five minutes looking for a cheque before I remembered that the person had paid twice by mistake and we posted their second cheque back to them. I had just forgotten to delete the second cheque from the incoming payments spreadsheet. Until I realised what was going on, I worried I had done something really stupid, like throw the cheque in the bin or post it back to the sender instead of their receipt, something I have nearly done on several occasions. I hope I didn’t seem too stupid to J.

In the afternoon, I worked on the inventory again. I struggled a bit emotionally. My therapist says it’s not so helpful to talk of “depression” now, given that my mood is mostly stable, and I think that’s true, but my mood did dip, perhaps because of my lack of sleep. The inventory is not a completely straightforward task, but it doesn’t require a huge amount of concentration either, which is a recipe for my mind to wander, apparently to worries and negative thoughts about myself, somewhat like last night when I couldn’t sleep. I did get through it, but I fear that my work was not particularly fast or efficient, and I’m still only about halfway through the inventory (or really through stage one of the inventory).

***

I worry a lot about not having peace of mind, including today while feeling like this, so it was interesting to see in the Jewish book I just started re-reading (The Strife of the Spirit by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz) that peace of mind is a negative thing in Judaism. We should feel inner conflict: “there are [spiritual] goals that cannot be attained except through struggle waged within the soul.” (p.5) Elsewhere (The Thirteen Petalled Rose p. 132) Rabbi Steinsaltz states that “The Jewish approach to life considers the man who has stopped going — he who has a feeling of completion, of peace, of a great light from above that has brought him to rest — to be someone who has lost his way. Only he whom the light continues to beckon, for whom the light is as distant as ever, only he can be considered to have received some sort of response.” This is rather different from what a lot of self-help books say. Alan Morinis writes that the Jewish idea of equanimity is like a surfer on a wave, staying balanced, but aware of what is around him. This approach intrigues me. It seems more feasible than complete calm and lack of emotional upsets.

***

I feel that I’m reading less. I should qualify that and say I’m reading less recreationally. I read a lot of religious material, in Hebrew and English. But I think I’m reading less for fun. Certainly I haven’t found a novel that really grabbed me, that I became immersed in, for quite a while. And I’m not sure if my idea of mixing more non-fiction into my reading schedule is so good. I like to learn about history, economics and politics, so setting aside time to read about them is good, but then I want to be a professional author, so I should read a lot of fiction. It can also be harder to get motivated to read non-fiction than fiction. Then again, I want to write Jewish historical fantasy, so a solid grounding in Jewish and world history and mythology is also important…

I also find that it’s easier to read blogs and news articles online than books or even longform online journalism. The Jewish Review of Books periodically posts long articles that they don’t include in the print magazine and I save them, but it’s hard to get around to reading them. Sometimes I print things like that off and read it on Shabbat as it’s easier to set aside the time to read then. Despite this, I still spend hours idly surfing blogs, BBC News and other news sites.

I guess the bottom line is that I haven’t found reading so much fun lately, so I’ve been prioritising television, particularly when tired (which is a lot of the time). I’m not sure what to do about this, or if this is even something I should do anything about. Reading has been my love since I was a toddler, it will probably reassert itself at some point, maybe when I’m sufficiently at peace with my own novel to be able to read other people’s work without taking it to pieces to see how it works and what I should (or shouldn’t) learn from it, which I’ve been doing lately (mind you, I do that with TV too).

***

I don’t normally post links, but as I was complaining about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) lockdown non-compliance recently, I want to link to this interesting post that says that the data suggests Haredi compliance was greater than the community has been given credited for, at least in the first lockdown. And while I find many aspects of Haredi life personally uncomfortable, not to mention antithetical to my understanding of Judaism, I agree that demonising “Them” isn’t helpful. It opens the door to all kinds of nasty social engineering projects once you decide that some life choices are inherently wrong and need policing (or “helping”) by other groups (with obvious caveats for where those life choices affect those unable to choose, whether children or people vulnerable to COVID).

Make-Believe Work

I got up reasonably early today, but somehow slowed down somewhere and was a bit late leaving for work. Then, when I was partway to the station, I realised I’d left my mask at home and had to walk back to get it, so I was a bit late for work, although J didn’t seem to mind. I tried to walk mindfully on the way to the station, but got rather overwhelmed by the sounds and smells. Maybe this is why I usually listen to music.

I felt impostor syndrome and negativity at work, feeling that I can’t really do my work. Sometimes it feels that I’m doing make-believe work like a child rather than a real job. I feel I can do difficult things like write books, but not easy ones (I messed up writing an invoice twice, even though it was based on a template). Not that I feel particularly confident about my novel at the moment; I actually feel quite negative about it and am wondering why I want to show it to my editor friend. I felt a bit better after lunch, but then I realised I’ve been going about an inventory of some property the wrong way and have wasted time in the process.

It’s funny, because after work I saw Ashley’s post for today, about mental health and Britney Spears. I’m not terribly interested in Britney Spears, but her comment that she is “taking the time to learn and be a normal person” didn’t seem that strange to me, or at least it feels like it’s what I’m trying to do now that I think I’m on the autism spectrum (if I don’t get diagnosed then there’s a whole new identity crisis… I need to chase when my final assessment appointment is as I should have heard by now). I think I still have a long way to go if I want to learn to be a normal person.

***

It’s my parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary today. It’s a bit muted in lockdown, but we had a Zoom call with my sister and brother-in-law. I still find these difficult. Everyone seems to shout. I’m not sure if the microphones aren’t good enough or everyone just thinks you have to shout for some weird psychological reason. Either way, I find it painful. I’m not usually someone whose autism makes loud noisy physically painful, but Zoom shouting down my ear seems to do it. Plus, a lot of the conversation was about work, specifically BIL’s promotion at work and voluntary charity work, so I felt a bit like the idiot child with his make-believe job again (back to learning how to be a “normal” person again).

We had take away dinner to celebrate. It threatened to set off my religious OCD again, as although it was from a kosher restaurant, the delivery company was a mainstream company, and the restaurant did not package the food according to the London Bet Din’s ideal guidelines. It met the more lenient “What if my food turns up packaged wrongly?” minimum guidelines, so I ate it, but I felt a bit anxious about it. At least I didn’t go into full-blown OCD meltdown. I’m not sure whether to complain about it. It’s probably too late to complain to the restaurant, but I might ask the Bet Din for more guidance for the future.

I feel just about ready to crash now. I wanted to do some Torah study this evening, as I only managed twenty-five minutes on the Tube and of the book that wasn’t helpful, but I’m too tired.

***

PIMOJ gave me a book on emunah (faith) that I’ve been reading on the train but I think I will stop. It seems to be lacking in nuance and reinforcing negative thoughts I have about myself. It talks about the importance of emunah and that someone who has it will feel happy whatever happens. I have two problems with this. One, it doesn’t say how to get emunah. It just seems to assume it can be switched on by a conscious act of will. Two, I know that, given that I believe in an all-powerful, benevolent God, I should logically believe that everything in my life will work out for the best. And on one level I do believe that. But I also feel that the long-term, overall best can still involve a lot of suffering in the short-term, and usually does, and that upsets and worries me. What if God thinks it’s for the best that I be lonely and depressed forever so that I can be happy in the Next World? That’s not something I would look forward to, even if I can accept intellectually that it’s for the best.

The book says that most suffering is rooted in punishment for sin, which seems questionable to me, although when I’m in the depths of depression I can believe it. My depression started when I was in my teens, but the Talmud states that a person doesn’t get punished for their sins until they reach the age of twenty (to give them time to become mature and repent) and obviously my autism would be lifelong from birth, so it seems that it can’t be down to sin completely — unless you want to go down the route of previous lives, which the author does, but which I’m sceptical of (it’s fairly accepted in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), but seems relatively new to Judaism as a whole). I think using suffering as an opportunity for introspection and repentance is one thing, but assuming all suffering is due to sin is counter-productive and victim blaming.

Beyond this, it has a Hasidic attitude of sadness being a sin and a sign of ingratitude for God’s blessings, which, again, is something I don’t agree with and which I know is hardly universally accepted in the Jewish world. The book is based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, who said it is a great mitzvah (commandment) to be happy all the time, but he himself had many intense bouts of depression (if you read Arthur Green’s academic biography, it seems likely he struggled with bipolar disorder) which makes me struggle to accept it as a rule. I’m actually very interested in Rebbe Nachman, but part of the interest is the dichotomy between the joy and despair in him.

Overall, the book seemed not to be the type of thing you would want to put in the hands of someone with a mood disorder. I didn’t want to do a big attack on the book (hence the fact that I’m not naming it), but I do feel like these attitudes, if unchallenged, can do a lot of harm in the frum (religious) community. So, I think I will rest this book for a while if not permanently. It makes me a bit sad, though, as PIMOJ says she got a lot from it and I’d like to see that, but I just don’t. I think we have quite different ways of looking at things, which I guess is part of the attraction.

***

I feel a bit bad that I complained here about Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) children still going to school despite the lockdown. Apparently most of them are allowed to go, as they have crowded houses and no internet for online learning.

Occam’s Razor and Doctor Who Magazine

I took a while to get to sleep last night. I need to stop watching TV late at night. It doesn’t always stop me sleeping, so I think I can away with it, but periodically it does keep me awake. Then again, I’m probably about to do it again (like a dog returns to his vomit etc.).

Work was OK. I found the mistakes in data that I was looking for on Monday. Some of it was autistic black and white thinking inasmuch as I got stuck in a set of assumptions about where the mistakes were until I stepped back and looked elsewhere. Some of it was misusing Occam’s Razor. I was looking for an error regarding a record, an error regarding a man and an error regarding a woman so I assumed I was looking for one family record covering a man and a woman (don’t multiply entities), when in fact I was looking for one record and additional errors on a man and a woman (three records total).

We (J and I) left the office very early, I’m not sure why; I just leave when J says it’s time to go (he is the boss, and the designated driver). There was no traffic, so we got home very early indeed. As my novel is on pause, I took advantage of the time to do some miniature model painting, which I haven’t done for a while, although it always takes a number of sessions to complete a batch of miniatures.

I had a documentary from a Doctor Who DVD’s special features section on in the background while I painted, the documentary on politics in Doctor Who from The Happiness Patrol DVD. There were some interesting points, although not a lot I didn’t know or think already. As with my current indecision about cancelling my subscription to Doctor Who Magazine (DWM), which I’ve been buying regularly for almost a quarter of a century, I feel a bit like I know every interesting factoid about twentieth century Doctor Who and that I’m not interested in twenty-first century Doctor Who enough to pursue it. There’s less information about an ongoing series than a dead one, and presumably a BBC equivalent of the Thirty Year Rule preventing revealing documents and discussions coming out for years. When Doctor Who was off the air in the nineties and early noughties, DWM got candid interviews from many people who had worked on the programme, often those who had retired from active TV work and were able to be more truthful and reflective about their work and what they really thought. DWM has also cut back on the analytical articles that were my favourite feature, and the ones that do appear are necessarily pitched at a more basic level for new fans who aren’t as au fait with the stories of the sixties and seventies as the hardcore fans of the nineties were. I’m tempted by the Black Archive’s ongoing series of book length monographs on individual Doctor Who stories, new and old, but I don’t really have the time or money to keep up with them, and I’m currently trying to work through a massive backlog of non-fiction books without buying more. Cancelling DWM does feel final, though, like drawing a line under part of my life. Maybe I need to though, to escape from the shadow of Doctor Who and write my own fantasy fiction.

I have more to say, but I’ve run out of energy (I’ve just been helping PIMOJ with something over text). It will keep. I will just say that I’m probably not going to write the article I spoke about the other day, about Judaism and social responsibility, as I think it was becoming incoherent.

Worries That Never Happened

There’s a famous quote from Mark Twain (which I think is really by Mark Twain, even though he’s someone that random quotes are often ascribed to on the internet, like Einstein and Lincoln) that says that, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened.” I feel like that today, as I slept badly (weird dream about a giant orangutan), and struggled to get up, worrying about something that didn’t really happen in the end. I felt relieved, but also somewhat guilty and very drained, which may have been relief rather than tiredness from sleeping badly.

I wonder if the giant orangutan in the dream was a wish-fulfilment me, so big that I could do what I liked and couldn’t be harmed by tranquiliser darts shot by anyone around me i.e. impervious to criticism and other people’s opinions. That is what I would like to be with regard to self-esteem and confidence.

***

I feel very depressed and burnt out again today. Some of it is probably sleeping badly. Some of it is that I always seem to feel like this the day after working, which does not bode well for the idea of me ever being in anything like full-time employment. Some of it is probably the time of year.

This is the worst time of year for me, late January/February. When the days are still short (albeit slowly growing longer), the weather is bad (it snowed again today), everything is cold and dead (even without lockdown) and when the spring festivals of Purim and Pesach (Passover) begin to loom on the horizon. This ought to be good, given that they herald the arrival of warmer and sunnier days, but these are the most difficult festivals for me. Purim is difficult with autism, depression, social anxiety and religious OCD. Pesach is super-difficult with religious OCD; it has, in fact, always been the worst focus of my religious OCD. I imagine I’ll write more on this when we get closer to those festivals so I won’t go into detail now.

Beyond that, lately I’ve found all religious festivals difficult because I feel a pressure to have some kind of intense religious experience. Not mystical hippie-tripping, but somehow feeling closer to God and becoming a better person. This is a lot of pressure to put on myself. Normally it’s enough just to cope with all the peopling from extra shul (synagogue) attendance and meal guests, and the stress and potential religious OCD of all the special festival mitzvot (commandments). I’m not sure how much of this pressure really comes from me or how much from “inspirational” articles. I don’t feel the pressure on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but paradoxically, I think I probably have more of a religious experience then. There’s probably a lesson there.

***

As someone who is influenced by Jewish religious existentialism, I feel that I should try to have “I-Thou” encounters. First identified by Martin Buber, an I-Thou encounter is when two people meet and relate in a very personal and authentic way as opposed to an I-it encounter, which is encountering the other person like an object. Yet I am scared of opening up to people, and when I do, I’m left feeling an awkward mixture of gladness, social anxiety, shame and self-blame. There’s a strong sense of “Did I say the right thing?” which I guess is social anxiety.

***

I feel that I can’t write here about the thing that is most troubling me at the moment. This is problematic, as I process things by writing. I tried writing just for myself, but it didn’t help so much. Hopefully I can talk to my rabbi mentor about it tomorrow. I did discuss it with my therapist last week. She said to try to note my thoughts and feelings without analysing them, which is hard when my thoughts and feelings do not exist in the abstract, but influence my actions in the present and future.

***

In practical terms, I phoned the doctor today and have hopefully got the issue about the dosage of my olanzapine sorted. I cooked dinner (spicy rice and lentils). I also went to my Tanakh shiur (Bible class), which this week was about Yechezkiel (Ezekiel). We did the “dry bones” passage in groups, which cheered me up a bit. That was about all I managed today though.

Rants (Redacted and Otherwise)

More NHS woes. I wrote a rant here, but then deleted it. I had to make a lot of phone calls and still didn’t get my olanzapine. Mum did some more phoning for me (I was peopled out after the calls I made, and in autistic black-and-white thinking mode) and it looks like I should be able to get the olanzapine tomorrow, but I won’t feel happy until I’ve actually collected it. And I feel vaguely bad that in the end I dropped out before the crucial final call and my Mum got the answer I wanted for me.

It occurs to me that the NHS is less different to the US free market system than the NHS’s defenders admit. In the USA, treatment is triaged largely based on wealth. In the NHS, it’s triaged based on blind luck, location and the confidence and ability to navigate bureaucracy. I strongly suspect that, other than luck, those factors work more in favour of the educated middle classes than other people.

***

Other than that, today was OK. I overslept a little, rushed and caught up the time, but then spent too long davening (praying) and was a few minutes later than usual for work, although I don’t have an official start time. J was leaving early today, so I was allowed to finish early too; add in another trip to the bank, and I wasn’t actually in the office that long. I did a little more work on my novel in the evening, which may have been a mistake as I was tired and doing other things, but I wanted to have something to show for leaving work early other than all those phone calls to the NHS that went nowhere. I somehow managed to fit in some Torah and speaking to PIMOJ too. I’m not quite sure how I fitted everything in; I feel exhausted now and it’s rather late. I’m glad it’s nearly Shabbat as I’m likely to be burnt out tomorrow.

***

Second rant: today I’ve been pondering the difficult of the mitzvah (commandment) of loving my neighbour, when so many of my Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) neighbours (literal neighbours as well as metaphorical ones) are breaking the lockdown. I blogged last summer about the illegal minyan (prayer service) happening three times a day in our next-door neighbours’ garden. That’s stopped since the places of worship reopened, and they did at least make a vague show of social distancing, but you can still see loads of Haredi children going to school every weekday. I appreciate that Haredi households can have eight kids crowded in one house with few or even no computers or internet phones, not good conditions for home schooling. Even so, the numbers of children still going to school seems troubling. And that’s without mentioning the large weddings still going on, reported in the (non-Haredi) Jewish press. Or the jaw-droppingly awful super-spreader event like the wedding of a Hasidic rebbe’s son in America that had hundreds or even thousands guests from across the world, or the funerals for Haredi rabbis that had tens of thousands of mourners.

It’s very hard, in these cases, to feel at all loving towards people who are living in a different reality and/or who feel no obligation at all to anyone outside of their narrow community, not just in terms of COVID, but also in terms of giving the Jewish community as a whole a bad press and providing openings for antisemites everywhere (“Jews spread plague” is a libel that has been around for centuries, baselessly until now). Bear in mind that the Haredi community comprises only about 10% of the global Jewish population, but is easily the most visible part of it, and the part that non-Jews see as most authentically Jewish. Newspaper articles about Jews are invariably illustrated with pictures of bearded Hasidic men, even if the article has little to do with Hasidim in particular.

I find myself wondering what figures like Rav Kook and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, notable for their love for all Jews, would think or do. It’s hard to feel respect for people’s (genuine) dedication to prayer and Torah study when they are blatantly ignoring the commandments to follow the secular law of the country, preserve life and not give the Jewish God and Judaism a bad name. In fact, even thinking about trying to feel love for them just provokes the opposite, more anger and hatred. But God wants us to love idiots and scoundrels as well as pious people.

***

I’ve broken my iPod headphones (earbuds) again. I can’t seem to get them to last more than six months. I get a lot of use out of them (almost daily), but I feel they should last longer. I wonder if they aren’t built to be worn primarily while walking and jogging, or if I wind them too tightly or violently when putting them away. I can be heavy-handed with things.

***

PIMOJ and I watched WandaVision separately “together.” It was odd. I like odd, but I’m not sure what it was trying to do. Having looked briefly at the Wikipedia page (trying not to get spoilered), I think it is supposed to imitate TV from different decades, but it felt like the line between pastiching bad TV and actually being bad TV is a thin one.

Not Losing My Religion

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

Work from Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

Planting Seeds

I had an interesting start to the day. PIMOJ sent me some packets of seeds in the post and we spent some time planting them “together” via Skype. This was to do something to do with plants as it was Tu BeShevat (the Jewish New Year for Trees) during the week and PIMOJ wanted to do something to celebrate it, plus it was an excuse for a lockdown date that was a bit different from just Skyping or Zooming. I don’t really have much experience growing things, so we’ll have to see how it goes, but I planted a whole bunch of seeds: parsley, oregano, basil and more.

I spent time procrastinating over writing my novel, which wasn’t good. When I was finally about to start, my sister phoned and we had a long chat, which delayed things even more. I managed a bit over an hour of reading and redrafting, getting through another chapter, which doesn’t sound much, but it was a very long chapter.

I feel a bit conflicted by my book at the moment, like a parent who recognises moments of intelligence and flair in his child, but also feels that he’s very average a lot of the time and wonders what on Earth he’s going to do with his life when he grows up and goes into the world.

I went for a 5K run. It was good, my pace and stamina were good without much slowing to a walk from tiredness. Surprisingly, it was my first run of 2021 because of physical illness (medication side-effects), weather, Zoom calls with family etc. I actually ran in the rain because I didn’t want to put off running again.

***

I’m working from home tomorrow as J isn’t going in to the office and I can’t go in on Tuesday when he is going in. I’m continuing what I was working on last week, collating data that’s going to a major Jewish community organisation. My family have got me a bit worried about this, as it seems to be in breach of GDPR (data protection) law. I think it’s unlikely that the major community organisation would breach the law in this way, but I also feel uncomfortable working on it without having something in print to say that it’s OK, so I am going to ask J if he can ask for clarification on what is happening to the data before we send it on. This is provoking some worry.

***

I walked into the room while Mum was watching NCIS the other day. One of the characters was saying that she over-thinks things to stop herself feeling things and it occurred to me that this probably applies to me too. I’m probably also over-thinking things because it can be so hard to understand what I’m feeling.

***

Rabbi Dr Avraham Twerski z”tl died. He was a very well-known Orthodox Jewish rabbi, writer and educator, but also a practicing psychiatrist who did much to raise awareness of the taboo issues of mental illness, substance abuse and domestic abuse in the Orthodox community. He wrote prolifically on both psychology and Judaism and although I haven’t read much of his work, his book Let Us Make Man: Self Esteem Through Jewishness was a very useful work for me in distinguishing between self-esteem and arrogance. I recently read one of his books on domestic abuse as part of my research for my novel. He’s yet another great Jewish leader taken from us in this terrible last year, this time actually by COVID. Baruch dayan ha’emet (“Blessed is the True Judge,” the Hebrew expression said on hearing of a death, acknowledging that God is the True Judge who decides when a person’s life is over, but also expressing our grief and incomprehension over the death).

***

I finished watching The Sandbaggers. It was very good, but too cynical and bleak to be one of my favourite TV series, as witnessed by the downbeat, open-ended conclusion, which saw one character facing the sack for deliberately sabotaging an arms-limitation conference against his orders and another one shot, apparently fatally.

Trust and Control

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Surprisingly Busy Day

I had a dream over Shabbat about being put in herem (excommunicated) because some rabbis took exception to my novel. This is not likely to happen in reality for many reasons, but I think it does reflect fear of negative reviews of the “Why do they always say bad things about the Orthodox community? Why can’t they see the good in the community?” kind (I’m thinking of one Jewish site in particular here). I can sort of see their point. It’s possible that I haven’t seen as much of the good side of the community as other people despite my having spent my life inside it, to varying degrees. And I feel uncomfortable with people who say things like, “I can only speak my truth,” but beyond a certain point, everything else is impossible, and my experience of the frum (religious Jewish, and in this case, Orthodox) community has been complicated at best – partly my own fault, but I think that’s reflected in the novel too.

***

Just before I was due to go for my COVID test this morning, it started snowing heavily. Dad took me in the snow storm, but when we arrived, the drive-in tests were cancelled as unsafe. I’m not currently planning to book another one; if I still feel bad on Tuesday, I’ll try to get in contact with my psychiatrist and see what she says. I feel a lot better today, with no light-headedness or hot flushes and only brief tremor, although some restless legs, which suggests that the symptoms were from starting haloperidol. I’m still suffering some anxiety (see below) which may be from stopping olanzapine.

***

I spent some time working on my novel. I’m not sure how much I did, somewhere over an hour, without much procrastination once I got down to it. I read two chapters and made some minor changes, finally getting through the 80,000 word barrier.

I went on a rather long Zoom call with my parents, sister and brother-in-law because it was my sister’s birthday yesterday and my Dad’s tomorrow. As I’ve mentioned before, I find Zoom hard at the best of times and struggled through it, but even when my sister and BIL are around in person I have a tendency to drift out of the conversation a lot. I tend to feel that the conversation is either small talky or about “adulting” and that I can’t really join in. I feel rather stuck in immaturity sometimes as a result of autism and mental illness. The restless legs were hard to control by the end of the call too.

I did some work on my devar Torah for the week and some general Torah study. I didn’t get any exercise today because of the snow. I spoke to my rabbi mentor and realised I’ve been procrastinating about some things that really I need to confront. Not major things, thankfully, but I tend to get anxious about things as if they were major. I tried to help Dad when he accidentally deleted a load of email folders, but I couldn’t work out what he’d done or how. I suspect they haven’t been deleted, but hidden somewhere, but I’ve no idea where. I’m not terribly good at Outlook because I only use it at work.

***

I had some anxiety in the evening after having been OK for most of the day. This was probably in part the general tendency for my anxiety to get worse in the evenings and partly from watching The Sandbaggers (1970s/80s espionage drama) which tends to end in downbeat ways, in this case with a likeable character turning out to be a double agent and committing suicide to avoid shaming his family. I like the series a lot, but it’s probably just as well that I only have five episodes left.

***

J suggested I switch work days this week to give the snow a chance to clear before I go in to work, so I’ll be working on Tuesday instead of tomorrow. I was secretly relieved, as I didn’t really want to go in to work in the snow, but was reluctant to suggest changing days after having missed a day off sick last week.

High Anxiety

I had sleep trouble again last night, going to bed early, but waking around 3.30am and not being able to get back to sleep until 5.00am. I got to work on time, but I was a bit tired. Worse, I was rather anxious. This was particularly the case when I had to wear my mask, on the Tube to work and when I went to the bank and the post office. Wearing a mask can feel very constricting and suffocating at the best of times, and I was wondering what would happen on the Tube if I suddenly needed to breathe fresh air. I didn’t actually have a panic attack, but I feel vaguely apprehensive about mask situations in the near future.

Other than that I had some anxiety about work and about PIMOJ, but was mostly OK, except for feelings of physical discomfort and aching in my limbs, and also in my teeth/gums, like my teeth are being scraped at the dentist. At one point I was shaking somewhat and unable to type accurately. I just checked the haloperidol leaflet; agitation is a possible side-effect, but anxiety is not, so maybe that’s “just” anxiety from everything going on in my life (work, relationship, autism assessment) and the world at large (COVID) and perhaps the olanzapine was keeping it at bay.

I got home from work very early and tried to work on my novel. I managed about half an hour, but I didn’t do very much other than correct some passages that had been initially written in the first person and then mostly, but not entirely, switched to the third person. I got through another chapter, but I feel very much like I need external criticism (dread word!) as I can’t judge it objectively.

I tried to do some extra Torah study as I hadn’t done much on the Tube into work, because when I felt anxious, I switched to listening to music. I didn’t have much time though because I prioritised working on my novel and going to Zoom depression group. I read some interesting things in Rabbi Sacks’ Morality, but I feel too tired to engage with it now.

Depression group was draining, as I think it always is, but worthwhile. I find the second half more draining than the first and really should volunteer to speak in the first half more often. I spoke about PIMOJ for the first time, really in an off-hand way. I’m still not sure what I feel comfortable sharing about the relationship there – or here, for that matter. It’s hard to know what I feel comfortable sharing, especially in the somewhat artificial environment of Zoom (as opposed to in-person meetings).

Vague Apprehensions

I woke up earlyish, but struggled to get up again and eventually fell asleep again (twice). I don’t think of myself as someone with poor impulse control or a lot of laziness, but getting out of bed, and staying out of bed, is hard and I can’t work out why.

I spent an hour and a quarter working on my novel. I was actually quite focused, first on research, then on writing, but I don’t feel that I got much done in terms of words written on the page. I think I’ve written all I can write for now and need some external feedback. I’m going to try to read through and redraft once more and then hopefully try to find people who can read and respond.

I felt rather anxious this afternoon and I’m not sure why. Some of it was about my novel. Some was probably about my relationship with PIMOJ. I think a lot of it was about work and whether I processed all the cheques properly last week or if someone will write angrily if we ask for payment that has already been made.

I also felt some minor physical discomfort today too. It’s hard to describe, aside from a slightly runny nose (which might be a minor cold), but I guess it’s a kind of tension in my limbs. I wonder if it’s the new haloperidol.

I spoke to my rabbi mentor, which helped with the anxiety a bit. It helped to put into words that I’m trying to accept that some days will be more productive than others, that I won’t always exercise, study Torah or write as much as I would like every day and so on and that it’s about trying to balance these things over a number of days.

Mum cut my hair, and then I was on a Zoom call this evening with my parents and most of my Israeli family. I stuck with it for over an hour, but then I had to leave. I struggle with these meetings. I find it harder to speak than when I’m with people in person, and also harder to be heard when I do speak, plus I find it all very noisy and draining (admittedly my family are rather noisy, and there are a lot of us on these calls).

I feel like I didn’t accomplish much today, although I suppose I did, just not as much as I wanted in terms of writing and exercise. I need to take some time out before bed for TV to decompress from everything that happened today, especially the noisy Zoom call. I feel a bit tense and uncomfortable in general, and vaguely apprehensive about a lot of things that are going to happen in the next few weeks.

Integrity

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

Minor Trials and Tribulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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


[1] Rashi Commentary to Shemot 6.26

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

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

***

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

***

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

Writing Success, Financial Embarrassment

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

Time Travel

I feel somewhat better today. I don’t know if I was distracted from depression and anxiety by being at work. I had autistic executive function issues with tasks where I had to fill in multiple spreadsheets at the same time and I kept losing the place or forgetting which spreadsheets I was supposed to use. This was made worse by having to deal with people phoning to make credit card payments where I had to drop everything and sort out the credit card payment and then afterwards try to remember what I was doing before the phone rang. I am slowly learning what all the spreadsheets do, which makes it easier to work out what goes where, but I still forget things sometimes. I made a couple of mistakes that I caught; I hope there weren’t any that I didn’t catch.

I was at least proud of myself for answering the phone. I hate doing that (anxiety), so it was a big thing.

I went to the bank too. The nearest branch, about fifteen or twenty minutes away, is closed because of COVID. The second-nearest was just a little bit up the road from the nearest one, but had a long queue, so I was out of the office for about an hour. I didn’t get lost this time.

That was it, really. I’m not feeling particularly depressed or anxious, just tired. When I was getting dressed this morning, I had an image in my head from Twin Peaks: The Return, where one character removes her face off to reveal a murky darkness broken by a bright grin. I’m not quite sure why this image was in my head. Did I feel like that this morning? It’s possible. Certainly there have been times in my life where I would have felt like that, but I don’t feel like that right now. It’s possible that being at work helped me today, in which case we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when I’m at home (cooking dinner and hopefully working on my novel).

I do feel confused about my relationship, but I’m not sure what to do that. I think we were probably moving too fast. Our relationship faces a number of unusual challenges, and the pandemic is one of then. We can’t really move things on at the moment. I think we need to slow down for a bit, but also to spend time together, which we can’t really do right now because of the lockdown.

Other than work, I went to a shiur (religious class) in the evening. It was a bit late and I struggled to concentrate. It was more a mussar (ethical self-development) shiur than anything else, about keeping going if you fail in an area of personal growth. Discussions like this always make me feel weird, as I tend to put other people on a pedestal and assume everyone is doing amazingly and only I am struggling with all my middot (character traits). I still suspect that I have worse traits than everyone really, even if they struggle in the same area. Someone asked a question at the end about how to get non-religious Jews engaged religiously when there is so much they could enjoy in Judaism. The rabbi didn’t want to answer the question in the shiur, as it was a bit off-topic, but I did wonder a bit about whether there’s a way that I could enjoy Judaism more. I can enjoy and find meaning in mitzvot (commandments), Torah study and prayer on Shabbat (the Sabbath), but it seems hard to get that during the week.

I’m not sure what to do now. I’m tired, but not sleepy. I feel I should do something to unwind to help me sleep, but I don’t know what. I’m tired enough that I just sent my sister a text meant for PIMOJ, fortunately just asking how her evening was going.

***

I realised recently that I would rather have a time machine than a spaceship. (I appreciate that this decision is unlikely to have many practical ramifications.) I have felt for a long time that I don’t belong in this time. It’s partly having “old-fashioned” interests in terms of books and TV, partly feeling my politics are not a great fit for any party currently around (although I revise my political views fairly frequently – I get the impression that most people don’t), partly feeling my general worldview (religious, cultural) is different. Not necessarily out-dated, just different. I’ve never got on well with contemporary slang and trends.

I used to feel that studying history (my BA is in history) gave me access to information about the past that allowed me to understand the present better than most people. Now I’m not sure that that’s true. In fact, I suspect it’s not true. I don’t think I really understand the world particularly well. If I have an advantage, it’s only knowing that I don’t understand it, and maybe being aware that the world is more complicated than most people suppose.

Still, I feel adrift in time, looking for a society that works for me, people that I can communicate with. I want to write about a Jewish time traveller, hopefully when I’ve finished my current novel.

More Anxiety

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

Back here in London…

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

Very Anxious Day

I had the second part of my autism assessment this afternoon. It was a Zoom call with a psychiatric nurse (I think the one who interviewed my Mum a while back). I don’t know how I did. They said it would take an hour to an hour and a half, but it only lasted forty minutes or so. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. The psychiatric nurse asked me some questions about emotions: what makes angry, happy, sad, etc. and what those emotions feel like. I think I struggled to put those emotions into words and tended to speak more about what I do when I’m angry, happy, sad, etc. Which I guess would suggest autism. We also spoke about friends and having a partner and what that was like emotionally and practically. Also if I coped with living alone, cooking, cleaning, etc. and whether I can handle my own finances. I know I can live alone OK because I just set up routines so I know what I’m doing, but I find that I can’t handle my finances as well as I feel I should be able to do and need to ask my Dad for help sometimes. Again, this might suggest autism.

I also had to narrate a picture book, describe how to brush my teeth and tell a story using five random objects as props. The psychiatric nurse narrated a story with five objects first, to show me what to do. I noticed that while her story was very abstract (e.g. a pen representing a boy, a sellotape roll representing a cake), mine was more literal (e.g. a Lego man for a person, a leaf for a forest), which again would suggest autism to me, although I’m not sure what they are looking for there. I don’t really know if this went well or not, or what “well” really means in this situation. I was told I should hear about the next stage (the actual diagnosis appointment) within six weeks, probably less, but I’m not sure if the actual diagnosis appointment will be within six weeks or just if I should hear when it will be.

The story test makes me wonder if I will really be able to make a career as a novelist, although a quick internet search reveals there are other autistic writers out there. I guess with my current novel, one plot strand is about my experiences with depression and autism in the Jewish community and the other strand is based on a lot of research I did into real life domestic abuse. I suspect I would be the type of author who wears his influences visibly and sticks to existing generic tropes rather than the type of daring, avant garde literary author part of me would like to be. So more of a Terry Nation than a Steven Moffat. Fine, I think Terry Nation is under-rated and I should only make as much money as Terry Nation did… (Nation created a number of popular programmes for British and American television, but was most famous for creating the Daleks for Doctor Who and making a fortune out of them thanks to canny merchandising and rigorous copyright enforcement.)

***

Yesterday J gave me nearly 300 invoices to put in envelopes, stick on stamps and post (he is paying me for this, don’t worry!). Today I put over 100 invoices in envelopes and sealed them; tomorrow I hope to put the rest in and put stamps on them all. It would probably have been more efficient to put a stamp on each envelope after sealing it, but I knew that if I did that, then I would constantly be having OCD worries about whether or not I put one on each one and would be going back to check. Easier, I thought, to do the lot at once, check them, and be done with it.

There’s no volunteering tomorrow, as the paid staff are worried about COVID and are reviewing their procedures to check everything is safe. The packing will be done just by the paid staff this week. Hopefully I can use the morning for envelope stuffing before I have therapy in the afternoon.

***

In the evening I had a rather anxiety-provoking experience. I don’t feel that I can go into much detail. It’s going to be an ongoing thing for a while. I think it’s the right thing to happen, absolutely, but it’s important and scary.

The hardest part isn’t actually the difficult and scary bits. I’m very dependent on the opinion of others, particularly those in religious authority. I worry about appearing like something other than the person I want to be, even though I ended up where I am in good faith and on rabbinic advice. I guess if you have low self-esteem, it’s easy to think everyone thinks badly of you, just as it’s easy to think that every difficulty (or anxiety) is a punishment from God for trivial infractions.

***

Because of everything that happened today, I didn’t do much Torah study. I read Rabbi Sacks’ Morality book for a while, but that was about it. I don’t know if that counts. Is it Torah study if I read a book by a Chief Rabbi about morality, but mostly couched in terms of secular philosophy and psychology rather than Torah sources? I don’t know, but it’s a very good book. I’m pretty tired now, but I need to shower and probably to watch some TV to unwind before going to bed as I still feel very tense, although the anxiety is slowly dissipating. I ate dinner very late, because I was too anxious before, and then I ate a ton of ice cream for dessert. So much for being on a diet.

“The future lies this way”

I got up early again (9.20am, on a Sunday, is early for me), despite setting my alarm wrongly, so things are looking good on that score. I had dreamt about a kid who bullied me at school bullying me as an adult (or quasi-adult… in the dream, I mean). It made me wonder if a lot of my feelings of inadequacy around work and my life in general are about feeling I have to “show” the kids who bullied me at school that I’m competent, or fitting in with my childhood/adolescent feelings that one day I would succeed in some nebulous, undefined way and that that would be some kind of revenge or self-justification. It would be better to focus on what I want to be doing right now, for myself.

It was a busy day. I had a nice date with PIMOJ. We had to cut it short because we both had things to do afterwards, but it was still two and a half hours. We had a really good time though. It’s strange how two people who are, on the surface, opposites (quiet, reserved and pessimistic vs. ebullient and upbeat) are so alike in many other ways. I came home and had a difficult, but positive conversation with my parents, arranged an important and scary conversation with a rabbi I haven’t seen in fifteen years and always found a little intimidating (I’m cutting a lot of relevant information here that maybe one day I’ll be able to reveal in full), started getting stuff ready for the next stage of my autism assessment on Tuesday… and promptly threw up. Perhaps it was anxiety about all the things happening this week, especially the important and scary conversation with the rabbi. I’m kind of hoping it was, because I don’t want to have a bug.

I’ve spent the last couple of hours watching Doctor Who and slowly eating toast and sipping water, while intermittently dealing with texts from PIMOJ (who is worried about me) and the slightly intimidating rabbi (who I’ll call Rabbi B to distinguish him from all the other rabbis on this blog), setting up a Zoom meeting with me and PIMOJ for Tuesday (no, we’re not about to get married). I don’t feel sick any more, but I do feel a bit faint, despite all the toast and water, and I might be coming down with a temperature; at any rate, I keep feeling hot and then cold (my parents think this is just a side effect of being sick). I texted J to say I won’t come to work tomorrow. Even if I’m not infectious, I don’t want to go on the Tube with a lowered immune system, particularly not as I’m paid on a day to day basis anyway rather than having a contract.

***

When watching Doctor Who, I watched some of The Keeper of Traken and Logopolis, Tom Baker’s final two stories in the title role. Every couple of years I forget enough about these stories to think that they’re intelligent and brooding and I watch them again, alongside with Castrovalva, the next story in sequence, which forms a loose trilogy with them. And they are intelligent and brooding, in places, with a few good lines (including the title of this post). They’re also portentous, jargon-filled and incomprehensible in other places. Tom Baker is good, but has clearly had his wings clipped by the production team. But after a while I forget all that, and then I remember them as I feel they should be and watch them again… and then I remember.

I really liked Logopolis as a child, at least from the novelisation. I think I want to experience that version of the story, the version that appealed to a quiet and intelligent eight year child, rather than the version that makes the thirty-seven year old wannabe writer redraft the whole thing.

Feeling Positive

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

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

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

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

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

The Worst Possible Prediction for 2021

This has definitely become a sleep blog… Last night I couldn’t sleep, and then woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. Possibly the room was too cold, unless coming off olanzapine is already having an effect. I got just under six hours sleep, which isn’t bad, even if it contrasts weirdly with the eleven or twelve hours I’ve been getting the previous few nights.

The Tube was empty this morning. Tottenham Court Road Station was utterly deserted at 9.00am. I’ve seen busier stations in the middle of the night. New Year’s Eve in a plague city. Work was quiet and we left before 4pm. The roads were empty. That said, people have been firing off fireworks since 6.00pm, and non-stop for the last three quarters of an hour or so, which undermines the “plague city” feeling a bit. Are people that optimistic about 2021? Or are they symbolically blowing up 2020?

In late 1945, George Orwell said he would make the worst possible prediction for 1946: the new year would be just like the old one. (I would have thought 1945 was a good year overall, with the most destructive conflict in human history ending, but I suppose there was the arrival of the atom bomb which terrified everyone more than we remember, and the fact that Britain finished the war more or less bankrupt, with food shortages that lasted for years afterwards.) I suppose I feel a bit like that.

My 2020, as I’ve noted before, was better than a lot of people’s and I feel vaguely embarrassed about that. Mum got cancer, but she was cured too. I self-published a non-fiction book (I might even have sold copies to people I don’t know if I had the money to pay for advertising on Amazon) and wrote a hefty chunk of my first novel. I ended up in a relationship which didn’t work out, but afterwards in one that so far is working out. I worked in January, was unemployed for most of the year (which turned out for the best as I was able to help Mum) and then found some kind of work at the end of the year. It’s not ideal and I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s a job, which is precious at the moment. To be honest, finding a job in COVID times feels like Yitzchak (Isaac) sowing and reaping a hundredfold during a famine.

The Talmud says “Let the old year and its curses go out, and let the new year and its blessings come in!” That’s talking about Jewish New Year, but I’ve been thinking about it recently. I don’t believe things are magically going to get better in 2021, but hopefully they will get marginally better, even if it’s just the beginning of the end of the pandemic. Who knows?

I don’t usually celebrate New Years Eve. My parents usually go to friends, but they obviously couldn’t do that this year, so we bought takeaway and played board games: The London Game, which involves travelling around London on the Tube getting to various destinations, and Schools Out! which involves travelling around school, collecting books. To be honest, they were similar, although the former had an element of skill (which I lacked) and the latter was mostly luck. Dad won both. We had a good time.

I feel a bit peopled out now and slightly down, so I’m probably going to go to bed soon.

Dribs and Drabs of Inspiration

This seems like a hypersomnia blog far more than it’s a mental health blog these days. Anyway, I slept for nearly twelve hours again last night and woke feeling more tired than I went to bed. I only got up because I was embarrassed that my parents would find me in bed after midday.

I tried to work on my novel. I find it hard to get down to a new draft (the third draft). I opened the document and promptly started idly looking at news sites online. This kind of procrastination can actually be fruitful for me, as sometimes putting my brain in ‘idle’ for a few minutes can kick-start creativity, but that clearly wasn’t happening today. I knew I needed to write a new chapter near the beginning the book about my secondary character, to make her more prominent early on and develop her character, but I couldn’t think what kind of content will be suitable. It’s not exactly padding, but it’s going to be serving character rather than plot.

After a while I went for a run (forty minutes/5K, in the cold and dark) while my thoughts simmered in the background. I had a thought while running that got me a little bit further, and then another thought hit later in the evening to extend that, but I think this chapter is going to be tough. It needs to be written, though. I think the tendency of inspiration to come in dribs and drabs at odd moments is frustrating for me as someone who tends to measure my activity level somewhat obsessively to see the progress or otherwise of my mental health recovery.

I did some Torah study when I got home, and I didn’t get an exercise migraine, which was good. I did feel a general sense of frustration today about struggling to move my life on, particularly in terms of career.

I had a brief bit of anxiety in the evening, fears about my relationship with PIMOJ, that it won’t work out. I tried not to listen to the fears, but it’s not always easy, particularly as I know there is an obstacle for us to surmount that I won’t discuss here. This was probably triggered or worsened by watching the last episode of the first season of The Sandbaggers where the romantic relationship between two of the main characters is ended in the most brutal and permanent way. It was a good episode, in terms of writing and acting, but I think The Sandbaggers is too bleak to binge watch. It needs to be interspersed with lighter TV.

“Prediction is difficult, particularly about the future”

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

Short Update

Sorry for the meaningless title. I hate picking titles, and this post is less than 500 words long, with no real theme.

Not a lot to report today. Work was fine. I’m taking an inventory of various assets, mostly in the form of antique Jewish ritual objects. I don’t really want to go into what they are and why we have them, as I’m trying to avoid making where I work obvious. It’s at least different, but also a bit frustrating, inasmuch as I have some documentation, but it’s not always clear, and sometimes I’m comparing two or three different objects of the same kind to see which one best fits the description. But the day passed quite quickly. I did make some mistakes when writing invoices though. I hope these are learning experiences.

A job that I “should” have applied for (entry-level librarian job at a major London museum, part-time) came up just now and I don’t have the confidence to apply for it – no confidence in my ability to do the job or my ability to cope with more hours than I’m currently doing.

I decided not to contact my GP for now regarding sleep and tiredness issues, but I will try to phone the psychiatrist’s secretary tomorrow to chase the letter that will change my medication. I think it’s worth seeing if the medication change I agreed with the psychiatrist works before pursuing other avenues.

I “went” to Zoom depression group. I didn’t have much to say, but thought I could at least listen to other people. However, I struggled to concentrate. I find concentration hard on Zoom anyway and I think going after work meant that I just couldn’t keep up. It’s probably worth still going, though, as I would still like the option to talk, and it’s good to hear how other people are doing even if I probably won’t remember much of it half an hour later.

I spoke about my job and my fears of messing it up, but I didn’t go into details. I didn’t mention PIMOJ. Whenever I think I could mention her, I think that we could have broken up by the next time we speak and then I’ll have to tell everyone we’ve broken up. I’m also not sure what to say at the moment. PIMOJ keeps saying that we’re “getting to know one another” and I’m not sure if she’s waiting for me to say that we’re in a relationship. I’m pretty bad at knowing what to do in these situations and I think she is, if anything, less experienced and confident than me. I’m pretty sure that she’s keen to continue, but I’m not sure what to say.

Hyperfocus, Procrastination and Spies

I was able to spend longer on Shacharit (morning prayers) yesterday and got a lot out of it. I wanted to do the same today, but struggled to get up and get going again, feeling tired after yesterday. I’m glad the emotional symptoms of depression are largely (although not entirely) gone, but I wish the physical symptoms (oversleeping, lack of energy) would go too as they really stop me living the life I want to live. I struggle to understand why one has gone and not the other (autistic burnout is a possible explanation, or partial explanation). That said, I did get up a bit earlier than I had been even on work days, and spent a bit longer on Shacharit, even if not as much as I would have liked.

I felt very tired on the train into work and was unable to do much Torah study. It was hard enough to stay awake, and it took two cups of coffee at work (after an earlier one at breakfast) to wake up enough to work adequately.

Work was OK. I was doing something that was not, in the abstract, particularly interesting, but I got involved in it. I know I feel negative sometimes about the presentation of high-functioning autism as a positive thing, but maybe I do have the ability to focus on things that are not so interesting. I do still worry about making mistakes. I feel that I am less meticulous than I used to be, and I don’t know why. It occurred to me today that maybe my anxiety about making mistakes is actually causing me to make mistakes.

I did also realise that procrastination for me is more about anxiety than boredom. When I started the task, I was daunted by it and worried that I would mess it up and I was easily distracted, but as I got hold of what I had to do, it became easier to focus on it.

***

I dreamt last night that I was with one of my shul (synagogue) friends and realised he was abusing his wife and children. I woke up feeling guilty that I could think that about him even on an unconscious level (he’s a nice person and I’m sure he treats his family well), but I also tried to work out what my mind was trying to tell me. My best guess is that I’ve had a break for a couple of weeks from my novel, which deals with themes of domestic abuse, and my unconscious is sending me a message to get back to work.

***

I seem to be on a spy kick at the moment. James Bond, writing about John le Carré yesterday and now I’m watching one of my Chanukah presents, the DVD of The Sandbaggers. This is a 1970s TV spy drama. I heard about it years ago, but only got around to checking it out now. It’s my sort of spy drama, low on violence and action, but with lots of politics (Cold War geopolitics, but also internal politics in Whitehall), jargon and strong characterisation. I’ve only seen the first two episodes, but they were very good.

That makes three strong “new” (to me) TV series I’ve seen this year: Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes, Twin Peaks and now The Sandbaggers. I’ve also dated two women and found a job, (re-)started volunteering and got to a much more stable place of mental health. Dare I say it, I think my 2020 has actually been better than most people’s. Even the biggest personal shock/worry – Mum’s cancer – turned out alright (cured), albeit with the usual caveats about worrying about cancer returning.