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

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Infamy

3 min read

This is a story about wanting to be noticed...

Why I write

This is not a pity party, and everyone has an equally valid claim to misery and depression, but it's important - to me - that I relate this part of the most influential period of my life.

At home, I could do nothing right, and was largely ignored other than as an ornament; a clothes horse; a performing animal, let out of its cage to delight the adults, as a party trick, and otherwise told to be quiet and keep out of the way.This, I think, is not unusual, but was greatly exacerbated my lack of a sibling until the age of 10, and my parents' extreme anti-social behaviour, which left me isolated in the extreme: often in very remote rural areas; far from friends and schoolmates.

At school, I could not avoid attention of the wrong kind. My parents' obsession with training me as their performing animal, for their party tricks, meant that I was either alone, or doing my routine for adults. I had no relationships with children, before school. If you want to fuck up your children and ruin their lives, it's quite easy: do everything in your power to make them different so that they don't fit in; deprive them of every opportunity to socialise; force them to act like little adults, instead of allowing them to be children - that will guarantee that they won't fit in at all at school, and they will be bullied from dawn to dusk, every. single. fucking. day.

Good manners and confidence in the company of adults did, briefly, confer an advantage in the workplace. This supposed 'maturity' was useful for making a good first impression. Employers certainly mistook me for a person who was mature beyond their years, but this was entirely superficial: a party trick learned, because it was the only way I was able to receive praise as a child - from the small amount of adult company my parents kept; those rare occasions when I was trotted out and expected to perform. However, I had no maturity at all - the social isolation, the neglect and the deprivation, was masked and hidden behind impeccable manners and precise diction; expansive vocabulary, learned from books.

As life has worn on, my age relative to my peers has become less obvious, less remarkable. Instead, those deep wounds inflicted in childhood have come to the fore. Exacerbated by extreme stress and intolerable circumstances, the socially isolated child, deprived of a social life and otherwise ill-equipped to face the world with the same skills and experience of his peers, has resurfaced. I feel as though I'm suffering the same horrors again.

In extreme circumstances, we revert to 'type'... our 'true' personality surfaces, and our mask slips.

I wonder to myself, as I write stuff which is read by thousands of people who are suffering a life-and-death crisis in their lives, whether I am flirting with infamy. Why do I not implore them to seek professional help and bombard them with crisis counselling phone numbers?

Maybe I'm evil.

[Note: I lost a few hundred words here, because of an auto-save glitch, but I can't be bothered to re-type what I wrote. I hope it still makes sense without the conclusion, as I originally wrote it]

 

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Dumbest Guy in the Room

4 min read

This is a story about being opinionated...

Boardroom

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

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

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

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

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

It doesn't.

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

But.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Superiority Complex

5 min read

This is a story about delusions of grandeur...

Thought bubble

The problem with slinging pseudoscientific mud, is that sooner or later you're going to come up against somebody who knows what they're talking about; they're able to rigorously follow the scientific method, and they can see right through the dumbed-down pathetic attempts to create popular ideas, which prey upon our preconceived notions, our biases, our vanity and our insecurities.

If we look at applications for university places, there are vast numbers who want to study arts and humanities subjects. Then, the social 'sciences' are the next most popular. Bottom of the pile, in terms of popularity, are the difficult, dry, technical subjects: mathematics, engineering, chemistry, physics, computing. You cannot 'blag' that you know what you're talking about in a technical subject: there are right answers and wrong answers, and no amount of blagging will convince anybody that you're right, when you're wrong, and you're provably wrong.

The social 'sciences' - anthropology, sociology, psychology etc - are not sciences. Science follows a strict prescriptive methodology, and anything which doesn't adhere is not science. The social 'sciences' produce nothing but worthless crap, because it's not science - the results of experiments cannot be reproduced. Any experiment which doesn't have reproducible results, is a non-experiment; a waste of time; absolutely useless.

In an attempt to appear like real medical science, psychiatry has attempted to apply statistical methods, to make the diagnosis of pathologies of the mind, into a supposedly objective exercise. In theory, the patient's symptoms are all that are needed in order to make an accurate diagnosis, via the power of statistics - so, in theory, there's no need for psychiatrists any more. We should, in theory, be able to diagnose ourselves and then simply obtain the required medication from a pharmacist: no doctors required.

No. No. No. The psychiatrists say.

You need us to interpret these hard statistics, and add our own opinions. Say the psychiatrists.

So, what happened to this being a scientific process, driven by data and statistics?

The truth is that everyone will use their knowledge and position of authority in order to pursue their power games. Psychiatrists will never use a scientific statistical method, because then they become redundant.

Unfortunately, psychologists have latched onto psychiatry's attempt to become more scientific, and lend some credibility to their profession. Psychologists are probably more obsessed with statistical methods for 'diagnosis' than psychiatrists are. Psychologists, who, let us remember, were not clever enough to become doctors, engineers, mathematicians etc, opted for a profession where there are no right or wrong answers; anything you say is equally dumb and meaningless. Of course, psychologists would want to pretend like there was any kind of rigour, any kind of methodology, data or statistics, behind their work.

There isn't.

The problem with psychologists latching onto the work of psychiatry, is that they try to import theories and apply them. Psychologists - especially amateur wannabe psychologists of the armchair variety - love to throw around labels like "psychopath", "sociopath", "narcissist" etc. when in fact, those labels were only intended to ever apply to the tiniest fraction of humanity. How can it be meaningful to call every man you've ever met a "pathological narcissist"? How have rare medical conditions gone beyond that of an epidemic, to now become things which affect the vast majority of humanity?

It hasn't happened.

Only a tiny fraction of the human race suffer from pathologies such as narcissism and sociopathy.

You can't just label people you don't like with psychiatric pathologies.

It's dumb.

Amateur psychologists are dumb.

Psychiatric language is ubiquitous in our culture. We use terms like "crazy", "mad", "loony", "loopy", "wacky" and every other flavour of term for 'insanity' to mean everything on the spectrum, from upset and angry, to schizophrenic psychosis. We call ourselves "OCD" when we just mean neat, tidy and clean. We call ourselves "bipolar" when we just mean moody. Meanwhile, depression and anxiety are so common, and so many of us are medicated, that we hardly even bother to talk about the fact we've been diagnosed with those illnesses anymore - we make memes about killing ourselves; we make memes about how dysfunctional we are.

To talk about a 'superiority complex' in the present day, is like giving out speeding tickets to the competitors at the Silverstone Formula One grand prix race. To talk about 'narcissism' is something that you really should do on your YouTube channel, or on your Instagram Story, or on your Facebook page, or one of your TikTok videos. Utterly nonsensical. Unhinged. Mad.

Yes, there are people who are so affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect that they are unable to comprehend the limitations of their abilities: they will never be a mathematician, engineer, chemist, physicist, software engineer or suchlike; they're not clever enough. Those over-confident people's ignorance is not as good as my knowledge. We are, unfortunately, living in an age where vast numbers of people think that their 'life experiences' and 'gut feel' qualifies them to opine on subjects, which they are utterly, dismally ignorant about, exposing their appalling stupidity, much to the chagrin of anybody with half a brain.

So, anyway, I'm sick of pop-psych 'magazines' (especially online) publishing articles about narcissists with superiority complexes. They don't exist... you're just pedalling word-salad, put into the mouths of your readers. Your readers will use that word-salad to attack people they don't like.

 

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An Essay on Mortality

8 min read

This is a story about premature death...

Skull

I was having a panic attack recently. My pulse was racing, with my heart feeling like it was going to burst out of my chest. I was short of breath; I felt like I couldn't breathe; like I couldn't get enough oxygen. I was sure that I was going to die. Then, I realised that I didn't mind if I died. In fact, I decided that I'd be quite glad to be dead. As soon as I thought that, the panic attack abruptly ended.

It occurred to me that my attitude towards death - and mortality - is not at all typical, and as such warrants some discussion.

It's the nature of my profession, to deal with things using strict formal logic. As a result of spending a 23 year full-time career immersed in a world which will truck nothing vague, ambiguous or downright logically flawed, I have ended up being somewhat unable to think in the wooly way, which most ordinary people do. Most people have no attention to detail. Most people are unable to think logically.

The problem with thinking logically, is that it means that life's absurdity is laid bare, and various psychological horrors are visited upon the poor person - me in this case - who make their way through a world which does not utilise reason and logic.

Firstly, to be afraid of death, there must be a reason for wanting to be alive. What is that reason?

"I want to see my kids grow up"

But, why do your kids want to be alive? What was it that you were offering your children, when you decided to have them? What life was it that you thought they might want?

We still have to answer the same question: why does anybody want to be alive?

If your answer is something related to kids, grandkids, great-grandkids or suchlike, then you, I'm afraid, are no different from a slug, a wasp, an amoeba, or any other imbecilic creature, which is driven by its genes to do nothing more than make more copies of its genes. You are, I'm afraid, not a very bright spark. You can stop reading now.

"I like my life; I like being alive"

Okay, this is good stuff, but what is 'liking'? What does it mean to like your life? What does it mean to like being alive? Probably, you mean that you enjoy pleasure, in some form or other. Perhaps you enjoy food, perhaps you enjoy sex, perhaps you enjoy drink or drugs, perhaps you have a hobby. Whatever it is, you are basically a sensation-seeker, and/or pleasure-seeker. This is a little more logical than the slug-wasp-amoeba type morons we mentioned before, but it can still be easily exposed as nothing more than idiocy.

Our brains are evolved to give us small hits of dopamine to reinforce behaviours which increase our chances of individual survival, or increase our species' chance of survival. It's obvious that eating would be enjoyable, because if we didn't eat we'd starve to death. It's obvious that sex would be enjoyable, because if we didn't have sex our species would die out. Again, when we analyse the behaviour, we find that it's nothing more than genes pulling the levers, trying to get us to make more copies of the genes.

"Everything is meaningless"

Yep. Bingo. Everything IS meaningless. Every single bit of evidence of your existence will be obliterated, to the point that it will be as if you never existed. All of your stupid pictures you posted on Instagram, which you think are so great, will be gone, along with any evidence of the human race, the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way. In the inevitable heat death of the universe, the spreadsheets which your boss asked you to email, are so cosmically unimportant, that it's laughable that you even bothered to send them.

In the context of the ridiculousness anthropocentricity, I struggle to understand what the difference is between a 'premature' death, and a death which supposedly happens at the 'right' time. Of course, I empathise with those who have lost loved ones, too 'early', but logically, death is inevitable. It seems like we are creating a problem, where none need exist.

I do have strong views about the sanctity of human life, insofar as one human killing another, directly or indirectly. I am incensed with rage at lazy baby boomers and other greedy capitalists, hoarding scarce housing, during a housing crisis; forcing people into miserable minimum wage zero-hours contract McJobs, which cause suffering and suicide at epidemic proportions. Of course, you might ask why I would care, when such concerns are of cosmic insignificance; in the long run, we're all dead. The answer is easy: life is so absurd, so I treat it like a game. I can see that the game is horrendously rigged, but at least I can see that it doesn't matter if I die - I can't 'lose' per se - so I can play to 'win' in ways that nobody else does. While others try to spawn as many progeny as possible, or accumulate as many shiny round pieces of metal, or paper with numbers on, or both... I'm free to do whatever the hell I want, within the confines of a mortal body, trapped by nature's weakest fundamental force, on a rock floating in a vacuum, orbiting a nuclear fusion reaction.

I don't revel in the absurdity of life. I am miserable and I suffer. I have no answer for how to be happy. In fact, I think that happiness cannot co-exist with knowledge, beyond a certain point. Perhaps if I had one piece of advice, it would be to avoid theoretical physics and cosmology, because they seem quite incompatible with happiness - ignorance is bliss.

I have friends with life-limiting illnesses, and to them, my essay must seem very rude and inconsiderate; arrogant. I have friends who have loved ones who died 'prematurely' or who are dying (of something other than... well... what I don't know. Newsflash: we're all dying). I know that death is a real taboo, presumably because our genes are hard-wired for survival. It's been a big evolutionary advantage, to select against anybody who doesn't fear death, or who's prepared to talk about death as a preferable alternative to life.

When we view life as suffering, struggling and misery - which it is - then we must ask ourselves again: is it better to be dead? Of course, we originally asked why we wanted to be alive, but when we ask ourselves the much more straightforward question, why do we want to be dead, then the answers come much more readily. Here are a few reasons to be dead: you don't have to get up in the morning, you don't have to go to work, you don't have to do anything you don't enjoy, you don't have to make any effort, you don't have to feel any pain, you don't have to suffer, you don't have to struggle, you won't be tired any more, all your troubles will be over, you won't worry about anything, you won't be stressed anymore, you won't be anxious, you won't be depressed, you won't worry about being fat, you won't worry about being ugly, you won't be lonely, you won't be frustrated... you get the idea. There are infinitely many reasons why being dead is better than being alive. You like sleeping, don't you? Being dead is like, the best kind of sleeping, because you never get woken up by your alarm clock; you can rest forever.

I'm really not sure what's scary about death at all. I'm really not sure why more people don't choose death, when life is so shitty.

It seems so churlish to reject life, when there are lots of slug-wasp-amoeba people out there who are desperate to mindlessly do the bidding of their genes. We're so culturally indoctrinated to repeat the mantra that we love our life, and that life is precious, that we often forget that we don't love life - that life is utter shit - and that life is worthless. If you don't think life is worthless, you should take a trip to the developing world, to remind yourself of the human suffering that's inflicted in your name.

I've written about twice as much as I hoped to, but I suppose this is a subject dear to my heart, insofar as I feel suicidal most of the time.

Perhaps one day, depression will lift and I'll look back on this essay with different eyes. Perhaps one day, in the not-too-distant-future, I will kill myself. I think the latter is far more likely than the former, according to a great deal of bitter experience.

 

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Who Am I?

6 min read

This is a story about identity...

Punting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loser, I expect.

 

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My First Jobs: Defence and Banking

5 min read

This is a story about guilt...

Conscience

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

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

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

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

Where could I get paid the most?

Banking.

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

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

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

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

But.

It would take many years before I understood that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Agony Aunt

3 min read

This is a story about pen pals...

Inbox

I invited people to write to me, and they do. My DMs on Twitter and Facebook are full of messages from readers. My email inbox is full of emails from readers. This is good. This is what I asked for. This is what I got.

I agonise a lot about whether it was the right thing to do, to write so candidly and brutally honestly about suicide. Some people would expect a massive content warning, trigger warning, or some other kind of disclaimer. Some people - including most responsible journalists - wouldn't even grapple with the topic at all. There's a widespread fear that suicide is contagious, which is not a wholly unwarranted fear, given that suicide does seem to occur in clusters; there is fear of copycats.

Being in touch with so many people who've read what I've written, is somewhat reassuring. Nobody is saying "I wasn't going to kill myself, but now I am, because of what you wrote". Of course, you might say that the ones who think that don't get in contact, but that's a preposterous idea. I have an ever-growing dataset, and almost without exception, people get in touch because they're already suicidal.

Of course, you might say that if I push just one person over the edge, that's one too many. I agree. I'm not pushing anybody. If anything, I'm trying to nudge people back in the other direction. If they want to research suicide methods on the internet, they're going to find the information they need. At least what I offer isn't a dry step-by-step instruction manual. I'm genuinely just saying "yes, suicide can be achieved by these methods, and it's OK to feel like you want to end your life, but I'm upset that anybody feels like life is not worth living; I feel like life is not worth living a lot of the time"... and that's OK. I'm allowed to say that, because I feel it, and it's not doing anyone any harm. I'm not trying to inspire or provoke anyone into committing suicide. People die in darkness and ignorance, not in a world of honesty and openness.

Will I one day have angry friends and relatives contacting me to accuse me of being to blame for their loved one's suicide? Probably, but they should probably ask themselves why their loved one was driven to searing the internet for suicide methods and other information on self-murder, instead of finding whatever they desperately needed from their loved ones. I didn't invent suicide. I'm not in charge of suicide. I'm not telling anyone to commit suicide. I simply exist, sharing my own story, which people tell me is relatable, for those who are in crisis.

Anyway, I've got to go... I've got emails to answer.

 

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Emotional Burnout

4 min read

This is a story about stress...

Beans

We all experience periods of stress. Most of these are short-lived. There's a natural limit to how much stress we can take, for a given period of time, before we have a breakdown.

This snapshot in time - eating beans directly out of the can using the business card of a lawyer specialising in mental health cases as a spoon - tells an interesting nonlinear story.

We like our stories to be linear.

I have no idea where to begin my story.

If I start my story on the day when I first slept rough, I would say that things got worse before they got better. Sleeping rough was not "rock bottom" at all, and I find the whole notion of "rock bottom" to be ludicrous and unhelpful.

If I start my story on the day when my homelessness ended, again, the arc of the story is complicated. Although I never slept rough again, I would say that my life was - at times - a lot worse than when I was no fixed abode; homeless.

If I start my story on the day when I got myself into my latest period of employment, uninterrupted for 3 years as of today, then the photograph above is a confusing one. Why the hell was I eating uncooked beans directly out of the can, in the dark, using a business card as a spoon?

I can't think of any good time to start my story. This year started with a hospitalisation for kidney failure and a breakup. There is no time which I can point to and say "THERE!" to indicate the point where my life got steadily better and better.

The problem with a precarious existence, is that it's incredibly draining. I live in a hypervigilant, hyperalert, super focussed and energised state, where I haven't been sick for many years, except to be hospitalised in a near-death state... although frankly I would have carried on working if I could. I just want to dig myself out of the hole.

Perhaps I've done OK at times, allowing myself to have a few holidays in recent years, which has been awesome for my health and sense of wellbeing. The prospect of a sustainable life has seemed more within grasp, having granted myself the luxury of a few holidays, but also we must accept the facts: security continues to elude me, despite many years of hard work; my life still hangs by a thread.

Thinking back to when I first escaped homelessness, the first time I recovered within a matter of months; unencumbered by debt or other problems. The second time, I seemingly bounced back quite quickly, although my finances never really recovered. The third time was bound to sink me - without a trace - but a few lucky breaks and I've been able to cling on by my fingernails for a few years... but I always ask myself "was it worth it?".

We shouldn't underestimate the toll that the desperate attempts to regain stability, health, wealth and prosperity, have cost me. To live on the edge of losing everything, and being cast out from mainstream society, is an unbearable burden that nobody should have to endure; yet alone for years and years on end, unrelenting.

Presently, the situation is particularly unbearable, because I am seemingly on the "home straight" where everything seems to be within my own power to succeed; the only person who can screw things up now is me...  or so it seems. In reality, it's not like that. The demands of recent years are catching up with me. You can't put a person under such extreme pressure for such a very long time, and not expect them to crack under pressure eventually.

My worst fear - of course - is that I will crumble before I reach escape velocity. Many people feel this, but few have a story to rival my own.

It's strange. Seeing the finishing line is worse than when I was just plodding along with the vague hope that at some future point I might recover. Living eternally in a "nearly but not quite" state is unbelievably exhausting.

 

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Get Help

4 min read

This is a story about treatment and therapy...

Crisis counselling

I write about my own personal experiences of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicide attempts, because that's what I would want to read if I was in crisis. There's a mountain of material on the web about the symptoms of mental illness, dealing with a crisis, coping with suicidal thoughts, counselling, crisis support, mental health teams, crisis teams, doctors, healers, witch doctors, shamen... and all the rest of it.

It's all been done to death.

So, here's what I'm doing: I write.

I've tried absolutely tons of medications, and all of them have undesirable side-effects, and ultimately didn't bring me a good long-term outcome. I refuse to accept that I simply haven't found the right medication, at the right dose, in the right combinations: personally, I've exhausted that avenue, and found it to be a fruitless exercise. That's not to say that medication won't work for you, and you shouldn't try it, but it didn't work for me.

I tried counselling and behavioural therapies. Nope. Probably OK if you're just 'a bit sad' but if you're reading this then you're probably well beyond being 'a bit sad'. That's not to say you shouldn't try therapy. Everyone's different. However, for me personally, I don't think 45 minutes a week is going to fix all my problems, sorry.

It's important to acknowledge, though, that following the treatment routes which have been resoundingly proven to be ineffective, can be a useful distraction which will eat up a few years of your life. Although I can say with certainty that the long-term outcomes are not attractive, in the short term, there's a lot to be gained from the process of learning about all the different medications and trying them out: it'll keep you busy!

Also, we shouldn't underestimate the power of having a kind non-judgemental person, listening to your traumatic story. Being heard is super important; super healing. Having somebody tell you that you did the best with the hand you were dealt, can be incredibly important, to forgive yourself and start to feel better about being unwell; not so guilty or broken.

I write because it's unlimited free therapy. Instead of only having 45 minutes a week with a therapist, my therapist - the blank page upon which I write - is available 24 x 7 x365, and I can spend as long as I want in a therapy session for free. The free part is not to be underestimated: therapy is really expensive (although it might be money well spent if it works for you). Also, the blank page is the world's best listener: it never interrupts, misunderstands, disagrees, challenges, contradicts, argues or otherwise talks back, which is *perfect* as a therapist.

Given that therapy is pretty much just guided introspection, there's no reason why you can't learn the techniques to explore your own thoughts and feelings, without a guide. Now I'm in the habit of sitting down in front of my blank page every day, I find it really easy to explore whatever's bothering me, or to dig into baggage from the past... whatever I want - it's my time and I'm paying for it!

From personal experience, not professional qualification, I really urge you to write on a regular basis, therapeutically. It's helped more than anything else I've tried, by far.

Of course, we would all love to find an authority figure - a doctor or similar high professional status person - who we can put our faith in to 'cure' us and take care of all our problems, but the reality is that depression and anxiety are modern epidemics, and medicine has failed to provide effective treatment; the problems are getting worse, not better. Ultimately, we are - unfortunately - personally responsible for our safety and wellbeing. Much though I wish there was a magic person in a magic building with magic beans, like a doctor in a hospital with some pills, it's turned out to be a massive disappointment... we're on our own.

Of course you should phone the crisis hotline if you're on the brink of committing suicide. Of course you should go to your doctor and take their advice. Of course you should seek professional help. However, if - like me - you've tried all that and found it to be a dismal disappointment, then I imagine that's why you're here, right now, reading this.

Try writing. It helps.

 

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Dark Thoughts

4 min read

This is a story about storm clouds...

Rain on glass

I often assume that after a lengthy period without abusing drink, drugs, medication and other mind-altering substances, I'll reap some rewards. I tend to think that a period clean and sober will bring good health, and in turn, that life will improve. It's certainly true that drugs have brought nothing but chaos and turmoil into my life, making it completely unmanageable, as my mental health problems are exacerbated. Eliminating most psychoactive substances has certainly turned my life into something which looks - to the outside observer - to be stable, productive, functional and indeed, at times quite enviable. To all intents and purposes, I look, smell, sound and act like a normal member of mainstream society.

Internally, there's nothing to help me cope with the intrusive thoughts; the traumatic flashbacks.

In the comfort of my own home, as I've already written about, I yell out, grimace and flinch, as I'm assaulted by all kinds of post-traumatic flashbacks. I have horrible nightmares. I suffer lengthy periods of skin-crawling agonising anxiety, where the hands of the clock are barely moving; it lasts for an eternity.

There are no rewards for being clean and sober; only suffering.

It's unthinkable, lifting the lid when there's so much trauma. It's insanity to have it all hitting me like a freight train, every single second of every single day, even when I'm asleep.

I like to think that my brain is mending itself. I like to think that by reliving those traumas, my brain is kind of re-organising itself and exorcising stuff. I allow myself to yell out, flinch and grimace, because it seems better to let it out than to fight it and attempt to suppress it.

Thinking about it, there's mountains of stuff. There's an unimaginable amount of stuff.

The memories - the bad memories - come thick and fast, intruding into whatever I'm doing, unless I'm really working hard; really concentrating on something. I have so few distractions that there's plenty of time for my brain to throw a relentless torrent of terrible, dreadful, awful traumatic memories at me, which are so bad that they're physically painful and cause me to cry out in shock.

I don't think I'd have been able to cope without medication, but now I've lost that crutch, it feels like I stored up years worth of terrible stuff without dealing with it properly. Now it's all hitting me, seemingly all at once.

I'm unusual, in that I'm one of the least psychoactively altered people - I don't have any tea, coffee, coca-cola, fizzy drinks, nicotine, cannabis, alcohol or medication. I don't eat, drink, swallow, smoke, inject, snort or otherwise ingest anything mind-altering. That's very unusual. To give you an example, out of hundreds of people I work with, I'm the only one who doesn't drink tea, coffee or other caffeinated beverages, and my teetotaling makes me even more unusual.

As a friend said to me, quoting a popular Tweet: I'm raw-dogging reality.

It's really brutal. It's really awful. I don't recommend it at all. It's not nice. In fact, it's thoroughly unpleasant and intolerable. Don't do it. It's not worth it. It's not healthy, it's hell.

Why am I doing it then?

I have the unshakeable belief that I can achieve mood stability by avoiding all mind-altering substances, including the things we don't usually bother to think about, like tea and coffee. I feel a lot more stable - mentally - having given up everything. I'm trying to regulate my mood by doing other things. I'm hoping that I develop some healthy habits.

Certainly, after a couple of weeks teetotal, I have a lot more energy and enthusiasm; I'm a lot more active; I sleep better. These are not things to be sniffed at. Alcohol and depression combined to create a very sedentary lifestyle, which was horrifically damaging to my health. I was drinking myself to death, even though I appeared very functional and otherwise doing very well in life.

So, I'm suffering the dark, horrible invasive thoughts, driven to find out whether my brain will eventually rid itself of the toxins and settle down. Certainly, there are health benefits, but I am suffering a great deal.

 

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