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The world's longest suicide note

I write about life with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression)

All opinions are my own

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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9,500 Words To Go

11 min read

This is a story about summit fever...

Hawaiian mountain

I'm writing an average of 1,900 words per day at the moment, which rather pleasingly works out to be exactly 5 days to reach my 1-million word target on August 25th. I'll be finished about 12 days ahead of schedule.

The finishing is important. So many projects get started but never finished. There are so many abandoned blogs where the author just got bored after the initial excitement. There are so many uncompleted novel manuscripts. If you never finish, you'll never publish. Publish or perish.

If you're a bird, there's no point only having one wing, or tiny little wings. Even bad wings are better than wings which don't allow you to fly at all. At least if you've got something that's a bit rough, you can improve on it.

Creating software forces you to finish stuff. Your software won't work at all unless there's a beginning, a middle and an end. An unfinished manuscript can fool you into thinking that it's going to be perfect, but it'll never be perfect unless you write all the way to the end. Striving for perfection can stop you ever completing a project. Done is better than perfect.

I thought it would be funny to write more words than there are in the Bible. The King James Bible has 783,000 words in it and it's not exactly a page-turner, so I don't feel like what I've written is complete crap, because my creation is organised into lots of little sections. Somewhere buried in the 990,500 words I've published during the last 3 years, there's some good stuff. Sure, there's a lot of repetition and rubbish, but that's what you'd expect from a single author churning stuff out at high-speed. Producing a large volume and having the discipline to write every day is an OK place to start if you're an aspiring author - the blank page and the daunting prospect of completing an entire work of literature is otherwise too daunting if you've never successfully managed to finish anything more than crappy poems and short stories.

"Why do people climb mountains?" is a question oft-responded with "because they're there" but that's not everything you need to know about climbing mountains. One reason to climb them is because it's amazing that simply putting one foot in front of the other, slowly, slowly inching your way up the steep incline, eventually leads to the summit. Reaching a mountain summit is an incredible experience of achievement and wonder that a comparatively tiny human could get to the top of such towering peaks. From the summit of a mountain, you can look down at the path you took to get up there and marvel at how far and how high you've travelled.

One reason to keep a journal is because of the pleasure of seeing all the pages full of your handwriting, and building up your collection of journals over the years. The more completed diaries and journals you amass, the greater the sense of achievement. There's a great deal of pride about having created someting - made your mark - when you see that stack of bound pages.

The blog is the modern equivalent of the journal, except of course that it's usually public from the start. The huge advantage of writing on a computer is that your creative output has already been digitised - nobody's going to have to type it up. I imagine that many journal-writers dream of one day turning their journals into a memoir or otherwise doing something with the vast amount of words they've produced, but they never will because of the enormity of the task. Nobody's going to sit down and struggle with your handwriting unless you become very very famous, and even then it'll probably only be some poor archivist who has to catalogue your stuff before it's stored and never looked at again. At least a public blog is a living document that's available for anybody to stumble upon and dip into. Blogs are Google'able and sometimes a blog can be the top hit when doing a Google search.

During my 3-year writing project I've averaged 900 words per day, but I've been writing more than twice that amount during the last 20 days. I've seen the finish line and I'm sprinting towards it. I've got summit fever and I'm desperate to reach the top of the mountain after over 1,000 days slogging away.

I've tackled my goal with a siege mentality. I've avoided being drawn into discussion. I've avoided approval seeking. I've tried not to worry too much about quality and to get too fussy. To say that I'll do some editing later is ludicrous. Most of what I've written is fairly throwaway, but that doesn't mean it's been easy. It shouldn't be underestimated, the difficulty of one single author writing and publishing 1-million words, which need to be at least of the minimum quality deemed acceptable for public consumption. If I was writing total garbage, that wouldn't be anything to be proud of. There'd be no sense of achievement if I'd written total crap.

Somewhere - around the middle - of my 3-year odyssey, I wrote a novel which I think is reasonably good. That novel is 54,000 words long. I should probably subtract those 54,000 words from the cumulative total, because I plan to remove the draft manuscript from this blog at some point. I wrote 42,000 of a second novel, which I could finish at some point but I'm not pleased with a lot of what I wrote, so I might just bin it and start again.

I've deleted A LOT of blog posts. When I first started I wanted to write really good stuff, so I would delete thousands of words which were a bit rambling and meandering. When I started to get unwell I wrote vast amounts with manic intensity. When I was feeling threatened and insecure I wrote a huge number of things driven by those unhappy feelings. When I got angry, frustrated and upset with people, I wrote passive-aggressive attacks. Some of the regrettable stuff I've written has been deleted, and some of it I've preserved because the whole point of my project was to capture every bit of the entire spectrum of mood swings, mental health problems, addiction problems, relationship problems, work problems, money problems, housing problems and every other thing that's been going on in my chaotic life. I decided to write my stream-of-consciousness with candid honesty and emotional rawness, and not particularly worry about whether I was making a fool of myself.

I was wondering whether to pop a champagne cork to celebrate the achievement of reaching 1-million words, or whether that's a little ridiculous considering how much of a rough diamond my artwork is. There's so much I could be upset about - that my blog contains things which are very unflattering; that there are many tens of thousands of words which were written when I was seriously unwell, and barely able to string a sentence together. I could get quite depressed about how far from perfection my creation is - it's not as if I've managed to produce 20 high-quality fully edited and fully proofread novels which are ready for publication; I've produced just ONE novel that I'm happy with in the whole 3 years, and it needs a good edit.

Thinking about how unwell I've been and some pretty catastrophic things which have happened, it's remarkable that I have managed to write 900 words. Every. Single. Day.

If you dip into what I've written at random, it's surprising how much of it reads OK. I find it very hard to read, because I'm reminded of the difficulties I was going through at the time. My life isn't perfect, but it's certainly a lot better than it has been during awful periods over the last 3 years. I cringe with embarrassment that I continued to write without a filter when I was extremely unwell, which of course exposes me and makes me vulnerable - it's plain for all to see that I was suffering from very strange thoughts and ideas; my sickness is quite apparent and I'm a little appalled that it was me who wrote some of the things I've written. I could have hidden the bad side of myself. I could have attempted to continue to pretend like everything was fine and present a fake image, but I'm glad I've been consistent in the way I write. I think people need to see what's really going on beneath the surface. People have been sympathetic and kind.

Making myself so vulnerable by documenting all my struggles was a huge gamble. It's hard to know what would have happened if I didn't, but I feel like writing every day has given me structure and purpose. I feel like having this project and this goal has given me something I can work on even when I've been unable to work. Being able to produce and create is important for self esteem and a sense of achievement. I think I'd be much more depressed if I didn't have this huge volume of work I've produced, as a testament to my own industriousness and ingenuity. Perhaps it's not an original idea, and perhaps it's not a great contribution to the vast mountain of words which are published every day, but it shouldn't be underestimated. That I've done it through the highs and lows of a very challenging 3 years of life is a huge achievement.

It's unlikely that my vast repository of words could ever directly be turned into a useful resource for people who are struggling with mental health problems, addiction, and general difficulties with debts and suchlike, but the process of writing so much has creating a writing habit and given me a written voice which flows very easily from my brain onto the page. If I take some time to rest and recuperate, I imagine that I will be able to use my toned writing muscles and stamina to be able to produce whatever I want with relative ease; certainly a lot easier than it would be if I hadn't had so much practice.

Perhaps I've gotten into bad habits. Perhaps I should've gone on a creative writing course. Perhaps I should've produced vast quantities of bad poetry and short stories to cut my teeth. Certainly, my two attempts at novel writing have taught me that I'm a bit of a one-trick pony. Perhaps you think it's easy to write about your thoughts and opinions and express them clearly. If you read my stuff and you think what I do is easy, then I'm really pleased, because I set out from the beginning to develop a writing style that would appear effortless. I've attempted to write using simplified language, which was a style I had to learn. It's easy to write dense impenetrable text which is off-putting to the reader, but appears as if the author is very intelligent and the writing was very difficult. To make things look effortless is a sign that a person is mastering their art. Of course, I'm aware that I could also just look like a pretentious idiot, spouting complete rubbish.

Well, I'm getting close to my daily word count target. I really didn't want to do diary-style daily journal entries and just write until some arbitrary point where I decided to stop. The bulk of what I've written are little bite-size self-contained nuggets. The bulk of what I've written is coherent, at least on a given day for a given title and topic. These past 20 days I've just pounded out as many words as I can, because I'm so desperate to reach 1-million words.

I'm sorry, dear reader, that I'll have spent the best part of 3 weeks bombarding you with 46,000 words which were written with the sole objective of reaching my goal as quickly as possible. If you've stuck with me this far, that's super kind and awesome of you, and I hope to reward you with some more well-considered and higher quality efforts, which I'll be aiming to keep below 700 words per day, as opposed to my 2,000+ word rambling meandering waffle.

Can't wait for this final phase to be over.

 

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Stuck Indoors

10 min read

This is a story about anhedonia...

Bright light

I'm not under house arrest. I'm not in prison. I'm at liberty to do whatever I want. I don't have to spend my evenings and weekends alone. I don't have to spend my working day in the office. The reasons for my choices are too subtle for anybody who makes a lazy appraisal of my life to discern.

My attention span and ability to concentrate during periods of extreme boredom is very poor. My perception of time is warped to the point of being unbearably and agonisingly slow. I just want it to be December already. I want to press the fast-forward button and skip all the monotonous bullshit between now and then. I know where I'm going and I know how to get there, so there's absolutely zero enjoyment of the journey; in fact it's pure torture.

My summer has been spent at a desk, in a hotel room, or lying on my sofa. My whole year has been characterised by endless suffering in a desperate attempt to get back on my feet financially. I'm out of the danger zone, I bought a car and rented an apartment. Those are the highlights of my year. Now I'm just going through the motions until I have enough cash to clear my debts. I'm well paid and my financial position is improving rapidly, but my perception of the passage of time is so messed up that it doesn't feel like I'm getting anywhere. When I do the maths and work out how far I've still got to go, it seems ridiculously far away considering how much suffering and sacrifice I've gone through to get to this point. Suicidal thoughts are back.

It might seem like I've got the leisure time and the money to do anything I want, but I would never have survived as well as I have done if I hadn't had periods where I suffered. It's the suffering that equates to cold hard cash. Do you think they pay 6-figure sums of money for doing work that's fun? Do you think you get rich by doing stuff that you love? That's a fantasy for rich spoiled brats. Most of us have to suffer if we want to make a quick buck. The more you suffer, the more money you make.

"You can do anything you want. Follow your dreams" people say to me. It's not true. I have responsibilities and moral obligations. I'm trying to make things right and that requires a great deal of suffering. There are plenty of people who'd run away from their problems, and I'd know about that because I'm owed thousands of pounds by people who seem to think that it's OK to pick my pocket. I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm trying to do the honest and honourable thing. I'm doing things the hard way.

I have enough money at my fingertips to live a life of profligate luxury, but all that money is accounted for. I'm not living in a hovel on bread and water, sure, but I'm certainly denying myself a lot of lifestyle choices which would seem like just reward for my suffering. The whole point of doing a job that you hate is because it earns you a lot of money. One simply has to choose between a rewarding and fun career, or work that's extremely lucrative, and usually requires a high living standard to justify the awfulness of putting up with the dreadful day job. You can be a penniless artist, or you can sell your soul to the devil: that's the choice we all have to make.

Perhaps my job and the work I do is not wholly objectionable, but it jars with my psychological make-up. There's zero excitement and creativity; nothing is novel or interesting; I'm not challenged. The challenge is simply in withstanding the boredom and the monotony. I live with unbearable amounts of dread: I dread the intolerable boredom. I dread the endless waiting. All I seem to be doing at the moment is just waiting; killing time.

I feel momentarily excited by the prospect of spending a bit of money. I want to buy a microwave and a dehydrator for the kitchen. I want to buy some more wine glasses. I want to want to buy stuff, but I know that I'll feel buyer's remorse, so I rein myself in. That's unusual for me.

I try to get excited about how much money I'm able to save each month, but it's not exciting at all. Each day is such a struggle that I end up feeling depressed about how little I'm earning, even though I earn an obscene amount of money. I should be happy about how quickly I'm managing to dig myself out of the hole, but instead I'm depressed about how slow time is passing and how long it's going to take. December seems like an eternity away.

The problem is that I'm solving problems I've already solved. I'm doing things I've already done a million times before, so there's no doubt that I'll be able to do them again. I already invented very successful strategies for becoming rich and successful, and it irks me that I'm having to start my life over. I feel like I already won - which I did - so somebody should just give me my damn gold medal already, rather than making me run the marathon again.

Of course, I pissed away a huge fortune. I had the enviable pleasure of going on a total rampage for years, doing whatever the hell I wanted. I bought whatever I wanted, travelled wherever I wanted, never had to wait for anything and generally spent money like it was going out of fashion. Arguably, I've had the fun so I should now pay the price.

In fact, most of my financial woes come from a very miserable and mundane period of my life, where the money was spent on nothing more than general living expenses: rent and bills etc. When I've splashed the cash with gay abandon, I've always had a lot more of a memorable and exciting experience, than simply lining the pockets of the capitalists. My impulse purchases have always brought an amount of pleasure that was commensurate with the price tag. Whenever I get excited about something, there's usually an angle which is financially beneficial.

My life is austere. I'm not excited about anything. I'm saving a lot of money, but I'm thoroughly miserable.

My last big spending spree was buying everything I needed for my apartment - plates, bowls, saucepans, cutlery, kettle, toaster, kitchen knives, utensils and the myriad other things which are essential for daily living. There was little joy in it, because I already had a house that was packed full of everything I'd ever want or need. I was repeating something I'd already done and there was no pleasure in it. You'd be surprised how hard it is to start over from a completely blank slate. You take for granted so many little things you've accumulated over the years.

My life is hyper-efficient. I'm living the minimum viable life. If I break or lose something it's fairly catastrophic, because I have exactly as much as I need, and nothing more. Sure, my apartment is ludicrously large for my needs. Sure I could use public transport instead of owning a car. Sure, I could live even more frugally, but I don't think you're talking about a viable reality. There are homeless people who struggle to even protect a single backpack with some precious belongings, and they manage to survive. Sure I could survive with a single backpack, but it wouldn't be compatible with other parts of my life, such as working a full-time job in an office. If you're a homeless person sleeping rough, that life isn't compatible with civilised society. Society expects me to have fresh socks every day and a crisply ironed shirt... although I've managed to avoid buying an ironing board and iron so far [I use the one in the hotel].

I've temporarily halted any attempt to have a social life. I took some time out from dating and relationships. I'm estranged from my family, except my sister who I exchange a handful of messages with each year. I've put everything on hold until I'm in a better position.

I hated it when I was dating earlier this year, and I was being pummelled with questions about what car I drove and whether I owned a house. At the time I was living in somebody's converted garage, effectively homeless. At the time I was carless. At the time I was virtually bankrupt. Every question that was designed to tease out whether I'm rich and successful - and a good provider - was in fact a dreadful reminder that I'm not yet a secure member of civilised society. In the blink of an eye, I could be back on the streets.

Pride and self-esteem are at stake, but also people just can't cope with the idea that somebody's been through rough times and lost everything. People would think there's something wrong with me and I wouldn't be able to get a job or get laid. How many times have they hired a homeless person where you work? Never. I've survived because I've been sneaky enough to never let on that I've had incredibly awful stuff going on in my personal life, and nobody would ever suspect a thing because it just doesn't happen - no homeless person would ever be so audaciously brazen as to apply for highly paid jobs, as if they're a regular ordinary person.

This protracted pantomime, where I'm having to pretend like everything is A-OK in my personal life when in actual fact I've been one tiny slip-up away from begging on the streets for the whole goddam year, has been indescribably exhausting and trying. You might think that I'm being too proud, but I really promise you that my personal life problems would not go down well in the office; my run of financial fortune would be quickly curtailed if anybody knew how desperate I am.

I'm stuck indoors and it looks like a choice, but it's not a choice. Nothing in my life is a choice. It's all carefully calculated and necessitated by circumstances. My circumstances dictate my behaviour, and the constriction and constraint affects more than just my decision about where I work and what kind of work I do. The circumstances dictate my mood, and my mood is every bit as miserable and depressed as you'd expect of any slave and prisoner.

At least you can win a race. I'm not part of the rat race; I'm just trying not to lose.

 

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Godless

10 min read

This is a story about faith...

Church

I have far too much of a skeptical inquiring mind to foolishly believe that religions are anything other than a terrestrial invention, born in the minds of mortal men who were afraid of death, during unenlightened pre-scientific times. I've had access to far too much knowledge and information to ever believe in fairy tales about omnipotent sky monsters. However, it does mean that my existence is pretty absurd and meaningless. Religion gives a sense of community and belonging - those who have chosen to follow a particular faith are able to identify others who believe the same weird things, because of their weird customs, their weird traditions, their weird buildings and the weird books they read. It must be nice to have that sense of belonging, and to strongly believe that there is order, purpose, meaning and easy-to-grasp comforting explanations for everything that happens in our otherwise hostile and chaotic universe... it's all part of God's plan.

I used to pity those who have religious faith as deluded simpletons. I used to want them to wake up and consider the evidence - or lack thereof - and to have a scientific awakening; to become atheists. However, I think it's those who don't subscribe to any kind of philosophical or theological framework, who should be pitied. What do you believe in if you know - from the overwhelming weight of empirical evidence - that the universe is nothing more that a cosmic accident; the byproduct of the universal laws of physics and nothing more. Why are we here? What meaning and purpose is there? Humanity will be wiped off the face of the Earth and everything that we ever thought was important will be erased; as if it never existed. We're not even a microscopic speck in the unimaginably huge - and ever-expanding - universe.

The author Douglas Adams wrote in one work of fiction, about the worst torture being to be shown the entire universe all at once such that you fully perceive your own insignificance, which would blow your mind and destroy you. So many good novelists are more imaginative than our best scientists, and they foresee the cultural and social problems which the inventors of new technology don't, because the inventors are too in love with their creations. Our thirst for knowledge, and the invention of the biggest and most complicated machine ever built, which connects most of humanity in a world wide web - the internet - has not brought with it any comfort, unlike religion. Having this incredible information vault accessible anytime, anywhere, along with the ability to communicate and connect with anybody, is something which no engineer who built the internet thought might lead to incredibly awful social and cultural problems. Engineers are utopians, but they invent things not ideas, philosophies and belief systems. Engineers created the internet and they left it up to others to decide what to do with it; they've left it to us to make sense of things.

Google and Wikipedia appear to be unopinionated. In theory, you can use Google and Wikipedia to simply discover the information which you're looking for, and consume it. In theory, Google and Wikipedia will not tell you that certain ideas are heretical, or ascribe a sinfulness to the pursuit of certain knowledge. You're free to search "anal fissures" out of pure morbid fascination with the disgusting and depraved, and you won't be judged - it's all just between you and the computer. You can ask Google the questions that you would have asked your priest 100 years ago, and Google will give you the information so that you can make up your own mind. In fact Google is giving you the information that the most people clicked on, and some information which has been growth hacked by people with a commercial objective. Wikipedia presents the prevailing consensus of opinion in academia, with some degree of peer-review process, however it's just the opinion of the handful of people who wrote the particular page you're reading.

None of the stuff you read online is informed by an over-arching unified goal of shepherding the flock towards a state of existence deemed better than pure anarchy. Perhaps certain online news sources have editorial leanings which border on the paternalistic, but the vast majority of what's published online is done so to satisfy the particular individual's personal goals, and not as part of any master plan.

You might think it's the role of the government to think about the future of society and civilisation, and the government will be strongly opinionated about the purpose and meaning of our lives, but in fact governments are simply the victors in a commercial popularity contest, driven by individual egos and the survival needs of the massive party-political organisations. As such, governments simply parrot back whatever the people are demanding.

Progressive policies which have advanced our society have not come about because people demanded that we drag ourselves out of the dark ages, but in fact as a result of opinionated elites pushing through changes in the law which were not at all popular with the public. The death sentence is not something the public wanted to see repealed. The public are barbaric baboons and the idea that true democracy would lead us towards a progressive liberal utopia is completely wrong - instead we'd legalise xenophobia, racism and the persecution of minorities, if we left it up to the masses; mob rule.

It's wrong to assume that we have within us a moral compass; a strong sense of right and wrong and social justice. It's wrong to assume that people are basically good; they're not. People are selfish assholes. People are only interested in them and theirs, at the expense of anybody who's not like them. People are just dirty beasts with fancy clothes.

Yes, I'm pro paternalistic elitism. I'm pro social engineering. I'm pro giving people what's good for them, even though they don't like it and it's not what they want. Any move towards greater democracy is a move towards barbarism and the collapse of civilised society.

In my experience, people want simple fables; they want to believe in goodies and baddies; they want to believe in a black and white world, where everything can be simplified into easy to digest nonsense, which strips away all the complexity of reality and replaces it with comforting falsehoods. In my experience, people want to believe in lies, because lies are easier than hard truths. In short, people want religion.

Nobody much cares about the universal laws of physics and the optical illusion which makes solid objects appear to be solid, when in actual fact they're made of mostly nothing; a scattering of particles with indeterminate positions. People don't want to know about the deeply unsettling subatomic world, where things behave in non-intuitive ways. People want to believe that the world is a magical, mysterious and unknowable place, invented by a sky monster, because it's easier than grasping quantum mechanics.

Nobody much cares about the complex history of humanity and all the inter-breeding that's gone on, such that there are no 'pure blood' races. People just want to separate into "us" and "them". People want to belong to clubs, clans, tribes, nations, parties, teams, dynasties and every other conceivable way of slicing and dicing ourselves, such that we feel part of something. People want to hate. People want war and they want to dominate.

Nobody much cares that there are perfectly viable ways to divide our wealth and peacefully co-exist. Nobody much cares that billions of people could have their standard of living dramatically improved, at the expense of greed and selfishness. People want to live under hierarchies; they want to worship prophets and elevate ordinary mortal men to positions and status which are obscene and unjustifiable. Do you really think that a TV pastor deserves to live in a huge mansion while there are people starving on the streets? That's what people want - they want the haves and the have-nots.

Our terrestrial mortal destiny is in our own hands, and we know - in our heart of hearts - that when we die it's all over. There is no afterlife. There is no promised land. It's all bullshit that was invented to lessen the fear of death and make our lives of suffering appear to have some meaning in an otherwise ludicrously absurd existence. In the end you. just. die.

If our destiny is in our own hands, why aren't we making our existence on Earth into a more pleasant experience? Why aren't we bothered about making the most of the short time we're alive? Why are we content to have so much struggle, pain and suffering? We're quite capable of alleviating that suffering, but there's no will to change. We busy ourselves with absurdities, like getting jobs as bakers so that we can earn money to afford to be able to buy a slice of bread, from one of the loaves which we baked. We've constructed ludicrous inefficient systems which only serve to enslave us and make us desperately unhappy.

Of course none of this is God's plan. If there is a God - which there isn't - then why would He have us punching made-up numbers into a spreadsheet, at a desk, in an office, in the middle of a concrete jungle? Why would He have us exchanging pieces of paper with each other until the day we die? Why would He have made the money lenders into the richest and most powerful people on the planet, when His son was evidently not a big fan of usury when he drove those money lenders out of Herod's Temple?

Those who are afflicted with the madness that is religious faith might in fact be onto something, because at least their lives have meaning and they're looking forward to something, as opposed to enduring awful suffering until the day they die. We end our lives afraid and in pain and we know we're not going to see our children and grandchildren again. It might be insane to believe in an immortal and everlasting afterlife, but it's a damnsight better than anything on offer in a world run for the sole benefit of the mega-rich, which we have willingly allowed to come into existence.

In a godless universe with no afterlife, what's the meaning and purpose of anything? Nothing has any meaning. You might as well go and commit whatever crimes you want, because we all die anyway. You might as well indulge hedonistic pursuits to the maximum, because none of us are getting out of this alive.

In a world without religion, what fills that void? It can't be the pursuit of wealth, because that's even more insane.

 

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Work Colleague Found My Blog

12 min read

This is a story about living a double life...

Blurry laptop

The other day a colleague told me that he'd Google'd the meaning of the semicolon tattoo behind my ear. "What does it mean?" he asked me, feigning ignorance. I told him that it's to do with programming and I had the tattoo done in Silicon Valley, which is perfectly true. Of course, I'm only able to survive because I'm economical with the truth. There isn't a section on my CV which lists all the hospitals I've been admitted to in recent years. There isn't a section on my CV which lists episodes of mental illness. If nobody asks me why should I tell anybody?

There's a wide long corridor at the office which has its walls covered with posters encouraging us to speak up about mental health issues. "It's OK to talk" the posters claim. What the posters don't say is that it's OK to talk as long as you've got the mild kind of mental illness which elicits sympathy, not terror. Being a bit blue sometimes and taking the occasional duvet day is not a big problem, but fully-blown episodes of mania, replete with paranoia and delusions is going to see you quickly ejected from the office before you have a chance to say "but you said it was OK to talk".

It's OK to talk about the more palatable side of mental illness - mild anxiety and depression - but the kind which is so debilitating that it renders a person completely unable to work, is met with a hostile response. To begin with there is some sympathy and interest. However, it doesn't take long for people to become compassion fatigued. "I'd like a day off when I don't feel like working" is what people soon start saying, as levels of resentment grow. Offices are fit in or fuck off kind of places, where behaviour is only tolerated within a very narrow band of deviation from the norm. Even an annoying laugh or a cough can be grating in the office and people can get extremely angry and upset about things which appear to be tiny and insignificant. Pay rises, promotions, job titles, special privileges, holidays and perceived differences in workload and effort, all feed into a bubbling cauldron of toxic feelings which remain festering and unvented, brewing and fortifying over the very many years through which people are chained to their desks.

I can never fully disguise the fact I'm not well and I've been through some difficult times. It was a bold move to choose to mark my skin in a visible area with a tattoo which is widely known for its meaning as a symbol of mental health problems, suicide, self harm, alcoholism and substance abuse. In the 3 years since I had that tattoo, only one colleague had ever commented, and that was to tell me that I could talk to him any time. Little over a month later he completely blanked me and refused to answer phone calls, texts, emails or other attempts to contact him - he'd told a colleague about my blog and they decided to screw me over; to rip me off and breach contract, owing me a lot of money.

Another colleague at a different organisation found my blog. One day he asked me if I wear contact lenses, to which I replied that I don't. He then asked me about wearing glasses, which was quite telling because I never wear glasses at work. He seems like a good guy - so far as I know my secret is safe with him.

At the place where I currently work, the thing I always dreaded has happened: I've been directly confronted about the meaning of my tattoo. It's something I'd always anticipated so I had my pre-prepared answer about the semicolon being an important symbol to a programmer - having been writing C, C++ and Java for 24 years - and the extra significance of having my tattoo done in the Mission/Castro area of San Francisco.

I kinda revel a little bit in my newfound bad boy image. Having had a 21+ year career as an IT professional working for large organisations, there's not a lot of room for bad behaviour before you screw up your employment prospects. One single black mark, such as a bankruptcy or a criminal record, and you'll never work for big companies ever again. If the gatekeepers had their way and they were allowed to invade my privacy to their heart's content, they'd have slammed the door in my face a long time ago. My problems are not the nice mild kind where I'd be permitted to do a bit of light-hearted whinging in the office. My problems are not the kind which are permitted in the stale, dry, plain, boring and uninteresting beige thoroughly dull world which I inhabit from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

It makes me nervous occasionally that my cover could be blown and somebody could see through my infallible disguise. It makes me kinda nervous that I have this huge repository of all the juicy details which Human Resources would dearly love to get their hands on so that they have the ammunition to discriminate, stigmatise, and otherwise abuse my right to live my life free from prejudice and ostracism.

The longer I manage to keep delivering successful projects, high quality work and impressing my colleagues, the safer I become from any witch-hunt if my blog is discovered, along with the very many unpalatable truths for a group of people who's sole mission in life seems to be to keep the riff-raff at bay. Anybody who doesn't walk, talk, look and smell just like them is not welcome - your face has to fit if you want to earn big bucks and have a comfortable and rewarding career. There aren't a lot of facial piercings, wild haircuts or indeed any expressions of individuality in the organisations where I work, because they work very hard to block anybody who doesn't fit the mould at the door.

My mask slips occasionally, of course. I struggle with the fixed and inflexible office hours which are homogenised for the neurotypical early birds. I struggle with the uniform and consistent plodding pace. I struggle with all the one-size-fits-all unwritten rules, which are perfectly OK for the conformists to conform to, but sometimes cause me a great deal of suffering.

I try not to be too outspoken. I try not to get passionate about anything. I give away as little possible about my personal life. I certainly don't ever relax and be myself - I'm always tense and on high alert. I try to just focus on making a good job of relatively small and non-contentious pieces of work, and busying myself with pointless tasks to occupy my time. I work very hard to act as if I'm a normal beige boring ordinary complaint non-contentious non-complaining typical office working drone. In essence, I spend most of my 8 hours a day attempting to keep my mouth shut and reining in all of my natural instincts. I spend most of my working day battling with my impulse to either walk out and never come back, or to start tearing things to pieces and doing bold and brave things. I have to bite my lip and hold my tongue. I'm not used to being like that, but it's the only way I'm able to stay off the radar and keep my job.

The last place I worked, a colleague took enough of an interest in me to Google me, find my website and read my blog. At the last place I had a wobbly period and I had to take quite a bit of time off work. I was acutely aware that I was incredibly exposed, because the reasons why I was struggling and sick were laid bare for anybody to see. Thankfully, I was given the benefit of the doubt and I was able to leave that organisation and that project with a feather in my cap - good job well done.

This time, I get the feeling that this new colleague who's taken an interest is not doing so for benign reasons. I definitely have the impression that he's threatened and is looking for some weakness to exploit, to undermine me. I definitely don't feel good about him pressing me to answer him about the meaning of my tattoo, especially when he made it very clear that he'd already Google'd the meaning.

In a lot of ways, this is like a test. I'm putting all my baggage and issues on public display to see what kind of people there are in the world. Nasty people will gleefully take the ammunition and use it against me. Nice people will see how vulnerable I am, and will use the information wisely and in a caring manner. Sure, I can get hurt and that might be a reason to protect myself more, but if people are determined enough to find a chink in your armour, they're going to go out of their way to try to hurt you, even if they have to invent bad stuff on the basis of pure conjecture and their nasty little minds.

Honesty is such a good policy to weed out bad nasty people. Honesty works so incredibly well at differentiating between friend and foe. It's possible to see in someone's eyes whether they're giddy and drunk with the possibility of misusing the truth and honesty to screw you over, or indeed whether the honesty and vulnerability is instilling a reaction of kindness and compassion - you can really see it in the eyes, whether a person is an evil fuck or they're nice.

I also enjoy being in the position where I've laid everything bare for anybody to see, such that nobody can shame, embarrass or otherwise use things against me, which most people would keep as closely guarded secrets. I've already published the gory details my deepest darkest thoughts, feelings and experiences, so none of it has any power over me - it's in the public domain. It's laughable to think that you'd be able to bully or tease me about something which I own and have told the world about, such that any nasty person would be simply stating the obvious in a patently ridiculous way, like attempting to laugh at a proud openly gay person for being gay. It's nonsensical.

More and more, I feel proud that I've done the brave thing of publishing everything which I'd previously kept secret, and making it so public. I feel proud of both my identities, even if I haven't been able to unify them yet. Of course, my identities are implicitly unified, because it's my face and it's my name. It's only sheer laziness which means the gatekeepers have not yet unearthed this treasure trove; and of course the fact that they'd never expect in a million years that anybody would be so foolish as to simply hand over all the truths which most of us keep as closely guarded secrets.

Our privacy is increasingly infringed and we are spied upon around the clock by the ubiquitous digital devices that surround us. Our government spies on ordinary law-abiding citizens and even shares that information with prospective employers, such that trade union activists can become black-balled and unemployable, despite never breaking a single law. Our love of free email, free social media, free photo sharing and other 'free' services, is also our undoing - we're easy to snoop on and you can be completely certain that your digital identity has been examined by a gatekeeper, intent on digging up some dirt on you.

Overall, I believe I've had 3 or 4 work colleagues maliciously abuse my trust by using my candid honesty against me, and I've had 1 who seems benign. Not great numbers, but I believe that overall the net result has been to get rid of toxic people and avoid exploitation, and hopefully I'm getting better quality closer friendships.

As a mechanism to stay in touch and keep friends updated, I would say that this blog has been a rip-roaring success. I can't see any other way that I'd have been able to maintain a toe-hold in normal life if I hadn't decided to 'go public'. It's unconventional and it certainly jeopardises my employability, but anybody who's read my blog looking for the bad stuff is obviously a bad person, so good riddance.

In the place where I live I've fallen out with 3 people, but I've made at least 5 friends, and there's honesty underpinning all of it. If you don't like the version of me you see on the pages of this blog, what the hell are you doing? What do you expect? I'm not a fictitious character: this is me.

There have been some regrettable moments which I've documented in my usual stream-of-consciousness way, and those periods have shown me in a very unflattering light. There's a lot written here that's not what people ordinarily share. I've made myself very exposed; vulnerable. That's the point. It's all here, warts and all.

I was supposed to be seeing my former work colleague who's been reading my blog this evening. Perhaps we will become closer friends now that we don't work together. Things have worked out OK.

 

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Sprint Finish

10 min read

This is a story about marathon running...

Stansted Airport

I'm quite pleased that I have this blurry photo capturing the moment when a stranger borrowed my iPhone charger in an airport. That stranger became my accountant and he's been on the journey with me, from a newly incorporated business to the point where I'm now turning over a 6-figure sum of money and making decent profits. My accountant has been one of the few constants in my life during a period which has been extremely wild and erratic.

Another particularly notable feature of the 5-year journey which has brought me - finally - closer to the point of getting back on my feet, is that I've never stopped moving. Through frantic and frenetic activity I've managed to avoid death, bankruptcy and a million and one other dreadful fates. By persevering with a very simple plan - to earn a lot of money as a consultant - I've managed to weather some pretty dreadful storms.

I admit that I did try to have myself declared unfit for work and to obtain the state welfare support I'm entitled to, but most people I meet seem to quickly form the opinion that I'm perfectly fine and healthy. Most people think I'm entirely capable of rescuing myself from even the most diabolically awful situations. It's pretty obvious that I haven't been enabled by anybody, although I'd be dead as a dodo if it wasn't for my guardian angel, who helped me move from London to Manchester, then Manchester to Wales, as well as being there for me during various hospitalisations and wotnot. To say I've arrived at the point I'm at today all on my own is not true at all. Of course I wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes without help and support, but I haven't received any of the help and support from the government that you'd think would be available to a vulnerable person - the safety net simply doesn't exist.

You would think that all your taxes which you pay would give you some kind of insurance, so that you wouldn't be penniless and homeless if you couldn't work. You would think that all that tax would mean that you'd be looked after if you were incredibly sick and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the welfare state is not at all kind to anybody who appears - with a lazy glance - to be of sound body and mind. Despite letters from GPs, psychiatrists and social workers, there are gatekeepers who are so compassion-fatigued and have so few resources to dispense to so many needy people, that there's no safety net at all.

Early intervention would have saved me a lot of near-death experiences, hospitalisations, contact with the police, wasted money, wasted time, wasted energy and health damage. Early intervention would have been far more cost effective than dealing with the consequences of assuming - incorrectly - that I'd cope just fine if I was simply left to my own devices; made homeless and otherwise abandoned by a nanny state which always promised to protect me, in return for the vast sums of taxes I've paid. I wasted a lot of time and effort on the mistaken middle-class belief that the welfare state exists for the sole purpose of protecting the vulnerable members of society. I thought - as so many middle-class people do - that I simply needed to ask for help from the relevant services charged with doling out lifesaving support and I would received what I needed.

It turns out that the UK operates what can only be described as a hostile environment for anybody who falls on hard times. It turns out that vast swathes of the civil service - with a mission statement to supposedly to help society's most vulnerable - are actually acting as gatekeepers and making it almost impossible to access any kind of help or support. Instead, the rigmarole is intended to frustrate, annoy and exhaust until you become disillusioned, disheartened, discouraged and generally lose faith in a government which promised to look after you in the event of an unfortunate turn of events, in return for a hefty portion of your income. The safety net turned out to be a lie and you'd better not waste too much time being angry and disappointed, because you're still broke and homeless... you have to find your own way to survive. No wonder so many people in the UK grow and sell cannabis or peddle other drugs - the black market economy provides much needed cash to society's most vulnerable, impoverished and desperate.

I suppose the argument would be that I could walk into a job quite easily, but that's pure stupidity. It's impossible to get a job and keep it if you're homeless and you have severe mental health problems. It's impossible to get a job when you're hamstrung by addiction and alcoholism. It's impossible to get a job and keep it when you're flat broke. It's a catch 22 situation. There are plenty of people who could theoretically get back on their feet, but they'll never be able to without some initial help and support - they need somewhere to live and some money; they need treatment for their addictions and alcoholism; they need time to stabilise their medication and get counselling for their mental health issues. Allowing people to become homeless - destitute - and to commit suicide is barbaric. Yes, it might seem to the wealthy ultra right-wing conservatives like it's some brutal form of social justice - survive or die; fit in or fuck off. Personally, I want my taxes to be spent on people who can't work, even if it means that I have less money to selfishly spend on myself. I want to pay into a national insurance scheme which creates a safety net for the most vulnerable and impoverished members of society.

In the second half of 2014 it dawned on me that I was wasting my time asking for help from the state, so I complied with exactly what the hostile environment was designed to do: I tried to go back to work. Naturally it was a disaster. You can't force sick people to work. Sick people can't work.

I've struggled along working for 4 hit-and-miss years. I've had a rollercoaster ride. I have periods where I'm working out of sheer desperation, which of course makes me incredibly sick, so I crash and burn every time. Because I seem blessed - or cursed - with the appearance of a man who's got his shit together and is doing just fine, I end up quickly embedded in huge organisations doing very important project work. Because of past achievements I'm given responsibilities which nobody in their right mind would dream of giving to a homeless, bankrupt, alcoholic junkie with mental health problems. The projects are hard enough, without also having to worry about where I'm going to sleep, whether I've got enough money to survive from day to day, and of course dealing with my mood disorder and all the of the problems associated with substance abuse.

Imagine doing an opiate, benzodiazepine and alcohol detox while working a full-time job. Imagine doing drug rehabilitation while working a full-time job. Imagine undergoing psychiatric treatment for severe mental health problems while working a full-time job. Imagine living in a 14-bed hostel dorm while working a full-time job. Imagine not knowing whether you'll be able to afford to keep travelling to work until payday - the ultimate catch 22, where you can't even afford to work your full-time job. That's been my life.

Some of the practical difficulties have been eased in the short-term with vast quantities of debt. I've borrowed heavily to be able to make my living and travel arrangements more compatible with working. I've gone deep into debt on the presupposition that it will enable me to earn enough money to dig myself out of the hole. In addition to the hard problem of working when seriously unwell, I've also had mountainous debts threatening to destroy me.

All of this is exactly what the government wants. The government wants us all to be heavily-indebted wage-slaves who live incredibly insecure lives, so we're easy prey for the capitalists. The government doesn't want us to get fat, happy and lazy. The government doesn't want us secure enough to be able to demand fair and reasonable working conditions and remuneration commensurate with the value of our labour.

I've worked incredibly hard, especially so during the last 9 months. I've earned a lot of money, but none of it has flowed into my pockets - it's all gone to pay the capitalists for their loans, which was the only way I could stay afloat and keep playing the game. If I'd declared bankruptcy I'd never be able to earn a decent wage ever again, rent an apartment or buy a house. The system's set up to screw you whichever way you go; you're forced to become a slave.

With gritted teeth and dogged determination it's been possible to struggle through 9 dreadful non-stop working months and get to the point where it looks as if I'm getting on top of things. I've had a period of what appears to be stability. You could be easily fooled into thinking that forcing me to work when unwell has actually proven the right-wing ultra-conservatives to be correct - that it's OK to economically enslave people; that it's OK to tell society's most vulnerable that they have to choose between starving on the streets, or a minimum wage McJob which won't even cover the cost of incredibly frugal living.

It might not look like it but I've actually done an incredible marathon run and I'm doing a sprint finish. It might not be immediately apparent but it's quite remarkable that I've survived what I've been through and I'm still going. I need to keep going. If I can't keep going then all I'll fall back into the hole as soon as I collapse exhausted in a heap. Every time I'm forced to push myself beyond the point which is sustainable and healthy there's always a price to pay. There's a price to be paid for forcing vulnerable needy people into work.

It might not seem like things have been very hard for me if we extrapolate backwards, but we need to think about where I've come from and what I've been through, not what my current situation and prospects are. My current situation is still pretty dire - there's a long way to go before I can retain my gains permanently; I'm a long way from escaping the debt trap and being free from tyranny. My health is not reliable. My future is incredibly uncertain.

I'm having a difficult time adjusting to the present paradigm. My brain and body are built for crisis mode. I'm able to deal with an endless precession of catastrophic events and survive disaster, but I'm struggling to adjust to the present situation, where I simply need to coast along now that I've re-established myself somewhat. I'm finding it incredibly hard now that I'm no longer in the danger zone - I'm on high alert and super tense, but the worst of my troubles seem to have passed. It's been a living hell but I've beaten the odds. However, I have absolutely no ability to cope with ordinary pedestrian, plodding, slow-paced and hazard-free life. I don't think I'm able to deal with boring daily routine, because my life has been in non-stop crisis for so many years.

So, I'm sprinting to the finish line. I never manage to find steady sustainable consistent marathon pace.

 

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So Hungry

10 min read

This is a story about rushing...

Pub grub

My life doesn't have a lot of highlights. I'm struggling to get up in the morning. I'm bored at work a lot of the time. I'm trying to eat fewer calories, so I'm skipping breakfast and having a very light lunch. My writing has become a bit of a marathon slog as I attempt to write the final few thousands words to reach my 1-million target. The only thing I've got to look forward to is my evening meal.

Because I try to do my writing before I go to the gastropub to eat, I'm always in a bit of a rush. It's a challenge to write ~2,000 words in between a full day at my desk in the office, and the ideal time to arrive at the pub in order to get a table and eat. I write doubly quickly, because I know that the sooner I've finished my daily blog post, the sooner I can go and choose my meal. With that incentive, I have no difficulty pounding out the words very rapidly on the keyboard, before rushing off to enjoy the highlight of my day - pub grub.

You shouldn't do your supermarket food shopping when you're hungry, because you will strip the shelves of products and buy far more than you could ever hope to eat, before the expiry date of the perishable groceries which you've purchase. My eyes are always far bigger than my belly when I've been hungry for a while. I think that being hungry also affects the speed with which I do everything, and my attention to detail. I'm rushing everything and being sloppy, because I just want to get things done as quickly as possible.

I need to earn money, lose some weight and cut down my drinking, but I expect instant results. My writing target is within spitting distance now, but I'd have never reached this point if I tried to do it too quickly - I've had to pace myself. My finances are improving but I'll never get financial security if I don't keep turning up at the office every day - even though it's torturously boring - for many many more months. I'm really not enjoying my semi-sobriety, but I'm not going to feel the benefit unless I keep it up for a decent length of time.

It's been a month since I started my new job in a new and unfamiliar city. For a whole month I've been living in a hotel midweek and eating in the same pub every night. For a whole month I've been dividing my time between the city where I have my apartment and the city where the office is.

In the last month I've managed to quit the sleeping pills and painkillers I was using to cope with stress and anxiety. In the last month, I've managed to cut down my drinking drastically. In the last month, I've stopped being so antisocial and wasting the whole summer indoors drinking wine. I've earned some more money, which is slowly making a dent in my debts. It's reasonable progress.

I don't feel particularly good.

My working day is a struggle. My living arrangements are a struggle. My life lacks an adequate amount of things to look forward to; moments of joy. I keep losing hope that I'll be able to maintain the stability and keep up the routine, because there are so few moments when I'm happy and content. The struggle to get up in the morning is not just a phase - it's going to be a struggle every morning for months, if not years. The struggle to get through the working day is not just a temporary struggle... it'll be permanent while I remain trapped in a career which I outgrew very quickly when I was young.

There's no obvious reason why I shouldn't be able to keep up the routine. What's so bad about a well-rehearsed sequence of actions which starts with me washing and ironing my clothes for the week ahead, packing my bag, driving to the office, checking into the hotel, eating in the pub, driving home. What's so hard about that? The problem is the lack of all the other 'stuff' which makes a liveable life. Where's my social life? Where are the holidays? Where are the hobbies and interests? Where's any of the 'stuff' which gives my life any meaning?

Work is meaningless because it's the same old crap that I've been doing full-time for 21+ years, which was easy and boring when I was in my late teens, let alone now. Work cannot be the thing which defines me and is all-consuming, because that's unhealthy and I know I'm never going to find fulfilment as a member of a huge team in a gigantic organisation. I feel a lot better about the morality of what I'm doing since I quit investment banking and moved into the public sector, but the waste is pretty sickening. Of course the public sector was never going to be particularly dynamic and fast-paced, but it's not that much slower than most of the big private sector organisations I've worked for. I know that startups are too demanding and too much risk though, and they'll make me sick by using and abusing me.

I need to get to the point where I've served my time and been thoroughly miserable for enough years that I have a substantial sum of money saved up, such that I can dare to dream. Perhaps things will be better when I'm financially secure enough to be able to spend my boring days in the office planning my next holiday. The misery of the unchallenging office job was much more tolerable when I spent my weekends kitesurfing, and I was jetting all over the globe looking for the best kitesurfing locations in all kinds of exotic locations. Perhaps my misery is largely due to the fact that all I do is work work work - I'm on a very tight budget.

There's no rushing my finances, unfortunately. There's no way I could earn money any quicker than I am doing. Money floods in at a fairly obscene rate, but I was very very deep in the hole, so it also costs a lot of money just to stand still. I can't believe how much money I'm earning, but yet it's still taking agonisingly long to get ahead.

Playing the waiting game is awful. I'm clock watching all the time. My alarm clock is the most dreadful intrusion on my day - the worst moment. Sometimes I'm not even tired, but knowing that I have to go and sit at a desk and be bored out of my mind is thoroughly depressing in a way which is soul-destroyingly exhausting. Mid-morning I panic about how slowly the day is dragging. Lunchtime is over in the blink of an eye, especially since I started having a super-light lunch which always leaves me still feeling hungry. The period from 2pm to 3:45pm is the very worst - at 2pm I can't believe how much of the day there still is to go, with nothing to occupy or entertain me. I often think I'm going to have to walk out, because I can't stand it. It doesn't matter how much I'm earning - it's not enough. Finally, it's a respectable time to leave the office - even though I'm frequently late for work - but all I have to look forward to is another long wait until it's a respectable time to eat my dinner. It's 6:23pm right now, which is very early for an adult with no children to eat.

My evenings were also unpleasant, and especially so since I've drastically reduced my alcohol intake. My cravings for booze were pretty incessant and it was hard to read or watch TV when all I could think about was how much I wanted to get a glass of wine. However, I've found some stuff that I'm enjoying watching and I'm starting to find it easier to relax and enjoy my solitary leisure time in my hotel room, without getting drunk.

I had planned to get drunk every single night until I'd regained financial security. Getting drunk was going to be my reward for doing a job I hate in a place where I don't want to be, all alone living in a hotel. I was prepared to put my entire life on hold so I could earn as much cash as possible as quickly as possible, and I'd have virtually unlimited quantities of alcohol to help me white-knuckle my way through to the end. The problem is that my health was being destroyed surprisingly rapidly - I was putting on weight and feeling very unfit and unwell. If I'd kept drinking as much as I was until the end of my contract in just over a year's time, I wouldn't be able to enjoy my hard-won wealth because I'd be fat and quite possibly have some very serious health issues to deal with as a consequence.

Comfort-eating is my only pleasure at the moment, as I'm single, living away from home, trying not to drink, not socialising and generally in a temporary state of suspended animation. I can fulfil the very few demands of my day job with less than 1% of my brain and I'm just waiting for enough paydays to restore my financial security. I've stopped everything except for the few core things which keep the hamster-wheel turning.

It's not particularly as if it's worthwhile making friends and getting a local girlfriend. It's not particularly worth investing in life in a place where I have no intention of staying beyond the maximum I absolutely have to in order to achieve my purely financial objective.

I pound out the words on the keyboard every evening after work, in groundhog day repetitive scenario. I pound out the words because it's a fleeting distraction from the endless waiting. Waiting for the money. Waiting for the end. Wishing my life away.

Some people would imagine that I'm impatient and impulsive, because of my mental health problems and my struggles with addiction. Stimulant abuse is particularly bad for damaging the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for executive decision-making, and importantly the ability to curtail stupid impulses. In fact, I spend my whole day suppressing the nearly-overpowering instinct to get up and walk out; to walk away from the torturous bullshit boring job. In fact, I'm one of the most patient people you know. Why do you think I get paid so much? If my job was pleasant and easy, everybody would be doing it.

I spend all working day in front of the keyboard and screen, then I flip open my laptop lid and spend some more time in front of the same type of keyboard and the same type of screen. The clock is in exactly the same position in the top-right hand corner of the screen, which my eyes instinctively flick up to, constantly aware of the slow passage of time.

Since I wrote what time it was, nearly 20 minutes have elapsed. I'm 20 minutes closer to my meal. I'm 20 minutes closer to the day when I've earned enough money to start to dare to dream. I'm 20 minutes closer to the moment I die, when I can finally enjoy some peace from this torture.

I'm off to the pub. I'm tempted to have a drink.

 

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Quantity Not Quality

10 min read

This is a story about churn...

Scrap bikes

The Matthew Effect is applicable to authors, bloggers and people who have Twitter accounts, insofar as those who have bestselling books, popular blogs and lots of Twitter followers will find it a lot easier to get even more book deals, advertising and sponsorship and turn themselves into a famous celebrity influencer, with the accompanying financial rewards. It's worth giving away your content for free so you can rise up through the charts and reach the top ten, where people will then assume you got there through merit, and your place will be cemented.

Of course, who has the time and the money to invest in such a risky loss-making venture purely in the hope that they will be able to one day rise to the top? People will buy and books at the top of the charts just because other people do. The things that are popular, are popular because they're popular - it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy once the initial seed is sown. This is why it makes sense to buy lots of copies of your own book, to artificially advance your position in the charts to the point where real book buyers will start to take an interest, purely because of chart position.

"For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance" -- Matthew 25:29

Or in other words, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Because of the very great number of people who'd prefer to write books than to flip burgers and clean toilets, the competition is fierce. One must remember that every spoiled brat with rich parents has the option of choosing much more fun and rewarding careers in the creative arts, as opposed to ordinary folks who have to work for a living. Not possessing the financial means to self-promote can be initially limiting - having to bootstrap and do things on a shoestring budget. Who has the energy and the leisure time to spend many hours every day, not only creating content but also promoting it and building a brand? Most people are far too busy working and raising children to be able to mess around with rich-people's hobbies like writing.

If you want to get noticed you have to lay down some impressive headline numbers. You need to catch people's eye and invoke the Matthew Effect. Nobody's going to stick around and read your crap or buy your book if they think you're just one of the ordinary struggling masses. You need to have X thousands of Twitter followers and X published works to prove your worth and be worthy of consideration by a harshly dismissive general public who are bombarded endlessly with crap churned out by a brigade of rich spoiled brats.

I'm churning out crap but that's because I'm trying to get through the final 2 weeks of my 3-year journey - to reach my target of writing and publishing 1-million words on this website.

Google knows I've done things the hard way. Google knows that my content is original. Google has algorithms which effectively check for plagiarism. Google harshly punishes any websites which have ripped off content from elsewhere by ranking those pages very low. Gone are the bad old days of content aggregation sites cluttering up Google's search results in a desperate attempt to trick people into clicking and viewing adverts. Nowadays, the only way to get people to click is with clickbait, which requires real content. Google loves real content. If you write thousands of words every day then Google thinks you're great and will give your website a high page rank.

Twitter thinks I'm the enemy. Of the 140 characters (now 280) which I could use for my tweets, I only use a tiny fraction on average. Twitter would call me a blogospammer because most of my tweets are just links to my blog. Twitter would view me as a leech on their community, because I'm taking people away from Twitter - and away from their adverts - and onto my website. Twitter wants you to stay on Twitter, and keep looking at Twitter for as long as possible. Twitter knows, quite correctly, that I'm neither invested in the platform nor am I doing my part to keep other people glued to the platform. If I had published all of the 978,000 words I've written to date on Twitter then I'd be very heavily invested in the platform and at the mercy of Twitter. Barely 3% of what I've written in the past 3 years has been published on Twitter. Twitter feels like it's getting a bum deal and Twitter hates me, because Twitter brings me readers, not vice-versa. Twitter would very much like to own me and my content, but it doesn't.

Every online behemoth wants to get bigger off the back of your effort and creativity. The big boys keep getting bigger and bigger, while anybody attempting to 'get a break' and establish themselves today will find that they're simply drowned in a sea of noise. To invest substantial amounts of time, effort and money into building a brand, readers, followers etc. on a big platform like Twitter is a waste of time - all it does is benefit the tech giants. The more you invest, the more committed you are to the platform you've chosen.

In some ways I wish I'd chosen Medium.com 3 years ago, because there's a huge Medium community, which is great for being discovered by new readers. Medium have a mechanism for writers to be able to monetise their content, which is great, but your average internet user has become so accustomed to having high quality content for free, that far less than 0.5% of potential readers would be prepared to pay. With eyeballs in short supply - because they're all busily looking at clickbait on BuzzFeed - the number of people you could ever hope would read your precious content dwindles to a depressingly small amount.

Of course, if you're producing something great, which is really what people want to read, then you're going to have tons of readers. However, are you going to make the editorial effort to publish at a very high standard, when what you're doing is an exhausting loss-making hobby anyway? Only the rich spoiled brats can afford to kid themselves that what they're doing is some kind of job and that one day they might turn their unprofitable ego-project into any kind of profitable endeavour. For those of us who write because this is a cheap hobby, and one of the forms of artistic creativity where entry is not barred by gatekeepers and financial barriers, why would we compromise our artistic principles by writing BuzzFeed clickbait? For sure, I could be writing "12 Surprising Things you didn't know about Bipolar Disorder" clickbait which proved very popular when I once did an experiment, but then my unpaid second job really would feel just like a job, rather than an outlet for my frustrated creative talents.

In my day job, which pays the bills, I hardly ever get to be creative. I almost never get the opportunity to work on an incredibly massive truly epic barely-comprehendible project like this. I can hack away to my heart's content at this, churning out my words until my itch is well and truly scratched.

My day job is incredibly frustrating. I work on big complicated projects as a part of huge teams, in massive organisations. Getting along with my team is more important than being a wild untamed artistic spirit, and creativity is the first thing to suffer in such an environment. Very rarely is there an opportunity for me to simply sit at the keyboard and let rip for any substantial amount of time.

When my day job was just a hobby - as I was teaching myself how to be a programmer - I was free to embed myself in vast virtual worlds which I had created. I was free to follow my artistic whims and create whatever I felt like. I was immersed in my creative output. I probably wrote as much computer code as the million words I've almost written and published on this website. The thing about computer code is: it has to be ordered and logical and syntactically perfect for it to work. There's a poetic beauty well-written code, when it's written to be as concise and efficient as possible. There's also an addictive quality to code, which demands the coder to imagine how it all pieces together. It's sometimes more fun to read the code and think about how it works than to even run the program and see it working.

Now I hardly write any code.

I could write code and be paid very well for it, but I'm paid a lot more to not write code. There are a lot of organisations who want to pay me just to have me around. There's an inverse relationship between creativity and remuneration. Artists earn an average of £10,000 per annum. Junior programmers might earn double that amount. The top people in tech - who hardly write any code - are paid 6-figure salaries. Go figure. It's very frustrating when you're good at something and you're a creative person, but it pays a lot better to just sit at your desk being bored.

The net result is that all of my creative abilities have been thwarted and frustrated by the working world and the need to earn money to pay bills. The solution has been to write for my own enjoyment in my spare time, of which I have a lot because my day job is so boring and easy. I need to write in my spare time, because I'm so frustrated while I'm chained to the desk, although - of course - that's because I've chosen to earn a 6-figure salary rather than an artist's wage, which would not be enough to pay the bills.

The reason for the quantity is that I'm unrestricted. I don't have an editor who's going to refuse to publish the crap I churn out. I want to be finished by my deadline. I'm in control of when I finish, because I can write as much as I like. I'm writing an average of 1,900 words per day at the moment, because I want to reach my headline number of 1-million words, and then I'm free to write as little or as much as I like - I'll have my artistic freedom again.

I feel sorry for my readers who are persevering through this period where I'm just pouring my stream of consciousness out onto the page. I feel sorry for the people who are having to suffer this period of quantity over quality. I feel embarrassed that I'm wasting people's time and repeating myself a lot, and making people read more and more when the quality is so poor. It's supposed to be a temporary thing, just to get me over the finish line. I'll be over 979,000 words when I hit "publish" in a minute, which means I'm within spitting distance of my target. I can write 10,000 words in a day if I'm suffering a particularly bad bout of verbal diarrhoea.

I promise that in a couple of weeks time I'll return to writing for the sheer pleasure of the artform and the joy of getting to be creative; expressive.

A friend once accused me of intellectual masturbation. So what if it is?

 

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London Keeps You Fit

9 min read

This is a story about declining health...

Bike tyre

My mental health can be tracked reasonably well by thinking about the periods when I was so extremely unwell that work became impossible, there are gaps in my blog and there's photographic evidence that I was having an episode of stimulant psychosis and sleep-deprivation induced insanity. The evidence of my naturally fluctuating bipolar mood is very obscured by other major events, including job loss, money worries and periods of relapse and addiction. There, however, periods when I've been functioning well enough to start getting back on my feet, although these have been quite short-lived and usually occur at some point between May and October.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well as bipolar, so my tendency towards mania has started to become linked to the summer months. As my life became more chaotic and unmanageable, depression and drug abuse started to appear during the peaks and troughs. I've suffered winter relapses and summer relapses. I've also spent endless months with seemingly unshakeable and relentless anxiety and depression, which has been unbearable while working boring bullshit full-time jobs.

Through all the difficulties of divorce, selling my house, moving to London and attempting to get back on my feet - getting a new place to live and new job sorted out - I've suffered a whole series of seemingly catastrophic events which have always threatened to destroy me, but somehow every year I managed to do some good work and earn plenty of money.

By the time I arrived in hospital for the umpteenth time, I was completely burnt out by the demands of getting myself off the streets, into my own apartment and working on an extremely high pressure project for an incredibly demanding client. However, I was remarkably fit and healthy. My blood pressure and my resting heart rate both indicated an excellent level of fitness.

I suppose I knew I was fit. I had been lugging my luggage all over London, from hostel to hostel, because I was homeless. I cycled everywhere and I cycled very fast and aggressively - I loved the buzz of weaving through London traffic on my bike with handlebars sawn to the exact width of my shoulders. When there was a tube strike, I cycled all the way from North-West London to East London through the horrendous traffic jams. Cycling anywhere took me less time than it would have done by any other means of transport, with the possible exception of helicopter.

Even when I stopped cycling regularly I still did a lot of walking. To commute to my job in the City required a fairly long walk to my nearest Docklands Light Railway station, and a couple of times a week I had to visit a client in South London, which required even more walking. Seeing friends meant more walking. Going to the supermarket meant more walking. Seeing my girlfriend meant more walking. I maintained a reasonable standard of fitness through 2016, although not quite matching the preceding years.

In 2017 my health completely failed me and I was in hospital on dialysis for ages. Psychologically, I wasn't able to recover from the setback. I watched my savings dwindle depressingly quickly and I knew that I was going to end up evicted from my apartment; bankrupt and homeless. I knew that I couldn't face the exertion of pulling myself up by my bootstraps and getting back on my feet, yet again. I'd had a remarkable 2014, 2015 and 2016, where those years had horrendously bad periods, but also periods when I was productive and earning a lot of money. I hadn't been able to reach escape velocity at any point, and get myself back to a position of financial and housing security, with a dependable source of income. It had been an almost relentlessly shitty 3 years in terms of having the gains I had made smashed to smithereens. I had tried hard to make things work in London for a long time I'd run out of road - I had to leave to avoid total destitution.

Fitness tracker

I've amended the graph I made a short time ago to include 2015, so it can be compared and contrasted with more recent years. Every year used to look like 2015. It's quite plain to see how 2017 and this year are not showing my usual summertime boost at all. I'm having a terrible time in terms of fitness and physical health.

My brief stay in Manchester - August 2016 - was too short to say whether it could have been healthy, but I very much doubt it would have been. I didn't want to be there. The place was not inspiring.

Wales - as the data clearly shows - has not been a healthy move for me at all. The air quality is worse where I live than it was in Central London. There's little reason to walk anywhere - my local job was too far to walk and it was too easy to just drive everywhere. I live on a very steep hill, which is somewhat of a disincentive to walk to the beach, the shops or the pub, knowing there's such an uphill struggle on the way home. For 3 months I was commuting from Wales to London, which of course meant I was doing a lot of walking and carrying a heavy bag - I was starting to get fitter. The chance to work closer to home was too good to turn down, but when my mood wobbled and I had a rough patch, I've been very inactive since. I hardly left my apartment for the best part of two months.

My lifestyle now involves hardly any walking at all. I jump in my car on a Monday morning and park outside my office. I drive to a hotel where I stay 3 nights a week and I always eat in the pub next door. I drive home and I don't leave my apartment, except to walk to the nearby corner shop to buy wine and unhealthy snacks.

What people don't realise about London is how far you have to walk to get around. Walking to the tube station, then walking up and down the steps and through the various passageways that connect the different lines. I would always be prepared to walk further to get to my preferred places to eat and buy groceries. Dating in London always seemed to require quite a lot of walking. I'm not particularly inspired to socialise, date or in any way engage with the place where I live in Wales. I just stay at home, drinking wine and watching TV.

I've made a concerted effort to cut down my drinking to 3 nights a week or fewer. I'm changing a lot of things all at the same time, which is very intense and hard to deal with, but I think I feel a bit of improvement. When I started my new job 4 weeks ago I was having panic attacks and hating most of the time I was in the office. I felt like walking out and killing myself. I was drinking a bottle of wine or 4 pints of beer every single night, and twice that amount on Friday and Saturday nights. I was abusing prescription painkillers and sleeping tablets and tranquillisers, in a desperate attempt to cope with the stress and anxiety.

Now I've stopped taking the sleeping tablets and I've stopped drinking midweek. I've managed to get through a couple of weekends where I've limited my drinking to less than a bottle of wine each night. It might still sound excessive, but it's a huge positive change from where I was.

I went out for a walk a week ago, and this weekend I went for a longer walk and I socialised with friends. That's a big change from a few weeks ago, when I hated the idea of leaving the house for any reason except to buy another bottle of wine from the closest shop.

In London I stayed fit and healthy simply because of the amount of walking I had to do to get to my job and drag my groceries home from the shops. In London I stayed fit and healthy because of the intensity of the place; the buzz I got from travelling around the place.

I had feared that I'd completely slumped recently, and I was destined to become a fat blob of a couch potato. My drinking had gotten out of control and I didn't want to do anything other than lie on the sofa getting drunk.

I don't exactly feel motivated to join a gym or start doing sports, but we have to consider the relative improvement. Things are a lot better than they were.

I have my cerebral preoccupations. I work with my brain not my body and I have my writing to do every day after work, which is surprisingly exhausting. I hope that when I reach my million-word target in a couple of weeks, I'll be more relaxed about my writing. I'm starting to regain my confidence at work and I'm getting more relaxed. Hopefully I'll be able to have a holiday or two in the coming months, without too much worry about jobs and money - hopefully I now have reasonably secure income for the foreseeable future.

I'm going to have to take some more pro-active steps to get fit and healthy than I'm used to. In London I got fit just doing the things I needed to do, like getting from A to B.

In theory, I should have more time, money and energy to spend my leisure time being fit and active, because people work fewer hours outside London and the cost of living is a lot less. In practice, I'm struggling to re-adjust.

I know that getting fitter will be hugely beneficial for my physical and mental health. Baby steps though - it's important not to try to do everything all at once.

 

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Chore

11 min read

This is a story about strict routine...

Washing machine

I don't feel like writing today. I saw something in the news which I wanted to write about and I even started a blog post, but then I kinda lost my way when doing a bit of research. I had selected a photo - different from the one above - and I started to feel that it was unwise to use it because it shows my face without my cunning and infallible disguise. I'm starting to think more and more about how people perceive me and the damage I could do to my own reputation if my blog was read by my work colleagues.

There are certain things that will cause people to look at you in a completely different light. There are prejudices that are so powerful that they can warp reality and turn good people into twisted grotesque imaginary monsters. To write about addiction is to bracket myself with baby-eating, granny-mugging, child-raping, ethnic-minority-murdering, every-other-bad-thing-you-can-think-of, demonised people who are blamed for all the ills in society. Your average injecting crack and heroin addict is going to commit a hundred or maybe even two hundred crimes every year to feed their habit. However, it's a non-sequitur to think that everybody who's experienced a period of drug addiction in the past is an immoral murderous criminal. "Death's too good for 'em! String 'em up!" cries the tabloid press and the public lap it up, even though the vast majority have never been a victim of crime, nor are they aware that the so-called character flaws which potentiate addiction live inside all of us.

I was going to write about that oft-used song lyric: "there's a monkey on my back". I can't say that I ever felt like I had a monkey on my back when I was a drug addict. "I'm waiting for my man" is another famous addiction-inspired song lyric, which again is something I can't relate to at all. In fact I can't relate to any of the addiction references in popular culture. I've never 'scored' drugs from a dealer. I've never been part of a drugs 'scene'. I never adopted a drug as part of my identity - I never wore clothing with a cannabis leaf or some other drug reference advertising my addiction.

There's a lot I don't understand about drug addicts even though I was one myself. I don't understand why many addicts buy crack cocaine when they could easily make it themselves with baking soda. I don't understand why addicts buy their drugs in small quantities. I don't understand why addicts buy impure and weak products at hugely inflated prices. I don't understand why there are heroin addicts when they could easily bulk-buy fentanyl, which is much more powerful. I don't know why addicts don't just stop being addicts and get rich - like me - whenever life gets tough.

Of course, I do understand all those things. I understand that the only difference between me and an injecting crack and heroin user, is that they were exposed to a drug 'scene' which brought them into contact with dealers, street drugs, needles and other drug paraphernalia. Addicts are caught in the never-ending cycle of scoring drugs, turning tricks, petty crime and everything else that's part of the chaotic life of an injecting drugs user, and the only difference between them and me is that I know that there's some hope that I can escape a miserable life of poverty. What hope does your average crack and heroin addict have of earning a 6-figure salary a month after they quit drugs? What hope do they have of ever earning a decent wage?

I've been able to use my wealth, intellect and other privileges - such as my science and technology skills - to research and obtain high purity drugs of the maximum potency at rock-bottom prices. Instead of messing around with £10 bags of crappy cut heroin, I'd do the research and find out what the chemical with the biggest bang for my buck would be, and then buy it in bulk.

What happens when you have access to a practically unlimited amount of drugs and a practically unlimited amount of time to use them, is that you discover the meaning of the word: practically. It's practically impossible to satisfy a desire for addictive drugs. Given enough drugs and enough time, you just die. Eating, drinking, sleeping, personal hygiene, bathroom breaks and other bodily functions are put on hold for as long as possible. There are some addicts who are perfectly functional - they go about their daily business under the influence of drugs and they can carry on like that for years. That's not really addiction though. Addiction specifically means harmful drug use. Smoking, for example, harms the health of the smoker and the health of those who have to breathe their second-hand smoke. Arguably a pill-popper isn't an addict at all, if the pills are not causing health damage. My own addiction took the form of the very worst kind: the insatiable appetite for a drug to the exclusion of everything else, including the basic necessities for human survival.

At some point drug-taking either becomes a chore - it's something which has to be done to stave off the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms - or it becomes so destructive that destitution and death become certainties. I'm sure there are a handful of homeless people who could see that their addiction was making them unable to work and unable pay their rent or mortgage, and they would be evicted eventually, but they didn't want to stop the drugs: they'd rather be homeless, living in a tent or otherwise sleeping rough, and able to carry on with their addictions. Most homeless addicts probably couldn't see any hope of avoiding homelessness if they quit - there was no incentive. The drug-taking becomes a chore and there's no hope of escaping the dreadful circumstances when you fall too far; the health damage is too severe and the behaviour patterns are too entrenched... rehabilitation would take years, and the best possible hope for those people who dropped out of mainstream society for a long time, is that they could become burger flippers, shelf stackers, toilet cleaners and street sweepers. I have nothing against the untouchables on the bottom rung of civilised society, who do the worst jobs for the worst pay, but it's hardly an enthralling prospect to be shackled to a dreadful job which doesn't pay enough to cover rent and bills, and robs a person of their time and freedom. Given the choice, I'd rather be begging on the streets.

My life is a chore. I'm doing things which I've done a million times before - so there's no doubt that I'm extremely capable of doing my job - and I'm working on projects which are exactly the same as every other project I ever worked on. It doesn't matter if it's Space Invaders, torpedo guidance, stockbroker share prices, computers for schools, public transport, investment banking, government... whatever. Same shit different day. I make systems which are just like the old systems. It's like painting a white wall with white paint, over and over and over again.

Life's a stupid pathetic pointless game. Money is the 'score' and the more you have of it the better player you are, supposedly, but everybody starts with a different amount and the ones with the most are cheating the most. There are other ways to score points, such as academic qualifications, but again, those who start with the most money have the most leisure time to pursue academic interests and surround themselves with people who'll help them obtain those qualification. Winning a game of chess doesn't mean you're smarter than your opponent if the game wasn't on the clock. Winning a game of chess doesn't mean you're smarter than your opponent if you were raised by chess grandmasters and your entire childhood was structured around a single purpose: to make you into a brilliant chess player.

As we scurry around desperately trying to comply with the rules of the game, which mostly means being exploited by capitalists and living in constant fear of losing our job, our home and our children, we surely must stop and think that this is insanity. Why would mortal creatures waste their precious time playing a rigged game, for the benefit of the rentier class who oppress them and profit from their labour?

It must surely be due to drugs and drug addiction that the present situation is allowed to continue. How else are people able to buy alcohol, cigarettes, tea and coffee if they don't have miserable exploitative jobs? How else could we tolerate the intolerable except with massive amounts of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, tranquillisers, sedatives and sleeping pills? Why would we bother with the miserable commute and the horrible work, unless there was the promise of some artificial and chemically induced bliss during our breaks and at the end of the working day?

You can have as many slaves as you want, but they won't work without coca leaves, khat, betel leaves, areca nut, tobacco, tea and coffee. Fear, intimidation, pain and torture will only get you so far. There needs to be carrot as well as stick.

If you watch enough X-Factor and Pop Idol on TV then you'll see that all anybody has ever wanted for their whole entire life - more than anything else - is to be a singer. Why then are those who succeed against the odds in becoming a rich and famous pop singer, are very often afflicted with addiction problems and many die young?

Consider how hard it is to escape from the poverty trap. Consider how hard it is to escape the rat race. Consider how hard it is to accumulate enough wealth to be truly free. Consider the effort and exertion necessary to break the chains and liberate yourself from the shackles of capitalism and bullshit jobs.

Unfortunately, most people's idea of freedom is flawed. Are you looking forward to your retirement? Why? You'll be old and your health will be declining... why didn't you retire when you were young and fit? Are you looking forward to fame? Why? You'll be working for your sponsors; you'll be working for your fans. Are you looking forward to being rich? Why? What are you going to do when you are? If you spend your money you'll be poor again, and you'll be just as much of a slave as you ever were, except you'll have developed expensive tastes.

Drugs strip away all of capitalism's artificial constructs. A £10 bag of heroin will get a billionaire just as high as a homeless penniless person. Drugs can - in a way - become a way of life which has much more meaning than the pursuit of wealth. However, the insatiability of a drug addiction; its intrinsic destructiveness and lack of meaning beyond the internal experience of the drug addict, leads inexorably to the desire to use drugs as a form of protracted suicide.

Art is the only known antidote, but art is denied to the vast majority of humanity. Only wealthy spoiled trust-fund brats are truly free enough from the tyranny of capitalism to be artists. Of course many of the spoiled brat offspring of the ultra-rich will become drug addicts, because they're too stupid to appreciate the incredible privilege it is to be able to be an artist.

Perhaps the other choice is to bury ourselves in bestial behaviour. If you're blessed with enough stupidity and ignorance to be happily consumed by your reproductive efforts, all the best to you - enjoy yourself. Sadly, this isn't an option for those who've read too many books and newspapers, and have become aware of the absurdity of existence - ignorance is bliss, and there's no returning to those blissfully ignorant times once your eyes have been opened to the stark reality of human life.

In a godless world with no afterlife, free from magic, spiritual and otherwise ethereal non-existent mumbo-jumbo, there's little which is comforting and inviting in a hostile universe which obeys strict mathematical laws. Just a few hundred kilometres away there's the vacuum of space, where you'd just turn into a frozen corpse and float around weightlessly for billions of years. And you're worried about losing your minimum wage zero-hours contract McJob cleaning toilets just so that you can give every penny you earn to a capitalist, even though you already give every waking hour of your life to a different capitalist? Don't you feel conned; cheated?

I don't feel like doing much, but is that really surprising? Is it so surprising that life feels like such a chore?

 

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An Étude on Stupidity

11 min read

This is a story about a dawning realisation...

Glasses

Moments of clarity elude me. My life consists of a long string of crises, with each moment demanding my full and undivided attention, such that I'm unable to reflect upon the bigger picture and see the error of my ways. Very occasionally I am able to contemplate the way I've behaved in the past with some objectivity; some insight. As I emerge from a fog of alcohol, tranquillisers, sedatives, sleeping pills and mind-numbing painkillers, I'm assaulted with an onslaught of memories from the years of instability which I've lived through recently. My flashbacks and dawning realisation about the things I've said and done while in the grips of insanity, cause me to wince and gasp aloud. I yell at myself: "what the hell were you thinking?". I cringe in embarrassment.

To say that I'm thinking more clearly today would be unwise, unless I've learned nothing from the mistakes of the past. Every time I think I'm regaining my grip on sanity, it seems that I'm mistaken. All I can do is keep my mouth shut and try to remain humble. I seem highly prone to overconfidence; delusions of grandeur. The world has fought hard to subdue me and keep me in my place; to grind me under its heel. The world has won. I'm not going to make any significant contribution to humanity. I'm nothing; a nobody.

"You've done more in one day than X did the whole time they were here" a colleague said to me yesterday. It's hard to not take that grain of salt and get carried away. It's hard not to believe that I've pulled off another amazing feat of resurrection from the ashes. It's hard to reconcile the journey I've been on and the things which should have dealt me a death-blow with my recovery. It's hard to be humble and ordinary when I know that I'm unique amongst my peers in having been through things which are not only career-ending, but also life-ending too in many cases. It's hard to not believe my own bullshit, when I successfully blag my way back into my old life and seemingly pick up where I left off, except I know I've done it against the odds - with significant additional adversity. All the fuel for the fire of delusions of grandeur is there aplenty.

What happened to my peers? Of those who didn't descend into the depths of mental illness, addiction, homelessness, destitution, bankruptcy and other life-destroying things, have they fared any better than I have?

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree and, as expected, the outcome of our lives was very much dictated by the pre-existing socioeconomic conditions we were born into. Briefly I joined the ranks of a group destined for greatness, but as soon as the storm clouds gathered it seemed obvious that I would be driven to run for cover. I've ended up with ostensibly the same outcome as my school-friends. Arguably, it's all the more remarkable that I've been able to maintain a high standard of living and remain highly employable, despite the incredibly averse events of my recent life, but it's no reason to believe I'm special or different.

When I think about the setbacks I've inflicted upon myself, I'm saddened. How much have I damaged my brain? How badly have my future prospects been harmed by my years in the wilderness? How can an old dog be expected to learn new tricks, when that old dog is also sick and senile?

I've started to become racked with self doubt.

I see that friends have been consistent throughout their lives in the furtherment of their education and pursuit of knowledge. I see that friends have stayed abreast of current affairs and are well-read; well-schooled in matters of relevance to today's society. On the other hand I have large gaps in my life when I was subdued by mental illness, acrimonious divorce, addiction, homelessness and near-bankruptcy. Entire years of my life have been written off and I have few experiences and memories which would be relevant and useful in civilised society. My considerable head-start in life has been swapped for a considerable disadvantage.

I struggle to remember that I'm no longer 3 or 4 years younger than any of my colleagues who've reached a similar point in their career. I struggle to remember that I'm no longer an exceptional rising young talent. I struggle to remember that I've squandered all those years of advantage and I'm now playing catch-up.

If I shut my mouth and just listen my day-to-day existence is quite a lot more enjoyable than it was when I was a younger man. When I was younger I was frustratingly held back by dimwitted dinosaurs. Now it's me who is the dimwitted dinosaur playing catch up. It's fun to be learning, of course, which is making this period of my career much more enjoyable and much less frustrating, but I forget that I'm no longer a young prodigious talent - instead I'm out of date and out of touch. I have nothing particularly valuable to offer anymore.

I'm very fortunate that I'm working with some super-smart people. I'm now feeling the benefits of being older, which I always begrudged those who were given more power and authority simply because of their age. People defer to me when they really shouldn't, because my years of experience don't tell the whole story - nobody knows that for the best part of 5 years I was no use to anybody.

5 years!

Yes, I need to acknowledge how long it's been that I've been going backwards, not forwards.

Of course, I'm wily enough to have made sure that I do enough work for prestigious organisations every year that my spotless CV is kept immaculate, but in reality I completely stalled and ceased all personal development. Of course I gained a great deal of knowledge and experience in the areas of mental health, addiction, financial problems, homelessness and suchlike, but those things are not useful in civilised middle-class wealthy society. Everything I've learned in my many off-piste years has been at the expense of the prime opportunity to transform myself from an ambitious young man into a very successful rich person. My momentum has been enough to carry me through events which would destroy most people, but that's the only thing that's presently exceptional about me; I'm otherwise completely average and humdrum now.

Perhaps I was always destined for mediocrity, but we'll never know. What we can say for certain is that I've done significant damage to my physical and mental health with a lifestyle that completely threw caution to the wind; an utter refusal to compromise or comply. I've taken things to the very most extreme point of survivability, and it should be unsurprising that there has been some irreversible damage.

Talking about the irreversible damage to my brain is the subject for another blog post, and not something I'm delving into right now, suffice to say that traumatic brain injuries are not 100% recoverable and cause permanent personality changes and suchlike. The brain is an incredible organ and its plasticity means that a person can re-learn how to function in ways that are an excellent imitation of who and what they used to be, but damage has been done and it would be foolish to think that it'd be possible to return to how things were before.

I rely a very great deal on what can only be described as 'muscle memory' for my survival. When I attempt to make quick judgements and shoot from the hip I'm very successful in areas which were my bread and butter for my whole career, but my judgement and decisions are terrible when I wander into new and unfamiliar areas. Working in an office full of developers on a huge software project, I'm in my element and nobody would think that I'm out of place; nobody would suspect that I've had a chequered recent past. However, when I'm put into an environment where there's an element of bluffing and blagging, I'm no longer credible or able to be convincing in the same way as when I was a younger man - I veer worryingly towards stupid and outlandish thoughts, actions and statements, which I cringe with embarrassment about later when the pressure is off and I'm able to reflect objectively.

I always used to pride myself on my ability to blag and bluff, but now my overconfidence is way beyond my abilities to pull it off. I'm pleased that I'm still able to learn new things and get up to speed very quickly, but I'm also upset that I'm behind and I'll never catch up, and my bluffs and blags just make me look stupid and ignorant. I used to pride myself on proving myself capable of proving the snickering, sneering and doubting critics wrong. Now I'm full of nothing but embarrassment and shame from all the moments when I've said something which later turned out to be stupid.

If you want to think of me as a stupid man you could examine the recent years of insanity with the benefit of hindsight and re-imagine that period as if I was making a series of well-considered decisions, without bias or the influence of circumstances, and conclude that it could only be due to stupidity that I ended up in the dire situations that I did.

It's kinda hard to defend myself from anybody who wants to label me as stupid.

It strikes me that there are a lot of people who're queuing up to take turns calling me stupi. There are very many who would like to see me flipping burgers or stacking supermarket shelves. Those jobs are important, of course, but I don't understand the appeal of underestimating the useful function of a person; diminishing their utility and value in society. Why are some so-called friends so keen to label me as stupid and useless; worthless?

Naturally, I've expelled toxic people from my life, but I do need to be aware that the truth probably lies somewhere in-between the extremes. As I've said, I'm very very good at doing the kind of work I've been doing for 21+ years as my full-time career, despite a few years hiatus, but I must admit that I struggle in areas which haven't been my daily bread and butter - I can be a fish out of water, at times. Is it stupidity? It's certainly stupidity if I'm not self-aware and able to have the insight to see that I'm very flawed and damaged in some areas.

I function effectively with a highly simplified life, but I feel very stupid in arenas where most others flourish. Most others flounder where I flourish though, so at least I have an anchor point - I can point to a successful career where I'm thriving and functioning seemingly without consequences for my off-piste years.

Of course I want to have a social life and a relationship with a girl. Of course I want to have friends and do normal stuff, but at the moment I'm just doing the things which keep me in the game: working and earning money. Later when I'm rich again, I can be as eccentric and weird as I like. For now, I have to hide my eccentricity by keeping my mouth shut.

I'm sure I've been made a bit stupid by my brain-melting activities of recent years, but I'm not sure it's wholly accurate to characterise me as completely stupid and dimwitted. It's probably a dumb idea to write me off as stupid, because I've made a lifelong habit of proving people wrong.

It's useful to think of myself as stupid as an antidote to overconfidence and delusions of grandeur, which are quite naturally stoked by my remarkable recovery. Perhaps it's even useful to force myself to think of my recovery as unremarkable, despite evidence to the contrary. I should definitely be as humble as possible, especially during the fragile period when I'm getting back on my feet.

For every remarkable achievement and person we revere, we have to ask ourselves how did they cross over from mediocrity and ordinary averageness, to becoming notable? One has to ask, do many of our airhead celebrities even know how stupid they are? It seems like ignorance of our own stupidity is a prerequisite for success.

I write as if I'm already famous. I can't see any point in behaving differently. Yes, I might die as a ridiculed nobody whose writing goes unnoticed and death is unwept. So what? Fine... a stupid egotistical nobody wrote and published a million words... so what?

I have no idea how I'm going to reflect on things in years to come, but that I'm able to reflect at all hints at the fact that my moments of madness are not characteristic of complete and utter stupidity. Perhaps I'm protesting too much. Only time will tell.

 

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