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My name is Nick Grant and I have manic depression. I write every day about living with bipolar disorder. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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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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Step Three: Rinse & Repeat

6 min read

This is a story about repetition...

Bottles

Drug addicts and alcoholics know a lot about relapses. What dreadful consequences they suffer when they fall off the wagon. Am I immune from such things? Am I the first person in the history of humanity to outsmart addiction? No. Of course not.

Readers who have followed any of my story might wonder if I've started drinking again, or have become addicted to sleeping pills again. No. No I have not.

I went to the supermarket yesterday - a big fancy supermarket with lots of lovely things to choose from - and it was difficult to stay away from the alcohol aisle, but not impossible. The whole point about being an alcoholic or an addict is that you're powerless over the substance(s) that you're abusing. I do not offer my successful self control as evidence of my immunity to addiction and alcoholism, but it does prove that I'm in control, which cannot be said of those unfortunate wretches who are in the grip of active addiction and/or alcoholism.

Rehabs are full of charlatans who claim that they have a magic cure for addiction and/or alcoholism, but all recovery comes from within - how bad do you want it? I'm not saying that those who are killed by their addiction and/or alcoholism didn't want to be clean and sober, but they clearly wanted to be drunk and high more than they wanted to avoid their inevitable demise, or else they wouldn't have died. Unfortunately, the self-reinforcing draw of addictive substances can overpower the best of us, and although I do view addicts and alcoholics as "victims" of a disease, it's also demonstrably clear that people who have no problems with drink and/or drugs - including those people 'in recovery' - were simply lucky enough that the scales were tipped marginally in their favour.

My life has potential which would be churlish to deny. It's not fair for me to say "everything is ruined so I give up" when clearly I have high earnings potential, and with money comes opportunities to escape a miserable life and get a better one. Sure, I can get overwhelmed and decide that I don't have any energy left to keep fighting, and I would quickly be wrecked and ruined by our over-competitive coercive and exploitative society, which would dearly love to trample me underfoot, but I stand a better chance than most people of escaping the rat race.

Yep, I cheated a couple of times this week. I used a sleeping pill on a couple of nights to help me force my sleep pattern into the one which capitalism demands. I used a sleeping pill to combat the incredibly negative side-effects of social jetlag, caused by the toxic demands of office hours, contrary to human health and welfare.

Did I relapse? Nope.

What does relapse even mean for me? I've never been an alcoholic.

What does relapse mean in terms of mental health episodes? My mania-driven achievements are widely celebrated and cheered on by the capitalists who've been assisted by my immense productivity, which has been almost superhuman, but has come at great personal cost. My mental illness has been on public display for many years, yet my paymasters don't care because I'm delivering the goods - so long as I keep up the successful results, my violent mood swings are tolerated, and the results of my manic episodes are highly prized by all involved, especially by those who provoke me into doing high-pressure projects with unrealistic deadlines.

I hope - eternally - that the repeating patterns are not on a downward trend. I attempt to learn from each mood cycle, and to hold onto the gains and not give up so many losses. I try to limit the downright outrageous negative consequences of unrestrained mania, and I try to fight through the devastating depression that follows, forcing myself to keep inside the artificial constraints of some reasonable tramlines, knowing that it will be ultimately beneficial for me and help me to escape from the boom and bust... most importantly to escape from the bust!

Self medication with the occasional sleeping pill is infinitely preferable to routine intoxication with copious amounts of alcohol, although it's easy to convince myself that neither has any long-term ill effects, clearly my health will suffer if I drink heavily on a regular basis, even if my wealth and professional reputation are not impacted.

It's all a bit boring really. Uneventful. I'm very good at putting one foot in front of the other, I just don't like it very much, especially when going on a journey I've done a million times before. There's not much pleasure left in renting a house, moving my stuff, starting a new job, impressing new colleagues or delivering a project which is exactly the same as every other project I've ever delivered in my long and illustrious career. I just do it for the money.

Some might accuse me of being a dry drunk but they are idiots. Every day that I struggle through the rat race puts a significant amount of pounds, shillings and pence into my pocket. Every day that I force myself to do the intolerable shit that I have to put up with, is a large step closer to freedom. I have no need to adopt a significantly different life at the moment, because the life I have is staggeringly lucrative, which unfortunately means that it's the quickest route to financial independence and housing security, which is the most important thing for my health and wellbeing.

Sobriety between now and the end of October is something quite welcome - it will help my health immensely. Working between now and the end of my contract, on Halloween, is something that will help my wealth immensely. It's incredibly dull and boring, but it's got to be done. It's easy, but it's repetitive. When was the last time that you put up with a shit job that you hated? Probably never. When was the last time you spent years doing boring, repetitive, easy stuff? Probably never. You just wouldn't put up with it.

 

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Step One: Don't Buy Any Alcohol

4 min read

This is a story about non-linear progress...

The Bridge

Don't worry. I didn't buy or drink any alcohol. I just thought that step one should be repeated, because it's an important one. Why not make it step 3 and have 13 steps? Well, I thought it would be more like reality to have to repeat steps. In real life, we never follow steps one after the other - we have to go back and re-do things. It's snakes and ladders, although without the comforting knowledge that eventually you'll reach the finish, providing you keep rolling the dice.

Today has been surprisingly hard. Today I was supposed to feel the benefit of not drinking, but I didn't. I have been tormented by poor concentration span and anxiety today, which is an awful combination. I thought I was going to have to skip work because I wasn't feeling very well. I thought I was going to have to go home early, because I was feeling exhausted. I'm glad the working day is over.

I started thinking about how long it takes to feel like progress is being made. How long does it really take before a good lifestyle and health decision delivers any noticeable benefit?

A long time.

Sometimes I do a good job of setting my expectations, and sometimes I'm over-optimistic. Thinking back to when I was swallowing copious amounts of sleeping pills and tranquillisers, and I had a foreign holiday impending, it seemed impossible that I'd be able to quit all those addictive medications in order to be able to travel abroad. I must have suffered a great deal, but also I know that I dealt with that problem very quickly and I managed to get free from those addictive pills, and to enjoy my holiday free from medication. As well as quitting those medications I also quit alcohol, went on a diet and lost some weight.

How on earth did I achieve all that?

At the moment, I'm managing to stay off alcohol, but I'm not managing much else. Sure, I'm still medication-free, but I'm comfort eating like crazy, by way of compensation. I know that I'm only a few days into my current mission to improve my health and appearance, but I feel like somehow I should be feeling a lot better.

I suppose for every 10 days of bad choices, it's gonna take 5 days of living a healthy life to pay back that debt. I had gotten into some super bad habits in the last month, so it's bound to take at least a fortnight before I feel any benefit, I imagine.

My perceptions are all messed up. I'm tormented by thoughts of doom and disaster, particularly around my reputation at work - having screwed up and said something dumb and unprofessional - and my prospect of getting a contract extension or another local gig. I've started to feel overwhelmed: that the stress of it is too much to bear, and that I won't be lucky... my hard-won gains will all be eaten up but the relentless demands of rent, bills and other expenses, until I'm plunged back into homelessness and financial ruin.

I am aware that I've swung from feeling like I've been making a valuable contribution, that I'm good at my job, and feeling OK about things (have I ever really felt that though?) to now feeling that I've undone all my hard work, and that everything's doomed to fail after the end of October, when my current contract ends. I had been thinking that I would be able to persuade the organisation I'm currently working for to take me on directly, and I would buy my way out of a contract clause which prohibits me from working for the organisation. I had been thinking that I had a sensible and straightforward way ahead, but now I'm thinking that everything is ruined: the organisation doesn't want me anymore, my reputation is ruined, nobody will want me, and I'll soon run out of money and end up homeless and penniless again.

To have such an extreme swing of mood and perception must be due to a combination of alcohol and bipolar disorder.

I'm aware of this, but I still feel these feelings so strongly, that it's hard to be rational.

Anyway, I'm going to carry on with sobriety, because I know it's good for my health and my waistline.

 

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Sober October

6 min read

This is a story about being trapped...

Psych ward

Believe it or not, I took this photo inside a locked psych ward. Looks like an inviting place, right? Looks like a calm therapeutic setting for sick people, right? This isn't Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane - this is a regular psych ward for sick people.

I keep wondering about what went wrong in 2015 that meant I ended up in that psych ward.

I keep seeing worrying similarities with then and now.

I was working on the number one project for a big organisation - same then and now.

I was playing a pivotal role in an important part of the project - same then and now.

I was getting stuff done and playing by my rules, and nobody was stopping me. Indeed I was being encouraged and applauded - same then and now.

I was irritable, impatient and intolerant of fuckwits - same then and now.

I was incredibly annoyed by anybody who got in my way or slowed me down. I had no time for distractions or anything which wasn't going to contribute to the success of the project - same then and now.

To all intents and purposes, it looks frighteningly similar.

But.

I think the straw that broke the camel's back was that I had to move house. I had to lay out about £6,000 in rent, deposit and other fees, and I then had the pressure of earning £500 per week, just to pay my rent. It was stressful - as moving always is - and it was also an incredible amount of pressure to make that kind of money, just to keep a roof over my head.

I'd been living in a hostel and then a hotel - I had been homeless. OK I hadn't been sleeping rough since earlier in the year, but homeless is homeless. I'd had a very rough year. I'd been homeless for 8+ months, before I finally managed to get a place to live that wasn't a sleeping bag in a park, hostel bed in a dorm, or a hotel room. It's rough, being homeless.

I didn't have any financial cushion back then. I don't really have a financial cushion now, but my credit cards aren't maxed out and I don't have tax bills to pay until the end of the year, so I'm in slightly better shape than I was in 2015.

My brain chemistry had been very badly messed up back then. I hadn't had any stability. My life had been chaotic. My mental health had been atrocious. At least this time round I have been working nonstop for the best part of two straight years. The problems I've had recently have been short-lived and not caused any major problems. I can't remember the last time I was too sick to work. My mood is pretty damn unstable, but probably not as extreme as it was back then.

What's going to make me wake up one day and decide that I need to be sectioned and re-admitted to a psych ward? What's going to break me and render me unable to carry on going? What's going to be the straw that broke the camel's back?

Interestingly, I quit drinking back then, like I've quit drinking now. I think being sober was part of the reason why I became unwell - I had nothing to help me self-medicate.

Maybe I've stopped drinking and stabilised soon enough to allow me to be alright this year, but I already see warning signs: I did something really dumb in the office, which has damaged my reputation and made colleagues unwilling to help me out; to support me and to want me to stick around. I'm making a mess of things, now just as much as I did back then.

Does being aware of this repeating pattern of behaviour make me any more able to avoid it? Not really. Things are so hectic and intense, and I'm so tired and stressed and anxious, that I'm surviving using instinct. The stuff that comes out of my mouth, which is the reason why I'm doing so well, because it's useful stuff that's getting a project delivered, has turned into dumb stuff which makes people not like me very much. My engineering expertise is now being peppered with dumb stuff; regrettable and unprofessional. After an enormous amount of effort to get a very difficult project over the line, I'm exhausted and my mask is slipping; I'm making mistakes. I can't help it - my instincts are all I've got left, because I'm spent.

I'm definitely going to keep pushing ahead with this sobriety thing, because my alcohol consumption had gotten out of control really quickly. However, I don't want a re-run of exactly what happened in 2015, because it undid all my hard work; all my valuable contribution was wasted - all anybody could remember was that I got sick. All the hard work that got the project delivered didn't matter in the end. All that mattered was how things finished up. I might as well be yet another plodding idiot, doing a fucking mediocre shit job, and concentrating my effort on not saying anything objectionable, rather than busting my balls to get shit done and deliver something really hard for an impossible deadline. Why did I even bother?

I'm not quite sure how to navigate the tricky waters of the next couple of months. I have enormous challenges, in trying to rescue my reputation and help my colleagues to remember that I made a massive contribution, and not just see the recent screw-up I made when I was exhausted and strung-out. I have an insane amount of pressure to get another contract sorted and keep the money rolling in. I have a huge risk that I'm going to collapse, have a breakdown and be unable to work, which will ruin everything. It's almost intolerable.

The next 5 or 6 weeks are going to make me or break me.

 

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Emotionally Unstable

7 min read

This is a story about repeating patterns...

Quote

What am I doing? It feels like I'm making the same mistakes I've made a bunch of times before. It feels like I'm re-living 2015, and I didn't like how things went that year, so I'm desperate to avoid making those mistakes, but I feel like my mood disorder has got me stuck in an inescapable pattern.

Strictly speaking, I have two mood disorders: bipolar and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The latter disorder means that I'm unable to escape a downturn in my mood as summer turns into winter, unless I head to warmer climate. The former disorder means that I'm prone to episodes of mania, which I always like to believe I'm in control of, because I enjoy the mania and find it immensely useful for creativity and productivity.

Looking back to 2015, at the time I felt like I was enjoying playing a pivotal role in the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. In retrospect, I was very unwell indeed. My behaviour was quite erratic and unpredictable and it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel like I was doing good work, now that I think about it. For sure, I helped bang some heads together and get things moving to meet some key deadlines, but I was definitely suffering very badly with a severe episode of mental illness, and I hadn't been working on the project for very long so I expect my contribution was negligible. This is what gives me a great deal of fear that I'm repeating the same mistakes: that history is repeating itself.

In 2015 I was working a lot of overtime. I was working most weekends. I was working extremely hard - long hours - and I had the additional pressure of moving house, given that I was homeless and living in a hostel. Also, it hadn't been very long since I had been in a dreadful state, with my brain chemistry completely messed up. I had terrible insomnia. I was a big mess.

Today, I have a house and a cat. My home life is comparatively settled, although I've had some relationship problems lately which have been very destabilising. My working routine is not too taxing - I have a short commute to the office, and the hours I work are strictly Monday to Friday. If I leave the office at 5:30pm, that's a long day for me. In 2015 I was routinely staying in the office past 9pm, and often to 11pm, and then staying up all night writing emails, which was not at all healthy or conducive to good mental health.

In some ways I feel that I'm in much better health than I was in 2015, and I stand a much better chance of getting through an incredibly stressful period at work without losing my mind. However, late on Friday I lost my cool at the office, and the emotions that have been bottled up started to come out, which wasn't very professional. I started to speak my mind way more than I should have done, and I started to send off messages with a scattergun approach. I stopped approaching problems in a calm and methodical manner, and instead I acted with desperation and superstition. I was afraid that all my hard work was in ruins. Strangely, I thought I was dreaming; or rather having a nightmare.

I suppose my sleep quality is compromised at the moment. Several nights a week I don't sleep well because there's a technical problem I can't stop thinking about. My dreams are all about my work. In fact, my dreams are nightmares, where I attempt again and again to resolve the problems I left at the office. As soon as I wake up, I rush to the office to pick up where I left off.

A colleague has mentioned in private that I should take it easy; not get so obsessed over the project. A colleague has correctly identified me as somebody who can make themselves sick through overwork - at risk of burnout; at risk of a breakdown. It's good advice - that I should try to maintain some balance. Becoming obsessed by work is very unhealthy.

Yesterday, I left a rambling garbled and emotional voicemail for a colleague, begging them to let me do something over the weekend. I spent time trying to find colleagues who would help me with a piece of work, and ended up getting somebody to do something for me at 11pm. It's too much. It's too intense. It's too crazy.

I have no idea if I'm eternally doomed to suffer from delusions of grandeur, and to repeatedly burn out, only to look back and realise that my negligible contribution was laughable; pathetic. I have no idea if my perceptions are warped and I'm unable to grasp just how bad an episode of mental illness I'm suffering from. It's hell being so functional, and having so much feedback which seems to corroborate all the apparent evidence that I'm being incredibly productive and useful, but yet I also have a whole load of evidence that the end result always seems to be the same: burnout, crash, disaster, destitution, destruction. Am I a fool for hoping that this time is the time when everything finally works out for me, and I get the glory I crave?

Looking back to 2008 and 2011, I was able to make it to the finishing line with a gigantic project for JPMorgan and a TechStars program technology startup accelerator. I was able to deliver, but at huge personal cost. Both times I ended up in a terrible state. I was too fixated on the specific delivery date, and I didn't think about what would come afterwards. I didn't handle the anticlimax well at all. The episodes of depression that followed the frantic manic energy which allowed me to deliver on time, were so destructive that all my hard work was destroyed... or was it? JPMorgan was able to process quadrillions of dollars of credit default swaps, using the software I designed and built. My tech startup was able to continue trading profitably and getting new customers, even though I was too sick to work. The cost was to me personally. I was ashamed that I couldn't continue to function at the same intensity, and I assumed that everyone would hate me for getting sick. I threw away those opportunities, because I assumed that they were ruined. I assumed that everybody saw me as damaged goods; unreliable and untrustworthy.

I have no idea if I'm destined for another personal disaster. I certainly worry that I won't be able to cope with the end of my contract, and the end of my involvement with the project I'm so unhealthily obsessed with. I suppose I need to mitigate against any probable crash in my mood. I suppose I need to plan ahead.

I can't imagine I'll be able to find a good contract locally. I can't imagine how I'm going to juggle my need to find a well-paid contract, with my cat and my house rental agreement. It's a stress that I really don't want to have to deal with right now. It's stress that I really wish would go away - if only my contract could be extended for another year, that would be perfect.

My life is a rollercoaster, so we would expect my mood to be too. It's hard to unpick my mood disorder from the circumstances of my life. I like to think that my mood is dictated by the time of year and other things that are going on, such as whether I'm in a good relationship or not. I like to think that my extreme moods will abate as my life improves.

 

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Mood Disorder

5 min read

This is a story about self perception...

Normal

If somebody wants to patronise and annoy me, they'd be well advised to talk about what excellent "insight" I have into my own madness. Of course I can step back and examine my own behaviour - to see how it measures up from an outsider's perspective - and of course I can pinpoint problems. After all, it's me who's had to live with a mood disorder my whole life.

The times that I forget that I have a mood disorder are the ordinary everyday ones. When I am lacking in energy and motivation, when I am consumed by anxiety and when I am otherwise decimated by depression, I remain functional and productive, so it's easy to assume that I'm healthy, happy and normal. Because I do an excellent job of carrying on regardless of how terrible I feel, even I can assume that I'm not suffering any dangerous mood fluctuations, even though I'm stalked by powerful suicidal impulses.

When I suffer bouts of mania and paranoia, I'm well aware that my perceptions are warped and that I'm not thinking normally. It's much more easy to identify pathological thinking rooted in deep mental health issues, and to compensate accordingly, because at least those extreme problems are easier to isolate. Sure, during impulsive moments I might lost control and let my issues get the better of me, but I've become very practiced and adept at self control and techniques to prevent meltdown and disaster.

Currently, my productive, creative manic energy gets ploughed into a big complex project, at work. I'm unhealthily obsessed with the project, but of course that's the reason why I'm getting so much done. I need to regularly remind myself that "it's only a job" and that I need to take regular breaks, and holidays whenever I can. Nothing will ever be as intense as founding a tech startup, so I feel pretty immune from burnout, but of course I'm at risk, just like anybody.

My mood no longer seems to follow a predictable alternating pattern of episodes, flipping between depression and mania. Instead, my mood is provoked into a state by external factors, such as stressful events. My mood is not under control, but instead it is bludgeoned into compliance with the predominant need of the day, which is to earn money. I simply can't allow my mental illness to get the better of me, lest I face financial ruin.

Of course, the net result is that beneath the thin veneer of a man in control, competently and capably carrying out his duties in the course of his career, there are violent mood swings which require an incredible amount of effort to keep in check. How on earth I manage to get up and go to work when I'm suicidally depressed, I do not know. How on earth I manage to keep my big mouth shut when I'm manic, I do not know. All I know is that I spend about 80% of my energy forcing myself to comply with behaviours which are not compatible with my mood.

I have no mood stabilisers to help me. I have no antidepressants. I've decided from many years of experience that it's easier to manage my moods without pharmaceutical intervention. Yes, antidepressants help in the short term, but it's impossible to get off them without a crash. Yes, mood stabilisers help in the short term, but it's impossible to get off them without mania. Instead, I have opted to "feel everything" - I ride the wave of every extreme mood, as it see-saws up and down.

I've attempted to make lifestyle changes to help with my mood disorder. Instead of earning dog-sh1t money and being exploited, I'm well paid for what I do. Instead of rotting in some dead-end job, I'm valued for what I do. Instead of scraping along with hardly any money, impoverished, I have opted to earn enough to not really have to look at my bank balance very often. What I really need is a substantial lump of cash in the bank, so that I don't worry about taking time off when I'm sick, exhausted or depressed, but for now I'll settle for at least not having to worry about money while I'm working. I do of course worry about what will happen when I'm forced to stop working, but I hope that the work keeps coming. My stress around my income security causes me problems, but I can't fix everything all at once.

I got bored of obsessing over my mental health, like I got bored over obsessing about my bank balance. It seems to me to be better - healthier - to concentrate on the things which bring home the bacon, instead of things that aren't profitable. Budgeting is always stressful and never profitable. My life is so much better since not worrying about spending and not worrying about medications, although obviously there are still major problems.

Hopefully I'm well positioned, given that I'm not doped up to the eyeballs on a bunch of psychiatric medications, so as soon as my circumstances improve, so will my mood.

Of course I will always have a predisposition towards mood instability: it's in my nature. However, for most of my life and now included, I do a really excellent job of managing a very difficult mental health condition, although of course I do struggle when I'm under extreme pressure and stress, like I am at the moment.

 

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Oversharing

5 min read

This is a story about being laid bare...

Phone box

My Facebook friends are a mish-mash of former colleagues who have become friends, former colleagues, old friends, acquaintances, close friends, my accountant, random people who I friend requested, random people who friend requested me, and some people I've had business dealings with. In short, many of my Facebook friends are not friends at all, and some of them are quite powerful and influential, and it would be a bad idea to make a fool of myself in front of them.

Facebook is a place where I've let various crises play themselves out, with little to no filtering. It's been fairly apparent to anybody who's friends with me on Facebook that I've had a major life crisis, which has not been handled with elegance, dignity and poise. It's fairly apparent on Facebook that I've completely lost my mind, at times. It's been fairly apparent on Facebook that I've been through some dreadful adversity and horrible events.

There's a feature on Facebook which shows you "memories" of things that happened "on [the anniversary of] this day". This feature never fails to remind me of just how utterly insane I've been in the past, during various crises. There are moments from 2015 and 2017 which are particularly cringeworthy, although remarkably I was working during a lot of that time. I look back and I think "sheesh! My mental health was in a really bad state".

I keep worrying that my perceptions are all warped and that I'm actually just as mad as ever, but I'm unable to see it in myself. I keep worrying that I'm repeating the same old pattern - the same episodes of mental illness - and I'm not really recovering at all. I do have very good evidence, in the form of those Facebook memories, that my state of mind is completely different, and I'm much more sane, healthy, in-control and generally sorted out... but I worry that I've lost perspective and I'm unable to perceive my own madness correctly.

If I'm having a moment of sanity, I wonder if it's only temporary and I'm about to be plunged into insanity at any moment. Sure, I can spot some of the same problems: the propensity to do crazy things, spending massive amounts of money and zooming around the world in airplanes, plus the ever-present thoughts of suicide. I can see that I'm inflicted with the same mental illness I've had all my life - bipolar disorder - but I don't know whether it's going to become unmanageable, or whether I've got it back under control. I had my bipolar under control for the vast majority of my life, so it seems feasible that I'm managing my illness, like I always managed to do, but I do worry that life will get the better of me and I'll be unable to cope.

I regularly examine past behaviour, and although I understand what I was thinking at the time, I think differently today and I would act differently. I can't justify my past behaviour and I'm very embarrassed, full of regret and remorse, but I know that in the midst of a fully-blown mental health crisis, a person doesn't make the same well-informed, well-considered and carefully pre-planned correct choices. This is not to defend my past actions or excuse them... merely to explain them, although it pains me that it was the same me - physically speaking - who said or did things, it doesn't seem like it was me at all. I know things made sense to me at the time, and I can understand the illogical thinking which led to my behaviour, but I can also see the strange flaws, just as we might imagine a recovered paranoid schizophrenic might come to realise that the voices they heard were not real.

I live a strange existence, where I'm hoping to break out of the perpetual nightmare of recent years, and to re-enter civilised society. I commute to the office, I feed my cat, I hang out with my girlfriend, I go on holiday - my life seems very normal, but I live with the knowledge that things went very badly wrong during a series of dreadful crises, and I struggle to reconcile that with the ordinary, pedestrian, plodding, calm, normal, humdrum, workaday, boring, predictable, civilised and obedient lives lived by most people, and especially the people in my middle-class peer group; my colleagues etc. There is no way I can talk casually about the more lurid and colourful aspects of my past in the office, for example - these are things which are simply not talked about, because my sheltered colleagues would be afraid of who I am - or rather who I 'was' - if they really knew the stuff I've been through, even though they have spent an extraordinary amount of time in my company and they know who I am.

That 'was' aspect suggests I'm some kind of reformed man, which of course I am not. I'm the same person I've always been. My circumstances dictate everything, and life is very different when it's nonstop crisis. My circumstances have improved, so commensurately my life has improved, and my life looks very much like anybody else's, although some of my relatively past is very different.

I'm in danger of getting defensive, so I'm going to stop now. I've shared enough.

 

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