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

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

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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I'm [Not] OK

6 min read

This is a story about keeping people updated...

Invert

It's been nearly 2 weeks since I wrote last. I know I've had gaps but this feels like a really long one. Gaps are usually a very bad sign. It's worth worrying about me if I'm not writing. Things are probably going badly if I'm not writing.

I was coping by using a combination of alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquillisers/sedatives and a heck of a lot of comfort eating. I've been teetotal and medication-free for a while now. I'm dieting too. I'm slimmer but I feel awful. Stopping taking all the pills has been brutal. Not having anything to 'take the edge off' has been horrible. The anxiety has been unbearable.

Some concerned friends have sent me messages, but I've felt too swamped to reply. Work is exhausting and there has been the looming holiday, which has caused added stress rather than being something to look forward to: How am I going to afford the loss of earnings as well as the expense of the holiday? My work situation is looking very uncertain for when I get back from holiday, which is a horrible situation to be in, worrying about money instead of enjoying some well-earned time off.

My relationship is good but it's caused some sleepless nights. I'm desperately trying to avoid worsening my exhaustion and sleep deficit, but it's almost impossible to catch up. Stopping the sleeping pills has caused my sleep quality to deteriorate. It's a miracle that I'm still reasonably productive and functional.

The last thing I want to think about is the travel and logistics of going abroad. Buying holiday clothes sounds like fun, but it's another item on a todo list which makes me very stressed out. I'm struggling to figure out when I can fit in all the things I need to do between now and my departure date from the UK. I suppose as long as I've got my passport and a buttload of cash then I can figure things out, but it's not pleasant to be so ill-prepared for a trip.

I'll be 40 years old in exactly one week. I decided to have a barbecue at my house when I was feeling somewhat more buoyant about the way my life was going. Now I feel like cancelling the gathering, because I'm stressed about the extra unnecessary hassle. Having guests over to my house reminds me that I've still barely moved in - I don't have much furniture and the place is a bit of a mess. I don't feel well placed to make my guests comfortable. I have a lot of anxiety about it being a really awkward occasion, with a handful of my long-suffering friends having made the long journey to the provinces, in order to make smalltalk with strangers... a real chore for them.

I'm working as hard as I can in order to feel proud about my contribution to the project I'm working on. I'm desperate that my contribution be remembered as something valuable and that my colleagues recognise the effort I've ploughed in. Work's become a bit of an unhealthy obsession and I'm significantly over-invested, emotionally. I can picture myself getting very depressed when I'm forced to leave the project because of contractual shenanigans, and through no fault of my own.

My life is deeply unbalanced; unhealthy. I'm not drinking alcohol and I'm dieting, so I've lost weight, and I've managed to get a bit of sun, so I look quite healthy, but inside I'm very sick. The stress of the past years seems to have ratcheted up as my life has become more 'normal' and 'stable' recently - things were easier when I was living out of a suitcase, in some ways, although I appreciate that I was very miserable and living much more unhealthily.

Readers who've followed me for any significant length of time will probably have a better idea than me as to whether I'm in a better place today than I was a few months ago, a year ago, several years ago. Things feel terrible but they probably aren't.

The stresses seem to be the same as ever, particularly concerning my security vetting. A colleague contacted me to say they were reading my blog. They seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of working with me, despite what they'd read, and the feedback seemed generally positive. It's the first time that a colleague has been brave enough to tell me that they've been reading my blog. Of course, the security vetting people have been reading too. I wonder if the security vetting people are as sympathetic to my stresses, and look favourably upon my ability to maintain an impeccably high standard of professionalism in the office, whilst undergoing some horrendous chaos in my personal life; struggling so much with my mental health. I wonder if all the talk about being sympathetic towards mental health issues is just hot air.

I wanted to write a short update, because I know people are worried about my uncharacteristic quietness. I've kinda failed. I'm doing OK, but I'm also really struggling too. Plenty of reasons to be concerned, but things are not completely ruined and on collision course with disaster... in fact I might even weather this storm and emerge in a reasonably good situation.

I'll try to write a little more regularly, but I don't want to be a stuck record, endlessly moaning about how unpleasant the effect of stopping medication is. I don't want to wallow in misery.

It's summer. I have money. I have employment for a little while longer. I have an awesome holiday booked. I have a very nice girlfriend. I have a cute kitten. I have a big house. Things are not terrible.

I'm not taking any medication, not drinking, dieting. I'm losing weight and my brain is getting back to a stable state without any alien chemicals. It's good to be free from the shackles of chemical dependency.

If I can push through this tricky period and keep the wheels turning, then I think my forties are going to be a much better period of life than parts of my thirties. It does feel good to be turning a corner as I reach an age when I should be growing old less disgracefully.

I've written more than I wanted to but I hope you'll forgive me. You're all up to date now.

 

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Straight

6 min read

This is a story about bad character...

Road sign

I have been thinking about changing my tagline from "the world's longest suicide note" to simply "Nick Grant - drug addict". The reason for doing that would be exactly the same as writing and publishing 1.2 million words which very publicly document every facet of my flawed character. The idea is to thumb my nose at the notion of having a 'perfect' CV with no gaps on it; to ridicule the concept of living a blemish-free existence of civil obedience; to write down all the things that we would normally brush under the carpet and pretend never existed.

We have become incredibly paranoid about our so-called reputations, when demonstrably the world is such a big overcrowded place that nobody is really paying very close attention. You can squat on your boss' desk, curl out a gigantic turd onto his or her keyboard, wipe your ass with your resignation letter before casually tossing it onto the floor, pull up your trousers and walk out of your workplace, and I promise you that your precious reputation will not be soiled, unlike the aforementioned keyboard.

Perversely, I wrote a very long suicide note - the world's longest - as insurance in case I did kill myself, but also as a therapeutic process as I tried to talk myself down from the ledge. The same is true of "Nick Grant - drug addict" - I would never label myself as such except in pre-emption of those who would like to find a convenient pigeon hole to put me in.

Because the words "drug addict" have such negative connotations I would never be so bold as to label myself as such if I was a drug addict. I choose this emotive label for myself because I feel confident that I'm the living embodiment of the antithesis of what we imagine a drug addict to be. I choose this pejorative term deliberately because it makes a mockery of anybody who attempts to sum me up in two words or fewer - I've written 1.2 million and do not yet feel satisfied that I've written enough to capture my essence on paper.

Analytic data tells me that colleagues have found me via Google and have read a little about me. I am undergoing security vetting and I know that this website has been viewed by people who are partly responsible for the information gathering, which will ultimately result in the decision to approve or deny my security clearance. These people scratch the surface. These people come looking for easy answers; a convenient couple of words to sum me up. Why not give them those words? I say that those words should be: drug addict.

My achievements in my career are beyond reproach. My contribution in the workplace has proven to be exceptional on countless occasions. Records also show that I've never been charged with a crime, convicted of a crime, declared bankrupt or otherwise fallen afoul of the courts of law. One might say that I'm a model citizen.

Why would a model citizen write 1.2 million unflattering words about themselves? Why would a model citizen risk their reputation, by way of candid public declaration of their faults and mistakes?

I'm completely fed up with the way that society is constructed: the way that we are continually looking for faults and reasons to reject people. I find it quite tiresome and bothersome that so many so-called gatekeepers exist, whose purpose only seems to be to pointlessly thwart, frustrate and annoy. Would I care if our nuclear weapons were guarded by violent criminals or our banks lent our savings to reckless bankrupts? The question is a non-sequitur, because it pre-supposes that the gatekeepers are being successful; it presumes that the systems are working and society is functioning effectively - it is not.

Technocrats have forever dreamt of being able to capture enough statistical data on every individual that behaviour can be predicted and the future can be known. There is a widespread belief that something as brief as a curriculum vitæ can tell you everything you need to know about a person's value. With credit checks, criminal record checks and other searches of vast databases, we presume that we can know a person's character, and deny them access to mortgages, loans, rented accommodation, mobile phone contracts, jobs and myriad other things we might consider to be essential parts of life. We presume that school attendance records, exam grades and university diplomas are "good predictors" of future success, and I would agree, except that it's straightforward to see that conventional success is only available to those who look good on paper - correlation does not equate to causation.

Our 19th century education system was designed to destroy free will, independent thought and break children's spirit, to prepare them for a life of manual labour, toiling in the mills and factories. Our ubiquitous snobby worship of "A" grades and first-class honours from Oxbridge does not acknowledge that 99.9% of our citizens will reach their mid-teens feeling like a failure, which is entirely the point. "If only I'd paid attention at school" we are supposed to tell ourselves, for our whole lives, accepting of our abysmally awful place in society.

I write this document because I hate the destructive force that the pressure of academic and career achievement is placing on society, to the detriment of our mental health. I think it is grotesquely unhealthy to live in a permanent state of anxiety, believing that a single slip-up - a bad exam grade or a gap on our CV - could ruin our entire future.

I loathe those who seek to reject. For those who seek a reason to reject me, please have one: drug addict. There you go. Please take those two words and f**k off. Leave me alone. I'm too busy trying to stay alive to be swamped with anxiety about lazy, simplistic, crude attempts to pigeon hole me and toss me away like a piece of trash. If you came looking for some dirt I'll save you the digging and send you away with a handy soundbite; a convenient label.

It pleases me that my 22-year career contradicts the label which could easily consign me to the dustbin. It pleases me that hundreds of colleagues from the past two decades would bear witness to my manyfold valuable contributions. It pleases me to send you away with two words - drug addict - which conjure up in the mind a character so different from the one who has spent 40 hours a week working very hard, and achieving a great deal.

In summary, Nick Grant: drug addict.

 

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Gas Leak

7 min read

This is a story about todo lists...

Gas meter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Beach Body

6 min read

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

Flip flops

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

Unsurprisingly, I put on weight.

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

I put on more weight.

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

I didn't change my behaviour.

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

Then I stopped drinking.

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

I was teetotal for nearly 5 months.

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

Now, I'm trying to lose weight again.

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

I still don't do any exercise.

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

I should do some exercise.

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

I'm making good progress.

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

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

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

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

 

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Intellectual Hunger

6 min read

This is a story about brain training...

Hotel food

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

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

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

I wanted to write about intellectual hunger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I say "easier" I mean intellectually nourishing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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All Is Lost - A Photo Story

12 min read

This is a story about lost causes...

Brushes up well

Look at that well-presented man: a professional on his way to work for Barclays at their head office in Canary Wharf as an IT consultant earning £600 a day. Look the attractive Georgian façades of the London townhouses of Camden, where he lives. The major high-street bank he works for has conducted extensive background checks on him and found him to be a fine upstanding member of the community: a model citizen.

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is a homeless man. That's right. This man is no-fixed-abode. This man lives in a hostel with other homeless people. This man was sleeping rough until very recently.

Hostel room

Look at this hostel dorm. It's got brand new beds and clean linen. It's empty. This looks like a pretty nice hostel dorm, doesn't it? Perhaps you wouldn't mind sleeping here. This would be tolerable for a while, perhaps if you were backpacking, wouldn't it?

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is a hostel dorm I stayed in when I was travelling - for leisure purposes - and the people who stay at this hostel are wealthy backpackers. This is not the hostel I stayed in when I was homeless. When I was homeless I stayed in hostel dorms that were full of drug addicts, alcoholics, people with severe mental health problems, thieves, violence, sexual assault, and they were exceptionally dirty and disgusting. The hostels I stayed in when I was homeless were full of everybody's crappy possessions which we carried around with us - we didn't live out of small backpacks, because we were homeless. When you're homeless you carry everything you possibly can: all your possessions. Try to imagine 14 people in a single room along with every single thing that they own. Try to imagine that's where you live - you're not just having a jolly old time doing some backpacking. That's WHERE YOU LIVE and you have to go to work, in the midst of all that chaotic s**t.

Hampstead heath

That's a nice view isn't it? That's Hampstead Heath. It's a nice place to walk your dog or go for a run. It's a nice place for a picnic. Hampstead Heath is a lovely place to go when the sun's shining. Perhaps you'd like to take a swim in one of the bathing ponds?

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is near the spot where I slept rough, to avoid being robbed, beaten up and/or raped. What you are actually looking at is a place where a homeless person can hide themselves in the undergrowth at night and avoid the perils of sleeping rough. What you are looking at is where I slept for a couple of months. Guess what? It's not always sunny. Sometimes it rains. When it rains you get wet. Very wet. A tent is conspicuous. It's hard to sleep rough, stay dry and avoid becoming a victim of crime when you're so vulnerable. Try to imagine not having a proper bed or any kind of security for you and your stuff - you're totally out in the open, in a remote area.

Psych ward

What's this? Is it a prison cell? I haven't been in a prison cell, but this definitely looks a bit like a prison cell to me. There's a window so that people can look into the room, which clearly has a bed, so this must be a place where I slept. What kind of place has windows in the doors so that people can see in when you're sleeping? That doesn't sound great for privacy, does it?

Look again.

What you are looking at is a room in a secure psychiatric ward. The window is there so that the staff can check you're not attempting to kill yourself. The staff check on you every 15 minutes. At night they sometimes come into your room and shine a torch in your face. You can't have a belt, shoelaces, scissors, razor, cables (e.g. mobile phone) or anything else that you could cut yourself with, or strangle yourself with. You can't lock the door to the shower room or the toilet.

Hampstead view

Oh look! There's a view of Hampstead from a tall building. Perhaps we could see the heath from here. This is quite a nice view, except it's kind of in the wrong direction to see any London landmarks. Perhaps this this is the view from an ugly brutalist concrete monstrosity which has now perversely become a desirable place to live as the capital city's property prices have soared.

Look again.

This is the view from the Royal Free Hospital. The emergency services brought me here. I was nearly dead. I was here a long time, while the medical team fought to save my life.

Private room

That's a pretty nice room for an NHS hospital. It's a private room. I must have some pretty good private medical insurance. Perhaps I've come to hospital for an elective cosmetic procedure. This certainly doesn't look like the kind of place where a sick patient would be looked after - it's more like the kind of recovery room that somebody with private healthcare would receive.

Look again.

This is the room at The Royal London which was dedicated to my treatment because my kidneys had failed due to a horrific DVT and I was receiving emergency dialysis for many many hours a day. To my left, out of shot, is a dedicated dialysis machine which I was connected to for day after day. I couldn't have dialysis in the main dialysis ward because my blood was so full of potassium that I was at risk of having a cardiac arrest at any moment. My blood was so toxic that many of the measurements were beyond the capability of the equipment to actually measure how toxic my blood was. I was very sick indeed.

Killavullen

Aha! This must be another trick. That pleasant view of a valley filled with low-lying fog, and mountain tops poking out, in pleasant rural surroundings must hide a darker secret. Why don't I just tell you the terrible truth?

Look again.

This is actually a good moment in my life. One of my friends had invited me to stay with his family in Ireland. I was half-dead so the opportunity for some rest and recuperation in rural Ireland was exactly what I needed. I meant to stay only for a short while, but ended up staying longer because I was very poorly and needed looking after, which is exactly what the kind family who took me in did: they nursed me back to health.

Canary Wharf skyline

Ooooh skyscrapers! We know from the first photograph that I worked in one of those skyscrapers. I also used to live in Canary Wharf and it's actually possible to see my apartment from this picture. I was also working for Lloyds Banking Group at this time, so this must be another good picture, right? Why would I be able to see my apartment and the head office of the bank I was working for though? Where the hell am I?

Look again.

I didn't show you the view out of the window from the private hospital room, did I? This is the view. I didn't really get to see the view much, because I was constantly hooked up to a dialysis machine which was sucking my blood out of me and squirting it back into me, but I did manage to take this photograph. All I can say that's positive about this period of my life is that I didn't die: I was saved [again] by a brilliant NHS medical team.

Hotel room

What now? A hotel room? Not too different from the psych ward room, but with a TV and better lighting. I was living here while working as an IT consultant for HSBC on their number one project, earning £600 a day. Sounds like my life was going pretty well, huh?

Look again.

What have I shown you so far? Homeless people's hostels, sleeping rough, hospitals. I showed you one picture when things were a little better - I was being looked after by my friend and his family - and my life was not in imminent danger. My life is not in peril at this moment, it's true, but I'm clearly staying in a hotel room for a reason. The reason is that I'm homeless. That's the theme of this story: homelessness.

Prince of Wales

This must be the door to the room that I showed you in the secure psychiatric ward. Somebody's written my name on a little whiteboard strip. That was thoughtful of them. Also, making sure that I'm not killing myself, by checking on me every 15 minutes is pretty damn caring. I'm pretty lucky to have this room all to myself and caring staff members to make sure I stay alive.

Look again.

This is not the same room. This is not the same psychiatric ward. This is not the same hospital. This is not the same city. In the first photograph, I had voluntarily gone to hospital because I couldn't keep myself safe. At the time this photograph was taken I have been sectioned and am being held against my will. At the time the first photograph was taken - in London - I could leave whenever I wanted. At the time this photograph was taken - in Manchester - I cannot leave, which is kind of like being in prison: involuntary internment. I was being held in a psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) which is where the very most unwell psychiatric patients are held, and this type of unit is highly secure and can only care for 8 patients with a vast number of staff.

Why would I end with this photo?

I was asked to write down in detail where I had been living for the last 5 years of my life, for the purposes of government security vetting, which is a highly invasive process which will rake over every detail of my private life: my divorce, my psychiatric problems, my homelessness, the involvement of the emergency services. The government has access to every single piece of data about me held on every single database, and they are permitted to look at things - like private and confidential medical records - which nobody else is allowed to look at or even ask about, by law.

Why would I publish this?

Do you remember the photograph of the hotel room? That's where I started writing this blog, approximately 4 years ago. I've written 1.2 million words. I've thoroughly documented my life with the kind of candid honesty that the government expect from me when they ask questions like "where have you been living during the last 5 years?". The answer is far more complicated than could be filled in on their forms, so they can read about every detail which doesn't neatly fit into any of their computer systems. I could have asked for extra paper to complete my security vetting forms, but how many pages should I ask for if there are 1.2 million words written down right here and the story is not even fully told?

I chose that final photo because I shouldn't have been alive to take it.

On Saturday 9th September 2017 I attempted to end my life. My suicide attempt should have been successful. Even though I didn't die as quickly as I should have done, and even though the emergency services were able to intervene rapidly, when I believed that nobody knew where I lived or would be able to locate me, I was still having seizures and multiple organ failure. I was unable to breathe on my own. I was very much going to succeed in killing myself, which is exactly what I wanted. I had planned and executed my suicide attempt with precision.

Now, today, I am making an exceptional contribution to one of the government's highest profile projects - the number one project for the particular government organisation who I work for. I have been singled out for special commendation on multiple occasions by very senior government employees. I have worked incredibly hard to make the biggest possible contribution as part of a gigantic team of colleagues. I have busted my balls to go above-and-beyond and exceed all expectations. I have put an enormous amount of effort into delivering valuable skill, expertise, knowledge, effort and energy. I would expect that a significant number of my colleagues would speak very highly of me. In fact, I know that I am held in very high regard.

Also, during the last 5 years, I've slept rough, slept in homeless hostels, slept in hospitals and slept in psych wards. The sum total of the amount of months that I've spent in such places is very significant, but somehow it was hard to articulate this on a security vetting form that's not designed for somebody like me.

Either you believe I'm exceptional or you don't. If you think I'm an exceptional person, you have to decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. What cannot be disputed is my contribution to the teams, organisations and wider society, despite the great adversity I've faced.

Here is some of the information that couldn't be captured on a government security vetting form. Judge me however you want - end my career if you must. What you must understand is that I am not afraid, because I have already died a thousand deaths, so I do not fear one more.

 

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Cake And Eat It

9 min read

This is a story about a completed jigsaw puzzle...

Summer house cake

When I was 28 I was so depressed that I couldn't work. I couldn't face the outside world. I couldn't face the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday routine. I couldn't face the glacial pace that projects moved at. I couldn't face the lack of productivity. I couldn't face the wastefulness of large organisations. I couldn't face the dead wood, being dragged along by those of us who wanted to actually create some f**king software.

My behaviour became erratic. The symptoms my my mood disorder - bipolar - made me a dysfunctional individual for long enough to cause problems in an ordinary office type environment: mainly my lengthy absence due to to the aforementioned depression. Nobody had ever much cared about me being hypomanic in the office, because it allowed me to deliver very complicated projects on time, to a high standard of quality.

I quit my job in 2008 and sat in my garden making iPhone Apps - mainly games. They sold very well and I was number one in the App Store charts for a brief time. Suddenly, I was earning a lot of royalties and I was comparatively wealthy.

I decided that I hated office work and corporate IT work - I hated big software projects - but that I should start a small business. I retrained as an electrician. I did all the training, bought a van and started trading.

Electrician

My electrician business traded profitably, but I kept getting asked to do freelance software work, which paid twice as much as my electrical work, and I was obviously much better at it, given that I've got 20+ years of commercial software experience and about 18+ months of commercial electrical experience. It's a lot less stressful being a software consultant than it is being an electrician.

I decided to combine my entrepreneurial side - the iPhone Apps and the small business - to create a startup which would have a software product which could be licensed, so that I could make money while I slept: it was a scalable business model.

During all this erratic behaviour, I was making a ton of money, I designed a built a beautiful summer house in my garden, I had a wakeboarding boat, I threw lavish garden parties. I was having the time of my life, except I was in a very toxic, abusive relationship.

I ended the relationship and my life continued to improve. In fact, my life kept on improving.

Soon, I was enrolled on a prestigious startup accelerator program which takes 8,000 applicants for every place, and only offers 10 teams the chance to be mentored by senior executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Paypal and a bunch of other great tech companies, plus the opportunity to pitch on "demo day" to a packed auditorium full of venture capitalists and angel investors, and raise a huge amount of investment.

My company was already profitable enough to pay my co-founder and I a decent salary and hire our first full-time employee. That was entirely bootstrapped: the company was built from nothing. My co-founder and I built a profitable startup without taking a single cent from any member of friends or family, or risking any of our own money.

This was my cake and eat it moment.

I worked too hard for too long. On the accelerator program mentor madness was fine for the teams who just had an idea, but my co-founder and I had a profitable business to run. We had customers who needed supporting. We had sales deals which needed to be closed. The rest of our cohort were happily burning the money they'd raised - making a loss - while our startup was living within its means and growing organically... in fact it was growing rapidly organically.

The problem was that toxic, abusive relationship.

She wasn't kind. She wasn't supportive. She didn't want me to succeed. She was just plain mean and totally inflexible; uncompromising. It wasn't fair, because I had supported her when she wanted to change career, and I had also been a very loyal loving boyfriend. Of course I could have split up with her and run off into the sunset with a lovely girl from the tech startup scene who could see the potential in me and the potential of my startup, but I let loyalty and a sense of "doing the right thing" get the better of me.

Since then, there hasn't been a lot of cake eating.

Divorce became extremely acrimonious in 2013, after a harrowing period when the abuse and the trauma was sufficient to give me PTSD - I was barricaded in rooms and defecating in a bucket to avoid physical harm and at least give myself what little protection I could. Verbal abuse and violent kicking and punching of the door was so frequent it was literally torture. My abuser was keeping me trapped with threats of violence, and I starved, I was thirsty and I had to sh*t and piss in a bucket.

Mercifully, we separated in August 2013.

Trauma doesn't heal overnight.

The divorce dragged on into 2014, ruining my second startup and depriving me of all my liquid capital - my money - which I needed to start another business. The divorce ruined me every bit as much as the toxic relationship and abusive marriage did. The divorce left me so physically drained, traumatised, financially taken advantage of, exhausted and stressed, that I broke down completely. I ended up sleeping rough. I ended up homeless. I was wrecked.

Briefly, at the end of 2014 I had a nice apartment in Swiss Cottage, a lovely commute on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and a well paid consultancy contract with Barclays. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. The divorce and the separation had caused me such horrible PTSD and financial distress that for almost that whole year I had been sleeping rough and in a homeless hostel. My life was very fragile; my recovery was only green shoots.

In 2015 I had an amazing apartment overlooking the Thames with panoramic views of all the London landmarks. I had a great consultancy contract with HSBC. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. I was so distressed by the financial troubles I'd had that I worked unsustainable hours and got very sick, and had to be hospitalised. I had to be kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

In 2016 I had the same apartment. I had a great consultancy contract. I was less stressed about the erratic nature of my life and the financial boom and bust, but I certainly didn't feel comfortable spending money.

In 2017 I had the same apartment and a great consultancy contract with Lloyds Banking Group. A large blood clot - a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) - formed in my leg and it caused the complication that my kidneys failed. I nearly died. I was sick for months with agonising nerve and muscle damage. Out of desperation I took a short contract in Manchester. It was so miserable that I tried to kill myself. I very nearly succeed - I was in a coma for 4 or 5 days in intensive care. I was sectioned and kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

By the end of 2017 and into 2018 I had recovered enough to be consulting for an investment bank in London. I was commuting from Wales and staying in crappy AirBnBs. I was well paid but it was the most miserable life. I was homeless, single and coming to terms with having survived a suicide attempt which should definitely have killed me.

Then I got a consultancy contract in Wales. I had a nice girlfriend in Wales, I had a job in Wales and I had a very nice home in Wales with panoramic sea views. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Then, soon after booking a short holiday, my consultancy contract ended early because the project was finished - I worked very hard and delivered early.

I got another consultancy contract in Wales. I still have that consultancy contract in Wales. I have a girlfriend who I think is amazing and I'm crazy about her. I have very serious feelings for her. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Now my consultancy contract is ending prematurely. I worked hard and managed to rescue a very important project which was running late. I was working very hard to deliver our project early.

Clearly I work very hard. Clearly, I'm lucky enough to create these opportunties where I could have my cake and eat it but so far nothing's worked out for me.

It may well be possible for me to still have that amazing holiday we've got planned, but it will always be slightly spoiled by the stress of knowing that I don't have secure income when I get home, which makes me worried about money.

You can understand why I'm worried about money, can't you?

You can understand why it's so terrible that my holidays get ruined by having my consultancy contracts unexpectedly cut short, especially when I work so hard and make such a big contribution.

Of course, I could throw caution to the wind and take that luxury holiday anyway. If there's one repeating theme in this story, it's that I always bounce back from adversity. I could risk it all and go ahead with that holiday, which I desperately need and want.

I've been lucky. I got to go to Turkish Disneyland on my own. I got to go to Tulum in Mexico. My luck ran out eventually I guess. I have a beautiful girlfriend who is kind and loving and supportive, I have a gorgeous bengal kitten, I have a very nice great big house. I have a little financial security, but paying for a luxury 2-week holiday has a major negative impact on my meagre financial resources, seen in the context of how bad things can get: months in hospital, sleeping rough and nearly dying on several occasions.

Perhaps it's just not my destiny to have my cake and eat it.

 

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I Don't Think You Realise How Tired I Am

4 min read

This is a story about working...

Power nap

I work hard for long periods of time - very hard - and then I need a holiday. I don't mean sightseeing. I don't mean wandering round crowded cities. I don't mean rushing from place to place, catching planes, trains and automobiles. I don't mean having a packed itinerary of non-stop horse-riding, hiking, learning how to make stuff, guided excursions to sites of historical and cultural interest. What I mean is a holiday.

I work very hard and I get very tired.

It's very tiring working very hard.

If you do not work very hard, then you are not very tired, and you have plenty of energy to go off doing city breaks and travelling around, never staying more than one or two nights in any one place, taking local busses, doing lots of short internal flights. If you do not work very hard then you will have lots of energy to have a very complex itinerary and go off spending lots of money doing lots of things.

I work hard.

I get tired.

I need a holiday.

I cann't stress this enough: I AM VERY TIRED AND I NEED A HOLIDAY.

This is what a holiday is: go somewhere with nice weather, stay there, relax.

There. That's a holiday. A holiday is something you do so that when you go back to work you're less tired than when you started. I need a holiday. Is that clear?

Over the Christmas and New Year festive season, I did manage to lie on a beach lounger getting a nice tan and having drinks and snacks brought to me by a waiter. I did manage to relax. The weather was vastly better than it was in the UK and I was able to stay in the one place - no planes, trains, automobiles, busses, coaches, trams, timetables, itineraries, hassle, faff, stress, exhaustion - and I was able to go to the beach every day and enjoy the sun, sea and the sand.

It's been more than 6 months.

I'm exhausted.

I need a holiday.

I'm tired so I need a holiday. I do not need a complex multi-stop itinerary cultural activity tour with a thousand and one things to travel between, as some kind of non-stop torture for somebody who just needs to relax. That's not a holiday.

If I had tens of thousands of pounds and months and months without any rent or bills to pay, I could quite happily squander those tens of thousands of pounds ambling around doing activities, but I don't have that luxury. I work. I work very hard.

I don't get to sleep. I don't get to rest. I just work. I work really really hard. I cannot stress enough how tired I am.

I am tired.

Do you get this?

The solution to my tiredness is a holiday.

This is how I organise my life: I work hard and then I take a holiday.

That's how my life works: I use up my energy working very hard, and then I take a holiday to replenish my energy.

My energy is depleted - dangerously so - and I desperately need a holiday.

It's really quite simple when you understand these simple facts: I work; I work very hard; I work for very long periods without a holiday; I work on the basis that I will take a holiday when I need one, to recharge my batteries. My life does not and cannot function without the holidays which punctuate the periods of intense hard work. You cannot imagine how hard I work. You cannot imagine how tired I am.

I do not think you realise how tired I am.

 

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Not Enough Hours in the Day

8 min read

This is a story about domestic bliss...

Red light

I enjoy a certain degree of freedom in my daily routine. I can arrive at work at any time between 8am and 10am. I can leave work at any time between 3:30pm and 5pm. I can work from home. I can take a half-day or a whole day off. I can take as much holiday as I want. It seems like my life is very flexible and I'm very time rich, as well as being handsomely remunerated for my efforts.

I'm somewhat obsessed with the project I'm working on. I know that the project has hard deadlines and I know that I'm playing an influential role in making sure that the project is delivered on-time. It might sound arrogant, but I know that there's a lot of cheap talk and the number of people who are "doers" is far fewer than the number of people on the payroll, who like to talk about doing stuff, but aren't driven and determined enough to carry anything through to completion. I need to stop short of outright criticism of my colleagues, because everyone plays their part, even if the project would go more quickly and the work would be higher quality without a handful of low-performing individuals: not my circus, not my monkeys.

I'm completely besotted with my girlfriend. I have a limitless desire to spend time with her. I think she's wonderful; the best.

The running of my home - the laundry, the cleaning, stocking the fridge and cupboards, taking out the trash - is relatively easy but I am quite house proud and the novelty of my relatively new house has not yet worn off. I would very much like to continue to add furniture and decorative items to make it a more and more lovely place to call home.

My kitten is amazing. Having a cute litte furry companion has exceeded my wildest expectations. My kitten plays "fetch" when she's feeling active, or cuddles up when she wants a rest. She's always entertaining, she's so beautiful to look at and her fur is so soft to stroke. She does, however, urinate and defecate where she shouldn't when I make a mistake like leaving her unattended with a laundry basket full of clean clothes for a few seconds, or not realising that her litter needed changing because it was clumpy beneath the surface. I've spent a lot of time washing duvets, bedding, clothes, and mopping the floor, as well as scooping up poop. I expected to have to make sure she was fed, entertained and had a clean litter tray to use, but there has been some extra stuff to deal with, like clearing my bedroom and dining room floor of anything she might urinate or defecate on.

I was just about coping with a very simple life, where I was working, sleeping and eating. I was going to bed at 9pm. The highlight of my week consisted of a trip to the supermarket. My life was pretty barren and empty.

Almost overnight, I have a girlfriend and a kitten. It made me feel very guilty that I got up and went to work at 7am and didn't get home to see my kitten until almost 11pm, because my girlfriend and I had gone to the cinema after work and then eaten at a restaurant.

FOR THE AVOIDANCE OF ANY DOUBT: MY KITTEN IS LOOKED AFTER DURING THE DAY EITHER BY ME, WORKING FROM HOME, OR BY MY GIRLFRIEND. MY KITTEN IS LEFT ALONE VERY INFREQUENTLY, AND ONLY FOR SHORT PERIODS OF TIME.

I'm also having to re-adjust to a significantly reduced amount of sleep.

I was sleeping from 9pm to 7am - 10 hours a night - and now I'm lucky if I get 6 hours a night on work-nights, which is a significant reduction. Assuming I needed just 8 hours sleep (but actually I need more) then I might lose as much as 6 hours total sleep during the working week. With only Saturday and Sunday available for catching up, and assuming that a 1am or 2am bedtime doesn't seem unreasonable on a Friday and Saturday night, means I can catch up only as few as 4 hours, assuming that I went to bed at 2am and had a lie-in until midday (i.e. 10 hours sleep). Given that it takes 1.5 times as much sleep to catch up, I am running a major sleep deficit - I am never getting the chance to catch up on any sleep. It's very simple mathematics to see that I am getting increasingly tired.

My day should be quite easy to divide - 8 hours sleep, 8 hours leisure and 8 hours sleep, but that's not possible if you have to get up and go to work at 7am, and you're not able to go to sleep until past midnight on a work night. For those who are able to sleep as long as they want during the mornings, they can easily ensure that they don't get too tired. For those who can have a nap during the day, they can catch up. I don't have those luxuries, because I need to get up and go to work at 7am, even though I do have a lot of flexibility which I don't use because of the demanding project I'm working on.

Flexibility comes at a price.

I'm dedicating myself to supporting my colleagues in delivering a very large and complicated project with a huge number of team members. It's important that I'm able to get some work done in the morning - 8am to 9am - and in the evening - 4pm to 5pm - when there aren't any meetings or interruptions.

Sure, I've worked hard enough to be able to slack off a bit, but I really don't want to decimate the reputation which has taken substantial effort to earn.

I pretty much just need a holiday.

Somehow I'm managing to stay functional and not lose my mind with exhaustion. Sleep deprivation will quickly erode your ability to think clearly, stay sane and be relaxed about life. Only those who have the luxury of being able to sleep as much as they want are able to not worry about bedtimes and the health and wellbeing consequences.

I suppose I've worked hard enough and proven myself such that I could become an unreliable part-timer who nobody would rely upon, but I enjoy my role as somebody who's been steady and dependable - ever-present - which is vitally important when you're trying to help a large number of people to deliver a very complex set of objectives. Leadership could be seen as a job title which is awarded for long service, or help from your daddy, but most of the time leadership is a set of attitudes - qualities - which make your colleagues trust you and look to you for guidance; leadership is just something that some people can do when others aren't interested, lack the aptitude, or lack the confidence and experience.

In terms of eyes on the prize, I know that I will cut back on my hours in the office and give myself some days off, for the sake of my relationship, my mental health, my physical health and because there literally aren't enough hours in the day. I have a pile of personal administrative tasks which I've ignored for a few months, costing me serious amounts of money.

I'm desperate for a holiday.

It's been 6 months since I had a holiday.

This is a recurring theme in my life: I work too hard and it makes me sick.

I'm going to publish this now. As you might have been able to tell, my blogging has been an early casualty, as the demands on my time have increased and my waking day has stretched well beyond what I'm able to cope with, without losing more sleep than I'm possibly ever able to catch up on over the course of a weekend.

It's 8:30pm and I need to start thinking about getting ready for bed. I need to make sure my kitten has food, water and a clean litter tray. I need to make sure I have clean clothes for work tomorrow. I need to make sure the house is in good order, so my kitten can be left to her own devices while I'm at the office. It might sound unthinkable that my day has consisted of sleep, work, 10 minutes of TV and a short amount of writing, and now I'm about to start getting ready for bed, but when sleep gets borrowed it has to be paid back - I cannot go to bed at 1am on a Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday night, without having to reclaim 1.5 times what was lost, which is impossible when I'm working on such a high-profile and intensive project.

A holiday is the solution. I need a holiday.

 

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Seemingly Unimportant Decisions

7 min read

This is a story about success and failure...

Baked beans

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

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

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

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

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

I'm not most people.

I'm not special or different.

I'm not entitled to any preferential treatment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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