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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Treatment

10 min read

This is a story about making people better...

Ward

I remember the days when I thought that there were magic buildings full of magic people with magic potions who could make magical things happen. I remember the days when I was naïvely optimistic about the abilities of people, institutions and organisations who make highly alluring claims: we can cure you!

If I had ruptured a major blood vessel, or my body was losing its battle against a bacterial infection, you can be damn sure that I'd want somebody to stop the bleeding or give me some antibiotics. If I had an operable cancer, you can be sure that I'd want somebody to cut it out of my body.

Some areas of medicine are comparatively new. Some areas of medicine don't have a great deal of success - the data doesn't show significantly better outcomes for patients who are treated, versus those who are untreated. Medicine is actively losing its battle to save lives in some areas, such as suicide and opioid addiction. Mental health problems and addiction have been declared medical emergencies; epidemics.

Sometimes I wonder if it's useful to think of myself as having a chronic illness, and to expect that problems are just around the corner. I can have a good day, a good week, a good month... maybe even a good year. However, it's probably dangerous to start thinking of myself as "cured" or "recovered" and begin to consider myself "normal". Complacency will no doubt lead to repetition of past mistakes, which can result in an incredibly fast chain of disastrous events, destroying every semblance of a normal life, which was so convincing that I and other people were completely convinced that I'm just another ordinary bloke... not some ticking time bomb.

I fought very hard to get treatment. There was a great deal of reluctance to diagnose me as bipolar, and there was further reluctance to treat me. I seemed very functional. My problems seemed acute. Everybody hoped that I'd go away and get better without intervention.

wanted treatment. I knew I was getting sicker. I knew that my situation was deteriorating. I could see the car crash that was about to happen.

I believed that treatment was effective.

I just had to find the right treatment.

I tried so many medicines. I also believed in the "magical healing powers" of hospitals and doctors. I was indoctrinated by the medical establishment's dogma: "we are the experts and we are the only ones who can cure you".

Of course, I'm not such a fool that I believe in alternative medicine. I critically examine all the claims of all charlatans, quacks, healers and others who promote themselves as miracle-workers. Desperate people are suckers. People are also lazy and gullible. Many of us will be scammed in our lifetimes, because we are so desperate to believe in the existence of things that are too good to be true.

It would have been good I could have avoided that period of my life when I was desperately searching to find the right specialist, hoping that a stay in hospital would be my salvation, or trying a heap of different medications in the hope that I would stumble upon the right one, but it was a necessary education. I needed to learn what was possible, and what was not possible. I needed to see with my own eyes and experience those things first-hand, to learn the limitations of psychiatric medicine.

Psychiatry is young. Mainstream psychiatry - the prescribing of psychiatric medications on a massive scale - is an experiment that's barely a few decades old, which is no time at all, when we consider that anatomical studies of the human body and surgery are parts of medicine which are hundreds of years old. The present-day situation, where at least half of us will take a pill for depression or anxiety at some point in our lives, and so many of us have been taking psychiatric medications for years and years... this would have been unthinkable before Prozac successfully normalised the practice of dispensing mind-altering drugs to tens of millions of people across the USA and Europe. Nobody really knew what the long-term consequences and long-term outcomes would be.

I've lost interest in having any contact with doctors now. I've lost interest in any new developments in the field of psychiatry. I've lost interest in the idea that there will ever be a miracle pill to cure depression, anxiety or to stabilise moods. The brain has proven a far more complex organ than the blunt instruments of psychoactive substances are able to have any precise effect on. Pills are useful for curing a bacterial infection, but they are of no use in an organ which has been evolved to specifically resist attempts to alter it - the brain's ability to maintain homeostasis is incredible, and all psychiatric medications are fundamentally flawed, because they affect a plastic organ, which can simply adapt itself and return to its original state.

Hospitals can offer welcome respite - sanctuary - from the unreasonable demands of the world. Hospitals have their place as a controlled, safe environment, full of caring people. However, psychiatric care has changed radically in the short time that we have been practicing it as a branch of medicine. Those who are ill-equipped to cope with life outside institutions cannot expect to live in an asylum forever, which might sound like a good thing for those who believe that people can be cured and rehabilitated. However, in my experience, it is the horror of the "real world" which is the very reason for the epidemic of mental health problems, and it's often infinitely preferable to protected with the safe confines of an institution than to be fending for oneself in the big wide world. The idea of losing your freedom might sound terrifying and unpleasant, but for those who are struggling to cope - struggling to be functional - freedom is a small price to pay, for the comforting reassurance of life inside an institution.

When you are a child and you hurt yourself, you run to your parents to "kiss it better" but often the injury remains painful for sometime and there is nothing that can be done to alleviate your discomfort. We learn that sticking plasters, stitches and plaster casts can help our bodies mend themselves, but there is nothing to be done to speed up the healing process. There is little that can be done to take away our pain. There is little that can be done when we are suffering mental anguish.

Although my life was very badly damaged, I'm now part of a large organisation where I'm known to a lot of people, and they'd be concerned if I went AWOL. My home city is still very new to me - and I know very few people locally - but I also think that somebody would ring my doorbell and check on me if I went AWOL. I have a routine. I have put things around myself that are structured and stable, even if that rebuilding process is very far from complete.

I've been here before... so very close to a fresh start; a complete life. About a year ago, in the blink of an eye I lost most of my new friends, my new girlfriend and my new job. The year before I nearly died, and I regained consciousness to find I'd lost my girlfriend, my home and my job. I'm aware that my life is very fragile. I'm aware that my existence is precarious.

I wrote positively yesterday about my life and how far I've come since the very deepest depths I sank to, but I know that I have a difficult job trying to stabilise myself and find a way of living my life that's sustainable, and tolerable... pleasant even, one hopes.

It's strange that I've been so much and ultimately reached the conclusion that I was doing a reasonably good job of looking after myself, but I simply had some very stressful life events to deal with. I thought that I could turn to doctors and hospitals to make me better - and indeed my life was certainly saved when my physical health was severely damaged - but now I feel much happier doing everything on my own: I prescribe my own medications, adjust my own dosages... but mainly I just try as best as I can to create a tolerable set of circumstances to allow myself to thrive; I've come to recognise that my family don't care about me and have abandoned me. I've been incredibly lucky to have very loyal, generous, kind, caring friends and wonderful girlfriends, who've believed in me, and looked after me, and stuck by me through the difficult times.

When you see the finished product - a functional man - then we might assume either that he never had any major difficulties in his life, or that treatment was a success. I'm grateful for the hard work, effort and dedication of those who work in psychiatry, but my ultimate conclusion is that it's a flawed branch of medicine. Things could have ended very badly, but those friends who bothered to come and visit me in hospital, check on me when I went AWOL, look after me when I was sick, believe in me, support me... that's the thing that was the key to giving me a chance at getting my life back. Those who've read my blog and are kind enough to reach out to me - to be in contact - have helped me to feel like I have some value, and to feel some self-esteem.

My colleagues don't know how sick I've been, and they don't know how much it means that I'm able to be treated like a normal person at work. My colleagues don't know how important it is that I have the structure and routine of office life. My colleagues don't know how great it is for my mental health to have the social interaction that we have, even if it's just office chit-chat.

We might conclude that the doctors I saw 11 years ago were right - I'm not really very sick and I'm quite capable of living a fully functional normal life - but they're also wrong, because everything had to get smashed to smithereens and rebuilt from nothing, before I could reach this point. I nearly died so many times. Was it avoidable though? Probably not.

That's my conclusion: I've learned a hell of a lot, but it would be wrong of me to start telling people that I have the answers, because what I discovered was that I had to learn everything first-hand. If I had a time machine and went back to tell myself everything I've learned up until now, I don't think I'd believe myself and I'd end up making exactly the same decisions, much like children have to make mistakes even though their parents warn them about everything and try to protect them.

Does this mean that I forgive my parents for abandoning me? Nope. If your kid is sick in hospital, you go and visit them. Period. No ifs. No buts. You don't abandon your children, no matter how old they are.

 

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Suddenly Everything is OK

5 min read

This is a story about overnight recovery...

Flip flops

One day you can't feel your leg. One day a leg is twice the size of the other one. One day your kidneys have stopped working. One day you're in agony from muscle and nerve damage caused by DVT. One day you're in hospital on dialysis and you're very sick. One day you're physically dependent on a medication which you've been buying on the black market, and you'll have seizures if you stop taking it. One day you're so addicted to a drug that you won't sleep, eat or drink, because you don't want to stop your binge for a single second. One day you're virtually bankrupt. One day you're homeless. One day you're jobless. One day your mental health is so bad that you're hearing voices, seeing things and you're paranoid about everybody and everything, to the point where you think even the person who loves you the most in the world is your enemy.

Then, overnight, you recover.

Overnight, all your physical health problems are cured.

Overnight, your mental health problems are cured.

Overnight, all your substance dependency - addiction - problems are solved.

Overnight, you have a house.

Overnight, you have a job.

Overnight, your debts are repaid.

Overnight, you have lots of money.

Nope.

Just nope.

I was rummaging in the boxes of stuff which managed to survive the chaotic years of my life and I found a pair of flip-flops with a piece of string tied to them. The string is there because I couldn't feel my foot and I couldn't control its movement - I couldn't walk properly. When I was walking in flip-flops, the left one would just fall off after ten or twenty steps, because I didn't have enough feeling in my toes to be able to 'grip' the flip-flop properly. The string was my improvised attempt to be able to wear my beloved flip-flops during some nice weather.

My attempt at using a piece of string to fix my inability to wear flip-flops was a lovely metaphor for the attempts I was making to solve all my problems, overnight.

That was two years ago.

Things got a lot worse before they got better.

Things were so bad that on the very worst day of my life, I woke up in an hospital intensive care ward, with a tube down my throat forcing air into my lungs, a tube up my nose and into my stomach, forcing activated charcoal and other things into me, 6 canulas all for pumping me full of various things, an arterial canula for measuring my blood pressure with incredible accuracy, plus I was attached to an 8-cable ECG machine, a clip on my finger measured my blood oxygen and I had been catheterised - I noticed that a tube coming out of my penis had been taped to the inside of my leg. The worst thing was that I was alive.

I did not want to be alive.

I had tried very hard not to be alive.

Physically I was alive, but I was still very sick - my kidneys and other organs had shut down and I had been in a coma - and I was also going through benzodiazepine withdrawal, which is both life-threatening and thoroughly unpleasant.

I was alive, but it turned out I didn't have a job or a home anymore.

I was single and without any friends. I was in a strange city where I didn't know anybody. I didn't have enough money to rent a place to live and support myself until I got my first paycheque. I was utterly screwed.

So, of course I still very much wanted to be dead.

Now, I have a nice house, full of nice things. I've made some friends and I've met some women. I go on dates. Sometimes those dates go really well. I have a job. I earn a lot of money. My finances are sorted out. I'm no longer addicted to drugs or physically dependent on medication. I hardly even drink - perhaps once a week, socially.

I can wear flip-flops.

Weirdly, the nerve damage repaired itself enough so that I have enough sensation in my foot to be able to wear flip-flops, run, go kitesurfing and do the other things I always used to do.

I don't know if I'm happy - there's still a lot of insecurity in my life; I live with an unacceptable amount of jeopardy for a person to have to suffer. I don't have enough friends in the local area. I don't have a girlfriend. I haven't established myself in my new home city. I've barely even started to unpack my stuff.

Compared with two years ago, my life does look like an overnight success. I'm good at my job and my colleagues are grateful for my contribution to the team and the project. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together, and my life is beginning to look viable.

It's strange how people expect to be able to 'save' people who - on closer examination - have such a clusterf**k of issues that it's easy why some would think they're a "lost cause" and abandon them.

I'm grateful to that handful of people who didn't give up on me; who didn't write me off and abandon me.

 

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I Love My Job

6 min read

This is a story about having a métier...

Hospital bed

It feels strange to be writing this, but I'm really loving my job at the moment. I've always been a bit of a workaholic, but I often get depressed and demotivated when I'm not empowered to do my job effectively. I have often complained about being bored and unchallenged - a common consequence of working for very large organisations - but after a difficult 'bedding in' period I usually find myself in a role where I'm adding a lot of value, which I find very rewarding.

I've written so often in the past 15+ months about how much I detest the rat race and the coercion of capitalism, forcing me to work when I'm very sick. Not long ago, my kidneys failed on more-or-less the day I was supposed to start a new job. My life hung in the balance, as the amount of toxins in my bloodstream put me at continuous risk of cardiac arrest. Whether my kidneys would ever function again was doubtable and I had weeks of emergency dialysis, lasting several hours a day.

I discharged myself from hospital against medical advice, because of the coercion of capitalism. I need to work. I can't afford not to work.

That period in hospital was a major setback. I exhausted myself, persuading the company I was about to start working for to wait for me to leave hospital, which they did... but I had to leave hospital at least a week before it was safe to do so. My recovery from such a traumatic medical emergency was not straightforward - my left leg was not working properly due to nerve and muscle damage and I was in immense pain. It took months before I was able to walk very far without it causing me a great deal of agony. Work was impossible.

A company asked me to build an app for them, with a very tight deadline, which I did, but my financial situation was precarious and I was still very unwell. The pressure was too much and I tried to end my life.

A friend recommended me to the company he was working for, to build an application for them, which I did. I had a tight deadline, which I easily met. Strangely, the company decided to extend my contract, but the work was finished so I was incredibly bored. My colleagues worked in Warsaw and I was in London, so I had nobody to talk to - I was very isolated. I was still recovering from the suicide attempt.

Another friend recommended me to another organisation. Again, there was a project with a deadline, which I completed early. I enjoyed that project, but I'd had to move house and I was rebuilding my life in a new city. The preceding events had left me in a very financially precarious situation, as well as isolated from friends. I finished the project, but my life was unstable - I got sick, broke up with a girlfriend and my personal life fell apart, although I managed to minimise the impact at work.

I started work with the current organisation. I did so out of desperation, because I was in danger of losing all the progress I'd made to getting back to health, wealth and happiness.

I lived in a hotel for months. It was awful.

It was quickly apparent that there were people I enjoyed working with, and there were plenty of challenges to keep me busy, but my personal life was very badly broken. The work was good at times, but my brain chemistry was not healthy, and some days were very torturous. I struggled to find pieces of work which would keep me entertained and motivated. My mental health was a hit-and-miss affair.

I struggled onwards, setting myself some major milestones: I wanted to take a holiday in October, to beat the winter blues. I wanted to take a holiday during Christmas and New Year, to get some more winter sun and because my relationship with my family is irreparably broken. I wanted to come back from holiday and carry on working, to cement my gains. I knew that I had to move house and settle somewhere - to have some security and put down roots.

I suppose I always manage to make myself useful in any organisation, given enough time to get my bearings and manoeuvre myself into a role where I'm empowered to make a difference. The place where I currently work seems to have gleefully put my skills to good use, and I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time. I do stuff that I think will be useful and I'm rewarded for it, even though I'm rarely doing what I'm 'supposed' to be doing.

I worry that disaster will strike. I worry that my big mouth will get me in trouble. I worry that the personal risks that I take - staking my reputation on my decisions - will backfire one day, if I make a mistake. I know that my employment is precarious; temporary. I'll be kicked out as soon as I've served my useful function.

I have a great deal of extra pressure on me now that I've made a commitment to a new city. My financial security would quickly collapse if I lost my source of income. My mental health would be likely to deteriorate very badly, with a major setback.

I'm not sure why I'd lose my job when I am enjoying it, being very productive, doing useful work and being seemingly well received - well liked - by my colleagues, but I do have a propensity for getting carried away and doing stupid stuff. The springtime has often proven difficult for me in the past. I need to work very hard to keep my mood as calm and regulated as I possibly can.

On a Sunday night when I'm usually dreading Monday morning, I'm actually feeling very happy to be starting a new working week. I feel motivated. I feel like I have a purpose. I feel empowered to do a good job.

 

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Life Lived Publicly

7 min read

This is a story about open secrets...

Time to talk

A date asked me if she could read my blog. She already has enough information to be able to easily find it on Google: all you'd have to type would be "Nick bipolar blog Cardiff" and I pop up as both the 2nd and 3rd hits. I've decided to go "full disclosure" on my dating profile and tell people that I have bipolar disorder, because it's something pretty important to know about me. I also say that I write a blog and spend a lot of time on Twitter. That's quite a lot of information to give away, which easily leads to this absolute goldmine of everything you'd ever want to know about me, and a lot that you really would probably rather not know.

There's a great imbalance if somebody has access to a great big cache of totally candid and brutally honest writing, which confesses every single innermost thought, expresses every single insecurity and exposes all my vulnerabilities.

Usually, when getting to know somebody, each person reveals themselves little by little, and each person slowly forms an opinion - there's a limited amount of information available from which to form a judgement. Also, we present ourselves in either the way that we would like to be perceived, or in the way that we perceive ourselves. If we have pretentions, we present that image. If we have insecurities, we also make those known in subtle ways, or we attempt to hide them. If we wish to be insincere, we can lie and boast. If we wish for things from our past to be forgotten, we can omit those gory details from the account we tell.

Given that it is my well-practiced habit to write without self-censorship on a daily basis, and to use this blog as a coping mechanism during some very difficult times, I'm exposed in a way that most ordinary people are not. A glance at somebody's Instagram account is going to reveal very little about their state of mind. A glance at somebody's hand-picked photographs, selected to present an enviable glamorous adventurous lifestyle, does not in any way hint at what life's really like for the person who controls that account.

A glance at my blog reveals a fairly dismal picture of me at the moment. I'm quite overwhelmed with seemingly mundane things, such as administrative paperwork and other fairly simple tasks associated with getting a new home into good working order - assembling flat-pack furniture and suchlike. I complain about being single and lonely, and isolated: lacking in an adequate social life. I have also regularly mentioned suicidal ideation, usually triggered by minor inconveniences and frustration, borne of my unrealistic expectations of how quickly I should be able to restore my life to health, wealth and prosperity, complete with a new girlfriend, having only just very recently moved to a new city.

Because I never write with the mindset of "what if somebody from work or somebody who I wanted to date read this?" it means that I'm at risk of being judged harshly by people who might walk in on a particular chapter of my life and quickly gain an unflattering impression of me.

I don't write to impress work colleagues. I don't write to impress potential girlfriends. I write because writing is an integral part of my life, and writing publicly is now "normal behaviour" to me, although I'm well aware that most people wouldn't share what I share, because they'd see it as a risk to their reputation - it'd make them more vulnerable, less safe and secure, and they see privacy as something desirable.

I found privacy to be unhelpful. I found that privacy meant that nobody knew how close to suicide I was, which was a very dangerous state of affairs, and I found that privacy led to me becoming increasingly isolated and paranoid - I was terrified of anybody finding out that I was unwell, which spiralled out of control. The more I worried about people finding out that I was sick, the more sick it made me.

The answer, as it has turned out to be, was to write everything down and publish it so that anybody can read it. My illness was by no means "cured" overnight by taking that course of action, but over time, old friends and new ones have been able to engage with me and I've maintained a toe-hold in the land of the living. The most unusual thing - making my entire life an open book - has turned out to be one of the most important things to give my life stability, structure, routine and access to a vast number of supportive caring individuals, who've intervened at critical moments during the 4 years I've been writing... including one crucial moment which literally saved my life.

The question about whether I should allow prospective girlfriends to read this blog is perhaps bound up with the question about whether people who've had difficult life experiences are "broken" and are therefore "worthless". If you believe that people should suffer lifelong punishment for their mistakes, then perhaps this blog is perfect to share with prospective girlfriends, because I'd never want to date anybody who'd harshly judge me for things which happened in my past which I have no ability to change: my time machine is broken.

If anybody is looking to go digging for dirt with a negative mindset - hoping to discover that I'm a terrible person who's done terrible things - then I think that those people won't be disappointed. My behaviour has regularly fallen short of perfection and I'm deeply disappointed with things I've said and done in the past; I do carry regret and remorse; I've made innumerable mistakes.

I wonder how much I differ from, say, a man who abandoned his young children and wife to run away with a young woman who he was having an affair with - an utterly devastatingly despicable piece of behaviour, ruining innocent lives and making a mockery of solemn vows of lifelong monogamy and dedication to a spouse, plus the dereliction of dutiful responsibilities - versus my mistakes which bear no such hallmark of obnoxiousness. Yes, I've caused a great deal of distress during times when I was extremely sick, but I assure you that no amount of digging will unearth evidence that I'm some kind of selfish evil man, lacking in empathy and remorse. In fact, a thorough reading of my blog reveals that I often reflect upon events from my past and wish that I had acted differently, and I am critical of my own behaviour, attempting to acknowledge my own flaws and spot common mistakes, so that I might learn from them.

This is a highly defensive piece, but it's a highly stressful time. My job is going very well and I would dearly love to start another relationship. Having this vulnerability - in the guise of this blog - is highly inadvisable, but I'm loath to bury it, given how important it is to me as a coping mechanism and a way to keep concerned friends informed of my state of mind.

I might write another synopsis of "the story so far" for those who are dipping in for the first time, because it upsets me that it's impossible to see the bigger picture without reading approximately 1.1 million words, and I don't like the idea of being judged on a handful of skim-read recent blog posts, mostly complaining about mundane and trivial matters.

Of course, none of us wants to be misunderstood, and my writing is perhaps the most desperate attempt to avoid that situation, given that I've felt so close to death for so long. However, ironically, it's pretty damn hard to get to know me - to understand me - because I've written so much and for so long.

If you've read as far as this point, what can I say? Thank you. The comfort I get from knowing that my thoughts and feelings are not trapped inside my body, unseen, is immeasurably valuable to me.

 

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Not My Finest Work

4 min read

This is a story about doing a rushed job...

Cat flap

Here is a picture of my cat flap. I've been thinking about getting a cat because I miss having a furry friend and I think it would improve my life to have a pet in my life. Undoubtedly, having contact with pets is something which is beneficial to my mental health - I find it really stress relieving to stroke a cat, and I enjoy sharing my life with other living creatures. I think I would find it greatly comforting to have an animal to nurture.

I'm working very hard and my colleagues are super pleased with what I'm doing, but I can't let my job totally define and consume me.

I'm trying very hard to find a girlfriend, but such things can't be rushed. I have very limited control over when and where fate is going to match me up with somebody who's got mutual feelings for me, worth embarking upon a relationship.

I'm trying somewhat less hard to make friends outside of work, because I'm simply flat-out.

My house is filled with mountains of boxes of unassembled flat-pack Ikea furniture and all of my stuff which still remains mostly in the cardboard boxes I used when moving. Some of the boxes have been opened and rummaged through for long-forgotten treasures, but some boxes are still sealed up with tape.

My clothes are mostly organised using the floordrobe system, where dirty clothes are piled up in one part of my bedroom, and clean ones in another.

I have more Ikea furniture arriving soon and I need to at least assemble a guest bed before I have my first visitor.

I'm hurriedly writing this, well aware that my sleep patterns have gotten out of sync with the corporate demands of capitalist society. It's late. I'm tired.

I'm not saying a whole lot that's very interesting or insightful, but these are my thoughts after a pretty punishing - although productive - week at the office. I veer violently from suicidal despair to arrogant delusions of grandeur, depending on whether I'm doing some really cool piece of work at the office, or whether I'm struggling to secure myself a romantic companion via the local dating scene.

I'm spending money like crazy, but it seems unavoidable given my need for a furnished home, plus I need to phone all the utility companies and tell them that it's just me living here in this giant house all on my own, so they stop charging me zillions of pounds for supplying energy, water and other services which I barely use. I'm spending money on dating. I'm spending money on replacing some of my threadbare worn-out clothes.

It seems crazy to get a kitten, but it also seems like something which would bring a flood of much-needed oxytocin, given my rather isolated existence. It seems like something I could be in control of: I just need to find a kitten for sale locally and adopt it, and then I can immediately enjoy my new pet. Having a little kitten to lavish attention on, and to brighten my day, sounds so lovely. I think I would be really overjoyed to come home from work every day and be greeted by a tiny furry friend. I think my life is sorely missing an outlet for my nurturing side.

I'm producing great work at the office and I'm not doing too badly in the dating game, but both things are unhealthy to do obsessively, and neither can be rushed.

Sometimes the sun shines, like it did this evening, and I feel like life is going really well. Most of the time I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of meeting new friends and getting a girlfriend, which are going to be essential pieces of the puzzle if I'm going to have a happy life here in this new city.

My writing is suffering, but I'm trying my best to juggle everything. It's pretty impressive that I've done so much in such a short space of time, but it's still unfortunately not quite enough to have yielded a life which meets my basic ordinary and realistic needs, such as secure relationships, financial security, stability and suchlike.

It's well past my bedtime. I'm struggling to catch up. The extra demands placed upon me have tipped the balance unfortunately to the point where I'm not quite managing to stay on top of everything. I'm balancing on a knife edge.

 

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Cutting My Meds

4 min read

This is a story about tapering off pills...

Weed

I'm not a stoner. Never have been. Never will be. However, it seems nigh-on impossible to endure modern life without something to 'take the edge off. Most people drink, smoke, have tea, coffee and/or indulge in recreational narcotics. Most people take antidepressants. Most people take things to help with anxiety. Most people take things to help with sleep. Life is pretty dreadful without mind-altering substances, prescribed or otherwise.

My office, which is filled with many thousands of people, functions on tea, coffee, cigarettes and vaping. There are probably numerous colleagues who are also secret alcoholics, swigging vodka from bottles hidden in their gym bag or perhaps kept in their car. I've worked for more than two decades in large organisations - I know what people are like.

At the peak of my stress and misery - just a few weeks ago - I was swallowing three times the recommended dosage of Xanax and zopiclone. I was heavily medication dependent. My sleep was greatly aided, but my alertness was drastically affected and my reaction times were probably impaired. I felt very strange: as if I was having an out-of-body experience. My anxiety levels soared as my working day wore on, and the afternoons and evenings were unbearably unpleasant.

I cut my dose by 33%.

It wasn't that bad.

Taking 4 pills instead of 6 is easy enough to do: two Xanax and two zopiclone.

To cut my dosage again was going to be more difficult, except I had the foresight to have obtained some half-dose tablets, so that I was able to cut my dosage by 25%: I swallowed one and a half Xanax and one and a half zopiclone.

It wasn't that bad.

Now I take one pill of each: one Xanax and one zopiclone. Cutting my dose by 33% again was aggressive, but I've managed to do it. My sleep was severely disturbed, but I soldiered through a difficult weekend and I've managed to just about manage to get enough sleep to not lose my job. My alertness has improved significantly and I'm very pleased that I've cut my dosage by 67% in the space of just 3 weeks, which is extremely rapid.

I have left myself enough of the half-dose zopiclone tablets to be able to cut my dosage by 50% at some point. The Xanax tablets break very conveniently into half and quarter doses. Xanax is evil - it's so short-acting that it's tempting to keep popping pills whenever the anxiety comes back, which it always does. I'm desperate to free myself from my dependency on Xanax.

The prospect of being released relatively soon from my chemical prison is incredibly pleasing. Although the pills served their function very effectively, allowing me to cope during some incredibly stressful times, it's a terrible habit to become dependent on pill-popping every time anxiety occurs. Anxiety is unbearable, but benzodiazepines are a terrible short-term solution, which ultimately leave the user worse off than they began. The low price of black market benzodiazepines and their ubiquity is shocking, but life is very unusual when it's structured around medications, and Xanax is probably one of the very worst medications to become dependent on.

Cutting my zopiclone dose by 50% is going to be the hardest, because it'll be the biggest drop that I've had so far. I will cut my Xanax from a whole 2mg tablet, to 1.5mg, then to 1mg, then to 0.5mg... and then I'll be free. However, zopiclone tablets are not particularly designed to be split so easily. Purchasing some half-dose zopiclone tablets was prescient, but I'm anxious about insomnia and struggling to get up in the morning to go to work.

My life is made so much more bearable by having the ability to alter my body clock to suit early-bird culture, when I'm naturally a night owl. My life is made tolerable by having the ability to medicate away the worst of my anxiety, when it becomes unbearable.

I have no idea how I'm going to function without my tablets, and I fear that I might be tempted to eat and drink more by way of compensation, which would adversely affect my physical health, but I do want to applaud my progress so far this year: I've been virtually teetotal, while also cutting down my meds by 67% so far, which is a big deal.

Kind of a boring story... but I wanted to report on some progress I feel proud of.

 

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After The Mania, Regret

8 min read

This is a story about the consequences of a mood disorder...

Bipolar memory

Having had a mood disorder - bipolar - all my life, with its symptoms perhaps becoming indisputably obvious from adolescence onwards, I've had a lot of time to reflect upon the regrettable consequences of things that I said and did when I was experiencing hypomania or mania.

As a child I had little opportunity to do anything which had any particularly negative consequences. I took risks I suppose and I established a pattern of frenzied activity followed by melancholic lethargy. The intensity of my early hypomania was triggered by the rare event of being able to spend time with friends, when so much of my childhood was spent bored while my parents took drugs and got drunk. The excitement of escaping the boredom and oppression of being trapped in a house or a car with drugged-up or drunk dribbling morons, was so great that I would talk rapidly, be unable to sleep and I exuded so much energy that my friends and their parents were alarmed by this behaviour, which was uncharacteristic of how I acted at school, for example.

School terms were long and they were unbearable. For whatever reason, I was bullied constantly. School was something to be endured and I treated it in very much the same way that I treated my parents' negligence - I lived inside my own head, bored but attempting to entertain myself with my own imagination. I was incredibly patient, given the unpleasantness of my school days and the time I was forced to spend with my parents, who were so incredibly selfish that they destroyed most chances I would've had to form meaningful long-lasting friendships. Every school holiday, and indeed many weeks and months of term-time, my parents would remove me from the company of my peers, because they wanted to get drunk and take drugs in an isolated rural location, where they thought they would be safe from the criticism which they would draw for the neglect they were showing me; they attempted to hide their disgusting disgraceful behaviour.

My parents' folie-a-deux, which I see now was a toxic co-dependency, motivated by their addiction to alcohol and drugs, was clearly very formative and shaped my character. I became a patient plotter, who could put myself into a trancelike disconnected state to endure the interminable boredom of being trapped with a pair of dribbling moronic drug addict drunks, with no friends to play with - deliberately isolated from my peers.

This is why I do not celebrate mothers' day - because my mother is nothing more than an alcoholic drug addict with bad taste in men, and I wish I had never been born.

Luckily, modern society reveres those who have bipolar tendencies. How would anybody be expected to pass their school examinations, university finals or write a dissertation, unless they were able to cram and work hard in short and intense periods, having the academic holidays to then collapse on the brink of a nervous breakdown, to recover? How would anybody be expected to undergo the the awfulness of attempting to get a foot on the first rung of the career ladder, and the dreadfulness of the 9 to 5 office grind, unless they could muster the manic energy to be enthusiastic in numerous interviews where you're expected to lie about how excited you'd be to join Acme Corporation and their widget manufacturing business? How can you get ahead in your career, when you are so thwarted by your colleagues and the dreadful bureaucratic nature of organisations - with their "can don't" attitude - except by having periods of intense focus and effort, which no stable level-headed person would ever undertake in their right mind? How could you quit your job, start a company and make it successful, unless you had some kind of screw loose, which drives you to work 100+ hours a week and not give up on something until the results are delivered?

Nobody much cares about the periods of depression that regularly occur in the life of a person with bipolar disorder, because we celebrate achievements and we hide our failures. We pretend that we never screwed up. We pretend that we never got sick. According to our CVs and our LinkedIn pages, we are perfect infallible human beings, who are completely flawless. Because people with bipolar disorder regularly have episodes of hypomania or mania which are full of boundless creative energy, they have an impressive list of achievements under their belt. Nobody ever lists their depressions on their CV or LinkedIn.

Moving house and breaking up with my last girlfriend has left me exhausted and all alone in a new city. I have a work colleague who is reasonably friendly, but a very busy family man, and I have met one new friend, although they don't live very nearby. It's hard to describe how lonely and isolated I am - physically - because few people ever reach this point in their life without taking some kind of evasive action. It's very unnatural for humans to go to strange places and leave themselves totally cut off from social contact, beyond the minimum necessary to get money and buy food.

The flurry of activity which pre-dated me moving house was prompted by stress, and it contributed to the exhaustion and depression I'm feeling now. Also, I feel embarrassed that my grand plans to work on projects presently lie abandoned and the people who I was in contact with have been neglected for quite some time. It's very damaging to my self-esteem to know that my behaviour is so conspicuously unpredictable and unreliable, which leads people to believe that there's little value in the investment of a deeper and more meaningful friendship. When I crash, I cannot face the pressure of maintaining contact, so I disappear and I'm overwhelmed with guilt over the people and projects which are being neglected.

Sometimes, mania prompts me to say regrettable things. I particularly use Facebook as a 'safe space' to rant when I'm struggling with my mental health, because at least it keeps my regrettable words contained in a place where they're not publicly accessible. My friends can respond and calm me down, and I'm not left scrabbling to delete things which were inadvisable to write and publish publicly. My friends - if they're real friends - would take my words with a pinch of salt and not unduly categorise me as a madman and a lost cause.

It's deeply worrisome, knowing that my mental health can collapse and I can act regrettably. It's an unsettling and insecure state of affairs, knowing that I could easily destroy the good reputation I have and the respect of my colleagues, if I was to show a little bit too much of my illness. I keep things relatively neatly partitioned: my blog is where I write honestly, but always mindful that my words are subject to public scrutiny. Facebook is where I write things which are almost always a cry for help, or in some way symptomatic of the very bad mental health problems I'm dealing with. Work is where I spend a great deal of effort "acting normal" and attempting to show a reliable consistent side of myself, despite dreadful inner turmoil and very difficult events in my personal life.

One might say that this entire blog is regrettable, given that it's easily discoverable by my work colleagues, but I do not speak ill of anybody or the organisations I'm involved with, and I do not bring my profession into disrepute - I think that my conduct is perfectly acceptable, and I'm prepared to defend it on the grounds that I find it immensely therapeutic to have this outlet, and the support of people who are kind enough to read my words and send me kind messages.

I have a lot of regret. I admit that I could have made much better choices in a lot of situations. I don't hide behind my mental illness as an excuse. I'm perfectly capable of accepting that my behaviour has been regrettable and that I should have handled things differently.

Why then continue to write like this? The answer is complicated: I have no idea what would happen if I didn't have this single thread of consistency in my life. Rightly or wrongly, I credit this blog with bringing me things which have saved my life: my guardian angel, the people who got the emergency services to save my life during my most recent suicide attempt, the family who looked after me when I was jobless and homeless, and some of the friends who I speak to on a regular basis, who all only know me because I put myself out into the public domain - they reached out to me and rescued me, in their own ways.

 

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Indoor Voice

6 min read

This is a story about shouting...

Dafodils

I find myself in the thick of the action at work and I'm failing to keep my head down and my mouth shut. It would be better if I gave my opinion quietly and infrequently, after much careful consideration, but instead I shoot from the hip and engage my mouth before my brain. Most of what I say has a solid basis and imparts some useful expertise, but it would be better if my voice wasn't so often ringing out loudly across the open-plan office.

I'm not sure how received I am. I'm loud, outspoken, quick to respond, decisive, but I'm also like a flame sucking all the oxygen out of the room. I wonder how little room I'm leaving for other people.

I know that I'm not a bad manager - I'm not prone to micromanaging people or being too fussy about the details, such that there's no room for my underlings to think for themselves - but I wonder if I'm a bad team member at times. I know that I'm patient and forgiving with junior members of the team and I invest a huge amount of time in knowledge sharing and training, to help them, but I'm pretty scathing with my words when I see bad quality work done by people who call themselves fully trained and experience professionals. I sometimes wonder what my colleagues do with all their time - how do they entertain themselves if they're not busy?

I often wonder who has the right approach: my colleagues who don't do much so that their projects are never completed, or me finishing projects early? My colleagues would argue that you can make yourself redundant if you do a good job and finish your project to a high standard, such that it doesn't need much more ongoing work to maintain it. I would argue that you're not a good engineer if you never finish a project.

I went home yesterday feeling as though I'd been too outspoken and that I should apologise to one of my colleagues. My brain was badly affected by anxiety and flooded with thoughts about myriad things which needed considering. I bombarded my colleagues with a whole host of things to consider, which probably overwhelmed them and I certainly didn't make a single clear and concise point - I simply couldn't stop words from spilling out of my mouth.

This week, some ideas that I've been nursing for 6 months are coming together. A piece of work that I did in a flurry of manic activity is taking shape as something tangible, just the way I had planned it would. It seems unusual that I should have done all the hard work so long ago and then rested on my laurels, but I needed to have a holiday and move house, which were a huge distraction. The festive season is a bad time to try and do anything important. As it happens, the timing has worked out perfectly, although I have been very bored at times this year.

Having sat quietly at my desk for a very long time, thinking, I now find that I struggle to regulate the volume of my voice. I struggle to hold back in meetings. I struggle to remain quiet for the benefit of the whole team. I'm struggling not to be loud and overbearing.

I would be well advised to put my headphones in and confine myself to my own thoughts for a few days, to give my colleagues a break from the sound of my voice. It would be a good idea to make a promise to myself to say nothing in meetings, except the very bare minimum required, to make a bit more space for my colleagues. I'm like a liquid poured into a mould, filling every square inch of space and leaving no air pockets.

Having unmedicated bipolar disorder in an office environment is problematic. I trample on toes and speak too much, too loudly. I must be very annoying.

I'm aware that I can get carried away with my productivity and ability to solve hard problems, and I can start to see other people as deadweight, which can lead me to saying unkind things and being very rude and dismissive. I forget that people take pride in their work - even if it's rubbish - and can be offended when I bulldoze my way straight through it inconsiderately, in pursuit of my goals. I'm aware that my future employment depends on playing nice with others, and I should calm myself down during these periods of mania-like frenetic activity.

I forget that I'm no longer managing huge teams all across the world. I forget that I'm no longer CEO of a startup that I founded. I forget that I'm no longer the boss, but in fact I'm a consultant who's been hired for my expertise and opinions, which need to be tactfully given to the client. I forget I'm not in charge of the project. Often, my loud authoritative voice can lead to people getting into the habit of looking to me for leadership, when I'm not in charge of anything, which is a mistake on my part, because my strength is in my knowledge and experience, and my ability to solve hard problems - it's not my job to lead the team, but I always find myself naturally providing some degree of leadership, although I don't actively seek to gain power and control.

It's strange. Sometimes people are very relieved to have me working on their project, because I always have a clear sense of direction and I provide a reassuring level of seniority - people trust that I know what I'm doing - but I continuously jeopardise my job by doing things which could very badly backfire if they didn't work.

I have a colleague who's close to retirement who's been hired to do pretty much the same job as me. We couldn't be more different. He spends his days listening to the radio and reading the news. I think there's a lot I could learn from him about plodding along as slow as possible, without getting sacked. Sometimes I find the attitude to be loathsome, but what's the real harm in it - isn't he getting a lot better deal out of life than I am? What use is all my hard work? What good will it do?

I need to calm down. Arrogance will flare up and I'll start being disrespectful to people, and that will be the beginning of the end.

 

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I Felt Something

6 min read

This is a story about flashbacks...

Abandoned shoes

Once upon a time I was in love. Once upon a time I lived in a place where I knew lots of people. Once upon a time I lived somewhere familiar that I called home. Once upon a time I was in the Goldilocks zone: everything was just right.

It often looks as if I start worrying about things too far in advance. I remember I was very anxious about getting another job during the winter of 2016/7. I had money in the bank to pay my rent for many months. I had the financial support of my girlfriend. Really, there was nothing to worry about, but I didn't feel secure.

Nobody could have predicted that I'd get a blood clot in my leg, causing a lot of damage to nerves, blood vessels and muscle, which would trigger my kidneys to fail. Nobody could have predicted the consequent need for dialysis and pain medication.

For sure, I contributed to my own problems, but then the problems multiplied all on their own. It was my fault that I got more sick, didn't get a job and broke up with my girlfriend. Having to leave my home and move to another city was something I already predicted and worried about. Getting into financial difficulties was something I was already losing sleep over. My luck ran out in the end.

There was unimaginable stress and effort required to move from London to Manchester, Manchester to Swansea, Swansea to Cardiff, and stave off bankruptcy. There was an incomprehensible amount of trauma caused by breaking up with the love of my life - even though I instigated it in my madness - and leaving the city which held almost my entire social support network.

Mental health problems, alcoholism and drug abuse added to a toxic mix of moving house, moving city, moving jobs and never putting down any roots. I never felt settled anywhere.

The net result is that I've had to emotionally shut down. The person who I present to prospective employers, prospective landlords and other gatekeepers, is a calm, collected, well-dressed, polite and well-spoken individual, who appears to be handling everything quite well. Without this document, people would be very puzzled and surprised to find that I'd committed suicide. "He looked fine" people would say.

Nobody's really close enough to see the inner anguish and turmoil. Nobody's really close enough to see my mask slip. For sure, I write and publish every day, but my readers are scattered all over the country. At the weekend I saw two close friends, but the previous time I'd seen a close friend had been 5 months ago.

5 months!

Can you imagine that?

Picture yourself pretending like everything is A-OK for 5 straight consecutive months, without a shoulder to cry on and the comfort of opening up to a close friend. Picture yourself being surrounded exclusively by your work colleagues and other people who you need to put on a brave face for, for 5 long months.

My life is very odd. I saw old friends in Portugal, in the gastropub next door to the hotel I lived in, in Prague and near Bristol. I count four occasions when I saw old friends, in the space of a year. That's a staggeringly lonely and isolated existence.

My entire existence revolves around my attempts to avoid gaining a black mark against my name - bankruptcy - and being evicted from the privileged part of society which I'm fortunate enough to be part of. For 5 years I've attempted to muscle my way back into civilised society, while the demands of capitalism have wrestled me to the floor and punched me in the face repeatedly.

My approach to life is very simple: work hard and earn more money that I spend. On paper, it's easy to calculate how long it will take to get myself back in the black. Theoretically, it should be easy for me to restore health, wealth and prosperity to my life.

In reality, I've had to suspend almost everything 'human' about myself and become a robot.

I don't have the time or the money for feelings.

Everything feels very wrong, but conceptually it's right. My feelings tell me that things are painful and unbearable, but on paper I must bear these things, because on paper it's clear what the benefits are. I do not feel any benefits. I very much feel all the horrible unpleasant things. I force myself to live with the intolerable, because it seems logical in theory.

Look around: life seems to be about earning money, paying bills and then dying. I'm making a very passable imitation of those I see around me.

I would desperately like to switch off my feelings, switch off my brain, and just wake up in a year or so when this unpleasantness is over. I'm paid to sit in a chair not saying anything, so it would be very nice if I could be put into a kind of suspended animation, so that I'm unconscious while sitting in that chair. Wake me up when the sitting is finished.

Something unlocked some feelings for the first time in a very long time, and I found myself crying a little bit last night. I cried about breaking up with "the one who got away". It's strange that those tears are almost 2 years overdue. I didn't really cry very much. My feelings are kept very well subdued - the lid is kept on that jar very tight.

I think about the ease with which I could calmly get a sharp knife from the kitchen drawer, walk upstairs to my bathroom, draw a warm bath, immerse myself in the water and open some major blood vessels with the blade. I know how unhesitatingly I would act, once making the decision. I know how little doubt or anxiety would trouble me. I know I wouldn't call anybody or otherwise raise the alarm.

I suppose I could give up the other way. I could allow myself to be ejected from the privileged part of society. I could refuse to partake in the rat race anymore. I could allow my card to be marked and my name to be tarnished. I could let the circling vultures swoop in. I suppose it might actually be more pleasant than the sitting in the chair, quietly doing nothing, just waiting, while in agony.

Regret is the problem.

I cried because I lost the love of my life and it was clearly all my own fault. I cried because I was in the Goldilocks zone but I sabotaged it all. She was just right - not too hot, not too cold - and so were many other things in my life at that time, but I threw it all away.

I don't particularly feel regret, because I don't particularly feel anything. My feelings are all bottled up. There's no time or money for my feelings.

It's been a long time since I cried, but I did cry a little bit last night.

 

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Lightning Rod

6 min read

This is a story about empathy...

Clouds

I sometimes wonder whether I caused myself some long-term health damage by taking ecstasy tablets - MDMA - every weekend for approximately 18 months, when I was in my late teens. I think that whether it did or didn't affect my neurological development, it certainly affected my personality and outlook; my approach to dealing with other people. I've adopted my attitude towards openness and honesty as a response to the empathy and trust I felt, due to the effect of mind-altering substances. I liked connecting with people at a very profoundly open and unguarded level. I liked putting my faith in humans and assuming that nobody wanted to hurt me.

The net result in later adulthood has been a rather extreme set of values, by which I live my life. I've always favoured trust and a kind of blind faith that nobody's going to screw me over. Throughout my twenties and thirties, I've always had a belief that I don't need to bother protecting myself.

It seems as if I made a decision about what's important and what isn't important. Like, I spend very little time deliberating over how to save a few pennies buying a particular food item. I spend very little time doing my taxes and other administrative tasks. I spend very little time on anything which doesn't have a significant purpose. I don't understand why people spend such an extraordinary amount of time doing things which are unpaid, unprofitable and are simply busywork.

I flit between two modes: hyper-focussed, or incredibly bored and distracted. When I'm in the latter mode I feel hyper-receptive to current affairs. I feel as though world events are far more important than any of the daily nonsense in my life. I struggle to reconcile the absurdity of capitalism, rent, money, jobs and other trifling things, with climate change and the billions of people who are hungry. Entire days or weeks disappear and I seem to have done nothing more than become engrossed in the news, angered and saddened.

The circumstances of my adult life have mostly sidelined me, with me helplessly spectating from my comfortable office. However, I'm acutely aware that my position in some very large organisations means that I'm complicit in the suffering that I see. I know exactly how close I've been to the epicentre of seismic world events, which have been catastrophic for humanity.

I suppose that the physical damage that I've wrought, through pollution and war, is hard to connect with my day job, but it's not hard to see that I've been very close to the money, which has greased the wheels of capitalism. The nature of my crimes against humanity are so hard to explain and esoteric that it would be easy for me to let myself off the hook, but if ever there was a case of a global conspiracy, it would be my participation in the brain-drain which is global technology, and its abuse as a mechanism of enslaving everyone.

It seems harmless enough, all this geek stuff, but then I see the dreadful things which the internet has inspired people to do. I read the dreadful things people write and share with each other. I read the dreadful ideologies and manifestos of dreadful people. I see how the internet has connected dreadful people together, amplifying their dreadfulness.

"Guns don't kill people, people do" goes a popular slogan, but it's not true... the people who make guns are just as culpable as the people who use them. The same has got to be said of social media influencers and the platforms they use. What started as a network for academics to share research has been invaded by the masses, and they're not interested in improving their minds: they're vile hateful people who gang together with like-minded dreadful shits.

The internet has become highly efficient at refining both the best and the worst ideas. The most depraved and disgusting things exist and thrive on the internet in frighteningly huge numbers. The internet has turned one person's subconscious bad thought, which lived safely in their brain, into a collective thought which is broadcast across the globe. It's strange saying this as a libertarian left-leaning engineer, but I kinda feel like humanity is not mature enough to have the internet.

I'm very well aware that my sanity has been very questionable during the last 6 years and my grip on reality is probably tenuous at best. I'm very well aware that my mental illness means I must surely think more like a terrorist or some other enemy of society, than I do like a regular person. I read about the world's worst monsters and I check myself for similarities: delusions of grandeur, paranoia and irrational hatred of certain groups of people.

I groan and hold my face in my hands when I remember things I've said and done. I know that I've been through some periods when I was ranting and raving about things. I know that my thoughts were an incoherent jumbled mess at times. I know that during very bad episodes of mental health problems, I've struggled with delusions of grandeur and paranoia. I can remember it all very clearly and I'm very embarrassed by my own behaviour.

Today, I blend it fairly well with ordinary society. My colleagues at the office seem to have readily accepted me as 'normal'. A substantial number of people deal with me and find my behaviour to be normal.

Internally, I find it hard to process everything. My brain mostly screams that I should be doing something - anything - in reaction to the world I observe all around me, but I deliberately subdue my instincts because I've learned that if I keep still and keep my mouth shut, vast wealth floods into my pockets. I'm essentially bribed into knowingly participating in the maintenance of the status quo.

It's quite hard to sit and read the news and not react.

 

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