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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.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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All Is Lost - A Photo Story

12 min read

This is a story about lost causes...

Brushes up well

Look at that well-presented man: a professional on his way to work for Barclays at their head office in Canary Wharf as an IT consultant earning £600 a day. Look the attractive Georgian façades of the London townhouses of Camden, where he lives. The major high-street bank he works for has conducted extensive background checks on him and found him to be a fine upstanding member of the community: a model citizen.

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is a homeless man. That's right. This man is no-fixed-abode. This man lives in a hostel with other homeless people. This man was sleeping rough until very recently.

Hostel room

Look at this hostel dorm. It's got brand new beds and clean linen. It's empty. This looks like a pretty nice hostel dorm, doesn't it? Perhaps you wouldn't mind sleeping here. This would be tolerable for a while, perhaps if you were backpacking, wouldn't it?

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is a hostel dorm I stayed in when I was travelling - for leisure purposes - and the people who stay at this hostel are wealthy backpackers. This is not the hostel I stayed in when I was homeless. When I was homeless I stayed in hostel dorms that were full of drug addicts, alcoholics, people with severe mental health problems, thieves, violence, sexual assault, and they were exceptionally dirty and disgusting. The hostels I stayed in when I was homeless were full of everybody's crappy possessions which we carried around with us - we didn't live out of small backpacks, because we were homeless. When you're homeless you carry everything you possibly can: all your possessions. Try to imagine 14 people in a single room along with every single thing that they own. Try to imagine that's where you live - you're not just having a jolly old time doing some backpacking. That's WHERE YOU LIVE and you have to go to work, in the midst of all that chaotic s**t.

Hampstead heath

That's a nice view isn't it? That's Hampstead Heath. It's a nice place to walk your dog or go for a run. It's a nice place for a picnic. Hampstead Heath is a lovely place to go when the sun's shining. Perhaps you'd like to take a swim in one of the bathing ponds?

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is near the spot where I slept rough, to avoid being robbed, beaten up and/or raped. What you are actually looking at is a place where a homeless person can hide themselves in the undergrowth at night and avoid the perils of sleeping rough. What you are looking at is where I slept for a couple of months. Guess what? It's not always sunny. Sometimes it rains. When it rains you get wet. Very wet. A tent is conspicuous. It's hard to sleep rough, stay dry and avoid becoming a victim of crime when you're so vulnerable. Try to imagine not having a proper bed or any kind of security for you and your stuff - you're totally out in the open, in a remote area.

Psych ward

What's this? Is it a prison cell? I haven't been in a prison cell, but this definitely looks a bit like a prison cell to me. There's a window so that people can look into the room, which clearly has a bed, so this must be a place where I slept. What kind of place has windows in the doors so that people can see in when you're sleeping? That doesn't sound great for privacy, does it?

Look again.

What you are looking at is a room in a secure psychiatric ward. The window is there so that the staff can check you're not attempting to kill yourself. The staff check on you every 15 minutes. At night they sometimes come into your room and shine a torch in your face. You can't have a belt, shoelaces, scissors, razor, cables (e.g. mobile phone) or anything else that you could cut yourself with, or strangle yourself with. You can't lock the door to the shower room or the toilet.

Hampstead view

Oh look! There's a view of Hampstead from a tall building. Perhaps we could see the heath from here. This is quite a nice view, except it's kind of in the wrong direction to see any London landmarks. Perhaps this this is the view from an ugly brutalist concrete monstrosity which has now perversely become a desirable place to live as the capital city's property prices have soared.

Look again.

This is the view from the Royal Free Hospital. The emergency services brought me here. I was nearly dead. I was here a long time, while the medical team fought to save my life.

Private room

That's a pretty nice room for an NHS hospital. It's a private room. I must have some pretty good private medical insurance. Perhaps I've come to hospital for an elective cosmetic procedure. This certainly doesn't look like the kind of place where a sick patient would be looked after - it's more like the kind of recovery room that somebody with private healthcare would receive.

Look again.

This is the room at The Royal London which was dedicated to my treatment because my kidneys had failed due to a horrific DVT and I was receiving emergency dialysis for many many hours a day. To my left, out of shot, is a dedicated dialysis machine which I was connected to for day after day. I couldn't have dialysis in the main dialysis ward because my blood was so full of potassium that I was at risk of having a cardiac arrest at any moment. My blood was so toxic that many of the measurements were beyond the capability of the equipment to actually measure how toxic my blood was. I was very sick indeed.

Killavullen

Aha! This must be another trick. That pleasant view of a valley filled with low-lying fog, and mountain tops poking out, in pleasant rural surroundings must hide a darker secret. Why don't I just tell you the terrible truth?

Look again.

This is actually a good moment in my life. One of my friends had invited me to stay with his family in Ireland. I was half-dead so the opportunity for some rest and recuperation in rural Ireland was exactly what I needed. I meant to stay only for a short while, but ended up staying longer because I was very poorly and needed looking after, which is exactly what the kind family who took me in did: they nursed me back to health.

Canary Wharf skyline

Ooooh skyscrapers! We know from the first photograph that I worked in one of those skyscrapers. I also used to live in Canary Wharf and it's actually possible to see my apartment from this picture. I was also working for Lloyds Banking Group at this time, so this must be another good picture, right? Why would I be able to see my apartment and the head office of the bank I was working for though? Where the hell am I?

Look again.

I didn't show you the view out of the window from the private hospital room, did I? This is the view. I didn't really get to see the view much, because I was constantly hooked up to a dialysis machine which was sucking my blood out of me and squirting it back into me, but I did manage to take this photograph. All I can say that's positive about this period of my life is that I didn't die: I was saved [again] by a brilliant NHS medical team.

Hotel room

What now? A hotel room? Not too different from the psych ward room, but with a TV and better lighting. I was living here while working as an IT consultant for HSBC on their number one project, earning £600 a day. Sounds like my life was going pretty well, huh?

Look again.

What have I shown you so far? Homeless people's hostels, sleeping rough, hospitals. I showed you one picture when things were a little better - I was being looked after by my friend and his family - and my life was not in imminent danger. My life is not in peril at this moment, it's true, but I'm clearly staying in a hotel room for a reason. The reason is that I'm homeless. That's the theme of this story: homelessness.

Prince of Wales

This must be the door to the room that I showed you in the secure psychiatric ward. Somebody's written my name on a little whiteboard strip. That was thoughtful of them. Also, making sure that I'm not killing myself, by checking on me every 15 minutes is pretty damn caring. I'm pretty lucky to have this room all to myself and caring staff members to make sure I stay alive.

Look again.

This is not the same room. This is not the same psychiatric ward. This is not the same hospital. This is not the same city. In the first photograph, I had voluntarily gone to hospital because I couldn't keep myself safe. At the time this photograph was taken I have been sectioned and am being held against my will. At the time the first photograph was taken - in London - I could leave whenever I wanted. At the time this photograph was taken - in Manchester - I cannot leave, which is kind of like being in prison: involuntary internment. I was being held in a psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) which is where the very most unwell psychiatric patients are held, and this type of unit is highly secure and can only care for 8 patients with a vast number of staff.

Why would I end with this photo?

I was asked to write down in detail where I had been living for the last 5 years of my life, for the purposes of government security vetting, which is a highly invasive process which will rake over every detail of my private life: my divorce, my psychiatric problems, my homelessness, the involvement of the emergency services. The government has access to every single piece of data about me held on every single database, and they are permitted to look at things - like private and confidential medical records - which nobody else is allowed to look at or even ask about, by law.

Why would I publish this?

Do you remember the photograph of the hotel room? That's where I started writing this blog, approximately 4 years ago. I've written 1.2 million words. I've thoroughly documented my life with the kind of candid honesty that the government expect from me when they ask questions like "where have you been living during the last 5 years?". The answer is far more complicated than could be filled in on their forms, so they can read about every detail which doesn't neatly fit into any of their computer systems. I could have asked for extra paper to complete my security vetting forms, but how many pages should I ask for if there are 1.2 million words written down right here and the story is not even fully told?

I chose that final photo because I shouldn't have been alive to take it.

On Saturday 9th September 2017 I attempted to end my life. My suicide attempt should have been successful. Even though I didn't die as quickly as I should have done, and even though the emergency services were able to intervene rapidly, when I believed that nobody knew where I lived or would be able to locate me, I was still having seizures and multiple organ failure. I was unable to breathe on my own. I was very much going to succeed in killing myself, which is exactly what I wanted. I had planned and executed my suicide attempt with precision.

Now, today, I am making an exceptional contribution to one of the government's highest profile projects - the number one project for the particular government organisation who I work for. I have been singled out for special commendation on multiple occasions by very senior government employees. I have worked incredibly hard to make the biggest possible contribution as part of a gigantic team of colleagues. I have busted my balls to go above-and-beyond and exceed all expectations. I have put an enormous amount of effort into delivering valuable skill, expertise, knowledge, effort and energy. I would expect that a significant number of my colleagues would speak very highly of me. In fact, I know that I am held in very high regard.

Also, during the last 5 years, I've slept rough, slept in homeless hostels, slept in hospitals and slept in psych wards. The sum total of the amount of months that I've spent in such places is very significant, but somehow it was hard to articulate this on a security vetting form that's not designed for somebody like me.

Either you believe I'm exceptional or you don't. If you think I'm an exceptional person, you have to decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. What cannot be disputed is my contribution to the teams, organisations and wider society, despite the great adversity I've faced.

Here is some of the information that couldn't be captured on a government security vetting form. Judge me however you want - end my career if you must. What you must understand is that I am not afraid, because I have already died a thousand deaths, so I do not fear one more.

 

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Lock Up Your Daughters

7 min read

This is a story about being protective...

Cat carrier

I read something the other day that said "imagine that you have a daughter and she's dating somebody like you". The suggestion was that if you wouldn't be happy with your own daughter being treated the way that you treat women, then you need to think long and hard about your behaviour and attitudes, and change.

The short answer to the question of whether I should be dating anyone's daughter or not is a pretty easy one: I try to be kind, considerate, respectful and honest; I try to bring joy to the life of the object of my affections, doing fun stuff and generally acting with a great deal of enthusiasm and passion for the things they love.

What's the catch?

If you're looking to find something wrong with me - a reason to reject me - then there's ample ammunition here, provided in exquisite gory detail on the pages of this website, which unflinchingly documents every aspect of my life and the contents of my brain, throughout a 4-year period, in an incredibly candid manner which is not usually found outside of a private journal/diary.

For those who seek to reject, they will find what they're looking for. My past is my past, and although I have the option of expunging my digital identity from the internet - erasing history - it would run contrary to a very meticulous and exhaustive exploration of a substantial period of my life, which was deliberate. We need to remember this: I deliberately wrote down things which were unflattering about myself, because my mission has always been to document things with as little self-censorship as possible.

Of course, I don't want to be harshly criticised or ridiculed, so sometimes I have tentatively written about the so-called "bad stuff" with caution, at first. We've all lived lives where we've made mistakes. We all have regrets. Nobody is perfect. We all have insecurities. We all respond badly under particularly adverse conditions. Whether it's something we said which was needlessly hurtful and/or caused upset/offence, whether it was an act of poor judgement, or whether it was something like a silly mistake which was quite embarrassing, we all carry these things around, and we never talk about them, let alone write them all down and publicly publish them.

I'm half-tempted to signpost people to the periods of my life which were most difficult, so that they can judge me and reject me based on something from the past which I have no power to alter. If you wish to reject a person, you're going to be able to find something, if you meticulously examine their entire history in search of something which ordinarily would be inaccessible to you - very few people have written and published so much about themselves, which leaves them so exposed to prejudice.

This is deliberate.

I ask the reader to follow the story, not to dig for dirt. The story is interesting because it has a beginning, a middle and an end. If you simply want to skim-read and find 'whodunnit' then you've missed the point: I'm a living, breathing person who is continuously telling my story, which has not yet ended. To know who I am and the nature of my character is best done by travelling along with me for a little while, here in the present, where you will find that I make my very best efforts to write every single day, and to do so with brutal honesty.

To study my past is cynical. It might tell you why my character is the way that it is, but it will not tell you what my character is, because we live in the present, not in the past; things are constantly changing.

If you're interested enough in me to go back through the archives, which stretch to over 1.2 million words, then I'm flattered that you would take such an interest in me, but I really don't wish to be held accountable for a version of myself that no longer exists. The very nature of this project has been to hold myself publicly accountable, and I'm very grateful to my readers, who are often kind enough to give me feedback that is relevent in the present.

I'm in an exclusive relationship with a very beautiful young woman, who I'm absolutely crazy about. We've deleted our dating profiles. We're cautiously but optimistically exploring the future, together. This website is incredibly tempting for not only her, but also those who care about her, in order to find things out about me.

In the ordinary world, we share relatively few details: we know where somebody works, what their highest academic qualification is and which institution awarded the diploma, and we perhaps know some details about whether they have siblings and if their parents are still alive. We attempt to distill a person down to a curriculum vitæ because it's more convenient shorthand than 1.2 million words, plus the messy complexity of a human being, who invariably refuses to be neatly pigeon-holed.

"What do you do?" is the classic middle-class question which attempts to get directly to the point: are you one of us?

I have a respectable job, a respectable house. I dress quite conservatively and I like to think of myself as well-mannered. Clearly, I can speak and write to confer the impression of possessing a modest intellect. I'm not addicted to illegal drugs, in financial distress and I haven't fathered a string of abandoned children. I haven't killed anybody or otherwise been convicted of a crime. What's not to like?

I'm undergoing very thorough security vetting - a process taking several months - and I work on an extremely high-profile project for an organisation which is a household name. One would have thought that I'm a good chap.

However, perhaps it's only those who are truly fearful for themselves and those who they feel protective about - for example daughters and any living parent - who would bother to do the due diligence of putting "Nick Grant" into Google. My colleagues see me confidently and competently doing good work every day, so why would they ever suspect that I would do something so unusual as to publish a vast trove of unflattering information about myself?

We are usually content that if a person has had a great career spanning a long period of time, working for illustrious organisations, then they are a trustworthy individual of fine character. However, I invite you to dig through the archives if you feel that you must... but I ask you to question why you are doing that: what you are hoping to find? I promise you that if you are seeking to expose me as a sham, then you will be disappointed, but if you are looking for any mistake I've ever made, in my entire life, you will find plenty and you will have the thing you wanted - a reason to reject me - or in fact a single tiny piece of information that tells you a minuscule amount about the history which has shaped the man I am today.

I caution you against making a judgement based on the chapter of a book which you opened at random, but I have nothing to hide: I'm one of the most thoroughly documented individuals who you're ever likely to be able to study, with the exception of course of those who are noteworthy and notorious enough to have had an archivist preserve their journals for academics to fetishise.

Is this an ego project? No. This is a coping mechanism and a form of therapy. This is something that brings structure and routine to my life. This is something that has brought me new friends, as well as allowing old friends to keep up-to-date with my life; a life which has been atypical.

Happy hunting.

 

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Home Improvements

4 min read

This is a story about nurturing...

Houseplants

My lounge is a place of contrast. I hate the style of the fireplace, but I love having a log fire. I love the parquet floor but it's completely different from the parquet in the rest of the house. The room is cold, but I wanted this room to be cosy - I spend a lot of time under a blanket, when the fire's not lit. My big sofas are super comfy, but I find all my furniture a little bland and generic; functional and practical. I hate the curtains: they're revolting and need replacing, but I do like to close the curtains and feel like I have good privacy.

Getting some houseplants has transformed how I feel about my lounge. Having some greenery really makes me feel many times happier about this particular room of my house.

The shelves were looking a little bare, as I lost a lot of my books during my divorce and many subsequent house moves. The weight of books that I was lugging around didn't seem to be worth it after I had moved for the millionth time, so the only books I have on my shelves are ones I've recently bought and read, or been lent.

I feel like it's a bit of a crazy idea to start accumulating more and more material possessions, including bulky items like furniture, and delicate things like houseplants, which can't be simply thrown into a box if I needed to put my stuff into storage.

However, I needed to put down some roots. I needed to feel settled and at home somewhere, at long last.

Did I mention I'm getting a kitten?

I've had enough of being young, free and single. I want to be comfortable and content. I want to be settled and secure.

This doesn't mean that I'm in some desperate hurry to find the woman of my dreams, marry her and start a family. I'm just enjoying simple domestic pleasures. I'm enjoying ordinary life. I like loading and unloading the dishwasher. I like doing my laundry. I like buying houseplants and other things to make my house look nice. I like mowing the lawn. I get plenty of novelty and pleasure from pottering around the house. That's not to say that I don't very much enjoy going on lovely dates, eating in amazing restaurants and watching arty movies, but I derive an unusual amount of satisfaction from making my house into a home.

It seems like I'm doing everything all at once: moving to a new city, getting a house, settling in, getting a pet, going on dates. Perhaps it seems like I have an end-goal that I'm rushing towards, like so many people do: either rushing towards having children, rushing towards their retirement and death, or both. I'm pretty content to have things settle down for a while. I really want to savour the next few years - I'm hoping that I can keep things steady and routine, enjoying the pleasure of foreign holidays, mini-breaks and fine dining. It might seem like I'm constantly yearning and striving, but as my quality of life improves, the pace at which I live my life is calming down.

Entering into an exclusive relationship might seem like I'm desperate to move my love-life forwards, but it felt like a very natural part of winding down from my rather frenetic period of activity, and was something I was overjoyed about given how crazy I've been about one particular special somebody.

All the things I'm really pleased about sound really ordinary and mundane, in a way: a slowly developing relationship, a steady working routine, minor home improvements. Getting a kitten sounds exciting, which it is, but I want the kitten to feel settled at home with me, and to become part of my day-to-day existence. I eagerly anticipate feeding the cat and watering the plants, as well as cooking ordinary meals for the object of my affections when she comes to visit; watching movies on TV, curled up on the sofa with the cat.

Have I lost my adventurous side? Of course not. I had a rough time when I lived a chaotic adrenaline-filled life without any structure or routine. I'm managing to gradually restore myself to sustainable health, wealth and prosperity. I'm bound to start doing lots of really exciting things - it's in my nature - but I'm going to be smart and keep my love life, my work life and my home life settled, secure, scheduled and sensible.

Future planned purchase: a watering can and some plant food. That pretty much sums up my attitude to life at the moment.

 

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Creepy Stalker Weirdo

6 min read

This is a story about being a nerd...

Secrets

I suppose that I forget that I live my life as an almost completely open book; that I have this million-word repository of all my deepest darkest thoughts, thoroughly documenting every unflattering detail about me. I suppose I forget that it's not normal to live life with so little privacy and secrecy.

I try to be considerate of other people's normal attitudes towards privacy, confidentiality and discretion, but my own attitude - that I'll write about and publish all the gory details of my life in public - is so extreme that I can misjudge how uncomfortable it can make people feel, that there's a certain amount of information which exists about them in the public domain, but there's a tacit agreement that to look at that data would be a bit stalker-ish.

We might choose to have an Instagram account where we put up photographs of all our happiest moments. We might choose to have a Facebook account where we share things which tell the world what our values are. We might choose to have a LinkedIn account, where we present our professional persona for the purposes of getting a job or finding clients. We might have a website where we sell our services.

In the UK, company directors, shareholders with significant stakes in public companies, homeowners, criminals and other people will have their names and other details recorded by places like Companies House, the Land Registry and the courts, such that any member of the public who wants to do a bit of digging can find things out... things that might make us uncomfortable if anybody went digging in the archives.

I'm becoming increasingly easy to find - a quick Google search or a search of Twitter will quickly yield this website - and I suppose it's an illustration of how unusual it is for somebody to write and publish so candidly, so many unflattering things about themselves, that few colleagues and love interests have bothered to try to find me, because they must surely presume that they wouldn't find anything more interesting than a Facebook profile or a dull Twitter page with lots of retweets. Equally, perhaps it's very British to be a reserved and private person, and equally to keep our noses out of other people's business.

My day job involves gathering a lot of very private and confidential data from vast numbers of people, and keeping it safe, there is still a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders to not abuse my powers. I've worked for very many organisations, which have entrusted me with the power to go digging in the databases, if I was determined to do so. I suppose I think of publicly available data as having been made public for a reason, but in truth, unless you're a technology professional you're probably not particularly aware of how much you might inadvertently be sharing with the world.

I guess the lesson I haven't learned is a simple one: don't look.

It's strange that the guardians of such vast amounts of very sensitive compromising personal data are the nerds who some consider to be almost sub-human. Some of us love to laugh at the involuntarily celibate (InCel) men who are so incredibly gifted in the field of technology, data and the internet, but completely feckless in the world of dating and girls. How desperately the InCels would like to get a girlfriend and have sex, but instead they lurk in dark bedrooms, running the entire internet. How ironic that the InCels should know better than anybody else, just how much casual sex everybody but them is managing to get. How ironic that the InCels who are told that they're creepy and gross, also see that some men receive very different treatment: what's creepy and gross for a nerd - unwanted attention - is quite welcome and encouraged if you're a Chad, to use the InCel terminology for a hypothetical handsome man.

I don't know whether to think of myself of one of those creepy nerds, or whether to think of myself more as a Chad. The internet is my window into the world, and I probably put my tech skills to misuse when curiosity gets the better of me. I freely admit that I struggle to resist the temptation to see what's out there on on the internet, relating to a girl who I'm very attracted to... which is not good behaviour, I think.

Admitting to having Google'd somebody seemed harmless enough, I thought; perhaps even funny. I thought that it would be a bit embarrassing for me that I was curious and went and took a look, but it turns out that it can make the person who got Google'd very uncomfortable.

I live my life with this vast trove of unflattering things about me, publicly available, but I have written repeatedly about the difficult feelings I have when dating, being so exposed. I guess it would make me very defensive and feel very exposed, to know that somebody who I had a romantic interest in was reading this, and judging me. I'm a very difficult person to judge from my public persona, because I've written and published so much. I always worry that a person would quickly get bored of reading, and then form a judgement based on the particular chapter of my life they walked in on, rather than seeing the big picture.

Anyway, I probably shouldn't write about this, because it's also crossing another line, but I very nearly caused the calamitous end of a very pleasant evening, because of my own curiosity and propensity to be very honest and open: Admitting that I'd been doing what was interpreted as cyber-stalking was not a good look. It was a big mistake. I thought it'd be funny that I'm such a nerdy weirdo and so insecure, that I did a bit of Google'ing, which was harmless in my mind, but it turned out to make the person very uncomfortable, and I very much regret it.

I can't say much more, because I do have certain rules about what I'll write about and what I won't, in order to preserve some of the privacy of relationships I have with friends, and my dating escapades.

Anyway, turns out I can be a bit of a creepy stalker weirdo, but it also turns out that I'm enough of a Chad to get away with it, although I do regret what I did and I won't do it again.

 

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Mount Cardboard

6 min read

This is a story about packaging...

Cardboard pile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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Life Lived Publicly

7 min read

This is a story about open secrets...

Time to talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Brute Force

10 min read

This is a story about feeling vindictive...

Brute force

Several nights this week I've stayed up late. I am usually very strict with my bedtimes and routine, but when some major stressor triggers an episode of mania, I struggle to stop working on whatever particular thing has obsessed me, at any particular moment. I feel as though I have spare brain capacity with which to use for a whole range of projects, virtually simultaneously. I feel as though I'm close to making a breakthrough, and with just a little more effort, I will have achieved something great.

There is some truth to what I am saying, but there is also the thing that I didn't mention: What goes up must come down. You have to pay to play.

My attempts to automate the harvesting and analysis of data from Twitter has been reasonably successful. I have managed to extract and store a significant amount of useful information, which could be analysed. The achievement is no small one, considering that I had zero knowledge of any of the technologies involved, nor did I have approval to use Twitter's developer API, which I'd never seen before. Since Sunday, I have written code which can rummage through Twitter's data and find what I want, in order to then gain the insights I want. Obviously, I also got my code to Tweet "hello world" as well as send some messages to a group of special people. Not bad, considering I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff before I could actually start building stuff.

My attempts to stay in touch with a number of friends, and to also start letting friends know that they can [and should] come visit me in my new house, have been time consuming, but incredibly worthwhile, because I'm now in touch with lots of friends - old and new - and that makes me feel very loved and cared for, during a week following a break-up, when I might perhaps have been at risk of feeling somewhat isolated and lonely. Not bad, considering that only two friends have ever made the trip from England to Wales to see me, during the whole 17 months that I've lived here. That's a long time, especially considering how few friends I've managed to make locally. I live a very reclusive life, but not particularly through choice.

My attempts to impress my colleagues and make myself useful at work have been hit-and-miss. A sense of humour driven by mania is not well matched with an open-plan office full of fine upstanding members of the community who are very quiet and mild-mannered. I made a dreadful misjudgement, which caused some upset to a very senior person, but then something else I did was recognised as really valuable, so perhaps the good and the bad cancelled each other out. I still have a job, for now.

My attempts to write something interesting and entertaining - with my usual unflinching honesty - turned into manic rants, some of which were approaching 2,000 word impenetrable essays about nothing in particular. My 'excess' energy was ploughed into writing, but I can't say that I achieved much except for maintaining my daily writing habit, which is an achievement in and of itself, not to be dismissed lightly.

My attempts to prepare for moving house were particularly demanding. Mail redirection, changing the address for several bank accounts and other financial services, arranging broadband internet installation, ordering furniture to be delivered, arranging a van to transport my belongings, boxing up my stuff, signing contracts, paying various huge sums of money to various people and keeping my current rented place tidy so that new prospective tenants can be shown around, has been an arduous task. However, my ducks are almost all lined up.

Then, there were the very many things which I became briefly obsessed about, but were a complete waste of time and effort. I was inventing jokes about theoretical physics. I was making a playlist of all the 80s synth-inspired music that I like. I was writing long ranting Facebook posts about the anti-Semitism accusations flying within the Labour party, and about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism.

I was chatting with some people who are massive fans of my favourite musical artist - Fear of Tigers - and there was an album that they were trying to download, but they were having problems. Me, being 'a little bit technical' decided that I would take a look, and quickly discovered that the website is simply purporting to have content to Google's crawler bots, which is actually untrue - the content does not exist. Angered by this honeypot, which is designed to get unsuspecting and non-technical internet users to give their name, date of birth, email address and home address, it then tries to trick the user into doing a number of other things, all of which would result in some remuneration for the owner and operator of the honeypot - the "ultimate beneficial owner" to use the legal term.

Angered by the injustice of would-be music pirates being misled by this honeypot, I decided that it would not be unethical to probe this fraudulent website for any vulnerabilities. I quickly found a couple, which I have set about the task of attacking by brute-force, in order to sabotage the fraudulent site and troll whoever set it up. I had the theoretical knowledge of how I might go about this, but it felt suddenly very important to me to learn the skills of a highly-experienced and sought-after internet security engineer (known as a pen-tester - i.e. penetration tester) or perhaps one might argue, the skills of a white-hat hacker.

Given my propensity for never abandoning tasks until I feel I have completed them to my satisfaction, I would not be surprised if my current attempt to use the most common 13,000 passwords found on the internet to break into the target server, would escalate to a full-on distributed attack to exhaust ALL possible passwords until finally I 'crack the safe' and I can then set about my act of supposedly ethical sabotage.

It's rare that I pause and think "should I stop" and even when it seems very obvious that to continue further would be inadvisable and entirely pointless, I continue, for unknown reasons. It must be something about my personality and upbringing. I particularly relish problems which are generally declared as "so hard" that they're equated with being impossible, which is untrue. Some of the very hard things I've achieved have had surprisingly positive unanticipated consequences, such as giving my life new meaning, purpose, and skills that have later turned out to be incredibly valuable.

If you imagine a lonely isolated child who's been given a hugely complicated task - perhaps even no task at all - but has a huge number of tools at their disposal and lots of raw materials, by trial-and-error that child might create something... perhaps because of sheer boredom. As that trial-and-error learning technique becomes more innate, those tools and those materials start to become understood to that child, in a way that no teacher could teach. If you can self-direct your own learning and you have developed the attitude required to keep trying and failing, but carrying on regardless, then eventually you can start to finish projects that you started, no matter how hard they seemed when they were first conceived of.

What I'm doing could be considered a vindictive vendetta, based on the false premise that the person who set up this devious honeypot 'deserves' to have a person like me vandalise it, because it's become an absurd crusade. Not a moral crusade, but a crusade against the technology that's been put in place to stop mindless vandals from doing what I'm attempting to do: To crack the security that's there to prevent total anarchy on the internet, where somebody with a grudge could cause damage to whatever they wanted, very easily.

What I'm doing is not easy. It's hard. That's more the reason why I'm doing it than any other reason, even though that reason doesn't make sense.

It was hard to get where I am, so it makes no sense to stop doing hard things. In fact, when I'm stressed I actively seek hard problems, which is why I'm always drawn back to things like theoretical physics when I'm suffering from stress-induced mania.

It seems unlikely that my knowledge of theoretical physics will ever be of any use in my everyday life, but a lot of the side projects I've busied myself in this week have very real tangible benefits, although I suppose I could technically find myself being extradited to the United States to face charges of computer trespass or some other vague and nebulous bit of US law that I've fallen afoul of, depending on whose parade I'm pissing on and how far they're prepared to to to get me back.

One thing I would advise you though: Don't get on the wrong side of the geeks, because they're the ones who look after that folder of photos you sent to your lover, which you think is well-protected. The geeks are the ones who look after all those messages you send to the person you're having an affair with. The geeks are the ones who know the most about the dark side of human nature, because the geeks suddenly got put in charge of keeping everyone's secrets. When people think they're doing stuff in private, they act very differently. When people think they're protected they do things they'd never dream of doing without the protection they assume that they have.

I like to think I'm a good person, but I'm also an unusual person. Sometimes I do stuff just to see if I can do it. Sometimes, I take things too far, but I find it hard to stop because I'm a completer-finisher, and sometimes I have to dismantle a huge complex piece of apparatus, to satisfy a mere curiosity, when in actual fact I'm terrifying the hell out of a whole bunch of people who like to believe that their barriers are impregnable. It's disturbing for society to have its incorrect notions of concepts like privacy and secrecy, openly challenged.

We feel safe, searching for whatever we want via Google. We click "private browsing" buttons that give us an extra sense of reassurance that we are entering a "safe space" where we are completely anonymous, and our privacy and secrecy is guaranteed.

Whatever contact you and your personal data have had with digital devices, you can assume that it's as good as public knowledge, I'm afraid. If somebody is determined enough, they will walk right through every barrier that supposedly exists to protect you and your privacy. If somebody is determined enough, your secrets will be known, if you've been so foolish as to let them leave your brain.

Be warned.

 

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Our Revels Now Are Ended

14 min read

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

There's no bed like home

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

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

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

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

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

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

After a while it gets tiresome.

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

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

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

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

Then, you have to move.

How many times have I had to move?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those places have been my home.

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

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

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

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

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

It won't be long now.

Soon, I'll have a buttload of money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Invasion of Privacy

5 min read

This is a story about the trust paradox...

Keys

If you decide to permit personal privacy, then you must also accept that there will be a point at which you simply have to trust somebody. There is nobody who can say without a shadow of a doubt that I'm not keeping any terrible secret(s) and there is nobody who can predict the future. Even with perfect knowledge of the position every atom in the observable universe, there is no machine capable of predicting the future. Even with vast amounts of data collected about a person's past behaviour, it's not capable of making an accurate prediction about their future behaviour, without prejudicing those who are unfairly punished by whatever guesstimation algorithm is used.

There's a joke I used to enjoy which goes like this: If you have some goldfish, you probably have a pond. If you have a pond, you probably have a garden. If you have a garden, you probably have a house. If you have a house, you probably have a family. If you have a family, you probably fuck your wife. Therefore, if you don't have any goldfish, you're probably a wanker.

This is the problem with making predictions from incomplete data. Even with nearly complete data, we're still not very good at making predictions. Weather forecasts are pretty accurate for a few days into the future, but hopelessly inaccurate beyond a week or longer, except to say that summers are hot and winters are cold (or vice-versa for the Southern Hemisphere).

I wrote this earlier, to express my frustration regarding renting a house. It's a questions-and-answers thing I had to endure, in order to satisfy a landlord that I'm able to pay rent each month.

Q: What's your employment status?

A: Full-time employment

 

Q: What's your salary?

A: £8,424

 

Q: Who can we contact at your company to verify your employment?

A: The board of directors, or better still, why not just check at Companies House, because it's a matter of public record

 

Q: Can we see 3 months of payslips to prove your income?

A: My £702 monthly salary? Yeah sure. No problem.

 

Q: Are you self-employed?

A: No. See above.

 

Q: Are you sure you're not self employed?

A: I'm sure that I'm employed full-time as a company director, for which I receive a salary. I'm also a shareholder, which entitles me to a share of any dividends that the board of directors decides to pay. It's exactly the same as being the CEO of a public company, except the shareholders cannot trade their shares via the stock market.

 

Q: If you're like a CEO why do you need to rent a house?

A: Have you ever heard of a startup? It's a bit like that, only without the rich parents.

 

Q: So you don't have any money?

A: No, you're getting me confused with startup founders. I have enough income to pay my rent.

 

Q: Where does the money come from if you don't earn it as a salary?

A: Dividends are paid to me from the companies which I'm a shareholder of.

 

Q: How much do you get paid per month, in dividends?

A: It depends on the company profits, and what the board of directors decide. It could be zero. It could be zero for months.

 

Q: This is too complicated for me to understand. Would you mind if we took a look at all of your personal bank accounts, for the last 3 years?

A: No problem. Would you also like to perform a rectal exam and fondle my testicles too?

So, despite the fact that my position as company director is a matter of public record, as well as the accounts of my company - anybody who wants to is able to view those records online - I'm still expected to share my personal bank statements with complete strangers.

A friend and I who both own and operate our own companies, joked that we should maintain an account specifically for the purposes of pranking the organisations who ask to invade our privacy. We would make regular purchases of items from retailers and service providers, where the name shown on the bank statements would be considerably embarrassing, for most members of the public. Thus, we could troll these organisations and perhaps change the culture from secrecy and shame, to something more open. I applaud the Swedes, for example, for making every citizen's tax declarations public... essentially meaning that you can find out how much anybody earns.

As regular readers will know, I'm quite the opposite of a secret-keeper. I've published every bit of 'dirt' which somebody hope to 'dig' on me, onto this public website.

Meanwhile, my hopes of renting a place to live hang in the balance, while the minutiae of how I spend every single penny are pored over by a bunch of strangers, who will ultimately decide whether I'm worthy of having a roof over my head, or whether I should be cast onto the streets.

 

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