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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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Sorry About Your Nose

2 min read

This is a story about social gaffes...

Birthday card

The world is a minefield. A misplaced foot - even in one's own mouth - could see you blown to smithereens. Safely and successfully navigating the maze of human relationships, to reach the prize of friendship, is a nigh-on impossible task for those who are prone to make innocent blunders, as I often am. It is my curse; my life's biggest hardship - that my best intentions are misconstrued and people are offended.

I am eager to impress and please the people who I meet. I do, after all, sit behind a computer screen for most of my life, and have limited opportunity for real face-to-face social interaction. Should it not be expected that I would stumble and err in the real-world environment that is almost alien to me? It sounds as though I am making excuses for my behaviour, which I am.

When we meet, I will judge you for your terrible fashion sense, the dregs of your regional accent, the uncouth behaviour that belies your lack of good breeding. "I shan't be inviting this prole to the polo club" I often think to myself, as I smile and make pleasant smalltalk with the hoi polloi, who stray across my path.

If - God forbid - you should invite me into your home, I will be making a mental inventory of everything I find to be in bad taste. I doubt a single drop of Farrow & Ball paint has touched your walls. If you don't have a picture rail AND a dado rail in every room, you might as well just bulldoze the whole house.

Apparently, some people are not as appreciative as they should be, when I offer to elevate them from the disgusting squalor and odious personal appearance that holds them back from entering high society. Even a turd can be polished, but yet some people are resistant and even hostile towards my well-meaning comments.

I often imagine that I may be beatified at some future point, for my services rendered to the tasteless individuals who I have selflessly tried to help. However, it often feels like a futile task which has made me few friends. I have even been struck from the Christmas card list of many of the individuals who I've tried to help.

The world is a strange and confusing place.

 

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Winning Friends & Influencing People

15 min read

This is a story about trying too hard...

Coke can

"You've got to meet my friend..." she enthuses. "Can [my friend] stay at your place on Saturday?" she asks, well in advance of the weekend. "You two were separated at birth - you share the same spirit animal" she tells me. The pressure to get along with this new person - talked about in reverential terms - is immense.

She's planning a meal out. At the restaurant, I'm told that I'm going to be sat specifically next to this over-hyped friend, because it's assumed that we are going to get along like a house on fire. That's an arson joke, but we'll get to that later.

Friday - the night of the meal - all my new friends-to-be had signed a card to welcome me into their lives. There was a helium balloon on the table, like at a 5-year-old's birthday party. Nobody ever went to such elaborate lengths to make me feel a sense of belonging; acceptance. I was almost moved to tears, but I had a job to do that night: to meet & greet and make a good first impression.

We were eating dinner - Brazilian barbecue meats - and my 'spirit animal' was sat in the corner of our booth, not eating. It was announced - against her wishes - that she had been on a 4-day drug binge, taking what is colloquially known as "meow meow". Unsurprisingly, an exclusive diet of powerful stimulant drugs does not give you an appetite for anything of nutritional value. Sitting in a restaurant is probably the last place on earth I'd ever want to be after a binge like that. I decided to temporarily park any "getting to know you" chit-chat with her until a time that my spirit animal was in a better place, physically & mentally.

After dinner, the group began to fracture. There were some who wanted to go to a packed noisy pub selling lousy overpriced drinks, and others who preferred to come back to my nearby apartment, where we could all have a comfortable seat on my big couches, and converse without having to shout - a bona fide middle-class thirty-something cliché: the house party.

One reason for the success of the house party is that it's a far better environment for the consumption of recreational drugs. I'm not foresworn from drug use, but to me, addiction is not a social activity. My general personality and attitude - no fear & everything to excess - had led me to drug overdoses of supercrack that put me in hospital with multiple organ failure. My drug taking was not recreational - it was abusive, reckless and akin to playing Russian roulette with a 6-bullet revolver loaded with 5 bullets.

If you have successfully made yourself a comfortable wealthy middle-class life, it's your mortgage repayments and other household bills that keep you awake all night, not powerful Class-A narcotics. To lose just one night of sleep and have the mentally destabilising effects of recreational drugs, has a profoundly negative effect on the week that follows. I never noticed that my weekend partying had a negative knock-on effect on me when I was young, but now my age has now become a factor.

One of my new friends - who's the same age as me - did the sensible thing and headed home at a reasonable hour. He had his sister's wedding on the Saturday and he appointed me as the responsible adult, in charge of putting the girl who was going to drive him to the wedding, into a cab, in time for her to then drive a gazillion miles across the country. "How are you going to stay awake and concentrate on the road after partying all night?" I asked her. "Amphetamines" was her answer. I can't fault her logic - if it works for fighter pilots, then why wouldn't it work for an ordinary car driver.

Fighter pilots have "go pills" and "no-go pills" which are taken respectively at the beginning and end of a mission. I offered to make her one of my special "no-go" preparations, so that she wasn't wired as hell at the wedding and clearly off her nut on speed, but she declined.

At the first ever party I've thrown in my new apartment, it was snowing. When the "good stuff" started to run out, Billy Whizz came out for a run. The white dusting on a makeup mirror started to become a hybrid mix of different substances. Molly came for a visit too.

Predictably, like any party that Charles is invited to, the whole room was talking over the top of each other and making boastful claims. For some reason, my reaction to this was to admit that I'm a grower not a show-er. This prompted one of the guys to claim that he was both a grower AND a show-er. Having been dared to get my dick out and show him I duly obliged in front of my guests. This guy then took me in the kitchen to prove one part of his aforementioned claim: he did have a substantially proportioned soft penis.

I then asked the room for their opinion on a classic ethical philosophical dilemma thought experiment, knowing that it would provoke lively and entertaining debate. Soon, this prompted a couple to leave the party, almost without saying goodbye because they were still arguing about the 'right' answer to a question that divides legal, moral and scientific opinion. "Bullseye" I thought to myself.

With Charles still having a strong influence on the room, oneupmanship raged out of control. We ended up comparing scars. While the girls were not exactly thrilled to show off any evidence of self-harm, me and the guy with the big [soft] dick debated who had the better scar from an operation. This segued into "who's spent more weeks in hospital?" as I steered the competition towards "who's the most insane?" knowing that I would easily be the undisputed champion.

At this point I was getting a bit bored with the war of words, so I just rolled up my sleeve and slashed 3 or 4 cuts into my arm with a kitchen knife. I then became immediately aware that I was so desperate to impress my new friends that I had just mutilated my body in a sudden act of self-harm.

With the theme returning to dares again, my 'spirit animal' dared me to suck my own penis. I explained that without an erection, it would be a difficult act to fulfil, but in the spirit of the dare, I asked if she would be content to see me lick my own foreskin. She confirmed that it would satisfy the conditions of the dare. Without hesitation, I dropped my trousers and got my soft penis as close to my mouth as I could, and then pulled my foreskin until I could touch it with my tongue - it was actually easier than I thought it would be. Obviously, there are not that many people - especially growers not show-ers - who would drop their trousers and suck their own dick for the amusement of their guests. This was a far more impressive feat of courage than cutting my arm with a kitchen knife.

After that, the number of crazy anecdotes that I could tell were stories that all revolved around a similar theme: being hospitalised or locked up in police cells. The stories that drug addicts tell are not that varied or interesting.

I decided to demonstrate my culinary skills in the kitchen. With an unspecified secret ingredient - some of the snow that was falling earlier in the evening - I gave a practical demonstration of a chemistry experiment. Namely the conversion of a salt to a "free base" where water, carbon dioxide and sodium chloride are isolated as 'useless' byproducts. This chemical reaction allows a salt with a high melting point - which would combust in the presence of a naked flame - to be altered into a crystal with a low melting point, allowing it to be vaporised without burning.

With sodium bicarbonate mixed with the mystery ingredient, in a spoon, a few droplets of water were added. The carbon dioxide fizzed away in a delightful effervescent chemical reaction. A few pinches of sodium bicarb later and we reached the point where the fizzing stopped. Then, I heated the spoon and boiled away the salty water, leaving only the "free base" crystals.

What would you do with this crystalline substance, one might ask?

Well, first, you need to take an empty beer or soda can and make an indentation at the opposite end from the bit you drink out of. Then, perforating the thin aluminium of the can with a pin, you can create an area where air may enter the can, when you to suck on the end you'd normally drink out of. Another option - if you can find such an object - is to take a hollow glass tube and put wire wool (Brillo pads work well for this) into one end.

Having allegedly made this concoction and strange contraption - which was all part of me showing off what a badass I am - I had allegedly demonstrated how to make crack cocaine and a pipe to smoke it. There couldn't have been a more "fuck you - I'm fucking hardcore" demonstration of how 'streetwise' I am, unless I'd whipped out some rubber tubing, a thin aluminium spoon, clean pins (hypodermic syringes), a small ball of cotton wool and proceeded to 'cook' a batch of heroin and prepare it for injection. I've never injected heroin by the way, although I did have fentanyl - which is 1,000 times more powerful - injected into me in hospital. Most people are afraid of needles and associate needle use with people whose drug addiction has led them to a completely dysfunctional life that consists of a miserable merry-go-round of theft/robbery/prostitution, 'fencing' stolen property, scoring herion and then getting high until there's no drugs left and there's only 4 hours until you get "junk sick" and have to repeat the whole exercise again.

Before I put the last of my party guests into a taxi - my friend who was driving to the wedding - at about 6:30am, three of us insufflated a few final lines of white powder, allegedly.

My spirit animal had a nice time until the drugs started to wear off, and then cognitive impairment, a drug-induced panic attack and akathisia (inability to stop twitching/tic'ing and/or jiggling of legs) left her in a rather sorry state where it was pretty clear that she was suffering from an unpleasant ordeal. I tried laughing at her. I tried telling her to stop being such a wuss, given the relatively 'mild' binge that she'd been on - just 4 or 5 sleepless nights, and relatively low doses of very impure drugs. In the end, I took pity on her and made her a little shot glass with things to cure her anxiety, replace lost dopamine and serotonin, and basically put her to sleep - there's no 'magic bullet' for insomnia and sleep deprivation, but sleeping pills damn well help. I threw all manner of things into my special 'comedown cure' that would ease her suffering. She was talking gibberish; she couldn't understand what I was saying, and I had to spend 20 minutes trying to maintain her concentration and eye contact for long enough that she could swallow what I'd prepared for her. Then, finally she fell asleep with a look of calm on her face. I don't mind babysitting the occasional person who's going through the consequences of 'self-inflicted' shit, but it would have been inhumane to let her suffer unnecessarily.

Saturday night, I made her another concoction that would prevent "the Sunday from Hell" where the consequences of an outrageous drug binge were brought into sharp focus by the need to start work again on Monday. "I want to order a pizza" she announced at about 11:30pm, having swallowed the curative remedy only 10 minutes earlier. "You have 10 minutes to get into bed, otherwise you're going to pass out on the floor" I warned her. My earlier good work had moved her out of binge mode and into a state where her appetite had returned, but 8 more hours of quality sleep was vital for both of us. The die was cast.

10 minutes later, I pulled her mobile phone out of her hand - the pizza company's number half-dialled - picked her up from the floor where she had collapsed in a most unladylike position, and carried her to bed. I was so tired that I could barely see straight to send a couple of texts before I passed out too.

After 9 hours sleep, we both awoke feeling pretty damn refreshed, considering the way we'd abused our bodies. I'd improved her average daily sleep time for the week, from 2.5 hours to 5.3 - more than 100% better. Ideally, we would all have perfect sleep hygiene and get 8 hours a night. I needed to end her drug binge, save her from many hours of unnecessary suffering and let her catch up on desperately needed sleep. I was giving her a fighting chance of not losing her job, thus spiralling even further downwards. This is about the best you can ever hope to do for an addict until they're ready to acknowledge that their addiction is rampaging out of control. Addiction always leads to complete & indiscriminate destruction of your entire life, health and will prematurely kill you.

I incurred the wrath of my 'spirit animal's' best friend for not condemning her addictive behaviour. Do I have the moral authority to lecture anyone on their lifestyle? I know better than anybody else I've ever met, how you can go from riches to rags. Supercrack was the paving stones of the road to Hell - hospitals, police cells, hostels and sleeping rough. I overcame my addiction to one of the most powerful drugs on the planet, as well as dealing with the total destruction of my life - divorcing my wife, selling my house, losing my job. So it would seem that if anybody's got an opinion that's worth respecting, it'd be mine. However, humans' relationship with drugs & alcohol is way more complex than "this is bad for me so I'm going to stop"... otherwise nobody would take drugs, get drunk, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee or energy drinks.

We live in a world where we try to find somebody with anatomically opposite genitals to us, squirt some love snot into them, and then spend the next 18+ years looking after our blood and mucous covered alien-like midget progeny, that was painfully ejected from the girl's sex hole. Human behaviour does not follow purely rational rules.

Human use of intoxicating beverages and preparations of plants that contain bitter alkaloids - with the intention of seeking psychoactive effects - is behaviour that's almost as old as cave painting, making fire and sharpening pieces of flint to make spears.

My kidneys are over 50% recovered from my last hospital visit. The facial tic that was caused - quite literally - by brain damage, has now repaired itself. The people and places that are no longer in my life because of supercrack addiction, have been replaced by a new city, new home, new job and new friends. Yes, it could've been worse, but believe me... nobody needs or wants to be told the bleedin' obvious. If it was just a case of saying "fire is hot and will burn you" and "knives are sharp and will cut you" then we'd see a 100% reduction in those injuries, by the bullshit logic that we need to nag and shame addicts into fixing their dirty little habits.

Often an addict is conveniently labelled as a black sheep, and becomes entertainment for the group that surrounds them. Lots of concerned hand-wringing and "we need to do something" empty talk goes on, but all that really happens is that the addict becomes a pariah, with nobody nonjudgemental left to turn to - it's the loneliest thing... lonelier even than being a homeless person injecting heroin under a bridge. Trust me: to spend time in the company of addicts and alcoholics who make no secret of their loss of control and the destruction of their lives, is to gain a nonjudgemental social support network that can make the difference between life & death. Fuck any condescending prick who thinks they're a moral authority who can sit in judgement and save you from yourself. Even with my stories of drug-induced insanity, hospitals, police cells and psych wards being by the far the most extreme you've ever heard, I can't tell an addict or alcoholic what to do with their life.

To hear the same hectoring, lecturing bollocks from people who [do or don't] know what it's like to realise you've overdosed and you've got 30 seconds to dial 999, or just let yourself die... it's not working, is it? I don't know if you've seen the stats, but only Portugal is winning "the war on drugs" and the way they're doing that is to destigmatise and decriminalise drugs, despite immense pressure from the United States to stop saving lives and improving the wellbeing of the Portuguese people.

So, that was the weekend that was full of drug-fuelled insanity that would supposedly trigger me to relapse back onto supercrack. Bullshit.

 

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Hacked: I'm not one of the bad guys

1 min read

This is a story about hurt feelings...

WhatsApp message

Let's just be nice to each other. We're all soft and squishy and vulnerable on the inside.

I'm one of the good guys - I value friendships & loyalty, and I wouldn't abuse my tech superpowers for malicious purposes. I just want us all to get along, man. Peace out, brother.

 

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Superstars and Comfortable Men

11 min read

This is a story about a life philosophy...

Maunu Kea

Here I am stood taking photographs at the summit of the highest mountain in the Hawaiian Islands - an altitude of 13,796 feet above sea level. Sea level is where I started that morning. Any mountain above 12,000 feet will affect susceptible people with dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness and could even present a life-threatening situation for somebody with pre-existing heart or breathing problems. So, dangerous, but not that dangerous. Nobody gets a pulmonary oedema up here, in this cold thin air, but very few can thrive in this oxygen-depleted environment.

There are ostensibly two ways to get up a mountain: you can walk, or you can use some kind of mechanised assistance (e.g. helicopter, cable car or even drive if somebody has made a road to the summit). I used to scoff at the idea of taking 'the easy way out'. I used to think that using cable cars and funicular railways in the Alps was cheating... you hadn't really conquered the mountain at all. However, after my first summer season in Chamonix valley, I realised there's no point nitpicking over a pile of rocks: most climbers who attempt the North face of The Eiger will use the railway to the summit, which stops halfway to let anybody out who wants to tackle its vertical wall of death. Tourists watch as men and women laden with ropes and other equipment, venture out of a hole that was made to clear the railway tunnel of snow. Are they less brave? Many have lost their lives attempting this 'easy' route up the mountain.

Summit marker

There you are, see. 13,796 feet. You can see this elevation post in the bottom left hand corner of the previous photo. But how did I get up there, more importantly?

In 2008 through to 2011, I was bootstrapping. That is to say, I was building profitable business(es) using my own money and with very little outside help. Then, I got out of my depth and I phoned a friend. I begged him to come on board with my latest venture, which promised to have the most growth potential of anything I'd done before, plus it had an overlap - in the education space - with some of my friend's expertise.

My friend told me he was a mentor on a technology accelerator program, affiliated to TechStars, which was based in Cambridge and was taking place that coming summer. I have to admit, I'd never heard of Y-Combinator, SeedCamp, 500-Startups, TechStars or any of the other myriad accelerators that were springing up. The idea was simple though: take a bunch of promising teams, incubate them and connect them with the best minds in the world of tech, have a demo day and help them to raise angel investment or venture capital (VC).

I was enthused and given a new direction. There was hope and relief that I might no longer suffer the isolation and loneliness of being 'the boss'. I really wanted to be part of this ecosystem.

I applied for TechStars Boulder, in Colorado, USA, as well as the TechStars affiliate program that my friend was going to be a mentor on, in Cambridge, UK. My company was shortlisted for Boulder, so I flew out to Denver, drove to Boulder and met with David Cohen - one of the co-founders of TechStars. My company just missed the cut for Boulder, but was offered a place on the Cambridge program, which I accepted. On demo day, Brad Feld - the other founder of TechStars - watched my pitch and I got to meet him. I was rubbing shoulders with people who had achieved, or were about to achieve, greatness.

For example: you know that robot that's in the new Star Wars movies? The one that's a ball that rolls around and makes bleeping noises a bit like R2-D2? BB-8, it's called. Anyway, the toy version of that is based on the Sphero, and Sphero were one of the teams to go through the TechStars program. I got to meet those guys in Boulder. Now they have one of the best selling children's toys, thanks to a Star Wars brand licensing deal, which was undoubtably in part due to the TechStars program... that's how it works.

BB-8

Once the TechStars program was done, I had two role models to choose between. Both had pregnant girlfriends, but they had very different aspirations and priorities.

David, co-founder of my business, was intent on making life comfortable for him and his family. He'd made a big sacrifice, living away from home while we were doing the accelerator program. He'd made a risky commitment, ploughing money into a company that - at that time - didn't really have any protectable intellectual property or reliable and significant income stream. Although I talked him into the idea of taking our company BIG and getting half a million pounds worth of investment to allow us to grow, I think he really wanted to take things a lot slower and more carefully, and more importantly, get back home to his pregnant girlfriend.

Jakub, who I had been sharing a house with for months along with his co-founder Jan, seemed to be fixated on Silicon Valley and being a BIG success. I hope he wouldn't be angry with me for spilling the beans that he really regretted coming to Cambridge, UK, when their company could easily have gotten onto one of the Silicon Valley based accelerators, which is where, ultimately, he wanted to end up. Jakub had been obsessed by the trials and tribulations of Apple Corporation, and was 100% a Mac man, not a PC. Whether or not he wanted/wants to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs... one only need to look at his professionally taken photograph for his online profile: holding his chin in just the same way as the man who resurrected the struggling Apple Corp, and built it to be the world's biggest company, by market capitalisation.

Schopenhauer thought that the best thing in life would be to not be born at all, and the second best thing was simply to keep suffering to a minimum. Nietzsche realised that without suffering, how can we really experience elation? If you take the helicopter to the top of the mountain, you don't get the same feeling of achievement and success as you do if you walk up there. Nietzsche said that the world needs people like Steve Jobs, who was a millionaire by the age of 23, in 1978, and was worth $19 billion at the time of his death. Nietsche talks about supermen (übermensch) and the last men. Nietsche reviled these "last men" as he called them: men who were comfortable and content with mediocrity; men who would look at the stars and blink, in his words, rather than strive to achieve the very maximum they could in life - becoming superstars themselves.

I'm now in an uncomfortable in-between place. I neither achieved the übermensch nor the life of comfortable mediocrity.

Did I give up, because I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lay ahead? Did I simply make mistakes, in choosing business partners who weren't as ambitious as me; as gung-ho, committed and fearless? Was the lack of support I received from my now ex-wife, my undoing?

Or, am I - as Nietzsche feared - one of the last men. The ones who are prepared to slave along in miserable existence because I'm not brave enough; bold enough to reach for the stars; to follow in the footsteps of those who've reached the top.

I'm torn, because I believe in socialist & humanist values: I believe in wealth redistribution, state monopolies, free education, free healthcare, free housing and a whole host of other things that would see me labelled as "Marxist", "Stalinist", "Leninist", "Maoist" or some other -ist, meant in the pejorative. Sometimes, I do wonder if people would work as hard, if they didn't want big mansions, swimming pools, helicopters, private jets, superyachts and all the other trimmings of exorbitant wealth. However, I know enough successful people to know that they just wanted to see a dream realised; a goal achieved: they didn't know how to stop working so hard, and they couldn't if they tried.

Strangely, although I've been shown the way and my eyes have been opened to the possibility of achieving great wealth in my lifetime, I've been left with nothing but depression. I'm depressed because I can see that hard work is required in life, whichever path you choose, but I'm also depressed because I opened the Pandora's Box of yachts and supercars and other prized possessions of those who followed their difficult task to completion: they reached the summit of the mountain.

I used to play a psychological trick when climbing mountains, which is to imagine every summit that you see is a false one, and that behind it will be an even higher summit, so your anticipation of your reward never turns into disappointment, which could lead you to giving up and turning back.

Another psychological trick I played in life, was never to dream and aspire to own things that were well out of reach. I bought a house, a yacht, a speedboat and a fast car... but these were all modest items that I was able to save up my wages and purchase. I never dreamt of owning a mansion or a brand-new Ferrari, for example, although the latter was achievable if that was my one dream in life, which it wasn't. I played a psychological trick, of forcing myself to be modest with my aspirations and rein in my ambitions, and to make incremental improvements rather than shoot for the top prize.

Mountain track

Now, I take short-cuts. I cheat. I know how high I can get, but I don't want to make the effort again. It hurt too much to be on the express elevator to the top, and to start to dream about all the wonderful things I could do with that wealth, only to crash to earth and be devastated. I'd like to be comfortable, but even that hurts, because it still requires effort as well as denying that I'd really like to own a nice big yacht, a supercar and a big house.

Do I begrudge my friends their success? Of course not, but it doesn't inspire me. Maybe it does inspire others, but when I look around, most people are fighting to just hang onto what little they've got. Would I tax my friend heavily because I'm a failure and I want to grab a piece of the wealth he created? Would I expect him to be humble and give credit to the society that helped him get to the top, even though we shouldn't try to drag everybody down to an equal level - equally mediocre and comfortable, according to Nietzsche? Yes, in a way I do still stand by my politics: I prefer flat structures to pyramids. I like it when everyone gets rich because of co-operation in society, rather than just a tiny handful who get rich at the expense of everybody else. We must remember that we're playing a zero-sum game - for every billionaire, there are millions of starving mouths and people without clean drinking water.

My friend was 9 years old when communism ended in his home country. He has been deeply affected. I'm not sure what makes me so certain that wealth should be redistributed, and the vulnerable protected, but I'm certainly going to tip-toe around the subject when I see my friend Jakub tomorrow, which will be the first time I will have had to offer face-to-face congratulations on him reaching the summit: he's rich now, by most ordinary people's standards, but I will attest that he build that wealth, with his team: it wasn't gifted to him by inheritance; it wasn't stolen or conned; it wasn't embezzled. He earned it and he deserves congratulating.

I'm still torn up about that question though: is it better to have 7 billion contented, comfortable people, or 100 or so obscenely wealthy ones, and half the world in desperate poverty.

In fact, no, scratch that. I go for comfortable. I go for "the last men" even if Nietzsche so hated them. Fuck him, that pompous German twat.

 

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Feedback Loop

9 min read

This is a story about reality checks...

Valves

When you're amplifying a signal - for example, a microphone connected to a public address loudspeaker - then you have to be careful that you don't get the microphone too close to the speakers, or else you will get horrible feedback.

My blog is read by friends who've known me for years & years, but I very rarely meet up with them. Sometimes I get an email or a Facebook message, and it's jaw-dropping that they understand me and what I've been going through so well. The usual trite platitudes (e.g. "why don't you try getting more exercise?") are certainly applicable to anybody and it does show that you care, but it's a wonderful experience when I communicate with friends and they've got all this background info on me.

Regarding my blog, only very rarely will anybody ever present an alternative opinion, or challenge me. I think I have a fairly persuasive manner of putting a point across, and I write with a great deal of certainty; forcefulness. It must be somewhat intimidating: the idea of potentially entering into debate with me.

A strange thing starts to happen when you think about things in isolation too much. Because I work with boolean algebra for a living, I start to think of everything as binary: there's a right answer and a wrong answer. I can use a lot of deductive reasoning to arrive at a set of beliefs that evolved purely from logic - a priori - as opposed to being shaped by experiences, discussions and human relationships. I labour the same points, over and over again, becoming ever more certain in my convictions and better and better at defending my position; entrenched in my stance.

It's quite satisfying to present your thesis quod erat demonstrandum.

Weirdly, if nobody calls you out on anything, then you assume that you must have made a valid unassailable point. When somebody does call you out on something, then things get a bit more fun, because you have to decide whether to dig into your trenches and defend, or whether to concede the validity of an alternative viewpoint that had not been considered.

I used to have a certain attitude that could be surmised as follows:

"Fuck you. You're wrong"

Once you have constructed a fairly infallible piece of logical reasoning, being told "no, I disagree" is the most frustrating thing in the world. You can't just disagree with something. It's point/counterpoint. You need to make your own reasoned counterargument. Contradiction is just stupidity. It's very frustrating to deal with people who don't even realise that they're complete idiots.

I deal with idiots for a job: they're called computers. If I tell a computer to jump off a cliff, it will do it. Computers just follow my instructions to the letter. Computers follow my logic with 100% precision. Being a computer programmer quickly teaches you how to logically reason things, leaving few loopholes. If you leave loopholes, these are called 'bugs'. Bugs will cause rockets to explode, trains to derail or aeroplanes to crash.

And so, a computer programmer arrives in the real world, and they're experts at spotting cognitive dissonance. "Fucking immigrants, coming over here, taking our jobs"... but, but, but you're an immigrant, stutters the programmer, incredulous that somebody could be so stupid as to not see the flaw in what they're saying.

Anyway, I'm not even part of the debate. I'm watching from the sidelines, writing my manifesto; proselytising my theology; broadcasting my dogma. Nobody is questioning the validity of anything I'm saying. Nobody is challenging my assumptions. Nobody has yet said "you're wrong, and this is why...".

Even to say the word manifesto sends a shiver down my spine. I fear that I might have gone mad. There are so many vilified people and policies, linked to a manifesto. In Britain we are not particularly terrified of communism. Being called "red", "Marxist" or "Trot" is not even pejorative, to me. However, if you were to point out that Anders Breivik also wrote a manifesto, and so did Hitler, then I start to feel a little defensive.

But, how the hell are you supposed to develop a political ideology, if you don't write it down? If you can't express a set of values and ideals for the betterment of humanity, then what? Am I only allowed to select from a menu of just a few mainstream choices? Of course, this is what party politics wants. The idea is that we should vote for party, not policy. If we voted for policies that we wanted as citizens, we'd be getting dangerously close to having a democracy.

If voting made any difference, they wouldn't let us do it.

I worry like crazy about how isolated and weird I'm getting, honing my ideas and developing my system of values, without very often discussing what I'm thinking over a pint of beer, with a good friend in the pub. Obviously, one must be mindful that Mein Kampf was conceived while Hitler was in hospital, and started when he was incarcerated. It's mad to speak this aloud, but I'm always asking myself: "am I more like Hitler or Jesus".

Christian values are actually pretty cool. Forget the ten commandments, because, I mean, rape isn't even on there. Graven images: no frigging way! Rape: no problem.

Jesus Christ was an awesome dude. He basically founded the Occupy Wall Street movement when he turned over the tables of the money lenders in Herod's Temple. Does that make him an anti-semite though? Could that have been a hate crime, given that it was an attack on Jewish businessmen, in a holy Jewish temple. Certainly a controversy worth pondering.

Then you get to thinking that Jesus Christ, The Prophet Mohammed and Adolf Hitler, all thought that earning interest should be abolished. Hitler was a socialist, as was Stalin, but then so was Tony Blair and he started an illegal war that ended up killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. It's all so damn confusing.

To my mind, if you have a political system that's successful for the vast majority of people, the educated bourgeois can go to hell. To hell with your freedom of speech. To hell with your attempts to pervert government to better serve your own needs, at the expense of the majority. Go buy yourself a desert island if you want to run things in your own selfish interests.

Eventually, I arrive at the decision that it might be better to just write a utopian novel that merely disguises my manifesto. It should be no surprise that I've extensively read Orwell and Huxley. However, the dystopian novels seem to have become instruction manuals for our governments. Perhaps novels are powerfully influential, in all the wrong ways.

I love the Roman idea of the forum. The Internet discussion forum is a wonderful invention. The online communities are a lovely place to inhabit.

My writing and debating skils - or lack thereof - were honed in the arena of the online discussion forum. In a way, I did a lot of growing up, by reading, writing, trolling, debating and very often being shot down in flames.

Now, I have brought those writing skills, and the skill of making a reasoned argument expressed in a succinct and persuasive manner, to bear in the world of blogging.

I deliberately chose a non-Wordpress platform, because I wasn't looking for yet another blog and to connect with yet more bloggers. All the bloody comments sections are filled with other bloggers, link building back to their own blogs. It's such a ridiculous echo-chamber of people all clamouring for readers. How can you compose your thoughts and reach conclusions, when embryonic ideas are critiquéd so immediately?

I could have started to write on Medium, and I'm thrilled that my friend whose startup powers this blog, is now working for them. It might sound like intellectual snobbery, but there is a higher standard of writing and comments on Medium, than anywhere else on the 'Net right now.

But really, the biggest win for my blog has been to inform a bunch of my old friends from my discussion forum days, what the hell happened to me when I "went off the rails". It's been an opportunity to defend myself against malicious rumours. It's been an opportunity for me to ward off the shame and sense of failure, for things that happened.

Finally, the nicest thing happened the other day: I met up with a friend at the pub, and he reassured me that I'm still the same person who he knew, all those years ago, before the whole horrid mess in the middle. It's an immense relief to know your personality hasn't changed, your brain hasn't been damaged and the person that friends once knew, still lives and breathes and hasn't been replaced by some demonic creature.

Life is pretty hard without feedback, but equally, it's been useful to write at length without the debate that so ground me down and made me unwell before. It's a horrible thing, to be so misunderstood, and to feel like the people who are supposed to care about you are working against you. It's so hard to argue with multiple people at once. It's so hard to defend yourself against a mob.

Publishing is super powerful. Publishing is like a megaphone, to shout down the bullies.

However, the occasional reality check has very high value.

 

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Useful Things My Friends Said To Me

11 min read

This is a story about quotations...

Thames panorama

I live a fairly isolated existence. Work, sleep & eat. None of my friends live very nearby, and I'm in a strange part of London that you'd probably only visit if you were working in Canary Wharf.

Of course, I'm not short of ideas for what I could do with my leisure time - if I had any - in order to get a bit of a social life going again. If I had the time and the money, I could be having plenty of fun. It's just that it's hard to do that when I'm so drained from working a full time job that's utter bullshit. Most of the time I can't even handle speaking to people on the telephone. I just want to be left alone to compose my thoughts and try to unwind, in the few waking hours where I'm not trapped at my desk.

On a Wednesday night, I go to the pub with a friend. We have 3 pints of weak continental lager and put the world to rights, sitting in the beer garden. It's lovely.

Every so often, a friend will chat to me on Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. That is also nice. I stayed up chatting until 3am on Friday night / Saturday morning.

From these chats, I often take away lovely things that were said, to treasure.

A psychiatrist once said to me "we can only play the cards that we are dealt" and when I was struggling with accusations that I was weak and that I was making up mental health problems, attention seeking and all kinds of horrible blame and stuff being thrown at me, it was a lovely nonjudgemental thing to hear.

Having been labelled as some kind of devil child by my parents, or subjected to relentless abuse by my ex-wife, it's been such a relief to have some kinder points of view at long last.

"Anybody who has a second kid after a 10 year gap is just looking for a free babysitter"

I love my sister to bits, but I could never understand why we couldn't be siblings. Why did I have to be so mature? Why was I - a child - chided for being childish? So fucking ridiculous.

My friend who pointed out how ridiculous it is to have such a big age gap between kids, also pointed out that it's healthy to have your kids play together, keep each other company. It's really boring and lonely playing on your own while your parents are getting drunk and taking drugs. Sure, I can entertain myself. Sure, I have a good imagination. Sure, I can sit down and work on a project in total isolation from all social stimulation. However, those first 10 years of my life shaped me into somebody who assumes that I never get to keep any friends, because my parents kept yanking me out of school to go traipsing all over the fucking place. Parents, I assumed, were just people who sat around lazily - off their fucking heads - and never wanted to play with me.

I ingratiated myself with other families, and spent far more time immersed in their family life than my non-existant own. I knew that something was inherently wrong at home. I could see the differences in our home lives. I could see how things were supposed to be: brothers and sisters playing together, being kids, but I was always just a visitor in those lives.

There's a lot of important social development that goes on in the first 7 years of a child's life. It's hardly like I'm selfish and never learned how to share or play nice with others, but I certainly don't feel any security in relationships. I'm completely mistrustful of all friendships. I assume that everything is just transitory, fleeting, superficial.

"[Your parents] have to protect their own self image. No way will they say [they] fucked up.

[Your mother] will occasionally drunkenly exclaim "oh it's all my fault!"

But it's attention seeking and the response sought is "of course it isn't".

They just get so entrenched in their own self serving view of what happened"

It's exhausting, being expected to prop up your parents bullshit view of the world. I wondered why I would feel so drained from a visit to see my parents, or a phonecall, and it's because they've not been working to raise a healthy happy child. They've been working to try and cover up and bury their guilt for being drugged up alkie fuckups.

I've been expected to work so hard on keeping up appearances. It's bullshit. It's ground me down. I've had enough. Hence this blog, and the full disclosure of the bullshit I've put up with.

It is remarkable how many people have gotten in contact to say their mothers are/were functional alcoholics too. It's remarkable how many parents there are out there who think they're some kind of aristocracy who get to palm their kids off on the hired help, and then swan off doing their high society bullshit. Except that they don't have any hired help so in fact the kids simply get palmed off on the state schools and other families that are more loving and welcoming.

Sure, you could accuse me of being a manchild. An overgrown baby.

I refuse to just bottle this shit up. Sure, it might be a case of arrested development. It might be a case of a bunch of stuff that supposedly I could just get over. How? How am I supposed to move forward?

I got to today, and to some outward appearances it looks like I've got my shit together, but clearly all that happened is that I did grow up, man the fuck up, put a brave face on stuff and generally just get on with it. However, it doesn't seem to have taken away the need to actually feel loved and cherished for a little bit. Maybe this is a bit spoiled princessy, I don't know. I'm just trying to purge these feelings and get to a point where I want to go on living.

It was super nice when a lovely family in Ireland took me in for some desperately needed shelter from the disintegration of my life. Just being in a loving family home - even if it wasn't my own - has kept me going.

Actually, thinking about it recently, I thought how much it would upset that lovely Irish family, to know that they helped me and that I ended up taking my own life anyway. Even if it was only a few weeks that I spent in their home, I'm still acutely aware that they deserve better than any implied ingratitude for their help.

But, I'm still missing enough regular social contact. What I get is great, and I'm super grateful to those friends who drop by, suggest meeting up, email me and contact me on messenger. It does keep me limping along.

My hope is, that as I start to get on top of the debts I ran up just staying alive, I will loosen the purse strings and start to take a risk in thinking about some work that might be more rewarding. There's no way that I can dare to dream at the moment, because I simply have to knuckle down and put money in the bank, even though it's soul-destroying and I hate it.

To reach November sounds like no time at all, but I think that only takes me to zero. It'll be the depths of winter. Perhaps my work contract won't be renewed. I'll have 11 months left on a 12 month rent contract, with my flatmate already 4 months in rent arrears and not having paid any bills for as long as I can remember. It's quite a lot of pressure.

I'm setting myself these little goals and breaking up the blocks of time. It was friends who encouraged me to take some time off here and there, but it prolongs the suffering.

It's easy to dream up a million different things I might do when I reach breakeven, but it feels so far away, even if it isn't when you're happily just chugging through your healthy fulfilling and stimulating life.

I'm loathe to upset the apple cart. There are a couple of bridges that are worth leaving unburnt. I'm probably not even in debt enough to declare bankruptcy at the moment, but it doesn't take long for the circling vultures to put you in the shit again. You have to run just to stand still. I just can't stand the bullshit of the rat race. I just can't stand the relentless pressure to pay money just to be alive, breathing.

I'm trying to string together all the sporadic social contact I have, and use all the little messages of support, to limp myself along.

At some point, I can imagine that I will look back and laugh, while also cringing with embarrassment, about just how much I've moaned and complained. In retrospect, the pain and discomfort will be quickly forgotten, and I'll wonder why I was making such a big fuss. Either that, or I won't actually make it.

It has been a long time that I've been dealing with depression. It has been a long time that I've been dealing with suicidal thoughts. I'm grateful when my friends give me a reality check, but also, I do have to still go home at some point and face facts. It's great to talk about this or that amazing venture, but the fact is that bills still have to be paid, debts have to be serviced, people still want their pound of flesh.

It must be hard on my friends, because I have good physical health, skills that are in demand, no dependents and plenty of other advantages in life. I'm quite pleased that only a very small handful of my friends have trotted out the old adages of "be grateful you have a job" etc. etc.

I get quite a lot of "chin up" and "look on the bright side" which is OK because I know people mean well when they say it, and it's a common mistake to make. It's not even a mistake, because it does show that people care, which is nice and helpful.

Probably the most fruitful discussions I'm having at the moment have been around how it's OK to be upset about things. We try so hard to put a brave face on things and pretend that everything's OK, that we perhaps don't even admit to ourselves how close we are to snapping. "A right to be angry" is something I never explored before.

There's just all this societal pressure to be grateful. But that whole gratitude argument breaks down when your life becomes sheer depressed misery. What am I supposed to be grateful for, if life is miserable? Am I supposed to want more misery? Am I supposed to be excited to have another 30 or 40 years of misery to look forward to?

It's easy to extrapolate from my position, today, trapped into a horrible corner. But, what's the alternative? The 'dream' job that will lead me to financial problems and bankruptcy because I can't afford the cost of living and I can't repay my debts? Quitting the rat race, that will lead me to social exclusion and being spat on in the street by people who think I'm a worthless bum? A life on benefits where I'm despised by ignorant mean selfish shits, who tell me to "get a job" and think I'm a scrounger?

It's actually pretty hard and pretty scary, thinking about starting over again when you're not in the first flush of youth. It's pretty challenging, rebuilding your social life and getting the people around you again that give you enough love and support to make your life liveable again.

I know I need to try harder to reconnect with friends. I need to travel to see people. I need to put myself out there. I need to invite myself into people's lives.

Perhaps things will be different once I've broken through the psychological barrier of this work/debt problem that I'm suffering at the moment.

 

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