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

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

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

www.facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Brute Force

10 min read

This is a story about feeling vindictive...

Brute force

Several nights this week I've stayed up late. I am usually very strict with my bedtimes and routine, but when some major stressor triggers an episode of mania, I struggle to stop working on whatever particular thing has obsessed me, at any particular moment. I feel as though I have spare brain capacity with which to use for a whole range of projects, virtually simultaneously. I feel as though I'm close to making a breakthrough, and with just a little more effort, I will have achieved something great.

There is some truth to what I am saying, but there is also the thing that I didn't mention: What goes up must come down. You have to pay to play.

My attempts to automate the harvesting and analysis of data from Twitter has been reasonably successful. I have managed to extract and store a significant amount of useful information, which could be analysed. The achievement is no small one, considering that I had zero knowledge of any of the technologies involved, nor did I have approval to use Twitter's developer API, which I'd never seen before. Since Sunday, I have written code which can rummage through Twitter's data and find what I want, in order to then gain the insights I want. Obviously, I also got my code to Tweet "hello world" as well as send some messages to a group of special people. Not bad, considering I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff before I could actually start building stuff.

My attempts to stay in touch with a number of friends, and to also start letting friends know that they can [and should] come visit me in my new house, have been time consuming, but incredibly worthwhile, because I'm now in touch with lots of friends - old and new - and that makes me feel very loved and cared for, during a week following a break-up, when I might perhaps have been at risk of feeling somewhat isolated and lonely. Not bad, considering that only two friends have ever made the trip from England to Wales to see me, during the whole 17 months that I've lived here. That's a long time, especially considering how few friends I've managed to make locally. I live a very reclusive life, but not particularly through choice.

My attempts to impress my colleagues and make myself useful at work have been hit-and-miss. A sense of humour driven by mania is not well matched with an open-plan office full of fine upstanding members of the community who are very quiet and mild-mannered. I made a dreadful misjudgement, which caused some upset to a very senior person, but then something else I did was recognised as really valuable, so perhaps the good and the bad cancelled each other out. I still have a job, for now.

My attempts to write something interesting and entertaining - with my usual unflinching honesty - turned into manic rants, some of which were approaching 2,000 word impenetrable essays about nothing in particular. My 'excess' energy was ploughed into writing, but I can't say that I achieved much except for maintaining my daily writing habit, which is an achievement in and of itself, not to be dismissed lightly.

My attempts to prepare for moving house were particularly demanding. Mail redirection, changing the address for several bank accounts and other financial services, arranging broadband internet installation, ordering furniture to be delivered, arranging a van to transport my belongings, boxing up my stuff, signing contracts, paying various huge sums of money to various people and keeping my current rented place tidy so that new prospective tenants can be shown around, has been an arduous task. However, my ducks are almost all lined up.

Then, there were the very many things which I became briefly obsessed about, but were a complete waste of time and effort. I was inventing jokes about theoretical physics. I was making a playlist of all the 80s synth-inspired music that I like. I was writing long ranting Facebook posts about the anti-Semitism accusations flying within the Labour party, and about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism.

I was chatting with some people who are massive fans of my favourite musical artist - Fear of Tigers - and there was an album that they were trying to download, but they were having problems. Me, being 'a little bit technical' decided that I would take a look, and quickly discovered that the website is simply purporting to have content to Google's crawler bots, which is actually untrue - the content does not exist. Angered by this honeypot, which is designed to get unsuspecting and non-technical internet users to give their name, date of birth, email address and home address, it then tries to trick the user into doing a number of other things, all of which would result in some remuneration for the owner and operator of the honeypot - the "ultimate beneficial owner" to use the legal term.

Angered by the injustice of would-be music pirates being misled by this honeypot, I decided that it would not be unethical to probe this fraudulent website for any vulnerabilities. I quickly found a couple, which I have set about the task of attacking by brute-force, in order to sabotage the fraudulent site and troll whoever set it up. I had the theoretical knowledge of how I might go about this, but it felt suddenly very important to me to learn the skills of a highly-experienced and sought-after internet security engineer (known as a pen-tester - i.e. penetration tester) or perhaps one might argue, the skills of a white-hat hacker.

Given my propensity for never abandoning tasks until I feel I have completed them to my satisfaction, I would not be surprised if my current attempt to use the most common 13,000 passwords found on the internet to break into the target server, would escalate to a full-on distributed attack to exhaust ALL possible passwords until finally I 'crack the safe' and I can then set about my act of supposedly ethical sabotage.

It's rare that I pause and think "should I stop" and even when it seems very obvious that to continue further would be inadvisable and entirely pointless, I continue, for unknown reasons. It must be something about my personality and upbringing. I particularly relish problems which are generally declared as "so hard" that they're equated with being impossible, which is untrue. Some of the very hard things I've achieved have had surprisingly positive unanticipated consequences, such as giving my life new meaning, purpose, and skills that have later turned out to be incredibly valuable.

If you imagine a lonely isolated child who's been given a hugely complicated task - perhaps even no task at all - but has a huge number of tools at their disposal and lots of raw materials, by trial-and-error that child might create something... perhaps because of sheer boredom. As that trial-and-error learning technique becomes more innate, those tools and those materials start to become understood to that child, in a way that no teacher could teach. If you can self-direct your own learning and you have developed the attitude required to keep trying and failing, but carrying on regardless, then eventually you can start to finish projects that you started, no matter how hard they seemed when they were first conceived of.

What I'm doing could be considered a vindictive vendetta, based on the false premise that the person who set up this devious honeypot 'deserves' to have a person like me vandalise it, because it's become an absurd crusade. Not a moral crusade, but a crusade against the technology that's been put in place to stop mindless vandals from doing what I'm attempting to do: To crack the security that's there to prevent total anarchy on the internet, where somebody with a grudge could cause damage to whatever they wanted, very easily.

What I'm doing is not easy. It's hard. That's more the reason why I'm doing it than any other reason, even though that reason doesn't make sense.

It was hard to get where I am, so it makes no sense to stop doing hard things. In fact, when I'm stressed I actively seek hard problems, which is why I'm always drawn back to things like theoretical physics when I'm suffering from stress-induced mania.

It seems unlikely that my knowledge of theoretical physics will ever be of any use in my everyday life, but a lot of the side projects I've busied myself in this week have very real tangible benefits, although I suppose I could technically find myself being extradited to the United States to face charges of computer trespass or some other vague and nebulous bit of US law that I've fallen afoul of, depending on whose parade I'm pissing on and how far they're prepared to to to get me back.

One thing I would advise you though: Don't get on the wrong side of the geeks, because they're the ones who look after that folder of photos you sent to your lover, which you think is well-protected. The geeks are the ones who look after all those messages you send to the person you're having an affair with. The geeks are the ones who know the most about the dark side of human nature, because the geeks suddenly got put in charge of keeping everyone's secrets. When people think they're doing stuff in private, they act very differently. When people think they're protected they do things they'd never dream of doing without the protection they assume that they have.

I like to think I'm a good person, but I'm also an unusual person. Sometimes I do stuff just to see if I can do it. Sometimes, I take things too far, but I find it hard to stop because I'm a completer-finisher, and sometimes I have to dismantle a huge complex piece of apparatus, to satisfy a mere curiosity, when in actual fact I'm terrifying the hell out of a whole bunch of people who like to believe that their barriers are impregnable. It's disturbing for society to have its incorrect notions of concepts like privacy and secrecy, openly challenged.

We feel safe, searching for whatever we want via Google. We click "private browsing" buttons that give us an extra sense of reassurance that we are entering a "safe space" where we are completely anonymous, and our privacy and secrecy is guaranteed.

Whatever contact you and your personal data have had with digital devices, you can assume that it's as good as public knowledge, I'm afraid. If somebody is determined enough, they will walk right through every barrier that supposedly exists to protect you and your privacy. If somebody is determined enough, your secrets will be known, if you've been so foolish as to let them leave your brain.

Be warned.

 

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Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution

6 min read

This is a story about sedition and treason...

Security vetting form

Questions A, B and C seem pretty reasonable to ask. It seems like a good idea to ask people if they're spies, terrorists or saboteurs, if they're going to tell you the truth. It seems logical to assume that spies, terrorists and saboteurs are enemies of civilised society. It seems sensible to exclude spies, terrorists and saboteurs from positions where they could be a threat to public safety.

Upon closer examination, spies and saboteurs could sometimes arguably be said to conduct their actions in a responsible way, in the course of the furtherment of their laudable objectives, in the absence of other available options. Spies exist when diplomacy and co-operation have broken down. Saboteurs exist when tyranny, oppression and exploitation are so great that a worker must throw their clogs into the loom, to save themselves and their kin. Without wanting to fall foul of the nebulous terminology, it would be remiss of me to acknowledge that a person could certainly understand the reasons for spying and sabotage - in a theoretical and academic sense - and perhaps even excuse those acts, where the outcome clearly results in a positive outcome for the greater good, according to utilitarian philosophy.

Of course, I must tread very carefully.

I have to watch my words.

What on earth is question D getting at? I once destroyed my ballot paper as a political protest at the lack of a candidate and a party for whom I wanted to vote. Does that count as "[undermining] Parliamentary democracy by politcal … means"? Should I tick "YES" to this question? Is my spoiled ballot paper recorded in "national security records" which I'm reminded my answers will be checked against? Why even ask me if you already know the answer?

Of course, the idea of asking people "are you a terrorist?" is pretty ridiculous, so why shouldn't this same 66-page form ask vague questions which are almost impossible to answer, unless you think of yourself as such a perfect citizen and well-behaved patriotic loyal subject of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, its dependencies and its overseas territories.

Do I believe in the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy? Do I believe in democracy at all? For the purposes of my rational economic self-interest in the immediate short-term, within the context of filling in this 66-page form, which is of vital importance for the future of my career, the answer is "yes" for sure.

Why am I using such cautious and measured words? Why am I couching what I say in caveats and disclaimers?

The question arises: Is it irresponsible, socially destabilising or otherwise contrary to the interests of national security, to discuss the merits of 'political change' in a purely academic and theoretical context?

Do scholars who study, think about, write about and discuss alternative political systems, imply some "intent" to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy. For example, in the instance that a learned professor were to stumble upon compelling evidence that there is a better system for the decision making which is supposed to improve the human condition and the lives of the masses, then is that professor allowed to discuss it; perhaps even to promote the idea? What if other academics take an interest in that professor's ideas, and they become supporters of the theory? What if this group of academics could be said to be a group of likeminded individuals, similarly swayed by the evidence and the ideas?

Have I made myself into an enemy of the state by taking an interest in philosophy, politics and economics, which has forced me to consider the question: Is our Parliamentary democracy the best available option, or should we change to a different system? Does posing this innocent question constitute an act of undermining Parliamentary democracy?

By the time we get to question F, I must surely answer in all truthfulness that I almost certainly would have - at some point in my life - had a close association with somebody who's been a member of a group or supported a group whose intent could easily be interpreted as 'offering an alternative' to Parliamentary democracy. This is about as close as I'm prepared to go, to admitting something which is against my rational economic self-interest in the short-term, for the furtherment of my career objectives.

Most of my friends are technologists. Many of my friends have created pieces of technology which must surely have undermined Parliamentary democracy. Many of my friends are the original engineers and architects - the visionaries - who are responsible for the birth of social media. What greater threat to the ruling elites has been born, since the invention of the printing press?

Terrorism and violence are hard to defend; seemingly always unethical. It's beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the ethics of violent rebellion by the victims of tyranny and oppression. I'm in too much of a vulnerable situation to say something like: "I can understand the reasons why desperate people might resort to violence, in the absence of all other options, like any cornered animal".

I may hold unspeakable views, which have no place in a civil position of public servitude. My upbringing in the company of academics, in and around the buildings of Oxford University, may well have scuppered any ambitions I might have of playing a role in the running of the country, and hopefully making a positive difference to as many lives as possible.

Even within the walls of a British university, an academic may find themselves falling afoul of laws - new and old - which are designed to punish any agitators who might threaten societal stability and the established order. The power of the internet allows compelling academic arguments to be disseminated to vast numbers of people at incredible speed, and for the public's imagination to be captured. Academic papers are no longer written in Latin and kept safely out of the hands of the hoi polloi, lest any revolutionary ideas they might be harbouring be provoked.

Do I hold my tongue for the greater good - in support of a paternalistic and elitist establishment - because it will perpetuate the state of unhappy stability, which is at least preferable to civil war? Do I speak my mind, because to do so is a privilege afforded by the unpalatable actions done in the interests of national security? If I don't take advantage of freedom of speech, am I really a patriotic citizen, loyal subject of Her Majesty and supporter of Parliament, given that wars are waged on my behalf so that I might enjoy the luxury of being able to write essays like this?

I think I'm just going to tick "no" to all the boxes, because I can't be bothered to have this conversation a second time, when I'm being interviewed by the thought police.

 

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Playing the Long Game

10 min read

This is a story about sustained effort...

Mound of wires

I like to concentrate on one thing at a time. I like to be hyper-focussed and blinkered, and to devote all my energy and attention towards achieving a single goal. I like to live my life in an artificially simplified way, by aggressively cutting away anything which seems superfluous; a distraction from my main task.

Unfortunately, I have several concurrent tasks:

  • My work
  • My debts
  • My writing
  • My love-life

There are more - such as friends, family, health & fitness, hobbies etc - but I'm not listing those, because I've deemed them temporarily nonessential.

In fact, I had deemed dating to be nonessential, but my life had become too lonely and austere to be bearable. I was torn between investing in my [nonexistent] social life and looking for love. I chose the latter, because of how long it had been since I'd hugged or kissed anybody. Intimacy is important.

My work is arguably a task which will never be completed, but my debts have almost been dealt with. The sum total of my savings is £30,000 and the sum total of my debts is £29,000, so I'm finally 'in the black' although it will be some time before I'm able to release the money and free myself from the bonds of usury. Then, the question is how much money do I really need to live a happy life? I have to decide about this thing people call "work-life-balance" which I always thought was a myth. Without the millstone of debt around my neck, suddenly I gain enormous freedom of choice.

My writing has been the casualty, of late.

Hypomania was rearing its ugly head, threatening to destroy all my hard work building a good reputation in the office. I got a cold and my brain was horrendously sluggish. I suffered alcohol abuse, bad diet, lack of exercise and general neglect of everything in my life, because I was so single-minded in my mission to pay back my debts. My mind was telling me how brilliant I am, that I've managed to rescue myself from a dire situation, successfully deliver some software projects, impress my colleagues, work hard and generally function in society pretty well. I've been getting up early and going to the office. I haven't been taking time off sick. I haven't had much time off on holiday. I've just worked and it's paying off, but I'm so exhausted that I'm going a little crazy. It's hard to deal with the reversal of fortunes; my boom and bust real life triggers psychological problems.

During 3 years of writing my blog almost daily, I never start writing a blog post on one day and then finish it on another. My mind races so much and my feelings change so violently that the tone and content of what I'm writing can veer from one extreme to another, faster than I can pour out words onto the page. One reason for writing so much so quickly, is to capture the variety of my moods and give myself a fighting chance of being able to spot more general trends. In fact, I rely heavily on my regular readers to spot those trends - they're a far better judge of whether I'm swinging into a high or low episode, than I am myself.

To have skipped days of writing really upsets me. I feel really bad when I neglect my writing and my readers.

I have no idea where my writing will take me, especially when I suffer major setbacks such as a sudden loss of thousands of Twitter followers. These things shouldn't matter, but they're psychologically damaging. My digital identity does serve as a substitute for a lot of the things which are presently missing in my life, such as a group of local friends, social engagements and a healthy relationship with my family.

That my life is so damaged should come as no surprise when you consider the magnitude of the tasks which I've been set. Divorce, drugs, alcohol, homelessness, debt and all the accompanying loss of status, stigma and family estrangement - the sense of failure, disappointment and "letting everyone down" - can each be fatal on their own. In combination, those things are a toxic whirlpool; a quicksand which nobody could ever hope to escape from. I could be very upset and depressed about all the things which are broken in my life, but instead I struggle not to get carried away with the minor miracle which has happened: I've bounced back and re-entered civilised society, seemingly without any permanent damage.

So many parts of our society are set up with the optimistic presumption that people are capable of turning their lives around and being rehabilitated, but it very rarely happens. While those who work with addicts, criminals and the debt-laden are very keen to see lives transformed for the better, the reality is that most of the stories do not have happy endings. Most of the stories have sad predictable endings, which are quite tragic.

I'm terrified that I'm going to hit a glass ceiling soon. I will have a mental illness until the day I die. I will always suffer from social jet-lag and a personality which is incompatible with the rat race. I can't change the past - the stigma of addiction and the paper trail which got left in my wake, during an unfortunate period of my life, will follow me around forever. There is no limit on what the organisation I'm presently involved with is able to see: they have access to a vast database of unflattering things, which can never be deleted. My mistakes can never be expunged from the archives.

I could delete this blog, but then where is my reply to the opinions of me expressed upon records kept by organisations who I unfortunately came into contact with?

I would be so much more vulnerable to stigma, prejudice and discrimination, if I allowed other people to lazily sum me up in a few short sentences. Human lives are so much more messy and complex than any amount of words on a page could ever possibly express. It seems like the most natural reaction to being pigeon-holed, to do something like this: to create a document so large that it doesn't even fit in a goddam pigeon hole.

It might seem obvious that I'd be quickly identified as a nut; a crackpot; a madman. That seems like an easy label to attach to me.

However, my long and successful career, the vast sums of tax I've paid, the wealth I've generated for the economy, the tangible products of my labour and intellect - all of these things contradict any attempt to lazily dismiss me as a ranting madman, of no use to anybody, who should be quietly nudged towards the fringes of society until I'm completely marginalised.

My writing is the only thing in my life I have complete control over. I can write as much as I want. I can publish as much as I want. Every act of writing and publishing is an act of rebellion - a protest at the excessive burdens of life - as well as an addition to a growing cache of proof of my productivity and usefulness. I write because it will frustrate and contradict any attempts to write me off.

On paper, I was a write-off.

Nobody would touch me with a barge pole.

If you were presented with a list of all the unflattering things about me - my mistakes; my debts; my problems - as a bullet-pointed list, then you'd have dumped me straight onto the "no hope" pile.

Technically, I don't exist, because my existence is too improbable; my problems were too insurmountable. I should not be alive. I should not be debt-free. I should not be clean. I should not be working. I should not be housed. I should not have money. I should not be out there in the big wide world, walking around like I'm a regular normal member of mainstream society.

I could place put my faith in those who have sworn to make decisions without prejudice or discrimination. I could entrust my whole future - my happiness and my livelihood - to people who've never met me, who will judge me based on a few bullet points. That seems pretty risky to me though.

This is what I anticipated would happen. I knew that sooner or later, if I kept telling my story, I'd reach a point where the rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-rags cycle would either conclude - in my suicide - or else I would finally get a chance to have a liveable life. This document contains a vast number of mistakes and unflattering things about me, but it also charts the course of a stupendously unlikely journey, which was almost certainly doomed to failure. If somebody in a position of power is going to thwart me, I want them to do so with a guilty conscience, because they were too lazy to consider all the available information. I'm so much more than a few bullet points on a page. I cannot be dissected with a 66-page form.

Of course, it's terribly teenage angsty to think of myself as a misunderstood character. It's horribly conceited and arrogant to think I'm special and different. I try not to concern myself with such judgements and instead to concentrate on my continued efforts to produce tangible things: to create.

Lots of people have written lots of novels, journals, diaries, blogs, newspaper columns, magazine articles and all the very many other works of printed words. There are quite a lot of prolific writers, who have churned out vast quantities of prose. Does that mean I shouldn't bother? Does that mean I shouldn't even try?

I haven't been very productive during the past couple of weeks, but it doesn't matter because what I've produced is cumulative. Every little effort is slowly adding up to create some big achievements. It's painfully slow, but the progress appears to create sudden overnight success. Nobody really notices all the hard work and nobody can see where it's headed, until one day a huge milestone is reached and everything all makes sense.

The relief of having more-or-less reached one of my most important goals, is highly destabilising and is triggering hypomania: it's hard not to get carried away with the perceived magnitude of my achievement. It's hard not believe my own bullshit - that I'm invincible and that I can overcome any obstacle. It's tempting to act recklessly, believing that I'll always be able to rescue myself from disastrous situations. It's hard to keep reminding myself that my luck will run out eventually, if I keep tempting fate.

I've missed this blog and I've missed writing. I've been destabilised, but I'm going to force myself to continue with my routine, because I think it's very healthy and stabilising for me.

Sorry for the gap in my regular writing.

 

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NSFW

6 min read

This is a story about my big mouth...

So many screens

I have had a pretty simple game plan for my re-entry into civilised society: keep my damn mouth shut. Every time I think I've got something interesting to add or that I'd like to join in a conversation, either because I'm bored or maybe just because I'm feeling left out, instead of doing that I say to myself "that's a bad idea" and I attempt to busy myself with my work.

I'm trying to keep my head down.

I'm trying not to be noticed.

I don't do a very good job of keeping my big mouth shut sometimes. When I'm tired, sick and otherwise destabilised, I over-compensate for my insecurities by talking loudly and confidently about things I know almost nothing about. So far I've been patiently tolerated, and managed to luckily say things which have not been altogether wrong, useless, offensive or otherwise completely revealing the true extent of my imposter syndrome.

Sometimes I'm very good at quietly getting on with a difficult piece of work. Sometimes I'm able to do exactly what I need to do, which is to concentrate on producing a lot of high quality work, and staying out of trouble.

I'm highly opinionated and I've got a lot to say. I have a lot of thoughts and ideas. The office is not the place to explore those ideas. The best colleagues in a large organisation are the ones who don't rock the boat. If you get too many people in an organisation who think they're hot shit, the whole place becomes hell on earth very rapidly. It only takes a few arrogant assholes like me to ruin a lot of people's day. The best possible thing I can do in the office is to rein in my motormouth.

Writing without a filter every day has gotten me into the habit of engaging my mouth before my brain. When I write, I do so without considering whether I'm making myself look like a dickhead, whether I'm upsetting anybody or generally thinking about the consequences of what I write. I generally assume that what I write is harmless.

At work, the tiniest slip of the tongue could be disastrous. There are things which are simply unspeakable at work, and it's best if you don't even hint that you might have an opinion. Gender, politics, religion and other emotive topics are best avoided in their entirety. To express liberal-minded sympathies with the wrong thing could cause your colleagues to assume that you're in favour of legalising murder, rape, pedophilia, bestiality, terrorism and the distribution of syringes filled with heroin to newborn babies.

It's best to say nothing.

Although it's very difficult to do, I avoid looking at any websites which are not work-related. I don't want to take the chance that somebody might even glance over my shoulder and assume from the title of the Wikipedia article that I'm reading, something about who I am.

Obviously, it's a patently absurd situation, where I spend a very great deal of time writing and publishing a public document which explicitly declares every single weird thing which goes on inside my head, as well as my unflattering mistakes of the past. How can I go to so much effort at work to present a bland beige nondescript and mostly absent personality, entirely designed to obfuscate any identifying features, and yet at the same time put so much time and effort into making every minute detail of my entire life publicly accessible?

I suppose if I didn't write like this, I would struggle a lot more to keep myself contained at work. My inner turmoil would express itself in unhelpful and unprofessional ways in the office, through the way I speak, write and interact with my colleagues. I often have the impulse to sneak a little bit of my real personality into the dry technical work that I do, but I'm able to resist that urge, because I have a creative outlet.

Today was not a good day.

I've been tired and unwell, which compromises my ability to think before I speak. I've been procrastinating, because I've got a difficult piece of work to do and my brain hasn't been fully functioning. I have some interesting and eccentric colleagues, who are truly delightful to spend my working week with, but I've been unable to resist the temptation to keep myself to myself and stay out of trouble. In short: I've been far too outspoken and unguarded.

I'm not such an idiot that I haven't carefully considered most of what I've said. I've managed to deliberately stay out of conversations which almost definitely should never be held within the four walls of a respectable organisation. I've managed to remind myself to be evasive and vague most of the time but when I left the office this evening, I was suddenly filled with regret that I was not more secretive and opaque.

It's hard to resist the temptation to have an unguarded social interaction with somebody, when they genuinely seem interested in who you are and what makes you tick. When colleagues are showing a genuine interest in my life outside work, beyond simple nosiness, it's flattering and makes me feel wanted. I have such a desperate need to belong and to be accepted, that it's hard for me to maintain my defences and keep my mask in place.

I fear there may be unexpected negative consequences. I'm paranoid that I'm damaging my reputation and weakening my position. I'm more worried than ever that my spotless image is being tarnished, by my own words.

I live constantly in the exposed and vulnerable position of having more than a million unflattering words easily accessible to anybody with an internet connection and the ability to use Google, but it's the comparatively few words I've uttered in the office which trouble me the most.

Perhaps I should feel heartened that my colleagues want to know who I am but I'd almost prefer it if they read my blog, rather than got to know me through my thoughtfully considered and highly sanitised words, designed to be safe for office consumption.

I feel like I'm repeating the mistake I made in 2014 and 2015, where I was so confident in my technical abilities, the quality of my work and the value of my contribution, that I relaxed too much. Being myself in the office was not a good career move.

It's hard work, putting on a corporate mask, but it's financially rewarding. I really don't want to be the architect of my own destruction.

 

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Barrier to Entry

9 min read

This is a story about prejudice...

Way out

If somebody has decided they don't like you because something has invoked their prejudices, then almost anything you say or do will be twisted negatively. There's no way to win somebody over once you're seen in a bad light, because it's possible to create a monster out of a saint if your mind is that way inclined.

I photographed the exit from my office.

I shouldn't have done it.

I knew it was wrong.

Nobody's told me off yet. Nobody's caught me. My wrongdoing has been entirely unnoticed by the universe.

This. Does. Not. Matter.

I'm not supposed to put photographs of an entrance into a secure building up on the public internet. In fact I'm probably expressly forbidden from doing such a thing depending on the interpretation of deliberately nebulous bullshit.

Provided I'm the golden boy and I'm making myself valuable around the place, nobody really gives a damn who I am and what I do. I could write about the specifics of what I do for a day job - which is all public anyway - and I wouldn't suffer any consequences, so long as I retain the aura of a person who's desirable to have around; so long as I'm wanted.

The moment that the sands shift and I'm viewed as an undesirable scumbag then I'll suddenly come under much closer scrutiny. Those who are looking for reasons to reject me are sure to find many things which they can twist to their advantage.

"Aha!" they will exclaim. "We've rumbled you!"

Of course, the joke is on those who seek to act with prejudice, because this identity existed all along. Everything has been on open public display. I was welcomed in with open arms when you wanted something from me and you thought you were getting the better end of the deal.

"You mean to say I hired a junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt tramp with mental health problems!" they exclaim.

The indignation is palpable.

The prejudiced are always unreasonably angry and upset to discover that their trusted and valued colleague who has successfully delivered their large and complex IT project is nothing more than a low-life loser.

"I could have paid you peanuts!" seems to be the thing that's most upsetting to these people who'd think nothing of kicking a homeless person to death and urinating on the corpse.

It's not true.

You cannot pay me peanuts.

I cut my day rate by over 50% when I was utterly desperate last year, and I was taken advantage of worse than I've ever been in my 21 year career. I was treated disgustingly. I will never do that again.

Do you think you're getting a bargain every time you beat somebody down on the price they've quoted you? Do you think you're succeeding when you ask somebody to do more work for less money?

Wrong.

Pay less. Get less.

Do you think you're making the world a better place by refusing to work with vast swathes of society? Do you think you're more likely to succeed if you surround yourself with people who are just like you: A-grade achieving, 2:1 degree holding, compliant and conformant worker-bee drones who've got manicured CVs?

I should not be allowed onto the hallowed turf.

My face does not fit.

I'm an intruder.

I'm an interloper.

However, I'm not a fraud.

Stuff comes out of my mouth and even I'm surprised. People wander over to my desk and they want to talk to me. They want to ask me questions. Somehow I know the answers. Believe me... I'm more surprised than anybody.

I'm acutely aware that when people are having a tough time and living in a precarious situation they are more inclined to accept less money. People who are going through economic difficulties are easier to bully and exploit. It's relatively straightforward to fuck the poor.

In a poker game you have to have your chips on the table. Everyone can see the size of your stack.

I seem to have gained a somewhat posh accent, although I'm not entirely sure where I got it from because my parents are Northern and I was born in Wales. My cut-glass accent is apparently a close enough approximation to that of a privately educated and privileged member of the set who are destined for greatness, such that I haven't had to suffer the indignity of being offered insultingly low wages by the exploitative rentier class. They assume I'm one of them.

I'm racked with guilt that I enjoy privileges conferred by social status - when the people who I interact with in a work environment mistakenly think I've had a fine and expensive education - but yet I've rubbed shoulders with enough rough sleepers, junkies and alcoholics on the streets of London to know that intellect doesn't magically happen to restrict itself to upper-middle-class white families in the Home Counties.

Nobody knows that I should be stacking shelves in a supermarket for minimum wage. That's my so-called place in society, and I should be grateful to lick the boots of the capitalist pigs. (Caveat: I know that our supermarket shelves need stacking - it's a vital role - and I'm grateful to those who do the job).

I'm careening towards a collision with those who believe it's their rôle in life to police the social strata. They will find this document interesting reading. There is much ammunition here to construct a fabricated reason for my dismissal, on the flimsy and patently absurd basis that I might be exposing the country to terrorist attack by publicising confidential details about the entrance to our impregnable fortress. Perhaps I'm bringing my profession into disrepute and otherwise stepping out of line; conducting myself in a manner unbecoming of my position of responsibility. Bullshit.

Of course I might feel a pang of regret if I succeed in raising my profile sufficiently that the powers-that-be feel they have to take some action and eject me from the world I'm not supposed to belong to. "This isn't for the likes of you" they'll say as they boot me out of the door.

"What have I done?" I'll momentarily ask myself.

It seems two-faced to sit on the fence. It seems awful to take the big bucks and not impoverish myself as a charity worker. What the hell am I doing trying to change the world without first making myself poor and destitute?

Actually, I did make myself poor and destitute.

Am I now turning my back on the struggling masses?

I like to think that I'm doing the very opposite. I'm a bridge in-between two worlds which would never normally meet. There isn't much more I could do to challenge the prejudices of those who live in sheltered worlds, inaccessible to ordinary people and especially those who are tainted by the stench of poverty. I have specifically set out to become liked and respected, while also maintaining an open secret of my chequered past. My situation is no accident.

Three years ago I grew impatient. Three years ago my project was in its infancy and I was rushing things. Three years ago I was too tired, stressed and destabilised by the traumatic experiences I'd been through. Three years ago I had a plan but I was too unwell to execute it with any finesse. Three years ago I tried to force things to happen, which was "contrived" to put it in the words of the BBC journalist I was dating. She was right.

What I'm doing right now is still somewhat contrived, but it's not easy.

You'll find plenty of writers who'll have spent a single night sleeping rough, or perhaps in a psychiatric institution, in order to provide material for them to write about.

You won't find many people on the right side of the tracks who can write with any depth of experience and knowledge about the afflictions of modern life.

Life is a one-way street.

I feel quite unique in having been able to resume a life to which my entry should be completely barred. A great deal of effort goes into stopping people just like me from being able to enter the realm in which I inhabit. A vast system exists to thoroughly exclude ordinary mortals from getting anywhere near the restricted areas where I tread.

Instead of thanking my lucky stars and being wowed by the privilege, such that I become afraid of being ejected, I try to keep doing the brave thing of being honest and open. I refuse to hide my true identity.

For the avoidance of doubt, I'm careful to blur portions of images which show things which are confidential. I'm careful to never mention anything which is sensitive or classified. I never say where exactly I work and who I work for. I never divulge any details which realistically could be ever used for nefarious purposes, or expose anything which should be secure.

Of couse... my real name and my face are public property.

But.

How would you go about blackmailing or otherwise manipulating me, if I've already made everything about me fully public?

What do you think I'd say if you said you knew my boss' name and were going to send them the link to my blog?

You're failing to appreciate the value of living an open life.

You're failing to see that secrecy and privacy are illusional.

You're failing to accept that the pressure of maintaining your spotless CV and so-called reputation is an instrument of tyranny, which makes you easily manipulated and exploited by the capitalists.

The most rebellious thing you can do is to create a public identity you're proud of; refuse to sanitise and hide your true self and your mistakes.

Never hide.

 

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What Have I Got To Do To Get Sacked?

5 min read

This is a story about biting the hand that feeds me...

Water cooler

This colleague of mine was holding an object which looked so much like a sex toy that I was compelled to take a sly snapshot. Trying to be as subtle as possible and not arouse any suspicion, meant that I did not compose my photograph as well as I could have done, but I offer you the cropped image below so that you're better able to imagine what I saw.

Zoomed in

Is that any better? Attempting to photograph a colleague waving around a dildo-like object while filling a bottle from the water-cooler in my office, was somewhat hampered by the fact I spend my days on a secure campus with high fences and guards manning the gates, in a building which you can't gain entrance to until you've been through various in-depth background checks, to ensure you're the right sort of chap.

I'm sure there's something somewhere written in a contract or a code of conduct I've signed, which could be twisted and misinterpreted to mean that I shouldn't irreverently make light of my privileged position in the world.

People tell me I have a "good job".

People tell me to watch my step and button my lip, because "they" are monitoring my electronic communications and every word I speak and write.

We are well aware that GCHQ's mass-surveillance invades millions of law-abiding UK citizens' presumed automatic right to privacy, in the name of national security. We are all well aware that the police are using undercover officers to infiltrate groups of UK citizens who intend to exercise their right to unionise, strike and demand better pay and conditions. We are all well aware that the police share dossiers of intelligence with private companies, black-balling individuals, preventing them from being able to work in certain industries, because they are labelled as 'agitators' who are likely to attempt to turn the tide of worker exploitation by wealthy capitalists in favour of a fairer society. The oppression of the 98% by the 2% is state-sponsored, as proven by an overwhelming number documents compiled and paid for by the UK taxpayer.

This is paternalism in action.

Don't be distracted by the "patriarchy" BS - that's a clumsy, flimsy, pathetically obvious attempt to divide and rule. If there's one thing that the Brits are good at - empire builders - it's dividing people up into groups using arbitrary and imaginary lines. The British civil servant who drew the borders of Iraq and Kuwait had never visited the Middle East in his life.

Civil servants have decided that you're not allowed to privately own a snowplough; they've decided that an ambulance is not allowed to have an electric engine. Why?

Why the fuck are civil servants making these rules?

The Great Game.

It's all a great big game for a highly educated bunch of toffs who've had their egos massaged their whole lives and been told they're destined for greatness, but ultimately what they're left doing is creating a massive and impenetrable rulebook of totally arbitrary made-up regulations, which exist for no other reason than justifying the existence of a bunch of paper-pushing desk-jockeys, meddling in the affairs of every citizen of the kingdom.

I actually think the civil service is somewhat of a benevolent dictator for life; mostly harmless and well-intentioned.

I'd be a bit gutted if I was kicked out.

[Please note, that this is not an admission of where I work, who I work for, what I do, or any other overt statement which might tie me to my employer or client]

Even though it's not a real job, making up rules for other people to follow, enforcing those rules and generally policing other people's behaviour - perhaps even on spying on private law-abiding citizens - it's a little bit hard to argue the contrary position, that we don't need the organisations and the huge number of people who keep the country running. I'm not as much of an anarchist as I claim to be. I live a very happy sheltered secure wealthy life because I'm the right sort of chap and they tend to see me as one of their own and assume I'm on their side. Everyone assumes I'm a well-behaved conformist patriotic stand-for-the-national-anthem Queen-saluting fully-indoctrinated and sufficiently economically incentivised member of the paternalistic guardian class, such that I'd never be so insane as to step out of line and bite the hand that feeds me.

Do I plan to make mischief? Do I plan to commit sabotage? Do I have treasonous intent?

No.

You got me there.

I am a humble servant of Her Maj.

To connect my name with search terms such as "civil service" and "government" is recklessly stupid, one might say, but on careful inspection - by reading what I've written more closely - you can see that I have not revealed for a single instant who I work for and what I do for a living, specifically.

Meanwhile, I promise you that every single day I give dedicated service, to the very best of my professional abilities. I care about what I do. I want to make a difference.

For Queen and country. Ich dien.

 

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Unifying My Identity

6 min read

This is a story about practicing what you preach...

Time to talk

Friday and Monday were bad days for me. I got sick and I didn't handle things as well as I could have done. I haven't been looking after myself and I haven't been doing the things I need to do, to prevent burnout and breakdown. A crisis was inevitable and a disaster was probable.

My struggles with mental health problems, suicide attempts, self-harm, alcohol and substance abuse are an open secret. I have a tattoo quite plainly visible behind my ear, which symbolises those struggles, and its meaning is widely known and easily looked up on Google. In fact, I myself am quite easily looked up on Google, where all my struggles are documented with unflinching honesty.

I include for the reader, a heavily redacted photograph of one of the walls of my office, which is plastered with eye-catching posters declaring that it's OK to talk about mental health problems.

In my early twenties, by chance both my boss and I were meticulous record-keepers, gathering weird and wonderful data; we both had a kind of geeky love for statistics and the wonderful ability of statistical analysis to tease out interesting facts from the numbers. When I was leaving that job after 4 years, my boss and I compared notes. On all the days that he had thought I arrived late to the office because I was hungover, I was actually depressed. On all the days he thought I was productive and most valuable, I was actually hungover. My boss was correct in guessing that I have a mood disorder, but completely unable to understand how it affected my performance in my job. The effects of alcohol were mostly unpredictable. As it turned out, both my boss and I would be considered to have bipolar disorder, alcohol abuse problems and to excessively consume coffee, by all objective measures. We never discussed any of this until my final few days in that job.

I'm fortunate enough to have never been compelled to comply with any strict routine, perhaps because bosses are well aware that I would simply not abide. Despite a complete lack of communication on the subject, an unspoken agreement is reached: the boss understands that they have a valuable asset in somebody who can work incredibly hard in short bursts, when required, at the expense of daily plodding predictability.

Unfortunately, the predisposition towards making negative assumptions is quite pervasive. There is a tendency towards the assumption that any irksome, undesirable, unpredictable or unreliable behaviour is due to bad choices. It's automatically assumed that any lateness or sickness absence is due to alcohol or drug abuse, as opposed to the more kind, concerned and sympathetic assumption that it's due to so-called legitimate reasons, such as physical illness.

Advertising my prior problems with unflattering problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, leads to the presumption that all my struggles must be related to my own "poor choices".

Having a visible tattoo makes me very exposed; prone to becoming a victim of prejudice and discrimination.

Having a public blog makes me doubly exposed.

It's been an exhausting journey, sticking with my bold decision to write publicly using my real name, but I feel as though I'm getting closer to the day when I'll be able to fully unify my identity, and not suffer adversely. My skills, experience and professional contribution have always been highly valued even though my mood disorder has caused me to be late or absent on many days; on balance it's better to have me on your team than to discriminate against me because of my mental health problem. Now we are reaching the point where my prior issues with suicide attempts, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse, are clearly not preventing me from being a highly productive and very appreciated member of the teams I'm a member of. We're almost at the point where I can go public (although I already did).

Ultimately, this is my little joke on the corporate world. It amuses me that I can write about all the things which you're not supposed to - because we're all supposed to be protecting our professional reputation and defending our identities - but if you're good at your job, you're honest and you're not an asshole, the world can be surprisingly accommodating.

Your parents will tell you not to get any visible tattoos or an outrageous haircut, because you'll never get a job. I don't suggest that anybody dabble with dangerous drugs, but if you do go astray, don't hide in anonymous shame. If your perfect attendance record is being affected by mental health problems, your legal entitlement to medical confidentiality is worthless, because bosses will always assume the worst. In short: anybody who's lucky enough to have you has to take the complete package, warts 'n' all.

I am obliged, by my code of conduct, to keep any employer, client, colleague, project, customer, connected party or any other identifiable detail, completely confidential, which of course I do. I spend a great deal of time considering my words very carefully, and I redact anything I photograph or quote, such that nobody knows who I am, where I work, who I work for, what I work on, what precisely I do or indeed anything about me and those around me, unless you already know me, of course - that's the joke. The story, names, characters, and incidents portrayed are anonymised. No identification of actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products can be made or could be inferred, except by those who are already privy to highly restricted information.

Of course, my face connects my professional identity with this one, and my tattoo is the clue that there's more to me than meets the eye.

I really can't wait for the day that it's OK to be myself, wherever, whenever. It will be a big relief.

 

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Anonymity Kills

7 min read

This is a story about a narcissist's paranoid and delusional beliefs....

Skull face

Nobody really gives a fuck whether you live or die. Nobody gives a fuck what you say, what you think and what you write. Nobody gives a fuck about what you do. You are not important. You're nothing. You're nobody. You're an insignificant speck in the universe, and in the blink of an eye, everybody you ever met in your life will be dead, along with anybody who might remember you. Every trace of everything you ever did will be erased. You are destined to be forgotten. You are destined to be obliterated so completely, that it will be as if you never actually existed in the first place: a universe which had you in it and a universe which didn't have you in it are indistinguishable.

As your feeble human mind tries to ascribe some anthropocentric meaning to the unimaginably vast and godless universe - where there is no meaning - the narcissists believe that they have a special role, purpose, job title, gift, or that they are making a meaningful and important contribution. The narcissists believe that they have set themselves apart from the 7 billion other souls crawling all over the surface of this tiny rock, by telling themselves "I'm special and different".

Civilised society is very good at handing out meaningless medals, with more categories to compete in than there are members of the human race, such that everyone's a winner. Because some amount of effort was put into an activity, such as running on a sports field with an egg balanced on a spoon, or reading a book and regurgitating its contents, when a medal is awarded it feels as if it was earned; it feels as if it's some form of proof of superiority over one's peers. It's addictive. The trick is repeated ad nauseam, until those with the most severe pathological narcissism have amassed far more meaningless medals than anybody in their right mind would bother to waste their time doing: they truly are king of the idiots.

Having obtained one of the rarest - but equally meaningless - medals, the narcissists pause to reflect on their so-called achievements, which leads to imposter syndrome. "What am I going to do with all these meaningless medals?" becomes a persistent and intrusive question in the mind of the narcissist, who is no longer consumed by the pathological pursuit of those medals; those badges of honour. The narcissist now feels like a guy who was taking a delightful sunset stroll on the beach in tropical paradise with his beautiful girlfriend, only to realise he has been dragging an inflatable sex doll around a supermarket car park at 4am, when the LSD wears off. This reality check brutally deflates the delusion that the narcissist is special and different. The only way to prop up the narcissit's fragile self-esteem is by putting other people down, denying opportunities to other people, surrounding themselves with an air of mystique, surrounding themselves with a clique of sycophants, cloaking their knowledge in jargon, protecting themselves with gatekeepers and otherwise perpetuating widely-held misconceptions and myths about how difficult it is to run with an egg on a spoon, or read a book and regurgitate its contents.

Hence the need for anonymity.

If anybody is brave enough to step out of line and say "anybody is capable of doing what I do and knowing what I know" then there are severe consequences meted out by the professional bodies, which exist for the sole purpose of maintaining artificial scarcity. Anybody can very easily do the work of a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant or any other professional, but if we were all allowed to practice those professions then the narcissists would no longer feel special and different. There is an enormous vested interest amongst those who are members of a professional body, to keep the numbers down and maintain the illusion that they're a cut above the rest.

The Magic Circle is a perfect example, where its magician members agree not to share the secrets of their illusions with the general public. If we consider why the classics are still taught - and are particularly fetishised by public schoolboys and Oxbridge - it is because those dead languages have always been used to obfuscate academic knowledge from those who have not had the benefit of a privileged education. In short, doctors are a bunch of cunts who don't want you to realise that what they know is just common sense, by using a lof of words with Ancient Greek or Latin origin to sound fucking fancy and make you think they're smart.

Why say renal or even nephrological when what you're really fucking talking about is KIDNEY related? At least hepatic is more or less the same in both Greek and Latin, but what you really fucking mean to say is LIVER related. Does it really take a lot longer to say "inflammation" than to add "itis" as a suffix to the Greek or Latin name of the anatomical part which you're fucking talking about, or "ectomy" as a suffix to the bit you want to cut out... et cetera, et cetera (sic.).

The fear that we and our whole revered profession might be unmasked as a crock of shit - perfectly comprehendible by even those who think of themselves as academically challenged - drives the desire for secrecy and anonymity. We must live lives of quiet desperation, lest our secrets be exposed and society ceases to worship us for our so-called achievements, qualifications, professional job title and specialist knowledge.

The narcissists want to be worshipped. The narcissists enjoy being worshipped. The narcissists enjoy the special place which society has allocated them, but they know in their heart-of-hearts that they do not deserve to be put on a pedestal; they know they're not special and different, but they hope that nobody ever finds out the truth.

An enormous amount of effort goes into protecting our so-called 'reputation' because we are paranoid that we will be ejected from professions, which confer a privileged position in society. That paranoia is not misplaced, because the privilege only exists because of the conspiracy of the members of elite groups, who seek to maintain the illusion of being a cut above the rest.

This culture of secrecy and anonymity is destroying people's mental health, because of the paranoia that it breeds, and the way that it prevents us from talking about our true thoughts and feelings. Anonymity stops us from being socially connected and instead creates elitist cliques who treat outsiders and any non-conformists with inhumane brutality, while at the same time becoming increasingly arrogant and delusional. Those who think they're the top dogs really do believe that they are manyfold better - more valuable human beings - than the struggling masses.

Anonymity is the wrong approach. Unless we speak in plain English and speak the truth, publicly, then we perpetuate the myth that there's a so-called 'natural' pecking order. The elitist establishment believes the vast majority of humanity deserves to starve in squalor, because they are genetically inferior, which can be empirically demonstrated to be untrue.

I write to you, fully aware that there might be very severe consequences for speaking the unspeakable. To not write this would make me a co-conspirator in the greatest evil ever perpetrated against humanity; the most despicable act of brutal mass-murder, torture, slavery and inhumane treatment of billions of people, on the grounds that a handful of narcissists think they're better than everybody else. Cunts.

I am not anonymous. I've got as much to lose as anybody else, but I bravely choose to act against my selfish vested interests, in defiance of the establishment and those who willingly and eagerly fatten themselves, while knowing that they do so at the expense of the rest of humanity, because they want to feel special and different.

 

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Proper Preparation Prevents Paranoia about Privacy

7 min read

This is a story about shame...

Battle scars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London is not a good place to be paranoid.

London is not private.

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

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

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

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

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

Things are very difficult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need dignity.

 

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Nick Grant

6 min read

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

Nick Grant's glasses

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

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

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

The last 36 months could be summarised thus:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Online-Dating-Friendly Content

6 min read

This is a story about marketing yourself...

Naked torso

The image I present of myself online is thoroughly incompatible with my professional life and my aspirations to meet a girl and start a relationship. I speak my mind and I'm very honest about some things I've experienced which are taboos. It's not very common in our society to talk about our failures and other unflattering things which might paint us in an unfavourable light. I would attract a lot of stigma and prejudice if I was up-front about unpalatable things from my past.

Half-naked photos of yourself and presenting yourself as an all-round faultless great guy - a real man's man - is not a particularly successful strategy. I include the image above ironically. Unsolicited dick pics don't work either, but there are a lot of men who seem to think that they do.

For a brief time I had included the fact that I'm a writer on my online dating bio, but I realised that my blog doesn't exist in a particularly sanitised form and I would hate to be writing with hesitancy, thinking about how my words would be received by an online love interest who's just getting to know me. I'm very exposed in a way that most people usually aren't. You almost never have the opportunity to peer deep into somebody's psyche and read about all their deepest darkest secrets.

Earlier in the year I tried dating with my blog offered as part of the package of information presented. Usually the information we have when dating is a name, age, a few photos, a very short bio, then after some discussion we know what a person does for a living, whether they have kids, whether they have pets, where they studied, where they've travelled and a few other details which actually tell us very little about that person's character. It's not a lot to make a decision about whether it's promising enough to warrant an actual in-person date, but we have the writing style - from text message chat - to gauge whether a person is intellectually stimulating and easy to converse with or not. Subtle language cues tell us whether we're of a socioeconomically similar group, which is important not least for reasons of insecurity and feelings that we were hard-done-by in some way. Nobody likes feeling poor in the company of somebody who's enjoyed wealth and privilege, or feeling stupid in the company of somebody who's been lucky enough to enjoy a great education.

The problem with having my blog as part of the information bundle, is that there's an almost unlimited amount to be consumed and processed, which is available anywhere, anytime. It's tempting for almost anybody with even a casual interest in other people's lives, to dig and dig, and it raises troublesome questions which would normally never come about in the course of a relationship, because we don't usually have access to the inside of somebody's mind.

I'm quite comfortable with friends and the general public having access to the entirety of the dark recesses of my mind, because I've found that most people are sympathetic and kind, and they've used the information for purposes which have been very beneficial to me. I get messages of support. I make connections with people, and that feels good. I feel that people care about me.

When somebody who I have a romantic interest in starts to read my blog, however, it can make me somewhat paranoid about being judged negatively. Indeed, many people have a very negative view of those who do online dating, believing the online world to be a hotbed of murderers, rapists, sadists, perverts, pedophiles and other unsavoury characters. If you're looking to find out something bad about me, and you're hoping for your worst fears to be confirmed, then there's a lot of material here which can be twisted by the mind of a sad, miserable, negative and mistrusting person, who has no ability to perceive their own flaws and less-than-perfect personality. I make a leap of faith every day by choosing to expose myself and make myself vulnerable, sharing my innermost thoughts and feelings as honestly and candidly as I can. To abuse my trust by twisting my words and turning me into a monster is not very nice, but it's what a lot of people do, because they're looking for reasons to reject, not reasons to connect.

Similarly, prospective employers are looking for reasons to reject, and this is the reason why my blog is not at all compatible with my professional life. There's an unwritten rule in the corporate world, which is that you never talk about your flaws and failures. It would be career-ending if I was to include a link to this blog on my CV or LinkedIn. The contents of this blog is gold dust to the gatekeepers who very much want to see me penniless and destitute; unemployable.

I need companionship and intimacy. I need a job. I have to play by the unwritten rules of society, so that means keeping certain parts of my life under wraps. It would be too much for your average small-minded square to process, and it's almost too much for even the most kind and compassionate, to get beyond the usual knee-jerk reaction which is to reject anybody atypical.

There's nothing I need to tell anybody per se. I don't have any secrets particularly. I'm not trying to cover up a drug habit or pretending to be something I'm not. I'm not trying to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. I'm not withholding important or relevant information.

To mistreat people by treating them with suspicion and mistrust is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think somebody's going to let you down or do something bad, you're increasing the likelihood of that happening, because you're ostracising and persecuting that person, just like so many others do too. If you're expecting bad things to happen and you're withholding trust and commitment - refusing to take a leap of faith - there can only be one outcome, ultimately.

I think the decision to have this open document is the right one, but I still need to get laid every now and again.

 

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Context Switching

8 min read

This is a story about screen time...

Phone icons

The button to silence my smartphone has broken so I leave it permanently in "do not disturb" mode, which suits me just fine. Hardly anybody ever phones me except for agents and other cold caller sales types. My time is mostly spent in the 12 apps pictured above. Perhaps I'm not on my smartphone all the time, but essentially I'm context-switching non-stop throughout my waking hours, so I thought that warranted a little examination.

Starting with my 35,225 unread emails, my inbox has gotten rather out of control. Email has become such a victim of its own success that no IT professional I know even uses it anymore - we're all on Slack. Most communication is entirely transient and there's no need to have a record of anything except some kind of chat transcript to catch up on - anything old can be archived and forgotten. I spend all day every day chatting to my colleagues on Slack, including colleagues from organisations where I don't even work anymore.

Messages comprises SMS messages - mostly telling me about voicemails I haven't listened to - and a handful of iMessages from people who aren't using WhatsApp for some reason. WhatsApp deserves special note though, because of the group chats. I was removed from the only group chat I was a member of - discussion between cryptocurrency enthusiasts - and I was usurped by a guy who screwed me over last year when I was on my deathbed, which is kinda besides the point but it galls me.

Instagram I don't actually use very much. I live in a text-based world and the photos I take are in 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio, not 1:1. I don't take very many selfies.

Facebook Messenger is my most active chat app, but I only use it to chat to one person - my guardian angel - and we mainly exchange memes about suicide, mental health problems and the ruined economy. Facebook messenger also makes calls - as do many of the apps - and I occasionally speak to a friend in Poland, which is about the only time I speak to anybody on the telephone.

Recently I've been using Tinder and Bumble in an attempt to meet girls. It adds additional complexity to my context-switching life.

I'm not really sure what I use Facebook for. I do browse through the feed once a day - not on my smartphone - and I occasionally like and comment on things which are especially noteworthy, but I generally try to avoid over-investment in that particular walled garden. I used to share a lot and indeed I've managed to rather make a fool of myself in front of all my friends and scupper my chances of ever working in some organisations, because I dragged my own good name through the mud. I don't put my dirty laundry on Facebook much, only for it to be conspicuously ignored. Instead I write over a million words on my blog and broadcast my ups and downs to thousands of followers and anybody who does Google searches.

I don't use Twitter properly. I don't generally retweet stuff and I don't spend enough time reading the tweets of the 6,000+ people I follow. How anybody could sift through it all I have no idea - Twitter is a pretty noisy place. Generally I just look to see if anybody I know is tweeting about any of the trending topics, and I otherwise rely on an email I receive in the morning each day, which tells me what my favourite people have been up to. I must admit, it's sometimes a struggle to stay on top of my notifications and DMs and then I turn turtle and hide for a while until things quieten down.

I don't bother with LinkedIn much. I don't struggle to find work. I don't much see the point in ploughing much time and effort into my corporate image - I've got a perfectly professional CV and LinkedIn page, and otherwise I rely on my contacts, skills, experience and references to be able to get work when I need it.

I wake up in the morning and I quickly scan through my notifications - mostly Twitter - to see if there have been any comments, which I make a mental note to reply to later in the day. When I get bored around mid-morning, I have a glance at my inbox to see if there's anybody demanding money with menaces or otherwise harassing me. Approaching lunchtime, I might kill a bit of time with Facebook, but I don't want to get too engrossed in my phone when I'm at work. If I'm having a really dreadful day, I might reach out to a couple of friends via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and see if I can get them to send jokes, memes or anything that might provide a moment's distraction from the boredom. After leaving the office and generally before my evening meal, I write a blog post. I often scan through my website analytics to see if there's anything notable going on. If my mind is busy and distracted I frequently find myself flipping between half-watching something on Netflix and several tabs in my browser - a mix of Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I read the news, but I find that I spend less and less time engaging with current affairs at the moment, because I've been stressed out of my mind with basic survival. A new part of my routine is chatting to girl(s) via the dating apps and if I'm ever lucky enough to get a phone number, then chatting on WhatsApp.

The amount of context switching is pretty remarkable. In any given day I might have to switch between fully professional mode, with colleagues who I want to present with a squeaky-clean corporate-friendly version of myself, and a more relaxed but still guarded version of myself which allows a little bit of my personality to show, but hopefully keeps my bad not-safe-for-work (NSFW) stuff hidden. I might be chatting to somebody who I've known for a long time online who's in a different timezone - ahead or behind - and they'll know an incredible amount of personal stuff about me and we'll be talking very frankly and honestly about everything and everything... then I'll be talking to a girl who I've just started chatting to who doesn't know me at all... then I'll be chatting to work colleagues who I spend 40 hours a week in close proximity with and they think they know me but they don't [and I don't want them to know everything]. Then, there's the image I present and the interactions I have via my blog and social media. and all the people who I have frequent and infrequent contact with, and the different ways I know people. Facebook is a particularly weird melting pot, where former work colleagues mingle with people who I know through kitesurfing, my startup days, the time I was homeless and living in parks and hostels, people who I've just randomly friend requested when I was mentally unwell. Facebook is kinda the worst, because I never know which guise I should be in, so I'm probably too honest and I'm tarnishing my own reputation and good standing that I once had with friends.

My brain has to switch between survival mode - where I've been worried about money, housing, addiction, alcoholism, transport, sex, isolation, suicidal thoughts, self harm, depression, anxiety and odds that have been very much stacked against me - and professional mode - where I'm expected to perform at a very high standard and navigate extremely complicated large organisations and know all the ins and outs of massive and complex software systems and the infrastructure they're deployed on, plus all the many teams and the zillions of people and the processes and procedures - and my digital identity which I'm cultivating - which needs me to compose a blog post every day and stay on top of any replies, messages and emails, and generally keep in touch with an ever-growing list of friends who I've never met in person, but who've been amazingly kind and supportive during rough times - and Mr. Eligible Bachelor mode, which requires me to present myself in the correct sequence, so that I can be understood without at the same time being overwhelming and off-putting.

To some extent my life looks quite simple. I have a job and not much else - I don't socialise and I'm not in a relationship. To the casual observer, all I do is move between my home, the office and a hotel, and I'm always in front of my laptop, tapping away at the keys quite furiously.

I suppose my life is quite simple, if we imagine that my fixation is the screen and the keyboard, but the screen time is a red herring - it's a window to an unimaginably gigantic and complex world of thousands of interactions with people all around the globe.

The context-switching is pretty hard though. I've struggled to stay on top of everything during the last couple of days.

 

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Work Colleague Found My Blog

12 min read

This is a story about living a double life...

Blurry laptop

The other day a colleague told me that he'd Google'd the meaning of the semicolon tattoo behind my ear. "What does it mean?" he asked me, feigning ignorance. I told him that it's to do with programming and I had the tattoo done in Silicon Valley, which is perfectly true. Of course, I'm only able to survive because I'm economical with the truth. There isn't a section on my CV which lists all the hospitals I've been admitted to in recent years. There isn't a section on my CV which lists episodes of mental illness. If nobody asks me why should I tell anybody?

There's a wide long corridor at the office which has its walls covered with posters encouraging us to speak up about mental health issues. "It's OK to talk" the posters claim. What the posters don't say is that it's OK to talk as long as you've got the mild kind of mental illness which elicits sympathy, not terror. Being a bit blue sometimes and taking the occasional duvet day is not a big problem, but fully-blown episodes of mania, replete with paranoia and delusions is going to see you quickly ejected from the office before you have a chance to say "but you said it was OK to talk".

It's OK to talk about the more palatable side of mental illness - mild anxiety and depression - but the kind which is so debilitating that it renders a person completely unable to work, is met with a hostile response. To begin with there is some sympathy and interest. However, it doesn't take long for people to become compassion fatigued. "I'd like a day off when I don't feel like working" is what people soon start saying, as levels of resentment grow. Offices are fit in or fuck off kind of places, where behaviour is only tolerated within a very narrow band of deviation from the norm. Even an annoying laugh or a cough can be grating in the office and people can get extremely angry and upset about things which appear to be tiny and insignificant. Pay rises, promotions, job titles, special privileges, holidays and perceived differences in workload and effort, all feed into a bubbling cauldron of toxic feelings which remain festering and unvented, brewing and fortifying over the very many years through which people are chained to their desks.

I can never fully disguise the fact I'm not well and I've been through some difficult times. It was a bold move to choose to mark my skin in a visible area with a tattoo which is widely known for its meaning as a symbol of mental health problems, suicide, self harm, alcoholism and substance abuse. In the 3 years since I had that tattoo, only one colleague had ever commented, and that was to tell me that I could talk to him any time. Little over a month later he completely blanked me and refused to answer phone calls, texts, emails or other attempts to contact him - he'd told a colleague about my blog and they decided to screw me over; to rip me off and breach contract, owing me a lot of money.

Another colleague at a different organisation found my blog. One day he asked me if I wear contact lenses, to which I replied that I don't. He then asked me about wearing glasses, which was quite telling because I never wear glasses at work. He seems like a good guy - so far as I know my secret is safe with him.

At the place where I currently work, the thing I always dreaded has happened: I've been directly confronted about the meaning of my tattoo. It's something I'd always anticipated so I had my pre-prepared answer about the semicolon being an important symbol to a programmer - having been writing C, C++ and Java for 24 years - and the extra significance of having my tattoo done in the Mission/Castro area of San Francisco.

I kinda revel a little bit in my newfound bad boy image. Having had a 21+ year career as an IT professional working for large organisations, there's not a lot of room for bad behaviour before you screw up your employment prospects. One single black mark, such as a bankruptcy or a criminal record, and you'll never work for big companies ever again. If the gatekeepers had their way and they were allowed to invade my privacy to their heart's content, they'd have slammed the door in my face a long time ago. My problems are not the nice mild kind where I'd be permitted to do a bit of light-hearted whinging in the office. My problems are not the kind which are permitted in the stale, dry, plain, boring and uninteresting beige thoroughly dull world which I inhabit from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.

It makes me nervous occasionally that my cover could be blown and somebody could see through my infallible disguise. It makes me kinda nervous that I have this huge repository of all the juicy details which Human Resources would dearly love to get their hands on so that they have the ammunition to discriminate, stigmatise, and otherwise abuse my right to live my life free from prejudice and ostracism.

The longer I manage to keep delivering successful projects, high quality work and impressing my colleagues, the safer I become from any witch-hunt if my blog is discovered, along with the very many unpalatable truths for a group of people who's sole mission in life seems to be to keep the riff-raff at bay. Anybody who doesn't walk, talk, look and smell just like them is not welcome - your face has to fit if you want to earn big bucks and have a comfortable and rewarding career. There aren't a lot of facial piercings, wild haircuts or indeed any expressions of individuality in the organisations where I work, because they work very hard to block anybody who doesn't fit the mould at the door.

My mask slips occasionally, of course. I struggle with the fixed and inflexible office hours which are homogenised for the neurotypical early birds. I struggle with the uniform and consistent plodding pace. I struggle with all the one-size-fits-all unwritten rules, which are perfectly OK for the conformists to conform to, but sometimes cause me a great deal of suffering.

I try not to be too outspoken. I try not to get passionate about anything. I give away as little possible about my personal life. I certainly don't ever relax and be myself - I'm always tense and on high alert. I try to just focus on making a good job of relatively small and non-contentious pieces of work, and busying myself with pointless tasks to occupy my time. I work very hard to act as if I'm a normal beige boring ordinary complaint non-contentious non-complaining typical office working drone. In essence, I spend most of my 8 hours a day attempting to keep my mouth shut and reining in all of my natural instincts. I spend most of my working day battling with my impulse to either walk out and never come back, or to start tearing things to pieces and doing bold and brave things. I have to bite my lip and hold my tongue. I'm not used to being like that, but it's the only way I'm able to stay off the radar and keep my job.

The last place I worked, a colleague took enough of an interest in me to Google me, find my website and read my blog. At the last place I had a wobbly period and I had to take quite a bit of time off work. I was acutely aware that I was incredibly exposed, because the reasons why I was struggling and sick were laid bare for anybody to see. Thankfully, I was given the benefit of the doubt and I was able to leave that organisation and that project with a feather in my cap - good job well done.

This time, I get the feeling that this new colleague who's taken an interest is not doing so for benign reasons. I definitely have the impression that he's threatened and is looking for some weakness to exploit, to undermine me. I definitely don't feel good about him pressing me to answer him about the meaning of my tattoo, especially when he made it very clear that he'd already Google'd the meaning.

In a lot of ways, this is like a test. I'm putting all my baggage and issues on public display to see what kind of people there are in the world. Nasty people will gleefully take the ammunition and use it against me. Nice people will see how vulnerable I am, and will use the information wisely and in a caring manner. Sure, I can get hurt and that might be a reason to protect myself more, but if people are determined enough to find a chink in your armour, they're going to go out of their way to try to hurt you, even if they have to invent bad stuff on the basis of pure conjecture and their nasty little minds.

Honesty is such a good policy to weed out bad nasty people. Honesty works so incredibly well at differentiating between friend and foe. It's possible to see in someone's eyes whether they're giddy and drunk with the possibility of misusing the truth and honesty to screw you over, or indeed whether the honesty and vulnerability is instilling a reaction of kindness and compassion - you can really see it in the eyes, whether a person is an evil fuck or they're nice.

I also enjoy being in the position where I've laid everything bare for anybody to see, such that nobody can shame, embarrass or otherwise use things against me, which most people would keep as closely guarded secrets. I've already published the gory details my deepest darkest thoughts, feelings and experiences, so none of it has any power over me - it's in the public domain. It's laughable to think that you'd be able to bully or tease me about something which I own and have told the world about, such that any nasty person would be simply stating the obvious in a patently ridiculous way, like attempting to laugh at a proud openly gay person for being gay. It's nonsensical.

More and more, I feel proud that I've done the brave thing of publishing everything which I'd previously kept secret, and making it so public. I feel proud of both my identities, even if I haven't been able to unify them yet. Of course, my identities are implicitly unified, because it's my face and it's my name. It's only sheer laziness which means the gatekeepers have not yet unearthed this treasure trove; and of course the fact that they'd never expect in a million years that anybody would be so foolish as to simply hand over all the truths which most of us keep as closely guarded secrets.

Our privacy is increasingly infringed and we are spied upon around the clock by the ubiquitous digital devices that surround us. Our government spies on ordinary law-abiding citizens and even shares that information with prospective employers, such that trade union activists can become black-balled and unemployable, despite never breaking a single law. Our love of free email, free social media, free photo sharing and other 'free' services, is also our undoing - we're easy to snoop on and you can be completely certain that your digital identity has been examined by a gatekeeper, intent on digging up some dirt on you.

Overall, I believe I've had 3 or 4 work colleagues maliciously abuse my trust by using my candid honesty against me, and I've had 1 who seems benign. Not great numbers, but I believe that overall the net result has been to get rid of toxic people and avoid exploitation, and hopefully I'm getting better quality closer friendships.

As a mechanism to stay in touch and keep friends updated, I would say that this blog has been a rip-roaring success. I can't see any other way that I'd have been able to maintain a toe-hold in normal life if I hadn't decided to 'go public'. It's unconventional and it certainly jeopardises my employability, but anybody who's read my blog looking for the bad stuff is obviously a bad person, so good riddance.

In the place where I live I've fallen out with 3 people, but I've made at least 5 friends, and there's honesty underpinning all of it. If you don't like the version of me you see on the pages of this blog, what the hell are you doing? What do you expect? I'm not a fictitious character: this is me.

There have been some regrettable moments which I've documented in my usual stream-of-consciousness way, and those periods have shown me in a very unflattering light. There's a lot written here that's not what people ordinarily share. I've made myself very exposed; vulnerable. That's the point. It's all here, warts and all.

I was supposed to be seeing my former work colleague who's been reading my blog this evening. Perhaps we will become closer friends now that we don't work together. Things have worked out OK.

 

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Burning Bridges

11 min read

This is a story about wearing a mask...

Cambridge bridges

A long time ago I used to be very careful about what I shared on social media. On Facebook I separated my work colleagues and other business contacts from my close friends, and I thoroughly considered my audience before I posted anything; I spent a great deal of effort managing my public image and attempting to pretend I was a squeaky-clean pristine perfect professional who didn't have any problems in my personal life.

At some point during my acrimonious divorce and the total collapse of my mental health, along with the destruction of my hopes and dreams of escaping the rat race and being my own boss, my depression became so bad that I purchased 2 grams of potassium cyanide. I'm not sure what possessed me - perhaps it was a cry for help - but I decided to put a photo of this deadly poison onto Facebook. The reaction surprised me: one friend was angry and accused me of jeopardising the life of his child [which I didn't] and another made a darkly humorous joke. Most people seemed to just ignore me.

My mental health has caused me an increasing amount of difficulties, resulting in hospitalisations. Initially, I was extremely careful about what I told colleagues. I tried - as much as possible - to cover up and hide my struggles in the hope that I would quickly get better and my image would be untarnished. I lost a couple of jobs and an entire profitable business during episodes of poor mental health, but my reputation seemed to somehow be fully intact despite my faltering ability to work.

At some point, I decided to put more and more of my dirty laundry onto Facebook. I think that the stress and strain of the divorce - having to sell my house in particular - completely destroyed any remaining hope and optimism that I would be able to recover, so I ceased to believe that it was prudent to safeguard my reputation. I jettisoned any caution about who was reading the gory details of my life's implosion and instead preferred to desperately reach out via social media, hoping to receive messages of support and to alert my friends to the danger I was in.

As I became increasingly unwell and addiction turned my life into unmanageable destructive chaos, I continued to overshare without any regard for the reputational damage I was doing to myself. I wrote things which must have broadcast my very darkest and most regrettable moments of struggle to former work colleagues and business acquaintances, completely tarnishing my own reputation.

To have fallen from grace is bad, but to tell the world that you've ended up in a complete mess is quite something else. I'm not sure if I just didn't care, or whether I was so sick that I didn't know what on earth I was doing, but I used Facebook to loudly proclaim the fact that I'd become an unemployable, useless, unreliable, messed-up waste of space. Surely I have left friends, former work colleagues and other people who used to like and respect me, in absolutely no doubt that I was a no-hope loser?

Meanwhile, I managed to keep working and completing projects successfully, and I kept my CV and LinkedIn free from any clues about my mental health problems and drug addiction. My career didn't skip a beat and my skills continued to be highly in demand. I seemingly suffered no negative consequences for all of my loose-lipped moments on social media. It seemed as if I was unable to completely burn every bridge and destroy my own reputation sufficiently to make myself unemployable.

Sharing on Facebook highly alarming stuff about suicidal thoughts, self harm, drug abuse, prescription medication dependency, poly-substance use, breakups, mental breakdowns and the bat-s**t insane ravings of a total madman, seemed to make little or no difference to my day-to-day existence. The response was muted, where my friends and former work colleagues really didn't know what to say, leaving a kind of awkward silence which clearly indicated that people were cringing with embarrassment on my behalf. On the other hand, I was not shamed into silence at all. The madness was so all-consuming that I couldn't even remember what I had shared on Facebook. I had no idea what I was doing.

I suppose that everything I put on Facebook was done in brief moments of extreme insanity. I was still generally cautious about sharing the candid and honest truth about things which portrayed me in a very unflattering light. Nobody wants to be thought of as a junkie, because everybody thinks that junkies are thieving scumbag liars. Mental health elicits some sympathy, so long as it's the milder kind. Nobody wants to be thought of as completely insane, because everybody thinks that madmen are deranged murderous unpredictable lunatics.

I suppose I had attempted to tell my Facebook friends that I was unwell with as much subtlety as I could manage, and I had tried to brush some of the unflattering facts under the carpet, such as my problems with addiction.

I suppose I always wanted people to know that mental illness and a horrible relationship were things that I had been dealing with alone for a long time, and that addiction only crept into my life much more recently. I suppose I felt that I could quietly deal with the addiction issues and nobody needed to know about it; I would just pretend it never happened.

When I started this blog, it was an opportunity to re-assert the 30-odd years of my life where I had achieved a hell of a lot. I wanted people to remember all the projects I successfully delivered and all of the places where I'd worked and made a big difference to the organisations and the teams I was part of. I wanted people to remember that I'd built profitable businesses. I wanted people to remember that I'd played a positive role in their lives; that I'd been a good person; that I had value. I wanted to remind everybody that for the vast majority of my life I'd been making a valuable contribution; that for most of my life I'd been an OK person who'd tried very hard to do good things.

I had imagined that my recovery would progress in a linear way, from bad to good, and every day would be an improvement on the day before. I imagined that I would be able to write a straightforward story about the struggles I'd left behind in the past and the increasing number of positive things that were happening in my life. I had imagined writing a fairy-tale rags to riches story, as I started my blog homeless and bankrupt, and finished the story rich and successful.

It soon became apparent that the journey was going to be a lot tougher than I had hoped it would be.

Every huge gain I've made has quickly been met by a major setback. When I managed to rent an amazing apartment in London, I then lost my job. When I managed to get a lucrative contract, I was then hospitalised with kidney failure. When it seemed like I was getting the perfect combination of friends, girlfriend, job, money, home and hobby, everything fell to pieces. If we look at the whole 3-year writing project, it perfectly captures the vicious swings between high and low which you'd expect of somebody with bipolar disorder, especially when exacerbated by money problems, insecure housing and patches of addiction problems.

After only 4 months of sharing the sanitised version of my life history, where I portrayed myself in the very best possible light, it became clear that I was going to have to write about the bad stuff too if I was going to carry on for a whole year, which was my initial plan. I wanted to write every day for a whole year, to prove to myself that I could be consistent and achieve something very difficult, despite my challenging circumstances. I hoped that the regularity and having a goal to focus on would help to stabilise my life.

Writing my blog has certainly given me a rock to cling to while I've weathered the storm. Writing my blog has certainly helped me to regain some stability in my life, as well as being a source of pride in the achievement.

At some point, it became habitual to be 100% unflinchingly honest, and not to care about what people think.

I'm aware that I've probably prejudiced my employability with a handful of former work colleagues who are also Facebook friends. I'm aware that my reputation is probably damaged beyond repair, if I wanted to try to enter an arena where reputation is more important than skills and experience. In the world of work which I inhabit, people only care about whether I can do the job, and not at all about the skeletons in my closet, so I've suffered no setbacks in my career. However, it does upset me that I've tarnished my image in some of the gossipy organisations where I used to be very well liked and respected. It upsets me that friends who are former colleagues and business acquaintances, who I like and respect, have been left in no doubt that I've been through some very tough and turbulent times in my personal life. Perhaps my opportunities in life have been more damaged than I'm aware of, because I've created doubts in people's minds about my reputation and reliability.

I continue to write using my real name and am slowly advancing towards page one of a Google search, which seems ludicrously stupid, but so far it's caused me very few problems in my career.

I don't think I could live without the regularity and stabilising influence that writing and publishing so publicly has given me. I don't think it would be healthy for me to lose the public oversight, and lose the huge amount of support that is available to me from the online community. I can't imagine going back to a life where I had to hide my struggles and rely on private communications to keep concerned people informed about what's happening to me. It's far too much effort to have to concern myself with image and reputation management when I've been fighting for my life.

There's no turning back now anyway. The genie is out of the bottle. All my friends, former work colleagues and business acquaintances have been left with absolutely no doubt that my mental health problems have caused me a great deal of difficulties, and extremely unpalatable and unflattering things have happened in my life, such as periods of addiction. I have no doubt that my reputation is in tatters in the eyes of anybody I'm Facebook friends with. I must be a laughing stock.

Amusingly, I've been able to deliver projects and impress work colleagues, surrounded by people who are completely oblivious to my personal life struggles and the bad things that have happened in the past. Because my Facebook, Twitter and blog are a world apart from my CV, LinkedIn and references, the two worlds have not collided and I'm able to go to work and do a good job without prejudice or stigma. I suppose it's reckless to risk my identities being connected by anybody who could be bothered to put my name into a search engine, but so far I've not burnt any bridges in the 'new' chapter of my career, since I re-stabilised myself, ironically by using my blog.

I think that's what I'd tell anybody who stumbled on my open secret and had reservations about my public identity: that it's a necessary coping mechanism and it's the reason why I've been able to act completely normal in the office, and to be a productive valuable member of the teams and organisations I work for.

Of course I sometimes worry that I'm taking too much of a risk by continuing to use my real name and writing without concern for the level of public exposure that I live with, but frankly most people are too wrapped up in their own lives to really give much of a s**t.

Sure, if stuff goes wrong I'm dangerously exposed. If I have a wobbly moment then I'm hugely at risk of some unpalatable truths about me from becoming more widespread knowledge. I think the risks are acceptable though. So far, I'm glad that I've laid myself wide open like this.

Some bridges have been burnt, but I'm glad I've set the record straight and I'm glad that there's so much written down here that even the nosiest person is going to quickly become exhausted if they go digging for dirt.

 

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Airbrushing History

5 min read

This is a story about the right to be forgotten...

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If you're transgender, you might want all records expunged which could link you to the gender you had previously identified as. Similarly, if you're recovering from an illness or being otherwise rehabilitated, you don't really want the whole world to know you were sick. We have specific laws which stop people from revealing a person's old name or other identity details, after they have changed gender. We have specific laws which allow criminals to be fully rehabilitated after their convictions are 'spent' - nobody is allowed to know that they were in prison after a certain number of years have elapsed since they "served their time". Our medical histories are private and confidential, and to reveal details of somebody's medical records would be a criminal act.

We work very hard to ensure that people's entire future isn't jeopardised and prejudiced by things that happened in the past. We have laws that specifically forbid discrimination and other laws which prevent questions being asked; e.g. requests for information which would be an invasion of privacy and would likely be used against a person in a discriminatory manner.

Things get a bit harder when we start to talk about things that we ourselves have somehow made public. If you decided to put your full name, date of birth, place of birth, where you work and what you ate for breakfast onto Facebook or Twitter, should you suffer the consequences for your naïvety when sharing such things on the internet?

Sometimes the internet doesn't forget.

Google has quietly dropped access to its caches - you used to be able to see copies of a webpage that Google had stored, so you could see things that had been deleted or changed - you can't do that anymore.

In theory, if you put something up on the internet which you later regretted, removing it should eventually mean that it's digitally deleted and therefore it's as if it never existed - it's not like a newspaper or a book, where ink and paper were combined to create a permanent physical record. If some of the 1s and 0s of binary data get changed on the internet, it's virtually impossible to prove that any data has been deleted or amended at all. I could forge a copy of any webpage I wanted, saying whatever I wanted it to say - how is it possible to prove that a copy of a webpage is a bona fide snapshot of what it looked like at a certain point in time? It's impossible.

There are parts of the internet that have been copied so many times onto so many different computers that the archives will probably never be lost. "Blockchain" is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot at the moment, which is just another word for a load of data which is held on loads of computers, all connected together on the internet. This is what we understand to be an "immutable" record of how a piece of data looked at a certain point in time, because there's consensus amongst multiple sources, such that it's highly likely that a person did write something on a certain date, back in the early days of the internet, preserved in the archives... or that a certain transaction took place, preserved in the blockchain. However, the internet is now far too large for there to be any kind of archive of everything, let alone multiple copies which could prove conclusively what a webpage looked like on a certain date.

Thus it's almost but not quite possible to airbrush history on the internet. The internet is somewhat amnesic.

I've tried to avoid deleting anything from my website or editing stuff that I've published, but occasionally I think that discretion is the better part of valour, and I modify or delete things. Often times I regret deleting and modifying things... there always seems to be a consequence for removing information which could hold people accountable... better to hold your ground and simply take a position of truth and honesty, I think.

We have laws which protect people who are honest and truthful. Journalism would not be able to survive the libel lawsuits if we didn't enshrine the right to speak truthfully into law. In the UK we don't have absolute freedom of speech like in the United States, but we do have the right to speak and write provided we speak truthfully and our opinions are the fair and reasonable ones that any person would be likely to share, given the same set of facts.

My strange crusade of the past few years has been to write with candid unflinching honesty, everything about myself, both good and bad. Sometimes however, I've had to write about things that are upsetting me, which has involved writing about other people and sometimes about organisations. It's difficult to know where to draw a line. If I've learned anything in the last few years, it's that 99% of people have completely different feelings about risk and privacy from me. I'm sacrificing my privacy and taking a huge risk, which most people don't want to do, so I need to be careful I don't accidentally co-opt anybody into my personal crusade. It should be noted that I take extreme care not to identify anybody or share anything private which could be linked to any individual.

Thankfully, most people don't give a shit about anybody other than themselves, so I've been able to write pretty much whatever the hell I want and nobody gives a damn.

 

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