Skip to main content

The world's longest suicide note: ONE MILLION words.

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

All opinions are my own.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

www.facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Relapse

6 min read

This is a story about the easy option...

Pill packets

I took a sleeping pill last night. Sunday nights are hard and so are Monday mornings. Lots of people struggle but I've got a fairly legitimate set of reasons why I'm struggling: mountainous debts, soul-destroyingly boring and slow work, social isolation, mood disorder and having recently gone gold turkey on a zillion addictive drugs and medications. Normal people who've been through the ordeal I've been through - including the homelessness and the hospitalisations - are not working a full-time high-pressure demanding job. I find my job pretty easy, but it's still a lot of pressure and very demanding to turn up and appear like I've got my shit together as opposed to having just dragged myself off the streets and gotten clean.

Take a look at the people who are getting clean and recovering from a severe mental health crisis. Take a look at the people who are recovering from suicide attempts and addiction. Take a look at the people who are getting back on their feet.

Are they working full time jobs, miles away from home?

So I took a sleeping pill.

So. Fucking. What.

It's not the slippery slope. It's not the thin edge of the wedge. It's not the beginning of the end.

I will have a proper relapse at some point. I'm bound to. It's inevitable.

When I've finally got my debts paid off and I'm finally free, the relief is sure to be overwhelming. I've struggled so hard for so long to reach that milestone of repairing the damage of divorce and everything that went with it, that I think I'll be happy to sleep rough at least knowing that getting off the streets and working to earn money was the easy part which I've done a million times before. The hard part has been that it's been so unrewarding. I've worked so hard for so long and I've got nothing to show for it. Where's the payoff?

I took a sleeping pill and I slept well.

I woke up feeling refreshed.

It was easy to get up.

Dread = gone.

That was amazing to wake up and not be filled with dread about the day ahead. In fact that reduced feeling of dread lasted all day and I was reasonably happy at my desk, rather than bored out of my mind. Is that a co-incidence, or is it linked to the fact that my brain was getting something that it was missing?

I don't really want to go back to being dependent on all those pills, but I did go cold turkey very abruptly, and the re-adjustment has been brutal. So many little things make me stressed and anxious, which is not a choice to catastrophise, but a perfectly rational and logical thing for a person who's suddenly found themselves living life without copious quantities of nerve-soothing tranquillisers, sedatives and painkillers. Medication adjustments aren't something that can be done in days, weeks and months. It takes a very long time to adjust to harshness, and the world is a very harsh place.

It's so tempting to pop pills at the moment.

Pills don't have any calories. Good quality sleep is so valuable. Life without anxiety is so much better.

Why would I want to suffer?

I need to sleep well, wake up refreshed, not dread going to work, not be anxious and miserable at my desk and not feel hungry and wanting to comfort eat all the time. Of course I want pills.

The rebound insomnia and rebound anxiety were terrible, and it's still a problem, but without tea, coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes or some other vice to overcompensate with, I've snacked like crazy and put on weight. I'm stressed and anxious about my weight, which is a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

The solution is to not have to get up at the crack of dawn every day and go to an office and be bored out of my mind. The solution is to not be in debt up to my eyeballs and unable to stop working as hard as I can. The solution is not to live with job insecurity, money insecurity, housing insecurity, social isolation and all the other problems which come about as a result of the pressure on me to simply chain myself to my desk.

Those options are not available to me.

Those solutions are denied to me.

Make hay while the sun shines.

I never know when I'm going to lose my job, lose my mind, suffer health problems or get fucked over by somebody. I never know when I'm going to get totally fucking screwed so I've got to work as hard as I can for as long as I can, because somebody always screws me in the end.

All I can do is take pills.

I take pills so I can keep going in the fucking miserable merry-go-round which is my life. I take pills to prop me up. I take pills to pep me up. I take pills instead of taking a holiday. I take pills instead of taking a break. I take pills because I can't afford to stop pedalling as fast as I can. I take pills to help me cope with this never-ending nightmare.

I take pills.

I hate taking pills.

I'd rather take a break.

But I can't.

Not yet.

The day never seems to come.

Always just out of reach.

Round and round.

On and on.

Forever and ever.

If I do come out the other side of this, I need to make sure I'm not too fat, not too addicted to things, not dead. It's pretty hard, balancing things. It's pretty hard judging things just right.

This is the last time I do this.

If this time doesn't work out, I'm through with life. I'm done. I've had enough. Either it works out for me this time or I'm checking out. I'm history. The end. See you later. Goodbye.

 

Tags:

 

Paranoia: So Close But Yet So Far

8 min read

This is a story about being thwarted...

Social Media Training

If I was prone to paranoia, I could swear that I've had more than my fair share of bad luck while trying to get back on my feet. Things should have panned out for me several times, but I've so far been thwarted by some asshats.

In September 2014 I was beginning to sort myself out after my divorce. I took a quick holiday before starting a new job. I was making good progress with the new project, but a couple of asshats took offence to me getting ahead and conspired to screw me over. Mercifully I took 'em down with me, although it was a hollow victory.

In September 2015 I'd had an eventful summer but I'd achieved a lot and proven myself to be a valuable member of the team on the project I was working on. It was a friend who rather unreasonably expected me to help him get a job and get out of the dive he was living in, which pushed me beyond my limits and made me unwell. There was also excessive pressure on me at work, but I could have coped if I'd have had a more settled personal life, such as having a secure place to live and some financial assistance.

In September 2016 I was starting to believe that I was finally going to get back on my feet, but the project I was working on was cancelled unexpectedly. With hindisight I suppose it was obvious that the project was going to get cancelled and that it was a dead-end job. It's my own fault for taking my eye off the ball. It's my own fault that I didn't immediately attempt to get another job, but I'd been so bored and miserable, and I felt like I'd been de-skilled by all the time off work I'd had. I hadn't learned anything, gained any new experience or developed at all on the project, so my self-confidence was at rock-bottom.

In September 2017 I was sacked because I was in a coma on life support and the asshat I was working with thought that unconscious people are able to make telephone calls to phone in sick. He still owes me a lot of money. Obviously I had a lot of different problems that year, but successfully delivering software projects was not one of them - never has been and never will be.

I've been working for 10 consecutive months without a holiday and I've delivered two software projects successfully into production. I got sick in May, but I was given the benefit of the doubt because I'd proven myself to be a valuable member of the team, like I always do. I was sick in January/February time and barely limping along, but because I'd already completed my project in record time nobody much cared. That's the way I work - I'm blazing fast when I'm well, but I get sick too. You don't get to have me only on my good days - you've gotta take the rough with the smooth - although I don't charge my clients for the days I'm not productive.

Even with all the gaps in-between projects and time off sick, I've still delivered a hell of a lot of software in the last 4 years and I've impressed a lot of clients and colleagues. I've achieved a huge amount, despite not being very well. What I've managed to do in the workplace is all the more remarkable when we consider that it's set against a backdrop of homelessness, near-bankruptcy, drug addiction, mental health problems, hospitalisations, being sectioned and kept on locked psych wards, suicide attempts, moving all over the country, being estranged from family, social isolation and a whole host of other things which are toxic to a person's chances of succeeding in life.

I don't want to pat myself on the back too much, but I deserve a break. It's time I made a breakthrough. It's time I'm allowed to make a breakthrough.

Every time I get close to making a breakthrough, something goes wrong which is beyond my control.

It's making me paranoid.

If I can get to the end of the month, I'll have hopefully proven my worth sufficiently with my colleagues on my current project, such that I'll be able to relax and take a holiday in October. It would be incredibly cruel and unlucky if something went wrong, such that I'm not able to go away on holiday and relax, knowing I've got a job to come back to. That's what happened to me earlier this year, when I'd booked a holiday in June but then my project ended and I found myself looking for work again.

It's good that I've been able to work for 3 different organisations on 3 different projects this year, without any asshats screwing things up, yet. Not having huge gaps between projects has been crucial to my recovery. Also, it's important to note that this year I haven't - yet - been screwed over by anybody and I've been recognised for my talents and experience which I have to offer. It's nice to feel confident in my own abilities and to feel like I have proven myself to be reliable and dependable, beyond any doubt.

Obviously, I'm very exposed - my colleagues have seen the semicolon tattoo behind my ear and must have wondered if and when I'm going to get sick, but hopefully they've now started to see that I'm very capable and productive; hopefully they're enjoying working with me and they value me as a team member. However, if I need to take any time off work sick, it will obviously raise doubts again about whether my mental illness makes me a useless loser who should never be allowed into civilised mainstream society or permitted the dignity of getting back on my feet.

I'm probably pushing things too hard for too long. I should probably have a holiday sooner rather than later, before I have a breakdown; before I burn out. However, I also want to get to the end of the month, because it's a significant milestone and it puts enough cash in the bank to leave me safe from any unexpected bumps in the road. I'm so desperate to get back to a position of security as quickly as possible, having been on this agonisingly drawn-out journey with so many dashed hopes.

Everything is set up very well for me to be able to continue working and improving my life, but I'm paranoid that something's going to go wrong and screw everything up.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the consequences of a work colleague discovering my blog. I wonder if I might be the architect of my own destruction by writing this. There's nothing here that's unprofessional though. I'm not naming my client or divulging confidential details about the project I'm working on. I'm not guilty of misconduct of any kind.

As you can see from the screenshot above, I've been trained to be paranoid. I've been trained to keep my mouth shut and pretend like I don't have any problems. Despite the walls of the office being plastered with posters which proclaim "it's OK to talk about mental health problems" they really don't mean ME. I'm expected to be faultless. If and when my faults are ever revealed, it will be the end of me. The tiniest blemish is career-ending for those of us who work in the corporate world, where we must maintain a fake professional façade of perfection at all times.

If I'm feeling optimistic I like to think that my valuable contributions would outweigh the stigma and shock of realising that my colleagues have been working with a homeless, junkie, alcoholic, bankrupt with mental health problems all along - I should never have been allowed to get past the gatekeepers and rub shoulders with those who inhabit the fit-in-or-fuck-off corporate world.

When I'm feeling paranoid I feel like I'm only tolerated because I'm reasonably good at pretending to be a regular guy - any hint of who I really am and what I've really been through, and I'll be swiftly ejected onto the street to suffer destitution and homelessness.

It's so frustrating right now, because I've almost but not quite got enough money to complete my transformation from homeless, junkie, alcoholic, bankrupt with mental health problems, back to somebody who's indistinguishable from any other corporate drone. I'm so desperate to prove that it can be done - to get back on my feet from a terrible situation. It'll crush me if I'm thwarted.

Keep your fingers crossed for me. The next few weeks are crucial.

 

Tags:

 

Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs)

6 min read

This is a story about quality of life...

QALY comparison

Two years ago, on this day, I was writing about how depressed I was. I was researching into how depressed people rated their quality of life - I found out that it was 70% lower than happy healthy normal people. At the time I was trapped in a job which I hated. I had serious doubts about my skills and experience, so I'd taken some work which I knew I could do with my eyes closed, but I was bored out of my mind.

I hypothesised that my quality of life wasn't going to improve until I retired, because I couldn't stand my job but I couldn't imagine being able to get another one that was any better. My job was the reason why I was so depressed, anxious, bored, demotivated and miserable, and the only alternative was to be a penniless writer, which would bring its own problems... not least how to save up enough money to be able to afford to retire.

This got me thinking about retirement.

I presume that the first few years of retirement are excellent, because old age and age-related health problems haven't started to have a major impact on quality of life. Modern medicine, safer working conditions, good diet, better air quality and a multitude of other things have improved massively for the baby-boomer generation, and those retirees will live much longer than their parents. For my generation and people younger than me, we've worked longer hours, commuted further, had far more financial insecurity, job insecurity and housing insecurity, and we have no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - the retirement age keeps getting older and older and the prospect of an impoverished old age seems increasingly likely. Retirement looks like it's not something worth even daring to dream about.

I started thinking about how good retirement would be anyway - sour grapes perhaps - what with the inevitable demise of my health. It seems unlikely that I'm going to live beyond 85 years old, being a man.

With partial deafness, partial blindness, mild incontinence, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, liver disease, kidney problems, back problems, joint problems and a whole host of other things I might expect to affect me in old age, exacerbated by decades of miserable office work, it seems unlikely that I'd be lucky enough to enjoy even 50% of the quality of life in my eighties as I enjoy in my sixties.

These are very conservative estimates of course. I could drop dead at age 70.

With all those things considered, I then started to do the calculations to work out whether it was worth shackling myself to a miserable job or not. I started to calculate if it was worth being miserable and depressed today, in the hope of a better life if and when I retire. My conclusion was simple: NO.

As you can see from the graphic above, I can increase my quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) by a maximum of 30 points if I live for today, or a maximum of 30 points if I live for retirement. Obviously if I was to die at age 80, I'll only have benefitted by 24 points. If I was to die at 75, I'll only have benefitted by 17 points. If I was to die at 70, I'll only benefit by 9 points.

So, I might as well plan on the pessimistic assumption that I'll die early. In fact, I can at least guarantee when I'll die, because I always have the option of committing suicide. In fact, it seems sensible to plan for the day I commit suicide instead of the day I die, because old age, sickness and infirmity seems like an undesirable fate. Why would I be miserable today, so I can spend more years as a geriatric, waiting to die?

I'm hoping to get myself into a strong position by the time I'm 40 so that I can exploit the fact that I haven't rutted and spawned offspring like a mindless beast, and I'm therefore free from any responsibility for brats I brought into existence. Soon, I won't need to shackle myself to miserable boring bullshit office jobs which I hate, because I'll have recovered my financial security and stability, such that I'm free to do what I want without a guilty conscience - I won't owe anything to anybody, and I won't be running away from any responsibilities.

By the spring next year, I should be feeling quite wealthy again, and much more free to be able to dare to dream. Perhaps I'll travel. Perhaps I'll write. Perhaps I'll create art. I can pretty much do whatever I want, once I've finally dealt with all the consequences of divorce which caused my life to collapse. It's hard on a man, losing everything - it nearly cost me my life.

It's been so hard getting to where I am today, and I can't believe there are still so many months before I get back to a truly safe and secure position. I can't believe it's taken so long and it's been so difficult. Perhaps that's why so many men commit suicide. Perhaps that's why rip-off merchants have run off with so much of my money. It's hard to do things right. I've always tried to do things the right way.

I'm now at the point where I've worked too hard for too long to see the chance of breaking free get away from me. I really think I'll just kill myself right now if there are any major setbacks, because I've been trying so hard to overcome a heap of problems and I've got nothing left to give. I deserve a break. I deserve things to pan out for me.

It'll soon be my turn to start enjoying life and the fruits of my labour; the payoff for my struggle through adversity; the rewards for my ingenuity and sheer determination to fix problems. I've overcome terrible obstacles and put up with so much suffering and I've done the miserable work that nobody else would do, because it's awful. Now I deserve to be like those spoiled brats who've been allowed to do whatever the fuck they want - follow their dreams - because they have doting indulgent parents. Maybe I'll be a student. Maybe I'll have a gap year. Maybe I'll take a dead-end job with no career prospects, because it's rewarding. Whatever. I can do whatever I want... soon.

It's been a slog. I can't take much more slog.

 

Tags:

 

Thinking Clearly

8 min read

This is a story about delicate senses...

Doggo nose

My preference for sweet or salty, my thirst and my sense of smell are all altered by alcohol, but I'm not able to perceive those alterations to my senses in any given moment. It's only when I carefully analyse my behaviour that I can see I drink more water and eat more sweet things when I've been sober for a few days, and I begin to see food as something worth spending time and effort on, instead of eating as a chore.

If alcohol can alter those senses so profoundly, I wonder what other subtle effects it has on me. The sleep I get seems to be of much lower quality when I go to bed drunk, although I don't perceive that at the time because I find it much easier to fall asleep when I've had lots to drink. When I have a break from drinking I notice that I have very vivid dreams, bordering on nightmares, which reveal a lot of things going on in my subconscious. Having used alcohol as a crutch for so long, it's amazing how much trauma I've repressed and not dealt with.

I made a prediction earlier in the week that I'd have increasingly better days, not because we're getting closer to the weekend, but because I'm sobering up. It's hard to quantify, but I found it much easier to get up this morning and although there were periods when I was bored and miserable at work, I found myself far less inclined to give up and walk out.

There was a leaving do at work and my colleagues invited me out drinking tonight. There's an open bottle of wine in my cupboard and I bought 4 more because there was an offer at the supermarket. The temptation to drink and the social pressure to get drunk is hard to escape. Alcohol is a social lubricant and can be especially welcome when making smalltalk and getting to know people. This week has felt long and difficult and it's hard not to reach for the bottle as a reward for putting myself through the misery.

Which came first? The misery or the alcohol?

I find it easy enough to stop drinking when I want to, but I wonder if I've simply become habituated into experiencing and putting up with awful feelings. Alcoholics can begin to enjoy the sensation of neat liquor burning their throat as they glug it down, and junkies can get needle fixations and enjoy injecting themselves. I wonder if my brain has become confused by my cycle of highs and lows; boom and bust. I wonder if I'm simply unable to tell when I'm half-drunk, hungover, withdrawing, completely intoxicated or stone cold sober, because there's nothing extreme enough to register on my scale. The highs and lows which I've experienced have ranged by such an exceptional amount that I've become used to never feeling very good at all. Earlier this year I didn't even notice that I had a bad chest infection, except that my ribs were so tender I couldn't sleep and it was agonising to sit up in bed in the morning, or to cough. Depression and anxiety are just things I live with, without medication.

I know that my brain is a homeostatic organ which will attempt to return itself to equilibrium. If I put stimulants into my body, I will make myself more tired. If I put depressants into my body, I will bounce back the other way. Everything has an effect for a short while before my brain readjusts and it becomes normal. It shocks me how functional I can be when full of drink and drugs, or under an incredible amount of stress and in very bad circumstances.

I'm attempting to control the variables. I'm attempting to clear my brain of drink and drugs. I'm creating a pharmacologically unpolluted state, where I'm free from nicotine, caffeine, uppers, downers, medications, hard drugs, soft drugs, legal highs and every other thing we normally use in our daily lives to tweak our moods hither and thither.

I stay in an identical hotel room and eat in the same place every night, normally choosing one of only a handful of my favourite dishes. I'm doing the same work I've done my whole 21+ year full-time career for an organisation which is ostensibly similar to all the others I've worked for, solving exactly the same problems I've solved a million times before. It's an almost perfect experiment. I can't imagine that it would be possible for almost anybody else to experiment on themselves in the same way, because so few of us are capable of giving up things like tea and coffee, or of sticking with a job which makes us excruciatingly bored and thoroughly miserable.

So far, my conclusion is that alcohol does not make the time pass any quicker, reduce anxiety or aid sleep. My conclusion is that alcohol makes it harder to concentrate and cope with the boredom. My conclusion is that alcohol is not very helpful, but I'll tell you what is helpful: money. Despite being almost continuously drunk for the past 9 consecutive months, undoubtedly the biggest changing variable has been my ever-increasing wealth. I can't say whether it would have been easier and more pleasant to reach today without alcohol, and whether I'd have been more inclined to improve areas of my life which are completely absent, such as a social life, but I can say that alcohol was ever-present. Is it possible that I might not have made it so far without alcohol? I really don't think it's likely that I would've made it through the roughest patches without alcohol as a relatively inexpensive coping mechanism, even if it's a very poor medicine for reducing anxiety, fighting depression, stabilising my mood and helping me sleep.

If we consider that a year ago I was suicidally depressed, manically high, abusing drugs, addicted to medications and generally in a dreadful state with little or no hope of escaping that situation, I don't see how it would be possible to resolve everything without something to use to self-medicate.

It's impossibly unlikely that anybody's going to gift you £100,000 and a year off work to get your life sorted out, which is what it would take to rescue somebody whose entire world has imploded spectacularly, leaving them crippled with mountainous debts, homeless, jobless, single, estranged from their family, mentally ill, alcoholic, addicted to drugs and dependent on medications.

As my head clears, I realise I've pulled of an impossible feat. I've come back from a clusterfuck of issues which should have buried me a million times over.

It's hard to avoid the pitfall of marvelling at the miraculousness of my recovery, such that I start to believe I'm special, different and perhaps even immortal. It's hard to see the evidence and to not draw the conclusion that the clearly exceptional achievement must mean I'm destined for greatness. At least I have a clear enough head to see that I've fallen foul of that before, and that it's important to keep my brain intoxicated just the right amount to stop it from overheating. Going teetotal in 2015 caused me to swing into mania, so I'm not going to make that mistake again.

I'm also aware that I'm no longer a young man and that the past few years have been very hard on my brain and body. Ultimately I can't keep pushing myself as hard as I have been and taking extreme risks. Sooner or later my luck is going to run out, even though all the evidence seems to indicate that I'm immortal.

As my thoughts start to wander towards topics which have always been a little too hot to handle - such as quantum mechanics - I now start to realise that there's a lot to be said for being a bit of a drunk, at least until I'm filthy rich again.

I've managed to avoid drinking again tonight. I'm going to see how I feel tomorrow, but I must be careful to preserve the good progress I've made this year, even if that means continuing to drink because it's my tried-and-trusted means of keeping my mania at bay. Better the devil you know.

Physically, I have a runny nose, a sore throat and a headache. I feel terrible, which I imagine is because I'm at the 3 or 4 day sober mark and my body is seriously protesting about the lack of alcohol. If I continue my sober streak I'll feel physically better, but there's always the risk that mania will rear its ugly head and I'll screw up everything I've worked for 9 consecutive months without a holiday to rebuild.

September is coming. September is my nemesis. If I can get through September smoothly, that will be a huge milestone.

 

Tags:

 

The Journey

11 min read

This is a story about three years of my life...

Hotel room

I was living in an ultra-modern hotel in Canary Wharf and working for HSBC at their head office. I was a member of the team working on the bank's number one IT project. Shortly beforehand I had been living in a 14-bed hostel dorm and I'd narrowly escaped bankruptcy and destitution. I was working 12 hours a day, 6 or sometimes 7 days a week. I was exhausted and the tiredness, stress and unsettled life was driving me literally insane. I was suffering with delusions of grandeur, paranoia and my behaviour was erratic and unpredictable; I was extremely tense and irritable. I was on the brink of having a breakdown.

River panorama

I rented an apartment on the River Thames near the office. The rent was obscene - £500/week - but I was earning great money working for HSBC and I was working very hard, so it seemed affordable at the time; it seemed like a nice reward for all the hard work. It felt like justice that I'd been able to get myself off the streets and into such a lovely place to live; to have gone from homeless and sleeping rough in a park, to having a luxury Thameside apartment with panoramic views over London.

My glasses

I was dating a BBC journalist. I was rapidly gaining a Twitter following. I felt like everything was happening for a reason. I felt like it was my destiny to do something important. I was consumed with mania; I was obsessed with the idea of a grand gesture. I had been deeply affected by my homelessness and near-bankruptcy and destabilised by the exhaustion of sleeping rough and in hostel dorms. The IT project was very stressful and I was under a great deal of pressure from HSBC management. My mind was a mess. I was very severely mentally ill.

Psych ward terrace

I woke up one morning and I couldn't go on. I couldn't face the office. I wanted to kill myself. I went to my doctor who sent me to hospital. 13 hours later I was admitted to a secure psych ward. I explained that I was financially distressed and very stressed at work. The psychiatric team recommended I stay in hospital for at least 2 weeks, but I needed to be back in the office if I was going to keep my job, to be able to afford the rent.

Golden Gate Bridge

I discharged myself from hospital after a week and flew to San Francisco. I figured that if I was going to kill myself I might as well do it somewhere iconic. A friend picked me up from the airport and I borrowed a bike. I cycled straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing old friends, however, made me change my mind about committing suicide.

Sleep out

I lost my job with HSBC and I "slept rough" in the shadow of the head office skyscraper in Canary Wharf. I thought that this would be the pinnacle of my journey. I thought that having been used and abused by HSBC then unceremoniously dumped out onto the streets to suffer bankruptcy and homelessness - having managed to get myself a job at the bank while of no fixed abode and living in a hostel - would be deliciously poetic. It was, but my journey had barely begun.

Self harm

I quit drinking for 121 consecutive days. I starved myself. I thought that I would go on hunger strike. I thought that I would sleep rough on Christmas Day. I was really angry and upset with the world. Self harm and substance abuse dominated my life for several months. I got into heaps of debt just staying alive.

Cruise ship

I survived the winter. I got another job. My life was OK except for persistent suicidal thoughts. I hated the project I was working on but I persevered because I was in a lot of debt. I loved where I was living - every day in my apartment was like Christmas Day because the view was so awesome. Living by the river was an incredible privilege. I took a holiday and went kitesurfing. My quality of life was improving slowly.

Cooking with bath salts

I met somebody very special and fell totally in love. She accepted me for who I was, including the all the bad bits, such as my prior issues with substance abuse. She was the first person I'd been in a relationship with who'd been able to read everything about me on my blog and to understand my flaws. We had a good relationship. The project I had been working on came to an end and I was jobless again. I wrote and published my first novel - she proofread it and helped me with the ending and other ideas. She was very supportive and I was confident I'd find work again easily.

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve watching the fireworks over London, sipping champagne on my balcony with the woman I loved - it seemed like the New Year was full of promise, but I was worried about getting another job and I was still in a lot of debt. There was a lot of pressure.

DVT

Disaster struck. I got deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my left leg, which swelled up to twice the size of my right leg. My kidneys failed and I ended up in hospital on a high dependency ward having many hours of dialysis every day. The potassium in my blood spiked to a life-threatening level and I was constantly at risk of cardiac arrest. I was very sick.

Drug shrine

My stay in hospital caused me to lose my job. Losing my job caused me to collapse psychologically and become very depressed and despondent. The DVT had caused terrible nerve damage and I had a lot of neuropathic pain, as well as a numb left foot. I started to become dependent on painkillers. I sought powerful antidepressants for my low mood. Pictured on the table are: codeine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol, diazepam, alprazolam, mirtazapine, venlafaxine, dextroamphetamine, zolpidem, zopiclone and pregabalin, which are all highly addictive. Because of this cocktail of prescription drugs I suffered an episode of medication-induced mania - temporary insanity - and broke up with the love of my life.

Manchester flats

I ran out of money. I had to pay a huge tax bill and I had to go even deeper into debt. I was virtually bankrupt. Out of desperation I was forced to put all my worldly possessions into storage and leave London to take a job in Manchester. The job in Manchester included an apartment as part of the package, which was lucky because I didn't have enough money to pay rent or a deposit - I was totally broke. Moving house and leaving London was incredibly upsetting and traumatic. The new job was extremely demanding and exhausting. I was very lonely and isolated in an unfamiliar city with no friends or family; no local connections.

Psych ward fence

I tried to commit suicide. I took a massive overdose: I'd been stockpiling my prescription painkillers and I knew that 8+ grams of tramadol was likely to be fatal. I sent a tweet when I believed I was beyond the point of no return. I thought nobody knew where I lived. I thought there was no chance anybody would get to me in time. I was wrong. I regained consciousness a few days later in a hospital's critical care ward on life support. I was later sectioned for 28 days and admitted to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

Hay bales

A doctor from Wales discovered my blog and invited me to live on their farm in a converted garage. I had no money, no car, no job. I had nothing.

Rat race

I almost went bankrupt but a friend got me some work in Warsaw and in London. I was living in AirBnBs and working in the Square Mile from Monday to Friday and living in Wales at the weekends.

Keys

I bought a car, I got a local job, a local girlfriend and I rented an apartment. Briefly, I had everything I wanted and needed, although I went even deeper into debt. The pressure, stress and turmoil which I'd endured to get to this point was unimaginable; just to get to a position which most people would take for granted as the minimum acceptable things for a normal ordinary liveable life.

Papered windows

The local project ended and I was jobless again. The relationship ended. I papered over my bedroom windows and withdrew from the world. The journey had destroyed me. I was spent.

Cashflow

An obscene amount of money flows through my hands, but it all ends up in the pockets of those who I owe money to. I'm desperately trying to keep my head above water. The financial pressure is immense; unbearable. The journey has been incredibly long and arduous. There's still a very long way to go before I reach security and stability; before I'm comfortable, happy and content.

Empty wine bottles

In the last year alone, I've managed to move house 3 times, work 4 different jobs, travel to 4 different countries, date 2 girls, survive a suicide attempt, be admitted to 3 different hospitals, quit addictive painkillers, sedatives, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, be arrested and locked in a cell, buy a car, rent a place to live, stay in 17 different hotels and AirBnBs, and somehow stay on top of my mountainous debts, not go bankrupt and even pay some of that crippling amount of money back. My only remaining vice is wine. I'm completely unmedicated and I don't abuse any substance other than alcohol. It's a remarkable journey for just 12 months, but the journey has been much, much longer than that.

In the last three years, I've written and published a million words and connected with thousands of people all over the globe.

To be precise, to date I've written exactly 1,001,020 words and counting, on this blog.

It's the world's longest suicide note.

If you want to understand why I'm suicidal you just have to read it all - it's all written down in exquisite detail. To save you the trouble of reading all 1 million words I've summarised the last 3 years for you right here.

The pressure; the stress; the exhaustion. Where is my reward?

I've travelled so far and I've achieved so much but yet I feel like it's gotten me nowhere. I should be rich but in fact I'm up to my eyeballs in debt. If you want to know where that debt came from, I just explained it to you. I didn't get into debt buying frivolous things and being profligate. I didn't make particularly bad choices. I'm not stupid. Where's the payoff for working so hard? Why did I bother?

My name's Nick Grant and I drink too much but otherwise I'm an ordinary regular guy. I do my job to a high standard and I'm liked and respected by my colleagues. I pay my taxes. I pay my rent and bills. I contribute to society as a productive member. I do ordinary stuff and have ordinary needs.

I'm 39 years old and I have nothing but debt. I have nothing much to show for my 39 years on the planet.

I'm lonely. I live a double life. The person I am in the office is different from the person I am in the comfort of my own home. Nobody at work would ever suspect that I've slept rough, been in trouble with the police, been hospitalised many times, been sectioned and had horrific problems with addiction. Nobody would suspect that my mental health has caused me horrendous difficulties when exacerbated by stressful life events, like divorce, moving house, losing jobs and everything else that's happened to me in the past 5 or so years.

My solution to the instability in my life was to create a backbone that has run consistently through my ups and downs: my daily writing. To have been able to write a million words has been immensely stabilising and has brought me into contact with so many wonderful kind and caring people. I quite literally owe my life to those who've followed me and my blog, especially via Twitter. Without this connection to the world I would be dead.

Today, I've crossed a seemingly arbitrary imaginary finishing line, in having written and published a million words in less than 3 years. It might seem ludicrous and pointless, but if you consider it in the context of the journey I've been on, you can see why I've wanted to document it.

If you've followed me on some part of this journey, I'm really grateful to have had your support. Thank you.

 

Tags:

 

Poseur

9 min read

This is a story about seeking the approval of strangers...

Black and white

I've made it my mission to write a blog post every day which begins with "this is a story about" and has a photograph. My photographs are not edited in any way - usually - and my writing is as candid and raw as I can possibly dare to be. The whole thing is supposed to be unfiltered in an attempt to give an insight into my troubled mind, as I navigate mental health problems, addiction issues and suicidal thoughts. The guiding principle is that I could quickly wind up dead, so I need to document what's going on.

It occurs to me that what I'm doing might seem a little contrived. Indeed a BBC journalist told me that I seem to have engineered every part of my story as part of some masterplan; a publicity stunt to draw attention to the issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health, as well as austerity, poverty and my other pet subjects. If I've lived my life in an attempt to provide a real-world demonstration of the difficulties which so many members of society are struggling with, I promise you that I've been doing a high-wire trapeze act with no safety net. It's not as if I've ever been able to scuttle back to some comfortable existence when things have gotten particularly unbearably awful. I surely could never have known that I'd survive a suicide attempt which should have been fatal, could I?

I was watching a BBC documentary last night and decided to send out a tweet about Stopping Male Suicide[s]. I genuinely felt like it would be met with the 'usual' response which greets my daily blog posts - a handful of die-hard regular readers would 'like' it and that would be that. I was feeling desperately lonely, because I'm currently living in a hotel for several nights a week, and my weekends are spent alone in a place where I only have a couple of friends. I spend the vast majority of my evenings and weekends all on my own. I rarely speak to anybody on the phone. To be precise, I've spoken to 3 friends on the telephone and I've met up with 2 friends in person, in the last month. That's pretty damn isolated and reclusive. So, perhaps I could be forgiven for feeling a little as if I don't really exist on anybody's radar.

The response I received on Twitter was breathtaking. My phone kept pinging and pinging. I was gobsmacked.

I guess I'm writing this because I feel bad; I feel terrible that I was feeling so sorry for myself and so alone, when in fact I'm extremely well connected via social media. I'm very fortunate that I've managed to make the acquaintance of so many people via the internet, and so many people read what I write and care. So many people were prepared to take the time to reach out; to send messages of support. I have that and perhaps I'd taken it for granted, because when I sent that tweet I genuinely didn't think many people would read and respond. I suppose I shouldn't feel bad, because people sent messages to try to make me feel better - which I did - not to make me feel guilty.

Is it really terrible that it gave me a huge boost, that I received a great big flood of messages of support? Is it terrible that my sense of isolation and loneliness was almost instantly replaced by the sensation of being cared for by a seemingly vast number of people all over the world? Is it awful that the attention made me feel better?

I really promise you that my behaviour wasn't attention seeking per se.

There's something vulgar about overtly seeking attention, isn't there? There's something we find distasteful about it. Perhaps it's because I genuinely felt so lonely - in that drab and dreary hotel room - that my tweet resonated with people; it had a ring of truth about it. If I'd put up a selfie with the hashtag "new profile pic" or whatever it is that people do when they're feeling a bit unloved and glum, then it would have been a turn-off. I feel really bad when I see social media posts which are perhaps designed to elicit a response, going ignored. I wonder how damaging it must be for a person to seek attention and not receive it.

"The world's longest suicide note" is attention-grabbing. My blog didn't start out life as such. I started writing about "fighting stigma" and "raising awareness" of mental health issues, before realising that I was very sick and my life was in danger, forcing me to change tack. I am, however, aware that it's quite a deliberate and premeditated act to write and publish so publicly. I wouldn't say that my struggles are a literary device and the whole debacle is conceited, but it would be disingenuous of me to claim that I never think about how what I write is going to be received. I could, after all, simply keep a private journal if the writing was the only important thing, not the publishing.

I wrestle with the conflicting parts of my cultural upbringing. The Brit in me is stoic and has a stiff upper-lip; emotionally reserved and regards gushing oversharing as somewhat gauche. However, I'm also a netizen - I've lived my life online since my teens and immersed myself in the world's online communities. There's a bold optimism on the 'net which seems to be everything I've ever admired about the USA and the North American people; a kind of New World attitude which eschews the stuffy 'know your place' subservience instilled in ordinary Europeans who've known so many centuries of monarchic rule. On the 'net it's OK to be yourself and to share your innermost thoughts and feelings. Indeed, the 'net thrives on the emotional spectacle that's created when we cast aside our inhibitions and our carefully crafted masks.

Whatever I write will never be good enough in civilised British society, filled with sneering public schoolboys who'll pull you up on your bad grammar and guffaw about your lack of knowledge of the dead languages of ancient antiquity. The British have an incredible knack of giving a person a withering look, which expressly conveys the message that you should get back to the factory and the slums where you belong, pleb.

On the 'net anybody can be somebody. While Penguin now famously will not even consider a book manuscript from an author without a degree, anybody can publish online without having to kowtow to elitist whims. There's a meritocracy to the 'net which allows the ordinary likes of you and I to reach an audience and to be heard, if only we're bold and brave enough to share our creative output.

I fret that I've got no style and I've got no substance. I worry that although I've built my social media following, I'm abusing it for egotistical reasons or even taking it for granted. I worry that I might be a fake. I worry that I'm wasting people's time when there are other far more talented and deserving folks out there, who are desperate for their slice of airtime.

I worry that I'm just an attention whore.

Out of the vast number of wonderful messages I received in a great avalanche during the past 24 hours, the theme that stands out to me, is that I've far exceeded the reach that I ever dreamed possible and now I need to decide: do I make things all about me and abuse the attention for the benefit of my own ego, or do I attempt to exert a positive influence in the lives of others, given my privileged position?

I've written with casual disregard for anybody. I've written because I needed to write. I've written because it's served me very well, to dump my brain down onto a page and get my thoughts into a more structured and ordered form.

I don't feel as if I'm able to start producing well-written articles which would serve as a roadmap for lost souls. I'm still very lost myself, but I definitely recognise that it's useful sometimes to stumble upon something which puts into words the way that you're thinking and feeling; relatable content. Somehow, we discover voices which echo our own, and people who've had similar life experiences, and it makes us feel better. There's a great reluctance to write and publish our most unflattering things publicly, so when we discover somebody who's writing with raw authenticity, it can be greatly comforting to know that the world isn't entirely populated by people with perfect lives. I imagine that the best thing I can do - for now - is to keep writing with as much candid honesty as I can.

I feel a great deal of pressure to follow up on the enormous flood of support that I received on Twitter, with something quite meaningful and profound. I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to write today, although that might not be particularly discernable from the text.

Having beavered away in relative obscurity writing - to date - 997,340 words on this blog, there's a huge temptation to ditch the comparatively unrewarding task of creating lengthy blog posts in favour of milking Twitter for attention. I've been accused at times of keeping myself in a mentally ill and suicidal state, for reasons of attention seeking, which I find pretty offensive but I guess I need to answer my critics. I guess it's up to the reader to decide whether I've spent 3 years of my life writing so much, simply for the quick thrill of getting a bunch of likes and comments on a tweet, or whether I've actually been genuinely fighting for my life the whole time and I just happen to have documented the whole thing as a survival strategy.

It's quite a depressing thought, to imagine that somebody's so conceited that they'd write a million-word suicide note and actually attempt suicide, just for a bit of attention.

In closing, though, I must say that the attention really helped. I feel so loved and cared for. I'm really grateful for all the lovely messages of support. Thank you.

 

Tags:

 

Winter is Coming

6 min read

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

Fluffy seeds

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer and the hot sunny weather is being replaced by grey skies and rain. It won't be long before the shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops can be stored away again until next year, because it'll be too cold for summer clothes. It won't be long before the 9-month long miserable British winter is back.

Of course, I'm worrying about tomorrow's problems today. I should be enjoying the last of the summer, but I need to make hay while the sun shines. My health has been OK during the first month of my new job, but I never know when it's going to let me down. I need to earn as much cash as possible as quickly as possible, before I can relax and loosen the purse strings. I daren't take a holiday until I'm in a more secure position. I needed to make a good first impression at work and earn the trust and respect of my colleagues.

I wanted to go to Prague to see friends, but I'm postponing it until the summer holiday madness has died down. I wanted to go to Ireland to see friends, but I'm postponing it until I've got more energy for travelling. I need to have at least a 1-week holiday of rest and relaxation, somewhere peaceful with a pleasant climate. Everything has been put on hold while I re-establish myself and slowly refill my depleted savings.

The seasons can affect me horribly, but I haven't felt at all lifted by the summer months. I suppose I've had a whole series of summers where I've had horrific stress and upheaval, so I don't see summertime as a time to enjoy myself. Looking back over the past 3 Augusts, I've been working myself to the bone during each one, in a desperate attempt to gather enough cash to get through the dreadful winter months.

This year is unusual, because I've been working non-stop since December and I've got relatively secure income until next summer. In theory, I could relax a little bit, given that I now have a secure place to live and a small financial safety net. In practice, I'm so heavily debt-laden, exhausted and downtrodden from the demands of the past few years, that I daren't take my foot off the gas pedal for a single second - it's flat out all the way to the finish line, which is still a long way away.

I suppose if my health holds out until December time, I'll feel a lot of regret that I didn't enjoy the summer months at all, but if I manage to get to December without a major incident then I'll be quite comfortably financially secure, so I can take a luxury foreign holiday. It's hard to balance the needs of today with the huge prize of financial freedom, provided I can cling on by my fingernails for long enough.

I've worked full-time for 9 consecutive months without a holiday, and 25 consecutive months if we include periods where I was sick and unable to work. The relentless stress and strain of dealing with having to move house, change jobs and keep working, is taking its toll - my physical health is deteriorating. My skin is pale, I've put on weight, I'm unfit and I'm tired all the time.

September is a tricky time for me. In previous years I've attempted suicide, been hospitalised and lost jobs. It would be great if I could get through September without a major incident. I desperately want to jet off somewhere, but I think the most sensible thing to do is to keep up the rhythm and routine and try to break the curse. I successfully made it through Jinxed January this year, so I should be able to use my momentum to carry me through September.

On September 6th, I celebrate my 3-year blogging anniversary. On September 9th it'll have been a year since my most serious and near-fatal suicide attempt. On September 10th it's World Suicide Prevention Day. On September 19th it's my sister's birthday. If I can get through all of that without incident, and reach the end of the month, then I'll be really pleased.

In October the clocks go back and it really starts to feel like winter. I think it'll be impossible for me to get to the end of the year without a holiday, and I'll desperately need one by October. I might be stretching a little too far to manage to last that long without a break, but it would be amazing if I could have a 1-week break in late-October to lift my spirits and carry me to the end of the year.

November's just crappy. I've got nothing good to say about November.

The build-up to Christmas in December does improve people's mood, and things slow down at work - although that's not necessarily a good thing - but the festivities should hopefully carry me until the day when I can leave the country for a couple of weeks, in search of winter sunshine.

If I can reach December, I'll have been working full-time for a whole year without totally screwing up. I think it's important to know I can manage to work for an entire year without my health getting so bad I'm unable to work. Having more money means more security and less stress, so hopefully things will get easier and easier, although I'm dreading the worsening of the weather.

The important thing is to keep moving forwards and not to stop, because if I stop then I will lose my gains incredibly quickly. In the blink of an eye I'll be back in a financially distressed situation. In the blink of an eye all the hope and possibility will disappear. It's remarkable how hard I've worked and how much cash I've generated, but how little of it seems to have actually stayed in my pocket - it's all been hoovered up by debts and living expenses and otherwise greedily devoured by the vultures who prey upon me. I've got to run just to stand still.

Sure, the skies are reasonably blue outside and it's relatively mild, but I'm acutely aware that there are very tough times ahead.

It might seem churlish to complain when I've had enough fortune to find myself still in a position to be able to potentially recover and return to a pleasant life in civilised society, but I've worked my ass off through yet another spoiled summer, and I'm going to be working very hard for the foreseeable future. It's hard to get excited about the prospect of yet more months of hard graft, with very few things to look forward to. Obviously, everything is super fragile and I'm very anxious that one little thing going wrong could spell disaster.

Things don't feel sustainable or realistically attainable. I feel sick and tired.

 

Tags:

 

Stuck Indoors

10 min read

This is a story about anhedonia...

Bright light

I'm not under house arrest. I'm not in prison. I'm at liberty to do whatever I want. I don't have to spend my evenings and weekends alone. I don't have to spend my working day in the office. The reasons for my choices are too subtle for anybody who makes a lazy appraisal of my life to discern.

My attention span and ability to concentrate during periods of extreme boredom is very poor. My perception of time is warped to the point of being unbearably and agonisingly slow. I just want it to be December already. I want to press the fast-forward button and skip all the monotonous bullshit between now and then. I know where I'm going and I know how to get there, so there's absolutely zero enjoyment of the journey; in fact it's pure torture.

My summer has been spent at a desk, in a hotel room, or lying on my sofa. My whole year has been characterised by endless suffering in a desperate attempt to get back on my feet financially. I'm out of the danger zone, I bought a car and rented an apartment. Those are the highlights of my year. Now I'm just going through the motions until I have enough cash to clear my debts. I'm well paid and my financial position is improving rapidly, but my perception of the passage of time is so messed up that it doesn't feel like I'm getting anywhere. When I do the maths and work out how far I've still got to go, it seems ridiculously far away considering how much suffering and sacrifice I've gone through to get to this point. Suicidal thoughts are back.

It might seem like I've got the leisure time and the money to do anything I want, but I would never have survived as well as I have done if I hadn't had periods where I suffered. It's the suffering that equates to cold hard cash. Do you think they pay 6-figure sums of money for doing work that's fun? Do you think you get rich by doing stuff that you love? That's a fantasy for rich spoiled brats. Most of us have to suffer if we want to make a quick buck. The more you suffer, the more money you make.

"You can do anything you want. Follow your dreams" people say to me. It's not true. I have responsibilities and moral obligations. I'm trying to make things right and that requires a great deal of suffering. There are plenty of people who'd run away from their problems, and I'd know about that because I'm owed thousands of pounds by people who seem to think that it's OK to pick my pocket. I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm trying to do the honest and honourable thing. I'm doing things the hard way.

I have enough money at my fingertips to live a life of profligate luxury, but all that money is accounted for. I'm not living in a hovel on bread and water, sure, but I'm certainly denying myself a lot of lifestyle choices which would seem like just reward for my suffering. The whole point of doing a job that you hate is because it earns you a lot of money. One simply has to choose between a rewarding and fun career, or work that's extremely lucrative, and usually requires a high living standard to justify the awfulness of putting up with the dreadful day job. You can be a penniless artist, or you can sell your soul to the devil: that's the choice we all have to make.

Perhaps my job and the work I do is not wholly objectionable, but it jars with my psychological make-up. There's zero excitement and creativity; nothing is novel or interesting; I'm not challenged. The challenge is simply in withstanding the boredom and the monotony. I live with unbearable amounts of dread: I dread the intolerable boredom. I dread the endless waiting. All I seem to be doing at the moment is just waiting; killing time.

I feel momentarily excited by the prospect of spending a bit of money. I want to buy a microwave and a dehydrator for the kitchen. I want to buy some more wine glasses. I want to want to buy stuff, but I know that I'll feel buyer's remorse, so I rein myself in. That's unusual for me.

I try to get excited about how much money I'm able to save each month, but it's not exciting at all. Each day is such a struggle that I end up feeling depressed about how little I'm earning, even though I earn an obscene amount of money. I should be happy about how quickly I'm managing to dig myself out of the hole, but instead I'm depressed about how slow time is passing and how long it's going to take. December seems like an eternity away.

The problem is that I'm solving problems I've already solved. I'm doing things I've already done a million times before, so there's no doubt that I'll be able to do them again. I already invented very successful strategies for becoming rich and successful, and it irks me that I'm having to start my life over. I feel like I already won - which I did - so somebody should just give me my damn gold medal already, rather than making me run the marathon again.

Of course, I pissed away a huge fortune. I had the enviable pleasure of going on a total rampage for years, doing whatever the hell I wanted. I bought whatever I wanted, travelled wherever I wanted, never had to wait for anything and generally spent money like it was going out of fashion. Arguably, I've had the fun so I should now pay the price.

In fact, most of my financial woes come from a very miserable and mundane period of my life, where the money was spent on nothing more than general living expenses: rent and bills etc. When I've splashed the cash with gay abandon, I've always had a lot more of a memorable and exciting experience, than simply lining the pockets of the capitalists. My impulse purchases have always brought an amount of pleasure that was commensurate with the price tag. Whenever I get excited about something, there's usually an angle which is financially beneficial.

My life is austere. I'm not excited about anything. I'm saving a lot of money, but I'm thoroughly miserable.

My last big spending spree was buying everything I needed for my apartment - plates, bowls, saucepans, cutlery, kettle, toaster, kitchen knives, utensils and the myriad other things which are essential for daily living. There was little joy in it, because I already had a house that was packed full of everything I'd ever want or need. I was repeating something I'd already done and there was no pleasure in it. You'd be surprised how hard it is to start over from a completely blank slate. You take for granted so many little things you've accumulated over the years.

My life is hyper-efficient. I'm living the minimum viable life. If I break or lose something it's fairly catastrophic, because I have exactly as much as I need, and nothing more. Sure, my apartment is ludicrously large for my needs. Sure I could use public transport instead of owning a car. Sure, I could live even more frugally, but I don't think you're talking about a viable reality. There are homeless people who struggle to even protect a single backpack with some precious belongings, and they manage to survive. Sure I could survive with a single backpack, but it wouldn't be compatible with other parts of my life, such as working a full-time job in an office. If you're a homeless person sleeping rough, that life isn't compatible with civilised society. Society expects me to have fresh socks every day and a crisply ironed shirt... although I've managed to avoid buying an ironing board and iron so far [I use the one in the hotel].

I've temporarily halted any attempt to have a social life. I took some time out from dating and relationships. I'm estranged from my family, except my sister who I exchange a handful of messages with each year. I've put everything on hold until I'm in a better position.

I hated it when I was dating earlier this year, and I was being pummelled with questions about what car I drove and whether I owned a house. At the time I was living in somebody's converted garage, effectively homeless. At the time I was carless. At the time I was virtually bankrupt. Every question that was designed to tease out whether I'm rich and successful - and a good provider - was in fact a dreadful reminder that I'm not yet a secure member of civilised society. In the blink of an eye, I could be back on the streets.

Pride and self-esteem are at stake, but also people just can't cope with the idea that somebody's been through rough times and lost everything. People would think there's something wrong with me and I wouldn't be able to get a job or get laid. How many times have they hired a homeless person where you work? Never. I've survived because I've been sneaky enough to never let on that I've had incredibly awful stuff going on in my personal life, and nobody would ever suspect a thing because it just doesn't happen - no homeless person would ever be so audaciously brazen as to apply for highly paid jobs, as if they're a regular ordinary person.

This protracted pantomime, where I'm having to pretend like everything is A-OK in my personal life when in actual fact I've been one tiny slip-up away from begging on the streets for the whole goddam year, has been indescribably exhausting and trying. You might think that I'm being too proud, but I really promise you that my personal life problems would not go down well in the office; my run of financial fortune would be quickly curtailed if anybody knew how desperate I am.

I'm stuck indoors and it looks like a choice, but it's not a choice. Nothing in my life is a choice. It's all carefully calculated and necessitated by circumstances. My circumstances dictate my behaviour, and the constriction and constraint affects more than just my decision about where I work and what kind of work I do. The circumstances dictate my mood, and my mood is every bit as miserable and depressed as you'd expect of any slave and prisoner.

At least you can win a race. I'm not part of the rat race; I'm just trying not to lose.

 

Tags:

 

Work Colleague Found My Blog

12 min read

This is a story about living a double life...

Blurry laptop

The other day a colleague told me that he'd Google'd the meaning of the semicolon tattoo behind my ear. "What does it mean?" he asked me, feigning ignorance. I told him that it's to do with programming and I had the tattoo done in Silicon Valley, which is perfectly true. Of course, I'm only able to survive because I'm economical with the truth. There isn't a section on my CV which lists all the hospitals I've been admitted to in recent years. There isn't a section on my CV which lists episodes of mental illness. If nobody asks me why should I tell anybody?

There's a wide long corridor at the office which has its walls covered with posters encouraging us to speak up about mental health issues. "It's OK to talk" the posters claim. What the posters don't say is that it's OK to talk as long as you've got the mild kind of mental illness which elicits sympathy, not terror. Being a bit blue sometimes and taking the occasional duvet day is not a big problem, but fully-blown episodes of mania, replete with paranoia and delusions is going to see you quickly ejected from the office before you have a chance to say "but you said it was OK to talk".

It's OK to talk about the more palatable side of mental illness - mild anxiety and depression - but the kind which is so debilitating that it renders a person completely unable to work, is met with a hostile response. To begin with there is some sympathy and interest. However, it doesn't take long for people to become compassion fatigued. "I'd like a day off when I don't feel like working" is what people soon start saying, as levels of resentment grow. Offices are fit in or fuck off kind of places, where behaviour is only tolerated within a very narrow band of deviation from the norm. Even an annoying laugh or a cough can be grating in the office and people can get extremely angry and upset about things which appear to be tiny and insignificant. Pay rises, promotions, job titles, special privileges, holidays and perceived differences in workload and effort, all feed into a bubbling cauldron of toxic feelings which remain festering and unvented, brewing and fortifying over the very many years through which people are chained to their desks.

I can never fully disguise the fact I'm not well and I've been through some difficult times. It was a bold move to choose to mark my skin in a visible area with a tattoo which is widely known for its meaning as a symbol of mental health problems, suicide, self harm, alcoholism and substance abuse. In the 3 years since I had that tattoo, only one colleague had ever commented, and that was to tell me that I could talk to him any time. Little over a month later he completely blanked me and refused to answer phone calls, texts, emails or other attempts to contact him - he'd told a colleague about my blog and they decided to screw me over; to rip me off and breach contract, owing me a lot of money.

Another colleague at a different organisation found my blog. One day he asked me if I wear contact lenses, to which I replied that I don't. He then asked me about wearing glasses, which was quite telling because I never wear glasses at work. He seems like a good guy - so far as I know my secret is safe with him.

At the place where I currently work, the thing I always dreaded has happened: I've been directly confronted about the meaning of my tattoo. It's something I'd always anticipated so I had my pre-prepared answer about the semicolon being an important symbol to a programmer - having been writing C, C++ and Java for 24 years - and the extra significance of having my tattoo done in the Mission/Castro area of San Francisco.

I kinda revel a little bit in my newfound bad boy image. Having had a 21+ year career as an IT professional working for large organisations, there's not a lot of room for bad behaviour before you screw up your employment prospects. One single black mark, such as a bankruptcy or a criminal record, and you'll never work for big companies ever again. If the gatekeepers had their way and they were allowed to invade my privacy to their heart's content, they'd have slammed the door in my face a long time ago. My problems are not the nice mild kind where I'd be permitted to do a bit of light-hearted whinging in the office. My problems are not the kind which are permitted in the stale, dry, plain, boring and uninteresting beige thoroughly dull world which I inhabit from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

It makes me nervous occasionally that my cover could be blown and somebody could see through my infallible disguise. It makes me kinda nervous that I have this huge repository of all the juicy details which Human Resources would dearly love to get their hands on so that they have the ammunition to discriminate, stigmatise, and otherwise abuse my right to live my life free from prejudice and ostracism.

The longer I manage to keep delivering successful projects, high quality work and impressing my colleagues, the safer I become from any witch-hunt if my blog is discovered, along with the very many unpalatable truths for a group of people who's sole mission in life seems to be to keep the riff-raff at bay. Anybody who doesn't walk, talk, look and smell just like them is not welcome - your face has to fit if you want to earn big bucks and have a comfortable and rewarding career. There aren't a lot of facial piercings, wild haircuts or indeed any expressions of individuality in the organisations where I work, because they work very hard to block anybody who doesn't fit the mould at the door.

My mask slips occasionally, of course. I struggle with the fixed and inflexible office hours which are homogenised for the neurotypical early birds. I struggle with the uniform and consistent plodding pace. I struggle with all the one-size-fits-all unwritten rules, which are perfectly OK for the conformists to conform to, but sometimes cause me a great deal of suffering.

I try not to be too outspoken. I try not to get passionate about anything. I give away as little possible about my personal life. I certainly don't ever relax and be myself - I'm always tense and on high alert. I try to just focus on making a good job of relatively small and non-contentious pieces of work, and busying myself with pointless tasks to occupy my time. I work very hard to act as if I'm a normal beige boring ordinary complaint non-contentious non-complaining typical office working drone. In essence, I spend most of my 8 hours a day attempting to keep my mouth shut and reining in all of my natural instincts. I spend most of my working day battling with my impulse to either walk out and never come back, or to start tearing things to pieces and doing bold and brave things. I have to bite my lip and hold my tongue. I'm not used to being like that, but it's the only way I'm able to stay off the radar and keep my job.

The last place I worked, a colleague took enough of an interest in me to Google me, find my website and read my blog. At the last place I had a wobbly period and I had to take quite a bit of time off work. I was acutely aware that I was incredibly exposed, because the reasons why I was struggling and sick were laid bare for anybody to see. Thankfully, I was given the benefit of the doubt and I was able to leave that organisation and that project with a feather in my cap - good job well done.

This time, I get the feeling that this new colleague who's taken an interest is not doing so for benign reasons. I definitely have the impression that he's threatened and is looking for some weakness to exploit, to undermine me. I definitely don't feel good about him pressing me to answer him about the meaning of my tattoo, especially when he made it very clear that he'd already Google'd the meaning.

In a lot of ways, this is like a test. I'm putting all my baggage and issues on public display to see what kind of people there are in the world. Nasty people will gleefully take the ammunition and use it against me. Nice people will see how vulnerable I am, and will use the information wisely and in a caring manner. Sure, I can get hurt and that might be a reason to protect myself more, but if people are determined enough to find a chink in your armour, they're going to go out of their way to try to hurt you, even if they have to invent bad stuff on the basis of pure conjecture and their nasty little minds.

Honesty is such a good policy to weed out bad nasty people. Honesty works so incredibly well at differentiating between friend and foe. It's possible to see in someone's eyes whether they're giddy and drunk with the possibility of misusing the truth and honesty to screw you over, or indeed whether the honesty and vulnerability is instilling a reaction of kindness and compassion - you can really see it in the eyes, whether a person is an evil fuck or they're nice.

I also enjoy being in the position where I've laid everything bare for anybody to see, such that nobody can shame, embarrass or otherwise use things against me, which most people would keep as closely guarded secrets. I've already published the gory details my deepest darkest thoughts, feelings and experiences, so none of it has any power over me - it's in the public domain. It's laughable to think that you'd be able to bully or tease me about something which I own and have told the world about, such that any nasty person would be simply stating the obvious in a patently ridiculous way, like attempting to laugh at a proud openly gay person for being gay. It's nonsensical.

More and more, I feel proud that I've done the brave thing of publishing everything which I'd previously kept secret, and making it so public. I feel proud of both my identities, even if I haven't been able to unify them yet. Of course, my identities are implicitly unified, because it's my face and it's my name. It's only sheer laziness which means the gatekeepers have not yet unearthed this treasure trove; and of course the fact that they'd never expect in a million years that anybody would be so foolish as to simply hand over all the truths which most of us keep as closely guarded secrets.

Our privacy is increasingly infringed and we are spied upon around the clock by the ubiquitous digital devices that surround us. Our government spies on ordinary law-abiding citizens and even shares that information with prospective employers, such that trade union activists can become black-balled and unemployable, despite never breaking a single law. Our love of free email, free social media, free photo sharing and other 'free' services, is also our undoing - we're easy to snoop on and you can be completely certain that your digital identity has been examined by a gatekeeper, intent on digging up some dirt on you.

Overall, I believe I've had 3 or 4 work colleagues maliciously abuse my trust by using my candid honesty against me, and I've had 1 who seems benign. Not great numbers, but I believe that overall the net result has been to get rid of toxic people and avoid exploitation, and hopefully I'm getting better quality closer friendships.

As a mechanism to stay in touch and keep friends updated, I would say that this blog has been a rip-roaring success. I can't see any other way that I'd have been able to maintain a toe-hold in normal life if I hadn't decided to 'go public'. It's unconventional and it certainly jeopardises my employability, but anybody who's read my blog looking for the bad stuff is obviously a bad person, so good riddance.

In the place where I live I've fallen out with 3 people, but I've made at least 5 friends, and there's honesty underpinning all of it. If you don't like the version of me you see on the pages of this blog, what the hell are you doing? What do you expect? I'm not a fictitious character: this is me.

There have been some regrettable moments which I've documented in my usual stream-of-consciousness way, and those periods have shown me in a very unflattering light. There's a lot written here that's not what people ordinarily share. I've made myself very exposed; vulnerable. That's the point. It's all here, warts and all.

I was supposed to be seeing my former work colleague who's been reading my blog this evening. Perhaps we will become closer friends now that we don't work together. Things have worked out OK.

 

Tags:

 

Sprint Finish

10 min read

This is a story about marathon running...

Stansted Airport

I'm quite pleased that I have this blurry photo capturing the moment when a stranger borrowed my iPhone charger in an airport. That stranger became my accountant and he's been on the journey with me, from a newly incorporated business to the point where I'm now turning over a 6-figure sum of money and making decent profits. My accountant has been one of the few constants in my life during a period which has been extremely wild and erratic.

Another particularly notable feature of the 5-year journey which has brought me - finally - closer to the point of getting back on my feet, is that I've never stopped moving. Through frantic and frenetic activity I've managed to avoid death, bankruptcy and a million and one other dreadful fates. By persevering with a very simple plan - to earn a lot of money as a consultant - I've managed to weather some pretty dreadful storms.

I admit that I did try to have myself declared unfit for work and to obtain the state welfare support I'm entitled to, but most people I meet seem to quickly form the opinion that I'm perfectly fine and healthy. Most people think I'm entirely capable of rescuing myself from even the most diabolically awful situations. It's pretty obvious that I haven't been enabled by anybody, although I'd be dead as a dodo if it wasn't for my guardian angel, who helped me move from London to Manchester, then Manchester to Wales, as well as being there for me during various hospitalisations and wotnot. To say I've arrived at the point I'm at today all on my own is not true at all. Of course I wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes without help and support, but I haven't received any of the help and support from the government that you'd think would be available to a vulnerable person - the safety net simply doesn't exist.

You would think that all your taxes which you pay would give you some kind of insurance, so that you wouldn't be penniless and homeless if you couldn't work. You would think that all that tax would mean that you'd be looked after if you were incredibly sick and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the welfare state is not at all kind to anybody who appears - with a lazy glance - to be of sound body and mind. Despite letters from GPs, psychiatrists and social workers, there are gatekeepers who are so compassion-fatigued and have so few resources to dispense to so many needy people, that there's no safety net at all.

Early intervention would have saved me a lot of near-death experiences, hospitalisations, contact with the police, wasted money, wasted time, wasted energy and health damage. Early intervention would have been far more cost effective than dealing with the consequences of assuming - incorrectly - that I'd cope just fine if I was simply left to my own devices; made homeless and otherwise abandoned by a nanny state which always promised to protect me, in return for the vast sums of taxes I've paid. I wasted a lot of time and effort on the mistaken middle-class belief that the welfare state exists for the sole purpose of protecting the vulnerable members of society. I thought - as so many middle-class people do - that I simply needed to ask for help from the relevant services charged with doling out lifesaving support and I would received what I needed.

It turns out that the UK operates what can only be described as a hostile environment for anybody who falls on hard times. It turns out that vast swathes of the civil service - with a mission statement to supposedly to help society's most vulnerable - are actually acting as gatekeepers and making it almost impossible to access any kind of help or support. Instead, the rigmarole is intended to frustrate, annoy and exhaust until you become disillusioned, disheartened, discouraged and generally lose faith in a government which promised to look after you in the event of an unfortunate turn of events, in return for a hefty portion of your income. The safety net turned out to be a lie and you'd better not waste too much time being angry and disappointed, because you're still broke and homeless... you have to find your own way to survive. No wonder so many people in the UK grow and sell cannabis or peddle other drugs - the black market economy provides much needed cash to society's most vulnerable, impoverished and desperate.

I suppose the argument would be that I could walk into a job quite easily, but that's pure stupidity. It's impossible to get a job and keep it if you're homeless and you have severe mental health problems. It's impossible to get a job when you're hamstrung by addiction and alcoholism. It's impossible to get a job and keep it when you're flat broke. It's a catch 22 situation. There are plenty of people who could theoretically get back on their feet, but they'll never be able to without some initial help and support - they need somewhere to live and some money; they need treatment for their addictions and alcoholism; they need time to stabilise their medication and get counselling for their mental health issues. Allowing people to become homeless - destitute - and to commit suicide is barbaric. Yes, it might seem to the wealthy ultra right-wing conservatives like it's some brutal form of social justice - survive or die; fit in or fuck off. Personally, I want my taxes to be spent on people who can't work, even if it means that I have less money to selfishly spend on myself. I want to pay into a national insurance scheme which creates a safety net for the most vulnerable and impoverished members of society.

In the second half of 2014 it dawned on me that I was wasting my time asking for help from the state, so I complied with exactly what the hostile environment was designed to do: I tried to go back to work. Naturally it was a disaster. You can't force sick people to work. Sick people can't work.

I've struggled along working for 4 hit-and-miss years. I've had a rollercoaster ride. I have periods where I'm working out of sheer desperation, which of course makes me incredibly sick, so I crash and burn every time. Because I seem blessed - or cursed - with the appearance of a man who's got his shit together and is doing just fine, I end up quickly embedded in huge organisations doing very important project work. Because of past achievements I'm given responsibilities which nobody in their right mind would dream of giving to a homeless, bankrupt, alcoholic junkie with mental health problems. The projects are hard enough, without also having to worry about where I'm going to sleep, whether I've got enough money to survive from day to day, and of course dealing with my mood disorder and all the of the problems associated with substance abuse.

Imagine doing an opiate, benzodiazepine and alcohol detox while working a full-time job. Imagine doing drug rehabilitation while working a full-time job. Imagine undergoing psychiatric treatment for severe mental health problems while working a full-time job. Imagine living in a 14-bed hostel dorm while working a full-time job. Imagine not knowing whether you'll be able to afford to keep travelling to work until payday - the ultimate catch 22, where you can't even afford to work your full-time job. That's been my life.

Some of the practical difficulties have been eased in the short-term with vast quantities of debt. I've borrowed heavily to be able to make my living and travel arrangements more compatible with working. I've gone deep into debt on the presupposition that it will enable me to earn enough money to dig myself out of the hole. In addition to the hard problem of working when seriously unwell, I've also had mountainous debts threatening to destroy me.

All of this is exactly what the government wants. The government wants us all to be heavily-indebted wage-slaves who live incredibly insecure lives, so we're easy prey for the capitalists. The government doesn't want us to get fat, happy and lazy. The government doesn't want us secure enough to be able to demand fair and reasonable working conditions and remuneration commensurate with the value of our labour.

I've worked incredibly hard, especially so during the last 9 months. I've earned a lot of money, but none of it has flowed into my pockets - it's all gone to pay the capitalists for their loans, which was the only way I could stay afloat and keep playing the game. If I'd declared bankruptcy I'd never be able to earn a decent wage ever again, rent an apartment or buy a house. The system's set up to screw you whichever way you go; you're forced to become a slave.

With gritted teeth and dogged determination it's been possible to struggle through 9 dreadful non-stop working months and get to the point where it looks as if I'm getting on top of things. I've had a period of what appears to be stability. You could be easily fooled into thinking that forcing me to work when unwell has actually proven the right-wing ultra-conservatives to be correct - that it's OK to economically enslave people; that it's OK to tell society's most vulnerable that they have to choose between starving on the streets, or a minimum wage McJob which won't even cover the cost of incredibly frugal living.

It might not look like it but I've actually done an incredible marathon run and I'm doing a sprint finish. It might not be immediately apparent but it's quite remarkable that I've survived what I've been through and I'm still going. I need to keep going. If I can't keep going then all I'll fall back into the hole as soon as I collapse exhausted in a heap. Every time I'm forced to push myself beyond the point which is sustainable and healthy there's always a price to pay. There's a price to be paid for forcing vulnerable needy people into work.

It might not seem like things have been very hard for me if we extrapolate backwards, but we need to think about where I've come from and what I've been through, not what my current situation and prospects are. My current situation is still pretty dire - there's a long way to go before I can retain my gains permanently; I'm a long way from escaping the debt trap and being free from tyranny. My health is not reliable. My future is incredibly uncertain.

I'm having a difficult time adjusting to the present paradigm. My brain and body are built for crisis mode. I'm able to deal with an endless precession of catastrophic events and survive disaster, but I'm struggling to adjust to the present situation, where I simply need to coast along now that I've re-established myself somewhat. I'm finding it incredibly hard now that I'm no longer in the danger zone - I'm on high alert and super tense, but the worst of my troubles seem to have passed. It's been a living hell but I've beaten the odds. However, I have absolutely no ability to cope with ordinary pedestrian, plodding, slow-paced and hazard-free life. I don't think I'm able to deal with boring daily routine, because my life has been in non-stop crisis for so many years.

So, I'm sprinting to the finish line. I never manage to find steady sustainable consistent marathon pace.

 

Tags: