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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

www.facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Stubbornly Refusing to be Cured

12 min read

This is a story about being bloody minded...

Hospital wristband

I've been subjected to the most bizarre accusation: That I can "get better" anytime I want; that I enjoy being depressed or somehow need to have a mental illness because it's part of my identity; that I want to be unwell. Part of the accusation hinges on my Twitter following - I'm accused of being two-faced: Writing blog posts and tweets which don't somehow manage to convey that sometimes I'm not suicidal.

I'm a bit confused to be honest. I don't think I could be any more authentic. I don't think it would be possible for me to be any more candid and open. My blog isn't supposed to be a diary, accurately recording the day's events. My blog is therapy for me - I write about the things that are upsetting me the most; the things that are causing the most pain and anguish.

Perhaps I'm being given credit where no credit is due. Perhaps I'm perceived as intelligent enough to be able to rationalise away my problems and force my moods to bend to my will. Perhaps the decisions I've taken out of desperation have been mistaken for choices. Perhaps my determination to stick with a plan which will boost my finances and continue to give me a lucrative career, is seen as deliberate self-sabotage: I'm purposefully making myself sick, in the eyes of my accuser.

I can see the positives and the negatives of different "choices" without assistance from somebody else to help me 'see'. I'm not so cognitively impaired that I need somebody to point out the bleedin' obvious to me. For everything that I moan about because it's making me ill, there are many benefits which make my choices worthwhile. My work, travel and living arrangements are not conducive to good mental health, but neither is poverty and hinderances that would make me less employable. The playing field is not level. I do not get to make unbiased choices - I've got to do what I've got to do, even if it's unpleasant.

I'm accused of being the problem. It's not the job, it's me. It's not the commute, it's me. It's not the lonely AirBnBs, it's me. Apparently, everything's all my own fault and I can choose to be healthy and happy any time I want, according to my accuser. Personally, I think that life's a lot easier when you've got money behind you and you've got a stable home life. Personally, I think that we are healthier and happier when we get the pieces of the puzzle in place: friends, family, a home, an income, financial security and something we're passionate about. Let's leave aside the blame game of how I ended up in the present situation. We can even assume that everything's all my fault if you want to, but that doesn't change the fact of the matter: I am where I am and I need to get back on my feet. Blame doesn't change my needs. Blame doesn't change my situation or my mood. To accuse me of fucking up my life AND deliberately keeping it fucked up is dumb. One of the big reasons why I'm suicidal is because I've tried so hard to fix the things that are broken, but it's been a miserable exhausting experience and my life's still pretty messed up. I really am trying very hard to get things sorted out. It's a lot easier said than done, I'm afraid. Sorry about that.

I think there's a lot of ego involved. People want to be helpful, but then they start thinking like they've understood me and I can be 'cured' with simple solutions. When the simple solutions to an oversimplification of my problems don't work, then the 'helpful' people get annoyed with me... like I'm deliberately messing up their useless suggestions. I seem to have really frustrated my accuser, that I'm so determined to be a real living person, with a real life, instead of some simple little thing that can easily be fixed. "Oh I'm so silly! How brilliant of you to point out the completely obvious solution to an easy-to-solve problem that I don't have! Thank you!" I'm expected to say all the time, on top of dealing with real life.

There aren't any quick fixes. Things take time and effort to get better, and it's exhausting. Things have to be done in the right sequence. Sometimes, it costs a lot of money to make changes. Sometimes we have to wait for the things we want and need, because we can't get them immediately. I can't - for example - switch jobs until I have a financial cushion to give me some runway to make the change. Every change I make brings with it a whole new set of problems, so I need to deal with things in a step-by-step way. There's a plan, even if somebody thinks that I can just teleport straight to the end goal. Sadly, life doesn't work like that - we have to suffer in the short and medium term, to achieve our long term objectives. You have to pay to play.

I'm not short of ideas for what to do when I have surplus time and money. I'm not short of ideas of what I'd do if I could do anything, because money's no object, but it's bullshit to suggest I'm able to just abandon my current source of income and go off and do something else. I can't be a student again. I can't be a poet or a dog walker or a sculptor or a circus clown. Life doesn't work like that. Even if I took a shitty McJob, I would still need to afford to travel to work every day for a month or so until I get paid. How do you think capitalist society even works? I'm making smart economic choices which are painful at the moment, but will give me the financial means to pursue something more rewarding and better for my health. I'm giving myself the working capital to be able to pick and choose my next options.

I might have spent some of today playing like a big kid and enjoying myself, but that doesn't mean that my mood can't be plunged dangerously low when reality bites: Monday morning will come around, along with the realisation that almost nothing in my life is quite where I want and need it to be. There's so much unpleasant hard work ahead, and so little reward in the short term, that it's quite understandable that I'd get worn down and decide to reject life altogether. What looks like a few short months of hard work to you, is somewhat of an insurmountable obstacle for me, because of the journey I've been on. I've fought my way back from nothing, and I'm still fighting, but yet it feels like I'm getting nowhere. Where's the reward for my effort? Why is life still so miserable, most of the time?

In the company of my friends, or going on a date with a girl - for example - life can briefly seem wonderful, but the bulk of my existence feels like packing and unpacking bags, moving from place to place, sitting at a desk and hating every second... unsettled and unpleasant. The dread of the rat race - the treadmill - is enough to cast a dark shadow over other times. When I should be enjoying the last few hours of my weekend, I'm already depressed about another week shackled to the job I do out of economic necessity. I make a fuss, but it's not over nothing and it's not me. I'd pick up dog shit if it paid as well as my current job... at least it would feel like I was making a real tangible difference to my local community, if I was doing something like that.

There are a whole raft of issues at play, including my desire to be free from medications. It might seem obvious that my depression could be 'cured' with pills, but it wouldn't be a cure - my depression is a reaction to my toxic circumstances. I don't want to become medication dependent, when I've worked so hard to wean myself off so many different pills. I'm quite close to being 100% substance free.

I want to plan a holiday. I want to buy a car. I want to dream, but dreams require money. The dreaming part is the easy bit. Life's a lot more complicated than it seems for a casual observer. It's easy to come up with a million "you should do..." ideas, but they're infeasible if you don't have the time, money, company, energy, motivation and a million other things that are the product of getting some building blocks in place: a home, a girlfriend, some friends, a tolerable job, some money in the bank, disposable income etc. etc.

There are myriad broken things in my life, and no quick fixes. If I haven't fixed something yet, it's not because I want it to be broken. I'm not choosing to be depressed. I don't want to be sick. I'm perfectly capable of imagining a life that would be healthier and happier, but it takes time, money and energy to make it happen.

Moaning on my blog is what I do for therapy. Moaning on my blog is what I do, because it's cheap and it helps me to limp along while I'm getting the cash together to be able to do whatever I want to do next. Moaning on my blog is not my identity - it's my outlet because there isn't any other healthy way to cope. I'm trapped by circumstances and there's no escape, except through the path I've "chosen". I do not choose to be depressed, miserable and suicidal.

I don't know why I'm accused of being the architect of my own depression, when I'm working so hard to fix my life. The accusations don't even make any sense - they just seem to be an egotistical version of "have you tried being more simple so that I can solve the problems that you don't have?" and "have you tried being me instead of you, because I think I'm great?".

I've exhaustively documented the challenges that I'm facing. It upsets me that somebody would want to oversimplify things, just because of their own ego and a desire that I should blame myself and generally feel like I'm lazy and stupid, despite the fact that I HAVE TO LIVE 24 HOURS A DAY WITH SUICIDAL DEPRESSION and I'm the one who does all the actual hard work fixing my life. Pointing out the blatantly obvious is not a hard thing to do. Leaping to incorrect conclusions is not a hard thing to do.

There is a prerequisite condition for having an opinion on "what's wrong with me" which is to have read what I've written. If you want to know what's wrong with me, I've exhaustively documented everything I'm going through right here. If you want to tell me what I should and shouldn't do with my life, it needs to take into account the reality of my day-to-day existence, which I have accurately explained the most challenging parts of on this blog. If you want to give me "you should..." type instructions, then they need to be grounded in reality or else I'm just going to ignore them. Please don't get upset when I ignore your unhelpful suggestions. Please don't accuse me of wanting to be miserable and depressed.

I've written more than I intended to. I'm wondering why I'm writing. What's the point? But, that's what this blog is. It's not an attempt to manipulate sympathy out of my audience. This is a living document that records my distress in unflinching detail. This is where I pour out all the stuff that's really upsetting me. Here's where I work things out that are going round and round in my head. This is therapy for me.

One other accusation that I've faced is that my blog is making me sick - my blog is causing me to get stuck, ruminating on things that I'd otherwise let go. I think that's bullshit. My blog is where I've been able to finally let go of things that have been upsetting me. It's taken a long time, and I've repeated myself A LOT but that doesn't mean it's not working. If you take a lazy glance, you might think that I always write about the same stuff and that I'm therefore stuck in a rut, but if you look at the full story, you must surely see that I've been through some pretty traumatic stuff and this blog has helped me to cope. Writing is my healthy coping mechanism. People don't often pull through the things I've been through, and go back to being healthy happy productive members of society. I give credit to this blog for allowing me to deal with things that would otherwise have caused me to lose my mind.

I could probably edit this down, or just delete it and rewrite it, but I'm going to publish it because I want the public scrutiny. I want to document what I'm going through. I want to capture a piece of my consciousness, without censorship.

Yes, I'm lashing out, but I don't deserve to be accused of not helping myself, when I'm working so hard.

 

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California Rocket Fuel

4 min read

This is a story about wanting to feel better...

Venlafaxine and mirtazepine

My mood viciously see-saws between two poles at the moment. Thursday night and Friday night were delightful. Monday morning and Friday morning were abysmal. Sometimes I feel like I have boundless energy and enthusiasm, and other times I just want to curl up and die. I feel weirdly mixed up - both manically high and suicidally low at the same time. I think I'm experiencing what's known as a "mixed state".

Not wanting to get too bound up in navel gazing and examining every minute change in my mood, I'm not going to write too much today. It's the same old stuff that's bothering me - a job that's boring and isolating, and a lifestyle that's unsettled and exhausting. In a few hours I have to get on a train, travel to the other side of the country and then check into yet another AirBnb that I've never been to before: The bedroom will be different; the bathroom will be different; there will be different noises that go bump in the night, waking me up. My life has very little stability and consistency.

I desperately want to reach for substances that will make me feel better. I'd love to pop some pills - like the California Rocket Fuel pictured above - in order to feel more happiness than sadness, but it would be highly likely to push me into out-and-out mania. I really want to quit my job and hide under the duvet for a month or two, but I can't afford to do that.

By the end of February, I'll have run out of money again. I'm burning lots of money on expenses, and I only get paid 61 days after having done my work, because of a strange contractual arrangement. Big outlay and big risk - I'm spending money I don't have in the hope of recouping it in future, which leaves me with nothing but stress.

It seems worthwhile to continue to work through February, even though it's making me sick. If I can finish the month, then I'll have a big paycheque at the start of March and another at the end of March, which will make me solvent again. If I quit now, I'll almost be worse of than if I hadn't bothered. It feels like I've achieved nothing.

My mood is desperately low, but at least my thoughts have turned away from suicide, and instead I think about running away to a hot country, or just stopping work and refusing to get out of bed.

I'm carrying some extra weight from Christmas. I'm unfit. My skin is pale and pasty. I'm still having to carefully budget, lest I run out of money before I complete my contract - my finances are still in a pretty dire situation. I wonder where the reward is for not killing myself. I wonder when - if ever - I'm going to feel glad that I'm alive.

My life is not entirely bleak, and I have brief moments where I'm really happy. There are things I look forward to occasionally. However, it's pretty misery-making that the pressures on me - career and financial - are taking me away from the things I care about, and the things that are good for my mental health. Circumstances demand that I continue to suffer long train journeys, lonely hotel rooms and a bullshit job that's pure torture.

I'm trying to vent and whinge and complain and moan like crazy, in the hope that it'll help me to limp along until the end of the month. I keep telling myself "it's only another X weeks" and counting down the hours, minutes and seconds, but it's pretty unbearable.

I wonder to myself if I should start drinking coffee again. I wonder if there's some kind of pill or powder I can get my hands on that will give me some relief from the dreadful depression. I wonder if there's some way I can earn money and retain my sanity, because the present situation is killing me.

I'm going to stop writing now, because I'm just making myself more miserable. There's nothing more to say. There's nothing that can really be done. I know what I have to do, and I know how much I hate it and how sick it's making me, but I've got to do it.

 

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Goodbye, Jinxed January

8 min read

This is a story about the bitter end...

Urine bottle

For a devout atheist, I can be surprisingly superstitious. I seem to have survived Jinxed January without losing my job, becoming homeless, going bankrupt, being hospitalised, getting sectioned, getting arrested, getting anybody pregnant, committing any crimes, taking any illegal drugs, contracting a terminal illness or dying. Epic win.

I looked in my photo archives to see what I was doing this time last year. Apparently I was pissing in a bottle, hospitalised on a high dependency ward with kidney failure. On my blog, I was writing about "what would Jesus do?" so I was clearly pretty deranged, but then I was on dialysis for several hours a day, which was not exciting so I'm sure my mind must have been wandering a lot. On Facebook I was jabbering about a cocktail of painkillers, sleeping pills and tranquillisers I was taking to try to get some sleep on the ward. I feel relatively sane and happy by comparison - my life looks quite peachy compared to that unfortunate period.

I looked back two years ago to see what was going on at the end of January and there's a gap. I simply ceased to exist for a few days, before popping up and writing over 3,000 words about all manner of things. It looks pretty conclusive that I was in the vice-like grip of madness and shenanigans.

I can't look back three years on my blog, because I only started two and a half years ago, but I do know that three years ago today I was staying with friends in County Cork, Ireland. My contract with Barclays had been terminated early, I'd broken up with my girlfriend, lost loads of friends because of the breakup and I had been evicted from my apartment in Swiss Cottage. I needed to escape from London for a bit, because I couldn't take any more, and so my friends looked after me in rural Ireland. Not so jinxed, but pretty jinxed because my life was still totally messed up.

I can see from an email that four years ago I was receiving inpatient treatment for dual diagnosis - bipolar and substance abuse - after the messiest and most acrimonious divorce you can imagine. My life was profoundly dysfunctional - I'd only just managed to escape "the poison dwarf" and the relationship that nearly killed me. My stuff was in storage and I was living with friends in Kentish Town. My new business had been put on hold because the divorce and house sale had been too much for me to handle. I'd been surviving by mining bitcoins, but the price had crashed and I was in big trouble, even though I'd managed to cash in at $1,100 per bitcoin.

I can't see my email from five years ago, because I lost my original Google Mail account, which I'd had since soon after GMail launched for public beta testing. I can see that I was late for my appointment to see a psychiatrist who I'd found (albeit a week later) so I imagine that things were pretty dire... although I clearly had the presence of mind to find a private psychiatrist and arrange my own treatment, so I'm guessing this was the beginning of the descent into Hell. This time five years ago - roughly - my new wife told me that she wanted to be a widow and that she wouldn't let me have the treatment I needed. This time five years ago, I was trying to find people to help me, while my wife and my parents broke my heart. This time five years ago, I realised that I needed to get my parents and my wife out of my life at all costs - I realised they're toxic people and that if I wanted to have any kind of future, they couldn't be part of it.

Five years of insanity is a hell of a long time. In those five years, things got a lot worse before they got any better. In those five years, I sorely missed my house and my cat. In those five years, I sorely missed the life I'd built for myself, with my friends and my good reputation and my good job. I threw away a lot, taking a gamble that I'd be better off in the long run. The last five years have been insane, but I don't see how I could have extricated myself from the situation any better. I've played the best I could with the cards I was dealt.

I'm sick and tired of Jinxed January, and I hope I've seen the back of it; I hope I've broken the curse.

Of course I tempt fate by saying that now I've had one un-jinxed January then I've got things sussed and it'll all be plain sailing from here. Of course there are going to be Foul Februarys and Miasmic Marches but January has been my nemesis for so long. I don't want to get cocky and complacent, but it's a big deal that I've beaten this dratted month. February and March are going to be dreadful, but at least I have a few quid in my pocket, no imminent threat of homelessness and nothing particularly awful on the horizon. I have another month of paid work ahead of me. For once, I have a few things going in my favour.

You might see that my biggest fight is with myself. Of course, there's work available year-round and my skills mean that I'm never going to go hungry and homeless, except through spectacular self-sabotage. It seems obvious that I should just quietly and obediently pop the pills and behave myself. It doesn't look that hard to just get my head down and concentrate on working hard to get myself back into a position of financial security. To say that by the end of the year I could be well and truly wealthy again, seems like no time at all to you. However, you must remember that I march to a different beat. My timescales are not the same as your timescales.

I'm not going to get paid for the whole of February. A very Frugal February beckons. The weather's just as dark and miserable in February and my job will be just as isolating, lonely and boring. The unfavourable conditions very much remain unpleasant and unconducive to any mood improvement. However, the so-called short month of February does seem like a less daunting proposition than Jinxed January was. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Another month without an almighty fuck-up is a huge achievement, in the context of my messed up 5 years of Jinxed Januarys. If I'm being superstitious, so be it, because it's helped me to avoid going off the rails.

I'm really pleased with where I'm at actually. Drink and drug free, unmedicated, as sane as I'll ever be, relatively settled in my home life, regular(ish) income and gainful employment. There aren't too many loose ends to tidy up. I'm on top of my taxes and my paperwork. To be in this position, at this dreadful time of year, where I don't have anything looming that's of major concern, is a really big deal.

I submitted another invoice to my client, and even though I lost over £4,000 of potential earnings this month, I'm still in profit after expenses. The money's not in the bank yet, but it's on its way. Perhaps it will be good to spend another month being a little thrifty - money after all, can be something that's triggering.

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm imagining that by the end of February, my financial woes will be mostly ended. I'm imagining that by the end of March I'll be feeling positively wealthy again. I'm projecting into the future, and that's bound to end up making me miserable. I still have a whole month more of my miserable boring contract to do. I need to start looking for the next job, at some point sooner rather than later. I can't make tomorrow come any sooner, and I shouldn't wish away today.

What can I say, except I'm slightly glad that I didn't throw away a perfectly salvageable situation. I'd still rather be dead, because it's been a lot of stress and hassle, but I'm alive so I'll carry on for a bit longer and see what tomorrow brings.

 

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The Relentless Manipulation of my Moods Using Every Means at my Disposal

9 min read

This is a story about music...

Out clubbing

The only things that seem to be capable of making me cry at the moment are Disney movies and a 90-second passage from The Tempest, which is about dreams and sleep. I quote it now for your interest, and as I write this big salty tears are rolling down my cheeks:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air: 
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, 
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, 
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff 
As dreams are made on, and our little life 
Is rounded with a sleep.

It seems remarkable to me that I'm not able to resist the mawkish and emotionally manipulative thrust of the Disney movies, and I blub in all the right places and even some of the wrong ones. To accuse me of being emotionally unstable or having a tendency towards inappropriate emotional responses to situations, is grossly inaccurate and untrue. I would agree that I'm unguarded; trusting... a little vulnerable and certainly quite naïve, although I would argue that I prefer to be naïve than cynical and guarded.

In terms of protecting myself from whimsically falling in love and getting hurt, I would say that I don't protect myself at all. My emotions go where they want to go and I let them. I use the "L" word very sparingly and tend to distrust strong emotions, viewing them as transient; fleeting. I favour loyalty above everything else. I've got no time for game playing and wimpy wusses who are afraid of getting hurt.

Under a railway arch in Vauxhall, I experienced what the children of doting parents must experience their whole lives - to be loved, cared for; adored. I felt a sense of contentment and security that had been absent throughout my bullied childhood. I felt the warm embrace - the hug, if you like - that had been absent in my life and had turned me into an insecure person who completely lacked self-confidence and a sense of identity. I'd been through 8 schools and lost countless friends due to my druggie alkie loser parents not giving a shit about the damage they were doing. The experience of clubbing under the railway arches was curative - this was the love that had been sorely absent in my life. The catalyst? MDMA.

Fifteen years later, my marriage was collapsing. I needed to go to hospital. I was admitted to The Priory thanks to my private health insurance.

It's actually unremarkable that I grew out of a brief period where I dabbled with recreational drugs - ecstasy - and went on to have a 15-year blemish-free career, before the stress of a toxic and abusive relationship tipped me back into the very state I was in when I was a child: in desperate need of some unconditional love. It seems obvious that depriving a person of their identity and security, and bullying them, would result in trauma and psychological damage. It seems obvious that the same negative stimuli would elicit the same negative response.

While I was in The Priory, I handed in my iPod after a couple of weeks. I had decided that I was using music as a way of manipulating my moods, in a similar manner to people drinking, smoking and using drugs, in response to stress and other negative situations. I decided that if I was going to take treatment seriously, I would have to avoid things which I could use and abuse to alter my mood.

Presently, we seem to think it's virtuous to deny ourselves all the things we enjoy. Cream cakes (too fatty), fizzy drinks (too much sugar), beer and wine (alcoholic), masturbation ("wanker", "tosser" etc.), spending money (too fun) and all the other things that make life mildly bearable are given up for January, while we run on a treadmill in a gym, or lash ourselves with a bunch of nettles or whatever the f**k it is that 'virtuous' people do these days.

When I was seized with the notion that pure devotion to a 'natural' life would lead to happier, healthier times, it became as obsessive as anything else that might be characterised as an addiction. I became addicted to making every single tiny health tweak in my life that I could. I cut out dairy and gluten. I washed out my sinuses with saline. I probably would have done colonic irrigation if I'd thought about it at the time. The whole thing was dumb - pure superstition and pseudoscience.

Today, I take dietary supplements - 5-HTP, tyrosine and magnesium - which are supposed to provide my brain with the building blocks it needs to restore normal mood and improve my sleep. However, I've also abused simple amino acids and even pure dopamine - in the form of L-DOPA - to put my brain into a completely unnatural state, with the intention of achieving an otherwise unattainable euphoria or level of performance.

I've abused stimulants to stay awake and give me the energy to dance all night. I've used prolactin-suppressing medications to allow me to have multiple orgasms. I've used erectile dysfunction medications to allow me to sustain an erection for priapic lengths of time. I've used drugs to move my mood up, down and sideways - attempting to 'play god' if you like.

How many drugs and medications have I tried? Two hundred? Three hundred? More? This is not hyperbole - I had the time, the money, the determination and the means.

If you think I'm an idiot who makes bad choices, I ask you to look again. Imagine what my upbringing was like before I discovered that there was this chemical - MDMA - that unlocked me from that miserable prison. Of course I was going to mistakenly believe that it was a trick that could be repeated. In my desperation to escape a toxic abusive relationship 15 years later, I tried heroin, crack and crystal meth - amongst innumerable others - and none of them grabbed me. I methodically worked my way through everything I could get my hands on - illegal drugs, legal highs and black-market prescription medications.

The net result was not a predictable one. Instead of being dead in a ditch due to poly-substance abuse, I'm now quite averse to any psychoactive substances. I'm one of the few people you know who doesn't drink caffeinated beverages. That I'm unmedicated for my mental health problems is not because I think I'm "well" but because I know that I prefer to suffer the symptoms - very few people you know are prepared to tolerate depression and anxiety, but I do so on a daily basis without medication to assist me.

There's a part of me that wants to quit carbs, quit booze and join a gym, but frankly I've got enough shit on my plate just trying to get up in the mornings and not kill myself.

I loosened the purse strings and bought a few new clothes at the weekend. I went on a couple of dates. I'm listening to euphoric dance music, eating what I want to eat and drinking quite a lot. Fuck it. Life's too short to be miserable.

Last night, a woman ran up behind me as I was crossing the road and started asking for money. I said "sorry". She launched into an escalating level of abuse, accusing me of saying "no" and for toying her when she was "begging [for my] help". She was too busy yelling and screaming horrible names at me to be interested in the fact that I would've helped her, absolutely. In fact I still would. Fuck it, even if she was just rattling for "B and white" (heroin and crack, also known as "dark and light") and she was short for the score, I'd have helped. You've got to acknowledge the complexities of life and human nature if you want to help anybody. Expecting everybody to be gym-going, kale-eating, alcohol and drug free totally fucking ridiculously 'virtuous' people is absurd. Most of us have a vice.

When I think about how long I lived without my cat to stroke, and without the pleasure of snuggling with a girl I'm really into, I'm surprised I made it this far. What's the point of life without a good healthy dose of oxytocin? Is life even liveable without the bonding hormone? I really don't think it is.

So, as we approach the end of Jinxed January, I'm throwing caution to the wind little by little. I'm buying myself new clothes and having a haircut, because it's great for my self-esteem. I'm dating and having sex because it's fucking awesome. I'm letting myself do a million little things that just make my day a little bit more bearable, because that's what life's all about if you don't want it to be suicidal misery.

There's a chance that all the little changes in my life will destabilise me. It's all quite stressful, even if it's also fun. I'm quite well aware that something as simple as a late night can throw my world into quite a lot of chaos, but sod it, life's too short and I've waited and been sensible for long enough.

I don't think I'm going to go clubbing and take any MDMA any time soon though.

 

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Lifestyle Choices

6 min read

This is a story about non-pharmacological interventions...

Clinical psychology

The word "choice" is a little unfair. To suggest that people could help themselves by making better lifestyle choices assumes that our choices are unbiased. It seems obvious that we'd choose low-fat, low-carb, low-salt options because they're better for our heath, but we're biased towards things that taste nice. It seems obvious that we'd cut alcohol, caffeine, drugs and medications out of our life, because they all have nasty side effects, but we're biased towards things which make us feel good. It seems obvious that we should work less, spend more time with our families and not commute so far, but sadly it's not easy to up sticks and move closer to our jobs and often we have to do jobs we hate because we need the money.

At my meeting with a psychiatrist today we essentially agreed that I can manage my disposition towards mood disorder using lifestyle choices, but it's going to take a lot of hard work. I need to exercise more, I need to change my job and I need to cut down or even quit my alcohol consumption. As well, I need to continue to have strict bedtimes, avoid caffeine, dim the lights after dusk, use a light box in the mornings and eat a balanced diet. I also need to resist the urge to spend money, take risks, be promiscuous and dabble with drugs. All fairly obvious stuff, but none of it is much fun.

Aside from some disagreement over whether I'm type 1 or type 2 bipolar, and the severity of my illness, I actually got on pretty well with the psychiatrist. To hear the words "you have a chronic condition that cannot be cured" is not very nice and my instinct was to argue that I don't have a condition at all - my symptoms have been a product of my environment; caused by the stress of my situations I've been in. In actual fact, I concede that I've had symptoms of bipolar for as long as I can remember... it's just that my bosses and work colleagues have always been very understanding of my highs and lows. A lot of people would get sacked for coming in to work two hours late every day, or shooting their mouth off and throwing a tantrum in the middle of the office, but there's a place in the workplace for somebody who can work for weeks without any sleep when there's a crazy deadline to meet. I agreed with the psychiatrist that I've got a lifelong condition, which will need careful management. It doesn't scare or upset me, because I managed my condition effectively for years before things got dangerously erratic.

To hear lithium and sodium valproate banded around as potential treatments is not what I wanted. I prefer to think that I've got a mild form of bipolar which can be managed with a medication like lamotrigine, or no medication at all. I consider that my 'high' periods have been hypomanic because I had no grandiosity, psychosis or paranoia. The psychiatrist considers me to be a fully blown manic depressive, because my manic phases have lasted more than a week. I think we'll have to agree to disagree, because my mania does not seem at all severe, except when exacerbated by drugs and sleep deprivation.

I asked about talk therapy. There's an 18 month waiting list. I'm being referred, but 18 months is a heck of a long time to wait for psychological therapy. Getting some kind of talk therapy has become a crusade to me, because I first sought treatment in 2008, so it's been 10 years since I asked and I still haven't received any therapy.

In short, I think I agree that I have a certain amount of risk towards becoming really unwell, but it's not destiny. I have a lot of hard work to do, and I have to continue to make so-called smart choices, when really my life's not a lot of fun and I still have to figure out how to pay the bills somehow. I do agree that there's something about me - call it an illness if you like - that means I have to pay a bit more attention to my lifestyle than others might, who don't share the same predisposition towards mood instability.

I went into the psych consultation feeling quite unique and special. I was feeling pretty proud of myself for being unmedicated and having dealt with a lot of things that were definitely wrecking my life. Then the psych helped me see that a lot of people who are bipolar have a similar story of reckless risk taking, money spending, hyper-sexuality, drug taking, getting into conflict with bosses, drinking too much and all the other things that lead to a point where lives get utterly screwed up. I suppose there comes a certain point where a person just can't continue to live their life a certain way - the end of the road. Where my inclination was previously to commit suicide, I'm perhaps slightly erring on the side of trying to mend my ways and crawl back into normal society over broken glass.

I can see the temptation of a chemical crutch to aid my 'recovery' but I'm still pretty adamant that I'm going to go medication free. Actually, the psychiatrist agreed with me that something like sertraline, or even lamotrigine, could push me into hypomania. Antidepressants have always had a mood destabilising effect on me in the past. There's something to be said for feeling miserable: it does somehow make you appreciate the better times, when they eventually arrive.

So, it seems like a rather well-behaved life beckons for me. I don't relish the prospect of having to always make sensible choices, but I guess I'm not a young man who can bounce back from anything anymore.

Hardly thrilling, but the saga continues. I'll keep you posted on how it goes, doing the boring mundane stuff.

 

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Do Not Pass Go Do Not Collect £200

3 min read

This is a story about vicious cycles...

Chance

I think I'd prefer to be an artist or an academic. Working for a living sucks. I'd prefer to be a life coach or some other kind of person who doles out unwanted advice, pretending like I'm an authority on how life should be lived. I watched charity chuggers today, seized with self-righteous purpose; in love with themselves and foolishly believing their contribution to society is valuable in the face of overwhelmingly contradictory evidence. I'm bitter and twisted; resentful. My thoughts are chaotic. Disaster looms.

The absurdity of existence torments me. I see crowds of people and I see how similar they all are - they all have the same hopes & dreams; the same neuroses and weaknesses; the same vanities and flaws. I'm continuously reminded that we're all dying and we're destined to be forgotten. Every bead of sweat and drop of blood that's spilled will mean nothing. Entropy will destroy everything that's ordered and organised and structured and regular. Soon... nothing.

I'm aware that my mind is hunting for a change of mood; seeking out some relief from the relentless boredom, monotony and unbearable stress. Could there be anything worse than sitting and waiting to die, watching the onrushing freight train from many miles away. Inevitability is the worst. It's not difficult to extrapolate.

My thoughts seem jumbled and disorganised but friends tell me I'm becoming more lucid and expressing myself better than ever before. It's strange how my perception of myself contradicts others' observation. Some are desperate to declare me insane, while others are relieved that I seem cured. If there's any cognitive dissonance, it's external to me.

Either I'm about to make a breakthrough or I'm about to have a breakdown. I can't decide which, but I hear the familiar hysterical and frenzied voices, desperate to declare me mad & bad; desperate to say "told you so". The closer I get to some difficult to reach truth, the harder those who would thwart and frustrate me will fight. I'm spurred on by those who speak to me condescendingly, patronisingly; insult my intelligence and otherwise attempt to undermine my confidence and self-esteem. The attack is relentless, but I try to patiently bide my time.

If you want to win, you can't react to the bullies; you can't give anybody the satisfaction of allowing yourself to be distracted. The closer you get to escape velocity, the more people will try to shoot you down. Many people dislike seeing anybody getting ahead in life. Many people don't want to see you succeed. How can we imagine ourselves successful, without trampling on those underneath us?

The dam is bursting and I'm almost overwhelmed by the enormity of everything I've been through and the unpleasantness of the present and immediate future. I've reached the limit of what I can take.

Yes, this is cryptic, but I don't intend it to be.

I'm venting, of course.

 

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This Time Last Year I was F**ked

11 min read

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

View from the loft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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As Fast as Humanly Possible

10 min read

This is a story about the origins of [my] bipolar disorder...

Me in hospital

Here are a couple of select conversations from the last year that might help you to understand the circumstances that influence my mood instability.

Me: "I'd like to discharge myself from hospital, please"

Doctors: "No. You are on a high dependency ward. You will die"

Me: "It can't be that bad. I want to discharge myself, please"

Doctors: "Your kidneys aren't working. You need dialysis. Your blood has dangerously high levels of potassium in it and you could go into cardiac arrest at any moment"

Me: "But I need to go to work otherwise I will lose my job"

Doctors: "You can't work if you're dead"

Me: "I'm going to have to risk it"

Why would I do such a staggeringly stupid thing? Why would I risk my life like that? It seems patently absurd, doesn't it?

For my whole career, bosses and shareholders have demanded only one thing: do more, faster.

I decided that I was being exploited. I'm the one who makes the software. Without my software, there's no product; there's no business and there's no profit. Without software that I've built, no amount of lawyers and salespeople and middle managers and jumped-up idiots with important sounding job titles, would have anything to do other than burn what little money the company had left. If the software is the product, then you've got nothing if you've got no software. If the software is what allows you to do thousands of times more volume than you'd be able to do without it, then you haven't got a business if you haven't got the software - your business model would collapse. Your business is software.

I'm not saying that software is important. Software can't build a house. Software can't plant carrots. Software can't dispose of your sewerage. Software is bullshit. However, most of the economy is bullshit - at least 85% bullshit here in the UK anyway.

So, anyway, some jumped-up little twat with his daddy's money comes up to me saying "I'm an entrepreneur and I've got a genius idea... I just need a geek to make the software". On closer inspection the software is where the genius lies. When the business idea is examined with close scrutiny, it turns out that none of the important details have been figured out. Turning an idea into a working business - the execution - is something that gets figured out by the lawyers and software engineers. The "entrepreneur" just provides his daddy's money, while he walks around with his chest puffed out pretending like he's a serious businessman.

The next thing that happens is that I say "how much money have you got to spend and when do you need to have a working product?". The answer is always the same: "I haven't got any money and I need it yesterday".

Where did the budget go for the software? It seems to have all been spent on employing a bunch of old schoolchums to do "brand consultancy" or "business development". Basically, the directors fly all around the world attending conferences and "networking", which is very costly because they're running up huge expenses. Meanwhile, the geek is expected to churn out the software - "I don't know what it is, but is it finished yet?" - as fast as they possibly can. It's quite common now for very capable young computer programmers to work unpaid, or on slave wages, because they're desperate to gain commercial experience. Some idiots even think that I'd enjoy working on a software project for free, like it's a motherf**king hobby or something.

So, I arrived at the situation where I would always work at top speed. I've pleased my bosses and shareholders, not because I give them what they want, but because I've generally been much faster and much cheaper than anybody they've used before. In short: I deliver.

I was working so damn hard all the time and not seeing much of a reward for the dedication I put into my job, so I started to work for myself. I made software and I sold it. I made some iPhone apps and I sold them. One of my apps took me half a day to code and it was downloaded thousands of times. This made sense to me - the whole reason I work with computers is because they can do things while I sleep; a computer can perform many thousandfold tasks than I ever could. It makes sense that I would use a computer to leverage my talents and efforts.

I didn't quite understand that the whole reason why I came to be writing iPhone apps was because I'd been burnt out by my employer. I'd landed a hell of a project. The world's biggest project, in fact - "Nick, would you mind creating us a system that can process a quadrillion dollars worth of credit default swaps, please? Have it done as soon as you can, please, there's a good chap... we've got a global economy that needs wrecking".

I didn't quite understand that I burnt myself out again writing iPhone apps. I coded as fast as I could. I catnapped and skipped meals. I worked 7 days a week. I knew that every moment that I wasn't coding was another moment that my competitors were potentially going to release a similar app. I had to be first to market with my ideas. I had to be the first person in the Apple App Store with an app that did something that nobody else had thought of yet.

I decided to start a proper business. I decided that I'd create a piece of software with a recurring license cost. I decided to create a piece of Software as a Service (SaaS) and then I'd be able to earn money while I slept, once I'd completed the system. I didn't have any of my daddy's money to spend though. I didn't raise any money from friends and family. I just had me and my idea, my software engineering skills and 24 hours in every single day.

I didn't quite understand that I burnt myself out doing my startup. I didn't understand that writing the software - the hard bit - was only the beginning of what I had to do. I had to raise investment to be able to market my product. I had to sell the product. I had to support the product. I had to do all the business administration. I had to raise investment to be able to afford to hire people, so that I didn't collapse under the weight of all those competing demands. I didn't go fast enough though, so I did collapse.

With every burst of intense focus and effort, there would be a windfall. Particularly in investment banking, if you do a good job then you get a big fat juicy bonus. If you make an app that goes to #1 in the App Store charts then you get a windfall. Even if you do a startup, you can sometimes get a reward - my startup was at least profitable; investable.

The pattern of behaviour was established. It made sense to me to work as hard and as fast as I could, because the rewards seemed to be there.

When I run a software project - a team of people who work for me - then I put developer welfare as the top priority. I set realistic deadlines. I allow time for people to catch their breath. If the pressure starts to increase, then I move the deadline rather than asking people to work longer hours. Bosses should hate me, but I underpromise and overdeliver, and I run happy motivated high-performing teams. I get great feedback from the people who work for me.

When I'm coding, I seem to forget about my own mental health. When I've got a tough deadline and a tough deliverable, I'll work as hard as I can. I get scared. I think I've forgotten how to code. I feel like my skills are rusty and outdated. I feel old and useless. So, because of this fear, I go as fast as I possibly can.

It hasn't helped that I've never quite managed to gain a comfortable financial cushion that would allow me to feel like I can consider my health and general mental wellbeing, as well as just delivering the software. I always put work as my first priority.

Me: "I'm going to go to London to do some IT consultancy for an investment bank"

Psychiatrist: "But that's what you always do, and you know it makes you unwell"

Me: "But I need the money"

Psychiatrist: "You need to look after your mental health"

Me: "My mental health can wait. I'm nearly bankrupt"

Psychiatrist: "Well go bankrupt then. Allow yourself time to recover"

Me: "But then I'll never be able to work in investment banking again"

Psychiatrist: "That might be a good thing. It makes you unwell"

Me: "Yes, but it also makes me rich"

In the interests of completing the picture: I am not rich. The amount that I earn would make me rich if I could stay well for long enough to keep working, but the stress and the pressure also mean that I almost always get sick. It's a horrible catch 22.

So, I've completed another software system and it's live - it's up and running and people like it. My boss is pleased. Am I burnt out? Yes, I am a little. I had to bunk off work yesterday. In fact, I've bunked 3 out of the last 9 days. Is this the beginning of me starting to take a little more care of myself?

The cycle is very much not over. I need at least another one or two decent length contracts before I have that all-important financial cushion. It's going to take me until the end of the year to get back to financial security. It's going to be months and months before the ever-present threat of running out of money goes away, even if some money is slowly starting to trickle into my bank account.

It's quite ludicrous that I was on collision course with certain bankruptcy, and now I'm solvent and I've delivered another project on time and on budget. Last year was the year where I gave up. Everything was just too damn hard. I had a great contract, then my kidneys packed up. I had an OK contract but the boss didn't seem to realise he'd hired a bit of rock star at a bargain basement price. I got a contract, but I only just had enough money to be able to afford to go to work... I was running on petrol fumes.

If you were to ask the most stable person you know to live my life, I guarantee that their mood would be unstable as hell. How can you expect anybody to go through the kinds of ups and downs that I go through, without accompanying high and low mood? My mood is a sane reaction to an insane world.

I don't think I have bipolar disorder. I think I'm a product of my environment.

 

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Cold Turkey 2

12 min read

This is a story about sequels...

Leftovers

Two years ago, I was experimenting with my blog. I thought it would be profound to write a public suicide note, record a video and go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought I would get sacked from my job and illustrate how the stress would push me into acts of extremism. I decided to sleep rough close to the skyscraper I had been working in. I thought I was going to starve myself for 25 days and spend Christmas Day in a tent. I thought I was going to kill myself by going on hunger strike.

For 25 days I wrote an advent calendar type series of blog posts. The whole thing was leading up to the punchline: boxing day. Really, what I was doing was building up to the revelation of the truth: that I'd had problems with addiction. It was a big admission. It took a lot of courage to be honest.

Why did it take me so long to acknowledge my problems with addiction?

Generally, addicts don't get a very favourable hearing. Addicts are amongst the most stigmatised people on the planet. If you're looking for a sympathetic non-judgemental ear, it's probably best if you don't mention any addiction problems you've had until somebody's got to know you.

So, people had to get to know me.

My friends, family and work colleagues knew me. Those people who've gotten to know me have seen that I'm an OK person. I'm not a monster.

But am I a monster?

It's surprising how little it takes for us to question everything we ever knew about a person. Sometimes, there's a revelation about a person that can completely shake our perceptions of them. Suddenly, it's as if a person we knew well is a stranger to us, and not just any stranger: a horrible nasty stranger who's going to rob us and kill our children and eat them. Everybody knows that addicts leave a trail of HIV-infected needles lying around everywhere they go, especially in areas where children play. Everybody knows that addicts enjoy nothing more than random acts of killing. Also, if you discover that somebody's had problems with addiction, you can pretty much forget everything you ever knew about them.

Hang on a second though.

How quickly can you completely re-evaluate an entire person and decide that they're a completely worthless hopeless junkie, who'd rob you without a moment's hesitation in order to score their next fix? How long does it take to write somebody off completely and dismiss everything you ever knew about them? Why are junkies just so damn easy to hate and what happened to the person you used to know?

While there are some very unfortunate people whose morals will be corrupted by their addiction, that's not the case for most addicts. Not every addict is a liar, a cheat, a thief and somebody who would recklessly endanger the lives of your precious children. Not every addict is flakey, unreliable, untrustworthy, unscrupulous and immoral. Not every addict is worthless, hopeless and doomed to forever seek and take drugs. Not every addict is a menace to society, and should be treated like a leper: shunned from work, friends, family and all the other things that give us a functional life. Not every addict should be marginalised and demonised.

Of course, I write with a vested interest. I don't want to be mistreated. I don't want the stigma attached to me.

So, why don't I share my stories of addiction anonymously? Why don't I join Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous, and while I'm at it Gambling Addicts Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous? Why don't I keep quiet and just pretend like I'm normal? I don't even take drugs.

Nobody thinks that gambling addicts inject packs of cards, so why is it that when you think of me - an addict - you immediately imagine dirty needles? Where did the OK Nick that you used to know go? Why did you eject the pleasant memories you had of me, and replace them with an imagined version of me, where I was mugging grannies for their life savings?

It's necessary for me to concentrate on the prequel to my story, in order to receive a fair hearing. I need to explain that adverse childhood experiences, an abusive relationship, stress, burnout and mental health problems, all created a fertile environment in which to grow a substance abuse problem. I need to explain that my mood instability - bipolar - predisposed me to reckless sensation seeking, such as substance abuse. I need to explain that my motivation was self-medication, not getting high. I sought relief from symptoms, not enjoyment. I was trapped and I needed a way out. I chose the wrong one. I made a mistake.

We might take a quick glance at a situation and utter the words "why don't they just...?". Why don't they just what? Leave their abusive partner? Stop moping around and get out of bed? Stop taking drugs? Move somewhere else? Sort themselves out?

When you're secure and happy, everything looks pretty easy. All people have gotta do is get a house, a job, a sexual partner, friends, hobbies and interests, a loving family, a supportive environment, a healthy lifestyle, coping mechanisms, substantial financial resources and favourable socioeconomic conditions. That's it. That's all. Just get on and do it!

For some, remaining addicted is not about the ongoing want for drugs, it's actually slow suicide.

That last point is worth re-iterating. One of the reasons why some people won't stop taking drugs, is because they don't want to live anymore. They literally don't care if they die. I would say that most addicts are very well aware that their addictions are going to kill them, but they carry on anyway - they're committing suicide, slowly.

Looking at teens and twentysomethings who smoke, we might see that there's a general belief that "it'll never happen to me". In our youth, we tend to believe we're pretty indestructible. By that same token, we might assume that a drug addict believes that they'll be one of the lucky ones, who addiction will spare. I don't think that's the case.

As an addict, it quickly becomes apparent that control has been lost and you're on collision course with health problems and early death. Repeatedly, the addict will have extremely aversive experiences which scream loud and clear that the path of addiction is going to lead to death and destruction. Do you think every lecture about what an addict is doing to themselves falls on deaf ears?

Equally, do you think that addicts just don't care? Do they want to die?

Committing suicide - including addiction - is not about wanting to die. Suicide is driven by hopelessness and inescapable awful feelings. If life only has pain and misery to offer, why wouldn't a person choose early death? If building any kind of liveable tolerable life is an insurmountable task, what hope is there? Who'd want to spend the rest of their life miserable, depressed, anxious and in pain?

It's easy to say "keep putting one foot in front of the other" or "take things one day at a time" because you don't have to live through that misery. It's easy to ask somebody else to tolerate the intolerable, because it's not you who has to suffer: it's them. Eventually, a person can conclude that there aren't going to be any good days, or that the few pleasant times don't outweigh the multitudinous bad times. On balance, one might conclude, life's not worth living.

When you've made that decision that life's not worth living, it's pretty hard to find any reason to not have that next hit of drugs, even when the drugs are killing you.

I write to you today clean, sober and with no intention of obtaining and taking drugs.

However, I think it's highly likely that I will take drugs again, both recreationally and abusively. The number of protective factors - friends, family, work, money - have increased, but my life is still very badly broken. There are innumerable things that predispose me to relapsing onto drugs, and on the flip side there is a huge list of things I've got to fix or get in my life in order to have enough on the other side of the scales to balance things out. I look to the year ahead: what do I have look forward to other than hard work, living out of a suitcase, paying off debts and otherwise scrimping and saving? I'm sorry, but I'm not exactly thrilled by the prospect of living off sandwiches that I've made in a hotel room, spreading the mustard with a shoehorn.

But, perhaps also there's a desperate desire to self-sabotage because life was simpler as an addict. Even the synthetic cannabinoids have enough of an attractive intoxication for addicts to jettison the stress and strain of paying rent and bills, and having to hold down a job, in favour of homelessness. The bureaucratic burden of civilised society is wearisome and ridiculous. The form-filling and pointless makework of bullshit jobs is absurd. It's not just about the drugs - it's also about dropping out.

You'd think that dropping out would be a terrible thing. You'd think that the shame of the loss of status would be unbearable, but it's liberating. You know that you have to work hard to keep up your mortgage or rent payments. You live in constant fear of losing your job, which would quickly lead to eviction. When you become homeless, it's a relief - a thing you feared the most has happened, and it's not as bad as you thought it would be; somehow you manage to cope.

I'm averse to the idea of a miserable dead-end McJob. I'm averse to the idea of spending any more time stressed out of my mind, helping my boss get richer; helping my landlord get richer. I'm averse to the idea that the peanuts that most people get paid, in any way compensates them for giving up the prime years of their lives. I don't see that society is working well for most people. I see that stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems are rife. I see that suicide is the biggest killer of the group of people who are our most productive members of society. That's not fair.

So, I need to find a middle way. I need to find a way that's not suicide, not drug addiction, but it's not a miserable dead-end job either. I refuse to get a bullshit job that pays peanuts. I'd rather die.

At the moment, I'm clean from drugs and I'm working a very well paid job. I'm learning stuff. It's stressful, but it's not boring. I'm increasing my value - my employability - as well as doing a good job. It feels fair.

I'm starting 2018 at a considerable disadvantage. I'm deeply in debt. I don't have a girlfriend. I don't rent or own a home. Why bother?

It's been 6 months since I had an addiction. I'm clean. Why would I even write about addiction? I've won, haven't I?

In fact, addiction is always there: a dependable companion. Very little effort is involved in resuming an addiction. Addiction will always be everything you expected it to be. Addiction never disappoints. Conversely, a happy functional life with all the components necessary to make it work, is very very far out of reach; almost unattainable. You might think that because I'm only 6 months away from putting a lot of the pieces in place, that it'd be easy. 6 months is no time at all, right? In fact, 6 months without all the things you take for granted, might as well be a billion years. It's never going to happen. Try getting in a bath filled with ice cubes. Try holding your hand over a naked flame. What you perceive as quick and easy is not quick and easy when you're in pain.

My present situation might look infinitely preferable to my life as an addict, but it's not. Addiction could last me forever - until the day I die - but what I have today is only temporary; it's fake. I can't stay where I am forever. My contract will come to an end and I'll have to find another job. I'll need to rent or buy a place to live. I need to keep moving around: 3 and a half hours on the train, one-way, and moving from hotel to hotel, AirBnB to AirBnB... always moving on. I'm tired, even though it looks like I should be well rested. I'm stressed, even if it looks like things are going in the right direction.

Addiction's there as a one-stop-shop. Addiction means that I can stop pedalling so damn fast. Addiction means relief. Addiction means there's an end in sight. I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that when I'm alone with my thoughts, I don't immediately think that addiction is infinitely preferable to the mountainous task ahead, to merely build a mediocre life of disappointment and depression; boredom and bullshit.

Going cold turkey doesn't prove anything.

 

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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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