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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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Toys

6 min read

This is a story about spending your paycheque...

Freebord

I think we have several distinct phases of our lives. We begin with no money and there are lots of toys we want, but we can't afford them. Then, we get a Saturday job or some other seasonal work - perhaps during school holidays - and we're able to buy some of the things we want, but these are pretty modest purchases. Then, we get a full-time job, but usually by this point we have to pay rent and bills, so we're still not particularly able to make lavish frivolous purchases. Then, we start a family and all the things we buy from that point onwards are for our kids, although perhaps we get some vicarious enjoyment out of buying toys for our children.

If you're lucky, you'll have a period of your life where your income significantly exceeds your expenditure, and you can buy whatever you want. During this period, you might buy the toys you could never have as a child, or you might buy the toys you were too young to be able to make use of, such as a sports car, a boat or a hang-glider.

If you're really lucky then you'll have a sustained period of wealth, where you can pursue expensive hobbies, which allows you to buy new toys on a regular basis. Every hobby tends to need lots of specialist equipment, and vast amounts of money can be sunk into having the latest and greatest stuff - becoming a "gear" collector.

If you're lucky enough to be wealthy, you've probably managed to save up for a deposit and bought a property. Owning a property can be a nightmare, because of the expense of maintenance, but for the wealthy, there's a huge amount of 'toys' to be bought for the house. No house is complete without being able to play music in every room from your iPhone. No house is complete without a massive flat-screen TV. No house is complete without a whole array of toys - even a vacuum cleaner is a desirable object now, marketed as something to get excited about buying, as opposed to something associated with domestic drudgery. The recent craze for cooking and baking TV shows has meant that our kitchens are filled with expensive toys, such as food mixers and pasta makers.

My house might not have a dining table, chest of drawers, wardrobe, coffee table or other essential items of furniture, such as a bed for visitors, but it does have mesh wifi in every room - a gadget that I could hardly resist, given that I work as a technology professional. Having a reliable wifi connection everywhere in my house is really handy, because it was annoying where I used to live previously, when my smartphone and laptop would drop the connection if I moved from the lounge to the bedroom, or vice-versa.

The toy pictured above - the thing that looks like a skateboard - has been gathering dust in storage for a long while, but as I'm now starting to feel more settled in my house and in this city, I'm beginning to start thinking about getting active. I got one of my bikes fixed, so I can cycle around more as the weather improves. The skateboard type thing allows a person to "snowboard on the street" - you can slide it and stop very easily, unlike a regular skateboard which has no brakes. I need to try to find some local hills with quiet roads, where I can take it out for a ride.

Toys give my life meaning. I'm not working for the sake of working. I'm not working for the sake of putting more zeroes on the end of my net worth. I'm not working for children. I'm not working even to obtain status symbols. I work because it gives me plenty of money to buy toys. Of course, I enjoy a very high standard of living - I eat out and I take nice holidays - but I also like being able to have nice things. I was rummaging through my boxes which I haven't unpacked, and I realised that I have some really cool stuff. I'm still attached to my stuff, even though it's just material possessions that I've lived without for years - I worked hard to buy those toys and I spent a lot of time picking them out, so I'm glad that I've still got a lot of my stuff.

As my health improves and I begin to feel happier and more settled in my new home and new city, I'm starting to think about how I might like to spend my leisure time. Of course, there's always excitement in spending money on new toys, but it's been great to rummage through my boxes and find things which I haven't had the time to play with, because life got really difficult for a long time.

It felt nice to buy new clothes last weekend, and I also feel glad that I didn't buy any toys or gadgets, because I always feel buyer's remorse for squandering my money on stuff, when I already own so many cool toys and gadgets. I might buy a coffee table and a hoover this weekend, which is plenty of retail therapy - it'll definitely scratch the itch.

I'm very spoiled, that I've been able to furnish my house with stuff I chose from Ikea, and it seems wrong to say that during a lot of that process I haven't enjoyed it - I've been overwhelmed with the stress of moving house and getting myself set up in a position where I can live an ordinary life. I sat and slept on the floor when I first moved in, because I didn't have a single item of furniture. My washing machine wasn't delivered on time, so I was running out of clean clothes. Stress can ruin things which are supposed to be fun. Now I'm through the worst of the stress, I am now beginning to appreciate how lucky I am.

When I attempt to make sense of life - why bother? - then it's easy to reach one of two conclusions: either we should have sex, take drugs and get drunk as much as possible, to maximise our pleasure in a hedonistic way, or we should spend our money on things which bring us joy, such has holidays and toys. I appreciate that children are the traditional route to giving our lives meaning and purpose, but it's selfish and unethical to bring children into this messed up world. Probably better to play with a few toys than to inflict the agony of existence onto a child who didn't need to be brought into this world.

I guess I'm just a child.

 

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New Website

3 min read

This is a story about dusting off the keyboard...

Dusty keyboard

If you are reading this then something fairly major has been achieved - I've managed to migrate 1.1 million words and 10,000 photographs from one one part of the internet to another. For anybody who uses Wordpress or Blogger dot com or some other type thingy, you might not find that very impressive, because your website is hosted by some mega-corporation and all the technical complexity is hidden away from you, but my website uses a piece of software written by some old school-friends - it's a startup - and it's now hosted by little old me, typing undecipherable commands in green text on a black screen, in scenes reminiscent of The Matrix.

I made a commitment about 4 years ago to use my friend's new startup as my home on the internet, and it still my home to this day: his startup powers my website, but it's now me who's responsible for "keeping the lights on". My friend kindly used his time and money to keep me running, but I always felt guilty about it, especially as my site has grown and grown in size.

"The cloud" is a bit of nebulous concept. Basically "the cloud" just means "other people's computers". My website is hosted in "the cloud" which means that if the power fails at my house, or somebody breaks in and steals all my computers, then my website doesn't go offline - security and uninterrupted power are somebody else's problem.

Your eyes are probably well and truly glazed over by this point, but it's a big deal - I did some stuff which I usually get paid to do, which I'd really rather not have been doing in my spare time, unpaid, and now I have the ongoing responsibility of maintaining my own little bit of "the cloud".

There's a great fear that I might have lost something precious during my migration from my friend's hosting to my own hosting. It certainly wasn't a straightforward procedure. Everything appears to be working OK, but given that it's just me myself and I, it's hard for me to do much testing - I'm relying on regular readers to report anything that's not working.

You might notice that my site is now "secure" - complete with a little padlock up in the browser bar. All this means is that if ever you were commenting on one of my blog posts, the data that's being sent would be encrypted, which is useless given that your comments would appear publicly anyway, but people like to see "secure" sites, even if they don't store any personal data. It feels a bit more professional that I've properly "secured" my site with encryption.

So, this is the new old. Everything should look pretty much identical. If it's 100% identical, then I've done a great job and I'm really happy.

It's a strange thing, to have done lots of work "under the hood" but nothing that anybody can really see, but that's what I've done for a living for the past couple of decades, so I shan't bore you with the details... although I already have.

Bear with me if there are any teething problems and do drop me a line if you spot anything not working - I'd be really grateful, because you readers are my beta testers.

If you're reading this, then great!

 

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After The Mania, Regret

8 min read

This is a story about the consequences of a mood disorder...

Bipolar memory

Having had a mood disorder - bipolar - all my life, with its symptoms perhaps becoming indisputably obvious from adolescence onwards, I've had a lot of time to reflect upon the regrettable consequences of things that I said and did when I was experiencing hypomania or mania.

As a child I had little opportunity to do anything which had any particularly negative consequences. I took risks I suppose and I established a pattern of frenzied activity followed by melancholic lethargy. The intensity of my early hypomania was triggered by the rare event of being able to spend time with friends, when so much of my childhood was spent bored while my parents took drugs and got drunk. The excitement of escaping the boredom and oppression of being trapped in a house or a car with drugged-up or drunk dribbling morons, was so great that I would talk rapidly, be unable to sleep and I exuded so much energy that my friends and their parents were alarmed by this behaviour, which was uncharacteristic of how I acted at school, for example.

School terms were long and they were unbearable. For whatever reason, I was bullied constantly. School was something to be endured and I treated it in very much the same way that I treated my parents' negligence - I lived inside my own head, bored but attempting to entertain myself with my own imagination. I was incredibly patient, given the unpleasantness of my school days and the time I was forced to spend with my parents, who were so incredibly selfish that they destroyed most chances I would've had to form meaningful long-lasting friendships. Every school holiday, and indeed many weeks and months of term-time, my parents would remove me from the company of my peers, because they wanted to get drunk and take drugs in an isolated rural location, where they thought they would be safe from the criticism which they would draw for the neglect they were showing me; they attempted to hide their disgusting disgraceful behaviour.

My parents' folie-a-deux, which I see now was a toxic co-dependency, motivated by their addiction to alcohol and drugs, was clearly very formative and shaped my character. I became a patient plotter, who could put myself into a trancelike disconnected state to endure the interminable boredom of being trapped with a pair of dribbling moronic drug addict drunks, with no friends to play with - deliberately isolated from my peers.

This is why I do not celebrate mothers' day - because my mother is nothing more than an alcoholic drug addict with bad taste in men, and I wish I had never been born.

Luckily, modern society reveres those who have bipolar tendencies. How would anybody be expected to pass their school examinations, university finals or write a dissertation, unless they were able to cram and work hard in short and intense periods, having the academic holidays to then collapse on the brink of a nervous breakdown, to recover? How would anybody be expected to undergo the the awfulness of attempting to get a foot on the first rung of the career ladder, and the dreadfulness of the 9 to 5 office grind, unless they could muster the manic energy to be enthusiastic in numerous interviews where you're expected to lie about how excited you'd be to join Acme Corporation and their widget manufacturing business? How can you get ahead in your career, when you are so thwarted by your colleagues and the dreadful bureaucratic nature of organisations - with their "can don't" attitude - except by having periods of intense focus and effort, which no stable level-headed person would ever undertake in their right mind? How could you quit your job, start a company and make it successful, unless you had some kind of screw loose, which drives you to work 100+ hours a week and not give up on something until the results are delivered?

Nobody much cares about the periods of depression that regularly occur in the life of a person with bipolar disorder, because we celebrate achievements and we hide our failures. We pretend that we never screwed up. We pretend that we never got sick. According to our CVs and our LinkedIn pages, we are perfect infallible human beings, who are completely flawless. Because people with bipolar disorder regularly have episodes of hypomania or mania which are full of boundless creative energy, they have an impressive list of achievements under their belt. Nobody ever lists their depressions on their CV or LinkedIn.

Moving house and breaking up with my last girlfriend has left me exhausted and all alone in a new city. I have a work colleague who is reasonably friendly, but a very busy family man, and I have met one new friend, although they don't live very nearby. It's hard to describe how lonely and isolated I am - physically - because few people ever reach this point in their life without taking some kind of evasive action. It's very unnatural for humans to go to strange places and leave themselves totally cut off from social contact, beyond the minimum necessary to get money and buy food.

The flurry of activity which pre-dated me moving house was prompted by stress, and it contributed to the exhaustion and depression I'm feeling now. Also, I feel embarrassed that my grand plans to work on projects presently lie abandoned and the people who I was in contact with have been neglected for quite some time. It's very damaging to my self-esteem to know that my behaviour is so conspicuously unpredictable and unreliable, which leads people to believe that there's little value in the investment of a deeper and more meaningful friendship. When I crash, I cannot face the pressure of maintaining contact, so I disappear and I'm overwhelmed with guilt over the people and projects which are being neglected.

Sometimes, mania prompts me to say regrettable things. I particularly use Facebook as a 'safe space' to rant when I'm struggling with my mental health, because at least it keeps my regrettable words contained in a place where they're not publicly accessible. My friends can respond and calm me down, and I'm not left scrabbling to delete things which were inadvisable to write and publish publicly. My friends - if they're real friends - would take my words with a pinch of salt and not unduly categorise me as a madman and a lost cause.

It's deeply worrisome, knowing that my mental health can collapse and I can act regrettably. It's an unsettling and insecure state of affairs, knowing that I could easily destroy the good reputation I have and the respect of my colleagues, if I was to show a little bit too much of my illness. I keep things relatively neatly partitioned: my blog is where I write honestly, but always mindful that my words are subject to public scrutiny. Facebook is where I write things which are almost always a cry for help, or in some way symptomatic of the very bad mental health problems I'm dealing with. Work is where I spend a great deal of effort "acting normal" and attempting to show a reliable consistent side of myself, despite dreadful inner turmoil and very difficult events in my personal life.

One might say that this entire blog is regrettable, given that it's easily discoverable by my work colleagues, but I do not speak ill of anybody or the organisations I'm involved with, and I do not bring my profession into disrepute - I think that my conduct is perfectly acceptable, and I'm prepared to defend it on the grounds that I find it immensely therapeutic to have this outlet, and the support of people who are kind enough to read my words and send me kind messages.

I have a lot of regret. I admit that I could have made much better choices in a lot of situations. I don't hide behind my mental illness as an excuse. I'm perfectly capable of accepting that my behaviour has been regrettable and that I should have handled things differently.

Why then continue to write like this? The answer is complicated: I have no idea what would happen if I didn't have this single thread of consistency in my life. Rightly or wrongly, I credit this blog with bringing me things which have saved my life: my guardian angel, the people who got the emergency services to save my life during my most recent suicide attempt, the family who looked after me when I was jobless and homeless, and some of the friends who I speak to on a regular basis, who all only know me because I put myself out into the public domain - they reached out to me and rescued me, in their own ways.

 

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Lost Cause

7 min read

This is a story about predictions...

Recycling

Bookmakers and actuaries are extremely good at predicting the future. The profits of these well-established enterprises depend upon accurate predictions, based upon a vast amount of historical data. Better statistics lead to better predictions, which lead to accurate odds and sustained profitability. If it wasn't possible to predict the future in this way, there wouldn't be a business model for life insurance or gambling.

Unfortunately for individuals, generalised predictions are fairly accurate while individual predictions are not. It is no use asking an actuary when you will die, so that you can plan your life accordingly. The actuary will not be able to tell you whether you'll die of a heart attack age 45, or whether you'll die in your sleep age 95. Those extra 50 years present a considerable problem for the individual, but the actuary does not care, because they spread the risk of having to pay out on life insurance across a large group. On average, the insurer will win. However, none of us can know whether we're going to die prematurely or live unusually long.

It might seem prudent to avoid smoking, drinking and consumption of excessive calories. It might seem prudent to go to the gym every day. It might seem prudent to eat a balanced diet, containing a mixture of fruit and vegetables, full of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other chemical compounds your body needs to repair itself and stay healthy. However, while we can say for certain that smoking and obesity will lead to health complications, none of us can make choices to assure ourselves of a long life.

One day you might just drop dead.

The temptation to use statistical analysis to make predictions for an individual is overwhelming in a world where we have discovered the classical laws of physics. We presume that we are able to predict the future as easily as we can predict the trajectory of a missile. Unfortunately, individuals do not follow simple parabolic curves. While there are statistically significant correlations - good predictors - this does not mean that we can know the future life of a human, after gathering a few crummy data points.

All we have managed to unearth so far about the mysteries of human life is that we can understand risk not destiny. You might have genes which appear to doom you to a certain fate, but those genes are not always expressed in the way which we expect. The sequencing of the human genome has failed to provide the crystal ball that it was promised to deliver, but instead revealed the unimaginable complexity of epigenetics. No clear genes have been found for things such as diabetes and depression. There is no gene which hard-wires our life expectancy into every cell.

Who could have predicted that smoking would be banned in public buildings and the workplace, drinking culture would become diminished, supermarkets would import food from all over the globe, such that strawberries would be on their shelves all year round, and the workplace would become so safe and so sedentary? Who could have predicted that mental health problems would reach such epidemic proportions that the leading cause of death amongst 20 to 40 year old men would be suicide?

Ultimately, the biggest thing affecting my life expectancy appears to be a choice which I'm free to make.

I've never smoked and I quit drinking 4 months ago. I eat a balanced diet and I'm a healthy weight. These things are happy accidents. Every afternoon my anxiety builds to an increasingly intolerable level and every evening I feel suicidal. I live alone and have no friends or family nearby. I have no children, pets or partner.

My life is on a knife-edge.

If you were going to bet on the statistically probable outcome of my life, you'd have lost a lot of money already. I'm afraid to say that I'm an outlier and I have refused to conform to the predictions. I'm a single data point and as such I'm not statistically significant on my own, but the significance of my own life and its outcome is, unsurprisingly, important to me.

It's a hard life being an outlier. Literally, almost everyone is betting against you. It will be harder to get an education, get a job, get a home, borrow money, find a partner, get life insurance, get a pension... all of these things are thwarted by people who believe that they are able to predict my destiny. I'm continuously confronting people who believe I'm a lost cause, and therefore not worth taking a risk on.

We can see that this attempt at prediction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When racial stereotypes become pervasive - for example - then we see that minorities are harshly and unfairly prejudiced, which harms their chance of success and reinforces the correlation between uncorrelated factors. Skin colour should not be a good predictor of socioeconomic outcome, but the data overwhelmingly shows that it is.

From the moment you enter the vast educational system, you are being sifted and sorted in a way which tests you and gathers data on you, in order to attempt to predict your future. Something as random as getting an illness will affect your school attendance data, which will be used against you as a predictor of supposed future failure. You are constantly at risk of flagging yourself as a "disaster waiting to happen" and suffering lifelong prejudice due to the systemic attempts to analyse individuals statistically.

I suppose I now revel in the fact that I'm a living contradiction. My problems with mental health, addiction, alcohol, hospitalisations, psych ward stays, trouble with the police and refusal to be sifted and sorted by the mainstream education system, are not in agreement with the predictions that I should end up bankrupt, in jail and/or dead, having lived a life with no useful contribution to society, and in fact having been a burden. I'm the guy your mother warned you about. I'm the one who isn't supposed to be allowed to freely roam the streets. I'm the one who all the gatekeepers have in mind - I'm the one they want to keep out, but yet I'm very much on the inside.

If those who think they can gaze into the future by studying my data had their way, I wouldn't have a job, a house, any money. The system has tried very hard to railroad me into certain outcomes, because it's what was expected and predicted.

I genuinely don't know whether I'm going to kill myself or if my depression is going to lift and life's going to become pleasant and bearable. I've lived with depression for long enough to know that my choices will have little effect on the outcome. No amount of prescription medication, therapy, yoga and other such things will have the intended effect. It has always been the least expected things in my life which have wrought the most important changes.

If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I'll die at my own hands. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I won't be able to escape the debt trap. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I will crumble and break, because that seems like the obvious thing I would do, from looking at the black marks against my name. If I was going to bet according to statistics, I would definitely bet against myself.

However, we know that fundamentally the universe does not obey classical physics, when we study the underlying laws, but instead there is inherent uncertainty. Outcomes are nondeterministic. Knowing my past does not allow anybody to know my future. There is a nonzero probability of every possible outcome, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

My day-to-day life is dominated by a single question - am I going to kill myself? - but despite being the best placed person to answer that, I do not know the answer. Events unfolding are as much a surprise to me as they are to you.

 

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Modern Art

8 min read

This is a story about creativity...

Crack

Those who are blessed with independent wealth - trust-fund kids - may groan at my unoriginal and clichéd ideas. Those who have been lucky enough to attend public or private school (confusingly similar things in the UK) have been educated to be discerning snobs who act as a kind of judicial panel, deciding collectively what is to be mocked and derided as worthless, because it has clearly originated from the lower echelons of society.

We may study a piece of text and detect traces of vocabulary, style and grammar use, which indicates the author did not have the benefit of an expensive education, and as such we decide that their words are meaningless. We presume that the author holds detestable values and baseless immature views which have not been properly forged in the crucible of a fine university's debating society. We discern a certain lack of intellect from any impression we form of a person of being from a more humble background than our own. We prefer to only read works by those who are posh and impeccably well-presented in their homogenised manner of written communication.

We can quickly tell if somebody does a lot of writing, or if their writing style is a clumsy attempt to put their spoken words down onto paper.

Who has enjoyed the privilege of being able to read a very great deal, write an enormous amount, and have somebody paid to pore over their words? English is part of the mandatory school education of every child in the UK, yet as a nation we manage to produce many millions of people who don't know the difference between homophones such as "your" and "you're", which the public and private schools would not tolerate.

While an expensive education might give every child who attends those fee-paying schools a posh accent, an extended vocabulary and better grammar, it does not assure an academic future. Many children will prefer art to the prescriptive subjects, where there are right and wrong answers.

The position of power, gifted by privilege, is to decide what the "wrong" answers are in an area where there is no such thing as a "right" answer. With no more qualification than a posh accent and some snobbery, one can embark upon a career as an art critic, quite unwittingly.

Art exists in late capitalism as another rich man's hobby, like yacht sailing, horse riding, game shooting, vintage motor car racing and skiing. While some of the hoi polloi might have adopted those leisure pursuits in imitation of the wealthiest segment of society, a number of mechanisms exist to ensure that the poor man's version is inferior in every way, and not to be mistaken for things which are reserved for the wealthiest families. As such, the act of patronage is contained within that small group of individuals who speak in the manner of their patrons.

Who can really afford to write or paint for long enough to master the craft, without making creative sacrifices in order to be commercially successful? How many brilliant artists have been forced to become draughtsmen or take dismal tasteless commissions from gauche clients? We might love our favourite comics and assume that the artists are living happy, authentic lives which are true to their beliefs, but those who have seen it as a purely artistic endeavour find unhappy outcomes if they ever need to monetise their talents.

I can afford to give away my words for free because I have another source of income, but it means that my writing will never be anything more than an open journal - a daily diary which is publicly accessible. I don't have the time and energy to plan, execute and promote a piece of serious art, and I am forced to sell the most productive years of my life in order to pay rent and bills. I like to think that I am developing my craft, but the skillset for creative writing is quite different from the stream-of-consciousness which I produce.

Innumerable photographers have captured an image of themselves every day for considerable lengths of time, and countless more writers have kept daily journals. What I do is neither imaginative nor original. It would be easy to say that my writing is not art, or it is bad art.

It angers me that I should be denied the opportunity to be an artist. It angers me that my considerable creative talents and boundless energy for artistic projects, is thwarted by economic factors. I need to pay rent and bills, so I must sell my labour, but if I were to attempt to combine my job with my desire to create art, then I would be creating products not art.

What is art?

For me, I want to turn an exceptional period of my life - addiction and near-death - into a piece of art. My experiences have been so extreme that few people who've shared similar experiences have survived with their sanity intact and enough of a grasp of the English language to express themselves clearly on a piece of paper. Many people are lost to religion and other capitulations of the mind, or simply embroiled in family life, such that the difficult task of creating a piece of art which conveys some of the suffering endured, is rarely completed.

We might assume that a particularly rousing motivational speech or an incredible painting resulted from some God-given talents, but that's complete hogwash. We are a product of the surrounding environment and things that has driven us to repeat behaviours until they are innate. Anybody who says "I can't draw" has not practiced enough. When we look more closely at child prodigies, we see that their pushy parents are the reason why that child practiced a skill enough to become talented. There are no gifts - everything must be paid for.

My own so-called "gift" is a perseverance for tapping on keys in such a way which is mandated to be harmonious. A piano will happily play incorrect chords but if you press the wrong computer keys you will simply be told "command not found" or simply "error".

While I know that my writing doesn't get tested with the rigorous logic of boolean algebra, I feel confident that I can master writing as a lucrative craft, through practice and repetition, in exactly the same way that I taught myself how to program a computer as a child. I am certain that the skill of creating hundreds of thousands of lines of programming code which assemble together to make a functioning piece of complex computer software, is transferrable to the task of writing a few tens of thousands of words which produce a coherent story.

Few would disagree that music is an artform, but music is a piece of code executed on a machine - whether it's the notation on a piece of sheet music, or the laser-etched indentations on a compact disc, the creativity of the artist is coded and played through an instrument which adheres to strict rules. A grand piano only has 88 keys, while my keyboard has more than a hundred.

It's true that we've entered an era where almost anybody can call themselves a photographer or a writer, given the ubiquity of smartphones and the ease-of-use of apps which allow us to publish our photos and our words.

I offer up the photo at the beginning of this essay and these very words because I find both aesthetically pleasing and to have deep and profound meaning, beyond what you see at face value. In my text I offer up a glimpse of my inner turmoil, but I can never fully capture the full extent of every thought that races through my mind. My photo captures a moment that has immense meaning for me, but the viewer could never possibly know or guess correctly what that meaning is, which makes it a piece of art because it could only have been created by me, the artist.

"What even is it? I could take a photograph like that" I hear you say.

Yes, you could take a similar photograph, but it would have none of the meaning behind it, so therefore it would not be art.

"What are you even rambling about? I could write down my thoughts like you" I hear you say.

Yes, you could write down your thoughts, but they'd be quite different from mine and you wouldn't have the same motivations, so therefore it would just be yet another blog post from yet another blogger.

How can I claim to be creating art? In truth, I don't. I worry a lot that I'm wasting my time and creating a lot of meaningless noise. I worry that my creative energies are squandered on a pointless folly. However, this is still an impressive monument, whichever way you look at it. How many people have managed to write and publish more than a million words in a single document, with a consistent methodical approach, with regularity and with something interesting to say? How many people have catalogued their thoughts so thoroughly?

Not many.

 

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So Embarrassing

6 min read

This is a story about over-sharing...

Twitter likes

I'm not really a self-conscious person or else I'd never write and publish anything, but I did have a moment of panic yesterday when I realised what a plonker I was going to look like, for writing about my most vulnerable insecurities, innermost sensitive thoughts and feelings, laying myself wide open for a moment of stunned silence, which would have been very embarrassing.

I thought about deleting my tweet which accompanied the blog post. It's been ages since I thought about deleting something. I very rarely self-censor.

Being single transports me back to my frustrated and unhappy teens. Despite modest success in the world of dating and relationships, I still carry a huge amount of insecurity. I've never felt like "God's gift" to women or that I have any particular attractiveness or charisma that means I don't have anything to worry about. I've been told on plenty of occasions that I don't have anything to worry about - that I'm good-looking - but I suppose whatever wounds were inflicted in childhood still haven't healed.

I'm basically one big twisted knot of overthinking and over-isolated overgrown man-child. Growing up without any siblings until the age of 10 was hell. Being stuck in the company of my parents as they dragged me through 8 different schools and all over the bloody world was hell on earth. I have plenty of reasons why I should struggle to form normal healthy relationships with my peers.

I guess I got into technology because it seemed like a perfect microcosm that I could control. However, reality has asserted itself so fully that I can see that life is messy, and my reaction is to collate and publish all that mess for everyone to see. I'm using technology to gather together everything that I'm embarrassed about and really don't want to be teased about.

What I write is an absolute goldmine for anybody who wants to poke and prod at my insecurities, to antagonise me.

The thing is, I write about this stuff as a pre-emptive step, so that it's less of a big red button that people can press to get a reaction.

I've been relatively successful at positioning myself so that I'm never on the back foot like I was when I was a child. I refuse to ever be somebody's plaything. If I'm going to act predictably, it's going to be in accordance with my own predictions, not anybody else's.

Pleasingly, the world has somewhat complied with my wishes. I've been able to enjoy social change, enabling me to be the passive one who has the enviable position of being able to reject, taunt, bully and tease, if I should so choose. It's every bit as pleasant and comforting as I thought it would be, to have the tables turned and be the one with the power.

Am I applauding the existence of the patriarchy? No.

Am I very weird geeky guy who had a particularly disrupted childhood, which held me back from having a number of formative experiences, such as girlfriends at school? Yes.

The net result is that things that are normal for you have a different level of importance in my life. My entire self-esteem is based on whether I'm getting laid or not. If I'm not getting laid, then I assume that I've been plunged back into my unhappy adolescence. I assume that I'm once again the awkward social outcast that I was during my schooldays. I assume that I've lost all of my adult development and I'm doomed to live out my days in lonely singledom.

The net result is dating some very unsuitable women and having a lot of unwanted sex. The sex is symbolic. I have as much sex as I can get now, today, as over-compensation for the lack of it in my teens... as if I can somehow alter the past.

It's strange psychology, but also very basic and simple.

Also, I shouldn't write about it, but I do.

I sometimes forget that I pour my heart out like this. The process of emptying my brain out onto the page has become normalised. The fear of embarrassing myself in front of the entire world has long-since been forgotten. The concept of a world that hasn't seen every flaw and downside of my character is long gone.

You'd think that my exposure would be problematic, but I find it easier to remain quiet and keep my mouth shut when I need to - such as in the office - by brain-dumping all of this stuff out publicly. I enjoy the open secret of it, although it does stress me out that one day I'm going to get into trouble.

Dating with this level of exposure is problematic. Dating is a thing that puts people in a very vulnerable position, and having a large resource of vulnerabilities published publicly makes me doubly vulnerable. I have no idea whether to offer up this blog as part of the package of information made available during the early stages of dating, along with photos and descriptions of what I do for money etc. which are usually expected.

Without too much digging, it's possible to see me in a very unflattering light, but I also know that it takes bravery and courage to make yourself vulnerable, and I know that it's rewarding to be brave and take risks.

For now, I'm just going to proceed as normal. I was very reassured to see that some people who I really like and respect had acknowledged what I'd written yesterday, but I must admit that I was seriously thinking about deleting it, because I felt like I'd made a fool of myself.

I find the world to be adversarial and hostile and I don't like it. My reaction is not to be defensive, but in fact to do the un-intuitive thing and to lower my guard - making myself extremely vulnerable. "Do your worst" I incant.

 

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Some Of My Problems Are My Own Fault

5 min read

This is a story about responsibility...

Suction cup

Why does it matter that the toilet roll holder in my house is held onto the wall with a suction cup? Why does it matter that somebody cut some corners somewhere? Why does it matter that somebody did a sloppy, careless job? Why does it matter that people act without concern for the consequences? Why does it matter that some of us want to be idle?

We bring up our children on a diet of propaganda about everybody having to pay their way in society - nobody getting a free ride - when our intention all along was to propagate sufficiently to be idle in our old age. We imagined that the older children would raise the smaller ones. We imagined that the more mature and adult members of our family would feel some responsibility towards their DNA donors, as they reached the end of their lives.

I guess we hope that our children won't know any different. If they're born into a terrible world, they won't be able to imagine a better one, so they'll accept their terrible fate. Is that the logic? Somebody needs to explain it to me, because I don't understand.

My life lacks meaning and purpose.

What if I met someone so amazing and beautiful that they convinced me it was a good idea to have children, because I knew how much happiness and satisfaction - peace - it would bring me as an animal, although very much in conflict with my own human consciousness.

My body was evolved for the propagation of my genes. My body's sole purpose for existence - in evolutionary terms - is for sexual reproduction. To act in defiance of my basic instincts is physically painful, like putting my hand in a fire.

I stopped following the instructions at some point.

I've lost my way.

Loneliness and isolation should drive me to be social. Horniness and reproductive instincts should drive me to impregnate. Fear of death and extinction of my genes should drive me to seek to protect and replicate as many copies of my genes as possible. All the many millions of years of animal evolution have led to this point. Everything in my genetic programming tells me to carry on doing what every ancestor has ever done, since the dawn of life itself.

However.

I've gone off-script.

I think that filial affection, sibling bonding, family ties, clan association and a genetic predisposition towards hostility directed at those of significantly differing DNA makeup - a wish to see those who don't share common genes perish - somehow bypassed me. The thing that's far louder in my head is the conscious voice that sprung into existence, perhaps as an evolutionary accident, but which has managed to narrate things to the point where that voice directs my behaviour far more than my bestial instincts.

I suppose I'm what you'd call anti-social. Perhaps criminal and deviant. Society has generally decided that I'm dangerous and should be shunned and marginalised.

Born into a household full of addiction and alcoholism, not feeling planned or wanted and not seeing any good role model in my parents, I found myself always somewhat the odd-one-out at school and in other social situations. I think I decided very early on that I'm unlovable. My life goals were always confused. The hedonism I saw my parents practice, with no regard for societal norms, conflicted with the nonsense they spouted in their state of intoxication, which claimed to be motivated by higher ideals: Values. I never saw any values, but I came to understand - conceptually - what values there were in the world, and why a person might hold a certain set of values.

I can simultaneously hold in my head all the various reasons - such as social cohesion - that a group of individuals might subscribe to a common set of values, whilst also knowing the payoff for breaking the rules. I knew, for example, from a very early age that getting a drink or a drug into my system must be worth any amount of societally imposed consequences, for that is what I saw throughout my upbringing.

My father talked openly about his criminal conviction for drugs, while my mother boasted about drug smuggling and encounters with the police, and both seemed proud and happy to have flouted the law and earned the disdain of wider society. They seemed to revel in their place as societal outcasts, earned because of their deviant behaviour and refusal to change their wicked ways.

Yet, it seems better if I imagine myself to have been immaculately conceived and have lived my adult life with no unconscious bias left-over from childhood. It seems as if I should be judged on the basis that my values are identical to everybody else's. It seems that every choice I've made should be viewed as having been made with complete free-will, and without the influence of my upbringing.

I fess up.

I done it.

I done a bad thing.

It's all my fault and I've got nobody to blame but myself.

There. Happy now?

 

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How The Other Half Live

5 min read

This is a story about the life of riley...

Camp bed

It seemed to irk a multimillionaire friend that I didn't consider myself to be in the top 2% of the world's wealthiest people. In terms of cash, assets and in terms of income, I meet none of the test criteria which would consider me to be one of the top 2% of the world's richest. However, we should think about how we perceive ourselves, no matter what the hard numbers say.

Most people I know consider themselves to be "working class made good". That is to say, they have very many anecdotes about "how hard" they "had things as a child". The claims are very reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch, where a group of men attempt to outdo each other in their boastful claims about how well they've done for themselves, from humble beginnings.

Eventually the boasts become rather dubious:

I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down t'mill, and pay t'mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

The point of the sketch is to mock reverse-snobbery and the exaggeration of how hard things were "in the olden days".

I think there's something innate in us which assumes we're in the less fortunate "half" of those who we have everyday interactions with. We feel more in common with the supermarket checkout assistant than we do with somebody we see driving a supercar. When we see somebody who is undoubtedly on a modest wage, we assume our own income and assets are closer to that person, than to a person who is making a vulgar display of their wealth.

This is something I wrestle with every day: am I rich, or am I relatively - compared to my peers - quite poor?

My friends all own houses (or at least the mortgage companies own them) and they all drive quite new cars (although they could be on hire-purchase). My friends go skiing from January to March. My friends can be seen sunning themselves in luxury holiday destinations on a regular basis. It's easy for me to form the opinion that I lost all my money, and I'm pretty much starting from zero. In fact, I'm starting from a highly indebted place.

Then, I have a wake-up call and I realise that some of my school-friends who do exactly the same job as me have not enjoyed a fraction of the cumulative career earnings, which I have. I've had those ski holidays and those luxury trips to exotic locations, and nobody can ever take those experiences away from me.

Sometimes my life flatly refuses to give me all the things I need at the same time. If I have a house, then I don't have a job. If I have a girlfriend then I don't have any money. If I have friends then I don't have my sanity.

The getting of the things - the difficult things - is more difficult than you can even imagine. In fact, it's better not to imagine, to plan and to worry. Be one of those people who drifts along aimlessly. Making hard things happen is too stressful.

I'd love to say that I'm genuinely disadvantaged and held back, but the truth is that despite my very best attempts to ruin my life and destroy my future, things keep happening which are quite good; enviable.

Gathering together my boxed belongings dating back 20 months, during which period I very nearly died in a city which was completely alien to me, and denied any visitors (although I was in a coma anyway) and the strange way with which I've wended my way back into civilised society, via a doctor who read my blog, via an alcoholic who recently committed suicide, via a kitesurfer who I've never worked with and via an army of friends who ceaselessly keep me in the land of the living, via the ethereal world of the internet... that's not easy.

My body started to protest before I even lifted the first precious box of my belongings into a van. I live betwixt and between the land of the fully conscious, and the land of the intoxicated: Those whose senses have been dulled with pills, powders and liquids.

I feel greater affinity for the afflicted ones - the alcoholics and the addicts - but it would be churlish of me to count myself amongst their number, as I lay my head down on a pillow in a house worth half a million pounds (I'm just renting it BTW).

I expect you've made your mind up, whether you're better or worse off than me, but be aware that your perception can be warped, and you're more likely to consider yourself less fortunate, than more fortunate - it's a common feature of human psychology, no matter how illogical it is.

In closing, I would say that I am very very tired and I am in a lot of pain, with some obvious problems with my muscles and kidneys which might require medical intervention, but I'm also walking around my gigantic house, unable to believe that rolling the dice has made this happen for me. I'll curl up in my sleeping bag in a minute, and wake up in the morning like a child when Santa Claus has been to visit. I definitely think of myself as one of the lucky ones.

 

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Victim Blaming

7 min read

This is a story about acting unconscionably...

Lime sofa

I'd like to tell you that I had an enjoyable evening picking out a sofa and a bed, which I need for the house I'm hoping to rent soon. Certainly, I visited IKEA and I did photograph a couple of items of furniture which I liked, and I lay upon two or three different mattresses, plus I sat down a couple of times to see how comfy some particular sofa cushions were. However, I was mainly visiting to purchase a chest of drawers, to replace one in my current rented home.

How the white IKEA chest-of-drawers came to be discoloured is something of a mystery to me, but there's a noticeable yellowish tinge which I'm certain was not there when I rented the place, roughly a year ago.

I'm not happy to hand the keys back to the landlord, and leave it up to him to replace the chest-of-drawers.

Technically, it's wear-and-tear. Technically, my landlord should expect to have to do a certain amount of property maintenance each year. Technically, it's not at all clear whether I'm at fault for the discolouration of the chest-of-drawers, or perhaps it was some manufacturing fault.

Whatever. I feel responsible. I feel like it's my responsibility to hand back the keys to the place in more-or-less exactly the same state that it was rented to me.

I've been a good tenant.

I always kept the place pristine.

I've always paid my rent on time.

I've always fixed any problems I found, not wanting to hassle the landlord.

I've hardly lived in the place, having spent most of last year in hotels and AirBnBs.

The manner in which I conduct myself brings people of different kinds into my life. One flatmate left owing me £7,000 in unpaid rent and bills, without a care in the world - he felt he was entitled to help himself to a vast amount of my money. One of my blog readers lent me some money, which allowed me to avoid bankruptcy and rescue my business, which is my livelihood and a source of stability.

I was ashamed to have to borrow money from a real person, rather than a faceless profit-making bank, but that shame serves as a litmus test, for me. Those who feel entitled to spend other people's money, and never repay it, despite having the financial means to do so, and who act without a conscience, are at one end of the spectrum. At the other end of the spectrum are the people who play by the rules - a debt is a debt, and a debt to a friend or a good samaritan is something that should be treated with respect - their conscience is troubled while that debt remains outstanding; they are anxious to pay back those who have been kind and generous.

It occurred to me that I might be asking for it.

I have a friend who regularly asks to "borrow" money. I have tried to employ this friend. I have offered to gift him money, instead of "lending" it to him. I have offered to purchase the things he needs as gifts, instead of "lending" him money. He knows I can often afford to lose the amounts of money he asks to "borrow" and I know he can't afford to pay me back. That's our arrangement, and I don't begrudge him, even though some might see him as taking advantage of me. Once I was briefly angry when he didn't show up to do the work I'd paid him in advance to do, but merely because of the inconvenience of having to find somebody else to do the work, when I was stressed and really didn't need the hassle.

The ex-flatmate who owes me £7,000 didn't ask to borrow that money. He simply didn't pay his bills or his rent. When I told him that he would have to leave, he accused me of intimidating him, harassing him and suggested that I might be in breach of some law, by refusing to let him get further into arrears. His mother is wealthy and owns a very large house, which he visits regularly. His lack of money was a symptom of his idleness; his sense of entitlement. In short: he's a spoiled brat.

I have a friend who I fell out with over money, a couple of times. I lent him £10,000 so that he could become a stock market trader. The loan was only supposed to be for a year, but after 4 or 5 years of not seeing a penny back, I decided to press him to repay what he owed. He acted as if I had done something wrong; as if it was my error, not his. Some years later I asked him for some help to find somewhere to live, and with the administration of my business. He saw that I was earning a lot of money at the time, and set about spending a very large amount of my cash on "us" which I later resented, because the division of labour didn't seem to justify the rewards he felt entitled to.

I also have a best friend, who gave up a very lucrative job and left his pregnant girlfriend behind on the other side of the country, to run a company with me. Then I was extremely unpleasant towards him for 3 months, during a startup accelerator program. I was a very driven man at the time - as CEO - and the way I spoke to my friend probably deserved a beating in return: I was asking for it, one might say. That friend must certainly have lost money versus his earning potential if he'd stayed in his well-paid job, but he knows I love him dearly and we both enjoyed the adventure, at times. He also knows how guilty and bad I feel about everything that didn't go so well; everything I did wrong.

The friend who's "borrowed" a couple of thousand pounds from me over the years thinks I'm asking for it because he considers himself a "have not" while also considering me a "have". I'm not sure whether he sees himself as Robin Hood, per se, but his justification is not entirely unfounded, hence why our friendship persists to this day. He is certainly a very disadvantaged young man, versus my own seemingly charmed existence.

People hear the way I speak - with a posh English accent and a wide vocabulary - and they assume that I had a privileged upbringing. They assume that I went to private school. They assume that my parents paid for me to go to university. They assume that my parents funded me through unpaid internships, so I could get into investment banking. They assume that I'm the person I sound a little bit like.

The problem with sounding a little bit like a privately-educated investment banker from a wealthy family, is that you're asking for it.

Maybe I should tone down my accent, wear jogging sweatpants and sneakers, use more slang. Maybe I should pretend to be ignorant of things which are generally the preserve of snobby elites, and narrow my field of interest to popular sports, soap operas, reality TV and celebrity gossip.

Maybe I shouldn't wear make-up, a short skirt and a low-cut top, with high-heels, and go to a place where people frequently hook-up for sex, because those things are avoidable, right? It's my fault that people feel entitled to greedily grab my money, because I'm asking for it. I'm asking to get ripped off. I'm asking to get used. I'm asking to get raped.

The comparison I'm making is unpalatable; perhaps unspeakable.

There it is. I said it.

 

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I Want To Have Nice Things

6 min read

This is a story about losing your home...

Tackley cottage

That little blonde boy in the pedal car is me. That thatched cottage is where I used to live, briefly. I loved that thatched cottage, because it was exactly what a house is supposed to be: It had a roof, chimney, windows with panes of glass criss-crossed, a front door in the middle, flowers growing in the garden. All it needed was a blue sky, some smoke coming out of the chimney, a couple of soaring birds, some white fluffy clouds and a big yellow sun with a smiling face, and it would be the picture that every child would draw, if you asked them to draw a picture of a house.

My time in the "proper house" was very limited.

When I briefly lived this proper life, there was a village green, a village shop, a village post office, a church and graveyard, a railway train station, a bus stop, a pub and a school.

During my all-too-brief proper life, I went to the local school, played with the local children, bought sweets from the village shop, attended events on the village green - when people would literally dance around a maypole with coloured ribbons - and went to church.

My life exemplified everything that is great and good about English countryside living. Former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, lives barely a few miles away from the idyllic Cotswold village where I had my proper life. Prince Charles and other royalty play polo on fields, barely a few miles away from this most quintessentially picturesque English village that you could ever imagine. The TV show Downton Abbey was filmed on location, a few miles away from this beautiful place, where I thought I would live forever.

Life seemed to make sense to me - this was a proper life, and it all made perfect sense, even though I was just a child.

The funny thing is that it still makes sense to me.

All I want is to live in a little house, with a little garden, in a little village and do the things that normal people do: go to work, come home, watch TV, cook food, eat, do gardening, have a pet, feed the birds. All I want is an ordinary life.

Presently, the only piece of furniture I own is a coffee table, which I repurposed as a TV stand. One of the few possessions I own which isn't designed to be carried around easily, is the TV, which sits atop the TV stand. Other than that, everything else can be thrown into a bag... and there isn't very much "everything else" left. Most of my possessions have been discarded, because my life was too chaotic and I was too unwell to cope with safeguarding my material things, when my life and my sanity were at risk and all too often nearly lost forever.

Every time I was forced to move as a child - 8 different schools - it was nonsensical and disruptive; it was traumatic and damaging. Every time I found myself packing my bags, yet again, a pattern was being established: I was being psychologically programmed. The message my parents were sending me was loud and clear: "Don't get attached to anything, anywhere or anybody".

I gave up on the idea of having a settled, secure, normal life.

When I separated from my wife and an acrimonious divorce began, it really didn't bother me as much as it should have done, to lose my house, lose my precious things and to end up sleeping rough - homeless and destitute. I camped in bushes, where I could hide my tent. I slept in a bivouac on heathland. I was invisible in a city with a daytime population of 10 million inhabitants. My home and my bed shrank and shrank, until it was simply the tiny patch of ground on which I stood or lay. My personal space shrank to be no bigger than the volume occupied by the extremities of my body.

When I saw the chance to move from being homeless to living in a very luxurious apartment with amazing views of the capital city, the idea was too attractive for me to resist.

I had two years bursting with pride about how I'd pulled myself up by the bootstraps, and was no longer sleeping rough; no longer homeless. I had to pinch myself every time I stepped inside my home, and was greeted by breathtaking panoramic views over London. That feeling never wore off... the whole time I lived there.

I want that again. I want to live somewhere special. I want that special feeling that I'm living in a proper place, after the awfulness I've been through in life.

Yes, I'm sympathetic towards those who are sleeping rough, and those who are living in a very dire situation. No, it doesn't make me happy just to have a roof over my head.

I've lived anywhere. I've slept rough all over London. I've slept in 14-bed hostel dorms. I've slept in psychiatric wards, hospitals and police cells.

I do NOT want to live anywhere.

It was a big deal when I got the keys to a gorgeous home with sea views, roughly ten and a half months ago. I still feel a great buzz when I visit that place, and I stand at the window admiring the views over the bay. I love that home, but unfortunately, it's not my home... although technically I can sleep there whenever I want, for another month and a half.

I shouldn't be getting stressed out about moving. My life will be much better when I have a home again. Hopefully I can have a beautiful home which I can fill with lovely things. Hopefully I can stay there. Hopefully I won't have to leave. Hopefully my world won't be destroyed again.

Currently, I have no idea where, when or how I'm going to get myself a home, let alone whether I'll have the opportunity to fill it up with lovely things.

My upbringing taught me one clear lesson, again and again: Expect nothing, except to lose everything that you get attached to.

 

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