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

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Give a Job to a Busy Person

6 min read

This is a story about workload...

Gas Meter

The original idiom - which I have adapted to make it more inclusive - says that if you want a job doing, you should give it to a busy man. I notice that this is fairly true, from my anecdotal observations: the busier I am, the easier it is for me to deal with extra work being given to me.

One year ago I had the intolerable task of sitting quietly trying not to get noticed, and trying to keep my mouth shut. I knew that the very best thing I could do for my career and my bank balance, was not to rock the boat; not to attempt to say or do anything useful. The best thing I could do was act as a very expensive seat warmer. I was paid for being present, not for being useful or productive.

One year ago, seemingly minor things made me exceedingly anxious. If I had to get my car tested for roadworthiness, have a haircut, deal with the gas company, or any one of a million ordinary everyday tasks, I would find it unbelievably stressful, and I struggled to cope.

I have started to work 100+ hours a week again. To say that I'm busy would be a massive understatement. I am hyper-productive for the maximum amount of hours which human physiology allows for, without sleep deprivation causing me to have a psychotic episode. Unable to sleep, it's quite usual for me to open my laptop and start working in the middle of the night. I wake up well before my alarm clock. I am running in overdrive mode at the moment, also more commonly known as a manic episode.

Of course, with mania, I get very impatient and irritable about things which are not on the critical path. For example, I was asked to update a spreadsheet which detailed the activities I've been doing during the past couple of weeks, and how long I spent on each activity. To me, this is the most ridiculous waste of my time, given that 100% of my time has been spent on productive activities for one single organisation, so I really don't give a toss about how it's sliced and diced - all my valuable time has gone to benefit the organisation who wants me to waste time on an unproductive exercise, which leaves me less time to do productive activities. It's idiotic to get your highly paid staff to spend their time doing activities which are not valuable, when instead they could be doing something useful.

The argument would be that timesheets and suchlike are the way that we calculate how much to pay people, but this is demonstrably absurd. If the number of hours worked had any kind of relationship with the value delivered, then I would agree that it's important for us to record or time worked on task accurately, but there IS NO relationship between remuneration and hours worked. If I work the same number of hours as some of my colleagues, I am paid 5 or 6 times as much. Am I 5 or 6 times more productive and valuable? Sometimes I am less valuable, sometimes I am more valuable, and sometimes - although it's exceptionally rare - my remuneration tallies with the value that I'm delivering.

One of my colleagues said to me "you've got too much time on your hands" when he saw something I'd been doing, which he thought was a waste of time. Later, that piece of work I'd done turned out to be one of the most valuable things that anybody in the team ever produced - something that benefits every member of the team every single day, and perhaps many many other members of other teams, and indeed the whole organisation.

Value and productivity are very hard to measure. "Bums on seats" culture is dreadful. The number of hours that staff spend at their place of work has no bearing on how productive and valuable they are.

In the teams I get involved with, I try to instill a culture of "think it... do it". I want people to implement any innovative ideas the moment they have them. If the ideas turn out to be duds, so what? It only takes one or two great ideas that really pay off, to more than outweigh the small amount of wasted time doing things which had little value. So much time is wasted talking about priorities, and the pros and cons of doing something, and agonising over whether it could or should be done. The culture I bring to teams and organisations is one where everybody's encouraged to build stuff, even if it gets thrown away; even if it's silly!

It's much better for people to be productive and have their brains being kept busy, than looking busy. It's so much better for people's sense of job satisfaction, sense of purpose, sense of pride, sense of ownership, and a multitude of other great qualities that we want from the people in our teams and organisations.

There's no obvious value in the text-based adventure game which I hid inside one of our systems, as an easter egg, but the value is in the cultural tone that it sets: it's OK to build stuff; don't be afraid; don't be so serious... this is supposed to be fun and intellectually challenging.

As it turned out, now we have several tools which imitate the game I built, which perform useful functions for the organisation. Instead of attempting to "win" a "game", the objective is to find and fix problems, using the available clues, which is pretty much what every IT professional does for a day job, but it's a lot better if there's a half-decent interface to help with that task. Computer games are always brilliant at having the learning curve set to make them accessible, and they take advantage of the best available features: if all you have is a computer terminal that can print text and accept typed commands, then you can still create a brilliant game, even without fancy 3D graphics and sound.

I'm busy as hell, and you might say that the 2 hours I spent writing an adventure game were wasted, but in fact it was time well spent. The 5 minutes I spent battling with a spreadsheet where I had to record the hours I spent working on things, was a total waste of time and quite corrosive to the great working culture I'm trying so hard to create.

 

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Harsh

5 min read

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

Hand wash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I Will Work Harder

6 min read

This is a story about overwork...

Pound notes

It occurred to me that most working people use their monthly take-home income to work out affordability. Everything is paid for monthly by most of the wage-slave salarymen and women, across the country. Each month, there's a rent or mortgage payment, a car payment, a loan payment, a mobile phone payment, a broadband internet payment and myriad other monthly payments. Everything is worked out based on whether those monthly payments are affordable, as opposed to thinking about the value of the thing in question.

Instead of thinking "I can't afford a £250,000 house because I only earn £25,000" people think that they earn £1,711 per month, and so that's the maximum they can pay in monthly instalments. If the mortgage is £1,000, the car is £150, the loan is £100 and the other stuff is £250 per month, then that's £1,500 total, leaving a balance of £250 disposable income every month. That's how wage slaves do the maths. That's how wage slaves calculate what's affordable.

I'm a bit weird.

I own my car. I own my phone. I buy things. I don't pay monthly.

If I was to think about my monthly net income - after tax - and then live a lifestyle which was in accordance with that income, then I wouldn't be driving a rusty 14-year-old bottom of the range old banger of a car. I wouldn't be living in a rented house. I wouldn't be worrying about the affordability of things, because my monthly net income is vastly more than my monthly net financial commitments.

This is, of course, provided that I'm well enough to work.

My health has proven unreliable. My mental health has been a huge obstacle to steady reliable dependable consistent work, day after boring monotonous terrible day. My ability to work cannot be taken for granted.

So, I work as hard as I can, whenever I'm able to. I earn as much as I can, while I'm able to.

I don't make any financial commitments. I don't take on any debt.

This means that I enjoy none of the fruits of my labour.

I have zero status symbols to remind me that I'm very good at my job, and I'm handsomely rewarded for my efforts.

Perhaps one day I will buy a house and a shiny new car, but I always think "what if I get sick?". I can't stand the thought of having giant financial obligations, such as a mortgage and car repayments, if I'm too unwell to be able to work. My life has enough pressure and stress in it without the added headache of needing to earn a certain amount of cash every single month, lest my home and car get repossessed and my credit rating get destroyed.

It's pretty soul destroying, working really hard but feeling, weirdly, really poor. Everybody is zooming around in fancy flash new cars, paid for in monthly instalments, while I pootle along in my rusty banger. Everybody is doing home improvements to the houses that are owned by the banks and building societies, while I'm in a rented house with ugly curtains and in desperate need of being redecorated.

I suppose I have nothing to complain about, because I'm making very rapid progress. If I'm lucky, then I will start to get on top of everything and my financial situation will improve with incredible speed. I need a load of luck, because my income looks like it's going to come to a screeching halt at the end of the month, as things currently stand. The demands for my cash skyrocket if I have to leave where I live to go somewhere where there's more jobs - I will be paying double rent, double bills, and I will have two deposits, all of which drains my limited funds.

Because I want my life to be better, I will work as hard as I possibly can to get into a better situation. I'll work from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep, 7 days a week, if somebody is going to pay me decent money. It's only because I think it would be detrimental in the medium-term and result in a net loss of earnings, that I don't work every hour I possibly can. Somebody would query my timesheet and gigantic bill if I started working 100+ hours a week, although I could very much use the money.

I had this situation in 2015, during the same time of year. I was authorised to work unlimited overtime, so I worked 7 days a week. I burnt out and became very mentally ill. Things did not end well.

I've worked very hard to build a good reputation for myself, and I need to preserve that. I need to hang on to the gains I've made. I need to avoid losing my mind. A quick glance at my blog from 2015 tells me that I had a catastrophic breakdown around the middle of October 2015, so I will aim to get to Christmas without incident. I will aim to calm things down. I will aim to look after myself. I will aim to be sensible with how hard I work and how hard I push myself, and attempt to maintain some stability.

I really need to take a holiday.

When the clocks change, that's a terrible time for me. The end of daylight saving is dreadful for me.

It would be ideal if I could secure my contract so that I know I have a source of income, and I could take a holiday around the time that the clocks go back. That would be ideal. That would be perfect for my health. That's what I need.

I don't think it's going to be possible.

I need to keep going.

I need to keep working as hard as ever.

I need to work EVEN HARDER because I have to get through this difficult period where my contract is ending. I need to get my contract extended or find a new contract. I need to find some work locally or else move to Bristol or London. I need to keep the money rolling in. I need to keep going.

It's been a very long, very hard road. I'm very tired.

 

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Step Three: Rinse & Repeat

6 min read

This is a story about repetition...

Bottles

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did I relapse? Nope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Sleep Engineering

4 min read

This is a story about exhaustion...

Burndown

If I get my sleep right then almost everything else falls into place. Of course, it might be the case that my sleep is right when other things in my life are going well - cause and effect have no clear relationship here - but life is very miserable when I'm having sleep problems.

Thinking back to when I first got my kitten, I was incredibly stressed that she was very restless and noisy in the middle of the night, attacking everything and anything and keeping me awake. Thinking back a little further, I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and get to work on time. There was a period when I was heavily dependent on sleep aids - taking copious amounts of sleeping pills, tranquillisers and sedatives, as well as drinking bucketloads of alcohol. Thinking back, things are vastly improved.

I have been feeling very tired at work during the afternoons. I have worked very long days for a lengthy period of time, and it's taking its toll.

So.

I moved my bedtime back by an hour or two.

This morning I woke up before my alarm and I felt refreshed.

Jackpot.

I haven't solved everything, but getting my sleep right is a good start. Waking up feeling refreshed means no sense of dread that I have to leave my lovely comfortable warm bed and go naked into a cold bathroom to have a shower. Feeling adequately rested means that I don't get stressed about falling asleep when I go to bed, and I don't get stressed if I get woken up by my cat in the middle of the night. Getting enough sleep means that I have a pleasant moment where I'm awake and my furry friend is saying "good morning" to me, and I'm not pressing my snooze button and feeling generally stressed and anxious about having to get up.

My quality of life is loads better because of improvements to my financial situation and the fact that I'm not bored out of my mind at work. Alleviating some of the stress of the things which I'm powerless to alter - such as money and work - has given me capacity to alter things I do have control over, such as my alcohol consumption. The improvements cause more improvements; it's a lot easier to change things and make better decisions about my health when other circumstances beyond my control are more favourable. Rich people do yoga because they can - they're bone idle and have lots of time on their hands, and they're not stressed about money, so they can dick around doing stupid dumb shit like yoga, unlike the rest of us.

I do cheat a little in order to be able to sleep whenever I need it, for as long as I need it. It's so wonderful to think "I'm tired and I need 2 hours extra sleep, plus I need to get up at 7am, so I will go to sleep at 9pm" and then be able to be fast asleep on schedule. Most people don't have that luxury, but I cheat, and it helps me immensely. Wouldn't you like to be able to choose when you fall fast asleep too?

Oddly, I don't seem able to have long lie-ins anymore. My sleep patterns are quite routine, which is good. It's all too easy to get into bad sleep habits at weekends and spend the whole of the next working week getting the sleep pattern sorted again. I can see now why parents find it so easy to be early birds, whereas I've struggled my whole life to get into the office on time. I'm really not an early bird, but of course it's beneficial to my career to bludgeon my sleep pattern into whatever routine is dictated by capitalism.

I spent so much of my life with social jetlag: having somebody else's sleep pattern unnaturally imposed upon me, causing me a great deal of pain and suffering. It's been awful, but now I cheat and it's great.

I will let my sleep be as natural as possible this weekend, and hopefully I won't have to cheat next week, but I will if I need to, because my life is difficult and stressful enough without having to put up with social jetlag and the awfulness of a capitalism-imposed expectation of office hours, which is toxic to my health.

 

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Ticks in Boxes

3 min read

This is a story about form filling...

Vote

So my project is delivered and the giant form-filling SurveyMonkey exercise has begun. Today was supposed to be exciting, but it wasn't. It was boring. If I do a good job, then this part of the project is boring. If I do a good job then everything's supposed to work and run smoothly. I expect there will be problems, but at the moment there aren't any, mainly because nobody's doing the damn survey.

It's a little anti-climactic. I got up super early this morning, hoping to see the first users using the system, but there've barely been more than a handful of people who've stumbled upon the system. It won't be until tomorrow or the day after that people are notified that they have to do something, and their survey results will start flooding in. After so many months of hard work, it's a little hard to sit and watch a flat-line graph, showing virtually zero activity, the whole day. What a disappointment. At least things are working though, so far as we can tell.

I can't go into too much detail, because I'm bound by codes of conduct, privacy & confidentiality contractual clauses, and indeed other rather scary-sounding laws which restrict me from spilling the beans, but the good old general public are about to be asked to do a cool SurveyMonkey, and this is jolly exciting... except it isn't because nobody's doing it yet.

I'm exhausted.

It's been a long old slog to get to this point.

With so much nervous anticipation, it's hard to maintain the same level of energy and enthusiasm when nothing is happening. I found myself nodding off at my desk so I had to come home early. I'll try to get an early night and lots of sleep, in the hope that tomorrow is a more exciting day, providing some adrenalin to carry me through an otherwise pretty anti-climactic period.

It's supposed to go smoothly. It's supposed to go well. There aren't supposed to be any problems.

But.

Having worked so hard for so long, to meet a very tight deadline, I really don't quite know how to re-adjust to life without that pressure; without that goal and sense of purpose. It's difficult changing mindset, from push, push, push, to now wondering what fire is going to break out that will need to be put out; what crisis is going to emerge?

Still very obsessed with work and project, but the waiting is now mostly over, and we'll soon know whether some bold decisions I made have paid off, or whether they'll cause terrible problems and turn out to be disastrous.

 

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Unprofessional

3 min read

This is a story about trash talking...

Post-it note

I have spent a whole bunch of evenings talking with a colleague. We have talked for hours. I suppose I have become somewhat habituated into gossipping with this buddy of mine. Regularly throughout the day, if there's anything which would be unprofessional to talk about with my regular colleagues, I can chat to this other colleague, because they read my blog and we talk like friends; I trust them, that my mad rantings and ravings will go no further - it's a safe space.

Then, I wrote something in the wrong chat. Instead of my message going to my colleague, it went to my entire team, plus some others too. What I wrote was deeply dubious, even by my usual standards, in that I named somebody specifically by name. What I wrote was really unprofessional.

I deleted the message, but people saw it.

It wasn't there for long but everyone saw it.

I'm mortified.

It's my own stupid fault for breaking my golden rule of not naming any names. It's my own stupid fault for breaking my rule of wearing the corporate mask the whole time; never letting down my guard. I let down my guard and I let it down badly - I shot from the hip, and I said something really dumb.

I'm now catastrophising. I'm assuming that all my hard work is undone. I'm assuming that I'm hated now, by some very influential people at work. I've acted super unprofessional, and it won't be forgotten.

Ugh.

I was doing so well.

Except I wasn't.

I was aware that my ego was becoming quite unwieldy. I was giving myself far too much credit. I was starting to believe my own bullshit. I was starting to really think that I was hot stuff; a big deal. That's a sign of sickness - a clear indicator that I'm in the grip of mania. Why wouldn't I be manic? How else could I cope with the pressure of the deadlines; the stress of the project? The heavy drinking was another bad sign - evidence that I was self-medicating heavily to try and control my mood.

I feel stuck in a terrible pattern. Yet again, I feel sure that I'm the architect of my own destruction; that I'm undermining all the hard work... that I'll be left with my reputation in tatters.

I'm catastrophising.

Having abruptly stopped drinking, I'm bound to be feeling anxious about everything, but I'm convinced I've committed an unforgivable cardinal sin and my name is mud now, at the office.

 

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Functional Alcoholic

5 min read

This is a story about demon drink...

Bucket

I have placed a ludicrous amount of pressure on myself, having decided that I'm going to create a great reputation for myself by being a major player in a massive important project, for a big organisation. I've been attempting to be all things to all men, and be in all places at one time. I have been attempting to be manyfold times more productive than anybody else, in order to demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that I've been a major contributor and driving force behind the success of the project. I've staked my name and reputation on a successful delivery.

How do I sleep at night?

Vodka.

I bought a bottle of vodka on Monday and now it's all gone. I never drink spirits. Except I have done this week. A whole bottle.

I know this is a bad sign.

This is how alcoholism starts.

Alcohol is a terrible coping mechanism. I was very drunk last night, except somehow I wasn't. I carried on drinking even though I wasn't getting any more drunk. I woke up and I was worryingly OK.

I should have been throwing up.

I wasn't.

It's not the drinking that's so much of the worry, it's the getting used to it. When I can neck a bottle of vodka over the course of 3 evenings, and still turn up to work and be productive, then I'm on a collision-course with disaster. Not the kind of disaster where I turn up for work in a dishevelled intoxicated state - that would never happen - but the kind of disaster where I end up dying of liver failure in my 50s, having been an alcoholic for more than a decade.

I think spirits are a step too far. Spirits spell disaster. The hard stuff is dangerous.

It's been shocking, the effect of strong alcoholic drinks - I've not found a limit where I start to feel unwell, and the hangovers are too unbearable, which is very dangerous. I also have failed to find any point where I think "I've had enough" or "I'm adequately drunk". Strange, that I would never reach a point where intoxication becomes unpleasant; aversive. That's worrying.

So. No more spirits. No more vodka. I need to stop that particular stupid idea immediately.

I do have an enormous amount of stress, which is reaching its peak. The deadline is almost here. The end is nigh.

I'm not sure how my colleagues in other teams are coping. I'm not sure how people who have a lot of responsibility, professional pride and reputation at stake, are coping right now. One colleague who's worked at the same organisations that I have - notably JPMorgan and HSBC - alluded to having a similar hard-drinking predilection. Alcoholism is ubiquitous in the Square Mile. Alcoholism is notorious in banking. I've lost numerous friends and colleagues to alcoholism, from that world. It was practically a rite of passage to end up in The Priory, all paid for by JPMorgan or whoever, in order to dry out and then come back to work.

It's ridiculously demanding work, delivering huge IT projects for gigantic organisations. The alcohol goes hand-in-hand with the project work, because otherwise people's blood pressure would be too high and the stress would be unbearable. Work hard, play hard. It's all good fun, until somebody dies 10 or 15 years later from alcohol-related illness.

I've been patting myself on the back, but nobody's really officially recognised my contribution, as yet. Why should they? So many people are working hard. So many people are involved. So many people are stressed and under pressure. Why should anybody single me out as special, in particular?

I veer between feeling confident and pleased with the project I've been involved in, and feeling that there's something really fundamentally wrong which is going to ruin things. Some nights I go to sleep content, and wake up excited to improve things. Some nights I can hardly sleep with worrying about an unresolved problem, and I wake up with anxiety, not knowing whether I'll resolve the problems satisfactorily.

Taking the edge off every night, self-medicating for my insomnia and anxiety, I have been drinking far too much. I drank bucketloads over the weekend. This week has been ridiculous for alcohol consumption. It's terrible.

This whole period is terrible for my health. The pressure is relentless. The workload is relentless. The demands I place upon myself to perform and excel are huge; I'm so determined to achieve something great, to prove to myself that I'm still a talented and capable engineer, who can deliver huge projects on time with high quality.

I keep telling myself that I need to keep pushing myself, just a little longer. The finish line is in sight. Not long now.

 

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MMORPG

2 min read

This is a story about co-operative play...

Java

What's the game I'm playing right now? Well, it's called "get the massive software system to work before the damn hard deadline". It's a multiplayer game. It's fun.

I've spent all evening chatting to some genuinely delightful colleagues. Instead of trash-talking the overpaid fuckwits, I should be raving about what a pleasure it is to work with some brilliant individuals.

I'm not so sure I would go as far as to say "I love my job" given that earlier I very much wanted to down tools and give up until the morning, in the face of overwhelming technical obstacles. I was inclined to wait for a couple of more skilled individuals to be on hand to offer some real, tangible, useful assistance, but I lucked out on being able to take a couple of nice shortcuts.

The joy has come from the camaraderie of working with the select group of individuals who really care; who really know their onions and are used to working under pressure, having to solve nasty problems with a gun to their head and a crazy number of people breathing down their neck.

The chips are down. This is sink or swim time. This is where shit gets real. I love it.

Earlier I thought "is it only Monday?" and I thought that I should give up and take it easy, because it's going to be a long week. Then, I got creative and found a way though. I've been doing work-related stuff up to 10pm but I don't care, because we're making progress; we're kicking ass.

This is fun. It's sociable.

 

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Just Another Highly-Strung Prima Donna

10 min read

This is a story about arrogance...

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I have spent huge chunks of my career helping the rich to get richer, not doing anything useful for society at all. I have suffered as a wage slave, working a bullshit meaningless job, doing nothing except making the world a worse place. I have been denied the pleasure of being a builder creating something real and tangible.

I'm very jealous of the engineers who get to work on useful projects - helping to feed, house and clothe the masses. I wish I was working on something more worthwhile.

The project I'm working on is quite simple really: ask a bunch of people a bunch of questions, and gather the answers so that they can be analysed. I suppose you could call it "big data" if you wanted to use an over-hyped phrase that's in vogue at the moment, but really it's just a big survey; an opinion poll.

I've developed software for nuclear submarines - that was my first full-time job. I've developed software for trains and busses. I've developed software for every school in a whole country. I've made computer games that were played by half a million people. The computer games were the hardest.

As an old-school programmer, I slaved away at my keyboard, creating the graphics, sound, music, and endlessly playtesting my games, to make them as good as possible before I released them to the general public. That was hard work.

But it was rewarding.

The challenge made it rewarding.

It was rewarding because it was difficult.

Creating an online survey is not difficult. I expect you could do one in a few minutes, using something like SurveyMonkey.

So, how do you make your day job interesting if the project is not challenging? Well, there's a lot of challenge in getting anything done in a big organisation. It's a million times harder to do anything when you're inside a big organisation, and things go painfully slowly. The interesting part is in trying to build anything at all, in the first place, and in trying not to build something that sucks, just because big organisation software always really sucks.

One programmer can make a game in one month. Two programmers can make a game in three months. Ten programmers can make a game in two years. And so on. And so on.

I'm not saying my colleagues aren't any good. I'm just saying that trying to learn computer programming as your day job, working for a big organisation, is pretty much impossible. The only way that anybody ever became a good programmer was by first being allowed to work on a whole self-contained project themselves, and having to support and maintain the code; having to deal with angry users reporting bugs; having to be up in the middle of the night figuring out a mess that they created. You can't learn that stuff if you're just a junior member of a big team.

It does make sense to break a system up into components which are then assembled to create the finished product. It does.

What does not make sense is dividing up a piece of work which could be easily accomplished by a single developer. It does not make sense to have 8, 10 or even 12 programmers all trying to work on the same piece of code. It is not fast. It is not efficient. It does not produce a good end result.

However, would I like to have to support and maintain my code after the project is live, on my own?

No.

Of course not.

Whenever I have finished something which was big and complicated, and hard work to complete, then I never want to see it ever again. However, if I'm the person who created all the code, then I'm the only one who knows how anything works, and it's a very difficult steep learning curve for any poor unfortunate who has to come after me to unpick my work.

In this regard, I suppose it's necessary to have a bunch of people, so that the 'hero' code warrior doesn't saunter off into the distance, leaving some other poor person to carry the can.

So many times in my career I have inherited somebody else's mess.

Which is why the pleasure and professional pride I derive from my work at the moment, is in the effort I put into making a system which is simple and easy to maintain, and easy to support. There's a temptation as a good developer, to be really smart and do things in ways which seem very elegant and beautiful to the trained eye of a highly skilled engineer, but are completely impenetrable to your average journeyman junior programmer, just learning the ropes. I take huge pride in creating deceptive simplicity. Yes, it's great to show off how smart you are by creating something complicated, but it's so much harder to create something that looks simple.

I am intolerant of the incompetence of a highly paid consultant who I have to suffer. "Why would you put that there?" "Why would you do it like that?" "Why didn't you read that comment?" "Why are you making such a mess of everything?" "Why have you introduced all this unnecessary complexity?" are questions I want to yell at my incompetent colleague all the time.

My junior colleagues are, well, junior. I can't get mad at people who are just learning. I have patience for learners. I spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring, helping my junior colleagues to learn and develop.

My graduate colleagues are stupendous. They have amazing ideas. They produce great work. They are smart and a pleasure to work with.

Why oh why oh why do I have to work with somebody who doesn't deserve the massive consultancy fee that they charge? It angers me that they are lagging behind the graduates and dragging the project into the dirt; making a complete pigs ear of everthing. It would be so much better if they weren't on the team, because they are so slow, and what they do produce all has to be re-done, so it creates a huge amount of extra work for me. Their work is riddled with bugs and defects. Their work is shoddy, so their contribution is not welcome: it's counter-productive.

Of course, I shouldn't rip into colleagues on a public platform. But, they ruin my day and undermine all my hard work, threatening the success of the project, so why the hell shouldn't I let rip? They're costing the organisation a shittonne of money, which is a complete waste of money in my opinion.

Anyway, I often think "would it be better if everybody just stepped aside and watched me work?". I think "would it be better if I designed and built the entire system, on my own?".

No.

No it would not be better.

I would finish the project, but I wouldn't want to support it. I wouldn't want to maintain my own code. I wouldn't want to ever look at the code ever again. I wouldn't want anything to do with my code or the project. That's not fair on the poor sods who would have to support and maintain my code.

It's also not fair for just one person to have all the enjoyment of creating an entire system, and then to ride off into the sunset believing that it's a job well done, when software is considered to be an asset - all the code will be preserved and future development teams will be forced into attempting to re-use it, when really it should be thrown away. Decrepit old systems, where all the original developers have long since left the company, should never be resurrected, but they always are. Idiot management always wants to adapt a system for a purpose it was never designed for, and that nightmare always falls on some poor unsuspecting underpaid junior programmers, who will have a horrible life, being forced to work with somebody else's code and never being allowed to create their own system.

Sure, the arrogant part of me wants the glory - the heroics - of creating some massive complex system as a one-man team. I don't want the faff and the hassle of having asshat overpaid idiot incompetent consultants, messing up my stuff. I don't want to be slowed down by people who aren't as experienced and quick.

But, I know it's better for everyone if we do things the "modern" way.

I wish I had been born earlier, so that I could have been one of those programming gods who created an entire video game, but I suppose I had that glory. The first iPhone was my opportunity to create retro games, in just the same way that the early video game pioneers did - a bedroom hacker. I grabbed that opportunity and I loved it, except I also learned that I never want to ever touch my code again when I'm finished - I want to release something and then forget about it.

In this era of the web, people expect products to be maintained. Software no longer ships on cartridges, floppy disks or CDs. Software can be updated via the internet. Software is delivered via browsers. Software is constantly being updated by the developers, like websites are constantly updated, so software development had to change to reflect this. Software development is now a team sport, but I came from an era when a prima donna like me could do everything on their own.

I fear this essay has revealed an unpleasant side of my character. I fear that I've crossed lines that I should not have done. I fear that my arrogance is on display very badly.

Still, I had to share this. It's my habit to share things that are bothering me, and/or that I feel very strongly about.

It's a difficult time, because there's a lot of pressure and stress. I feel like yelling "shut up and stand back" and "hold my beer" while I roll up my sleeves and get things done. When I come under extreme pressure and things are going wrong, I retreat into my comfort zone: working in isolation. Nobody was with me when I learned how to debug. Nobody was with me when I figured out how to solve complex technical issues. I had to figure those things out on my own. Nobody comes to me with the answers: I have to figure them out, and I do that on my own in isolation. When I get stressed, the last thing I want is any "team" - the team adds no value in those difficult situations where there's a dreadful gremlin in the system, and it does take some one-man heroics to find and fix the problem.

I've written vastly more than I intended to, because I'm very highly-strung at the moment; the pressure is immense; the deadline is imminent.

I can hear colleagues' angry voices in my head:

"You're not the only one who's worked hard on this"

"You're not the only one who cares"

"You're not the only one who's made a valuable contribution"

"You're not as good as you think you are"

"You're arrogant"

"You're full of yourself"

"You think you're so great, and everybody else is inferior"

"You're not a team player"

I know I would have had a breakdown a long time ago if it wasn't for the team. I know that the project would not have been as much fun if it hadn't been a team effort. I know that it doesn't end well when I reach the finish line and collapse; that it's not a good way to finish a project, when there are ongoing requirements for support and maintenance. I know that arrogance and delusions of grandeur are a problem for me.

Anyway, this is how I've spent my weekend: worrying about work.

 

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