More Shoulds

I woke up feeling depressed and self-critical again, although perhaps not as much as yesterday. E wants to try to help me feel less exhausted and depressed from activity, and I want to too, but I wonder if it’s possible. It depends if it’s from a sleep disorder (potentially treatable, although I’m not sure to what extent) or autistic exhaustion (not really treatable except through energy accounting, and I’ve mentioned my problems with that) or SAD (light therapy didn’t work so well in the past, but I’m trying again). It’s worrying. Reducing my meds might give me more energy, but might make my mood worse. Although I’m not sure how much I trust a psychiatrist regarding this, I plan to take the appointment offered to me in January (J let me switch work days) and I probably will ask to reduce clomipramine, but not to come off it completely.

On the Tube this morning I was sat opposite someone with a persistent, horrible cough. I changed carriage at the next station, but ended up in a carriage full of sniffers and coughers. I guess it’s winter. Did this worry me before COVID? I think so, but not so much. I was sat next to someone who sniffed the whole way this morning. It was probably just the warm air in the carriage after the colder air outside. I was less worried about catching something and more irritated by the noise.

My brain was not working well today. I missed out bits of very familiar tasks at work and found it hard to do any work. I did at least have various tasks in the morning, but I was just sorting old papers again in the afternoon, a job with no clear end in sight, and I’m not entirely sure I’m tackling it the best way.

I do wonder if changing job, if I pass the interview, would lead to renewed energy and motivation or if I would be just as miserable in a new places with new procedures to learn just as I was getting used to this job and its procedures.

I used my light box in the morning. It seemed to help a bit, although the effect disappeared soon after I switched it off.

I felt more self-criticism about writing. I think I need to JUST WRITE. I have written for four consecutive days this week, writing over 2,000 words in four hours or less. I have no idea how good it is and I feel guilty about leaving the other novel and writing this without a clear plan, like I’m cheating on my other, worthier, novel with a more fun, less serious one.

It’s hard to know if I “should” be writing or what I “should” be writing. I always feel obliged to try to do what God wants beyond what I want or what I think is right. This adds another layer of complexity to decision-making. I say “always”; that’s not quite true any more. Over the last five years or so, I’ve started to feel that some halakhahs are beyond me and that I can’t keep them now, or maybe ever, so I’m not trying. Then again, there probably aren’t many of these (listening to recorded women’s singing and hugging E are the ones that spring to mind). I should probably just not think about what God wants me to write and just write. At least I’m finding writing reviving rather than draining at the moment.

I miss E. At least I can see her in five days! However, we are worried that the government are going to crack down on immigration and arbitrarily refuse her visa request. I don’t think the migration crackdown will take effect that quickly, although E got scared by a Guardian headline that was probably just another attempt to make Suella Braverman look like a Fascist. Still, it’s a worry.

Calling Into the Void

After a good day yesterday, I’ve crashed again today, feeling exhausted, depressed and lacking in motivation. I feel really awful, probably a result of doing too much over the last couple of days (not that it felt like much), missing E, SAD, personal life news (see below) and real news (also see below). I’m not sure when I last felt this bad.

 I wish this wouldn’t happen. I guess it’s something you should just learn to live with, with an ongoing health condition, but I find it hard, even after all these years. I guess it doesn’t help that it isn’t clear whether it’s more down to autism or a sleep disorder.

I woke up at 10am and wanted to stay awake, but I must have fallen asleep again as the next thing I knew it was 11am and Dad wanted me to get up to help take in the Tesco order. I did that, and prayed a bit even though I was still in pyjamas as I didn’t have the energy to get dressed and knew it would be too late for Shacharit (Morning Prayers) if I waited until after breakfast. I had breakfast and messed about online, getting annoyed by how much of the internet is about hate. Even if it’s not actual hate speech, it’s people complaining about other people’s hate speech. At the moment I’m becoming more impressed with Chabad.org than with the other Jewish sites I follow, because, although it is too mystical for my tastes and has fewer articles that interest me, it rarely does an “Antisemites said X, how awful is that?”-type article of the kind that are common elsewhere, preferring to focus on meaningful Jewish content. I think this is a better response to antisemitism most of the time than “calling out” into the void.

At 12.30pm I got phoned by the job agency that sent me the job last week. Embarrassingly, I was still in my pyjamas, but I took the call anyway. I’ve got the interview, although I’m not sure when it will be, given that I’m away soon and that I work two days a week. I will go to the interview, although I’m not sure when I will prepare or if I even want the job. As I’ve said, it’s slightly less money for somewhat longer hours, but it would potentially be a job I enjoy and restart my library career, so I need to think carefully about it. It also just occurred to me that in my current job, because it’s for a Jewish organisation and is shut on Jewish festivals, I don’t need to take them out of my holiday time, which I would have to do in this job. So there’s a lot to consider, if I even get the job. Possibly this pushed my mood further down, although I was depressed before it.

I did eventually get up and manage to get dressed. I went for a walk and spent an hour or so writing. I’m not sure if this project is going well, and I’m trying not to think about it for now, or if I’m going about it the right way. Basically, I started my satirical novel without finishing the planning a few days ago, because I needed to write, but didn’t have a head for just sitting and planning with nothing to show for it. I’m not usually a “pantser” (a writer who writes by the seat of their pants i.e. without planning), so I’m not sure if this will be organic and natural or just a mess. It’s hard to judge comedy anyway.

I didn’t go to shul (synagogue) as I vaguely hoped to do and only managed about five minutes of Torah study, as I really am stuck in a black hole of despair today.

***

I phoned the psychiatric appointments line to try to change my psychiatrist appointment, which is supposed to be when I’m away. This is to replace the appointment that was supposed to be a few weeks ago, but was cancelled at the last minute with no explanation. I discovered I have a new appointment for 9 January, which I wanted to move, as I’m at work then, but the person on the phone said to change an appointment I had to phone back on a morning as “I don’t keep the diary, I’m just covering the phones.” Really efficient. My parents and E said it will be easier to change my work days that week rather than the appointment, which really shouldn’t be the case, but sadly is true. Moreover, if I try to move the appointment, I’m likely to get one in February and I would like to be seen by then, although if recent depressed days continue, I won’t be changing my medication anyway (the reason for the appointment).

***

On a theme of getting annoyed with public monopolies that other people seem to love, I wrote an angry email to the BBC complaining about their minimisation of violence against Israelis in their description of today’s twin bombings in Jerusalem as “rare” bomb attacks. My point was that this minimises the attacks and primes readers to see them as freak events, downplaying the two fatalities and pre-emptively implying that any Israeli response is an over-reaction. The reality is that over 2,000 attacks of varying kinds on Israelis have occurred so far this year, of which the BBC reported just thirteen (figures from CAMERA UK, who also stated “the BBC News website did not provide stand-alone or timely coverage of any of the 401 terror attacks – including three fatal ones – which took place during October. In contrast, a counter-terrorism operation in Schem (Nablus) was reported just hours after it concluded.”)

I doubt I’ll get a response. The Jewish Chronicle, which is running a major campaign against BBC bias in both domestic and foreign reporting of antisemitism and Israel, reports that complaints about Israel coverage can take up to a year to be answered by the BBC and are sometimes completely ignored, even though BBC guidelines say that all complaints should to responded to within ten days. I actually felt worse afterwards, like that calling into the void I mentioned earlier. The BBC have had enough criticism of their Israel/Jewish coverage for me to know that they won’t take my complaint seriously, and will remain entrenched in their narrative that Jews don’t belong in the Middle East and that the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a clear-cut case of alien colonists persecuting non-violent natives, rather than a complex, long-running conflict between two different indigenous peoples that has seen violence on both sides.

I’m worried about posting this publicly, as I don’t want to be drawn into arid arguments about Israel’s right to exist, but I’m too depressed and exhausted to start editing or posting privately.

Survival of the Normalest

I woke up in a self-critical mood, remembering how much I messed things up in my further education job (although it was four years ago) and being critical of my blog writing (I wonder why anyone at all reads it) and my fiction writing. At the risk of name-dropping, Matthue Roth (My First Kafka) told me off once years ago for calling my own writing “bilge” on Hevria, saying I was insulting myself, my history and my thoughts. I feel like I don’t care about insulting them.

At lunchtime I managed to locate the Hevria post where we had this discussion. Interestingly, nearly five years ago, I was already agonising over the fact that I have ideas for stories, but am unable to empathise with my characters and write them well, getting inside their inner lives, because I’m “somewhat autistic [I was undiagnosed at that stage and nervous of staking claim to autism under false pretences] and alexithymic (unable to feel or describe emotions)”. I asked Matthue whether he thought someone who can’t get in touch with their emotions could write good fiction or poetry, but I don’t think he understood the question (maybe he couldn’t understand that some people don’t understand or feel their own emotions) and spoke more about characters who don’t have emotions, which wasn’t really what I meant.

I do wonder about that still, whether I can get inside anyone’s head enough to write well. I quoted to Matthue something George Orwell wrote, that Tolsoy’s characters are so detailed that you can imagine having a conversation with them, and that I can’t really imagine a conversation with any fictional character. I mean, I struggle to imagine conversations with real people let alone those that only live in my head!

E suggested leaving my novels for now and writing a short story. She’s probably right. I had an idea for a short story recently, but I neglected to write it down and now I can’t remember it.

***

Work was dull. I spent the morning looking for missing invoices and the afternoon struggling with a mail merge. It doesn’t get much more fun than that. I felt depressed and self-loathing all day and unsure why: my job? The thoughts about my writing? Winter sunlight issues (our office is particularly gloomy and badly-lit)? Everything? Who knows.

On the Tube home, half a carriage was filled with young boys, all “manspreading” and some with their feet on the seats. I contrasted their unthinking possession of the world around them with myself, constantly apologising for getting in the way and squeezing myself into corners.

LinkedIn tells me someone I was at university with is now a “Publisher, writer and researcher”. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing something like that? I see parents of autistic children writing on the autism forum and think, “Those children are struggling much more than I ever did as a child, why can’t I just get my life together? Surely it should be easier as an adult?” But I don’t think my functionality, such as it is, is down to my efforts, just to the grace of God.

***

The Aviva Gottleib Zornberg essay I’m reading on this week’s sedra (Torah portion) notes talks about “Isaac – in whom any obliteration of limits and distinctions rouses profound anxiety”. I’m not sure I see that in the Torah, but I do see it in myself, which is interesting, as I identify with Yitzchak (Isaac) more than any other Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) character, for reasons that are not completely clear to me. Later on in the essay she quotes the Zohar, that Yitzchak’s love for Esav (Esau) is not based on opposites attracting, but on similarities. She sees Esav as a proto-existentialist searching for meaning in a meaningless world, which also resonates with me, although I don’t identify with Esav much. (There were a lot of Hamlet quotations in the essay, actually.)

***

A blogger I respect who married in her early thirties (ancient, in her Yeshivish community) said that she only had a couple of criteria for a husband, but that she took “normality” as a given before those criteria came into effect. It made me wonder how many other frum (religious) women feel the same, and how many autistic people could pass the “normality” test, even with masking.

Given how much of the energy of the frum community is focused on finding a spouse, and how other interests and goals are postponed until after marriage, not least for fear they might scare off prospective partners, I wonder if the frum world is a sort of Darwinian “survival of the normalest” contest, where the people who can appear most normal find the best partners and bring up their children to be even more normal (conformist), breeding out more individuality with each generation. I am glad I am out of the dating game now (not that I was ever really in it in the frum world – the few women who were ever serious about me were not typical frum women themselves), but I worry about other autistic people stuck in it, and about what happens to a community that tries to breed all individuality and eccentricity out of itself.

You Had One Job, Hamlet

I feel somewhat depressed again today. It’s hard to tell if it’s SAD or missing E or both. I don’t think it’s general depression. At least, I hope it’s not.

My sister and brother-in-law came for lunch. My sister is less than a month from her baby’s due date. I’m vaguely worried the baby will arrive while I’m in the USA, but there’s nothing I can do about that.

I sent off my CV for the job I mentioned the other day, but I realised it’s actually less money for more work I’m not ruling it out at this stage, as it is a library job that could potentially restart my library career. My current job isn’t in the library sector and has no prospect for promotion or career development. Even so, I suspect the selection committee will be put off by the gaps on my CV, long gaps where I was working in non-library jobs, or not working at all.

I felt tired after seeing my sister and BIL and skyping my rabbi mentor for a while. I didn’t have time or energy to go for a run, and it was probably too wet outside anyway, so I went for a brisk walk. That and some Torah study were my main activities today.

***

Lately I have been wanting to read Hamlet again, or (given I have a stack of unread books to read) at least to watch the five hour Kenneth Branagh unedited film version again (I have it on DVD). I’m not sure if this is related to feeling depressed. I tend to think about Hamlet when I’m feeling depressed for some reason.

There’s an internet meme about “You had one job,” mostly depicting badly-done practical workmanship e.g. handrails that go up while the stairs go down or toilet bowls placed so they stop the cubicle door shutting. But I feel that Hamlet “had one job” and messed it up too. All he had to do was avenge his father by killing his uncle. Instead, he procrastinated about killing his uncle; broke up with his girlfriend and then killed her father, driving her insane and ultimately to her death; nearly killed his uncle, but decided killing him at prayer would allow him to Heaven and decided he wanted to send him to Hell; got into a duel with his late girlfriend’s brother; finally killed his uncle, but was killed in the process; was also responsible for the deaths of his mother and late girlfriend’s brother at the same time; got a couple of his friends killed along the way; and finally handed over Denmark to the Norwegians. I feel that Richard III would have handled this job a lot better. Sometimes over-thinking doesn’t help.

Perhaps I empathise with Hamlet as I often get set simple tasks which I fail to do properly. Like Hamlet, I stand around trying to be clever and good with words, but don’t actually get the job done.

(No, of course I didn’t spend twenty minutes looking at silly “You had one job” photos online, why would I do that? That would certainly have been a waste of time and procrastination, not to mention making light of other people’s misfortune…)

***

I watched Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life last night. I had to buy a copy of the DVD, as I didn’t have one, unlike the TV series and the other two films. I think I thought it wasn’t funny enough. I enjoyed it more than I expected, more than my recent re-viewings of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. I’m not sure why. It could be that I’m less familiar with the jokes from The Meaning of Life than the earlier two, which were quoted endlessly by my friends at school. The sketch format of The Meaning of Life is a double-edged sword: there’s a lack of engaging narrative to hold the attention through it, but it’s more similar in style to the TV series. I think the Pythons have subsequently said that they should have worked harder on the script to fuse the sketches into some kind of narrative, maybe the story of one person’s life, although I’m not sure how that would have worked.

It’s interesting that I’ve been watching Python for the first time in years now I’m thinking I should try to write my satirical novel, because I guess I want to have Python-esque feel, not so much in terms of surrealism or even sometimes bad taste, but in terms of mocking authority and saying things that society doesn’t want you to say.

Demons

I feel rather down today. Shabbat (the Sabbath) started OK. The good news I had yesterday was a job agency wanting to put my name forward for a librarian job. I need to update my CV and say yes. So that put me in a good mindset. I coped with shul (synagogue) despite the SHOUTING chazzan (cantor). I did some Torah study, including Talmud study after dinner, but ran out of time to do much recreational reading.

Today was much worse. Mum and Dad were out for lunch, which inevitably meant my getting up and getting dressed even later than usual. I spent a lot of time today in bed with the duvet and weighted blanket wrapped around me, trying to feel calm and comforted. I had lunch by myself, which was fine (I read about the last days of Franklin Roosevelt and the surprising unpreparedness of Harry Truman in Accidental Presidents), but across the day as a whole, my mood went down, with some loneliness, low mood (depression-low, although hopefully not lasting long enough to be depression) and missing E and fear that I’m not going to get that good new job as I haven’t worked in the library sector properly for years and have all kinds of gaps on my CV. I didn’t do much Torah study, and then Shabbat was over just after 5pm. And I have a headache that is resisting medication.

***

After Shabbat, I checked email and worried I’d upset someone with my political views. I would much rather hide my thoughts than express myself and risk upsetting people with different views. I suspect this is not considered acceptable these days of extreme individualism and self-expression, but maybe it would be better if more people did it. However, I see things that are wrong in the world, and I want to protest. I don’t really think most people can actually change the world (another unacceptable view), so I’d rather keep my friends, but there is a “demon” inside me (metaphorically; I’m neither a kabbalist nor a psychotic) that makes me want to write “edgy” or “provocative” things in whichever community I find myself, whether sexual material in the Orthodox world or anti-woke material in the wider UK mediascape where the Left does indeed have a monopoly on satire. Not that I really think of myself as “right-wing” (ugh) or even “conservative” in the way most people use the term. Maybe I just want to be sui generis. Either way, if I write anything I feel I’ll offend people. But I desperately need to write and am suffering from not being able to do so right now!

(As an aside, I had a friend at secondary school who was very clever, but also very lazy and badly behaved. He loved to mock or joke around. In retrospect, he may have been neurodiverse himself. I suddenly find myself wondering if this is how he felt, wanting to say stuff just because “Everyone” says you shouldn’t say it?)

There is a further problem that my satirical novel is not really ready to start writing yet. It probably needs a whole new plot (I haven’t had either time or courage to look at my notes). I may need to do research, although I’m in two minds about that. It’s not going to be detailed, realistic satire like Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, but dystopian-science fiction-black comedy, inspired by things like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Gulliver’s Travels, lots of Philip K. Dick novels, maybe the Blade Runner films, Brazil (the Terry Gilliam film), V for Vendetta (the style, but not the content), The Prisoner and Doctor Who stories like The Macra Terror, The Happiness Patrol and The Beast Below.

***

My biggest negative thought recently (going on for some weeks now, but particularly the last two days), is feeling that my autism has stopped me from being socialised into the frum (religious Jewish) community. There’s a LOT I could say here, but I’ll mention that autism, and related social anxiety stemming from autism-related bullying, made me skip all the experiences that socialise teenagers in the Anglo-Jewish community into the Jewish and frum worlds:  shul youth services, youth movements, Israel tour and yeshivah (not going to yeshivah was because of a whole bunch of reasons mostly unrelated to autism, but I think autism would have made it damaging for me if I had gone). I then had a weird relationship with the Jewish Society at university, until my breakdown/burnout when I moved away from it. I then struggled to find a way into the community as a young adult (twenties and thirties) dealing with depression, social anxiety and undiagnosed autism, feeling that I wasn’t able to talk to people at social events and increasingly reluctant to try.

I’ve never had many frum friends, although I have a couple. I find it hard to socialise at Kiddush and other community social events, because there’s too much background noise so I can’t hear words properly. I used to leave kiddush after five minutes or so; then someone criticised me for that, and for not going to shul much in the morning (which is due to social anxiety and possibly a sleep disorder). Then COVID hit, and I got my autism diagnosis. Whether it’s an effect of COVID and being isolated for so long, or of being diagnosed and more conscious of my needs, or just of getting older (there is anecdotal evidence undiagnosed autistics’ tolerance for noise and people declines with age), I now find being in big rooms with lots of people (or even just a few people) being noisy very difficult and am less inclined to put myself into those situations. But it’s hard to be part of the frum world without going to shul regularly, particularly for a man.

Lately, I find it harder and harder to go to shul, because of the noise and people. I think this fuels my social anxiety. There have been times during my burnout when I’ve stopped going to shul completely, which I suspect was autism-influenced, although it was before my diagnosis. Of course, there was a period of several years when I went to shul daily, or several times a day, led services and gave drashot (Torah classes) and I would like to move back towards being in that place, but I think it was the result of a number of circumstances that are hard to replicate now. I wish I could make lightning strike twice in this area, but I’m not sure how.

I honestly don’t know what I could do to make things better for me, though. I spoke to a rabbi about it over a year ago and I think he was frustrated that I didn’t have any practical suggestions for change, but I find it hard to think what would make things easier for me, let alone how to make them materialise.

I would like to post this somewhere, but I don’t know where. I think the autism forum would not understand it, and might use it to make anti-religious points. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to post it to the Orthodox Conundrum group. The Jewish autism groups I belong to are small and don’t post much, and I haven’t really introduced myself on them, so I’m scared what the result would be of posting out of the blue.

***

This doesn’t really fit anywhere in this post, but Virgin Atlantic got back to me and I don’t think they can offer me any help at the airport beyond the sunflower “invisible disabilities” lanyard and their own invisible disabilities sign. Again, I want things to be different, and maybe they could be, but if I can’t articulate them, they won’t happen.

***

I feel like I wasted the whole evening writing this post, and I still didn’t really express what I want to say. It’s horrible not really knowing what I feel half the time, let alone being able to put it into words (when I’m supposedly hyper-literate and good with words).

Sigh. Politics is a bore, autism is a bore, writing is not a bore, but feeling impelled to write things that I am more than a little suspicious of myself is a bore. And headaches are a bore.

Going to watch Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life for a bit, then interrupt and try to do some of the chores I set for myself to do tonight and which I haven’t started yet, if I can, then finish the film and try not to go to bed too late.

Bits and Pieces

I think I’ve put on all the weight I lost over the last few months, perhaps even some more. I really don’t eat that much junk! I do get hungry late at night (when I should really be in bed) and eat cereal and sometimes I eat too much when I get home from work as dinner is almost always late in our house. It is hard to make myself go to bed hungry, or deny myself one biscuit or small piece of chocolate after a stressful day. I’m not sure what else I could do to reward myself. If we’re talking empty calories, I also eat a lot of prunes (which I’m sure have a lot of natural sugar), because it’s the only way I’ve found to combat the constipation caused by taking clomipramine (sorry if that’s TMI), another reason I’m anxious to reduce my meds.

***

I did the second night of the sleep study. I slept a lot more first night than the second because of work. That shouldn’t make any difference, as they’re just checking whether I stop breathing in my sleep, but I am vaguely nervous, especially given the problems I had with the questionnaire, which asked a lot of questions that I could not answer, either because they required a “bed-partner” who knew if I snore or referred to my experience of fatigue while driving, which I don’t do. I wrote a whole long covering email when I returned the questionnaire explaining the situation. I just hope someone takes note of it. I would really like an accurate to answer to the question of whether my disrupted sleep and constant tiredness is at least in part due to a sleep disorder.

***

Some thoughts about chatan (bridegroom) class from last night: I knew a lot of the material that I was being taught, and even spotted the teacher’s mistakes on a couple of occasions. I am generally too polite to point out other people’s mistakes, but maybe I should have done so here to show that I was pretty au fait with the material.

The topic was mostly standard Jewish texts on love and marriage. I felt that I was told that I should love E as much as I love self, which I already knew (it’s from the Talmud), but that I didn’t get much advice on how to do this. (If I was teaching the class, I would have referred to Rav Dessler’s idea that giving rather than receiving generates love.)

The teacher gave me a lift home. I felt embarrassed that I don’t drive. I don’t think he realised how old I am (forty next birthday), particularly as discussion of my university background and efforts to move into proofreading work made me sound as if I have joined the labour market relatively recently (and not because of years of depression and burnout). It’s not uncommon for Modern Orthodox Jews to meet their future spouse at university and get married soon after graduation and, as I mentioned the other day, I look a lot younger than I actually am. I also hid my MA, as I’m embarrassed about that too (the fact that it was not at a good university, that I had to struggle to get the degree and took three and a half years to do a degree that should have taken one year, and that my library career did not go anywhere afterwards).

On the plus side, the teacher is somewhat geeky and likes Doctor Who. Unlike me, he prefers the new series to the old. Like me, he thinks it has gone downhill lately. Unlike me, but like many other people, he thinks it’s too woke. I don’t really think it is that much more woke than it has been at other points in the past, and I don’t think being woke is necessarily a problem here. The problem is a lack of original, interesting, fun competently-written stories.

***

Today I’ve been struggling with having negative thoughts about other people and then obsessing over my thoughts and thinking I’m a bad person for not only thinking positive things about other people. I’m not sure where this has come from.

***

Work was a bit stressful. I had trouble with the very user unfriendly website we use for stationery orders. I also made some mistakes that were at least in part because J fired too much at me at once and I tried to multitask, which is something I do badly (autism).

I stayed for Minchah and Ma’ariv in the shul  (Afternoon and Evening Prayers in the synagogue).I got pretty overwhelmed by the noise and the people, and by thinking that not only does autism stop me functioning in the frum (religious) community, but no one even understands my problems because there are so few frum autistics (who I have come across, at least). I did think of posting something on the autism forum, but I’m not sure who would understand and it would just come across as bad mouthing my own community to people who know nothing about it and perhaps just reinforcing anti-Jewish/anti-religious sentiments.

I managed to do some shopping after work, but I’ve been pretty exhausted since I got home.

***

E and my therapist both said I should stop writing my novel for now, and, as a good Jewish boy, I know not to argue with my wife or my therapist (or my mother, but she doesn’t know what I’m writing). E encouraged me to work on the satirical novel I want to write in the meantime. I feel I should do research, but also that I don’t have the head for that with everything going on in my life right and now and that I should just jump in. How much can you research comedy anyway, even if it is satire? Unfortunately, while I feel confused and angry about much in the world, it’s hard to frame my confused and angry thoughts coherently in my head, let alone in a dystopian satirical novel. I also worry about the attitude (on the part of readers) of “If you disagree with X, then you must want Y instead” which isn’t necessarily true. I might satirise the extremes of X, but be absolutely in favour of it in moderation, but satire isn’t so good at reflecting that level of nuance, or the concept of moderation at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird Thoughts

I feel pretty overwhelmed today. Yesterday was rather stressful, but I’d hoped to do a lot more in the afternoon than I managed. I now have two To Do lists: my ongoing, long-term To Do list with things like wedding preparation, novel writing/submitting and trying to set up as a proof-reader, and my short-term To Do list from yesterday, which realistically is going to take a couple of days to get through. I feel miserable about this.

I know that getting married, moving house, and changing career are all typically overwhelming and that I’m trying to do all three in the space of a few months, while juggling autism, social anxiety and a possible sleep disorder plus working on a novel with another one I want to substantially rewrite when I get time (!) and plans for a third. Even so, I feel overwhelmed and more than a little inadequate.

I guess I feel like I’m in a hurry. E and I are in a hurry to get married by now, and I want to make progress with starting as a proof-reader (as we will need the money) and with my writing (as I want to get my thoughts out of my head, and at times at least feel that that would be a good thing for other people too). Plus, I’m nearly forty, I feel I should have something to show for four decades on this planet.

***

Work was hard too. Two of the other people in the building really don’t get on. It’s technically nothing to do with us, but one comes in periodically to vent to J. Today we had both of them in at different times, one threatening to resign. I’m not good at being around strong emotions like that. There are also building works going on which meant that there was a lot of noise (machine noise, but also frequent effing from the builders) and strange smells. Not good for autistics.

Some other stuff happened at work that was stressful, but I can’t really go into it publicly.

I somehow got a voicemail with no record of a missed call. It was the psychiatrist’s secretary saying my appointment tomorrow (about trying to reduce some of my meds) is cancelled. No explanation, typical NHS. They have booked me in for the earliest next appointment, which is 2 December, but I’ll be in New York, so I need to phone and get a new one. I’m going to volunteering tomorrow instead. I thought of staying home and trying to work through the short-term To Do list, but realistically I will just oversleep, so I might as well volunteer and do something useful and still start on the To Do list around 2pm.

When I got home, the apparatus for my sleep study had arrived. Unfortunately, they had not sent all the instructions, so I can’t start that tonight. I blamed the NHS, but, on inspection, I think this is contracted out.

***

Lately I feel that I’ve been having a lot of negative memories. They’re usually memories of stuff I’ve done wrong, from minor things no one except me noticed to times when my boss in my further education job got really annoyed with me. I can’t work out if this is new or if I’ve just become aware of it. I know I’ve had it in the past, but my subjective impression is that it got better for a bit and is now getting worse again. I haven’t had this so much recently, but sometimes the memories feel very intense, and I have the vague and irrational feeling that somehow I could re-enter that point in my life. (I don’t think this is anything to do with PTSD flashbacks, if only because having PTSD about being told off by my boss or misbehaving at school makes no sense.)

I’ve also been feeling more aware lately that other people are individuals with their own thoughts and feelings. I feel like this especially when I’m in a crowd. It inspires awe and also a bit of fear. One of my favourite Jewish teachings is that, when seeing a crowd of 600,000 or more Jews, we say a blessing thanking God who “knows secrets,” i.e. the secret thoughts of each individual. I find it interesting that when faced with a crowd we emphasise the individuality of everyone in it, not the size of the crowd as a whole. The Talmud says that, just as the people in the crowd have different faces, so they have different thoughts. The Kotzker Rebbe emphasised this by stating just as it doesn’t bother you that their faces are different to your own, it shouldn’t bother you that their thoughts are different.

It can be hard to do this, to think about other people being individuals without being bothered. I tend to assume that people with different thoughts would reject me. I personally can accept mutually opposing truths, even pride myself on my ability to “contain” different beliefs in a detached way, seeing multiple perspectives on a complex religious or political reality, but I worry other people can’t accept my beliefs if they disagree. I’m not sure how rational this is. People can be very judgmental and intolerant, but also most people are not going to want to analyse all your religious, political and cultural beliefs before deciding whether they like you.

Exhaustion and Annoying Social Media

I was listening to a shiur (religious class) from Aviva Gottleib Zornberg from before Yom Kippur that I hadn’t had time to hear yet. It made me think, not for the first time, that it’s strange that the religious approach that resonates most with me (Jewish religious existentialism) is one of other-awareness and relationship (between God and myself and between other people and myself), yet I have a disability that makes forming relationships and perspective-taking difficult. Or maybe that’s the point: I have to do it consciously, because I can’t do it automatically.

Other than that, I was pretty wiped out today. I slept in late and didn’t do much other than listen to that shiur (it was pretty long, nearly an hour and a half) and go for a walk. I wanted to submit the religious thoughts I wrote a couple of months ago about the death of the Queen to a Jewish magazine, but on reading what I wrote again, it was very closely tied to that time, not just the Queen’s death (which they might potentially write about in their next issue, as it’s quarterly, so probably hasn’t been published since her death), but also to the time of the year, right before the Jewish High Holidays. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to see events in the world and suddenly get an idea of what to write about them and then quickly produce usable copy. I need time to think and plan and then I need to get time and energy to write, fitting around work and other obligations. It is difficult when so many Jewish publications seem to like very timely material. I don’t know how I can get inspiration faster.

I also wanted to work on getting together a profile to try to set myself up as a proof-reader, but ran out of time and energy, although doing this a couple of weeks before I go to America may not be a great idea anyway. I did have a Zoom chat with my parents and E about some things related to E and my future finances that was helpful and reassuring and E and I had our daily Skype call afterwards. I feel pretty video-ed out now.

***

Ugh, social media is awful. I’ve backed off from my tentative idea of friending more individuals on Facebook. I’d say it’s because of politics, but I’d be OK with calm and rational discussion of politics. It’s more because people online are over-excitable and looking for reasons to be offended. It’s like they regress to toddlers on a sugar high, complete with tantrums. I’m sticking as a member of some (fairly quiet) FB groups, but I was dismayed by how many people answering the “inspirational twentieth or twenty-first century Jewish book” question I posted about yesterday have listed books by Meir Kahane, the far-right, racist, anti-democratic, theocratic, pro-violence religious leader and politician who was for a long time beyond the pale in Orthodox Jewish circles, but who is now being posthumously rehabilitated in Israel.

It also seems that a lot of Doctor Who fandom is on video/YouTube now, which isn’t a format that I like or easily find the time to watch. I prefer fan thoughts in text form. So it seems unlikely I will be getting much further back into Doctor Who fandom. Even aside from a stupidly political fan blog post I saw today (there was a lot wrong with it, but I’ll just mention that it tried to argue that Doctor Who should only be produced directly by the state-funded BBC because capitalism is evil, then ended with a request to tip the author via his Patreon account, which seems a tad hypocritical).

Inspiring Jewish Books

Late last night I was very hungry and couldn’t stop being hungry, no matter what I ate. This occasionally happens to me and I don’t know why. I had hoped to get an earlyish night, but I couldn’t because I was eating. Inevitably, I struggled to get up early this morning, the third consecutive early morning (some people do this every day).

At work I had to make phone calls asking people for outstanding payments again. The more I did, the easier it got, as per exposure therapy, up until the point where I ended up with an extremely angry person who said we hadn’t sent her an invoice. She shouted at me a lot. I got quite upset, but stayed on the call until J (who was on a different call on the other line) signalled to me that I should tell her he would call her back.

Afterwards, it occurred to me that maybe I forgot to send her the invoice. There was no invoice in my sent mail folder. Perhaps I had sent it in the snail mail and it got lost in the post, but perhaps I had just forgotten to send it. To be fair to myself, she did admit she booked the event through a third party, which is not what people are supposed to do (they are supposed to call us directly), and they apparently did not make the charges clear to her either. So perhaps it was not my fault. But as, after this, I got confused when I had to multitask through several things at once, it’s not hard to believe that something similar happened.

On the plus side, after dinner I managed an extra half-hour of Torah study (in addition to the half-hour I did on the train in to work) and fifteen or twenty minutes of novel research. Then I got a really weird response to a comment I left on a FB post. I honestly don’t understand what it’s saying, whether it’s broadly agreeing with me, disagreeing with me, arguing with me, something else entirely. No idea.

***

A while back, the Tube started displaying posters saying that non-consensual touching or staring is sexual harassment and will be prosecuted. This resulted in a degree of ridicule, with people saying that the police often refuse to investigate serious crimes, even rape, because they say they don’t have the resources to do so, so are they really going to prosecute people for staring on the Tube?

Today I saw a Tube poster calling on passengers to intervene if they see sexual harassment. There was a disclaimer about only intervening if you can do so safely, which just introduced an element of mixed messaging and confusion. When I told E, she suggested that, in the absence of more funding, perhaps the police were starting a deliberate policy of encouraging vigilantism. I guess we’ll soon be having amateur Sherlock Holmes-types crawling over murder scenes while the actual forensic police officers fill in paperwork.

I have often wondered about this idea of intervening if I were to see some kind of harassment (sexual, racial, homophobic, transphobic). I see stories about harassment in the news and wonder what I would do if I saw that happening. Regardless of what the poster says, I am disinclined to do anything. I can see that sort of confrontation escalating very quickly and ending in my getting hit or stabbed. Unlike America, it’s unlikely that I would get shot, but the number of stabbings keeps rising and no one seems to know what to do about it.

***

On the Orthodox Conundrum Facebook page, Rabbi Kahn asked for twentieth and twenty-first century Jewish books that have inspired us. This is what I wrote (reformatted for WP):

Hard to narrow it down to just a few but:

Rabbi Lord Sacks: many things, I’ll name Radical Then, Radical Now and the Torah commentary essays.

Rav Soloveitchik: The Lonely Man of Faith

Rabbi Michael Rosen: The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim

Chaim Feinberg: Leaping Souls: Rabbi Menachem Mendel and the Spirit of Kotzk

Arthur Green: Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav

Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Passion for Truth

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits’ essay: A Jewish Sexual Ethics

[End of passage from FB]

A few things that strike me from this list.

  1. In a list of books from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, I picked four books about nineteenth century rabbis. I’m not sure what this says about me. Possibly that I can’t answer a question in a straightforward way.
  2. Out of eight books and essays, three are wholly or partly about the Kotzker Rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). I was thinking about my autistic special interests the other day and trying to work out what are autistic special interests and what are just interests. I felt Judaism probably isn’t a special interest, but the Kotzker probably is. This list seems to confirm that.
  3. Pretty much every text on this list is by or about someone who is considered a Jewish religious existentialist or proto-existentialist (I don’t think Rabbi Berkovits is, but in the essay he talks about Martin Buber and I-Thou encounters, so that probably counts on some level).
  4. I am a virgin, yet I picked an essay on sexual ethics as one of the most inspirational to me, and I wasn’t trying to be funny, sarcastic, clever or anything like that. That essay has really shaped how I view sexuality and what I would like it to be for me when E and I get married, and even by extension how to have meaningful non-sexual relationships.

Franklin Roosevelt, Pitt the Younger, Orpheus, Abraham and Me

At work, J sent me to get some spare keys cut (the ones I couldn’t get cut last week). I found somewhere that would cut them, but for more than he was expecting. I wasn’t sure if J was back in the office or still in shul (synagogue). Logically, I should have phoned, but social anxiety, phone anxiety, executive function issues around making an on the spot decision and conflicting ideas about showing initiative versus asking permission resulted in my getting the keys cut, then retroactively texting to check if that was OK, which was not a good way of handling it.

On the way to get the keys cut, I passed Franklin Roosevelt’s statue in Grosvenor Square, although only from behind (I couldn’t justify the detour to look at the front). There are six US Presidents with statues in London: Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan and George Washington (the latter of which I think is pretty broadminded of us, all things considered). E and I might try to do a walk to visit all six in one day. But not on a wet November day.

I passed Pitt the Younger’s statue in Hanover Square too. There was a seagull on his head. He deserved better.

***

I feel like I get “friend crushes” on people when I think I would like to be their friend, online or in person. I am generally no better at managing these than I was at managing my real crushes in my single days. I don’t know what to do about this.

***

I was thinking today about Orpheus in the Underworld, and how I similarly think that if I do one thing wrong, I will lose E forever. I mean one thing wrong religiously, that God will punish me by taking her away from me, rather than that I will scare her off. I’m pretty sure she’s seen most of my negative side by now. There is also a fear of losing any reward I might have earned in the Next World by doing something wrong here, probably something fundamental about my life’s priorities e.g. writing if I’m not supposed to write; not writing if I am supposed to write; or not involving myself enough in the community.

I was also thinking, inevitably for the week of parashat Vayeira, of the Akeidah, Avraham (Abraham) being told to sacrifice Yitzchak (Isaac). I’ve worried a lot over the years that, even if I get my life sorted, or just a bit better, at some point God will want me to sacrifice it all for Him. I have never been able to get away from this fear, even though I vaguely intuit that if I asked a rabbi, he would say it’s a ridiculous fear. I think of people who lost everything in the Holocaust, even though that may not be a sensible comparison.

This is probably all over-thinking, but I can’t stop doing it.

***

Thinking about conversations here about whether God will “make allowances” for my autism and mental health issues made me wonder if I assume that if the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) insist I can work (as they do) then (1) I have no legitimate reason not to work or even to struggle and (2) that God will be as strict as the notoriously strict DWP when assessing my life.

I have also noted that I am uncomfortable with the “ableism” discourse that sees autism as a difference rather than a disability and blames all of autistic people’s struggles on “ableist” neurotypical society. There are several things I find uncomfortable with this, but for now I will just note that I feel (and I think social psychology evidence supports me) that responsibility is healthier than a culture of victimhood, just as gratitude is healthier than privilege-checking. Nevertheless, I do fall into the mindset of victimhood at times.

I am not sure if seeing myself as disabled rather than different or a victim of ableism is part of this victim mentality or not.

***

As an example of my victim mentality, someone I’m following on Facebook posted about the nasty things her peers wrote about her in her yearbook when she was fifteen and was an undiagnosed autistic. I posted the following comment, but now I worry it was too self-pitying and passive aggressive. I find social interactions hard, even with other autistic people, even online. I probably am passive aggressive when faced with autistic people who are “living their best possible life,” or something even vaguely approximating it, doubly so when they’re significantly younger than me and have a lot more “best possible life” to look forward to than I do.

Yearbooks are an American thing we don’t have in the UK, but when I finished GCSEs (age 15-16), my peers wanted to do it anyway because of Hollywood. The teachers stopped them, supposedly because those making the yearbook wrote nasty things about me and my geeky friends (I don’t know what they wrote, just that it was nasty). After A-Levels (age 17-18), they had another go and this time got it published, but I don’t know what they wrote, as I didn’t want to waste my money buying books about people I had no desire to remember. I’d love to say I’m living the sort of joyous, meaningful life that is the best form of revenge, but, sadly, I’m not, but I’m glad that you are!

Always Winter and Never —

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

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

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

Grief and Autistic Halakhah

Being away from E seems to be getting harder and harder. It feels just as bad as when my loneliness was at it’s worst, except focused on one person rather than an abstract desire for a relationship. Hopefully her visa will come soon…

***

I’m still thinking about Ashley, but not quite so much, although I don’t know how much of that was being distracted by other stressors. I’m reluctant to say much here, as it feels vaguely like I’m appropriating pain that should really belong to her family. I felt some other guilt too. I’m not sure I can remember all of it, but some of it was feeling guilty that I’ve been more affected by Ashley’s death than those of my grandparents. I feel that that’s wrong, that the death of my grandparents should have affected me more. The two aren’t exactly comparable, though. My grandparents were quite old, mostly in their eighties. It was sad when they died, but it didn’t have the tragic aspect of young death, or suicide.

Another factor is that, in a strange way, I feel I didn’t know all my grandparents in an adult way, in the way I knew Ashley, even though I was sixteen when the first of my grandparents to die passed away and had known them all my life. They were just there, like my parents.

My paternal grandmother died when I was sixteen and about the same time my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s (the symptoms had been there for quite a while, but from this point on it became very noticeable). I feel like I didn’t know them as an adult, only as a child. I remember my paternal grandmother as very anxious and I didn’t really understand why (or is that an adult interpretation? Did I just accept it at the time?). I think I would better understand her depression, anxiety and agoraphobia (all unspoken of at the time) now.

I felt that I was only beginning to get to know my maternal grandfather when he died when I was nineteen, a few months after my maternal grandmother. I felt like he had begun to talk to me more as an adult in the last few years and suddenly that stopped. I did know my paternal grandfather rather better as he died when I was nearly twenty-seven. But I think in retrospect it’s my maternal grandfather I think of more often. Since my autism diagnosis, my parents have speculated that he was on the spectrum too, so maybe that explains why he felt more comfortable talking to me than his children about his past.

Episodes of depression/burnout followed in the months after the deaths of my grandparents, but in retrospect, I’m not sure that there was a causal link, except perhaps the death of my maternal grandfather, as the depression really did follow in just a few weeks. The others were more spaced out.

Another factor is that, when most of my grandparents died, I was still very emotionally immature. I know I write about my feelings most days now, but in my teens and twenties, I really didn’t understand what I felt and couldn’t put it into words, even more so than nowadays. It’s taken years of therapy and, I suppose, blogging, to get to a point where I can begin to understand what’s going on in my head.

Anyway, I managed to get an appointment with my therapist for this week, so hopefully it will help to be able to talk about these feelings.

***

Away from this, further guilt came when J said that I asked for three days off later this year to go to New York to see E, but I only had two days of holiday left. I felt bad about this, although I think the confusion came because he’s rounded down my number of holiday days, given that my contract didn’t start until February whereas the holiday year started in January. Even so, I felt vaguely bad for not realising. I made loads of these terms of work mistakes at my job in further education and still feel embarrassed. I think HR must have hated me. Taking one day less holiday doesn’t affect my plans, I will just have to work the day before I fly instead of packing.

***

J sent me to Selfridges to try to get some duplicate keys cut. Selfridges seemed more crowded than I was comfortable with (although probably less crowded than it should have been, less than two months before Christmas; I guess people are not spending on luxuries). I had one of those moments when I think that everyone I see is a human being with their own thoughts and emotions and I freak out a bit. I don’t know why this happens. Aside from the crowd, the muzak drove me crazy. Different parts of the store were playing different music and I could hear bits of different songs at once in painful aural mush. I don’t think this is an autism thing so much as a ‘having taste’ thing. When I finally found the key-cutting stall, I struggled to hear the assistant over the shoe repair machinery, but they didn’t have the right size blank keys to cut the new ones. I will probably have to go elsewhere on Thursday

The whole experience left me feeling overwhelmed and near to tears. I feel like I used to be able to cope with experiences like this (I used to commute into town on the Tube and buses every school day at rush hour!), but no longer can. Some of it may be getting older (it is a recognised phenomenon that autistic people become less able to cope with sensory overload and less able to mask their autistic symptoms as they get older), but I wonder if COVID lockdown has eroded my tolerance for these things, along with boosting my social anxiety? Or if I recognise the overwhelm more since my diagnosis.

Similarly, when I stayed after work for Minchah and Ma’ariv at the shul (Afternoon and Evening Prayers at the synagogue), I felt overwhelmed even though there were only fifteen or so people in the Beit Midrash (not a huge room, but not tiny either). Is this social anxiety or autistic overwhelm?

I was still feeling overwhelmed when I got home, but not light-headed, perhaps because I ate an apple in the office mid-afternoon and a cereal bar after Ma’ariv. I used to eat on the way home from work, but COVID has scared me off eating on the Tube.

***

Between Minchah and Ma’ariv, the rabbi quickly taught a halakhah (Jewish law). What it was isn’t relevant, but he took the mundane nature of the halakhah in question as an example for halakhah (in the wider sense of the Jewish legal system) being all-encompassing and supportive no matter what happens, that it “has our back” in his words.

I did not feel 100% comfortable with this. I do not feel that halakhah always has my back. I feel that there’s a lot I should be doing, according to halakhah, that I can’t cope with right now or perhaps ever because of my social anxiety and autism. I feel I would need an “autistic halakkah” to help me.

A while back I heard that Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig has set up an institute to try to train more rabbis in mental health awareness so that they will be able to respond to people with mental illness more effectively. He has also published a book of answers to halakhic questions regarding mental illness. I feel that someone needs to do the same thing for neurodiversity.

***

The other day Suzanne said that my life is interesting. My immediate thought was that my life isn’t interesting, so it must just be the way I write about it. Then I realised that I was in a low self-esteem double bind: either my life is interesting or my writing is interesting! I’m not sure what I think about this (just kidding).

Decompression Time

I weighed myself the other day. The good news is that I didn’t put on any significant weight over the Yom Tov (Jewish festival) period, despite eating lots of the wrong foods. The bad news is that if I didn’t put on any weight, it makes me feel that my weight is determined primarily by my medication and not by my diet. This makes it hard to really get the motivation to resume my diet, or quasi-diet. It just feels like my weight has only vague relation to what I eat. Ditto for my cholesterol, which has been slightly too high for ages despite cutting down (not totally) on high cholesterol foods.

***

Work was not particularly noteworthy today, but I finished in a better state than most work days recently, perhaps because I spent the last hour testing keys in the display cabinets to see which, if any, were duplicates, as J wants to make sure we have two keys for each cabinet in case we lose one. This at least got me away from my desk, my computer and my ruminations.

I got a flu jab on the way home. I’m not entirely sure why the NHS thinks I was eligible. I suppose they have Mum down as immuno-suppressed still. My attitude to government and NHS stuff these days is, if they offer it, take it, because I know how hard it is to get anything from them when you try to get it. I haven’t had any serious side-effects yet, but my arm is rather sore.

When I got home, I spent some time reading the Jewish newspapers and watching Doctor Who rather than going online. This was in line with my discussion with my therapist yesterday about taking time to decompress when I get home from work before going online, which is too stimulating, primarily in terms of the screen, but also in terms of engaging my brain to read blogs and news sites and to blog myself. I did feel a little faint, but that passed once I ate and drank, which makes me think dehydration and low blood sugar are distinct from whatever causes the lightheadness that doesn’t pass with food and water. I do keep forgetting to take my blood pressure.

My therapist said I should see decompression time as being distinct from relaxation time. I’m not sure that I fully understood this. I think she meant I should just take time to potter about, talk to my parents about my day (although I guess this could be stressful peopling), sort out odd things that need sorting out in my room and so on rather than setting aside time for a constructive relaxation activity (if that’s not a contradiction) like reading a novel or watching TV. However, I’m not really sure that I’ve understood this right.

Thinking about the distinction (if there is one) made me realise that I see relaxation time and creative time (writing) as the same because Judaism has no real concept of either. Both relaxation and creativity are really valued as means to other ends rather than ends in themselves. Neither are easily ‘justified,’ so it’s hard to say I need to devote time to relaxation and writing fiction as well work and religious obligations like prayer and Torah study. Relaxation and writing feel like things I do for me and should be kept in proportion when compared to religious things. Blogging is probably something else in this category. Relaxation, blogging and fiction writing are all things I need to do emotionally and things I think have value, but I feel guilty for doing one, let alone all three, when part of me thinks I should be praying or studying Torah. I am not sure what to do about this.

***

My favourite Doctor (Doctor Who Doctor, not GP) was always Tom Baker, perhaps the most eccentric of the Doctors, with his thick curly hair, long multicoloured scarf and general air of counter-cultural craziness. In recent years, however, I’ve felt it shifting to Patrick Troughton, whose more subtle performance evokes a quieter form of individualism and non-conformity.

At the risk of over-thinking this, I find myself wondering if this indicates a shift in the way I view the world, from thinking that the only alternative to drab conformity is a wilful, extrovert weirdness that I could never manage to thinking that it is possible to have a quieter, more thoughtful form of individuality that is willing to stand quietly at the back until it has something to say, but can still dominate when it needs to.

Or I maybe it’s just down to a shift in what I find funny and clever.

Precedented Times

I had a guilt dream last night about missing shul (synagogue) on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). As I had a migraine this year, I feel it was unjustified, although previous years are more ambiguous. Although arguably I shouldn’t be beating myself up for autistic exhaustion and social anxiety.

I got up early, but procrastinated, ran late and had to cut my curtailed Shacharit davening (Morning Prayers) even shorter. I woke up in a thunderstorm and was not happy about having to walk to the station in it. The thunder had stopped by the time I set out, but it was still raining heavily and the commute to work was uncomfortably wet.

It was a boring day without much going on. I sorted a lot of papers and wondered why I’m not better at this, given that I’m a librarian and should know how to organise data. On reflection, I thought that I’m not an archivist and what I’m doing is more like archival work than librarianship, even if both do involve organising bits of paper. Although I’m not sure it’s really archival work either. To be honest, I would really need to be a solicitor to know what to do with lots of legal documents and copies of documents. I worry about throwing away something important, then I worry that I’m just shuffling bits of paper from one box or shelf to another without getting rid of anything or really producing an ordered set of papers.

I keep coming home from work feeling physically ill. I was worried about walking home as I was feeling quite light-headed, but decided to be independent and try, which turned out OK, but might not have done. I think part of the problem is being unwilling to eat on the Tube on the way home post-COVID.

To try to deal with the anxious thoughts in my head, I started drawing up a long To Do list. This is in addition to the long one I already had, most of which is marginally less urgent at the moment. Sigh.

***

At work, there’s a room with inspirational quotes on the wall from Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl. One I saw today says that Judaism is not a religion of private communion of the soul with God, but of the life we build together. This is similar to something I said the other week (I may have been quoting unconsciously). It does make me wonder what happens, in a social-based religion, if you have a neurological disability that stops you connecting and communicating socially. I mean what happens from God’s point of view – does He give some kind of dispensation? How much stuff would a person be excused from? A number of famous rabbis are supposed to have stood up respectfully for people with severe intellectual disabilities, saying that they are serving God better, on their level, than those famous rabbis were. Likewise, blind people are exempt from many mitzvot (commandments) as it was traditionally hard for them to fulfil them with their disability. But where would you draw the line? I have social deficits, but I’m not the equivalent of blind or severely impaired, so how much leeway would I get? I know what happens from a practical point of view: all too often you end up getting left behind by the community.

***

Speaking of Rabbi Sacks, I reflected that if you look at my divrei Torah, and possibly my blog, the two biggest influences on my hashkafah (religious philosophy) are Rabbi Sacks and the Kotzker Rebbe  (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk). They’re the thinkers I quote most often. I feel like Rabbi Sacks is the Maimonidean philosopher: calm, balanced, focused on moderation and building society. Whereas the Kotzker is the Romantic, the individualist and anti-establishment rebel, the radical pushing himself to the brink in his quest for truth and the authentic self. Possibly they don’t go together very well. Emotionally, I’m closer to the Kotzker, who may have had bipolar disorder and/or social phobia (undiagnosed as he died in 1859) and certainly spent the last nineteen years of his life not leaving his study, although current research suggests he wasn’t as self-isolated as was once thought.

The Kotzker is someone many people quote, but few people are interested in emulating. I wonder sometimes what he would have made of me, really what either of them would have made of me. I was in the same room as Rabbi Sacks on a couple of occasions, but never spoke to him, which I now regret, although I have no idea what I would have said or what kind of conversation might have resulted. I do feel a kind of inner tension represented by these two different religious guiding lights. I think there’s a similar dissonance in my political views too. I think I probably am someone torn apart by different intellectual currents and competing ideas and approaches to life.

***

I started reading Flowers for Algernon. I’ve known about it for years, but I didn’t want to read it, as I thought it sounded too sad. Then I thought that, as a famous science fiction novel, I “Should” read it, if I want to think of myself as a science fiction fan (I’m honestly not sure that I do, but that’s a subject for another time) so bought a second-hand copy for £1 in a charity shop, but it has sat on my shelf for many years, as I couldn’t bring myself to start it. Then I thought that, as I’m thinking a lot about my childhood and teenage years and my struggles to fit in with undiagnosed high-functioning autism/Asperger’s, maybe it would help. It might help with my feeling of having a much higher level of intellectual maturity than emotional maturity (which admittedly is probably less pronounced now than at any time since adolescence – after all, I’m managing a long-distance marriage at the moment). So, I started it the other day.

I have some qualms about the presentation of learning disabilities and the usual problem in fiction like this where intelligence is confused with knowledge, so someone whose intelligence is augmented suddenly becomes more literate, knowledgeable and worldly, which would not necessarily happen. Charlie is supposedly reading a lot of serious books very quickly, but even setting aside the time factor, to be reading Dostoyevski and the like so soon after being functionally illiterate would require a lot of mental scaffolding. I could also question whether the “illiterate” language of the early sections is how an actual functionally illiterate person would write (admittedly I’m only aware of this because it was a plot point in an Inspector Morse novel). I admit most of these flaws are necessary to get the plot moving and produce something readable; ultimately, it’s a novel, not a documentary.

So far, it’s made me think about bullying. It turns out that being bullied for not being clever feels pretty much the same as being bullied for being too clever by half; the taunts are different, but the feeling is the same. I’m glad I had some friends as a child, and I was probably lucky that my naivety wasn’t abused as much as it might have been.

The book makes me worry a bit about having children, though. I’ve been worrying about this lately anyway, as Adventuresofagradgirl commented on one of my recent posts asking what I thought about the likelihood of E and I having a child with autism, either moderate like myself or severe, which is a possibility at least, given that I’m on the spectrum and E has a number of autistic traits. We have discussed it a bit, as we do both want children (although this further assumes a lot of things we don’t know yet about our fertility and ability to cope with life). We are fairly positive about our chances of having high-functioning children, certainly with early intervention. I have met (online) a number of autistic parents, and most of them don’t have severely autistic children, but then, as I’ve said here before, “high-functioning” is a fluid and unhelpful term; people can function in some situations, or in some mindsets, and not in others. So it’s been lurking in the background as something I’d like to ignore, but shouldn’t.

Other than that, the book makes me feel sorry for myself, although I find it hard to say why exactly. While I haven’t suddenly gained intelligence, I have gained insight into myself in the last eighteen months and, like Charlie, I’m still applying that to my personal history and current social interactions.

***

I didn’t really want to talk politics, but I feel I have to say something. In September 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago, but was only about three years ago, The Daily Telegraph’s pocket cartoonist, Matt Pritchard, drew a cartoon of a man saying that “Sometimes I wish we could go back to living in precedented times.” And that was just during Brexit and Trump’s impeachment! We didn’t know how lucky we were! That was before the COVID, the Capitol Riot, Partygate, Ukraine, the death of the Queen and Liz Truss’ forty-four day premiership![1] And the possible return of Boris — it’s like a zombie film![2] I definitely want to go back to precedented times. Is Sir Keir Starmer the dull, charisma-free, nonentity Britain needs to drift aimlessly back to normality?

[1] The brief Truss administration also saw a situation where, for an “unprecedented” first time, none the four great offices of state (Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary) were held by a white man (white woman, black man, another black man, Asian woman). Strangely, the press is not terribly interested in this. Diversity doesn’t count when Tories do it.

[2] Boris, Trump, Netanyahu – why do none of these leaders know how to make a graceful exit?

What Do You Want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Simchat Torah Mini-Post

I feel just about OK coping with another two days of Yom Tov (festival), but overwhelmed when thinking about another work week disrupted by Yom Tov, with consecutive days working (and, yes,I know most people work consecutive days, but it makes me ill).

Someone posted on the Orthodox Conundrum about women being reduced to spectators in many Orthodox shuls (synagogues) on Simchat Torah. I agreed with the post, but also feel marginalised for different reasons, so I commented:

I agree. I’ve been to Orthodox shuls where women dance behind a mechitza, with a sefer Torah, and would like to see it as the norm.

If we’re going down the inclusivity route, as an autistic man with social anxiety, I find Simchat Torah a total nightmare. Generally I’m too paralysed with sensory overload and social anxiety to participate in any meaningful way and either stand watching, beating myself up about my inability to overcome my own disabilities, or I go home before the hakafot start. There was only really one year in my adult life when I really managed to participate in Simchat Torah. In recent years, I just don’t go to shul at all on that day as it’s too difficult for me. Definitely my least-favourite chag (along with Purim).

I was quite nervous about commenting, as I hadn’t commented in the group before. The comment got a like from Rabbi Kahn, who runs the group, and “hugging heart emoji” from the original poster, plus another one from someone else. I don’t know what that emoji means, exactly, but I guess it’s something like empathy/hugs. E thinks it’s a ‘care’ emoji.

Fred Karno’s Army (Super-Long Autism Post)

The last two days were pretty tough. We’re currently in Chol HaMoed, the intermediate days of the Sukkot festival, where work is permitted if necessary, but advised against. J is taking the days off, but I went in to work yesterday and today because I want to save my holiday days so that I can go to New York to visit E in a few weeks. As with the first days of Sukkot, we are still eating meals in the sukkah, a booth representing the booths the Israelites dwelt in in the wilderness, and, by extension, trust in God.

On Wednesday, I got up extra early, said extra Shacharit (Morning Service) prayers (although still skipped a lot), ate breakfast in the sukkah, went to work, ate lunch in the work sukkah, felt lonely, down and exhausted (I think it was just myself and the security guard in the building; I might have heard one more person around, but I’m not sure) and came home not feeling well. I had dinner with my parents in our sukkah, felt overwhelmed by Dad’s attempts to get me to join in the conversation (I don’t have selective mutism, but I do go quiet and communicate mostly in monosyllables, grunts and nods sometimes…), eventually watched Doctor Who, Skyped E and went to bed.

Today was worse. I woke up feeling exhausted. I’m not used to working two days running, pathetic though that sounds (especially as I don’t quite work full days either). I got dressed, but decided I was too exhausted to daven (pray) before eating breakfast and struggled with the removable roof over the sukkah, realising too late that I wasn’t opening it properly. I had breakfast, davened, left for work a bit late, somehow did a little Torah study on the train and got to work not-too-late, but glad that J wasn’t in today to see it. I worked slowly, feeling numb and sluggish. The security guard wouldn’t take off the roof of the sukkah, as he thought it was going to rain again (it didn’t), so I ate part of my lunch (raw vegetables and an apple), but not my sandwich, thus at least observing the letter of the law of not eating bread outside a sukkah during Sukkot, but becoming very hungry (and somewhat sick from drinking tea on an emptyish stomach).

I had a boring afternoon enlivened by self-loathing after someone phoned to pay membership fees. Phone calls automatically come in on the phone extension on J’s desk. First I couldn’t transfer the call to my own desk as I was using the wrong extension number, so I ended up taking the call at J’s desk. Then I panicked and couldn’t find the account of the person who phoned on J’s computer to tell him how much he owed or work out where anything was on there, even though it should have been easy. I just went into autistic-and-socially-anxious brain freeze. He said he’d phone back next week, so J is bound to hear about it.

The incident left me feeling useless. If I wanted to forgive myself, there were reasons I struggled, but I should really have been able to cope by now (nearly two years in the job, albeit at only two days a week). A few minutes later, I did successfully transfer a call to my desk and take a credit card payment, but I still felt that I took too long and sounded like an idiot.

The plus side was not having had to do the Very Scary Task this week when it seemed likely that I would.

I ate my sandwich in our sukkah after I got home, read James Bond and felt better. I thought I would blog and wrote most of this post, hoping I could relax afterwards, but it was a mistake. Dinner was late, and I had to eat with my parents and their friends if I wanted to sit in the sukkah. I knew this and still made the bad decision to blog instead of watching Doctor Who. Honestly, it’s like I have some kind of neurological issue that makes me make bad decisions…

So then I had to “people” and mask and generally act like a neurotypical human being with four other people (that’s a lot!), three of whom don’t understand me at all and one who sort of gets it, but not always and only from the outside. I don’t mean that in a critical way, but it’s true. Anyway, my pizza was good, but I ate too fast, partly from hunger (it was half an hour later than the agreed start time, which I thought was late already), partly from autistic exhaustion and partly just because I didn’t want to be there. I think I was communicating with “Leave me alone” autistic body language and speech as they didn’t really try to talk to me. But it was OK. I ate quickly and went in, watched Doctor Who and Skyped E.

 ***

Sometimes I doubt whether I have autism. I thought my diagnosis would at least mean the end of those doubts, but apparently not, as so many people on the autism forum sound “more” autistic, whatever that means, even the ones who seem to be doing better than me. I wonder if there was some mistake, if I’m just a useless person, not a neurodivergent one. Today should have refuted these doubts, but didn’t, or not entirely, not the phone issues or the sound of the cleaner hoovering being painful to me. Normally I would cope with the hoover, but if I’m already struggling with autistic exhaustion, my tolerance level is much lower. I know you can’t become “more autistic,” but that’s how I feel when suffering autistic exhaustion. That’s what they don’t tell you about autism, how changeable, even arbitrary, it can be.

The other day I saw something on the National Autistic Society website about autistic exhaustion being caused partly by having to meet other people’s expectations. I can believe it. That’s why work is so stressful for me. There are specific tasks I struggle with, like phone calls and the Very Scary Task, but most of the work is routine, if boring, paperwork and spreadsheet work. But it’s having to be masked all the time, trying to ‘pass’ as ‘normal,’ even though I’m probably not even that weird a lot of the time (I don’t know. Ask E) and even though the number of people in the building is small. On the plus side, maybe this is a positive sign regarding E and I having children. I was worried about the extra exhaustion, but I don’t think I bother masking with young children (why bother? They don’t), so maybe it would be OK. I mean, the childcare would be exhausting, I know, but I wouldn’t have to factor in extra masking issues (I don’t mask with E, that’s why she’s so special).

***

I mentioned recently about so many people on the autism forum, myself included, wanting help, and no one actually saying what help would be useful. I feel that my ideal form of help would be for someone to follow me around for a few weeks and suggest workarounds for things I struggle with. (After I realised this, someone suggested I apply to Access for Work for a work coach. I’m not sure if that would be exactly this thing I want, or something enormously different and probably useless and annoying.)

I have spoken to some autism workplace advisors in the past. I can’t really remember much of what they said, although I have notes somewhere, but I struggled to apply what they said to my specific work environment (classic autistic issue) and often they didn’t know my own training and skills (how many people have suggested to me that I move from librarianship into archival work when they have totally different methodologies and rules? They just both happen to involve preserving bits of paper).

Suzanne recently differentiated between “people who can get things done” and “people who can make things happen.” In her words:

I think I can best explain the difference by considering various tasks in the operation of a warehouse that distributes donated food to food banks.

List A. Things I would be very good at:

  • Checking in a delivery against the pack list and noting shortages, overages, incorrect items, and damages
  • Updating inventory in the database and running reports
  • Picking and packing orders

List B. What I would be hopeless at:

  • Finding sources of funding
  • Negotiating deals and agreements
  • Recruiting and managing staff and volunteers

List A is about getting things done. List B is about making things happen.

Although she didn’t say it explicitly, List A/getting things done is autism-friendly. List B/making things happen, isn’t. I thought librarianship would be mostly List A/getting things done and maybe it was and maybe some of it still is (cataloguing), but I struggled to keep the job that was more List A, ended up in a super-autism-unfriendly job (albeit mainly for sensory/social reasons) that was still broadly List A and in the end felt out of my depth when they tried to change it to a List A/B hybrid and I left it. I hoped I would find something similar, but quieter, but it seems like so much library work is List B/making things happen.

This feeling was reinforced by the magazine I used to get from CILIP (The Chartered Institute of Librarians and Information Professionals), which, aside from going super-woke, seemed to be all about library management and soft skills stuff for dealing with other librarians and library users, not for maintaining collections of books. Not that it shouldn’t be like that, necessarily, just that it doesn’t fit my skill-set. It was only reading Suzanne’s list that this really clicked with me. Also, I had hoped librarianship would offer lots of opportunities for part-time work or job shares, but, sadly, I was wrong about that too, and as this week has shown, I simply can’t work full-time, or anything approaching it.

I’ve had some job interviews, but rarely got further. Job interviews are terrible ordeals for autistics anyway, and irrelevant to my skill-set, like making a blind man go over an obstacle course just to get a job that involves sitting at a desk, answering the phone. Then I stopped getting interviews. Now my library career is on hold, but I think it’s basically over. My skills must be pretty atrophied, which is probably why the interviews dried up. My CV looks awful anyway, massive gaps between jobs and almost as many jobs out of my sector as in it.

(Incidentally, my voluntary work at the food bank is very List A.)

***

The other thing I would really like help with is energy accounting. This is supposed to involve working out what gives you energy and what drains your energy, then making sure that the latter does not exceed the former. All well and good, but it’s hard to quantify energy gain and use, particularly as so many factors can affect them. I have more energy in the summer than the winter. I come home from work with energy in the summer; I just want to drop in the winter, even though it’s the same time of day and I’ve done the same work. If I’m dealing with tiredness, hunger or strong emotions (the latter of which I often can’t interpret or even notice properly), energy is lost faster, which means that energy loss can be exponential: the more tired I am, the faster I get tired. Some things drain and energise in different ways: writing drains mental energy, but energises through allowing creativity. Being around people usually drains (except E), but how much it drains depends on who it is and how the conversation goes. Sometimes it can energise a bit too. Shul can provide spiritual invigoration and social energy drain. And so on. It just seems so complicated, and arbitrary.

Surroundings can drain energy too. The world is increasingly busy and full of moving images and noise. There are video screens everywhere: shop windows, bus stops, phone screens out of the corner of my eye on the Tube. And so much noise, admittedly worse in town. And everything is so fast. I know people have been complaining about life being too loud, too bright and too fast for two hundred years, but it feels worse even than when I was growing up in the eighties and nineties (just pre-computers/internet – we eventually got both, but were late adopters).

I spend too much time on my own phone and laptop. I say it’s because the internet is my social pipeline, and it is, but much of it is procrastination with no meaningful social connection. I know I can’t stop it, but I want to at least try to be more mindful of what I’m doing. Even so, it probably contributes to my energy drain and discomfort. Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and festivals), when I don’t use my phone or computer, feels so much better and more natural. I wish I had the will-power to bring some of that into the week.

***

It’s not just autistic self-doubt: lately I’ve been having writerly self-doubt too. I wonder how I will write characters when I have autism and alexithymia (inability to recognise or understand my own emotions). Until now I’ve been working on a mixture of my own experiences, things I’ve read about (real people or fictional characters), and sort of “reasoning out” what someone might logically feel in a situation (as if feelings are logical!), but this seems inadequate.

Further, while, unlike some autistics, I can understand metaphor and idiom, I struggle to deploy them in my writing. I have also read (on Wikipedia, so it must be true) that people with alexithymia lack imagination (and have boring dreams). Both of these things (imagination and dreams) seem to be true for me. I read science fiction and fantasy, but struggle to imagine my own non-realistic scenarios, instead turning to stories from the newspapers and blogosphere and wondering what I or people I know would do in such a situation. This seems ‘wrong,’ although logically there is no such thing (logic again – as the Doctor said (The Wheel in Space), “Logic… merely enables one to be wrong with authority”).

I wonder again if I want to write for the wrong reason? I enjoy the process of writing, of nurturing ideas and finding words, or at least sometimes I do (I don’t think any writer enjoys it all the time). But I feel I want – not fame, exactly, but to be taken seriously. I know I’ve written about this before. I want to prove myself to people in my past who have probably forgotten all about me. And I want to prove myself to myself. Relatedly, I also want to somehow use my writing as a magic vehicle to ask for forgiveness from various people I’ve hurt (hurt mostly through being autistic, so if I write about autism, they might read it and intuit that I’m writing about myself, and about them, and that I’m apologising. There’s a lot of maybes here).

Beyond this, I think the “being taken seriously” thing is partly because not only did I vaguely think I would be an academic, but I spent the happier parts of my adult life among clever people, probably not that much cleverer than me, but who were allowed to develop themselves intellectually in a healthy way without breakdown or burnout. They were in academia or other intellectual roles that were interesting and meaningful to them.

Is intelligence or wisdom any more praiseworthy or less arbitrary than physical attractiveness? Yirmiyah (Jeremiah) says otherwise (9.22-23). I don’t feel the need to prove my attractiveness, so why my intelligence, knowledge or wisdom? It’s mostly a product of genes, upbringing and schooling and while I played a part in that, a lot of it was out of my control. Yet somehow I feel the need to prove myself, and that it would somehow be good for me if I did prove my worth to my satisfaction.

***

I’m watching Doctor Who to de-stress. The Androids of Tara is one of those late seventies stories so hated by fandom on original transmission for largely spurious reasons. I really like it. It’s not deep, but it’s a lot of fun. Meanwhile, one of my few remaining fan friends posted a lengthy analysis today of the trailer for the next episode of contemporary Doctor Who, the final episode for Jodie Whittaker and a part of the BBC centenary celebrations.

I watched the trailer. It seemed like most twenty-first century Doctor Who: fast, flashy and over-stuffed, but it was twenty-three seconds long, I’m not going to voice an opinion of the ninety minute special it was taken from based on it. I’m not particularly excited about contemporary Doctor Who, or, indeed 100 years of the BBC. I prefer twentieth century Doctor Who, even if I know what’s coming next. Or maybe that’s the point. Maybe, with autism encouraging a love of routine and a fear of uncertainty, knowing in advance what all the bad bits are is reassuring (“bad bits” as in upsetting plot developments and “bad bits” as in badly written/made). I know what to expect and can prepare. That would explain why twenty-first century Doctor Who seems to improve with age for me. I hated the 2007 season (David Tennant’s second) at the time, but now I see it as a high point of the new series, if not of all time (even though I still dislike certain elements. Especially The Lazarus Experiment).

***

I was going to explain about Fred Karno’s Army, but this is nearly 3,000 words and I’m too tired. I just mean that I feel like a ramshackle amateur under fire. Google it for the historical context.

Yom Tov Burnout

The last two days were the first two days of Sukkot, the Jewish festival where we live in temporary huts in the garden to experience the transient nature of life and the security of trust in God. In theory, anyway; in the UK it can be a struggle with the elements to stay out there. I find it hilarious when I see Israelis, and some Americans, complaining that their sukkot are too hot to stay in. Cold and wet is more normal here.

On the plus side, we ate dinner and lunch out in the sukkah every day and this afternoon it was warm enough that I sat out there for a while studying Torah (although it was getting a bit on the cold side). I also got to shul (synagogue) for two sets of Minchah and Ma’ariv (Afternoon and Evening Prayers).

Unfortunately, there were some downsides too. The biggest is Yom Tov (festival) burnout, about two thirds of the way through the autumn festival season. The next few days are semi-festival (although I have to work) and then next Monday and Tuesday are full festivals again, although I will be deliberately avoiding shul during Simchat Torah on Monday night and Tuesday (only Purim rivals it as the most autism-unfriendly festival). I feel exhausted, and spending so much time with my parents hasn’t helped (no offence intended to them, but I need more downtime alone). Not only do I have to do this again next week (plus Shabbat (the Sabbath) in between, when my parents have invited people for Kiddush after the morning service), but I have to work for the next two days (and risk doing the Very Scary Task without J being around to hand-hold), and get up extra-early for extra prayers and to eat breakfast in the sukkah, and I will probably have to eat dinner with my parents and their friends on Thursday. This is not going to be a fun, stress-free few days.

I also have been eating very unhealthily, from the point of view of sugar as well as cholesterol. So far, so Yom Tov. I have chapped hands again from sitting out in the cold, I think I struggled breathing while asleep again, and I’ve had a lot of, probably irrational, guilt feelings the last few days over all sorts of things, particularly not going to shul in the mornings and not going to a Kiddush in my parents’ friends’ sukkah even though I knew a friend I haven’t seen for years (pre-COVID) would be there. Also irrational things like guilt over the content of dreams I’ve been having (no, not sexual, but weird and upsetting). I can’t work out if the guilt is religious OCD, low self-esteem, both or neither. It’s hard to tell.

I do think I need to work on my social anxiety, which has got worse because of the COVID lockdowns, as a matter of urgency, but I’m not sure how. CBT, the main treatment for social anxiety, tends not to work for autistics. I’m technically on the waiting list for autism-adjusted CBT on the NHS, but who knows if that will ever materialise? I think it’s pretty much impossible to get autism-adjusted CBT privately, although I haven’t looked. CBT did work for me for OCD, where it was mostly exposure therapy and it didn’t matter whether I believed the cognitions, so maybe it would work again. I did have CBT for social anxiety a few months before COVID, and it didn’t help much, but I think that was partly due to the short number of sessions and my failure to really push myself hard enough and keep pushing myself with the exposures to social situations. But it just joins the huge amount of things going on in my life right now or soon: the wedding and flat-hunting, trying to write one novel and sell another or possibly re-write it, setting myself up in business as a proof-reader, learning to drive… I feel overwhelmed just writing the list!

***

I feel pretty anxious about tomorrow. I’m likely to be somewhat sleep-deprived, as I don’t know if I’ll sleep well tonight (I often don’t after Shabbat or Yom Tov) and, as I said, I have to be up extra early for extra prayers tomorrow, then off to the office where I need to speak to the security guard (who I worry doesn’t like me) about using the shul sukkah for my lunch and where I may have to do the Very Scary Task without J being around and where I certainly will be in the office by myself , which gets lonely. The office also has little in the way of natural light and that alone sets me in a bad mood for six months of the year. And then I have to do it all over again the next day. J has already told me what my first task tomorrow is and mentioned I should do it straight away, so now I’m worried about messing that up, forgetting to do it or getting in late and not doing it in time…

***

On top of all this, I miss E a lot. I thought that it would be easier being celibate in a relationship than being single, and just as easy being engaged as in a relationship, especially long-distance, which shows what I know. Even regardless of sex, I just want to spend time with her. Pretty much everything I’ve written about in this post, good and bad, would be better in a context of us living together.

***

A weird thought I had in a shiur (religious class) yesterday: being autistic, I can’t understand other people easily, what they’re thinking and feeling, especially about me (cf. the security who worry doesn’t like me). How can I even hope to understand what God thinks or feels about me? Where “thinks” and “feels” are metaphors at best for something beyond my comprehension.

That’s Me in the Corner

I had therapy today for the first time in about two months, since before my civil wedding. We spoke about quite a few things, including the wedding. One of the big ones was alexithymia and struggling to find and understand my emotions. We spoke a bit about just trying to recognise emotions and sit with them, rather than necessarily doing anything with/to them.

At the same time, we spoke about the Gestalt Cycle. As I understood this, the idea is that we have cycles where our emotions can lead on to actions (among other things). Googling it, I’m not sure I understood correctly, but that’s what I took from it.

It was interesting to me that emotion is linked to action in that way. In Judaism, there’s an argument that ritual actions should coincide with or even provoke emotions. The Medieval commentators and philosophers wondered how Judaism can command emotions (love God with all your heart, soul and might; love your neighbour as yourself; don’t covet etc.). One approach is that actions stimulate emotions so acting lovingly (etc.) can induce that emotion even if you don’t feel it initially (I don’t claim that this will always work, and I can say from experience if you already have strong emotions in the opposite direction, it probably won’t work at all).

Possibly, if I want to feel more Jewishly, I just have to open myself up to the religious actions I’m doing. I went through a phase a while back of trying to focus more on the words when davening (praying) and the feeling of joy and amazement when saying brachot (blessings) (cf. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel). I somehow fell out of the habit (I think when things got stressful before the civil wedding and then Yom Tov), but I could try to get back into that mindset. Not to over-think ritual and prayer, but step back and observe the emotions it induces.

***

My therapist also spoke a bit about integrating the autistic part of myself. This was in a context of saying that I think there’s still a part of me that is trying to “bargain” not to be autistic, or to have had a better autistic experience, rather than accepting that I am autistic and I had the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood that I had, difficult though much of it was. My therapist anthropomorphised it as a child who is sitting in the corner and not fully accepted. I’m not sure what to do with that thought at this stage.

***

We also spoke about the fact that, because I only work for two days in the week, even though I’ve been working there for nearly two years, it’s the equivalent of less than a year working full-time, so it’s no surprise I’m still learning how the office works. This came up because I was saying that it’s when I fully understand a process and why we do things a particular way that I consistently start doing it correctly (albeit that I can still make mistakes when my attention wanders, which happens too often). If I’m just doing something because J said so, I’m likely to make mistakes based on faulty processing or misunderstanding.

***

I joined a Facebook group for dialogue between frum (religious Jewish, although in this context, specifically Orthodox and possibly Haredi/ultra-Orthodox) and OTD (“Off the Derekh” – off the correct path, i.e. not frum, not a phrase I like using generally) Jews. I have no idea if this is going to be an environment where I can connect with open-minded people (presumably anyone joining such a group is more open-minded than most, but maybe not) or if it’s just going to be one huge argument. It’s frustrating that most FB groups are private and you can’t get an idea of what the group is like before joining. I can always leave if it gets too much. So far it seems most people are polite, but a few are less so, although they probably think they’re engaging in radical honesty rather than being rude.

I’ve joined five FB groups now, with two more still pending. Since joining, two of these groups have done a “Hello to new members” post, listing new members by name, and in both groups, they missed off my name. I was too shy socially anxious to say anything.  Honestly, this kind of thing has been happening to me since I was a young child, both “if anything can go wrong, it will” and, more troublingly, being completely ignored in social situations. I was assuming that I get ignored in person because I’m so quiet and skulk near the back of groups, not talking to anyone, but it seems that it happens online too, when I’m not even expected to have done anything, just to have my name added to a list automatically.

A Very Good Disguise

Today was a not-very-good day, full of waking too early on not enough sleep, a pigeon on the Tube train, Tube delays, boring work and sukkah-building (which was actually good, but I was exhausted by then from less than five hours sleep after a day of fasting). I also miss E a lot and being long-distance is just SO HARD now. The most annoying thing was someone on the autism forum claiming that Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t a disability, but actually involves advanced sensibilities and special abilities (superior to NTs) and that if only we could end neurotypical (NT) stigma, Asperger’s sufferers would be fine. I thought this was nonsense and got angry.

When I get angry, it tends to result in pedantry as much as fury. I did think of posting the response below on the forum, but chickened out. I foresaw an endless discussion of what adjustments are “realistic” and just how much NT society would have to change, and how self-destructive those changes would be, to NTs and to society and the economy as a whole, to make things tolerable for those of us on the spectrum. But I’m still angry enough to post it here:

There is a lot I could say to this. I will endeavour to be brief and polite.

Yes, people with Asperger’s are, on the whole, better off than those with severe autism, such as the man in the article [an article about a man with severe autism who was kept essentially in solitary confinement in a psychiatric hospital for years on end]. Yes, some people with Asperger’s survive and even thrive in neurotypical society.

However, living in a neurotypical society is difficult for us, and inherently so, not just because of NT stigma or ableism. The fact is that many aspects of NT communication are difficult or impossible for us. This affects many spheres of life (work, family, friendships, dating/romance/sex). It’s not a case of simply removing supposed NT “ableism.” Asking NTs to stop using eye contact, body language, metaphor, sarcasm, indirect commands etc. would be imposing a serious disability on them in the interests of a more level playing field. This is not the kind of “reasonable adjustment” that equalities law requires. The same goes for ending competitive interview as a method of recruitment, ending team work at school and in the workplace, ending networking and self-promotion in the workplace and so on. If we want to exist in NT world, we have to play by their rules. It just wouldn’t work any other way. And the word for being at a permanent, inherent disadvantage in society is… disabled.

This is without getting into the autistic exhaustion and autistic burnout that are a very real part of high functioning autistic life.

The upshot is this is that I have two degrees, but work part-time in a job I don’t like and am not good at and which isn’t the one I trained for.

As for the “special abilities” and superpowers we supposedly have… well, maybe the lucky few, the Steve Jobses and the Greta Thunbergs, have these, but most of us don’t. I used to be able to hyperfocus, but rarely manage it now. My sensory sensitivities are acute enough to cause me irritation, but not to be useful. I’m not good with numbers or computer code. I am reasonably good at proof-reading, but no more so than many NTs. My encyclopaedic knowledge of Doctor Who has not helped me earn money. To quote Winston Churchill out of context, if Asperger’s is a blessing in disguise, it’s in a very good disguise.

***

If I wanted to personalise this a bit more, I would say that I struggle with noise levels in workplaces and that I find the Tube, and the crowds in London, increasingly difficult, but adjustments are difficult here. My brain tends not to work fast enough for me to speak coherently when I haven’t planned what I’m going to say, again especially in the workplace and in job interviews; again adjustments are hard, as well as to problems with eye contact and body language, not to mention issues around autistic psychological rigidity and difficulty working in teams in a job market that values flexibility and collaboration. Again, it’s not enough to talk about adjustments: what they want just isn’t what I’m offering. Then there are issues around networking and self-marketing (both important for the self-employed, including writers), or, as autistic people might think of them, small talk and lying, neither of which come easily to us (slight exaggeration, but not much). And I didn’t even mention alexithymia…

***

Yesterday I broke my quasi-diet because I’d had a difficult fast and felt I’d earned a treat, and then I started feeling shaky and tried to work out what I needed to eat. Today I’m tempted to break it because I had a hard day and miss E. I probably need a better selection of non-calorific rewards, although that leads on to buying things, particularly books and DVDs and I probably have too many of both…

Hallo Spaceboy

I had a stressful day at work yesterday. I’d say an awful day, except the nature of my job is that on the most awful days, it reminds me that at least everyone I care about is OK, so I don’t feel able to call it an awful day (it also reminds me that everyone I care about will one day die, which is less cheering). But it was one of those days when I felt totally autistic and unable to communicate effectively with people or do the right thing, no matter how hard I tried. It felt like I’m an alien who just beamed down from another planet and I haven’t done my research on humans properly, like Ford Prefect in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Except he functioned a lot better than I did. (Someone should create The Autistic’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

I also discovered that either the GP or the pharmacy has locked themselves into a situation of getting my meds after I’ve run out of clomipramine, so I have to skip a morning dose as I can’t get them until later. I need to sort this out, but won’t be able to do so next week because of Yom Tov. Also, it will involve talking to people, which I hate. I feel maybe I should have spoken to them about it yesterday or today, but I went into rigid autistic ‘This is awful and I can’t sort it out’ mode, and also socially anxious mode and now it’s too late because of Yom Kippur.

I slept for a long time last night and woke feeling OK, albeit later than I wanted, but then discovered the sports drinks I bought to help me prepare for fasting on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, tonight and tomorrow) don’t have the electrolytes I need. They’re just fizzy drinks. After breakfast, I managed to go out and get some actual sports drinks with electrolytes, but I’ve been feeling overwhelmed and unready for a day of intense soul-searching and repentance, not to mention fasting (which makes me ill, hence the electrolyte drinks to try to prepare). I feel I could cope with the autumn festival cycle if it was spread out a bit more. And also if I wasn’t autistic, which is something I probably shouldn’t say. And, yes, I would probably cope with life as a whole a lot better if I wasn’t autistic. I shouldn’t say this as in the autistic community we’re supposed to be #actuallyautistic and proud. I don’t feel like that and worry that to do so would involve living a life that’s incompatible with my religious values, one way or another.

I haven’t been accepted to many of the Facebook groups I tried to join. I think I haven’t really got the hang of FB. It still seems very user-unfriendly and off-putting.

I wish E was here.

I feel I should do some Torah study or something religious, but I’m actually going to shower and then watch Monty Python and try to cheer myself up before the most intense day of the religious calendar (which is also supposed to be the happiest day, because we get forgiven, but it’s not always easy to tune into that).

Quotidian Piety

I struggled today at work again. There was actually a reasonable amount of work for me to do; I didn’t have to do the paper-sorting (which isn’t make-work, but also isn’t a priority if there are other things going on). However, I felt like I was struggling and making mistakes again. I was going to go to the bank as it’s the end of the month. In the afternoon, J gave me a new task to do. I spent a while on it, then realised I needed to go to the bank if I wanted to be back by the end of the day. That in turn meant I needed to close off the banking. So I rushed through the new task and then didn’t finish it when I realised I was making mistakes, and I rushed to close off the banking. I had made a mistake on the banking spreadsheet too which took a while to find. I just hope I didn’t make a mistake paying in the cheques. I’ve done that before. I’ve put the wrong number on the paying-in slip and the bank queried it.

I found the bank trip difficult too. The crowds in London, the noise, the omnipresent video screens… it was just autistic overload for me. When I got back, J said I could finish for the day (not because of the overload, but because it was the end of the day), but I felt overwhelmed and sat in the Beit Midrash upstairs for a bit (it was quiet, and I turned off most of the lights, but the security guard turned them back on and told me to leave them on. I didn’t realise they were supposed to be on), then davened Minchah (said Afternoon Prayers) before coming home. The journey was stressful, with too many people and someone next to me invading my personal space. I would say ‘manspreading,’ but it was a teenage girl! Someone in the carriage had noisy music on their phone too. I felt pretty much physically attacked by all of it.

Then my sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner. It was fun, but I was feeling really burnt out and overloaded. Then I spoke to E (we Skype every day that isn’t Shabbat or Yom Tov), which at least didn’t exhaust me further. I should really go to bed, but I wanted to get some of my thoughts down.

Some autistic people see autism as a “super-power,” like the homo superior of the David Bowie song Oh! You Pretty Things. I don’t really experience it that way. On days like today, it feels like a real disability.

***

Someone on the autism forum said she was a failure because she hasn’t achieved anything except getting married and having children. Unthinkingly, I said that I didn’t think she was a failure, mostly because I would say that to anyone. I do think that getting married is an achievement for someone on the spectrum, and having children is an achievement for anyone (strictly speaking, it should be that raising children well is an achievement). I realised, of course, that I view myself as a failure despite being married (sort of) and having a part-time job. I feel that I do my job badly, and that it’s not full-time, and I don’t know if I’ll ever have children or how I would cope with them. It made me think a bit about what I mean by ‘achievement.’

Everyone says that Western society prioritises wealth, fame, status, looks, power – lots of things I think are not worthwhile. Realistically, most people are probably the same. Apparently research shows that most people really care about more spiritual or caring goals, but that they think that no one else does. Even so, it’s true that the media promotes wealth, fame, status etc. But I’m not interested.

I should say that my religion provides meaningful achievements for me, but too often it turns into a list of things I don’t do, or don’t do “enough”: (communal)(meaningful) prayer, Torah (Talmud) study, mitzvah (commandment) performance, charity and so on. At work I sometimes come into contact (albeit usually through looking at old minutes and letters) with extremely rich people who are able to devote significant amounts of money and time to charity and community work. I can’t do this. I feel that my ‘issues’ (autism, social anxiety, disordered sleep etc.) interferes too much with my religious life.

Today I came across the term, ‘quotidian piety,’ coined by historian Elisheva Baumgarten to describe the daily religious practices of Medieval Jews and how they were intertwined to their lives. I wonder if I have ‘quotidian piety.’ I do religious things every day. I wonder if they are ‘achievements’ in this sphere. I wrote the other day about trying to move towards God instead of more concrete, but often unachievable, goals. I guess that is a similar idea in terms of seeing small steps as an achievement.

Lately I have been thinking less about wanting/needing to write and be published as an achievement. This is probably because I’ve been too busy with E’s visa application and Yom Tov to think about it, but I’d like to try to keep it up. I don’t think it’s sensible to think of writing as an achievement or peg to hang my self-esteem on at the moment.

Cometh the Facebook

I struggled to sleep again last night, getting a minor, but irritating, headache pretty much as soon as I got into bed. I got up for a while, texted E a bit (as Rosh Hashanah was now over where she was) and watched Monty Python while I waited for the paracetamol to kick in. Then I overslept this morning, having one of those dreams where an alarm is sounding and I can’t work out how to turn it off, which turned out to have been my alarm clock sounding in the real world.

I finished Lamentations: Faith in a Turbulent World at last on the way in to work. I did have one or two thoughts on it, but I don’t  have time to share them now.

At work I had little to do other than the ongoing sorting of old papers. I’m scared to throw them away, as so many seem to be legal and I don’t know what’s still relevant. I need to ask J. I worry a bit that I threw away too many papers when I began this task; now I worry I’m keeping too many. There’s also a lot of papers belonging to the shul (synagogue) we inhabit and I don’t know if J wants to offer them to the shul. Some might refer to joint projects; again, I need to ask J.

J was working from home today, so the office was empty and I felt more than a little lonely, even though we don’t usually speak that much. Today was a minor Jewish fast day (the Fast of Gedaliah, another fast that has a personal connection to me, but not one I want to write about here). I’m not allowed to fast on the minor fasts because fasting on lithium is dangerous. I feel bad about this, but also glad, as I fast badly and get headaches and nausea (I’m not looking forward to Yom Kippur next week). On fast days, I usually go out of the shul to eat my lunch, as I feel guilty about eating in a shul on a fast day, but my hands are quite badly chapped, painful and bleeding, so I didn’t really want to sit in the cold and wind. Particularly as J was not in the office, I decided to eat indoors and hope no one would come in. Then the non-Jewish security guard came in with the post.

***

I forgot to mention a couple of things from my trips to shul (synagogue) on Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New  Year). One was hearing the Prayer for the King, instead of the Queen, and finding that strange. I wonder how long it will take for that to seem normal?

The other was reading the extra-long version of the Atah Kadosh prayer in the Amidah that we say on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a prayer which is normally about two lines, but gets expanded to nearly two pages on these days. Something I hadn’t really paid attention to before is the way it speaks about the utopian future and in amongst ideas about joy for the righteous and the pride of the Davidic dynasty is a a line about granting “confidence to speak into all who long for You” (translation from Rabbi Lord Sacks’ Machzor; the literal translation is more like “an opening of the mouth”) and then a few lines later, “injustice will have nothing more to say” (from Rabbi Sacks again, the literal translation is more like “injustice will shut its mouth”). The idea that this world is a world where people are silent who should speak, and people speak who should be silent, and that the Messianic era will be the reverse captured my imagination, although I’m not sure where I’m going with it at the moment.

***

I joined Facebook yesterday. So far, my fears that I would spend too much time on there have been misplaced, as I found it profoundly user-unfriendly, counter-intuitive and somewhat overwhelming. I’m not quite sure why I think that, but it feels like you can do a lot more on it than you could when I was first on it, a decade ago, but also that there’s so much you can do now that it feels totally overwhelming. Is that just me being autistic? I feel like a lot of the world is overwhelming to me these days, in terms of sensory things and the speed of life and the number of possibilities available as much as anxiety about specific things, and it feels related to my autism even if I’m not always sure how.

I’ve been struggling to find friends and family members on Facebook. FB can’t access the webmail portal I use for email, so it’s not suggesting people to me based on that, which is just as well, as I never delete old email addresses, so it would be suggesting a lot of people I have no desire to run into again. I did find E, and connected our pages to say we’re married (which we sort of are and sort of aren’t, but if I put “It’s complicated,” people would really get the wrong idea) and also my sister, my oldest friend and, surprisingly (as she turned up on the list of people I might know before I’d added any other family), one of my cousins (the neurodivergent one with mental health issues that I’ve become a bit closer to in recent years because I feel I know what she’s going through more than the rest of the family). I haven’t found my Mum yet and I’m not sure whether to hunt for other friends. I don’t know if I want to know their political thoughts, to be honest. My Dad isn’t on FB.

I joined/applied to join a couple of Jewish autism groups as well as the Orthodox Conundrum discussion group. I noticed that the person who convinced me (not deliberately) that I was a lesser Orthodox Jew because I didn’t go to yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) is an active participant in the latter. I’m not sure what I feel about that.

I put my time at Oxford on my profile, but not the university where I did my MA because it’s a rubbish university and (a) I’d rather forget my time there, which led to very little that was good and (b) it’s such a bad university I worry it would actually discourage people from using my professional services, if/when I try to set up as a proof-reader and/or copy editor. But I’m open to changing my mind about this. I did put my secondary school on there, which might also have been a mistake, if I get friended by people who bullied me, or who I’m just not interested in reconnecting with (which is probably most of them, to be honest).

***

On my way to work this morning, I saw four boxes of books outside the charity shop, and sighed. The charity shops all have signs asking people not to leave donations outside, because (a) they get stolen and (b) they’re not allowed to use stuff dumped outside because of some kind of contamination fears. I’m not entirely sure what contamination they’re afraid of (this goes back pre-COVID), but all the different charity shops have these signs, so I assume it’s some kind of real fear. And yet people continue to leave donations outside. When its bags of clothes I don’t worry so much (although I probably should, given that people need them), but the thought of four boxes of books ending up in landfill saddened me all day.

The reality is that a lot of charity shop book donations end up in landfill anyway, as lots of books don’t sell and the shops periodically remove old stock to make way for new, but this seems even worse. Although now I’ve sort of convinced myself to buy that copy of short stories by Shalom Aleichem for £1 just to save it!!!

Overwhelmed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(End of autism forum post.)

Frustrations Not Balanced By Chocolate

I wrote a shortish post yesterday, but WordPress ate half of it and it was too late, and I was too tired, to rewrite. This post is some of what survived and more.

I felt down and lonely as soon as my parents left yesterday for their short holiday in sunny (or not sunny) Arundel. I’m not sure why I should feel down when I saw them a couple of hours earlier. As I’ve mentioned before, I like my own company, but for some reason I don’t understand, I don’t like being in the house by myself. It’s probably partly a product of the size of the house. I didn’t get so lonely when living in a tiny studio flat, but I did get somewhat lonely, particularly on non-work days when I had no distractions. And, unlike in the past, I have my frustrations at being so far from E and not knowing when we will be together again, which feels worse than being single, somewhat to my surprise (I know that’s probably naive to anyone who has been in a long-term relationship before, but my relationship experience up to this point has not been great). It may also be true that I have worse abandonment fears than I thought, which would make sense, given some formative childhood experiences.

I went for a run yesterday, but came back with a relatively mild, but intermittent headache, nausea and a feeling of dizziness and light-headedness that didn’t fully pass until I went to bed. I find the latter most troubling as it’s new and has no obvious cause (not that the exercise migraines have much of an obvious cause, but at least they’re an acknowledged thing).  I did some Torah study and spent a bit of time on my tax return, but feel it would probably be better if I did no work/chores at all and relaxed OR worked hard and got some of these tasks out of the way, but I seem to be unable to do either. I think of myself as a person of extremes, but it’s probably more accurate that I aim for the middle ground, I just don’t always reach it.

I went to bed late, partly because of the failed blog post, and then I struggled to sleep again. The advantage of a five hour time difference with my wife is that she’s still awake when I can’t sleep at 1.30am! I was ruminating again on autism/Asperger’s and feeling I have plenty of negative symptoms, but none of the “superpowers” some people on the spectrum talk about. E thinks my care for grammar and spelling might become a superpower if I can set myself up as a proof-reader and copy editor. She’s probably right, but working out the practical steps to set up my own business and find clients is frightening.

I did eventually fall asleep, but had a disturbed night’s sleep. I can’t remember clearly what happened; I remember feeling ill during the night and suspect it was trouble breathing (sleep apnoea), but can’t remember in detail. I’m left more with an impression of spending the night feeling ill in an unspecified way and worrying that I would have to call in sick today. It’s strange how something so potentially disturbing can happen and not get into my brain properly to be dealt with on waking because I’m more than half asleep.

Work today began with J giving me Galaxy chocolate. It had come free with the printer cartridges, for some reason, and he doesn’t eat chalav stam (milk not supervised by a Jew from milking).  He tried to give me three bars, but I only took one as three seemed a lot, particularly as Mum and I are trying to lose weight.  This seemed like a good start to the work day, but I was bored at work and slightly ill from lack of sleep, resulting in being easily distracted and therefore feeling guilty.  The Economist said last week that attempting to achieve perfection at work is counter-productive.  There we should aim for excellence, which doesn’t seem much more possible to me.  I think vague competence is all I’m likely to achieve at work at the moment, and maybe not even that.

On the way home, I went to the pharmacy only to discover that my clomipramine won’t be in until tomorrow evening.  I only had two 50mg tablets left, but I take two at night and two in the morning.  I am splitting the dose so I took 50mg tonight and will take another 50mg before volunteering in the morning, which I hope will keep me on an even keel until the afternoon.

***

One paragraph I couldn’t salvage from yesterday’s post was about writing.  I have so much going on with my life at the moment that I have neither the time nor the inclination to write or to try to find an agent.  It’s not even on my radar at the moment.  Inasmuch as I have creative thoughts at all, they’re focused on my plans for a Facebook group for people on the margins of the Orthodox Jewish community.  I am now pretty certain that I will go back on Facebook at some point (ugh) to do this.

I started writing a list of potential group posts and got up to twenty.  Granted some probably won’t work out, but it’s a good start for my first day of serious thought about it.  I’m worried about finding members, though, as I don’t really know people to invite to start it off.  Most of my friends aren’t Orthodox (or aren’t Jewish) so wouldn’t want to join, and I probably wouldn’t want to invite the Orthodox friends I do have, as I wouldn’t want them to see some of the things I want to say in this forum, to realise that I see myself on the margins of the Orthodox world and why I feel like that.

***

A thought while shopping after work: when I was a child, I was, at least to some extent, a “little professor,” Dr Hans Asperger’s term for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, meaning a child who is very serious and ‘lectures’ on his special interests.  My Mum even called me an “absent-minded professor.”  Yet I was not a little adult; when I became an adult, I was not suddenly better at communicating with people.  I still could not connect with people.  I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but it seemed worth noting.

***

I finished A Guide for the Perplexed by Dara Horn, but am not sure what I think about it.  E said she felt the same when she finished it.

After the Event

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

How to Destupidify myself?

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

The Civil Wedding

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

Tuesday 23 August

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 24 August

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

Thursday 25 August

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

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

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

Friday and Saturday 27 August

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

Sunday 28 August

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

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

Monday 29 August — The Civil Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 30 August

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

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

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

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

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

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