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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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Lööps

9 min read

This is a story about having a pity party...

Minitel

My memory and perception of time are very badly affected by strong medication. Every day ends the same for me - swallowing 6 pills and falling unconscious - and every afternoon and evening the fog clears and I'm overwhelmed with anxiety, due to the medication effects wearing off. The routine is useful because it helps me stay functional and earning a lot of money, but I'm stuck in a loop which only contains working, sleeping and eating. Days are indistinguishable and time passes incredibly slowly.

I write repeatedly about suicidal thoughts because I'm very trapped. I've become physically dependent on medication and the withdrawal effects are intolerable. I struggle to recognise the pattern in my moods, because my memory is impaired. I function perfectly effectively at work because of the monotony of what I do, and the fact I'm using skills I grasped as a child, long since mastered and turned into muscle memory and reflex. Everything in my life is something I've done a million times before. There are no new and novel challenges in my life. There is nothing which I could embark upon as a voyage into the unknown, except for death I suppose.

I think about getting a girlfriend, making friends, finding a new hobby. I think about buying more furniture and generally making my home more comfortable. I think about getting on top of my mountain of administrative bureaucratic tasks. None of these things are new or interesting to me - they're simply chores.

I'm blessed with a large amount of people who I'm in contact with via the internet. I'm never short of somebody to talk to via message or email. Some friends have stayed in contact and I've even made some new friends quite by accident. Perhaps I take all this for granted, but I'm just stating the facts.

I see my situation as unavoidable. I see my choices as so limited that I actually have no choices at all. The claim might sound unlikely, but my analysis is invariably correct. I'm in the process of creating choices for myself, while the world works exceptionally hard to thwart, frustrate, delay and annoy me. I'm not so paranoid that I believe that anybody's "out to get me" but in my lifelong experience there are always setbacks which far exceed a person's capacity to insulate and protect themselves. We live with the constant peril of our car breaking down or some other unexpected financial disaster wrecking our carefully laid out plans.

In other ways, my life is frighteningly random. I was almost bankrupt when a friend recommended me for a job, which rescued me from certain ruin. One year later, that friend killed himself. Another friend recommended me for another job, which has led me indirectly to where I am today. My improving financial situation is entirely a fluke and it's likely to end up in financial disaster at any moment. I've been maximally leveraged for far more years than I care to remember. My avoidance of homelessness and destitution is thanks to blog readers who have offered assistance. These rescuers have appeared in my hour of need, not through any coherent cries for help which I've communicated, but instead through the randomness of life.

Similarly, I expected to die in September 2017. I had planned and premeditated my suicide attempt. I had been systematic. I had done my research and I was sticking to the script. Again, random people off the internet intervened in collaboration with old friends and I was saved... just.

I feel sorry for myself but I can't decide how much of my situation is of my own making and how much was preordained. It certainly seems that whatever I try to do, my life appears to be running on invisible rails. If I try to ruin my life, I cannot, and if I try to improve my life, I cannot expedite or hurry things along.

Every day at work earns considerably more money than I spend. Every month my financial situation improves. However, my risk and exposure are steadily constant. I live with zero security. I live with very real and tangible threats to my home and my income, which also threaten to then cause a catastrophic chain of events that would see me cast from my profession and barred from accessing everything which middle-class people take for granted: bank accounts, mortgages, car loans, house rentals and other things requiring a credit check. Even most jobs with big companies are barred to bankrupts nowadays.

Money ebbs and flows through my accounts. Vast amounts of my wealth is hoovered up by the idle and lazy, who arrogantly expect to be paid money because they already have money. The turnover of money is beyond my capacity to track it. To monitor my accounts would be an exhausting waste of time and energy. Instead I see the vast wastage as preferable to the miserly task of bean counting. At least I know that some of my money ends up in the pockets of people who need it - it flows to me and it flows outwardly again, but at least it is flowing. I have no time or respect for people who cling to money, denying it to the economy.

I've lost count how many times I've lost everything but earned it all back again plus interest. I must have spent several lifetimes' fortunes. The aggregate value of my productivity must be a very big number. I certainly haven't been idle.

My life is very straightforward. Get the money, spend the money.

The straightforward nature of my life is the root cause of my unhappiness. I feel like a rat who has had electrodes implanted deep into its brain, so that it can stimulate the reward pathways by depressing a lever. It's very easy to press the button and get the thing which I'm supposedly living for. Don't have sex, press the lever. Don't have children, press the lever. Don't eat, press the lever. Don't drink, press the lever. I can press the right buttons and get the things which everyone covets - money, houses, cars, boats... whatever.

When you've been in the situation where you can buy whatever you want, including a lifetime's unlimited supply of drugs, then you have become the rat who presses the lever until it dies, because it doesn't eat or drink - it just presses the lever, because the lever is the best that life can possibly be. If you've ever thought "I could die right now because I'm so happy" that's what the rat is thinking when it presses the lever. Nobody should ever experience that... it's too much to handle.

Ultimately, I have reduced life to its most fundamental and primitive components. I understand mortality. I understand the lever. Life has boiled down to a choice between three things for me: pressing the lever, killing myself, or seemingly interminable boredom and suffering; repetition.

I had to make the choice to stop pressing the lever. I did so because of guilt about not repaying a debt to a friend. I could see that I was going to die of thirst, like the rat pressing the lever, and that I would die with a considerable lack of dignity. I turn 40 this year and it's pure pride that drives me towards confounding all expectations that I should end up a dead homeless bankrupt junkie.

I repeat myself so endlessly, but this is how I keep myself on-track. The speed limit of the universe is maddening, because I can see where I want to end up and I can see the route I need to take, but there's no way I can make the journey pass any quicker. I'm very much wishing my life away because I can picture so clearly where I want to be. I see everything that's not on the critical path as superflous. I've jettisoned girlfriends, friends, hobbies and interests, intellectually stimulating work, social contact and - strangely - drugs and alcohol. My life is austere. My life is brutal simplicity personified.

I wonder if perhaps I am on the autistic spectrum. I have rigid and fixed routines. I wear certain clothes on certain days at work, from a pre-planned wardrobe. I eat the same things. I have a place for everything and everything must be in its place. I follow a sequence for everything. I have routes that I always follow. I have a single unwavering approach to life; a single way of getting money and getting what I want. My life is designed to fit a designated path; everything is controlled down to the level of minute details. I have memorised unusual things, such that my words and actions seem to flow out of me automatically, despite the complexity of a task or seeming impossibility of memorising a sequence of keystrokes.

I blend in well enough now in adulthood. It's been a while since anybody called me a weirdo. In fact, I portray a convincing facsimile of a normal person, outwardly.

For a person with a mood disorder, I appear to be remarkably stable, and all the more so considering that I'm not taking any mood stabilisers. I stabilise myself with self-medication and strict routine. It's hell, but it's an internal hell which I manage to hide from my work colleagues.

It pleases me that I've been able to blend in. It pleases me that I've been able to pretend to be normal for lengthy periods of time, and to prove that I can hold down a job, pay my bills and otherwise conform like a regular guy, for sustained periods. It pleases me that I stop and start drugs and alcohol whenever I want - I can be clean and sober whenever I choose, without difficulty.

Everything is a loop. Round and round I go.

The present loop is one of the most boring and most suicide-inspiring.

 

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Lost Cause

7 min read

This is a story about predictions...

Recycling

Bookmakers and actuaries are extremely good at predicting the future. The profits of these well-established enterprises depend upon accurate predictions, based upon a vast amount of historical data. Better statistics lead to better predictions, which lead to accurate odds and sustained profitability. If it wasn't possible to predict the future in this way, there wouldn't be a business model for life insurance or gambling.

Unfortunately for individuals, generalised predictions are fairly accurate while individual predictions are not. It is no use asking an actuary when you will die, so that you can plan your life accordingly. The actuary will not be able to tell you whether you'll die of a heart attack age 45, or whether you'll die in your sleep age 95. Those extra 50 years present a considerable problem for the individual, but the actuary does not care, because they spread the risk of having to pay out on life insurance across a large group. On average, the insurer will win. However, none of us can know whether we're going to die prematurely or live unusually long.

It might seem prudent to avoid smoking, drinking and consumption of excessive calories. It might seem prudent to go to the gym every day. It might seem prudent to eat a balanced diet, containing a mixture of fruit and vegetables, full of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other chemical compounds your body needs to repair itself and stay healthy. However, while we can say for certain that smoking and obesity will lead to health complications, none of us can make choices to assure ourselves of a long life.

One day you might just drop dead.

The temptation to use statistical analysis to make predictions for an individual is overwhelming in a world where we have discovered the classical laws of physics. We presume that we are able to predict the future as easily as we can predict the trajectory of a missile. Unfortunately, individuals do not follow simple parabolic curves. While there are statistically significant correlations - good predictors - this does not mean that we can know the future life of a human, after gathering a few crummy data points.

All we have managed to unearth so far about the mysteries of human life is that we can understand risk not destiny. You might have genes which appear to doom you to a certain fate, but those genes are not always expressed in the way which we expect. The sequencing of the human genome has failed to provide the crystal ball that it was promised to deliver, but instead revealed the unimaginable complexity of epigenetics. No clear genes have been found for things such as diabetes and depression. There is no gene which hard-wires our life expectancy into every cell.

Who could have predicted that smoking would be banned in public buildings and the workplace, drinking culture would become diminished, supermarkets would import food from all over the globe, such that strawberries would be on their shelves all year round, and the workplace would become so safe and so sedentary? Who could have predicted that mental health problems would reach such epidemic proportions that the leading cause of death amongst 20 to 40 year old men would be suicide?

Ultimately, the biggest thing affecting my life expectancy appears to be a choice which I'm free to make.

I've never smoked and I quit drinking 4 months ago. I eat a balanced diet and I'm a healthy weight. These things are happy accidents. Every afternoon my anxiety builds to an increasingly intolerable level and every evening I feel suicidal. I live alone and have no friends or family nearby. I have no children, pets or partner.

My life is on a knife-edge.

If you were going to bet on the statistically probable outcome of my life, you'd have lost a lot of money already. I'm afraid to say that I'm an outlier and I have refused to conform to the predictions. I'm a single data point and as such I'm not statistically significant on my own, but the significance of my own life and its outcome is, unsurprisingly, important to me.

It's a hard life being an outlier. Literally, almost everyone is betting against you. It will be harder to get an education, get a job, get a home, borrow money, find a partner, get life insurance, get a pension... all of these things are thwarted by people who believe that they are able to predict my destiny. I'm continuously confronting people who believe I'm a lost cause, and therefore not worth taking a risk on.

We can see that this attempt at prediction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When racial stereotypes become pervasive - for example - then we see that minorities are harshly and unfairly prejudiced, which harms their chance of success and reinforces the correlation between uncorrelated factors. Skin colour should not be a good predictor of socioeconomic outcome, but the data overwhelmingly shows that it is.

From the moment you enter the vast educational system, you are being sifted and sorted in a way which tests you and gathers data on you, in order to attempt to predict your future. Something as random as getting an illness will affect your school attendance data, which will be used against you as a predictor of supposed future failure. You are constantly at risk of flagging yourself as a "disaster waiting to happen" and suffering lifelong prejudice due to the systemic attempts to analyse individuals statistically.

I suppose I now revel in the fact that I'm a living contradiction. My problems with mental health, addiction, alcohol, hospitalisations, psych ward stays, trouble with the police and refusal to be sifted and sorted by the mainstream education system, are not in agreement with the predictions that I should end up bankrupt, in jail and/or dead, having lived a life with no useful contribution to society, and in fact having been a burden. I'm the guy your mother warned you about. I'm the one who isn't supposed to be allowed to freely roam the streets. I'm the one who all the gatekeepers have in mind - I'm the one they want to keep out, but yet I'm very much on the inside.

If those who think they can gaze into the future by studying my data had their way, I wouldn't have a job, a house, any money. The system has tried very hard to railroad me into certain outcomes, because it's what was expected and predicted.

I genuinely don't know whether I'm going to kill myself or if my depression is going to lift and life's going to become pleasant and bearable. I've lived with depression for long enough to know that my choices will have little effect on the outcome. No amount of prescription medication, therapy, yoga and other such things will have the intended effect. It has always been the least expected things in my life which have wrought the most important changes.

If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I'll die at my own hands. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I won't be able to escape the debt trap. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I will crumble and break, because that seems like the obvious thing I would do, from looking at the black marks against my name. If I was going to bet according to statistics, I would definitely bet against myself.

However, we know that fundamentally the universe does not obey classical physics, when we study the underlying laws, but instead there is inherent uncertainty. Outcomes are nondeterministic. Knowing my past does not allow anybody to know my future. There is a nonzero probability of every possible outcome, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

My day-to-day life is dominated by a single question - am I going to kill myself? - but despite being the best placed person to answer that, I do not know the answer. Events unfolding are as much a surprise to me as they are to you.

 

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Modern Art

8 min read

This is a story about creativity...

Crack

Those who are blessed with independent wealth - trust-fund kids - may groan at my unoriginal and clichéd ideas. Those who have been lucky enough to attend public or private school (confusingly similar things in the UK) have been educated to be discerning snobs who act as a kind of judicial panel, deciding collectively what is to be mocked and derided as worthless, because it has clearly originated from the lower echelons of society.

We may study a piece of text and detect traces of vocabulary, style and grammar use, which indicates the author did not have the benefit of an expensive education, and as such we decide that their words are meaningless. We presume that the author holds detestable values and baseless immature views which have not been properly forged in the crucible of a fine university's debating society. We discern a certain lack of intellect from any impression we form of a person of being from a more humble background than our own. We prefer to only read works by those who are posh and impeccably well-presented in their homogenised manner of written communication.

We can quickly tell if somebody does a lot of writing, or if their writing style is a clumsy attempt to put their spoken words down onto paper.

Who has enjoyed the privilege of being able to read a very great deal, write an enormous amount, and have somebody paid to pore over their words? English is part of the mandatory school education of every child in the UK, yet as a nation we manage to produce many millions of people who don't know the difference between homophones such as "your" and "you're", which the public and private schools would not tolerate.

While an expensive education might give every child who attends those fee-paying schools a posh accent, an extended vocabulary and better grammar, it does not assure an academic future. Many children will prefer art to the prescriptive subjects, where there are right and wrong answers.

The position of power, gifted by privilege, is to decide what the "wrong" answers are in an area where there is no such thing as a "right" answer. With no more qualification than a posh accent and some snobbery, one can embark upon a career as an art critic, quite unwittingly.

Art exists in late capitalism as another rich man's hobby, like yacht sailing, horse riding, game shooting, vintage motor car racing and skiing. While some of the hoi polloi might have adopted those leisure pursuits in imitation of the wealthiest segment of society, a number of mechanisms exist to ensure that the poor man's version is inferior in every way, and not to be mistaken for things which are reserved for the wealthiest families. As such, the act of patronage is contained within that small group of individuals who speak in the manner of their patrons.

Who can really afford to write or paint for long enough to master the craft, without making creative sacrifices in order to be commercially successful? How many brilliant artists have been forced to become draughtsmen or take dismal tasteless commissions from gauche clients? We might love our favourite comics and assume that the artists are living happy, authentic lives which are true to their beliefs, but those who have seen it as a purely artistic endeavour find unhappy outcomes if they ever need to monetise their talents.

I can afford to give away my words for free because I have another source of income, but it means that my writing will never be anything more than an open journal - a daily diary which is publicly accessible. I don't have the time and energy to plan, execute and promote a piece of serious art, and I am forced to sell the most productive years of my life in order to pay rent and bills. I like to think that I am developing my craft, but the skillset for creative writing is quite different from the stream-of-consciousness which I produce.

Innumerable photographers have captured an image of themselves every day for considerable lengths of time, and countless more writers have kept daily journals. What I do is neither imaginative nor original. It would be easy to say that my writing is not art, or it is bad art.

It angers me that I should be denied the opportunity to be an artist. It angers me that my considerable creative talents and boundless energy for artistic projects, is thwarted by economic factors. I need to pay rent and bills, so I must sell my labour, but if I were to attempt to combine my job with my desire to create art, then I would be creating products not art.

What is art?

For me, I want to turn an exceptional period of my life - addiction and near-death - into a piece of art. My experiences have been so extreme that few people who've shared similar experiences have survived with their sanity intact and enough of a grasp of the English language to express themselves clearly on a piece of paper. Many people are lost to religion and other capitulations of the mind, or simply embroiled in family life, such that the difficult task of creating a piece of art which conveys some of the suffering endured, is rarely completed.

We might assume that a particularly rousing motivational speech or an incredible painting resulted from some God-given talents, but that's complete hogwash. We are a product of the surrounding environment and things that has driven us to repeat behaviours until they are innate. Anybody who says "I can't draw" has not practiced enough. When we look more closely at child prodigies, we see that their pushy parents are the reason why that child practiced a skill enough to become talented. There are no gifts - everything must be paid for.

My own so-called "gift" is a perseverance for tapping on keys in such a way which is mandated to be harmonious. A piano will happily play incorrect chords but if you press the wrong computer keys you will simply be told "command not found" or simply "error".

While I know that my writing doesn't get tested with the rigorous logic of boolean algebra, I feel confident that I can master writing as a lucrative craft, through practice and repetition, in exactly the same way that I taught myself how to program a computer as a child. I am certain that the skill of creating hundreds of thousands of lines of programming code which assemble together to make a functioning piece of complex computer software, is transferrable to the task of writing a few tens of thousands of words which produce a coherent story.

Few would disagree that music is an artform, but music is a piece of code executed on a machine - whether it's the notation on a piece of sheet music, or the laser-etched indentations on a compact disc, the creativity of the artist is coded and played through an instrument which adheres to strict rules. A grand piano only has 88 keys, while my keyboard has more than a hundred.

It's true that we've entered an era where almost anybody can call themselves a photographer or a writer, given the ubiquity of smartphones and the ease-of-use of apps which allow us to publish our photos and our words.

I offer up the photo at the beginning of this essay and these very words because I find both aesthetically pleasing and to have deep and profound meaning, beyond what you see at face value. In my text I offer up a glimpse of my inner turmoil, but I can never fully capture the full extent of every thought that races through my mind. My photo captures a moment that has immense meaning for me, but the viewer could never possibly know or guess correctly what that meaning is, which makes it a piece of art because it could only have been created by me, the artist.

"What even is it? I could take a photograph like that" I hear you say.

Yes, you could take a similar photograph, but it would have none of the meaning behind it, so therefore it would not be art.

"What are you even rambling about? I could write down my thoughts like you" I hear you say.

Yes, you could write down your thoughts, but they'd be quite different from mine and you wouldn't have the same motivations, so therefore it would just be yet another blog post from yet another blogger.

How can I claim to be creating art? In truth, I don't. I worry a lot that I'm wasting my time and creating a lot of meaningless noise. I worry that my creative energies are squandered on a pointless folly. However, this is still an impressive monument, whichever way you look at it. How many people have managed to write and publish more than a million words in a single document, with a consistent methodical approach, with regularity and with something interesting to say? How many people have catalogued their thoughts so thoroughly?

Not many.

 

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I Felt Something

6 min read

This is a story about flashbacks...

Abandoned shoes

Once upon a time I was in love. Once upon a time I lived in a place where I knew lots of people. Once upon a time I lived somewhere familiar that I called home. Once upon a time I was in the Goldilocks zone: everything was just right.

It often looks as if I start worrying about things too far in advance. I remember I was very anxious about getting another job during the winter of 2016/7. I had money in the bank to pay my rent for many months. I had the financial support of my girlfriend. Really, there was nothing to worry about, but I didn't feel secure.

Nobody could have predicted that I'd get a blood clot in my leg, causing a lot of damage to nerves, blood vessels and muscle, which would trigger my kidneys to fail. Nobody could have predicted the consequent need for dialysis and pain medication.

For sure, I contributed to my own problems, but then the problems multiplied all on their own. It was my fault that I got more sick, didn't get a job and broke up with my girlfriend. Having to leave my home and move to another city was something I already predicted and worried about. Getting into financial difficulties was something I was already losing sleep over. My luck ran out in the end.

There was unimaginable stress and effort required to move from London to Manchester, Manchester to Swansea, Swansea to Cardiff, and stave off bankruptcy. There was an incomprehensible amount of trauma caused by breaking up with the love of my life - even though I instigated it in my madness - and leaving the city which held almost my entire social support network.

Mental health problems, alcoholism and drug abuse added to a toxic mix of moving house, moving city, moving jobs and never putting down any roots. I never felt settled anywhere.

The net result is that I've had to emotionally shut down. The person who I present to prospective employers, prospective landlords and other gatekeepers, is a calm, collected, well-dressed, polite and well-spoken individual, who appears to be handling everything quite well. Without this document, people would be very puzzled and surprised to find that I'd committed suicide. "He looked fine" people would say.

Nobody's really close enough to see the inner anguish and turmoil. Nobody's really close enough to see my mask slip. For sure, I write and publish every day, but my readers are scattered all over the country. At the weekend I saw two close friends, but the previous time I'd seen a close friend had been 5 months ago.

5 months!

Can you imagine that?

Picture yourself pretending like everything is A-OK for 5 straight consecutive months, without a shoulder to cry on and the comfort of opening up to a close friend. Picture yourself being surrounded exclusively by your work colleagues and other people who you need to put on a brave face for, for 5 long months.

My life is very odd. I saw old friends in Portugal, in the gastropub next door to the hotel I lived in, in Prague and near Bristol. I count four occasions when I saw old friends, in the space of a year. That's a staggeringly lonely and isolated existence.

My entire existence revolves around my attempts to avoid gaining a black mark against my name - bankruptcy - and being evicted from the privileged part of society which I'm fortunate enough to be part of. For 5 years I've attempted to muscle my way back into civilised society, while the demands of capitalism have wrestled me to the floor and punched me in the face repeatedly.

My approach to life is very simple: work hard and earn more money that I spend. On paper, it's easy to calculate how long it will take to get myself back in the black. Theoretically, it should be easy for me to restore health, wealth and prosperity to my life.

In reality, I've had to suspend almost everything 'human' about myself and become a robot.

I don't have the time or the money for feelings.

Everything feels very wrong, but conceptually it's right. My feelings tell me that things are painful and unbearable, but on paper I must bear these things, because on paper it's clear what the benefits are. I do not feel any benefits. I very much feel all the horrible unpleasant things. I force myself to live with the intolerable, because it seems logical in theory.

Look around: life seems to be about earning money, paying bills and then dying. I'm making a very passable imitation of those I see around me.

I would desperately like to switch off my feelings, switch off my brain, and just wake up in a year or so when this unpleasantness is over. I'm paid to sit in a chair not saying anything, so it would be very nice if I could be put into a kind of suspended animation, so that I'm unconscious while sitting in that chair. Wake me up when the sitting is finished.

Something unlocked some feelings for the first time in a very long time, and I found myself crying a little bit last night. I cried about breaking up with "the one who got away". It's strange that those tears are almost 2 years overdue. I didn't really cry very much. My feelings are kept very well subdued - the lid is kept on that jar very tight.

I think about the ease with which I could calmly get a sharp knife from the kitchen drawer, walk upstairs to my bathroom, draw a warm bath, immerse myself in the water and open some major blood vessels with the blade. I know how unhesitatingly I would act, once making the decision. I know how little doubt or anxiety would trouble me. I know I wouldn't call anybody or otherwise raise the alarm.

I suppose I could give up the other way. I could allow myself to be ejected from the privileged part of society. I could refuse to partake in the rat race anymore. I could allow my card to be marked and my name to be tarnished. I could let the circling vultures swoop in. I suppose it might actually be more pleasant than the sitting in the chair, quietly doing nothing, just waiting, while in agony.

Regret is the problem.

I cried because I lost the love of my life and it was clearly all my own fault. I cried because I was in the Goldilocks zone but I sabotaged it all. She was just right - not too hot, not too cold - and so were many other things in my life at that time, but I threw it all away.

I don't particularly feel regret, because I don't particularly feel anything. My feelings are all bottled up. There's no time or money for my feelings.

It's been a long time since I cried, but I did cry a little bit last night.

 

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Antipsychiatry

5 min read

This is a story about refusing help...

Pharmacy

If you spend enough time with general practitioners, general psychiatrists, specialist consultant psychiatrists, registered mental nurses, specialty doctors and all the very many other mental health professionals who are part of inpatient and outpatient clinics, community mental health teams, crisis teams and all the other apparatus which is supposed to treat mental health problems, one begins to realise a rather unsettling truth: there aren't very many treatments and they don't work very well.

Psychiatry is a young branch of medicine and it doesn't have a lot to crow about. Since the days of asylums and lobotomies, psychiatry has been dogged by scandals, including the extrapyramidal side effects of medications which have left patients with lifelong irreversible unpleasant problems. The data do not show encouraging outcomes. In fact the outlook is dismal and appears to be worsening as the toxic conditions which create mental health problems, seem to be intensifying. Rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity... these are all soaring. Treatments are not effective and vast numbers of people are condemned to suffer with their illnesses AND the side effects of the medications.

I've been lucky enough to have access to private medical care, at times, and even with the very best professionals and medications, there is not a vast difference between what's available from the public healthcare system. It's all pretty crap and it doesn't work very well.

This is not a damning indictment of those who dedicate their lives to trying to treat mental illness, but simply a cold hard rational analysis of the facts.

The conclusion I've reached has been that there's an over-medicalisation of non-medical problems. The bulk of my problems have stemmed from the collapse of my relationships. I got divorced. I am estranged from my family. I've been forced to move to cities where I have no friends - no social support network - in order to work jobs which have been unsuitable for my health. I have the enormous pressure of having to work full-time, to pay rent, bills and service enormous debts, which is unbearable for a person who's having a crisis.

My mental health would be vastly improved if I had a partner, a social support network of local friends, financial and housing security and a job with reduced hours, until this crisis is resolved. Healthy diet, sleep hygiene, exercise, sex, physical affection, sunlight, fresh air, social contact, hobbies and interests... these things are all essential for human wellbeing. None of those things can be prescribed by a doctor.

During the worst days of my addiction and rough sleeping, I noticed that my fellow homeless alcoholics and addicts were not without some routine and social lives. Romantic relationships are not the exclusive preserve of those who live in houses and have jobs. The life of a homeless drug addict might be chaotic to the outside observer, but a less prejudiced analysis reveals no less structure, no less need for comfort, no less humanity. Those who have fallen into habits of addiction and homelessness might find the community of drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless to provide the social support network and sense of community, which they'd struggle to find living anonymously behind a front door.

Does anybody really know I'm here... in this house... in this city? In many ways I have found my contact with hospitals and the police to be of great comfort. I have found the nonjudgemental members of the NHS and police force to be incredibly kind and compassionate people. It's nonsensical, but I've been happy to be hospitalised or arrested. I've been happy to be in a cell or on a hospital ward, with somebody checking on my welfare. Behind my own front door I could be hanging by the neck, dead, and nobody would discover me for days or maybe even weeks.

My problems are mainly attributable to unmet basic needs: hugs, face-to-face conversation and a sense of belonging.

Because of the obvious things which need to be fixed in my life, it seems wrong to seek medical help, when my mood could be radically different if all the broken things were fixed. It might sound like a fun adventure, going to new cities, but the reality is very miserable and lonely. The reality of my present life is that I don't pick up the phone to speak to anybody when I'm feeling dangerously depressed - who would I phone? What would they do? It's not like anybody can nip round to check I'm OK.

Humans are social creatures, but I live on the periphery. I live on the periphery of life itself, always in danger of death or medical emergency. The state of being suicidal should be considered a medical emergency, especially in men of age 20 to 40, where suicide is the biggest cause of death. My perception of the danger is not warped, given my history of suicide attempts and hospitalisations.

There isn't a pill or some psychological therapy which would be effective... especially not when so much of my life is broken. It's not a medical problem. Sure, I have an underlying mood disorder, but the highs and lows of bipolar don't make me as unhappy as my social isolation does.

How I set about fixing things, I have no idea. The task seems insurmountable.

 

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Waiting Game

7 min read

This is a story about biding your time...

Dehydrator

One of my favourite things to make and eat is beef jerky or biltong. Mixing a marinade, lovingly covering the meat and then slowly drying it is something which can take 30 hours or more. The smell is quite tantalising throughout the process, but there's no short-cut to the end. If the beef is marinated for less time, it will be less flavoursome. If the beef is dried too quickly it will be cooked instead of dehydrated, and it will be brittle, not chewy.

My life has become a game of waiting. I'm paid for my attendance, not my contribution. I'm paid to be present, but also paid to be quiet. The more I'm present and the quieter I am, the greater my financial reward, but it's pretty unbearable. I literally just have to watch the clock and think of the money. If I tried to make myself useful, people wouldn't like it and it would cause problems.

The situation is ridiculous, because even a small child could see that I don't have to do anything and I will be handsomely rewarded with desirable things, such as cash, houses, cars, holidays, clothes, gadgets and suchlike. It's very easy to extrapolate and say that it's almost inevitable that I'm going to earn a staggering amount of money, for doing almost absolutely nothing.

The situation is hard to handle. I can see every single step in-between here and the 'finishing line'. It's as if there's a well-lit staircase that leads to the top of Mount Everest, and I know exactly how many steps there are, and also that theoretically my body is capable of climbing that many steps, but it's psychologically distressing to know exactly how many steps there are between me and the summit. Sometimes it's not a good thing to know the way. Sometimes it's not a good thing to be so aware of the journey ahead.

I'm aware that human bodies only last a finite amount of time before they fail. I can comprehend the number of sleeps that I have left before I expire from old age. A friend pointed out that 9 years is 108 months, which seemed like an interesting way to break down a decade - making it more bite-size - but the idea of living for another decade is not inviting to me. Getting to the end of this month will be an achievement.

My perception of time is warped. My sense of boredom is heightened. My attention span is ruined. I feel anxious all the time. I have terrible anhedonia.

Life's not very liveable but life must go on. I have to choose between the rat race and the endless exertion to keep my head above water, or else I will be turfed out onto the streets and will have to live a pitiful life of begging and sleeping rough.

My thoughts turn to suicide often.

Suicide is the obvious choice, because it ends the struggle completely. No more anxious waiting. No more slow plodding towards the inevitable. No more unpleasantness.

I'm aware that I'm frustratingly close to a major breakthrough. I'm aware that I've rebuilt myself fairly miraculously and I'm a completely different person from the junkie I was 2 years ago. It seems brutal that I would lose the love of my life, lose my amazing apartment, be forced out of the city I called home and end up attempting suicide, only to end up surviving and clawing my way back from almost-certain bankruptcy, only to give up at the point I was at break-even. It seems ludicrous that I'd claw my way back from so-called "rock bottom" and then decide that it wasn't worth it, except to die with a bit more pride and dignity.

I was chatting to a friend and we wondered whether we had screwed up our brains and our bodies too badly to ever recover. We both reported feeling a lot of physical discomfort and health problems, as well as terrible depression and anxiety. Ironically, he has all the things that I think I want: a girlfriend, hot weather and freedom from the rat race. The thing we have in common is bipolar disorder and substance abuse, so perhaps the evidence is pretty clear - drugs will mess you up and leave you in a miserable state.

The annoying thing is that my life isn't filled with drug abuse. My life is filled with 9 to 5 Monday to Friday commuting and office routine. My life is filled with paying rent and bills. My life is filled with supermarket shopping and doing laundry. My life is filled with mountains of paperwork. I've been well-behaved and I've made healthy choices, but it hasn't made any difference - I'm still depressed.

I suppose my depression can be explained away by events such as a breakup and a lot of stress - moving house - as well as the sustained problems I've faced in the past years, as I've attempted to restore my health and my wealth. It's hard not to lose patience though. It's hard not to give up, given the sustained effort that has been required to get where I am, and the way I feel at the end of it all.

After all the effort and the uncertainty and the horrible things I've had to endure, when I think "was it worth it?" I'm not sure that it was. In fact, I'm pretty certain that I wish I hadn't bothered. I'm pretty certain that I'd like for the pain and suffering to end sooner, rather than later. I cannot see any reason to carry on, when the reward is only more pain and suffering.

I'm kinda worried about keeping myself safe. I started thinking about places in my house where I could hang myself. I started thinking about cutting some major blood vessels in the bath. I started thinking about obtaining highly toxic poisons from the internet. I started thinking about practical considerations, such as the effect on my sister.

It's not good when a considerable part of your waking day is spent thinking about ending your own life.

I'm aware that I've probably unbalanced my delicate brain chemistry, through stressful events as well as medications. I binged on some pills. I self-medicate with other pills. The demands placed upon me by moving house and working a stressful job have driven me to feel suicidal before. I don't have any friends in the city where I live. These things are not conducive to good mental health.

I know that if I keep forcing myself to go to the office, my bank balance will continue to improve, which opens up a whole world of possibilities and reduces the amount of stress and pressure in my life. I know that as long as I stay alive, the days are getting longer, the nights are getting shorter and the weather is improving. I know that depression doesn't last forever. I know that anxiety has only ever come into my life as a result of abusing alcohol and benzodiazepines. I know these things, but it doesn't make the present day any more bearable.

There's no way to hurry things along. I either have to wait, or kill myself.

 

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I Like Taking Taxis

4 min read

This is a story about being unintelligent...

Taxi

I like eating in expensive restaurant. I like flying business class. I like staying in luxury hotels. I like not checking my bank balance; not budgeting.

What gives me the right to live so lavishly?

My grip on reality is tenuous. My sanity is questionable. I certainly have no certification to 'prove' my intellect. My curriculum vitae hides the truth of the past 6 years of my life, because I was wily enough to start a company to paper over any cracks, but closer scrutiny would reveal lots of gaps.

I should be penniless scum, abandoned by society and left to rot in the gutter.

Certainly, I've survived the unsurvivable because I'm creditworthy and I've borrowed, in order to maintain a certain standard of living. No grotty bedsit for me. No squat with newspaper covering the windows and a filthy mattress on the floor. If I've decided that I'm going to work hard and attempt to rescue myself from certain bankruptcy and destitution, then I've always demanded to have a nice place to live.

It seems spoiled and entitled.

To me, I simply can't see the point in existing in a miserable state. What's the point of being alive if it's going to be so lacking in dignity? Sure, plenty of people live in dire poverty and they go about their business quietly and without complaint. Good for them. That's not for me.

It seems like an unreasonable expectation. Why should somebody who's so heavily indebted be allowed to never check their bank balance and enjoy a high standard of living? Why should somebody who's had problems with addiction, alcoholism and mental health be allowed to have lovely holidays, live in a big house and generally spend money with gay abandon?

I have complete irreverence for money.

Money answers none of the big philosophical questions, such as: why are we here? Money contributes nothing to our fundamental understanding of the universe. Money does not figure in the big picture. Money is not even a rounding error. Money is simply an absurd transient concept, amongst a transient society of a transient species. Money is nothing in the face of death.

I suppose that's the root of my views on money - that I've faced death so many times that I have no fear of running out of money. Money is simply invented out of thin air, and is something to be laughed at as ridiculous, but death is widely regarded as a permanent and irreversible state. Why should I fear running out of money when I can always go and get some more? I can pluck money out of thin air, because it's just a fabricated human construct. Death however, is something which has certainly proven fatal to more than 100 billion souls thus far, so it deserves a certain amount of respect.

It's because I value life and respect death, that money is an irrelevance. It would have been nice to embed myself in an academic institution, where my mind could have been occupied with silly puzzles and other trivial things. I could have busied myself telling a captive audience of children incorrect things, with an air of authority. Instead I have embedded myself in massive organisations, who remunerate me excessively to compensate for the absurdity of the so-called 'work' they ask me to do. I'm paid to be bored and unfulfilled - living an inauthentic life - so my compensation is to be able to do enviable things and live relatively unconcerned with financial matters.

As you might imagine, recovering from debt, mental illness and addiction is not quick and easy. We are quick to write people off, because of the vast amount of time and money required for a person to recover. We think that junkies - in particular - are no-hopers who will not be able to overcome the adversity they face, in order to return to a normal life.

I don't want a normal life.

I had a good life before and I want to have a good life again. I'm not going to settle for simply being alive. I want it all. I want everything.

 

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Lightning Rod

6 min read

This is a story about empathy...

Clouds

I sometimes wonder whether I caused myself some long-term health damage by taking ecstasy tablets - MDMA - every weekend for approximately 18 months, when I was in my late teens. I think that whether it did or didn't affect my neurological development, it certainly affected my personality and outlook; my approach to dealing with other people. I've adopted my attitude towards openness and honesty as a response to the empathy and trust I felt, due to the effect of mind-altering substances. I liked connecting with people at a very profoundly open and unguarded level. I liked putting my faith in humans and assuming that nobody wanted to hurt me.

The net result in later adulthood has been a rather extreme set of values, by which I live my life. I've always favoured trust and a kind of blind faith that nobody's going to screw me over. Throughout my twenties and thirties, I've always had a belief that I don't need to bother protecting myself.

It seems as if I made a decision about what's important and what isn't important. Like, I spend very little time deliberating over how to save a few pennies buying a particular food item. I spend very little time doing my taxes and other administrative tasks. I spend very little time on anything which doesn't have a significant purpose. I don't understand why people spend such an extraordinary amount of time doing things which are unpaid, unprofitable and are simply busywork.

I flit between two modes: hyper-focussed, or incredibly bored and distracted. When I'm in the latter mode I feel hyper-receptive to current affairs. I feel as though world events are far more important than any of the daily nonsense in my life. I struggle to reconcile the absurdity of capitalism, rent, money, jobs and other trifling things, with climate change and the billions of people who are hungry. Entire days or weeks disappear and I seem to have done nothing more than become engrossed in the news, angered and saddened.

The circumstances of my adult life have mostly sidelined me, with me helplessly spectating from my comfortable office. However, I'm acutely aware that my position in some very large organisations means that I'm complicit in the suffering that I see. I know exactly how close I've been to the epicentre of seismic world events, which have been catastrophic for humanity.

I suppose that the physical damage that I've wrought, through pollution and war, is hard to connect with my day job, but it's not hard to see that I've been very close to the money, which has greased the wheels of capitalism. The nature of my crimes against humanity are so hard to explain and esoteric that it would be easy for me to let myself off the hook, but if ever there was a case of a global conspiracy, it would be my participation in the brain-drain which is global technology, and its abuse as a mechanism of enslaving everyone.

It seems harmless enough, all this geek stuff, but then I see the dreadful things which the internet has inspired people to do. I read the dreadful things people write and share with each other. I read the dreadful ideologies and manifestos of dreadful people. I see how the internet has connected dreadful people together, amplifying their dreadfulness.

"Guns don't kill people, people do" goes a popular slogan, but it's not true... the people who make guns are just as culpable as the people who use them. The same has got to be said of social media influencers and the platforms they use. What started as a network for academics to share research has been invaded by the masses, and they're not interested in improving their minds: they're vile hateful people who gang together with like-minded dreadful shits.

The internet has become highly efficient at refining both the best and the worst ideas. The most depraved and disgusting things exist and thrive on the internet in frighteningly huge numbers. The internet has turned one person's subconscious bad thought, which lived safely in their brain, into a collective thought which is broadcast across the globe. It's strange saying this as a libertarian left-leaning engineer, but I kinda feel like humanity is not mature enough to have the internet.

I'm very well aware that my sanity has been very questionable during the last 6 years and my grip on reality is probably tenuous at best. I'm very well aware that my mental illness means I must surely think more like a terrorist or some other enemy of society, than I do like a regular person. I read about the world's worst monsters and I check myself for similarities: delusions of grandeur, paranoia and irrational hatred of certain groups of people.

I groan and hold my face in my hands when I remember things I've said and done. I know that I've been through some periods when I was ranting and raving about things. I know that my thoughts were an incoherent jumbled mess at times. I know that during very bad episodes of mental health problems, I've struggled with delusions of grandeur and paranoia. I can remember it all very clearly and I'm very embarrassed by my own behaviour.

Today, I blend it fairly well with ordinary society. My colleagues at the office seem to have readily accepted me as 'normal'. A substantial number of people deal with me and find my behaviour to be normal.

Internally, I find it hard to process everything. My brain mostly screams that I should be doing something - anything - in reaction to the world I observe all around me, but I deliberately subdue my instincts because I've learned that if I keep still and keep my mouth shut, vast wealth floods into my pockets. I'm essentially bribed into knowingly participating in the maintenance of the status quo.

It's quite hard to sit and read the news and not react.

 

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Historically March Has Been A Terrible Month For Me

3 min read

This is a story about social media memories...

Clock tower

Facebook provides an "on this day" feature, which reminds me that March has been afflicted with madness and sadness for more years than I care to remember. I'm horribly affected by seasonal depression and I think March is the worst month of all, because it's long, dark, cold and the weather is terrible. At least in April the clocks have sprung forward. At least in April, the first pleasant month of the year - May - is within sight.

I was trying to remember what the earliest point in any year was, where I'd regained control of my sanity and been working. With the exception of the current 15-month long streak, it hasn't been earlier than May that I've managed to get myself into gainful employment and start repairing my life, and it's been as late as October and even December, which has proven pretty disastrous for my finances.

It might sound pretty incredible that I could lose my mind in one winter - usually around Christmas time - and not work until the following autumn. My life is incredibly cyclical and part of that cycle is rescuing myself from the brink of disaster. Because of my creditworthiness, I simply sink into debt, then dig myself out of the hole when my mind is more amenable to being in the workplace.

I'm pretty sick of the boom and bust, hence resolving to dig myself out of debt once and for all. I'm sick of having debt hanging around, threatening to destroy me. I'm sick of working hard, mainly to line the pockets of my creditors.

Last year was compromised because my summer was ruined, but since then I haven't got much to complain about. I managed to have two very nice holidays. If I play my cards right I can have a nice summer holiday this year and enter the autumn in a financially strong position. I had imagined that my woes would be behind me now, but I've had to balance the reality of the daily slog - commuting etc. - with the desire to get out of debt as quickly as possible. I could have lived on dry bread, tap water and lived in a hovel, but I think that would have been unbearable.

I realise that I consider this to be my sixth consecutive terrible year, but my life hasn't been anywhere near simple enough to reduce to that level. In fact, 2016 very nearly worked out for me. I'm kinda having another attempt at 2016, but hopefully not repeating the same mistakes. Every year has had a terrible winter and spring, followed by an autumn period which has been much more promising.

This year is unique, in that it started with an awesome holiday and the period that threatened to plunge me back into disaster and despair was quite short-lived. I've already managed to fend off a breakup, a house move and some brain chemistry problems, which all could have been terminal for my dreams of achieving stability, security and happiness.

I don't want to jinx it, but this year is going far better than any previous year, all things considered.

 

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So Embarrassing

6 min read

This is a story about over-sharing...

Twitter likes

I'm not really a self-conscious person or else I'd never write and publish anything, but I did have a moment of panic yesterday when I realised what a plonker I was going to look like, for writing about my most vulnerable insecurities, innermost sensitive thoughts and feelings, laying myself wide open for a moment of stunned silence, which would have been very embarrassing.

I thought about deleting my tweet which accompanied the blog post. It's been ages since I thought about deleting something. I very rarely self-censor.

Being single transports me back to my frustrated and unhappy teens. Despite modest success in the world of dating and relationships, I still carry a huge amount of insecurity. I've never felt like "God's gift" to women or that I have any particular attractiveness or charisma that means I don't have anything to worry about. I've been told on plenty of occasions that I don't have anything to worry about - that I'm good-looking - but I suppose whatever wounds were inflicted in childhood still haven't healed.

I'm basically one big twisted knot of overthinking and over-isolated overgrown man-child. Growing up without any siblings until the age of 10 was hell. Being stuck in the company of my parents as they dragged me through 8 different schools and all over the bloody world was hell on earth. I have plenty of reasons why I should struggle to form normal healthy relationships with my peers.

I guess I got into technology because it seemed like a perfect microcosm that I could control. However, reality has asserted itself so fully that I can see that life is messy, and my reaction is to collate and publish all that mess for everyone to see. I'm using technology to gather together everything that I'm embarrassed about and really don't want to be teased about.

What I write is an absolute goldmine for anybody who wants to poke and prod at my insecurities, to antagonise me.

The thing is, I write about this stuff as a pre-emptive step, so that it's less of a big red button that people can press to get a reaction.

I've been relatively successful at positioning myself so that I'm never on the back foot like I was when I was a child. I refuse to ever be somebody's plaything. If I'm going to act predictably, it's going to be in accordance with my own predictions, not anybody else's.

Pleasingly, the world has somewhat complied with my wishes. I've been able to enjoy social change, enabling me to be the passive one who has the enviable position of being able to reject, taunt, bully and tease, if I should so choose. It's every bit as pleasant and comforting as I thought it would be, to have the tables turned and be the one with the power.

Am I applauding the existence of the patriarchy? No.

Am I very weird geeky guy who had a particularly disrupted childhood, which held me back from having a number of formative experiences, such as girlfriends at school? Yes.

The net result is that things that are normal for you have a different level of importance in my life. My entire self-esteem is based on whether I'm getting laid or not. If I'm not getting laid, then I assume that I've been plunged back into my unhappy adolescence. I assume that I'm once again the awkward social outcast that I was during my schooldays. I assume that I've lost all of my adult development and I'm doomed to live out my days in lonely singledom.

The net result is dating some very unsuitable women and having a lot of unwanted sex. The sex is symbolic. I have as much sex as I can get now, today, as over-compensation for the lack of it in my teens... as if I can somehow alter the past.

It's strange psychology, but also very basic and simple.

Also, I shouldn't write about it, but I do.

I sometimes forget that I pour my heart out like this. The process of emptying my brain out onto the page has become normalised. The fear of embarrassing myself in front of the entire world has long-since been forgotten. The concept of a world that hasn't seen every flaw and downside of my character is long gone.

You'd think that my exposure would be problematic, but I find it easier to remain quiet and keep my mouth shut when I need to - such as in the office - by brain-dumping all of this stuff out publicly. I enjoy the open secret of it, although it does stress me out that one day I'm going to get into trouble.

Dating with this level of exposure is problematic. Dating is a thing that puts people in a very vulnerable position, and having a large resource of vulnerabilities published publicly makes me doubly vulnerable. I have no idea whether to offer up this blog as part of the package of information made available during the early stages of dating, along with photos and descriptions of what I do for money etc. which are usually expected.

Without too much digging, it's possible to see me in a very unflattering light, but I also know that it takes bravery and courage to make yourself vulnerable, and I know that it's rewarding to be brave and take risks.

For now, I'm just going to proceed as normal. I was very reassured to see that some people who I really like and respect had acknowledged what I'd written yesterday, but I must admit that I was seriously thinking about deleting it, because I felt like I'd made a fool of myself.

I find the world to be adversarial and hostile and I don't like it. My reaction is not to be defensive, but in fact to do the un-intuitive thing and to lower my guard - making myself extremely vulnerable. "Do your worst" I incant.

 

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Being Single Is Not Good

5 min read

This is a story about fulfilment...

Fire exit

I enjoy watching feature-length documentaries. I enjoy watching entire series in 20-hour-long Netflix marathons. I spend a great deal of time carefully choosing how I'm going to spend my waking hours. I refuse to watch a movie that's rated less than 7.0 on IMDB. Life's too short for compromises on such things.

On the other hand, I'm a realist. I mostly prefer a stable secure settled life to one where I'm constantly striving to trade up. I've ended up settling for relationships which have seemed at the time to be marginally better than being single. I've ended up putting up with pretty bad relationships, for the sake of security.

My relationships don't tend to end with a smooth parting of ways. Because I'm kind of a stubborn and frustratingly patient person, my relationships end when my mental health stability ends. It seems like only an episode of mental illness is enough for me to make necessary changes to my life - to break up and move on from relationships which are holding me back.

Of course, I admit that I'm 50% of the blame in any bad relationship scenario. I admit that if a relationship is unsuitable and it's going to end eventually, I'm holding back the other person as much as they're holding me back.

My dating process is not very refined.

I usually start from a position of panic. I usually start dating with somewhat of a campaign mentality. Singledom is something I see as a condition to be conquered and I will exhaust all avenues until my single status is subdued. I view the process of going from being single to being in a relationship as a journey which should be as short and direct as possible. I view the dating process as immensely stressful and unpleasant, and something that should last as little time as possible.

As a person with a mood disorder - bipolar - I can leverage my manic energy to achieve goals. Finding a girlfriend is just another goal with a number of prerequisite steps. It's a numbers game.

I'm not very sentimental about dating.

In fact, I'm probably a terrible human being.

There might be some underlying misogyny which drives my thoughts and behaviour. What can be said for certain is that I really don't like feeling insecure. I really don't enjoy any of the flirtation or "do they like me?" uncertainty. I view all of the preamble as thoroughly unpleasant. I want to travel from the uncertain to the certain as quickly as possible.

My life at the moment is pretty simple. Work the job, get the money, spend the money. I earn more than I spend and my job is pretty easy. I have everything I need.

I examine my thoughts regularly for any sign of entitlement or other worrying sentiments. I wonder how I really feel about the opposite sex. I wonder if I'm a bad person. I'm pretty sure I am a bad person, but I'm a product of my environment, and I'm under a lot of pressure. Pressure is a bad thing. Pressure brings out the worst in people.

I look at my friends as a reference point, and there's a mix of friends who would very much like to have a life partner, but haven't yet managed to meet that special somebody - perhaps somewhat involuntarily single - and some who have experienced a string of relationships. Nobody stands out as a fine example of somebody who's got their life perfectly right - every relationship, or absence of relationship, looks to contain a certain amount of unhappiness.

I look at my current situation: I have traded history, art, culture and food for being able to live in a big house and drive to work. I have swapped a city which made me feel at home, the more I wandered around it, for a city which makes me feel disorientated and bewildered, despite it being much smaller.

My life situation - being 39 years old and not having much to show for it - feels deeply shameful and as though I'm a failure, here in this place which places such import on owning a house and a new car. My ephemeral achievements count for nothing in this place of mortgages and car loans. I'm plunged back into the insecurity of my teens, when having a flash car was an obsession, because it seemed to be the route to getting the girl.

I can't tell whether I make things happen in my life, or whether things just fall into my lap. In fact, all of my experiences seem to suggest that things just fall into my lap more often than I make things happen. I always seem to get what I want.

Then I screw everything up.

Boom and bust. This is my life. This is bipolar.

 

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Ignorant Of My Own Stupidity

7 min read

This is a story about benchmarks...

Crossed wires

There's no way for me to really know how much permanent brain damage I've inflicted upon myself. There's no way to know how much cognitive impairment I've caused. There's no way to know how many brain cells I've killed and how much grey matter I've destroyed. Most of the time I feel fine - no change - but sometimes I have a sudden panic that I've lost a lot of my ability to think.

My concentration span is ruined, but I think that's a pretty endemic problem given the ubiquity of smartphones and social media. The reasons for my brain damage are pretty obviously down to neurotoxicity of chemicals I've put into my body, but it's hard to know what I'd be like if I hadn't lived through that period of drug abuse. I feel dumb, but maybe I'd have been made dumb by other stuff anyway, like the steady stream of mind-numbing entertainment which is available over the internet.

I learned some new things in the past 15 months, so my ability to learn doesn't seem totally ruined. I achieved some difficult projects, so my ability to deliver complex pieces of work also seems to be functioning OK. This is a relief - at least my brain is functioning OK in a professional capacity. The demands seem relatively light on my brain - not too taxing - except for the concentration issues and the boredom. The boredom has always been an issue.

I think about the incidence rate of me saying or doing stupid stuff. Sometimes I worry that I'm saying just as much dumb stuff as ever, but then I look at the frequency of the really bad dumb stuff, and I realise that my spectacular own-goals are becoming less and less frequent. When I screw up, it's not as long and protracted and it doesn't cause as much damage.

Of course, I haven't done the data-collection and analysis, but I'm usually right. My hunches are usually correct, because I do collect data as I go along and I regularly compare periods of time using hard numbers.

Still, I can't quite shake the feeling that I've made myself pretty dumb through my abuse of drugs.

I think it's useful that I don't drink caffeinated beverages. I think that caffeine gives me a kind of false sense of security and overconfidence. I'm sure that caffeine is to blame for tipping me into a manic state.

It's kinda useful that I don't drink alcohol. When I quit drinking once in 2015 it was followed by a bad period of mood instability that ultimately cost me a job, financial security and then ultimately resulted in going back to square one. I'm undecided about the role alcohol has in my life, but at the moment I'm glad to be getting my intoxicants in the form of a measured dose, which is not fattening or otherwise damaging to my physical health.

I feel a little stupefied by medication. I feel quite drugged and intoxicated. I have no idea what I'm going to feel like once I finally manage to wean myself off all the pills.

It's very hard to judge where I'm at.

I look at metrics such as my average earnings. The data is very positive.

I look at metrics like my step count. The data is very negative.

I look at things like the tightness of my belt, and things are very positive again. I look at myself in the mirror when I get out of the shower and I can visibly see the improvement. There's no denying the substantial physical change - I'm losing weight and looking healthier.

I combine everything into a generalised view and I can see that this summer is likely to deliver a continued decline, which the step count data robustly supports, as well as my general perception that I've had a couple of terrible years in a row. However, the future is somewhat in my own hands, so I can choose in advance to make plans for the summer which will be something to look forward to. I can plan to succeed, instead of waiting to fail.

I know that having a girlfriend would make life more bearable, but I also know that it has always provoked instability too. I know that breakups have been the catalyst for the most self-destructive behaviour in my life. I find myself wanting some validation that I've done well. I find myself driven by insecurity a little - wanting to reassure myself that I'm still attractive.

I find that my addiction hasn't been cured. I've had thoughts which have resisted suppression, surfacing from my subconscious. I'm experienced enough to know exactly what part of my brain is plotting. I can see all the warning signs. However, I think I've proven that I'm disciplined enough to resist and get through difficulties. It's been too hard to get here - I'm not going to screw things up.

It's difficult to live with so many episodes of boom and bust. There's so many examples to analyse. I can see all the things that have worked very well, and I can see all the things which have been utterly disastrous. It should be good to have so many experiences to draw upon, but it's actually a bit frustrating. Theoretically, I know all the right moves, but linking them together into a dance is not at all easy.

I endlessly analyse everything. I extrapolate. I predict.

My predictions don't make for comfortable reading. I can see that my improvements are only marginal, while the long-term trend is pretty dreadful. I can see that there's a lot of hard work ahead with very little reward. However, I do know that for every year that I'm well more than I'm sick, my situation will improve and my quality of life is much better. For every year that I work more than I don't, my finances improve, which opens the doors to a world of possibilities. Better finances means better living conditions, which means better state of mind, better self-esteem and a whole load of things that I want become easier to get.

I'm not so stupid that I can't see my mistakes and the damage I've done to myself. I'm not so stupid that I can't take premeditated steps to try to change my own future and improve my ultimate outcome. However, I do admit that my intellect has thus far never been something that's stopped me from doing dumb stuff.

I've retreated into my own mind, so it's very hard for me to ask other people whether they can see me improving or declining. My perceptions have been very badly impaired in the past. It's virtually impossible to know whether I'm on the brink of breakthrough or disaster.

It's kind of a make-or-break time. Either the universe gives me everything I want, at long last, or I really have been banging my head against a brick wall all this time. The next few months will determine whether I'm bouncing back or whether I'm doomed.

I've seen a few documentaries about people recovering from traumatic brain injuries, and I see that they can achieve remarkable recovery, but personality change and some impairment seems to always linger. I suppose these things don't matter, in my world where I've successfully re-invented myself. Nobody much remembers who I was and what I was capable of anyway, so perhaps it's helpful that there's no benchmark for me to get depressed about.

 

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I'm Sick Of Waiting

6 min read

This is a story about losing patience...

Washer

I suppose I am becoming acutely aware that there has been a very high cost associated with the ups and downs of recent years. The cost is mostly financial, but that has a drastic effect on every single area of my life. We live in a financially obsessed global economy which is reluctant to forgive debts, and in fact enforces its debts to the point of causing widespread suffering and death.

I borrowed from a friend in order to stave of bankruptcy and total destitution. The financial system would have ruined me and left me for dead. The black mark against my name would have made me unemployable and unable to rent a place to live. The consequences would have been unimaginable, unless you yourself have truly experienced the brutality of capitalism, and the harsh reality of having less than zero money.

In order to dig myself out of the hole I've had to work very hard, but unfortunately the value of the pounds and pence in my pocket are eroded by the capitalist system, faster than I'm able to generate income.

The system is rigged.

I'm well aware of how badly rigged the system is because I was caught on the wrong side of history - I was suckling at capitalism's teet, and I was fed by the biggest fattest pig of them all. I was at ground zero during the financial collapse of 2007/8. I had ringside seats. I was part of the inner circle.

I can't feel sorry for myself, because I've got blood on my hands.

I knew that I was involved in something very corrupt and immoral. I knew that I was involved in something that was completely in contradiction of the needs of society and humanity. I knew that I was seeing the very worst excesses of capitalism. However, I didn't quit until it was too late. I put my pride as an engineer before my instinct to reject what I could see in front of me - I had a system to finish building, and I couldn't stop myself. I concentrated on doing my job, instead of stopping and blowing the whistle.

Did I see anything I could've actually stopped? No.

The complicity is so widespread that nobody can stop capitalism. So many people profit so handsomely and benefit excessively that capitalism's an unstoppable force. As my colleagues counselled me: The only person I'm hurting is myself.

Still though, I know instinctively that only a small segment of global society benefits from capitalism, while most people are exploited, forced to suffer and die.

What's staggering is that I can work very hard for 15 consecutive months and effectively get nowhere. It's remarkable how strongly capitalism has resisted me having a very modest standard of living. I simply want to live a debt-free existence, free from the tyranny of slave-drivers. I don't want Damocles' sword dangling over me anymore. I've worked hard enough in my lifetime to be granted some respite from the pressure, the stress and the exhaustion.

Every year a mountain of expenses are rained down onto my head. These are expenses that have to be paid just to be able to continue to play the game. This is the price of being alive, which is extremely high.

I only feel indebted to my friend. I don't feel like I owe anybody else anything at all.

Once I pay my friend back, I'm not sure what I'm going to do.

At the moment, I'm not sure I can carry on.

It's been too exhausting to get to this point.

Anyway, it's all hypothetical at this stage. I still have another three or more months before I can fully repay the debt to my friend. I have to keep going so at least the trust and faith that my friend had in me can be proven to not be misplaced.

It shamed me to lose my status symbols - like my house - and it was very damaging to my self-esteem. Now, I simply wish to pay back a friend so I can die with some dignity.

I'm being a little melodramatic. I could have paid my friend back a long time ago, but I've been trying to make life feel worth living. I had a couple of very nice holidays in the autumn and winter of last year. It did feel momentarily nice to enjoy the fruit of my labour, but the choice to do that has delayed the day when I'm debt-free again.

Perhaps my mood will improve as the weather improves. The clocks spring forward at the end of the month and the days are getting longer. Warmer weather will lift my spirits. Perhaps I will even have a pleasant summer.

My weekend has been full of chores like grocery shopping, installing my washing machine, doing laundry and getting my hair cut, but perhaps I'm a little grateful that a couple of major pieces of the puzzle - my job and my home - are in place, even if there's an enormous amount of work ahead of me.

I toss ideas around in my head, like starting dating again, or getting a kitten. I'm not completely depressed and suicidal. I can picture a more pleasant and bearable life in the not-too-distant future, but it's going to be stressful to get hold of what I want.

Why shouldn't I have everything I want right now, I sometimes ask myself. Why haven't I got everything, when at some point in my life I've had all the things, which cumulatively add up to everything I want. Why hasn't everything come together at the same time?

It's a bit spoiled brattish and unreasonable to expect to get everything, but I always compare effort and suffering with payoff. Where the effort and the suffering don't result in any payoff, then I question what the point of being alive is.

I know there are lot of people in the world who don't seem to be getting a fair payoff for their effort and suffering, but still they carry on. Some of them are happy. Good for them.

I suppose I'm unhappy being exploited and I'm unhappy doing the exploiting, which puts me in rather a difficult position. How does a person avoid either?

My assumption has always been that one day I'll see an opportunity to live my life free from exploitation, but increasingly I've come to recognise that it's impossible, except through suicide. Perhaps my outlook will change if I fall in love or find some purpose, but at the moment I'm just sitting and waiting, and I don't like what I see happening all around me.

I think I'm deeply depressed, which is understandable given the stress and the trauma of recent weeks.

 

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Asleep On My Feet

5 min read

This is a story about sleeping pills...

Attic

The existence of this photo is something quite remarkable, even though it's hard to understand if you're not me. This photo captures the end of my attempt to smoothly extricate myself from an acrimonious divorce and pick up my life in London again with little damage. This photo captures the beginning of an astonishingly difficult period of my life - the part that contains all the homelessness and hospitalisations.

I try to compartmentalise everything, and to compare present experiences with past ones to see if I'm repeating patterns of behaviour which are flawed.

One experience which is oddly haunting is that of walking around in a somewhat out-of-body state; tunnel vision. I can hear my mouth talking - I can hear my voice - but it doesn't feel like I'm saying the words... I just hear them. It feels like I'm dreaming.

My brain is recovering from an avalanche of pills I've shoved down my throat in the past fortnight. I'm surprised I haven't suffered seizures or kidney failure, given the cocktail of chemicals I've swallowed.

I forget that I messed up my brain chemistry.

I wonder why I can't concentrate and my anxiety has gone through the roof. I wonder why my perception of time is so warped: The seconds and minutes are dragging along, taking hours and days to pass. My days in the office have been difficult, but my days at home have been no easier. There's no respite from the problems of my mind, my mood, my perceptions - I can't escape my brain.

I forget that I stopped drinking.

I wonder why the days are so long and I seem to have so much more time to do stuff. I wonder why I'm more able to cope. I wonder why I'm not so overwhelmed by things. Then I remember that I'm not shackled to alcohol anymore. I get to Friday and I start thinking that I should get drunk, but then I remember that it doesn't help, but it definitely hinders.

I think about all the detoxes and rehabs and I try to tell myself that £12,000 and 28 days in The Priory - the UK's Betty Ford - isn't enough to 'cure' me then I should go easy on myself. I think that I should allow at least four weeks since any major incident, before deciding that things are broken and won't get better. I think that 6 weeks is better, as a period of recuperation. I think that perhaps 3 months is best of all - 3 months stability and routine is the minimum, before making any big changes.

I always tried to rush things. I got very impatient and I tried to hurry things along. It ended badly.

I got very agitated. I got very angry. Nobody seemed to understand the urgency. Everybody seemed to be getting in my way.

The universe doesn't like to be hurried, it seems.

I think about how many different things I wanted in a short space of time. I wanted to work with my hands. I wanted to not work in an office. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to be the CEO of a tech startup. I wanted investors. I wanted to win. Then, I wanted rapid promotions and progression. I wanted to make a notable contribution. I wanted to have a say in everything.

I thought I was going somewhere.

I can look back and laugh at myself, but I must've carried some of that same person from the past into the present, which means I'm laughable today too.

I did learn to keep my mouth shut though, a little bit.

I think it's an interesting story, but I'm biased. I find it interesting that I was held back for years, which was frustrating, but then I squandered many years as an addict, which made absolutely bugger all difference. Instead of screwing up my whole career and future earning potential, my profession just patiently waited to accept me back once I'd got a lot of nonsense out of my system.

What terrifies me is how many years it's been and how similar this feeling is - of being asleep on my feet - to that feeling I had when I thought I was managing to escape my screwed up life and start over again, back in London. It's terrifying to think I haven't progressed at all, except I'm older and I've damaged my body and brain quite a lot.

I thought "OK time to stop now" a long time ago, and then found that I couldn't. The things that I didn't want to happen - like losing all my money and sleeping rough - happened and I landed up having major medical emergencies. I'm smart enough that I made it this far and my story is kinda remarkable, but anything that's vaguely similar to the past gives me a lot of superstitious heebie-jeebies.

This weekend is tougher than I thought it'd be. I'm not as far progressed with my finances as I thought I'd be. I'm not as clean and sober as I'd hoped I would be. There have been setbacks. My journey has been nonlinear.

What's surprising is that the universe has just handed me some major life components. Whether I'm intent on screwing up my entire life or whether I'm trying to achieve something great, pretty much the same outcomes seem to happen. I'm pretty convinced that free-will is an illusion. I don't feel like I'm just observing, but the evidence seems to be that I don't have any control.

Of course, I have too few 'normal' experiences to really benchmark where I'm at. I have too few 'normal' human interactions to gauge whether I've lost my mind or whether I'm OK. I'm completely free from any oversight. I'm untethered.

I don't know what's going on and I'm starting to ramble. I feel very peculiar.

 

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The Achievements of One Week

6 min read

This is a story about post-traumatic stress...

Fire

Tuesday was a very bad day. Tuesday was a constant panic attack. Tuesday held nothing for me but relentless anxiety. Tuesday passed very slowly.

Tuesday is past.

Today is Friday.

Today is almost OK.

When I look back on today at some point in the future, I'll probably realise that today was pretty bad, in the grand scheme of things, but compared to Tuesday, today has been a doddle.

It might seem like I was making a lot of fuss about nothing, earlier in the week, but I assure you that I was suffering a very real medical emergency, which would have seen most people hospitalised.

The brain can render us very sick and needy, when it malfunctions. My brain was badly on the blink and even in a hospital I would have been very uncomfortable. Doctors could have eased my suffering with powerful tranquillisers administered intravenously, which would have been the ethically correct thing to do, but on Tuesday I went to the office, which was torturous beyond my capability to describe.

There simply are no words for the things which are at the limit of human survivability. Torture can make us lose our sanity. Trauma can lead to loss of life.

It might look on the face of it as if I'm an ordinary person doing ordinary people stuff, but the fact is that few of us live in perpetually precarious situation. We either fail and fall, or else we stabilise. We tend towards stable outcomes: Stable failure and stable success. I'm relatively unique in having not yet failed sufficiently to block my path from achieving desirable outcomes. Despite drug addiction, alcoholism, near-bankruptcy, homelessness, brushes with the police and debilitating mental health problems, I remain persistently employable and able to access goods and services which are normally denied to a whole swathe of society, to which I belong.

Nobody has realised I'm not supposed to be here.

Nobody has realised that all their vetting procedures and gatekeepers have failed to send me packing, back to the hell hole I crawled out of. Nobody has realised that I'm one of the ones that we're supposed to spurn and turn our backs on. Nobody has realised that I look, sound and smell like I'm one of the "OK" ones, when in fact I'm very much one of the "not OK" ones.

The longer I'm allowed to stay and warm myself by the fire, the stronger I get and the more chance is there is of me achieving stable success.

That's not supposed to happen.

Every societal system has in-built measures to toss people to the wolves. I'm not supposed to be in a big house with a wood fire and a fridge full of food. I'm not supposed to work in a fancy office doing brain-work. I'm not supposed to have any financial security, housing security or prospects. Society would like to see me dead in a ditch.

Society does however worry selfishly a lot about its own sons and daughters. Because I suppose I exude somewhat of a heady mix of intellectual poshness, combined with whatever youthful vulnerability still remains in a 39-year-old man with grey hair at his temples, I guess I confound expectations of what a junkie looks like. I'm not what anybody expects a homeless bankrupt to look like. I do not embody what anybody thinks of when they think of a psych ward patient. I do not look, sound or smell like the thing which I so obviously am, if we scratch beneath the surface.

Of course, my ruse is premeditated. I know that if I keep my mouth shut and my head down, nobody will pay me much notice, and I'll slowly be able to recover from the horrors of my past. I know that if I can go unnoticed and unfettered for long enough then I'll be able to have regained firm footing, to better enable me to flourish.

I'm aware that any period I look back upon as a period when I considered myself to be doing OK, with retrospect has turned out to be a false summit. Everything I've ever achieved has crumbled. It would be foolish to imagine that I'm doing OK at the moment, simply because I'm doing better than I was a week ago, a year ago or 5 years ago.

That's the really terrifying thing for me: 5 years ago I was very much beginning the descent. I attempted to dab the brakes, but then found that the brakes weren't working. I knew that I had to avoid long-term irreversible health damage, criminal convictions, damage to my credit rating, bankruptcy and damage to my professional reputation, but I still managed to find myself looking down the gun barrel of a heap of problems that were going to see me destitute on the street.

I'm not sure how I've managed to face down the threats to my life and livelihood and emerge from the thicket relatively unscathed, at least on the surface. I suppose it's all down to a handful of people who've conspired to assist me, in ways which run contrary to the conduct we consider ordinary and normal. A handful of people have taken risks with their lives and their money, to see me live with continued opportunities, as opposed to lasting and disastrous consequences.

I suppose in the popular parlance, I've been "enabled".

I hate that negative phraseology, to stigmatise those who help addicts and alcoholics. I hate the idea that an act of kindness is actually something bad; something foolish. I find the whole concept detestable.

I feel bad about how unwell I have been feeling this week, which should have been a celebration of how much the help I've received was a worthwhile investment. I feel bad about feeling bad.

The reality is that through the awful panic attacks, I still have a lovely house and a well-paid job, so I just need to stick to the plan - "home stretch" as my guardian angel said to me today.

My life follows a very nonlinear path. Of course I remember how bitterly I complained about living out of a suitcase, how pleased I was with a new relationship, how much invested I was in my Christmas and New Year holiday, how quickly my opinion changed about the relationship and how anxious I was to secure my housing situation. Of course I remember the highs and lows. I remember the devastation and the jubilation at many points along the way, with crystal clarity.

This is my very weird life. Suicidal depressed anxious thoughts, then white sand beaches and blue skies, luxuriating on holiday, then darkest blackness, then roaring log fires in a large period home, then more blackness. Why should this not be the case? Why would we expect any different?

Things were dire earlier in the week. Things are dire now, but dramatically less so.

 

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