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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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Lost Cause

7 min read

This is a story about predictions...

Recycling

Bookmakers and actuaries are extremely good at predicting the future. The profits of these well-established enterprises depend upon accurate predictions, based upon a vast amount of historical data. Better statistics lead to better predictions, which lead to accurate odds and sustained profitability. If it wasn't possible to predict the future in this way, there wouldn't be a business model for life insurance or gambling.

Unfortunately for individuals, generalised predictions are fairly accurate while individual predictions are not. It is no use asking an actuary when you will die, so that you can plan your life accordingly. The actuary will not be able to tell you whether you'll die of a heart attack age 45, or whether you'll die in your sleep age 95. Those extra 50 years present a considerable problem for the individual, but the actuary does not care, because they spread the risk of having to pay out on life insurance across a large group. On average, the insurer will win. However, none of us can know whether we're going to die prematurely or live unusually long.

It might seem prudent to avoid smoking, drinking and consumption of excessive calories. It might seem prudent to go to the gym every day. It might seem prudent to eat a balanced diet, containing a mixture of fruit and vegetables, full of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other chemical compounds your body needs to repair itself and stay healthy. However, while we can say for certain that smoking and obesity will lead to health complications, none of us can make choices to assure ourselves of a long life.

One day you might just drop dead.

The temptation to use statistical analysis to make predictions for an individual is overwhelming in a world where we have discovered the classical laws of physics. We presume that we are able to predict the future as easily as we can predict the trajectory of a missile. Unfortunately, individuals do not follow simple parabolic curves. While there are statistically significant correlations - good predictors - this does not mean that we can know the future life of a human, after gathering a few crummy data points.

All we have managed to unearth so far about the mysteries of human life is that we can understand risk not destiny. You might have genes which appear to doom you to a certain fate, but those genes are not always expressed in the way which we expect. The sequencing of the human genome has failed to provide the crystal ball that it was promised to deliver, but instead revealed the unimaginable complexity of epigenetics. No clear genes have been found for things such as diabetes and depression. There is no gene which hard-wires our life expectancy into every cell.

Who could have predicted that smoking would be banned in public buildings and the workplace, drinking culture would become diminished, supermarkets would import food from all over the globe, such that strawberries would be on their shelves all year round, and the workplace would become so safe and so sedentary? Who could have predicted that mental health problems would reach such epidemic proportions that the leading cause of death amongst 20 to 40 year old men would be suicide?

Ultimately, the biggest thing affecting my life expectancy appears to be a choice which I'm free to make.

I've never smoked and I quit drinking 4 months ago. I eat a balanced diet and I'm a healthy weight. These things are happy accidents. Every afternoon my anxiety builds to an increasingly intolerable level and every evening I feel suicidal. I live alone and have no friends or family nearby. I have no children, pets or partner.

My life is on a knife-edge.

If you were going to bet on the statistically probable outcome of my life, you'd have lost a lot of money already. I'm afraid to say that I'm an outlier and I have refused to conform to the predictions. I'm a single data point and as such I'm not statistically significant on my own, but the significance of my own life and its outcome is, unsurprisingly, important to me.

It's a hard life being an outlier. Literally, almost everyone is betting against you. It will be harder to get an education, get a job, get a home, borrow money, find a partner, get life insurance, get a pension... all of these things are thwarted by people who believe that they are able to predict my destiny. I'm continuously confronting people who believe I'm a lost cause, and therefore not worth taking a risk on.

We can see that this attempt at prediction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When racial stereotypes become pervasive - for example - then we see that minorities are harshly and unfairly prejudiced, which harms their chance of success and reinforces the correlation between uncorrelated factors. Skin colour should not be a good predictor of socioeconomic outcome, but the data overwhelmingly shows that it is.

From the moment you enter the vast educational system, you are being sifted and sorted in a way which tests you and gathers data on you, in order to attempt to predict your future. Something as random as getting an illness will affect your school attendance data, which will be used against you as a predictor of supposed future failure. You are constantly at risk of flagging yourself as a "disaster waiting to happen" and suffering lifelong prejudice due to the systemic attempts to analyse individuals statistically.

I suppose I now revel in the fact that I'm a living contradiction. My problems with mental health, addiction, alcohol, hospitalisations, psych ward stays, trouble with the police and refusal to be sifted and sorted by the mainstream education system, are not in agreement with the predictions that I should end up bankrupt, in jail and/or dead, having lived a life with no useful contribution to society, and in fact having been a burden. I'm the guy your mother warned you about. I'm the one who isn't supposed to be allowed to freely roam the streets. I'm the one who all the gatekeepers have in mind - I'm the one they want to keep out, but yet I'm very much on the inside.

If those who think they can gaze into the future by studying my data had their way, I wouldn't have a job, a house, any money. The system has tried very hard to railroad me into certain outcomes, because it's what was expected and predicted.

I genuinely don't know whether I'm going to kill myself or if my depression is going to lift and life's going to become pleasant and bearable. I've lived with depression for long enough to know that my choices will have little effect on the outcome. No amount of prescription medication, therapy, yoga and other such things will have the intended effect. It has always been the least expected things in my life which have wrought the most important changes.

If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I'll die at my own hands. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I won't be able to escape the debt trap. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I will crumble and break, because that seems like the obvious thing I would do, from looking at the black marks against my name. If I was going to bet according to statistics, I would definitely bet against myself.

However, we know that fundamentally the universe does not obey classical physics, when we study the underlying laws, but instead there is inherent uncertainty. Outcomes are nondeterministic. Knowing my past does not allow anybody to know my future. There is a nonzero probability of every possible outcome, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

My day-to-day life is dominated by a single question - am I going to kill myself? - but despite being the best placed person to answer that, I do not know the answer. Events unfolding are as much a surprise to me as they are to you.

 

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Antipsychiatry

5 min read

This is a story about refusing help...

Pharmacy

If you spend enough time with general practitioners, general psychiatrists, specialist consultant psychiatrists, registered mental nurses, specialty doctors and all the very many other mental health professionals who are part of inpatient and outpatient clinics, community mental health teams, crisis teams and all the other apparatus which is supposed to treat mental health problems, one begins to realise a rather unsettling truth: there aren't very many treatments and they don't work very well.

Psychiatry is a young branch of medicine and it doesn't have a lot to crow about. Since the days of asylums and lobotomies, psychiatry has been dogged by scandals, including the extrapyramidal side effects of medications which have left patients with lifelong irreversible unpleasant problems. The data do not show encouraging outcomes. In fact the outlook is dismal and appears to be worsening as the toxic conditions which create mental health problems, seem to be intensifying. Rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity... these are all soaring. Treatments are not effective and vast numbers of people are condemned to suffer with their illnesses AND the side effects of the medications.

I've been lucky enough to have access to private medical care, at times, and even with the very best professionals and medications, there is not a vast difference between what's available from the public healthcare system. It's all pretty crap and it doesn't work very well.

This is not a damning indictment of those who dedicate their lives to trying to treat mental illness, but simply a cold hard rational analysis of the facts.

The conclusion I've reached has been that there's an over-medicalisation of non-medical problems. The bulk of my problems have stemmed from the collapse of my relationships. I got divorced. I am estranged from my family. I've been forced to move to cities where I have no friends - no social support network - in order to work jobs which have been unsuitable for my health. I have the enormous pressure of having to work full-time, to pay rent, bills and service enormous debts, which is unbearable for a person who's having a crisis.

My mental health would be vastly improved if I had a partner, a social support network of local friends, financial and housing security and a job with reduced hours, until this crisis is resolved. Healthy diet, sleep hygiene, exercise, sex, physical affection, sunlight, fresh air, social contact, hobbies and interests... these things are all essential for human wellbeing. None of those things can be prescribed by a doctor.

During the worst days of my addiction and rough sleeping, I noticed that my fellow homeless alcoholics and addicts were not without some routine and social lives. Romantic relationships are not the exclusive preserve of those who live in houses and have jobs. The life of a homeless drug addict might be chaotic to the outside observer, but a less prejudiced analysis reveals no less structure, no less need for comfort, no less humanity. Those who have fallen into habits of addiction and homelessness might find the community of drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless to provide the social support network and sense of community, which they'd struggle to find living anonymously behind a front door.

Does anybody really know I'm here... in this house... in this city? In many ways I have found my contact with hospitals and the police to be of great comfort. I have found the nonjudgemental members of the NHS and police force to be incredibly kind and compassionate people. It's nonsensical, but I've been happy to be hospitalised or arrested. I've been happy to be in a cell or on a hospital ward, with somebody checking on my welfare. Behind my own front door I could be hanging by the neck, dead, and nobody would discover me for days or maybe even weeks.

My problems are mainly attributable to unmet basic needs: hugs, face-to-face conversation and a sense of belonging.

Because of the obvious things which need to be fixed in my life, it seems wrong to seek medical help, when my mood could be radically different if all the broken things were fixed. It might sound like a fun adventure, going to new cities, but the reality is very miserable and lonely. The reality of my present life is that I don't pick up the phone to speak to anybody when I'm feeling dangerously depressed - who would I phone? What would they do? It's not like anybody can nip round to check I'm OK.

Humans are social creatures, but I live on the periphery. I live on the periphery of life itself, always in danger of death or medical emergency. The state of being suicidal should be considered a medical emergency, especially in men of age 20 to 40, where suicide is the biggest cause of death. My perception of the danger is not warped, given my history of suicide attempts and hospitalisations.

There isn't a pill or some psychological therapy which would be effective... especially not when so much of my life is broken. It's not a medical problem. Sure, I have an underlying mood disorder, but the highs and lows of bipolar don't make me as unhappy as my social isolation does.

How I set about fixing things, I have no idea. The task seems insurmountable.

 

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Waiting Game

7 min read

This is a story about biding your time...

Dehydrator

One of my favourite things to make and eat is beef jerky or biltong. Mixing a marinade, lovingly covering the meat and then slowly drying it is something which can take 30 hours or more. The smell is quite tantalising throughout the process, but there's no short-cut to the end. If the beef is marinated for less time, it will be less flavoursome. If the beef is dried too quickly it will be cooked instead of dehydrated, and it will be brittle, not chewy.

My life has become a game of waiting. I'm paid for my attendance, not my contribution. I'm paid to be present, but also paid to be quiet. The more I'm present and the quieter I am, the greater my financial reward, but it's pretty unbearable. I literally just have to watch the clock and think of the money. If I tried to make myself useful, people wouldn't like it and it would cause problems.

The situation is ridiculous, because even a small child could see that I don't have to do anything and I will be handsomely rewarded with desirable things, such as cash, houses, cars, holidays, clothes, gadgets and suchlike. It's very easy to extrapolate and say that it's almost inevitable that I'm going to earn a staggering amount of money, for doing almost absolutely nothing.

The situation is hard to handle. I can see every single step in-between here and the 'finishing line'. It's as if there's a well-lit staircase that leads to the top of Mount Everest, and I know exactly how many steps there are, and also that theoretically my body is capable of climbing that many steps, but it's psychologically distressing to know exactly how many steps there are between me and the summit. Sometimes it's not a good thing to know the way. Sometimes it's not a good thing to be so aware of the journey ahead.

I'm aware that human bodies only last a finite amount of time before they fail. I can comprehend the number of sleeps that I have left before I expire from old age. A friend pointed out that 9 years is 108 months, which seemed like an interesting way to break down a decade - making it more bite-size - but the idea of living for another decade is not inviting to me. Getting to the end of this month will be an achievement.

My perception of time is warped. My sense of boredom is heightened. My attention span is ruined. I feel anxious all the time. I have terrible anhedonia.

Life's not very liveable but life must go on. I have to choose between the rat race and the endless exertion to keep my head above water, or else I will be turfed out onto the streets and will have to live a pitiful life of begging and sleeping rough.

My thoughts turn to suicide often.

Suicide is the obvious choice, because it ends the struggle completely. No more anxious waiting. No more slow plodding towards the inevitable. No more unpleasantness.

I'm aware that I'm frustratingly close to a major breakthrough. I'm aware that I've rebuilt myself fairly miraculously and I'm a completely different person from the junkie I was 2 years ago. It seems brutal that I would lose the love of my life, lose my amazing apartment, be forced out of the city I called home and end up attempting suicide, only to end up surviving and clawing my way back from almost-certain bankruptcy, only to give up at the point I was at break-even. It seems ludicrous that I'd claw my way back from so-called "rock bottom" and then decide that it wasn't worth it, except to die with a bit more pride and dignity.

I was chatting to a friend and we wondered whether we had screwed up our brains and our bodies too badly to ever recover. We both reported feeling a lot of physical discomfort and health problems, as well as terrible depression and anxiety. Ironically, he has all the things that I think I want: a girlfriend, hot weather and freedom from the rat race. The thing we have in common is bipolar disorder and substance abuse, so perhaps the evidence is pretty clear - drugs will mess you up and leave you in a miserable state.

The annoying thing is that my life isn't filled with drug abuse. My life is filled with 9 to 5 Monday to Friday commuting and office routine. My life is filled with paying rent and bills. My life is filled with supermarket shopping and doing laundry. My life is filled with mountains of paperwork. I've been well-behaved and I've made healthy choices, but it hasn't made any difference - I'm still depressed.

I suppose my depression can be explained away by events such as a breakup and a lot of stress - moving house - as well as the sustained problems I've faced in the past years, as I've attempted to restore my health and my wealth. It's hard not to lose patience though. It's hard not to give up, given the sustained effort that has been required to get where I am, and the way I feel at the end of it all.

After all the effort and the uncertainty and the horrible things I've had to endure, when I think "was it worth it?" I'm not sure that it was. In fact, I'm pretty certain that I wish I hadn't bothered. I'm pretty certain that I'd like for the pain and suffering to end sooner, rather than later. I cannot see any reason to carry on, when the reward is only more pain and suffering.

I'm kinda worried about keeping myself safe. I started thinking about places in my house where I could hang myself. I started thinking about cutting some major blood vessels in the bath. I started thinking about obtaining highly toxic poisons from the internet. I started thinking about practical considerations, such as the effect on my sister.

It's not good when a considerable part of your waking day is spent thinking about ending your own life.

I'm aware that I've probably unbalanced my delicate brain chemistry, through stressful events as well as medications. I binged on some pills. I self-medicate with other pills. The demands placed upon me by moving house and working a stressful job have driven me to feel suicidal before. I don't have any friends in the city where I live. These things are not conducive to good mental health.

I know that if I keep forcing myself to go to the office, my bank balance will continue to improve, which opens up a whole world of possibilities and reduces the amount of stress and pressure in my life. I know that as long as I stay alive, the days are getting longer, the nights are getting shorter and the weather is improving. I know that depression doesn't last forever. I know that anxiety has only ever come into my life as a result of abusing alcohol and benzodiazepines. I know these things, but it doesn't make the present day any more bearable.

There's no way to hurry things along. I either have to wait, or kill myself.

 

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Historically March Has Been A Terrible Month For Me

3 min read

This is a story about social media memories...

Clock tower

Facebook provides an "on this day" feature, which reminds me that March has been afflicted with madness and sadness for more years than I care to remember. I'm horribly affected by seasonal depression and I think March is the worst month of all, because it's long, dark, cold and the weather is terrible. At least in April the clocks have sprung forward. At least in April, the first pleasant month of the year - May - is within sight.

I was trying to remember what the earliest point in any year was, where I'd regained control of my sanity and been working. With the exception of the current 15-month long streak, it hasn't been earlier than May that I've managed to get myself into gainful employment and start repairing my life, and it's been as late as October and even December, which has proven pretty disastrous for my finances.

It might sound pretty incredible that I could lose my mind in one winter - usually around Christmas time - and not work until the following autumn. My life is incredibly cyclical and part of that cycle is rescuing myself from the brink of disaster. Because of my creditworthiness, I simply sink into debt, then dig myself out of the hole when my mind is more amenable to being in the workplace.

I'm pretty sick of the boom and bust, hence resolving to dig myself out of debt once and for all. I'm sick of having debt hanging around, threatening to destroy me. I'm sick of working hard, mainly to line the pockets of my creditors.

Last year was compromised because my summer was ruined, but since then I haven't got much to complain about. I managed to have two very nice holidays. If I play my cards right I can have a nice summer holiday this year and enter the autumn in a financially strong position. I had imagined that my woes would be behind me now, but I've had to balance the reality of the daily slog - commuting etc. - with the desire to get out of debt as quickly as possible. I could have lived on dry bread, tap water and lived in a hovel, but I think that would have been unbearable.

I realise that I consider this to be my sixth consecutive terrible year, but my life hasn't been anywhere near simple enough to reduce to that level. In fact, 2016 very nearly worked out for me. I'm kinda having another attempt at 2016, but hopefully not repeating the same mistakes. Every year has had a terrible winter and spring, followed by an autumn period which has been much more promising.

This year is unique, in that it started with an awesome holiday and the period that threatened to plunge me back into disaster and despair was quite short-lived. I've already managed to fend off a breakup, a house move and some brain chemistry problems, which all could have been terminal for my dreams of achieving stability, security and happiness.

I don't want to jinx it, but this year is going far better than any previous year, all things considered.

 

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The Achievements of One Week

6 min read

This is a story about post-traumatic stress...

Fire

Tuesday was a very bad day. Tuesday was a constant panic attack. Tuesday held nothing for me but relentless anxiety. Tuesday passed very slowly.

Tuesday is past.

Today is Friday.

Today is almost OK.

When I look back on today at some point in the future, I'll probably realise that today was pretty bad, in the grand scheme of things, but compared to Tuesday, today has been a doddle.

It might seem like I was making a lot of fuss about nothing, earlier in the week, but I assure you that I was suffering a very real medical emergency, which would have seen most people hospitalised.

The brain can render us very sick and needy, when it malfunctions. My brain was badly on the blink and even in a hospital I would have been very uncomfortable. Doctors could have eased my suffering with powerful tranquillisers administered intravenously, which would have been the ethically correct thing to do, but on Tuesday I went to the office, which was torturous beyond my capability to describe.

There simply are no words for the things which are at the limit of human survivability. Torture can make us lose our sanity. Trauma can lead to loss of life.

It might look on the face of it as if I'm an ordinary person doing ordinary people stuff, but the fact is that few of us live in perpetually precarious situation. We either fail and fall, or else we stabilise. We tend towards stable outcomes: Stable failure and stable success. I'm relatively unique in having not yet failed sufficiently to block my path from achieving desirable outcomes. Despite drug addiction, alcoholism, near-bankruptcy, homelessness, brushes with the police and debilitating mental health problems, I remain persistently employable and able to access goods and services which are normally denied to a whole swathe of society, to which I belong.

Nobody has realised I'm not supposed to be here.

Nobody has realised that all their vetting procedures and gatekeepers have failed to send me packing, back to the hell hole I crawled out of. Nobody has realised that I'm one of the ones that we're supposed to spurn and turn our backs on. Nobody has realised that I look, sound and smell like I'm one of the "OK" ones, when in fact I'm very much one of the "not OK" ones.

The longer I'm allowed to stay and warm myself by the fire, the stronger I get and the more chance is there is of me achieving stable success.

That's not supposed to happen.

Every societal system has in-built measures to toss people to the wolves. I'm not supposed to be in a big house with a wood fire and a fridge full of food. I'm not supposed to work in a fancy office doing brain-work. I'm not supposed to have any financial security, housing security or prospects. Society would like to see me dead in a ditch.

Society does however worry selfishly a lot about its own sons and daughters. Because I suppose I exude somewhat of a heady mix of intellectual poshness, combined with whatever youthful vulnerability still remains in a 39-year-old man with grey hair at his temples, I guess I confound expectations of what a junkie looks like. I'm not what anybody expects a homeless bankrupt to look like. I do not embody what anybody thinks of when they think of a psych ward patient. I do not look, sound or smell like the thing which I so obviously am, if we scratch beneath the surface.

Of course, my ruse is premeditated. I know that if I keep my mouth shut and my head down, nobody will pay me much notice, and I'll slowly be able to recover from the horrors of my past. I know that if I can go unnoticed and unfettered for long enough then I'll be able to have regained firm footing, to better enable me to flourish.

I'm aware that any period I look back upon as a period when I considered myself to be doing OK, with retrospect has turned out to be a false summit. Everything I've ever achieved has crumbled. It would be foolish to imagine that I'm doing OK at the moment, simply because I'm doing better than I was a week ago, a year ago or 5 years ago.

That's the really terrifying thing for me: 5 years ago I was very much beginning the descent. I attempted to dab the brakes, but then found that the brakes weren't working. I knew that I had to avoid long-term irreversible health damage, criminal convictions, damage to my credit rating, bankruptcy and damage to my professional reputation, but I still managed to find myself looking down the gun barrel of a heap of problems that were going to see me destitute on the street.

I'm not sure how I've managed to face down the threats to my life and livelihood and emerge from the thicket relatively unscathed, at least on the surface. I suppose it's all down to a handful of people who've conspired to assist me, in ways which run contrary to the conduct we consider ordinary and normal. A handful of people have taken risks with their lives and their money, to see me live with continued opportunities, as opposed to lasting and disastrous consequences.

I suppose in the popular parlance, I've been "enabled".

I hate that negative phraseology, to stigmatise those who help addicts and alcoholics. I hate the idea that an act of kindness is actually something bad; something foolish. I find the whole concept detestable.

I feel bad about how unwell I have been feeling this week, which should have been a celebration of how much the help I've received was a worthwhile investment. I feel bad about feeling bad.

The reality is that through the awful panic attacks, I still have a lovely house and a well-paid job, so I just need to stick to the plan - "home stretch" as my guardian angel said to me today.

My life follows a very nonlinear path. Of course I remember how bitterly I complained about living out of a suitcase, how pleased I was with a new relationship, how much invested I was in my Christmas and New Year holiday, how quickly my opinion changed about the relationship and how anxious I was to secure my housing situation. Of course I remember the highs and lows. I remember the devastation and the jubilation at many points along the way, with crystal clarity.

This is my very weird life. Suicidal depressed anxious thoughts, then white sand beaches and blue skies, luxuriating on holiday, then darkest blackness, then roaring log fires in a large period home, then more blackness. Why should this not be the case? Why would we expect any different?

Things were dire earlier in the week. Things are dire now, but dramatically less so.

 

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Tinnitus

5 min read

This is a story about hurting myself...

Ear

There's an insufferable noise inside my head. It's a bit like a hissing, whining, wailing, screaming roar. I can't actually hear anything per se, but there's something that's far noisier than everything else that I can perceive. The world seems very loud and invasive to me - every tiny sound is amplified to neve-jolting volume - but the noise inside my head is louder, even though it's silent.

I know this doesn't make any sense.

At its most basic, the noise is like the shrill notes of a horror movie, which indicate that something bad is about to happen. The noise is deeply unsettling; disturbing. I feel on edge.

Then, after a while, because the noise doesn't go away, it seems to become more urgent: Pain, injury and death feel as if they're about to happen. I'm in a constant state of 'flinching' from the anticipated blows to my body.

The feared pain never seems to quite arrive, but instead there's a dread that this feeling will never go away. This is my life now: Living in a constant state of anxiety; living with perpetual sustained threat.

How can I go on living like this?

How can I live with this noise?

There is no noise.

My rational brain knows that there isn't any noise. My rational brain knows there isn't any threat. My rational brain knows there isn't anything to be anxious about.

Further, I know why this anxiety is so bad: Because I've been through an incredibly stressful life event, and I'm not using my usual coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol.

In fact, I'm effectively putting myself through alcohol detox, tranquilliser withdrawal and sleeping tablet comedown, whilst simultaneously doing one of the most stressful things that ever happens in our lives - moving house.

If I don't learn to cope without alcohol then it will destroy my health and send me to an early grave. If I don't learn to cope without tablets, then I will be forever trapped by addiction.

The unfortunate short-term consequence is very unpleasant to live through.

In fact, it's so unpleasant I've started to think I would very much like to not be alive.

That's the noise.

The noise continuously tells me to hurt myself; to end the pain.

If there was a sound that existed which told you you're better off dead, then it rings at full volume in my ears. Its sustained pitch and relentlessness tells my brain it's never going to go away, things are never going to get better, and this unbearableness is a permanent state of affairs... and the only escape is death.

I've been through enough anxiety and depression to know that things don't get any worse than this, and eventually things do get better. I have unfortunately experienced enough prolonged panic attacks to know that this is just another one, and although seemingly interminable, it will eventually pass.

Given a little more freedom - a few more options - I would stay at home in bed, and sleep. To make matters worse, however, I feel compelled to be in the office, which is just about the worst place in the world, because I have to pretend like everything's OK when it's not. I have to sit in my office chair for 7 or 8 hours, when every single bit of my body and mind screams to be doing something distracting or relaxing.

Driving in heavy traffic is a mild improvement over sitting at my desk. In fact, sticking sharp objects into myself would be a mild improvement over sitting at my desk. Jumping out of my office window and falling to my death seems like a vast improvement over sitting at my desk.

It's a pretty disturbing state of affairs and I'd be yelling for help, except that I know there's no comfort that anyone's going to offer me. Nobody's going to pay for me to be sick in bed. Nobody has anything they can say or do to ease the situation. I'm just going to have to suck it up.

It's not like I've run out of pills or the shops have run out of alcohol. It's not like I couldn't go into debt while I get better. There are temporary solutions, but they all delay the inevitable.

I suppose I'm ripping off the sticking plaster, as opposed to peeling it off gently little by little. This is a short sharp shock. This is the fastest route between two points, but also the rockiest road, with thorny bushes, biting insects, choking dust and a whole host of other things that don't mean it's necessarily the easiest path.

Now... I need to go and find distractions until it's time for bed. Today has been an incredibly long day, and I wish I hadn't woken up.

 

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Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

4 min read

This is a story about feeling overwhelmed...

Rare steak

My favourite movie is Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. I am almost able to recite the script, verbatim, from memory. I don't re-watch films. I don't re-read books. This movie is my one exception. I've seen it dozens of times.

I don't tend to use a lot of quotes or epigraphs in my writing. Why would I borrow somebody else's words when mine say exactly what I want? I'm confident enough in my own thinking and writing abilities to avoid the insecurity of believing that my own words have less value than somebody else's.

I do however offer this one quote from my favourite movie:

"Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins, they gave me one. Brought it up to me like room service. It was a real choice mission, and when it was over, I never wanted another." -- Captain Willard, Apocalypse Now

Having spent vast parts of this year tormented by extreme boredom, I am now swamped. I have something to get my teeth into at work, which also has quite a lot of pressure associated with it. I have a creative writing project - my novel - which I've been struggling to write due to poor preparation. I have my blog. I have dating. I also need to get fit, resume some of my hobbies, collect my mountain bike from the other side of the country and make some new friends. My work routine is well established and I'm making excellent progress financially, but it's time consuming and exhausting.

I wanted to be busy.

Now I am.

Never a dull moment, presently, but there's always something or somebody I'm neglecting. Sleep and a stable routine are early casualties, as I flit between many competing demands. Of course I'm having a lot of fun and I have boundless energy at times, but I crash down and become paralysed by anxiety.

Earlier today I thought it might be easier to just kill myself, rather than have to get two taxis and a train, wash and dry all my clothes for the week ahead, and drive to the office at the crack of dawn. It was only a fleeting moment of suicidality and it wasn't particularly serious because I didn't start to plan the act, but I definitely couldn't face the heap of tasks ahead of me. It depressed me that my novel and my blog were going to potentially become casualties - so much writing to do.

I'm somewhat regretting having asked for so much, and been given it all eventually, all in a short space of time. For a while almost none of my needs were being met, and then suddenly I've been swamped by everything all at once.

I can't quite figure out how to balance all the things I need. Money, challenging work, sleep and intimacy are probably my top four priorities, but each one brings a swathe of other complications. The more things I add into my simple life, the more destabilised I become. I worry that I'm going to end up repeating the mistakes of previous years, when I became over-tired and over-stressed, which pushed me into a state of mania. Mania will be fatal to my career. Mania will be fatal to my relationships. Mania will be fatal to my financial stability.

I wondered to myself if I've made a mistake in being unmedicated. I think I was just desperately sleep deprived though.

My life violently see-saws between the dread of Sunday night and Monday morning, binge drinking on a Thursday and Friday night, stopping my sleeping pills and tranquillisers at the weekend and suffering dreadful insomnia and anxiety, and some other rather destabilising things, such as dating. I swing between the fear that my life is going to become over-complicated and stressful, and the fear that I'm going to die alone. I know that my simplified life brings vast financial rewards, but the lack of kisses and cuddles is almost unbearable. Living out of a suitcase is awful. Drinking alone is unhealthy. Changing my routine is destabilising and exhausting. Other people are unpredictable.

It's a difficult balancing act: trying to live a sustainable and stable life when I'm naturally prone to mood instability, and I am dealing with a number of things which are dreadfully broken.

This sounds like quite a whinge-fest. On the whole, I have lots of things to be very grateful for. A lot of my problems are nice problems to have.

I shouldn't complain.

I'd rather be busy.

I wanted a mission.

 

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Condescendingly Oversimplifying Highly Complex Life-or-Death Issues and Trivialising my Achievements

7 min read

This is a story about perseverance...

Tree in winter

Despite the exhaustive lengths I've gone to in order to make myself understood, surprisingly few people have any appreciation of my achievements in conquering insurmountable odds. It shocks me that there is a complete lack of comprehension of the magnitude of the task, of starting a journey of recovery locked up on a psych ward, unemployed, homeless, £54,000 in debt, physically dependent on addictive substances and having just survived a suicide attempt that was very nearly successful. "Have you tried yoga? Have you tried kale smoothies?" people still write to me.

Yes, I take offence to being patronised.

still take offence to being patronised.

"You're only one trite platitude away from complete recovery" people seem to think.

Oh. My. God.

Drop everything.

A fucking meme saved my fucking life.

Said nobody ever.

A self-help book saved my life.

Said a bunch of idiots who failed to establish a causative relationship.

I'm a fucking computer scientist so I don't hold a lot of sway with superstitious beliefs in sky monsters, fate, karma, astrology, homeopathy, acupuncture, healing crystals, tarot cards and all that other mumbo-jumbo. I believe in cold hard cash. I believe in empirically proven theories which have been peer reviewed, with reliably reproducible experimental results.

In a way, my whole life has been conducted in a very scientific manner, which should come as no surprise given that my career has been dedicated to working in a logical and rational field, governed by rigid formal rules. There's no room for airy-fairy hand-waving nonsense bullshit in my professional field. There's a right answer and a wrong answer, and it's not possible to put your faith in god to fix your goddam code. It's not possible to put your faith in god to fix your goddam life. There are no higher powers. There is no supernatural. No amount of exercise and good diet is going to repay your £54,000 debt.

If it seems like I'm labouring the same points over and over again, and telling the same miserable story which appears to have changed very little in the 13 or so months since I was in an utterly fucked situation, you're a total fucking moron.

Of course my story is repetitive.

Of course my story is miserable.

Of course my story is boring.

Of course my story has changed very little.

From the start of December until now, I've lived out of a suitcase in hotels, working a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 job. All I do is work, sleep, eat and write my blog.

I'm paying back £54,000 of debt.

I didn't start with nothing. I started with less than nothing. I started at a considerable disadvantage.

Starting with nothing would have been a fucking dream.

Most people in my situation would have declared bankruptcy. Most people in my situation would have given up.

I'm not most people.

Most people would never have had the opportunity to get £54,000 in debt. Most people would never be able to repay £54,000 in debt. It costs £10,800 a year to service a debt of £54,000, assuming a credit card interest rate of 20%. Do you have a spare £10,800 kicking around every year?

Remember that I also started this journey locked up on a psych ward, jobless and without a vehicle.

How do you think you'd get out of that particular sticky situation?

"I'd get a job"

Yeah? How much would that job pay? Would you also need a place to live? Would you need to pay transport costs to get you to the fucking job?

It's a hard problem to solve.

No amount of inspirational quote memes can solve the problem. No amount of exercise and good diet can solve the problem. No amount of being patronised as fuck by people who don't have problems will solve the problem.

If I sound angry and that I'm raging... you're damn right.

It's been ludicrously difficult and stressful to get to this point.

I might sound like a scratched record. You might wish for me to be telling a happier and more uplifting story, but the truth is that it's hard damn work to dig yourself out of a very deep hole. I'm sorry that in reality there are no quick fixes. I'm sorry that the real world is not at all like the fantasy world. There are no overnight successes. There are no sudden improvements. There is no solution in the form of a goddam inspirational quote meme.

If your life is sorted, well fucking done. Big congrats.

If your life is sorted, please don't think that you can jump into my world and quickly figure out what I'm doing wrong. Please don't fall into the trap of seeing yourself as some sort of saviour. Please don't patronise me by assuming that I'm overlooking some easy short-cut.

My story sucks because my life sucks, but my life is improving very slowly.

It takes relentless patient persistent perseverance to fix a fucking shit-tonne of problems. I don't tell the story to entertain and amuse you. I tell my story because it's real and I don't know how it's going to end. I tell my story because I think it's important to bear witness to the struggle - the reality - of people who are trying to re-enter civilised society, having been marginalised and excluded.

If you're getting impatient for the good bits, fuck off. I'm impatient too. There are no short-cuts and it's me who has to put up with the daily misery of the painfully slow progress.

Yes, at some future point I hope to sum up this whole rotten period in an executive summary; a short synopsis. When the dreadful task is finally completed, I can change my story to something different. For now, the story seems to be the same miserable repetitive depressing crap, because that's the reality of my life.

I think there's a lot to be celebrated in my achievements of the past year, but of course we have been reared on a diet of Hollywood and Disney movies, so the feeble-minded are encouraged to believe that every story should be a simple fairytale. Reality doesn't care about your desire for easy-to-understand, linear and uplifting tales of overnight success. Reality is an absolute bastard that needs to be bludgeoned to death with sheer determination; force of will. Reality is boring as fuck, most of the time.

Of course my day-to-day tale is mostly banal, hence why my debts are being repaid with exceptional speed. I have sacrificed pleasing fantasy for real achievement, at the cost of childish fantasies about following my dreams. I sell my brain and body to the highest bidder and put myself through an ordeal of misery, because it brings in a lot of cold hard cash.

It offends me when people who've enjoyed wealth, privilege and fucked about doing whatever the fuck they want, talk to me about how I should be living my life. They followed their dreams and indulged their selfish wants, but I don't have that luxury. I am forced to inhabit reality. I live in a capitalist plutocratic society dominated by global corporations, and I have to work for a living because I was £54,000 in debt, jobless, homeless, without a vehicle and locked up in a psychiatric institution. Do you understand?

I don't get to dream. I don't get to live in a fantasy world. I'm forced to inhabit reality.

 

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I Am Ridiculously Exposed

6 min read

This is a story about laying it all on the line...

Glasses

My livelihood, any realistic prospect of me being able to pay back my mountainous debts and the impossible dream of restoring myself to health and wealth - escaping the nightmare - hinges upon successfully blending in as a part of an organisation which is particularly noted for being intolerant of anybody with bad character.

I've been required to fill in a 66 page form which legally obliges me to disclose criminal convictions, psychiatric problems, the abuse of drugs and alcohol, partners from the last 3 years, marriage, divorce, bankruptcies, loan defaults, debt repayment agreements, financial conduct and details about my parents. Most employers are only entitled to know about any unspent criminal convictions, under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, but I work for an organisation that knows everything.

Of course, I'm ahead of the game, because I've already publicly declared every single unflattering thing about myself.

Luckily I've never been convicted of a crime, but there are still some things I'm legally bound to disclose which would portray me in a less-than-ideal light to the powers that be, who will judge me based on what they see on paper. My life and my future will be reduced to a few scribbles on a form.

Many people have been through rough breakups and divorces and had breakdowns. Many people suffer from mental illness. Many people have had periods where they've drunk too much or dabbled with recreational drugs. Nobody is squeaky clean.

I'm in the ludicrous situation where I'm more-or-less managing to plod along and keep my mouth shut, and demonstrate that I'm a competent and capable valuable team member at work, but I've continued to write and publish this blog using my real name. I've continued to write with unflinching honesty about some of the terrible stuff I've been through and the aftermath of problems I'm dealing with, as I desperately attempt to get back on my feet.

I'm in the ludicrous situation where my hard work is beginning to pay off and my debts are getting rapidly repaid. I'm in the ludicrous situation where there's an end in sight, provided nobody screws me over.

It appears to be self-sabotaging that I would continue to write and publish stuff which makes me so exposed and vulnerable, but in fact my online presence has been one of the big factors in my recovery. Without being able to share my story and connect with kind supportive people, I couldn't have gotten this far. Without having the sense of identity, pride in my achievement and the structure and routine that daily public writing gives me - the scrutiny - then I would have been destroyed by my problems and would have perished in obscurity long ago.

Whaddya want to know about me?

Trouble with the police? Sure. I got caught with legal highs a couple of times.

Psychiatric problems? They don't call me Nick "Manic" Grant for no reason. I make no secret of having bipolar disorder.

Drug and alcohol abuse? Not the former anymore but the latter is a bit of a problem, although my drinking doesn't seem to be any more abusive than that of most of my colleagues. Arguably I'm successfully self-medicating, because I'm functional and unmedicated.

Partners from the last 3 years? I haven't co-habited since separating from my wife.

Marriage and divorce? Tied the knot in Hawaii. Divorced 18 months later.

Bankruptcies and other debt problems? I pay my bills. I've never defaulted. I'm a good debtor.

Financial conduct and credit score? I need to pay back half my credit card debt ASAP but that's the only bad thing on my credit file.

Parents? They're not seditious traitors. They're not Russian, Chinese or terrorist sympathisers. They're not political agitators.

What about my character in general? I've had a successful career spanning more than 2 decades, working for some very big organisations on important projects. If I was some kind of fraudster or con artist, my true character would surely have been unmasked by now.

There's a lot written down here which could easily be twisted and used against me by somebody intent on casting me in a bad light. I write a lot of things about myself which are very unflattering and wouldn't usually be publicly declared by people. I spend a lot of time asking people to take the things I voluntarily tell them and to decide for themselves how they want to judge me.

It's a ridiculous thing to do.

For one reason or another I've become easier and easier to find, for anybody who bothers to look. Because of a recent mistake I made I've become even easier to find than ever before. All the effort that I've put into projecting myself into public consciousness, because I've been on the verge of suicide for so long, is finally gaining traction and I'm becoming a victim of my decision to make myself exposed and vulnerable.

Every time I write and publish I have to consider the consequences to my life. I have to make a decision between my ideological belief that we have a right to live with the freedom to be proud of our identities and to be open and honest, without fear. If we really live in a free country I should be free to be candid and not suffer persecution and tyranny. If we honestly believe in equal opportunities and our laws forbidding discrimination, then we need to take the brave and bold step of speaking without fear of repercussions.

This vast repository of information that I've created is the polar opposite of a 66 page form, designed to distill me down to a few ticks in boxes. This 1.1 million word document is intended to frustrate the reader who is looking for a convenient pigeon hole to stuff me into.

Do your worst. I'm not afraid.

 

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Insignificant Speck

5 min read

This is a story about sonder...

Supermoon

Is it useful to have a realistic appreciation of your own insignificance? Is it useful to correctly perceive that you're not significantly different from any of the 7.6 billion other people on the planet, or the 108 billion humans who lived and died since homo sapiens first appeared as a new species? Is it useful to be conscious of your cosmological insignificance, where the entire human race will be obliterated so completely that it will be as if we never existed? Is it useful to understand the fundmental laws of physics well enough to know that there isn't going to be a technological breakthrough which might allow us to travel to another star when our sun dies? Is it good to know that in the long run, nothing matters, because we live in a godless universe with no afterlife, and we are destined to be forgotten?

Just as we might become aware that every other person has a rich and complex life of their own, we can equally become aware of humanity's wider insignificance.

Warp drives, wormholes, time travel, cryogenics and hypersleep are all lovely sci-fi fantasies, but we can't even solve the basics, such as the fair distribution of wealth so that we can all have clean drinking water and enough to eat. There isn't going to be a colony on Mars. We're as likely to kill ourselves in nuclear armageddon as we are to die because of runaway man-made climate change. Yes, we've made great strides in science and technology in recent years. All those advancements are being used for killing each other in increasingly nasty ways.

The population growth trends are easy to extrapolate, along with predictions about our ability to use the available land to produce food, leading to the unavoidably obvious conclusion that we're going to have mass-starvation of billions of people, in barely a couple of decades. If you like to trot out the tired old lines about what a monster Stalin was, you ain't seen nothing until you've seen what capitalism can do to billions. It's already easy to see what industrial capitalist society has done to the environment, causing all manner of extreme weather events and natural disasters, which are anything but natural, because things are exacerbated by man-made climate change.

It's easy for me to write about the need to show some restraint and forego some luxuries, because I've been lucky enough to have enjoyed those luxuries for quite a long time. What about all those people who haven't yet had a taste of Western imperialist decadence? Isn't it unfair that those who've only ever known poverty and deprivation will never get to live a decadent lifestyle?

Many in the guardian class would prefer it if you just damn well knew your place, and stopped trying to improve your standard of living. How else are the guardian class going to snobbily believe they're a cut above the rest of the society, if every man and his dog is able to have a nice lifestyle? Get back in your place, you proletariat scum.

Thus, we arrive at the new class warfare. We ALL think that we should be at the front of the queue, and we ALL know how to get there, thanks to the internet.

The internet is a humbling place. Where else can you face such an enormous deluge of individual people who all think they're special, unique and different? Everybody's going what they think is an important opinion to share; that they have a voice that needs to be heard. Everybody thinks they're good looking, talented, intelligent. Everybody thinks they're capable of original thoughts and ideas; that they're creative.

It's hard to maintain your own sanity when you see all those social media accounts controlled by all those individuals, who've carefully chosen their name, bio, profile picture, and then carefully creates and curates their own content, according to their personality and the image they wish to project. It's hard to be a homo sapiens with the same hardware that evolved 350,000 years ago, when the population was 99.999% smaller and we didn't have any technology except fire and pointy sticks. Our brains really aren't built to cope with constant reminders that we're an insignificant speck.

We might hope to build up our social media following - our celebrity status - and begin to broadcast ourselves to big audiences, hoping to make ourselves feel somewhat less insignificant, but it's delusional. A judge and jury might convict a person of a serious crime, locking them up for life, but all 14 of those people will die at more-or-less the same time, be cremated or buried. In 4 or 5 generations, those 14 people will be completely forgotten - the criminal will be indistinguishable from those who sat in judgement. For a psychiatrist to diagnose a patient as having delusions of grandeur, is also a delusion of grandeur - both are suffering from the delusion that they have any importance at all, when clearly they are both equally insignificant.

Significance is an invention of the human mind, as a coping mechanism for the increasingly inescapable realisation that nobody matters, nothing matters, we're all dead in the long-run and every piece of evidence that we ever existed is destined to be obliterated some completely, that even alien archeologists with futuristic gadgetry, would never know anything about our entire race; our whole history.

It's pure vanity to think that you're important; that you'll be remembered.

 

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In a Darkened Room

7 min read

This is a story about invisible sickness...

Psych ward

I'm not throwing up. I haven't got diarrhoea. I don't have a fever, sweats or chills. I don't ache or have physical pain. I haven't got a rash. My skin isn't discoloured. I can pass urine. I'm lucid; conscious.

Symptomatically, I'm not sick. I'm perfectly fine and healthy.

A few years ago - back in 2015 - I got so exhausted and stressed at work and I felt so unable to say "no" and ask for some time off, that the only legitimate way I could lift the pressure upon me was to be hospitalised. Being in hospital somehow legitimised the 'sickness' I was feeling, due to invisible illness. I felt protected from the relentless pressure which was being applied to me constantly, in the workplace and with mountainous debts. I felt safe in hospital.

I slept.

I slept so much.

I slept for 12 to 14 hours a day at least, for a whole week.

I was voluntarily admitted to the psych ward - I could leave whenever I wanted - but I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay safely protected within the walls of the hospital. I wanted to stay safely protected from the world of work, the world of debt, and the world of intolerable and unreasonable expectations; insufferable pressure which was killing me.

Unless my sickness is externally validated, by a doctor, I don't feel like I've got a legitimate reason to not work as hard as I can, and bash my head against a brick wall in a futile attempt to deal with an unreasonably huge burden of responsibility placed upon me. Unless somebody tells me it's OK to not be OK dealing with the mountainous tasks placed in my path, then I work until I reach breaking point.

Breaking point in 2015 meant getting myself admitted to a psych ward. Breaking point in 2017 meant killing myself.

I've been at breaking point for most of this year.

Today, I've spent a second day in my hotel room with the curtains drawn. Yesterday, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. Today I'm just plain exhausted. I'm a little sad and regretful that I've wasted another day of my holiday, but I really think I needed the rest. I was at breaking point.

You'd think I'd get bored or hungry, just lying in bed. You'd think that the prospect of a dip in the sea and the sensation of warm sand in-between my toes would tempt me to get out of bed. You'd think that the rollercoasters and water slides, which I haven't yet ridden, would tempt me out of bed. You'd think that the excitement of having a whole week with nothing to do but enjoy myself would give me an energy and mood boost.

I have a very busy mind. I'm constantly bombarded with thoughts. I don't need TV, films, books and other distractions to keep myself entertained. My brain will constantly bombard me with invasive memories and other groan-worthy things, as well as a steady stream of things to worry about. I don't get bored, even when I spend 2 whole days in a dark room with the curtains drawn.

I probably work too hard. Fundamentally, I'm a bit of a workaholic. The root of many of my problems is working too many hours at high intensity. I never switch off. I never relax. I never plod along at a steady pace - I always tear through things as fast as I can.

The mountainous debts have only amplified my tendency to work too hard, for too long, without taking enough breaks. I cannot take my foot off the gas pedal for a single second, because I'll easily be swallowed whole and disappear into a debt black hole; go bankrupt.

Debt is with you 24 hours a day, just as mental illness is. There isn't an on/off switch which can control depression, and similarly there's no off switch on the anxiety and pressure of mountainous and unmanageable debts.

Working an 8 hour day and having weekends off provides some relief from the pressures of the workplace. Although I spend most of my leisure time anxiously dreading having to go back to work, there are moments when I relax and enjoy the fact I'm not at the office.

There's never a moment's relief from debt.

Debt just has to be paid.

If you don't pay your debt off quickly enough, it'll never be repaid. If you don't earn enough money, you'll never repay your debts. Interest accrues on your debts, even when you're sleeping.

My situation got so bad that I cannot take an average salary job. I cannot take a break. I cannot relax.

Things were headed in the wrong direction in 2015. My mental health was causing problems in the workplace - being too outspoken due to hypomania - and I was living on borrowed time. I'd recently rented an apartment, which was going to cost me an arm and a leg, heaping a load more pressure onto me when I was already struggling to cope.

Things are headed in the right direction at the moment. My important debts could be cleared by the end of the year. I could be completely debt-free by March next year.

I worry that I'm screwing-up at work. I've been far too outspoken lately. I'm sure I'm pissing people off and making myself unpopular. I'm worried that my mental health problems are starting to adversely affect my behaviour in the office.

My coping strategies are unhealthy. I eat too much. I eat junk. I drink too much. I use sleeping pills and tranquillisers, when things get too unbearable.

As far as my colleagues are concerned, I've gone off on a holiday which was pre-approved and everybody's known about it for a while. As far as my colleagues are concerned, everything's ticking along just fine. As far as my colleagues are concerned, everything is pretty much normal.

This is good.

Back in 2015 I'd had several problems with my mental health, which had caused me to be absent from the office without any notice, or otherwise acting strangely. My colleagues were sympathetic, but they were well aware that something wasn't right with me. There were issues.

If things go to plan, I'll go back to work feeling refreshed and in a much better state of mental health. If things go to plan, the mania which was spilling over into my office behaviour, will be back in-check and I'll be able to resume my tight-lipped and poker-faced game of keeping quiet and fitting in as best I can; not being noticed. It's important to blend in and not be noticed, if you want to keep hold of your job when you've got a mental illness and mountainous debts.

If things go to plan, I'll go back to work and I'll finish October, work the whole of November and December, and then take another well-earned holiday for a couple of weeks, having cleared all my important debts. It seems feasible, doesn't it? Two and a half months of working my bollocks off, then I'll have dealt with the bulk of my woes - most of this crippling bloody debt.

If things go to plan, each of these holiday breaks arrive just in the nick of time, to save me from exploding in the office and losing my job. If things go to plan, each holiday allows me to recharge my batteries and carry on going.

Previously, I had been working until I reached breaking point, and becoming so unwell that I was unable to carry on working.

This year has been unsustainable and has ruined my health. This year has been horrible. However, the plan has been working and my debts are being rapidly repaid. I've been digging myself out of the hole.

Everything's taken its toll. I suppose I should not be surprised that this year has made me so sick that I've been in bed for two whole days, when I'm supposed to be on holiday enjoying myself.

I don't look sick.

It's a shame to waste a couple of holiday days, but so far this year I haven't been hospitalised and I'd like to keep it that way.

It's my holiday and I'll spend two days in bed if I want/need to.

 

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The Logistics Are Complicated

5 min read

This is a story about three consecutive weeks away from home...

My front door

Despite some pretty serious drug and alcohol issues, having reduced my supercrack addiction to just a couple of relapses in the last 16 months, my life is going considerably better. Before, things were too chaotic and messed-up to manage basic adulting, let alone making complex plans and following through with them.

Poly-substance abuse makes life particularly unmanageable. Stimulants produce excessively, obsessively focussed attention on tiny details, to the point of dismantling a television to see how it works, but forgetting why and not thinking about the consequences, such as not being able to put it back together again. Tranquillisers paper over the cracks temporarily, forestalling the inevitable crash and inducing amnesia, such that the brain doesn't have its natural corrective reaction: "fuck! I should never do that again! that was dumb!".

In the grips of drug-induced mania, I've made a lot of plans, contacted a lot of people, done a lot of hard work and generally laid some of the groundwork for grand schemes, only to let everything rot and wither on the vine because eventually I crash. My ideas are never dumb per se but as we say in the startup world: ideas are worthless; execution is everything.

This weekend I need to wash and pack 3 weeks worth of clothes; 3 wardrobes - work, UK autumn and holiday sun. I need to buy flip flops and sunscreen. I need to get a haircut.

I need to load up my car on Monday morning with everything I need for 3 weeks.

It sounds like an adventure, right?

I've had enough adventures to last me a thousand lifetimes.

My left arm is covered in scars where I've slit my wrists and cut my veins lengthways. My left shin has a humongous scar from when I was trying to escape from my sister's bedroom, where my dad had cornered me, and I picked up a mirror to defend myself - like a shield - which got smashed and a massive piece of glass dropped like a guillotine blade. My right thigh has a huge scar from when I fell through a glass roof, running away from voices in my head; admittedly more obviously a consequence of my so-called bad choices but easily understood in terms of the fucking abuse I had suffered at the hands of my ex-wife and my parents beforehand.

My life is remarkably improved since mostly quitting drugs, legal highs and black-market medications, but I'm loathe to become one of those "drugs ruined my life" idiots, because clearly there was a reason why I was driven to seek something in substances: I was denied a conventional happy contented life. This isn't a "poor me... poor me... pour me... another drink" whingefest. This is simply a statement of fact.

My needs are the same as anybody else's: food, shelter, companionship, intimacy, safety, security.

I'm a pretty basic guy.

Garbage in, garbage out.

If it sounds to you like I'm absenting myself from personal responsibility - distancing myself from my bad choices - then I've got a few questions for you. Where were you when I was lying on the floor dying of a suicide attempt overdose a couple of times? Where were you when I was in hospital all those many, many times? Where were you when I was sleeping rough? Where were you when I was arrested, locked in a cell and then released without charge? Where were you when I was voluntarily admitted to a psych ward, or sectioned? I've faced so much adversity alone. It's true that in the last couple of years I've had the assistance of my guardian angel, but that person is clearly the reason why I've recovered, obviously. I was floundering on my own, but at no point did I ever fully abandon the notion that I was personally responsible for influencing the outcome of my life, or death.

So you think life's complicated doing the school run? Wiping bums, making packed lunches, playgroup, after-school activities, grazed knees, tears, tantrums, sleepless nights, sore nipples and general procreation-related bullshit is a reason why your life is hard? I've got 7.6 billion living breathing walking talking reasons why you're a fucking idiot. I've got over a hundred billion skeletal remains of your failed attempts to clone yourself into immortality you fucking moron. You're at the top of the bell-curve you rutting simpleton.

Life's not a competition but I'm winning.

This is not what I intended to write tonight at all, but I've abandoned all attempts to avoid repetition and any misguided belief that I'm able to project an idealised image of myself, as opposed to baring my ugly soul for anybody who unfortunately happens to be looking in this direction at the time.

You might think that my life is an enviable adventure, but it's actually a fucking nightmare, without kisses, cuddles, hugs, spooning and the comfort of knowing that I'm safely embedded within the crowd; safety in numbers, like a school of fish.

I'm an outlier and it sucks.

 

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Controlling The Variables

8 min read

This is a story about self-experimentation...

Xanax tablets

It's very difficult to conduct a scientific study involving human beings. Our innate ability and inclination to adapt to our ever-changing environment means that we can't control the variables as we would be able to in vitro.

Sample sizes are always tiny - statistically impossible to gain any insight from - because of the difficulty of recruiting so-called ideal study candidates and being able to follow them for long enough to gather any meaningful data. Each individual will have wildly varying personal circumstances, which render any studies of hundreds or thousands of participants, complete and utter pseudoscience hogwash; nonsense; garbage.

Aggregating data from all the antidepressant controlled trials, as well as thousands of other studies into the efficacy of those medications, concludes to a high degree of statistical significance, that in more than 80% of cases the person's depression would have 'cured' itself on its own - medication makes no difference at all.

Clearly, psychoactive medications do have perceptible effects, just as you're able to tell if you've drunk 4 pints of beer or 4 pints of water. Thus, a double-blind placebo trial is not a placebo trial at all, because those who are in the placebo group know that they're unmedicated.

The question then arises: can we prove that some medications have positive effects?

Problematically, we are as superstitious as an animal with a bird-brain, quite literally. If a food pellet is randomly released to feed a pigeon kept in a cage, the pigeon begins to believe that whatever it was doing when the food pellet was released caused the food pellet to be released. If the pigeon was - for example - turning 360 degrees clockwise when the pellet was randomly released, it will continue to spin in circles, believing that its actions are causing the food pellets to be released. This is called magical thinking and humans are just as prone to it as a bird-brained pigeon.

Extrapolating, if we take up yoga, start eating kale, listen to whale music, start believing in imaginary sky monsters, wear lucky underwear, read self-help books, use homeopathic remedies or start doing any one of the many billions of similarly stupid and futile superstitious rituals, these are at least 80% likely to co-incide with a natural improvement in our mood which would have happened anyway. However, we will falsely attribute our better mood and more hopeful future, to something which actually had absolutely no effect whatsoever so far as good empirical evidence-based repeatable science is concerned.

To control the variables is extremely hard, in complex modern life.

I had a very good night's sleep last night, woke up early, ate a healthy breakfast, got to work early, had a productive day, and I felt like I had the energy and enthusiasm to do some exercise. My quality of life was manyfold better today than it has been for a very long time. My hope and optimism were sky high today.

Let us deconstruct the reason for my good day.

Last night I swallowed two 7.5mg zopiclone tablets, which are a sleeping pill. Perhaps it's high quality sleep, delivered with some help from medicine, that's the reason I had such a good day - I was well rested and refreshed.

No.

Earlier in the year - and in fact quite recently - I had completely quit all sleep aids and I was sleeping very well without them. I have no problems initiating sleep and remaining asleep. This variable is eliminated.

Last night I swallowed one 2mg Xanax tablet, which is a short-acting benzodiazepine hypnotic-sedative muscle relaxant, generically known as alprazolam. Perhaps it's relief from anxiety delivered with the help of medicine that is the reason why I had such a good day - my anxiety was subdued.

No.

Earlier in the year - and in fact quite recently - I had completely quit all sedatives, tranquillisers and tranquillising painkillers and I was coping very well with my anxiety without those medications. I am fully functional despite my very high-stress and demanding life. This variable is eliminated.

Last night was my 5th consecutive night without alcohol. Perhaps it's the healthy decision to quit booze and become teetotal which is the reason why I slept better, woke up refreshed, had improved concentration and felt more full of energy and enthusiasm for other healthy activities than I have done for a long time. I thought about catching up with a friend. I thought about doing some exercise.

Ah. We have a problem.

On the face of it, we have 3 significant changes, and those changes all concern mind-altering substances.

I can be fairly certain that I'm able to sleep and I'm able to cope with my anxiety without medication, but I combined two medications which should have helped with both, which is already complicating the clinical picture, but then I also quit heavy drinking quite abruptly and managed to get through 5 consecutive sober days. 3 changes is far too many changes to attribute my improved mood to any one of them, or even all 3 in combination.

But.

Oh no.

There are other changes too.

I got paid on Monday. Getting paid is always a good day. Sure, Monday I was off work sick, but it wasn't until yesterday that I started doing some sums and I realised that I can pay off half my debts at the end of the month. It's something worth considering.

I went back to work on Tuesday. Not losing my job is always a big relief when I get sick. Sure, it'd be pretty bad luck to lose my job after just one day off sick, but it's always a relief somehow to go back to work and find everything's fine and people are cool with me. It's something worth considering.

I have 8 working days - less than two weeks - until I go away on holiday. I haven't had a week-long holiday since July 2016, over two years ago, so that's a massive relief to know that I'm going to get a relaxing break soon. It's something worth considering.

I spent the weekend in the company of old friends. I took a flight to Prague. Socialising and travel are exciting and stimulating. I played with my friends' children. We did activities, like sightseeing and mushroom picking in the woods. All of those things are very nice and normal and pleasant. Sure, it was exhausting, but now that I've gotten over the travel I have some really nice memories of that trip. It's something worth considering.

At work I'm starting to feel like I'm really making a difference and I'm a valued member of the team. My colleagues were glad to have me back and people are keen to work with me. I feel cherished and a little bit more secure every day. I feel increasingly confident in my own skills, knowledge and experience. It's something worth considering.

My sister picked up my mountain bike from my parents, so that I can collect it from her. I'm looking forward to seeing her and maybe my niece too. I'm looking forward to having my bike back. I'm looking forward to getting my bike repaired, upgraded, and being able to use it to get a bit more fit and active. It's something worth considering.

Lives are complicated.

Life is complicated.

It's impossible to control the variables.

If you were looking for the perfect test subject - a guinea pig - you would fail to find a better one than me, because so many things in my life are constant. I stay in the same hotel, I eat in the same gastropub, I do the same job I've done for 21+ years. I'm a creature of habit and I'm not destabilised by anybody else, such as family, a partner or children. I've cut every variable out of my life that's possible to do, short of locking myself in a laboratory cage. I'm the perfect test specimen.

I can't tell you why I had a good day today, but I have very good reason to believe that it was a combination of a multitude of factors, including the sleeping tablets to help me get back into a good sleep pattern, the anxiety tablets to help me cope with intolerable stress levels, the sobriety, the travel, the socialising, the money, the job satisfaction and a million and one other little things, all of which are very positive. For example, my Apple Macbook was repaired under warranty, saving me the cost of a £1,500 replacement or a hefty repair bill, which is a big relief. Who could have predicted any of this and why would we attribute my life improvements to any one particular thing, such as the favourable mood of an imaginary sky monster? Stuff was just going to get better on its own.

As you can tell, I'm not the superstitious type.

I will, however, be taking a zopiclone and a Xanax again tonight.

 

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Sorry For Not Replying

8 min read

This is a story about having a miniature nervous breakdown...

Blurry phone

I know it's offensive to say "I'm a bit OCD" just like you can't be "a bit in a wheelchair". However, I'm a bit of an authority on life implosions. It's not hyperbole to describe myself as on the brink of a breakdown and/or a suicide attempt. If anybody could know just how close I am to breaking point, I would be me, given that I've lived far too much of my life on the limit; I've had far too many breakdowns and brushes with death.

What do I mean by a breakdown?

There's the fairly tame stuff, like not going to work, not answering the phone, not answering the door, not opening the curtains, not getting out of bed, not washing, not eating, not socialising, not paying the bills, not opening the mail, not doing any kind of activities, sleeping all the time, unpredictable random bouts of uncontrollable crying, suicidal thoughts and plans... that kind of stuff. That's your common-or-garden depression tame breakdown stuff, which destroys your job, your finances and your relationships with friends and family.

I can pretty much manage to stay functional and not lose my job, even when I'm spending 40 hours a week at my desk plotting to kill myself. I can quite literally spend a whole day in the office thinking about what poison I'm going to buy, where I'm going to get it from, how I'm going to use it, which tall buildings I can access the balconies of, what pavement or other area there is beneath the balcony, how I would gain access, how I would get there... all the little details.

Nowadays, I plod along like it's ordinary to have those thoughts and feelings. That sort of stuff is just ordinary background noise to me.

There's other tame stuff like spending vast sums of money on expensive consumer electronics and plane tickets. Casual sex, alcohol and drug abuse; extreme sports, bad driving and other excessive risk taking. All of that stuff is part of my day-to-day existence.

I'm able to quell both my impulse to stay in bed and my impulse to run away, to such a great extent that I've given an excellent false impression of a highly functional adult human being, for 10 or more consecutive months. A large number of people have been fooled.

I've dragged myself to work after drinking 3 bottles of wine. I've dragged myself to work after a multiple-day drug binge without any sleep. I've kept the receipts for thousands of pounds worth of consumer electronics and mostly resisted the urge to walk out of the office and jet off to an exotic location with a fat wad of £50 notes in my pocket, yelling "SEE YOU IN HELL" and flicking V-signs at my colleagues as I exit.

It's the last part that's been my biggest success.

My brain mostly tells me I'm brilliant and other people are slow and dimwitted. I work with very smart people, and the less I say about my colleagues the better. Let's just focus on the me part, because it's a confusing issue. My thinking goes a little bit like this...

"I was a drug addict sleeping rough in a bush in a park, nearly bankrupt, and now I'm putting together this massive software system for a gigantic organisation, even though I'm as mad as a box of frogs, and yet everybody seems to respect my opinion, trust me and follow my leadership; they pay me an obscene amount of money"

So then I start thinking...

"Who else in my organisation is a nearly-bankrupt severely mentally ill person who was sleeping rough in a bush in a park and physically addicted to multiple dangerous drugs?"

When I arrive at the conclusion that my colleagues have not faced the same adversity, it fuels delusions of grandeur. Why would it not? It seems only logical that the reason I'm not destitute or dead and instead I'm earning big bucks and doing important work, must be because I'm special and different. I write this paragraph dripping with sarcasm, the reader should note.

On the matter of the success part: turns out that it's a good idea to keep your mouth shut most of the time, if you want to get along well with the literally hundreds of thousands of employees who work with you in some of the world's biggest organisations. It turns out that it's an even better idea to keep your mouth shut and not say what you think, if you're plagued with delusions of grandeur, brought on by the sheer ridiculousness of seemingly being able to drag yourself out of the gutter and reach the stars at the drop of a hat.

It's quite mind-fracturing to believe at the same time that you're worthless and that the world would be better off without you, while also believing the hard evidence that no matter how hard you try to destroy your life, you still remain eminently employable and in-demand; no matter how many times you walk out the office shouting "GO TO HELL FUCKTARDS" somebody somewhere still will offer you a great big suitcase filled with £50 notes to sit at a desk and think about killing yourself.

It should be noted that I like my colleagues and I think they're very smart people.

It should be noted that there hasn't been a "GO TO HELL..." moment for quite a while.

Like, there probably hasn't ever been a "GO TO HELL..." moment.

Not ever.

I get very worked up about the systems, the organisations, the politics, the structural problems, the inherent unfairness and absurdity of it all. I get very worked up about perfection, utopia and engineering elegance. I get very worked up about management incompetency. I get very worked up about the speed with which things get done, which feels painfully slow.

These opposing forces within me - the depression and the mania - seem to express themselves quite suddenly as an exhaustion which confines me to bed for many weeks, jetting off around the world or getting very angry with one particular situation. The anger one is probably the most destructive; the other two are recoverably destructive.

I'm particularly fearful of waking up one day and being unable to go to work, which is strange because that would probably be the least damaging of all outcomes. Yes, it doesn't look great to disappear and not answer your phone for weeks, but understood within the context of a major episode of depression, most people's reaction is sympathetic.

Past experience has taught me that becoming arrogant, cocky and full of myself leads to saying and doing stupid things in the office, which is far more damaging than being off work sick. As hypomania boils over into all-out mania, I know that I can be prone to say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time; patience and tolerance wear thin.

Somehow, I manage to navigate a path through both extremes, so long as I'm not too depressed or too manic. I build up some goodwill which carries me through difficult periods. I prove my worth and make myself useful, such that I get second and third chances.

Knowing myself very well, I feel like I've been skating on thin ice for far too long. I feel like I'm well overdue a meltdown; a major catastrophe.

I don't have any spare energy left to maintain my mask of sanity; I can no longer keep up my "game face".

The mask is slipping.

My main preoccupation should be remaining civil.

So long as I can remain civil, I'll probably be forgiven for having a breakdown.

I'm too outspoken, as usual. People are getting to know me. I'm super exposed.

Some poor bastard usually feels the sharp end of my tongue and I desperately attempt to apologise and take back the things I said in the heat of the moment. My regret and remorse are heartfelt, but it's usually too late. Gotta keep things civil, no matter how much pressure and stress I feel I'm under.

Perhaps worst of all are the lies and the boasts, which come at the very end of a long period of fake it until you make it when I actually no longer need to fake it anymore. Lolz. Irony.

The fear of being exposed as an imposter - having my secrets revealed - has followed me around for an incredibly long time, but now I'm almost-but-not-quite back on my feet. This is the very worst period.

I need to consolidate my gains.

But.

I'm so close to having a breakdown.

 

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The Dread

6 min read

This is a story about when the alarm clock goes off...

GMT

I'm routinely late for work but I think I've figured out why. I was very tired when my alarm went off this morning, but I think I could've gotten out of bed and gone to work. I was tired but I felt OK. I needed more sleep but I'd have been alright if I immediately got out of bed.

Unfortunately I let the dread set in.

My thoughts and feelings changed from "I need more sleep" to "I'm going to be late" to "I don't want to go to work at all". From initially planning to get up, iron a shirt, iron a jumper, take a shower, get dressed and drive to work, I then started planning how best to tell my team that I wasn't going to make it to our morning meeting. As lunchtime approached I dreaded having to finally get up and the ridiculousness of "I'm going to be late" meaning not turning up until the afternoon.

I did not get up.

As the afternoon wore on I was dreading having to tell my team that I was actually going to be a no-show. I dreaded the loss of earnings. I dreaded the damaging impression that I'm unreliable. I dread the day that I'm finally unable to keep going any longer, and I stop turning up for work altogether. I dread the day that I hit the wall.

I did not tell my team that I was going to take the day off sick.

It might seem like I'm my own worst enemy. It might seem like I'm making things harder for myself. It might seem like there's a long string of decisions here, and I'm making bad choices, but it doesn't feel like it at all. The whole process is quite agonising.

A couple of times in the past fortnight I've woken up at around the time when my alarm goes off. I've gotten up, dressed, had breakfast, driven to work and arrived on time or even early. "This must be what life's like for a normal person" I've thought to myself. It's been blissful on those days. Life has felt sustainable and pleasant and I've even envisaged being able to keep working for the foreseeable future, on those good days.

Most days are not good days.

I've only found a few solutions for the dread.

Short-acting hypnotic-sedatives work very well in the short term. Xanax and zopiclone last just long enough to get a good night's sleep a bit more tranquillising effect in the morning, when the dread would normally set in. Without a sleep aid, the dread sets in the night before: "I'm never going to get enough sleep and I'll be exhausted in the morning" I think as I lie awake until the wee hours of the morning.

Alcohol works a little bit as a sleep initiator but the liver metabolises alcohol so efficiently that it's mostly eliminated from your bloodstream after 4 or 5 hours. Alcohol-induced sleep is not high quality and it's followed by dehydration and a full bladder, which I usually try to ignore because I'm warm and comfortable in bed. By the time the alarm goes off alcohol withdrawal and bad sleep combine to make the dread doubly bad.

Getting absolutely smashed drunk works surprisingly well as a mechanism for getting me to the office more-or-less on time. Waking up half-pissed from the night before does offer an intoxicated tranquillisation which allows me to overcome the dread.

Driving to work drunk and/or tranquillised and being in the office while reeking of alcohol and/or slurring due to tablets, is a pretty undesirable state of affairs. Public transport, heavy lunchtime and after-work drinking were the norm in the City, so my heavy alcohol dependency was not conspicuous until I was banished to the provinces.

Everything's catching up with me now.

The heavy boozing has led to sudden weight gain this year, which depresses me. Drinking heavily no longer seems like a sustainable strategy to get through the working weeks.

The solution is a total detox, exercise, sensible bedtime, healthy breakfast and good sleep hygiene; routine. The solution is to live the most boring life imaginable, dedicating myself purely to the pursuit of being able to get up in the morning. The solution is to completely change the way I live - the way I act - in order to fit in with early-bird culture.

In many ways I am still going through an extended benzodiazepine withdrawal, neuropathic painkiller withdrawal and sleeping tablet withdrawal. My alcohol use has prolonged and worsened the excruciating withdrawal from the physically addictive medications. My body and brain's instinctive reaction to drink more and eat more to compensate, has been a very poor coping mechanism and has instead lengthened and exacerbated the negative symptoms, instead of providing the mild relief I so desperately crave.

Having used Xanax a couple of times in the last fortnight, it was remarkable how my brain responded: "THIS is the stuff which I've been screaming for" it seemed to say, as I gained some long-overdue respite from round-the-clock anxiety and the dread.

Obviously it's not desirable to use pills or booze long-term. Obviously, it'd be good to suffer the short-term pain and get healthy, before things get any worse. I've done a substantial part of the hard work, in breaking my physical dependence to a multitude of addictive medications.

I desperately craved alcohol all weekend but remained sober because my friends who I was visiting are not big drinkers. I was really craving alcohol tonight, but I managed to resist, although I'm comfort-eating to compensate for the craving.

I hate the situation, where I'm not where I want to be with anything. I'm not teetotal. I'm not medication-free. I'm not doing the healthy stuff. I'm gaining weight not losing it.

To eat less, eat healthy, go to the gym, be teetotal, stop taking sleeping pills and stop taking the occasional tranquilliser, but yet maintain my miserable single hotel-dwelling living-out-of-a-suitcase life, seems completely ridiculous. However, using my misery as a justification for drinking as much as I want, whenever I want, is also ridiculous and has led to appearance change and health degradation, which I don't find acceptable.

Tonight I've comfort-eaten and not done any exercise. Tonight I will take one or maybe even two sleeping pills. However, I won't have any alcohol or tranquillisers. I'll try to go to sleep at a sensible time. I'll try to get up early, have a healthy breakfast and get to work on time. If I can do all that, it's still a reasonable achievement considering the circumstances.

I'm not reliable. I am struggling. Hopefully nobody will hold it against me though.

 

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