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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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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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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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An Austere Life

5 min read

This is a story about simplicity...

Glass roof

"Work sets you free" according to the tyrants; the capitalists; the elites who never have to lift a finger; those who earn their money without labouring themselves. Our lives are controlled by those who were born destined for greatness: privately educated, public schoolboys, trust fund recipients and the sons & daughters of political, industrial and commercial dynastic families. Somebody who'll never work a day in their life has decided that work is good for you, so you'll have to work until the day you die.

My life is pretty basic at the moment. On a Monday morning I drive for 90 minutes to get to the office, I spend 3 nights in a hotel, eating my dinner in the pub next door, then I drive home on Thursday evenings and work from home on Fridays. Each evening I drink too much and try to keep my mind distracted with Netflix. Each morning it takes a huge effort to motivate myself to get up and go to my desk. Each weekend, I wonder if I'm going to be motivated to do something with my free time, but I never am: the boredom and the monotony and the prospect of months and years more misery seems to sap every bit of energy from me. I'm either at work, hating it, or I'm dreading having to go back.

Most people would seek social contact. Most people would quit jobs which caused them significant anguish. You'll find plenty of night owls who work in restaurants or bars, because they simply couldn't tolerate an office job. You'll find plenty of people who work outdoors because they couldn't tolerate being chained to a desk. You'll find plenty of people who create real and tangible things because they couldn't stand to be pushing paper for a so-called living.

It feels like I'm committing an act of self-harm by persevering with choices which are incompatible with my sense of wellbeing, contentment and happiness, but I've swallowed the propaganda that work will set me free. It seems - on paper at least - as though I only have to suffer in the short-term and I will then reap the long-term rewards.

I could pay off all my important debts today, but then I wouldn't have the working capital to be able to get to work, pay for accommodation & food, pay my bills. I could liberate myself from the tyranny of capitalism, but the alternative is homelessness and destitution. The road out of civilised society is a one-way street. Everything in mainstream society is set up to deny access to anybody who's taken an alternative path: with a bad credit score, no fixed abode, bankruptcy and other 'black marks' against your name, you'll never be able to rent a place to live or get a good job; you'll be trapped into poverty forever.

I'm trying as much as I can to shut off my brain, getting through the next few months in an intoxicated state as much as possible. I try to be drunk or unconscious whenever I can, desperately trying to make the time go quicker.

I'm repeating a life I've lived a thousand times before. I'm doing things I can do in my sleep; muscle memory. There's nothing novel, new or interesting in my life.

I was homeless again from September last year through to March. I rented another apartment, which briefly made me happy, but it's something I've done so many times before: moving house, renting or buying a place to live. Shelter is a basic human need.

I wasn't working from September through to November last year. I got another job, which briefly made me feel relieved to have an income again, but I've had so many jobs before. There's nothing new, novel or interesting about doing the same kind of job that I've done for 21+ years full-time.

I expect I could re-do any of the many things that I've done thousands of times before in my life, and cumulatively all those things will add up to a complete and functional life, but I'm pretty exhausted by the destructive cycle of losing jobs, losing my home, losing my friends, losing money and being on the brink of exclusion from society the whole time; living on the margins. It's exhausting, constantly having the threat of a 'black mark' against your name, which will ruin your chance of ever re-entering civilised society.

Sometimes I feel happy about the progress I've been making, but other times I feel depressed about the time & effort still required to reach the point where I feel free. All I'm trying to do is get back to zero; to get square; to make things even.

I'm attempting to travel the shortest distance between where I am and where I want to be. I'm attempting to travel via the fastest route possible. In my desperation to reach my goal as quickly as possible, I'm jettisoning almost everything which seems superfluous. My life is basically unliveable; intolerable... but I keep telling myself that it's just for another few months... another few months.

What will I do when I get my freedom? I don't dare to dream at the moment. There's too much suffering in the short-term to waste time dreaming about the future.

 

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Crumbs on the Keyboard

6 min read

This is a story about lunch breaks...

Pret a Manger sandwich

I'm struggling to get to work on time. I've suffered periods in the past which have felt like agonising torture, getting up early in the morning to go to the office, but I've also had periods where I managed to adjust my body clock to become more of a morning lark than a night owl. My body clock seems to be driven by my stomach.

I never used to eat breakfast - there simply wasn't enough time, because I was always late for work. However, I've found that breakfast is the best way to tell my body what time it needs to adjust itself to, so I can cope with "normal" office hours. Unfortunately, the breakfast trick hasn't been working for the last couple of weeks.

I spent a whole month drinking wine every night until 1am or 2am, and not getting out of bed until midday, so I guess it should be expected that my body and brain would complain loudly about the rude intrusion of the working day upon my pleasant slumbers.

I also had a very unsettled period where my delicate brain chemistry was sent haywire by a combination of drugs, insomnia, lack of food & drink, drug and sleep-deprivation induced mania, plus a breakup and some other madness, all of which completely destabilised me. I'm quite lucky that I managed to put the brakes on that particular period of instability and resume working without doing serious damage to myself, my finances, my home or my career... I've managed to pick up pretty much where I left off, minus the girlfriend of course.

I feel bad that I turn up late to work and I want to go home early. My working days are mostly excruciatingly boring - I don't have enough to do, to keep me busy and my mind occupied. There's no torture quite like having to get up early to go and sit at a desk, watching the clock until it's finally time to go home, bored out of my mind.

I'm trying to justify the fact that I'm not working as many hours as my colleagues, or being anywhere near as productive, because I'm new and also I only take a short lunch break. If there was work I could do, I would do it, but I always seem to tear through any tasks at breakneck pace and I'm left with nothing to do again. I need a really huge project to completely immerse myself in, but instead my paymasters are quite happy to have me sitting idle - they really don't seem to care that it's an enormous waste of my productive capacity. Of course, nobody knows just how awful it is for me to be bored too; just how terrible it is to feel alone with my thoughts for 7 or 8 hours a day, trapped at my desk with no distractions.

At home, I can read a book, write or watch TV/films. At home, I can distract myself from the constant noise of my brain. At home, I can easily waste time. At work, I'm simply getting paid to be present. At work, all there is to think about is how much I earn every day, every hour, every minute... every second even. Tick... that's 2 pence... tick... that's 2 pence... tick... that's 2 pence... tick... that's 2 pence... tick... another 2 pence...

Yes, if I saw a penny on the floor it wouldn't be worth my time to stop and pick it up. I would quite literally lose money if I watched the pennies. If my job was literally to pick up pennies that were covering every inch of the floor, and put them in my piggy bank, I would be earning less than I am now, assuming that I had to pick each one up individually. My job isn't to watch the pennies. My job is to sit at a desk doing nothing. It pays very handsomely to be bored doing nothing.

Things aren't as bad as they were back in February, when I didn't even have any colleagues to talk to. Things will get better as my colleagues start to get to know and trust me, and they ask me to do more and more stuff; bigger and bigger bits of work, hopefully. I want to be swamped with work, so that I don't have to sit at my desk bored with nothing to do.

My brain's a bit broken and I feel stressed and anxious; on edge. I'm acutely aware that I'm in a lot of discomfort during most of the working day, despite the fact that it seems quite enviable to be highly paid to sit around doing nothing. At the end of every month I submit an invoice, and each invoice makes a considerable dent in my debt. By all "normal" people's standards, I'm rocketing my way from poverty to wealth and the timescale seems like nothing... only a few more months and I'll be getting on top of things. There's got to be something wrong with me, because time is passing so painfully slowly.

That's all I've got to do: sit and do nothing, and everything gets sorted out in my life... at least financially.

I feel very anxious about the fact that I'm not being productive or working the expected number of hours in the office. I'm acutely aware that my colleagues might become resentful of the fact that they're at their desks for longer than I am. I go to bed and wake up with a horrible feeling of dread, knowing that I've got another working day tomorrow - and for months and months more - where I'll be bored, underworked and overpaid. It might sound like a nice problem to have, but I promise you that you'd have walked away already if you experienced what I'm going through.

What can I tell you? Maybe I'm a spoilt brat. I really don't think I am - I'm a mercenary who's figured out how to make a lot of money very quickly, but my task is not one that sits comfortably with my soul, although at least the work is not as immoral as it was when I was working for the investment banks.

I skip breakfast, eat my sandwich at my desk, and try to stay at the office for as long as I can possibly can, before the boredom becomes unbearable and I have to escape to somewhere where I can distract myself for a short while, until it's time to do it all over again, and again, and again... ad nauseam.

 

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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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Stamina

2 min read

This is a story about persistence...

Marathon rubbish

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time etc. etc. There are plenty of contrived platitudes about persistence, perseverance, dedication, determination, tenacity, doggedness, pertinacity and all of the many other synonyms that get lightly banded around, generally by people who've led lives of ease, comfort and contentment.

Tomorrow I have to prove myself all over again with a new team, a new boss, a new company, a new project; new challenges and lots of new things to learn.

In the last 12 months, I'll have moved home 4 times, worked for 4 different organisations and tried to string it all together into some form of continuity to allow myself to avoid death, destitution, bankruptcy, career failure, madness, being permanently committed to the loony bin and generally being consigned to the scrap-heap. The number of air miles I've clocked up probably doesn't set any records - not even a personal best - but the number of different beds I've slept in certainly must be some kind of world record; at least indicating just how little stability I've had in something most of us take for granted: where I lay my head to rest at night.

I need to pack a bag for the working week. Tomorrow I need to drive to a new office; a new city; a hotel I've never stayed in before.

One foot in front of the other. One step at a time. One day at a time. The platitudes rain down on my head and they feel like insults: easier said than done.

The money flows in but it must flow out too - I've got to speculate to accumulate. I don't feel well enough to be working, but work I must otherwise I'll fritter away the gains I've made: I've got to run just to stand still.

The needle creeps into the red "danger zone" on the anxiety meter. I'm not sure how I'm going to cope; I don't feel like I am coping.

The demands are relentless.

 

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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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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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Organic Growth

6 min read

This is a story about aide-memoires...

Pretty flowers

I've been blogging for 779 days, including a period of 120 consecutive sober days and the current stretch of 45 sober days, which totals 165 days. I worked for approximately 300 days (including weekends). I spent circa 60 days in hospital. I had two major periods of drug abuse, six girlfriends, wrote a novel and I attempted suicide seriously once. I've written 702,412 words on the pages of this website.

So, where's it gotten me?

Nowhere and everywhere.

I had no idea I had so much to say; so much stuff that I needed to write about. When I uncorked the bottle, all this stuff just came flooding out - bitterness, resentment, bad memories, as well as strong opinions on myriad subjects. Of course, there was a lot of toxic filth which spewed from my mouth - not everything I've written has been kind and eloquently put. Do I regret what I've written? Sometimes, yes, but on the whole I feel glad I spoke up. I feel ashamed that I wrote some absolute gibberish when I was messed up, but there it is: my soul laid bare for all to see.

To have poured time and effort into sharing stuff on Facebook or Twitter would have left me horribly invested in those walled gardens. To have ingratiated myself with another online community - a discussion forum - would have perhaps been a useful exercise, to give me social contact and a clear purpose, but in some ways I'm glad that I've learned how to work in isolation; to keep up the discipline and routine even when I don't know why I'm writing or what good will come of it.

If nothing else, I can proudly say I'm a writer, of a sort: I'm an eccentric hermit who's lost in his own thoughts. I've got 200 blog posts planned and my next novel to write in November - my mind buzzes with ideas. I'd write long rambling posts that jump around from topic to topic, running to many thousands of words, except that I feel like I've had enough practice of sentence construction and finding my natural voice. Now I'm starting to enjoy a kind of delicious frustration, knowing that I only allow myself to write once a day, and I aim to keep my daily word count to around 700.

As a barometer of my mood, there is nothing finer than writing. I can see all my insecurities, anxieties and my propensity to become obsessive or consumed by things, as clear as day. Of course I fear egocentricity, narcissism, navel gazing and other undesirable labels that might be hurled at me, but frankly the process of writing is an essential pressure-release. Not having this blog made me unspeakably frustrated, because I was grotesquely misunderstood. "Oh, bless you poppet... so full of teenaged angst!" you might patronise me. LOL says I.

My maturing process has been unorthodox, due to relentless bullying and a generally unpleasant start to life that robbed me of my self-esteem and opportunities to be a child, a teenager and a student. I now take my chances where I find them, and delight in acting like a great big kid. Being a late starter in life has its advantages, even if there is a general presumption that I should be better at handling life events, when I actually have not had the benefit of experience - how was I supposed to, for example, get any good at relationships if I didn't have stable friendships, childhood sweethearts or good role models in my parents?

Entering my third year of daily writing, this could be considered my "finals". I've had a few jobs which have stretched to the 4+ year mark, and enjoyed a little more stability with friends and homes in my adult life, than I did through the 8 different schools I had the misfortune of attending. This writing project has provided stability and structure, when my world was blown to bits by divorce.

While the backdrop to my story has changed from hostel to hotel room, to a few different apartments, hospital wards and psychiatric institutions, I've somehow managed to keep writing on a regular basis. I feel like the same person, when I sit down in front of the keyboard, even if there has been a huge variation in the state of my mental health. I know that I have written during periods stimulant & sleep-deprivation induced mania, causing me to pour out thousands upon thousands of words in a confused jumble. However, my mind still makes a surprising amount of sense, despite circumstances which should have tipped me into out-and-out insanity.

I am fearful that the pages of this blog might chart my final decline into a state where I'm rendered permanently useless to the world. I often wonder if I have caused so much trauma to my fragile brain, that it can never recover. If I'm at all paranoid, it's that I'm talking complete nonsense, and everybody is just humouring me while snickering behind my back. "Why didn't anybody tell me I'm writing utter crap?" I sometimes think.

Watching a friend or a stranger careen towards imminent disaster, in a slow-motion car-crash, is something that holds our gaze while also somehow stunning us into silence. I'm vaguely aware that many will be thinking "what can I do?" and be paralysed, without a clear cry for help or call to action. Not only is this the world's longest suicide note, but it's also the world's slowest ongoing crisis, for anybody following along in real-time. It took me a long time to find the guts to finally make a decent attempt at killing myself.

I'm aware now that the burden of responsibility shifts back to me, having received an outpouring of support from unexpected corners, in the wake of my suicide attempt. To resort to self-murder again, would be churlish.

As my mind begins to un-fog from the painkillers I had been taking for most of this year, I wonder whether I have learned anything from the events of the past. I hope I have developed and I'm in a better position than I was, when I was rather trapped in some most unpleasant circumstances, although I find myself in a never-ending cycle - rushing back to work before I'm fully recovered, in order to service debts and otherwise line the pockets of the rich.

Stress keeps me wired, and I wonder when the last time I cried was. Surely, there's a lot of tears that I'm holding back.

I'm tense; agitated; nervous; anxious; hypervigilant.

 

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Don't Tread on Me

7 min read

This is a story about shutting down conversations...

Flip Flop

Why don't we complain more? When things are going badly and luck is not in our favour, why don't we speak up about how unfair life can be? Why are we not allowed to discuss how hopeless we feel? Why aren't we allowed to say that we feel overwhelmed and that we can't cope?

There are numerous ways of shutting a person down, and ending any conversation before it even gets started:

  • "Life is hard"
  • "Life is unfair"
  • "Deal with it"
  • "Get over it"
  • "Other people have it so much harder than you"
  • "Look on the bright side"
  • "You'll find a way to cope"
  • "You'll get there in the end"
  • "Look how far you've come"
  • "You're a strong person"
  • "God wouldn't give you anything you couldn't handle"
  • "This will pass"
  • "It gets easier"
  • "Keep going"
  • "Don't give up"

All of these phrases have the same objective: to shut the person up who is in distress. We seem to believe that talking about our distress is somehow wallowing in self-pity. We seem to think that the best way to deal with problems is just to pretend like they're not there and that they'll go away on their own. It's akin to saying "LA LA LA! NOT LISTENING!!".

This cultural programming is so engrained that we repeat the useless mantras to ourselves. When stress, anxiety and hopelessness are overwhelming us, we say the very same things to ourselves. It's like we're trying to bully and abuse ourselves into happiness. "Get happy or fuck off and die" is the unequivocal message that is being sent.

Talking about depression is now permitted, but the message is very much the same: go to your doctor, get a therapist, take some medication, take MORE medication. I can't believe how many people would say "have you taken your pills today?" or "maybe you need to increase your dose" when you're having a bad day. This is part of the reason why I don't tell my work colleagues that I have struggled with mental illness, and it's part of the reason why I don't take medication. It's too much of a cop-out to medicalise a situation which might be brought about by circumstances, rather than pathological brain chemistry.

There was an experiment where mice had to run across an electrified floor in order to get to their food. The mice were obviously pretty stressed about this, and would exhibit all kinds of symptoms of anxiety when they were getting hungry. The mice knew that the only way that they were going to get fed would be to have painful electric shocks jolting through their feet as they crossed to the other side of their cage, where the food was.

The mice would get more and more stressed, until finally they were so hungry that they had to dash across the electrified floor as fast as they possibly could, getting zapped the whole time. Pretty stressful circumstances, right?

When the anti-anxiety drug diazepam was discovered, they were testing it on these mice. The mice who were injected with diazepam would exhibit none of the symptoms of stress and anxiety, and would wander across the electrified floor in an unhurried manner. The mice who were under the influence of diazepam still felt the pain, and their faces winced with each painful electric shock that was delivered to their feet. The mice just didn't give a fuck anymore.

Pain exists to condition our behaviour. You don't stick your hand in a fire more than once. You're careful with a knife because of that one time you cut yourself. Pain tells us about our environment. Pain gives us our list of dos and don'ts, without them having to be extensively listed in some kind of compendium of things that fuck you up.

Anxiety exists to tell us to avoid pain, when we can see it coming. Without anxiety, we would stand in the middle of the road, watching a truck hurtling towards us and think "oh, this is going to hurt" but not actually be bothered about getting out of the way.

We now have a society where pain and anxiety seem to be accepted as facts of life. We can see the onrushing disaster of climate change, but yet we just stand there in the middle of the road waiting for it to smash into us and obliterate most life on Earth. We know that our jobs are utter boring bullshit and are destroying our physical and mental health, but we still continue to work them until we're too old and infirm to continue any more.

In the oft-quoted example: a frog is put in a pan of cool water, and then the water has been slowly brought to the boil. Nobody has sensed just how deadly the situation has got. Nobody is jumping out of the pan to save ourselves. We're all just sitting in a pan of boiling water saying "this is fine" like the cartoon dog in the house that's on fire.

This is fine

Image credit: K C Green

If things get too hard to handle, and the danger that you sense - which is very real, tangible and rational - can no longer be quieted by telling yourself "everything's going to be fine" then you can trot off to your doctor and get yourself some happy pills to mask your symptoms.

How much depression is due to demoralisation, demotivation, boredom, stressful bullshit jobs with never-ending makework? How much anxiety is due to job insecurity, financial uncertainty, hand-to-mouth existence, well founded fears about terrorism, violence, rape, murder and paedophilia?

For sure the media rams the world's problems down our throat 24x7 from all corners of the globe, but fundamentally, even in our little local communities shitty stuff is happening. Even on the streets of wealthy London, there are awful things being perpetrated against innocent people.

Saying that life is a fight for survival, and that we are doomed to some kind of Malthusian catastrophe is disingenuous. Blaming people for their own misfortune is just an excuse for inaction. What we're basically saying is "at least I don't live in Africa" even though our lives are hardly peachy.

I would imagine that this put up & shut up ethos is trickled down from our ruling elite. While wealth is not trickling down at all, we are told that we should be grateful for a few crumbs from the table of the fat cat plutocrats. Bullying and drugging us into submission, our whole culture is one where we criticise anybody who dares to voice their discomfort and dissatisfaction with their lot in life, even though we ourselves are living with nearly unbearable stress.

It's as if we are all eating handfuls of ground up glass and razor blades, and somebody whose mouth is dripping with blood suddenly says "what are we doing? why are we doing this? we should stop!" and then everybody else rounds on them and says "we're all getting on with it without complaining, so you should too" and "take some painkillers if the pain is too much". It's as if the peer pressure to keep suffering the pain and eating the sharp glass and blades is so great that we continue to act irrationally and kill ourselves.

Food for thought, anyway.

 

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