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Reality Check

7 min read

This is a story about diminishing anxiety levels...

Sunk boat

It's very hard to be objective about my circumstances. When I'm bored it feels like I've never been so bored in my whole entire life and I can't stand my job - I feel like I'm going to walk out of the office and never go back. When I'm anxious it feels like I've never had such dreadful problems to deal with and it's more than I can stand. When time is passing slowly it feels like it's taking an eternity to reach my goals, and it feels impossible that I'll be able to last the months and years required to get back on my feet.

Clearly, my perceptions are not 100% correct.

When I think back to January and February at the start of this year, I was a lot more bored. I started taking more and more days off sick. I was turning up very late for work and struggling a very great deal. When I think back to the summer of 2016 I was horrendously bored and I would spend a lot of my waking hours thinking about committing suicide.

When I think back to October and November last year, I was convinced I was going to go bankrupt. I was convinced that I wasn't able to work. The loose ends in my life were unbearably awful to deal with - even simple basic little things were driving my anxiety levels beyond what I could tolerate. When a friend helped me to get some work, I didn't think I'd be able to do it - I didn't feel capable or competent.

When I think back to March I was convinced I was going to fail security clearance. I was convinced I wouldn't pass credit checks and tenancy checks to be able to rent an apartment. I was overwhelmed by the stress of maxing out my credit and spending every penny I had to buy a car and rent a place to live. I didn't think that my cashflow would stretch quite far enough.

In reality, when I look back over the past 5 years there has been an iterative improvement since my divorce. Every year I've had problems with my finances and my mental health, and every year I've become far more leveraged, but every year I learn, adapt and approach things slightly differently. Every year, I come slightly closer to pulling out all my best tricks and linking everything together to reach escape velocity.

In 2013 I started a company. Every year since then I've followed the same pattern: I'm absolutely screwed from December to the spring, then I start getting my act together. My plan is always the same: earn a six-figure income doing consultancy and get back to a position of financial security. It's a simple plan.

I'm very worried that I'm going to fall into one of the very many pitfalls which have scuppered me in previous years. I'm hyper-sensitive to any warning signs which might indicate that I'm going to fall into the bad pattern which has kept me in this seemingly never-ending cycle. I try to consider everything that's ever gone wrong in the past and avoid repeating those mistakes.

The biggest positive differences which I'm aware of at the moment, are that I'm not paralysed by anxiety - thinking that everything's going to go wrong and unable to stay on top of things - and I'm not having a lot of suicidal thoughts. I'm very impatient, frustrated and quite bored a lot of the time, but I'm nowhere near as suicidal as I've been in recent years. Some years I haven't been very suicidal, but that's been because I've been manic - in 2014 and 2015 I was very busy and working very hard, so I wasn't at all bored, but I couldn't see that disaster was looming. Looking back at my manic behaviour, it wasn't at all compatible with office life and it seems obvious now that I was on borrowed time.

It concerns me that mania might return and I'll start acting strangely and being a pain in the ass again. It concerns me that depression and anxiety might lay me low and cause me to have to take time off work and to be late. However, that I'm able to consider these risks and force myself to get out of bed, or to hold my tongue when I'm about to shoot my mouth off, suggests that I'm in a bit more control for once. Those times I went manic in the office, we need to consider how much pressure I was under at work and in my personal life - I was virtually penniless and homeless.

I'm still a long way from financial security and I feel quite depressed about that, but I'm using very conservative accounting to estimate my cashflow. When I check my bank balances I'm always pleasantly surprised, not disappointed.

I do a lot of moaning but I'm slowly inching my way forward. The day when I'm debt free and have a comfortable cushion of savings again is getting closer. The day when I can quit my job and find something more challenging and rewarding is gradually approaching, but my days in the office are also gradually improving - some days I even imagine that I might actually choose to stay longer in the job because it's not so bad sometimes.

I need to be careful not to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. Yes, it's good to keep moving and keep life exciting, interesting, novel and new, but it's also exhausting and unbelievably stressful. There's a lot to be said for the improvements I'm feeling in my mental health stability and my financial position, which have come about because I've decided to be disciplined and force myself to do things I don't like doing very much. My anxiety levels and suicidal thoughts are diminishing quite nicely.

This all sounds very positive, but there are huge challenges ahead. I need to cut down my drinking, eat less, exercise more, make more friends locally, start a relationship *AND* keep everything else I've been doing ticking over in its well-established routine.

I've reached the point where I feel like I'm good at my job again. I feel needed and wanted at work - people seek me out and ask my opinion. I feel like I add value. I feel secure.

My finances are in good enough shape, such that I'm no longer worried about money.

My routine isn't the best but it does the job. It's bearable.

I like my apartment.

Looking for love isn't great, especially when I'm feeling overweight and unfit. I feel like my skin is pale and pasty. I feel old. I feel unattractive. I haven't had a shag in 4 months and I'm feeling like my bedroom skills might have gone to rack and ruin.

I've done all the calculations and I need to work my ass off until at least spring time next year if I want to well and truly turn my life around. It won't be as horrible to get through the next 6 to 9 months as it was to get through some recent awfulness, so it sounds eminently achievable, but it doesn't feel like I'm living for much other than the slow and steady improvement to my overall financial position. Counting beans is nothing to get excited or motivated about, especially when coupled with the prospect of drinking less, eating less and exercising more - it sounds pretty miserable.

Miserable and boring it might be, but it's hard to argue with the facts. My life is considerably better today than it's been for a long time. I need to remind myself of the facts once in a while.