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After The Mania, Regret

8 min read

This is a story about the consequences of a mood disorder...

Bipolar memory

Having had a mood disorder - bipolar - all my life, with its symptoms perhaps becoming indisputably obvious from adolescence onwards, I've had a lot of time to reflect upon the regrettable consequences of things that I said and did when I was experiencing hypomania or mania.

As a child I had little opportunity to do anything which had any particularly negative consequences. I took risks I suppose and I established a pattern of frenzied activity followed by melancholic lethargy. The intensity of my early hypomania was triggered by the rare event of being able to spend time with friends, when so much of my childhood was spent bored while my parents took drugs and got drunk. The excitement of escaping the boredom and oppression of being trapped in a house or a car with drugged-up or drunk dribbling morons, was so great that I would talk rapidly, be unable to sleep and I exuded so much energy that my friends and their parents were alarmed by this behaviour, which was uncharacteristic of how I acted at school, for example.

School terms were long and they were unbearable. For whatever reason, I was bullied constantly. School was something to be endured and I treated it in very much the same way that I treated my parents' negligence - I lived inside my own head, bored but attempting to entertain myself with my own imagination. I was incredibly patient, given the unpleasantness of my school days and the time I was forced to spend with my parents, who were so incredibly selfish that they destroyed most chances I would've had to form meaningful long-lasting friendships. Every school holiday, and indeed many weeks and months of term-time, my parents would remove me from the company of my peers, because they wanted to get drunk and take drugs in an isolated rural location, where they thought they would be safe from the criticism which they would draw for the neglect they were showing me; they attempted to hide their disgusting disgraceful behaviour.

My parents' folie-a-deux, which I see now was a toxic co-dependency, motivated by their addiction to alcohol and drugs, was clearly very formative and shaped my character. I became a patient plotter, who could put myself into a trancelike disconnected state to endure the interminable boredom of being trapped with a pair of dribbling moronic drug addict drunks, with no friends to play with - deliberately isolated from my peers.

This is why I do not celebrate mothers' day - because my mother is nothing more than an alcoholic drug addict with bad taste in men, and I wish I had never been born.

Luckily, modern society reveres those who have bipolar tendencies. How would anybody be expected to pass their school examinations, university finals or write a dissertation, unless they were able to cram and work hard in short and intense periods, having the academic holidays to then collapse on the brink of a nervous breakdown, to recover? How would anybody be expected to undergo the the awfulness of attempting to get a foot on the first rung of the career ladder, and the dreadfulness of the 9 to 5 office grind, unless they could muster the manic energy to be enthusiastic in numerous interviews where you're expected to lie about how excited you'd be to join Acme Corporation and their widget manufacturing business? How can you get ahead in your career, when you are so thwarted by your colleagues and the dreadful bureaucratic nature of organisations - with their "can don't" attitude - except by having periods of intense focus and effort, which no stable level-headed person would ever undertake in their right mind? How could you quit your job, start a company and make it successful, unless you had some kind of screw loose, which drives you to work 100+ hours a week and not give up on something until the results are delivered?

Nobody much cares about the periods of depression that regularly occur in the life of a person with bipolar disorder, because we celebrate achievements and we hide our failures. We pretend that we never screwed up. We pretend that we never got sick. According to our CVs and our LinkedIn pages, we are perfect infallible human beings, who are completely flawless. Because people with bipolar disorder regularly have episodes of hypomania or mania which are full of boundless creative energy, they have an impressive list of achievements under their belt. Nobody ever lists their depressions on their CV or LinkedIn.

Moving house and breaking up with my last girlfriend has left me exhausted and all alone in a new city. I have a work colleague who is reasonably friendly, but a very busy family man, and I have met one new friend, although they don't live very nearby. It's hard to describe how lonely and isolated I am - physically - because few people ever reach this point in their life without taking some kind of evasive action. It's very unnatural for humans to go to strange places and leave themselves totally cut off from social contact, beyond the minimum necessary to get money and buy food.

The flurry of activity which pre-dated me moving house was prompted by stress, and it contributed to the exhaustion and depression I'm feeling now. Also, I feel embarrassed that my grand plans to work on projects presently lie abandoned and the people who I was in contact with have been neglected for quite some time. It's very damaging to my self-esteem to know that my behaviour is so conspicuously unpredictable and unreliable, which leads people to believe that there's little value in the investment of a deeper and more meaningful friendship. When I crash, I cannot face the pressure of maintaining contact, so I disappear and I'm overwhelmed with guilt over the people and projects which are being neglected.

Sometimes, mania prompts me to say regrettable things. I particularly use Facebook as a 'safe space' to rant when I'm struggling with my mental health, because at least it keeps my regrettable words contained in a place where they're not publicly accessible. My friends can respond and calm me down, and I'm not left scrabbling to delete things which were inadvisable to write and publish publicly. My friends - if they're real friends - would take my words with a pinch of salt and not unduly categorise me as a madman and a lost cause.

It's deeply worrisome, knowing that my mental health can collapse and I can act regrettably. It's an unsettling and insecure state of affairs, knowing that I could easily destroy the good reputation I have and the respect of my colleagues, if I was to show a little bit too much of my illness. I keep things relatively neatly partitioned: my blog is where I write honestly, but always mindful that my words are subject to public scrutiny. Facebook is where I write things which are almost always a cry for help, or in some way symptomatic of the very bad mental health problems I'm dealing with. Work is where I spend a great deal of effort "acting normal" and attempting to show a reliable consistent side of myself, despite dreadful inner turmoil and very difficult events in my personal life.

One might say that this entire blog is regrettable, given that it's easily discoverable by my work colleagues, but I do not speak ill of anybody or the organisations I'm involved with, and I do not bring my profession into disrepute - I think that my conduct is perfectly acceptable, and I'm prepared to defend it on the grounds that I find it immensely therapeutic to have this outlet, and the support of people who are kind enough to read my words and send me kind messages.

I have a lot of regret. I admit that I could have made much better choices in a lot of situations. I don't hide behind my mental illness as an excuse. I'm perfectly capable of accepting that my behaviour has been regrettable and that I should have handled things differently.

Why then continue to write like this? The answer is complicated: I have no idea what would happen if I didn't have this single thread of consistency in my life. Rightly or wrongly, I credit this blog with bringing me things which have saved my life: my guardian angel, the people who got the emergency services to save my life during my most recent suicide attempt, the family who looked after me when I was jobless and homeless, and some of the friends who I speak to on a regular basis, who all only know me because I put myself out into the public domain - they reached out to me and rescued me, in their own ways.

 

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Reading Newspapers Makes Me Depressed

8 min read

This is a story about correlation and causation...

Headline

I read with interest that the number of prescriptions for antidepressants had skyrocketed to an all-time high in the United Kingdom. 70 million prescriptions were written for 65 million people, meaning that for the first time, there were more packets of pills dished out than there are men, women and children in the entire nation. Unlike Sweden where national records are held, which allow statisticians to understand what percentage of the population are taking medications for anxiety and depression, the UK has to guess based on the number of prescriptions, but it would appear that it is undoubtably normal to be swallowing pills to correct for serious psychiatric conditions.

I read with dismay that doctors believe that the surge in prescriptions is believed to be due to bad things in the news. This is faulty thinking, because we are the news. It's impossible to separate ourselves from the events of the world - the media simply holds up a mirror. The media reflects what we can see around us with our own eyes: the destruction of the natural world, overcrowding and poverty. We know that we live in a very different world than the Baby Boomers grew up in. The many cushy things that previous generations took for granted - free university education, affordable housing, secure jobs - are now so hard to obtain that tiny children are coerced into studying hard from the moment that they can form words, in the hope that their sharp-elbowed parents can barge them to the front of the long queue.

If we look at suicide statistics, we can see that the "it's the news' fault" argument doesn't hold water. The number one cause of death of men age 20 to 40 is suicide, and those deaths are preventable, yet medicine's answer is to blame the newspapers. This is a scandalous situation, that those who are tasked with responsibility for public health would shrug their shoulders and point to the symptoms, not the cause of the disease.

To use myself as a case study, it seems unethical to start a family when the prospects for those children are so dire. What a dreadful thing to do - to bequeath a child a planet which has been irreparably wrecked; to so knowingly and wickedly create new life when the existing life is already having such a miserable existence and is so doomed to meet a horrible end. Life seems very pointless and purposeless, when there is very little hope of living a life which doesn't compound the errors of generations, and hasten the demise of the human race.

For many generations, they were content to build houses, grow crops, keep livestock and have food in their bellies. For many generations, it was a lifetime's work to meet your own basic human needs, and the needs of the children who were born in the absence of contraception and abortion. Today we have a virtually unlimited supply of high-calorie foods and almost none of us build our own homes, grow our own food, or have any dealings with farm animals. We do not know hunger, but we do know boredom, purposelessness, apathy, angst and learned helplessness.

I see people who become obsessed with fitness and toughening themselves up to seemingly cope with a disaster which never comes. Nobody is ever going to need to outrun a wild animal. Nobody is ever going to need to carry rocks or toil in the fields or forest to get enough food for their family. There are a huge number of people who are "prepping" for doomsday scenarios, even though their efforts are futile in the face of the enormously violent events which smite us.

It seems obvious that anxiety and depression are natural reactions to a world that is devoid of any opportunity to use our enormous brain for the ingenious problem-solving which would have been very useful 100,000 years ago, when humans had to continuously adapt to the ever-changing seasons.

I can think back to a time when I was obsessed with the wind and the waves, not in any negative way, but in fact I would relish the arrival of a large North Atlantic depression. I studied the weather forecast on an almost hourly basis and I would drive to parts of the country specifically to seek out storms which would cause trees to topple and buildings to be damaged. I had no control over these violent events of nature, but being part of the storm made me happy. I harnessed the wind - quite literally - and I revelled in the awesome power of nature.

Today, I have a ghoulish morbid obsession with the news, half-hoping that some catastrophe strikes and civilisation is plunged into chaos. I find the waiting to be quite intolerable. I find that my anxiety and depression levels are highly correlated to my boredom and lack of stimulation. My life is very stable and secure, but it's also unbearable. I yearn to be freed from the crowds of people who trudge co-operatively from place to place - why do they not scream and throw their briefcases away, and run off to live in the woods? Why does nobody flee from the concrete jungles and seek out a life which has more uncertainty, hunger and threat to life, but also provides some challenges and obstacles for the brain to tackle?

It strikes me that the source of my anxiety and depression is rooted in the restrictive nature of modern society, where I am unable to build anything or do anything, without considerable restrictions. My forebears were able to build their own houses, fence off some territory, cultivate their crops and rear their livestock - all of these things required a combination of physical and mental effort. For me to get a house and some food, I don't have to do anything - I'm just required to sit in a comfortable seat for a certain amount of hours every day, keeping my mouth shut.

Of course it's seemingly childish to romanticise simpler times, when disease and hunger were rife, but as anybody who's suffered anxiety and depression will tell you: these things are so bad that you want to kill yourself.

Living a life where you want to kill yourself is not great, and I don't think that refusing to read newspapers or watch TV is the answer, just as much as I think that pills are not the answer either. The solution lies in living a different kind of life altogether.

You tell me that I wouldn't be happy if I was cold and hungry, but you're wrong. I've been plenty cold and hungry, and I can tell you that I was vastly happier than I am today in a warm house with plenty of food in the fridge and cupboards. I was happy because I was free to do something about my situation. If I was cold, I could shelter. If I was hungry I could seek food. As I am presently, I can do nothing except sit at my desk, mute, waiting to die. I have no available options to improve my situation. I have nothing to challenge my brain and body. I have no purpose, except as a decorative lump of flesh and bone sat in an office chair.

Of course I follow the news avidly, but the news does not depress me or make me anxious. My lack of participation makes me depressed and anxious. Why am I just a spectator? Why am I passive in everything? If I was caught in a rainstorm I would look for some object to shelter beneath, but as a member of modern society I am expected to let everything lash down upon my head without flinching. The food and the housing which I enjoy are a byproduct of my inaction not my actions. If I was to act instinctively, I would only make things worse for myself and end up sleeping rough on the streets, hungry and cold. The situation is absurd.

Not taking antidepressants is a political statement, as much as anything. It's not me who needs to be adjusted to fit into society, but instead it is society which is unbearable to live within - there's not enough space for me to do anything other than keep my mouth shut in an attempt to fit in. I refuse to be medicated into a state of glassy-eyed passivity, like a cow chewing mindlessly on the cud.

Of course, if I spawned an infant by accident, then I woud surely be glad of every amenity available in modern society. I'd be cramming high-calorie foods into my child's face and indoctrinating them in the ways and means of staying in the top-half of humanity. However, as a thoughtful, considerate and ethical person who's considered the prospects for any theoretical child, I have decided that it would be cruel to the child and wickedly selfish to not avail myself of reproductive choices, choosing to avoid creating any more miserable mortal souls.

The stability and security of modern life are at the root of our unhappiness, not the state of utopia that we thought it would be. We are hard-wired for adverse conditions, and without that adversity we are nervous and twitchy. Without any route to gaining contentedness that is not morally wrong, we are depressed. The logical conclusion is that we should kill ourselves.

 

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Microcosm

10 min read

This is a story about paranoid schizophrenia...

Bedroom

I've lost my mind in all kinds of places, but the place where my sanity most eluded me was in this bedroom. I moved into this almost-ready-made perfect home, which only required a few bits of bedding and storage boxes to turn it into one of the most tidy and well organised places I've ever lived. I had stability and eventually I had security. I had my own front door, which I could lock and double-lock and be safely protected from the outside world and anybody who wanted to intrude.

The story begins in the midst of an unhappy relationship, several years earlier. A toxic mixture of mental health problems and drug abuse combined with an abusive relationship, to leave me barricading myself into rooms for my own protection, while my long-term girlfriend and later wife screamed abuse, kicked and punched the door which was my flimsy defence from the onslaught, which was seemingly unending.

The situation got so bad that I retreated to my summer house, where I drank water from a hosepipe and defecated in a bucket. I had no food or access to anything other than cold water. I couldn't take a shower. I was cornered.

To her credit, my ex-wife relented and I was able to come out of the summer house unmolested, unharassed and somewhat reassured that she was a safe distance away. We separated, but I was badly traumatised. The psychological torture had lasted for nearly 2 years and I was deeply damaged.

The extent to which I had been traumatised was not apparent to me. I moved away from the area to be away from her, and I assumed that my mental health was intact enough for me to start a new life without any problems. I assumed that having escaped from that abusive situation where I was cornered, I would be quickly on the mend.

What I discovered was that I carried a kind of post-traumatic stress which was thinly concealed by my generally sunny and upbeat positive mental attitude. I set about rebuilding my life and didn't think too much about the past. However, stress, exhaustion and drugs all had the capability of plunging me back into flashbacks of those awful moments when I was cornered. I experienced episodes of extreme paranoia about the kicking and punching of the flimsy door that protected me, and the torrent of abuse and violent anger which was a constant source of threat on the other side of whatever barrier I could find to protect myself.

It seems obvious that drugs are bad, and certainly the problems I had with drugs unleashed the very worst of the psychological trauma I had sustained. One might be tempted to say that the paranoia was caused by the drugs, but in fact the origin of my paranoia was much easier to explain. Few people would be psychologically strong enough to withstand the torment of being trapped somewhere with only one exit, and an angry violent abuser screaming and hammering on the single door with punches and kicks. Few people would escape without post-traumatic trauma from such events.

It seemed obvious in my perfect safe protected stable microcosm that nobody was going to hurt me. It seemed obvious that my front door was sufficiently robust to resist kicks and punches, and that I had escaped my abuser. It seems perfectly obvious in retrospect, but you have to understand that the trauma was deeply ingrained in my subconscious.

While I was able to function reasonably effectively and act mostly normal, I struggled with paranoid thoughts, unusual beliefs and strange behaviour, when I came under great financial pressure and and had a great deal of stress in my job. When I became exhausted, physically and mentally, I began to form paranoid beliefs. I struggled to maintain my ability to be objective and grounded in reality. My sanity suffered during moments of great difficulty.

I had a long period of drug abuse which demonstrated to me - beyond any reasonable doubt - that my original paranoia was no longer grounded in any past trauma, but instead had grown into something which was self-fuelling. While the original seed of my traumatised behaviour - barricading myself into rooms - was well understood, I had a lengthy period of time where I would suffer dreadful paranoia, only to eventually have to face the fact that my feared abuser was never going to turn up.

Strangely, that period I spent barricaded into my bedroom, hundreds of miles away from my abuser, did actually 'cure' me of my paranoid psychosis. Every time I desperately piled up furniture against the door and could never quite manage to create enough of a barrier to satisfy myself that I was safe, I eventually realised that nobody was battering on the door. I took down my barricades and I was surprised to find that my tormentor was nowhere to be found.

It was incredibly dangerous, and it cost me very dearly, but eventually I was left with nothing except drug-induced paranoia, which went away as soon as I stopped taking drugs.

I'd had periods where I'd been clean and sober, but they'd never cured me of my paranoia. My post-traumatic stress was still very much unresolved and the psychological damage was a deep and bloody wound. Even after long periods where I had been abstinent from booze and drugs, my mental health was fragile as hell and I could be tipped into insanity by relatively trivial stressors.

Two years in my lovely apartment, barricading myself into my bedroom and my ensuite bathroom, and I was cured by the most unusual and unlikely of things. The very behaviour which an outsider might assume was the root cause of all my problems, turned out to be a cathartic exercise which rid me of both the paranoia and the drug addiction.

I expect today if I were to spend several days and nights abusing powerful stimulant drugs, I would begin to suffer from paranoia, but I have been through some incredibly stressful events lately and my mental health has been reasonably robust. In comparison with the many days which I would spend not eating or drinking, barricaded in a room with only one exit, fearing for my safety, the few problems I've had in the last year have been nothing... hardly worthy of consideration.

A breakup and a house move were enough to unseat my sanity and cause me to be absent from work for a week. My brain chemistry was messed up for a couple of weeks following that episode, but the damage was contained and I've been able to hold onto the substantial progress that I've made, without slipping too far back down the greasy pole.

The demands placed upon me are almost unthinkable. I live amongst unpacked boxes of my stuff and furniture that needs to be assembled. I live with all my suitcases of clothes strewn around my bedroom, because I haven't built the furniture to put things away yet. My mail piles up and administrative chores are left ignored, because it's taken an unimaginable amount of effort to get myself from the point where I was homeless, jobless, penniless and detained against my will on a psychiatric ward, to where I am today, with a house, a car, a job, money in the bank, my reputation and my liberty preserved. The tasks which still lie ahead, such as making new friends and finding a girlfriend, plus putting in place the hobbies and interests and weaving the social fabric which will make my life worth living, is not something that should be underestimated.

Not all those who wander are lost, and I have decided that I wish to make this city my home, but it's not as simple as just deciding. There is considerable effort involved in surrounding yourself with the things which meet your human needs, such as the web of relationships which support you.

I'm convinced that the very worst of my mental health problems were caused by the circumstances of my existence. Psychiatrists would refer to my condition as adjustment disorder which is just a fancy way of saying that human beings will struggle under incredibly stressful conditions. My problems have been acute - not chronic - and can clearly be seen and understood in the context of the extremely toxic circumstances of my life. Certainly, quitting drugs and staying clean are essential to any hopes I have of continuing to rebuild my life and improve my circumstances, but drugs are just a small piece of the puzzle, which is mostly about having secure housing, financial security and a support network. Anybody would crumble to pieces if they were put under the kinds of stresses and strains that I've had to endure in recent years.

I now live in a brand new place. I've had a clean break. My home is untainted. This city gives me a fresh start.

London is big enough that you can lose your mind and nobody will notice or remember. London is big enough that you can go completely crazy and you'll never manage to screw up your life, because there are so many people that you get lost in the noise. It was good to be in London during those difficult years where I was barricading myself into rooms for no reason, except that I was so post-traumatically traumatised that I simply had to do it as part of my recovery.

I face the difficulty of starting afresh from almost nothing, but I don't carry a single bit of paranoia that somebody knows about my difficult past. I really feel like I have a chance to totally start anew without anybody knowing anything which might prejudice me. I'm judged totally as the man I am today, not at all on who I was during the dark moments I endured in the past.

It might seem crazy to write and publish this, given my opportunity to escape my past and re-invent myself, but I don't want to run away from my own history. I need to acknowledge that bad things happened in my life, and they have shaped me. I need to acknowledge that even though I am healthy and functional today, I will carry a lifelong risk of problems if I become complacent. I need to make sure that I keep my stress levels and energy levels within safe ranges, and I need to put in place the things that will help and protect me when there are inevitable hiccups in life.

My bedroom looks nothing like the neat and tidy bedroom in London, pictured above, but my mind is far more neat and tidy, ordered and robust. I feel far more in control of my behaviour and my thoughts. I feel far less troubled by anything even remotely like paranoia. To all intents and purposes, I have very good mental health, but still very poor life circumstances, but at least there are practical remedies for things like my lack of local friends.

It's a somewhat positive outlook, especially considering how frequently I suffer from suicidal thoughts, but despite my tendency to become depressed and overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead, at least most things seem to be within my control. I can choose between going on dates or trying to make new friends. I can do things to get the stuff I need in my life. I feel relatively safe from traumatic events that are beyond my control.

 

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Lost Cause

7 min read

This is a story about predictions...

Recycling

Bookmakers and actuaries are extremely good at predicting the future. The profits of these well-established enterprises depend upon accurate predictions, based upon a vast amount of historical data. Better statistics lead to better predictions, which lead to accurate odds and sustained profitability. If it wasn't possible to predict the future in this way, there wouldn't be a business model for life insurance or gambling.

Unfortunately for individuals, generalised predictions are fairly accurate while individual predictions are not. It is no use asking an actuary when you will die, so that you can plan your life accordingly. The actuary will not be able to tell you whether you'll die of a heart attack age 45, or whether you'll die in your sleep age 95. Those extra 50 years present a considerable problem for the individual, but the actuary does not care, because they spread the risk of having to pay out on life insurance across a large group. On average, the insurer will win. However, none of us can know whether we're going to die prematurely or live unusually long.

It might seem prudent to avoid smoking, drinking and consumption of excessive calories. It might seem prudent to go to the gym every day. It might seem prudent to eat a balanced diet, containing a mixture of fruit and vegetables, full of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other chemical compounds your body needs to repair itself and stay healthy. However, while we can say for certain that smoking and obesity will lead to health complications, none of us can make choices to assure ourselves of a long life.

One day you might just drop dead.

The temptation to use statistical analysis to make predictions for an individual is overwhelming in a world where we have discovered the classical laws of physics. We presume that we are able to predict the future as easily as we can predict the trajectory of a missile. Unfortunately, individuals do not follow simple parabolic curves. While there are statistically significant correlations - good predictors - this does not mean that we can know the future life of a human, after gathering a few crummy data points.

All we have managed to unearth so far about the mysteries of human life is that we can understand risk not destiny. You might have genes which appear to doom you to a certain fate, but those genes are not always expressed in the way which we expect. The sequencing of the human genome has failed to provide the crystal ball that it was promised to deliver, but instead revealed the unimaginable complexity of epigenetics. No clear genes have been found for things such as diabetes and depression. There is no gene which hard-wires our life expectancy into every cell.

Who could have predicted that smoking would be banned in public buildings and the workplace, drinking culture would become diminished, supermarkets would import food from all over the globe, such that strawberries would be on their shelves all year round, and the workplace would become so safe and so sedentary? Who could have predicted that mental health problems would reach such epidemic proportions that the leading cause of death amongst 20 to 40 year old men would be suicide?

Ultimately, the biggest thing affecting my life expectancy appears to be a choice which I'm free to make.

I've never smoked and I quit drinking 4 months ago. I eat a balanced diet and I'm a healthy weight. These things are happy accidents. Every afternoon my anxiety builds to an increasingly intolerable level and every evening I feel suicidal. I live alone and have no friends or family nearby. I have no children, pets or partner.

My life is on a knife-edge.

If you were going to bet on the statistically probable outcome of my life, you'd have lost a lot of money already. I'm afraid to say that I'm an outlier and I have refused to conform to the predictions. I'm a single data point and as such I'm not statistically significant on my own, but the significance of my own life and its outcome is, unsurprisingly, important to me.

It's a hard life being an outlier. Literally, almost everyone is betting against you. It will be harder to get an education, get a job, get a home, borrow money, find a partner, get life insurance, get a pension... all of these things are thwarted by people who believe that they are able to predict my destiny. I'm continuously confronting people who believe I'm a lost cause, and therefore not worth taking a risk on.

We can see that this attempt at prediction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When racial stereotypes become pervasive - for example - then we see that minorities are harshly and unfairly prejudiced, which harms their chance of success and reinforces the correlation between uncorrelated factors. Skin colour should not be a good predictor of socioeconomic outcome, but the data overwhelmingly shows that it is.

From the moment you enter the vast educational system, you are being sifted and sorted in a way which tests you and gathers data on you, in order to attempt to predict your future. Something as random as getting an illness will affect your school attendance data, which will be used against you as a predictor of supposed future failure. You are constantly at risk of flagging yourself as a "disaster waiting to happen" and suffering lifelong prejudice due to the systemic attempts to analyse individuals statistically.

I suppose I now revel in the fact that I'm a living contradiction. My problems with mental health, addiction, alcohol, hospitalisations, psych ward stays, trouble with the police and refusal to be sifted and sorted by the mainstream education system, are not in agreement with the predictions that I should end up bankrupt, in jail and/or dead, having lived a life with no useful contribution to society, and in fact having been a burden. I'm the guy your mother warned you about. I'm the one who isn't supposed to be allowed to freely roam the streets. I'm the one who all the gatekeepers have in mind - I'm the one they want to keep out, but yet I'm very much on the inside.

If those who think they can gaze into the future by studying my data had their way, I wouldn't have a job, a house, any money. The system has tried very hard to railroad me into certain outcomes, because it's what was expected and predicted.

I genuinely don't know whether I'm going to kill myself or if my depression is going to lift and life's going to become pleasant and bearable. I've lived with depression for long enough to know that my choices will have little effect on the outcome. No amount of prescription medication, therapy, yoga and other such things will have the intended effect. It has always been the least expected things in my life which have wrought the most important changes.

If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I'll die at my own hands. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I won't be able to escape the debt trap. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I will crumble and break, because that seems like the obvious thing I would do, from looking at the black marks against my name. If I was going to bet according to statistics, I would definitely bet against myself.

However, we know that fundamentally the universe does not obey classical physics, when we study the underlying laws, but instead there is inherent uncertainty. Outcomes are nondeterministic. Knowing my past does not allow anybody to know my future. There is a nonzero probability of every possible outcome, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

My day-to-day life is dominated by a single question - am I going to kill myself? - but despite being the best placed person to answer that, I do not know the answer. Events unfolding are as much a surprise to me as they are to you.

 

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Antipsychiatry

5 min read

This is a story about refusing help...

Pharmacy

If you spend enough time with general practitioners, general psychiatrists, specialist consultant psychiatrists, registered mental nurses, specialty doctors and all the very many other mental health professionals who are part of inpatient and outpatient clinics, community mental health teams, crisis teams and all the other apparatus which is supposed to treat mental health problems, one begins to realise a rather unsettling truth: there aren't very many treatments and they don't work very well.

Psychiatry is a young branch of medicine and it doesn't have a lot to crow about. Since the days of asylums and lobotomies, psychiatry has been dogged by scandals, including the extrapyramidal side effects of medications which have left patients with lifelong irreversible unpleasant problems. The data do not show encouraging outcomes. In fact the outlook is dismal and appears to be worsening as the toxic conditions which create mental health problems, seem to be intensifying. Rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, autistic spectrum disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity... these are all soaring. Treatments are not effective and vast numbers of people are condemned to suffer with their illnesses AND the side effects of the medications.

I've been lucky enough to have access to private medical care, at times, and even with the very best professionals and medications, there is not a vast difference between what's available from the public healthcare system. It's all pretty crap and it doesn't work very well.

This is not a damning indictment of those who dedicate their lives to trying to treat mental illness, but simply a cold hard rational analysis of the facts.

The conclusion I've reached has been that there's an over-medicalisation of non-medical problems. The bulk of my problems have stemmed from the collapse of my relationships. I got divorced. I am estranged from my family. I've been forced to move to cities where I have no friends - no social support network - in order to work jobs which have been unsuitable for my health. I have the enormous pressure of having to work full-time, to pay rent, bills and service enormous debts, which is unbearable for a person who's having a crisis.

My mental health would be vastly improved if I had a partner, a social support network of local friends, financial and housing security and a job with reduced hours, until this crisis is resolved. Healthy diet, sleep hygiene, exercise, sex, physical affection, sunlight, fresh air, social contact, hobbies and interests... these things are all essential for human wellbeing. None of those things can be prescribed by a doctor.

During the worst days of my addiction and rough sleeping, I noticed that my fellow homeless alcoholics and addicts were not without some routine and social lives. Romantic relationships are not the exclusive preserve of those who live in houses and have jobs. The life of a homeless drug addict might be chaotic to the outside observer, but a less prejudiced analysis reveals no less structure, no less need for comfort, no less humanity. Those who have fallen into habits of addiction and homelessness might find the community of drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless to provide the social support network and sense of community, which they'd struggle to find living anonymously behind a front door.

Does anybody really know I'm here... in this house... in this city? In many ways I have found my contact with hospitals and the police to be of great comfort. I have found the nonjudgemental members of the NHS and police force to be incredibly kind and compassionate people. It's nonsensical, but I've been happy to be hospitalised or arrested. I've been happy to be in a cell or on a hospital ward, with somebody checking on my welfare. Behind my own front door I could be hanging by the neck, dead, and nobody would discover me for days or maybe even weeks.

My problems are mainly attributable to unmet basic needs: hugs, face-to-face conversation and a sense of belonging.

Because of the obvious things which need to be fixed in my life, it seems wrong to seek medical help, when my mood could be radically different if all the broken things were fixed. It might sound like a fun adventure, going to new cities, but the reality is very miserable and lonely. The reality of my present life is that I don't pick up the phone to speak to anybody when I'm feeling dangerously depressed - who would I phone? What would they do? It's not like anybody can nip round to check I'm OK.

Humans are social creatures, but I live on the periphery. I live on the periphery of life itself, always in danger of death or medical emergency. The state of being suicidal should be considered a medical emergency, especially in men of age 20 to 40, where suicide is the biggest cause of death. My perception of the danger is not warped, given my history of suicide attempts and hospitalisations.

There isn't a pill or some psychological therapy which would be effective... especially not when so much of my life is broken. It's not a medical problem. Sure, I have an underlying mood disorder, but the highs and lows of bipolar don't make me as unhappy as my social isolation does.

How I set about fixing things, I have no idea. The task seems insurmountable.

 

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Waiting Game

7 min read

This is a story about biding your time...

Dehydrator

One of my favourite things to make and eat is beef jerky or biltong. Mixing a marinade, lovingly covering the meat and then slowly drying it is something which can take 30 hours or more. The smell is quite tantalising throughout the process, but there's no short-cut to the end. If the beef is marinated for less time, it will be less flavoursome. If the beef is dried too quickly it will be cooked instead of dehydrated, and it will be brittle, not chewy.

My life has become a game of waiting. I'm paid for my attendance, not my contribution. I'm paid to be present, but also paid to be quiet. The more I'm present and the quieter I am, the greater my financial reward, but it's pretty unbearable. I literally just have to watch the clock and think of the money. If I tried to make myself useful, people wouldn't like it and it would cause problems.

The situation is ridiculous, because even a small child could see that I don't have to do anything and I will be handsomely rewarded with desirable things, such as cash, houses, cars, holidays, clothes, gadgets and suchlike. It's very easy to extrapolate and say that it's almost inevitable that I'm going to earn a staggering amount of money, for doing almost absolutely nothing.

The situation is hard to handle. I can see every single step in-between here and the 'finishing line'. It's as if there's a well-lit staircase that leads to the top of Mount Everest, and I know exactly how many steps there are, and also that theoretically my body is capable of climbing that many steps, but it's psychologically distressing to know exactly how many steps there are between me and the summit. Sometimes it's not a good thing to know the way. Sometimes it's not a good thing to be so aware of the journey ahead.

I'm aware that human bodies only last a finite amount of time before they fail. I can comprehend the number of sleeps that I have left before I expire from old age. A friend pointed out that 9 years is 108 months, which seemed like an interesting way to break down a decade - making it more bite-size - but the idea of living for another decade is not inviting to me. Getting to the end of this month will be an achievement.

My perception of time is warped. My sense of boredom is heightened. My attention span is ruined. I feel anxious all the time. I have terrible anhedonia.

Life's not very liveable but life must go on. I have to choose between the rat race and the endless exertion to keep my head above water, or else I will be turfed out onto the streets and will have to live a pitiful life of begging and sleeping rough.

My thoughts turn to suicide often.

Suicide is the obvious choice, because it ends the struggle completely. No more anxious waiting. No more slow plodding towards the inevitable. No more unpleasantness.

I'm aware that I'm frustratingly close to a major breakthrough. I'm aware that I've rebuilt myself fairly miraculously and I'm a completely different person from the junkie I was 2 years ago. It seems brutal that I would lose the love of my life, lose my amazing apartment, be forced out of the city I called home and end up attempting suicide, only to end up surviving and clawing my way back from almost-certain bankruptcy, only to give up at the point I was at break-even. It seems ludicrous that I'd claw my way back from so-called "rock bottom" and then decide that it wasn't worth it, except to die with a bit more pride and dignity.

I was chatting to a friend and we wondered whether we had screwed up our brains and our bodies too badly to ever recover. We both reported feeling a lot of physical discomfort and health problems, as well as terrible depression and anxiety. Ironically, he has all the things that I think I want: a girlfriend, hot weather and freedom from the rat race. The thing we have in common is bipolar disorder and substance abuse, so perhaps the evidence is pretty clear - drugs will mess you up and leave you in a miserable state.

The annoying thing is that my life isn't filled with drug abuse. My life is filled with 9 to 5 Monday to Friday commuting and office routine. My life is filled with paying rent and bills. My life is filled with supermarket shopping and doing laundry. My life is filled with mountains of paperwork. I've been well-behaved and I've made healthy choices, but it hasn't made any difference - I'm still depressed.

I suppose my depression can be explained away by events such as a breakup and a lot of stress - moving house - as well as the sustained problems I've faced in the past years, as I've attempted to restore my health and my wealth. It's hard not to lose patience though. It's hard not to give up, given the sustained effort that has been required to get where I am, and the way I feel at the end of it all.

After all the effort and the uncertainty and the horrible things I've had to endure, when I think "was it worth it?" I'm not sure that it was. In fact, I'm pretty certain that I wish I hadn't bothered. I'm pretty certain that I'd like for the pain and suffering to end sooner, rather than later. I cannot see any reason to carry on, when the reward is only more pain and suffering.

I'm kinda worried about keeping myself safe. I started thinking about places in my house where I could hang myself. I started thinking about cutting some major blood vessels in the bath. I started thinking about obtaining highly toxic poisons from the internet. I started thinking about practical considerations, such as the effect on my sister.

It's not good when a considerable part of your waking day is spent thinking about ending your own life.

I'm aware that I've probably unbalanced my delicate brain chemistry, through stressful events as well as medications. I binged on some pills. I self-medicate with other pills. The demands placed upon me by moving house and working a stressful job have driven me to feel suicidal before. I don't have any friends in the city where I live. These things are not conducive to good mental health.

I know that if I keep forcing myself to go to the office, my bank balance will continue to improve, which opens up a whole world of possibilities and reduces the amount of stress and pressure in my life. I know that as long as I stay alive, the days are getting longer, the nights are getting shorter and the weather is improving. I know that depression doesn't last forever. I know that anxiety has only ever come into my life as a result of abusing alcohol and benzodiazepines. I know these things, but it doesn't make the present day any more bearable.

There's no way to hurry things along. I either have to wait, or kill myself.

 

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Historically March Has Been A Terrible Month For Me

3 min read

This is a story about social media memories...

Clock tower

Facebook provides an "on this day" feature, which reminds me that March has been afflicted with madness and sadness for more years than I care to remember. I'm horribly affected by seasonal depression and I think March is the worst month of all, because it's long, dark, cold and the weather is terrible. At least in April the clocks have sprung forward. At least in April, the first pleasant month of the year - May - is within sight.

I was trying to remember what the earliest point in any year was, where I'd regained control of my sanity and been working. With the exception of the current 15-month long streak, it hasn't been earlier than May that I've managed to get myself into gainful employment and start repairing my life, and it's been as late as October and even December, which has proven pretty disastrous for my finances.

It might sound pretty incredible that I could lose my mind in one winter - usually around Christmas time - and not work until the following autumn. My life is incredibly cyclical and part of that cycle is rescuing myself from the brink of disaster. Because of my creditworthiness, I simply sink into debt, then dig myself out of the hole when my mind is more amenable to being in the workplace.

I'm pretty sick of the boom and bust, hence resolving to dig myself out of debt once and for all. I'm sick of having debt hanging around, threatening to destroy me. I'm sick of working hard, mainly to line the pockets of my creditors.

Last year was compromised because my summer was ruined, but since then I haven't got much to complain about. I managed to have two very nice holidays. If I play my cards right I can have a nice summer holiday this year and enter the autumn in a financially strong position. I had imagined that my woes would be behind me now, but I've had to balance the reality of the daily slog - commuting etc. - with the desire to get out of debt as quickly as possible. I could have lived on dry bread, tap water and lived in a hovel, but I think that would have been unbearable.

I realise that I consider this to be my sixth consecutive terrible year, but my life hasn't been anywhere near simple enough to reduce to that level. In fact, 2016 very nearly worked out for me. I'm kinda having another attempt at 2016, but hopefully not repeating the same mistakes. Every year has had a terrible winter and spring, followed by an autumn period which has been much more promising.

This year is unique, in that it started with an awesome holiday and the period that threatened to plunge me back into disaster and despair was quite short-lived. I've already managed to fend off a breakup, a house move and some brain chemistry problems, which all could have been terminal for my dreams of achieving stability, security and happiness.

I don't want to jinx it, but this year is going far better than any previous year, all things considered.

 

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The Achievements of One Week

6 min read

This is a story about post-traumatic stress...

Fire

Tuesday was a very bad day. Tuesday was a constant panic attack. Tuesday held nothing for me but relentless anxiety. Tuesday passed very slowly.

Tuesday is past.

Today is Friday.

Today is almost OK.

When I look back on today at some point in the future, I'll probably realise that today was pretty bad, in the grand scheme of things, but compared to Tuesday, today has been a doddle.

It might seem like I was making a lot of fuss about nothing, earlier in the week, but I assure you that I was suffering a very real medical emergency, which would have seen most people hospitalised.

The brain can render us very sick and needy, when it malfunctions. My brain was badly on the blink and even in a hospital I would have been very uncomfortable. Doctors could have eased my suffering with powerful tranquillisers administered intravenously, which would have been the ethically correct thing to do, but on Tuesday I went to the office, which was torturous beyond my capability to describe.

There simply are no words for the things which are at the limit of human survivability. Torture can make us lose our sanity. Trauma can lead to loss of life.

It might look on the face of it as if I'm an ordinary person doing ordinary people stuff, but the fact is that few of us live in perpetually precarious situation. We either fail and fall, or else we stabilise. We tend towards stable outcomes: Stable failure and stable success. I'm relatively unique in having not yet failed sufficiently to block my path from achieving desirable outcomes. Despite drug addiction, alcoholism, near-bankruptcy, homelessness, brushes with the police and debilitating mental health problems, I remain persistently employable and able to access goods and services which are normally denied to a whole swathe of society, to which I belong.

Nobody has realised I'm not supposed to be here.

Nobody has realised that all their vetting procedures and gatekeepers have failed to send me packing, back to the hell hole I crawled out of. Nobody has realised that I'm one of the ones that we're supposed to spurn and turn our backs on. Nobody has realised that I look, sound and smell like I'm one of the "OK" ones, when in fact I'm very much one of the "not OK" ones.

The longer I'm allowed to stay and warm myself by the fire, the stronger I get and the more chance is there is of me achieving stable success.

That's not supposed to happen.

Every societal system has in-built measures to toss people to the wolves. I'm not supposed to be in a big house with a wood fire and a fridge full of food. I'm not supposed to work in a fancy office doing brain-work. I'm not supposed to have any financial security, housing security or prospects. Society would like to see me dead in a ditch.

Society does however worry selfishly a lot about its own sons and daughters. Because I suppose I exude somewhat of a heady mix of intellectual poshness, combined with whatever youthful vulnerability still remains in a 39-year-old man with grey hair at his temples, I guess I confound expectations of what a junkie looks like. I'm not what anybody expects a homeless bankrupt to look like. I do not embody what anybody thinks of when they think of a psych ward patient. I do not look, sound or smell like the thing which I so obviously am, if we scratch beneath the surface.

Of course, my ruse is premeditated. I know that if I keep my mouth shut and my head down, nobody will pay me much notice, and I'll slowly be able to recover from the horrors of my past. I know that if I can go unnoticed and unfettered for long enough then I'll be able to have regained firm footing, to better enable me to flourish.

I'm aware that any period I look back upon as a period when I considered myself to be doing OK, with retrospect has turned out to be a false summit. Everything I've ever achieved has crumbled. It would be foolish to imagine that I'm doing OK at the moment, simply because I'm doing better than I was a week ago, a year ago or 5 years ago.

That's the really terrifying thing for me: 5 years ago I was very much beginning the descent. I attempted to dab the brakes, but then found that the brakes weren't working. I knew that I had to avoid long-term irreversible health damage, criminal convictions, damage to my credit rating, bankruptcy and damage to my professional reputation, but I still managed to find myself looking down the gun barrel of a heap of problems that were going to see me destitute on the street.

I'm not sure how I've managed to face down the threats to my life and livelihood and emerge from the thicket relatively unscathed, at least on the surface. I suppose it's all down to a handful of people who've conspired to assist me, in ways which run contrary to the conduct we consider ordinary and normal. A handful of people have taken risks with their lives and their money, to see me live with continued opportunities, as opposed to lasting and disastrous consequences.

I suppose in the popular parlance, I've been "enabled".

I hate that negative phraseology, to stigmatise those who help addicts and alcoholics. I hate the idea that an act of kindness is actually something bad; something foolish. I find the whole concept detestable.

I feel bad about how unwell I have been feeling this week, which should have been a celebration of how much the help I've received was a worthwhile investment. I feel bad about feeling bad.

The reality is that through the awful panic attacks, I still have a lovely house and a well-paid job, so I just need to stick to the plan - "home stretch" as my guardian angel said to me today.

My life follows a very nonlinear path. Of course I remember how bitterly I complained about living out of a suitcase, how pleased I was with a new relationship, how much invested I was in my Christmas and New Year holiday, how quickly my opinion changed about the relationship and how anxious I was to secure my housing situation. Of course I remember the highs and lows. I remember the devastation and the jubilation at many points along the way, with crystal clarity.

This is my very weird life. Suicidal depressed anxious thoughts, then white sand beaches and blue skies, luxuriating on holiday, then darkest blackness, then roaring log fires in a large period home, then more blackness. Why should this not be the case? Why would we expect any different?

Things were dire earlier in the week. Things are dire now, but dramatically less so.

 

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Tinnitus

5 min read

This is a story about hurting myself...

Ear

There's an insufferable noise inside my head. It's a bit like a hissing, whining, wailing, screaming roar. I can't actually hear anything per se, but there's something that's far noisier than everything else that I can perceive. The world seems very loud and invasive to me - every tiny sound is amplified to neve-jolting volume - but the noise inside my head is louder, even though it's silent.

I know this doesn't make any sense.

At its most basic, the noise is like the shrill notes of a horror movie, which indicate that something bad is about to happen. The noise is deeply unsettling; disturbing. I feel on edge.

Then, after a while, because the noise doesn't go away, it seems to become more urgent: Pain, injury and death feel as if they're about to happen. I'm in a constant state of 'flinching' from the anticipated blows to my body.

The feared pain never seems to quite arrive, but instead there's a dread that this feeling will never go away. This is my life now: Living in a constant state of anxiety; living with perpetual sustained threat.

How can I go on living like this?

How can I live with this noise?

There is no noise.

My rational brain knows that there isn't any noise. My rational brain knows there isn't any threat. My rational brain knows there isn't anything to be anxious about.

Further, I know why this anxiety is so bad: Because I've been through an incredibly stressful life event, and I'm not using my usual coping mechanisms, such as drinking alcohol.

In fact, I'm effectively putting myself through alcohol detox, tranquilliser withdrawal and sleeping tablet comedown, whilst simultaneously doing one of the most stressful things that ever happens in our lives - moving house.

If I don't learn to cope without alcohol then it will destroy my health and send me to an early grave. If I don't learn to cope without tablets, then I will be forever trapped by addiction.

The unfortunate short-term consequence is very unpleasant to live through.

In fact, it's so unpleasant I've started to think I would very much like to not be alive.

That's the noise.

The noise continuously tells me to hurt myself; to end the pain.

If there was a sound that existed which told you you're better off dead, then it rings at full volume in my ears. Its sustained pitch and relentlessness tells my brain it's never going to go away, things are never going to get better, and this unbearableness is a permanent state of affairs... and the only escape is death.

I've been through enough anxiety and depression to know that things don't get any worse than this, and eventually things do get better. I have unfortunately experienced enough prolonged panic attacks to know that this is just another one, and although seemingly interminable, it will eventually pass.

Given a little more freedom - a few more options - I would stay at home in bed, and sleep. To make matters worse, however, I feel compelled to be in the office, which is just about the worst place in the world, because I have to pretend like everything's OK when it's not. I have to sit in my office chair for 7 or 8 hours, when every single bit of my body and mind screams to be doing something distracting or relaxing.

Driving in heavy traffic is a mild improvement over sitting at my desk. In fact, sticking sharp objects into myself would be a mild improvement over sitting at my desk. Jumping out of my office window and falling to my death seems like a vast improvement over sitting at my desk.

It's a pretty disturbing state of affairs and I'd be yelling for help, except that I know there's no comfort that anyone's going to offer me. Nobody's going to pay for me to be sick in bed. Nobody has anything they can say or do to ease the situation. I'm just going to have to suck it up.

It's not like I've run out of pills or the shops have run out of alcohol. It's not like I couldn't go into debt while I get better. There are temporary solutions, but they all delay the inevitable.

I suppose I'm ripping off the sticking plaster, as opposed to peeling it off gently little by little. This is a short sharp shock. This is the fastest route between two points, but also the rockiest road, with thorny bushes, biting insects, choking dust and a whole host of other things that don't mean it's necessarily the easiest path.

Now... I need to go and find distractions until it's time for bed. Today has been an incredibly long day, and I wish I hadn't woken up.

 

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Misuse of Drugs

21 min read

This is a story about fit for purpose...

Prescription medications

Here are a range of prescription medications. Three of them are illegal to possess without a prescription under the Misuse of Drugs Act, because they are scheduled as "class B" and "class C", respectively carrying a 5 year prison sentence, a 2 year prison sentence and an unlimited fine.

So, 3/5ths of the medicines pictured here could see me locked up for somewhere between 2 and 5 years, if I didn't have a prescription.

The medication at the top of the picture is lamotrigine, which treats bipolar depression, as well as epilepsy. It has no abuse potential, but it does carry a high risk of causing a fatal skin rash.

The medication in the middle of the picture is bupropion, which treats addiction to nicotine. It has no abuse potential, but it also carries a high risk of causing seizures, which might be fatal.

The medication in the bottom-left of the picture is pregabalin, which treats neuropathic pain. It is addictive and can be abused. Pregabalin is a "class C" controlled substance, and anybody caught in possession without a prescription, will receive 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

The medication in the top-right of the picture is methlyphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin®, which treats Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). It is addictive and can be abused. Methlyphenidate is a "class B" controlled substance, and anybody caught in possession without a prescription will be imprisoned for 5 years and receive an unlimited fine.

The medication in the bottom-right of the picture is zopiclone, which treats insomnia and other sleep disorders. It is addictive and can be abused. Zopiclone is a "class C" controlled substance, and anybody caught in possession without a prescription, will receive 2 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

So, if I didn't have a prescription for all the medications on this table, I could be facing 9 years in prison and an unlimited fine, should the judge decide that my sentences should run consecutively, not concurrently, due to the gravity of my crime.

Yet, millions of UK citizens receive the medicinal benefits of pregabalin, methylphenidate and zopiclone, and the quality of their lives is greatly improved. These tablets were developed as medicines by pharmaceutical companies, to treat medical problems. Substantial empirical evidence was gathered in many controlled trials, to prove that these medicines were safe and effective at treating the medical problems they have been licensed for.

Indeed, these medicines have unexpected benefits beyond the purpose they were licensed for. Lamotrigine improves sleep quality. Bupropion is a fast-acting non-drowsy antidepressant, which also increase libido and enjoyment of sex. Pregabalin reduces anxiety and aids sleep. Methylphenidate improves concentration, allowing students to study harder and for longer periods. Zopiclone can prophylactically prevent psychosis and mania, by preventing sleep deprivation.

It is very hard to argue that the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Psychoactive Substances Act are successful laws, because the evidence shows that the use of mind-altering substances remains entirely unaltered by legislation which seeks to discourage that behaviour, and harshly penalises those who break the law.

If I approached my GP and asked for zopiclone to help me sleep, methylphenidate to help me concentrate at work, pregabalin (or any benzodiazepine) to treat my anxiety and zopiclone to treat my depression, they would flatly refuse all my requests.

My GP would tell me that zopiclone is too addictive, despite my insomnia ruining my life. My GP would tell me that methyphenidate is too addictive, despite my inability to concentrate impairing my ability to be productive at work. My GP would tell me that pregabalin is not licensed to treat anxiety, and it's too addictive, despite my poor quality of life due to anxiety. My GP would tell me that benzodiazepines are too addictive, despite my life-ruining anxiety. My GP would tell me that zopiclone is not licensed to treat depression.

Instead, I would be offered sertraline, which would allegedly treat my depression and reduce my anxiety. Sertraline is very slow to take effect and it has an emotionally-blunting effect, as well as affecting sex drive and ability to orgasm. Sertraline is not an effective treatment for anxiety. Sertraline is not an effective sleep aid. Anybody who has ever tried to quit sertraline will tell you that it is very addictive and the withdrawal side effects are intolerable.

In short, doctors would offer me nothing.

In short, doctors would tell me to go away, even though their medicine cabinets are stuffed full of medicines which have been extensively proven to treat the ailments which ruin my quality of life. The medications exist, but I would be denied a prescription to access those medications.

This much like a man who is dying from a bacterial infection being told that he's not allowed any penicillin, because a small number of people have a penicillin allergy.

Then, there are medications such as diacetylmorphine and ketamine, which are considered essential medicines. Diacetylmorphine, more commonly known as heroin, is scheduled as "class A" which carries a 7 year prison term and an unlimited fine, if possessed without a prescription.

How can we have a Misuse of Drugs Act which puts diacetylmorphine - a medicine routinely prescribed - into the same category as crack cocaine. Crack cocaine is fiendishly addictive and has zero medicinal use. Crack cocaine is so addictive, that it might even be considered to be "instantly addictive" and the vast majority of its users commit acquisitive crimes - muggings, thefts, burglaries - to raise money to pay for their drug addiction. Addiction is a medical condition, not a crime.

How can we have a Misuse of Drugs Act which puts mushrooms into the same category as crack cocaine? In fact the law states that it's magic mushrooms which are a "class A" controlled substance, which implies that the government believes in magic. Is that not utterly terrifying? Is it not utterly terrifying that our lawmakers are so mentally impaired that they would make specific reference in law to a certain type of mushroom which is "magic". Like, are you for real? We actually have laws criminalising magic, in the 21st century.

What would be a fitting punishment for anybody possessing a "magic" mushroom? Perhaps they should be made to climb a beanstalk grown from "magic" beans. Perhaps they should be lashed to a dunking seat and immersed underwater until they drown. Perhaps they should be burnt at the stake. These are the punishments that are most ususal for involvement in "magic".

We also know that behaviours such as sex and gambling can be addictive, but nobody imagines that gambling addicts inject decks of playing cards into their veins. In fact, gambling is widely permitted, advertised and promoted throughout society, despite its addiction potential. We are allowed to have sex, even though there is a risk of contracting sexually-transmitted diseases, and there is addiction potential.

Terrifyingly, the government has now passed an Act of Parliament which criminalises:

Things that cause hallucinations, drowsiness or changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others

Obviously, eating a big meal might cause you to feel drowsy. Being tired will make you drowsy and less alert. Being tired will affect your mood and make you more 'snappy' with others. It seems pretty obvious that children are a thing that causes drowsiness, changes in alertness, mood and empathy with others. Many mothers get post-natal depression (mood change) and many parents feel a great deal of empathy towards their children. Is the production of children going to carry the 7 year prison sentence, as the law states?

The law helpfully tells us that:

Food [doesn't] count as psychoactive substances.

But, hang on a second... aren't mushrooms food? If I'm a mushroom producer or supplier, am I exempt from the 7 year jail sentence?

Let us imagine that I cross-breed a "magic" mushroom with a regular mushroom, not thought of as "magic" by government lawmakers, I must surely be able to produce a non-magic mushroom, which I can supply as food, even though it might cause hallucinations, changes in perception of time and space and mood. Clearly if I used gene editing, I could produce a mushroom that was not "magic" at all - no witchcraft or wizardry necessary - and this could be bought and sold in the supermarkets as food.

Fundamentally, the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Psychoactive Substances Act are flawed pieces of legislation, which are not protecting citizens of the United Kingdom, reducing crime, reducing antisocial behaviour, saving lives or reducing the burden on public services. In fact, it is categorically clear that the UK's approach to mind-altering substances is a gigantic waste of money, which is also ruining countless lives, by criminalising people with medical conditions.

The fact that we have the word "magic" in our statute books, criminalising mushrooms that are alleged to have "magical" properties, in the 21st century, is quite absurdly ridiculous. The fact that we have put "magic" mushrooms, diacetylmorpine and crack cocaine into the same "class A" schedule, carrying the harshest punishments. Diacetylmorhine is an essential medicine, administed every day by up to 130,000 doctors and countless nurses. Picking "magic" mushrooms to share with my friends is punishable by life imprisonment.

I can understand that crack cocaine is an instantly addictive drug that drives most of its users to commit a very great deal of crime, because they are suffering from an illness. Therefore those who supply crack cocaine are committing a terrible crime, because crack cocaine exists for no other purpose than its abuse, and it's abuse is so devastating that it ruins the life of the sick person and creates very many victims of crime. I can understand why supply of crack cocaine is punishable by life imprisonment.

I cannot understand that "magic" mushrooms, which are not addictive, and its users commit no antisocial nuisance nor cause any burden on the state, and are an incredibly safe thing to eat with no fatalities attributed to their consumption, are seen as the same as crack cocaine in the eyes of the law. Those who supply magic mushrooms are no more guilty than a person who obtains a crate of beer, with which to share with their friends. 

The antisocial behaviour of people intoxicated by alcohol, the addictiveness of alcohol and its adverse health effects, makes suppliers and producers of alcohol culpable for a very serious crime, which deserves harsh punishment, if we follow the logic applied to other mind-altering substances.

To sell packs of cigarettes is possession with intent to supply an addictive harmful substance. The health damage caused by cigarette smoking and the antisocial nature of it, because of the harm caused to passive smokers by second-hand smoke, as well as the unpleasant smell of cigarette smoke, which also harms items of clothing and other property. Cigarette smoking places considerable burden on the state, who must invest significant sums of money into smoking cessation treatments, smoking prevention programs and treat the many smoking-related diseases. Smoking-related diseases shorten lives, cause early death and reduce the productive capacity of those who suffer from cigarette addiction. Cigarettes have a high economic cost to society. Suppliers and producers of cigarettes, cigars and loose tobacco are culpable for a very serious crime, which deserves harsh punishment.

When the esteemed neuropsychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt was adviser to the government on its drug policy, he suggested - based on overwhelming empirical evidence - reclassifying all drugs based upon the health risks they posed, the harms they cause to society, and the economic cost of their use and abuse. He was forced to resign. Drugs are a politcal pawn and the government has no interest in the wellbeing of its citizens, with respect to drug use.

We only need to look at Portugal, which took a scientific data-driven approach to its drug policy and has achieved:

  • 60% increase in uptake of addiction treatment programs
  • 90% drop in the rate of drug-injection related HIV infection
  • 45% decrease in the murder rate
  • Drug-related deaths dropped to 3 per million (in comparison to the EU average of 17.3 per million)

The most [un]surprising thing of all is that drug use remained the same. People like to take drugs. LOTS of people like to take drugs. Alterations to the law do not affect people's desire to take drugs. Drug laws are not a disincentive to drug taking, because drug taking has been a feature of human life since pre-historic times. People want to take drugs, hence why alcohol, cigarette and coffee consumption is ubiquitous and legal.

2.5 million Xanax tablets were purchased on the black market in the UK. At least half a million people in the UK are using MDMA (ecstasy) on regularly, and on a single weekend, a million tablets could be consumed. Almost one million UK citizens are using powder cocaine, and most of them are affluent professionals.

What we can learn from Portugal is that punitive drug laws have no affect on citizen's behaviour. The criminalisation and harsh punishments are not a disincentive to illicit drug purchase and consumption.

Legislation to criminalise the sale of alcohol - prohibition - was tried in the USA from 1920 to 1933, and it was an abysmal failure. Industrial alcohol was deliberately made extremely poisonous in 1927, causing innumerable deaths and making people blind. But people drank it anyway, getting literally "blind drunk". Moonshine was responsible for vast numbers of speakeasy customers being poisoned: 33 people in Manhattan, NY died in just three days, for example.

We can see from all historical evidence, worldwide, that every culture has used mind-altering substances extensively. Coca leaf chewing is common in South America. Tobacco smoking and chewing originated in North America. Betel nuts and areca leaves are chewed all over Asia. Khat leaves are chewed in Africa. Tea leaves a brewed in hot water in China and India. Coffee beans are roasted, ground and brewed in South America. Cannabis has been drunk as Bhang in India for more than 3,000 years, and the Egyptians were smoking cannabis 3,600 years ago. Opium was being consumed 5,400 years ago, by the Mesopotamians. Alcohol wins the top prize though, because it's been brewed for at least 13,000 years - since the goddam stone age.

The invention of distillation apparatus is a relatively recent phenomenon, but we should accept that human desire for intoxicating alcoholic beverages has been unwavering since the discovery of the fermentation process, and the invention of brewing methods. The body of archeological evidence overwhelmingly proves that beer and wine were present in human lives, continuously. Mass production of cheap distilled spirits pose new challenges, but we must remember that society does not adapt to scientific and technological advances with sufficient speed to avoid difficult periods of re-adjustment.

The isolation of psychoactive molecules responsible for psychoactive effects, and the laboratory synthesis of those naturally occurring compounds, has resulted in highly refined and pure chemicals. The investment in high-volume chemical production for industrial and agricultural uses, makes the precursor ingredients for synthesised compounds extremely cheap, and therefore, drug supply can inexpensively meet drug demand, through mass-production. The very poorest people in the world are often able to afford to buy very potent and pure drugs.

In 1804 Friedrich Sertürner isolated the morphine molecule from opium. In 1804 the world's population was 1 billion and the average global income was $3 a day (adjusted for inflation). Today, 3.4 billion people live on approximately $3 a day, which means that there are 340% more people living in poverty on an increasingly overcrowded planet.

We know from animal studies that stress and overcrowding affects behaviour adversely - "the behavioural sink" - and experiments have produced compelling evidence. Animals whose living conditions are intolerable, will prefer water laced with alcohol, cocaine, heroin and other addictive drugs. When the experiment is repeated with better living conditions, such as having other animals to socialise and have sex with, more comfortable bedding, exercise wheels and toys to interact with, then the rats prefer to drink the water without any mind-altering substances.

Findings from experiments with overcrowding in rat colonies found the following disturbing results:

Many female rats were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep.

The animals would crowd together in greatest number in one of the four interconnecting pens in which the colony was maintained. As many as 60 of the 80 rats in each experimental population would assemble in one pen during periods of feeding. Individual rats would rarely eat except in the company of other rats. As a result extreme population densities developed in the pen adopted for eating, leaving the others with sparse populations.

Infant mortality ran as high as 96 percent among the most disoriented groups in the population.

Translated into human terms, we see that the majority of the world's population live in overcrowded cities. We see neglected and abused children taken into foster care. We see high infant mortality rates in the developing world. We see sexual deviancy. We see widespread manic-depressive symptoms and other psychiatric illnesses. We see men living lives of quiet, desperate isolation, withdrawn from the world and spending most of their time in their bedrooms, emerging only to grab a microwave pizza or use the toilet.

One must remember that in the rat overcrowding experiments, there were no drugs or alcohol. The behaviour of the rats was a spontaneous response to their living conditions.

Thus, we must conclude that the problems we see in society are not caused by drugs and alcohol, but the abuse of drugs and alcohol is caused by intolerable living conditions.

In the west, the social problems we have are due to industrialisation and mass-production, which required high-density housing in close proximity to the factories, mills, textile manufacturers and steel works. The social problems were compounded by the service industries building tall office blocks in the business districts of major metropolitan areas. Property developers built high-rise housing blocks in cities which were already densely populated.

Manhatten had a population of 60,000 people in 1800. Today it has a population of 1.7 million people who each earn $378,000 per annum, on average.

Hong Kong Island had a population of about 3,000 people in 1842. Today it has 1.3 million people and a 2-bedroom city centre apartment would cost about $2 million to buy.

Those are the affluent places.

In the developing world, the social problems are due to the purchasing power of "soft" currencies. Only the US dollar, Japanese yen, European euro, Swiss franc, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, New Zealand dollar and British pound, are considered to be "hard" currencies.

Developing world nations need to build factories, mills, mines, railways, ports, power stations, which can only be paid for in hard currency, along with hospital and a university, fully equipped, staffed. The university needs a library full of books. Almost everthing has to be imported, and the suppliers want to be paid in hard currency.

The developing world nations take out loans from the World Bank, issued in hard currency to buy what they need. The crop harvest, manufactured products and natural resources are exported to buyers who pay with soft currency. Labour is also sold using soft currency .

$1 can purchase 8.3 minutes of labour in the USA. $1 can purchase 36 hours of labour in Ethiopia. The poorest and hungriest Ethiopians get paid 10 Ethiopian birr for 12 hours labour. A day's wage is the same as the cost of the day's food.

$1 is exchanged for 30 Ethiopian birr. The dollar seller can pay 3 Ethiopians their daily wage, after they complete 12 hours labour. The Ethiopian birr seller can purchase $1 of specialist goods, specialist services, or hire a highly-qualified and experienced expert, from the richest nations. $1 could purchase 1 minute of time from a prospecting geologist to survey Ethiopia's stone, ores, minerals, metals and gemstones. When the data is gathered, Ethiopia can then calculate the capital expenditure to purchase land, build processing facilities, buy equipment, and build supply infrastructure. Then they consider the cost the cost of paying for supply chain services. They calculate how soon they can be ready to start exporting. They calculate a sustainable export capacity and work out the anticipated lead time from initial purchase order, legally binding supply contract, agreed.  The operating costs are deducted from the expected income from the exports. It's pretty easy maths:

(Capital expenditure + operational costs + transport costs) - (average raw material market price x quantity of raw material available)

This equation gives three numbers,

1. How much money do we need spend before we see a single dollar

2. How much money will be earned until all the natural resource is gone

3. Proft (if any)

Wheat to make flour with is $0.46 in the US commodities exchange. Coffee beans are $0.94/kg. Orange juice is $1.17/litre. Cotton is $0.71/kg. Raw sugar from sugar cane has by far the lowest market price, of $0.13/kg.

Processing makes little difference: Alcohol made from cane sugar trades at $1.34/litre and refined white sugar trades at $348.

So we can forget growing crops. The US and EU subsidise their farmers by purchasing their harvest, then dumping it in huge silos, or otherwise paying farmers a subsidy for not growing their crop, which is greater than the amount the farmer could expect to earn by selling the harvest. That's economic warfare by the wealthy west on the impoverished developing world nations. The game is rigged.

Then stone, ores, metal, precious metal and gemstones are worth considering.

Iron ore trades at $89/kg. If you invested in heavy machinery and a processing plant: Copper trades at £3/lb, Aluminium at $1/lb. Nickel at $6/lb and Zinc is at $1/kg.

This is because $1 can purchase at least 1kg of flour, which will feed a mother and child for a day. The hungriest poorest people will exchange 12 hours labour . Therefore $1 buys 87 times more labour in the poorest parts of the developing world, than it does in the USA. So $1 is offered in exchange for enough local currency to buy 1kg of flour. It costs 30 Ethiopian birr to buy 1kg of flour,

The densest population on the planet is Tondo - a district in Manila - where you are never more than 2 metres away from another person. I'm 1.83 metres tall, so if I lay down to sleep, I would have 17 centimetres between me and the nearest person That's disturbing.

The developing world population has increased dramatically in the last 200 years, which is a lot of hungry mouths to feed, in countries which might not have clean drinking water, medicine, sanitation systems, and people live with a lot of hunger. See below:

World pop growth

Can you see the trend? Poor nations are getting more populated, which drives down the value of their labour drives down the value of the crops they produce, and drives down the price of the the other commodities they can produce. In a system of global free-market capitalism: A hungry person will work harder for longer, than a well-fed one. A person who lives in a country with high infant mortality rates will have more children that a person with great well-equipped hospitals and doctors, in every city.

It's ludicrous to be criminalising things which would never exist if we paid more for our edible crops. For example, 1kg of opium resin is worth $2,506 if you buy it wholesale directly from the farmers in Afghanistan. That heroin has a market value of $6,600 in the USA.

The drug problem is the inevitable conclusion of exploiting the developing world's labour, crops and raw materials.

I should really have written this as a series of blog posts, but I might is this in a non-fiction book I plan to write if I can convince somebody I like to co-author it with me. Or at least get a literary agent to find me a publisher and give me an editor.

Side note: I started writing this on Saturday and it's now Monday (well, Tuesday, technically) and I've hardly slept. I must publish this now, and proof-read and edit tomorrow.

I hope you find these 4,000 words entertaining.

 

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