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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

www.facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Condescendingly Oversimplifying Highly Complex Life-or-Death Issues and Trivialising my Achievements

7 min read

This is a story about perseverance...

Tree in winter

Despite the exhaustive lengths I've gone to in order to make myself understood, surprisingly few people have any appreciation of my achievements in conquering insurmountable odds. It shocks me that there is a complete lack of comprehension of the magnitude of the task, of starting a journey of recovery locked up on a psych ward, unemployed, homeless, £54,000 in debt, physically dependent on addictive substances and having just survived a suicide attempt that was very nearly successful. "Have you tried yoga? Have you tried kale smoothies?" people still write to me.

Yes, I take offence to being patronised.

still take offence to being patronised.

"You're only one trite platitude away from complete recovery" people seem to think.

Oh. My. God.

Drop everything.

A fucking meme saved my fucking life.

Said nobody ever.

A self-help book saved my life.

Said a bunch of idiots who failed to establish a causative relationship.

I'm a fucking computer scientist so I don't hold a lot of sway with superstitious beliefs in sky monsters, fate, karma, astrology, homeopathy, acupuncture, healing crystals, tarot cards and all that other mumbo-jumbo. I believe in cold hard cash. I believe in empirically proven theories which have been peer reviewed, with reliably reproducible experimental results.

In a way, my whole life has been conducted in a very scientific manner, which should come as no surprise given that my career has been dedicated to working in a logical and rational field, governed by rigid formal rules. There's no room for airy-fairy hand-waving nonsense bullshit in my professional field. There's a right answer and a wrong answer, and it's not possible to put your faith in god to fix your goddam code. It's not possible to put your faith in god to fix your goddam life. There are no higher powers. There is no supernatural. No amount of exercise and good diet is going to repay your £54,000 debt.

If it seems like I'm labouring the same points over and over again, and telling the same miserable story which appears to have changed very little in the 13 or so months since I was in an utterly fucked situation, you're a total fucking moron.

Of course my story is repetitive.

Of course my story is miserable.

Of course my story is boring.

Of course my story has changed very little.

From the start of December until now, I've lived out of a suitcase in hotels, working a Monday to Friday 9 to 5 job. All I do is work, sleep, eat and write my blog.

I'm paying back £54,000 of debt.

I didn't start with nothing. I started with less than nothing. I started at a considerable disadvantage.

Starting with nothing would have been a fucking dream.

Most people in my situation would have declared bankruptcy. Most people in my situation would have given up.

I'm not most people.

Most people would never have had the opportunity to get £54,000 in debt. Most people would never be able to repay £54,000 in debt. It costs £10,800 a year to service a debt of £54,000, assuming a credit card interest rate of 20%. Do you have a spare £10,800 kicking around every year?

Remember that I also started this journey locked up on a psych ward, jobless and without a vehicle.

How do you think you'd get out of that particular sticky situation?

"I'd get a job"

Yeah? How much would that job pay? Would you also need a place to live? Would you need to pay transport costs to get you to the fucking job?

It's a hard problem to solve.

No amount of inspirational quote memes can solve the problem. No amount of exercise and good diet can solve the problem. No amount of being patronised as fuck by people who don't have problems will solve the problem.

If I sound angry and that I'm raging... you're damn right.

It's been ludicrously difficult and stressful to get to this point.

I might sound like a scratched record. You might wish for me to be telling a happier and more uplifting story, but the truth is that it's hard damn work to dig yourself out of a very deep hole. I'm sorry that in reality there are no quick fixes. I'm sorry that the real world is not at all like the fantasy world. There are no overnight successes. There are no sudden improvements. There is no solution in the form of a goddam inspirational quote meme.

If your life is sorted, well fucking done. Big congrats.

If your life is sorted, please don't think that you can jump into my world and quickly figure out what I'm doing wrong. Please don't fall into the trap of seeing yourself as some sort of saviour. Please don't patronise me by assuming that I'm overlooking some easy short-cut.

My story sucks because my life sucks, but my life is improving very slowly.

It takes relentless patient persistent perseverance to fix a fucking shit-tonne of problems. I don't tell the story to entertain and amuse you. I tell my story because it's real and I don't know how it's going to end. I tell my story because I think it's important to bear witness to the struggle - the reality - of people who are trying to re-enter civilised society, having been marginalised and excluded.

If you're getting impatient for the good bits, fuck off. I'm impatient too. There are no short-cuts and it's me who has to put up with the daily misery of the painfully slow progress.

Yes, at some future point I hope to sum up this whole rotten period in an executive summary; a short synopsis. When the dreadful task is finally completed, I can change my story to something different. For now, the story seems to be the same miserable repetitive depressing crap, because that's the reality of my life.

I think there's a lot to be celebrated in my achievements of the past year, but of course we have been reared on a diet of Hollywood and Disney movies, so the feeble-minded are encouraged to believe that every story should be a simple fairytale. Reality doesn't care about your desire for easy-to-understand, linear and uplifting tales of overnight success. Reality is an absolute bastard that needs to be bludgeoned to death with sheer determination; force of will. Reality is boring as fuck, most of the time.

Of course my day-to-day tale is mostly banal, hence why my debts are being repaid with exceptional speed. I have sacrificed pleasing fantasy for real achievement, at the cost of childish fantasies about following my dreams. I sell my brain and body to the highest bidder and put myself through an ordeal of misery, because it brings in a lot of cold hard cash.

It offends me when people who've enjoyed wealth, privilege and fucked about doing whatever the fuck they want, talk to me about how I should be living my life. They followed their dreams and indulged their selfish wants, but I don't have that luxury. I am forced to inhabit reality. I live in a capitalist plutocratic society dominated by global corporations, and I have to work for a living because I was £54,000 in debt, jobless, homeless, without a vehicle and locked up in a psychiatric institution. Do you understand?

I don't get to dream. I don't get to live in a fantasy world. I'm forced to inhabit reality.

 

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I Am Ridiculously Exposed

6 min read

This is a story about laying it all on the line...

Glasses

My livelihood, any realistic prospect of me being able to pay back my mountainous debts and the impossible dream of restoring myself to health and wealth - escaping the nightmare - hinges upon successfully blending in as a part of an organisation which is particularly noted for being intolerant of anybody with bad character.

I've been required to fill in a 66 page form which legally obliges me to disclose criminal convictions, psychiatric problems, the abuse of drugs and alcohol, partners from the last 3 years, marriage, divorce, bankruptcies, loan defaults, debt repayment agreements, financial conduct and details about my parents. Most employers are only entitled to know about any unspent criminal convictions, under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, but I work for an organisation that knows everything.

Of course, I'm ahead of the game, because I've already publicly declared every single unflattering thing about myself.

Luckily I've never been convicted of a crime, but there are still some things I'm legally bound to disclose which would portray me in a less-than-ideal light to the powers that be, who will judge me based on what they see on paper. My life and my future will be reduced to a few scribbles on a form.

Many people have been through rough breakups and divorces and had breakdowns. Many people suffer from mental illness. Many people have had periods where they've drunk too much or dabbled with recreational drugs. Nobody is squeaky clean.

I'm in the ludicrous situation where I'm more-or-less managing to plod along and keep my mouth shut, and demonstrate that I'm a competent and capable valuable team member at work, but I've continued to write and publish this blog using my real name. I've continued to write with unflinching honesty about some of the terrible stuff I've been through and the aftermath of problems I'm dealing with, as I desperately attempt to get back on my feet.

I'm in the ludicrous situation where my hard work is beginning to pay off and my debts are getting rapidly repaid. I'm in the ludicrous situation where there's an end in sight, provided nobody screws me over.

It appears to be self-sabotaging that I would continue to write and publish stuff which makes me so exposed and vulnerable, but in fact my online presence has been one of the big factors in my recovery. Without being able to share my story and connect with kind supportive people, I couldn't have gotten this far. Without having the sense of identity, pride in my achievement and the structure and routine that daily public writing gives me - the scrutiny - then I would have been destroyed by my problems and would have perished in obscurity long ago.

Whaddya want to know about me?

Trouble with the police? Sure. I got caught with legal highs a couple of times.

Psychiatric problems? They don't call me Nick "Manic" Grant for no reason. I make no secret of having bipolar disorder.

Drug and alcohol abuse? Not the former anymore but the latter is a bit of a problem, although my drinking doesn't seem to be any more abusive than that of most of my colleagues. Arguably I'm successfully self-medicating, because I'm functional and unmedicated.

Partners from the last 3 years? I haven't co-habited since separating from my wife.

Marriage and divorce? Tied the knot in Hawaii. Divorced 18 months later.

Bankruptcies and other debt problems? I pay my bills. I've never defaulted. I'm a good debtor.

Financial conduct and credit score? I need to pay back half my credit card debt ASAP but that's the only bad thing on my credit file.

Parents? They're not seditious traitors. They're not Russian, Chinese or terrorist sympathisers. They're not political agitators.

What about my character in general? I've had a successful career spanning more than 2 decades, working for some very big organisations on important projects. If I was some kind of fraudster or con artist, my true character would surely have been unmasked by now.

There's a lot written down here which could easily be twisted and used against me by somebody intent on casting me in a bad light. I write a lot of things about myself which are very unflattering and wouldn't usually be publicly declared by people. I spend a lot of time asking people to take the things I voluntarily tell them and to decide for themselves how they want to judge me.

It's a ridiculous thing to do.

For one reason or another I've become easier and easier to find, for anybody who bothers to look. Because of a recent mistake I made I've become even easier to find than ever before. All the effort that I've put into projecting myself into public consciousness, because I've been on the verge of suicide for so long, is finally gaining traction and I'm becoming a victim of my decision to make myself exposed and vulnerable.

Every time I write and publish I have to consider the consequences to my life. I have to make a decision between my ideological belief that we have a right to live with the freedom to be proud of our identities and to be open and honest, without fear. If we really live in a free country I should be free to be candid and not suffer persecution and tyranny. If we honestly believe in equal opportunities and our laws forbidding discrimination, then we need to take the brave and bold step of speaking without fear of repercussions.

This vast repository of information that I've created is the polar opposite of a 66 page form, designed to distill me down to a few ticks in boxes. This 1.1 million word document is intended to frustrate the reader who is looking for a convenient pigeon hole to stuff me into.

Do your worst. I'm not afraid.

 

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In a Darkened Room

7 min read

This is a story about invisible sickness...

Psych ward

I'm not throwing up. I haven't got diarrhoea. I don't have a fever, sweats or chills. I don't ache or have physical pain. I haven't got a rash. My skin isn't discoloured. I can pass urine. I'm lucid; conscious.

Symptomatically, I'm not sick. I'm perfectly fine and healthy.

A few years ago - back in 2015 - I got so exhausted and stressed at work and I felt so unable to say "no" and ask for some time off, that the only legitimate way I could lift the pressure upon me was to be hospitalised. Being in hospital somehow legitimised the 'sickness' I was feeling, due to invisible illness. I felt protected from the relentless pressure which was being applied to me constantly, in the workplace and with mountainous debts. I felt safe in hospital.

I slept.

I slept so much.

I slept for 12 to 14 hours a day at least, for a whole week.

I was voluntarily admitted to the psych ward - I could leave whenever I wanted - but I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay safely protected within the walls of the hospital. I wanted to stay safely protected from the world of work, the world of debt, and the world of intolerable and unreasonable expectations; insufferable pressure which was killing me.

Unless my sickness is externally validated, by a doctor, I don't feel like I've got a legitimate reason to not work as hard as I can, and bash my head against a brick wall in a futile attempt to deal with an unreasonably huge burden of responsibility placed upon me. Unless somebody tells me it's OK to not be OK dealing with the mountainous tasks placed in my path, then I work until I reach breaking point.

Breaking point in 2015 meant getting myself admitted to a psych ward. Breaking point in 2017 meant killing myself.

I've been at breaking point for most of this year.

Today, I've spent a second day in my hotel room with the curtains drawn. Yesterday, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. Today I'm just plain exhausted. I'm a little sad and regretful that I've wasted another day of my holiday, but I really think I needed the rest. I was at breaking point.

You'd think I'd get bored or hungry, just lying in bed. You'd think that the prospect of a dip in the sea and the sensation of warm sand in-between my toes would tempt me to get out of bed. You'd think that the rollercoasters and water slides, which I haven't yet ridden, would tempt me out of bed. You'd think that the excitement of having a whole week with nothing to do but enjoy myself would give me an energy and mood boost.

I have a very busy mind. I'm constantly bombarded with thoughts. I don't need TV, films, books and other distractions to keep myself entertained. My brain will constantly bombard me with invasive memories and other groan-worthy things, as well as a steady stream of things to worry about. I don't get bored, even when I spend 2 whole days in a dark room with the curtains drawn.

I probably work too hard. Fundamentally, I'm a bit of a workaholic. The root of many of my problems is working too many hours at high intensity. I never switch off. I never relax. I never plod along at a steady pace - I always tear through things as fast as I can.

The mountainous debts have only amplified my tendency to work too hard, for too long, without taking enough breaks. I cannot take my foot off the gas pedal for a single second, because I'll easily be swallowed whole and disappear into a debt black hole; go bankrupt.

Debt is with you 24 hours a day, just as mental illness is. There isn't an on/off switch which can control depression, and similarly there's no off switch on the anxiety and pressure of mountainous and unmanageable debts.

Working an 8 hour day and having weekends off provides some relief from the pressures of the workplace. Although I spend most of my leisure time anxiously dreading having to go back to work, there are moments when I relax and enjoy the fact I'm not at the office.

There's never a moment's relief from debt.

Debt just has to be paid.

If you don't pay your debt off quickly enough, it'll never be repaid. If you don't earn enough money, you'll never repay your debts. Interest accrues on your debts, even when you're sleeping.

My situation got so bad that I cannot take an average salary job. I cannot take a break. I cannot relax.

Things were headed in the wrong direction in 2015. My mental health was causing problems in the workplace - being too outspoken due to hypomania - and I was living on borrowed time. I'd recently rented an apartment, which was going to cost me an arm and a leg, heaping a load more pressure onto me when I was already struggling to cope.

Things are headed in the right direction at the moment. My important debts could be cleared by the end of the year. I could be completely debt-free by March next year.

I worry that I'm screwing-up at work. I've been far too outspoken lately. I'm sure I'm pissing people off and making myself unpopular. I'm worried that my mental health problems are starting to adversely affect my behaviour in the office.

My coping strategies are unhealthy. I eat too much. I eat junk. I drink too much. I use sleeping pills and tranquillisers, when things get too unbearable.

As far as my colleagues are concerned, I've gone off on a holiday which was pre-approved and everybody's known about it for a while. As far as my colleagues are concerned, everything's ticking along just fine. As far as my colleagues are concerned, everything is pretty much normal.

This is good.

Back in 2015 I'd had several problems with my mental health, which had caused me to be absent from the office without any notice, or otherwise acting strangely. My colleagues were sympathetic, but they were well aware that something wasn't right with me. There were issues.

If things go to plan, I'll go back to work feeling refreshed and in a much better state of mental health. If things go to plan, the mania which was spilling over into my office behaviour, will be back in-check and I'll be able to resume my tight-lipped and poker-faced game of keeping quiet and fitting in as best I can; not being noticed. It's important to blend in and not be noticed, if you want to keep hold of your job when you've got a mental illness and mountainous debts.

If things go to plan, I'll go back to work and I'll finish October, work the whole of November and December, and then take another well-earned holiday for a couple of weeks, having cleared all my important debts. It seems feasible, doesn't it? Two and a half months of working my bollocks off, then I'll have dealt with the bulk of my woes - most of this crippling bloody debt.

If things go to plan, each of these holiday breaks arrive just in the nick of time, to save me from exploding in the office and losing my job. If things go to plan, each holiday allows me to recharge my batteries and carry on going.

Previously, I had been working until I reached breaking point, and becoming so unwell that I was unable to carry on working.

This year has been unsustainable and has ruined my health. This year has been horrible. However, the plan has been working and my debts are being rapidly repaid. I've been digging myself out of the hole.

Everything's taken its toll. I suppose I should not be surprised that this year has made me so sick that I've been in bed for two whole days, when I'm supposed to be on holiday enjoying myself.

I don't look sick.

It's a shame to waste a couple of holiday days, but so far this year I haven't been hospitalised and I'd like to keep it that way.

It's my holiday and I'll spend two days in bed if I want/need to.

 

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The Supercrack Diet - Part Two

8 min read

This is a story about body dysmorphia...

Christmas photo

It's strange to look at a photo of myself with an old friend from not-too-many-Christmasses ago - at least according to my faulty memory - and not really recognise the face looking back at me as my own. It's not that I'm younger. It's that I can clearly see in many features of my face that I'd failed to escape from an abusive relationship and an acrimonious divorce unscathed. My life reboot had been sabotaged and it seems as plain as day to me that I was very sick.

My eyes appear at first glance to be bright and alert, but in a stimulant-induced way, so I wear a glassy stare into the distance, not looking at anything in particular. On closer examination, there are tell-tale signs around my eyes that I've been sleeping both too much and too little.

It surprises me how easily I can see from my face that I have hardly any body fat. In 2013 I had my body fat very precisely measured at circa 2%.

The body I'm in today feels very alien to me.

But the face in the picture above is also a different person, I feel.

Every couple of weeks I start skipping breakfast, having light lunches and smaller, healthier evening meals. Every couple of weeks I take a break from drinking alcohol. It doesn't make any difference.

For more years than I care to remember, I've woken up and I've dreaded going to work, and I've felt oppressively burdened by debt. My life is very simple, and in many ways very enviable, but it's also thoroughly awful. Theoretically the awfulness is only a temporary situation, but somehow it's turned out to be a nonstop nightmare lasting half a fucking decade.

The nightmare could be lazily attributed to drug addiction, but you might be surprised to learn that the truth is far less conveniently simple.

Having spent more than two decades trapped in the rat race, being a very stoic, quiet, boring, obedient and subservient tiny cog in a massive machine, and suffering the incredible boredom of going to bland beige offices, attending endless interminable meetings about nothing, shuffling paper around a desk and pretending to look busy, it was fucking exciting to go insane and embark upon a drug-fuelled rampage.

You might think that police, paddy wagons, Accident & Emergency, high-dependency wards, psychiatric hospitals, police cells, intensive care, sleeping rough and hostel dorms would be the worst thing imaginable - and those things probably were terrible at the time - but you need to understand the psychology of a person who wants to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and plummet towards the ground at terminal velocity. If you think that only stupid people get addicted to drugs, it's you who is stupid, because you haven't appreciated the value in calculated risks.

I would thoroughly advise every person on the planet to avoid supercrack like the plague, but it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge some attributes of my experiences of the last 5 years, which might be considered surprisingly beneficial.

Weight. Loss.

We'd all like to be a bit skinnier, wouldn't we? We'd all like to lose a bit of that hard-to-shift belly-fat.

I look in the mirror at the slight gut which has appeared in the ten months which I've been working, without the interruption of a drug-fuelled rampage, and I think "where the fuck did that gut come from?"

It depresses me that I've put on weight.

It depresses me that my appearance has changed.

I'm not fat. I'm not overweight. I'm just kinda 'normal' for a 39-year-old bloke, but that fucking sucks, because I took for granted the fact that I was as skinny as a racing snake on a diet. There's something attractive about an 'athletic' body, and that's not the body I have anymore... or rather, that's not the body I have at the moment.

One of the reasons I kept ending up in hospital, is because my body ran out of fat to break down to keep itself alive, so it started breaking down my muscle. When my muscle was broken down to provide energy to keep my cells fuelled and save my life, there were a lot of toxins released too, which totally fucked my kidneys. Basically, I was starving to death but dying of kidney failure faster than I was dying from lack of glucose, because I was so unnaturally lacking in body fat. My body made a very tough decision at a certain do-or-die moment, to destroy muscle allowing my heart to keep pumping for a little while longer, at the expense of my kidneys.

I eat.

I eat a lot.

I drink.

I drink a lot.

I eat and drink whatever the fuck I want and however much I want. I have juicy fatty steaks with butter sauce, washed down with lashings of red wine, every single night of the week.

I'm a disgusting old man.

I've been so depressed and oppressed by my awful circumstances, that I've barely been outside all summer. My skin is pale. One of my arms is covered with ribbons of self-harm and suicide attempt scars. One of my wrists has a big lump where a bone was broken by police who were kindly assisting me in getting to hospital. I've got this gut. This fucking gut. Where the fuck did it come from?

Have you heard of DNP?

It's a fat burner.

I'm highly tempted to take a week or two off work and just burn off the fat using this drug which increases your metabolic rate. Of course, a side-effect is malignant hyperthermia, but that's nothing I haven't already experienced a great deal of, as a supercrack addict. Also, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, tachycardia, organ damage and death... all risks I'm prepared to accept in order to be skinny and gorgeous again.

Although I'm crippled by mountainous debts, I drive a wreck of a car which is worth less than my phone, I live in rented accommodation and my body is covered with scars from drug-fuelled insanity, self-harm and suicide attempts, the most damaging thing to my self-esteem is what I've done to myself during this period of so-called health and wealth. While I've been earning megabucks for massive organisations and being mostly abstinent from supercrack, my life has materially improved massively - I've earned an absolute fortune - but psychologically it's been awful, and my body has suffered far more than even the very worst days of my supercrack addiction insanity.

I don't think supercrack is a solution, although the weight-loss is arguably a very desirable side-effect, in much the same way as a bout of explosive diarrhoea or a tapeworm infestation might be. Unfortunately, society worships the skinny, just as much as it worships the bipolar, even though those people might not be very healthy people at all.

As a single man - and rapidly approaching 40 years old - of course I want to feel sexually attractive. While girlfriends have always said "I like a bit of meat on your bones" fnarr fnarr, they have had a vested interest in my health and robustness as opposed to my raw attractiveness, in terms of a skinny athletic body.

The temptation to restore my athletic figure with a week or two of unpleasant suffering, taking a fat-burning drug and feeling like shit, seems like a small price to pay for the prize of being more sexually attractive. With the insecurity of feeling like I'm a washed-up has-been loser, dirty old man filthy pervert, useless debt-riddled, asset-less waste-of-space, with nothing to offer womankind, it's sorely tempting to take some short cuts. What happened to my house, sports-car, yacht, speedboat, cash pile and other desirable material things, which would be highly coveted? What value is there in a 39-year-old who's pale and average build? I'm ten a penny.

This is the calculated gamble. Presently, my gamble is to get rich quick, or more precisely, to pay off my debts incredibly quickly at the expense of my health, social life and mental wellbeing. The price I pay is my appearance: I eat and drink too much; don't exercise.

Of course, I have no plans to resume my supercrack-fuelled insanity, but to not acknowledge the rewards and unexpectedly positive benefits of better living through chemistry would be disingenuous.

 

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Life Is Better In Flip Flops

6 min read

This is a story about nerve damage...

Tied on flip flop

As you can see from the picture above, I had a very bad injury to my left leg. What you might not know is that the massive lesion to my leg healed perfectly. Some nerves were severed when a piece of mirror glass guillotined its way through my shin, but the nerves managed to regrow. The severed tendons and muscle was sewn back together and my leg had completely recovered.

Then I got DVT (deep-vein thrombosis).

The first I knew about the DVT was that my ankle looked a bit swollen and my foot went numb. It was the fact I hadn't needed to urinate for several days which prompted me to go to hospital. On the day I decided to go to hospital, my foot, ankle, leg and knee were swelling at an alarming rate. By the time I was examined in Accident & Emergency, my left leg was almost fully twice as large as the right leg.

My weight soared from around 80kg (176 pounds or 12½ stone) to 95kg (209 pounds or 15 stone) which is a heck of a lot of weight gain for 5 or 6 days. It took many many sessions of dialysis to get that fluid out of me, while the hospital anxiously waited for my kidneys to start working again.

Unfortunately, the blood clot/thrombosis and other complications caused nerve damage. Presumably the blood vessels which had been surgically repaired and the nerves which had managed to re-grow and re-attach themselves, were quite fragile versus normal physiology. My foot went numb.

To be more accurate, my foot was left numb after many months of excruciating pain.

I had a nerve condition study and an MRI scan, but there was still a lot of swelling and other damage, making it unclear whether a surgical intervention might ever return the feeling to my foot. My main concern at the time was pain management, because it was too painful to walk any great distance, and pain kept me awake at night very badly. I was taking the maximum dose of tramadol AND codeine, plus supplementing prescribed painkillers with dihyrocodiene and other opiate medications, which I bought on the black market. I was briefly a very heavily dependent opioid painkiller user.

Opiates have weird side-effects. I couldn't tell whether the nausea, itching, constipation, cramps, sweating, diarrhoea, and intense anxiousness about maintaining my supply of opiate painkilllers, was a result of their effects or the effect of withdrawal. All I knew was that I would have periods where I felt incredibly rubbish, and then periods where things were more bearable, despite dosing myself regularly throughout the day.

The thing which made the greatest difference - other than a loving, caring, attentive and wonderful girlfriend - was a topical ointment containing diclofenac, which is a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drug). Because of the earlier complications with my kidneys, many medications were contraindicated. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the diclofenac gel, because it's not very kidney-friendly, but it was the only thing which gave me any reliable relief.

It's possible that most of my pain was related to opiate withdrawal and strange interactions between the tramadol, codeine and dhydrocodeine, which I should not have been combining, but I did so out of desperation for pain relief. It's possible that in my desperation for pain relief, I actually made things worse. Perhaps tramadol alone would have been more effective.

Eventually, I decided that I hated all the effects of the opiates, so I decided to go cold turkey. I had been heavily opiate dependent, for a period of several months, so I was expecting to experience pure hell quitting the opiates. Certainly a lot of noise has been made about the addictiveness of OxyContin, Vicodin and other painkillers which have been implicated in the opiod addiction epidemic sweeping the United States, declared a nationwide public health emergency by President Obama on October 26th 2017.

Back in July 2017, I tried to walk from my apartment to my local Chinese takeaway in flip flops - a distance of about 500 metres. I could not walk more than ten paces without the flip flop coming off my left foot, because it was so numb and my toes were somewhat 'clawed' such that I couldn't hold the flip flop on my foot or tell when it was slipping off.

For almost all of 2017 I was taking a neuropathic painkiller called pregabalin - marketed as Lyrica - which I found to be quite effective. However, it occurred to me that this painkiller might have been preventing the natural nerve re-growth which had successfully healed my severed nerves once before. After 9 months with no improvement to the numbness in my foot, I was becoming quite depressed about the prospect of never regaining any feeling in my foot, and consequently never being able to wear flip-flops again, without tying them onto my foot as pictured above.

I like wearing flip flops. They're an important part of my beach bum seaside-dwelling kitesurfer identity.

I decided to stop taking pregabalin.

If anybody tells you that pregabalin is not addictive, they're just plain wrong.

Pregabalin quite recently became a scheduled drug in the UK, making it illegal to possess without a prescription. Pregabalin affects the GABA system of the brain, just like alcohol, Valium, Xanax and GHB/GBL, which are all considered to have a high abuse potential, so naturally pregabalin is no different.

Of all the drugs I've quit and medications I've withdrawn from, pregabalin is one of the worst. Because of its tranquilising and sedating effects, the rebound when withdrawing creates a state of insomnia, anxiety and induces the general sensation that the world is about to end, which lasts for months.

I quit pregabalin under the supervision of doctors, tapering the dosage down gradually, but it was a pretty aggressive schedule, which was chosen by me. I wanted to quit pregabalin as quickly as possible, because I wanted to find out if it would help my nerves re-grow and allow me to wear flip flops again, or indeed be able to feel a kitesurf board underneath my feet.

Pleasingly, I can report that I put on a pair of newly-purchased flip flops tonight, and I was able to walk around without the left one falling off.

My left foot feels different from the right one, but I do have some sensation restored and I don't have the aches and pains which troubled me during a lot of 2017.

It might seem like a minor point, but it's actually something that has disproportionate imporance in my life: To be able to wear flip flops again is a big deal.

Life is better in flip flops.

 

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Proper Preparation Prevents Paranoia about Privacy

7 min read

This is a story about shame...

Battle scars

The holes in my wall tell a story. I picked up a massive wardrobe and moved it to block the entrance to my bedroom in an attempt to barricade myself in, because I wanted privacy so badly; I so desperately wanted the certainty of knowing that nobody would barge in on me unexpectedly. In fact, I spent the best part of two days and nights without sleep, attempting to secure my bedroom against would-be perverts hoping to barge in and catch a glimpse of me in my nest of shame.

Obviously, it's somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When somebody spends a couple of days dismantling beds, bookcases, chests of drawers and heaving heavy pieces of furniture into their barricade, it's pretty noisy and the work is exhausting. As a person gets more physically tired and sleep deprived, they gey clumsy and they make mistakes, such as toppling a massive heavy thing with sharp corners into a wall, gouging out plaster and leaving an ugly hole.

My body is covered with battle scars from my efforts to keep my shame private. I have an enormous scar on my left calf and another one on my right thigh. I have a broken nose from where I was balancing a piece of furniture above my head in an attempt to cover a window.

My paranoia stems from my childhood, when I was constantly bullied, at home and at school. Nobody respected my privacy or my right to live a dignified life. My paranoia stems from an abusive relationship, where I was punched in the face, screamed at and generally verbally abused, and regularly had to put a door in-between my ex and I, which she would spend hours aggressively kicking while I was trapped in a room with no toilet, food drink, or exit other than to face the violent abusive woman on the other side of the door. My paranoia stems from not having a space of my own where I can lock the door and feel confident that I'm the only one with the key; feeling like I have no right to privacy and that I can expect somebody to barge in at any moment. Being a guest in somebody's home is not the same as having your own safe space. Being a prisoner in your own home is truly traumatic.

I built myself a summerhouse in 2009 and then insulated and carpeted it in 2013. I finally had my own miniature house with a front door I could lock, although it had no running water or toilet. I improvised a water supply using the garden hose and locked myself in there until my ex-wife moved out. I would have starved to death if she hadn't, but I didn't care... I wanted to escape from that abusive relationship.

I could have had a clean break, but my ex-wife put me through hell with the divorce. I arranged a quick and easy house sale, which would have allowed us both to get on with our lives, but she sabotaged me at every opportunity. She ruined my chance of escape and recovery. She sabotaged my efforts to rebuild my life.

London is not a good place to be sick and poor.

London is not a good place to be paranoid.

London is not private.

However, at least London is anonymous. I completely lost my mind on the streets of London and nobody paid me the blindest bit of attention. Nobody would remember my face. I'm never going to see anybody who remembers me when I was insane, penniless, homeless, destitute and in a very shameful sorry state indeed. London was the perfect place to recover from the trauma, without getting paranoid about my neighbours witnessing what should be a private affair.

Privacy is important when you're struggling. Privacy is important when your life is filled with shame.

Invasion of privacy sows the seeds of paranoia, leading to psychosis and schizophrenia. Human interest is a powerful force, which is the reason why fly-on-the wall documentaries and reality TV shows are so enthralling, and why we love to read people's blogs, diaries and journals. It's impossible to tear your eyes away from the spectacle of somebody struggling. People will line up like it's a fucking spectator sport, watching somebody suffer and not doing the slightest thing to intervene or otherwise fucking off and minding their own business. People know when they're being watched. Knowing that you're being watched makes everything a million times worse. "Why don't they do something or just fuck off?" you think to yourself, and soon it's all you can think about; the audience is spellbound and they'll literally spend hours watching and talking amongst themselves: "ooh it's awful isn't it?" and "yes I know. it's been going on for ages" ... but they never get bored.

I've recovered a remarkable amount since those dark days of 2013/4. In fact, I've made a miraculous recovery, but it's very far from complete.

I've gone from owning my own home and a summerhouse, to now renting an apartment. I've gone from financial security to mountainous debts. I've gone from having every right to privacy, to the situation where I have to show my bank statements to letting agents and allow my landlord to come into my home. Instead of being my own boss, I have to submit myself to security vetting and allow people to pore over the details of my private life. I've been poked, prodded and generally put into a goldfish bowl to be gawped at by numerous doctors, consultants, psychiatrists, social workers and a whole heap of wannabe amateur psychiatrists, who think they've got me all figured out, but who fail to recognise that it's grossly insulting and patronising for them to take a lazy glance and think they know me.

Things are very difficult.

I've had so many years and months of shame and swallowing my pride, and it fucking sucks.

I've had so many people judge me who I really didn't invite to pass judgement, and who really have no place, prying into my private affairs. I'm doing a good job of living a normal life within society's rules. I don't deserve to have people sitting in judgement of who I am, what I am, and whether my thoughts, feelings, actions, intentions, character and other attributes of me and my personality, are somehow acceptable to the self-appointed nosy busybodies.

Where is my space where I can feel safe? Where can I be free from the tyranny of the judgement of puffed-up pompous twats who think they know best and they have a right to barge in on me in my private shame; to embarrass me.

That's why I work so damn hard. I'm trying to earn enough to buy a place which is mine and nobody has the right to come barging into. I'm trying to get my little slice of privacy and free myself of the tyranny of having to kowtow to other people's judgement... most often other people's inferior judgement.

Please, give me some space. Have I not always used it wisely? Have I not proven myself to be very capable of doing amazing things, when given the space; the trust?

I have my shame, which I'm attempting to de-fuse by making everything about myself as public as possible, but it's a slow process. I feel like I'm only halfway there.

I have my flaws. I have things I want to keep private.

I need dignity.

 

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Nick Grant

6 min read

This is a story about secret identities and alter egos...

Nick Grant's glasses

I'm Nick Grant and these are my glasses, which are my cunning and infallible disguise to protect my real identity. It would be a disaster if anybody found out my real name - Nick Grant - because this blog is pretty unflinchingly honest and contains a lot of very unflattering things about me. I'm pretty damn exposed, hence why I wear my disguise.

Today I'm celebrating 3 years of blogging. I've been writing every day for 3 whole years, with only a few gaps due to sickness and near-catastrophic events in my personal life, which have threatened to see me bankrupt, evicted, homeless, penniless and destitute. To have kept writing regularly throughout all the ups and downs of the past 3 years is a huge achievement.

To date, I've written and published 1,013,091 words in that 3-year period.

The last 36 months could be summarised thus:

  • September 2015: working for HSBC, living in a hotel, dating a BBC journalist. Rent an apartment on the River Thames.
  • October 2015: working for HSBC. Suicidally depressed. Hospitalised. Fly to San Francisco.
  • November 2015: fly back to the UK and deliberately get sacked from HSBC. Dating a PA to one of the directors of a major investment bank. Meet my guardian angel.
  • December 2015: protesting against bombing Syria. Sober for 100 consecutive days. Relapse back into abuse of legal stimulants and benzodiazepines.
  • January 2016: self harm and drug abuse. Start drinking again. Destroy my bed.
  • February 2016: abuse of sleeping pills and tranquillisers
  • March 2016: poly-drug abuse, combining legal highs and medications
  • April 2016: holiday to Southend with my guardian angel. Start dating again
  • May 2016: working for undisclosed major multinational organisation, with 660,000 employees worldwide. Replace destroyed bed.
  • June 2016: working. Suicidal. Bored.
  • July 2016: holiday to Fuerteventura for my birthday with my guardian angel.
  • August 2016: working. Suicidal. Bored.
  • September 2016: project cancelled. Meet love of my life. Minor relapse. Lies. Antidepressants and tranquillisers.
  • October 2016: in love. Mini-break to the New Forest. Weaning myself off tranquillisers.
  • November 2016: in love. Drinking a lot. Writing my first novel.
  • December 2016. in love. Christmas with her family. Eating and drinking a lot.
  • January 2017: DVT and kidney failure. Hospital and dialysis. Working for Lloyds Banking Group. Neuropathic pain from nerve damage. Taking tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodeine and pregabalin for the pain. Abusing large amounts of Valium and Xanax. Lose contract
  • February 2017: fully-blown supercrack relapse. Completely addicted to prescription opiates.
  • March 2017: supercrack. Abusing sleeping pills and tranquillisers. Quitting prescription opiate painkillers. Drinking. Still in love.
  • April 2017: supercrack. Still in love.
  • May 2017: attempting to quit supercrack by staying at girlfriend's and taking dextroamphetamine. Not succeeding
  • June 2017: drug and insomnia-induced mania, paranoia and general insanity. Break up with love of my life. Regret
  • July 2017: run out of money. Get a job in Manchester. Put all my stuff into storage. Leave London. Fling with girl from work.
  • August 2017: working for a startup in Manchester. Dating a different girl. Still physically addicted to painkillers, tranquillisers and sleeping pills.
  • September 2017: breakup. Suicide attempt. Hospitalised. Sectioned. Locked up on psych ward.
  • October 2017: move to Wales.
  • November 2017: writing my second novel.
  • December 2017: working for undisclosed bank in Warsaw and London.
  • January 2018: working for same undisclosed bank in London. Dating a Welsh girl
  • February 2018: bank. London. Girl.
  • March 2018: working for undisclosed government organisation. Rent an apartment in Wales.
  • April 2018: successfully quit all drugs and medications. Job, girlfriend and apartment all in Wales and very close.
  • May 2018: relapse. Breakup.
  • June 2018: government project finished. Mini-break to Faro, Portugal to see old friend.
  • July 2018: working for another undisclosed government organisation. Living in a hotel.
  • August 2018: government. Hotel. Single. Depressed.
  • September 2018: still working for same government organisation. Dating again.

By my calculations, 27 out of 36 months have been relatively OK, but 9 months in the past 3 years I've been a complete and utter train-wreck. The damage that's been done in that quarter of the year where I've been struggling with addiction, has been enough to completely screw up my life the rest of the time, but not quite bad enough to lead to me becoming unemployable, bankrupt and homeless - I always find a way to bounce back.

Somehow I've managed to fit 5 serious girlfriends and 5 major IT projects into the madness of my day-to-day existence, as well as 3 hospitalisations for major medical emergencies, being sectioned, two psych wards, an arrest, two evictions, moving 5 times, 6 cities, 5 countries, 13 powerful prescription medications, 5 street drugs, 121 consecutive days sober, 56 consecutive days sober, 799 blog posts, 1 million words, 14 thousand Twitter followers and a couple of hundred thousand pounds... and all I've got to show for it is this poxy blog.

The story of Nick Grant and his ups and downs might be a bit repetitive, but I'm sure it's not boring. I would argue that it's pretty remarkable that I'm still alive and kicking, and able to string a sentence together. It's remarkable that I'm reasonably mentally stable and I'm working full time on quite an important project. It's remarkable that my colleagues don't suspect a thing. It's remarkable that I haven't made myself unemployable or otherwise ended up excluded from mainstream society. It's remarkable that I'm unmedicated and yet quite functional and productive.

Along the way, I managed to lose my original pair of glasses, but I had a new identical pair delivered today, which I'm wearing now. I had no idea when my replacement glasses would be delivered, because they were being hand made to order, so I find it deliciously wonderful that they were delivered on the day I'm celebrating the 3-year anniversary of starting this blog.

When I think back to my very first blog post 3 years ago - Platform 9.75 - it's amazing to reflect on the journey I've been on and marvel at how effectively my daily writing habit has functioned as a stabilising influence. I very much doubt I'd have been able to recover and continue my journey without the huge amount of help and support it's brought me. I feel really proud of what I've achieved, which gives me some all-important self-esteem in the times when I need it most. I'm sure I'd have killed myself long ago if it wasn't for the people who've engaged with me and what I write, and encouraged me to keep going. I feel loved and cared for even during some very dark and dismal days.

Obviously what I've written is not particularly palatable or compatible with dating and my professional life, but they'll never be able to find me - Nick Grant - because I've been so careful to disguise my identity and make sure that nobody could just Google me and find out all my closely guarded secrets. Nobody will ever be able to make the connection.

My next objective is to get through September 9th - the anniversary of my most serious suicide attempt - without incident. I plan on phoning a couple of the people who managed to get the emergency services to rescue me in the nick of time, to thank them for saving my life.

 

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The Journey

11 min read

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

Hotel room

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

River panorama

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

My glasses

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

Psych ward terrace

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

Golden Gate Bridge

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

Sleep out

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

Self harm

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

Cruise ship

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

Cooking with bath salts

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

New Year's Eve

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

DVT

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

Drug shrine

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

Manchester flats

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

Psych ward fence

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

Hay bales

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

Rat race

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

Keys

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

Papered windows

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

Cashflow

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

Empty wine bottles

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

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

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

It's the world's longest suicide note.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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How to Become Irreverent

14 min read

This is a story about the values you raise your children with...

Church window

It seems like I have had the sentimental attachment most of us feel towards everything we revere in society systematically thrashed out of me. If you pick one thing that summons feelings of safety, security, comfort, respect for authority and faith in the divine/spiritual, then I will tell you how exactly how I came to question everything: every institution, everything sacred, every tradition, every profession, people who are normally considered beyond reproach and ultimately even existence and its purpose.

Starting with my birth, I'm literally a bastard. I was born outside of wedlock. My parents never married and always planned to remain unmarried, such that I took my mother's surname instead of my father's. Ironically, my mother had once been married, and I have the surname of her ex-husband instead of her maiden name. Confused? Imagine trying to explain that to your fellow pre-schoolers when you're 3 years old. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I understood that I was different; unusual.

My schools would often address letters intended for my parents to Mr & Mrs Grant, and my father would always tell me that I was the only Mr Grant in the house and therefore the letter was addressed to me. My mother would tell me that she was no longer Mrs Grant and she was Ms Grant. "Why not Miss?" I would ask, and she would explain that she had been married, and Miss was only used by women who hadn't been married. If anybody telephoned the house and asked to speak to Mr Grant, my father would hand the receiver to me and say "it's for you", which it never was, of course.

I understood that there was divorce and some of my school-friends were raised by a single parent, or a step-parent. My peers would often ask if my father was my step-father, to which I would reply "no". Nobody could understand how I came to have a different surname from my biological father, or entertain the notion that I could have been given my mother's surname, not my father's.

At some point, a fairly clear question formed in my mind: "why aren't my parents married?". 

The reasons why people get married had become quite clear in my mind, for the very simple reason that I had endured years and years of people's reactions that suggested that not getting married was very atypical behaviour. Nobody wants to feel unusual; freakish. Nobody likes to feel odd.

When I posed my question - "why aren't you married?" - to my parents, they replied with their own question: "why should we get married?". I had a pretty easy answer for them, as I've explained: because that's what everybody else does. "Do you want to be like everybody else?" my parents asked. "Yes" I replied.

[I just burst into uncontrollable sobbing. If it wasn't what you experienced, I don't think you can begin to understand what it's like to spend your entire childhood as the freakish weirdo; the odd one out... the one who's different from everybody else]

Having covered marriage there is a natural segue into the topic of religion, and the origins of my atheism.

For a number of formative and important childhood years I lived in an attractive terraced house in an area called Jericho, on one of the most desirable roads in central Oxford. These houses are the most expensive in the world, far exceeding real estate prices in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong, in terms of their affordability. However, these £1.5 million houses were bought by the first wave of gentrifiers, when academics and young professionals with families started to move into slummy areas because they couldn't afford family homes in the more desirable parts of the city.

When your immediate neighbours include an MP, a barrister, a heart surgeon, a City banker and a number of promenant Oxford dons and professors, their children were raised in an environment which was knowledge-rich and encouraged the exploration afforded by a curious rational mind; critical thinking. Nobody went to church. My friends, whose father was a consultant at Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital, went to Quaker "friends meetings" occasionally, but my peer group - the sons and daughters of the intellectual elite - had little place for God and church in their lives.

We should rewind a little bit, back to the village our family lived in before we moved to central Oxford. If one were to imagine the most quintessentially English picturesque Cotswolds village, with the manor house, the village green, the workers' cottages, the post office and village shop, the village pub, the village school, one should not forget the church and its graveyard. The church's presence and influence is not to be underestimated. My religious indoctrination began as soon as I started school, with the vicar regularly present. Village social events are very often church-linked, like harvest festival, and of course everybody who grew up in such an idyllic village wants to get married in that particular church, have their children baptised there and be buried in that graveyard.

Essentially, the church's opportunity to exploit a child's vulnerable immature mind were scuppered by my father. For everything that the church had a comforting but incorrect explanation for, my dad cited a lack of evidence and instilled in me the skepticism which gradually became integral to my developing personality: "show me the evidence".

When we moved to the centre of a city whose university is globally recognised for its academic excellence, I never encountered another simple-minded fool who had been persuaded to believe in Gods and other aspects of religion, which are so obviously irreconcilable with the pursuit of knowledge. Religion encourages ignorance but I had been raised to question everything and remain skeptical until I had seen convincing proof. "What are atoms made of?" I remember asking one of my friends who lived on my street. "Quarks" he replied. We were perhaps only 5 or 6 years old - the product of a childhood immersed in academic culture, as opposed to the sentimental and traditional.

The disturbing and unpleasant consequences of an irreverent life can impose themselves on a child at a worryingly young age. I've already been uncontrollably sobbing about just one thing - the tradition and sanctity of the institution of marriage - and I haven't even mentioned how a child deals with the concept of mortality and threat of death without the comfort of religion.

A US Air Force pilot who drank at the village pub which my parents later bought and now live in, drunkenly boasted about the ability of the United States to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. I was definitely no older than 4 years old. With my friend with whom I had discussed subatomic particles, we talked about the temperatures which could be reached near ground zero of a fission or fusion nuclear bomb, and how the radiated 'heat' (electromagnetic radiation) had instantly vaporised human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with only their shadows left behind, permanently etched into the walls of buildings.

If you believe you live in a Godless world with no afterlife you naturally want to know what everything's made of if God didn't make it; you want to know why it's here. How did it get here? Why is it here? You start to pick everything to pieces by iteratively asking what each thing is made of: humans are made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of quarks and leptons... and you can in fact keep asking the question. There's good proof that the electron is not a fundamental particle, as had originally been thought.

When your schoolmates are smart-arse little shits, because their parents are brilliant academics, teachers and school loses its awe and authority. If you're being taught science that's almost 100 years old, and sometimes even 200+ years old, the whole exercise is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise to be endured.

The other thing to consider is that my parents used illegal drugs on a daily basis, and had strong views about the legitimacy and usefulness of the law, certainly in the instances that suited their own addictions. As with many drug users, they were very paranoid. They viewed the police as corrupt and not to be trusted - the enemy. My father's criminal conviction for drugs not only poisoned his views on the police, but also made him very anti-American, as he believed he would never be allowed to enter the country due to his criminal record.

[I'm crying again]

It was only because of first-hand dealings with the police that my viewpoint changed from skepticism due to lack of evidence: the police had never caused me any harm, and in fact I had never had any dealings with the police at all for most of my adult life. You might be surprised to learn I adore and respect the police. My accumulated experience of police encounters has consistently shown that they are some of the most kind, patient, empathetic, forgiving, reasonable people, who have always gone out of their way to bend the rules and simply help as opposed to ever enforcing the letter of the law.

One shouldn't mistake my respect for the men and women of the police force for reverence. I would never for a minute expect that a 999 call is somehow going to be the answer to my prayers. I don't feel safer or more secure, knowing that I can call for police assistance. I wouldn't feel any more comfortable in a stressful situation if there was a police officer present. Of the very many police men and women who I have had first-hand dealings with, they have always treated me very fairly and kindly, and it's quite clear that they deal on a daily basis with a huge number of very vulnerable and damaged people, which they do so with incredible compassion - they are the living embodiment of humanity not deities who should be worshipped and revered.

[More crying]

So if I don't revere priests, vicars, teachers, headmistresses, marriage, religion, military superpowers, soldiers, the police, the law and my own parents, what else is there left for me to lack reverence for?

Cumulatively, I've spent almost 6 months having my life saved in hospital - often in high dependency and intensive treatment unit (ITU) wards. Shouldn't I revere doctors; surgeons?

I think that if there was one thing that would make almost anybody feel more secure and happy in a stressful situation, it would be knowing that there's a doctor present. It's such a clichéd question: "is there a doctor here?".

To explain my irreverence for doctors, we merely need to explore the reasons why I have ever had to deal with one, and the outcomes of those interactions.

Having been lucky enough to escape congenital abnormality, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what I want from a doctor and why. You don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body has been dealing with pathogens since the species first came into existence. You hardly have to be brain of Britain to figure out whether you're dealing with a viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection, and furthermore, which is likely to be treatable. In actual fact, I've never been to my doctor for antibiotics: every infection has always cleared up on its own. Fungal and parasitic infections can be dealt with without a doctor obviously: head lice shampoo is available in every pharmacy, without a prescription, for example.

At the age of 28 I went to my doctor wanting treatment for depression, but I knew which specific medications I was prepared to try and which medications I didn't want because the side effects were not acceptable. Having my choices limited only to SSRIs provided firm evidence that doctors were an obstacle to be overcome, not a panacea.

When we think about the first time I was hospitalised, do you think I didn't know that I was going to end up there and what the problems were going to be? Do you think it was an accident that I ended up in hospital?

Again, you don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body needs water, salt, glucose, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and myriad trace elements, or else the bodily functions haven't got the fuel, carrier fluid and raw materiels they need. You don't need to be a doctor to know that human body temperature needs to be homeostatic as much as possible - much like every other measurable thing in the human body - and any extreme variation too high or too low is going to have dire consequences.

When you are making choices in full knowledge of the likely consequences, medicine ceases to be lifesaving magic, and instead it becomes another simple case of what do you want and why?

One must consider the very last time I was hospitalised to truly understand my irreverence.

Not only had I quite carefully pre-planned my suicide attempt, when I arrived at hospital against my will, I gave very clear instructions: do not put activated charcoal into my stomach, do not perform gastric lavage, do not intubate, do not provide life support and most importantly of all, do not resuscitate. "Do you know what's going to happen?" the A&E doctor asked. "Yes. I'm going to die of a combination of organ failure and serotonin syndrome, with a lot of seizures" I replied. "Do you think you'll be unconscious? Do you think it'll be painless?" the doctor asked. "No. I expect that it will take a long time to die and I'll be conscious and in a lot of pain for most of it" I replied. Then I started having seizures.

Doctors see a lot of people who are scared and they don't understand what's happening to them. They're desperate for somebody who seems to know what they're doing and what they're talking about; doctors are an authority figure. I have no doubt that for feckless simpletons and those who lack access to medicine, the arrival of a doctor or a priest/shamen/witch-doctor is incredibly soothing and comforting. If you don't know what you want and why, your reverence is misplaced, but it may still ease your passage from life to death.

When shit goes bad, who are you going to turn to? If you have to pick your team of people to survive on a remote island, who are you going to pick and why?

Why revere anyone? Why kiss anyone's arse and tell them they're great because they did the study and training that you could've done if you wanted to. You could have passed those exams. You could have gained those qualifications. You could have followed that path if you wanted to. If you wanted it bad enough, you could put on that uniform; you could get that job title; you could prefix or suffix your name with the bit that tells the world just exactly why everyone should drop to their knees and worship you.

Nothing's sacred to me. I could do your job if I wanted to.

I'm not smarter than anybody. I'm not better than anybody. That's the whole point: I'm lucky enough to not have anything that's holding me back; limiting my potential.

I really don't recommend telling your kids they can follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. I really don't recommend telling your kids to question everything, and understand everything about how the universe works, to the point where they reach the very bleeding edge of scientific research. I really don't recommend raising your kids to challenge the status quo and resist the urge to fit in with wider society and their peers.

Take it from me: there's a mind-destroying kind of cold uncaring "nothing matters" bad feeling that comes from being too rational; too much of a free-thinker. Take my word for it: understanding the absurdity of existence will destroy your mental health.

You should probably experiment with hard drugs. That's probably way less likely to fuck up your life than going down the rabbit-hole of picking everything to pieces and trying to reason from first principles and pure logic.

 

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Rock Bottom

7 min read

This is a story about quality of life...

Warchalking

You would have thought that rock bottom would come when you're sleeping rough, arrested by the police, thrown into a cell, you've spent all your money on drugs, you've got a physical dependency, you end up hospitalised or locked on a psych ward. You would have thought that losing your job, your apartment and tarnishing your otherwise squeaky clean CV, credit score and other things that are important to give you access to well-paid respectable work, would be the most crushing blow. In fact it's the lead-up to the point where you lose everything that's far worse. Once you're cut adrift and tossed by the wind and the waves, then you might as well just relax and go with the flow.

I woke up this morning, having been awake since 3am, worrying about the tricky transition between two contracts that are worth six figures, annually. It's a nice problem to have, right, to have two companies offering to pay you big fat wads of cash for your time and expertise, but the reality is somewhat more complicated.

I've drained my business bank account, because I've needed to buy plane tickets, book hotel rooms, train tickets and AirBnB rooms. I've been working for three months, but I'm still waiting to be paid - these are the commercial challenges I face. You've got to speculate to accumulate.

I have borrowing facilities available to me, but a substantial portion of my income is wasted on interest, paying for the money which I've needed for cashflow. Cashflow is tight when you're only managing to work 12 weeks a year, because you've been so unwell. I was hospitalised with DVT and both my kidneys had failed. I was hospitalised after a massive overdose - a suicide attempt. I was hospitalised and sectioned for mental health reasons, for my own protection. These are considerable obstacles to earning money, despite the fact that I discharged myself from hospital against medical advice, so that I could struggle into the office and not lose my job... but I lost it anyway. After my suicide attempt I struggled into the office, but I lost my job anyway.

I'm struggling into the office every day. I'm working Tuesday to Friday, for 4 hours each afternoon. My colleagues look at me like I'm taking the piss, as I saunter in at lunchtime and leave soon after 5pm. I travel across the country on a Tuesday morning, and I travel back the other way on a Friday evening - over 3 hours each way, which some people might scoff at. I know that there are many people who do long commutes, but I doubt many of them do them in the same year they were hospitalised as many times as I've been, due to medical emergencies.

This is my rock bottom - I'm only able to work about 16 hours a week, but it's killing me. I woke up this morning and I'm properly physically sick. If it hadn't been for the fact that I had to check out of my AirBnB, I would have stayed in bed. You'd have stayed in bed too, if you felt like I do. This is rock bottom - struggling along and barely managing to survive, even if you think that my situation is not very desperate.

I'm quite qualified to tell you what's desperate and what's not, because I've slept rough on the streets; I've lived in 14-bed hostel dorms and psych ward dorms. It's not a competition. Either you accept that I know what rock bottom looks like, or you don't.

What you can't see - because you only look at the good bits - is how quickly my life could unravel. I've got no safety net; I've got no cushion. My life hangs by a few slender threads. Of course I accept that I've had a run of good luck, such that I haven't ended up bankrupt and sleeping rough again. Of course I accept that I've had a run of good luck that there are still opportunities available to me; there's still a slim chance that I might rescue myself from my desperate situation.

There's an infantile attitude that I have to constantly suffer, like life is simple and all I need to do is get a job stacking shelves in a supermarket. You don't understand how real life works. You're not acknowledging reality. In reality we can't just abandon all responsibility and pretend like it's not psychologically destructive to lose hope; to have our dreams shattered. Loss of status and having a black mark against your name is a big deal. Being chased by debt collectors and bailiffs is a big deal. Having court summonses and court judgements and being sued into oblivion is a big deal. Getting fines and charges and all the other things that get slapped onto a poor person whose life is imploding, is a big deal. Real life... REAL LIFE involves earning as much money as you can, so that you don't have to take a calculator with you to the supermarket and ration out the value-price beans. Your infantile fantasies that we can just abandon everything that society holds dear - bank accounts and credit checks - and instantly switch our lives to be free and easy... this is complete and utter horse shit.

The reality of life is that there's a great deal of precarity. It might not look like it, but I've worked very hard to get myself back on my feet and I'm still a long way off. It might not look like it, but I couldn't have put in any more effort; I couldn't have handled any more stress - it's enough to give the most stable and secure person that you know a massive nervous breakdown. Eventually, we all reach our breaking point. We can't tolerate mental torture forever.

I've got my 3+ hour train journey, then a night in one place, a night in another, a night somewhere else, then it's back on the train, back to my job, time to check into yet another AirBnB I've never set foot in before. I need to buy two birthday presents, get a haircut. I need to do some washing. None of this is beyond the wit of man, but I'm so mentally and physically sick that I need to spend at least a week in bed, but I can't. I've got to keep the plates spinning.

Yes there are parents out there who are stressed out of their minds. Yes there are starving Africans. Fuck the fuck off. You think I've only got nice problems to have? You think my life is rainbows and puppy dogs and candy floss? Fuck the fuck off.

This is my rock bottom, because I want to throw everything away. It's too much effort. It's too much stress. It's causing too much anxiety. It's too exhausting. You think what I do is easy? If it's so fucking easy why isn't everyone doing it? If it's so easy, why aren't more people bouncing back from divorce, losing their home, drug addiction, alcoholism, bankruptcy, trouble with the police, mental health problems, suicide attempts, physical health problems and all the other things that bury people? Why aren't more people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and getting themselves back on their feet?

It feels like I'm really close to a breakthrough, and that's what makes it so hard. All the time I'm thinking "it's only another 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months... until I'm all fixed up and back to health, wealth and prosperity". It seems like it's no time at all, but that's because you're an idiot. You just don't understand how the shortest possible time can feel like an eternity, when you're in agony; when you're in such distress.

So close but yet so far.

 

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A Few Short Words About 2017

3 min read

This is a story about the past year...

Recovery Tree

As I searched for an image that aptly represented the last year, I realised that I would struggle to find one. Should I use a photo of fireworks over London taken from my balcony? Should I use one from one of my visits to hospital? Should I use a photo that represents something abstract: addiction, travel, work, recovery or something else? Should I use a photo that reminds me where I was a year ago versus where I am today?

I've selected this picture from a psych ward. The tree is supposed to be decorated with leaves which have a handwritten message from patients who have successfully recovered and left the ward. There aren't many leaves on the tree.

I'm regularly criticised for being deliberately glum. Perhaps my negativity is a choice. Perhaps I wouldn't be so stressed, anxious and depressed, if only I decided to be fit, healthy and happy instead. Perhaps I could also decide that I'm a millionaire too, while I'm at it.

I should be happy that I survived 2017. The odds certainly weren't in my favour. Whether it was kidney failure, addiction or suicide that claimed my life, there was sure to be something that was going to kill me. I should be happy to have made it through another year, shouldn't I?

What about prospects? I start 2018 with friends, living with a family, with a roof over my head, with a job. Looking at the hard numbers, things look rosy: I earn a lot and it'll take less than a year to replenish my finances. Most people would be chuffed to bits to have the opportunities that I have.

Tonight will be my 5th night without sleeping pills and my 3rd without painkillers, having partially relapsed because the pills were helping me with stress and anxiety. I enter the New Year relatively free from drugs, medications and other substance abuse problems. Of course, I will drink. I will probably drink for the whole of 2018. I have no intention of becoming teetotal, although I do need to reduce the amount I drink.

The list of New Year's resolutions that other people are begging to make for me is endless: join a gym, do some volunteering, eat more kale, do yoga, smile, pet a dog, kiss a baby, punch the sun etc. etc.

It might seem like I'm bloody minded - intent on being miserable - but really, I'm not. It might seem like I'm ungrateful, but again, I'm not.

2017 has been what it's been. It's been a hell of a ride. I'm content just to say that I've survived it and that I have no intention of a repeat, given the choice.

 

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Notes on a Suicide - #WorldMentalHealthDay #WorldSuicidePreventionDay

8 min read

This is a story about slipping through the safety net...

Discharge summary

Exactly one month ago was World Suicide Prevention Day and exactly one month ago I was in a critical condition, on life support in intensive care. I was given a 50/50 chance of living or dying, following an overdose the night before. It seems sickeningly ironic that if the emergency services had reached me just a little bit later, I wouldn't be writing this. If I didn't live in the United Kingdom, where we have the best healthcare system in the world, I would probably not be writing this.

It was 9 years ago that I first sought help for my mental health. "Have you heard of fluoxetine?" asked my doctor, within 30 seconds of me explaining my symptoms: suicidal thoughts, low mood, low energy and an inability to get out of bed and go to work like normal. I was disappointed to be offered patent-expired generic medication, without a moment's hesitation. I walked away empty handed.

Clinical depression was where I started my mental health journey. Having the label "clinical" made a huge difference. To add that word - clinical - onto how I was feeling, was necessary to defend myself from anybody who might say "just snap out of it" or "pull yourself together". In my case, having a label was desirable - it wasn't an excuse; it was a diagnosis.

Every time I've gone to my doctor, I've been hoping to receive some counselling, but instead I got referred into psychiatric services as an outpatient in 2010. I was referred for Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) treatment, but by the time I was assessed, my mood disorder had been diagnosed as type II bipolar disorder. The assessment concluded that my mood disorder was too severe to be treated with CBT. I was left with no psychological treatment. "What am I supposed to do?" I asked. "Go back to your doctor" came the reply. It was a devastating disappointment.

By 2011 I was so unwell that I was assessed under the Mental Health Act, to see if I needed to be detained in hospital - what is colloquially referred to as a "section". I begged to be hospitalised as I was suicidal. I repeatedly said the classic cliché that so many people will say when they are desperate for help: "I'm going to kill myself". Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs), crisis teams and home treatment teams must hear those words so often.

With a shortage of psychiatric beds, there's a huge reluctance to "section" anybody. At the time of my first section assessment, my girlfriend and my dad were present, so the assessment concluded that I could be kept safe at home. In fact, I sawed a hole in the back of my shed, climbed over a neighbour's fence and ran away. The police were called to look for me because I was a danger to myself.

Soon after that, I was seen by a private psychiatrist, referred and admitted for 4 weeks of inpatient treatment at a private hospital. The cost was over £12,000.

There was some debate with my medical insurance company as to whether my bipolar disorder was acute or chronic. The insurance company said it was a chronic condition, and therefore not covered by the policy. The consultant whose care I was under, managed to argue - over the course of a couple of nail-biting weeks - that my presentation was acute.

Having to resort to the private sector; having disputes with an insurance company - none of this was conducive to getting better. In fact, having to find my own psychiatrist, get approval from the insurance company to even speak to the doctor and then having the stress of thinking that I might need to spend £12,000 of my dwindling savings, was an awful ordeal when I was clearly very unwell.

At the end of 2012 I got married and 8 months later I separated from my wife. She didn't care about the incredible stress that divorce and selling our house would put me under. I moved to London to live with supportive friends while my life was ripped to pieces. I lost my job.

By 2014, I completely slipped through the safety net. I took an overdose and lay dying of multiple organ failure on the floor. I managed to phone a friend who got me to hospital. After a week, the hospital discharged me to a hotel. I had two weeks to organise my own accommodation because no bed on a psychiatric ward could be found for me. My muscles were horribly damaged by the overdose and I was in agony. With a bundle of documents to prove that I was a priority case for emergency housing, I visited the local council housing department. The officer I saw promptly disappeared on holiday, abandoning my case. I became homeless.

After living in cheap backpackers' hostel, I reached my two week limit, which is a rule that most hostels have. I then started living in a bush in Kensington Palace Gardens. When it became apparent that living in a bush was not a long-term solution, I stumbled into nearby Paddington - St Mary's Hospital - and presented myself at Accident & Emergency. 12 hours later, I was given two weeks respite in a "crisis house". I tracked down the housing officer who I'd spoken to before. At the end of two weeks, I received a one-line email: I wasn't eligible for any help from the local council. Why? What now?

I was homeless on Hampstead Heath. It was very beautiful, but it was still summer. What was I supposed to do when the weather turned bad?

How had this situation come to be? I'd been a highly functional, productive and fine upstanding member of society: I'd had a successful career, paid taxes all my working life, bought a house, gotten married and done all the things we're supposed to do. What the heck was I doing homeless and abandoned by the state when I was obviously a vulnerable adult? My doctor had written a letter saying I was a vulnerable adult, and my psychiatrist had done the same. These letters had been presented to the local council housing officer, but yet it had made no difference. What have you got to do to get help in this country?

Eventually, I came to be living in the North of England, in an apartment which was a perk of a job I'd taken out of desperation. The apartment was miserable, dark and dingy, and I was terribly lonely. On the 9th of September 2017, I took a massive overdose, which I had researched on the internet to make sure it was likely to be fatal. I regained consciousness after having been in a coma, in hospital, on the 11th of September 2017 - I had completely missed World Suicide Prevention Day. A machine was breathing for me and I was put back to sleep. I didn't leave the intensive care and high dependency wards until the 12th of September 2017.

On the 13th of September 2017, I found myself discharged from hospital and left to flounder all on my own. I didn't want to go back to the apartment where I'd tried to kill myself. I've not been back there. I'll never go back there.

I was sectioned - a section 136 - after being taken to hospital by police. I had to make a massive public nuisance of myself in order to get help. The hospital upgraded me to a section 2, which meant I was going to be kept on a psychiatric ward for up to 28 days. Why now? I'd had two near-fatal overdoses, which had hospitalised me in a critically ill condition, but yet I hadn't been considered enough of a risk to myself to receive inpatient psychiatric treatment. Why did it take so long to finally get the treatment I'd been begging to get for 6 years?

The psychiatric ward discharged me from my section after 12 days, and another week later I was discharged from hospital - a good samaritan has taken me into their home. Again I wonder why no temporary housing was forthcoming, given the fact I am so vulnerable - I lost my job and my apartment due to mental health discrimination. I'm being victimised again & again.

I'm in a safe place now, but my food & accommodation comes from a charitable family who have taken pity on me, after reading my story on my blog - we clearly don't have a system that works for the whole of society. We can't all turn to Twitter every time we're having a mental health crisis.

My Twitter followers brought the emergency services to my door, saving my life. Through my blogging and social media presence, a stranger read about my desperate plight, and kindly offered to take me into the family home.

Today, I feel OK, but why have I been subjected to such a horrific ordeal? I very nearly succeeded in ending my own life, because no help was forthcoming when I really needed it - we're locking the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Using myself as a case study, the safeguards we have in place to prevent suicides are woefully inadequate. My first-hand experience of NHS mental health services, is that they're desperately underfunded and overstretched.

There will be so many tragic preventable deaths if we allow the current situation to persist.

 

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Hospital Curtains

6 min read

This is a story about modesty...

Psych ward male dorm

It took 12 days to be "discharged" from my section - that is to say, to be allowed to leave the secure psychiatric ward whenever I wanted. However, it took 21 days before I was actually discharged from hospital: no vulnerable adult can leave hospital without a discharge plan, although I could have discharged myself against the advice of the healthcare professionals who were taking care of me, because I was a free man.

I'd been assessed to see whether I needed to be detained under the Mental Health Act at least 5 times. 6th time lucky.

When you find out for the first time in your adult life, that you're about to be detained against your will, I would've thought that everybody would have a similar reaction: "oh my god, I'm now trapped somewhere I might not want to be, and I don't have any say in the matter" which is distressing.

It's not so much that I didn't want to be in hospital; it's that I couldn't leave even if I wanted to. Although I wanted to be in hospital - because I knew I was very sick and in a dreadful situation - there was still a moment where I thought "oh shit what have I done?".

To calmly accept your plight is not something that would be anybody's natural reaction. Under such stress and shock, it's hard to recognise immediately that any attempt to fight against the system will lead to further difficulties. I was least surprised out of anybody that I got sectioned, having been the one who actually phoned the police to come and get me. Of course, escape is not hard if you're determined enough. I was conflicted - I was safe, but the price I paid was my detention: I lost my liberty.

Running away from a psych ward will result in the police being called to look for you. Britain's most dangerous psychiatric patients are kept in facilities which are far more secure than anything I experienced. I could have escaped easily and the police wouldn't have tried very hard to find me - I was a danger to myself but not others.

Our natural reaction to detention is to panic and start yelling for anyone who can possibly get you out - a solicitor, a social worker, a family member - and to start demanding your rights. There's a process that's got to chew you up before it can spit you out, and once you've just started the rollercoaster ride there's no getting off until the end - scream if you want to go faster.

Despite my messed up state, I knew that I had the right to appeal my 'section' with a tribunal supposed to happen within 7 days. I knew that my dad had the right to request my release, with a decision having to be made within 72 hours. I didn't have much hope that my dad would be helpful, so I requested an appeal.

It's so damn hard to get any treatment for mental health problems, beyond some cheap patent-expired generic medications or a computer-based Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) thing. Inpatient hospital treatment, paid for by the NHS, is only given to very unwell people or exceptionally stubborn & determined people. However, when you have been admitted to hospital once as an inpatient under a section, you might struggle to ever escape the revolving doors.

Many of my fellow patients had the same story - they were released from hospital, stopped taking their medication, went mad and were brought back into hospital, where they were forced to start taking medication again... eventually being released and starting the whole process again.

Note, when I say "forced to start taking medication" I literally mean that they were held down by a whole gang of hospital staff members and forcibly injected against their will.

It would be stupid to argue that psychiatric medication is entirely unhelpful. However, one should be mindful that a perfectly sane person who had been taking powerful antipsychotic medication, would experience extremely powerful withdrawal symptoms if they stopped. Antipsychotic withdrawal symptoms are indistinguishable from the spontaneous psychosis that occurs in a person with a mental illness - how can one distinguish between a madman and somebody who's experiencing the perturbations of a brain that's readjusting to medication-free homeostasis?

As we move towards a world where the majority of us suffer near-debilitating levels of anxiety and depression, and psychiatric medications are dished out like candy from general doctors who have no specialist training in the treatment of mental health problems, are we diagnosing disease when we should be looking at what a person's life circumstances are like?

Ironically, I was diagnosed with adjustment disorder, which is to say that I simply couldn't cope with stressful life events - a clinical label for an intolerable clusterfuck of dreadful stuff which could happen to anybody. There isn't a pill for adjustment disorder, yet, although a bottle or two of wine each night is often chosen as self-medication.

The stress of living with 20+ mentally ill men in a locked psych ward is something that most people would not adjust to particularly easily. The 4 walls of my home were replaced with a curtain, which was opened every 15 minutes by a nurse or a support worker to observe what I was doing.

I think psych wards are necessary and I'd rather have the apparatus that treats mental health problems, than not have it at all. This is not an essay that criticises mental health treatment or the hardworking professionals who care for people with mental health problems. I write merely to reflect on my journey through the mental health system, which finally ejected me yesterday. I'm coming to terms with the fact that I was discharged from hospital, and today is the first time in weeks where I have woken up somewhere I can leave without having to ask permission.

Yes, I think that sums up yet another Earth-shattering overnight change to my life: I've gone from a flimsy curtain and a locked door, to 4 solid walls and I'm free.

 

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A Tale of Ten Beds

7 min read

This is a story about how nothing really mattress...

Double bed

This is the last double bed I slept in, 27 days ago. That's my brand new bedding with brand new pillows and a brand new duvet. I moved to Manchester with nothing more than my laptop and a bag of clothes. New life - clean slate. This is the apartment where I tried to kill myself. It was a miserable place and I'm glad I never slept there again.

I woke up on Saturday 9th September, and I was miserable. I wrote a blog post in this bed, about how miserable I was and how close I was to committing suicide. It was prescient.

The next bed I lay upon was owned by a guy who I had become friends with through my girlfriend. My girlfriend at the time was of no fixed abode - sofa surfing with a guy who she met on a dating website. I'd travelled to this friend's apartment to see my girlfriend. We lay kissing and cuddling on our friend's bed. Then, we broke up.

Coming home to my miserable apartment, I didn't get into bed - I took a massive overdose and lay on the bathroom floor in the dark, waiting to die. The next bed I laid upon was in the Accident & Emergency department of the nearest hospital.

I'm presuming - because I was unconscious - that I stayed on the same hospital bed, as I was transferred from A&E resus to the Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) and then to a High Dependency ward. I was on life support. I was having seizures. I don't remember any of this.

I vaguely remember having to scramble across onto a different bed, to move me out of the High Dependency ward and onto a general ward. I remember this because there was a bag of my piss sloshing around that had to be moved too, and there was a tube coming out of my penis, which I had to be careful not to entangle with anything. The tube that was going up my dick yanked my male member around - it wasn't a comfortable experience.

From hospital I was thrown in a police cell. There was a 'bed' made of concrete painted with light blue paint - the same glossy paint that adorned the floor and walls of the cell. To slightly soften the hard concrete, there was a thin blue foam mat, which was wipe-clean. I did not sleep.

Driven home by the two police who had interviewed me - at 2am in the morning - I finally got back home at 3:30am. My sleep medication was nowhere to be found and I'd had a traumatic day - sleep was impossible. I lay awake on my bed, waiting until the earliest possible moment I could go to the office and try to find a work colleague - I was in a desperate situation and I needed help from somebody friendly and sympathetic to my plight: alone in a strange city with no friends or family; no smartphone, laptop, debit card, credit cards, cash or driving license.

After a second dreadful day I was pretty fucked up, as one might expect of somebody abandoned in such shitty circumstances. As sleep deprivation reached the 40+ hour mark, I ended up back at the same hospital's Accident & Emergency department that I had been in 5 days earlier.

Another day, another hospital bed. This one I came round face down on, with my wrists handcuffed behind my back, after having received an intramuscular injection of 4mg of lorazepam. It was approximately 3am in the morning - now 6 days after my original hospital admission.

Sectioned first under a 136 (up to 72 hours) and then upgraded to a section 2 (up to 28 days) I was then taken to a secure psychiatric facility with airlock-type doors, to stop anybody escaping. I was given a private room that was quite nicely appointed, with a writing desk and an ensuite wet-room.

Psychiatric intensive care

Having blearily come round in the early hours of the Tuesday morning, it was now Thursday night. I finally had a single bed in a comparatively peaceful environment in which to collapse and sleep, mercifully with the assistance of some zopiclone to calm my jangled nerves and soothe me into my slumbers.

Gone were the bleeps and hisses of the machines that were keeping people alive, on the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), replaced with the sound of alarms, slamming doors, shouting and running in corridors, as my fellow patients were restrained by staff. I found it somewhat comforting, to know that my crisis was no longer at its peak.

After 8 days on the PICU, I was transferred to an acute psych ward. It was terrifying.

With me in hospital I had two Apple iPhones, two Apple Macbooks, a Nintendo Switch and £1,150 in £50 notes. It's not really recommended to have that amount of valuables on your person, in amongst some very poor and deprived people. The wealth disparity was vulgar.

My guardian angel facilitated the return of my surplus iPhone and Macbook - Apple were excellent and refunded me with no quibbles.

I begun life on the new ward in a private bedroom, but I didn't have an ensuite shower and the TV blasted right next door for 19 hours a day, at full volume. At first, I was too tired to care and I could sleep through the dawn chorus of utter bullshit television a million decibels, but then it started to keep me awake, leaving me less than 5 hours of shut-eye per night.

Psych ward TV torture chamber

Then, the dreaded dormitory. Dorms are a mixed bag - very dependent on the luck of the draw, in terms of your fellow occupants. Security is a massive concern, as nothing more than a privacy curtain separated my personal possessions from anybody who'd care to have a look through my bags. Snoring can be a pain in the arse, with one person able to keep everybody else awake listening to their noisy slumbers. Thankfully, my dorm buddies weren't too bad.

This morning I woke up to "second; minute; hour; power; shower" repeated over and over, as a poetic dorm buddy wrote a new rap. That was 5:15am. It was still dark. He was pretty loud. He's sleeping now - snoring.

Today, I'm bustin' out of the psych ward. Watch out, general public of the United Kingdom - I'm going to be moving among you again as a free man.

Psych ward dorm

This is my current bed. I'm lying on it as I type this. I don't know what the bed or the room I'm sleeping in tonight looks like - I've never set foot in the house I'm going to travel to this afternoon. It's a leap in the dark, as is my wont.

Some of my few remaining worldly possessions are here with me in Manchester and some are in London. I'm surprised that I haven't lost more of my valuables. I can't quite bring myself to do the maths, to figure how much money I've lost on this crazy jaunt to the North of England. What does it matter? I'm alive and about to be accepted into the fold of a kind family who are taking me in - the IT consultant who lost his mind in a city where he didn't have any friends or family. It's unlikely that I'd have ended up homeless, but I wasn't relishing the prospect of being chucked off the psych ward and into a dreadful bed & breakfast, in some shitty suburb.

The very definition of "my" home and "my" bed has been smashed to smithereens. Tonight will be the tenth bed I've lain upon in less than 28 days, including several hospital beds and the concrete slab that passes for a bed in a police cell.

Distress flares were fired off and a good samaritan is coming to rescue me from a fairly dire situation.

Tonight, I sleep in a normal house for the first time in what feels like a very long time.

 

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