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

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

All opinions are my own.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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London Keeps You Fit

9 min read

This is a story about declining health...

Bike tyre

My mental health can be tracked reasonably well by thinking about the periods when I was so extremely unwell that work became impossible, there are gaps in my blog and there's photographic evidence that I was having an episode of stimulant psychosis and sleep-deprivation induced insanity. The evidence of my naturally fluctuating bipolar mood is very obscured by other major events, including job loss, money worries and periods of relapse and addiction. There, however, periods when I've been functioning well enough to start getting back on my feet, although these have been quite short-lived and usually occur at some point between May and October.

I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as well as bipolar, so my tendency towards mania has started to become linked to the summer months. As my life became more chaotic and unmanageable, depression and drug abuse started to appear during the peaks and troughs. I've suffered winter relapses and summer relapses. I've also spent endless months with seemingly unshakeable and relentless anxiety and depression, which has been unbearable while working boring bullshit full-time jobs.

Through all the difficulties of divorce, selling my house, moving to London and attempting to get back on my feet - getting a new place to live and new job sorted out - I've suffered a whole series of seemingly catastrophic events which have always threatened to destroy me, but somehow every year I managed to do some good work and earn plenty of money.

By the time I arrived in hospital for the umpteenth time, I was completely burnt out by the demands of getting myself off the streets, into my own apartment and working on an extremely high pressure project for an incredibly demanding client. However, I was remarkably fit and healthy. My blood pressure and my resting heart rate both indicated an excellent level of fitness.

I suppose I knew I was fit. I had been lugging my luggage all over London, from hostel to hostel, because I was homeless. I cycled everywhere and I cycled very fast and aggressively - I loved the buzz of weaving through London traffic on my bike with handlebars sawn to the exact width of my shoulders. When there was a tube strike, I cycled all the way from North-West London to East London through the horrendous traffic jams. Cycling anywhere took me less time than it would have done by any other means of transport, with the possible exception of helicopter.

Even when I stopped cycling regularly I still did a lot of walking. To commute to my job in the City required a fairly long walk to my nearest Docklands Light Railway station, and a couple of times a week I had to visit a client in South London, which required even more walking. Seeing friends meant more walking. Going to the supermarket meant more walking. Seeing my girlfriend meant more walking. I maintained a reasonable standard of fitness through 2016, although not quite matching the preceding years.

In 2017 my health completely failed me and I was in hospital on dialysis for ages. Psychologically, I wasn't able to recover from the setback. I watched my savings dwindle depressingly quickly and I knew that I was going to end up evicted from my apartment; bankrupt and homeless. I knew that I couldn't face the exertion of pulling myself up by my bootstraps and getting back on my feet, yet again. I'd had a remarkable 2014, 2015 and 2016, where those years had horrendously bad periods, but also periods when I was productive and earning a lot of money. I hadn't been able to reach escape velocity at any point, and get myself back to a position of financial and housing security, with a dependable source of income. It had been an almost relentlessly shitty 3 years in terms of having the gains I had made smashed to smithereens. I had tried hard to make things work in London for a long time I'd run out of road - I had to leave to avoid total destitution.

Fitness tracker

I've amended the graph I made a short time ago to include 2015, so it can be compared and contrasted with more recent years. Every year used to look like 2015. It's quite plain to see how 2017 and this year are not showing my usual summertime boost at all. I'm having a terrible time in terms of fitness and physical health.

My brief stay in Manchester - August 2016 - was too short to say whether it could have been healthy, but I very much doubt it would have been. I didn't want to be there. The place was not inspiring.

Wales - as the data clearly shows - has not been a healthy move for me at all. The air quality is worse where I live than it was in Central London. There's little reason to walk anywhere - my local job was too far to walk and it was too easy to just drive everywhere. I live on a very steep hill, which is somewhat of a disincentive to walk to the beach, the shops or the pub, knowing there's such an uphill struggle on the way home. For 3 months I was commuting from Wales to London, which of course meant I was doing a lot of walking and carrying a heavy bag - I was starting to get fitter. The chance to work closer to home was too good to turn down, but when my mood wobbled and I had a rough patch, I've been very inactive since. I hardly left my apartment for the best part of two months.

My lifestyle now involves hardly any walking at all. I jump in my car on a Monday morning and park outside my office. I drive to a hotel where I stay 3 nights a week and I always eat in the pub next door. I drive home and I don't leave my apartment, except to walk to the nearby corner shop to buy wine and unhealthy snacks.

What people don't realise about London is how far you have to walk to get around. Walking to the tube station, then walking up and down the steps and through the various passageways that connect the different lines. I would always be prepared to walk further to get to my preferred places to eat and buy groceries. Dating in London always seemed to require quite a lot of walking. I'm not particularly inspired to socialise, date or in any way engage with the place where I live in Wales. I just stay at home, drinking wine and watching TV.

I've made a concerted effort to cut down my drinking to 3 nights a week or fewer. I'm changing a lot of things all at the same time, which is very intense and hard to deal with, but I think I feel a bit of improvement. When I started my new job 4 weeks ago I was having panic attacks and hating most of the time I was in the office. I felt like walking out and killing myself. I was drinking a bottle of wine or 4 pints of beer every single night, and twice that amount on Friday and Saturday nights. I was abusing prescription painkillers and sleeping tablets and tranquillisers, in a desperate attempt to cope with the stress and anxiety.

Now I've stopped taking the sleeping tablets and I've stopped drinking midweek. I've managed to get through a couple of weekends where I've limited my drinking to less than a bottle of wine each night. It might still sound excessive, but it's a huge positive change from where I was.

I went out for a walk a week ago, and this weekend I went for a longer walk and I socialised with friends. That's a big change from a few weeks ago, when I hated the idea of leaving the house for any reason except to buy another bottle of wine from the closest shop.

In London I stayed fit and healthy simply because of the amount of walking I had to do to get to my job and drag my groceries home from the shops. In London I stayed fit and healthy because of the intensity of the place; the buzz I got from travelling around the place.

I had feared that I'd completely slumped recently, and I was destined to become a fat blob of a couch potato. My drinking had gotten out of control and I didn't want to do anything other than lie on the sofa getting drunk.

I don't exactly feel motivated to join a gym or start doing sports, but we have to consider the relative improvement. Things are a lot better than they were.

I have my cerebral preoccupations. I work with my brain not my body and I have my writing to do every day after work, which is surprisingly exhausting. I hope that when I reach my million-word target in a couple of weeks, I'll be more relaxed about my writing. I'm starting to regain my confidence at work and I'm getting more relaxed. Hopefully I'll be able to have a holiday or two in the coming months, without too much worry about jobs and money - hopefully I now have reasonably secure income for the foreseeable future.

I'm going to have to take some more pro-active steps to get fit and healthy than I'm used to. In London I got fit just doing the things I needed to do, like getting from A to B.

In theory, I should have more time, money and energy to spend my leisure time being fit and active, because people work fewer hours outside London and the cost of living is a lot less. In practice, I'm struggling to re-adjust.

I know that getting fitter will be hugely beneficial for my physical and mental health. Baby steps though - it's important not to try to do everything all at once.

 

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Progress

9 min read

This is a story about climbing mountains...

Cumulative word count

Look how close I am to my target of 1 million words in 3 years. I've got about 33,000 words to go. 42,000 words I published on Medium.com as an experiment to see if I'd get more readers if I used it instead of my own website, which accounts for the step at around 750,000 words. I'm ahead of target, because I've been averaging 1,838 words per day and I only needed to average 1,243. If I continue at the rate I've been doing for the past week then I'll reach my goal in 18 days, which will be about 2 weeks early.

Of course I'm aware that the quality has been extremely variable. In one single day I wrote 10,000 words of very dubious quality. My second novel is unfinished and I'm really not very pleased with what I wrote at all, so should I really include those 42,000 words in the total?

What does it even matter anyway? Hasn't it all been a stupid waste of time and effort?

I used an anonymous internet connection with a browser which didn't have any cookies in it in order to check which page of Google I'm on and it was page 3... and page 4 if I search from outside the UK. Obviously "manic grant" comes up as number one, but I was disappointed to see that my appearance on page 1 or 2 was only because Google knows who I am and where I am, and was tailoring the search results to flatter my over-inflated ego.

I lost 6,700 Twitter followers overnight quite recently, due to Twitter doing a big purge of bots. I didn't realise I had so many bots following me, but I was rather inundated with followers which were part of a big scam to get people to click on a dating website link. "Click the link in my profile" these fake followers tweeted, with borderline-pornographic profile pictures as the bait. Later, these followers tweeted "click the link pinned to my profile" and their profile claimed that they were interested in "cosplay" whatever that is. In some ways it was good to lose all those fake followers, because it was always a bit disappointing when I thought I had a new follower and it turned out to be a bot. However, the damage done to the 'headline' number of followers really upset me and took the wind out of my sails.

When I moved to Medium.com for a month and stopped writing my blog it really damaged my momentum in terms of regular readers. It didn't help that live-publishing a chapter per day of my experimental novel, which was of very dubious quality, was quite off-putting for those visitors who were expecting to find another instalment of insanity and miserable moaning.

Visitors

You can see from this graph of my website visitors that my experiment with writing something that I thought would be popular on Reddit worked exactly as well as I thought it would. You can also see that my suicide attempt - which I tweeted about - and my subsequent coma, life support in critical care, getting sectioned and being locked up on a psych ward, generated quite a lot of visitors... not that it was my intention that time, of course.

You can see that my annus horribilis of 2017 is perfectly reflected in the graph. I wasn't writing regularly and the quality of what I was writing was negatively affected by ill health, addiction, drug abuse, sleep deprivation and stimulant psychosis.

Of course if I just wanted to pump my numbers up and have as many visitors as possible, I know what's popular and how to get people to click, but I've tried really hard not to be led by my analytics and vanity metrics. I try to ignore the data as much as possible and just write whatever I need to write about, as a form of brain-dumping therapy.

I set out to write about mental health problems - specifically suicidal thoughts. I didn't mean to write so much about my innermost private thoughts and feelings. I never intended to write a whole series of opinion pieces on subjects, when I was feeling insecure; desperately trying to prop up my fragile self-esteem by publishing my thoughts on current affairs during a period when I was very unwell and running out of money very quickly. I definitely didn't intend to weaponise my blog to grind my axe and take out my frustrations on people who had upset me.

Readers respond very quickly to the changes in my mood and the not-too-subtle direction I'm dragging my blog in at any one time. If I'm messed up, irregular and erratic, then I lose my regular readers. If I'm bitter, angry, vicious and vengeful then readers are turned off; revulsed. If I'm distracted and pursuing some other goal - such as writing a novel - then readers are confused by that change of tack, and they wonder what happened to the regular daily stream-of-consciousness brain dump. If I get too wrapped up in current affairs and start to get on my high horse and pontificate about whatever's in the newspapers, then it's a big turn-off for readers.

I feel really bad about every single period where I lost focus and wandered up one of the many dead-ends I'm prone to ending up choosing when things aren't going well in my life.

The main thing that's really clear from the graph is that when there's stability in my life, there's steady growth in the number of regular readers I have, who are engaging with my content. Also clear is that when there's a huge crisis in my life, there's a brief period when people who care about me are reading, but those readers quickly drop away when the danger has passed.

The period from December last year until now perfectly mirrors what has been happening in my life, in terms of getting back on my feet. I've been steadily working, earning money, getting important things in place like a place to live and a car. My financial situation has been improving rapidly. The graph shows really clearly just how stable my life has been in a visual way, which is both pleasing and encouraging.

Step count

Looking at my average daily step count really shows just how bad 2017 was... or at least the first half of 2017 anyway. Each year of my life follows a very seasonal pattern, with hardly any activity in the winter months, and lots of activity from May to September, reaching its peak in July. My cyclical nature is obvious when you look at the step count graphs... but 2017 was a terrible year and it's caused my cycle to go haywire. As you can see from the graph, things are erratic, not cyclical. What you can't see are all the previous years where I had summers packed full of activity.

The trend regarding my physical activity is most alarming. The trend is clearly downwards.

If we were to do a graph of my net worth, it would mirror my blog activity and it would mirror a graph of the number of hours I spend in the office. If we were to graph the number of times I wrote the word "bored" we'd probably see that it's anti-correlated with periods of stability, work and high income. When we look at my step count, it's usually the case that it increases when I'm working, except during winter. I'm hoping that my lack of activity this year is a result of struggling to recover from the horrors of 2017. I'm hoping that my physical activity levels climb out of the low point they're in. I'm really not enjoying miserable summers.

The graphs tell a really cool story which completely correlate with my memories and perceptions.

I remember the period of spring to summer 2016 as being particularly productive, and although I was very bored at work, I was earning a lot of money and my life was stable. I went on holiday for my birthday at the end of July 2016, which correlates perfectly with the big peak in my website visitors.

The low-point in my activity in June 2017 correlates perfectly with the lowest point of my life, when I'd broken up with the love of my life, run out of money, had to leave my amazing apartment and had to leave London. As I wrote a few days ago, that was probably my rock bottom period, although it's only with hindsight that I see that now - at the time it was very stressful and miserable, but I was too busy fighting to survive to stop and consider how awful things were in the grand scheme of things.

In terms of pure progress, there's still so much work to do. I've got to clear all my debts, complete a whole year of work without a major incident, and I've got to finish my 1 million words to some reasonable standard of quality. For my own sense of achievement, I need to have a period when I'm writing short, concise pieces which I'm pleased with, and not just churning out the raw words to pump up the word count and achieve the arbitrary goal. I want my readers to have a period where the quality justifies the vast amount of time wasted perusing the pages of this particular and peculiar publication.

The graphs don't quite do justice to the journey I've been on, and a number like 1 million is seemingly trivial in a world which has racked up debts in the trillions. However, I assure you that the project has been every bit as hard as scaling an 8,000m+ peak, such as Mount Everest.

Ah yes, that's the other work that's still to do: I need to get more fit and active.

On that note, I'm going to the pub.

 

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Sugar Craving, Caffeine Addicted, Alcohol Dependent

4 min read

This is a story about shelf life...

Red bull cans

Objectively comparing feelings at different times in your life is a virtually impossible task. What you would have described as 'low' mood a few years ago might have now become your new standard for a 'good' day. All I can tell you is that I don't remember ever feeling as tired as I have felt today.

I spent 5 hours driving, 7 hours waiting around in airports and 5 hours flying, which was all exhausting. However, in the last week or so there's something else that's been quite different about my behaviour - I've been drinking coffee and energy drinks.

A couple of weeks I desperately needed an extra bit of 'get up and go' to get me through a tough couple of weeks. I reached for caffeine as a crutch. I gave up - although perhaps only temporarily - my many years of caffeine-free existence.

When I was away with my friend over the weekend, it was tempting to just move from bar to bar, restaurant to restaurant, café to café. We drank fizzy drinks, strong European coffee, had ice-creams and I drank quite a lot of beer. We guzzled sugar, caffeine, and I had plenty of alcohol.

Yesterday, because I had to drive home from the airport, I had to stay sober all day. I also didn't want to be wired and jittery from having loads of coffee. I was exhausted, so I wanted to sleep on the plane ride, so that I wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel while driving home.

I think to say "alcohol dependent" is an over-exaggeration, but having slept most of the day, and generally felt like everything was far too much effort, it was the lure of alcohol that finally managed to get me off the sofa and out of the house.

If you look at most of my behaviour, it's motivated by the tiny dopamine hits from sugar, caffeine and the mellowing effect of alcohol. I used to ride a dreadful chemical carousel when I was a lot younger, working in London: I would have 8 or more espresso shots a day, and then had to have a bottle of red wine at night in order to be able to sleep. It was a vicious see-saw of uppers and downers, that were quite legal and indeed the consumption of coffee and alcohol was quite ubiquitous amongst my friends and work colleagues.

I've felt like my sleep quality has improved and I find it a lot easier to get up in the mornings, since going caffeine-free.

I've never really managed to get rid of alcohol completely. I find that I suffer terrible anxiety and depression whenever I try to stop drinking.

Sugar is something I have a mixed relationship with. I crave it like crazy when I'm tired. When I'm well rested I don't have a very sweet tooth at all. I think I associate sugar with getting an energy boost, which in fact never happens. If I'm craving sugar I should probably take a nap.

There's nothing to say that caffeine is particularly bad for you, and in fact there's good evidence that it has a neuro-protective effect against dementia in older people, but anecdotally I can definitely report feeling improved mood, energy and sleep, since cutting my caffeine intake to zero.

Sugar is obviously fattening, and is very unhealthy, although an essential part of our diet - every cell in our body is powered by glucose, so any faddy sugar-free low-carb diets are pure idiocy.

Alcohol is fattening and seems to have a firm grip on me, even if I'm not physically dependent on it. The strength of the cravings I have for alcohol are quite shocking, and the regularity and quantity I consume is definitely unhealthy. I would like to cut down, or even quit for a while, but I'm never quite able to.

In short, I'm feeling really tired, old and unhealthy. My mood is dreadfully low, I'm lacking motivation and I seem to have lost all enjoyment of life.

I wonder if I'm past my sell-by date.

 

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Comfort Eating

5 min read

This is a story about getting fat...

Lobster and burger

In December I started a lovely little self-contained project. I flew to Warsaw to gather the requirements from the client and then I flew back to London. I was living in AirBnBs and travelling home to Wales every weekend. I was living out of a suitcase, but it was OK because I was busy getting on with my project.

Then I finished the project.

The project was only supposed to take 6 weeks, but I finished it in 3. I spent another 3 weeks polishing the finished result and adding every bell and whistle I possibly could to create a completely spectacular Rolls-Royce solution, but then the project was well and truly finished and there was nothing left to do.

The team I was working with were based in Warsaw, and I was based in London. I had nobody to even chat to in the office, to while away the hours. I was bored out of my mind. The client was quite happy for me to sit around doing nothing, and he even wanted to extend my contract for a further 6 months beyond the original 3 months, but I was losing my mind with the boredom.

To cope with the boredom, I started to drink. I was drinking heavily. At one point I was drinking 2 bottles of wine a night, every night.

At the start of last September I had a benzo habit that had gotten out of control. I was taking several Valium and Xanax every day, and then a couple of zopiclone and zolpidem at night, plus a whole load of pregabalin. All those medications are GABA agonists, which is to say that they're hypnotic-sedative/tranquilliser type drugs that all act in the same way... very similarly to alcohol. I was physically addicted to those medications and if I stopped taking them then I would have a seizure that might kill me.

By the time I started that project back in December, I had managed to quit the Valium, Xanax and zolpidem. However, I had stopped but then started taking the pregabalin again because I was so stressed out by the travelling and the new job, and the fact I was homeless and rapidly running out of money. The pregabalin soothed my jangled nerves during the day, and the zopiclone helped me to sleep at night. With the combination of those two medications, I was able to limp through that 3-month contract in London.

I drank a lot when I was in London because I was bored and I was withdrawing from the benzos, and I hated the job because I was so isolated and lonely, and I hated the travel and the AirBnBs. I was suicidal A LOT of the time.

Along with the drinking, I got into bad eating habits. I would have fried chicken from KFC and burgers from McDonalds. I would have greasy curries and fatty kebabs. I lived on fast food and vast quantities of wine. I really let myself go, because I hated my life so much and it was so unbearable.

In January I decided that I needed an incentive to quit the London life and base myself in Wales full-time, so I started dating. I met a lovely girl who enjoys eating out, getting takeaways and drinking wine. We've had a great time, eating, drinking and being merry.

Now I'm feeling fat.

My girlfriend and I have stuffed our faces with fine food and wine for the last 3 months, and I'm feeling fat and unfit. I've had a brilliant time, but I've really let myself go. I've stuffed my face without a single ounce of restraint.

There's a canteen at my new workplace, and I stuff my face with chips, burgers, pizza, burritos, pies and numerous other incredibly unhealthy foods, every single lunchtime. Gone are the days of my relatively healthy lunches that I used to have in London. My lunches in Wales are nothing but carbs, carbs and more carbs.

All the money I've earned has so far been spent on living expenses. I'm running out of money, although I should get a much needed cash injection early next week, which can't come soon enough, because it's been really expensive getting myself back on my feet - renting an apartment and buying a car so I can get to work. It's been really stressful, having the threat of bankruptcy hanging over me for so long. It's been so stressful being so short of cash.

Because of the unbearable stress, and the dreadful withdrawal that I've been through from stopping all those highly addictive tranquillisers and sleeping pills, I've been compensating with comfort eating and alcohol. I've been drinking bucketloads and eating far too much. I've put on weight, and I'm depressed about that - it affects my self-esteem.

Hopefully, money will come flooding in next week, and I'm booking a holiday for mid-June, which can't come soon enough, because it's been a ridiculous 21-month slog without a holiday to get to this point, and I still have a month and a half more to go before I finally get a nice break.

I'm using alcohol and food as a crutch, because I'm not taking any medication and I'm not taking any time off work. I'm stressed and exhausted, and the thing that's suffering is my health; my weight; my appearance. It depresses me that I've let myself go, but I've been dealing with more than I can handle. Frankly, it's a miracle that I've made it this far.

So, as if I haven't worked hard enough, I'll need to cut down my drinking, exercise more and eat less. That sucks. At least there's a holiday and summertime on the not-too-distant horizon.

 

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