Brief Update

Today was fairly busy. I spent over an hour writing, although some of that time was taken up with procrastinating, as I was nervous to write the sexual passages I needed to write. I did manage it in the end, but I feel like I’m going to be cringing inwardly the whole time I write this book! It did get a bit better over time. I somehow managed nearly 600 words, which was good. Then I was suddenly hit by inspiration and spent another twenty or thirty minutes polishing and re-writing what I had written, ending up with well over 700 words today, which is very good.

It is hard to write about sex and pornography while simultaneously doing the following: (1) not being coy and prudish; (2) not being vulgar or pornographic myself; (3) staying broadly within the boundaries of Modern Orthodox Jewish discourse on sex; and (4) not being triggering for any recovering/recovered pornography addicts or their families. This reflects the somewhat diverse audience I’m aiming for.

I went for a run, again not very good in terms of pace or stamina, and I got a headache, but at least I went. I did some Torah study too. So I achieved quite a bit.

J asked me to work on Tuesday rather than Monday this week, so tomorrow I have a blood test in the morning and then E and I have a Zoom call with an immigration lawyer in the afternoon. We’re both a bit nervous about it and what it will mean for our wedding timetable…

Playing the Autism Card

I somehow got up early, ate breakfast and did some things online, but felt depressed and went back to bed. I don’t think I fell asleep again, but I’m not sure; certainly I was in bed for over an hour. I hope these depressed feelings pass soon and don’t turn into another episode of clinical depression.

I did some work on my application for the Emerging Writers’ Programme I’m applying for. I’m not sure how well it’s going to be honest. I am playing the “autism” card as well as the “Orthodox insider” card, hinting that I might write an UnOrthodox-style anti-religious story when that is not my intention, while also talking about wanting to show the Orthodox in a realistic light, which can mean positive or negative, however the judges want to read it. I do mention God, though, and repentance, which might be a bad idea, but at least it’s a Unique Selling Point. It’s not like there are many contemporary literary authors writing about pornography addiction, or anything really, through the prism of repentance and encountering God.

It reminds me of an article in Tablet Magazine a while back about university bursaries and scholarships intended to go to disadvantaged teenagers going to middle-class teenagers who are taught by their (private) schools and their (middle-class) parents (probably working in academic, law or HR) how to write applications with the correct narrative, a narrative of, “I struggled against prejudice because I’m a member of minority X, but I triumphed over it because I’m strong, resilient and successful, therefore you should accept me both for reasons of diversity and because of my skills and capabilities in fighting oppression.” Less-privileged teenagers are not taught how to write this way and fail to get the money and places intended for them.

***

I went for a run, but ended up feeling light-headed, dizzy and slightly nauseous at times, even after my warm-up, let alone the run. I was slow and sluggish while running, with low stamina. I only managed to run for thirty minutes rather than my usual forty and got a headache when I got home. I wondered about this, and about other health issues on my mind lately.

I’ve mentioned that my cholesterol is slightly high. I looked on the NHS patient site and it looks like my cholesterol has been increasing for several years now (with one slight dip), which worries me as I certainly haven’t been steadily increasing the amount of cholesterol-heavy foods I eat. In fact, I rarely eat meat and especially not red meat and I’ve cut back my consumption of cheese (and eggs, although apparently that’s considered less of an issue now) so I’m not sure why my cholesterol continues to rise, unless it is a(nother) medication side-effect.

Then I have frequent issues with low energy and feeling “ill” in vague and undefined ways, particularly when tired after work or days out with E, plus I have problems sleeping too long and struggling to get up. I assumed these were medication side-effects and/or autistic exhaustion, but now I’m not sure. Also troubling is that several times recently I felt like I have nearly lost my balance and just stabilised myself in time, twice in the shower and a couple of times on the stairs.

Unfortunately, some of these issues cut across each other. When I got an exercise headache after running, I knew (or at least suspected) that eating crisps (for salt) would help, but crisps are hardly good for weight loss or cholesterol, so I put off eating them. It got to dinner time and I felt headachey, nauseous and my hand was shaking as I tried to drink my soup, so I ate a packet of crisps. Before I had even finished the packet, the headache was less intense, the nausea went and I stopped shaking. Sometimes I have these “salt-withdrawal” issues without having exercised first. I know salt issues can be related to taking lithium, which I do.

I think I should see my GP, even if it means waiting ages on the phone to get through to the receptionist and then playing the autism card again to get an in-person appointment and one with my preferred GP (currently appointments are supposed to be on the phone in the first instance and with the first GP available, not my preferred one). I will have to say that, being on the spectrum, I struggle with phone calls and new people, which is completely true, even if it feels a little disingenuous to say it.

***

Looking at my unpublished novel to find an excerpt to submit for the Emerging Writers’ Programme application, I’m struck by how many references there are to toilets in it. I didn’t mean to be vulgar, but since childhood I’ve been struck by how artificial it is that toilets, and toilet functions, aren’t mentioned in “realistic” fiction. My toilets appear for solid narrative reasons, not to gross people out (although one of them smells bad), but do seem somewhat unusual. I guess I’m aware of it because the toilet has long been an escape room for me when suffering from autistic overload in social spaces, which is how it appears in the novel.

***

I should probably mention that they announced the new Doctor in Doctor Who, Ncuti Gatwa. I can’t judge whether he’ll be any good, as I haven’t seen him in anything. As I mostly watch old TV, I generally don’t know new Doctors in advance, unless, like Peter Capaldi, they already appeared in the show as another character. But he’s the first new Doctor to be younger than I will be when his first episode airs (you know you’re getting older when the Doctors get younger). I still feel the Doctor should be older. I know I liked Matt Smith a lot, and I don’t dislike Peter Davison, but I still feel the Doctor should be played by someone over forty. I definitely feel David Tennant was too young (and too good-looking…) although that’s the least of my problems with the Tennant Doctor. Not for the first time, I feel returning showrunner Russell T Davies has a very different understanding of the show to me.

“They think it’s Passover… It is now!”

I haven’t blogged what happened so far during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days of the Pesach festival when work is permitted if necessary or contributing to the enjoyment of the festival). I was too busy and tired, and used my blogging energy for a password-protected post about Yom Tov that was more important. But I want to quickly catch up here.

For those who didn’t see the password-protected post, E and I mostly had a good Yom Tov, with interesting seders and E was OK meeting some my parents’ friends and family.

On Monday we (my parents, E and I) went to Cliveden, a National Trust stately home. The house is now a hotel, but we wandered around the grounds all afternoon. Thankfully, my parents left E and I to walk alone. E wanted to see bluebells, so we walked through the woodland until we found some big patches. We also walked around some of the more formal gardens on the site. It was the first time E and I really had proper alone time/date time since E came over last Tuesday and we both really enjoyed it.

In a second-hand bookshop on site, I found a Doctor Who book, The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who. Despite the name, this is a reissued and expanded edition of the official BBC Television Companion issued a few years earlier. I was uncertain whether to buy it, as I had read the online version of the first edition, which was on the official BBC Doctor Who website, but in the end nostalgia for the Doctor Who of the wilderness years when it was off TV (1990-2004) won out (the first edition was published in 1998 and the revised edition I bought in 2003). I’m not sure how much extra material there is, but for £2, it was probably worth it.

Yesterday E and I went on a Pesach LSJS tour of the Egyptian galleries of the British Museum. It was fascinating and even though I knew some of what was said (I’ve done my own research on biblical archaeology), I learnt a lot. The rabbi taking it, Rabbi Zarum, spoke to me briefly. I’m not sure if he recognised me or not; I’ve been to a number of his shiurim (classes) in the past, but I tend not to say much and try to blend into the background. He asked me which shul (synagogue) I go to, which is a standard Orthodox Jewish conversational opening gambit, and I explained about going to [Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) shul] but probably transferring soon to a Modern Orthodox one because of E. I probably cut a strange figure as a quasi-Haredi Jew, wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt and holding hands with someone I’d just identified as not married to me. I feel my life would be easier if I just found my “tribe” or community and stuck there, but I seem to have this restless desire to fit into several very different communities at the same time. (Similarly today I think someone from my current shul saw me wearing a Beatles t-shirt and holding hands with E again.)

In the afternoon E and I went to the Stonehenge exhibition, also at the British Museum. This was interesting to me as I know very little about prehistoric society. However, I felt the exhibition lacked context and was confusingly laid out, with the order you were supposed to read the exhibits unclear and poor signage. There was also ambient noise (sound effects and music) that annoyed me after a while. This seems to be becoming a thing in modern museums and galleries. They are super-diversity aware, but apparently have a blind spot when it comes to sensory sensitivity.

Afterwards we walked around Bloomsbury for a little while, but we got a bit bored and a bit lost and came home. We watched Doctor Who in the evening, Planet of the Dead, which E enjoyed more than I did.

***

Today I was burnt out, perhaps unsurprisingly, given everything we had done (including walking well over 10,000 steps both days – more like 14,000 yesterday). E had to go out for work all day. I wanted to get up to see her off, but failed and slept through most of the morning. I got up when the Tesco food delivery arrived, but went back to bed afterwards. I had weird dreams, but not particularly memorable, except for wanting to move in the dream and not being able to, which I think is an unconscious desire to get up. I also dreamt about snakes, I’m not sure why. E and I are both concerned about this (the sleep/exhaustion, not the snakes). I still don’t know whether I should be looking for help from doctors, occupational therapists or someone else, or if it’s just autistic exhaustion and I have to just accept it, or find workarounds, or if serious energy accounting might help and how I could manage going on fun days out if I know I’ll run a massive energy deficit the next day. All I know is that the exhaustion is very real and not just me being lazy (although I don’t always remember that).

In the afternoon helped Dad with some chores and spent an hour working on my novel, writing about a thousand words, which was extremely good. It was hard, though. My mood definitely declined in the afternoon, despite the good work on my novel, and I felt depressed and frustrated, and missed E even though I knew I’d see her later. I had the usual feeling of wanting to just be able to get up early and do more during the day. It’s frustrating.

I can’t believe tomorrow is Yom Tov again! E and I will be out for dinner at friends of mine from shul. They are really nice people, but I’ve been masking somewhat around them (and everyone else from that shul) and I wonder what will happen when the meet E and possibly see there’s more to my personality and outlook on life than I’ve let on in the past. I also don’t know if anyone I don’t feel as comfortable with will be there.

Regenerations

I got up surprisingly early, mostly because E also got up early and we sat together, feeling tired and trying not to fall asleep. My satisfaction at this was soon broken when Dad told me that I had left my iPod in my trousers when I put them in the wash yesterday, and he hadn’t realised until after they had been through the wash. The iPod is currently sitting in a bowl of rice to try to dry it out. I turned it on before I put it in the bowl (not realising that that could short circuit it) and it seemed to play OK (!), but the touch screen was faulty and I didn’t play it long enough to see if it really plays OK, or just for a few seconds. I think it turned itself on before, in the rice bowl, too.

I may have to spend on a new iPod, but I had better luck when we went to the free book box when we went for a walk, picking up The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire, which suddenly seems more topical than it probably did a few months ago. I feel I should finish reading Richard J. Evans’ Nazi history trilogy first though.

E had to do quite a bit of work today, so, as well as having therapy, I took the time to submit my novel to another two agents, work on my new novel for half an hour (I felt it wasn’t terribly successful, but some days aren’t), do some research for where E and I might go in the near future as well as to find somewhere E can do a pre-flight COVID test on a bank holiday, and clean the sink ready to be kashered for Pesach tomorrow. In the evening E and I watched the Doctor Who episode The Next Doctor; not one of my favourites, but diverting enough. E was rather more tolerant of the second half than I was, which I think goes into somewhat unintentionally silly territory. I preferred David Morrissey as the ‘fake’ future Doctor to David Tennant as the incumbent.

***

I had got a bit bored of the Doctor Who posters I’ve had up in my room for several years (four posters each showing three of the first twelve Doctors, alongside monsters, and one of Jodie Whittaker, the current Doctor). I asked E if she would help me choose some new ones from the pile of posters that I have accumulated, mostly those that have come free with Doctor Who Magazine over the last twenty-five years. She said yes, albeit with the caveat that she should probably be suggesting something other than Doctor Who posters for decor (no, we won’t have them up when we get our own home).

In the end, I kept Whittaker up on the main door, but moved her down to the bottom half and put up a poster of her predecessor, Peter Capaldi, with smaller pictures of the previous Doctors, so that all the Doctors are shown (more or less, given that who counts as a ‘real’ Doctor is now open to question post-The Timeless Child). I had had this poster up before, when I lived away from home, but the other posters had never been up before, or not this way around, as a couple of them were on the reverse of posters I’ve had up. DWM loves double-sided posters, presumably in the hope people will buy the magazine twice to put up both posters.

One wardrobe acquired has two original paintings of Tom Baker stories, Genesis of the Daleks and The Deadly Assassin. Baker is my favourite Doctor, and The Deadly Assassin is a strong story. I think Genesis of the Daleks is a little over-rated, but still good, but E liked it a lot and its iconography makes it very suitable for art. The other wardrobe has a bold poster of couple of Daleks by the Brooklyn Bridge to promote Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks and a poster of Jon Pertwee and a Sea Devil from the latest issue, to promote the Sea Devils’ imminent return in this coming Sunday’s episode. The Sea Devils was one of the first stories I saw and one I have a lot of nostalgia for, while the Sea Devil costumes are one of the better original series designs, so I was pleased to put it up.

***

Not really a relevant thing, but I wanted to share. Some of you may know that Lord Wolfson has just resigned as Justice Minister in protest over the parties now known to have taken place in Downing Street during lockdown. I googled him, and according to the government website and Wikipedia, he’s an Orthodox Jew who spent a year studying at yeshiva (Yeshivat HaKotel) before university. I wonder if he’s the first minister to list a yeshiva alongside the more conventional Selwyn College, Cambridge and Inner Temple as a place where he studied on the government website?

Checking In

I struggled to sleep again last night. It was probably from being on screens too late, but after forty or fifty minutes in bed, I had some racing thoughts so took olanzapine (it was one of my ‘off’ days for olanzapine — at the moment I take every other day). It seemed to help, but maybe I was just exhausted by that point and would have fallen asleep anyway. I will try to monitor my mood and sleep and compare against olanzapine use to see if I need to return to taking it daily.

It snowed on the way to work this morning. I felt annoyed about it, until I saw a boy of about eight absolutely delighted to be out in it. It woke me up a bit to the beauty of it.

Work was a bit crazy, but I can’t write much about it here. I can say that I had an issue with a simple task that I struggled with. I had about fifteen Excel spreadsheets, all bar one with two tabs (the exception was slightly more complicated, but it doesn’t really matter here). I had to compare some statistics on the tabs and bring them up to date, then print one tab once and the other three times for each of the spreadsheets. I struggled hugely with this, forgetting to update the statistics and printing sheets too often, partly from executive function issues with changing task and partly because I kept forgetting that if I set the printer to print a document three times, it would not default back to printing once the next time I printed. I felt a bit guilty about that, although wasting twenty or thirty sheets of paper (at most) is hardly the biggest crime, but more than guilty I felt a bit stupid and incompetent. I am also worried whether I have actually performed the task properly, and may need to double-check on Monday.

I picked a bit of anger from other people today, on my blog list and the autism forum. I got a bit upset and had some quasi-anxious ruminations, but then I remembered something my therapist said about being careful not to pick up other people’s anger or anxiety, to ask myself, “Is this my problem? Do I need to be concerned about it?” That did help me to distance myself from it a bit.

I was pretty tired when I got home, but E wanted to Skype earlier than usual, so we spoke before dinner rather than later. I struggled with lack of energy in the early evening, but around 10.00pm, I suddenly had energy and concentration, so I spent nearly an hour working on my novel. It was pretty productive (over 600 words) and seemed to flow relatively easily. I haven’t checked against my previous manuscript, but the prose style seems somehow freer to me, less stilted and Victorian, more like my blog than my previous fiction. Not that I literally write fiction like a Victorian, but I feel my first novel in particular seemed a bit stilted and artificial to me.

***

I finished re-watching Twin Peaks yesterday. I was originally planning to watch one episode a week, but I sped up a while back so I would finish long before I got married.

Twin Peaks‘ third season, broadcast twenty-five years after the original run finished, seemed somewhat better second time around. The plot made more sense overall, and the weird, surreal bits seemed deliberately bizarre rather than just incoherent. And the final scene is strange and haunting as well as tantalisingly unresolved. It is a bit frustrating if you were expecting more of the same of the first two seasons, or even the prequel film, but if you can accept that it’s a very different beast only tangentially related, that most of the earlier characters are seen briefly if at all, and that although Kyle MacLachlan is in it quite a bit, he’s mostly not really playing the same character as before, then it’s an interesting addition, certainly adding a lot more overt symbolism and mystery, if you like that sort of thing.

And now I ought to go to bed before I ruin my sleep pattern again…

“Marry the freak”

I was looking today at websites for couples therapy for couples where one is autistic and one neurotypical. Some were fine, speaking about difficulties both partners might experience. Others were — I hesitate to throw around words like ‘ableist,’ and maybe this is partly my paranoia, but some definitely felt like, “Well, you could be in a relationship with an autistic person [or man, as female autism hasn’t really registered on most of these sites], but you should know that they won’t love you, care for you, or understand you and you’ll spend your entire life bending yourself out of shape to fit in with their crazy whims. And they probably won’t even want to have sex with you, at least not as often as you want or in the way you want. But, here are some resources if you do still want to marry the freak.” Obviously they didn’t literally say that, but it seemed to be the subtext.

E and I struggle with some things (particularly finances), but we’re both pretty good and communicating our needs and trying to meet each other’s needs (the couples therapy is to help with one very specific topic that we think we might need some objective support with). I know living together will be harder in some ways than living separately, but I’m not really worried about that. Of course, we’re wondering if E is on the spectrum too, which might make a difference.

***

I don’t think it was because of those therapy sites (although they didn’t help), but I’ve felt somewhat down all day. I’m still wondering if I should up my olanzapine dosage towards what it was previously. I was on 2.5mg twice a day; I’m now on 2.5mg every other evening, so one quarter of what I was on before. I should probably try to monitor that more rigorously and think about increasing to 2.5mg every day if necessary.

I realise that the last year and a bit have seen a number good things for me. I got my autism diagnosis, my family accepted my diagnosis and support me, I got engaged to E, my part-time job was made permanent. Still, I often feel overwhelmed at the thought of all the things I still want/need to do, in both the short and long term.

In the short-term, Pesach (Passover) is getting really close now and the tension is beginning to rise (I had a few Pesach OCD thoughts which I managed to keep under control so far). In the longer-term (in no particular order) I want to: organise a wedding; deal with my exhaustion/burnout/oversleeping/whatever it is so I can do more during the day; try to find a way to work more days in the week and earn more money; learn to drive; investigate whether E is neurodivergent; find a place in the Jewish community for E and me; and find the right balance of work/writing/religion/family/relaxation for me. And more.

There’s a lot of fear of the “will I ever get the life I want: wife, kids, some financial independence, friends, life balance?” Reading on the autism forum can be dispiriting, because, on the one hand, there are people who seem to have got their lives completely together, and I can’t seem to do that, but on the other hand there are parents with young children who are school-refusing or otherwise having extreme difficulty, and part of me thinks: “I could manage school. I was mostly fine at school (bar some bullying and loneliness), even though many people on the spectrum think that school is just Hell for autistics. I coped. So why can’t I cope now, when, in theory, I have more self-awareness and more control over my life?”

***

I did manage to submit my novel manuscript to two agencies and spent half an hour writing my next novel, so from a writing point of view it was quite good. I’m trying to use fewer Hebrew and Yiddish terms in my second novel than in my first one, as I worry that that has put agents off, but without them, dialogue for frum (religious Jewish) characters sounds ridiculously stilted and unrealistic. Imagine writing a teenage character, but not allowing yourself to use any contemporary slang in case people don’t understand; it’s a similar thing. It just sounds wrong.

I came across a literary agent today who is also a practising lawyer. Last week, I found an agent who is also a dentist (not sure if she’s practising though). Sometimes it feels like other people are living several lives, while I don’t even have one.

I used to feel that “good sense of humour” is a stupid thing to put on a dating profile, as it’s completely subjective and no one in the world thinks that they have a bad sense of humour, even if others disagree. I think “strong storytelling” is the literary agency equivalent. So many agents say they are looking for “strong storytelling.” Are there are lots of fiction writers thinking, “Well, I can’t tell a story at all, but I have beautiful prose”? Perhaps some, but many? I find it a profoundly unhelpful thing to ask for.

***

Other than that, I went for a walk and did some shopping, but didn’t accomplish much else other than some emails. I wanted to do more, but by the evening, I was drained and very low, bordering on depressed (by which I mean, if I felt like this consistently for two weeks, it would be diagnosed as depression). I thought of posting some of these thoughts on the autism forum to see what response it would get, but I’m scared to admit these complicated feelings about autistic people struggling more or less than I am. I’m also wary of talking about my religious practices and community there, because I don’t know what response I would get (I haven’t seen anyone else talk on there about religion, any religion). I’ve already asked about autistic burnout/exhaustion and no one really seems to have any solutions.

Counter-Factuals

Today I felt exhausted. The familiar feeling like I’ve been run over by a steamroller. I woke up early, was excited to wake up early, and immediately fell asleep again before I could get the energy to get up. This happens to me a lot and I wonder if there’s some way to extend the brief moment of early waking into one of early rising, but conscious thought doesn’t have a lot of time to kick in before I fall asleep again.

I wonder if I shouldn’t have worked on my novel after work yesterday. I might have been less exhausted today and put in more effective time on it. Or I might have been just as exhausted and not had any time or energy to work on it.

I missed out (if that’s the right term) on helping Dad with Pesach (Passover) cleaning because I got up so late and felt so awful until after lunch. Then I started getting a headache and feeling sick. I went for a walk, which didn’t make it better (or worse). I managed to skype E and read this week’s sedra (Torah portion), which is Tazria (Leviticus 12-13), which is probably the hardest sedra in which to find anything meaningful or even strongly understandable from a modern perspective (although next week’s sedra comes close — they are usually read together, but as this year is a leap year, they’re split). I sent a few emails too, and bought a new rucksack online, but didn’t manage to write fiction or a devar Torah or do seder preparation, submit my novel or anything else I had hoped to manage.

I feel a bit down about not achieving much (yes, I know we’ve discussed here before that I do more than I give myself credit for). As E said, I want to improve my sleep and energy levels to get more out of the day, but I can’t do the things that might help me to do that, as I don’t have the time/energy in the first place.

***

I got an email from the organisation where I was interviewed last week. I knew as soon as the email came that it was a rejection, as they haven’t even reached the closing date for applications yet, so it couldn’t be a job offer. They said they want someone with more experience of independent, senior-level work and also more teaching and management experience. It’s not really a surprise, despite the agonies I put myself through thinking about what I would do if I got the job. Part of me wonders if that’s the truth, or if I was just an awful candidate who shouldn’t be working in the library sector and who consistently under-performs at interviews. I guess there’s no way of knowing. I did email to thank them for the feedback to ask them to get in touch again if they need an assistant librarian at any point.

***

This last bit (which is most of the post) is a bit of a rant about the sociology of religions, so feel free to skip if you aren’t interested.

I often read the Rationalist Judaism blog (written by Rabbi Natan Slifkin) and I’m not sure why any more, as there is very little discussion in the posts or comments of what a rationalist Judaism would look like today and a lot of pointless arguing about the flaws and the future of the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) world. I mostly keep quiet even if I have something to say, as, to be honest, the conversation does not seem that pleasant. There’s a lot of flaming going on, perhaps unsurprising given the subject matter is mostly religion with an occasional bit of Israeli politics (often the points where it meets with religion).

At the moment, there is a big argument across multiple posts about a supposed miracle featuring Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the Haredi scholar who died less than a fortnight ago, which has been rumbling on pretty much since his death. The argument is now turning into a general argument about religion.

I find myself annoyed with both sides, but too intimidated to comment there – but I need to vent, so here goes:

There seems to be an assumption on both sides that how miraculous an event is can be measured on an objective scale (e.g. Normal-Unusual-Extraordinary-Freak Occurrence-Miracle) and beyond a certain point in one direction everyone would have to believe God did it. Both religious and anti-religious commenters seem to think this and just disagree on how much things move the needle. I think miracles largely take place in the mind (I heard the historian and sociologist Keith Hopkins advance a similar argument, but I can’t quote directly as it was twenty years ago), meaning, something happens and we decide what significance to accord it. It’s not immediately obvious. Not for nothing does Judaism see the miraculous as something that makes the observer feel the closeness of God rather than something necessarily beyond nature.

An extremely rare event might be dismissed as a freak of nature by an atheist, while a very natural event might be full of religious significance to the believer. In On the Reliability of the Old Testament, the archaeologist Kenneth Kitchen argues that most of the miracles of Exodus and Numbers (e.g. splitting of the sea, water from a rock, the ground swallowing Korach) are credible, given what we now know of natural conditions in Egypt, the Nile Delta and the Sinai Peninsula. What we do with this information is up to us. To a believer it might indicate that these stories are possible or even probable; to the non-believer, it simply shows that someone experienced freak, but natural, events and passed them on as a legend.

The more general point being made was that only weak-minded credulous people become religious. Someone spoke about some female ba’alei teshuvah (people who became religious late in life) who were successful in the secular world, but who said they became religious because the religious life offers more meaning. This was disputed by someone else, who insisted they must all be lying and actually be thirty-something women desperate to find a husband and father rather than people who really believe.

This annoyed me. It annoys me as much as the reverse case, which is when religious people assume people who stop being religious are all either extreme hedonists who want to abandon Jewish law or abuse survivors who are just escaping from their childhoods.

Taking on the entirety of Jewish law is a lot to take on just to find a husband, and thirty-something single women in the frum community seem to find it harder to find a husband compared with their secular counterparts rather than easier, there being far fewer single thirty-something frum men than non-frum men (and if they did become frum to get married, it would probably say something if they did see frum men as better husband/father prospects than secular men).

That aside, the reality is that people’s religious choices are intensely personal and that fair-minded, rational people can come to different decisions about major topics like God and meaning. I can accept that there are plenty of agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Christians (etc., just going a little way down the alphabet) who have freely and rationally chosen lifestyles and philosophies that work for them, but would not work for me. I find it hard to understand why so many people don’t get this and assume that the beliefs of people they don’t agree with (more religious or less religious) can be “explained away” on the grounds that those people are not acting rationally or are not being honest about their reasons. It’s OK and normal for rational, honest people to disagree!

Religions are sociologically-complex. Online arguments about religion seem to assume becoming religious is entirely a cognitive process: you reason about the world, this leads you to a metaphysical conjecture (religious/atheist), and then you live your life accordingly. But that’s simply not how it works for most people. Religion combines the purely cognitive with the sociological and emotional: family, friends, community, tradition, rootedness and so on. It’s not as simple as “Belief X is untrue, therefore religion Y which holds it is meaningless.”

As for the blog, inasmuch as I am interested in what a more rationalist contemporary Judaism would look, like the recent books Ani Ma’amin: Biblical Criticism, Historical Truth and the Thirteen Principles of Faith by Rabbi Joshua Berman, To This Very Day: Fundamental Questions in Bible Study by Rabbi Amnon Bazak and The Principles of Judaism by Rabbi Samuel Lebens have all been much more informative and stimulating for me than the blog, alongside Rabbi Slifkin’s pre-blogging books The Challenge of Creation and Sacred Monsters. Rabbi Lebens in particular has some ideas that run completely counter to those of Rabbi Slifkin about what constitutes “rational” or useful ideas in twenty-first century Orthodox Judaism, despite starting from similar points.

In the Future, Everyone Will Be Cancelled for Fifteen Minutes

Work was difficult today, chasing people for money they owe and arguing about whether we had been paid or not. Not fun.

On the walk to and from the station, I listened to another Deep Meaningful Conversations podcast (formerly Normal Frum Women). It was the first time I was disappointed in one of their podcasts. It was on frum (religious Jewish) finances, and I hoped to hear how to manage a large family on a small income (possibly single income, as in “learning” families the husband studies Talmud all day, and in “earning” families men work, but women are often stay at home mothers), but there weren’t many helpful tips.

The guest (whose name I forget) spoke about the importance of discussing finances with your spouse and children, which is true, but I would have liked more practical tips. She focused a lot on the need to apply your religious values to your spending or saving, and kept saying that bringing spirituality into your spending will “bring Mashiach” (the Messiah) (I think she is Chabad). I appreciate where she’s coming from, but I find messianism off-putting in a practical context. I think a lot of problems in the Jewish world today stem from too much messianism.

The discussion also left me brooding on the small shortfall in E and my finances that my Dad and I identified when budgeting, but couldn’t quite resolve. Then I realised we hadn’t budgeted for giving any tzedakah (charity), which would make the shortfall more complicated. According to Jewish law, one should aim to give 10% of post-tax disposable income to charity (shul (synagogue) fees and religious education can count towards this) and I have tried to do this over the years when possible, although as I’ve been dependent on others, it often has not been possible. It probably won’t be possible for E and me either, which upsets me a bit and makes me wonder how we can decide how much we can afford to give.

The other thing that this makes me wonder is if I’m overly cynical for a frum person. I find it hard to mouth the platitudes about God providing, every baby coming with a purse and so on, or to find significance in the miracle stories people tell (I’m not talking about biblical stories, but supposedly contemporary urban myths). I guess it takes me back to the question of whether everyone in the frum community is living amazingly spiritually-focused lives or are just trying to pass as someone living such a life by saying certain things.

***

On the podcast, someone referred to “The days of blogging” in the past tense. I do think there are fewer blogs than there used to be. I certainly come across fewer Jewish or Doctor Who blogs. However, I don’t think blogging is quite over yet.

There was also talk on the podcast of doing what God wants me to do. I struggle with this. Sometimes I feel that writing is what God wants me to do, but I think I felt like that about librarianship too. Not exactly that it was what God wanted me to do, but that it was what I should be doing. That didn’t turn out well, so I feel wary of staking so much of my self-esteem and hope for the future on writing professionally.

I did manage forty-five minutes of novel writing when I got home. It’s much easier to feel awake at 6pm when it’s still light outside now the clocks have gone forward. I would have liked to have got to an hour, but dinner was ready and I was too tired afterwards. I have pretty much got to my first thousand words (I’m actually on something like 993), which makes me feel a bit better.

I am still nervous about the content of what I want to write. E said that if I write about a pornography-addicted rabbi I’ll be cancelled in the frum world and if I follow it with an anti-woke political satire, I’ll be cancelled in the secular world too. This is probably true, but I’m trying not to think about it. As Andy Warhol nearly said, in the future, everyone will be cancelled for fifteen minutes. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll end up in a situation where the only people who will talk to me, in the real world and online, will be E and my close blood relations.

None of this makes me think seriously of not writing what I want to write, though. Going back to what God wants me to write, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said that a rebbe who won’t go to Gehennom [Hell] to save his hasidim isn’t a true rebbe. I feel I have to at least try to go and rescue people or no one will. If it’s in Gehennom — well, at least I know the territory.

***

I didn’t wear a mask on the Tube on the way home. I was tired and couldn’t really face it, and it seemed pointless if no one else on the Tube was wearing one (my understanding is that some masks help a bit, but more to stop infected people spreading COVID than to stop uninfected people catching it, so it is only helpful if most people are doing it). I did feel somewhat anxious and “wrong” (immoral), but I was mostly OK. I feel like we need to come out of the pandemic.

I haven’t told my parents that I didn’t wear my mask, and inasmuch as I feel immoral for not wearing one, it is probably because my parents are very COVID-cautious, particularly my father (although they have been to the theatre a couple of times). I did argue with my Dad a bit about this on Shabbat. He was complaining that only about twenty people out of a hundred or more were wearing masks in shul on Friday night (I’m not sure there were even twenty). I said that the pandemic was over. He said there were three million new cases last week (checking, this seems to be wrong, and by an order of magnitude). I asked how many people actually died of COVID last week? And how many new cases of flu were there last week?

Really you can keep this debate going indefinitely on both sides. I worry that it’s hard to tell where sensible behaviour during the pandemic shades into health anxiety post-pandemic.

***

When I was feeling down the other week, I mentioned leaving a comment on the autism forum that the original commenter didn’t reply to, and I wondered if I had offended him, as he replied to the other comments. He did reply to me today, so I feel better now.

Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow

My shul (synagogue) is meeting in an cramped classroom (apparently — I haven’t actually seen it) some way away from my parents’ house for the next six months. As a result, I decided I would rather go to my parents’ shul this week. It was a bit surprising. There were more people there than attended my shul even pre-COVID, but the room is large and it didn’t feel over-crowded. There was more background noise than in my shul, the noise of a large crowd of people, but also some talking, which we don’t get at my shul, but there was no real clapping or thumping tables and I felt less overwhelmed than I have done in my shul for a while. This is possibly an indication that the United Synagogue has more to offer me than I thought, although the issues around the chazzan (cantor) and choir would emerge if I went more often (I dislike chazzanut (cantorial singing) as well as choral singing, and the chazzan at my parents’ shul is controversial even among people who do like chazzanut as he tends to drag things out with his singing). My ideal shul is probably some non-existent unicorn shul (a shul that exists no more than unicorns do, not a shul for unicorns to go to).

I did some Torah study over Shabbat, but slept too much. After lunch, I felt so tired that I had to lie down. I knew I should drink coffee and try to stay awake, but bed was too inviting. I don’t know how well I’ll sleep tonight, and I will lose an hour as the clocks go forward.

***

We turned on the news after Shabbat to see President Biden giving a speech that would have been denounced by the Left as “Fascist” and “warmongering” if delivered by George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan. I say this not to take sides, but just to point out another example of how topsy-turvy politics in the West in general and the USA in particular have become over the last ten years or so.

I sought refuge from The World in Pigs Have Wings, the P. G. Wodehouse novel I’m currently reading. It is about as far from the real world as you can get. It’s so light, it threatens to float towards the ceiling if you let go of it.

I was imagining it taking place in the inter-war era, but, checking the copyright page, I found it was first published in 1952. I always imagine Wodehouse as inter-war, but he started writing over a decade before World War I and continued into the 1970s. I think most people would associate him and his books with the high society of the twenties and thirties, regardless of when they actually appeared. It’s similar with Agatha Christie, who did indeed start writing in the twenties, but was also writing well into the seventies, but somehow carries the atmosphere and outlook of the the twenties and thirties into her later works so that they seem earlier.

***

I was sufficiently awake tonight from sleeping in the afternoon that I did half an hour of late-night novel writing. It wasn’t terribly productive, but it was something. My parents were actually asking me questions about my novels on Friday night. They asked about my finished novel and I struggled to explain what it is about. I think one failing of that novel is that I can’t really summarise it in one sentence. What editors and publishers refer to as a “logline pitch” (for reasons I do not understand). I said something about it being about an autistic young man in the frum community, trying to downplay the autobiographical aspects, which I’m now a bit worried about. I’m bad about talking about (a) myself, (b) things I’ve done and (c) things that matter to me at the best of times (except to E, strangely), so it is hard to cope with these questions.

Then my parents asked about the novel I just started writing: what was that one about? “You don’t want to know,” was all I could say. I couldn’t face discussing pornography-addicted rabbis with my parents at the Shabbat dinner table, not without advanced warning. I do think that, if I want to become a writer, and if I carry on writing in this vein, I’m going to need to do some careful thinking about talking to people about my writing. I don’t mean agents, editors and reviewers, but family, friends and other shul-goers. What I’ve written and planned so far is… not what people might expect me to write about.

***

I feel that I’m torn between part of me that feels the urge to Do Things and to be busy and productive all the time (as some commenters here have noticed), and another part that likes time to do nothing and think and contemplate and be mindful of the world. It is good to have time for that on Shabbat at least, without work, TV or internet.

In his book Yeshiva Days, anthropologist Jonathan Boyarin tries to present yeshiva (rabbinic seminary) study as anti-capitalist, because it’s done for no material reward. I think, like a lot of critics of capitalism, Boyarin misses the point that capitalism isn’t about money, but about utility, defined in economic terms as “the ability to satisfy want.” Yeshiva study seeks to maximise utility in the Next World (afterlife) by building up the biggest possible Heavenly reward through the most valuable action (in Yeshivish theology), studying Torah. It simply replaces earning money in this world with earning spiritual reward in the next. That is sort-of anti-capitalist, but not exactly.

I feel like I could present a theory of why I increasingly like wasting time, not doing much, and thinking about things that would explain it in capitalist or religious terms. I could say that it gives me time to think about topics I would like to write about, and get paid to write about (please God, one day…). Also, that taking time to let my thoughts percolate is when I have interesting insights in Jewish topics, so that it can be seen as Torah study. I’m not sure how much either of these theories are true, however. I think I just find the pace of the modern world overwhelming and seek escape (although it often involves escape into thoughts about the world that I am trying to escape). In this I am like many autistic people, and probably many non-autistic people. I just like to retreat into myself rather than external distractions (although I do that too). I do often feel guilty though, that I should be earning money and/or doing religiously-valuable tasks, or at least writing, and trying to sell, novels.

Not Quite Trivial

I wrote the post below yesterday and didn’t post it, because I thought it was too trivial, but in retrospect, it does capture a couple of aspects of how I feel right now that are worth sharing:

I struggled to get up at 6.30am for the third day in a row this morning and even went back to bed for a few minutes after breakfast, something I don’t usually do on work days. This suggests that maybe I’m not ready to work four days a week.

Work was dull, but OK. I went on a small shopping trip after work that mostly ended in failure (one of the shops I wanted to go to was shut and I ended up with only one of the four items I wanted). I had hoped to work on my novel when I got home, although I was wary of whether that would lead to burnout tomorrow. However, by the time I had waded through blog comment notifications, job emails, other emails, forum posts and a couple of blog posts, I was too tired and it was too late. I need a better way of handling this. Or a secretary. And that was without looking at news sites (although I did glance at one of the Jewish newspapers, which is as depressing as usual).

I would like to avoid the news entirely, but (a) that seems irresponsible; (b) that’s pretty much impossible if you have an inquiring mind and an internet connection; (c) that seems self-defeating when I am still thinking of writing a satirical novel at some point — satire needs raw material. So, I tentatively look at a few sites and try not to get too dragged in. Likewise, if I want to use the autism forum as a way of communicating with other autistics and building some kind of support framework, then I need to read and comment on the forum. I can’t just expect to post when I have a problem and get lots of understanding responses if I don’t support others.

That said, I do think I am struggling to engage with people on the autism forum and I’m not sure why. I haven’t really had the type of conversations I hoped I could have on it. It’s more one person posts a problem and other people post one-off responses with solutions or empathy, not one person posts something and starts a wide-ranging conversation. And some people don’t respond at all, which makes me wonder if I’ve said the wrong thing. Interestingly, there seem to be as many or even more women on the forum than men, which is against stereotype — although maybe not so much. The traditional stereotype was that only men were autistic; it is now known that women are autistic too, but are often more creative and less stereotypically “autistic” (obsessively interested in numbers and mechanical things, difficulty communicating, unable to mask, few displays of emotion) than men, so maybe they are more inclined to communicate emotionally in writing, or at all. I tend to connect more with what the women write than many of the men, which again is unsurprising as I tend to present more like a female autistic.

(Last paragraph added today.)

(End of post from yesterday)

Today I slept late, probably inevitably after such a busy few days. I helped Dad move stuff around from the fridges to begin Pesach (Passover) preparations and went out to buy Mum flowers for Mother’s Day. I even had a little time to work on my novel. I only managed about twenty minutes between the other tasks and the usual pre-Shabbat (Sabbath) chores, and Shabbat still starting not long after 6.00pm, but I think I need to focus on this kind of ‘micro-writing’ (maybe at the expense of blogging and blog commenting) if I’m to make any progress at all with my new novel in the next month, the busiest time of the Jewish year (the month before Pesach). I wrote nearly 300 words. Probably not great words, and some will probably be deleted at some point but at least I’m no longer presented with the dreaded blank sheet of paper.

Job Interview and Changing the Past

I was very early for my job interview today and hung around at the bus stop for twenty minutes, killing time. As my therapist suggested, I tried to use positive affirmations to get in a good state of mind, although I’ve never had much success with this. Telling myself, “I will do the best I can today; I don’t need to worry about tomorrow” helped a bit.

I feel I had my usual autistic problems in the interview: long pauses while I tried to process things and sentences that started confidently, but then trailed off as I realised I didn’t know what to say, or didn’t have as much to say as I thought, sometimes awkwardly ending on “and…” I had prepared notes and had them open, but when the questions came, I got focused on them and didn’t look at the notes. I made bland assertions rather than using the STAR method I’ve frequently been told to apply in interviews, where you talk about a Situation you were in, the Task involved, the Action you took and the Result. I find it hard to think of the concrete examples needed by the STAR method. I was also distracted by my surroundings, not lights or noises, but the very noticeboard on the wall behind the interviewers, with colourful animal photos, and a large photograph of a gorilla perched on the windowsill. Once I noticed that, it was hard to un-notice it (the weird opposite of the famous psychology experiment where subjects failed to notice a gorilla). I should add that neither wildlife nor photography have anything to do with this organisation’s purpose.

I think I answered most of the questions OK, but I got a bit stuck on being asked about a time when I gave excellent customer service. I have had this question before and I don’t like it. I had prepared an answer, but at the last moment, I felt that it wasn’t appropriate, and instead said that I always give the same excellent level of customer service to everyone (complete attention, politeness, etc.). It was not a great answer.

So, I don’t think I embarrassed myself, but I don’t think I did brilliantly either. I have had some help with interviews in the past, but nothing seems to really help once I get into one and my autistic brain is left to fend for itself.

***

When I got home, I wrote the full (800 word) synopsis that one literary agency were asking for. Looking at my manuscript, much of it makes me cringe, both in terms of quality and in terms of the parts that were based on my own life — there is much I would like to have done differently if I lived my life again. I felt initially that not enough happens in the novel too, although I feel that not enough happens in literary novels generally (I’m probably not supposed to say that). However, on looking at the novel as a whole, I think things do happen, they just start slowly, held up by stuff that mattered to me emotionally, but which probably isn’t necessary for the plot, but I don’t know how to change it now.

The agency seemed a bit picky in what they wanted, and on their submission guidelines they said they wanted the first five pages of the manuscript, but on the submission form itself they said they wanted the first twenty pages. I don’t think the agency will be a great fit, but having written the synopsis, I felt I ought to submit it.

***

I noticed today that although Transport for London are encouraging passengers to wear masks, none of the staff seem to wear them any more. It’s very hard to feel engaged in doing it any more.

***

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about embarrassing events from my past, mostly from my childhood and teenage years. I was mostly well-behaved, but did misbehave occasionally. When I did, I was not usually caught, but somehow I feel I should have been. I’m not sure why I feel guilty for harmless actions from a quarter of a century ago, but I do. Then, as I wrote above, looking at my novel today made me think about the events that inspired it, which are bound up in regrets and self-recrimination from a bad time of my life. Curiously enough, Paula wrote today about regretting or not regretting past actions. As I said there, it’s hard to imagine changing the bad without changing the good, or at least the necessary, and the most significant things were often out of my hands anyway. I feel it’s counter-productive to have these thoughts, but it’s easy to get stuck in it.

Then today I was reading The Principles of Judaism were Rabbi Dr Samuel Lebens argues that God can and will rewrite history so nothing bad ever happened. (Or “hyper-happened” as he would say, as something bad happened, but God “hyper-will” change it so it didn’t.) I didn’t really agree with this, although it was hard to find the logical flaw. It just seems wrong. The book had some surprising propositions, but this was one I really struggled to accept.

I think I preferred the theodicy Rabbi Lebens quoted from Gabriel Citron (who I knew slightly years ago) that, from the afterlife, our suffering in this world will seem as insubstantial as a nightmare. This is closer to my thinking. I’m surprised Rabbi Lebens rejects it, saying “I don’t see much religious value in the skeptical possibility that we’re not really awake right now,” as it doesn’t seem all that different to Lebens’ suggestion earlier in the book that we’re just ideas in God’s mind.

Questions

I had another novel agent rejection. He said, “You have an interesting story to tell and there’s a lot to like about your approach. But in the end I’m afraid I didn’t come away quite fully convinced this was something I think I’d be able to represent successfully.” I’m confused by this. Is it the literary equivalent of “I like you, but only as a friend”? (I got that a lot too in the years before E.) It makes me wonder if agents are really put off by the Jewish nature of my novel and think they can’t represent it. If so, maybe I ought to seek out Jewish agents (how would I find them?), or apply to the one or two Jewish or Jewish-ish publishers I know.

***

I woke up this morning to a text telling me I could apply for a vaccine passport. As the text did not come from an NHS number (they always say “NHS”) and didn’t link to an NHS website, and as I already have the NHS COVID app, I concluded that this was a scam, probably asking for money for phishing for personal details. Things like this leave me a bit shaken though. Not to a huge extent, but I worry that I might fall for a scam one day, and just experiencing it makes me feel negative about the world.

***

At work J sent me to get a key cut. It was a special key, so I had to go on the bus to a particular hardware shop. He said that if it took up to an hour, I should just stay in the area and collect it, but if it took more than an hour, I should come back and he would collect it later. I was told it would take an hour, so I wandered around the area for a while. There wasn’t really time to go anywhere. There was a small park nearby, but I hadn’t brought a book to read, so I just wandered around listening to Eurythmics’ greatest hits on my headphones. So many shops have video screens in the windows now. I’m sure it contributes to autistic sensory overload.

Other than that, work left me feeling vaguely stupid again for not using my initiative or common sense, probably for no good reason, or only a mild reason. I vaguely recall that when I was a child, adults used to say I had intelligence, but not common sense. I’m not sure whether that is shorthand for autism or not.

***

Almost no one is wearing a mask on the Tube any more. I feel torn. The evidence for masks, particularly cloth ones, is not great, as I understand it. I suspect a lot of it is about wanting to feel one is doing something at a time when we couldn’t do anything. The college where I am having a job interview tomorrow still insists on masks in public spaces (I’m not sure what the define as ‘public’). Being autistic, I like clear rules, and the clash of different masking regulations (entirely voluntary/compulsory in places) is confusing to me. I fail to make up my own mind.

I am wearing a mask at the moment more to avoid panicking others than because I think it will help me, maybe because my Dad gets annoyed if people aren’t wearing masks. I wore one to shul (synagogue) over Purim, but took it off when I realised almost no one there was wearing one.

***

My ability to catastrophise about my job interview tomorrow is impeded by my inability to work out if I want the job or not. I feel like I’ll mess up the interview and still be faced with the difficult decision of taking the job or not, even though both of these things can not happen simultaneously.

I said to my parents that I feel I haven’t done well at a librarian job in the last five years. My Dad said this was untrue. I think it is largely true, although not entirely. I had a job that lasted one month in a shul library that went OK, although no one ever gave me real feedback on what I did, or even seemed to really look at it. I also, as my Dad said, did well at the job at a university library. However, as I said to him, it was not really a job for a professional librarian, although they advertised it as such, but a trainee; someone else at the institution asked if I was going to train as a librarian and was shocked that I was already qualified. Other than that, my only library work in the last five years was the further education job, which was not good at all, albeit mostly because I was in a terrible environment for an autistic person (because I didn’t know I was autistic at that stage).

I’m not sure how much of this negativity is low self-esteem and autistic rigidity and how much is real. Dad seemed to think a lot was rigidity, but I’m not convinced. I still remember how my boss at the further education job told me that I wasn’t doing as well as she expected. I don’t think I’d ever really disappointed anyone that much before.

I do feel my professional qualifications have withered over the intervening years and I’m depressed by the fact that I rarely get interviews for library jobs and when I do get them, I don’t seem to do well. I wish there was some kind of objective test I could take to see if I’m still a good librarian, like doing my MA coursework all over again (although I felt that, like job interviews, library MA coursework tested exam-passing skills as much as the skills I would use in the field). I feel that maybe I should look for a cataloguing course on CILIP, but I feel that my once-desired career as a cataloguer no longer excites me. I’m too scared that my concentration has gone and I make stupid mistakes. I don’t know if that’s due to autism-unfriendly environments or my own decline.

Someone on the autism forum was saying the other day that he has built a successful career for himself as a librarian and that he thinks that many of his colleagues are on the spectrum (diagnosed or otherwise) and that it’s an autistic-friendly career, so I feel particularly useless that I could never get this to work for me. I was dealt a bad hand in the early years of my career (and before, when I was doing my librarianship MA), having to deal with burnout, depression, social anxiety and OCD all while not actually knowing the root cause of everything, the fact that I am autistic, so maybe I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.

I guess I feel I’ve despaired of building a library career and am already focused on writing, which is even harder to get into (see above) or earn a living from. Except I don’t let myself write, because I enjoy it too much, so I prioritise everything else over it. To be honest, sticking in my current job and working hard at my writing would be the best thing for me, IF I could find a way to fight the autistic/medication-induced exhaustion and get some serious writing and submitting time in each week. But maybe even that is running away from librarianship because I feel I failed.

The Joys of Spring

Well, I woke up earlier than usual today, but still struggled to get up until the doorbell rang and I realised I was the only person around to take the parcel in. Then I had to go back to bed for a few minutes, as I’d got up too fast and had a ‘blood rushing to the head’ moment and felt really dizzy. I think it’s a kind of progress, though, as I wasn’t in a deep sleep all morning or feeling too anxious to move.

I submitted my novel to another agency! Some agents seem to want things that are so specific, I wonder how they ever publish anything at all. Others want vague things like “strong characters” and “plots that stay with you.” One confessed a fondness for “the enemies to lovers trope” (“My alternative history romance begins in 1944, when Winston Churchill flies to a secret tete-a-tete in Berlin with Adolf Hitler…”). They all seem to have lifestyles and attitudes that are rather alien to mine, although maybe I’m reading too much into the tiny biographies. At any rate, I find it hard to connect, so I’m not surprised my writing doesn’t connect.

I wanted to submit to a second agency, but they wanted a full one-to-two page synopsis, including spoilers and the conclusion. I don’t think that’s a bad idea (I think my novel necessarily takes a while to get going and a full synopsis might sell it better than the first chapter or ten pages), but it will take me a while to write one, so I thought it was a good task for after my job interview on Wednesday, when I’ll probably be too tired for more creative writing.

I started to write down some ideas of things to share at the Pesach seder in a month. It took a lot longer than I’d hoped. It took about half an hour or more to write just one idea (I think it’s a good one, though). I think I will have to chose between seder preparation and devar Torah writing for the next few weeks, which isn’t much of a choice, as the sedra (weekly Torah reading) at the moment is in Vaykira (Leviticus) and it’s very hard to connect with it. Although this week is the death of Aharon’s (Aaron’s) eldest sons, which is a story I connect with; it’s about going too far in the pursuit of spirituality and crossing boundaries that should not be crossed.

I spent a bit of time on novel-writing too, although I didn’t get far. I deleted a couple of paragraphs I’d already written, started something else and didn’t like it (it sounded like the opening narration of a Twilight Zone episode, to the extent that I could hear Rod Serling reading it). I want an opening paragraph that is arresting, but not melodramatic. I think I slip into melodrama easily. E suggested just jump into the narrative and add a proper beginning later, which might be a good idea. I mainly focused on giving names to the main characters, something I hadn’t done during the planning stage. Names are hard, particularly when you have to worry there might be legal repercussions — it might be OK if you say “John Smith is a maths teacher,” but saying “Rabbi Cohen is a kodesh (Jewish studies) teacher and pornography addict” moves into more dangerous territory. If there’s a real Rabbi Cohen out there who teaches kodesh in a Jewish school, and there might well be, then he might sue.

E helped me prepare for my interview on Wednesday, asking practice questions. It does feel like it would be harder to think of a task less-suitable for someone on the autism spectrum than the job interview: a new environment with new people, where you have to process verbal information quickly and under pressure and communicate succinctly and effectively, telling the truth, but not always telling the whole truth. And it often has very little relationship to the day-to-day function of the job. E found me this article on how to talk about leadership experience if you don’t have any, but it just seems to underline that I’m really not a leader.

I went for a walk and had therapy too, where we discussed some coping strategies. I hope they are helpful in the future.

I did quite a lot overall, even though I didn’t get up that early. It’s certainly easier to do more stuff on a spring day like today, when it’s mild and sunny, and the daylight hours are about as long as the night than in the middle of winter when it’s cold and wet and dark.

I’m Going Slightly Mad

The short version: I’m really struggling and am putting myself back on olanzapine.

The long version: I went to shul (synagogue) last night. I wasn’t sure whether I felt up to it. It was probably a mistake, as I felt overwhelmed by the noise and banging. The rabbi “eulogised” (in inverted commas, as one is not supposed to eulogise on Shabbat, but that’s essentially what it was) Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, the leader of the Yeshivish Haredi world (part of the ultra-Orthodox world), who died on Friday. It did underline to me that I never really fitted into the world where constant Torah study is seen as the ideal, nor do I feel I could ever have fitted. When I came home, I wished I hadn’t gone, but if I had gone, I doubtless would have felt I could have gone and been OK. These counter-factuals build up when I consider the week ahead.

I felt very anxious after dinner, and lay in bed for half an hour. I did some Torah study, but not a huge amount. I tried to be gentle with myself, particularly regarding autistic sensory things that I usually try to struggle through regardless e.g. Mum made chicken for dinner. Normally I would eat it, even though I dislike the taste, smell, texture, everything. However, when Mum offered me something else, I took it. After dinner I started reading a P. G. Wodehouse book, which is amusing enough, although I didn’t read much of it. It cheered me up a little.

I slept badly. I slept for a long time, but I woke up several times in the night, too anxious to get up. Today I was even more anxious. I slept for two hours after lunch. I went to bed and wrapped myself in my duvet and weighted blanket. I knew I would probably fall asleep, but I just needed it to self-soothe. I won’t sleep easily tonight as a result. I tried to do some Torah study, but felt too anxious.

The anxiety is multi-pronged. Some is OCD-type anxiety about Pesach, about which I now feel I have to completely control or E will be upset and think she can’t cope with me. Some is anxiety about my job interview this week, anxiety that I will make a fool of myself again, but also anxiety that I will get the job and make the wrong decision about whether to take it. I don’t know what the right decision would be, to choose a better, and more career-orientated job, but one which will leave me unemployed in a year, potentially with a mortgage, assuming I don’t burn out working four days a week, and knowing I won’t be able to write; or do I stay in my lower-paying, but steady and manageable job where I have an understanding boss and I could have time to write (at least if I didn’t feel so exhausted and overwhelmed all the time)? E and my parents say to wait and see what happens, which is probably correct, but it’s hard when I feel so anxious. Those counter-factuals build up again.

I’m anxious about E too. That we’ll never manage to get married. That maybe I’ll scare her off when she comes for Pesach.

There are two reasons why I dated her despite our religious differences, a negative and a positive reason. The negative reason was that most of the frum (religious) women I dated didn’t view me as acceptable (I didn’t go to yeshiva, I was “too worldly,” I was too depressed, I had nothing in common with them, there was no chemistry). Sometimes I dated people who were religious, but still differences would become apparent. There isn’t a thriving frum Modern Orthodox community in the UK, and I was not integrated enough into the Haredi one to get set up on dates, the only way to meet the opposite sex in that community. I don’t think many people outside the Haredi community in the UK take Judaism as seriously as I do, even the relatively frum ones.

The two women I did date seriously had religious differences with me, but the big reasons it didn’t work out with them had little to do with religion. The reasons were that the former did not respect my boundaries about what physical touch I was comfortable with (she was also losing her religion — just being on a certain level doesn’t mean you’ll stay there — but that wasn’t why we broke up) and the other lied to me about her family history and only told me the truth to make a point. The lack of success dating people on my religious level suggested that I would struggle to find anyone who is both on my religious level and compatible.

The positive reason, which is much more important, is that E understands me me more than anyone else I know and she cares about me more than anyone except my parents. And I understand and care about her, and I think I know how to care about her the way she wants, which is not insignificant as I don’t think I would know how to care for many people. We connect so well. I trust her completely not to trample on my boundaries and not to lie to me. I feel safe with her in a way that I don’t with anyone else. She says I talk to her differently to how I talk to other people, even my parents, that I’m much more open and “myself” with her. I just love her and want to be with her and I’m not coping well with the uncertainty of not knowing when that might be. I still feel overwhelmed about everything happening in my life right now and probably couldn’t cope if more was happening, but I just want to feel like there’s an end point in view.

I guess what I really want more than anything else right now is (a) to marry E and (b) to find a way to spend some serious time writing and trying to get published, to at least have a real go at achieving that. It seems hard sometimes to see what the right way to do those things is, particularly as the writing dream seems like a silly fantasy that I’ll never achieve and shouldn’t waste my life on. (E supports my writing, which again is not something to take for granted.)

The Babylon 5 episode Za’Ha’Dum ended the third season of the programme with the following voice-over, which sums up how I feel right now:

It was the end of the Earth year 2260, and the war had paused, suddenly and unexpectedly. All around us, it was as if the universe were holding its breath, waiting.  All of life can be broken down into moments of transition or moments of revelation. This had the feeling of both.

G’Quan wrote: ‘There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.

***

I felt a little better this evening, especially after eating and taking olanzapine, although I’m sure it’s far too early to have any real effect. I spent half an hour working on my novel plan, wearing ear plugs that failed to appreciably blot out the incredibly loud music coming from some — unpleasant person down the road. I think it might be a party. Despite the noise, I think I have the plan more or less where I want it and I’m ready to start writing properly, albeit alongside some further research and with the knowledge that my story will doubtless evolve as I write it.

“Cold turkey has got me on the run”

I didn’t have insomnia last night, which was good. I woke up a bit earlier than usual this morning too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get up for hours (and eventually fell back to sleep) because I was feeling really strong anxiety. Once I actually got up, the anxiety subsided somewhat, but it was really hard to get up. Maybe the olanzapine was reducing my anxiety without my really realising it? I remember the morning anxiety feelings from when my religious OCD was bad. It was pretty terrible. I am going to see how I am over the weekend, but I might try to talk to a doctor on Monday (if the surgery gatekeepers deign to allow me…). I felt the ‘hot and bothered’ feelings again too, which is presumably withdrawal again.

J wants me to work on Tuesday instead of Monday next week. I was supposed to have therapy on Tuesday as my therapist can’t do Wednesday this week. I felt paralysed with anxiety not knowing what to do. My Dad said I have to go to work, which deep down I knew. J is a very understanding boss, but he does sometimes throw changes to what day I work at me at very short notice, as if I don’t actually do much on my non-work days, although I guess he doesn’t know that I’m in therapy. I emailed my therapist, and she thinks she can fit me in on Monday or Friday, which is good.

I’m also desperate to move things on with E, but nothing will happen until she comes over here for Pesach. At least that’s only a month away. On the downside — Pesach is only a month away! That’s anxiety-provoking too! I hope staying eases some of the anxieties E feels about taking on so much religious stuff. I said she should talk to my parents about living with me, as they aren’t as religious as I am. It is scary and I do understand what she feels. I feel it a bit myself, especially on an anxious day like today. Unfortunately, E’s medical insurance wouldn’t let her see a psychiatrist about changing her meds. She’s still trying to resolve that.

I wanted to work on my novel, but I ran out of time, partly because of anxiety. I’m doubtful that I will get time after Shabbat tomorrow, and now we’re in the run-up to Pesach (Passover), with all the time-eating preparation that implies. I just feel such pressure to change my life in so many ways at the moment, to make time for things from more paid work to more writing and submitting writing. I find it hard to work out where to start, everything seems interconnected; to change one thing, you have to change everything else first. I need to start looking for more support after my phone call with my occupational therapist last week. This week was lost to withdrawal and Purim. At least the weather is more spring-like.

I’m going to try to go to shul (synagogue), especially as it’s the last week in our current premises and I doubt I’ll go again for six months (to the interim premises), until the new premises are open. I don’t really want to ‘people’ any more after yesterday. I feel I shouldn’t give in to anxiety and autism, although the people on the autism community would perhaps disagree. Then again, if I fight my nature to work, I guess I should fight it in other ways. I feel like people send me mixed signals about which parts of my personality I should be fighting and which accepting. As someone with poor self-knowledge, esteem and confidence, it’s very confusing.

Sleep-Deprived

Last night I had insomnia from racing thoughts, aches and pains, and feeling alternately hot and cold. I think they are withdrawal symptoms from coming off the olanzapine, but the racing thoughts might be a sign that I still have agitated thoughts that I need to control with medication. I just have to see how things develop. Eventually I fell asleep, but I woke up after two or three hours, could not get back to sleep. Perhaps surprisingly, I felt mostly OK when I got up. My thoughts seemed “fast,” so to speak, but not racing. My concentration was a little impaired from the thoughts and the lack of sleep, but I seemed OK on the whole, so I went to work. I was a bit late, but I’d texted J beforehand to explain and he was understanding.

I got through the day despite struggling with tiredness and, in the afternoon, more aches and pains. The day passed slowly and I nearly went home mid-afternoon, because I was feeling worse, but I managed to get the energy to keep going despite everything.

I’m worried about the rest of this week, particularly the (super-autism-unfriendly) Jewish festival of Purim on Wednesday night and Thursday. I was going to write my worries here to offload, as I usually do, but it occurred to me that maybe that just makes them worse and I should just do my best and try to accept whatever happens. So here goes.

***

When I woke up this morning I thought I had an idea for an article to pitch to the Jewish website I’ve written for before that I’d been thinking about when my thoughts were racing at night. I didn’t have time to write it down before work and now I can’t work out what it was. I feel I have an opening, then a bit for about three-quarters of the way through, but I can’t link those two passages or work out what the conclusion was supposed to be. It is possible that my thoughts were racing so much, and I was so tired this morning, that I didn’t actually have any more of the article than that, and it only seemed like a really good idea because I was too tired to think straight and see that it was only half a good idea. Either way, it’s frustrating.

***

I’ve been thinking a bit about my recently-diagnosed-with-autism cousin. He’s not really like me at all. (His elder brother is a lot more like me, but my parents think he’s on the spectrum too.) So then I started wondering if I would be more like him if various negative events hadn’t happened when I was a child, or if my parents were more like his parents. But there really is no end to those thoughts once you start down that route. I guess the root of this is my fear that I wouldn’t be diagnosed, which still sometimes raises it’s head as a fear that I’m not “really” autistic, just useless. Also, my attempts to try to find the boundaries between my autism and my personality, which is probably not possible.

***

I think I should go to bed, although it’s not yet 9.30pm. I don’t actually feel that tired; I’ve gone through the tiredness, and I’m wondering if I should watch TV for a little to unwind, but I think I will probably just go to bed and hope I fall asleep once I get in there.

Exciting, But Scary

The exciting, but scary thing that happened late yesterday was that a friend sent a job advert to me, for a librarian role as maternity cover for a year. The unusual aspect was that this was in the institution where I had my first job. I would basically be covering for the person who replaced my former boss.

There are advantages to this: it’s familiar (assuming it hasn’t changed much in five years) and I meet all of the essential and most of the desirable skills on the job description, at least on paper. It might also jump-start my library career.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of disadvantages too: aside from my usual fear in applying for library jobs, that my skills are rusty and perhaps not as instilled in me as they should be, I would have to be self-driven in this role in a way I haven’t had to have in most previous roles — no one to tell me what to do when I come in each day. I would be telling other people what to do. I would have to work a lot more than I am now, both in terms of days per week and, some days at least, hours per day. Then there is the fact that previous work there resulted in depression, which was probably at least in part autistic burnout, which may or may not have been caused by the working environment — I mean the physical layout of the building, which is unlikely to have changed for reasons I can’t go into here. I also worry that they remember the depression/burnout, as they became distinctly less sympathetic as time went on. Even in the best case scenario, the job is only for one year, then I will be looking for work again, having given up my current permanent role.

The other difficulty is that, if I was working four days a week, I would not have time or energy to write. This sounds trivial, as all the money I’ve ever been paid for writing amounts to a tiny amount, probably about £100 in all. However, in the last five years I’ve had almost no praise for the library jobs I’ve had (except one role on a short contract which I was technically over-qualified for as it wasn’t really a role for a trained librarian), whereas I’ve had quite a lot of praise for my writing. I certainly feel I get into my ‘flow’ while writing sometimes and I haven’t felt like that in a librarian role for a very long time.

It’s not an abstract fear, as even though I have not had anywhere near as much time for writing in recent months as I would like, I feel that the plan for my second novel is going well. I never really thought I would be able to devise a whole plot and characters (my first novel was partly autobiographical, which is a bit of a cheat). I guess I’m reluctant to put that aside for a year for work reasons, although I had more or less come to the conclusion that it would have to go on pause for a while when E and I get married, househunt, etc., so maybe I should just write the rest of the year off.

I did apply for the job, despite my misgivings, but I feel like I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours remembering every workplace mistake I’ve made in the last five years or more. My CV seems to be a mess of unemployed gaps and irrelevant non-library work. I always thought that having a job was better than no job, even if it wasn’t part of my career plan (not that I ever really had one), but potential employers might not think the same way when they see just how much of my career has been spent in non-library work, long after I qualified as a librarian and began that career. Not for the first time, I feel that I don’t have a career in the way that I’m “supposed” to or at least in the way most middle class, university-educated people are supposed to do. Those huge unemployment gaps are scary too.

In terms of other career moves, I have been trying to think of ideas for articles to try to sell to the Jewish website I wrote for before, but have not really succeeded. Their articles tend to link either to pop culture or relationships, to attract a non-religious audience, and those are not my strong points.

E and I have also spoken about trying to get me set up as a paid proofreader or copy editor, which I think could be good for me (I could do two days a week in my current job and split the rest between editing and writing), but it will take some time to organise and my previous attempt did not work out at all. It would be good to work from home and have greater control over my hours.

As I say, I did apply for the library job, and if I get called for interview, I will go, and maybe try to have a conversation about autism and workplace adjustments, but it is scary and I have been a bit more anxious than usual today.

Other than that, the day was a bit better than recently. I got up a bit earlier than usual, admittedly to help Dad with the Tesco delivery and to be up for therapy, which I had earlier than usual today. I have resolved to go back to the doctor next week to talk again about my exhaustion and hypersomnia, this time trying to get to speak to the doctor who knows me better. I am also speaking to the OT on Friday to see if I can get any help there.

***

My therapist suggested that I have too many files open in my brain all the time and can’t switch off from anything. This is a reasonable description of the difficulties people on the spectrum can have with moving from one task to another. It also suggests why we sometimes “crash.” We just have too much running in our brains. She suggested visualising shutting down windows or files, which I will try to keep in mind.

The friend who sent the job description to me is also on the spectrum, and wrote about her own struggles with work at the moment, the office environment as well as the commute. I am sorry for her, but also a bit pleased that it’s not just me who struggles with this stuff. It makes me feel a bit less useless.

***

I do feel I need better coping skills, or some coping skills, but I’m not sure where to go to find them. I suppose I could ask my therapist. Therapists I’ve seen in the past have been reluctant to give such practical help, although this one has been more willing. I suppose I could ask the OT too.

I do wonder if blogging is such a great coping skill. It does help me process my emotions and I do intend to continue with it, but I think I should try to make more of an effort not to blog on work days, as being on the computer after a day in front of screens is exhausting rather than relaxing and restoring, but is also addictive. Once I get on the computer, it’s hard to come off again.

***

The weather has been a bit warmer and sunnier, and the days are noticeably longer, although still fairly short. For all that the Jewish spring festivals inspire anxiety in me, it is good to be heading towards spring at last. By coincidence, Here Comes the Sun has just come on my music on shuffle.

Purim on an Irrational Planet

Purim is coming next week. Purim is the most carnivalesque Jewish festival, a rare Jewish festival that is actually what non-Jews would think of as a festival. Since my autism diagnosis, I’ve wondered how I ever coped with it. Then I realised that I didn’t. For the past few years, my anxieties have focused, via my religious OCD, on the problems of hearing every word of the reading of the Megillah (Book of Esther) as Jewish law dictates, when custom also dictates the making of a lot of noise whenever the villainous Haman is mentioned. But even before this, I struggled with it. Obviously the years when my depression was at its worse, I largely avoided the festival entirely, staying at home and not hearing the Megillah at all. But I think even as a child I felt uncomfortable with the noise, costumes and general atmosphere. I do still spend Purim in a state of nervousness, worried that something unpredictable will happen (unpredictability is a major source of anxiety to those on the spectrum), some prank or noise that will upset or scare me.

I can remember one year I was ill on the Fast of Esther (day before Purim) and although it was from fasting, my parents told the rabbi that “Purim made [me] ill,” that they thought I was sick with anxiety about it. Even then, before I was depressed or diagnosed autistic, my parents intuited that I struggled with Purim. My first depressive episode, which I increasingly feel was more like autistic burnout than depression, started on Purim when I had what I now recognise as an anxiety attack in a Megillah reading; it feels like Purim is completely entangled in my struggles with mental illness and autism. I have fantasised what an autistically-comfortable Purim might look like, but I can’t see anyone doing it, certainly not when high-functioning autism isn’t really spoken about in the frum (religious Jewish) world, and the community in the UK is really too small to make room for minorities of minorities.

Beyond that, Purim is the start of a month of intensive preparation leading up Pesach, which is hard in itself, for everyone, but also leads to the fear that my Pesach religious OCD will flare up again, particularly worrying this year as E will be here. I just have to face it, but it’s scary.

***

Last summer, when the Jewish internet was full of people complaining about negative representation of Orthodox life in the mainstream media, E pointed out an Instagram post to me, from the journalist (and rebbetzin) Avital Chizik-Goldschmidt, which I saved to re-read at when I feel despondent about my writing. The text reads:

There’s so much frustration right now in the frum community; I get it. But the problem lies not only with corporations seeking sensationalism – it is also with our inability to foster a creative class that tells honest American frum stories that aren’t PR.

How about we be the change we want to see? How about we invest in real Orthodox art? What if instead of investing in askanim [activists] & bloggers to whine about misrepresentation – we empower frum independent-minded artists to do creative work, tell stories of our communities, bravely, *candidly*? The beautiful & challenging, the inspiring but also the systemic issues that emerge in communities in which there is the inevitable tug-of-war between individualism & conformity, tradition & modernity. Being both a frum journalist & a rabbi’s wife, I see up close how much pain there is, how much work there is to do.

All the energy poured into posts about how amazing our lives are, the shine of Shabbos & the impeccable wigs & sparkling family portraits, all the stories we tell ourselves – what if we would channel that energy & time into telling actually compelling stories, *for a wider audience*? No, not “my Orthodox life is fun & perfect” tales, but stories of faith, conflicts, struggles? Not sanitized hagiography, but flesh & blood. Not “content,” but art. Stories that show we are human & nothing more.

Why is it only people who leave who tell stories? Yes, it sells, but perhaps also— because we don’t create spaces to tell our most raw stories.

If you want to compete in the global stories market – publicity & hashtags don’t work.

Find real storytellers: the impassioned frum screenwriters, novelists, poets, filmmakers, artists, thirsty for platforms. Educate them. Cultivate their talent. Give them tools they need to succeed. Support their work & their honesty. Don’t censor them, don’t tell them to pursue other professions because parnasa [livelihoo], & — this is important — don’t shut them down when their work offers true critiques of communities they love & live in. 

It’s on us to create community where honest storytellers can thrive – where stories are told from within, unflinching.

Reading this, I felt “At last, someone else gets it! This is exactly why I write!” But also, it’s worrying, because there’s the implication of the penultimate paragraph that communities do censor, they do discourage artistic careers and they do shut people down if they present an non-idealised picture. It makes me feel that there could be an audience for the stories I want to tell, but I have to get through two sets of gatekeepers, each with very different priorities: first the publishing world gatekeepers of agents and publishers, who are indifferent at best to stories about Judaism and religion (except Holocaust and “off the derekh” (stopping being religious) stories), then a community that often seems concerned more with making itself look good on the page or screen than listening to the marginalised.

I would feel happier if there were places I could share my Jewish writing, like Jewish writing groups. Hevria.com was good when it existed, even though I never felt like I really fitted in there. I would have liked to have written for them regularly. When they started doing in-person creative events, I obviously couldn’t go as I live on another continent.

Lately though it has been a struggle to write at all, because I feel exhausted all the time. I feel that I don’t know where to look for help as I don’t know if the problem is physical health, psychological health or medication side-effect. I feel I should wait to see if the vitamin D the doctor prescribed helps, but my parents think I should try to see my preferred doctor (if the receptionists will let me) and ask what he thinks.

I feel I do need to change something, as I can’t carry on only managing to work two days a week and needing to sleep ten or twelve hours on non-work nights and I certainly can’t get married in this state. I wake up, and I want to get up, but somehow the signals don’t go from my brain to my legs. Then I fall asleep again. This happened several times across the morning today, with increasing frustration. It was almost physically painful to fight the exhaustion to get dressed this morning. The whole situation just makes me feel down.

Between exhaustion, worries about being physically able to write, writing anything that has a chance of getting published, worries about Purim and Pesach, worries about how E and I will earn enough to get married… I feel I talked myself into a depression today. I feel as bad as I did when I had depression; I hope it will just last a day or two, and then go, without becoming another full-blown depressive episode. I do feel a bit better for having spoken to (variously) my rabbi mentor, my parents and E, and brainstormed ideas for what to do next.

I did have other surprising news as well, late in the day. Unexpected cliff-hangers are not only features of improbable TV series. But I’ve written enough for today, so it will have to wait for now…

The Autism Treadmill

I woke up late again and drifted quickly into self-criticism. I feel I have to sort this oversleeping (actually hypersomnia, as my sleep pattern is longer than it should be, not just shifted later in the day) and lack of energy, but I don’t know how, and I don’t know how I can work it out without knowing what is causing it: medication, autistic exhaustion (which in itself is not well-understood) or something else like avoidance. I’m not even remotely sure how much of it is a physical issue and how much an emotional one. But I feel it’s one of the main factors – arguably the main factor – holding back E and me from getting married.

One of the few things I took from Sara Gibbs’ autism memoir Drama Queen was the metaphor that if being neurotypical is like walking on a treadmill going at a walking pace, being autistic is like being on a treadmill going at a fast running pace, all the while being expected to keep up with the walking neurotypicals who don’t understand why you’re struggling to stay level with them. More than any other issue I have, I think of my energy issues here.

I had to do some shopping, which stopped me going for a (literal) run, although I’m not sure I would have had time anyway. I did walk quite briskly, so it was not a total failure in the exercise department.

I had hoped to finish the plan for my second novel today. In the event, I did about forty minutes of work on it, but still have a lot more to do, even though I’m deliberately not planning down to the last detail as my experience with my first novel is that things grow organically during the writing process (at least for me) and it’s better not to over-plan in advance. Writing seems very daunting, particularly if I want to actually get published and earn money from it. Then again, everything seems daunting: marriage, work, getting up on time, shul and community (see below).

I’m glad my parents are home tomorrow (albeit very late) as I’m feeling that I can’t take much more of living alone for now. I do feel quite depressed (and glad I haven’t completely come off my olanzapine) and stressed about additional housework and, well, everything. Everything just seems overwhelming and difficult at the moment. I just emailed the mental health charity that helped me years ago again to try to see if they can help me now with sleep/life skills, but I’m not sure if I’m still eligible.

***

My shul (synagogue) wants people to help with moving books and the like to our temporary premises and then on to our new premises later in the year (hopefully). Part of me would like to help, but I just feel completely disconnected from them at the moment. I’m scared of being asked about my wedding and I just feel that my time there is running out. I never really felt accepted the way I hoped, which is probably at least partly my own fault. The temporary premises are about twenty minutes from my house (rather than ten minutes for the current ones) and in what is probably going to be a small, cramped room and full of autistic “new experience” anxiety. Then when they (we?) move to the new premises, that’s also twenty minutes away, and hopefully by then I’ll have a clearer idea of when I’m getting married and probably moving somewhere else (E doesn’t really want to live around here).

I sometimes get to a point with something where I just feel, “This is over” and lose all motivation to do anything to keep it going and I feel that’s where I am with my shul. I liked their commitment to quiet davening (prayer) and sense of humour and perspective about frum life, but it obviously was not enough for me to feel accepted, given the generally more moderate-Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) outlook as well as my mental health and autism situation, not to mention being one of the few unmarried “older” people and the lack of interest in setting me up on dates as I expected/hoped (obviously not an issue now, but more of an issue a few years ago). My fear is that the social anxiety and autism will still be there in future shuls, and I’m already dreading going back to a shul where people talk in the davening (which is most Orthodox shuls, sadly).

***

Since finishing The Twilight Zone, and as E and I aren’t watching any Doctor Who together at the moment, I sped up my viewing of Twin Peaks. Unfortunately, I then hit the third season. The original Twin Peaks had charm, warmth, wit and strong characters. The third season has none of this, substituting semi-incoherent weirdness and long, aching, empty scenes, with occasional good bits that prevent me skipping it. The lack of incidental music makes the whole thing feel even stranger, like watching raw footage. However, I’m curious to re-watch to see if it makes more sense second-time around. So far the answer is yes, just about. And I recall that the final two episodes were pretty good, so I’m sticking with it for that.

However, the last couple of days I’ve been too down to want to watch this, so I decided to watch Doctor Who. As I want to watch good episodes of Doctor Who with E, I decided to watch something too awful to suggest watching with her, so — Silver Nemesis. It’s really not good at all. Maybe I should try to persuade E to restart watching good Doctor Who with me.

“Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time”

I picked the title of the post, from The Beatles’ All You Need is Love before Shabbat, as I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot lately. Except that over Shabbat things went downhill and alternative titles could be I’m Only Sleeping, I’ll Cry Instead or I’m a Loser. Also The Long and Winding Road, but I find that a maudlin and annoying song.

***

I felt drained on Friday. I’m not sure if it was more physical or emotional/psychological. I had a busy week, and a busy day on Thursday, but I also had an emotionally-draining week, being home alone and missing E. I am not sure whether occupational therapy or Access to Work help will be able to help me with any of this, if I can’t tell where it’s coming from, if it’s physical or emotional. I did the chores I needed to do to get ready for Shabbat (the Sabbath). I didn’t think I would go to shul (synagogue) as I was tired, but then I felt a bit better right before Shabbat, so I went after all.

This turned out not to be the best decision. I was worried people would ask if E and I had set a date for the wedding yet. My closest friend at shul has asked me this twice already. I was slightly relieved that he wasn’t there, but the rabbi asked me (I guess he assumes he’ll be mesader kiddushin (officiating)). It just reminds me that E and I are currently in limbo, engaged, but with no real idea when we’ll get married. Maybe I find this harder than E because of social expectation, that in frum (religious Jewish) circles marriages usually take place within a couple of months of engagements (we got engaged three months ago). I think I would want to move things on even if that wasn’t the case. Unusually for me, I just want to leap in to married life while E is the one who is more cautious and wants to check we both have enough energy and can earn enough money whereas I feel there’s no real way of knowing how we will both react to living together until it happens (one of the weird things about our relationship for me is that I’m the optimistic one, relatively speaking, although I guess we both overthink things).

There was dancing in shul too, as we’ve just begun the super-happy month of Adar II (“When Adar begins, we increase in joy”). No one tried to get me to dance this time, but it reminded me that Purim is in two weeks and Pesach in six weeks, with all the anxieties and potential mental health triggers those two festivals involve.

On the way home, I kept thinking that the kids who bullied me at school had won. I had always assumed that I would get my own back on them (so to speak), by having an amazing post-school life because of my incredible intelligence and diligence (these both turned out to be really over-estimated), but actually my life since school has mostly been awful, lonely, depressed and unsuccessful, with occasional short periods of vague competence.

I don’t know why the kids bullied me. My parents thought they were jealous of my academic success. I think they saw me as an easy target. In retrospect, some might have genuinely mistaken my autism and social anxiety for some kind of deliberate snub. It was hard to avoid thinking that they were right: I am a freak and I’m not going to have a good or happy life. Whatever the cause, they were not helpful thoughts. I’m not really sure what triggered them, but they bothered me obsessively all evening, until I focused on the few things I am proud of having done in my life, such as teaching people Torah. That helped me set those thoughts aside.

I do wonder why I just can’t ever be happy. Things have got better for me over the last year or so and maybe they will continue to improve, but somehow it feels like things have to peak and decline now. It feels like things could only go well for me when they were going badly for the rest of the world (COVID), and now COVID is ending it’s back to normal (bad) for me.

The rest of Friday night was OK. Mostly reading and Torah study. I read a bit of The Coming of the Third Reich, but it didn’t really seem appropriate for Shabbat (when one should try to feel positive) so I mostly read Doctor Who Magazine, but that frustrated me, because I feel I should be writing articles on the best Fifth Doctor comic strips (etc.). I’ve tried pitching article ideas and offering my writing services to DWM before, but they aren’t interested. I’m not sure if I pitched wrongly or they don’t like my writing style or what. Fifteen years ago, I was hopeful that my fanzine/internet fan writings would get me work from them, but it never did. I don’t know how they find their new generation of writers. The convention circuit or Doctor Who fan Twitter or some other outlet I don’t use.

***

I woke up at 7.30am this morning. I didn’t feel tired, but I thought it was too early to get up, especially as I hadn’t gone to bed until nearly 1am, and went back to bed, which turned out to be a mistake as, of course, I slept through the morning. I woke up the second time with a neck ache that I still have and a bunch of self-recriminatory thoughts, which I also still have. My mood was low and I struggled to do any Torah study. I worry I’ll never be well enough/energetic enough for E.

***

I don’t speak lashon hara (gossip) much, so it tends to stick in my mind when I do. When I was at university, two students got married in term-time. The man had graduated the previous year, but the woman was in her final year when they got married. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t wait until she finished her finals and opined to this extent to a friend. It was wrong of me, although in retrospect, if that’s the worst lashon hara I ever speak, I’m probably not doing too badly. I have wondered in the past if my largely non-existent love-life was Divine payback for this. Now I wondered if it was delaying my marriage. I guess this comes from the Talmudic/Midrashic approach that views even trivial misdeeds as potentially the cause of significant suffering in this world, to avoid suffering in the next world. I don’t know what I could do about it now. I tried internet searching for those people, but I can’t find them.

***

I mentioned I’ve been listening to The Beatles a lot recently. I had never bought their early albums as I don’t like them so much, but the completist bug got to me and I bought a whole bunch of albums very cheaply second-hand. I got five albums for about £17. (I’m still waiting for With the Beatles.) Listening to them, (a) their early songs are much better than I remembered, but (b) even so, they weren’t so good at the start. I guess it’s heartening to me to think that my first few novels don’t have to be my best…

***

This post seems rambling and self-obsessed even by my usual standards. Thanks if you got this far.

Dilemmas

I have the Buridan’s Ass feeling of being caught between two writing projects. Strategically, the literary novel of character is probably the one to go for before the controversial satire, to build some kind of audience, and because it’s somewhat further ahead, but who knows which, if either, would be well-received? Anton Chekov said that medicine was his wife and literature his mistress and when he got bored of one, he went to the other. I’m not sure where that leaves me, with a part-time job, two unwritten embryo novels, one written-but-unpublished novel, various ongoing religious obligations and (last, but definitely not least) a long-distance relationship.

Of course, I have a written novel that I want to get published and today I got another rejection for that, so maybe I should prioritise getting that to lots of agents. Except that sending to agents isn’t fun, unlike thinking of ideas and writing.

***

A number of people on the autism forum seem to be struggling with constant fatigue and disturbed sleep (too much or too little), so I guess it’s not just me. Someone else on the forum sounded like me a few years ago, really lonely and wanting a girlfriend, but not knowing how to get one. I felt I should respond, but I didn’t know what to say, because the fact that I’m not still there is largely due to factors outside of my control, not things I can advise him to replicate. I guess his post also triggered my self-loathing, the feeling that I don’t deserve to be loved. When I went back to the site later to try to give some moral support, even if I couldn’t advise, the post seemed to have been deleted.

I am also getting a bit annoyed at the number of people on the forum who don’t choose a username and just stick with the serial number generated by the site when you join. It makes it hard to remember who is who when half the people just have a string of digits for a name. I understand why people might want anonymity (I think the site actually forbids the use of information that could identify you in real-life), but I prefer to talk to people, not numbers. It’s not that hard to think up a pseudonym.