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Cake And Eat It

9 min read

This is a story about a completed jigsaw puzzle...

Summer house cake

When I was 28 I was so depressed that I couldn't work. I couldn't face the outside world. I couldn't face the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday routine. I couldn't face the glacial pace that projects moved at. I couldn't face the lack of productivity. I couldn't face the wastefulness of large organisations. I couldn't face the dead wood, being dragged along by those of us who wanted to actually create some f**king software.

My behaviour became erratic. The symptoms my my mood disorder - bipolar - made me a dysfunctional individual for long enough to cause problems in an ordinary office type environment: mainly my lengthy absence due to to the aforementioned depression. Nobody had ever much cared about me being hypomanic in the office, because it allowed me to deliver very complicated projects on time, to a high standard of quality.

I quit my job in 2008 and sat in my garden making iPhone Apps - mainly games. They sold very well and I was number one in the App Store charts for a brief time. Suddenly, I was earning a lot of royalties and I was comparatively wealthy.

I decided that I hated office work and corporate IT work - I hated big software projects - but that I should start a small business. I retrained as an electrician. I did all the training, bought a van and started trading.

Electrician

My electrician business traded profitably, but I kept getting asked to do freelance software work, which paid twice as much as my electrical work, and I was obviously much better at it, given that I've got 20+ years of commercial software experience and about 18+ months of commercial electrical experience. It's a lot less stressful being a software consultant than it is being an electrician.

I decided to combine my entrepreneurial side - the iPhone Apps and the small business - to create a startup which would have a software product which could be licensed, so that I could make money while I slept: it was a scalable business model.

During all this erratic behaviour, I was making a ton of money, I designed a built a beautiful summer house in my garden, I had a wakeboarding boat, I threw lavish garden parties. I was having the time of my life, except I was in a very toxic, abusive relationship.

I ended the relationship and my life continued to improve. In fact, my life kept on improving.

Soon, I was enrolled on a prestigious startup accelerator program which takes 8,000 applicants for every place, and only offers 10 teams the chance to be mentored by senior executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Paypal and a bunch of other great tech companies, plus the opportunity to pitch on "demo day" to a packed auditorium full of venture capitalists and angel investors, and raise a huge amount of investment.

My company was already profitable enough to pay my co-founder and I a decent salary and hire our first full-time employee. That was entirely bootstrapped: the company was built from nothing. My co-founder and I built a profitable startup without taking a single cent from any member of friends or family, or risking any of our own money.

This was my cake and eat it moment.

I worked too hard for too long. On the accelerator program mentor madness was fine for the teams who just had an idea, but my co-founder and I had a profitable business to run. We had customers who needed supporting. We had sales deals which needed to be closed. The rest of our cohort were happily burning the money they'd raised - making a loss - while our startup was living within its means and growing organically... in fact it was growing rapidly organically.

The problem was that toxic, abusive relationship.

She wasn't kind. She wasn't supportive. She didn't want me to succeed. She was just plain mean and totally inflexible; uncompromising. It wasn't fair, because I had supported her when she wanted to change career, and I had also been a very loyal loving boyfriend. Of course I could have split up with her and run off into the sunset with a lovely girl from the tech startup scene who could see the potential in me and the potential of my startup, but I let loyalty and a sense of "doing the right thing" get the better of me.

Since then, there hasn't been a lot of cake eating.

Divorce became extremely acrimonious in 2013, after a harrowing period when the abuse and the trauma was sufficient to give me PTSD - I was barricaded in rooms and defecating in a bucket to avoid physical harm and at least give myself what little protection I could. Verbal abuse and violent kicking and punching of the door was so frequent it was literally torture. My abuser was keeping me trapped with threats of violence, and I starved, I was thirsty and I had to sh*t and piss in a bucket.

Mercifully, we separated in August 2013.

Trauma doesn't heal overnight.

The divorce dragged on into 2014, ruining my second startup and depriving me of all my liquid capital - my money - which I needed to start another business. The divorce ruined me every bit as much as the toxic relationship and abusive marriage did. The divorce left me so physically drained, traumatised, financially taken advantage of, exhausted and stressed, that I broke down completely. I ended up sleeping rough. I ended up homeless. I was wrecked.

Briefly, at the end of 2014 I had a nice apartment in Swiss Cottage, a lovely commute on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and a well paid consultancy contract with Barclays. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. The divorce and the separation had caused me such horrible PTSD and financial distress that for almost that whole year I had been sleeping rough and in a homeless hostel. My life was very fragile; my recovery was only green shoots.

In 2015 I had an amazing apartment overlooking the Thames with panoramic views of all the London landmarks. I had a great consultancy contract with HSBC. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. I was so distressed by the financial troubles I'd had that I worked unsustainable hours and got very sick, and had to be hospitalised. I had to be kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

In 2016 I had the same apartment. I had a great consultancy contract. I was less stressed about the erratic nature of my life and the financial boom and bust, but I certainly didn't feel comfortable spending money.

In 2017 I had the same apartment and a great consultancy contract with Lloyds Banking Group. A large blood clot - a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) - formed in my leg and it caused the complication that my kidneys failed. I nearly died. I was sick for months with agonising nerve and muscle damage. Out of desperation I took a short contract in Manchester. It was so miserable that I tried to kill myself. I very nearly succeed - I was in a coma for 4 or 5 days in intensive care. I was sectioned and kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

By the end of 2017 and into 2018 I had recovered enough to be consulting for an investment bank in London. I was commuting from Wales and staying in crappy AirBnBs. I was well paid but it was the most miserable life. I was homeless, single and coming to terms with having survived a suicide attempt which should definitely have killed me.

Then I got a consultancy contract in Wales. I had a nice girlfriend in Wales, I had a job in Wales and I had a very nice home in Wales with panoramic sea views. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Then, soon after booking a short holiday, my consultancy contract ended early because the project was finished - I worked very hard and delivered early.

I got another consultancy contract in Wales. I still have that consultancy contract in Wales. I have a girlfriend who I think is amazing and I'm crazy about her. I have very serious feelings for her. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Now my consultancy contract is ending prematurely. I worked hard and managed to rescue a very important project which was running late. I was working very hard to deliver our project early.

Clearly I work very hard. Clearly, I'm lucky enough to create these opportunties where I could have my cake and eat it but so far nothing's worked out for me.

It may well be possible for me to still have that amazing holiday we've got planned, but it will always be slightly spoiled by the stress of knowing that I don't have secure income when I get home, which makes me worried about money.

You can understand why I'm worried about money, can't you?

You can understand why it's so terrible that my holidays get ruined by having my consultancy contracts unexpectedly cut short, especially when I work so hard and make such a big contribution.

Of course, I could throw caution to the wind and take that luxury holiday anyway. If there's one repeating theme in this story, it's that I always bounce back from adversity. I could risk it all and go ahead with that holiday, which I desperately need and want.

I've been lucky. I got to go to Turkish Disneyland on my own. I got to go to Tulum in Mexico. My luck ran out eventually I guess. I have a beautiful girlfriend who is kind and loving and supportive, I have a gorgeous bengal kitten, I have a very nice great big house. I have a little financial security, but paying for a luxury 2-week holiday has a major negative impact on my meagre financial resources, seen in the context of how bad things can get: months in hospital, sleeping rough and nearly dying on several occasions.

Perhaps it's just not my destiny to have my cake and eat it.

 

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I Don't Think You Realise How Tired I Am

4 min read

This is a story about working...

Power nap

I work hard for long periods of time - very hard - and then I need a holiday. I don't mean sightseeing. I don't mean wandering round crowded cities. I don't mean rushing from place to place, catching planes, trains and automobiles. I don't mean having a packed itinerary of non-stop horse-riding, hiking, learning how to make stuff, guided excursions to sites of historical and cultural interest. What I mean is a holiday.

I work very hard and I get very tired.

It's very tiring working very hard.

If you do not work very hard, then you are not very tired, and you have plenty of energy to go off doing city breaks and travelling around, never staying more than one or two nights in any one place, taking local busses, doing lots of short internal flights. If you do not work very hard then you will have lots of energy to have a very complex itinerary and go off spending lots of money doing lots of things.

I work hard.

I get tired.

I need a holiday.

I cann't stress this enough: I AM VERY TIRED AND I NEED A HOLIDAY.

This is what a holiday is: go somewhere with nice weather, stay there, relax.

There. That's a holiday. A holiday is something you do so that when you go back to work you're less tired than when you started. I need a holiday. Is that clear?

Over the Christmas and New Year festive season, I did manage to lie on a beach lounger getting a nice tan and having drinks and snacks brought to me by a waiter. I did manage to relax. The weather was vastly better than it was in the UK and I was able to stay in the one place - no planes, trains, automobiles, busses, coaches, trams, timetables, itineraries, hassle, faff, stress, exhaustion - and I was able to go to the beach every day and enjoy the sun, sea and the sand.

It's been more than 6 months.

I'm exhausted.

I need a holiday.

I'm tired so I need a holiday. I do not need a complex multi-stop itinerary cultural activity tour with a thousand and one things to travel between, as some kind of non-stop torture for somebody who just needs to relax. That's not a holiday.

If I had tens of thousands of pounds and months and months without any rent or bills to pay, I could quite happily squander those tens of thousands of pounds ambling around doing activities, but I don't have that luxury. I work. I work very hard.

I don't get to sleep. I don't get to rest. I just work. I work really really hard. I cannot stress enough how tired I am.

I am tired.

Do you get this?

The solution to my tiredness is a holiday.

This is how I organise my life: I work hard and then I take a holiday.

That's how my life works: I use up my energy working very hard, and then I take a holiday to replenish my energy.

My energy is depleted - dangerously so - and I desperately need a holiday.

It's really quite simple when you understand these simple facts: I work; I work very hard; I work for very long periods without a holiday; I work on the basis that I will take a holiday when I need one, to recharge my batteries. My life does not and cannot function without the holidays which punctuate the periods of intense hard work. You cannot imagine how hard I work. You cannot imagine how tired I am.

I do not think you realise how tired I am.

 

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A Fool And His Money

5 min read

This is a story about wartime thrift...

Paradise

There are a couple of sayings which really annoy me, because they are untrue and misleading. The first is "if you watch the pennies the pounds look after themselves" and the second is "a fool and his money are easily parted". The people who quote these sayings most often are terrible advice givers whose own wealth - if they have any at all - has not come from thrift or lack of foolishness. The people who quote these sayings are absolute idiots.

We can use other common sayings to demolish the idiocy.

"You've got to speculate to accumulate" and "buy low sell high" are both pretty obvious and self-explanatory, aren't they? These sayings are far more useful than the former ones, but there's a problem: most people don't have any spare money.

I placed a sizeable bet yesterday which looked as if it was going to provide a decent return on my investment. In fact, I lost the bet, but I was able to hedge my position and as such I didn't lose more than I was prepared to risk. In no way was my betting foolish. In fact, my betting was very smart because I was in a position where I stood to make a considerable capital gain, and my risk was hedged. The main thing we should remember though, is that I was not only able to afford to place the bets, but I was also able to afford to lose the money. Most people do not have the luxury of being able to speculate like I can, because they don't have the 'disposable' income.

Other things I've spent substantial sums of money on in the last year include my house, the furniture within it, a bengal kitten and a lot of cat supplies, a holiday to Turkish Disneyland and a holiday to Tulum in Mexico. I consider none of this money to have been wasted.

It probably seems pretty whacky for a 39-year-old single man to go on holiday to a theme-park resort, but what the hell is wrong with you if you don't want to ride rollercoasters, water slides, surf artificial waves as well as enjoy some winter sunshine in a place which was created with precision engineering to bring absolute delight to its visitors? I laughed with joy at so many of the little surprise things on that holiday, including the delightful theme-park hotel which was designed very much for children, but I assure you can be enjoyed just as much by any adult. That whole holiday was perfect, except that I felt a little lonely and out of place as a single man in a family resort.

My decision to go to Tulum in Mexico was taken on a whim, because my [ex-]girlfriend had told me that she had dreamed of going there for years, but she didn't possess the financial means for that trip to ever come to fruition for her - she would never have been able to save up enough money to visit one of the most desirable holiday destinations on the planet. The arrangement worked well for me, in that I was able to get some more winter sun and do some kitesurfing, plus all the Mayan ruins and stuff were very cool. Some people might say that I was taken advantage of financially, given her complete lack of monetary contribution, but it was a manyfold times more enjoyable trip because I had her company and I took pleasure from taking her to her dream holiday destination.

I've been spending lots of money eating out in restaurants, getting takeaway deliveries and I just booked another holiday. It's been over 6 months since my last holiday, so I think I've earned it.

I spend a lot of money.

Money flows in-between my fingers, as if I was grabbing handfuls of fine white coral sand on one of the beautiful beaches where I sometimes take my holidays. Does it bother me that I spend vast sums of money instead of hoarding as much as possible; living like a miser? Does it bother me that all I have to show for the money I've spent is an amazing house, a beautiful kitten and some incredible memories of unforgettable experiences? No. I'm no fool.

I've ploughed money into seemingly lost-causes, such as donating small sums of money to a friend who I'm trying to financially support through a difficult period of his life, to the point where he can hopefully be self-sufficient. It's damn hard escaping poverty. I feel as though it's my duty to spread the wealth. I feel as though it's very unfair that I can make lots of money because I already have plenty of money. Those who have the most money make the most money. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That's unfair.

I think it's victim-blaming to say that the poor would become rich if they were more careful with their money, and I find that kind of thinking very offensive.

 

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Getting Rich From Racists

5 min read

This is a story about happy hedging...

Pro-EU March

Frightening numbers of racists feel emboldened by Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Brexit and the alt-right, such that "immigration control" has turned into outright xenophobia, Islamophobia and generally abhorrent views that any non-white should be deported. It seems OK to say openly in an office to a work colleague that you're against the idea of an asylum seeker fleeing a warzone - fleeing persecution, torture, murder - shouldn't be allowed to receive the assistance which we should offer to the unfortunate victims of conflicts which the UK illegally started.

Frightening numbers of these racists are turning out en masse to vote for political parties which don't even have manifestos - their manifestos are unwritten, because if they wrote down the values that they really stood for then they would become proscribed organisations and their leaders and members would be prosecuted for hate crimes.

Tonight, there's a chance that The Brexit Party will gain its first member of parliament. We should remind ourselves that the leader of The Brexit Party stood proudly in front of a giant billboard showing Syrian refugees fleeing for their lives, proclaiming that the UK is at "breaking point" with the amount of asylum seekers in the country. This is pure unadulterated racism. The UK has processed fewer than 30,000 asylum applications, while Germany has processed far in excess of a million. How can the UK be at "breaking point" when Germany has taken at least 40 times as many asylum seekers? Why is immigration even considered to be an issue in the UK, when we're the 5th largest economy in the world? It's pure racism: hatred of people because of their race.

I placed a bet in 2016 that the UK would vote to leave the EU. I received extremely favourable odds.

I placed a bet in 2016 the USA would vote to elect Donald Trump as their president. I received very favourable odds.

I placed a bet in 2017 that the Conservatives would get the most votes in the UK general election. I received favourable odds.

I placed a bet on May 23rd that The Brexit Party would get the most votes. I received reasonable odds.

I placed a bet today that The Brexit Party's candidate for Peterborough would be elected as MP. I received acceptable odds.

Each of my bets has been a simple bet: that most people are racists and most people are dishonest. If you ask a person "are you a racist?" they will invariably answer "no", but if you ask a person if an asylum seeker deserves to find safe haven in the UK, or whether they should drown in the sea, most people will think that they should drown in the sea, or die in the warzone they're fleeing.

Each time I place a bet, I take the winnings from the previous bet and place those winnings onto the next bet. My winnings have substantially accumulated.

I'm getting rich from racists.

I shouldn't thank the racists for being racist, because I would much prefer it if my fellow citizens would stop being racists, but I have little ability to influence their abhorrent views. I have very little ability to stop racists from being racist, so I am vocally outspoken against racists like Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and the whole shower of sh*ts who support them. I also bet as much money as I can afford to lose on the outcome that I least want to see: that the racists continue to thrive in this climate where the condemnation of racists and racism seems to have been replaced with outright unashamed undisguised blatant racism; where people are openly racist in every part of UK life.

I have to suffer a dreadful racist at work, but at least I'm being financially compensated.

Does it seem immoral to profit in this way?

Perhaps I will take my substantial winnings and use them to fund anything I can do to stop the rise of racism. I can spend the money going to anti-fascism protests, anti-Trump protests, and anything I can do to promote progressive, inclusive politics, which condemns racism and introduces laws to prosecute those people who would gladly see asylum seekers drown in the sea, rather than offer them safe haven. The UK is very much not at "breaking point" unless we are referring to the emboldenment of racists.

I will be bitterly disappointed to see The Brexit Party gain an MP in parliament, but I will also be significantly richer, which will not make me any less sad about the sorry state of the United Kingdom, and its vast hordes of horrible disgusting contemptible racists.

Perhaps you think I should be spending my money directly on supporting the political parties who oppose racism and have the resources to fight men like Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, but it seems like a rational economic decision to me, to enrich myself... hopefully to the point where I can afford to dedicate my time and effort to fighting against these horrible people and their horrible supporters.

Rejoice with me tomorrow, if The Brexit Party is defeated, even though I will have lost a very large sum of money. I don't care about the money. I just want the racists to stop being racist and f**k off.

 

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Help or Hinder

6 min read

This is a story about giving a hand up not a handout...

Empty cupboard

In my 39 years on this planet I've come across a few people whose lives I've tried to intervene in to produce a positive outcome. I'm somewhat undecided as to whether I'm helping, hindering, or making no difference except to myself, because I've wasted time, energy and money where it might otherwise have been invested in my sister, my niece or my friends and other important close relationships.

I try not to over-invest in anyone or anything. I'm heavily invested in work, but I still treat it like a job and I don't work too hard or take things too personally - work is just a means to an end; an efficient way of complying with capitalism's coercion.

There are two individuals who I have invested a significant amount of time, effort, energy and money into helping. I should qualify what I mean by "significant" when it comes to money. I expect that to most of my readers "significant" does not have the same meaning as it does for me. The only sums of money which have had a significant impact on my life have been related to my divorce and £8,000 of unpaid rent and bills which an ex-flatmate owes me. This is not a boast - it's simply the honest truth about my good fortune in life.

The first individual was a homeless alcoholic man I met in a park. He was making a great deal of effort to deal with the clusterf**k of issues he faced, which were bereavement trauma, commensurate self-medicating alcoholism, physical health issues related to sleeping rough, and the general reluctance of the welfare state to see his life as valuable. He had been repeatedly denied the holistic care that he needed: bereavement/trauma counselling, a residential alcohol detox, a residential rehabilitation program, a hostel bed and welfare payments to allow him to eat without begging until he was physically and mentally well enough to be able to work.

It seemed as if this first fellow was worth helping, because I could at least get him off the streets, into a hostel, and provide as much support as possible to help him navigate the maze of state services in order to get the alcohol detox and rehab that he desperately needed, as well as navigating a further maze of state services in order to get welfare payments to give him a meagre income while he recuperated.

To my mind, it was worth the money of renting a room for this guy and meeting him every day, to help support him through interminable meetings with the local council and various bureaucrats who act as gatekeepers, stopping sick people like him from becoming well and getting back on their feet.

The second individual was a young cocaine addict I met at a rehab. He was mostly adhering to the rehab program, although he had failed a drugs test on a couple of occasions and was obviously not committed to an unrealistic level of abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I felt sorry for this young chap because he'd already badly screwed up his life by getting a criminal record, yet he was clearly an intelligent and enterprising fellow. I suppose the second individual's issues were more complex, having to do with upbringing and the company he kept, which was liable to keep him forever in a life where recreational use of drugs was commonplace, and drug dealing was also an ever-present temptation, for easy money. I wouldn't be able to give an oversimplification of the underlying issues, so I won't even try - it would do a great disservice to that young man.

To my mind, it was worth the money of providing financial assistance to the second guy, because I hoped that he would see me as a friend, instead of a parent or other authority figure; I hoped that he would naturally arrive at the conclusion that it's a good idea not to abuse the kindness of friends, and begin to change from the mindset of "borrowing" and stealing from friends and family to feed a drug habit, to a new form of behaviour where he would see that some people are kind and patient. I thought he could use another person in his life who wasn't going to get fed up with his lies, his dishonesty and eventually his behaviour being so resistent to change that he would end up abandoned. I felt I could help because I have deep pockets and a lot of patience.

With the first individual, he got his hostel bed, his alcohol detox, his rehab, and now he's lived 5 years clean and sober, he got married and he's starting his own business. He's my big success story.

With the second individual, he's managed to rent a room. That's about where the good news ends. The second individual has had vastly more financial investment from me, which seems to have made very little net difference... in fact, he seems to be more in debt now than when I started trying to help him. My tireless patience and refusal to abandon him seems to have only ever once become apparent to him, when he asked me why I kept forgiving him, which was a wonderful moment. At least if I'm the one and only person in his life to have never abandoned him, and that's caused him to question whether he should "borrow" and steal from his friends and family until they cut ties with him and abandon him, then that's progress of a sort.

I'm conflicted about whether I should continue to support the second individual. I suppose I made a decision early on that the way I was going to help him was to not abandon him, so in a way I'm committed. What can be said for certain is that he is exceptionally talented at p*ssing off his friends and family and losing any source of income, such that he regularly becomes destitute, so there will probably be many more occasions where he will slowly realise that it's very useful to have me as a loyal friend who's decided to support him no matter what, purely for the point of teaching him the lesson that not everybody will abandon you: there is some value in treating certain loyal friends with more respect than everybody else.

My girlfriend tells me that I'm being used and that I should abandon the second individual, given his repeated demonstrations of an inability to learn, and an inability to recognise a golden opportunity to receive assistance. I've regularly offered to help in life-changing ways - to break the cycle he's stuck in - but he's been impossible to persuade. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

This essay is not about what a worthy and wonderful charitable individual I am, but in fact about the ethical dilemmas I face about whether I'm helping or hindering; whether I'm investing my considerable resources in the right places.

 

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Timing

4 min read

This is a story about orchestration...

Apple Watch

I bought myself a watch to celebrate getting a new consultancy contract. Soon after, I moved into a stunning apartment. Before long, I had over-exerted myself and was under unbearable pressure. I took a bath wearing my watch, believing it to be waterproof. The watch did not immediately fail or show any signs of damage, which compounded my belief that it was waterproof. Then, a small black spot appeared on the screen, which slowly spread until almost half the screen was blotted out.

It would be nice if life followed simple and easily observable patterns. It would be nice if Y always followed X, so if ever there was an event that resembled X, we could be sure that Y would be certain to happen. Life is not that simple.

I'm writing now - having just got home from work - because it's been my disciplined routine to write at the earliest opportunity each day. In my experience, writing and publishing during the early evening of the UK day is a good time, because it co-incides well with the routine of friends from New Zealand, Bay Area, Canada and other countries, as well as my domestic readers. In fact, it would be next-to impossible to write at almost any other time, because of strict rules I have set myself.

The rules:

  1. Never write at work or access my website at work, using work-related computers or networks, or even potentially overseen by colleagues on my own personal laptop.
  2. Never mention any company, project, person or other identifiable thing, where I do not wish there to be a deliberate link made (e.g. if I write about a company, it's probably because I don't plan on ever working there again).
  3. Rarely explicitly say things which easily link me to my "real" life, making it too easy for colleagues to know that I write this blog.
  4. Don't worry too much about writing at weekends - people are less interested in reading my blog at weekends, although some people use it as a chance to catch up. In some ways, it's better to write less at weekends.
  5. Don't write too late in the day. The earlier the better, to be honest, but work gets in the way.
  6. Try to keep the word count to 700 words or fewer.
  7. Write every day

Rule number one is a golden one, which I've only violated once when I was bored beyond belief at a client's site in 2016. It would be a bad habit to get into. I once showed a picture to a colleague on Instagram and he remembered the name of my Instagram account, showing just how dangerous it is to have things up on your screen at work that you don't want your colleagues to see.

Rule number two is also a golden one, while I'm dependent on a steady stream of consultancy contracts to pay the rent and bills. Perhaps one day when I'm rich and famous I can write whatever I want, but for now I need to be careful to not violate my code of conduct or act in any kind of unprofessional manner.

Rule number three is a bit ridiculous. My colleagues can easily find me if they want. Many ex-colleagues have found me. I'm not exactly hiding.

I'm not very good at sticking to other rules, except for writing every day. However, when I do take a break from writing on a daily basis it's usually a very good or very bad sign. It always used to be the case that breaking my daily writing habit was a surefire indication that I was unwell, but at the moment you should probably take the gaps as indicative that life is challenging, but I'm not in mortal peril.

I used to be in mortal peril quite often.

Presently, I don't know whether I'm taking a metaphorical bath with a watch which I believe to be waterproof, and the fact that no damage appears to have been done is actually misleading; giving me false hope. I feel that life is going very well, but I'm aware that the metaphorical black spot can appear suddenly, and then spread catastrophically with surprising speed.

I've written 699 words and I'm now going to publish this. Rules are rules.

 

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Not Enough Hours in the Day

8 min read

This is a story about domestic bliss...

Red light

I enjoy a certain degree of freedom in my daily routine. I can arrive at work at any time between 8am and 10am. I can leave work at any time between 3:30pm and 5pm. I can work from home. I can take a half-day or a whole day off. I can take as much holiday as I want. It seems like my life is very flexible and I'm very time rich, as well as being handsomely remunerated for my efforts.

I'm somewhat obsessed with the project I'm working on. I know that the project has hard deadlines and I know that I'm playing an influential role in making sure that the project is delivered on-time. It might sound arrogant, but I know that there's a lot of cheap talk and the number of people who are "doers" is far fewer than the number of people on the payroll, who like to talk about doing stuff, but aren't driven and determined enough to carry anything through to completion. I need to stop short of outright criticism of my colleagues, because everyone plays their part, even if the project would go more quickly and the work would be higher quality without a handful of low-performing individuals: not my circus, not my monkeys.

I'm completely besotted with my girlfriend. I have a limitless desire to spend time with her. I think she's wonderful; the best.

The running of my home - the laundry, the cleaning, stocking the fridge and cupboards, taking out the trash - is relatively easy but I am quite house proud and the novelty of my relatively new house has not yet worn off. I would very much like to continue to add furniture and decorative items to make it a more and more lovely place to call home.

My kitten is amazing. Having a cute litte furry companion has exceeded my wildest expectations. My kitten plays "fetch" when she's feeling active, or cuddles up when she wants a rest. She's always entertaining, she's so beautiful to look at and her fur is so soft to stroke. She does, however, urinate and defecate where she shouldn't when I make a mistake like leaving her unattended with a laundry basket full of clean clothes for a few seconds, or not realising that her litter needed changing because it was clumpy beneath the surface. I've spent a lot of time washing duvets, bedding, clothes, and mopping the floor, as well as scooping up poop. I expected to have to make sure she was fed, entertained and had a clean litter tray to use, but there has been some extra stuff to deal with, like clearing my bedroom and dining room floor of anything she might urinate or defecate on.

I was just about coping with a very simple life, where I was working, sleeping and eating. I was going to bed at 9pm. The highlight of my week consisted of a trip to the supermarket. My life was pretty barren and empty.

Almost overnight, I have a girlfriend and a kitten. It made me feel very guilty that I got up and went to work at 7am and didn't get home to see my kitten until almost 11pm, because my girlfriend and I had gone to the cinema after work and then eaten at a restaurant.

FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF ANY DOUBT: MY KITTEN IS LOOKED AFTER DURING THE DAY EITHER BY ME, WORKING FROM HOME, OR BY MY GIRLFRIEND. MY KITTEN IS LEFT ALONE VERY INFREQUENTLY, AND ONLY FOR SHORT PERIODS OF TIME.

I'm also having to re-adjust to a significantly reduced amount of sleep.

I was sleeping from 9pm to 7am - 10 hours a night - and now I'm lucky if I get 6 hours a night on work-nights, which is a significant reduction. Assuming I needed just 8 hours sleep (but actually I need more) then I might lose as much as 6 hours total sleep during the working week. With only Saturday and Sunday available for catching up, and assuming that a 1am or 2am bedtime doesn't seem unreasonable on a Friday and Saturday night, means I can catch up only as few as 4 hours, assuming that I went to bed at 2am and had a lie-in until midday (i.e. 10 hours sleep). Given that it takes 1.5 times as much sleep to catch up, I am running a major sleep deficit - I am never getting the chance to catch up on any sleep. It's very simple mathematics to see that I am getting increasingly tired.

My day should be quite easy to divide - 8 hours sleep, 8 hours leisure and 8 hours sleep, but that's not possible if you have to get up and go to work at 7am, and you're not able to go to sleep until past midnight on a work night. For those who are able to sleep as long as they want during the mornings, they can easily ensure that they don't get too tired. For those who can have a nap during the day, they can catch up. I don't have those luxuries, because I need to get up and go to work at 7am, even though I do have a lot of flexibility which I don't use because of the demanding project I'm working on.

Flexibility comes at a price.

I'm dedicating myself to supporting my colleagues in delivering a very large and complicated project with a huge number of team members. It's important that I'm able to get some work done in the morning - 8am to 9am - and in the evening - 4pm to 5pm - when there aren't any meetings or interruptions.

Sure, I've worked hard enough to be able to slack off a bit, but I really don't want to decimate the reputation which has taken substantial effort to earn.

I pretty much just need a holiday.

Somehow I'm managing to stay functional and not lose my mind with exhaustion. Sleep deprivation will quickly erode your ability to think clearly, stay sane and be relaxed about life. Only those who have the luxury of being able to sleep as much as they want are able to not worry about bedtimes and the health and wellbeing consequences.

I suppose I've worked hard enough and proven myself such that I could become an unreliable part-timer who nobody would rely upon, but I enjoy my role as somebody who's been steady and dependable - ever-present - which is vitally important when you're trying to help a large number of people to deliver a very complex set of objectives. Leadership could be seen as a job title which is awarded for long service, or help from your daddy, but most of the time leadership is a set of attitudes - qualities - which make your colleagues trust you and look to you for guidance; leadership is just something that some people can do when others aren't interested, lack the aptitude, or lack the confidence and experience.

In terms of eyes on the prize, I know that I will cut back on my hours in the office and give myself some days off, for the sake of my relationship, my mental health, my physical health and because there literally aren't enough hours in the day. I have a pile of personal administrative tasks which I've ignored for a few months, costing me serious amounts of money.

I'm desperate for a holiday.

It's been 6 months since I had a holiday.

This is a recurring theme in my life: I work too hard and it makes me sick.

I'm going to publish this now. As you might have been able to tell, my blogging has been an early casualty, as the demands on my time have increased and my waking day has stretched well beyond what I'm able to cope with, without losing more sleep than I'm possibly ever able to catch up on over the course of a weekend.

It's 8:30pm and I need to start thinking about getting ready for bed. I need to make sure my kitten has food, water and a clean litter tray. I need to make sure I have clean clothes for work tomorrow. I need to make sure the house is in good order, so my kitten can be left to her own devices while I'm at the office. It might sound unthinkable that my day has consisted of sleep, work, 10 minutes of TV and a short amount of writing, and now I'm about to start getting ready for bed, but when sleep gets borrowed it has to be paid back - I cannot go to bed at 1am on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night, without having to reclaim 1.5 times what was lost, which is impossible when I'm working on such a high-profile and intensive project.

A holiday is the solution. I need a holiday.

 

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Seemingly Unimportant Decisions

7 min read

This is a story about success and failure...

Baked beans

There was a time, almost exactly a year ago, when I covered my windows with thick paper - so my bedroom was in complete darkness - and I ate baked beans out of a can with a business card as a makeshift spoon. There was nothing particularly wrong with my life at the time. I was earning a fabulous amount of money, my home had amazing panoramic sea views, I had a lovely girlfriend. What could possibly have brought about this rather dire turn of events?

It's important to me to feel like I'm succeeding. It's important to feel like I'm making progress. It's important for me to be able to picture a future that goes beyond the next week or the next month. I need to be able to see a clear pathway to a life that I will find happy and sustainable; fulfilling.

Of course, my path has never been blocked by any insurmountable obstacle. I never doubted for a single moment that my kidneys would start working again when they failed. I never doubt that I'll be able to find well paid work. I never doubt that at some point, eventually, I'll be able to quit the rat race.

The question is: how long will it take to achieve my modest and reasonable desire to feel secure in a happy, sustainable and fulfilling life? How many times will I have to move house, move city? How many times will I have to get a new job? How long until I own my own house again? How long until I have adequate cash reserves to pursue my dreams?

For many people, they already have their answer: they will never escape poverty. For the vast majority of people on the planet, they will be poor for their entire lives, and they will live a miserable, stressful, hand-to-mouth existence.

I'm not most people.

I'm not special or different.

I'm not entitled to any preferential treatment.

I don't deserve to be able to pursue rich-man's hobbies, such as writing, art and indulging academic fetishes.

However, I can tell you how long it will take to be able to free myself from the coercive tyranny of capitalism, and the answer is not "never". I'm fortunate, very fortunate that I do have a route to freedom; a route which most people do not have - they'll never escape the clutches of poverty.

Perhaps my decisions to black out my windows and eat cold beans from a can with an improvised spoon were part of a petulant tantrum; a result of impulsive impatience, in the face of a long and unpleasant waiting game. This is probably the closest approximation to the truth.

If I thought that my quality of life was going to remain below an acceptable minimum for any great length of time, and that the number of years of unpleasantness I was facing were too many for me to bear, I would make decisions... I would make decisions with drastic consequences.

It might seem illogical to you that I would make decisions with terrible consequences, when there are literally billions of people who would kill to trade places with me. However, it also seems illogical to me to make a decision with terrible consequences, such as continuing to tolerate an intolerable life, or worse still, inflicting that intolerable life onto some children knowingly brought into the world in awful circumstances. Surely we have to acknowledge that suicide is an option. Surely we have to acknowledge that contraception and abortions are preferable to miserable deprived hungry children, raised in filth and squalor.

Who am I to decide what the minimum viable quality of life is for somebody else, or the children they spawn? You're right: I can't make that decision for anybody except myself.

As things stand, the quality of my life is pretty exceptional, but there is still an unacceptable level of precarity. There is a greater risk of me falling below the minimum threshold for continued existence, than there is for my peers. I'm lacking vital things, such as a local support network, a supportive family and the willingness to re-endure suffering which I've already experienced beyond the amount I'm prepared to accept.

Of course, it would take a perfect storm, losing my girlfriend, my job, my money, my house and my health, for me to decide that I've had enough. However, I know how easily my flimsy, fragile life can collapse with alarming speed. This is not due to anything specifically weak about myself and my situation, but entirely due to my first-hand experience of calamitous life events.

It's probably true that if something bad happened in my life, I am now in a much more robust position and able to quickly remedy the situation before things collapsed. It's probably true that I'm better prepared than almost anybody to deal with adversity - I have the experience and I've dealt with dreadful things plenty of times. The question is, how much would it take for me to decide I couldn't be bothered to fight anymore?

As it stands, I work very hard to mitigate risks. I think the unthinkable. I anticipate theoretical problems and solve them before they even present themselves in reality. I know where my most vulnerable areas are, I've imagined my reaction, and I've imagined exactly what positive steps I would take in the event of disaster.

I'm quite insecure and anxious, but it's understandable. I don't have the luxury of anybody underwriting my risk. Ultimately, I know that I can fall very, very far. That's my life: a high-wire tightrope walk without a safety net.

Imagine the young trainee doctor I wrote about last year, who killed himself when he thought he was going to be declared unfit to practice medicine. He could have gotten a job at McDonalds. He could have been a beggar. Surely it can't be that bad to be alive, fit and healthy, can it? Surely he should have been happy that he wasn't a starving African child with mutilated genitals? That's not the way it works, I'm afraid. There are people who have terrible lives, but that doesn't mean that other people can't have terrible lives too, even if they are not absolutely terrible. Terribleness is relative to our lived experiences. Terribleness is a function of our very real and tangible hopes and dreams being dashed to pieces on the rocks.

My lived experiences encompass sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens as well as dining nearby on a private terrace overlooking a lush green roof garden with flamingos, and London's skyline providing the backdrop for me proposing marriage with an exorbitantly expensive engagement ring, before clinking glasses with finest champagne. That is an example of the range of my life experiences, from utter failure and destitution to incredible wealth and success. It's impossible to un-experience those things, and to reset the "minimum viable quality of life" to a level of my own choosing.

Could I be poor and happy? Quite possibly, but I very much doubt that I would be happy flipping burgers, getting paid minimum wage on a zero hours contract McJob and giving all my hard-earned money to capitalist leeches for the privilege of being alive.

If you flip burgers and you are happy, then I'm pleased for you. If you're a starving African child with mutilated genitals and you're happy, then I'm pleased for you. Please also recognise that I cannot un-experience what I have experienced in my life and I cannot choose how to feel.

 

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Not a Real Person

7 min read

This is a story about living a lie...

Bengal kitten

I've been accused by a BBC journalist as being a fake - creating a contrived story - although she did come to visit me when I was held in a secure psychiatric ward, so I wonder whether she continued to suspect my authenticity after that. A recovering alcoholic from the South-West of England, who had recently started a blog, and a mutual friend of ours who had lost a child to suicide, decided that I was a journalist. Most recently, a person who I considered a friend who had once offered to accomodate me when I was facing homelessness, but then quite suddenly retracted that offer, said that they had considered my bipolar diagnosis "doubtful" and told me that they'd "lost faith in [me] as a real person". These are just some of the examples of people who have taken an interest in my story, only to later suggest that I'm a fictional character; a figment of my own imagination.

It would be quite nice to be a fictional character. Assuming that this blog is written by a human being and not an artificially intelligent Nickbot™ then it seems logical to further hypothesise that the author lives a pleasant life free from mental illness and the mood instability of bipolar disorder. It sounds really nice to be a fiction author or journalist, who has the time to create a character for the world to read about. It sounds like a super pleasant existence, being able to write a fake blog about a fake person and to inflict fictional unpleasantnesses upon that non-existent person, instead of a real human being having to experience terrible things. It sounds a lot better to me, that there should be a "real person" out there who is having a nice time, and that all the bad times never happened at all - they were all just stories.

Unfortunately, I feel pretty real. If I pinch my skin it hurts. If I slap my face it hurts. When things are going wrong, it hurts. When things are stressful, it's very unpleasant. When things go wrong, it's awful.

I really wish I wasn't a "real person".

It seems like a lot of effort to go to, spending 4 years of your life writing 1.2 million words, to create an artificial entity - a fictional person living in a fictional world - when it must be clear that I derive no monetary reward from this endeavour. Do you think I get paid a salary to write this blog? Do you see any adverts anywhere? Do you hear me promoting products? How does the "real person" make their money and why would anybody pay money to create a fictitious "Nick Grant" character?

The most disturbing and upsetting part of accusations that I'm not "real" is that I've been hospitalised 3 times with multiple organ failure as a result of trying to end my own life. I've spent months in secure psychiatric wards. I've spent years trying different medications and suffering their side effects. I've seen so many doctors, specialty doctors, mental health nurses, psychiatrists, social workers and various support workers who are part of community mental health teams and crisis teams. I nearly died a whole bunch of times... like, serious not messing around, major medical emergency, miracle I'm still alive kind of nearly died.

Am I supposed to be sorry that at the moment my job is going well, which has earned me a lot of money, such that I've been able to get a lovely big house, furnish it, get a gorgeous bengal kitten and meet a beautiful girlfriend? Am I supposed to be apologetic about that? Am I not supposed to have any of that?

Bipolar disorder has been destructive and destabilising and has caused me to have to start my life from scratch. Bipolar disorder has caused me years and years of dysfunctional behaviour, which stopped me from having a happy life and enjoying health, wealth and prosperity. Am I supposed to stay stuck eternally in that perpetual state of mood instability, which was so extreme that my life was ruined?

If I knew what the 'cure' was for bipolar, I'd gladly tell you what it is, but as I've written before, I don't think I'm cured at all. A lot of hard work goes into managing my mental health condition without medication. In fact, choosing to be unmedicated is one of very many difficult decisions I've made, along with choosing to work, when I would much prefer to abandon all responsibility and assume that there's a magic pill which will 'cure' me enough for me to be able to sit around watching TV collecting my government handouts.

I have episodes where I appear to be very functional. Am I supposed to be sorry about that? These episodes where I'm functional don't come for free: I work very hard to keep my mood as stable as I can.

You're right: I'm no longer sleeping rough. You're right: my circumstances have improved considerably. You're right: my life looks somewhat enviable. How many times have you slept rough? How many times have you been hospitalised with multiple organ failure? How many months have you spent under lock and key on a secure psych ward? How many different strong psychiatric medications have you tried? How many doctors have you had? How much have you lost? What's the lowest you've ever got - have you ever lost literally everything and had to start your life again from scratch?

If you think that somebody who's nearly died a bunch of times and who's slept rough, destitute, has no need or want for a nice house, a gorgeous kitten and a beautiful girlfriend, then you're a complete idiot. You think I'd settle for living in a tent? You think I'd settle for a few ragged dirty clothes? You think I'd settle for one meal a day from my local soup kitchen? Do you think somehow that I should have lowered my sights and curtailed my life ambitions, because I've experienced the very worst that life has to offer? Fool.

If I had the 'cure' for bipolar disorder then I'd share it for sure. In fact, maybe there are lessons to be learned. I've exhaustively documented every single gory detail of my life in the hope that it would be read, and that it might prove interesting and perhaps even useful to the general public. You're welcome.

As for those of you who think I should be sleeping on a piece of cardboard in a shop doorway, begging, because that seems more "real" then I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I like my life better, even if you think you have the right to tell me that I should be deliberately choosing to deprive myself of nice things. I like my nice house, I like my gorgeous kitten and I like my beautiful girlfriend, even if those things don't fit with the narrative which you invented. There's 4 years of my life and 1.2 million words if you want to go digging to find some of the really awful times from my past.

I continue, as ever, to write with unflinching candid honesty about the reality of my day-to-day existence.

 

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Radio Silence

5 min read

This is a story about being absent without leave...

Mast

Friends quite rightly worry about me when I stop writing regularly. Usually, a gap in my daily blogging routine indicates trouble. Often, the trouble can be very bad - the kind that would threaten my life, my job, my shelter, my money... everything could potentially go down the pan, surprisingly quickly.

It's very nice that concerned friends check in on me if I go quiet. It's very reassuring that people care about me. It's very touching that people would take time out of their day to try to contact me, to see if I'm OK.

I am OK.

I've been pretty damn exhausted and struggling to catch up on some much-needed sleep. I've been under a great deal of pressure at work. I've been feeling a bit jittery and anxious - insecure - as I'm in a new relationship and I'm really crazy about my girlfriend, and I'd hate for anything to go wrong. I have a whole new set of responsibilities now that I have a kitten.

One thing I've been doing regularly, at the expense of my blog, is washing duvets and duvet covers, because my kitten has a habit of peeing on them. My kitten is house trained and knows where her litter tray is, but she seems to want to pee on the bed, every single day. She's now banned from the bedrooms. Mercifully, she hasn't peed on my sofa, yet.

Last night I let my kitten roam free and she didn't pee. She didn't spend much time in my bedroom at all. She likes to sleep on a duvet, but I was sleeping under sheets because the duvet was drying. I guess she's taken to sleeping at the top of the house, where it's the warmest - probably next to the boiler. I always worry when I can't find her, but after a while calling her name I can hear her scamper down the stairs, from the very top floor.

Other than washing cat pee, I had a friend visiting from abroad, which was wonderful, and I spoke at length to two other friends. Also, I see my girlfriend a lot, which is amazing - we have very similar tastes in arts, culture and politics, and we can talk for hours. There are lots of good things going on in my life, which is also perhaps why I'm writing less: I tend to use writing therapeutically when life is very difficult.

I'm drinking too much, not exercising enough and I still need to catch up on sleep, but life is very good. I have some stresses - such as an invasive security vetting process, renegotiating my contract at work, and getting official permission to have a cat from my landlord - but on the whole my life is busy, entertaining, exciting and has some extremely pleasurable periods.

I'm in need of a week of rest and relaxation, to recharge my batteries, but the project I'm working on is very demanding and it's an important time to be in the office, making sure everything goes to plan and the project is a big success. I'm sure I can juggle the competing demands on my time, because I've worked hard to earn plenty of brownie points and build a good reputation with my colleagues.

It is a little tricky finding the time to write every day, and I know that it's a healthy habit to write and publish every day. I know that it's useful to keep the people who care about me informed of what's going on in my life. I know it's a worthwhile investment of time, continuing to write this blog.

I am spread a little thin and I am having a few problems with drinking too much, and skating on thin ice with so few energy reserves, leaving me somewhat prone to have a moment of impatient unkindness, either at work or at home. I feel resentful of colleagues who produce shoddy work at snail's pace. I feel jealous of friends who aren't working, who are much more time rich. However, it's my own stupid fault for taking on too much and not looking after myself.

Hopefully, I can start to write every day again. The tone of what I write will probably change. A lot of what I'm going to write about is how I spent a pleasant evening on the sofa, with my cute little kitten curled up sleeping on me, like she is now.

If you're looking for drama, it never seems to be very far away in my life. I have no idea what's going to shatter my pleasant existence, but there'll be some unpleasant surprise waiting for me, I'm sure.

For now, no news has been good news. I can deal with a bit of kitten pee. My life is very good at the moment. Being busy with my girlfriend, busy with my job, busy with visiting friends, and busy with my kitten - that's a nice state of affairs.

 

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