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The world's longest suicide note

I write about life with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression)

All opinions are my own

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Sugar Craving, Caffeine Addicted, Alcohol Dependent

4 min read

This is a story about shelf life...

Red bull cans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Numb & Dumb

5 min read

This is a story about being medicated...

Various assorted pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Performance Enhancing Drugs

7 min read

This is a story about arms races...

Pool table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's better to burn out than fade away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll the dice.

 

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Arms Race

8 min read

This is a story about trying to stay ahead of the game...

Hot Coffee

The Olympics and the Tour de France have been full of sportsmen and women using a variety of drugs to enhance their performance. Doping in sport became so widespread that it was virtually impossible to compete without performance enhancing drugs.

We think that competition is linked to sport and that athletes are naturally competitive, but in fact competition is present in every aspect of our daily lives.

You want an attractive girlfriend or boyfriend, right? The more universally appealing a person is, the more potential suitors are vying to try their luck. The 'hotter' somebody is, the more people are trying to hop into bed with them. Attractiveness means few genetic defects: looking flawless, perfect. The pre-programmed urge to reproduce with the healthiest person who'll have you, is the reason why you're alive today.

We all know that alcohol is a social lubricant. "Dutch courage" means that after a few drinks we are disinhibited, and we can overcome the social awkwardness of talking to the objects of our affection. When we're drunk we take that chance of rejection, leaning in and kissing somebody for the first time.

It's pretty clear that those who are intoxicated will be braver and less anxious about rejection and humiliation, than those sober singles who are nervously hoping to be asked to dance, and trying to muster the courage to chat somebody up. Therefore, there's a pressure to get drunk, and get your date tipsy, if you're hoping to couple off and copulate.

Cocaine gives artificial confidence. Cocaine makes people talkative, gregarious and removes their self-conscious awkwardness, shyness. We tend to be very attracted to confident and outgoing people. The pack alphas are naturally the most confident, and we want to mate with the alphas, not the betas. Royal families are inbred as hell, but every girl wants to marry a prince. Cocaine can help you to talk and act confidently, which makes you more attractive, and cocaine is very likely to bring the affections of potential mates.

So, it's pretty clear that in order to compete with other blokes eyeing up the skimpily clad girls on a night out, being tanked up on alcohol and having snorted a couple of lines of cocaine is going to give you the competitive edge. There's a high incentive to be intoxicated with alcohol and cocaine.

At work, many of us are mandated to work longer hours than we are able to do with our normal sleep/wake cycle. 54% of adult Americans drink coffee every day. Anecdotally, so many people say "I can't function without my morning coffee". It's quite commonplace for people to joke on social media about homicidal tendencies before they've had their fix of caffeine. Many a true word is spoken in jest.

Because so many office workers drink coffee, the working hours take this into consideration. Without coffee, the 9am start time would have to be 10:30am. Without coffee, those late nights in the office would be pointless, because nobody would be able to concentrate and stay awake.

Caffeine is a wakefulness promoting agent, and it's a concentration aid. Caffeine is great for concentrating on laborious boring repetitive tasks for long periods.

However, when nearly everybody is drinking coffee, it becomes a necessity for coworkers to drink it too, in order to match the office hours and concentration span of their colleagues. If your workmates spot your eyelids getting heavy, somebody is bound to suggest to you "can I get you a coffee?". Nobody is likely to say "maybe we should all go home early, not work such long hours and stop drinking so much damn coffee".

There is a huge incentive to drink tea, coffee and energy drinks at work, in order to compete for the pay rises and promotions, and not be seen as a weak member of the team.

We live in a culture that fuels depression and anxiety. The news bombards us with all of the world's problems in full gory high-definition detail. The economy is tanking and we have to live with job insecurity, skyrocketing housing costs and little hope of ever being able to collect a good pension, let alone have our kids able to expect a good education and be able to live on a planet that hasn't been destroyed by climate change. It's depressing as hell. It's stressful as hell.

Instead of trying to change the world around us and improve things, instead we have medicated ourselves in vast numbers. 61 million antidepressant prescriptions were written for 65 million people in the UK, in 2015. Most people will take powerful psychiatric medication at some point in their lives, whether that's sleeping pills, tranquillisers or antidepressants. The very sickest will have to take antipsychotics and mood stabilisers.

Our jobs are stressful, and we're fearful of losing our jobs. If we lose our jobs we'll lose our houses. If we lose our houses, we'll be homeless. The number of homeless people has soared by 80% in a single year in some parts of the country. There is plenty of reason to live in fear of destitution.

Doctors hardly have any time to speak to their patients, and they hardly have any budget to prescribe talk therapy, so people who are stressed out get sent away with tranquillisers. People who can't sleep get sent away with sleeping pills. People who are miserable, exhausted and can't cope get sent away with antidepressants. There's a pill for every ill, but it could be a sane reaction to an insane world, in a great many cases.

When so many people who you work with are insulated from the stressful and depressing nature of the work, and the way that capitalism is raping the natural world and enslaving the poor, it's easy to see how they are able to keep working, because they're drugged up to the eyeballs.

If your job, your house, your family and everything depends on you keeping your job, of course you're going to drug yourself up with happy pills so you can keep trudging along on the treadmill. Who can afford to have a nervous breakdown? Who can afford the risk of losing their job, to take time out to rest and recuperate? Who wants to let their bosses know that they can't cope with the stress, when everybody else seems to be doing OK?

There is peer pressure to put up with shit at work and not complain. Put up and shut up. Fit in or fuck off.

Because of the hyper-competitive work arena, of course we need to mask our mental health symptoms with pills, even if the underlying issue is a deep unease with the bullshit jobs and the negative effects on the world.

"Everybody's got to work"... but what if you're a debt collector? What if you're price gouging your customers who need their gas & electricity, so that you can make more money for your bosses? What if you're manufacturing weapons? Honestly, have a think about what you do for a job, and ask yourself if it's improving the human condition, or not.

Collectively, we should stop and say "this is madness". We can't sit here in the UK where the economy is 80% service industries, and say that what we're doing is productive and useful. It's impossible that we should need so many lawyers and accountants. It's impossible that we should need so many bankers. It's impossible that we should need so much software. It's impossible that we should sit here idly counting beans, while some poor person is out in the beating sun growing our food, earning $1.50 a day.

For sure you don't want to end up in the field picking fruit and vegetables for a pittance of a wage, but that doesn't mean you have to prop up the status quo.

Acting with your conscience and with ethics as an individual is likely to hurt nobody but you, but it's also harmful to you to load yourself up with performance enhancing drugs, simply so you can compete.

It's only in the spirit of non-competition that we can end the rat race and smash the tables of the money lenders and other idle social parasites. The parasite class need to be cast out from society. The parasite class are antisocial. The parasite class are making billions of people's lives miserable.

There's no way to win a rigged game. The only thing you can do is not lose, by not taking part.

 

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Thorn Tinted Glasses

11 min read

This is a story about viewing the world through the lens of a mood disorder...

Blue light filtering glasses

When I'm hypomanic, nothing seems impossible. Hypomania brings big ideas and grand ambitions, and the only thing standing in my way is the stupidity and myopia of other people. Nobody seems to have the guts to go for the glory, and nobody seems to be able to keep up with me. I get frustrated at a sense of dragging other people along in my wake, having to dumb things down and spoon-feed people at a painfully slow pace.

Obviously, when I'm hypomanic, I over-estimate my abilities and I'm rather rude and obnoxious about other people. Not exactly a team player. I tend to be pretty disrespectful of other people's opinions, believing that they've had their chance, and have failed to make any significant impact. Why should I listen to such gutless wimps? Why should I listen to anybody not firing on all cylinders, like I am, when I'm riding that hypomanic high?

Another thing that I overestimate when hypomanic is my stamina. I assume that I can continue at breakneck pace indefinitely. I feel like the enthusiasm and passion that I'm feeling will carry me along, despite the huge amount of energy that is being expended. I don't walk, I run. I don't speak, I shout. I don't discuss, I decide and act. It's a blur of activity, in single-minded pursuit of a goal, to the exclusion of everything else. There's no balance. There's no downtime. There isn't a second to spare: rush! rush! rush!

But, I'm not stupid. I've been through enough episodes of hypomania now to know what's happening. So why don't I modify my behaviour? Well, part of the big rush is the fact that I know that I'll hit a wall, and almost overnight, I'll hate everything and everybody, and I'll just want to curl up and die. I will have run out of energy, and suddenly be overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead, and with no gas left in the tank, I'll realise there's no way I can continue without sleeping off the work binge and catching up on those lost hours of rest.

Instead of trying to work at a steady pace that could last for years, instead I try to pack work into frantic periods of rushed and hectic activity, before I run out of steam and depression hits me like a sledgehammer. Instead of being discouraged from milking hypomania for all its creativity and productivity, I feel encouraged to try to achieve Herculean tasks.

When I'm in one of these moods, lots of stuff gets done, but there's lots of wastage. Instead of planning ahead or hesitating for a single moment, I'll just do whatever I can to minimise downtime and delays. If I unexpectedly need to work through the night, I'll do that and go out and buy a fresh shirt for the following day. If I need to get some rest, I'll book whichever hotel is quickest and easiest to book. If the project I'm working on needs something, I'll buy whatever I need, whatever the price, on the assumption that it would be a waste of time trying to penny pinch.

Step Count

Can you spot the pattern in my activity? Can you see any trend that would suggest ups & downs? This is actual movement data that has been gathered over a whole year. I would never have thought my mood fluctuations would look this obvious, with hard data.

I used to keep a mood diary, but of course, when you're hypomanic you can't be bothered with the faff of it, and besides, you're not sick when you're hypomanic... at least you're convinced that you're not anyway.

I'm not sure whether I'm mostly suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or whether my Type II Bipolar Disorder has simply become aligned to the seasons. It's virtually impossible to unpick cause and effect anyway. There are so many seasonal factors, such as the stress of Christmas and the fact that nothing much gets done at work during the holiday season between late December and mid-January.

Anyway, I'm locked into this cycle, where I start to emerge from hibernation around March/April time. In May I start to begin to do normal things again, rather than just being completely decimated by a sense of malaise, exhaustion, demotivation and feelings of being totally overwhelmed by mundane trivial shit. By June time, I'm about ready to work again, but in danger of tipping into hypomania at any moment.

At the moment, I struggle to get out of bed in the morning. I have a feeling of dread throughout the working day. The continuous anxiety is matched only by crushing boredom and an inability to concentrate. I flit between looking at my phone and making trips to the toilet to look at Facebook and message my friends. I read documents, but the words don't sink into my head. The phrase "what the fuck am I doing here?" is on repeat in my head. I'm struck with regular impulses to commit suicide and end the relentless monotony and unending pursuit of a seemingly impossibly distant goal of my next potential holiday.

By contrast to my hypomanic state, I assume that something is going to go wrong, and I'm going to be plunged back into the stress and pressure of looking for some more work, while the bills pile up and imminent deadlines to pay my taxes and deal with debts that have built up during my winter depression. Everything looks impossible, and boring, and pointless.

When I'm depressed, I'm absolutely convinced that my skills and abilities and experience count for nothing, and that I'm only good for the scrap heap. Even when I get a job, I feel like a fraud and that I'm going to be found out. When I make a mistake, I beat myself up about it for days, weeks even. I grimace and groan at my desk as I replay something stupid I said, over and over and over again.

I sit at my desk, watching the clock, wishing I was busy, wishing I felt useful, wishing that the feeling that life was completely pointless would go away, and feeling like death wouldn't be so bad, because there's no way I'll be able to put up with months and years of just turning the pedals, over and over and over again. The same commute, the same routine, the same colleagues, the same game, the same formula.

Bipolar memory

How on earth am I going to cope with feeling so bored and unchallenged, and so uninspired and so lacking in passion and like such a fraud and like I'm wasting away, and like there's no way I can stand even the next few minutes, let alone the next few hours, let alone the whole day, let alone the whole week, let alone the whole project and the whole contract, and the whole career? How the hell am I supposed to keep doing what I do?

I could drink coffee, which aids my concentration and motivation, but as soon as I do that I'll start getting big ideas and getting really bossy and overconfident, and before you know it, I'll be hypomanic again. Coffee always stokes my hypomania up. Also coffee stops me from sleeping, so I start drinking alcohol to get to sleep... and before you know it I'm knocking back copious amounts of both caffeine and alcohol to get through the shitty work.

Once I start drinking alcohol, I start having days where I wake up massively hungover, but weirdly I can get up and go to work. I find it easier to get up with a massive hangover, and easier to sit quietly at my desk getting on with my work, when I'm just about holding down my breakfast and I've got a pounding headache.

I think that drinking lots of alcohol regularly means that I've always got booze in my system, and it works like a kind of anti-anxiety drug. I feel super sick and stuff, but it gets rid of that sense of dread. By the afternoons, I start to sober up and my hangover goes, and I'm really happy and productive. When I get home, then I start to get the sense of dread about going to work again the next day, so I start boozing all over again, and end up going to bed pissed again. The whole cycle repeats itself.

Alcohol and work seem to go hand in hand for me, and it seems to stop me from being such an obnoxious prick and pissing everybody off before finally chucking in the towel on a perfectly good job. I've gotten used to using alcohol to bring my hypomania and anxiety under control. It's a massive crutch for me, and the temptation to use it is massive, when there's such pressure on me to perform and earn money and not fuck up yet another job.

I know that I could quite easily return to a tried-and-trusted form of mood stabilisation, using caffeine to get me moving when I'm deep in an exhausted depression, and alcohol to bring my hypomania under control when my brain is starting to get a bit over-excited, or anxiety and boredom are threatening to make life unliveable. However, these things led me to a massive breakdown eventually, which I'm sure was caused in part by massive amounts of these two innocuous chemicals.

When you're drinking 12 espresso shots during the day and two bottles of wine at night, everybody's chuffed to bits with your work, but surely you're just screwing your body up for the sake of making some money while you're young enough to cope with that kind of beating.

I value my liver and my mental health now, not that I have much of the latter. I'm struggling virtually all year round with a mind that tends towards either suicidal depression or self-sabotaging and career-wrecking hypomania. I've trashed my financial security, meaning I now have extra added stress and hassle that I could really do without, but I don't think resorting to self-medication will be good in the long run.

So, I remain caffeine free and I'm trying to wean myself off alcohol. Today is my 3rd consecutive day without booze. It might not sound like much, but you probably can't imagine the kind of pressure I'm under, with life very much hanging by a slender thread.

My days pretty much start with deciding whether to kill myself or not, and they don't improve much from there. The evenings and weekends are good, when I can see friends, but possibly it's also been the excuse to drink that's also played a part.

I need to get a handle on booze, but I also want my moods to be manageable. However, I also need to earn money and be able to cope with work. It's a Catch 22.

My gut feel is that I'm just going to stick with my harsh regimen of zero caffeine and very moderate booze consumption - ideally no booze at all except on a Friday & Saturday night.

Coffee

Clearly, I'm just emerging from under the cloud of a very severe depression, especially as I slashed my own arm with a kitchen knife because the sense of hopelessness and relentless anxiety in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against me, was just so unbearable. Things look a little brighter, but now I'm starting to worry that hypomania will suddenly rear its ugly head, and I'll sabotage everything, like usual.

However, I do still refuse to medicate myself, merely to cope with the bullshit life that we're expected to live. I'll play the game as best as I can, but my brain is not for sale. Hopefully one day, I'll be able to better align my needs and my values with my work, but for now, I have to do some stuff that's pretty incompatible with good mental health.

One big thing I've learned from this rollercoaster ride, is to not expect change to happen quickly. Thinking things will change overnight has led to frustration and disappointment, which has either triggered further depression or has spurred me into regrettable actions. Thinking that I can use the blunt instruments of medication, drugs, legal highs, caffeine and alcohol to force my moods to bend to my will, has been very hard on my body and mind, and has only achieved very temporary effects, for horrific long-term costs.

Unfortunately, returning to stable mental health, a sense of wellbeing, comfort, happiness, security and an acceptable standard of living, has always required more luck, more time, more favourable conditions than I've ever been granted. I'm not complaining - we all face the same harsh and uncaring world, after all - but I recognise that modern society does little to allow people who get sick to ever re-enter the game.

Stop the world, I want to get off.

 

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Chemical Hooks

10 min read

This is a story about addictive personalities...

Snorting Coffee

We all know what the root cause of addiction is, don't we? It's taking drugs. It's the chemicals that cause addiction, by getting their 'hooks' into us. We get hooked by these chemicals, and we're then going to be a filthy addict, until the day we die, right? Wrong.

Nobody would think that a sex addict injects prostitutes and pornographic DVDs. Nobody would think that a gambling addict would inject a pack of cards or casino chips. Nobody would think that an 'adrenalin junkie' would inject a snowboard or a mountain bike. Clearly, there's something else that's going on, apart from the chemicals that we put into our bodies.

In fact, none of us can survive without a whole chemical cocktail, of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins. We put myriad chemicals into our bodies every day, and if we don't we are in some way deficient. I don't just mean in our diet that we consider 'food'.

Your morning cup of coffee is not food. If you were to have it black, with no milk or creamer, without any sugar, then you would find it very bitter. Espressos are very small. There is probably negligible calorific value in black coffee, so why would you drink it?

Similarly with tea, which is an infusion, very little nutritional value has passed from the tea leaves into the hot water. There is some value in drinking the water, but you'd be more hydrated if you just had it in unadulterated form.

Why do we put milk, creamer and sugar in our tea & coffee? To make it taste nicer. Why would you want to drink something that doesn't have any nutritional value, is less hydrating than water, doesn't taste very nice and needs something in it to mask the taste? Answer: because you have been habituated into drinking it.

Habituation is not the same as addiction.

I gave up all caffeine, and it was an incredibly hard thing to do. Once I had gotten over the headaches, I then had to suffer cognitive impairment, sluggishness, and tiredness. Then came the cravings. I used to fantasise about having hot drinks or an ice-cold Coca-Cola.

The combination of caffeine and sugar is certainly a nice thing to get habituated to, unlike cigarette smoking, and the chemical hooks definitely play a part in both - nicotine and caffeine - but it's the habituation that is the hard thing to break.

Are you bored? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you anxious? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you waiting around for somebody? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you trying to concentrate on some work? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you travelling somewhere? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette.

The habit-forming things that we do become the punctuation in our life. Our dirty little habits become a measure of time. We get through our days with a remarkably similar amount of cups of tea or coffee, diet cokes and cigarettes. We know we've had a super stressful day when we've ripped through a packet of smokes. We know we've had a super boring day when our bladder is full of tea. We know we were super exhausted, when we load up on coffee.

Beer in the sun

What about downers, sedatives, relaxants? Well, we need those to calm down from all those stimulants that get us through the day. If you've loaded up on caffeine - which is identical to amphetamine in the brain - then you're going to be full of nervous energy, and could even potentially suffer from insomnia if you've been having it late in the day.

Eventually though, you'll become tolerant of both your chosen uppers and your chosen downers. These habit-forming things will be woven seamlessly into your daily routine. Coffee with breakfast, tea breaks throughout the day, can of cola with your lunch, and wine, beer and spirits to relax after work.

All these things cost money and have either negligible nutritional value, or are actually bad for your health, so why don't you just quit? Well, you'll find it very hard to do if you try. You might think to yourself "there was that one time where I didn't have any coffee, so I can give up anytime I want" but actually, caffeine is everywhere in your life, and you're unwittingly topping yourself up, at least every couple of days. You probably didn't count the coffee you had after dinner at that restaurant at the weekend, or the can of cola that you had when you were out shopping.

Gamblers are notoriously bad at only remembering their wins, and forgetting about their losses. If you ask a gambler whether they've made money or lost money, over the course of the years they've been betting, they'll probably tell you they're "up" overall. This is nonsense. The more you play, the more you're down: it's a statistical inevitability. In much the same way, people just aren't able to admit to themselves how many cups of tea and coffee, cans of cola and cigarettes they consume. They have no idea how habituated they are.

But, is this addiction? No, it is not.

Addiction is the point where something becomes detrimental to your life but you're unable to stop. It's true that 50% of smokers will die as a result of complications associated with their habit, but at any one time, only a small percentage of smokers will actually be in immediate danger of dying of cancer, heart disease and other smoking-related diseases. It's easy - in the short term - to say that the bad stuff hasn't yet happened.

Most smokers, drinkers and consumers of caffeinated beverages, don't steal to support their habits. They are holding down jobs and providing for their families, even if they're spending a proportion of their income on their poisons. In this way, they're not actually addicts.

When we look at 'adrenalin junkies', many of them actually have toned and athletic physiques from a healthy outdoors lifestyle. What could be further from the life of a heroin junkie, who is pale and emaciated, than a surfer with their tanned and muscular body? A surfer wants to look after their body, because it provides the power to catch waves. An injecting heroin addict's body is ravaged by abscesses and collapsed veins, as the suffering individual places higher importance on intoxication, than on preserving their health.

So, language is failing to capture what exactly addiction really is. Loving your family or your pet is not an addiction. Enjoying sex is not an addiction. Playing poker is not an addiction. Being passionate about a hobby is not an addiction. Even drinking tea, coffee and smoking cigarettes is hard to call an addiction, until you develop a problem where you can't afford your habit or you have actually developed a disease.

I was once asked in rehab, where I was recovering from a binge on benzodiazepines and stimulants - whether I thought I was an addict. I replied that I didn't think I was an addict. I was going cold turkey from a horrible cocktail of about 5 different drugs, all of which I had paid for with money I had earned in my job. I had paid for the rehab out of money which I had saved up. When I got cleaned up, I went back to work as if nothing had happened. No lasting health damage. Nothing to suggest I had ever come off the rails.

Java house

It's stigma and ostracisation that creates 'addicts' in the conventional sense. For most people who struggle with drug addiction and alcoholism, we label them and make life extra hard for them to get ahead, get back on their feet. We put extra stresses and strains on them that other people don't have to face. We demonise and scapegoat them.

We are always asking how to free people from the chemicals; how to release them from the 'hooks', but we're asking the wrong questions. We should be asking what's so awful about a person's life that theft, prosititution and terrible health consequences are a preferable fate to whatever crappy alternative is seemingly offered.

Are there alternatives? We say that people should clean up, get a job, and live like 'normal' people. You mean the 'normal' people who drink poisonous bitter liquids in order to quench their thirst for something with no nutritious value? You mean the 'normal' people who inhale toxic smoke? You mean the 'normal' people who imbibe fermented fruit and grains in order to become intoxicated? Who the hell are these people to judge others who are merely less fortunate than them?

Would you employ an addict? Would you let them look after your kids, your money? No, I didn't think so. You've been indoctrinated into this culture of demonisation, where we're looking for convenient scapegoats, whether it's immigrants, blacks, Jews, the poor, the mentally ill, the sick or the needy. It's playground politics, where we pick on the weakest members of society, nothing more, nothing less.

My employers would shit a brick if they found out that I'd recently had my struggles with substance abuse, despite 30+ years of squeaky clean living. It doesn't seem to matter that I don't smoke, I don't take drugs, I quit boozing for the best part of 4 months. It doesn't seem to matter that I can start and stop at will. Nobody seems to take the blindest bit of notice of the obvious difference between me and a 'filthy junkie': it's the fact that I have opportunities that meant I was able to quit cold turkey and resume my normal life.

If I was to become labelled, and hamstrung by stigma, then I would without doubt just give up and while away my days in an intoxicated state. What would you do if you weren't able to get a job because you were no fixed abode, and the truthful answer to the question "what have you been doing with yourself recently?" was "getting ridiculously fucked up"? Try saying that at a job interview and see how it goes down.

I'm risking my entire career, my prospects, my future, by writing this so publicly, but why should I continue to prosper from my advantages when so many people are crushed underfoot for no more reason than because they're more honest and less fortunate?

What have I learned from my little trip to the bottom? I learned this: we're all the same under the skin. We all respond the same to stress, misfortune and every external circumstance that is beyond our control. Do people choose to get addicted to drugs? Only as much as they choose the colour of their skin, or the wealth and privilege of the family they're born into.

Take the red pill take the yellow pill

You'd probably choke on this giant pill. You wouldn't die because of the chemicals.

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Recovery: Hospital vs. Nature

6 min read

This is a story about observation...

Home Sweet Home

Frankie is a people cat. He needs company. When we went away to France for a couple of days, he was lonely and wouldn't leave our neighbour alone. He invited himself into her lounge and wouldn't leave. When we got home, he yawned, stretched and padded over to greet us. He let us all know how much he missed his humans.

It would be rather sinister to say that I had been observing my fellow patients in hospital, but it was kind unavoidable. I don't really watch TV and I find humans much more interesting than most other things. I also bonded with my companions, and the staff.

It was a locked ward, but I was there voluntairily so I guess I could have asked to be discharged whenever I wanted. But I went there to be safe, so it seemed crazy to ask to leave when it took me 13 hours to be admitted, and I was in a place of safety.

Your GP Cares

It's a bit of a strange compromise though: safety under lock & key. I wasn't sectioned but, scarily, the consultant did consider it, which was a little ridiculous considering I had been safe for 6 days by that point. A section can be 72 hours, 28 days or even 6 months... terrifying, considering all I did was go to my GP one afternoon.

Wrong Way

Anyway, hospital was brilliantly therepeutic. I managed to tackle a bunch of stressors in my life, with the help & support of the NHS team. My treatment was very holistic: drawing, sculpture, drama, cooking, socialising, plus non-judgemental chatting to mental health professionals, of course.

Medication plays a role too, but it's very unclear whether it helps or it hinders, in the long term. Sure, if I was having a psychotic episode - seeing and hearing things - and was a real danger to myself or others, pharmacological intervention might be unavoidable, but is it really necessary to medicate a functional, articulate, self-aware and coping individual?

When I presented to my GP, we had the briefest of chats imagineable. My GP only really needed to know one thing: I couldn't guarantee my own safety. I had tried to keep myself safe, but plans to kill myself had formed in my head. It was only a matter of time before I acted on them. Free will is an illusion. We are controlled by circumstances. Try choosing not to be in pain next time you stub your toe.

Door to Narnia

Wanting to be in hospital is a big deal. Psychiatric wards are not for the faint hearted. You will have somebody checking on you a couple of times an hour - especially at night - and people yell out randomly all night. People sing to themselves. People wash obsessively (or is it compulsively?). People shuffle. People mutter incomprehensibly. People steal your stuff. People ask you strange questions. People are aggressive. People are inappropriate. There is a lot of anger, crying, frustration, fear, boredom, confusion, despair... but there is also hope and optimism. Strangely, I find the environment to be calming. It's supposed to be. It worked for me.

Obviously, you can't have shoelaces, belts, razors, scissors, cables (e.g. for charging a mobile phone), curtains (including shower curtains), locks on doors, furniture that's too tall, windows that open more than the smallest possible crack, windows or mirrors that could be shattered... there's a fairly comprehensive list of safety considerations.

Here's a little picture of the space where you can get some fresh air:

So Natural

Nice, isn't it?

Well, yes it kinda is. The fact that the NHS has gone to all the expense of designing something that is - presumably - to discourage people from climbing the walls and jumping off. I guess that most people aren't such a good climber as me though, so it works for the majority of suicidal patients.

People also have unmet needs that are fairly obvious when you observe them for a little while. As a lifelong non-smoker, it was obvious to me just how important nicotine was in the lives of almost all the patients. The hospital has been smoke free for nearly 3 weeks, which is a huge burden on staff, who must accompany patients off the hospital premises every time they need a cigarette. Yes, that's right, need... these people are psychologically drug dependent. Nicotine is an extremely addictive drug.

Luckily I had already eliminated alcohol from my life too, 3 weeks prior to hospital admission. I actually have a working theory that that it's the reason why I became so deeply depressed. It happened to me in 2008 as well, when I quit drinking. It's so hard to avoid alcohol though - it's so socially engrained - that conducting an in-vivo study has been very hard, but I've gathered quite a bit of excellent quality data now (I've agressively managed to control other variables).

Frankly, I'm a bit of an oddity. I'm completely unmedicated, abstinent from caffeine and all drugs and alcohol. I have been for a long time. I'm about as clean living as they come. A perfect test subject for an unethical experiement into whether mental health issues come about due to environment, genetics, diet, social factors, stressors etc. etc.

Why unethical? Well... quite simply, if my mood sinks too low, I will take my own life. It's really not a choice. I don't want to die - at the moment - but when those dark times come, I feel quite differently. You feel differently too, and that's why you're thinking "why?" or some version of incomprehesion. You don't know how it feels until you've been there, and I really do discourage a trip to the edge of the abyss.

Look Mum No Hands

It's ironic. I have no fear of death, but yet I am able to rationalise that it would be foolish to make an irreversible decision. I ride my bike through handlebar-width gaps between double-decker busses, I climb the tallest trees, jump out of aeroplanes, have my photo taken on perilous ledges with no ropes attached to me, and drive at the limit of control.

One of the staff in hospital suggested to me the other day that I could keep 1% in reserve, just in case of emergency. It actually didn't sound too crazy.

God Bless The NHS

Please support the Junior Doctors if they strike, and any other NHS workers. They deserve better pay & conditions (October 2015)

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Anecdotes from an In Vivo Experiment

2 min read

This is a story of a leap of faith...

Legal Amphetamine

This is what's happening to me now that I have stopped drinking strong coffee.

"Coginitive impairment" sounds terrifying, and it certainly isn't pleasant to experience, but that's what I have chosen to go through by stopping my caffeine intake fairly abruptly. I didn't taper down, because of the long half-life of caffeine and the fact that it's in so many everyday things, like cola and headache tablets.

That's actually the first symptom of caffeine withdrawal that I experienced: an extremely unpleasant headache. The symptom onset can take a surpring amount of time, but then again, caffeine takes a long time to be metabolised.

The next symptoms crept up on me slowly, slowly:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor impulse control
  • Motor/verbal tics
  • Cognitive impairment

I definitely do not "have wings" at the moment. It feels like my frontal lobes are completely inactive, which I guess is a little bit equivalent to a partial lobotomy.

Definitely not good for productivity, but the brain is a plastic organ, and can learn how to re-regulate its neurotransmitter levels in my synapses and at receptor sites.

So, it's hard work at the moment, but I no longer want to be a slave to tea, coffee, cola/energy drinks etc. etc.

It feels pretty horrible at the moment though, and I've been doing it for weeks.

My sleep is improving all the time though.

Wish I could write more, but I'm really struggling!

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