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

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

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A Fool And His Money

5 min read

This is a story about wartime thrift...

Paradise

There are a couple of sayings which really annoy me, because they are untrue and misleading. The first is "if you watch the pennies the pounds look after themselves" and the second is "a fool and his money are easily parted". The people who quote these sayings most often are terrible advice givers whose own wealth - if they have any at all - has not come from thrift or lack of foolishness. The people who quote these sayings are absolute idiots.

We can use other common sayings to demolish the idiocy.

"You've got to speculate to accumulate" and "buy low sell high" are both pretty obvious and self-explanatory, aren't they? These sayings are far more useful than the former ones, but there's a problem: most people don't have any spare money.

I placed a sizeable bet yesterday which looked as if it was going to provide a decent return on my investment. In fact, I lost the bet, but I was able to hedge my position and as such I didn't lose more than I was prepared to risk. In no way was my betting foolish. In fact, my betting was very smart because I was in a position where I stood to make a considerable capital gain, and my risk was hedged. The main thing we should remember though, is that I was not only able to afford to place the bets, but I was also able to afford to lose the money. Most people do not have the luxury of being able to speculate like I can, because they don't have the 'disposable' income.

Other things I've spent substantial sums of money on in the last year include my house, the furniture within it, a bengal kitten and a lot of cat supplies, a holiday to Turkish Disneyland and a holiday to Tulum in Mexico. I consider none of this money to have been wasted.

It probably seems pretty whacky for a 39-year-old single man to go on holiday to a theme-park resort, but what the hell is wrong with you if you don't want to ride rollercoasters, water slides, surf artificial waves as well as enjoy some winter sunshine in a place which was created with precision engineering to bring absolute delight to its visitors? I laughed with joy at so many of the little surprise things on that holiday, including the delightful theme-park hotel which was designed very much for children, but I assure you can be enjoyed just as much by any adult. That whole holiday was perfect, except that I felt a little lonely and out of place as a single man in a family resort.

My decision to go to Tulum in Mexico was taken on a whim, because my [ex-]girlfriend had told me that she had dreamed of going there for years, but she didn't possess the financial means for that trip to ever come to fruition for her - she would never have been able to save up enough money to visit one of the most desirable holiday destinations on the planet. The arrangement worked well for me, in that I was able to get some more winter sun and do some kitesurfing, plus all the Mayan ruins and stuff were very cool. Some people might say that I was taken advantage of financially, given her complete lack of monetary contribution, but it was a manyfold times more enjoyable trip because I had her company and I took pleasure from taking her to her dream holiday destination.

I've been spending lots of money eating out in restaurants, getting takeaway deliveries and I just booked another holiday. It's been over 6 months since my last holiday, so I think I've earned it.

I spend a lot of money.

Money flows in-between my fingers, as if I was grabbing handfuls of fine white coral sand on one of the beautiful beaches where I sometimes take my holidays. Does it bother me that I spend vast sums of money instead of hoarding as much as possible; living like a miser? Does it bother me that all I have to show for the money I've spent is an amazing house, a beautiful kitten and some incredible memories of unforgettable experiences? No. I'm no fool.

I've ploughed money into seemingly lost-causes, such as donating small sums of money to a friend who I'm trying to financially support through a difficult period of his life, to the point where he can hopefully be self-sufficient. It's damn hard escaping poverty. I feel as though it's my duty to spread the wealth. I feel as though it's very unfair that I can make lots of money because I already have plenty of money. Those who have the most money make the most money. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That's unfair.

I think it's victim-blaming to say that the poor would become rich if they were more careful with their money, and I find that kind of thinking very offensive.

 

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Domestic Bliss

9 min read

This is a story about basic human needs...

Tiny kitten

For a very long time I've been complaining about how slowly life has been progressing. It has been a source of immense boredom, frustration, annoyance, irritation, loneliness, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, exasperation, exhaustion and a general waste of my limited mortal lifespan, to have to sit around waiting for the hands of the clock to move; for the grains of sand in the hourglass to fall one-by-one through the narrow opening, at an agonisingly slow rate.

I've viewed life's core problems as fourfold: work, money, love and home. I can survive without a job, but I'm on borrowed time - eventually my savings and credit will be exhausted and I'll become destitute. I can survive without money, provided some good Samaritan is kind enough to offer food and lodgings for free. I can survive without love, but without it life seems pointless and unpleasant; not worth living for. I can survive with quite primitive shelter, but it's immensely damaging for my sense of wellbeing and self-esteem to be sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens, for example.

Getting a job is probably the easiest of all the problems to solve. I've always been very employable and I command a high rate of remuneration wherever I am. My skills can be put to good use almost anywhere, mercifully.

Getting money follows as a natural consequence of getting a job. So long as I'm well enough to work, money will quickly follow. Mercifully, money flows in at a rapid rate, which can relatively quickly replenish my depleted savings and enable me to spend money on other things which are very cash-hungry, such as housing.

Getting a nice house is a little bit trickier sometimes as I'm occasionally classified as "self employed" and expected to prove to an unreasonable degree that my earning potential is far in excess of my financial obligations. I've previously been asked to pay an entire year's rent in advance, which is particularly unreasonable. To tie-up an entire year's rent in a single lump-sum payment poses significant cashflow problem, even for a high earner, especially if there is furniture to purchase and other moving-related expenses. To furnish my house with just the basics has been expensive and exhausting, and my bedroom still lacks a wardrobe and a chest-of-drawers. There is a long way still to go with furnishing my house.

Getting love seems like the final hurdle. I have very low self-esteem if I'm not working, earning, able to spend money and living somewhere lovely. So many people will ask "what have [I] got to offer anybody?" and tell me that I should be single, but those people are wrong. Sure, it might be a mistake to be in a bad relationship purely because of being too afraid of being alone, but it's so often those who have been happily married for years, who have forgotten how truly awful it is to be lonely, who offer the unsolicited advice that being single must be brilliant fun. It's not. I hate dating.

There are two important things I need to write about.

Firstly, I can settle for temporary relationships of convenience and turn a blind eye to red flags. I can make things work with a person who ultimately I can see I have no long-term future with. However, I never take my eyes off the prize. I know when I meet somebody very special - an incredibly rare event - and I know the difference between love, lust, temporary infatuation, and comfortable relationships which are only marginally better than being single. I'm quite capable of having a lovely time with somebody - something casual - but I have always maintained the hope of meeting somebody I'm really well matched with, who hopefully I can have a much more serious, loving relationship with. I have only been in love twice in my life, with a third time which was very promising but was never able to come to fruition - we'll never know what might have been. I use the word "love" very carefully and sparingly. When I say "I love you" or suchlike, a lot of thought has gone into what I'm saying, and there are deep feelings behind those words; those words are not said cheaply or easily, without a great deal of thought and scrutiny of my emotions.

Secondly, breakups do cause me a lot of distress, but I am not the kind of person who's unable to handle a breakup without it threatening my safety. Indeed, I very actively avoid the situation where I feel as though my world would be destroyed, leaving me suicidal, if I lost the love of my life. It's extremely unwise to over-invest in something so fragile as a human relationship, even if it appears to be fully reciprocated. I've been through divorce, so I know that even the most solemn of vows and binding of legal contracts, with the lengthy preceding relationship, is not enough to give any guarantees of security. I don't like unpleasant sudden surprises which will cause my life quality to be massively adversely affected, hence why I was so shaken by the events of last week, but even somebody who I'm totally in love with is not duty-bound to stay with me, for fear of me committing suicide. I would never say "if you leave me I'll kill myself" or commit suicide in direct response to a breakup.

Last week, my job was going incredibly well, my finances were in great shape, my house was looking amazing and my romantic relationship was awesome. I had a long weekend planned, which was going to begin with getting a kitten, and be spent in a state of domestic bliss, with the girl of my dreams, in an amazing home, loads of money in the bank, brilliant job and with a cute little fur baby scampering around.

Then, things looked like they were going to get ruined.

It's not that I was going to lose the relationship which was the sole reason why I went from on-top-of-the-world to suicidally depressed, but that the accompanying awfulness was too much to bear, as a sudden shock. Of course, I wouldn't have lost my money, my house or my job, but the approaching weekend - which I had been looking forward to so much - had a completely different complexion, as a suddenly single man.

What actually happened was that my girlfriend and I drove to pick up my little kitten, full of excitement and anticipation, drove the delightful little furball back to my amazing house, had delicious wine and Chinese takeaway and spend an amazing evening with my playful affectionate new pet. We woke up with a purring fur baby in bed with us. We spent the weekend on the sofa, eating delectable food, sharing our passion for similar cultural entertainment, and making a fuss over the cute little kitten... the most perfect weekend imaginable.

The difference between what actually happened and what could have happened might not seem great enough to have prompted the decision to not get a kitten and to hang myself, but we must be aware that it has been a very long hard journey from sleeping in a bush in Kensington Palace Gardens - utterly destitute - to get to this point.

Breakups have caused me a great deal of trauma in the past, with my divorce being the most extreme example, which tore through my life destroying nearly everything, myself included. However, I know what love is and I know what kind of life I want. I know the core elements that will make my life pleasant, liveable, sustainable and full of joy. I'm no fool: I know what I've got to do, and I've been patiently rebuilding my life, choosing very carefully.

As I write this, I have my little kitten peacefully napping on my chest, as I'm lying on my chaise-longue in a parquet-floored period home, with huge high ceilings and massive bay windows. I've had a great day at work and I've earned a lot of money. I have a beautiful girlfriend who I think is amazing, who will be coming to see me later. My life is exceptionally awesome.

How will I react if the relationship ends? Who can say? What I can say with certainty though, is that I've dealt with exceptional adversity in my life and survived, and of course I am incredibly unlikely to hurt myself while I still have the energy to keep fighting and patiently battling to achieve a decent quality of life.

Given some medical emergencies which have nearly claimed my life, and becoming totally destroyed by my divorce, perhaps I should be happy to live in a dumpster, in rags, with no love at all; perhaps I should just be happy that I'm not dead. No. I'm not content to merely be alive. I want it all: love, money, job and house... and a little kitten.

I hope that things work out with my girlfriend and I. I think she's amazing and I think we're really well matched, but who knows how things are going to pan out in future. Of course, I hope that she's "the one" but it's early days. If things don't work out, that's life - I still get to keep my great job, my great house and I still have the love of my little kitten.

This might sound quite different from how I sounded last week, but you have to understand the massive disappointment that I was facing. I would be disappointed if things didn't pan out with my girlfriend, but it doesn't have to be so devastating and shocking and sudden. Life is usually a little more stable and predictable.

Anyway, I had a great weekend of domestic bliss.

 

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Summer's Here

4 min read

This is a story about unseasonably good weather...

Sun tan lotion

While my colleagues have been enjoying Easter holidays, it's been 4 months since I took some time off work. Having the long 4-day Easter weekend was very pleasant, and there are two more long weekends in May. The Easter bank holiday weekend was particularly nice because it was sunny and warm.

A friend asked if I'd like to join him and his family for a picnic in the park, which I thought was madness, given that we're still in April and the nights can be decidedly cold. However, it was very pleasantly warm, even as the sun started to go down.

During the daytime over the Easter weekend, it felt most summery indeed. My skin is pretty tolerant of the UK sun, so I didn't really need sun tan lotion, but I was able to wear flip-flops and sunglasses, with short sleeves, and it felt like summer.

Summer is my favourite time of year.

There are a number of juggling balls I've got midair at the moment. Work, house, relationships, friendships, money, car, bills and admin... the usual crap that almost everybody has to worry about. Somehow, I'm managing to keep all the plates spinning reasonably well at the moment, which bodes very well for having a good summer.

Last year, a catastrophic chain of events screwed up my job, my relationships, some friendships, and put my whole situation - regarding housing and finances - into jeopardy. I got very sick and I was worried I was going to lose everything: my life is fragile.

This year, my approach has been exactly the same: I'm working hard on an important IT project, I have a place to live which I like, dating is going well, I'm starting to make friends, my finances are in good shape - things are looking extremely promising, but I know how quickly everything can crumble.

Last year, I ended up snatching a couple of days away with a good friend - a boy's trip away - which was amazing, but my life had been destabilised and my future was uncertain. By the time the summer arrived, I didn't feel in a position to enjoy it at all, and in fact I hardly saw the sunshine at all. When a new job came along, I took it immediately and worked all summer, including the day of my birthday.

Although I have had a very good run of luck, including a fantastic holiday over the Christmas and New Year period, I feel like I would like to celebrate my achievements and hard work by going away on holiday for my birthday. It's a little extravagant and it's an avoidable expense, but I feel like it would be great to have a summer break, to recharge the batteries ready for the long slog through to the autumn.

Perhaps it's not necessary to go abroad. A staycation can be just as great as going overseas. In fact, the UK is fantastic if you're lucky with the weather. Certainly, the Easter bank holiday weekend felt like being on holiday in a country with a much better climate than our own fair shores.

I guess it's something to aim for; something a little bit more exciting than domestic purchases of boring things for around the house. It feels like a way of psychologically declaring 2019 to be "a good year" which is important to me, given the number of "bad years" I've had. It hasn't been since 2016 that things were going smoothly in my life, when I went away for a lovely holiday to celebrate my birthday.

There's something really nice about having a holiday when things are going well - to be settled at home, in a relationship, work going well, financially secure, social interaction and other things which make life bearable - is important if you're going to be able to relax and enjoy yourself.

My life is becoming increasingly good, especially considering how much I was struggling with stress and anxiety very recently. I was overwhelmed and too exhausted, depressed and anxious to think about doing nice things, but now the landscape is starting to look very different.

 

Of course, I must say that I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in, and I'm trying not to feel "entitled" to things, but it's no accident that I'm in the situation I'm in - there has been hard work, struggle and suffering to endure, so I don't feel too guilty about planning a nice holiday for myself, to celebrate my birthday in July.

 

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Suddenly Everything is OK

5 min read

This is a story about overnight recovery...

Flip flops

One day you can't feel your leg. One day a leg is twice the size of the other one. One day your kidneys have stopped working. One day you're in agony from muscle and nerve damage caused by DVT. One day you're in hospital on dialysis and you're very sick. One day you're physically dependent on a medication which you've been buying on the black market, and you'll have seizures if you stop taking it. One day you're so addicted to a drug that you won't sleep, eat or drink, because you don't want to stop your binge for a single second. One day you're virtually bankrupt. One day you're homeless. One day you're jobless. One day your mental health is so bad that you're hearing voices, seeing things and you're paranoid about everybody and everything, to the point where you think even the person who loves you the most in the world is your enemy.

Then, overnight, you recover.

Overnight, all your physical health problems are cured.

Overnight, your mental health problems are cured.

Overnight, all your substance dependency - addiction - problems are solved.

Overnight, you have a house.

Overnight, you have a job.

Overnight, your debts are repaid.

Overnight, you have lots of money.

Nope.

Just nope.

I was rummaging in the boxes of stuff which managed to survive the chaotic years of my life and I found a pair of flip-flops with a piece of string tied to them. The string is there because I couldn't feel my foot and I couldn't control its movement - I couldn't walk properly. When I was walking in flip-flops, the left one would just fall off after ten or twenty steps, because I didn't have enough feeling in my toes to be able to 'grip' the flip-flop properly. The string was my improvised attempt to be able to wear my beloved flip-flops during some nice weather.

My attempt at using a piece of string to fix my inability to wear flip-flops was a lovely metaphor for the attempts I was making to solve all my problems, overnight.

That was two years ago.

Things got a lot worse before they got better.

Things were so bad that on the very worst day of my life, I woke up in an hospital intensive care ward, with a tube down my throat forcing air into my lungs, a tube up my nose and into my stomach, forcing activated charcoal and other things into me, 6 canulas all for pumping me full of various things, an arterial canula for measuring my blood pressure with incredible accuracy, plus I was attached to an 8-cable ECG machine, a clip on my finger measured my blood oxygen and I had been catheterised - I noticed that a tube coming out of my penis had been taped to the inside of my leg. The worst thing was that I was alive.

I did not want to be alive.

I had tried very hard not to be alive.

Physically I was alive, but I was still very sick - my kidneys and other organs had shut down and I had been in a coma - and I was also going through benzodiazepine withdrawal, which is both life-threatening and thoroughly unpleasant.

I was alive, but it turned out I didn't have a job or a home anymore.

I was single and without any friends. I was in a strange city where I didn't know anybody. I didn't have enough money to rent a place to live and support myself until I got my first paycheque. I was utterly screwed.

So, of course I still very much wanted to be dead.

Now, I have a nice house, full of nice things. I've made some friends and I've met some women. I go on dates. Sometimes those dates go really well. I have a job. I earn a lot of money. My finances are sorted out. I'm no longer addicted to drugs or physically dependent on medication. I hardly even drink - perhaps once a week, socially.

I can wear flip-flops.

Weirdly, the nerve damage repaired itself enough so that I have enough sensation in my foot to be able to wear flip-flops, run, go kitesurfing and do the other things I always used to do.

I don't know if I'm happy - there's still a lot of insecurity in my life; I live with an unacceptable amount of jeopardy for a person to have to suffer. I don't have enough friends in the local area. I don't have a girlfriend. I haven't established myself in my new home city. I've barely even started to unpack my stuff.

Compared with two years ago, my life does look like an overnight success. I'm good at my job and my colleagues are grateful for my contribution to the team and the project. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together, and my life is beginning to look viable.

It's strange how people expect to be able to 'save' people who - on closer examination - have such a clusterf**k of issues that it's easy why some would think they're a "lost cause" and abandon them.

I'm grateful to that handful of people who didn't give up on me; who didn't write me off and abandon me.

 

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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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Ignorant Of My Own Stupidity

7 min read

This is a story about benchmarks...

Crossed wires

There's no way for me to really know how much permanent brain damage I've inflicted upon myself. There's no way to know how much cognitive impairment I've caused. There's no way to know how many brain cells I've killed and how much grey matter I've destroyed. Most of the time I feel fine - no change - but sometimes I have a sudden panic that I've lost a lot of my ability to think.

My concentration span is ruined, but I think that's a pretty endemic problem given the ubiquity of smartphones and social media. The reasons for my brain damage are pretty obviously down to neurotoxicity of chemicals I've put into my body, but it's hard to know what I'd be like if I hadn't lived through that period of drug abuse. I feel dumb, but maybe I'd have been made dumb by other stuff anyway, like the steady stream of mind-numbing entertainment which is available over the internet.

I learned some new things in the past 15 months, so my ability to learn doesn't seem totally ruined. I achieved some difficult projects, so my ability to deliver complex pieces of work also seems to be functioning OK. This is a relief - at least my brain is functioning OK in a professional capacity. The demands seem relatively light on my brain - not too taxing - except for the concentration issues and the boredom. The boredom has always been an issue.

I think about the incidence rate of me saying or doing stupid stuff. Sometimes I worry that I'm saying just as much dumb stuff as ever, but then I look at the frequency of the really bad dumb stuff, and I realise that my spectacular own-goals are becoming less and less frequent. When I screw up, it's not as long and protracted and it doesn't cause as much damage.

Of course, I haven't done the data-collection and analysis, but I'm usually right. My hunches are usually correct, because I do collect data as I go along and I regularly compare periods of time using hard numbers.

Still, I can't quite shake the feeling that I've made myself pretty dumb through my abuse of drugs.

I think it's useful that I don't drink caffeinated beverages. I think that caffeine gives me a kind of false sense of security and overconfidence. I'm sure that caffeine is to blame for tipping me into a manic state.

It's kinda useful that I don't drink alcohol. When I quit drinking once in 2015 it was followed by a bad period of mood instability that ultimately cost me a job, financial security and then ultimately resulted in going back to square one. I'm undecided about the role alcohol has in my life, but at the moment I'm glad to be getting my intoxicants in the form of a measured dose, which is not fattening or otherwise damaging to my physical health.

I feel a little stupefied by medication. I feel quite drugged and intoxicated. I have no idea what I'm going to feel like once I finally manage to wean myself off all the pills.

It's very hard to judge where I'm at.

I look at metrics such as my average earnings. The data is very positive.

I look at metrics like my step count. The data is very negative.

I look at things like the tightness of my belt, and things are very positive again. I look at myself in the mirror when I get out of the shower and I can visibly see the improvement. There's no denying the substantial physical change - I'm losing weight and looking healthier.

I combine everything into a generalised view and I can see that this summer is likely to deliver a continued decline, which the step count data robustly supports, as well as my general perception that I've had a couple of terrible years in a row. However, the future is somewhat in my own hands, so I can choose in advance to make plans for the summer which will be something to look forward to. I can plan to succeed, instead of waiting to fail.

I know that having a girlfriend would make life more bearable, but I also know that it has always provoked instability too. I know that breakups have been the catalyst for the most self-destructive behaviour in my life. I find myself wanting some validation that I've done well. I find myself driven by insecurity a little - wanting to reassure myself that I'm still attractive.

I find that my addiction hasn't been cured. I've had thoughts which have resisted suppression, surfacing from my subconscious. I'm experienced enough to know exactly what part of my brain is plotting. I can see all the warning signs. However, I think I've proven that I'm disciplined enough to resist and get through difficulties. It's been too hard to get here - I'm not going to screw things up.

It's difficult to live with so many episodes of boom and bust. There's so many examples to analyse. I can see all the things that have worked very well, and I can see all the things which have been utterly disastrous. It should be good to have so many experiences to draw upon, but it's actually a bit frustrating. Theoretically, I know all the right moves, but linking them together into a dance is not at all easy.

I endlessly analyse everything. I extrapolate. I predict.

My predictions don't make for comfortable reading. I can see that my improvements are only marginal, while the long-term trend is pretty dreadful. I can see that there's a lot of hard work ahead with very little reward. However, I do know that for every year that I'm well more than I'm sick, my situation will improve and my quality of life is much better. For every year that I work more than I don't, my finances improve, which opens the doors to a world of possibilities. Better finances means better living conditions, which means better state of mind, better self-esteem and a whole load of things that I want become easier to get.

I'm not so stupid that I can't see my mistakes and the damage I've done to myself. I'm not so stupid that I can't take premeditated steps to try to change my own future and improve my ultimate outcome. However, I do admit that my intellect has thus far never been something that's stopped me from doing dumb stuff.

I've retreated into my own mind, so it's very hard for me to ask other people whether they can see me improving or declining. My perceptions have been very badly impaired in the past. It's virtually impossible to know whether I'm on the brink of breakthrough or disaster.

It's kind of a make-or-break time. Either the universe gives me everything I want, at long last, or I really have been banging my head against a brick wall all this time. The next few months will determine whether I'm bouncing back or whether I'm doomed.

I've seen a few documentaries about people recovering from traumatic brain injuries, and I see that they can achieve remarkable recovery, but personality change and some impairment seems to always linger. I suppose these things don't matter, in my world where I've successfully re-invented myself. Nobody much remembers who I was and what I was capable of anyway, so perhaps it's helpful that there's no benchmark for me to get depressed about.

 

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Asleep On My Feet

5 min read

This is a story about sleeping pills...

Attic

The existence of this photo is something quite remarkable, even though it's hard to understand if you're not me. This photo captures the end of my attempt to smoothly extricate myself from an acrimonious divorce and pick up my life in London again with little damage. This photo captures the beginning of an astonishingly difficult period of my life - the part that contains all the homelessness and hospitalisations.

I try to compartmentalise everything, and to compare present experiences with past ones to see if I'm repeating patterns of behaviour which are flawed.

One experience which is oddly haunting is that of walking around in a somewhat out-of-body state; tunnel vision. I can hear my mouth talking - I can hear my voice - but it doesn't feel like I'm saying the words... I just hear them. It feels like I'm dreaming.

My brain is recovering from an avalanche of pills I've shoved down my throat in the past fortnight. I'm surprised I haven't suffered seizures or kidney failure, given the cocktail of chemicals I've swallowed.

I forget that I messed up my brain chemistry.

I wonder why I can't concentrate and my anxiety has gone through the roof. I wonder why my perception of time is so warped: The seconds and minutes are dragging along, taking hours and days to pass. My days in the office have been difficult, but my days at home have been no easier. There's no respite from the problems of my mind, my mood, my perceptions - I can't escape my brain.

I forget that I stopped drinking.

I wonder why the days are so long and I seem to have so much more time to do stuff. I wonder why I'm more able to cope. I wonder why I'm not so overwhelmed by things. Then I remember that I'm not shackled to alcohol anymore. I get to Friday and I start thinking that I should get drunk, but then I remember that it doesn't help, but it definitely hinders.

I think about all the detoxes and rehabs and I try to tell myself that £12,000 and 28 days in The Priory - the UK's Betty Ford - isn't enough to 'cure' me then I should go easy on myself. I think that I should allow at least four weeks since any major incident, before deciding that things are broken and won't get better. I think that 6 weeks is better, as a period of recuperation. I think that perhaps 3 months is best of all - 3 months stability and routine is the minimum, before making any big changes.

I always tried to rush things. I got very impatient and I tried to hurry things along. It ended badly.

I got very agitated. I got very angry. Nobody seemed to understand the urgency. Everybody seemed to be getting in my way.

The universe doesn't like to be hurried, it seems.

I think about how many different things I wanted in a short space of time. I wanted to work with my hands. I wanted to not work in an office. I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to be the CEO of a tech startup. I wanted investors. I wanted to win. Then, I wanted rapid promotions and progression. I wanted to make a notable contribution. I wanted to have a say in everything.

I thought I was going somewhere.

I can look back and laugh at myself, but I must've carried some of that same person from the past into the present, which means I'm laughable today too.

I did learn to keep my mouth shut though, a little bit.

I think it's an interesting story, but I'm biased. I find it interesting that I was held back for years, which was frustrating, but then I squandered many years as an addict, which made absolutely bugger all difference. Instead of screwing up my whole career and future earning potential, my profession just patiently waited to accept me back once I'd got a lot of nonsense out of my system.

What terrifies me is how many years it's been and how similar this feeling is - of being asleep on my feet - to that feeling I had when I thought I was managing to escape my screwed up life and start over again, back in London. It's terrifying to think I haven't progressed at all, except I'm older and I've damaged my body and brain quite a lot.

I thought "OK time to stop now" a long time ago, and then found that I couldn't. The things that I didn't want to happen - like losing all my money and sleeping rough - happened and I landed up having major medical emergencies. I'm smart enough that I made it this far and my story is kinda remarkable, but anything that's vaguely similar to the past gives me a lot of superstitious heebie-jeebies.

This weekend is tougher than I thought it'd be. I'm not as far progressed with my finances as I thought I'd be. I'm not as clean and sober as I'd hoped I would be. There have been setbacks. My journey has been nonlinear.

What's surprising is that the universe has just handed me some major life components. Whether I'm intent on screwing up my entire life or whether I'm trying to achieve something great, pretty much the same outcomes seem to happen. I'm pretty convinced that free-will is an illusion. I don't feel like I'm just observing, but the evidence seems to be that I don't have any control.

Of course, I have too few 'normal' experiences to really benchmark where I'm at. I have too few 'normal' human interactions to gauge whether I've lost my mind or whether I'm OK. I'm completely free from any oversight. I'm untethered.

I don't know what's going on and I'm starting to ramble. I feel very peculiar.

 

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I Lost 5 Years of my Life

6 min read

This is a story about the wilderness...

Endless desks

Why am I not more rich and comfortable? Why don't I have financial security and a home which nobody can evict me from? Why do all my years of experience and all the massive multinational corporations on my CV assure me a comfortable standard of living?

Conversely, why haven't I ended up with a criminal record? Why haven't I ended up in jail? Why am I not dead?

Why am I not bankrupt? Why am I not sleeping rough? Why am I not an alcoholic or a drug addict?

Why is my physical health OK? Why is my mental health OK?

I've picked up my life and carried on as if nothing happened, but something very major did happen.

Luckily I had a head-start of 3 or 4 years on my peer group, at least in terms of career progression and the accumulation of wealth. When we do the math, it seems I'm no more than 1 or 2 years behind where I should be, and I'm rapidly catching up again.

I get frustrated that it's going to take a couple of years before I'm back in the position - in material terms - which matches my skillset and experience. I get frustrated that there's no way that I can accelerate the process of clawing my way back to the position in society which I used to occupy.

I could have arrived back at a position of health, wealth and prosperity much sooner, but my experiences during my wilderness years have altered me for life. Most people live in terror of loss: Losing money, losing assets, losing relationships and damaging their reputation. I learned during the difficult wilderness years that the world is a big enough place that even the most madcap escapades go entirely unnoticed.

It is with great pleasure and pride that I am returning myself to a position of status which gradually begins to approach the status I held before my fall from grace.

Is it shallow and vain and pretentious, to wish to maintain our status in society?

Bullshit.

At first, it was an adventure to sell my house, sell my car, give away all my possessions, sleep rough and truly start my life all over again. I felt a great sense of relief that I was unburdened by the constant worry that what I had worked so hard to get and to achieve, would be stolen or damaged. It was liberating and I had the time of my life, truly free from any sense of responsibilities or duties. I entrusted my fate to good fortune, and a healthy dollop of my own wit and ingenuity.

Then, I realised that my wide-eyed innocence and trust in people laid me wide open to exploitation. I'm sure I hardly had any money stolen off me by other homeless people, but as I began to get my life back on track, I found that there are an entitled, spoiled, brattish, immoral group of people who've never known suffering or deprivation, and they see it as their birthright to dip their hand into my wallet, instead of paying their own way. I attracted a lot of freeloaders, who had no guilt or conscience, when it came to stealing from me - these were people who've never slept rough; these were people who've never known what it's like to lose everything, and they never will, because they're spoiled brats who can telephone their mothers and fathers and receive massive cash handouts. Those freeloaders will never have setbacks in their lifetimes, because they're from wealthy, generous, loving families.

It's a source of great shame and damage to my self-esteem that I drive a very battered and rusty old car, and that I live in rented home in one of the poorest areas of the country. It's a source of great shame and embarrassment that I have indebted myself in order to pay my rent and bills, simply to house myself and feed myself. It's a source of constant worry and anxiety that my work colleagues might wonder why one of their "superstar" consultants dresses in worn-out clothes and gives away other clues which hint that the wealth they would expect me to have, is not present: I'm poor.

It's shit being poor. It's shit being poor when you work in a world where everybody who does my job as well as I do is not poor. The loss of status should not be underestimated.

When a man loses status, he is highly likely to lose his life.

It's one of the hardest things to do, to recover from a major setback, which has ruined your finances, your secure housing, your material possessions, like your new car and your nice clothes. The hard thing is knowing that everybody can see that you fucked up and it takes years and years and years to put things right. Some people will never be able to recover.

My recovery is not about mental health. My recovery is not about alcohol. My recovery is not about drugs. My recovery is about self-esteem, which is damaged so drastically, and is so hard to repair, that for most people they will just give up and kill themselves. It's a fatal blow.

One of the reasons I keep trying and I keep writing, is because I want to be one of the few people who's lived to tell the tale of coming back from such a major setback. Plenty of people have survived, but few have gone on to thrive. I want to tell the story of regaining my pride and my dignity, and of being indistinguishable from a person who didn't spend 5 lost years in the wilderness.

This is our little secret. Every day I pay off a little bit more of my debt and I fix up a little bit more of my life. Every day I become a little bit more like the person I would've been, if it hadn't been for my missing 5 years. This is our secret, because the joke is on those people who have absolutely no idea what I've been through.

At work, I feel so proud that I'm doing valuable work and I'm almost back to being as good as I always thought I was going to be, by the time I reached the age I am. I'm so proud of the work I do. I'm so pleased that my brain and my natural aptitudes and the talents I was fortuitously given, are being put to good use and I feel as competent and capable as anybody. I don't feel damaged, and that's so important for my self-esteem.

This isn't about pride. This isn't about regret. This is about the damaging effect that loss of status can have on a man, with fatal consequences.

 

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Perfect Storm

4 min read

This is a story about life at the limits...

Cliffs

I suppose that it's a regular complaint of mine that I'm feeling overwhelmed, and it's a regular boast that I've been through some substantial periods of adversity. I'm also aware that the picture I've selected to accompany today's blog post is not exactly very stormy, but it's the best I could come up with in the circumstances.

I stopped writing for a while, which was because my friend killed himself, and also an enormous project kicked off at work, and also I had plans to get myself across the Atlantic Ocean and back again in one piece... plus all the many other important things to numerous to list. In short, I didn't make the time to write and there were a number of very good reasons why I took a break from writing every day.

Now, my friend's funeral is done, my transatlantic jaunt is done and the enormous project at work isn't going to be finished any time soon, so I must resume my daily writing duties, even on days when I don't feel like writing.

This morning I woke up and I felt terrible. I considered not going to work. I got to the office and several of my colleagues told me that I looked awful and said that I should go home. There was snow forecast and local schools were closing. My colleagues weren't doing anything except staring out of the window and/or talking about stockpiling food. I came home early and worked from my bed.

Unfortunately, I have my 'day job' plus my company to run, plus this website, which I have started to attempt to migrate from one place to another, although all these things are behind the scenes. I also treat my writing a bit like a job, in that I sometimes force myself to write even when I'd much rather be doing something else, or I've got a lot on my plate.

The things that get neglected are my sister and my niece, my friends, all the phone-calls I never answer, all the messages and emails I never reply to, and all the tasks which can be deferred for as long as possible. I need a haircut. My car needs servicing. Today is the final day that personal taxes are due to be paid in the UK, and I was close to the deadline as usual. I need to find a new place to live. I need to renew my car insurance. I need to see if my former friend's mum still has my stuff - the majority of my stuff - still stored in her garage, or whether she's disposed of it, since the fallout with the friend.

I quit drinking back in early December, although I did have a couple of drinks on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. Quitting drinking helps, actually. I feel fitter, healthier and I've lost some weight. I find my life to be much improved versus the recent period when I was drinking heavily every single day.

Something's gotta give though.

Today it was my health. Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, it was also my health. Every day I take too many sleeping pills and too many tranquillisers.

Eventually, the weather will improve, my finances will improve, my routine will stabilise, I will get the housing security I need, I will have the regular social contact I need, I will get the exercise I need, I will replace my run-down old car with a newer nicer one, I will replace my worn-out clothes, I will pay off my debts and I will get a haircut.

Not today though.

 

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Stash

10 min read

This is a story about drug dependency...

Pills

This is how I function. This is how I normalise myself. This is how I comply with society's demands. This is how I cope with social jet-lag. In our fit-in-or-fuck-off culture, this is how I conform. These are my crutches. I might appear functional and unimpaired. It might be somewhat insulting or offensive to describe myself as struggling in any way - perhaps I should instead talk about my wealth and privilege and acknowledge that since being born with a silver spoon in my mouth, my life has been uninterrupted gilded luxury; I've never known pain; I've never known suffering.

Think about the starving African children.

I comparison with the 8 or 9 bottles of red wine I was consuming every week - drinking alone - my use of a few sleeping pills and tranquillisers seems relatively safe and healthy.

This is all I have left.

I've had to eke out my dwindling supplies for far longer than I'd expected to. My opportunities to "re-up" have been constricted and constrained. I've been forced into drug withdrawal, which mercifully has been bearable because of my successful rationing strategies.

Insomnia has been the price I've paid for economising; suddenly cutting back on the medications I've become dependent on. Hypomania has been a very real and tangible consequence of the brain chemical destabilisation.

Perhaps I shouldn't meddle with my mind? Perhaps I should put my faith in the medical community? Perhaps there are people who know what's best for me?

Ironically, I'm using these medications - obtained on the black market - to plaster over the cracks and blend in with the very people who are specifically tasked with deciding what's best for you. I'm a member of the paternalistic elite. One should always remember that the people dishing out the advice and prescriptions are just as fucked up as everybody else.

My hypomania constantly threatens to boil over and create a disaster. My hypomania is a constant threat to all the health and wealth I've managed to accumulate this year. My hypomania is almost impossible to conceal, constantly attempting to sneak out from under the cover and camouflage I've carelessly draped over it, in the hopes of it being ignored and not talked about by my discreet, polite and extremely civilised colleagues.

Unable to sufficiently bludgeon my brain into submission to society's demands, using powerful psychiatric medications, my mask slips.

Exhaustion from the toll of 11.5 consecutive months desperately attempting to re-enter civilised society has reduced me to surviving on my instincts. I speak without thinking. It is only my well-practiced and well-rehearsed routines which allow me to continue to appear functional, when my mind has crumbled and descended into outright insanity internally. If I could only sit mute in my office chair at my desk, I would be fine, but unfortunately stuff pops into my head and pours out of my mouth before I have a chance to hold my tongue.

My medication dependency is a cruel mistress. My anxiety skyrockets in the late afternoon and evenings as my short-acting tranquilliser wears off. My insomnia robs me of refreshing and energy-replenishing sleep, leaving me almost paralysed by panic attacks about the simple task of getting out of bed, having a shower, getting dressed and going to work. Unless I take the right amount of pills at the right time, my mask of sanity quickly slips. The illusion of a functional productive member of society quickly evaporates, the moment that I skip a dose or start reducing my medication.

Of course, I'm hopelessly dependent. I admit it. So what?

My life revolves around my regular medication doses. So what?

Doesn't anybody's life revolve around cyclical things? Life and death, sunrise and sunset, summer and winter, weekdays and weekends, work and leisure, awake and asleep, hungry and satiated, horny and spent, love and loss. Some of the cycles are societally and culturally enforced to remain the same year-round, when it's clear that it's unnatural. Why the hell don't we sleep more in winter, when the days are shorter? Why the hell don't we sleep more when we're tired? Who the hell invented the fucking alarm clock and the 9 to 5 office job anyway?

I am quite literally tyrannised and oppressed - abusively coerced - into compliance with health-damaging social rituals, lest I be excluded from society; marginalised. It's in my rational economic self-interest to comply, but it's in the interests of my mental health to refuse to comply. Non-compliance will be met with harsh and intolerable economic sanctions.

Of course I seek out and consume the pharmaceuticals which 'normalise' me and allow me to cope; to function.

You might be surprised that I'm a junkie who needs his fix so that he can work a boring office job. You might think that junkies take drugs to feel pleasure and otherwise get high, but my drug dependency is mandated by the otherwise unbearable awfulness of the 9 to 5 grind.

You might think that people get rich off drugs by selling them. You might think that drugs will ruin your life, my drug dependency has been a mandatory part of repairing my life. Do you really think that it's humanly possible to achieve the kind of comeback - the recovery - which I've managed to complete during the past 11.5 months of turning up at the office and acting normal, without access to the full range of pharmaceutical options?

I've done the impossible: gotten off the streets, where I was sleeping rough, gotten out of the hostels, gotten off the terrible drugs, gotten out of the psych wards, repaid unimaginably huge debts, got myself a place to live of my own, got myself a respectable good job, held down that job, impressed my colleagues, delivered high quality work on time and on budget.

You think that was possible without performance enhancing drugs? Are there laws that say I can't use the very best of medical technology to allow me to function at my very best in a workplace environment? I'm not an athlete. I can use whatever the fuck I want and I have done.

It might seem logical to presume that I must now have a massive drug habit, because I've leaned so heavily on unhealthy coping mechanisms to get me to the point I'm at today.

I use the word "dependency" very carefully.

It's true that technically I am dependent on medications. It's true that abrupt cessation of the 2 or 3 medications I use on a regular basis would be catastrophic for my career, my reputation, my finances, my stability and all the other things in the house-of-cards which constitutes my life.

However, the doses I take are laughably negligible.

Instead of being in a horrible mess, the dose which maintains me in a functional and stable state is totally reasonable and acceptable. The problems I've stored up for the future - by becoming dependent on medications for normal day-to-day functioning - are pathetically tiny insignificant problems compared with the goddam mountainous obstacles I've had to tackle to get this far.

It concerns me that my stash is now critically low, because my whole happy healthy wealthy future hinges upon the continuation of the well-established routine for another 6 to 12 months, at the very least. If I can carry on with my dirty junkie medication dependency for another 18 months I will be rich as fuck compared to the struggling masses, which would be an unexpected result for anybody who's been brainwashed to believe that junkies like me are no-hope losers.

I don't go to the doctor. I don't have a psychiatrist. I don't have a psychologist. I don't have a community mental health team (CMHT) or a crisis team. I do what the fuck I want.

My experiments with being completely medication-free earlier in the year were a total disaster. I do hope that one day I'll be able to quit the pills, but I don't see how I'll ever be able to do when my health needs directly contradict capitalism's need to exploit me as an expendable commodity. There is a fundamental incompatibility between human needs and corporations' needs. There is a systemic inability to cope with anybody who deviates from the top of the bell curve.

I'm different, and I no longer expect society to accomodate me. I accept that I must alter myself - with pharmaceuticals - so that I can accomodate society's inflexible demands for homogeny and conformity.

I swallow a sleeping pill so that my social jet-lag is medically corrected. I swallow a short-acting tranquilliser so that the existential dread of working a pointless bullshit meaningless office job is bearable. I'm not overjoyed or happy to be doing it. In fact, I'm not happy at all about any of the situation. It would be fucking weird if I was artificially happy all the fucking time, because there's not a lot to be happy about during the death-throes of late capitalism.

You know what makes me happy? Spooning. Kittens. Holidays. Sex. Dreaming about going to live in a cabin in the woods. Delicious food. Binging on mindless entertainment. Extreme sports. Writing.

Should I be attempting to live the dream? Should I be trying to have it all? Should I mix work and pleasure?

Yes, I'm going to do all those things but you have to pay to play and it costs a fuckload of cash to make dreams come true.

I'll leave you with this quote:

"The power of inclosing land and owning propriety, was brought into the creation by your ancestors by the sword; which first did murther their fellow creatures, men, and after plunder or steal away their land, and left this land successively to you, their children. And therefore, though you did not kill or theeve, yet you hold that cursed thing in your hand, by the power of the sword; and so you justifie the wicked deeds of your fathers" -- A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England, Gerrard Winstanley

It's up to the reader to decide whether I'm a Lord of the Manor, born into wealth and enjoying inheritance from my ancestors who plundered and stole. The fact that you've persevered reading this text in English using a computer or smartphone puts you into a certain socioeconomic set and suggests a level of academic achievement, which might suggest you might have benefitted equally from "the power of the sword" although you did not "kill or theeve" yourself.

All I can say of myself is that I'm trying to play by the rules in a rigged game. Nobody said I wasn't allowed to use performance enhancing drugs. This isn't sport, it's survival.

 

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