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

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Sobriety Cost Me My Job

4 min read

This is a story about stability...

Coke bottles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Dark Thoughts

4 min read

This is a story about storm clouds...

Rain on glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why am I doing it then?

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

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

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

 

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Bi-Polar

3 min read

This is a story about Kim and Kanye...

Mood swings

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

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

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

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

Did I mention how functional I am?

Until I'm not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Insane in the Office

4 min read

This is a story about vacation...

Pixelated

It's been pretty much four whole months since I saw my colleagues face-to-face in the office. As the lockdown wore on, my hair got longer and longer. Working from home, I've tended to wear scruffy clothes instead of wearing a smart shirt. These things make a big difference.

Business attire is important. There are plenty of useless idiots in the working world, commanding high salaries simply because they wear a nice suit. Wearing the right clothes is an effective way of getting people to respect you and to value you, and your opinion. Without the visual cues of the business attire, people can only judge you based on what you say and what you do, which they are hopelessly under-qualified to do.

Being face-to-face is important. So much of nonverbal communication - such as reading a room, or looking for body language - is useful to know if you're rubbing somebody up the wrong way, and therefore to know whether to back off; to let something drop.

In the office, a vast amount of the working day can be eaten up by simply moving around the building - looking for meeting rooms, walking to the toilet, walking to get a sandwich, walking to get a drink - plus there's a lot of opportunity for ad-hoc chats with colleagues. At home, I'm alone with my thoughts for most of the day. I'm incredibly bored. When we have a meeting I'm desperate to talk to somebody; so isolated and lonely.

At the office, if I'm acting a bit strangely, somebody can have a quiet word in my ear. "Is everything OK?" they can ask, kindly. At home, nobody really checks in on me; there's no human connection.

I'm so bored.

I get through all my work so quickly, because there isn't enough to do, and I'm alone with no distractions.

The autumn, winter and spring are going to be incredibly hectic, stressful and high-pressure, so I'm keen that the workload should be managed effectively; expectations have to be set appropriately. I find myself being very forceful, trying to protect myself and my colleagues from being overwhelmed; overstretched. I push back hard on the insidious scope creep; the relentless push to overpromise and underdeliver; an army of soft-skilled fuckwits saying yes to everything because they're yes-men; people-pleasers who don't actually have to do the work themselves - it won't be them who have to work late into the night and over weekends in order to deliver the undeliverable. Nobody thanks you when your project is late, you don't deliver everything you said you would, and the quality is atrocious.

I should stop caring.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

I should just take the money and keep my big mouth shut.

It doesn't make sense to rock the boat. I should be diplomatic. I should smile and take the money, and ignore the problems; ignore the disaster that's brewing. I know it'd be better for my bank balance to just keep my mouth shut.

It's difficult. My mental health is not compatible with office jobs working for huge organisations, but it's easy money. It's a LOT of easy money. Hard to turn down that kind of money, even if it's toxic to my mental health.

I haven't taken any time off since the start of the year. I have been working as hard as I possibly can. I just want this atrocious period - of financial insecurity - to be over.

When you're going through hell, keep going... and go as fast as you can!

I opt for ripping off the sticky plaster as quickly as possible; a short sharp shock.

Except this isn't short and sharp... it's prolonged.

Interminable.

I'm not sure what I'd do with time off anyway. UK citizens are not exactly welcome in a lot of places, given that our nation is riddled with deadly disease. I hate travelling alone.

I do need some time off though, before I have a breakdown; before I get too sick to work. It's strange, my mental health is very bad, but I'm still very productive. I assume that I'm very difficult to work with at the moment though, but I don't really know, because I don't get any feedback; I don't have normal interactions with anybody. I'm completely isolated and losing my mind.

 

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Habit

4 min read

This is a story about routine...

Laptops

Despite the chaotic - and often traumatic - backdrop to my life, during the past 5 years... I have still managed to write on a very regular basis. I've written from a hospital bed on multiple occasions. I've written from a psychiatric ward on multiple occasions. I've written when I've been dreadfully sick - both physically and mentally - and I've documented the path I've taken, from near-bankruptcy and destitution, to stability.

It might not look very healthy, but it is - my writing is a healthy habit.

I skipped writing over the weekend because I was busy. That's OK. I'm allowing myself to skip the occasional day when I'm busy. I'm not going to force myself to write every single day, without fail.

I have decided that I need to get into the habit of writing fewer than 700 words - it's a limit which forces me to be a bit more focussed on what I want to say, and discourages me from aimlessly rambling. Given that I mostly just write my stream-of-consciousness, it makes sense to create an artificial limit, because my thoughts are unending.

As I have repeated oftentimes before - ad nauseam - I am aiming to try to be more forward-looking, and to not dwell in bitterness and regret from the past; to not wallow in my life's misfortunes and my shitty childhood.

I can tell you for certain that I WILL NOT be writing any kind of "things I'm grateful for" vomit-worthy rubbish. Of course I have things I'm grateful for, and I have a great deal of perspective - I know I'm fortunate in many ways - so I don't need or want to have to write down all those things; it's pretty boring.

I'm glad that my skin isn't all peeled off and dipped in salt and acid. I'm grateful my eyes haven't been gouged out by rusty spoons. I'm grateful that my penis hasn't been cut off and stuffed in my mouth...

No.

I spend a significant proportion of my day reading the news, and whenever I see starving African children - etc - then I think "poor starving African children. We should improve the living conditions for human beings". I do not think "I'm glad I'm not a starving African child" because that's just sociopathic. Obviously it's better not to be a starving African child, but I'm afraid I'm cursed with enough empathy to think "we should improve things" as opposed to "I'm so grateful other people's lives are so shitty".

My routine consists of lying in bed reading the news, a shower, feeding the cat, reading the news, catching up on anything I missed at work, reading the news, work, meetings, reading the news, work, lunch, reading the news, work, meetings, work, reading the news, writing, dinner, reading the news, speaking to friends on the phone, watching documentaries about human suffering, social media, sleep... repeat.

As you can see, I read a lot of news.

I do not watch any TV.

I'm certain that I would be happier if I replaced some of that news reading with socialising, but my routine is predictable and somewhat in my control. The only thing I can't control is the human suffering which I see in the news, but I do care and I do what I can - from the confines of my routine - to improve the lives of humanity. Mostly, I do a lot of thinking about the suffering of humanity, but don't mistake me for somebody who doesn't care and doesn't do anything. The emotional labour is exhausting; the mental labour is exhausting. This shouldn't be underestimated.

Of course I want to change my routine. I want to exercise more. I want to socialise more. I want more excitement; variety. However, the routine gives me a great deal of stability, and the stability gives me health and wealth. Stability is very important to me, having had so many years of chaos and trauma.

My routine is important.

 

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An Apology

6 min read

This is a story about remorse...

My kitty

There's a lot of good reasons why we don't steal people's medication.

Firstly, theft is illegal. There is no defence against the crime of theft. You could rob a bank and claim that you were going to give the money to charity, but I'm afraid that's no defence. You could claim that you didn't know theft was a crime, but ignorance is no defence. You could claim that you were keeping somebody safe, by stealing something of theirs that was dangerous: perhaps you stole a fast motorbike, and your defence is that you wanted to prevent injury or death. Unfortunately, while these arguments might give the court judge cause to be more lenient in their sentencing, the crime of theft is a clear-cut thing: you simply need to permanently deprive the owner of something that they own, and you have committed a crime. No defence. It's a crime. It's that simple.

Secondly, some medications require you to have a prescription to have them in your possession. There are lots of medications which are controlled drugs and as such, to have stolen those medications would mean that you have committed a second crime: possession of a controlled substance, without a prescription. Again, there's no defence for being in possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, unless you have signed documentation proving that you are authorised to collect a prescription from a pharmacy, on somebody else's behalf.

Thirdly, some medications will cause seizures and death if the patient abruptly stops taking them. Many medications raise the seizure threshold, and when medication is stolen and the patient is forced to abruptly cease taking the pills, then the seizure threshold is lowered so substantially that the result is very bad seizures - grand mal - which can cause physical injuries as well as death. This would be gross negligence, or gross negligence manslaughter in the event of a death.

Fourthly, while incredibly ignorant people might think that they are being "helpful" by stealing medications, if their fantasies are incited by other people - abusing a position of respect and making misleading representations that they know what the f**k they're talking about - then those people become part of what's called a joint enterprise or common purpose crime. It doesn't actually matter who committed the crimes - all the parties in the conspiracy are equally guilty.

Fifthly, it does not even matter if the crime(s) are actually committed or not. If there was a conspiracy to commit a crime which was never acted upon, then that conspiracy can still be prosecuted as a crime.

In short, don't steal other people's medications, or even plan or advise to attempt such a thing, because you are breaking at least four laws. Criminal law is not based on precedent and interpretation. It's open-and-shut: you clearly broke the law, so you must be prosecuted and punished.

Because I suffer from Bipolar Affective Disorder, I am prescribed lamotrigine, which is an anticonvulsant. Epileptics are prescribed lamotrigine, because it raises the seizure threshold. It is extremely dangerous to stop taking lamotrigine abruptly, whether you are epileptic or not, because you are likely to have life-threatening seizures.

My ex-girlfriend, with incitement from 5 others acting in a criminal joint enterprise, conspired to steal a large number of different medications from me, with no fewer than 3 of the medications being likely to cause seizures, injury and death, when I discovered the theft and was unable to take my pills as normal. The theft was a smash-and-grab, where there was clearly no consideration for the immense harm that was likely to come to me, but also, medications were stolen in a manner that clearly proved that it was an act of incredible stupidity; utter recklessness and shocking ignorance.

Would you rummage through the drawers and medicine cabinet of a home in which you were a guest? If you were so incredibly rude and privacy-invading as to do so, and you happened to find items which were embarrassing, would you tell all your friends? Would you humiliate the poor person who trusted you to act with the duty of care towards their privacy, which they were owed?

It shocked me when a friend sent me a message asking about a particular medication - which it later emerged had been stolen - and was mocking and humiliating me about this. My most private, confidential, embarrassing, secret and sensitive medical information had been abused in the most horrible disgusting way. Without a single care about violating my dignity, humiliating me, embarrassing me and betraying my confidence, my ex-girlfriend carelessly boasted to her co-conspirators about the medications she had stolen from me. This medication can be bought over-the-counter in any chemist, without a prescription, has no abuse potential and has no potential to cause an overdose. Why steal it? Why boast to her co-conspirators she'd stolen it?

I did get an apology from my ex-girlfriend, but I doubt she feels any remorse. I suspect it would take criminal prosecution for her to realise that her actions were wicked and wrong, and there was no excuse for the risk she placed my life in, the violation of the sanctity of my private home, the violation of my dignity, the humiliation and embarrassment she caused me by violating my confidential medical details. She's a horrible person, although I will say that without the incitement of the co-conspirators in the criminal joint enterprise, she would have been less likely to commit the crimes - although this does not forgive her behaviour, nor absolve her of her crimes.

Getting an apology out of the ex-friend who was a co-conspirator in the criminal joint enterprise, who then began to criminally harass me, sending me numerous unwanted offensive messages, emails and letters, which caused me a great deal of humiliation and embarrassment, violated my dignity, and was particularly intimidating regarding the confidentiality of my private medical details.

My ex-girlfriend's mother did feed my cat while I was in hospital, which was very kind of her, and I want to thank her, but when I arrived at my ex-girlfriend's house and demanded the return of my keys, the atmosphere was not conducive to saying thank you for the mother's kindness, which she had shown to my cat.

I suppose when you are faced with an individual who has threatened to pursue criminal charges against your daughter, the parental instinct probably kicked in and she would have denied that her daughter was a murderer, even if she'd seen her plunge the knife repeatedly into the victim's body.

Anyway, this is a simple message: don't steal people's stuff, OK. Especially medication, which is a matter of life-or death. If somebody tells you that it's "OK" or "the right thing to do" then they're wrong - they are inciting you to commit a crime, and they themselves are co-conspirators in that joint enterprise crime too, and will be prosecuted equally under the law.

 

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Sick Of The Sound Of My Voice

5 min read

This is a story about verbal diarrhoea...

Boardroom

It doesn't take a lot to trigger somewhat uncontrollable hypomania in me - lack of sleep, general exhaustion, stress, anxiety, unusual circumstances, the company of people who I need to impress, a rare opportunity to make a contribution to something important... all these things contribute to my ability to shut the fuck up being severely compromised.

On an incredibly regular basis, during an away-day with colleagues to discuss strategy for an important project, I told myself firmly that I had been speaking far too much, and that I must keep quiet. It's not that I didn't have anything useful, valuable and with merit to say. The problem was that I was by far the most heard voice in the room and my contribution was disproportionate. I wouldn't say it was hard for others to get a word in edgewise, but my colleagues were far more hesitant and considered, and it's probable that the more shy and retiring types failed to speak, when they might otherwise have had their say, if I hadn't been present.

In many ways, it was a terrible idea that I should have attended the away day. My profile in the organisation I'm currently working for is already sufficiently elevated, and I'm well respected. There was no need for me to put my head further above the parapit. Nobody likes a blabbermouth, especially in a large organisation where there might be some individuals whose original optimism, energy and gusto has been eroded over many years of long service, leaving them a little jaded and disengaged: it's just a job, and they've long-since lost the drive and determination to change the world, which they had before joining the working world.

I'm not sure what the extent of the disaster is, having confirmed in no uncertain terms to the most influential and important people on a major project - which I was hoping to be heavily involved in - that my presence is quite overbearing; I am far too outspoken.

I hope that I'm rescued somewhat by the fact that, as a consultant, it's my job to volunteer an expert opinion. Surely, if I sat quietly nibbling on biscuits and sipping sparkling water, not saying very much, then I wouldn't be a very good consultant.

Of course, my bipolar disorder presents major difficulties in the rather tame, mild-mannered and extremely slow-moving environment of a giant organisation. The speed with which I form thoughts and communicate well-articulated ideas, is somewhat of a steamroller. I'm well aware that nobody wanted to spend a day locked in a meeting room, listening to my hypomanic ranting.

By good fortune, I spent the journey home with three colleagues who were subjected to my hypomania for the whole day, and the atmosphere was pleasant. On the final leg of the journey, I was alone with a colleague who I very much like and admire, and I imagine that there was time for him to perhaps say something, if my behaviour had been outrageously egregious, to the point that I had caused a major problem.

Alas, I don't really have any objective view on anything. I have colleagues who like and respect me, who might have a quiet word in my ear if I was in danger of overstepping the mark, but in the whole gigantic organisation where I currently work, I only have one friend, colleague and confidante, who I think would report back to me any words of warning, if I was being a royal pain in the ass, and widely disliked. I can't be certain, but I hope that person would say something to me, if they heard my name was mud.

On the basis of my own perceptions, I have embarrassed myself and my mask has slipped: surely my colleagues are in no doubt that I have a mental illness, which causes me to suffer periods of racing thoughts and pressured speech, where I cannot shut the fuck up and pipe down. I fear that I have used up all the goodwill and damaged a reputation which took a very great deal of time and effort to accumulate, in the space of a single hypomanic day.

I note that my adored, respected and admired colleague, who I work more closely with than anybody else, has been somewhat irritable since that day, where perhaps I embarrassed them, seeing as it was them who invited me along as their guest.

Who really knows? Who knows how well received a person with bipolar disorder really is in a big organisation? Us bipolar people are certainly revered and adored when there are tight deadlines and we are hyper-productive, but we are also surely hated when we are far too outspoken and full of manic energy, when others are just wanting to plod along, getting on with business as usual.

For now, everything seems OK, but I have no idea how much I've damaged my reputation, and more importantly, my popularity and the perception that my colleagues had of me; previously as a competent and capable highly productive member of the team, but now perhaps simply as an unhinged madman and pain in the ass to work with.

 

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World Mental Health Day and World Homeless Day 2019

5 min read

This is a story about annual events...

Hampstead Heath

I sometimes forget that I have a 1.3 million word repository of 4 years of my life documented in exquisite detail. Given that I have chosen to manage my mental illness - bipolar disorder - without medication, it's extremely useful to have everything written down. Memories are easily corrupted. It's easy to romanticise the past. Past traumas can be forgotten. Pain fades from memory. By having everything stored digitally like this, it's easier for me to avoid getting stuck in a cycle of boom and bust; making the same mistakes again and again.

Mental illness combined with some dreadful circumstances which exacerbated the problem, like an abusive relationship followed by an inevitable divorce, plunged my life into utter chaos. I was homeless and slept rough. I was sectioned and kept in secure psychiatric institutions. I very nearly lost everything.

Today is both World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day. The two things go hand-in-hand, but the choice of day was a coincidence, I expect, although ironically it's quite apt.

There is a powerful relationship between mental health and other problems, such as being able to work, having money problems, having relationship problems, homelessness, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, self harm, suicide and crime, amongst other things. To say that drug addiction causes mental health problems, for example, is a mistake of confusing correlation and causation. To say that mentally ill people are more likely to become homeless is a mistake of cause and effect. As you might imagine, not having a secure, dry, affordable, pleasant place to live is toxic to good mental health - how can anybody be expected to have any kind of sense of wellbeing when one of their most basic needs is unmet or under threat?

We might dismiss housing concerns, believing that local councils and "the government" ensures that nobody goes homeless, but it's lazy and ignorant to believe that housing is not the number one concern of people in crisis. The root of all problems is not mental health or drugs, or Brexit... it's housing.

The proportion of people's wages spent on rent or mortgage payments, has steadily risen, while wages have fallen in real terms. Vast numbers of people are on zero hours contracts or work in the 'gig economy'. Unemployment figures do not tell the real story: millions of people live under constant threat of eviction; homelessness.

Do I really have to spell this out?

Living with the constant threat of losing your home is incredibly stressful.

People are working all the hours they can to try to make ends meet, and they are still only one or two missed paycheques away from being chucked out onto the streets. One hiccup and they'll be homeless. Living with that kind of daily threat creates intolerable anxiety.

If you put somebody under an enormous amount of pressure and stress, for a very long period of time, it will negatively affect their mental health. It's inevitable that the lack of affordable housing in the areas where there are job vacancies, would create a mental health epidemic.

In London, where there are the most jobs, the housing is also the most expensive, over competitive and overcrowded. Yes, there are lots of jobs in London, and they're better paid than elsewhere in the UK, but the housing is terrible quality and massively overpriced, plus there are heaps of people competing for the few place to live, and the nice places to live are virtually unattainable except for the mega-rich.

Where I currently live, I pay a fraction of what I used to pay in London, and I have a lot more space, but when my contract ends I will struggle to find another one nearby - there simply aren't as many jobs in the area, hence why far fewer people want to live here and why the cost of living is lower.

This is capitalism in action. This is supply and demand. Capitalism is maximising how much money it can extract from our pockets, before we all go insane and/or kill ourselves. Capitalism is highly efficient at creating the maximum misery, in its pursuit of the maximum profit. Capitalism is not about freedom or choice. Capitalism is about the immoral destruction of human lives, in order to deliver relentless 'growth' at the expense of our quality of life.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I have emerged from that dreadful chaotic period of mental illness and homelessness, and I now enjoy a reasonable standard of living, but I am painfully aware of how insecure my existence is; how quickly I could be turfed out onto the streets again. I'm acutely aware that my mental health cannot be taken for granted, and the pressure to keep earning vast sums of money, month after month, to line the pockets of an idle capitalist, is incredibly toxic to my mental health.

 

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Harsh

5 min read

This is a story about being horrible to people...

Hand wash

One of my bosses, from 18 years ago, has been a source of inspiration. He is - or at least he was when I knew him - one of the bluntest, rudest and most intimidating people you'd ever be likely to meet. I have never aspired to be rude, mean or to treat people badly, but I don't suffer fools gladly and I get rather impatient and intolerant of the hard-of-thinking.

It struck me that I had written quite a lot that could be misconstrued as harshly critical of my colleagues. I wanted to address that.

Firstly, I do suffer from bouts of delusions of grandeur, as a result of my bipolar disorder. I can quite often, during episodes of mania, decide that I'm a virtuoso; a genius. There's little to burst my bubble, in terms of evidence, in that I can easily point to multiple great achievements throughout my career, and I haven't yet been defeated by a technology challenge. This means I'm good but not necessarily great. I have no idea what the distinction is, but my brain tells me that I'm great when I'm in one of those moods. In fact, my brain tells me I'm the best and in the absence of another person who makes me feel inferior, it's hard to deflate my ego and get my rampaging delusions of grandeur under control. I'm sure that I'm not the smartest person in the room but without concrete evidence to the contrary, I can get carried away.

It sounds like I'm making excuses; blaming my mental illness. Well, I do try to stay humble and keep some perspective. I do try to stop my head from swelling too much; stop my ego from getting out of control.

Secondly, I'm under a lot of pressure. Work is not just a job to me - it's an opportunity to prove that I'm not a no-good waste-of-space washed-up has-been useless junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt mentally ill enemy of society. If I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I can make a substantial, exceptional contribution to a major project, then I will have a massive achievement to point to as proof that I have some worth, which will help my self-esteem enormously.

Thirdly, I'm equally capable of being a "dull-eyed dim-witted brain-dead zoned-out zombie trudging along with the herd". I'm equally capable of becoming demotivated and just turning up for the paycheque. I'm equally capable of doing a half-assed job. I'm totally capable of being very unproductive. I can spend forever procrastinating; not producing anything useful. When I make disparaging remarks, I'm not criticising individuals - I'm criticising the dreadful effect that working in a big organisation has on people, in terms of robbing them of any opportunity to learn, develop and get passionately involved in a project where they feel like they can make a difference.

I do see incompetence, which annoys me, but the people who I am angry with are the highly paid consultants who claim to be experts, but are clearly a waste of money. It annoys me that I work with brilliant graduates and rubbish consultants, when the graduates are so underpaid, which is unfair. It annoys me that I have to waste my time cleaning up mess made by people who should be the best of the best. It annoys me that I have to do extra work, because of a highly paid consultant's incompetence, when the organisation and the team really would be much better off without them.

When my brain gets accelerated up to top speed, I can be incredibly productive, but I can also be incredibly mean. I start to believe that I can do everything myself and that everybody else is just an annoyance; a hinderance. That's wrong. That's a symptom of my illness. I do need my team. I do need other people. I am glad to have my colleagues... well, most of them anyway.

I can say all sorts of stupid regrettable things when I'm suffering an episode of mania. I can be really mean and harsh when I'm in full swing. I really hope that nobody's suffering too badly when they feel the sharp end of my tongue. I really hope none of my colleagues are reading this and thinking that I believe they're useless idiots, because the truth is that I think almost all my colleagues (with the exception of one or two aforementioned overpaid consultants) are brilliant people who I'm really lucky to work with.

I know that it doesn't matter how much of a brilliant engineer you are, if you can't get along with people then your skills are useless. People with amazing technology skills are plentiful, but the valuable ones are the people who place nice with others. I know I struggle at times, and I really hope I haven't done too much damage and that my colleagues can forgive me.

 

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Highly Effective Lunatic

5 min read

This is a story about productivity...

Mood swings

What's the difference between somebody who delivers a big complicated project, and somebody who just has a job? It's pretty easy to just turn up at work and do what you're told. It's not hard to stay on top of your responsibilities and not get fired. In fact, it's pretty easy to go above and beyond; to exceed expectations. Offices are full of very dull and un-dynamic unimaginative and highly impractical people, who couldn't organise a proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

Unfortunately, people who've delivered any kind of big complicated project are hard to find. We are no longer a nation of people who built our own houses, or have finished other complicated tasks. We are a nation of dull-eyed drones, trudging along with the herd - living dead; zombies. The nature of work deskills us, demotivates us and makes us stupid. The nature of big organisations discourages innovation; discourages risk taking; discourages effort and enthusiasm. What are the transferrable skills which an organisation is giving you? Zero. Nobody needs you to make spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Nobody needs you to send emails. Nobody needs what your company does. Most jobs are utter bullshit.

Occasionally - very occasionally - the paper-pushers take a break from their interminable meetings, because they have been talking for far too long and there's not actually very much time left before a hard deadline, when something tangible actually has to be delivered, and then they panic. The people who don't do anything or know anything realise that they've left it far too late, so they scramble to find those few sought-after people who do know things and can create real tangible things.

The problem with being asked to deliver a great big complicated project without enough time to do it, is that it's pretty depressing and demotivating. Even if you have the skills, you're probably not going to be very enthusiastic about embarking upon a fool's errand. Nobody is going to thank you for delivering a project late, and nobody is going to allow you to have more time to do it, but very often you will have no other choice than to work on a project which is doomed from the very outset.

Invariably, big complex projects are doomed to be late, and utter failures.

This is where lunatics come in.

Assuming an 8 hour working day, it would appear as though the limit on productivity is 3 times more - 24 hours. So, assuming that a team has to be 5 times more productive, it's impossible for them to deliver, because there aren't enough hours in the day. However, lunatics seem to be able to be at least 5 times more productive in an 8 hour day.

Of course it's impossible for anybody to work 24 hours a day for any length of time, but it's quite possible for a lunatic to work 16 hours a day for a hefty period. If you combine the lunatic's higher productivity with longer hours, then suddenly you have somebody who is 10 times more productive than your average dull-eyed brain-dead zombie drone. This is how big complicated projects get delivered, despite impossible deadlines.

There's a cost to the mental health of anybody who has to work, repeatedly, under such stress and strain. The boom and bust nature of it; the hopelessness of the situation followed by the jubilation of success, after so much slogging away against the odds, takes its toll on a person. It's not at all good for a person to be subjected to such extremes, but it's good for organisations and so it's celebrated and encouraged - the people who can pull off the delivery of big complicated projects are highly rewarded and much in-demand, even when they're a little shop-soiled and driven mad by the exercions they've suffered.

I woke up very depressed this morning. I'm depressed because I've delivered the project I was working on and it's working really well. I'm depressed because all my hard work paid off and the project is a big success. I'm depressed because the desperate race to have everything finished by the deadline is over - things were delivered on time. The pressure is off. The project is pretty much over. That's depressing.

It shouldn't be depressing, but it is. When you get yourself into that mode where you're working 16 hours a day and you're 10 times more productive than the dull-eyed brain-dead zoned-out zombie corpses who trudge along doing very little, then it's hard to adjust when the deadline is reached and the project is successfully delivered.

If I was in a better financial situation - more secure - then I might take some time off to rest and recuperate, but I have to keep earning a huge amount in order to get into a decent situation, in order to catch my breath. I can't stop and think about what's best for my health and wellbeing. I don't have that luxury.

I just have to hope that another huge challenge comes along, so that I can avoid sinking into a massive depression which will ruin everything; all my hard work wasted.

 

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