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

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

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Minimum Effort

2 min read

This is a story about the path of least resistance...

Messy desk

What's wrong with putting in the minimum amount of effort? What's wrong with cramming for a test the night before, instead of working hard every single day? What's wrong with only working when your boss is around to see what you're doing? What's wrong with cutting corners? What's wrong with any of it, provided the end result is the same?

Are the top grades I got in my exams any less valuable than the top grades achieved by the "good" students who always put in lots of effort the whole time?

Are the pay rises and promotions I get in the workplace any less valuable than the career achievements of the hard workers, who put in a great deal of effort that goes unnoticed and unrecognised?

The things that I didn't bother to do, that nobody really cared about anyway, so nobody even noticed that I didn't do... does it matter that I didn't do those things?

At the end of the day, the end results are the same. When I'm reduced to a piece of paper with my qualifications written on it, nobody has any idea how hard I worked - or didn't work - to achieve my qualifications. When I'm reduced to a job title, a salary and a few performance objectives, nobody has any idea whether I'm a productive, energetic, conscientious and diligent employee, or whether I'm a professional slacker.

In fact, isn't it better if I'm getting maximum pay for minimum effort? Haven't I somehow won at the game of life, if I've avoided all that pointless unnecessary work, and yet I get all the rewards which were supposed to be reserved for the hard workers? The ones who put in the effort should be proportionately rewarded, right?

Life doesn't seem to work like that.

 

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How I Became a Drug Addict Again

6 min read

This is a story about re-relapse...

Syringe

The title of this blog post, the hyphenated nonsensical word "re-relapse" and the image of an oral syringe which I happened to spot lying on the floor of a hospital, are all intended to set the tone of this piece: Everything you think you know about drug addicts is probably wrong, especially when referring to "drug addicts" as a collective group of mostly identical people.

I could easily wander into the territory of blathering on about "we're not all the same, you know" and other such clichés, but instead I thought I'd simply tell you the story of my re-relapse.

I guess how I became a drug addict again is far less interesting and important than why, so I'm actually going to explain some of the who and the what which means my story makes sense, I hope.

Back in November 2018 - less than 3 months ago - I was a drug addict. I also booked some flights to Mexico for my girlfriend and I, so that we could spend Christmas and New Year on the beach. This presented a problem: How does a drug addict go on holiday?

When I went on holiday to Turkey for a week in October 2018, I literally went cold turkey, which I thought was really funny because I had travelled to Turkey for a hot holiday during the cold UK autumn. The irony of it had a kind of poetic deliciousness, which I couldn't resist. Besides, I wasn't that much of a drug addict at the time.

During that week in Turkey, I struggled to sleep at first, without the drugs which I had become addicted to. Then I became incredibly tired and lethargic due to lack of sleep, and I didn't leave my hotel room for 3 days. However, by the end of the holiday I was able to enjoy some sunshine and I was also 'clean' - I was no longer a drug addict.

Now we must ask: If I had managed to get 'clean' and beat my drug addiction, why would I relapse? The answer is quite simple and straightforward really: Because I am using drugs as a coping mechanism for my ordinary day-to-day circumstances.

What about Mexico?

I had planned a 2-week holiday with my girlfriend, to Mexico, which would have been far more enjoyable than the holiday to Turkey, except for the fact that my drug addiction had escalated. I'm not sure what was so particularly awful about November, except that the UK weather was getting even colder and more miserable, but I found it necessary to augment my existing drug addiction with additional substances.

I did not want to travel through two international airports carrying controlled substances, for which I did not have a prescription. In the UK, it's a criminal offence to be in possession of certain medicines, unless you have a prescription. I did not have a prescription. One of the medicines which I needed to transport with me to Mexico via transatlantic flight, in order to maintain my drug addiction, was unfortunately illegal to possess in the UK without a prescription.

What was I going to do?

I procrastinated for a long while, and then with 3 weeks until the scheduled departure of our flight to Mexico, I decided to start reducing my dose a little bit every day. I tapered myself off one of the medications I was addicted to - Xanax - until I was no longer addicted to it, so I was then able to travel without being at risk of prosecution for trafficking narcotics across international borders.

Essentially, I got 'clean' again. Yet again. I've gotten 'clean' so many times.

Oh, did I mention that I also quit drinking?

Yeah. Don't try to quit Xanax in the space of 3 weeks if you're addicted to it. If you're addicted to Xanax, you need to taper down your dose really slowly or else you'll have problems.

I had problems.

I drank 9 pints (5 litres) of very strong beer and I don't remember many of the details, except that I went bat shit crazy and smashed some stuff up. I was pretty much blackout drunk, so my memory is very patchy. I was out of control. I was a mess. The worrying thing is how little of it I remember.

So, I quit drinking soon after I started trying to quit Xanax. Mixing alcohol and Xanax is a bad idea, but drinking alcohol while quitting Xanax is a disastrous idea.

However, quitting alcohol and Xanax, when you're addicted to both... that's hell.

I had 3 weeks where I felt like the world was about to end and life was not worth living. I had 3 weeks where I was absolutely convinced that every conceivable disaster was lurking just around the corner. I had 3 weeks of the most unbearably awful anxiety.

Then I went to Mexico.

Turns out you can just buy Xanax over-the-counter in a pharmacy in Mexico if you smile nicely and pay in cash. Obviously, I was well aware that it's illegal to sell Xanax in Mexico, but I was also well aware that it wasn't illegal for me to buy it or possess it. So, I bought a bottle of Xanax from a Mexican pharmacy, and I resumed my drug addiction. Xanax is branded Tafil in Mexico by the way... if you ever need to get some.

Then, at the end of my holiday in Mexico, which was awesome by the way, I threw the leftover tablets in the bottle into the trash, at the airport.

Since my holiday, my life has continued pretty much as normal. I don't drink - I've managed to remain almost completely sober since I quit alcohol back in December. My life is also normal, insofar as I'm a drug addict.

Every night I take a sleeping pill and a tranquilliser, and I do so because I need sleep and I need to be tranquil. My life circumstances dictate my need for the substances I use.

I imagine that I will become completely 'clean' and 'sober' again one day, but for the time being, I need to endure some pretty horrible life circumstances, and I find that the drugs I'm addicted to are helping me to cope, even though it's commonly thought that all drug addiction is automatically a bad thing.

What I wish for is not to be 'clean' and 'sober' but for the circumstances of my life to be more pleasant and favourable to a life without the 'crutches' of drugs, but what I wish for seems mostly impossible, at the moment. I can't achieve the impossible. I have to work within the limits which I'm constrained by. I have no control over most things in my life, which cause me a great deal of discomfort and unhappiness, but I've found my coping mechanisms which work.

The end.

 

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The Banality of Existence

4 min read

This is a story about the less glamorous jobs...

Car tyre

Some very simple things in my life are surprisingly difficult to organise and cause a great deal of anxiety. The accumulation of things which most people would consider trivial, is a consequence of a phase of my life which I should not probably be living through.

Those who have stuck together with their peer group, going through school, further education, higher eduction, university and forays into academic realms beyond, have had a well-trodden path to follow, which has made it extremely easy to go along with the herd.

Society corrals us through life, into jobs, relationships, and the process of "settling" somewhere. We become attached to a place, either because it's where close family live, where we spent the bulk of our time studying, or perhaps because it was where we spent the bulk of our career.

The weight of expectation placed upon us by our families, friends and the media, pushes us towards marriage and children.

We're carried along by a rapidly flowing river, with the currents too strong for us to swim against. The bulk of our destiny is inevitable, not free will or choice, like we would like to believe.

My car needs servicing, I need a haircut, I need a new belt, there is administrative paperwork which must be submitted to a government agency, there are numerous annual insurance policies which require renewal. I am continually harried and harassed for my time and money, by an unending queue of people who won't leave me in peace.

I try to comply with the demands of so-called 'normal' society but I find that there are gatekeepers everywhere, intent on frustrating me, delaying me, or thwarting me altogether.

I attempt to do my job to the best of my abilities, and I feel guilty about doing non-work tasks during my working day. I attempt to invest time each day in relationships outside my workplace: friends and family. Once commuting time, meal preparation time, housework time, washing time, hygiene time and all the other mandatory deductions from my leisure time have been made, there are then the other tasks: The letters to open, which no doubt demand money with menaces, or require me to fill in some ridiculous form and mail it, so that a bureaucrat somewhere can justify their job.

My photo album contains a depressing number of photographs which are not of pleasant things I've observed, but do in fact contain details I need for the operation of a fairly simple and humble life. The picture above is of one of my tyres, so that I could find a place to fit my car with the correct ones.

My photo album contains numerous pictures of my passport, driving license, bank statements, utility bills, council tax bills and other official documents, which are regularly demanded as proof of my identity. I spend my life perpetually proving that I exist and satisfying other demands of gatekeepers, who would prefer to see me homeless, penniless and destitute.

I suppose I'm not alone in this farcical existence, but it gives me little comfort to know that many of us - those who don't have the security of a permanent job and the ownership of our home - are constantly asked to jump through so many hoops.

My perceptions might be warped, but I feel like I'm more time poor than ever, which isn't supposed to be the case for a childless man who has been working a full-time career for over two decades.

I'll stop moaning now and get back to my administrative tasks.

 

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I Hate Renting Houses

7 min read

This is a story about the rentier class...

Assured shorthold tenancy

I spend a lot of time dealing with brain-dead individuals who think they should get paid a lot of money for jobs they're thoroughly incompetent at, as well as being so utterly unbelievably stupid that they would put a Terms of Service contract onto their website, which was stolen from a fast-food restaurant.

Unfortunately I have to deal with lettings agents who think it's OK to charge the best part of £400 or more, for putting a document in a photocopier and then filling in a couple of blanks, such as the name of the tenant and the amount of rent payable.

Like, I mean, how much do you actually think you should get paid for filling in 5 pieces of information onto a document you don't understand, and doing a bit of photocopying.

The UK government has helpfully provided a very nice model contract, for anybody who is looking to rent out their home. This document includes all kinds of useful guidance, such as "it's not OK to demand sex in lieu of rent" for f**kwits who think they can write whatever the hell they want into a contract, and it somehow supersedes the laws of the country.

You cannot, for example, draw up a contract that allows you to punch me, stab me and/or kill me, and avoid punishment for the crime, because I signed a so-called waiver. I cannot waive my rights using civil law. The criminal laws of the country will always take precedence over any contract law. That is to say that my statutory rights are not affected by any bullshit piece of paper that I sign.

When you buy a pair of shoes, you'll sometimes sign a piece of paper that says you can't return them and get a refund. However, that doesn't affect your statutory rights, and you're quite within your legal rights to return the shoes if they're faulty or defective in some way.

The law defends us from all sorts of unscrupulous unethical chancers who want our money but don't want to work for it - in short, they want our money, but they're not going to do any work to get it. Those people are called the rentier class who believe they're entitled to money for nothing.

The rentier class piss me off.

I just want to have a place to live. I want to have a secure home. That's all I want.

Here is an email, which I took the time to research and write on my goddam Sunday afternoon, when I'm supposed to be relaxing:

Dear XXX XXXX,

Many thanks for showing me around XXXXXXX on Saturday afternoon, and your prompt reply to my queries was greatly appreciated. I am interested in renting the property as it adequately met my requirements, but I felt I should write to you with regards to keeping a pet cat. The answer you supplied is not satisfactory I'm afraid.

I must draw you, your agency and the landlord's attention to the matter of UK law, when it comes to the keeping of pets. The Consumer Rights Act (2015) stipulates that the keeping of a pet cannot be reasonably refused, unless the pet would cause a nuisance to the occupiers of neighbouring properties or significantly increase wear and tear to the property. According to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999) The Office of Fair Trading deems a “No Pets” clause unlawful.

The law is very clear: "[a] landlord cannot exercise a blanket ban on pets". Your quote "the Landlord has stipulated No Pets at the property" which is an incontrovertible piece of written evidence of unlawful behaviour on the part of the landlord, you and your agency.

The property is unfurnished and has hard floors throughout, such that the keeping of a cat would clearly not increase wear and tear to the property. A cat would certainly not cause a nuisance to the occupiers of neighbouring properties. I noticed several neighbourhood cats during my visit to the property.

Given that the landlord has unreasonably refused for me to keep a cat at the property, which is an unlawful contravention of The Consumer Rights Act (2015) as a goodwill gesture I am prepared to offer a modest increase to the deposit and an additional contract clause whereby the tenant accepts any responsibility for pet damage to the property. This would give the landlord an exceptionally high level of protection, for the incredibly unlikely event that an ordinary domestic cat might cause damage or additional wear and tear. This extra money would be held in the Deposit Protection Scheme (DPS) in addition to the substantial deposit already proposed by your agency.

Naturally, the Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement would be amended, so that it is contractually stipulated that the keeping of one single cat was permitted. Any additional pets would require consent from the landlord, which is standard practice.

It is not my intention to turn the landlord's property into a zoo. It would be perfectly reasonable - for example - for the landlord to refuse the keeping of a large dog, which would be likely to bark loudly and thus cause annoyance to the neighbours.

My request is most reasonable and the UK courts will robustly defend my legal right to keep a pet cat. I hope you will forgive me for reminding you again that it is not lawful for a landlord to "exercise a blanket ban on pets and should not turn a request down without good reason". 

I humbly suggest you and your agency thoroughly familiarise yourself with the laws of England and Wales pertaining to landlords, tenants and letting agents, such that your future business is conducted lawfully. The necessary statutes which you and your agency should familiarise yourself with are: The Landlord and Tenant Act (1985), Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999) and Consumer Rights Act (2015).

I advise you to inform your client of any laws which he or she might not have been aware of, such that any more unlawful behaviour might be avoided in future. Perhaps you might then be so kind as to respond again to my question about keeping a pet cat, when you are next able to speak to your client.

It disappoints me that your agency who charge fees of £311.54 for the simple preparation of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement, should be so woefully ill-informed of the laws of the United Kingdom. Ignorance of the law is no defence in court. I am especially disappointed that you are charging a substantial professional fees for your services, when you are conspiring with your clients to break the law.

My advice is offered at the cost of a leisurely Sunday I could have spent spent relaxing, so I hope you appreciate the effort I have made in providing you with a comprehensive summary of how to conduct your business and advise your clients, without breaking the laws of England and Wales, which would be financially costly and reputationally damaging. Consider my free advice to be a goodwill gift.

I assure you that my only intention is to rent a property, with the statutory protections afforded to me by UK law, such that my right to live in peaceful enjoyment of the property as my home is not legally infringed. It seems like a reasonable request to me. Would you agree?

I trust this message finds you well and I hope to receive a reply at your earliest convenience.

I hope you had a good weekend.

Kind regards,

Nick

That's my politest possible way of saying you can't fuck with me, you rentier class c**t. And demanding to enjoy the same freedom in life that those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth get. We should not have a two-tier society, where the rentier class don't have to work, and the rentier class should not make unreasonable demands, such as disallowing the proletariat the comfort of having a pet.

Rant over.

 

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I Lost 5 Years of my Life

6 min read

This is a story about the wilderness...

Endless desks

Why am I not more rich and comfortable? Why don't I have financial security and a home which nobody can evict me from? Why do all my years of experience and all the massive multinational corporations on my CV assure me a comfortable standard of living?

Conversely, why haven't I ended up with a criminal record? Why haven't I ended up in jail? Why am I not dead?

Why am I not bankrupt? Why am I not sleeping rough? Why am I not an alcoholic or a drug addict?

Why is my physical health OK? Why is my mental health OK?

I've picked up my life and carried on as if nothing happened, but something very major did happen.

Luckily I had a head-start of 3 or 4 years on my peer group, at least in terms of career progression and the accumulation of wealth. When we do the math, it seems I'm no more than 1 or 2 years behind where I should be, and I'm rapidly catching up again.

I get frustrated that it's going to take a couple of years before I'm back in the position - in material terms - which matches my skillset and experience. I get frustrated that there's no way that I can accelerate the process of clawing my way back to the position in society which I used to occupy.

I could have arrived back at a position of health, wealth and prosperity much sooner, but my experiences during my wilderness years have altered me for life. Most people live in terror of loss: Losing money, losing assets, losing relationships and damaging their reputation. I learned during the difficult wilderness years that the world is a big enough place that even the most madcap escapades go entirely unnoticed.

It is with great pleasure and pride that I am returning myself to a position of status which gradually begins to approach the status I held before my fall from grace.

Is it shallow and vain and pretentious, to wish to maintain our status in society?

Bullshit.

At first, it was an adventure to sell my house, sell my car, give away all my possessions, sleep rough and truly start my life all over again. I felt a great sense of relief that I was unburdened by the constant worry that what I had worked so hard to get and to achieve, would be stolen or damaged. It was liberating and I had the time of my life, truly free from any sense of responsibilities or duties. I entrusted my fate to good fortune, and a healthy dollop of my own wit and ingenuity.

Then, I realised that my wide-eyed innocence and trust in people laid me wide open to exploitation. I'm sure I hardly had any money stolen off me by other homeless people, but as I began to get my life back on track, I found that there are an entitled, spoiled, brattish, immoral group of people who've never known suffering or deprivation, and they see it as their birthright to dip their hand into my wallet, instead of paying their own way. I attracted a lot of freeloaders, who had no guilt or conscience, when it came to stealing from me - these were people who've never slept rough; these were people who've never known what it's like to lose everything, and they never will, because they're spoiled brats who can telephone their mothers and fathers and receive massive cash handouts. Those freeloaders will never have setbacks in their lifetimes, because they're from wealthy, generous, loving families.

It's a source of great shame and damage to my self-esteem that I drive a very battered and rusty old car, and that I live in rented home in one of the poorest areas of the country. It's a source of great shame and embarrassment that I have indebted myself in order to pay my rent and bills, simply to house myself and feed myself. It's a source of constant worry and anxiety that my work colleagues might wonder why one of their "superstar" consultants dresses in worn-out clothes and gives away other clues which hint that the wealth they would expect me to have, is not present: I'm poor.

It's shit being poor. It's shit being poor when you work in a world where everybody who does my job as well as I do is not poor. The loss of status should not be underestimated.

When a man loses status, he is highly likely to lose his life.

It's one of the hardest things to do, to recover from a major setback, which has ruined your finances, your secure housing, your material possessions, like your new car and your nice clothes. The hard thing is knowing that everybody can see that you fucked up and it takes years and years and years to put things right. Some people will never be able to recover.

My recovery is not about mental health. My recovery is not about alcohol. My recovery is not about drugs. My recovery is about self-esteem, which is damaged so drastically, and is so hard to repair, that for most people they will just give up and kill themselves. It's a fatal blow.

One of the reasons I keep trying and I keep writing, is because I want to be one of the few people who's lived to tell the tale of coming back from such a major setback. Plenty of people have survived, but few have gone on to thrive. I want to tell the story of regaining my pride and my dignity, and of being indistinguishable from a person who didn't spend 5 lost years in the wilderness.

This is our little secret. Every day I pay off a little bit more of my debt and I fix up a little bit more of my life. Every day I become a little bit more like the person I would've been, if it hadn't been for my missing 5 years. This is our secret, because the joke is on those people who have absolutely no idea what I've been through.

At work, I feel so proud that I'm doing valuable work and I'm almost back to being as good as I always thought I was going to be, by the time I reached the age I am. I'm so proud of the work I do. I'm so pleased that my brain and my natural aptitudes and the talents I was fortuitously given, are being put to good use and I feel as competent and capable as anybody. I don't feel damaged, and that's so important for my self-esteem.

This isn't about pride. This isn't about regret. This is about the damaging effect that loss of status can have on a man, with fatal consequences.

 

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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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