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I write every day about living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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Treatment for Social Jetlag

4 min read

This is a story about alarm clocks...

Kitchen garden

How many people start the day, jolted from their pleasant slumbers by their alarm clock, repeatedly pressing the snooze button because they want and need more sleep? Is it 50% of the world's population? Is it 75% of the world's population? Is it 95% of the world's population? Certainly, in Europe, North America, New Zealand, Australia - and a bunch of other 'westernised' societies - the figure will be exceedingly high. That's an incredible amount of unnecessary human misery and suffering, in my opinion. Why the hell is society functioning like that, with its most productive members so exhausted?

I do not subscribe to the rat race, insofar as accepting that social jetlag is an inevitable part of the prime years of my life. I do not accept decades of torturous suffering. I refuse to be part of that.

Many years ago, I was unable to get out of bed, one morning. I lay in that bed for weeks, paralysed by depression. But, I don't think it was depression: it was my body's natural reaction to an abhorrent situation. Nobody should have to get up in the morning, against nature. It's unnatural. It's an offence to human existence. It's toxic to human health and wellbeing. No. No way. Not doing it.

But.

It's almost impossible to fight against the established order of society. Even though almost everybody is exhausted and socially jetlagged, because of the rat race, nobody wants to flinch first; nobody wants to be the person who gives up, lest other eager competitors steal their place in the rat race.

In an arms race, eventually, the only outcome is the destruction of human civilisation. This is the point that we've arrived at: life has become uncivilised in the extreme.

So.

What are we going to do about it?

Let me tell you a little bit about my life. I go to bed at the same time every night, and I always fall asleep quickly. Then, I always wake up before I need to wake up. I never set an alarm clock. I'm never woken up unnaturally: I always wake up, doze peacefully a little longer, start thinking about my day, read a little news on my phone, then get up when I'm ready. I'm almost always among the first of my colleagues to start my working day. Sounds too good to be true? Well, yes, certainly this can't be achieved without a little cheating.

How do I cheat?

Well, that's really easy, so I'm not going to beat about the bush. The answer is obvious: sleep medication.

Yes, that's right, sleep medication is the obvious treatment for social jetlag.

Sleep medication.

It's that simple.

There are two problems: firstly, your doctor will not give you any effective sleep medication, because otherwise society would be a happier, better rested, and a less miserable torturous place, and we couldn't possibly have that, could we?!?! Secondly, getting a great night of sleep every night, and waking up naturally every morning feeling refreshed, starting work early without need in alarm clock, is really great so it's hard to want to go back to being tired all the time, and hating every single morning when the alarm goes off. Obviously, you need a virtually unlimited supply of effective sleep medication, to last you until retirement.

Good news though: capitalism plans on continuing to manufacture goods and services, for as long as there's demand. Also good news: while you continue to be useful to capitalism, you will be given tokens which you can exchange for goods and services. More good news: while you have needs and valuable tokens, and capitalism produces goods and services, there will be people willing to facilitate the exchange of those tokens for the goods and services, in exchange for a profit margin. Good news all round: while capitalism demands that you get out of bed unnaturally early in the morning, there will be a plentiful supply of sleep medication, to allow you to cope with the social jetlag.

Of course, when capitalism collapses, I'm going to have some pretty bad insomnia, but maybe that's advantageous. When everybody else is sleeping, overcome by exhaustion, I'll have plenty of extra hours awake to scavenge the looted supermarkets for scraps.

Don't waste your time with your doctor: capitalism has already created efficient markets, where you can procure whatever you need at a highly competitive price.

 

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Raw Dogging Reality

4 min read

This is a story about taking the edge off...

Mulled cider

There's a popular meme which asks what's classy if you're rich, but trashy if you're poor. Among the answers is daytime drinking. Certainly, what gets classed as alcoholism for poor people, is just considered taking the edge off after a long hard day, for the wealthy.

Drinking and the United Kingdom go hand-in-hand. The weather is pretty atrocious for the majority of the year, and not in a Skandinavian way, with pretty snow and ice, but instead in a miserable grey-skied, drizzly rain kind of way. The UK doesn't get cosy during winter time, it just gets depressing. While the UK has a bad - but deserved - reputation for being the home of larger lout football hooligans, and horrendous rates of alcoholism, is it any wonder, considering the dreadful weather?

If we examine humanity's need for intoxication, we can see that it's well correlated with dreadful weather. The longer and more miserable the winter, the more people drink.

Looking at wider habits of intoxication, we can see that life is unbearable, for the majority of us, without something to take the edge off.

Why then do we fetishise brutal sobriety?

There's noting admirable about being teetotal. I've been teetotal for a month and a half, and I doesn't make me morally superior. I'm not a better person, just because I'm not imbibing alcohol. The only reason not to drink is pure vanity: that I'm dieting, and alcohol was contributing the vast majority of calories which I was consuming.

Without alcohol, I'm struggling. Without alcohol, I'm unstable and finding it almost impossible to plod along at snail's pace, bored out of my mind. I'm finding it impossible to get through the day: it's unbearably horrible.

I do not recommend experiencing raw unfiltered reality. It's awful.

Of course, nobody does experience raw unfiltered reality. Everyone drinks. Everyone smokes. Everyone pushes their buttons in some artificial way or another. Everyone takes medications. Everyone finds a way to artificially alter their brain.

I suppose that when I said we don't have the Scandinavian kind of cosiness, with warm sweaters, open fires, great central heating, insulated houses and snow outside, we do have a British kind of cosiness: country pubs, with lots of British beer. The Britons have always been big consumers of beer, and never moreso than during the dark, cold winter months. The British adapt to their miserable British winter weather, by retreating to the pub, and drinking more.

The idea that we should be able to maintain a certain constant level, in all areas of life, year-round, is complete insanity. Of course we need to sleep more when the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and it's colder. Of course, we need to be less active in the winter. Of course, we can't work the same hours. Of course, we can't go outside as much. Of course, we're going to eat and drink more. The seasons are not constant - there is summer and winter - and neither can we, as biological creatures, be constant either.

Doing a very extreme diet at the same time as being teetotal, coinciding with the clocks going back, the nights getting longer and the weather getting colder: this is something which is awful to experience, raw and unfiltered. I'm tired, hungry, cold, and I'm hit with the full force of the horrendous anxiety which human existence induces. This world is fucking shit, to experience without anything to take the edge off.

While the whole world is drinking alcohol, smoking, taking tons of pills, drinking tea, coffee, energy drinks, eating super sugary foods, upregulating themselves with gym workouts and suchlike, and bombarding themselves with a ton of dopamine-inducing entertainment - film, TV, video games, news media, social media, internet, pornography - I'm struggling along, experiencing raw reality, which is truly terrible. Do not recommend. Stay with your trusty pills - you need them!

The phrase "raw dogging reality" is stolen from a Tweet I saw, but it very aptly sums up the horribleness of human existence, without pills, booze, drugs, cigarettes or any of the other vices which make life liveable.

 

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My Own Worst Enemy

4 min read

This is a story about self sabotage...

Bruise

Why can't I just keep my big mouth shut? Why can't I just smile and nod, and think of the money? Why can't I sit back, relax, and just take the money? Why can't I just focus on the money, and not worry about anything else? I'm getting paid, aren't I? That should be enough, shouldn't it?

No.

It's not enough.

Not for me, anyway.

Of course, when I've burned the bridge I will be filled with regret, remorse, shame and embarrassment. Of course, when I've burned the bridge I'll be depressed and anxious, and I'll wish I had kept my big mouth shut. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, I'll see that I threw away something really good; that I made a huge blunder.

All of this presupposes that I'm in possession of free will. All of this presupposes that I'm able to make choices.

I'm not able to choose.

Of course, if I could choose, I would switch off my brain and sit mute in my chair, collecting my paycheque. Of course, if I could choose, I would press the fast-forward button, and get myself to the point where I've collected all the money. In order to get the money, all I have to do is nothing. They're going to give me the money, but only on the proviso that I keep quiet. I'm going to get the money, but it comes with strings attached: I have to sit in my chair and keep my mouth shut.

Why can't I keep my mouth shut, and just think of the big fat paycheque?

I'm grappling with the idea that I'm not a very nice person. There are plenty of people with the same mental health problems as me - bipolar disorder, anxiety etc - and they're lovely perfect Jesus-like individuals who spread joy everywhere they go; infinitely charitable, kind, helping old ladies, sick animals, orphans, starving Africans and suchlike. Why am I such an asshole? I certainly can't blame my mental illness, because every other person on the whole wide entire planet with a mental illness is a saint who would make a nun blush with shame at their lack of piety.

For sure, having a mood disorder makes life in civilised society pretty challenging. For sure, being shackled to a rigid organisational structure, where everyone's expected to fit in or fuck off, is a massive problem when my mood is not stable like an ordinary person's. We all want to lie in bed with the curtains closed sometimes. We all want to go a bit crazy sometimes. Sure, you can say that it's incumbent on me to fight my mood, with willpower, mental strength, medication, or whatever it takes... or else fuck off and die in some dark dank hole. For sure, it's my problem, nobody else's. Everyone else is getting on with life, neatly compartmentalising themselves into their assigned slot; fitting in. What the hell gives me the right to be eccentric; different?

Aside from lying down on the floor and resigning myself to death by multiple organ failure, last Christmas, it shouldn't be understated just how hard I have been working to overcome my mood disorder, and to fit in. For the last three years, I've forced myself to battle through severe depression, social jetlag, overwhelming anxiety, panic attacks and suchlike, in order to keep working and rebuild my shattered finances. If I wasn't battling my mental illness, you can be certain that I would have been at home in bed, in a darkened room, instead of turning up at work, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

The other side of my mood disorder is mania, which I've employed to make myself incredibly productive. I can quite rightly feel proud of a lot of achievements during the past three years. My productivity has been sky-high.

High productivity has come at a high cost.

I'm crashing, predictably. I'm exhausted and irritable. I'm getting physically sick. I can't regulate my mood. I can't act appropriately; professionally. I'm losing it. I'm having a breakdown.

All of this was inevitable, sure, but I don't think it was avoidable.

 

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World Mental Health Day

5 min read

This is a story about wanting to die...

Muddy feet

I've wanted to commit suicide for years and I've made several attempts, all of which have ended up with me in hospital, either in intensive care, and or high dependency, for weeks... months and months if you add up all that time. You might say that you think that I don't want to die, because I haven't succeeded [yet] and you would be correct: I want to want to live; I want to not want to commit suicide. But I did want to die and I did want to commit suicide. When I came out of a coma in intensive care in hospital, a doctor asked me if I was pleased that they saved my life. Honestly, I was not pleased at all.

More often than not, depression - as a mental illness - has no rational explanation. Grief and other circumstantial depression, although devastating, can be explained with relative ease; can be well understood. Stranger, it seems, is depression where the cause is not so immediately obvious.

Examining my own depression and wish to commit suicide, we can see a number of obvious circumstantial problems:

  • Estranged from family
  • No social support network
  • Very small number of close friends, none of whom live nearby
  • Enormous debts
  • Single
  • Can't remember the last time I had a hug
  • Boring, unrewarding and unchallenging profession [at times]
  • Physical illness, making me unable to work [at times]
  • No [realistic] prospect of escaping my predicament
  • No hobby/passion
  • Isolated, hermit-like existence
  • Troubled past; guilt, shame and regret; some bitterness

So, if we take all of that in aggregate, it seems like no wonder that I would be suicidally depressed, discounting even the irrational and almost-impossible to explain depression, which inflicts so many people whose lives do not have these problems (although they might have their own set of problems).

Let's revisit my circumstances, today:

  • Money in the bank; savings
  • No debt
  • Plans to see my sister and niece
  • Two friends who live nearby, although one is locked down due to COVID-19, so we can't meet
  • Rewarding and challenging work
  • Well-paid work; feel respected and valued
  • Physical health is OK, just a little unfit
  • Have managed to escape enormous debts, and become debt-free, against the odds
  • Have a hobby/passion: mountain biking
  • Leave the house to go mountain biking

Okay, so there are still some areas which need improvement but it's an incredible turnaround from my situation, which I've had to endure for years. I have to pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming. Nobody should have been able to escape from the homelessness, near-bankruptcy, crushing debts and the total destitution which I faced alone. It's like I had my death sentence commuted; it's like I received a royal pardon.

The picture at the top is of my muddy feet. Nobody goes out in the mud and the rain, in the cold autumn/winter of the UK, unless they are in a good place in terms of mental health. I'm not saying that I'm 'cured' or even that I'm 'happy' but I'm making some real tangible progress. I have hope for the first time in years and years.

My mental health is incredibly fragile. My 'recovery' (hate that word) is incredibly fragile. I have no idea whether my mood is going to crash, worse than ever, and I'll be back to being suicidal. Every time I attempt suicide, there's a very good chance I'm going to succeed. You might think that I'm just being melodramatic and/or attention seeking, and that I have no intention of committing suicide, and never did, which is why I didn't succeed. If you like, I will share my medical notes from the emergency department and intensive care/high dependency: I didn't succeed because I was incredibly lucky; for example, the medical team gave me about a 30% chance of survival, last attempt. The time before, I had even less chance of survival. There's no denying the truth: when I have attempted suicide, it's not a cry for help, nor has it been 'botched' by me... it's been pure blind chance that I've been discovered before I died. I've never phoned emergency services or phoned for help in any way whatsoever; quite the opposite.

So, on World Mental Health Day, I'm really sorry for all the people in the world who are suffering. I feel your pain. I share your pain. It makes me very sad that mental health problems are so prevalent in the world. I wish we would do something to help improve the circumstances of people's lives, because that can make a huge difference. Instead of giving trillions of dollars/pounds in bailouts to banks, we should be giving each and every family a life-changing amount of money, so that they can afford to live without debt, in secure housing, and not have to work shitty soul-destroying jobs; we need the time to connect with our community and maintain a social support network; to make [and keep] friends.

Look after yourselves today, and every day. Email me if you're feeling suicidal.

 

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Profligacy

7 min read

This is a story about out-of-control spending...

Wallet

This is my wallet. It doesn't contain any cash. In fact, it doesn't contain very much at all. It's very thin, although not as thin as my favourite wallet, which unfortunately wore out. I like having a thin wallet.

My wallet contains a 'debit' card for my personal account (known as a checking account in North America, I think), a 'debit' card for my business account, and two credit cards. Also, I keep my drivers license as photo ID, and some stamps, in case I need to mail anything. So, that's 4 bank/credit cards and a card-sized driving license: 5 cards in total. That's all I need.

Sure, I need a little cash from time to time. Frustratingly, I had used the small amount of cash that I carry to pay for something, when I needed to pay the guy who cleans the windows in our street, so I had to live with dirty windows for a little while longer than I would have liked to.

Cash tends to stay in my pocket for so long, that often it ceases to be in common circulation: the UK is replacing all of its 'paper' banknotes (they were actually more like a kind of fabric, but that's just a geeky fact for you) with 'plastic' ones. The UK is probably the world's number one place to launder money, so of course we need to have wipe-clean waterproof money.

Anybody who's used a plastic banknote to insufflate a powdered substance into their nose - not me, obviously - will tell you that the new banknotes will damage the delicate membrane of your nose and cause it to bleed, quite often. However, at least you can wipe the blood off. Paying for stuff with bloodstained banknotes is rather embarrassing (but not the reason why I don't carry much cash - I just don't need/use the stuff, for any purpose).

If you've followed my blog, or you know me as a close friend, then you'll know that I've suffered from depression which has been quite relentless and uninterrupted; interrupted only by suicide attempts, I should probably add. My will to live has been long absent.

I was starting to give up and abandon all hope of surviving for more than a few more months. I was certain that if Christmas didn't kill me, like it almost did last year, then I'll certainly die in April or May next year. Basically, I could see no future for myself; no point in suffering any longer.

Then, I had a great idea: I'll buy a really fancy gaming computer, so I can play driving simulators, flight simulators, turn-based strategy games on a big monitor, and retro console games... generally get into gaming in a really big way.

But.

It was not a good idea.

Part of the reason for my depression, is because I'm home alone, in front of a screen all day. Part of the reason for my depression, is because of my sedentary lifestyle. Part of the reason for my depression, is that I lack real-world social interaction with people.

In short: the gaming PC was a bad idea.

But.

Then I had a really great idea, which was to buy a mountain bike.

I mean, I already have a mountain bike, so why would I buy another one? The mountain bike I have is the best that money can buy (to me at least) so why would I buy another one, if I couldn't buy a better one?

Good question.

Mountain biking is hard work. I used to be young, skinny and fit, but now I am old, fat(ter) and unfit. I am by no means obese and I am by no means so unfit that I can't do exercise, but my health and fitness have been grossly neglected during my interminable depression, as well as during lockdown, which made things even worse. I did try to finish the lockdown fitter, thinner and generally healthier than when I started, but, it was very hard. The best I managed to do, was to stop the rot, a little bit.

Pedalling a mountain bike uphill is hard work. You have to move the weight of the bike, the equipment, your clothes and your body, uphill. My super nice mountain bike weighs 24 pounds (11kg), my equipment could be zero I guess, if I was going for minimum weight, my clothes, including shoes, could be as little as 4 pounds (2kg)... but the heaviest thing is me. I weigh at least 22 pounds (10kg) more than I did when I used to ride my mountain bike regularly. So, basically, if I was to ride up a hill, it would be like me riding up that hill with a whole extra mountain bike on my back. Plus, I'm unfit too.

So what's the solution? Lose weight, right? Catch 22.

The best way to lose weight is to exercise, but if your favourite form of exercise - mountain biking in this case - has gone from something which is difficult but enjoyable; rewarding... into something which is so exhausting that it will destroy you to just go up one single hill, then the barrier to entry is too high.

What did I do? I bought a mountain bike which assists with my pedalling, to make it feel like I'm 22 pounds lighter. In fact, the mountain bike I bought can also assist with the pedalling so much, that it's like I'm young and fit too! Of course, I still have to pedal, and that still requires energy, so I'm getting the exercise I need to lose weight and to get fit again.

What I also did was buy a bunch of other stuff: waterproofs so I can go out in the rain, super-padded underwear to protect my ass (because it got soft since I didn't ride a bike for a long time) and a whole bunch of other really expensive stuff. Could I have done without that stuff? Sure. I guess I could carry a heavy mountain bike for miles and miles because I got a puncture. Sure. I guess I could get soaking wet, because it's autumn now and will soon be winter. Sure. I guess I could get run over by a car on the way to/from where I'm riding, in the dark autumn/winter bad weather. For sure, I could have avoided getting that stuff and said "I'm not going out on my bike today, because it's raining/dark/I've got a puncture or whatever".

You bet I'm worried that my spending is out of control. I spent a whole month's income.

Every. Single. Penny.

Like, no money for rent, no money for food, no money for bills, no money for transport... no money for anything except my bike, and the stuff to go with it. I spent every single penny of last month's 'wages'.

So, am I stupid? Am I rubbish with money? Am I a lost cause.

Well, I wanted to commit suicide for a very long time, but now I'm just excited about riding my bike; now I've got a reason for living again. I'm not sure how long that's going to last, but money really can buy happiness, it seems; or at least money can get rid of depression, temporarily. Maybe, like a drug, the depression will only go away for a really short time and I'll have a terrible hangover/comedown. I expect that's true, but let's not be too hasty. Last time I did something like this, I got fit, healthy, happy, more social, more attractive athletic body, identity, self-esteem, and I had a lot of fun. Let's wait a while before we start calling me stupid for doing this.

 

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Electronicat

5 min read

This is a story about technical stuff...

Electronics

Of all the hobbies I thought about getting into, most of them were sedentary; indoors. I thought about getting some kind of retro games console. I thought about getting a new games console. I thought about getting a gaming PC. Then, I thought about maybe doing something really geeky. I started looking into software-defined radio, with the intention of making a home-made radar, perhaps, or doing my own mobile phone base station. All of this, I decided, was expensive and wouldn't help me with my need to get outside and exercise.

I did some of the projects on the cheap. I managed to turn my 5 year old laptop into a pretty decent retro console, with nothing more than a cheap game controller pad. I got a whole buttload of electronics experiments I could do with a super cheap tiny little computer (pictured). I managed to make a home-made sonar. Not quite radar, but not too bad for a bodger.

Still, I found myself spending most of my time looking at a screen, indoors.

Also, although the projects have provided some intellectual challenge, they haven't really opened up any social avenues. I'm sure that if I got really involved in - for example - the software defined radio community, online, then I would kinda get 'social' contact out of that, but I already get more than enough online social contact. The thing I'm missing is real world social contact.

I know from past experience that when I've done something ridiculous, like suddenly deciding to get into kitesurfing, it's taken my life in a brilliant direction. I've travelled the world, in search of the best wind and waves, and made lifelong friends along the way.

My life is very nice - enviable - in a lot of ways. My beautiful cat keeps me company, and she likes company too; always wants to be nearby, getting involved with everything I'm doing, which is not always ideal when working on a microelectronics project, for example. For sure, I have options and opportunities which a lot of people can only dream of.

However.

I am also more socially isolated than you can possibly imagine. Estranged from my family, far from friends, without a support network. The litmus test is this: if you're hospitalised for a major medical emergency, who's there for you? I can answer that question. I can answer that question very well, and the answer is not good, although mercifully I did have a work colleague and a friend who happened to be visiting from abroad, who were kind enough to visit me, hooked up to a dialysis machine for 4 hours a day; a hospital stay of more than 2 weeks; a medical emergency that pretty much nearly killed me.

That's not a dig at my friends, of course. They've become used to leaving me sleeping rough or otherwise homeless. They've become used to leaving me in hospital, dying, alone. That's fine. I've come to terms with that.

I do have some VERY good friends. I am lucky enough to have one or two friends who would help me, if I asked. The rest... I'm not sure if I can even call them friends... more just people who I used to know, but now they're just strangers who I happen to see updates from on Facebook. They might as well be celebrities who I read about in tabloid newspapers or gossip magazines.

This wasn't supposed to be a dig at my acquaintances [former friends]. This is about what I'm doing to sort my life out, to make it bearable.

Possibly, by getting back into mountain biking, I have opened up the possibility of making some friends and building a support network; having a social life. We'll have to see. "Social life" might just be something which I'll never regain; I'm too old to be able to [re]build one now, having lost my old one. Anyway, I remain optimistic.

For the first time in forever, I felt motivated to start to plan for the future, in a way that's not just planning for my suicide. I've been planning what to do when my backside isn't so sore, and I can ride my new mountain bike again - where am I going to go?

Suddenly, winter doesn't look quite so bleak. I have good winter clothes and a reason to be outdoors, in the wind, the rain, and the mud. Not many people have the strange twisted kind of brain that I do, where I love extreme weather: keeps the fair-weather tourists away. On the bike ride I went on, on Saturday, there was not a single other soul on the mountain. I'd hardly describe it as "perfect conditions" but in the forests around the summit of the mountain, I hardly noticed the rain; I was going to get covered in mud anyway. It was delightful; ecstatic; euphoric... to be hammering down deserted mountain tracks, without having to worry about crashing into anybody. A far cry from the queues to get into shops, which seems to be something that the ordinary folks are spending their time doing.

Of course, everything's more fun when there's a social aspect, so I'm hoping to find some people to go mountain biking with, but people are already contacting me (which is unheard of) to arrange some biking trips, which is a good sign; a sign that I might get the healthy habits which I need in my life, along with a truckload of fun and adventure.

 

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Second Lockdown

3 min read

This is a story about a broken record...

Names

What's the exact idiom? A broken record surely wouldn't play at all, so I always reject the idiom "broken record" thinking it must instead be "scratched record". However, I don't think we really use the idiom "scratched record" so I'll stick with my original preamble, which was probably correct insofar as being a well-understood idiom, but literally wrong, like so many things in life.

Anyway.

I've been a bit of a broken record, meaning that I've been repeating myself a lot.

I'm in lockdown, again. Last time I was in lockdown, I stopped writing because I didn't want to drive myself and everyone else round the bend with my repetitive days; I knew that it would be a marathon, not a sprint, to the finish. The first lockdown lasted longer than almost everyone had anticipated, but I had psychologically prepared myself for it to last many months, so I was OK. I also anticipated that this second lockdown was a certainty, so I was psychologically prepared, except I haven't taken the step of stopping writing.

I was planning on having a totally sober October, as has been my tradition. Also, I was supposed to get a new mountain bike, so I could start getting fitter and shedding some korona kilograms: I've put on weight, having been more sedentary than normal, and also utterly devastatingly depressed about the lack of opportunity this year to have travel and adventure, like normal.

I'm not sure I could stand the sound of my own voice - or my words - if I have to write for a whole month, sober and in lockdown. I might have to take a break from writing again.

The world is pretty toxic to mental health at the moment. The impending US presidential election, the impending no-deal Brexit, the never-ending pandemic, the impending economic armageddon, the rioting... the lockdown of course, and the effect of being under the same roof 24 x 7 x 365.

I find writing therapeutic, but what am I going to tell you about my present situation every day: it'll be the same. Still need that mountain bike so I can go and exercise, still need to stay sober, still need to eat less, still working on an important project I can't tell you about, still under lockdown, still depressed, still suicidal. It's going to be groundhog day; repetitive.

So, I'm warning you: if I keep writing and you keep reading, things might get pretty samey.

 

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Agony Aunt

3 min read

This is a story about pen pals...

Inbox

I invited people to write to me, and they do. My DMs on Twitter and Facebook are full of messages from readers. My email inbox is full of emails from readers. This is good. This is what I asked for. This is what I got.

I agonise a lot about whether it was the right thing to do, to write so candidly and brutally honestly about suicide. Some people would expect a massive content warning, trigger warning, or some other kind of disclaimer. Some people - including most responsible journalists - wouldn't even grapple with the topic at all. There's a widespread fear that suicide is contagious, which is not a wholly unwarranted fear, given that suicide does seem to occur in clusters; there is fear of copycats.

Being in touch with so many people who've read what I've written, is somewhat reassuring. Nobody is saying "I wasn't going to kill myself, but now I am, because of what you wrote". Of course, you might say that the ones who think that don't get in contact, but that's a preposterous idea. I have an ever-growing dataset, and almost without exception, people get in touch because they're already suicidal.

Of course, you might say that if I push just one person over the edge, that's one too many. I agree. I'm not pushing anybody. If anything, I'm trying to nudge people back in the other direction. If they want to research suicide methods on the internet, they're going to find the information they need. At least what I offer isn't a dry step-by-step instruction manual. I'm genuinely just saying "yes, suicide can be achieved by these methods, and it's OK to feel like you want to end your life, but I'm upset that anybody feels like life is not worth living; I feel like life is not worth living a lot of the time"... and that's OK. I'm allowed to say that, because I feel it, and it's not doing anyone any harm. I'm not trying to inspire or provoke anyone into committing suicide. People die in darkness and ignorance, not in a world of honesty and openness.

Will I one day have angry friends and relatives contacting me to accuse me of being to blame for their loved one's suicide? Probably, but they should probably ask themselves why their loved one was driven to searing the internet for suicide methods and other information on self-murder, instead of finding whatever they desperately needed from their loved ones. I didn't invent suicide. I'm not in charge of suicide. I'm not telling anyone to commit suicide. I simply exist, sharing my own story, which people tell me is relatable, for those who are in crisis.

Anyway, I've got to go... I've got emails to answer.

 

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Get Help

4 min read

This is a story about treatment and therapy...

Crisis counselling

I write about my own personal experiences of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicide attempts, because that's what I would want to read if I was in crisis. There's a mountain of material on the web about the symptoms of mental illness, dealing with a crisis, coping with suicidal thoughts, counselling, crisis support, mental health teams, crisis teams, doctors, healers, witch doctors, shamen... and all the rest of it.

It's all been done to death.

So, here's what I'm doing: I write.

I've tried absolutely tons of medications, and all of them have undesirable side-effects, and ultimately didn't bring me a good long-term outcome. I refuse to accept that I simply haven't found the right medication, at the right dose, in the right combinations: personally, I've exhausted that avenue, and found it to be a fruitless exercise. That's not to say that medication won't work for you, and you shouldn't try it, but it didn't work for me.

I tried counselling and behavioural therapies. Nope. Probably OK if you're just 'a bit sad' but if you're reading this then you're probably well beyond being 'a bit sad'. That's not to say you shouldn't try therapy. Everyone's different. However, for me personally, I don't think 45 minutes a week is going to fix all my problems, sorry.

It's important to acknowledge, though, that following the treatment routes which have been resoundingly proven to be ineffective, can be a useful distraction which will eat up a few years of your life. Although I can say with certainty that the long-term outcomes are not attractive, in the short term, there's a lot to be gained from the process of learning about all the different medications and trying them out: it'll keep you busy!

Also, we shouldn't underestimate the power of having a kind non-judgemental person, listening to your traumatic story. Being heard is super important; super healing. Having somebody tell you that you did the best with the hand you were dealt, can be incredibly important, to forgive yourself and start to feel better about being unwell; not so guilty or broken.

I write because it's unlimited free therapy. Instead of only having 45 minutes a week with a therapist, my therapist - the blank page upon which I write - is available 24 x 7 x365, and I can spend as long as I want in a therapy session for free. The free part is not to be underestimated: therapy is really expensive (although it might be money well spent if it works for you). Also, the blank page is the world's best listener: it never interrupts, misunderstands, disagrees, challenges, contradicts, argues or otherwise talks back, which is *perfect* as a therapist.

Given that therapy is pretty much just guided introspection, there's no reason why you can't learn the techniques to explore your own thoughts and feelings, without a guide. Now I'm in the habit of sitting down in front of my blank page every day, I find it really easy to explore whatever's bothering me, or to dig into baggage from the past... whatever I want - it's my time and I'm paying for it!

From personal experience, not professional qualification, I really urge you to write on a regular basis, therapeutically. It's helped more than anything else I've tried, by far.

Of course, we would all love to find an authority figure - a doctor or similar high professional status person - who we can put our faith in to 'cure' us and take care of all our problems, but the reality is that depression and anxiety are modern epidemics, and medicine has failed to provide effective treatment; the problems are getting worse, not better. Ultimately, we are - unfortunately - personally responsible for our safety and wellbeing. Much though I wish there was a magic person in a magic building with magic beans, like a doctor in a hospital with some pills, it's turned out to be a massive disappointment... we're on our own.

Of course you should phone the crisis hotline if you're on the brink of committing suicide. Of course you should go to your doctor and take their advice. Of course you should seek professional help. However, if - like me - you've tried all that and found it to be a dismal disappointment, then I imagine that's why you're here, right now, reading this.

Try writing. It helps.

 

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Dark Thoughts

4 min read

This is a story about storm clouds...

Rain on glass

I often assume that after a lengthy period without abusing drink, drugs, medication and other mind-altering substances, I'll reap some rewards. I tend to think that a period clean and sober will bring good health, and in turn, that life will improve. It's certainly true that drugs have brought nothing but chaos and turmoil into my life, making it completely unmanageable, as my mental health problems are exacerbated. Eliminating most psychoactive substances has certainly turned my life into something which looks - to the outside observer - to be stable, productive, functional and indeed, at times quite enviable. To all intents and purposes, I look, smell, sound and act like a normal member of mainstream society.

Internally, there's nothing to help me cope with the intrusive thoughts; the traumatic flashbacks.

In the comfort of my own home, as I've already written about, I yell out, grimace and flinch, as I'm assaulted by all kinds of post-traumatic flashbacks. I have horrible nightmares. I suffer lengthy periods of skin-crawling agonising anxiety, where the hands of the clock are barely moving; it lasts for an eternity.

There are no rewards for being clean and sober; only suffering.

It's unthinkable, lifting the lid when there's so much trauma. It's insanity to have it all hitting me like a freight train, every single second of every single day, even when I'm asleep.

I like to think that my brain is mending itself. I like to think that by reliving those traumas, my brain is kind of re-organising itself and exorcising stuff. I allow myself to yell out, flinch and grimace, because it seems better to let it out than to fight it and attempt to suppress it.

Thinking about it, there's mountains of stuff. There's an unimaginable amount of stuff.

The memories - the bad memories - come thick and fast, intruding into whatever I'm doing, unless I'm really working hard; really concentrating on something. I have so few distractions that there's plenty of time for my brain to throw a relentless torrent of terrible, dreadful, awful traumatic memories at me, which are so bad that they're physically painful and cause me to cry out in shock.

I don't think I'd have been able to cope without medication, but now I've lost that crutch, it feels like I stored up years worth of terrible stuff without dealing with it properly. Now it's all hitting me, seemingly all at once.

I'm unusual, in that I'm one of the least psychoactively altered people - I don't have any tea, coffee, coca-cola, fizzy drinks, nicotine, cannabis, alcohol or medication. I don't eat, drink, swallow, smoke, inject, snort or otherwise ingest anything mind-altering. That's very unusual. To give you an example, out of hundreds of people I work with, I'm the only one who doesn't drink tea, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, and my teetotaling makes me even more unusual.

As a friend said to me, quoting a popular Tweet: I'm raw-dogging reality.

It's really brutal. It's really awful. I don't recommend it at all. It's not nice. In fact, it's thoroughly unpleasant and intolerable. Don't do it. It's not worth it. It's not healthy, it's hell.

Why am I doing it then?

I have the unshakeable belief that I can achieve mood stability by avoiding all mind-altering substances, including the things we don't usually bother to think about, like tea and coffee. I feel a lot more stable - mentally - having given up everything. I'm trying to regulate my mood by doing other things. I'm hoping that I develop some healthy habits.

Certainly, after a couple of weeks teetotal, I have a lot more energy and enthusiasm; I'm a lot more active; I sleep better. These are not things to be sniffed at. Alcohol and depression combined to create a very sedentary lifestyle, which was horrifically damaging to my health. I was drinking myself to death, even though I appeared very functional and otherwise doing very well in life.

So, I'm suffering the dark, horrible invasive thoughts, driven to find out whether my brain will eventually rid itself of the toxins and settle down. Certainly, there are health benefits, but I am suffering a great deal.

 

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