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Paid By The Hour

6 min read

This is a story about prostitution...

One penny

It is fashionable to describe a female prostitute as a victim, which is a claim we should examine more closely. Certainly, few of us would choose sex work instead of a so-called dream job but what would that dream job need to look like, in order to fit the bill?

The bill.

How is a person supposed to pay for a crack, meth and/or heroin addiction on ordinary wages? How is a person with the chaotic lifestyle of a drug addict supposed to be organised enough to travel to work, arrive on time, and be presentable enough for a regular job?

Turn tricks. Score. Get high. Repeat.

If we examine the behaviour of an average low-income law-abiding productive member of society, we can see the same pattern of behaviour: Work a job which is thoroughly unpleasant, get paid at the end of the week, immediately spend the money on a binge drinking session, and then start all over again.

If we examine the behaviour of a high-income professional in a so-called 'good' job, we can see the same pattern of behaviour: An entire career which feels like a dead-end bullshit job, getting paid at the end of the month and immediately spending all the money on status symbols - the house, the car - in a never-ending cycle of performance reviews, pathetic promotions, job interviews and pitiful pay-rises.

"Do something you love and you'll never work a day in your life" is more applicable to heroin addiction than it is to the pursuit of a dream job that doesn't actually exist.

What did those saintly Oxfam charity workers - who were presumably working in their dream job - infamously end up spending the charity's money on? Prostitutes.

Did we conveniently forget that sex work is well paid with flexible hours? Did we conveniently forget that somebody without academic qualifications can do sex work without having to attend a job interview? Did we conveniently forget that those who have criminal records or other black marks against their name, such that they would find themselves excluded from conventional employment, are able to earn money doing sex work?

Also, do we wish to disbelieve all the very many sex workers who tell us that they choose sex work of their own free will?

Women choose to be prostitutes for very many reasons, but some of the reasons we choose to ignore include the gratification, the reward of the job. Just as a chef likes to delight diners with gastronomic creations, and takes great pride in their work, can the same not be said of prostitutes: That they like to give pleasure? Should we simply forget the fact that sex is a biological imperative, which carries pleasurable rewards: It feels nice to fuck. We get a dopamine hit from having sex, just like eating, drinking, smoking, drinking tea & coffee and all the other vices.

Of course, it's true that if sex is your job, sometimes sex isn't sex... it's just work. We are all very familiar with those times that work isn't pleasurable. In fact, work is often unbearable.

"Oh but prostitution is so unbearable" I hear you cry. It's so relatable, the idea of an ugly fat, sweaty, smelly man, with bad breath, doing something so intimate with us - "to us" - that we struggle to imagine anything worse, short of painful torture. And yet we must confront this truth: You get a lot of buck for your bang.

If we examine every way of making money, we find an relationship between how much we get paid and how much exploitation is involved. The more unethical and exploitative something is, the more lucrative it is.

A company boss might earn a thousand times more than his employees, but this is because he or she is prepared to inflict misery and suffering upon everyone who toils on his or her behalf. A software engineer developing artificial intelligence might earn a very high salary, but this is because he or she is prepared to ignore the potential negative consequences to society. A university professor might enjoy a very intellectually stimulating life, but this is because he or she is prepared to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the developing world, and its economic enslavement, to support a life of such incredible privilege.

We must distinguish between the slaves, the exploiters, and those who sit somewhere in-between.

We must acknowledge that, in the majority of cases where a man pays a woman for sex, she exploits the fact that he wants more sex than he can get for free, while he exploits the fact that she wants money to pay for drugs, sold by disadvantaged drug dealers who exploit the only money-earning route available to them. The drugs come from countries that are desperately impoverished, deliberately so that the labour and natural resources of those countries can be exploited by the men, who exploit the man, who exploits the man, who exploits the man, who exploits the man who's eventually managed to save up enough of his money to pay a woman for sex.

Do you really know what the company you work for is up to? Do you really know where the money in your paycheque came from?

If you follow the money, you'll see that most of the so-called economy is a massive money-laundering scheme, involving banks, accountancy firms, law firms and numerous shill enterprises, funded with dirty money, which originated in weapons, war, slavery and waste of natural resources. If you're not a slave - working for nothing - then you're probably an exploiter, so who are you to say who is doing the most exploitation?

Those who have the luxury of time to sit around pointing the finger and wringing their hands about 'victims' they know nothing about, are probably the ones who are the biggest beneficiaries of human exploitation, for how else did they achieve their opportunity for such idle talk?

Wouldn't we all dearly love to idly pontificate in some revered institution, and get paid for our trouble? Wouldn't we all choose to think, write, talk and create art, instead our daily toil, if we were given the choice?

I respect the prostitute. I respect anybody who has figured out how to get money and get what they want, by exploiting the minimum number of people. Give me your money, here is your sex. It's a simple transaction of two-way exploitation: No victim, both are slaves.

We're all junkies and prostitutes, in one way or another.

 

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Perfect Storm

4 min read

This is a story about life at the limits...

Cliffs

I suppose that it's a regular complaint of mine that I'm feeling overwhelmed, and it's a regular boast that I've been through some substantial periods of adversity. I'm also aware that the picture I've selected to accompany today's blog post is not exactly very stormy, but it's the best I could come up with in the circumstances.

I stopped writing for a while, which was because my friend killed himself, and also an enormous project kicked off at work, and also I had plans to get myself across the Atlantic Ocean and back again in one piece... plus all the many other important things to numerous to list. In short, I didn't make the time to write and there were a number of very good reasons why I took a break from writing every day.

Now, my friend's funeral is done, my transatlantic jaunt is done and the enormous project at work isn't going to be finished any time soon, so I must resume my daily writing duties, even on days when I don't feel like writing.

This morning I woke up and I felt terrible. I considered not going to work. I got to the office and several of my colleagues told me that I looked awful and said that I should go home. There was snow forecast and local schools were closing. My colleagues weren't doing anything except staring out of the window and/or talking about stockpiling food. I came home early and worked from my bed.

Unfortunately, I have my 'day job' plus my company to run, plus this website, which I have started to attempt to migrate from one place to another, although all these things are behind the scenes. I also treat my writing a bit like a job, in that I sometimes force myself to write even when I'd much rather be doing something else, or I've got a lot on my plate.

The things that get neglected are my sister and my niece, my friends, all the phone-calls I never answer, all the messages and emails I never reply to, and all the tasks which can be deferred for as long as possible. I need a haircut. My car needs servicing. Today is the final day that personal taxes are due to be paid in the UK, and I was close to the deadline as usual. I need to find a new place to live. I need to renew my car insurance. I need to see if my former friend's mum still has my stuff - the majority of my stuff - still stored in her garage, or whether she's disposed of it, since the fallout with the friend.

I quit drinking back in early December, although I did have a couple of drinks on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. Quitting drinking helps, actually. I feel fitter, healthier and I've lost some weight. I find my life to be much improved versus the recent period when I was drinking heavily every single day.

Something's gotta give though.

Today it was my health. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, it was also my health. Every day I take too many sleeping pills and too many tranquillisers.

Eventually, the weather will improve, my finances will improve, my routine will stabilise, I will get the housing security I need, I will have the regular social contact I need, I will get the exercise I need, I will replace my run-down old car with a newer nicer one, I will replace my worn-out clothes, I will pay off my debts and I will get a haircut.

Not today though.

 

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Open Source, Open Data

6 min read

This is a story about hacking...

PuTTY

How do we reconcile the concept of privacy, and our supposed desire for it, with the moden practice of sharing images of ourselves and our loved ones and publishing intimate pieces of information about ourselves and our identities, so publicly on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook?

Some people choose to maintain several versions of themselves. They have decided how they wish to present themselves - digitally - for different audiences, and they presume that the computer systems they use have sufficient privacy safeguards so that those worlds will never collide. Incredible trust is placed in those who build those computer systems and guard that data.

Those of us who are living double lives, or perhaps even triple, quadruple, quintuple or more lives, must have a shape-shifting and highly demanding existence as they constantly context-switch between their different identities.

How do they remember the different lies they've told to different people? Which parts of their life are common to all their identities, and which parts belong only to one distinct segment? How must it affect these people - psychologically - to maintain so many alter-egos, avatars and characters that they have created, which add up to a life with extra pieces left over if they were all combined into a single identity? Which are the pieces that don't fit? Which bits would that person have to give up if they were forced to unify themselves into a singular entity?

I can speak only for myself.

At work my identity is an open secret. Any of my colleagues can quickly and easily find this website, which contains every bit of information that most people would consider worthwhile keeping private. We generally don't want our colleagues at the office knowing about the less flattering things which have happened to us in our lives. We generally seek to avoid the prejudice which is still prevalent in a society where we live with the mistaken belief that our data is held safe and secure in computer systems, and the foolish notion that secrecy is assured.

Secrecy is not assured. Quite the opposite.

My knowledge of the limits of what is possible with a computer system, in terms of keeping data safe, comes from the place which society would deem most important: the bank vaults where all our money is kept. Capitalism's biggest fear is that a hacker could penetrate the inner sanctum of the banking sector and annul all our debts. The banks quite literally have all the money in the world to keep that money 'safe' which means they have manyfold more resources than any would-be bank robbers or philanthropic debt-erasers, keeping everybody out of their vaults.

I often wonder if my stance is due to the fact that the man who has nothing, has nothing to lose.

However, the origin of my exhaustive efforts to document the most private details of my life, came from when I had a lot to lose. In fact, the fear of loss is what nearly drove me insane. I realised that the threat of the dreaded event - losing my money and damaging my reputation - was sufficient to create a great deal of paranoia, which was impossible to control because of the insatiable appetite of people around me for the gory details of my private life. I became a human interest story and the only solution I could see was to take control of the story by writing it myself.

Writing a little bit isn't going to help.

Writing your version of events isn't going to help.

Writing the story of your life isn't going to help.

I decided that the only way that I was going to regain my sanity and my dignity was by making myself into a publicly accessible resource. I have emptied the contents of my brain into the public domain, but this is an ongoing process. Unfortunately, I can't just upload everything in my head to the cloud. I have to type it. Even if I typed until the day I die, there will still be things that die trapped inside my head, but at least I tried.

The more I have gone along with this journey of emptying out my head onto the pages of a public document, the more I have seen the benefit of doing so. The more honest and open I have been, the more candid and frank, the more comfort I have felt knowing that the greatest amount of data generated which pertains to me and my life, has come from my brain via my keyboard.

Before I started to write this blog, the bulk of my private intimate personal data was held by private companies and government institutions, who knew where I spent my money, where I travelled, who I spoke to, what I went to the doctor about, what medications I took, what my credit score was, where I had lived and where I was living and an enormous amount of other things too, such as how frequently I visited websites, what kinds of things I looked at on the internet and just about every single word of communication ever exchanged between me and another human being.

This sounds like paranoia. This sounds like insanity.

All I know is that I'm glad that I live a single life with a single identity and I've made myself publicly accessible. I'm glad I've published all my so-called secrets. I'm glad I've put my unflattering side into the public domain. I'm glad that those who would like to quickly and harshly judge me, so that I could be easily dismissed and cast aside, have a repository of all the dirt they'd ever possibly want to find, if only they weren't so lazy and stupid as to not bother to think to look in the most obvious place for it.

I enjoy living my life in plain sight. I enjoy having open secrets. It gives me pleasure and a sense of security.

I'm in the process of migrating my website and all my 1.1 million words to a new home, which will hopefully be a seamless transition for my readers - I've decided to utilise my technology skills to cement my digital legacy. I hope that I can move what I've written to a place where it can be easily migrated to newer technology platforms as and when they emerge, much like old cine films were transferred to VHS tapes and then transferred to DVD discs, to preserve those memories for posterity.

It might seem horribly arrogant and conceited to think that anybody gives a damn about what I've written, and that my writing should be preserved, but there it is: The modern age, where we take photographs of our food and share them with the other 7.6 billion people on this planet via the internet.

I've found the internet to be a place of friendship and connection, and of people who do care about what I write, so it's with little embarrassment that I admit to my efforts to preserve my own legacy.

 

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Employment Status

5 min read

This is a story about fitting neatly in a box...

Form

"Are you in full-time employment, part-time employment, self-employed, full-time student, retired or unemployed?" the person on the end of the phone is asking me. What should I reply?

Technically, I'm in full-time employment. Let's proceed with that conversation and see how we get on, shall we?

"OK. Can I have your manager's name or somebody who we can contact to verify your employment and your salary, please?" the person on the end of the phone asks. What should I reply?

Technically, I'm employed by the board of directors. Given that I'm the managing director - the CEO - then the reply is that they should contact me to verify my employment and my salary. Let's see how we get on with that, shall we?

"I don't understand, sir. Are you self-employed?"

Technically I am not self-employed. I have an employment contract with a company and I get paid a salary by that company. The company which employs me is a legal entity, which was incorporated, has memorandums and articles of association, a board of directors (me), shareholders (me) as well as employees (also me). The company has its own bank account, compiles and submits annual accounts to the relevant authorities, and operates as a limited company, which is very different to being "self employed". I'm going to tell them I'm not self-employed, because that would be fraudulent. Let's see how we get on, shall we?

"OK. Who should we write to who can verify your employment and your salary? Do you have a human resources department?"

Technically the company does have a human resources department, as well as every other department that a person might imagine exists in an organisation - finance, accounts payable, accounts receivable, sales, marketing, IT, operations, admin, customer support etc. etc. - so this person on the phone could certainly write to one of these departments. Let's see if they'd like to write to my accountant and see how we get on with that, shall we?

"So your accountant can confirm your employment and your salary?"

Technically, anybody can confirm my appointment as company director, because it's a matter of public record. My salary is not the same as my financial compensation so we're going to have to have that particularly difficult conversation now. Let's see how we get on, shall we?

"So how much do you earn each month?"

Technically, I could earn £702 in one month and 20 times that amount the next. My financial compensation is based upon the company's profits, which are variable, and it's the decision of the board of directors as to when dividends will be paid and how much they will be. Let's try explaining that, shall we?

"So you're self-employed? Or do you work in sales? I don't understand"

Technically, part of my job is sales, in that I am responsible for selling my company's consultancy services. I do not, however, "work in sales". My financial compensation is not based on commission or targets or any of that other crap. I am not self-employed and I am getting rather frustrated about having to repeat myself with this person on the end of the phone.

I could relent, and either misrepresent myself as "employed" with a salary based on my average earnings over the past 3 years, or I could misrepresent myself as "self-employed" which is going to result in them asking me to show them detailed account statements, proving a steady stream of income.

What I really want is for the person on the end of the phone to understand that I'm in the box marked "other" and the way to find out what they really want to know - can I afford to make a monthly payment? - can be answered by my chartered accountant, who's professionally obliged to give truthful and accurate answers.

That I have to answer these questions at all comes about whether buying a car on finance, applying for a loan, applying for a mortgage or even changing from one mortgage provider to another. Given that even the wealthiest amongst us are not able to afford their houses without at least some part mortgaged, the neat set of boxes, which do not include "other" causes a lot of stress and hassle - it's surprisingly difficult to navigate parts of society, where most other people do neatly fit into one of the boxes.

Obviously I hope to one day be rich enough to buy a house in cash - which will probably be a tiny cabin in the woods - but for the time being I'm forced to suffer this arduous form-filling exercise and rigmarole with people on the telephone, who are using systems which are unable to cope with us "others".

Perhaps this is capitalism's way of nudging me towards a minimum-wage McJob, just so I can avoid this kind of hassle.

 

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It Doesn't Have To Be So Complicated

5 min read

This is a story about putting pressure on yourself...

CPU die

When we see a completed masterpiece - a great book, a magnificent painting, or even an app or a website - then we can be fooled into thinking that its creators must have envisaged the end result from the very beginning, and worked methodically until the work was done and ready to be unveiled to the public.

What we don't see are the unpublished drafts and the unedited rough manuscripts. We never see the layers of paint beneath the top layer, where the painter's brushstroke might have been misplaced. We quickly forget how ugly and buggy the early versions of software are, and how few features they had.

We also forget that complexity is built upon complexity. The author depends upon a typewriter, paper-making and book-binding, along with typesetting, ink making and a thousand other innovations, which allow their words to be neatly condensed into the final product. The painter depends upon the many pigments which had to be discovered, as well as the paint-maker who will create the oils, acrylics and watercolour paints, and the canvas maker who will create the surface onto which the masterpiece will be painted, layer by layer. The software engineer depends upon the CPU, memory chips, hard-disk drives, motherboards, a screen, mouse and keyboard, plus an operating system and myriad other pieces of software, which enable them to code their apps and websites.

We only see the finished versions, and we do not see the vast complexity which is hidden behind. We do not see the thousands of years of discovery, innovation, invention and craftsmanship, which have evolved and progressed with iterative improvements, until the day when even a lowly common man or woman, with little money, can create something which would have been considered a rich man's hobby, not very long ago.

I desperately want to demonstrate to the world that I have a mind that can encompass enough of science, technology, engineering, mathematics as well as much more practical things such as paper-making, book-binding, typesetting, and the inescapable physical world, where food, water and energy cannot be delivered via your broadband internet connection. I can build shelter. I can fix a vehicle. I have knowledge that extends well outside the narrow confines of STEM. I want the world to know that, because I'm insecure and I feel like I was briefly written off and abandoned - assumed to be a piece of expendable human garbage.

I'm not going to push myself to write so much today. I need to tell myself that it's OK to write a little less on days when I'm either too sick, too tired, or unable to make enough time to write something that I think is worth publishing.

I've decided to allow myself to publish shorter pieces of writing, when circumstances demand it. Not everything I publish needs to be an essay.

I put immense pressure on myself to produce things which are impressive, or at least somehow 'magical' creations. Many people have now learned how to create a website using tools which have simplified the process, making it as easy as sending an email, but the way it works is still mostly 'magic' to them. We don't need to know how to fly a plane in order to be a passenger, but we should still appreciate that the pilot spent a lot of hours learning their profession, and so we shouldn't underestimate the skill involved in every safe landing, which we often take for granted.

Laid bare on these pages, dating back to September 2015, we can see the development of my writing style and the discovery of the topics I'm passionate about. We see how I refined my writing process and how my thinking has developed. I could have done this process by writing private journals and unfinished novels, but instead I offer up my stream-of-consciousness as an "open source" piece of software, complete with all the ugly early versions which were full of bugs and didn't have many features.

It's hard to find the time and the energy to write every day, but it's a lot easier if I allow myself the freedom to simply unload a few thoughts and feelings onto the page, without worrying too much about whether it meets some arbitrary quality standard, which I've imposed upon myself voluntarily.

It was very kind of friends who've stuck with me through periods when I stopped writing, to greet my return with enthusiasm and remarks which greatly encourage me that my writing is being well received by people who I care dearly about.

It needn't particularly complicate my day, or add unnecessary pressure, to get in front of a keyboard and bash out a few words... even if it's the merest dab of paint onto a huge canvas, it does at least cumulatively contribute to the finished artwork. I would hate for my readers to think that I've abandoned blogging.

Thanks for reading. It means so much.

 

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Where Do I Live?

6 min read

This is a story about living in a dreamlike state...

Bags on the kitchen floor

I've spent the day feeling very unwell. I've drifted in and out of sleep. Every time I've woken up, I've been confused about where I am. What is this bed I'm sleeping in? Where is the bedroom door? Where is the toilet?

In my dreams today, I dreamt about two places which only exist in my mind. These two places where my brain thinks I've lived, are actually not real places at all. My brain is so jumbled up that it contains very detailed pictures of two places that I've never been to in my life - in my dreams, I know the colour of the walls, the layout of the rooms, the view from the windows, the furniture. In my dreams I feel absolutely certain that these are places where I've lived, but it's not true.

In those moments when I was waking up today, I was certain that I've lived in those imaginary places, and I had no idea where I actually was.

Strangely, those imaginary places feature quite regularly in my dreams. Sometimes I'm transported back to places I lived as a child, except those homes are always strangely altered in my dreams - they contain extra floors and corridors lead to unusual places. The two imaginary places which keep popping up in my dreams always look the same though - it's as though I know those places better than anywhere I've ever lived, even though they don't actually exist.

I think it's pretty clear that all the travelling around and living out of a suitcase has left me quite disturbed.

When I arrived home last night, I dumped my 4 bags onto the kitchen floor, which is pretty much where they remain, untouched. When I say "home" I don't really mean home in the sense that you might think of it, because I know I must leave here again very soon.

I've been feeling sick all day.

I don't feel well enough to go to work tomorrow.

Going to work entails me packing everything I need for the working week. Going to work entails me loading my bags into my car and driving across the country. Going to work entails me staying somewhere which isn't home, but yet it almost is.

I've become familiar with the hotels I stay in, except that the rooms are mirror-images of each other, so there's only a 50% chance that I'll get out of the right side of bed to stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night. When I reach for the bedside light-switch, there's a 50% chance that I'll flick the switch that turns on the bright main lights in the room, as opposed to the bedside lamp. I exist in a world where every bed is slightly unfamiliar, and the least familiar of all is the one that I suppose I might refer to as "in my home".

My stuff is spread all over the place. Some of my stuff in a friend's mum's garage. Some of my stuff is piled up in my bedroom. Some of my stuff is packed into suitcases and holdalls, so that it can be transported around from place to place. When I'm away from home, it's a 2.5 hour round-trip to collect anything that I might have forgotten, or anything that I might unexpectedly need.

I spend a huge amount of time trying to stay organised. The things I travel with are neatly partitioned: Work clothes and casual clothes, toiletries, medicines, gadgets, footwear, raincoats and other things which have crept into my luggage by accident, where holidays have overlapped with my on-the-road existence. I have no need of flip-flops, sunglasses and travel plug adapters, but yet these things end up being lugged around by me, because they're small and light so I never bothered to leave them behind.

Where do I live anyway? The bulk of my possessions are stored in somebody's garage. The things I need the most are transported around by me, everywhere I go. The majority of nights, I'm sleeping in a bed which is not my own. The only constant is my luggage - everything else changes. I never unpack my bags. I've become extremely adept at rummaging and locating the item I need.

If I wanted to go to work tomorrow, I would need to wash, dry and iron my work clothes. It's 11pm at night and I would need to leave at 7am to be at work on time, so that doesn't give me enough time to get the sleep I need as well as packing everything I need for the week ahead.

In some ways, I had a more settled life when I lived in a hostel. At least in the hostel, the bunkbeds were all identical and I got used to where the toilets were. I got used to the noise of the other inhabitants. I got used to homeless life, because I was living it 7 days a week, instead of having this split and nomadic existence.

The constant change in my life is unsettling, and that's why I think my mind has retreated into the realm of the imaginary. Not having a stable home is the reason why I find the imaginary homes in my head more familiar than the hotels rooms and rented places where I actually sleep.

The demands placed upon me have disturbed and unsettled my mind. I've been made sick by the lack of security and stability in my home life. My arduous yet delicate weekly routine is easily disturbed, with catastrophic results for my sense of wellbeing and ability to function.

Yes, I'm well-practiced at packing my bags and dealing with mirror-image hotel rooms, or even hostel dorms, while somehow maintaining the illusion that I have a settled and secure ordinary middle-class life, like my colleagues at work. Yes I can tolerate the intolerable, for a while, by sticking to my routines and following my procedures, but it's very demanding and I'm always on the verge of having a nervous breakdown from the stress.

My fridge is empty. My cupboards are bare. However, tomorrow I will remain "at home" and do my washing, and make my preparations for the remainder of the working week, which I imagine I will spend in a hotel. I will attempt to resume my routine. My routine is what I have instead of stability and security.

 

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Milestones

5 min read

This is a story about arbitrary goals...

Dashcam

Why was I so bothered about capturing the exact moment that my car completed 100,000 miles? Why would I take the risk of videoing this non-event, while driving at 70mph on the UK's busiest motorway, while heavy downpours made driving conditions particularly treacherous? I guess the motivation must stem from the same place that has motivated me to write more than a million words on this website. I guess I've become obsessed with arbitrary achievements.

How do we measure success?

A colleague of mine regularly pleads poverty and accuses me of living a life of "fabulous wealth and luxury" because I'm childless, to which I retort that wealth can be measured in many different ways. Am I not poor for lacking the adoration of the children I've spawned? Is my life not lacking the riches of the filial affection, obedience and eagerness to please, which parents enjoy in abundance? Could there be anything more valuable than the pleasure of hugging and kissing your children?

I've decided to start writing again.

I've decided to start writing every day again.

Why the hell would I do that?

How does it profit me, to write every day? Where is the payback? What is the benefit?

Almost every single person has wrestled with the question: what is the meaning of life? What is our purpose? What set of values should I live my life in accordance with? What should I attempt to achieve, during my short mortal existence?

Examination of human behaviour overwhelmingly demonstrates the ubiquitous answer to that most difficult question: Why are we here? It seems to be that most humans want to spawn as many offspring as possible, and they pay little regard to the consequences to society, global humanity's quality of life or indeed the ethics of making a conscious 'free-will' choice to create another mortal creature with the capacity to perceive its own mortality, inheriting an overcrowded planet on collision course with unimaginably awful catastrophe.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of a close friend who chose to end his own life. It's my intention to write less on the specific subject of his suicide, but it's worth noting that he struggled with the absurdity of existence and the psychological challenges of living in an age of scientific enlightenment and atheism, where our purpose in life seems largely driven by feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, created by late capitalism in order to turn us all into wage-slave consumers - part of the apparatus which will eventually destroy global civilisation, instead of delivering the much-vaunted "age of leisure" that we were promised.

Why do we want a bigger house, a newer car and children who will soon learn that their parents will die, and who will also die in pain and suffering? Why do we want more digits in our pay packet and bank balance? Why do we want to accumulate more and more pieces of paper with numbers written on them, supposedly designating some kind of 'score' to demonstrate that we're 'winning' at the game of life?

My own reaction to the absurdity of modern life has been to invest a significant proportion of my intellectual capacity and precious time, in order to create a website which captures my stream of consciousness in all its ugly gory detail. This website could be characterised as the ultimate folly: Serving no clear purpose, while consuming valuable resources. Perhaps I should be spending my time changing nappies and driving my precious little darlings to school in my gas-guzzling 4x4 truck, except that we understand that would also be a fool's errand, because at some point those children will inherit all the existential angst and will have to confront not only their own mortality, but also watch me - their beloved father - getting old, frail and dying in pain and suffering.

Don't have kids. Kill yourself.

You can do what you want. I advise you not to follow my advice. However, if you're truly a person of any intellect, possessing a moral compass and the ability to make rational decisions based upon overwhelming evidence, ask yourself if you're just a helpless blob of chemical compounds, being manipulated by your genes towards procreation, like every living creature that ever existed for hundreds of millions of years. Do you want to be an amoeba? Certainly, I see no difference between an amoeba and the 100+ billion humans who have lived and died since homo erectus sprung into existence 1.8 million years ago.

If you really believe that you're justified in having the sapiens as part of homo sapiens name of the species to which you belong, then you'd better start demonstrating some damn wisdom beyond that of the humble amoeba.

My current life plan is to work and write until I have sufficiently proven that I'm a competent, capable, productive, valuable member of society, and that I can not be easily dismissed as a flawed individual or a fool. Then, having achieved that, I can kill myself, leaving behind a substantial body of written work for anybody who cares to know why I would choose to use contraception for my whole life, and why I would choose to end my life in a pre-planned manner, concluding this absurd existence with some dignity.

So, I must write and I must work. It's time to get busy again and resume my writing routine.

I'm not sure what the next milestone is. I feel like 1.5 million words is a good objective, given that it would be approximately twice the amount of words than are contained in the Bible, which amuses me.

 

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His Funeral is on Friday

5 min read

This is a story about slow motion...

Skull

"He looks respectable..." began a work colleague of mine, talking about me. I deliberately walked away and somehow closed my ears, managing not to hear what he was about to say. I'm well aware that I do a very good job of keeping up appearances. It takes a lot of hard work to project a professional image, hide my mental health problems and leave any personal life problems at the entrance to my office. It's incredibly exhausting maintaining the illusion that everything is A-OK in my world.

The last thing I need is extra problems. The last thing I need is something or somebody, throwing a spanner in the works.

"He looks respectable, but underneath..." my colleague managed to say, before I successfully got myself far enough away to not hear the end of that sentence. I don't need anybody chipping away at me right now. I have plenty of reasons to feel like an imposter, without anybody actually calling me out as one.

I stopped writing.

I need to write.

I was at work when my friend phoned me to tell me how he was going to kill himself. He called me to say goodbye. He called me to thank me for keeping his secret. He thanked me in advance for not calling the emergency services. He thanked me for bearing the dreadful burden of knowing what he was going to do.

I was at work when I made the phonecall... the phonecall to have his door kicked down and his body taken away to the morgue. I was at work when I received the phonecall back: "We have his body".

I went back to my desk and carried on as if nothing had happened.

I've carried on for more than a month like nothing has happened.

Finally, my friend's funeral is going to be on Friday.

On Friday it will have been 50 days in-between my friend first calling me to tell me that he was planning on committing suicide, and the day of his funeral. That's a long time to wait for some kind of conclusion.

I've been waiting to grieve.

I've been waiting to cry.

At work, everybody thinks I'm just fine. At work, everybody thinks that everything is A-OK in my personal life. At work, everybody thinks I'm "normal".

I've been having a manic episode most of the last week. I've been letting my mask slip a little. I've been unable to completely cover-up my inner turmoil. However, nobody really knows or appreciates how much effort and energy goes into wearing my mask. Nobody really knows how hard it is for me to turn up at work, day after day, and to hold myself together.

The world is a shitty place. Shitty things happen every day. People are born into shitty lives. People have shitty luck.

I am by no means claiming to have the shittiest life out of anybody on the planet.

By all relative measures, my life is pretty peachy. If I were able to directly compare my life with the most unfortunate wretch in the entire world, it would be pretty obvious that I've got relatively little to complain about.

I can't write. I can't grieve. I can't move.

I just need to get to my friend's funeral. I owe him that.

What I've written about the past few times has been about me as much as it's been about my friend. So what? This is where I come to work stuff out when I'm hurting and/or confused. This is where I come to say all the things I can't say anywhere else. Writing is my therapy. Writing is my healthy outlet.

I said to myself I wouldn't write any more of "the world's longest suicide note" until after my friend's funeral, because it seemed disrespectful.

I've often asked myself if my words perhaps made it easier for people who were feeling suicidal, to feel less guilty about ending their lives. I've often wondered whether I'm being irresponsible. I've had to face accusations that I glorify, glamourise and romanticise suicide. I've had to defend my actions and my beliefs. I've had to defend my words.

When another person who crossed my path committed suicide and I wrote about it, I wondered whether I was co-opting his story. I wondered whether I was using that young man's name in vain. I questioned the legitimacy of writing about another person's suicide.

My friend was close. My friend expressed his wishes clearly and concisely. I know with certainty that I'm not a grief tourist and I take no ghoulish sensationalistic sick pleasure, or derive perverse benefit from writing about suicide. I'm not morbidly fascinated by suicide. I'm not reckless or careless. I'm not thoughtless or inconsiderate.

I started writing so that I would not die misunderstood, and an unexpected consequence has been that suicidal friends and strangers have contacted me to have frank, candid and brutally unflinchingly honest conversations about ending their lives. I've intervened - calling the emergency services - and I've advised - on therapy and medical help - and I've listened and I've responded appropriately. In the three and a half years I've been writing this blog, it's kept me alive and it's played a minor role in keeping some friends and strangers alive, where otherwise we would have perished: We'd have killed ourselves.

I haven't been able to write. I need to write to look after myself. If I'm not writing, I'm not looking after myself.

I haven't been writing.

It will be a relief when the funeral is over.

I hope I will be able to write again, after the funeral.

I need to write.

 

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My Friend Killed Himself

7 min read

This is a story about suicide...

My friend

On December 6 my friend phoned me telling me he was going to kill himself. I knew he was in a dire situation but I also felt confident that he wasn't in immediate danger. We spoke again every day. We stayed in close contact, messaging frequently. I kept a close eyen on him and his mood. I was very worried. I was desperate for a solution. I was desperate to help. I was desperate to improve his situation. Then things briefly improved: We made a positive plan. He sounded happier.

On December 10 my friend told me how he was going to kill himself. I took detailed notes, knowing that it was a credible threat and that this information would be vital to emergency services, in order to save his life. I spoke to my friend several times that day. He told me every single detail of his plan. I repeatedly asked him if he would consider getting help, having me or another friend or family member visit him. I asked him how he would feel about me contacting emergency services. I suggested every alternative to suicide that I could think of. I told him he'd see the world differently if he was getting the help he needed. I told him he would be missed. I told him he was loved. I told him he was wanted.

On December 11 I knew my friend was dying. I knew that he was killing himself. He did not need to tell me that he had commenced committing suicide.

On December 12 I knew that my friend was dead. I knew that he had killed himself. Nobody needed to tell me.

Whether my friend died on December 11 or 12, nobody knows precisely. I imagine that at roughly this time at night, exactly one month ago, my friend was in limbo-land, dying. My friend was in the process of committing suicide exactly one month ago. He was beyond the point of no return. He was beyond saving. Nobody could have saved his life.

I did not write off my friend.

I did not abandon my friend.

I did not give up on my friend.

I...

I did the hard thing.

I spent 6 days knowing that my friend was going to kill himself and there was nothing I could do except listen and 'be there' with him, in the figurative sense. I don't think I could have been there for him any more than I was. I don't think I could have been any closer than I was. What I mean is, it would have been impossible to better know my friend's mind in his final moments. What I mean is, it would have been impossible to more closely relate, empathise and sympathise with his plight, with his decision, and be his close companion during the final days of his life with him.

I was with him the whole time.

It would have been wonderful if he could have died under medical supervision, surrounded by his family, friends and colleagues. It would have been wonderful if he could have been afforded that comfort, but it was impossible. It would have been an affront to his dignity to die like that. He chose how he died, just as he chose how he lived. I understood his wishes. What he wanted was clear and unambiguous. To impose what we wanted onto him would have been selfish of us.

I gave him what he wanted. I gave him what he explicitly asked for. I carried the burden of knowing what he was in the process of doing - killing himself - because he had a right to self-determination, and he knew what his options were. His options were sadly limited. I wish he had more options, but he didn't and no amount of wishing was going to create a miracle.

I met my friend when he was my age now, 14 years ago. He saw a younger version of himself in me, and I saw an older version of myself in him. We recognised that we were kindred spirits: Our values and outlook on life were almost identical.

The final time we spoke, he was so grateful for the life he'd had. He was so happy to have experienced so much. He was utterly content that he had made the most of his time on Earth and been so fortunate to have had so many amazing experiences. There wasn't a single hint of regret for the choices he made, but instead he expressed absolute conviction that he would live his life exactly the same, were he to live it again.

This is a heavy burden, to say that you're going to kill yourself and explain all the reasons why, and for it to be coherent, credible, rational, reasonable and compelling enough to convince a close friend to not intervene, until the deed is done.

December 11 was unbearable. My friend was in limbo: technically alive, but rapidly dying. I was the only person who knew.

On December 12 I could finally unburden myself. I knew he was dead, before the emergency services even entered his property and confirmed that his life had ended. The official confirmation of his death meant I no longer had to keep the most dreadful secret; the almost unbearable responsibility I shared in the execution of his final wishes - through my inaction and silence - was carried through to its ultimate conclusion.

Since then, I have had the title of this blog post in my mind incessantly, and I have written so many words in my head, attempting to do justice to what happened; attempting to give sympathetic treatment to my friend and his final end.

I haven't written, because to write a hurried off-the-cuff blog post would not be fair to my friend's legacy. I haven't written, because of all the many pitfalls I feared. What if it wasn't good enough? What if it was offensive to the decent and dignified treatment that the dead should receive? What if I fucked it up?

I haven't written, because I'm trying not to kill myself. Perversely, I've written this whole 1.1 million word blog in an attempt to delay my own suicide plans, when in fact my friend was reading it the whole time, and it was the reason why he felt he could open up to me. My blog is the reason he phoned me 6 days before he died. My blog is the reason we had such frank and candid discussions. My blog is the reason why his death has not left me with any unanswered questions, or a sense that I could or should have acted any differently.

Of course, I doubt myself at times. Perhaps he was suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health problems which impaired his judgement. Perhaps he might have seen the world differently, in a different state of mind. Of course he would. However, I know his thoughts and wishes intimately. Ultimately, the decision was his and his alone. I cannot be responsible for his decisions, but I could have been responsible for denying him what he clearly and concisely requested of me; I could have ruined his opportunity to exercise his free will and right to self-determination. I could have denied him dignity, for the sake of my own doubts.

The situation is an incredibly difficult one, and my response has been considered with every ounce of spare brain capacity that I possess. If I have mis-stepped and mis-spoken, then I am sorry, but I don't think I could offer a better alternative.

My friend rests in peace now, and I find that comforting. I know that his friends, family and colleagues are reeling with shock and grief, but I am glad that my friend died with dignity in the manner of his choosing.

RIP my friend.

 

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My Friend The Alcoholic

6 min read

This is a story about unorthodoxy...

JPMorgan

This time last year I saw my old friend from JPMorgan in Warsaw. He'd just gotten me a job. I was almost bankrupt. Some years ago we had been propping up the bar at 4am, the last remaining men standing after all-day-drinking to celebrate me leaving the investment banking world... temporarily. We have the same attitude and approach to life: Everything to excess.

I'm writing this with a little haste, because I'm in a compromised situation.

I need to tell my friend not to kill himself - having received a number of worrisome messages and a call recently - but I can't do so in a direct manner, because it's barely more than a year ago that I tried to take my own life. I know that nobody could have talked me out of it. When I communicated, I did so to ensure that my intentions were clear: I did not want misadventure or an open verdict to be recorded by the coroner.

But.

This is not about me.

This is about a friend who sounds like he's about to end his life.

I have no idea what the emergency setup is in Poland. I have no idea whether a person can be located by their smartphone. I have no idea what the crisis intervention services are like. I have no idea what it's like to be 'sectioned' or otherwise interred for your own safety - 'committed' one might say - in Poland, and whether I might be unwittingly unloading a whole unwanted extra pile of shit on my friend's head, by raising the alarm.

I'm not ungrateful to those who contacted the emergency services on my behalf, who undoubtedly saved my life, but I'm aware that my decision-making power was taken from my hands. In fact, I clearly said at the hospital that I didn't want any medical intervention, but they decided I didn't have the capacity to make the decision to refuse treatment.

Does my friend have capacity?

He says he's drinking 2 or 3 bottles of vodka per day. I'm a borderline alcoholic, and I'd say that my judgement is pretty impaired when under the influence. I doubt I'd have so readily swallowed all those tablets during my suicide attempt last year if it wasn't for the Dutch courage of a gutful of booze.

It's easier to make the final decision when intoxicated.

Perhaps this gives me the moral authority to intervene and save my friend from himself. Perhaps it's my duty to inform the emergency services, such that my friend can sober up and then see how he feels about killing himself once he's got a clear head. How's he going to feel about being forced to sober up and face the decision to go on living in the cold light of day, with a dreadful hangover?

I can tell you all the answers to these questions.

I can tell you exactly how it feels to regain consciousness when you had hoped you'd be dead.

So can my friend.

I can't patronise him. I can't talk him out of what he wants to do. I can't approach the subject.

Strangely, I hope he has capacity enough to read this.

If he does - and I might try to prompt him into reading it - then what do I want him to know?

He needs to know that almost exactly one year ago, I was convinced that my life was totally beyond any hope of salvaging, but he salvaged my life. He got me a job, which rescued me from certain bankruptcy. He got me a job in the nick of time. He saved my bacon.

What can I do for my friend?

I remember he told me how buoyed he was by all the support I get via social media. I remember how emotional it made him feel, reading the comments section on my blog.

I want him to feel that outpouring of love from all four corners of the globe. I want him to feel anchored by connections.

My friend and I tend to value our sense of self-worth by the number of dollars, euros or pounds that somebody will press into our sweaty palms for a day's labour. My friend and I both feel valued when we're paid a lot and a company is chasing us for our skills.

It's disturbing to me that my friend knows that he can get a highly paid job in any investment bank in the world. He knows that he's needed and wanted in the corporate sector. It's worrisome that he knows that, but it's somehow not enough. I can relate. I know what that feels like.

I don't know what to offer him.

To remind him of his value and how much he's cherished is a cliché. I can't patronise him by talking about how much he'd be missed and what a huge hole he'd leave in all the lives he touches.

We're talking about the man who quite literally reversed my fortunes, exactly 12 months ago - from bankrupt to bankrolled; from rags to riches.

What can I say, except that I've written these 900 words with as much speed as I can manage, because from the tone and content of my last phonecall with my friend, he's in a very bad way. I'm very worried about him. I'm acting as swiftly as I can, in an unorthodox fashion, because I want to do something to interrupt and disrupt his behaviour, which looks to be on collision course with disaster.

I know that if anybody said to me that I lacked capacity, or was so patronising as to believe that they know better, and I should be relieved of the decision-making power to end my own life, then I would become doubly stubborn and bloody minded. I'd kill myself just to prove you wrong. Of course I would.

What can I say? I need to publish this, urgently.

I hope my friend reads this. I hope my friend - who helped me get back on my feet almost exactly a year ago - is somewhat moved by my desperation to try something, anything to move the conversation towards positive exciting plans for the future, and our next adventures.

I haven't been writing regularly, and of course I tend to be very self-centred, but I hope that I can continue to write, and include my friend as a living member of the tiny little world in which I inhabit. There are quite literally only two people who I speak to on a regular basis, one of whom is threatening to make an early departure from the party.

He might feel a little uncomfortable that I've made references that almost made him identifiable. Good. I'd rather have him angry and upset with me, than having missed an opportunity to get his attention. I'm being deliberately disruptive and provocative.

Please, mate, don't put me in this position!

Don't make me decide whether I have to call the emergency services or not!

This sucks!

 

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On Probation

7 min read

This is a story about being on tenterhooks...

Book quote

I'm a living contradiction. I choose security and certainty over the vain hope of hitting the jackpot. If I was given the choice between having a "B" grade, but not having to do any work or suffer any uncertainty, versus the potential to achieve an "A+" then I would take the "B" grade without a moment's hesitation. If you think that's settling for mediocrity, you're wrong - I choose my battles and I achieve "A+" grades all the time... as an accidental consequence of pursuing the things I'm interested in and passionate about.

The other part of my contradictory personality is that I choose to take incredible risks. I jump out of planes. I climb rock faces. I scale high mountains. I ride gigantic waves in gale-force winds. Why the hell would I do that?

There are a lot of risk-reward-cost-benefit calculations that go on inside my head.

I've gathered a lot of data.

The decision to take dangerous highly addictive drugs might seem like one of the most baffling choices that a person would elect to do. For example, taking heroin is seen as an indication of character flaw, but being a BASE jumper is seen as cool, although the latter carries the same risk of premature death.

Let's do a bit more in-depth analysis, shall we?

Cost of being a rock climber:

  • Rock boots: £45
  • Harness: £75
  • Chalk bag & chalk ball: £15
  • Rope £150
  • Helmet £50
  • Belay plate: £20
  • 10 quickdraws: £150

TOTAL: £505

So, for somebody who wants to climb a rock face safely, the minimum amount they're going to have to spend is over £500. Also, you might fall and die. Let's re-iterate that: It's pretty damn obvious that if you climb up a vertical rock face and you lose your grip, you can fall to the ground and be killed on impact.

Cost of being a mountaineer:

  • Crampon-compatible boots: £200
  • Crampons: £120
  • Base layers: £40
  • Mid-layers: £80
  • Shell layer jacket: £250
  • Shell layer salopettes: £180
  • Ice axes: £250
  • Helmet: £50
  • 9mm waterproof rope: £175
  • Ice screws: £120
  • Warthogs: £40
  • Deadman: £40
  • Backpack: £150
  • Survival bag: £20
  • Down sleeping bag: £300
  • Down jacket: £200
  • Tent: £350
  • Sleeping mat: £60

TOTAL: £2,625

So, for somebody who wants to climb a 4,000m+ mountain (Mont Blanc etc) then you're going to have to shell out more than £2,500. In fact, it's going to cost you a lot more, because you're going to need lots of things I didn't list, like spare pairs of socks, spare base layers, and also a stove, cooking utensils, plus all the other expedition gear. You're not going to have much spare change out of £3,500. Did I mention that you're highly likely to be killed by falling rocks, avalanches, falling into a crevasse, or simply plummeting to your death.

I shan't follow the same process for kitesurfing, yacht sailing or skydiving, but the financial cost of putting your life in danger can be staggering, especially when we consider that rugged outdoorsy types are somehow healthy and laudable people of good character and moral fibre; made of the right stuff.

Another group of people who we might consider are the entrepreneurs. Who are these people who reject conventional employment - salaried jobs - and instead choose to make their money by means other than selling their singular body and brain. Are these people risk takers too?

In fact, all the celebrated members of society have one thing in common: they've had the financial means to pursue avenues that are not available to most of the populace, because the need to eat, be housed and be clothed is an insistent demand which is too pressing for all but those who enjoy considerable economic advantages. Do not believe the bullshit - rugged adventurers are not brave souls and entrepreneurs are not gifted geniuses... they're all people who've had the financial backing in order to pursue their expensive dreams. Don't believe any of the "self-made man" bullshit. Behind every "self made" man are a whole bunch of people who've underwritten their risk.

I busted my shoulder up pretty badly - broken bones - on a beach in a remote part of Brasil. My startup co-founder broke his leg very badly indeed in roughly the same part of Brasil. That part of the world is many hours away from a good hospital with a surgeon and operating theatre where complex orthopaedic surgery could be performed. Would we have been so adventurous if we hadn't become somewhat complacent about the bubble we live in?

I'm on probation at the moment. I'm on best behaviour. I'm trying to impress my new girlfriend. I'm trying to prove that I'm a good boyfriend.

But, do I really think that I'm going to fail?

Have I ever been worried that I'm going to fall to my death?

Have I ever been worried that world-class medical establishments and all the many wonders of modern civilisation aren't rapidly available in an emergency? Have I ever been worried that somebody wouldn't patch me up as good as new, if I had an accident?

It's never really crossed my mind that I might not get what I want. Of course, I've had heart-stopping moments when I've suddenly realised how staggeringly exposed I am. I've spent so much of my life living on the edge that I've become desensitised to the worrying fact that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the more times I put my life at risk, the greater the chance that I'm going to be badly injured or killed.

I was worried that I was too fat, old, mentally ill and addicted to drugs and alcohol to ever meet somebody who'd fall in love with me. I was worried that I was too indebted and lacking in any assets - such as a fast car and big house - to be attractive to any object of my affections. I was worried that I was a washed-up loser; a has-been.

Our whole lives are lived under Damocles' sword, somewhat. We could mess up our exams. We could mess up our careers. We could mess up our relationships. There's never a single moment when we can really relax and feel like we're not on probation in some way.

I guess I'm pretty sanguine. I get anxious and I torment myself a very great deal with catastrophic thinking but ultimately, I feel the fear and do what I was always going to do anyway. I'm well aware of the innumerable and virtually unimaginable risks, but if you examine my behaviour - as opposed to what I write - then you'll see that I never choose the low-risk option; you'll see that I continuously pursue the very best that life has to offer, despite stress levels which are almost intolerable.

Tomorrow is an important day, but I already know that I'm going to be OK. My risk is underwritten. What's the worst that can happen? Death? Hospitalisation? Been there. Done that.

 

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No News is Bad News - Part Two

6 min read

This is a story about radio silence...

Hotel room

On June 20 of this year I attempted to write my life story from 2011 onwards, covering the happiest, most successful period of my life and the pinnacle of my career - doing a tech startup accelerator program in Cambridge with a cohort of incredible people - and the subsequent reasons why I stepped down as CEO, separated from my wife, sold my house and settled my acrimonious divorce.

I wrote 10,000 words in a non-stop brain dump. Once I started I couldn't hold back - the words flooded out onto the page.

It was supposed to be succinct. It was supposed to be a simple set of bullet points.

It turned out to be a lot harder than I thought, to write down even the first part.

Part two has a lot to cover:

  • Homelessness
  • Hospitals
  • Police
  • Drug addiction
  • Psych wards
  • Suicide attempts
  • More banking jobs
  • More IT projects
  • Moving to Manchester
  • Moving to Wales
  • Several relationships and breakups; love and loss
  • Psychosis
  • Self medication
  • Alcohol
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Boredom
  • Financial problems
  • Near-bankruptcy
  • Salvation

I'm not going to write part two in the same way that I wrote part one.

That was 6 months ago. This is now.

A lot can happen in 6 months.

As a quick recap, here are the problems I've been trying to tackle this year:

  • £54,000 of debt
  • Homeless
  • No job
  • No car
  • Single
  • Addicted to prescription drugs: sleeping pills, tranquillisers and painkillers
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder

As if those problems weren't enough, in June I had relapsed onto supercrack. I'd been working but I'd lost my job - through no fault of my own - and I was in no hurry to get another one, because my addiction had returned with a vengeance. I was in a place with no family and only a handful of friends, none of whom were equipped to deal with my clusterfuck of issues. I was more-or-less alone, except for the people who I try to connect with on a daily basis through my blog, Twitter, Facebook and other digital means.

I came up with the title "No News is Bad News" because it's usually true. I came up with that title, because a period of silence on my blog is usually cause for concern. It's usually time to start phoning round the hospitals to see if I've been admitted. It's usually time to start worrying if I'm dead or dying.

Back in June - 6 months ago - the title was very apt, because I hadn't been online for a while. Losing my job had completely destroyed my hopes of dealing with the mountain of issues I was facing. Losing my job had wrecked my plans for recovery.

Today, my world looks very different.

I can't tell you too much - because it's private - but I'm writing from the comfort of my girlfriend's bed. Her bedroom is very pink and girly. She just brought me a plate with a generously buttered thick slice of toast and a glass of orange juice, which I am eating in bed. I'm getting crumbs in the bed and greasy finger-marks on my laptop.

I'm no longer living out of a suitcase in a hotel and eating in the same gastropub every night, sat at a table for one. I'm unofficially co-habiting. We only met a few weeks ago. The relationship is going fast. Too fast some might say.

I kiss my sweetheart good morning and wish her a good day as I depart for work. My journey takes no more than 15 minutes when the traffic is kind to me. I'm finding it easy to get up in the morning. I don't dread lonely evenings in a bland hotel room. I don't dread the unsustainable interminable monotony of miserable days in the office, and miserable evenings spent alone.

I'm going too fast though.

I'm working too hard.

It takes vast quantities of alcohol, sleeping pills and tranquillisers to prevent me from working 12 to 14 hour days. It requires a huge amount of effort to stop myself from working at the weekend. I'm desperate to achieve results as quickly as possible, because the finishing line is within sight.

It could be months before I'm well-and-truly out of the danger zone and enjoying some long-overdue financial security. It's definitely going to be a long time before I get truly settled at home and at work. I need to decide where I'm going to live and what I'm going to do for a job, on a more long-term basis. At some point, my good luck is going to run out and I'll be forced back into living out of a suitcase, maintaining a long-distance relationship, and having to face the anxiety and stress of proving myself in a new organisation, with a new set of work colleagues.

Mania has arrived. There's no doubt about that.

My manic energy has been ploughed into my day job, instead of my new novel. I worry that my work colleagues have noticed that I've completely obsessed by my project. I worry that the undesirable accompanying behaviours - irritability, rapid and pressured speech, arrogance and delusions of grandeur - will become so hard to hide in the office that I might be forced to disclose my bipolar disorder to my colleagues, in the hope that they'll be sympathetic.

My blog has been neglected, along with my friends.

I work too hard. I'm moving 'too fast' in my new relationship - the "L" word has been used and she has given me a key to her place. We're going on holiday together. All my original problems are still there, to some extent. I need to decide where to live, pay off my outstanding debts, drink less, quit the sleeping pills and tranquillisers, get my mania under control.

What else can I tell you?

I can't try to tell you too much all at once, even though I desperately want to. I want to sit down and write 10,000 words without taking a single break. I want to pour my heart out onto the page and tell you everything, but I'm trying to pump the brakes a little bit. I'm trying to be a little bit sensible, even though I'm clearly going too fast.

It feels like the week-long hiatus from blogging was not bad news. Perhaps it's good news? No. It's not good news. I'm not looking after myself. I'm not managing my bipolar very well. I'm allowing myself to become manic, for the purposes of achieving 'great' things at work. It's exciting to be manic after so many months of depression and misery.

It would be a good idea for me to resolve to resume my daily writing, but I'm wary of making unrealistic promises. Today, I'm coming to terms with the fact that my 3rd novel remains unfinished, when I had hoped to have completed it yesterday.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is my present situation in a nutshell.

 

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Trying Not To Go Manic

6 min read

This is a story about corporate culture...

Motion blur

I've spent all year expecting my health to let me down, expecting my past to catch up with me, and expecting my mania to cause me to become intolerable in an open-plan office, curtailing my ambitions to return to a state of wealth, stability and all-round life prosperity.

Mania is a constant threat.

"You might want to keep your voice down and mind the swearwords" a trusted fellow contractor warns me in private. "You could hear me?" I ask - apparently my fog-horn voice was booming out as I was in my stride. I feel like I'm in my element, which translates to the sudden re-appearance of a cocky and self-assured version of myself who's too unguarded and outspoken to fit in well in a big organisation. This is what I've been dreading. This feels like nightmare scenarios of the past playing out all over again. This is what I hoped wouldn't happen.

There are a mountain of reasons why I'd be triggered into mania. After spending months living in a hotel, single and lonely as hell, I'm in a relationship now. After spending a whole year in desperate financial trouble, I've now almost repaid all my crippling debts. After the arduous task of getting through security vetting, credit checks, reference checks, and leaping over numerous other obstacles designed to trip people up - people just like me - I feel pretty well established at my workplace. Colleagues seek my opinion and applaud my work, but it all goes to my head and fans the flames of my ever-inflating ego. Any minor delusions of grandeur I might have been harbouring could quickly become all-consuming.

I have a quiet private conversation with another contractor. I wonder if I'm at all protected, if I reveal my mental illness. I assume that I'm not, because I'm a consultant, not an employee of the client who I'm working for. However, he reassures me that I'm afforded some protection in the law and I could consider disclosing my condition, in order to receive more lenient treatment if I can't manage to keep my big stupid mouth shut.

I take a tablet to sleep and a tablet to be able to get up and go to work - otherwise insomnia and anxiety would destroying my life and make me completely dysfunctional. Why don't I take a mood stabiliser?

I'm trying to tame the beast: I feel really physically unwell - run down - but yet my brain is fully focussed on achieving a spectacular thing at work; something I can crow about and something which will make a name for myself. I'm intent on proving a point to the world. It makes me happy, in a way, that I've dealt with enormous adversity and achieved a helluva lot in the space of 12 months. It makes me happy to travel at great speed. It makes me happy to rush along, even if I get a little burnt out.

The way that I perceive life can change completely overnight. It was less than a month ago that I thought life was pointless, boring, unfulfilling, absurd, and the task of repaying my debts, falling in love, finding a rewarding job and becoming stable and happy in a sustainable situation, was utterly impossible. Today, that dream seems to be tantalisingly within reach.

I have 4 short weeks until my next holiday.

I'm leaving the country.

Again.

In the past year I've been to Warsaw, Faro, Prague and Antalya. The more I travel, the happier I am. I'm going travelling during the Christmas and New Year holiday season, and I'm going away with my girlfriend, which is going to be incredibly nice. It would be churlish to complain about how lonely it was to spend a week in Turkey on my own, but it seems pretty obvious that I'm going to have an incredible time with my travelling companion.

It's important that I have a job to come home to in 2019. It's important that I don't fuck everything up.

Perhaps my paranoia is a little unjustified. I made it this far, didn't I? Even when I was sick in the first half of this year, I still managed to impress my clients and deliver their software projects. I've left a lasting good impression at the organisations where I've worked. I've impressed my colleagues. I probably shouldn't worry too much.

However, I must acknowledge that a little success can go to my head, and I can quickly turn into a maniac.

Need to stay sensible for the next 4 weeks. Need to keep quiet.

I could easily have worked 12 or 14 hour days all this week, but I resisted the urge. I could easily have worked today - a Saturday - when instead I should be resting and recharging my batteries. My body is physically sick, but my brain is buzzing. I'm limping along, because I need the money.

I'm paranoid because I see warning signs from years gone by. I'm paranoid because I know myself and I know my patterns of behaviour. I'm paranoid because there's a mountain of evidence that I'm spectacularly good at self-sabotaging.

I find it somewhat reassuring to look back through what I've written and published, and to see that I'm far less tired, strung out and outright bat-shit insane than I was a few years ago. I find it reassuring that I've learned a lot about my patterns of behaviour and how to manage my moods in a corporate environment. I've learned some skills for being part of a fit in or fuck off culture.

I hope I'm gonna be OK. I hope I can muddle through the next 4 weeks and go away on holiday feeling confident that I'm well-liked by my work colleagues, and they're going to welcome me back with open arms in 2019.

Can mania be bludgeoned into submission by sheer force of will? Can I use my mania to achieve what I want at work?

Only time will tell.

 

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Dear Diary

9 min read

This is a story about having too much to lose...

Indecipherable scribbles

I offer to you, the reader, a specimen of my handwriting which I liken to a form of shorthand. Having spent my adolescence and adult years in front of a keyboard, my brain forms words more quickly than my hand can move a pen on a page. I never learned the technique of neat, fast, legible handwriting, because it was always very clear to me that the skill was being made obsolete by technology.

It might surprise you that I can write at all, when my handwriting is so bad.

I'm genuinely mortified at my own incompetence at something which most grown adults managed to master as children. I'm a little hesitant to publish this unflattering piece of evidence.

I have no idea how many words I write per day. I'm a professional writer, in that I'm paid to write, but what I write is very technical so perhaps it doesn't count. Certainly I need a creative outlet during all those times when I'm not able to cut loose and let rip, in my rather drab beige corporate world, where artistic types could never survive and thrive.

I've almost fully abandoned my creative writing endeavours recently, because my time is neatly divided between my career and my attempts to fall in love. 8 hours sleep, 8 hours work, 8 hours romance.

My blog is the lynchpin of my identity. Of course, my highly paid employment affords me the luxury of being able to plough vast amounts of time and energy into a project which generates zero income - pure art - but my chosen daytime profession brings back so many memories of being labelled a geek, nerd or bookworm, and subsequently bullied, that I take no pleasure nor derive any self-esteem from my paid job.

It occurs to me that if I cease to write every day, I will lose my regular readers. I could easily melt away like snow in the sun, and be forgotten. I've often written about how the internet is littered with abandoned blogs, where the authors were initially filled with incredible enthusiasm, only to quickly get bored and wander off to find something more instantly gratifying.

I persevered through a very difficult period where pretty much nobody was reading, which was tough going. I persevered and then I popped out the other side and felt like I was getting somewhere. I started to feel like I was letting readers down if I didn't write every day.

Not writing for a few days - or more - was usually symptomatic of me coming unstuck. If I disappeared off the grid it was usually sensible to start ringing round the various hospitals to see if I could be located, or failing that the morgues. I really needed my readers, because ultimately they saved my life last year, quite literally.

I now find myself in very different circumstances.

I like the people who I'm working with - I think they're smart - and I like the stuff I'm doing at the office. I'm challenged and entertained. I'm finding that my days in gainful employment are passing increasingly effortlessly and that I'm taking a great deal of pride in the work that I do.

I like the special person I've recently met - I think she's amazing - and I like spending time with her. I'm finding it very easy to swap out the very many hours I spent in a pit of despair, for hours spent kissing and cuddling. I derive an enormous amount of enjoyment from abandoning all self-preservation instincts; allowing my emotions to run riot; my heart and soul completely laid open and vulnerable in a very childish and immature way, as I'm carried along with the initial excitement of a new relationship.

A more calculating and shrewd fellow would not write this.

My writing could be the undoing of both my job and my girlfriend. My writing could easily cause me to find myself unemployed and single. My writing could get me into big trouble.

I write tonight, because writing came first. There was madness and sadness, then came writing. I had so much to say. I've still got a lot to say.

I'm predisposed to short-lived obsessions. I'm predisposed to boom and bust. I'm predisposed towards highs and lows.

I could very easily decide tomorrow that I hate my job and the organisation I'm involved with, because of the vagaries of my mood. I could very easily decide tomorrow that I'm horribly heartbroken and that I'm irreparably damaged. I live my life to the very most extreme that it's possible to do.

I write because it would be foolish to make any sudden changes. I write because it's a very healthy and useful part of my routine. I write because of the enormously valuable connection it gives me to people all around the world, to whom I owe my life, quite literally.

It's regrettable that I haven't been able to keep up my daily blogging. I regret every single time that somebody came to visit this website, hoping to find something new, but they didn't find the latest instalment in my egotistical escapades, because I was too busy wooing my new love interest; too busy courting.

I had hoped that I would be able to squeeze some writing into my working day, but the perfect storm arrived - as it does so often - such that I haven't been bored at work for a long while. It would be churlish of me to abuse my privileged position, having spent so long complaining about being bored out of my mind and unfulfilled during office hours.

As has been the case for most of my blog posts recently, I'm writing more quickly than ever, in a desperate attempt to decant the contents of my mind onto the page during a snatched moment when it feels like an opportune time to write. I'm writing with an urgency that exceeds even my completer-finisher obsession with reaching my million-word milestone. Nobody is stopping me from writing - I have plenty of spare time - but it would be very easy for me to abandon my good habits.

I know that I will ruefully regret ever skipping even a single day of writing, should disaster befall me. I know that I will be doubly sad about abandoning my readers if there are any hiccups or bumps in the road which ruin my present twin obsessions: work and love. My blog is my backup plan. My blog is the thing that's always there - the steady constant in my life; the thing that loves me unconditionally; my loyal friend.

I appreciate that I lazily aggregate together all the many people whose lives I've touched, by egotistically broadcasting myself in this mostly one-way stream. I appreciate that I have innumerable very real friends who I'm neglecting, by interacting with people in this very strange way.

I can imagine some future point in time - when it all ends in tears - when I might perhaps find myself feeling suddenly very alone and realising that it was a mistake to hurl myself so completely from one thing into another. It does concern me that I only tend to think about what I'm gaining and never about what I'm losing.

I was accused of wanting to please everybody; wanting to be loved by everybody. That accusation is pretty fair and reasonable to be honest. Why not chuck in wanting to be the centre of attention too, while we're at it?

I don't feel very sorry about anything, it has to be said. If I'm a show-off narcissist, so fucking what? If it's all about me me me then do you think I really care? Do you think I haven't noticed that most of my sentences have started with "I" in this blog post?

Does it make me a bad person? Does it make me a bad friend?

I don't know and I can't answer every question all at once, even though I very much want to try. I've written at least twice as much as I wanted to. I wanted to be short and succinct, to give my friends a flavour of what's going on in my world; to give a little peek behind the curtain. However, as per usual I've launched into an all-out egocentric monologue about nothing in particular, except my total self-absorption.

In short, I'm scared of losing my job and my girlfriend, but I'm also scared of losing whatever the fuck this is... this blog... this website... this digital anchor in a physical world. What is this? Why is it important? Why bother?

If I had to choose - and there's no reason to suggest that I have to - then I choose to connect with the maximum number of people. I choose the stable thing over the unstable and unreliable thing. It's a brutal thing to say, but jobs and girlfriends have come and gone, but my writing has been a constant companion, delivering continuous improvement to my self-esteem and sense of identity.

I need to be a little careful, because I don't want my colleagues or my girlfriend to feel like I'm not crazy about them, and totally obsessed, but I also want to protect something I've worked really hard to build - my digital identity and the relationships which it has enabled me to build and maintain.

I've written more than I intended. I've poked and prodded at things which could very well have been left alone.

I'm going to intentionally hold my tongue now, because if I keep writing I'm going to keep digging a deeper hole.

 

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Exit Bag

8 min read

This is a story about the hivemind...

Phone Mast

It's getting late and I'm tired, so I thought I would retransmit some of the disturbing data that I receive. Having started this website about 3 years ago, Google quickly found it and began to index its contents to make it searchable, and therefore discoverable by anybody who uses its search engine and enters keywords which seem to be relevant, according to Google's algorithms.

A strange thing happens.

I get to see the search queries where my website appears in Google's search results - an impression - as well as the search queries which brought me a website visitor. What I write and publish on my blog makes it more likely that I'll appear as a high-ranking search result, and also more likely that I'll have visitors coming to my website for weird and wonderful things they're searching the internet for.

It turns out there are a lot of people who want to kill themselves.

I wrote a blog post a little while ago where I chose a title specifically to improve my search ranking, which I knew would work very well, so I tried to write something which was useful in some way. I thought to myself "why do so many people ask Google if they can drink themselves sober?" and I thought it was rather tragic that these people had reached such a level of desperation that they'd bother to sift through pages and pages of search results, hoping to find an easy answer. I felt like I should give those people an answer. I felt like those people should have the best possible answer I could muster.

Problematically, lots and lots and lots of people seem to want to suffocate themselves to death; to asphyxiate. More than any other thing, my website pops up time and time again on Google for people who are searching for answers to questions like "how do I kill myself with a plastic bag?".

Obviously, this is disturbing, but it also puts some responsibility on my shoulders.

This website is the second link on Google - second only to Wikipedia - if you are searching for information on the hypercapnic alarm response, which is the reason why you can't just hold your breath to kill yourself. People are quite fascinated, it seems, with the idea of suffocation, which I find very disturbing indeed - I could not imagine a worse way to die than gasping for air.

Given that a number of visitors will be directed here by Google in search of answers to their disturbing questions, I feel duty bound to give the most responsible and best answers that I possibly can, when those people are clearly desperate and vulnerable.

Firstly, do not kill yourself by suffocation. Your final moments of existence will be more horrendous than anything you've ever experienced in your life. The tragedy of self-suffocation - most often achieved inadvertently by hanging - is that you will trigger your most viceral survival instincts which your depression has robbed you of. Your survival instincts are merely dormant and imperceptible during the unbearable humdrum tedium of modern life. The tragedy of self-suffocation is that you will spend your final moments thinking "make it stop" but you will not mean life but in fact the terrible torment of the hypercapnic alarm response. You might think you've had bad anxiety and panic attacks, but you've not experienced anything that even comes close to your body's hard-wired survival instinct, which keeps you taking breath after breath, even though you feel dreadfully depressed and suicidal.

Remember of course that breathing is partially voluntary. We can choose to breathe fast or slow. We can choose to hyperventilate. We can choose to hold our breath... for a while. We cannot choose to hold our breath until we die. Almost nobody can choose to hold their breath until they lose consciousness. Besides, when we lose consciousness we lose our ability to make conscious choices, such as holding our breath.

The idea of an exit bag deals partially with the problem of resuming normal breathing as soon as we lose consciousness, except that the hypercapnic alarm response will cause you to claw desperately at the plastic to tear a hole in it, when the panic becomes unbearable. Your body has set safe limits, such that you will begin to feel the urge to save yourself well before you're in as much danger as you perceive. Perception-altering drugs can dangerously depress our breathing, because we're more impervious to the anxiety and stress that we would otherwise feel, causing us to increase our rate of breathing.

I've talked before about the role of high carbon dioxide concentration levels in the blood - quite literally hypercapnia - causing the alarm response. Because the hypercapnic alarm response is CO2 dependent we can easily lose consciousness and asphyxiate when breathing almost any other gas, including the stuff which makes up 78% of the air we breathe: nitrogen. It's ironic to think that almost every single constituent part of the air all around us is deadly - including the oxygen - if we were to breathe it at high concentration. It's also shocking to think that carbon dioxide is only 0.004% of the air, but yet this is the only gas which warns us we're suffocating to death.

I don't write this because I'm feeling particularly suicidal. I write this because for some reason this website is the second place people come after visiting Wikipedia, when they're reading about humanity's battle between the conscious decision-making part of the brain - where we have free will apparently - and the part which stops us from killing ourselves by simply not bothering to take our next breath. I write this because people want to know, and if they're determined enough they're going to find out the answers.

I can see how determined people are to find out the answers to some pretty messed-up questions. I can see how many zillions of pages of results they trawled. I can see all the different ways that people ask the same disturbing question.

For sure, I ask myself how much I see a world which reflects the way I project myself outwardly. They say an angry man sees an angry world, for example. It shouldn't surprise me that my website brings a lot of people who are interested in topics relating to suicide, but it surprises me that so many people are interested in suffocating themselves to death, when it seems so doomed to fail and would cause such terrible suffering in those final moments when it succeeds. Don't people who want to die just want to fall asleep peacefully and not wake up? I know that's what I wanted, when I was suicidal.

If the world really does reflect upon ourselves, I don't understand why I don't have more variety in the kinds of suicidal ideation searches which bring visitors to me from Google. Where are the people asking about which direction they should slice their veins? Where are the people asking how to locate their carotid artery or jugular vein? Where are the people asking about lethal doses of various substances? Where are the people searching about how to calculate the right amount of rope to avoid decapitation or a lengthy period of terminal strangulation while suspended by the neck?

I've been simultaneously accused of writing irresponsibly while also applauded for discussing things which need to be discussed, if we're going to make any progress towards reducing suicide rates.

From looking more closely at my analytic data, I concluded that many of my visitors are concerned with animal welfare and particularly with the slaughter of livestock, which is often done by gassing the animals. I had written in my blog post, which has proven my most popular, that I was concerned about how awful it would be for little piggies if they were gasping for breath in their final moments before death. I had written about the curious question of whether dolphins could hold their breath to commit suicide or not.

I write this tonight, because I'm interested to know how much concern we have for humans, compared with other animals. It certainly concerns me that seemingly vast numbers of people want to know if they can kill themselves without even bothering to take a few short steps to the nearest window, or to locate a sharp object.

I write this provocatively as always. I'm transmitting out into the world to see what bounces back.

 

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