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The world's longest suicide note

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

All opinions are my own

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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On 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.

 

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Vitamin D

4 min read

This is a story about agoraphobia...

London Balcony

This is how I used to get fresh air and sun-kissed skin a year ago. You might say that central London has terrible air quality, but the city where I now live has worse air quality.

My apartment in London cost me more than three times as much as my current apartment, but there were hundreds more opportunities for work, if not thousands more - all accessible by public transport.

I had to get my car roadworthy today. It looks like I'm going to be joining the commuting masses, all clogging up Britain's roads. After dropping my car at the garage, I opened the Uber app on my smartphone. There are no Uber drivers in the whole city. I rang the city's biggest cab firm and they said I'd have to wait 90 minutes or more. I walked home from the garage in the sunshine. I did need the fresh air, the vitamin D and the exercise, but remember... I now live in a city that's more polluted than London.

I think I'm taking a wrong turn. I think I should be going back to London, because I can guarantee a steady stream of work there within the space of a few square miles: The City of London - the Square Mile - and Canary Wharf are the gifts that keep on giving. Sure, London is overcrowded and overpriced, but at least it's somewhere I know and I have friends. I'm going to end up in places I've never visited before, temporarily, and feeling very unsettled. I think it's a mistake.

I didn't mind isolating myself in that apartment in London so much, because I could sit on the balcony and soak up the sun. I could sit on the sofa and watch the boats go past. I could open those big patio doors and have a lovely breeze blowing through my whole home. It blows my mind that I felt more connected to nature in the middle of a city with 10 million inhabitants, than I do in this small seaside place with lush green valleys and hills no more than a 20 minute car ride away.

I probably need a bit of both. I might as well be in London if I'm working full-time. But I need somewhere to call home - I need a base, and that base should be somewhere cheap. It's a lot of pressure to keep working all the time when you need to find £500/week just to pay the rent... plus you've got all the bills on top of that.

It was a mistake to put myself into the situation where I had sole responsibility for paying all that rent, and no way to get out of the contract when I was too sick to work. If I went back to London, I'd have my company rent a place on a month-by-month basis, so I could leave whenever I stopped working.

I don't know what's keeping me indoors. There's some kind of force-field. I haven't reached the point where I feel I can relax, take my foot off the gas pedal and just coast a bit. I should be enjoying the summer, but I'm not; I'm really not at all. My summer has been ruined.

I think I need to plan to go away when the days are getting shorter, it's getting cold, wet and miserable, and the clocks go back. I need to get an autumn/winter sun boost. That's the next thing I can start to pin my hopes on.

If I can get through the next 3 or 4 months relatively uneventfully, keeping the cash rolling in, maybe I'll be in a position to sit in the sunshine and actually relax and enjoy myself. At the moment, I don't feel like I deserve to enjoy the summer... there's still so much work to do; there's still so much stress ahead, and uncertainty.

 

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One Week to Get Fit to Work

4 min read

This is a story about being ready to roll...

Living out of a suitcase

My car's not road legal, the hotel isn't booked, my shirts and other work clothes aren't washed and ironed. I managed a few days without tranquillisers, but I still guzzled 2/3rds of a bottle of red wine and used a sleeping pill to get to sleep last night. My hair's grown long and I need a shave. I spend more time thinking about setting my affairs in order and killing myself, than I do about the practical steps necessary to prolong my suffering: another town; another job and yet more isolation and loneliness.

There's a huge gap between where I am in my mental state and where I need to be, if I'm going to go and make a good first impression, and keep up the charade until the work is done; until I can finally collapse in a crumpled heap.

There are important pieces of a liveable sustainable pleasant life which are simply missing; absent. Family, friends, community, social support network; a partner or best buddy. Can you imagine spending 28 days in complete isolation, except for a few messages exchanged via social media? Can you imagine spending a couple of years working your arse off trying to get to the point where you felt financially secure -- no longer on the brink of bankruptcy and destitution -- but seemingly never making any progress?

Yes, we've all experienced moving house, breakups, making new friends, starting new jobs, going to new unfamiliar places, having to somewhat re-establish ourselves. So what? You did it, it was stressful, and now you're relaxed and all settled in nicely. The bad memories fade quickly and the good ones dont: you can almost look back and laugh at all those unsettled times you've been through. For me, the unsettled times are so frequent that the bad memories never fade. I'm caught up in a never-ending series of very stressful events.

Out of economic necessity, I need to ready myself to re-enter the workplace one week from now. I need to look well presented, I need to be on the ball and I need to sustain a certain degree of professionalism until the work is done... I'll need to be able to get through week after week of hiding the fact I'm sick and struggling. I'll need to be able to cling on and hopefully make it through to the other side, before I hit the wall.

One day I'll wake up and say "I just can't do it anymore" and I won't be faking it; I won't be making a fuss about nothing - I really will have nothing left to give. Whether that's day 1 or day 101, or whether it's sufficiently far into the future that it doesn't affect the charade, I can't say. Obviously I worry that my health will fail me too soon; my energy will be used up and I'll be of no use to anybody, which means letting people down; no more pretending to be OK.

Having a week to prepare yourself for a period of effort that you don't feel in any fit state to face is not a nice prospect. Even if I could just sleep for the next week, I don't think that would be enough. There are practical preparations. There are things that are really toxic to my mental health - like living out of a suitcase - that look pretty unavoidable. There's the futility of going to a place where I have no intention of staying, beyond a few months, so why make friends there? Why put down roots? Why make myself comfortable; settled?

So, I continue to be unsettled. I continue to live without anywhere I really call 'home'.

It's a week to get myself into some kind of bare minimum state so I can go and get some more money, but no matter how much I earn, it all seems to just disappear... an exercise in futility; exhausting futility... except maybe for the banks and the landlords, who profit handsomely from my efforts, while not labouring at all themselves.

That the only reason for any of this stress is purely to service loans, pay rent and pay bills, hardly has me jumping for joy; it's hardly a big motivator. There's seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.

So, as I try to sort my practical matters, rest, live healthily, and generally prepare myself for another stint at the coal face, I'm struggling to find much meaning in it; much reason to live.

 

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Inrec

3 min read

This is a story about being an involuntary recluse...

Wine bottles

I suppose the involuntary part of involuntary recluse is questionable. It's not like I've tried to leave the apartment and be sociable, and been rejected. There's nothing obvious keeping me indoors with the curtains drawn, all alone. However, it should be self-evident that I'd be much happier outside in the sunshine with company, than isolated within the 4 walls of my home. Therefore, there must be a reason why I don't feel able to go out; socialise.

I'm a mess.

It's got to be fairly obvious that I'm a mess. My thoughts have been all over the place. My attention and effort has been directed in many different directions. I've been drinking far too much, and other things have seriously destabilised my brain chemistry too.

It saddens me that I'm squandering the summer, but I'm sad anyway; depressed.

I spent all afternoon watching football. I don't even like football. You would have thought that somebody who has absolute free will and can choose to do anything they want, whenever they want, would not choose to be indoors in a darkened room watching a sport they don't even enjoy. That's where the involuntary bit comes in.

I can't explain it. I can't explain the complete collapse in my mental health; my quality of life; my will to live. I can't explain how I've become a prisoner in my own home. I can't explain how I've lost all my energy; all my motivation. I can't explain why I've given up; I don't see the point of anything.

I try to write a little every day. I don't know whether I'm going to be vile, vicious, vindictive and vengeful, or just whinge about my lot in life.

Sometimes, I'm forced to walk to the nearby corner shop. Sometimes, I have alcohol delivered to my door. That's about the only contact I have with the outside world. It's been the case for weeks.

A number of things happened, which I really don't feel I had much control over, which destroyed the shaky and fragile foundations of the life I was rebuilding. That's what makes what I'm going through seem involuntary; unwanted. Yes, in theory I have free will and I could make alternative choices, but in reality I'm completely flattened by a collapse in my mental health; completely floored by depression.

I lie in bed until late in the day, then I lie on the sofa with the curtains drawn. I just want to be unconscious. I often wish I was dead.

What is there for me to look forward to? Where should I invest my time and energy? What's the point? Where will it get me?

Nothing; nowhere. Don't bother. Give up.

 

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My Food Diary for the Last Week

8 min read

This is a story about a calorie controlled diet...

Octopus

If there's one thing I like to do other than drink alcohol, it's to eat unhealthy food. In fact, I find the combination of both to be most agreeable.

Here's what I've eaten (and some of what I've drunk) in the last week:

Sunday

  1. Tin of Heinz beans & sausages

Monday

  1. Vegetable samosa
  2. Chicken, bacon & mayonaise pre-prepared sandwich
  3. Large bag of Skips crisps
  4. Large bag of beef flavour crisps
  5. 3 cheese strings
  6. 1 bottle of white wine
  7. 1 bottle of red wine
  8. Peanut butter eaten straight from the tub

Tuesday

  1. Nothing

Wednesday

  1. Nothing

Thursday

  1. 4x slices of toast with marmite on

Friday

  1. 3x chicken drumsticks
  2. 2x smoked mackerel fillets
  3. 4x cheese strings
  4. Tiny amount of Ben & Jerry's Karamel Sutra ice cream
  5. 1 bottle of red wine
  6. 1 bottle of white wine

Saturday

  1. Nothing

In terms of drinking that I omitted, because it's been a bit more chaotic/unpredictable, and it's also fairly boring information, I have drunk a lot of apple & black-current, orange and lime flavour squash. It's 24 degrees celcius in my apartment and staying cool is a problem. I pre-mix the squash, speed chill it in the freezer and then transfer it to the fridge. In theory, there's always a cold drink I can grab, provided I'm not cornered in some part of my apartment.

Monday is representative of what I ate and drank most days while I was working full-time, although I'd try to keep to one bottle of wine only.

Friday I managed to stock my cupboards from a proper big supermarket on Friday. Not well communicated by this food diary, is the fact that my cupboards and fridge are now brimming with easy-to-make meals, which are far healthier than big bags of crisps, samosas, more crisps and other crap you can buy from a corner shop, along with 2 bottles of wine for just over a tenner.

I have a cornucopia of delicious foods to choose from right now, yet my life is still chaotic.

The vicious cycle goes like this: I start to feel stressed and anxious, which triggers an alcohol craving. I then buy 2 bottles of wine, 'planning' on only drinking one. I drink both bottles and wake up feeling awful, of course. The hangover triggers a stimulant craving, which can be temporarily alleviated with Red Bull, but that then causes me to feel anxious and jittery and crave alcohol. Allegedly, somebody identical to me but not me, tried taking Concerta (an ADHD medication) for a couple of weeks: it's often sold as Concerta, but that's because the previous brand - Ritalin - has negative connotations in patient's minds, like Prozac (tell the patient it's fluoxetine and they'll be much more likely to take it).

I think my health would benefit from:

  • Not drinking 1 or 2 bottles of wine every day
  • Not binging on unhealthy snacks while getting drunk
  • Going to a proper supermarket once a week, so I have food that I want to eat in stock, as opposed to going to the corner shop every day because I'm "hungry" but really it's to buy 1 or 2 bottles of wine too.
  • Not relapsing back into being a regular caffeine user
  • Finding some kind of Concerta/Adderall slow-release formula type medication that can help me face the next 27+ years of soul destroying office job bullshit, which only keeps me busy & concentrating for 5% of the time and the rest is like torture
  • Finding some kind of tolerable antidepressant, to help me through what I anticipate will be at least a year of feeling lifeless, joyless, demotivated and deriving almost no pleasure from the things I used to enjoy.
  • Maybe if that pile of pills is making me a bit too enthusiastic and excitable, bordering on the manic, I might have to consider a light mood stabiliser too - perhaps a low dose of Olanzapine, although I'm loathe to suffer the weight gain.

Specifically my mental health would benefit from:

  • Detoxing again from the sleeping pills, tranquillisers, sedatives and stimulants, which I've only used sporadically over the last 6 weeks - I have no benzodiazepine dependency, thankfully - but I need to 100% cease that ruinous vicious circle.
  • Getting a hair cut and washing my favourite clothes; maybe even buying a couple of new things I like... I seriously only buy new clothes every 3 years
  • Getting my apartment in a state where I'm not paranoid that the landlord might see a couple of bits of damaged decoration and freak out.
  • Securing a new contract, but with enough time to physically rest & recuperate before starting
  • Spending some time with my friends in Ireland, or going to a hostel where I can be around people, and socialise a bit, as well as sleeping lots, getting fresh air and generally having a long-overdue restorative holiday.
  • Being realistic about where I'm really going to thrive, or where I'm going to be isolated and lonely. Swindon is a big no, I think. Newport, I have one friend, but he's super busy with his kids. So, it's got to be London really.
  • Friends first - get a regular meetup sorted... a guaranteed one day of the week (minimum) where I'll see friend(s). The more friends the better. Concentrate on friends.
  • Being more aware of how easily I fall in love and become relaxed and comfortable in domestic life. I'm quite content deciding on dinner, cooking, eating, watching TV or a film, kissing and cuddling, sex, spooning, then a kiss goodbye in the morning with a nice hug... and repeat, and repeat, and repeat. I've been so isolated and lonely for so long that FOMO and jealousy of my partner's social life isn't a problem, and I just spend the time on my own... drinking. It doesn't leave me in a very secure place though, if I don't have my own friends and events.
  • Exercise. I put this on just because it's such an obvious suggestion, and one that I get all the time. It's not a bad suggestion. It's an impossible suggestion when all the other stuff listed above is broken. "You won't feel like doing it, but afterwards you'll feel more energised; it'll give you energy" - OK, what you're talking about are chemicals released to ease your muscle pain, which are actually opioids, so you get a literal 'high' after exercise, AND the fact that you're getting fitter. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, so to use energy does not give you energy. You're right, I don't feel like doing it, and I would benefit from being fitter, but as the Millennials are wont to say: "I literally can't even".
  • Speaking to friends on the phone or Facetime etc - I live my life in text, through a browser or an app. I'm in contact with sometimes hundreds of people a day (19.5k Twitter followers presently, for example) and some friends are good enough to regularly message me, but it's not the same as a live conversation where you can hear somebody's voice.

Well, and just because I'm making lists, here's the practical stuff I've got to sort urgently:

  • Car MOT on Monday morning
  • Answer phone/emails from agents RE: contracts
  • The world's biggest pile of stinky washing
  • Making sure my back bedrooms are at least passable and not likely to cause alarm to uninvited visitors

Less urgent is the redecorating, just because it's going to be a pain to organise.

nAlso, I did an epic job of cleaning the bathroom(s) spotlessly and mopping the floors and otherwise making my apartment pretty presentable, A lot of my TODO list has been tamed.

So, a bit more than just my food diary, but it hints at why for 5 out of 7 days I ate virtually nothing. It also hints at the three ways things could go: 1) no more food diary cos I'm dead, 2) food diary of junk which is making me fat, and alcohol which is making me unwell, 3) food diary that might be a bit more interesting (although it'll probably start with sandwiches and soups and pre-cooked meats).

Also, related content if it's going to be the "no more food diary": The Supercrack Diet

NOTE: I think the muscle damage/breakdown causes weight loss (at the expense of your kidneys) and sweating and dehydration cause further weight loss, but your body goes into shock and you just end up weak and more or less the same weight once you've rehydrated... although my tummy is half the size of what it was 6 weeks ago. Any sport scientist will tell you not to run out of glucose or water when exercising, or else you'll lose muscle mass, while any doctor will tell you that artificially raising your metabolic rate and putting strain on your heart (such as using fat-burners like DNP) is quite likely to kill you or permanently f**k you up.

You can lose weight by 'fasting' but it's for people with sedentary jobs, and also there's no point if you're going to undo your good work by binging on junk and alcohol on the 'normal' days.

Anyway, there's a little glimpse into my unhealthy lifestyle.

 

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The Days are Getting Shorter

2 min read

This is a story about the end of summer...

Hospital ceiling

That blue sky isn't real. They installed those fake roof tiles so that patients receiving dialysis have something slightly nicer to look at than grey ceiling tiles, during the many hours that they're being treated. Both my kidneys had failed very suddenly, so I was having 4 or 5 hours of dialysis every day, desperately trying to get both fluids and toxins out of my system, because I was very sick indeed.

I've waited and waited and waited for better weather. My mood has been persistently depressed. Suicidal thoughts have been with me daily, if not hourly. I've been clinging onto the thought that better weather in May and June would lift my spirits, and improve my mood. I've been desperately hoping that my energy will come back, and I'll feel enthusiastic about life.

Instead, a couple of terrible things happened in May and June, which destroyed my fragile little world.

I'd barely gotten started putting down roots - job, place to live, girlfriend, friends - when everything was smashed to smithereens. Now, the longest day of the year came and went and I didn't even notice. Depression keeps me prisoner in my own home. Some days I don't even open the curtains.

I'm wasting the few short summer months, which is a tragedy, but the timing couldn't have been worse to lose a couple of things that I desperately needed. When I needed good luck, I received bad luck... which I know is so often the case in many people's lives, but it doesn't make it any easier to cope with.

Winter is coming.

All those months and months of hard work I put in over the winter are being undone, and the boost that summer should give me - making life easier and more pleasant - has been sabotaged. Things are harder than ever. I'm heartbroken that my summer is ruined.

So, enjoy your ice creams and your days at the beach, and your family holidays. I barely leave the house. I'm as white as a ghost.

Superstitious people say that bad luck comes in threes, so I'm now just sitting at home waiting for the sky to fall in.

 

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Good Job

1 min read

This is a story about decay...

Decaying plant

Here is a photo-diary which records the decay and decomposition of my little local life. It's the perfect metaphor.

The plant was a gift, meant to cheer me up when I was unhappy in London. Soon after receiving this gift I got a local job - a "good job" - and I kept the plant on my desk.

You can see that by the third picture in the sequence (bottom left) that my plant was struggling; unhealthy. I tried to revive it by putting it on some wet tissue paper, so that it could suck up some much needed moisture.

I think the combination of air conditioning and no natural light eventually killed my plant, just like it drained all the life out of me, just like it killed my local relationship and just like it somehow killed my "good job".

I now have neither the relationship, the plant or the "good job".

Somebody should chuck me on the compost heap.

 

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Hitting the Wall

3 min read

This is a story about having a breakdown...

Broken glass

This broken glass in my sink is symptomatic of whatever the hell is happening to me at the moment. I'm too exhausted to get out of bed. I sleep all night, then I sleep all day, then I'm sleepy and clumsy and I knock glasses into the sink, but I'm too exhausted to safely dispose of the shards of broken glass.

I knew I was tired. I knew I needed a holiday. A proper holiday, which was relaxing and allowed me to recharge the batteries. I basically needed two weeks in a hot country, with no pressure or responsibility or guilt or financial stress or any of the other things which have completely and utterly exhausted me.

I knew I was close to breaking point. How long had I been complaining for? How long had the warning signs been present for?

I've started to screw up. I should be showing my face in the office. I should be attending work social events. I should be on top form and leaving a good impression everywhere I go. Instead, I'm making mistakes; I'm unreliable, clumsy.

When things start falling apart it can set off a domino-like chain of events. My life feels like it's imploded. Nothing's going my way and I don't have the energy to fix anything, or even clean up the mess properly.

It's strange. I don't feel as suicidal as I have done in the past, so it makes me think that this must be something physical. Maybe I'm just completely physically exhausted. Being stressed out is hard on the body, I think, being so tense all the time. I know I'm depressed, but I don't feel like the exhaustion is just a mental problem.

I feel like I've destroyed the good reputation I worked so hard to build, while also at the same time, I'm losing confidence in my own abilities. I've always been able to bounce back from setbacks. I've always been able to save myself from disaster. I'm worried I can't pull off those escape-artist tricks anymore.

I'm in a lot better position than I was this time last year, but it's been a year from hell. I'm in a lot better position, but that's not saying much. It would be pretty hard to be in a worse position than the one I was in last year.

Yes, things are not the very worst that they've ever been in my life, but they're still pretty dire by most people's standards.

The trouble is, I've started to go backwards; I've started to sink.

 

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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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How to Become Irreverent

14 min read

This is a story about the values you raise your children with...

Church window

It seems like I have had the sentimental attachment most of us feel towards everything we revere in society systematically thrashed out of me. If you pick one thing that summons feelings of safety, security, comfort, respect for authority and faith in the divine/spiritual, then I will tell you how exactly how I came to question everything: every institution, everything sacred, every tradition, every profession, people who are normally considered beyond reproach and ultimately even existence and its purpose.

Starting with my birth, I'm literally a bastard. I was born outside of wedlock. My parents never married and always planned to remain unmarried, such that I took my mother's surname instead of my father's. Ironically, my mother had once been married, and I have the surname of her ex-husband instead of her maiden name. Confused? Imagine trying to explain that to your fellow pre-schoolers when you're 3 years old. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I understood that I was different; unusual.

My schools would often address letters intended for my parents to Mr & Mrs Grant, and my father would always tell me that I was the only Mr Grant in the house and therefore the letter was addressed to me. My mother would tell me that she was no longer Mrs Grant and she was Ms Grant. "Why not Miss?" I would ask, and she would explain that she had been married, and Miss was only used by women who hadn't been married. If anybody telephoned the house and asked to speak to Mr Grant, my father would hand the receiver to me and say "it's for you", which it never was, of course.

I understood that there was divorce and some of my school-friends were raised by a single parent, or a step-parent. My peers would often ask if my father was my step-father, to which I would reply "no". Nobody could understand how I came to have a different surname from my biological father, or entertain the notion that I could have been given my mother's surname, not my father's.

At some point, a fairly clear question formed in my mind: "why aren't my parents married?". 

The reasons why people get married had become quite clear in my mind, for the very simple reason that I had endured years and years of people's reactions that suggested that not getting married was very atypical behaviour. Nobody wants to feel unusual; freakish. Nobody likes to feel odd.

When I posed my question - "why aren't you married?" - to my parents, they replied with their own question: "why should we get married?". I had a pretty easy answer for them, as I've explained: because that's what everybody else does. "Do you want to be like everybody else?" my parents asked. "Yes" I replied.

[I just burst into uncontrollable sobbing. If it wasn't what you experienced, I don't think you can begin to understand what it's like to spend your entire childhood as the freakish weirdo; the odd one out... the one who's different from everybody else]

Having covered marriage there is a natural segue into the topic of religion, and the origins of my atheism.

For a number of formative and important childhood years I lived in an attractive terraced house in an area called Jericho, on one of the most desirable roads in central Oxford. These houses are the most expensive in the world, far exceeding real estate prices in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong, in terms of their affordability. However, these £1.5 million houses were bought by the first wave of gentrifiers, when academics and young professionals with families started to move into slummy areas because they couldn't afford family homes in the more desirable parts of the city.

When your immediate neighbours include an MP, a barrister, a heart surgeon, a City banker and a number of promenant Oxford dons and professors, their children were raised in an environment which was knowledge-rich and encouraged the exploration afforded by a curious rational mind; critical thinking. Nobody went to church. My friends, whose father was a consultant at Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital, went to Quaker "friends meetings" occasionally, but my peer group - the sons and daughters of the intellectual elite - had little place for God and church in their lives.

We should rewind a little bit, back to the village our family lived in before we moved to central Oxford. If one were to imagine the most quintessentially English picturesque Cotswolds village, with the manor house, the village green, the workers' cottages, the post office and village shop, the village pub, the village school, one should not forget the church and its graveyard. The church's presence and influence is not to be underestimated. My religious indoctrination began as soon as I started school, with the vicar regularly present. Village social events are very often church-linked, like harvest festival, and of course everybody who grew up in such an idyllic village wants to get married in that particular church, have their children baptised there and be buried in that graveyard.

Essentially, the church's opportunity to exploit a child's vulnerable immature mind were scuppered by my father. For everything that the church had a comforting but incorrect explanation for, my dad cited a lack of evidence and instilled in me the skepticism which gradually became integral to my developing personality: "show me the evidence".

When we moved to the centre of a city whose university is globally recognised for its academic excellence, I never encountered another simple-minded fool who had been persuaded to believe in Gods and other aspects of religion, which are so obviously irreconcilable with the pursuit of knowledge. Religion encourages ignorance but I had been raised to question everything and remain skeptical until I had seen convincing proof. "What are atoms made of?" I remember asking one of my friends who lived on my street. "Quarks" he replied. We were perhaps only 5 or 6 years old - the product of a childhood immersed in academic culture, as opposed to the sentimental and traditional.

The disturbing and unpleasant consequences of an irreverent life can impose themselves on a child at a worryingly young age. I've already been uncontrollably sobbing about just one thing - the tradition and sanctity of the institution of marriage - and I haven't even mentioned how a child deals with the concept of mortality and threat of death without the comfort of religion.

A US Air Force pilot who drank at the village pub which my parents later bought and now live in, drunkenly boasted about the ability of the United States to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. I was definitely no older than 4 years old. With my friend with whom I had discussed subatomic particles, we talked about the temperatures which could be reached near ground zero of a fission or fusion nuclear bomb, and how the radiated 'heat' (electromagnetic radiation) had instantly vaporised human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with only their shadows left behind, permanently etched into the walls of buildings.

If you believe you live in a Godless world with no afterlife you naturally want to know what everything's made of if God didn't make it; you want to know why it's here. How did it get here? Why is it here? You start to pick everything to pieces by iteratively asking what each thing is made of: humans are made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of quarks and leptons... and you can in fact keep asking the question. There's good proof that the electron is not a fundamental particle, as had originally been thought.

When your schoolmates are smart-arse little shits, because their parents are brilliant academics, teachers and school loses its awe and authority. If you're being taught science that's almost 100 years old, and sometimes even 200+ years old, the whole exercise is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise to be endured.

The other thing to consider is that my parents used illegal drugs on a daily basis, and had strong views about the legitimacy and usefulness of the law, certainly in the instances that suited their own addictions. As with many drug users, they were very paranoid. They viewed the police as corrupt and not to be trusted - the enemy. My father's criminal conviction for drugs not only poisoned his views on the police, but also made him very anti-American, as he believed he would never be allowed to enter the country due to his criminal record.

[I'm crying again]

It was only because of first-hand dealings with the police that my viewpoint changed from skepticism due to lack of evidence: the police had never caused me any harm, and in fact I had never had any dealings with the police at all for most of my adult life. You might be surprised to learn I adore and respect the police. My accumulated experience of police encounters has consistently shown that they are some of the most kind, patient, empathetic, forgiving, reasonable people, who have always gone out of their way to bend the rules and simply help as opposed to ever enforcing the letter of the law.

One shouldn't mistake my respect for the men and women of the police force for reverence. I would never for a minute expect that a 999 call is somehow going to be the answer to my prayers. I don't feel safer or more secure, knowing that I can call for police assistance. I wouldn't feel any more comfortable in a stressful situation if there was a police officer present. Of the very many police men and women who I have had first-hand dealings with, they have always treated me very fairly and kindly, and it's quite clear that they deal on a daily basis with a huge number of very vulnerable and damaged people, which they do so with incredible compassion - they are the living embodiment of humanity not deities who should be worshipped and revered.

[More crying]

So if I don't revere priests, vicars, teachers, headmistresses, marriage, religion, military superpowers, soldiers, the police, the law and my own parents, what else is there left for me to lack reverence for?

Cumulatively, I've spent almost 6 months having my life saved in hospital - often in high dependency and intensive treatment unit (ITU) wards. Shouldn't I revere doctors; surgeons?

I think that if there was one thing that would make almost anybody feel more secure and happy in a stressful situation, it would be knowing that there's a doctor present. It's such a clichéd question: "is there a doctor here?".

To explain my irreverence for doctors, we merely need to explore the reasons why I have ever had to deal with one, and the outcomes of those interactions.

Having been lucky enough to escape congenital abnormality, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what I want from a doctor and why. You don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body has been dealing with pathogens since the species first came into existence. You hardly have to be brain of Britain to figure out whether you're dealing with a viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection, and furthermore, which is likely to be treatable. In actual fact, I've never been to my doctor for antibiotics: every infection has always cleared up on its own. Fungal and parasitic infections can be dealt with without a doctor obviously: head lice shampoo is available in every pharmacy, without a prescription, for example.

At the age of 28 I went to my doctor wanting treatment for depression, but I knew which specific medications I was prepared to try and which medications I didn't want because the side effects were not acceptable. Having my choices limited only to SSRIs provided firm evidence that doctors were an obstacle to be overcome, not a panacea.

When we think about the first time I was hospitalised, do you think I didn't know that I was going to end up there and what the problems were going to be? Do you think it was an accident that I ended up in hospital?

Again, you don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body needs water, salt, glucose, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and myriad trace elements, or else the bodily functions haven't got the fuel, carrier fluid and raw materiels they need. You don't need to be a doctor to know that human body temperature needs to be homeostatic as much as possible - much like every other measurable thing in the human body - and any extreme variation too high or too low is going to have dire consequences.

When you are making choices in full knowledge of the likely consequences, medicine ceases to be lifesaving magic, and instead it becomes another simple case of what do you want and why?

One must consider the very last time I was hospitalised to truly understand my irreverence.

Not only had I quite carefully pre-planned my suicide attempt, when I arrived at hospital against my will, I gave very clear instructions: do not put activated charcoal into my stomach, do not perform gastric lavage, do not intubate, do not provide life support and most importantly of all, do not resuscitate. "Do you know what's going to happen?" the A&E doctor asked. "Yes. I'm going to die of a combination of organ failure and serotonin syndrome, with a lot of seizures" I replied. "Do you think you'll be unconscious? Do you think it'll be painless?" the doctor asked. "No. I expect that it will take a long time to die and I'll be conscious and in a lot of pain for most of it" I replied. Then I started having seizures.

Doctors see a lot of people who are scared and they don't understand what's happening to them. They're desperate for somebody who seems to know what they're doing and what they're talking about; doctors are an authority figure. I have no doubt that for feckless simpletons and those who lack access to medicine, the arrival of a doctor or a priest/shamen/witch-doctor is incredibly soothing and comforting. If you don't know what you want and why, your reverence is misplaced, but it may still ease your passage from life to death.

When shit goes bad, who are you going to turn to? If you have to pick your team of people to survive on a remote island, who are you going to pick and why?

Why revere anyone? Why kiss anyone's arse and tell them they're great because they did the study and training that you could've done if you wanted to. You could have passed those exams. You could have gained those qualifications. You could have followed that path if you wanted to. If you wanted it bad enough, you could put on that uniform; you could get that job title; you could prefix or suffix your name with the bit that tells the world just exactly why everyone should drop to their knees and worship you.

Nothing's sacred to me. I could do your job if I wanted to.

I'm not smarter than anybody. I'm not better than anybody. That's the whole point: I'm lucky enough to not have anything that's holding me back; limiting my potential.

I really don't recommend telling your kids they can follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. I really don't recommend telling your kids to question everything, and understand everything about how the universe works, to the point where they reach the very bleeding edge of scientific research. I really don't recommend raising your kids to challenge the status quo and resist the urge to fit in with wider society and their peers.

Take it from me: there's a mind-destroying kind of cold uncaring "nothing matters" bad feeling that comes from being too rational; too much of a free-thinker. Take my word for it: understanding the absurdity of existence will destroy your mental health.

You should probably experiment with hard drugs. That's probably way less likely to fuck up your life than going down the rabbit-hole of picking everything to pieces and trying to reason from first principles and pure logic.

 

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