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I write every day about living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Aide-Mémoire

4 min read

This is a story about writing prompts...

Book

During a more exciting and varied, but also chaotic period of my life, I habitually made a note of writing prompts for myself. I was able to stay somewhat on top of these sparks of inspiration, and turn them into essays, but the list still grew longer and longer.

I've started writing a list of writing prompts again. Currently it has 10 items on it, which have inspired me to write 3 completed essays, which I've now published.

The other thing which inspires me to write, I must admit, is my readers. My readers write to me, which I'm very grateful for, but even those who do not are inspiring me by reading, because there's nothing worse than feeling ignored, irrelevant or otherwise non-existent. However, there's also a temptation - which I try to avoid - of writing stuff which I know will bring me more readers. What's the point of making art, if you're doing it just for popularity and notoriety - surely that isn't art at all?

The majority of my readers - thousands per day - are new readers. Perhaps [most of] my social media followers and [most] friends have tired of the repetitive nature of my writing; the repetition of my story; the lack of any dramatic change in my circumstances. There isn't much narrative in my writing, because there isn't much narrative in my life. In the adventures of employee man, one day looks very much like the next.

Of course, I am grateful that I have a semi-secure source of income - albeit only in the short term - and I have stability and routine. My health and wealth are thriving, relatively speaking, thanks to the boring repetition which is the backbone of my life.

Perhaps I'll dig some more hair-raising tales of near-death and destitution out of my memory banks, to amuse and entertain my readers, but I did promise myself that I wouldn't dwell on the past, and I would attempt to start a new chapter. I would very much like it if I had a substantial period of boring "this is what I ate for breakfast" type typical run-of-the-mill yawnfest blog vapid bullshit, to put some distance between the chaotic, traumatic and nearly fatal period of my life, and the stable, secure life which seems within touching distance; tantalisingly close.

It feels a little odd to not be in the mood to write, because of low social media engagement, given that I almost exclusively transmit - never receive - and otherwise do not engage myself in discourse; do not engage with the community; do not socialise on social media, per se. A cynical accusation that I want to take, but I never give, could be levelled at me, and I would have little defence; I admit that I don't spend a lot of time keeping up with the lives of my Twitter friends, although I am extremely grateful for their continued support, and the occasional message or cat pic.

Also, I'm a little burnt out. I've been working very hard on a demanding project, and I'm extremely emotionally invested; I've been working with maximum intensity. In addition, of course, I pour my guts out every day onto the pages of this website. Writing and publishing a halfway-decent essay every day is not trivial. Those who say I'm not generous with my time and effort, are being unnecessarily cruel and unkind, if not downright wrong.

I'm not out in the community helping little old grannies cross the road or picking up litter, but people do write to me from all around the world every day, to say that my writing has been helpful - in some way - to them. I'm not saying that what I'm doing is particularly praiseworthy, or patting myself on the back in general, but I do put a lot of effort in, and that effort is not entirely a fool's errand.

Anyway, that was today's essay. I hope you liked it. Even just a teeny tiny bit.

 

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Vanity Publishing

5 min read

This is a story about a crowded market...

Art stuff

Remind me again why only certain people are allowed to make music, literature and art. Remind me again why the rest of us are banned from releasing our creative endeavours into the world. Remind me again why the creative arts are the sole preserve of the spoiled brattish kids of rich indulgent parents.

Oh yes. That's right. The internet changed all that.

Sure, the old gatekeepers are still there. Sure, if you want to get signed to a record label, a publishing house, a gallery or some other elitist institution, and publish using their marketing machine, then you'll need to kiss their arses and play by their rules.

Sure, the new gatekeepers are now in place. If you want to have a heap of subscribers on your YouTube channel, listeners on Spotify, or readers on your website, then you'll have to play by the rules of the algorithms; you'll have to comply with the demands of those digital platforms.

But.

Previously, only the likes of a multimillionaire rock star - like Brian Eno - would be able to afford professional-grade music production equipment. Previously, only the likes of a multimillionaire famous author - like Jeffrey Archer - would have been able to self-publish a book. Previously, only a multimillionaire artist - like Damien Hirst - would have been able to get their art seen by vast numbers of people.

Now.

Now is the time of self-publishing.

Sure, it's not great being locked into a platform like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, Apple, Spotify or suchlike, in order to get your art out into the world, but it does level the playing field a little. Sure, self-promotion is hard work, and it's still impossible to give up the day job, unless you have a trust fund; the barrier to entry is still extremely high. However, in some ways, the barrier to entry is quite low.

A friend of mine has a YouTube channel, filled with 90+ minute monologues. I sometimes browse the latest videos which my friend has published, and I think "oh god, that's me, isn't it? Pumping out long insane monologues, out into the ether of the internet, where nobody really takes any notice". Not to denigrate my friend's creative output at all, but I am incredibly fearful that I'm adding nothing but noise into the world.

I offer you a quote (as I very rarely do) which I often think about:

"[George] Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. [Aldous] Huxley feared those who would give us so much [information] that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism" -- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

I think we are living in Huxley's feared dystopia, in the context of being overwhelmed with information. The 4th industrial revolution - the information revolution - has created the most complicated man-made object: the internet. I often worry that the internet is a curse, not a blessing, given that I end up empathising with the plight of a Fijian villager whose prize pig was stolen, literally on the other side of the world. I rarely leave the house; I rarely talk to my neighbours, but every morning I wake up to an inbox full of people asking me "what's the best way to kill myself?" and "why are you not dead?". The internet is a mixed blessing.

I might look back on this period of creativity with cynicism, bitterness and a jaded outlook, which causes me to think that I was wasting my time. I might - feeling depressed and anxious - reflect that my writing wasn't very good; that I was making a fool of myself in public. The whole endeavour might seem very cringeworthy and embarrassing, with retrospect.

The internet doesn't forget, very easily. I'm somewhat etched into the fabric of the internet now. Stuff I've written is quite literally etched onto metal with lasers, and buried in the Arctic, to preserve it for posterity. Not, I might add, at my own expense. My vanity and ego are gigantic, but not quite big enough -yet- to embark on such a folly as burying some digital keepsakes beneath the frozen tundra; a monument to my own stupidity.

Of course, nobody in their right mind spends 5+ years of their life, writing and publishing 1.3 million words, which remained for the vast majority of that time, largely unread; unnoticed. I am, obviously, more unhinged than my friend with a YouTube channel: at least they didn't have to go to the effort of painstakingly constructing pleasing prose, checked for spelling and grammar, and accompanied by a hand-chosen photo which was Photoshopped to improve it, before publishing. Only a madman would go to all that effort, unpaid; unrewarded.

 

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I ❤️ a Crisis

3 min read

This is a story about the proverbial hitting the fan...

Hotdesk

It's often said that most fires are started by bored firemen who want to be heroes, but there are too few fires to fight. Eventually, when we've prepared for the worst for a very long time, it is us ourselves who precipitate a crisis, because we can't stand waiting for the blows to rain down upon us any longer.

Similarly, my profession incorporates a lot of planning for disasters. Quite literally, part of my job is to consider what would happen in event of nuclear holocaust, tsunami, hurricane or other apocalyptic event. If I wasn't planning for disasters to happen, I wouldn't be doing my job right.

I am not, by the way, planning to launch any kind of nuclear attack.

Banks have lots of empty desks like the ones pictured above. These are disaster recovery desks. In the event of a disaster, in theory, the financial markets could continue to function: the traders who have survived the disaster would be able to make their way to the nearest building which still has power and data, to carry on working. This is business-as-usual for the banking and wider financial services sector: it happily plans for the destruction of civilisation, while ensuring that asset prices are still protected. The world might burn to the ground, but at least the shareholders retain most of their paper wealth, is the ethos.

The thing I live in fear of the most is: boredom.

I was incredibly worried that the next 6 months of my life were going to be excruciatingly boring. It's my professional duty to ensure things are as boring as possible. I'm paid handsomely to ensure that things go smoothly and successfully, but it makes for a pretty boring life. I much prefer life when everything's on fire. It's bloody brilliant when everyone's losing their cool all around me, and I get to have some fun being the hero, fixing stuff; enjoying some pressure and excitement. But, it would be unprofessional of me to deliberately - or at least provably - cook up a crisis.

Now, a situation has fallen in my lap. Instead of dreading the next few months, I'm looking forward to working my butt off to sort things out, with a high-pressure drop-dead deadline. This is the stuff I really relish. This is the sort of stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning, as well as the generous remuneration.

I love it when stuff goes wrong.

 

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Survivorship Bias

5 min read

This is a story about chaotic lives...

Quantum eraser

I once spent the best part of a year reading theoretical physics books and papers, voraciously devouring the literature. I was obsessed with the subject - as a keen amateur - and still am, to some extent. My enthusiasm was so great, that I corresponded at length with some theoretical physics professors from around the world, who were kind enough to indulge me.

As with so many who catch the theoretical physics bug, I was fascinated by the idea that a theory so central to all of modern science - quantum mechanics - might have different interpretations, all equally unprovable, but a lot of fun to think about. The two which are most worthwhile talking about are the many-worlds interpretation (often known simply as "MWI") and the many-minds interpretation. I shan't summarise them here. I leave it as an exercise for the reader, if you are intrigued, to find the Wikipedia pages.

The many-worlds interpretation is something we are very familiar with, from books, films and TV. The concept of parallel universes is so ubiquitous, that it doesn't merit further discussion.

The many-minds interpretation is, oddly, quite obscure... but there are experimental hints that this interpretation might be closer to the fundamental nature of reality, than the many-worlds interpretation. I won't delve into either theory, except to explain some of the challenges to conventional wisdom, which are unintuitive to us.

I will not, of course, bore you with the "duality of light" wave/particle stuff, or Schrödinger's cat etc. which have been talked about ad nauseam, such that everyone is vaguely aware of it.

I will not, or course, talk about relativity. Not useful here.

So. Here's the thing. We like to think that our observations are independent. If I see something, then it happened for any and all observers. Let's take the tree falling in the forest. We agree that if nobody observed it, it's quite possible that it didn't make a sound. Fine. Good. However, most of us would say that if just one person saw the tree fall in the forest and heard it make a sound, then it absolutely did make a sound in this observable universe, for all observers. In other words, whatever happens for one person - observably - happens for everybody, even if they didn't observe the event.

Not true.

There's good evidence that each of us experiences his or her own 'version' of reality, and our observations can be different, despite us NOT living in parallel universes. It should be noted that I'm not talking about relativity. We know that when a person is travelling faster than us, or closer to a massive object, time flows at a different rate for them, such that our synchronised wrist watches would show a different time, when compared with each other at a later date - that's just relativity (special and general, respectively) and that's not what I'm talking about, even though it's pretty mind blowing. No... what I'm talking about is two different experimental observers observing different stuff - one says that the tree in the forest made a sound when it fell, and the other says it was silent. It would seem - at a quantum level at least - that this kind of observer independence is entirely supported by experimental results. Search for Wigner's friend if you want to read more on that one.

Anyway, moving on to the original point of my essay, I'm a little bit fascinated by quantum suicide. Quantum suicide says that if we were to use a binary quantum event - something with a 50/50 chance of happening - in order to commit suicide, then weirdly, we would never be killed. Because we are the observer in the experiment, in all the instances where we are killed, we are no longer around to observe the results, so - implicitly - we only remain conscious, as an observer, in the case where the event which kills us does not occur. All clear?

Further, I often think that it's quite remarkable that I've survived up until this point in my life, given the vast quantity of near-death experiences I've had, and the reckless risk taking. However, my survival is not evidence that the probability of my death was lower than I had estimated: quite the opposite. There are two distinct possibilities: firstly, I've been extremely lucky, and anybody else who copied my behaviour is almost certain to die. Secondly, I'm unaware of all the infinite ways that I've died, snuffing out my consciousness, and therefore leaving me unable to recount this tale of miraculously cheating death.

I am - to a small extent - somewhat convinced that there's truth in the many-minds interpretation of quantum mechanics, given my first-hand experiences. I may, in fact, calculate the odds that I should have survived everything that I have survived, in order to put a precise figure on exactly how improbable it is that I'm alive, thus providing some empirical evidence for the many-minds interpretation of quantum mechanics... although readers should beware of survivorship bias: if you copy my behaviour, you will most certainly die.

 

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Superiority Complex

5 min read

This is a story about delusions of grandeur...

Thought bubble

The problem with slinging pseudoscientific mud, is that sooner or later you're going to come up against somebody who knows what they're talking about; they're able to rigorously follow the scientific method, and they can see right through the dumbed-down pathetic attempts to create popular ideas, which prey upon our preconceived notions, our biases, our vanity and our insecurities.

If we look at applications for university places, there are vast numbers who want to study arts and humanities subjects. Then, the social 'sciences' are the next most popular. Bottom of the pile, in terms of popularity, are the difficult, dry, technical subjects: mathematics, engineering, chemistry, physics, computing. You cannot 'blag' that you know what you're talking about in a technical subject: there are right answers and wrong answers, and no amount of blagging will convince anybody that you're right, when you're wrong, and you're provably wrong.

The social 'sciences' - anthropology, sociology, psychology etc - are not sciences. Science follows a strict prescriptive methodology, and anything which doesn't adhere is not science. The social 'sciences' produce nothing but worthless crap, because it's not science - the results of experiments cannot be reproduced. Any experiment which doesn't have reproducible results, is a non-experiment; a waste of time; absolutely useless.

In an attempt to appear like real medical science, psychiatry has attempted to apply statistical methods, to make the diagnosis of pathologies of the mind, into a supposedly objective exercise. In theory, the patient's symptoms are all that are needed in order to make an accurate diagnosis, via the power of statistics - so, in theory, there's no need for psychiatrists any more. We should, in theory, be able to diagnose ourselves and then simply obtain the required medication from a pharmacist: no doctors required.

No. No. No. The psychiatrists say.

You need us to interpret these hard statistics, and add our own opinions. Say the psychiatrists.

So, what happened to this being a scientific process, driven by data and statistics?

The truth is that everyone will use their knowledge and position of authority in order to pursue their power games. Psychiatrists will never use a scientific statistical method, because then they become redundant.

Unfortunately, psychologists have latched onto psychiatry's attempt to become more scientific, and lend some credibility to their profession. Psychologists are probably more obsessed with statistical methods for 'diagnosis' than psychiatrists are. Psychologists, who, let us remember, were not clever enough to become doctors, engineers, mathematicians etc, opted for a profession where there are no right or wrong answers; anything you say is equally dumb and meaningless. Of course, psychologists would want to pretend like there was any kind of rigour, any kind of methodology, data or statistics, behind their work.

There isn't.

The problem with psychologists latching onto the work of psychiatry, is that they try to import theories and apply them. Psychologists - especially amateur wannabe psychologists of the armchair variety - love to throw around labels like "psychopath", "sociopath", "narcissist" etc. when in fact, those labels were only intended to ever apply to the tiniest fraction of humanity. How can it be meaningful to call every man you've ever met a "pathological narcissist"? How have rare medical conditions gone beyond that of an epidemic, to now become things which affect the vast majority of humanity?

It hasn't happened.

Only a tiny fraction of the human race suffer from pathologies such as narcissism and sociopathy.

You can't just label people you don't like with psychiatric pathologies.

It's dumb.

Amateur psychologists are dumb.

Psychiatric language is ubiquitous in our culture. We use terms like "crazy", "mad", "loony", "loopy", "wacky" and every other flavour of term for 'insanity' to mean everything on the spectrum, from upset and angry, to schizophrenic psychosis. We call ourselves "OCD" when we just mean neat, tidy and clean. We call ourselves "bipolar" when we just mean moody. Meanwhile, depression and anxiety are so common, and so many of us are medicated, that we hardly even bother to talk about the fact we've been diagnosed with those illnesses anymore - we make memes about killing ourselves; we make memes about how dysfunctional we are.

To talk about a 'superiority complex' in the present day, is like giving out speeding tickets to the competitors at the Silverstone Formula One grand prix race. To talk about 'narcissism' is something that you really should do on your YouTube channel, or on your Instagram Story, or on your Facebook page, or one of your TikTok videos. Utterly nonsensical. Unhinged. Mad.

Yes, there are people who are so affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect that they are unable to comprehend the limitations of their abilities: they will never be a mathematician, engineer, chemist, physicist, software engineer or suchlike; they're not clever enough. Those over-confident people's ignorance is not as good as my knowledge. We are, unfortunately, living in an age where vast numbers of people think that their 'life experiences' and 'gut feel' qualifies them to opine on subjects, which they are utterly, dismally ignorant about, exposing their appalling stupidity, much to the chagrin of anybody with half a brain.

So, anyway, I'm sick of pop-psych 'magazines' (especially online) publishing articles about narcissists with superiority complexes. They don't exist... you're just pedalling word-salad, put into the mouths of your readers. Your readers will use that word-salad to attack people they don't like.

 

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An Essay on Mortality

8 min read

This is a story about premature death...

Skull

I was having a panic attack recently. My pulse was racing, with my heart feeling like it was going to burst out of my chest. I was short of breath; I felt like I couldn't breathe; like I couldn't get enough oxygen. I was sure that I was going to die. Then, I realised that I didn't mind if I died. In fact, I decided that I'd be quite glad to be dead. As soon as I thought that, the panic attack abruptly ended.

It occurred to me that my attitude towards death - and mortality - is not at all typical, and as such warrants some discussion.

It's the nature of my profession, to deal with things using strict formal logic. As a result of spending a 23 year full-time career immersed in a world which will truck nothing vague, ambiguous or downright logically flawed, I have ended up being somewhat unable to think in the wooly way, which most ordinary people do. Most people have no attention to detail. Most people are unable to think logically.

The problem with thinking logically, is that it means that life's absurdity is laid bare, and various psychological horrors are visited upon the poor person - me in this case - who make their way through a world which does not utilise reason and logic.

Firstly, to be afraid of death, there must be a reason for wanting to be alive. What is that reason?

"I want to see my kids grow up"

But, why do your kids want to be alive? What was it that you were offering your children, when you decided to have them? What life was it that you thought they might want?

We still have to answer the same question: why does anybody want to be alive?

If your answer is something related to kids, grandkids, great-grandkids or suchlike, then you, I'm afraid, are no different from a slug, a wasp, an amoeba, or any other imbecilic creature, which is driven by its genes to do nothing more than make more copies of its genes. You are, I'm afraid, not a very bright spark. You can stop reading now.

"I like my life; I like being alive"

Okay, this is good stuff, but what is 'liking'? What does it mean to like your life? What does it mean to like being alive? Probably, you mean that you enjoy pleasure, in some form or other. Perhaps you enjoy food, perhaps you enjoy sex, perhaps you enjoy drink or drugs, perhaps you have a hobby. Whatever it is, you are basically a sensation-seeker, and/or pleasure-seeker. This is a little more logical than the slug-wasp-amoeba type morons we mentioned before, but it can still be easily exposed as nothing more than idiocy.

Our brains are evolved to give us small hits of dopamine to reinforce behaviours which increase our chances of individual survival, or increase our species' chance of survival. It's obvious that eating would be enjoyable, because if we didn't eat we'd starve to death. It's obvious that sex would be enjoyable, because if we didn't have sex our species would die out. Again, when we analyse the behaviour, we find that it's nothing more than genes pulling the levers, trying to get us to make more copies of the genes.

"Everything is meaningless"

Yep. Bingo. Everything IS meaningless. Every single bit of evidence of your existence will be obliterated, to the point that it will be as if you never existed. All of your stupid pictures you posted on Instagram, which you think are so great, will be gone, along with any evidence of the human race, the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way. In the inevitable heat death of the universe, the spreadsheets which your boss asked you to email, are so cosmically unimportant, that it's laughable that you even bothered to send them.

In the context of the ridiculousness anthropocentricity, I struggle to understand what the difference is between a 'premature' death, and a death which supposedly happens at the 'right' time. Of course, I empathise with those who have lost loved ones, too 'early', but logically, death is inevitable. It seems like we are creating a problem, where none need exist.

I do have strong views about the sanctity of human life, insofar as one human killing another, directly or indirectly. I am incensed with rage at lazy baby boomers and other greedy capitalists, hoarding scarce housing, during a housing crisis; forcing people into miserable minimum wage zero-hours contract McJobs, which cause suffering and suicide at epidemic proportions. Of course, you might ask why I would care, when such concerns are of cosmic insignificance; in the long run, we're all dead. The answer is easy: life is so absurd, so I treat it like a game. I can see that the game is horrendously rigged, but at least I can see that it doesn't matter if I die - I can't 'lose' per se - so I can play to 'win' in ways that nobody else does. While others try to spawn as many progeny as possible, or accumulate as many shiny round pieces of metal, or paper with numbers on, or both... I'm free to do whatever the hell I want, within the confines of a mortal body, trapped by nature's weakest fundamental force, on a rock floating in a vacuum, orbiting a nuclear fusion reaction.

I don't revel in the absurdity of life. I am miserable and I suffer. I have no answer for how to be happy. In fact, I think that happiness cannot co-exist with knowledge, beyond a certain point. Perhaps if I had one piece of advice, it would be to avoid theoretical physics and cosmology, because they seem quite incompatible with happiness - ignorance is bliss.

I have friends with life-limiting illnesses, and to them, my essay must seem very rude and inconsiderate; arrogant. I have friends who have loved ones who died 'prematurely' or who are dying (of something other than... well... what I don't know. Newsflash: we're all dying). I know that death is a real taboo, presumably because our genes are hard-wired for survival. It's been a big evolutionary advantage, to select against anybody who doesn't fear death, or who's prepared to talk about death as a preferable alternative to life.

When we view life as suffering, struggling and misery - which it is - then we must ask ourselves again: is it better to be dead? Of course, we originally asked why we wanted to be alive, but when we ask ourselves the much more straightforward question, why do we want to be dead, then the answers come much more readily. Here are a few reasons to be dead: you don't have to get up in the morning, you don't have to go to work, you don't have to do anything you don't enjoy, you don't have to make any effort, you don't have to feel any pain, you don't have to suffer, you don't have to struggle, you won't be tired any more, all your troubles will be over, you won't worry about anything, you won't be stressed anymore, you won't be anxious, you won't be depressed, you won't worry about being fat, you won't worry about being ugly, you won't be lonely, you won't be frustrated... you get the idea. There are infinitely many reasons why being dead is better than being alive. You like sleeping, don't you? Being dead is like, the best kind of sleeping, because you never get woken up by your alarm clock; you can rest forever.

I'm really not sure what's scary about death at all. I'm really not sure why more people don't choose death, when life is so shitty.

It seems so churlish to reject life, when there are lots of slug-wasp-amoeba people out there who are desperate to mindlessly do the bidding of their genes. We're so culturally indoctrinated to repeat the mantra that we love our life, and that life is precious, that we often forget that we don't love life - that life is utter shit - and that life is worthless. If you don't think life is worthless, you should take a trip to the developing world, to remind yourself of the human suffering that's inflicted in your name.

I've written about twice as much as I hoped to, but I suppose this is a subject dear to my heart, insofar as I feel suicidal most of the time.

Perhaps one day, depression will lift and I'll look back on this essay with different eyes. Perhaps one day, in the not-too-distant-future, I will kill myself. I think the latter is far more likely than the former, according to a great deal of bitter experience.

 

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World Suicide Prevention Day 2020

4 min read

This is a story about survival...

Suicide method

If you're an intelligent-sounding posh middle-class chap, dressed presentably, who has the outward appearance of having their shit together, doctors trust you more than other more disadvantaged members of society. Because I appear, to all intents and purposes, like a functional, productive, fine upstanding member of society, I was able to obtain six boxes of the maximum strength of tramadol. Each box contained 112 tablets.

My need for the tramadol - a strong opiate painkiller - had originally been legitimate, but I had weaned myself off it and managed to cope with the pain, without these painkillers. Instead, I stockpiled my prescriptions, with the intention of killing myself.

I managed to accumulate 672 of these incredibly strong opiate painkillers, with 50 milligrams of tramadol in each capsule.

The lethal dose of tramadol, which will kill 50% of rats and mice in laboratory experiments, is 350 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Assuming that my body weight is 80kg, then the lethal dose which would give me a 50/50 chance of survival, would be 28,000mg.

6 boxes, with 112 capsules, with 50mg of tramadol, equals 33,600mg.

33,600 is a bigger number than 28,000.

672 capsules is a heck of a lot of capsules.

* * *

On the 9th of September, 2017, I swallowed 672 capsules containing 50mg of tramadol. It was a time consuming exercise. Filling my mouth with capsules and gulping them down with wine - because alcohol would increase the lethality - meant that this was a quite drawn-out exercise. With each mouthful of capsules I swallowed, I was acutely aware that I was slowly reaching a dose which would almost certainly be fatal, but I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing. If I was going to hesitate, there was plenty of time to hesitate.

I did not hesitate.

Then, I waited.

To be precise, I set a timer on my phone. I knew that after a certain amount of time had elapsed - at least an hour - then the capsule shells would be fully dissolved and their contents would be dumped into my stomach and intestines, where the tramadol would start to be absorbed into my bloodstream. I knew that if I could avoid being discovered for an hour, then I would almost certainly die.

After 45 minutes, I felt that I was beyond the point of no return. I was extremely overwhelmed by the powerful painkillers entering my bloodstream, killing me. I decided to send a final tweet, saying goodbye.

* * *

I woke up in a hospital intensive care bed.

I didn't realise I was in hospital.

I didn't know what the hell was going on.

I had been in a coma for days.

* * *

So, I survived that suicide attempt.

I've never felt that I was glad to survive that suicide attempt.

I've definitely felt that I wish I didn't survive that suicide attempt, on many occasions.

* * *

If we want to prevent suicides, which I very much do, then we need to first understand why people commit suicide. We need to acknowledge that there are reasons and that very often there are not - in fact - any other choices available. Imagine if you met somebody suicidal and you asked them what's wrong, and they said to you "I'm thousands of pounds in debt", you wouldn't say, "well, it's your lucky day because I have thousands of pounds of savings". No. What you would say would be "have you tried phoning the Samaritans?". Nobody really wants to prevent suicide. Sure, some people would like it if there wasn't any suicide, the same way that people would like it if there wasn't any man-made climate change, but nobody's actually going to fucking do anything about it.

I've written one of these blog posts every year, since my suicide attempt, which almost killed me on World Suicide Prevention Day 2017. I write one of these every year, but nothing much changes.

Nothing much changes, but I do now have a million readers every year, visiting my website, looking for information on suicide.

Nothing much changes, but I do spend all my waking hours thinking about suicide. Not just my own suicide, but also other people who are suicidal: I think about how to make some real, meaningful, tangible changes in the world, which actually reduce the number of people committing suicide. Not just the usual bullshit about crisis counselling phone numbers.

 

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Overdue Holiday

4 min read

This is a story about stamina...

Me

It's been over 13 months since I had a holiday. My holiday plans for last year got really screwed up. I need to have a couple of winter holidays, for mental health reasons - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) exacerbates my bipolar, and can make me suicidally depressed, as was proven last Christmas. I ended up spending Christmas and New Year in a hospital bed, instead of on a beach, because that's what happens.

Of course I can technically keep working for years, without a holiday. The problem is, I get tired and irritable, which damages my relationship with my colleagues. Nobody wants to work with somebody who's tired and irritable.

The past 13+ months haven't just been a continuous slog at work, without a holiday. The past 13+ months have included an enormous amount of work on a very high-profile project of national importance. There's a lot of pressure. Sure, I thrive on pressure, but not everybody's going to be a fan of my style, when I'm tired and stressed, which is to not suffer any fools gladly; I can be extremely impatient and intolerant of fuckwits.

Of course, if I get the chance to keep working on the project I've been involved with for a long time, then I'm going to have to look after myself. I'm going to have to take some holidays. My health - mental and physical - demands that I take some holidays.

In a lot of ways, it's great for colleagues to have the consistency of me being around, all the time. In other ways, it's bad for me to be around all the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and familiarity breeds contempt etc.

One of the bosses who I admired the most, even if I didn't particularly like him, was notoriously short-tempered and impatient. He was extremely quick-witted and blazingly quick at everything he did. I always swore I would never ape his demeanour, because it wasn't very pleasant for colleagues, but when I came to building and running my first startup, I admit that I had a very sharp tongue; I reduced my co-founder to tears.

The boss who I attempt to copy, is a guy who was a 'shit umbrella' for the team: he fended off all the pressure, and kept the workload and general demands at a reasonable level, so that the engineering team could work without unhelpful and annoying people hanging around saying "is it done yet?" constantly. He used to give estimates which were extremely conservative - being over-optimistic, over-promising, will always lead to stress, pressure, being rushed, and ultimately a poor quality, late and disappointing outcome. My ex-boss created a great environment to work in, and I'll never forget that.

As discussed at length, I'm desperate to achieve financial security, and as such there's a great temptation to never take any holiday, when I suffer a double-whammy financial blow when I take a holiday: the loss of earnings AND the cost of the holiday. Of course, it's a false economy if I end up getting sick or losing my job, because I've overworked myself, but I've always taken things to the extreme.

I have no idea how or when I'm going to take a holiday, especially in the context of a second-wave of Coronavirus and the subsequent second lockdown. Already, the UK has more new cases than the UK's own threshold for quarantining visitors from another country. I feel pretty certain that I would end up spending my entire holiday in the hotel room, under quarantine. Another consideration is that I'm now single, and as such, would be holidaying alone, which I would hate.

I do need to take a holiday, and I will always find a way to achieve something if I set my mind to it, but there are many reasons not to take a holiday - money, coronavirus - and the prospect of being abroad, alone, is not enthusing me to the idea.

 

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Maybe I'm the Muppet

5 min read

This is a story about software development...

Cog

Maybe I'm the problem, but wherever I go, the projects I work on are delivered on time (or early!) on budget, and they work. Everywhere else in the IT industry, projects are late, overbudget, and they are a disaster zone: security problems, performance problems and full of bugs. Maybe I'm the muppet though, for reasons I'm about to explain.

My approach to large complex software projects, is to decompose the problem into smaller easier to handle pieces. If the problem can't be decomposed into small chunks, it's probably not going to succeed. As a non-muppet who I admire once said, you wouldn't build a heart pacemaker or some other piece of technology which was a matter of life-and-death, with a design which couldn't be built and tested with certainty that it would perform its safety-critical functions perfectly. Heart pacemakers and suchlike are highly complex, sure, but they are built from lots of very thoroughly tested and well-built smaller components, which work together.

A watch, is of course, a very complex piece of mechanical machinery. The idea that we are just cogs in a big machine is a good analogy: the machine is fucked without one of the cogs. A good machine has exactly as many cogs as it needs; no more no less. Another non-muppet who I admire is oft-quoted as saying that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler. No non-muppet ever said "I like this, but wouldn't it be better if it was more complex?".

I know that arrogance and delusions of grandeur are - unfortunately - big problems that I have to deal with, as a result of my mental illness: bipolar disorder. I'm sure there are plenty of quiet, unassuming and humble people out there in the world - somewhere - who suffer from bipolar disorder, but I'm one of the more common ones: I have a lot of confidence in my skills and abilities, which is frankly justified, because I don't think I'm a muppet, because every project I work on is a big success. But, as I said before, maybe I'm the muppet.

Of course, there's no "I" in team but there is a "me". There's also a hole in the "A". If your team doesn't have an a-hole in it, you're the a-hole. I often think that I'm probably the a-hole. Etc.

I know that we're all supposed to think of ourselves as the humble tiny cog, meaning that we're replaceable and not very important. I know that we're supposed to believe that our individual contribution is negligible. Frankly, that's a load of horse shit.

Sure, if you just want to turn up at a place for a few hours, in order to get money, and you really don't give a shit about what you do there, so long as you don't hate it so much that you kill yourself, then yes, you probably are "just a cog in the machine" in the way that most people mean. However, if you care about delivering successful outcomes and take pride in your work, then you too are a cog in the machine: that is to say, the machine is fucked without you.

Of course, capitalism has attempted to turn all workers into de-skilled automata, instead of highly sought after, valuable craftsmen. Instead of having some highly skilled scientists, mathematicians, engineers and suchlike, who are experts in their field, and experts on the particular projects they are working on, capitalism would prefer it if everyone was replaceable at the drop of a hat, so that anybody who's not kowtowing to their paymasters can be unceremoniously ejected from the workplace.

In my particular profession - software engineering - capitalism has succeeded to some extent, in that vast quantities of extremely poor quality code is produced, most of which will never be assembled into any kind of working system, delivering any kind of tangible benefits as intended, because fucking muppets are in charge, and muppets think that they're the brains and they just need a bunch of programmers to be typists for their 'perfect' requirements.

Maybe I'm a muppet, because I could accept a meagre wage, doff my cap at the muppets and pretend like they're not muppets. I could pretend I'm a lowly programmer instead of a highly skilled, experienced and seasoned veteran software engineer. I could pretend like I don't see the utter stupidity. I could allow the projects I work on to be late. I could allow the projects I work on to go overbudget. I could allow the projects I work on to fail. If I just wanted money, why would I care? I'm a muppet -surely- for not shutting my mouth and just taking the money.

Of course, lots of people care; lots of people want the projects to be on time, on budget and to succeed... but only the skilled craftsmen - the engineers - can make that a reality. No amount of spreadsheet monkey muppets can turn a failing project into a success, but one or two excellent engineers can.

Anyway... I guess I'll be looking for a job again soon. The muppets don't like it when I attempt to do things the right way and make their goddam project a success, weirdly, and they can't wait to get rid of me when they think they don't need me anymore. About to be unceremoniously ejected from the workplace, I think.

 

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What Next?

4 min read

This is a story about dreams...

Penny

Here is money. Don't spend it all at once. A starving African child would be grateful to have this money. A boomer could buy a house, go out to the cinema, get a taxi home and still have change left, from this money.

A conversation I keep having with a friend who also suffers from existential angst, ennui and general loathing of the rat race, is what I'd do if I was free from the tyranny of rent/mortgage and career considerations. My friend thinks that things would be no different, except perhaps I would be bored. I disagree, but I don't have an easy answer. I have no burning desire to re-train as a landscape gardener or a vet. I have no desire to swap one career - profession - for a different one.

Having had a 23 year long career, and previously - as a child - suffered the consequences of my parents being lazy loser drop-out druggie bums, who refused to get a job and stop scrounging off their parents. My childhood experiences certainly made me want to go a very different way with my life: to be a valuable, productive member of society; to make a contribution; to have a career and a profession. Now, I want to drop out. I want to drop out of the rat race. I want to be a bum; a tramp even.

The time I spent homeless was chaotic, traumatic and stressful at times, but I have very fond memories of a lot of the time, where I connected with people, community; I had a social life. Life was enjoyable. Now it is not.

The friends who I have, who are free from the tyranny of a bullshit job which they can't afford to lose, lest they lose their home, their money, their credit rating and their dignity... they are not bored. They are busy. They spend time talking to people, about stuff other than how horrible the commute to the office is, and other job-related stuff. They find people they like and they hang out with them, instead of being coerced into spending the vast majority of their waking hours, corralled together with people who are equally resentful about having the prime years of their lives robbed so cheaply.

The gap-year-university-I-built-a-school-in-africa-yah-boo-jolly-hockey-sticks brigade are perhaps happy with their lives, because they had pleasant privileged upbringings, in private or selective schools, surrounded by other socioeconomically advantaged kids at all stages, including when they went to university, which continued into first jobs... marry the girl of your dreams and you've always got plenty of money for a house, car, holiday, and school fees for the next generation to carry on doing what you've always done - the best of everything, always.

We must consider that I never went travelling and I never went to university. Couldn't afford it.

I enjoyed a bit of the London young professional scene, but it's quite an uphill battle if you don't have your group of university buddies as a social group.

I found a group of kitesurfers, who became my social group, which was wonderful.

But it all went wrong. They've all got kids now, but I'm divorced. The childless man, who doesn't fit in anywhere. People have moved on with their lives.

Being homeless was great. Homeless people are a community. It's important to be part of a community.

Obviously I don't aim to be homeless, but I am considering it. Such is the extreme level of my misery, that I feel like I'd be happier homeless; cut loose from the tyranny of capitalism, rent/mortgage, career, salary, job, office, commute and all the rest of it, which makes no sense when none of the rewards are there - I'm not supporting a family, I'm not raising children, I'm not benefitting from any work-related social life.

What next? Seriously, I just want to drop out, and to find other drop-outs; other people who couldn't stand the rat race so much, that they ditched their mortgages/rent, careers and other things which are like a miserable trap, unless you are coerced into that system, because you need to provide a decent home for a child to grow up in, which my parents never did. I can be a nomad and at least I won't be fucking up any children's lives.

 

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