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The world's longest suicide note

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

All opinions are my own

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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It's Psychological

5 min read

This is a story about it being all in your mind...

Splattered toilet

Uncontrollable shaking, jaw chattering, nausea, insomnia, restlessness, chest pains, elevated body temperature and sweatiness, breathlessness, diarrhoea and stomach cramps - it sounds like I'm physically sick, but I'm not. I genuinely believe that there's no physical reason why I'm experiencing all these symptoms. It's all in my head.

My symptoms are not due to disease, medication, drugs, alcohol, injury or any tangible physical thing. A medical examination - purely physical - would conclude that I'm in good health.

Why do I feel so damn awful then?

It's been months since I stopped taking the addictive sleeping tablets. It's been months since I stopped taking the addictive painkillers. It's been well over 6 months since I stopped taking the addictive sedatives and tranquillisers. It's been about a year since I stopped taking the stimulant I was addicted to. It's been over a year since I stopped taking opiates for the pain in my ankle. I'm completely clean and I recently had 5 days of sobriety, to prove that I hadn't become alcohol dependent and give my liver a break from the booze.

From what we understand of addiction, there are physical addictions, which we treat with substitute prescribing because the physical symptoms are too awful for addicts to withstand, and there are psychological addictions, which are just a lack of willpower and an indication of moral deficiency and bad character. We understand that psychological addictions are easy to deal with - just quit cold turkey and get over it.

It upsets me that I've done all the hard work of getting off at least 8 addictive substances, with 7 of them considered to be physically addictive, but the 8th still has a psychological hold on me, somehow... 1 year later. That's not supposed to happen. In the textbook, once you quit drugs your life becomes amazing and brilliant and perfect and you never look back. Certainly, the textbook will tell you that physical addictions are real addictions, and psychological addictions are not real addictions at all - they're all in the mind.

So why is it that I'm so sick?

If it's all in my head, why do I feel so nauseous?

If it's all in my head, why is my body shaking uncontrollably?

If it's all in my head, why are my symptoms so manifestly physical that other people can notice them?

Addicts are taught to hate themselves. We're told that we're bad people; that our problems are all our own fault. We're told that we have bad character; we're weak; we lack the moral fibre to buck our ideas up and behave properly. We're told that we're worthless scum... worse than worthless, in fact - a menace to society and death's too good for us.

How can it be then, that I've done all the right things and proven my worth to society; I've proven that I can white-knuckle my way through cold turkey and get clean from not just 1 addictive substance but 8. I've done all the right things, but there's still very a real and tangible physical manifestation of my addiction, which isn't supposed to exist because any residual addiction that I still have is psychological apparently.

It upsets me that I've done all the hard work and proven that I've got incredible willpower, yet this psychological problem with physical manifestation still plagues me.

With my bipolar disorder, I have to be very careful to manage my stress levels, make sure I get enough sleep, have a good routine, eat well and generally look after myself, but I still suffer bouts of depression and episodes of mania. I have to be very careful to not get carried away when the early warning signs of mania and the triggers are present. I have to struggle an incredible amount to hide the fact that I regularly have debilitating depression and suicidal thoughts.

With addiction, we're told that there aren't any tablets to treat it, unless it's a physical addiction. My kind of addiction has supposedly been cured, because I've used the only treatment option that's available: willpower. For over a year, I've managed to control my addiction to my substance of choice, by simply willing my addiction to go away.

It seems a little remarkable to me that I've managed to rebuild a lot of my life and I appear to be a very functional fine upstanding member of society, but yet I'm sick enough to cause concern to my nearest and dearest. How can I be so sick when I've been doing all the right things? How can I be so sick when I haven't done anything wrong? I've followed the textbook to the letter, but reality does not correlate with the wishful thinking you find in the textbooks.

In a perfect world, I'd disappear for a month and go lie a beach in a hot country. In a perfect world, my income would be secure. In a perfect world, I wouldn't have Damocles' sword dangling over me all the time. In a perfect world, I'd put my health first and society's expectations and the unbearable pressures on me second.

This is not a perfect world. I'm trying to build a glider while falling off a cliff.

 

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Self Defamation

6 min read

This is a story about making yourself look like an idiot...

Movember

I started this blog as a suicide survivor who was interested in suicide prevention. I started this blog because my head was buzzing with ideas for how technology could be used to help people at risk of suicide. I started this blog because trying to explain to colleagues, friends and family what was going on with me had nearly killed me - it was an unwinnable battle, because nearly everybody makes the same incorrect presumptions and carries near-identical prejudices.

Only a fool would try the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, but if I had a pound for every time somebody has suggested yoga, mindfulness, jogging, kale smoothies and all the rest of the "wow thanks I'm cured" quick fixes that a person with mental illness gets bombarded with, then I'd be a very rich man. Equally, explaining the same thing over and over again - "yes I've had mental health and substance abuse problems, but no I'm not going to stab you in your sleep or rob you" - was an exhausting madness.

I needed to move from the position where my work colleagues had no idea that I'd been a homeless drug addict when they hired me to work on the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe, to the position where my colleagues had seen me working very effectively in the office and been a valuable member of the team, yet they began to understand a little of the difficulties I'd faced in my personal life. I didn't want to have to hide my mental illness - bipolar disorder - and I didn't want to have to hide my problems of the past, which included homelessness and substance abuse.

Pretending to be Mr Boring Corporate Worker Bee was exhausting, and I already had been through enough, trying not to run out of money, trying to get off the streets and trying to get clean.

In June 2015 I was a homeless junkie, arranging interviews while sleeping in a park. I got an interview for a job, which I was nearly an hour late for because I fell back to sleep after the agent phoned me to wake me up, and then I had to get showered, changed and rush across London. In July 2015 I was living in a hostel in a 14-bed dormitory, trying to do my job, but I was still a junkie. In early September 2015 I started this blog. In late September 2015 I managed to get an apartment. By December 2015 I had 2,000 Twitter followers, so I decided to go fully public and write a blog post called "Cold Turkey" on Boxing Day, which was about my problems with substance abuse.

By accident or design, my blog has recorded every aspect of my illness: homelessness, depression, mania, self-harm, suicide attempts, hospitalisation, near-bankruptcy and destitution, eviction, relationship problems, family estrangement, poly-substance abuse and my attempts to get back on my feet, plus the relapses.

I've written down every single thing that you never wanted to know and that nobody would ever tell you because it'd be too likely to lead to prejudice, discrimination, reputational damage, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of face, bullying, victimisation, taunts, jeers, social isolation, marginalisation, undesirable labels, being laughed at behind your back, becoming unemployable... a pariah.

Perhaps you think I'm stupid.

I did this because there are lots of people who try and fail to deal with debilitating mental illness and dreadful addictions. People try the same old things, which have terrible results. We know that the things we often try are spectacularly useless, because so many people are suffering and so few are recovering. Particularly in the field of addiction, the things that people try are not successful at all. For people who have the triple-whammy of mental health problems, substance abuse problems and money problems, they're screwed - they're almost definitely going to wind up destitute and dead.

There's nothing particularly interesting in yet another story about somebody who went to Alcoholics Anonymous and found God, only to then be caught up in a never-ending cycle of recovery and relapse that eventually destroys their health and takes them to an early grave, along with a lot of time and effort wasted thanking the sky monster and a lot of lying and deception... telling people they're clean and sober when they're really not at all.

I did this because it's hard and it's risky, but at least it's different.

Once or twice I've suffered prejudice and discrimination because of this public document which tells the world about my very worst faults and failings, but mostly it's served its purpose, which is to save me the time and energy that's wasted answering the same stupid questions, humouring people when they offer the same lame "quick fixes" and suffering the prejudice and discrimination because people guess, and they guess wrong, unless they can see the truth for themselves.

It annoys me that I can be a good co-worker, boss, friend, tenant, borrower, boyfriend, citizen... whatever... but only until people know my labels: homeless, junkie, bankrupt, mental health issues. As soon as people think those labels are attached to me, they treat me like a thief or a murderer. As soon as people hear those labels in connection with me, they think I'm going to steal their money for drugs, leave HIV infected needles in their baby's cot and murder them in their sleep because "the voices told me to do it".

The labels I attach to myself - currently only bipolar - I do so freely of my own choosing, because it's convenient shorthand for me.

I'm toying with the idea of switching out "bipolar" for "drug addict" because I think it's more provocative. I think that most mental health problems elicit sympathy, except for substance abuse disorder, which is seen as a bad choice made with free will - addicts are to blame for their own predicament. So, what about somebody who doesn't take drugs calling themself "drug addict" then? If addicts choose drugs, how's about I choose the label, even though I don't take drugs?

I'm defaming myself to see what happens. I'm defaming myself because I want to push boundaries. I'm defaming myself because I want to shake up your idea of what a homeless, bankrupt, junkie person with mental health problems looks like. I'm defaming myself, because I'm pissed off with the shame, the stigma and the prejudice.

I've done the hard work. I've earned the right to be myself. Go ahead... judge me.

I've provided everything you could ever possibly want to judge me. Knock yourselves out.

 

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My Government Made Me a Criminal

9 min read

This is a story about changing the law...

Legal high packets

In 1920 in the UK, heroin and cocaine were made illegal to possess - if you were alive when heroin and cocaine could legally be bought and sold, you're 98 years old, or older. Assuming that becoming a drug addict isn't generally possible until you're old enough to obtain money, score drugs and get high without your parents noticing, let's assume that you'd have to be a 12-year-old heroin addict back in 1920, in order to have been affected by this change in the law, which means that you'd be 110 years old today, assuming you're still alive.

Having tried various antidepressants and mood stabilisers which were prescribed by my doctor, I became frustrated with the fact that most of the medications available to those who are suffering with depression, are slow acting - taking some 6 to 8 weeks to become effective - and they cause weight gain, sexual dysfunction and somnolence. Given that I valued my appearance, my sex life and my job, the side effects of the medications on offer were intolerable.

Through extensive research, I found many medications which are not commonly prescribed, but which had shown considerably better efficacy in clinical trials than the SSRIs and other antidepressants which were on offer through the NHS. These medications were not controlled substances, so I was able to legally purchase them from overseas pharmacies and have them delivered to me in the post.

My self-experimentation led me to a medication called bupropion - marketed as Wellbutrin - which is actually France's most popular antidepressant, but doesn't have a license for use as an antidepressant in the UK. Bupropion was very effective and fast-acting - it alleviated my symptoms of depression, and appeared to have no intolerable side effects. However, at higher doses I suffered insomnia and panic attacks. I discontinued its use.

Growing more desperate to find something as effective as bupropion - which had given me welcome and much needed relief from my depression - I turned to a group of medications for treating Parkinson's disease. These had terrible side effects, including a period where I became narcoleptic. Clearly my self-experimentation had become risky and I even induced in myself pseudo-Parkinson's symptoms briefly, which mercifully went away soon after discontinuing my experiment with L-DOPA, without lasting damage.

You have to understand that it was my desperation to feel better after years of suffering with depression and low mood, which drove me to take these risks and use myself as a human guinea pig. Given how suicidal I had been, there was only upside for me - if I died, that was likely to happen anyway through suicide; if I felt better - even briefly - then I had succeeded.

Through a tabloid newspaper, I became aware of legal highs. The tabloid newspaper's sensationalistic coverage of the legal highs was a great advertisement for something I hadn't known about or tried before. I was ready and willing to experiment with legal highs, given that I had already exhaustively experimented with all the medications I could lay my hands on.

The very first legal high that I obtained was bk-MDMA, also known as methylone. This chemical cousin of MDMA - also known as ecstasy, Molly, Mandy, X etc. - had similar properties but lacked a lot of the telltale giveaway side effects of MDMA, such as jaw-clenching and other involuntary mouth movements known colloquially as "gurning". Its mildly stimulating effects restored the energy and enthusiasm for life that had been stolen from me by depression - it was instantly curative, which is everything I'd ever hoped for.

bk-MDMA was made illegal in the UK in April 2010, but thankfully I was not addicted to it. No plan had been made to help any of the people who had become addicted to the legal highs, which overnight became illegal highs. No detox and rehab places had been made available. No medical support was available. No addiction counselling had been made available. Nobody thought about what would happen to all the people who had become addicted to substances that were completely legal one day and illegal the next. I was one of the lucky ones - I was able to abruptly stop taking bk-MDMA, but of course my depression then returned with a vengeance.

After 2010 followed a period of cat-and-mouse where those people who were addicted, or like me were self-medicating using legally available substances, were then driven out of dependency - not through choice - to then seek an alternative, which global free-market capitalism was only too happy to provide. Out of desperation, I obtained and experimented with every legally available substance I could obtain, in order to treat my medication-resistant depression.

Sadly, during this time I experienced total burnout due to the demands of my business, the collapse of my marriage and subsequent divorce, and other factors which put me at risk of addiction. In this perfect storm, I was careless and ended up experimenting with a substance which all my research had told me was exceptionally risky and should be avoided. Out of desperation I tried a substance I said I never would. It turned out to be fiendishly addictive, even though it was legal.

The cat-and-mouse game of making substances illegal - criminalising the unfortunate addicts caught the trade war - had absolutely nothing to do with health and public safety... I was one of the victims finally caught me in the net and criminalised, through no fault of my own. I had an addiction to a substance that had become illegal overnight, with nothing put in place to help me escape addiction's vice-like grip. No detox, no rehab, no treatment, no legally prescribed substitute, no medical advice, no support, no guidance, no nothing - I just woke up one day, and I was a criminal. I was wilfully and knowingly criminalised by my own government.

My attempts to stay on the right side of the law are documented above. Pictured are legal high packets of substances that could be legally bought until as recently as 2016. These could be bought in shops or via the internet. I attempted to find a legal substitute, so that my addiction did not make me a criminal, but even this route became barred to me. Addictions do not respect the law, just as much as you cannot make a law that says "all people called fred must by law become dogs" and POOF! suddenly all Freds magically turn into a dog - that's wishful magical thinking. One cannot simply legislate to get rid of addiction - addiction is an illness and it needs to be treated.

I'm not pro-legalisation. I don't think that all drugs should be legal. I think that drugs are dangerous. However, it's clearly immoral to criminalise an addict.

If I was committing crime - such as theft - to fund my habit, then I agree that those crimes have been crimes for a very long time. However, what is my crime? What crime did I commit? How did it come to pass that I'd become a criminal, with no opportunity to avoid it given my dependence on the substances in question?

The police, using their discretion, saw fit to caution me on multiple occasions for the same offence - namely possession of a controlled substance. Normally this wouldn't happen and breaking the law for a second time would automatically lead to prosecution, but perhaps the Crown Prosecution Service saw that as a test case, it would have set a disastrous precedent for their new laws.

The New Psychoactive Substances act of 2016 hinges on the central word: psychoactive. In order to obtain a conviction, it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the substance deemed illegal is in fact psychoactive. However, as anybody who has read the mighty tomes Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved and Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved by Alexander Shulgin, will know that it's impossible to predict which substances will be psychoactive and which will not, without experimenting on a human test subject. Ethically it is not conscionable to experiment on humans, purely for the purposes of obtaining criminal convictions, but it's the only way that a conviction could viably stand under the government's new law - otherwise the test of beyond reasonable doubt cannot possibly stand because the burden of proof has not been met to prove the psychoactivity of a new and novel substance.

Today I'm clean and substance-free, but I have police cautions which will remain on record for life, and will not be 'filtered' until 6 years have elapsed, which prevents me from working in jobs which require an enhanced level of background checks. I cannot, for example, use my outdoor pursuits instructor qualifications to teach children to rock climb, abseil, sail dinghies or walk in the mountains. I leave it to the reader to decide whether my punishment is commensurate with my crimes, and what danger I pose to the general public.

I take a huge risk writing about this so publicly, but I feel that it's more important to publish this information than it is to maintain my privacy and anonymity. I feel sorry for those who, like me, have been criminalised by a government that doesn't give a damn who's victimised by their legislation, and whose lives are consequently ruined. I'm very lucky that I don't have a criminal record. Others have not been so lucky, because they are not so well educated and informed as me - they're vulnerable.

Drug addicts will always be a convenient scapegoat, because they're weak and vulnerable. I hope that in telling my story, you can see that addicts aren't evil, immoral and lacking in willpower. Our circumstances dictate the outcome - we don't make our choices freely.

 

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Alcohol Addiction

7 min read

This is a story about being functional...

Bottles of liquor

In every supermarket, corner shop, convenience store, licensed café, restaurant and in vast numbers of bars, pubs, clubs and other establishments where people gather to spend money and socialise, there is always alcohol on sale. Alcohol is ubiquitous. It's always possible to get cheap booze quickly, wherever you are - you're never further than a short walk and a couple of quid away from intoxication.

The weather in the UK is pretty miserable. We get hardly any snow, and there's only a couple of mountains that have a ski lift - it's quicker and easier for me to fly to France, Austria, Switzerland or Italy, than it is for me to drive all the way to Scotland, where the mountains aren't very high and the snow's really poor. The pleasant months of weather in the UK are May through to September, and the rest of the time it's grey and overcast; drizzly and thoroughly miserable. Our summers are often plagued by rain, although the weather is at least pleasantly warm by British standards, but don't forget your brolly even in August. It's enough to drive anybody to drink.

Our little island is quite overcrowded. The industrial revolution led us to abandon our rural lifestyle and move to the cities, seeking our fortune. Our cramped towns and cities have rows and rows of terraced worker cottages, which are too small to comfortably accomodate a family. As our social fabric disintegrated in the 1960s and 1970s, we built brutalist concrete monstrosities, very similar to Soviet-era blocks, which could house vast numbers of people who serve no useful economic purpose in the age of robotics, technology, automation, IT and the boom of the service industries. The vast majority of Britons are struggling to just-about-manage on god-awful estates, some of which were built by councils as social housing, and others were built by a handful of massive property developers. Estates comprise huge numbers of cheap and nasty houses built on the outskirts of dismal towns, which were already struggling to provide the necessary infrastructure to educate, transport, entertain and look after the health of local residents. We have not scaled well.

Overcrowding has reached such problematic levels, that cities such as London, Bristol and Manchester have no-go areas, where drugs, guns, knives and prostitution are the backbone of their black-market economies. In those areas predominantly populated by people who are considered economically redundant, there is little hope of escaping poverty, except by selling drugs or selling your body. Gangs compete for their turf, and violence is rife.

Meanwhile, we have seen the rise and rise of the bullshit job. While the economically redundant are given a pitiful state handout and left to rot on their council estates, the 'cream of the crop' will be able to study at university and obtain the necessary academic credentials to get a job that's completely unrelated to their field of study, which will mostly involve pointless boring meetings, Excel spreadsheets and a ridiculous volume of emails about absolutely nothing. The service industries produce nothing - no real value to the economy, no productive output - but they account for 85% or more of the so-called economy. Paper gets shuffled around in increasingly elaborate ways of obfuscating the fact that nothing of any importance is being done. Our smartest people are very busy doing nothing... and the smarter ones quickly figure this out and become quite disillusioned with the whole sham.

All of these things contributes to a toxic environment which makes people depressed, demotivated, stressed, anxious, but horribly trapped by their mortgages, car loan repayments. Despite stress and exhaustion, there persists a futile and flawed belief that if we only work hard enough, we'll be able to elevate ourselves from our dismal situation and build a better life for us and our family. When the workers eventually realise that life in the UK is a massive con, and we're going to be stuck in our dead-end job that we hate until the day we die - and our children are going to struggle just as much, if not more - then we need vast quantities of antidepressants, anxiety pills, tranquillisers, sedatives - and alcohol - in order to allow us to ignore the horrible situation and carry on functioning. Our nation is packed full of functional addicts.

Alcohol is used because of its ubiquity. It's self-medication that's available on every street corner. The proportion of the average family budget that gets spent on alcohol, versus food, is quite staggering - alcohol is the glue between the pooh... the only thing that's allowing people to carry on being functional in such a toxic environment; under such a hostile conditions.

Alcohol is the cause of so much obesity, as well as the other health-damage that accompanies its chronic consumption. If we really cared about people's health, we wouldn't bully and hector them to give up their crutches, but we would instead improve the quality of people's lives. If we make the world a less depressing and stressful place, we'll see alcohol consumption levels naturally drop.

I hate that I have to drink, just to get through the working week. I hate that I'm using a really fattening and health-damaging drug to salve my stress, and to help me to cope, but it's freely and readily available without having to see a condescending, patronising and unhelpful doctor, who has no sympathy and compassion for the day-to-day struggles of the proletariat. Doctors enjoy a position of high social status and an income that is many times greater than the average wage - they have no idea what life's like in the real world, for ordinary people - and while my overall experience with doctors has been a mostly positive one, the elites completely fail to grasp the awfulness of life for ordinary people, and fail to sympathise with the plight of the just-about-managing struggling masses.

Our doctors are trained in acute medicine - disease and injury - and are not succeeding at treating the chronic conditions that arise from the current economic climate, which is so toxic to mental health. Instead of lecturing, hectoring and bullying people because they use alcohol, cigarettes, coffee and drugs to be able to cope, our medical community needs to recognise that people are driven to use substances because of their intolerable living conditions. The mental health epidemic and scandalous suicide rates are all the proof we need that the model of medicine which dished out bucketloads of antibiotics is not succeeding in saving lives, when it dishes out bucketloads of antidepressants - clearly it's not working and suicide and mental health problems are the number one public health issue we're facing.

Having access to a fast-acting drug which can help when the stress levels become unbearable - when life becomes unliveable - is vitally important for a society that wishes to treat its people with some degree of sympathy and compassion for their plight... people need something to ease their suffering.

I think alcohol is a terrible drug, and I pity those who have become addicted to it, but it's plain to see the reasons why people drink too much, and it's not that they've got 'addictive personalities' or they lack willpower - it's that their lives are fucking shit and they've got to find a way to cope.

I wish I could quit alcohol, but how would I cope without it?

 

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Comfort Eating

5 min read

This is a story about getting fat...

Lobster and burger

In December I started a lovely little self-contained project. I flew to Warsaw to gather the requirements from the client and then I flew back to London. I was living in AirBnBs and travelling home to Wales every weekend. I was living out of a suitcase, but it was OK because I was busy getting on with my project.

Then I finished the project.

The project was only supposed to take 6 weeks, but I finished it in 3. I spent another 3 weeks polishing the finished result and adding every bell and whistle I possibly could to create a completely spectacular Rolls-Royce solution, but then the project was well and truly finished and there was nothing left to do.

The team I was working with were based in Warsaw, and I was based in London. I had nobody to even chat to in the office, to while away the hours. I was bored out of my mind. The client was quite happy for me to sit around doing nothing, and he even wanted to extend my contract for a further 6 months beyond the original 3 months, but I was losing my mind with the boredom.

To cope with the boredom, I started to drink. I was drinking heavily. At one point I was drinking 2 bottles of wine a night, every night.

At the start of last September I had a benzo habit that had gotten out of control. I was taking several Valium and Xanax every day, and then a couple of zopiclone and zolpidem at night, plus a whole load of pregabalin. All those medications are GABA agonists, which is to say that they're hypnotic-sedative/tranquilliser type drugs that all act in the same way... very similarly to alcohol. I was physically addicted to those medications and if I stopped taking them then I would have a seizure that might kill me.

By the time I started that project back in December, I had managed to quit the Valium, Xanax and zolpidem. However, I had stopped but then started taking the pregabalin again because I was so stressed out by the travelling and the new job, and the fact I was homeless and rapidly running out of money. The pregabalin soothed my jangled nerves during the day, and the zopiclone helped me to sleep at night. With the combination of those two medications, I was able to limp through that 3-month contract in London.

I drank a lot when I was in London because I was bored and I was withdrawing from the benzos, and I hated the job because I was so isolated and lonely, and I hated the travel and the AirBnBs. I was suicidal A LOT of the time.

Along with the drinking, I got into bad eating habits. I would have fried chicken from KFC and burgers from McDonalds. I would have greasy curries and fatty kebabs. I lived on fast food and vast quantities of wine. I really let myself go, because I hated my life so much and it was so unbearable.

In January I decided that I needed an incentive to quit the London life and base myself in Wales full-time, so I started dating. I met a lovely girl who enjoys eating out, getting takeaways and drinking wine. We've had a great time, eating, drinking and being merry.

Now I'm feeling fat.

My girlfriend and I have stuffed our faces with fine food and wine for the last 3 months, and I'm feeling fat and unfit. I've had a brilliant time, but I've really let myself go. I've stuffed my face without a single ounce of restraint.

There's a canteen at my new workplace, and I stuff my face with chips, burgers, pizza, burritos, pies and numerous other incredibly unhealthy foods, every single lunchtime. Gone are the days of my relatively healthy lunches that I used to have in London. My lunches in Wales are nothing but carbs, carbs and more carbs.

All the money I've earned has so far been spent on living expenses. I'm running out of money, although I should get a much needed cash injection early next week, which can't come soon enough, because it's been really expensive getting myself back on my feet - renting an apartment and buying a car so I can get to work. It's been really stressful, having the threat of bankruptcy hanging over me for so long. It's been so stressful being so short of cash.

Because of the unbearable stress, and the dreadful withdrawal that I've been through from stopping all those highly addictive tranquillisers and sleeping pills, I've been compensating with comfort eating and alcohol. I've been drinking bucketloads and eating far too much. I've put on weight, and I'm depressed about that - it affects my self-esteem.

Hopefully, money will come flooding in next week, and I'm booking a holiday for mid-June, which can't come soon enough, because it's been a ridiculous 21-month slog without a holiday to get to this point, and I still have a month and a half more to go before I finally get a nice break.

I'm using alcohol and food as a crutch, because I'm not taking any medication and I'm not taking any time off work. I'm stressed and exhausted, and the thing that's suffering is my health; my weight; my appearance. It depresses me that I've let myself go, but I've been dealing with more than I can handle. Frankly, it's a miracle that I've made it this far.

So, as if I haven't worked hard enough, I'll need to cut down my drinking, exercise more and eat less. That sucks. At least there's a holiday and summertime on the not-too-distant horizon.

 

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All Work and no Play Makes Nick a Dull Boy

7 min read

This is a story about relentless monotony...

Sleepy Nick

I fell asleep at my desk today. I haven't had any time off since November. I spent November writing a novel, so I guess I haven't had any time off since October. I was in hospital in October and I moved house, so I guess I haven't had any time off since September. I was in hospital in September and I tried to commit suicide and I lost my job and I was evicted, so I guess I haven't had any time off since July. I moved house and started a new job in July, so I guess I haven't had any time off since June. I was selling loads of my stuff, trying not to go bankrupt, while also trying to get a job in June, so I guess I haven't had any time off since May. I was quitting supercrack, having an episode of medication-induced mania from California rocket fuel and breaking up with my girlfriend in May, so I guess I haven't had any time off since April. I was a drug addict in April. This is what I was doing back in April.

Dark Web

Here I am looking at the dark web a little over a year ago. I'm probably not buying anything that would be illegal because I already had enough supercrack to last me 2 years. The fact I'm wearing clothes and sitting in my lounge, taking recognisably normal-ish photographs suggests that a little over a year ago, things were going OK.

Night vision

Oh no I spoke to soon. This night-vision photograph indicates that I was going bat-shit insane while high on supercrack. I took this photograph only a couple of days after the one before, where I was sat in the lounge browsing the dark web. This photograph was taken about a year ago.

Barricaded door

What the hell is THAT? Well, it's pretty obvious that I've barricaded myself in my bedroom. This photograph was taken one year and one day ago. This photograph perfectly illustrates my subconscious fears of privacy invasion - that people are going to burst in on me, shame me and violently attack me. I don't come across as very paranoid in day-to-day life, but I'm very traumatised, and this is my reaction that that trauma: I barricade myself in to protect myself from my parents and ex-wife. It's bat-shit insane, of course, but this is my underlying psychology.

Tray of food

Looks like I was eating some food. I'd probably barricaded myself in my bedroom for days. I'd probably not slept for days. My life was a horrific mess a year ago. I had a virtually unlimited supply of supercrack and my addiction was raging out of control. Clearly I was paranoid because of drugs and sleep deprivation, but what was the seed of that paranoia? I wonder if it could have anything to do with having the rug pulled out from under my feet - being muscled out of my own home; being horrifically injured in my own home; being punched in the face or suffering a horrific injury to my leg, at the hands of my ex-wife and parents. I wonder if it could have anything to do with them. I was trapped in a corner for so very long, with no means of escaping my tormentors, who were demonstrably vile, violent and abusive. Fuck them. That kind of trauma has a lasting effect.

Bathroom barricade

My paranoia reached such ridiculous levels that I barricaded the door to my ensuite bathroom using my laundry bins and some clothes storage boxes. Clearly I just wanted to be left alone. Clearly I didn't feel safe. Yes, it's paranoia that's come about because of drug abuse and sleep deprivation, but there's got to be a seed too. Nobody gets this paranoid unless they have their ex-wife kicking doors in and screaming abuse at the top of her lungs. Nobody gets this paranoid unless they have their parents humiliating them and bursting in on them, and dragging them out of their own home. There's a seed for paranoia. There's always a seed.

Uppers and downers

Something to help me sleep (zopiclone) and something to help me cope and function (dexamfetamine). You can't end a horrific addiction instantly. There's no cold turkey when you're in as deep as I was. I was too dependent. To attempt to suddenly quit overnight would have caused me unbearable withdrawal symptoms and would have required me to be hospitalised. This is what I prescribed myself - two medications for harm reduction. Two medications that I used to wean myself off the dangerous and highly addictive supercrack.

I flushed that big bag of supercrack a year ago. There was enough to last me a couple of years, easily. I can't remember when exactly I flushed it, because my life was chaotic, but the evidence suggests that it was at this point I decided to get clean, using substitute prescribing.

Things didn't go smoothly, but it's very difficult to deal with a major addiction as well as mental health problems and all the practical problems that came about because my life had disintegrated. I needed to get money, get a job, get an apartment I could afford. I needed to move house, move city. I needed to get a new girlfriend and a new group of friends. I had a false start in Manchester, but I tried again in Wales... I'm trying again in Wales.

Maybe you think my life is easy and everything is sorted out, because I earned bit of money, which I spent renting an apartment and buying a car so that I can get to my new job. Maybe you think my life is easy because I get up and go to work every day, and I'm doing a good job and my bosses are impressed with me. Maybe you think my life is easy because I've 'bounced back' from losing two apartments, running out of money three times and being hospitalised twice. Maybe you think my life is easy, because I've made it look so easy, quitting supercrack, Valium, Xanax, tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodiene, pregabalin, zopiclone and zolpidem, which are all highly addictive. Maybe you think my life is easy, because I've gone 7 months unmedicated and I haven't had a single mental health episode that's caused me to commit suicide or do something else drastic to fuck up my life. Maybe you think my life is easy because my finances are improving and I've got a girlfriend. Maybe you think none of what I went through in the last year was very hard. Maybe you think none of what I've been through in the last year has caused any lasting damage.

I'm in my 5th consecutive month of full-time work without a holiday. I'm working my bollocks off. All I do is work work work, because I'm running as fast as I can to get myself into a position where my housing is secure - nobody can evict me - and I'm financially secure. I constantly have to ignore my physical and mental health, because I so desperately need to get myself into a position where I can collapse in a heap and have a minor nervous breakdown.

Yes, I can do stuff like this - I can save myself; I can come back to life; I can return from the brink of destitution and make it look very easy.

It's not easy.

 

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Rock Bottom

7 min read

This is a story about quality of life...

Warchalking

You would have thought that rock bottom would come when you're sleeping rough, arrested by the police, thrown into a cell, you've spent all your money on drugs, you've got a physical dependency, you end up hospitalised or locked on a psych ward. You would have thought that losing your job, your apartment and tarnishing your otherwise squeaky clean CV, credit score and other things that are important to give you access to well-paid respectable work, would be the most crushing blow. In fact it's the lead-up to the point where you lose everything that's far worse. Once you're cut adrift and tossed by the wind and the waves, then you might as well just relax and go with the flow.

I woke up this morning, having been awake since 3am, worrying about the tricky transition between two contracts that are worth six figures, annually. It's a nice problem to have, right, to have two companies offering to pay you big fat wads of cash for your time and expertise, but the reality is somewhat more complicated.

I've drained my business bank account, because I've needed to buy plane tickets, book hotel rooms, train tickets and AirBnB rooms. I've been working for three months, but I'm still waiting to be paid - these are the commercial challenges I face. You've got to speculate to accumulate.

I have borrowing facilities available to me, but a substantial portion of my income is wasted on interest, paying for the money which I've needed for cashflow. Cashflow is tight when you're only managing to work 12 weeks a year, because you've been so unwell. I was hospitalised with DVT and both my kidneys had failed. I was hospitalised after a massive overdose - a suicide attempt. I was hospitalised and sectioned for mental health reasons, for my own protection. These are considerable obstacles to earning money, despite the fact that I discharged myself from hospital against medical advice, so that I could struggle into the office and not lose my job... but I lost it anyway. After my suicide attempt I struggled into the office, but I lost my job anyway.

I'm struggling into the office every day. I'm working Tuesday to Friday, for 4 hours each afternoon. My colleagues look at me like I'm taking the piss, as I saunter in at lunchtime and leave soon after 5pm. I travel across the country on a Tuesday morning, and I travel back the other way on a Friday evening - over 3 hours each way, which some people might scoff at. I know that there are many people who do long commutes, but I doubt many of them do them in the same year they were hospitalised as many times as I've been, due to medical emergencies.

This is my rock bottom - I'm only able to work about 16 hours a week, but it's killing me. I woke up this morning and I'm properly physically sick. If it hadn't been for the fact that I had to check out of my AirBnB, I would have stayed in bed. You'd have stayed in bed too, if you felt like I do. This is rock bottom - struggling along and barely managing to survive, even if you think that my situation is not very desperate.

I'm quite qualified to tell you what's desperate and what's not, because I've slept rough on the streets; I've lived in 14-bed hostel dorms and psych ward dorms. It's not a competition. Either you accept that I know what rock bottom looks like, or you don't.

What you can't see - because you only look at the good bits - is how quickly my life could unravel. I've got no safety net; I've got no cushion. My life hangs by a few slender threads. Of course I accept that I've had a run of good luck, such that I haven't ended up bankrupt and sleeping rough again. Of course I accept that I've had a run of good luck that there are still opportunities available to me; there's still a slim chance that I might rescue myself from my desperate situation.

There's an infantile attitude that I have to constantly suffer, like life is simple and all I need to do is get a job stacking shelves in a supermarket. You don't understand how real life works. You're not acknowledging reality. In reality we can't just abandon all responsibility and pretend like it's not psychologically destructive to lose hope; to have our dreams shattered. Loss of status and having a black mark against your name is a big deal. Being chased by debt collectors and bailiffs is a big deal. Having court summonses and court judgements and being sued into oblivion is a big deal. Getting fines and charges and all the other things that get slapped onto a poor person whose life is imploding, is a big deal. Real life... REAL LIFE involves earning as much money as you can, so that you don't have to take a calculator with you to the supermarket and ration out the value-price beans. Your infantile fantasies that we can just abandon everything that society holds dear - bank accounts and credit checks - and instantly switch our lives to be free and easy... this is complete and utter horse shit.

The reality of life is that there's a great deal of precarity. It might not look like it, but I've worked very hard to get myself back on my feet and I'm still a long way off. It might not look like it, but I couldn't have put in any more effort; I couldn't have handled any more stress - it's enough to give the most stable and secure person that you know a massive nervous breakdown. Eventually, we all reach our breaking point. We can't tolerate mental torture forever.

I've got my 3+ hour train journey, then a night in one place, a night in another, a night somewhere else, then it's back on the train, back to my job, time to check into yet another AirBnB I've never set foot in before. I need to buy two birthday presents, get a haircut. I need to do some washing. None of this is beyond the wit of man, but I'm so mentally and physically sick that I need to spend at least a week in bed, but I can't. I've got to keep the plates spinning.

Yes there are parents out there who are stressed out of their minds. Yes there are starving Africans. Fuck the fuck off. You think I've only got nice problems to have? You think my life is rainbows and puppy dogs and candy floss? Fuck the fuck off.

This is my rock bottom, because I want to throw everything away. It's too much effort. It's too much stress. It's causing too much anxiety. It's too exhausting. You think what I do is easy? If it's so fucking easy why isn't everyone doing it? If it's so easy, why aren't more people bouncing back from divorce, losing their home, drug addiction, alcoholism, bankruptcy, trouble with the police, mental health problems, suicide attempts, physical health problems and all the other things that bury people? Why aren't more people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and getting themselves back on their feet?

It feels like I'm really close to a breakthrough, and that's what makes it so hard. All the time I'm thinking "it's only another 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months... until I'm all fixed up and back to health, wealth and prosperity". It seems like it's no time at all, but that's because you're an idiot. You just don't understand how the shortest possible time can feel like an eternity, when you're in agony; when you're in such distress.

So close but yet so far.

 

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Do No Harm

11 min read

This is a story about helping people...

Dialysis

I'm a bit of a work-in-progress. I was on a psych ward in Manchester after a suicide attempt - homeless, jobless, single, friendless (in terms of local friends) and estranged from my family (except my sister). Then, I was plucked out of that dismal life and brought into my friends' family life on a farm in Wales. My friends are aware of my suicidal distress; my depression; my wretched situation. My friends are helping me to get back on my feet.

To leave the psych ward was an immediate improvement to my life. To have a quiet room of my own; a double bed - these were luxuries not afforded on the psych ward, where I was in a 4-bed dorm with only a curtain for privacy. I was unlikely to make new friends on the psych ward - my fellow patients were profoundly unwell and I had no plans to stay in Manchester. I didn't really have anybody to talk to. Now that I'm embedded in my friends' family life I can chat to them and the members of their immediate and extended family - I've been welcomed into the fold... instant social life.

It was my choice not to be sectioned or have the home treatment team - part of the community mental health team (CMHT) - involved in my care. It was my choice to not take lamotrigine, sertraline, lithium or sodium valproate. It was my choice to travel 1,200 miles away on business, and to go back to work in London for an investment bank. I have my reasons for making these choices, but they put my life in jeopardy - the choices are hard to understand. It seems reckless, arrogant and irresponsible to risk my life.

I'm earning money and I'm dating. In some areas, my life seems to be improving a huge amount. In other areas things are every bit as desperate as they were back in September/October of last year. At least when I was on the psych ward I was relatively safe. When I was on the psych ward I'd put myself in the hands of the state - they were responsible for feeding me, housing me and keeping me safe. I didn't feel bad about relying on the state to look after me, because I was so vulnerable. Now, my friends must feel very responsible.

At face value, my depression looks treatable. At face value, my problems look trivial. At face value, I appear to be very functional.

To treat my depression could trigger mania. To protect me from mania - with powerful medications - could leave me unable to work. Without work I will never regain my self-esteem and independence, which will lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. Without self-esteem I won't be able to find a partner. Without a partner I'll be lonely and depressed and suicidal. To meet somebody special and start a new relationship could trigger mania, or bring a whole heap of feelings of inadequacy that could trigger me to seek medications - I want to be full of energy and happiness with my new romantic interest. For example, there's a feeling of pressure to have a rock hard dick and be able to have sex multiple times a night. How do I even function without medications? Uppers and downers, antidepressants and mood-stabilisers, antipsychotics and tranquillisers, sedatives and sleeping pills, erectile dysfunction drugs and refractory period suppressants... things to help me feel good. I so desperately want to feel good.

There's another risk that I don't talk about so much: Relapse into drug addiction. This time last year I was pretty hopelessly addicted - in the clutches of supercrack. Foolishly, I was looking for some Bitcoins I hadn't spent and I found them... on the Dark Web waiting to be used to purchase narcotics. I resisted temptation, but I spent a few days thinking about self-sabotage. It's been 8 or 9 months since I was a drug addict, but that's not very much time at all - it was really recently that drug addiction was wrecking me and everything I held dear.

I've got a fairly simple strategy for avoiding relapsing into drug addiction: To kill myself. Addicts die as demons; despised; hated. Addicts are blamed for their bad choices - the architects of their own destruction. My solution is simple: Die while clean, sober and sane, so that nobody can demonise me. I just want to have some dignity. That's all I ask for really... some dignity.

So, my problems are not really mental health, but they're not really addiction either. I don't take drugs or medications, I'm not mad and I'm not bad. I'm just trying to live a normal life: to have a home, some friends, a girlfriend, a job, cat(s)... a few things. Not much; I don't ask for much.

My friends have helped me. I've met somebody who I really like, but it's early days... don't want to get carried away. I'm working and I've done a good job and the client wants to extend my contract. I've battled with my mental health and addiction demons, and to all intents and purposes I'm winning. I'm a bit of a success story, in a way - an example of what you'd hope would happen if you got involved in somebody's life, with the intention of helping them.

I have been helped. I am stubborn and I do things on my own terms, but not without good reason. I'm glad - for example - that I'm not doped up to the eyeballs on medications that would leave me emotionally blunted and anorgasmic. I'm enjoying the pleasure of a little oxytocin as I cuddle my sweetheart. I'm glad I'm feeling stuff.

There's been a suicide. I can relate to the victim. I also feel super bad that my friends are having to deal with the aftermath of that suicide when they know I'm a big suicide risk: it feels like they must be additionally worried about me, and I don't really know how to talk to them when they're dealing with that suicide. It's no secret that I'm having regular suicidal thoughts. It's surely too much for them. It's too much for me. My instinct is to withdraw; to remove myself from the situation.

I feel a bit ineligible for life. I shouldn't have friends; I shouldn't have a girlfriend; I shouldn't do anything, because I'll probably fuck it up. Whether I kill myself or relapse into addiction, either way I end up dead, so I'm not allowed to have nice things, like friends and a girlfriend; I'm not allowed to have self-esteem... I should just sit and rot on a psych ward.

I feel like running away. I feel like I should put every penny I've earned into extracting myself cleanly from the situation. Nice people don't deserve to get hurt and don't deserve to have to deal with the aftermath of unpleasant stuff.

That it would cause pain, whether it's suicide or relapse, is not something that's going to stop it happening. We can't beat people into submission. I need a reason to live - friends, a girlfriend, independence etc. I need my self-esteem and the natural endorphins that lift my mood, through healthy social contact, sex and other things like that. Nobody ever got better without those things. You can't 'get better' first and then build a healthy life.

My friends took a big risk trying to help me. Any girl who'd tangle with me is taking a big risk. The risk doesn't make me less likely to do myself harm. If anything, the risk I pose is something that adds a great deal of pressure, which is exhausting. What should I do? Should I exclude myself from society, just as most parts of society would very much like to exclude me? I'm a modern leper: The escaped mental asylum patient; the junkie; the tramp; the alkie; the washed-up loser.

I look back to September 9th, when I begged the staff at the Manchester Royal Infirmary not to treat me: No activated charcoal, no gastric lavage, no intubation, no resuscitation. When I lost consciousness, they helped me anyway, in the way that they're trained to help people. They saved my life, even though I made it explicitly clear that I didn't want to be helped - I wanted to die, in no uncertain terms. What if I go on to hurt my new friends? What harm would there have been in just letting me die? I'm going to die anyway, one day.

If I seem ungrateful for the help I've received, I'm sorry. This is the truth of the matter: I'm living a part of my life I didn't expect to have, but I'm not automatically grateful for it. It makes it harder, in a way - I didn't plan on being alive this long. I'm not sure who I'm alive for, because it's certainly not for me at the moment.

I'm one of the lucky ones. My situation is improving. It's quite hard for me to mess my life up any more than I've already messed it up. It's relatively easy to make improvements to my life. It seems as if I can fix things up quite quickly, depending on your definition of "quick".

I guess it seems short-sighted to kill myself when I don't know what tomorrow's going to bring. There's always a chance that tomorrow's going to be better than today. There's always a chance I'm going to wake up and feel glad that I didn't die on September 9th.

People kill themselves when they don't think their life is salvageable - there's too much damage: too many dashed hopes and dreams; too much shame and embarrassment; too much loss of status... too much disappointment. A person kills themself when they're a hard worker; a high achiever; they'd worked hard to get where they'd got to, but it seemed like it was all for nothing - they were potentially going to lose everything they'd ever dreamed of having. It can't be overstated, the devastating impact that it can have, re-adjusting our expectations when we're thwarted. You might say "it's only money" or "it's only a job" but you'll find that those things are pretty important in modern society. Try going anywhere without somebody asking you "what do you do?" and "where did you study?" and "do you own your own home?" and myriad other questions that will remind you that you've crashed and burned. Try doing anything when you're poor and you'll find it's really hard - money really helps, and you can get quite used to having it and not having to stress about it anymore. Who'd really want to go back to being poor, if you've experienced poverty and debt, and worked hard to get out of that pit of misery?

Every day I face the same thought that pushed me over the edge, causing me to attempt to commit suicide: I can't do it; it's too much work; it's too hard; I've reached my limit; I can never overcome this. Of course, we feel that all the time, but when there's an event that suddenly creates a huge problem to be solved, or something that's potentially going to be life-ruining, then it's too much to handle. We're all right at the limit. None of us has the spare capacity to deal with some mountainous pile of shit being dumped on us, when we're reached the maximum of what we can tolerate.

Of course, I'm a little fragile. It's only gonna take a few bumps in the road to cause me to push the "fuck it" button. I'm delicate; vulnerable. The only solution is to act positively - to go out there, work hard, keep trying, take risks and aim to regain the things I need and want, hoping that nothing super bad happens. It's luck. I just need a run of good luck. I have to hope my luck holds, because I don't have the spare capacity to withstand a whole lot of bad stuff happening.

It's Valentine's Day, and I'm aware that my sweetheart might read this. It's early days. She should run a mile. There's too much to handle here. I'm putting it out there anyway.

My friends are dealing with the aftermath of a suicide when they haven't even managed to 'fix' me yet. I am I going to remind them of the person who successfully committed suicide, every time I talk to them?

We can't 'fix' anything. All we can do is try to leave things better than when we found them. Should we help? It's hard to not do any harm when we try to help.

 

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This Time Last Year I was F**ked

11 min read

This is a story about the hands of time...

View from the loft

I have a breadcrumb trail of images that allow me to retrace my steps and understand where I've come from and attempt to estimate whether I'm spiralling downwards or slowly recovering. If I look through my photo library at the images and videos that I captured exactly one year ago, there are three strange videos that I recorded, which clearly indicate that I'd had a major relapse. Three days later both my kidneys had failed, my left leg had ballooned to twice its normal size due to DVT and my blood was toxic enough to kill me at any moment.

Every year for the past four, I've had a Jinxed January. It's true that depression, hypomania and addiction have reared their ugly heads year-round, but January is a particularly awful time. I cured the November wobbles by writing novels. I cured the December wobbles by cutting my toxic parents out of my life. The next problem I've got is how to solve Jinxed January.

My present strategy is to shackle myself to my desk, doing a job that I absolutely hate and is completely incompatible with my mental health. If I can survive this January without doing anything stupid and self-sabotaging, I should have the wind behind me and a downhill stretch of road to help me coast into the spring. The odds will be increasingly in my favour as the days get longer and the weather improves.

I'm emerging from the fog of addiction, intoxicating medications and copious quantities of alcohol. It was impossible for me to really comprehend how bad things had gotten, while I had so much toxic crap in my body. I'd lost all perspective and ability to perceive reality. I struggle to relate to a lot of what I've written in the last few years, because that person who was under the influence of such vast quantities of drink and drugs feels like somebody else. I can read my own words, I can see the distress and I can remember the things that were driving my thoughts and emotions at the time, but not everything in my world was entirely real and grounded in reality. I'm not seeking to distance myself from the things that my body did - including saying and writing things - but it's a little bit hard to imagine that it was me. If you want to get obsessive about blame and responsibility, then f**k you, buddy... go read somebody else's blog you tiresome bore.

Of course, I feel very bad about the way I treated - for example - my lovely girlfriend who gave me a wonderful Christmas with her family, cared for me when I was in hospital, and was extremely nonjudgemental and understanding when addiction got its hooks back in me. I didn't treat her well in the end. I regret it and I'm sorry. I did that. I'm to blame. I'm responsible.

However, in the context of unpicking everything, I can see that there are repeating patterns and things that trigger other things - cause and effect are very complicated to understand. To fully understand the likely consequences and plan ahead, like playing a thousand simultaneous games of chess against grandmasters, is a completely unreasonable and unrealistic thing to expect of me.

Searching back through my photo archives, I can see that I obtained a prescription for an antidepressant - bupropion - shortly before one relapse. I can see that I obtained another - California rocket fuel - shortly before an episode of hypomania where I broke up with the aforementioned brilliant girlfriend. In fact, whenever I seek chemical relief from depression, that's usually an indication of a desire to feel better at any costs, having suffered weeks and months of suicidal thoughts. Am I to blame for seeking relief from my intolerable feelings of depression?

Scanning through my library of images, I can see how I become obsessive over sleeping tablets and tranquillisers, as I rely upon the pills in order to cope with dreadfully stressful situations, which would send even the least-anxiety prone amongst us running screaming in the opposite direction from the source of the stress.

This time last year I was about to start work doing yet more IT consultancy for yet another bank. I was not incredibly enamoured at the prospect, but I needed the money. Circumstances conspired to force me back into an unhealthy environment.

Sadly, I'm not rich enough to do whatever I want, and I'm not even financially comfortable enough to do something tolerable - I've got to do the thing which pays the bills, and that's IT consultancy for banks, unfortunately. It's a fact of life that sometimes we have to do things we don't like very much.

So, I've avoided the antidepressants this time, because they always seem to send me loopy. I'm white-knuckling it to the end of Jinxed January, because I just need to get through this god-awful month, come hell or high water. I'm constantly reminding myself that even to dabble with so-called recreational drugs or get mixed up with girls in a big way, is likely to be destabilising. I live like a monk - work, eat, sleep, repeat.

Because of the extraordinary quantity of benzodiazepines I was abusing, I have huge holes in my memory. It feels like such a short time ago that I was hooked up to my own dedicated dialysis machine, on a high dependency ward. It feels like only yesterday that I regained consciousness with a machine breathing for me in intensive care. I managed a spectacularly terrible sum total of just 11 weeks at work in 2017, and virtually all the rest was pure insanity. I spent about 7 weeks in hospital, so with that 11 versus 7 ratio, you can see that my year was pretty messed up.

This year is brutally drug-free and medication-free. My brain screams in agony at the unbearable levels of depression and anxiety, but I've seen that to reach for any kind of substance for relief is opening the flood gates to fully-blown addiction. I'll convince myself that whatever chemical I'm using to feel better is not effective, and I need to take more, more, MORE! Before I know it, I'll be back on the supercrack.

It might seem obvious to an outside observer that my cyclical life is due to bipolar disorder, and I should rush to my psychiatrist and beg to be given mood stabilisers immediately. However, those who superficially observe me would remark that I'm very stable: I get up, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, go to my job, spend my evening watching TV and writing and get eight hours sleep. To the casual observer, I seem like the most functional and stable person who you could possibly hope to ever meet.

The reality of my existence is one of continuous battle with depression, anxiety and a craving to spectacularly self-sabotage with addiction. Getting out of bed in the morning and overcoming debilitating anxiety are comparatively easy, having built up the mental strength to overcome the urge to take one of the most addictive substances known to man. I'm not meaning to compete with those who find their lifes to be completely unliveable due to depression and anxiety, but merely to say that I've found it easier to overcome things which would have kept me bed-bound, after having been through what I've been through. Every cell of my body screams in protest at the bullshit I'm putting myself through at the moment. Every bit of my brain yells in agony at the daily punishment I suffer, but what does an extra bit of suffering matter compared with the endless comedowns and drug withdrawals I've been through?

As I look back on the last year, I realise I've been through opiate withdrawal from tramadol, codeine and dihydrocodeine; through benzodiazepine withdrawal from diazepam and alprazolam; through stimulant withdrawal from crystal meth and supercrack; through withdrawal from pregabalin and alcohol; through withdrawal from sleeping tablets like zopiclone and zolpidem. In terms of detoxes, I've had the detox from hell. In terms of quitting addictive medications, I'm a Guinness World Record holder. I really do deserve a medal.

As I look back on the last year, I realise I've been through so many health issues, housing issues, financial issues, legal issues, employment issues, relationship issues and everything else that would wreck your head and rob you of your sense of stability, comfort, contentedness and happiness. I'm surprised I'm not sleeping in a cardboard box, just to escape the clutches of a society that wants its pound of flesh at any costs. I'm exhausted by the constant stress of it all.

If I make it through Jinxed January, I have little to look forward to. There's nothing jump for joy about. Anybody who tells you you'll feel better if you quit the booze and the drugs and the pills is a fucking idiot. Anybody who tells you that you'll have improved self-esteem and all the other good stuff, if you get yourself off the streets and into a job, is a fucking idiot. I'm an extremely rare example of a judge, policeman and a social worker's wet dream - a bankrupt homeless mentally ill junkie who's got themselves scrubbed down and gone back to civilised society, but I've got to tell you in no uncertain terms that it's awful and I hate it. My life is a living hell.

Perhaps this is the ultimate comedown. Perhaps all the chickens are eventually coming home to roost. Perhaps this is the payback, given that I somehow miraculously avoided prison, a criminal record, bankruptcy and permanent health damage. Perhaps I'm finally paying the price for all that partying.

But, I haven't been partying. It's not like I haven't paid the price every time I fucked up. It's not like I haven't tried hard to do the all the right things and contribute to society. It's not like I've robbed, and manipulated and been a parasite on society. I've already paid for my transgressions. Where's the reward for getting myself sorted out? Why did I bother?

As I look back, I have rose-tinted glasses. As I look forward, I see the world through a blue filter. The past wasn't so bad and the future looks bleak. Perhaps this is the final stage of recovery from addiction, when my memory of the horrors of the past is becoming faded and I fondly reminisce about the few moments that were OK in all that insanity. It was certainly an easier life, to be on a rocket-ride to hell.

I try to look back and remind myself just how bad things were, but I find myself smiling and laughing in a way that I just don't when I think about the eight hours I spent going through hell at my desk today. In my mind, I perceive the present unpleasantness as far greater than anything else I've been through in the last year. That's strange, isn't it? To have suffered multiple organ failure, loss of my home, loss of my job, a suicide attempt, incarceration, getting sectioned, psych wards, addiction, loss of my girlfriend and all the other atrocious things that I went through in the last year, and the very worst thing is my current working arrangements.

Obviously, I think that my perceptions must be warped by my state of semi-recovery from addiction and other mental health problems, but I don't think it explains everything. There is something awful about being all alone in an AirBnb, working a job I hate because it's boring, easy and doesn't bring me into contact with a single soul... it's so lonely and isolating.

I'm churning words out into the ether, because I'm in such discomfort and I'm so afraid.

It's strange that I'm not afraid of ending up back in hospital, isn't it?

 

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Unholy Trinity

11 min read

This is a story about lethal combinations...

Three empty cans

Those who are familiar with the more extreme end of Grindr casual sex shenanigans will know that there's an unholy trinity of club drugs - crystal meth, GBL/GHB and viagra - which provide the sexual stamina for outrageously debaucherous f**kfests. To arrange drug-fuelled sex parties via the Grindr app is shockingly quick and easy. Under the influence of these drugs, one's sexual appetites are rarely satiated.

My own unholy trinity is far more prosaic - sleeping pills, tranquillisers and alcohol.

I never intended on becoming hooked on 'downers' and indeed I was very well aware of the physically addictive nature of the benzodiazepines. There is absolutely nothing that appeals to me about being intoxicated on CNS depressants. I do not enjoy feeling under the influence of the GABA agonists. For me, it was all about wanting the absence of something: the absence of panic attacks where I felt like I was going to die; the absence of interminable insomnia; the absence of the skin-crawling feeling of anxiety; an escape from a life that was unbearably awful.

Alcohol was a taste I had to acquire. Getting drunk was a necessary part of getting laid - Dutch courage. Booze was ubiquitous at work and it was necessary to be a drinker to get ahead in my career. I would have been a suspicious outsider if I'd been sober during the many drunken lunches, after-work beers and meals where wine flowed liberally. Alcohol lubricates the world of investment banking and I fully embraced the culture.

Valium crept into my life as I searched for something to help me manage the undesirable side effects of stimulant abuse. I thought I could swallow a couple of pills and sleep off the worst of my addiction without any consequences. I knew that I was playing with fire - to use one addictive drug to combat the effects of another - but that's the kind of addict logic that I applied at the time. I knew that if I abused benzodiazepines for more than a few months, I'd end up with a physical dependency that would cause me to have seizures if I abruptly stopped taking the pills. I did what I felt I had to do.

Sleeping pills never held any appeal. If there's one thing I'm really good at, it's sleeping. I quickly figured out that the best way to escape an oppressive and unpleasant world is to be unconscious. I can put myself into a zoned-out trancelike state and sit quietly for hours. I can spend all day dozing in bed, even after 12 hours of restful sleep. I'm a master of sleep. Why would I dabble with sleeping pills?

Some of the benzodiazepines have a very long half-life. If you take benzos - like Valium - for a long time, they never really leave your bloodstream. If you're addicted to Valium, you're just topping up when you take the pills. Strangely, it's possible to have insomnia when you're on tranquillisers - you just lie there awake, not caring at all that you're not asleep. It's restful, but it's not refreshing, if you know what I mean?

During one of the most difficult periods of my addiction to a powerful stimulant - a drug that sends me completely psychotically insane - I could hear helicopters hovering over my apartment. All the traffic on the road had stopped - I couldn't hear any motorbikes, cars, lorries, buses or trucks. Then, I heard a lot of yelling. To my paranoid drug-addled and sleep-deprived mind, this was the thing I'd been dreading: the police and the army were coming to get me and drag me in front of a crowd of people, to shame and ridicule me. The 'enemy' were coming to get me. Then, I heard a commentator announce that the first runners of the London Marathon were about to come past my apartment block. Of course! It was the marathon, the route of which travels right past where I was living.

I was still fairly traumatised by the whole marathon thing, even though I quite quickly figured out that the helicopter wasn't there to deliver a SWAT team clad in black uniforms in through my bedroom windows. I turned to diazepam to soothe my jangled nerves. I swallowed about 20 high-strength 10mg blue tablets. That's a HELL of a lot of diazepam. It didn't touch the sides. What I really wanted was to be unconscious. Sometimes, being tranquillised up to the eyeballs just isn't enough.

Zopiclone and zolpidem entered my life as medications to allow me to have a seemingly normal sleep/wake cycle. When I was abusing a powerful stimulant, it would not be uncommon for me to spend four or five nights without sleeping at all. The most nights I ever went without sleep was about ten, which sent me completely barmy, of course. As you reach the outer extremities of an impossibly bad stimulant addiction, strangely you yearn to have a normal appetite and normal sleep. The tranquillisers helped me to stay on top of stimulant psychosis, but I needed sleeping pills otherwise I was just going to die from a low immune system, or otherwise go completely and permanently insane.

I can't stress enough how important sleep is. Without regular refreshing sleep, nothing else is going to fall into place. There's no hope of improvement and recovery without sleep.

The sleeping pills - such as zopiclone and zolpidem - don't actually give you normal sleep. Sometimes you can 'wake up' and feel a little bit like you've been asleep, but you haven't been - you've been drugged. Your body and your brain kind of knows the difference between sleep and unconsciousness. When you suddenly jerk awake and you say "what! where am I?" then that's usually an indication that you've been drugged, rather than sleeping.

I used sleeping pills for most of 2017. I almost don't know how to sleep without them. When you get habituated into using sleeping pills, you can get very anxious about trying to sleep without them. The anxiety around getting enough sleep builds and builds. You spend horrible days at work where you're trying to keep your eyes open, and then horrible nights awake because you desperately want to get enough sleep to catch up, but you can never get enough. Bedtime becomes super charged with nervous energy and you have an incredible longing for a night of refreshing sleep. The more you want sleep, the harder it is to get it. Sleeping pills are addictive, because they take away that anxiety and deliver some kind of dependable nightly rest, even if it's not very refreshing.

I abused my little toxic trio of chemicals because they gave me back my life. My life used to revolve around the highly potent and addictive stimulant drug which I had unfortunately become incurably hooked on. My life was going to hell in a hand cart. I was on collision course with permanent psychosis. I was definitely going to end up locked up in a mental institution for the rest of my days. To fight fire with fire was madness, but it worked. Although it was very dangerous and I nearly died as a result of poly-substance abuse, somehow I popped out the other side intact.

I didn't drink alcohol since last Saturday. Once I start drinking, I don't seem to be able stop when I want to. I don't seem to be able to drink in moderation. When I get the taste of beer or wine, I glug it down and I don't stop until I think "oh dear, I've had too much to drink". Because of all the occasions when I've thought "I wish I hadn't drunk so much" recently, I've decided that not drinking is the safest course of action.

I've been taking sleeping pills all week. I need some sort of crutch dagnammit! How am I supposed to cope in such unfavourable conditions without something to help make life a little more manageable. To lose sleep would be bound to push me back towards strange strung-out thinking, and make me liable to say or do something stupid.

One week from today I will see a psychiatrist. It's been 8 weeks or so since I last saw a psychiatrist. I haven't been taking any medication - except for the aforementioned sleeping pills - and I'm wondering if I should cut my pills down to absolute zero. It would be really wonderful to say that I'm not a drinker, not a smoker, I don't have tea, coffee, cola or energy drinks, and I don't take ANY medication at all. It's so rare that a psychiatrist would encounter somebody who's completely free from ALL psychoactive substances. I think I would really love it, to have the psychiatrist ask me "so, how do you feel?" and be able to answer, knowing that it's me and only me, and not some version that's twisted by caffeine, nicotine, drink, drugs and medications. How precious would that be, to be my real authentic unadulterated self?

To get to this point where I might be able to be completely free from all mind-altering substances has been an almost impossibly unbearably awful experience that's put my life at great danger, as well as my livelihood. Why the hell would I put myself through so much suffering? Why wouldn't I go a little more easy on myself?

What I find with substances is that they're insidious. Every time you say "one cigarette won't hurt" or "one glass of wine will be OK" you could be setting off down a road that leads to a whole bottle of wine, two bottles of wine, a bottle of vodka. I'm never going to be some boring teetotaller, but at the moment my life is so unbearable that I'll keep pouring myself glass after glass of booze until the pain and the anxiety is blocked out and I'm blacked out.

My nightly sleeping pill habit is comparatively healthy. I don't increase the dose. The dose is measured. There aren't any fattening calories in a sleeping tablet. Sleeping tablets don't give me awful hangovers. There could be much worse things to be hooked on. However, wouldn't it be awesome to look the psychiatrist straight in the eye and say "I haven't taken a single mind-altering substance for a week now".

This week has been awful without my little chemical helpers, but maybe next week will be better, and the week after will be even better still. Wouldn't it be awesome if I break free from chemical dependencies?

Of course, I will have to admit that I had unbearable anxiety and suffered suicidal thoughts that very nearly killed me. I will have to admit that it would have been sensible to take the sertraline (Zoloft in the USA or Lustral in the UK) instead of trying to tough it out without, and abusing things which I really shouldn't have done. It's true that I could have developed a sertraline habit by now - the withdrawal syndrome is pretty awful, so I'd be trapped onto yet another addictive medication. Yes, it would have helped me to get through some super stressful awfulness, but I'm going to end up like the old lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly etc. etc.

My friend who's a doctor is incredibly frustrated that "Nick knows best" as usual. They're mad as hell that I'm doing my own thing; marching to my own beat. It seems patently absurd to reject a medication that could be a tiny bit better than placebo, in as little as 8 weeks. So, why is it that I feel a little bit better today? Seems rather coincidental, doesn't it?

My week at work was awful. In fact, I was too unwell to work for 3 out of 5 days. My week was almost unbearable. In the interests of being fair and honest, I must admit that this last week has made me question my stubborn decision. I've wondered whether I made a mistake. Then, I remember that I'm closer than I've ever been to proving my point: that I can be stable, contented and happy without pills. I plan on rejecting all my diagnoses at some point. I plan on declaring myself sane. I plan on being 'normal'.

How does somebody become normal if the paternalistic guardian class can always say "that's only because you're on the right medication"? When it says "medication takes 6 to 8 weeks to become effective" what would happen if you didn't take the damn pills? That's what I'm finding out. It was super telling to me that people were so quick to say "told you so" when the game wasn't even finished - the results aren't in yet.

It's been awful, but I'm winning. Bi-winning.

 

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