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

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nick@manicgrant.com

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World Mental Health Day

5 min read

This is a story about wanting to die...

Muddy feet

I've wanted to commit suicide for years and I've made several attempts, all of which have ended up with me in hospital, either in intensive care, and or high dependency, for weeks... months and months if you add up all that time. You might say that you think that I don't want to die, because I haven't succeeded [yet] and you would be correct: I want to want to live; I want to not want to commit suicide. But I did want to die and I did want to commit suicide. When I came out of a coma in intensive care in hospital, a doctor asked me if I was pleased that they saved my life. Honestly, I was not pleased at all.

More often than not, depression - as a mental illness - has no rational explanation. Grief and other circumstantial depression, although devastating, can be explained with relative ease; can be well understood. Stranger, it seems, is depression where the cause is not so immediately obvious.

Examining my own depression and wish to commit suicide, we can see a number of obvious circumstantial problems:

  • Estranged from family
  • No social support network
  • Very small number of close friends, none of whom live nearby
  • Enormous debts
  • Single
  • Can't remember the last time I had a hug
  • Boring, unrewarding and unchallenging profession [at times]
  • Physical illness, making me unable to work [at times]
  • No [realistic] prospect of escaping my predicament
  • No hobby/passion
  • Isolated, hermit-like existence
  • Troubled past; guilt, shame and regret; some bitterness

So, if we take all of that in aggregate, it seems like no wonder that I would be suicidally depressed, discounting even the irrational and almost-impossible to explain depression, which inflicts so many people whose lives do not have these problems (although they might have their own set of problems).

Let's revisit my circumstances, today:

  • Money in the bank; savings
  • No debt
  • Plans to see my sister and niece
  • Two friends who live nearby, although one is locked down due to COVID-19, so we can't meet
  • Rewarding and challenging work
  • Well-paid work; feel respected and valued
  • Physical health is OK, just a little unfit
  • Have managed to escape enormous debts, and become debt-free, against the odds
  • Have a hobby/passion: mountain biking
  • Leave the house to go mountain biking

Okay, so there are still some areas which need improvement but it's an incredible turnaround from my situation, which I've had to endure for years. I have to pinch myself to see if I'm dreaming. Nobody should have been able to escape from the homelessness, near-bankruptcy, crushing debts and the total destitution which I faced alone. It's like I had my death sentence commuted; it's like I received a royal pardon.

The picture at the top is of my muddy feet. Nobody goes out in the mud and the rain, in the cold autumn/winter of the UK, unless they are in a good place in terms of mental health. I'm not saying that I'm 'cured' or even that I'm 'happy' but I'm making some real tangible progress. I have hope for the first time in years and years.

My mental health is incredibly fragile. My 'recovery' (hate that word) is incredibly fragile. I have no idea whether my mood is going to crash, worse than ever, and I'll be back to being suicidal. Every time I attempt suicide, there's a very good chance I'm going to succeed. You might think that I'm just being melodramatic and/or attention seeking, and that I have no intention of committing suicide, and never did, which is why I didn't succeed. If you like, I will share my medical notes from the emergency department and intensive care/high dependency: I didn't succeed because I was incredibly lucky; for example, the medical team gave me about a 30% chance of survival, last attempt. The time before, I had even less chance of survival. There's no denying the truth: when I have attempted suicide, it's not a cry for help, nor has it been 'botched' by me... it's been pure blind chance that I've been discovered before I died. I've never phoned emergency services or phoned for help in any way whatsoever; quite the opposite.

So, on World Mental Health Day, I'm really sorry for all the people in the world who are suffering. I feel your pain. I share your pain. It makes me very sad that mental health problems are so prevalent in the world. I wish we would do something to help improve the circumstances of people's lives, because that can make a huge difference. Instead of giving trillions of dollars/pounds in bailouts to banks, we should be giving each and every family a life-changing amount of money, so that they can afford to live without debt, in secure housing, and not have to work shitty soul-destroying jobs; we need the time to connect with our community and maintain a social support network; to make [and keep] friends.

Look after yourselves today, and every day. Email me if you're feeling suicidal.

 

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Profligacy

7 min read

This is a story about out-of-control spending...

Wallet

This is my wallet. It doesn't contain any cash. In fact, it doesn't contain very much at all. It's very thin, although not as thin as my favourite wallet, which unfortunately wore out. I like having a thin wallet.

My wallet contains a 'debit' card for my personal account (known as a checking account in North America, I think), a 'debit' card for my business account, and two credit cards. Also, I keep my drivers license as photo ID, and some stamps, in case I need to mail anything. So, that's 4 bank/credit cards and a card-sized driving license: 5 cards in total. That's all I need.

Sure, I need a little cash from time to time. Frustratingly, I had used the small amount of cash that I carry to pay for something, when I needed to pay the guy who cleans the windows in our street, so I had to live with dirty windows for a little while longer than I would have liked to.

Cash tends to stay in my pocket for so long, that often it ceases to be in common circulation: the UK is replacing all of its 'paper' banknotes (they were actually more like a kind of fabric, but that's just a geeky fact for you) with 'plastic' ones. The UK is probably the world's number one place to launder money, so of course we need to have wipe-clean waterproof money.

Anybody who's used a plastic banknote to insufflate a powdered substance into their nose - not me, obviously - will tell you that the new banknotes will damage the delicate membrane of your nose and cause it to bleed, quite often. However, at least you can wipe the blood off. Paying for stuff with bloodstained banknotes is rather embarrassing (but not the reason why I don't carry much cash - I just don't need/use the stuff, for any purpose).

If you've followed my blog, or you know me as a close friend, then you'll know that I've suffered from depression which has been quite relentless and uninterrupted; interrupted only by suicide attempts, I should probably add. My will to live has been long absent.

I was starting to give up and abandon all hope of surviving for more than a few more months. I was certain that if Christmas didn't kill me, like it almost did last year, then I'll certainly die in April or May next year. Basically, I could see no future for myself; no point in suffering any longer.

Then, I had a great idea: I'll buy a really fancy gaming computer, so I can play driving simulators, flight simulators, turn-based strategy games on a big monitor, and retro console games... generally get into gaming in a really big way.

But.

It was not a good idea.

Part of the reason for my depression, is because I'm home alone, in front of a screen all day. Part of the reason for my depression, is because of my sedentary lifestyle. Part of the reason for my depression, is that I lack real-world social interaction with people.

In short: the gaming PC was a bad idea.

But.

Then I had a really great idea, which was to buy a mountain bike.

I mean, I already have a mountain bike, so why would I buy another one? The mountain bike I have is the best that money can buy (to me at least) so why would I buy another one, if I couldn't buy a better one?

Good question.

Mountain biking is hard work. I used to be young, skinny and fit, but now I am old, fat(ter) and unfit. I am by no means obese and I am by no means so unfit that I can't do exercise, but my health and fitness have been grossly neglected during my interminable depression, as well as during lockdown, which made things even worse. I did try to finish the lockdown fitter, thinner and generally healthier than when I started, but, it was very hard. The best I managed to do, was to stop the rot, a little bit.

Pedalling a mountain bike uphill is hard work. You have to move the weight of the bike, the equipment, your clothes and your body, uphill. My super nice mountain bike weighs 24 pounds (11kg), my equipment could be zero I guess, if I was going for minimum weight, my clothes, including shoes, could be as little as 4 pounds (2kg)... but the heaviest thing is me. I weigh at least 22 pounds (10kg) more than I did when I used to ride my mountain bike regularly. So, basically, if I was to ride up a hill, it would be like me riding up that hill with a whole extra mountain bike on my back. Plus, I'm unfit too.

So what's the solution? Lose weight, right? Catch 22.

The best way to lose weight is to exercise, but if your favourite form of exercise - mountain biking in this case - has gone from something which is difficult but enjoyable; rewarding... into something which is so exhausting that it will destroy you to just go up one single hill, then the barrier to entry is too high.

What did I do? I bought a mountain bike which assists with my pedalling, to make it feel like I'm 22 pounds lighter. In fact, the mountain bike I bought can also assist with the pedalling so much, that it's like I'm young and fit too! Of course, I still have to pedal, and that still requires energy, so I'm getting the exercise I need to lose weight and to get fit again.

What I also did was buy a bunch of other stuff: waterproofs so I can go out in the rain, super-padded underwear to protect my ass (because it got soft since I didn't ride a bike for a long time) and a whole bunch of other really expensive stuff. Could I have done without that stuff? Sure. I guess I could carry a heavy mountain bike for miles and miles because I got a puncture. Sure. I guess I could get soaking wet, because it's autumn now and will soon be winter. Sure. I guess I could get run over by a car on the way to/from where I'm riding, in the dark autumn/winter bad weather. For sure, I could have avoided getting that stuff and said "I'm not going out on my bike today, because it's raining/dark/I've got a puncture or whatever".

You bet I'm worried that my spending is out of control. I spent a whole month's income.

Every. Single. Penny.

Like, no money for rent, no money for food, no money for bills, no money for transport... no money for anything except my bike, and the stuff to go with it. I spent every single penny of last month's 'wages'.

So, am I stupid? Am I rubbish with money? Am I a lost cause.

Well, I wanted to commit suicide for a very long time, but now I'm just excited about riding my bike; now I've got a reason for living again. I'm not sure how long that's going to last, but money really can buy happiness, it seems; or at least money can get rid of depression, temporarily. Maybe, like a drug, the depression will only go away for a really short time and I'll have a terrible hangover/comedown. I expect that's true, but let's not be too hasty. Last time I did something like this, I got fit, healthy, happy, more social, more attractive athletic body, identity, self-esteem, and I had a lot of fun. Let's wait a while before we start calling me stupid for doing this.

 

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Second Lockdown

3 min read

This is a story about a broken record...

Names

What's the exact idiom? A broken record surely wouldn't play at all, so I always reject the idiom "broken record" thinking it must instead be "scratched record". However, I don't think we really use the idiom "scratched record" so I'll stick with my original preamble, which was probably correct insofar as being a well-understood idiom, but literally wrong, like so many things in life.

Anyway.

I've been a bit of a broken record, meaning that I've been repeating myself a lot.

I'm in lockdown, again. Last time I was in lockdown, I stopped writing because I didn't want to drive myself and everyone else round the bend with my repetitive days; I knew that it would be a marathon, not a sprint, to the finish. The first lockdown lasted longer than almost everyone had anticipated, but I had psychologically prepared myself for it to last many months, so I was OK. I also anticipated that this second lockdown was a certainty, so I was psychologically prepared, except I haven't taken the step of stopping writing.

I was planning on having a totally sober October, as has been my tradition. Also, I was supposed to get a new mountain bike, so I could start getting fitter and shedding some korona kilograms: I've put on weight, having been more sedentary than normal, and also utterly devastatingly depressed about the lack of opportunity this year to have travel and adventure, like normal.

I'm not sure I could stand the sound of my own voice - or my words - if I have to write for a whole month, sober and in lockdown. I might have to take a break from writing again.

The world is pretty toxic to mental health at the moment. The impending US presidential election, the impending no-deal Brexit, the never-ending pandemic, the impending economic armageddon, the rioting... the lockdown of course, and the effect of being under the same roof 24 x 7 x 365.

I find writing therapeutic, but what am I going to tell you about my present situation every day: it'll be the same. Still need that mountain bike so I can go and exercise, still need to stay sober, still need to eat less, still working on an important project I can't tell you about, still under lockdown, still depressed, still suicidal. It's going to be groundhog day; repetitive.

So, I'm warning you: if I keep writing and you keep reading, things might get pretty samey.

 

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Nick, What's the Best Way to Kill Myself?

6 min read

This is a story about email...

Inbox

When I wake up in the morning, I'm greeted by an inbox full of emails from people asking what the best way to commit suicide is. This shouldn't come as a surprise, given the thousands of readers I have every day, reading stuff I wrote about suicide methods. However, I thought I made it pretty clear in what I wrote that, deliberately, I wasn't providing any step-by-step instructions, or otherwise endorsing, encouraging, enabling or recommending suicide at all.

I think, at the root of this, we are looking for figures in authority, to make the difficult decisions for us.

It's completely insane to me, that a person in reasonably good physical health, would consider physician-assisted suicide. Why bother? It's really not hard to kill yourself. I think that we -mostly- live in a safe world, with a nanny state attempting to 'protect' us from everything. We scurry to the doctor, asking the dumbest most common-sense questions, because we feel reassured that a person of high social status - a demi-god - is dispensing blatantly obvious advice from a 'magic' building, while wearing a 'magic' white coat, and with a 'magic' stethoscope draped around their neck. It's bullshit; it's a sham - your doctor is no more qualified to guide you out of this world than a stranger you met in the street: at some point, everyone is on their own.

I understand perfectly, that we are socially and psychologically conditioned to respond to authority figures. The Milgram experiments have chillingly shown that most of us will administer lethal electric shocks to a person, who is screaming in agony, if we are told to do so by a person wearing a white lab coat, with a clipboard, who officiously tells us that we should kill one of our fellow human beings. Of course, we retain plausible deniability in that we can always say "I was just following orders" just like the Nazis in the concentration camps, who killed millions of Jews.

In a way, perhaps it's a good thing that people reach out to me, hoping that I will give my rubber-stamp of approval for their suicide, which I obviously do not give: I'm not in the business of dishing out those kinds of instructions. If you want to kill yourself, I'm not going to stop you. If you come to me, telling me that you're suicidal, then I'm not going to talk you out of it. I promise. However, I'm also not going to be the person who tells you to do it, or otherwise encourages, endorses, enables or in any way says that suicides are OK. Suicides are inevitable. Suicides are necessary. However, I have made it absolutely crystal clear in everything I've ever written: I don't want any suicides. Zero suicides. No Suicides. I can't make it any clearer than that.

If we want to talk about euthanasia, that's a whole different conversation. For sure, I'm pro-euthanasia. For people who literally can't end their lives with dignity, because their medical condition(s) have robbed them of the physical ability to end their own lives, for sure I am in favour of physician-assisted suicide.

What the fuck do you want from me? Surely you're not so stupid as to know that there are an almost infinite number of ways to kill yourself? You don't need me to tell you what the 'best' way is; to make a recommendation. I already provided ample information on all the methods. OF COURSE I am not going to give you a step-by-step guide: it's your death, so it's your responsibility.

Although it breaks my heart that so many people contact me in crisis, on the verge of committing suicide, it's a good thing that they are looking for my recommendation, approval and very basic instructions on how to end their lives. It's a good thing, because it means that the trivial obstacles are enough to keep them in the land of the living.

Of course, I do not wish to prolong another human being's suffering for a single second longer than absolutely necessary. Absolutely, if I possessed the means to wave my magic wand and take away anybody's suffering, I absolutely would do that. Me telling people - step-by-step - the exact way that they should kill themselves, in a way that shifts personal responsibility onto myself, is not responsible, right, useful, ethical, or otherwise conscionable. If you want to kill yourself, you'll find a way. If you NEED to kill yourself, you'll find a way. There's a whole internet of information out there, for those who are properly motivated.

I hope nobody sees what I've written as a challenge. I hope nobody sees what I've written as calling anybody's bluff. I believe, absolutely, that everyone who contacts me professing a desperate suicidal crisis and the imminent end of their life, is telling the truth; they are to be wholeheartedly believed. Their situations are desperately sad, and my heart bleeds. However, I am not operating a euthanasia clinic. I am not qualified to judge people's lives as hopeless, and dispense the means to end lives. Only YOU are qualified to judge whether your life is bearable - liveable - or not, and to then take the necessary steps as appropriate. If you wail that you do not know what those steps are, then I'm afraid that your fate is sealed: your desire to remain alive is stronger than your desire to pursue one of the infinite avenues open to you, to end your life.

I'm absolutely not asking you to stop writing. Please continue to write. However, I'm setting your expectations quite clearly: I will not, ever, tell you the "best" method of suicide, nor will I do anything to enable your suicide, nor endorse it, nor approve it, nor in any way get involved in your life-and-death decision, other than to say that I empathise very strongly with your plight - your crisis - and I'm very sad that things reached such a desperate situation. I will listen. I will understand, as much as possible. However, I won't try to talk you out of it. Think about all of this, if you get in contact: I'm totally not going to say you shouldn't do it, but I'm totally not going to say that you should either, or tell you how you should do it. That's your business, not mine.

 

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Aide-Mémoire

4 min read

This is a story about writing prompts...

Book

During a more exciting and varied, but also chaotic period of my life, I habitually made a note of writing prompts for myself. I was able to stay somewhat on top of these sparks of inspiration, and turn them into essays, but the list still grew longer and longer.

I've started writing a list of writing prompts again. Currently it has 10 items on it, which have inspired me to write 3 completed essays, which I've now published.

The other thing which inspires me to write, I must admit, is my readers. My readers write to me, which I'm very grateful for, but even those who do not are inspiring me by reading, because there's nothing worse than feeling ignored, irrelevant or otherwise non-existent. However, there's also a temptation - which I try to avoid - of writing stuff which I know will bring me more readers. What's the point of making art, if you're doing it just for popularity and notoriety - surely that isn't art at all?

The majority of my readers - thousands per day - are new readers. Perhaps [most of] my social media followers and [most] friends have tired of the repetitive nature of my writing; the repetition of my story; the lack of any dramatic change in my circumstances. There isn't much narrative in my writing, because there isn't much narrative in my life. In the adventures of employee man, one day looks very much like the next.

Of course, I am grateful that I have a semi-secure source of income - albeit only in the short term - and I have stability and routine. My health and wealth are thriving, relatively speaking, thanks to the boring repetition which is the backbone of my life.

Perhaps I'll dig some more hair-raising tales of near-death and destitution out of my memory banks, to amuse and entertain my readers, but I did promise myself that I wouldn't dwell on the past, and I would attempt to start a new chapter. I would very much like it if I had a substantial period of boring "this is what I ate for breakfast" type typical run-of-the-mill yawnfest blog vapid bullshit, to put some distance between the chaotic, traumatic and nearly fatal period of my life, and the stable, secure life which seems within touching distance; tantalisingly close.

It feels a little odd to not be in the mood to write, because of low social media engagement, given that I almost exclusively transmit - never receive - and otherwise do not engage myself in discourse; do not engage with the community; do not socialise on social media, per se. A cynical accusation that I want to take, but I never give, could be levelled at me, and I would have little defence; I admit that I don't spend a lot of time keeping up with the lives of my Twitter friends, although I am extremely grateful for their continued support, and the occasional message or cat pic.

Also, I'm a little burnt out. I've been working very hard on a demanding project, and I'm extremely emotionally invested; I've been working with maximum intensity. In addition, of course, I pour my guts out every day onto the pages of this website. Writing and publishing a halfway-decent essay every day is not trivial. Those who say I'm not generous with my time and effort, are being unnecessarily cruel and unkind, if not downright wrong.

I'm not out in the community helping little old grannies cross the road or picking up litter, but people do write to me from all around the world every day, to say that my writing has been helpful - in some way - to them. I'm not saying that what I'm doing is particularly praiseworthy, or patting myself on the back in general, but I do put a lot of effort in, and that effort is not entirely a fool's errand.

Anyway, that was today's essay. I hope you liked it. Even just a teeny tiny bit.

 

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Overdue Holiday

4 min read

This is a story about stamina...

Me

It's been over 13 months since I had a holiday. My holiday plans for last year got really screwed up. I need to have a couple of winter holidays, for mental health reasons - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) exacerbates my bipolar, and can make me suicidally depressed, as was proven last Christmas. I ended up spending Christmas and New Year in a hospital bed, instead of on a beach, because that's what happens.

Of course I can technically keep working for years, without a holiday. The problem is, I get tired and irritable, which damages my relationship with my colleagues. Nobody wants to work with somebody who's tired and irritable.

The past 13+ months haven't just been a continuous slog at work, without a holiday. The past 13+ months have included an enormous amount of work on a very high-profile project of national importance. There's a lot of pressure. Sure, I thrive on pressure, but not everybody's going to be a fan of my style, when I'm tired and stressed, which is to not suffer any fools gladly; I can be extremely impatient and intolerant of fuckwits.

Of course, if I get the chance to keep working on the project I've been involved with for a long time, then I'm going to have to look after myself. I'm going to have to take some holidays. My health - mental and physical - demands that I take some holidays.

In a lot of ways, it's great for colleagues to have the consistency of me being around, all the time. In other ways, it's bad for me to be around all the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and familiarity breeds contempt etc.

One of the bosses who I admired the most, even if I didn't particularly like him, was notoriously short-tempered and impatient. He was extremely quick-witted and blazingly quick at everything he did. I always swore I would never ape his demeanour, because it wasn't very pleasant for colleagues, but when I came to building and running my first startup, I admit that I had a very sharp tongue; I reduced my co-founder to tears.

The boss who I attempt to copy, is a guy who was a 'shit umbrella' for the team: he fended off all the pressure, and kept the workload and general demands at a reasonable level, so that the engineering team could work without unhelpful and annoying people hanging around saying "is it done yet?" constantly. He used to give estimates which were extremely conservative - being over-optimistic, over-promising, will always lead to stress, pressure, being rushed, and ultimately a poor quality, late and disappointing outcome. My ex-boss created a great environment to work in, and I'll never forget that.

As discussed at length, I'm desperate to achieve financial security, and as such there's a great temptation to never take any holiday, when I suffer a double-whammy financial blow when I take a holiday: the loss of earnings AND the cost of the holiday. Of course, it's a false economy if I end up getting sick or losing my job, because I've overworked myself, but I've always taken things to the extreme.

I have no idea how or when I'm going to take a holiday, especially in the context of a second-wave of Coronavirus and the subsequent second lockdown. Already, the UK has more new cases than the UK's own threshold for quarantining visitors from another country. I feel pretty certain that I would end up spending my entire holiday in the hotel room, under quarantine. Another consideration is that I'm now single, and as such, would be holidaying alone, which I would hate.

I do need to take a holiday, and I will always find a way to achieve something if I set my mind to it, but there are many reasons not to take a holiday - money, coronavirus - and the prospect of being abroad, alone, is not enthusing me to the idea.

 

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Pattern Recognition

5 min read

This is a story about AI...

Eyes passim

You might think that it's incredible that a chess grandmaster could look at a chess board for 30 seconds, and then be able to place all the pieces on another board, in exactly the same positions as they were on the board they only saw for a brief time. That they can do this is not a sign of intelligence, but of pattern recognition, which is an acquired skill, honed through thousands of hours of practice. That's not to say that it's not impressive, but it's the hardware - the human brain that we all possess - that's impressive, not the individual.

I don't think we can all become chess grandmasters, if we want to. For us to want to spend those thousands of hours to develop the pattern recognition in our brains, we'd need to be motivated. It's beyond the scope of this essay to explore why some people memorise wild birds, train timetables, telephone numbers, or a whole host of other useless trivia, but let's just say that it's personal to the individual; some people just really like trains.

The patterns I wanted to write about today, are not like the patterns that can be discerned on a chess board, telling a grandmaster the story of how that particular game developed, and where it is heading. The pattern I wanted to write about is the boom and bust cycle of my mood, which has been going on for enough time now, that I feel like I can somewhat second-guess where things are going.

An ever-present worry is that the possibility of escaping the cycle will slip through my fingers, as it has done so many times before. In fact, it seems - from past events - to be an inescapable cycle; I'm eternally doomed to never escape.

Principally, I worry that I'm getting too cocky and arrogant; to certain of myself at work; too comfortable. Long gone are the days when I bit my tongue and tried to keep my head down. Long gone are the days when I was diplomatic and non-confrontational.

It feels a lot like a very regrettable period in 2015, when I felt certain that I was making an invaluable contribution to the organisation, project and team that I was a part of. While that might true, beyond a reasonable doubt, I was plagued with mental health problems. I suffered bouts of weird paranoia. I was emotionally fragile. I was unpredictable. I had some very strange thoughts about what was going on. I flipped wildly between doing a good job, and some rather odd obsessions.

Eventually, I broke down, was hospitalised, then suddenly decided to fly to San Francisco, then decided that I didn't want to come back, so I sent a series of really provocative emails, hoping to get sacked, which didn't work... until it did.

Perhaps it's unlikely that such an extreme set of events will ever repeat itself. I was hospitalised at Christmas and yet I bounced back from that, thanks in no small part to how kind and supportive my colleagues and the wider organisation I'm involved with, have been. My struggles with mental health have reached the point of colleagues needing to 'have a word' but I hope that things have quietened down since then, instead of continuing to escalate.

There's nothing I can particularly point to in 2015 which was driving my mental health to deteriorate, versus my present predicament. In 2015 I was homeless, and then managed to rent myself an apartment, which was - perhaps - an enormous stress, which finally caused me to lose my mind, temporarily. In 2015 my finances were much more distressed than they are today, although my situation is still not rosy: some debts and tax liabilities still hang over me like a dark cloud, although in theory I have the money to cover those costs.

In 2015 I knew I couldn't step off the treadmill for a single second, or else I would be ruined. This, of course, was too much pressure and I crumbled. My guardian angel was kind enough to avert disaster, but who could have foretold that a kind person with deep pockets would appear in my hour of need, to help me avoid bankruptcy, destitution, devastation, ruination and all the rest?

Today, I'm probably at break-even point. If I couldn't work tomorrow, or for the next few months, I might perhaps be able to avoid sinking deep into debt, but it would feel just as bad as 2015, because I've fought so hard for so long, to get back on my feet. I suppose things are a little different, because I've worked virtually non-stop for 3 years, without a major incident, except for the hospitalisation at Christmas, which - mercifully - hasn't completely derailed me.

I wish I could just put myself into "sleep mode" for the next 6+ months. Wake me up when the boring waiting game part is over. Wake me up when I have some financial security.

 

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Slob

3 min read

This is a story about mess...

Kitten

I realised I haven't written about my adorable furry companion in a while. My phone contains nothing but pictures of cats; mainly my cat(s). My bengal seems to be lost forever, heartbreakingly - I suspect she was stolen, because there has been a spate of cat and dog thefts recently. My ragdoll, pictured above, is an amazing cat; she's healed my broken heart.

If you look carefully at the photo, and I really wish you wouldn't, then you'll see various bits of detritus - mostly crumbs and other bits of food; dirt. I've been a real slob for quite a long time.

I've got a demanding job, plus lockdown has meant being under the same roof 24 x 7, for many months. Of course, we're all in the same boat, but I've been struggling with my physical and mental health all year. I tried to kick the couch potato habit, but August has been incredibly punishing at work, and I've all but ceased doing anything besides working, sleeping and eating.

The one happy constant in my life - the stable part - is my cat. Of course, I had the heartbreak of losing my last cat quite recently, but my new cat is delightful. It's fantastic to have my fluffy friend to keep me company. Life would be intolerably miserable without a cat.

A plumber came to fix something in my bathroom, which prompted me to quickly clean. I don't really have many visitors, so why bother to keep my house clean and tidy? I hardly make any mess, except for a few dirty dishes, but I suppose the general dirt and grime builds up, which depresses me but not enough to do anything about it. The messiest thing is my cat, who regularly kicks her litter onto the floor. It sounds like she's trying to dig to the centre of the earth sometimes.

I guess I'll probably hire a cleaner, once this pandemic is over. Seems lazy and wasteful, but it's good for me, and it's good for them - I get a clean house and they get paid, which seems like a win:win situation.

My cat eats individually packaged pouches of cat food, which seems like a big waste of packaging, but she's super fussy about her food going 'stale' in her bowl, so I can't imagine she'd love food from a tin which has been open for days and days - she's only got a tiny appetite. I eat gourmet soups, which also seems crazy when it seems relatively easy to make a big batch of soup and freeze it, but I want and need simplicity in my life. I can feed my cat and I in the blink of an eye, which is what's needed when I'm working so hard.

Living in a clean house, or eating a freshly cooked homemade meal are things I enjoy, but I'm not prepared to do the work, when I'm already working super hard. Seems profligate and lazy, but I don't care - it's allowing me to be functional and stable.

Apologies for boring you with the rather domestic and uninteresting minutiae of my existence, but I wanted to try and write about something other than the agony of existence.

 

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Antisocial

3 min read

This is a story about FOMO...

Street art

Saturday night. Saturday night is supposed to be the highlight of the week. Saturday night is supposed to be special. For me, I dread Saturday night, and indeed the whole weekend. I used to live for the weekend. What happened?

In order to dig myself out of a desperately dire situation, I had to knuckle down and work super hard, for a very prolonged period. I was sick for 9 months out of 12, for a few years, which cost me a fortune in rent and bills, when I had no income to pay with. I've been paying a heavy price for simply being alive. I was being crushed under the enormous financial burden of breathing, sleeping and eating.

I've dug myself out of the hole now.

However, I'm still running scared.

In order to get well and truly out of the hole, I've not been on holiday, I've not travelled, socialised, or made any purchases. I've been living a monastic life.

Seriously.

In the space of nearly 6 months, I saw three people. That's about half a person per month. I've been seing less than one person every month, for half a year. That's crazy.

It's not that I haven't wanted to socialise, but my life got pretty smashed to bits, plus lockdown made things complex. Lots of people endured lengthy lockdowns, seeing very few people, but nobody's had a lockdown quite like me. Nobody who's working and seemingly functional, I must say... I'm sure there are lots of elderly people who have a greater claim to loneliness and isolation than I do.

Why aren't I doing anything about it?

Well, it gets difficult in later life. I moved away from London and Bournemouth, where I have most of my friends. Making friends in a new city is hard at the best of times, and worse still when you're 41 years old; worse still in the middle of a global pandemic.

I have my cat. She's lovely. She's my companion; my furry friend. She keeps me company.

A friend invited me out on Saturday evening, and we met a mutual friend. It was extremely nice. Total surprise, to be out socialising on a Saturday night. I hadn't planned for it at all. I was at home getting drunk; drowning my sorrows. Poor me, poor me; pour me another drink... lol not really, I don't feel sorry for myself except the near-impossible task of digging myself out of the aforementioned hole, but at least I have the opportunity, unlike some.

I'm not antisocial, I'm just under a lot of pressure; I'm fighting for my life; I'm trying to get back to a position of financial security - health, wealth and prosperity.

I don't suffer from Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) because my life has been dysfunctional for so long. When I do go out socialising, I enjoy myself immensely, but I can't see an easy way to get a social life at the moment. I'm lucky that I have a handful of local friends who make the effort to invite me out, from time to time.

I'm not antisocial. I'm getting back on my feet, slowly.

 

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Emotional Burnout

4 min read

This is a story about stress...

Beans

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

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

We like our stories to be linear.

I have no idea where to begin my story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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