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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.


Going Underground

5 min read

This is a story about national security...

Flush broken

"I've decided to take my work back underground, to stop it falling into the wrong hands". I suppose any of our creations can take on a life of their own and have unintended consequences, and I'm certainly catching some flack as a result of my 3-year daily writing experiment at the moment, which is not entirely unjustified.

My daily writing habit is a useful exercise for me, so I'm sure I'll continue to write in some capacity, but I'm almost at the point where my blog has given me the therapeutic benefit of restoring me to stability, health, wealth and prosperity, and I have to tread carefully so that I don't undo any of the good work.

I started writing when I had my back to the wall. I started writing when I didn't feel like I had anything particularly to fall back on. I started writing when I didn't feel proud that I'd achieved anything - my life was incredibly fragile. Nobody could argue that this blog hasn't anchored me in the world, bringing me into contact with many lovely people and providing me with a creative outlet, a sense of accomplishment and some routine in my otherwise chaotic and stressful life.

I doubt very much that I'll be able to change my habits completely, but I do need to adapt to my present paradigm - I can't keep writing as if I've got nothing to lose, because it's not true at the moment.

Perhaps I'll have to start keeping a private journal, because I've been using writing as a mechanism to flush out all the bad and stressful thoughts that have threatened to overwhelm me, but a large part of my present worries revolve around imposter syndrome. I make no secret of anything, but I'd still prefer it if my colleagues and other important gatekeepers in my life didn't read what I write - with my defences down - and leap to the wrong conclusions. It's been hard enough to date girls when I'm so easily cyber-stalked.

Given the choice between a digital identity, or a healthy set of local relationships, I would have to choose the latter if I was forced, although having the former is very useful as a fallback option. Three times I've lost a lot of friends due to a break-up, with one of those times very nearly costing me my life, and the other two not exactly faring much better either. I've not been very successful at building robust local social networks in the last few years. I need a group of friends I see and speak to regularly, that wouldn't be affected by any breakups. I need that safety net. In the absence of the time, money, energy, transport and a number of other things, I've not progressed things very far yet, so I'm very grateful for my online social network and I always will be, but I do need healthy local face-to-face relationships too.

Getting a girlfriend can be a quick-fix when you're lonely, as it's so easy to be the +1 and tag along to all of her social events, and ingratiate yourself into her social circle, but it's a dangerous strategy. It's too much of a dependency on one person. It's a mistake. Thankfully, I have valuable and important local friendships that predate any of my dating shenanigans. I need to continue to make friends of my own, and establish a pattern of social engagements which are not couples-only events.

Work colleagues and a great team environment can make a huge difference, and sadly that's been lacking in my life recently. Hopefully that's going to be rectified really soon. There's a slight danger in mixing personal life with work too much, when you're in the position I'm in, where I'm trying to get myself back into the respectable world - some of the recent events in my turbulent life are not office-gossip friendly. I've not got anything to hide, particularly, but I'd rather not challenge anybody to be open minded, if it's at all avoidable.

I'm treading a fine line between trying to do what I have to for my own sanity and stability, balanced with the needs of those who I have relationships with and my responsibilities regarding confidentiality, secrecy, discretion, professional conduct, respect of privacy, not causing shock, alarm or distress. It's a fine line between keeping my support network informed of what's going on during a time when I'm very vulnerable, and saying things that're going to paradoxically make me more vulnerable. It's one thing to confide in friends behind closed doors, and quite another to write publicly on a website.

Me being me, I doubt I'll be able to make a sudden overnight change, and I don't want to lose this valuable therapeutic tool, but I do need to start changing my behaviour in light of my new circumstances.

I doubt I'm going to be writing about what I ate for breakfast and live-blogging about the fresh paint that's drying on the walls, but things might have to turn a little more pedestrian for a while... at least until things are more settled.

Presently stressed out of my mind with the transition from one life to another, but hopefully everything will work out and go smoothly.




What do People Want to Read About?

7 min read

This is a story about giving the audience what they want...

Glowing book

It should come as no surprise that Google mainly brings me readers who wish to find out how to kill themselves. My number one blog post is all about how to suppress the hypercapnic alarm response, in order to be able to asphyxiate yourself, or in other words suffocate to death. For writing candidly about suicide, I was once accused of being irresponsible by a psychiatrist, but frankly if somebody's intent on killing themseves then they're going to find a way. I'm not encouraging anybody to commit suicide, nor do I glamourise suicide - you must surely be convinced that my life is not an enviable one. How is it possible to envy the dead anyway? There have been 100 billion humans who have died since homo sapiens became a species, so it's hardly like I'm a unique role model.

Secondly, Google brings me readers who very dearly wish to know how to have better sex. I don't mean lovemaking techniques, I mean drugs and medications that significantly enhance sex. The main search term that seems to bring readers in their droves is "drugs that make you horny". Perhaps more interesting - although very few people search for this - is my research into medications that allow men to have multiple orgasms. There's information hidden in these pages that explain how to reach unimaginable heights of sexual ecstasy, so I don't really know why the Google searches seem so unimaginative and my sordid little guides on how to have masses of mind-blowing orgasms remain largely overlooked.

That I know what kind of Google searches bring readers to my website is not any kind of hacking or cybersnooping, but is a service that Google themselves provide called Google Webmaster Tools. In addition, there is Google Analytics, which somewhat less reliably tells me the keywords that people used to search and find this site. The idea is that I could better tailor my content to give people what they want. People seem to mainly want to kill themselves with nitrogen gas, or some other inert gas other than carbon dioxide.

It's sometimes said that we see a world that reflects our own feelings. So, if we're angry then we perceive the world as being an angry place. Because I'm depressed and suicidal, I therefore see depression and suicide everywhere I look. However, there are good data to support my feelings: suicide is the number one killer of men under the age of 45... far bigger than any diseases, car accidents, murder, drug addiction and all the other things you could think of that would prematurely kill a person. It seems I'm onto something doesn't it?

What do any of us want other than to fuck, eat, sleep, procreate and various other things that an organism would be expected to do? I could write about food and the pleasure of eating, but I've found that the pursuit of drug-enhanced sex has been more rewarding. I could write about extreme sports, and the adrenalin rush from doing dangerous things, but I've found that taking addiction to its most extreme has been far more exciting than any parachute jump or cliff face that I've climbed.

There are an incredible amount of people who want to read about getting high. There are very few people who seem to want to read about quitting drugs, although my blog posts about detox and rehab are often visited. There are heaps and heaps of people who want to get sober. In fact, it's quite depressing just how many people are looking for a cure for their alcoholism. There are heaps and heaps of alcoholics who would very dearly like to find a way out of the situation they're trapped in, and some of them find their way to this website looking for answers.

Another thing I can see is trends. I can see whether I'm getting more visitors, or fewer. I can see that live-publishing a draft manuscript of a novel on my blog was not a crowd pleaser. I can see that documenting the trials and tribulations of an IT consultant working for an investment bank is not a crowd pleaser. I can see that generally, there's an inverse correlation between how well I am, and how many visitors I get to my website. That would be expected... there are a lot of concerned people out there, and when things are going swimmingly there isn't so much of a need to keep an eye on somebody who's been actively suicidal at other times. However, there's a cynical part of me that wonders how much people are looking for drama, also. There's very little drama in a wealthy white educated middle-class guy complaining about his lot in life, because his job is a little underwhelming.

Of course, I'm writing now with my tongue in my cheek.

There's more drama than there's ever been, because this is make-or-break time. I'm fending off drug addiction, sex addiction, porn addiction, alcoholism, risk taking, money spending, near-bankruptcy, crushing levels of debt, homelessness, insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks, suicidal depression and complete melancholic malaise about my life and the state of the whole world and those who live upon this planet's surface. In terms of jeopardy, things are at their most precarious, because a slip-up now would send me crashing drastically. To relapse when I'm in the middle of on/off addiction and a mental health crisis is no drama because I'm living with daily highs and lows and I don't spend more than a few days or weeks without a major incident. To relapse now would be to throw away 6 or 7 months of arduous struggle against adversity. To relapse now would be a cruel blow, when I've overcome such insurmountable odds.

To deviate from my plan and my story would be foolish. To attempt to react to the stats and the data I have in my possession and write what the audience seem to want - to play to the crowd - would keep me in a perpetual state of sickness. If I was intent on having the most popular blog that I could write, it would conflict with my desire to recover and live a normal life. I've even been accused of wanting to stay sick to please my 20,000 Twitter followers. I'm regularly accused of being alarmist, attention seeking and melodramatic. I'm occasionally accused of being contrived, and even that I'm some kind of fake.

Where's the punchline, we wonder. When am I going to ask you to reach for your credit card? Am I selling T-shirts and mugs? Am I going to emblazon this site with advertising and harvest your personal data? Am I going to start a mailing list and spam you? How do I even make money out of this? Do I want fame or notoriety?

Of course I want to be noticed. Of course I want readers; followers. Of course I want what I write to be read. How ridiculous to suggest that there's some virtue in writing in obscurity. It's not noble to hide your thoughts and feelings and emotions and inner monologue... it's stupid. What people want to read more than anything else is authentic writing from real people. Public diaries; journals; blogs. If you like people and human stories, what could be better than the real-life soap opera of a person's life laid bare for all to see, warts and all.

I don't know where I'm going with this, but I don't want to go down the well-trodden path of clickbait and slavishly obeying the analytic data that seems to suggest that pictures of kittens and puppies go down very well on the internet. What kind of an artwork would I be creating, if I was to ask the audience what I should paint on my canvas?

Does life imitate art, or does art imitate life?




Not Very Profound

12 min read

This is a story about losing my way...

Peace in the Middle East

I've kind of screwed everything up since my suicide attempt. Why did I tweet when I was really sick? Why did I piss my readers off by live-publishing the draft manuscript of my dreadful second novel? Why am I struggling to find my voice again, and reconnect with people?

It feels like there's a lot of pressure to write very profound and meaningful things, having cheated death. It feels like whatever I write should be a decent contribution to society. However, I'm missing the mark. I'm falling short of my own expectations. I feel like I'm letting everybody down.

I feel considerable embarrassment that my story does not have a nice linear progression. Why doesn't the tale read like a straightforward rags to riches fairytale? Why are there flies in the ointment? Why is there bad stuff in there, mixed in with what I dearly desired to be good? What's my message anyway? Where am I going with this?

Writing another novel took me down a peg or two. It was hard, and my arrogant belief that I'd be able to just sit down in front of the keyboard and crank out something decent, was a delusion that was shattered. I've had to face the very real conclusion that I've still got a long way to go if I want to produce anything decent. I'll need to pre-plan more. I can't just shoot from the hip and expect everything to go my way.

Writing these stream-of-consciousness blogs has become quite easy. If you do aspire to be a writer, writing needs to become a daily habit. I've developed the habit, but writing a journal, a diary or a stream-of-consciousness blog is probably the easiest option. Writing short stories is fun and not that hard. Dedicating even a mere 30 days to a single work of fiction, turned out to be very hard. I thought it would be easy, because my first novel came with little effort and I've managed to write this blog for two and a half years, but the construction of characters, plot, scenes... it's tough going when you get up to and beyond the 30,000 to 35,000 word point. It's not about the word count, of course. You have to write the right words, naturally. However, I can't understand why anybody would write the wrong ones. Just edit as you go.... except that's hard when you're doing creative writing.

I'm trying to recover my raw and uncensored voice. I'm trying to rediscover myself; my identity. I briefly thought I would own the moniker: novelist. I wrote "thinker" on my bio because I thought it would piss people off. Aren't we all thinkers? How dare I declare myself to be some kind of intellectual philosopher type chap. "Show me your certificate immediately!" people demanded. "Show me your credentials!" they screamed.

I'm backing down.

Although I hold a balanced set of opinions, have lived a varied life that's given me first-hand experience of almost every aspect of human society, and I can string a sentence together, I'm surely not entitled to write on whatever topic takes my whimsical fancy, and expect people to read it? Who the hell am I? What's my job title? What position of authority do I hold?

I think my readers are figuring out that I'm just a guy; just an ordinary person. These are not the words of a superstar celebrity CEO chairman chief lord god. These are merely words. Where are my citations? Why am I not quoting people you've heard of? Who the hell am I to hold my own reasonable opinions, and dare to express them as if I'm somebody of any import?

There isn't enough room in this world for the rich and famous, and the likes of us. Make room for the celebs. "SILENCE, PLEB!" scream those who are entitled to an opinion, because of their superior status.

It would be OK, but what the hell am I going on about anyway?

I feel like I missed my chance. The spotlight was on me briefly, but I choked. When I had the attention I craved, what did I do with it? I screwed up. I wasted my opportunity. When that chance came, I didn't have anything profound to say. It's time to shuffle red-faced back into the audience. It's time to shut up and let the stars of the show resume their performance, isn't it? Make room for the celebs!

I lost 2,000 Twitter followers in the weeks following my suicide attempt. I've lost 500 Twitter followers since getting a job. If I was cynical, I could argue that it's not very interesting to read about somebody who's succeeding; somebody who's safe and is probably going to be OK. Where's the drama? Where's the jeopardy? Where's the suspense? I'm not cynical though, so I take it personally: my message must be wrong. It must be something unlikeable about me. I must have changed. I failed to say anything profound and interesting when I was passed the microphone. I had my moment of fame and I've screwed it up. Next!

What frustrates me is that I know there is something profound to be found in my writing. I know that my story does contain an interesting and exceptional tale. I know that there's a message that can be teased out, and it might prove useful for other people who are going through hell. The odds were stacked against me - as they're stacked against so many - but what's different about me that's allowed me to pull through? Why am I alive when so many others would have died? I certainly don't want to piss anybody off by smugly declaring myself a success story - it's a different message from that... it's about what lessons can be learned, even if that's not an original thought or idea at all.

I've had to sit and listen to cult-leader type characters, while they talked about their spiritual awakenings in sweat lodges or in South American jungles, intoxicated with ayahuasca. I've had to listen to endless amounts of people who've wanted to share their stories of recovery. Nobody who's listened has been able to emulate them though. It's all well and good going on about your own success in recovery, but it's not helping anybody, is it?

There are a lot of very desperate people out there. My website is visited by the suicidal, alcoholics and drug addicts. There are millions of people out there who are looking for solutions to their problems. There's a temptation for me to start writing as if I've got the answers. I know that there's an eager audience for any kind of self-help material. I know that it would be incredibly popular, if I was to start writing a prescriptive guide for how to cure yourself of your depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse. I know that people are desperate and they haven't found anything that works.

Nobody's a done deal. Nobody is a finished article. It would be dishonest and misleading for anybody to write as if they've got the answers; they've found the cure.

During my treatment for mental health problems and addiction, I discovered a world of non-judgemental people, and people who will listen to your story. Your story is interesting. You deserve the chance to recover - every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. It seems as if there's a monopoly on storytelling - only the celebs get to tell their stories, and the rest of us should silently cower in a dark corner, filled with shame and regret; convinced that we're worthless sinners; eternally damned. I wouldn't be surprised if we discover that the secret to recovery is to allow people to recover, by allowing them to no longer feel as if they must pay a lifelong price for their shortcomings; by allowing people to revel in their own identities and their actions, rather than apologising and thinking of themselves as useless and flawed.

You may notice that there's rather a different code of morality applied to celebrities, than is applied to the general populace. You will see a great outpouring of sympathy for celebrities who are affected by mental health, alcohol and drug addiction issues. You will see that celebrities are celebrated for their faults - it makes them more relatable. However, the ordinary likes of you and me will become black sheep - scapegoats for the ills of society - if we stumble and err. Nobody's going to forgive our sins because we're not celebrities. Nobody wants to hear your story.

However, you should write like you're already famous. You should own your story. You should tell your story, because nobody else is going to tell it correctly. Nobody but you should own your identity. You decide who you are; you decide how your story gets told.

I'm having a wobble. Why are people disengaging? Why are fewer people connecting with me and my story? Why am I losing Twitter followers? Why do all my graphs trend downwards?

I don't know what I'm doing. I don't know where the hell I'm going with this. If I was going to be a writer, why am I not punting my novel manuscripts to every literary agent I can find? If I was going to be a writer, why am I not relentlessly pursuing a writing job? If I was going to be a writer, why am I not promoting myself through every avenue? It must be clear to my audience that I'm confused; directionless.

Often times when we're consuming content on the internet, we wonder what the commercial angle is. All those lovely webcomics that you read have usually got associated merchandise - T-shirts, coffee mugs etc. - and all those silly Buzzfeed lists that you love, are paid for by the advertising that's plastered all over the website. The deal you've struck is pretty clear - your eyeballs are being traded. However, what's my angle? What do I want from you?

I guess I need attention to feel valued; worthwhile as a human being. Without an audience; with nobody listening, who the hell am I? Who really cares whether I live or die?

My social media success is inversely proportional to my real-world connections. As I've made new friends, reconnected with old ones and impressed my new work colleagues, my social media identity has suffered. As my health, wealth and prospects have improved, my digital footprint has declined. I suppose I should be happy, but this blog and my Twitter followers provide me with a comforting safety net. If all else fails, this blog is something that would be hard to take away from me. This website - and my writing - is something that's inexpensive and provides stability; support; self-esteem. I suppose I could dismiss my virtual life as unimportant, and concentrate on real face-to-face human relationships, but I'm loathe to do that when I'm fragile; delicate. Why would I cut off one of my biggest sources of security?

A blogger friend has recently completed a year of sobriety, got herself a regular spot as a guest blogger and now has a boyfriend. Writing has been staggeringly successful for her, as a healthy coping mechanism. Blogging has been her constant companion, and she's proud of what she's produced. She's buzzing with the excitement of getting noticed. She's thrilled that she's achieved so much.

I remember when I started writing this blog, I suffered the usual thing that most bloggers do, which is to believe that I was writing amazing stuff that needed to be shared. I was a blogospammer. I would share my content as far and wide as I could. I exhausted every avenue, trying to get exposure. I wanted readers, like a junkie wants drugs. I obsessed over my stats; my metrics. I quickly came to believe that I was a serious writer, and that I'd produced a significant contribution to the literature.

Now, I beaver away in relative obscurity. I put very little effort into self-promotion. I cringe a little when I think about how I spammed every social media site I could, trying to get readers. Now, I'm passive - read if you want to... you know where to find me.

I'm still a bit hooked on my stats though. It upsets me when I have fewer readers this week than last week; fewer followers.

I imagine that I'm going through an important developmental phase though. To write every day for a year is necessary to develop the writing habit. To write for a second year is to prove that the first wasn't just a fluke. To write for a third year is to discover why you're really writing. What is it that I'm getting out of this? Where am I going with this?

It's incredible that there are some people who've read everything I've written here. I've written 770,000 words, which is the same amount as in the King James Bible, more or less - it's my next milestone, to have written as much as is in the Bible. Then, I want to write a million words, just because it's a cool number. How cool would that be, to say you've written a million words?

So, I don't really know what I'm writing about. I don't really know why I want followers; readers. I don't really know what I've got to say that's profound and interesting and useful and entertaining and moving and helpful and original and all the other things that I vainly want my writing to be. Why am I doing this? I don't know yet.

I imagine that people reach the end of these sometimes lengthy brain-dumps, and they think "that's 10 minutes of my life I just wasted". What knowledge have I imparted? How have I improved anybody's life?

I am going to find out where this is going. There is a purpose, I promise. I just don't know what it is yet.




Habit Forming

3 min read

This is a story about breaking the cycle...

Handful of capsules

Two of these medications are addictive. Half of these tablets are dietary supplements that can be bought from a health food store. As I stop taking three prescribed medications, withdrawal side effects that I'm suffering from include: insomnia, anxiety and panic attacks. Why stop?

If you're doing something that seemingly provides no benefit to your life, but is hard to stop, then why are you doing it?

The list of things that I could be said to have enjoyed habitually has grown to an extensive list that includes sex, spending money, alcohol, stimulant drugs, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, painkillers, pornography, computer games, reading, arguing with people, work, masturbation, driving fast, junk food, music and just about anything else that makes life liveable. Strangely, my current day-to-day life includes almost none of these things.

Given my natural tendency to binge on anything I enjoy, perhaps it is abstinence that I am now taking perverse pleasure in the over-indulgence of. I barely have the words to describe how truly dreadful it is to be withdrawing from the most addictive chemicals on the planet - abstaining from alcohol & benzodiazepines can be so hard on your body and mind, that you will die from seizures. Why on earth would I choose to go without the things that would salve the aching that my body has for anxiety & stress alleviating substances?

It was suggested to me that my choice to go without all the things that would help me feel better, is akin to a kind of self-harm. Writing this now, I'm inclined to agree. All the stress and anxiety that I have avoided for years is all hitting me like a sledgehammer. Everything I've ever enjoyed and seen as a reason for living, is barred from me for reasons of self-denial.

Perhaps this is a kind of meditation. Like a monk who takes a vow of celibacy, through this difficult period maybe I will learn something that I would not be able to whilst indulging in the terrestrial temptations.

There is a deliberate alteration of my behaviour, of course. I have decided to deny myself alcohol and my prescribed medications (yes, this is in agreement with my doctor, yawn). I could very easily continue to drink alcohol and take pregabalin, not to mention illegal narcotics and prescription drugs which I could obtain through the black market, but I choose not to. I do not stop because I have an incentive to do so; I stop because it is hard and it is interesting - I'd gotten a little bored of my wanton excesses.

I could write and write and write - perhaps the armchair psychologists amongst you will speculate that I have simply transferred all of my multiple addictions into an addiction to writing.




Did You See Me? (DYSM)

6 min read

This is a story about being caught on camera...

TV interview

There was a time before digital cameras and Facebook when it was thrilling to see photographs of yourself that other people had taken: this was the pre-selfie age. There was a time when creating a digital identity was hard - social media wasn't dominated by the big players, and maintaining a homebrew website required expert technical skills and a significant investment of time & effort.

Some enterprising tech boffins created free software that allowed bulletin boards to be created by relative novices - these were forums where internet users could discuss topics, under the banner of a certain hobby or interest. Originally, bulletin boards were telephone numbers you could dial up from your computer, to do the kinds of things we do on the internet today, except that these bulletin boards were isolated communities.

Facebook and Twitter have taken the bulletin board - where we build a community around a common interest - and allowed us to build a community around our personal identity, with the bait of seeing ourselves tagged in photos or mentioned in tweets. On forums, there was a thrill in seeing a thread of discussion getting many views and replies - to be the original author of a popular thread was something to take pride in. We covet 'likes' of our updated profile photographs and our pouting selfies, as we preen our digital identity.

With the ubiquity of smartphones that are capable of capturing and uploading photos and videos, making them instantly available on social media, we are amassing a huge library of images of ourselves, as well as projecting an identity that goes well beyond the people we see on a daily basis, face-to-face.

Our skill in presenting ourselves as we want to be seen - Facebragging - is something that we have had to recently learn, especially as we increasingly mix work colleagues with our close friends, online. Our digital identities can overspill unless we are careful to manage the audience with whom we share things.

A sinister and creepy cyberstalker made a horrifying boast to me:

"I know"

I'm sorry, what? What do you know?

"I've read your blog. I know"

What? What do you know? Have you really read my blog? There's the best part of three-quarters of a million words here - I seriously doubt you've read much, and I seriously doubt you know much.

Those words - "I know" - were said to me by somebody who was making a very important decision. Because of the sheer volume of noise on social media, I'm relatively hard to find. Thanks to my concerted efforts over a number of years I can laugh at anybody's attempt to "know" me - stalkers only scratch the surface. Yes, I am applauding myself for writing so much that even the most determined cyberstalker would be exhausted.

I live in fear of cyberstalking.

Don't we all live in fear of cyberstalking a little bit? There's probably a sex video of you and somebody else that's hidden somewhere on your computer or smartphone. What about all those sexts that you sent between you and your sweetheart? What about all those paedophiles who want to molest your children? What about all those rapists who are following your every move on social media? The world is out to get you.

My fear of cyberstalking is a little different.

I'm now convinced that almost everybody is far too wrapped up in their own self-centred little world, to give two fucks about much of what anybody else is doing. The cyberstalker who said "I know" in a very sinister and horrible way, was intent on harming me just as much as you'd expect of any stalker - zero fucks were given about my health and wellbeing, and a very great deal of harm was rendered to me.

Perhaps I should set my privacy settings to the maximum and erase everything that's personal and accessible to malicious attackers?

To protect myself from a determined cyberstalker would be nearly impossible. Our lives are lived online nowadays - to reject social media and not cultivate a digital identity, will leave me isolated and without access to online communities. To have to always consider how anything I share could be used against me is exhausting, and how am I supposed to ask for help or otherwise indicate to my friends that I'm in trouble? Pretending that my life is awesome and I'm totally OK is ridiculous, if I'm doing it just in case a cyberstalker goes digging.

I'm not suggesting we all post our mother's maiden name, social security number, credit card details and other data that would lay ourselves open to fraud... or maybe I am. In an open and trusting culture, the bad apples are easier to spot - nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

The fact that I've suffered significant financial loss due to a cyberstalker is akin to a kind of fraud that has been perpetrated against me. I'm no fraudster: who I am is plain for all to see. That somebody would steal my data and use it against me is criminal. Why should I be persecuted and discriminated against, because of what dirt you think you've dug on me? It's like a kind of blackmail to use my digital identity against me.

I wonder what kind of person would think that whatever I choose to write on my blog is more important than the facts, which have included things such as being in intensive care in hospital with a 50/50 chance of living or dying. Wouldn't you care about the person - i.e. me - and not about the digital identity? "Are you feeling OK because I was really worried you were going to die?" would seem like the more appropriate human response, rather than the extremely creepy and sinister "I know". I mean, what the actual fuck?

So, I've been cyberstalked, and the stalkers have caused significant harm to me. Just hearing "I know" from somebody who seems to be a respectable member of society, does show that there are some downright evil fuckers out there. However, I stand my decision to be brave and publicise who I am and what makes me tick.

In my experience, it's better to be brave and bold, even if it feels scary and nasty people try to fuck you up.





5 min read

This is a story about winning a prize...

Visitor stats

This week's big climber in the UK top 40 is a new single from the National Health Service. This band has been churning out smash hits since 1948 and is loved by tens of millions of fans. Here on Top of the Pops tonight, you'll see a live performance from this sensational act. Keep watching to find out what the UK's number one hit single is, at the end of the show.

Here on this page are the dry words of a deranged individual. How will you choose to interpret them?

Language is a rather crude and imprecise tool to fully express ourselves. Ambiguity creeps in and the thoughts and feelings of the author are not communicated with high fidelity - each reader will arrive at a different impression from the text.

As a software engineer who's been building systems for some of the world's biggest companies for over 20 years, I could easily copy Uber's dastardly tactics of diverting any web requests from a certain region of the country - e.g. a specific city in the North of England - in order to display a different page.

Most of my readers are using smartphones or tablets. Readers who are using Windows XP and Internet Explorer are quite unusual, and it's easy to flag up those anomalies - they stand out in the data that I gather about my visitors.

It's not hard for tech companies and technologists to present something that has been customised and tailored for each visitor. You might think that you'd see the same Google search results as somebody else, for example, given the same search terms, but Google works very hard to identify individuals, even in their anonymised dataset.

Traditional print-media widely reports that we are living in social media bubbles, where we are fed things that we like, because we're more likely to share that content and spread it 'virally'. What is less well reported is how wedded we are to the walled gardens that we live in - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat et. al.

How long are you going to keep reading for? There's nearly 700,000 words here. Are you gonna read it all?

The best defence against anybody who would seek to jump to the wrong conclusions and make silly assumptions, is to present more data than can be reasonably processed - information overload - such that the farcical nature of reducing the complexities of life to some pathetic synopsis, are exposed as pure stupidity.

Of course, we would all love to feel that we understand all the laws of the universe. I've fried my mind with stacks of books and papers on theoretical physics, attempting to understand the fundamental nature of reality itself. Emotionally, I don't want to admit defeat, but digging deeper only seems to reveal even more unfathomable weirdness. Some of the quarks are called strange, charm and beauty. I love that.

Are you bored yet?

Can you not see that my intention is to create a maze of complexity that's impenetrable? It's not possible to know my mind. Even for me, I struggle to understand fully why I say and do the things I do. If it's hard for me, it's going to be impossible for you to dissect or categorise me; to judge me and to simplify me into something that can be captured by written language on a sheet of paper. What are you going to write in your report or your email?

There's mockery and disdain here, but if you dig a little deeper I hope you see that I don't have disrespect for anybody whose intention is to help and support me, and I have no intention of damaging my own treatment and recovery, nor anybody else's, nor cause any difficulty for the hard-working staff of the National Health Service and the ancillary support services.

Today, I'm a free man - an informal patient - but that puts me in an additionally vulnerable situation. I could be discharged from the hospital without a discharge plan - no place to live and no income. I'm sure some pen-pusher somewhere sees the opportunity for a quick win - am I just a statistic on a monthly report?

Tories out

It upsets me that front-line staff have been cut, while middle managers have plenty of time on their hands to justify their pointless existence. The managers have survived the cull, the pay freeze and the excessive demands placed on the over-stretched people who actually do the damn job. Police, NHS workers, teachers - to name but a few - are getting a bum rap.

The first thing that I'm excited about doing with my newfound freedom is going to a protest at Tory cuts and austerity, to co-incide with the start of the Conservative Party conference, in a certain Northern city. The establishment are coming to me, and I will thumb my nose at them and boo them. A friend suggested that I could throw eggs and if I got in trouble with the police, they'd probably just bring me back to hospital on a section 136... put that in your damn report.

"Risk to the community - possibly going to throw eggs at Theresa May, to protest against cuts to front-line services and damage to the NHS, as well as undue stress on the police and other workers who care for and protect our most vulnerable members of society".




Creativity Hates Constraints

7 min read

This is a story about 140-character soundbites...

HTTP Error 451

Who has the time for the long read? Just read the title and guess the rest. If it can't be summed up in a tweet, it isn't worth reading. Jump straight to the comments section: that's where the real action is.

I bought a book that was based on a series of tweets. Worst book I ever read.

One of the best tweets I ever read was in 9 parts. Infographics are good, but they often have more text on them than would be permitted by the 140-character limit. If you put text on a graphic, it's not searchable.

Do you realise that everything you write on Facebook is completely unsearchable from anywhere except within the walled garden?

You're slowly being erased.

So much discussion has moved to Slack and most of that is just meme sharing anyway. In fact, most of what goes on anywhere on the Internet seems to be meme sharing. Are we being discouraged from in-depth online discussion? The rise of microblogging and the domination of the social media space by Facebook, is ridiculously successful at recirculating trivial distractions, which discourages us from creating original content.

When you think about all the words you've written into messenger apps, they're lost in the ether: it's not like those discussions are held in topic threads, indexed and searchable. All those words are throwaway. There's a cheapness to words. Imagine what happens when Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp cease to exist. All that text that was transmitted all over the planet will disappear into nothingness; gone forever.

What would a historian of the future make of your digital footprint? Could they infer who you were as a person from the animated GIFs that you chose to share? Could they gain any insight into your worldview; your politics; your philosophy; your personality?

Have we not been cheated out of owning our digital identities? We could all be famous bloggers and valued discussion forum contributors, with our online persona well known to fellow Netizens around the world, but instead we are confined to small groups of Facebook friends and Twitter followers: the people we knew before we entered the walled gardens.

Nobody is going to discover you and find out anything about who you are and what you believe via the mainstream platforms. Facebook wishes to keep you as a captive audience, to feed you adverts while you browse through baby photos. Twitter wants you to worship the cult of celebrity, or provide convenient soundbites for journalists, while you tweet in total obscurity.

Nothing you ever do online is going to go viral. Well orchestrated marketing campaigns have huge teams of people to sow the seeds. It's like a Mexican wave: you need to coordinate a critical mass of sufficient numbers if you don't want to look like an idiot, waving your arms on your own in a stadium grandstand.

You're not going to be the next online video sensation, because nobody's solved the problem of video discovery yet. If you broadcast a Facebook Live video, you're just going to be spamming your friends and family. If you put something up on Youtube, how are people going to find it in that sea of noise? Videos only have a title, description and a few tags. People are only going to watch things that are popular, and popularity is achieved through marketing, which is expensive and time-consuming.

The idea that the Internet is democratising opinion sharing is disingenuous. Most of the opinions I read online are either from the mainstream sources, or from my existing network.

I'm exceedingly unusual, because I bought into my friend Ben's vision of a social media platform that allows me to retain control of the original content I create. Instead of wasting effort on tweets and Facebook status updates, I put it all onto a website that's fully search indexed: anybody can find the fruits of my labour.

"But what about privacy?" I hear you ask.

I can email, private message and talk to people face to face, about things that I want to keep private. I really don't consider Facebook very private, when I have hundreds of Facebook friends and I have no idea who's reading what. I could waste loads of time sharing things with selective audiences on Facebook, but why would I go to all that effort?

Why do I write hundreds - if not thousands - of words every single day and make them publicly available? Well, the Internet is responsible for lifelong friendships, fruitful discussions and a network of people who help me feel connected to humanity, when I'm otherwise roundly ignored. Occasionally, some complete stranger will reach out to me and say that there was something I wrote that resonated with them, and that's the nicest feeling in the world.

Why does anybody write? Why write a fictional novel? Why tell people what you thought about that movie you just watched? Why do anything? You could just curl up in a dark hole and die, quietly.

In a world of urban solitude, loneliness and living lives of quiet desperation, don't you want to feel a little anchored to something; somebody? Don't you want to feel that you made your mark; left a legacy?

Writing this blog is like carving my name on a tree. Writing is like spraypainting my 'tag' on the Internet. It's "Nick woz 'ere" writ large.

Of course, you can sneer at that, but what's your mark on the world? Your children? That dissertation you wrote that never got published? Your job? What you consumed during your life? Should we chisel a list of all the books you read onto your headstone?

I came back to London, partly because I could be anonymous. I could fuck up and burn a few bridges, and nobody would care. I came back to London to be a nobody.

Now that I'm cleaned up and back in the land of the living, I no longer want to be a faceless nobody; I don't want to be alone; overlooked; forgotten. I'm trying to rediscover my value; my place in the world. At times of great stress, I've reached out to the Internet for validation: validation that I exist, that my opinions are well regarded and that I have a place in the community. It's given me great confidence, to have an online persona when the rest of the world largely overlooks and shuns me.

There is no short-form version of what I'm going through. It might be the same as every other person on the planet, but this is how I choose to express myself; this is how I vent and attempt to cope in a healthier way than drink and drugs; this is how I attempt to ward off the fear of being mischaracterised as some kind of evil na'er do well.

Perhaps, the more you read, the more my mask slips and you can see some underlying character flaws. Certainly, the more I write, the more narcissistic and self-absorbed I must be. The justification I have for this self indulgence, is that I feel suicidal every day. Do you begrudge me leaving this digital legacy, for anybody who cares to know who I was and what made me tick?

I can write 140-character retweetbait, but I choose not to. I choose to write with depth and meaning. I choose to offer more than just a fleeting distraction. I choose to offer the whole story, not just the headlines.




You won't BELIEVE what's inside this bag!

7 min read

This is a story about the surprising thing that happened next...

Mystery bag

The Internet is a massive dick. Part military network and part academic collaboration tool, our beloved 'net is now mostly pornography, pirate movies & music, clickbait bullshit and advertising. Also, photos of your dog, cat and/or baby.

Copy and paste this to your Facebook wall for the next hour. 99% of people won't do it because they're evil and stupid and they want kittens to die. You have to copy and paste. No sharing!

Why do we have to suffer the endless hoaxes?

If you were a deadly disease, what kind of deadly disease would you be? If you were a Game of Thrones character, which Game of Thrones character would you be? If you were an Internet quiz type thing, which Internet quiz type thing would you be?

Millions of people, bored at work, are momentarily entertained by vapid bullshit, designed to bring eyeballs to advertisers' content. Our entire culture is being reshaped, not by the little dopamine hit we get every time somebody 'likes' our selfie on Facebook or Instagram, but by advertising revenue.

Newspapers The Guardian and The Observer are held in trust, so that they are free from commercial and political interference, but they are facing commercial difficulties, attempting to adjust to a changing readership. If those newspapers fail, we will have almost no free press. Our beloved BBC is politically influenced, established under a Royal Charter, which effectively makes it a mouthpiece of Her Majesty The Queen.

In our world of clicks, high quality journalism is under threat. Can you imagine BuzzFeed breaking important news stories to the world? Are the editors interested in anything other than the number of readers? Can success only be measured in terms of website visitors?

Our best writers are turning their content creation talents into a psychological game of cat and mouse: who can come up with new viral bullshit to suck in the punters?

Facebook allows us to hone our skills, but Facebook hides most of the statistics from us. Only Facebook knows how many people looked at that photo of your cat, but decided not to give it a thumbs up. Facebook is a private proving ground, where you are microblogging, and you are also learning what kind of content is popular. You're being trained to be yet another BuzzFeed writer.

The rise of user-generated content, blogging, microblogging and social media, is a good thing, but what kind of cultural legacy are we leaving, if everything we consume and create is simply a momentary distraction from our boring jobs? The Internet canon is so heavily influenced by the commercial interests of the advertising industry, that vast swathes of content are locked up in walled gardens or drowned out by the deafening noise of clickbait articles.

Growth hacking is an ever-present temptation, but we can't all sit idle, earning money from the clicks on adverts. Somebody, somewhere, has to generate some real content, and I've really seen enough of other people's children.

Bullshit boring jobs, doing pointless work that's of no value to anybody, is a barrier to the age of leisure, but we're going to need a lot of books, films, computer games and music, to entertain ourselves when we're no longer typing made-up numbers into a spreadsheet, in order to get a mouldy crust of bread.

We're not ready for the age of leisure yet, because there aren't enough Netflix box sets to binge on.

We need to move from an economy that's based on persuading people to buy consumer goods that we don't need, to an economy that rewards people for creative contributions to society, that inform, educate and entertain. Art is a hobby for the rich and privileged. We should all have the opportunity to be a film director, actor, scriptwriter, poet, painter, potter, chef or whatever we want, as long as it adds value to the lives of others.

Measuring value in monetary terms is disingenuous, because money is a token that represents value created by somebody. Somebody had to shepherd the sheep. Somebody had to grow the corn. Somebody had to make the bricks. Money is simply more convenient than barter, because it's really hard to swap a fraction of your house for something you need.

Measuring value in terms of the number of people who viewed your content, is also disingenuous, because it creates an incentive to make something popular not valuable. Free pirate movies are always going to be popular, so the only people who can make art are those who can afford to have it stolen. Movies are made to sell merchandise. Movies are full of product placement. Is that what we want human society to be all about: packaging up the natural world and selling it back to us?

I might sound like a hippy tree-hugger, but it makes me really angry that I have to waste my creative talents, as well as polluting the planet, travelling to get to a pointless job in a pointless building, just so we can all buy more crap that we don't need.

Why can't my job be reading books, watching films and listening to music? In my leisure time I'll write, make movies and compose music. The value that is created is the fantastic stuff that keeps us interested, making life wonderful and enjoyable.

In my utopian society, we won't need more roads, railways and runways. In my utopian society we won't need to take pointless journeys to get to work and for business meetings. In my utopian society, we'll all have much more time to educate our children and get them interested in the world around us.

We already have the agricultural machinery and high-yield farming techniques to feed humanity. We already have the healthcare infrastructure to care for our sick and dying. We already have an adequate transport network to allow us to occasionally visit distant relatives. We already have enough laws, courts, policemen, jails and other mechanisms to protect ourselves from anybody who wants to take more than their fair share.

The idea that people wouldn't do any work if they didn't get paid to do it, is disingenuous. Nurses, teachers and fruit-pickers are paid appallingly, compared with middle managers who do nothing except waste precious resources. Do you suppose that doctors only save lives because they're well paid to do it? Do you imagine that a farmer begrudges the people who share the harvest?

There are roles that are useful and necessary and these are rewarding in their own right. Most 'work' is not necessary, useful or rewarding. Humanity and our planet of finite resources, would benefit a great deal by no longer mandating that we all do pointless make-work.

In my utopia, there would be jobs that you're allowed to do if you want to do them and you're good enough. I'm sure there would be no shortage of applicants, because those people would be respected and admired for their contribution to society. Our gratitude is a much more valuable currency, than useless rectangles of paper and circles of metal: money.

In my utopia, there would be plenty to watch, read and listen to, because creativity would rein supreme. Art would be democratised.

In my utopia, there would be people who smoked cannabis, played computer games and never left the house, but they wouldn't have to suffer the indignity of being told they're lazy useless bums. Simply being part of society is enough of a contribution. Better to be at home relaxing, than clogging up our transport network, going to a job that you hate that contributes nothing to humanity and wastes precious resources.

In my utopia, autobiographies wouldn't be about boring old men who achieved nothing in their lives apart from presiding over untold human misery.

In my utopia, a writer isn't somebody who writes BuzzFeed articles in order to scrape together enough of a pittance to survive.




I'm Quitting Facebook

4 min read

This is a story about social media suicide...

Sharp disposal

Too long; didn't read? Those 140-character status updates exhaustively summarise my entire state of mind at any given moment in time. Join them up and you capture an entire person. Is their heart beating? No need to worry... they're still tweeting.

OK, good, we got the summary text bit out of the way.

For those of you still following along at home, I have some news: my little social media & blogging holiday seems to have put me back in contact with a few friends. I'm about to have a record-setting month of meeting up with people and going out for social engagements in real life.

Social media - by which I mean everything including group text messages - is enormously valuable in my life so I'm never actually going to quit Facebook. Anyway, this serves as a talking point tomorrow when people ask "didn't you say you were going to quit Facebook?"

As we know, clickbait is a real problem, so people tend to just read the title of anything on Facebook and assume they know the rest. When you assume, you make an "ass" out of "u" and "me".

"So close but yet so far"

We're all hyperconnected. I wake up and start having a conversation with a friend in New Zealand, who's about to go to bed. After lunch I start chatting to a friend in San Francisco, who's just woken up. Round and round and round we go; follow the sun. The sun never sets in the world of technology. Is this a good thing? It's certainly a bit weird, having a load of people who I'm in regular contact with, but I also spend the vast majority of my time physically alone in just two rooms: my bedroom and my lounge.

Somehow, by reducing the amount of energy I put into social media outpourings, it's created a bit of space for other people to come into my life. Either that or it's coming up to Christmas and people are simply feeling a bit more social.

Anyway, what about social media suicide?

I've been blogging extremely candidly for 15+ months. I've given a fairly unflinching account of all kinds of personal matters and it wouldn't make for great reading for any prospective employers or ageing family members of a sensitive disposition. Basically, it's the kind of stuff that people just don't talk about. Do I regret it? Not really. Brain dumping has been quite successful, I think, in terms of getting rid of a load of baggage.

What next? I'm really struggling to re-adjust having achieved my three major milestones:

  • Blog every day for over a year
  • Write a novel
  • Write half a million words

As you can tell, my thoughts are scattered; disjointed. I'm struggling to get back into blogging, having spent a whole month writing fiction every day. Context switching is hard. Blogging got me through an incredibly boring contract, as well as providing structure and routine throughout a very unstable period of my life. Perhaps it's good to pick up the blogging again, but I'm squeezing it into a life which is hopefully going to be more balanced, rather than having it as such a major component.

It's all so terribly meta but that's part of finding my voice again, I think. Hopefully it will be a different voice: less bitter and stuck in the past. However, I've written that before and then found that there were things I was still really pissed off about that bubbled up and needed to be written about.

Finally, I'm super pleased that all my creative output is not trapped within the walled garden of Facebook or Twitter. Google is bringing me some delightful characters who have found my website. Apparently the search term "cat drug make me horny" will bring you here, so at least there's that.




Away From Keyboard (AFK)

7 min read

This is a story about real life, far from the Internet...

Dusty Keyboard

Are you familiar with the acronym "IRL"? By some definitions, it stands for: In Real Life. Many people believe IRL is a synonym for any human interaction that occurs face-to-face. Did you also notice that I always capitalise the word Internet? Ever wonder why I do that?

If I speak to somebody on the phone, is that real life? If I send them a handwritten letter, is that real life?

The distinction between 'real' life, and the life we live with technology mediating our interactions with each other, has become rather pointless. I'm no great fan of video chat, but it's certainly an advancement on the telephone. All telephone calls are routed through digital exchanges, and the same infrastructure that carries your voice also carries the data of your Internet connection. There's nothing much more real about having a face to face conversation, shouting through a wall at your neighbour, making a Skype call (who does that anymore anyway?) or phoning somebody on their mobile.

The Internet is a real place, hence the noun. People can meet there, trade goods, gossip. "But you can't physically interact" I hear you wail. "What about touch, smell, taste?" Yeah yeah yeah. Are you saying that the phone-calls you used to make on that old rotary-dial telephone weren't real life?

This is the beginning of a piece I've been wanting to write for ages. I made a note on my smartphone of the title, but I'd already been mulling the topic since a friend - who I've seen in real life only twice since childhood - made the very good point about the Internet being a real place. I was thinking about writing this well before a different friend - who I hadn't seen in real life for nearly 20 years - posted an article on this topic on Facebook. The timing is too perfect.

I've lived 'online' since I saved up my money from my job washing up in a hotel kitchen in order to buy a modem. When I bought my modem, the Internet wasn't yet a big thing. Instead, I used to get magazines that had loads of phone numbers in them of dial-up bulletin boards. Using technology that predated the Internet in the guise we know it today, I used to be text-chatting online, electronically mailing people and playing online computer games, via bulletin board systems (BBSs).

Then, I took to Internet newsgroups which were a popular fore-runner to the forums and social media pages we have today. I even met a rock climbing partner on a newsgroup. If you don't think that putting your life in the hands of a random stranger off the Internet is real life then I don't know what is.

I spent thousands of hours reading and contributing to three kitesurfing forums. People who I first met online had countless evenings spent drinking, weekends away and holidays to exotic locations together. All of which occurred away from keyboard but it was very much real life. It was real when we were all talking to each other on the Internet all week long, during our dull office hours, waiting for the next time we could go to the ocean together.

This is where things get super blurry. I have so many friends I've made through social media (newsgroups, forums) and a lot of old friends I'm able to still remain in some kind of contact with because we are connected via Facebook. Would I have been able to pick up an old friendship with school/college friends who I hadn't seen for circa 20 years, if there hadn't been some real and somehow tangible tie together, even if it was mediated by binary ones and zeros in the ether of the 'cloud'?

The dust has been gathering on my keyboard since I completed the first draft of my novel. I haven't been blogging regularly for a while. I miss writing and I miss having an open dialogue with everybody and anybody on the Internet. The Internet has brought me friends and fortune. I've never regretted the investment of time I've made in channelling my creative energies into a public space that creates nothing tangible per se. What is software? What does it mean to publish a blog or a book online? If you can't hold it, sniff it, lick it... if it doesn't gather dust, does it really exist?

There was one slightly embarrassing moment in my recent adventures Away From Keyboard.

I was out for dinner with another friend. You could say I know him in real life because the first time I met him was face to face... or you could say I know him through the Internet, because he was introduced to me by somebody I know from an Internet discussion forum. Either way, it's immaterial to the embarrassing story.

Over dinner, my friend expressed his incredulity at the fact that the value of all the coal bought and sold is a tiny fraction of the total value of all the financial contracts (securities) that are created off the back of the physical commodity. So many more coal futures and options contracts are bought and sold by speculators, hoping to profit from a movement in the price of the commodity, versus anybody who actually wants the real coal. The dirty black lumps of carbon are almost unimportant... the 'value' in the financial markets dwarfs the heavy industry that mines coal out of the ground and ships it to power stations and for people to heat their homes.

The embarrassing thing was that I went to speak and then I realised that I had nothing to add. I was left speechless. I've written at length on my blog about the staggering 'value' of the derivatives contracts versus the real economy. Is it me who's splitting hairs, expecting us to care about food and housing and water and healthcare and transport? Is it me who's the luddite, saying that the global financial markets are utter horse shit because it's all just digital money in the Fintech 'cloud'?

Maybe the real embarrassment is that I'd had that conversation before, with a hedge fund manager and a director of an investment bank. We were on our way home from the airport, having been kitesurfing in real life with 20 people from an Internet discussion forum. I was just about to start work for JPMorgan, dealing with Credit Default Swaps. We thought that the financial markets were overleveraged and that there was going to be a crash. That was 2005.

Did I put my money where my mouth was? Yes. I bought dollars at nearly $2 for every £1 I paid, and bought gold at $550/oz. One ounce of gold cost £225 back then. One ounce of gold is worth £920 today.

The point is not to be a doom-monger or gloat in a "told you so" kind of way, but to try and express how tired I am by everything. Being Cassandra is shit. Churning out my thoughts into the ether has allowed me to say everything that needed to be said, but it left me kind of breathlessly shocked to encounter anybody who'd arrived at the same rational and reasonable analysis of a ridiculous situation. That's one thing you don't get when you're lecturing the Internet: any kind of feedback that anybody agrees with you.

So, what's my closing conclusion? I'm back blogging, because I love writing, but aside from setting out my position clearly for posterity, some time away from keyboard is pretty handy to remind oneself that there are a lot of people out there in the real world who share my values and concerns.