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

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

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nick@manicgrant.com

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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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Blur

9 min read

This is a story about trying to do too much...

Ceiling fan

I think I have a pretty good idea of what I want and what I need. I think I've got enough experience to know what makes a happy, fulfilling, complete and stable life. I think I've been through plenty of difficult periods when my life has been incomplete, to know what was missing. I've been through very happy periods when I've been full of joy and contentment, and I know the things that created those delightful episodes.

There aren't any short cuts.

It's a strange situation, knowing what my life would contain if I could cherry-pick all the things I needed from all the years I've been alive. I'd choose the huge group of friends I met in the kitesurfing community, and the exotic travel locations we went to. I'd choose living in a city by the beach, where I could have barbecues and play volleyball on a random weekday evening after work. I'd choose garden parties, dinner parties, pool parties, eating out, board games nights and sitting around drinking wine, with a house full of great friends. I'd choose a stable long-term loving relationship with somebody kind and caring, with an incredible career and fascinating educated opinions, who dazzled me with their intellect. I'd choose to have loyal friends nearby, who'd do anything to help me, and I'd do anything for them. I'd be surrounded by people. I crave company and affection.

I hate being single. I hate that all my friends live far away. I hate that I don't have a pet.

I hate not feeling settled, secure, in love with my home city and in love with my house.

I think I'm going to love Cardiff. Soon enough I'll buy a place of my own. I'll make friends. I'll meet a special somebody. I'll probably get a cat. I'll get back into kitesurfing and wakeboarding. I'll build a social network around me, which will make me happy - my gregarious and extroverted side will come back again, and I'll feel like myself; I'll feel glad to be alive.

I don't tend to do things slowly and steadily.

I want everything immediately.

I've set about trying to have a lovely house in a lovely area, meet people, fall in love and meanwhile carry on with all of life's daily demands, such as working my job and paying my bills. It might sound like the regular stuff that we're all trying to do, but you have to understand that my life was profoundly dysfunctional. Every facet of my life was incredibly damaged in some way, and I have found myself starting from scratch, more-or-less.

Of course, there are people whose lives are decimated and they don't enjoy the many advantages which I do, such as being able to find well-paid employment anywhere in the world. My health is good enough that I can work with limited impairment. My experiences have prepared me, such that I'm able to deal with just about anything and everything that life throws at me. I live a very charmed existence.

As it stands, my life is very incomplete, but I'm no longer paralysed by depression, anxiety, indecision and hampered by financial problems. The feelings of unhappiness are prompting me to take action, and I'm pursuing every avenue simultaneously to fix-up my life.

One year ago, I had a very lovely girlfriend, a great home with gorgeous panoramic views of the sea, and a well-paid job which was a short drive away. I might sound like Goldilocks, but that city was not somewhere I could fall in love with. The friends I made there who had cared very much about me, and I adored, had vanished as quickly as they had arrived in my life - an argument which exploded, and ended the relationships I had with an entire family. My house of cards collapsed, and I was jobless, single and sick, in a place where I only had a couple of friends left... and neither were particularly well equipped to help me.

Today, I have a big empty house. I love my job and I love the people I work with. I'm becoming wealthy again. I'm in a city which I find jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Some parts of my life are absolutely perfect.

The parts of my life which are broken and dysfunctional are being fixed. I'm meeting people. I'm no longer trapped in depressed isolation.

Being single is particularly horrible. I haven't had a hug in far too long. I've had nobody to cuddle me when I've been feeling terrible. For a time, I felt like I had nobody in the world who I could phone in a crisis, but slowly my life improves: a friend from work has been in contact, for example, making me realise that I'm not completely invisible... there are people who care about me.

I know that there are people who care about me all around the world, but I promise you that it's pretty awful being in a city you've never visited before, where you don't know anybody, and you're living all alone in a house full of cardboard boxes and unassembled flat-pack furniture. My clothes are all still in suitcases, because I have no furniture to unpack into yet.

Of course, we must consider the great potential that my life holds. In a matter of months, the scary alien city where I'm completely unable to find my way around, will become my home and I will feel attached to the place. My empty house will be filled with my things and I will make it comfortable, and pleasant to live in. I'll make friends and my social life will no longer be something painfully absent. I'll meet somebody special and have a companion to share life with. All of these things will happen, at some point in the future.

Because I'm used to living life at breakneck pace, doing everything all at once, of course I want to do as much as humanly possible. My life is a blur. I'm not doing things in a methodical, measured and sustainable way - I'm charging headlong into every problem, attempting to get what I want overnight.

I should have been in bed a long time ago, getting as much sleep as possible before another punishing week at work on a highly stressful project where I'm under a great deal of pressure. I should be protecting the things which are the essential enablers for everything else: without a job and money, my life will collapse like a house of cards, again.

I almost skipped writing for two days running, because I'm spread so thin, but I'm forcing myself to write now because I don't want a single part of my life to be neglected and left to rot and wither on the vine. I have ploughed a significant amount of time and effort into this writing project, and I'm loath to lose something which is such a consistent and central part of my identity, especially when my embryonic new life is just a tiny seed - it hasn't even begun to sprout green shoots yet.

The problems I have are nice problems to have. I write to you, happy that things are clearly improving, even if I haven't yet claimed any triumphs since successfully moving to Cardiff. It's slightly more intangible to say that things are getting better, when the gains are so imperceptibly marginal; the changes are so slow and none of the major milestones have been achieved yet. However, I had a nice weekend.

As always, I'm very hard on myself and I feel like I should be succeeding in every area of my life, overnight, but things are taking time and effort, and I will have to sustain my efforts if I want to get the things I need. It sucks, but at least I'm starting to have yet another attempt at rebuilding my life. I've had setbacks, but on the whole I have to say that there's more positive progress to report than negative things which have happened.

I seem to be finding reserves of energy that I didn't think I had. I seem to be more capable than I thought I was. The amount that I've achieved in a single weekend seemed inconceivable to me, and was causing me some anxiety, but in fact everything went very well and I'm very pleased.

Of course, there is a great deal of peril and uncertainty in my life, which will remain for some time, while I cement my gains and secure my future, but I've done pretty damn well at coping with setbacks recently, and I hope that I'm able to continue without any major disasters. I hope that I can keep control of my own propensity to self-sabotage. I hope that I can subdue my underlying mood disorder, such that I can plough through the depressive episodes and suppress the manic episodes, and emulate the behaviour of those who are fortunate enough to be blessed with mental stability.

My life has been a blur. My frenetic activity is so fast that my movement is a blur. The amount that I'm trying to do all at once creates a blurry picture, as all the different activities all blend together and I find myself continuously in strange novel situations, attempting to make sense of what's going on: mostly a passenger on a rollercoaster ride.

Life is certainly interesting at the moment, although I am always afraid that I will burn out or break down at any moment. I'm probably over-investing in the wrong things, as always, but that's me: a blur of activity.

 

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On Probation

7 min read

This is a story about being on tenterhooks...

Book quote

I'm a living contradiction. I choose security and certainty over the vain hope of hitting the jackpot. If I was given the choice between having a "B" grade, but not having to do any work or suffer any uncertainty, versus the potential to achieve an "A+" then I would take the "B" grade without a moment's hesitation. If you think that's settling for mediocrity, you're wrong - I choose my battles and I achieve "A+" grades all the time... as an accidental consequence of pursuing the things I'm interested in and passionate about.

The other part of my contradictory personality is that I choose to take incredible risks. I jump out of planes. I climb rock faces. I scale high mountains. I ride gigantic waves in gale-force winds. Why the hell would I do that?

There are a lot of risk-reward-cost-benefit calculations that go on inside my head.

I've gathered a lot of data.

The decision to take dangerous highly addictive drugs might seem like one of the most baffling choices that a person would elect to do. For example, taking heroin is seen as an indication of character flaw, but being a BASE jumper is seen as cool, although the latter carries the same risk of premature death.

Let's do a bit more in-depth analysis, shall we?

Cost of being a rock climber:

  • Rock boots: £45
  • Harness: £75
  • Chalk bag & chalk ball: £15
  • Rope £150
  • Helmet £50
  • Belay plate: £20
  • 10 quickdraws: £150

TOTAL: £505

So, for somebody who wants to climb a rock face safely, the minimum amount they're going to have to spend is over £500. Also, you might fall and die. Let's re-iterate that: It's pretty damn obvious that if you climb up a vertical rock face and you lose your grip, you can fall to the ground and be killed on impact.

Cost of being a mountaineer:

  • Crampon-compatible boots: £200
  • Crampons: £120
  • Base layers: £40
  • Mid-layers: £80
  • Shell layer jacket: £250
  • Shell layer salopettes: £180
  • Ice axes: £250
  • Helmet: £50
  • 9mm waterproof rope: £175
  • Ice screws: £120
  • Warthogs: £40
  • Deadman: £40
  • Backpack: £150
  • Survival bag: £20
  • Down sleeping bag: £300
  • Down jacket: £200
  • Tent: £350
  • Sleeping mat: £60

TOTAL: £2,625

So, for somebody who wants to climb a 4,000m+ mountain (Mont Blanc etc) then you're going to have to shell out more than £2,500. In fact, it's going to cost you a lot more, because you're going to need lots of things I didn't list, like spare pairs of socks, spare base layers, and also a stove, cooking utensils, plus all the other expedition gear. You're not going to have much spare change out of £3,500. Did I mention that you're highly likely to be killed by falling rocks, avalanches, falling into a crevasse, or simply plummeting to your death.

I shan't follow the same process for kitesurfing, yacht sailing or skydiving, but the financial cost of putting your life in danger can be staggering, especially when we consider that rugged outdoorsy types are somehow healthy and laudable people of good character and moral fibre; made of the right stuff.

Another group of people who we might consider are the entrepreneurs. Who are these people who reject conventional employment - salaried jobs - and instead choose to make their money by means other than selling their singular body and brain. Are these people risk takers too?

In fact, all the celebrated members of society have one thing in common: they've had the financial means to pursue avenues that are not available to most of the populace, because the need to eat, be housed and be clothed is an insistent demand which is too pressing for all but those who enjoy considerable economic advantages. Do not believe the bullshit - rugged adventurers are not brave souls and entrepreneurs are not gifted geniuses... they're all people who've had the financial backing in order to pursue their expensive dreams. Don't believe any of the "self-made man" bullshit. Behind every "self made" man are a whole bunch of people who've underwritten their risk.

I busted my shoulder up pretty badly - broken bones - on a beach in a remote part of Brasil. My startup co-founder broke his leg very badly indeed in roughly the same part of Brasil. That part of the world is many hours away from a good hospital with a surgeon and operating theatre where complex orthopaedic surgery could be performed. Would we have been so adventurous if we hadn't become somewhat complacent about the bubble we live in?

I'm on probation at the moment. I'm on best behaviour. I'm trying to impress my new girlfriend. I'm trying to prove that I'm a good boyfriend.

But, do I really think that I'm going to fail?

Have I ever been worried that I'm going to fall to my death?

Have I ever been worried that world-class medical establishments and all the many wonders of modern civilisation aren't rapidly available in an emergency? Have I ever been worried that somebody wouldn't patch me up as good as new, if I had an accident?

It's never really crossed my mind that I might not get what I want. Of course, I've had heart-stopping moments when I've suddenly realised how staggeringly exposed I am. I've spent so much of my life living on the edge that I've become desensitised to the worrying fact that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the more times I put my life at risk, the greater the chance that I'm going to be badly injured or killed.

I was worried that I was too fat, old, mentally ill and addicted to drugs and alcohol to ever meet somebody who'd fall in love with me. I was worried that I was too indebted and lacking in any assets - such as a fast car and big house - to be attractive to any object of my affections. I was worried that I was a washed-up loser; a has-been.

Our whole lives are lived under Damocles' sword, somewhat. We could mess up our exams. We could mess up our careers. We could mess up our relationships. There's never a single moment when we can really relax and feel like we're not on probation in some way.

I guess I'm pretty sanguine. I get anxious and I torment myself a very great deal with catastrophic thinking but ultimately, I feel the fear and do what I was always going to do anyway. I'm well aware of the innumerable and virtually unimaginable risks, but if you examine my behaviour - as opposed to what I write - then you'll see that I never choose the low-risk option; you'll see that I continuously pursue the very best that life has to offer, despite stress levels which are almost intolerable.

Tomorrow is an important day, but I already know that I'm going to be OK. My risk is underwritten. What's the worst that can happen? Death? Hospitalisation? Been there. Done that.

 

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I refuse to go to the gym

8 min read

This is a story about body-beautiful and get-fit...

Ripped shorts

I caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the lenses of the guy operating the theme park attraction, where I spent the day. I'm very pale and badly out of shape. There were other guys around with beer guts and less-than-perfect bodies, making me feel a little less self-conscious, but I was the whitest person I've seen all day.

I was the first person to arrive at the Float Rider attraction today, having meticulously planned how to get there and beat the crowds. I was a man on a mission: to surf the wave machine. The machine is more commonly known by the registered trademark: FlowRider. A stationary wave is created by pumping water 'uphill' which can be 'surfed' with a boogie board, short-fin, or finless surfboard.

I knew that every person who rides the FlowRider asks the staff if they can skip straight to the board riding part, but I thought I'd make my intentions known. "I want to ride on a board" I said. "I can surf" I said.

Yeah, yeah, buddy. You and every other person who wants to ride the FlowRider. Back of the queue.

It didn't help that I'm old and in bad physical shape, in terms of being judged capable and competent enough to skip the demeaning preparatory step of riding on my tummy. I thought I'd uncomplainingly go along with things, in the hope that my commitment would soon become apparent and enable me to be allowed to ride a board.

Two other men my age - also equally out of shape - soon joined me, and we were all put through our paces, skimming over the surface of the wave on our tummies. I decided to up the ante in the hope of impressing upon the operator that I was capable and competent. I jumped up onto my knees and rode the boogie board in a kneeling position.

I thought that would be enough.

No.

"Practice your balance" I was told.

Fine.

I thought I'll bide my time and not harass the poor guy whose job it is to supervise an endless procession of people who are quite happy to spend 30 minutes riding on their tummy before they get bored and wander off. I thought to myself: "I'll continue to patiently demonstrate my keen intent to progress to the board-riding stage".

I'd been doing this for a couple of hours. I was very bored. I applied some gentle pressure. No luck.

In all, I spent nearly 3 hours patiently riding around on my goddam knees. I don't know why I didn't just wander off and return later; save some energy. I presumed that my continuous presence would eventually wear down the attraction operator, and he would relent and let me ride a goddam board.

The attraction was very quiet. Sometimes I was the only person on the FlowRider. I presumed that my dedication and commitment were noticed. I presumed that the guy would give in eventually.

Then, the operator went for lunch.

A little bit of background about him.

"Do what you love" we're told. "Follow your dreams" we're told. What if you love surfing? What then?

I love surfing -> surfing is not a job -> there aren't many surfing instructor jobs -> become a theme park ride operator.

This guy must have a tough holiday season. His job is basically a kind of lifeguard. His time seemed to be mostly spent policing spoiled rich children, intent on queue-jumping. Surf protocol is very clear about the line-up and whose turn it is to catch the next wave. Surfers get pretty mad about anybody dropping in on a wave that isn't 'theirs'. Also, surfing is pretty hard, given the combination of skills required to paddle out to the breaking waves, spot a good wave to catch, paddle to catch it, pop into standing position and then ride the wave. In a busy line-up, you're not going to catch many waves in a day. As an out-of-shape 39-year-old guy who hasn't seen sunshine for a couple of years, I'm the last person you'd expect to be able to ride a board.

Before lunch, I pressured the would-be surf instructor guy for a go riding the board when he returned for the afternoon session. He agreed.

When I returned, the FlowRider was the busiest I'd seen it. In fact, it was so busy that people were riding the wave on their tummies in pairs.

I worked my way slowly towards the front of the queue.

Then, at last, my chance to ride a goddam board arrived.

It's a lot easier than surfing.

The wave is perfect.

The takeoff is easy.

Perhaps it was sweeter, that there had been a lengthy buildup to that moment, but it was awesome that I was standing on a little foam surfboard, carving fairly effortlessly back and forth on the standing wave. In a lot of ways I was right - I didn't need to spend those demeaning hours on my bloody knees - but it was fine, because at least I was getting to ride right then and it didn't matter at all that my morning had been somewhat a waste of time and energy.

I spent the remainder of the afternoon riding the a board - catching endless perfect waves.

I very much enjoyed my status as "king of the kooks" - being allowed to ride the board and being cheered on by onlookers; getting big thumbs up from people; many wanting to ask me how long it took to learn to ride the board and make it look easy.

Embarrassingly, I've got more years of experience riding boards than I care to admit.

I suppose it must have been an odd sight - the old out-of-shape palest guy in the whole goddam theme park, riding the board like a pro. The photographs of a surfer riding a wave, plastered around the attraction, portrey the thing that everybody wants to be able to do right away.

The FlowRider probably gets busier in the afternoons, but pleasingly the demographic changed from little kids who wanted to ride for a short while before quickly getting bored, to a bunch of thrill-seekers who, like me, didn't seem to have any children and were in the theme park to have some unadulterated (sic.) immature fun.

For six and a half hours, I rode that wave over and over again. For six and a half hours, I exercised.

It was only light exercise. Real surfing would have quickly exhausted me.

However, it was the most exercise I've done in years.

But it didn't feel like I was doing exercise.

If I could carry on riding the FlowRider for the next 364 days, I'm sure I'd get remarkably fit & healthy again, and look like far more of an authentic surfer than the old out-of-shape old pale guy, surprising people by being able to ride quite competently and confidently.

I'm covered in bruises from various wipeouts and my shorts got ripped, but I feel really good from the exercise. My skin got a little sun, so it's not as white as it was.

I'd like to get fit & healthy again, but I'll be damned if I'm going to have to go to a goddam gym to do it. Today I did 6.5 hours of exercise by accident, which was a whole lot more fun than the mind-numbingly boring pursuit of a better body in a gym.

Pleasingly, I had the core strength and stamina to spend a whole day riding a wave. I'm pleasantly physically fatigued. The few bits of me that ache or are bruised are hurting in a way that's kinda nice. I didn't aggressively try to get a quick tan, but my face feels a bit sun-kissed, which is a great feeling - brings back so many nice memories of fun times on the water.

I just need to figure out some kind of fun physical thing to do regularly, which doesn't feel like exercise.

I know I'll sleep better and feel happier about my appearance if I can get fit again. I know that it's good to stay in shape. It's nice to feel healthy & attractive.

I'll be damned if I'll go to a goddam gym though.

 

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Notes From My Disastrous Dating Experiences

9 min read

This is a story about romantic aspirations in the provinces...

Nick in pink

It would unforgivable of me to kiss and tell but I feel the urge to share with you - dear reader - the trials and tribulations of an urbane metrosexual man's attempts to find love outside the capital city, in places which might politely be described as: the arse-end of nowhere.

The first thing that becomes immediately apparent, when venturing onto the dating scene in the provinces. is the priority which young adults have placed upon having rampant quantities of unprotected sex and producing as many unfortunate single-parent children as possible, with no economic means to pay for them. Did these people never receive any sex education? Have they never heard of condoms, the pill, the rhythm method, anal sex, oral sex or simply pulling out and ejaculating in any direction away from the the birth canal? What the fuck were they thinking?

Accidents don't "happen". We aren't organisms with pea-sized brains. We have birth control, the morning-after pill AND abortions. Why the big hurry to bring an innocent child who didn't ask to be born, into a world where you can't afford to pay for its upbringing? Idiocy.

So, there needs to be a certain amount of sifting through all the cretinous idiots who are no more intelligent than a herd of humping beasts, spawning offspring without any restraint, planning or any semblance of rational thought.

Relationships can break down irreparably, I accept that. Despite 8 long hard years banging my head against a brick wall, my own longest relationship was broken beyond repair and I got divorced. My ex-wife and I didn't have any children, which was my choice because I wanted to stabilise my mental health before making an irreversible life-changing decision to procreate. However, I can imagine that some perfectly decent nice intelligent people have had children, only to later find out that they're met with irreconcilable differences and their relationship cannot be salvaged, even for the sake of the children.

I was unquestionably influenced by my parents' relationship, which was toxic and abusive. I use the word "abuse" with a little caution, because it means a lot of things to a lot of different people, but what I mean is that my parents were absolute assholes to each other and everyone around them. They were co-dependent alcoholic druggies; selfish cunts. They stayed together, perhaps correctly sensing that mean-spirited selfish self-centred people who drink and take drugs, and have failed at life, are not highly in-demand people. They clung together because they were the only people who'd support each others' lies and fantasies, justifying their obnoxious treatment of everyone around them.

I grew up believing that a person should be loyal and work at a relationship no matter how toxic it is; to put up with any amount of abuse.

I guess that's why I ended up in an abusive relationship myself.

This is how I remember things progressed:

  1. Date one: She liked me lots; I was full of confidence. She wanted more. I held back because I had serious feelings about her.
  2. Date two: She thought I was great. She 'accidentally' invited herself into my place.
  3. Date three: I treated her like a princess
  4. Date four: She left me waiting for 30 minutes outside her place. I told myself I was going to leave after an hour, because it was a shitty thing to stand me up. She turned up after 45 minutes. I said I was going to go because it was no way to treat somebody. She begged me to stay.
  5. Some dates later: she got in a strange mood when we were out with friends. When we got back home to her place she told me to leave. I asked her why. She wouldn't tell me. She threatened to call the police, which I said was unnecessary, I just didn't understand... could she explain? She flew into a rage, destroyed some curtains and slammed some doors. Then she calmed down and said she was glad I stayed. She thanked me for being loyal and patient We made love and everything seemed OK.
  6. We went on holiday together. I casually suggested living together and she was enthusiastic. She openly said she was swept off her feet by my open-hearted romanticism.
  7. I gave up my apartment paid for by JPMorgan to be closer to her workplace. She was angry and aggressive a lot. I cried a lot. One time when I was crying, she punched me in the face several times.
  8. When she got angry, I sliced my wrist open with a knife. She briefly got more angry, but it temporarily stopped her rage in its tracks.
  9. When she got angry, I smashed a mirror; a bed.
  10. I asked her dad permission to marry her. I bought her the engagement ring of her dreams.
  11. Two of my best friends came to visit. She flew into an inexplicable rage. I threw her engagement ring out of the window.
  12. She raged with anger about everything in my life I held dear: kitesurfing, my friends from London and all over the UK. Nothing I could do would make her happy. I isolated myself. I gave up everything. I became a prisoner of her unpredictable rage.
  13. We fought. She'd had her three strikes. She'd broken my nose, given me black eyes. I'd lied to my work colleagues about my black eyes. I'd lied to her parents about my black eyes. I'd lied to our friends about my black eyes. Now we fought. Two of us, fighting. We beat the shit out of each other.
  14. I went back to self-harming; smashing stuff. I was suicidal. She cheated on me.
  15. I caught her cheating. She was nice to me. I forgave her. It was nice that she was being nice to me.
  16. She was strong and I was weak. I needed to get out of that toxic relationship before I died. She said "I'd rather be a widow than divorced". She knew I had 2 grams of potassium cyanide. She knew she stood to gain a vast sum of money from my life insurance and the value of my house. She marked my suicide note in red pen and told me if I went to hospital she'd leave me.
  17. I went to hospital. We separated. We divorced.

That's my long-term relationship experience.

My first girlfriend was the nicest person in the world - which was an on-off relationship spanning a couple of years. I remember my second girlfriend fondly - a relationship lasting about 18 months. Then, there was 8 years of hell, which I feel completely equally responsible for: I should have walked away. Subsequent girlfriends were all relatively short-lived, but they were all wonderful. My longest relationship since my wife was with the love of my life, which lasted 9 blissful months, ending in calamity when I was driven insane by sleep deprivation and a toxic cocktail of prescription medications and other things, such that I temporarily believed that she didn't care about me and I decided to break up with her in a very regrettably - and irreparably - public manner, given the fact we both have Twitter accounts with reasonably large numbers of followers (although, many work colleagues are followers of her, causing the unforgivable reputational damage).

"What the fuck are you doing with that madman?" her colleagues must have asked.

She would have defended me.

She was loyal.

I loved her. She loved me.

But I was stubbornly ridiculous. At the time, my brain said to me "I'll never end up in another abusive relationship" but my thoughts were horribly twisted and corrupted; unreliable. To say anything bad about my poor ex-girlfriend would do her a terrible disservice. My amazing ex-girlfriend was incredibly attentively and at my bedside constantly for weeks when my kidneys failed. She was faultless, always.

Presently I've been consigned to the provinces, where I'm punished; cursed to suffer for my foolishness. Wimmin, wimmin, everywhere, and if none of them seem to meet my exacting standards then it's only because of the awful way I've treated - particularly - my last serious girlfriend. My ex cared for me so much, loved me and and demonstrated the loyalty I so desperately craved, but I threw it away during a hyper-complex period of joblessness, debt, mental health issues and drug abuse relapse, when I felt like an complete-and-utter failure. Insecurity destroyed me, despite her making me feel great about myself and working really hard to make sure I was OK. She looked after me. She put so much effort into looking after me.

So, now, today, I'm a 39-year-old man who's gotten badly out of shape and carries a whole heap of baggage.

"What car do you drive?"

"What job do you do?"

"Do you own your own house?"

"Show me your bank balance"

"What's your net worth?"

"Do you think you could afford to provide a life of idle luxury for me and my fatherless children?"

These are the questions which I face in the provincial dating game.

When I'm not looking my wallet is slipped from my pocket and felt for its fatness.

I'm not-so-silently judged as the sucker who's gonna pick up the tab for all that badly thought through unprotected sex and all those irrational decisions to not terminate unaffordable pregnancies.

This is my penance for not walking away from an abusive relationship - and admittedly becoming a so-called consensual partner in co-dependency - and also for throwing away relationships with some amazing women. This is my penance for my wrongdoing: to be somewhat trapped in the provinces, where every woman's dating profile picture has a Snapchat filter applied to her face, sending barely-literate messages saying: "If you're ex-girlfriends we're so great then how come there no longer wiv U? Their a bunch of snooty bitches wot kno grammar innit. Your fucking up youself U posh twat. They're's the truth layed out for you bear."

They do not mean "bear" in a cute cuddly way.

 

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Life Is Better In Flip Flops

6 min read

This is a story about nerve damage...

Tied on flip flop

As you can see from the picture above, I had a very bad injury to my left leg. What you might not know is that the massive lesion to my leg healed perfectly. Some nerves were severed when a piece of mirror glass guillotined its way through my shin, but the nerves managed to regrow. The severed tendons and muscle was sewn back together and my leg had completely recovered.

Then I got DVT (deep-vein thrombosis).

The first I knew about the DVT was that my ankle looked a bit swollen and my foot went numb. It was the fact I hadn't needed to urinate for several days which prompted me to go to hospital. On the day I decided to go to hospital, my foot, ankle, leg and knee were swelling at an alarming rate. By the time I was examined in Accident & Emergency, my left leg was almost fully twice as large as the right leg.

My weight soared from around 80kg (176 pounds or 12½ stone) to 95kg (209 pounds or 15 stone) which is a heck of a lot of weight gain for 5 or 6 days. It took many many sessions of dialysis to get that fluid out of me, while the hospital anxiously waited for my kidneys to start working again.

Unfortunately, the blood clot/thrombosis and other complications caused nerve damage. Presumably the blood vessels which had been surgically repaired and the nerves which had managed to re-grow and re-attach themselves, were quite fragile versus normal physiology. My foot went numb.

To be more accurate, my foot was left numb after many months of excruciating pain.

I had a nerve condition study and an MRI scan, but there was still a lot of swelling and other damage, making it unclear whether a surgical intervention might ever return the feeling to my foot. My main concern at the time was pain management, because it was too painful to walk any great distance, and pain kept me awake at night very badly. I was taking the maximum dose of tramadol AND codeine, plus supplementing prescribed painkillers with dihyrocodiene and other opiate medications, which I bought on the black market. I was briefly a very heavily dependent opioid painkiller user.

Opiates have weird side-effects. I couldn't tell whether the nausea, itching, constipation, cramps, sweating, diarrhoea, and intense anxiousness about maintaining my supply of opiate painkilllers, was a result of their effects or the effect of withdrawal. All I knew was that I would have periods where I felt incredibly rubbish, and then periods where things were more bearable, despite dosing myself regularly throughout the day.

The thing which made the greatest difference - other than a loving, caring, attentive and wonderful girlfriend - was a topical ointment containing diclofenac, which is a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflamatory drug). Because of the earlier complications with my kidneys, many medications were contraindicated. Perhaps I shouldn't have used the diclofenac gel, because it's not very kidney-friendly, but it was the only thing which gave me any reliable relief.

It's possible that most of my pain was related to opiate withdrawal and strange interactions between the tramadol, codeine and dhydrocodeine, which I should not have been combining, but I did so out of desperation for pain relief. It's possible that in my desperation for pain relief, I actually made things worse. Perhaps tramadol alone would have been more effective.

Eventually, I decided that I hated all the effects of the opiates, so I decided to go cold turkey. I had been heavily opiate dependent, for a period of several months, so I was expecting to experience pure hell quitting the opiates. Certainly a lot of noise has been made about the addictiveness of OxyContin, Vicodin and other painkillers which have been implicated in the opiod addiction epidemic sweeping the United States, declared a nationwide public health emergency by President Obama on October 26th 2017.

Back in July 2017, I tried to walk from my apartment to my local Chinese takeaway in flip flops - a distance of about 500 metres. I could not walk more than ten paces without the flip flop coming off my left foot, because it was so numb and my toes were somewhat 'clawed' such that I couldn't hold the flip flop on my foot or tell when it was slipping off.

For almost all of 2017 I was taking a neuropathic painkiller called pregabalin - marketed as Lyrica - which I found to be quite effective. However, it occurred to me that this painkiller might have been preventing the natural nerve re-growth which had successfully healed my severed nerves once before. After 9 months with no improvement to the numbness in my foot, I was becoming quite depressed about the prospect of never regaining any feeling in my foot, and consequently never being able to wear flip-flops again, without tying them onto my foot as pictured above.

I like wearing flip flops. They're an important part of my beach bum seaside-dwelling kitesurfer identity.

I decided to stop taking pregabalin.

If anybody tells you that pregabalin is not addictive, they're just plain wrong.

Pregabalin quite recently became a scheduled drug in the UK, making it illegal to possess without a prescription. Pregabalin affects the GABA system of the brain, just like alcohol, Valium, Xanax and GHB/GBL, which are all considered to have a high abuse potential, so naturally pregabalin is no different.

Of all the drugs I've quit and medications I've withdrawn from, pregabalin is one of the worst. Because of its tranquilising and sedating effects, the rebound when withdrawing creates a state of insomnia, anxiety and induces the general sensation that the world is about to end, which lasts for months.

I quit pregabalin under the supervision of doctors, tapering the dosage down gradually, but it was a pretty aggressive schedule, which was chosen by me. I wanted to quit pregabalin as quickly as possible, because I wanted to find out if it would help my nerves re-grow and allow me to wear flip flops again, or indeed be able to feel a kitesurf board underneath my feet.

Pleasingly, I can report that I put on a pair of newly-purchased flip flops tonight, and I was able to walk around without the left one falling off.

My left foot feels different from the right one, but I do have some sensation restored and I don't have the aches and pains which troubled me during a lot of 2017.

It might seem like a minor point, but it's actually something that has disproportionate imporance in my life: To be able to wear flip flops again is a big deal.

Life is better in flip flops.

 

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Context Switching

8 min read

This is a story about screen time...

Phone icons

The button to silence my smartphone has broken so I leave it permanently in "do not disturb" mode, which suits me just fine. Hardly anybody ever phones me except for agents and other cold caller sales types. My time is mostly spent in the 12 apps pictured above. Perhaps I'm not on my smartphone all the time, but essentially I'm context-switching non-stop throughout my waking hours, so I thought that warranted a little examination.

Starting with my 35,225 unread emails, my inbox has gotten rather out of control. Email has become such a victim of its own success that no IT professional I know even uses it anymore - we're all on Slack. Most communication is entirely transient and there's no need to have a record of anything except some kind of chat transcript to catch up on - anything old can be archived and forgotten. I spend all day every day chatting to my colleagues on Slack, including colleagues from organisations where I don't even work anymore.

Messages comprises SMS messages - mostly telling me about voicemails I haven't listened to - and a handful of iMessages from people who aren't using WhatsApp for some reason. WhatsApp deserves special note though, because of the group chats. I was removed from the only group chat I was a member of - discussion between cryptocurrency enthusiasts - and I was usurped by a guy who screwed me over last year when I was on my deathbed, which is kinda besides the point but it galls me.

Instagram I don't actually use very much. I live in a text-based world and the photos I take are in 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio, not 1:1. I don't take very many selfies.

Facebook Messenger is my most active chat app, but I only use it to chat to one person - my guardian angel - and we mainly exchange memes about suicide, mental health problems and the ruined economy. Facebook messenger also makes calls - as do many of the apps - and I occasionally speak to a friend in Poland, which is about the only time I speak to anybody on the telephone.

Recently I've been using Tinder and Bumble in an attempt to meet girls. It adds additional complexity to my context-switching life.

I'm not really sure what I use Facebook for. I do browse through the feed once a day - not on my smartphone - and I occasionally like and comment on things which are especially noteworthy, but I generally try to avoid over-investment in that particular walled garden. I used to share a lot and indeed I've managed to rather make a fool of myself in front of all my friends and scupper my chances of ever working in some organisations, because I dragged my own good name through the mud. I don't put my dirty laundry on Facebook much, only for it to be conspicuously ignored. Instead I write over a million words on my blog and broadcast my ups and downs to thousands of followers and anybody who does Google searches.

I don't use Twitter properly. I don't generally retweet stuff and I don't spend enough time reading the tweets of the 6,000+ people I follow. How anybody could sift through it all I have no idea - Twitter is a pretty noisy place. Generally I just look to see if anybody I know is tweeting about any of the trending topics, and I otherwise rely on an email I receive in the morning each day, which tells me what my favourite people have been up to. I must admit, it's sometimes a struggle to stay on top of my notifications and DMs and then I turn turtle and hide for a while until things quieten down.

I don't bother with LinkedIn much. I don't struggle to find work. I don't much see the point in ploughing much time and effort into my corporate image - I've got a perfectly professional CV and LinkedIn page, and otherwise I rely on my contacts, skills, experience and references to be able to get work when I need it.

I wake up in the morning and I quickly scan through my notifications - mostly Twitter - to see if there have been any comments, which I make a mental note to reply to later in the day. When I get bored around mid-morning, I have a glance at my inbox to see if there's anybody demanding money with menaces or otherwise harassing me. Approaching lunchtime, I might kill a bit of time with Facebook, but I don't want to get too engrossed in my phone when I'm at work. If I'm having a really dreadful day, I might reach out to a couple of friends via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp and see if I can get them to send jokes, memes or anything that might provide a moment's distraction from the boredom. After leaving the office and generally before my evening meal, I write a blog post. I often scan through my website analytics to see if there's anything notable going on. If my mind is busy and distracted I frequently find myself flipping between half-watching something on Netflix and several tabs in my browser - a mix of Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes I read the news, but I find that I spend less and less time engaging with current affairs at the moment, because I've been stressed out of my mind with basic survival. A new part of my routine is chatting to girl(s) via the dating apps and if I'm ever lucky enough to get a phone number, then chatting on WhatsApp.

The amount of context switching is pretty remarkable. In any given day I might have to switch between fully professional mode, with colleagues who I want to present with a squeaky-clean corporate-friendly version of myself, and a more relaxed but still guarded version of myself which allows a little bit of my personality to show, but hopefully keeps my bad not-safe-for-work (NSFW) stuff hidden. I might be chatting to somebody who I've known for a long time online who's in a different timezone - ahead or behind - and they'll know an incredible amount of personal stuff about me and we'll be talking very frankly and honestly about everything and everything... then I'll be talking to a girl who I've just started chatting to who doesn't know me at all... then I'll be chatting to work colleagues who I spend 40 hours a week in close proximity with and they think they know me but they don't [and I don't want them to know everything]. Then, there's the image I present and the interactions I have via my blog and social media. and all the people who I have frequent and infrequent contact with, and the different ways I know people. Facebook is a particularly weird melting pot, where former work colleagues mingle with people who I know through kitesurfing, my startup days, the time I was homeless and living in parks and hostels, people who I've just randomly friend requested when I was mentally unwell. Facebook is kinda the worst, because I never know which guise I should be in, so I'm probably too honest and I'm tarnishing my own reputation and good standing that I once had with friends.

My brain has to switch between survival mode - where I've been worried about money, housing, addiction, alcoholism, transport, sex, isolation, suicidal thoughts, self harm, depression, anxiety and odds that have been very much stacked against me - and professional mode - where I'm expected to perform at a very high standard and navigate extremely complicated large organisations and know all the ins and outs of massive and complex software systems and the infrastructure they're deployed on, plus all the many teams and the zillions of people and the processes and procedures - and my digital identity which I'm cultivating - which needs me to compose a blog post every day and stay on top of any replies, messages and emails, and generally keep in touch with an ever-growing list of friends who I've never met in person, but who've been amazingly kind and supportive during rough times - and Mr. Eligible Bachelor mode, which requires me to present myself in the correct sequence, so that I can be understood without at the same time being overwhelming and off-putting.

To some extent my life looks quite simple. I have a job and not much else - I don't socialise and I'm not in a relationship. To the casual observer, all I do is move between my home, the office and a hotel, and I'm always in front of my laptop, tapping away at the keys quite furiously.

I suppose my life is quite simple, if we imagine that my fixation is the screen and the keyboard, but the screen time is a red herring - it's a window to an unimaginably gigantic and complex world of thousands of interactions with people all around the globe.

The context-switching is pretty hard though. I've struggled to stay on top of everything during the last couple of days.

 

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The Journey

11 min read

This is a story about three years of my life...

Hotel room

I was living in an ultra-modern hotel in Canary Wharf and working for HSBC at their head office. I was a member of the team working on the bank's number one IT project. Shortly beforehand I had been living in a 14-bed hostel dorm and I'd narrowly escaped bankruptcy and destitution. I was working 12 hours a day, 6 or sometimes 7 days a week. I was exhausted and the tiredness, stress and unsettled life was driving me literally insane. I was suffering with delusions of grandeur, paranoia and my behaviour was erratic and unpredictable; I was extremely tense and irritable. I was on the brink of having a breakdown.

River panorama

I rented an apartment on the River Thames near the office. The rent was obscene - £500/week - but I was earning great money working for HSBC and I was working very hard, so it seemed affordable at the time; it seemed like a nice reward for all the hard work. It felt like justice that I'd been able to get myself off the streets and into such a lovely place to live; to have gone from homeless and sleeping rough in a park, to having a luxury Thameside apartment with panoramic views over London.

My glasses

I was dating a BBC journalist. I was rapidly gaining a Twitter following. I felt like everything was happening for a reason. I felt like it was my destiny to do something important. I was consumed with mania; I was obsessed with the idea of a grand gesture. I had been deeply affected by my homelessness and near-bankruptcy and destabilised by the exhaustion of sleeping rough and in hostel dorms. The IT project was very stressful and I was under a great deal of pressure from HSBC management. My mind was a mess. I was very severely mentally ill.

Psych ward terrace

I woke up one morning and I couldn't go on. I couldn't face the office. I wanted to kill myself. I went to my doctor who sent me to hospital. 13 hours later I was admitted to a secure psych ward. I explained that I was financially distressed and very stressed at work. The psychiatric team recommended I stay in hospital for at least 2 weeks, but I needed to be back in the office if I was going to keep my job, to be able to afford the rent.

Golden Gate Bridge

I discharged myself from hospital after a week and flew to San Francisco. I figured that if I was going to kill myself I might as well do it somewhere iconic. A friend picked me up from the airport and I borrowed a bike. I cycled straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing old friends, however, made me change my mind about committing suicide.

Sleep out

I lost my job with HSBC and I "slept rough" in the shadow of the head office skyscraper in Canary Wharf. I thought that this would be the pinnacle of my journey. I thought that having been used and abused by HSBC then unceremoniously dumped out onto the streets to suffer bankruptcy and homelessness - having managed to get myself a job at the bank while of no fixed abode and living in a hostel - would be deliciously poetic. It was, but my journey had barely begun.

Self harm

I quit drinking for 121 consecutive days. I starved myself. I thought that I would go on hunger strike. I thought that I would sleep rough on Christmas Day. I was really angry and upset with the world. Self harm and substance abuse dominated my life for several months. I got into heaps of debt just staying alive.

Cruise ship

I survived the winter. I got another job. My life was OK except for persistent suicidal thoughts. I hated the project I was working on but I persevered because I was in a lot of debt. I loved where I was living - every day in my apartment was like Christmas Day because the view was so awesome. Living by the river was an incredible privilege. I took a holiday and went kitesurfing. My quality of life was improving slowly.

Cooking with bath salts

I met somebody very special and fell totally in love. She accepted me for who I was, including the all the bad bits, such as my prior issues with substance abuse. She was the first person I'd been in a relationship with who'd been able to read everything about me on my blog and to understand my flaws. We had a good relationship. The project I had been working on came to an end and I was jobless again. I wrote and published my first novel - she proofread it and helped me with the ending and other ideas. She was very supportive and I was confident I'd find work again easily.

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve watching the fireworks over London, sipping champagne on my balcony with the woman I loved - it seemed like the New Year was full of promise, but I was worried about getting another job and I was still in a lot of debt. There was a lot of pressure.

DVT

Disaster struck. I got deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my left leg, which swelled up to twice the size of my right leg. My kidneys failed and I ended up in hospital on a high dependency ward having many hours of dialysis every day. The potassium in my blood spiked to a life-threatening level and I was constantly at risk of cardiac arrest. I was very sick.

Drug shrine

My stay in hospital caused me to lose my job. Losing my job caused me to collapse psychologically and become very depressed and despondent. The DVT had caused terrible nerve damage and I had a lot of neuropathic pain, as well as a numb left foot. I started to become dependent on painkillers. I sought powerful antidepressants for my low mood. Pictured on the table are: codeine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol, diazepam, alprazolam, mirtazapine, venlafaxine, dextroamphetamine, zolpidem, zopiclone and pregabalin, which are all highly addictive. Because of this cocktail of prescription drugs I suffered an episode of medication-induced mania - temporary insanity - and broke up with the love of my life.

Manchester flats

I ran out of money. I had to pay a huge tax bill and I had to go even deeper into debt. I was virtually bankrupt. Out of desperation I was forced to put all my worldly possessions into storage and leave London to take a job in Manchester. The job in Manchester included an apartment as part of the package, which was lucky because I didn't have enough money to pay rent or a deposit - I was totally broke. Moving house and leaving London was incredibly upsetting and traumatic. The new job was extremely demanding and exhausting. I was very lonely and isolated in an unfamiliar city with no friends or family; no local connections.

Psych ward fence

I tried to commit suicide. I took a massive overdose: I'd been stockpiling my prescription painkillers and I knew that 8+ grams of tramadol was likely to be fatal. I sent a tweet when I believed I was beyond the point of no return. I thought nobody knew where I lived. I thought there was no chance anybody would get to me in time. I was wrong. I regained consciousness a few days later in a hospital's critical care ward on life support. I was later sectioned for 28 days and admitted to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

Hay bales

A doctor from Wales discovered my blog and invited me to live on their farm in a converted garage. I had no money, no car, no job. I had nothing.

Rat race

I almost went bankrupt but a friend got me some work in Warsaw and in London. I was living in AirBnBs and working in the Square Mile from Monday to Friday and living in Wales at the weekends.

Keys

I bought a car, I got a local job, a local girlfriend and I rented an apartment. Briefly, I had everything I wanted and needed, although I went even deeper into debt. The pressure, stress and turmoil which I'd endured to get to this point was unimaginable; just to get to a position which most people would take for granted as the minimum acceptable things for a normal ordinary liveable life.

Papered windows

The local project ended and I was jobless again. The relationship ended. I papered over my bedroom windows and withdrew from the world. The journey had destroyed me. I was spent.

Cashflow

An obscene amount of money flows through my hands, but it all ends up in the pockets of those who I owe money to. I'm desperately trying to keep my head above water. The financial pressure is immense; unbearable. The journey has been incredibly long and arduous. There's still a very long way to go before I reach security and stability; before I'm comfortable, happy and content.

Empty wine bottles

In the last year alone, I've managed to move house 3 times, work 4 different jobs, travel to 4 different countries, date 2 girls, survive a suicide attempt, be admitted to 3 different hospitals, quit addictive painkillers, sedatives, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, be arrested and locked in a cell, buy a car, rent a place to live, stay in 17 different hotels and AirBnBs, and somehow stay on top of my mountainous debts, not go bankrupt and even pay some of that crippling amount of money back. My only remaining vice is wine. I'm completely unmedicated and I don't abuse any substance other than alcohol. It's a remarkable journey for just 12 months, but the journey has been much, much longer than that.

In the last three years, I've written and published a million words and connected with thousands of people all over the globe.

To be precise, to date I've written exactly 1,001,020 words and counting, on this blog.

It's the world's longest suicide note.

If you want to understand why I'm suicidal you just have to read it all - it's all written down in exquisite detail. To save you the trouble of reading all 1 million words I've summarised the last 3 years for you right here.

The pressure; the stress; the exhaustion. Where is my reward?

I've travelled so far and I've achieved so much but yet I feel like it's gotten me nowhere. I should be rich but in fact I'm up to my eyeballs in debt. If you want to know where that debt came from, I just explained it to you. I didn't get into debt buying frivolous things and being profligate. I didn't make particularly bad choices. I'm not stupid. Where's the payoff for working so hard? Why did I bother?

My name's Nick Grant and I drink too much but otherwise I'm an ordinary regular guy. I do my job to a high standard and I'm liked and respected by my colleagues. I pay my taxes. I pay my rent and bills. I contribute to society as a productive member. I do ordinary stuff and have ordinary needs.

I'm 39 years old and I have nothing but debt. I have nothing much to show for my 39 years on the planet.

I'm lonely. I live a double life. The person I am in the office is different from the person I am in the comfort of my own home. Nobody at work would ever suspect that I've slept rough, been in trouble with the police, been hospitalised many times, been sectioned and had horrific problems with addiction. Nobody would suspect that my mental health has caused me horrendous difficulties when exacerbated by stressful life events, like divorce, moving house, losing jobs and everything else that's happened to me in the past 5 or so years.

My solution to the instability in my life was to create a backbone that has run consistently through my ups and downs: my daily writing. To have been able to write a million words has been immensely stabilising and has brought me into contact with so many wonderful kind and caring people. I quite literally owe my life to those who've followed me and my blog, especially via Twitter. Without this connection to the world I would be dead.

Today, I've crossed a seemingly arbitrary imaginary finishing line, in having written and published a million words in less than 3 years. It might seem ludicrous and pointless, but if you consider it in the context of the journey I've been on, you can see why I've wanted to document it.

If you've followed me on some part of this journey, I'm really grateful to have had your support. Thank you.

 

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So Hungry

10 min read

This is a story about rushing...

Pub grub

My life doesn't have a lot of highlights. I'm struggling to get up in the morning. I'm bored at work a lot of the time. I'm trying to eat fewer calories, so I'm skipping breakfast and having a very light lunch. My writing has become a bit of a marathon slog as I attempt to write the final few thousands words to reach my 1-million target. The only thing I've got to look forward to is my evening meal.

Because I try to do my writing before I go to the gastropub to eat, I'm always in a bit of a rush. It's a challenge to write ~2,000 words in between a full day at my desk in the office, and the ideal time to arrive at the pub in order to get a table and eat. I write doubly quickly, because I know that the sooner I've finished my daily blog post, the sooner I can go and choose my meal. With that incentive, I have no difficulty pounding out the words very rapidly on the keyboard, before rushing off to enjoy the highlight of my day - pub grub.

You shouldn't do your supermarket food shopping when you're hungry, because you will strip the shelves of products and buy far more than you could ever hope to eat, before the expiry date of the perishable groceries which you've purchase. My eyes are always far bigger than my belly when I've been hungry for a while. I think that being hungry also affects the speed with which I do everything, and my attention to detail. I'm rushing everything and being sloppy, because I just want to get things done as quickly as possible.

I need to earn money, lose some weight and cut down my drinking, but I expect instant results. My writing target is within spitting distance now, but I'd have never reached this point if I tried to do it too quickly - I've had to pace myself. My finances are improving but I'll never get financial security if I don't keep turning up at the office every day - even though it's torturously boring - for many many more months. I'm really not enjoying my semi-sobriety, but I'm not going to feel the benefit unless I keep it up for a decent length of time.

It's been a month since I started my new job in a new and unfamiliar city. For a whole month I've been living in a hotel midweek and eating in the same pub every night. For a whole month I've been dividing my time between the city where I have my apartment and the city where the office is.

In the last month I've managed to quit the sleeping pills and painkillers I was using to cope with stress and anxiety. In the last month, I've managed to cut down my drinking drastically. In the last month, I've stopped being so antisocial and wasting the whole summer indoors drinking wine. I've earned some more money, which is slowly making a dent in my debts. It's reasonable progress.

I don't feel particularly good.

My working day is a struggle. My living arrangements are a struggle. My life lacks an adequate amount of things to look forward to; moments of joy. I keep losing hope that I'll be able to maintain the stability and keep up the routine, because there are so few moments when I'm happy and content. The struggle to get up in the morning is not just a phase - it's going to be a struggle every morning for months, if not years. The struggle to get through the working day is not just a temporary struggle... it'll be permanent while I remain trapped in a career which I outgrew very quickly when I was young.

There's no obvious reason why I shouldn't be able to keep up the routine. What's so bad about a well-rehearsed sequence of actions which starts with me washing and ironing my clothes for the week ahead, packing my bag, driving to the office, checking into the hotel, eating in the pub, driving home. What's so hard about that? The problem is the lack of all the other 'stuff' which makes a liveable life. Where's my social life? Where are the holidays? Where are the hobbies and interests? Where's any of the 'stuff' which gives my life any meaning?

Work is meaningless because it's the same old crap that I've been doing full-time for 21+ years, which was easy and boring when I was in my late teens, let alone now. Work cannot be the thing which defines me and is all-consuming, because that's unhealthy and I know I'm never going to find fulfilment as a member of a huge team in a gigantic organisation. I feel a lot better about the morality of what I'm doing since I quit investment banking and moved into the public sector, but the waste is pretty sickening. Of course the public sector was never going to be particularly dynamic and fast-paced, but it's not that much slower than most of the big private sector organisations I've worked for. I know that startups are too demanding and too much risk though, and they'll make me sick by using and abusing me.

I need to get to the point where I've served my time and been thoroughly miserable for enough years that I have a substantial sum of money saved up, such that I can dare to dream. Perhaps things will be better when I'm financially secure enough to be able to spend my boring days in the office planning my next holiday. The misery of the unchallenging office job was much more tolerable when I spent my weekends kitesurfing, and I was jetting all over the globe looking for the best kitesurfing locations in all kinds of exotic locations. Perhaps my misery is largely due to the fact that all I do is work work work - I'm on a very tight budget.

There's no rushing my finances, unfortunately. There's no way I could earn money any quicker than I am doing. Money floods in at a fairly obscene rate, but I was very very deep in the hole, so it also costs a lot of money just to stand still. I can't believe how much money I'm earning, but yet it's still taking agonisingly long to get ahead.

Playing the waiting game is awful. I'm clock watching all the time. My alarm clock is the most dreadful intrusion on my day - the worst moment. Sometimes I'm not even tired, but knowing that I have to go and sit at a desk and be bored out of my mind is thoroughly depressing in a way which is soul-destroyingly exhausting. Mid-morning I panic about how slowly the day is dragging. Lunchtime is over in the blink of an eye, especially since I started having a super-light lunch which always leaves me still feeling hungry. The period from 2pm to 3:45pm is the very worst - at 2pm I can't believe how much of the day there still is to go, with nothing to occupy or entertain me. I often think I'm going to have to walk out, because I can't stand it. It doesn't matter how much I'm earning - it's not enough. Finally, it's a respectable time to leave the office - even though I'm frequently late for work - but all I have to look forward to is another long wait until it's a respectable time to eat my dinner. It's 6:23pm right now, which is very early for an adult with no children to eat.

My evenings were also unpleasant, and especially so since I've drastically reduced my alcohol intake. My cravings for booze were pretty incessant and it was hard to read or watch TV when all I could think about was how much I wanted to get a glass of wine. However, I've found some stuff that I'm enjoying watching and I'm starting to find it easier to relax and enjoy my solitary leisure time in my hotel room, without getting drunk.

I had planned to get drunk every single night until I'd regained financial security. Getting drunk was going to be my reward for doing a job I hate in a place where I don't want to be, all alone living in a hotel. I was prepared to put my entire life on hold so I could earn as much cash as possible as quickly as possible, and I'd have virtually unlimited quantities of alcohol to help me white-knuckle my way through to the end. The problem is that my health was being destroyed surprisingly rapidly - I was putting on weight and feeling very unfit and unwell. If I'd kept drinking as much as I was until the end of my contract in just over a year's time, I wouldn't be able to enjoy my hard-won wealth because I'd be fat and quite possibly have some very serious health issues to deal with as a consequence.

Comfort-eating is my only pleasure at the moment, as I'm single, living away from home, trying not to drink, not socialising and generally in a temporary state of suspended animation. I can fulfil the very few demands of my day job with less than 1% of my brain and I'm just waiting for enough paydays to restore my financial security. I've stopped everything except for the few core things which keep the hamster-wheel turning.

It's not particularly as if it's worthwhile making friends and getting a local girlfriend. It's not particularly worth investing in life in a place where I have no intention of staying beyond the maximum I absolutely have to in order to achieve my purely financial objective.

I pound out the words on the keyboard every evening after work, in groundhog day repetitive scenario. I pound out the words because it's a fleeting distraction from the endless waiting. Waiting for the money. Waiting for the end. Wishing my life away.

Some people would imagine that I'm impatient and impulsive, because of my mental health problems and my struggles with addiction. Stimulant abuse is particularly bad for damaging the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for executive decision-making, and importantly the ability to curtail stupid impulses. In fact, I spend my whole day suppressing the nearly-overpowering instinct to get up and walk out; to walk away from the torturous bullshit boring job. In fact, I'm one of the most patient people you know. Why do you think I get paid so much? If my job was pleasant and easy, everybody would be doing it.

I spend all working day in front of the keyboard and screen, then I flip open my laptop lid and spend some more time in front of the same type of keyboard and the same type of screen. The clock is in exactly the same position in the top-right hand corner of the screen, which my eyes instinctively flick up to, constantly aware of the slow passage of time.

Since I wrote what time it was, nearly 20 minutes have elapsed. I'm 20 minutes closer to my meal. I'm 20 minutes closer to the day when I've earned enough money to start to dare to dream. I'm 20 minutes closer to the moment I die, when I can finally enjoy some peace from this torture.

I'm off to the pub. I'm tempted to have a drink.

 

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Shirking from Home

3 min read

This is a story about office work...

Coffee table laptops

My life often sways wildly between the sublime and the ridiculous. I'm working from home today and I've got enough laptops to pretty much cover the entire surface of my coffee table. Clearly, I don't have enough hands to operate all these machines simultaneously, but when my main work machine is busy doing something - like now - I can pick up one of my personal laptops and keep myself constantly entertained.

It's a real treat to be able to write during office hours. It was a real treat to be able to walk no further than the distance between my bed and my sofa, this morning when I started work. It was a real treat to be able to flatten down my bed hair and join a morning conference call in a less-than-presentable state. It's been a real treat to not have to pretend to be busy and otherwise gainfully employed the whole working day.

I've had a really productive day. I think the stress and anxiety of being presentable and on best behaviour in the office is exhausting, and I've been able to focus my time and energy on doing my job, instead of looking like I'm doing my job.

Of course, if I worked from home all the time, there's no reason why my job couldn't be done by somebody in India for 1/700th of what I charge. "I bet you could work from the beach if you wanted to" people say to me. No. No I can't, because what the client pays for is to have a miserable person chained to their desk in the UK. The client pays to have an office chair kept warm by a human butt. That's what the client wants: bums on seats.

Spending 4 out of 7 nights a week sleeping in my own bed and working from home every Friday seems sustainable. It was nice to get back in my apartment yesterday evening. Working from home today has been awesome. I'm starting to feel a little bit more hopeful that I'll be able to manage to get through the next few months.

It's also raining today, which always makes me feel better about missing out on enjoying nice hot sunny summer weather. Tomorrow there's a storm coming, bringing high winds, which I always find exciting. I could even go kitesurfing if I wanted to, although there are probably thousands of tourists who'll all be trying to pretend like it's a good day to go to the beach, even though the wind will be gusting well over 50mph.

This week has been better than last week, which is a good omen. Hopefully I'll get settled and comfortable with the routine.

Things are looking up.

 

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