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

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Blogger's Digest - Day Fourteen of #NaNoWriMo2019

7 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen

Three days of self-imposed isolation aboard my yacht, moored up in the marina, had passed with me spending 95% of my time in bed. My appetite was a fraction of what it normally was, but I had eaten almost everything which required no preparation: cold ravioli, beans, spaghetti hoops and other cans. My T-shirt had dried drips of tomato sauce on it and my hair was greasy and had a permanent cow-lick, from the position I had been mostly resting my head on my pillow.

After three full days of total isolation, which I suppose would not be unusual for a solo round-the-world yachtsman, but was particularly odd in a busy marina during beautiful weather, I felt as though I had a mission to accomplish which I was suitably motivated to pursue, such that I would have a shower, put on some clean clothes and head for shore.

Being alone with my thoughts for so long, I had somewhat fathomed what was at the root cause of this unexpected episode of depression: I was burnt out. It might sound rather odd, considering that I'd quit my job and had decided to spend well over a year in pursuit of leisure. However, I hadn't admitted to myself how heavily the long voyage had been weighing on my mind, and causing me a continuous amount of stress.

I should - of course - have paid the money to have my yacht transported to Greece, but I had dismissed the idea, because of a mixture of pride and also wanting to challenge myself. I knew that it would be a huge achievement I'd feel proud of for the rest of my life, if I managed to sail such a long journey myself, and that I would feel like a cheat and a failure, if I took the easy way out. I wondered whether I would appreciate the Mediterranean as much if I simply flew out there to join my yacht once she was delivered.

I had chartered yachts all over the world, and it was a great way to experience sailing in a different part of the world, for a short holiday.

This was not a holiday.

It was never meant to be a holiday.

I'd made the commitment to live aboard my yacht permanently, because I wanted the adventure and I relished the challenge, but I had been defeated by the UK winter. I had considered the various ways to make the British weather more bearable aboard a yacht, but the appeal of undertaking a very long journey was too much to resist, when it was simply an idea: one of several options which I was considering.

I decided to take the plunge and start arranging my epic voyage during the winter, when I hadn't been sailing for a couple of months, and I was missing being at the sea. With hindsight, I was over-confident and too ambitious. The process of making the arrangements had consumed me, and I hadn't stopped to consider whether I was making the right choice, because I was too busy persuading everybody that it was a great idea - I believed my own bullshit.

It wasn't that parts of the journey wouldn't be extremely enjoyable and well within my comfort zone. I knew that with even the most incompetent crew member, I could easily hop from harbour to harbour, without too much trouble - it would be fun, even on unfamiliar coastlines. The problem was that a sustained period of many of these short hops would have to be joined together, in order to make good progress. The problem was that the journey contained some difficult legs, in waterways which I would have ordinarily gone out of my way to avoid - I had no desire to tangle with busy shipping channels, or sail through straits which were famed for their dangerous currents and many shipwrecks. All the pressure and responsibility was on me, and me alone. I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I still desperately wanted to complete my epic voyage. I knew that at almost every point, now that I had made it to Portugal, I would be better off turning back than carrying on, if I simply wanted my yacht to be transported to Greece. The solution was quite clear to me, and I felt much happier that I had accepted my new decision and was putting it into action.

* * *

"Bom dia. Você fala inglês?" I said to man behind the desk in the Marina office. I had been memorising and practicing this one phrase - "good morning. Do you speak English?" - repeatedly for most of the morning, learning it phonetically using a phrasebook I had brought with me for this part of the journey.

"Yes of course. You're on berth C10, right? You spoke to me the night you arrived" the man replied.

"Oh, it's you. You sound different on the radio. I mean, you sound different from how I thought you would look" I stumbled.

"Ha" he said, politely tolerating my bumbling British awkwardness. "How can I help?"

"Do you know a British skipper called Nikki?" I asked, my face sweating and my hands a little clammy - this was extremely embarrassing.

A broad smile spread across the face of the man. "Yes, of course I know Nikki. She left this morning on Moinho de Vento."

"Vento?" I said in a quizzical tone. I knew that this meant wind, so I assumed he was using a colloquialism, like gone with the wind to say that she'd sailed away. I was crushed. I was also puzzled, because there was no wind and there had been none for several days. "But it's not windy" I said, stating the obvious.

"Yes sure. She's just taken some clients out to get drunk."

"Drunk?" I asked, still perplexed.

"Yes. She takes clients out on Moinho de Vento very often. She's the biggest yacht in the marina and she's mainly used for corporate functions" the man explained. "You don't know her?" he asked.

"Know her? I met her a few times, you know, hanging out at the marina bar" I replied.

"No, not Nikki. Moinho de Vento."

"Ah. I get you now. Tallest mast in the marina. Hard to miss her. I didn't know her name though" I said, feeling like I was making a complete fool of myself.

"Should I tell Nikki you're looking for you? I know she was trying to find you the other day. I told her which berth you're moored on. I hope that was OK?"

"Yes, fine. I mean great. I mean thanks for telling her where I'm moored, and it'd be great if you can let her know I'm looking for her when you see her."

"OK no problem. Consider it done. Everything OK? Happy? Anything else?" the man asked with big genuine smile, putting me somewhat more at ease after my ordeal.

"No. That was it. Thank you."

"Ok my friend. See you around. My name is Eduardo" the man said, offering his hand, still beaming.

We shook hands and I said "adeus" by way of a goodbye.

"My friend, I applaud you for making the effort with your Portuguese" Eduardo said.

It wasn't until I got back aboard my yacht and checked my phrasebook that I realised I had used a version of goodbye which implied I had no intention of seeing Eduardo ever again.

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Thirteen of #NaNoWriMo2019

8 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Thirteen

I woke up feeling awful, which was to be expected - it had been a late night and I had drunk a lot, so a hang-over was inevitable. However, even the very worst hangovers wore off by mid-morning and I would become restless. Hunger, thirst or boredom - or a combination of all three - would motivate me to get out of bed by at least midday.

Midday had arrived and I still felt tired and unwell. I wondered if I had perhaps contracted some kind of bug. I didn't feel nauseous, but I was more tired than I should have been.

I felt like I should get up, but I didn't want to. The greater the pressure to get up, the more I hated it and it made me want the world to go away; leave me alone.

Outside, the weather was glorious. Although I had excellent blackout blinds for the hatch above my bed and the two tiny portholes, which couldn't be opened, on either side of the bow, in my cabin, enough light crept in though various cracks and the rising temperature indicated that it was a scorching sunny day. It felt like the most unbelievable waste, to spend it cooped up inside my tiny cabin.

I thought about all the poor underpaid overworked souls who hated their jobs and barely had a holiday. So many people would kill to have the opportunity to be in a beautiful hot part of the world, with no work commitments. Why was I so stressed and anxious about getting up? Why did I feel so much pressure?

I looked at my watch. 12:30pm. I knew I should get up immediately. I felt enormous pressure to get up immediately, given that it was now well past midday.

I wrestled with conflict within me for an extremely uncomfortable hour. Time passed both quickly and slowly. Each time I would check my watch, I would wail with disbelief at how much of the precious day I was wasting, but the time was also dragging uncomfortably, because I felt as though I should get up, but at the same time I didn't want to. What I wanted was for everything to just go away; leave me alone.

At around 2pm, I decided that it was so late that I was going to allow myself to abandon the day. I gave myself permission to give up. I admitted defeat, but I also gave in to what my brain and body were somehow yelling out for.

An enormous amount of relief swept over me, having made the decision to give up and stay in bed. All the pressure that I'd felt, from the moment I woke up until the moment I admitted defeat - deciding to stay in bed and write off the day - started to alter the way I felt, from restless and anxious, to much more relaxed. I became sleepy and dozed off.

I woke up. 5:30pm. Another wave of guilt. I had wasted the day.

It was still light and warm outside - a pleasant summer evening and a long time until sunset. However, I preferred to think that the day was somehow finished, giving myself permission to continue to stay in bed. I briefly entertained the idea of getting showered and dressed, and heading out to enjoy the evening, but the thought of those simple practicalities exhausted me, and I slumped back into my bed.

By 7pm I started to feel quite hungry. Perhaps my stomach would provide the motivation which I had lacked all day, to leave my bed at long last. The idea of preparing a meal felt wrong, as did dining out - it felt 'naughty' somehow; as though I had skived off school. Although nobody knew me here, I still felt as though I would be uncomfortable walking around - people would look at me and think "where's he been all day?". I toyed with excuses in my head.

* * *

"Knock knock!"

What the hell was that, I wondered, startled.

"Knock! Knock!" came the cry again. The carefree tone and female voice led me to immediately conclude it must have been Nikki. How the hell did she know which yacht was mine? Did I tell her my yacht's name or my berth number?

I heard the sound of somebody climbing aboard. I was aghast - this was utterly inappropriate behaviour. Not the done thing at all. Nobody ever ventured on board somebody else's boat without permission, except in special circumstances, such as needing to cross to get to shore. I was deeply unnerved.

Nikki rapped on the cockpit doors. "Coo-ee!" she yelled brightly.

Then, she slid back the coachroof and called down into the saloon: "Gavin! I know you're in there. Come out to play! It'll be fun!"

What should I do, I wondered. To ignore her further was getting extremely difficult - was she going to descend the steps from the cockpit into the saloon and knock on my cabin door, next? It was a difficult situation but I felt as though she had clearly overstepped the mark: she should never have boarded without permission, let alone slid open my coachroof so she could yell down inside. With a certain stubborn bloody-mindedness, I decided to remain silent.

"We'll be in the bar if you decide to get up and come and join us. Don't be so antisocial!" she yelled, before sliding the coachroof closed again, and disembarking.

Just as I breathed a sigh of relief she rapped loudly on the bow with her knuckles. I jumped with fright.

"See you soon, Gavin!" she yelled and cackled with laughter, which hadn't a hint of malice in it, so brought a smile to my face. She was mischievous and I had taken great affront at the intrusion, but also I was gladdened that she'd taken an interest in me and what she'd tried to do was well-meaning and kind. How did she know I had been holed up, somewhat in a pit of despair which was hard to explain.

* * *

Later that night I crept out to grab a bottle of water, a packet of biscuits and some crisps. I didn't turn any lights on and I tip-toed to the galley and back. I probably made more noise than I would have done if I had turned on a light, as I fumbled around in the dark, but I still felt very bad about not leaving my cabin all day. I wanted to retreat and be left alone. I wanted to be isolated.

As I filled my bed with crumbs I wondered what was wrong with me. Was this another episode of depression? Was I liable to be bed-bound for a substantial period of time? I didn't feel unwell, except that I was exceptionally tired.

Each time I left my bed, for example to use the bathroom, I was incredibly glad to return to bed as quickly as possible. After urinating, I considered skipping washing my hands, to save some precious wasted seconds. Why was I so keen to get back to bed? If anything, I was pretty bored and I longed to read a book or watch a movie, but I didn't want anybody to see the reading light or the light from my laptop screen; I wanted to pretend like I didn't exist.

Having napped for substantial periods during the day, I was not at all tired, and with no distractions I was trapped alone with my thoughts for a long time, in the dark and quiet of the night. The noise outside - people returning to their boats - was magnified; my ears became hyper-sensitised due the sensory deprivation I'd experienced for a long period of time. Listening to every little noise punctuated my thoughts, which continuously wondered what was wrong with me and how long it was going to last.

I was worried it was going to be the same the following day.

My first episode of depression had surprised me, in how long it had lasted. At the end of each day I had been optimistic that I would wake up and feel differently, but each morning the feelings were stubbornly persistent: there was no 'snapping out of it' or otherwise cajoling myself up and out of bed. I already knew every trick in the book for forcing myself to face the intolerable, and I knew when I was beaten, although it took me a long time to accept it.

I couldn't decide which I dreaded more: that Nikki would return and try again to cajole me into leaving my pit of despair, or that I would awake to discover that I was undeniably laid low with another episode of depression, with an indeterminate end date.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Ten of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Ten

I knew that I would find my old schoolfriend, Tim, at the London Boat Show in January. He had stayed in Hampshire his whole life, to be close to the sea, attempting to scrape a living in the marine industry. Undoubtedly the most talented sailor in the sailing club when I joined, as a child, he came from a long line of men who had worked at sea and on rivers. His father, who had taught him to sail when he was a very little boy, was a member of the London Fire Brigade working aboard one of their two fire boats. On his father's four off-duty days, he was a volunteer crew member for the RNLI, on the local lifeboat. Salt water ran in his veins.

I had several ulterior motives for attending the London Boat Show.

I had planted the idea in my friend Ian's head, that we should pay a second visit to see a particularly fast racing yacht, built with classic lines, which he had taken a great deal of interest in at the Southampton Boat Show back in September, when we had been granted a much-coveted viewing appointment. The yacht he had taken an interest in had recently featured in a James Bond movie, and there were very many members of the public who wanted to have a tour, but who were not serious buyers. Ian had the money and had always wanted to buy his way into the prestigious invitation-only racing, which happened in the South of France every summer: the price of entry was to own a yacht which was either an authentic classic, or a modern classic, judged by the race organisers to be just so, which rather nebulously meant that you had excellent taste and the decency not to be vulgar with your wealth.

I wanted, at the appropriate moment, to convince Ian to help me sail from Brighton to Corfu, over the course of the summer. I knew that he would not, and could not commit to doing the entire voyage all at once, so I hoped to persuade him to help me for a week or two at a time: the South Coast of England to the South Coast of Portugal, then onwards to Sardinia or maybe Sicily if the wind was kind to us, before finally completing the final segment of the trip. I knew that the prospect of doing a seriously long sea journey would be appealing, and he owed me a favour or two after having crewed for him on many occasions, but he would have regattas and other racing events over the summer which he wouldn't want to miss. I would have to convince him that he could fit my trip in, around his other commitments.

I had asked a number of other great sailors I knew, who I imagined would have been very happy to spend several weeks with me, moving my yacht from Brighton to Corfu. However, none had been forthcoming with any help whatsoever. Besides a cordial catch-up on how our lives had been progressing since I had originally left the bank and subsequently left London, post-divorce, our friendships had dissipated and I could tell that they had no interest in any serious ongoing friendship. My old London friends were too consumed by their demanding city lives, trying to placate their demanding trophy wives who had insatiable designer handbag buying habits, wanted increasingly large houses in Kensington and Chelsea, nannies, au pairs, and other hired help, and wanted the children to go to the best private schools: long gone were the days when we used to enjoy countless after-work drinking sessions.

Resistant to the idea of hiring a professional skipper to help me, or taking a gamble on an amateur who I might hope to stumble upon, I racked my brains and came upon a possible solution: my old school-friends who had continued to sail. Tim was the obvious first choice. I knew from social media that he was still an incredibly active sailor, and we had the pretence that we had stayed in touch, when in fact we hadn't seen each other for almost two decades.

London has a strange habit of dividing us. To those who abhor the concrete jungle - the big smoke - the M25 motorway ring-road is a kind of force field, which kept them out; they never went near the place and specifically avoided it, wherever possible. Meanwhile, for those whose career ambitions could only be pursued in a place like London or New York - in the Square Mile or on Wall Street - everything outside London suddenly seemed backwards and twee; provincial. It was difficult to avoid a certain amount of snobbery, which prejudiced those of us who felt we were at the centre of the universe, against those who had chosen a more ordinary family life, at a sedate pace. Like oil and water, London folk and the rest of the British didn't really mix: wealthy Londoners couldn't understand that most restaurants and bars served terrible quality food and drink, and didn't accept card payments, while non-Londoners couldn't understand why anybody would live somewhere which cost £10 for a pint of beer and a modest-sized family home some distance from the centre would cost upwards of £1 million.

From social media stalking, I knew the name of the company which Tim had been working for, at least at some point fairly recently - it was always possible that he had moved on since he had updated his profile. The marine industry is fairly small, and I knew that it was probable that even if Tim no longer worked for that company, somebody would know which company he'd moved to, who would also most likely have an exhibitor's stand here at the London Boat Show.

As luck would have it, I spotted Tim quite easily, lingering near a rack of glossy brochures full of stainless-steel yacht rigging parts, which the company he worked for manufactured and sold.

"Tim! Fancy seeing you here" I joked, knowing that his career in the marine industry meant that he'd spent the last couple of decades attending boat shows.

Rather cynically, I had prepared a game plan for us to become fast friends again. My background research - social media stalking - told me that he had married his girlfriend who he'd been dating the whole time we'd known each other, and he had two children, one of whom had recently started secondary school and the other I estimated to be 2 or 3 years younger, still at primary school. I also knew that he and his wife had won a number of dinghy races during the previous season, and I knew what class of dinghy he was sailing in. From my many dismal, boring, depressing years working in offices, I knew that a surefire topic of conversation, guaranteed to create a bond with a colleague, would be to show an interest in their kids, first and foremost: extra points for remembering names, ages, and whether they were into ponies or whatever particular things their doting parents were encouraging them to do.

I knew that it would be very hard for Tim to get time off work, as well as leaving his wife looking after their kids, but that he was always a sucker for any seagoing adventure: at school he often played truant when a local fisherman offered to take him out on their trawler.

Having spent a long while catching up on Tim's life events, since we'd parted company so many years ago, I then said enthusiastically that I would love to come and visit; that we should rekindle our friendship. We had been very good friends at school, but our lives had gone in very different directions since I had gone away to university, and Tim had never left our home town in Hampshire.

With a great deal of happy excitement and promises to stay in regular contact, and make definite arrangements to see each other again soon, I was about to make my departure; we began saying our goodbyes.

"Oh, er. I'm moving my boat from Brighton to somewhere a bit further south for the summer. Cross-channel sort of thing. Been asking around to see if I can find another qualified skipper but haven't had any luck. You don't know any trustworthy chaps who'd be up for a few days at sea, do you?" I asked, casually.

"No not really, but I might be able to swing a few nights away from home - boys' trip - if I play my cards right with the wife. I'm owed some nights off after she went away on a hen do last year" Tim replied.

"Well, chat it over with her and let me know what dates might work for you - I'm pretty flexible" I said.

We shook hands and then, exchanging a simultaneous grin, we gave each other a spontaneous hug. I think we really had missed each others' company, over the many years, and we were glad about the prospect of re-entering each others' lives. Making and keeping friends had proven to be so difficult, in adult life.

Ian had been ridiculously easy to convince to join me on my trip. The only sticking point for him was that I paid for his flights, which I naturally agreed to. It seemed a little ridiculous that he was seriously considering purchasing a yacht which would cost him the best part of £1 million, yet he wanted to make sure I would cover his travel expenses. I wondered if the reason why Ian was so much more wealthy than me was not because my career had been disrupted by my depression, but because he was a notorious tightwad.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Six of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Six

I was completely unable to relate to people who had sensible grown-up calm and amicable break-ups, where they remained friends with their ex. It felt to me as though it was a betrayal of my whole "jump in with both feet" ethos, regarding the pursuit of love, to simply drift apart and then one day decide to separate: a simple and straightforward life decision like any other, akin to purchasing a refrigerator, or switching energy supplier. In my version of a breakup, there needed to be tears and passion, breaking up, making up, taking a break, getting back together - it needed to be messy and complex, and emotional. Where was the love if two people just decided one day to go their separate ways, and then divided their possessions and moved on with their lives?

"Falling out of love" was something I was a little familiar with, but not something I would tolerate. I'm not an idiot: I know if somebody is deliberately picking fights with me, or sulking, or otherwise acting in a way that suggests that they'd really like to end the relationship - probably because they are flirting with somebody else - but they are too spineless to do the honourable and honest thing, and take the plunge before having secured their next relationship. I'm not the kind of person who wants to have anything to do with anybody who's continuously trying to 'trade up'; lacking in any loyalty or moral fiber.

I took my relationship commitments pretty seriously. I'd never had a casual girlfriend. In fact, I'd only really had Caroline. I'd been on some dates and had a fling with a friend while Caroline and I were on a lengthy 'break' but I was quite unfamiliar with anything other than monogamy and it never occurred to me to look outside the relationship for anything extra, or better.

One of my friends had an open marriage for a few years, and another friend had a girlfriend who was very promiscuous, which he seemed to grudgingly tolerate, but on the whole, my entire circle of friends and colleagues were all married, engaged, or in serious long-term relationships: I was never aware of any infidelity, and break-ups and divorces were virtually unheard of. Of course, investment bankers often tended to be regular patrons of strip clubs, escorts and many had a mistress, which was handled extremely discreetly. None of that was my 'scene' - I wanted a plain vanilla monogamous committed lifelong relationship with somebody who I was head over heels in love with, and I knew that it would require non-stop work to keep a great relationship alive.

The death of my relationship with Caroline had begun with how she had reacted when I got sick, when I quit my job, when I wanted to be an electrician and when I wanted to move to Brighton. Each time, she had made it abundantly clear that our relationship was predicated on an unspoken agreement, which I had never signed up for: I was expected to remain healthy and earning big bucks in investment banking, supporting her in her underpaid charity job in London, and to not expect any such reciprocal arrangement. I often thought of the marriage vows "for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health" and this was the standard to which I tried to adhere. Caroline wasn't at all supportive when I quit my job or started business as an electrician - in fact, she constantly complained about the decline in our living standards, however her blanket rejection of any better paid job was something I'd had to accept. She'd flatly refused to discuss moving to Brighton.

She'd paid little or no attention to the appointments I had been attending, over the years, since the first visit to my local doctor's surgery in my adult life. At first, I hadn't wanted to worry her, but it had become increasingly apparent that she just didn't care about my health or wellbeing: she just wanted me to bring home a massive income, doing a job which was killing me. She placed the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed as the top priority, and the delivery of all of the extra anticipated things she would be getting in future - an extravagant wedding, a private school education for our children, a bigger house, trust funds for university - were non-negotiables. She wanted what she wanted, and the only route to getting that was me or somebody else, but she certainly wasn't going to compromise one little bit.

Left with no other options, I confronted Caroline with the opinions of my doctor, psychiatrist and therapist.

"Caroline, I'm not sick. I need to make lifestyle changes, because this life - London and investment banking - is making me unwell. I'm not saying I want to move to Brighton because it's a selfish dream of mine. It would have been great if I could have carried on with our old life, but it wasn't sustainable."

"What are you saying?" she asked.

"I tried all the different anti-depressants, but they didn't work. It wasn't safe. I was suicidal. I tried switching a different way of making money, but I simply couldn't earn enough money to support the lifestyle you want; I can't give you the future you want. I've found a compromise: this job in Brighton pays incredibly well and we'll be able to afford a much bigger house than in London. I can work fewer hours. I can work from home sometimes. It's so much better for my health."

"But all our friends are in London. Everything is here. What about my job?"

"You're a solicitor. You can work anywhere. There are plenty of legal firms in Brighton" I replied.

"I like my colleagues. I like my clients. I like the charity I work for. I'm not doing it. I'm not moving. I'm not discussing this. No. The answer is no."

"This isn't brinksmanship. This isn't an ultimatum. I don't like it any more than you do, but this is the situation. The only way I can earn enough money to maintain our standard of living and give you everything you want, and not kill myself, is to take a less stressful job in Brighton."

"You could take a less stressful job in London" she suggested.

"You don't understand. You can't leave before your boss. Leaving at 7:30pm is considered early. People are answering emails at all time of the day. All the banks are moving their middle office and back office functions out of London. This is the only chance I have to keep my London salary, without having to keep the London working hours and the pressure of the front office."

"Tell Human Resources that you're not well. Tell them you need to work part-time."

"You don't understand. That's career suicide. I'd be paid off. They'd offer me a hefty amount of cash to leave, but I'd never be able to work in investment banking again. I'd be blacklisted."

"They can't do that! There are employment laws!" she bristled.

"Yes. We would get a very large financial settlement, but I've done the maths and it doesn't add up: it's not enough money to support the lifestyle ambitions that you have. We won't be able to get the house in Zone 2 with a large garden, like you wanted. We won't be able to afford private school for three children. We won't be able to send three children to university, without them having to go into debt. We won't be able to buy them their first car. We won't be able to pay the deposit on their first home. We won't be able to pay for their weddings."

"I'm sure we'll manage."

I laughed at the ridiculousness of the notion.

"MANAGE! I've had to put up with nothing but complaint after complaint ever since I quit my job, about how much pain and suffering it's causing you, having to tighten our belts" I retorted, unable to keep my built-up frustrations and resentment under control.

"So how do you propose we split everything? 50:50?" she asked. The coldness of her tone - the lack of emotion - utterly enraged me. I could not have felt more used. I felt like nothing more than a walking wallet. I was completely speechless that she could segue so effortlessly into a discussion about who was going to get the crockery and who was going to get the vacuum cleaner. It was heartless. It was brutal.

* * *

Life in the marina was unusual, but it was novel. Instead of having supermarket shopping delivered, I had to drive to the supermarket, buy my shopping, drive back to the marina and load the bags into a trolley, which I would then wheel through a security gate and down to the pontoon where my yacht was moored.

I was not supposed to discharge my yacht's toilet while moored within the marina, but I was damned if I was going to walk all the way to the toilet block every time I needed to use the loo. Out of paranoia of being reported by a busybody fellow berth holder, I ran the shower every time I pumped out the contents of my toilet. A little seawater circulated every time the marina's lock was used, but the water was essentially a stagnant pond, so the discharge of raw sewerage - my untreated bladder and bowel movements - was quite an antisocial practice. I justified my actions, because very few people lived aboard their boats, and fewer still used them on any regular basis.

Caroline hadn't the money to buy me out of our shared mortgage on our London house. Her wealthy family were notoriously stingy and had refused to lend her the money, despite the huge financial gain she stood to make. I could have bought her share, but having no use for a London home anymore, I knew that she would try to manipulate me into allowing her to stay there rent-free, or at least at a hugely discounted rate: she had already made several attempts to emotionally blackmail me, saying that she had made terrible sacrifices for me, when I had quit my job and become an electrician. Essentially, she felt entitled to a vast sum of money - who knew how much she felt entitled to? It was my closest friends who begged me to be firm but fair, and to take back the hefty initial deposit which I had paid, and to split the remaining sum equally. In fact, my friends begged me to give her a share in proportion with her contribution, which was my legal entitlement, but I didn't want to face the court battle which she was threatening, and neither did I particularly begrudge her the hefty extra sum of money, if she was enough of a bad person to demand it - she could live with the guilt of knowing she picked my pocket, but I could not live with the guilt of knowing that she would struggle with the sudden drastic change in her financial circumstances, without a golden parachute, gifted to her by me... not that she was grateful, of course.

I was left with easily enough money to buy a very nice house in Brighton, with very little mortgage, if any. London property prices were so vastly over-inflated versus the rest of the country. However, I wanted to keep my options open. Perhaps I wouldn't like it in Brighton. Perhaps I would miss London. I decided to defer housebuying, and instead bought a yacht.

My new - but second-hand - yacht, was large and well appointed, but more akin to a floating caravan than anything luxurious. I bought it because of its spacious interior: enough space to sleep 6 in 3 cabins, with extra beds in the saloon too. The bathroom, galley and other aspects of the yacht were a world apart from the small yacht I had purchased when I was 22 years old. There was a fridge, a shower, an oven. With mains-voltage shore power hook-up, I could use regular household appliances without worrying about draining the batteries. There was enough headroom to accomodate my 6 feet of height, in most parts of the vessel, although I did have to duck through doorways and shower in a rather awkward position.

Life aboard the yacht lived up to my expectations mostly. There were minor inconveniences, such as having to cart anything I wanted to load onboard or take off, having to be done using a trolley. Putting out the rubbish became something which I did little and often, on my way to work, as opposed to carting heavy black bin liners all the way to the marina refuse dump. Shopping was an almost daily chore, because the fridge had such little capacity and I had no freezer.

There were problems which I had not anticipated, which were a little more difficult to deal with. My colleagues had begun to notice that I smelled of diesel fuel. The smell had entirely escaped my notice, because it lingered with me constantly. A small amount of diesel fuel inevitably ends up in the bilges of any vessel, and it's virtually impossible to eliminate the smell, which permeates all soft fabrics. Yacht owners are quite used to the smell, and no longer notice it after a while, but to my colleagues it was a topic which nobody had been brave enough to broach - it was only by chance that I overheard one colleague saying to another "you mean the guy who smells of diesel" in a context where they could only have been referring to me, that I realised there was a problem. My solution, of keeping all my work clothes at work - my suits and my shirts - required an extra locker, and I had to get up earlier than I would have done normally, in order to be able to shower and get changed at the office in the morning.

The thin, light and strong walls of the hull of my yacht were a quite ideal building material for a seagoing vessel, but provided inadequate sound insulation for a home. As the spring turned into summer, and an increasing number of people decided to have parties on their gin palaces, the noise pollution became rather problematic. I purchased an excellent pair of earplugs, but these were so effective I was often unable to hear my alarm clock in the morning, and they irritated my ear canals, causing inflammation and pain.

My new life in Brighton, despite its teething problems, was on the whole a very happy one. My commute was short, I worked far fewer hours, and the atmosphere in the office was generally less competitive and high-pressure than it was in London. The laid-back attitude of my staff rubbed off on me, and I felt that the culture was much better for my health and wellbeing. I was optimistic that I might have found the route to a sustainable and contented life. I was hopeful that I had seen the last of depression and suicidal thoughts.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Four of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

I had quit my job.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

"But Katie hates camping" protested Caroline.

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

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

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

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

"MALTA DOESN'T COUNT?" I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Brexit Psychosis

5 min read

This is a story about learned helplessness...

Polling station

Following the news is a misery-making endeavour. Following politics is a misery-making endeavour. While the world appears to offer the illusion of free will and the opportunity for us to influence outcomes, this is manifestly a lie; the idea that we have any control over our destiny is patently untrue.

Brexit is the ultimate misery. Exactly half the country want something which they are not being given, and the other half don't want something which is being threatened to be forced upon them. Three years ago we - the British citizens - were given a so-called 'choice'. One half of the country chose something impossible and the other half of the country chose to avoid something which is obviously terrible, and then nobody got what they wanted. Nobody will ever get what they want, because Brexit voters were promised impossible things, and those who voted to remain in the EU will never regain those lost, wasted, sorrowful years, even if Article 50 is revoked - the economic damage and the social damage is still done, the friendships lost and the divisions widened.

It doesn't surprise me to increasingly read about people whose mental health has deteriorated to the point of breakdown, due to Brexit. The headlines are always Brexit-related. The media narrative is unswervingly Brexit-related. The constant bombardment of the doomsday Brexit scenario and the home-grown terrorism and threats of violence by the far-right, intent on perpetrating atrocities against peaceful and valuable members of European society, is a toxic atmosphere which is hard for even the most psychologically secure and happy person, to be able to weather.

I suppose I consider myself a teeny bit of a Remain activist, having been on a couple of pro-EU marches and poured a mountain of energy into teasing out people's real reasons for voting to leave the EU, which invariably is a racist motivation. "Britain's full" and "Muslims don't integrate" are the dog-whistles for the far-right, which I hear all to often from people who I thought were more intelligent, kinder and generally not racists but unfortunately, there are tons of racists. There are lots of secret Tory voters, who are actually really horrible people, and it turns out that Britain is riddled with racists too.

Following the political developments and trolling a few racists has been somewhat of a hobby, but at other times it's hard, because I do genuinely wish to avoid the UK leaving the EU. An organisation I was working for last year was planning on closing their UK subsidiary if Brexit goes ahead. Every organisation I've worked for would be affected negatively by Brexit. Chaos and disruption isn't good for anybody, except for wealthy unscrupulous opportunistic scumbags, seeking to exploit vulnerable people.

So many people are working as hard as they possibly can, but their living standards are declining. So many people are doing everything humanly possible to make things better, but things are getting worse.

We are helpless.

The news backdrop of Brexit, climate change and imminent economic catastrophe, does not create a great environment for human happiness and contentment to thrive. Current circumstances are anathema to a sense of wellbeing. Depression and anxiety are the surefire consequences of the dismal outlook; the hopelessness of it all.

We are inherently programmed to move away from things which are uncomfortable and unpleasant, and to change and improve things. Yet, we have no opportunities anymore. Hard work will get you nowhere. There's nowhere to run; nowhere to hide.

Of course my outlook is coloured by depression. Of course I view things in a profoundly negative way, because of my state of mind. That doesn't mean I'm wrong though. Humans have a faulty positivity bias. I am able to perceive reality far more correctly than somebody with a neurotypical brain. I'm not smarter than everybody else, but I'm able to see through to the pure reality, with a cold, analytical and rational brain, due to faulty mental health.

Our asylums are full of people who think "the end of the world is nigh" but they're occasionally correct. The difference between the terminally insane and myself, is that I'm functional and they are not; I can justify and explain my train of thought and they can not; I can show my chain of deductive reasoning and they can not. Do I have a crystal ball? Do I claim to know the future? No. I'm just like an economist saying "in the long run we are all dead".

It's through our collective behaviour that problems develop. It's our group sentiment where the problem lies. I have a gut feel that a critical mass is close to being reached, in terms of the millions of people who are desperately unhappy and would be prepared to watch civilisation burn.

That way madness lies. Although I briefly entertained the idea of revolution, I'm now a bit more calm and moderate, and I don't think we should risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater. However, I suspect that the fuse has been lit for quite a long time now and there's no escaping the fireworks which are coming. Too many damn metaphors and idioms. These past years have been too damn hard on my mental health, and indeed vast numbers of others too.

 

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Highly Effective Lunatic

5 min read

This is a story about productivity...

Mood swings

What's the difference between somebody who delivers a big complicated project, and somebody who just has a job? It's pretty easy to just turn up at work and do what you're told. It's not hard to stay on top of your responsibilities and not get fired. In fact, it's pretty easy to go above and beyond; to exceed expectations. Offices are full of very dull and un-dynamic unimaginative and highly impractical people, who couldn't organise a proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

Unfortunately, people who've delivered any kind of big complicated project are hard to find. We are no longer a nation of people who built our own houses, or have finished other complicated tasks. We are a nation of dull-eyed drones, trudging along with the herd - living dead; zombies. The nature of work deskills us, demotivates us and makes us stupid. The nature of big organisations discourages innovation; discourages risk taking; discourages effort and enthusiasm. What are the transferrable skills which an organisation is giving you? Zero. Nobody needs you to make spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Nobody needs you to send emails. Nobody needs what your company does. Most jobs are utter bullshit.

Occasionally - very occasionally - the paper-pushers take a break from their interminable meetings, because they have been talking for far too long and there's not actually very much time left before a hard deadline, when something tangible actually has to be delivered, and then they panic. The people who don't do anything or know anything realise that they've left it far too late, so they scramble to find those few sought-after people who do know things and can create real tangible things.

The problem with being asked to deliver a great big complicated project without enough time to do it, is that it's pretty depressing and demotivating. Even if you have the skills, you're probably not going to be very enthusiastic about embarking upon a fool's errand. Nobody is going to thank you for delivering a project late, and nobody is going to allow you to have more time to do it, but very often you will have no other choice than to work on a project which is doomed from the very outset.

Invariably, big complex projects are doomed to be late, and utter failures.

This is where lunatics come in.

Assuming an 8 hour working day, it would appear as though the limit on productivity is 3 times more - 24 hours. So, assuming that a team has to be 5 times more productive, it's impossible for them to deliver, because there aren't enough hours in the day. However, lunatics seem to be able to be at least 5 times more productive in an 8 hour day.

Of course it's impossible for anybody to work 24 hours a day for any length of time, but it's quite possible for a lunatic to work 16 hours a day for a hefty period. If you combine the lunatic's higher productivity with longer hours, then suddenly you have somebody who is 10 times more productive than your average dull-eyed brain-dead zombie drone. This is how big complicated projects get delivered, despite impossible deadlines.

There's a cost to the mental health of anybody who has to work, repeatedly, under such stress and strain. The boom and bust nature of it; the hopelessness of the situation followed by the jubilation of success, after so much slogging away against the odds, takes its toll on a person. It's not at all good for a person to be subjected to such extremes, but it's good for organisations and so it's celebrated and encouraged - the people who can pull off the delivery of big complicated projects are highly rewarded and much in-demand, even when they're a little shop-soiled and driven mad by the exercions they've suffered.

I woke up very depressed this morning. I'm depressed because I've delivered the project I was working on and it's working really well. I'm depressed because all my hard work paid off and the project is a big success. I'm depressed because the desperate race to have everything finished by the deadline is over - things were delivered on time. The pressure is off. The project is pretty much over. That's depressing.

It shouldn't be depressing, but it is. When you get yourself into that mode where you're working 16 hours a day and you're 10 times more productive than the dull-eyed brain-dead zoned-out zombie corpses who trudge along doing very little, then it's hard to adjust when the deadline is reached and the project is successfully delivered.

If I was in a better financial situation - more secure - then I might take some time off to rest and recuperate, but I have to keep earning a huge amount in order to get into a decent situation, in order to catch my breath. I can't stop and think about what's best for my health and wellbeing. I don't have that luxury.

I just have to hope that another huge challenge comes along, so that I can avoid sinking into a massive depression which will ruin everything; all my hard work wasted.

 

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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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Emotionally Unstable

7 min read

This is a story about repeating patterns...

Quote

What am I doing? It feels like I'm making the same mistakes I've made a bunch of times before. It feels like I'm re-living 2015, and I didn't like how things went that year, so I'm desperate to avoid making those mistakes, but I feel like my mood disorder has got me stuck in an inescapable pattern.

Strictly speaking, I have two mood disorders: bipolar and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The latter disorder means that I'm unable to escape a downturn in my mood as summer turns into winter, unless I head to warmer climate. The former disorder means that I'm prone to episodes of mania, which I always like to believe I'm in control of, because I enjoy the mania and find it immensely useful for creativity and productivity.

Looking back to 2015, at the time I felt like I was enjoying playing a pivotal role in the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. In retrospect, I was very unwell indeed. My behaviour was quite erratic and unpredictable and it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel like I was doing good work, now that I think about it. For sure, I helped bang some heads together and get things moving to meet some key deadlines, but I was definitely suffering very badly with a severe episode of mental illness, and I hadn't been working on the project for very long so I expect my contribution was negligible. This is what gives me a great deal of fear that I'm repeating the same mistakes: that history is repeating itself.

In 2015 I was working a lot of overtime. I was working most weekends. I was working extremely hard - long hours - and I had the additional pressure of moving house, given that I was homeless and living in a hostel. Also, it hadn't been very long since I had been in a dreadful state, with my brain chemistry completely messed up. I had terrible insomnia. I was a big mess.

Today, I have a house and a cat. My home life is comparatively settled, although I've had some relationship problems lately which have been very destabilising. My working routine is not too taxing - I have a short commute to the office, and the hours I work are strictly Monday to Friday. If I leave the office at 5:30pm, that's a long day for me. In 2015 I was routinely staying in the office past 9pm, and often to 11pm, and then staying up all night writing emails, which was not at all healthy or conducive to good mental health.

In some ways I feel that I'm in much better health than I was in 2015, and I stand a much better chance of getting through an incredibly stressful period at work without losing my mind. However, late on Friday I lost my cool at the office, and the emotions that have been bottled up started to come out, which wasn't very professional. I started to speak my mind way more than I should have done, and I started to send off messages with a scattergun approach. I stopped approaching problems in a calm and methodical manner, and instead I acted with desperation and superstition. I was afraid that all my hard work was in ruins. Strangely, I thought I was dreaming; or rather having a nightmare.

I suppose my sleep quality is compromised at the moment. Several nights a week I don't sleep well because there's a technical problem I can't stop thinking about. My dreams are all about my work. In fact, my dreams are nightmares, where I attempt again and again to resolve the problems I left at the office. As soon as I wake up, I rush to the office to pick up where I left off.

A colleague has mentioned in private that I should take it easy; not get so obsessed over the project. A colleague has correctly identified me as somebody who can make themselves sick through overwork - at risk of burnout; at risk of a breakdown. It's good advice - that I should try to maintain some balance. Becoming obsessed by work is very unhealthy.

Yesterday, I left a rambling garbled and emotional voicemail for a colleague, begging them to let me do something over the weekend. I spent time trying to find colleagues who would help me with a piece of work, and ended up getting somebody to do something for me at 11pm. It's too much. It's too intense. It's too crazy.

I have no idea if I'm eternally doomed to suffer from delusions of grandeur, and to repeatedly burn out, only to look back and realise that my negligible contribution was laughable; pathetic. I have no idea if my perceptions are warped and I'm unable to grasp just how bad an episode of mental illness I'm suffering from. It's hell being so functional, and having so much feedback which seems to corroborate all the apparent evidence that I'm being incredibly productive and useful, but yet I also have a whole load of evidence that the end result always seems to be the same: burnout, crash, disaster, destitution, destruction. Am I a fool for hoping that this time is the time when everything finally works out for me, and I get the glory I crave?

Looking back to 2008 and 2011, I was able to make it to the finishing line with a gigantic project for JPMorgan and a TechStars program technology startup accelerator. I was able to deliver, but at huge personal cost. Both times I ended up in a terrible state. I was too fixated on the specific delivery date, and I didn't think about what would come afterwards. I didn't handle the anticlimax well at all. The episodes of depression that followed the frantic manic energy which allowed me to deliver on time, were so destructive that all my hard work was destroyed... or was it? JPMorgan was able to process quadrillions of dollars of credit default swaps, using the software I designed and built. My tech startup was able to continue trading profitably and getting new customers, even though I was too sick to work. The cost was to me personally. I was ashamed that I couldn't continue to function at the same intensity, and I assumed that everyone would hate me for getting sick. I threw away those opportunities, because I assumed that they were ruined. I assumed that everybody saw me as damaged goods; unreliable and untrustworthy.

I have no idea if I'm destined for another personal disaster. I certainly worry that I won't be able to cope with the end of my contract, and the end of my involvement with the project I'm so unhealthily obsessed with. I suppose I need to mitigate against any probable crash in my mood. I suppose I need to plan ahead.

I can't imagine I'll be able to find a good contract locally. I can't imagine how I'm going to juggle my need to find a well-paid contract, with my cat and my house rental agreement. It's a stress that I really don't want to have to deal with right now. It's stress that I really wish would go away - if only my contract could be extended for another year, that would be perfect.

My life is a rollercoaster, so we would expect my mood to be too. It's hard to unpick my mood disorder from the circumstances of my life. I like to think that my mood is dictated by the time of year and other things that are going on, such as whether I'm in a good relationship or not. I like to think that my extreme moods will abate as my life improves.

 

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Addicted to Sadness

8 min read

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

Pills

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

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

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

What a load of BS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We aren't supposed to live like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please stop blaming depressed people for their own depression.

 

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