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Normal Service Has Resumed

7 min read

This is a story about a journey all the way to the bottom and back up...

The Ritz

The year was 2011. I fought with my girlfriend about relocating my startup. The year was 2012. Depression and destruction. The year was 2013. Divorce and drugs. The year was 2014. Suicide attempts and homelessness. The year was 2015. Getting better, but still very severely mentally unwell; quite insane. The year was 2016. Substantially recovered, but not quite; false start. The year was 2017. The worst of all the years.

During the last 7 years, a lot of the cohort from the startup accelerator program I attended in Cambridge, have all gone on to be spectacularly successful both in business and in their personal lives. They've strengthened their relationships, had children, bought houses, yachts and sportscars. They've become much in-demand conference speakers and widely respected captains of industry, with amazing reputations.

I went down.

I went down hard.

I went all the way to the bottom.

I had enjoyed a lot of the material success and achieved a bunch of life goals much earlier than most of my peers, but it didn't take long to undo all that hard work. It doesn't take much effort to give up all the gains you've made. It's a lot easier going downhill, than clawing your way back uphill.

I guess a kind of rock-bottom moment was when I arranged to have high tea at The Ritz with one of my best buddies from the startup accelerator. I stood him up because I was in big trouble. Mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, homelessness, debt, divorce, loss of assets, loss of my startup, loss of all hope conspired to rob me of all my self-esteem. My buddy is not the kind of person who'd make me feel like a failure or invoke any kind of shame and embarrassment in me, but I couldn't let him see me in the state I was in. I was a complete mess. I couldn't even be seen in public.

I slept rough, I lived in a hostel, I went into heaps of debt just staying alive. I wrecked my body and mind with prescription drugs, legal highs, illegal drugs, alcohol, black-market medications and a ludicrously high-risk lifestyle, which had been so punishing that it had hospitalised me multiple times for multiple weeks.

I managed to meet up with my buddy once, just as I was going through divorce in 2013, before things got really bad, but they were still pretty terrible. I saw him again in 2015, when I was having extreme mania and generally suffering with terrible mental health problems brought on by stress, pressure, exhaustion and sleep deprivation. I stood him up in 2016.

Somehow I managed to see my buddy in 2017, when he was celebrating the culmination of 6 years hard work on his startup, at exactly the same time as my life was well and truly beyond any hope of saving; my entire world was imploding. My dream of rebuilding my old life in London completely collapsed and I had nothing but debt and the threat of imminent eviction, which at least forced me to temporarily act with a little bit of self-preservation instinct, but I soon ended up in such a dire situation that I decided my life was over; I tried to kill myself. In summer 2017, the directions the lives of my buddy and I could not have gone in more opposite directions. I had failed. I was a miserable failure.

This year, what had been originally been planned as a holiday with my girlfriend turned into a bromance weekend with my buddy. Things were looking up. I'd been working for almost 7 consecutive months without a major disaster. My life was still pretty wrecked, but at least it was improving. I was in a bad state after a messed-up May, where I'd had a relapse, but thankfully it didn't ruin everything.

I had a bit of a lapse a little over a week ago. The instability which ensued prompted me to spend money. Some of that money got spent on a weekend visit to see my buddy again. Things have continued to substantially improve, although my life is still pretty wrecked, by all reasonable measures. Annoyingly, my buddy has seen me right in the middle of a period of bad mental health, immediately following a relapse. Annoyingly, I'm not seeing my friends when I'm at my best, but instead they're seeing me when I'm destabilised and a bit sick; exhausted and stressed.

It should be noted, however, that there is a significant difference between today and the time I decided to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Today is much more like the optimistic period I had in 2013 where it looked like I was going to get out of a bad relationship and start rebuilding my life. Today is not at all like 2017, which was a total train-wreck; I was a complete mess.

I feel like I must have trashed my brain. I feel like I must have fried my mind. I feel like my mental health is utterly wrecked and people are probably just humouring me, like I was ever one of their peers.

I would love it if I've gotten back to enough of a healthy state that I'm doing OK. I would love it if I'm somewhat getting back to normal, and not too much lasting damage has been done.

I know it's no use wanting to go back in time; wanting to get back to exactly how I was at some point in the past. That's impossible.

My biggest fear is that I'm some sort of washed-up loser; that I'll never recover any quality of life; that I'm irreparably damaged and any spark of brilliance which justified my presence amongst that cohort of 2011, has long since been extinguished. I fear I'm a has-been.

My brain feels sluggish and slow. I feel somehow inferior. Not just to the brilliant people I met in Cambridge, but somehow to almost everybody. I've spectacularly completely and utterly failed at life.

I'm about to board a flight back to the UK. I have a good job and my cashflow is OK. I have a holiday planned. I have a place to live and other life essentials. Things are not that bad but I'm aware that I've barely begun my journey back up from the bottom. It's worse than starting with nothing. What I'm talking about is starting deep in negative territory.

It's ridiculous and unhelpful to compare myself to the man I was in 2011 and imagine what might have been. I am where I am. I should be pleased I'm not destitute; dead.

I should be dead.

But I'm not.

My life has entered a very surreal phase now. I'm living a life which should lead towards health, wealth and happiness. I'm moving very fast in a positive direction, but the journey I've been on has been very extreme in every conceivable way.

Things are seemingly normal, but also not normal at all. Nothing ever was normal in my life. Nothing ever will be. I suppose at least things are abnormal in the right kind of way now, at the moment.

It's hard re-adjusting to the new [old] normal.

 

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Context Switching

8 min read

This is a story about screen time...

Phone icons

The button to silence my smartphone has broken so I leave it permanently in "do not disturb" mode, which suits me just fine. Hardly anybody ever phones me except for agents and other cold caller sales types. My time is mostly spent in the 12 apps pictured above. Perhaps I'm not on my smartphone all the time, but essentially I'm context-switching non-stop throughout my waking hours, so I thought that warranted a little examination.

Starting with my 35,225 unread emails, my inbox has gotten rather out of control. Email has become such a victim of its own success that no IT professional I know even uses it anymore - we're all on Slack. Most communication is entirely transient and there's no need to have a record of anything except some kind of chat transcript to catch up on - anything old can be archived and forgotten. I spend all day every day chatting to my colleagues on Slack, including colleagues from organisations where I don't even work anymore.

Messages comprises SMS messages - mostly telling me about voicemails I haven't listened to - and a handful of iMessages from people who aren't using WhatsApp for some reason. WhatsApp deserves special note though, because of the group chats. I was removed from the only group chat I was a member of - discussion between cryptocurrency enthusiasts - and I was usurped by a guy who screwed me over last year when I was on my deathbed, which is kinda besides the point but it galls me.

Instagram I don't actually use very much. I live in a text-based world and the photos I take are in 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio, not 1:1. I don't take very many selfies.

Facebook Messenger is my most active chat app, but I only use it to chat to one person - my guardian angel - and we mainly exchange memes about suicide, mental health problems and the ruined economy. Facebook messenger also makes calls - as do many of the apps - and I occasionally speak to a friend in Poland, which is about the only time I speak to anybody on the telephone.

Recently I've been using Tinder and Bumble in an attempt to meet girls. It adds additional complexity to my context-switching life.

I'm not really sure what I use Facebook for. I do browse through the feed once a day - not on my smartphone - and I occasionally like and comment on things which are especially noteworthy, but I generally try to avoid over-investment in that particular walled garden. I used to share a lot and indeed I've managed to rather make a fool of myself in front of all my friends and scupper my chances of ever working in some organisations, because I dragged my own good name through the mud. I don't put my dirty laundry on Facebook much, only for it to be conspicuously ignored. Instead I write over a million words on my blog and broadcast my ups and downs to thousands of followers and anybody who does Google searches.

I don't use Twitter properly. I don't generally retweet stuff and I don't spend enough time reading the tweets of the 6,000+ people I follow. How anybody could sift through it all I have no idea - Twitter is a pretty noisy place. Generally I just look to see if anybody I know is tweeting about any of the trending topics, and I otherwise rely on an email I receive in the morning each day, which tells me what my favourite people have been up to. I must admit, it's sometimes a struggle to stay on top of my notifications and DMs and then I turn turtle and hide for a while until things quieten down.

I don't bother with LinkedIn much. I don't struggle to find work. I don't much see the point in ploughing much time and effort into my corporate image - I've got a perfectly professional CV and LinkedIn page, and otherwise I rely on my contacts, skills, experience and references to be able to get work when I need it.

I wake up in the morning and I quickly scan through my notifications - mostly Twitter - to see if there have been any comments, which I make a mental note to reply to later in the day. When I get bored around mid-morning, I have a glance at my inbox to see if there's anybody demanding money with menaces or otherwise harassing me. Approaching lunchtime, I might kill a bit of time with Facebook, but I don't want to get too engrossed in my phone when I'm at work. If I'm having a really dreadful day, I might reach out to a couple of friends via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and see if I can get them to send jokes, memes or anything that might provide a moment's distraction from the boredom. After leaving the office and generally before my evening meal, I write a blog post. I often scan through my website analytics to see if there's anything notable going on. If my mind is busy and distracted I frequently find myself flipping between half-watching something on Netflix and several tabs in my browser - a mix of Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I read the news, but I find that I spend less and less time engaging with current affairs at the moment, because I've been stressed out of my mind with basic survival. A new part of my routine is chatting to girl(s) via the dating apps and if I'm ever lucky enough to get a phone number, then chatting on WhatsApp.

The amount of context switching is pretty remarkable. In any given day I might have to switch between fully professional mode, with colleagues who I want to present with a squeaky-clean corporate-friendly version of myself, and a more relaxed but still guarded version of myself which allows a little bit of my personality to show, but hopefully keeps my bad not-safe-for-work (NSFW) stuff hidden. I might be chatting to somebody who I've known for a long time online who's in a different timezone - ahead or behind - and they'll know an incredible amount of personal stuff about me and we'll be talking very frankly and honestly about everything and everything... then I'll be talking to a girl who I've just started chatting to who doesn't know me at all... then I'll be chatting to work colleagues who I spend 40 hours a week in close proximity with and they think they know me but they don't [and I don't want them to know everything]. Then, there's the image I present and the interactions I have via my blog and social media. and all the people who I have frequent and infrequent contact with, and the different ways I know people. Facebook is a particularly weird melting pot, where former work colleagues mingle with people who I know through kitesurfing, my startup days, the time I was homeless and living in parks and hostels, people who I've just randomly friend requested when I was mentally unwell. Facebook is kinda the worst, because I never know which guise I should be in, so I'm probably too honest and I'm tarnishing my own reputation and good standing that I once had with friends.

My brain has to switch between survival mode - where I've been worried about money, housing, addiction, alcoholism, transport, sex, isolation, suicidal thoughts, self harm, depression, anxiety and odds that have been very much stacked against me - and professional mode - where I'm expected to perform at a very high standard and navigate extremely complicated large organisations and know all the ins and outs of massive and complex software systems and the infrastructure they're deployed on, plus all the many teams and the zillions of people and the processes and procedures - and my digital identity which I'm cultivating - which needs me to compose a blog post every day and stay on top of any replies, messages and emails, and generally keep in touch with an ever-growing list of friends who I've never met in person, but who've been amazingly kind and supportive during rough times - and Mr. Eligible Bachelor mode, which requires me to present myself in the correct sequence, so that I can be understood without at the same time being overwhelming and off-putting.

To some extent my life looks quite simple. I have a job and not much else - I don't socialise and I'm not in a relationship. To the casual observer, all I do is move between my home, the office and a hotel, and I'm always in front of my laptop, tapping away at the keys quite furiously.

I suppose my life is quite simple, if we imagine that my fixation is the screen and the keyboard, but the screen time is a red herring - it's a window to an unimaginably gigantic and complex world of thousands of interactions with people all around the globe.

The context-switching is pretty hard though. I've struggled to stay on top of everything during the last couple of days.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Burning Bridges

11 min read

This is a story about wearing a mask...

Cambridge bridges

A long time ago I used to be very careful about what I shared on social media. On Facebook I separated my work colleagues and other business contacts from my close friends, and I thoroughly considered my audience before I posted anything; I spent a great deal of effort managing my public image and attempting to pretend I was a squeaky-clean pristine perfect professional who didn't have any problems in my personal life.

At some point during my acrimonious divorce and the total collapse of my mental health, along with the destruction of my hopes and dreams of escaping the rat race and being my own boss, my depression became so bad that I purchased 2 grams of potassium cyanide. I'm not sure what possessed me - perhaps it was a cry for help - but I decided to put a photo of this deadly poison onto Facebook. The reaction surprised me: one friend was angry and accused me of jeopardising the life of his child [which I didn't] and another made a darkly humorous joke. Most people seemed to just ignore me.

My mental health has caused me an increasing amount of difficulties, resulting in hospitalisations. Initially, I was extremely careful about what I told colleagues. I tried - as much as possible - to cover up and hide my struggles in the hope that I would quickly get better and my image would be untarnished. I lost a couple of jobs and an entire profitable business during episodes of poor mental health, but my reputation seemed to somehow be fully intact despite my faltering ability to work.

At some point, I decided to put more and more of my dirty laundry onto Facebook. I think that the stress and strain of the divorce - having to sell my house in particular - completely destroyed any remaining hope and optimism that I would be able to recover, so I ceased to believe that it was prudent to safeguard my reputation. I jettisoned any caution about who was reading the gory details of my life's implosion and instead preferred to desperately reach out via social media, hoping to receive messages of support and to alert my friends to the danger I was in.

As I became increasingly unwell and addiction turned my life into unmanageable destructive chaos, I continued to overshare without any regard for the reputational damage I was doing to myself. I wrote things which must have broadcast my very darkest and most regrettable moments of struggle to former work colleagues and business acquaintances, completely tarnishing my own reputation.

To have fallen from grace is bad, but to tell the world that you've ended up in a complete mess is quite something else. I'm not sure if I just didn't care, or whether I was so sick that I didn't know what on earth I was doing, but I used Facebook to loudly proclaim the fact that I'd become an unemployable, useless, unreliable, messed-up waste of space. Surely I have left friends, former work colleagues and other people who used to like and respect me, in absolutely no doubt that I was a no-hope loser?

Meanwhile, I managed to keep working and completing projects successfully, and I kept my CV and LinkedIn free from any clues about my mental health problems and drug addiction. My career didn't skip a beat and my skills continued to be highly in demand. I seemingly suffered no negative consequences for all of my loose-lipped moments on social media. It seemed as if I was unable to completely burn every bridge and destroy my own reputation sufficiently to make myself unemployable.

Sharing on Facebook highly alarming stuff about suicidal thoughts, self harm, drug abuse, prescription medication dependency, poly-substance use, breakups, mental breakdowns and the bat-s**t insane ravings of a total madman, seemed to make little or no difference to my day-to-day existence. The response was muted, where my friends and former work colleagues really didn't know what to say, leaving a kind of awkward silence which clearly indicated that people were cringing with embarrassment on my behalf. On the other hand, I was not shamed into silence at all. The madness was so all-consuming that I couldn't even remember what I had shared on Facebook. I had no idea what I was doing.

I suppose that everything I put on Facebook was done in brief moments of extreme insanity. I was still generally cautious about sharing the candid and honest truth about things which portrayed me in a very unflattering light. Nobody wants to be thought of as a junkie, because everybody thinks that junkies are thieving scumbag liars. Mental health elicits some sympathy, so long as it's the milder kind. Nobody wants to be thought of as completely insane, because everybody thinks that madmen are deranged murderous unpredictable lunatics.

I suppose I had attempted to tell my Facebook friends that I was unwell with as much subtlety as I could manage, and I had tried to brush some of the unflattering facts under the carpet, such as my problems with addiction.

I suppose I always wanted people to know that mental illness and a horrible relationship were things that I had been dealing with alone for a long time, and that addiction only crept into my life much more recently. I suppose I felt that I could quietly deal with the addiction issues and nobody needed to know about it; I would just pretend it never happened.

When I started this blog, it was an opportunity to re-assert the 30-odd years of my life where I had achieved a hell of a lot. I wanted people to remember all the projects I successfully delivered and all of the places where I'd worked and made a big difference to the organisations and the teams I was part of. I wanted people to remember that I'd built profitable businesses. I wanted people to remember that I'd played a positive role in their lives; that I'd been a good person; that I had value. I wanted to remind everybody that for the vast majority of my life I'd been making a valuable contribution; that for most of my life I'd been an OK person who'd tried very hard to do good things.

I had imagined that my recovery would progress in a linear way, from bad to good, and every day would be an improvement on the day before. I imagined that I would be able to write a straightforward story about the struggles I'd left behind in the past and the increasing number of positive things that were happening in my life. I had imagined writing a fairy-tale rags to riches story, as I started my blog homeless and bankrupt, and finished the story rich and successful.

It soon became apparent that the journey was going to be a lot tougher than I had hoped it would be.

Every huge gain I've made has quickly been met by a major setback. When I managed to rent an amazing apartment in London, I then lost my job. When I managed to get a lucrative contract, I was then hospitalised with kidney failure. When it seemed like I was getting the perfect combination of friends, girlfriend, job, money, home and hobby, everything fell to pieces. If we look at the whole 3-year writing project, it perfectly captures the vicious swings between high and low which you'd expect of somebody with bipolar disorder, especially when exacerbated by money problems, insecure housing and patches of addiction problems.

After only 4 months of sharing the sanitised version of my life history, where I portrayed myself in the very best possible light, it became clear that I was going to have to write about the bad stuff too if I was going to carry on for a whole year, which was my initial plan. I wanted to write every day for a whole year, to prove to myself that I could be consistent and achieve something very difficult, despite my challenging circumstances. I hoped that the regularity and having a goal to focus on would help to stabilise my life.

Writing my blog has certainly given me a rock to cling to while I've weathered the storm. Writing my blog has certainly helped me to regain some stability in my life, as well as being a source of pride in the achievement.

At some point, it became habitual to be 100% unflinchingly honest, and not to care about what people think.

I'm aware that I've probably prejudiced my employability with a handful of former work colleagues who are also Facebook friends. I'm aware that my reputation is probably damaged beyond repair, if I wanted to try to enter an arena where reputation is more important than skills and experience. In the world of work which I inhabit, people only care about whether I can do the job, and not at all about the skeletons in my closet, so I've suffered no setbacks in my career. However, it does upset me that I've tarnished my image in some of the gossipy organisations where I used to be very well liked and respected. It upsets me that friends who are former colleagues and business acquaintances, who I like and respect, have been left in no doubt that I've been through some very tough and turbulent times in my personal life. Perhaps my opportunities in life have been more damaged than I'm aware of, because I've created doubts in people's minds about my reputation and reliability.

I continue to write using my real name and am slowly advancing towards page one of a Google search, which seems ludicrously stupid, but so far it's caused me very few problems in my career.

I don't think I could live without the regularity and stabilising influence that writing and publishing so publicly has given me. I don't think it would be healthy for me to lose the public oversight, and lose the huge amount of support that is available to me from the online community. I can't imagine going back to a life where I had to hide my struggles and rely on private communications to keep concerned people informed about what's happening to me. It's far too much effort to have to concern myself with image and reputation management when I've been fighting for my life.

There's no turning back now anyway. The genie is out of the bottle. All my friends, former work colleagues and business acquaintances have been left with absolutely no doubt that my mental health problems have caused me a great deal of difficulties, and extremely unpalatable and unflattering things have happened in my life, such as periods of addiction. I have no doubt that my reputation is in tatters in the eyes of anybody I'm Facebook friends with. I must be a laughing stock.

Amusingly, I've been able to deliver projects and impress work colleagues, surrounded by people who are completely oblivious to my personal life struggles and the bad things that have happened in the past. Because my Facebook, Twitter and blog are a world apart from my CV, LinkedIn and references, the two worlds have not collided and I'm able to go to work and do a good job without prejudice or stigma. I suppose it's reckless to risk my identities being connected by anybody who could be bothered to put my name into a search engine, but so far I've not burnt any bridges in the 'new' chapter of my career, since I re-stabilised myself, ironically by using my blog.

I think that's what I'd tell anybody who stumbled on my open secret and had reservations about my public identity: that it's a necessary coping mechanism and it's the reason why I've been able to act completely normal in the office, and to be a productive valuable member of the teams and organisations I work for.

Of course I sometimes worry that I'm taking too much of a risk by continuing to use my real name and writing without concern for the level of public exposure that I live with, but frankly most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to really give much of a s**t.

Sure, if stuff goes wrong I'm dangerously exposed. If I have a wobbly moment then I'm hugely at risk of some unpalatable truths about me from becoming more widespread knowledge. I think the risks are acceptable though. So far, I'm glad that I've laid myself wide open like this.

Some bridges have been burnt, but I'm glad I've set the record straight and I'm glad that there's so much written down here that even the nosiest person is going to quickly become exhausted if they go digging for dirt.

 

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One Year in Pictures - a Photo Story

7 min read

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

London sunset

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

Self storage

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

Packed suitcase

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

Manchester apartment block

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

Ironing board

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

Tramadol capsules

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

Psych ward

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

Nettles

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

Warsaw snow

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

Busy underground

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

Train cancelled

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

Garage

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

Apartment keys

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

Cod and chips

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

Baked beans

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

Holiday

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

Leaving gift

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

Time to talk

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

Pint in the pub

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

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

 

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On The Road Again

4 min read

This is a story about a nomadic lifestyle...

Packed bags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We'll see what happens.

 

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My Food Diary for the Last Week

8 min read

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

Octopus

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

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

Sunday

  1. Tin of Heinz beans & sausages

Monday

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

Tuesday

  1. Nothing

Wednesday

  1. Nothing

Thursday

  1. 4x slices of toast with marmite on

Friday

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

Saturday

  1. Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

I think my health would benefit from:

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

Specifically my mental health would benefit from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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CIP

4 min read

This is a story about preferential treatment...

European sockets

If you Google Translate "Very Important Person" (VIP) into Portuguese, you get "Pessoa Muito Importante" (PMI). It seems like the Portuguese prefer the acronym CIP, but I can't find a definition of what that stands for.

Anyway, as well as getting to spend a couple of days with my friend, I also get to be his guest in the airport lounge reserved for frequent fliers. The big advantage of this is a comfy seat near a power socket, where I can do a bit of work, write this blog post, and otherwise kill time until my flight starts boarding, which won't be for a few hours.

Most of the conversation with my friend during Saturday, Sunday and today, has revolved around middle-class guilt and social conscience. Is it right, for example, that the most wealthy are able to hide their money in Swiss bank accounts and offshore, to shield it from taxation? As a proportion of a person's income or net worth, it's the poor who shoulder the biggest burden in taxes, fees and other things - such as exorbitant interest rates on loans - which prejudice the opportunities of the most disadvantaged members of society, to escape from poverty.

A friend who's a chartered accountant has decided to become an independent consultant, like me. We discussed the tax efficiency of owning and operating our own companies versus paying full income tax and National Insurance on our gross income. Surprisingly, we pay slightly more tax than those who are PAYE (Pay As You Earn) and have their taxes deducted at source by their employers.

Also surprising is the laudable decision of some of my friends who have been lucky enough to become wealthy, to not hide their wealth offshore or in Swiss bank accounts - they're paying their fair share and playing by society's rules; they're giving back to the economies which they profited from. You might say that "laudable" is the wrong word, but there is a considerable burden involved in the administration of complex tax affairs, and the bureaucracy of ensuring that governments receive all the taxes which they are due. Often times, it would be far easier to avoid taxes than to pay them, because there's a whole industry which profits from providing simple and convenient services to the wealthy.

Are we being philanthropic; altruistic? No, of course not. The thing that's driving our behaviour is guilt. We feel guilty that we have been lucky when others have not been. Paying taxes doesn't absolve a person of that guilt, but deliberately avoiding taxes is something extra that the lucky ones should feel guilty about.

What about giving money to charity? Does that absolve a person of the guilt they feel about their fortune in life?

The problem is that a clean conscience can be bought very cheaply. A seemingly large charitable donation might actually be only a tiny fraction of a person's net wealth; a bit of 'disposable' income that wouldn't be missed at all. Even more perversely, tax rules can make a rich person's donation of "pocket change" look like a significant act of philanthropy, while a poor person's unavoidable tax burden is by the far the greater contribution, and yet not recognised as such.

Then, there's the protective bubble problem. If you work on a secure campus or private estate and live in a gated community, you're largely insulated from seeing poverty, homelessness and disproportionately protected from becoming a victim of crime. In fact, just living in a wealthy country, you're insulated from the global wealth disparity created by the subsidies, import tariffs and other economic weapons which are employed to keep the rich rich, and the poor poor.

After 3 days of chatting, my friend and I arrived at the conclusion that we'd have to go through 3 generations of misery to reach a state of global equality and social justice. When I say "we" I mean mostly the wealthiest 2% of people on the planet, which my friend is convinced we can count ourselves amongst; he and I.

How can I disagree with him that I enjoy a life of wealth and privilege which 98% do not, when I'm sitting in a leather chair typing these words on one of my 5 laptops, enjoying free electricity, free food & drink as well as having the leisure time to craft this valueless contribution to the internet's quadrillions of webpages.

It's OK though: I'm a CIP. I deserve preferential treatment.

 

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Trashing Tech

3 min read

This is a story about sabotage...

Macbook damage

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

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

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

What is it about me and damaging expensive technology?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What's Missing from this Picture?

4 min read

This is a story about unnecessary packaging...

Holiday essentials

I've had a stressful morning. I had to package my Macbook carefully so that it could be safely sent away to be repaired. I had to locate the original packaging for my Virgin broadband router and box it up so it could be sent back to them, even though it's defective junk. I then had to find a UPS parcel drop-off point and a Collect+ drop off point to drop off the respective parcels. This required a trip to purchase bubble wrap, a suitable sized box and packing tape, as well as two more trips to two different drop-off places.

While I was out dealing with those chores, I also had to purchase a piece of carry-on luggage and some flip-flops. The flip flops were sold to me in a box. I don't know why flip flops need a box - just a simple cardboard clip to keep the left and the right flip-flop together is more than sufficient.

Anyway, I'm home now. I have located my passport. I have located some leftover Euros I had from the last holiday I took... 22 months ago. I opened the box containing my new flip-flops and lo and behold, there was a discrepancy in the number of flip flops present in the box - 50% of the required number of flip-flops were missing.

Do I drive back into town, park my car, walk to the shop and explain the situation in the hope that they admit their mistake and remedy it without quibble? Do I just purchase a second pair of flip-flops and then open and check inside the box before i leave the store? Do I just abandon the whole ill-fated exercise, and buy a pair at the tiny departure airport, where the shops will probably be closed? Do I take time out from the one single whole day I get to spend with my friend, without either of us having to worry about airport arrivals/departures, hotel check ins/out and all the rest of that crap, just to go looking for some suitable summer footwear?

I don't know why this is making me upset, because I don't even know if the nerve damage to my left foot/ankle is so bad that I can even wear a flip-flop on that foot. The last time I tried, I didn't have enough sensation and motor control to keep a flip-flop on my foot.

Also, my flight's delayed - French air traffic controllers on strike or something. My flight barely enters French airspace, but whatever... everyone should have the right to go on strike for better pay and conditions.

My 'holiday' is really just a day spent with a friend who I hardly ever get to see, then we both fly home on Monday. I have another week to go before my current gig comes to an end, so I need to make sure I take the money while it's there on offer.

"Have you got any holidays planned?" asked a person I spoke to on Friday, which is code for "we want you to work solidly until you drop dead". We'll have to see how badly they want me, because I really need a holiday - a proper holiday.

It seems churlish to complain, but I've had a month of hell. Breakup, losing my local job, getting sick, holiday plans pretty much cancelled, the stress of finding a new gig, the prospect of going back to London, the never-ending pressure to generate vast sums of cash to dig myself out of the hole... the hole I can never quite escape from. FML.

What was supposed to be a romantic beach holiday with my [ex]girlfriend has now turned into a very brief weekend meetup of two old friends. It'd have been far easier for us to meet in London, as he was there yesterday. He's travelled London -> Prague -> Lisbon -> Faro -> Lisbon -> Prague, and I'm travelling Wales -> Bristol -> Faro -> Bristol -> Wales. Our carbon footprint is criminal.

Hopefully I'll be in a better mood when I wake up in Faro tomorrow and I can hang out with my old friend for the whole day, free from commitments and responsibilities... I can put up with sweaty feet.

 

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Drop Out

6 min read

This is a story about life falling apart...

Pile of stuff

I've started to put my life back in good order, but I still have to get well enough to go back into the office sometime soon. I look like a tramp at the moment. A very tired tramp.

My bedroom carpet has been deep cleaned. The walls really need a wipe down and there's a bit of decorating touching-up to do. Considering I barricaded myself in there for days in very unsanitary conditions, it's not too bad. I need to buy a new bed, but I hated the old creaky one anyway. It's alright, but has a very ugly repair to one of the bars, which I decided I needed for my barricade, so I bent it in half until it broke.

As you can see, my temporary window coverings have been taken down. The low-tack masking tape I used hasn't left any marks or pulled off any paint. However, in the very worst case scenario, I could replace the underlay and carpet, replaster and repaint all the walls, and re-do all the caulking, which'd cost me about £1,000, plus the cost of replacing the bed. Frankly, if I stay for a couple of years and do a bit of touching up with roughly colour matched paint, nobody'll really notice - there's a huge patch where the paint is a whole shade darker, because I moved the wardrobe out of my bedroom and into my dressing room.

As for me, I'm exhausted. I had to get up and tidy my bedroom before the carpet cleaner arrived at 10am. I slept on the sofa. I probably didn't fall asleep until about 3am, even though I had sleeping pills and tranquillisers.

I have a mountain of towels and bedding to wash. The bathroom needs a good clean.

I need to re-stack up all that crap that's on my bed behind my second, superfluous, bedroom door. Perhaps I could get things a bit more organised while I'm at it, but I'm too tired.

During all this craziness, there's been a Royal wedding and apparently there's a big local music thing that all the locals are going on about, like it's not just some random concert. So many people have told me that "the place will be gridlock". London can put on a marathon all round the centre of a city of 10 million people. I think the Billy Ray Cyrus cover act playing "Achy Breaky Heart" headlining Wales' "Big Weekend" isn't going to cause too much of a problem for a city which is about 1-2% as big as London.

So, I've dropped out at the moment. I'm not going to the office. I'm not seeing anybody. I'm not leaving the house. I'm not leaving my apartment. Sometimes, I'm not even leaving the same room for days.

Problem is, in London you can pretty much shove your thumb up the Queen's arse and get away with a slapped wrist, but here it's a proper community and people stick together. You can't misbehave without getting in serious trouble. People gossip. Messages and emails get forwarded again and again and again. Faces get remembered. You bump into people you know.

If all else fails, try Wales, but I still need to be careful not to shit on my own doorstep cos what I got away with in London FOR YEARS just will not fly round here. I wanted a clean break, a fresh start, but I've already fallen out with a GP who was partially responsible for a young man's suicide, and a girlfriend who seemed to think the worst of me, despite evidence to the contrary. I've been accused of writing stuff on my blog about people and their families and generally sharing private stuff. Bullshit.

I need to act a bit differently now I live in this tiny city, so that I don't fall out with any more friends and break up with any more girlfriends, but you know EXACTLY who I am and EXACTLY what I think, without naming names or sharing private things... of my friends. If you're not my friend, you're fair game, except I'm not nasty and vindictive.

I'm feeling a bit sad that I've only got 2 non-work friends in the city, and that a great opportunity to socialise is currently a bit difficult because I don't want people from work seeing me when I'm looking so unhealthy.

I went on a site to find drinking buddies, and meetup.com. Jesus, that's depressing. My ex-girlfriend was always worried that I was "downdating" because the pool of available hotties in this tiny town is nothing like London, where Tinder brings an endless stream of stunning intelligent and cultured women.

If the work dries up here and I fail to find a social group I like, I think I could end up going back to London, now that I have the money to do it in style. Being able to drive to work is brilliant, but I'm so worried that I'm not going to find friends and a girlfriend who have similar values, goals and ambitions.

You know what I really miss? My cat and my girlfriend's cats.

It's amazing how quickly I went from viewing a yacht, drinking in the sun at a food festival, having a picnic in the sunshine, and finally getting a bit of a tan... to losing my girlfriend, risking my job, wrecking my bedroom, losing my mind.

I think I just want to drop out completely. I'll empty my bank accounts to pay back my guardian angel, and the taxman and the banks can go fuck themselves. I'll leave the country and go live and work somewhere you don't have some god-awful experience every time you just want to get a bit of money or a place to live, somewhere laid back. It's stressing me out too much, the pressure of staying in the rat race and keeping squeaky clean - one black mark and you're f**ked.

My ex-flatmate who owes me about £6,000 in unpaid rent and bills, also owes thousands to basically anybody who would give him any kind of credit agreement. The red bills - final demands - and debt collectors started appearing soon after I threw him out (I gave him SO MANY chances, but he kept lying and the debt kept getting bigger). Now, if his Instagram is to be believed, he's living the high life, so maybe there's a lot to be said for being a thoroughly disreputable and immoral piece of shit.

Personally, I've contributed the best part of a million quid to the economy, and I've worked my arse off to never default on a debt and always honour my commitments. Maybe that's where I'm going wrong. I need to just be a flakey drop-out. I think it'd be more fun. It'd certainly be a lot less stressful.

 

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What Would Ben Do?

10 min read

This is a story about role models...

School photo

Many people might ask themselves "what would my mother think?" before saying or doing something stupid. My druggie loser parents - who I'm now estranged from - were not inspiring role models for me growing up. Instead, I can pinpoint the things which have given me everything good in my adult life, and I attribute those things to three friends' families, and one family in particular.

The seed of my initial interest in computers was sown by my friends Joe and Ben, whose father had an Apple Mac and whose mother was a systems analyst. Without that introduction to the pure joy of using a computer with a graphical interface and a mouse, I would not have become hooked.

With my neighbour, Julian, we used to use his dad's Apple Mac, which maintained my interest in computers and allowed me to see their practical applications beyond computer games. Julian's dad was a heart surgeon, and we played around with a heart surgery simulation game. Julian's dad also showed us a piece of software he'd developed to diagnose angina based on a set of questions the patients answered.

Then, Ben - a different Ben - taught me how to program a computer. Ben and his mum ran a computer club one evening a week at a place which compiled Oxford's most well-known "what's on" guide. Ben's dad took a group of us to the E3 computer games exhibition. Also, Ben's family encouraged creativity beyond the screen - the children were encouraged to be artistic and musical in a way that was fun, as opposed to simply an academic exercise in the interests of appearing to be a more well-rounded person when attending university interviews. Ben's dad took a bunch of us not-so-athletic geeks to play a game of basketball once.

Because I got moved around so much as a kid, I only got to spend 3 years with Ben - the second Ben - during childhood. I went back to Oxford for a visit as soon as I got a car that was reliable enough to complete the journey, but then the visits became more and more infrequent. I've only seen Ben 4 times in my adult life.

So, you'd think that it'd be pretty weird to have somebody I've seen so infrequently as a kind of role model, but that's what's happened.

My childhood had 8 different schools and 6 house moves. If I was taught anything during childhood by my parents, it was that I shouldn't get attached to my friends, my school, my room... anything. I was taught not to get attached, because the rug would keep getting pulled out from beneath my feet.

The beauty of the internet is that your friends are your friends, wherever they are in the world. I've worked for 15 different organisations all over the UK and abroad, and I've moved around an unimaginable amount - I've been quite nomadic. The only friends I've managed to hang onto are those who have an online presence, because - as I've learned the hard and painful way - when you're out of sight you're out of mind.

Ben was an early adopter of everything online, which inspired me to get into similar things. While he was building websites and a classified ads system for the aforementioned Oxford "what's on?" company, I found a similar local company and started building similar stuff. Through the internet, I always stayed roughly abreast of what Ben was doing.

A common childhood friend of ours crossed my path in Winchester, and tragically I was probably the last person in our friendship group to see him alive. Through the internet I was aware of the funeral, but it felt strange, being this lurker... this outsider. My friends had done their GCSEs, their A-levels and then had all gone off to their various universities, but I'd missed out on that - I'd been taken away from all that, as had so often happened, by my druggie loser parents.

When I did a tech startup and I was lost without a co-founder I asked Ben for advice and invited him to join me on the venture. Ben was going to be a mentor on the Springboard technology accelerator program in Cambridge, and he suggested that I apply, which I did. Ben had to go back to California to be with his family, so he didn't end up being a mentor on the program, but it often makes me think about whether I'm a bad son, because I feel like my parents can rot in hell when they get sick. I feel like I'd be there for my mum if she was on her own, but I can't deal with my parents - I had enough of dealing with them on my own from age 0 to 10; I'm too bitter about them ruining my childhood.

I think a lot about how angry and bitter I've been with my writing. I think about how Ben would never write stuff like I do; Ben would never say or do anything regrettable.

I think about how I became a complete sociopathic psycho towards my lovely co-founder, while I was on the Springboard program in Cambridge. I made my co-founder cry in front of a Google exec. Perhaps, in some ironic twist of fate, I could've made my co-founder cry in front of Ben. Ben would never make his co-founder cry. Who am I? What have I become? I feel terribly ashamed about the way I spoke to and treated my co-founder.

I read stuff that Ben writes and I get inspired. This whole blog is inspired by the fact that Ben founded the platform on which I write this - it's another one of his startups. I read Ben's blog and it often inspires me to write my own opinions on similar topics. It's a bit weird, but it's mostly harmless.

Then, there's the bitterness, resentment and pent-up anger that seems to come out of nowhere. Some really vicious, mean, angry stuff pours out of me and onto the page. Ben would never write like I do. Ben would never get mad and say really horrible things. Ben just wouldn't rip into people like I do.

I think about all the tirades I've launched on my useless druggie loser parents, and I think that I must be a big disappointment to Ben.

I hate that I disappoint Ben.

I hate that I'm letting him down.

I hate that I'm this person.

I hate that I act like this and that I say this stuff.

I wrote loads of stuff and some of it was OK. I was super pleased that I was writing regularly. I was happy to have a creative outlet and I was proud of my blog. Then, out came a lot of stuff about my mental health, addiction, recovery, detox, rehab. The stuff I was writing was OKish but I was on dodgy ground. I was ashamed to admit that stuff in case Ben read it. I didn't want to admit my failures and shortcomings.

The most recent time I saw Ben I was really unwell, but my girlfriend encouraged me to go and see him while he was in London. It was a rare opportunity to catch up. Even though I was feeling terrible, my lovely girlfriend managed to get me to go and meet up as planned. She met Ben.

But, I got more and more sick. I started being a dick on Facebook. I broke up with my amazing lovely girlfriend, and I wasn't very nice about it. In fact, I was a total dick. I was awful. I was the worst. All my friends surely must have seen what a terrible person I am, including - of course - Ben.

I started dating another girl. Then I left London and went to Manchester, stopped seeing the other girl and got another girlfriend.

Things went badly wrong in Manchester.

On Twitter I wrote "I'm sorry, my far flung friends" after I believed I was beyond the point of saving - I had ingested a massive overdose and was about to lose consciousness. Ben responded right away. I replied. I thought it was probably the last thing I'd ever do: responding to a tweet from Ben.

What have I done since then?

I feel like I've made a fool of myself. I feel like I've failed to capitalise on the opportunity to do some good. I feel like I haven't turned my good fortune - not dying - into something more meaningful. What have I done with my blog and my Twitter followers? What have I managed to do which Ben might think is a useful contribution to humanity?

I've continued to write so many things which are quite cringeworthy. I've continued to grind my axe. I've continued to act in a way that makes me think that Ben must be quite certain that I'm an unpleasant, vicious, mean, nasty, horrible piece of work. I feel like I've disappointed my role model; disappointed the person who I idolise and look up to.

I've very much lost my way. I want to have a positive role model and to act in more positive ways, but I've gone wrong somewhere, or maybe I'm a totally shitty person.

It's weird to idolise a friend from childhood, who I've hardly seen; hardly know, frankly, except what can be gleaned from his creative output on the web.

Like Ben, I've written a novel during National Novel Writing Month, and I've poured my heart and soul into my blog and my Twitter account; my online community. I've attempted to emulate his online achievements, but yet I've somehow failed, because of my lack of dignity and my sheer nastiness... I've made a fool of myself and I'm a disappointment; an embarrassment.

This is, quite possibly, one of the most cringey and weird things I've ever written, but it's my wont to write whatever's on my mind without filter, and this is what's been brewing for a few days now.

I'm sorry Ben, but I think you can take it given the fact you're a public figure who's lived your life online as much as I have, writing under your own name rather than a pseudonym. Only our closest childhood friends would have any idea who I'm talking about. I hope you don't feel that this brings you any shame, in being connected with a shoddy person like me.

The other thing to address is the pressure of knowing that somebody idolises you. It's a bit weird and creepy to know that somebody reads your stuff and also credits so many of their positive life decisions as having been inspired by you. All I can say to that is: my income as a computer programmer has given me every opportunity I ever wished for, and the inspiration to do creative writing has saved my life. Living an online life as an active contributor to various social networks has given me an identity I'm proud of and has brought me numerous lifelong friendships which I treasure dearly. In short, you did a good thing, even if I take some of those gifts and abuse them sometimes... sorry about that; not your fault.

What would Ben do? Probably not write some bizarre stream-of-consciousness thing like this, but I'm glad he's there as an inspiration in my life to be a better person.

 

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Going Underground

5 min read

This is a story about national security...

Flush broken

"I've decided to take my work back underground, to stop it falling into the wrong hands". I suppose any of our creations can take on a life of their own and have unintended consequences, and I'm certainly catching some flack as a result of my 3-year daily writing experiment at the moment, which is not entirely unjustified.

My daily writing habit is a useful exercise for me, so I'm sure I'll continue to write in some capacity, but I'm almost at the point where my blog has given me the therapeutic benefit of restoring me to stability, health, wealth and prosperity, and I have to tread carefully so that I don't undo any of the good work.

I started writing when I had my back to the wall. I started writing when I didn't feel like I had anything particularly to fall back on. I started writing when I didn't feel proud that I'd achieved anything - my life was incredibly fragile. Nobody could argue that this blog hasn't anchored me in the world, bringing me into contact with many lovely people and providing me with a creative outlet, a sense of accomplishment and some routine in my otherwise chaotic and stressful life.

I doubt very much that I'll be able to change my habits completely, but I do need to adapt to my present paradigm - I can't keep writing as if I've got nothing to lose, because it's not true at the moment.

Perhaps I'll have to start keeping a private journal, because I've been using writing as a mechanism to flush out all the bad and stressful thoughts that have threatened to overwhelm me, but a large part of my present worries revolve around imposter syndrome. I make no secret of anything, but I'd still prefer it if my colleagues and other important gatekeepers in my life didn't read what I write - with my defences down - and leap to the wrong conclusions. It's been hard enough to date girls when I'm so easily cyber-stalked.

Given the choice between a digital identity, or a healthy set of local relationships, I would have to choose the latter if I was forced, although having the former is very useful as a fallback option. Three times I've lost a lot of friends due to a break-up, with one of those times very nearly costing me my life, and the other two not exactly faring much better either. I've not been very successful at building robust local social networks in the last few years. I need a group of friends I see and speak to regularly, that wouldn't be affected by any breakups. I need that safety net. In the absence of the time, money, energy, transport and a number of other things, I've not progressed things very far yet, so I'm very grateful for my online social network and I always will be, but I do need healthy local face-to-face relationships too.

Getting a girlfriend can be a quick-fix when you're lonely, as it's so easy to be the +1 and tag along to all of her social events, and ingratiate yourself into her social circle, but it's a dangerous strategy. It's too much of a dependency on one person. It's a mistake. Thankfully, I have valuable and important local friendships that predate any of my dating shenanigans. I need to continue to make friends of my own, and establish a pattern of social engagements which are not couples-only events.

Work colleagues and a great team environment can make a huge difference, and sadly that's been lacking in my life recently. Hopefully that's going to be rectified really soon. There's a slight danger in mixing personal life with work too much, when you're in the position I'm in, where I'm trying to get myself back into the respectable world - some of the recent events in my turbulent life are not office-gossip friendly. I've not got anything to hide, particularly, but I'd rather not challenge anybody to be open minded, if it's at all avoidable.

I'm treading a fine line between trying to do what I have to for my own sanity and stability, balanced with the needs of those who I have relationships with and my responsibilities regarding confidentiality, secrecy, discretion, professional conduct, respect of privacy, not causing shock, alarm or distress. It's a fine line between keeping my support network informed of what's going on during a time when I'm very vulnerable, and saying things that're going to paradoxically make me more vulnerable. It's one thing to confide in friends behind closed doors, and quite another to write publicly on a website.

Me being me, I doubt I'll be able to make a sudden overnight change, and I don't want to lose this valuable therapeutic tool, but I do need to start changing my behaviour in light of my new circumstances.

I doubt I'm going to be writing about what I ate for breakfast and live-blogging about the fresh paint that's drying on the walls, but things might have to turn a little more pedestrian for a while... at least until things are more settled.

Presently stressed out of my mind with the transition from one life to another, but hopefully everything will work out and go smoothly.

 

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Stubbornly Refusing to be Cured

12 min read

This is a story about being bloody minded...

Hospital wristband

I've been subjected to the most bizarre accusation: That I can "get better" anytime I want; that I enjoy being depressed or somehow need to have a mental illness because it's part of my identity; that I want to be unwell. Part of the accusation hinges on my Twitter following - I'm accused of being two-faced: Writing blog posts and tweets which don't somehow manage to convey that sometimes I'm not suicidal.

I'm a bit confused to be honest. I don't think I could be any more authentic. I don't think it would be possible for me to be any more candid and open. My blog isn't supposed to be a diary, accurately recording the day's events. My blog is therapy for me - I write about the things that are upsetting me the most; the things that are causing the most pain and anguish.

Perhaps I'm being given credit where no credit is due. Perhaps I'm perceived as intelligent enough to be able to rationalise away my problems and force my moods to bend to my will. Perhaps the decisions I've taken out of desperation have been mistaken for choices. Perhaps my determination to stick with a plan which will boost my finances and continue to give me a lucrative career, is seen as deliberate self-sabotage: I'm purposefully making myself sick, in the eyes of my accuser.

I can see the positives and the negatives of different "choices" without assistance from somebody else to help me 'see'. I'm not so cognitively impaired that I need somebody to point out the bleedin' obvious to me. For everything that I moan about because it's making me ill, there are many benefits which make my choices worthwhile. My work, travel and living arrangements are not conducive to good mental health, but neither is poverty and hinderances that would make me less employable. The playing field is not level. I do not get to make unbiased choices - I've got to do what I've got to do, even if it's unpleasant.

I'm accused of being the problem. It's not the job, it's me. It's not the commute, it's me. It's not the lonely AirBnBs, it's me. Apparently, everything's all my own fault and I can choose to be healthy and happy any time I want, according to my accuser. Personally, I think that life's a lot easier when you've got money behind you and you've got a stable home life. Personally, I think that we are healthier and happier when we get the pieces of the puzzle in place: friends, family, a home, an income, financial security and something we're passionate about. Let's leave aside the blame game of how I ended up in the present situation. We can even assume that everything's all my fault if you want to, but that doesn't change the fact of the matter: I am where I am and I need to get back on my feet. Blame doesn't change my needs. Blame doesn't change my situation or my mood. To accuse me of fucking up my life AND deliberately keeping it fucked up is dumb. One of the big reasons why I'm suicidal is because I've tried so hard to fix the things that are broken, but it's been a miserable exhausting experience and my life's still pretty messed up. I really am trying very hard to get things sorted out. It's a lot easier said than done, I'm afraid. Sorry about that.

I think there's a lot of ego involved. People want to be helpful, but then they start thinking like they've understood me and I can be 'cured' with simple solutions. When the simple solutions to an oversimplification of my problems don't work, then the 'helpful' people get annoyed with me... like I'm deliberately messing up their useless suggestions. I seem to have really frustrated my accuser, that I'm so determined to be a real living person, with a real life, instead of some simple little thing that can easily be fixed. "Oh I'm so silly! How brilliant of you to point out the completely obvious solution to an easy-to-solve problem that I don't have! Thank you!" I'm expected to say all the time, on top of dealing with real life.

There aren't any quick fixes. Things take time and effort to get better, and it's exhausting. Things have to be done in the right sequence. Sometimes, it costs a lot of money to make changes. Sometimes we have to wait for the things we want and need, because we can't get them immediately. I can't - for example - switch jobs until I have a financial cushion to give me some runway to make the change. Every change I make brings with it a whole new set of problems, so I need to deal with things in a step-by-step way. There's a plan, even if somebody thinks that I can just teleport straight to the end goal. Sadly, life doesn't work like that - we have to suffer in the short and medium term, to achieve our long term objectives. You have to pay to play.

I'm not short of ideas for what to do when I have surplus time and money. I'm not short of ideas of what I'd do if I could do anything, because money's no object, but it's bullshit to suggest I'm able to just abandon my current source of income and go off and do something else. I can't be a student again. I can't be a poet or a dog walker or a sculptor or a circus clown. Life doesn't work like that. Even if I took a shitty McJob, I would still need to afford to travel to work every day for a month or so until I get paid. How do you think capitalist society even works? I'm making smart economic choices which are painful at the moment, but will give me the financial means to pursue something more rewarding and better for my health. I'm giving myself the working capital to be able to pick and choose my next options.

I might have spent some of today playing like a big kid and enjoying myself, but that doesn't mean that my mood can't be plunged dangerously low when reality bites: Monday morning will come around, along with the realisation that almost nothing in my life is quite where I want and need it to be. There's so much unpleasant hard work ahead, and so little reward in the short term, that it's quite understandable that I'd get worn down and decide to reject life altogether. What looks like a few short months of hard work to you, is somewhat of an insurmountable obstacle for me, because of the journey I've been on. I've fought my way back from nothing, and I'm still fighting, but yet it feels like I'm getting nowhere. Where's the reward for my effort? Why is life still so miserable, most of the time?

In the company of my friends, or going on a date with a girl - for example - life can briefly seem wonderful, but the bulk of my existence feels like packing and unpacking bags, moving from place to place, sitting at a desk and hating every second... unsettled and unpleasant. The dread of the rat race - the treadmill - is enough to cast a dark shadow over other times. When I should be enjoying the last few hours of my weekend, I'm already depressed about another week shackled to the job I do out of economic necessity. I make a fuss, but it's not over nothing and it's not me. I'd pick up dog shit if it paid as well as my current job... at least it would feel like I was making a real tangible difference to my local community, if I was doing something like that.

There are a whole raft of issues at play, including my desire to be free from medications. It might seem obvious that my depression could be 'cured' with pills, but it wouldn't be a cure - my depression is a reaction to my toxic circumstances. I don't want to become medication dependent, when I've worked so hard to wean myself off so many different pills. I'm quite close to being 100% substance free.

I want to plan a holiday. I want to buy a car. I want to dream, but dreams require money. The dreaming part is the easy bit. Life's a lot more complicated than it seems for a casual observer. It's easy to come up with a million "you should do..." ideas, but they're infeasible if you don't have the time, money, company, energy, motivation and a million other things that are the product of getting some building blocks in place: a home, a girlfriend, some friends, a tolerable job, some money in the bank, disposable income etc. etc.

There are myriad broken things in my life, and no quick fixes. If I haven't fixed something yet, it's not because I want it to be broken. I'm not choosing to be depressed. I don't want to be sick. I'm perfectly capable of imagining a life that would be healthier and happier, but it takes time, money and energy to make it happen.

Moaning on my blog is what I do for therapy. Moaning on my blog is what I do, because it's cheap and it helps me to limp along while I'm getting the cash together to be able to do whatever I want to do next. Moaning on my blog is not my identity - it's my outlet because there isn't any other healthy way to cope. I'm trapped by circumstances and there's no escape, except through the path I've "chosen". I do not choose to be depressed, miserable and suicidal.

I don't know why I'm accused of being the architect of my own depression, when I'm working so hard to fix my life. The accusations don't even make any sense - they just seem to be an egotistical version of "have you tried being more simple so that I can solve the problems that you don't have?" and "have you tried being me instead of you, because I think I'm great?".

I've exhaustively documented the challenges that I'm facing. It upsets me that somebody would want to oversimplify things, just because of their own ego and a desire that I should blame myself and generally feel like I'm lazy and stupid, despite the fact that I HAVE TO LIVE 24 HOURS A DAY WITH SUICIDAL DEPRESSION and I'm the one who does all the actual hard work fixing my life. Pointing out the blatantly obvious is not a hard thing to do. Leaping to incorrect conclusions is not a hard thing to do.

There is a prerequisite condition for having an opinion on "what's wrong with me" which is to have read what I've written. If you want to know what's wrong with me, I've exhaustively documented everything I'm going through right here. If you want to tell me what I should and shouldn't do with my life, it needs to take into account the reality of my day-to-day existence, which I have accurately explained the most challenging parts of on this blog. If you want to give me "you should..." type instructions, then they need to be grounded in reality or else I'm just going to ignore them. Please don't get upset when I ignore your unhelpful suggestions. Please don't accuse me of wanting to be miserable and depressed.

I've written more than I intended to. I'm wondering why I'm writing. What's the point? But, that's what this blog is. It's not an attempt to manipulate sympathy out of my audience. This is a living document that records my distress in unflinching detail. This is where I pour out all the stuff that's really upsetting me. Here's where I work things out that are going round and round in my head. This is therapy for me.

One other accusation that I've faced is that my blog is making me sick - my blog is causing me to get stuck, ruminating on things that I'd otherwise let go. I think that's bullshit. My blog is where I've been able to finally let go of things that have been upsetting me. It's taken a long time, and I've repeated myself A LOT but that doesn't mean it's not working. If you take a lazy glance, you might think that I always write about the same stuff and that I'm therefore stuck in a rut, but if you look at the full story, you must surely see that I've been through some pretty traumatic stuff and this blog has helped me to cope. Writing is my healthy coping mechanism. People don't often pull through the things I've been through, and go back to being healthy happy productive members of society. I give credit to this blog for allowing me to deal with things that would otherwise have caused me to lose my mind.

I could probably edit this down, or just delete it and rewrite it, but I'm going to publish it because I want the public scrutiny. I want to document what I'm going through. I want to capture a piece of my consciousness, without censorship.

Yes, I'm lashing out, but I don't deserve to be accused of not helping myself, when I'm working so hard.

 

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