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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

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Whine

5 min read

This is a story about feeling hard-done-by....

Wine glass

Poor me. Poor me. Pour me another drink. I look back upon things I've written and I cringe because I'm so self-pitying. In the context of my improving situation, it looks rather churlish to complain about my lot in life, however I'm wont to moan because I've spent most of the last 5 years battling to get back on my feet after a messy divorce. I'm repeating myself. Jeeps I'm repeating myself and it's only the first paragraph.

I don't really understand the whole "count your blessings" and "other people have it harder" mindset. Shitty times are shitty times. Unbearable crap is unbearable crap. I don't really care that there's one super unfortunate person who's having the most awful time in the whole entire world. I don't really care that there's only ever one human being on the entire planet, who supposedly has the moral right to complain, because nobody has it any harder than them. This isn't a lack of perspective, or being a spoiled brat - it's human life. Next time you stub your toe, you should try not being in pain by remembering that other people are in far more pain than you... see how that works out for you.

I don't generally think of myself as very hard-done-by.

I get up in the morning pretty early, but not the earliest. I have to commute to work, but not the furthest. I have to do a job that's pretty boring most of the time, but it's not the worst. I don't have housing security or financial security, but I'm not starving and homeless. I'm pretty lonely and isolated, but I'm not raped, tortured and murdered every single day. On balance, my life's pretty good. Perhaps you think that means I should only ever write about how awesome everything is. Perhaps you think I should leap out of bed in the morning with a smile from ear-to-ear.

My depression has definitely lifted a little now that I got through a ridiculously stressful and unpleasant ordeal where I pretty much lost everything and very nearly ended up with black marks against my name that would have made me unemployable and unable to rent a place to live. I very nearly ended up homeless again. I got down to a bank balance of £23 available credit, making bankruptcy imminent. I got through that, but it's taken its toll.

I'm drinking loads. Perhaps that's because I was using alcohol as an unhealthy coping mechanism - a crutch - when I was battling to beat my addiction to two prescription medications that I had been taking for a year. I was battling to earn money and stave off bankruptcy. I was battling to save up enough money to buy a car, rent an apartment and be able to switch to a job that was closer to home. Alcohol soothed my nerves; calmed my anxiety. Alcohol lulled me off to sleep.

I whine a lot. I drink at lot of wine and I whine.

I release the pressure build-up here on this blog. I come here and I write every day. Writing is my healthy coping mechanism. Whining is healthy. Drinking wine is not healthy. I drink too much wine.

If anybody tells you not to whine so much, they're a toxic person who shouldn't be anywhere near you. Whining is what people do when their lives are shitty and they're going through hell. Whining is a way of coping with some truly awful stuff. Whining is a safe way of venting. If somebody tells you to be positive and pretend like everything's OK, they're toxic and they don't care about what you're going through.

I wish I whined less, but my whining is driven by my circumstances. As my circumstances improve, I'll whine less. When my life becomes sustainable and pleasant, I'll stop whining. The whining is getting me through the long slog. Wine is also helping me get through the long slog.

I'm comfort eating and abusing alcohol, and it's having a negative effect on my body - I'm putting on weight, my liver is having to work hard and alcohol is generally not very healthy. It'd be nice if I could live healthily immediately, but wine and whining are helping me to limp along at the moment - they're the crutches that I need.

I need a holiday. I need to lie on a beach in a hot country for a week. Yes, sure, lots of us need a holiday. I've got to get through another 3 weeks before I get paid, and then I can maybe have a relaxing break, where I won't be worrying about money or losing my job. I hope that the next few weeks are just going to be solid whining, because I even bore myself sometimes, but it's hard going at the moment... moan moan moan.

I have other stuff that I want to write about that's probably more interesting, but I thought I'd rattle off a little essay about whining and about wine, of course.

 

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Sobriety-Induced Insomnia

3 min read

This is a story about nodding off...

Sleeping under a kite

I was expecting my alcohol-free week to pay dividends, but it's not [yet]. I've had three awful nights of sleep and I've been struggling to keep my eyes open at work during the afternoons. My body clock is all screwed up - I'm struggling to get out of bed in the mornings and I'm struggling to get to sleep at night. The only variable is the alcohol, so I know that my sobriety is to blame.

I'm strict with my bedtime and mealtimes. I dim the lights and avoid using my laptop and smartphone in the evenings. I'm doing all the right things but I'm tired and I'm getting more tired by the day, because I'm not sleeping very well at night.

I've noticed an improvement in terms of weight gain already - my trousers had been feeling a little tight. Alcohol piles on the pounds because it's so calorific. I think it's worth having a break from booze for the benefit of my liver and waistline.

I think I'm having bouts of depression and anxiety as a result of abruptly cutting my alcohol consumption to zero. I keep thinking that I'm bored at work and that I should walk out and go home, because I can't stand sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I keep feeling depressed about the fact that I'm months away from financial security. I feel like I can't yet afford to take a holiday - I need to earn every penny I can to dig myself out of the hole and get myself into a strong situation.

My situation is pretty damn good really. I'm managing to get up and get to work nice and early. I'm making it through the working week without too much struggle. My finances are improving. The weather is improving. I have a lovely home. I'm sure I'll feel a lot better after a restful laid-back weekend watching TV while I lie on the sofa. It'll be great to have some weeks without any stress or disruption, to really get into a good routine.

I took a big gamble in making a big change, by stopping drinking so abruptly. I was sensible when I made all the other big changes, like tapering slowly off various medications, but it was really hard. By stopping drinking suddenly I've risked nasty side effects, which I'm very much experiencing right now. I'm sure my body and brain will be very grateful for having a break from booze, but right now I'm exhausted... I'm not feeling the benefit yet.

I guess things always get worse before they get better.

 

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Alcohol as an Anxiolytic

4 min read

This is a story about self-medicating for anxiety with wine...

Recycling

I keep my empty wine bottles behind the kitchen dustbin. The collection of bottles waiting to be recycled has grown very quickly, given that I've been polishing off at least a bottle of wine every day for months. Wine has been my unhealthy coping mechanism. Wine has helped me to get through 4 solid months of work, living out of a suitcase, dating, courting, buying a car, renting an apartment, moving home, two different jobs, three different countries, 12 AirBnBs and countless other anxiety-creating things.

It should be noted that during the last 4 months, I also quit a neuropathic painkiller called pregabalin, and a sleeping pill called zopiclone. The net result of quitting those medications was a vicious rise in my anxiety levels, as a result of the rebound from stopping taking them: withdrawal syndrome. It's hard enough to get off pregabalin and zopiclone under normal circumstances, let alone when you have huge upheaval and stress in your life.

A little over 6 months ago, I quit diazepam and alprazolam, which are both anxiety medications. They're better known as Valium and Xanax. They're highly addictive, and stopping them can cause a discontinuation (withdrawal) syndrome that can last for months and create unbearable anxiety levels.

So, the circumstances have created a hell of a lot of anxiety... a ridiculous amount of anxiety.

Alcohol has helped me to wean off the addictive medications and become medication-free. Alcohol has helped me to cope during incredibly stressful times. Alcohol has been my anxiety medication, during a time when my stress and anxiety levels would be unbearable for even the toughest person.

The ubiquity of alcohol is about the only good thing that can be said of it. Alcohol's effects are short-lived. Alcohol is a poor sleep aid. Alcohol is very unhealthy. However, it's not desirable to take benzodiazepines, Z-drugs and painkillers on a long-term basis, because they all quickly build tolerance and require a bigger and bigger dose to be effective. Valium also has a very long half-life, so you are affected by it 24 hours a day once it reaches a steady concentration in your bloodstream. At least with alcohol, you sober up pretty fast when you stop drinking.

The body's ability to eliminate alcohol is very impressive. Tonight is my third night without a drink and I've suffered no ill effects from abruptly stopping my daily boozing. It would be expected that I might get the shakes or something, given my chronic self-administration of large quantities of alcohol over a long period, but that's simply not the case - I just stopped and I'm fine.

My sleep was a little disturbed last night. My body and brain are re-adjusting to life without copious amounts of wine being tipped down my throat. I'm not feeling the benefits, and if anything I'm feeling a little worse than I was when I was drinking every day. That's to be expected: my body's repairing itself. The booze has been very hard on my body.

I've gained weight and I just feel unhealthy from a winter of misery, where I drank vast quantities of wine. I really need a mini-detox. I thought about having a sober April, but I don't see the point. Drinking in moderation is what I'm aiming to do, so I'll have a little break and then I'll try to drink less.

Having a break from drinking is important, because I need to get into better drinking habits now that the shitstorm of stress has passed. There was no way that I was going to be able to do anything healthy while I was still heavily dependent on alcohol as a crutch, during a really horrible period of my life, but now things are improving and my life is a lot more manageable.

Perhaps I'm one of the lucky ones who can take it or leave it. Perhaps I'm just normal - I'll use whatever's available and my behaviour is dictated by my environment. During stressful times of course I'm going to hit the bottle. During happier times, of course I'm able to make healthier lifestyle choices. Seems obvious, doesn't it?

So, alcohol's not great, but it's not all bad either. It helped me get to where I've got to today.

 

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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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Numb & Dumb

5 min read

This is a story about being medicated...

Various assorted pills

It would substantially benefit my bank balance if I was to swallow substances that would remove my brain from my skull and place it into a jar - a chemical straightjacket. My doctors are falling over themselves to give me pills that will put me into a warped kind of reality - an altered state - where my perceptions are chemically changed.

If you put your hand in a fire and it's hurting because your hand is getting burnt, you have two choices. Firstly, you could remove your hand from the fire. Secondly, you could take a drug so that you don't feel the pain or care about your hand getting burnt.

I remain absolutely convinced that I'm in a state of depressive realism that's allowing me to perceive the madness of our late-capitalist society. I see suffering and injustice everywhere I look. I see the ridiculous situation where powerful incompetent men are paid millions of pounds, despite screwing everything up, while the people who do the most essential jobs in society are paid a pittance. The poor give every penny they earn back to the wealthy men for the privilege of being alive. It's a bitter pill to swallow.

Why have we defined "functional" to mean doing jobs that we hate? Why have we defined "functional" to mean not rocking the boat; not challenging the status quo? Why are our most "functional" members of society the ones who are causing the most human misery?

To decide not to take medication is a political statement. To decline to have my body violated - simply to conform with a political system that I don't agree with - makes me into a kind of political prisoner. I'm a victim of "fit in or f**k off" culture.

It seems to me like most people depend on substances - alcohol, tea, coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes, nicotine e-liquids, antidepressants, anxiolytics, tranquillisers, sleeping pills, painkillers - and very few of us are able to live life substance-free. What is it about modern life that pushes us onto these addictive substances and keeps us dependent on them? Why should it be mandated to use psychoactive substances, just to live my life?

It seems deeply immoral to have constructed a society that's unbearable except with something to 'take the edge off'. It seems like a complete car crash of a situation that we have to reach for chemicals just to be able to function and fit in. It seems like bullying and coercion to me. I have deep ethical objections to a world that forces me to put substances into my body against my will.

I fought hard to free myself from my dependence on caffeine. Quitting coffee was challenging. Quitting tea was relentlessly difficult. Avoiding caffeinated beverages is tricky.

I had the good fortune of never becoming addicted to nicotine, except when addiction was forced upon me by my parents breathing their second-hand smoke all over me in a confined space, which was wicked and immoral.

I deliberately spend lengthy periods without alcohol, to clear my mind of all substances. Alcohol is ubiquitous and hard to avoid. There's huge amounts of peer pressure to drink.

Finally, I find myself fending off prescription medications. Without prescribed pills, life is very hard. It's almost expected that modern life is going to induce anxiety and depression in most of us, and so it's us who must change rather than us changing the circumstances that produce the unbearable mental health problems - we consent to having mind-altering substances put into our bodies, because we have little choice in the matter.

If you want money - and I imagine that you probably need it - then you're going to have to slurp tea & coffee, suck on your e-cigarette, get drunk and pop pills. We've arrived at a state where life is so utterly depressing and shit that we need all these chemicals to pretend that it isn't.

In the face of so many obvious problems in the world, is the answer to take pills that allow us to be wilfully ignorant and carry on regardless? In the face of the whole shambolic mess threatening to crumble into dust at any moment, should we be so coerced and bullied into medicating ourselves?

We live with incredible insecurity. Our jobs are utter bullshit and we could lose them at any moment. Our wages barely cover our living expenses, and in many cases they don't. Payday lenders and other legal loan sharks put us into a constant state of debt-laden fear. Our livelihoods are under constant threat; our homes. Where's the security? Where's the comfort? Where's the contentment and relaxation and happiness going to come from, in this bullshit merry-go-round of horrible jobs and insufficient money to ever escape from the rat race?

Eventually, it's all too much and we capitulate. "Give me something to make me feel better, doc" we say. We swallow our antidepressants, anxiolytics, tranquillisers, sleeping pills and painkillers because we can't afford to take time off to get better. We can't afford to drop out of the rat race. We can't afford to show any weakness. We can't afford to catch our breath.

The capitalists have got us right where they want us - numb and dumb. We're so f**king doped up that we don't realise how awful we've let things get. We don't dare to imagine a better world. We just keep chasing that ever-elusive dream that one day we'll get to quit the rat race, but we never will because we're all doped up to the eyeballs with enough drugs to tranquillise an elephant.

That's why I don't take the damn pills. That's why I'm going through the shit I'm going through - I want to experience reality and I don't want to be yet another dull-eyed slave.

 

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Drink Yourself Sober

10 min read

This is a story about escaping...

Empty wine bottles

I just realised that I couldn't tell you anything about how these wines tasted. I drank them without savouring the smell and the flavour. I drank all these bottles of wine on my own and I can't remember a thing about them. If I had to choose which one I enjoyed the most, I wouldn't be able to - I didn't drink them for enjoyment. I drank them to get drunk.

When I took a sip from my glass last night, I still had a very bad hangover from the night before. The wine tasted sour and unpleasant. I had been in two minds about drinking anyway, but something prompted me to drink - I think it was anxiety about fast approaching Monday morning and returning to the office; another agonising week doing a job I hate. There was anxiety about my financial situation too. I had run out of money and spent my final £10 on wine and a cheeseburger. I was skint.

Alcohol has become liquid diazepam for me. Alcohol is a very poor substitute for benzodiazepines though. At least with benzos you don't have dreadful hangovers. At least with benzos, you don't get a fat tummy from all the excess calories. At least with benzos, it's possible to be very precise with a dose. Benzos slotted pretty easily into my everyday life, in a way that alcohol doesn't. I would take a benzo to go to sleep, and another to be able to get up and go to work. I was functional on benzos. Alcohol is unhealthy. Alcohol is not going to lead anywhere except becoming unfit, overweight and suffering from various alcoholism-related illnesses. Taking my tranquillisers in pill form is far more preferable to having to guzzle gallons of booze.

Why would I be getting so intoxicated anyway? Surely my life is wonderful?

There's a little bit of loneliness and boredom. I'm working away from home and living in a hotel. There's nothing much to do except drink. I was running out of money, so it's not like I could go out and do things. Also, did I mention I was running out of money? When you know that you're running out of money, it's really stressful. Stress means that you can't relax and you can't sleep. Constant anxiety is a terrible thing. When you're running out of money, anxiety is constant. When you're not sleeping, anxiety is with you all night long, tormenting you. There are no easy solutions to my problems, but money's a good start. If you don't have any money, you might as well just get drunk.

"How do you afford to get so drunk if you've got no money?"

Well, it's about priorities. The six bottles of wine pictured above probably cost me about £42. How much would I spend on gym membership? How much would I spend on a night out seeing friends? How much would I spend wooing a girl? It's not possible to simply not exist, and still earn money. Earning money requires existence - nobody pays you unless you're in the right place at the right time. The only way to get me into a shitty situation that I hate - living out of a suitcase and working a job that makes me sick - is to oil me up with a load of booze or tip a packet of pills down my throat. It's completely necessary to have booze when I'm doing something that's otherwise incompatible with my mental health.

Thus, we arrive at my central theme: drinking myself sober. The route to sobriety does not just include abstinence. The route to sobriety also needs to include things that are compatible with life. Modern life requires money. The way to get money is to do a job that you hate. The more you hate your job, the more you'll get paid. I REALLY HATE my job, so they pay me LOADS AND LOADS of money.

I finally got paid today.

Now I have money but I also have a big booze habit. I was pissed out of my mind the whole of Christmas and New Year, because I really didn't want to go back. I'm quite an articulate fellow but I really struggle to quite convey just how unhappy my particular line of work makes me.

"Retrain! Be a famous pop singer! Drive Formula One cars! Be an astronaut! Be a professional footballer!" I hear you shout.

Yes, but there are economic fundamentals at play in the capitalist bullshit society we all live in. It makes far more sense for me to be paid absolutely bucketloads of cash, and suffer a very great deal, than to be paid absolute peanuts and suffer loads anyway for different reasons.

I got paid today.

An alcohol habit, I can deal with, I think. When I had a massive problem with sleeping pills and tranquillisers and painkillers, life was a different story. There was no way that I was going to be able to quickly and easily cut down my addiction to prescription medications. I was actually physically dependent on benzos to the point where I would have seizures and possibly die if I stopped taking them abruptly. I was trapped. Now I'm not trapped. I have a booze habit - I drink more than I want to - but it's manageable. I don't drink spirits. I don't drink every day. I don't drink in the morning. I don't get pissed at work. It's a much better situation than when I had such a bad benzo addiction that I was on diazepam around-the-clock.

Sleep is one of the reasons why I've historically had a problem with booze and benzos. Zopiclone is called a nonbenzodiazepine, but it's still a benzo. Zopiclone is addictive. I used to have a few glasses of red wine to help me sleep. When I discovered zopiclone it became my drug of choice for helping me to sleep. I took it for most of 2017.

Now, I'm doing all the right things for sleep. I practice good sleep hygiene. Lowering the lights, avoiding strong blue light, having breakfast, completely avoiding caffeine, having 5-HTP (a precursor to melatonin) and magnesium supplements. All of these things make a difference. I get a little exercise too.

But, on the flip side, when you stop taking diazepam, alprazolam, zopiclone, zolpidem, pregabalin, mirtazepine, lamotrogine and a whole heap of other sedative/hypnotic/tranquilising/sleeping-pill type drugs, you get a horrible amount of rebound anxiety and insomnia. Words can barely express how horrible it is to live with a constant gnawing sense of dread, doom and dismay. I'm not talking about a few nerves that can be waved away with bloody breathing exercises or yoga. I'm talking about living for 24 hours a day with the unshakable sensation that you're about to die. It's not something that's going to be fixed by your quack snake-oil cures, because it has a biochemical origin. What goes up must come down. If you take heaps of pills, they're really really hard to stop taking and you'll feel awful when you do stop taking the medication.

So, I've been self-medicating for the combined anxiety of running out of money, having to start a new job, doing work that I absolutely loathe and that makes me sick, having to live away from friends and family in a lonely isolating environment and not having any bloody money to spend to make it bearable, while withdrawing from bucketloads of addictive medications. I think £42 for six bottles of wine is a bloody bargain, when you consider that this unhealthy coping mechanism has actually helped me to cope. I've done it. I've bloody done it. I worked and I got paid - that wouldn't have been possible without chemical crutches to prop me up.

Hurrah for alcohol. Better the devil you know. It should be straightforward to now reduce my alcohol intake to healthier levels. Some moderate alcohol consumption is actually desirable. I can't imagine living on this shitty overcrowded rainy island, without wine and beer to drink. I can't imagine anything worse than living life completely sober.

Of course, there's a risk that I swing the other way, and my drinking worsens. There's a risk that I'll reach for the harder stuff - which I've never touched a drop of in my life. There's a risk that I'll lose control.

At the moment, I'm really chuffed with where I'm at with my addiction to substances. To have quit all those dangerously addictive drugs, and now be left with a very negligible habit is quite impressive. What does a couple of glasses of wine matter?

The next challenge is to try to stay off the zopiclone and taper off the tiny amount of pregabalin that I've been relying on. It's taken longer and it's been much harder than I thought it would be. I'm amazed just how terrible I still feel, as I reduce my dose of all the pills I was addicted to to almost zero. It's amazing just how much of a strong hold on my mind those pills had. I'd reach for those pills to go to sleep, and I'd reach for those pills just to cope with hideously horrible stressful shit, that made my life unbearably filled with anxiety. Now, I occasionally have some red wine. That's not bad is it?

I really can't decide which way to go at the moment. I'm not going to drink tonight, but I've had to take 50mg of pregabalin to be able to cope with anxiety. I shouldn't be stressed - I finally got paid - but it's going to take a little while for me to re-adjust to the new circumstances. I've been living with the threat of bankruptcy hanging over me for so long, I can't quite believe I dodged that bullet.

I'm not sure if anybody who's followed my turbulent ups and downs can detect any improvement or change from where I was at when I was under the influence of enough medications to tranquillise an elephant. It's really hard to gauge in myself whether I'm any different at all. Am I able to better perceive reality? Am I communicating with more clarity? Am I getting better? It's impossible for me to judge.

One thing that should be noted is that my decision to reduce and quit a whole host of highly addictive medications, alcohol and other substances, was my own. I also don't think I could have quit everything if I was forced to go cold turkey and quit abruptly. In fact, it would quite literally have killed me to do so - you can't just stop when you're physically dependent on substances. Alcohol, for all its faults, is at least available as a ubiquitous form of self-medication. If I'd had to rely on doctors to give me what I needed, I'd never have been able to get through such a torturous period of re-adjustment. It's inhumane to not offer any kind of substitute prescribing or realistic tapering of doses, to help people escape from the trap of addiction.

Yes, I laughed at the amount of effort that junkies will go to in order to get a tiny bit more methadone or subutex, but that's the point - you do you. You know what you can take and you go at the pace that means you succeed. You know what you need and you should damn well get it. Anything other than this is going to be doomed to failure, and cause undue suffering.

I've suffered and it's been hard. It's still hard. But, I got through something really tough and I still have the comfort of knowing there's a bottle of wine waiting for me in the off licence down the road if everything gets thoroughly unbearable. Hurrah for red wine.

 

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Performance Enhancing Drugs

7 min read

This is a story about arms races...

Pool table

Being the only honest player in a game where everybody else is cheating is a fate worse than death. Where do you draw the line for cheating though?

When playing pool, it's a well known phenomenon that there's an optimal level of intoxication to be a better player. Alcohol relaxes you, which means your muscles are less tense and the action of your arm should be smoother, delivering a straighter strike to the cue ball. Is it cheating to have a cheeky couple of pints when you're playing pool down at the pub?

Computer programmers are machines that turn coffee into software. Stimulants like caffeine and the other amphetamines - caffeine being indistinguishable from amphetamines when given intravenously - are well known for improving concentration. If most programmers are gulping strong coffee all day long, how's anyone who's caffeine-free going to compete with the rest?

The combination of caffeine and glucose is proven to improve athletic performance by a remarkable amount. Given that energy drinks are not banned and can even be sold to children, how is anybody supposed to compete at sports unless they're guzzling Red Bull?

There's a great deal of pressure on me to perform at the moment. My entire future rides on me doing a good job at work. If I fail, I go bankrupt and I become a leper: unable to gain well paid employment or even have a mobile phone or broadband contract, let alone rent an apartment.

Therefore there's a temptation to use substances to help me perform at the top of my game. With a strong coffee in the morning, I'll be able to concentrate on writing code all day. With a few glasses of wine or a sleeping pill, I'll be able to unwind and relax after a day of hacking away at complex computer systems. Uppers and downers. Round and round. Highs and lows. This is the life that we should all lead, isn't it?

I'm staggeringly well paid for what I do. Why would I want a lower paid job? Why would I want to be on average Joe wages when I could earn five times as much doing the same job? Why would anybody deliberately impoverish themselves? However, my high-risk, high-reward strategy demands that I perform to the best of my abilities. Without substances, would I have been able to get my foot in the door and hang on to a highly sought-after job?

Thus, caffeine, alcohol, sleeping pills and tranquillisers circle like vultures. I need the effects of substances, in order to cope with the life that I'm built for - I've been in this career for over 20 years. How am I supposed to cope without the unhealthy coping tools that I used successfully... until I had a breakdown; a burnout.

What goes up must come down. The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

It's better to burn out than fade away.

Even music has become performance enhancing. I listen to high-tempo dance music - blasting away at 130 beats per minute - in order to focus my mind and put myself into a trancelike state where I can concentrate on software code for hours and hours. What must the effect be, to be in such an unnatural state for so long?

What must it be like to have a job that brings you into the unpredictable chaotic world of people and human interactions? What must it be like to have a job that's full of intrigue and unexpected surprises? What must it be like to never have to fight your constant existential crises and suppress all invasive musings about the absurdity of existence, because you're just a rat waiting for the next food pellet: when's the next order going to arrive; the next email; the next patient; the next customer?

As I do battle with boolean algebra every single day, there is no comforting wiggle-room of the humanities - computer says yes or computer says no; true or false. There are no shades of grey in my world - there's a right answer and a wrong answer. I sit in front of three screens and I try to figure out the right answer. I can go for weeks without speaking to another person. It fills me with terror sometimes, thinking that the ultimate arbiter of whether I've succeeded or failed is a cold, rational and unthinking machine. It's like playing chess against myself.

Some would say I'm a success story. Isn't the whole reason for paying attention at school and trying hard during your exams so that you can land a good job and get promoted into a position of seniority? Aren't we all trying to climb the greasy pole and get a big fat wage packet at the end of the working week? Aren't we all trying to compete and win? I won... didn't I?

I wouldn't be so churlish as to say "it's tough at the top" and of course, I'm laughably far from the top, but I'm sure there would be a plenty long queue of people who'd swap their salary for mine, so let's not be too hasty. It's worth considering just how destabilising my career choices have been to my mental health: feast & famine, boom & bust and the ever-present pressure to perform. Alcohol and caffeine are ubiquitous - as they are everywhere - but you haven't seen alcoholism in the workplace to quite the extent I have, unless you've also worked in the City of London in investment banking.

They say that banking greases the wheels of capitalism. Alcohol greases the wheels of banking.

The most successful strategy that I could play right now would be to have have two or three strong cappuccinos every day at work, and at least a bottle of wine every night. I'm sure my career and my bank balance would benefit handsomely from such a strategy.

I do worry about my mental health, but in this capitalist society, who has the time & money to stop and think about such a trifling thing? I'm reminded of this time last year, when I had to discharge myself from hospital against medical advice, to go chasing a banking IT contract. Money, money, money. Find an edge. Do whatever it takes!

You understand, it's not greed that drives me. This is the world we live in. We all need a competitive edge. I have no idea how to function in a world where I'm not compelled to use uppers and downers to help me perform. What do people even do without their morning coffee and their evening wine?

I earned well over a thousand pounds for two days sitting in front of a computer screen thinking "what the f**k am I doing?". I'm winning aren't I? This is what winning looks like, isn't it?

I'm winning... aren't I?

Before I know it, I've had more than the magic two pints and I can't hit a ball to save my life. I've gone beyond the sweet spot. I've had too much to drink and I'm just drunk. There's a fine line between performance enhancing, and substance abusing. I wake up one morning and all I've got is a habit. A stimulant habit. An alcohol habit.

We can all reach for substances to give us an edge, but you're playing a high-stakes game. The bigger you are the harder you fall.

It's almost impossible to change the habits of a lifetime. Of course I'm going to reach for substances when I'm struggling. Of course I'm going to return to the same boom and bust lifestyle that's served me so well, and also threatened to destroy me.

Roll the dice.

 

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Drug of Choice

8 min read

This is a story about cyclical patterns...

Me with pills

In 2014 I was homeless and addicted to drugs. I got myself a job at a bank, got myself a place to live and paid off all my debts. Then, I lost my contract. I went to a shop in Soho and bought two packets of a legal high powder and proceeded to undo all my hard work. Within a matter of weeks, I was back on the supercrack.

In 2015 I was homeless and addicted to drugs. I got myself a job at a bank, got myself a place to live and paid off all my debts. Then, I lost my contract. I went online and bought two packets of legal high powder and two packets of legal benzodiazepine tablets. Within a month, I was back on the supercrack.

In 2016 I had a lovely apartment. I was clean all summer. I went on holiday. I met an amazing girl who I was totally in love with. I wrote my first novel. I had a brilliant Christmas with my girlfriend and her family. Then, I got myself a job at a bank. My left leg swelled up to twice the size of the right leg, both my kidneys failed, I was put on emergency dialysis and I had to be admitted to hospital for a couple of weeks, on a high dependency ward. Then, I lost my contract. Within a fortnight I was back on the supercrack.

In 2017 I had a lovely apartment. I took supercrack. I tried to quit the supercrack. I got depressed. I tricked my doctor into giving me California rocket fuel - a combination of venlafaxine and mirtazepine antidepressants. I went hypomanic and split up with my amazing girlfriend. I bought enough supercrack to last me two years. I went insane with stimulant psychosis and was thoroughly beastly towards my amazing girlfriend. I ran out of money. I moved to Manchester. I got another girlfriend. We broke up. I tried to kill myself. I spent a couple of days with a machine breathing for me in intensive care. I got sectioned and got locked up on a secure psych ward. I moved to Wales. I wrote 42,000 words of my second novel. I got myself a job at a bank. There isn't enough time left in 2017 to get back on the supercrack. I'm worried I'm going to relapse in January. I haven't lost my contract yet.

Fluid in my leg

If we dip into each year a little bit more closely, 2014 was a really dreadful one. I was an inpatient for about 14 weeks. I lived in a bush in Kensington Palace Gardens and slept rough on Hampstead Heath. I was in two rehabs. I lived in a 14-bed hostel dorm, but that was actually one of the highlights. I abused a lot of benzodiazepines and amphetamines, as well as the supercrack. I got in trouble with the police. Twice.

2015 looks tame by comparison. Although I abused stimulants and 'downers', I had a couple of visits to a lovely family in Ireland, who looked after me. Strangely, it was working 12 hour days and working 7 days a week that exhausted me and tipped me into hypomania. I spent a week suicidal on a psych ward then suddenly decided to fly to San Francisco. I went straight to the Golden Gate Bridge, which I had contemplated jumping off. I was sober for 120 consecutive days. I deliberately got my contract terminated, because I had ethical objections to what the bank I was working for was doing. I started blogging.

2016 is unusual - perhaps there is no easy pattern we can spot - because I got myself clean and into work much earlier than I'd managed in previous years. I worked a whole contract - notably not for a bank - without going mad and getting sacked. I got a good reference and my team were really pleased with the way I ran the project. My life was quite stable. However, I was a sneaky bastard. I was using supercrack and benzos in secret, and lying to my amazing girlfriend to cover up my drug abuse.

2017 was off the charts. I've never been so sick. I've never been so close to death. For the first half of the year I had binge after binge after binge. I abused opiates, sleeping pills, tranquillisers, club drugs and stimulants. My drug abuse was definitely going to kill me. I had a physical dependency on benzodiazepines that looked impossible to cure - how was I going to escape from the death trap? I decided I couldn't escape, so I took a massive overdose. The hospital gave me a 50:50 chance of pulling through.

I'm worried that I'm repeating old patterns of behaviour. I always go back to the banks when I need money, because they pay so well and it's the quickest way of digging myself out of debt. I'm living out of a suitcase, moving from AirBnB to AirBnB. It's exhausting and stressful: factors that tipped me into hypomanic insanity back in 2015.

What is unusual is that I'm going into the New Year with a contract in place: I have my job and it's going well. I'm starting 2018 with money on the way, as opposed to the fear of bankruptcy and eviction. I'm going into next year with far fewer stresses than I've had for a very long time. Perhaps it's good that there aren't even any girls in the picture at the moment. Love and sex always have a bit of a destabilising effect on me.

Writing this summary of my hit-and-miss boom-and-bust crazy life, I wonder if I'm doomed to forever repeat the pattern.

One thing that's notably different this year is living with a family. I care about them. I imagine what it'd be like if the kids asked "where's Nick?" and the answer was that I was dead, or as good as dead because I'd relapsed onto supercrack.

This year, I quit supercrack, tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodeine, diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), zolpidem (Ambien), zopiclone and pregabalin. I was prescribed venlafaxine, mirtazepine and lamotrogine, but I don't take any of them now. I had 30 consecutive sober days during October. In fact, I was sober from more or less the start of September to early November. My brain has been completely drug-addled at times, but I'm clean as a whistle at the moment - I'm unmedicated and I'm not taking any mind-altering substances. I don't drink caffeinated beverages.

I'd like to tell you that I feel wonderful, but I don't. I have a cold. It's winter. Winter is shit.

You might look at all the times I've tripped up and conclude that I'm bound to trip up again. However, you might look at all the things I've fixed and conclude that I'm pretty good at fixing up my life when it's fucked. All I've got to do is bring together all the different elements: friends and family, work and home, money and rest and relaxation, stability and exercise and hopes and dreams, love and romance and sex. Easy, right?

If you're wondering what my drug of choice is, and thinking that it's supercrack, you're wrong. Look more closely at the picture at the top of this blog post. What's that thing in-between my legs? It's not my male member, it's a wine glass.

Hello wine my old friend

With closer examination of my entire adult life, we can see that alcohol features heavily. In fact my latest job came about as a result of being friends with a lovely guy who's an alcoholic. We spent a week getting pissed, when I was supposed to be finding my feet with the new job. Somehow, I've managed to drink my way through a very successful career. Without booze I'm somewhat out of kilter. Without booze, how would I self-medicate for my mood fluctuations?

Yes, without booze, my bipolar disposition rages out of control. I work too hard. I take everything too seriously. I fly off the handle.

I'm not genuinely suggesting that booze is harmless or the cure of all ills, but it's been such a big component of my adult life that I don't really know how to cope without it. How would I have survived the recent stresses and strains of a 2,500 mile round-trip, to go and gather money from the latest bank I'm working for, without alcohol? How would I square away my deep unhappiness with the work I do, with the need to earn money, if it wasn't for drowning my sorrows? Alcohol might be a terrible solution, but it's the one I've got and I know it works.

Is it lunchtime yet? I'm not an alcoholic, because I don't drink in the morning. I just make sure I lie in bed until it's after midday.

 

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Nonlinear Recovery

2 min read

This is a story about obstacles...

Lighthouse

Today is my 5th day without medication for neuropathic pain. I'm not in too much physical discomfort, although my foot/ankle is painful due to nerve damage, but anxiety has been a terrible problem. I thought things would be improving by now. I've been OK in my comfort zone, avoiding stress and responsibilities. I decided to take on a technical task - akin to the kind of paid work I usually do - but every time that something went wrong I found myself becoming unpleasantly anxious.

My confidence is a little shattered to be honest. Negative thoughts like "oh my God this is harder than I remember" and "I can't overcome this problem; it's too hard" popped into my head. My stomach leapt into my throat. I felt a kind of fear and frustration that I would never normally feel when dealing with technical challenges.

It's shocking to me that I'm feeling like this, having done the hard work of getting myself off alcohol, benzodiazepines and pregabalin. It's upsetting that I don't feel better, but I guess recovery is going to take longer than I thought.

I really want to go back to some kind of moderate drinking. I don't think I was designed to not have something to "take the edge off" the general stress and anxiety of life.

The thought of walking to the pub for a pint of beer is something I'm highly motivated to do. I don't crave alcohol; I crave the absence of the incredible amount of anxiety I'm suffering. I would also just like to taste some beer.

I'm not going to start drinking again this week, and maybe not even next week - I'm not going to rush anything. Any changes that I do make, I'll be making slowly. It's remarkable just how difficult I'm still finding simple tasks I've done a million times before, now that I'm debilitated by medication-withdrawal-induced anxiety.

Getting off these damn pills is bloody awful.

 

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Penultimate Day

4 min read

This is a story about relapse...

Booze

I've downed a whole pint of cold crisp refreshing lager before I've even realised I've done it. How I came to be in the bar in the first place is unclear, but I've greedily drained the contents of the pint glass and replaced it on the tabletop. A sense of "what have I done?" sweeps over me. Although I feel guilty - I have let people down; I have failed - I immediately decide to have another pint, and another, and another... until I wake up.

This morning was the first morning all year - more or less - that I didn't wake up and immediately think about reaching for a packet of pills.

"Addict!"

Hold your horses - things are a little bit more complicated. What would you do if you suffered from chronic pain? Would you just grin and bear it?

Perhaps the medication I have been taking for pain has inadvertently helped me to stay off the booze. Now that I only have one more day before I stop taking pain medication, a subconscious desire to get drunk has returned with a vengeance.

Every time I see beer & wine, I imagine that it would taste amazing and I get a mild craving to consume some. However, thankfully I can remember that alcohol didn't taste very nice after I stopped drinking for a period of over 4 months.

There's no reason why I'd stop taking my prescribed pain medication and become a teetotaller, except that I want to clear my head - I'm desperate to see what my brain is like, without the intoxicating chemicals I've been putting into my body.

My dream last night was very vivid, and the feeling that I had accidentally failed in my mission to temporarily abstain from mind-altering substances, was the strongest feeling: I was devastated. Then, in my dream I decided that if I was going to fail, I was going to fail spectacularly.

The fact of the matter is that I haven't failed at all. I'm spectacularly successful. Very few people are able to beat the demon drink, and especially not at the same time as quitting physically addictive medications and overcoming a heap of other shit too. I'm a motherfucking world-leading expert on sobriety and getting clean.

Skin-crawling anxiety, suicidal depression and a warped perception of time, means that the hands of the clock barely move as I wait for my brain to recover sufficiently, so that I can feel slightly better.

I wait. I wait and I wait and I wait.

To say that I'm white-knuckling the journey to being totally clean from all substances, is cruel and unkind. To accuse me of being some kind of "dry drunk" or to suggest that I'll always be an alcoholic and an addict is ridiculous. If labels and stigmas are going to follow me around forever, I'll be more than happy to return to substance abuse. I aim to confound prejudices - there's no point in suffering pointlessly.

Trust me - I'm suffering a million times worse than I ever did before, even when I was in the depths of stimulant psychosis. Even when I was in deep shit and completely messed up, that lasted for the blink-of-an-eye versus the round-the-clock awfulness I'm having to endure at the moment. I might've thought I was going to die at times, but now I really wish I had died.

Tomorrow I have 24 little hours to endure and then my recovery starts properly - every day after tomorrow takes me a little bit closer to normal brain chemistry. Every day that I manage to stay clean & sober after tomorrow will allow my body to restore itself to its natural state of homeostasis.

It's going to be like the world's shittest Christmas Eve.

 

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