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The world's longest suicide note: ONE MILLION words.

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

All opinions are my own.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

www.facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Context Switching

8 min read

This is a story about screen time...

Phone icons

The button to silence my smartphone has broken so I leave it permanently in "do not disturb" mode, which suits me just fine. Hardly anybody ever phones me except for agents and other cold caller sales types. My time is mostly spent in the 12 apps pictured above. Perhaps I'm not on my smartphone all the time, but essentially I'm context-switching non-stop throughout my waking hours, so I thought that warranted a little examination.

Starting with my 35,225 unread emails, my inbox has gotten rather out of control. Email has become such a victim of its own success that no IT professional I know even uses it anymore - we're all on Slack. Most communication is entirely transient and there's no need to have a record of anything except some kind of chat transcript to catch up on - anything old can be archived and forgotten. I spend all day every day chatting to my colleagues on Slack, including colleagues from organisations where I don't even work anymore.

Messages comprises SMS messages - mostly telling me about voicemails I haven't listened to - and a handful of iMessages from people who aren't using WhatsApp for some reason. WhatsApp deserves special note though, because of the group chats. I was removed from the only group chat I was a member of - discussion between cryptocurrency enthusiasts - and I was usurped by a guy who screwed me over last year when I was on my deathbed, which is kinda besides the point but it galls me.

Instagram I don't actually use very much. I live in a text-based world and the photos I take are in 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio, not 1:1. I don't take very many selfies.

Facebook Messenger is my most active chat app, but I only use it to chat to one person - my guardian angel - and we mainly exchange memes about suicide, mental health problems and the ruined economy. Facebook messenger also makes calls - as do many of the apps - and I occasionally speak to a friend in Poland, which is about the only time I speak to anybody on the telephone.

Recently I've been using Tinder and Bumble in an attempt to meet girls. It adds additional complexity to my context-switching life.

I'm not really sure what I use Facebook for. I do browse through the feed once a day - not on my smartphone - and I occasionally like and comment on things which are especially noteworthy, but I generally try to avoid over-investment in that particular walled garden. I used to share a lot and indeed I've managed to rather make a fool of myself in front of all my friends and scupper my chances of ever working in some organisations, because I dragged my own good name through the mud. I don't put my dirty laundry on Facebook much, only for it to be conspicuously ignored. Instead I write over a million words on my blog and broadcast my ups and downs to thousands of followers and anybody who does Google searches.

I don't use Twitter properly. I don't generally retweet stuff and I don't spend enough time reading the tweets of the 6,000+ people I follow. How anybody could sift through it all I have no idea - Twitter is a pretty noisy place. Generally I just look to see if anybody I know is tweeting about any of the trending topics, and I otherwise rely on an email I receive in the morning each day, which tells me what my favourite people have been up to. I must admit, it's sometimes a struggle to stay on top of my notifications and DMs and then I turn turtle and hide for a while until things quieten down.

I don't bother with LinkedIn much. I don't struggle to find work. I don't much see the point in ploughing much time and effort into my corporate image - I've got a perfectly professional CV and LinkedIn page, and otherwise I rely on my contacts, skills, experience and references to be able to get work when I need it.

I wake up in the morning and I quickly scan through my notifications - mostly Twitter - to see if there have been any comments, which I make a mental note to reply to later in the day. When I get bored around mid-morning, I have a glance at my inbox to see if there's anybody demanding money with menaces or otherwise harassing me. Approaching lunchtime, I might kill a bit of time with Facebook, but I don't want to get too engrossed in my phone when I'm at work. If I'm having a really dreadful day, I might reach out to a couple of friends via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and see if I can get them to send jokes, memes or anything that might provide a moment's distraction from the boredom. After leaving the office and generally before my evening meal, I write a blog post. I often scan through my website analytics to see if there's anything notable going on. If my mind is busy and distracted I frequently find myself flipping between half-watching something on Netflix and several tabs in my browser - a mix of Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I read the news, but I find that I spend less and less time engaging with current affairs at the moment, because I've been stressed out of my mind with basic survival. A new part of my routine is chatting to girl(s) via the dating apps and if I'm ever lucky enough to get a phone number, then chatting on WhatsApp.

The amount of context switching is pretty remarkable. In any given day I might have to switch between fully professional mode, with colleagues who I want to present with a squeaky-clean corporate-friendly version of myself, and a more relaxed but still guarded version of myself which allows a little bit of my personality to show, but hopefully keeps my bad not-safe-for-work (NSFW) stuff hidden. I might be chatting to somebody who I've known for a long time online who's in a different timezone - ahead or behind - and they'll know an incredible amount of personal stuff about me and we'll be talking very frankly and honestly about everything and everything... then I'll be talking to a girl who I've just started chatting to who doesn't know me at all... then I'll be chatting to work colleagues who I spend 40 hours a week in close proximity with and they think they know me but they don't [and I don't want them to know everything]. Then, there's the image I present and the interactions I have via my blog and social media. and all the people who I have frequent and infrequent contact with, and the different ways I know people. Facebook is a particularly weird melting pot, where former work colleagues mingle with people who I know through kitesurfing, my startup days, the time I was homeless and living in parks and hostels, people who I've just randomly friend requested when I was mentally unwell. Facebook is kinda the worst, because I never know which guise I should be in, so I'm probably too honest and I'm tarnishing my own reputation and good standing that I once had with friends.

My brain has to switch between survival mode - where I've been worried about money, housing, addiction, alcoholism, transport, sex, isolation, suicidal thoughts, self harm, depression, anxiety and odds that have been very much stacked against me - and professional mode - where I'm expected to perform at a very high standard and navigate extremely complicated large organisations and know all the ins and outs of massive and complex software systems and the infrastructure they're deployed on, plus all the many teams and the zillions of people and the processes and procedures - and my digital identity which I'm cultivating - which needs me to compose a blog post every day and stay on top of any replies, messages and emails, and generally keep in touch with an ever-growing list of friends who I've never met in person, but who've been amazingly kind and supportive during rough times - and Mr. Eligible Bachelor mode, which requires me to present myself in the correct sequence, so that I can be understood without at the same time being overwhelming and off-putting.

To some extent my life looks quite simple. I have a job and not much else - I don't socialise and I'm not in a relationship. To the casual observer, all I do is move between my home, the office and a hotel, and I'm always in front of my laptop, tapping away at the keys quite furiously.

I suppose my life is quite simple, if we imagine that my fixation is the screen and the keyboard, but the screen time is a red herring - it's a window to an unimaginably gigantic and complex world of thousands of interactions with people all around the globe.

The context-switching is pretty hard though. I've struggled to stay on top of everything during the last couple of days.

 

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The Journey

11 min read

This is a story about three years of my life...

Hotel room

I was living in an ultra-modern hotel in Canary Wharf and working for HSBC at their head office. I was a member of the team working on the bank's number one IT project. Shortly beforehand I had been living in a 14-bed hostel dorm and I'd narrowly escaped bankruptcy and destitution. I was working 12 hours a day, 6 or sometimes 7 days a week. I was exhausted and the tiredness, stress and unsettled life was driving me literally insane. I was suffering with delusions of grandeur, paranoia and my behaviour was erratic and unpredictable; I was extremely tense and irritable. I was on the brink of having a breakdown.

River panorama

I rented an apartment on the River Thames near the office. The rent was obscene - £500/week - but I was earning great money working for HSBC and I was working very hard, so it seemed affordable at the time; it seemed like a nice reward for all the hard work. It felt like justice that I'd been able to get myself off the streets and into such a lovely place to live; to have gone from homeless and sleeping rough in a park, to having a luxury Thameside apartment with panoramic views over London.

My glasses

I was dating a BBC journalist. I was rapidly gaining a Twitter following. I felt like everything was happening for a reason. I felt like it was my destiny to do something important. I was consumed with mania; I was obsessed with the idea of a grand gesture. I had been deeply affected by my homelessness and near-bankruptcy and destabilised by the exhaustion of sleeping rough and in hostel dorms. The IT project was very stressful and I was under a great deal of pressure from HSBC management. My mind was a mess. I was very severely mentally ill.

Psych ward terrace

I woke up one morning and I couldn't go on. I couldn't face the office. I wanted to kill myself. I went to my doctor who sent me to hospital. 13 hours later I was admitted to a secure psych ward. I explained that I was financially distressed and very stressed at work. The psychiatric team recommended I stay in hospital for at least 2 weeks, but I needed to be back in the office if I was going to keep my job, to be able to afford the rent.

Golden Gate Bridge

I discharged myself from hospital after a week and flew to San Francisco. I figured that if I was going to kill myself I might as well do it somewhere iconic. A friend picked me up from the airport and I borrowed a bike. I cycled straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing old friends, however, made me change my mind about committing suicide.

Sleep out

I lost my job with HSBC and I "slept rough" in the shadow of the head office skyscraper in Canary Wharf. I thought that this would be the pinnacle of my journey. I thought that having been used and abused by HSBC then unceremoniously dumped out onto the streets to suffer bankruptcy and homelessness - having managed to get myself a job at the bank while of no fixed abode and living in a hostel - would be deliciously poetic. It was, but my journey had barely begun.

Self harm

I quit drinking for 121 consecutive days. I starved myself. I thought that I would go on hunger strike. I thought that I would sleep rough on Christmas Day. I was really angry and upset with the world. Self harm and substance abuse dominated my life for several months. I got into heaps of debt just staying alive.

Cruise ship

I survived the winter. I got another job. My life was OK except for persistent suicidal thoughts. I hated the project I was working on but I persevered because I was in a lot of debt. I loved where I was living - every day in my apartment was like Christmas Day because the view was so awesome. Living by the river was an incredible privilege. I took a holiday and went kitesurfing. My quality of life was improving slowly.

Cooking with bath salts

I met somebody very special and fell totally in love. She accepted me for who I was, including the all the bad bits, such as my prior issues with substance abuse. She was the first person I'd been in a relationship with who'd been able to read everything about me on my blog and to understand my flaws. We had a good relationship. The project I had been working on came to an end and I was jobless again. I wrote and published my first novel - she proofread it and helped me with the ending and other ideas. She was very supportive and I was confident I'd find work again easily.

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve watching the fireworks over London, sipping champagne on my balcony with the woman I loved - it seemed like the New Year was full of promise, but I was worried about getting another job and I was still in a lot of debt. There was a lot of pressure.

DVT

Disaster struck. I got deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my left leg, which swelled up to twice the size of my right leg. My kidneys failed and I ended up in hospital on a high dependency ward having many hours of dialysis every day. The potassium in my blood spiked to a life-threatening level and I was constantly at risk of cardiac arrest. I was very sick.

Drug shrine

My stay in hospital caused me to lose my job. Losing my job caused me to collapse psychologically and become very depressed and despondent. The DVT had caused terrible nerve damage and I had a lot of neuropathic pain, as well as a numb left foot. I started to become dependent on painkillers. I sought powerful antidepressants for my low mood. Pictured on the table are: codeine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol, diazepam, alprazolam, mirtazapine, venlafaxine, dextroamphetamine, zolpidem, zopiclone and pregabalin, which are all highly addictive. Because of this cocktail of prescription drugs I suffered an episode of medication-induced mania - temporary insanity - and broke up with the love of my life.

Manchester flats

I ran out of money. I had to pay a huge tax bill and I had to go even deeper into debt. I was virtually bankrupt. Out of desperation I was forced to put all my worldly possessions into storage and leave London to take a job in Manchester. The job in Manchester included an apartment as part of the package, which was lucky because I didn't have enough money to pay rent or a deposit - I was totally broke. Moving house and leaving London was incredibly upsetting and traumatic. The new job was extremely demanding and exhausting. I was very lonely and isolated in an unfamiliar city with no friends or family; no local connections.

Psych ward fence

I tried to commit suicide. I took a massive overdose: I'd been stockpiling my prescription painkillers and I knew that 8+ grams of tramadol was likely to be fatal. I sent a tweet when I believed I was beyond the point of no return. I thought nobody knew where I lived. I thought there was no chance anybody would get to me in time. I was wrong. I regained consciousness a few days later in a hospital's critical care ward on life support. I was later sectioned for 28 days and admitted to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

Hay bales

A doctor from Wales discovered my blog and invited me to live on their farm in a converted garage. I had no money, no car, no job. I had nothing.

Rat race

I almost went bankrupt but a friend got me some work in Warsaw and in London. I was living in AirBnBs and working in the Square Mile from Monday to Friday and living in Wales at the weekends.

Keys

I bought a car, I got a local job, a local girlfriend and I rented an apartment. Briefly, I had everything I wanted and needed, although I went even deeper into debt. The pressure, stress and turmoil which I'd endured to get to this point was unimaginable; just to get to a position which most people would take for granted as the minimum acceptable things for a normal ordinary liveable life.

Papered windows

The local project ended and I was jobless again. The relationship ended. I papered over my bedroom windows and withdrew from the world. The journey had destroyed me. I was spent.

Cashflow

An obscene amount of money flows through my hands, but it all ends up in the pockets of those who I owe money to. I'm desperately trying to keep my head above water. The financial pressure is immense; unbearable. The journey has been incredibly long and arduous. There's still a very long way to go before I reach security and stability; before I'm comfortable, happy and content.

Empty wine bottles

In the last year alone, I've managed to move house 3 times, work 4 different jobs, travel to 4 different countries, date 2 girls, survive a suicide attempt, be admitted to 3 different hospitals, quit addictive painkillers, sedatives, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, be arrested and locked in a cell, buy a car, rent a place to live, stay in 17 different hotels and AirBnBs, and somehow stay on top of my mountainous debts, not go bankrupt and even pay some of that crippling amount of money back. My only remaining vice is wine. I'm completely unmedicated and I don't abuse any substance other than alcohol. It's a remarkable journey for just 12 months, but the journey has been much, much longer than that.

In the last three years, I've written and published a million words and connected with thousands of people all over the globe.

To be precise, to date I've written exactly 1,001,020 words and counting, on this blog.

It's the world's longest suicide note.

If you want to understand why I'm suicidal you just have to read it all - it's all written down in exquisite detail. To save you the trouble of reading all 1 million words I've summarised the last 3 years for you right here.

The pressure; the stress; the exhaustion. Where is my reward?

I've travelled so far and I've achieved so much but yet I feel like it's gotten me nowhere. I should be rich but in fact I'm up to my eyeballs in debt. If you want to know where that debt came from, I just explained it to you. I didn't get into debt buying frivolous things and being profligate. I didn't make particularly bad choices. I'm not stupid. Where's the payoff for working so hard? Why did I bother?

My name's Nick Grant and I drink too much but otherwise I'm an ordinary regular guy. I do my job to a high standard and I'm liked and respected by my colleagues. I pay my taxes. I pay my rent and bills. I contribute to society as a productive member. I do ordinary stuff and have ordinary needs.

I'm 39 years old and I have nothing but debt. I have nothing much to show for my 39 years on the planet.

I'm lonely. I live a double life. The person I am in the office is different from the person I am in the comfort of my own home. Nobody at work would ever suspect that I've slept rough, been in trouble with the police, been hospitalised many times, been sectioned and had horrific problems with addiction. Nobody would suspect that my mental health has caused me horrendous difficulties when exacerbated by stressful life events, like divorce, moving house, losing jobs and everything else that's happened to me in the past 5 or so years.

My solution to the instability in my life was to create a backbone that has run consistently through my ups and downs: my daily writing. To have been able to write a million words has been immensely stabilising and has brought me into contact with so many wonderful kind and caring people. I quite literally owe my life to those who've followed me and my blog, especially via Twitter. Without this connection to the world I would be dead.

Today, I've crossed a seemingly arbitrary imaginary finishing line, in having written and published a million words in less than 3 years. It might seem ludicrous and pointless, but if you consider it in the context of the journey I've been on, you can see why I've wanted to document it.

If you've followed me on some part of this journey, I'm really grateful to have had your support. Thank you.

 

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Work Colleague Found My Blog

12 min read

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

Blurry laptop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Burning Bridges

11 min read

This is a story about wearing a mask...

Cambridge bridges

A long time ago I used to be very careful about what I shared on social media. On Facebook I separated my work colleagues and other business contacts from my close friends, and I thoroughly considered my audience before I posted anything; I spent a great deal of effort managing my public image and attempting to pretend I was a squeaky-clean pristine perfect professional who didn't have any problems in my personal life.

At some point during my acrimonious divorce and the total collapse of my mental health, along with the destruction of my hopes and dreams of escaping the rat race and being my own boss, my depression became so bad that I purchased 2 grams of potassium cyanide. I'm not sure what possessed me - perhaps it was a cry for help - but I decided to put a photo of this deadly poison onto Facebook. The reaction surprised me: one friend was angry and accused me of jeopardising the life of his child [which I didn't] and another made a darkly humorous joke. Most people seemed to just ignore me.

My mental health has caused me an increasing amount of difficulties, resulting in hospitalisations. Initially, I was extremely careful about what I told colleagues. I tried - as much as possible - to cover up and hide my struggles in the hope that I would quickly get better and my image would be untarnished. I lost a couple of jobs and an entire profitable business during episodes of poor mental health, but my reputation seemed to somehow be fully intact despite my faltering ability to work.

At some point, I decided to put more and more of my dirty laundry onto Facebook. I think that the stress and strain of the divorce - having to sell my house in particular - completely destroyed any remaining hope and optimism that I would be able to recover, so I ceased to believe that it was prudent to safeguard my reputation. I jettisoned any caution about who was reading the gory details of my life's implosion and instead preferred to desperately reach out via social media, hoping to receive messages of support and to alert my friends to the danger I was in.

As I became increasingly unwell and addiction turned my life into unmanageable destructive chaos, I continued to overshare without any regard for the reputational damage I was doing to myself. I wrote things which must have broadcast my very darkest and most regrettable moments of struggle to former work colleagues and business acquaintances, completely tarnishing my own reputation.

To have fallen from grace is bad, but to tell the world that you've ended up in a complete mess is quite something else. I'm not sure if I just didn't care, or whether I was so sick that I didn't know what on earth I was doing, but I used Facebook to loudly proclaim the fact that I'd become an unemployable, useless, unreliable, messed-up waste of space. Surely I have left friends, former work colleagues and other people who used to like and respect me, in absolutely no doubt that I was a no-hope loser?

Meanwhile, I managed to keep working and completing projects successfully, and I kept my CV and LinkedIn free from any clues about my mental health problems and drug addiction. My career didn't skip a beat and my skills continued to be highly in demand. I seemingly suffered no negative consequences for all of my loose-lipped moments on social media. It seemed as if I was unable to completely burn every bridge and destroy my own reputation sufficiently to make myself unemployable.

Sharing on Facebook highly alarming stuff about suicidal thoughts, self harm, drug abuse, prescription medication dependency, poly-substance use, breakups, mental breakdowns and the bat-s**t insane ravings of a total madman, seemed to make little or no difference to my day-to-day existence. The response was muted, where my friends and former work colleagues really didn't know what to say, leaving a kind of awkward silence which clearly indicated that people were cringing with embarrassment on my behalf. On the other hand, I was not shamed into silence at all. The madness was so all-consuming that I couldn't even remember what I had shared on Facebook. I had no idea what I was doing.

I suppose that everything I put on Facebook was done in brief moments of extreme insanity. I was still generally cautious about sharing the candid and honest truth about things which portrayed me in a very unflattering light. Nobody wants to be thought of as a junkie, because everybody thinks that junkies are thieving scumbag liars. Mental health elicits some sympathy, so long as it's the milder kind. Nobody wants to be thought of as completely insane, because everybody thinks that madmen are deranged murderous unpredictable lunatics.

I suppose I had attempted to tell my Facebook friends that I was unwell with as much subtlety as I could manage, and I had tried to brush some of the unflattering facts under the carpet, such as my problems with addiction.

I suppose I always wanted people to know that mental illness and a horrible relationship were things that I had been dealing with alone for a long time, and that addiction only crept into my life much more recently. I suppose I felt that I could quietly deal with the addiction issues and nobody needed to know about it; I would just pretend it never happened.

When I started this blog, it was an opportunity to re-assert the 30-odd years of my life where I had achieved a hell of a lot. I wanted people to remember all the projects I successfully delivered and all of the places where I'd worked and made a big difference to the organisations and the teams I was part of. I wanted people to remember that I'd built profitable businesses. I wanted people to remember that I'd played a positive role in their lives; that I'd been a good person; that I had value. I wanted to remind everybody that for the vast majority of my life I'd been making a valuable contribution; that for most of my life I'd been an OK person who'd tried very hard to do good things.

I had imagined that my recovery would progress in a linear way, from bad to good, and every day would be an improvement on the day before. I imagined that I would be able to write a straightforward story about the struggles I'd left behind in the past and the increasing number of positive things that were happening in my life. I had imagined writing a fairy-tale rags to riches story, as I started my blog homeless and bankrupt, and finished the story rich and successful.

It soon became apparent that the journey was going to be a lot tougher than I had hoped it would be.

Every huge gain I've made has quickly been met by a major setback. When I managed to rent an amazing apartment in London, I then lost my job. When I managed to get a lucrative contract, I was then hospitalised with kidney failure. When it seemed like I was getting the perfect combination of friends, girlfriend, job, money, home and hobby, everything fell to pieces. If we look at the whole 3-year writing project, it perfectly captures the vicious swings between high and low which you'd expect of somebody with bipolar disorder, especially when exacerbated by money problems, insecure housing and patches of addiction problems.

After only 4 months of sharing the sanitised version of my life history, where I portrayed myself in the very best possible light, it became clear that I was going to have to write about the bad stuff too if I was going to carry on for a whole year, which was my initial plan. I wanted to write every day for a whole year, to prove to myself that I could be consistent and achieve something very difficult, despite my challenging circumstances. I hoped that the regularity and having a goal to focus on would help to stabilise my life.

Writing my blog has certainly given me a rock to cling to while I've weathered the storm. Writing my blog has certainly helped me to regain some stability in my life, as well as being a source of pride in the achievement.

At some point, it became habitual to be 100% unflinchingly honest, and not to care about what people think.

I'm aware that I've probably prejudiced my employability with a handful of former work colleagues who are also Facebook friends. I'm aware that my reputation is probably damaged beyond repair, if I wanted to try to enter an arena where reputation is more important than skills and experience. In the world of work which I inhabit, people only care about whether I can do the job, and not at all about the skeletons in my closet, so I've suffered no setbacks in my career. However, it does upset me that I've tarnished my image in some of the gossipy organisations where I used to be very well liked and respected. It upsets me that friends who are former colleagues and business acquaintances, who I like and respect, have been left in no doubt that I've been through some very tough and turbulent times in my personal life. Perhaps my opportunities in life have been more damaged than I'm aware of, because I've created doubts in people's minds about my reputation and reliability.

I continue to write using my real name and am slowly advancing towards page one of a Google search, which seems ludicrously stupid, but so far it's caused me very few problems in my career.

I don't think I could live without the regularity and stabilising influence that writing and publishing so publicly has given me. I don't think it would be healthy for me to lose the public oversight, and lose the huge amount of support that is available to me from the online community. I can't imagine going back to a life where I had to hide my struggles and rely on private communications to keep concerned people informed about what's happening to me. It's far too much effort to have to concern myself with image and reputation management when I've been fighting for my life.

There's no turning back now anyway. The genie is out of the bottle. All my friends, former work colleagues and business acquaintances have been left with absolutely no doubt that my mental health problems have caused me a great deal of difficulties, and extremely unpalatable and unflattering things have happened in my life, such as periods of addiction. I have no doubt that my reputation is in tatters in the eyes of anybody I'm Facebook friends with. I must be a laughing stock.

Amusingly, I've been able to deliver projects and impress work colleagues, surrounded by people who are completely oblivious to my personal life struggles and the bad things that have happened in the past. Because my Facebook, Twitter and blog are a world apart from my CV, LinkedIn and references, the two worlds have not collided and I'm able to go to work and do a good job without prejudice or stigma. I suppose it's reckless to risk my identities being connected by anybody who could be bothered to put my name into a search engine, but so far I've not burnt any bridges in the 'new' chapter of my career, since I re-stabilised myself, ironically by using my blog.

I think that's what I'd tell anybody who stumbled on my open secret and had reservations about my public identity: that it's a necessary coping mechanism and it's the reason why I've been able to act completely normal in the office, and to be a productive valuable member of the teams and organisations I work for.

Of course I sometimes worry that I'm taking too much of a risk by continuing to use my real name and writing without concern for the level of public exposure that I live with, but frankly most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to really give much of a s**t.

Sure, if stuff goes wrong I'm dangerously exposed. If I have a wobbly moment then I'm hugely at risk of some unpalatable truths about me from becoming more widespread knowledge. I think the risks are acceptable though. So far, I'm glad that I've laid myself wide open like this.

Some bridges have been burnt, but I'm glad I've set the record straight and I'm glad that there's so much written down here that even the nosiest person is going to quickly become exhausted if they go digging for dirt.

 

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One Year in Pictures - a Photo Story

7 min read

This is a story about the last 12 months...

London sunset

The story begins in London, looking out at the skyline of the capital from my balcony. This is the last photo I took from my apartment in London before I had to leave to go chasing cash... I was practically bankrupt.

Self storage

That's everything I own all boxed up and put into self storage. That's all the stuff I've managed to hang onto through the past few years. I'm amazed I even managed to accumulate and retain this much stuff, considering that a few years ago I was homeless and even sleeping rough. In a way, it's liberating that my life can be boxed up and moved so easily.

Packed suitcase

That's all I could manage to carry on the train to Manchester, leaving my beloved home city of London. I'll always think of London as home first and foremost, because I've spent more time there than anywhere else. Yes, I got my ass kicked, but the place was relatively kind to me. I've still got plenty of friends there, at least.

Manchester apartment block

Here's the apartment block where I was moving to. I'd never set foot in Manchester before in my life. I'd never been inside the apartment. I didn't know anybody in the city. In fact, I hardly know anybody in the North of England. In retrospect it was insane to move to Manchester, but I was desperate - I was bankrupt and I couldn't afford to pay the rent in London anymore, so homelessness and destitution were imminent. I did what I had to do.

Ironing board

I was lonely but there were girls. I was so busy with my work that there wasn't a lot of time for making new friends. I was really gutted about a breakup a couple of months earlier - she was such an amazing girlfriend - and it seemed to make sense at the time to meet somebody new. It made things more bearable, having a partner.

Tramadol capsules

Things were fragile; delicate. I was under so much pressure and I'd been through such emotional upheaval leaving my home and moving to a new city, as well as the exhaustion and the stress of it all. I often thought about killing myself. I even took this photo of one of the boxes of capsules I used as part of my massive overdose suicide attempt.

Psych ward

Psych ward. Not just any psych ward - this was a PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) and my fellow patients were very sick. I arrived here after my suicide attempt, having spent days in a coma on life support.

Nettles

Wales. What the hell was I doing in Wales? I might've been born in Wales but I've never lived here. The hospital were going to discharge me into some kind of supported housing, but I had no idea where in the country I was going to be housed. I've got no local connections anywhere. I could have stayed in hospital and taken a gamble on social services finding me somewhere tolerable to live, but instead I accepted the kind offer from a doctor who read my blog - I moved into their converted garage. I was homeless and it was the state's responsibility to house me because I was vulnerable, but there was too much danger I'd end up housed somewhere where I didn't know anybody. It turned out the doctor was married to somebody my friend was friends with... there was a connection.

Warsaw snow

Warsaw. What the hell was I doing in Warsaw? I needed money and I needed it fast. An old friend put in a good word for me with his boss and the next thing I knew I was packing my bags for a business trip to Poland.

Busy underground

London again. This time I was commuting from Wales and living in AirBnBs. I stayed in 12 different AirBnBs. It was a horrible existence, spent on trains and in really crappy accommodation. I nearly ran out of money. It was unbelievably stressful, having to pretend like everything was OK and normal, when in actual fact I'd already been through 6 months of hell and things were worse than ever. I was no fixed abode, living off the charity of a doctor who read my blog and emailed me, and I was almost out of cash but I still had to get to work every day and pretend like everything was normal.

Train cancelled

Dating again. I decided that there was no point in dating in London because I didn't plan on staying in London for any more than another couple of months... I couldn't stand the commuting and the AirBnBs. I was dating, but I still didn't have any money, or a car, or an apartment - I was still virtually bankrupt and no fixed abode. What the hell was I doing dating?

Garage

I got a local job. That meant I needed a car so I could get to work. I had a horrendous chest infection, but I needed a car and I needed one fast. I barely had enough money for the car, the road tax and the insurance. In fact, I didn't have enough money - I had to go into even more debt in order to get myself back on the road.

Apartment keys

I managed to rent an apartment. That was stressful. They were asking for the whole 12 months rent up-front at one point. I was struggling to prove that I was able to pay the rent, of course... I'd spent the past 9 months on the brink of bankruptcy so of course I was worried that my credit score was destroyed and I wouldn't be able to rent an apartment. Once again, I spent every penny I could lay my hands on and went deeper into debt, but I desperately wanted some security... a place to call home with a legally binding tenancy agreement... no longer dependent on the charity of the kind people who'd let me live in their converted garage.

Cod and chips

A brief moment of domestic bliss. I had a car, an apartment, a local job and a local girlfriend. We were a "dinky" couple - dual income, no kids. We ate out or had takeaway nearly every night, or cooked luxury ready meals. We were planning a holiday together.

Baked beans

Easy come, easy go. I broke up with my girlfriend. The work project had been completed and the local company were letting me go. My windows were covered with paper so nobody could see in and I was eating cold baked beans out of a can with a business card as an improvised spoon.

Holiday

Instead of a week lying on a sun lounger by the swimming pool, on holiday, I managed to snatch a weekend mini-break to a European city with an old friend. It was exhausting, but of course great to see my friend. My week-long holiday was cancelled. I haven't had a proper holiday for 2 years.

Leaving gift

A leaving gift from my local job. They got me a card and everything. The gift was alcohol. It was a nice gesture. I like alcohol.

Time to talk

Another day another dollar. I got another job. It's still in Wales but it's 90 minutes drive away in rush hour traffic. My mental health is destroyed and I find it ironic that there are posters everywhere in the office saying "it's OK to talk about mental health" but there's an unwritten rule that says I'm supposed to be a reliable, steady, dependable worker who never complains and just gets on with the project... I'm not allowed to take sick days. I'm back living out of a suitcase again. I'm still a long way away from where I need to be.

Pint in the pub

This is my life now. Drinking in the pub next to the hotel, which is near my new office. My new colleagues are nice - and super smart - and the project is interesting, I guess, but I really need a bunch of local friends, a local girlfriend etc. etc. and I could really do without the loneliness and the boredom and the isolation and the pressure and the stress, which are all as present as ever.

A pretty crazy 12-month rollercoaster ride. I'm very surprised that I'm still alive.

 

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On The Road Again

4 min read

This is a story about a nomadic lifestyle...

Packed bags

In theory a digital nomad should be able to work from wherever they want, provided there's a decent WiFi signal and somewhere to charge your laptop battery. Why not work from the beach in a hot country? In practice, bosses want bums on seats. I suppose it'd be hard to justify the high income I've come to expect if I was living amongst equally intelligent and capable people, who just happen to have a less desirable nationality on their CV.

I'm washing and drying a whole bunch of shirts, ready for the working week ahead. I'm trying to prepare myself mentally for the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 routine. I'm trying to psych myself up for another period of kipping my mouth shut, my head down and generally trying not to let on that I'm crazy; I'm unwell.

Is it deceitful to pretend to my colleagues that I'm not sick and mentally unstable? Is it dishonest not to declare my mental illness up-front? I don't think it is.

It's my personal life that causes me most of my difficulties, which do unfortunately overspill into office hours sometimes, but I'm more than capable of doing everything that's asked of me and more, provided I have a little leeway on particularly bad days. I don't get paid for the time I take off sick and as long as the work's getting done, I don't see what the problem is.

If I can figure out how to get the support I need - some social fabric in my life - then I'm much more stable and reliable. Perhaps I need to get into the routine of phoning friends more often. I hardly ever speak to anybody except in a work capacity, and at work I'm always presenting a façade of cool, calm, controlled professionalism, no matter what inner turmoil I'm suffering.

Through economic necessity, I've made a choice that is a particularly bad one for my mental health. Living out of a suitcase and going to a place I've never been to and don't know anybody is going to have fairly predictable results: stress, suffering, loneliness, misery.

"You're doing so well" and "you've made such a lot of progress" and "keep going" are the kinds of things that friends say, and I guess they're not wrong. If I can keep going - even just for a few months more - then I'll be cementing a period of progress which has turned my life around, although not yet managed to put me in a financially secure position, yet. Call me impatient if you like, but the suffering I've endured on the journey is not to be taken lightly.

6 or 7 months ago my biggest worry was cashflow - I was so close to bankruptcy. Now my biggest worry is feeling lonely and isolated in a strange new town. It's progress, of a sort.

My lifestyle is a strange one. I can't particularly let my guard down at work. I really don't think my work colleagues could wrap their heads around the journey I've been on during the last 12 months... at least, not until they get to know me better in a work capacity and can see that I'm quite capable of doing a good job. It does however mean that I can never really get close to anybody and confide in them about how I'm really feeling: for that I must look to my friends and my blog.

The danger, of course, is that I try to cope independently. I often forget that I can pick up the phone and try to speak to a friend. Instead, I turn to alcohol, sedatives, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, as I attempt to blot out as much of my consciousness as I can... the less reality that seeps into my brain, because it's numbed by chemicals, the less the horrendous isolation and loneliness robs me of every bit of happiness and contentment.

Obviously, my choices look dangerous and unhealthy; the risks are massive. Economic necessity drives me to act out of desperation.

It would be good if I could find healthy coping mechanisms. Maybe I should stay in a hotel with a gym and a swimming pool, and exhaust myself physically each evening while getting fit, rather than squandering the time watching serious documentaries on TV. As I said before, it would be good if I could develop the habit of phoning a friend, as opposed to reaching for a glass of wine or a tablet.

We'll see what happens.

 

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My Food Diary for the Last Week

8 min read

This is a story about a calorie controlled diet...

Octopus

If there's one thing I like to do other than drink alcohol, it's to eat unhealthy food. In fact, I find the combination of both to be most agreeable.

Here's what I've eaten (and some of what I've drunk) in the last week:

Sunday

  1. Tin of Heinz beans & sausages

Monday

  1. Vegetable samosa
  2. Chicken, bacon & mayonaise pre-prepared sandwich
  3. Large bag of Skips crisps
  4. Large bag of beef flavour crisps
  5. 3 cheese strings
  6. 1 bottle of white wine
  7. 1 bottle of red wine
  8. Peanut butter eaten straight from the tub

Tuesday

  1. Nothing

Wednesday

  1. Nothing

Thursday

  1. 4x slices of toast with marmite on

Friday

  1. 3x chicken drumsticks
  2. 2x smoked mackerel fillets
  3. 4x cheese strings
  4. Tiny amount of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra ice cream
  5. 1 bottle of red wine
  6. 1 bottle of white wine

Saturday

  1. Nothing

In terms of drinking that I omitted, because it's been a bit more chaotic/unpredictable, and it's also fairly boring information, I have drunk a lot of apple & black-current, orange and lime flavour squash. It's 24 degrees celcius in my apartment and staying cool is a problem. I pre-mix the squash, speed chill it in the freezer and then transfer it to the fridge. In theory, there's always a cold drink I can grab, provided I'm not cornered in some part of my apartment.

Monday is representative of what I ate and drank most days while I was working full-time, although I'd try to keep to one bottle of wine only.

Friday I managed to stock my cupboards from a proper big supermarket on Friday. Not well communicated by this food diary, is the fact that my cupboards and fridge are now brimming with easy-to-make meals, which are far healthier than big bags of crisps, samosas, more crisps and other crap you can buy from a corner shop, along with 2 bottles of wine for just over a tenner.

I have a cornucopia of delicious foods to choose from right now, yet my life is still chaotic.

The vicious cycle goes like this: I start to feel stressed and anxious, which triggers an alcohol craving. I then buy 2 bottles of wine, 'planning' on only drinking one. I drink both bottles and wake up feeling awful, of course. The hangover triggers a stimulant craving, which can be temporarily alleviated with Red Bull, but that then causes me to feel anxious and jittery and crave alcohol. Allegedly, somebody identical to me but not me, tried taking Concerta (an ADHD medication) for a couple of weeks: it's often sold as Concerta, but that's because the previous brand - Ritalin - has negative connotations in patient's minds, like Prozac (tell the patient it's fluoxetine and they'll be much more likely to take it).

I think my health would benefit from:

  • Not drinking 1 or 2 bottles of wine every day
  • Not binging on unhealthy snacks while getting drunk
  • Going to a proper supermarket once a week, so I have food that I want to eat in stock, as opposed to going to the corner shop every day because I'm "hungry" but really it's to buy 1 or 2 bottles of wine too.
  • Not relapsing back into being a regular caffeine user
  • Finding some kind of Concerta/Adderall slow-release formula type medication that can help me face the next 27+ years of soul destroying office job bullshit, which only keeps me busy & concentrating for 5% of the time and the rest is like torture
  • Finding some kind of tolerable antidepressant, to help me through what I anticipate will be at least a year of feeling lifeless, joyless, demotivated and deriving almost no pleasure from the things I used to enjoy.
  • Maybe if that pile of pills is making me a bit too enthusiastic and excitable, bordering on the manic, I might have to consider a light mood stabiliser too - perhaps a low dose of Olanzapine, although I'm loathe to suffer the weight gain.

Specifically my mental health would benefit from:

  • Detoxing again from the sleeping pills, tranquillisers, sedatives and stimulants, which I've only used sporadically over the last 6 weeks - I have no benzodiazepine dependency, thankfully - but I need to 100% cease that ruinous vicious circle.
  • Getting a hair cut and washing my favourite clothes; maybe even buying a couple of new things I like... I seriously only buy new clothes every 3 years
  • Getting my apartment in a state where I'm not paranoid that the landlord might see a couple of bits of damaged decoration and freak out.
  • Securing a new contract, but with enough time to physically rest & recuperate before starting
  • Spending some time with my friends in Ireland, or going to a hostel where I can be around people, and socialise a bit, as well as sleeping lots, getting fresh air and generally having a long-overdue restorative holiday.
  • Being realistic about where I'm really going to thrive, or where I'm going to be isolated and lonely. Swindon is a big no, I think. Newport, I have one friend, but he's super busy with his kids. So, it's got to be London really.
  • Friends first - get a regular meetup sorted... a guaranteed one day of the week (minimum) where I'll see friend(s). The more friends the better. Concentrate on friends.
  • Being more aware of how easily I fall in love and become relaxed and comfortable in domestic life. I'm quite content deciding on dinner, cooking, eating, watching TV or a film, kissing and cuddling, sex, spooning, then a kiss goodbye in the morning with a nice hug... and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. I've been so isolated and lonely for so long that FOMO and jealousy of my partner's social life isn't a problem, and I just spend the time on my own... drinking. It doesn't leave me in a very secure place though, if I don't have my own friends and events.
  • Exercise. I put this on just because it's such an obvious suggestion, and one that I get all the time. It's not a bad suggestion. It's an impossible suggestion when all the other stuff listed above is broken. "You won't feel like doing it, but afterwards you'll feel more energised; it'll give you energy" - OK, what you're talking about are chemicals released to ease your muscle pain, which are actually opioids, so you get a literal 'high' after exercise, AND the fact that you're getting fitter. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, so to use energy does not give you energy. You're right, I don't feel like doing it, and I would benefit from being fitter, but as the Millennials are wont to say: "I literally can't even".
  • Speaking to friends on the phone or Facetime etc - I live my life in text, through a browser or an app. I'm in contact with sometimes hundreds of people a day (19.5k Twitter followers presently, for example) and some friends are good enough to regularly message me, but it's not the same as a live conversation where you can hear somebody's voice.

Well, and just because I'm making lists, here's the practical stuff I've got to sort urgently:

  • Car MOT on Monday morning
  • Answer phone/emails from agents RE: contracts
  • The world's biggest pile of stinky washing
  • Making sure my back bedrooms are at least passable and not likely to cause alarm to uninvited visitors

Less urgent is the redecorating, just because it's going to be a pain to organise.

nAlso, I did an epic job of cleaning the bathroom(s) spotlessly and mopping the floors and otherwise making my apartment pretty presentable, A lot of my TODO list has been tamed.

So, a bit more than just my food diary, but it hints at why for 5 out of 7 days I ate virtually nothing. It also hints at the three ways things could go: 1) no more food diary cos I'm dead, 2) food diary of junk which is making me fat, and alcohol which is making me unwell, 3) food diary that might be a bit more interesting (although it'll probably start with sandwiches and soups and pre-cooked meats).

Also, related content if it's going to be the "no more food diary": The Supercrack Diet

NOTE: I think the muscle damage/breakdown causes weight loss (at the expense of your kidneys) and sweating and dehydration cause further weight loss, but your body goes into shock and you just end up weak and more or less the same weight once you've rehydrated... although my tummy is half the size of what it was 6 weeks ago. Any sport scientist will tell you not to run out of glucose or water when exercising, or else you'll lose muscle mass, while any doctor will tell you that artificially raising your metabolic rate and putting strain on your heart (such as using fat-burners like DNP) is quite likely to kill you or permanently f**k you up.

You can lose weight by 'fasting' but it's for people with sedentary jobs, and also there's no point if you're going to undo your good work by binging on junk and alcohol on the 'normal' days.

Anyway, there's a little glimpse into my unhealthy lifestyle.

 

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CIP

4 min read

This is a story about preferential treatment...

European sockets

If you Google Translate "Very Important Person" (VIP) into Portuguese, you get "Pessoa Muito Importante" (PMI). It seems like the Portuguese prefer the acronym CIP, but I can't find a definition of what that stands for.

Anyway, as well as getting to spend a couple of days with my friend, I also get to be his guest in the airport lounge reserved for frequent fliers. The big advantage of this is a comfy seat near a power socket, where I can do a bit of work, write this blog post, and otherwise kill time until my flight starts boarding, which won't be for a few hours.

Most of the conversation with my friend during Saturday, Sunday and today, has revolved around middle-class guilt and social conscience. Is it right, for example, that the most wealthy are able to hide their money in Swiss bank accounts and offshore, to shield it from taxation? As a proportion of a person's income or net worth, it's the poor who shoulder the biggest burden in taxes, fees and other things - such as exorbitant interest rates on loans - which prejudice the opportunities of the most disadvantaged members of society, to escape from poverty.

A friend who's a chartered accountant has decided to become an independent consultant, like me. We discussed the tax efficiency of owning and operating our own companies versus paying full income tax and National Insurance on our gross income. Surprisingly, we pay slightly more tax than those who are PAYE (Pay As You Earn) and have their taxes deducted at source by their employers.

Also surprising is the laudable decision of some of my friends who have been lucky enough to become wealthy, to not hide their wealth offshore or in Swiss bank accounts - they're paying their fair share and playing by society's rules; they're giving back to the economies which they profited from. You might say that "laudable" is the wrong word, but there is a considerable burden involved in the administration of complex tax affairs, and the bureaucracy of ensuring that governments receive all the taxes which they are due. Often times, it would be far easier to avoid taxes than to pay them, because there's a whole industry which profits from providing simple and convenient services to the wealthy.

Are we being philanthropic; altruistic? No, of course not. The thing that's driving our behaviour is guilt. We feel guilty that we have been lucky when others have not been. Paying taxes doesn't absolve a person of that guilt, but deliberately avoiding taxes is something extra that the lucky ones should feel guilty about.

What about giving money to charity? Does that absolve a person of the guilt they feel about their fortune in life?

The problem is that a clean conscience can be bought very cheaply. A seemingly large charitable donation might actually be only a tiny fraction of a person's net wealth; a bit of 'disposable' income that wouldn't be missed at all. Even more perversely, tax rules can make a rich person's donation of "pocket change" look like a significant act of philanthropy, while a poor person's unavoidable tax burden is by the far the greater contribution, and yet not recognised as such.

Then, there's the protective bubble problem. If you work on a secure campus or private estate and live in a gated community, you're largely insulated from seeing poverty, homelessness and disproportionately protected from becoming a victim of crime. In fact, just living in a wealthy country, you're insulated from the global wealth disparity created by the subsidies, import tariffs and other economic weapons which are employed to keep the rich rich, and the poor poor.

After 3 days of chatting, my friend and I arrived at the conclusion that we'd have to go through 3 generations of misery to reach a state of global equality and social justice. When I say "we" I mean mostly the wealthiest 2% of people on the planet, which my friend is convinced we can count ourselves amongst; he and I.

How can I disagree with him that I enjoy a life of wealth and privilege which 98% do not, when I'm sitting in a leather chair typing these words on one of my 5 laptops, enjoying free electricity, free food & drink as well as having the leisure time to craft this valueless contribution to the internet's quadrillions of webpages.

It's OK though: I'm a CIP. I deserve preferential treatment.

 

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Trashing Tech

3 min read

This is a story about sabotage...

Macbook damage

This is my laptop I have with me while visiting my friend. It's had that damage since 2010. My nice new laptop is away being repaired.

My Apple watch screen is half-covered with a big black blob. It's pretty much useless now, so I don't even wear it anymore.

I bought a Macbook Air, which got damaged, and I'd spent so much getting it repaired that when it got damaged again, I just sold it for spares and bought my new laptop - the one that's currently being repaired.

What is it about me and damaging expensive technology?

Well, it's not just hardware. I pretty much threw away an entire tech startup company. My friend and co-founder managed to repair it and keep it profitable, but I had pretty much managed to destroy that company.

It's strange. I'm away on a short weekend vacation with my old friend who, 7 years ago, I used to share a house with. We were both doing tech startup companies. We were meeting the same mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists. We were being interviewed by the same journalists. We were with each other 24x7 for a pretty damn intense and important period of our entrepreneurial tech careers.

I don't feel embarassed that I screwed up my startup. I'm pleased that my friend's succeeded.

What I feel embarrassed about is that one of my arms has scars running along its length, and a big scar that I would usually cover up with my Apple Watch. What I feel embarrassed about is that I'm using my old laptop from all those years ago, and the reason is pretty much the same as why I have all those scars and my Apple Watch is irreparably damaged. I'm a damaged person, and I've damaged so much stuff during the on/off period I've been sick, which has been most of the last 7 years.

It's geek status symbol stuff, to have the latest Macbook Pro, Apple Watch and iPhone X, and I'm the guy who threw away his valuable tech startup, so I guess it'd be foolish for me to pretend like I'm something I'm not - to waste valuable cash on status symbols which I can't really afford.

The tough thing though is, I had/have those latest gadgets, but I trashed them in one way or another, and it's the story of how they got trashed that's the difficult thing. I want to be the happy, healthy, energy-filled and motivated guy who I was 7 years ago, but I'm not. I'm this broken damaged guy, with his broken damaged old stuff.

I guess I should just be grateful I'm alive.

 

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What's Missing from this Picture?

4 min read

This is a story about unnecessary packaging...

Holiday essentials

I've had a stressful morning. I had to package my Macbook carefully so that it could be safely sent away to be repaired. I had to locate the original packaging for my Virgin broadband router and box it up so it could be sent back to them, even though it's defective junk. I then had to find a UPS parcel drop-off point and a Collect+ drop off point to drop off the respective parcels. This required a trip to purchase bubble wrap, a suitable sized box and packing tape, as well as two more trips to two different drop-off places.

While I was out dealing with those chores, I also had to purchase a piece of carry-on luggage and some flip-flops. The flip flops were sold to me in a box. I don't know why flip flops need a box - just a simple cardboard clip to keep the left and the right flip-flop together is more than sufficient.

Anyway, I'm home now. I have located my passport. I have located some leftover Euros I had from the last holiday I took... 22 months ago. I opened the box containing my new flip-flops and lo and behold, there was a discrepancy in the number of flip flops present in the box - 50% of the required number of flip-flops were missing.

Do I drive back into town, park my car, walk to the shop and explain the situation in the hope that they admit their mistake and remedy it without quibble? Do I just purchase a second pair of flip-flops and then open and check inside the box before i leave the store? Do I just abandon the whole ill-fated exercise, and buy a pair at the tiny departure airport, where the shops will probably be closed? Do I take time out from the one single whole day I get to spend with my friend, without either of us having to worry about airport arrivals/departures, hotel check ins/out and all the rest of that crap, just to go looking for some suitable summer footwear?

I don't know why this is making me upset, because I don't even know if the nerve damage to my left foot/ankle is so bad that I can even wear a flip-flop on that foot. The last time I tried, I didn't have enough sensation and motor control to keep a flip-flop on my foot.

Also, my flight's delayed - French air traffic controllers on strike or something. My flight barely enters French airspace, but whatever... everyone should have the right to go on strike for better pay and conditions.

My 'holiday' is really just a day spent with a friend who I hardly ever get to see, then we both fly home on Monday. I have another week to go before my current gig comes to an end, so I need to make sure I take the money while it's there on offer.

"Have you got any holidays planned?" asked a person I spoke to on Friday, which is code for "we want you to work solidly until you drop dead". We'll have to see how badly they want me, because I really need a holiday - a proper holiday.

It seems churlish to complain, but I've had a month of hell. Breakup, losing my local job, getting sick, holiday plans pretty much cancelled, the stress of finding a new gig, the prospect of going back to London, the never-ending pressure to generate vast sums of cash to dig myself out of the hole... the hole I can never quite escape from. FML.

What was supposed to be a romantic beach holiday with my [ex]girlfriend has now turned into a very brief weekend meetup of two old friends. It'd have been far easier for us to meet in London, as he was there yesterday. He's travelled London -> Prague -> Lisbon -> Faro -> Lisbon -> Prague, and I'm travelling Wales -> Bristol -> Faro -> Bristol -> Wales. Our carbon footprint is criminal.

Hopefully I'll be in a better mood when I wake up in Faro tomorrow and I can hang out with my old friend for the whole day, free from commitments and responsibilities... I can put up with sweaty feet.

 

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