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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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nick@manicgrant.com

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Treatment

10 min read

This is a story about making people better...

Ward

I remember the days when I thought that there were magic buildings full of magic people with magic potions who could make magical things happen. I remember the days when I was naïvely optimistic about the abilities of people, institutions and organisations who make highly alluring claims: we can cure you!

If I had ruptured a major blood vessel, or my body was losing its battle against a bacterial infection, you can be damn sure that I'd want somebody to stop the bleeding or give me some antibiotics. If I had an operable cancer, you can be sure that I'd want somebody to cut it out of my body.

Some areas of medicine are comparatively new. Some areas of medicine don't have a great deal of success - the data doesn't show significantly better outcomes for patients who are treated, versus those who are untreated. Medicine is actively losing its battle to save lives in some areas, such as suicide and opioid addiction. Mental health problems and addiction have been declared medical emergencies; epidemics.

Sometimes I wonder if it's useful to think of myself as having a chronic illness, and to expect that problems are just around the corner. I can have a good day, a good week, a good month... maybe even a good year. However, it's probably dangerous to start thinking of myself as "cured" or "recovered" and begin to consider myself "normal". Complacency will no doubt lead to repetition of past mistakes, which can result in an incredibly fast chain of disastrous events, destroying every semblance of a normal life, which was so convincing that I and other people were completely convinced that I'm just another ordinary bloke... not some ticking time bomb.

I fought very hard to get treatment. There was a great deal of reluctance to diagnose me as bipolar, and there was further reluctance to treat me. I seemed very functional. My problems seemed acute. Everybody hoped that I'd go away and get better without intervention.

wanted treatment. I knew I was getting sicker. I knew that my situation was deteriorating. I could see the car crash that was about to happen.

I believed that treatment was effective.

I just had to find the right treatment.

I tried so many medicines. I also believed in the "magical healing powers" of hospitals and doctors. I was indoctrinated by the medical establishment's dogma: "we are the experts and we are the only ones who can cure you".

Of course, I'm not such a fool that I believe in alternative medicine. I critically examine all the claims of all charlatans, quacks, healers and others who promote themselves as miracle-workers. Desperate people are suckers. People are also lazy and gullible. Many of us will be scammed in our lifetimes, because we are so desperate to believe in the existence of things that are too good to be true.

It would have been good I could have avoided that period of my life when I was desperately searching to find the right specialist, hoping that a stay in hospital would be my salvation, or trying a heap of different medications in the hope that I would stumble upon the right one, but it was a necessary education. I needed to learn what was possible, and what was not possible. I needed to see with my own eyes and experience those things first-hand, to learn the limitations of psychiatric medicine.

Psychiatry is young. Mainstream psychiatry - the prescribing of psychiatric medications on a massive scale - is an experiment that's barely a few decades old, which is no time at all, when we consider that anatomical studies of the human body and surgery are parts of medicine which are hundreds of years old. The present-day situation, where at least half of us will take a pill for depression or anxiety at some point in our lives, and so many of us have been taking psychiatric medications for years and years... this would have been unthinkable before Prozac successfully normalised the practice of dispensing mind-altering drugs to tens of millions of people across the USA and Europe. Nobody really knew what the long-term consequences and long-term outcomes would be.

I've lost interest in having any contact with doctors now. I've lost interest in any new developments in the field of psychiatry. I've lost interest in the idea that there will ever be a miracle pill to cure depression, anxiety or to stabilise moods. The brain has proven a far more complex organ than the blunt instruments of psychoactive substances are able to have any precise effect on. Pills are useful for curing a bacterial infection, but they are of no use in an organ which has been evolved to specifically resist attempts to alter it - the brain's ability to maintain homeostasis is incredible, and all psychiatric medications are fundamentally flawed, because they affect a plastic organ, which can simply adapt itself and return to its original state.

Hospitals can offer welcome respite - sanctuary - from the unreasonable demands of the world. Hospitals have their place as a controlled, safe environment, full of caring people. However, psychiatric care has changed radically in the short time that we have been practicing it as a branch of medicine. Those who are ill-equipped to cope with life outside institutions cannot expect to live in an asylum forever, which might sound like a good thing for those who believe that people can be cured and rehabilitated. However, in my experience, it is the horror of the "real world" which is the very reason for the epidemic of mental health problems, and it's often infinitely preferable to protected with the safe confines of an institution than to be fending for oneself in the big wide world. The idea of losing your freedom might sound terrifying and unpleasant, but for those who are struggling to cope - struggling to be functional - freedom is a small price to pay, for the comforting reassurance of life inside an institution.

When you are a child and you hurt yourself, you run to your parents to "kiss it better" but often the injury remains painful for sometime and there is nothing that can be done to alleviate your discomfort. We learn that sticking plasters, stitches and plaster casts can help our bodies mend themselves, but there is nothing to be done to speed up the healing process. There is little that can be done to take away our pain. There is little that can be done when we are suffering mental anguish.

Although my life was very badly damaged, I'm now part of a large organisation where I'm known to a lot of people, and they'd be concerned if I went AWOL. My home city is still very new to me - and I know very few people locally - but I also think that somebody would ring my doorbell and check on me if I went AWOL. I have a routine. I have put things around myself that are structured and stable, even if that rebuilding process is very far from complete.

I've been here before... so very close to a fresh start; a complete life. About a year ago, in the blink of an eye I lost most of my new friends, my new girlfriend and my new job. The year before I nearly died, and I regained consciousness to find I'd lost my girlfriend, my home and my job. I'm aware that my life is very fragile. I'm aware that my existence is precarious.

I wrote positively yesterday about my life and how far I've come since the very deepest depths I sank to, but I know that I have a difficult job trying to stabilise myself and find a way of living my life that's sustainable, and tolerable... pleasant even, one hopes.

It's strange that I've been so much and ultimately reached the conclusion that I was doing a reasonably good job of looking after myself, but I simply had some very stressful life events to deal with. I thought that I could turn to doctors and hospitals to make me better - and indeed my life was certainly saved when my physical health was severely damaged - but now I feel much happier doing everything on my own: I prescribe my own medications, adjust my own dosages... but mainly I just try as best as I can to create a tolerable set of circumstances to allow myself to thrive; I've come to recognise that my family don't care about me and have abandoned me. I've been incredibly lucky to have very loyal, generous, kind, caring friends and wonderful girlfriends, who've believed in me, and looked after me, and stuck by me through the difficult times.

When you see the finished product - a functional man - then we might assume either that he never had any major difficulties in his life, or that treatment was a success. I'm grateful for the hard work, effort and dedication of those who work in psychiatry, but my ultimate conclusion is that it's a flawed branch of medicine. Things could have ended very badly, but those friends who bothered to come and visit me in hospital, check on me when I went AWOL, look after me when I was sick, believe in me, support me... that's the thing that was the key to giving me a chance at getting my life back. Those who've read my blog and are kind enough to reach out to me - to be in contact - have helped me to feel like I have some value, and to feel some self-esteem.

My colleagues don't know how sick I've been, and they don't know how much it means that I'm able to be treated like a normal person at work. My colleagues don't know how important it is that I have the structure and routine of office life. My colleagues don't know how great it is for my mental health to have the social interaction that we have, even if it's just office chit-chat.

We might conclude that the doctors I saw 11 years ago were right - I'm not really very sick and I'm quite capable of living a fully functional normal life - but they're also wrong, because everything had to get smashed to smithereens and rebuilt from nothing, before I could reach this point. I nearly died so many times. Was it avoidable though? Probably not.

That's my conclusion: I've learned a hell of a lot, but it would be wrong of me to start telling people that I have the answers, because what I discovered was that I had to learn everything first-hand. If I had a time machine and went back to tell myself everything I've learned up until now, I don't think I'd believe myself and I'd end up making exactly the same decisions, much like children have to make mistakes even though their parents warn them about everything and try to protect them.

Does this mean that I forgive my parents for abandoning me? Nope. If your kid is sick in hospital, you go and visit them. Period. No ifs. No buts. You don't abandon your children, no matter how old they are.

 

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Burn Rate

11 min read

This is a story about buyer's remorse...

Ikea bed

A large part of my day was spent buying things of a very boring domestic nature. I bought curtains. I bought a vacuum cleaner. I bought an iron, ironing board and washing airer. I bought some plastic bins which organise my recycling into plastics, paper & cardboard and glass.

I got a bit carried away and started buying things which I have no urgent need for. I bought a coffee table. I bought a couple of lamps. I even bought two deckchairs for the garden, because it's been a beautifully sunny day and I thought I should be enjoying the brief period of nice weather in the UK, instead of being indoors.

I bought extra glasses, plates, cutlery and other little things, like nice wooden coat-hangers and some tiny shelves to put my toiletries and things on in my bathroom. I bought a new toilet roll holder, because the suction pad on the old one seemed to have failed completely.

I bought pillows and bed linen.

Who knows how much I spent.

While I was in Ikea I was looking at a sofa-bed which cost £140, which sounded very reasonable to me. I am not a price sensitive person. Whether something sounds "expensive" to me has been shaped by the privileged wealthy existence I've led. More than £20 on a bottle of wine is "expensive" from a wine merchant, but does not seem expensive in a restaurant. My purchases are generally categorised as either approximately £1,000, less than £500, approximately £100, or less than £50.

When buying something for around £1,000 I simply ask myself "is this a valuable thing?". For example, my laptop cost me £1,400, but I bought it without hesitation because I use it every single day and it's a tool of my trade - why would I even think twice about buying the very best available?

When buying something for under £500, I think much more carefully. Generally at this price point I make a lot more buying errors. I bought a £200 vacuum cleaner today, simply because it was a good brand. I have no need for a good vacuum cleaner - I only hoover once a month and I live alone so my house doesn't get very messy - so I could easily have managed with a £60 hoover, but my wonky thinking says "why worry about the £140 price difference? Just get the Dyson".

When buying products for circa £100, I don't make a lot of buying errors. My coffee table cost £90 and it's definitely worth £90 to me. To spend time trying to find a cheaper coffee table I like just as much would have been a waste of time. My curtains cost £90 and they're perfectly good curtains. In fact, the curtains block out the light really well and it was a really simple purchase - they were the right size and I didn't even check the price - I knew that they'd cost somewhere between £50 and £150. Perhaps if I'd got to the checkout and they turned out to be £200 I'd have felt like I made a mistake and should have thought about the purchase more carefully, but at £90 I feel like I'm much happier that I have curtains in one of my guest bedrooms, rather than no curtains - the value is hard to measure, but I'm definitely getting more than £90 worth of value out of the curtains.

Most of my purchases are less than £50, obviously. There are subtle gradations not worth exploring - for example, if I was charged £6 for a takeaway coffee I would think "damn that was expensive I won't go there again" but I wouldn't worry about it too much, but if the coffee was £4.50 then I wouldn't care. Similarly if I bought a sandwich and it cost £4.50 then I would pay the money and not worry about it, but if it was £6 then I'd be thinking "damn that's an expensive sandwich". To think about my price insensitivity at this level is too much detail to write about in the scope of this essay.

So, with the sub-£50 purchases, I spend more time thinking about things than the purchases which are circa £100. If I'm choosing a really nice bottle of wine, I'll agonise over the choices and probably buy a bottle costing no more than £25. Similarly, if I see some bed linen that I like but it costs more than £50 then I'll see it as overpriced and gravitate towards items which are priced less than £50. I bought a set of plates and bowls for £25. I bought a set of cutlery for £25. Comparable items could probably be bought for £10 less - saving me £20 overall - but I still feel like I got value for money. When I was unpacking all the knives, forks, spoons, etc. then I was thinking how much of a difference it's going to make to my life, to have an adequate amount of stuff to fill my dishwasher without leaving myself with nothing to eat with. Every purchase I made today under £50 felt like very good value for money, including an iron which will get very little use. Why do I need a fancy iron and a fancy ironing board, when I do so little ironing? It simply seemed like good value for money that I was able to buy high quality items for under £50.

Cumulatively, I've burned through a ridiculous amount of cash getting myself set up in my new house.

Most people, when they move into an unfurnished home and they don't have any kitchenware or other things like that, will buy things little by little. Most people will spend a lot of time choosing every single thing they have in their house. I'm not like that.

Of course, I'm particular about what I buy. I'm fussy about things. I'm house-proud and I like to think I have good taste. I very much wanted to share photos of all the little things which are slowly turning my house into a lovely home, but that will have to wait for another day - I don't want to spoil the surprise.

The catalyst for my money-spending and nest-making is that I have two beloved friends coming to visit soon, and I'm a house-proud person. I got this gorgeous house because I knew that it would immensely improve my self-esteem to be surrounded by some material representation of the hard work that's gone into getting myself this far in life. It might sound superficial and flawed, but it's very upsetting to be a smart person who's worked hard, but seemingly has little to show for it. If I'm showing off to my friends - that I have good taste - then I don't care. I want to look after them and make them comfortable in my home. I take enormous pleasure from being a host.

I can't stop to think about how much money I've spent getting my life rebuilt. I don't see the value in totalling up all the money I've burned. What use would it be? I could have scrimped and saved a little here and there, but I've not been profligate. Every single stupid domestic item brings me a little bit of joy, even if it's a washer/dryer, a vacuum cleaner or an iron... all these nice things cumulatively give me a nice life, which seems to correspond with the dedication to my career.

I rode my bike to meet a friend earlier in a local park for a picnic - a bike which is worth more than my car - and it brought me such a huge amount of pleasure to ride a bike which has been so heavily customised by me. The bike was one of the last purchases I was able to make before I became totally homeless, and yet I never regretted spending a significant sum of money on it. As I cycled home this evening, there was indescribable joy in the enjoyment of a bike which had spent a long time unused - when I was very sick - but has now been fixed up, and I'm able to use for the purpose I designed and built it for: urban life.

My colleague commented that my bike was "exactly what [he] expected [me] to turn up on" and that's completely the point. My home and my bike, for example, are an expression of my identity, and it's a deeply unhappy situation when we're forced - for example - to wear clothes which don't fit us and are not to our tastes. We should not underestimate the psychological damage that's done when we're forced into situations which clash with our identities.

My burn rate is obscene, but I'm aligning my identity with my surroundings, after a very long period where I was caused a great deal of distress by the economic limitations imposed upon me. Of course, I slept rough, slept in hostels and wore the cheapest clothes I could lay my hands on, in order to be alive today, but we shouldn't underestimate how intolerable that situation was at times. We shouldn't dismiss the self-esteem damage which drives people to commit suicide, as something which we can easily get over by simply suspending our identities and our need to choose our clothing, our home furnishings and decorations, which seem like such superficial things, but on closer examination, I can tell you for certain are vitally important.

I'm sorry if you're on a low income and what I have written seems disrespectful towards money, and indeed towards you and your struggles. Perhaps the money I "waste" is offensive to those who would gladly trade places with me, and would make much more considered decisions about spending... they would spend much more time bargain hunting, scrimping and saving.

I have a very unusual attitude towards money, perhaps because I can tell you precisely what exactly money is and where it comes from, because of my many years working in the banking industry, and of course because I've experienced long periods where I had more money than I needed... but please remember that I've also lived at the other extreme, where I was homeless and penniless. I do know how to live on a very tight budget, and indeed live on no money at all - I've run out of money plenty of times.

I shudder to think how much I've spent recently, but I know that it's been a long time since I made a foolish frivolous purchase. Sure, I have a lot of nice things but all my recent spending has been on very humdrum domestic items.

My approach to live is the same as it's ever been: high risk, high reward. As I slowly recover from years of illness and chaotic life, my surroundings do not look humble and ordinary. Why the hell should they? One slip-up and everything comes tumbling down, so perhaps I shouldn't be splashing the cash, but at the same time, why would I want to settle for mediocrity when I've worked so hard to achieve something special? It would be the most miserable thing, to end up with a life I could've easily had, without any hard work.

Of course, in conclusion, I must add that I know how much of a charmed existence I live. Lady luck has been kind to me. I hope that if you were to really get to know me - what I've been through and how hard I've worked - and you were to see the life I lead, then you'd say that I'm not entitled or spoiled; that my lifestyle is not excessively lavish, luxurious or recklessly profligate.

I've written three times as much as I intended, whilst sipping a glass of red wine from a bottle which cost somewhere between £5 and £35... but I can't tell you how much it cost because I'm pretty price insensitive in that price range.

 

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I Love My Job

6 min read

This is a story about having a métier...

Hospital bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Life Lived Publicly

7 min read

This is a story about open secrets...

Time to talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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700 Words or Fewer

4 min read

This is a story about attention spans...

Flip flop

Counterintuitive though it may sound, it's harder to write less than more. That's not to say that it's hard to write infrequently or not at all - it's actually very hard to have the discipline to write every day - but writing something more than a journal of the day's events, and keeping it short and sweet is surprisingly difficult.

I used to keep a list of writing prompts, should I ever be short of an idea for something to write about. Once I had established the habit of thinking "what am I going to write today?" I find myself planning my writing from the moment I wake up, until the moment I finally have chance to get in front of a keyboard in a suitable environment.

I'm self-conscious about writing on a train, where a passenger might be sitting next to me, reading my words as they are formed. I'm self-conscious about anybody watching me produce these little essays - it's a private process, even if the end result is published publicly. Nobody ever gets to see the words I delete, or the sentences I restructure. Nobody ever gets to witness the pauses as I consider how I'm going to phrase a particular passage. Nobody knows how many times I doubt myself, and scurry for the dictionary to check that a particular word definitely means what I think it means.

My meandering thoughts could easily become jumbled and rambling. Often I do ramble and wander off at tangents, but I try to stick to a certain theme. I try to write an introduction, then an exploratory part, then a conclusion, or at least a wrap-up of some kind. I try to end with some degree of satisfactory summing-up instead of just petering off.

From the very outset, I decided that I would treat my blog as an exercise in expressing myself in the most straightforward language I could muster. I loathe clumsy, lengthy sentences, which are hard to follow and must be re-read by somebody who's determined to decipher what I meant, as precisely as they are able to. I have succeeded when I put across my points in simple, concise and unambiguous terms, which does not necessarily preclude using a manner of communication which is verbose and littered with words not in common circulation. However, I would very much feel that I had failed if I send my readers reaching for a dictionary every few paragraphs.

Of course I'm now very well practiced at expressing my inner monologue, which makes me a bit of a one-trick pony, but I do wish to communicate and not only record my thoughts for posterity. I'm keen that as many people as possible understand what goes through my head, and feel as if they know me intimately.

The intimacy and the honesty are vitally important to me. It's incredibly rewarding to have opened myself up in this way and been received so positively. On the rare occasions when I do catch up with friends on the phone, I'm so pleased when they are aware of what's going on in my life and I don't ever find myself answering the usual range of clichéd questions about how my job is going etcetera etcetera. We can cut to the chase and talk about the things which really matter, which is vital when I spend a lot of time contemplating suicide.

Meaningful close friendships - good relationships - are grounded in emotional intelligence and the willingness to talk about our true feelings and our values, rather than having superficial conversations about trivial distractions. I'm sure there are people who've known each other for their whole lives who have rehearsed a kind of social interaction protocol, which enables them to speak to each other at length while never really scratching the surface. This is how people kill themselves and their friends are left with nothing but shock and bewilderment, because they never saw it coming - all that talk about football and soap operas was never going to provide the scope for somebody to announce that their life is misery and they'd rather be dead.

I have eight words left now.

The end.

 

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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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Reading Newspapers Makes Me Depressed

8 min read

This is a story about correlation and causation...

Headline

I read with interest that the number of prescriptions for antidepressants had skyrocketed to an all-time high in the United Kingdom. 70 million prescriptions were written for 65 million people, meaning that for the first time, there were more packets of pills dished out than there are men, women and children in the entire nation. Unlike Sweden where national records are held, which allow statisticians to understand what percentage of the population are taking medications for anxiety and depression, the UK has to guess based on the number of prescriptions, but it would appear that it is undoubtably normal to be swallowing pills to correct for serious psychiatric conditions.

I read with dismay that doctors believe that the surge in prescriptions is believed to be due to bad things in the news. This is faulty thinking, because we are the news. It's impossible to separate ourselves from the events of the world - the media simply holds up a mirror. The media reflects what we can see around us with our own eyes: the destruction of the natural world, overcrowding and poverty. We know that we live in a very different world than the Baby Boomers grew up in. The many cushy things that previous generations took for granted - free university education, affordable housing, secure jobs - are now so hard to obtain that tiny children are coerced into studying hard from the moment that they can form words, in the hope that their sharp-elbowed parents can barge them to the front of the long queue.

If we look at suicide statistics, we can see that the "it's the news' fault" argument doesn't hold water. The number one cause of death of men age 20 to 40 is suicide, and those deaths are preventable, yet medicine's answer is to blame the newspapers. This is a scandalous situation, that those who are tasked with responsibility for public health would shrug their shoulders and point to the symptoms, not the cause of the disease.

To use myself as a case study, it seems unethical to start a family when the prospects for those children are so dire. What a dreadful thing to do - to bequeath a child a planet which has been irreparably wrecked; to so knowingly and wickedly create new life when the existing life is already having such a miserable existence and is so doomed to meet a horrible end. Life seems very pointless and purposeless, when there is very little hope of living a life which doesn't compound the errors of generations, and hasten the demise of the human race.

For many generations, they were content to build houses, grow crops, keep livestock and have food in their bellies. For many generations, it was a lifetime's work to meet your own basic human needs, and the needs of the children who were born in the absence of contraception and abortion. Today we have a virtually unlimited supply of high-calorie foods and almost none of us build our own homes, grow our own food, or have any dealings with farm animals. We do not know hunger, but we do know boredom, purposelessness, apathy, angst and learned helplessness.

I see people who become obsessed with fitness and toughening themselves up to seemingly cope with a disaster which never comes. Nobody is ever going to need to outrun a wild animal. Nobody is ever going to need to carry rocks or toil in the fields or forest to get enough food for their family. There are a huge number of people who are "prepping" for doomsday scenarios, even though their efforts are futile in the face of the enormously violent events which smite us.

It seems obvious that anxiety and depression are natural reactions to a world that is devoid of any opportunity to use our enormous brain for the ingenious problem-solving which would have been very useful 100,000 years ago, when humans had to continuously adapt to the ever-changing seasons.

I can think back to a time when I was obsessed with the wind and the waves, not in any negative way, but in fact I would relish the arrival of a large North Atlantic depression. I studied the weather forecast on an almost hourly basis and I would drive to parts of the country specifically to seek out storms which would cause trees to topple and buildings to be damaged. I had no control over these violent events of nature, but being part of the storm made me happy. I harnessed the wind - quite literally - and I revelled in the awesome power of nature.

Today, I have a ghoulish morbid obsession with the news, half-hoping that some catastrophe strikes and civilisation is plunged into chaos. I find the waiting to be quite intolerable. I find that my anxiety and depression levels are highly correlated to my boredom and lack of stimulation. My life is very stable and secure, but it's also unbearable. I yearn to be freed from the crowds of people who trudge co-operatively from place to place - why do they not scream and throw their briefcases away, and run off to live in the woods? Why does nobody flee from the concrete jungles and seek out a life which has more uncertainty, hunger and threat to life, but also provides some challenges and obstacles for the brain to tackle?

It strikes me that the source of my anxiety and depression is rooted in the restrictive nature of modern society, where I am unable to build anything or do anything, without considerable restrictions. My forebears were able to build their own houses, fence off some territory, cultivate their crops and rear their livestock - all of these things required a combination of physical and mental effort. For me to get a house and some food, I don't have to do anything - I'm just required to sit in a comfortable seat for a certain amount of hours every day, keeping my mouth shut.

Of course it's seemingly childish to romanticise simpler times, when disease and hunger were rife, but as anybody who's suffered anxiety and depression will tell you: these things are so bad that you want to kill yourself.

Living a life where you want to kill yourself is not great, and I don't think that refusing to read newspapers or watch TV is the answer, just as much as I think that pills are not the answer either. The solution lies in living a different kind of life altogether.

You tell me that I wouldn't be happy if I was cold and hungry, but you're wrong. I've been plenty cold and hungry, and I can tell you that I was vastly happier than I am today in a warm house with plenty of food in the fridge and cupboards. I was happy because I was free to do something about my situation. If I was cold, I could shelter. If I was hungry I could seek food. As I am presently, I can do nothing except sit at my desk, mute, waiting to die. I have no available options to improve my situation. I have nothing to challenge my brain and body. I have no purpose, except as a decorative lump of flesh and bone sat in an office chair.

Of course I follow the news avidly, but the news does not depress me or make me anxious. My lack of participation makes me depressed and anxious. Why am I just a spectator? Why am I passive in everything? If I was caught in a rainstorm I would look for some object to shelter beneath, but as a member of modern society I am expected to let everything lash down upon my head without flinching. The food and the housing which I enjoy are a byproduct of my inaction not my actions. If I was to act instinctively, I would only make things worse for myself and end up sleeping rough on the streets, hungry and cold. The situation is absurd.

Not taking antidepressants is a political statement, as much as anything. It's not me who needs to be adjusted to fit into society, but instead it is society which is unbearable to live within - there's not enough space for me to do anything other than keep my mouth shut in an attempt to fit in. I refuse to be medicated into a state of glassy-eyed passivity, like a cow chewing mindlessly on the cud.

Of course, if I spawned an infant by accident, then I woud surely be glad of every amenity available in modern society. I'd be cramming high-calorie foods into my child's face and indoctrinating them in the ways and means of staying in the top-half of humanity. However, as a thoughtful, considerate and ethical person who's considered the prospects for any theoretical child, I have decided that it would be cruel to the child and wickedly selfish to not avail myself of reproductive choices, choosing to avoid creating any more miserable mortal souls.

The stability and security of modern life are at the root of our unhappiness, not the state of utopia that we thought it would be. We are hard-wired for adverse conditions, and without that adversity we are nervous and twitchy. Without any route to gaining contentedness that is not morally wrong, we are depressed. The logical conclusion is that we should kill ourselves.

 

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Microcosm

10 min read

This is a story about paranoid schizophrenia...

Bedroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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I Felt Something

6 min read

This is a story about flashbacks...

Abandoned shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 months!

Can you imagine that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regret is the problem.

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

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

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

 

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