Still Burnt Out

I still feel burnt out, although not as much as yesterday. If I had taken yesterday as a mental health day, maybe I would feel better today. Or maybe not. Nevertheless, my mood is a bit better (despite the news not being any better).

I looked at my cataloguing notes. Some of it looks easy, so I wonder why I keep messing up cataloging tests. And some of it (more classification than cataloguing, but they are related) is too confusing this far down the line from my librarianship degree (over a decade since the classes). The only real way to get better is to practise, and I don’t have the time or headspace for that today and probably not on Sunday, and after that it’s too late, at least for this job.

I looked at my answers to frequently asked interview questions too, and nothing is sticking in my head at the moment. I just feel too burnt out. I’m going to leave it for today. I only managed about half an hour of practice overall (cataloguing and interview). I’m just too drained today.

I’m telling myself that I’m just using the interview for practice, and to show willing to the job agency. I’m also telling myself that if I end up not writing a devar Torah (Torah thought) next week, or if I end up skipping preparation before Talmud class or revision after it, that, again, I will accept it as something outside of my control. How much I manage to actually do that if it happens is another question.

To be honest, the thing I’m most worried about concerning the interview is the interviewers thinking I’m useless if I perform badly in the interview or cataloguing test. If I was being assessed by emotionless robots who wouldn’t judge me, I’d feel a lot better. But, as I’ve said before, I’ve done badly at interviews and tests before and probably will again. I know it’s my “issues” even if the interviewers don’t.

Right now I’m just focusing on getting through Shabbat (the Sabbath). I went for a walk and I’m going to shul (synagogue) later, despite feeling drained. For the moment, having done most of my pre-Shabbat chores, I’m watching TV, trying to get into a better mindset for shul.

Interview Preparation and Burnout

I felt utterly burnt out and exhausted today. I guess I did go through quite a bit yesterday, more emotionally than in practical terms. I didn’t get up until something like 1pm today, and it was an effort to stay up. It was still two hours or more before I was dressed (admittedly I did have a long text conversation with E in there). My brain feels switched off. If it was running on Windows, it would be blue screened. Somehow I have three working days — three days curtailed by burnout and Shabbat and Yom Tov preparation — to prepare for my cataloguing test and interview on Wednesday.

I found a discrepancy between what the job agency are telling me about the job I’m applying for and what the job specification says. The latter says the job is full-time and permanent; the former says it is four days a week for four months. That’s a big difference. I guess it’s something to ask about at the interview, but it does have ramifications for whether I would take the job, although not in a clear cut way. I don’t think I could do full-time work (I’m not sure I can manage four days a week, let alone five); on the other hand, I’m not sure I want to walk away from my current job if I’m going to be job-hunting again in four months’ time, even if it would get me back into the library sector.

The job description is massive, and I worry how I could keep up with it, particularly open-ended professional development, including attending and presenting at conferences and seminars (that would assume this is permanent, of course). I still feel my cataloguing skills are very rusty. I haven’t really used them since 2018.

I tried to prepare for the interview, but didn’t manage much more than re-reading the job description, looking at the organisation’s (large) website and jotting down a couple of questions to ask. I procrastinated, and make myself depressed looking at the Jewish news sites.

I just felt physically ill today, so burnt out that I can’t go on. I just felt overwhelmed, by my life and by the world (and, yes, I know that there are far worse things going on in the world than in my body and my head, but I feel what I feel and knowing cognitively that other people are struggling much more does not change that or make me feel any better).

I was going to look over my notes of prepared answers for frequently-asked interview questions, but there seems no point as it won’t sink in. I really needed a mental health day, but the next week is going to be a crazy mix of interview stuff and religious stuff. My parents said to relax, that the job isn’t really right for me at this time, either as a four month stopgap or a year at full-time. I’m glad they realise that. It does take some of the pressure off.

I do worry that the job agency will say something at some point about how few jobs I’ve got with them (two short-term contracts, I think, in nearly three years) and see me as some kind of bad “investment” (bearing in mind that to the agency, I’m a product they’re selling, not a paying customer). But I guess I could feel just as justified in criticising them for the same reasons. Of course, I don’t want to turn up for an interview or a test and totally make a fool of myself because of my mental health and autism. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done either of those things either.

In the end I did a tiny bit of preparation, but didn’t relax the way I wanted to (if it’s even possible for me to relax at the moment, the news being what it is).

Other than interview preparation, I went for a half-hour walk and proof-read and sent my devar Torah. I wanted to start on my devar Torah for next week, as I won’t have much time for it next week and I know roughly what I want to talk about, but I just wasn’t able to do so. I just felt awful.

I did Skype with E in the evening. We had a long chat, over an hour, and that really helped. We spoke a bit about my interview, but also about a lot of other things. Our conversations tend to range from the serious to the jokey. I feel so comfortable talking to her, it seems so special. There aren’t many people I can connect with like that. I feel really lucky that we’re trying to make this work again. Hopefully we can get it right this time.

Fraught Day

I was expecting today to be a normal, dull work day, but it turned out to be fraught. Running in the background all day was my worries for the escalating violence in Israel. I’m not going to write a political post because I think everyone already knows what they think, I just feel anxious about family in Israel (literal family and metaphorical family) and want it to be over. I checked the news a couple of times while at work, something I wouldn’t normally do. I hope and pray the violence doesn’t escalate further, but I worry that it’s reached the point of self-perpetuation.

Then, on the way home I texted my parents to say that J and I were going home by a different route and I was going through the suburb where my maternal grandparents lived (I think I saw their house, which was some way away from the road, behind some trees, but if I did, the front has been massively remodelled). Mum then told me she had spent the afternoon at the hospital, having had a bad reaction to new medication. (She has to take bone-strengthening medication because chemotherapy weakens the bones.) Mum is home and OK now, just very tired.

I was in work today, as you may have gathered. J asked me to change work days this week, which is why I moved therapy to yesterday. While at work, I was called by a job agency about a job I applied for a few weeks ago. I didn’t think they would look twice at my CV, as I didn’t have the specialist subject knowledge they wanted, but they want to interview me next week. They wanted to do Monday, but that’s the festival of Shavuot, so they’ve agreed to do it on Wednesday. I have to do a cataloguing test first. I’ve had a few cataloguing tests in recent years and have generally done badly at them. I feel I’m very rusty, but we’ll see how I do. I am terrified at the prospect of getting the job though, silly though that sounds. I worry I can’t do the cataloguing (although, if I pass the test, I guess that will prove I can), I worry about what it will involve, that I’ll have to work four days a week (twice as much as I’m currently doing), that I’ll have to work on Fridays in the winter when Shabbat starts early, that I won’t have time to write fiction… A lot of worries. I’m trying to stick to what I said with my therapist about staying in the present, but it’s not easy.

Also at work, I had a difficult phone call related to the new task J was training me to do. This involves talking to people who are in a difficult emotional situation and talking them through various tasks and getting personal details from them while not overwhelming them. (I don’t want to go into more detail as it will make where I work too obvious.) I had to do this suddenly and thinking on my feet, as the situation wasn’t exactly the type J trained me for. J was listening and said I handled it well, which is good.

So all in all it was a fairly nerve-wracking day. I’m trying to stay in the present, as I discussed with my therapist. I don’t think I’ve been doing too badly about that, all in all, but I am pretty exhausted now.

***

I’m rather apprehensive of the week ahead too. I have tomorrow, Friday and Sunday to prepare for my cataloguing test, prepare for my interview, sit my test (unless I have to sit it on Wednesday morning, immediately before the interview) and get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Yom Tov (festival), as well as trying to exercise and do Torah study (including Talmud preparation and maybe writing my devar Torah for next week as I will lose so much time to Yom Tov and interview stuff). Then there are Shabbat and Yom Tov, which are time off, but not always relaxing as they tend to involve a lot of shul (synagogue), Torah study and sleeping rather than recreational reading. I suppose I shall get through it somehow. Or I’ll flunk the test and the interview and that will be that. I could have done some preparation tonight, but I felt pretty punch drunk and not suited for anything more than TV.

***

My former landlady texted me to compliment me on my Asperger’s article and J initiated a long discussion about Asperger’s and related issues on the way home. I’m surprised about the positive feedback I’ve had. It’s strange, I’ve written things that have been published professionally or semi-professionally before, but I never really felt of my writing ability as a gift. But hearing how people have responded to my article makes me think that it is one, pretentious though that sounds. I used to think that literature couldn’t reach people the way the visual arts of music can. Art and music can cross the boundaries of language, unlike writing, but writing can explain things and share specific thoughts and thought processes in a way that more abstract arts can not.

***

This has been a fairly heavy post (albeit that some of it is positive even if it is scary), so time for something lighter: how I got back together with E!

E and I met via my blog back in 2018. We had two goes at long-distance dating which didn’t work out. When we broke up the second time, I decided that I wouldn’t date her again, as I was worried about ending up in an on/off relationship that never got resolved.

A few weeks ago, I started reading the anonymous blog of a Jewish woman who was becoming more religious. We had some comment conversations and seemed to connect and have similar outlooks and values as well as similar struggles. I did wonder vaguely (or not so vaguely) if one day we might date. She reminded me of E, but more spiritual and trying to be a better person. I actually wondered if it was E, but decided that coincidences like that only happen in romantic literature.

Then out of the blue I got an email from E saying that she was that anonymous blogger!

She was very apologetic about how things had been between us before and wanted to try again. I decided, based on her long email and her blog posts, that she seemed to have grown a lot and that dating her now would be different to dating the E that I dated in the past, to the extent that I felt my “No dating again” decision didn’t apply here. She is pursuing Orthodox Judaism for its own sake now, not just to fit in with me, and she’s done a lot of work on herself. I have also undergone changes, particularly my Asperger’s diagnosis and its positive knock-on effect on my self-esteem and understanding.

I think we are both nervous that this might not work, but the potential benefits seem to drastically outweigh the potential costs. We both have our difficulties and issues, but there seems to be tremendous potential for us to build something positive together.

I discussed this with my rabbi mentor and my therapist. The former felt that E and I have both matured a lot over the last nine months, while my therapist found it interesting that I liked E’s blog even without knowing it was her, which she felt showed a strong personality connection between us. So, we (E and I) are cautiously optimistic.

However, I have not told my family yet as I’m nervous of how they might respond. I guess I feel I want to have a bit more to tell them before I open up to them. I keep nearly letting it slip though — wanting to say, “I’m Skyping E in a minute” or “That reminds me of something E said…” I really am terrible at keeping secrets, let alone lying.

Reasons to be Cheerful

My main focus today was therapy. I didn’t have a lot to say, as things seem to be going well. The last week or so I have been fairly focused on the present rather than worrying about the future. I also seem to have coping strategies that help me to deal with things better than in the past, and my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis has made it easier for me to forgive myself for mistakes and quirks that would have upset me in the past. The two (coping mechanisms and forgiveness) go together, as a key coping mechanism is to know my limits and not force myself to go beyond them, even if part of me says I “should” be able to do so.

I mentioned in therapy that I have been reflecting recently that my life seems to be suddenly going a lot better. I’ve finally got my Asperger’s diagnosis (which seems to be the key turning point); I have a job I can manage which leaves me time to write; I have a core of online friends who read my blog and leave helpful comments (I’ve written blogs with no readers before, and writing does serve a purpose for me even without readers, but writing without an audience can be lonely); I am beginning to wonder if I am more accepted at shul (synagogue) than I thought previously; I have greater kavannah (concentration or mindfulness) in davening (prayer) than previously; I’m somewhat happier with the amount and content of Torah study I’m doing (an average of fifty to sixty minutes daily, with some Talmud study); and I’ve restarted volunteering. Best of all, E and I have got back together and think that this time we might be able to make the relationship work permanently.

The latter point is the thing I’ve been hinting at for the last week or so without explicitly stating, as I was curious to see what my therapist said before saying anything here. At the moment I haven’t told my parents or my sister, which I feel a little bad about, but I want to give the relationship a few weeks so that I can say it’s working before I tell them. This is because my Mum in particular was worried about E and I getting into an endless on/off relationship. To be fair, I worried about that too, but I think this time both of us have undergone significant changes and growth that make me feel a lot more positive about our future together now. There is much more to say about this (it’s quite a story), but I’m too drained from therapy tonight to write it, so you’ll just have to wait a little longer.

I’m always scared to say that things are going well, as it seems almost inevitable that they go wrong afterwards, but as my therapist and I discussed, the difference this time is that it’s as much about coping strategies and being able to stay in the present as about external things boosting my mood, which will hopefully enable me to stay well even when things go wrong, as something will eventually.

***

My boss, J, texted me to say that by chance, he had come across my article online. He liked it. I felt a little awkward, but it’s probably good that he saw it, although I’m glad I told him about my autism a couple of weeks ago so he wasn’t learning about it entirely from the article. The big question I’m wondering is whether anyone else from my shul has seen it and whether they will say anything when they see me on Shabbat. The site it was on is very well-known and read by a lot of people, so it’s entirely possible that some other people I know have seen it.

Cope/Not Cope/Cope?

Today felt stressful, although objectively not a lot happened. Actually, “objectively” is a bit of a weasel word there, as not a lot happened for a “normal” person. “Normal” in scare quotes because no one is “normal”; I mean that some people would have coped OK, but others, including, but not limited to people on the spectrum, would not, and I am one that did not.

The Tube is definitely more crowded in the mornings now, which is good inasmuch as it means things are opening up again, bad inasmuch as I’m afraid of infection. The person sitting next to me for several stops had a persistent (albeit mild-seeming) cough which worried me a bit. I did consider changing carriages, but I wasn’t sure of finding anywhere better to sit. He was at least wearing a mask correctly.

Work this morning was routine. In the afternoon, J asked me to phone some people who hadn’t paid their membership fees to remind them. Most of the calls were not answered, or had “number not available” messages. One was answered by someone who said she is seriously ill, immobile and has poor eyesight. I wasn’t sure how to respond and J was out of the office. I didn’t want to pressure her to pay, and thought that J wouldn’t want that either, but I didn’t want to leave the payment hanging indefinitely. She said she would pay over the phone, but struggled to read her credit card number. In the end I said she could leave paying until she can get a relative to help her make the payment, whether by cheque in the post or credit card over the phone. J was fine with that, but the call (which went on for ten or fifteen minutes) left me drained. I’m OK when I have a “script” to follow, but a call like that where I had to make a number of on the spot decisions, is extremely draining.

This was worsened by another call, where the person I called said they had already sent a cheque. On inspection, I had processed it this morning. I checked the database, and the payment had not been processed. I thought I had made a mistake and not processed it correctly (I have done this by mistake in the past) until I realised that none of the mornings’ payments had been processed. I didn’t think I could have forgotten to process all of the cheques. Fortunately, I then remembered that J and I had accidentally been logged into the database at the same time, which can mess up saving data, so I saved myself from unnecessary self-criticism.

Curiously enough, I feel I’m more confident using the phone at work. I have a role, so to speak, and it’s easier to write a script for myself. I was able to do that when I was doing library work too, although the number of scripts I had to have to hand was not always easy to manage. I certainly didn’t have the gnawing anxiety in the pit of the stomach that I would get if I had to make a phone call at home.

My final task for the day wasn’t emotionally/socially draining like the phone calls, but was difficult and I came home exhausted. The heavy traffic on the roads didn’t help, especially as J had a very political talk radio programme on in the car, and news of violence in Israel. When I got home, I just crashed and watched Babylon 5. I tried to do more Torah study, but felt ill and stopped, focusing on getting in a good state of mind for depression group later.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel less exhausted as time went on. In fact, I started to feel light-headed, even after dinner, so I ended up missing depression group and vegetating in front of James Bond (Skyfall). I did eventually feel better. I don’t know what made me feel ill, if it was just a response to the emotions of the day, or if I’m coming down with something, but I did at least accept that it was OK to feel drained after the phone calls and that it wasn’t my “fault” or that I should have done “better,” which is progress.

I realise that I started this post saying that I didn’t cope, whereas the reality, now I read the post back, is that I did cope, even though I had to deal with stress and possibly psychosomatic light-headedness. It’s good that I can realise that I can actually cope.

***

Today was the second and final day of my shul’s (synagogue’s) fundraising campaign to raise money for new premises. I feel a bit bad as I couldn’t afford to contribute much (particularly compared to the millions of pounds needed, or even the tens of thousands being raised in this part of the campaign) and haven’t been trying to get friends and family to pay. Some of my friends are from shul so don’t need me to prompt them to give; the others are mostly non-religious and non-Jewish and I don’t feel comfortable asking for them to donate, although I’m not sure how much I would feel comfortable asking even if they were Orthodox and frum (religious Jewish). It’s not easy to ask people to donate money. I think most of the money has come from a very small number of presumably super-wealthy congregants and philanthropists/philanthropic trusts, which makes me feel like I can’t contribute much.

I do feel generally that I don’t contribute much to my shul. I don’t mean just or even primarily financially. I know I’m not in a position to donate much money anywhere right now. However, before I moved to this area, I was a regular shul-goer (two or even three times a day) and service-leader in my old shul, but now shul-going is hard because of social anxiety, more draining work and living further from the shul, and while I have led services a couple of times in this shul, I don’t feel at all comfortable doing it in this community which is more frum (religious) and which I still don’t feel completely comfortable in even after having attended for five years or so. It probably is true that my anxiety of not being “good enough” or “frum enough” for the shul means that I am discouraged from doing even what I could manage to do.

***

I had a lot of feedback about my article on Asperger’s/high functioning autism for the Jewish website. It’s all been positive, although I haven’t looked at the comments on the site yet. My friends and family have been very positive (my aunt said it showed “guts and integrity” while my Mum’s cousin said it moved her to tears). My sister’s sister-in-law was also very positive (her son just got diagnosed with Asperger’s) and I’ve only met her a couple of times, so that feels like a “real” person, not just someone close to me.

I’m doing what I always do when I’m praised, which is run away and hide. OK, in this instance there isn’t anywhere physically to run away to, but when I think about it, I feel embarrassed about the positive attention I’ve been getting. However, the main reason I haven’t responded to most of the comments and emails about this is simply that I didn’t feel well enough to do so earlier and now I’m tired and it’s late. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and reply then, but thank you everyone who left positive comments about the article (and my smile).

***

I’m getting annoyed by the anthropomorphism of COVID. Today I heard that it is “retreating,” but also that it might “bite back.” Perhaps people can’t cope with the idea of an abstract, indifferent problem and prefer some kind of sentient “enemy.”

Planning

Surprisingly, I woke up about 7.00am today. I felt refreshed and alert, which is very rare for me, so I got up soon after. I think things seem to have been going well for me the last few days, which gave me the boost. I davened Shacharit before checking my emails and blogs too, which is also rare for a non-work, non-Shabbat (Sabbath) day.

I spent an hour or so preparing for tomorrow’s Talmud shiur (religious class). While I struggle to follow the legal arguments of the Talmud, I admit I do find it interesting as a social history document. The Talmud, and Judaism generally, sees religion/Torah as something that reaches into every aspect of human life, not just the conventionally “religious.” As a result, the Talmud goes into civil and criminal law, recipes, medicine, folk sayings and the work and family habits of Jews in Judea and Babylon in late antiquity, which I find interesting. Today’s passage spoke about kutakh, a Babylonian dish made of sour milk, mouldy bread and salt. I have to say that I’m not desperate to try that recipe out…

I spent some time working on a plan for a potential second novel. It’s slow going, and I procrastinated quite a bit, but some bits are slowly coming together. At the moment I’m just plotting out the main incidents for each chapter, then I hope to write a longer synopsis. It’s hard to create a plot from nothing (the nucleus of my first novel is my own experience, although the sub-plot was created from scratch, with help from research), but the problem-solving aspect is interesting. Doctor Who fans tend to be very writer-focused and fan discourse often looks at plotting, where it works and where it goes wrong. I tend to view a lot of books and TV in this way these days, looking at how the writing solves problems. It’s a struggle, but also an interesting quest to go from “I want to do a Jewish fantasy story” to a fully worked out plot with characters with realistic motivations and moments of drama that are properly integrated and not just random incident.

I have a long way to go with it still though (with the plan, let alone researching and writing the novel). It’s a bit disheartening how far I have to go with it and how crude it seems, but, again, as a Doctor Who fan, I know that many polished stories began as vague ideas and thin storylines (Doctor Who is genuinely the most researched TV programme in the world, thanks to a fandom obsessed with production as much as narrative).

I had another job rejection, although I hadn’t really expected to get anything from it. Then they sent the rejection twice more, just to drive the point home (I guess an email blip).

One of my parents’ friends has apparently bought my self-published Doctor Who book for her son, who is a fan. It makes me wish I had known how to promote it better, but it also makes me think again about making a second edition, at least with a better cover, if not a revised final chapter to cover the most recent series. I’m not sure what to do about that. I actually thought about it a while back, because for some reason Lulu.com (the self-publishing site) wouldn’t let me alter the cover price without fiddling with the design work, and I wanted to drop the price, but then life got in the way and I never did anything about it.

Exciting News

I woke up to really good news this morning: my article about being on the autism spectrum in the frum community is going to be published! Although I’m not sure whether to link from here when it goes up. It is related to what I write about here, but it will also be published under my real name, with my photo. So, I might publish a link in a password-protected post for those who might be interested and who I feel comfortable letting see that. (I do realise that I’ve written where I was submitting it in a previous post, so I might make that private.)

They edited the article a bit. I think they felt it was too long. I’m OK with the edits. I haven’t done a comparison with my draft, but the main thing that seems different is a paragraph they cut on my special interests, which I didn’t explain very well anyway and really put in partially as a dare to myself to mention Doctor Who to frum people to see what happened (answer: they cut it, but the sky didn’t fall in, and they still took the article). I think they’ve written a couple of summary quotes to use as sub-headings, which is also fine.

They asked for some photos of me and some of me with my family to illustrate the article. This was quite hard. I don’t generally think I photography well and there were some photographs that were good, but which I didn’t think would be deemed appropriate (either me wearing t-shirts with pictures from Doctor Who or the like, or with members of my family probably not meeting this site’s dress code). I found a few suitable ones in the end. I guess the lesson is, be careful what you wear, because you never know when your photo might end up on a religious website.

I didn’t have work today as J was working from home, and I’m not going in at the moment without him. I think it’s difficult for him to prepare my work in advance. As work comes in and he deals with it, it generates admin tasks for me like filing papers and processing cheques. It’s hard to prepare it in advance. I worked a little bit on my plan for a future novel and went for a run, which wasn’t particularly good as I had a bit of a stomach ache. I also had a Skype call with my rabbi mentor that went well.

I went to a virtual shiur (religious class) this evening. It was a fairly spontaneous thing, unusual for me; I just decided to go this morning. It turned out not to be the greatest shiur ever, although I don’t really want to go into why at the moment. On a more practical level, it was hard, as a delayed exercise headache started shortly before the shiur started. I took paracetamol in time to stop it turning into a severe migraine, but I was a bit uncomfortable for most of the shiur.

I feel quite tired now, which is quite common for me after a headache, so I’m winding down and hope to go to bed soon.

Gunslinger Librarian

I have noted before that, like a lot of people on the autism spectrum, I’m not always good at understanding or even noticing my own moods, known technically as alexithymia. My mood all day yesterday was different. After the big thing that I’m not going to speak about directly yet happened, I felt what I thought was anxiety all day. It was only when I was getting ready for bed that I realised that it wasn’t anxiety. I’m not 100% sure what it was. I think excitement is the most likely, but maybe happiness as well or instead. It’s good either way. I don’t usually experience either of those things.

I went to bed early last night as I knew I had to be up early today for volunteering, but I struggled to sleep. I’m not sure if that’s related to the excitement; I don’t think so, but who knows? Despite that, I woke up early today (a little earlier than I needed). I was still a few minutes late leaving, and there was bad traffic so I was twenty minutes late for volunteering. No one seemed worried. I guess if you’re a volunteer, they’re just grateful for the help.

This volunteering is at the Jewish food bank where I was volunteering last year, until they tightened their COVID precautions in the third lockdown and only allowed people to volunteer in their “bubbles.” They’ve lifted that regulation now, so I went back today. We now have high vis jackets to wear, which I guess makes sense as we’re working in the car park and garage of the organisation, and there are some cars going in and out.

I was mostly putting frozen meals into crates, and sticking labels onto boxes of food. It was repetitive work, but I can do that kind of repetitive task mechanically while thinking about other things without feeling bored. I was working primarily with only one other person and we were in the garage and round the corner from the other volunteers, so I hardly saw the other staff and volunteers. I’m OK with that too. A few people seemed pleased to see me again, which was nice. I always think it’s strange when people are pleased to see me, or remember me at all. It was rather cold, though — underground, unheated, with a concrete floor that seems to suck the heat out of my feet. I was glad I had wore my anorak.

I was there for over two hours, excluding travel time. Also excluding worry about not being able to socially distance on the bus for fifteen minutes or so when a bunch of schoolchildren got on for a number of stops. This happens every time, so I guess I just have to live with it. I didn’t see if they were wearing masks today, but often some don’t. It’s sad that COVID has made sitting next to someone on the bus feel as dangerous as sharing a syringe.

I was pretty tired after I got home and had lunch. I did some more work on my devar Torah (Torah thought) for the week. I’m happier with it now. I didn’t do much else. I wrote an email about some potential jobs (see below) and planned what I want to say when I speak to my rabbi mentor tomorrow morning. I procrastinated over this, because I’m nervous of how it will go and what might follow from it. I don’t want to go into more details for now, sorry.

***

I was contacted by a job agency with two potential jobs for me. Both were for more hours a week than I think myself capable of at the moment and both require specialist knowledge or experience that I don’t have (of art and health librarianship). I asked the recruiter to put my name forward for both, on the grounds I don’t have to fill in an application and that it’s good to show willing to the agency. I doubt I’ll be called for interview for either. The job specs are daunting, though. One admittedly was for a more senior position than I’ve had before, although perhaps where my career would/”should” have been, had my issues not intervened.

I’ve really lost confidence in my ability to do the type of job I was trained for. If I was in a Western, I would be the gunslinger who has lost his nerve and can not sling his guns any more. Only I’m a librarian gunslinger (whatever that is).

There’s a Dilbert cartoon where Wally (the lazy one) is saying to the Pointy Haired Boss, “I’m pleased to report that I had no problems this week. I only had issues, opportunities, challenges and valuable learning experiences.” Then when the Pointy Haired Boss asks if he actually did any work, he replies that, “It didn’t seem necessary.” I feel like this has been my life for years, but since COVID, it’s been everyone’s life.

***

I don’t often post links, but given that I tend to feel insecure about rabbis being “better” than me, I was intrigued to read an Orthodox rabbi write about his own experiences of social media-driven insecurity.

Weirdness Vibes

I woke up drained as usual. The news didn’t help; it’s full of bad news today. The news is always full of bad news, but today it hits a little closer to home: more than forty killed in a crush at the Meron Lag B’Omer celebrations in Israel, and a Doctor Who actor accused of sexual harassment and bullying. I did feel better once I got going and I’m glad it’s Lag B’Omer and I can listen to music when I want and not just when I’m struggling with depression, and that I’ve shaved. I used the hair clippers we bought for COVID haircuts rather than the beard-trimmer on my razor. It was not painful at all (usually it pulls at the hairs) and took less than ten minutes (it usually takes twenty or more). So some good has come out of lockdown.

***

I’m wondering if the Intimate Judaism sex therapist is going to be able to find a shachan (matchmaker) willing to work with me. I also wonder whether I will go to that shadchan if she finds one, at least in the near future. I feel I shouldn’t be dating so soon after PIMOJ (fair enough) and that I shouldn’t be dating until I build a career and “sort out” what my autism diagnosis means for me. But a career may (probably will) take years to build, and “sorting out” my diagnosis, whatever that means, is an ongoing process with no obvious end point. So I could end up postponing dating indefinitely, which looks a lot like procrastination and avoidance. I do need to work out if I can cope with a wife and children, being on the spectrum, but I have no idea how I test that out. It’s not like I can borrow some children for a few days. For what it’s worth, my rabbi mentor has mostly encouraged me to look for love despite work and mental health issues, even though this seems to go against the usual frum (religious Jewish) approach of sorting out your own issues before dating.

***

I went through a phase a few years ago of looking for stories of miracles people had experienced on websites like Hevria.com and Aish.com (setting aside for the moment the question of when a mere coincidence becomes a “miracle” — these were not things that subverted the laws of nature, but were just somewhat improbable coincidences). They are usually framed as, “I wasn’t religious, and I didn’t think I could become religious, but God did something amazing for me, so I became religious.” I think I used to read these things to get angry. (I think reading or watching things purely to get angry is more common than you might think, whether it’s conservative “clean up TV” campaigners or woke cancel culture.) I used to wonder why God wouldn’t help me. Was it because I became religious without miracles so He didn’t need to get my attention (which seemed unfair on me, like I should have held out for a better offer)? Was I particularly sinful? Did He hate me?

It comes to mind a bit when I read this article: ” I recently met a woman who went to a school with heavy amount of fear [of God] and guilt, and she confided in me that several years ago she and her friends would have so much fun mocking me and my positivity [about Judaism], but what she realized is that they were all actually jealous of my relationship to Hashem as it was so pure and sincere and not sullied with all the garbage theirs was.” I think this is partly why I used to get angry, not because I wanted miracles per se, but because I wanted a closer relationship with God, one that these people had achieved, even if it was jump started by a miracle/coincidence. Maybe this was why I didn’t connect with PIMOJ, because I couldn’t understand her close relationship with God and her constant positivity, to the extent that I didn’t feel able to share the more negative aspects of my life in our relationship, which resulted in it being a lie.

***

I find myself wondering if I’m trying to be miserable and negative at the moment, about my position in the frum world and about marriage. No one (parents, rabbi mentor) else seems to feel as negatively about my life as I do. I think I fret about the future to try to get other people to reassure me that it will be OK, but they never manage it. How could they? They can’t prove everything will turn out OK, and I’m still dealing with the ramifications of something going very wrong for my entire life up to this point (not being diagnosed as autistic), so my experience of life this far is that something fundamental will always be wrong that affects every aspect of my life negatively. Maybe I can try to feel positive that, now I’ve got my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis, I can (somehow) sort my life out. That said, I would want to have some kind of road map for “soring my life out” before I get my hopes up.

***

I did a few things today, Shabbat chores, Torah study, tried to begin to piece together a plan for my second/fall-back novel, went for a walk and picked up my prescription… just after I left the pharmacist, some kids on bikes passed me and shouted stuff at me. I didn’t really hear as I had music on my headphones, so I can’t be 100% sure they were shouting at me, but it wouldn’t be the first time if they were. It’s brought my mood down, whether they were shouting at me or not, because I do get shouted at even if it wasn’t happening this time. Sometimes it’s stuff because I’m Jewish, but sometimes people (usually kids) can intuit that I’m “different.” I give off weirdness vibes. It used to happen a lot at school. I went to Jewish schools, so there was no antisemitism (although I did get pushback from others kids as I became more religious, because most of the kids were not religious and probably felt threatened by my religiosity), but there was bullying for being clever and, I guess, for being different and vulnerable, because not all the clever kids were bullied, or not as much. And it wasn’t just kids in my class, even younger kids would sometimes shout stuff at me in the corridors.

It makes me feel negative about my ability to interact effectively meaningfully with people even now. They’re restarting the volunteering I was doing last year at the Jewish food bank. No one is rude to me there, but I worry I’m ineffectual and mess stuff up there and just generally seem weird and unapproachable. Ditto at shul (synagogue), although that’s less of an issue now the social side of it has been reduced. But random people shout stuff at me in the street periodically. It’s probably not coincidental that the three relationships I’ve had have been with people who ‘met’ me through writing (via a dating site or my blog) before we met in person. They had a chance to meet the competent Writing Me before the Weird In Person Me.

***

J is hosting a kiddush (refreshments after the service) at shul tomorrow for his daughter’s bat mitzvah. I’m not going, because of social anxiety. I haven’t told my parents, because I know they’ll say I should go. I feel bad, but I just don’t feel I can cope with it right now. This (social anxiety) is another reason not to date right now.

Dating to the Right and Left

I should say that “right” and “left” here refer to more or less traditionalist Jewish rather than politically right and left.

Yesterday my therapist encouraged me to stay in the present, to think about being able to succeed in my current job rather than worrying about my future career and to try to build a connection with someone rather than worrying about marriage. This is easier said than done. She suggested I “check in” with myself every few hours (I decided on every four hours) to see if I am staying in the present. I am not doing very well. Worries about marriage kept surfacing.

Early this morning I was thinking about a Jewish idea — possibly a popular spirituality idea rather than something in major primary sources; certainly I don’t think I’ve seen it there, but I’ve seen it on popular sites like Aish.com — that you have everything you need for your mission on earth. This is problematic when you think about people who lack the basics of life (historically, many important rabbis lived in extreme poverty at one point in their lives e.g. Hillel, Rabbi Akiva and others). Fortunately, my parents are supporting me financially, but, if I have everything I need, why do I feel such a need to give and receive love? It is a basic human need and I can’t pretend I don’t feel it. Maybe I need the need, but still, I don’t know what to do with it.

On the way to work, I was overtaken by hordes of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) primary school-aged girls on scooters, going to school. I see them every time I go to work. I found myself wondering where they would be in ten years time, how many would still be in the Haredi community and how many would be married. Statistically speaking, the answer to both questions is “Most of them.” The retention rate is much higher in the Haredi world than the Modern Orthodox one, and early marriage is the norm.

Thinking about the Haredi community and its higher retention rate, I found myself wondering if I should be looking for a moderate Haredi spouse. After all, I go to a moderate Haredi shul (synagogue) and have some friends there. I can, apparently, “pass” on a basic level, even if I’m not a complete match for the ideology, and even if I worry a lot about being caught out. I feel a bit like I may not get the choice, as there are not many frum (religious) young people in the Modern Orthodox (United Synagogue) community in the UK, while the Haredi community is booming, and is younger (thanks to a high birth rate and high retention rate). There is also a tendency in my family for the men to marry “up” religiously and the women to marry “down” i.e. more religious women marrying less religious men. My previous girlfriends have mostly been less religious. Maybe that’s where I’ve been going wrong?

That would involve being set up on dates with Haredi women. The sex therapist from Intimate Judaism who responded to my email the other day offered to try to find a shadchan (matchmaker) specialising in people with “issues” for me. I’m not sure that she’s going to be able to do so, as I tried to find one myself some years ago, without success. But if she does manage it, I would imagine they would be more to the Haredi end of the spectrum, as shidduch dating (arranged dating) is more common there. So, again, that might push me in that direction.

Nevertheless, there is an issue here, which is my reliance on Doctor Who and other British TV science fiction as a coping mechanism as an autistic special interest and a coping mechanism for life stress. This is a bit weird even in the Modern Orthodox world (my Modern Orthodox rabbi mentor doesn’t even have a TV) and in the Haredi world TV is viewed with suspicion and even people who have one tend to keep it hidden. Being so into a TV programme (bear in mind I have even written and self-published a book on Doctor Who, for love rather than money) — well, it’s weird and geeky even in the secular world, let alone the Haredi world. I fear it would be a deal-breaker for many Haredi women and maybe even some Modern Orthodox ones.

I thought about the other obstacle I have to frum marriage, the fact I haven’t been to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary). Realistically, not going was probably the right decision for me, although if I hadn’t been in the depths of despair, a gap year after university instead of before might have worked. I worry about not being attractive to frum women by not being able to study Talmud, and potentially teach it to my children.

My parents think that I’m a good person and should therefore find a good wife, sooner or later. I’m not strongly convinced that I’m a good person (I think it’s more that lots of other people are subpar, and society is OK with that), but I worry that the type of woman I’m looking for will be looking for a good Jew rather than a good person, and that I’m not a good Jew because of my problems studying Talmud. I don’t think a frum woman would be faced with a choice between me and a bad person, but between me and an equally good person who can also study Talmud. This pushes me to date more non-frum women who wouldn’t care about Talmud studying ability, despite the problems I’ve had there. Then again, I could also say that a woman (frum or otherwise) would be faced with a choice between me and an equally good person who doesn’t have a shedload of other “issues.”

Which brings me back to the “special needs” shadchan. I haven’t tried this, but I worry that I would not be set up with the right sort of women. My one brief attempt at dating with a shadchan ended badly when, possibly because I had mentioned my depression and autism, she set me up with someone with learning disabilities who simply was not on my intellectual level. Admittedly, it didn’t help that there was zero chemistry between us, but I do wonder what would happen if I go down this route. Asperger’s is frustrating as it can involve being extremely intelligent and functional in academic areas, but absolutely not functional in basic social skills, which doesn’t make finding a compatible partner any easier.

So, for a day when I was supposed to be in the present and not worrying about my future, I was worrying a lot about my future. It didn’t help that work was quite slow. The morning was OK, but the afternoon was largely spent on fairly mindless work that left my brain free to worry about things. Being at work probably didn’t help, as I couldn’t really write things down to get them out of my brain until I got home. I’m going to post now, rather than before I get ready for bed as I usually do, to see if that helps me get rid of the thoughts and lets me sit in the present more this evening.

Also, the Talmud thing is a big issue for me (you may have noticed…), not just with dating, but with self-esteem and social conformity generally, and I don’t know what to do about it. Actually studying Talmud (the obvious solution) doesn’t work as I struggle so much with it. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways: different types of classes, chevruta (one-to-one) study, private study, all without success (actually, I did have some success with the LSJS class, but that was years ago and it hasn’t run since). I’ve been told it’s not an issue and I shouldn’t worry about it, but it seems like a big thing to me. I don’t know how to fit in comfortably to the frum community, whether looking for friends, community or a wife, without it. But my brain seems not to have been designed for Talmud study and now lacks the plasticity to learn.

Fear of Living, Fear of Dying

We have local elections next week. An election for the Mayor of London and a by-election to replace a local councillor who died. I didn’t want to go to a polling station in the pandemic, so I have a postal vote and need to send it soon. I don’t know who to vote for. I still feel pretty annoyed about all the parties. If I’m a “Tory anarchist” (as George Orwell wrote), lately the anarchist part is dominant. I’m pretty angry at the moment with political parties of all stripes, and big business, especially Big Tech.

Local government, including the London Mayor, doesn’t really have much power in the UK, so the whole election seems pretty pointless. I don’t know who my local councillors are or have much of a sense of what they do. I did know the one who died, sort of, but only because he was well-known in the local Jewish community, and because he was the solicitor who acted for the people my parents bought their house from in the sale. As for the Mayor, in theory he has powers about a range of things, but I only really have a sense of him as the person who decides if the Tube fares go up. Most people just use local elections as a glorified opinion poll on whichever party is in power in central government.

In the last European elections, mid–Brexit, I spoiled my ballot and wrote abusive comments by the candidates’ names, the only time I have done this, because I was so angry that the parties could not get their act together to sort Brexit out, to the extent that we were having European Parliament elections while trying to leave the EU. I didn’t even have particularly strong views about Brexit, I just wanted to get it over with and get back to reality. When the last general election happened, I was still angry and voted mainly to keep Jeremy Corbyn out than because I was impressed with anything anyone else was offering. Now I’m mainly apathetic. I don’t think there’s one party that represents what I think, not even close. I don’t even think I have the energy to spoil my ballot.

I was brought up to take voting seriously because “people died to get you the vote” (which is actually a really stupid reason to do anything). And I think people should take voting and politics seriously, it’s just very hard to admire the current crop of politicians, and hard to feel that anyone listens to people like me at the moment. I’m not even sure what I would say if someone was listening.

Ugh, I didn’t mean to write 400 words on politics, I just feel annoyed and confused.

***

Other than that, it was a quiet day. I had therapy, I drafted my devar Torah (pretty much on autopilot, it’s not one I’m particularly proud of) and looked over the next Talmud section before shiur (religious class) on Shabbat. I didn’t go for a walk as it rained a lot and I was too drained to walk in the rain after therapy. I feel like I’m doing a lot of what I want to be doing… but I haven’t done any fiction writing for about two months! The friend who said she would read my novel said to wait until after Pesach, so I waited until then, but then I got cold feet about sending it to her as I wasn’t sure if she wanted to be paid, or how enthusiastic she was about reading it. I didn’t want her to do it out of some kind of sense of obligation. Now JYP is reading it, but I feel I ought to try to write something else to keep the writing habit going while I’m waiting, but I don’t know what. I have an idea for another novel, but I’m not sure it’s sensible to start it yet. I’m not sure what will happen to my work, exercise and Torah study regime when I try to factor in an hour or two of fiction writing a day, but we’ll see.

***

In therapy we spoke about being in the present rather than falling into anxiety about future careers and future relationships (or the lack of either). I said that I feel I missed some developmental stages when I was a teenager. Because I was autistic, but didn’t know it, and because I’d been bullied a lot, I withdrew into myself. Autism made me fear change and the unknown, and being bullied made me fear other people my age (I still struggle to feel comfortable with older children or teenagers). I didn’t go to youth groups the way most Jewish teenagers do. I didn’t date or party or do any kind of leadership or personal growth activity. A bunch of my friends went backpacking in Europe the summer after we finished school and I was originally going with them, but fairly early on in the planning I stage I panicked and backed out of it.

Now I find I need to go through the adolescent maturation stage, twenty years too late, regarding finding what I like to do and what I can do, career, friendships, relationships and so on. This was when my therapist spoke about staying in the present and not trying to worry about the “What ifs?” of career and relationships. To focus on being satisfied with the work I do and not worrying about how it will lead to a career, and to focus on making a connection with someone and not worrying about whether we will get married. I do feel like the clock is ticking on both things, though.

I didn’t mention this in therapy, but a while back I heard about Otto Rank, who was a student of Sigmund Freud. Unlike Freud, he saw the human psyche as being driven by two fears, the fear of living and the fear of dying. Rather than their literal meanings, he saw the fear of living as being the fear of individuation and separation, and the fear of dying as the fear of being absorbed into the collective. I tend to bounce between these two quite violently, wanting to individuate and be different from other people, particularly in a religious community that I find quite conformist, but I also want acceptance in the community, close friends and a romantic relationship, which involve, or seem to involve, making at least some concessions to the expectations of other people. What I want more than anything is to be fully accepted, with all my “issues” and geeky quirks and complicated history, but I’m scared of making myself vulnerable enough to discover whether anyone could accept me.

The email I received from Intimate Judaism yesterday said that they don’t have time to answer every email sent to them, but my “sense of isolation” was very apparent in the email I sent them and they wanted to respond. I guess it seems a bit strange to see that written down. I am a lonely person and have been so since my teens (if not earlier), but it’s just a kind of constant background noise for me. I do have a ‘loneliness’ tag on my blog, but I think I use it much less frequently than tags for ‘depression’, ‘autism’ and ‘anxiety’.

I wrote a whole essay for Hevria years ago on loneliness, where I think I said that the term obscures the fact that there are different kinds of loneliness. Someone can have family and yet still lack friends, for example. I myself have family and a few friends, especially online, but have few in-person friends (which I instinctively feel I would like, even if I can’t express why) and also lack anyone for my romantic/sexual side. I also, as I said, want to feel completely known and accepted. Above all, I feel that I want God to accept me, as only He can really know me, but I want to be accepted by human beings too, even though I’m hiding much of myself from them, even here.

***

I’m currently bearded, because of the omer, the period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Pentecost), part of which is observed as a time of national mourning, involving not holding celebrations, listening to music, cutting hair or shaving. I feel really self-conscious seeing myself bearded on Skype and Zoom calls. It just looks wrong. I kept looking at myself rather than my therapist on my Zoom therapy call today. Plus, people ask me why I’m growing a beard; “I’m not growing a beard, I’m just not shaving” is a confusing response. It itches too. At least I can shave it off on Friday.

Coming Out As Autistic

I didn’t watch The Favourite in the end last night. After about ten minutes of it, my parents decided that, for a comedy, it was too weird and unfunny and stopped watching. I don’t mind weird, so I carried on for another twenty minutes or so, but I felt self-conscious, like there was a voice in my head asking me all the time if I was really enjoying it. Plus, I was getting annoyed by all the anachronisms. There was no “Prime Minister” or “Loyal Opposition” in Queen Anne’s reign and, although I wasn’t sure about this, I doubted that there was grouse shooting either (it seems I was right — I think in the early eighteenth century we’re still talking about guns that are difficult to aim accurately and take ages to reload). Also, while I can see that authentic eighteenth century dialogue would be off-putting, Tory leader Robert Harley saying something was “cute” just sounded weird (I was more offended by that than by conspicuous use of another four-letter word beginning with ‘c’ which was at least more authentic). So, I stopped watching, but I do vaguely wonder if I should have persevered.

I was a little burnt out on waking today, tired and a bit low, but I did manage to get ready for work. I had a small moral dilemma at work. Nothing huge, an issue of copyright law, but I feel a bit bad thinking about how I dealt with it. Other things being equal, I would not have done what I was asked to do, but I didn’t feel it was important enough to complain about, but now I feel vaguely guilty. I feel similarly bad about not socially distancing properly when I was dating PIMOJ, which was again something I sort of went along with to avoid making a fuss. I definitely find it easier to make a stand when I’m by myself, which is not a good thing.

At work I did tell J about my Asperger’s (I used that term rather than autism, although he did mention autism as something similar and I said it was a spectrum without going into details). I mentioned it in regard to processing verbal information, multitasking and phone conversations, as they seemed to be the most relevant areas. With regard to the first point, he said it’s OK to take notes. As for the other points, I didn’t make any specific requests or suggestions. It was a bit of a non-event and I suppose he may have been wondering why I brought it up, as nothing practical really came out of it, which I guess is a lesson for when I talk to the rabbi (which I still haven’t decided about yet).

We finished work early. We were going to one of our other sites briefly and J wanted to go before the rush hour traffic started, so I had a very truncated work day.

I wrote to the Intimate Judaism podcasters. I feel rather nervous about it. I worry I said too much. I would be a useless spy, I have the urge to confess all my secrets (see also: this blog). I’m also worried they’ll remember I wrote to them a year or so ago, when my life situation was rather different. I thought they wouldn’t remember, as they get loads of emails, so didn’t mention it, but now wonder if I should have done so. I asked for tips dealing with long-term celibacy and religious guilt, as well as feeling on the fringes of the frum (religious) community because of autism and mental illness. I’m not sure if a rabbi and a sex therapist were the best people to ask about the latter, but, having mentioned that I feel on the margins of the community as both a cause and a result of being single, it seemed silly not to mention it.

I had depression group in the evening. I wasn’t feeling particularly depressed, but wanted to go to support others, although I don’t say much in these meetings, aside from when it’s my turn to speak. I do this even when they’re in person, let alone on Zoom. I can’t always think of something to say and rarely work up the courage to say it; if I manage both of those things, the moment has usually gone by the time I’m ready to say anything. But I’m glad I went. I do feel more self-conscious at these meetings now I’m talking more about autism than depression, though. I’m not entirely sure why that is.

***

Recreation-wise, I finished reading Vampire Romance (amusing, but I found there were too many characters to keep track of in such a short novella). I just started reading Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell. I’ve read all of Orwell’s essays, even the not-famous ones, but not any of his book-length non-fiction. In terms of TV, I’ve been watching The Simpsons while I still have access to Disney+, although the more recent episodes are not very funny. My Babylon 5 re-watch is on hold (at an exciting bit) as the season four DVDs needed replacing like the earlier ones (why? WHY??). I’m also watching Doctor Who: The Time Monster, probably the least successful serial from Jon Pertwee’s five years in the title role. I’m not sure why I picked it. I think I wanted to watch something with Pertwee and, because this isn’t very good, I haven’t watched it as much as some of the others. It is silly, although not in the deliberate way something like The Creature from the Pit or Love & Monsters is silly. Nevertheless, I marvel that, in 1972, dialogue like “Being without becoming — an ontological absurdity!” was deemed suitable for a family show with a large child audience.

***

Names encountered today at work: Abraham Abrahams and Nathan Nathan (genuine names, but from the nineteenth century). Reminds me of Catch-22 and Major Major.

I (Don’t) Want To Hold Your Hand

Surprisingly, after going to bed after 1am last night, I woke up at 7.30am this morning and, after failing to get back to sleep, eventually got up before 8.00am, which is pretty much unprecedented on a non-work day!

I didn’t do much: a bit more Torah study than usual, a tiny bit of miniature painting (tidying things up) and a run (I felt heavy and lumpish at first, but my pace did improve as I went on). I’m also going to watch the film The Favourite (about Queen Anne) with my parents later. It was actually a relaxing day, which is not usually the case for me, as I tend to have things I want to do, usually more than I have time and energy to get done.

These are the fantasy wargaming miniatures I was painting (lizard men). I’m not entirely happy with them, but I’ve run out of patience to work on them more. They are quite small and fiddly, which isn’t so obvious in the picture.

***

I think I need to “come out” as autistic/Aspie. I hope to speak to J tomorrow about being on the spectrum and how it affects my work, specifically regarding difficulty using multiple spreadsheets and data bases at once (I get confused about which ones I’ve entered data in) and difficulty taking in a lot of spoken instructions in one go (I need to take notes). I might also say that I’m not always good with unstructured conversations, especially on the phone, which might impact on my work, particularly the new task I’m doing, which is on the phone, although it is actually a fairly structured conversation.

I’m thinking of talking to my community rabbi (not my rabbi mentor, who I’ve already told) about it too, but I’m not sure when. I’d rather do it in person than on Zoom or the phone, but lockdown doesn’t fully lift until June and that’s quite a long way off. I’m also not sure what I want to tell him, not least because I don’t have a clear sense of how autism affects me at shul, just that I often feel uncomfortable there. I’m not sure if I want to ask not to be given aliyot for a while; it would make me less socially anxious, but is running away from my fears instead of confronting them.

I am nervous about this, as I worry how people will react. I will probably self-describe as having “Asperger’s Syndrome” rather than “high-functioning autism” as I think the latter tends to make people assume lower capability than the former. This, despite my discomfort with mentioning Dr Asperger because of his Nazi/euthanasia links. I think there is a misconception that autism is a learning disability rather than a difficulty with communication and various other things such as executive function and multitasking. I need to find a way to explain this. This is especially important regarding dating. I think my one experience with a formal shadchan (matchmaker) went badly because of this, although I can’t prove it.

***

I found a study of Orthodox Jewish families in Manchester with children with autistic spectrum disorder or ADHD. It talked about hiding diagnoses to avoid stigma and of the child’s “difference” leading the family not feeling “belongingness” [sic] in the community. It does not correspond exactly to my experience, as these are much younger children, and less functional than I was at that age, but I do feel the sense of “difference” and not belonging, particularly with regard to marriage and family, as well as my impaired ability to participate confidently in activities where the social and the religious overlap e.g. kiddush (refreshments after shul) or seudah shlishit (the third Sabbath meal, held in shul). I feel this difference even if other people don’t explicitly notice it or draw attention to it e.g. if I manage to function well and “pass,” but feel it’s taking me a lot of effort and energy to do so and possibly end up very burnt out afterwards.

Possibly there is a need for someone to be a more visible high functioning autistic/Aspie in the Orthodox community to raise awareness, although, perhaps inevitably, I would only want to be that person if I could be visible in a quiet, unsocial way.

***

I think my lack of socialisation into the frum (religious Jewish) world despite decades of observance and my lack of romantic success go together, although both are obviously connected with my autism/Asperger’s and my poor mental health history. It goes both ways: my lack of socialisation has resulted in not being set up on dates, as per the usual method of Orthodox finding a spouse, but on the other hand, if I’d managed to marry someone frum, that would probably have brought me more into the flow of frum social life, because presumably she would have frum friends and a community that I would suddenly be a part of. Instead, I’ve tended to date women who are also on the fringes of the frum community, or outside it completely. My rabbi mentor has encouraged me to do this (date less frum women) and I admit I wonder if he would so encourage someone who didn’t have the social issues that I have. Is he being meikel (lenient) because he suspects I won’t get married otherwise? I’ve never had the courage to ask him.

Related to this is a feeling that I should be go back to being shomer negiah (not touching people of the opposite sex) when dating. I was shomer negiah when I dated my first girlfriend (the only one from inside the frum community), but she put a lot of pressure on me to change, which I did, not entirely unwillingly. We hugged a bit and she tried to kiss me once, which I didn’t like, and I’ve never been able to work out if that was because I wasn’t expecting it or if it’s another autistic touch thing that will be a problem down the line. We broke up when she started pressuring me to sleep with her, or seemed to be doing that; I’m honestly not sure if she knew what she wanted. I think she stopped being frum soon afterwards and left the Orthodox community.

My second relationship was long-distance and we were not around in person when we were actually dating, but E said she would wait to get married for sex, but not for hugging and I agreed to that in principle, again not entirely unwillingly. But we were not in the same country when we were dating. With PIMOJ recently, we held hands and hugged, but I felt increasingly uncomfortable with it, partly from fear we would meet someone I knew from shul, partly because I was conscious of breaking COVID protocol, but also I suppose because of the problems we were having with intimacy and opening up to each other in the relationship. When we broke up, she said she sensed I was feeling uncomfortable hugging, but put it down to relationship issues; I’m not sure how aware she was about shomer negiah (or COVID, which she was a lot less scrupulous about than I was), although I had half-heartedly tried to talk to her about it.

I wonder vaguely if this is covering for an autistic desire not to be touched. I don’t think so, although I have less “touch hunger” lately, but I think it is defending myself against touch I’m not ready for, as well as trying to cement my position in the frum community, a position that I don’t think I hold strongly enough to be able to cope with becoming shomer negiah again.

(And, now this is turning into a ‘frum autism sex/celibacy blog,’ if you can imagine such a thing.)

Eventful Day; Also Sex and the Single Orthodox Jew

Today was a pretty good day, but some unpleasantly familiar thoughts hovered in the background and at times came into the foreground.

Work was quite eventful. In the morning, J and I went to one of the organisation’s other sites. I’m not really able to say here what site it was, because it would make it too easy to work out where I work although it was somewhere people don’t usually go. I didn’t feel I contributed much, but it was interesting to see it. We weren’t there for long, about half an hour, but the length of the journey there and back meant we were out for most of the morning.

In the car on the way back, J and I went over the new task he’s training me for again, roleplaying a typical situation again. I felt I did badly at this, although I didn’t have my notes or the forms I would normally be filling in as part of the process; obviously it’s easier to remember what to say if you have a form of blank spaces to fill in right in front of you. Still, I felt a bit self-critical, something made worse by a mistake I caught this morning (by chance) that I must have made on Monday. I do worry about how many mistakes I must make that I don’t catch in time. I feel that I should be better at handling these tasks; after all, people on the autism spectrum are supposed to be good at routine tasks. I think the problem is that I have to have different spreadsheets and data bases open at the same time and people on the spectrum are not good at multitasking and going from one thing to another like that.

In the afternoon, a situation arose when I had to actually work through a type of situation that we had been practising in the morning. Again, I’d love to say what I had to do, but it would make where I work too obvious. Suffice to say that the task is not particularly autism-friendly or social anxiety-friendly, involving phoning various people, some of whom might be emotional, and getting quite a bit of information verbally and transcribing it correctly. I think I did OK, and J was listening in to the call and nudged me once or twice about some things, but I also think that maybe the time has come to tell J about my autism/Asperger’s diagnosis and what it means for me, especially about the way I struggle to take in rapid verbal information (J has a habit of throwing a lot of information at me at once). I’m not sure what exactly to say though.

One other awkward thing happened at work: I can’t easily check my emails on my phone and was hoping for an email from a friend who I was worried about, so during lunch I logged on to webmail on my work computer, only to be confronted with a not safe for work email subject line from the Intimate Judaism podcast. This features an Orthodox rabbi and sex therapist talking about sex and intimacy in the Orthodox world. I would not have done that if I had known the message would be there, but they email very rarely.

Best moment of the day: realising on the way to the other site that we were driving across a bridge that appeared in Doctor Who. Tom Baker stood here. It’s the little things…

***

I like the Intimate Judaism podcast (when it’s not embarrassing me at work), but after the awkward email today I found myself wondering why. I started listening to it when I was dating E. Although she was not frum (religious Jewish), she thought it might help me deal with some of the questions and anxieties I have about sex (in general and also in terms of Jewish law). Which it does, and it also has given me insight into parts of the frum world that I would not otherwise know about, which has been useful in my writing. I doubt I would have written a novel that highlights issues of sexual consent in Orthodox marriage without several discussions of this issue on the podcast making me aware of it.

However, it also highlights my feeling that I’m some kind of freak for being a virgin at thirty-seven, doubly so in a community where people typically marry in their early twenties and where kiruv (out-reach) professionals like to boast that Judaism celebrates marital sexuality. As well as feeling freakish, it makes me wonder if I can ever get married. For one thing, is there anyone left to marry? And can someone like me (autistic, socially anxious, prone to bouts of depression, not on a real career path) find someone to love him? I guess it turns sex into a spectator sport for me. Not in a pornographic sense, but in the sense that I’m listening to other people discuss their sex lives, knowing full well it’s of only academic interest to me, that I can’t get involved myself.

I actually feel like a freak and a child a lot, although I feel like a freak less often since I started making progress towards my autism diagnosis. These feelings are not just from being a virgin, they’re also from living with my parents; not working full-time; finding social interactions awkward; not being well-socialised into the frum community and so on. Nevertheless, being a virgin is a big part of it, not least because “being a virgin” is tied up so much with living with my social and emotional issues and lack of socialisation into the frum community.

Having only just broken up with PIMOJ, I don’t have any intention of dating again soon, nor do I feel optimistic that I will find the right person quickly (or at all) when I do try to date again, or even have a good idea what “dating again” would look like for me. I feel I’m out of options other than professional shadchanim (match-makers), a prospect that terrifies me. I’m not sure how I navigate the feelings of difference and inadequacy in the meantime.

I think about sex too much for a frum person. I wish I didn’t, it seems like I’m tormenting myself endlessly with what I can never know. I also feel that I write about it too much here, but feel I have to because (a) no one else does and (b) I need to vent periodically and I don’t have anywhere else to do it.

I am vaguely thinking about emailing the Intimate Judaism presenters about this, although I’m not sure what I’d say or what kind of response I’d be hoping for.

***

Related to this, I was trying to think what lessons I learnt from the three relationships I have managed to keep together for a few months (I think eight or nine months is the record).

Relationship 1) My first relationship, rather late (aged twenty-seven) so lots of things learnt for the first time: that someone could want to go out with me for a longish period; that I could actually maintain a relationship; and that I could care about someone else and make sacrifices for her. From the ending of the relationship, I learnt that I could set boundaries and end a relationship when I realised those boundaries were being trampled on (I used to wonder if I would stay in a painful relationship indefinitely for fear of being single).

2a) I’m not sure what I learnt from dating E first time around. Maybe that I could make a long-distance relationship work for a bit. Or maybe that even someone who really cared about me and wanted to marry me could still not cope with my “issues” in the long run.

2b) I suspect the main thing I learnt from dating E second time around was that on/off relationships are not a good idea and that if I’ve come to feel that a relationship could not have worked, restarting it because of loneliness and the excitement of the other person saying she made a mistake and still cares about me is not a good idea.

3) That a relationship needs chemistry as well as shared values to work (which is not always the Jewish dating experts’ message) and that while relationships need trust based on shared vulnerability, it has to be mutual or it won’t work.

Something I learnt from all my relationships is not to look back and wonder if it was a mistake to break up or there is no end to the potential regret and self-doubt.

Powerless To Be Born

I’ve had a fragment of poetry in my head lately. Searching online, it’s from Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse by Matthew Arnold, a poem I don’t remember ever having read, although I have read Arnold’s Dover Beach, which is where I initially thought the line was from. It goes, “Wandering between two worlds, one dead/The other powerless to be born”. It sums up how I feel lately, in terms of my autism diagnosis, relationship breakdown and job situation.

I do think things can change. Ten years ago, I was twenty-seven. I had never had a paid job because of severe depression, was struggling with my Master’s degree again because of depression, had never been in a relationship or even gone on a date (actually, my first ever date was pretty much exactly ten years ago). I had largely put aside ideas of being on the spectrum after being assessed and told that I was not on the spectrum. I lived in a much smaller Jewish community and went to a shul (synagogue) that wasn’t an ideal match for me. I had occasional minor religious OCD, which would get a lot worse before I would get over it.

I still seem to struggle with low mood, even though I’m not sure I meet the diagnostic criteria for depression any more. And I’m still single and not in full-time work (or anywhere near), but I am in work and I have had enough relationships to think I’m not inherently unworthy of being in a relationship at least some of the time. And I’m diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome/high functioning autism, which has been a relief to finally have confirmed, despite all the difficulties that I have to deal with because of it. And I live in a much larger Jewish community and go to a shul that fits me better, even if it isn’t perfect. So things can change, just geologically slowly. Or that’s how it feels.

It’s strange that things seem so finely balanced between the good and the bad at the moment. I don’t really know what to think. I still hope to have some kind of career, in a meaningful sense, and not just isolated jobs. I’d like to be a professional writer, but that seems an unlikely thing to aim for, especially given my lack of success pitching articles to people. I hope to become financially self-sufficient at some point, unlikely though that sometimes seems. I really, really hope I have a relationship that works out at some point (where “working out” ideally means successful marriage and children, although I’m getting to the stage where I wouldn’t rule out getting married in my fifties or older, if that’s how long it takes for me to get my life together and meet the right person).

The thing is, there’s very little I can do at the moment to advance any of these things at the moment. I have to wait and hope it all works itself out somehow, which is scary. I should trust in God (PIMOJ would have said to trust in God), but, as I’ve mentioned before, although I believe in God and consider myself to live a frum (religious) life, I have a mental block around bitachon (trust in God). I believe that He does what He feels is best for me, but I fear that “what He feels is best for me,” will involve a lot of emotional pain and suffering, as it apparently did ten years ago.

***

I went to bed late last night and woke up late this morning. I think my sleep was disturbed, judging by the state of the sheets when I woke, but I don’t remember particularly disturbing dreams or anything like that. I had a lot to do today and didn’t really want to do any of it. I needed to phone the autism hospital about the mistakes they made in my diagnostic report; cook dinner; continue with my job application and start my devar Torah (Torah thought). Usually when I read the week’s Torah reading on Sunday, I get an idea of what I want to write about, but this week I had no idea. The double sedra (portion) had lots of mitzvot (commandments), but none really grabbed me as something I wanted to write about, except for one bit that was too similar to something I wrote about a couple of months ago.

However, I just felt depressed and burnt out. At 2.45pm, I was still in my pyjamas and hadn’t done anything since eating breakfast. I would get up, fiddle around on the computer for a bit, and go back to bed to feel lonely and depressed. I played the “I’m depressed and burnt out enough to listen to music in the omer” card, as my rabbi mentor said I could, but quietly, because I still don’t feel comfortable explaining that to my parents. I don’t know why I don’t feel comfortable explaining it.

I did eventually get dressed, somehow put on tallit and tefillin and davened Minchah (said the Afternoon Prayers) as I had missed Shacharit (Morning Prayers). I had lunch (watching The Simpsons to try to raise my mood a bit) and tried to Do Things. It was 4.30pm by this stage. I phoned the number my Mum has for the autism hospital (not the main switchboard, one of the secretaries’ work mobile number that she somehow got hold of and has been using as it’s more direct). There was no answer, but I left a message.

Dinner seemed the next priority, on the grounds that I could apply for the job tomorrow, but if I didn’t cook dinner, we’d all go hungry, especially as Mum was tired from treatment today. I listened to a twenty minute online shiur (religious class) while cooking, but it didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know. I’ve been unlucky picking shiurim that way lately. The idea was to listen to the shiur while cooking so that I could do some Torah study even if I was too burnt out and depressed to read anything afterwards.

I went for a walk after cooking dinner. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings that are hard to categorise, beyond noting they are negative. I’ve noticed that my thoughts become more visual when I feel depressed and agitated, snatches of images, and also negative feelings without thoughts (I’ve never agreed with the CBT idea that negative feelings are always caused by negative thoughts). I’m not sure I can put anything I was feeling into words, just feelings of being useless, of my novel being bad, of not contributing anything online, of wanting to withdraw from people, but also, I suppose, hoping they will follow me if I do. Wondering how many of my thoughts (about politics, religion, culture) are my own and how much are other people’s. Not in a psychotic “I think the government is beaming ideas into my head” sense, but just that we pick up stuff without really thinking from friends and family, colleagues, broadcast media, social media… I find it’s hard to really think about things and reach meaningful conclusions that are completely my own, or at least rigorously interrogated by me until I am sure they are true. Is that just me?

When I got home, I tried to force myself to work on the job application, even though the format — separate boxes to write in for every essential and desirable criterion — made it quite clear that I don’t have all the skills and experience they want. I persevered, but mostly because I felt my parents wanted me to. They say to apply for jobs I don’t meet the criteria for in the hope that I will (somehow) still be the best candidate (see what I mean about not coming to my own conclusions). I worry for the academic library sector if I’m the best candidate for this job. I don’t even know what terms like “synchronous and asynchronous library inductions” and “bibliometrics” mean, although I can guess. I am certainly not up-to-date with developments in higher education and copyright law, let alone in pedagogy. And I don’t think I have the “Ability to think innovatively and creatively to solve problems and improve services”.

Some of the jobs I see require so many skills that I feel daunted to compare the skills and experiences of those who I imagine are applying with my own. And these aren’t even particularly high-flying jobs! I just feel like I somehow picked up a library MA and library work experience by muddling through somehow and have been floundering ever since.

Not for the first time, I feel like the man in Kafka’s Parable of the Law (originally from The Trial, but also published as a separate story) who tries everything to get to the Law, but never makes it, even though the door he was at was only made for him, eventually dying on the threshold. I feel like I keep trying to get a job, get published, get married, make friends, and fit in to my community, but I can never quite do it. But I keep trying. I’m not sure if that’s perseverance or stupidity.

I feel that, as an autistic/Aspie, I struggle with applications and interviews. They tend to ask open questions, and autistic people do not fare well with open questions. We don’t know what to say. I know when I get a statement like write about “Experience of providing excellent support in an academic or research library” I should try to find concrete examples of things I’ve done in different jobs, but it’s hard to even think of examples, let alone relate them. I’m sure I have provided excellent support (OK, “more than just adequate support”), but I find it hard to work out what exactly they mean and think of examples where I’ve done it.

I spent about fifty minutes on the application, although technically a big chunk of that time was spent writing part of this blog post to vent my irritation. I went back and did another ten or fifteen minutes after dinner too, so it’s nearly completed.

I was just sitting down to dinner (and Babylon 5) when my phone rang. It was one of my shul (synagogue) friends phoning to ask about the fundraising for the new building. We had arranged it, but I forgot to put it in my diary, and if it’s not in my diary, I forget about it. I was probably somewhat incoherent, from being taken by surprise and from the subject matter, but I did not agree to make a bigger donation than I can afford, and I did not agree to set up a “team page” for my family (i.e. me) on the shul‘s forthcoming fundraising page. It was awkward doing this with my friend, but I think if it was anyone else, I would not have had the confidence to say no.

After dinner I worked on the job application a while longer, as I mentioned, and did another fifteen minutes of Torah study, but then I started to get tired and decided to call it a night.

For a day where part of me would have stayed in pyjamas, feeling lonely, depressed and burnt out, I did manage to do quite a few things. It’s easy to focus on the negative (I didn’t write my devar Torah, or do as much Torah study as I wanted; I didn’t finish the job application), but I managed quite a bit despite low mood and energy. I just wish life on the spectrum for me wasn’t just damage limitation, constantly running to get things done without any sense of purpose or direction (there’s a line from Babylon 5: Signs and Portents where Londo says “I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment…afraid to look back, or to look forward.” He’s talking politically, about the decline of the Centauri Republic but that’s how I feel in my whole life). And I wish I didn’t still have such deep lows (whether I’m clinically depressed or not). And I wish I wasn’t lonely (although I’m probably less lonely than I was now I have an online support network to supplement my other support).

Anyway, this is a super-long post (really two posts in one), so thanks if you read to the end!

Thoughts of a Frum Writer/Geek

I was sorting a load of papers relating to weddings from the last fifty years or more at work today. I don’t want to say too much about what and why because I don’t want to say too much about where I work. But I looked at the ages of when people got married. In the recent paperwork, there were quite a lot of people about my age, although mostly a little younger than me. So I guess that’s a bit reassuring that I haven’t totally missed the boat. But the papers also listed occupations, and most people were settled into good careers before marriage. Lots of Jewish doctors and Jewish lawyers, of both sexes.

I suppose I’ll muddle my way through life somehow, but I fear it could involve muddling through lifelong singledom and loneliness as well as lifelong financial (not to mention emotional) dependence on my parents. I guess this is one of the reasons I don’t like the term “high functional autism,” because I don’t feel that I function well when I’m this dependent and lonely.

***

Intermittently during the day (not just when dealing with marriages), I remembered PIMOJ and feel sad, but I still feel like I did the right thing in breaking up.

***

A Jewish writer whose blog I follow wrote today about her remorse at unconsciously using a trope in one of her children’s novels that she now considers racist, the “white saviour” trope. This pushed back into the forefront of my mind some issues that I have with my work-in-progress novel. One is the lack of non-white characters. It is mostly set in the London Jewish community, which is very white, but there are more peripheral characters that could be non-white. There are one or two already, but I might change the backgrounds of some others when I redraft. The other problem, which I’ve struggled with from the early stages of writing, is working out how to structure the climax of my plot so that the male protagonist contributes something meaningful to the resolution of the female secondary character’s plot without it looking like she has no agency (not so much a white saviour as a male one). I’ve changed the plot back and forth struggling to resolve this. The dynamic of the story, which requires tying A and B plots together, is at odds with my desire to show a capable and self-sufficient female character. Possibly this is where I really need feedback from an objective editor.

***

This is a very old post that I came across and read, about consumption of secular media by frum (religious) women. My personal outlook is closest to Kochava’s in the comments section. Reading the other responses, I wasn’t surprised how many were very anti-secular media. I already knew that most frum people have a negative view of secular media, even if they sometimes watch/listen to it. But I guess it did drive home to me that my novel (and perhaps the future novels I’m already planning) won’t find much of a home in the Orthodox world. My novel is not PG-rated, with suicide attempts and marital rape, as well as other sexual discussion. PIMOJ, who I think had a conservative upbringing (although not what you might think) was shocked by it. She asked me if I would want it read out in the Heavenly court and I unhesitatingly said yes, because I think what I wrote is true and needed saying. People on the spectrum and with mental health issues do suffer in the frum community. There are men in the frum community who don’t understand sexual consent in marriage. These are problems that are not going to go away if we ignore them. (Also, Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) is really not PG-rated either.) But I worry that I’m in effect speaking to people outside the community, which isn’t terribly helpful.

I know, I need to get the book finished and published before I worry about this…

This is also part of the reason I struggle to integrate into frum society. Even in my current, moderate Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community, some people have TVs, although many don’t. But to obsess over a TV programme as I do after Doctor Who and other TV science fiction is not really considered normal (it’s not considered that normal in the secular world). I’ve written and self-published a non-fiction book about Doctor Who, which is taking things to an extreme. This is out of the realm of relaxation and into the realm of autistic special interests, which can be intense and personality-shaping.

I’m pretty sure that my fondness for science fiction is rooted in my autism. I watch “outer space” programmes like Star Trek and Babylon 5, but my real interest and autistic passion is for series like Doctor Who, The Prisoner or Twin Peaks, where we see a real world that is distorted by the bizarre. Similarly for prose authors like Kafka, Borges and Philip K Dick who push the boundaries of the real. Because of my autism, I experience the world in a way that is similar to the way that neurotypical people experience it, but with weird distorting twists that make it hard to understand or cope with, so naturally I’m drawn to fiction that works like that, albeit exaggerated to an extreme. But it’s hard to explain this to people who are anti-TV or anti-secular culture, or who admit it to unwind after a tough day, but think it’s not entirely right to watch it.

Perhaps it would be easier if I went to a Modern Orthodox community, but Modern Orthodoxy in the UK means the United Synagogue, where most people are not shomer Shabbat (keeping the Sabbath, a litmus test for religious observance) and the few who are religious probably have similar ideas about TV to the people in my current community. Possibly I’m exaggerating (autistic black and white thinking), but it’s how I felt when I went to a US shul.

***

More frum thoughts: I realised I have the following thoughts a lot: I did not go to yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) as most frum men do on their gap year; I am not integrated into the frum community; I am not married; I am a bad Jew. It occurs to me that I present them as true and causal: I did not go to yeshiva therefore I am not integrated into the frum community therefore I am not married therefore because of all three of these things I am a bad Jew. Yet I see now that the first three statements are not causal and may have nothing to do with each other. Even if I had gone to yeshiva, I might not have integrated into the community or got married. And the “bad Jew” statement is frankly question-begging.

Which is not to say that I don’t feel like a bad Jew right now, because I do, but for different reasons.

***

Speaking of yeshiva and Talmud study, I tried to do some Talmud study this evening, reviewing the class from Shabbat. I really struggled with it. It didn’t help that I was very tired; unfortunately, after work seems the best time for Talmud study at the moment, if I want to keep up with the weekly classes, which isn’t ideal.

***

Other than, it was a fairly dull day: not much to do at work. I went for a walk when I got home, having realised that usually when working I would walk home from the station, but J has been giving me a lift, so I haven’t been exercising as much. I want to make this a routine on work days, although doing that and Talmud study might prove tricky.

Special Souls and Scapegoats

I’m feeling down today. I feel drained and listless. Also guilty. These days most of my guilt comes from wrestling with my sex drive and loneliness. I want to love and be loved, but I feel incapable of either of these, which sets me on a downward spiral to emotional places I don’t want to go (“sin” if you want to use stark Victorian words). Also, periodically I think about PIMOJ and feel sad that it didn’t work out for us and guilty that I upset her by breaking up with her. Watching Babylon 5 just reminds me that I thought she was like Delenn: gentle spiritual and intelligent, but even then the relationship didn’t work; I couldn’t open up to her or be myself with her. So who could I be myself with if I can’t be with someone who was practically my dream partner?

My sister and brother-in-law came over for socially distanced tea and biscuits this afternoon. I ate too much cake and biscuits, but otherwise had a good time. Then I left early to work on a job application and my mood came down again as I realised how my skills have atrophied and my career stagnated (see below). I went for a run after my Torah study, but it failed to boost my mood much.

There’s an idea in Judaism, particularly in Jewish mysticism (kabbalah) that people with severe learning disabilities, including severe autism, have special souls. I’m not particularly mystically minded (a problem PIMOJ had with me), but I wonder how this applies to high functioning autism. Somehow it doesn’t seem like the same idea applies to me, given how functional I am compared to a non-verbal person. Yet autism is a spectrum; at what point on it does having a special soul not apply? It would help me feel less broken and defective, and less of a disappointment to God and my parents, if this was the case, but maybe this idea is not coming from a good place in me. Maybe I just want to feel special, or at least special in a good way, rather than just feeling like a “broken” failure and freak.

I don’t know what can be done for someone like me who wants to fit in to the frum (religious Jewish) community, but doesn’t know how, who wants to love, but can’t find someone willing to love him and so on.

***

I read this week’s sedrot (Torah portions) of Acharei Mot and Kedoshim. Acharei Mot starts with the High Priest’s Temple service on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), including the choosing of two goats by lot, one sacrificed in the Temple and one sent into the wilderness and thrown off a cliff, symbolically carrying away the sins of the Jewish people. This goat is known in Christian Bibles as the scapegoat (hence the term). The Talmud talks about this at some length and speaks about the two goats being, as far as possible, identical in size and colour, like twins. People talk about the symbolism of this, the two goats that looked identical and expected the same fate, but the High Priest drew lots and one goat was sacrificed in the Temple (which is supposed to be the best thing that can happen to a goat) and one died horribly in the wilderness, symbolising that we don’t really know what will happen to us.

When I was at primary school, I had a “mentor friend” (as Tony Attwood describes a neurotypical child who befriends an autistic child and models social behaviour for him). We looked quite similar, except that he was a lot taller than me and had redder hair. We were together a lot and people thought we were brothers. We went on to secondary school together, where we drifted apart a bit, but stayed friends. We went on to Oxford together, although I ended up a year ahead of him, as he took a gap year at yeshiva (rabbinical seminary) first. We are still friends (we didn’t end up enemies like the Doctor and Master!).

I wonder about us in the light of the scapegoat. He started dating someone at the age of fourteen or fifteen; they have been married for many years now, with children. He has (non-Orthodox) rabbinic ordination and his own community as rabbi. He is very charismatic, was the centre of our geeky friendship group at primary and secondary school and was active in the Jewish Society at university, an environment that I completely failed to adapt to. I imagine he’s a popular rabbi in his community. He was once named on an annual Jewish newspaper list of the forty most influential people under the age of forty in the Anglo-Jewish community.

He has not by any means had an easy life, but somehow I feel he is like the goat sacrificed in the Temple, and I’m the one who has to carry the sins and get thrown off the cliff. I don’t feel jealous exactly, but I do kind of feel like I’m a failure in comparison to him, even though we were once so similar. And I know I shouldn’t compare, but I find it hard to see what I’ve achieved by myself. I’ve never really been happy, so being “happy with my lot” doesn’t really come into it, and I think my moods are unlikely to improve much (although I’m not sure why). I haven’t got tangible achievements (except one book no one bought and one novel that isn’t finished yet), I don’t think I’m particularly devout or spiritual, or a great scholar (Torah or secular) and I haven’t done much for other people in terms of acts of kindness or charity. I’m not sure what else I could do that I would value. I try to be nice to people and to listen, but I don’t think I’m good at that sort of thing.

I feel guilty about these jealous or comparing thoughts, just as I feel guilty about the sexual thoughts. I suppose that the fact that he was a mentor friend to me growing up, and that our lives ran so much in parallel from the ages of four or five until our early twenties mean that it’s harder to avoid comparing myself to him than it is to avoid comparing myself to other peers. Not that I find it easy to avoid comparing myself to them.

I just want to feel that I’ve done something meaningful and good with my life, which inevitably leads me to compare myself negatively to people who I feel have done something meaningful and good. That’s why I feel so uncomfortable about my shul‘s (synagogue’s) fundraising drive, that it puts a precise numerical value on my worth to the community, in tens where other people are worth tens of thousands.

I hope that writing about these things here will exorcise them, put them in a box and let me forget about them, but perhaps it just encourages them.

***

I wonder a bit why I’m still subject to so many low moods even though I’m “officially” not depressed any more. Also why I’ve so rarely been happy in my life, from adolescence (I can’t really remember childhood) to the present, even when I haven’t been depressed. The best I ever seem to get is a state of neutral contentment. I’m not sure what happiness would actually feel like. Some people say antidepressants can “even out” moods, getting rid of lows, but also highs. I’m not sure if that’s true. Or maybe I just feel so uncomfortable and out of place, being on the spectrum in a world designed for neurotypicals, that I just can’t get happy. Lots of people on the spectrum do struggle with depression and anxiety at clinical or sub-clinical levels.

***

I’m applying for the job I mentioned the other day, but I don’t feel positive about it. It’s a larger library than I hoped (seventy staff members and eight thousand users) and regular issue desk duties are a key part of the role, even though this is the part of librarianship that I have struggled with the most. The first role on the job specification is providing inductions, support workshops and training sessions to students and researchers. I have done things like that in the past, albeit in a very limited way, but I’m not sure I would want it to be a main part of the role. I think it’s as much a teaching role (teaching library use and general information literacy) as a traditional librarian role, which is not uncommon in modern libraries. Plus, looking at my CV, a lot of my skills are rusty, unsurprising given how little I’ve worked in the sector in recent years, and having my current admin job at the top of the list doesn’t look good, although the alternative is saying that I haven’t worked since January of last year.

That said, I’m doubtful that I’ll even be called for interview given that I don’t have much experience with the teaching work they want, so I’m not too concerned, although it does make me wonder why I’m filling in the application (to satisfy my parents? For practice? To feel like I’m still a librarian?). I’ve been told many times to apply for jobs where I don’t meet 100% of the criteria in case no applicant completely fits, but I think I often have far too few of the desired attributes and experiences. Sometimes I wonder if I actually fit more of the categories, but have too rigid a view of my experiences. If I didn’t think in such black and white terms, I could see I’ve had done of these things. Maybe.

Making this application is also a reminder that of the six jobs I’ve had, two weren’t in the library sector at all and one did not really need a librarian qualification (although it was actually a job I enjoyed a lot and got a lot out of).

***

The other news today is that I contacted a professional editor about my novel. She is an acquaintance from the online mental health community, but not a close friend, so I thought this might be less awkward then asking my writer friend for free feedback. She wanted to know a bit more about the novel before saying if she can take it on, so I just sent her an email with a bit more information and a sample chapter.

I feel pretty nervous now. E saw the first draft of the first few chapters when we were dating and liked them; PIMOJ saw the whole of the second draft and didn’t like it; both possibly had a distorted view from the fact that we were dating. Also, PIMOJ doesn’t read much fiction and was rather shocked by the discussion of sex and domestic abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. I’ve written another draft since PIMOJ saw it. So, it is nerve-wracking showing someone my writing, and also wondering how much professional editing would cost. I guess I have to ask myself how much I want this book to be publishable.

***

This blog post is too long and I should go to bed as I have to be up early for work tomorrow, but I don’t feel tired, just melancholy…

Bits and Pieces

I spoke to my rabbi mentor today about my breakup. I actually texted him on the way home from breaking up to see if we could speak this week, which turned out to be a bit unnecessary, as I feel a lot more settled that my decision was right than I expected to be at this stage. Surprisingly settled, in fact. I’ve actually noticed with breakups, if I initiate them, that I feel a lot worse about breaking up and hurting the other person than about the end of the relationship itself. I seem to be fairly clear in my mind that a relationship is not working and is not salvageable by the time I break up.

***

I had a job advert come through for a job that I’m in two minds about. It should be ideal: librarian, part-time, higher education sector. And yet, I find that I worry about coping, about coping with liaising with so many other staff members, about how noisy the library will be, about whether I can even cope with doing a librarian job again, about whether I can cope with three full days of work a week (I currently work two days a week, but somewhat truncated because of COVID affecting travel), about having to work a few weekends a year and worrying about taking off Shabbat and Yom Tov (Sabbath and Jewish festivals). I might apply for the job anyway and see what happens, given that I don’t have such a great rate for even getting through to interviews. I do feel that at the moment I do not feel confident working as a librarian, even though I trained for it and have done it, and I’m not sure how well I can cope with any job outside of the fairly sheltered position I’m currently in.

***

My brother-in-law’s promotion officially came through today. I find I’m not comparing myself negatively to him as much as I thought I would. I know it’s a horrible thing to say, but people my age moving on with careers and families often sets me off in a downward spiral of negative comparisons and feeling like I’ll never have a life of my own. Maybe I’m beginning to accept that I’m just different. I just wish I could define my life in a positive sense (“I am X, I do Y”) rather than a negative one (“I don’t have a career, I don’t have a wife and children”).

***

Today I’m pondering David Bowie’s statement that the worst thing God can do to you is to make you an artist, but a mediocre artist. That’s where I fear I am with my writing. I need to write. I need to blog every day, for my mental health. I increasingly feel I need to write fiction, although I’ve been on pause for a couple of months for various reasons. I feel that writing fiction is a way to try to understand other people (not always easy for me on the spectrum), as well as to explore political and social ideas that I would shy away from discussing openly with other people because I’m conflict-averse. And yet I feel that I can’t do these things well and wonder if I ever will. Part of the reason I write is to connect with others, and just writing fiction for myself seems kind of redundant.

I guess this is coming to a head as I try to find someone to read my novel, having had second thoughts about asking my writer friend. I don’t feel I need a proofreader; I know my spelling and grammar is good enough at this stage. After a quick online search, I find that I want an editor who will do a “manuscript critique” that tells me whether the plot, characters and writing style are any good. Prices look to be anything from £300 to £500 (yikes!), which is quite a lot to be potentially told that I’m a rubbish novelist. And I wouldn’t know where to start in terms of finding a reliable editor.

On the off chance (more to stop procrastinating and do something rather than because I thought it was likely to be successful), I emailed an online acquaintance who edits to she if she does this, although I think she mainly proofreads rather than critiques.

***

I went for a walk and my mood began to slip. I’m not sure why. I did reflect a bit on PIMOJ being angry with me and feeling like everyone I open up to gets angry with me in the end, which isn’t true, although most friendships are transitory for most people in our society, so I do lose people periodically. I feel a bit negative about my writing too (see above) and uncertain about so many aspects of my future: work, career (not the same thing), writing, friendship, relationships… I hope I’m not drifting into a depressive Shabbat (Sabbath).

My Friends, and Other Animals

I went to bed at 10.30pm last night, which is early for me even for a work night. I was just completely exhausted, although I didn’t fall asleep straight away. I wonder if the emotional stress of the week is affecting me physically.

Work was a bit slow today and I was doing a mundane, repetitive task that gave me too much time for thought. I think I made the right decision breaking up with PIMOJ, but it sunk in that I think she was quite angry with me when we broke up. She doesn’t usually get angry, and she didn’t scream and shout, but I think she was angry about some things, although I’m not good at reading situations like that. I think in particular she felt that our being boyfriend and girlfriend meant more than I thought it did, inasmuch as I think she felt it was a significant commitment, almost like marriage, and that I should work on the relationship rather than breaking up. I agree that being boyfriend and girlfriend is serious and I was “dating for marriage” (in frum-speak), but I thought that what she wanted was so far from what I could offer, or be, that it would be wasting both the time and energy of both of us trying to get me to give or become it and would only end in more pain for both of us down the line. Plus, there were things she wanted that I thought were a bit unreasonable or at least not what I had signed on for.

But it made me think about other times people I liked and trusted got angry with me, perhaps unjustifiably. The worst was when I was at university and I managed to anger a friend by relying on her too much when I was depressed until she was no longer able to cope with me, a fact made more complicated by the fact that I had a huge unreciprocated crush on her. Nowadays I would not use someone else for support to the same extent (maybe partly why I was scared to open up to PIMOJ) and I know realise that having a crush on someone who you’re also offloading your darkest thoughts onto isn’t sensible. This is the type of situation where I really feel my autism and lack of social skills made me mess things up.

The other situation I handled badly was when I was close friends with two sisters who lived at the other end of the country. They read my blog (I knew they read it) and got angry when I mentioned that I was tired after phoning them when their mother died. I still don’t entirely see their point; I wasn’t blaming them for being tired, and people who read my blog regularly know I tire easily, especially after social contact. They read it as blame, however, and cut off contact with me.

It does make me wonder if I’m an accident waiting to happen, socially. It seems that most of my friendships stay in a sort of neutral space where we see each other socially every so often (usually six months to a year), but never really open up about personal things, just engage in light conversation. No risk, but no gain. Then there are the people I really open up to, often encountered in some kind of mental health safe space, such as depression group or the online mental health blogging community. Some of these fade away when their lives change or they move on, literally or figuratively, but there’s definitely a sub-set that get angry with me eventually. I wonder if it’s my fault and what I can do about it, or how it will affect future friendships or relationships.

***

Perhaps because of this, I’ve been thinking about getting pets again, to deal with loneliness in a safer way. It might also be a way of seeing if I might be able to cope with having children, to see if I can cope with being responsible for someone else, and for dealing with excrement and mess. I went down this path a number of years ago, almost psyching myself into getting guinea pigs, but I chickened out, mostly from social anxiety. I didn’t really know where to start in terms of thinking what to get and I frankly freaked out at the thought of talking to pet shop or rescue workers about animals, because I have zero experience. The only pets I’ve ever had were goldfish. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to hold the guinea pigs (I can be nervous with animals) and wasn’t sure if I could to hold them before buying them to see if I was confident with them. My parents weren’t keen on the idea of pets either. So all of that put me off, but given that I feel it’s not a good idea to date again for a while, having pets seems like a good idea again.

***

My autism assessment report arrived today. The diagnosis they have technically given me is “Asperger syndrome” [sic], which interested me as I didn’t think it was given as a separate diagnosis any more, being subsumed in autism spectrum disorder. Apparently it depends on which diagnostic manual is being used. In some ways, I prefer Asperger’s as a diagnosis as ASD covers such a range of people, from the non-verbal to the highest functioning. However, it was discovered a while back that Hans Asperger was involved in the Nazi euthanasia programme, and now I feel incredibly uncomfortable whenever the syndrome named after him is named. Which is a shame, because I used to like the term “Aspie.”

The report recommended that I have CBT, a type specially adapted for people on the spectrum (ordinary CBT tends not to work well for people on the spectrum, which is my personal experience). Unfortunately, there is a very long waiting list, and it is not clear how I ask to be put on it, whether I would have to go back to my GP or what — I suspect there is more NHS bureaucracy to manage. Also, I wasn’t sure what the CBT would actually be treating, exactly. Would it just be life skills?

The report also managed to have me down in places as a “woman”, “Ms [Luftmentsch]” and “she”. I am not sure how they managed to get so many typos misgendering me in there! Most of the time they did get my gender right, although I got thrown for a bit until I realised that with one exception the person they referred to as “Ms Luftmentsch” was my mother, not me. I would have expected them to say “Mrs Luftmentsch”.

There was supposed to be a leaflet about ASD resources included too. This was not included, so I need to phone tomorrow to complain. Why is it never easy with the NHS?

Other than that, it was weird to read the report. It’s strange to see myself analysed so dispassionately and at such length (twenty pages). It was actually uncomfortable in places. The descriptions of my poor social skills read like criticism, even though I knew they weren’t. One line in the report said that my Mum reported that I would not spontaneously share as a child, but would share happily if prompted to do so. Future girlfriends please note, I suppose.

***

Other than that, it was a slightly boring day. I did some miniature model painting when I got home while listening to some of the last series of Just A Minute, although I felt that I have too much tremor, and too little patience, to paint as well as I did as a teenager. I should probably stop comparing myself to my fourteen year old self and accept I just don’t paint as well.

Reassessments

I haven’t posted publicly recently because I’m dealing with some difficult thoughts and feelings that I didn’t want to express publicly, or even the semi-publicly of my anonymous blog. And I’m not going to write about those things here either. But I wanted to write about something else.

Since my autism diagnosis a month ago, everything seems different somehow. This seems nonsensical. I struggled to explain it to my rabbi mentor earlier today. I was pretty sure for the last few years that I was on the spectrum. I had been screened and found likely to be on the spectrum. The psychiatrist who assessed me said that it did look like I was on the spectrum. Getting the final diagnosis was in no way a surprise. And yet, I look at things differently since February 9th.

Things that I do or have done in the past take on a new significance. I look back at events from my childhood and adolescence or even more recently and say, “I was autistic when that happened.” Autism is a life-long condition, so obviously I had it at every point in my personal history, but it feels like I’m recognising and internalising it with regard to every bad memory I have. I’m not sure if this is good or bad. Sometimes it seems like a way of forgiving myself. Other times it seems more like a threat, that I was autistic then and now, so I could end up repeating that behaviour.

I find myself wondering if my life will ever get better. If I’ll get a full-time job, and an actual career, rather than a succession of jobs for a year or two. I wonder if I’ll get married and have children, if I could actually cope with those things and commit to them 100% with all my issues (it goes without saying that I don’t believe a person should get married or have a child without being 100% committed to them). If I’ll ever be financially independent. If I’ll ever feel really comfortable and active in a religious community. If life will ever seem like anything other than a prolonged exercise in damage limitation. I know that some people on the spectrum, at the “high functioning” end (if that phrase even means anything), do get these things, but lots of others don’t. The uncertainty is hard to deal with.

The OK Day I Nearly Ruined; and Fear of Sin

I think today was an OK day that I nearly turned into a bad day by trying to fix it badly.

Work was OK, but dull, mostly going through old papers to see if I could throw them away. Looking at the paper trail left by office politics and arguments from a decade ago feels both voyeuristic and depressing – events that clearly angered people to the point that legal action was considered has now left no discernible trace, except for a few letters that have now gone in the bin. It really will all be the same in a hundred years.

I feel that my Pesach (Passover) religious OCD has really kicked in. I’m anxious about a couple of Pesach-related things. However, my parents don’t think I’m much more anxious than the last few years. To be fair, I’ve been a lot worse in the past, I just thought I was over this. I thought Pesach didn’t make me anxious any more, or not this anxious. Maybe it’s not something you are ever “over” just as getting over depression doesn’t mean you won’t have days when you feel depressed.

I got back from home fairly early and decided I would go for a run. This was where I wanted to fix the day. I thought exercise would help shift the OCD anxiety and boost my mood, but it went a bit wrong. I didn’t manage my usual 5K run because my foot hurt. I also got tired, probably because I’d already walked a lot today (to the station and then to the bank and back at work). I probably continued running longer than I should have done, given that my foot was hurting. So I came home feeling tired and down rather than tired and satisfied.

Possibly on an unconscious level, going for a run was influenced by having a bad body image day. I don’t have particularly great body image (does anyone?), but I don’t really think about it much either, except when I see myself in the mirror getting in and out of the shower. I’m on the fringes of being overweight, and have been since being put on clomipramine, but I’ve learned to accept it (sort-of) as the price I pay for a medication combination that keeps me reasonably well. But today I was just feeling fat. It’s not exactly an easy time of year from a healthy eating point of view, as we try to finish all the leftover chametz (leavened) food and then spend eight days eating matzah, which is pretty fattening, especially as you have to eat it with something (butter, cheese, jam, etc.) which makes it more fattening.

I did feel somewhat better after dinner, just very tired and apprehensive about the rest of the week. I’m not sure why this Pesach feels so hard. It’s a lockdown Pesach, but so was last Pesach, and last Pesach Mum was undergoing chemotherapy and while the prognosis was good, we had no way of knowing that it would ultimately be successful. The stakes should feel a lot lower this time. I guess there are a few factors that make this Pesach hard: it starts on Saturday night, which adds a whole load of hassle for reasons that would take a long time to explain (just trust me, it’s not good); I’m working for the first time around Pesach since 2018 (I’m glad that J basically told me not to come in on Thursday, which is a big help); and I have a girlfriend for the first time since I broke up with my first girlfriend on Pesach in 2013 (that was a bad Pesach), which is good, but adds a lot of stressful thoughts about how we can meet during lockdown and how the relationship is going and whether we will weather all the difficulties inherent in it. I think what I’m saying is that this is a Pesach where I’m juggling a lot of non-Pesach-related balls along with the usual Pesach ones, in a way that I haven’t had to do for a while (even last year when Mum had chemo it didn’t impact me so much personally, except that I did a bit more cooking).

I made a tactical decision not to do any more Torah study after dinner, even though I had only managed about thirty-five minutes today and worry I won’t finish the haggadah commentary I’m reading before Pesach. I thought that trying to study more would just deplete me and make me feel worse. I watched Babylon 5 and helped Mum and Dad by polishing some of the silver, although I was too tired to do much of that.

So it was an OK day in the end, but I nearly tipped it over to a bad one by trying to hard to turn it around. There is probably a message there.

***

It’s weird. I don’t think I have a particularly punitive view of God. With other people, if they do even very slightly good things (religiously speaking), I praise and encourage them. And I genuinely believe God will look favourably on them. I don’t know who exactly gets in to Heaven, but I know I don’t believe in a God who condemns billions to eternal suffering. And yet. It’s so hard to take the view of, “I do the best I can and leave the rest to God” as at least one rabbi encouraged me to do.

I think I’m a person who fears sin. This is a concept in the Talmud. It’s very different to a person who fears punishment. Fearing punishment is a low level, kind of the lowest level of doing the right thing, just doing it to avoid being punished. Fearing sin, on the other hand, is much higher, a sensitivity to the spiritual consequences of apparently trivial actions.

The way it seems to me is like I’m in a palace made of delicate crystal or even ice, representing the world as it exists on a spiritual level, not necessarily the spiritual universes described in kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), but a metaphor for the way the life prescribed by Judaism creates a way of life with tangible effects in the physical world. Moving without the correct attention, as laid out in the Torah, risks cracking or even breaking off the delicate ornamentation. Do enough wrong and the fabric of the building is at risk.

Switching metaphors, I also fear the consequences for my relationship with God of transgressing His word. Even if I do it unintentionally, I worry if I could have tried harder or found some other solution. I don’t want to risk cutting myself off from Him, which is cutting oneself off from life, as God is the source of life. The thought of doing that is horrifying. This is why Pesach is such an ordeal, because the punishment for eating chametz (leaven) on Pesach is karet, being “cut off” from God (probably referring to losing one’s share in the next world and possibly to premature death in this world too; it’s debated among the authorities). The fact that Pesach is once a year doesn’t really help. Shabbat is a major commandment with a serious punishment too (I actually wrote a devar Torah on this recently; the Talmud says keeping – or breaking- Shabbat is equivalent to keeping or breaking the entire Torah), but it comes around every seven days, so I get a lot of exposure therapy that means that most of the time I can enjoy Shabbat without thinking of the potential consequences of error. But Pesach is once a year, so I don’t get much exposure therapy. (Although the thought of doing Pesach once a week is pretty terrifying!)

***

OK, considering I didn’t think I had enough material for a post today, this has got too long. I don’t feel tired enough to sleep, but I think I’ve had enough screen time for today (or will have soon, as PIMOJ asked me to text her about my day).

Getting Inside Other People’s Heads

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

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

The Napoleon of Higher Education

I don’t have much to say again today, but I feel the need to write something again…

It occurred to me today that “I won.” I thought I was autistic, despite my first assessment, I fought for reassessment, I got it and I got the diagnosis I wanted. I won. I’m not sure where I go now. I thought that a diagnosis would lead to greater self-knowledge and support. I feel I’ve won, but I can’t work out where that leaves me, what I can do next. I guess I need to wait a while to see how things develop, as well as waiting for the official report from the hospital, which will contain a list of available resources. At the moment I’m pretty focused on getting through Pesach (Passover), but maybe after that I can think about my options.

***

Shabbat (the Sabbath) was pretty normal. I slept too much, considering I need to be up early tomorrow morning for the LSJS Pesach study day on Zoom. I don’t want to be up late tonight with insomnia.

My parents are out shopping. One of the kosher supermarkets opens after Shabbat around this time of year so people can do Pesach shopping and my parents like to go then, believing it’s less crowded than during the week or on Sunday. It makes me realise how rarely I’ve had the house to myself for any length of time over the last year, particularly at night. Moments alone have mostly been during the day, when Mum has been at the hospital and Dad has been going to or from the hospital (not being allowed to stay and wait for her because of COVID). It’s been a pretty tough year for all of us, but I guess it’s been a pretty tough year for the whole world. And yet somehow I’ve got a job and a girlfriend, neither of which I had this time last year.

***

I watched another episode of This is Us. I probably wouldn’t be watching if PIMOJ didn’t want to watch it with me, but it’s inoffensive enough, the type of light comedy/drama that tends to be broadcast on Sunday evenings in the UK. There’s a sense that situations that could be difficult or emotional, like abandoning your baby because of your drug addiction, or the USA’s ingrained racial tensions are dealt with in an offhand way, as if they are the same type of thing as changing your job or envying your partner’s ex, these all being ongoing plot threads at the same time. As in the various Star Trek series, no one gets angry at anyone else for more than a few minutes, leading to a stable worldview in which support networks are always there and nothing incurably bad could ever happen to anyone. This is false, on one level, but also reassuring and soothing.

***

The college I worked at in Higher Education is advertising for an Assistant Librarian (my job) again, I think for the second or third time since I left. I don’t know if it’s for a replacement for my replacement or if it’s a result of expansion. When I was there, the college had four sites and three semi-separate colleges across one side of London, but their website now lists six colleges over nine sites and the job advert says they’re intending to take over colleges in a couple of other cities too.

I am not sure what I think about that. It’s like hearing your ex has moved on when you haven’t. On the other hand, the fact that they keep advertising for the job could mean that morale is low (it wasn’t great when I was there). It was bad enough being forced to go to staff training days at [redacted place that was miles away, where one of the other sites was] occasionally, let alone going to the Midlands! The same principal is still there, and it does feel that he’s expanding aggressively. To be fair, the college has a record for taking over failing colleges in poor parts of London and turning them round. They get decent results and help teenagers from poor backgrounds get into good universities and I can’t criticise that, but I wonder if they are overstretching themselves. Certainly staff were not happy about the constant expansion when I was there.

To be honest, I don’t know, and will never know, if I made the right decision in leaving, but my life since then would be rather different if I had stayed and not necessarily for the better. Whether I made the right decision or not, the life I have now is my life, including all the social and work difficulties I had that prompted me to leave, difficulties that I can now place under the umbrella heading of ‘autism.’

I Am Not My Thoughts and Feelings

I didn’t have much to do at work today. I haven’t had much to do for the last couple of work days. I think the usual winter rush that J told me about is over. I hope that doesn’t mean that I won’t be needed for much longer, especially as I’m nearing the end of the long-term project I’ve been working on at times when there hasn’t been any more immediate work.

***

I’m re-reading Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s book The Strife of the Spirit. I read it years ago, but can’t really remember much about it. I lent it to PIMOJ recently and she really liked it and said I should re-read it, although I think the mysticism of the early parts (it’s a collection of essays and interviews from different places) is more to her religious taste than mine.

However, today, in a chapter on the soul, Rabbi Steinsaltz says that our souls are not our thoughts or emotions. This intrigued me. I have mentioned here before that I find it very hard to have any sense of selfhood that isn’t connected to my thoughts and, to a lesser extent, my feelings. I’m very bad at meditation, mindfulness and other techniques for “switching off” our thoughts. So I was interested to see him say that our souls are not the same as our thoughts and feelings. When I try to visualise the afterlife (which in recent years I’ve found myself doing a lot for some reason), it tends to be as disembodied thought or feeling, even though I suspected (and this agreed) that disembodied being would be closer to the mark. I don’t know what that would “disembodied being” would entail, though. Maybe it’s beyond human perception in this world.

***

“The universe doesn’t give you any points for doing things that are easy” was a quote from a Babylon 5 episode I watched today (The Geometry of Shadows by J. Michael Straczynski). I’d agree with that, replacing the quasi-pantheistic “The universe” with “God” (Straczynski self-describes as atheist, but much of Babylon 5 has a vaguely mystical pantheist feel). Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so hard though. It often feels that I have to struggle just to get to the starting line, let alone to finish the race.

On which note: I’m still worrying about my autism assessment next week, worrying what will happen (practically and to my self-esteem) if I’m not held to be on the spectrum. I should really try harder not to think about it, because the psychiatrist has almost certainly already decided her diagnosis and there’s nothing I can do about it. I asked some friends and family members to pray for me, something I don’t think I’ve done before, not like this anyway. I asked them not to pray for any particular diagnosis, but just that I should have understanding and acceptance of myself and peace of mind. I did it less because of any practical effect I thought it might have and more because I thought it would help me to feel supported and cared for.

I heard the Jewish biblical scholar Dr Erica Brown talking about The Book of Esther recently and she used the image of standing on the threshold at key moments of our lives, as Queen Esther stands at the threshold of the king’s throne room, risking death if she walks in without being summoned there. I immediately saw the relevance for my own position. It really feels like Tuesday morning (the diagnosis appointment) is a threshold moment that will either concretise my self-understanding as someone on the spectrum or force me to look in a completely different direction in order to understand and accept myself.

Not Anxious, Slightly Surprisingly

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

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

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

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

Autism Fears

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

***

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

COVID Purim (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnout and Worry

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

OK, bed now, as my head hurts.

Equanimity, and Reading

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

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

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

***

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