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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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Mount Cardboard

6 min read

This is a story about packaging...

Cardboard pile

My house has high ceilings but I've still managed to reach the ceiling with my mountain of cardboard packaging, mostly from all the Ikea furniture I've bought. Arguably, I'm getting by with the bare minimum amount of furniture. What's the minimum amount of furniture that you could have, and lead a fairly normal life?

I lived out of suitcases and holdalls for a long time, so it seems reasonable to want a wardrobe - for hanging garments - and a chest of drawers for my other clothes. I'm sick of rummaging in bags to find the clothes I want.

I have a guest bed. It might seem like a real luxury to have a guest bedroom at all, but what was the point of working so hard for so long, if I'm not able to accomodate guests in my own home? Sure, I could rent a room in a shared house, share a kitchen, share a bathroom... but I spent enough years putting up with other people's disgustingness and inconsiderate behaviour. I think I'm entitled to a place of my own, with some space for friends and my sister to come and stay with me.

I have two sofas and a coffee table. I could probably get along alright with just one sofa but at some point I was going to want a matching pair and there's no guarantee that Ikea would have kept manufacturing the model I bought, so it made sense to buy the second sofa. Also, it does mean I can seat guests without us all having to be cramped onto the one sofa. I don't think it seems particularly profligate to own two sofas.

I managed to live for about 18 months without a microwave, iron, vacuum cleaner and various other domestic items, but it is rather tiresome not having these household basics. Yes, I did manage to survive without those things, but I could hardly be accused of being a spendthrift for purchasing such mundane objects.

In amongst the packaging pile of Mount Cardboard are some large lumps of polystyrene, which protected my washer/dryer during delivery. I'll accept that the dishwasher - which I did not purchase - is a luxury item that I could easily live without, but I refuse to wash my clothes by hand using a washboard and mangle. Using the dryer is horrendously energy inefficient and I have been good at taking advantage of nice weather to hang my washing out to dry, but sometimes it's incredibly nice to fill the machine with dirty laundry, push a button, and then have dry clothes ready to wear some hours later - requiring virtually zero effort.

The sum total amount of money I've spent vastly exceeds what I expected, even though I have bought bottom-of-the-range items most of the time. One must remember that I was starting my life afresh - a clean slate - with virtually no possessions, and the innumerable items which you use in normal daily life shouldn't be underestimated.

I bought items which could be seen as serving a purely decorative purchase, like lamps for my lounge and bedrooms, and shelves for the bathroom. I bought a bath mat and some pillows. I bought a pair of curtains. I bought some little organiser boxes. I even bought a couple of outdoor chairs to sit in the sun and read my book, in the privacy of my own garden. My life would function without these things, or I could make do with what I've got, but there's an intangible value to having a house with some finishing touches which make it feel homely; inviting.

If things should go horribly wrong somehow, with the benefit of hindsight some might criticise me for having set up my home relatively quickly - in under two months - instead of being much more cautious about the rate I have been spending money. I would counteract that argument by saying that this lovely home is my reward for having struggled through the years in shared houses, hostels, sleeping rough, months in hospital and generally unsettled existence which led me to the point of having no furniture, and very little else which is necessary to make a house a home.

It pleases me when I open a cupboard to find that I had the foresight to buy tea and coffee for the benefit of any visitors, because I do not drink tea or coffee myself. It pleases me when I'm able to offer a guest a hot beverage of their choice, with milk and/or sugar too. It might sound laughable, the idea of living a life where I simply wasn't in a position to have friends or my sister stop and visit, but that's what my life has been like - we quickly take our lives for granted and get used to our surroundings.

It will be a relief to take Mount Cardboard to my nearest recycling centre. It will be great to reclaim that space and not have the ugly eyesore, but I do have a final wave of Ikea furniture, which I have delayed for now because I have the bare minimum to be able to comfortably accomodate one guest or a couple. At some point, I would like to be able to have the space to have visitors and their kids too, given that most of my friends have children, and I have a young niece.

To say that having a great big house that's empty most of the time is hugely wasteful is a valid criticism, but this is my reward for working hard and making good sensible choices. This is how I'm making sense of the world, because I was struggling to see the point of being alive, if I was not seeing any benefit from my efforts.

I guess for most ordinary people, they get a "treat" occasionally - they have to spend their meagre income little by little - but I've gotten an entire furnished house suddenly overnight, but that's not really a fair comparison. I assure you that when you have no bed to sleep on at all, getting a bed seems like a necessity, not a treat.

I'm beginning to live very well, and I am grateful; I am happy. I am beginning to feel contented and settled.

 

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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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Antipsychiatry

5 min read

This is a story about refusing help...

Pharmacy

If you spend enough time with general practitioners, general psychiatrists, specialist consultant psychiatrists, registered mental nurses, specialty doctors and all the very many other mental health professionals who are part of inpatient and outpatient clinics, community mental health teams, crisis teams and all the other apparatus which is supposed to treat mental health problems, one begins to realise a rather unsettling truth: there aren't very many treatments and they don't work very well.

Psychiatry is a young branch of medicine and it doesn't have a lot to crow about. Since the days of asylums and lobotomies, psychiatry has been dogged by scandals, including the extrapyramidal side effects of medications which have left patients with lifelong irreversible unpleasant problems. The data do not show encouraging outcomes. In fact the outlook is dismal and appears to be worsening as the toxic conditions which create mental health problems, seem to be intensifying. Rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity... these are all soaring. Treatments are not effective and vast numbers of people are condemned to suffer with their illnesses AND the side effects of the medications.

I've been lucky enough to have access to private medical care, at times, and even with the very best professionals and medications, there is not a vast difference between what's available from the public healthcare system. It's all pretty crap and it doesn't work very well.

This is not a damning indictment of those who dedicate their lives to trying to treat mental illness, but simply a cold hard rational analysis of the facts.

The conclusion I've reached has been that there's an over-medicalisation of non-medical problems. The bulk of my problems have stemmed from the collapse of my relationships. I got divorced. I am estranged from my family. I've been forced to move to cities where I have no friends - no social support network - in order to work jobs which have been unsuitable for my health. I have the enormous pressure of having to work full-time, to pay rent, bills and service enormous debts, which is unbearable for a person who's having a crisis.

My mental health would be vastly improved if I had a partner, a social support network of local friends, financial and housing security and a job with reduced hours, until this crisis is resolved. Healthy diet, sleep hygiene, exercise, sex, physical affection, sunlight, fresh air, social contact, hobbies and interests... these things are all essential for human wellbeing. None of those things can be prescribed by a doctor.

During the worst days of my addiction and rough sleeping, I noticed that my fellow homeless alcoholics and addicts were not without some routine and social lives. Romantic relationships are not the exclusive preserve of those who live in houses and have jobs. The life of a homeless drug addict might be chaotic to the outside observer, but a less prejudiced analysis reveals no less structure, no less need for comfort, no less humanity. Those who have fallen into habits of addiction and homelessness might find the community of drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless to provide the social support network and sense of community, which they'd struggle to find living anonymously behind a front door.

Does anybody really know I'm here... in this house... in this city? In many ways I have found my contact with hospitals and the police to be of great comfort. I have found the nonjudgemental members of the NHS and police force to be incredibly kind and compassionate people. It's nonsensical, but I've been happy to be hospitalised or arrested. I've been happy to be in a cell or on a hospital ward, with somebody checking on my welfare. Behind my own front door I could be hanging by the neck, dead, and nobody would discover me for days or maybe even weeks.

My problems are mainly attributable to unmet basic needs: hugs, face-to-face conversation and a sense of belonging.

Because of the obvious things which need to be fixed in my life, it seems wrong to seek medical help, when my mood could be radically different if all the broken things were fixed. It might sound like a fun adventure, going to new cities, but the reality is very miserable and lonely. The reality of my present life is that I don't pick up the phone to speak to anybody when I'm feeling dangerously depressed - who would I phone? What would they do? It's not like anybody can nip round to check I'm OK.

Humans are social creatures, but I live on the periphery. I live on the periphery of life itself, always in danger of death or medical emergency. The state of being suicidal should be considered a medical emergency, especially in men of age 20 to 40, where suicide is the biggest cause of death. My perception of the danger is not warped, given my history of suicide attempts and hospitalisations.

There isn't a pill or some psychological therapy which would be effective... especially not when so much of my life is broken. It's not a medical problem. Sure, I have an underlying mood disorder, but the highs and lows of bipolar don't make me as unhappy as my social isolation does.

How I set about fixing things, I have no idea. The task seems insurmountable.

 

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The Achievements of One Week

6 min read

This is a story about post-traumatic stress...

Fire

Tuesday was a very bad day. Tuesday was a constant panic attack. Tuesday held nothing for me but relentless anxiety. Tuesday passed very slowly.

Tuesday is past.

Today is Friday.

Today is almost OK.

When I look back on today at some point in the future, I'll probably realise that today was pretty bad, in the grand scheme of things, but compared to Tuesday, today has been a doddle.

It might seem like I was making a lot of fuss about nothing, earlier in the week, but I assure you that I was suffering a very real medical emergency, which would have seen most people hospitalised.

The brain can render us very sick and needy, when it malfunctions. My brain was badly on the blink and even in a hospital I would have been very uncomfortable. Doctors could have eased my suffering with powerful tranquillisers administered intravenously, which would have been the ethically correct thing to do, but on Tuesday I went to the office, which was torturous beyond my capability to describe.

There simply are no words for the things which are at the limit of human survivability. Torture can make us lose our sanity. Trauma can lead to loss of life.

It might look on the face of it as if I'm an ordinary person doing ordinary people stuff, but the fact is that few of us live in perpetually precarious situation. We either fail and fall, or else we stabilise. We tend towards stable outcomes: Stable failure and stable success. I'm relatively unique in having not yet failed sufficiently to block my path from achieving desirable outcomes. Despite drug addiction, alcoholism, near-bankruptcy, homelessness, brushes with the police and debilitating mental health problems, I remain persistently employable and able to access goods and services which are normally denied to a whole swathe of society, to which I belong.

Nobody has realised I'm not supposed to be here.

Nobody has realised that all their vetting procedures and gatekeepers have failed to send me packing, back to the hell hole I crawled out of. Nobody has realised that I'm one of the ones that we're supposed to spurn and turn our backs on. Nobody has realised that I look, sound and smell like I'm one of the "OK" ones, when in fact I'm very much one of the "not OK" ones.

The longer I'm allowed to stay and warm myself by the fire, the stronger I get and the more chance is there is of me achieving stable success.

That's not supposed to happen.

Every societal system has in-built measures to toss people to the wolves. I'm not supposed to be in a big house with a wood fire and a fridge full of food. I'm not supposed to work in a fancy office doing brain-work. I'm not supposed to have any financial security, housing security or prospects. Society would like to see me dead in a ditch.

Society does however worry selfishly a lot about its own sons and daughters. Because I suppose I exude somewhat of a heady mix of intellectual poshness, combined with whatever youthful vulnerability still remains in a 39-year-old man with grey hair at his temples, I guess I confound expectations of what a junkie looks like. I'm not what anybody expects a homeless bankrupt to look like. I do not embody what anybody thinks of when they think of a psych ward patient. I do not look, sound or smell like the thing which I so obviously am, if we scratch beneath the surface.

Of course, my ruse is premeditated. I know that if I keep my mouth shut and my head down, nobody will pay me much notice, and I'll slowly be able to recover from the horrors of my past. I know that if I can go unnoticed and unfettered for long enough then I'll be able to have regained firm footing, to better enable me to flourish.

I'm aware that any period I look back upon as a period when I considered myself to be doing OK, with retrospect has turned out to be a false summit. Everything I've ever achieved has crumbled. It would be foolish to imagine that I'm doing OK at the moment, simply because I'm doing better than I was a week ago, a year ago or 5 years ago.

That's the really terrifying thing for me: 5 years ago I was very much beginning the descent. I attempted to dab the brakes, but then found that the brakes weren't working. I knew that I had to avoid long-term irreversible health damage, criminal convictions, damage to my credit rating, bankruptcy and damage to my professional reputation, but I still managed to find myself looking down the gun barrel of a heap of problems that were going to see me destitute on the street.

I'm not sure how I've managed to face down the threats to my life and livelihood and emerge from the thicket relatively unscathed, at least on the surface. I suppose it's all down to a handful of people who've conspired to assist me, in ways which run contrary to the conduct we consider ordinary and normal. A handful of people have taken risks with their lives and their money, to see me live with continued opportunities, as opposed to lasting and disastrous consequences.

I suppose in the popular parlance, I've been "enabled".

I hate that negative phraseology, to stigmatise those who help addicts and alcoholics. I hate the idea that an act of kindness is actually something bad; something foolish. I find the whole concept detestable.

I feel bad about how unwell I have been feeling this week, which should have been a celebration of how much the help I've received was a worthwhile investment. I feel bad about feeling bad.

The reality is that through the awful panic attacks, I still have a lovely house and a well-paid job, so I just need to stick to the plan - "home stretch" as my guardian angel said to me today.

My life follows a very nonlinear path. Of course I remember how bitterly I complained about living out of a suitcase, how pleased I was with a new relationship, how much invested I was in my Christmas and New Year holiday, how quickly my opinion changed about the relationship and how anxious I was to secure my housing situation. Of course I remember the highs and lows. I remember the devastation and the jubilation at many points along the way, with crystal clarity.

This is my very weird life. Suicidal depressed anxious thoughts, then white sand beaches and blue skies, luxuriating on holiday, then darkest blackness, then roaring log fires in a large period home, then more blackness. Why should this not be the case? Why would we expect any different?

Things were dire earlier in the week. Things are dire now, but dramatically less so.

 

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Packing Up

7 min read

This is a story about mechanical failure...

Box

How I expected to feel - physically - and how I am actually feeling, are out of alignment. There is considerable discrepancy between my anticipated relief from fatigue and discomfort, and the aches and pains which are unexpectedly and unpleasantly asserting their presence.

I suppose my mind has erased the memories of the suffering I went through repeatedly as a drug addict. I know that the comedowns and withdrawals must have been terrible, but my memories are very patchy. Perhaps mercifully, I can't recall that pain.

My body feels poisoned; toxic. I suffered plenty of hospitalisations when my organs were struggling and failing. There is a very real and tangible muscle memory that tells me that this unpleasant experience is not a new one. Indeed, I can rationalise that I've survived countless periods of immense dehydration, starvation, insomnia and physical exertion, beyond that which anyone of sound body and mind could and would withstand. I know that my addiction drove me to repeat the same stupidity countless times, always with more-or-less identically awful outcomes.

To my mind, I've done nothing to deserve this physical suffering, knowing what dreadful things I've put my body through in the past. Instead of being cautious and avoiding that pain, perhaps I came to regard myself as indestructible. Certainly, I had gathered a lot of evidence that my body could take a great deal of punishment and seemingly suffer no long-term consequence. Perhaps I have learned to take my body's resilience for granted.

I don't feel like I did anything particularly excessive, but my body tells me otherwise: My muscles and joints all give me a great deal of pain and I'm extremely fatigued.

It's distressing, but I have to accept the evidence as I see it. My body is telling me that I'm very sick. My body is telling me that I need to rest and recuperate.

I know that to proceed as if my body weren't signalling its distress, has led in the past to near-catastrophic medical emergencies, and lengthy hospital stays. It's only by the skill and hard work of the medical teams that so much of me has been preserved. I was under the impression that I was not in too bad shape; that my organs were functioning OK and that I'd somehow dodged a bullet.

Perhaps the doctors were just being kind - sparing my feelings. Perhaps it was kinder to tell me I'd been lucky and that I should take better care in future, as opposed to telling me that I'd inflicted irreparable damage upon myself. I heard what I wanted to hear anyway: I thought I got away with it again and again.

It was more or less 2 years ago that I realised that I had to pump the brakes.

The accomplishment of going cold turkey and completely rebuilding my life, is not something I've achieved just once. In fact, it's remarkable that from the supposed apogee of my life - a wealthy homeowner with a wife - I should have had multiple periods of homelessness and almost total destitution, at the hands mainly of drug addiction intermingled with mental health problems in the most destructive way; and also multiple periods of repairing the damage and attempting to rebuild my shattered existence, which have been successful but not for very long.

Each attempt to rebuild my life consumes considerably more time and energy than the last, and I suppose I never accounted for the wear and tear that the boom and bust existence must have been having on my poor broken body.

I'm disoriented. A breakup and moving house coincided with a very bad episode of mania, which resulted in a brief period when my body was very harshly abused. I seem to have survived, but I haven't been truly tested yet: I need to go back to work and pick up where I left on. There's a lot of hard work left ahead of me, and I will need to work with consistency and stability, and continue to attempt to be very conservative and cautious in the workplace.

I don't know whether I'm winning, or actually I already lost but I just didn't realise it yet: I'm waiting for overwhelming evidence that my fate is sealed, and that my body is giving up on me.

That's honestly how I feel right now - that my body has been pushed too hard for too long, and there's not much life left in me. I would not be in the least bit surprised to be told that some vital organ is failing and my days are numbered.

It's a little frustrating, because I made some health decisions that have not been easy to follow-through with, such as stopping drinking and eating more healthily, but I accept that it's probably too little too late.

I'm probably being a little melodramatic, but I do have an annoying habit of knowing the difference between a serious medical emergency and what is merely severely life-threatening but survivable outside of a clinical environment.

A couple of concerned friends are encouraging me to get blood tests done etc. but I can't see it changing the outcome much. If I've done myself in, then I've done myself in and I'm done for, and that's that.

I think I'm more optimistic than I'm perhaps letting on. I can imagine that I'll go easy on myself for a couple of weeks - ease my feet back under the desk - and then I'll start feeling a lot better. It does seem understandable that a very short sharp shock would cause me considerable pain and suffering. Perhaps I've just been over-optimistic about how quickly I could recover.

I plan on working from home tomorrow, which is part of my strategy of going easy on myself. I still literally bear the scars of the recent ordeal on my face and hands, so I'm not being entirely hyperbolic.

I think if my body does pack up, that would be an entirely fitting end, and I would probably have a good chuckle about the irony of it, given my body's refusal to give up the ghost at any point when I have been acting far less sensibly.

It's funny how people perceive me. They ask me whether I'm going to go jogging or cycling in the park, when in fact climbing a flight of stairs is an unpleasant ordeal at the moment. It's hard to comprehend what I've been through - many many lifetimes worth of boom and bust, replete with the agony and the suffering. You can't see that stuff from the outside - all you can see is a 39 year old body that's not in particularly terrible shape, on first inspection. I dread to think what my internal organs must look like, but I've got a lot of scars on my skin, which each tell a pretty gruesome story.

I'm going to look pretty silly if I'm full of the joys of spring and zooming around like a young man in a few weeks, full of energy, but anyhoo... this is the way I write; this is what I do.

 

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Nest-Making

8 min read

This is a story about impatience...

Chaise longue

I've committed the cardinal sin of spending a substantial sum of money that I haven't earned yet. Compounding my error is the fact that I have been dreadfully unwell for the last week, and was not able to work. I've quickly moved myself from a precarious position - living in hotels - to one that appears to have more certainty about it. It would take considerable effort to eject me and my belongings, now that I have arrived, and I've got a load of furniture now too. However, I now find myself in the position which I tried to work very hard to avoid: Worrying about job security.

I'm not really that worried.

I waited a long time for my home and my income to come back into alignment. I suffered too many nights lived out of a suitcase. I suffered too many different hotel rooms, bed & breakfasts, AirBnBs and other ad-hoc sleeping arrangements. My favourite clothes were either on my body or in my luggage - never put away in a chest-of-drawers.

Of course, this isn't a self-pity piece. I just watched a feature-length documentary, eating popcorn, reclining on a brand new sofa, under a fluffy blanket and warmed by a log fire. My life is good.

At least, I presume my life is good.

The enormous pressure had broken me a week ago. I was losing my mind. I gambled with my professional reputation: I'm known for being ever-present, always available when somebody needs a question answered. Getting sick was not just unfortunate, but almost definitely an act of self-sabotage.

I had my ducks so nicely lined up, that I could only see two outcomes: I would get everything I wanted, or disaster would strike and I'd lose it all. Easier to prompt the latter outcome into existence, than to sit and patiently wait for things to be OK.

The intensity of what I had planned for a 4-day period was ferocious, and intended to limit my loss of earnings due to domestic errands in the course of house moving. What actually happened was that I put so much pressure on myself that I lost my mind, and began to do things which could have become a cascading, escalating, spiralling catastrophe.

My body 'let me down' in a way that it has often done, where my muscles start to disintegrate and my kidneys are damaged. My urine turns dark brown and it becomes very clear from the sight and smell that I'm beginning to have a medical emergency.

The sensible thing would have been to defer all my plans and go into hospital, but perversely, I decided that I would carry on until complete renal failure. Perversely, it was precisely this outcome - the beginning of the end - that I had superstitiously predicted, but had also prompted into existence.

To the untrained eye it looks as if I'm enjoying a very exciting life of travel and adventure, and my skills are in demand all over the world, but in reality I'm always skating on very thin ice indeed.

It is not advisable to move house, go to new cities, change jobs and have such an unsettled life, without any anchor. Given my estrangement from my family and move away from Dorset, Bournemouth and London, I've found myself in places where I've felt like there's nobody I could phone if I was having a crisis. I'm too distant from everyone who's ever really known me and cared about me. I've become a strange hermit-like reclusive creature, who's always accessible to anybody and everybody, but I've been too loosely anchored to have any meaningful relationship with.

Of the two friends I saw the most of last year, one lives in idyllic domestic bliss with his beautiful family - a very firmly anchored man - while the other one is dead: A man who found himself very alone and very far from the vast majority of people who knew him and cared about him.

I must be careful that I now proceed to live my life with the anchor of a city I call home, a house, relationships and things of some permanence, because I can see that all-too-easily I could wind up dead, like my friend. I've made some difficult decisions which make me far less resilient to life's unexpected changes - far less adaptable - but I'm going to make my 4th attempt at building the life I want.

I once had a beautiful girlfriend who was devoted and loyal and everything I ever wanted, and we both had riverside apartments, not far from each other, but on opposite banks of the Thames. There's a foot tunnel which was by far the quickest route between our two amazing homes. All I needed was a job. I got the job I needed, but the patience of waiting for it had somehow damaged me... I self-sabotaged and ended up with kidney failure, spending a long time on dialysis in a high-dependency hospital ward. Still, this was not enough to destroy my life. I kept going down the path which led only to catastrophe, until I got what I wanted: I lost it all.

Regrettable, but nothing can be salvaged except for the lesson learned: That if I really try hard enough, then I can screw up nearly but not quite all my opportunities in life.

The intervening 20+ months have been the harshest part of the lesson, because never once have I been so close to having what I had then. The hardest part has been when I've had clear sight of the route I need to take. When, at least on paper, I've had my future all mapped out and all I have to do is stick to the plan, that's been indescribably awful. It's been such a horrible waiting game.

If your only goal in life is to get things back to at least as good as they once were, it's a pretty miserable state of existence.

I'm not such a fool that I'd attempt any like-for-like replacement of my old life, and I'm also wary of romanticising the past too. Some might say that I tried - and failed - for too long in London, because I had such good memories, from when I first started my career. Friends would tell me that London is too much hard work - too expensive, too busy, too overcrowded and too fast-paced and competitive for anybody but a fit young person.

When my washing machine failed to be delivered today and I had no clean linen for the bed, I got in my car and drove through the city centre, bought what I needed and drove home. In London, such a thing would have been an ordeal, and nobody in their right mind would have attempted to drive through the city centre during rush hour. Of course, I know how to adapt to London - you live your life very differently there - but there is a great sense of relief that things are just easier out here in the provinces. Like, I find nothing very taxing or frustrating, because London is my benchmark. I spend a lot of time marvelling at how very civilised existence can be. All of the very many conveniences available only to London's mega-rich, are at my disposal here in this city, which is but 2 hours train ride away from the Big Smoke.

I felt a huge sense of calm and contentedness descend upon me, as soon as my bed was properly made and I knew I could snuggle under the duvet whenever I felt I wanted or needed to. I can't believe that it's only Saturday, and my lounge and bedroom both feel like they're my home and I belong here. In fact, I often get the sense that I'm not too far away from declaring my life to be as good as it once was.

I'll be going back to work with some trepidation and it will take me a while to feel as though I've undone any damage caused by my self-sabotage. I'll need to get a few more cheques in the bank before I start to relax and let my guard down - to allow myself to think of this life as 'mine'.

I wonder if people think that I demand the impossible and am ungrateful for what I have. I know I've done a lot of moaning and complaining about the discomfort and unpleasantness of living out of a suitcase, and perhaps with retrospect that seems very impatient of me, given that I must surely have known that my efforts woud bear fruit.

Is it very bad of me, that I walk around my beautiful home and I think "this is befitting of the effort expended and the struggle"... almost like I deserve this, which I know sounds despicable. There is no justice in the world, but I still want you to know that I'm sitting here thinking "this worked out the way I wanted it to".

There's still a scary time ahead, while I cement my victory in place, so it can never be unseated, but every day when disaster doesn't strike is another day I can look back on with incredible gratitude, just like I can do for all those days I was in love by the riverside. No regrets.

 

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Misuse of Drugs

21 min read

This is a story about fit for purpose...

Prescription medications

Here are a range of prescription medications. Three of them are illegal to possess without a prescription under the Misuse of Drugs Act, because they are scheduled as "class B" and "class C", respectively carrying a 5 year prison sentence, a 2 year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.

So, 3/5ths of the medicines pictured here could see me locked up for somewhere between 2 and 5 years, if I didn't have a prescription.

The medication at the top of the picture is lamotrigine, which treats bipolar depression, as well as epilepsy. It has no abuse potential, but it does carry a high risk of causing a fatal skin rash.

The medication in the middle of the picture is bupropion, which treats addiction to nicotine. It has no abuse potential, but it also carries a high risk of causing seizures, which might be fatal.

The medication in the bottom-left of the picture is pregabalin, which treats neuropathic pain. It is addictive and can be abused. Pregabalin is a "class C" controlled substance, and anybody caught in possession without a prescription, will receive 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

The medication in the top-right of the picture is methlyphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin®, which treats Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). It is addictive and can be abused. Methlyphenidate is a "class B" controlled substance, and anybody caught in possession without a prescription will be imprisoned for 5 years and receive an unlimited fine.

The medication in the bottom-right of the picture is zopiclone, which treats insomnia and other sleep disorders. It is addictive and can be abused. Zopiclone is a "class C" controlled substance, and anybody caught in possession without a prescription, will receive 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

So, if I didn't have a prescription for all the medications on this table, I could be facing 9 years in prison and an unlimited fine, should the judge decide that my sentences should run consecutively, not concurrently, due to the gravity of my crime.

Yet, millions of UK citizens receive the medicinal benefits of pregabalin, methylphenidate and zopiclone, and the quality of their lives is greatly improved. These tablets were developed as medicines by pharmaceutical companies, to treat medical problems. Substantial empirical evidence was gathered in many controlled trials, to prove that these medicines were safe and effective at treating the medical problems they have been licensed for.

Indeed, these medicines have unexpected benefits beyond the purpose they were licensed for. Lamotrigine improves sleep quality. Bupropion is a fast-acting non-drowsy antidepressant, which also increase libido and enjoyment of sex. Pregabalin reduces anxiety and aids sleep. Methylphenidate improves concentration, allowing students to study harder and for longer periods. Zopiclone can prophylactically prevent psychosis and mania, by preventing sleep deprivation.

It is very hard to argue that the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Psychoactive Substances Act are successful laws, because the evidence shows that the use of mind-altering substances remains entirely unaltered by legislation which seeks to discourage that behaviour, and harshly penalises those who break the law.

If I approached my GP and asked for zopiclone to help me sleep, methylphenidate to help me concentrate at work, pregabalin (or any benzodiazepine) to treat my anxiety and zopiclone to treat my depression, they would flatly refuse all my requests.

My GP would tell me that zopiclone is too addictive, despite my insomnia ruining my life. My GP would tell me that methyphenidate is too addictive, despite my inability to concentrate impairing my ability to be productive at work. My GP would tell me that pregabalin is not licensed to treat anxiety, and it's too addictive, despite my poor quality of life due to anxiety. My GP would tell me that benzodiazepines are too addictive, despite my life-ruining anxiety. My GP would tell me that zopiclone is not licensed to treat depression.

Instead, I would be offered sertraline, which would allegedly treat my depression and reduce my anxiety. Sertraline is very slow to take effect and it has an emotionally-blunting effect, as well as affecting sex drive and ability to orgasm. Sertraline is not an effective treatment for anxiety. Sertraline is not an effective sleep aid. Anybody who has ever tried to quit sertraline will tell you that it is very addictive and the withdrawal side effects are intolerable.

In short, doctors would offer me nothing.

In short, doctors would tell me to go away, even though their medicine cabinets are stuffed full of medicines which have been extensively proven to treat the ailments which ruin my quality of life. The medications exist, but I would be denied a prescription to access those medications.

This much like a man who is dying from a bacterial infection being told that he's not allowed any penicillin, because a small number of people have a penicillin allergy.

Then, there are medications such as diacetylmorphine and ketamine, which are considered essential medicines. Diacetylmorphine, more commonly known as heroin, is scheduled as "class A" which carries a 7 year prison term and an unlimited fine, if possessed without a prescription.

How can we have a Misuse of Drugs Act which puts diacetylmorphine - a medicine routinely prescribed - into the same category as crack cocaine. Crack cocaine is fiendishly addictive and has zero medicinal use. Crack cocaine is so addictive, that it might even be considered to be "instantly addictive" and the vast majority of its users commit acquisitive crimes - muggings, thefts, burglaries - to raise money to pay for their drug addiction. Addiction is a medical condition, not a crime.

How can we have a Misuse of Drugs Act which puts mushrooms into the same category as crack cocaine? In fact the law states that it's magic mushrooms which are a "class A" controlled substance, which implies that the government believes in magic. Is that not utterly terrifying? Is it not utterly terrifying that our lawmakers are so mentally impaired that they would make specific reference in law to a certain type of mushroom which is "magic". Like, are you for real? We actually have laws criminalising magic, in the 21st century.

What would be a fitting punishment for anybody possessing a "magic" mushroom? Perhaps they should be made to climb a beanstalk grown from "magic" beans. Perhaps they should be lashed to a dunking seat and immersed underwater until they drown. Perhaps they should be burnt at the stake. These are the punishments that are most ususal for involvement in "magic".

We also know that behaviours such as sex and gambling can be addictive, but nobody imagines that gambling addicts inject decks of playing cards into their veins. In fact, gambling is widely permitted, advertised and promoted throughout society, despite its addiction potential. We are allowed to have sex, even though there is a risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases, and there is addiction potential.

Terrifyingly, the government has now passed an Act of Parliament which criminalises:

Things that cause hallucinations, drowsiness or changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others

Obviously, eating a big meal might cause you to feel drowsy. Being tired will make you drowsy and less alert. Being tired will affect your mood and make you more 'snappy' with others. It seems pretty obvious that children are a thing that causes drowsiness, changes in alertness, mood and empathy with others. Many mothers get post-natal depression (mood change) and many parents feel a great deal of empathy towards their children. Is the production of children going to carry the 7 year prison sentence, as the law states?

The law helpfully tells us that:

Food [doesn't] count as psychoactive substances.

But, hang on a second... aren't mushrooms food? If I'm a mushroom producer or supplier, am I exempt from the 7 year jail sentence?

Let us imagine that I cross-breed a "magic" mushroom with a regular mushroom, not thought of as "magic" by government lawmakers, I must surely be able to produce a non-magic mushroom, which I can supply as food, even though it might cause hallucinations, changes in perception of time and space and mood. Clearly if I used gene editing, I could produce a mushroom that was not "magic" at all - no witchcraft or wizardry necessary - and this could be bought and sold in the supermarkets as food.

Fundamentally, the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Psychoactive Substances Act are flawed pieces of legislation, which are not protecting citizens of the United Kingdom, reducing crime, reducing antisocial behaviour, saving lives or reducing the burden on public services. In fact, it is categorically clear that the UK's approach to mind-altering substances is a gigantic waste of money, which is also ruining countless lives, by criminalising people with medical conditions.

The fact that we have the word "magic" in our statute books, criminalising mushrooms that are alleged to have "magical" properties, in the 21st century, is quite absurdly ridiculous. The fact that we have put "magic" mushrooms, diacetylmorpine and crack cocaine into the same "class A" schedule, carrying the harshest punishments. Diacetylmorhine is an essential medicine, administed every day by up to 130,000 doctors and countless nurses. Picking "magic" mushrooms to share with my friends is punishable by life imprisonment.

I can understand that crack cocaine is an instantly addictive drug that drives most of its users to commit a very great deal of crime, because they are suffering from an illness. Therefore those who supply crack cocaine are committing a terrible crime, because crack cocaine exists for no other purpose than its abuse, and it's abuse is so devastating that it ruins the life of the sick person and creates very many victims of crime. I can understand why supply of crack cocaine is punishable by life imprisonment.

I cannot understand that "magic" mushrooms, which are not addictive, and its users commit no antisocial nuisance nor cause any burden on the state, and are an incredibly safe thing to eat with no fatalities attributed to their consumption, are seen as the same as crack cocaine in the eyes of the law. Those who supply magic mushrooms are no more guilty than a person who obtains a crate of beer, with which to share with their friends. 

The antisocial behaviour of people intoxicated by alcohol, the addictiveness of alcohol and its adverse health effects, makes suppliers and producers of alcohol culpable for a very serious crime, which deserves harsh punishment, if we follow the logic applied to other mind-altering substances.

To sell packs of cigarettes is possession with intent to supply an addictive harmful substance. The health damage caused by cigarette smoking and the antisocial nature of it, because of the harm caused to passive smokers by second-hand smoke, as well as the unpleasant smell of cigarette smoke, which also harms items of clothing and other property. Cigarette smoking places considerable burden on the state, who must invest significant sums of money into smoking cessation treatments, smoking prevention programs and treat the many smoking-related diseases. Smoking-related diseases shorten lives, cause early death and reduce the productive capacity of those who suffer from cigarette addiction. Cigarettes have a high economic cost to society. Suppliers and producers of cigarettes, cigars and loose tobacco are culpable for a very serious crime, which deserves harsh punishment.

When the esteemed neuropsychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt was adviser to the government on its drug policy, he suggested - based on overwhelming empirical evidence - reclassifying all drugs based upon the health risks they posed, the harms they cause to society, and the economic cost of their use and abuse. He was forced to resign. Drugs are a politcal pawn and the government has no interest in the wellbeing of its citizens, with respect to drug use.

We only need to look at Portugal, which took a scientific data-driven approach to its drug policy and has achieved:

  • 60% increase in uptake of addiction treatment programs
  • 90% drop in the rate of drug-injection related HIV infection
  • 45% decrease in the murder rate
  • Drug-related deaths dropped to 3 per million (in comparison to the EU average of 17.3 per million)

The most [un]surprising thing of all is that drug use remained the same. People like to take drugs. LOTS of people like to take drugs. Alterations to the law do not affect people's desire to take drugs. Drug laws are not a disincentive to drug taking, because drug taking has been a feature of human life since pre-historic times. People want to take drugs, hence why alcohol, cigarette and coffee consumption is ubiquitous and legal.

2.5 million Xanax tablets were purchased on the black market in the UK. At least half a million people in the UK are using MDMA (ecstasy) on regularly, and on a single weekend, a million tablets could be consumed. Almost one million UK citizens are using powder cocaine, and most of them are affluent professionals.

What we can learn from Portugal is that punitive drug laws have no affect on citizen's behaviour. The criminalisation and harsh punishments are not a disincentive to illicit drug purchase and consumption.

Legislation to criminalise the sale of alcohol - prohibition - was tried in the USA from 1920 to 1933, and it was an abysmal failure. Industrial alcohol was deliberately made extremely poisonous in 1927, causing innumerable deaths and making people blind. But people drank it anyway, getting literally "blind drunk". Moonshine was responsible for vast numbers of speakeasy customers being poisoned: 33 people in Manhattan, NY died in just three days, for example.

We can see from all historical evidence, worldwide, that every culture has used mind-altering substances extensively. Coca leaf chewing is common in South America. Tobacco smoking and chewing originated in North America. Betel nuts and areca leaves are chewed all over Asia. Khat leaves are chewed in Africa. Tea leaves a brewed in hot water in China and India. Coffee beans are roasted, ground and brewed in South America. Cannabis has been drunk as Bhang in India for more than 3,000 years, and the Egyptians were smoking cannabis 3,600 years ago. Opium was being consumed 5,400 years ago, by the Mesopotamians. Alcohol wins the top prize though, because it's been brewed for at least 13,000 years - since the goddam stone age.

The invention of distillation apparatus is a relatively recent phenomenon, but we should accept that human desire for intoxicating alcoholic beverages has been unwavering since the discovery of the fermentation process, and the invention of brewing methods. The body of archeological evidence overwhelmingly proves that beer and wine were present in human lives, continuously. Mass production of cheap distilled spirits pose new challenges, but we must remember that society does not adapt to scientific and technological advances with sufficient speed to avoid difficult periods of re-adjustment.

The isolation of psychoactive molecules responsible for psychoactive effects, and the laboratory synthesis of those naturally occurring compounds, has resulted in highly refined and pure chemicals. The investment in high-volume chemical production for industrial and agricultural uses, makes the precursor ingredients for synthesised compounds extremely cheap, and therefore, drug supply can inexpensively meet drug demand, through mass-production. The very poorest people in the world are often able to afford to buy very potent and pure drugs.

In 1804 Friedrich Sertürner isolated the morphine molecule from opium. In 1804 the world's population was 1 billion and the average global income was $3 a day (adjusted for inflation). Today, 3.4 billion people live on approximately $3 a day, which means that there are 340% more people living in poverty on an increasingly overcrowded planet.

We know from animal studies that stress and overcrowding affects behaviour adversely - "the behavioural sink" - and experiments have produced compelling evidence. Animals whose living conditions are intolerable, will prefer water laced with alcohol, cocaine, heroin and other addictive drugs. When the experiment is repeated with better living conditions, such as having other animals to socialise and have sex with, more comfortable bedding, exercise wheels and toys to interact with, then the rats prefer to drink the water without any mind-altering substances.

Findings from experiments with overcrowding in rat colonies found the following disturbing results:

Many female rats were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep.

The animals would crowd together in greatest number in one of the four interconnecting pens in which the colony was maintained. As many as 60 of the 80 rats in each experimental population would assemble in one pen during periods of feeding. Individual rats would rarely eat except in the company of other rats. As a result extreme population densities developed in the pen adopted for eating, leaving the others with sparse populations.

Infant mortality ran as high as 96 percent among the most disoriented groups in the population.

Translated into human terms, we see that the majority of the world's population live in overcrowded cities. We see neglected and abused children taken into foster care. We see high infant mortality rates in the developing world. We see sexual deviancy. We see widespread manic-depressive symptoms and other psychiatric illnesses. We see men living lives of quiet, desperate isolation, withdrawn from the world and spending most of their time in their bedrooms, emerging only to grab a microwave pizza or use the toilet.

One must remember that in the rat overcrowding experiments, there were no drugs or alcohol. The behaviour of the rats was a spontaneous response to their living conditions.

Thus, we must conclude that the problems we see in society are not caused by drugs and alcohol, but the abuse of drugs and alcohol is caused by intolerable living conditions.

In the west, the social problems we have are due to industrialisation and mass-production, which required high-density housing in close proximity to the factories, mills, textile manufacturers and steel works. The social problems were compounded by the service industries building tall office blocks in the business districts of major metropolitan areas. Property developers built high-rise housing blocks in cities which were already densely populated.

Manhatten had a population of 60,000 people in 1800. Today it has a population of 1.7 million people who each earn $378,000 per annum, on average.

Hong Kong Island had a population of about 3,000 people in 1842. Today it has 1.3 million people and a 2-bedroom city centre apartment would cost about $2 million to buy.

Those are the affluent places.

In the developing world, the social problems are due to the purchasing power of "soft" currencies. Only the US dollar, Japanese yen, European euro, Swiss franc, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, New Zealand dollar and British pound, are considered to be "hard" currencies.

Developing world nations need to build factories, mills, mines, railways, ports, power stations, which can only be paid for in hard currency, along with hospital and a university, fully equipped, staffed. The university needs a library full of books. Almost everthing has to be imported, and the suppliers want to be paid in hard currency.

The developing world nations take out loans from the World Bank, issued in hard currency to buy what they need. The crop harvest, manufactured products and natural resources are exported to buyers who pay with soft currency. Labour is also sold using soft currency .

$1 can purchase 8.3 minutes of labour in the USA. $1 can purchase 36 hours of labour in Ethiopia. The poorest and hungriest Ethiopians get paid 10 Ethiopian birr for 12 hours labour. A day's wage is the same as the cost of the day's food.

$1 is exchanged for 30 Ethiopian birr. The dollar seller can pay 3 Ethiopians their daily wage, after they complete 12 hours labour. The Ethiopian birr seller can purchase $1 of specialist goods, specialist services, or hire a highly-qualified and experienced expert, from the richest nations. $1 could purchase 1 minute of time from a prospecting geologist to survey Ethiopia's stone, ores, minerals, metals and gemstones. When the data is gathered, Ethiopia can then calculate the capital expenditure to purchase land, build processing facilities, buy equipment, and build supply infrastructure. Then they consider the cost the cost of paying for supply chain services. They calculate how soon they can be ready to start exporting. They calculate a sustainable export capacity and work out the anticipated lead time from initial purchase order, legally binding supply contract, agreed.  The operating costs are deducted from the expected income from the exports. It's pretty easy maths:

(Capital expenditure + operational costs + transport costs) - (average raw material market price x quantity of raw material available)

This equation gives three numbers,

1. How much money do we need spend before we see a single dollar

2. How much money will be earned until all the natural resource is gone

3. Proft (if any)

Wheat to make flour with is $0.46 in the US commodities exchange. Coffee beans are $0.94/kg. Orange juice is $1.17/litre. Cotton is $0.71/kg. Raw sugar from sugar cane has by far the lowest market price, of $0.13/kg.

Processing makes little difference: Alcohol made from cane sugar trades at $1.34/litre and refined white sugar trades at $348.

So we can forget growing crops. The US and EU subsidise their farmers by purchasing their harvest, then dumping it in huge silos, or otherwise paying farmers a subsidy for not growing their crop, which is greater than the amount the farmer could expect to earn by selling the harvest. That's economic warfare by the wealthy west on the impoverished developing world nations. The game is rigged.

Then stone, ores, metal, precious metal and gemstones are worth considering.

Iron ore trades at $89/kg. If you invested in heavy machinery and a processing plant: Copper trades at £3/lb, Aluminium at $1/lb. Nickel at $6/lb and Zinc is at $1/kg.

This is because $1 can purchase at least 1kg of flour, which will feed a mother and child for a day. The hungriest poorest people will exchange 12 hours labour . Therefore $1 buys 87 times more labour in the poorest parts of the developing world, than it does in the USA. So $1 is offered in exchange for enough local currency to buy 1kg of flour. It costs 30 Ethiopian birr to buy 1kg of flour,

The densest population on the planet is Tondo - a district in Manila - where you are never more than 2 metres away from another person. I'm 1.83 metres tall, so if I lay down to sleep, I would have 17 centimetres between me and the nearest person That's disturbing.

The developing world population has increased dramatically in the last 200 years, which is a lot of hungry mouths to feed, in countries which might not have clean drinking water, medicine, sanitation systems, and people live with a lot of hunger. See below:

World pop growth

Can you see the trend? Poor nations are getting more populated, which drives down the value of their labour drives down the value of the crops they produce, and drives down the price of the the other commodities they can produce. In a system of global free-market capitalism: A hungry person will work harder for longer, than a well-fed one. A person who lives in a country with high infant mortality rates will have more children that a person with great well-equipped hospitals and doctors, in every city.

It's ludicrous to be criminalising things which would never exist if we paid more for our edible crops. For example, 1kg of opium resin is worth $2,506 if you buy it wholesale directly from the farmers in Afghanistan. That heroin has a market value of $6,600 in the USA.

The drug problem is the inevitable conclusion of exploiting the developing world's labour, crops and raw materials.

I should really have written this as a series of blog posts, but I might is this in a non-fiction book I plan to write if I can convince somebody I like to co-author it with me. Or at least get a literary agent to find me a publisher and give me an editor.

Side note: I started writing this on Saturday and it's now Monday (well, Tuesday, technically) and I've hardly slept. I must publish this now, and proof-read and edit tomorrow.

I hope you find these 4,000 words entertaining.

 

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Our Revels Now Are Ended

14 min read

This is a story about the stuff dreams are made of...

There's no bed like home

These our actors as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Apparently there are 125 identical bedrooms in the hotel where I've lived for most of the last year. There are always 5 pillows: Two soft ones, two firmer ones and a stupid little red one, which serves a purely decorative purpose. There's an ironing board, iron, hairdryer and kettle. There's a writing desk. There's a sofa. There are reading lights which shine directly into your eyes if you don't take the time to move them away from the position they're always left in by the housekeepers. There's a plug in the sink that always need to be pulled out and set aside, otherwise the water won't be able to drain away properly when you wash your hands. There are small pieces of information throughout the room that tell me that I can choose whichever pillows I find comfiest, that there's a place to charge my phone by my bed, and various things that tell me how much they [the hotel] cares about my stay. A place for everything and everything in its place.

How many IKEA beds have I owned? How many have I destroyed? How many have I slept in without mishap? How many times have I found myself discovering that IKEA mattresses are different from the standard UK sizes of double and king-size? How many times have I struggled to squeeze an IKEA mattress into a non-IKEA fitted sheet?

How many different beds have I slept in, during the past 5 years?

I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in the National Health Service. There are the beds in the crisis houses and psychiatric wards. There are the beds in ordinary hospital wards. There are the beds in intensive care and high dependency wards. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable in places where somebody will shine a torch in your face every 15 to 30 minutes at night. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable somewhere that your blood pressure, body temperature and blood oxygen saturation is being measured every hour. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable when you have 5 canulas, a catheter and a massive femoral veinous catheter in your groin, which literally has taps you can just twist when you want to empty all the blood out of your body.

I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in a hostel full of homeless people. I can tell you about bed bugs and other human parasites. I can tell you about snoring. I can tell you about being in a room with 13 people in various states of drink and drug intoxication, and with the entire spectrum of mental health problems. I can tell you what it's like to realise that somebody rummaged under your pillow, stole your wallet, removed the cash, and replaced it back where they took it from, while you were asleep. I can tell you what it's like to have your bags regularly rummaged through in search of anything valuable. I can tell you what it's like to live for more than a year like that, with no fixed dormitory, no fixed bunk... to get woken up at 8am and told that you've got to move to another room, with another bunch of seemingly randomly-selected people who you'll be spending an unknown number of nights with.

After a while it gets tiresome.

Eventually, you figure out that when you sleep rough, if you're smart about it, then you can stay away from other homeless people, drunks, muggers, rapists and anybody who fancies doing pretty much whatever they want to you at 4:30am, because it's dark and nobody's around. Eventually, you figure out that you can have more consistency and control over your life if you find yourself some bushes or an overgrown back garden of an empty house to set up camp in. You get used to the noise of the dog walkers and the joggers. You get used to the noise of the commuters. You get used to the noise of the students and the tourists. You get used to the do-gooders, who will make their rounds to check on the junkies and the alcoholics, who cluster together in obvious places. You get used to the official-looking vehicles with their headlights, and the people wearing uniforms with their torches. You start to realise that they have absolutely no idea that you exist, because you are so inconspicuous and under their radar.

Then, you decide that it'd be nice to return to civilised society. You get a bit old to be sleeping rough. It seems somehow shameful, to reach a certain age and have dropped out.

So, you rent a series of dreadful places to live. Each one of those places has a dreadful bed: A bottom-of-the-range IKEA bed with a mattress which doesn't quite fit and slats which randomly fall off their supports, causing part of the bed to collapse unexpectedly; mattresses with a range of stains in varying hues indicating, shit, piss, vomit and blood... as well as perhaps some food stains.

You buy your own IKEA brand-new furniture, and you buy slightly better quality stuff. You buy the bed sheets that are the right size to fit, because you know exactly what size mattress you've bought. You buy a the right size mattress for the bed frame.

Then, you have to move.

How many times have I had to move?

Every time I move, I have to leave the bed behind, because I throw away the old terrible bed, which was unfit as anything more than set-dressing for a property that's being rented out as "furnished". Where would I store a shitty old bed? Where would I store a shitty old mattress? It would cost me more in storage costs, and the transportation costs of moving the shitty bed out and back, than it costs me to simply leave the replacement beds behind.

How many IKEA flat-packs have I assembled and how many have I destroyed?

How many times have I flopped down onto a newly assembled bed, exhausted?

How many times have I had to abandon any attempts at nest-making, because I have to choose my battles carefully?

It might sound like I'm sloppy, careless and perhaps have little respect for the expense and environmental impact of treating material possessions as so disposable. However, none of this stuff disappears. The problem is, that there's no shortage of supply of mattresses covered with blood, piss, sick and vomit stains. There's no shortage of damaged bed frames which do not sturdily support the bed's occupants.

What you have to understand is that I have to prioritise my survival, ahead of the pleasant choices that normal happy healthy stable people get to make. I don't choose to change my bed because I'm remodelling my bedroom. I'm not in the business of doing interior decoration for aesthetic purposes. I don't choose the colour of the paint on my walls. I don't choose my curtains. I've been grateful to have the comfort of a thin foam mattress, in a hostel dorm, on a bunk bed. I've been grateful if my bunk has happened to be close to a power socket so I can charge my phone. I've been grateful if my bunk has been near a window, so I can enjoy the ventilation. I've been grateful if my bunk has been away from the dorm entrance/exit, so people can enter and leave without disturbing me. I've been grateful if I'm not sharing a dorm with dickheads who get up at 5am and start noisily rummaging in their bags, or people with severe mental illness who have unpredictable outbursts just at the moment when you're falling asleep.

What you have to understand is that every different bed I sleep in is slightly different. There might be a family deciding to have an argument in the hotel corridor at 6am. There might be a central heating system where the pipes creak and clang at unusual times. There might be a car alarm that decides to go off all night long. There might be a fire alarm. There might be heavy traffic in the morning and evening commuter rush. There might be patients on a psych ward who want to watch TV at full volume at 7am. There might be patients on a psych ward who are kicking off, and having to be restrained, sedated and moved to 'safe seclusion', which is the modern version of a padded soundproof cell.

What you have to understand is that every bed I sleep in has a different 'vibe' in terms of how private it feels. Ground-floor bedrooms are strange to me, especially when the window coverings - blinds and curtains - aren't very good. Can people hear me masturbating? Can people see me sleeping? How much privacy do I really have? I've spent a substantial time in places where there are observation windows which can be opened by staff members, to check on the room occupant. I've spent a substantial amount of time in places where the furniture is heavy, indestructible and even bolted to the floor. I've spent a substantial amount of time where the windows don't open more than a few inches and have bars on them, and the mirrors are made out of plastic - places designed to be safe places for the care of vulnerable sick people.

Those places have been my home.

I'm about to get the keys to have a house that has 4 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, 2 bathrooms, a garden and a shed. It's all for me. It's a blank canvas.

If I had the money, I'd have it painted.

If I had the money, I'd buy the furniture I wanted.

If I had the money, I'd buy rugs and lamps, and curtains and coffee tables and occasional tables, and a dining table and chairs and a breakfast bar and bookcases and wardrobes and chests-of-drawers and sideboards and cabinets and desks and organiser systems, where all my stuff could be neatly hidden out of view in little boxes - a place for everything and everything in its place.

If I had the money, I'd just grab the IKEA catalogue and order everything in the rooms, exactly like their designers have displayed them.

It won't be long now.

Soon, I'll have a buttload of money.

But. It's been a long journey, and some really shitty stuff has happened, like my kidneys failing.

So, I'm about to have my millionth billionth IKEA bed, and there's nothing new or novel about it. I've bought the most basic model, with plans to upgrade in future, when I can afford it. I will continue to live out of suitcases, in a house which could comfortably accomodate 2 adults and 4 children. In fact, when I have friends with kids visiting, my house should provide comfort for perhaps 3/4 adults and 2/3 children, plus 0/1 dogs.

Sorry for going on about it, but it's been a helluva journey.

Imagine all those homeless people I met when I was sleeping rough. Imagine all those people who I met when I was sleeping in those hostels. I was just like them: No money, drink problems, drug problems and mental health problems, along with the accompanying police problems.

Imagine all those people who've seen me have false-starts and almost-but-not-quite get my shit together. Imagine how much they want me to succeed. Imagine how many people I've got rooting for me, because it's supposed to be true: It's supposed to be true that we can drag ourselves out of the gutter to become rich and successful, if we work hard enough. If I can do it, can you imagine how pleased all the people - the lifelong friends I made - will be to see me doing well. I owe it to them to aim higher than sleeping inconspicuously in a bush. I owe it to them to be one of the success stories that we're told about, but in reality don't really seem to exist.

I'm pulling an incredibly high-risk manoeuvre, to get myself into a special place. What would be the point of all the hard work, suffering, deprivation and disappointment, if all it resulted in was a totally mediocre end result?  That's not a very inspiring story for my friends who've suffered disproportionately badly at the hands of fate. How awful it would be for those people who had next-to-nothing - like we all did - to see the golden boy smashed to smithereens and getting absolutely nowhere in life. Why bother, if there's no chance of a better life? Why bother, if there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

My actions might seem to have a hint of profligacy to them, and indeed some showmanship and insecure vulgar displays of wealth, but I assure you that if I was such a fool as to simply want to flaunt the fact that I can get rich 'quick' when I need to, I would simply purchase a highly desirable sports-car with a car loan, and rent the most extravagant city centre penthouse I could find, and then flaunt my materialistic lifestyle in Instagram, which would be most vulgar, crude and an insult to every value that a hard working person has.

You also have to remember that my self-esteem was very badly damaged by those years when I was sick, vulnerable and virtually penniless. Psychologically, I do not want to be living with daily reminders that I screwed up my life. For me to feel as though I've left that unfortunate period of my life behind me, it's important that I'm not dragging around 'baggage' which continuously reminds me of what might have been if only I hadn't gotten sick. I think it's a worthwhile investment, to spend a relatively small amount of cash on a home which makes me feel like I'm starting to live the life I always wanted; picking up my life again as if there was no interruption.

If you detect a hint of entitlement then you're probably not mistaken. It's my firmly held belief that hard work should result in commensurate rewards. It's my unshakeable opinion that those who have known suffering and deprivation should not suffer prejudice and disadvantages because of those misfortunes.

If we believe in a fair and just world, where hard work and dedication will allow anybody to achieve their dreams, then we must surely also believe that it's OK for my life to be good... perhaps even enviably good; desirable. Isn't it a good thing that my friends might look at me and say: He's done well and there are some parts of his life that I would like to have for myself. Isn't it a good thing that my friends who never quite escaped the life of sleeping rough, hostels and bedsits, can see that one of their own - a man ruined by divorce, drink, drugs, debt and mental health problems - could clean himself up and return to civilised society, and prosper?

If this piece has a boastful tone, I apologise. If this piece seems premature, given the amount of hard work that still lies ahead, you'd be right to caution me against complacency. If this piece is too much about me, and not enough about those who get left behind, abandoned by society, those criticisms are valid.

As it stands, I've lined up my ducks, but the journey hasn't even started yet. My bed is still in pieces in an IKEA warehouse, with my mattress rolled up tightly in the plastic which it will be delivered in. The task still remains outstanding for me: to assemble my bed, or else sleep on the floor, provided I manage to even get the keys to this dream home without a hitch, which I presently don't have enough money to be able to afford.

 

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