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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.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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I'm [Not] OK

6 min read

This is a story about keeping people updated...

Invert

It's been nearly 2 weeks since I wrote last. I know I've had gaps but this feels like a really long one. Gaps are usually a very bad sign. It's worth worrying about me if I'm not writing. Things are probably going badly if I'm not writing.

I was coping by using a combination of alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquillisers/sedatives and a heck of a lot of comfort eating. I've been teetotal and medication-free for a while now. I'm dieting too. I'm slimmer but I feel awful. Stopping taking all the pills has been brutal. Not having anything to 'take the edge off' has been horrible. The anxiety has been unbearable.

Some concerned friends have sent me messages, but I've felt too swamped to reply. Work is exhausting and there has been the looming holiday, which has caused added stress rather than being something to look forward to: How am I going to afford the loss of earnings as well as the expense of the holiday? My work situation is looking very uncertain for when I get back from holiday, which is a horrible situation to be in, worrying about money instead of enjoying some well-earned time off.

My relationship is good but it's caused some sleepless nights. I'm desperately trying to avoid worsening my exhaustion and sleep deficit, but it's almost impossible to catch up. Stopping the sleeping pills has caused my sleep quality to deteriorate. It's a miracle that I'm still reasonably productive and functional.

The last thing I want to think about is the travel and logistics of going abroad. Buying holiday clothes sounds like fun, but it's another item on a todo list which makes me very stressed out. I'm struggling to figure out when I can fit in all the things I need to do between now and my departure date from the UK. I suppose as long as I've got my passport and a buttload of cash then I can figure things out, but it's not pleasant to be so ill-prepared for a trip.

I'll be 40 years old in exactly one week. I decided to have a barbecue at my house when I was feeling somewhat more buoyant about the way my life was going. Now I feel like cancelling the gathering, because I'm stressed about the extra unnecessary hassle. Having guests over to my house reminds me that I've still barely moved in - I don't have much furniture and the place is a bit of a mess. I don't feel well placed to make my guests comfortable. I have a lot of anxiety about it being a really awkward occasion, with a handful of my long-suffering friends having made the long journey to the provinces, in order to make smalltalk with strangers... a real chore for them.

I'm working as hard as I can in order to feel proud about my contribution to the project I'm working on. I'm desperate that my contribution be remembered as something valuable and that my colleagues recognise the effort I've ploughed in. Work's become a bit of an unhealthy obsession and I'm significantly over-invested, emotionally. I can picture myself getting very depressed when I'm forced to leave the project because of contractual shenanigans, and through no fault of my own.

My life is deeply unbalanced; unhealthy. I'm not drinking alcohol and I'm dieting, so I've lost weight, and I've managed to get a bit of sun, so I look quite healthy, but inside I'm very sick. The stress of the past years seems to have ratcheted up as my life has become more 'normal' and 'stable' recently - things were easier when I was living out of a suitcase, in some ways, although I appreciate that I was very miserable and living much more unhealthily.

Readers who've followed me for any significant length of time will probably have a better idea than me as to whether I'm in a better place today than I was a few months ago, a year ago, several years ago. Things feel terrible but they probably aren't.

The stresses seem to be the same as ever, particularly concerning my security vetting. A colleague contacted me to say they were reading my blog. They seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of working with me, despite what they'd read, and the feedback seemed generally positive. It's the first time that a colleague has been brave enough to tell me that they've been reading my blog. Of course, the security vetting people have been reading too. I wonder if the security vetting people are as sympathetic to my stresses, and look favourably upon my ability to maintain an impeccably high standard of professionalism in the office, whilst undergoing some horrendous chaos in my personal life; struggling so much with my mental health. I wonder if all the talk about being sympathetic towards mental health issues is just hot air.

I wanted to write a short update, because I know people are worried about my uncharacteristic quietness. I've kinda failed. I'm doing OK, but I'm also really struggling too. Plenty of reasons to be concerned, but things are not completely ruined and on collision course with disaster... in fact I might even weather this storm and emerge in a reasonably good situation.

I'll try to write a little more regularly, but I don't want to be a stuck record, endlessly moaning about how unpleasant the effect of stopping medication is. I don't want to wallow in misery.

It's summer. I have money. I have employment for a little while longer. I have an awesome holiday booked. I have a very nice girlfriend. I have a cute kitten. I have a big house. Things are not terrible.

I'm not taking any medication, not drinking, dieting. I'm losing weight and my brain is getting back to a stable state without any alien chemicals. It's good to be free from the shackles of chemical dependency.

If I can push through this tricky period and keep the wheels turning, then I think my forties are going to be a much better period of life than parts of my thirties. It does feel good to be turning a corner as I reach an age when I should be growing old less disgracefully.

I've written more than I wanted to but I hope you'll forgive me. You're all up to date now.

 

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Straight

6 min read

This is a story about bad character...

Road sign

I have been thinking about changing my tagline from "the world's longest suicide note" to simply "Nick Grant - drug addict". The reason for doing that would be exactly the same as writing and publishing 1.2 million words which very publicly document every facet of my flawed character. The idea is to thumb my nose at the notion of having a 'perfect' CV with no gaps on it; to ridicule the concept of living a blemish-free existence of civil obedience; to write down all the things that we would normally brush under the carpet and pretend never existed.

We have become incredibly paranoid about our so-called reputations, when demonstrably the world is such a big overcrowded place that nobody is really paying very close attention. You can squat on your boss' desk, curl out a gigantic turd onto his or her keyboard, wipe your ass with your resignation letter before casually tossing it onto the floor, pull up your trousers and walk out of your workplace, and I promise you that your precious reputation will not be soiled, unlike the aforementioned keyboard.

Perversely, I wrote a very long suicide note - the world's longest - as insurance in case I did kill myself, but also as a therapeutic process as I tried to talk myself down from the ledge. The same is true of "Nick Grant - drug addict" - I would never label myself as such except in pre-emption of those who would like to find a convenient pigeon hole to put me in.

Because the words "drug addict" have such negative connotations I would never be so bold as to label myself as such if I was a drug addict. I choose this emotive label for myself because I feel confident that I'm the living embodiment of the antithesis of what we imagine a drug addict to be. I choose this pejorative term deliberately because it makes a mockery of anybody who attempts to sum me up in two words or fewer - I've written 1.2 million and do not yet feel satisfied that I've written enough to capture my essence on paper.

Analytic data tells me that colleagues have found me via Google and have read a little about me. I am undergoing security vetting and I know that this website has been viewed by people who are partly responsible for the information gathering, which will ultimately result in the decision to approve or deny my security clearance. These people scratch the surface. These people come looking for easy answers; a convenient couple of words to sum me up. Why not give them those words? I say that those words should be: drug addict.

My achievements in my career are beyond reproach. My contribution in the workplace has proven to be exceptional on countless occasions. Records also show that I've never been charged with a crime, convicted of a crime, declared bankrupt or otherwise fallen afoul of the courts of law. One might say that I'm a model citizen.

Why would a model citizen write 1.2 million unflattering words about themselves? Why would a model citizen risk their reputation, by way of candid public declaration of their faults and mistakes?

I'm completely fed up with the way that society is constructed: the way that we are continually looking for faults and reasons to reject people. I find it quite tiresome and bothersome that so many so-called gatekeepers exist, whose purpose only seems to be to pointlessly thwart, frustrate and annoy. Would I care if our nuclear weapons were guarded by violent criminals or our banks lent our savings to reckless bankrupts? The question is a non-sequitur, because it pre-supposes that the gatekeepers are being successful; it presumes that the systems are working and society is functioning effectively - it is not.

Technocrats have forever dreamt of being able to capture enough statistical data on every individual that behaviour can be predicted and the future can be known. There is a widespread belief that something as brief as a curriculum vitæ can tell you everything you need to know about a person's value. With credit checks, criminal record checks and other searches of vast databases, we presume that we can know a person's character, and deny them access to mortgages, loans, rented accommodation, mobile phone contracts, jobs and myriad other things we might consider to be essential parts of life. We presume that school attendance records, exam grades and university diplomas are "good predictors" of future success, and I would agree, except that it's straightforward to see that conventional success is only available to those who look good on paper - correlation does not equate to causation.

Our 19th century education system was designed to destroy free will, independent thought and break children's spirit, to prepare them for a life of manual labour, toiling in the mills and factories. Our ubiquitous snobby worship of "A" grades and first-class honours from Oxbridge does not acknowledge that 99.9% of our citizens will reach their mid-teens feeling like a failure, which is entirely the point. "If only I'd paid attention at school" we are supposed to tell ourselves, for our whole lives, accepting of our abysmally awful place in society.

I write this document because I hate the destructive force that the pressure of academic and career achievement is placing on society, to the detriment of our mental health. I think it is grotesquely unhealthy to live in a permanent state of anxiety, believing that a single slip-up - a bad exam grade or a gap on our CV - could ruin our entire future.

I loathe those who seek to reject. For those who seek a reason to reject me, please have one: drug addict. There you go. Please take those two words and f**k off. Leave me alone. I'm too busy trying to stay alive to be swamped with anxiety about lazy, simplistic, crude attempts to pigeon hole me and toss me away like a piece of trash. If you came looking for some dirt I'll save you the digging and send you away with a handy soundbite; a convenient label.

It pleases me that my 22-year career contradicts the label which could easily consign me to the dustbin. It pleases me that hundreds of colleagues from the past two decades would bear witness to my manyfold valuable contributions. It pleases me to send you away with two words - drug addict - which conjure up in the mind a character so different from the one who has spent 40 hours a week working very hard, and achieving a great deal.

In summary, Nick Grant: drug addict.

 

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Gas Leak

7 min read

This is a story about todo lists...

Gas meter

My list of simple mundane and relatively easily-achieved tasks seems to keep growing, despite the frenetic pace with which I am doing things. Most of my energy is ploughed into the project I'm involved with at work, which is reaching a critical juncture, but there are also other deadlines bearing down on me.

My car's roadworthiness test must be completed within the next fortnight. I had few problems with the car last year, but it's getting very old so I am not expecting to be so lucky this year. Certainly, there is a wheel bearing which needs replacing and the dashboard tells me that it's 5,000 miles overdue for a service. I would be very surprised if it did not cost me several hundred pounds and leave me without my car for a few days. The timing is not good, because I really need to be in the office every single day of the working week at the moment.

It might sound silly, but my hair needs to be cut twice in the next month. My hair is well overdue being cut - especially in the warm summer weather - but I will also want to get my hair cut again soon before going away on holiday. I'm planning on spending quite a lot of time in the sun, so it makes sense to have my hair cut short before going abroad, otherwise my skin will be pale under my mop of hair.

For a whole week of the holiday, I will be expected to wear quite smart clothes - a collar and trousers with some smart shoes - instead of the casual beachwear which is my usual attire when on holiday. I like to spend my entire holidays wearing a T-shirt, board-shorts and a pair of flip-flops, but the resort where I'll be staying insists on outfits more befitting of a golf clubhouse or country club. I usually stay in laid-back surfer crash-pads, and I'm not a member of a golf club or a country club, so my wardrobe lacks chinos, polo shirts and other clothing items which are de rigueur in the kinds of places where rich old men hang out, flaunting their wealth. Therefore, I need to go shopping, to buy a whole bunch of clothes which I only really need because of the dress code at the holiday resort where I'm staying for a week.

My clothing situation is generally pretty bad. I only have one pair of jeans which are not completely worn out, and wearing board-shorts to work would be unprofessional. I wear a smart dress shirt every day along with a fine-gauge knitwear V-neck jumper - it's a kind of uniform for me. However, the weather is improving and the office has no air-conditioning, so I would like to have a lighter pair of trousers to wear and some other shirts, which will look smart and professional without a jumper. My summer shoes are falling to pieces. Some of my colleagues wear sandals, but I've never seen any colleagues wearing flip-flops and I think it would be unprofessional of me to do so.

In order to pay for the most ludicrously expensive and over-the-top ridiculously luxurious holiday I've ever had in my life, I will have to do some quite clever accounting: juggling money around the place, so that my cashflow is not impacted. There are lots of parts of the holiday with a balance to pay, and I need to be careful to make sure that I don't use up more than 50% of the credit limit on any of my credit cards, which would adversely affect my credit rating.

My credit rating is super important right now, because I'm undergoing security vetting which is an incredibly invasive and exhaustive examination of every aspect of my life, including my credit history. It's important that I manage my money well so that part of the vetting process proceeds in an unproblematic fashion.

Spending 17 nights away from home and skipping 12 working days poses a big problem for the project I'm working on. The timing is less-than-perfect, putting it mildly. I need to take a holiday - I'm exhausted - but I also need to ensure some very important milestones are not jeopardised, plus my job is under threat and the loss of income is a source of stress. I will not be returning from holiday feeling relaxed, because I will need to secure myself a new contract as quickly as possible.

My todo list also includes difficult things, such as tapering off medications which I no longer want to be dependent on. There's relentless pressure on me to keep cutting my dosages, so that I'm medication-free by the time my holiday starts.

I need to get ready for a barbecue I'm planning on throwing to celebrate my 40th birthday. This requires the purchase of an actual barbecue, plus charcoal and all the food, of course. Further, I will probably have to make sure I have adequate beds and bedding for any guests who are staying over. I have plenty of time to prepare, but it's another deadline that is looming.

My kitesurfing equipment really needs some TLC before I go away on holiday and I need to purchase her a kitesurfing harness for my girlfriend if I'm going to teach her how to kitesurf while we're on holiday. Some of my kitesurfing equipment is more than a decade old and likely to break, unless I replace the worn-out parts. Having an equipment failure in a remote part of the world is likely to be expensive and/or cause me to lose valuable time on the ocean.

None of this is beyond the wit of man, but it's very hard to take care of all these odds and sods when I'm extremely time poor and quite exhausted by my very demanding job. I suppose things will happen at the last minute and everything will be alright, but I also anticipate that the next two months will drain every bit of energy I possess. I suppose there will be the occasional moment - on holiday - when there is nothing pressing in the complex itinerary: a flight to catch, a long drive, or indeed a smart outfit to be donned in order to simply grab a bite to eat.

These are almost all first-world problems, and indeed wealthy middle-class problems. I know that many British people on low incomes will struggle to get their decrepit old cars through their roadworthiness tests, but at least I have the financial means to pay for any unexpectedly high garage bills, although at some point it's not economical to spend hundreds of pounds on a car which is worth less than my smartphone, and I would be better off buying a new car, which at least I am fortunate enough to be able to do... although I would question whether it's a smart move getting a new car when my future employment is uncertain.

As you can see... I've got quite a lot going on at the moment, and not enough hours in the day.

 

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Beach Body

6 min read

This is a story about going on a diet...

Flip flops

571 days ago I decided that I was allowed to drink heavily and eat whatever I wanted. I had at least a bottle of wine every day and ate mostly fast food. I decided that this was my reward for working virtually non-stop: to guzzle gallons of alcohol and devour mountains of fatty food. My evenings were spent in McDonalds, KFC, curry houses and pizza places. My evenings were spent drinking glass after glass of red wine.

Unsurprisingly, I put on weight.

I was living in a hotel for a while, which was next door to a gastropub. I lived on calorific food, like lasagne & chips, washed down with large glasses of red wine. When I got back to my hotel room, I would continue drinking large glasses of wine. I decided that it was my reward for the miserable life of living in a hotel, to eat and drink with gay abandon.

I put on more weight.

Then, I noticed that I was putting on weight. I noticed that I had a tummy. I got out of the shower one day and I saw my own reflection in the mirror, and I realised that I had gained a belly. I've never really had any problems with my weight, so I was kinda shocked, although by this point I had been gaining weight steadily for roughly 9 months.

I didn't change my behaviour.

I did stop living in the hotel. However, I lived on takeaways and beer. I had a takeaway almost every night of the week, and I washed all that fatty food down with vast quantities of beer. I was going to the supermarket on an almost daily basis to re-stock the fridge with beer.

Then I stopped drinking.

My alcoholic friend killed himself. He drank himself to death. His alcoholism had raged out of control for a long time and hadn't claimed his life, but health complications quickly began to create a compounding problem and he knew that he was going to die; his quality of life was rapidly deteriorating. This event, coupled with my unhappiness about being a little overweight, was enough of a catalyst for me to quit drinking.

I was teetotal for nearly 5 months.

Then, I started drinking heavily, eating restaurant food and having takeaways on a regular basis. I drank loads of white wine and ate lots of very rich gourmet food. I had lost some weight by simply being teetotal. I had reached a point where my weight was under control and I felt better about my appearance, but then I quickly undid that by drinking and eating so much.

Now, I'm trying to lose weight again.

I'm not trying very hard to lose weight. All I've done is cut my daily calorie intake. I've stopped drinking - mostly - and I've stopped having takeaways and restaurant food - mostly - and I've stopped having large lunches. I've stopped eating breakfast. I've stopped snacking. On average, my weekly calorie intake has been cut pretty drastically.

I still don't do any exercise.

I joined a gym at one point, but I never actually went. The circumstances of my job changed and I found myself living in the hotel. It was hard to motivate myself to go to the gym when I had the miserable existence of living in a hotel. The highlight of my evening was my gastropub meal and red wine, so I can't imagine that there'd have been much point going to the gym.

I should do some exercise.

I'm making some very big changes to my medication at the moment. I'm tapering off high doses of tranquilisers and sleeping pills, in order to be medication-free by the time I go away on holiday, the day before my 40th birthday. I have less than a month to rid myself of physically addictive benzodiazepines and highly psychologically addictive sleeping pills. I have a horrible month ahead of me, filled with rebound anxiety and rebound insomnia. It's not easy to stop taking medication and it's extremely unpleasant to rapidly stop. Going cold turkey is not even an option - I could have seizures.

I'm making good progress.

Apart from last night, where I got extremely drunk and ate a gigantic burger and chips, Friday night where I drank two bottles of white wine, and Monday evening when I had a takeaway, I've not been drinking, eating takeaways or eating in restaurants. I've also managed to reduce my sleeping pills by 33% and my tranquilisers by 50%. I'm changing a lot of things all at once. It's very difficult to change so many things all at once, especially while I'm going through a very stressful high-pressure period at work, with some very demanding tight deadlines.

It'd be wonderful if I was superhuman and I could work full-time, have very little sleep, write every day, look after my kitten, keep my house clean, quit drinking, go on a diet, stop taking addictive medication AND do some exercise, but I'm afraid that it's too much to ask - the exercise will have to wait until life gets a little easier.

I know that I'll get more enjoyment out of my holiday if I'm fitter and in better shape, but the holiday is the respite I desperately need; the rest and recuperation; the reward for 571 days of almost continuous work, with the exception of a week-long jaunt to Turkey and two weeks in Mexico. My last holiday was nearly 7 months ago, and I've been through a house move and a breakup, as well as working exceptionally hard.

The beach body will have to wait, although my small lifestyle adjustments will help. The weight isn't just going to magically disappear, but I shall have to content myself with stopping the rot - I simply haven't got the bandwidth to be able to exercise on top of everything else on my plate.

 

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Be Careful What You Wish For

4 min read

This is a story about girls, girls, girls...

Sleeping kitten

Life is always so filled with trepidation and uncertainty. My employment contract expires soon. My housing contract currently stipulates "no pets". My relationship status is still very much "dating". I can picture some kind of nightmarish scenario where I find myself homeless, jobless, single and with a hungry kitten to feed - that would be the worst-case outcome, which is of course what I imagine will happen when I'm feeling anxious.

On the flip side, everything could work out nicely for me. My contract could get renewed. My housing contract could be amended to allow me to keep the kitten I'm getting. My romantic interests could develop into a serious committed loving relationship. All these things are within the realms of possibility.

You could characterise me as somewhat of a control freak. I like to have things nailed down. I like to have certainty.

Perhaps I should have made different choices. I could have chosen permanent employment, instead of doing consultancy. I could have bought a house with no covenants or other contractual legal sticks to beat me with. I could have married the first girl who'd have me. Perhaps all these things would give me more certainty in my life - more security - but in my experience it's not possible to use legal contracts to guarantee anything: Life is intrinsically uncertain.

Empirically, it's obvious that most marriages will end in divorce. "Forever" is not something that anybody takes very seriously when they say their solemn marriage vows, nowadays. Perhaps it's always been the case that most humans are liars and cheats, and it seems to me like there are very few guarantees that you're not going to get your heart broken.

Our lives are based upon an immensely complex and surprisingly fragile economic system, which is liable to threaten our ability to house ourselves at almost any moment. Most people live lives of economic precarity, with very little money saved up in case they lose their job - two missed paycheques and the majority of people would be in a great deal of financial difficulty.

Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures and things which seem like catastrophes are often not as bad as we initially think: we so often find a way of overcoming adversity.

A considerable proportion of my time is spent worrying about losing my job, losing my home and having my heart broken. I suppose I've already had everything bad happen that could possibly happen - losing my job, my money, my house, my wife - and it felt like the end of the world; something I'd never be able to recover from. My life is certainly not fully repaired but occasionally I dare to dream that I'm going to end up in a far better situation than I ever would have been if I hadn't lost everything and been forced to start again from scratch.

It's not particularly in my nature to be risk-averse and I think I'm happier that I'm not trapped in a bad job, a bad marriage or a bad mortgage. My life is kinda scary, which isn't great for my anxiety levels, but there's no way that I'd be in such an enviable position if I hadn't taken huge risks. I'm glad that I'm taking risks and they're paying off, although obviously I'm aware that the more risks I take, the more chance there is of something bad happening.

Empirically and anecdotally, I do seem to get everything I want though.

One week from now I should have a gorgeous bengal kitten, all things being well.

 

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Summer's Here

4 min read

This is a story about unseasonably good weather...

Sun tan lotion

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

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

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

Summer is my favourite time of year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Treatment

10 min read

This is a story about making people better...

Ward

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believed that treatment was effective.

I just had to find the right treatment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Can't Talk, Dating

3 min read

This is a story about multitasking...

Plate of food

I like to be punctual. I think it's especially bad to bail on a date or be late, because it's often a time of some nervousness/anxiety for all except those who seem to be eternally dating. For 'the rest of us' there's a certain amount of fear of rejection, wanting to be seen as attractive, worrying about spilling something on our outfit just before we're about to leave, fretting about what to wear, wondering if we'll recognise our date and whether it'll be awkward - to kiss or not to kiss; one kiss or two; a little half-hug? How on earth are you supposed to greet a perfect stranger the first time you meet, when you are meeting for the express purpose of getting intimate with each other to see if you're compatible.

A big chunk of my day was spent buying new clothes, which I must admit was strongly motivated by the desire to make myself as presentable as possible - trendy and cool - when meeting prospective love interests. I got a little bit carried away and spent more money than I should have done, but I'm very happy with my purchases and I'm very much looking forward to wearing my new clothes.

I've spent the afternoon finally getting my house in some semblance of good order. My main lounge now has both sofas assembled and I have a bedside table.

Did I go so far as to change the bed linen on my bed? That seems a little presumptuous. Of course a part of me would love to "get lucky" to use a turn of phrase which I find quite horrible. I guess there's something which is very good for any insecurities about being attractive, to have somebody want to sleep with you, but I'm a hopeless romantic and that level of intimacy is not just sex for me... I'm not a one-night-stand kinda guy and I'm not into hookup culture.

I now have 30 minutes to shower, get dressed and catch a cab to meet my date. I must admit, I am not struggling to match with very attractive women who want to date, but it's all in the "getting to know each other" stages, which I find somewhat bothersome, especially when it's just a preamble to what I really want, which is to be in a relationship. I know that it seems prudent to choose carefully and not rush the process, but another part of me knows that I've managed to make relationships work with very different people, so I certainly don't have a "type" that I tend to go for.

I have 27 minutes now. Gotta go!

Wish me luck!

 

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Cutting My Meds

4 min read

This is a story about tapering off pills...

Weed

I'm not a stoner. Never have been. Never will be. However, it seems nigh-on impossible to endure modern life without something to 'take the edge off. Most people drink, smoke, have tea, coffee and/or indulge in recreational narcotics. Most people take antidepressants. Most people take things to help with anxiety. Most people take things to help with sleep. Life is pretty dreadful without mind-altering substances, prescribed or otherwise.

My office, which is filled with many thousands of people, functions on tea, coffee, cigarettes and vaping. There are probably numerous colleagues who are also secret alcoholics, swigging vodka from bottles hidden in their gym bag or perhaps kept in their car. I've worked for more than two decades in large organisations - I know what people are like.

At the peak of my stress and misery - just a few weeks ago - I was swallowing three times the recommended dosage of Xanax and zopiclone. I was heavily medication dependent. My sleep was greatly aided, but my alertness was drastically affected and my reaction times were probably impaired. I felt very strange: as if I was having an out-of-body experience. My anxiety levels soared as my working day wore on, and the afternoons and evenings were unbearably unpleasant.

I cut my dose by 33%.

It wasn't that bad.

Taking 4 pills instead of 6 is easy enough to do: two Xanax and two zopiclone.

To cut my dosage again was going to be more difficult, except I had the foresight to have obtained some half-dose tablets, so that I was able to cut my dosage by 25%: I swallowed one and a half Xanax and one and a half zopiclone.

It wasn't that bad.

Now I take one pill of each: one Xanax and one zopiclone. Cutting my dose by 33% again was aggressive, but I've managed to do it. My sleep was severely disturbed, but I soldiered through a difficult weekend and I've managed to just about manage to get enough sleep to not lose my job. My alertness has improved significantly and I'm very pleased that I've cut my dosage by 67% in the space of just 3 weeks, which is extremely rapid.

I have left myself enough of the half-dose zopiclone tablets to be able to cut my dosage by 50% at some point. The Xanax tablets break very conveniently into half and quarter doses. Xanax is evil - it's so short-acting that it's tempting to keep popping pills whenever the anxiety comes back, which it always does. I'm desperate to free myself from my dependency on Xanax.

The prospect of being released relatively soon from my chemical prison is incredibly pleasing. Although the pills served their function very effectively, allowing me to cope during some incredibly stressful times, it's a terrible habit to become dependent on pill-popping every time anxiety occurs. Anxiety is unbearable, but benzodiazepines are a terrible short-term solution, which ultimately leave the user worse off than they began. The low price of black market benzodiazepines and their ubiquity is shocking, but life is very unusual when it's structured around medications, and Xanax is probably one of the very worst medications to become dependent on.

Cutting my zopiclone dose by 50% is going to be the hardest, because it'll be the biggest drop that I've had so far. I will cut my Xanax from a whole 2mg tablet, to 1.5mg, then to 1mg, then to 0.5mg... and then I'll be free. However, zopiclone tablets are not particularly designed to be split so easily. Purchasing some half-dose zopiclone tablets was prescient, but I'm anxious about insomnia and struggling to get up in the morning to go to work.

My life is made so much more bearable by having the ability to alter my body clock to suit early-bird culture, when I'm naturally a night owl. My life is made tolerable by having the ability to medicate away the worst of my anxiety, when it becomes unbearable.

I have no idea how I'm going to function without my tablets, and I fear that I might be tempted to eat and drink more by way of compensation, which would adversely affect my physical health, but I do want to applaud my progress so far this year: I've been virtually teetotal, while also cutting down my meds by 67% so far, which is a big deal.

Kind of a boring story... but I wanted to report on some progress I feel proud of.

 

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Blur

9 min read

This is a story about trying to do too much...

Ceiling fan

I think I have a pretty good idea of what I want and what I need. I think I've got enough experience to know what makes a happy, fulfilling, complete and stable life. I think I've been through plenty of difficult periods when my life has been incomplete, to know what was missing. I've been through very happy periods when I've been full of joy and contentment, and I know the things that created those delightful episodes.

There aren't any short cuts.

It's a strange situation, knowing what my life would contain if I could cherry-pick all the things I needed from all the years I've been alive. I'd choose the huge group of friends I met in the kitesurfing community, and the exotic travel locations we went to. I'd choose living in a city by the beach, where I could have barbecues and play volleyball on a random weekday evening after work. I'd choose garden parties, dinner parties, pool parties, eating out, board games nights and sitting around drinking wine, with a house full of great friends. I'd choose a stable long-term loving relationship with somebody kind and caring, with an incredible career and fascinating educated opinions, who dazzled me with their intellect. I'd choose to have loyal friends nearby, who'd do anything to help me, and I'd do anything for them. I'd be surrounded by people. I crave company and affection.

I hate being single. I hate that all my friends live far away. I hate that I don't have a pet.

I hate not feeling settled, secure, in love with my home city and in love with my house.

I think I'm going to love Cardiff. Soon enough I'll buy a place of my own. I'll make friends. I'll meet a special somebody. I'll probably get a cat. I'll get back into kitesurfing and wakeboarding. I'll build a social network around me, which will make me happy - my gregarious and extroverted side will come back again, and I'll feel like myself; I'll feel glad to be alive.

I don't tend to do things slowly and steadily.

I want everything immediately.

I've set about trying to have a lovely house in a lovely area, meet people, fall in love and meanwhile carry on with all of life's daily demands, such as working my job and paying my bills. It might sound like the regular stuff that we're all trying to do, but you have to understand that my life was profoundly dysfunctional. Every facet of my life was incredibly damaged in some way, and I have found myself starting from scratch, more-or-less.

Of course, there are people whose lives are decimated and they don't enjoy the many advantages which I do, such as being able to find well-paid employment anywhere in the world. My health is good enough that I can work with limited impairment. My experiences have prepared me, such that I'm able to deal with just about anything and everything that life throws at me. I live a very charmed existence.

As it stands, my life is very incomplete, but I'm no longer paralysed by depression, anxiety, indecision and hampered by financial problems. The feelings of unhappiness are prompting me to take action, and I'm pursuing every avenue simultaneously to fix-up my life.

One year ago, I had a very lovely girlfriend, a great home with gorgeous panoramic views of the sea, and a well-paid job which was a short drive away. I might sound like Goldilocks, but that city was not somewhere I could fall in love with. The friends I made there who had cared very much about me, and I adored, had vanished as quickly as they had arrived in my life - an argument which exploded, and ended the relationships I had with an entire family. My house of cards collapsed, and I was jobless, single and sick, in a place where I only had a couple of friends left... and neither were particularly well equipped to help me.

Today, I have a big empty house. I love my job and I love the people I work with. I'm becoming wealthy again. I'm in a city which I find jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Some parts of my life are absolutely perfect.

The parts of my life which are broken and dysfunctional are being fixed. I'm meeting people. I'm no longer trapped in depressed isolation.

Being single is particularly horrible. I haven't had a hug in far too long. I've had nobody to cuddle me when I've been feeling terrible. For a time, I felt like I had nobody in the world who I could phone in a crisis, but slowly my life improves: a friend from work has been in contact, for example, making me realise that I'm not completely invisible... there are people who care about me.

I know that there are people who care about me all around the world, but I promise you that it's pretty awful being in a city you've never visited before, where you don't know anybody, and you're living all alone in a house full of cardboard boxes and unassembled flat-pack furniture. My clothes are all still in suitcases, because I have no furniture to unpack into yet.

Of course, we must consider the great potential that my life holds. In a matter of months, the scary alien city where I'm completely unable to find my way around, will become my home and I will feel attached to the place. My empty house will be filled with my things and I will make it comfortable, and pleasant to live in. I'll make friends and my social life will no longer be something painfully absent. I'll meet somebody special and have a companion to share life with. All of these things will happen, at some point in the future.

Because I'm used to living life at breakneck pace, doing everything all at once, of course I want to do as much as humanly possible. My life is a blur. I'm not doing things in a methodical, measured and sustainable way - I'm charging headlong into every problem, attempting to get what I want overnight.

I should have been in bed a long time ago, getting as much sleep as possible before another punishing week at work on a highly stressful project where I'm under a great deal of pressure. I should be protecting the things which are the essential enablers for everything else: without a job and money, my life will collapse like a house of cards, again.

I almost skipped writing for two days running, because I'm spread so thin, but I'm forcing myself to write now because I don't want a single part of my life to be neglected and left to rot and wither on the vine. I have ploughed a significant amount of time and effort into this writing project, and I'm loath to lose something which is such a consistent and central part of my identity, especially when my embryonic new life is just a tiny seed - it hasn't even begun to sprout green shoots yet.

The problems I have are nice problems to have. I write to you, happy that things are clearly improving, even if I haven't yet claimed any triumphs since successfully moving to Cardiff. It's slightly more intangible to say that things are getting better, when the gains are so imperceptibly marginal; the changes are so slow and none of the major milestones have been achieved yet. However, I had a nice weekend.

As always, I'm very hard on myself and I feel like I should be succeeding in every area of my life, overnight, but things are taking time and effort, and I will have to sustain my efforts if I want to get the things I need. It sucks, but at least I'm starting to have yet another attempt at rebuilding my life. I've had setbacks, but on the whole I have to say that there's more positive progress to report than negative things which have happened.

I seem to be finding reserves of energy that I didn't think I had. I seem to be more capable than I thought I was. The amount that I've achieved in a single weekend seemed inconceivable to me, and was causing me some anxiety, but in fact everything went very well and I'm very pleased.

Of course, there is a great deal of peril and uncertainty in my life, which will remain for some time, while I cement my gains and secure my future, but I've done pretty damn well at coping with setbacks recently, and I hope that I'm able to continue without any major disasters. I hope that I can keep control of my own propensity to self-sabotage. I hope that I can subdue my underlying mood disorder, such that I can plough through the depressive episodes and suppress the manic episodes, and emulate the behaviour of those who are fortunate enough to be blessed with mental stability.

My life has been a blur. My frenetic activity is so fast that my movement is a blur. The amount that I'm trying to do all at once creates a blurry picture, as all the different activities all blend together and I find myself continuously in strange novel situations, attempting to make sense of what's going on: mostly a passenger on a rollercoaster ride.

Life is certainly interesting at the moment, although I am always afraid that I will burn out or break down at any moment. I'm probably over-investing in the wrong things, as always, but that's me: a blur of activity.

 

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