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The world's longest suicide note

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

All opinions are my own

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Rehabilitation

12 min read

This is a story about civilised society...

Lots of pills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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1,243 Words Per Day for 37 Days

9 min read

This is a story about life goals...

Dusty keyboard

I seem to have a lot of competing priorities at the moment. The only thing I've got much control over is the day when I reach a million words on this website, which I would like to be on September 6th, precisely 3 years after my very first blog post. In order to achieve that objective I need to write 1,243 words every single day for the next 37 consecutive days. It sounds achievable considering I managed to write an average of 1,667 words per day during the month of November, for 2 years running. My daily average word count over the 1,058 days that I've been writing works out at just over 900 words, so I need to increase my output by 38%.

My other objectives are to pay off all my debts, rebuild my non-existent social life and get healthier.

In theory I can clear my important debts in 3 months, and I can clear some other less important ones in another 3 or 4 months, which frees me from the substantial burden of paying a huge amount of interest every month. Those don't sound like long timescales at all, but 3 months of sanity and stability in my life is a very rare thing, let alone 6 or 7 months.

My sums exclude the lost income from any holidays I take or time off sick. My sums assume that I'm working flat-out as hard as I can every day for months and months on end. It's been over 2 years since I had a proper holiday so it seems reasonable to assume that I'm going to burn out really soon.

A social life and my health don't really figure in the equation. In order to earn money I'm working in a city where I'm only staying temporarily. There doesn't seem to be much point in investing heavily in building a social network near my workplace, because I have no plans to stay here any longer than I have to. I'm just here for the cash. I have no idea how to pay any consideration to my health when my objectives are so diametrically opposed to my wellbeing. If I was able to prioritise my health I'd be working part-time or not working at all. Everything about my life is completely toxic for my mental and physical health.

I have a short-term objective of being sober for a few days. Today is day 4. It's hard but I'm sure my liver will be glad to have a break from the non-stop alcohol abuse. Ideally, I'd substantially reduce my drinking for the rest of my life, but I don't see how I'm going to be able to do that when I've got 6 or 7 months horrible miserable slog stretching out ahead of me, and I can't take a holiday or sort out my social life because of the insanely toxic work and money demands which are placed on me.

I don't know how I got into this situation where the numbers look favourable but the reality of my daily existence is such unbearable misery.

A seemingly small bad thing happened at work today, but it's totally destroyed my hope and optimism. It's shocked me how quickly suicidal thoughts flooded back into my head, having had a period of respite which has lasted quite a while. Every way I look at my life, I can only see stress and intolerable living conditions; unsustainable demands. I can't see any way to fix things.

Somehow, my costs have spiralled and my income has fallen slightly. Somehow, I've ended up in a position where I'm potentially going to be forced back into spending the majority of my time away from home, in a place where I really don't want to be, doing a job which appears to be too boring to distract me from my woes. Somehow, the path to my goal which had appeared easy and well understood, now appears to be impossible; unachievable.

Of course, if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'm making progress. All progress is good progress. Every little step takes me a little bit closer to my goal, but I'm acutely aware of how long it's going to take me to reach the end.

Perhaps I have summit fever. I can see what I think is the peak of the mountain and I've become obsessed about reaching the summit. Psychologically, it's a terrible idea to fixate on the summit too much. The important thing is to just keep steadily moving up the mountain at a sustainable pace, and try not to think about getting to the top. The psychology of how to suffer and endure the hardships of climbing a difficult mountain are reasonable to apply to my situation, but I'm not fighting a war of attrition... I'm trying to get rich quick.

Frustratingly, I know that I was happier when I dropped out of mainstream society and I was a homeless bum. I know that I'd be much happier if I declare that the demands placed upon me are too excessive and unreasonable, and I only accept my fair share of responsibility. I'm being a bit of a martyr. I'm being stubborn and trying to prove a point.

I presume that suddenly stopping drinking, after spending the best part of a couple of months drinking excessively every single day, is probably going to be a shock to the system. My brain surely doesn't know what's hit it, having been pickled in alcohol and now suddenly left high and dry. My days have been structured around getting drunk. Every evening after work. Every weekend after a certain time of day that seems resonable and respectable to start getting drunk. Getting drunk has been the highlight of my day for far too long. What's the highlight of my day now? Nothing.

I'm sure that given enough time I could re-adjust but the show must go on. I've got to do all the things that I can't stop doing, as well as making the other changes. I still need to get up and go to work every day. I still need to write every day. I still need to commute, pack my bags, wash my clothes, iron my shirts, do my book-keeping and make sure that the cash flows as it's supposed to. I'm spinning lots plates, even though my life is drastically simplified and paired down in an attempt to make it manageable. I don't exactly feel overburdened by competing demands... the problem is more that I'm powerless to influence almost everything in my life, except for the number of words which I can write each day on this website.

The one goal that achieves absolutely nothing - there's no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow - is the only one which I'm able to steadily work at in a sustainable way, and I feel confident that I'll reach the finishing line. All the other goals, even though they have obvious benefits, look to be impossible. How am I ever going to get my health sorted out when I'm so depressed, miserable and anxious? How am I ever going to keep working for as long as I need to, in order to repay my crushing debts, when my working day is so unbearably awful? How am I going to reduce my alcohol intake to a much more sensible and moderate level, when I am in such desperate need of something to ease my daily suffering; something to look forward to at the end of the working day and the end of each working week?

Even my blog, which at times I feel quite proud of, is getting ruined. I know that people don't want to read the same moaning and complaining repetitive rant about how I'm bored at work, my life is unsustainable and all I'm doing is churning out a million miserable words. I can see from my analytics that my readers are disengaging. What the hell am I writing about? What the hell am I doing?

It seemed to make sense to me, that I could live in a hotel next door to a pub, and I could get drunk every evening after work, then I'd get drunk all weekend, and the time would pass... soon the debts would be repaid and I could start to think - for the first time in 3 years - about what I want to do with my life which would be compatible with my mental health; my needs. I've been driven by necessity for so long. I do what I have to in order to survive, but after a long while surviving I'd rather be dead if I'm never going to be thriving.

How long has it been since I felt happiness and contentment? How long has it been since I dared to dream?

I'm not sure if this is coming across, but I'm trying to moan and complain my way to the finish line. Like people who grunt and groan as if vocalising their pain and the strain of their exercions somehow makes the task easier, I'm doing the same thing: I'm trying to make the time pass more quickly by whinging and whining.

Of course, I bore myself almost as much as I bore you. I cringe with embarrassment at what I've become, and the complete crap I'm churning out, but I just need to reach my arbitrary goal so I can at least say that I did one really hard thing, because it was within my power to influence the outcome, unlike the rest of my life which simply has to be endured.

Patience, patience. Perhaps all I need is patience.

 

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April Fools Day

3 min read

This is a story about a prank...

Hostel laptop

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

Except it's not.

I've genuinely been very sick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Can't Stop Crying

5 min read

This is a story about the limits of human endurance...

Rainy day

It'd be easy to believe that everything comes very easily to me when I need it; that I get everything I want. It'd be easy to believe that I live a charmed existence and that my life is all puppy dogs, rainbows and candy floss. It seems churlish to write about my struggles, when on paper my life seems quite straightforward - when I need money, I go and get a really well paid job; when I need a place to live, something miraculously falls in my lap; when it looks like everything's screwed and I'll never be able to recover from a setback, things somehow seem to work out for me in the end.

There's a toll that this rollercoaster ride exacts upon me - it's exhausting; emotionally draining. I really would like to just give up and to prostrate myself at the mercy of the state. It would be so much less energy-sapping to stop striving... to abandon my ambitions of getting back to health, wealth and prosperity. For all the hard work, there doesn't seem to be the commensurate rewards. Why did I bother? I often ask myself.

I have a banging headache, a chesty cough, cold sweats and shivering, aching legs, runny nose. It's just a cold, but it's the final straw. All I seem to be able to do is sleep and cry at the moment. I find myself on the verge of tears all the time, or actually crying. I cried through the whole of a rugby match I watched on the TV, but I don't know why. I cried while taking my shoes off. I'm crying for no reason at all, seemingly.

The pieces of the puzzle that make a liveable life - a home, some money, a job, a girlfriend, a car - are tantalisingly within reach. There are some things that I can compromise on, such as living with my friends, but there are some things that I can't, such as continuing to work in London without any work colleagues to talk to or a project to do. Why do I need a car? When you live and work outside of London, a car is essential for getting to your job, and generally getting around. It's been exhausting using public transport. Yes, there are lots of people who get around on the buses and trains, but they've chosen a different life strategy - I need to be at my desk from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. I can't deal with unreliable, expensive and slow public transport on top of everything else. What's the point in working if it's going to cause intolerable levels of stress and misery?

In theory, I'm just a few months away from financial security and having my life back in good order. In theory, if the job I've been offered works out OK, then I'll be feeling quite secure and wealthy, within a couple of months. In theory, my life's going to be a lot easier when I can drive to work, instead of travelling for hours across the country, and living out of a suitcase. In theory, my working week is going to be a lot better when I'm working with a team of interesting people, and I have the social interaction that's completely absent in my current job.

In theory, everything's just peachy.

In practice, I'm exhausted. In practice, I've suffered too much and for far too long, and it's broken me. In practice, I've got nothing left to give. In practice, I can't suffer any more setbacks, because it'd destroy me.

Yes, fine, I concede that some fantastic opportunities have fallen in my lap, but things are by no means a done deal. There's still so much hard work and stress ahead. There are still so many obstacles to tackle. Yes, fine, I can see that there's a slim chance that things might work out, but the anxiety of the situation is unbearable.

I have *just* enough money to buy a car and insurance. I have *just* enough money to last me until my invoices hopefully get paid. I have *just* enough time to get all the ducks lined up. There's the slimmest of chances that everything might go to plan, but there are an infinite number of ways that things could go wrong.

I've had enough. The pressure and the stress has been too relentless for too long. Yes, I've caught some 'lucky' breaks, but you really don't know just how hard I've worked, and just how psychologically torturous it's been. You think it's been easy to get to this point? You think it'll be easy to carry on; to keep up the good work?

If anything, the stress is getting worse, not better, because I know I'm really close to getting a bunch of things that will really improve my life. I'm struggling with insomnia because I'm so stressed out about all the possible reasons why I might lose the things that are within my grasp. I'm itching to throw everything away and give up, because the anxiety is unbearable.

Yes, it looks like I've got nice problems to have, but it's not like that at all.

 

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This Time Last Year I was F**ked

11 min read

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

View from the loft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Stroke

5 min read

This is a story about neurotoxicity...

Eye droop

What's happened to the left hand side of my face? My eyelid has drooped; my face is no longer symmetrical. Why do I have a facial tic? Why is my speech slow and slurred? Aren't these all symptoms of cognitive impairment; brain damage?

I decided to read back through some of my blog - I read from February through to June, when I was very unwell. I was surprised that a lot of it was gibberish - I thought that I had written with lucidity, but I had mis-remembered things.

As is so often the case with me, I dice with death and I dodge bullets. I'm still very sick, but I'm getting better. I'm going to make a full recovery. My speech is normal; my face doesn't tic and my eyelid no longer droops. The brain is a remarkable thing, but I do need to stop abusing my body.

A month ago I was livid; I was unbelievably angry. I was fighting for my income, my home and my liberty - I was fighting for my legal rights - and I was spitting venom; I was furious at being abused; mistreated; taken advantage of.

I re-read the lengthy blog post I wrote a month ago, which started OK, but then I got plunged into repetitive thoughts - you can tell that my brain was stuck on a loop and I repeated myself several times. It's surprising that I could express myself fairly well, given the circumstances. I imagine that it took me a long time to compose what I wrote, and I clearly struggled to remember what I'd written at the start, as I reached the end.

It's tempting to edit and airbrush history, but it's much more interesting to maintain a public record of exactly what I was thinking and feeling at a certain point in time. Inadvertently I also capture other details about my state of mind in the way in which I express myself.

I've now been writing for long enough to capture two periods of total abstinence from all mind-altering substances, including alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. I'm a lifelong non-smoker. I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages in 2013. During this particular period of abstinence, I've not drunk any alcohol for 35 consecutive days.

What's the net result of all this?

Me as a kid

Nah, I'm only kidding... that was me when I was twenty years old. However, I'm sure there's been a marked improvement now that all the crap is out of my system.

A few friends spoke to me soon after I arrived on the psych ward. Although I sounded like my old self and I was in good spirits, my recovery was only just beginning - friends who see me and speak to me on a regular basis report that I'm much improved from how I was a month ago.

My hair, my skin, my nails, my teeth, my breath, my sweat and most importantly, my brain - all of these things are completely different, now that I'm not glugging gallons of booze and popping loads of pills.

I cringe with shame a little bit, to think that I made myself very exposed and vulnerable at a time when I was very unwell - the public got a little bit of a behind-the-scenes peek at me when I was extremely poorly. You can go digging in the archives, if it pleases you, or you can take my word for it: there's no surprises and there should be no pleasure in gawping at somebody when they're sick.

If we've not spoken for a while, I highly recommend that you get in contact and we actually speak on the phone - my email is nick@manicgrant.com. You might be very surprised to learn that your friend is in possession of most of his marbles, and not the raving lunatic that you might have guessed I would be, after such a traumatic couple of years.

Recovery selfie

Here's another one for the photo album, taken only seconds ago. My left eye is not yet 100% and I'm still suffering a lot of brain fog and other recovery-related problems - it'll be a month or two before I'm fighting fit. My face still tics when I'm stressed, but it's less pronounced.

I'm struggling with horrible anxiety, depression and confusion; memory problems. None of this is a surprise to me - it's to be expected, given what I've been through and I'm still going through.

I've got no idea what I'm really writing about, or what my purpose is now. Is this still the world's longest suicide note, or am I now campaigning to end the stigmatisation and discrimination that our less fortunate members of society must face: the mentally ill, alcoholics, drug addicts and homeless people... the dregs that nobody wants to touch with a bargepole. I know that I want to be the voice of the voiceless, although I know how clichéd that sounds.

I'm swimming through a fog of confusion, but I know I'm slowly getting better.

 

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Neuroplasticity

6 min read

This is a story about self healing...

Messed up

Does brain damage mean game over? Is it right to write off somebody who has suffered brain lesions, neurotoxicity, a stroke etc. etc.?

At one time, my left eyelid had started to droop and I had a pretty bad facial tic. My body jerked and shook with pseudo-Parkinsonian symptoms. My speech was slow and slurred. No wonder I was treated as if I was as good as dead, right?

But you know what? With good diet & sleep, you can quickly recover your heath, depending on the severity of your situation.

Bizarrely, I was able to get a job and get through an eventful and highly stressful re-entry into the working world, while my poor brain was busily trying to repair itself. How is that even possible?

I've done the same job for the best part of 20 years. In fact, my friend Ben taught me how to program a computer when we were 12 years old, and I'd been messing around with computers since my first forays onto my friend Joe's Dad's Apple Mac, in 1985.

With repetition, your brain lays down pathways that become more permanent with age. Neural pruning - the loss of less used connections between brain cells - makes your brain into something that has become well adapted for the common tasks you perform. Some people call this "muscle memory" but of course it's your brain, not your muscles, that has the memories. Practice makes permanent, as they say. Just like riding a bike.

So, I relied on instincts and techniques, knowledge and experience that has been unchanging for my whole working life. I still use the same job search technique, the same interview technique, and the job of developing software is unchanged, despite the constant creation of new acronyms and jargon for things that do exactly the same job in exactly the same way.

Just like riding a bike, I was able to navigate the corporate landscape and just about get away with a day job that involved my damaged brain pulling the levers to operate the battered mince-puppet that was my body, in a vaguely convincing way, to cover up the fact that I was basically at death's door.

With physiotherapy for the body, your recovery can be improved, and I'm sure that brain training exercises would be useful for those with brain injuries, but the stimulation of trying to get myself off the streets and escape bankruptcy and destitution was challenging and stimulating enough.

Fundamentally, time is the great healer. The brain is a homeostatic organ that will try to restore itself to a stable base state, once external forces are no longer pulling it hither and thither. I was able to have nearly 6 months abstinent from stimulants and over 3 months abstinent from alcohol, in order to give my brain a fighting chance of finding equilibrium again.

But, just as important as cessation of putting powerful narcotics into my body, was stopping drinking tea & coffee, as well as other caffeinated beverages. Even though my brain screamed out for stimulants, because it was going through withdrawal, they are terrible things when your brain needs to adapt and heal.

Caffeine is very bad for your neuroplasticity. That is to say, the ability of the remaining undamaged neurons in your brain to try to compensate for whatever trauma it has suffered, and repair itself. Caffeine impairs your ability to recover.

If you have some boring repetitive task to perform again & again, then caffeine is your drug. Once you've mastered the simple steps that most jobs require, the boredom becomes unbearable. Caffeine solves this problem, and allows us to maintain concentration on the most mind-numbing dumbarsery that ever disgraced the working world.

Most of the world is just doing stupid shit, time & again, because they're in a trance-like state performing repetitive actions and making the same old mistakes over & over, because they've medicated themselves up to the eyeballs with the powerful stimulant called caffeine.

By stopping my caffeine intake, I was able to recover from the symptoms of fairly harrowing neurological damage, spot patterns in my behaviour and even re-learn new healthy behaviour. I genuinely believe that this would not have been possible, with caffeine in my life.

I did supplement my diet heavily with amino acid building blocks:

  • 5-HTP to help my serotonergic system
  • L-Tyrosine to help my dopaminergic system
  • Phenylalanine to help my adrenal / epinephrine system

I ate vast quantities of biltong (dried beef) and other protein supplements, to give my body everything it could possibly need to repair itself, and replenish its stores.

In theory, I should have been left in a permanently psychotic state, with delusions, paranoia, inability to emotionally regulate, facial tics, poor concentration, poor memory, nerve damage on one side of my face etc. etc.

However, I put out the fire before it consumed me. When somebody is sick, you don't write them off and watch them wither and die. That's immoral!

I was watching a Louis Theroux documentary, and one hospital patient they followed was declared brain dead after he asphyxiated from a heroin overdose. The doctors were absolutely certain there was no hope, and that the life support systems should be switched off. I agreed, and I thought it was madness that the family were holding out any hope at all. After 37 days, the young man in a coma woke up. His family saved him from a premature and unnecessary death, by refusing to cut off his life support.

My life support has come in the form of kind strangers, policemen, nurses, doctors and indeed unwitting work colleagues, who have been willing to overlook the immediate situation and imagine that things can and will get better, given time and opportunity.

I'm physically, neurologically, a completely different beast to who and what I was a little over a year ago, when I was totally fucked.

 

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Ding! Ding! Round Two!

5 min read

This is a story about comebacks...

New home of Fintech

I have very little memory of the last couple of weeks, or maybe even the last couple of months. I've basically been backed into a corner, shaking with the stress and feeling of being totally overwhelmed by the task of having to deal with all the things that couldn't be put off any longer.

The 'pinnacle' or culmination of this breakdown period, was when bailiffs entered my flat in order to cut off my gas & electricity, for non-payment of bills. The bills, naturally, had remained in a pile of unopened post, with me none the wiser as to the growing threat of this debt collection. Of course, I knew that the bills had to be dealt with sooner or later, but the crisis point happened to be reached just as I was sleeping off the 'hangover' of the last three months silliness.

I've basically been asleep for about 2 weeks, because I started taking Mirtazepine, which is an atypical antidepressant which was prescribed to me years ago, and I thought was OK at the time, but addiction issues kinda derailed me from taking it on a proper regular basis. This time around, I found that it helped me to get to sleep, and then carry on sleeping as a stress avoidance tactic, for much of the following day, until there were only a few hours of evening to fill before I could take my next dose.

Sleeping Pills

This medication was not prescribed to me for depression. It wasn't prescribed to me at all in fact. I prescribed it to myself to treat drug withdrawal symptoms, after a hefty period of abusing legal benzodiazepines and Supercrack. I'm not exactly sure when this crazy new UK law comes into place, pretty much banning anything that's psychoactive, but I don't want to be trapped into being dependent on something that's illegal.

As it stands at the moment, it has been over a year since I have accessed the Dark Web and I'd like it to stay that way. The Dark Web can end up being unhealthy window-shopping for a former junkie, and then eventually, in a moment of weakness, disguised envelopes containing all manner of disruptive troublemaking can be wending their merry way to you through the postal system. That's a situation I definitely want to avoid.

Withdrawing from Mirtazepine was extremely unpleasant. I was overwhelmed with anxiety and insomnia. I'm hoping tonight will be better, but today, at least I didn't have the daytime sleepiness and lethargy that allowed me to spend the best part of 2 weeks in bed. I even made the bailiffs come and collect a credit card from my grubby mitts, while I lay in my pit of despair.

Rollercoaster

You see that slight upswing at the end of March? Hopefully that delimits the end of months of depression and drug abuse, and the beginning of a period of productivity. I've tackled some of the most pressing stuff that had to be done today, and if I can steer clear of the medications/research-chemicals that seem to make all your troubles go away, then things can continue, provided I don't become totally overwhelmed by stress and anxiety.

It feels like the Government is testing us, risking our lives, to discover what happens when they pull the rug out from under our feet. The shoddy, hole-filled 'safety net' has finally been so undermined, that nobody could possibly consider it an option, no matter how dire their circumstances. Get better or die, is the Government's unspoken mantra.

Personally, it is long overdue, me pushing myself to find more contract work or even something permanent, provided it isn't going to grate and gnaw at my soul so intolerably, that there's little point as the outcome would be entirely predictable.

I say "long overdue" but that's a little unfair on myself. The winter, plus the timing of losing my contract were particularly hard on me, coupled with the fact I was completely exhausted from efforts expended on the doomed HSBC Customer Due Diligence project anyway. I did need some time to rest and recuperate. There were chances to get straight back on the horse, and I would have done if fortune had favoured those opportunities, but the optimism of November of last year quickly turned into resignation about the wasted 6 or so weeks of Xmas build up and early New Year 'dead spot' in the recruitment calendar.

I actually feel reasonably awake and alert, and not totally overwhelmed when my thoughts turn to my todo list. I know that my suit and shirts are dry cleaned and shoes are shone, ready for action, and even that doesn't worry me now that the clocks have sprung forward and the weather can surely only improve from this point (famous last words!).

I know that I'd dearly like to see my Sister & Mum, now that I'm a bit more well. Too many broken promises and wasted good intentions in the last few months, so I'm not going to rush at anything, especially as my sister was really cross at me recently, using my parents words. It's easy to discredit and undermine a person's character when they're keeping themselves a safe distance away from yourself.

I know my blog has been my refuge and something solid to grab onto during some pretty wild storms, and it upsets my sister that I have seemingly had so much time to blog, but I hope you'll be seeing a return to consistency and continuity that went awry during the turbulent first months of 2016. Let's see where it takes me next, and I hope it's informative and entertaining for those following at home.

Manic Doge

So deep think. Much complicated. Very story to tell. Wow!

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