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The world's longest suicide note

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

All opinions are my own

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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Vitamin D

4 min read

This is a story about agoraphobia...

London Balcony

This is how I used to get fresh air and sun-kissed skin a year ago. You might say that central London has terrible air quality, but the city where I now live has worse air quality.

My apartment in London cost me more than three times as much as my current apartment, but there were hundreds more opportunities for work, if not thousands more - all accessible by public transport.

I had to get my car roadworthy today. It looks like I'm going to be joining the commuting masses, all clogging up Britain's roads. After dropping my car at the garage, I opened the Uber app on my smartphone. There are no Uber drivers in the whole city. I rang the city's biggest cab firm and they said I'd have to wait 90 minutes or more. I walked home from the garage in the sunshine. I did need the fresh air, the vitamin D and the exercise, but remember... I now live in a city that's more polluted than London.

I think I'm taking a wrong turn. I think I should be going back to London, because I can guarantee a steady stream of work there within the space of a few square miles: The City of London - the Square Mile - and Canary Wharf are the gifts that keep on giving. Sure, London is overcrowded and overpriced, but at least it's somewhere I know and I have friends. I'm going to end up in places I've never visited before, temporarily, and feeling very unsettled. I think it's a mistake.

I didn't mind isolating myself in that apartment in London so much, because I could sit on the balcony and soak up the sun. I could sit on the sofa and watch the boats go past. I could open those big patio doors and have a lovely breeze blowing through my whole home. It blows my mind that I felt more connected to nature in the middle of a city with 10 million inhabitants, than I do in this small seaside place with lush green valleys and hills no more than a 20 minute car ride away.

I probably need a bit of both. I might as well be in London if I'm working full-time. But I need somewhere to call home - I need a base, and that base should be somewhere cheap. It's a lot of pressure to keep working all the time when you need to find £500/week just to pay the rent... plus you've got all the bills on top of that.

It was a mistake to put myself into the situation where I had sole responsibility for paying all that rent, and no way to get out of the contract when I was too sick to work. If I went back to London, I'd have my company rent a place on a month-by-month basis, so I could leave whenever I stopped working.

I don't know what's keeping me indoors. There's some kind of force-field. I haven't reached the point where I feel I can relax, take my foot off the gas pedal and just coast a bit. I should be enjoying the summer, but I'm not; I'm really not at all. My summer has been ruined.

I think I need to plan to go away when the days are getting shorter, it's getting cold, wet and miserable, and the clocks go back. I need to get an autumn/winter sun boost. That's the next thing I can start to pin my hopes on.

If I can get through the next 3 or 4 months relatively uneventfully, keeping the cash rolling in, maybe I'll be in a position to sit in the sunshine and actually relax and enjoy myself. At the moment, I don't feel like I deserve to enjoy the summer... there's still so much work to do; there's still so much stress ahead, and uncertainty.

 

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My Food Diary for the Last Week

8 min read

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

Octopus

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

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

Sunday

  1. Tin of Heinz beans & sausages

Monday

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

Tuesday

  1. Nothing

Wednesday

  1. Nothing

Thursday

  1. 4x slices of toast with marmite on

Friday

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

Saturday

  1. Nothing

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

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

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

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

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

I think my health would benefit from:

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

Specifically my mental health would benefit from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Self Defamation

6 min read

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

Movember

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps you think I'm stupid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Comfort Eating

5 min read

This is a story about getting fat...

Lobster and burger

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

Then I finished the project.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now I'm feeling fat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Brain Damage and Personality Change

5 min read

This is a story about neuroplasticity...

Me on the sofa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Self Pitying Poser

4 min read

This is a story about victim playing...

Skeleton face

Apparently the world is full of attention-seeking malingerers who aren't really sick, but who in fact choose to be depressed and miserable, and to self-harm and attempt suicide, because it's a lifestyle choice. Apparently everybody knows exactly what they're doing all the time and we all have complete free will - our hand is never forced, we're never coerced or pressured into doing things we don't want to do, and we can choose how we want to feel. If we want to be happy, we can just choose to be happy.

Those who are suffering aren't really suffering - they're victim-playing; they're attempting to get sympathy, so they can bunk off school or work. Thankfully though, there are some clever people out there who can see straight through you and understand everything about you in an instant. Thankfully there are clever people who are qualified to immediately judge you, and to declare you fit and well, except you're just too damn bloody minded to snap out of your silly pointless melancholy.

Those clever people who declare that you're so definitely faking it are so clever and infallible that they're prepared to risk your life. They'll call your bluff. They don't care if you die. It's more important that you're unmasked for what you really are - a self pitying attention seeking malingering poser - than you staying alive.

This situation, where those clever people call your bluff, is clearly working very well, because suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. If somebody commits suicide, clearly they were telling the truth, but if they don't immediately kill themselves that then proves that the clever person is really clever and can carry on killing people.

It's a bit like the witch-hunts. If a woman floats, she's a witch, and if she drowns she wasn't a witch. It's a flawless system.

I do often wonder - as I'm programmed to do by society - whether I'm feeling too sorry for myself; whether I whinge and moan too much. I'm certainly not wedded to depression as part of my identity and I wouldn't be sorry to see it go. I can see my part in my problems, in as much as I had ability to make other choices. You really don't understand the pressures and biases and other factors that influence a person's decision making, if you think that life is all about free will and making the right choices.

Yes, it is nice to have a reason for why life is shit. Yes, it's nice to have a diagnosis that says that there's a very good reason why life is harder than it should be. These things aren't excuses, they're explanations. Yes, it's comforting to know that there are very good reasons why I'm predisposed towards certain negative feelings and behaviours, and it's not because I'm lazy, stupid, immoral, bloody-minded, evil or of bad character. Yes, it's useful to think of myself as a victim of circumstances and a victim of disease, rather than some evil bastard who deliberately makes bad choices and is depressed and suicidal out of spite.

If I'm victim playing, fine, whatever - put me down as a victim player. If I'm self-pitying and saying "poor me" far too often, fine, whatever - put me down as an attention seeking poser.

I have some choice in the matter of what happens in my life, but mostly I don't. Most of what happens to all of us is dictated by fate - when we were born, where we were born, the socioeconomic circumstances we were born into, the people we came into contact with, the things that happened to us that were completely outside of our control. Even my choice of what to eat for dinner is heavily influenced by my upbringing and everything else that's going on in my life - I might crave salt or sugar, because my body needs it because of the activity I've been doing. How much do you want to blame the victims?

If you get your kicks from fat-shaming, then you're the kind of person who probably enjoys victim-blaming the suicidal too. You're the kind of person who'd rather see people die, than show them any sympathy. You're a bluff caller. You're a gambler with people's lives. You probably think of yourself as very clever.

Do you think it's worth it, to have suicide being the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, just so that you can feel big and clever?

 

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All Work and no Play Makes Nick a Dull Boy

7 min read

This is a story about relentless monotony...

Sleepy Nick

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

Dark Web

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

Night vision

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

Barricaded door

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

Tray of food

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

Bathroom barricade

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

Uppers and downers

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's not easy.

 

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April Fools Day

3 min read

This is a story about a prank...

Hostel laptop

Surprise! It was all a joke! I'm not really mad. I was just pulling your leg. It was all a big April Fools Day prank. Ha ha ha.

Except it's not.

I've genuinely been very sick.

The fact that I'm in a strong position today is incredibly promising. Usually I start sorting my life out far too late each year, and then I get clobbered by autumn and winter. Usually Christmas and New Year wipes me out and leaves me absolutely screwed during January, February and March. Usually I need April and May to recover from the winter and get myself back on my feet. The seasons screw me over.

I was working over the festive period, which meant I had a job to go back to in the New Year. I've managed to finish one contract and start another one with no gap, which means no loss of earnings. I've got the seasons on my side - the days are getting longer and the weather's improving. All of this bodes well.

It might look like I can snap my fingers and get everything I want in an instant, but it's not easy. It's incredibly exhausting, repeatedly digging yourself out of a hole. It's incredibly stressful having to repeatedly rebuild your life. I've solved these problems a million times before - getting a job, earning money, getting a place to live, re-establishing myself somewhere new - but that makes it harder in a way... there's no novelty to it, it's just hard work.

At face value, it looks like I'm not sick - I'm working, moving house, doing practical things that require me to be very functional. It's hard though. I'm always a hair's breadth away from disaster.

I could almost convince people that my whole crazy off-piste escapade was made-up - that I invented it for literary purposes. It would blow the mind of my work colleagues to know the journey I've been on.

I don't want to pretend that nothing happened. I don't want to pretend like everything's always been A-OK. I don't want to pretend like I haven't got stuff in my past that was pretty insane. I want to stop running away from my past and pretending that it didn't happen. I don't want to pretend like all this is a joke.

It's 12:03pm, so it can't be a joke... it's gone past midday.

 

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You are Only One Platitude Away From a Good Mood

5 min read

This is a story about diminishing a person's struggles...

Book cover

Oh if only life was as simple as "snap out of it" or "think positive". If only life was as easy as sending out good vibes to the universe to make good things happen. If only it was possible to alter our own moods entirely at will. Why would anybody want to be depressed? Why would anybody want to be stressed, anxious and/or suicidal? It doesn't make any sense.

Life's more complicated than the trite soundbites that are designed to stick in your head when you read a self-help book or watch a video of a motivational speaker. Yes, you might get inspired to make meaningful change in your life that could ultimately be helpful, but you've still got a miserable job that you hate, money worries, and all the unresolved insecurities that you carry around with you all the time. There are no quick fixes. There's no book you can read, video you can watch, website you can click on, alternative therapy or A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G that will give you the instant relief that you crave. Sorry about that.

The biggest thing that you can do to make yourself feel better is to cut toxic people out of your life, get a better job and become richer, get secure housing, and myriad other practical things to resolve your day-to-day stress. Of course, all those things are easier said than done and they'll take time and effort. Life is also a damnsight easier if you're already rich and you possess considerable advantages over the struggling masses.

When you're chronically sick with an invisible illness, every man and his dog will have a quack cure that they'll be absolutely certain will help you, and they'll be personally offended if you don't immediately drop to your knees and praise them as some sort of god for telling you their idea - an idea that you've head a million times before. "YOGA!" "KALE SMOOTHIES" "MARATHON RUNNING" "KISS A WHALE" "HUMAN SACRIFICE" "DANCE THREE TIMES AROUND A YEW TREE AT MIDNIGHT ON A FULL MOON" etc. etc.

It gets really boring.

Then comes the victim blaming.

When people get frustrated that you're not accepting their advice that most definitely would instantly cure you, then they start saying that you want to be sick; that you're choosing to be sick; that your illness is part of your identity and you don't want to let it go, because you need it. That's really super offensive.

It can be really exhausting having to politely fend off the relentless barrage of supposedly well-meant - the old "their heart's in the right place" excuse - unsolicited advice, which actually requires a lot of gentle, tactful and skilful social navigation to basically say "your quack cures are completely useless and please stop pushing this unhelpful crap on me". Then, when the advice-giver finally cottons on to the fact that you're not going to immediately rush off to a yoga class on the strength of their conviction that it'll be instantly curative, they start to blame the victim. "You don't actually want to be cured, do you? If you wanted to be cured you'd rush straight off to yoga, right now" etc. etc.

Humans are superstitious creatures. Whatever we happened to be doing at the time when something nice happens to us, tends to be adopted into a ritual; a ceremony. We wear our lucky underpants when we're going to a sports game or trying to get laid. We are spiritual because we make false correlations between prayer and seemingly having our prayers answered (spoiler: that thing that happened was going to happen anyway). We worship at the temple of alternative medicine, where we believe that healers of various descriptions have cured us, when science tells us in no uncertain terms that at least 80% of the time things would've gotten better anyway. We worship charlatans, snake-oil salesmen, preachers, healers, life coaches, motivational speakers, self-help book authors and a whole parade of other people who seek to profit from human misery, stupidity and superstition.

In a world where living standards are improving, sooner or later everyone's going to get their lucky break. However, in a world of declining living standards we've got to cut the crap. With the mental health epidemic raging out of control, we can't continue to allow convenient and comforting bullcrap to usurp the truth and harsh reality. Sadly, it's hard damn work to overcome an invisible illness and find a way to cope with life.

Whether it's doing 10,000 steps a day for a month, giving up alcohol for a month, writing 1,667 words every day for a month, going to the gym every day for a month, giving up dairy for a month or whatever it is... you'll feel better. The reason you'll feel better is you're doing a hard thing. You'll feel a sense of achievement, no matter what it is that you're doing, because you'll find it gets easier in the end. You're creating a habit. You're creating structure and routine. You can look back with pride at how far you've come.

So, don't suffer the boastful "why don't you exercise more and be skinny and beautiful, like me?" smugness that's much more about the ego of the advice-giver, than it is about your wellbeing. Advice like that is given for the benefit of the giver, not the receiver. Don't stand for it. Don't accept it. It's unhelpful.

Yes, there are people out there who have superstitious beliefs. They believe that the reasons why they're rich and successful are because they got up at dawn and thrashed themselves with nettles, or they got up at dawn and prayed to a sky monster or they got up at dawn and drank a gallon of kale smoothie or whatever the feck it is, but it was hard and it was unpleasant. They're just superstitious idiots. Ignore them.

 

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Your Mileage May Vary (YMMV)

8 min read

This is a story about past performance as a guarantee of future performance...

Boy racer cars

In the space of a few photos - arranged chronologically in my album - we jump from my wedding, a Formula 1 racing circuit, skydiving and dawn breaking over London, photographed from Primrose Hill. These were the only things that seemed worthy of a photograph, sandwiched in-between my honeymoon and my separation from my wife. My niece was born in this period, but I keep my special photos in a different place from my everyday snaps - I photograph a lot of random things for my visual diary.

I was chatting to a friend and former colleague and he asked me if I'd "dealt with any of [my] demons?". I wonder what he meant. When we started working together I was nearly bankrupt, living in a hostel (i.e. homeless) addicted to drugs and having mental health problems. Yes, I suppose I've dealt with a few demons. I don't want to make excuses for past mistakes, or assume that everything's going to be plain sailing again in future, but that job we did together where I was working six and a bit days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day, and trying to get myself clean and off the streets.... it was a challenge.

There was that time that I moved to a city I'd never visited before, moved into a flat I'd never set foot in before and started work on an incredibly ambitious project, with no team supporting me. I had a tiny hiccup - also known as a medical emergency that left me in a coma in intensive care - which caused me to lose two days at work, and that was the end of that, even though I'd delivered 85% of the project.

A guy rang me up, asked me if I could do a piece of work for him. I said it would take me 6 weeks. He asked if it could be done in 3 weeks. I said it could, but the end result would be rubbish. I've been working on that project for 12 weeks and the result is great... in fact, I finished 6 weeks ago and I've been killing time ever since, because there isn't anything left to do but the guy wants to retain my services. This guy STILL wants to retain my services. One very happy client. I'm not good at being bored though.

Wherever I've gone, I've delivered value; I've improved things; I've earned my money. Wherever I've gone, I've made stuff work, on time, exceeding expectations. Wherever I've gone, it's been of substantial net benefit to my client. However, the mileage has varied.

During that period when I didn't take many photographs, I spoke to my boss. He'd rung me up to congratulate me on a really important piece of work that I'd done, and tell me that I was getting a special commendation award and a hefty extra unexpected bonus in my pay packet. Ironically, I was just about to go into hospital for a month-long stay. I knew I was sick. It was bizarre to be having this conversation, knowing that I was in the middle of a crisis.

Some people are steady Eddies. Some people will be consistently mediocre. Some people will never disappoint you, because they inspire such abysmally low expectations. I've never really had much interest in steadily and slowly plodding my way towards low quality, late, over-budget and depressingly below-average outcomes for projects that ultimately end in failure. Fail fast.

We're very afraid of failure in the corporate world. Nobody fails, in fact, we just succeed in unplanned ways: "think about all the lessons we can learn from this project" we say, as we realise that it's a pile of stinking crap that's never going to fly. It's not really in my DNA to be part of that culture.

Failure is a huge part of who I am. Failure to get to work on time. Failure to get through an entire year without having a single sick day. Failure to be content to just take my wages and ignore problems; not try to improve things; not to try to make things into a success. I fail. I can get sick. I can drink too much coffee and start shooting my mouth off - become overconfident, arrogant and deluded due to lack of sleep and too many stimulants - and I can become depressed and unable to get out of bed. Sue me. I get shit done. There's my consistency: when there's a deadline, I consistently meet it. I consistently deliver on time and on budget. I'm highly INconsistent when it comes to when I'm going to turn up in the office, or even IF I'm going to turn up in the office for a few days.

With this do-what-the-fuck-I-want kind of attitude, I've had a string of successful projects and happy bosses and clients, but it occasionally causes resentment amongst the morning-lark steady-Eddies whose only virtuous attribute is that they're always there at their desks on time, despite the fact they're fucking useless at their jobs. In fact, this statement is unfair. An organisation needs a mix of steady Eddies and sprint'n'coasts. I don't really sprint and coast... it's more like work my bollocks off and burn out a little bit, but it gets stuff done.

It's difficult for me, because there will always be some bosses who will gleefully receive the fruits of the labour from those incredibly productive periods, and then think that it's 'normal' and sustainable. When it becomes expected to work at a super high level of intensity, there's no gratitude for the incredible cost of such a feat, and there's no allowance for the fact that for every up there must be a down - people have to be given time to recover after exerting themselves.

I really don't think that there's a 'slow and steady' way to achieve some things. Fast is the only way to go, and the faster the better. The sooner you see something that's real and tangible and working, the sooner you know whether it works the way you expected it to or not. There's no value at all in something that's only half-built. I'd rather have people say "I wish it did this AS WELL" rather than "I wish it worked". Even if people say "that's not what I expected" at least they've got something that they can use, or can serve as a prototype.

A lot of managers don't really know what they want when they're recruiting. They'll hire a lot of folks who are very good at playing buzzword bingo, answering interview questions and keeping a low profile in organisations so they can keep getting paid - but those aren't exactly great qualities for getting projects delivered.

The precarity of my situation should have pushed me towards meek compliance - perhaps I too should have learned to keep my mouth shut, cover my arse and spin jobs out so that they last as long as possible. Perhaps I too should have learned the fine art of looking busy and coping with the soul-destroying nature of pointless work and projects that are doomed to failure. Perhaps I need to stop caring so much. Not my circus, not my monkeys, right? Not my money, so I shouldn't care, right?

I feel terrible imposter syndrome, because I've had a turbulent few years. I feel terrible imposter syndrome because it wasn't very long ago that I had a pretty horrendously insurmountable heap of problems. I feel terrible imposter syndrome because my past performance is no guarantee of future performance, despite a 20+ year career where my achievements completely eclipse and nullify any of the very few hiccups, none of which has meant that there hasn't still been a successful project outcome.

I don't know how to characterise myself. In the corporate world, nobody talks about any difficulties they've faced - everything is given a positive spin. In the corporate world, gaps in your CV and things like that are severely career-hampering blemishes; black marks. I think it's a huge strength, that I've made positive contributions to important projects, despite having to deal with some incredibly difficult things in my personal life at the same time. If the corporate world could wrap its tiny mind around it, I'd love to give the background context to my employment history.

Thus, mileage can vary. If you hire somebody who's never had a problem in their life, assuming that their spotless record is going to remain so forever, you might be disappointed if they ever face any difficulties, because they're probably not the kind of person who's ever had to deal with challenging circumstances. You might hire somebody because they've never had a mental health problem, but anybody can get depressed. A person who's experiencing problems for the first time in their life is going to be less able to cope and communicate and manage effectively, than the person who's been functioning with those kind of problems in their life for years and years. Every set of circumstances is different. Every set of pressures is different. Every time is different.

I just keep rolling the dice. As long as I'm allowed to keep rolling the dice, I'm winning more than I'm losing.

 

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