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

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Heartless

9 min read

This is a story about self preservation...

Boxed up

I haven't written for over a month, but the general circumstances of my existence would have been repeated ad nauseam, as they cause me untold amounts of stress & anxiety, for reasons I am about to explain.

I have two more months of paid employment and then I'm potentially back hunting for work again. Even in the best case scenario, where I work every single day between now and the end of March, all that money is accounted for - somebody wants it: the taxman, a bank, a landlord... some vulture or parasite.

My rusty old car has bitten the dust and must be scrapped. I managed to limp it along, spending very little money on it, but it finally became uneconomical to repair it, despite the problem being as seemingly simple as a single broken bolt.

What does a 40 year old man who doesn't own a house or a car, or have a job, have to live for?

This is the question I asked myself on December 19th, when I noticed that my urine was full of blood, and later turned dark brown in colour, with a noxious scent. Later that day, I noticed that my bladder was no longer filling and I knew that my kidneys had failed.

The usual response of a healthy happy person when faced with a life-threatening medical emergency is to hastily make their way to hospital. My response was to wonder how long it would be before the waste products in my body would build up to a sufficient level to trigger a cardiac arrest. I imagined that 3 or 4 days would be adequate. I began the wait.

By December 23rd I was suffering from seizures, blackouts, confusion, muscle pain, abdominal pain, weakness and a host of other symptoms related to multiple organ failure, the complications of having highly toxic blood and massive fluid retention.

Against my will but without protest, I was taken to hospital by ambulance, where I spent two and a half weeks having dialysis for many hours a day, in the hope - the doctors' hope, not mine - that it would save my life. My only concern was that my life would be saved but my kidneys would not, thus rendering me dependent on dialysis sessions, 3 times a week, 4 hours per session, for the rest of my life, in order to remain alive. Of course, under those circumstances I would have committed suicide at the earliest possible opportunity.

I was discharged from hospital to discover that my cat had urinated on almost every single item of clothing that I own. My cat is incredibly intelligent, and she had managed to find a way to squat and pee in every drawer, box, bag and other container of clothing.

Kidney failure prevents the waste products from your muscles from being filtered out of your bloodstream and into your bladder, where they can be urinated away. Pickling your muscles in toxins, virtually immobile in a hospital bed, on a noisy hospital ward for two and a half weeks, was something that left me physically drained and very weak. Dealing with the mountain of cat-urine soaked clothing was a task which was beyond my capabilities, while still recuperating from the ordeal I'd suffered.

During the two and a half weeks when I was in hospital, I had three visitors: my ex-girlfriend, a work colleague and a friend. My ex-girlfriend was staggeringly out of touch with reality and stubbornly refused to drop her fantasy ideas about what the National Health Service is. She visited a few times at the beginning and then I never saw her again. My work colleague reminded me that I'm well liked and respected at work, and that's incredibly valuable. My work gives me a great deal of pride and a sense of identity. My friend reminded me that for all my years of struggle, I've been playing a rigged game all along, and I'm the only one who's been playing by the rules; not cheating.

It seems inevitable that in the not-too distant future, for one reason or another, my temporary employment will end and I will lose not only my source of income, but also any reason to remain in both this city and this country.

I have no relationship to stay here for: that's over.

I have work colleagues here, who are wonderful, but I always maintain a degree of separation between my work life and my private life, notwithstanding this blog (which serves as an invitation for anybody who really wants to be my friend to reach out).

I do love my cat, but she urinates on everything made of fabric or otherwise porous, and destroys anything else which she takes a disliking to: my houseplants, my carpet, my furniture, cables, anything fragile etc. I'm sure that I can find her a loving home where her misbehaviour will be tolerated.

My existence appears to be that of an anti-social hermit, but I assure you that there are hundreds of people who I have to deal with on a professional basis, who find me to be a pleasant and affable fellow; a good colleague. I have a very select few close friends who I maintain regular contact with via phone, email, SMS and other text, voice and video services.

Estranged from my family for over 6 years, with the exception of my sister, and single, this might be cause for loneliness and unhappiness, but I live for my work at the moment, which provides ample social contact, and it seems sensible that I move somewhere where I have at least one close friend - I'm in no mood to become one of those tragic 40+ men who join some kind of club or society in the desperate pathetic hope of gaining a social life.

What about suicide? Well, if the opportunity to die - passively - presents itself again, then I certainly won't be phoning the emergency services. It's barely a month ago that I had a few days to contemplate the fact that I was about to die, and I was quite calm; I was looking forward to the rest and relaxation of being dead.

My priorities remain the same as they always have: to repay my guardian angel and attempt to achieve some kind of financial and housing security, and to reconfigure my life so that the vast amounts of stress, anxiety, boredom and misery heaped upon me by the rat race - causing untold depression - can be replaced by either an alternative, or early death (i.e. suicide).

Thus, I might appear heartless, but it's all a practical necessity to maintain the slim chance that a life worth living might eventually present itself; otherwise the choice is clear: immediate suicide.

I sometimes wonder: am I tough? Am I mean? Am I a sociopath? Am I antisocial? Do I lack empathy? Do I mistreat people?

I think the answer to all those questions is: no. I spent the best part of three weeks in hospital with some people who were just as sick as I was, if not more so, and they really wanted to live. They were tough. I was tough too, but we're all tough, so that means I'm not particularly tough. None of us are tough. The answer to the rest of the questions is clearly no, because the evidence points overwhelmingly to the contrary. I'm just surviving; that's all I'm doing - I'm doing what needs to be done to get through every miserable, awful, unbearable day.

If you think I owe you something, believe me I know about it. Believe me, I think about it more than you think about it. Does that mean that you're going to get a gift-wrapped package in the mail with a red ribbon on it, containing what you're 'owed'. No f**king way. Get to the back of the queue, buddy. Do you think I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm owed? Sometimes I realise that if everybody who's picked my pocket coughed up their debts to me, then I'd have that financial security that I so desperately need, but I'm happy with the way that I've lived my life; I don't regret trusting people and taking chances.

So, where are we? Ah yes, self preservation. I basically need to work every single day I can for two solid months, just to have a bank balance of zero pounds and zero pence and not owe anything to anybody, and not have any valuable assets to my name. When I wrote "self preservation" at the top of this blog post, I did so with extreme sarcasm, because my life is literally preserved without my consent; if it had been up to me, I wouldn't have been born, I wouldn't have been 'saved' all those many times; I wouldn't have survived at all, and I'd be glad of it, because I would be resting in peace.

I do of course have people - and cats - who I love and I would 'miss' (although this is an oxymoron, obviously, to imagine that the dead are capable of missing anybody) and who would miss me, but it's selfish to want people who are in pain to go on living, when their quality of life is intolerable: this is why we euthanise our pets with no qualms; it's more humane.

If you think I'm heartless and lack empathy, you are mistaken, you are a fool, and you're no friend of mine.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Four of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Four

Caroline and I were driving northbound on the M6 motorway. Matt & Kate, and Paul & Cath followed behind, in our convoy of three vehicles: my van and their two cars. Caroline and I were having an argument.

"I thought you said you wanted a family" she said, half pleading and half accusing me of deception.

"I did, but then circumstances changed" I replied, attempting an apologetic tone.

"So you don't want to start a family anymore?" she asked rhetorically. Her voice betrayed her frustration and she spoke her words a little aggressively.

"No, that's not it. I just don't know at the moment. Things are changing and it's a big decision" I said, evasively.

"But we had made the decision. I started taking folic acid. I stopped taking the pill. We were trying to get pregnant."

"Yes, I agree. That's what I wanted at the time. That's what we wanted. Then things changed."

"You mean you selfishly decided to quit your job and pursue this stupid hare-brained idea of yours. THAT'S what you mean" she said, gesticulating with annoyance at the van we were in.

* * *

I had quit my job.

I had quit my job because even after trying every anti-depressant that my doctor could prescribe me, I still found that my life was intolerable. I felt trapped by my career. The prospect of spending the next 20 or 30 years working a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday office job felt like a fate worse than death, quite literally: the anti-depressants had brought so little relief, and suicidal thoughts plagued me with ever-increasing frequency, such that I felt I only had two choices: resign or kill myself.

There was, of course, a third option. I could have opted to be off work sick on a long-term basis. The investment bank had a generous policy for anybody who was sick for more than 6 months, allowing them to retire early. The income would be a tiny fraction of what a successful investment banker who continued to work into their late forties or early fifties, would expect to retire with. If I chose to resign and keep my reputation intact, I knew I would be welcomed back into the investment banking world with open arms. I knew that being pensioned off early due to ill health would be a career-ending move: a reputational stain which would follow me around until my dying day.

Getting an investment banking job is paradoxical - you can't get a job in investment banking without experience, and you can't get the investment banking experience without the job: Catch 22. I had been lucky enough to get a highly sought-after summer internship, due to a distant relative being a senior executive at a City firm. Without connections, it was impossible to get a foot in the door. I knew that I was incredibly fortunate to have my career, and to have been rapidly promoted. I was liked and respected by many colleagues. I would not struggle to get my old job back, or find another investment bank which wanted to hire me. However, I could not carry on working in an office anymore.

* * *

"It's not a 'hare-brained idea', Caroline" I said, speaking her name with a condescending tone. I was annoyed and beginning to get angry. I spoke through gritted teeth. "I am a qualified electrician and the business is quite profitable. I am a skilled tradesman whose services are in demand in the local community."

"Profitable!" she snorted. "You had to sell the boat and the MG which you bought for me as a birthday present, because you said you couldn't afford the upkeep."

This made me furious. I was about to angrily reply, but she hadn't finished.

"We are going to Wales on holiday"  she said, putting particular emphasis on the word "Wales" as if we were taking a break from our pleasant lives to suffer the torments of Hell - a vacation to the underworld - or embarking on an excursion to a warzone. "Matt & Katie just got back from Florence, and Paul & Cath are going trekking in the Atlas Mountains in a few weeks."

"Yes, that's the whole FUCKING POINT" I replied; my temper was barely under control and my voice was raised. "The main reason for this trip was so that I could teach Paul & Cath some of the mountaineering skills they're going to need, and so they can test their equipment. It was YOU who has managed to turn the trip into a couples' romantic luxury getaway and insisted on us renting a gigantic converted barn with a hot tub. Paul, Cath and I were going to sleep in tents until you hijacked the trip."

"But Katie hates camping" protested Caroline.

"It's not about Katie. It's not about Matt. It's not about you. None of you were even invited. I offered to take Paul and Cath on a trip to Snowdonia to help them prepare for their expedition to Morocco."

"I needed a holiday, Gavin. I'm not going to spend my holiday, in the middle of February, freezing cold in a tent. We're not going skiing this year, which will be the first year where we've not had at least one ski trip - our friends are devastated that we're not joining them, and I'm devastated too. Skiing is the only time when I get to catch up with a lot of our friends. We haven't had a holiday since last year and we haven't booked a single holiday for this year."

"This is a holiday, isn't it? YOU wanted to make this into a holiday by renting a luxury converted barn. We went on holiday in November, which was only three months ago" I said with exasperation.

"This doesn't count. Malta doesn't count."

"MALTA DOESN'T COUNT?" I shouted.

"Yes, it was a last-minute deal and the hotel was grotty - you said so yourself. It was a short-haul flight with a naff airline and it was cloudy half the time. You ended up having to buy a jumper and a pair of trousers on the day we arrived, because you were cold, remember? Besides, a week doesn't even count - that's what I'm saying. A holiday should be at least 2 weeks or else it doesn't count."

"DOESN'T COUNT?" I sputtered with rage.

"Yes. By the time you've unpacked and settled in, it's time to start packing up your stuff and getting ready to leave. It's hardly a holiday is it? It's more of a mini-break, except we went to Malta instead of somewhere exciting like New York or Rome."

"We've been to New York and Rome."

"I was just giving examples of proper mini-breaks. You get my point" she said, folding her arms as if the matter was settled and she had won the argument.

* * *

It was true - we had been forced to dramatically change our lifestyle since I had quit my job and become a self-employed electrician. Caroline's job as a solicitor working with asylum seekers, earned her only a fraction of what she would be able to earn if she joined an international law firm - like her father's - but she wanted to make a worthy contribution to society; she wanted to help the needy and vulnerable. She refused to countenance the idea that she could become the main breadwinner if she set aside some of her lofty principles and instead took the highest paying job she could find. However, she said it would break her heart to leave the charity she worked for; she couldn't live with the guilt, knowing that she could be helping clients with gut-wrenchingly awful stories, fleeing persecution.

For such a nice, kind and charitably-minded person, Caroline's version of a "normal" life had been shaped by her privileged upbringing. The enviable lifestyle which we had hitherto enjoyed together had been a continuation of what she had experienced throughout her life, without any interruption. When I bought her a highly collectable classic British sports car for her 25th birthday, she was thrilled - having dropped hints that it was something she'd always wanted - but lavish gifts weren't particularly exceptional in Caroline's family. Some years ago, her mother had given her father a hand-built limited edition Morgan sportscar, which she'd been on a waiting list for several years to obtain, to celebrate him becoming a partner at his law firm.

My decision to become an electrician had been motivated, in no small part, by how guilty I felt about being an investment banker. Caroline was helping asylum seekers to escape torture and murder, and was comparatively poorly paid. Meanwhile, I was helping the wealthiest 1% to become richer and richer, while also becoming quite rich myself. I felt no 'warm fuzzy feeling' about the work I did. Often there were very ethically questionable things which I had to accept as part and parcel of the job. Mergers and acquisitions offered the opportunity for cost-cutting "restructuring" which inevitably meant redundancies. I was responsible for thousands of people people being sacked, while Caroline was heroically saving families from tyrannical regimes.

I had seen many colleagues squander their wealth, attempting new ventures, only to gratefully return back to their investment banking career after their startup companies and angel investments quickly gobbled up their wealth. An investment banker's entire career is spent scrutinising the accounts, forecasts and business models of their clients, to whom they are lending money or helping to float on the stock market - it's so easy to mistakenly believe that doing business is easy, when it's not your money or your company. Returning colleagues had gained nothing of any value - a very expensive lesson; a costly mistake. They all said they regretted ever leaving their comfortable investment banking careers. We used to make jokes about being kept in "golden handcuffs".

I decided that I wanted to retrain. I decided that I wanted to be qualified in something other than banking, but I felt certain that my age would count against me in law and accountancy: I should have chosen a different profession at a much younger age. I considered dentistry and medicine, which required a substantial amount of amount of time and money before I could expect to earn a high income. The living standards, which Caroline and I had enjoyed for many years, would be decimated; our plans to start a family would be delayed by 5, 6 or 7 years... or maybe more.

I chose a new trade instead of a new profession. Relatively speaking, the training to become an electrician was cheap, quick and easy. The expense of setting up my business as a sole trader - the van and the tools - didn't seem like very much money at all: less than the cost of what Caroline would count as a holiday, which met her expectations. If I did have to go back to my investment banking career, I would have lost very little money.

* * *

I sulked, bitterly, thinking Caroline was spoiled and entitled; that she was a bad person and that her expectations were unreasonable. I wanted to criticise her for wanting luxury holidays, when her asylum seeker clients were so desperately impoverished, but I knew that it would be desperately hypocritical of me - I had wanted luxury holidays just as much as she had. I had chosen to sell my soul, doing the devil's work as an investment banker. I could hardly lecture her for wanting the lifestyle to which we had both become accustomed. I wanted to tell her that it wasn't fair: she could feel smug about the good work which she was doing in the world, while I felt guilty about my own immoral profession. However, her choice to do low-paid charitable work was not to blame for my troubled conscience and depression.

The other thing I wanted to tell her, was that I wasn't sure if I wanted to carry on living. I wanted to tell her that I didn't want to become a father, and then decide to kill myself. It seemed like too much of a gamble: to hope that my depression would lift and my suicidal thoughts abate, as soon as we had children. I wanted to discuss all these things with her, but I didn't want to upset and alarm her. How do you renege on a promise to provide a wonderful life: a big wedding, children, a huge family home, private schooling, luxury family holidays, and enough trust fund money set aside to bankroll the children through university.

How can you admit that you've tried your hardest to keep going with an extremely well paid career, but the job makes you want to kill yourself, so the dream life we had imagined is over?

* * *

"Is this place we're going to be staying nice?" I asked, trying to make peace and restore a pleasant atmosphere in the van.

Caroline's face lit up. "Oh it's gorgeous. Every room has its own log burning stove. There's an Aga. The main living space is to die for - tall glass walls on both sides with panoramic views of the mountains, set in acres of private land. It's cosy AND luxurious. The barn is hundreds of years old and has its original oak beams, but the conversion was done by an award-winning architect. It's featured in lots of magazines. Did you not see the pictures I sent you?"

"Nope. So you're looking forward to it?"

"Yeah. Can't wait. Katie has brought a goose and Matt had found a butcher on the way who's got half a lamb for us to collect. We spent a small fortune on food and wine in Waitrose. This is going to be fantastic fun."

This was not what I had in mind originally. I had brought some packets of dried pasta and dehydrated sauce, which could be cooked on a camping stove, with melted snow, to prepare Paul and Cath for their trip to the Atlas Mountains.

"You should have brought the fondue set" I said, with barely concealed sarcasm.

"One step ahead of you! It's in Matt & Katie's car. I was going to surprise you - I know how much you love fondue."

"I wonder how many mountaineers carry kilos of cheese and a fondue set up a mountain in their backpacks" was the immediate reply which sprung to lips, but I managed to hold my tongue. "Oh yes, lovely surprise darling. We're going to have a lot of fun" I said instead, with the very best forced smile which I could muster.

I glanced backwards at the pile of rucksacks in the back of the van. When I had been loading everybody's rucksacks into the van it briefly reminded me of the expeditions I had been on with my university mountaineering society. I had been eagerly anticipating re-living some of those happy memories of time spent in the mountains. Now I felt as though my miniature expedition had been hijacked by Caroline and Katie's desire for a luxury jaunt into the countryside.

As we continued our journey towards Snowdonia National Park, I wondered if we would even leave the comfortable confines of the palatial barn conversion, and venture into the mountains at all.

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Twelve: Competition Provides Motivation

6 min read

This is a story about wanting to be number one...

Marathon

"I'll quit... tomorrow" is the old joke and oft-repeated mantra of many an addict and alcoholic. For those who wish to achieve something difficult, with limited reward, it seems obvious that they would be setting themselves up to fail if they were only doing something because they were being coerced by family, friends, co-workers, doctors and/or wider society, which pours scorn on our vices. Why should we give up our vices? Why should we live without the little things which "take the edge off" a rather miserable and painful mortal existence?

There is very little motivation, if the only achievement is to end up not doing something. What is anybody going to say to you if you're not smoking, for example? Nobody is going to congratulate you for not smoking, so what is the reward? If you don't drink, you're quite likely to be punished for your abstinence - social exclusion and peer pressure are commonplace for teetotallers.

It's hard to achieve anything if success is only measured by yourself - only you know how hard it was to achieve what you've achieved, and the fact that you aren't allowed to keep telling people how great it is that you don't drink and you don't smoke, unless you want to be hated for being horribly smug with yourself, means that you might as well not bother trying to do anything difficult, which doesn't bring praise and admiration.

We can watch with wonder as a young kid does 100 keepie-uppies with a football. We can all watch with wonder as a person wheelies their bicycle down the road. We can all marvel at the skill and fitness of sportsperson, but just looking at an average person who's not drinking, smoking or taking drugs, it's pretty hard to understand that it might be a massive achievement for them, to be avoiding those addictive substances on a daily basis.

Thus, the solution is to create artificial competition.

My first lengthy period of sobriety - 121 consecutive days - was achieved when I wanted to beat a friend's record of 100 consecutive days, and I wanted to beat it by a significant margin in order to make it harder for him to re-take the lead in our competition. Using competition in this way was extremely effective as a motivational tool.

My present episode of self-imposed abstinence from alcohol has been partly motivated by the public declaration that I would be doing this, and therefore there are friends who have been following my progress - they will feel happy that I've completed "Sober October" and they will congratulate me, which provides the necessary praise and reward to make it worthwhile.

My current sobriety began when I was chatting with a work colleague and we were discussing the damage that alcohol had wrought in the lives of people they knew, and I made a commitment to stop drinking for a period of time. The time period was unspecified, but I felt obliged to follow-through with a significant period of sobriety, because my colleague showed that they care about me, and they will be pleased that I have been taking a break from drinking.

Competition is something which I mostly hate, because it brings out the worst in people: cheating and bullying; the strong crushing the weak. I think that competition is a poor basis for a civilised society, because it's miserable for everybody except the person in first place. Competition leads to a race to the bottom. Competition quite naturally leads to an anxious state of affairs, where there is continual pressure to compete, which is toxic to any sense of safety and security, and destroys people's mental health. Competition is unhealthy.

I've used competition as I kind of "I bet you I can quit alcohol for a significant period of time" kind of thing, which has provided the motivation to allow me to give my body a break from drinking. I can tell my work colleague that I've been sober for 43 consecutive days, without being smug about it. I can tell my work colleagues that I spent the whole of October sober, without being too smug about it. I can tell you - my dear readers - that I'm doing what I set out to do, which is to maintain control over an addictive substance, which is insidious and had crept into my life too much, so I cut it out for a while.

I have friends who have decided to be teetotal for life. I'm sure they will live longer, healthier lives because of that decision, and I'm sure it will give them more money to spend and they will have more time and money. Those are fantastic benefits, but I'm quite content to remain a person who drinks alcohol, given that I cannot find adequate motivation to be a lifelong teetotaller. Wine and beer bring me more pleasure than the benefits of total abstinence, although I do need to take regular breaks - like this one - from my drinking habits.

I'm not sure when I'm going to drink again. Every day after today is a bonus: an extra day which benefits my health, but yet I feel no more obligation to remain totally sober, given that I've got another lengthy period of sobriety under my belt, which has improved my health, given my liver a chance to repair itself and helped me to lose a little weight (or at least not gain any).

I could continue not drinking, in order to achieve goals like getting fitter, losing weight and being more active, but it's cold and wet and wintery and I really can't be bothered. One step at a time. I'm struggling to get motivated about much at the moment, so I am content to celebrate this minor victory: 43 consecutive days without any alcohol and a fully Sober October.

 

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Step Eleven: Avoid The Supermarket

4 min read

This is a story about marketing...

Deals deals deals

I was on my way home and decided to nip into a large supermarket, as opposed to my small local shop, where I usually top up my groceries on a more regular basis. If I go to a large supermarket, I'm always tempted to fill a trolley with lots of nice things and purchase far more food than it's possible for me to consume before its expiry date, which is incredibly wasteful. I do enjoy shopping in supermarkets, but there are a multitude of temptations, which are better avoided. Less choice is better, because it means that I only purchase the specific items I need.

Of course, supermarkets are aware of the human psychological fallibility, when it comes to being presented with greater choice. If one set of test subjects are offered a bowl full of multicoloured sweets, and another set of test subjects are offered a bowl of sweets of a single colour, more of the multicoloured sweets will be consumed, even though the only difference between them is the variety of colours - the flavours are identical. We are programmed to consume the greatest possible variety, because this would have conveyed an evolutionary advantage, given that our bodies need trace amounts of micronutrients, which we wouldn't get if we only ate our favourite thing, exclusively.

As I lingered by the checkout, waiting to pay for my groceries, I could see two aisles full of alcohol, in very close proximity to where I was forced to wait. In fact, I had been forced to walk past two alcohol aisles twice, due to the layout of the supermarket. At the end of each aisle were various alcohol deals, along with other aisles which also had alcohol deals at the end, and alcohol deals which were part of meal deals, and other displays of bottles of wine which were dotted around the store. As a conservative estimate, I must have been presented with the opportunity to purchase alcohol - within grabbing distance - perhaps 20 times in one supermarket visit, despite the fact that I didn't walk down either of the alcohol aisles.

Given that I have completed 30 of the 31 days of "Sober October" it was highly tempting to buy some alcohol in preparation for November 1st, when my self-imposed period of sobriety ends (perhaps). I tried to remember that I promised myself I would endure with my alcohol-free existence until I had achieved some tangible goals, such as weight loss and generally feeling healthier and happier, but the combination of payday and November 1st being a Friday, plus my flawless completion of 42 consecutive days of sobriety, was leading me to feel as though I 'deserved' to get drunk at the end of the working week.

It's virtually impossible to avoid supermarkets, corner shops and indeed, to travel anywhere without passing an off-license or some other premises that sells alcohol. Alcohol is ubiquitous. I pity alcoholics, and I pity recovering alcoholics, who must continually endure marketing attempts to push them into relapse. While my 42 consecutive days of sobriety have passed with relative ease, it must be a nightmare for somebody with a serious alcohol addiction, or somebody who has conquered alcoholism but is always at risk of relapse.

"Avoid the supermarket" is terrible advice, because it's nearly impossible, but I thought I should write about it anyway. We need to acknowledge that the most dangerous and damaging drug - alcohol - which costs our society by far and away the most amount of money due to antisocial behaviour, health damage, loss of productivity and a whole raft of other problems, is something which is sold anywhere and everywhere, and heavily marketed and promoted. It's virtually impossible to avoid alcohol being "pushed" by a "drug pedaler".

My present period of sobriety has brought me no particular weight loss, health improvements or otherwise discernable benefits, but I'm glad I've done it. I'm glad to have demonstrated that I can stop drinking whenever I need or want to, because alcohol is insidious and can easily creep into your daily routine, and slowly destroy your health. It's been useful to be acutely aware of how regularly I am drawn to the alcohol which is on sale in so many locations, as to make it all-but unavoidable.

 

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Step Nine: Prioritise

8 min read

This is a story about the critical path...

Backpacks

Having attended 8 different schools and basically had my sense of stability and security snatched away from me at every opportunity, by my selfish parents, during an upbringing where they prioritised their own antisocial desire to take drugs in isolation above everything else, I've learned the hard way what's important and what's not.

I place a very high value on loyalty, but I know from bitter and disappointing experience that there are extremely few people who are at all loyal in the world. I very rarely encounter anybody who I would describe as loyal, let alone trust. Because my parents forcibly removed me from anywhere I was becoming settled and secure, on so many occasions, it was necessary to find a coping mechanism for the destruction wrought upon any relationships; any attachments which I had formed. Through no fault of my own, and indeed through the wickedness of my parents, I was forced to become able to remain emotionally detached from people, such that I could disentangle myself without the heartbreak, repeatedly perpetrated against me, while my parents pursued their antisocial selfish drug-taking lifestyle.

Repeatedly moving house also destroys a child's sense of security in their home and their bedroom. What's the point in getting attached to a place if your parents are going to wrench you from it, the moment you begin to feel at home? Again, I was forced to develop coping mechanisms for the selfish antisocial drug-taking lifestyle, which perpetrated such an unsettled home life upon me, leaving me with no sense of 'home' or 'belonging' - these things are meaningless terms to me.

"Where are you from?" people often ask me. How on earth do I answer that question? I have had a childhood which no child should've had to suffer. Children need stability and security; consistency. Children need their friends; children need their house and their school and they need a place which they can call home - be it town or village. If you rob your child of this, you are an evil and wicked person.

Where I currently sit, on my sofa with my cat snuggled next to me, there are approximately ten books which I haven't read, six board games which I haven't played, a few other items of furniture and some fake plants, all of which I would consider entirely disposable. If my house burned down and I lost every single possession, it would be a mere inconvenience to process the insurance claim - there is nothing in my life which I'm emotionally attached to. Even my cat, who I adore, could be re-homed and live a very happy life. It would, I admit, be hard for me to return to cat-free existence and I would soon seek to get another cat at the earliest practicable opportunity, but while I do love my beautiful kitten, I know that her loyalties lie with whoever is feeding her; cats are not loyal and they do not truly reciprocate love, because they are simple creatures, although incredibly beautiful and loveable.

Why have I led this essay with such a bitterness-filled tirade? Well, it sets the scene for the important point I'm about to make.

If you need to achieve something very, very hard, you have to know what you can afford to lose.

To go on the journey from penniless and homeless, abandoned by friends and family - or at least given a temporary wide berth because they mistakenly and misguidedly believed they needed to protect their families from "that homeless guy" who they used to call their friend or relative - then you need to know what is on the critical path, and what is not.

We live in a capitalist society (unless you are reading this in North Korea, which I very much doubt) and as such, the cultural indoctrination has been so successful that nobody will piss on you if you're on fire, because they believe that there is some cash value for their urine, or at least expect to be paid in advance for emptying their bladder in order to extinguish the flames. Thus, while it's laudable to do acts of random kindness, most people will cut off your head and shit down your throat, if they think it'll contribute 0.000001% towards getting their kid an "A" grade in their exam.

Money is at the root of everything. Concentrate on getting money and everything else falls into place. This might sound shallow. This might sound like terrible advice. Indeed, it would be terrible advice for any person who had a brilliant childhood where they were raised by normal parents, in a normal house and went to school like a normal kid. Unfortunately, for those of us who were denied that by our wicked selfish parents, we have to buy our way through life; we have to prostitute ourselves. We have no place to call home which will welcome us with open arms - we have been forced into nomadic exile; belonging nowhere and to nobody.

People have been kind to me, but people have been disproportionately unkind to me, such that the net balance means that I have suffered far more than I have benefitted. I am immensely grateful for those few loyal, generous and kind people who have treated me well. My sanity, dignity and self-esteem is only preserved by that tiny group who have chosen not to shun, marginalise, exclude, ostracise and spurn me; to eject me from society and reject me from anywhere I might gain a sense of belonging.

A man's life is worth very little, and I use the word "man" quite deliberately, because it is men who freeze to death on the streets, only to be cremated, with no mourners. There are some women, but they attract a disproportionate amount of sympathy, given that they suffer less violence, and have far better prospects than men do. You might immediately feel that I'm wandering into the territory of a misogynistic rant, but I merely present the simple facts. "Hate" facts you might call them, if there was any malice in my words, but there is not. It's simply a bleak appraisal of a life, as a man, which sees me far more likely to be murdered, assaulted, killed at work, jailed, homeless or suffer any number of horrible outcomes, than if I had been born without a willy in-between my legs.

So, what about the priorities?

Earn money. It's a practical necessity in capitalist society, and without it you will be trampled, spat on and kicked to death. There are no other priorities. Making friends is not important. Having a place to call home is not important. Having a family is not important. Everything can wait until you've got some money. That is the priority: get some money, then everything else will fall into place.

Once you have money, you will find that everything can be bought. You can attempt to persuade yourself that everything you have was not bought, but I can reassure you from bitter experience, that nobody wants to come and visit you in the gutter, if you're penniless; nobody wants to be in a relationship with you; nobody wants to help you... nobody even wants to see you. That's right, if you're poor, people would much prefer it if you were totally invisible.

How does this relate to my own personal version of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps abstinence-based program to achieving sobriety? Well, it's pretty simple really: step nine says get rich, and don't worry about anything else. The world is full of wealthy drunks, and nobody cares about their alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a disease of the poor. If you're not poor then you're not an alcoholic anymore... you're just somebody who enjoys a drink; you're a party animal; you're suddenly a great guy or gal who's surrounded by heaps of friends.

Of course, don't be so stupid as to lose your money, which can very easily be done when gregariously and generously buying drinks for all your friends, because of course without money you're nothing but a worthless alcoholic scumbag. That's the secret, you see: stay rich and you'll be fine; concentrate on the money and everything else falls into place.

You might think that this sounds like terrible advice, and it probably is. If I screw up and lose all my money, you will laugh at me and tell me that I am a fool, and in all probability I am more likely to fail than I am to succeed, so you are making a cowardly bet, to bet against me. If I succeed, then I don't give a shit who you are or what you used to think about me, because I can do whatever the hell I want; I can have whatever I want.

In this hell-hole of a capitalist society, prioritise one thing and one thing alone: money.

 

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Step Eight: Be Selfish

10 min read

This is a story about looking after number one...

Safety card

I just spent about half an hour searching for a specific picture which I know I took, because I have a photographic memory. I quite clearly remember the harrowing scene depicted, of the person crawling out of a burning aircraft. Perhaps I have muddled up some parody/meme image with my constant snapping of everything vaguely interesting, but I am certain that it was a photograph which I took and have uncharacteristically misplaced.

Why the hell is this important?

Well, every day I have to think of a title, introductory line, a rough outline of what I plan to write, and I choose what I think is an appropriate photo to accompany my piece. It might often seem like the pictures are unrelated, but very often a photograph is the thing which prompts what I'm going to write.

In today's instance, I knew what I was going to write, and I knew which photo I wanted to accompany the piece, but I couldn't find it despite a thorough search.

I imagine that many people are quite thorough and meticulous about organising their lives, and I am too, but in my own unique way. I can quickly lay my hands on on what I need, given that I have taken the various essential tasks of my life and turned them into efficient processes, despite not spending an inordinate amount of time on systematically organising stuff.

I deal with a substantial amount of stuff. I run my own business, which requires me to do monthly payroll submissions to HMRC, quarterly VAT submissions, annual accounts, self-assessment tax return, corporation tax, dividend tax, income tax, national insurance, annual shareholder statements, board meeting minutes, dividend certificates, professional indemnity insurance, 3rd party liability insurance. I live an ordinary life, which brings rental contracts, house inspections, gas and electric meter readings, tenant insurance, home contents insurance, pet insurance, car insurance, car tax, car roadworthiness testing, car servicing, car maintenance, cleaning the house, feeding the cat, scooping my cat's poops and replacing her kitty litter, recycling, bin day, mowing the lawn, composting, buying food, preparing meals. None of this is unusual, but it's not insignificant.

With the continuous unrelenting pressure to do a good job at work, and impress my colleagues, combined with the constant threat of ending up bankrupt, homeless, penniless and destitute, it's an intolerable amount of stress and anxiety, heaped upon me. Although I'm not drowning in ever-growing debt - my income far exceeds my expenditure - I don't have any job security, housing security or financial security. The position I find myself in is immutable: there are no alternative choices I could take.

"Why don't you take some time off?" or "why don't you do some unpaid voluntary work" or "why don't you switch careers?" or "why don't you study something interesting?" are all as utterly ridiculous as asking me why I don't just wave my magic wand and turn a pile of house-bricks into a pile of gold bullion. My situation is completely, rigidly, unalterably dictated by my circumstances. There is no other way to structure my life, other than the way I have done it - my life is like a prison.

Of course, I could always drop out of society, live in a tent under a road bridge, beg for money, eat at soup kitchens. Of course I have the option of becoming totally feral, and foraging for food in the forest, covered in dirt and clothed in rags. Yes, I suppose those are options which are available to me, but we must be aware that society operates a strict one-way street. Once I left society, I would never be permitted to return.

"So Mr Grant, what have you been doing for the past 6 months?" asks the interviewer. "Living in a cave" comes my reply. "Where should we write to you if your application for the job is successful?" the interviewer asks. "I have no postal address" comes my reply. Thus endeth any attempts to re-enter society, once a person has dropped out. I suppose I could get a cash-in-hand job washing cars for illegal immigrants, and sleep rough on the streets, but I think I would rather go back to my cave than suffer such a fate.

The point of this rant is that my life is finely balanced: it doesn't take much extra demand placed upon me, to push me beyond what I can cope with, given that I've already endured such incredible hardship to get here.

My journey has already included rough sleeping, hospitalisations and being locked up in secure psychiatric institutions. My journey has already included recent periods where I had no money and I had no income which is a pretty difficult place to come back from. My journey already took me to the limit of human survival, where I was in an intensive care ward of a hospital on life support in a coma, suffering from multiple organ failure.

I'm feeling pretty fit and healthy, relative to how I was before. I'm feeling pretty financially prosperous, versus the time when I had no money and no income. I'm feeling as thought I have a realistic prospect of re-entering civilised society, as opposed to crushed beneath its heel, like a bug. However, it really wasn't very long ago that I was in dire trouble, relatively speaking.

So, I have to be careful about being too competent and capable, taking on the world's problems; boiling the ocean. Only a few months ago I shunned anything and everything which would add more complexity and stress to my life, cutting things back to the bare essentials, so that I could cope. I'm little more capable of dealing with extra stuff now, but it's easy for me to get carried away. Vast amounts of my precious time can be eaten up when I try to help with some "simple" task, which is always anything but.

It's hard to say "no" as an engineer. We are, by our nature, problem solvers who like fixing stuff. We have dogged unshakeable determination to follow a complex set of tasks through to completion. What use is a half-finished engineering project which doesn't work? What use is half an aeroplane? What use is half a bridge?

I don't really know what my wants and needs are, but I know that it's very important that I fend off things of no value: things that drain my time and energy, disproportionately versus any reward I receive. My blog is an engineering solution to a problem I had, where lots of people wanted to be kept updated about my woeful life, but nobody was offering any useful practical help, so it was a massive waste of time speaking to the rubberneckers who wanted to know every gory detail, despite being completely useless, and indeed counterproductive because it was valuable time wasted which could otherwise have been put to good use, earning money or securing a place to live. If you want a soap opera - human drama - then you can read the pages of this blog, but don't bug me for your own personal show, because I don't have the time.

Of course, I love my online friends and they are very supportive, but only one or two have ever stepped forward to ever offer any real tangible thing of any use. Only one or two have ever made effort and taken risk, in order to help and support me. This is not to say that all the messages of support I receive aren't lovely, and the concern that's felt for me does lift my spirits, but I have to balance that proportionately against the effort involved. Lots of "sorry to hear you're having a hard time" messages won't pay my rent, if I'm in a financially precarious situation, so I have to prioritise work and other practical matters ahead of maintaining online friendships.

As a group of supportive individuals, of course my Twitter followers - and one in particular - were instrumental in getting the emergency services to me and saving my life, so it would be churlish and mean-spirited to complain about the 'burden' of having people who are interested and concerned my welfare. Of course I want more friends, not fewer. Of course I want to maintain a good relationship with as many people as practicably possible, but I have to offset that with the effort involved and the probability of useful, practical payoff. I could never have predicted that Twitter followers would be so swift in delivering the emergency services to me in the nick of time - although I still nearly died - and I could never have predicted that I would receive vital practical things that I needed, exactly when I needed them, due to people who've read my blog. I could never have predicted that my blog would bring me new friends, who make the effort to come and visit me. All of these things are positive, but I also need to be careful, because social media is mostly a black hole, swallowing vast amounts of time and energy, and giving very little back in return.

So, I say this as a reminder to myself: my blog is the way that anybody who's interested in my life can stay up to date, without excessively burdening me. It seems unfair to ask for your own personal update, when I spend so much time and effort crafting these written updates, for the express purpose of keeping anybody who's interested informed.

Of course 1.3 million words are far too many for anybody to read in order to "get to know me" but also somehow too few... either way, I'm struggling to survive day to day through my essential tasks of: work, sleep, eat, write.

It might sound selfish or antisocial, but this massive piece of writing contains everything you might ever want to know, if only you can be bothered to look. Don't ask for me to look for you, because that undermines the very point of having gone to such a great deal of effort in documenting years of my life. There's a search box at the top and I tag every post. Knock yourself out. Go digging. Explore - there's plenty there.

Meanwhile, I just need a simple, basic, undemanding life at the moment, because things are demanding and overwhelming and stressful enough. I don't need any extra work, especially if it's unrewarding versus the effort expended.

This lengthy blog post has taken me all day to finish, because of various interruptions, some of which were very welcome - like a phonecall from a close friend - and others were questionably useful, when I might otherwise have been spending my time doing something more beneficial for myself. Spare time feels very scarce at the moment, so it should be used wisely and efficiently. I went to a great deal of effort to provide a vast trove of information, so it irks me if that effort is not delivering what I want it to, which is to avoid having to repeat myself.

Anyway, I need as many friends as I can get looking out for me, but I have very little "spare capacity" to offer at the moment, and it's wrong to ask too much of me - the resources are out there; you just have to look.

I need to protect myself. I'm no good at saying "no!" and "enough!".

 

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Step Seven: Every Time Is Different

5 min read

This is a story about learning through doing...

Supermarket basket

The difference between an artist and a craftsman, is that a craftsman is honing their skills towards the most perfect and repeatable incarnation of a repetitive task, whereas an artist is honing their skills in general, in order to be able to express whatever they want with an intuitive fluidity. If you or I were "bad at drawing" as so many of us characterise ourselves, then we would spend most of our time grappling with the pencil and paper, instead of drawing the desired thing. The craftsman would be content to produce ever improving facsimiles or the same image, faster and faster, and with less pencil lead used. The artist would not even be aware of the pencil or paper, but instead would be free to express themselves increasingly exactly as they intended.

A reader challenged me to write about what I'm learning, as opposed to writing in my lecturing tone which features quite regularly. Unfortunately they deleted their reply, so I only have my hazy memory as a guide to what their original suggestion was, but my guess would be that they wanted me to write about my experience of learning as a way of teaching.

Every day, I am learning.

Every time I write, I am learning.

This entire exercise, of writing down my stream-of-consciousness, is a learning exercise. I write because it helps me therapeutically, but it also helps me to learn to be a better writer; to express myself in a [hopefully] ever-improving manner. Slowly, the keyboard, the screen, the website - all of this melts away and I'm able to express myself in exactly the way I intended; I put my point across as well as I could ever hope to, although I continually strive to do better.

I'm also learning to be a craftsman. There is a craftsman's psychology, which a person should possess - there are habits to develop, and you must strive towards perfecting repetitive tasks. The tiny details matter. You should attempt to iron out the imperfections and master your tools.

I promise you I am not giving a lecture, again. I'm merely telling you the things that I'm realising - learning - as I'm going along. Right now, as I pen these very words, I am having a learning experience, which I am simultaneously sharing with you.

Of course, the big piece of learning that's happening right now, is that I'm going though yet another period of sobriety. Each time I stop drinking my experiences are different. I am not writing to tell you that I have perfected the art of sobriety. I am writing to share with you my experiences of being an on/off drinker, who has spent relatively lengthy periods as a teetotaller. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous might scoff at my 121 consecutive days of sobriety, but of all my friends and work colleagues, I would be hard-pressed to find another who had equalled that record in their adult life. We might dismiss my present objective of "approximately 6 to 8 weeks of sobriety" as something insignificant and easy, but because you will probably never try to do it and if you do, you will find - as I have - that it's not as easy as it looks, it's important that I document these periods of time.

Of course I am not writing a prescriptive guide on how to stop drinking. Only charlatans and con-men promise that they have a magic cure for alcoholism. The entire rehab and detox industry thrives on its spectacular lack of success, and of course, if there was an easy way out then there wouldn't be such an insatiable appetite for addictive substances, and the corresponding so-called 'cures' for these afflictions.

I note that vast numbers of people stumble upon my website while searching desperately to see if they can quite literally "drink [themselves] sober". I kid you not.

What can I report today, of interest? I've had the perfect storm of a heavy workload at the office, combined with my car breaking down, some horrible administrative tasks which have been very time consuming, and then there is the usual ongoing financial difficulties that I face, and the prospect that my troubled relationship is likely to be dealt a fatal blow, due to the difficulty of two people finding well paid work anywhere except London... and I don't think it would be a good idea for me to move back to London, when my life in Cardiff is going quite well, and is certainly easier and less stressful than it ever was in the capital.

None of what I've written has much to do with [not] drinking alcohol. It's Friday night and I've had a very hard working week, but perhaps my instinct to reach for the bottle to celebrate the commencement of the weekend, has been slightly de-habituated. I have found myself binging on cakes, crisps, biscuits and other salty, fatty and sweet foods, by way of compensation for my otherwise bleak existence. What human being does not reward themselves, either with sex, chocolate, shopping, or something less tolerated by civilised society, and probably more health-damaging?

It feels as though the season to be merry is fast approaching, plus I have social occasions soon where I will absolutely be partaking of an alcoholic beverage or two. I'm quite looking forward to having a cold beer with friends and/or colleagues, and there's nothing wrong about that at all. I'm quite looking forward to rewarding myself with a glass of wine after a hard day at the office, and again, there's nothing wrong with that at all.

What have I learned on my journey today? Nothing really. Except that every day is completely different, and my coping skills are constantly improving.

 

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Morning! An Open Letter to Lisa Nandy MP

7 min read

Lisa Nandy unfortunately receives tons of abusive emails, which unpleasantly greet her each morning. I thought I would write her something nice.

Here you go, Lisa:

Hi,

I note with dismay the abuse that you have been subjected to via email, of which you have chosen to share some examples of on Twitter. Your tweets have been [re]published by the national media on a number of occasions, prompting me to contact you today, mainly to offer an apology.

Although I have no discernable responsibility for the actions of the deplorable individuals who have sent you inexcusably abusive emails, and I owe you no apology on their behalf, I still want to say sorry. I want to say sorry, because I have been outspoken with my opinions about Brexit - albeit without being abusive - so I must shoulder my share of responsibility for the fractious nature of the discourse, both public and private.

Sorry.

Sorry that you have been subject to such horrible abuse.

I am very sorry that you have been a victim of such hateful, horrible, abusive emails, and other malicious communications: unequivocally wicked, wrong, contemptible and unforgivable. Nobody deserves to be spoken to in the way that you have, in person or via electronic communications. I am sorry.

I read your blog post on labourlist dot org, dated October 22, and it seems incomprehensible that you should have drawn such ire from people, when your arguments are so convincing; I detected not a hint of so-called 'Lexiteer betrayal' if I may be so insensitive as to paraphrase some of the abuse to which you have been subjected.

Furthermore, your argument that we have reached a deadlock, and a general election is the only way to resolve the situation, was compelling and convincingly presented.

Having been motivated to write to you and offer an apology on behalf of the abusive individuals who have sent you the deplorable emails you shared, and the many others who which fill your inbox with vile words, insults and ad-hominem attacks, I took the time to investigate your position on Brexit. It surprised me to learn that you are far from being a so-called 'Lexiteer'  which I was led to believe, knowing that you had been a target of so much wrath and abuse.

Our opinion on the matter of how to proceed regarding Brexit, a 2nd referendum, and a general election, are only subtly different. However, in the eyes of many of your abusers I suspect they would categorise me as a remainer and you as a Brexiteer, from their black & white point of view.

If you might indulge me one tiny suggestion, which I hope might surprise you. You have written and said that the idea of a 2nd referendum would be "absurd" in your constituency. You said that a 2nd referendum would be the “final breach of trust with the working class”. I respectfully suggest that for representative democracy to implement a deal is the "absurd" idea, because the referendum was presented as a form of direct democracy. The apparent return to representative democracy, having given working class people a taste of direct democracy, is a dreadful "breach of trust" in my opinion; a betrayal.

It strikes me that many of your Wigan constituents who consider that they "won" the 2016 referendum, were not aware of the technicalities of representative democracy. Most of your constituents believed that MPs like yourself would immediately implement the outcome of the referendum. Vast numbers of your constituents were dismayed to learn that the UK still remained a member of the EU on June 24th 2016 - they had expected that the result meant the UK immediately exiting the EU.

I know you must think me patronising to say any of this to you and your constituents, but we need look no further than the popularity of The Brexit Party to find clear evidence that a very significant proportion of your pro-Brexit constituents would be extremely unhappy to leave the EU with a deal.

We know that securing parliamentary support for 2nd referendum has proven almost impossible. However, this was always on the same question of whether to leave or remain in the EU. If we ask the question "deal or no deal" then remainers will always choose an orderly exit with a deal, thwarting those who wish to leave with no deal. Thus, the only 2nd referendum which might find enough cross-party support in parliament, would be one which offered deal, no-deal and remain. In hard-Brexit areas, like Wigan, there are MPs who are prepared to represent their constituents' desire to leave the EU without a deal - this is how a 2nd referendum can be secured.

I know it sounds highly irresponsible, to risk the possibility of a disorderly exit without a deal, but it seems to me as if this is the only fair and democractic way to resolve the situation. I know you have written and spoken regarding your concern about the far-right factions, emboldened to campaign on a platform of xenophobia and hate. I share your concerns, but I fear that to further anger, disappoint and frustrate the people of Wigan, by disallowing a seemingly undesirable (to some) but perfectly valid option, is corrosive to their trust in democracy.

This is a lengthy email, which I doubt you will have the time to read, but I am very afraid that we might see attempts to replace representative democracy with populist direct democracy, and lose the safeguards which the Westminster System has afforded us for hundreds of years. I am terrified that the proverbial baby might be thrown out with the bathwater, for the sake of allowing the public to choose from the complete gamut of viable and implementable options, in a binding referendum. We should give voters just enough direct democracy to restore faith in the existing systems, and heal some of the damage, even at the risk of an undesirable "no deal" victory.

I respect your choice to support a deal, instead of interminably blocking any Conservative deal, and I respect your opinion that a general election could resolve the deadlock. However, I must insist that a significant proportion of the electorate is presently not represented: namely those who want to leave the EU with no deal. Although I personally believe "no deal" would be foolish and irresponsible, we must offer it as an option, along with a deal and remain, in a 2nd referendum.

Given the clear demonstration by the British public that they are not swayed by the sage advice of experts, and the wisdom & guidance of experienced parliamentarians, it seems essential to permit an option which parliament does not wish to offer, but it must offer if it wishes to restore faith in democracy.

That the Westminster System operates representative and not direct democracy, contrary to the widely misheld beliefs of a vast swathe of society, is at the root cause of much of the dangerous and escalating tension. Again, I am sorry that you have been the victim of unforgivable abuse. Please don't think that I am in any way justifying the abhorrent actions of those people who send you horrible emails, and otherwise treat you despicably.

Sorry again, and I trust this finds you well in the morning!

Best regards,

Nick
(lifelong Labour voter, remoaner & pragmatist)

 

Harsh

5 min read

This is a story about being horrible to people...

Hand wash

One of my bosses, from 18 years ago, has been a source of inspiration. He is - or at least he was when I knew him - one of the bluntest, rudest and most intimidating people you'd ever be likely to meet. I have never aspired to be rude, mean or to treat people badly, but I don't suffer fools gladly and I get rather impatient and intolerant of the hard-of-thinking.

It struck me that I had written quite a lot that could be misconstrued as harshly critical of my colleagues. I wanted to address that.

Firstly, I do suffer from bouts of delusions of grandeur, as a result of my bipolar disorder. I can quite often, during episodes of mania, decide that I'm a virtuoso; a genius. There's little to burst my bubble, in terms of evidence, in that I can easily point to multiple great achievements throughout my career, and I haven't yet been defeated by a technology challenge. This means I'm good but not necessarily great. I have no idea what the distinction is, but my brain tells me that I'm great when I'm in one of those moods. In fact, my brain tells me I'm the best and in the absence of another person who makes me feel inferior, it's hard to deflate my ego and get my rampaging delusions of grandeur under control. I'm sure that I'm not the smartest person in the room but without concrete evidence to the contrary, I can get carried away.

It sounds like I'm making excuses; blaming my mental illness. Well, I do try to stay humble and keep some perspective. I do try to stop my head from swelling too much; stop my ego from getting out of control.

Secondly, I'm under a lot of pressure. Work is not just a job to me - it's an opportunity to prove that I'm not a no-good waste-of-space washed-up has-been useless junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt mentally ill enemy of society. If I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I can make a substantial, exceptional contribution to a major project, then I will have a massive achievement to point to as proof that I have some worth, which will help my self-esteem enormously.

Thirdly, I'm equally capable of being a "dull-eyed dim-witted brain-dead zoned-out zombie trudging along with the herd". I'm equally capable of becoming demotivated and just turning up for the paycheque. I'm equally capable of doing a half-assed job. I'm totally capable of being very unproductive. I can spend forever procrastinating; not producing anything useful. When I make disparaging remarks, I'm not criticising individuals - I'm criticising the dreadful effect that working in a big organisation has on people, in terms of robbing them of any opportunity to learn, develop and get passionately involved in a project where they feel like they can make a difference.

I do see incompetence, which annoys me, but the people who I am angry with are the highly paid consultants who claim to be experts, but are clearly a waste of money. It annoys me that I work with brilliant graduates and rubbish consultants, when the graduates are so underpaid, which is unfair. It annoys me that I have to waste my time cleaning up mess made by people who should be the best of the best. It annoys me that I have to do extra work, because of a highly paid consultant's incompetence, when the organisation and the team really would be much better off without them.

When my brain gets accelerated up to top speed, I can be incredibly productive, but I can also be incredibly mean. I start to believe that I can do everything myself and that everybody else is just an annoyance; a hinderance. That's wrong. That's a symptom of my illness. I do need my team. I do need other people. I am glad to have my colleagues... well, most of them anyway.

I can say all sorts of stupid regrettable things when I'm suffering an episode of mania. I can be really mean and harsh when I'm in full swing. I really hope that nobody's suffering too badly when they feel the sharp end of my tongue. I really hope none of my colleagues are reading this and thinking that I believe they're useless idiots, because the truth is that I think almost all my colleagues (with the exception of one or two aforementioned overpaid consultants) are brilliant people who I'm really lucky to work with.

I know that it doesn't matter how much of a brilliant engineer you are, if you can't get along with people then your skills are useless. People with amazing technology skills are plentiful, but the valuable ones are the people who place nice with others. I know I struggle at times, and I really hope I haven't done too much damage and that my colleagues can forgive me.

 

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Brexit Psychosis

5 min read

This is a story about learned helplessness...

Polling station

Following the news is a misery-making endeavour. Following politics is a misery-making endeavour. While the world appears to offer the illusion of free will and the opportunity for us to influence outcomes, this is manifestly a lie; the idea that we have any control over our destiny is patently untrue.

Brexit is the ultimate misery. Exactly half the country want something which they are not being given, and the other half don't want something which is being threatened to be forced upon them. Three years ago we - the British citizens - were given a so-called 'choice'. One half of the country chose something impossible and the other half of the country chose to avoid something which is obviously terrible, and then nobody got what they wanted. Nobody will ever get what they want, because Brexit voters were promised impossible things, and those who voted to remain in the EU will never regain those lost, wasted, sorrowful years, even if Article 50 is revoked - the economic damage and the social damage is still done, the friendships lost and the divisions widened.

It doesn't surprise me to increasingly read about people whose mental health has deteriorated to the point of breakdown, due to Brexit. The headlines are always Brexit-related. The media narrative is unswervingly Brexit-related. The constant bombardment of the doomsday Brexit scenario and the home-grown terrorism and threats of violence by the far-right, intent on perpetrating atrocities against peaceful and valuable members of European society, is a toxic atmosphere which is hard for even the most psychologically secure and happy person, to be able to weather.

I suppose I consider myself a teeny bit of a Remain activist, having been on a couple of pro-EU marches and poured a mountain of energy into teasing out people's real reasons for voting to leave the EU, which invariably is a racist motivation. "Britain's full" and "Muslims don't integrate" are the dog-whistles for the far-right, which I hear all to often from people who I thought were more intelligent, kinder and generally not racists but unfortunately, there are tons of racists. There are lots of secret Tory voters, who are actually really horrible people, and it turns out that Britain is riddled with racists too.

Following the political developments and trolling a few racists has been somewhat of a hobby, but at other times it's hard, because I do genuinely wish to avoid the UK leaving the EU. An organisation I was working for last year was planning on closing their UK subsidiary if Brexit goes ahead. Every organisation I've worked for would be affected negatively by Brexit. Chaos and disruption isn't good for anybody, except for wealthy unscrupulous opportunistic scumbags, seeking to exploit vulnerable people.

So many people are working as hard as they possibly can, but their living standards are declining. So many people are doing everything humanly possible to make things better, but things are getting worse.

We are helpless.

The news backdrop of Brexit, climate change and imminent economic catastrophe, does not create a great environment for human happiness and contentment to thrive. Current circumstances are anathema to a sense of wellbeing. Depression and anxiety are the surefire consequences of the dismal outlook; the hopelessness of it all.

We are inherently programmed to move away from things which are uncomfortable and unpleasant, and to change and improve things. Yet, we have no opportunities anymore. Hard work will get you nowhere. There's nowhere to run; nowhere to hide.

Of course my outlook is coloured by depression. Of course I view things in a profoundly negative way, because of my state of mind. That doesn't mean I'm wrong though. Humans have a faulty positivity bias. I am able to perceive reality far more correctly than somebody with a neurotypical brain. I'm not smarter than everybody else, but I'm able to see through to the pure reality, with a cold, analytical and rational brain, due to faulty mental health.

Our asylums are full of people who think "the end of the world is nigh" but they're occasionally correct. The difference between the terminally insane and myself, is that I'm functional and they are not; I can justify and explain my train of thought and they can not; I can show my chain of deductive reasoning and they can not. Do I have a crystal ball? Do I claim to know the future? No. I'm just like an economist saying "in the long run we are all dead".

It's through our collective behaviour that problems develop. It's our group sentiment where the problem lies. I have a gut feel that a critical mass is close to being reached, in terms of the millions of people who are desperately unhappy and would be prepared to watch civilisation burn.

That way madness lies. Although I briefly entertained the idea of revolution, I'm now a bit more calm and moderate, and I don't think we should risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. However, I suspect that the fuse has been lit for quite a long time now and there's no escaping the fireworks which are coming. Too many damn metaphors and idioms. These past years have been too damn hard on my mental health, and indeed vast numbers of others too.

 

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