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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

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Flat Out

2 min read

This is a story about a demanding job...

Bike frame

I can't divulge the details, but I've spent the last couple of days spread very thin, working for two teams at the organisation who I currently do consultancy for. One important deadline looms large, while a major issue caused me to get involved in something which I haven't touched for nearly two months - I was roped in because, as it turned out, not only do I know the most about a particular part of the system, but unfortunately it looks like I cocked something up during the exhausted time just after I moved house.

I'm not sure if everything is going to come together at the last minute. I certainly hadn't bargained on having to spend two full days wrestling with something which has come back to bite my ass, having lain dormant for the best part of two months. I was feeling in a pretty strong position to finish off a whole load of good work and get it delivered before the upcoming long weekend. Now, all my contingency time has been used up and things will be a lot more of a rush, but it shouldn't be a problem.

All the pieces of a very complicated system are connected together to create the product(s) which I'm responsible for helping the organisation I'm working with, to develop and support. I try to change things and make them better. I try to make things more simple, elegant, efficient and performant. I try to make things as simple and easy to understand as possible. Most of the time it works just how I wanted it to, but sometimes - when I have to hack at something somebody else produced - things go wrong. In this case, things have gone with very severe consequences.

I'm not sure whether I'm going to have damaged my reputation by being the origin of a major problem, or maintained my reputation because of my extensive involvement in resolving such a complex problem, but we'll have to wait and see.

I'm certainly not bored.

 

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How To Date Hot Women

8 min read

This is a story about second best...

Dancers

This isn't a story about dating hot women at all. This is a story about all the reasons why you shouldn't date hot women. I suppose I'm no sex-starved involuntary celibate (InCel) man who has little success with the opposite sex, but neither would I like to stray into the revolting world of being a pick-up artist. Of course, I've derived an enormous boost to my confidence and self-esteem from sexual conquests - to fail to acknowledge that would be disingenuous - but I've relatively recently become secure and content in the knowledge that my sex-starved frustrated and miserable adolescence is not going to return to haunt me; I have always secured an adequate steady supply of sex with relative ease, so I don't need to constantly pursue women purely to prop up my fragile self-esteem.

Apparently it's a common phenomenon that men will try to get women who are "out of their league". I find the whole concept of "leagues" to be thoroughly appallingly awful and abominable, and I have deep disdain and contempt for those who consider themselves to be "high ranking" in this imaginary "league".

Perhaps the source of my objection to the ranking of physical attractiveness on some scale, is down to my own insecurity that I might be in the middle - scoring 5 out of 10 - or perhaps even worse when I'm feeling a little unfit and carrying some unwanted extra weight. However, my experiences have taught me that I never feel lacking in female admirers, so I must be on the desirable end of the attractiveness scale, if such a thing could ever exist, or should ever exist.

I've heard it suggested that a man should be glad when he gets a woman who is "out of his league" and should simply trust her judgement - she knows her own tastes and can choose as she pleases - but this essay is about why it might not necessarily be a good idea to live daily life with a partner who you consider to be substantially more attractive than you are.

I have noted in myself a considerable amount of time and emotional energy spent worrying about what a very attractive (in my opinion) woman would see in me. Instead of being pleased to receive the attention of women who I find devastatingly beautiful, it has felt like a dreadful trap: what if I fall in love, and then their momentary blindness is cured - the spell is broken - and they can see my true ugliness? How terrible would it be to believe that I'd snagged a woman well "out of my league" only to be dealt a cruel blow by reality?

Firstly, how does one retain a "hot woman"? This may sound horribly possessive in a sexist, misogynistic, male chauvinistic way, but it's a question we have to answer: if you possess a woman who many man want to have for themselves, how do you keep her?

Secondly, how do you cope with the continuous challenge of feeling somewhat unworthy? If your own self-esteem is not great and you're dating somebody who you are incredibly in love with, this presents a considerable psychological problem. It would be easy to be driven mad by the sense of inadequacy: insecurity creates jealousy, paranoia and a whole heap of undesirable behaviours, such as over-protectiveness. It seems probable that an ugly man dating a beautiful woman would want to - if he were allowed to - lock her up somewhere so that she wouldn't fall in love with any handsome men and leave the ugly man heartbroken.

Thirdly, can you even handle how hot this woman is? Will you be able to talk without fumbling your words? Will you be able to be witty and charming and cool, or will you turn into a gibbering idiot, simply because you are so overcome with the desire to impress her? What if you get her into bed? Will you be able to stop yourself from prematurely ejaculating when her beauty is so arousing?

Finally, how will you handle the continuous attention she gets? It might sometimes make you feel very good that every man who sees her is mentally undressing her and lusting after her - you'll be pleased that you're the lucky one who's dating her. However, there will be other times when you're aware that an unending stream of horny men are trying their luck with the girl you're dating. How are you going to handle that? She's spent her whole adult life being hit on by horny men, so she's used to constantly being told she's beautiful and having offers of sex, along with a lot of harassment too of course. How are you going to handle the fact that in public, at work, on the internet and just about anywhere, anytime, there will be a horny man trying to have sex with the hot woman you're dating?

I suppose the problem fundamentally lies with the idea of possession. We are very pleased to have institutions like marriage in our society, and we celebrate and encourage saying things like "my wife" and "my husband" and referring to each other using possessive language. If we believe that legal contracts and religious vows are enough to confer the answers to the above questions, because marriage implies fidelity - committed monogamy - then we might assume that marriage is the solution: find the hottest woman you can and marry her. However, human behaviour demonstrably does not obey legal contracts and solemn vows. In fact, we can see that people cheat all the time, and marriage is completely meaningless.

In Islamic countries, it's more socially acceptable to demand that your wife present herself modestly and keeps herself mostly away from men, perhaps under a kind of "house arrest" in the most extreme of examples. The very worst of Islamic culture sees women barred from working, barred from driving and insisting that women are not alone in the company of any man who might pose a threat, without a trusted chaperone. One might say that under Islam, men are able to achieve their fantasy of keeping their hot woman safely under lock and key, to address the problems I outlined above.

Clearly the demand for hot women outstrips supply, but we might counter that the pool of men who are "in their league" is probably approximately the same size, and thus we needn't worry about the scores of horny men who will continuously attempt to have sex with the hot woman you're dating, because she is used to fending off these unwanted advances. We could assume that coupling off is a relatively efficient process, where we hopefully fall in love with somebody who's equally in love with us. While we have an endless parade of models, actresses and porn artists projected into our eyes on every screen and magazine page, which warps our views on what is realistically attainable as a beauty standard, it's still quite possible to remain grounded in reality and not hold the unreasonable expectation that you're ever likely to date one of the world's most beautiful women.

Does this mean that we are settling for second best whenever we fall in love with somebody? While I'm deeply aware that relationships can bring out the very worst qualities in people, and that jealousy and insecurity are some of the most destructive and awful forces, ugly men get laid every day and some of them are not even extremely rich. Wealth and power are clearly the best route for a man to be able to date hot women, but there are numerous other ways in which men can make themselves more charismatic and desirable.

I've been accused of "downdating" in the past, which I suppose was either true, or it was an indication that women can suffer the same psychological problems, when they know that they're dating a hot man. I don't see any particular problem with "downdating" because we should date according to what we're psychologically comfortable with and able to cope with. Personally I find dating immensely more pleasurable when I'm untroubled by insecurity and other unpleasant feelings, so why would I choose to date somebody who made me feel inadequate, unattractive and insecure?

In conclusion, I view attention from "hot women" as dangerous: liable to tempt me to form an attachment where I'm likely to get my heart broken; liable to lead me into a situation where I'm having undesirable and unpleasant thoughts, feelings and behaviours. What does it say about me that I think: "yeah I'd love to date a hot woman, but she has to make the first move".

 

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Top Secret

6 min read

This is a story about government...

Letter

There's a fair bit of confusion as to what government is. Strictly speaking, Government (with a capital G) is the group of Members of Parliament who have a working majority, sufficient to convince the Queen to be allowed to form a Government - the would-be Prime Minister will go to Buckingham Palace after a General Election and ask to form a Government, and the Queen's advisers will tell her whether to give assent or not, depending on whether it seems clear that the would-be PM is backed by enough would-be Government MPs to be able to govern. Without a majority in the House of Commons, it's pretty hard to get any bills to be voted through, so Government would become ineffective, which is not what the Queen wants, because then the monarchy would have to go back to running the country, which she hasn't done since 1707.

Then, once a Government is in place, it can start attempting to make new laws and changing or repealing existing ones. Those laws still have to pass through the House of Lords and the laws have to be given royal assent by the Queen before they become statutory instruments on the statute book (i.e. actual enforceable laws).

So, what about tax collectors?

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is considered to be a Government department, and they somewhat act as directed by Government, but we have to remember that Governments come and go every 5 years, but a huge amount of the Civil Service will remain very constant and unchanging, unlike our political landscape. We should probably consider everything that's done to keep the country running is done in the name of the Crown, not in the name of Government.

When we complain about Government, what we often mean is government (lower case g) which is a synonym for all the very many Civil Service organisations which control, organise and run all the operations in the United Kingdom to keep British life civilised and orderly.

Tax collectors work for a non-ministerial department, which means that they are free from Government interference, even though taxes are what most people consider to be the most detestable part of government. Government has the power to change the tax laws, but government has to implement and enforce those laws. Clear? It's pretty hard to know who to be angry at when you get a big tax bill. Should it be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is an elected MP and a member of the Government, and very much decides how much tax we should all pay? Should it be the Civil Servants of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, who do not work for any minister so therefore are completely apolitical and nothing to do with Government? HMRC has no power to decide to change the tax laws, but it must enforce them and collect money, which we often think is for government/Government, but it's actually for the Crown... but Government can then decide how to spend it. Clear?

There are lots of bits of "government" which should probably be more accurately referred to as the Civil Service, but are confusingly just called UK Government departments. The use of the word "government" is confusing, because it's not the MPs in Westminster who have anything to do with collecting taxes.

The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, who are responsible for collecting road tax, are a ministerial department. The transport minister - a Government MP - is very much in charge of the DVLA via the Department for Transport. In this way, we could be angry with the Government about our road tax, because it's clearly an agency of that Government MP's department, who are the ones who decide what road taxes should be paid, and collect that money. Again, the language gets very confusing - "department", "minister" and "agency" are the important words... despite the fact that all of it relates to actual Government with a big G. However, most of the DfT and DVLA will be staffed by Civil Servants, who are apolitical and therefore not part of Government... but most people would say that they "work for the government/Government" which is true in both senses.

If you work for the Government, then it means that your top boss is a Government minister - an MP - and your organisation has to do what the minister wants, providing it doesn't require any changes to the law first.

Colloquially, we might say that somebody works for the government, which means that you work for the Civil Service, and in fact you act on behalf of the Crown, not the Government at all.

That's why my letter has "On Her Majesty's Service" printed on it - because it was sent to me by a part of "government" which doesn't work for the Government... the letter was from a non-ministerial department. It's probably more accurate to say that the letter was sent to me by the Civil Service, but "government" has entered the popular vernacular as a colloquial synonym.

What was in the letter? Well, a Civil Servant wanted to come and talk to me - ask me some questions - which actually relates to my day job, but nothing to do with the scary security vetting process that's been stressing me out. Bizarrely, the organisation which I'm working for happened to randomly select me to interviewed by a colleague, assuming that I was an ordinary member of the public. I found it ironic that no sooner than I had moved into my new house, I had colleagues knocking on my door wanting to ask me questions.

Is any of this top secret? Well, in my experience of working in defence, "top secret" seemed to be a bit of a joke - the classification is used in films and novels, but today's classified material above "secret" would have a designation a lot more specific. I suppose I can't really talk about that, if I do want to pass my security vetting.

Anyway, that's the confusing world of UK life in a constitutional monarchy with a representative democracy and an enormous Civil Service, which often all gets lumped together under the catch-all convenience term: "government".

 

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The Demise of The Floordrobe

2 min read

This is a story about domestication...

Messy bedroom

I'm starting to win the battle against having stuff spread all over the floor in every room of my house. I'm starting to hide things away. I've even managed to build a wardrobe and chest-of-drawers - with some assistance - but those are for guests. I'll get some furniture for my bedroom after I next get paid... I'm trying to pace myself a little, financially.

Coming home to a tidy house is great. I'm finding it easier to stay on top of things.

It's a big change from only a month or so ago, when I felt like I was getting swamped - my todo list was growing faster than I could possibly cope with, so it was impossible to deal with things immediately, because I was already so overwhelmed.

I have a list of fairly boring purchases to make, such as home insurance and car breakdown cover. I'm also going to be getting identical furniture to what's in my guest bedroom, for my own bedroom, so there's nothing particularly exciting about that purchase.

What is very nice is that I'm enjoying a lot of the purchases I made in a short space of time. I have some great new clothes to choose from. There are some little touches to my home which are making me feel really happy that I went through the stress and the effort, and risked a huge amount of money, hoping that I'll somehow be able to remain stable and maintain my healthy good routines.

It feels like slow progress to me, but I guess for most people they'd never try to do so much all at once. I'm really pleased that I'm managing to improve so many areas of my life all at once.

Not living out of suitcases anymore is a brilliant improvement to my life.

 

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Summer's Here

4 min read

This is a story about unseasonably good weather...

Sun tan lotion

While my colleagues have been enjoying Easter holidays, it's been 4 months since I took some time off work. Having the long 4-day Easter weekend was very pleasant, and there are two more long weekends in May. The Easter bank holiday weekend was particularly nice because it was sunny and warm.

A friend asked if I'd like to join him and his family for a picnic in the park, which I thought was madness, given that we're still in April and the nights can be decidedly cold. However, it was very pleasantly warm, even as the sun started to go down.

During the daytime over the Easter weekend, it felt most summery indeed. My skin is pretty tolerant of the UK sun, so I didn't really need sun tan lotion, but I was able to wear flip-flops and sunglasses, with short sleeves, and it felt like summer.

Summer is my favourite time of year.

There are a number of juggling balls I've got midair at the moment. Work, house, relationships, friendships, money, car, bills and admin... the usual crap that almost everybody has to worry about. Somehow, I'm managing to keep all the plates spinning reasonably well at the moment, which bodes very well for having a good summer.

Last year, a catastrophic chain of events screwed up my job, my relationships, some friendships, and put my whole situation - regarding housing and finances - into jeopardy. I got very sick and I was worried I was going to lose everything: my life is fragile.

This year, my approach has been exactly the same: I'm working hard on an important IT project, I have a place to live which I like, dating is going well, I'm starting to make friends, my finances are in good shape - things are looking extremely promising, but I know how quickly everything can crumble.

Last year, I ended up snatching a couple of days away with a good friend - a boy's trip away - which was amazing, but my life had been destabilised and my future was uncertain. By the time the summer arrived, I didn't feel in a position to enjoy it at all, and in fact I hardly saw the sunshine at all. When a new job came along, I took it immediately and worked all summer, including the day of my birthday.

Although I have had a very good run of luck, including a fantastic holiday over the Christmas and New Year period, I feel like I would like to celebrate my achievements and hard work by going away on holiday for my birthday. It's a little extravagant and it's an avoidable expense, but I feel like it would be great to have a summer break, to recharge the batteries ready for the long slog through to the autumn.

Perhaps it's not necessary to go abroad. A staycation can be just as great as going overseas. In fact, the UK is fantastic if you're lucky with the weather. Certainly, the Easter bank holiday weekend felt like being on holiday in a country with a much better climate than our own fair shores.

I guess it's something to aim for; something a little bit more exciting than domestic purchases of boring things for around the house. It feels like a way of psychologically declaring 2019 to be "a good year" which is important to me, given the number of "bad years" I've had. It hasn't been since 2016 that things were going smoothly in my life, when I went away for a lovely holiday to celebrate my birthday.

There's something really nice about having a holiday when things are going well - to be settled at home, in a relationship, work going well, financially secure, social interaction and other things which make life bearable - is important if you're going to be able to relax and enjoy yourself.

My life is becoming increasingly good, especially considering how much I was struggling with stress and anxiety very recently. I was overwhelmed and too exhausted, depressed and anxious to think about doing nice things, but now the landscape is starting to look very different.

 

Of course, I must say that I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in, and I'm trying not to feel "entitled" to things, but it's no accident that I'm in the situation I'm in - there has been hard work, struggle and suffering to endure, so I don't feel too guilty about planning a nice holiday for myself, to celebrate my birthday in July.

 

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Mount Cardboard

6 min read

This is a story about packaging...

Cardboard pile

My house has high ceilings but I've still managed to reach the ceiling with my mountain of cardboard packaging, mostly from all the Ikea furniture I've bought. Arguably, I'm getting by with the bare minimum amount of furniture. What's the minimum amount of furniture that you could have, and lead a fairly normal life?

I lived out of suitcases and holdalls for a long time, so it seems reasonable to want a wardrobe - for hanging garments - and a chest of drawers for my other clothes. I'm sick of rummaging in bags to find the clothes I want.

I have a guest bed. It might seem like a real luxury to have a guest bedroom at all, but what was the point of working so hard for so long, if I'm not able to accomodate guests in my own home? Sure, I could rent a room in a shared house, share a kitchen, share a bathroom... but I spent enough years putting up with other people's disgustingness and inconsiderate behaviour. I think I'm entitled to a place of my own, with some space for friends and my sister to come and stay with me.

I have two sofas and a coffee table. I could probably get along alright with just one sofa but at some point I was going to want a matching pair and there's no guarantee that Ikea would have kept manufacturing the model I bought, so it made sense to buy the second sofa. Also, it does mean I can seat guests without us all having to be cramped onto the one sofa. I don't think it seems particularly profligate to own two sofas.

I managed to live for about 18 months without a microwave, iron, vacuum cleaner and various other domestic items, but it is rather tiresome not having these household basics. Yes, I did manage to survive without those things, but I could hardly be accused of being a spendthrift for purchasing such mundane objects.

In amongst the packaging pile of Mount Cardboard are some large lumps of polystyrene, which protected my washer/dryer during delivery. I'll accept that the dishwasher - which I did not purchase - is a luxury item that I could easily live without, but I refuse to wash my clothes by hand using a washboard and mangle. Using the dryer is horrendously energy inefficient and I have been good at taking advantage of nice weather to hang my washing out to dry, but sometimes it's incredibly nice to fill the machine with dirty laundry, push a button, and then have dry clothes ready to wear some hours later - requiring virtually zero effort.

The sum total amount of money I've spent vastly exceeds what I expected, even though I have bought bottom-of-the-range items most of the time. One must remember that I was starting my life afresh - a clean slate - with virtually no possessions, and the innumerable items which you use in normal daily life shouldn't be underestimated.

I bought items which could be seen as serving a purely decorative purchase, like lamps for my lounge and bedrooms, and shelves for the bathroom. I bought a bath mat and some pillows. I bought a pair of curtains. I bought some little organiser boxes. I even bought a couple of outdoor chairs to sit in the sun and read my book, in the privacy of my own garden. My life would function without these things, or I could make do with what I've got, but there's an intangible value to having a house with some finishing touches which make it feel homely; inviting.

If things should go horribly wrong somehow, with the benefit of hindsight some might criticise me for having set up my home relatively quickly - in under two months - instead of being much more cautious about the rate I have been spending money. I would counteract that argument by saying that this lovely home is my reward for having struggled through the years in shared houses, hostels, sleeping rough, months in hospital and generally unsettled existence which led me to the point of having no furniture, and very little else which is necessary to make a house a home.

It pleases me when I open a cupboard to find that I had the foresight to buy tea and coffee for the benefit of any visitors, because I do not drink tea or coffee myself. It pleases me when I'm able to offer a guest a hot beverage of their choice, with milk and/or sugar too. It might sound laughable, the idea of living a life where I simply wasn't in a position to have friends or my sister stop and visit, but that's what my life has been like - we quickly take our lives for granted and get used to our surroundings.

It will be a relief to take Mount Cardboard to my nearest recycling centre. It will be great to reclaim that space and not have the ugly eyesore, but I do have a final wave of Ikea furniture, which I have delayed for now because I have the bare minimum to be able to comfortably accomodate one guest or a couple. At some point, I would like to be able to have the space to have visitors and their kids too, given that most of my friends have children, and I have a young niece.

To say that having a great big house that's empty most of the time is hugely wasteful is a valid criticism, but this is my reward for working hard and making good sensible choices. This is how I'm making sense of the world, because I was struggling to see the point of being alive, if I was not seeing any benefit from my efforts.

I guess for most ordinary people, they get a "treat" occasionally - they have to spend their meagre income little by little - but I've gotten an entire furnished house suddenly overnight, but that's not really a fair comparison. I assure you that when you have no bed to sleep on at all, getting a bed seems like a necessity, not a treat.

I'm beginning to live very well, and I am grateful; I am happy. I am beginning to feel contented and settled.

 

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Treatment

10 min read

This is a story about making people better...

Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believed that treatment was effective.

I just had to find the right treatment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Suddenly Everything is OK

5 min read

This is a story about overnight recovery...

Flip flops

One day you can't feel your leg. One day a leg is twice the size of the other one. One day your kidneys have stopped working. One day you're in agony from muscle and nerve damage caused by DVT. One day you're in hospital on dialysis and you're very sick. One day you're physically dependent on a medication which you've been buying on the black market, and you'll have seizures if you stop taking it. One day you're so addicted to a drug that you won't sleep, eat or drink, because you don't want to stop your binge for a single second. One day you're virtually bankrupt. One day you're homeless. One day you're jobless. One day your mental health is so bad that you're hearing voices, seeing things and you're paranoid about everybody and everything, to the point where you think even the person who loves you the most in the world is your enemy.

Then, overnight, you recover.

Overnight, all your physical health problems are cured.

Overnight, your mental health problems are cured.

Overnight, all your substance dependency - addiction - problems are solved.

Overnight, you have a house.

Overnight, you have a job.

Overnight, your debts are repaid.

Overnight, you have lots of money.

Nope.

Just nope.

I was rummaging in the boxes of stuff which managed to survive the chaotic years of my life and I found a pair of flip-flops with a piece of string tied to them. The string is there because I couldn't feel my foot and I couldn't control its movement - I couldn't walk properly. When I was walking in flip-flops, the left one would just fall off after ten or twenty steps, because I didn't have enough feeling in my toes to be able to 'grip' the flip-flop properly. The string was my improvised attempt to be able to wear my beloved flip-flops during some nice weather.

My attempt at using a piece of string to fix my inability to wear flip-flops was a lovely metaphor for the attempts I was making to solve all my problems, overnight.

That was two years ago.

Things got a lot worse before they got better.

Things were so bad that on the very worst day of my life, I woke up in an hospital intensive care ward, with a tube down my throat forcing air into my lungs, a tube up my nose and into my stomach, forcing activated charcoal and other things into me, 6 canulas all for pumping me full of various things, an arterial canula for measuring my blood pressure with incredible accuracy, plus I was attached to an 8-cable ECG machine, a clip on my finger measured my blood oxygen and I had been catheterised - I noticed that a tube coming out of my penis had been taped to the inside of my leg. The worst thing was that I was alive.

I did not want to be alive.

I had tried very hard not to be alive.

Physically I was alive, but I was still very sick - my kidneys and other organs had shut down and I had been in a coma - and I was also going through benzodiazepine withdrawal, which is both life-threatening and thoroughly unpleasant.

I was alive, but it turned out I didn't have a job or a home anymore.

I was single and without any friends. I was in a strange city where I didn't know anybody. I didn't have enough money to rent a place to live and support myself until I got my first paycheque. I was utterly screwed.

So, of course I still very much wanted to be dead.

Now, I have a nice house, full of nice things. I've made some friends and I've met some women. I go on dates. Sometimes those dates go really well. I have a job. I earn a lot of money. My finances are sorted out. I'm no longer addicted to drugs or physically dependent on medication. I hardly even drink - perhaps once a week, socially.

I can wear flip-flops.

Weirdly, the nerve damage repaired itself enough so that I have enough sensation in my foot to be able to wear flip-flops, run, go kitesurfing and do the other things I always used to do.

I don't know if I'm happy - there's still a lot of insecurity in my life; I live with an unacceptable amount of jeopardy for a person to have to suffer. I don't have enough friends in the local area. I don't have a girlfriend. I haven't established myself in my new home city. I've barely even started to unpack my stuff.

Compared with two years ago, my life does look like an overnight success. I'm good at my job and my colleagues are grateful for my contribution to the team and the project. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together, and my life is beginning to look viable.

It's strange how people expect to be able to 'save' people who - on closer examination - have such a clusterf**k of issues that it's easy why some would think they're a "lost cause" and abandon them.

I'm grateful to that handful of people who didn't give up on me; who didn't write me off and abandon me.

 

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Burn Rate

11 min read

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

Ikea bed

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

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

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

I bought pillows and bed linen.

Who knows how much I spent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Toys

6 min read

This is a story about spending your paycheque...

Freebord

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess I'm just a child.

 

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