Skip to main content

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

 

London Keeps You Fit

9 min read

This is a story about declining health...

Bike tyre

My mental health can be tracked reasonably well by thinking about the periods when I was so extremely unwell that work became impossible, there are gaps in my blog and there's photographic evidence that I was having an episode of stimulant psychosis and sleep-deprivation induced insanity. The evidence of my naturally fluctuating bipolar mood is very obscured by other major events, including job loss, money worries and periods of relapse and addiction. There, however, periods when I've been functioning well enough to start getting back on my feet, although these have been quite short-lived and usually occur at some point between May and October.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well as bipolar, so my tendency towards mania has started to become linked to the summer months. As my life became more chaotic and unmanageable, depression and drug abuse started to appear during the peaks and troughs. I've suffered winter relapses and summer relapses. I've also spent endless months with seemingly unshakeable and relentless anxiety and depression, which has been unbearable while working boring bullshit full-time jobs.

Through all the difficulties of divorce, selling my house, moving to London and attempting to get back on my feet - getting a new place to live and new job sorted out - I've suffered a whole series of seemingly catastrophic events which have always threatened to destroy me, but somehow every year I managed to do some good work and earn plenty of money.

By the time I arrived in hospital for the umpteenth time, I was completely burnt out by the demands of getting myself off the streets, into my own apartment and working on an extremely high pressure project for an incredibly demanding client. However, I was remarkably fit and healthy. My blood pressure and my resting heart rate both indicated an excellent level of fitness.

I suppose I knew I was fit. I had been lugging my luggage all over London, from hostel to hostel, because I was homeless. I cycled everywhere and I cycled very fast and aggressively - I loved the buzz of weaving through London traffic on my bike with handlebars sawn to the exact width of my shoulders. When there was a tube strike, I cycled all the way from North-West London to East London through the horrendous traffic jams. Cycling anywhere took me less time than it would have done by any other means of transport, with the possible exception of helicopter.

Even when I stopped cycling regularly I still did a lot of walking. To commute to my job in the City required a fairly long walk to my nearest Docklands Light Railway station, and a couple of times a week I had to visit a client in South London, which required even more walking. Seeing friends meant more walking. Going to the supermarket meant more walking. Seeing my girlfriend meant more walking. I maintained a reasonable standard of fitness through 2016, although not quite matching the preceding years.

In 2017 my health completely failed me and I was in hospital on dialysis for ages. Psychologically, I wasn't able to recover from the setback. I watched my savings dwindle depressingly quickly and I knew that I was going to end up evicted from my apartment; bankrupt and homeless. I knew that I couldn't face the exertion of pulling myself up by my bootstraps and getting back on my feet, yet again. I'd had a remarkable 2014, 2015 and 2016, where those years had horrendously bad periods, but also periods when I was productive and earning a lot of money. I hadn't been able to reach escape velocity at any point, and get myself back to a position of financial and housing security, with a dependable source of income. It had been an almost relentlessly shitty 3 years in terms of having the gains I had made smashed to smithereens. I had tried hard to make things work in London for a long time I'd run out of road - I had to leave to avoid total destitution.

Fitness tracker

I've amended the graph I made a short time ago to include 2015, so it can be compared and contrasted with more recent years. Every year used to look like 2015. It's quite plain to see how 2017 and this year are not showing my usual summertime boost at all. I'm having a terrible time in terms of fitness and physical health.

My brief stay in Manchester - August 2016 - was too short to say whether it could have been healthy, but I very much doubt it would have been. I didn't want to be there. The place was not inspiring.

Wales - as the data clearly shows - has not been a healthy move for me at all. The air quality is worse where I live than it was in Central London. There's little reason to walk anywhere - my local job was too far to walk and it was too easy to just drive everywhere. I live on a very steep hill, which is somewhat of a disincentive to walk to the beach, the shops or the pub, knowing there's such an uphill struggle on the way home. For 3 months I was commuting from Wales to London, which of course meant I was doing a lot of walking and carrying a heavy bag - I was starting to get fitter. The chance to work closer to home was too good to turn down, but when my mood wobbled and I had a rough patch, I've been very inactive since. I hardly left my apartment for the best part of two months.

My lifestyle now involves hardly any walking at all. I jump in my car on a Monday morning and park outside my office. I drive to a hotel where I stay 3 nights a week and I always eat in the pub next door. I drive home and I don't leave my apartment, except to walk to the nearby corner shop to buy wine and unhealthy snacks.

What people don't realise about London is how far you have to walk to get around. Walking to the tube station, then walking up and down the steps and through the various passageways that connect the different lines. I would always be prepared to walk further to get to my preferred places to eat and buy groceries. Dating in London always seemed to require quite a lot of walking. I'm not particularly inspired to socialise, date or in any way engage with the place where I live in Wales. I just stay at home, drinking wine and watching TV.

I've made a concerted effort to cut down my drinking to 3 nights a week or fewer. I'm changing a lot of things all at the same time, which is very intense and hard to deal with, but I think I feel a bit of improvement. When I started my new job 4 weeks ago I was having panic attacks and hating most of the time I was in the office. I felt like walking out and killing myself. I was drinking a bottle of wine or 4 pints of beer every single night, and twice that amount on Friday and Saturday nights. I was abusing prescription painkillers and sleeping tablets and tranquillisers, in a desperate attempt to cope with the stress and anxiety.

Now I've stopped taking the sleeping tablets and I've stopped drinking midweek. I've managed to get through a couple of weekends where I've limited my drinking to less than a bottle of wine each night. It might still sound excessive, but it's a huge positive change from where I was.

I went out for a walk a week ago, and this weekend I went for a longer walk and I socialised with friends. That's a big change from a few weeks ago, when I hated the idea of leaving the house for any reason except to buy another bottle of wine from the closest shop.

In London I stayed fit and healthy simply because of the amount of walking I had to do to get to my job and drag my groceries home from the shops. In London I stayed fit and healthy because of the intensity of the place; the buzz I got from travelling around the place.

I had feared that I'd completely slumped recently, and I was destined to become a fat blob of a couch potato. My drinking had gotten out of control and I didn't want to do anything other than lie on the sofa getting drunk.

I don't exactly feel motivated to join a gym or start doing sports, but we have to consider the relative improvement. Things are a lot better than they were.

I have my cerebral preoccupations. I work with my brain not my body and I have my writing to do every day after work, which is surprisingly exhausting. I hope that when I reach my million-word target in a couple of weeks, I'll be more relaxed about my writing. I'm starting to regain my confidence at work and I'm getting more relaxed. Hopefully I'll be able to have a holiday or two in the coming months, without too much worry about jobs and money - hopefully I now have reasonably secure income for the foreseeable future.

I'm going to have to take some more pro-active steps to get fit and healthy than I'm used to. In London I got fit just doing the things I needed to do, like getting from A to B.

In theory, I should have more time, money and energy to spend my leisure time being fit and active, because people work fewer hours outside London and the cost of living is a lot less. In practice, I'm struggling to re-adjust.

I know that getting fitter will be hugely beneficial for my physical and mental health. Baby steps though - it's important not to try to do everything all at once.

 

Tags:

 

Progress

9 min read

This is a story about climbing mountains...

Cumulative word count

Look how close I am to my target of 1 million words in 3 years. I've got about 33,000 words to go. 42,000 words I published on Medium.com as an experiment to see if I'd get more readers if I used it instead of my own website, which accounts for the step at around 750,000 words. I'm ahead of target, because I've been averaging 1,838 words per day and I only needed to average 1,243. If I continue at the rate I've been doing for the past week then I'll reach my goal in 18 days, which will be about 2 weeks early.

Of course I'm aware that the quality has been extremely variable. In one single day I wrote 10,000 words of very dubious quality. My second novel is unfinished and I'm really not very pleased with what I wrote at all, so should I really include those 42,000 words in the total?

What does it even matter anyway? Hasn't it all been a stupid waste of time and effort?

I used an anonymous internet connection with a browser which didn't have any cookies in it in order to check which page of Google I'm on and it was page 3... and page 4 if I search from outside the UK. Obviously "manic grant" comes up as number one, but I was disappointed to see that my appearance on page 1 or 2 was only because Google knows who I am and where I am, and was tailoring the search results to flatter my over-inflated ego.

I lost 6,700 Twitter followers overnight quite recently, due to Twitter doing a big purge of bots. I didn't realise I had so many bots following me, but I was rather inundated with followers which were part of a big scam to get people to click on a dating website link. "Click the link in my profile" these fake followers tweeted, with borderline-pornographic profile pictures as the bait. Later, these followers tweeted "click the link pinned to my profile" and their profile claimed that they were interested in "cosplay" whatever that is. In some ways it was good to lose all those fake followers, because it was always a bit disappointing when I thought I had a new follower and it turned out to be a bot. However, the damage done to the 'headline' number of followers really upset me and took the wind out of my sails.

When I moved to Medium.com for a month and stopped writing my blog it really damaged my momentum in terms of regular readers. It didn't help that live-publishing a chapter per day of my experimental novel, which was of very dubious quality, was quite off-putting for those visitors who were expecting to find another instalment of insanity and miserable moaning.

Visitors

You can see from this graph of my website visitors that my experiment with writing something that I thought would be popular on Reddit worked exactly as well as I thought it would. You can also see that my suicide attempt - which I tweeted about - and my subsequent coma, life support in critical care, getting sectioned and being locked up on a psych ward, generated quite a lot of visitors... not that it was my intention that time, of course.

You can see that my annus horribilis of 2017 is perfectly reflected in the graph. I wasn't writing regularly and the quality of what I was writing was negatively affected by ill health, addiction, drug abuse, sleep deprivation and stimulant psychosis.

Of course if I just wanted to pump my numbers up and have as many visitors as possible, I know what's popular and how to get people to click, but I've tried really hard not to be led by my analytics and vanity metrics. I try to ignore the data as much as possible and just write whatever I need to write about, as a form of brain-dumping therapy.

I set out to write about mental health problems - specifically suicidal thoughts. I didn't mean to write so much about my innermost private thoughts and feelings. I never intended to write a whole series of opinion pieces on subjects, when I was feeling insecure; desperately trying to prop up my fragile self-esteem by publishing my thoughts on current affairs during a period when I was very unwell and running out of money very quickly. I definitely didn't intend to weaponise my blog to grind my axe and take out my frustrations on people who had upset me.

Readers respond very quickly to the changes in my mood and the not-too-subtle direction I'm dragging my blog in at any one time. If I'm messed up, irregular and erratic, then I lose my regular readers. If I'm bitter, angry, vicious and vengeful then readers are turned off; revulsed. If I'm distracted and pursuing some other goal - such as writing a novel - then readers are confused by that change of tack, and they wonder what happened to the regular daily stream-of-consciousness brain dump. If I get too wrapped up in current affairs and start to get on my high horse and pontificate about whatever's in the newspapers, then it's a big turn-off for readers.

I feel really bad about every single period where I lost focus and wandered up one of the many dead-ends I'm prone to ending up choosing when things aren't going well in my life.

The main thing that's really clear from the graph is that when there's stability in my life, there's steady growth in the number of regular readers I have, who are engaging with my content. Also clear is that when there's a huge crisis in my life, there's a brief period when people who care about me are reading, but those readers quickly drop away when the danger has passed.

The period from December last year until now perfectly mirrors what has been happening in my life, in terms of getting back on my feet. I've been steadily working, earning money, getting important things in place like a place to live and a car. My financial situation has been improving rapidly. The graph shows really clearly just how stable my life has been in a visual way, which is both pleasing and encouraging.

Step count

Looking at my average daily step count really shows just how bad 2017 was... or at least the first half of 2017 anyway. Each year of my life follows a very seasonal pattern, with hardly any activity in the winter months, and lots of activity from May to September, reaching its peak in July. My cyclical nature is obvious when you look at the step count graphs... but 2017 was a terrible year and it's caused my cycle to go haywire. As you can see from the graph, things are erratic, not cyclical. What you can't see are all the previous years where I had summers packed full of activity.

The trend regarding my physical activity is most alarming. The trend is clearly downwards.

If we were to do a graph of my net worth, it would mirror my blog activity and it would mirror a graph of the number of hours I spend in the office. If we were to graph the number of times I wrote the word "bored" we'd probably see that it's anti-correlated with periods of stability, work and high income. When we look at my step count, it's usually the case that it increases when I'm working, except during winter. I'm hoping that my lack of activity this year is a result of struggling to recover from the horrors of 2017. I'm hoping that my physical activity levels climb out of the low point they're in. I'm really not enjoying miserable summers.

The graphs tell a really cool story which completely correlate with my memories and perceptions.

I remember the period of spring to summer 2016 as being particularly productive, and although I was very bored at work, I was earning a lot of money and my life was stable. I went on holiday for my birthday at the end of July 2016, which correlates perfectly with the big peak in my website visitors.

The low-point in my activity in June 2017 correlates perfectly with the lowest point of my life, when I'd broken up with the love of my life, run out of money, had to leave my amazing apartment and had to leave London. As I wrote a few days ago, that was probably my rock bottom period, although it's only with hindsight that I see that now - at the time it was very stressful and miserable, but I was too busy fighting to survive to stop and consider how awful things were in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of pure progress, there's still so much work to do. I've got to clear all my debts, complete a whole year of work without a major incident, and I've got to finish my 1 million words to some reasonable standard of quality. For my own sense of achievement, I need to have a period when I'm writing short, concise pieces which I'm pleased with, and not just churning out the raw words to pump up the word count and achieve the arbitrary goal. I want my readers to have a period where the quality justifies the vast amount of time wasted perusing the pages of this particular and peculiar publication.

The graphs don't quite do justice to the journey I've been on, and a number like 1 million is seemingly trivial in a world which has racked up debts in the trillions. However, I assure you that the project has been every bit as hard as scaling an 8,000m+ peak, such as Mount Everest.

Ah yes, that's the other work that's still to do: I need to get more fit and active.

On that note, I'm going to the pub.

 

Tags:

 

Blur

4 min read

This is a story about mental clarity...

Shoreline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tags:

 

Word Count

10 min read

This is a story about carelessness...

Grazed knuckles

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

I've definitely become a functional alcoholic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The numbers don't tell the complete story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tags:

 

One Year in Pictures - a Photo Story

7 min read

This is a story about the last 12 months...

London sunset

The story begins in London, looking out at the skyline of the capital from my balcony. This is the last photo I took from my apartment in London before I had to leave to go chasing cash... I was practically bankrupt.

Self storage

That's everything I own all boxed up and put into self storage. That's all the stuff I've managed to hang onto through the past few years. I'm amazed I even managed to accumulate and retain this much stuff, considering that a few years ago I was homeless and even sleeping rough. In a way, it's liberating that my life can be boxed up and moved so easily.

Packed suitcase

That's all I could manage to carry on the train to Manchester, leaving my beloved home city of London. I'll always think of London as home first and foremost, because I've spent more time there than anywhere else. Yes, I got my ass kicked, but the place was relatively kind to me. I've still got plenty of friends there, at least.

Manchester apartment block

Here's the apartment block where I was moving to. I'd never set foot in Manchester before in my life. I'd never been inside the apartment. I didn't know anybody in the city. In fact, I hardly know anybody in the North of England. In retrospect it was insane to move to Manchester, but I was desperate - I was bankrupt and I couldn't afford to pay the rent in London anymore, so homelessness and destitution were imminent. I did what I had to do.

Ironing board

I was lonely but there were girls. I was so busy with my work that there wasn't a lot of time for making new friends. I was really gutted about a breakup a couple of months earlier - she was such an amazing girlfriend - and it seemed to make sense at the time to meet somebody new. It made things more bearable, having a partner.

Tramadol capsules

Things were fragile; delicate. I was under so much pressure and I'd been through such emotional upheaval leaving my home and moving to a new city, as well as the exhaustion and the stress of it all. I often thought about killing myself. I even took this photo of one of the boxes of capsules I used as part of my massive overdose suicide attempt.

Psych ward

Psych ward. Not just any psych ward - this was a PICU (Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit) and my fellow patients were very sick. I arrived here after my suicide attempt, having spent days in a coma on life support.

Nettles

Wales. What the hell was I doing in Wales? I might've been born in Wales but I've never lived here. The hospital were going to discharge me into some kind of supported housing, but I had no idea where in the country I was going to be housed. I've got no local connections anywhere. I could have stayed in hospital and taken a gamble on social services finding me somewhere tolerable to live, but instead I accepted the kind offer from a doctor who read my blog - I moved into their converted garage. I was homeless and it was the state's responsibility to house me because I was vulnerable, but there was too much danger I'd end up housed somewhere where I didn't know anybody. It turned out the doctor was married to somebody my friend was friends with... there was a connection.

Warsaw snow

Warsaw. What the hell was I doing in Warsaw? I needed money and I needed it fast. An old friend put in a good word for me with his boss and the next thing I knew I was packing my bags for a business trip to Poland.

Busy underground

London again. This time I was commuting from Wales and living in AirBnBs. I stayed in 12 different AirBnBs. It was a horrible existence, spent on trains and in really crappy accommodation. I nearly ran out of money. It was unbelievably stressful, having to pretend like everything was OK and normal, when in actual fact I'd already been through 6 months of hell and things were worse than ever. I was no fixed abode, living off the charity of a doctor who read my blog and emailed me, and I was almost out of cash but I still had to get to work every day and pretend like everything was normal.

Train cancelled

Dating again. I decided that there was no point in dating in London because I didn't plan on staying in London for any more than another couple of months... I couldn't stand the commuting and the AirBnBs. I was dating, but I still didn't have any money, or a car, or an apartment - I was still virtually bankrupt and no fixed abode. What the hell was I doing dating?

Garage

I got a local job. That meant I needed a car so I could get to work. I had a horrendous chest infection, but I needed a car and I needed one fast. I barely had enough money for the car, the road tax and the insurance. In fact, I didn't have enough money - I had to go into even more debt in order to get myself back on the road.

Apartment keys

I managed to rent an apartment. That was stressful. They were asking for the whole 12 months rent up-front at one point. I was struggling to prove that I was able to pay the rent, of course... I'd spent the past 9 months on the brink of bankruptcy so of course I was worried that my credit score was destroyed and I wouldn't be able to rent an apartment. Once again, I spent every penny I could lay my hands on and went deeper into debt, but I desperately wanted some security... a place to call home with a legally binding tenancy agreement... no longer dependent on the charity of the kind people who'd let me live in their converted garage.

Cod and chips

A brief moment of domestic bliss. I had a car, an apartment, a local job and a local girlfriend. We were a "dinky" couple - dual income, no kids. We ate out or had takeaway nearly every night, or cooked luxury ready meals. We were planning a holiday together.

Baked beans

Easy come, easy go. I broke up with my girlfriend. The work project had been completed and the local company were letting me go. My windows were covered with paper so nobody could see in and I was eating cold baked beans out of a can with a business card as an improvised spoon.

Holiday

Instead of a week lying on a sun lounger by the swimming pool, on holiday, I managed to snatch a weekend mini-break to a European city with an old friend. It was exhausting, but of course great to see my friend. My week-long holiday was cancelled. I haven't had a proper holiday for 2 years.

Leaving gift

A leaving gift from my local job. They got me a card and everything. The gift was alcohol. It was a nice gesture. I like alcohol.

Time to talk

Another day another dollar. I got another job. It's still in Wales but it's 90 minutes drive away in rush hour traffic. My mental health is destroyed and I find it ironic that there are posters everywhere in the office saying "it's OK to talk about mental health" but there's an unwritten rule that says I'm supposed to be a reliable, steady, dependable worker who never complains and just gets on with the project... I'm not allowed to take sick days. I'm back living out of a suitcase again. I'm still a long way away from where I need to be.

Pint in the pub

This is my life now. Drinking in the pub next to the hotel, which is near my new office. My new colleagues are nice - and super smart - and the project is interesting, I guess, but I really need a bunch of local friends, a local girlfriend etc. etc. and I could really do without the loneliness and the boredom and the isolation and the pressure and the stress, which are all as present as ever.

A pretty crazy 12-month rollercoaster ride. I'm very surprised that I'm still alive.

 

Tags:

 

Are People Just Humouring Me?

5 min read

This is a story about sanity...

Clinical psychology department

Some days I feel like I have very good "insight" - that is to say I'm able to discern between the thoughts and feelings which are caused by mental illness, and those which would seem sane and rational to a "normal" person. Other days, I'm quite clearly as mad as a box of frogs - some days I make terrible decisions and I'm absolutely convinced of things which later prove to have been quite illogical and irrational, perhaps even psychotic, delusional and even hallucinatory.

In the months where I was living with a doctor - although I was working away for most of that time - the doctor seemed particularly intent on picking me apart psychologically; psychoanalysing me. I should note as a caveat that the doctor was not qualified in psychiatry or psychology, which is probably why their conclusions varied from a firmly held belief that I had no mental illness whatsoever, to some pretty wild and random diagnoses.

When you're living with a doctor and they can't decide whether your 100% sane or 100% insane, it's pretty hard to know yourself where you are on the spectrum. I'm pretty confused.

Certainly, when economic necessity imposes itself upon me, I can work for fairly lengthy periods with my colleagues completely unaware that I've been living with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder for the best part of a decade. When the wolf is at the door, I seem to be able to keep a lid on the madness, even though I'm completely unmedicated.

Does this ability to "pick and choose" when I'm "well" and when I'm unwell provide strong evidence that I'm not mentally ill at all? My own father is on record as saying that he doesn't believe I have a mental illness, but instead that I use it as an excuse for my [mis]behaviour... but then he's not a doctor, and neither is he sympathetic towards people who suffer from mental illness either.

I don't know if I do "pick and choose" anyway. I work whenever I can, for as long as I can. Sometimes the timing works out OK, and the very worst of my symptoms can be kept hidden so that my colleagues remain none the wiser to my diagnosed condition. More commonly though, I eventually struggle to keep my mental illness a secret, because it either causes me to be off work sick, or I'm manic in the office, which is never a good situation to be in.

Perhaps the obvious tell-tale signs of something being wrong with me are there all the time, but people are too polite to say anything: they're just humouring me. Sometimes I can't keep my mouth shut and I'm over-enthusiastic. Sometimes I literally cannot drag myself into the office. We all have good days and bad days, but I must be atypical in my working patterns, which would be a giveaway that there's something strange about me.

I was reluctant to use the photo of me not wearing my cunning and infallible disguise, but I decided to use it anyway. A colleague Google'd me and found my blog at the last place I was working. He didn't say anything, but one day he asked if I wear contact lenses. I wonder if there's anything inherently wrong with having a candid, honest blog out on the public internet for all to see. Certainly it was used against me by one or maybe even two unscrupulous bosses, but on the whole I've found that most people read looking for the best rather than digging for the dirt and thinking the worst of me.

I was tempted to do some blog-sanitising, given that I've managed to survive a period when it looked as if all my hard work was going to be destroyed by a period of illness, but I've come out the other side and I'm working again. I really need to have a sustained period of regular income, so that I can sort out my finances and get back on an even keel. It would be quite catastrophic if I was hoisted by my own petard: that my own website was the reason why I lost a lucrative job.

I haven't really proven my worth yet at the latest organisation I'm working for, but I certainly did at all the previous places, which makes me wonder whether I'm just as "normal" as anybody else, or whether I really have a serious mental illness which I'm only just managing to cope with. It certainly feels more like the latter than the former, given the stress, anxiety and struggles I feel I'm going through, even though I'm doing the same kind of work that I've been doing for 20+ years... it should be a walk in the park; easy-peasy, but it's not.

It's hard to put into words the things I struggle with. If you've never experienced anxiety and depression, they're nonsensical to you; irrational. If you have no tendency for your moods to become unregulated and you've never experienced racing thoughts, flight of ideas, pressured speech and becoming completely obsessive about projects, then you'd probably struggle to relate to somebody who has to constantly monitor and alter their natural behaviour.

Sometimes I reflect on my actions and I can see that there are mental illness symptoms which are driving my behaviour, and I try harder to change how I behave in the office. Other times, my moods are just too extreme and I can't self-regulate.

The question always remains in my mind though... how obvious is it that I've "got problems" and how much to people humour me and ignore my weirdness out of politeness?

It's so hard to perceive yourself as others do. It's so hard to be objective about yourself and the thoughts and behaviour you exhibit.

 

Tags:

 

On The Road Again

4 min read

This is a story about a nomadic lifestyle...

Packed bags

In theory a digital nomad should be able to work from wherever they want, provided there's a decent WiFi signal and somewhere to charge your laptop battery. Why not work from the beach in a hot country? In practice, bosses want bums on seats. I suppose it'd be hard to justify the high income I've come to expect if I was living amongst equally intelligent and capable people, who just happen to have a less desirable nationality on their CV.

I'm washing and drying a whole bunch of shirts, ready for the working week ahead. I'm trying to prepare myself mentally for the Monday to Friday 9 to 5 routine. I'm trying to psych myself up for another period of kipping my mouth shut, my head down and generally trying not to let on that I'm crazy; I'm unwell.

Is it deceitful to pretend to my colleagues that I'm not sick and mentally unstable? Is it dishonest not to declare my mental illness up-front? I don't think it is.

It's my personal life that causes me most of my difficulties, which do unfortunately overspill into office hours sometimes, but I'm more than capable of doing everything that's asked of me and more, provided I have a little leeway on particularly bad days. I don't get paid for the time I take off sick and as long as the work's getting done, I don't see what the problem is.

If I can figure out how to get the support I need - some social fabric in my life - then I'm much more stable and reliable. Perhaps I need to get into the routine of phoning friends more often. I hardly ever speak to anybody except in a work capacity, and at work I'm always presenting a façade of cool, calm, controlled professionalism, no matter what inner turmoil I'm suffering.

Through economic necessity, I've made a choice that is a particularly bad one for my mental health. Living out of a suitcase and going to a place I've never been to and don't know anybody is going to have fairly predictable results: stress, suffering, loneliness, misery.

"You're doing so well" and "you've made such a lot of progress" and "keep going" are the kinds of things that friends say, and I guess they're not wrong. If I can keep going - even just for a few months more - then I'll be cementing a period of progress which has turned my life around, although not yet managed to put me in a financially secure position, yet. Call me impatient if you like, but the suffering I've endured on the journey is not to be taken lightly.

6 or 7 months ago my biggest worry was cashflow - I was so close to bankruptcy. Now my biggest worry is feeling lonely and isolated in a strange new town. It's progress, of a sort.

My lifestyle is a strange one. I can't particularly let my guard down at work. I really don't think my work colleagues could wrap their heads around the journey I've been on during the last 12 months... at least, not until they get to know me better in a work capacity and can see that I'm quite capable of doing a good job. It does however mean that I can never really get close to anybody and confide in them about how I'm really feeling: for that I must look to my friends and my blog.

The danger, of course, is that I try to cope independently. I often forget that I can pick up the phone and try to speak to a friend. Instead, I turn to alcohol, sedatives, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, as I attempt to blot out as much of my consciousness as I can... the less reality that seeps into my brain, because it's numbed by chemicals, the less the horrendous isolation and loneliness robs me of every bit of happiness and contentment.

Obviously, my choices look dangerous and unhealthy; the risks are massive. Economic necessity drives me to act out of desperation.

It would be good if I could find healthy coping mechanisms. Maybe I should stay in a hotel with a gym and a swimming pool, and exhaust myself physically each evening while getting fit, rather than squandering the time watching serious documentaries on TV. As I said before, it would be good if I could develop the habit of phoning a friend, as opposed to reaching for a glass of wine or a tablet.

We'll see what happens.

 

Tags:

 

Mercy

10 min read

This is a story about nth chances...

Reception

Is the UK so short of people with the technical skills and experience that I possess, that I would suffer no career setbacks even if I literally curled out a turd on the table in front of the entire board of directors, having waltzed into the boardroom, leapt onto the boardroom table, lowered my trousers and squatted?

I've been doing more-or-less the same job for 21+ years, and every single enterprise CRUD app for a large organisation is exactly the same as the rest. Yes, I switched from one programming language to another. Yes, I switched from one kind of way of managing a project to another. Yes, I learned a load of technologies that do a lot of 'magic' for me, so my job is 95% plugging things together, and only 5% 'programming'. It's not even programming any more... that 5% is just renaming stuff that you've copied and pasted, so it's not so obvious that you copy-pasted it, and then sorting out a bit of rewiring and configuration.

The last couple of projects I worked on, I got so bored and I had so much spare time, that I was able to do things properly for once - I did things which are hard, so most people don't bother; I was thorough. I didn't cut any corners. When I found the inevitable complex technical problems which defeat most people, I didn't kludge round those problems... I spent those days and whole weeks, tearing my hair out with frustration, to arrive at a "textbook" solution. I should write a frigging book: "How to write nice elegant software in a horrible corporate environment where nothing works like it's supposed to". I guess the title could be a bit shorter.

The main project I worked on last year involved a lot of conversations like this:

  • CEO: I want the app to look like this
  • Me: I'll make an app that has the essential features, but it'll be ugly, then I'll work on the other 70% of stuff that needs doing
  • CEO: Yes, but the app needs to look and work exactly like this
  • Me: Ideally, in a year or so, it could do yes, but right now you've only got me, so if you want to launch something in a couple of months, I need to do lots of other things as well as make a pretty app
  • CEO: OK, but it'll look like this, right? The design is 100% complete
  • Me: It won't look like that because the design includes things that are impossible
  • CEO: OK, but it'll look almost like this?
  • Me: I think you're getting too hung up on the app. There's lots of other stuff to do too.
  • CEO: But it's important that the app looks like the designs we've produced
  • Me: I think you should hire somebody else who can tweak what I produce to make it look the way you want it to look, and I'll get on and finish all the other essential bits
  • CEO: We already had 6 different freelancers from 6 different countries produce 6 different apps, and each one looks nothing like the design I want. Can you re-use any of their code?
  • Me: No
  • CEO: OK, well, I'm sure you'll have it all done in 2 months

So, I worked on the thing that I usually wouldn't bother doing, because it's not my core skill, which was to faithfully reproduce the design that the CEO wanted. I spent a lot of time making a really really pretty app. I learned a lot. I stopped being so afraid of UI/UX work. I started to feel quite confident building attractive and complex user interfaces; pretty apps.

Then, onto my bread-and-butter: take a load of data, convert it and store it somewhere, create some means of retrieving it, and create some means of users interacting with it, plus gathering loads of data and analytics on who they are and what they're up to.

Only, almost all my time had been wasted making a stupid pretty app, and when I came to look at the source data which has supposedly been analysed, it turned out that the analysis was total BS. Half the data which the pretty app was going to display to the users quite simply didn't exist - it was fiction; fantasy. "We'll scrape that data together ourselves" said the CEO. The price of a pint in 120 towns and cities. The average rent in 120 towns and cities. The total number of students in 120 towns and cities. The number of nightclubs in 120 towns and cities. Lunatic.

So, I've had occasion to become somewhat obstreperous. Rather than just plod along and ignore the lunacy, and waste my time on wild goose chases and impossible tasks, I've gotten stroppy; I've let my frustration be known loudly and clearly. I stop doing what I'm asked to do - because it's lunacy - and start working towards a finished product.

I wonder how many times I've left a project, and the CEO or whoever has been thinking "thank God we got rid of that guy who gave us a complete working application, and who told us in precise and concise detail all the problems that we were going to face if we continued on our chosen path, which we've repeatedly refused to deviate from". It's actually interesting to see the pretty app that I developed, live in the App Store, exactly how I left it - none of the impossible lunatic things are there, unsurprisingly

Given that each of the 6 previous freelancers had looked at the previous developer's code and thought "nah, this is rubbish, I'm going to throw it away and start again" but whoever it was who took over the complete and working system that I left behind, decided that it was actually exactly what they wanted and needed, so they released it to the App Store.

On another note, I keep getting sick. I work very hard, I try very hard, and I immerse myself it what I'm doing - I live and breathe the projects I get involved in; I care. It's the caring part that's the problem. When you care too much, you get upset and then you start to get frustrated, which is exhausting and it makes me sick. I literally get sick: I get too unwell to work.

I bust my balls, then I get sick. When I get sick, all kinds of bad stuff happens. I might end up in hospital. I might end up in trouble with the police. I might end up falling out with friends. I might end up running out of money. I might end up homeless... who knows? It's anybody's guess how bad things are going to get when I get sick. I've attempted suicide 3 times already.

So far though, nobody seems to have gone out of their way to do life-changing damage to me: to black-ball me from ever being able to work again, to punish me, to give me black marks against my name that would exclude me from civilised society. Nobody seems that keen to see me dumped on the enormous pile of humans who we've decided serve no useful purpose. Nobody seems that keen to prevent me from ever having another chance.

The last couple of projects, I didn't get obstreperous and I didn't get so sick that everything got badly messed up. The last couple of projects, I gave the client exactly what they asked for, more or less... I just ignored the lunacy, and built useful high-quality working software and ignored all the questions like "where's that [impossible/useless] feature I asked for?" and sure enough, they forgot all about it in the end, and they were happy.

In my personal life, I don't know why my misbehaviour when unwell hasn't landed me in more trouble than it has, and ejected me from civilised society and consigned me to a life that a great many of our "unwanted" and "unwelcome" members of society suffer, because they've caused trouble and they're now permanently branded as "trash". It must seem very unjust to those who have been branded as "human trash" to know that the rules and regulations of life are supposed to be applied fairly and evenly, but evidently they are not. Maybe it's because I can pretend to do a posh accent. Maybe it's because I try to remember to say please and thank you lots. Maybe it's just because I've been lucky up to now, but luck won't last forever.

I know people have found my blog and they know that my visible tattoo advertises that I've got problems, but nobody ever says anything, except for the occasional "do you wear contact lenses?" or other hint that they've seen my bespectacled profile picture: my alter ego.

My plan is to try and get myself onto page one of Google (I'm on page 2 at the moment I think) but the truth is, I don't think people - the decision makers - actually care that much, when they find somebody with the skills that are apparently in such short supply that a person like me can limp along and suffer the horrible manic highs and depressed lows in full view of my office colleagues, when economic circumstances force me back into that environment.

Ideally, I'd like to send out my CV and have my email address as nick@manicgrant.com and list my website, as well as including details about exactly what's happened in my life since I got sick. I'll just write a summary of my life and career to date - good and bad - rather than the corporate friendly horses**t nonsense that conforms to the expected standard.

At the moment, do I require mercy? Yes, a little. I'm in a precarious situation. There are a few people who could choose to bring the full force of the blows raining down on my head, but they've been merciful, so far.

At the moment, do I require an nth chance? Yes of course. I always feel like I'm on the back foot; I always feel like an imposter or a fraudster, even when I've just finished a big project and the client's really happy. I always feel like my not-so-secret website and the stuff that's happened in the recent past - which would usually be confidential - somehow disqualifies me from doing the job that 21+ years of evidence shows I'm very capable of doing to a high standard.

For the first 11 years of my career, I had an unspoken agreement with my bosses: they'd let me have days off sick or come in late when I was depressed, because they knew I'd be so productive when I was manic. It was a system that worked well. The trouble is, with short projects, it's so much harder to establish the trust in that relationship and accept that a member of your team is not a regular 9 to 5 Monday to Friday mediocre plodding drone who doesn't give a f**k.

It would be arrogant and unreasonable of me to expect special treatment in the workplace, or indeed in society in general. I don't know why I keep getting more chances. Do you think it's fair?

 

Tags:

 

Trashing Tech

3 min read

This is a story about sabotage...

Macbook damage

This is my laptop I have with me while visiting my friend. It's had that damage since 2010. My nice new laptop is away being repaired.

My Apple watch screen is half-covered with a big black blob. It's pretty much useless now, so I don't even wear it anymore.

I bought a Macbook Air, which got damaged, and I'd spent so much getting it repaired that when it got damaged again, I just sold it for spares and bought my new laptop - the one that's currently being repaired.

What is it about me and damaging expensive technology?

Well, it's not just hardware. I pretty much threw away an entire tech startup company. My friend and co-founder managed to repair it and keep it profitable, but I had pretty much managed to destroy that company.

It's strange. I'm away on a short weekend vacation with my old friend who, 7 years ago, I used to share a house with. We were both doing tech startup companies. We were meeting the same mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists. We were being interviewed by the same journalists. We were with each other 24x7 for a pretty damn intense and important period of our entrepreneurial tech careers.

I don't feel embarassed that I screwed up my startup. I'm pleased that my friend's succeeded.

What I feel embarrassed about is that one of my arms has scars running along its length, and a big scar that I would usually cover up with my Apple Watch. What I feel embarrassed about is that I'm using my old laptop from all those years ago, and the reason is pretty much the same as why I have all those scars and my Apple Watch is irreparably damaged. I'm a damaged person, and I've damaged so much stuff during the on/off period I've been sick, which has been most of the last 7 years.

It's geek status symbol stuff, to have the latest Macbook Pro, Apple Watch and iPhone X, and I'm the guy who threw away his valuable tech startup, so I guess it'd be foolish for me to pretend like I'm something I'm not - to waste valuable cash on status symbols which I can't really afford.

The tough thing though is, I had/have those latest gadgets, but I trashed them in one way or another, and it's the story of how they got trashed that's the difficult thing. I want to be the happy, healthy, energy-filled and motivated guy who I was 7 years ago, but I'm not. I'm this broken damaged guy, with his broken damaged old stuff.

I guess I should just be grateful I'm alive.

 

Tags:

 

Too Many Late Night

2 min read

This is a story about paying the penalty...

Nightclub

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tags: