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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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Blogger's Digest - Day Four of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Four

Caroline and I were driving northbound on the M6 motorway. Matt & Kate, and Paul & Cath followed behind, in our convoy of three vehicles: my van and their two cars. Caroline and I were having an argument.

"I thought you said you wanted a family" she said, half pleading and half accusing me of deception.

"I did, but then circumstances changed" I replied, attempting an apologetic tone.

"So you don't want to start a family anymore?" she asked rhetorically. Her voice betrayed her frustration and she spoke her words a little aggressively.

"No, that's not it. I just don't know at the moment. Things are changing and it's a big decision" I said, evasively.

"But we had made the decision. I started taking folic acid. I stopped taking the pill. We were trying to get pregnant."

"Yes, I agree. That's what I wanted at the time. That's what we wanted. Then things changed."

"You mean you selfishly decided to quit your job and pursue this stupid hare-brained idea of yours. THAT'S what you mean" she said, gesticulating with annoyance at the van we were in.

* * *

I had quit my job.

I had quit my job because even after trying every anti-depressant that my doctor could prescribe me, I still found that my life was intolerable. I felt trapped by my career. The prospect of spending the next 20 or 30 years working a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday office job felt like a fate worse than death, quite literally: the anti-depressants had brought so little relief, and suicidal thoughts plagued me with ever-increasing frequency, such that I felt I only had two choices: resign or kill myself.

There was, of course, a third option. I could have opted to be off work sick on a long-term basis. The investment bank had a generous policy for anybody who was sick for more than 6 months, allowing them to retire early. The income would be a tiny fraction of what a successful investment banker who continued to work into their late forties or early fifties, would expect to retire with. If I chose to resign and keep my reputation intact, I knew I would be welcomed back into the investment banking world with open arms. I knew that being pensioned off early due to ill health would be a career-ending move: a reputational stain which would follow me around until my dying day.

Getting an investment banking job is paradoxical - you can't get a job in investment banking without experience, and you can't get the investment banking experience without the job: Catch 22. I had been lucky enough to get a highly sought-after summer internship, due to a distant relative being a senior executive at a City firm. Without connections, it was impossible to get a foot in the door. I knew that I was incredibly fortunate to have my career, and to have been rapidly promoted. I was liked and respected by many colleagues. I would not struggle to get my old job back, or find another investment bank which wanted to hire me. However, I could not carry on working in an office anymore.

* * *

"It's not a 'hare-brained idea', Caroline" I said, speaking her name with a condescending tone. I was annoyed and beginning to get angry. I spoke through gritted teeth. "I am a qualified electrician and the business is quite profitable. I am a skilled tradesman whose services are in demand in the local community."

"Profitable!" she snorted. "You had to sell the boat and the MG which you bought for me as a birthday present, because you said you couldn't afford the upkeep."

This made me furious. I was about to angrily reply, but she hadn't finished.

"We are going to Wales on holiday"  she said, putting particular emphasis on the word "Wales" as if we were taking a break from our pleasant lives to suffer the torments of Hell - a vacation to the underworld - or embarking on an excursion to a warzone. "Matt & Katie just got back from Florence, and Paul & Cath are going trekking in the Atlas Mountains in a few weeks."

"Yes, that's the whole FUCKING POINT" I replied; my temper was barely under control and my voice was raised. "The main reason for this trip was so that I could teach Paul & Cath some of the mountaineering skills they're going to need, and so they can test their equipment. It was YOU who has managed to turn the trip into a couples' romantic luxury getaway and insisted on us renting a gigantic converted barn with a hot tub. Paul, Cath and I were going to sleep in tents until you hijacked the trip."

"But Katie hates camping" protested Caroline.

"It's not about Katie. It's not about Matt. It's not about you. None of you were even invited. I offered to take Paul and Cath on a trip to Snowdonia to help them prepare for their expedition to Morocco."

"I needed a holiday, Gavin. I'm not going to spend my holiday, in the middle of February, freezing cold in a tent. We're not going skiing this year, which will be the first year where we've not had at least one ski trip - our friends are devastated that we're not joining them, and I'm devastated too. Skiing is the only time when I get to catch up with a lot of our friends. We haven't had a holiday since last year and we haven't booked a single holiday for this year."

"This is a holiday, isn't it? YOU wanted to make this into a holiday by renting a luxury converted barn. We went on holiday in November, which was only three months ago" I said with exasperation.

"This doesn't count. Malta doesn't count."

"MALTA DOESN'T COUNT?" I shouted.

"Yes, it was a last-minute deal and the hotel was grotty - you said so yourself. It was a short-haul flight with a naff airline and it was cloudy half the time. You ended up having to buy a jumper and a pair of trousers on the day we arrived, because you were cold, remember? Besides, a week doesn't even count - that's what I'm saying. A holiday should be at least 2 weeks or else it doesn't count."

"DOESN'T COUNT?" I sputtered with rage.

"Yes. By the time you've unpacked and settled in, it's time to start packing up your stuff and getting ready to leave. It's hardly a holiday is it? It's more of a mini-break, except we went to Malta instead of somewhere exciting like New York or Rome."

"We've been to New York and Rome."

"I was just giving examples of proper mini-breaks. You get my point" she said, folding her arms as if the matter was settled and she had won the argument.

* * *

It was true - we had been forced to dramatically change our lifestyle since I had quit my job and become a self-employed electrician. Caroline's job as a solicitor working with asylum seekers, earned her only a fraction of what she would be able to earn if she joined an international law firm - like her father's - but she wanted to make a worthy contribution to society; she wanted to help the needy and vulnerable. She refused to countenance the idea that she could become the main breadwinner if she set aside some of her lofty principles and instead took the highest paying job she could find. However, she said it would break her heart to leave the charity she worked for; she couldn't live with the guilt, knowing that she could be helping clients with gut-wrenchingly awful stories, fleeing persecution.

For such a nice, kind and charitably-minded person, Caroline's version of a "normal" life had been shaped by her privileged upbringing. The enviable lifestyle which we had hitherto enjoyed together had been a continuation of what she had experienced throughout her life, without any interruption. When I bought her a highly collectable classic British sports car for her 25th birthday, she was thrilled - having dropped hints that it was something she'd always wanted - but lavish gifts weren't particularly exceptional in Caroline's family. Some years ago, her mother had given her father a hand-built limited edition Morgan sportscar, which she'd been on a waiting list for several years to obtain, to celebrate him becoming a partner at his law firm.

My decision to become an electrician had been motivated, in no small part, by how guilty I felt about being an investment banker. Caroline was helping asylum seekers to escape torture and murder, and was comparatively poorly paid. Meanwhile, I was helping the wealthiest 1% to become richer and richer, while also becoming quite rich myself. I felt no 'warm fuzzy feeling' about the work I did. Often there were very ethically questionable things which I had to accept as part and parcel of the job. Mergers and acquisitions offered the opportunity for cost-cutting "restructuring" which inevitably meant redundancies. I was responsible for thousands of people people being sacked, while Caroline was heroically saving families from tyrannical regimes.

I had seen many colleagues squander their wealth, attempting new ventures, only to gratefully return back to their investment banking career after their startup companies and angel investments quickly gobbled up their wealth. An investment banker's entire career is spent scrutinising the accounts, forecasts and business models of their clients, to whom they are lending money or helping to float on the stock market - it's so easy to mistakenly believe that doing business is easy, when it's not your money or your company. Returning colleagues had gained nothing of any value - a very expensive lesson; a costly mistake. They all said they regretted ever leaving their comfortable investment banking careers. We used to make jokes about being kept in "golden handcuffs".

I decided that I wanted to retrain. I decided that I wanted to be qualified in something other than banking, but I felt certain that my age would count against me in law and accountancy: I should have chosen a different profession at a much younger age. I considered dentistry and medicine, which required a substantial amount of amount of time and money before I could expect to earn a high income. The living standards, which Caroline and I had enjoyed for many years, would be decimated; our plans to start a family would be delayed by 5, 6 or 7 years... or maybe more.

I chose a new trade instead of a new profession. Relatively speaking, the training to become an electrician was cheap, quick and easy. The expense of setting up my business as a sole trader - the van and the tools - didn't seem like very much money at all: less than the cost of what Caroline would count as a holiday, which met her expectations. If I did have to go back to my investment banking career, I would have lost very little money.

* * *

I sulked, bitterly, thinking Caroline was spoiled and entitled; that she was a bad person and that her expectations were unreasonable. I wanted to criticise her for wanting luxury holidays, when her asylum seeker clients were so desperately impoverished, but I knew that it would be desperately hypocritical of me - I had wanted luxury holidays just as much as she had. I had chosen to sell my soul, doing the devil's work as an investment banker. I could hardly lecture her for wanting the lifestyle to which we had both become accustomed. I wanted to tell her that it wasn't fair: she could feel smug about the good work which she was doing in the world, while I felt guilty about my own immoral profession. However, her choice to do low-paid charitable work was not to blame for my troubled conscience and depression.

The other thing I wanted to tell her, was that I wasn't sure if I wanted to carry on living. I wanted to tell her that I didn't want to become a father, and then decide to kill myself. It seemed like too much of a gamble: to hope that my depression would lift and my suicidal thoughts abate, as soon as we had children. I wanted to discuss all these things with her, but I didn't want to upset and alarm her. How do you renege on a promise to provide a wonderful life: a big wedding, children, a huge family home, private schooling, luxury family holidays, and enough trust fund money set aside to bankroll the children through university.

How can you admit that you've tried your hardest to keep going with an extremely well paid career, but the job makes you want to kill yourself, so the dream life we had imagined is over?

* * *

"Is this place we're going to be staying nice?" I asked, trying to make peace and restore a pleasant atmosphere in the van.

Caroline's face lit up. "Oh it's gorgeous. Every room has its own log burning stove. There's an Aga. The main living space is to die for - tall glass walls on both sides with panoramic views of the mountains, set in acres of private land. It's cosy AND luxurious. The barn is hundreds of years old and has its original oak beams, but the conversion was done by an award-winning architect. It's featured in lots of magazines. Did you not see the pictures I sent you?"

"Nope. So you're looking forward to it?"

"Yeah. Can't wait. Katie has brought a goose and Matt had found a butcher on the way who's got half a lamb for us to collect. We spent a small fortune on food and wine in Waitrose. This is going to be fantastic fun."

This was not what I had in mind originally. I had brought some packets of dried pasta and dehydrated sauce, which could be cooked on a camping stove, with melted snow, to prepare Paul and Cath for their trip to the Atlas Mountains.

"You should have brought the fondue set" I said, with barely concealed sarcasm.

"One step ahead of you! It's in Matt & Katie's car. I was going to surprise you - I know how much you love fondue."

"I wonder how many mountaineers carry kilos of cheese and a fondue set up a mountain in their backpacks" was the immediate reply which sprung to lips, but I managed to hold my tongue. "Oh yes, lovely surprise darling. We're going to have a lot of fun" I said instead, with the very best forced smile which I could muster.

I glanced backwards at the pile of rucksacks in the back of the van. When I had been loading everybody's rucksacks into the van it briefly reminded me of the expeditions I had been on with my university mountaineering society. I had been eagerly anticipating re-living some of those happy memories of time spent in the mountains. Now I felt as though my miniature expedition had been hijacked by Caroline and Katie's desire for a luxury jaunt into the countryside.

As we continued our journey towards Snowdonia National Park, I wondered if we would even leave the comfortable confines of the palatial barn conversion, and venture into the mountains at all.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Two of #NaNoWriMo2019

13 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Two

My girlfriend, but perhaps more her family than her, made me feel very insecure and inadequate. Caroline was a brilliant girlfriend - one of the kindest, nicest people you could ever hope to meet, and surprisingly humble considering her privileged background. However, her family had wealth and status, the likes of which I had never encountered in my life. Her father was a partner at an international law firm and her mother was a doctor in general practice, which meant they were very well-off already, but Caroline's mother's family were exceptionally rich. Her grandfather had owned a paper manufacturing company, specialising in tissue paper and toilet rolls, which was the UK's number one brand and had floated on the London Stock Exchange in the 1970s. Caroline's two uncles were board members and her grandmother had become the biggest shareholder of the company, after the death of her husband.

The family lived in Surrey, close to the estates of the De Beers family - famous for their South African diamond mines - and the billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Caroline's two brothers had attended boarding school at Christ's Hospital, while Caroline had boarded at Marlborough College. Caroline's parents - her mother in particular - had fought the family very hard to resist the pressure for the children to be sent to public school. Caroline's grandfather had been a Harrow boy, as had her two uncles. Caroline's mother had attended Cheltenham Ladies' College. She always suspected that she had been able to achieve the necessary exam grades and study medicine at Cambridge, not because of academic merit, but because of nepotism - Cambridge had made her a generously low offer, meaning she did not need top grades. Her time spent in hospital and in general practice had brought her into contact with many ordinary members of the public, as well as doctors who hadn't enjoyed the benefit of an expensive private education, which left her feeling a little guilty that her own path through life had been beset by very few of the difficulties in the lives of the people with whom she dealt with on a daily basis.

Caroline's family owned a sizeable luxury yacht, designed and built by the renowned and revered Camper & Nicholsons, which Caroline and her family referred to simply as "the boat" which caused me considerable annoyance.

* * *

My own nautical background began when I was eleven years old, at a school in Hampshire, near the Solent. One of my favourite teachers was an enthusiastic dinghy sailor and offered to introduce 4 of her pupils - the maximum she could fit in her car - the opportunity to learn to sail, under her tutelage. Why I was chosen, I do not know, but perhaps she took pity on me that I was one of the misfits. My birthday was the 2nd of September, making me the third youngest child in my school year, and the youngest boy. Throughout my school years I had been one of the smaller boys - not small for my age, but small because, all the other boys were older than me. Little legs cannot run as fast as longer legs, so I was largely excluded from sports, and an easy target for bullies.

The dinghies I learned to sail in were made of plastic and practically indestructible. They were designed to be sailed single-handed, and they were very simple to rig and operate. They were, however, surprisingly easy to capsize. Other dinghies had been designed with the intention of being used to teach sailing, and these were much harder to capsize, but they were bigger, slower and required a crew member as well as a helmsman. I was very glad to learn in the more exciting single-handed dinghies, because they were more exciting to sail and the occasional capsize and cold water dunking provided the incentive to learn very quickly how to control the sails, and how to deal with a capsized dinghy. Soon, I was able to react quickly enough to my dinghy capsizing, that I would dive over the side of the dinghy, stand on the centerboard fin, and then dive back into the dinghy when she came back upright again - a so-called dry capsize because it avoided being dunked into the cold water.

I joined the youth section of a prestigious sailing club a few years later, having begged another teacher who liked me if he would propose me as a member - the sailing club was quite snobby and membership was usually by invitation only. My prior dinghy sailing experience meant that I was immediately allowed to be a helmsman and to represent the club at regattas. Although I had no experience sailing two-handed dinghies, the club gave me their best dinghy and best crewman, and we won third place - I can claim no credit for the achievement, because my crew, who was just a young boy of 9 years old, told me exactly what to do for the entire race. My third place finish at the regatta brought me a great deal of unexpected congratulations and a couple of the girls at the sailing club took an interest in me, which was novel and most welcome, as I was extremely unpopular at school, and dismally unsuccessful with girls - I'd never had a girlfriend.

* * *

My inadequacies and insecurities, bred during my difficult school years, where I was ignored by the girls and bullied by the boys, led me to my decision to try to earn as much money as possible. I wanted to be rich and I wanted to have status symbols, as a prop for my fragile self-esteem. I decided that investment banking would be my ideal career choice.

Having graduated with a 2:1 in Maths from Sheffield, having failed to achieve the grades to get into any of the red-brick universities I had applied to, I managed to get onto the graduate training program of a small investment bank in the City of London, thanks in no small part to the hiring manager being a keen sailor - he was more keen to have another valuable member of the company sailing club, than he was to hire a better candidate. I had achieved a major objective: I was now an investment banker, working in the Square Mile. I immediately purchased a red 2-seater sports car.

I remained profoundly unsuccessful with women, despite my burgeoning wealth and the boost that my ego and self-esteem received from becoming a City banker, albeit a graduate trainee.

I met Caroline at a speed dating event. Vicki, one of my department's administrators, had press-ganged a group of the shy single men in our department into attending the speed dating event. I never had a speed date with Caroline, who was one of Vicki's single female friends. Vicki decided to play matchmaker at the end of the night. The following day, I asked Vicki for Caroline's number, having been too shy and insecure - and afraid of rejection - to ask her myself.

Sailing was the main thing that Caroline and I had in common, except she had only sailed yachts and I had only sailed dinghies. I felt very confident about my dinghy sailing abilities, knowledge and experience, but the world of yachting was entirely alien to me.

"The boat" which Caroline talked about all the time used to give me an unpleasant jolt every time she said it. I knew her family were fabulously rich, and I felt as though she was using the term "boat" in place of "yacht" in order to pretend that she was less privileged and wealthy. I accused her of attempting to down-play how affluent her family was, using an ambiguous term "boat" which could conjure up an image of a rowing boat, or an inflatable boat, or any number of quite ordinary and affordable watercraft, when we both knew that this particular "boat" was worth as much as a well-appointed 4 or 5 bedroom house in a desirable location. Given that my salary, as a recent graduate, was barely adequate to purchase a tiny ex-authority flat in an ugly concrete block of flats, in some highly undesirable part of London's Zone 3, I was a little outraged that Caroline and her family referred to their yacht as some mere "boat".

In fact, my insecurities ran far deeper. My ignorance about the world of yachting was a source of great unhappiness - I was extremely sensitive about any suggestion that I knew very little about yachts, navigation, sea crossings and suchlike. My sailing knowledge was confined to tiny dinghies, racing around small courses, close to shore. I hated that one of the few things I felt self-confident about was of no use to me - when Caroline and her family shared stories from their time on "the boat" I was baffled by a lot of the terminology, and I was unable to relate it at all to my own sailing experiences.

* * *

In secret, I enrolled in night school to learn about navigation at sea. I learned how to read nautical charts, how to plot a course and account for tidal flows. I learned how to identify what different buoys were for, and what their purpose was. I learned how to use a sighting compass to triangulate my position. I learned the "rules of the road" and how to avoid collisions. I learned what different lights meant, and how to navigate at night, in theory. I learned a heap of things which I had been completely ignorant of, as a dinghy sailor.

Then, I booked a week of holiday off work and enrolled on a Royal Yachting Association training course which would qualify me as a yacht skipper. I lived aboard a yacht - night and day - for a whole week, putting all the theory into practice, as well as learning how to manovre a yacht in a marina: something no dinghy sailor would ever do, given the lack of an engine. The sailing parts were mostly straightforward as a dinghy sailor, but the idea of setting out to sea without having quite literally set sail was a very strange concept. I had to learn how to put the sails up at sea, and the sails on a yacht are much, much larger than those on a dinghy.

The instructor had the lower part of his leg missing as well as three fingers one one hand, which were both caused by yachting accidents. A substantial portion of his leg was stripped to the bone when a coil of rope was wrapped around it, and the sail which it was attached to suddenly filled with wind, causing the rope to tug with tremendous force, flinging him overboard. He was lucky to survive, as it's very difficult to pick up a man overboard, when the waves are large and the wind is blowing strong. His fingers were lost when he wrapped a rope around a winch, trapping them, and then the sail filled with wind. You might have thought he'd have learned his lesson the first time, but he was the perfect instructor to demonstrate how dangerous yacht sailing can be, even for an experienced dinghy sailor who wouldn't realise the power that huge sails have, and how much force there is in the ropes when the wind fills the sails.

Having qualified as a skipper, I then immediately bought a yacht. Of course, my comparatively meagre wealth wouldn't allow me to purchase a large luxurious yacht, like the one owned by Caroline's family, but given the expense of mooring and maintaining a yacht, it's somewhat of a buyer's market and a relatively large second-hand yacht can be purchased for roughly the price of a new car. I bought a small racing yacht, which had a frugal interior, but with enough space to sleep 4 people in relative comfort. I was now a yacht owner and qualified skipper, which greatly relieved the crushing insecurities I had been carrying around since the start of my relationship with Caroline.

* * *

All of my dinghy sailing and my week-long training course had left me over-confident and ill-prepared for yacht ownership. My first attempt to leave the yacht broker's mooring, where I had purchased her, nearly ended in disaster when the engine cut out and I was unable to raise anything but the main sail, in order to limp to the nearest pontoon. I was at first berated by a yacht club member for tying up where I should not have done, but he took pity on me and pointed out that I had failed to open some critical valves, which had starved the engine of fuel and air. He also asked why I had not installed the headsail, to which I replied I thought I would do that at sea. "Did you learn to sail on a racing yacht?" he asked. I confirmed that I did, and he patiently explained that the yacht I had just bought had a convenient labour-saving mechanism, which allowed the headsail to be set with incredible ease - I just needed to set it up properly before setting out to sea.

Swallowing my pride, my second attempt to go to sea aboard my new yacht, I invited Caroline aboard for the first time. She quickly took charge and it was a humbling experience, to be taking instruction from my girlfriend, who was an absolutely brilliant patient teacher. I hadn't invited her out for the maiden voyage, because I was afraid that I would react badly if my own incompetence was exposed and I was embarrassed. I thoroughly enjoyed that first voyage with Caroline, and I felt as if I had achieved what I always wanted: a girlfriend who shared my passion for sailing.

Life was good. I had my well paid job as a City investment banker, with a glittering future career ahead of me, a red 2-seater sports car, a yacht, and a girlfriend who loved sailing. At 22 years old, I felt incredibly proud of what I'd achieved at a young age. I had vanquished the miserable bullied school years, and dealt with my unhappy and insecure single years, when I had been so hopelessly incompetent and abysmally unsuccessful at getting a girlfriend.

I imagined that we would buy a house, have kids and live happily ever after, enjoying all the luxuries of wealthy people: multiple holidays to exotic locations, skiing in the winter, a second home in the countryside, a nanny and a housekeeper, and beautiful children who we would send to good schools to receive a quality education, to become whatever they wanted to be in life and reach their full potential.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Five: Plan & Strategise

3 min read

This is a story about being cunning...

Panorama

Where I'm currently working, there are very few occasions where it would become apparent that I'm presently teetotal. However, in the financial services districts of London - The Square Mile and Canary Wharf - a teetotaller is automatically suspected of being a recovering alcoholic, which is not a label which anybody wishes to have attached to them, let alone if it's untrue.

One dreadful mistake I made in 2015 was to agree to go to a colleague's birthday party in a cocktail bar, at the top of a skyscraper, with panoramic views over London. It was pretty obvious that alcohol consumption was very much part and parcel of the social engagement, but I agreed to go anyway. Of course, there was a great deal of arm-twisting and attempts to persuade me that "one drink won't hurt", which of course it wouldn't have done, but I pride myself on taking my commitment to challenges seriously, and not taking any short-cuts or cheating. Of course it's totally possible to have a period of so-called abstinence, but break the rules whenever you like, but what have you really achieved? You might as well not have bothered. Anyway, I had a cast-iron excuse, so I managed to swerve having to drink just to prove that I'm not a recovering alcoholic.

The watertight excuse for a period of being teetotal, which I have used before and again now, is to say that I am taking part in the "Go Sober for October" sponsored abstinence from alcohol. Thus, if I face any questions about why I'm not drinking, or pressure to drink, I can easily address that by saying that my sobriety is part of a sponsored charity event.

You might believe that simply saying "no thanks" or "I'm not drinking at the moment" would suffice, but in fact British culture, and especially London banking culture, tends to lend itself towards peer pressure and/or a grilling on your justification for abstinence. I remember one JPMorgan colleague was known throughout the organisation as "that guy who went to The Priory and is a recovering alcoholic" because he didn't drink. As I said before, those kinds of labels and reputation are extremely unhelpful, and indeed detrimental to the impression that your colleagues have of you, such that it might present an [unfair and unjustified] impediment to career progression.

My plan and my strategy is fairly simple: don't have any alcohol in the house, avoid social occasions where drinking is part and parcel of the event and have a cast-iron excuse for being [temporarily] teetotal.

What I noticed in 2015 was how determined people are to get you to drink. I had to fend off an AirBnB host's repeated offers of a drink, despite me making crystal clear that I would not imbibe a single drop of alcohol, because of the aforementioned "Go Sober for October" event. Friends and colleagues went to great lengths to persuade me that I could 'cheat' and it wouldn't matter. I withstood all that arm-twisting, but it wasn't easy, even with my well-laid plans and excellent preparations.

I suppose I'm not the best person to write comprehensively on the topic of being teetotal, because my episodes of abstinence are infrequent. Speak to somebody who's spent any great length of time - years, not days or months - and they will have much better strategies and techniques than I do, for politely declining to drink.

Anyway, it's hard, but it's possible and made easier with some careful preparation.

 

Tags:

 

Step One: Don't Buy Any Alcohol

4 min read

This is a story about losing weight...

Big Mac

The problem with saying to yourself "I'm stressed, depressed, anxious and miserable, so I am going to eat and drink whatever I want" is that you quickly put on weight. The weight I lost in July, in preparation for my birthday holiday, has quickly returned. I am unhappy about my weight again. I knew that bad diet and drinking too much alcohol would lead here, but I didn't care at the time, because the weight gain was relatively slow - it crept up on me.

I'm not overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not happy with the extra pounds I'm carrying. I'm used to my weight being under control. I'm used to being a heathy normal weight. I don't want a minor problem to become a major one.

Alcohol is the obvious source of weight gain.

I get drunk, then I get more drunk than I had originally planned, and I eat too much.

If I drink, I lose all self-control over my calorie consumption, and sensible alcohol limits.

If I drink one bottle of wine and I have another one in the house, I will invariably drink that one too. At weekends, if I drink one bottle of wine and I don't have another one, I will get a Deliveroo rider to bring me another one.

When really drunk, I always get very hungry. I always eat too much, on top of drinking too much. It's a double-whammy.

So.

No more drinking.

There's no alcohol in the house and I'm not going to buy any more.

I feel fine about that.

Earlier, in the supermarket, there was a fairly major impuse to buy a bottle of something alcoholic, but I resisted. I know that unless I start right now, I will keep putting it off and I will keep drinking more than I planned, which invariably means I end up eating more than I planned too. The pattern of behaviour is the same: I always end up abandoning my plans to drink less and eat less, when I'm drunk, and I always regret it more and more, when I look at myself in the mirror in the morning. I know that all those alcoholic drinks and drunken snacks add up to a massive amount of calories.

The stress of work, the stress of money and the stress of relationship problems, gives me all the excuses I need to drink. I've defended eating junk and getting drunk, saying that it's just for a little while: during this very difficult period of my life. But, it's going to be a heck of a long time that I'm suffering unpleasantness, and I don't want to be a big fat alcoholic when I finally pull through - that would give me a whole load of new problems to solve, which wouldn't be quick or easy.

So, the time to act is now.

Need to quit drinking.

Done.

Of course, the hard part is getting through the next few days without alcohol. The hard part is resisting alcohol on a Friday and a Saturday. The hard part is resisting alcohol, when I crave it. In a few days, I will feel substantial benefits from being teetotal. In a few weeks, I will have lost a little weight and will start to be feeling a bit better about my appearance. The hard part is sticking to the plan consistently and reliably; maintaining my determination; being consistent.

Things seem to be going quite well at work and some other things which were stressing me out don't seem to be making me quite as anxious as they were, but I imagine that my perception of things will change as I sober up - I've drunk a crazy amount in the last week, which surely must have meant that I've been pretty anaesthetised against the dreadful crap going on in my life. Having nothing to take the edge off is going to be awful, but if I don't act now I'm going to get really depressed, anxious and stressed about my appearance, which will damage my self-esteem and make me very unhappy.

So, expect further boring updates about me not drinking, and maybe even dieting a little. Can't do everything all at once, but it's time to take a decent break from alcohol, as a first step in the right direction.

 

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My Dream Holiday In Pictures

6 min read

This is a story about ludicrous luxury...

Bay

The adventure began in South Africa. I don't have any pictures of Johannesburg or the dreary wet day of my 40th birthday, but here is a picture of a nice bay south of Cape Town, from an epic road trip. Table Mountain is stunning, of course. The scenery was dramatic.

Compass House

It seems kinda vulgar and a little boring to show the inside of luxury boutique hotels rather than the sightseeing, but the holiday was supposed to be about relaxation and self-indulgence. It cost me a heap of cash, so why shouldn't I re-live a little of the pleasant places which I stayed? This place was on the steep cliffs in Cape Town, looking out to sea.

Wine Region

It was winter and it was quite chilly at night in the wine region of South Africa. I certainly wasn't going to go swimming but the missus went in the pool for the sake of an Instagram shot.

Breakfast

There's the birthday boy (i.e. me). Breakfast was incredible. I wish I took more photos at this place. The decor was amazing.

Feet up

In the Eastern Cape on safari. Loved the mosquito netting. There was floor-to-ceiling glass on all sides of this little thatched-roof lodge and I really enjoyed having my feet up on this big bed.

Bathtime

There were really great bath tubs with fantastic views at a few places we stayed, but this was probably the best. Felt surprisingly private and secluded, despite being so exposed. This safari lodge was so beautiful, with all the lovely wood.

Lion

It'd be a rubbish safari if we didn't see any animals. Saw this white lion on the very first morning, which set the tone for the whole thing. I just wanted to relax and recharge my batteries, but it was worth getting up early to see the animals.

Giraffes

Giraffes have super funny faces. Like, they look dumb but friendly.

Elephant

Spent quite a lot of time watching elephants. They're very entertaining; always playing with each other and trying to get a reaction.

Cheetahs

The big 5 game animals don't include cheetahs, but we were super happy to see these guys. We didn't see a leopard but it was pretty unlikely that we were going to. Feel really privileged to have seen as many big cats as we did.

Rhino

Rhinos are like big cows with big horns, it turns out. Cool to see one, but they just eat grass and don't do much. I was wondering if they're super endangered and I might be super fortunate to see one before they end up extinct, but our ranger said they're only endangered based on the rate that they're being poached - they're still quite numerous. This one's horn is worth many tens of thousands of dollars. Having seen the horrendous poverty in South Africa, it's easy to understand why they'd be poached.

Lioness

We saw a couple of 2-year-old lionesses hunting a warthog. That was very cool.

Infinity pool

Mauritius. The island is lush and green and the climate is brilliant. It was still nice and warm in the evenings and perfect for being outdoors in light clothing. The hotel wasn't as nice as the previous places we stayed, but it was still very special.

View

View from the balcony. Super nice to have 7 nights with nothing to do except eat, sleep, make love, swim in the ocean and do other activities, like sailing, snorkelling. I took my kitesurfing stuff but I really just wanted to chill out. I went out kitesurfing once, and the sea and wind were perfect. Probably the best place I've ever kitesurfed.

Waterfall

We did a quick tour of Mauritius, and went to some botanical gardens, the harbour and saw this cool waterfall.

Champagne

The holiday was mainly about food and drink, with incredible views to accompany. We ate fresh sea urchin, which has a lovely sweet delicately fishy flavour, a bit like lobster, which we also ate. I ate and drank with gay abandon the whole holiday and completely over-indulged, which was wonderful.

I spent a buttload of cash but it was my 40th birthday and I wanted to celebrate in style. Also, I've worked incredibly hard with very few holidays, so I felt like I deserved a big treat for all my efforts. Looking back through the photos now, I'm pleased that I spent the money even though it's left me a little more financially insecure than I'd like. The holiday really exceeded my expectations, which is great. So often holidays can cost a bomb but be quite disappointing; never quite meeting expectations. This holiday was full of surprise and delight.

You might look through these photos and think me to be quite spoiled, entitled, and completely out-of-order for ever complaining about my life. Certainly, it was an incredible two weeks and I had nothing to complain about, except perhaps my anxiety about my finances and income, with there being a great deal of uncertainty about my job.

Yes, it was pretty ludicrous to max everything out and go 5-star all the way, but it was a very stress-free holiday and very relaxing. Thinking about it now, I realise that it was a worthwhile investment in my health, even if I could have had just as much rest and relaxation for a fraction of the price. Frankly, I'll probably never spend as much money ever again, because I simply couldn't justify it. I booked the holiday in somewhat of a manic moment, but I'm kinda glad that I did, because when else was I going to do something so spectacular and incredible? It really was the holiday of a lifetime.

I don't feel blue about going back to work, because it was a great trip and I've got great memories. Going through the photos made me realise that I'll be able to go through them a whole bunch of times, remembering all kinds of different things. It was super hard to try to pick a handful of pictures that captured the essence of what the holiday was, because there were so many cool aspects.

So there we go... travelling in style.

 

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I'm Not Ignoring You

10 min read

This is a story about being disconnected...

Trespass

I've received a bunch of messages from people who care about me, over the past few weeks. I haven't responded - yet - but I'm not intentionally ignoring anybody. I very much want to reply, but I've struggled to know when and how to do so. I very much want to stay connected but I reached breaking point.

I started writing this blog because my life was in danger but it was too difficult to keep anybody informed about what was going on: my life was too chaotic and unmanageable. I needed a mechanism to keep anybody who was concerned about my welfare informed. Writing a blog post on a regular basis was the easiest way to keep kind and caring people in the loop.

A group of people emerged, who have supported me. I literally owe my life to those who contacted emergency services when I tried to end my life. Without the intervention of those who read my words and decided to act, I should not have made it this far. I have received aid in my hour of need thanks to people who were strangers until they read my blog and decided to help me.

There is a certain amount of thought and effort ploughed into each blog post. There is an investment of time and energy. There is a risk that my words might be used against me. There is fear and there is shame, every time I share something that's unflattering or otherwise make myself vulnerable. There is a sense of responsibility towards those who read and those who care, who have taken the time to understand a little about who I am, and those who have gone to the effort of making a human connection.

I know that if I don't write regularly then people won't check regularly to see if I've written anything new. I know that it's the regularity with which I write which sets me apart from the vast majority of bloggers, who quickly tire of the chore and abandon their blogs. I know that if I stop writing I stop existing, in a way. I know that if I stop writing, regular readers drift away.

What is the reason I need regular readers?

I started writing this blog because my life was in danger. That I write this as a "suicide note" is only partly tongue-in-cheek. That it seems somewhat melodramatic, alarmist, attention-seeking or hyperbolic is a reflection of how little wider society really cares about suicide, and how society loves to call people's bluff.

The reason I couldn't write for the past three weeks is that I was overcome with several competing messages. I wanted to write about the happy thing in my life: that I was getting to go away on a lovely holiday. I wanted to share my amazing holiday photos. I wanted to share something positive, after a very long time spent moaning and complaining about my miserable life. However, money worries and uncertainty surrounding my income, plus a lot of stress about an invasive security vetting procedure, were consuming me. I was filled with dread about the future. I was consumed with anxiety. I was constantly assaulted with an imagined future, where I become penniless and homeless, after such a protracted lengthy struggle.

I thought about presenting the lovely images of my holiday alongside the inner turmoil I was suffering. I thought about sharing picturesque holiday photos with unrelated text, explaining how depressed and anxious I was about the future.

There's a slim chance that the wolf might be kept from the door for another couple of months. After my holiday was finished and I was back in the UK at the airport, I received an email which said that my contract could possibly be extended for another couple of months.

However, my security clearance has foundered. Before I departed on holiday, I was told that I had failed to respond to some correspondance and the assumption would be that I had abandoned my application. I wrote back and said that I had responded within the hour, but then I went on holiday. I just checked: my application is closed and I have no idea why.

I'm unsure whether I should assume the worst or not. There's a chance that I can speak to the powers that be and get my security clearance process re-instated. There's a chance that I don't even need security clearance. There's also a chance that there's problems and there's a chance that those problems could cause other problems, and all my hard work is for naught.

I had thought that my source of income was secure until the end of the year. I had thought that this income meant I had adequate funds to take a holiday and could feel secure in my home. I had thought that my hard work had secured me the support of my colleagues and the organisation who I work for, thanks to the contribution I've made to the projects I've worked on.

I'm not so sure what the future looks like now. It's not utterly bleak, but it's very fragile and precarious.

I'm not sure if the universe wants me to succeed or fail. I'm certainly prepared for failure - insofar as I'm prepared to kill myself if I've been wasting my time - but I must admit that I was quite easily tricked into believing that success was within the realms of possibility. I thought that my struggles against adversity and my hard work was going to be rewarded; my modest desire to live without the tyranny of penniless destitution hanging over me appeared to be within grasp, but perhaps I was quite wrong.

There are systems in place that will quickly swipe my legs out from underneath me and cast me out into the street like a piece of trash. There are systems in place to ensure that I'm expelled from civilised society and unable to put my skill and experience to profitable gain. There are systems in place to thwart and frustrate me; to leave me stripped of dignity and to deny me opportunity. There are systems in place to keep a good man down.

We shall see what comes to pass this week. I have faced a lot of adversity over the past few years and managed to navigate some very nasty situations, somehow keeping hope alive. I've overcome some extremely difficult obstacles. Whether the present difficulties are just more of the same, and I will find a way forward, I have no idea. At the moment I feel as though my exhaustion and depression are going to get the better of me, given that I already used up all my reserves getting to this point. I should be cruising and having an easier time of things, but it appears as though things are going to get harder, if not impossible.

I have a limited amount of time to re-start my daily writing and re-surround myself with my support network, on which I have relied heavily to get to this point. I fear that I've left myself exposed and inadequately protected.

My downfall will be shockingly swift. Depression and exhaustion will rob me of my ability to continue to work and then rent, bills, taxes other demands for money with menaces will bankrupt me, see me evicted, label me as "undesirable" and make me unemployable and unhousable. With a wrecked credit rating and the black mark of a bankruptcy, I won't be able to get well paid work or rent a home - society will have ejected me and I'll be left to sleep rough. It seems hard to imagine that I could fall so quickly from a position where I appear to be wealthy and hold a respected position of responsibility, but I know how quickly everything will fall apart.

I have proceeded with a positive attitude, assuming that everything will work out OK if I just keep working hard, but in my experience nothing works out. Instead, all that happens is that there are major roadblocks. Instead of being able to continue on my trajectory, obstacles are thrown into my path and I am bombarded with missiles. All I want to do is to do my job and do it well, and be able to have a roof over my head, but instead things happen which could not have been predicted by me and which are not my fault. I am continuously thwarted.

I'm sick of being thwarted.

Undoubtedly I work hard. Undoubtedly I'm good at my job. Undoubtedly I will achieve my objectives if left unmolested.

At some point I get so sick of everything that I don't want to carry on living. It's not much of a life, being constantly thwarted. It's not much of a life living with constant precarity, anxiety and insecurity.

I decided to write this blog because it proves my dedication to a project and what I can achieve if I'm not thwarted. I decided to write this blog to prove my work ethic, even if this blog brings me no income. I decided to write this blog as a testament to my own creative and productive powers. I decided to write this blog because nobody could stop me, divert me, distract me and derail me.

I took a holiday.

I took a holiday from my paid income and I took a holiday from my unpaid project. I took a holiday from everything. It would have been nice to relax, secure in the knowledge that I had income and housing to look forward to when I returned, but that was taken away from me; my future was stolen from me, as usual. I was given nothing except anxiety and depression, as usual, as stress was heaped upon my head and my security was snatched away, as usual. I took a holiday anyway, because I was exhausted as hell.

Now, who know what awaits me, except further struggle, further stress, further anxiety and further frustrations and people sent to thwart me. In the context of this uncertainty, forgive me if I decide that I've had enough and that I would like some certainty. This is how I arrive at the conclusion that the only certainty that's available to me is the certainty of suicide. I would like to die with some dignity.

How many productive years do I have left? I'm 40 years old now - happy birthday to me - and I'm exhausted. The prospect of continuing on with such struggle, stress and strain is not at all appealing. I fail to see any kind of enticing future that's realistically attainable, given how hard people have worked to thwart and frustrate me.

In short, I hesitated to write for the past few weeks, because my situation is not improving, although it seemed churlish to complain when I most certainly did have the holiday of a lifetime. Still, it would be dishonest not to admit that most of my waking hours were consumed with stress, anxiety, depression and hopelessness. I didn't quite know where to begin, so I was uncharacteristically lost for words, perhaps only because I never committed pen to paper. Now that I've opened the flood gates, far more words have come rushing out of me than I anticipated.

Given that it's counter-productive to bombard my readers with far more than they can digest, I'm going to wrap this up now. I need to write regularly again. I hope that I have better news tomorrow and my outlook is more positive, but I need to write come what may, because it's my coping mechanism and my lifeline; my blog is my consistent reliable companion and the people who it connects me with are my dependable support network, though the bad times.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Gas Leak

7 min read

This is a story about todo lists...

Gas meter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Beach Body

6 min read

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

Flip flops

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

Unsurprisingly, I put on weight.

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

I put on more weight.

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

I didn't change my behaviour.

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

Then I stopped drinking.

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

I was teetotal for nearly 5 months.

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

Now, I'm trying to lose weight again.

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

I still don't do any exercise.

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

I should do some exercise.

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

I'm making good progress.

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

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

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

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

 

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Wet British Summer

3 min read

This is a story about our maritime climate...

Rainy window

The UK experienced an exceptional couple of summers in 2017 and 2018, but this year our luck seems to have run dry. During the Easter bank holiday weekend, the weather warm enough to make barbecues and picnics a pleasant thing to do outdoors - although I strongly advise against indoor barbecues - and shorts and flip-flops briefly became suitable attire.

Since Easter it's been pretty wet. Of course there have been many pleasant days, but not enough to encourage me to spend much time outside. It's about 14 degrees celcius at the moment (57 degrees Fahrenheit for my North American readers) which does not feel at all summerlike.

Often times, our peak holiday months of July and August can be a washout, but May and June are warm, dry and very pleasant, and September can be a wonderful time of "Indian summer".

I've made plans to be abroad for my birthday - my 40th - so I should be guaranteed good weather, although I suppose it depends on what your definition of "good" is. I shall be very happy if it's windy, seeing as I'm going kitesurfing on a little island off the coast of Africa.

The seasons and the weather affect my mood a great deal and I have neither the energy boost that summer brings or the lethargy of winter at the moment. Flying to more southerly climes seems very decadent in the middle of the UK's summer, when our weather is supposed to be at its best, but I have the excuse that it's my 40th birthday so I should celebrate in style.

I'm attempting to complete my thirties with dignity more becoming of a man entering his forties. My thirties were a real mixed bag, which included some incredible achievements, but also some jaw-dropping adversity. The "wealth" that I carry into middle age takes the form of an immense amount of extreme experiences, including a great many which I do not recommend other people to imitate, but I still treasure them all - even the bad ones.

This summer seems to involve a lot of hard work. There is a lot of pressure on me at work, as well as some financial worries caused by job uncertainty. However, I cannot deny that there are elements of my life that far exceed my wildest expectations: my beautiful girlfriend, my gorgeous kitten, my lovely house... and I'm having a reasonable year in terms of getting back in contact with my sister and my friends.

I'm writing sporadically at the moment, because of the many competing demands placed upon me. After boasting yesterday about how well my kitten was doing at using her litter tray, she soaked my duvet in the night, and then took a pee on my work shirts in the morning, leaving a trail of pee across the bedroom floor as I hurriedly moved her into the correct receptacle while she continued to urinate.

If I'm writing in a bit more of a "this is what I had for breakfast" boring diary style at the moment, I apologise. Lots of irons in the fire. Spread very thin. I promise to write some of my usual off-the-wall bizarre essays again soon.

 

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Summer's Here

4 min read

This is a story about unseasonably good weather...

Sun tan lotion

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

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

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

Summer is my favourite time of year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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