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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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So Hungry

10 min read

This is a story about rushing...

Pub grub

My life doesn't have a lot of highlights. I'm struggling to get up in the morning. I'm bored at work a lot of the time. I'm trying to eat fewer calories, so I'm skipping breakfast and having a very light lunch. My writing has become a bit of a marathon slog as I attempt to write the final few thousands words and reach my 1-million target. The only thing I've got to look forward to is my evening meal.

Because I try to do my writing before I go to the gastropub to eat, I'm always in a bit of a rush. It's a challenge to write ~2,000 words in between a full day at my desk in the office, and the ideal time to arrive at the pub in order to get a table and eat. I write doubly quickly, because I know that the sooner I've finished my daily blog post, the sooner I can go and choose my meal. With that incentive, I have no difficulty pounding out the words very rapidly on the keyboard, before rushing off to enjoy the highlight of my day - pub grub.

You shouldn't do your supermarket food shopping when you're hungry, because you will strip the shelves of products and buy far more than you could ever hope to eat, before the expiry date of the perishable groceries which you've purchase. My eyes are always far bigger than my belly when I've been hungry for a while. I think that being hungry also affects the speed with which I do everything, and my attention to detail. I'm rushing everything and being sloppy, because I just want to get things done as quickly as possible.

I need to earn money, lose some weight and cut down my drinking, but I expect instant results. My writing target is within spitting distance now, but I'd have never reached this point if I tried to do it too quickly - I've had to pace myself. My finances are improving but I'll never get financial security if I don't keep turning up at the office every day - even though it's torturously boring - for many many more months. I'm really not enjoying my semi-sobriety, but I'm not going to feel the benefit unless I keep it up for a decent length of time.

It's been a month since I started my new job in a new and unfamiliar city. For a whole month I've been living in a hotel midweek and eating in the same pub every night. For a whole month I've been dividing my time between the city where I have my apartment and the city where the office is.

In the last month I've managed to quit the sleeping pills and painkillers I was using to cope with stress and anxiety. In the last month, I've managed to cut down my drinking drastically. In the last month, I've stopped being so antisocial and wasting the whole summer indoors drinking wine. I've earned some more money, which is slowly making a dent in my debts. It's reasonable progress.

I don't feel particularly good.

My working day is a struggle. My living arrangements are a struggle. My life lacks an adequate amount of things to look forward to; moments of joy. I keep losing hope that I'll be able to maintain the stability and keep up the routine, because there are so few moments when I'm happy and content. The struggle to get up in the morning is not just a phase - it's going to be a struggle every morning for months, if not years. The struggle to get through the working day is not just a temporary struggle... it'll be permanent while I remain trapped in a career which I outgrew very quickly when I was young.

There's no obvious reason why I shouldn't be able to keep up the routine. What's so bad about a well-rehearsed sequence of actions which starts with me washing and ironing my clothes for the week ahead, packing my bag, driving to the office, checking into the hotel, eating in the pub, driving home. What's so hard about that? The problem is the lack of all the other 'stuff' which makes a liveable life. Where's my social life? Where are the holidays? Where are the hobbies and interests? Where's any of the 'stuff' which gives my life any meaning?

Work is meaningless because it's the same old crap that I've been doing full-time for 21+ years, which was easy and boring when I was in my late teens, let alone now. Work cannot be the thing which defines me and is all-consuming, because that's unhealthy and I know I'm never going to find fulfilment as a member of a huge team in a gigantic organisation. I feel a lot better about the morality of what I'm doing since I quit investment banking and moved into the public sector, but the waste is pretty sickening. Of course the public sector was never going to be particularly dynamic and fast-paced, but it's not that much slower than most of the big private sector organisations I've worked for. I know that startups are too demanding and too much risk though, and they'll make me sick by using and abusing me.

I need to get to the point where I've served my time and been thoroughly miserable for enough years that I have a substantial sum of money saved up, such that I can dare to dream. Perhaps things will be better when I'm financially secure enough to be able to spend my boring days in the office planning my next holiday. The misery of the unchallenging office job was much more tolerable when I spent my weekends kitesurfing, and I was jetting all over the globe looking for the best kitesurfing locations in all kinds of exotic locations. Perhaps my misery is largely due to the fact that all I do is work work work - I'm on a very tight budget.

There's no rushing my finances, unfortunately. There's no way I could earn money any quicker than I am doing. Money floods in at a fairly obscene rate, but I was very very deep in the hole, so it also costs a lot of money just to stand still. I can't believe how much money I'm earning, but yet it's still taking agonisingly long to get ahead.

Playing the waiting game is awful. I'm clock watching all the time. My alarm clock is the most dreadful intrusion on my day - the worst moment. Sometimes I'm not even tired, but knowing that I have to go and sit at a desk and be bored out of my mind is thoroughly depressing in a way which is soul-destroyingly exhausting. Mid-morning I panic about how slowly the day is dragging. Lunchtime is over in the blink of an eye, especially since I started having a super-light lunch which always leaves me still feeling hungry. The period from 2pm to 3:45pm is the very worst - at 2pm I can't believe how much of the day there still is to go, with nothing to occupy or entertain me. I often think I'm going to have to walk out, because I can't stand it. It doesn't matter how much I'm earning - it's not enough. Finally, it's a respectable time to leave the office - even though I'm frequently late for work - but all I have to look forward to is another long wait until it's a respectable time to eat my dinner. It's 6:23pm right now, which is very early for an adult with no children to eat.

My evenings were also unpleasant, and especially so since I've drastically reduced my alcohol intake. My cravings for booze were pretty incessant and it was hard to read or watch TV when all I could think about was how much I wanted to get a glass of wine. However, I've found some stuff that I'm enjoying watching and I'm starting to find it easier to relax and enjoy my solitary leisure time in my hotel room, without getting drunk.

I had planned to get drunk every single night until I'd regained financial security. Getting drunk was going to be my reward for doing a job I hate in a place where I don't want to be, all alone living in a hotel. I was prepared to put my entire life on hold so I could earn as much cash as possible as quickly as possible, and I'd have virtually unlimited quantities of alcohol to help me white-knuckle my way through to the end. The problem is that my health was being destroyed surprisingly rapidly - I was putting on weight and feeling very unfit and unwell. If I'd kept drinking as much as I was until the end of my contract in just over a year's time, I wouldn't be able to enjoy my hard-won wealth because I'd be fat and quite possibly have some very serious health issues to deal with as a consequence.

Comfort-eating is my only pleasure at the moment, as I'm single, living away from home, trying not to drink, not socialising and generally in a temporary state of suspended animation. I can fulfil the very few demands of my day job with less than 1% of my brain and I'm just waiting for enough paydays to restore my financial security. I've stopped everything except for the few core things which keep the hamster-wheel turning.

It's not particularly as if it's worthwhile making friends and getting a local girlfriend. It's not particularly worth investing in life in a place where I have no intention of staying beyond the maximum I absolutely have to in order to achieve my purely financial objective.

I pound out the words on the keyboard every evening after work, in groundhog day repetitive scenario. I pound out the words because it's a fleeting distraction from the endless waiting. Waiting for the money. Waiting for the end. Wishing my life away.

Some people would imagine that I'm impatient and impulsive, because of my mental health problems and my struggles with addiction. Stimulant abuse is particularly bad for damaging the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for executive decision-making, and importantly the ability to curtail stupid impulses. In fact, I spend my whole day suppressing the nearly-overpowering instinct to get up and walk out; to walk away from the torturous bullshit boring job. In fact, I'm one of the most patient people you know. Why do you think I get paid so much? If my job was pleasant and easy, everybody would be doing it.

I spend all working day in front of the keyboard and screen, then I flip open my laptop lid and spend some more time in front of the same type of keyboard and the same type of screen. The clock is in exactly the same position in the top-right hand corner of the screen, which my eyes instinctively flick up to, constantly aware of the slow passage of time.

Since I wrote what time it was, nearly 20 minutes have elapsed. I'm 20 minutes closer to my meal. I'm 20 minutes closer to the day when I've earned enough money to start to dare to dream. I'm 20 minutes closer to the moment I die, when I can finally enjoy some peace from this torture.

I'm off to the pub. I'm tempted to have a drink.

 

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On My Own Terms

8 min read

This is a story about independence...

Deed

Why do I gotta do everything on my own terms? Why is it important to me that I do things when and how I choose, rather than when instructed by a meddlesome busybody, or otherwise forced to by circumstances beyond my control? What's so important about the choosing and agency and free will anyway? Surely there are people who know better than me, so I should just bow down to them and let them rule my life, because they know best.

Depressed? Just be happy. Tired? Just be fit and healthy. Drink too much? Just stop. Addicted to drugs? Don't take them any more. Bankrupt? Be rich instead. Hate your job? Be a multi-billionaire president of the universe instead. Anxious? Don't worry.

See? It's easy. Just do the blatantly obvious things that other people tell you to do and your life will be amazing. Of course if you don't do exactly what they tell you to do immediately then you're beyond hope of helping and you are stubbornly deciding to sabotage your own life. That's the only reasonable, rational and logical explanation for why anybody wouldn't immediately drop to their knees and say "oh my god thank you!" in praise of the giver of the most obvious answers to every problem that ever existed.

It's true that I'm somewhat bloody-minded and I'll deliberately do things my own way to prove I'm right, especially if an idiot tells me I'm doing something wrong and what I'm doing will never work. It's usually the case that there are a mountain of idiots who have oversimplified unworkable solutions to oversimplified versions of problems you don't have: "oh, you're bleeding to death? well, if you put some tin foil at the bottom of your grill pan, then it catches the fat and makes it easier to clean".

I guess people are only trying to be helpful, but don't ever let anybody tell you that their 'helpful' suggestions aren't rooted in the advice-giver's ego and their need to feel useful, as opposed to your need to solve a problem. You'll see that as soon as you start to explain that your problem is more complicated than their lazy appraisal had surmised, that they have no real interest in actually helping; they just wanted to feel smarter than you, that they were able to solve something where the solution was blatantly obvious to anybody with half a brain cell.

Thus, when it comes to hard problems, most people are just noise; irritating useless noise which needs to be filtered out so you can concentrate on solving the actual hard problem. If there were easy answers, the person who's been suffering and struggling with the problem would have figured out the solution long before some pseudo-helpful busybody came and suggested the very first thing that anybody would think of.

A problem shared is not just a problem that two people have, but it can also be a problem which will take twice as long to solve if the second person insists on making all the same mistakes as the first, by retracing every step, wrong turn and dead end that's already been exhausted by our long-suffering person with the problem. Reliving the experience of trying all the obvious things for a second time, knowing it's doomed to fail because those solutions have already been tried, is a painful and pointless exercise.

There are common problems which, if they were easy to solve, those easy solutions would already be exploited by vast swathes of people . Poverty, for example: if the solution to poverty is to simply get a better paid job and work hard, then we surely wouldn't see any more poverty. To suggest that poverty is due to laziness and stupidity is grossly insulting to the hard-working people who are trying as hard as they can to get themselves out of poverty, but the problem is that they already have the very best paid jobs which are available to them, and they already work as hard as they possibly can.

There are common problems which, if the de-facto solutions worked, we wouldn't consider to be problems at all. If abstinence, detox, rehab, 12-step programs and the like were a good solution to addiction and alcoholism, we wouldn't see alcoholics and addicts anymore, would we? The very existence of vast numbers of people who are dying from addiction and alcoholism is obvious evidence that unequivocally shows that the so-called 'solutions' on offer are not solutions at all: those things simply don't work.

"It works if you try hard"

No. No those solutions really don't work.

"But it worked for this person"

Yeah, maybe a little bit. But what about 99% of the others who it didn't work for? You're being an idiot. An exception does not prove the rule. You're blaming the victim. You're blaming people for their problems. You're undermining the hard work and effort and all the energy that's already been expended by that person in trying things that don't work.

We can't ignore the evidence and believe the charlatans who claim to have found solutions to problems, when the data shows that their claims are completely false.

Let's take mental health problems as an example. All the data was gathered from all the studies into the efficacy of antidepressant medication, and it's been shown conclusively that for at least 80% of patients, the medication made no difference whatsoever. What we also know about mental health is that it's an epidemic: things are getting worse, not better, and an ever-increasing number of people are suffering with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and a whole host of other mental health problems. Not only are our so-called 'solutions' not effective, but our incorrect belief that medications are effective, despite evidence to the contrary, is contributing to an epidemiological explosion in the number of people who are suffering. The biggest tragedy is that nobody is looking at any alternative treatments, because the charlatans claim that the available treatments are effective, despite overwhelming evidence that pharmacological treatments are not effective at all. Fewer than 1 in 5 patients would feel any benefit at all, and the benefits are marginal - at best - for that tiny minority.

Now let's look at addiction and alcoholism: 12-step abstinence based approaches are as ubiquitous as the booze and drugs themselves. Every church hall, community centre and other public space in your local area plays host to some flavour of X-Anonymous every night of the week, with every letter of the alphabet corresponding to a particular addiction or vice. If the 12-step abstinence approach was the right one, we wouldn't have an opioid epidemic exploding in the United States, claiming 70,000 or even 80,000 lives every year. If 12-steps and abstinence were solutions, we wouldn't have hospitals crammed full of people dying of alcoholism-related illnesses.

Charlatans present themselves as experts and saviours when the evidence quite clearly shows that the so-called 'solutions' they have to offer are not only a dismal failure, but are wasting time and money, diverting funding and research away from any real solutions which could have some meaningful impact on problems which affect a very great number of unfortunate people.

I find it deeply offensive that the 'solutions' on offer are clearly ineffective, and those who fail to succeed when they've been set up to fail are blamed for their lack of dedication, commitment, effort and blind faith in things which are demonstrably snake-oil and quackery, peddled by charlatans who should be stripped of any semblance of professional and ethical conduct.

The placebo effect is real and it's even effective when a person knows they're receiving a placebo treatment, so I don't see why we can't all get sugar pills and redirect all the money that's wasted on ineffective treatments - and those who dispense them - and plough those funds into scientific empirical research.

I hope it's now clear why I choose my own evidence-based path, instead of placing my fate in the hands of charlatans and fraudsters who are pedalling snake-oil quack cures which don't work. The age-old adage about following doctor's orders is pure idiocy when the evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates the folly of such a course of action.

Of course I stay abreast of developments in the field of clinical research into promising pharmaceutical compounds which might be effective and offer the "magic bullet" that so many of us desperately yearn for: a pill which cures the depression, anxiety and the craving for those substances which do actually temporarily alleviate the unpleasantness of human existence.

As for poverty... yes, you're right that one or two people got rich playing the lottery, but that doesn't mean that it's a solution for the whole of humanity.

 

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The Day I Didn't Drink All the Alcohol

10 min read

This is a story about abstinence...

Alcoholz

I woke up this morning and started having a not-quite-fully-blown panic attack. Re-adjusting to life without the tranquillising and sedating effects of alcohol is hard. The first couple of alcohol-free days seem to pass easily enough, but day three brings something that a friend of mine calls "the fear" which is a gnawing anxiety.

Anxiety is by its very nature irrational.

Sometimes anxiety can be attributed to genuinely stressful things that are happening, but there's no benefit to feeling anxious - our self-preservation instincts could function just fine without anxiety. Anxiety might be irrational, but it can't be rationalised away, especially when its origin is biochemical. The sudden absence of soothing chemicals in the brain - withdrawing from alcohol - triggers rebound anxiety, which is most unpleasant.

I notice that I'm hungrier and thirstier than I would usually be when I'm semi-drunk. I notice that I'm craving sweet things. I notice that I gobble my food down faster than ever, as if I'm eating my final meal or I'm dying of starvation. On balance though, I'm eating more healthily and I've substantially cut my total daily calorie intake, which will be better for my waistline. My body is not having to work so hard to detoxify itself and get rid of the barely digestible combination of wine and fatty salty snacks.

I'd love to tell you that I feel better, but I don't. On balance, I miss the soothing effects of alcohol and the dulled senses more than I cherish the clear head and sharper perceptions. On balance, I hate the anxiety more than I hate the health damage that alcohol was inflicting.

Anything worth doing is hard when you start, so I'm aware that I might not feel the real benefits of sobriety unless I carry on for a few more weeks. I'm half-tempted to have a dry August, but I'm really not sure whether the timing is right and whether it's worth the risk of having some kind of breakdown, because I have no crutch to help me through a rather challenging period of my life.

Looking back through my photo-diary exactly one year ago, I'm reminded that I was in a big mess with substances. I was abusing a combination of Valium and Xanax, as well as the sleeping pills Imovane and Ambien, plus I was prescribed Lyrica as a painkiller. Two tranquillisers, two sleeping pills and a painkiller is quite a hefty combination of sedating medications, plus I was drinking like a fish too. I'm surprised I even knew what day of the week it was.

There was no way I was going to be able to stop all those physically addictive medications safely, without risking seizures. I was trapped.

Alcohol abuse has always slipped under the radar in my life. I've always been part of a work-hard play-hard culture where conspicuous consumption of vast quantities of alcohol has been near-ubiquitous. Boozy lunches and after-work drinking sessions somehow seemed to dovetail with the demanding work I've been involved in, and industries which are disproportionately staffed by young men, mostly unencumbered by the demands and responsibilities of family life. Somehow, arriving at work an hour and a half late with a terrific hangover doesn't seem to matter if everybody else is doing it too.

Spotting the alcoholics amongst a population of similar heavy drinkers seemed to me to be impossible. One colleague was apparently swigging vodka from a bottle of mineral water at his desk, but I could never smell the alcohol on his breath... probably because I was hungover most mornings and half-drunk most afternoons. Somehow the situation continued for many years without any problems - the work would always get done and the booze kept flowing.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that a number of my former colleagues have had to go through detox and rehab, and some have dropped dead from liver failure and other alcohol-related illnesses. I suppose it should come as no surprise that several of the former colleagues who I count amongst my very best friends are just as alcoholic as I am. Somehow, we stick together and look after each other, us band of drunks.

What might be more surprising to those who've never worked in such male-dominated and alcohol-tolerating environments, where I've spent most of my career, is the level of responsibility shouldered by the unfortunate alcoholic wretches such as myself. You'd think that handing over the 'keys' to the 'bank vault' of a massive investment bank to a bunch of alcoholics would be sheer insanity, but perhaps those of a more sober persuasion aren't suited to the role. When I think about all the quadrillions of dollars watched over by a gang of brilliant men who spend most of their time drunk, it beggars belief, but that's the way that the global financial system seems to be run: in the hands of functional alcoholics.

Those who are fully in possession of their faculties don't seem to find their way into the fantasy land where 6-figure sums of money are paid to anybody who will willingly forego a sense of meaningful purpose and enter the bewildering world of high-finance, where the amount of capital that flows around the globe is an order of magnitude greater than anything that an ordinary person could comprehend. The concept of money becomes a ridiculously absurd one and cash is just a rounding error.

Further, when dealing with computer software and data, any sane person would run screaming in the opposite direction as soon as they realise that they've entered yet another ridiculously absurd world, which is the extreme opposite from anything 'real' or tangible.

When I was making iPhone apps and selling them, there was clearly a product and the idea of selling that product for a profit is something we all understand. My life was less absurd. However, the vast majority of my career has been spent helping investment banks to play with numbers in ludicrously complex ways, to obfuscate the fact that there is no product... nothing of any value is being created!

I suppose it's only natural that I would look at my obscenely large monthly paycheque and be unable to reconcile that amount of remuneration with the 'value' that I'd delivered to humanity. It seems that the greater the absurdity, the greater the financial reward. Somehow, it's never sat easily with my conscience and perhaps that's why I've spent such a big chunk of my income on booze. It's hard to get up and go to work every day when you're only in it for the money, and you're pretty certain that what you're doing is actually harmful and immoral but you can't precisely say why... it's too complex to work out. There's a kind of 'golden handcuffs' situation that arises, where you don't want to question things too much because the money is so much better than you'd get building houses or catching fish.

Ultimately, I don't know why we need so much damn software and data. I don't know why we need so many offices and service industries. I don't know what the f**k 95% of people actually do for a living that's useful or productive, when only 5% of people are doing jobs which are obviously indispensable. I consider myself to be at the extreme end of the utility spectrum, where not only is what I do completely pointless, but it's also harmful to humanity as well as producing absolutely nothing that's tangible or 'real'.

I suppose that's why I drink.

Perhaps anybody who's glimpsed the absurdity of existence and understood their place in the universe, as well as any average human could ever hope to, is likely to be confronted with an existential crisis. Most people will busy themselves by acting like slime mold or bacteria, and reproducing with gay abandon until every inch of the surface of the planet is teeming with similarly brain-dead morons just like them. Most people will revert to animalistic bestial knuckle-dragging behaviours found in every lifeform on Earth - f**king, s**tting, fighting, feeding etc.

I suppose why I drink is that I'm not like 99.9% of the beasts and the bees and the bacteria.

Consciousness is a curse.

To be conscious means to be able to rationalise and to decide to override the bestial instinct to rut and reproduce, and instead to inhabit an intellectual world which the beasts do not partake in. However, now I envy those beasts' ignorant bliss. Oh, to be thick: that's what I really want, I think. I wish I was stupid. I wish I was dumb. I wish I was a dimwit.

It seems obvious now I say it, but getting drunk is like having the partial lobotomy I so desperately crave; to be free from the burden of the things that cannot be un-learned; to escape my own rational and reasonable inquiring and inquisitive mind.

Of course, I don't claim to be in possession of a brilliant mind, but I'm clever enough to be miserable and tormented. Not clever enough to be great, but not ordinary and average enough to fit in with the masses and their orgy of mindless procreation.

I've done some good work today. My concentration's been improved. I can see that life could be better if I could remain alcohol-free, but I also don't know how to cope with the 'spare brain capacity' which is unfortunately utilised to process all the facts at my disposal, leading to the inevitable non-stop existential crisis and general unhappiness about the absurdity of existence. I don't have a choice - it's not like I can ever stop thinking. Due to financial necessity, I'm forced to work a job which requires very little thought. My mind is rarely occupied by interesting distractions because I've had to prioritise income ahead of intellectual stimulation.

Drink might be a dratted demon, but in moderation it's helped me cope with 21+ years of unfulfilling full-time career and I don't have any healthy outlets at the moment; any purpose, hobby or interest which might better occupy my time.

I'm pleased I've had a 5-day break from drinking and I suppose I'll be able to manage at least another night without alcohol. I'm pleased that I'm able to stop drinking when I want to, but that should come as no surprise - I am after all, one of the very few who are cursed with consciousness, which means I'm able to curb my cravings. It's only beasts - the dimwits - who aren't able to make conscious choices.

I wish I could choose how I felt, but of course that's a ridiculous notion. Wouldn't we all choose to be blissfully happy and content if it was easy as just choosing? I feel anxious and overwhelmed by my own consciousness, and I know that alcohol would calm my nervous system and help me cope, but I choose not to drink temporarily because my liver needs a break.

I'm glad that I've made some progress versus where I was a year ago.

 

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1,243 Words Per Day for 37 Days

9 min read

This is a story about life goals...

Dusty keyboard

I seem to have a lot of competing priorities at the moment. The only thing I've got much control over is the day when I reach a million words on this website, which I would like to be on September 6th, precisely 3 years after my very first blog post. In order to achieve that objective I need to write 1,243 words every single day for the next 37 consecutive days. It sounds achievable considering I managed to write an average of 1,667 words per day during the month of November, for 2 years running. My daily average word count over the 1,058 days that I've been writing works out at just over 900 words, so I need to increase my output by 38%.

My other objectives are to pay off all my debts, rebuild my non-existent social life and get healthier.

In theory I can clear my important debts in 3 months, and I can clear some other less important ones in another 3 or 4 months, which frees me from the substantial burden of paying a huge amount of interest every month. Those don't sound like long timescales at all, but 3 months of sanity and stability in my life is a very rare thing, let alone 6 or 7 months.

My sums exclude the lost income from any holidays I take or time off sick. My sums assume that I'm working flat-out as hard as I can every day for months and months on end. It's been over 2 years since I had a proper holiday so it seems reasonable to assume that I'm going to burn out really soon.

A social life and my health don't really figure in the equation. In order to earn money I'm working in a city where I'm only staying temporarily. There doesn't seem to be much point in investing heavily in building a social network near my workplace, because I have no plans to stay here any longer than I have to. I'm just here for the cash. I have no idea how to pay any consideration to my health when my objectives are so diametrically opposed to my wellbeing. If I was able to prioritise my health I'd be working part-time or not working at all. Everything about my life is completely toxic for my mental and physical health.

I have a short-term objective of being sober for a few days. Today is day 4. It's hard but I'm sure my liver will be glad to have a break from the non-stop alcohol abuse. Ideally, I'd substantially reduce my drinking for the rest of my life, but I don't see how I'm going to be able to do that when I've got 6 or 7 months horrible miserable slog stretching out ahead of me, and I can't take a holiday or sort out my social life because of the insanely toxic work and money demands which are placed on me.

I don't know how I got into this situation where the numbers look favourable but the reality of my daily existence is such unbearable misery.

A seemingly small bad thing happened at work today, but it's totally destroyed my hope and optimism. It's shocked me how quickly suicidal thoughts flooded back into my head, having had a period of respite which has lasted quite a while. Every way I look at my life, I can only see stress and intolerable living conditions; unsustainable demands. I can't see any way to fix things.

Somehow, my costs have spiralled and my income has fallen slightly. Somehow, I've ended up in a position where I'm potentially going to be forced back into spending the majority of my time away from home, in a place where I really don't want to be, doing a job which appears to be too boring to distract me from my woes. Somehow, the path to my goal which had appeared easy and well understood, now appears to be impossible; unachievable.

Of course, if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'm making progress. All progress is good progress. Every little step takes me a little bit closer to my goal, but I'm acutely aware of how long it's going to take me to reach the end.

Perhaps I have summit fever. I can see what I think is the peak of the mountain and I've become obsessed about reaching the summit. Psychologically, it's a terrible idea to fixate on the summit too much. The important thing is to just keep steadily moving up the mountain at a sustainable pace, and try not to think about getting to the top. The psychology of how to suffer and endure the hardships of climbing a difficult mountain are reasonable to apply to my situation, but I'm not fighting a war of attrition... I'm trying to get rich quick.

Frustratingly, I know that I was happier when I dropped out of mainstream society and I was a homeless bum. I know that I'd be much happier if I declare that the demands placed upon me are too excessive and unreasonable, and I only accept my fair share of responsibility. I'm being a bit of a martyr. I'm being stubborn and trying to prove a point.

I presume that suddenly stopping drinking, after spending the best part of a couple of months drinking excessively every single day, is probably going to be a shock to the system. My brain surely doesn't know what's hit it, having been pickled in alcohol and now suddenly left high and dry. My days have been structured around getting drunk. Every evening after work. Every weekend after a certain time of day that seems resonable and respectable to start getting drunk. Getting drunk has been the highlight of my day for far too long. What's the highlight of my day now? Nothing.

I'm sure that given enough time I could re-adjust but the show must go on. I've got to do all the things that I can't stop doing, as well as making the other changes. I still need to get up and go to work every day. I still need to write every day. I still need to commute, pack my bags, wash my clothes, iron my shirts, do my book-keeping and make sure that the cash flows as it's supposed to. I'm spinning lots plates, even though my life is drastically simplified and paired down in an attempt to make it manageable. I don't exactly feel overburdened by competing demands... the problem is more that I'm powerless to influence almost everything in my life, except for the number of words which I can write each day on this website.

The one goal that achieves absolutely nothing - there's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow - is the only one which I'm able to steadily work at in a sustainable way, and I feel confident that I'll reach the finishing line. All the other goals, even though they have obvious benefits, look to be impossible. How am I ever going to get my health sorted out when I'm so depressed, miserable and anxious? How am I ever going to keep working for as long as I need to, in order to repay my crushing debts, when my working day is so unbearably awful? How am I going to reduce my alcohol intake to a much more sensible and moderate level, when I am in such desperate need of something to ease my daily suffering; something to look forward to at the end of the working day and the end of each working week?

Even my blog, which at times I feel quite proud of, is getting ruined. I know that people don't want to read the same moaning and complaining repetitive rant about how I'm bored at work, my life is unsustainable and all I'm doing is churning out a million miserable words. I can see from my analytics that my readers are disengaging. What the hell am I writing about? What the hell am I doing?

It seemed to make sense to me, that I could live in a hotel next door to a pub, and I could get drunk every evening after work, then I'd get drunk all weekend, and the time would pass... soon the debts would be repaid and I could start to think - for the first time in 3 years - about what I want to do with my life which would be compatible with my mental health; my needs. I've been driven by necessity for so long. I do what I have to in order to survive, but after a long while surviving I'd rather be dead if I'm never going to be thriving.

How long has it been since I felt happiness and contentment? How long has it been since I dared to dream?

I'm not sure if this is coming across, but I'm trying to moan and complain my way to the finish line. Like people who grunt and groan as if vocalising their pain and the strain of their exercions somehow makes the task easier, I'm doing the same thing: I'm trying to make the time pass more quickly by whinging and whining.

Of course, I bore myself almost as much as I bore you. I cringe with embarrassment at what I've become, and the complete crap I'm churning out, but I just need to reach my arbitrary goal so I can at least say that I did one really hard thing, because it was within my power to influence the outcome, unlike the rest of my life which simply has to be endured.

Patience, patience. Perhaps all I need is patience.

 

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Blur

4 min read

This is a story about mental clarity...

Shoreline

Day three without booze. I woke up feeling surprisingly fuzzy-headed, but I guess that's because I'm still using sleeping tablets in an attempt to be able to fall asleep despite overwhelming feelings of anxiousness and hopelessness. My brain is waking up, having been pickled in alcohol, and now I'm sober my thoughts are somewhat racing. I can sense that my tendency towards mania has been kept at bay by the demon drink; now that I've stopped drinking the brakes are off and my mood can fluctuate dangerously.

I feel like I've regained a lot of the sharpness of my mind, but with the clearing fog comes an overconfidence: I'm far too outspoken at work; I'm shooting my mouth off. I'm going to get myself into trouble.

It's a horrible situation to be in, having to self-medicate just to be able to cope with so-called 'ordinary' life, but the medications and the alcohol only temporarily put a lid on things, and there's a price to be paid for artificially constraining me and my mood - there's a backlash as soon as my brain gets a little freedom from the chemical straightjacket. I can't be artificially constrained forever, and the longer I am constricted and constrained then the worse it is in the end.

I'm treading an extremely fine line between what I need to do to keep my job, earn money, pay rent, bills and generally take part in civilised society like an ordinary regular person, and what I need to do to be able to fake it; to keep a lid on my problems. I have to pretend like everything is A-OK in my life and I'm having no problem at all dealing with depression, anxiety, crushing levels of debt and incredible insecurity about my housing, income and other things which are essential for everyday life. I have to intoxicate myself just the right amount to be able to appear functional.

I want to do all the right things, but there's only so much change I can manage all at once, and each change requires a lot of unpleasantness in the short term before I feel the benefits. Every change carries a certain amount of risk. I run the risk of swinging into mania and becoming a pain in the ass in the office. I run the risk of reaching the limit of the stress I can endure, and having a breakdown. I run the risk of becoming exhausted and depressed, and being unable to work. I run the risk of giving up on the daily unpleasantness; abandoning everything and running away because it's just so damn bloody awful. Obviously, I run a huge risk of simply deciding to kill myself.

Just because it's healthier to be sober and I'm gaining mental clarity, doesn't mean it's better. Seeing the world exactly the way it is isn't a comfortable thing. The world is full of awfulness and it's better if we're somewhat blinkered, otherwise we'd all just curl up in a ball and await our inevitable painful demise. In a godless universe with no afterlife, where science and rational thought has removed all the wonder and magic from everyday existence, what is life except suffering and death?

It's clear that I somewhat prefer being half-cut; semi-intoxicated. It's obvious that I like a little something to "take the edge off". Perhaps what I'm writing here is a love-letter to my alcohol addiction, given my self-imposed temporary sobriety. Perhaps I'm trying to justify my drunkenness.

Anyway, whatever, I'm off to the pub [where I'm going to drink a non-alcoholic beverage, probably].

 

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Word Count

10 min read

This is a story about carelessness...

Grazed knuckles

I'm a regular at my local corner shop. During the month when I wasn't working, I think I visited the shop every single day to buy a bottle of red wine. The weekend before last I was buying some unhealthy snacks and my usual bottle of red, when I decided at the last minute to grab a bottle of white from the fridge, which was near the counter. My usual bottle of red was balanced precariously on top of the snacks I was buying, which then plummeted towards the shop floor where mercifully it bounced off the linoleum; the glass didn't break. Last Friday I grabbed both a bottle of white and a bottle of red. As I walked up the steep hill back to my apartment, I wasn't paying attention to my footing and I tripped over. I grazed my knuckles as I attempted to save my precious cargo of wine from being smashed on the tarmac.

I've definitely become a functional alcoholic.

I woke up on Saturday morning and I had a slight tremor. I don't get hangovers because I think my alcohol tolerance is so high. I can drink two bottles of wine and I feel fine. Obviously I'm not fine.

I've started to skip meals because I'm getting enough calories from all the wine. I could drink 5 bottles of wine over the course of a weekend, and the only 'food' that I would eat would be some salty snacks - crisps and suchlike.

I examine my eyes for any sign of yellowing. I prod and probe my abdomen for tenderness, firmness or any subcutaneous fluid. Surely my liver is taking a battering from a month and a half of extreme alcohol abuse?

Over the weekends I show no restraint at all. I'm making no attempt whatsoever to be the slightest bit healthy. The crap I'm putting into my body - unhealthy snacks and copious quantities of alcohol - combined with my sedentary lifestyle must be lethal. I'm either sat down or lying down. According to my step counter I've dropped from a peak of 15,000 steps per day to a paltry 2,000.

I need to figure out which broken part of the vicious cycle to fix. Stress leads to feelings of tiredness; depression leads to demotivation; anxiety paralyses me - I could start with fixing my mental health. Self-medicating with vast quantities of alcohol seems like the solution to anxiety, stress, boredom, loneliness and isolation, but it's pretty clear that alcohol is affecting my physical health and probably my mental health too. Exercise seems like a ridiculous suggestion, given how badly I'm coping with the basic demands of everyday life. I can't figure out if I'm too tired and stressed to exercise, or if exercise will bring a net benefit once I get fitter - which I know it will - but it seems unthinkable to get fitter when I'm so dependent on alcohol as a crutch.

I'm changing far too many things at once. I've only just started my 3rd week in a new job and I'm still finding my feet in the new organisation and ingratiating myself with my new colleagues. My memory is shot to pieces. I can't even remember how long I was taking sleeping pills for before I ran out. I had some leftover painkillers, which helped to reduce my anxiety enough to be able to sleep, but then I switched back to sleeping pills last week. All I know is that the second half of May was a big mess, June was a near-disaster and I only started getting myself sorted out a week before starting the new job in the middle of July.

The surprising thing is that I keep moving forward. I didn't lose my job despite a few really shaky weeks when I was really sick. I've managed to start this job and things are going OK. Well, when I say that "things are going OK" of course I don't include my mental health, mood stability, brain chemistry or any of those other things which I pretend are OK during office hours. It's a miracle that I've been able to cover up a major relapse, alcohol abuse, abuse of prescription medications and of course my rather worrisome mental health problems.

How long did my writing go erratic for? I know that I had to delete a lot of blog posts in the period between my relapse and the day I finally regained enough of my rational mind to see that I was picking fights which couldn't be won and saying things which shouldn't be said. I don't usually delete blog posts, but I'd lost my mind and I was meandering up dead-ends; I was unhealthily obsessing over things and acting carelessly.

My carelessness has manifested itself at weekends recently. I get super drunk and I write with a lack of care for coherence and storytelling. I've written at weekends in the knowledge that I have fewer readers on Saturdays and Sundays, which has made me feel like I can just ramble, complain, moan and write complete and utter crap. I've considered deleting or rewriting my daily blog posts which I've published at weekends, because I've wondered what the hell am I going on about? I've written and written and when the word count goes over 1,000 words then I decide that I'd better not write any more, but I haven't considered whether what I've written is any good.

Of couse, the end is in sight. I'm so close to a million words now. In fact, if we included the word count of all the deleted blog posts, then I'm well over a million words. The current total word count that's actually published on the public internet on this website is now in excess of 950,000. I'm repeating myself, but only because it's important in the context of my alcoholism. The last few months have been a blur. In my mind, the relapse, the breakup and the period of insanity that followed was over in the blink of an eye. In reality, I've been an intoxicated mess; I've either been doped up on pills or drunk.

Sometimes I hear myself speak and my voice buzzes in my ears and the sound vibrates my head. It feels like somebody else is speaking and they're using a megaphone directed at my head, which is so loud that the sound hurts and I can feel the vibrations. It's a dreamlike state. It's akin to an out-of-body experience. I feel like this when I think I'm completely sober but I think it's actually due to the fact that there isn't much blood in my alcohol-stream. God knows what other crap is still circulating in my body. I've abused a mixture of diazepam, clonazepam, alprazolam, pregabalin and zopiclone during the last couple of months, as I attempted to wrestle back control of my life before my supercrack addiction destroys everything I've worked so hard to rebuild.

Yes, that's right. The dreaded supercrack was back. I had relapsed.

To put things in context, I've worked a full-time job for 9 months out of the last 12. I've moved house 4 times. I've been hospitalised twice. I've been sectioned. I spent the best part of a month locked up on a psych ward. The main headline that most people would pay attention to is that I've earned a lot of money and done a lot of work. To all intents and purposes I've been a thoroughly productive worker and a valued member of the teams and projects I've been part of. This does not reconcile.

In my head, I'm brushing off serious problems with mental health, addiction and alcoholism like they're nothing. In my head, I'm as invincible as I ever was. In my head, I'm immortal and the evidence very much backs up that ludicrous idea.

I really don't want to have a reality check one day, where I find out that I've done irreparable damage to my physical health. I really don't want to keep testing my mortality to breaking point.

Yes, the numbers look incredibly good. Despite the insanity of my life during the last 12 months, I still managed to work 9 months out of 12 and my gross income has probably been well in excess of 3 times the national average. Somehow, I've managed to write more-or-less every day and churn out over 300,000 words since this time last year. How the hell did I manage to earn so much and how did I manage to write so much? How do the numbers look so good when my life has been a complete shambolic mess?

The numbers don't tell the complete story.

Yes, without good numbers my story wouldn't be very interesting. The world's full of junkies who went bankrupt. The world's full of alcoholics who drank all their profits. The world's full of people who have fascinating stories but they never write them down. I'm gunning for the convergence point where one million words meets one million pounds. I'm aiming to be an outlier: the guy who beat drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, homelessness and - most importantly - bankruptcy. I've got the archives; I've collected the data. Plenty of people lost their house, their car, their wife, their cash and everything else, but how did they get it back? The game; the sport, if you like, is to have kept this narrative going through a 3-year period which accurately captures the false starts, the setbacks and the struggles... and at no point did I wipe the slate clean; at no point did I run away; at no point did I switch to a different tack.

Why would I change my approach? The numbers look good.

I'm going to reach a million words on my blog because I'm in control of my destiny and I can work as hard as I want; I can write as much as I want. I can choose when my project is complete, because I know the word count I need to achieve every day to make sure I hit the target.

Whether or not I clear all my debts and reach a thoroughly impressive gross income for the 3-year period covered by my blog, I'm not so sure. There's no way that hard work will bring the finish line any closer - it's simply a waiting game. All I have to do is sit and look pretty and the money flows in. I just need to be patient. It's an agonising wait, but it's profitable.

Being drunk all the time seemed like a solution to the waiting game; to make the time pass quicker. However, I need to be clean and sober when I reach the finish line otherwise it was all a waste of time.

I'm going to see if I can resist the temptation to get drunk. I'm going to sober up for a few days, to try to clear my head and get some perspective. I've been intoxicated for far too long.

 

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Swapping Addictions

5 min read

This is a story about changing habits...

Pill packets

A couple of months ago, I'd gotten myself to the point where I was off all the medications and I was even having some periods where I wasn't drinking. It's quite a remarkable achievement considering that a year ago I was physically addicted to a nasty cocktail of Xanax, Valium, zopiclone, zolpidem and pregabalin, all washed down with copious quantities of alcohol. Last year I had started drinking caffeinated drinks again in an effort to allow me to function at work, when I was so heavily medicated. It was a mess.

Last week, I had a little bit of pregabalin and a little bit of diazepam to help me get over the new job nerves, and to help my body re-adjust its sleeping pattern to office hours.

This week, I've had a little bit of zopiclone to continue to help my body re-adjust to getting up early in the morning.

My coping mechanism; my crutch is alcohol. My portion control with alcohol is fairly hard to adjust. If I open a bottle of wine I'm definitely going to finish it. If alcohol is easily available I'm definitely going to drink. Eliminating all the medications which would tranquillise me, sedate me and ease me gently to sleep, and not replacing any of them with anything has meant that I've consciously or unconsciously sought to salve my anxiety; soothe my nerves. I've reached for the bottle.

Ideally, I'd swap unhealthy habits for healthy ones. I'd love it if my job was absorbing and I could become a workaholic. I'd love it if my lifestyle permitted fitness-related leisure pursuits, but it doesn't: I'm in an office job which bores the shit out of me, stuck at a desk all day long, then I'm in a hotel room near a motorway, and the thought of doing anything beyond simply surviving tips me into an outright panic attack.

In time, my debts will be repaid and my savings replenished. In time, I'll have re-established my working routine and proven my value at my workplace with my new colleagues. In time, my brain will have adjusted to life without all the medications.

My fear is that I'm going to get fat, unfit and develop a heavy dependence on alcohol.

I know that my personality is fixed a certain way, which means I can very easily become obsessive about work and leisure pursuits making me fit, fulfilled and rich, but things just aren't going my way at the moment. I'm struggling along with pretty intolerable living arrangements, working arrangements and paying a very high price for lengthy periods where I was using powerful psychoactive medications.

I have a deep longing for some tablets to make the next few months a bit more bearable. I'd consider almost any antidepressant at the moment, if it promised to reduce my anxiety, take away the dread I feel the night before a working day and soften the blow when my alarm goes off in the morning and it's time to go to work; if it could reduce the acute feelings of misery and hopelessness.

I've felt a lot less suicidal the past couple of weeks, but depression has manifested itself as feeling tired all the time and an incredible struggle to get up in the mornings. My energy, enthusiasm and motivation levels are all at rock bottom. My brain feels pretty sluggish and slow, and I'm disappointed with myself that I haven't been able to feel useful or productive in my new job yet.

All of these things place a huge amount of stress and strain on me. You'd be surprised how hard it is to make medication changes, let alone stop taking a whole host of powerful medications all at once, plus the other stressors in my life, such as an unsettled work and home life; lack of support network.

My bank balance steadily creeps in a positive direction, which is pretty much my main objective, but my responsibilities seem to mount while my enjoyment of life is at rock bottom. I need to go to the supermarket to buy cakes for my work colleagues because tomorrow is my birthday, but it's going to be one of the worst birthdays I've had for a long time, although it might be OK if I can meet a local friend for a beer, which would improve things immeasurably.

Perhaps I'm being a martyr; perhaps I'm not. I've gotten into the habit of going cold turkey with addictive drugs and medications, and white-knuckling through the dreadful withdrawal symptoms. I've desperately tried to avoid becoming dependent on anything new and muddying the psychiatric picture by pickling my brain in more chemicals.

I'd like to make things as easy as possible on myself for the next few months, but I don't think the answer lies in addictive tranquillisers, sedatives, sleeping pills and painkillers. Perhaps my mind has been too closed off to the idea of antidepressants. I desperately need this job and the money. I desperately need the next few months to go smoothly and without incident, so I can escape the shackles of my debt.

I'm sad that I'm so sad on the eve of my birthday. I'm sad that I'm so sad in the middle of summer. I'm sad that I'm so sad when I've worked so hard to do the right things: work hard and quit all the addictive drugs and medications. Isn't there supposed to be some reward for hard work?

I wonder when I'm going to feel the benefits from all the good choices I'm making?

 

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Sugar Craving, Caffeine Addicted, Alcohol Dependent

4 min read

This is a story about shelf life...

Red bull cans

Objectively comparing feelings at different times in your life is a virtually impossible task. What you would have described as 'low' mood a few years ago might have now become your new standard for a 'good' day. All I can tell you is that I don't remember ever feeling as tired as I have felt today.

I spent 5 hours driving, 7 hours waiting around in airports and 5 hours flying, which was all exhausting. However, in the last week or so there's something else that's been quite different about my behaviour - I've been drinking coffee and energy drinks.

A couple of weeks I desperately needed an extra bit of 'get up and go' to get me through a tough couple of weeks. I reached for caffeine as a crutch. I gave up - although perhaps only temporarily - my many years of caffeine-free existence.

When I was away with my friend over the weekend, it was tempting to just move from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant, café to café. We drank fizzy drinks, strong European coffee, had ice-creams and I drank quite a lot of beer. We guzzled sugar, caffeine, and I had plenty of alcohol.

Yesterday, because I had to drive home from the airport, I had to stay sober all day. I also didn't want to be wired and jittery from having loads of coffee. I was exhausted, so I wanted to sleep on the plane ride, so that I wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel while driving home.

I think to say "alcohol dependent" is an over-exaggeration, but having slept most of the day, and generally felt like everything was far too much effort, it was the lure of alcohol that finally managed to get me off the sofa and out of the house.

If you look at most of my behaviour, it's motivated by the tiny dopamine hits from sugar, caffeine and the mellowing effect of alcohol. I used to ride a dreadful chemical carousel when I was a lot younger, working in London: I would have 8 or more espresso shots a day, and then had to have a bottle of red wine at night in order to be able to sleep. It was a vicious see-saw of uppers and downers, that were quite legal and indeed the consumption of coffee and alcohol was quite ubiquitous amongst my friends and work colleagues.

I've felt like my sleep quality has improved and I find it a lot easier to get up in the mornings, since going caffeine-free.

I've never really managed to get rid of alcohol completely. I find that I suffer terrible anxiety and depression whenever I try to stop drinking.

Sugar is something I have a mixed relationship with. I crave it like crazy when I'm tired. When I'm well rested I don't have a very sweet tooth at all. I think I associate sugar with getting an energy boost, which in fact never happens. If I'm craving sugar I should probably take a nap.

There's nothing to say that caffeine is particularly bad for you, and in fact there's good evidence that it has a neuro-protective effect against dementia in older people, but anecdotally I can definitely report feeling improved mood, energy and sleep, since cutting my caffeine intake to zero.

Sugar is obviously fattening, and is very unhealthy, although an essential part of our diet - every cell in our body is powered by glucose, so any faddy sugar-free low-carb diets are pure idiocy.

Alcohol is fattening and seems to have a firm grip on me, even if I'm not physically dependent on it. The strength of the cravings I have for alcohol are quite shocking, and the regularity and quantity I consume is definitely unhealthy. I would like to cut down, or even quit for a while, but I'm never quite able to.

In short, I'm feeling really tired, old and unhealthy. My mood is dreadfully low, I'm lacking motivation and I seem to have lost all enjoyment of life.

I wonder if I'm past my sell-by date.

 

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Too Many Late Night

2 min read

This is a story about paying the penalty...

Nightclub

I thought this week was going to be impossible - I'd lost a lot of sleep over the weekend and I was freaking out that I'd never catch up. However, I seemed to get through 3 normalish days in the office somehow.

Something's screwy with my mood and body clock. All of my rules about early bedtimes and no caffeine have gone out of the window.

The net result has been 3 late nights, and 3 days when I've been quite manic, which is exhausting in and of itself.

It all caught up with me today, and all the exhaustion has seemed to hit me at once.

Frustrating, because it's my last chance to make a good impression at the old place, and possibly find a way so that I can carry on working locally. Also frustrating because I need to be sharp and at the top of my game tomorrow, first thing in the morning.

I've got so much to do tomorrow. It's going to be a horribly busy day.

Then, I'm seeing an old friend over the weekend, which I'm really looking forward to, but I'd hate to ruin it by being half-dead from exhaustion.

Things should be alright, but I really need that early night I keep talking about but never actually managing to get. Also, less wine. I've been drinking far too much.

Not been looking after my physical or mental health at all well.

 

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Deadmaus

2 min read

This is a story about god's perfect killing machines...

Dead mouse

I love cats but they kill a lot of mice and birds. I love cats but they're hunters. I love cats but they're carnivores and they require a lot of meat to satiate their murderous bloodlust.

I'm a bit drunk - my sobriety didn't even last a week - and I can't really write, but I need to maintain my daily publishing ritual.

Today was a good day. I woke up with cats and cuddles, I ate unhealthy food, I got drunk in the sunshine and there was some boat and water related messing around - things felt very summery and it lifted my spirits The summer months are my favourite, of course.

I think that spooning and pets are the best antidepressants, along with sunshine and adventure. Alcohol and tasty food are also excellent at improving mood. Life is quite good at the moment. Challenges ahead, but things could work out ok if I can withstand the constant uncertainty over my future; the constant threat of running out of money and consequent destitution.

My life is full of surprising life or death extremes. Either I could be sipping prosecco on the deck of a yacht, or sipping methylated spirits in a cardboard box, sleeping rough on the street - there's very little middle ground.

 

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