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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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Stubbornly Refusing to be Cured

12 min read

This is a story about being bloody minded...

Hospital wristband

I've been subjected to the most bizarre accusation: That I can "get better" anytime I want; that I enjoy being depressed or somehow need to have a mental illness because it's part of my identity; that I want to be unwell. Part of the accusation hinges on my Twitter following - I'm accused of being two-faced: Writing blog posts and tweets which don't somehow manage to convey that sometimes I'm not suicidal.

I'm a bit confused to be honest. I don't think I could be any more authentic. I don't think it would be possible for me to be any more candid and open. My blog isn't supposed to be a diary, accurately recording the day's events. My blog is therapy for me - I write about the things that are upsetting me the most; the things that are causing the most pain and anguish.

Perhaps I'm being given credit where no credit is due. Perhaps I'm perceived as intelligent enough to be able to rationalise away my problems and force my moods to bend to my will. Perhaps the decisions I've taken out of desperation have been mistaken for choices. Perhaps my determination to stick with a plan which will boost my finances and continue to give me a lucrative career, is seen as deliberate self-sabotage: I'm purposefully making myself sick, in the eyes of my accuser.

I can see the positives and the negatives of different "choices" without assistance from somebody else to help me 'see'. I'm not so cognitively impaired that I need somebody to point out the bleedin' obvious to me. For everything that I moan about because it's making me ill, there are many benefits which make my choices worthwhile. My work, travel and living arrangements are not conducive to good mental health, but neither is poverty and hinderances that would make me less employable. The playing field is not level. I do not get to make unbiased choices - I've got to do what I've got to do, even if it's unpleasant.

I'm accused of being the problem. It's not the job, it's me. It's not the commute, it's me. It's not the lonely AirBnBs, it's me. Apparently, everything's all my own fault and I can choose to be healthy and happy any time I want, according to my accuser. Personally, I think that life's a lot easier when you've got money behind you and you've got a stable home life. Personally, I think that we are healthier and happier when we get the pieces of the puzzle in place: friends, family, a home, an income, financial security and something we're passionate about. Let's leave aside the blame game of how I ended up in the present situation. We can even assume that everything's all my fault if you want to, but that doesn't change the fact of the matter: I am where I am and I need to get back on my feet. Blame doesn't change my needs. Blame doesn't change my situation or my mood. To accuse me of fucking up my life AND deliberately keeping it fucked up is dumb. One of the big reasons why I'm suicidal is because I've tried so hard to fix the things that are broken, but it's been a miserable exhausting experience and my life's still pretty messed up. I really am trying very hard to get things sorted out. It's a lot easier said than done, I'm afraid. Sorry about that.

I think there's a lot of ego involved. People want to be helpful, but then they start thinking like they've understood me and I can be 'cured' with simple solutions. When the simple solutions to an oversimplification of my problems don't work, then the 'helpful' people get annoyed with me... like I'm deliberately messing up their useless suggestions. I seem to have really frustrated my accuser, that I'm so determined to be a real living person, with a real life, instead of some simple little thing that can easily be fixed. "Oh I'm so silly! How brilliant of you to point out the completely obvious solution to an easy-to-solve problem that I don't have! Thank you!" I'm expected to say all the time, on top of dealing with real life.

There aren't any quick fixes. Things take time and effort to get better, and it's exhausting. Things have to be done in the right sequence. Sometimes, it costs a lot of money to make changes. Sometimes we have to wait for the things we want and need, because we can't get them immediately. I can't - for example - switch jobs until I have a financial cushion to give me some runway to make the change. Every change I make brings with it a whole new set of problems, so I need to deal with things in a step-by-step way. There's a plan, even if somebody thinks that I can just teleport straight to the end goal. Sadly, life doesn't work like that - we have to suffer in the short and medium term, to achieve our long term objectives. You have to pay to play.

I'm not short of ideas for what to do when I have surplus time and money. I'm not short of ideas of what I'd do if I could do anything, because money's no object, but it's bullshit to suggest I'm able to just abandon my current source of income and go off and do something else. I can't be a student again. I can't be a poet or a dog walker or a sculptor or a circus clown. Life doesn't work like that. Even if I took a shitty McJob, I would still need to afford to travel to work every day for a month or so until I get paid. How do you think capitalist society even works? I'm making smart economic choices which are painful at the moment, but will give me the financial means to pursue something more rewarding and better for my health. I'm giving myself the working capital to be able to pick and choose my next options.

I might have spent some of today playing like a big kid and enjoying myself, but that doesn't mean that my mood can't be plunged dangerously low when reality bites: Monday morning will come around, along with the realisation that almost nothing in my life is quite where I want and need it to be. There's so much unpleasant hard work ahead, and so little reward in the short term, that it's quite understandable that I'd get worn down and decide to reject life altogether. What looks like a few short months of hard work to you, is somewhat of an insurmountable obstacle for me, because of the journey I've been on. I've fought my way back from nothing, and I'm still fighting, but yet it feels like I'm getting nowhere. Where's the reward for my effort? Why is life still so miserable, most of the time?

In the company of my friends, or going on a date with a girl - for example - life can briefly seem wonderful, but the bulk of my existence feels like packing and unpacking bags, moving from place to place, sitting at a desk and hating every second... unsettled and unpleasant. The dread of the rat race - the treadmill - is enough to cast a dark shadow over other times. When I should be enjoying the last few hours of my weekend, I'm already depressed about another week shackled to the job I do out of economic necessity. I make a fuss, but it's not over nothing and it's not me. I'd pick up dog shit if it paid as well as my current job... at least it would feel like I was making a real tangible difference to my local community, if I was doing something like that.

There are a whole raft of issues at play, including my desire to be free from medications. It might seem obvious that my depression could be 'cured' with pills, but it wouldn't be a cure - my depression is a reaction to my toxic circumstances. I don't want to become medication dependent, when I've worked so hard to wean myself off so many different pills. I'm quite close to being 100% substance free.

I want to plan a holiday. I want to buy a car. I want to dream, but dreams require money. The dreaming part is the easy bit. Life's a lot more complicated than it seems for a casual observer. It's easy to come up with a million "you should do..." ideas, but they're infeasible if you don't have the time, money, company, energy, motivation and a million other things that are the product of getting some building blocks in place: a home, a girlfriend, some friends, a tolerable job, some money in the bank, disposable income etc. etc.

There are myriad broken things in my life, and no quick fixes. If I haven't fixed something yet, it's not because I want it to be broken. I'm not choosing to be depressed. I don't want to be sick. I'm perfectly capable of imagining a life that would be healthier and happier, but it takes time, money and energy to make it happen.

Moaning on my blog is what I do for therapy. Moaning on my blog is what I do, because it's cheap and it helps me to limp along while I'm getting the cash together to be able to do whatever I want to do next. Moaning on my blog is not my identity - it's my outlet because there isn't any other healthy way to cope. I'm trapped by circumstances and there's no escape, except through the path I've "chosen". I do not choose to be depressed, miserable and suicidal.

I don't know why I'm accused of being the architect of my own depression, when I'm working so hard to fix my life. The accusations don't even make any sense - they just seem to be an egotistical version of "have you tried being more simple so that I can solve the problems that you don't have?" and "have you tried being me instead of you, because I think I'm great?".

I've exhaustively documented the challenges that I'm facing. It upsets me that somebody would want to oversimplify things, just because of their own ego and a desire that I should blame myself and generally feel like I'm lazy and stupid, despite the fact that I HAVE TO LIVE 24 HOURS A DAY WITH SUICIDAL DEPRESSION and I'm the one who does all the actual hard work fixing my life. Pointing out the blatantly obvious is not a hard thing to do. Leaping to incorrect conclusions is not a hard thing to do.

There is a prerequisite condition for having an opinion on "what's wrong with me" which is to have read what I've written. If you want to know what's wrong with me, I've exhaustively documented everything I'm going through right here. If you want to tell me what I should and shouldn't do with my life, it needs to take into account the reality of my day-to-day existence, which I have accurately explained the most challenging parts of on this blog. If you want to give me "you should..." type instructions, then they need to be grounded in reality or else I'm just going to ignore them. Please don't get upset when I ignore your unhelpful suggestions. Please don't accuse me of wanting to be miserable and depressed.

I've written more than I intended to. I'm wondering why I'm writing. What's the point? But, that's what this blog is. It's not an attempt to manipulate sympathy out of my audience. This is a living document that records my distress in unflinching detail. This is where I pour out all the stuff that's really upsetting me. Here's where I work things out that are going round and round in my head. This is therapy for me.

One other accusation that I've faced is that my blog is making me sick - my blog is causing me to get stuck, ruminating on things that I'd otherwise let go. I think that's bullshit. My blog is where I've been able to finally let go of things that have been upsetting me. It's taken a long time, and I've repeated myself A LOT but that doesn't mean it's not working. If you take a lazy glance, you might think that I always write about the same stuff and that I'm therefore stuck in a rut, but if you look at the full story, you must surely see that I've been through some pretty traumatic stuff and this blog has helped me to cope. Writing is my healthy coping mechanism. People don't often pull through the things I've been through, and go back to being healthy happy productive members of society. I give credit to this blog for allowing me to deal with things that would otherwise have caused me to lose my mind.

I could probably edit this down, or just delete it and rewrite it, but I'm going to publish it because I want the public scrutiny. I want to document what I'm going through. I want to capture a piece of my consciousness, without censorship.

Yes, I'm lashing out, but I don't deserve to be accused of not helping myself, when I'm working so hard.

 

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Goodbye, Jinxed January

8 min read

This is a story about the bitter end...

Urine bottle

For a devout atheist, I can be surprisingly superstitious. I seem to have survived Jinxed January without losing my job, becoming homeless, going bankrupt, being hospitalised, getting sectioned, getting arrested, getting anybody pregnant, committing any crimes, taking any illegal drugs, contracting a terminal illness or dying. Epic win.

I looked in my photo archives to see what I was doing this time last year. Apparently I was pissing in a bottle, hospitalised on a high dependency ward with kidney failure. On my blog, I was writing about "what would Jesus do?" so I was clearly pretty deranged, but then I was on dialysis for several hours a day, which was not exciting so I'm sure my mind must have been wandering a lot. On Facebook I was jabbering about a cocktail of painkillers, sleeping pills and tranquillisers I was taking to try to get some sleep on the ward. I feel relatively sane and happy by comparison - my life looks quite peachy compared to that unfortunate period.

I looked back two years ago to see what was going on at the end of January and there's a gap. I simply ceased to exist for a few days, before popping up and writing over 3,000 words about all manner of things. It looks pretty conclusive that I was in the vice-like grip of madness and shenanigans.

I can't look back three years on my blog, because I only started two and a half years ago, but I do know that three years ago today I was staying with friends in County Cork, Ireland. My contract with Barclays had been terminated early, I'd broken up with my girlfriend, lost loads of friends because of the breakup and I had been evicted from my apartment in Swiss Cottage. I needed to escape from London for a bit, because I couldn't take any more, and so my friends looked after me in rural Ireland. Not so jinxed, but pretty jinxed because my life was still totally messed up.

I can see from an email that four years ago I was receiving inpatient treatment for dual diagnosis - bipolar and substance abuse - after the messiest and most acrimonious divorce you can imagine. My life was profoundly dysfunctional - I'd only just managed to escape "the poison dwarf" and the relationship that nearly killed me. My stuff was in storage and I was living with friends in Kentish Town. My new business had been put on hold because the divorce and house sale had been too much for me to handle. I'd been surviving by mining bitcoins, but the price had crashed and I was in big trouble, even though I'd managed to cash in at $1,100 per bitcoin.

I can't see my email from five years ago, because I lost my original Google Mail account, which I'd had since soon after GMail launched for public beta testing. I can see that I was late for my appointment to see a psychiatrist who I'd found (albeit a week later) so I imagine that things were pretty dire... although I clearly had the presence of mind to find a private psychiatrist and arrange my own treatment, so I'm guessing this was the beginning of the descent into Hell. This time five years ago - roughly - my new wife told me that she wanted to be a widow and that she wouldn't let me have the treatment I needed. This time five years ago, I was trying to find people to help me, while my wife and my parents broke my heart. This time five years ago, I realised that I needed to get my parents and my wife out of my life at all costs - I realised they're toxic people and that if I wanted to have any kind of future, they couldn't be part of it.

Five years of insanity is a hell of a long time. In those five years, things got a lot worse before they got any better. In those five years, I sorely missed my house and my cat. In those five years, I sorely missed the life I'd built for myself, with my friends and my good reputation and my good job. I threw away a lot, taking a gamble that I'd be better off in the long run. The last five years have been insane, but I don't see how I could have extricated myself from the situation any better. I've played the best I could with the cards I was dealt.

I'm sick and tired of Jinxed January, and I hope I've seen the back of it; I hope I've broken the curse.

Of course I tempt fate by saying that now I've had one un-jinxed January then I've got things sussed and it'll all be plain sailing from here. Of course there are going to be Foul Februarys and Miasmic Marches but January has been my nemesis for so long. I don't want to get cocky and complacent, but it's a big deal that I've beaten this dratted month. February and March are going to be dreadful, but at least I have a few quid in my pocket, no imminent threat of homelessness and nothing particularly awful on the horizon. I have another month of paid work ahead of me. For once, I have a few things going in my favour.

You might see that my biggest fight is with myself. Of course, there's work available year-round and my skills mean that I'm never going to go hungry and homeless, except through spectacular self-sabotage. It seems obvious that I should just quietly and obediently pop the pills and behave myself. It doesn't look that hard to just get my head down and concentrate on working hard to get myself back into a position of financial security. To say that by the end of the year I could be well and truly wealthy again, seems like no time at all to you. However, you must remember that I march to a different beat. My timescales are not the same as your timescales.

I'm not going to get paid for the whole of February. A very Frugal February beckons. The weather's just as dark and miserable in February and my job will be just as isolating, lonely and boring. The unfavourable conditions very much remain unpleasant and unconducive to any mood improvement. However, the so-called short month of February does seem like a less daunting proposition than Jinxed January was. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Another month without an almighty fuck-up is a huge achievement, in the context of my messed up 5 years of Jinxed Januarys. If I'm being superstitious, so be it, because it's helped me to avoid going off the rails.

I'm really pleased with where I'm at actually. Drink and drug free, unmedicated, as sane as I'll ever be, relatively settled in my home life, regular(ish) income and gainful employment. There aren't too many loose ends to tidy up. I'm on top of my taxes and my paperwork. To be in this position, at this dreadful time of year, where I don't have anything looming that's of major concern, is a really big deal.

I submitted another invoice to my client, and even though I lost over £4,000 of potential earnings this month, I'm still in profit after expenses. The money's not in the bank yet, but it's on its way. Perhaps it will be good to spend another month being a little thrifty - money after all, can be something that's triggering.

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm imagining that by the end of February, my financial woes will be mostly ended. I'm imagining that by the end of March I'll be feeling positively wealthy again. I'm projecting into the future, and that's bound to end up making me miserable. I still have a whole month more of my miserable boring contract to do. I need to start looking for the next job, at some point sooner rather than later. I can't make tomorrow come any sooner, and I shouldn't wish away today.

What can I say, except I'm slightly glad that I didn't throw away a perfectly salvageable situation. I'd still rather be dead, because it's been a lot of stress and hassle, but I'm alive so I'll carry on for a bit longer and see what tomorrow brings.

 

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Antipsychiatry

9 min read

This is a story about doing no harm...

Pile of pills

Imagine that somebody says to you "you're so argumentative". What could you possibly say in return? You can't say "no I'm not" because then they'll say "yes you are and the fact that you're arguing proves it". There are lots of other quirks of the English language that allow you to box people in, such as asking questions like "so when did you stop raping children?" or some other kind of fallacy.

I'm not actually against psychiatrists and psychiatric medications. Every psychiatrist is different. Most psychiatrists who work in the NHS have to deal with society's very sickest and most dysfunctional cases. Every psychiatric bed in England is filled with somebody who is being detained against their will for 28 days, or more likely for 6 months. There aren't any spare psychiatric beds for people who are merely having a crisis and who are in danger of committing suicide - the NHS will call your bluff and leave you to die, as so many do, because mental health services are overstretched and underfunded.

The kinds of treatment on offer vary from snake-oil bullshit, such as CBT and other behavioural therapies, to chemical coshes that will put you into the drugged equivalent of a straightjacket. For sure, there are some very sick people who are psychotically disturbed, but powerful antipsychotics are not a panacea for all problems of the mind. In some countries, physical restraints are more commonplace. In the UK, we dope people up to the eyeballs.

If you've never lost your liberty you won't quite be able to comprehend how terrible it is. We're free-thinking individuals who move through the world according to our whims - the illusion of free will. When locked into an overcrowded psych ward, even if you asked to be hospitalised because you feared for your own safety, you might suddenly panic that you won't be able to get back out.

Ironically, you can't say "I'm not argumentative" when somebody wrongly accuses you of being argumentative, and it's equally impossible to say "I'm not mad" when you're trapped by psychiatry. The only strategy you can play is to be calm and patient and ignore the provocation, which is easier said than done. It's a very natural reaction to want to defend ourselves against unfounded allegations. To have our character criticised by somebody who doesn't know a damn thing about us, is incredibly insulting. When somebody who hardly knows us has the ability to detain us against our will, and even to have us forcibly medicated, then the situation is unbearable.

I don't doubt that psychiatrists believe they have their patients' best interests at heart, but there's no acknowledgement of the antagonisation, frustration, anger and upset that they provoke. Nobody should have godlike powers over any other human being. The line between sane and insane, sick and healthy, right and wrong thoughts... these are completely arbitrary. There can be no ultimate arbiter who decides who's normal and who's not - it's not right that anybody should sit in judgement.

Am I arguing that we should fling open the doors to our asylums and let the mental patients roam free? It's more complicated than that. A survey of the general public revealed that the vast majority of people wouldn't want to live next door to, work with or have their children play with a schizophrenic. It seems that those paranoid delusions are not so paranoid after all - no smoke without fire. Having had my case reviewed at mental health tribunal to decide whether to give me back my freedom or not, it appalled me how six people could sit and have a discussion about me as if I wasn't even present in the room. To button my lip and remain silent through proceedings; to maintain my polite and courteous façade - this was virtually impossible when my liberty was at stake.

Another thing that's deeply upsetting is the way that the patient is often mobbed. Ward rounds consist of sitting with a whole room full of people - usually a couple of psychiatrists and a couple of nurses - who sit stroking their chins while the patient explains the same thing for the millionth time: please stop ganging up on me and let me go. Of course, there are mental heath problems present, but the set-up is antagonising. Should we just let anorexics stop eating and die? Should we just let the psychotic do what the voices tell them to do? This isn't what I'm arguing for. I'm just pointing out that even the most sane amongst us would be driven mad by a jeering crowd, licensed to torment and keep their victims in captivity.

If you imagine that you might get to spend 10 minutes with the psychiatrist who has the power to set you free, once every week or every fortnight, all the decisions are more important than I can possibly express in words. If you're on a medication which is causing you intolerable side effects, in a psych ward setting which is causing you intolerable distress, you're going to have to wait a couple of weeks before you can have another go at trying to communicate your needs to the doctor... which you'll have to do through the foggy haze of powerful antipsychotic medication. "This man is making no sense" they'll say, because you've been drugged into a dribbling mess. What further proof could be necessary to show that you're an imbecile who could never survive outside the protective walls of an institution?

Experiments were conducted by investigative journalists, who deliberately got themselves committed to institutions, only to find they couldn't get out again - the system grabbed them. The harder you fight the system, the more you're giving the system the 'proof' that you really are mad. It's maddeningly self-perpetuating.

Very few of us have the ability to bring our racing pulse back under control, to lower our respiration rate, to relax our muscles. Very few of us possess the ability to react to incredible stress, by calming ourselves and being patient. The most antagonisingly provocative situation will elicit the most predictable response: people don't like having their freedom taken away, told what to do and being judged by strangers who pry into every aspect of their private life.

To have captive creatures to toy with as we please must make those men and women who wield godlike powers feel very full of themselves. "It's for your own good" is the well-worn defence for the indefensible. The very nature of the relationship is toxic to mental health. Mental health treatment cannot be imposed by those who know best, because they don't know best - psychiatry is such a young branch of medicine. Nobody really has a clue what they're doing. Long-term outcomes are abysmal and the mental health epidemic continues to grow apace. Clearly, evidence-based medicine is not being practiced.

Of course I don't think that psychiatrists and mental health nurses and all the other people who offer medical and complementary treatments for ailments of the mind, are bad people. Of course they're not bad people. I don't believe there's a Big Pharma conspiracy. The truth is though, people are sicker than ever before and the treatments aren't working. My objection is with those who talk authoritatively as if there are useful diagnoses and accompanying medications and therapies which are making a profound impact... it's just not the case at all. What's happening is abysmal, and nobody is admitting they've got it wrong - a lot of people aren't sick, they just hate capitalism and modern society.

Good science means controlling the variables. I've aggressively cut out all psychoactive substances. Tomorrow I shall tell my psychiatrist that I'm debt-laden and forced to work a job that conflicts with my values and needs. My malaise is a function of the conflict in my heart, knowing that banking is a morally bankrupt profession, loan-sharking and taking advantage of the most vulnerable. My prescription? The end of capitalism and the return to a society where we're intimately connected to our local communities... do you think they'll stock that in the chemist?

Getting my happiness and contentment back in the current economic climate looks to be an impossible task. However, to medicate myself because I'm having a sane reaction to an insane world is not a good course of action.

Of course, my psychiatrist doesn't have the ability to cure me of my intolerable situation. I've got to work. I've got to travel to where the jobs are. I've got to pay my bills and service my debts. But, I don't need medical solutions to a non-medical problem.

Why even go to see my psychiatrist, when I don't think they can help me? Well, it's obvious isn't it? If we keep sending people away with pills, then we keep proceeding with our delusion that they're working and things are going to improve one day. How many times a year do you suppose a psychiatrist meets somebody who's foresworn ALL psychoactive substances, including caffeine and nicotine, and is a functional high-achieving member of society, to all outward appearances? To say that a medical problem - suicidal depression and debilitating anxiety - doesn't have a medical solution is heresy, but somebody has to stand up to those who dogmatically decree that they have the solutions, when they demonstrably do not.

Being unmedicated is really horrible and I feel terrible, but I'm being a bit of a martyr because I've got a point to prove. One day I will escape from the burden of debt, the soul-destruction of bullshit jobs and the need to commute long distances, preventing me from forming social bonds and having a work:life balance. One day I'll get a girlfriend and a cat and a home of my own and all the other things that humans need to feel complete, and then we can re-examine the situation and ask if I need medication. Until such time as the major problems in my life still exist, then medication looks like a dangerous option, because medication is allowing our society to develop into a grotesquely unhealthy form. Just because medication allows you to do awful things, it doen't mean you should do awful things. If it feels wrong, it probably is wrong.

A certain proportion of society will always struggle to abide by its rules, its laws and its social contract. A certain proportion of society will be criminals and parasites - anti-social. However, when the vast majority of us are struggling and unhappy, then we've made a wrong turn somewhere; we've made a mistake and we need to retrace our steps.

I refuse to be labelled and drugged.

 

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This Time Last Year I was F**ked

11 min read

This is a story about the hands of time...

View from the loft

I have a breadcrumb trail of images that allow me to retrace my steps and understand where I've come from and attempt to estimate whether I'm spiralling downwards or slowly recovering. If I look through my photo library at the images and videos that I captured exactly one year ago, there are three strange videos that I recorded, which clearly indicate that I'd had a major relapse. Three days later both my kidneys had failed, my left leg had ballooned to twice its normal size due to DVT and my blood was toxic enough to kill me at any moment.

Every year for the past four, I've had a Jinxed January. It's true that depression, hypomania and addiction have reared their ugly heads year-round, but January is a particularly awful time. I cured the November wobbles by writing novels. I cured the December wobbles by cutting my toxic parents out of my life. The next problem I've got is how to solve Jinxed January.

My present strategy is to shackle myself to my desk, doing a job that I absolutely hate and is completely incompatible with my mental health. If I can survive this January without doing anything stupid and self-sabotaging, I should have the wind behind me and a downhill stretch of road to help me coast into the spring. The odds will be increasingly in my favour as the days get longer and the weather improves.

I'm emerging from the fog of addiction, intoxicating medications and copious quantities of alcohol. It was impossible for me to really comprehend how bad things had gotten, while I had so much toxic crap in my body. I'd lost all perspective and ability to perceive reality. I struggle to relate to a lot of what I've written in the last few years, because that person who was under the influence of such vast quantities of drink and drugs feels like somebody else. I can read my own words, I can see the distress and I can remember the things that were driving my thoughts and emotions at the time, but not everything in my world was entirely real and grounded in reality. I'm not seeking to distance myself from the things that my body did - including saying and writing things - but it's a little bit hard to imagine that it was me. If you want to get obsessive about blame and responsibility, then f**k you, buddy... go read somebody else's blog you tiresome bore.

Of course, I feel very bad about the way I treated - for example - my lovely girlfriend who gave me a wonderful Christmas with her family, cared for me when I was in hospital, and was extremely nonjudgemental and understanding when addiction got its hooks back in me. I didn't treat her well in the end. I regret it and I'm sorry. I did that. I'm to blame. I'm responsible.

However, in the context of unpicking everything, I can see that there are repeating patterns and things that trigger other things - cause and effect are very complicated to understand. To fully understand the likely consequences and plan ahead, like playing a thousand simultaneous games of chess against grandmasters, is a completely unreasonable and unrealistic thing to expect of me.

Searching back through my photo archives, I can see that I obtained a prescription for an antidepressant - bupropion - shortly before one relapse. I can see that I obtained another - California rocket fuel - shortly before an episode of hypomania where I broke up with the aforementioned brilliant girlfriend. In fact, whenever I seek chemical relief from depression, that's usually an indication of a desire to feel better at any costs, having suffered weeks and months of suicidal thoughts. Am I to blame for seeking relief from my intolerable feelings of depression?

Scanning through my library of images, I can see how I become obsessive over sleeping tablets and tranquillisers, as I rely upon the pills in order to cope with dreadfully stressful situations, which would send even the least-anxiety prone amongst us running screaming in the opposite direction from the source of the stress.

This time last year I was about to start work doing yet more IT consultancy for yet another bank. I was not incredibly enamoured at the prospect, but I needed the money. Circumstances conspired to force me back into an unhealthy environment.

Sadly, I'm not rich enough to do whatever I want, and I'm not even financially comfortable enough to do something tolerable - I've got to do the thing which pays the bills, and that's IT consultancy for banks, unfortunately. It's a fact of life that sometimes we have to do things we don't like very much.

So, I've avoided the antidepressants this time, because they always seem to send me loopy. I'm white-knuckling it to the end of Jinxed January, because I just need to get through this god-awful month, come hell or high water. I'm constantly reminding myself that even to dabble with so-called recreational drugs or get mixed up with girls in a big way, is likely to be destabilising. I live like a monk - work, eat, sleep, repeat.

Because of the extraordinary quantity of benzodiazepines I was abusing, I have huge holes in my memory. It feels like such a short time ago that I was hooked up to my own dedicated dialysis machine, on a high dependency ward. It feels like only yesterday that I regained consciousness with a machine breathing for me in intensive care. I managed a spectacularly terrible sum total of just 11 weeks at work in 2017, and virtually all the rest was pure insanity. I spent about 7 weeks in hospital, so with that 11 versus 7 ratio, you can see that my year was pretty messed up.

This year is brutally drug-free and medication-free. My brain screams in agony at the unbearable levels of depression and anxiety, but I've seen that to reach for any kind of substance for relief is opening the flood gates to fully-blown addiction. I'll convince myself that whatever chemical I'm using to feel better is not effective, and I need to take more, more, MORE! Before I know it, I'll be back on the supercrack.

It might seem obvious to an outside observer that my cyclical life is due to bipolar disorder, and I should rush to my psychiatrist and beg to be given mood stabilisers immediately. However, those who superficially observe me would remark that I'm very stable: I get up, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, go to my job, spend my evening watching TV and writing and get eight hours sleep. To the casual observer, I seem like the most functional and stable person who you could possibly hope to ever meet.

The reality of my existence is one of continuous battle with depression, anxiety and a craving to spectacularly self-sabotage with addiction. Getting out of bed in the morning and overcoming debilitating anxiety are comparatively easy, having built up the mental strength to overcome the urge to take one of the most addictive substances known to man. I'm not meaning to compete with those who find their lifes to be completely unliveable due to depression and anxiety, but merely to say that I've found it easier to overcome things which would have kept me bed-bound, after having been through what I've been through. Every cell of my body screams in protest at the bullshit I'm putting myself through at the moment. Every bit of my brain yells in agony at the daily punishment I suffer, but what does an extra bit of suffering matter compared with the endless comedowns and drug withdrawals I've been through?

As I look back on the last year, I realise I've been through opiate withdrawal from tramadol, codeine and dihydrocodeine; through benzodiazepine withdrawal from diazepam and alprazolam; through stimulant withdrawal from crystal meth and supercrack; through withdrawal from pregabalin and alcohol; through withdrawal from sleeping tablets like zopiclone and zolpidem. In terms of detoxes, I've had the detox from hell. In terms of quitting addictive medications, I'm a Guinness World Record holder. I really do deserve a medal.

As I look back on the last year, I realise I've been through so many health issues, housing issues, financial issues, legal issues, employment issues, relationship issues and everything else that would wreck your head and rob you of your sense of stability, comfort, contentedness and happiness. I'm surprised I'm not sleeping in a cardboard box, just to escape the clutches of a society that wants its pound of flesh at any costs. I'm exhausted by the constant stress of it all.

If I make it through Jinxed January, I have little to look forward to. There's nothing jump for joy about. Anybody who tells you you'll feel better if you quit the booze and the drugs and the pills is a fucking idiot. Anybody who tells you that you'll have improved self-esteem and all the other good stuff, if you get yourself off the streets and into a job, is a fucking idiot. I'm an extremely rare example of a judge, policeman and a social worker's wet dream - a bankrupt homeless mentally ill junkie who's got themselves scrubbed down and gone back to civilised society, but I've got to tell you in no uncertain terms that it's awful and I hate it. My life is a living hell.

Perhaps this is the ultimate comedown. Perhaps all the chickens are eventually coming home to roost. Perhaps this is the payback, given that I somehow miraculously avoided prison, a criminal record, bankruptcy and permanent health damage. Perhaps I'm finally paying the price for all that partying.

But, I haven't been partying. It's not like I haven't paid the price every time I fucked up. It's not like I haven't tried hard to do the all the right things and contribute to society. It's not like I've robbed, and manipulated and been a parasite on society. I've already paid for my transgressions. Where's the reward for getting myself sorted out? Why did I bother?

As I look back, I have rose-tinted glasses. As I look forward, I see the world through a blue filter. The past wasn't so bad and the future looks bleak. Perhaps this is the final stage of recovery from addiction, when my memory of the horrors of the past is becoming faded and I fondly reminisce about the few moments that were OK in all that insanity. It was certainly an easier life, to be on a rocket-ride to hell.

I try to look back and remind myself just how bad things were, but I find myself smiling and laughing in a way that I just don't when I think about the eight hours I spent going through hell at my desk today. In my mind, I perceive the present unpleasantness as far greater than anything else I've been through in the last year. That's strange, isn't it? To have suffered multiple organ failure, loss of my home, loss of my job, a suicide attempt, incarceration, getting sectioned, psych wards, addiction, loss of my girlfriend and all the other atrocious things that I went through in the last year, and the very worst thing is my current working arrangements.

Obviously, I think that my perceptions must be warped by my state of semi-recovery from addiction and other mental health problems, but I don't think it explains everything. There is something awful about being all alone in an AirBnb, working a job I hate because it's boring, easy and doesn't bring me into contact with a single soul... it's so lonely and isolating.

I'm churning words out into the ether, because I'm in such discomfort and I'm so afraid.

It's strange that I'm not afraid of ending up back in hospital, isn't it?

 

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Unholy Trinity

11 min read

This is a story about lethal combinations...

Three empty cans

Those who are familiar with the more extreme end of Grindr casual sex shenanigans will know that there's an unholy trinity of club drugs - crystal meth, GBL/GHB and viagra - which provide the sexual stamina for outrageously debaucherous f**kfests. To arrange drug-fuelled sex parties via the Grindr app is shockingly quick and easy. Under the influence of these drugs, one's sexual appetites are rarely satiated.

My own unholy trinity is far more prosaic - sleeping pills, tranquillisers and alcohol.

I never intended on becoming hooked on 'downers' and indeed I was very well aware of the physically addictive nature of the benzodiazepines. There is absolutely nothing that appeals to me about being intoxicated on CNS depressants. I do not enjoy feeling under the influence of the GABA agonists. For me, it was all about wanting the absence of something: the absence of panic attacks where I felt like I was going to die; the absence of interminable insomnia; the absence of the skin-crawling feeling of anxiety; an escape from a life that was unbearably awful.

Alcohol was a taste I had to acquire. Getting drunk was a necessary part of getting laid - Dutch courage. Booze was ubiquitous at work and it was necessary to be a drinker to get ahead in my career. I would have been a suspicious outsider if I'd been sober during the many drunken lunches, after-work beers and meals where wine flowed liberally. Alcohol lubricates the world of investment banking and I fully embraced the culture.

Valium crept into my life as I searched for something to help me manage the undesirable side effects of stimulant abuse. I thought I could swallow a couple of pills and sleep off the worst of my addiction without any consequences. I knew that I was playing with fire - to use one addictive drug to combat the effects of another - but that's the kind of addict logic that I applied at the time. I knew that if I abused benzodiazepines for more than a few months, I'd end up with a physical dependency that would cause me to have seizures if I abruptly stopped taking the pills. I did what I felt I had to do.

Sleeping pills never held any appeal. If there's one thing I'm really good at, it's sleeping. I quickly figured out that the best way to escape an oppressive and unpleasant world is to be unconscious. I can put myself into a zoned-out trancelike state and sit quietly for hours. I can spend all day dozing in bed, even after 12 hours of restful sleep. I'm a master of sleep. Why would I dabble with sleeping pills?

Some of the benzodiazepines have a very long half-life. If you take benzos - like Valium - for a long time, they never really leave your bloodstream. If you're addicted to Valium, you're just topping up when you take the pills. Strangely, it's possible to have insomnia when you're on tranquillisers - you just lie there awake, not caring at all that you're not asleep. It's restful, but it's not refreshing, if you know what I mean?

During one of the most difficult periods of my addiction to a powerful stimulant - a drug that sends me completely psychotically insane - I could hear helicopters hovering over my apartment. All the traffic on the road had stopped - I couldn't hear any motorbikes, cars, lorries, buses or trucks. Then, I heard a lot of yelling. To my paranoid drug-addled and sleep-deprived mind, this was the thing I'd been dreading: the police and the army were coming to get me and drag me in front of a crowd of people, to shame and ridicule me. The 'enemy' were coming to get me. Then, I heard a commentator announce that the first runners of the London Marathon were about to come past my apartment block. Of course! It was the marathon, the route of which travels right past where I was living.

I was still fairly traumatised by the whole marathon thing, even though I quite quickly figured out that the helicopter wasn't there to deliver a SWAT team clad in black uniforms in through my bedroom windows. I turned to diazepam to soothe my jangled nerves. I swallowed about 20 high-strength 10mg blue tablets. That's a HELL of a lot of diazepam. It didn't touch the sides. What I really wanted was to be unconscious. Sometimes, being tranquillised up to the eyeballs just isn't enough.

Zopiclone and zolpidem entered my life as medications to allow me to have a seemingly normal sleep/wake cycle. When I was abusing a powerful stimulant, it would not be uncommon for me to spend four or five nights without sleeping at all. The most nights I ever went without sleep was about ten, which sent me completely barmy, of course. As you reach the outer extremities of an impossibly bad stimulant addiction, strangely you yearn to have a normal appetite and normal sleep. The tranquillisers helped me to stay on top of stimulant psychosis, but I needed sleeping pills otherwise I was just going to die from a low immune system, or otherwise go completely and permanently insane.

I can't stress enough how important sleep is. Without regular refreshing sleep, nothing else is going to fall into place. There's no hope of improvement and recovery without sleep.

The sleeping pills - such as zopiclone and zolpidem - don't actually give you normal sleep. Sometimes you can 'wake up' and feel a little bit like you've been asleep, but you haven't been - you've been drugged. Your body and your brain kind of knows the difference between sleep and unconsciousness. When you suddenly jerk awake and you say "what! where am I?" then that's usually an indication that you've been drugged, rather than sleeping.

I used sleeping pills for most of 2017. I almost don't know how to sleep without them. When you get habituated into using sleeping pills, you can get very anxious about trying to sleep without them. The anxiety around getting enough sleep builds and builds. You spend horrible days at work where you're trying to keep your eyes open, and then horrible nights awake because you desperately want to get enough sleep to catch up, but you can never get enough. Bedtime becomes super charged with nervous energy and you have an incredible longing for a night of refreshing sleep. The more you want sleep, the harder it is to get it. Sleeping pills are addictive, because they take away that anxiety and deliver some kind of dependable nightly rest, even if it's not very refreshing.

I abused my little toxic trio of chemicals because they gave me back my life. My life used to revolve around the highly potent and addictive stimulant drug which I had unfortunately become incurably hooked on. My life was going to hell in a hand cart. I was on collision course with permanent psychosis. I was definitely going to end up locked up in a mental institution for the rest of my days. To fight fire with fire was madness, but it worked. Although it was very dangerous and I nearly died as a result of poly-substance abuse, somehow I popped out the other side intact.

I didn't drink alcohol since last Saturday. Once I start drinking, I don't seem to be able stop when I want to. I don't seem to be able to drink in moderation. When I get the taste of beer or wine, I glug it down and I don't stop until I think "oh dear, I've had too much to drink". Because of all the occasions when I've thought "I wish I hadn't drunk so much" recently, I've decided that not drinking is the safest course of action.

I've been taking sleeping pills all week. I need some sort of crutch dagnammit! How am I supposed to cope in such unfavourable conditions without something to help make life a little more manageable. To lose sleep would be bound to push me back towards strange strung-out thinking, and make me liable to say or do something stupid.

One week from today I will see a psychiatrist. It's been 8 weeks or so since I last saw a psychiatrist. I haven't been taking any medication - except for the aforementioned sleeping pills - and I'm wondering if I should cut my pills down to absolute zero. It would be really wonderful to say that I'm not a drinker, not a smoker, I don't have tea, coffee, cola or energy drinks, and I don't take ANY medication at all. It's so rare that a psychiatrist would encounter somebody who's completely free from ALL psychoactive substances. I think I would really love it, to have the psychiatrist ask me "so, how do you feel?" and be able to answer, knowing that it's me and only me, and not some version that's twisted by caffeine, nicotine, drink, drugs and medications. How precious would that be, to be my real authentic unadulterated self?

To get to this point where I might be able to be completely free from all mind-altering substances has been an almost impossibly unbearably awful experience that's put my life at great danger, as well as my livelihood. Why the hell would I put myself through so much suffering? Why wouldn't I go a little more easy on myself?

What I find with substances is that they're insidious. Every time you say "one cigarette won't hurt" or "one glass of wine will be OK" you could be setting off down a road that leads to a whole bottle of wine, two bottles of wine, a bottle of vodka. I'm never going to be some boring teetotaller, but at the moment my life is so unbearable that I'll keep pouring myself glass after glass of booze until the pain and the anxiety is blocked out and I'm blacked out.

My nightly sleeping pill habit is comparatively healthy. I don't increase the dose. The dose is measured. There aren't any fattening calories in a sleeping tablet. Sleeping tablets don't give me awful hangovers. There could be much worse things to be hooked on. However, wouldn't it be awesome to look the psychiatrist straight in the eye and say "I haven't taken a single mind-altering substance for a week now".

This week has been awful without my little chemical helpers, but maybe next week will be better, and the week after will be even better still. Wouldn't it be awesome if I break free from chemical dependencies?

Of course, I will have to admit that I had unbearable anxiety and suffered suicidal thoughts that very nearly killed me. I will have to admit that it would have been sensible to take the sertraline (Zoloft in the USA or Lustral in the UK) instead of trying to tough it out without, and abusing things which I really shouldn't have done. It's true that I could have developed a sertraline habit by now - the withdrawal syndrome is pretty awful, so I'd be trapped onto yet another addictive medication. Yes, it would have helped me to get through some super stressful awfulness, but I'm going to end up like the old lady who swallowed the spider to catch the fly etc. etc.

My friend who's a doctor is incredibly frustrated that "Nick knows best" as usual. They're mad as hell that I'm doing my own thing; marching to my own beat. It seems patently absurd to reject a medication that could be a tiny bit better than placebo, in as little as 8 weeks. So, why is it that I feel a little bit better today? Seems rather coincidental, doesn't it?

My week at work was awful. In fact, I was too unwell to work for 3 out of 5 days. My week was almost unbearable. In the interests of being fair and honest, I must admit that this last week has made me question my stubborn decision. I've wondered whether I made a mistake. Then, I remember that I'm closer than I've ever been to proving my point: that I can be stable, contented and happy without pills. I plan on rejecting all my diagnoses at some point. I plan on declaring myself sane. I plan on being 'normal'.

How does somebody become normal if the paternalistic guardian class can always say "that's only because you're on the right medication"? When it says "medication takes 6 to 8 weeks to become effective" what would happen if you didn't take the damn pills? That's what I'm finding out. It was super telling to me that people were so quick to say "told you so" when the game wasn't even finished - the results aren't in yet.

It's been awful, but I'm winning. Bi-winning.

 

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Cold Turkey 2

12 min read

This is a story about sequels...

Leftovers

Two years ago, I was experimenting with my blog. I thought it would be profound to write a public suicide note, record a video and go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought I would get sacked from my job and illustrate how the stress would push me into acts of extremism. I decided to sleep rough close to the skyscraper I had been working in. I thought I was going to starve myself for 25 days and spend Christmas Day in a tent. I thought I was going to kill myself by going on hunger strike.

For 25 days I wrote an advent calendar type series of blog posts. The whole thing was leading up to the punchline: boxing day. Really, what I was doing was building up to the revelation of the truth: that I'd had problems with addiction. It was a big admission. It took a lot of courage to be honest.

Why did it take me so long to acknowledge my problems with addiction?

Generally, addicts don't get a very favourable hearing. Addicts are amongst the most stigmatised people on the planet. If you're looking for a sympathetic non-judgemental ear, it's probably best if you don't mention any addiction problems you've had until somebody's got to know you.

So, people had to get to know me.

My friends, family and work colleagues knew me. Those people who've gotten to know me have seen that I'm an OK person. I'm not a monster.

But am I a monster?

It's surprising how little it takes for us to question everything we ever knew about a person. Sometimes, there's a revelation about a person that can completely shake our perceptions of them. Suddenly, it's as if a person we knew well is a stranger to us, and not just any stranger: a horrible nasty stranger who's going to rob us and kill our children and eat them. Everybody knows that addicts leave a trail of HIV-infected needles lying around everywhere they go, especially in areas where children play. Everybody knows that addicts enjoy nothing more than random acts of killing. Also, if you discover that somebody's had problems with addiction, you can pretty much forget everything you ever knew about them.

Hang on a second though.

How quickly can you completely re-evaluate an entire person and decide that they're a completely worthless hopeless junkie, who'd rob you without a moment's hesitation in order to score their next fix? How long does it take to write somebody off completely and dismiss everything you ever knew about them? Why are junkies just so damn easy to hate and what happened to the person you used to know?

While there are some very unfortunate people whose morals will be corrupted by their addiction, that's not the case for most addicts. Not every addict is a liar, a cheat, a thief and somebody who would recklessly endanger the lives of your precious children. Not every addict is flakey, unreliable, untrustworthy, unscrupulous and immoral. Not every addict is worthless, hopeless and doomed to forever seek and take drugs. Not every addict is a menace to society, and should be treated like a leper: shunned from work, friends, family and all the other things that give us a functional life. Not every addict should be marginalised and demonised.

Of course, I write with a vested interest. I don't want to be mistreated. I don't want the stigma attached to me.

So, why don't I share my stories of addiction anonymously? Why don't I join Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous, and while I'm at it Gambling Addicts Anonymous and Sex Addicts Anonymous? Why don't I keep quiet and just pretend like I'm normal? I don't even take drugs.

Nobody thinks that gambling addicts inject packs of cards, so why is it that when you think of me - an addict - you immediately imagine dirty needles? Where did the OK Nick that you used to know go? Why did you eject the pleasant memories you had of me, and replace them with an imagined version of me, where I was mugging grannies for their life savings?

It's necessary for me to concentrate on the prequel to my story, in order to receive a fair hearing. I need to explain that adverse childhood experiences, an abusive relationship, stress, burnout and mental health problems, all created a fertile environment in which to grow a substance abuse problem. I need to explain that my mood instability - bipolar - predisposed me to reckless sensation seeking, such as substance abuse. I need to explain that my motivation was self-medication, not getting high. I sought relief from symptoms, not enjoyment. I was trapped and I needed a way out. I chose the wrong one. I made a mistake.

We might take a quick glance at a situation and utter the words "why don't they just...?". Why don't they just what? Leave their abusive partner? Stop moping around and get out of bed? Stop taking drugs? Move somewhere else? Sort themselves out?

When you're secure and happy, everything looks pretty easy. All people have gotta do is get a house, a job, a sexual partner, friends, hobbies and interests, a loving family, a supportive environment, a healthy lifestyle, coping mechanisms, substantial financial resources and favourable socioeconomic conditions. That's it. That's all. Just get on and do it!

For some, remaining addicted is not about the ongoing want for drugs, it's actually slow suicide.

That last point is worth re-iterating. One of the reasons why some people won't stop taking drugs, is because they don't want to live anymore. They literally don't care if they die. I would say that most addicts are very well aware that their addictions are going to kill them, but they carry on anyway - they're committing suicide, slowly.

Looking at teens and twentysomethings who smoke, we might see that there's a general belief that "it'll never happen to me". In our youth, we tend to believe we're pretty indestructible. By that same token, we might assume that a drug addict believes that they'll be one of the lucky ones, who addiction will spare. I don't think that's the case.

As an addict, it quickly becomes apparent that control has been lost and you're on collision course with health problems and early death. Repeatedly, the addict will have extremely aversive experiences which scream loud and clear that the path of addiction is going to lead to death and destruction. Do you think every lecture about what an addict is doing to themselves falls on deaf ears?

Equally, do you think that addicts just don't care? Do they want to die?

Committing suicide - including addiction - is not about wanting to die. Suicide is driven by hopelessness and inescapable awful feelings. If life only has pain and misery to offer, why wouldn't a person choose early death? If building any kind of liveable tolerable life is an insurmountable task, what hope is there? Who'd want to spend the rest of their life miserable, depressed, anxious and in pain?

It's easy to say "keep putting one foot in front of the other" or "take things one day at a time" because you don't have to live through that misery. It's easy to ask somebody else to tolerate the intolerable, because it's not you who has to suffer: it's them. Eventually, a person can conclude that there aren't going to be any good days, or that the few pleasant times don't outweigh the multitudinous bad times. On balance, one might conclude, life's not worth living.

When you've made that decision that life's not worth living, it's pretty hard to find any reason to not have that next hit of drugs, even when the drugs are killing you.

I write to you today clean, sober and with no intention of obtaining and taking drugs.

However, I think it's highly likely that I will take drugs again, both recreationally and abusively. The number of protective factors - friends, family, work, money - have increased, but my life is still very badly broken. There are innumerable things that predispose me to relapsing onto drugs, and on the flip side there is a huge list of things I've got to fix or get in my life in order to have enough on the other side of the scales to balance things out. I look to the year ahead: what do I have look forward to other than hard work, living out of a suitcase, paying off debts and otherwise scrimping and saving? I'm sorry, but I'm not exactly thrilled by the prospect of living off sandwiches that I've made in a hotel room, spreading the mustard with a shoehorn.

But, perhaps also there's a desperate desire to self-sabotage because life was simpler as an addict. Even the synthetic cannabinoids have enough of an attractive intoxication for addicts to jettison the stress and strain of paying rent and bills, and having to hold down a job, in favour of homelessness. The bureaucratic burden of civilised society is wearisome and ridiculous. The form-filling and pointless makework of bullshit jobs is absurd. It's not just about the drugs - it's also about dropping out.

You'd think that dropping out would be a terrible thing. You'd think that the shame of the loss of status would be unbearable, but it's liberating. You know that you have to work hard to keep up your mortgage or rent payments. You live in constant fear of losing your job, which would quickly lead to eviction. When you become homeless, it's a relief - a thing you feared the most has happened, and it's not as bad as you thought it would be; somehow you manage to cope.

I'm averse to the idea of a miserable dead-end McJob. I'm averse to the idea of spending any more time stressed out of my mind, helping my boss get richer; helping my landlord get richer. I'm averse to the idea that the peanuts that most people get paid, in any way compensates them for giving up the prime years of their lives. I don't see that society is working well for most people. I see that stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health problems are rife. I see that suicide is the biggest killer of the group of people who are our most productive members of society. That's not fair.

So, I need to find a middle way. I need to find a way that's not suicide, not drug addiction, but it's not a miserable dead-end job either. I refuse to get a bullshit job that pays peanuts. I'd rather die.

At the moment, I'm clean from drugs and I'm working a very well paid job. I'm learning stuff. It's stressful, but it's not boring. I'm increasing my value - my employability - as well as doing a good job. It feels fair.

I'm starting 2018 at a considerable disadvantage. I'm deeply in debt. I don't have a girlfriend. I don't rent or own a home. Why bother?

It's been 6 months since I had an addiction. I'm clean. Why would I even write about addiction? I've won, haven't I?

In fact, addiction is always there: a dependable companion. Very little effort is involved in resuming an addiction. Addiction will always be everything you expected it to be. Addiction never disappoints. Conversely, a happy functional life with all the components necessary to make it work, is very very far out of reach; almost unattainable. You might think that because I'm only 6 months away from putting a lot of the pieces in place, that it'd be easy. 6 months is no time at all, right? In fact, 6 months without all the things you take for granted, might as well be a billion years. It's never going to happen. Try getting in a bath filled with ice cubes. Try holding your hand over a naked flame. What you perceive as quick and easy is not quick and easy when you're in pain.

My present situation might look infinitely preferable to my life as an addict, but it's not. Addiction could last me forever - until the day I die - but what I have today is only temporary; it's fake. I can't stay where I am forever. My contract will come to an end and I'll have to find another job. I'll need to rent or buy a place to live. I need to keep moving around: 3 and a half hours on the train, one-way, and moving from hotel to hotel, AirBnB to AirBnB... always moving on. I'm tired, even though it looks like I should be well rested. I'm stressed, even if it looks like things are going in the right direction.

Addiction's there as a one-stop-shop. Addiction means that I can stop pedalling so damn fast. Addiction means relief. Addiction means there's an end in sight. I'd be a liar if I didn't admit that when I'm alone with my thoughts, I don't immediately think that addiction is infinitely preferable to the mountainous task ahead, to merely build a mediocre life of disappointment and depression; boredom and bullshit.

Going cold turkey doesn't prove anything.

 

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Drug of Choice

8 min read

This is a story about cyclical patterns...

Me with pills

In 2014 I was homeless and addicted to drugs. I got myself a job at a bank, got myself a place to live and paid off all my debts. Then, I lost my contract. I went to a shop in Soho and bought two packets of a legal high powder and proceeded to undo all my hard work. Within a matter of weeks, I was back on the supercrack.

In 2015 I was homeless and addicted to drugs. I got myself a job at a bank, got myself a place to live and paid off all my debts. Then, I lost my contract. I went online and bought two packets of legal high powder and two packets of legal benzodiazepine tablets. Within a month, I was back on the supercrack.

In 2016 I had a lovely apartment. I was clean all summer. I went on holiday. I met an amazing girl who I was totally in love with. I wrote my first novel. I had a brilliant Christmas with my girlfriend and her family. Then, I got myself a job at a bank. My left leg swelled up to twice the size of the right leg, both my kidneys failed, I was put on emergency dialysis and I had to be admitted to hospital for a couple of weeks, on a high dependency ward. Then, I lost my contract. Within a fortnight I was back on the supercrack.

In 2017 I had a lovely apartment. I took supercrack. I tried to quit the supercrack. I got depressed. I tricked my doctor into giving me California rocket fuel - a combination of venlafaxine and mirtazepine antidepressants. I went hypomanic and split up with my amazing girlfriend. I bought enough supercrack to last me two years. I went insane with stimulant psychosis and was thoroughly beastly towards my amazing girlfriend. I ran out of money. I moved to Manchester. I got another girlfriend. We broke up. I tried to kill myself. I spent a couple of days with a machine breathing for me in intensive care. I got sectioned and got locked up on a secure psych ward. I moved to Wales. I wrote 42,000 words of my second novel. I got myself a job at a bank. There isn't enough time left in 2017 to get back on the supercrack. I'm worried I'm going to relapse in January. I haven't lost my contract yet.

Fluid in my leg

If we dip into each year a little bit more closely, 2014 was a really dreadful one. I was an inpatient for about 14 weeks. I lived in a bush in Kensington Palace Gardens and slept rough on Hampstead Heath. I was in two rehabs. I lived in a 14-bed hostel dorm, but that was actually one of the highlights. I abused a lot of benzodiazepines and amphetamines, as well as the supercrack. I got in trouble with the police. Twice.

2015 looks tame by comparison. Although I abused stimulants and 'downers', I had a couple of visits to a lovely family in Ireland, who looked after me. Strangely, it was working 12 hour days and working 7 days a week that exhausted me and tipped me into hypomania. I spent a week suicidal on a psych ward then suddenly decided to fly to San Francisco. I went straight to the Golden Gate Bridge, which I had contemplated jumping off. I was sober for 120 consecutive days. I deliberately got my contract terminated, because I had ethical objections to what the bank I was working for was doing. I started blogging.

2016 is unusual - perhaps there is no easy pattern we can spot - because I got myself clean and into work much earlier than I'd managed in previous years. I worked a whole contract - notably not for a bank - without going mad and getting sacked. I got a good reference and my team were really pleased with the way I ran the project. My life was quite stable. However, I was a sneaky bastard. I was using supercrack and benzos in secret, and lying to my amazing girlfriend to cover up my drug abuse.

2017 was off the charts. I've never been so sick. I've never been so close to death. For the first half of the year I had binge after binge after binge. I abused opiates, sleeping pills, tranquillisers, club drugs and stimulants. My drug abuse was definitely going to kill me. I had a physical dependency on benzodiazepines that looked impossible to cure - how was I going to escape from the death trap? I decided I couldn't escape, so I took a massive overdose. The hospital gave me a 50:50 chance of pulling through.

I'm worried that I'm repeating old patterns of behaviour. I always go back to the banks when I need money, because they pay so well and it's the quickest way of digging myself out of debt. I'm living out of a suitcase, moving from AirBnB to AirBnB. It's exhausting and stressful: factors that tipped me into hypomanic insanity back in 2015.

What is unusual is that I'm going into the New Year with a contract in place: I have my job and it's going well. I'm starting 2018 with money on the way, as opposed to the fear of bankruptcy and eviction. I'm going into next year with far fewer stresses than I've had for a very long time. Perhaps it's good that there aren't even any girls in the picture at the moment. Love and sex always have a bit of a destabilising effect on me.

Writing this summary of my hit-and-miss boom-and-bust crazy life, I wonder if I'm doomed to forever repeat the pattern.

One thing that's notably different this year is living with a family. I care about them. I imagine what it'd be like if the kids asked "where's Nick?" and the answer was that I was dead, or as good as dead because I'd relapsed onto supercrack.

This year, I quit supercrack, tramadol, codeine, dihydrocodeine, diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), zolpidem (Ambien), zopiclone and pregabalin. I was prescribed venlafaxine, mirtazepine and lamotrogine, but I don't take any of them now. I had 30 consecutive sober days during October. In fact, I was sober from more or less the start of September to early November. My brain has been completely drug-addled at times, but I'm clean as a whistle at the moment - I'm unmedicated and I'm not taking any mind-altering substances. I don't drink caffeinated beverages.

I'd like to tell you that I feel wonderful, but I don't. I have a cold. It's winter. Winter is shit.

You might look at all the times I've tripped up and conclude that I'm bound to trip up again. However, you might look at all the things I've fixed and conclude that I'm pretty good at fixing up my life when it's fucked. All I've got to do is bring together all the different elements: friends and family, work and home, money and rest and relaxation, stability and exercise and hopes and dreams, love and romance and sex. Easy, right?

If you're wondering what my drug of choice is, and thinking that it's supercrack, you're wrong. Look more closely at the picture at the top of this blog post. What's that thing in-between my legs? It's not my male member, it's a wine glass.

Hello wine my old friend

With closer examination of my entire adult life, we can see that alcohol features heavily. In fact my latest job came about as a result of being friends with a lovely guy who's an alcoholic. We spent a week getting pissed, when I was supposed to be finding my feet with the new job. Somehow, I've managed to drink my way through a very successful career. Without booze I'm somewhat out of kilter. Without booze, how would I self-medicate for my mood fluctuations?

Yes, without booze, my bipolar disposition rages out of control. I work too hard. I take everything too seriously. I fly off the handle.

I'm not genuinely suggesting that booze is harmless or the cure of all ills, but it's been such a big component of my adult life that I don't really know how to cope without it. How would I have survived the recent stresses and strains of a 2,500 mile round-trip, to go and gather money from the latest bank I'm working for, without alcohol? How would I square away my deep unhappiness with the work I do, with the need to earn money, if it wasn't for drowning my sorrows? Alcohol might be a terrible solution, but it's the one I've got and I know it works.

Is it lunchtime yet? I'm not an alcoholic, because I don't drink in the morning. I just make sure I lie in bed until it's after midday.

 

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All Your Whales Are Belong To Me

11 min read

This is a story about living out of a suitcase...

Hotel room feast

This is my life now. Spreading mustard and mayonaise onto long-life bread with a shoehorn, placing sweaty pre-cut cheese squares in-between the slices and chowing down on a hotel-room made sandwich, while swigging from a can of strong European lager. This is the life of a business traveller who can't really afford the expenses - I'm faking it until I make it. I'd be sleeping in my car... if I had a car.

It'd be fairly easy to look back on the journey that started with near-certainty that I was going to get sued for non-payment of rent, whilst also being evicted... of course, I had no money. I still don't have any money. I have negative money. I have negative negative LOTS OF DEBT MONEY. When I get paid, things won't be so bad. When I've been paid for a few months, things will look positively rosy. "That wasn't so bad" you'll say. You're wrong. It was bad.

Things are often a lot easier said than done.

A lot of the experiences in my life have been awful at the time, but later on I've been able to laugh about the dire straits I was in. In fact, the only way I've been able to come to terms with some ridiculous stuff I've been through is to tell my hair-raising tales of near-death experiences and destruction to the world. You might think that I glorify events of the past, or wear bad stuff as a badge of honour. That's not true, but what am I supposed to do with all those negative experiences? Am I supposed to walk around with a glum face and tell everybody how terrible I am? Am I only alive to serve as a living reminder to people that they shouldn't make bad choices like I did?

Choices.

Yes. Do you really believe in free will? I imagine that you believe in Santa Claus too. There's no free will. Our choices are always heavily biased. We're cornered and coerced. Would I have gone back to IT consulting for an investment bank in London if I wasn't flat broke? Am I making free will choices, or am I just doing what I've got to do to survive?

Survival.

My version of survival probably looks pretty ridiculous to you. The kind of money that's going to be coming my way soon is pretty obscene - banks pay very well. So, does that mean that I'm not surviving? Am I actually completely fine and dandy? I'm just making a fuss about nothing, right? In fact, if you saw the numbers, you might be angered; you might conclude that I've been fine all along... nothing to worry about and never in any danger.

A friend often challenges me on why I would keep myself on the endangered species list. Why would I continue to advertise my distress? Surely I'm safe and secure now. Well, how long ago was it that I was made homeless, jobless, having some dealings with the police, locked up on a psych ward and facing certain bankruptcy with mountainous debts?

So, I got a job. I worked that job. I did a good job. Money is on the way now. Case closed?

Actually, can you imagine how stressful it was to have to hit the ground running and pretend like I've got my shit together all of a sudden? Just because I'm pretty damn good at acting like I'm a cool customer and I can handle anything that life throws at me, the reality is that my inner monologue goes pretty much like this: "shit! shit! shit! everything's on fire! everything's too hard! it'll never work! everything's ruined and it'll never be fixed! it's too hard! I can't do it!".

Of course, a lot of people find new countries, new cities, new jobs, new work colleagues, new offices, new challenges, new accommodation and the stress of the unfamiliarity of circumstances, to make them very anxious. I'm not the only one who feels stressed and anxious when taken out of my comfort zone. I'm not the first person ever to have butterflies in their tummy about a new job.

Ha ha.

If only it was just a new job. Try plucking homeless unemployed bankrupt drug addicts who are known to the police, up from locked psych wards, giving them a scrub down, putting them in a suit and plonking them at a desk in another country. See how many times that works out for you.

To top it all off, there is the ever-present danger - and there still is - that I'll run out of money before that first payment lands in my bank account. If you think it's just a case of budgeting you're an idiot. You can't budget if the numbers just don't add up - sometimes there just isn't enough money to pay for everything. Sometimes, you can't afford to go to work, because you can't afford to get there. Catch 22.

If you think that I'm not a representative example, you're right. Most people will fall at one of the many hurdles. Most people would find themselves marginalised and excluded and blacklisted and without a hope of ever recovering their poise; hope of ever returning to normal life. You're right. I'm not most people. I'm not special though. I'm not different.

I cashed in one of my "get out of jail free" cards. I don't have any aces left up my sleeve. I've called in pretty much every favour. I had help, of course. People don't survive without help.

Arguably I wasn't a very worthy cause to help. Arguably, I'm arrogant and ungrateful; I credit myself where no credit is due - surely the situation I find myself in today is entirely thanks to other people, and I'm just a passenger... I've been gifted everything I've got from generous people; I haven't worked a day in my life.

To a large extent, I agree that luck and other people's generosity are the main factors in my life. So what? Would you prefer me dead?

Of course, I question my utility; I question the value of my productive output. I'm not rescuing children from burning orphanages after all, am I? Isn't it about time that I built a school in Africa or distributed food and clean water in some war-torn area flooded with refugees? With all my software development expertise, why haven't I created an app that cures cancer, or programmed a supercomputer to find the solution to world hunger? Isn't it about time that I stopped being so pleased with myself and did something to help other people? Isn't it high time that I stopped being so selfish and self-centred?

Easier said than done.

Take a look around. OK so your friend Sharon did a fun run that raised a lot of money for spastics, but she went on and on about it A LOT, going on about how fucking amazing she is for having done that, didn't she? Those 30 minutes that she spent puffing and panting, running around the school sports field hasn't changed anything has it? Did that rock concert that you went to succeed in ending poverty? That's right... you were really philanthropic, by going to see those bands play. How wonderful of you.

So many of us say "I'd like to do more, but I'm struggling myself". It's true, people really are struggling to find the time and the money to get through ordinary life, let alone perform selfless self-sacrificing philanthropic amazing acts of charity. There isn't a culture of helping each other. We mainly eye each other up suspiciously: are our peers getting more money than us? Why does SHE have a bigger house than me? Why are THEY getting a new car this year?

It's pretty easy to take a superficial glance at a person and say "WHY ARE YOU JUST SITTING THERE? GET UP AND DO SOMETHING". We've got all the solutions to other people's problems, haven't we? Isn't it the easiest thing in the world, solving other people's problems? If only people would listen, right?

I am thinking about changing my alarmist "suicide note" blog title to simply read this: addict.

I want people to stigmatise me. I want people to jump to the wrong conclusions. I want everybody who thinks they've got an easy answer to come forward and 'save' me from myself. "Have you tried not taking drugs?" being one amazing suggestion that I'd never thought of before.

I've failed to wean myself off sleeping pills. I've failed to stay off the pregabalin - painkillers - that I worked so hard to quit. I started drinking again, and I've been drinking a whole bottle of wine every night. I'm an addict, even though you might take a lazy glance at my life and conclude that I'm perfectly fine.

As I journey back to Wales for a Christmas break, having completed a nervy few weeks back at work, you could be forgiven for thinking that my life's back on track. Talking to me, you'd think that I've overcome all those obstacles that would normally cause a person to stumble and trip - a mentally ill homeless junkie bankrupt known-to-the-police type person. You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm normal. You'd be forgiven for thinking I'm just like you.

I am normal.

I am an addict.

Surely this is cognitive dissonance. Addicts aren't normal, right? Well, how's about this one: I don't even abuse substances. Why on earth would I label myself as an addict? Surely I've won? Surely I've broken free from everything that threatened to destroy me? Why would I want to publicly wear the most awful label that we can give to a person?

I'm not going to write a world-changing app. If apps had the capacity to change the world for the better, they'd have done it. I'm not going to start a world-changing charity. If charity had the capacity to change the world for the better, it'd have succeeded.

So am I giving up?

Am I putting on my oxygen mask before helping others?

The answer is neither. I'm not doing either of those things. I neither accept that the world's fucked and there's nothing I can do about it, nor do I believe that I have to help myself before helping others. It's true that my situation was unbearable, and it will continue to be unbearable for some time. I'm going through some awful stuff, even if you think my life is blessed and I live a charmed existence.

There's a family in Wales who've helped me. They've seen me during periods when it appears to them like I'm not helping myself. They've torn their hair out with frustration that I've been stubborn at times, when there's been obvious solutions that have been right there, just waiting for me to reach out and grab them. The whole world's problems could be solved overnight if only people would listen, right? Simple. Things are really simple, right?

The asceticism of my life - making my own sandwiches in a hotel room - seems like an obvious solution to a problem to you. No knife to spread the mayonaise on the bread? No worries, here's another solution for you...

However, if you have to actually live with a person while they go through the millions of trials and tribulations in their life, then you start to get a sense that things are not as simple as they appear at first. The case of getting my passport back from a bank in Manchester being a particularly illustrative example.

I'm about to spend Christmas in the bosom of a loving family, living on a gorgeous farm in the Welsh countryside. Of course, things aren't all about me. Christmas is about family; it's about giving, not receiving. How must this family feel though?: they've succeeded. They've nursed me back to health. Money is on the way. I'm back in the saddle, aren't I?

January.

January is my nemesis. Of course, I'm not the only person on planet earth to feel down in January. Of course, we all have winter blues and credit card bills hitting the doormat in January. Great. Let's just see how things go, shall we? I'll be back to living out of a suitcase in January.

 

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Never Don't Not Give Up Not Never No Way

11 min read

This is a story about paralysis...

Suicide Button

I'm never really unsure of what to do. I generally have a very certain idea of what I want to do and how I'm going to do it. I have a really big problem when I can see all the way to the end, and life seems to be a bit of a paint-by-numbers exercise. I really struggle when life is predictable and routine.

I went to see a psychiatrist on Wednesday. I knew what I wanted from the psychiatrist: to see a clinical psychologist. I also knew what the likely outcomes were if I was honest: to have pills thrown at me and put myself at risk of being locked up on a psych ward. It was a situation that was so predictable, that I was able to forecast exactly which medication the psychiatrist would suggest.

Instead of allowing myself to be sectioned and swallowing the prescribed medication, I ran away. I'm currently 1,200 miles away from home and by the time I get back the system will have forgotten all about me. If I really wanted to get what I need - which is some talk therapy - then I'd have played a completely different strategy. Frankly, I can't really afford to be sitting on a therapist's couch - I've nearly run out of money.

So, I find myself away from my friends and my new home, in a strange city, in a new job. It's very stressful. I'm very anxious. However, it's also novel and therefore a little exciting. Even though I've done similar work a million times before, I'm still a little challenged by meeting new people and learning the particular nuances of the organisation I've just joined. There's a little novelty in the experience, even if ultimately I'll realise that it's the same old shit, and I'll be on cruise control until the end of the assignment.

I'm presently thinking about eating pasta from a plastic pot, having poured boiling water over it from a miniature kettle in my hotel room. I will need to stir and eat the pasta with a shoehorn, in the absence of any cutlery. This is the glamorous life I live.

You may wonder whether the stress of homelessness, near-bankruptcy, drug addiction, brushes with the law and general dysfunction in every area of my life, is something that I regret. No. No I don't regret it. Having been an adrenalin-junkie extreme-sports enthusiast all my life, you can't get more of a rush than playing "go for broke" in real life. It seems inevitable that I would push everything to the limit, including taking life-or-death chances.

It is a little hard to see where the reward is, when my life seems mostly miserable. I've had unbearable anxiety and depression for long periods during the last couple of years. However, I'm not rushing to the doctor and begging for a miracle cure. The deeply distressing feelings I'm having are doing very little to change my behaviour. I almost guarantee that I'll find the urge to self-destruct almost irresistible, if I pull through my latest episode of adversity.

Having lived in a bush in a park, it seems rather more preferable to be living in a hotel like I am now. Having nearly run out of money, it seems preferable to have a well-paid job, like I do now. However, I can't make any sense of life when I swing between impending doom and intolerable boredom. What's the point of living if it all ends in misery and disaster? I'm too busy moving from certain destitution to probable financial stability at the moment, to stop and have suicidal thoughts, but I know that the absurdity of the rat-race existence is already something that I'm not able to ignore - I'm completely unable to relax and enjoy trivial distractions.

Existential angst paralyses me. I wake up and I want to go back to sleep, but I can't because I have to go to work. I get to work and I want to walk out, but I can't because I can't lose this job. I should work but I want to scream "THIS IS ALL JUST UTTER BULLSHIT". Everywhere I look, I see needless complexity; makework. Existence itself is just killing time before our eventual death. Why go through the stressful and exhausting bit in the middle? Why not take the short-cut and just commit suicide?

It's strange to write like this, given that I've overcome the incredible stress of getting this job, travelling over a thousand miles and facing my first nervous couple of days in the office. Given that I'll avoid bankruptcy if I just keep turning up and keeping my mouth shut, why would I be writing about suicide? I'm not even suicidal at the moment. I've entered a strange kind of state, where I'm incredibly anxious, but I know that suicide doesn't make sense anymore. I know that I've gone to strange cities, started new jobs and rescued myself from financial ruin enough times. Why am I even writing about death and disaster?

January.

It's been a very, very long time since I had a stable January. Potentially, I'll still have well-paid work in the New Year. Potentially, I don't have to start job hunting and worrying about money during the absolute shittest time of year. Potentially, I start 2018 with prospects rather than worries.

On the flip side, you might say that I'm stuck in a cyclical pattern and that I keep trying the same thing but expecting different results, except you'd be wrong. I'm trying something that's been staggeringly successful, and the circumstances are different each time. One of these days, there's going to be a combination of favourable factors, as opposed to badly-timed clusterfucks.

Money is a 'trigger' for self-sabotage, one might say. Also, finding myself trapped on a rainy miserable island in the middle of winter is also a 'trigger'. My coping strategy in the past was to jet off to Venezuela or Brazil for a couple of weeks. I had a long successful career doing that.

In order to survive, I'm going to have to orchestrate friends, work, money, a place to live, a passion and a girlfriend. You might scream with frustration at your screen, because we're all trying to get that perfect balance, and there's always one area of our life that's not going as well as we'd like it to. Erm, well... you don't know how good you've got it, actually. Try living in a bush in a park with none of the things I listed, then get back to me. This is not a boo-hoo story - I'm just explaining how dysfunctional my life got. If it helps you to say it's all my fault for making bad life choices or whatever, then knock yourself out, but I'm far too busy figuring out whether there's some way I can rediscover a reason to live to worry about shit like that.

I'm just writing now. I'm brain dumping. I'm trying to write without a filter.

It's possible that I got caught in some thought loops before, and I needed to take a break from my usual blogging topics. It's possible that my blog wasn't helping me at all. It's possible that I'd lost perspective, because I'd been doing too much navel gazing. I took a break and now I've come back.

Now, I'm writing mindful of the fact that I have friends who I've been living with in Wales. I'm mindful of the fact that I've got a friend who helped me get this job. I'm mindful of the fact that I can't afford to put a foot wrong. I'm mindful of the precarity of my situation. I'm mindful of the fact that writing is actually pretty exhausting, and I need to devote quite a lot of my energies into doing a good job and impressing the people I'm working with. I'm mindful of the fact that I have repeated the pattern of boom and bust, and it looks pretty obviously cyclical to a casual observer. I'm mindful of the fact that my consistent perseverance in the face of a headwind might look a bloody-minded and stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality. That's not the case.

There's a prescription for an antidepressant waiting for me at my doctor's surgery back in Wales. Given the chance, I would be institutionalised by the mental health services. Instead, I'm pursuing a ridiculously optimistic and hopeful, yet extremely risky strategy, of attempting to avoid medication and the dead-end of financial ruin and the mire of pathetically paid jobs that're just as soul-destroying as the very well paid job I've got. I'm not happy about being unmedicated, but I wouldn't be happy popping pills either. I'm not happy about having to work a bullshit job, but I wouldn't be happy doing a so-called 'fulfilling' one either (there are none).

"What if you're still depressed and anxious in 6 weeks time?" the psychiatrist asked me. "Wouldn't you regret not having started taking medication sooner?" he asked. What happens if I don't give up though? Wouldn't I regret never finding out what happens if I stick to my guns and persevere? What am I going to find out, that nobody else ever would, because it's too hard?

I didn't mean to write so much, but I've uncorked some of the stuff I've been holding back. I've never regretted writing, despite the seemingly dreadful consequences. Writing has been financially disastrous for me, but yet it's got to be a healthier coping strategy than drink or drugs, or even going to the gym excessively, where I'll strain my heart and give myself arthritic joints.

I imagine that I'll meet a nice girl soon enough, and the pleasure of tactile affection will change my mood. I imagine that my lengthy abstinence from mind-altering substances will pay dividends soon. Already, some feeling has returned to my nerve-damaged foot/ankle. I must surely be somewhat more sharp-witted, now that I'm not taking heaps of pills every day. I must surely be on course to return to a more normal life, since kicking my addiction to stimulants.

I'm going to give myself a big pat on the back for reducing my alcohol consumption to a moderate level, breaking my physical benzodiazepine dependence, reducing my sleeping pill habit to almost nothing, getting off powerful prescription painkillers, staying 'clean' from supercrack for 6 months and otherwise living a pretty damn healthy life. It might not seem like I've done very much this year, apart from work three contracts, survive double kidney failure, survive a suicide attempt and survive a bunch of very traumatic events, but I'm damn well going to go ahead and congratulate myself on having spent a couple of days in my new job in what must be the very best mental health that I've enjoyed all year, even if I'm diabolically depressed and anxious.

Thinking about my achievements a little more, I'm going to give myself an imaginary medal for 30 days of not drinking, 30 days of writing a novel and spending more days clean and sober than I've spent intoxicated by medications, drugs and alcohol. Quitting a whole host of highly addictive drugs and medications, while in the throes of depression and anxiety, is something I'm going to go ahead and actually feel really proud of - sorry, not sorry. While I'm at it, I'm going to give myself another imaginary medal for not writing my blog for 30 days too. That was harder than you'd think.

My verbal diarrea is pretty bad, so I'm going to stop now, but I hope you can see that I'm not idle, even if you think I've been unproductive, lazy and self-sabotaging all year. It pisses me off that anybody might think I don't have a work ethic.

I'm not going to give up on my crazy experiment to see how my mental health is affected by my circumstances by just damn well being patient, consistent and relentless. I'm controlling the variables.

 

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Long Case

9 min read

This is a story about medical notes...

Hospital Note

My ex-wife - a biochemist by way of undergraduate degree - once screamed at me in an incoherent rage because I had innocently asked her "how big is a protein?" having wondered how many nanometers across, the average protein molecule measured. The sheer audacity of me asking such a question enraged her, perhaps because free thinking is expressly forbidden in an academic world which promotes rote-learning of facts and examinations graded to a marking scheme, ahead of learning.

(The answer, by the way, is roughly 3 nanometres in radius).

When I attempt to answer a difficult question, I sometimes pause and chuckle. "What is consciousness?" came one question. Although I was desperate to talk about weakly interacting subatomic particles, General Relativity and nuclear fusion, I somehow managed to constrain myself to a meaningless analogy, while keeping quiet about my "mind's eye" which could picture every piece of information that captured my entire existence, smeared out in a infinitely thin sphere at the event horizon of a singularity, across all meaningful spacetime for the entire universe that I will ever perceive, which would have been rather a mouthful to express.

Just as one may cram for an exam the night before, I've attempted to only ever amass the prerequisite knowledge that may be considered the minimum viable to navigate whatever situations I have had to endure to reach my goals. Education has never seemed like an end in and of itself, given that our understanding of the fundmental nature of reality is evolving, and the Standard Model of particle physics is rather long in the tooth. Although I find it quite delightful that there are quarks named strange, charm and beauty in the particle zoo, I would find it rather frustrating to dedicate years of my life, obtaining a degree and writing a thesis using tools which may soon look as clunky and outdated as Newton's inverse-square law of gravity.

The mathematicians will mock physics as simply being applied mathematics. The physicists will mock chemistry as simply being applied physics. The chemists will mock biology as simply being applied chemistry, and so on.

Computers are now capable of solving equations and modelling real-world phenomena, potentially making algebra and calculus into dying arts, along with handwriting and long-division. The Fractal Geometry of Nature has revealed that cold rational calculating machines can produce simulations that imitate reality, through repeating patterns. Massive computational power does not only aid human discovery of hidden algebraic equations.

Amid much fanfare, computer software is touted as potentiating new drug discovery by simulating molecular binding, protein folding, rapid gene sequencing and personalised medicine. However, we seem to have forgotten that half the planet is impoverished & hungry, and vast numbers of those who are fortunate enough to live in advanced, wealthy & technologically advanced societies, are suffering from an epidemic of anxiety, depression and other mental health issues that is bad enough to drive vast numbers of men in the prime of their life to commit suicide: the biggest killer of males under the age of 45 in the UK - more than road traffic accidents, drug-related deaths, physical disease, murder, accidents and all the other causes of death.

One should consider that I took leave of my senses in 2008, but since that time I have only managed to attract two clinical diagnoses - convenient medical short-hand - although I have acquired a third which is perhaps the bluntest instrument of the three, and much more of a pejorative than a diagnosis.

"Substance abuse" is a catch-all term which serves me well when I haven't the time & energy to go into detail. Given humanity's long history of self-intoxication, some physicians would consider themselves to be well-versed in the matter. Even the most insulated amongst us, will have struggled to escape contact with a drunk in our lives. We quickly forget, of course, that psychiatry is an extremely young discipline. The isolation, refinement and synthesis of molecules which can short-circuit brain mechanisms, is something that dates back only 70 or 80 years, along with the branch of medicine chiefly concerned with treatment of matters of the mind.

The brain: the most complicated organ in the human body - estimated to have up to a quadrillion neuronal synapses - is often considered only in terms of its vital function as central nervous system, insofar as the same fatty grey matter helps other species to fuck, fight, flee and feed. This does not, however, tell us much about human consciousness, and even less still about pathological thought.

I once sat down and hand-wrote 12 pages of notes, from memory, of every General Practice doctor, psychiatrist and hospital, which I had attended during a 7 year period. Although I kept things as brief as I could, with names, dates and locations, as well as diagnoses and medications, there was a great deal to write. I'm not a complete hypochondriac - there were important notes about my episodes of depression and hypomania, where my mental health had caused me to become significantly dysfunctional.

Perhaps your mind is now skipping ahead - as mine often does - and you're attempting to finish my sentences. Presumably, you're trying to guess the punchline of the joke. I assume you've already got more than enough information to diagnose and treat me.

I'm second-guessing myself here, and I'm struck by the egotism and "navel gazing" of the very act of being sufficiently appraised of my own medical history that I should remember such a level of detail. Who the hell am I to take an interest in my own diagnosis and treatment? Where's my certificate, framed on the wall? Where's the photo of me wearing a mortar board & gown, and clutching a scroll of parchment with a red ribbon tied around it?

When I think about where I should spend my precious time and effort, I'm not motivated by the prospect of being an understudy to a failure. While psychiatry continues to produce dismal outcomes for humanity, in terms of the epidemic of mental health problems, addiction and general societal collapse under the weight of stress and burnout, I'm reluctant to follow in the path of those who are not succeeding in improving the human condition. It should however be noted that I do not for a single moment, criticise the well-meaning intent of those in the healthcare professions, nor do I mean to discredit the lifesaving work that takes place every single day.

The idea of using myself as a case study seems quite ridiculous, but one must consider that it would be unethical to - for example - risk a person's life when there is a treatment available that has been proven to be more effective than placebo.

With a sample size of one, perhaps nothing useful can be gleaned from my first-hand experiences, but I have attempted to corroborate my findings with other evidence wherever possible. I have deliberately avoided areas where another data point would make no difference: what use would it be if I too experienced anorgasmia as a result of SSRI medication, for example?

A great deal of our knowledge regarding the anatomy of the human brain has been gleaned from unethical experiments on unconsenting psychiatric patients - lobotomies, testing of medications and induced seizures. Animal studies have been gratuitously gruesome, with a great deal of unnecessary suffering inflicted upon primates. I'm not an anti-vivisection nutcase, but there must be very tangible goals to justify the means of obtaining the results.

To bathe a brain in psychoactive molecules that will cross the blood-brain barrier, is barbaric when we consider that the theoretical reasons why drugs have the effect that they do - the theories have so often been disproven. The 'chemical imbalance' theory that said that depressed brains had lower levels of serotonin, and that SSRIs would increase levels of synaptic serotonin, has been conclusively disproven, yet it is still a widely-circulated myth.

The much-vaunted sequencing of the human genome looks like a ridiculous white elephant of a project, when we consider that epigenetic gene expression had been discovered to allow genetically identical animals to exhibit completely different physical characteristics, depending on the environment that they have been exposed to.

In a collapsing global economy, education is one of the few sectors that's not feeling the pinch, and good solid science is getting drowned out in a sea of noise: pointless research. There are already excellent animal models which demonstrate that overpopulation and otherwise horrible living conditions, will produce a "behavioural sink" and addiction, in individuals who would otherwise lead happy healthy lives.

It has seemed fairly obvious to me from the start, that my mental health problems have stemmed from the ethical objections I had to the conduct of financial services organisations, and the role of global capitalism in ruining billions of human lives, in pursuit of unrestrained, unregulated and immoral profits, to the exclusion of any and all consideration of long-term consequences. In short: my problems should not be medicalised. I'm having a sane reaction to an insane world.

While this essay goes well beyond the "answer A, B or C" multiple-choice options on the prescriptive menu that is on offer, I feel that this does not invalidate the points I am making.

To have invested heavily in a mainstream education, would be to risk becoming incoherent with rage whenever somebody was so impertinent as to ask a thoughtful question - questions that spring into a mind that's unconstrained by the narrow status quo viewpoint, rote-learned while kowtowing to those with the necessary credentials to approve clones of themselves.

This is not "my ignorance is as good as your knowledge" anti-intellectualism, but instead a suggestion that we don't need so many people who've all read exactly the same books and sat more-or-less exactly the same tests. Moving towards intellectual homogeny is as dangerous as book burning, in my opinion.

In conclusion: this is a convoluted way of saying that you're unqualified to judge me, although you're possibly technically correct if you say that my problems are mostly of my own making.

 

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