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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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World Suicide Prevention Day 2020

4 min read

This is a story about survival...

Suicide method

If you're an intelligent-sounding posh middle-class chap, dressed presentably, who has the outward appearance of having their shit together, doctors trust you more than other more disadvantaged members of society. Because I appear, to all intents and purposes, like a functional, productive, fine upstanding member of society, I was able to obtain six boxes of the maximum strength of tramadol. Each box contained 112 tablets.

My need for the tramadol - a strong opiate painkiller - had originally been legitimate, but I had weaned myself off it and managed to cope with the pain, without these painkillers. Instead, I stockpiled my prescriptions, with the intention of killing myself.

I managed to accumulate 672 of these incredibly strong opiate painkillers, with 50 milligrams of tramadol in each capsule.

The lethal dose of tramadol, which will kill 50% of rats and mice in laboratory experiments, is 350 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Assuming that my body weight is 80kg, then the lethal dose which would give me a 50/50 chance of survival, would be 28,000mg.

6 boxes, with 112 capsules, with 50mg of tramadol, equals 33,600mg.

33,600 is a bigger number than 28,000.

672 capsules is a heck of a lot of capsules.

* * *

On the 9th of September, 2017, I swallowed 672 capsules containing 50mg of tramadol. It was a time consuming exercise. Filling my mouth with capsules and gulping them down with wine - because alcohol would increase the lethality - meant that this was a quite drawn-out exercise. With each mouthful of capsules I swallowed, I was acutely aware that I was slowly reaching a dose which would almost certainly be fatal, but I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing. If I was going to hesitate, there was plenty of time to hesitate.

I did not hesitate.

Then, I waited.

To be precise, I set a timer on my phone. I knew that after a certain amount of time had elapsed - at least an hour - then the capsule shells would be fully dissolved and their contents would be dumped into my stomach and intestines, where the tramadol would start to be absorbed into my bloodstream. I knew that if I could avoid being discovered for an hour, then I would almost certainly die.

After 45 minutes, I felt that I was beyond the point of no return. I was extremely overwhelmed by the powerful painkillers entering my bloodstream, killing me. I decided to send a final tweet, saying goodbye.

* * *

I woke up in a hospital intensive care bed.

I didn't realise I was in hospital.

I didn't know what the hell was going on.

I had been in a coma for days.

* * *

So, I survived that suicide attempt.

I've never felt that I was glad to survive that suicide attempt.

I've definitely felt that I wish I didn't survive that suicide attempt, on many occasions.

* * *

If we want to prevent suicides, which I very much do, then we need to first understand why people commit suicide. We need to acknowledge that there are reasons and that very often there are not - in fact - any other choices available. Imagine if you met somebody suicidal and you asked them what's wrong, and they said to you "I'm thousands of pounds in debt", you wouldn't say, "well, it's your lucky day because I have thousands of pounds of savings". No. What you would say would be "have you tried phoning the Samaritans?". Nobody really wants to prevent suicide. Sure, some people would like it if there wasn't any suicide, the same way that people would like it if there wasn't any man-made climate change, but nobody's actually going to fucking do anything about it.

I've written one of these blog posts every year, since my suicide attempt, which almost killed me on World Suicide Prevention Day 2017. I write one of these every year, but nothing much changes.

Nothing much changes, but I do now have a million readers every year, visiting my website, looking for information on suicide.

Nothing much changes, but I do spend all my waking hours thinking about suicide. Not just my own suicide, but also other people who are suicidal: I think about how to make some real, meaningful, tangible changes in the world, which actually reduce the number of people committing suicide. Not just the usual bullshit about crisis counselling phone numbers.

 

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Sobriety Cost Me My Job

4 min read

This is a story about stability...

Coke bottles

In 2015, a bet with a friend, that I could stop drinking for 100 consecutive days, cost me my job. The story is a little bit more complicated than the simple summary I've given, but that's about the long and the short of it.

The brain has a tendency to rebound. That is to say, if you've been very calm, then your brain will rebound and make you anxious. If you've been very happy, then your brain will rebound and make you depressed. Well, mine does anyway.

Mind-altering substances can be destabilising - for me - but they can also be stabilising. For many productive years, I used a combination of stimulants and CNS depressants - caffeine and alcohol - to manage my mood. If I was going too high, I would drink booze to tamp things down, and if I was going too low, I could drink coffee to pep me up. It was a crude system, but it worked.

In terms of how my colleagues perceive me, they like me best when I'm hungover, because I'm quiet and I'm not argumentative. They like me least when I'm hopped up on caffeine, because I'm overly garrulous and quarrelsome. However, I've managed to get through decades of a very successful career in this manner, without any issue.

The issues have come when I've stopped using things like alcohol and caffeine to regulate my mood.

Stopping caffeine was beneficial. I sleep better and I'm more productive; more creative. Sure, if I needed to do a lot of very repetitive easy work, caffeine would help me concentrate, but most of the work I do is very difficult, requiring a lot of flexible thinking - caffeine is not the right tool for the job.

Stopping alcohol has been massively detrimental. I swing between periods of paralysis, where anxiety stops me from doing anything, and periods of irritability. If I'm hung over, I'm happy to coast along and keep quiet. With a clear head I often have little patience, when I'm particularly tired and stressed. Stopping alcohol makes me massively tired, because I don't sleep well.

Once the first couple of sober weeks have passed, I start to have too much energy, very much like when I've had too much coffee. My thoughts race and I'm irritated by dimwits who test my patience to the limit. I struggle with the glacial pace of large organisations, more than ever, when my brain is functioning particularly well, free from hangover or otherwise dulled by alcohol abuse.

It's hugely advantageous, if one must work with dimwits, to chemically lobotomise yourself using alcohol. It's too painful to drag dimwits along, or be held back all the time; it's too frustrating; too time-wasting. Without alcohol, the sheer incompetence and lack of productivity of most of the brainless idiots who bimble along in the corporate world, is unbearable.

Of course I'm somewhat plagued by an underlying mood disorder which predisposes me towards delusions of grandeur and irritability with dimwits, but alcohol really helps. Alcohol has helped me in my career for decades. Without alcohol, I would have gone of and done something interesting but far less lucrative, years ago. I'm extremely well paid, because I'm bribed to work with dimwits. I'm extremely well paid because it's excruciatingly boring waiting for the penny to drop in the hamster-wheel that serves as a brain in some of the dimwits that I work with.

In all honesty, I don't work with many dimwits. I do like my colleagues. There are just one or two who really try my patience and I have so little patience, now that I'm sober.

Sobriety sucks. Sobriety conflicts with my career; my employability; my likability. I need to take a break from drinking though, for the sake of my physical health. I'm about halfway though my month of sobriety, which I'm taking to give my body a break from the damaging onslaught of alcohol.

Hopefully I'll push through this difficult period and become a bit less irritable at work. Hopefully I won't lose my job, again.

 

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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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Invasive Thoughts

4 min read

This is a story about Tourette's...

Surveillance owl

I struggle with invasive thoughts. The thoughts are so traumatic that they cause me to wince and yell. I shout out in pain and shock when the thoughts hit me. It makes me appear like I have a tic.

What is a tic anyway?

Somebody who suffers with Tourette's is able to suppress their tic for a brief period, but then they have to let it out; to scratch the itch, as it were. I'm not claiming to have Tourette's of course, but I have some of the symptoms.

I live alone - except for my cat - in a big old house with thick walls, so I can shout out when I get hit by the invasive thoughts, and I'm mostly not bothering anybody. Sometimes I go out for a walk and I can't control the thoughts, so I yell out and flinch - tic - while I'm walking down the road. If anybody sees me, they must think that I'm very strange.

I can control my tic - mostly - when I'm in a work setting. Sometimes it gets the better of me and I mutter something or flinch in the company of my colleagues. They mostly don't notice or comment, but sometimes they do, occasionally.

I don't particularly try to control my tic when I'm with my girlfriend. We're usually in a relaxed private setting anyway, so I don't have to concentrate on controlling it as much as I can. The invasive thoughts, yelling, yelping, flinching, grimacing and other things too, happen all the time. It's fairly disconcerting to anybody who's not spent time in the company of somebody with the particular neurological complaint.

I won't be seeking any medical help for the problem. It seems to be exacerbated by alcohol, or rather by withdrawal from alcohol, so the solution is to either drink all the time, or not drink at all. I need to lose some weight and get healthier, so I am choosing the latter at the moment. It's not a severe and debilitating enough problem to seek medical help.

You know when you lie awake at night and you start remembering lots of embarrassing memories? Imagine that, except that it happens from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, and the memories are so traumatic they feel like they're causing you physical pain. That's what my invasive thoughts are like.

I might have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It seems likely. Given the severity of the trauma I've experienced, and the long-lasting problems I'm having as a result of it, it seems like the most probable thing. It's well beyond "embarrassing memories".

The thoughts don't particularly bother me; they're fleeting. Of course, I'd rather that I didn't yell, grimace, flinch and otherwise react to the severe traumatic flashbacks, but the damage is done and there's nothing much I can do about it. My life is - on the whole - unaffected by the invasive thoughts, given that they are short sharp shocks and not bothering me except for those unpredictable but frequent instants.

I wonder if I've got brain damage, but the question is a bit of a non-sequitur. The brain is a plastic organ, so it's continuously adapting; I definitely don't have a traumatic brain injury or any impairment to suggest any lasting permanent physical damage which my brain hasn't been able to adapt to, and doesn't continuously continue to adapt to.

There have been plenty of incidents which are bound to have damaged my organs, but my physical health seems mostly OK. Of course my kidneys and heart are a worry, and my general fitness levels have dropped to a really bad level, but I'm working on getting fitter.

In the course of writing this, I haven't been bothered by invasive thoughts at all; they only bother me when I'm bored. I like to keep busy. I like to keep my mind occupied. If my brain is active then it doesn't have time for invasive thoughts.

 

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Bi-Polar

3 min read

This is a story about Kim and Kanye...

Mood swings

This is not a story about Kim and Kanye. I don't know anybody called Kim and Kanye. I wrote the title of this essay and the little introductory line because apparently it was newsworthy that somebody wrote something on Instagram. Anyway, I realised that I haven't written much about bipolar recently.

I have a diagnosis of bipolar, but I don't particularly have any symptoms which are bothering me. I've been unmedicated for years and yet I'm fully functional. This is not to say that I think anyone who does use medication to help them with their bipolar is wrong to do so, but it doesn't work for me.

I sure as hell have a mood disorder. I'm suicidally depressed a lot of the time, but I also have periods of extremely high productivity. Sure, I'm very good at managing my condition, such that my friends and colleagues don't really know I've got a major mental health problem, but it doesn't mean it's not causing me any difficulties, despite appearing symptom-free.

I suppose the main problem I'm dealing with is the risk to my life. Being suicidal so often is pretty dangerous, and it's landed me in hospital - in intensive care and high dependency wards - a whole bunch of times. Still, I don't want to be medicated. If I die, I die. I'd rather not have the side-effects of powerful psychiatric medications.

Did I mention how functional I am?

Until I'm not.

I can cruise along just fine for very long periods of time, but then I crash. I always crash. Crashing is inevitable.

I don't think medication is the solution to the crashes. "Mood stabilisers" do not do what they claim to be able to. In fact, "mood stabilisers" can be highly destabilising, as I've found many times from bitter and unpleasant experience.

Certainly, anti-depressants are destabilising, always pushing me manic or at least hypomanic. I want them - obviously - because it's so horrible to be suicidally depressed all the time, but I know they're too destabilising and will cause my life to become chaotic and unmanageable.

So, I struggle along with commonly available mind-altering substances, like alcohol, which is a dreadful substance but I've become very experienced with using it to limp along through life.

I'm persevering with so-called "clean living" where I use a number of techniques to achieve more mood stability, naturally. I keep very strict bedtimes. I keep very strict meal times. I eat a balanced diet. I exercise. I limit my alcohol intake. I avoid all drugs and medications. It seems to be a winning formula. Also, money. Having plenty of money, a low-stress job and secure housing, are all very important pieces of the puzzle. If any one single thing is wrong, it throws my world into chaos and instability; it makes me unwell.

It's pretty dull really, the current story of me and my bipolar. Things are kinda under control and the things I'm doing to keep myself stable are - by design - super boring.

 

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Drinking in Moderation

3 min read

This is a story about the insidious creep of alcoholism...

Fridge

I decided that I was putting on weight, and that I didn't like that; I wanted to get fit and healthy. At the start of the lockdown I was drinking every day - 7 days a week - and I started drinking straight after I finished work each day. I was drinking far too much; it was excessive.

I went teetotal for a couple of months. My liver needed a break. In fact all of my brain and body was extremely grateful for a break from intoxicating liquor. I'd like to say that I felt great after a couple of months of non-drinking, but I didn't. However, if I had carried on drinking at the rate I was, then my health would have suffered immensely, and I would be very depressed about being overweight. As it stands now, I'm not happy with my weight, but I'm not unhappy either.

After my lengthy period of tee-totalling, I decided to try to drink in moderation. I was going to allow myself to drink 1 (one) bottle of wine per week, on a Saturday night, as a treat.

Keeping the amount of wine I have in the house to a minimum is a good idea. If I have it in the house, I'll drink it.

Soon, all my plans went out of the window. I decided I was allowed two bottles of wine per week - one on Friday and one on Saturday - but I foolishly decided to buy both bottles at once, and then ended up dipping into the second bottle on Friday night, and buying another one on Saturday.

The weekend just gone, I ended up drinking about 4 bottles of wine, although I did share some of it. I drank on Sunday too, which is against the rules.

I've paid a high price for heavy drinking. My sleep has been appalling. I've been tormented with invasive thoughts, stress and anxiety. I've had a dreadful tic - an involuntary vocalisation like Tourette's - due to the extreme change in brain chemistry. My brain is not in a good state to segue from stone cold sober, to very drunk, and back to stone cold sober - it's far too anxiety-inducing. I was stuttering and almost unable to speak at one point, due to the anxiety induced by abruptly stopping drinking. I don't get the shakes, for some reason.

But is it alcoholism?

Well, given that I am managing to minimise the harm that alcohol is doing to my health and my life, it is not alcoholism. I meet neither the medical definition, of physical dependence on alcohol, nor the other definition, which says that a person is an alcoholic if harm is being done to them by their alcoholism. Alcoholics are also not able to start and stop drinking at will, obviously.

I've definitely failed at drinking in moderation, though. Alcohol is definitely a crutch; a medication. I don't have a good relationship with alcohol, even if I am able to avoid its harm.

I need to find some other kind of [healthy] outlet.

 

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Something to Take the Edge Off

5 min read

This is a story about crutches...

Office chair

Trawling through my photos from the past three and a half months, I found very few which would be suitable to accompany what I wanted to write today. The photos on my phone are mostly of my cat(s) and not much else. However, this photo does - rather cryptically - allude to what I am now writing about.

When I started the lockdown, I decided that I wasn't going to bother with a desk or an office chair at home; that I would muddle by with my laptop on my lap. I decided - wrongly - that it wouldn't be worth the effort of setting up a proper office at home.

As I already wrote a few days ago, I started the lockdown drinking copiously. Every day after work, I would pour myself a large glass of wine. I would estimate that my alcohol consumption was somewhere in the region of 8 to 10 bottles of wine per week.

As I already wrote a few days ago, I started the lockdown physically dependent on medication. Every night I took sleeping pills. Every day I took tranquillising sedatives.

Then, it became obvious that there would be dire consequences to my physical health.

I didn't want to finish lockdown as a fat alcoholic pill-popper with a hunched back.

Because I delayed setting up my home office, I didn't have a lot of choice for a desk and an office chair, hence why the ugly garish monstrosity - pictured above - has become part of my home office. The desk is super ugly too. However, it's good to have a more professional set-up instead of reclining on my sofa.

The health improvements to my life don't feel like they're paying dividends. I still feel overweight, unfit and I still crave alcohol. Ostensibly, I feel much the same as I did when I was guzzling booze, popping pills and spending 16 hours a day reclining on my sofa. However, we must acknowledge that there is a very significant difference between an alcoholic pill addict, and somebody who drinks in moderation at the weekends, and is entirely medication free. That I have stabilised myself and found almost liveable and almost bearable sustainable routine without my crutches, is not an achievement which should be underestimated.

The backdrop to the past four months has been the global pandemic which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and threatens the livelihoods and living standards of hundreds of millions, if not billions of people. If there was ever a time to feel insecure about money, work and housing, it would be now.

I wouldn't describe myself as a particularly anxious person, but the past 5 years of my life have been spent with the threat of destitution hanging over me. I've been forced to generate vast amounts of money each year in order to protect my credit rating and employability, as well as to simply pay rent, bills and service debts. The amount of money needed to escape my predicament was so vast that I was forced into high-risk high-stress situations, which were potentially high-reward. Eventually, perseverance paid off. There was no other choice: a crappy salaried job would have inevitably led to bankruptcy; the books simply didn't balance with some crap paying job.

So, I've suffered 5 years of incredible, immense stress. I've suffered 5 years of living on the edge of ruin.

When the pandemic started to get very bad in Europe my mood improved considerably. The havoc wrought by the pandemic has brought the stress and suffering that I was enduring into the lives of vast numbers of my fellow people. Suffering collectively is far more bearable than suffering alone.

At some point, I want to stop talking about the difficulties in my past and to talk about the future. I want to put some distance between my past and the present. I want to have a period of wealth and security, which clearly delineates 'now' from 'then'.

I note that my abysmal childhood became unimportant when I started to have success and get ahead in life, in my late teens and early twenties. My rapidly growing bank balance, exotic travel, status symbols - like houses, cars and boats - and adventurous hobbies, felt like I could forget about past transgressions against me: the bullies and abusers were rotting, and I was thriving, so I wasn't bitter and angry; I had broken free from the misery of the past.

My rage at my parents - which has been a repeated theme of the past 5 years - and sad memories of a ruined childhood, which has caused me vast amounts of problems... all becomes irrelevant again, as my health and wealth are regained, and my quality of life improves manyfold.

Yes, my crutches are going to change from alcohol and medications, to be luxury holidays and other trappings of wealth, but I don't care. Alcohol and medications lead to misery and death - they're a dreadful trap, which leads nowhere positive.

I still have suicide as my 'retirement plan' but that's a simple matter of practicality, given that I'm now unable to be likely to accumulate enough wealth to enjoy a comfortable retirement before my health starts to deteriorate. It's something I'm going to have to learn to live with. Or rather, it's something that's going to kill me. C'est la vie. C'est la mort.

 

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Lockdown Improvements

5 min read

This is a story about the Coronavirus pandemic...

Lighthouse

Many people planned to come out of lockdown with new hobbies, fitter, healthier, happier and myriad other unachievable unrealistic things. I think that we have mostly come out of lockdown fatter, more unfit, poorer, more insecure, lonely, isolated, bored and generally worse off.

I started the lockdown drinking very heavily and eating McDonald's breakfast every morning. I decided that if we were going to be suffering the misery of being under house arrest, then I would treat myself. Quickly I realised that I was going to end up with clogged arteries and morbidly obese. I was eating takeaway several nights a week and not doing any exercise.

I started the lockdown physically dependent on sleeping pills to get to sleep, and using two different tranquillising sedatives to cope with unbearable anxiety. I decided it was too much hassle to try to keep stocked up with the medications I needed during the lockdown, and I calculated that I have enough left to be able to taper myself off. I didn't want to run out of medication suddenly in the middle of a pandemic.

I started the lockdown working on my sofa, fully reclined. I realised that my posture and back would be ruined by working in such a position for 8 hours a day, followed by many more hours on the sofa after finishing work.

Things had to change.

I thought the lockdown would last a month or two, but I must admit that I didn't think it would drag on beyond a quarter of the year. I tried my best to psychologically prepare myself for the lockdown lasting for months, but I was hopeful it'd be all over after 6 to 8 weeks.

I bought a desk and an office chair.

I weaned myself off the sleeping pills and tranquillisers.

I cut down my drinking, and even went teetotal for 6 or 7 weeks.

I started exercising. Not, like, exercising exercising. Just going for a 10km walk every day. Enough to keep me a little bit active, but nothing crazy.

I stopped getting takeaways. All those takeaways were costing quite a lot of money, when they were all added up. Sure, I felt like I could justify spending the money to enjoy some nice food, as compensation for the doom and gloom of the hundreds of thousands of people dying all over the world, and the restrictions to our freedom... but it wasn't healthy and it was costing a packet.

I paid off all my debt. This wasn't so much a planned thing. It was something that just happened to co-incide with the lockdown. However, it feels pretty damn good to have some savings now. I have a net worth again, which feels good. I have some financial security, even if it is pretty negligible. It had been a very long time which I'd been struggling to get my finances sorted, and it's a big relief to be back in the black.

My life is extremely austere and simple. I have my house, my job, my cat, my car; that's it. My health is probably OK. My weight is OK, although I am carrying some extra weight I'd like to shift, as a consequence of lockdown. My finances are OK. My job seems OK. My housing situation is sort of OK. My kitten is great, although my cat is lost... overall OK. My car has a big dent where an idiot crashed into it during lockdown, in a virtually empty car park, but there are more important things in life than having a shiny perfect car.

All things considered, I think I'm one of the lockdown winners - I'm emerging in far better shape than I went into lockdown. Some people have lost their job, or are about to lose their job. Some people have struggled with alcohol and food. Some people have struggled with mental health. In almost every area of my life, things have improved; I look reasonably well positioned to weather a difficult autumn and winter.

Although losing my cat was the worst thing that happened, it has forced me to connect with my neighbours and the wider community, so I have even managed to live a far less isolated and lonely existence under lockdown, than I was living before - I speak to far more people; I'm more connected and socially engaged.

I thought that if I retreated inwards, living and communicating through my blog and social media, then I would find it impossible to get through the lockdown. It looks like a reasonably good decision, to have taken a break.

It helps that it's summer - of course - which lifts my mood and generally creates a more pleasant and favourable backdrop for life, but I feel hopeful that I've got a decent position of health and financial stability to fight through the autumn and winter. I just need to book some holidays now... I've worked non-stop since early January, when I was discharged from hospital.

 

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I Let My Friend Commit Suicide

8 min read

This is a story about playing god...

Phone

On the 10th of December 2017, a very close friend of mine got me a job at an investment bank. He knew that I was virtually bankrupt. He knew that I had very nearly managed to commit suicide. He knew that my self-esteem was at rock bottom and that I had nothing going for me: no fixed abode, no money, mountainous debts, alcoholism and large gaps on my CV which were difficult to explain.

My friend rang me up and asked if I was sober enough to create a piece of software for the bank he was working for. I said that I could be as drunk as a skunk and still make a decent software system, but that I wasn't in too bad shape - he could count on me to deliver a successful project, if he recommended me as a freelance software engineer to his boss.

If you're particularly interested in the more identity-theft worthy items of my story, I present to you above, the proof that I had proudly put on my suit and gone to work in the Square Mile - also known as the City of London - thanks to the endorsement of my friend. I had spent the day before with my friend and his boss in Warsaw, where they were based, and I was allowed to work in the London office, which is pictured.

A year later my friend phoned me and told me that he was going to commit suicide, by taking an overdose of insulin. I asked him how much insulin he possessed and in what form - vials and 'rapid delivery' pen cartridges - so I could calculate how many doses of insulin he had, and whether it was a lethal dose.

Insulin aspart units is what the layman needs to understand. One 10ml vial might contain 1,000 units. One 3ml pen cartridge might contain 300 units. The important thing is to add up all the vials and cartridges that somebody has, and then you can work out how many units of insulin aspart they have in their possession. My friend confirmed that he had many thousands of units of insulin aspart. The highest recorded survival of an insulin overdose was much lower than the amount my friend possessed, and that patient was left very badly brain damaged. In short, it was a credible suicide threat.

(FYI: people have made surprisingly frequent disclosures to me that they plan to commit suicide by overdose, but this was the first credible overdose plan I'd heard)

So, having scoured the medical literature for the LD50 - the dose that will kill 50% of people - and found that my friend could definitely commit suicide with his insulin, I then did further reading about how long it would take him to die, how long he would remain in a state where he could be saved, and how much suffering and pain he would endure.

Incidentally, he phoned me on a Monday morning while I was at work. I was in Wales and he was in Poland. I was frantically doing this research as rapidly as I could, while trying to keep my friend talking to me; stalling him from following through with his plans.

My research concluded that he would suffer a short period of panic and disorientation - including extreme hunger - before blacking out. He would quickly fall into a hypoglycaemic coma, and would suffer no pain.

Far more disturbingly, my research concluded that he could be 'saved' by rapid medical intervention - an intravenous infusion of glucose - for a substantial period of time: 2 or even 3 days would be 'survivable'. The worst possible outcome would be that he would be 'saved' after 12 to 36 hours, when he might still be in a coma, but he would have suffered terrible brain damage. The case study I had read of the patient who holds the 'record' for the highest ever insulin overdose which was survived, was left with terrible brain damage. All my research led to a single conclusion: if my friend injected all his insulin then I had to call the emergency services IMMEDIATELY or wait until he was beyond the point of 'saving'.

This sounds like playing god, doesn't it?

You remember that time your kid was choking on a bit of Lego and you whacked them on the back so they coughed it up? That was playing god. You remember when your dog was getting old and sick, and you decided they had no quality of life anymore, so you had the dog euthanised? That was playing god.

I'm not a doctor.

I'm not a vet.

I'm not a parent.

What exactly qualifies a person to make a life/death decision?

In this instance, I knew that my friend's diabetes had ruined his circulation and his feet were becoming gangrenous, that he was becoming jaundiced and that his eyesight was failing, because of his mismanagement of his diabetes. In short, he struggled to go about his ordinary daily business, and his health was rapidly deteriorating. I'm not a doctor, but I'm not a magician either - nobody can wave a magic wand and make the chronic irreversible health damage from alcoholism and diabetes disappear. I'm not a doctor, but I know that they don't give liver transplants to alcoholics. I'm not a doctor, but I know how long somebody has to live once their liver is starting to fail and they continue to drink multiple bottles of vodka every day.

Ultimately, it wasn't my decision to make.

My friend phoned me because he knew that I would understand the situation and that I wouldn't panic and phone the emergency services. He knew that he could say goodbye to me, and I would let him die with dignity; in the manner of his own choosing.

Let's not fuck about here: sitting doing nothing, waiting for your friend to die before you ring the emergency services to go and get the body before it starts decaying, is an awful, awful, awful thing to have to do.

Can you imagine knowing that your friend is dying, and that the best thing to do is to do nothing? Every single moment of your childhood, you were told to dial the emergency services if somebody was sick or dying. There was no ambiguity about what to do when somebody's life's in danger: ring the emergency services. EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!

If I phoned the emergency services too soon, my friend would have been 'saved' and then would no longer have had the opportunity to end his life in the manner of his own choosing. He probably would have been extremely brain damaged, and therefore unable to attempt suicide again. He would have lived out his short remaining time in a hospital bed, dying of liver failure, which is a very unpleasant way to die. Sure, the hospital would have made him as 'comfortable' as possible, but what comfort is there in being bedridden, watching your friends and relative weep and wail about your imminent inevitable demise. My friend had considered all these things.

Did I mention we discussed all this? We discussed all this at length. I went to a great deal of effort to persuade my friend of more positive alternatives. I tried my very best to convince him that it might be much better to use the short time he had left - before liver failure killed him - in order to take a trip of a lifetime, and/or see loved ones.

We have to understand that this was his decision, based on the terrible choices he faced. There were no 'good' options. He had to choose between a quick painless death or a slow painful one, with all of his family, friends and co-workers by his bedside, watching him slip away.

What my personal opinion of the 'right' choice was, is of no concern. My friend asked me to keep it a secret that he was killing himself, until he was dead, and that's what I did. I honoured his wishes. I was a loyal friend who did a very difficult thing, because I knew it's what my friend wanted.

"Oh but your friend really wanted to live" or "it was a cry for help" or "you should always phone the emergency services; you're not qualified" etc. etc. are all the very many opinions I have to defend myself against. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

I spent 3 days, not sleeping, not able to think about anything other than the fact that my friend was dying, and then I phoned the emergency services to go and retrieve my friend's lifeless body and notify his next of kin. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It was also the right thing to do because it was the dying wish of my friend. There were no good options. I chose the least bad option.

Today is the anniversary of the phone-calls, the discussions and the decision. Today is the last time I spoke to my very dear friend. For exactly one year, I've had to live with the guilt of knowing that I kept a terrible secret, for just long enough that my friend could pass away painlessly.

It's a terrible thing, but I let my friend commit suicide, and I did nothing.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Seven of #NaNoWriMo2019

10 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Seven

How does one set about making new friends in a new city, when you reach an age where everybody has coupled off and settled into their cliques? This was the question which weighed heavily on my mind, acutely aware as I was that my Brighton colleagues' life priorities were completely different from most of those who I'd worked with in London. Maybe I was just getting older, but it seemed like everybody was married with at least a couple of children. Trying to arrange a night out required a lot of notice and pre-planning - childcare arrangements and what little remained of parents' social lives became a logistical nightmare, and the a well-attended social function could not be held on an ad-hoc basis.

There was a thriving sports and social club, which catered for 5-a-side football, squash and badminton, and a smattering of other sports. As part of my efforts to calm the hyper-competitive side of my personality, I decided to avoid sports, which left me with few other social opportunities which were workplace-related. There was a company Christmas party, a department Christmas party and a a team Christmas party, but for the other 11 months of the year, there was nothing. From 'getting to know you' casual conversations with my colleagues, I understood that their entire lives were spent ferrying their children from party to party: an endless procession of parties and social functions for kids, but an adult night out was something which parents only enjoyed a handful of times each year.

I gravitated towards a group of alcoholics, who had either been quietly relocated from London to Brighton, having spent a month drying out at The Priory rehab, paid for by the company, or some of those whose behaviour was slightly more disgraceful were now kept on a tight leash: short employment contracts and zero tolerance for their prior antics, which had often involved going AWOL for days or even a whole week, and returning to work in a very bedraggled state.

The tolerance of workplace alcoholism was ubiquitous in investment banking. At a certain level of management seniority and age, I couldn't think of a single individual who wasn't excessively partial to their particular drink of choice: red wine, whiskey or vodka. Physical features of these senior colleagues told the whole story: red noses, liver spots, bags under their eyes, beer guts and a haggard look which added ten or fifteen years onto their appearance. They were some of the most brilliant, entertaining and hyper-intelligent people I ever had the pleasure of working with. It was a crying shame that none of them seemed to live beyond their mid fifties, and many were dead by their mid-forties. Given that I had known so many of my former colleagues die from alcohol-related illness, I was certain that investment banking must have a problem far in excess of the national average - alcoholism was practically institutionalised.

During the summer, I had a brilliant time. My new group of friends knew lots of wonderful beer gardens and other sun-traps where we could enjoy several pints of beer or cider, before staggering back to the office. After work, there were delightful terraces to sit on, drinking, while the sun went down. Looking out at the holidaymakers enjoying the beach and the sea, we vicariously partook of their wholesome activities - we felt like we were part of their healthy lifestyle, when in fact we were drinking vast amounts and going home incredibly intoxicated every night.

I suppose that wearing the so-called "beer jacket" meant that when late September arrived and there was a chilly morning, I was a little shocked. I hadn't put a lot of thought into what life would be like aboard my yacht, during the winter.

With a fan heater on a timer switch, I was able to make the bathroom warm enough to make showering bearable. With thick quilts, blankets and warm clothes, I could keep myself cosy enough throughout October. However, as the temperature dropped lower and lower, it was clear that I needed to make a drastic change - my ability to heat the yacht, and its insulation, were woefully inadequate for the UK winter.

One of the reasons for purchasing the yacht had been that I knew I would be able to live aboard it very comfortably in the Mediterranean, or other more southerly and pleasant climates, if my job didn't work out - I owned a truly mobile home. But, the voyage would now be unbearably unpleasant and quite dangerous, with winter almost upon us - gale-force winds regularly swept eastwards from the Atlantic, along with gigantic waves and an immense amount of rain.

Sailing during the late Spring to early Autumn period was amazing in the English Channel, which is one of the windiest places on the planet. Force 4 wind with gusts of force 5 can be very enjoyable for an experienced sailor - exciting - but wet-weather gear is still required even at the peak of summer, because the spray, rain and wind-chill can quickly turn life at sea into a very cold and hostile environment. With the autumn bringing monster waves and storm-force winds, along with biting cold wind and water which feels like ice, there is nothing at all enjoyable about sailing after the end of October.

The prospect of being hit by repeated storms as I battled my way south, attempting to reach the Gibraltar Straits and the warmth of the Med, or perhaps the Canary Islands, was nigh-on suicidal. If I didn't break my mast and have to be rescued, perhaps I would be seriously injured, killed, or at the very least spend a very long time freezing cold and regretting ever having left port. Any crew member who agreed to help with the passage would either be mad or inexperienced and incompetent - it wouldn't be responsible of me to even ask anybody to undertake such a dangerous trip with me.

Meanwhile, I had met a girl - Sian - using a dating app, and I had been spending an increasing amount of time at her house, motivated in no small part by the fact that she had central heating and double glazing. We were an odd couple, given that she was a Gender Studies lecturer at the University of Sussex, and everybody had assumed that she was gay, including her parents. She was also extremely left wing and a regular participant at protest marches: particularly anti-capitalist marches. I thought that my investment banking background would mean that we'd be entirely incompatible, but she was well read, well travelled and had some fascinating opinions which she expertly articulated, so she was incredibly entertaining company. She also enjoyed frequent sex, which was unusual for somebody who'd had so few partners that her nearest and dearest assumed she was deep in the closet.

I suppose the guilt I had carried my whole career, particularly around my direct involvement in investment banking during the financial crisis of 2007/8, meant that I had become more left-leaning and somewhat of a skeptic, regarding capitalism. I knew that people had lost their homes, businesses and vast numbers of people had become dependent on food banks, as a result of the irresponsible actions of people like me. I had suffered no hardship - ever - in my adult life, and I was never going to be forced into a zero hours contract job at McDonalds or to become part of the 'gig economy' delivering takeaway food on a bicycle. I had profited handsomely during the boom years, and I had continued to enjoy an exceptionally high standard of living, without interruption. Guilt had driven me to educate myself about the hardships faced by ordinary British people, and I now read The Guardian as well as The Financial Times; I read the New Statesman as well as The Economist magazine. Having been surrounded by Conservative voters throughout my life, I had lately become more open-minded about Labour policies. I had begun to read books which were harshly critical of the many failings attributable to Neoliberalism, and made a convincing case for socialism, social enterprises and sustainability; the green agenda.

Sian also really liked wine and movies, which was great. It was an ideal way to spend the winter: snuggled up watching challenging award-winning subtitled films which had achieved much critical acclaim in liberal arts circles, getting drunk, having a debate about how to fix the world's problems, and then having great sex.

While she was naturally reluctant to introduce her investment banker boyfriend to her friends, many of whom were right-on feminists, activists and viewed every act of coitus with a man as a victory for the patriarchy, and a terrible defeat for the oppressed minorities, we were - in a strange way - quite compatible. Perhaps it was a relationship of convenience, and it certainly allowed me to defer the problem of how to heat my yacht.

Sian had sudden bursts of uncontrollable excitement. "You MUST take me out on your boat!" she would say. At other times, she remembered that my yacht and my luxury-brand car were emblematic symbols of everything that was wrong and unjust about the world. She asked me to park around the corner from her house, lest one of her friends notice that she was dating a wealthy man, and worse still, an investment banker.

I had the sense that our fundamentally different paths we had taken through life - her through academia and me through an investment banking career - meant that we were never destined to have a long-lasting relationship. I liked her a lot and I certainly never thought or acted as if what we had was casual but there wasn't the same pressure that I was used to, when I had been looking for the right woman to marry and have children with. We were content, snuggling under our blanket, sipping wine and watching subtitled movies; we weren't grasping and reaching... constantly struggling to achieve more and more. It felt nice. It felt healthy and normal.

Equally, I wondered how Sian would be received if I received an inevitable invite for dinner with my boss and his wife, once word got around that I had a girlfriend. My drinking buddies had been seeing less and less of me, until the point where they no longer bothered to ask me if I was going to join them for after-work drinks. They were sure to tip off our gossip-hungry colleagues, and I wouldn't be able to brush off their questions by saying "it's nothing serious" or "it's early days" for very much longer.

If Sian was appalled by my two obvious vulgar displays of wealth and status - my car and my yacht - then she was going to struggle when we went for dinner with my boss and his wife, at their home, which might as well have been wallpapered with £50 notes and built with gold bullion bars, because it screamed "I'M RICH!" at the top of its nouveau-riche voice. I dearly wanted to spare poor Sian an evening of biting her lip, while my boss' wife no doubt wanted to complain about the difficulties of selecting a good private school, and the expense of stabling their horses, with the tactlessness of a woman who's never encountered an ordinary person in their entire life.

I was content, however; content to see out the winter in this fashion. Life was good; life was treating me very well.

 

Next chapter...