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The world's longest suicide note: ONE MILLION words.

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

All opinions are my own.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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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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Clean Plates

1 min read

This is a story about school dinners...

All done

I went out for dinner and drinks with my colleagues. It was very good to socialise. I enjoyed what I ate, what I drank and the company.

It's late, I'm drunk and I have to get up early in the morning.

I'm not going to write much tonight.

 

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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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Five Minutes of Your Precious Time

4 min read

This is a story about daily habits...

Apple watch

The average amount of time my readers spend on my blog per visit is 3 minutes and 12 seconds. The average number of words in one of my blog posts is 1,318 and an average reader reads at 200 words per minute, so I'm writing double the amount that people want to read.

I'm lucky enough to have had a handful of very dedicated people who've actually read everything, from start to finish. It should be noted, however, that at least two of them were people who read as part of their profession, and they can probably read at about 1,000 words per minute.

The average casual reader doesn't want to read a 10,000 word blog post which was written in a state of sleep deprivation and mania, and published with very little editing.

Less is more.

People also want to read stories not rambling nonsense. When I was live-publishing a chapter of my first novel draft manuscript every day, my readers were hooked. During that period of November 2016 my blog became 'sticky' - visitors came and then stayed; they kept on reading because there was a story being told.

I've gotten into dreadfully bad habits during the past 25 days because I was so fixated on word count. Also, I've lost my way a lot this year, not really knowing what I was writing about, for whom and why.

I keep a list of writing prompts, which are generally just titles of future blog posts serving as an aide memoire of topics I want to write about. The topics are quite eclectic but usually revolve around social issues. Anti-capitalism, pro-socialism, anti-organised-religion, anti-natalism, anti-psychiatry and generally liberal and left-leaning sentiments are themes which often recur. I often write defensively about how people with mental health and addiction issues can participate positively in society and shouldn't be stigmatised, demonised or thought of as flawed or weak. I write a great deal about my frustration with the great futility and inefficiency of working doing bullshit jobs until the day we die. I often despair aloud about the total absurdity of wasting our finite mortal lives on utter nonsense. I can't hide my anger at being denied the opportunity to be an artist; to be creative. I feel trapped; I do not feel free at all and my resentment of the prison bars always seems to bubble to the surface.

I'm a writer. I create another little piece of my artwork every day. How could I possibly not feel free? Why do I want something I've clearly already got?

In fact, I'm an irrelevant commentator who's not even on the fringe, let alone participating in any political, social, artistic, creative, journalistic, literary or academic movement. I'm just a reclusive lonely isolated man who writes in obscurity, mostly unnoticed and unheard. I'm fighting what feels like an unwinnable battle, to have a say in my own life.

I'm practical and pragmatic enough to realise that art and writing is never going to pay the bills. I'm realistic enough to see that everybody is trying to get noticed and to promote themselves, with the hopes of being heard. I'm cynical and pessimistic enough to believe that there isn't a newspaper column, book deal or 'viral' event which would ever have enough of a life-transforming impact for me to be able to quit my day job. There's simply not enough room at the top for everybody who wants to be a bestselling author, award-winning journalist, entertainer, commentator, influencer, politician or otherwise have some impact on people's daily lives and a pleasant and rewarding career in the creative arts.

So, in my infinite frustration with the ways of the world, I'm taking what I want. I'm doing what I want to do anyway, even though it's costly to me and doesn't appear to benefit me in any obvious way. I spend my precious spare time writing, editing, proofreading and publishing my creative efforts, and giving away what I write for free. In many ways, I am an enemy of those who have enough trust fund money and inherited wealth to be able to be artists, because my contributions must surely devalue the commodity.

I write because there's only one thing I can possibly get: exposure. If I write enough, slowly but surely I get noticed. Writing and publishing a million-word suicide note is a ludicrously hard thing to do, so it's notable.

Have you ever noticed how overnight successes actually take very many years to perfect?

My next challenge is to try to make my readers feel that it was worth their while visiting and reading.

 

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The Journey

11 min read

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

Hotel room

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

River panorama

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

My glasses

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

Psych ward terrace

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

Golden Gate Bridge

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

Sleep out

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

Self harm

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

Cruise ship

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

Cooking with bath salts

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

New Year's Eve

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

DVT

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

Drug shrine

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

Manchester flats

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

Psych ward fence

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

Hay bales

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

Rat race

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

Keys

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

Papered windows

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

Cashflow

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

Empty wine bottles

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

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

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

It's the world's longest suicide note.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Spotlight

10 min read

This is a story about stage fright...

Chess board

I'm annoyed with myself. I feel like I've let myself down. I've squandered another great opportunity. I've wasted a good chance.

For the past 23 or 24 days, I've been writing as much as I possibly can as fast as I possibly can. I threw caution to the wind and decided to increase my daily word count in a desperate attempt to reach a million words as quickly as possible, because the end was in sight. Nobody much wants to read 2,000+ words of rambling drivel from somebody whose sole intention is to churn out enough copy to achieve an arbitrary objective. I haven't given enough careful consideration to what I want to say before I've said it. I've gotten swept up in the numbers and abandoned my longer-term objective of writing little self-contained pieces on specific subjects. Quality has suffered.

I decided I wanted to write about monkey dust because it was in the newspapers. Nobody much wants to read about addiction problems, because it brings out the ugly side of human nature. We all know very well, because of demonising tabloid news articles, that addicts can become desperate and depraved and can do dreadful things. It's impossible to write about addiction without a little of the stigma attaching itself to the author. People view you as a bit dirty and undesirable if you admit to having had substance abuse issues. It's often better to brush any addiction issues under the carpet and pretend they never happened, for the sake of avoiding stigma and demonisation.

I've written a lot about writing, which is far too meta. I've really gone on and on ad nauseam about my word counts and my million word goal. I've left my readers in absolutely no doubt about my unwavering and blinkered aim and objective, which mercifully will have been achieved in the next couple of days. 997,849 words to date, and counting.

I'm annoyed.

I'm annoyed because I write about all kinds of things, and sometimes I write things I'm really pleased with. Sometimes I write things and I'm pleasantly surprised to receive messages saying that I really nailed something and it resonated with my readers. It's amazing when I write something that's good enough for people to take the time to give me positive feedback. Feedback is a kind gift. However, annoyingly I've been writing for the sake of writing, just to achieve sheer volume and as a way of coping during a quite unpleasant period of my life where I'm living out of a suitcase.

What has particularly irked me is that I've suddenly had a flood of new visitors to my blog, reading my stuff at a time when I feel like I'm writing really badly. I feel like people are getting a really bad impression of who I am and what makes me tick. I feel like I'm representing myself very poorly, given my recent spate of rushed and voluminous but otherwise not-very-high-quality crap that I've just churned out for the sake of maintaining my daily target word count.

My 'pinned' Twitter post is something I wrote about my experience of regaining consciousness in hospital, after a suicide attempt. I thought it was important to pin it because I'm approaching the anniversary of that event and it weighs heavy on my mind just how crappy I'm feeling still. I'm finding it important to revisit key moments in the past few years of my life to gauge how I'm progressing; indeed to see if I'm progressing at all. I keep having moments where I feel like I'm not getting anywhere at all, and I lose hope that I'll be able to ever have better and happier times. When I lose hope, I lose the will to live.

I re-read my Surviving Suicide post and I was appalled at the quality. For some reason the punctuation was very strange and I'd told the story in a very odd way. It wasn't my usual writing style at all. I was embarrassed and frustrated that a lot of people had read it when it needed thoroughly proofreading and editing. It was a poor representation of both the experience and the quality - or lack thereof - of my prose.

It seems totally impossible to predict when and what will engage with people on social media. Sometimes I sit down and write something which seems rambling and ranty to me, but is very well received. Sometimes I write something that's throwaway and it sparks an unexpectedly huge response.

After my suicide attempt last year, I was very unwell. I found myself discharged from hospital with no support and a whole heap of problems to deal with - I was missing my wallet, mobile phone, laptop and other devices which would allow me to get in contact with anybody. My medications had all been taken to hospital and I had to go to my doctor to re-obtain prescriptions for everything. I had to use my passport - my only form of ID - to get cash and replace my phone. It was all a very big ask of somebody who'd just survived a suicide attempt and was totally alone in an unfamiliar city. The stress and abrupt cessation of the medications which were keeping me mentally stable, tipped me into outright insanity.

A great number of people had been worried - quite rightly - about my safety and wellbeing. For several days there wasn't a lot of information freely circulating about whether I'd survived my suicide attempt or not. I feel very frustrated and upset that I was then subsequently too unwell to communicate very effectively. The ordeal I went through post-hospital-discharge destroyed a lot of my opportunity to comport myself with any dignity and give a good impression of myself; to connect with concerned and caring people.

In the 11+ intervening months between then and now, I've managed to gain some rhythm and routine and greatly stabilise myself. My life is vastly improved. Although I'm still living somewhere with very few friends and no family - no local connections - I've got secure housing and more financial security, at least. I've spent almost all of the last 11 months free from medication and substance abuse and my mental health has been comparatively stable. To be unmedicated and functional, and to have been able to keep writing throughout the journey, is something I'm very proud of. To have worked hard, held down jobs and finished important projects is something which is great for my confidence. The achievements of the past 11 months give me hope that I'll be able to have a better quality of life in the not-too-distant future.

Another great big surge of blog visitors was precipitated by a tweet which unexpectedly seemed to hit a nerve. Again, I've been left feeling ill-prepared to capitalise on the opportunity which presented itself; I've not communicated effectively. I was thoroughly caught on the hop.

What I had wanted to do was to reach my arbitrary million word target, then to have a consolidation period where I'd write at a more leisurely pace and attempt to increase the quality. Only then would I perhaps start to talk about how I'd reached my million-word goal. I didn't want anybody to really see that the final sprint to the finish line was done in a rather ugly and ungainly fashion. I feel like somebody who's started telling a joke, only to realise that they've forgotten the punchline.

It's now 998,772 words, by the way.

What exactly is the punchline of this joke anyway? Clearly having a million-word suicide note is something that's caught people's eye, but it's not a suicide note unless I kill myself, is it? Irony of ironies, having a massive flood of supportive messages from all corners of the globe has turned my sense of isolation and loneliness into happiness that I've managed to connect with so many people. Nothing could be better than something so positive that's almost completely unexpected.

I'd psychologically prepared myself for a general "meh!" response to my million word achievement, but I hadn't imagined that I'd get a massive response before I even reached 1-million words.

From what I've experienced of the battle to be heard - noticed - things are always much much harder than you could ever have imagined, and when you do manage to get a bit of exposure that you think will propel you to stardom, fame and fortune, the result is always incredibly disappointing. Having something you wrote retweeted by an account with millions of followers doesn't result in a huge surge of readers suddenly devouring every bit of content you ever wrote. Getting mentioned in the media doesn't bring vast numbers of intrigued visitors; doen't generate hundreds and thousands of new fans. It's a tough gig getting noticed and being heard.

"What are you going to do when the spotlight's on you? What have you got to say that's so important?"

These are good questions. When you get your 5-minutes of fame, what are you going to do with it? Why should anybody listen to you? Why do you deserve to be on stage? Why should anybody share their platform with you? What have you got to say that's interesting and different and profound and original and witty and funny?

Of course, you might find that when you suddenly find yourself holding the microphone, your mind goes blank. BZZZT! NEXT! YOU'RE RUBBISH! GET OFF!! GET OUT OF MY FACE!! LOSER!!!

One of the reasons why I don't really tweet is that I like to compose my thoughts in reclusive isolation, and to then share them when I feel like they're fully-formed. Instead of delivering a series of 280-character soundbites and having the distraction of wondering how each one is being received, and the subsequent discussion that follows, I can dump 2,000 words out into the world in a single lump, and then forget about it. I'm getting things off my chest with very little discourse and dialogue. In a way, I'm lecturing. It's been easier to get to this point without getting sidetracked in the comments section.

I always had a strong belief that having the weight of a vast amount of published content behind me would give me more credibility. While I might have undermined my own credibility with periods when I've been writing rubbish, the sheer volume of my creative output is hard to overlook. To keep writing and publishing and not really worrying too much about the hit-and-miss nature of things, is the only way to keep moving forwards and to become prolific enough to be notable. Perhaps my writing is all of dubious quality, but through sheer perseverance I'm getting somewhere.

999,310 words.

Some time ago I decided that 700 words was the sweet spot for a blog post - not too short and not too long. Yes, sometimes people want the occasional long read, but most of the time they like to catch up regularly and stay up to date, and that requires nice short, sharp, concise and thoughtfully composed blog posts.

I am now within 700 words of the finish line.

This is amazing.

Tomorrow, I can reach my goal at a leisurely pace. Tomorrow is the day when I want readers to be with me; crossing the line with me. Tomorrow is the culmination of 1,082 days writing an average of 924 words. Tomorrow, my arbitrary goal is finally achieved and my "headline" number has been reached.

Tomorrow I will write something good, I promise.

The pressure.

So. Much. Pressure.

The spotlight is on me.

Will I choke? Will I have stage fright and be unable to utter a word?

so want to write something good.

 

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Poseur

9 min read

This is a story about seeking the approval of strangers...

Black and white

I've made it my mission to write a blog post every day which begins with "this is a story about" and has a photograph. My photographs are not edited in any way - usually - and my writing is as candid and raw as I can possibly dare to be. The whole thing is supposed to be unfiltered in an attempt to give an insight into my troubled mind, as I navigate mental health problems, addiction issues and suicidal thoughts. The guiding principle is that I could quickly wind up dead, so I need to document what's going on.

It occurs to me that what I'm doing might seem a little contrived. Indeed a BBC journalist told me that I seem to have engineered every part of my story as part of some masterplan; a publicity stunt to draw attention to the issues of homelessness, addiction and mental health, as well as austerity, poverty and my other pet subjects. If I've lived my life in an attempt to provide a real-world demonstration of the difficulties which so many members of society are struggling with, I promise you that I've been doing a high-wire trapeze act with no safety net. It's not as if I've ever been able to scuttle back to some comfortable existence when things have gotten particularly unbearably awful. I surely could never have known that I'd survive a suicide attempt which should have been fatal, could I?

I was watching a BBC documentary last night and decided to send out a tweet about Stopping Male Suicide[s]. I genuinely felt like it would be met with the 'usual' response which greets my daily blog posts - a handful of die-hard regular readers would 'like' it and that would be that. I was feeling desperately lonely, because I'm currently living in a hotel for several nights a week, and my weekends are spent alone in a place where I only have a couple of friends. I spend the vast majority of my evenings and weekends all on my own. I rarely speak to anybody on the phone. To be precise, I've spoken to 3 friends on the telephone and I've met up with 2 friends in person, in the last month. That's pretty damn isolated and reclusive. So, perhaps I could be forgiven for feeling a little as if I don't really exist on anybody's radar.

The response I received on Twitter was breathtaking. My phone kept pinging and pinging. I was gobsmacked.

I guess I'm writing this because I feel bad; I feel terrible that I was feeling so sorry for myself and so alone, when in fact I'm extremely well connected via social media. I'm very fortunate that I've managed to make the acquaintance of so many people via the internet, and so many people read what I write and care. So many people were prepared to take the time to reach out; to send messages of support. I have that and perhaps I'd taken it for granted, because when I sent that tweet I genuinely didn't think many people would read and respond. I suppose I shouldn't feel bad, because people sent messages to try to make me feel better - which I did - not to make me feel guilty.

Is it really terrible that it gave me a huge boost, that I received a great big flood of messages of support? Is it terrible that my sense of isolation and loneliness was almost instantly replaced by the sensation of being cared for by a seemingly vast number of people all over the world? Is it awful that the attention made me feel better?

I really promise you that my behaviour wasn't attention seeking per se.

There's something vulgar about overtly seeking attention, isn't there? There's something we find distasteful about it. Perhaps it's because I genuinely felt so lonely - in that drab and dreary hotel room - that my tweet resonated with people; it had a ring of truth about it. If I'd put up a selfie with the hashtag "new profile pic" or whatever it is that people do when they're feeling a bit unloved and glum, then it would have been a turn-off. I feel really bad when I see social media posts which are perhaps designed to elicit a response, going ignored. I wonder how damaging it must be for a person to seek attention and not receive it.

"The world's longest suicide note" is attention-grabbing. My blog didn't start out life as such. I started writing about "fighting stigma" and "raising awareness" of mental health issues, before realising that I was very sick and my life was in danger, forcing me to change tack. I am, however, aware that it's quite a deliberate and premeditated act to write and publish so publicly. I wouldn't say that my struggles are a literary device and the whole debacle is conceited, but it would be disingenuous of me to claim that I never think about how what I write is going to be received. I could, after all, simply keep a private journal if the writing was the only important thing, not the publishing.

I wrestle with the conflicting parts of my cultural upbringing. The Brit in me is stoic and has a stiff upper-lip; emotionally reserved and regards gushing oversharing as somewhat gauche. However, I'm also a netizen - I've lived my life online since my teens and immersed myself in the world's online communities. There's a bold optimism on the 'net which seems to be everything I've ever admired about the USA and the North American people; a kind of New World attitude which eschews the stuffy 'know your place' subservience instilled in ordinary Europeans who've known so many centuries of monarchic rule. On the 'net it's OK to be yourself and to share your innermost thoughts and feelings. Indeed, the 'net thrives on the emotional spectacle that's created when we cast aside our inhibitions and our carefully crafted masks.

Whatever I write will never be good enough in civilised British society, filled with sneering public schoolboys who'll pull you up on your bad grammar and guffaw about your lack of knowledge of the dead languages of ancient antiquity. The British have an incredible knack of giving a person a withering look, which expressly conveys the message that you should get back to the factory and the slums where you belong, pleb.

On the 'net anybody can be somebody. While Penguin now famously will not even consider a book manuscript from an author without a degree, anybody can publish online without having to kowtow to elitist whims. There's a meritocracy to the 'net which allows the ordinary likes of you and I to reach an audience and to be heard, if only we're bold and brave enough to share our creative output.

I fret that I've got no style and I've got no substance. I worry that although I've built my social media following, I'm abusing it for egotistical reasons or even taking it for granted. I worry that I might be a fake. I worry that I'm wasting people's time when there are other far more talented and deserving folks out there, who are desperate for their slice of airtime.

I worry that I'm just an attention whore.

Out of the vast number of wonderful messages I received in a great avalanche during the past 24 hours, the theme that stands out to me, is that I've far exceeded the reach that I ever dreamed possible and now I need to decide: do I make things all about me and abuse the attention for the benefit of my own ego, or do I attempt to exert a positive influence in the lives of others, given my privileged position?

I've written with casual disregard for anybody. I've written because I needed to write. I've written because it's served me very well, to dump my brain down onto a page and get my thoughts into a more structured and ordered form.

I don't feel as if I'm able to start producing well-written articles which would serve as a roadmap for lost souls. I'm still very lost myself, but I definitely recognise that it's useful sometimes to stumble upon something which puts into words the way that you're thinking and feeling; relatable content. Somehow, we discover voices which echo our own, and people who've had similar life experiences, and it makes us feel better. There's a great reluctance to write and publish our most unflattering things publicly, so when we discover somebody who's writing with raw authenticity, it can be greatly comforting to know that the world isn't entirely populated by people with perfect lives. I imagine that the best thing I can do - for now - is to keep writing with as much candid honesty as I can.

I feel a great deal of pressure to follow up on the enormous flood of support that I received on Twitter, with something quite meaningful and profound. I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I'm going to write today, although that might not be particularly discernable from the text.

Having beavered away in relative obscurity writing - to date - 997,340 words on this blog, there's a huge temptation to ditch the comparatively unrewarding task of creating lengthy blog posts in favour of milking Twitter for attention. I've been accused at times of keeping myself in a mentally ill and suicidal state, for reasons of attention seeking, which I find pretty offensive but I guess I need to answer my critics. I guess it's up to the reader to decide whether I've spent 3 years of my life writing so much, simply for the quick thrill of getting a bunch of likes and comments on a tweet, or whether I've actually been genuinely fighting for my life the whole time and I just happen to have documented the whole thing as a survival strategy.

It's quite a depressing thought, to imagine that somebody's so conceited that they'd write a million-word suicide note and actually attempt suicide, just for a bit of attention.

In closing, though, I must say that the attention really helped. I feel so loved and cared for. I'm really grateful for all the lovely messages of support. Thank you.

 

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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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