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

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Step Seven: Every Time Is Different

5 min read

This is a story about learning through doing...

Supermarket basket

The difference between an artist and a craftsman, is that a craftsman is honing their skills towards the most perfect and repeatable incarnation of a repetitive task, whereas an artist is honing their skills in general, in order to be able to express whatever they want with an intuitive fluidity. If you or I were "bad at drawing" as so many of us characterise ourselves, then we would spend most of our time grappling with the pencil and paper, instead of drawing the desired thing. The craftsman would be content to produce ever improving facsimiles or the same image, faster and faster, and with less pencil lead used. The artist would not even be aware of the pencil or paper, but instead would be free to express themselves increasingly exactly as they intended.

A reader challenged me to write about what I'm learning, as opposed to writing in my lecturing tone which features quite regularly. Unfortunately they deleted their reply, so I only have my hazy memory as a guide to what their original suggestion was, but my guess would be that they wanted me to write about my experience of learning as a way of teaching.

Every day, I am learning.

Every time I write, I am learning.

This entire exercise, of writing down my stream-of-consciousness, is a learning exercise. I write because it helps me therapeutically, but it also helps me to learn to be a better writer; to express myself in a [hopefully] ever-improving manner. Slowly, the keyboard, the screen, the website - all of this melts away and I'm able to express myself in exactly the way I intended; I put my point across as well as I could ever hope to, although I continually strive to do better.

I'm also learning to be a craftsman. There is a craftsman's psychology, which a person should possess - there are habits to develop, and you must strive towards perfecting repetitive tasks. The tiny details matter. You should attempt to iron out the imperfections and master your tools.

I promise you I am not giving a lecture, again. I'm merely telling you the things that I'm realising - learning - as I'm going along. Right now, as I pen these very words, I am having a learning experience, which I am simultaneously sharing with you.

Of course, the big piece of learning that's happening right now, is that I'm going though yet another period of sobriety. Each time I stop drinking my experiences are different. I am not writing to tell you that I have perfected the art of sobriety. I am writing to share with you my experiences of being an on/off drinker, who has spent relatively lengthy periods as a teetotaller. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous might scoff at my 121 consecutive days of sobriety, but of all my friends and work colleagues, I would be hard-pressed to find another who had equalled that record in their adult life. We might dismiss my present objective of "approximately 6 to 8 weeks of sobriety" as something insignificant and easy, but because you will probably never try to do it and if you do, you will find - as I have - that it's not as easy as it looks, it's important that I document these periods of time.

Of course I am not writing a prescriptive guide on how to stop drinking. Only charlatans and con-men promise that they have a magic cure for alcoholism. The entire rehab and detox industry thrives on its spectacular lack of success, and of course, if there was an easy way out then there wouldn't be such an insatiable appetite for addictive substances, and the corresponding so-called 'cures' for these afflictions.

I note that vast numbers of people stumble upon my website while searching desperately to see if they can quite literally "drink [themselves] sober". I kid you not.

What can I report today, of interest? I've had the perfect storm of a heavy workload at the office, combined with my car breaking down, some horrible administrative tasks which have been very time consuming, and then there is the usual ongoing financial difficulties that I face, and the prospect that my troubled relationship is likely to be dealt a fatal blow, due to the difficulty of two people finding well paid work anywhere except London... and I don't think it would be a good idea for me to move back to London, when my life in Cardiff is going quite well, and is certainly easier and less stressful than it ever was in the capital.

None of what I've written has much to do with [not] drinking alcohol. It's Friday night and I've had a very hard working week, but perhaps my instinct to reach for the bottle to celebrate the commencement of the weekend, has been slightly de-habituated. I have found myself binging on cakes, crisps, biscuits and other salty, fatty and sweet foods, by way of compensation for my otherwise bleak existence. What human being does not reward themselves, either with sex, chocolate, shopping, or something less tolerated by civilised society, and probably more health-damaging?

It feels as though the season to be merry is fast approaching, plus I have social occasions soon where I will absolutely be partaking of an alcoholic beverage or two. I'm quite looking forward to having a cold beer with friends and/or colleagues, and there's nothing wrong about that at all. I'm quite looking forward to rewarding myself with a glass of wine after a hard day at the office, and again, there's nothing wrong with that at all.

What have I learned on my journey today? Nothing really. Except that every day is completely different, and my coping skills are constantly improving.

 

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Give a Job to a Busy Person

6 min read

This is a story about workload...

Gas Meter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Ticks in Boxes

3 min read

This is a story about form filling...

Vote

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

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

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

I'm exhausted.

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

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

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

But.

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

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

 

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New iPhone is Underwhelming

4 min read

This is a story about obsolescence...

iPhone

I wasn't excited about the launch of the new iPhone, but I ended up getting one. My old iPhone 6 had served me well for years, but it was annoyingly short of free space, which meant continuously deleting stuff - a time consuming pointless exercise. The battery life was terrible, but I had managed to replace the battery quite inexpensively myself, so that wasn't an excuse for getting a new iPhone. The back was slightly scratched, but the screen was pretty good. The mute button no longer worked and the charging port was unreliable, only working at certain angles, which clinched the decision to upgrade.

I expected to be more pleased with the new iPhone.

But, I just put it in my pocket and carried on like it was no big deal.

Sure, the camera is better, the screen is better. Sure it's a bit more responsive; less laggy. However, there was virtually zero impact - no wow factor whatsoever.

When Apple introduced the fingerprint reader that was a big deal, because it saved having to type the unlock code every time, which is a vast improvement of usability. Given that I unlock my phone and do something with it 50 times a day, on average, you can imagine that it was a huge saving, not having to type my PIN all those times.

Since then, there hasn't been a 'killer' feature.

I'm not that bothered about having a better camera, because I have a good camera anyway with a much better lens and sensor than any smartphone could ever have. There simply isn't the room in a smartphone to include a large lens and sensor, so the image quality is always going to be very inferior to a proper camera.

Being able to unlock my phone with my face makes no difference to me versus being able to do it with my fingerprint. Face ID is not an improvement. Yes, biometric security is important to me, but I don't care whether it's fingerprint or facial recognition.

I don't play games on my phone or use anything which requires a powerful processor or lots of memory. I just browse the web, send and receive emails and messages, scroll through Facebook and Twitter, and access my banking apps. I could have stayed with my iPhone 6 and been perfectly OK, to be honest.

A friend who always gets the new iPhone, even when it's a minor upgrade, such as from the X to the XS, justifies his upgrades because of the frequency with which he uses his phone. This argument would also support my desire to upgrade too, given that I'm a heavy smartphone user and I have the disposable income, but it frankly depressed me that I spent the price of a reliable second-hand car on a gadget upgrade I really didn't need.

It's a year since I upgraded, and the screen on my iPhone XS is now scratched to pieces. Apparently the glass is very shatter resistant, but it's very prone to scratches. It's really disappointing to have bought a brand new cutting-edge gadget, and to find that it's not durable in everyday use situations. I have not abused my iPhone in any way. The scratches are all from simply being in my pocket, or on tabletops.

I haven't bought the new iPhone. I am not going to get the new new iPhone, because there's no way I can justify the expense for such a minor improvement.

It's kind of sad that I'll never re-experience that wonderful moment I got my first iPhone. That first iPhone was a real game-changer. That first iPhone was so transformative for human-computer interactions. I would be lost without having a smartphone and mobile internet available at all times. I - and so many others - have become dependent on the various communication apps, plus maps, taxis, banking and all the other things, which are so convenient to access through smartphones. My addiction to iPhone games was exhausted when I designed, built and released some for sale in the App Store, but I know that the impulse to check my various apps for notifications and new content is deeply engrained... perhaps an addiction, except it's one which does me no harm.

It must surely be time for a technology innovation which will inspire me again, like the original iPhone did.

 

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Rock Bottom; Soft Landing

5 min read

This is a story about having nothing to complain about...

Cone of shame

I woke up this morning and I was almost overwhelmed by depression. I think yesterday was a double-whammy of bad stuff, with the uncertainty around my ongoing employment and income - and the belief that I was being screwed over - plus the news that parliamentary democracy is being destroyed by a old Etonian Bullingdon Club public schoolboy elitist establishment Tory, who has no mandate, yet seems to have found a way to thwart the will of our elected representatives.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so upset yesterday, because things have worked out OK, at least so far as my contract is concerned. However, this contract stuff has dragged on for months, and it takes its toll.

I had booked a lovely holiday when I got the news that my contract, which was supposed to finish at the end of the year, was being cut short by 6 months. The holiday looked like an expensive mistake, when seen in the context of ending up without an income.

I went away on holiday thinking that I would have to find a new contract when I got back. The anxiety surrounding having to find a new contract didn't completely spoil the holiday, but it weighed heavily on my mind the whole time. It was very hard to forget how much money I was losing, due to not working, and how much money I was spending. It was very hard not to worry about having to go back to London in order to find work, given that there are fewer large organisations who might need my services, outside the capital.

I came back and the carrot of another couple of months work was dangled, but it took a long time to materialise as an actual contract, and then yesterday it looked like I was getting screwed over. Perhaps the middle-man just wanted to squeeze me for a bit more profit, by paying me less, but it also looked like I might have been strung along only to be left with nothing at the end of the week; out of a job.

As it turns out, I've got an extra couple of months, but I'm still two months short of what I had back at the beginning of the summer, when my contract was extended to the end of the year and it looked likely that there was enough work to last into 2020. I never count my chickens, but I did have ink dry on a contract when suddenly that income security was yanked, in a fairly incomprehensible way, given that I had a good grasp of deadlines and what was achievable, but a manager is a person who thinks that 9 women can have a baby in one month.

I woke up and I thought I couldn't face work; I couldn't face taking my kitten to the vet to be 'fixed'. I thought I couldn't face anything - I was too burnt out from too much stress and anxiety - and I knew that if I was laid low with depression, then my life would quickly collapse; destroyed by rent and bills.

My job is interesting, my colleagues are great, I like the city where I live, my house, my girlfriend, my kitten. Life can be good when it's good, and I'm definitely in my comfort zone in terms of my work and my daily routine, but there's a heap of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, which have nothing to do with anything except being thwarted. I know I can easily do the job that's asked of me. I know that I can competently and capably deliver, provided nothing and nobody thwarts me. I know all the steps between here and the finish line. The only thing that's going to throw me off is being deliberately thwarted by somebody.

I know I repeat myself endlessly at the moment. It's kind of like a mantra, repeated to ward off evil spirits. I feel completely powerless to influence my own life. Day-to-day living is easy - a paint-by-numbers exercise that I've done a million billion times - so it's the f**kwits who are sent to thwart me who constantly threaten to destroy everything, who I'm powerless to stop.

This is my life: fed to me in two-month chunks, in a perpetual state of anxiety and stress, doing easy stuff that I've done millions of times before, but with the constant threat of ruin hanging over me; no security and no respite from the pressure.

I try to concentrate on working hard, knowing that if I do that then everything else should fall into place, and if it doesn't then there was nothing I could do about it anyway, but it's bloody awful having the carrot dangled for years and years but always being thwarted, just at the moment when a breakthrough seems almost within reach. F**k my life.

I was very nearly consumed by suicidal depression, but things improved today. I got up. I took my kitten to the vet. I did my work. I secured a whopping two whole months more income; marginally postponing the day when I'm forced to discover that there's no f**king work near where I live.

 

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Nurture

4 min read

This is a story about caring for living things...

Castor oil plant

My beloved castor oil plant is not doing very well. Really, I should re-pot my houseplants. I need to purchase some plant food and feed my houseplants. Two of my plants have been attacked by my kitten, leaving them pretty much destroyed, and one of them was knocked off a shelf by my kitten, and perished soon afterwards due to having no pot anymore.

My kitten is not eating her food. She had a different brand of cat food while I was on holiday and now she doesn't want to go back to eating the cheap supermarket own-brand stuff. I'm not trying to save money - I kept her on the same food that the breeder was feeding the cats, and the breeder was trying to save money. It's a bad idea to change your pet's food, because it can upset their stomach. I guess I will have to go and get some premium brand stuff now my kitten is used to the fancy stuff.

I'm not doing great in terms of diet, exercise and alcohol. I thought I would feel rejuvenated enough after my holiday that I would start taking better care of myself, but I've needed a bit of booze to take the edge off the shock to the system of going back to work. Work is stressful.

Things look better regarding the major things that were stressing me out. My contract is likely to be extended by a couple of months and the organisation I work for is chasing my security clearance, which is good. I feel happier about things.

I'm not going to write much today because I'm about to go out for dinner and to the cinema. Also, I'm trying to write less - little and often, instead of gigantic brain-dumps which are far too much for anybody to enjoy reading.

I drank far more than I intended to this week, which makes me feel bad about possible weight gain and the general health implications of drinking too much, but I must admit that it's helped ease me back into the daily grind. However, I could easily end up being overly dependent on alcohol and drinking far too regularly, so I'd like to get things under control before they get out of hand.

My kitten has been very sweet and playful at times and I'm really pleased to have a companion animal - a pet - to keep me company when I'm home alone. I was worried that she was too wild and destructive, and that I wasn't able to cope with such an intelligent cat, but I seem to have found strategies for her behaviour to stop her peeing on everything and destroying stuff. Not an ordinary domestic cat at all, but she's got bags of personality and she's great entertainment.

Today I felt for a moment like things were going OK. My income is slightly more secure, I'm good at my job, I'm in a good relationship, I like my house and my cat, my car is OK, my finances are OK, my health is OK... things are alright. I don't see too many ways in which everything's going to fall apart at the moment. If everything goes ahead as it should, then I don't have any horrible unpleasantness to face for a couple of months, which is good. Some challenges on the horizon for the autumn, including the usual horrible situation where I'll be needing a holiday but my income won't be secure - it really spoils a holiday having uncertainty about employment and money.

Lots of work to do at the moment, which is what I want because I like to keep my mind occupied, but I do want to keep myself on a sustainable and healthy footing. I don't want to burn myself out, or indeed make myself redundant. I often blaze through all my work and am left with nothing to do, feeling horribly bored and dreading having to look busy.

So, I have the opportunity to work and to live, but I need to look after myself.

I'm off to do leisure activities now, which is very nice.

 

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Beach Body

6 min read

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

Flip flops

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

Unsurprisingly, I put on weight.

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

I put on more weight.

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

I didn't change my behaviour.

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

Then I stopped drinking.

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

I was teetotal for nearly 5 months.

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

Now, I'm trying to lose weight again.

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

I still don't do any exercise.

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

I should do some exercise.

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

I'm making good progress.

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

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

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

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

 

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Not Drinking Again

2 min read

This is a story about teetotalling...

Bottles

I have stopped eating breakfast, have stopped having large lunches, stopped snacking and have stopped drinking alcohol. This is all part of an effort to lose some weight before going on holiday.

It's surprising that a few simple lifestyle changes can cause me to lose weight, when I do no exercise whatsoever.

I've been hungry, but only in the evenings.

I've craved alcohol a little bit, but only occasionally.

There have been surprise bonuses, beyond the weight loss.

I have more energy. In fact, I have too much energy. I've been sent into hypomania. I've been staying up late at night, thinking about making random expensive purchases. I've been argumentative and combative. I've been short-tempered and impatient. I've been impulsive. However, on the whole I feel a lot better than I did last week.

Not drinking is, on balance, much better than drinking a lot on a regular basis.

My life had started to revolve around my next drink: where and when would I next be getting a glass of wine or beer?

Living my life alcohol-free, I've dealt with some pretty awful stuff this week, but I've managed. I've coped.

When I was mixing alcohol with sleeping pills and tranquillisers, I was getting into some very strange states where I was half-dreaming, but I was still somewhat interacting with the real world: I was talking, but usually it was nonsensical because it was related to what I was dreaming about. Sure, this was at bedtime - in bed - when I really should have been fast asleep, but my brain managed to fight the soporific effects of vast quantities of sleeping pills, tranquillisers, sedatives and alcohol. I have no idea how I'm able to maintain consciousness with so much crap in my bloodstream, but I can.

I think that going [almost] alcohol-free will help me to catch up on sleep and reclaim some energy. I think that being [almost] teetotal will enable me to do more than eat, sleep and work.

Anyway, it's early days, but I would very much like to be in-shape for my upcoming holiday. It's motivating me to "behave myself".

Change is hard and my life has a lot of stress, but alcohol is not a great crutch. I think I'll be better off without so much of it in my life.

 

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Managing Bipolar Without Medication

11 min read

This is a story about personal responsibility...

Handful of pills

I often like to think that I'm 'cured' of bipolar, but the reality is that I can have incredibly functional periods, where it certainly appears to the outside observer as if I'm perfectly healthy. However, the stability of my life - and my mood - is not due to having received treatment, nor is it accident or pure good luck. There are a lot of choices, deliberately made, which keep me functional.

We must accept that whether I'm functional or not, I do experience a mood disorder: bipolar. I can be suicidally depressed but working productively at my desk, with my colleagues blissfully ignorant of my distress and the danger to my life. I can be fighting to control my hypomania with every fibre of my being, desperate to unleash the 'high' episode and experience a period of incredible creativity and productivity, but I know that my colleagues would bear the brunt of my irritability, and their suspicions would be raised by my fast speech and general intensity... I would be told to go home; I would be told I'm working too hard, and I would ignore them, only to subsequently crash.

I'm prone to taking huge risks. I'm prone to depressions that leave me unable to leave my bed or face the world for long periods. I'm prone to hypomanic episodes where I take on ridiculously huge projects, and somehow manage to complete them, but at great expense to my health and stability.

Nobody could say that I don't have to be aware of my bipolar disorder at all times, because it always threatens to plunge me into suicidal depression, or make my hypomanically high - neither state is compatible with a regular 9 to 5 Monday to Friday office job.

Luckily, nobody employs me because I'm a slow and steady guy; nobody employs me because I plod along doing nothing much in particular, keeping a low profile. The reason why I get employed is because I get stuff done. I get a lot of stuff done. I get things done that people say couldn't be done. Then, one day "I can't even" as the kids say. Yep. That's a complete sentence. I can't even finish a sentence properly when I'm having one of those episodes. I become dysfunctional if I don't manage my illness. There's no denying that I'm unwell when I get so sick I can't leave my bed, answer my phone or send an email: I go AWOL.

For years I struggled with the different episodes. I allowed too much of my hypomania to be conspicuously visible in the office. I allowed too much of my depression to overspill from my private life. I was in the office when I shouldn't have been and I wasn't in the office when I should have been. I allowed my mood to dictate my behaviour, as so many of us do, because it's virtually impossible to behave otherwise.

I tried being my own boss, so I could work as hard as I wanted when I was hypomanic, and sleep as much as I needed when I was depressed. Things got worse, not better. I tried tablets. I tried so many tablets. Things got worse. Things got so much worse and I became so dysfunctional that my life fell apart, but nobody believed me. I was sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens - a complete mess - but because I sound posh and intelligent, and I've had a great career, nobody believed that I was losing my battle with my mental illness, and I was incredibly vulnerable. I desperately needed help, but to outside observers, I seemed to have some semblance of the self-reliance I'd always had... everyone assumed that I was as competent and capable as I'd ever been, and that I could take care of myself.

Things got very bad. I was hospitalised several times, both for medical emergencies due to physical health problems which threatened my life, and for the seemingly unending mental health crisis I was suffering. The fact I was alive was taken as evidence of my resourceful nature and self-preservation instincts - my ability to be responsible for myself - but it's pure blind luck that I'm not dead, along with a heck of a lot of skill, effort and energy by a vast number of medical professionals, who've saved my life during various organ failures, seizures and generally near-fatal awfulness which took place in high dependency hospital wards and intensive treatment units.

Today, my life gives few clues about the journey to this point. I have two large scars on my legs and a tattoo behind my ear. The tattoo is something that any observant person might see, as a tiny clue that I've been though some pretty appalling stuff, but the scars are usually hidden beneath my clothes.

The length of time that I've spent working closely with a close-knit group of colleagues, and what we've achieved together as a team, is the basis for the impression that people have of me, along with my general demeanour. I'm lucky enough to have retained my full faculties and suffer no impairment due to the horrors of the past. My colleagues see a competent and capable individual who they have come to depend upon - they trust me and the seek out my opinion. In this sense, you could be forgiven for thinking me 'cured' of bipolar.

I'm hoping that I will stay in my new home city for a long time, and I will build an ever-increasing circle of friends, neighbours and other acquaintances, who see me going about my daily business; who have pleasant normal interactions with me. My existence is clearly no longer full of crises; I'm obviously much more stable than I was, and that stability has proven reasonably reliable.

None of this is an accident. None of this is pure chance.

I don't have any caffeine. I know that alcohol is bad for me, and I avoided it for months, which was very beneficial to my health. I try to sleep as much as possible - 10 or 12 hours a night whenever I can. I keep to a routine... I keep to a REALLY STRICT routine if I can. Mealtimes, when I get up, what I wear, what I eat, writing every day, quiet time before bed, glasses to filter out blue light, dietary supplements... these are some of the things that are working well. I know I need to exercise more and I know I need to get more natural light too. It would be healthy to have regular social contact with people outside work. It would be good if I had a local support network.

My job often bores me, but I put up with it. I'm often too depressed and anxious to get out of bed and go to the office but I force myself. I often find there's not enough time to watch films and documentaries, or do anything other than write, eat and get ready for bed, after work, but I'm trying to do more.

I've gotten tired. Really tired.

Last week was incredibly exhausting. Work was immensely stressful and demanding. Some relationship difficulties cause me to lose a lot of sleep, as well as being very emotionally demanding and stressful. I got a kitten, which has been extremely rewarding and exciting, but also a disruption to my delicate routine and an additional set of responsibilities.

Adrenalin has carried me through the past few weeks and I've managed to skip almost entire nights of sleep on several occasions, seemingly without consequence, but it's all caught up with me.

I haven't been looking after myself.

I've broken my rules.

I've broken the rules which keep me safe, healthy, secure and stable. I've broken the rules which have kept me functional for a very long period of time. I've broken the rules which I invented to end the crises and the dangerous highs and lows. I've broken the rules and I've paid the price.

I'm not sick but I'm not well.

I underestimated the damage it would do to my health, drinking too much and staying up all night. I overestimated my ability to cope with extra stress and big changes. Suddenly I have a girlfriend and a kitten, where previously I had nothing but a big empty house. My life is immensely more pleasant and enjoyable, but it's also suddenly become incredibly fragile. I'm suffering bouts of insecurity and occasional outbursts of frustration that my comfortable stable security and safety margin of spare energy has been exhausted, leaving me irritable and impatient.

It's my responsibility to make sure that I'm getting enough sleep. There aren't enough hours in the day, but I can take some holiday. I've worked non-stop since I got home from Mexico at the start of January. Nobody can work so hard, move house, get a girlfriend, furnish a home and get a kitten, without having a holiday. I've been relentless. I've acted as if I've got limitless energy and a superhuman ability to achieve impossible feats at incredible speed. To all intents and purposes, I've pulled off almost everything, but the cracks are showing - I'm heading for disaster.

Whether I've already gone too far, allowing myself to become too tired and letting myself become unwell, remains to be seen. I was irritable and unpleasant last night, and there might be consequences. Who knows what damage I've done?

I'm going to sleep until lunchtime tomorrow. I'm going to recharge my batteries.

I know that a few extra hours sleep is not enough. I need a whole week of lie-ins. I need a whole week of afternoon naps. I need at least a whole week of being free from the relentless demands which I've faced this year. I desperately need another holiday. I've left it too long, as usual, but I hate going away on my own.

That's another part of the non-pharmaceutical treatment for my bipolar disorder: holidays. I genuinely need holidays for the sake of my health, but when my life was chaotic I would work as hard as I could for as long as I could when I was well, because I felt so much pressure to earn as much money as possible, to support me during episodes of illness. I've come to realise that it's incredibly unhealthy to have 6, 9, 12 and even 18 months without a proper holiday. I need a week away. I need a week of rest and relaxation, and ideally that would be with my girlfriend, if I haven't p*ssed her off and upset her with my unstable mood already.

I wonder if I'll make it - last long enough - to be able to go away on a nice holiday to recharge my batteries. I think that I need to start taking evasive action immediately. I need to be strict with my bedtime. I need to be strict with alcohol. I need to take some mornings off work to catch up on sleep. It might be advisable to take a whole week off and just do nothing for the sake of my health. I know that I've let my health get into a precarious state.

I haven't looked after myself and I need to act.

I could spend a week pottering around my lovely house, with my kitten to keep me company. I think my health would benefit significantly. I need to loosen my grip on my work. I need to relax. I need to rest and recuperate.

Burnout is not good. I'm so sick of burning out. I'm so sick of episodes of mood disorder. I can regain stability, but I need to recognise that I'm not well and I need to act immediately. Yes, I could cling on until the end of July for a holiday with my girlfriend, but there's a huge chance I could get really sick if I try to wait that long. I'm going to have to take some time off work, for health reasons, and it's not the end of the world.

I hope I write again soon that I did the sensible thing, and that I'm getting on top of managing my health. I hope to write that I'm regaining some safety margin, so that I can remain cool, calm and patient, and not be irritable and unpleasant. I hope to write that I'm treating my girlfriend nicely, not being an exhausted wreck, full of insecurity and instability.

I feel super bad that I've mismanaged my illness, but all I can do now is to try to look after myself.

 

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Kiss And Tell

8 min read

This is a story about hookups...

Flowers

I'm not really experienced in the world of dating. I've had plenty of long-term relationships. I've been a serial monogamist for most of my adult life. Dating is not really I thing that I do. I don't enjoy it. I find it an unpleasant prelude to the ultimate aim, which is to be in a committed relationship with somebody.

Friends who have been married for decades tell me that I should enjoy myself and revel in the opportunity to go on dates with lots of different potential love interests. They tell me that I should see the whole process as a great chance to test the water with a whole bunch of different prospective girlfriends. They are somewhat jealous of what they perceive to be a pleasurable and fun exercise.

I don't struggle to cope with situations outside of my comfort zone. I don't struggle with new people and places. I don't struggle with having an unsettled, insecure life, where people come and go and I'm continuously in new and unfamiliar situations. In fact, I'm probably one of the more resilient folks you might come across - you can plonk me just about anywhere, and I'll cope.

However, I have a choice.

I don't really want to be dating. I don't really want to be single. I don't really want the things that people who've been married for decades think would be really fun and cool.

I want familiarity, comfort, security, routine, stability, normality... I want the ordinary and the everyday.

I want to wake up next to my long-term partner. I want to say "have a good day honey" and "hi honey I'm home". I want 95% of my conversations to be about what we're going to eat for dinner and watch on TV. I want that comfortable loveliness which comes from being in a secure monogamous regular relationship.

Dating as a long protracted affair, consuming a great deal of time and energy, is an exhausting and pointless exercise to me. Why would I take a torturously circuitous route to achieving the end result when there is clearly a straight-line from A to B? I see no value in the whole dating and courtship business.

"It's better to be single than in a bad relationship" is something that people in bad relationships tell me all the time. It's idiotic, because I've almost made an artform out of putting up with bad relationships; making things work. If anybody can tell you about whether it's better to be single, or better to try and make something work which is deeply flawed, it's me who is the goddam expert.

I'm exhausted by loneliness and isolation, in a way that most people cannot understand. Most people have their families, their friends, their partner, their children. Most people live lives which have a minimum amount of social contact, to make their existence tolerable. A quick glance at my mobile phone would confirm that my life is very different from that of ordinary people: who would I phone and discuss my day with? Who would I contact to tell my plans? Who would message me to ask me to run the most ordinary everyday errands? None of that is included in my life. My life is atypical in the extreme.

Who are the significant people in an ordinary person's life? If it's not their mum, their partner, their siblings, their best friends, then it's often their doctor or some other person who's otherwise involved in a caring/therapeutic profession. Humans are social animals and it's highly distressing for us find ourselves cut adrift from family ties and romantic bonds.

The demands of my job and my recent house move have consumed the lion's share of my energy, and I feel unable to apportion enough of my time to the task of binding myself back to humanity. If I lost my job I'd be done for. I'm lucky enough to have friends all over the world, but we need to interact with people face-to-face every day. We need hugs. We need tactile contact. We need the reassurance of knowing that there are people nearby who care about us.

My efforts to date local singles have not gone unrewarded, and I have more options than I'm able to actively pursue - life has been generous towards me as always - but ironically I deeply detest dating and the entire rigmarole, despite results being forthcoming with relative ease. To me, it seems as though I am still a million miles away from what I really want - a committed loving relationship - but I suppose the speed at which I live my life vastly exceeds what is considered ordinary and average.

Of the relationships I've had in the last 3 years, two of those girlfriends were unquestionably amazing people who I was very lucky to have had the opportunity to share a period of my life with. Even the 'worst' relationship during the period in question was what I wanted at the time, and it served its purpose - I'm no fool and I got exactly what I wanted out of it, which was to have a period of settled, secure, loving companionship. I can't share any of the details with you - it would be disrespectful and inexcusable given my current mental stability - but I can tell you that the worst moments were worth putting up with, at the time. Sadly, I can also see that a couple of very lovely girlfriends were unreasonably treated by me, as casualties of my dreadfully unstable life and unreliable mood.

What do I have to offer today? Perhaps I should be single and learn how to be perfect?

What a load of bullshit.

I'm not an inexperienced kid. I'm not an idiot. I know what's good about relationships and I know what's bad. I know red flags when I see them, and I know what my weaknesses and insecurities are. I know what I want.

I know that I'm happier being single, with the possibility of meeting somebody amazing, versus the situation I was in before where I was working very hard to make a relationship work, because it had marginal benefits at the time. The value of potentially meeting another love of my life is not something that should be underestimated, but neither should the misery of loneliness, especially considering my life circumstances: estranged from my family and without a group of local friends; dangerously isolated and alone.

Of course it's easy to say that I should be fixing my social life and getting back into my hobbies before I think about offering myself up as a prospective partner, but the people who suggest that are absolute fucking idiots who know nothing about how lucky they are to have their families, friends and every other part of the fabric of their lives. They know nothing about what it's like to live in such torturous isolation. They can fuck right off.

My life's stability and routine has been dangerously damaged by my need to form human attachment, so fundamental to liveable existence. I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't, so of course I've ploughed time and energy into meeting somebody who might turn out to be a really great girlfriend. My life's experiences have taught me that having a partner has brought incredible joy in the past, and my behaviour is always driven by well-reasoned decisions which deliver the greatest possible return on investment.

I work hard, which brings me a great deal of financial income, and I am dating hard, which will hopefully bring me the emotional and otherwise intangible rewards of meeting a companion. It might sound like an all-or-nothing risky gamble, but you'd only think that if you enjoy the luxurious position of having a life filled with lots of things which I don't have. You are unable to empathise with the isolation of my situation.

It's late and I'm exhausted. My sleep routine is ruined. My stress levels are through the roof. The demands placed upon me are beyond sustainable limits, but I must plough onwards, because "if you're going through hell, keep going".

I have no idea how things are going to work out for me, given that I'm in a much more alien situation than I've been in previously, which undermines my confidence that "everything's going to work out just fine". I know that past experience has taught me that things always work out, but the unsettling and destabilising recent events, leaving me in strange and unfamiliar circumstances, cause me to redouble my efforts to seek the security I so desperately crave; the attachment that's so dangerously absent in my life.

It's a strange catch 22 situation. I need to invest energy to save myself, but by exhausting myself I put myself in great danger of reaching a limit which is not safe. I suppose I'm hoping for a well-timed lifeline, which life has often supplied, luckily.

I guess luck has always been in my favour, but I work very hard to manufacture that good luck.

 

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