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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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Addicted to Sadness

8 min read

This is a story about being deliberately stuck in a rut...

Pills

It's fairly common for people charged with healthcare and wellbeing duties to blame the victim. "You don't want to get better, do you?" comes the accusation, when somebody's feeble attempts to help have failed in the face of an intractably difficult set of problems. "You like being depressed, don't you?" comes the victim-blaming response to the failure of a person whose profession is allegedly to help sick people get better.

I read an illuminating article the other day, which shed further light on the mindset which continues to perpetuate medicine and psychology's abysmal failures in the field of mental health. While claiming to practice evidence-based treatment, doctors and psychologists have no basic grasp of the evidence, which clearly shows an epidemic of mental health problems and dreadful outcomes - complete and utter failure, no less. However, in the face of this appalling failure, doctors and psychologists have decided to blame the victims, stating that the patients who don't get better - who are indeed the vast majority - are to blame for their own illness.

The charge, in a nutshell, is that depression and sadness have become a 'comfort zone' for the sufferer, and to attempt to get better would risk disappointment, so instead these untreatable people who are intent on remaining depressed, are competing with each other to see who can be the most depressed and miserable.

What a load of BS.

It's true that I have written endlessly about how depressed and anxious I am. It's true that I've written repeatedly about my certainty that I'm doomed to failure. It's true that I've felt hopeless and helpless; powerless. I've felt like my situation can never be resolved and that my life will never improve.

I've been convinced that my life will never improve.

I've been convinced that my life will never improve so does that mean I've made no attempt to improve it? Does the fact that I spurn medication and therapy indicate that I am intent on remaining depressed and anxious? Is my negative outlook a self-fulfilling prophecy? Am I to blame for my own misery?

Yes, doctors and psychologists would love to blame me for my own depression.

I say that it is them who are the defeatists, responsible for people's depression.

I say that it is those who do not listen and do not care, who only want for quick and easy fixes, who condemn the patients they claim to want to help, to a life of misery and depression. I blame the doctors and the psychologists for the epidemic of mental health problems, because they claim to offer effective evidence-based treatment, but the treatment is ineffective. All the evidence is overwhelming: the treatments on offer DO NOT WORK and often times make the patient's life much worse.

The solutions to the mental health epidemic are as complicated as our busy complex lives, unsurprisingly. The solutions do not come in the form of a pill or a simple cognitive therapy. The solutions are not simple, because the problems are not simple.

The world is addicted to my productivity. The world is addicted to my mental illness. The world does not want me to be well. The world wants me to be sick.

Yes. That's right. The world wants me to be sick.

The rat race is incredibly stressful and is tailor made to create mental health problems. Capitalism is incredibly toxic to mental health. Yet, we cannot discuss these things. Instead we must blame ourselves. Instead we decide it is us who is badly adjusted to society, and therefore it is us who is defective and needs powerful psychiatric medications to 'correct' our faults.

Obviously, when more than 50% of the population is struggling with some kind of mental health problem, then we can see that society is defective, not the individuals.

We ask mothers to leave their children in the hands of strangers, in order to commute long distances and work in offices. We ask fathers to miss out on seeing their kids grow up, because they have to spend so much time away from home, working. Our houses are a crippling financial burden. The lengthy commutes are stressful in rush hour traffic and jostling in crowds on packed trains and busses. We leave the peaceful rural countryside and journey into grey polluted overcrowded concrete centres of commerce, where the noise and the lights and the huge number of people is an assault on our senses.

We aren't supposed to live like this.

We aren't supposed to spend our whole lives fighting so hard; struggling. We weren't built to be so distant from our families and our communities, living lives of quiet desperation in concrete jungles, with so much stress about money. We were never evolved to spend so much time commuting, bored, working bulls**t jobs in offices. It's unnatural. It goes against our fundamental human nature.

We tell ourselves "it's not forever" as we attempt to pay off enough of our mortgages and save enough money into our pension pots to be able to quit the rat race, but the truth is that it is forever - we can never quit the rat race, and that's depressing.

I am making a little progress. I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. My quality of life has improved an immense amount versus a year ago, when things were much more precarious. In a year from now, with a little luck, I might finally be enjoying a little financial security, and therefore be a lot less stressed.

My problems are simple enough, but not simple enough for those who think that there's a pill which can almost instantly cure all my problems. My problems are simple enough for anybody who takes the time to stop and think, but who has the time? Much easier to just suggest that an hour of therapy a week is adequate to solve my rational depression and anxiety about the unbearable unpleasantness of the rat race and the abysmally awful situation which capitalism creates.

I will have no hesitation in ceasing my misery-filled essays, once I have escaped the source of the misery. I am not addicted at all to feeling sad. How preposterous to suggest that I enjoy feeling depressed. How offensive to suggest that I'm to blame for my own unbearable feelings.

I choose not to feel sad, depressed and anxious. I choose happiness. I choose joy. However, these choices are not available to me: it is necessary for me to work long and hard, in intolerable conditions, in order to be able to choose happiness. At least I have an opportunity to achieve financial security, when most people do not.

Of course I would love to solve the world's problems. I can see that society is producing an epidemic of mental health problems - the evidence is overwhelming. I would dearly love to be doing something to improve the human condition, end climate change, end poverty and generally allow people to live happier and more fulfilling lives, but I realise that it's impossible. I assure you that I work extremely hard, attempting to improve my own situation, but it takes a lot of time. I've made extraordinary progress, but there is still a long way to go, and there are regular setbacks.

In some ways I wish that my situation was more hopeless, so that I would feel enabled to do whatever I wanted. I feel as though I am duty-bound to pursue the great opportunity that has been presented to me. I am lucky enough not to held back by black marks against my name, such as a bad credit score, a criminal record, a bankruptcy or other things which condemn so many people to a life of poverty - they will never be afforded the opportunity to earn large sums of money, and therefore to be able to escape poverty by the conventional route. It would be somewhat immoral of me to throw away my good fortune and allow myself to be eaten by the vultures, when I still have the opportunity to work my way out of my intolerable situation, although it's incomprehensibly awful to work your way back up from the bottom, with the constant threat of failure.

I most definitely do not live in the 'comfort zone' of hopeless depression. Instead, I live with the unbearable anxiety and stress of trying and struggling, knowing that all my effort might be wasted, due to a single setback. Yet, I do struggle. I do try. I most definitely am ploughing every ounce of energy that I possess into attempting to escape my dismal plight.

Please stop blaming depressed people for their own depression.

 

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Sensitive

5 min read

This is a story about spectator sports...

HP

Politics and protesting is a kind of hobby for the middle classes. In the absence of a football team to support and matches to attend, the middle classes engage in similar tribal behaviour with their political party affiliations and their favourite political causes. Instead of an irrational hatred of a geographically proximate football club to one's own preferred football club, the middle classes hate the political party on the opposite wing from their own chosen party. The reds hate the blues and the blues hate the reds, whether it's football teams or political parties.

The issues of the day have rather vague and nebulous non-threats. Terrorism and immigration do not affect us day to day. Climate change does not affect us day to day. Brexit does not affect us day to day. Very few of us will be victims of terrorism, man-made climate change or economic catastrophe due to leaving the European Union. Why get so worked up about these things?

Given that most of us are idle in our bulls**t jobs which needn't exist, we have plenty of time to read, listen and watch the news. We have plenty of time to engage with social media. We have plenty of time to partake in manufactured outrage and to work ourselves up about things which have no bearing on our day to day existence.

My mental health is fragile.

The constant media bombardment with nonstop news coverage of the political drama is something that affects me more than it should. I think I'm somebody who feels quite a lot of empathy - a lefty libertard snowflake - and I am often taken in by my perceived onslaught on the vulnerable members of society. I'm one of those bleeding-heart tree huggers. I feel a great outpouring of sympathy for refugees and asylum seekers, homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, neglected and abused children, neglected and abused animals, and indeed our ecosystem. I struggle to go through life with a "take are country back" (sic.) attitude, and to ignore the climate emergency, the refugee crisis and the misery inflicted by economic disaster and austerity. I struggle to distance myself emotionally from current affairs.

I'm acutely aware of how little I am contributing towards worthy ideals. My bulls**t job requires me to drive a car and otherwise pollute the planet, as well as robbing my labour from any efforts to build a better world. It would, in fact, be better if I just stayed at home; far less polluting. If I didn't have to go to my bulls**t job then I would have all the time in the world to knit my own yoghurt and wipe my bum with a chinchilla, or whatever it is that tree-huggers are doing these days in order to save the planet.

It's highly toxic to my mental health to be forced to spectate. It's awful that I have so little opportunity to be a productive member of a new, better society, helping to build a better world. It's really crappy that the coercive demands of unrestrained free-market capitalism dictate that I have to choose between homeless destitution, or selling my soul and being part of a society which is destroying the planet, in pursuit of endless profit and growth, with no regard for sustainability.

I feel as though I'm an aerial, a satellite dish, receiving an incomprehensible and unprocessable torrent of information at all times. I feel tuned in to so many things, and those things all cause me pain.

I can't do anything about the pain.

I see something about climate change and I want to alter my lifestyle completely, to reduce my carbon footprint, but then I remember that I'm trapped by capitalism.

I see something about homelessness and I want to build social housing, but then I remember that I'm trapped by capitalism.

I see something about asylum seekers, refugees, drug addicts, alcoholics, mental health problems, suicide, youth unemployment, bullying, child abuse, animal cruelty... and I want to quit my bulls**t job and to build a better world, but I can't because I'm trapped by capitalism.

Instead, I'm trapped on the sidelines, watching with horror. Instead, I plough my intellectual energy into social media, writing and worrying; thinking about what the solutions are to the world's problems, and arguing with people who want to "take are country back" (sic.) and otherwise perpetuate the situation ad nauseam.

It makes me unwell, hoovering up all this information - all these world events - all day long, and thinking about the problems, and worrying, and using my rational brain to think about solutions... solutions that I'll never be allowed to put into practice, because I'm trapped making profit for billionaires; trapped by capitalism.

I hate being this sensitive. I hate being tuned into everything. I hate being powerless. I hate being sidelined. I hate spectating.

I'm a productive busy thoughtful person. I'm also very sensitive.

It's agony right now, being forced to spectate while everything burns.

 

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End of my Tether

4 min read

This is a story about being worn down...

Self help

I can't stand the self-help, motivational speaker, trite platitude brigade, with all their bite-sized quotes which reduce complex and traumatic situations into oversimplified cartoons, which bear no resemblance to reality.

I'm sick of trying and failing. I'm sick of slogging along, doing everything that's expected of me as an obedient citizen, while getting absolutely nowhere; going backwards.

I don't know how long it's reasonable to expect a person to struggle, with no progress; no hope of ever escaping the intolerable present-day situation. I've proceeded positively on the assumption that one day I'd turn a corner, but all the evidence is that it's impossible: there's no way out of my predicament.

There isn't any money left, after paying my taxes, my debts and other financial obligations. How can that be right? How can so much hard work and effort amount to zero? How can all those difficult and horrible years amount to nothing? How can all that struggle have been for naught; to be left without a penny?

It's not just about money. It's about the exhaustion of all those years of anxiety and stress - struggle - only to be left facing more years of the same. To say I'm at zero is wrong, because in fact I must keep working just as hard merely to exist. All that effort has not propelled me into a situation where I can take a break - work a little less hard - but in fact I must carry on at exactly the same demanding level, without having a safety net; no financial security, no housing security... nothing.

Why did I bother trying to be kind and generous? Why did I bother being trusting? Why did I bother playing by the rules? Why did I pay my debts? Why did I work? Why did I contribute?

It wasn't worth it.

Hard work doesn't pay.

Kindness leads to being taken advantage of.

I don't regret abiding by the social contract and being an obedient citizen and employee, but I sure can see that it's been to my overall detriment. I've been left for dust by those who were immoral and criminal, not that I wish I had lived my life their way.

I wish the world was different, but it isn't.

I wish the world was fair, but it isn't.

The world isn't disproportionately unfair towards me. I certainly am not one of the most disadvantaged. I would never claim that I've had things any harder than 98% of the world. Still though, it sucks not being able to make progress. The odds are stacked in my favour a lot more than other people, but the end result is the same: zero.

You can't argue with the end result. You can't argue with the effort expended. You can't deny that I've worked hard and it's resulted in nothing. Big. Fat. Nothing.

Zero. I'm at zero.

A man who has nothing has nothing to lose, is one of those trite contrived platitudes that I hate, but it sounds rather worrisome rather than inspiring, doesn't it? Doesn't nothing to lose also imply nothing to live for? Doesn't nothing to lose imply, well, having nothing, which is a rather dismal state of affairs for an adult who's supposed to have something to show for their efforts? Having something to lose means that somebody will act predictably, in order to protect something valuable. Having nothing to lose means somebody acting, well, with nothing to lose, which is terrifying.

The prospect of more of the same - more depression, anxiety and more indentured servitude struggling under the yoke of capitalism - is not at all appealing. The prospect of more years of stress and struggle is most definitely unappealing.

Some might have their morality corrupted by the appeal of get rich quick scams and schemes. Some might have their morality corrupted by the appeal of enslaving their fellow humans. I find such things equally unappealing.

Thus I arrive at the recurrent and inescapable conclusion that my course has run. I've tried and I've failed so I'm giving up. There's nothing more that life has to offer except depression, anxiety, stress, misery, pain, suffering, loneliness, heartbreak, persecution, coercion and exploitation.

I've had enough.

 

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Loneliness

6 min read

This is a story about antisocial behaviour...

Tree in forest

What's the shortest journey between two points? If you know where you need to get to and you know the fastest route to get there, would you make that journey? What if the shortest path was also a very painful one?

A year ago I was living in a hotel close to the office. A year ago I was incredibly isolated - single, in a city where I had just one friend, estranged from family and living a pretty dysfunctional life except for my job.

Who cares... I was functional, wasn't I?

I certainly turned up in the office every day looking presentable and I did useful work, but I'm not sure I really was very functional. It's true that I was earning money, paying my bills and I was on a journey towards financial security. I was reliable; dependable; trusted. What else is there in life other than getting up in the morning, putting on some smart clothes and going to the office? What else is there in life other than earning money? I was certainly earning money. I was certainly working.

What do you suppose happens after a major event, like a near-death experience? What do you suppose happens after a major medical emergency which was life-or-death? What do you suppose happens after a lengthy hospitalisation?

Most people would like to imagine that there'd be plenty of time for rest and recuperation after a major illness that nearly killed a person, but I'm afraid the demands of life can't be paused. Unless you want to emerge from your near-death experience and be immediately hurled into bankruptcy, destitution and have life-changing black marks against your name which preclude you from ever renting a property, getting a car loan, getting a mortgage, getting any kind of credit agreement etc. etc. and indeed getting most jobs, which insist on credit checks and suchlike, then there's not a moment to spare, ever.

For sure, I'm a capitalist's wet dream in terms of how meekly I comply with capitalism's coercion and act in the way that's expected of me, selling my labour cheaply and otherwise allowing myself to be shafted by the system. Instead of doing what I absolutely need to do, which is to spend time getting better, instead I have thrown myself straight back into the workplace.

A close friend - my guardian angel - has similar mental health problems as me: depression and anxiety. She has been able to do voluntary work and quit jobs which were toxic for her mental health, and to engage with her local community. She's swallowed her pride and has accepted that she must live with her parents and spend her precious savings supporting herself, for the sake of her mental health.

For me, I've had to choose between the self-esteem destroying effects of living as somebody's charity case, or the toxic world of work. I decided that the latter option is marginally better, given that it at least offers a route towards freedom, although it's a very risky game.

Living under somebody else's roof takes the pressure off in terms of burning money on rent and bills, but there's an emotional toll for anyone who's been raised to be a considerate guest - there is considerable guilt about time spent sleeping and otherwise "treating the place like a hotel". There is a great deal of pressure to be seen to be doing whatever it is that your host thinks you should be doing. There is a great deal of pressure to please your host, which leaves remarkably little time and energy to rest and recuperate.

Working when you are too unwell to work is risky because you must present a corporate mask to your colleagues, pretending that everything is A-OK when really it's not at all. Work is the very last place on Earth that you should be, but you're in the office carrying on like you're fine and dandy. It's horrible to force yourself - day after day - into a situation and environment which is totally toxic to your mental health and is intolerable, but it's somehow possible to present a veneer of cool calm professionalism, such that your colleagues have no idea that you're on the brink of having a nervous breakdown at any moment. It's high risk, high reward - if you can wear the mask and pretend like everything's OK for long enough, your situation will improve, but it's incredibly draining and prevents you from becoming healthy and happy again, because it's so demanding.

One year later, I have my own roof over my head and a girlfriend. I still don't have any local friends to speak of, but I have ingratiated myself with my neighbours and my colleagues are sociable; one of my colleagues has even started to talk to me socially as a friend, outside the office, having found my blog.

I have the dignity and self-esteem that I wanted, in that I am paying my own way and not dependent on anybody, but it's been ridiculously exhausting and risky to take this path. So often I wonder if I should have cut my losses and given up, allowing myself to be screwed over by the system; destroyed by those who seek to exclude and marginalise vulnerable members of society.

I was struggling to find anything to watch which captivated my attention last night, so I spoke to a friend. That's unusual for me. I live a very isolated existence. I almost never speak to any of my friends on the phone, except for two very loyal friends, one of whom often phones me while I'm at the office. I must make fewer than one phone-call per week, on average.

Overall, my situation is improving, but it's pretty intolerable. I've chosen the fastest route from A to B, but it's an exceptionally intolerable and unpleasant journey, even though I know it's the most direct. I know that this suffering is only temporary and that I will reap some rewards at the end, if I can stick it out, but I do want to quit all the time.

Through this very difficult period while I've been blogging - the past 4 years - I've made some really awesome friends who are very loyal and who have gone to exceptional lengths to help me, including my guardian angel, who's visited me in hospital far too many times. Although my behaviour looks broadly the same, there are undeniable improvements to my situation. My bloody-minded bitter determination to succeed with exactly the same strategy which I've always employed, seems to be paying off, finally. It surprised and gladdened me that during a moment of loneliness I suddenly remembered that I had a whole heap of very dear friends who were available to chat to.

Weirdly, I don't feel lonely, even though I have spent the vast majority of the past 4 or 5 years enduring an incredible amount of social isolation.

 

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Time Poor Cash Poor

6 min read

This is a story about digging yourself out of a hole...

Coins

Why don't people realise the futility of situations? Why does nobody do the basic arithmetic to see that a situation is hopeless? Why can nobody see their hopes and dreams slipping away?

I was watching a documentary recently about people who are working but still struggling to make ends meet. I cannot claim that I myself am in that situation, but that's because I work doing something which is thoroughly incompatible with my mental health, which very few people could stand to do. There are not long queues of people wanting to do what I do, because it's awful, but it is very well paid. So, I'm not struggling while I'm working - doing something I hate - but I wanted to write about the reality of existence, for those who want to do something which doesn't make them unhappy and unwell.

Unfortunately, compromises have to be made.

If you want to be an artist, a photographer, a travel blogger, a social media person or do some other unnecessary BS job, or to generally d1ck around in academia, not really producing anything useful, then you will have a fulfilling time at work but you're not going to be very well paid.

It seems as if there are a whole heap of other jobs out there which are also not very well paid. Pretty much whatever you do, you will be paid badly, unless you're involved in something unethical, like banking, insurance, accounting, drug dealing, human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, racketeering, extortion, fraud and other forms of profiteering from human misery, such as being a landlord or other leech/parasite.

If you want to buy a house and escape some of the coercion which forces us into dreadful jobs - lining the pockets of the capitalists - then you first have to go and get a dreadful job and work hard for many years, doing something unethical and unpleasant, making yourself sick. There is no way to both do something you love AND escape the clutches of capitalism.

On the aforementioned documentary were some folks approaching retirement age who were living in rented accommodation and had no pension to speak of. This was as a direct consequence of choosing to enjoy their lives and not sell their souls, to work doing dreadful bullshit jobs. Upon reaching retirement age, there was one gentleman who was having to drive an Uber for many many hours a week, simply to pay rent and bills. There was literally no hope of these people ever escaping old age poverty, especially when health problems eventually left them unable to work.

Unfortunately, only people with rich parents get to d1ck around studying something interesting and then finding a job in a related field, or being eternal students, mucking about in the safe and secure world of academia reserved for spoiled brats. Unfortunately, unless you've got family wealth behind you, you'll have to get a sh1tty job and even then, it won't get you anywhere unless it's really sh1tty.

What do we really want? We'd like to retire early. We'd like to retire with a decent income. We'd like to have a good standard of living up until the point we retire.

We do we really get? Paying rent and bills which eat up all our incomes, no holidays and no hope of ever buying a house, followed by no hope of ever retiring. All we have to look forward to is watching climate change wreck the Earth, while the world descends into anarchy and chaos because there isn't enough money to pay pensions or look after the vast number of old people who want to receive greater benefits than their contribution. The demographic bulge will sink our civilisation, as gazillions of baby boomers all demand an amazing standard of idle luxury living which they don't deserve.

We are time poor and cash poor, with no hope of hard work ever paying off - our hopes of owning property and having a valuable pension fund are ludicrous, even if we slave away to the age of 70 or more.

The only hope is to suffer the misery of dreadful miserable jobs for horrible unethical companies, doing horrible unethical things. The only way that the numbers add up is if we work for banks and suchlike, destroying the global economy and destroying the environment in the name of greedy profit. However, is this really a good approach when it means that there'll be no planet left to enjoy by the time we retire?

Who has the time to stop and think about such things?

There was a quote from that documentary which I thought was apt:

“The only way I am able to cope with the future is by not thinking about it. If I thought about it I would just give up”

Pretty gloomy and negative, but also pretty positive of that person to avoid thinking about stuff, so that they didn't give up. Why not give up? Why not grasp the nettle? Why not face the unpalatable truth: that all our efforts are doomed. Why bother working so damn hard when it's not going to result in being able to feel secure in your home and secure in your old age?

It strikes me that we live lives of incredible desperation and anxiety, where we work incredibly hard, commute horrible distances, pay vast amounts of our hard-earned cash in rent and bills and generally fail to get anywhere; we struggle for nothing. Why bother?

I read something else that said the only people who get to read many books are prisoners. Who else has the time?

It's a dismal situation to be in; this present time. You can do anything you want, so long as it involves spreadsheets for some multinational corporation which is intent on destroying the planet, extracting every last drop of sweat from their stressed-out workforce and leaving them stressed, anxious and depressed, before dumping their used husks in a great pile of spent human bodies, like trash.

I am saving up my money in order to have a nervous breakdown.

 

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Intellectual Hunger

6 min read

This is a story about brain training...

Hotel food

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

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

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

I wanted to write about intellectual hunger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I say "easier" I mean intellectually nourishing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Clickfarm

5 min read

This is a story about modern slavery...

Computer monitors

A friend and I had been puzzling over how to stop a massive influx of spam comments from spreading all over my beloved blog. The fact that it's possible to leave a link back to your own blog - if you have one - is too much of a temptation for those who are trying to get websites to appear higher up the Google search rankings. I have done the hard work of writing more than 1.2 million words, which have been indexed by Google, and lazy individuals are attempting to profit from my labour, by associating their crappy websites with mine: so-called 'backlinks'.

Having a link from a reputable website to another website is seen as an endorsement, in Google's eyes. High-ranking websites confer some of their pagerank 'score' to other sites which they link to. It's an SEO trick that's been around almost as long as Google - trying to get links onto other people's websites... especially high-ranking ones.

Google has now punished me harshly for not staying on top of my spam comment problem and has removed me from many searches. If, for example, you were to search for my name - Nick Grant - you would have found me on page 2 or 3 of the search results, but now I've disappeared completely. As far as Google's algorithm's are concerned, this website is a contrived creation, created purely to help people promote their dodgy websites. I'm not even going to write about what the kinds of grim and immoral services these sites are offering, because to use those words would further hurt Google's algorithmic perception of me and my website.

I had presumed that it was bots leaving the comments, so a friend helped me to introduce a couple of mechanisms to stop automated comments from being left. Surprisingly, the comments kept coming - there are real people whose job it is to sit at a screen and click those annoying ReCaptcha things, and then copy-paste in links to websites along with some nonsense made up text that's supposed to look like a genuine comment.

I'm not even going to share the kinds of comments that these clickfarm people leave, because it would again detract from the 1.2 million words that I have painstakingly written in clear plain English, with good grammar and highly considered sentence construction. I have taken the time to structure my writing into concise sentences and paragraphs, and express myself with great clarity, while there are an army of people leaving comments which are almost but not-quite nonsensical.

Google's natural language analysis is able to tell that what I write is genuine human-generated content, but it's also fooled by stuff written by people whose job it is to write generic comments for the purposes of search engine optimisation (SEO). The volume of text that Google scrapes from the web and indexes includes vast swathes of nonsense from social media, where literacy standards are woeful, but the majority of content on the internet is at least user-generated. It's hard for a search engine like Google to punish the spammers and the scammers, while also making sure that an ordinary member of the public who builds, maintains and publishes to their own 'home-brew' website, is not caught in the same net.

The same friend who has been helping me with my spam comment problem was also associated with a popular forum which had millions of visitors, at one point in time, until the site was completely over-run by bots. It's hard to battle bots and suchlike, when you're just a tech enthusiast who's making their small contribution to the body of internet text, and you don't have heaps of spare time to innovate and stay one step ahead of the spammers.

For me to comb through all the comments that have been left on my blog and delete the spam ones would be something which would either be a time-consuming manual task, or a time-consuming and technically difficult job to automate. Obviously, automating the task seems like the smart choice, so that the job of deleting all the spam is easily repeatable, but it would be work that's very similar to my day job - the whole point of writing for pleasure is because I have no opportunity to do so in the office. Doing "office work" in my spare time seems like an unfair burden, given that all I want to do is write and publish my thoughts, for the benefit of genuine readers - why should spammers benefit from my efforts?

Ultimately, the spammers might sink my website, just as spam Twitter accounts almost sank my social media presence. I can't help it if I don't have the resources to painstaking delete, ban, block and otherwise defend myself against those who are making money off the back of my effort, energy and generous contribution.

I do feel a little sorry for the poor people whose job it is to click on fire hydrants and traffic lights, and paste gibberish into comment sections of a website. In fact, I feel very sorry for them. That's a terrible job to have.

Anyway, any website link you leave now will not link anywhere except back here, so I'm sorry spammers: you're wasting your time. Leave me alone. Not that you read my blog anyway.

 

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A Fool And His Money

5 min read

This is a story about wartime thrift...

Paradise

There are a couple of sayings which really annoy me, because they are untrue and misleading. The first is "if you watch the pennies the pounds look after themselves" and the second is "a fool and his money are easily parted". The people who quote these sayings most often are terrible advice givers whose own wealth - if they have any at all - has not come from thrift or lack of foolishness. The people who quote these sayings are absolute idiots.

We can use other common sayings to demolish the idiocy.

"You've got to speculate to accumulate" and "buy low sell high" are both pretty obvious and self-explanatory, aren't they? These sayings are far more useful than the former ones, but there's a problem: most people don't have any spare money.

I placed a sizeable bet yesterday which looked as if it was going to provide a decent return on my investment. In fact, I lost the bet, but I was able to hedge my position and as such I didn't lose more than I was prepared to risk. In no way was my betting foolish. In fact, my betting was very smart because I was in a position where I stood to make a considerable capital gain, and my risk was hedged. The main thing we should remember though, is that I was not only able to afford to place the bets, but I was also able to afford to lose the money. Most people do not have the luxury of being able to speculate like I can, because they don't have the 'disposable' income.

Other things I've spent substantial sums of money on in the last year include my house, the furniture within it, a bengal kitten and a lot of cat supplies, a holiday to Turkish Disneyland and a holiday to Tulum in Mexico. I consider none of this money to have been wasted.

It probably seems pretty whacky for a 39-year-old single man to go on holiday to a theme-park resort, but what the hell is wrong with you if you don't want to ride rollercoasters, water slides, surf artificial waves as well as enjoy some winter sunshine in a place which was created with precision engineering to bring absolute delight to its visitors? I laughed with joy at so many of the little surprise things on that holiday, including the delightful theme-park hotel which was designed very much for children, but I assure you can be enjoyed just as much by any adult. That whole holiday was perfect, except that I felt a little lonely and out of place as a single man in a family resort.

My decision to go to Tulum in Mexico was taken on a whim, because my [ex-]girlfriend had told me that she had dreamed of going there for years, but she didn't possess the financial means for that trip to ever come to fruition for her - she would never have been able to save up enough money to visit one of the most desirable holiday destinations on the planet. The arrangement worked well for me, in that I was able to get some more winter sun and do some kitesurfing, plus all the Mayan ruins and stuff were very cool. Some people might say that I was taken advantage of financially, given her complete lack of monetary contribution, but it was a manyfold times more enjoyable trip because I had her company and I took pleasure from taking her to her dream holiday destination.

I've been spending lots of money eating out in restaurants, getting takeaway deliveries and I just booked another holiday. It's been over 6 months since my last holiday, so I think I've earned it.

I spend a lot of money.

Money flows in-between my fingers, as if I was grabbing handfuls of fine white coral sand on one of the beautiful beaches where I sometimes take my holidays. Does it bother me that I spend vast sums of money instead of hoarding as much as possible; living like a miser? Does it bother me that all I have to show for the money I've spent is an amazing house, a beautiful kitten and some incredible memories of unforgettable experiences? No. I'm no fool.

I've ploughed money into seemingly lost-causes, such as donating small sums of money to a friend who I'm trying to financially support through a difficult period of his life, to the point where he can hopefully be self-sufficient. It's damn hard escaping poverty. I feel as though it's my duty to spread the wealth. I feel as though it's very unfair that I can make lots of money because I already have plenty of money. Those who have the most money make the most money. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That's unfair.

I think it's victim-blaming to say that the poor would become rich if they were more careful with their money, and I find that kind of thinking very offensive.

 

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Help or Hinder

6 min read

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

Empty cupboard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Seemingly Unimportant Decisions

7 min read

This is a story about success and failure...

Baked beans

There was a time, almost exactly a year ago, when I covered my windows with thick paper - so my bedroom was in complete darkness - and I ate baked beans out of a can with a business card as a makeshift spoon. There was nothing particularly wrong with my life at the time. I was earning a fabulous amount of money, my home had amazing panoramic sea views, I had a lovely girlfriend. What could possibly have brought about this rather dire turn of events?

It's important to me to feel like I'm succeeding. It's important to feel like I'm making progress. It's important for me to be able to picture a future that goes beyond the next week or the next month. I need to be able to see a clear pathway to a life that I will find happy and sustainable; fulfilling.

Of course, my path has never been blocked by any insurmountable obstacle. I never doubted for a single moment that my kidneys would start working again when they failed. I never doubt that I'll be able to find well paid work. I never doubt that at some point, eventually, I'll be able to quit the rat race.

The question is: how long will it take to achieve my modest and reasonable desire to feel secure in a happy, sustainable and fulfilling life? How many times will I have to move house, move city? How many times will I have to get a new job? How long until I own my own house again? How long until I have adequate cash reserves to pursue my dreams?

For many people, they already have their answer: they will never escape poverty. For the vast majority of people on the planet, they will be poor for their entire lives, and they will live a miserable, stressful, hand-to-mouth existence.

I'm not most people.

I'm not special or different.

I'm not entitled to any preferential treatment.

I don't deserve to be able to pursue rich-man's hobbies, such as writing, art and indulging academic fetishes.

However, I can tell you how long it will take to be able to free myself from the coercive tyranny of capitalism, and the answer is not "never". I'm fortunate, very fortunate that I do have a route to freedom; a route which most people do not have - they'll never escape the clutches of poverty.

Perhaps my decisions to black out my windows and eat cold beans from a can with an improvised spoon were part of a petulant tantrum; a result of impulsive impatience, in the face of a long and unpleasant waiting game. This is probably the closest approximation to the truth.

If I thought that my quality of life was going to remain below an acceptable minimum for any great length of time, and that the number of years of unpleasantness I was facing were too many for me to bear, I would make decisions... I would make decisions with drastic consequences.

It might seem illogical to you that I would make decisions with terrible consequences, when there are literally billions of people who would kill to trade places with me. However, it also seems illogical to me to make a decision with terrible consequences, such as continuing to tolerate an intolerable life, or worse still, inflicting that intolerable life onto some children knowingly brought into the world in awful circumstances. Surely we have to acknowledge that suicide is an option. Surely we have to acknowledge that contraception and abortions are preferable to miserable deprived hungry children, raised in filth and squalor.

Who am I to decide what the minimum viable quality of life is for somebody else, or the children they spawn? You're right: I can't make that decision for anybody except myself.

As things stand, the quality of my life is pretty exceptional, but there is still an unacceptable level of precarity. There is a greater risk of me falling below the minimum threshold for continued existence, than there is for my peers. I'm lacking vital things, such as a local support network, a supportive family and the willingness to re-endure suffering which I've already experienced beyond the amount I'm prepared to accept.

Of course, it would take a perfect storm, losing my girlfriend, my job, my money, my house and my health, for me to decide that I've had enough. However, I know how easily my flimsy, fragile life can collapse with alarming speed. This is not due to anything specifically weak about myself and my situation, but entirely due to my first-hand experience of calamitous life events.

It's probably true that if something bad happened in my life, I am now in a much more robust position and able to quickly remedy the situation before things collapsed. It's probably true that I'm better prepared than almost anybody to deal with adversity - I have the experience and I've dealt with dreadful things plenty of times. The question is, how much would it take for me to decide I couldn't be bothered to fight anymore?

As it stands, I work very hard to mitigate risks. I think the unthinkable. I anticipate theoretical problems and solve them before they even present themselves in reality. I know where my most vulnerable areas are, I've imagined my reaction, and I've imagined exactly what positive steps I would take in the event of disaster.

I'm quite insecure and anxious, but it's understandable. I don't have the luxury of anybody underwriting my risk. Ultimately, I know that I can fall very, very far. That's my life: a high-wire tightrope walk without a safety net.

Imagine the young trainee doctor I wrote about last year, who killed himself when he thought he was going to be declared unfit to practice medicine. He could have gotten a job at McDonalds. He could have been a beggar. Surely it can't be that bad to be alive, fit and healthy, can it? Surely he should have been happy that he wasn't a starving African child with mutilated genitals? That's not the way it works, I'm afraid. There are people who have terrible lives, but that doesn't mean that other people can't have terrible lives too, even if they are not absolutely terrible. Terribleness is relative to our lived experiences. Terribleness is a function of our very real and tangible hopes and dreams being dashed to pieces on the rocks.

My lived experiences encompass sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens as well as dining nearby on a private terrace overlooking a lush green roof garden with flamingos, and London's skyline providing the backdrop for me proposing marriage with an exorbitantly expensive engagement ring, before clinking glasses with finest champagne. That is an example of the range of my life experiences, from utter failure and destitution to incredible wealth and success. It's impossible to un-experience those things, and to reset the "minimum viable quality of life" to a level of my own choosing.

Could I be poor and happy? Quite possibly, but I very much doubt that I would be happy flipping burgers, getting paid minimum wage on a zero hours contract McJob and giving all my hard-earned money to capitalist leeches for the privilege of being alive.

If you flip burgers and you are happy, then I'm pleased for you. If you're a starving African child with mutilated genitals and you're happy, then I'm pleased for you. Please also recognise that I cannot un-experience what I have experienced in my life and I cannot choose how to feel.

 

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