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The world's longest suicide note

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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Dysfunctional

13 min read

This is a story about all the little things you take for granted...

Shopping basket

Take a look at your mobile phone recent calls - that tells you who you pick up the phone to when you're feeling blue or something bad has happened in your life. Your recent phone-calls is a good way to see who your social support network consists of. Maybe it's your mum, or maybe it's a brother, sister or best friend. Maybe your recent calls are all work-related, but work can provide support and meaning to life; purpose.

Now, think about the last few journeys you took. You live in a place for a reason - maybe it's where you grew up, or maybe you had to move there to get a job, but you've got connections to the area. You know how to navigate around the place, to get from your house to the shops, and to get to your job. You know how long it takes to reach other important places, like the train station, the bus station, airports, major road junctions and big cities. You know how long it takes you to get to nearby beauty spots and tourist attractions.

Think about all the things you routinely do. Think about where you shop for food and drink. Think about where you'd go if you needed to buy a new pair of shoes. Think about where you'd park and how you'd get there. Think about whether you'd need to pay for parking or whether you know somewhere you can park for free. Think about when it'd be busy and when it'd be quiet, and all the local knowledge you have about what shops there are, what they sell and where they are.

Think about where you'd go in a crisis. You know where the hospital is and you know where the police station is. You know where friends and work colleagues live. You know where to find people and you know where the crime spots are; you know which areas to avoid. You know which places are daytime places, and which places are night-time places.

You do your recycling don't you? You know which day you have to put the bins out, and what recycling is collected on what day. You know which colour boxes and bags have to be put out for collection, and you've gotten into the habit of separating your glass, plastic, cardboard, cans, food waste, garden waste and everything else from your general trash. You know where the dump is if you have to dispose of something bulky.

You have a vague idea of the meals you like to cook and eat. Maybe you plan ahead and you've decided on every meal you're going to eat for the next week. You know all the ingredients you need to buy. You write a shopping list. You know which supermarket you're going to go to and you know every aisle which has the products you want. You know when's a good time to go so it's not too busy. You know where you're going to park your car. You know how many shopping bags to take to bring your groceries home.

You budget and you have a good idea what your bank balance is at any particular point in time. You're saving up for a holiday. You know how much the repayments on your car loan cost you, and how much your mortgage is. You know how much the household bills are. You know what you spend on groceries every week. You know how much you spend on transport. You know how much spare money you have. You know how much you can spend on a night out at the cinema, at a restaurant or at a bar.

You know where your income comes from. Maybe you're on housing benefit and Employment Support Allowance. Maybe you get a paltry salary and your wages are topped up with tax credits. Maybe you have a regular average job which just about covers your monthly costs. You know exactly what your take-home pay is, and exactly when it will arrive in your bank account.

You're planning a holiday. You spent a long time choosing where you were going to go, and you'd been saving up for it for a long time. You're really looking forward to it, and you've planned the itinerary and you've budgeted to make sure you have plenty of spending money, so you can convert your money into local currency and enjoy yourself.

Your car needs taxing, testing and insuring every year, and you know exactly when those things fall due. You know that your car needs servicing and that it will cost a certain amount for tyres and other things every year.

There are birthdays. So many birthdays. It seems like every week there's a card to post off; flowers to send. Some birthdays require a trip. Some birthdays require presents.

There are births, weddings and funerals. There are family emergencies. There are elderly relatives to be cared for. There are friends who are having a tough time. There's your loser brother who's in hospital again.

Maybe you work. If you do, you've probably done the same kind of work for your whole adult life. You know what kind of working environment you belong in - whether that's an office, a building site or a hospital - and you know precisely the job titles and organisations which are likely to employ you. You know the jargon and buzzwords. You know what salary to expect. You know how to do your job blindfolded with your hands tied behind your back.

Maybe you've got kids. In fact, you probably do have kids. You know exactly when they have to get up, what they're going to eat, what they're going to wear, where they need to be taken and how they're going to get there, how long they're going to be there for, who's looking after them and what exactly they're doing when they're there. You know when you've got to collect them and which friend they're bringing home. You know what after-school thing they're attending. You know what paraphernalia they're going to need, both during the day and after school - gym kits, science projects, spelling homework, reading books borrowed from the library, the trumpet and trombone, their Brownie's uniform and the cakes they've baked, their swimming costume and the thing they're going to wear at the dress rehearsal for the play. You've thought about a nutritious and delicious lunch for them, which balances both healthy eating and their particularly picky tastes - you cut the crusts of their bread and scraped the seeds out of the tomato; you gave them the flavour of crisps that they like the best and a drink that's marketed as a "low sugar" version of the drink they really wanted.

You've probably got kids, and you've already decided who they are and what they're going to achieve in life. You've got their whole life mapped out ahead of them - you know what subjects they need to study and what grades they need to achieve and which universities they're going to apply for, and which career that means they'll end up in. You know how you're going to sharp-elbow your precious little darlings to the front of the queue. You know how you'd do anything to give little Henrietta a head start in life.

You haven't really thought about the fact that your kids are going to get into mountains of debt and emerge from university with a worthless degree into a particularly hostile job market where they'll be completely unable to secure employment in their chosen field. You haven't really thought about how the student maintenance grant will nowhere near pay for the cost of living while they're studying. You haven't really thought about how your precious little darlings won't be able to get on the housing ladder. You haven't really thought about how your kids won't be able to make their pathetic wages stretch to pay for even the basic essentials: rent and bills. You haven't really thought about how you're going to have to buy them a car, pay the insurance, pay the deposit on every place they rent and generally bankroll them because they have no chance of achieving financial independence in the current economic climate.

Your parents are getting older and their health is failing, but they're going to live into their eighties in their massive house with lots of empty bedrooms. Your parents will require an increasing amount of assistance to be able to continue living independently, but you already spend over 100 hours a week working, commuting and doing the school run. You're already maxed out. You're already stressed out of your mind and you spend every penny you earn. You can't afford to work part time. You don't have any spare time or money to deal with all the hospital appointments and minor operations in your parents' lives.

You feel like you're on the brink of a breakdown all the time. You feel like you're rushed off your feet 24 x 7. You know that you need 2 weeks in bed, but you can't stop for a single second because you're stressed out of your mind keeping all the plates spinning. People are counting on you. You're a breadwinner; you're the one dependable person at work and people keep asking you to do more and more in less time; you've got to deal with the kids and there's so much to do; nobody else is going to do it; you can't let anybody down.

You know who you are and what your place is in the world. You have a purpose. Your life has meaning, even if that meaning is as slave to the brats you spawned to replace yourself. You have an identity. You know how you like to wear your hair and what your 'style' is. You know what clothes are clean and what clothes you are going to wear at any given moment - you have work clothes, comfy clothes, cleaning and gardening clothes, fancy clothes, casual clothes, holiday clothes, winter clothes. You have shoes for every occasion and shoes for specific purposes - running shoes, tennis shoes, cycling shoes, wellington boots, walking boots, horse-riding boots, f**k-me boots.

You have pets. You have cats, dogs and your kids have rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs. Your parents have pets too. The pets are part of the family. The pets have birthdays too.

You have stuff.

So. Much. Stuff.

You own a house; an apartment. You own furniture. You own curtains and carpets and rugs. You own a fridge, freezer, cooker, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, kettle and toaster. You own a vacuum cleaner, mop and broom. You own bedding and towels. You own sofas, beds, dining tables, chairs. You own chests of drawers and wardrobes. You own sideboards and dressers. You own steamers, slow cookers, fryers.

Now I really have segued into a Trainspotting monologue, by accident.

You've sewn all this stuff together into a life which is more comfortingly familiar than you're even aware of. Yes, you might go away on a self-catering holiday for a week in Spain, and all the brands in the supermarket are unfamiliar and the kitchen in the s**tty apartment you rented is completely unfamiliar to you, but when you go home you're relieved to be home. Your home never went anywhere - you had two homes briefly, and you were just temporarily having a holiday, but you knew that your home was still exactly where you left it.

Try if you can to imagine losing all that. It's a near-impossible thing to do, to empathise with the plight of somebody who's been so uprooted that they've lost everything I've just described, and they find themselves to be lost and bewildered in the world which they detached from. The world's a very different place when you lose all your local connections, your support network, your possessions and your home comforts, and everything else that constitutes your entire life.

Sure, I have an apartment where I've lived for 5 months. Sure, I have a job where I've been working for 4 weeks. Beyond that, I have 2 friends in the place where I live and 1 friend in the place where I work. My list of recent calls on my phone is mostly cold-callers, although I am lucky enough to have a friend who phones me regularly, although I've actually never met him in person. My support network doesn't include anybody who I see regularly face-to-face. My list of contacts doesn't include anybody who I could call if I needed a hand getting home from the hospital, if I'd had an accident.

When I was in hospital on dialysis with kidney failure in London, I had visitors and it was lovely. I don't live in London anymore. I live somewhere where I don't have any local connections. I don't have much of anything, although I am lucky to have a roof over my head and a source of income, although it's somewhat insecure. I've been lucky enough to hang onto a few precious possessions, and I've even accumulated a few more along the way - not everything was lost.

I worry that person, who I've always thought of as one of my best and most loyal friends, is deliberately ignoring me. I feel like I must've done something wrong. I feel like I must've done something to offend or upset him.

My guardian angel is increasingly busy with her life in London, although we're still in regular contact. I feel like she's the one person who'd be there for me if I was deep in the s**t, but I've relied on her very heavily to rescue me from all kinds of sticky situations over the past few years. She knows me through my blog - we didn't know each other until I started blogging.

These are the fragile little hooks that I hang on, suspended over the precipice: I have a place to live, a job and a handful of people who I speak to via text message. Other than that, I'm pretty much cut adrift from humanity.

It's like I'm on a self-catering holiday in a strange country, except I don't have a home, friends and family to go home to.

 

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Rehabilitation

12 min read

This is a story about civilised society...

Lots of pills

What is rock bottom? My life doesn't seem to obey the rules - the first time I was forced to sleep rough because of my drug addiction and chaotic lifestyle, I had about £50,000 in the bank. Of course I could have stayed in a very fine hotel, but the culture clash between me in my dishevelled state, the hotel staff and the other guests was going to create a lot of friction. The first time I ran out of money I owned my own home. The first time I had depression so bad that I wanted to kill myself, I seeming had it all: friends, girlfriend, good job, money in the bank, nice house, boat, cars etc. etc.

Rock bottom seemed to begin shortly after I landed a lucrative contract with Lloyds Banking Group, when I sat on my leg which caused circulation problems, resulting in a blood clot and Deep-Vein Thrombosis (DVT) which then caused kidney failure and landed me in hospital on dialysis. It wouldn't have been so bad, but the DVT caused nerve damage and the pain was excruciating, so I was taking the maximum dose of tramadol, which is an opiate painkiller.

I started to get closer to rock bottom moments when I desperately sought relief from the pain - I obtained codeine and dihydrocodeine tablets on the Dark Web, as well as some extra tramadol. I was in too much pain and discomfort to work. The ludicrous amount of opiate painkillers I was taking left me a dribbling mess at the office. When I lost the job which I had fought so hard to keep, it destroyed me. I started swallowing a chemical cocktail which I'm very surprised didn't kill me.

The problem with opiate painkillers is that they cause very unpleasant physical symptoms. When you take opiate painkillers they make you sleepy and constipated, and when you withdraw you get diarrhoea, aching, sweating and a whole host of other flu-like symptoms. It's thoroughly unpleasant and withdrawal brings back the original pain twice as bad.

I had started taking a neuropathic painkiller called pregabalin - marketed as Lyrica - which isn't an opiate. I was also taking sleeping pills: zolpidem - marketed as Ambien - and zopiclone.. These are what you might call downers as they all have a sedating, tranquillising and soporific effect. The list of downers doesn't end there. I had started to use increasing amounts of diazepam - Valium - and alprazolam - Xanax - which have similar effects to the pregabalin, zolpidem and zopiclone.

So, to recap, I was taking on a daily basis: tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodeine, pregabalin, zolpidem, zopiclone, alprazolam and diazepam... and that's just the pills.

You can't function if you're as doped up to the eyeballs as I was, so I was also drinking strong coffee, Red Bull energy drinks, taking dexedrine and occasionally dabbling with crystal meth in an attempt to bring myself out of my stupefied state of drugged intoxication.

Somehow, I managed to get off the opiate painkillers. I went cold turkey and it was unpleasant, but after a week or so things started to improve. Life on opiates is a horrible merry-go-round of repeatedly having to take a dose every two or three hours to stave off the nasty withdrawal symptoms. I feel very glad that I was able to kick them to the kerb without too much difficulty.

Getting off all the other pills proved much more difficult. You can't just stop taking benzodiazepines - like Valium and Xanax - because you'll have a seizure if you've been taking them for a long time at high doses. Benzos are far more physically addictive than opiates - you can die if you suddenly go cold turkey.

During this extended period of unpleasantness, I broke up with the love of my life in a moment of spectacular stupidity and drug-induced insanity. To my ever-lasting shame, I continued my non-stop blogging and oversharing on Twitter and Facebook, broadcasting my idiocy to all my friends as well as on the public internet. That was - in retrospect - definitely rock bottom, but I was too messed up to see it at the time.

My super-expensive London apartment was burning through my cash and available credit at very high speed, and it became apparent that I was going to get into rent arrears if I didn't take drastic action. All my worldly possessions had to be boxed up and put into storage, and I didn't have enough money left to be able to afford to rent anywhere cheaper in London. I was forced to leave my home and my home city, in search of the first financially viable opportunity, which arose in Manchester.

You'd think that being effectively bankrupt and homeless would be rock bottom, but no, I still think that my rock bottom had been spread over an extended period when my life truly started falling apart. It started with the blood clot and the DVT in my leg/ankle and reached its peak when I broke up with my wonderful lovely amazing ex. It's very hard to pinpoint a single moment of rock-bottomness, because there was a chain-reaction of events which unfolded like a slow-motion car crash. Unlike a car crash, however, I was dimly aware of the disasterous decisions that I was making and should have been more in control.

I'm not an idiot, so of course I knew that I shouldn't risk becoming addicted to opiate painkillers. I'm no fool, so of course I knew that all the sleeping tablets, tranquillisers and sedatives were addictive and I was becoming dependent on them. When I relapsed back into fully-blown supercrack addiction the consequences were obvious: the sleep deprivation and the stimulant psychosis is enough to send anybody insane.

There was never a moment that was so utterly awful that I would call it rock bottom. In fact, the moment when I decided that I need to take evasive action and attempt to avert total disaster, was not a moment at all. I had known for a long while that the money I had managed to accumulate would only allow me to survive for a finite amount of time, and that my expensive London lifestyle was burning through cash at an astonishing rate. I knew exactly how long I could remain as a jobless junkie, before I became bankrupt, destitute and homeless. The only surprise to me is how lucky I am that total disaster was averted at all.

When I left London for Manchester I carried a horrible addiction with me. Benzodiazepines are insidious as they creep their way into your life, literally lulling you into a state of tranquility. Quitting benzodiazepines is not only extremely dangerous, but almost indescribably unpleasant as well - peaceful, tranquil and anxiety-free existence is replaced by incredible anxiousness, stress, worry, nervous tension, insomnia, restlessness and a general sense of all-pervasive and inescapable unease.

I ended up in a shitty apartment, being paid less than half what I'm worth, with an incredibly stressful and demanding job, in a city where I have no friends or family. I had a couple of "rebound" flings with girls, which had seemed promising at first but then ended miserably. Perhaps this was my rock bottom, because this was when I made my most premeditated and calculated attempt to kill myself.

I don't think I tried to kill myself because I was at rock bottom. There have been times in my life when I've been in much worse situations. I could see that there was no way I was going to be able to quit all the addictive benzodiazepines and make new friends and woo a new girlfriend and deliver my project at work and get back on my feet financially. I had a fleeting moment where I lost hope and I was so heavily doped up that it was a lot easier to kill myself. I was so full of medication that I quite calmly poured myself several pints of white wine, which I used to wash down about 400 tablets and capsules, most of which were very powerful and deadly opiate painkillers.

I should have died. I certainly didn't have better than 50/50 odds.

After they told me in hospital that I was going to survive, soon followed the moment which would seem most like rock bottom to a casual observer. I quickly had even more problems than when I had attempted suicide. I lost my job and my apartment and found myself not only homeless, jobless and virtually penniless, but also sectioned and locked up on a psych ward in a part of the country miles away from any friends or family. However, I'd suffered days of seizures while in hospital and had been through an incredibly rapid benzo detox. I was at least free from the shackles of my benzodiazepine addiction at last. It would have been impossible for me to detox on my own and without intensive medical assistance.

Having to sell my house due to my divorce was incredibly traumatic and destabilising, but I was glad to be rid of my horrible ex-wife. Becoming homeless in London and getting in trouble with the police was traumatic and I thought I'd never be able to recover from the shame of being arrested and locked up in a cell, but the police are kind and they helped me - they didn't want to ruin my life [or me to ruin it myself]. Sleeping rough and living in a hostel was an adventure and I made lots of new friends. Becoming a poly-drug abuser - addicted to a whole heap of medications - going insane and breaking up with the love of my life was incredibly tragic and I feel very guilty about what I put her through, as well as being heartbroken myself... however, I needed to escape the high cost of living in London and reduce the enormous financial pressure I was under. For every downside I see an upside. For every moment that was thoroughly awful at the time, I can look back and see that none of those moments were bad enough to be called rock bottom.

My life today could be characterised conventionally as 'desirable' by most ordinary people's standards. I have a large amount of so-called disposable income - although I use every spare penny to rapidly repay my debts - and I'm quickly returning to a position of financial stability. I have a lovely apartment with sea views, which is far more spacious than I need. I have a very well paid respectable job and I work with smart people. My commute is not too far. I enjoy a great deal of comfort and luxury, which belies my troubled past. I've never had to compromise on my lifestyle - although I've come within a whisker of bankruptcy on very many occasions, I've never had to economise or alter my habits of consumption.

On the flip side, I've lost contact with many friends and I have no local support network to speak of. I live a very solitary reclusive existence, where I spend 99% of my leisure time alone, reading, writing, watching documentaries and films. I'm unfit and I drink too much. I'm bored and unchallenged most of the time at work, and I'm depressed and anxious a lot. The tiniest things can inflict an incredible amount of stress, causing sudden and breathtakingly powerful suicide and self-harm impulses.

By anybody's measure I'm rehabilitated. In the last year I've worked for 4 different organisations and delivered 4 big projects successfully. I've earned a lot of money. I've got my own home. I've got money in the bank. I've got a car. I'm getting up and going to work and my colleagues have absolutely no idea what I've been through, and they would never suspect a thing. I'm quite a convincingly 'normal' productive member of civilised society. I've even managed to sail through background checks and security clearance, and found myself in positions of responsibility, which one would not normally imagine being given to an ex-homeless, ex-junkie, near-bankrupt person with mental health problems, who's known to the police.

If you believe that people can be rehabilitated - that deep down there's always some good in a person no matter how many bad things there are in their past - then I think that I could be a poster-boy for that idealistic belief. I hope that my story indicates that it's worth giving people a second chance; allowing them to pick up the pieces of their broken lives and to be rehabilitated without prejudice and stigma.

Of course, I still have the potential to f**k up spectacularly, but on the whole my net contribution to society must surely be a positive one. I am trying my very hardest to see if I can at least break-even.

Am I rehabilitated? Inside I feel very broken and that happiness and contentment are still an extremely long way away, but to all outside observers and by all objective measures I represent a great success: the proof that a person can re-enter civilised society and make a valuable contribution, provided they are given the chance.

Am I rehabilitated? I leave it to the reader, who is far better informed than most, to decide.

 

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Forced to be Free

10 min read

This is a story about normality...

Psych ward garden

Most people want a secure job, secure housing and to feel prosperous. Most people don't care about freedom of speech and a free press. Given the choice between security and freedom, most people would choose security every time. It's only a handful of paternalistic elites who dictate that we the people care a very great deal about freedom, when in actual fact this is not true at all.

Freedom has a very narrow definition. When we talk about freedom of speech and a free press, we do not also acknowledge the freedom to be hungry, the freedom to be homeless, the freedom to be marginalised, excluded and abandoned by our "fit in or f**k off" culture. While we might enjoy freedom of speech and a free press, those luxuries are only useful to a privileged few; the wealthy elites; the rich and powerful. While you are theoretically free to run for political office or broadcast your opinions, you are not at all free in practice.

The only freedoms that ordinary people have are the choice between virtually identical minimum wage zero-hours contract McJobs; the choice between conformity or social exclusion. You can be a free tramp, if you choose: you can be homeless, penniless, destitute and free, or you can be enslaved to the capitalists... it's up to you; you're free to choose.

Further, for those who are not neurotypical you have to choose between social exclusion, stigma and poverty or the chemical straightjacket of powerful psychotropic medications. You're free to accept the diagnoses and swallow the pills, and allow yourself to be 'normalised' so that you fit the rigid static definition of how a 'normal' person should think and act, or you can choose to be excluded from most economic and social activity because you don't fit in.

Many of us willingly and indeed eagerly beat a path to the door of our doctors, demanding medications that will return us to 'normality' when we find that we are deviating from what we perceive to be the norm. We see millions of others around us getting up at dawn, commuting to bullshit office jobs and being uncomplaining, so when we're troubled by depression, anxiety and other disruptive changes which force us to confront the purposelessness of our absurd existence, we 'choose' to be made normal again by psychiatry.

Society should be constantly adapting to the changing needs of the people, such that the stress and exhaustion in our lives is reduced or at least kept constant, but instead we see that the people themselves believe that they are the ones at fault. Students take amphetamines, modafinil and methylphenidate in order to artificially increase their concentration spans and stay awake during marathon exam-cramming sessions. Workers drink tea, coffee and energy drinks in a desperate attempt to stimulate their brains and fend off tiredness. We take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications so that we can withstand the horrors of a society which places greater and greater demands upon us, while also giving us less and less security: our jobs are under threat, our homes are under threat, we and our children are under threat. Where has the feeling of prosperity and the sense of optimism gone? We presume that it must be us who have faulty brains, as opposed to seeing that it's society itself which is failing to deliver the things we need.

As is oft-quoted: "it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society"

When more than 50% of the population are categorised as suffering from some sort of mental disorder, we must surely accept that it's the minority group who are the sick ones. Why should society continue only to serve the ones who are not suffering? Why should our idea of what is 'normal' be based on something which is abnormal because it is less common? Why are we trying to conform to such unrealistic and impossible ideals, which do not serve the majority of people?

"I'm miserable, so you have to be miserable too"

I think the above quote accurately sums up the attitude of powerfully influential figures in our society, who are blocking any progress towards a better way of life for all our citizens. I had the misfortune of making the acquaintance of a doctor who hated their job, their commute, the daily grind and - seemingly - their patients. This doctor made it their mission in life to deny time off work to anybody they could. Their reasoning was simple: because they were miserable and hated their job, they were going to make everybody within their power suffer too. A doctor has the power to dispense medications which might temporarily mask the symptoms of a sick and broken society, or to sign a piece of paper which excuses a person from the charade of having to go to their bullshit McJob every day. A doctor has the power to inflict misery on potentially thousands of people every year, and we must presume that as many doctors are as miserable as the general population as a whole, which means that more than 50% of doctors are perpetrating this kind of awfulness on the people they have power over.

We worship medicine and medics as a force for good, but in the increasing absence of organised religion in wealthy western democratic countries, we are seeing doctors elevated to a social status beyond what is reasonable, creating demi-gods who abuse their power. Just as with organised religion, we have suspended rational thought, cynicism, curious inquiry and skepticism, and have placed blind faith in the medical establishment to cure the ills of society. We reject politics and politicians as corrupt self-serving liars and we have lost faith in the ability of our vote and other democratic instruments to be able to influence our lives for the better.

The only thing we believe we're able to change is ourselves, with the assistance of doctors who can give us "magic bullet" pills to alter our mood and perceptions, as well as keeping us youthful and protecting us from death. We have fake tits, white teeth, hair implants, botox and numerous other procedures to alter our appearance, because we're powerless over anything except our looks. We can be reasonably sure that our lives are protected by hospitals and medicines, but our power to influence anything else in life, such as our socioeconomic prospects, is precisely zero.

While a sharp-elbowed tranche of middle-class society obsesses about their children's exam grades, places at the most desirable schools and universities, internships, graduate training programmes and otherwise attempting to give their precious little darlings a head start in life, this blinkered myopia ignores the fact that the baby boomers are getting older and older but living longer and longer, while also amassing asset portfolios well beyond their means, and preventing those precious little darlings from having any hope of having secure jobs and secure housing. In order to pay grotesquely unjustified and disgustingly greedy defined-benefit pensions to the generation who've contributed the least - except to national debts, global warming and a decline in living standards - the pension funds demand that workers are paid pitiful wages for longer hours in terrible working conditions, so that profits, capital gains and dividends can keep sustaining the unsustainable, unrealistic and ridiculously greedy selfish demands of those who are taking out far more than they paid in.

A small segment of society is free to write, paint, photograph, travel and generally enjoy the freedoms that we would all love to have, but the very vast majority of us are too busy trying to survive in an ecomony which is built to benefit the few, not the many. Only the old and wealthy are free, and they did not work hard to earn their freedom: they have stolen that freedom from the young and from the future generations who will inherit all the problems of today and tomorrow.

If you're an artist and/or an academic and you enjoy your life and your job, you need to remember that the position of privilege you're in is very rare and a very high price is paid by a huge number of people, so that you can swan around having a lovely time. Your freedom ends where mine begins, so if your freedom is disproportionately large compared to the rest of society's then you're being greedy and antisocial; you're an enemy of society. While it's very trendy to talk about freedom being important, we must be mindful that most people want security, not freedom. Think about the price that's paid by the whole of society for your luxury privileges.

To be truly free and happy, we might have to re-evaluate our priorities. We can't demand cheap food and cheap goods if we want to be free, for example, because those things are only made possible by the exploitation of workers. We can't demand passive labour-free unearned income, for example, because that's only made possible by tyranny, economic slavery and exploitation of the vulnerable. Most importantly, we can't expect to feel contentment and security, when we need unhappy, insecure people in order to sell consumer products and to keep our entire workforce on the treadmill, by heavily indebting them and denying them social housing or the ability to buy/build their own home.

You might teach your children that a strong work ethic and academic excellence are the route to getting ahead in life, but it's not true. Being a compliant hard worker means you will be exploited, and obtaining academic qualifications incurs a substantial amount of debt. Servicing debts and paying rent is a form of tyranny which has encroached on personal freedom to the point where only a tiny fraction of society enjoys any kind of meaningful freedom at all. Your children will not be able to escape the trap; there's no hope. The depression and lack of optimism for the future is driven by a rational, reasonable and sound assessment of our younger generations' prospects.

Our heavily indebted and heavily medicated society is also controlled by draconian laws which were ostensibly introduced to counteract terrorism and industrial unrest, but have been abused to undermine the strength of trade unions and prevent the establishment of any counter-cultural movements which might challenge the status quo. While we should be living in an age of alternative lifestyles and people dropping out of a society which clearly no longer serves the majority of people's needs, we are instead witnessing a miserable dystopia, where we're all trapped on the treadmill because the only alternative is hunger, homelessness, persecution and social exclusion.

Yes, I'm free to write whatever I want, provided I do not defame the powerful figures who are responsible for maintaining this miserable state of existence for so many millions, but those in power are quite comfortable in the knowledge that my ranting is safely confined to an echo-chamber filled with so much noise that, as Aldous Huxley predicted, the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance - information overload.

We are somewhat hoisted by our own petard. Almost none of us of us demanded freedom, but we have collectively made freedom of speech into something useless; toothless. We are not free at all and we have no mechanism by which to affect any meaningful change. What is supposedly our most powerful tool to speak truth to power - the freedom to express ourselves - has in fact become the reason why our voices are not heard and our suffering goes ignored.

All that's left is the freedom to be hungry, homeless, persecuted and excluded.

 

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Word Count

10 min read

This is a story about carelessness...

Grazed knuckles

I'm a regular at my local corner shop. During the month when I wasn't working, I think I visited the shop every single day to buy a bottle of red wine. The weekend before last I was buying some unhealthy snacks and my usual bottle of red, when I decided at the last minute to grab a bottle of white from the fridge, which was near the counter. My usual bottle of red was balanced precariously on top of the snacks I was buying, which then plummeted towards the shop floor where mercifully it bounced off the linoleum; the glass didn't break. Last Friday I grabbed both a bottle of white and a bottle of red. As I walked up the steep hill back to my apartment, I wasn't paying attention to my footing and I tripped over. I grazed my knuckles as I attempted to save my precious cargo of wine from being smashed on the tarmac.

I've definitely become a functional alcoholic.

I woke up on Saturday morning and I had a slight tremor. I don't get hangovers because I think my alcohol tolerance is so high. I can drink two bottles of wine and I feel fine. Obviously I'm not fine.

I've started to skip meals because I'm getting enough calories from all the wine. I could drink 5 bottles of wine over the course of a weekend, and the only 'food' that I would eat would be some salty snacks - crisps and suchlike.

I examine my eyes for any sign of yellowing. I prod and probe my abdomen for tenderness, firmness or any subcutaneous fluid. Surely my liver is taking a battering from a month and a half of extreme alcohol abuse?

Over the weekends I show no restraint at all. I'm making no attempt whatsoever to be the slightest bit healthy. The crap I'm putting into my body - unhealthy snacks and copious quantities of alcohol - combined with my sedentary lifestyle must be lethal. I'm either sat down or lying down. According to my step counter I've dropped from a peak of 15,000 steps per day to a paltry 2,000.

I need to figure out which broken part of the vicious cycle to fix. Stress leads to feelings of tiredness; depression leads to demotivation; anxiety paralyses me - I could start with fixing my mental health. Self-medicating with vast quantities of alcohol seems like the solution to anxiety, stress, boredom, loneliness and isolation, but it's pretty clear that alcohol is affecting my physical health and probably my mental health too. Exercise seems like a ridiculous suggestion, given how badly I'm coping with the basic demands of everyday life. I can't figure out if I'm too tired and stressed to exercise, or if exercise will bring a net benefit once I get fitter - which I know it will - but it seems unthinkable to get fitter when I'm so dependent on alcohol as a crutch.

I'm changing far too many things at once. I've only just started my 3rd week in a new job and I'm still finding my feet in the new organisation and ingratiating myself with my new colleagues. My memory is shot to pieces. I can't even remember how long I was taking sleeping pills for before I ran out. I had some leftover painkillers, which helped to reduce my anxiety enough to be able to sleep, but then I switched back to sleeping pills last week. All I know is that the second half of May was a big mess, June was a near-disaster and I only started getting myself sorted out a week before starting the new job in the middle of July.

The surprising thing is that I keep moving forward. I didn't lose my job despite a few really shaky weeks when I was really sick. I've managed to start this job and things are going OK. Well, when I say that "things are going OK" of course I don't include my mental health, mood stability, brain chemistry or any of those other things which I pretend are OK during office hours. It's a miracle that I've been able to cover up a major relapse, alcohol abuse, abuse of prescription medications and of course my rather worrisome mental health problems.

How long did my writing go erratic for? I know that I had to delete a lot of blog posts in the period between my relapse and the day I finally regained enough of my rational mind to see that I was picking fights which couldn't be won and saying things which shouldn't be said. I don't usually delete blog posts, but I'd lost my mind and I was meandering up dead-ends; I was unhealthily obsessing over things and acting carelessly.

My carelessness has manifested itself at weekends recently. I get super drunk and I write with a lack of care for coherence and storytelling. I've written at weekends in the knowledge that I have fewer readers on Saturdays and Sundays, which has made me feel like I can just ramble, complain, moan and write complete and utter crap. I've considered deleting or rewriting my daily blog posts which I've published at weekends, because I've wondered what the hell am I going on about? I've written and written and when the word count goes over 1,000 words then I decide that I'd better not write any more, but I haven't considered whether what I've written is any good.

Of couse, the end is in sight. I'm so close to a million words now. In fact, if we included the word count of all the deleted blog posts, then I'm well over a million words. The current total word count that's actually published on the public internet on this website is now in excess of 950,000. I'm repeating myself, but only because it's important in the context of my alcoholism. The last few months have been a blur. In my mind, the relapse, the breakup and the period of insanity that followed was over in the blink of an eye. In reality, I've been an intoxicated mess; I've either been doped up on pills or drunk.

Sometimes I hear myself speak and my voice buzzes in my ears and the sound vibrates my head. It feels like somebody else is speaking and they're using a megaphone directed at my head, which is so loud that the sound hurts and I can feel the vibrations. It's a dreamlike state. It's akin to an out-of-body experience. I feel like this when I think I'm completely sober but I think it's actually due to the fact that there isn't much blood in my alcohol-stream. God knows what other crap is still circulating in my body. I've abused a mixture of diazepam, clonazepam, alprazolam, pregabalin and zopiclone during the last couple of months, as I attempted to wrestle back control of my life before my supercrack addiction destroys everything I've worked so hard to rebuild.

Yes, that's right. The dreaded supercrack was back. I had relapsed.

To put things in context, I've worked a full-time job for 9 months out of the last 12. I've moved house 4 times. I've been hospitalised twice. I've been sectioned. I spent the best part of a month locked up on a psych ward. The main headline that most people would pay attention to is that I've earned a lot of money and done a lot of work. To all intents and purposes I've been a thoroughly productive worker and a valued member of the teams and projects I've been part of. This does not reconcile.

In my head, I'm brushing off serious problems with mental health, addiction and alcoholism like they're nothing. In my head, I'm as invincible as I ever was. In my head, I'm immortal and the evidence very much backs up that ludicrous idea.

I really don't want to have a reality check one day, where I find out that I've done irreparable damage to my physical health. I really don't want to keep testing my mortality to breaking point.

Yes, the numbers look incredibly good. Despite the insanity of my life during the last 12 months, I still managed to work 9 months out of 12 and my gross income has probably been well in excess of 3 times the national average. Somehow, I've managed to write more-or-less every day and churn out over 300,000 words since this time last year. How the hell did I manage to earn so much and how did I manage to write so much? How do the numbers look so good when my life has been a complete shambolic mess?

The numbers don't tell the complete story.

Yes, without good numbers my story wouldn't be very interesting. The world's full of junkies who went bankrupt. The world's full of alcoholics who drank all their profits. The world's full of people who have fascinating stories but they never write them down. I'm gunning for the convergence point where one million words meets one million pounds. I'm aiming to be an outlier: the guy who beat drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, homelessness and - most importantly - bankruptcy. I've got the archives; I've collected the data. Plenty of people lost their house, their car, their wife, their cash and everything else, but how did they get it back? The game; the sport, if you like, is to have kept this narrative going through a 3-year period which accurately captures the false starts, the setbacks and the struggles... and at no point did I wipe the slate clean; at no point did I run away; at no point did I switch to a different tack.

Why would I change my approach? The numbers look good.

I'm going to reach a million words on my blog because I'm in control of my destiny and I can work as hard as I want; I can write as much as I want. I can choose when my project is complete, because I know the word count I need to achieve every day to make sure I hit the target.

Whether or not I clear all my debts and reach a thoroughly impressive gross income for the 3-year period covered by my blog, I'm not so sure. There's no way that hard work will bring the finish line any closer - it's simply a waiting game. All I have to do is sit and look pretty and the money flows in. I just need to be patient. It's an agonising wait, but it's profitable.

Being drunk all the time seemed like a solution to the waiting game; to make the time pass quicker. However, I need to be clean and sober when I reach the finish line otherwise it was all a waste of time.

I'm going to see if I can resist the temptation to get drunk. I'm going to sober up for a few days, to try to clear my head and get some perspective. I've been intoxicated for far too long.

 

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One Year in Pictures - a Photo Story

7 min read

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

London sunset

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

Self storage

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

Packed suitcase

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

Manchester apartment block

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

Ironing board

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

Tramadol capsules

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

Psych ward

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

Nettles

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

Warsaw snow

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

Busy underground

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

Train cancelled

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

Garage

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

Apartment keys

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

Cod and chips

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

Baked beans

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

Holiday

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

Leaving gift

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

Time to talk

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

Pint in the pub

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

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

 

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Back in the Land of the Living

8 min read

This is a story about a worrying disappearance...

Pot noodles

My flat's a bit of a nightmare really. The landlord slides the garage door up and down all day long, and seems to be endlessly sawing up bits of wood, then he stomps up and down the stairs, slamming the door - all of this is within a few feet of me in my lounge. At the back of the house, the bedroom is basically a viewing gallery for perverts - the blinds are about as much use as opera glasses.

I don't want to disturb anybody, but I don't want to be disturbed either - catch 22.

Ventilating the front of the apartment is OK, but to keep the temperature down the best thing to do is keep the curtains closed at the moment. Ventilating the back is impossible, save for setting up a load of seats for prime viewing position into the only one of 2 rooms which most people want privacy in: bedroom & bathroom.

The heat is a real problem, but so is the as-yet undealt with problem of getting some air circulating.

At the moment I'm sleeping on the sofa and spending the days on the sofa with the curtains drawn, which somehow feels like I'm doing something I shouldn't be. It also seems to announce to the world that I'm at home, but perhaps sleeping during the day... I feel I should 'act normal'.

It's driven me a bit crazy to be honest, feeling like I can't be in my bedroom during the day (or at night with privacy) and like I can't have the lounge curtains drawn during the day, or sleep on the sofa at night... it's all behaviour that would raise eyebrows; provoke speculation.

The gap in my writing has been valid cause for concern. I feel so hyper-sensitised to all the noises around me, and I've been struggling not to attach my own negative interpretation of what I hear: "oh it's terrible" I hear somebody say, and "what are we going to do?" and I presume it's something to do with me. If I hear a stamp on the floor from the neighbour above, I presume my attempts to be as quiet as mouse have failed, and I'm annoying them.

The bathroom, with its lack of windows, and equidistance from ever-present landlord and neighbour who I can hear above, has become my place of refuge. It has a door with a lock - nobody can just barge in unannounced. Also, unlimited cold water.

One thing that's very difficult to do though is to sleep on the cold floor tiles of a bathroom, in the pitch black, with only a towel as both blanket and something to lie on. It's disorienting - a sink appears out of nowhere; you reach for the door handle, but realise you're 90 degrees out of alignment; the shape of the floor space doesn't seem well thought out for a person lying on those cold tiles for many hours.

There are 3 legitimate entrances into my apartment, and I sometimes just want to feel like I know what's coming a little bit in advance. Last night, somebody was walking on my windowsills for f'cks sake, which is unnerving, but not as unnerving as having 3 doors that your ever-present landlord might decide to walk through at some unpredictable moment.

Anyway, I had something to eat, and I've not been too bad with the dehydration thing, having now found that the best thing to do is take a cooling shower. I do need to air out the revolting sweatiness though.

How I get back to any semblance of normality seems an impossible task at the moment, but I suppose with time and patience I'll get things sorted. I'd cleared half my TODO list, but now it's bigger than when I started, and I worry about the logistics of the things I can't do myself. Even the logistics of the things I can do myself are complex, given that my whole life is on public display, barring the bathroom.

I'm sorry for severing all contact, but I can't wrap my head around what next and when. There's home life to sort, I need to be rested and ready for my next opportunity and then there's the exhaustion of dealing with all the phone-calls and emails; interviews; requests for documents, forms to be filled in, new office, new team... blah blah blah. I don't even know whether to go for something reasonably close to home, but there's no way I want to be commuting 1hr+ every day. No point thinking about it while things have rather been in crisis at home, and there's enough to be done sorting myself and my apartment.

It'll be just my luck... after all the days and days of waiting for the worst to happen, the sky will fall in and my world will implode just as I've started to take care of myself a bit more. I've stopped letting my days be dominated by either trying to hold my breath and tiptoe around, or move to whichever part of my home feels most secure; least surprises; least peeping Toms. It'll be just my luck that now I'm no longer living with the anticipation of the most awfully intrusive home invasion, today or tomorrow - before I've had time to sort things - the dreaded event(s) will happen.

What a waste of a summer. What a waste of an opportunity to keep moving forwards without losing too much momentum. That's the fragility I've been talking about for so long; that's the bomb going off, after I've been talking about it ticking for a long time. Did I precipitate all this? Is it all my own fault? Try to remember that rebuilding an entire life from the ground up is hard, and without the usual safety nets of local social network and family - let alone simple familiarity with the area - meant that removing a couple of key building blocks brought the whole Jenga tower crashing down, although - in theory - there exist superhuman people who can endlessly move house, move area, make new friends, get new jobs, get a partner, get a hobby, stay fit & healthy and turn up and work their full-time job, week after week, month after month... relentless.

This isn't much of a holiday; in fact quite the opposite, but there we go... I'm still present, at least bodily. I'm not sure I want to live if the next bit of shitty luck - the thing I've been dreading - rips out another one or two of those Jenga blocks.

Wish me luck, that I have an unmolested couple of days and I can start to get on top of things; that the sky doesn't cave in now of all the bloody times it could've done it.

Interestingly, when that sharp knife's been at my throat  - at least 3 or 4 times - ready to be plunged into my jugular vein and carotid arteries the moment my sanctuary was breached, things went quiet and I thought clearly... the madness and the terror ended, and the immediate threat of a life-destroying event disappeared. I took a cooling shower, put on some clean clothes and started to look after myself. It's as though things have to get to that point: if you're not prepared to die, you're gonna have unimaginably awful events happen. It's the Schrödinger paradox, except I'm the cat - in all the universes where the the worst happened, I killed myself.

I'm not optimistic or positive. In fact, I'm anticipating that things are going to be very very very hard for what will feel like an eternity, but for those who've been worrying about me committing suicide, it's perhaps been well over 24 hours since that blade was lined up in position, and I don't feel suicidal now that I'm not quite as trapped and cornered as I was... famous last words. In short: I'm safe at the moment.

I wish I was writing regularly. I wish my writing quality hadn't gone to s**t because of mania, sleep deprivation and general malnourishment. I wish... I wish... I wish. But, there was an inevitability: cut enough of those slender threads and I'll fall further than most would; further than you'd expect, because you take for granted the social fabric you're woven into... it's almost tempting to abandon the attempt to return to wealthy middle-class life, because at least when I was homeless I was part of a community. How ironic, to immediately want to go back to those homeless days when a couple of bits of my 'respectable life' were lost.

I'll try and write again, and write less. Little and often.

Anyway, still here.

 

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Self Defamation

6 min read

This is a story about making yourself look like an idiot...

Movember

I started this blog as a suicide survivor who was interested in suicide prevention. I started this blog because my head was buzzing with ideas for how technology could be used to help people at risk of suicide. I started this blog because trying to explain to colleagues, friends and family what was going on with me had nearly killed me - it was an unwinnable battle, because nearly everybody makes the same incorrect presumptions and carries near-identical prejudices.

Only a fool would try the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, but if I had a pound for every time somebody has suggested yoga, mindfulness, jogging, kale smoothies and all the rest of the "wow thanks I'm cured" quick fixes that a person with mental illness gets bombarded with, then I'd be a very rich man. Equally, explaining the same thing over and over again - "yes I've had mental health and substance abuse problems, but no I'm not going to stab you in your sleep or rob you" - was an exhausting madness.

I needed to move from the position where my work colleagues had no idea that I'd been a homeless drug addict when they hired me to work on the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe, to the position where my colleagues had seen me working very effectively in the office and been a valuable member of the team, yet they began to understand a little of the difficulties I'd faced in my personal life. I didn't want to have to hide my mental illness - bipolar disorder - and I didn't want to have to hide my problems of the past, which included homelessness and substance abuse.

Pretending to be Mr Boring Corporate Worker Bee was exhausting, and I already had been through enough, trying not to run out of money, trying to get off the streets and trying to get clean.

In June 2015 I was a homeless junkie, arranging interviews while sleeping in a park. I got an interview for a job, which I was nearly an hour late for because I fell back to sleep after the agent phoned me to wake me up, and then I had to get showered, changed and rush across London. In July 2015 I was living in a hostel in a 14-bed dormitory, trying to do my job, but I was still a junkie. In early September 2015 I started this blog. In late September 2015 I managed to get an apartment. By December 2015 I had 2,000 Twitter followers, so I decided to go fully public and write a blog post called "Cold Turkey" on Boxing Day, which was about my problems with substance abuse.

By accident or design, my blog has recorded every aspect of my illness: homelessness, depression, mania, self-harm, suicide attempts, hospitalisation, near-bankruptcy and destitution, eviction, relationship problems, family estrangement, poly-substance abuse and my attempts to get back on my feet, plus the relapses.

I've written down every single thing that you never wanted to know and that nobody would ever tell you because it'd be too likely to lead to prejudice, discrimination, reputational damage, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of face, bullying, victimisation, taunts, jeers, social isolation, marginalisation, undesirable labels, being laughed at behind your back, becoming unemployable... a pariah.

Perhaps you think I'm stupid.

I did this because there are lots of people who try and fail to deal with debilitating mental illness and dreadful addictions. People try the same old things, which have terrible results. We know that the things we often try are spectacularly useless, because so many people are suffering and so few are recovering. Particularly in the field of addiction, the things that people try are not successful at all. For people who have the triple-whammy of mental health problems, substance abuse problems and money problems, they're screwed - they're almost definitely going to wind up destitute and dead.

There's nothing particularly interesting in yet another story about somebody who went to Alcoholics Anonymous and found God, only to then be caught up in a never-ending cycle of recovery and relapse that eventually destroys their health and takes them to an early grave, along with a lot of time and effort wasted thanking the sky monster and a lot of lying and deception... telling people they're clean and sober when they're really not at all.

I did this because it's hard and it's risky, but at least it's different.

Once or twice I've suffered prejudice and discrimination because of this public document which tells the world about my very worst faults and failings, but mostly it's served its purpose, which is to save me the time and energy that's wasted answering the same stupid questions, humouring people when they offer the same lame "quick fixes" and suffering the prejudice and discrimination because people guess, and they guess wrong, unless they can see the truth for themselves.

It annoys me that I can be a good co-worker, boss, friend, tenant, borrower, boyfriend, citizen... whatever... but only until people know my labels: homeless, junkie, bankrupt, mental health issues. As soon as people think those labels are attached to me, they treat me like a thief or a murderer. As soon as people hear those labels in connection with me, they think I'm going to steal their money for drugs, leave HIV infected needles in their baby's cot and murder them in their sleep because "the voices told me to do it".

The labels I attach to myself - currently only bipolar - I do so freely of my own choosing, because it's convenient shorthand for me.

I'm toying with the idea of switching out "bipolar" for "drug addict" because I think it's more provocative. I think that most mental health problems elicit sympathy, except for substance abuse disorder, which is seen as a bad choice made with free will - addicts are to blame for their own predicament. So, what about somebody who doesn't take drugs calling themself "drug addict" then? If addicts choose drugs, how's about I choose the label, even though I don't take drugs?

I'm defaming myself to see what happens. I'm defaming myself because I want to push boundaries. I'm defaming myself because I want to shake up your idea of what a homeless, bankrupt, junkie person with mental health problems looks like. I'm defaming myself, because I'm pissed off with the shame, the stigma and the prejudice.

I've done the hard work. I've earned the right to be myself. Go ahead... judge me.

I've provided everything you could ever possibly want to judge me. Knock yourselves out.

 

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Payday

5 min read

This is a story about triggers...

50 pound notes

Having money burning a hole in your pocket is thought to trigger relapses, but I think it's the period of poverty that precedes it that causes the problems. Flush with cash after such a long struggle trying to make ends meet and not go bankrupt, who wouldn't be flooded with relief and be significantly affected by such a rollercoaster ride? Our boom and bust, feast and famine world is highly destabilising to our mental health.

Back in September I found myself jobless, homeless and without enough cash to afford to rent a place to live and support myself for long enough to get to payday. Mercifully a friend managed to get me a job in Warsaw in the nick of time, and I was just barely able to afford to be able to live in AirBnBs until I got paid - I escaped bankruptcy with just £23 left in my bank account the day before my pay finally started to arrive.

Back in February I had to buy a car so that I could get to my new job, tax it and insure it. That nearly wiped me out.

Back in March I had to rent a place to live, and paying the first month's rent, deposit and letting agent fees again nearly wiped me out.

I've spent April praying that nothing goes wrong - that I don't lose my job and that my car doesn't break down. I couldn't afford any unexpected bills - I've been running on fumes, although it wasn't quite as bad as when I got down to my final £23.

My financial distress dates back to December 2016, when the Christmas and New Year period delayed me from getting back into work, and by the time January arrived I was very unwell - I spent 3 weeks in hospital on dialysis and promptly lost the job I'd just managed to get. Things got worse and worse, peaking in July when I had a very large tax bill to pay and I had to leave my apartment in London because I could no longer afford the rent. Out of desperation I took a job in Manchester, which turned out to be disastrous - I didn't know anybody in Manchester and my entire life was in the hands of a company which ended up treating me very badly indeed. I tried to commit suicide.

Working in Warsaw and London during December, January and February, meant I was incurring a lot of expenses, with flights, hotels, train travel, AirBnBs and the other costs of living out of a suitcase. I tried to live off pot noodles and other things that can be prepared without a kitchen, but economising can become impossible when you have to travel around from place to place - I had to re-buy all the things you generally keep in the kitchen cupboards, or carry food around with me without the contents of the open containers leaking and turning everything into a horrible mess.

Finally, I managed to rent an apartment but it didn't have a single saucepan, plate, glass, mug, utensil or cutlery item, let alone all the other myriad things which make a house a home, such as toilet brushes and a million other things you take for granted.

To go on the journey from having less than nothing, to re-entering civilised society and having enough money to keep the wolf from the door, has been extremely stressful and exhausting. I'm still in the process of setting up my standing orders and direct debits so that the council tax, TV license, gas, electric, water, sewerage, broadband and all the other various utilities can be paid regularly every month. I'm still in the process of re-stocking the cupboards with all the things that are needed for daily living.

Yes, my situation seems to be rapidly improving, but there's still so much work to do and I'm still a long way from being comfortable and having a financial cushion in case there are any unexpected problems - there are many more sleepless nights ahead.

I don't mean to moan, because I'm very lucky - things have gone my way and finally getting paid some of the money I'm owed today has a big positive impact on my life. I can loosen the purse strings a little, although I still have to be very careful.

There is of course an impulse to go mad now that I'm a bit more financially comfortable, but that's a reaction to the relief I'm feeling, after so many months of having the threat of bankruptcy, homelessness and destitution hanging over me. My main impulse is to draw the curtains and not get out of bed for a month, because I'm so exhausted and emotionally drained after such a horrible rollercoaster ride.

Because of the way I get paid, I'm not expecting another payday for another couple of months. If I can make it to the next payday it'll be a huge milestone and I'll very definitely be on the road to recovery, but I still have a very challenging time ahead of me.

I hope you don't think I'm moaning. It's always a good day when you get paid.

 

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Brain Damage and Personality Change

5 min read

This is a story about neuroplasticity...

Me on the sofa

Who even am I any more? Am I the same person my friends knew 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 15 years ago? Have I changed beyond all recognition?

I suppose change is not important if you're happy with who you are in the present day. I wonder about who I've become. I'm very isolated and I'm so fixated on earning enough money to dig myself out of the hole I got in, that I'm not really making a lot of time for socialising or reconnecting with old friends. I don't speak to anybody on the phone. I don't speak to anybody via email. I only speak to a tiny handful of people via text message. I've got no local social network. There's hardly anybody I'm in regular contact with.

I had a very clear plan for a long time - get out of an abusive relationship, move to London and resume my career in The City. Moving, selling the house and divorce were horribly sabotaged by my ex and made unbearably awful, which derailed me. I ended up stuck in a never-ending nightmare cycle of getting sick, ending up in hospital, recovering, starting to get my life together, and then it all falling to pieces over and over again. I had one good shot at escaping from her, but she ruined it; she ruined me; she ruined my chance.

I woke up in hospital all on my own far more times than I care to remember. I was cut adrift. Nobody came to see me.

Then, a little over a year ago, one of my lovely ex-girlfriends organised a load of support for me when I was in hospital. I had LOTS of visitors and brilliant messages of support. That was amazing. That made such a big difference. That was a turning point.

Recovery is non-linear, and getting my life back on track back in London was impossibly hard. I needed to leave London, which meant a breakup with the aforementioned lovely ex-girlfriend. Nothing about that breakup was done right by me. Nothing about the situation was good. It was a big fat mess. Things got worse before they got better. Things got A LOT worse.

Between the seizures and the coma, I think that my latest suicide attempt reset my brain. I think all those seizures were like a kind of intensive Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) for me. My life certainly started to improve versus the destructive cycle I had been caught in while living in London. When I tried to kill myself, I was hopelessly trapped. My suicide attempt broke me free from something I could never have escaped otherwise.

It's strange: two breakups and a suicide attempt led me to a better life, inadvertently. Through that destruction has come new life and more prosperity; hope.

I'm completing my 21st consecutive month without a proper holiday, and I'm exhausted and stressed, but I get up every morning and I go to work. Whatever's going on with my mental health, I'm very functional. I'm in a healthy happy relationship. I'm getting on well with my colleagues. I'm staying on top of my adult responsibilities - paying my rent & bills, keeping my car road legal, washing, cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking and all the other stuff that caused me unbearable anxiety and difficulties last year.

I might be somebody completely different, but I'm still somebody. My personality might have completely changed, but I'm still me... just not the me I was in the past. If my work colleagues like me and my girlfriend likes me, and I'm a functional member of society, then what's the problem with me?

I'm paranoid that mental health problems are going to rear their ugly head, but it's been almost 8 months without incident. I don't want to get complacent, but that's a long time to be unmedicated as well as dealing with the horrendous stress of losing your home, losing your job, almost going bankrupt, moving house, moving city, starting two new jobs and everything else to boot. Looking at the evidence, I'd say that I'm one of the most mentally strong and stable people you're ever likely to meet, as opposed to an emotionally unstable lunatic, which you might wrongly presume from some of the stuff that happened before.

I think the lesson is that the brain is a homeostatic organ that's evolved to rapidly adapt to the ever-changing environment. If you trap me in to dreadful circumstances, I'm going to have a dreadful reaction - that's logical and reasonable; that's rational... a sane reaction to an insane world.

I do have my PTSD flashbacks - described as "Tourette's-like" by a close friend - and I do have to be extremely careful with my sleep, diet, stress levels and myriad other things, but my mental health problems are a risk not my destiny.

If I can just keep plodding through life, things will improve. Time is the biggest healer, giving my brain time to adapt.

 

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All Work and no Play Makes Nick a Dull Boy

7 min read

This is a story about relentless monotony...

Sleepy Nick

I fell asleep at my desk today. I haven't had any time off since November. I spent November writing a novel, so I guess I haven't had any time off since October. I was in hospital in October and I moved house, so I guess I haven't had any time off since September. I was in hospital in September and I tried to commit suicide and I lost my job and I was evicted, so I guess I haven't had any time off since July. I moved house and started a new job in July, so I guess I haven't had any time off since June. I was selling loads of my stuff, trying not to go bankrupt, while also trying to get a job in June, so I guess I haven't had any time off since May. I was quitting supercrack, having an episode of medication-induced mania from California rocket fuel and breaking up with my girlfriend in May, so I guess I haven't had any time off since April. I was a drug addict in April. This is what I was doing back in April.

Dark Web

Here I am looking at the dark web a little over a year ago. I'm probably not buying anything that would be illegal because I already had enough supercrack to last me 2 years. The fact I'm wearing clothes and sitting in my lounge, taking recognisably normal-ish photographs suggests that a little over a year ago, things were going OK.

Night vision

Oh no I spoke to soon. This night-vision photograph indicates that I was going bat-shit insane while high on supercrack. I took this photograph only a couple of days after the one before, where I was sat in the lounge browsing the dark web. This photograph was taken about a year ago.

Barricaded door

What the hell is THAT? Well, it's pretty obvious that I've barricaded myself in my bedroom. This photograph was taken one year and one day ago. This photograph perfectly illustrates my subconscious fears of privacy invasion - that people are going to burst in on me, shame me and violently attack me. I don't come across as very paranoid in day-to-day life, but I'm very traumatised, and this is my reaction that that trauma: I barricade myself in to protect myself from my parents and ex-wife. It's bat-shit insane, of course, but this is my underlying psychology.

Tray of food

Looks like I was eating some food. I'd probably barricaded myself in my bedroom for days. I'd probably not slept for days. My life was a horrific mess a year ago. I had a virtually unlimited supply of supercrack and my addiction was raging out of control. Clearly I was paranoid because of drugs and sleep deprivation, but what was the seed of that paranoia? I wonder if it could have anything to do with having the rug pulled out from under my feet - being muscled out of my own home; being horrifically injured in my own home; being punched in the face or suffering a horrific injury to my leg, at the hands of my ex-wife and parents. I wonder if it could have anything to do with them. I was trapped in a corner for so very long, with no means of escaping my tormentors, who were demonstrably vile, violent and abusive. Fuck them. That kind of trauma has a lasting effect.

Bathroom barricade

My paranoia reached such ridiculous levels that I barricaded the door to my ensuite bathroom using my laundry bins and some clothes storage boxes. Clearly I just wanted to be left alone. Clearly I didn't feel safe. Yes, it's paranoia that's come about because of drug abuse and sleep deprivation, but there's got to be a seed too. Nobody gets this paranoid unless they have their ex-wife kicking doors in and screaming abuse at the top of her lungs. Nobody gets this paranoid unless they have their parents humiliating them and bursting in on them, and dragging them out of their own home. There's a seed for paranoia. There's always a seed.

Uppers and downers

Something to help me sleep (zopiclone) and something to help me cope and function (dexamfetamine). You can't end a horrific addiction instantly. There's no cold turkey when you're in as deep as I was. I was too dependent. To attempt to suddenly quit overnight would have caused me unbearable withdrawal symptoms and would have required me to be hospitalised. This is what I prescribed myself - two medications for harm reduction. Two medications that I used to wean myself off the dangerous and highly addictive supercrack.

I flushed that big bag of supercrack a year ago. There was enough to last me a couple of years, easily. I can't remember when exactly I flushed it, because my life was chaotic, but the evidence suggests that it was at this point I decided to get clean, using substitute prescribing.

Things didn't go smoothly, but it's very difficult to deal with a major addiction as well as mental health problems and all the practical problems that came about because my life had disintegrated. I needed to get money, get a job, get an apartment I could afford. I needed to move house, move city. I needed to get a new girlfriend and a new group of friends. I had a false start in Manchester, but I tried again in Wales... I'm trying again in Wales.

Maybe you think my life is easy and everything is sorted out, because I earned bit of money, which I spent renting an apartment and buying a car so that I can get to my new job. Maybe you think my life is easy because I get up and go to work every day, and I'm doing a good job and my bosses are impressed with me. Maybe you think my life is easy because I've 'bounced back' from losing two apartments, running out of money three times and being hospitalised twice. Maybe you think my life is easy, because I've made it look so easy, quitting supercrack, Valium, Xanax, tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodiene, pregabalin, zopiclone and zolpidem, which are all highly addictive. Maybe you think my life is easy, because I've gone 7 months unmedicated and I haven't had a single mental health episode that's caused me to commit suicide or do something else drastic to fuck up my life. Maybe you think my life is easy because my finances are improving and I've got a girlfriend. Maybe you think none of what I went through in the last year was very hard. Maybe you think none of what I've been through in the last year has caused any lasting damage.

I'm in my 5th consecutive month of full-time work without a holiday. I'm working my bollocks off. All I do is work work work, because I'm running as fast as I can to get myself into a position where my housing is secure - nobody can evict me - and I'm financially secure. I constantly have to ignore my physical and mental health, because I so desperately need to get myself into a position where I can collapse in a heap and have a minor nervous breakdown.

Yes, I can do stuff like this - I can save myself; I can come back to life; I can return from the brink of destitution and make it look very easy.

It's not easy.

 

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