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

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

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Clean Slate

6 min read

This is a story about fresh starts...

Chalboard

To many people, the idea of starting their life again from scratch sounds appealing. We can become weighed down with clutter and running away from our old life to start a new one - a fresh start - is something which many people yearn to do, but never actually dare to follow through with.

I'm still in the process of starting my life anew, so I thought I should tell you about a few things you probably hadn't thought about.

Your wardrobe has things in it which you don't need very often, but are essential during difficult times. The best example I can think of is a black tie, which you will need if you have to go to a funeral. It might sound like a trivial item to obtain, especially given that ties are one of the few clothing items which comes in one size, but you have to consider that very few shops sell ties, and those that do might not sell a plain black one. It's pretty rare to reach your late thirties and not have bought a black tie, and that black tie will last you a lifetime, given that you're likely to only ever wear it to funerals.

On the subject of clothing etc, you are sure to own a washing airer, ironing board and iron. It's hard to go through adult life without gathering clothing items which have to be dried slowly rather than tumble-dried. There are lots of times when creased clothes are not socially appropriate, so you will own these laundry-related items.

Curtains. Assuming that you own furniture - which in and of itself is a huge amount of stuff to buy - the curtains that you own are the appropriate size for your windows. If you move house, your curtains are unlikely to be the right size. Curtains are surprisingly important, given that without them you will have no privacy, and light will come flooding into your bedroom at dawn. It doesn't matter how much stuff you own, you will probably have to buy new curtains - urgently - if you ever move house.

Vacuum cleaner. I've lived for a month without a vacuum cleaner. There's no particular urgency in getting one, but sooner or later it would be good if I could hoover my floors and carpets, given that it's getting pretty tedious sweeping up with a dustpan and brush, which is something else I had to buy. These things are very mundane and domestic, but eventually your house will get pretty grubby without the modern appliances we all take for granted.

Kitchenware. I have two saucepans, one frying pan, a few sharp knives, a measuring jug, some wooden stirring implements, a few other utensils, but otherwise I'd find it pretty hard to prepare a meal according to a recipe book, which is bound to call for sieving, grating, whisking, mashing and other such things, requiring some kind of kitchen equipment I don't currently own.

Lampshades. I bought myself a nice lamp for my lounge, but the lightbulbs in my house are otherwise uncovered - naked bulbs are pretty ugly things, along with their cheap plastic electrical fittings. It might sound like a stupid thing, but I don't feel very comfortable in my home without nice lampshades.

Lawnmower. I suppose I'm lucky to have a garden, after having spent so many years in central London apartments, but a garden brings extra responsibilities: I have to mow the lawn. Actually, I have to get rid of all the weeds and get the lawn in good shape, because I love having a healthy lawn, so I will at least need some weedkiller and a rake to begin with, but then I'll need a lawnmower. I forget that I have a garden now. I had grown to like gardening since getting a house in my mid-twenties, but I had forgotten all about the duties of keeping the garden maintained.

There are a mountain of things I'd need to buy if I wanted to do things myself and not pay somebody else to do them. If I want to wash my car I'll have to buy a hosepipe, bucket and sponge. If I want to wash my windows I'll have to buy a wiper-thing and maybe a ladder. If I want to shine my shoes, I'll have to buy shoe polish and brushes. If I want to repair my clothes, I'll have to buy a sewing kit. All of the many things you've got tucked away in drawers and cupboards - I've got none of those things.

Guests are coming to stay soon, so I need a duvet and pillows, plus spare bed linen and towels for my guests... plus the aforementioned curtains... oh and a bed!

This puts things into context: I have a sofa which I can sit on when I'm awake, and a bed to sleep in, but other than that my house is still unfurnished. My clothes are in bags or otherwise strewn across the bedroom floor. I eat in the lounge, sitting on the sofa. I have barely enough plates, glasses and cutlery to support my own needs, let alone the needs of guests. I have barely enough bed linen to keep my own bed smelling fresh, let alone having having a spare set for the guest bedroom. I'm kinda camping in my own home - getting by with a vastly reduced amount of posessions than most ordinary people.

I decided to move all my boxes of stuff up to the top floor of my house. The boxes contain all my stuff which survived the turbulent years leading up to me moving to this big house. Now, my house feels almost empty - in fact, it is almost empty, given that 5 rooms have nothing in at all. My house is ludicrously oversized for my needs, but I'm very excited about being able to have visitors with children come to stay, and there's plenty of space for everybody.

Of course it would be lunacy to re-clutter my life unnecessarily. I've learned to live without almost everything, so I've seen no need to go rushing to the shops and completely fill my house with every conceivable furniture item I could think of. I've also bought clever things, like modular sofas which can be reconfigured easily, so I can easily re-arrange my rooms to suit me once I'm more settled.

 

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I Love My Job

6 min read

This is a story about having a métier...

Hospital bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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April Showers

5 min read

This is a story about not watching TV...

Log fire

As I drove home this evening, the heavens opened and Cardiff was pelted with bucketloads of rain and hail, which was a heavy enough downpour to completely drench anybody unfortunate enough to be caught outdoors. I drove past bus stops where people huddled for shelter. I saw cyclists who had decided to resort to pushing their bicycles, given the treacherous conditions on the roads.

It's very unusual for me to feel enthusiastic about doing anything which deviates from my strict routine, but the bad weather inspired me to re-stock on my supply of logs for the fire. The thought of warming my cockles in my cosy lounge, watching the flickering flames in the inglenook, was adequate inspiration for me to find the nearest petrol station selling firewood.

When I got home it was still raining very heavily, and as I reached the landing on the first floor a large droplet of water hit my head. I looked up and there was clearly a water leak. I climbed the second flight of stairs to the second floor, and there was a sizeable part of the ceiling destroyed by a leak in the roof - water is getting into my house, and trickling down through two floors, causing unsightly damage.

I suppose it doesn't bother me that much, given that the leak doesn't really affect any of the areas where I spend most of my time: the kitchen, bathroom, master bedroom and living room are all dry, and I never venture up to the top floor of my house anyway.

Nothing could derail my excitement about having a fire. It's not very cold, but there's nothing so nice as having the crackling of a log fire - and the pleasure of watching the flames - when it's miserable weather outside. Having fires is such a treat, having spent so many years living in modernised apartment in central London. There is nothing quite so homely and comforting as being curled up under a blanket on the sofa, being warmed by a fire.

My routine would bore most ordinary people. The life I'm trying to lead is pure simplicity. I have a chaise-longue sofa where I can recline, toasty warm under my fluffy woollen blanket, and with a roaring log fire at my feet. I can draw the curtains and turn on the lamps which give the room a cosy glow, and I cocooned into my home almost as nicely as being in bed under the duvet. It might seem as if I'm old before my time, but it's so deliciously lovely to be warm and cosy all the time.

I never seem to turn the TV on. Why would I bother? I have enough entertainment watching the flames lick around the logs, and I'm pretty content with a very mundane domesticated existence. I potter to the kitchen to prepare myself some food and I'm thrilled that I'm lucky enough to live somewhere which vastly exceeds my needs. The high ceilings and the sheer size of the rooms seems decadent, but I refuse to feel guilty about it. There's a great deal of pleasure I take every single morning and every single evening, when I step into my hallway which is flooded with light from the beautiful leaded-glass window panes. The architecture of the houses in Cardiff is delightful and it's a source of constant joy that I have the financial means to enjoy a large beautiful house all to myself.

It seems a little crazy to enjoy being at home so much. Perhaps I should be out trying to meet people, but it's taken a lot of hard work to restore stability to my life and to my living arrangements, and put myself into a position where I can see that I will be able to live, work, socialise, have a relationship, enjoy culture, eat good food and generally embed myself into this city which is still so new and alien to me, but is incredibly welcoming.

London might not have worked out for me in the end - I was forced to leave - but perhaps it's for the best. I never imagined that I'd be living in a giant house with two working fireplaces, near to a beautiful park and a lake. In London terms, it's equivalent to being able to live near the Serpentine and Hyde Park, in a grand town house, which is the exclusive preserve of multimillionaires. In some ways, I feel like a lottery winner, except I'm not able to quit my day job and escape the rat race, although I very much get to enjoy an exceptional standard of living.

I'm burning money - the waste is staggering - but it feels like it's worth it, because of the almost indescribable pleasure of coming home and lighting a fire, then spending the rest of my evening tending to it... tossing more logs on and keeping the flames flickering for my own entertainment. Honestly, it's better than TV.

 

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Microcosm

10 min read

This is a story about paranoid schizophrenia...

Bedroom

I've lost my mind in all kinds of places, but the place where my sanity most eluded me was in this bedroom. I moved into this almost-ready-made perfect home, which only required a few bits of bedding and storage boxes to turn it into one of the most tidy and well organised places I've ever lived. I had stability and eventually I had security. I had my own front door, which I could lock and double-lock and be safely protected from the outside world and anybody who wanted to intrude.

The story begins in the midst of an unhappy relationship, several years earlier. A toxic mixture of mental health problems and drug abuse combined with an abusive relationship, to leave me barricading myself into rooms for my own protection, while my long-term girlfriend and later wife screamed abuse, kicked and punched the door which was my flimsy defence from the onslaught, which was seemingly unending.

The situation got so bad that I retreated to my summer house, where I drank water from a hosepipe and defecated in a bucket. I had no food or access to anything other than cold water. I couldn't take a shower. I was cornered.

To her credit, my ex-wife relented and I was able to come out of the summer house unmolested, unharassed and somewhat reassured that she was a safe distance away. We separated, but I was badly traumatised. The psychological torture had lasted for nearly 2 years and I was deeply damaged.

The extent to which I had been traumatised was not apparent to me. I moved away from the area to be away from her, and I assumed that my mental health was intact enough for me to start a new life without any problems. I assumed that having escaped from that abusive situation where I was cornered, I would be quickly on the mend.

What I discovered was that I carried a kind of post-traumatic stress which was thinly concealed by my generally sunny and upbeat positive mental attitude. I set about rebuilding my life and didn't think too much about the past. However, stress, exhaustion and drugs all had the capability of plunging me back into flashbacks of those awful moments when I was cornered. I experienced episodes of extreme paranoia about the kicking and punching of the flimsy door that protected me, and the torrent of abuse and violent anger which was a constant source of threat on the other side of whatever barrier I could find to protect myself.

It seems obvious that drugs are bad, and certainly the problems I had with drugs unleashed the very worst of the psychological trauma I had sustained. One might be tempted to say that the paranoia was caused by the drugs, but in fact the origin of my paranoia was much easier to explain. Few people would be psychologically strong enough to withstand the torment of being trapped somewhere with only one exit, and an angry violent abuser screaming and hammering on the single door with punches and kicks. Few people would escape without post-traumatic trauma from such events.

It seemed obvious in my perfect safe protected stable microcosm that nobody was going to hurt me. It seemed obvious that my front door was sufficiently robust to resist kicks and punches, and that I had escaped my abuser. It seems perfectly obvious in retrospect, but you have to understand that the trauma was deeply ingrained in my subconscious.

While I was able to function reasonably effectively and act mostly normal, I struggled with paranoid thoughts, unusual beliefs and strange behaviour, when I came under great financial pressure and and had a great deal of stress in my job. When I became exhausted, physically and mentally, I began to form paranoid beliefs. I struggled to maintain my ability to be objective and grounded in reality. My sanity suffered during moments of great difficulty.

I had a long period of drug abuse which demonstrated to me - beyond any reasonable doubt - that my original paranoia was no longer grounded in any past trauma, but instead had grown into something which was self-fuelling. While the original seed of my traumatised behaviour - barricading myself into rooms - was well understood, I had a lengthy period of time where I would suffer dreadful paranoia, only to eventually have to face the fact that my feared abuser was never going to turn up.

Strangely, that period I spent barricaded into my bedroom, hundreds of miles away from my abuser, did actually 'cure' me of my paranoid psychosis. Every time I desperately piled up furniture against the door and could never quite manage to create enough of a barrier to satisfy myself that I was safe, I eventually realised that nobody was battering on the door. I took down my barricades and I was surprised to find that my tormentor was nowhere to be found.

It was incredibly dangerous, and it cost me very dearly, but eventually I was left with nothing except drug-induced paranoia, which went away as soon as I stopped taking drugs.

I'd had periods where I'd been clean and sober, but they'd never cured me of my paranoia. My post-traumatic stress was still very much unresolved and the psychological damage was a deep and bloody wound. Even after long periods where I had been abstinent from booze and drugs, my mental health was fragile as hell and I could be tipped into insanity by relatively trivial stressors.

Two years in my lovely apartment, barricading myself into my bedroom and my ensuite bathroom, and I was cured by the most unusual and unlikely of things. The very behaviour which an outsider might assume was the root cause of all my problems, turned out to be a cathartic exercise which rid me of both the paranoia and the drug addiction.

I expect today if I were to spend several days and nights abusing powerful stimulant drugs, I would begin to suffer from paranoia, but I have been through some incredibly stressful events lately and my mental health has been reasonably robust. In comparison with the many days which I would spend not eating or drinking, barricaded in a room with only one exit, fearing for my safety, the few problems I've had in the last year have been nothing... hardly worthy of consideration.

A breakup and a house move were enough to unseat my sanity and cause me to be absent from work for a week. My brain chemistry was messed up for a couple of weeks following that episode, but the damage was contained and I've been able to hold onto the substantial progress that I've made, without slipping too far back down the greasy pole.

The demands placed upon me are almost unthinkable. I live amongst unpacked boxes of my stuff and furniture that needs to be assembled. I live with all my suitcases of clothes strewn around my bedroom, because I haven't built the furniture to put things away yet. My mail piles up and administrative chores are left ignored, because it's taken an unimaginable amount of effort to get myself from the point where I was homeless, jobless, penniless and detained against my will on a psychiatric ward, to where I am today, with a house, a car, a job, money in the bank, my reputation and my liberty preserved. The tasks which still lie ahead, such as making new friends and finding a girlfriend, plus putting in place the hobbies and interests and weaving the social fabric which will make my life worth living, is not something that should be underestimated.

Not all those who wander are lost, and I have decided that I wish to make this city my home, but it's not as simple as just deciding. There is considerable effort involved in surrounding yourself with the things which meet your human needs, such as the web of relationships which support you.

I'm convinced that the very worst of my mental health problems were caused by the circumstances of my existence. Psychiatrists would refer to my condition as adjustment disorder which is just a fancy way of saying that human beings will struggle under incredibly stressful conditions. My problems have been acute - not chronic - and can clearly be seen and understood in the context of the extremely toxic circumstances of my life. Certainly, quitting drugs and staying clean are essential to any hopes I have of continuing to rebuild my life and improve my circumstances, but drugs are just a small piece of the puzzle, which is mostly about having secure housing, financial security and a support network. Anybody would crumble to pieces if they were put under the kinds of stresses and strains that I've had to endure in recent years.

I now live in a brand new place. I've had a clean break. My home is untainted. This city gives me a fresh start.

London is big enough that you can lose your mind and nobody will notice or remember. London is big enough that you can go completely crazy and you'll never manage to screw up your life, because there are so many people that you get lost in the noise. It was good to be in London during those difficult years where I was barricading myself into rooms for no reason, except that I was so post-traumatically traumatised that I simply had to do it as part of my recovery.

I face the difficulty of starting afresh from almost nothing, but I don't carry a single bit of paranoia that somebody knows about my difficult past. I really feel like I have a chance to totally start anew without anybody knowing anything which might prejudice me. I'm judged totally as the man I am today, not at all on who I was during the dark moments I endured in the past.

It might seem crazy to write and publish this, given my opportunity to escape my past and re-invent myself, but I don't want to run away from my own history. I need to acknowledge that bad things happened in my life, and they have shaped me. I need to acknowledge that even though I am healthy and functional today, I will carry a lifelong risk of problems if I become complacent. I need to make sure that I keep my stress levels and energy levels within safe ranges, and I need to put in place the things that will help and protect me when there are inevitable hiccups in life.

My bedroom looks nothing like the neat and tidy bedroom in London, pictured above, but my mind is far more neat and tidy, ordered and robust. I feel far more in control of my behaviour and my thoughts. I feel far less troubled by anything even remotely like paranoia. To all intents and purposes, I have very good mental health, but still very poor life circumstances, but at least there are practical remedies for things like my lack of local friends.

It's a somewhat positive outlook, especially considering how frequently I suffer from suicidal thoughts, but despite my tendency to become depressed and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead, at least most things seem to be within my control. I can choose between going on dates or trying to make new friends. I can do things to get the stuff I need in my life. I feel relatively safe from traumatic events that are beyond my control.

 

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I Felt Something

6 min read

This is a story about flashbacks...

Abandoned shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 months!

Can you imagine that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regret is the problem.

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

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

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

 

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Asleep On My Feet

5 min read

This is a story about sleeping pills...

Attic

The existence of this photo is something quite remarkable, even though it's hard to understand if you're not me. This photo captures the end of my attempt to smoothly extricate myself from an acrimonious divorce and pick up my life in London again with little damage. This photo captures the beginning of an astonishingly difficult period of my life - the part that contains all the homelessness and hospitalisations.

I try to compartmentalise everything, and to compare present experiences with past ones to see if I'm repeating patterns of behaviour which are flawed.

One experience which is oddly haunting is that of walking around in a somewhat out-of-body state; tunnel vision. I can hear my mouth talking - I can hear my voice - but it doesn't feel like I'm saying the words... I just hear them. It feels like I'm dreaming.

My brain is recovering from an avalanche of pills I've shoved down my throat in the past fortnight. I'm surprised I haven't suffered seizures or kidney failure, given the cocktail of chemicals I've swallowed.

I forget that I messed up my brain chemistry.

I wonder why I can't concentrate and my anxiety has gone through the roof. I wonder why my perception of time is so warped: The seconds and minutes are dragging along, taking hours and days to pass. My days in the office have been difficult, but my days at home have been no easier. There's no respite from the problems of my mind, my mood, my perceptions - I can't escape my brain.

I forget that I stopped drinking.

I wonder why the days are so long and I seem to have so much more time to do stuff. I wonder why I'm more able to cope. I wonder why I'm not so overwhelmed by things. Then I remember that I'm not shackled to alcohol anymore. I get to Friday and I start thinking that I should get drunk, but then I remember that it doesn't help, but it definitely hinders.

I think about all the detoxes and rehabs and I try to tell myself that £12,000 and 28 days in The Priory - the UK's Betty Ford - isn't enough to 'cure' me then I should go easy on myself. I think that I should allow at least four weeks since any major incident, before deciding that things are broken and won't get better. I think that 6 weeks is better, as a period of recuperation. I think that perhaps 3 months is best of all - 3 months stability and routine is the minimum, before making any big changes.

I always tried to rush things. I got very impatient and I tried to hurry things along. It ended badly.

I got very agitated. I got very angry. Nobody seemed to understand the urgency. Everybody seemed to be getting in my way.

The universe doesn't like to be hurried, it seems.

I think about how many different things I wanted in a short space of time. I wanted to work with my hands. I wanted to not work in an office. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to be the CEO of a tech startup. I wanted investors. I wanted to win. Then, I wanted rapid promotions and progression. I wanted to make a notable contribution. I wanted to have a say in everything.

I thought I was going somewhere.

I can look back and laugh at myself, but I must've carried some of that same person from the past into the present, which means I'm laughable today too.

I did learn to keep my mouth shut though, a little bit.

I think it's an interesting story, but I'm biased. I find it interesting that I was held back for years, which was frustrating, but then I squandered many years as an addict, which made absolutely bugger all difference. Instead of screwing up my whole career and future earning potential, my profession just patiently waited to accept me back once I'd got a lot of nonsense out of my system.

What terrifies me is how many years it's been and how similar this feeling is - of being asleep on my feet - to that feeling I had when I thought I was managing to escape my screwed up life and start over again, back in London. It's terrifying to think I haven't progressed at all, except I'm older and I've damaged my body and brain quite a lot.

I thought "OK time to stop now" a long time ago, and then found that I couldn't. The things that I didn't want to happen - like losing all my money and sleeping rough - happened and I landed up having major medical emergencies. I'm smart enough that I made it this far and my story is kinda remarkable, but anything that's vaguely similar to the past gives me a lot of superstitious heebie-jeebies.

This weekend is tougher than I thought it'd be. I'm not as far progressed with my finances as I thought I'd be. I'm not as clean and sober as I'd hoped I would be. There have been setbacks. My journey has been nonlinear.

What's surprising is that the universe has just handed me some major life components. Whether I'm intent on screwing up my entire life or whether I'm trying to achieve something great, pretty much the same outcomes seem to happen. I'm pretty convinced that free-will is an illusion. I don't feel like I'm just observing, but the evidence seems to be that I don't have any control.

Of course, I have too few 'normal' experiences to really benchmark where I'm at. I have too few 'normal' human interactions to gauge whether I've lost my mind or whether I'm OK. I'm completely free from any oversight. I'm untethered.

I don't know what's going on and I'm starting to ramble. I feel very peculiar.

 

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Nest-Making

8 min read

This is a story about impatience...

Chaise longue

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

I'm not really that worried.

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

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

At least, I presume my life is good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I'm Going On A Date

12 min read

This is a story about rushing things...

Packed boxes

I never really fully recovered after getting sick, following my close friend's funeral, which required a huge round-trip across the country. That was a really terrible week, which started with me having to break up with my girlfriend, because she wasn't being very pleasant or supportive at a time when I needed to get me, my suit, my black tie and other funeral-suitable attire to a crematorium hundreds of miles away.

I had to break up with that girlfriend, because my attendance of my close friend's funeral was being jeopardised.

That was a few weeks ago.

I have something else that was being jeopardised: My shelter; my housing security.

I suppose I could have extended my rental contract, but the place was nowhere near my workplace and therefore completely impractical. I'm struggling to cope, even though I've made smart choices to ease the burden on myself, such as staying in a hotel close to my office. If I was to commute from the current home I'm renting, it would add a 3 hours of travelling onto my day, every single day weekday. That's exhausting and pointless.

So, I guess I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to move. The clock was ticking.

It made me very anxious, knowing that there was a day when my contract would simply expire and I would no longer have any legal right to continue to occupy the place I'd called home for a year. Squatters have lost most of their legal rights over the years, and I need to be a squeaky-clean citizen anyway, because of the nature of my work: I'm expected to comply with a much more stringent code of conduct and set of behavioural guidelines, than the vast majority of people - with great power comes great responsibility.

I had back-slid into that toxic relationship after I got sick. Once my friend's funeral was out of the way, I was back home, but I was vulnerable. She cyber-stalked me and found my address. She turned up and I let her in, because I was sick in so many ways. I was physically sick with diarrhoea and vomiting, and I was emotionally sick from the recent funeral of a close friend. I was weak, she turned up and I let her in.

Fast forward to Valentine's day and I had viewed a beautiful house that I wanted to rent and the landlord had agreed to accept my tenancy. I had a house to move to. I had housing security. I had some guarantee of shelter.

She wasn't very happy for me.

In fact, she told me to get out at 11pm, when I was trying to get enough sleep to go to work in the morning. I said it was unreasonable, and that I would leave in the morning. She escalated things. It was unpleasant and unnecessary, but I was not surprised: The relationship was toxic and I had resolved to try to make my escape as soon as I could. I spent the night in a hotel.

I boxed up my belongings and made my current place more presentable, so that it could be more easily rented out. I was getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, in order to keep working my full-time job AND move house. If I don't work I don't get paid, and moving house is expensive.

I thought I wasn't going be able to move for weeks and weeks.

I hate waiting.

Now, I have a date.

I will be leaving on specific date, to start my new life in a new city - a city where I've never lived before.

I bought some furniture today and arranged for it to be delivered soon after I get the keys to my new house. I still need to buy a washer/dryer and have my broadband moved, as well as renting a van or organising a removals firm to help me shift all my stuff from one city to another: Probably the best part of 2 hours drive away, in a fully-loaded truck.

I'm going on a date. That is to say, I'm going to start my new life on a specific date. I can start to look forward to that date. I can start to dream about what it's going to be like living in the beautiful house I've rented.

I've swept problems out of the way. I've refused to allow anyone or anything sabotage my plans to maintain a secure roof over my head. It was the right thing to do: To leave the girlfriend who was jeopardising the holiday I needed, jeopardising my attendance of my close friend's funeral, jeopardising my chances of finding a beautiful new home, jeopardising the stability I need - to keep working my job - while going through an incredibly tough stressful time.

Moving house is hell. Moving to an unfamiliar city is double hell. Moving with the clock ticking down, and nobody supporting me practically - actually packing, moving boxes and assembling flat-pack furniture - is triple hell.

I expect I'll probably start dating again once I'm settled in my new house, but it's low down on my list of priorities right now. Going on a date is the last thing I want to do, when all I can think about is the date when I'm going to get the keys to my new house.

I've brought the move date much sooner, because there's no point in me living in an expensive hotel when I'll soon have a whole massive house to live in. I'm so happy. It's such a relief to have secured a roof over my head. It gives me such an important sense of security, to know that I'm going to have a house that actually suits my needs, and I've managed to extricate myself from a toxic relationship that so often jeopardised the things that I need and I've worked so hard to get.

Already, friends have been getting in contact to arrange to come and visit me. I was overjoyed when a beloved Twitter follower - who I've never met in person - mentioned they might drop in on me for a cup of tea if they're in the area. I've got the opportunity to accomodate my friends and their children as my guests, because I've been lucky enough to rent a huge house.

I adore company and I love to entertain guests, but the place where I was living was a little too far away from London, where most of my friends are, and it was also even too far from places like Bristol, Somerset and Dorset, where I still have a lot of long-neglected friends.

Most of my friends now seem to have children, and I do think that little people are wonderful, even though I've been careful not to spawn any of my own with the wrong person... so I find myself in the enviable position of having the best of all worlds: I will have a large house, which will comfortably hold me and my guests, without it being any trouble at all... in fact, it'll be a joyful thing to have my house filled with life and the noises of habitation. I live a bit like a monastic monk and I wouldn't have any face-to-face interactions or 'normal' human experiences, if it wasn't for things like my day job. Nobody at work really knows the extent of my isolation; my vulnerability.

I moved to Manchester, and that was disastrous and very nearly killed me, quite literally. When my kidneys failed in 2017 and I was on a high-dependency ward, my wonderful then-girlfriend (the one who got away) arranged for me to have lots of visitors, and she was incredibly attentive and supportive. She was my rock. When my heart was broken and I was virtually bankrupt, in central Manchester, where I had no friends or family anywhere within a hundred miles, at least, it was an easy decision to kill myself. I very nearly succeeded, but for the incredible work of the resus and intensive care medical teams at Manchester Royal Infirmary, and the emergency services who got me to hospital so quickly, thanks to strangers on the internet raising the alarm.

I'm moving to Cardiff, which I shouldn't really mention because I risk being positively identified by my colleagues and people whose job it is to vet and monitor employees who have access to highly sensitive information, who might not think it's a wise idea to expose myself so publicly.

However, I'm rushing and I'm stressed and I'm tired and I'm sick and I'm terribly alone, except for the huge group of friends I have across the globe. My work colleagues are lovely, but for the sake of my career, I try to hide my mental illness and personal life struggles. I have a very serious psychiatric mood disorder, which has caused dreadful destruction to my life in the past, so I work very hard to protect my hard-won stability. Anybody who jeopardises my future happiness and security is given short shrift, hence my toxic ex got the boot on Valentine's day, which was only a day earlier than planned anyway... it just seemed heartless to break up with her on a day that has heaps of societal expectation pressure placed upon it.

So, I move to Cardiff on my own - single - which is sort of overwhelming, but at the same time it's such an unbelievably good opportunity to get all the things I need in my life, such as a secure home in a city where I can easily commute to a job which is going well, and maintain as much stability as I can.

As you can tell by the volume of text which I'm writing, and my flurry of social media activity, I've been triggered into a state of mania by the combined recent events and cluster-fuck of stresses placed upon me.

I'll be OK.

I'll just be nimble and quick.

I'll dodge my way around the people who would otherwise sabotage me and the things I work hard to make happen.

I'll cut toxic people out of my life without a second thought. I've fought too hard to get what I've got, so I'm not going to allow myself to be coerced, controlled or forced to live with oppressive insecurity and unnecessary aggravation, when I work so damn hard to ensure that stressful and difficult things happen, with smooth sailing.

I'm single, but no dates for me. I'd be rushing things too much.

Of course, I'm about to get the keys to a gorgeous huge house that I can fill with beautiful things that I hand-picked. Of course, it'd be wonderful to have the comfort and security of a partner to share that with, but if I have to do it on my own, I choose that every time even though it's difficult, because being a good partner means being supportive and making a better life together. If you threaten to sabotage the important things in my life, you'll be shown the door... sorry.

Perhaps I'm just a washed-up middle-aged nobody, with nothing to offer. Perhaps I should be feeling insecure, but I don't. I'm filled up with excitement about all the future possibilities, even though I'm a bit sick, very manic and I've got some awfully exhausting and stressful stuff to get through, which will be incredibly destabilising.

I'm planning on basing my stability on a few simple things: my daily routine, my job (which I'm really good at) and my excellent relationship with my colleagues, and a secure financial and housing situation. The safety net that allows me to do my high-wire act alone is my vast number of friends who I'm in contact with all over the world, who have my back, although I can reassure them that this move is not one of heartbreak and shameful defeat, like the time I had to leave my beloved London home, to take a shitty job in Manchester, and live in a shitty apartment.

I'm going on a date. I'm going from Swansea to Cardiff on a specific date. I know the exact date when I get my keys and I become a resident of a city that I chose to live in... this move is not driven by desperation, this time, and I get good vibes about the place. I still can't quite believe that I can afford to rent such a massive house in an amazing location... but that's Wales, it seems. Wales is my birthplace and the country seems pleased to have me back. Things have gone my way since I came back. Things have gone well, mostly.

Anyway, sorry for the manic rant, but that's what's happening in my world. I expect I'll be blathering on about it for a while, because it's part of the foundation of the stable happy new life I'm building for myself. It's incredibly satisfying to see real tangible progress towards the life I want, when I was so close to death so many times, and I was in every kind of trouble you can imagine: Debts, drugs and abandonment. For a while, my life revolved around hospitals, police stations, psych wards, hostels and sleeping rough.

If I pull this off and manage to get myself stable again, I really feel like I can hang onto things this time. Dating can wait. I feel like I've got so much to offer, so there's no rush.

 

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I'm a Lucky Guy

5 min read

This is a story about a charmed existence...

Lounge

Despite much whinging and complaining about the anxiety being caused by house-hunting and the difficulty of getting through all the vetting procedures, credit checks, references and suchlike, I have managed to secure myself a lovely big house to live in.

The house is unfurnished.

This isn't even my furniture.

I stole the photograph from the rental agent's website.

However.

Wherever I go in the world, I have friends. Even though I hardly know anybody in the city where I currently live, or the city where I'm moving to, or the city where I work, I will always have friends. Why? Because I have so many people who care about me in the world. I'm such a lucky guy that my lovely global friends write to me, leave me lovely comments on my blog, or even just leave a little 'heart' on something I've written.

I know that some people might feel like social media, blogging and the internet in general is a virtual reality. In their mind's eye, the internet is populated with shy introverts, who never speak to each other and never make meaningful lifelong friendships. They're wrong.

A huge percentage - the vast majority - of my friendships began online, and then progressed to meeting in person and staying in touch regularly. My best friends and those who've been there for me through thick and thin, in times of darkness and in times of light... those friends almost all originated from the internet.

Whether those friendships were made via dial-up internet bulletin boards (BBS), discussion forums, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever social media is presently popular, is a complete irrelevance. Whether or not those friendships were first initiated using the communication medium of the internet, as opposed to a chance face-to-face meeting, is irrelevant.

I started making a list of all the people who've given me significant support during some very difficult years of my life, and the more I kept digging though the archives of the internet, the more amazed I was at how many names there were on the list.

I started trying to mention some of those people on Twitter, to thank them for being such great friends. As I sent out the Tweets I'd keep realising that there was somebody who'd perhaps gone quiet for a little while, and I hadn't been in touch with recently. Everybody I mentioned has been a hugely supportive, kind and caring friend.

I started to realise it was almost impossible for me catalogue and give thanks to everybody. How can I rank the contribution of my friends, to improving - and in some cases saving - my life? How can I even begin to comprehend just how many people I've been lucky enough to connect with, in a meaningful way, such that we could talk just like we'd known each other our whole lives?

How can I be sure I didn't miss anybody? For sure, I have more friends than my brain can cope with, which is an amazingly nice situation to be in.

The internet is an incredible thing, but it's the aggregate value of all those wonderful people that makes it so amazing. The global reach of the internet means I have friends on every continent. It feels like wherever I go in the world, I'll always have a friend.

I'm moving to a city I've never lived in before. I don't really have any friends there. I don't know my way around.

That's scary.

But, wherever I go, I have my connection to an entire world of wonderful friends, who will support me along the way. Sure, some of them live too far away to help me unload my moving truck and unpack my boxes. Sure, some of them live so far away that they're unlikely to be able to drop in for a housewarming party. However, it's an immense comfort, especially during unsettling and stressful times, to have the wonderful luck of having so many friends in the world.

I'm not sure why I put up that picture of a house which doesn't even contain any furniture.

I'm not sure if I'm insecure, and I want you to see that I'm at least going to be living somewhere nice, once I've bought some furniture and moved in.

I also wanted to share that picture, because you're all moving in there with me, because you move everywhere with me. You moved from London to Manchester with me, you moved from Manchester to Swansea with me, you moved from Swansea to Newport with me and now you're moving from Newport to Cardiff with me. You were with me when I was in all those new cities. You were with me when I was living all on my own in that hotel room, out of a suitcase, for so many months.

I'm lucky to have so many friends who go with me wherever I go. I'm lucky to have friends in every time zone, so I can speak to somebody at any hour of the day. I'm lucky to have turned so-called 'virtual' friendships into lifelong friendships, where we speak regularly on the phone, and we are intimately involved in each other's lives.

I'm grateful. Without your help, I wouldn't have made it this far. Without your help I'd have died in Manchester. Without your help, I'd have been too anxious and depressed to get through the difficult things I've been through: To move to strange new cities, start new jobs and find new places to live. Without your help, all those lonely nights living out of a suitcase in a hotel would have been unbearable.

Thank you, my far-flung friends.

 

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I'm Not a Rape Apologist But...

11 min read

This is a story about the violent rape of strangers by sexual predators in a public place...

Deeds not words

I was writing a comment in response to something that a friend shared about a convicted rapist in New Zealand, and I wrote the words "I'm not a rape apologist but...". That was a red flag. That set alarm bells ringing in my head. I decided that I must write about the violent rape of women by men, who drag their victims into alleyways or bushes, silence the victim's screams for help and overwhelm the victim's physical resistance, using the male rapist's superior strength. I decided I must write about those violent rapists who proceed to penetrate their victims with their penises, despite the protestations, struggles to fight off their attackers, attempts to escape and/or scream for help, by the women whose bodies are violated, physically injured and are whose minds are left psychologically scarred for life - traumatised by these horrendous rapes - perpetrated by complete strangers in public places.

Oh yeah. Also, trigger warning.

My response to the article was motivated because my interpretation of the article being shared was not "the victim was hardly mentioned". My actual interpretation of the article was that "rape culture is so ubiquitous and normalised that average men are sexual predators", which is barely a short step away from saying "all men are rapists".

I've decided to write about a few personal incidents, which might shed some light on what it's like being an average man. Or rather, what it's like being me at least - somebody who's been married, owned a house, has had a great career and has never been known by any of his friends, acquaintances, girlfriends, exes or co-workers as "a bit of a creep" or even "a lecherous sexual predator" unlike all the very many the celebrities we read about, accused of sexual harassment, indecent assault and rape.

If you're me - a man - then you're also part of "rape culture" whether you want to be or not. I'm not exactly sure what "rape culture" is, but I am aware that some UK university students were recently banned from Warwick University for 10 years for discussing rape in a private chat group. That ban was later reduced to 1 year. I presume this is an example of "rape culture" but I'm unsure.

What I am sure about are my own experiences, so I've decided to write about a few of them.

One time...

I travelled from my home city to another city for a date. The journey took roughly 1 hour. The date commenced at lunchtime, and we were drinking until about half-past midnight. She said I could stay overnight at her house. When we got to her house, we kissed on the sofa and then she said I could sleep in her bed. We were tired and drunk. She was wearing her underwear. We kissed some more. We fell asleep. In the morning, I told her that I wasn't sure if she wanted to have sex with me or not - I was getting unclear signals - so she grabbed my hand, stuffed it into her knickers and pressed my fingers against her wet vulva. We did not have sex. Consent was not given.

Another time...

A girl had invited me to her house for a date, but it was 1 hour 15 minutes drive away. I said that I would see her later in the week, after work, because my office was just 10 minutes from her house. She said that she would immediately drive to see me, and then drive home a few hours later: A round-trip of 2.5 hours for a very short date. When she arrived, she asked "you're not a sexual predator, are you?". She then proceeded to kiss me and suggested that we move to the bedroom, because the sofa was uncomfortable. She took off all her clothes and got into my bed. We kissed passionately and she said "make love to me" which was perhaps not consent, given that I had only known her in person for about 30 minutes, and I was not [yet] in love with her. We had sex anyway. She made some other 2.5 hour round-trips presumably for the purpose of having sex with me, although consent always seemed implied, by her leaping into my bed naked and her grabbing my cock when I joined her, also naked.

Another time...

I had been on a date to the Science Museum in London with a very attractive girl, but I didn't feel much of a spark between us. She asked us what we should do next and I said we should go to her apartment and have sex. She made some protestations that my suggestion was impolite and that we definitely were not going to have sex. However we proceeded to immediately travel her apartment - led by her because I had no idea where she lived - and then we had sex. I cannot recall her ever giving consent, but I can specifically remember her saying that we would not have sex, when I first suggested it at the Science Museum. We dated for a period of some months and I fell in love with her.

Another time...

I had been on a date with a girl. She kissed me and told me she found me very attractive. She asked what I wanted to do next, and I said I wanted to go back to her house and meet her cats. She agreed, but stipulated that we would not have sex. We undressed and she gave me fellatio, despite me telling her that it's a sex act I do not enjoy. I did not - cannot - orgasm by fellatio. Then, she searched her drawers for a condom, which had passed its expiry date. Consent was never explicitly given, but she did say at one point "I think you should put the condom on". We attempted to have sex, twice, but failed to achieve penetration. We dated for several months and I fell in love with her.

Another time...

I had been on a date with two girls, one of whom was visiting from Canada. I went back to the girl from London's apartment with both girls. In the taxi I mentioned that I do not like fellatio and I cannot orgasm from fellatio. They laughed at me and said I was a fibber. Later, when leaving, the girl from London suddenly pulled my trousers down and proceeded to attempt to give me a blowjob in the lobby of her apartment block, in full public view. People in passing double-decker busses could see me receiving a blowjob, which I didn't want. On a second date with the girl from London, we went back to her apartment and she told me that she wanted to have sex without a condom, which I did not consent to. She then attempted to give me blowjob again, for what felt like an eternity, despite my protestations that she'd never be able to make me climax from oral sex. Eventually she gave up. Interestingly, her job involved the medical examination of the victims of rape cases. We went on one more date, but the relationship was not successful. We never had penetrative sex.

Another time...

In the eyes of the law I was the victim of a statutory rape. I was 15 and she was 21.

Another time...

In the eyes of the law I was the victim of a statutory rape. I was 17 and he was 30. He was also my boss.

Another time...

I had been on a second date with a girl. Either I invited her into my apartment or she was so engrossed in conversation with me that she followed me willingly into my apartment - our memories are a little different on the matter. We kissed on the sofa and she said "can we do this somewhere more comfy?". I led her to my bedroom. She asked me if I had any condoms. We had sex. I do not remember consent being given. Afterwards, she told me that she had not intended on entering my apartment, entering my bedroom, or having sex with me. I got engaged to her 1 year later. I got married to her 8 years later. In all those years, I do not remember consent ever being explicitly given. Once, when I was in hospital and we had sex during a visit, she said "you don't need to do that" when I began foreplay, which I interpreted as meaning "put your penis inside me immediately" but I cannot be certain that's what she meant, however, she seemed to enjoy our hospital sex and I believe she climaxed. However, her version of events may differ from my own.

Another time...

The girl who was making multiple 2.5 hour round-trips to have sex with me, with assumed consent, later wrote to me to say that she regretted having sex with me. Given that consent was never explicitly given, does that mean I raped her?

There are probably other examples. Perhaps a helpful guide could be prepared that can womansplain to all the many would-be rapist men what is not rape because it's all rather ambiguous and quite scary. It's quite terrifying, not knowing whether your sexual advances are wanted and welcomed, or whether you're a fully paid-up subscribing lifelong member of "rape culture" and a would-be-rapist, given half a chance.

Mercifully, I seem to get signals which are positive enough for me to proceed with caution, but these signals are most definitely ambiguous. I have never had a woman say "put your penis into my vagina now" to me. I have never had a woman say "I consent to my vagina being penetrated by your penis" or other such clear and unambiguous words. I have been asked "would you like to have sex?" or "can we have sex?" and even been told "I want to have sex" on plenty of occasions, but there was always ambiguity. "I want to have sex" does not say with whom, nor contain any detail about what the sex act will consist of.

This whole piece is not about blaming rape victims for not being clear that their consent is not given. This whole piece makes no apology for rapists.

This piece is intended to tell the story of how - in my experience - consent is always a guessing game. I have even had the misfortune of being told that some sex acts that took place were regretted. I know that consent was only ever implied. Arguably, taking a 2.5 hour round-trip, jumping into my bed naked, grabbing my cock, pulling me on top: Those things all seem pretty 'consenty' but there are a worrying amount of times where I've had sex, and I've never heard the words "you have my consent to put your penis into my vagina now". In fact, almost every time I have sex I have to guess whether consent is given or not and very often there were contradictory statements made at other times, giving plausible deniability.

One last time...

I was spooning a girlfriend and we fell asleep. We woke up and she informed me that the tip of my erect penis was inside her vagina. I asked her "is that OK?" and she confirmed that it was. We then proceeded to have sex. If it had not been OK with her, what would your verdict be, assuming I then immediately pulled the tip of my penis out of her vagina? Did I rape her?

These are questions we need to answer, if we're going to get away from accusations that "all men are rapists" and talk of "rape culture" which is unhelpful in a culture which still predominantly expects men to make the first move, and where women almost never give clear and unambiguous verbal (or written) consent for penetrative vaginal sex, in my experience.

In closing, I must make it clear that I'm not a rape apologist, and I sympathise with the victims of rape, who have suffered horrendous traumatic experiences. I apologise to anybody who's been a victim of rape, sexual assault and/or sexual harassment, who might find what I've written triggering and upsetting to read.

 

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