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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.

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Trashing Tech

3 min read

This is a story about sabotage...

Macbook damage

This is my laptop I have with me while visiting my friend. It's had that damage since 2010. My nice new laptop is away being repaired.

My Apple watch screen is half-covered with a big black blob. It's pretty much useless now, so I don't even wear it anymore.

I bought a Macbook Air, which got damaged, and I'd spent so much getting it repaired that when it got damaged again, I just sold it for spares and bought my new laptop - the one that's currently being repaired.

What is it about me and damaging expensive technology?

Well, it's not just hardware. I pretty much threw away an entire tech startup company. My friend and co-founder managed to repair it and keep it profitable, but I had pretty much managed to destroy that company.

It's strange. I'm away on a short weekend vacation with my old friend who, 7 years ago, I used to share a house with. We were both doing tech startup companies. We were meeting the same mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists. We were being interviewed by the same journalists. We were with each other 24x7 for a pretty damn intense and important period of our entrepreneurial tech careers.

I don't feel embarassed that I screwed up my startup. I'm pleased that my friend's succeeded.

What I feel embarrassed about is that one of my arms has scars running along its length, and a big scar that I would usually cover up with my Apple Watch. What I feel embarrassed about is that I'm using my old laptop from all those years ago, and the reason is pretty much the same as why I have all those scars and my Apple Watch is irreparably damaged. I'm a damaged person, and I've damaged so much stuff during the on/off period I've been sick, which has been most of the last 7 years.

It's geek status symbol stuff, to have the latest Macbook Pro, Apple Watch and iPhone X, and I'm the guy who threw away his valuable tech startup, so I guess it'd be foolish for me to pretend like I'm something I'm not - to waste valuable cash on status symbols which I can't really afford.

The tough thing though is, I had/have those latest gadgets, but I trashed them in one way or another, and it's the story of how they got trashed that's the difficult thing. I want to be the happy, healthy, energy-filled and motivated guy who I was 7 years ago, but I'm not. I'm this broken damaged guy, with his broken damaged old stuff.

I guess I should just be grateful I'm alive.

 

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What's Missing from this Picture?

4 min read

This is a story about unnecessary packaging...

Holiday essentials

I've had a stressful morning. I had to package my Macbook carefully so that it could be safely sent away to be repaired. I had to locate the original packaging for my Virgin broadband router and box it up so it could be sent back to them, even though it's defective junk. I then had to find a UPS parcel drop-off point and a Collect+ drop off point to drop off the respective parcels. This required a trip to purchase bubble wrap, a suitable sized box and packing tape, as well as two more trips to two different drop-off places.

While I was out dealing with those chores, I also had to purchase a piece of carry-on luggage and some flip-flops. The flip flops were sold to me in a box. I don't know why flip flops need a box - just a simple cardboard clip to keep the left and the right flip-flop together is more than sufficient.

Anyway, I'm home now. I have located my passport. I have located some leftover Euros I had from the last holiday I took... 22 months ago. I opened the box containing my new flip-flops and lo and behold, there was a discrepancy in the number of flip flops present in the box - 50% of the required number of flip-flops were missing.

Do I drive back into town, park my car, walk to the shop and explain the situation in the hope that they admit their mistake and remedy it without quibble? Do I just purchase a second pair of flip-flops and then open and check inside the box before i leave the store? Do I just abandon the whole ill-fated exercise, and buy a pair at the tiny departure airport, where the shops will probably be closed? Do I take time out from the one single whole day I get to spend with my friend, without either of us having to worry about airport arrivals/departures, hotel check ins/out and all the rest of that crap, just to go looking for some suitable summer footwear?

I don't know why this is making me upset, because I don't even know if the nerve damage to my left foot/ankle is so bad that I can even wear a flip-flop on that foot. The last time I tried, I didn't have enough sensation and motor control to keep a flip-flop on my foot.

Also, my flight's delayed - French air traffic controllers on strike or something. My flight barely enters French airspace, but whatever... everyone should have the right to go on strike for better pay and conditions.

My 'holiday' is really just a day spent with a friend who I hardly ever get to see, then we both fly home on Monday. I have another week to go before my current gig comes to an end, so I need to make sure I take the money while it's there on offer.

"Have you got any holidays planned?" asked a person I spoke to on Friday, which is code for "we want you to work solidly until you drop dead". We'll have to see how badly they want me, because I really need a holiday - a proper holiday.

It seems churlish to complain, but I've had a month of hell. Breakup, losing my local job, getting sick, holiday plans pretty much cancelled, the stress of finding a new gig, the prospect of going back to London, the never-ending pressure to generate vast sums of cash to dig myself out of the hole... the hole I can never quite escape from. FML.

What was supposed to be a romantic beach holiday with my [ex]girlfriend has now turned into a very brief weekend meetup of two old friends. It'd have been far easier for us to meet in London, as he was there yesterday. He's travelled London -> Prague -> Lisbon -> Faro -> Lisbon -> Prague, and I'm travelling Wales -> Bristol -> Faro -> Bristol -> Wales. Our carbon footprint is criminal.

Hopefully I'll be in a better mood when I wake up in Faro tomorrow and I can hang out with my old friend for the whole day, free from commitments and responsibilities... I can put up with sweaty feet.

 

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Where Did It All Go Wrong?

4 min read

This is a story about dead ends...

Sinclair A-bike

Sir Clive Sinclair is a very clever man. So also is Hermann Hauser. So is Dr. Robert Sansom. So are the fellow members of my cohort who were lucky enough to be chosen from a very great number of hopeful applicants for an opportunity to fraternise with Cambridge's tech elite. We were destined for greatness.

The pinnacle - the apogee - of an entrepreneurial career in tech would be the moment when you have the undivided attention of a packed auditorium with a total net worth of tens of billions of pounds. Even if only for 5 or 10 minutes, all eyes are on you. It's your 5 minutes of fame, insofar as any geek can ever expect to have in their lifetime.

With offensive dismissiveness, the egotistical front man who would claim credit for the meeting of these minds, said my co-founder "was last seen with twins around his ankles" (he actually has 3 young children) and that I had returned to my former career with my tail between my legs.

Whatever I do, I think I do it with dedication and I achieve results. I obsess over my goals and I work tirelessly to reach them.

However, I feel old, unwell and somewhat burnt-out; spent.

If intellect was a good predictor of wealth, we'd see a much stronger correlation between the top exam grades, first-class degrees, doctorates and those who have been lucky enough to earn their fortunes, such that they have the financial means to retire early. If you think that a high IQ and studying hard at school and university is going to help you get ahead in life, you're sadly mistaken: you'll be a wage-slave in the rat race, just like everybody else.

I thought momentarily that I had found a tolerable compromise: a way to enjoy the lifestyle of the trust-fund endowed sons and daughters who can rely on family wealth to bankroll their carefree existence, while only sacrificing a small amount of my time each week to rather boring, menial, unethical and demeaning labour. I struck a deal with the devil, as it were.

Realising, however, that I was cash rich and time poor, I started work on projects which far predated websites like taskrabbit.com and mybuilder.com. My dot com - getajobdone.com - might not have been a world-class brand, but this was soon enough after the dot com boom [and crash] that I can claim some bragging rights.

I was too young and inexperienced to profit from the dot com boom, but I was at the very forefront of the iPhone app craze.

But where did it all go wrong?

How did I end up back in my old career, as Jon Bradford so astutely [and offensively] observed?

Fuck you. That's why: fuck you.

I make simple plans which seem fairly achievable, like having a nice little apartment with sea views and a yacht in the marina. Simple plans like having a job where I can drive to work in less than 15 minutes and enjoy a 6-figure salary. Then, it all goes to shit, so fuck you. I have it, then I lose it. I get a taste of it, then it's snatched away.

Where did it go wrong? Fucking everywhere, that's where. Everywhere from breakups to losing jobs - through no fault of my own - to the fact that the world is just a crazy competitive dog-eat-dog awful cut-throat world.

I live a charmed existence, by all accounts, but you should never forget the sacrifices I've made. While the rest of you have been creating clones of yourselves and lining the pockets of the banks with your mortgage interest payments, I've been cut loose in a world which views a man with no family ties with suspicion. In fact, having no family ties and no local connection to anywhere puts me at risk of destitution; total abandonment - I'm one of society's unwanted members. No safety net exists for me.

In 25 hours I'm hoping to be reunited with an old friend whose path through life might see him [incorrectly] labeled as an "overnight success" story. What a world apart, the last 6 or 7 years of our lives have been. How could we ever reconcile the differences in our experiences? Him the millionaire and me the pauper.

To divine where it all went wrong is an impossible task.

All I know is that I'm exhausted and I've got nothing to show for my efforts.

I'm not bitter though, I think. I cherish my experiences, no matter how harrowing and traumatic they've been.

 

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Superstars and Comfortable Men

11 min read

This is a story about a life philosophy...

Maunu Kea

Here I am stood taking photographs at the summit of the highest mountain in the Hawaiian Islands - an altitude of 13,796 feet above sea level. Sea level is where I started that morning. Any mountain above 12,000 feet will affect susceptible people with dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness and could even present a life-threatening situation for somebody with pre-existing heart or breathing problems. So, dangerous, but not that dangerous. Nobody gets a pulmonary oedema up here, in this cold thin air, but very few can thrive in this oxygen-depleted environment.

There are ostensibly two ways to get up a mountain: you can walk, or you can use some kind of mechanised assistance (e.g. helicopter, cable car or even drive if somebody has made a road to the summit). I used to scoff at the idea of taking 'the easy way out'. I used to think that using cable cars and funicular railways in the Alps was cheating... you hadn't really conquered the mountain at all. However, after my first summer season in Chamonix valley, I realised there's no point nitpicking over a pile of rocks: most climbers who attempt the North face of The Eiger will use the railway to the summit, which stops halfway to let anybody out who wants to tackle its vertical wall of death. Tourists watch as men and women laden with ropes and other equipment, venture out of a hole that was made to clear the railway tunnel of snow. Are they less brave? Many have lost their lives attempting this 'easy' route up the mountain.

Summit marker

There you are, see. 13,796 feet. You can see this elevation post in the bottom left hand corner of the previous photo. But how did I get up there, more importantly?

In 2008 through to 2011, I was bootstrapping. That is to say, I was building profitable business(es) using my own money and with very little outside help. Then, I got out of my depth and I phoned a friend. I begged him to come on board with my latest venture, which promised to have the most growth potential of anything I'd done before, plus it had an overlap - in the education space - with some of my friend's expertise.

My friend told me he was a mentor on a technology accelerator program, affiliated to TechStars, which was based in Cambridge and was taking place that coming summer. I have to admit, I'd never heard of Y-Combinator, SeedCamp, 500-Startups, TechStars or any of the other myriad accelerators that were springing up. The idea was simple though: take a bunch of promising teams, incubate them and connect them with the best minds in the world of tech, have a demo day and help them to raise angel investment or venture capital (VC).

I was enthused and given a new direction. There was hope and relief that I might no longer suffer the isolation and loneliness of being 'the boss'. I really wanted to be part of this ecosystem.

I applied for TechStars Boulder, in Colorado, USA, as well as the TechStars affiliate program that my friend was going to be a mentor on, in Cambridge, UK. My company was shortlisted for Boulder, so I flew out to Denver, drove to Boulder and met with David Cohen - one of the co-founders of TechStars. My company just missed the cut for Boulder, but was offered a place on the Cambridge program, which I accepted. On demo day, Brad Feld - the other founder of TechStars - watched my pitch and I got to meet him. I was rubbing shoulders with people who had achieved, or were about to achieve, greatness.

For example: you know that robot that's in the new Star Wars movies? The one that's a ball that rolls around and makes bleeping noises a bit like R2-D2? BB-8, it's called. Anyway, the toy version of that is based on the Sphero, and Sphero were one of the teams to go through the TechStars program. I got to meet those guys in Boulder. Now they have one of the best selling children's toys, thanks to a Star Wars brand licensing deal, which was undoubtably in part due to the TechStars program... that's how it works.

BB-8

Once the TechStars program was done, I had two role models to choose between. Both had pregnant girlfriends, but they had very different aspirations and priorities.

David, co-founder of my business, was intent on making life comfortable for him and his family. He'd made a big sacrifice, living away from home while we were doing the accelerator program. He'd made a risky commitment, ploughing money into a company that - at that time - didn't really have any protectable intellectual property or reliable and significant income stream. Although I talked him into the idea of taking our company BIG and getting half a million pounds worth of investment to allow us to grow, I think he really wanted to take things a lot slower and more carefully, and more importantly, get back home to his pregnant girlfriend.

Jakub, who I had been sharing a house with for months along with his co-founder Jan, seemed to be fixated on Silicon Valley and being a BIG success. I hope he wouldn't be angry with me for spilling the beans that he really regretted coming to Cambridge, UK, when their company could easily have gotten onto one of the Silicon Valley based accelerators, which is where, ultimately, he wanted to end up. Jakub had been obsessed by the trials and tribulations of Apple Corporation, and was 100% a Mac man, not a PC. Whether or not he wanted/wants to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs... one only need to look at his professionally taken photograph for his online profile: holding his chin in just the same way as the man who resurrected the struggling Apple Corp, and built it to be the world's biggest company, by market capitalisation.

Schopenhauer thought that the best thing in life would be to not be born at all, and the second best thing was simply to keep suffering to a minimum. Nietzsche realised that without suffering, how can we really experience elation? If you take the helicopter to the top of the mountain, you don't get the same feeling of achievement and success as you do if you walk up there. Nietzsche said that the world needs people like Steve Jobs, who was a millionaire by the age of 23, in 1978, and was worth $19 billion at the time of his death. Nietsche talks about supermen (übermensch) and the last men. Nietsche reviled these "last men" as he called them: men who were comfortable and content with mediocrity; men who would look at the stars and blink, in his words, rather than strive to achieve the very maximum they could in life - becoming superstars themselves.

I'm now in an uncomfortable in-between place. I neither achieved the übermensch nor the life of comfortable mediocrity.

Did I give up, because I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lay ahead? Did I simply make mistakes, in choosing business partners who weren't as ambitious as me; as gung-ho, committed and fearless? Was the lack of support I received from my now ex-wife, my undoing?

Or, am I - as Nietzsche feared - one of the last men. The ones who are prepared to slave along in miserable existence because I'm not brave enough; bold enough to reach for the stars; to follow in the footsteps of those who've reached the top.

I'm torn, because I believe in socialist & humanist values: I believe in wealth redistribution, state monopolies, free education, free healthcare, free housing and a whole host of other things that would see me labelled as "Marxist", "Stalinist", "Leninist", "Maoist" or some other -ist, meant in the pejorative. Sometimes, I do wonder if people would work as hard, if they didn't want big mansions, swimming pools, helicopters, private jets, superyachts and all the other trimmings of exorbitant wealth. However, I know enough successful people to know that they just wanted to see a dream realised; a goal achieved: they didn't know how to stop working so hard, and they couldn't if they tried.

Strangely, although I've been shown the way and my eyes have been opened to the possibility of achieving great wealth in my lifetime, I've been left with nothing but depression. I'm depressed because I can see that hard work is required in life, whichever path you choose, but I'm also depressed because I opened the Pandora's Box of yachts and supercars and other prized possessions of those who followed their difficult task to completion: they reached the summit of the mountain.

I used to play a psychological trick when climbing mountains, which is to imagine every summit that you see is a false one, and that behind it will be an even higher summit, so your anticipation of your reward never turns into disappointment, which could lead you to giving up and turning back.

Another psychological trick I played in life, was never to dream and aspire to own things that were well out of reach. I bought a house, a yacht, a speedboat and a fast car... but these were all modest items that I was able to save up my wages and purchase. I never dreamt of owning a mansion or a brand-new Ferrari, for example, although the latter was achievable if that was my one dream in life, which it wasn't. I played a psychological trick, of forcing myself to be modest with my aspirations and rein in my ambitions, and to make incremental improvements rather than shoot for the top prize.

Mountain track

Now, I take short-cuts. I cheat. I know how high I can get, but I don't want to make the effort again. It hurt too much to be on the express elevator to the top, and to start to dream about all the wonderful things I could do with that wealth, only to crash to earth and be devastated. I'd like to be comfortable, but even that hurts, because it still requires effort as well as denying that I'd really like to own a nice big yacht, a supercar and a big house.

Do I begrudge my friends their success? Of course not, but it doesn't inspire me. Maybe it does inspire others, but when I look around, most people are fighting to just hang onto what little they've got. Would I tax my friend heavily because I'm a failure and I want to grab a piece of the wealth he created? Would I expect him to be humble and give credit to the society that helped him get to the top, even though we shouldn't try to drag everybody down to an equal level - equally mediocre and comfortable, according to Nietzsche? Yes, in a way I do still stand by my politics: I prefer flat structures to pyramids. I like it when everyone gets rich because of co-operation in society, rather than just a tiny handful who get rich at the expense of everybody else. We must remember that we're playing a zero-sum game - for every billionaire, there are millions of starving mouths and people without clean drinking water.

My friend was 9 years old when communism ended in his home country. He has been deeply affected. I'm not sure what makes me so certain that wealth should be redistributed, and the vulnerable protected, but I'm certainly going to tip-toe around the subject when I see my friend Jakub tomorrow, which will be the first time I will have had to offer face-to-face congratulations on him reaching the summit: he's rich now, by most ordinary people's standards, but I will attest that he build that wealth, with his team: it wasn't gifted to him by inheritance; it wasn't stolen or conned; it wasn't embezzled. He earned it and he deserves congratulating.

I'm still torn up about that question though: is it better to have 7 billion contented, comfortable people, or 100 or so obscenely wealthy ones, and half the world in desperate poverty.

In fact, no, scratch that. I go for comfortable. I go for "the last men" even if Nietzsche so hated them. Fuck him, that pompous German twat.

 

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Why You Should Never Marry a Partner Who Cheats

6 min read

This is a story about what people do when they think nobody is watching...

Hawaii wedding

Integrity. What does it mean to have integrity? Let's explore a hypothetical example.

The year is 2011. I'm running a profitable tech startup called Hubflow, and we have just been through a 13-week TechStars network technology accelerator program in Cambridge, run by Jon Bradford and Jess Williamson. We have a bunch of investors who are ready to help us raise a seed round. Mike Butcher has written about us in TechCrunch. We are kicking arse.

The sticking point that is stressing me out is that my partner won't support me. My company needs to relocate to London, Cambridge or somewhere on the M4 corridor so that I can hire the talent I need and get to my customers and investors whenever I need to see them. My partner is a teacher. She can literally work anywhere in the country.

***

I financially supported my partner through her retraining to be a teacher. She had a huge income drop, when she left the investment bank where we both worked, but I made sure that she still enjoyed the 5-star luxury lifestyle that she had gotten used to with me.

Even when I quit my salaried job so that I could build my startup, I had substantial savings and profits, to allow us to maintain the same standard of living. I had bankrolled her when she wanted to make a career change, and she'd never had to tighten her belt or compromise.

This was now my turn to shine. I had done it. I had built a profitable company with a good valuation that was ready for investment to take it to the next stage. It was now time to leave the sleepy little seaside town where we lived and move things closer to the action.

My co-founder had left his pregnant partner behind in his home town, to come and live with me in Cambridge for several months, while we built our business together and got ourselves ready for investment. He had made sacrifices and compromises with his growing family. Now it was the turn of my partner to step up and make a small compromise herself.

However, she wouldn't budge an inch.

I could have left her. And perhaps - in hindsight - that's what I should have done. She had never been very kind or supportive. In fact, she was pretty mean spirited and selfish. I don't know why I stayed loyal to her. I'd had opportunities to fool around while I was working away from home, in Boulder, Colorado, in London or in Cambridge, but I stayed faithful. I stayed faithful because I have integrity.

I then got very depressed. She had refused any kind of compromise. I had to leave her, or my business was screwed. There was no way that me and my co-founder could make it work over such a geographical hurdle. We needed to be together, on the ground, raising money and winning more customers. And we were so close. It was heartbreaking.

By the time Christmas rolled around that year, I had gotten so depressed and suicidal that I was hospitalised. My unsupportive mean ex had instructed my parents to come and take me away, and had involved my doctor, all against my wishes. This was an incredible betrayal. Now she wanted me removed from my own home, that I had bought and paid for. This was a horrible act of selfishness.

Before I was literally dragged away by my Dad, I decided to install a keystroke logger on my personal laptop, which was running my personal account & password. This was clearly an act of paranoia, due to the fact that I was extremely mentally unwell, having recently been released from a mental hospital. Clearly I was out of my mind.

I was driven away from my home, my business, my friends, my possessions, to a village where I had never lived since the age of 4, where I have no friends. Miles away from any cities where I had business contacts, investors, customers. I had just been totally fucked over. This was not in my best interests. I didn't even have a doctor or a psychiatrist nearby.

So then, was my partner interested in my wellbeing? Did she call to see how I was? Was she concerned about me getting better?

I thought it rather strange that she wasn't at all involved in trying to 'help' me, now that I was out of the way. In fact, it was rather strange that all the 'help' was simply to tell people to remove me from my own home. Must have been more paranoia though, right? I was mentally ill, remember?

I levelled my accusations about being dumped like this, and dragged away from everything I held dear. My partner and parents conspired to keep me trapped in this shitty village in the middle of nowhere. They even involved the police "for my welfare".

Anyway, after about a week of this shit, I decided to see if anybody had been using my laptop with my username and password. Strangely enough, and totally co-incidentally, they had been.

On examination of the logs, it looked like somebody had used my laptop and username to set themselves up an online dating profile and start messaging men. How strange. How curious.

Surely this could not have been my partner, for if she was using a computer at all, I'm sure it would have been to research the best possible treatment available for me, or to better understand what had happened to me, so that she could be as loving and supportive as possible, no?

My partner continued to treat me like utter shit and told me that any suggestion I made that she was not acting in my best interests, was purely in my imagination and fuelled by mental illness, paranoia.

Finally, I showed my hand, and she back-pedalled rapidly, begging my forgiveness and swearing that it was all a misguided mistake. She suddenly became nice as pie and started treating me with a tiny fraction of the respect and decency that I deserved.

I then had a brief taste of how I should have been treated all along, and it was nice. My stupid mistake was to then marry the evil *****. A leopard never changes its spots.

Be careful if you get mentally ill with a vindictive, selfish, mean-spirited little **** of a partner, because they might just try to chuck you out of your own house and replace you.

 

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