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

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Bad Decisions

5 min read

This is a story about getting into debt...

Bike

I was desperate for a halfway-decent car when I was 17 years old. The car I had when I first passed my driving test was the most disgusting horrible thing you've ever seen in your life, and that was before my mum crashed it, and then a blind man was paid to repair it using household paint of the wrong colour, which was daubed thickly onto the crumpled bodywork, and left to drip and generally look worse than it would have done if somebody had simply lowered their trousers, curled out a shit onto the bonnet, and then smeared the excrement.

The car, absolutely, was not a gift. In fact, the car was a curse. Firstly it was extortionate to repair, because nobody has a disgusting shit car like that for their first car, so no insurer would offer me an affordable policy. That wiped out every penny I had. Then, it was ruined: my mother crashed it, and it was shit in the first place. It was so old, that basically, it was mechanically fucked in every conceivable way. So, the insurance financially ruined me, then repairing it left me with a gigantic debt to the garage. Then, after all that, it was a hideously ugly shit unreliable horrible, horrible, horrible car.

So, I was keen to have a car that was not shit.

I got a bank loan. I got a bank loan to buy a car, which wasn't a piece of shit, looked like shit, drove like shit... I took out a bank loan to buy a fucking OK-ish fucking car, alright?

In actual fact, it was a good decision to get that bank loan, because I was happy with my not-shit car. In fact, I was fucking ecstatic to have a car which wasn't a complete pile of shit, that was financially crippling me.

Predictably, my OK-ish car was not a pile of fucking horrible ugly shit, and consequently cost me far less in garage repair bills. Predictably, my OK-ish car did wonders for my self-esteem, and I was quite proud of my OK-ish car. My OK-ish car was very enjoyable to drive, and I was very glad that I had taken out that bank loan.

Of course, I hated being in debt, but I paid it off pretty quickly, especially as the garage bills were a fraction of what they were for the horrible ugly old piece of shit, which was good for nothing but the scrap yard.

So, where am I going with this?

Today is payday. Actually, I don't really have payday, to to speak. I don't have a salaried job, in any sense that you'd understand. I run my own company, so it's not like payday is really a thing for me. But anyway, for the sake of simplicity: imagine that today is payday for me.

I've been trying to buy a new bike for a little while. Pictured above is my city bike: designed for zooming through traffic in London. I love that bike. It's great.

I don't live in London anymore. I live somewhere where there's hills.

The new bike I've been trying to buy is a mountain bike. I don't live super close to any mountains - maybe 45 minutes away - but it's pretty hilly where I live, so I need gears. As it happens, I already have a mountain bike, which I bought on motherfucking credit, OK, motherfucker not long after I got my OK-ish car. My 22 year old mountain bike is brilliant and I love it, but I want one which is better for going up and down hills. I mean, that's what my old one is designed to do, but I want a better one.

So, I'm buying something that I don't need but I want and I can afford because it's payday. I can pay cash. I don't need to borrow money or otherwise get it on some kind of credit agreement. I can just walk into a fucking shop, hand over the cash, and walk out with the brand new mountain bike.

I'm getting one.

Actually, it looks like I'm getting one which is going to cost twice as much as I had budgeted for... but I don't care. I want the one that I want, and I want it now... or rather, I want it tomorrow, because the shop needs to build it for me.

It feels - having been relatively recently homeless, horrendously indebted, and almost bankrupt - to be an incredibly bad decision. Sure, it probably is, but I've got the money - surplus - and I'm going to spend it all on this thing that I want; this thing that I don't need.

For sure, I'm not spending money that I don't have; I'm not spending money before I've earned it. For sure, this could be the beginning of a spiral back into debt, but I really don't think it's going to be. Even if it is, I don't give a shit. I've put up with too much for too long, to fuck around any longer.

Sorry for the stream of expletives. I've had to justify myself and my very real human needs, for far too long. If you ask my dad, you can get a bike that's just as good as a £30,000 full-carbon Tour de France pro-rider bike, so cheaply that somebody will pay you to take it off your hands, and buy you a fucking house too for your trouble.

By the way, I am not buying a £30,000 full-carbon pro-rider bike. I am buying a mid-range bike: not the cheapest, and not the most expensive. Mid-priced.

Okay?

Happy now?

 

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Dumbest Guy in the Room

4 min read

This is a story about being opinionated...

Boardroom

I cannot shut up. I will not shut up. I could not shut up, even if I wanted to. Sometimes I do want to shut up, although my colleagues would probably snort with laughter at such a notion. In fact, sometimes I can force myself to shut up, a little bit, but it doesn't last very long.

The problem is, that thoughts pop into my head - relevant, useful thoughts - which then spew out of my mouth, after only a moment of hesitation to see if anybody else is going to say anything. To say that I engage my mouth before my brain is quite untrue. In fact, my brain is very thoroughly engaged, meaning that I seem to have ample time to process everything that's being said, think of something relevant and useful, to deliberately hesitate to think about who else might have something they want or need to say, and also to simply give other people a chance to make a contribution... then having completed that process, I speak.

The way that people act in large organisations is weird. Whenever there's a large meeting, like a town hall, whenever somebody asks "any questions?" there's an unwritten rule that nobody is supposed to ask any questions. I follow that rule, because otherwise I'd be hated by my colleagues. I mean, more hated than I am already for being so outspoken.

I've started to get really bored of the sound of my own voice. I very much dislike hearing myself so much. I worry a great deal about how much I talk, versus most of my other colleagues.

I'm the dumb guy in the room. I'm the guy who doesn't seem to realise that we all get paid anyway, whether I make a contribution or not; that we all get paid anyway, whether I'm paying attention or not; that we all get paid anyway... so why bother? The smart guys in the room know that it's best to zone out, switch off, not contribute, keep schtum, and just hope that it somehow makes the working day pass a little more quickly.

It doesn't.

If you go to lots and lots of interminable boring meetings, for sure you don't want to prolong them for any longer than they absolutely must do. For sure, there are good reasons for hating the desperately ambitious people, who ask questions for the sake of making an impression with the more senior members of staff in the organisation, when everybody in the room really wants to go to lunch or go home. For sure, it's idiotic to waste so many people's time, showing off to a roomful of colleagues.

But.

I'm able to get out of bed in the morning because I care about the project I'm working on. When I don't care, the depression is so bad that I can't get up; I can't face it; I can't face the boredom.

I don't know how people do it. How do people, for years and years, turn up at an office for 40+ hours a week, just to make up the numbers; just to be zoned out and not interested in making a contribution?

For sure, there's a difference in how assertive people are. For sure, I'm at the extreme end of assertive, bordering on downright aggressive: I will be heard. For sure, I must be drowning others, more hesitant than I, out of the conversation; out of the discussion.

It's a dumb move. Work is, primarily, a popularity contest. Promotions are based on how much a person is liked by their superiors, not on merit, qualifications, experience, hard work, grit, determination, attitude, or any of the other bullshit which we're told is what promotions are based on. No. Sorry. Wrong. It's all based on popularity. If you want to get promoted, you must be popular with those who are making the promotion decision. It's that simple. No exceptions.

Mercifully, I don't want to be promoted. I'm already director of my own company. I can't be promoted: I'm already the top dog; the main man; the head honcho.

Mercifully, I don't have to play the corporate game. I can just get on with my job, as a professional, which means being as productive and useful as possible, to ensure a successful project outcome.

Sure, I'd like to be popular as well, but I find it's hard to be effective, productive and be popular: the two are often mutually exclusive.

I definitely don't want to be an asshole though. That would suck.

 

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I ❤️ a Crisis

3 min read

This is a story about the proverbial hitting the fan...

Hotdesk

It's often said that most fires are started by bored firemen who want to be heroes, but there are too few fires to fight. Eventually, when we've prepared for the worst for a very long time, it is us ourselves who precipitate a crisis, because we can't stand waiting for the blows to rain down upon us any longer.

Similarly, my profession incorporates a lot of planning for disasters. Quite literally, part of my job is to consider what would happen in event of nuclear holocaust, tsunami, hurricane or other apocalyptic event. If I wasn't planning for disasters to happen, I wouldn't be doing my job right.

I am not, by the way, planning to launch any kind of nuclear attack.

Banks have lots of empty desks like the ones pictured above. These are disaster recovery desks. In the event of a disaster, in theory, the financial markets could continue to function: the traders who have survived the disaster would be able to make their way to the nearest building which still has power and data, to carry on working. This is business-as-usual for the banking and wider financial services sector: it happily plans for the destruction of civilisation, while ensuring that asset prices are still protected. The world might burn to the ground, but at least the shareholders retain most of their paper wealth, is the ethos.

The thing I live in fear of the most is: boredom.

I was incredibly worried that the next 6 months of my life were going to be excruciatingly boring. It's my professional duty to ensure things are as boring as possible. I'm paid handsomely to ensure that things go smoothly and successfully, but it makes for a pretty boring life. I much prefer life when everything's on fire. It's bloody brilliant when everyone's losing their cool all around me, and I get to have some fun being the hero, fixing stuff; enjoying some pressure and excitement. But, it would be unprofessional of me to deliberately - or at least provably - cook up a crisis.

Now, a situation has fallen in my lap. Instead of dreading the next few months, I'm looking forward to working my butt off to sort things out, with a high-pressure drop-dead deadline. This is the stuff I really relish. This is the sort of stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning, as well as the generous remuneration.

I love it when stuff goes wrong.

 

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What Next?

4 min read

This is a story about dreams...

Penny

Here is money. Don't spend it all at once. A starving African child would be grateful to have this money. A boomer could buy a house, go out to the cinema, get a taxi home and still have change left, from this money.

A conversation I keep having with a friend who also suffers from existential angst, ennui and general loathing of the rat race, is what I'd do if I was free from the tyranny of rent/mortgage and career considerations. My friend thinks that things would be no different, except perhaps I would be bored. I disagree, but I don't have an easy answer. I have no burning desire to re-train as a landscape gardener or a vet. I have no desire to swap one career - profession - for a different one.

Having had a 23 year long career, and previously - as a child - suffered the consequences of my parents being lazy loser drop-out druggie bums, who refused to get a job and stop scrounging off their parents. My childhood experiences certainly made me want to go a very different way with my life: to be a valuable, productive member of society; to make a contribution; to have a career and a profession. Now, I want to drop out. I want to drop out of the rat race. I want to be a bum; a tramp even.

The time I spent homeless was chaotic, traumatic and stressful at times, but I have very fond memories of a lot of the time, where I connected with people, community; I had a social life. Life was enjoyable. Now it is not.

The friends who I have, who are free from the tyranny of a bullshit job which they can't afford to lose, lest they lose their home, their money, their credit rating and their dignity... they are not bored. They are busy. They spend time talking to people, about stuff other than how horrible the commute to the office is, and other job-related stuff. They find people they like and they hang out with them, instead of being coerced into spending the vast majority of their waking hours, corralled together with people who are equally resentful about having the prime years of their lives robbed so cheaply.

The gap-year-university-I-built-a-school-in-africa-yah-boo-jolly-hockey-sticks brigade are perhaps happy with their lives, because they had pleasant privileged upbringings, in private or selective schools, surrounded by other socioeconomically advantaged kids at all stages, including when they went to university, which continued into first jobs... marry the girl of your dreams and you've always got plenty of money for a house, car, holiday, and school fees for the next generation to carry on doing what you've always done - the best of everything, always.

We must consider that I never went travelling and I never went to university. Couldn't afford it.

I enjoyed a bit of the London young professional scene, but it's quite an uphill battle if you don't have your group of university buddies as a social group.

I found a group of kitesurfers, who became my social group, which was wonderful.

But it all went wrong. They've all got kids now, but I'm divorced. The childless man, who doesn't fit in anywhere. People have moved on with their lives.

Being homeless was great. Homeless people are a community. It's important to be part of a community.

Obviously I don't aim to be homeless, but I am considering it. Such is the extreme level of my misery, that I feel like I'd be happier homeless; cut loose from the tyranny of capitalism, rent/mortgage, career, salary, job, office, commute and all the rest of it, which makes no sense when none of the rewards are there - I'm not supporting a family, I'm not raising children, I'm not benefitting from any work-related social life.

What next? Seriously, I just want to drop out, and to find other drop-outs; other people who couldn't stand the rat race so much, that they ditched their mortgages/rent, careers and other things which are like a miserable trap, unless you are coerced into that system, because you need to provide a decent home for a child to grow up in, which my parents never did. I can be a nomad and at least I won't be fucking up any children's lives.

 

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5 Year Blogging Anniversary

2 min read

This is a story about writing...

Platform 9.75

To date, I have written and published 1,357,076 words on this blog. Today is the 5 year anniversary of me starting this blog. I have published 1,086 blog posts, which is an average of 4 per week. I think many writers would be pleased to write and publish something at least 4 days a week. I'm quite proud of my achievement.

Here are some facts about the past 5 years, in chronological order:

  • I was homeless when I started, on September 6th, 2015
  • I was £21,000 in debt when I started
  • I rented a super cool apartment by the River Thames in late September, 2015
  • I was locked up for a week - voluntarily - on a secure psych ward in October 2015
  • I flew to San Francisco to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, at the end of October 2015
  • Hospitalised for a few weeks with kidney failure, caused by DVT, January 2017
  • Moved to Manchester in July 2017
  • Suicide attempt on September 9th, 2017. Hospitalised in a coma in intensive care
  • Sectioned and held involuntarily on a psych ward, waiting for an appeal for 12 days
  • Won my appeal, but stayed on the psych ward voluntarily for another two weeks
  • Became homeless again
  • Moved to Swansea in October 2017, still homeless
  • Lived in a load of AirBnBs in London midweeek, due to work
  • Debt reached its peak of £54,000. I only had £23 left to spend.
  • Rented an apartment in Swansea with lovely panoramic sea views, in March 2018
  • Moved to Cardiff in March 2019
  • Suicide attempt on December 18th, 2019
  • Hospitalised with kidney failure for almost 3 weeks - discharged January 2020
  • August 2020 my peak of £54,000 debt is fully repaid. I am debt free.
  • I have £300 of savings, having subtracted all taxes and other monies owed

Here are some other interesting facts about the last 5 years:

  • I've worked 44 months out of 60 (73% of the time)
  • I've earned £530,000
  • I've paid £240,000 in tax
  • I've paid £83,000 in rent
  • I've paid £50,000 interest on debt

The numbers are actually pretty impressive, for somebody who's been so sick, homeless and generally suffering a very chaotic stressful life. I'm surprised I've been such a generous contributor to the economy, actually. I've philantropically handed out vast sums of money to banks, governments and landlords. I am, truly, a ragged-trousered philanthropist.

 

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Pattern Recognition

5 min read

This is a story about AI...

Eyes passim

You might think that it's incredible that a chess grandmaster could look at a chess board for 30 seconds, and then be able to place all the pieces on another board, in exactly the same positions as they were on the board they only saw for a brief time. That they can do this is not a sign of intelligence, but of pattern recognition, which is an acquired skill, honed through thousands of hours of practice. That's not to say that it's not impressive, but it's the hardware - the human brain that we all possess - that's impressive, not the individual.

I don't think we can all become chess grandmasters, if we want to. For us to want to spend those thousands of hours to develop the pattern recognition in our brains, we'd need to be motivated. It's beyond the scope of this essay to explore why some people memorise wild birds, train timetables, telephone numbers, or a whole host of other useless trivia, but let's just say that it's personal to the individual; some people just really like trains.

The patterns I wanted to write about today, are not like the patterns that can be discerned on a chess board, telling a grandmaster the story of how that particular game developed, and where it is heading. The pattern I wanted to write about is the boom and bust cycle of my mood, which has been going on for enough time now, that I feel like I can somewhat second-guess where things are going.

An ever-present worry is that the possibility of escaping the cycle will slip through my fingers, as it has done so many times before. In fact, it seems - from past events - to be an inescapable cycle; I'm eternally doomed to never escape.

Principally, I worry that I'm getting too cocky and arrogant; to certain of myself at work; too comfortable. Long gone are the days when I bit my tongue and tried to keep my head down. Long gone are the days when I was diplomatic and non-confrontational.

It feels a lot like a very regrettable period in 2015, when I felt certain that I was making an invaluable contribution to the organisation, project and team that I was a part of. While that might true, beyond a reasonable doubt, I was plagued with mental health problems. I suffered bouts of weird paranoia. I was emotionally fragile. I was unpredictable. I had some very strange thoughts about what was going on. I flipped wildly between doing a good job, and some rather odd obsessions.

Eventually, I broke down, was hospitalised, then suddenly decided to fly to San Francisco, then decided that I didn't want to come back, so I sent a series of really provocative emails, hoping to get sacked, which didn't work... until it did.

Perhaps it's unlikely that such an extreme set of events will ever repeat itself. I was hospitalised at Christmas and yet I bounced back from that, thanks in no small part to how kind and supportive my colleagues and the wider organisation I'm involved with, have been. My struggles with mental health have reached the point of colleagues needing to 'have a word' but I hope that things have quietened down since then, instead of continuing to escalate.

There's nothing I can particularly point to in 2015 which was driving my mental health to deteriorate, versus my present predicament. In 2015 I was homeless, and then managed to rent myself an apartment, which was - perhaps - an enormous stress, which finally caused me to lose my mind, temporarily. In 2015 my finances were much more distressed than they are today, although my situation is still not rosy: some debts and tax liabilities still hang over me like a dark cloud, although in theory I have the money to cover those costs.

In 2015 I knew I couldn't step off the treadmill for a single second, or else I would be ruined. This, of course, was too much pressure and I crumbled. My guardian angel was kind enough to avert disaster, but who could have foretold that a kind person with deep pockets would appear in my hour of need, to help me avoid bankruptcy, destitution, devastation, ruination and all the rest?

Today, I'm probably at break-even point. If I couldn't work tomorrow, or for the next few months, I might perhaps be able to avoid sinking deep into debt, but it would feel just as bad as 2015, because I've fought so hard for so long, to get back on my feet. I suppose things are a little different, because I've worked virtually non-stop for 3 years, without a major incident, except for the hospitalisation at Christmas, which - mercifully - hasn't completely derailed me.

I wish I could just put myself into "sleep mode" for the next 6+ months. Wake me up when the boring waiting game part is over. Wake me up when I have some financial security.

 

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Who Am I?

6 min read

This is a story about identity...

Punting

I'm always rather taken aback by anybody who asks who I am, given that I've written and published more than 1.3 million words, which have exhaustively documented who I am... or so I thought.

I suppose for an ordinary middle-class person, the question "who are you?" is really one of a few standard questions, which allow a person to be quickly bracketed; pigeon holed. Let's explore those questions, and the answers.

"What do you do?" - this is the classic middle-class question. The question could be rewritten more accurately as "how do you sell your labour to the capitalists?". The thrust of this question is to establish whether a person has a respectable job. If you're a solicitor, an accountant, a doctor or suchlike, then you are a person of interest because several assumptions can be made, which means a lot of subsequent questions can be skipped. Really, the question we'd love to ask is "how rich are you?" but it seems a little vulgar, so middle-class people take a rather indirect route in an attempt to establish an answer.

My answer to "how rich are you?" is that I have £26,000 in my bank account, I own a car worth £1,500 and a handful of possessions worth no more than a few thousand pounds. My salary is £732 per month. I am not rich.

My answer to "what do you do?" would rather obfuscate the fact that I am not rich, because I am a company director and IT consultant.

"Where did you go to university?" - this is another classic middle-class question. Obviously an Oxbridge education means that you're most likely rich, because most Oxbridge students are rich. There are the red-brick universities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, the Oxbridge reject universities like Durham and Exeter, and the highly regarded universities such as Imperial, UCL and suchlike. Then, there are the Russel Group universities, which are respected. If you went anywhere else, you're probably poor and/or stupid. It would seem more direct to ask "are you stupid?" but this is considered rude.

My answer to "are you stupid?" is no.

My answer to "where did you go to university?" is nowhere, which is rather confusing, as this would seem to suggest that I wasn't clever enough; my exam results weren't adequate. Nope. I had unconditional offers from some of the best universities in the UK. I didn't go because I wanted and needed to earn money, which I did by getting onto a graduate training programme with the UK's number one aerospace and defence company, age 17, despite not having a university degree. See - not stupid.

"Where do you live?" - yet another middle-class cliché. Of course, the real question is "how much is your house worth?". Through indirect questions, the questionner is attempting to establish whether you own a big house in a desirable area, which is likely to indicate that you're rich.

My answer to "how much is your house worth?" is that I don't own a house. See earlier answers.

My answer to "where do you live?" is a leafy suburb of Cardiff; certainly an extremely desirable area. Oh, and for a bonus, I live in a 4 bedroom house with period features, worth about £350,000... but of course, I don't own it. Well, frankly nobody owns their house, do they... except old people. The bank owns the house and they let you live there as long as you pay the mortgage. It's not yours. The title deeds at the Land Registry state who the owner is: the bank.

"What do you drive?" - this is one of the more shallow and transparently money-obsessed questions, but one that very often gets asked; a surefire attempt to socioeconomically bracket somebody... to feel the thickness of their wallet. Again, you might as well ask "are you rich?" but we already asked that one, so maybe the question should be more "what status symbols do you own?".

My answer to "what status symbols do you own?" is none. I don't have an expensive watch. I don't have a flashy expensive car. I suppose my pedigree cat perhaps qualifies as a status symbol, but I don't think of that cute little ball of fluff in that way.

My answer to "what do you drive?" is an 11-year-old car, with a big dent in it where an idiot drove into it in an otherwise empty car park, which I haven't been bothered to fix yet... because, well, it's an 11 year old car, so who cares? Of course I like cars. I could spend some of my £26,000 on a fancy car, but I won't, mostly because I hardly drive anywhere.

Those are pretty much the only questions that seem to matter to the middle-class people who are trying to size me up. They're certainly not trying to get to know me so these questions are sufficient to bracket me, somewhat.

Of course, the real answer to "who are you?" is much more complex. So complex, in fact, that 1.3 million words doesn't even begin to answer it.

If you think that I'm a self-centred narcissist, you're probably right, but I've lived with suicidal depression and come close to dying enough times to feel that I'm somewhat entitled (emphasis to underscore my extreme self-centred narcissism) to leave some kind of record of who I was behind, to survive me after I'm gone. I don't have any easily recognisable and understood label, which I can affix to myself: my profession is poorly understood and often labelled as "geek" or "nerd" or something else undesirable, even though it powers the modern world; without IT consultants - software engineers like me - you wouldn't be reading this right now, because the internet wouldn't exist. You're welcome. I'm an alumnus of a prestigious technology accelerator programme, which was held at the University of Cambridge, but of course as you know, I can't claim to be a graduate; I merely beat thousands of other applicants for one of ten precious places; I merely wowed Cambridge Union Society and some packed lecture theatres. What label should I wear?

Loser, I expect.

 

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My First Jobs: Defence and Banking

5 min read

This is a story about guilt...

Conscience

The ethical benchmark by which I try to judge myself is that of a schoolfriend who's a renowned thinker and writer, and an exceptionally clever and thoughtful person; a real inspiration. I'm occasionally reminded that he reads my blog, which is an incredible privilege, but also makes me more acutely aware of my shortcomings in the ethical department.

As the title of this essay suggests, my first job was in defence. In my defence - pun intended - I was 17 years old, and my motivation was to achieve some degree of independence such that I might later be able to choose what I wanted to do with my life. I don't feel like I ever had the opportunity to think "what do I want to do with my life?". It seems fairly commonplace amongst the sons and daughters of middle-class families, that their children find a subject that they find interesting, which they pursue academically at university. I never had any financial support from my family, to pursue any dreams, so I was forced to make pragmatic decisions. There was the opportunity to study for a degree while I was at my first job, but a job's a job... I had no passion for making weapons of mass destruction, so I wasn't motivated to study the subject academically.

I distinctly remember imagining a day when I might find out that a vessel had been sunk by Spearfish or Tigerfish torpedos, and I considered how I would feel if there was loss of life, directly attributable to my work. I suppose I should have thought about it beforehand, but I didn't - I just wanted and needed a salary; I needed to pay my rent and bills.

In all honesty, I didn't quit my job in ethical protest at the defence industry. I quit because I was getting ripped off - I was very underpaid for my skills and experience, and I resented that.

Where could I get paid the most?

Banking.

I'm not proud of it, but my thought process really was as simple as asking myself: where can I get paid the most?

I suppose just about anybody would think "investment banking" when quizzed on where a person might find the highest salary. The late 1990s was not quite the loadsamoney heyday of the yuppies, which was ushered in by Margaret Thatcher, but the City was still awash with money. My motivation was pure greed and avarice, one might say. I put little or no thought into the ethics of my career decision, I freely admit.

In my defence - pun still intended - I was leaving the defence industry, so surely anything I chose would be more ethical than that; more ethical than designing and building weapons of mass destruction.

With hindsight, usury inflicts as much misery and suffering as war.

But.

It would take many years before I understood that.

My first job in the City of London was everything you would expect it to be: an extremely macho and male-dominated environment, with plenty of booze, drugs, strippers and escorts. Awash with cash, our lifestyles were offensively lavish. It was pure vulgarity, writ large.

I was still young, of course... only my second job, but you must also remember that I skipped university because I couldn't afford it when I was 17. But then... but then... I was wearing golden handcuffs.

I kept thinking about going to university to pursue a subject I was interested in. Psychology or psychopharmacology, perhaps. I applied and was offered a place at some very prestigious institutions. However, I couldn't face being poor again. I couldn't give up the lavish lifestyle, once I'd had a taste of it.

It was several more years before I found myself working on a project related to the confirmation and settlement of credit default swaps for the investment bank which processed 70% of all trades. Quadrillions of dollars of credit swaps flowed through systems I designed and built. I didn't really think about it too much, as I was too busy being an engineer: Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department.

I was laid low with depression, which kicked in at the exact same time as the credit crunch and the global financial crisis of 2007/8. I often say I was at ground zero, because it's true.

I still don't ask myself whether what I'm doing is ethical: I'm an engineer, and I like to build stuff; it's only with hindsight that I see the ethical problems. A schoolfriend suggested I sabotage the project I'm working on, which is 'big government' stuff, but it seems benign to me... perhaps I'll see things differently, when it's too late.

I absolutely do not pass the ethics test. I feel like my defence is a flimsy version of: "if I didn't do it, somebody else would have done". I feel like I'm a Nazi saying "I was just following orders".

 

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Lockdown Improvements

5 min read

This is a story about the Coronavirus pandemic...

Lighthouse

Many people planned to come out of lockdown with new hobbies, fitter, healthier, happier and myriad other unachievable unrealistic things. I think that we have mostly come out of lockdown fatter, more unfit, poorer, more insecure, lonely, isolated, bored and generally worse off.

I started the lockdown drinking very heavily and eating McDonald's breakfast every morning. I decided that if we were going to be suffering the misery of being under house arrest, then I would treat myself. Quickly I realised that I was going to end up with clogged arteries and morbidly obese. I was eating takeaway several nights a week and not doing any exercise.

I started the lockdown physically dependent on sleeping pills to get to sleep, and using two different tranquillising sedatives to cope with unbearable anxiety. I decided it was too much hassle to try to keep stocked up with the medications I needed during the lockdown, and I calculated that I have enough left to be able to taper myself off. I didn't want to run out of medication suddenly in the middle of a pandemic.

I started the lockdown working on my sofa, fully reclined. I realised that my posture and back would be ruined by working in such a position for 8 hours a day, followed by many more hours on the sofa after finishing work.

Things had to change.

I thought the lockdown would last a month or two, but I must admit that I didn't think it would drag on beyond a quarter of the year. I tried my best to psychologically prepare myself for the lockdown lasting for months, but I was hopeful it'd be all over after 6 to 8 weeks.

I bought a desk and an office chair.

I weaned myself off the sleeping pills and tranquillisers.

I cut down my drinking, and even went teetotal for 6 or 7 weeks.

I started exercising. Not, like, exercising exercising. Just going for a 10km walk every day. Enough to keep me a little bit active, but nothing crazy.

I stopped getting takeaways. All those takeaways were costing quite a lot of money, when they were all added up. Sure, I felt like I could justify spending the money to enjoy some nice food, as compensation for the doom and gloom of the hundreds of thousands of people dying all over the world, and the restrictions to our freedom... but it wasn't healthy and it was costing a packet.

I paid off all my debt. This wasn't so much a planned thing. It was something that just happened to co-incide with the lockdown. However, it feels pretty damn good to have some savings now. I have a net worth again, which feels good. I have some financial security, even if it is pretty negligible. It had been a very long time which I'd been struggling to get my finances sorted, and it's a big relief to be back in the black.

My life is extremely austere and simple. I have my house, my job, my cat, my car; that's it. My health is probably OK. My weight is OK, although I am carrying some extra weight I'd like to shift, as a consequence of lockdown. My finances are OK. My job seems OK. My housing situation is sort of OK. My kitten is great, although my cat is lost... overall OK. My car has a big dent where an idiot crashed into it during lockdown, in a virtually empty car park, but there are more important things in life than having a shiny perfect car.

All things considered, I think I'm one of the lockdown winners - I'm emerging in far better shape than I went into lockdown. Some people have lost their job, or are about to lose their job. Some people have struggled with alcohol and food. Some people have struggled with mental health. In almost every area of my life, things have improved; I look reasonably well positioned to weather a difficult autumn and winter.

Although losing my cat was the worst thing that happened, it has forced me to connect with my neighbours and the wider community, so I have even managed to live a far less isolated and lonely existence under lockdown, than I was living before - I speak to far more people; I'm more connected and socially engaged.

I thought that if I retreated inwards, living and communicating through my blog and social media, then I would find it impossible to get through the lockdown. It looks like a reasonably good decision, to have taken a break.

It helps that it's summer - of course - which lifts my mood and generally creates a more pleasant and favourable backdrop for life, but I feel hopeful that I've got a decent position of health and financial stability to fight through the autumn and winter. I just need to book some holidays now... I've worked non-stop since early January, when I was discharged from hospital.

 

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Sick Of The Sound Of My Voice

5 min read

This is a story about verbal diarrhoea...

Boardroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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