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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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Intellectual Hunger

6 min read

This is a story about brain training...

Hotel food

I spent a week living in a Warsaw hotel, making sandwiches in my room, using a shoe-horn to spread mayonnaise and mustard on the long-life bread bought from a nearby convenience store which mainly sold alcohol and snacks. This would hardly be a great example of ingenuity - a sign of a brilliant mind at work - but it certainly addresses the first part of this short essay: hunger.

Hunger is not just about food, so I thought I would get the food part out of the way at the beginning.

We can be hungry for sex, love, companionship, social contact. We can be hungry for thrills; adrenalin. We can be hungry for substances of abuse, including alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. There are all kinds of hunger, not all of which can be satiated with food, although we can often try to use food to fill the gaping void inside ourselves. Comfort eating is something I find myself doing when tired, bored or otherwise hungry for something other than food.

I wanted to write about intellectual hunger.

There are some questions which don't require much brain-power to answer, such as: how am I going to feed myself cheaply for a week in a hotel that's nowhere near anything except a couple of shops which mainly sell alcohol? The answer to this question is not one requiring intellect, but instead the answer simply requires lowered standards and the willingness to suffer a little.

Another question might be: how am I going to increase my standard of living as much as possible, as quickly as possible?

Again, this second question is quite easy to answer and requires very little thought or effort of the mind. The answer to the question simply requires more lowering of standards and willingness to suffer. Ultimately, one can always sell a kidney or make bodily orifices available for sexual gratification of paying punters. Problems of this nature are not taxing or interesting, in an intellectual way.

With too much of life occupied answering trivial questions and doing the unpleasant obvious things - prostituting yourself and living in vile conditions - we arrive at a far more interesting question: why bother?

4 years ago it was obvious to me that I knew exactly what I needed to do, how I was going to do it and how long it was going to take, in order to restore myself to health, wealth and prosperity. The prospect of repeating tasks which had become so repulsively boring and easy to me, although somewhat stressful too, was doubly abhorrent because of the lack of novelty combined with the lack of intellectual challenge.

I think in many ways it would have been much easier to accept a fate imposed upon me by circumstances, and abandon the pursuit of an outcome which was almost too far out of reach; almost too unbearable to suffer while en-route.

When I say "easier" I mean intellectually nourishing.

What right do I have to spend my days talking to interesting intelligent people? What right do I have to spend my days reading interesting books? What right do I have to explore ideas, have discussions and write down my thoughts? What right do I have to publish what I write? What right do I have to be allowed readers? Why should I be entitled to have any of those things?

I suppose I accepted that a more interesting course through life was not available to the likes of me. Those who are fortunate enough to ask themselves "what kinds of things do I find interesting?" or "what would my perfect job be?" and to then use these answers to formulate a life which is compatible with capitalist society, are not in the same socioeconomic boat as me. This is not to say that I'm deprived and disadvantaged, but merely that I'm incredibly pragmatic and quite unwilling to risk a decline in my living standards, back to a time when I was sleeping rough and the most pressing question of each day was: where shall I sleep to stay dry and keep me safe from violence and robbery?

So, my 4-year writing project began. I scratched my itch as best as I could with the facilities at my disposal. I have written and published as if I am one of those entitled brats who gets to spend their time choosing from an almost unlimited menu of very pleasant options, because their socioeconomic circumstances protect them from the peril of destitution.

I'm still surprisingly far from ever being able to ask myself "what would I like to study?" or "what is my dream job?" but the vast majority of us will never be fortunate enough to be able to do anything other than suffer the coercion of capitalism, and to do unpleasant things in order to survive.

It seems churlish to complain, given that I have certainly been able to feather the nest recently, and I do my complaining in far more pleasant surroundings than a bush in a park, sleeping rough.

Although I'm time poor and nowhere near being financially comfortable enough to feel confident in risking any major alterations in my chosen life course, I am lucky enough to be emerging from an incredibly lengthy period of suffering, in order to shore up life's practical considerations: housing etc.

Theoretically, it's now a matter of months until some very real and tangible results arrive as a result of a very sustained campaign, which has been excruciatingly boring and predictable, with very little freedom of choice.

In conclusion, I appreciate that my situation is fast becoming an enviable one, and soon I will have the freedom to make choices which offer more intellectual nourishment, which has been so lacking during the 4 year period where I simply had to do whatever it took - to suffer - in order to preserve all future opportunities, and avoid any catastrophic life-changing disasters which would force me down another path.

 

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Proud Parent

5 min read

This is a story about vomit, excrement, snot, urine, blood and suchlike...

Litter trays

As a 39-year-old non-parent, I've had to suffer interminable anecdotes about the vile stuff that comes out of children, for over two decades, while working full-time in an office full of people who were incessantly breeding. I've heard everything that should never be uttered in a professional environment, where those who have decided not to completely dedicate their entire lives to their bestial destiny as preordained by their genes - those who have risen above the reproductive drive of a simple-minded animal - should not be subjected to interminable near-identical stories about babies and children.

However.

Now it's time for me to get my revenge.

My kitten likes to take a dump in the woodchips and she likes to urinate in the gravel. My kitten is extremely fussy about where she evacuates her bowel and bladder. Her absolute favourite thing to do is to urinate on my bed and defecate on my coat, but I banned her from both rooms where she was doing that.

In my presence, my kitten must have urinated on the duvet on my bed at least 10 times now. I know that my washing machine has been very busy indeed. I know that many parents can relate to having their washing machines full of items which have been covered in pooh, sick, urine, snot and other horrible substances. My own parents decided not to use proper nappies so that they'd have more money to spend on drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, so I definitely know that they can relate to having to put stuff covered in bodily waste into the washing machine.

Essentially, what I'm doing is potty training.

When I see my kitten about to take a wee on my duvet, I pick her up and move her to her litter tray. I have 4 litter trays - two downstairs in the kitchen, and two upstairs in my bedroom, so that she can be quickly manoevered into the one she seems to prefer for urination.

So far, I have managed to save my duvet from being soaked in kitten pee at least three times.

The first time I managed to move my kitten into the litter tray and saved my duvet, I felt like such a proud parent. I was so pleased to see her going to the toilet in the place that she's supposed to.

Another time, she went for a wee in her litter tray all on her own.

She's a kitten who's been raised in a good environment, and she has a very nice home where she's stimulated and not stressed; she has a nice balance between lots of fuss and attention, and quiet cosy places for her to retreat to as well. She's simply quite different from a regular domestic cat: she's 5 generations from an Asian leopard cat, which means that she's pretty wild. She deliberately saves up her pee as a scent marker, which is what many domestic tom cats do. She is also incredibly smart, so she pees to show her displeasure at any lack of fuss and attention from her humans. She expects things to be the way she wants them to be, or else she does a dirty protest.

Mercifully, she doesn't pee or poop anywhere she shouldn't except the duvet... and only when she wants to get a reaction out of her cat parents. She has [almost] complete freedom in a very large house, and aside from some houseplants which have taken a beating, she's been very well behaved.

She is a fusspot. It's taking a lot of effort to make sure her litter trays are in perfect and pristine conditions until she's fully settled and 'potty trained'. Of course - like all pet cats - she came from the breeder knowing how to take a poop in a litter tray, as well as knowing where to pee, but it was distressing for her to be adopted and taken away from her mother, brother and sisters, as well as all the other people and pets she knew in that house. I can be fully forgiving of the occasional dirty protest when she's not got things just the way she wants them.

So, hard work, but I'm still overjoyed to see her furry face, even if I just nip out to the shops for an hour and am pleasantly reminded that I have a beautiful kitten as a pet. She's inseperabale from me. She's sitting on my lap as I type this. She can't bear to be in a different room from her humans.

Probably pretty boring and gross stuff, but there we go - revenge for every story you ever told about dirty nappies and other childrearing anecdotes.

 

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Not Drinking Again

2 min read

This is a story about teetotalling...

Bottles

I have stopped eating breakfast, have stopped having large lunches, stopped snacking and have stopped drinking alcohol. This is all part of an effort to lose some weight before going on holiday.

It's surprising that a few simple lifestyle changes can cause me to lose weight, when I do no exercise whatsoever.

I've been hungry, but only in the evenings.

I've craved alcohol a little bit, but only occasionally.

There have been surprise bonuses, beyond the weight loss.

I have more energy. In fact, I have too much energy. I've been sent into hypomania. I've been staying up late at night, thinking about making random expensive purchases. I've been argumentative and combative. I've been short-tempered and impatient. I've been impulsive. However, on the whole I feel a lot better than I did last week.

Not drinking is, on balance, much better than drinking a lot on a regular basis.

My life had started to revolve around my next drink: where and when would I next be getting a glass of wine or beer?

Living my life alcohol-free, I've dealt with some pretty awful stuff this week, but I've managed. I've coped.

When I was mixing alcohol with sleeping pills and tranquillisers, I was getting into some very strange states where I was half-dreaming, but I was still somewhat interacting with the real world: I was talking, but usually it was nonsensical because it was related to what I was dreaming about. Sure, this was at bedtime - in bed - when I really should have been fast asleep, but my brain managed to fight the soporific effects of vast quantities of sleeping pills, tranquillisers, sedatives and alcohol. I have no idea how I'm able to maintain consciousness with so much crap in my bloodstream, but I can.

I think that going [almost] alcohol-free will help me to catch up on sleep and reclaim some energy. I think that being [almost] teetotal will enable me to do more than eat, sleep and work.

Anyway, it's early days, but I would very much like to be in-shape for my upcoming holiday. It's motivating me to "behave myself".

Change is hard and my life has a lot of stress, but alcohol is not a great crutch. I think I'll be better off without so much of it in my life.

 

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Help or Hinder

6 min read

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

Empty cupboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Managing Bipolar Without Medication

11 min read

This is a story about personal responsibility...

Handful of pills

I often like to think that I'm 'cured' of bipolar, but the reality is that I can have incredibly functional periods, where it certainly appears to the outside observer as if I'm perfectly healthy. However, the stability of my life - and my mood - is not due to having received treatment, nor is it accident or pure good luck. There are a lot of choices, deliberately made, which keep me functional.

We must accept that whether I'm functional or not, I do experience a mood disorder: bipolar. I can be suicidally depressed but working productively at my desk, with my colleagues blissfully ignorant of my distress and the danger to my life. I can be fighting to control my hypomania with every fibre of my being, desperate to unleash the 'high' episode and experience a period of incredible creativity and productivity, but I know that my colleagues would bear the brunt of my irritability, and their suspicions would be raised by my fast speech and general intensity... I would be told to go home; I would be told I'm working too hard, and I would ignore them, only to subsequently crash.

I'm prone to taking huge risks. I'm prone to depressions that leave me unable to leave my bed or face the world for long periods. I'm prone to hypomanic episodes where I take on ridiculously huge projects, and somehow manage to complete them, but at great expense to my health and stability.

Nobody could say that I don't have to be aware of my bipolar disorder at all times, because it always threatens to plunge me into suicidal depression, or make my hypomanically high - neither state is compatible with a regular 9 to 5 Monday to Friday office job.

Luckily, nobody employs me because I'm a slow and steady guy; nobody employs me because I plod along doing nothing much in particular, keeping a low profile. The reason why I get employed is because I get stuff done. I get a lot of stuff done. I get things done that people say couldn't be done. Then, one day "I can't even" as the kids say. Yep. That's a complete sentence. I can't even finish a sentence properly when I'm having one of those episodes. I become dysfunctional if I don't manage my illness. There's no denying that I'm unwell when I get so sick I can't leave my bed, answer my phone or send an email: I go AWOL.

For years I struggled with the different episodes. I allowed too much of my hypomania to be conspicuously visible in the office. I allowed too much of my depression to overspill from my private life. I was in the office when I shouldn't have been and I wasn't in the office when I should have been. I allowed my mood to dictate my behaviour, as so many of us do, because it's virtually impossible to behave otherwise.

I tried being my own boss, so I could work as hard as I wanted when I was hypomanic, and sleep as much as I needed when I was depressed. Things got worse, not better. I tried tablets. I tried so many tablets. Things got worse. Things got so much worse and I became so dysfunctional that my life fell apart, but nobody believed me. I was sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens - a complete mess - but because I sound posh and intelligent, and I've had a great career, nobody believed that I was losing my battle with my mental illness, and I was incredibly vulnerable. I desperately needed help, but to outside observers, I seemed to have some semblance of the self-reliance I'd always had... everyone assumed that I was as competent and capable as I'd ever been, and that I could take care of myself.

Things got very bad. I was hospitalised several times, both for medical emergencies due to physical health problems which threatened my life, and for the seemingly unending mental health crisis I was suffering. The fact I was alive was taken as evidence of my resourceful nature and self-preservation instincts - my ability to be responsible for myself - but it's pure blind luck that I'm not dead, along with a heck of a lot of skill, effort and energy by a vast number of medical professionals, who've saved my life during various organ failures, seizures and generally near-fatal awfulness which took place in high dependency hospital wards and intensive treatment units.

Today, my life gives few clues about the journey to this point. I have two large scars on my legs and a tattoo behind my ear. The tattoo is something that any observant person might see, as a tiny clue that I've been though some pretty appalling stuff, but the scars are usually hidden beneath my clothes.

The length of time that I've spent working closely with a close-knit group of colleagues, and what we've achieved together as a team, is the basis for the impression that people have of me, along with my general demeanour. I'm lucky enough to have retained my full faculties and suffer no impairment due to the horrors of the past. My colleagues see a competent and capable individual who they have come to depend upon - they trust me and the seek out my opinion. In this sense, you could be forgiven for thinking me 'cured' of bipolar.

I'm hoping that I will stay in my new home city for a long time, and I will build an ever-increasing circle of friends, neighbours and other acquaintances, who see me going about my daily business; who have pleasant normal interactions with me. My existence is clearly no longer full of crises; I'm obviously much more stable than I was, and that stability has proven reasonably reliable.

None of this is an accident. None of this is pure chance.

I don't have any caffeine. I know that alcohol is bad for me, and I avoided it for months, which was very beneficial to my health. I try to sleep as much as possible - 10 or 12 hours a night whenever I can. I keep to a routine... I keep to a REALLY STRICT routine if I can. Mealtimes, when I get up, what I wear, what I eat, writing every day, quiet time before bed, glasses to filter out blue light, dietary supplements... these are some of the things that are working well. I know I need to exercise more and I know I need to get more natural light too. It would be healthy to have regular social contact with people outside work. It would be good if I had a local support network.

My job often bores me, but I put up with it. I'm often too depressed and anxious to get out of bed and go to the office but I force myself. I often find there's not enough time to watch films and documentaries, or do anything other than write, eat and get ready for bed, after work, but I'm trying to do more.

I've gotten tired. Really tired.

Last week was incredibly exhausting. Work was immensely stressful and demanding. Some relationship difficulties cause me to lose a lot of sleep, as well as being very emotionally demanding and stressful. I got a kitten, which has been extremely rewarding and exciting, but also a disruption to my delicate routine and an additional set of responsibilities.

Adrenalin has carried me through the past few weeks and I've managed to skip almost entire nights of sleep on several occasions, seemingly without consequence, but it's all caught up with me.

I haven't been looking after myself.

I've broken my rules.

I've broken the rules which keep me safe, healthy, secure and stable. I've broken the rules which have kept me functional for a very long period of time. I've broken the rules which I invented to end the crises and the dangerous highs and lows. I've broken the rules and I've paid the price.

I'm not sick but I'm not well.

I underestimated the damage it would do to my health, drinking too much and staying up all night. I overestimated my ability to cope with extra stress and big changes. Suddenly I have a girlfriend and a kitten, where previously I had nothing but a big empty house. My life is immensely more pleasant and enjoyable, but it's also suddenly become incredibly fragile. I'm suffering bouts of insecurity and occasional outbursts of frustration that my comfortable stable security and safety margin of spare energy has been exhausted, leaving me irritable and impatient.

It's my responsibility to make sure that I'm getting enough sleep. There aren't enough hours in the day, but I can take some holiday. I've worked non-stop since I got home from Mexico at the start of January. Nobody can work so hard, move house, get a girlfriend, furnish a home and get a kitten, without having a holiday. I've been relentless. I've acted as if I've got limitless energy and a superhuman ability to achieve impossible feats at incredible speed. To all intents and purposes, I've pulled off almost everything, but the cracks are showing - I'm heading for disaster.

Whether I've already gone too far, allowing myself to become too tired and letting myself become unwell, remains to be seen. I was irritable and unpleasant last night, and there might be consequences. Who knows what damage I've done?

I'm going to sleep until lunchtime tomorrow. I'm going to recharge my batteries.

I know that a few extra hours sleep is not enough. I need a whole week of lie-ins. I need a whole week of afternoon naps. I need at least a whole week of being free from the relentless demands which I've faced this year. I desperately need another holiday. I've left it too long, as usual, but I hate going away on my own.

That's another part of the non-pharmaceutical treatment for my bipolar disorder: holidays. I genuinely need holidays for the sake of my health, but when my life was chaotic I would work as hard as I could for as long as I could when I was well, because I felt so much pressure to earn as much money as possible, to support me during episodes of illness. I've come to realise that it's incredibly unhealthy to have 6, 9, 12 and even 18 months without a proper holiday. I need a week away. I need a week of rest and relaxation, and ideally that would be with my girlfriend, if I haven't p*ssed her off and upset her with my unstable mood already.

I wonder if I'll make it - last long enough - to be able to go away on a nice holiday to recharge my batteries. I think that I need to start taking evasive action immediately. I need to be strict with my bedtime. I need to be strict with alcohol. I need to take some mornings off work to catch up on sleep. It might be advisable to take a whole week off and just do nothing for the sake of my health. I know that I've let my health get into a precarious state.

I haven't looked after myself and I need to act.

I could spend a week pottering around my lovely house, with my kitten to keep me company. I think my health would benefit significantly. I need to loosen my grip on my work. I need to relax. I need to rest and recuperate.

Burnout is not good. I'm so sick of burning out. I'm so sick of episodes of mood disorder. I can regain stability, but I need to recognise that I'm not well and I need to act immediately. Yes, I could cling on until the end of July for a holiday with my girlfriend, but there's a huge chance I could get really sick if I try to wait that long. I'm going to have to take some time off work, for health reasons, and it's not the end of the world.

I hope I write again soon that I did the sensible thing, and that I'm getting on top of managing my health. I hope to write that I'm regaining some safety margin, so that I can remain cool, calm and patient, and not be irritable and unpleasant. I hope to write that I'm treating my girlfriend nicely, not being an exhausted wreck, full of insecurity and instability.

I feel super bad that I've mismanaged my illness, but all I can do now is to try to look after myself.

 

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Debt Made Me Rich

5 min read

This is a story about borrowing money...

Private bank

If you speak to anybody on low and middle incomes, they will tell you that debt is bad. Particularly, poor people are made incredibly poor through money-lending practices. Amongst the economic bottom 50% of people, you will hear them say things like "watch the pennies and the pounds look after themselves" and "don't borrow money" and generally disparaging comments about the whole business of going into debt.

Poor people are wrong about debt.

Borrowing money can make you rich.

The problem is that the terms on which poor people are offered borrowing facilities are grossly unfair. The richer you are, the cheaper it is for you to borrow money. The poorer you are, the more expensive it is for you to borrow money. At a certain inflection point, it becomes uneconomical to borrow money, because the terms are so bad. Generally, poor people can only borrow money on such incredibly bad terms, that it's a trap - they shouldn't take those loans, because they'll end up worse off.

Thus, we have a paradox. If you're rich, you should take the cheap loans you're offered. If you're poor you shouldn't take the "credit" that you're offered, because it's always a really bad deal which will leave you worse off.

We are living in an era of ubiquitous legal loan-sharking, where tiny debts can ruin lives and cause suicides.

Small loans - interest-free or at very low interest rates - can make an incredible difference to a poor person's life. The costs associated with being poor are horrifyingly unethical: the poorest in society will have to pay numerous punitive charges and borrow money at extortionate rates of interest, as they desperately struggle to meet very basic day-to-day costs, which would require borrowing facilities of a very meagre amount.

Imagine if we gave every poor person a £1,000 interest-free overdraft facility, for the purposes of cashflow. Of course, the worry is that people would borrow that money and spend it frivolously - on consumables - but if we study the behaviour of the poorest members of society, we can see that they are incredibly economical with their money. It's amazing how the poorest can make so little money go so far, and generally when they get into a financially distressed situation, the sum of money which has tipped them over the edge is pilferingly small.

How we stop people from using their £1,000 borrowing facility to buy themselves a stupid gadget, or spend it on drugs and alcohol, is not a question I think we need to answer. I think that we are all equally capable of being financially reckless and irresponsible, and the answer to the risk of a few, is not to impose a horrible life on vast swathes of society.

It angers me that the richer I get, the more money I can borrow, and the cheaper it is for me to borrow it. It's unjust. The poorest segment of society is being harshly punished for no good reason, except they're unfortunate enough to be poor, which is not their fault.

In fact, being able to borrow enough money to live for 2 months without a salary, and pay rent and deposit on a new place to live, would allow people who are trapped in low-paid jobs in deprived parts of the country to be able to relocate. A temporary bridging loan to cover those expenses, while the person has a gap in their earnings and extra expenses, would allow people to move, who otherwise are completely trapped because they can never miss a paycheque, and they can't afford to save up the rent and deposit necessary to move from one home to another.

Debt made me rich, because I've been lucky enough to go into debt while pursuing financial opportunities. Through borrowing, I've been able to move to find well-paid work. Without credit facilities, I'd have been bankrupted and therefore unable to work through any temporary dip in my earnings. On average, my earnings are great, but once you're in the situation where each monthly pack packet is immediately spent on rent and bills, you are completely trapped and it's impossible to escape.

Debt is dangerous, for sure, if you're using your credit cards to live an unsustainable high-roller lifestyle, but I doubt that many people are so foolish as to do that. Should so many people be made to suffer a horrible existence, because we're so afraid that people will be financially reckless if we give them the freedom to move around and get better jobs? It seems as though it's another example of capitalism not being efficient at all - people are not free to sell their labour to the most competitive bidder, because they are so horribly trapped.

 

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After The Mania, Regret

8 min read

This is a story about the consequences of a mood disorder...

Bipolar memory

Having had a mood disorder - bipolar - all my life, with its symptoms perhaps becoming indisputably obvious from adolescence onwards, I've had a lot of time to reflect upon the regrettable consequences of things that I said and did when I was experiencing hypomania or mania.

As a child I had little opportunity to do anything which had any particularly negative consequences. I took risks I suppose and I established a pattern of frenzied activity followed by melancholic lethargy. The intensity of my early hypomania was triggered by the rare event of being able to spend time with friends, when so much of my childhood was spent bored while my parents took drugs and got drunk. The excitement of escaping the boredom and oppression of being trapped in a house or a car with drugged-up or drunk dribbling morons, was so great that I would talk rapidly, be unable to sleep and I exuded so much energy that my friends and their parents were alarmed by this behaviour, which was uncharacteristic of how I acted at school, for example.

School terms were long and they were unbearable. For whatever reason, I was bullied constantly. School was something to be endured and I treated it in very much the same way that I treated my parents' negligence - I lived inside my own head, bored but attempting to entertain myself with my own imagination. I was incredibly patient, given the unpleasantness of my school days and the time I was forced to spend with my parents, who were so incredibly selfish that they destroyed most chances I would've had to form meaningful long-lasting friendships. Every school holiday, and indeed many weeks and months of term-time, my parents would remove me from the company of my peers, because they wanted to get drunk and take drugs in an isolated rural location, where they thought they would be safe from the criticism which they would draw for the neglect they were showing me; they attempted to hide their disgusting disgraceful behaviour.

My parents' folie-a-deux, which I see now was a toxic co-dependency, motivated by their addiction to alcohol and drugs, was clearly very formative and shaped my character. I became a patient plotter, who could put myself into a trancelike disconnected state to endure the interminable boredom of being trapped with a pair of dribbling moronic drug addict drunks, with no friends to play with - deliberately isolated from my peers.

This is why I do not celebrate mothers' day - because my mother is nothing more than an alcoholic drug addict with bad taste in men, and I wish I had never been born.

Luckily, modern society reveres those who have bipolar tendencies. How would anybody be expected to pass their school examinations, university finals or write a dissertation, unless they were able to cram and work hard in short and intense periods, having the academic holidays to then collapse on the brink of a nervous breakdown, to recover? How would anybody be expected to undergo the the awfulness of attempting to get a foot on the first rung of the career ladder, and the dreadfulness of the 9 to 5 office grind, unless they could muster the manic energy to be enthusiastic in numerous interviews where you're expected to lie about how excited you'd be to join Acme Corporation and their widget manufacturing business? How can you get ahead in your career, when you are so thwarted by your colleagues and the dreadful bureaucratic nature of organisations - with their "can don't" attitude - except by having periods of intense focus and effort, which no stable level-headed person would ever undertake in their right mind? How could you quit your job, start a company and make it successful, unless you had some kind of screw loose, which drives you to work 100+ hours a week and not give up on something until the results are delivered?

Nobody much cares about the periods of depression that regularly occur in the life of a person with bipolar disorder, because we celebrate achievements and we hide our failures. We pretend that we never screwed up. We pretend that we never got sick. According to our CVs and our LinkedIn pages, we are perfect infallible human beings, who are completely flawless. Because people with bipolar disorder regularly have episodes of hypomania or mania which are full of boundless creative energy, they have an impressive list of achievements under their belt. Nobody ever lists their depressions on their CV or LinkedIn.

Moving house and breaking up with my last girlfriend has left me exhausted and all alone in a new city. I have a work colleague who is reasonably friendly, but a very busy family man, and I have met one new friend, although they don't live very nearby. It's hard to describe how lonely and isolated I am - physically - because few people ever reach this point in their life without taking some kind of evasive action. It's very unnatural for humans to go to strange places and leave themselves totally cut off from social contact, beyond the minimum necessary to get money and buy food.

The flurry of activity which pre-dated me moving house was prompted by stress, and it contributed to the exhaustion and depression I'm feeling now. Also, I feel embarrassed that my grand plans to work on projects presently lie abandoned and the people who I was in contact with have been neglected for quite some time. It's very damaging to my self-esteem to know that my behaviour is so conspicuously unpredictable and unreliable, which leads people to believe that there's little value in the investment of a deeper and more meaningful friendship. When I crash, I cannot face the pressure of maintaining contact, so I disappear and I'm overwhelmed with guilt over the people and projects which are being neglected.

Sometimes, mania prompts me to say regrettable things. I particularly use Facebook as a 'safe space' to rant when I'm struggling with my mental health, because at least it keeps my regrettable words contained in a place where they're not publicly accessible. My friends can respond and calm me down, and I'm not left scrabbling to delete things which were inadvisable to write and publish publicly. My friends - if they're real friends - would take my words with a pinch of salt and not unduly categorise me as a madman and a lost cause.

It's deeply worrisome, knowing that my mental health can collapse and I can act regrettably. It's an unsettling and insecure state of affairs, knowing that I could easily destroy the good reputation I have and the respect of my colleagues, if I was to show a little bit too much of my illness. I keep things relatively neatly partitioned: my blog is where I write honestly, but always mindful that my words are subject to public scrutiny. Facebook is where I write things which are almost always a cry for help, or in some way symptomatic of the very bad mental health problems I'm dealing with. Work is where I spend a great deal of effort "acting normal" and attempting to show a reliable consistent side of myself, despite dreadful inner turmoil and very difficult events in my personal life.

One might say that this entire blog is regrettable, given that it's easily discoverable by my work colleagues, but I do not speak ill of anybody or the organisations I'm involved with, and I do not bring my profession into disrepute - I think that my conduct is perfectly acceptable, and I'm prepared to defend it on the grounds that I find it immensely therapeutic to have this outlet, and the support of people who are kind enough to read my words and send me kind messages.

I have a lot of regret. I admit that I could have made much better choices in a lot of situations. I don't hide behind my mental illness as an excuse. I'm perfectly capable of accepting that my behaviour has been regrettable and that I should have handled things differently.

Why then continue to write like this? The answer is complicated: I have no idea what would happen if I didn't have this single thread of consistency in my life. Rightly or wrongly, I credit this blog with bringing me things which have saved my life: my guardian angel, the people who got the emergency services to save my life during my most recent suicide attempt, the family who looked after me when I was jobless and homeless, and some of the friends who I speak to on a regular basis, who all only know me because I put myself out into the public domain - they reached out to me and rescued me, in their own ways.

 

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Clean & Sober

5 min read

This is a story about prescribed medications...

Akira

After 4 months of sobriety I'm grateful for the weight loss. My liver must be very grateful for the break. It was exactly 2 years ago that my addiction peaked, when I had managed to obtain a stockpile of my drug of choice that would last me 6 years. Having that stockpile was a pivotal moment, because I knew that I would not survive for more than 6 months with a virtually limitless supply of the drug I was hopelessly addicted to. I knew that I had tested the patience of a very supportive friend - my guardian angel - and I announced to her that I would be committed to overcoming my addiction, which I have done.

These two achievements are not to be underestimated, and are also set against a backdrop of great financial hardship and other averse circumstances. I've been forced to move around. I've been forced to work when I'm sick. I've been forced to go deeper into debt and to re-invest the money I receive, in order to escape from the horrible trap I found myself caught in.

It's not really possible to travel directly from the depths of drug addiction and alcoholism to clean and sober living. A person can't wake up one day and decide that they're going to stop taking drugs and drinking. There are consequences of such a decision.

My hospitalisation in 2017 represents the peak of the consequences of my decision to attempt to quit addictive substances. At that time, I was still physically addicted to one prescribed medication and four which I obtained on the black market. It seems obvious that I should have ended up on an intensive care ward, having seizures, in a coma, with a machine breathing for me. It seems obvious that the battle was too hard to win and I would capitulate.

Presently, I am physically addicted to one medication and psychologically dependent on another. In terms of progress, this is a vast improvement versus taking 5 medications every day - instead of three physical dependencies, I have one, and instead of two psychological dependencies, I have one.

I swallow one pill for anxiety. If I abruptly stop taking that medication, I risk having a fatal seizure.

I swallow one pill for sleep. If I abruptly stop taking that medication, I will have insomnia.

I don't drink, which is great news for my physical health.

I'm working, which is great news for my bank balance.

Everything seems to be under control.

However.

My dependence on the black market is problematic. I had attempted to stockpile enough medication to allow myself to taper my dosage down and free myself from the physical and psychological dependence on the tablets, but the disruption of a breakup and moving house was a huge setback. My stocks are running low and I'm having problems replenishing my supply.

Of course, my plan all along was to end up completely substance-free. I tried in 2018 but my drinking got out of control. Drinking alcohol as a way of compensating for the unpleasant withdrawal side-effects of stopping medications, is not something that's good for my health. I gained weight and became alcohol dependent. Having broken my alcohol dependency, I would like to remain mostly teetotal because it's better for my weight, fitness and general health.

If you talk to any doctor they will tell you that all their patients suffer significant discomfort when withdrawing from psychiatric medications which they have been taking for long periods. In fact, the doctors will tell you that it's virtually impossible to get their patients to quit the prescribed medications which they have become dependent on.

Why quit?

It seems to be in vogue to stop people taking medicines which humanity has used safely and effectively for a long time. It seems to be trendy to stop people from taking opiates, benzodiazepines, tranquillisers, sedatives, hypnotics, sleeping pills and a whole host of medicines which were greedily guzzled by many generations without any issues. It seems to be the way of modern medicine to offer 'safer' ineffective alternatives and refuse to prescribe effective medications.

I can attest to the great difficulty of getting off the addictive medications which doctors don't prescribe. I've been addicted to all of them, and I've successfully stopped taking all of them for lengthy periods, so I can describe in exquisite detail the very many agonies and unpleasantnesses associated with cessation of these medications. I can recall exactly what the withdrawal side-effects are like for the pills that your doctor won't give you.

I find it hard to find a good reason to quit and be completely 100% free from any mind-altering substances, but I'm certainly having difficulties in maintaining a reliable supply, which puts me at risk of a potentially fatal seizure. Quitting the medications which give my life enough stability to be able to hold down a well-paid job, is not desirable, but it seems necessary given the exhaustive efforts undertaken to thwart me - playing the stupid cat-and-mouse game with a bunch of people who don't care about the consequences, is a waste of energy and I would love to be free from the stress of dependency and uncertainty about the supply of something which I physically need.

Luckily, my physical dependency is something I have the capacity to alter - unlike type 1 diabetes - so I am following through with my plan to wean myself off the two remaining medications, hopefully slowly enough that it doesn't destabilise me so much that I lose everything.

My version of clean and sober might not seem very impressive to you, but I assure you that it is a considerable achievement to have beaten fully-blown addiction to every substance imaginable and restored some health and wealth to my shattered life.

 

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Lost Cause

7 min read

This is a story about predictions...

Recycling

Bookmakers and actuaries are extremely good at predicting the future. The profits of these well-established enterprises depend upon accurate predictions, based upon a vast amount of historical data. Better statistics lead to better predictions, which lead to accurate odds and sustained profitability. If it wasn't possible to predict the future in this way, there wouldn't be a business model for life insurance or gambling.

Unfortunately for individuals, generalised predictions are fairly accurate while individual predictions are not. It is no use asking an actuary when you will die, so that you can plan your life accordingly. The actuary will not be able to tell you whether you'll die of a heart attack age 45, or whether you'll die in your sleep age 95. Those extra 50 years present a considerable problem for the individual, but the actuary does not care, because they spread the risk of having to pay out on life insurance across a large group. On average, the insurer will win. However, none of us can know whether we're going to die prematurely or live unusually long.

It might seem prudent to avoid smoking, drinking and consumption of excessive calories. It might seem prudent to go to the gym every day. It might seem prudent to eat a balanced diet, containing a mixture of fruit and vegetables, full of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other chemical compounds your body needs to repair itself and stay healthy. However, while we can say for certain that smoking and obesity will lead to health complications, none of us can make choices to assure ourselves of a long life.

One day you might just drop dead.

The temptation to use statistical analysis to make predictions for an individual is overwhelming in a world where we have discovered the classical laws of physics. We presume that we are able to predict the future as easily as we can predict the trajectory of a missile. Unfortunately, individuals do not follow simple parabolic curves. While there are statistically significant correlations - good predictors - this does not mean that we can know the future life of a human, after gathering a few crummy data points.

All we have managed to unearth so far about the mysteries of human life is that we can understand risk not destiny. You might have genes which appear to doom you to a certain fate, but those genes are not always expressed in the way which we expect. The sequencing of the human genome has failed to provide the crystal ball that it was promised to deliver, but instead revealed the unimaginable complexity of epigenetics. No clear genes have been found for things such as diabetes and depression. There is no gene which hard-wires our life expectancy into every cell.

Who could have predicted that smoking would be banned in public buildings and the workplace, drinking culture would become diminished, supermarkets would import food from all over the globe, such that strawberries would be on their shelves all year round, and the workplace would become so safe and so sedentary? Who could have predicted that mental health problems would reach such epidemic proportions that the leading cause of death amongst 20 to 40 year old men would be suicide?

Ultimately, the biggest thing affecting my life expectancy appears to be a choice which I'm free to make.

I've never smoked and I quit drinking 4 months ago. I eat a balanced diet and I'm a healthy weight. These things are happy accidents. Every afternoon my anxiety builds to an increasingly intolerable level and every evening I feel suicidal. I live alone and have no friends or family nearby. I have no children, pets or partner.

My life is on a knife-edge.

If you were going to bet on the statistically probable outcome of my life, you'd have lost a lot of money already. I'm afraid to say that I'm an outlier and I have refused to conform to the predictions. I'm a single data point and as such I'm not statistically significant on my own, but the significance of my own life and its outcome is, unsurprisingly, important to me.

It's a hard life being an outlier. Literally, almost everyone is betting against you. It will be harder to get an education, get a job, get a home, borrow money, find a partner, get life insurance, get a pension... all of these things are thwarted by people who believe that they are able to predict my destiny. I'm continuously confronting people who believe I'm a lost cause, and therefore not worth taking a risk on.

We can see that this attempt at prediction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When racial stereotypes become pervasive - for example - then we see that minorities are harshly and unfairly prejudiced, which harms their chance of success and reinforces the correlation between uncorrelated factors. Skin colour should not be a good predictor of socioeconomic outcome, but the data overwhelmingly shows that it is.

From the moment you enter the vast educational system, you are being sifted and sorted in a way which tests you and gathers data on you, in order to attempt to predict your future. Something as random as getting an illness will affect your school attendance data, which will be used against you as a predictor of supposed future failure. You are constantly at risk of flagging yourself as a "disaster waiting to happen" and suffering lifelong prejudice due to the systemic attempts to analyse individuals statistically.

I suppose I now revel in the fact that I'm a living contradiction. My problems with mental health, addiction, alcohol, hospitalisations, psych ward stays, trouble with the police and refusal to be sifted and sorted by the mainstream education system, are not in agreement with the predictions that I should end up bankrupt, in jail and/or dead, having lived a life with no useful contribution to society, and in fact having been a burden. I'm the guy your mother warned you about. I'm the one who isn't supposed to be allowed to freely roam the streets. I'm the one who all the gatekeepers have in mind - I'm the one they want to keep out, but yet I'm very much on the inside.

If those who think they can gaze into the future by studying my data had their way, I wouldn't have a job, a house, any money. The system has tried very hard to railroad me into certain outcomes, because it's what was expected and predicted.

I genuinely don't know whether I'm going to kill myself or if my depression is going to lift and life's going to become pleasant and bearable. I've lived with depression for long enough to know that my choices will have little effect on the outcome. No amount of prescription medication, therapy, yoga and other such things will have the intended effect. It has always been the least expected things in my life which have wrought the most important changes.

If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I'll die at my own hands. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I won't be able to escape the debt trap. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I will crumble and break, because that seems like the obvious thing I would do, from looking at the black marks against my name. If I was going to bet according to statistics, I would definitely bet against myself.

However, we know that fundamentally the universe does not obey classical physics, when we study the underlying laws, but instead there is inherent uncertainty. Outcomes are nondeterministic. Knowing my past does not allow anybody to know my future. There is a nonzero probability of every possible outcome, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

My day-to-day life is dominated by a single question - am I going to kill myself? - but despite being the best placed person to answer that, I do not know the answer. Events unfolding are as much a surprise to me as they are to you.

 

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Waiting Game

7 min read

This is a story about biding your time...

Dehydrator

One of my favourite things to make and eat is beef jerky or biltong. Mixing a marinade, lovingly covering the meat and then slowly drying it is something which can take 30 hours or more. The smell is quite tantalising throughout the process, but there's no short-cut to the end. If the beef is marinated for less time, it will be less flavoursome. If the beef is dried too quickly it will be cooked instead of dehydrated, and it will be brittle, not chewy.

My life has become a game of waiting. I'm paid for my attendance, not my contribution. I'm paid to be present, but also paid to be quiet. The more I'm present and the quieter I am, the greater my financial reward, but it's pretty unbearable. I literally just have to watch the clock and think of the money. If I tried to make myself useful, people wouldn't like it and it would cause problems.

The situation is ridiculous, because even a small child could see that I don't have to do anything and I will be handsomely rewarded with desirable things, such as cash, houses, cars, holidays, clothes, gadgets and suchlike. It's very easy to extrapolate and say that it's almost inevitable that I'm going to earn a staggering amount of money, for doing almost absolutely nothing.

The situation is hard to handle. I can see every single step in-between here and the 'finishing line'. It's as if there's a well-lit staircase that leads to the top of Mount Everest, and I know exactly how many steps there are, and also that theoretically my body is capable of climbing that many steps, but it's psychologically distressing to know exactly how many steps there are between me and the summit. Sometimes it's not a good thing to know the way. Sometimes it's not a good thing to be so aware of the journey ahead.

I'm aware that human bodies only last a finite amount of time before they fail. I can comprehend the number of sleeps that I have left before I expire from old age. A friend pointed out that 9 years is 108 months, which seemed like an interesting way to break down a decade - making it more bite-size - but the idea of living for another decade is not inviting to me. Getting to the end of this month will be an achievement.

My perception of time is warped. My sense of boredom is heightened. My attention span is ruined. I feel anxious all the time. I have terrible anhedonia.

Life's not very liveable but life must go on. I have to choose between the rat race and the endless exertion to keep my head above water, or else I will be turfed out onto the streets and will have to live a pitiful life of begging and sleeping rough.

My thoughts turn to suicide often.

Suicide is the obvious choice, because it ends the struggle completely. No more anxious waiting. No more slow plodding towards the inevitable. No more unpleasantness.

I'm aware that I'm frustratingly close to a major breakthrough. I'm aware that I've rebuilt myself fairly miraculously and I'm a completely different person from the junkie I was 2 years ago. It seems brutal that I would lose the love of my life, lose my amazing apartment, be forced out of the city I called home and end up attempting suicide, only to end up surviving and clawing my way back from almost-certain bankruptcy, only to give up at the point I was at break-even. It seems ludicrous that I'd claw my way back from so-called "rock bottom" and then decide that it wasn't worth it, except to die with a bit more pride and dignity.

I was chatting to a friend and we wondered whether we had screwed up our brains and our bodies too badly to ever recover. We both reported feeling a lot of physical discomfort and health problems, as well as terrible depression and anxiety. Ironically, he has all the things that I think I want: a girlfriend, hot weather and freedom from the rat race. The thing we have in common is bipolar disorder and substance abuse, so perhaps the evidence is pretty clear - drugs will mess you up and leave you in a miserable state.

The annoying thing is that my life isn't filled with drug abuse. My life is filled with 9 to 5 Monday to Friday commuting and office routine. My life is filled with paying rent and bills. My life is filled with supermarket shopping and doing laundry. My life is filled with mountains of paperwork. I've been well-behaved and I've made healthy choices, but it hasn't made any difference - I'm still depressed.

I suppose my depression can be explained away by events such as a breakup and a lot of stress - moving house - as well as the sustained problems I've faced in the past years, as I've attempted to restore my health and my wealth. It's hard not to lose patience though. It's hard not to give up, given the sustained effort that has been required to get where I am, and the way I feel at the end of it all.

After all the effort and the uncertainty and the horrible things I've had to endure, when I think "was it worth it?" I'm not sure that it was. In fact, I'm pretty certain that I wish I hadn't bothered. I'm pretty certain that I'd like for the pain and suffering to end sooner, rather than later. I cannot see any reason to carry on, when the reward is only more pain and suffering.

I'm kinda worried about keeping myself safe. I started thinking about places in my house where I could hang myself. I started thinking about cutting some major blood vessels in the bath. I started thinking about obtaining highly toxic poisons from the internet. I started thinking about practical considerations, such as the effect on my sister.

It's not good when a considerable part of your waking day is spent thinking about ending your own life.

I'm aware that I've probably unbalanced my delicate brain chemistry, through stressful events as well as medications. I binged on some pills. I self-medicate with other pills. The demands placed upon me by moving house and working a stressful job have driven me to feel suicidal before. I don't have any friends in the city where I live. These things are not conducive to good mental health.

I know that if I keep forcing myself to go to the office, my bank balance will continue to improve, which opens up a whole world of possibilities and reduces the amount of stress and pressure in my life. I know that as long as I stay alive, the days are getting longer, the nights are getting shorter and the weather is improving. I know that depression doesn't last forever. I know that anxiety has only ever come into my life as a result of abusing alcohol and benzodiazepines. I know these things, but it doesn't make the present day any more bearable.

There's no way to hurry things along. I either have to wait, or kill myself.

 

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