Skip to main content

My name is Nick Grant and I have manic depression. I write every day about living with bipolar disorder. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words


Team Player

4 min read

This is a story about leadership...


As well as productivity - how much an individual produces - there is another contribution to a team which is harder to value. We have all suffered the micromanagers who are an annoyance and a distraction, slowing us down and stopping us from doing our jobs, but there are also people who do provide some useful function in a team, beyond their basic labour.

There are some people who aren't particularly interested in the big picture, and are very happy to go in the same direction as anybody with a big mouth and a certain overconfidence, who seems to have a vague idea of what direction everyone should be going. There are some people who are happier, more secure and more motivated if they're in a team with individuals who appear confident and knowledgeable. There is a great deal of value in having some authority figures in a team, to turn to in times of uncertainty in doubt, provided those people provide reasonable answers and can be trusted to be correct most of the time.

We might assume that there would be a power struggle, if two people tried to lead a team, but clearly this is untrue, because most of us have many masters. In a family, there are two parents, plus any other busybodies who decide to assert themselves, believing they have a valid opinion on the matter of childrearing. In most office situations, there are usually several people who have some degree of authority over us, who provide us with our objectives and otherwise place demands on our time. Generally speaking, we muddle along, even when we receive conflicting instructions from our higher authorities. Further, leaders will co-operate to achieve their goals - this is much more common than constant conflict, especially in organisations, where an argumentative person is not welcome.

I wrote yesterday about self doubt I had about whether I was suffering from delusions of grandeur, and I considered only my productive contribution as a builder - a labourer - as evidence that I'm a useful member of the big project I'm working on. Having given the matter further thought, I decided that there is also a lot of value in the role I play as a knowledgeable authority on a vast amount of subject matter. Although again it's anecdotal evidence, because it would be an insult to my colleagues to actually gather the hard data, I do seem to notice a reasonable footfall at my desk, of colleagues who are seeking my opinion or assistance.

Why do I fret about this stuff?

I thought a lot about why I'm so obsessed with my contribution to a massive project, and the answer is fairly straightforward: it's vindication. After many years where I felt sick and useless, that my skills, experience and abilities had rotted and withered, and that I was incapable of maintaining sustained and stable steady reliable productivity, my self-esteem was destroyed and I was full of self-doubt.

need this big achievement. I need this feather in my cap. I need to prove to myself and the world that I can pull off an impressive piece of work and that I'm still highly capable, competent and employable; that I'm worth the money; that I have value.

Whether it was homelessness, financial problems or mental health problems, I have felt very close to ruin and destruction for many years, and I started to believe that I truly was useless, and that I deserved to be ejected from society, to end up trampled in the gutter; kicked, spat on and tossed in the trash.

Having worked very hard for a long time on an extremely complicated project, and played a valuable role, this potentially vindicates my belief that I'm still a competent, capable and valuable person to have as part of a team, delivering gigantic software systems for huge organisations. I needed this proof that I don't deserve to be thrown into the dustbin, like a piece of human trash. I needed some concrete proof that those who wrote me off and left me for dead were wrong to do that.

That's why I work so hard and that's why it's important to me to believe that I'm making an exceptional contribution.

I absolutely do not want to rob my colleagues of their share of the glory or deny the value of their contribution. I completely recognise that it's been a huge team effort, and that I'm just one tiny cog in a big complicated machine. However, I do need to feel like I did something pretty damn good, for a guy who nearly died 2 years ago.




Hard to Count

8 min read

This is a story about beans...


IT projects routinely go over budget and fail to meet their deadlines. IT projects routinely fail spectacularly. The worst projects of all are government IT projects, which very often get cancelled, having failed to deliver any value at all.

Anyway, on an unrelated matter...

IT projects that I work on are a bit different. I like to deliver things; I don't just want to work and not worry about whether anything useful is getting done; I'm not happy to let projects fail. It'd be easy to get carried away with my own ego and delusions of grandeur, but I make a difference to whatever organisation I work for, on whatever projects I work on.

Sometimes I get the sense that I've over-estimated the value of my contribution. Sometimes I feel like maybe I'm the tiniest of tiny cogs, and my contribution is negligible. Perhaps it's a co-incidence that I can get big complex IT projects over the line, when more usually they waste a heap of money and then fail. Perhaps I'm getting carried away with mania, which is deluding me into thinking that I do anything useful at all.

A colleague of mine repeatedly says that it's easy to create a great piece of complex software if you're the only person who designs and builds it, but I think he's wrong. Sure, I really don't think it's a good idea to have 100 people working on a piece of software that could - and should - be written by just one person, however, a lot more can be achieved by a small high-performing team than a single individual.

A commonly recurring theme with my bipolar disorder has been episodes of irritability, impatience and general intolerance for asshats in the workplace. Quite regularly, when tight deadlines loom and I'm feeling exhausted, my desire to work with "dead wood" people who make things worse, not better, reaches its limit and I really want the 'team' members who are slowing everything down to butt out, back off, step back and watch the professionals at work.

What about this 'team' stuff then? Am I even a team player?

I refer you back to what I said about small high-performing teams. In order for a project to deliver a high quality end product on or before the deadline, it's often necessary to have fewer people, not more. It's the bane of my life, having dead wood in the team. I'm absolutely a team player... I just don't want the dead wood around the place, messing things up and slowing everything down.

I should qualify: I'm fine with team members who are there to listen and learn; I'm fine with people who are developing their skills; I'm fine with people who are quite junior and in the early stages of their career. If you've been doing software development for decades and you're rubbish at it, then no, I really don't want you in my team. One thing that particularly irks me is very highly paid consultants who are rubbish at software development. If you're slow and dreadful at your job, despite being massively overpaid, stay the f**k out of my way and don't slow my projects down.

Is it so hard to hire good people? Is it so hard to identify the underperformers, especially when their output is out of alignment with their remuneration? Surely it's a simple cost:benefit analysis, where some individuals are nowhere near worth the money, and in my opinion are actively damaging to both projects and morale.

I wonder how much better things would be in the workplace if highly paid consultants who aren't worth the money were booted out, and the projects were delivered by underpaid graduates who are little superstars, producing huge amounts for very little cost. Actually, I know the answer because I've worked on those teams - with the right guidance, the graduates will deliver every single time.

The lack of meritocracy and the ageism in the working world is particularly galling in the IT industry, where archaic knowledge and experience has zero value. Perhaps my young graduate colleagues might benefit from a little senior leadership and a good architect, but whatever mistakes they might make are irrelevant because they're so damn quick. It's criminal that an overpaid and underperforming consultant might earn 5 or 6 times more than a bright and productive quick-witted graduate; graduates proven to be 5 times more productive.

Why do I learn so much from my graduate colleagues, but so little from overpaid consultants? I have learned lots of quicker, more efficient and more modern ways of doing things, when my older colleagues are just doing the same dumb s**t that they've done for years. Sure, it's been uncomfortable to have to re-learn vast swathes of stuff, but the benefits are obvious, having bitten the bullet and decided to take my younger colleagues seriously; to treat them with the respect they deserve.

What about respect in general for my colleagues? I respect my colleagues who have decided to take permanent jobs and be underpaid. I respect my colleagues who've chosen to avoid the cut-throat and stressful world of the job market, and instead opt for long careers with a single organisation. I respect that there are different life choices and needs, that some people need job security, and that very few of us had the opportunity to learn IT skills as a child, to the point of those skills becoming innate and instinctive. I respect that it's a very good idea to hire highly paid consultants, in order to upskill your permanent members of staff. It's part of my job, to train, coach and mentor my colleagues who are permanent employees of the organisations I work for. It's part of my job to be patient with the permanent staff members and to help them reach their full potential.

I spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm just telling people what to do, and whether I should take a more pre-considered approach where I allow my colleagues to think for themselves, rather than just being typists while I dicate instructions. Is there any value in me instructing somebody to do something I could do myself in a fraction of the time? Should I just race ahead, and then spend time explaining what I did and why, once the deadline is safely dealt with? Would it be better to simply let my colleagues watch me work? I know that it's very hard to think for yourself if somebody is telling you what to do, and that if I was doing people management I would avoid any micromangement like the plague, because it discourages independent thought, learning and initiative-taking. I know that the kind of people I want to work with are ones who can work independently and solve problems for themselves, but I work in an unusual situation where there are tight deadlines, but I'm also expected to train my colleagues to be self-sufficient to some extent, which is impossible in the timescales.

Explaining to management that more people does not equate to more productivity, and that the deadlines are not realistic to be able to get all the work done AND do all the training and handover that's necessary to make me completely redundant, is an impossible task. I'm eternally plagued by the mistaken notion that one day, there won't be any more need for IT professionals because all the IT work will be finished and the IT people will all be redundant - this has proven to be the most ridiculous nonsense, but an enduring fantasy of f**wits in every organisation.

I should qualify that I really like my colleagues, although I'm a bit frustrated with one or two very highly paid consultants who aren't worth the money. I should qualify that I really like the organisation I'm currently working for. I should qualify that I really like the project. It's all interesting and people are nice and even the management are pretty good, which is rare. There's not much pressure and the deadlines are not realistic, but they're achievable, which is usually a miracle for an IT project, especially in the sector I'm working in. I have no real complaints or criticisms of any colleagues or the organisation and its management team, not that this would be the place to air those grievances, of course.

I write a little tongue-in-cheek, because I know that colleagues from two different parts of the UK are reading this from time to time, and I wonder what they will think if they happen to read this particular post. I cringe of course at my arrogance and my delusions of grandeur, but I also struggle to know whether I'm making a significant contribution, or whether I'm just a tiny insignificant cog in an incomprehensibly huge machine, so I'm prepared to poke the bear a little.




Not Enough Hours in the Day

8 min read

This is a story about domestic bliss...

Red light

I enjoy a certain degree of freedom in my daily routine. I can arrive at work at any time between 8am and 10am. I can leave work at any time between 3:30pm and 5pm. I can work from home. I can take a half-day or a whole day off. I can take as much holiday as I want. It seems like my life is very flexible and I'm very time rich, as well as being handsomely remunerated for my efforts.

I'm somewhat obsessed with the project I'm working on. I know that the project has hard deadlines and I know that I'm playing an influential role in making sure that the project is delivered on-time. It might sound arrogant, but I know that there's a lot of cheap talk and the number of people who are "doers" is far fewer than the number of people on the payroll, who like to talk about doing stuff, but aren't driven and determined enough to carry anything through to completion. I need to stop short of outright criticism of my colleagues, because everyone plays their part, even if the project would go more quickly and the work would be higher quality without a handful of low-performing individuals: not my circus, not my monkeys.

I'm completely besotted with my girlfriend. I have a limitless desire to spend time with her. I think she's wonderful; the best.

The running of my home - the laundry, the cleaning, stocking the fridge and cupboards, taking out the trash - is relatively easy but I am quite house proud and the novelty of my relatively new house has not yet worn off. I would very much like to continue to add furniture and decorative items to make it a more and more lovely place to call home.

My kitten is amazing. Having a cute litte furry companion has exceeded my wildest expectations. My kitten plays "fetch" when she's feeling active, or cuddles up when she wants a rest. She's always entertaining, she's so beautiful to look at and her fur is so soft to stroke. She does, however, urinate and defecate where she shouldn't when I make a mistake like leaving her unattended with a laundry basket full of clean clothes for a few seconds, or not realising that her litter needed changing because it was clumpy beneath the surface. I've spent a lot of time washing duvets, bedding, clothes, and mopping the floor, as well as scooping up poop. I expected to have to make sure she was fed, entertained and had a clean litter tray to use, but there has been some extra stuff to deal with, like clearing my bedroom and dining room floor of anything she might urinate or defecate on.

I was just about coping with a very simple life, where I was working, sleeping and eating. I was going to bed at 9pm. The highlight of my week consisted of a trip to the supermarket. My life was pretty barren and empty.

Almost overnight, I have a girlfriend and a kitten. It made me feel very guilty that I got up and went to work at 7am and didn't get home to see my kitten until almost 11pm, because my girlfriend and I had gone to the cinema after work and then eaten at a restaurant.


I'm also having to re-adjust to a significantly reduced amount of sleep.

I was sleeping from 9pm to 7am - 10 hours a night - and now I'm lucky if I get 6 hours a night on work-nights, which is a significant reduction. Assuming I needed just 8 hours sleep (but actually I need more) then I might lose as much as 6 hours total sleep during the working week. With only Saturday and Sunday available for catching up, and assuming that a 1am or 2am bedtime doesn't seem unreasonable on a Friday and Saturday night, means I can catch up only as few as 4 hours, assuming that I went to bed at 2am and had a lie-in until midday (i.e. 10 hours sleep). Given that it takes 1.5 times as much sleep to catch up, I am running a major sleep deficit - I am never getting the chance to catch up on any sleep. It's very simple mathematics to see that I am getting increasingly tired.

My day should be quite easy to divide - 8 hours sleep, 8 hours leisure and 8 hours sleep, but that's not possible if you have to get up and go to work at 7am, and you're not able to go to sleep until past midnight on a work night. For those who are able to sleep as long as they want during the mornings, they can easily ensure that they don't get too tired. For those who can have a nap during the day, they can catch up. I don't have those luxuries, because I need to get up and go to work at 7am, even though I do have a lot of flexibility which I don't use because of the demanding project I'm working on.

Flexibility comes at a price.

I'm dedicating myself to supporting my colleagues in delivering a very large and complicated project with a huge number of team members. It's important that I'm able to get some work done in the morning - 8am to 9am - and in the evening - 4pm to 5pm - when there aren't any meetings or interruptions.

Sure, I've worked hard enough to be able to slack off a bit, but I really don't want to decimate the reputation which has taken substantial effort to earn.

I pretty much just need a holiday.

Somehow I'm managing to stay functional and not lose my mind with exhaustion. Sleep deprivation will quickly erode your ability to think clearly, stay sane and be relaxed about life. Only those who have the luxury of being able to sleep as much as they want are able to not worry about bedtimes and the health and wellbeing consequences.

I suppose I've worked hard enough and proven myself such that I could become an unreliable part-timer who nobody would rely upon, but I enjoy my role as somebody who's been steady and dependable - ever-present - which is vitally important when you're trying to help a large number of people to deliver a very complex set of objectives. Leadership could be seen as a job title which is awarded for long service, or help from your daddy, but most of the time leadership is a set of attitudes - qualities - which make your colleagues trust you and look to you for guidance; leadership is just something that some people can do when others aren't interested, lack the aptitude, or lack the confidence and experience.

In terms of eyes on the prize, I know that I will cut back on my hours in the office and give myself some days off, for the sake of my relationship, my mental health, my physical health and because there literally aren't enough hours in the day. I have a pile of personal administrative tasks which I've ignored for a few months, costing me serious amounts of money.

I'm desperate for a holiday.

It's been 6 months since I had a holiday.

This is a recurring theme in my life: I work too hard and it makes me sick.

I'm going to publish this now. As you might have been able to tell, my blogging has been an early casualty, as the demands on my time have increased and my waking day has stretched well beyond what I'm able to cope with, without losing more sleep than I'm possibly ever able to catch up on over the course of a weekend.

It's 8:30pm and I need to start thinking about getting ready for bed. I need to make sure my kitten has food, water and a clean litter tray. I need to make sure I have clean clothes for work tomorrow. I need to make sure the house is in good order, so my kitten can be left to her own devices while I'm at the office. It might sound unthinkable that my day has consisted of sleep, work, 10 minutes of TV and a short amount of writing, and now I'm about to start getting ready for bed, but when sleep gets borrowed it has to be paid back - I cannot go to bed at 1am on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night, without having to reclaim 1.5 times what was lost, which is impossible when I'm working on such a high-profile and intensive project.

A holiday is the solution. I need a holiday.




Indoor Voice

6 min read

This is a story about shouting...


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Sorry For Not Replying

8 min read

This is a story about having a miniature nervous breakdown...

Blurry phone

I know it's offensive to say "I'm a bit OCD" just like you can't be "a bit in a wheelchair". However, I'm a bit of an authority on life implosions. It's not hyperbole to describe myself as on the brink of a breakdown and/or a suicide attempt. If anybody could know just how close I am to breaking point, I would be me, given that I've lived far too much of my life on the limit; I've had far too many breakdowns and brushes with death.

What do I mean by a breakdown?

There's the fairly tame stuff, like not going to work, not answering the phone, not answering the door, not opening the curtains, not getting out of bed, not washing, not eating, not socialising, not paying the bills, not opening the mail, not doing any kind of activities, sleeping all the time, unpredictable random bouts of uncontrollable crying, suicidal thoughts and plans... that kind of stuff. That's your common-or-garden depression tame breakdown stuff, which destroys your job, your finances and your relationships with friends and family.

I can pretty much manage to stay functional and not lose my job, even when I'm spending 40 hours a week at my desk plotting to kill myself. I can quite literally spend a whole day in the office thinking about what poison I'm going to buy, where I'm going to get it from, how I'm going to use it, which tall buildings I can access the balconies of, what pavement or other area there is beneath the balcony, how I would gain access, how I would get there... all the little details.

Nowadays, I plod along like it's ordinary to have those thoughts and feelings. That sort of stuff is just ordinary background noise to me.

There's other tame stuff like spending vast sums of money on expensive consumer electronics and plane tickets. Casual sex, alcohol and drug abuse; extreme sports, bad driving and other excessive risk taking. All of that stuff is part of my day-to-day existence.

I'm able to quell both my impulse to stay in bed and my impulse to run away, to such a great extent that I've given an excellent false impression of a highly functional adult human being, for 10 or more consecutive months. A large number of people have been fooled.

I've dragged myself to work after drinking 3 bottles of wine. I've dragged myself to work after a multiple-day drug binge without any sleep. I've kept the receipts for thousands of pounds worth of consumer electronics and mostly resisted the urge to walk out of the office and jet off to an exotic location with a fat wad of £50 notes in my pocket, yelling "SEE YOU IN HELL" and flicking V-signs at my colleagues as I exit.

It's the last part that's been my biggest success.

My brain mostly tells me I'm brilliant and other people are slow and dimwitted. I work with very smart people, and the less I say about my colleagues the better. Let's just focus on the me part, because it's a confusing issue. My thinking goes a little bit like this...

"I was a drug addict sleeping rough in a bush in a park, nearly bankrupt, and now I'm putting together this massive software system for a gigantic organisation, even though I'm as mad as a box of frogs, and yet everybody seems to respect my opinion, trust me and follow my leadership; they pay me an obscene amount of money"

So then I start thinking...

"Who else in my organisation is a nearly-bankrupt severely mentally ill person who was sleeping rough in a bush in a park and physically addicted to multiple dangerous drugs?"

When I arrive at the conclusion that my colleagues have not faced the same adversity, it fuels delusions of grandeur. Why would it not? It seems only logical that the reason I'm not destitute or dead and instead I'm earning big bucks and doing important work, must be because I'm special and different. I write this paragraph dripping with sarcasm, the reader should note.

On the matter of the success part: turns out that it's a good idea to keep your mouth shut most of the time, if you want to get along well with the literally hundreds of thousands of employees who work with you in some of the world's biggest organisations. It turns out that it's an even better idea to keep your mouth shut and not say what you think, if you're plagued with delusions of grandeur, brought on by the sheer ridiculousness of seemingly being able to drag yourself out of the gutter and reach the stars at the drop of a hat.

It's quite mind-fracturing to believe at the same time that you're worthless and that the world would be better off without you, while also believing the hard evidence that no matter how hard you try to destroy your life, you still remain eminently employable and in-demand; no matter how many times you walk out the office shouting "GO TO HELL FUCKTARDS" somebody somewhere still will offer you a great big suitcase filled with £50 notes to sit at a desk and think about killing yourself.

It should be noted that I like my colleagues and I think they're very smart people.

It should be noted that there hasn't been a "GO TO HELL..." moment for quite a while.

Like, there probably hasn't ever been a "GO TO HELL..." moment.

Not ever.

I get very worked up about the systems, the organisations, the politics, the structural problems, the inherent unfairness and absurdity of it all. I get very worked up about perfection, utopia and engineering elegance. I get very worked up about management incompetency. I get very worked up about the speed with which things get done, which feels painfully slow.

These opposing forces within me - the depression and the mania - seem to express themselves quite suddenly as an exhaustion which confines me to bed for many weeks, jetting off around the world or getting very angry with one particular situation. The anger one is probably the most destructive; the other two are recoverably destructive.

I'm particularly fearful of waking up one day and being unable to go to work, which is strange because that would probably be the least damaging of all outcomes. Yes, it doesn't look great to disappear and not answer your phone for weeks, but understood within the context of a major episode of depression, most people's reaction is sympathetic.

Past experience has taught me that becoming arrogant, cocky and full of myself leads to saying and doing stupid things in the office, which is far more damaging than being off work sick. As hypomania boils over into all-out mania, I know that I can be prone to say the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time; patience and tolerance wear thin.

Somehow, I manage to navigate a path through both extremes, so long as I'm not too depressed or too manic. I build up some goodwill which carries me through difficult periods. I prove my worth and make myself useful, such that I get second and third chances.

Knowing myself very well, I feel like I've been skating on thin ice for far too long. I feel like I'm well overdue a meltdown; a major catastrophe.

I don't have any spare energy left to maintain my mask of sanity; I can no longer keep up my "game face".

The mask is slipping.

My main preoccupation should be remaining civil.

So long as I can remain civil, I'll probably be forgiven for having a breakdown.

I'm too outspoken, as usual. People are getting to know me. I'm super exposed.

Some poor bastard usually feels the sharp end of my tongue and I desperately attempt to apologise and take back the things I said in the heat of the moment. My regret and remorse are heartfelt, but it's usually too late. Gotta keep things civil, no matter how much pressure and stress I feel I'm under.

Perhaps worst of all are the lies and the boasts, which come at the very end of a long period of fake it until you make it when I actually no longer need to fake it anymore. Lolz. Irony.

The fear of being exposed as an imposter - having my secrets revealed - has followed me around for an incredibly long time, but now I'm almost-but-not-quite back on my feet. This is the very worst period.

I need to consolidate my gains.


I'm so close to having a breakdown.




What Would Jesus Do?

7 min read

This is a story about seeing the light...

Sign from above

Nobody preaches louder than the convert. I've been accused of speaking like a sanctimonious prick on several occasions, but let's just have a little think about a book I've never read, shall we? I had the good fortune of avoiding almost all religious indoctrination, despite attending Church of England schools, the occasional event at Easter, Christmas and observing a few other antiquated religious customs.

So, let's start with revenge.

I'm pretty sure that Jesus wasn't a "never forget" and "make those bastards pay for what they did to us" grudge holding kind of guy. In fact, despite my lack of bible study, I'm pretty sure there was something he said about turning the other cheek and forgiveness. Yes, now I think about it, all that "eye for an eye" stuff definitely wasn't attributable to Big J and his disciples. You could say that bloodthirsty acts of revenge and 'pre-emptive' strikes are definitely not Christian at all.

What kind of dude was Jesus anyway? Like I say, I never read the bible, went to Sunday school, went to church or got taught much about his life, but I know this: he didn't think being disgustingly wealthy was a great idea.

I probably can't name all 12 disciples, but if I had to guess I'd say: John, Paul, George, Ringo, Sleepy, Dopey, Dasher, Dancer, Thomas, Henry, Edward and Gordon. For some reason I think that Matthew and Luke should be on that list, but those names don't exactly sound like fishermen and farmers from the Middle East.

What I can tell you about Matthew and Luke, is that they both reckoned that Jesus used to say that we should stop building piles of treasure on Earth. Both those dudes said that Jesus was all about giving up your worldly possessions so you could donate to the poor. The upshot being, Jesus wasn't intent on being a billionaire, building big tower blocks with his name on and decorating everything with blinging gold.

The Bible - although I've never read it - comes in two parts and is translated from Aramaic. Basically, it's a Syrian book... you know, the place where Saint George the patron saint of England came from. The most popular English translation runs to some 750,000+ words. It's not all the disciples' account of Jesus' ramblings and crazy shit that happened to him. There are also some fairly simple commandments in there.

The first three of the famous ten commandments are all about God being a really jealous imaginary dude who demands your undivided attention. If the commandments were in order of importance, numero uno is that you're not allowed to so much as think about another God. In fact, it's not until commandment number 6 that we get onto trivial things like not killing other people. In fact, so many commandments are given over to not saying God is a stinky pooh-pooh head and other weird rules, that rape didn't even make the list. No to murder. No to adultery. No to theft. Rape... well, it's not as big of a deal as worshiping an idol is it?

In fact, most of The Bible is full of absolute garbage. Exodus 23:19 forbids us from eating cheeseburgers. Leviticus tells us we can't get tattoos, cut the hair on the side of our head, trim our beards and most bizarrely of all, you can't mix cotton and wool clothing.

"a garment mingled of linen and woollen [shall not] come upon thee"

So, basically, we know that to study The Bible is to study a laughably backwards culture and a book written by many authors, with many agendas, over several ancient periods of time. You simply can't use it as an instruction manual for modern life.

Now, back to the original question: what would Jesus do?

It's a fairly serious question. If the dude was alive today - walking around in his sandals and his dusty robes - what kind of shit would piss him off and how would he act?

I'm pretty sure he'd be straight into the temples of the money lenders, turning their tables over and kicking their arses for the sin of usury. We can be certain that Jesus was no fan of banks and financial services.

On the pro-life debate, Jesus seemed pretty sympathetic towards mothers and the choices they want to make with their own bodies. Basically, the bible's pretty clear that other people's unborn foetuses and fertilised eggs are none of your goddam business, as explained in this passage from the bible:

"As you do not know how the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything" -- Ecclesiastes 11:5

Most telling of all, the bible contains this passage:

"[an aborted foetus] does not enjoy life's good things, and also has no burial, I say that an [abortion] is better than [an unwanted child]... [that] has not seen the sun or known anything" -- Ecclesiastes 6:3-5

Jesus would have one thing to say to those pro-life people who harass poor women who are trying to get into abortion clinics: "he who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her". In other words, who the fuck are you to judge? Who the fuck are you to intimidate a poor frightened woman who's faced with an incredibly difficult decision? Jesus would be pretty mad about supposedly Christian people, acting with so little compassion and forgiveness.

All this Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiment would certainly piss Jesus right off. He would be angry as fuck about the way that the wealthy West is slamming the door in the face of refugees they created, through bombing and drone strikes. What part of "thou shalt not kill" didn't you understand? What part of "love your neighbour as you love yourself" got mangled into "look after your own"?

How dare Theresa May - an alleged Christian - and Donald Trump, leader of "God's own country" carry on in such an unchristian manner. There isn't an ounce of Christianity in these greedy megalomaniacs, who care nothing for the poor and needy.

I'm an atheist by default, because my scientific studies have answered questions and provided truth that makes all religious faith look like a mental illness, but the sentiment - the morality - of Jesus Christ is perfectly relevant, and a useful guide for us all when thinking about how we should treat one another.

I'm never going to become some born-again Christian, repent my sins and start banging on about The Bible, but when I weep at the cruel, callous, greedy, selfish and inhumane leadership demonstrated by British and US politicians and business leaders, I do sometimes think we need a decent human being as a moral beacon for us all. Aspiring to be like the fanny-grabbing billionaire bigot Donald Trump is going to be a rocket ride straight to a metaphorical hell.

Religion has been perverted by a clergy who've lined their own pockets and committed atrocious acts of paedophilia, as well as other abuses of power. We can reject religion, while also saying that Jesus Christ sounded like a pretty cool dude. The world would be a better place if we all tried to be a bit more like Jesus: a bit more Christian.

I really don't give a fuck what fictitious character we decide we love and want to emulate - perhaps Robin Hood? - but reality TV idols and wealth worship has taken us to a terrible, terrible place.

This is obviously written from my hospital bed, where I'm a bit loopy from kidney failure and painkillers, but I hope my writing is still reasonably cogent. All I can tell you is how I cry and cry and cry when I read the news right now, because the action of our leaders doesn't match their rhetoric about peace, compassion and care for the poor and vulnerable.




The Dickhead of Docklands

9 min read

This is a story about the wanker of the wharf...

Canary Wharf towers

London's financial services sector is the gift that keeps on giving. Through Y2K, the dot com bubble bursting, 9/11, 7/7 and the credit crunch, the good times never stopped rolling.

I'm now experiencing deja vu. My very first contract in Docklands was at Harbour Exchange, working for Lloyds TSB. I wore a shirt with cufflinks shaped like taps. I thought I epitomised the height of business fashion. In my defence, I was only 20 years old.

As I look around the glimmering tower blocks on the wharf, and look at their revolving doors leading into their fancy foyers, I realise that I've done at least two tours with so many of the companies: HSBC, JPMorgan, Barclays, Lloyds and others too.

It's good that these places will have me back. Why wouldn't they? I left on good terms, with great references and a bunch of people who'd remember me and some of the things I did when I was there.

But, I've started to burn bridges.

I know how to play the game and keep my mouth shut; not rock the boat. I know that the whole banking world keeps you hostage with golden handcuffs. You're ridiculously well paid, so you try to silence the voices in your head that say: what we're doing here is just not ethical.

You can immerse yourself in the propaganda, that says that the financial products that we offer are greasing the wheels of commerce, but you know that deep down, most of what you're doing is helping the rich to hide their wealth and shield it from taxation. When you ask your customer what their source of wealth is, they're not exactly going to say that it's sweatshops and drugs, are they? They're not exactly going to confess that their family is wealthy because they embezzled a load of money, leaving their fellow citizens starving.

Even a close friend, who seems reasonably ethical banker, has helped his father - a judge - to hide the family wealth in an offshore trust. They had some problems proving that they controlled the money, in order to get a mortgage, but the bank was eventually satisfied. The people who work in banks are outsmarting the ones who work for the regulators and the taxman, so that's why the rich pay very little tax, while the poor shoulder the burden of social programs. Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.

Am I a hypocrite? Am I ungrateful, when I bite the hand that feeds me? Well, the easy defence is just to say that if I didn't do my job, somebody else would. Isn't it better that I'm on the inside, trying to make things better, than on the outside where I would have very little power and influence. I could easily throw my clogs into the loom, if I thought that was the right thing to do.

Fintech is a conflation of financial and technology. Fintech tends to mean the challenger banks and ecosystem that exists outside of the long-standing institutions. Arguably, I've been working on Fintech - financial services technology - since 1998, but yet I might get mocked by my startup buddies as working for dinosaurs. Indeed, one well-respected friend from the venture capital world, even wrote a blog post which suggested that my return to Canary Wharf was an admission of defeat; a failure.

do feel like a failure. Even though I just secured yet another contract for yet another massive bank, doing some cool stuff with AI and other bleeding-edge tech, and I'm going to be exceedingly well remunerated, I still feel like I sold out. I'm also really worried about my chequered past catching up with me. Instead of popping a champagne cork in celebration of my new role, last night, instead I have butterflies in my tummy and I'm incredibly anxious about getting everything signed, starting the job and making a good first impression, without any hiccups.

My self-assured manner and my self-confidence has all been destroyed, replaced instead with self-doubt. I started looking for a new contract on the 30th of November, and it took all this time to get one. I take that pretty personally, and I worry that I'm not a competitive candidate anymore: I'm not making the grade, amongst the other contractors in the market.

Obviously, when I actually start working these contracts, I realise that there's a real lack of tech pedigree and good leadership. I realise that there is a need for my skills and experience, and I can add value.

However, I struggle to play the game anymore. I struggle to keep my mouth shut for the benefit of my career and my bank balance. I struggle to let things go, for my own personal benefit. When I see wrongdoing and incompetence, I feel that I have a responsibility to the general public, to not just turn a blind eye. I feel like I have to act ethically... not because the regulators are watching, but because it's the right thing to do.

I struggle to do the work anymore. I don't enjoy tech for tech's sake. Often times I don't really believe that tech is improving anything. Most projects are doing the same kinds of things that have been done time and time again, for years. You'd have thought that if we were solving real problems, we'd have solved them already and moved on to something more useful, like finding a cure for cancer. The banking problem - debit account A and credit account B - is not a hard one to solve.

Who the hell am I, to sit idle for the whole month of November, writing a novel instead of trying to get a job. Who am I to arrogantly assume that I'll be able to win another lucrative contract, instead of getting a regular job like everybody else does? Who am I to only work 4 or 5 months of the year? Who the hell do I think I am?

Well, you're welcome to hate me if you like. I'm a banker; a capitalist pig; a lickspittle of the wealthy elites who cause so much human misery.

However, I'm an ideological misfit. I know that I'm well remunerated, but I don't confuse that with value. I don't feel valuable, I feel like I'm wasting my time building stuff that doesn't help; it hinders. I feel bribed into doing a job, because I need the money. Aren't we all? Yes, so why work a job that's just as pointless, but get paid a lot less? Do you think that by depriving that massive corporation of yourself, you're hurting them?

Arguably, if we were to all take an ethical stance with our employment, and refuse to work for weapons manufacturers and banks, we would starve them of the manpower they need to function. However, humanity responds to incentives: if you couldn't buy guns, somebody would start sharpening pointy sticks and selling them; if you couldn't get a bank loan, loan sharks would lend money.

The problem is when you follow a set of rules to their ultimate conclusion, you get some undesirable outcomes. Free-market capitalism might work when you're conquering the Wild West and building all the critical infrastructure to colonise the New World, but what about when it's all done, and populations start exploding? Is it right that being born into wealth or poverty is not a choice: inherited wealth and ownership determine everything.

If we pressed the 'reset' button and set all the bank balances to be the same, how many would lose and how many would gain? Yes, it's unfair that some who've worked very hard would lose out, but what about those who think it's unfair that their inherited wealth shouldn't be subjected to a Robin Hood tax? Surely it's more unfair that some people have a lifelong trust fund income, while others have to flip burgers and still can't afford to raise their families. Surely, there are more people who would benefit, than lose.

So, eventually I arrive at the conclusion that we need to have debt forgiveness, or else civilisation will be destroyed. I mean, what are the wealthy even doing with all their ill-gotten gains? It's dog in a manger behaviour that's the problem here, not jealousy.

In the rigged system we've built, success is not about hard work. The fable of the girl who swept the factory floor being promoted up the career ladder until she was eventually the CEO, is total horse-shit. We know that all the best jobs go to wealthy men from a handful of powerful families. You could bust your ass your whole life, and still have nothing to show for it except the little plastic stars on your McDonalds name badge.

To say "twas ever thus" and blame human nature, is disingenuous. You don't have to look very hard to see that civilisations rise and fall, based on the satisfaction of the hoi polloi. It doesn't matter how high you build the walls: when enough people want to smash down your defences, you'll find that even the most robust barriers are too flimsy to protect you.

What do we really believe in? What cause are we fighting for?

The top echelons of society are wealthy enough to have their every whim catered for, but what do they believe in? How many of our rulers are passionately engaged in the pursuit of something more meaningful than money?

I wanted to save up and buy a house. I wanted luxury holidays and fine dining. I had become totally bourgeois.

If we leave noble causes - like the search for scientific knowledge, world peace and hunger - to a handful of charity workers, while we ourselves fret about buying a bigger house or another boat, then our most educated and powerful portion of society is consumed by the consumer economy, which is intent only on separating fools from their money.

Western civilisation will fall, as if knocked over by a feather, because we believe in nothing.




Middle Management

8 min read

This is a story about earning money...

Middle management

In the agricultural revolution, the scythe, the plough and the mill brought about greater productivity in our fields, and put more bread in our bellies. In the industrial revolution, the steam engine, the foundry and great big machines brought about greater productivity in our factories, and put shoes on our feet. In the information revolution, the spreadsheet, email and meetings have brought about greater productivity in our offices, and put zeroes on the end of the bank balances of the mega wealthy.

The average return on capital is exceeding the growth rate. This means that no matter how hard you work, the rich will get richer and poor will get poorer. If you are already wealthy, you will grow more wealthy, but for the rest of us our wages are falling in real terms.

"The triumph of human capital over financial capital and real estate, capable managers over fat cat stockholders, and skill over nepotism is largely illusory.” -- Thomas Piketty

It's a depressing situation, but sadly it's true. We are now living in the era of the supermanager. The remuneration for those at the top of the pyramid is completely unhinged and insane. There is absolutely no way that the eye-watering salaries demanded by top executives, in any way reflects their productivity. In fact, quite the opposite.

The National Health Service (NHS) has spent billions on re-organisation. The NHS is drowning under a sea of managers, while front-line services are cut back.

The reason why economic growth is stagnant, is because productivity is an illusion. When nearly everybody is a manager, hardly anybody is actually doing any work.

Managers only do three things:

  1. Any good news from their team, they just forward to their boss
  2. Any pressure / demands / requests / questions from their boss, they just forward to their team
  3. They think up ways to justify their jobs

A manager has a lot of time to dream up creative ways of wasting everyone's time, because they don't actually do any work. A manager needs to look busy, so they come up with all kinds of time-wasting scams and schemes in order to justify their pointless existence.

Microsoft have actually cottoned on to the fact that there is a giant army of middle managers, who do nothing but forward emails up and down the chain of command. In the email program Microsoft Outlook, there are actually buttons that make it even easier to just forward good news to your boss, and to forward other requests and things to your team. I literally just need two buttons to do my job. I don't even have to do any typing.

People don't like doing the typing.

Everything's a copy & paste job. Being a manager has become a job of forwarding emails and sitting in meetings because you're bored. If you feel really pointless, you can do a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation to bore the shit out of everybody. Nobody writes concise emails that everybody can dutifully ignore because they're pointless noise.

There are a few idealistic young employees - unpaid interns - who do all the work, which is then re-hashed as it works its way up through the ranks of middle management. Every layer of management is careful to remove any reference that would give credit to the person who actually did the work. Managers pass things off as their own effort, although secretly they know that they don't actually do anything.

This is so much worse than Imposter Syndrome. Most managers are actually imposters. They're there for the comfy seat, free coffee, warm office and hefty pay packet at the end of the month.

It's no wonder that lean startups are actually able to deliver great things: they're unencumbered by the valueless people who try to add value when actually they do nothing of the sort.

Trying to get a decision out of the chain of command is like trying to nail jelly to the wall. Managers know that the only way they're going to get fired is if they make a decision that turns out to be wrong. The easiest way to be secure in your job is to avoid taking decisions. The very managers who were hired to be executives - high-powered decision makers - are actually avoiding ever making a decision, in case it ends up reflecting badly on them. No manager has the guts to actually make a decision and face the potential consequences. Middle managers are experts in avoiding all responsibility.

We now have an office culture, completely dominated by a kind of 'pass the parcel' children's game. Everybody knows that things are going badly because nobody is doing any work and nobody is making any decisions or showing any kind of leadership. Instead, the buck gets passed round and round, as everybody tries to blame everybody else, and avoid any responsibility themselves. Often, it's the very people who are too busy doing the actual work who get blamed, because they didn't have the time to play the silly game and cover their arses.

You can be assured that when things go wrong, the blame will trickle down, until some poor sod on the front line is criticised for not staying on top of a totally unreasonable workload. Some poor scapegoat will be blamed, because they made a minor error, through exhaustion and stress.

What's remarkable is how few 'executives' actually face the chop themselves, when everything screws up. You would have thought that the whole point about receiving a big salary would be because you were the one taking responsibility, and therefore you would be to blame when things go wrong. However, there is absolutely no corporate accountability. It is the workers who are held accountable by their managers, because the workers are too busy to spend time justifying their existence and covering their arses.

The most profitable thing of all is to sit idle, on a pile of money. You can never make a mistake if you simply earn interest on your capital. There's nothing ventured at all, when your wealth is growing simply because you own the casino. House always wins.

If you have wealth, if you have success, if you have an audience and fame, then you can leverage it to become even more wealthy. What - pray tell - is the innovative business idea behind Keeping Up With the Kardiashians? Presumably, some family who are completely lacking in wealth and fame would also like to be highly paid to be featured on reality TV? However, it is only those who already have wealth who are given the opportunity to make more wealth.

This era of low growth and wealth worship is absolutely destroying society. The economy is run for a tiny elite with unimaginable wealth, while the vast majority struggle in dead-end careers that are stressful and boring.

Middle management is just a position in the lower order of the entourage of the oligarchs, royalty and fat cat plutocrats. Middle managers have bought into the belief that they are going to succeed in the capitalist's pyramid scheme. Organisation charts give the belief that you are 'only' a certain number of layers of management from being the CEO, but it's a con, because each layer of middle management expands the base of the pyramid by a factor of 10.

Pyramid scheme

Organisations have now started to throw around job titles like "Vice President" and "Managing Director", and there are even CEOs who are not actually CEOs. An organisation like HSBC might have hundreds of "CEO"s amongst their 230,000 staff. It's just a bullshit job title given away to make somebody think they're getting ahead in the game.

The fact of the matter is that while we toil in the hope of a promotion and a pay rise, we are wasting our time because we are becoming de-skilled and institutionalised. Our grandfathers could build houses and fix mechanical things. Our office-based service industry economy has left most people unable to even change a lightbulb.

Come the revolution, when there are power cuts and the Internet stops working, how much use are your skills in forwarding emails?

The middle managers might be able to justify their jobs today, and are attempting to stuff as much money in the mattress as possible, but it won't be enough. Even property deeds, policing and the rule of law won't matter when the masses rise up in anger at having been oppressed for too long. Even soldiers are feeling the economic squeeze, and will be unwilling to turn their guns on their own people, in order to protect the plutocrats.

The unwillingness to address income inequality and share the wealth can only lead to popular uprisings.





22 min read

This is a story about body shopping...

IT Contractor

What's the difference between a temp, a freelancer, a self-employed person, a contractor and a consultant? What's the difference between an employee and an entrepreneur?

Last year I was working for HSBC, along with a bunch of nice folks from several different consultancies, plus a handful of permanent members of staff. The teamwork was brilliant, but the surprising thing was that we all had different agendas.

Given that I had gone back to HSBC as a contractor, having been a permanent member of staff there for over 4 years, it was somewhat of a mindset change. I was also homeless and still very much in the vice-like grip of drug addiction, which wasn't a good start.

I was exhausted, and I had somewhat induced within myself, some fairly major symptoms of mental illness, which caused me to make some rather outlandish interpretations of the reality I experienced.

Imagine being plucked from the park, where you are living and contemplating bankruptcy and the coffin nail that will drive into your career, your business. Imagine facing up to the reality that everything you're qualified and experienced to do, since you started IT contracting at age 20, is now going to go down the shitter, and you're homeless, abandoned by the state - the council have sent you a one-line email saying that you're not even worth a hostel bed to them.

Then, imagine that almost overnight, you're working on the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. You're so exhausted that you are sleeping in the toilet. Everything seems surreal, from the moment you put on your suit in the morning in a hostel dormitory paid for with a credit card you can't afford to pay off, to the moment you turn up in the headquarters of a prestigious Tier 1 bank that you used to work for, when you were clean, sober, young, happy, ambitious, energetic, enthusiastic and respected.

The challenge was to get through 60 days of working, without running out of credit completely. I had to get to work every day and pay for my hostel bed, for a whole month before I could submit my first invoice, which would be paid 30 days later. Obviously, it also looks rather unusual to your colleagues if you can't afford to eat lunch or socialise. The pressure was immense.

What does a poker player do, if they have a weak hand? They bluff, obviously.

To compensate for my fear, and the odds that were stacked against me, I turned the dial up to 11. I tried hard. Far, far too hard. I told the team that I'd take responsibility for a critical piece of work, and deliver it in a short space of time, along with an extremely capable colleague, who actually knew that it was a monster piece of work.

I should have been laughed out of the door. I can't believe that nobody particularly picked up on the fact that I was shooting from the hip, out of a combination of fear, exhaustion, drug withdrawal, mental illness and a touch of arrogance.

How on earth was my ego not going to be stoked? I had just cheated death, bankruptcy, destitution, and now I had the CIO of the number one project in the biggest bank in Europe surprising me, by naming me in person, as the team member responsible for one of the pivotal pieces of the program, in front of the entire town hall. I looked around - "is he talking about me?" - yes, it appeared he was. How surreal.

First day

As a drug addicted homeless person, you're kind of invisible. People would like it if you just crawled into some dark hole and died, quietly. You're nobody's problem but your own, and everybody pretends not to notice you, as you drag your bags through the street, swatting at invisible flies and talking to yourself incomprehensibly.

Suddenly, people not only seem to value you, listen to you, but also look to you for some kind of professional guidance, leadership. Is this the state that important IT projects have reached, where the hobo junkie is the one calling the shots? I realise that I wasn't actually calling the shots, but that's what it feels like when you've been scraped up from the pavement, stuffed into a suit and now you're working in a fancy office full of glass, steel and granite.

It embarrasses me, but also pleases me that I'm still on good terms with a few respected colleagues, and they can tease me about "the time when you said you were going to deliver X by Y". However, not everything I said was worthless tosh.

This is where the difference in mindsets comes in.

As a permanent member of staff, your best shot of getting pay rises and promotions is to raise your profile. Given an hour to do some work, you might as well spend 50 minutes writing an email about what a brilliant person you are and how clever you are, and 10 minutes actually doing some work, rather than the other way around. People who just knuckle down and get on with the work they're supposed to be doing, tend to be overlooked when it comes to the end of year review.

As a contractor, you're all about contract renewals. When your contract is coming up towards its end, you're on best behaviour. You try to shine and make yourself a key-man dependency, so that you can demand a big rate increase, because you're indispensable. Personally though, I hate making myself a key-man dependency. It's unprofessional, however you are economically incentivised to do it, so many contractors dig themselves into little fiefdoms.

As a consultant however, you have the worst of both worlds. You have to kiss the arse of both the client and your consultancy. There's a huge conflict of interests. The consultancy want you to stay on your placement, and for as many headcount as possible to be working with you on the client project, if you're working time & materials. What exactly is consulting about being a disguised employee? Where is the value-add from the consultancy, when the client wants you to be embedded in their organisation, like a permanent member of staff?

Hospital discharge

The reasons for using consultancy staff, contractors, temps, freelancers, is that you can get rid of them when the project is done. However, the other reason is that you don't have all the headache of having to performance manage underperforming and difficult staff members out of your organisation. In theory, it's a lot easier to hire & fire... with the firing being the desirable bit.

It used to be the case that you could get a job as an IT contractor with just a 20 minute phone interview and start the next day. If you were shit, you'd just be terminated on the spot. Never happened to me, but that was the deal you struck... you'd be on immediate notice for the first week. Then you'd be on a week's notice. Then you'd be on 4 weeks notice, just like a permie. However, I always used to get my contract renewed, because I know how to play the game, kiss ass and keep my lip buttoned at the right time.

So, what happened? Well, stress, money, recovery from addiction, relapse, housing stresses and everything in-between conspired in my private life to mean that I was living life by the seat of my pants. I was running for my life.

After only a week in the new job, I decided that it was an impossible mountain to climb, and that there was no way that I could live in a large hostel dormitory and work on a stressful project, plus get myself clean from drugs, plus dig myself out of near-certain bankruptcy. There were just too many problems to face, working full-time in a crisply laundered shirt and a nice suit, while hiding the crippling problems in my private life.

You can't just go to your boss and say "I'm sorry I didn't mention this before, but I'm a homeless recovering drug addict, who suffers mental health problems at times of extreme stress and exhaustion, and I'm practically bankrupt as well as barely able to keep myself clean, sane, out of hospital and off the streets". Contracting doesn't work like that. Your personal life is nobody's problem but your own... you've signed that deal with the devil. You get paid more, but you're also expected to not get sick and not bring your personal problems with you to the office.

I disappeared on my second week in the job, getting mixed up with the police, thrown out of the hostel where I was living, and ending up in hospital, as the pressure was simply too much to bear, I thought that my lifeline was pretty much spent. The odds of being able to get off the streets were too slim anyway. It couldn't be done. I gave up, and relapsed.

Do you think you can just pick up the phone and say "errr, yeah, I need two weeks off to sleep, an advance of several thousand pounds, and I'd like to come back to work part-time for a little while until I'm up to full strength, because I've been dragging bags all over London, living in parks and on heathland, in and out of hospitals, rehabs and crisis houses, addicted to some deadly shit and battling mental health problems. It seems silly that I didn't mention this at the interview, as I'm sure you would have been just fine with giving me an opportunity to get myself off the street and back into the land of the living"?

Office backpack

You know what though? I did get a second chance. There's no denying that certain allowances were made for me. A blind eye was turned to the fact that I was basically either shouting at people or nodding off in meetings for the first week. I went AWOL twice. Once for a whole week where I basically decided that everything was f**ked and there was no way I could ever make things work, and once for nearly a whole day, when I was swept up in the euphoria of working with nice people and got paralytically drunk with my colleagues and couldn't face telling my boss that I was sick again.

Through my divorce, I lost heaps of friends who were shared with me and the ex. I decided to move back to London, because I knew I could find lots of work. However most of my London friends had moved out of town, in order to start a family. Also, you don't make many friends when you're living in a park sniffing supercrack, and getting hospitalised for 14 weeks a year. I can tell you more about the private life of a friendly police officer that I know, than I can tell you about some other acquaintances from that turbulent period.

Anyway, I was desperately trying to cement things - get my own flat, get some money in the bank, get into a working pattern that was sustainable - but it was too much to ask. 'Friends' sensed that I was recovering, and decided to come asking for favours : lend me some money, let me live with you, give me a job etc. etc.

When you're desperately lonely, because you've split up with the two loves of your life - your wife, and supercrack - you're vulnerable to wanting to people-please. I risked my reputation, when I got a so-called friend an interview, because he pressured me. I overstretched myself, renting a flat that swallowed up all my money, which was my safety net. I didn't even pick my flat... my friend did, and he thought he was going to get to live there rent free. I put up with a lot of shit, because I was desperate for friends, for acceptance, to be liked.

If you think all this can be boiled down to a 'drug problem' you're wrong. In order for a person to feel whole, they need friends, they need a job, they need a place to live, they need to feel that they're living independently : paying the rent, earning their money, able to pay for the essentials of life, and not always just hustling, on the run.

There are quite a lot of pieces to the puzzle that is a complete life that's worth living. Do you really think I just want to be kept alive, in a straightjacket in a padded cell. Is it unreasonable to want to work, to want to feel like I'm making a contribution, to want to feel like I'm liked, loved, to want to feel like I exist, and that I'm valued somewhere, by somebody?

I loved the instant social connection I had with the "winners" who were a group of fellow consultants at HSBC. There was good camaraderie, and they were young and enthusiastic, not bitter and jaded like me. Their enthusiasm for their job and inclusive social circle was exactly what I needed, along with cold, hard cash, and a place to go every day that wasn't a bush in a park, with a wrap of supercrack.


Somewhat unwittingly - although I don't know how much people were able to guess or find out behind my back - the Winners bootstrapped my life. Even though there were the usual commercial rules of the game, about being a disposable contractor who's supposed to keep their mouth shut and not rock the boat, there was still bucketloads of humanity there. People were kind to me. They invited me into their lives, and in doing so, they saved mine.

When a colleague texted me while I was in California, to say that we had to go back to work doing the shittiest possible work for a scrum manager we didn't have a whole heap of respect for, it was pretty clear that it wasn't sustainable. I busted my balls to get cleaned up, off the streets, into a flat of my own and to restabilise my finances. However, I've never been the best at buttoning my lip and allowing myself to be 'managed' by somebody I have barely concealed contempt for.

I knew that all I had to do to get my contract terminated was to send one or two fairly outspoken emails to the project's management team who were insecure and relatively incompetent. They'd actually started to listen and change things though, so there was no purpose to the emails I sent, other than to try and elicit an email saying "don't bother coming back to work" so that I could spend some more time with my friends in San Francisco.

The pressure of having to try and cement the gains that I had made, while still carrying some of the burdens that had been accumulated, was too much. I was in no position to be the responsible guy, picking up the phone every time things went wrong and having to mop up messes. I was in no position to be paying 100% of my rent, with a lazy flatmate who shared none of the risk and none of the financial burden or responsibility for making sure the bills got paid and the household ran smoothly. I was in no position to face months and months more, working at the kind of breakneck pace that was inevitable on a project that I had been forced to take out of desperation.

I had done far too many 12 or 14 hour days. I was on email around the clock. I never switched off. I had driven myself insane, pressurising myself to fix all the broken things in my life, and shore up the gains that I had made. Insecurity and fear had given way to delusions of grandeur. I wanted to do everything, for everybody, immediately. I was very, very sick, because of the enormity of the task of not only the project, but the problems I was overcoming in my personal life. A breakdown was inevitable.

Managing things elegantly was unlikely to happen. I dropped hints about needing a holiday, but I needed to be firm, to assert myself. People expected me to manage my own personal needs, but what they didn't realise was that my needs were conflicted: I needed a financial safety cushion just as much as I needed some time off. When the offer of overtime was wafted under my nose, and the management team wouldn't stop phoning me up at weekends, they didn't have to twist my arm very hard to get me to work Saturdays, Sundays, nights. I needed the money, and I needed to feel like I was important and valued again, having only just escaped being an invisible homeless bum, tossed out of civilised society, never to return.

My experience as an IT contractor, my seniority as somebody who's run large teams, as a Development Manager, an IT Director, a CEO... I'm no fool. I knew that I was working at an unsustainable pace, making myself sick, but what choice did I have? I had so much to fix, and money and hard work can fix most problems. I knew that I needed a holiday, but I was vulnerable to being pressured into doing things that I would never do, under normal circumstances, due to the fragility of my situation.

My colleagues were kind enough to drop hints, and to tell me the tricks that they were employing to avoid management pressures and the general panic that was endemic on the project. They could see I was tired, and going slightly mad. They were worried, and it was kind of them to think of me, on a personal level. However, they didn't really know just how bad things were in my private life. They didn't know just what a journey I had been on. They didn't know what I was running away from.

When I snapped, I didn't know where to run for safety. I thought the safest place would be hospital. I was desperate. I could easily have run for drugged-up oblivion again, even though I was 5 months clean at that point, and one month sober. I could easily have run for the kitchen knife, and slit my wrists in the bath. I was desperate. So close to recovery, and yet so far.

I needed to chuck my freeloader flatmate out of my apartment. I needed to quit my contract and get something easier. I needed to not have the expectation, the weight of responsibility I had unnecessarily brought upon myself, in my desperate insecurity and desire to feel wanted, needed, useful, important, after my entire sense of self had been smashed to a pulp by the dehumanising experience of destitution.

Hospital was a safe place to do it.

Then, unable to grasp the nettle of what needed to be done, which could have been as simple as saying "I need another two weeks off work, to go on holiday, because I'm fucked", I decided to just run away. I booked a flight to San Francisco, leaving myself just a few hours to pack my bags and get to the airport. What was my plan? I had no idea. Even suicide seemed preferable to continuing to live with such crushing pressure, fear and hopeless odds stacked against me.

After a few days amongst friends, I decided that I wanted my contract terminated, immediately. I fired off a provocative email to the CIO. Jackpot! The guy who was responsible for us consultants emails me to say that he wants to see me... in Wimbledon, miles away from HSBC headquarters. I mail back to ask why, but he deftly avoids telling me my contract is terminated via email, despite me pressing him on the matter. Does nobody get the hint?

Nick in black

I come back to London, pissed off that nobody has had the guts to actually call me out to my face, or even by email, and that I've not been able to extend my stay in California. Out of spite, I decide to embarrass the consultancy and the management team, by going into HSBC HQ, blagging my way in even though my security pass has already been deactivated. I march up to the program director and ask him if he's happy with my work, is there a problem? In front of the whole team, he says he's happy with my work and there's no problem, he's pleased to have me back at work.

I milk a few hello-goodbyes with colleagues who I like and respect, while watching the people who want me gone squirm with discomfort. I'm loving every second of watching who's got integrity, humanity, and who's decided that I'm no longer flavour of the month. It's a masterclass in office politics, even though we're all contractors, all consultants. I'm committing every exquisite detail of my final minutes in the office to memory, as I deliberately waste time having my breakfast, before making my way to Wimbledon to wind up the poor messenger whose job it is to try and help the consultancy and the management team save face, by terminating my contract.

By this time, my access to email has been revoked, even though a colleague who accompanies me out of the building, pretends like everything is normal and like we're just having a friendly chat - as opposed to being escorted off the premises by a security guard. I know. Do they know I know? Surely they must.

Unable to send a goodbye email, I ask a colleague who is also called Nick Grant, but who works in Leeds, to send an email on my behalf to a mailing group that contains everybody on the project. It's naughty as hell, but I'm enjoying twisting the knife. What is it that I've really done wrong, other than getting sick and having to go to hospital? What is it that I said, other than what needed to be said, the truth? But I know the game. I know that nobody wants a loose cannon. Nobody wants anybody rocking the boat. I didn't play by the rules. Does anybody realise that this is my way of quitting with immediate effect, and without having to work my notice period?

It might seem like sour grapes. I needed that job. I liked my colleagues. I loved that social scene. That contract saved my life.

However, how do you reconcile your social life, your personal difficulties, your needs, with the role you've been forced into?

What's the difference between a contractor and a consultant? A contractor knows they're a mercenary. They're there to earn as much cash as quickly as they possibly can, and they accept that they can be terminated at the drop of a hat. A consultant just doesn't realise they're getting a bum deal. There's no such thing as an IT consultant. It's just a made-up thing now that software houses and long-term IT contractors have fallen out of favour, with the dreadful rise and rise of outsourcing and this stupid idea that software is ever going to be cheap and easy.

So, to the Winners. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for putting up with my rocky start, my dreadful ego, my shouting. Thank you for putting up with my arrogance, and for laughing at my over-ambitious ideas. Thank you for trying to keep me humble, and remind me of the rules of the game. Thank you for taking me into your lovely social world. Thank you for the emotional support. Thank you for treating me like a human being, not a software robot. Thank you for dealing with the fallout that I inevitably caused, when implosion happened. Thank you for not hating me, as I wandered into the territory of delusions of grandeur and heroics, and self-important jumped-up craziness.

You might not realise this, but you saw a rather twisted, weird, screwed up version of me, as I clawed my way up a cliff face of recovery, from the bankrupt, homeless, junkie, friendless, single, lonely, unhappy, insane husk of a man that I was, in mid-June last year.

It's been quite a year. God knows what happened with the Customer Due Diligence project, but I'm glad the due diligence on me didn't work, because the Winners and HSBC ended up unwittingly saving my life and getting me back on my feet. I don't think I would have ever had that opportunity if my dark private life was known in advance.

I'm sorry if it feels like I used you. Hopefully, it feels like a good thing happened. Hopefully you feel happy to have played a role in bringing a person back from the brink, even if I was a sneaky bastard, and somewhat underhand about the whole thing, as well as going a bit bonkers at times.

Silver linings, eh?

Glass lift

The photos I've put up include some rather unflattering images of a rather battered and bruised body, that just about hung together with sticky tape to somehow carry me through some brutal times. My private life wasn't exactly 'healthy' leading up to last June.



Advent Calendar (Day Eight)

11 min read

This is a story about clinging on for dear life...

Living on the Edge

When you are hounded to the edge of the abyss, you will fall to your death if you allow yourself to be pushed one single step more. You shouldn't push people that hard. You shouldn't be so harsh, critical, judgemental, presumptuous. You don't know how close somebody is to the edge, until they're gone.

I don't want to go on about this, but I'm dealing with suicidal thoughts on a daily basis. If you think that's because I'm mentally ill, you're wrong. My brain has correctly judged the circumstances, and it's telling me that I have very few options. My brain is correctly informing me that I'm on the edge of a precipice, and the other side is a jeering snarling crowd who don't care whether I live or die.

People accuse suicidal people of being attention seeking, or selfish. It's actually neither. You have all the time in the world to hurl those accusations at a gravestone when they're gone. They won't be receiving any attention or anything for themself when they're gone. They won't even be stealing a single precious breath of your oxygen anymore, so how can it be selfish?

I've got a life insurance policy that covers suicide. My family are literally better off if I'm dead. That's cold hard cash in their pockets, rather than the rather draining task of repeatedly telling me I'm not good enough and I'm selfish. Yes, it's hard work to have to keep telling somebody to keep taking steps towards their demise, to keep hounding them until they're dead.

In Oxford, I'm pretty sure I came up with the term pushy parents. It kind of stuck with my friends, and their parents, and the phrase entered the popular vernacular. There were a lot of high-achieving kids at my schools in Oxford, and living nearby. My parents had big plans for their only son. They were going to make me achieve everything that they had failed to ever achieve, by force.

We all want our kids to do well, to get ahead, to achieve their greatest potential, but you have got to realise that they're still children. If you push them hard their whole childhood they won't thank you for it, if you push them beyond their limits and make them sick. You will struggle to judge how hard they can work, and how much stress and pressure they can handle, because you are a mature adult, and they are a developing child.

A child's attention span is different from yours. A child's knowledge and experience is different from yours. A child's ability to express distress and protect themself is different from yours. A child's capacity to experience daily stress and pressure and bullying and coercion is different from yours.

You might think that you are bringing up baby Einstein, but in fact you might be twisting that child's personality into somebody who's very bitter and resentful about being kept in from seeing their friends in order to study more. You might not be aware just how deeply etched childhood experiences are in that child's memory. You have no idea what is important to that individual child, especially if you don't listen.

Why am I bitching and whining about this stuff? Well, let me remind you: I'm living with the desire to commit suicide. I can only act on this once, and then I have no further opportunity to tell you who I really am, to tell you what makes me tick. This is a time capsule. It tells you everything you didn't want to know about me when I was alive.

This is the inconvenient truth. This is the smoking gun. This is the postmortem analysis.

I read a few books that were posthumously published after the author's death. The anguish, the distress, the emotion of the authors, thinly concealed behind passive agression and satire, oozes out from those works of literature. The words are soaked with emotion. Every sentence packs a punch, swung wildly at an unseen enemy.

Climbing in the Dolomites

I was systematically re-programmed to believe that my life was worthless, which is why I take huge risks. It's not selfishness if the self has no value. The more that you tell a person that they're shit and they're a burden and they're not good enough, the less risk-averse they become. They will go to great lengths to prove themself or to feel some connection to life.

I don't care what anybody says. Extreme sports are not stupid... they're brave. I can barely express to you just how cold, hard & rational you have to be to step into an extreme environment. You are literally weighing life & death with your every action. You are making decisions that can barely be comprehended by somebody who hasn't willingly laid their life on the line.

My Dad's a real coward. He's abusive to me and my Mum, and he won't admit he's in the wrong. He's such a coward that he hid behind his front door and got the police to deal with me when I went to confront him. He won't even face his own son, on the level, like an adult. He's never done anything brave in his life. He's a real disappointment to me.

I'm actually very calm and rational. I realise my Dad's an old man, and he's good to my sister and my niece, so I wasn't going to risk his life by pulverising him. I just wanted him to stand and face his own son, and confront the issue of him abusing me and my mum. I wanted him to admit he was wrong, to my face. I didn't demand it, but I felt that only a coward would shy away from an honest face to face conversation about his wrongdoing. I was right. He's a coward.

My Mum gave me life, and actually helped save my life and give me hope when I had my back against the wall, but my Dad is poisonous. He actually talks my Mum out of helping me. He probably thinks he's being a protector, a hero, but he's wrong. He's protecting nobody. My Mum will be hurt when I'm dead, and his son will be dead. My sister won't have a brother, and my niece won't have an uncle, and he won't accept any responsibility.

Yes, responsibility. Let's talk about responsibility.

On a daily basis, I'm responsible for my own life. I need to eat, sleep and not throw myself off a tall building. Yup, that's pretty much my entire existence at the moment. I'm trapped at the edge, and the route back to safety is blocked by my Dad, the 'protector' so I'm desperately trying to find another route back to safety, while my Dad is busily telling everybody not to help me.

I have no idea why somebody would step in and tell a caring person not to help a desperate person. I have no idea why a Dad would tell a Mum not to help their child. It's really upsetting. It's upsetting for me, and it's upsetting for my Mum, to have my Dad driving wedges in-between family members. Why can't we all just get along?

Me and my Mum

I'm not a defective toy, and you can't just return me to the store. I'm not broken, you just have to accept that I'm a human and I have my own identity, and I have identical needs to any other human. I need glucose, water, oxygen, salt, protein, fat, fibre and emotional sustenance. Cutting me off from my own mother by trying to poison her opinion of her own son, to compensate for your own shortcomings, that's patently disgusting.

I can have a lovely conversation with my Mum. Then, the next time we speak, her views will have been completely tainted by my Dad. I have no idea what his big problem is, but I suppose I should try harder to get to the bottom of it. It's no longer the case that I should assume that his 30+ years more on the planet means that he should be the more mature one.

Yes, I've always wanted to look up to my Dad. I've always wanted him to be a role model for me. I've always wanted him to lead by example.

My Dad doesn't really follow through though. He's a quitter. He's never had a career like I have. He's never achieved anything academically like I have. He's never been able to provide enough for his family. He's a real failure. A drunk and a drug addict, he's a bit of a loser, and I guess he feels pretty bad about himself.

Yes, he took his parents money and squandered it. His parents were wealthy and sent their kids to private school, and he messed up his chances of achieving anything of note. He mucked about with drugs and decided that was his priority in life... to take drugs. Even after the arrival of his son, he decided that the pursuit of drugs was still the most important thing in his life.

One of my best friends was a drug addict. When his son arrived, he cleaned up his act. He got himself a mortgage and a steady job. He quit drugs and smoking and keeps himself fit and healthy for his son. He's my role model. I look up to him. I admire what he's done. He's the gold standard that I aspire to emulate.

Men need father figures in their lives. They need masculine identity, which is about strength, leadership, trust, providing for loved ones, consistency, resourcefulness, reliability, dependability. You can't depend on a drug addict. The only thing they love is drugs.

My Dad actually destroyed his health with drugs, and had to go to hospital for a series of operations at around the time that my niece was born. I'm not sure whether fear of death or the arrival of a grandchild was the reason why he cleaned up his act, but he did finally quit drugs, in his sixties.

Nobody preaches louder than a convert, and I imagine that my Dad is very pious now that he's no longer abusing drugs. I don't drink or take drugs, but my Dad is pretty insufferable about many aspects of my lifestyle. He assumes that because I live in London I'm high on cocaine all the time. He assumes that because I have high earning potential, I spend it all on drugs. He's completely wrong.

Because he's a fuckup, he assumes I'm a fuckup too, but he's wrong. Because he's made mistakes in his life, he assumes I've made the same mistakes. Because he let people down, he assumes I'm going to let people down too. He applies his own guilt to me. He makes me carry the guilt for his wrongdoing.

I've got a brilliant title for a blog post lined up for December 26th, so I can't tell too much of my story at the moment without spoiling the surprise. There aren't actually any surprises. Everything is here, somewhere, but I'm going to spell things out for the world. It's extremely frustrating that I have to pace myself, to tell things little by little, but patience is a virtue.

I'm currently writing 2,000 words a day, and it's already swamping people. Hardly anybody is still engaged with my writing. It's gotten a bit unbalanced, and there are themes that are beginning to be a bit like a broken record. I'm actually dragging things out a little now, because I picked some milestones, and I'm making sure I don't give away enough to allow people to think that they can extrapolate and guess how the story ends.

I'll tell you how and when the story currently ends, according to my plan: I kill myself on New Year's Day, having told my tale but without the energy, support or resources to be able to continue living. It's exhausting being beaten for your 'sins' which are actually a result of taking abuse for somebody else's guilty conscience.

I'm going to tell you how somebody gets driven to extremism. Extreme risk taking. Extreme behaviour. Extreme moods. Death, which is at the other extremity from birth.

When a child is born, you write their future, based on the opportunities that you offer them. Choice is an illusion. Free will is an illusion. We can only play the cards that we are dealt.

Free Will