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

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Step Ten: Don't Suffer Fools

10 min read

This is a story about the hard-of-thinking...

Doorway

I have a friend who can only be described as a racist and an anti-feminist. It's worth letting that sink in for a second, and then repeating. I have a friend who can only be described as a racist and an anti-feminist. How can this be possible? How could I be friends with a racist anti-feminist?

At first, this friend began to announce his anti-feminist views publicly on social media, which was a shock to me, because I had presumed he was an educated left-wing metropolitan liberal elitist, like myself: a product of the university system, and therefore his political viewpoint and stance on such matters as racism and sexual equality could be presumed to be correct. My presumption was wrong. He began by strongly asserting his anti-feminist stance, suddenly and shockingly, in a very public manner. I did not know how to react, except through a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

Then, this friend began to indicate a right-wing viewpoint very publicly, on social media. This was perhaps less of a shock, given that he had shown himself to hold views which I despised, on the subject of sexual equality, but it was still nevertheless, shocking to see somebody who I considered to a be well educated, erudite and thoughtful individual, sharing content which was so right wing that it was bordering on outright racism. I did not know how to react, so I used a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

Then, this friend became openly racist, in public, on social media. This was again, shocking, because I never imagined that I would ever encounter a racist amongst my small group of hand-picked friends, almost all of whom have enjoyed privileged socioeconomic advantages, university educations, professions and share a similar set of politics and values. I did not know how to react, so I used a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

After my friend had spent some considerable length of time espousing views which I found vile and abhorrent, I was faced with a choice: should I cut all ties with this friend? It seemed to me that I was duty-bound to do so. My upbringing had provided no explicit guidance on how to handle this precise situation, but it seemed as though the right thing to do would be to pretend as though I had never been friends with my friend, and to distance myself from them as much as possible; to cover up the fact that we were ever friends and to sever all ties. It seemed like I was supposed to eject that person from my bubble.

I realised that if I did eject that person from my bubble, then I would never have any insight into the mind of an anti-feminist right-wing racist, and I felt that it would be detrimental to me, given the homogeny of the views of my other friends. The views of all my other friends are all so broadly similar, that I had never encountered a viewpoint which I felt compelled to condemn, much less acknowledge existed: in my liberal metropolitan elite world, I thought that racism had been defeated, along with sexism and anti-feminism. I thought that there were only small pockets of knuckle-dragging racists to be found in the poorest and most deprived communities, where the poor brutes knew no better so I was perturbed that a person who had enjoyed such socioeconomic advantage might turn out to be such a racist and anti-feminist.

I invested a substantial amount of energy in condemnation of my friend's views, attempting to persuade him to change his ways, but I made little progress.

I considered again, whether the wise course of action was to abandon the friendship and to block him on social media; to distance myself from him and to pretend that we had never been friends. Again, I felt as though I was committing some kind of immoral act, by not tossing our friendship into the dustbin - something I felt a weight of expectation to do without hesitation, the moment that any friend said anything which was remotely incorrect according to liberal dogma. Racism, certainly, is the ultimate taboo and I knew that it must carry the harshest penalty - immediate ostracisation, and denial that we were ever friends; immediate castigation and abandonment.

Yet, I did not abandon the friendship.

Does this make me a racist sympathiser? Do I endorse my friends anti-feminist views? Of course not. Do not be so ridiculous.

Recently I've had the opportunity to probe the origins of my friend's views, and quite quickly discovered where he had erred. He enthusiastically cited the extremely strong link between race and crime, in the United States - particularly that black men are disproportionately incarcerated versus the overall number of black U.S. citizens in the general population. This, for him, was concrete proof that "the races are different" and therefore his racism was justified. Naturally, I pointed out that correlation does not equate to causation, and by far the biggest cause of criminality is poverty - the race argument is null and void: the statistical link disappears when we control the wealth variable.

My friend persists with arguments, born in the time of the eugenics movement, and pseudoscience which is regrettably ubiquitous, which appears to provide legitimate research proving a link between race and IQ. Of particular fascination to my friend was any data which showed that black people had significantly lower IQ than white caucasians. Naturally, I pointed him in the direction of how these dreadfully low-quality academic papers were published in fringe journals, bankrolled by racists, and received little or no peer review; their findings utterly discredited and the quality of the work found to be nothing better than abysmal.

My friend and I have regular conversations, and each one is at least interesting which is far more than can be said for any discussion I might have with fools who hold viewpoints, simply because of anecdotal evidence, or because the liberal media finds the narrative to be particularly popular with its readership. If I was the editor of a left-wing newspaper, read by wealthy metropolitan intelligentsia, of course I would publish news stories about black lesbian disabled homeless women being raped and murdered by the patriarchy, because outrage sells newspapers. However, the anecdotal evidence gathered by those of us who wander around with a bleeding heart - myself included - does not have any validity, beyond our own confirmation bias: we seek out so-called evidence to reassure ourselves that our values and beliefs are correct.

My patience has run out for idiots who waste my time, parroting media narratives instead of using their so-called intellect to direct their energies towards the truly important issues. Racism, domestic violence and sexual discrimination are very real and they cause terrible suffering, but to mistakenly believe - as so many do - that women, for example, are at greater risk than men, is demonstrably absurd and grossly incorrect. Men are 85% more likely to be violently assaulted. 79% of all murder victims are male. Again and again, the exhaustive research has overwhelmingly and incontrovertibly demonstrated the truth all around us, yet there are wilfully ignorant idiots on both the left wing and the right wing, who continue to perpetuate myths and lies. My friend the racist is just as bad as the former friend who chose to block me, because she preferred to live in her bubble, believing that women are the victims of the majority of violent crime and murder, when in fact the polar opposite is true.

My friend the anti-feminist racist is wrong to hold the views that he does, and I hope that one day he might be persuaded by the overwhelming evidence and convincing research, but at least he is still talking to me and I am still able to challenge his erroneous thinking. The woman who I thought of as a friend, who would characterise herself as a feminist, has actually proven herself to be sexist: to deny that male victims of violence and murder far outnumber female victims, is pure delusion, driven by sexism. To block me on social media and to pretend our friendship never existed is quite typical of a sexist or other person who holds abhorrent views which they do not wish to be challenged. Only by remaining in our isolated bubbles can our wilful ignorance persist. I have lost any further opportunity to persuade - with great ease - my former friend, the sexist, of the overwhelming body of evidence which shows the appalling situation suffered by male victims of violence and murder. This is a predictable characteristic of weak-minded fools who rely too heavily upon the media to instruct them on how they should think, in place of an intellect which they sadly lack.

My energies are presently consumed with work, health and of course, having a brief period of sobriety, which these steps partly document.

My point this evening is simple: the world is full of idiots, and one should rely upon high quality evidence and research, not popular opinion within your social media bubble. Of course, one must be careful not to fall afoul of pseudoscience and the temptation to draw incorrect conclusions from raw statistics, but provided you keep a group of intelligent friends around you, then you will at least have a better chance that any mistaken beliefs you hold might be corrected. The ignorant idiots who wish to surround themselves with likeminded fools, are no loss, and no effort should be expended upon them. I am glad that I am friends with somebody who holds detestable views, and I feel no regret for losing the friendship of somebody who holds no views at all other than the media narratives which are pedalled by the limited sources upon which they rely on, in the absence of their own intellect.

In closing, we should be reminded once more: men suffer dreadfully. The life of a man is virtually worthless. That suicide should have been allowed to become the biggest killer of men in the prime of their life, with few tears shed, is an awful state of affairs, and it is accompanied by other terrible things: 97% of workplace deaths, 78% of all murders, 75% of all suicides, 65% of all violent assaults... the list is virtually endless. Men are overwhelmingly the victims, yet this is not the impression which a person would gain, if they keep themselves inside their bubble.

It's vitally important that I maintain perspective, given that my life is at stake. This sounds hyperbolic of course, because we have been brought up to believe that men are strong, when demonstrably a man's life is extremely precarious - the evidence is overwhelming.

During the last couple of days of my "Sober October" I'm particularly mindful of the precarity of my existence, combined with a great deal of stress regarding my work and a matter which hangs over me, threatening to end my career. I feel unwell. I am in need of some winter sunshine. I need to take a break, having worked very hard for a lengthy sustained period. My future hangs in the balance and my health is fragile; my efforts and energies invested to reach this point presently count for nothing - no safety or security has been achieved, and things are as uncertain as they ever were.

With this in mind, it is with very little regret that I refuse to suffer fools gladly and lose so-called friendships, to whomsoever proves to be immovable in the face of overwhelming facts, preferring instead to treat me with sexist contempt and hold little regard for the danger my life is in.

Survival is paramount.

 

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World Mental Health Day and World Homeless Day 2019

5 min read

This is a story about annual events...

Hampstead Heath

I sometimes forget that I have a 1.3 million word repository of 4 years of my life documented in exquisite detail. Given that I have chosen to manage my mental illness - bipolar disorder - without medication, it's extremely useful to have everything written down. Memories are easily corrupted. It's easy to romanticise the past. Past traumas can be forgotten. Pain fades from memory. By having everything stored digitally like this, it's easier for me to avoid getting stuck in a cycle of boom and bust; making the same mistakes again and again.

Mental illness combined with some dreadful circumstances which exacerbated the problem, like an abusive relationship followed by an inevitable divorce, plunged my life into utter chaos. I was homeless and slept rough. I was sectioned and kept in secure psychiatric institutions. I very nearly lost everything.

Today is both World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day. The two things go hand-in-hand, but the choice of day was a coincidence, I expect, although ironically it's quite apt.

There is a powerful relationship between mental health and other problems, such as being able to work, having money problems, having relationship problems, homelessness, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, self harm, suicide and crime, amongst other things. To say that drug addiction causes mental health problems, for example, is a mistake of confusing correlation and causation. To say that mentally ill people are more likely to become homeless is a mistake of cause and effect. As you might imagine, not having a secure, dry, affordable, pleasant place to live is toxic to good mental health - how can anybody be expected to have any kind of sense of wellbeing when one of their most basic needs is unmet or under threat?

We might dismiss housing concerns, believing that local councils and "the government" ensures that nobody goes homeless, but it's lazy and ignorant to believe that housing is not the number one concern of people in crisis. The root of all problems is not mental health or drugs, or Brexit... it's housing.

The proportion of people's wages spent on rent or mortgage payments, has steadily risen, while wages have fallen in real terms. Vast numbers of people are on zero hours contracts or work in the 'gig economy'. Unemployment figures do not tell the real story: millions of people live under constant threat of eviction; homelessness.

Do I really have to spell this out?

Living with the constant threat of losing your home is incredibly stressful.

People are working all the hours they can to try to make ends meet, and they are still only one or two missed paycheques away from being chucked out onto the streets. One hiccup and they'll be homeless. Living with that kind of daily threat creates intolerable anxiety.

If you put somebody under an enormous amount of pressure and stress, for a very long period of time, it will negatively affect their mental health. It's inevitable that the lack of affordable housing in the areas where there are job vacancies, would create a mental health epidemic.

In London, where there are the most jobs, the housing is also the most expensive, over competitive and overcrowded. Yes, there are lots of jobs in London, and they're better paid than elsewhere in the UK, but the housing is terrible quality and massively overpriced, plus there are heaps of people competing for the few place to live, and the nice places to live are virtually unattainable except for the mega-rich.

Where I currently live, I pay a fraction of what I used to pay in London, and I have a lot more space, but when my contract ends I will struggle to find another one nearby - there simply aren't as many jobs in the area, hence why far fewer people want to live here and why the cost of living is lower.

This is capitalism in action. This is supply and demand. Capitalism is maximising how much money it can extract from our pockets, before we all go insane and/or kill ourselves. Capitalism is highly efficient at creating the maximum misery, in its pursuit of the maximum profit. Capitalism is not about freedom or choice. Capitalism is about the immoral destruction of human lives, in order to deliver relentless 'growth' at the expense of our quality of life.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I have emerged from that dreadful chaotic period of mental illness and homelessness, and I now enjoy a reasonable standard of living, but I am painfully aware of how insecure my existence is; how quickly I could be turfed out onto the streets again. I'm acutely aware that my mental health cannot be taken for granted, and the pressure to keep earning vast sums of money, month after month, to line the pockets of an idle capitalist, is incredibly toxic to my mental health.

 

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I'm Not Ignoring You

10 min read

This is a story about being disconnected...

Trespass

I've received a bunch of messages from people who care about me, over the past few weeks. I haven't responded - yet - but I'm not intentionally ignoring anybody. I very much want to reply, but I've struggled to know when and how to do so. I very much want to stay connected but I reached breaking point.

I started writing this blog because my life was in danger but it was too difficult to keep anybody informed about what was going on: my life was too chaotic and unmanageable. I needed a mechanism to keep anybody who was concerned about my welfare informed. Writing a blog post on a regular basis was the easiest way to keep kind and caring people in the loop.

A group of people emerged, who have supported me. I literally owe my life to those who contacted emergency services when I tried to end my life. Without the intervention of those who read my words and decided to act, I should not have made it this far. I have received aid in my hour of need thanks to people who were strangers until they read my blog and decided to help me.

There is a certain amount of thought and effort ploughed into each blog post. There is an investment of time and energy. There is a risk that my words might be used against me. There is fear and there is shame, every time I share something that's unflattering or otherwise make myself vulnerable. There is a sense of responsibility towards those who read and those who care, who have taken the time to understand a little about who I am, and those who have gone to the effort of making a human connection.

I know that if I don't write regularly then people won't check regularly to see if I've written anything new. I know that it's the regularity with which I write which sets me apart from the vast majority of bloggers, who quickly tire of the chore and abandon their blogs. I know that if I stop writing I stop existing, in a way. I know that if I stop writing, regular readers drift away.

What is the reason I need regular readers?

I started writing this blog because my life was in danger. That I write this as a "suicide note" is only partly tongue-in-cheek. That it seems somewhat melodramatic, alarmist, attention-seeking or hyperbolic is a reflection of how little wider society really cares about suicide, and how society loves to call people's bluff.

The reason I couldn't write for the past three weeks is that I was overcome with several competing messages. I wanted to write about the happy thing in my life: that I was getting to go away on a lovely holiday. I wanted to share my amazing holiday photos. I wanted to share something positive, after a very long time spent moaning and complaining about my miserable life. However, money worries and uncertainty surrounding my income, plus a lot of stress about an invasive security vetting procedure, were consuming me. I was filled with dread about the future. I was consumed with anxiety. I was constantly assaulted with an imagined future, where I become penniless and homeless, after such a protracted lengthy struggle.

I thought about presenting the lovely images of my holiday alongside the inner turmoil I was suffering. I thought about sharing picturesque holiday photos with unrelated text, explaining how depressed and anxious I was about the future.

There's a slim chance that the wolf might be kept from the door for another couple of months. After my holiday was finished and I was back in the UK at the airport, I received an email which said that my contract could possibly be extended for another couple of months.

However, my security clearance has foundered. Before I departed on holiday, I was told that I had failed to respond to some correspondance and the assumption would be that I had abandoned my application. I wrote back and said that I had responded within the hour, but then I went on holiday. I just checked: my application is closed and I have no idea why.

I'm unsure whether I should assume the worst or not. There's a chance that I can speak to the powers that be and get my security clearance process re-instated. There's a chance that I don't even need security clearance. There's also a chance that there's problems and there's a chance that those problems could cause other problems, and all my hard work is for naught.

I had thought that my source of income was secure until the end of the year. I had thought that this income meant I had adequate funds to take a holiday and could feel secure in my home. I had thought that my hard work had secured me the support of my colleagues and the organisation who I work for, thanks to the contribution I've made to the projects I've worked on.

I'm not so sure what the future looks like now. It's not utterly bleak, but it's very fragile and precarious.

I'm not sure if the universe wants me to succeed or fail. I'm certainly prepared for failure - insofar as I'm prepared to kill myself if I've been wasting my time - but I must admit that I was quite easily tricked into believing that success was within the realms of possibility. I thought that my struggles against adversity and my hard work was going to be rewarded; my modest desire to live without the tyranny of penniless destitution hanging over me appeared to be within grasp, but perhaps I was quite wrong.

There are systems in place that will quickly swipe my legs out from underneath me and cast me out into the street like a piece of trash. There are systems in place to ensure that I'm expelled from civilised society and unable to put my skill and experience to profitable gain. There are systems in place to thwart and frustrate me; to leave me stripped of dignity and to deny me opportunity. There are systems in place to keep a good man down.

We shall see what comes to pass this week. I have faced a lot of adversity over the past few years and managed to navigate some very nasty situations, somehow keeping hope alive. I've overcome some extremely difficult obstacles. Whether the present difficulties are just more of the same, and I will find a way forward, I have no idea. At the moment I feel as though my exhaustion and depression are going to get the better of me, given that I already used up all my reserves getting to this point. I should be cruising and having an easier time of things, but it appears as though things are going to get harder, if not impossible.

I have a limited amount of time to re-start my daily writing and re-surround myself with my support network, on which I have relied heavily to get to this point. I fear that I've left myself exposed and inadequately protected.

My downfall will be shockingly swift. Depression and exhaustion will rob me of my ability to continue to work and then rent, bills, taxes other demands for money with menaces will bankrupt me, see me evicted, label me as "undesirable" and make me unemployable and unhousable. With a wrecked credit rating and the black mark of a bankruptcy, I won't be able to get well paid work or rent a home - society will have ejected me and I'll be left to sleep rough. It seems hard to imagine that I could fall so quickly from a position where I appear to be wealthy and hold a respected position of responsibility, but I know how quickly everything will fall apart.

I have proceeded with a positive attitude, assuming that everything will work out OK if I just keep working hard, but in my experience nothing works out. Instead, all that happens is that there are major roadblocks. Instead of being able to continue on my trajectory, obstacles are thrown into my path and I am bombarded with missiles. All I want to do is to do my job and do it well, and be able to have a roof over my head, but instead things happen which could not have been predicted by me and which are not my fault. I am continuously thwarted.

I'm sick of being thwarted.

Undoubtedly I work hard. Undoubtedly I'm good at my job. Undoubtedly I will achieve my objectives if left unmolested.

At some point I get so sick of everything that I don't want to carry on living. It's not much of a life, being constantly thwarted. It's not much of a life living with constant precarity, anxiety and insecurity.

I decided to write this blog because it proves my dedication to a project and what I can achieve if I'm not thwarted. I decided to write this blog to prove my work ethic, even if this blog brings me no income. I decided to write this blog as a testament to my own creative and productive powers. I decided to write this blog because nobody could stop me, divert me, distract me and derail me.

I took a holiday.

I took a holiday from my paid income and I took a holiday from my unpaid project. I took a holiday from everything. It would have been nice to relax, secure in the knowledge that I had income and housing to look forward to when I returned, but that was taken away from me; my future was stolen from me, as usual. I was given nothing except anxiety and depression, as usual, as stress was heaped upon my head and my security was snatched away, as usual. I took a holiday anyway, because I was exhausted as hell.

Now, who know what awaits me, except further struggle, further stress, further anxiety and further frustrations and people sent to thwart me. In the context of this uncertainty, forgive me if I decide that I've had enough and that I would like some certainty. This is how I arrive at the conclusion that the only certainty that's available to me is the certainty of suicide. I would like to die with some dignity.

How many productive years do I have left? I'm 40 years old now - happy birthday to me - and I'm exhausted. The prospect of continuing on with such struggle, stress and strain is not at all appealing. I fail to see any kind of enticing future that's realistically attainable, given how hard people have worked to thwart and frustrate me.

In short, I hesitated to write for the past few weeks, because my situation is not improving, although it seemed churlish to complain when I most certainly did have the holiday of a lifetime. Still, it would be dishonest not to admit that most of my waking hours were consumed with stress, anxiety, depression and hopelessness. I didn't quite know where to begin, so I was uncharacteristically lost for words, perhaps only because I never committed pen to paper. Now that I've opened the flood gates, far more words have come rushing out of me than I anticipated.

Given that it's counter-productive to bombard my readers with far more than they can digest, I'm going to wrap this up now. I need to write regularly again. I hope that I have better news tomorrow and my outlook is more positive, but I need to write come what may, because it's my coping mechanism and my lifeline; my blog is my consistent reliable companion and the people who it connects me with are my dependable support network, though the bad times.

Thanks for reading.

 

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Intellectual Hunger

6 min read

This is a story about brain training...

Hotel food

I spent a week living in a Warsaw hotel, making sandwiches in my room, using a shoe-horn to spread mayonnaise and mustard on the long-life bread bought from a nearby convenience store which mainly sold alcohol and snacks. This would hardly be a great example of ingenuity - a sign of a brilliant mind at work - but it certainly addresses the first part of this short essay: hunger.

Hunger is not just about food, so I thought I would get the food part out of the way at the beginning.

We can be hungry for sex, love, companionship, social contact. We can be hungry for thrills; adrenalin. We can be hungry for substances of abuse, including alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. There are all kinds of hunger, not all of which can be satiated with food, although we can often try to use food to fill the gaping void inside ourselves. Comfort eating is something I find myself doing when tired, bored or otherwise hungry for something other than food.

I wanted to write about intellectual hunger.

There are some questions which don't require much brain-power to answer, such as: how am I going to feed myself cheaply for a week in a hotel that's nowhere near anything except a couple of shops which mainly sell alcohol? The answer to this question is not one requiring intellect, but instead the answer simply requires lowered standards and the willingness to suffer a little.

Another question might be: how am I going to increase my standard of living as much as possible, as quickly as possible?

Again, this second question is quite easy to answer and requires very little thought or effort of the mind. The answer to the question simply requires more lowering of standards and willingness to suffer. Ultimately, one can always sell a kidney or make bodily orifices available for sexual gratification of paying punters. Problems of this nature are not taxing or interesting, in an intellectual way.

With too much of life occupied answering trivial questions and doing the unpleasant obvious things - prostituting yourself and living in vile conditions - we arrive at a far more interesting question: why bother?

4 years ago it was obvious to me that I knew exactly what I needed to do, how I was going to do it and how long it was going to take, in order to restore myself to health, wealth and prosperity. The prospect of repeating tasks which had become so repulsively boring and easy to me, although somewhat stressful too, was doubly abhorrent because of the lack of novelty combined with the lack of intellectual challenge.

I think in many ways it would have been much easier to accept a fate imposed upon me by circumstances, and abandon the pursuit of an outcome which was almost too far out of reach; almost too unbearable to suffer while en-route.

When I say "easier" I mean intellectually nourishing.

What right do I have to spend my days talking to interesting intelligent people? What right do I have to spend my days reading interesting books? What right do I have to explore ideas, have discussions and write down my thoughts? What right do I have to publish what I write? What right do I have to be allowed readers? Why should I be entitled to have any of those things?

I suppose I accepted that a more interesting course through life was not available to the likes of me. Those who are fortunate enough to ask themselves "what kinds of things do I find interesting?" or "what would my perfect job be?" and to then use these answers to formulate a life which is compatible with capitalist society, are not in the same socioeconomic boat as me. This is not to say that I'm deprived and disadvantaged, but merely that I'm incredibly pragmatic and quite unwilling to risk a decline in my living standards, back to a time when I was sleeping rough and the most pressing question of each day was: where shall I sleep to stay dry and keep me safe from violence and robbery?

So, my 4-year writing project began. I scratched my itch as best as I could with the facilities at my disposal. I have written and published as if I am one of those entitled brats who gets to spend their time choosing from an almost unlimited menu of very pleasant options, because their socioeconomic circumstances protect them from the peril of destitution.

I'm still surprisingly far from ever being able to ask myself "what would I like to study?" or "what is my dream job?" but the vast majority of us will never be fortunate enough to be able to do anything other than suffer the coercion of capitalism, and to do unpleasant things in order to survive.

It seems churlish to complain, given that I have certainly been able to feather the nest recently, and I do my complaining in far more pleasant surroundings than a bush in a park, sleeping rough.

Although I'm time poor and nowhere near being financially comfortable enough to feel confident in risking any major alterations in my chosen life course, I am lucky enough to be emerging from an incredibly lengthy period of suffering, in order to shore up life's practical considerations: housing etc.

Theoretically, it's now a matter of months until some very real and tangible results arrive as a result of a very sustained campaign, which has been excruciatingly boring and predictable, with very little freedom of choice.

In conclusion, I appreciate that my situation is fast becoming an enviable one, and soon I will have the freedom to make choices which offer more intellectual nourishment, which has been so lacking during the 4 year period where I simply had to do whatever it took - to suffer - in order to preserve all future opportunities, and avoid any catastrophic life-changing disasters which would force me down another path.

 

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All Is Lost - A Photo Story

12 min read

This is a story about lost causes...

Brushes up well

Look at that well-presented man: a professional on his way to work for Barclays at their head office in Canary Wharf as an IT consultant earning £600 a day. Look the attractive Georgian façades of the London townhouses of Camden, where he lives. The major high-street bank he works for has conducted extensive background checks on him and found him to be a fine upstanding member of the community: a model citizen.

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is a homeless man. That's right. This man is no-fixed-abode. This man lives in a hostel with other homeless people. This man was sleeping rough until very recently.

Hostel room

Look at this hostel dorm. It's got brand new beds and clean linen. It's empty. This looks like a pretty nice hostel dorm, doesn't it? Perhaps you wouldn't mind sleeping here. This would be tolerable for a while, perhaps if you were backpacking, wouldn't it?

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is a hostel dorm I stayed in when I was travelling - for leisure purposes - and the people who stay at this hostel are wealthy backpackers. This is not the hostel I stayed in when I was homeless. When I was homeless I stayed in hostel dorms that were full of drug addicts, alcoholics, people with severe mental health problems, thieves, violence, sexual assault, and they were exceptionally dirty and disgusting. The hostels I stayed in when I was homeless were full of everybody's crappy possessions which we carried around with us - we didn't live out of small backpacks, because we were homeless. When you're homeless you carry everything you possibly can: all your possessions. Try to imagine 14 people in a single room along with every single thing that they own. Try to imagine that's where you live - you're not just having a jolly old time doing some backpacking. That's WHERE YOU LIVE and you have to go to work, in the midst of all that chaotic s**t.

Hampstead heath

That's a nice view isn't it? That's Hampstead Heath. It's a nice place to walk your dog or go for a run. It's a nice place for a picnic. Hampstead Heath is a lovely place to go when the sun's shining. Perhaps you'd like to take a swim in one of the bathing ponds?

Look again.

What you are actually looking at is near the spot where I slept rough, to avoid being robbed, beaten up and/or raped. What you are actually looking at is a place where a homeless person can hide themselves in the undergrowth at night and avoid the perils of sleeping rough. What you are looking at is where I slept for a couple of months. Guess what? It's not always sunny. Sometimes it rains. When it rains you get wet. Very wet. A tent is conspicuous. It's hard to sleep rough, stay dry and avoid becoming a victim of crime when you're so vulnerable. Try to imagine not having a proper bed or any kind of security for you and your stuff - you're totally out in the open, in a remote area.

Psych ward

What's this? Is it a prison cell? I haven't been in a prison cell, but this definitely looks a bit like a prison cell to me. There's a window so that people can look into the room, which clearly has a bed, so this must be a place where I slept. What kind of place has windows in the doors so that people can see in when you're sleeping? That doesn't sound great for privacy, does it?

Look again.

What you are looking at is a room in a secure psychiatric ward. The window is there so that the staff can check you're not attempting to kill yourself. The staff check on you every 15 minutes. At night they sometimes come into your room and shine a torch in your face. You can't have a belt, shoelaces, scissors, razor, cables (e.g. mobile phone) or anything else that you could cut yourself with, or strangle yourself with. You can't lock the door to the shower room or the toilet.

Hampstead view

Oh look! There's a view of Hampstead from a tall building. Perhaps we could see the heath from here. This is quite a nice view, except it's kind of in the wrong direction to see any London landmarks. Perhaps this this is the view from an ugly brutalist concrete monstrosity which has now perversely become a desirable place to live as the capital city's property prices have soared.

Look again.

This is the view from the Royal Free Hospital. The emergency services brought me here. I was nearly dead. I was here a long time, while the medical team fought to save my life.

Private room

That's a pretty nice room for an NHS hospital. It's a private room. I must have some pretty good private medical insurance. Perhaps I've come to hospital for an elective cosmetic procedure. This certainly doesn't look like the kind of place where a sick patient would be looked after - it's more like the kind of recovery room that somebody with private healthcare would receive.

Look again.

This is the room at The Royal London which was dedicated to my treatment because my kidneys had failed due to a horrific DVT and I was receiving emergency dialysis for many many hours a day. To my left, out of shot, is a dedicated dialysis machine which I was connected to for day after day. I couldn't have dialysis in the main dialysis ward because my blood was so full of potassium that I was at risk of having a cardiac arrest at any moment. My blood was so toxic that many of the measurements were beyond the capability of the equipment to actually measure how toxic my blood was. I was very sick indeed.

Killavullen

Aha! This must be another trick. That pleasant view of a valley filled with low-lying fog, and mountain tops poking out, in pleasant rural surroundings must hide a darker secret. Why don't I just tell you the terrible truth?

Look again.

This is actually a good moment in my life. One of my friends had invited me to stay with his family in Ireland. I was half-dead so the opportunity for some rest and recuperation in rural Ireland was exactly what I needed. I meant to stay only for a short while, but ended up staying longer because I was very poorly and needed looking after, which is exactly what the kind family who took me in did: they nursed me back to health.

Canary Wharf skyline

Ooooh skyscrapers! We know from the first photograph that I worked in one of those skyscrapers. I also used to live in Canary Wharf and it's actually possible to see my apartment from this picture. I was also working for Lloyds Banking Group at this time, so this must be another good picture, right? Why would I be able to see my apartment and the head office of the bank I was working for though? Where the hell am I?

Look again.

I didn't show you the view out of the window from the private hospital room, did I? This is the view. I didn't really get to see the view much, because I was constantly hooked up to a dialysis machine which was sucking my blood out of me and squirting it back into me, but I did manage to take this photograph. All I can say that's positive about this period of my life is that I didn't die: I was saved [again] by a brilliant NHS medical team.

Hotel room

What now? A hotel room? Not too different from the psych ward room, but with a TV and better lighting. I was living here while working as an IT consultant for HSBC on their number one project, earning £600 a day. Sounds like my life was going pretty well, huh?

Look again.

What have I shown you so far? Homeless people's hostels, sleeping rough, hospitals. I showed you one picture when things were a little better - I was being looked after by my friend and his family - and my life was not in imminent danger. My life is not in peril at this moment, it's true, but I'm clearly staying in a hotel room for a reason. The reason is that I'm homeless. That's the theme of this story: homelessness.

Prince of Wales

This must be the door to the room that I showed you in the secure psychiatric ward. Somebody's written my name on a little whiteboard strip. That was thoughtful of them. Also, making sure that I'm not killing myself, by checking on me every 15 minutes is pretty damn caring. I'm pretty lucky to have this room all to myself and caring staff members to make sure I stay alive.

Look again.

This is not the same room. This is not the same psychiatric ward. This is not the same hospital. This is not the same city. In the first photograph, I had voluntarily gone to hospital because I couldn't keep myself safe. At the time this photograph was taken I have been sectioned and am being held against my will. At the time the first photograph was taken - in London - I could leave whenever I wanted. At the time this photograph was taken - in Manchester - I cannot leave, which is kind of like being in prison: involuntary internment. I was being held in a psychiatric intensive care unit (PICU) which is where the very most unwell psychiatric patients are held, and this type of unit is highly secure and can only care for 8 patients with a vast number of staff.

Why would I end with this photo?

I was asked to write down in detail where I had been living for the last 5 years of my life, for the purposes of government security vetting, which is a highly invasive process which will rake over every detail of my private life: my divorce, my psychiatric problems, my homelessness, the involvement of the emergency services. The government has access to every single piece of data about me held on every single database, and they are permitted to look at things - like private and confidential medical records - which nobody else is allowed to look at or even ask about, by law.

Why would I publish this?

Do you remember the photograph of the hotel room? That's where I started writing this blog, approximately 4 years ago. I've written 1.2 million words. I've thoroughly documented my life with the kind of candid honesty that the government expect from me when they ask questions like "where have you been living during the last 5 years?". The answer is far more complicated than could be filled in on their forms, so they can read about every detail which doesn't neatly fit into any of their computer systems. I could have asked for extra paper to complete my security vetting forms, but how many pages should I ask for if there are 1.2 million words written down right here and the story is not even fully told?

I chose that final photo because I shouldn't have been alive to take it.

On Saturday 9th September 2017 I attempted to end my life. My suicide attempt should have been successful. Even though I didn't die as quickly as I should have done, and even though the emergency services were able to intervene rapidly, when I believed that nobody knew where I lived or would be able to locate me, I was still having seizures and multiple organ failure. I was unable to breathe on my own. I was very much going to succeed in killing myself, which is exactly what I wanted. I had planned and executed my suicide attempt with precision.

Now, today, I am making an exceptional contribution to one of the government's highest profile projects - the number one project for the particular government organisation who I work for. I have been singled out for special commendation on multiple occasions by very senior government employees. I have worked incredibly hard to make the biggest possible contribution as part of a gigantic team of colleagues. I have busted my balls to go above-and-beyond and exceed all expectations. I have put an enormous amount of effort into delivering valuable skill, expertise, knowledge, effort and energy. I would expect that a significant number of my colleagues would speak very highly of me. In fact, I know that I am held in very high regard.

Also, during the last 5 years, I've slept rough, slept in homeless hostels, slept in hospitals and slept in psych wards. The sum total of the amount of months that I've spent in such places is very significant, but somehow it was hard to articulate this on a security vetting form that's not designed for somebody like me.

Either you believe I'm exceptional or you don't. If you think I'm an exceptional person, you have to decide whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. What cannot be disputed is my contribution to the teams, organisations and wider society, despite the great adversity I've faced.

Here is some of the information that couldn't be captured on a government security vetting form. Judge me however you want - end my career if you must. What you must understand is that I am not afraid, because I have already died a thousand deaths, so I do not fear one more.

 

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Cake And Eat It

9 min read

This is a story about a completed jigsaw puzzle...

Summer house cake

When I was 28 I was so depressed that I couldn't work. I couldn't face the outside world. I couldn't face the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday routine. I couldn't face the glacial pace that projects moved at. I couldn't face the lack of productivity. I couldn't face the wastefulness of large organisations. I couldn't face the dead wood, being dragged along by those of us who wanted to actually create some f**king software.

My behaviour became erratic. The symptoms my my mood disorder - bipolar - made me a dysfunctional individual for long enough to cause problems in an ordinary office type environment: mainly my lengthy absence due to to the aforementioned depression. Nobody had ever much cared about me being hypomanic in the office, because it allowed me to deliver very complicated projects on time, to a high standard of quality.

I quit my job in 2008 and sat in my garden making iPhone Apps - mainly games. They sold very well and I was number one in the App Store charts for a brief time. Suddenly, I was earning a lot of royalties and I was comparatively wealthy.

I decided that I hated office work and corporate IT work - I hated big software projects - but that I should start a small business. I retrained as an electrician. I did all the training, bought a van and started trading.

Electrician

My electrician business traded profitably, but I kept getting asked to do freelance software work, which paid twice as much as my electrical work, and I was obviously much better at it, given that I've got 20+ years of commercial software experience and about 18+ months of commercial electrical experience. It's a lot less stressful being a software consultant than it is being an electrician.

I decided to combine my entrepreneurial side - the iPhone Apps and the small business - to create a startup which would have a software product which could be licensed, so that I could make money while I slept: it was a scalable business model.

During all this erratic behaviour, I was making a ton of money, I designed a built a beautiful summer house in my garden, I had a wakeboarding boat, I threw lavish garden parties. I was having the time of my life, except I was in a very toxic, abusive relationship.

I ended the relationship and my life continued to improve. In fact, my life kept on improving.

Soon, I was enrolled on a prestigious startup accelerator program which takes 8,000 applicants for every place, and only offers 10 teams the chance to be mentored by senior executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Paypal and a bunch of other great tech companies, plus the opportunity to pitch on "demo day" to a packed auditorium full of venture capitalists and angel investors, and raise a huge amount of investment.

My company was already profitable enough to pay my co-founder and I a decent salary and hire our first full-time employee. That was entirely bootstrapped: the company was built from nothing. My co-founder and I built a profitable startup without taking a single cent from any member of friends or family, or risking any of our own money.

This was my cake and eat it moment.

I worked too hard for too long. On the accelerator program mentor madness was fine for the teams who just had an idea, but my co-founder and I had a profitable business to run. We had customers who needed supporting. We had sales deals which needed to be closed. The rest of our cohort were happily burning the money they'd raised - making a loss - while our startup was living within its means and growing organically... in fact it was growing rapidly organically.

The problem was that toxic, abusive relationship.

She wasn't kind. She wasn't supportive. She didn't want me to succeed. She was just plain mean and totally inflexible; uncompromising. It wasn't fair, because I had supported her when she wanted to change career, and I had also been a very loyal loving boyfriend. Of course I could have split up with her and run off into the sunset with a lovely girl from the tech startup scene who could see the potential in me and the potential of my startup, but I let loyalty and a sense of "doing the right thing" get the better of me.

Since then, there hasn't been a lot of cake eating.

Divorce became extremely acrimonious in 2013, after a harrowing period when the abuse and the trauma was sufficient to give me PTSD - I was barricaded in rooms and defecating in a bucket to avoid physical harm and at least give myself what little protection I could. Verbal abuse and violent kicking and punching of the door was so frequent it was literally torture. My abuser was keeping me trapped with threats of violence, and I starved, I was thirsty and I had to sh*t and piss in a bucket.

Mercifully, we separated in August 2013.

Trauma doesn't heal overnight.

The divorce dragged on into 2014, ruining my second startup and depriving me of all my liquid capital - my money - which I needed to start another business. The divorce ruined me every bit as much as the toxic relationship and abusive marriage did. The divorce left me so physically drained, traumatised, financially taken advantage of, exhausted and stressed, that I broke down completely. I ended up sleeping rough. I ended up homeless. I was wrecked.

Briefly, at the end of 2014 I had a nice apartment in Swiss Cottage, a lovely commute on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and a well paid consultancy contract with Barclays. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. The divorce and the separation had caused me such horrible PTSD and financial distress that for almost that whole year I had been sleeping rough and in a homeless hostel. My life was very fragile; my recovery was only green shoots.

In 2015 I had an amazing apartment overlooking the Thames with panoramic views of all the London landmarks. I had a great consultancy contract with HSBC. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. I was so distressed by the financial troubles I'd had that I worked unsustainable hours and got very sick, and had to be hospitalised. I had to be kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

In 2016 I had the same apartment. I had a great consultancy contract. I was less stressed about the erratic nature of my life and the financial boom and bust, but I certainly didn't feel comfortable spending money.

In 2017 I had the same apartment and a great consultancy contract with Lloyds Banking Group. A large blood clot - a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) - formed in my leg and it caused the complication that my kidneys failed. I nearly died. I was sick for months with agonising nerve and muscle damage. Out of desperation I took a short contract in Manchester. It was so miserable that I tried to kill myself. I very nearly succeed - I was in a coma for 4 or 5 days in intensive care. I was sectioned and kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

By the end of 2017 and into 2018 I had recovered enough to be consulting for an investment bank in London. I was commuting from Wales and staying in crappy AirBnBs. I was well paid but it was the most miserable life. I was homeless, single and coming to terms with having survived a suicide attempt which should definitely have killed me.

Then I got a consultancy contract in Wales. I had a nice girlfriend in Wales, I had a job in Wales and I had a very nice home in Wales with panoramic sea views. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Then, soon after booking a short holiday, my consultancy contract ended early because the project was finished - I worked very hard and delivered early.

I got another consultancy contract in Wales. I still have that consultancy contract in Wales. I have a girlfriend who I think is amazing and I'm crazy about her. I have very serious feelings for her. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Now my consultancy contract is ending prematurely. I worked hard and managed to rescue a very important project which was running late. I was working very hard to deliver our project early.

Clearly I work very hard. Clearly, I'm lucky enough to create these opportunties where I could have my cake and eat it but so far nothing's worked out for me.

It may well be possible for me to still have that amazing holiday we've got planned, but it will always be slightly spoiled by the stress of knowing that I don't have secure income when I get home, which makes me worried about money.

You can understand why I'm worried about money, can't you?

You can understand why it's so terrible that my holidays get ruined by having my consultancy contracts unexpectedly cut short, especially when I work so hard and make such a big contribution.

Of course, I could throw caution to the wind and take that luxury holiday anyway. If there's one repeating theme in this story, it's that I always bounce back from adversity. I could risk it all and go ahead with that holiday, which I desperately need and want.

I've been lucky. I got to go to Turkish Disneyland on my own. I got to go to Tulum in Mexico. My luck ran out eventually I guess. I have a beautiful girlfriend who is kind and loving and supportive, I have a gorgeous bengal kitten, I have a very nice great big house. I have a little financial security, but paying for a luxury 2-week holiday has a major negative impact on my meagre financial resources, seen in the context of how bad things can get: months in hospital, sleeping rough and nearly dying on several occasions.

Perhaps it's just not my destiny to have my cake and eat it.

 

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Help or Hinder

6 min read

This is a story about giving a hand up not a handout...

Empty cupboard

In my 39 years on this planet I've come across a few people whose lives I've tried to intervene in to produce a positive outcome. I'm somewhat undecided as to whether I'm helping, hindering, or making no difference except to myself, because I've wasted time, energy and money where it might otherwise have been invested in my sister, my niece or my friends and other important close relationships.

I try not to over-invest in anyone or anything. I'm heavily invested in work, but I still treat it like a job and I don't work too hard or take things too personally - work is just a means to an end; an efficient way of complying with capitalism's coercion.

There are two individuals who I have invested a significant amount of time, effort, energy and money into helping. I should qualify what I mean by "significant" when it comes to money. I expect that to most of my readers "significant" does not have the same meaning as it does for me. The only sums of money which have had a significant impact on my life have been related to my divorce and £8,000 of unpaid rent and bills which an ex-flatmate owes me. This is not a boast - it's simply the honest truth about my good fortune in life.

The first individual was a homeless alcoholic man I met in a park. He was making a great deal of effort to deal with the clusterf**k of issues he faced, which were bereavement trauma, commensurate self-medicating alcoholism, physical health issues related to sleeping rough, and the general reluctance of the welfare state to see his life as valuable. He had been repeatedly denied the holistic care that he needed: bereavement/trauma counselling, a residential alcohol detox, a residential rehabilitation program, a hostel bed and welfare payments to allow him to eat without begging until he was physically and mentally well enough to be able to work.

It seemed as if this first fellow was worth helping, because I could at least get him off the streets, into a hostel, and provide as much support as possible to help him navigate the maze of state services in order to get the alcohol detox and rehab that he desperately needed, as well as navigating a further maze of state services in order to get welfare payments to give him a meagre income while he recuperated.

To my mind, it was worth the money of renting a room for this guy and meeting him every day, to help support him through interminable meetings with the local council and various bureaucrats who act as gatekeepers, stopping sick people like him from becoming well and getting back on their feet.

The second individual was a young cocaine addict I met at a rehab. He was mostly adhering to the rehab program, although he had failed a drugs test on a couple of occasions and was obviously not committed to an unrealistic level of abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I felt sorry for this young chap because he'd already badly screwed up his life by getting a criminal record, yet he was clearly an intelligent and enterprising fellow. I suppose the second individual's issues were more complex, having to do with upbringing and the company he kept, which was liable to keep him forever in a life where recreational use of drugs was commonplace, and drug dealing was also an ever-present temptation, for easy money. I wouldn't be able to give an oversimplification of the underlying issues, so I won't even try - it would do a great disservice to that young man.

To my mind, it was worth the money of providing financial assistance to the second guy, because I hoped that he would see me as a friend, instead of a parent or other authority figure; I hoped that he would naturally arrive at the conclusion that it's a good idea not to abuse the kindness of friends, and begin to change from the mindset of "borrowing" and stealing from friends and family to feed a drug habit, to a new form of behaviour where he would see that some people are kind and patient. I thought he could use another person in his life who wasn't going to get fed up with his lies, his dishonesty and eventually his behaviour being so resistent to change that he would end up abandoned. I felt I could help because I have deep pockets and a lot of patience.

With the first individual, he got his hostel bed, his alcohol detox, his rehab, and now he's lived 5 years clean and sober, he got married and he's starting his own business. He's my big success story.

With the second individual, he's managed to rent a room. That's about where the good news ends. The second individual has had vastly more financial investment from me, which seems to have made very little net difference... in fact, he seems to be more in debt now than when I started trying to help him. My tireless patience and refusal to abandon him seems to have only ever once become apparent to him, when he asked me why I kept forgiving him, which was a wonderful moment. At least if I'm the one and only person in his life to have never abandoned him, and that's caused him to question whether he should "borrow" and steal from his friends and family until they cut ties with him and abandon him, then that's progress of a sort.

I'm conflicted about whether I should continue to support the second individual. I suppose I made a decision early on that the way I was going to help him was to not abandon him, so in a way I'm committed. What can be said for certain is that he is exceptionally talented at p*ssing off his friends and family and losing any source of income, such that he regularly becomes destitute, so there will probably be many more occasions where he will slowly realise that it's very useful to have me as a loyal friend who's decided to support him no matter what, purely for the point of teaching him the lesson that not everybody will abandon you: there is some value in treating certain loyal friends with more respect than everybody else.

My girlfriend tells me that I'm being used and that I should abandon the second individual, given his repeated demonstrations of an inability to learn, and an inability to recognise a golden opportunity to receive assistance. I've regularly offered to help in life-changing ways - to break the cycle he's stuck in - but he's been impossible to persuade. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

This essay is not about what a worthy and wonderful charitable individual I am, but in fact about the ethical dilemmas I face about whether I'm helping or hindering; whether I'm investing my considerable resources in the right places.

 

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Be Careful What You Wish For

4 min read

This is a story about girls, girls, girls...

Sleeping kitten

Life is always so filled with trepidation and uncertainty. My employment contract expires soon. My housing contract currently stipulates "no pets". My relationship status is still very much "dating". I can picture some kind of nightmarish scenario where I find myself homeless, jobless, single and with a hungry kitten to feed - that would be the worst-case outcome, which is of course what I imagine will happen when I'm feeling anxious.

On the flip side, everything could work out nicely for me. My contract could get renewed. My housing contract could be amended to allow me to keep the kitten I'm getting. My romantic interests could develop into a serious committed loving relationship. All these things are within the realms of possibility.

You could characterise me as somewhat of a control freak. I like to have things nailed down. I like to have certainty.

Perhaps I should have made different choices. I could have chosen permanent employment, instead of doing consultancy. I could have bought a house with no covenants or other contractual legal sticks to beat me with. I could have married the first girl who'd have me. Perhaps all these things would give me more certainty in my life - more security - but in my experience it's not possible to use legal contracts to guarantee anything: Life is intrinsically uncertain.

Empirically, it's obvious that most marriages will end in divorce. "Forever" is not something that anybody takes very seriously when they say their solemn marriage vows, nowadays. Perhaps it's always been the case that most humans are liars and cheats, and it seems to me like there are very few guarantees that you're not going to get your heart broken.

Our lives are based upon an immensely complex and surprisingly fragile economic system, which is liable to threaten our ability to house ourselves at almost any moment. Most people live lives of economic precarity, with very little money saved up in case they lose their job - two missed paycheques and the majority of people would be in a great deal of financial difficulty.

Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures and things which seem like catastrophes are often not as bad as we initially think: we so often find a way of overcoming adversity.

A considerable proportion of my time is spent worrying about losing my job, losing my home and having my heart broken. I suppose I've already had everything bad happen that could possibly happen - losing my job, my money, my house, my wife - and it felt like the end of the world; something I'd never be able to recover from. My life is certainly not fully repaired but occasionally I dare to dream that I'm going to end up in a far better situation than I ever would have been if I hadn't lost everything and been forced to start again from scratch.

It's not particularly in my nature to be risk-averse and I think I'm happier that I'm not trapped in a bad job, a bad marriage or a bad mortgage. My life is kinda scary, which isn't great for my anxiety levels, but there's no way that I'd be in such an enviable position if I hadn't taken huge risks. I'm glad that I'm taking risks and they're paying off, although obviously I'm aware that the more risks I take, the more chance there is of something bad happening.

Empirically and anecdotally, I do seem to get everything I want though.

One week from now I should have a gorgeous bengal kitten, all things being well.

 

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I'm Impatient

4 min read

This is a story about being in a hurry...

Wrigglebottom

Wanting a girlfriend, a kitten and a house could hardly be said to be whimsical decisions that have I suddenly made with little thought put into them. I've wanted a girlfriend, a cat and a house for my whole adult life, and probably a lot of my adolescence too. My wants and needs are pretty basic; fundamental.

The amount of elapsed time it's taken me to get a house, furnish it, start dating, meet some prospective love interests and find a kitten, has not taken me very long at all... by most normal people's standards. According to my perceptions, time has been almost at a standstill: like watching a 3 hour long movie in ultra slow-motion, or perhaps having each of the 24 frames per second shown by a slide projector, one every minute. The last three months of my life have lasted 72 months, according to my warped perception of time.

I by no means want to make a hurried decision about important things such as embarking upon a serious relationship, but equally I am not a person who wishes to spend a vast amount of time, effort and money, eternally dating and never thinking about making a more earnest commitment.

My life feels quite incomplete without a feline friend. I find it improves my life immeasurably to have a furry face to greet me when I come home, and I never seem to get bored of playing with cats, and stroking them when they're in the mood for human company - the sensation of a cat's fur is instantly calming, soothing and stress relieving.

UK house prices are insanely overvalued, so I must temporarily console myself with a house owned by a bank - with a mortgage - or beholden to some other form of landlord who gets rich at my expense. However, at least I have some say over how I furnish and decorate my home, and I have the right to reasonably refuse entrance to anybody I want and feel safe behind my front door.

I might seem like a very impatient person, but you have to understand that I thought I had my life sorted at a surprisingly young age, but there were bumps in the road and I'm finding myself starting over - clean slate - in a new city and without much to show for all the struggle and effort I put in up until now. That's why I'm so impatient: I very much know what I want and I know how to get it, because I already got what I wanted once already.

I have to wait a while to pick up my kitten because bengal breeders are pretty strict about when people are allowed to have them. The waiting is agonising. I have loads of photos and I get to go back for visits, but I hate waiting. I want to start bonding with my kitten right away.

I have my future life pictured very clearly and I can easily see the steps of how to get where I want to be. I never thought "I wish I didn't get a kitten" or "I wish I didn't buy a house" previously. I'm usually pretty good at knowing what's going to make me feel like a happy, fulfilled, contented person. I'm usually pretty good at knowing what's missing from my life.

It takes time to get everything we want and need, and the waiting is horrible, but I suppose I'll get there in the end.

 

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Mount Cardboard

6 min read

This is a story about packaging...

Cardboard pile

My house has high ceilings but I've still managed to reach the ceiling with my mountain of cardboard packaging, mostly from all the Ikea furniture I've bought. Arguably, I'm getting by with the bare minimum amount of furniture. What's the minimum amount of furniture that you could have, and lead a fairly normal life?

I lived out of suitcases and holdalls for a long time, so it seems reasonable to want a wardrobe - for hanging garments - and a chest of drawers for my other clothes. I'm sick of rummaging in bags to find the clothes I want.

I have a guest bed. It might seem like a real luxury to have a guest bedroom at all, but what was the point of working so hard for so long, if I'm not able to accomodate guests in my own home? Sure, I could rent a room in a shared house, share a kitchen, share a bathroom... but I spent enough years putting up with other people's disgustingness and inconsiderate behaviour. I think I'm entitled to a place of my own, with some space for friends and my sister to come and stay with me.

I have two sofas and a coffee table. I could probably get along alright with just one sofa but at some point I was going to want a matching pair and there's no guarantee that Ikea would have kept manufacturing the model I bought, so it made sense to buy the second sofa. Also, it does mean I can seat guests without us all having to be cramped onto the one sofa. I don't think it seems particularly profligate to own two sofas.

I managed to live for about 18 months without a microwave, iron, vacuum cleaner and various other domestic items, but it is rather tiresome not having these household basics. Yes, I did manage to survive without those things, but I could hardly be accused of being a spendthrift for purchasing such mundane objects.

In amongst the packaging pile of Mount Cardboard are some large lumps of polystyrene, which protected my washer/dryer during delivery. I'll accept that the dishwasher - which I did not purchase - is a luxury item that I could easily live without, but I refuse to wash my clothes by hand using a washboard and mangle. Using the dryer is horrendously energy inefficient and I have been good at taking advantage of nice weather to hang my washing out to dry, but sometimes it's incredibly nice to fill the machine with dirty laundry, push a button, and then have dry clothes ready to wear some hours later - requiring virtually zero effort.

The sum total amount of money I've spent vastly exceeds what I expected, even though I have bought bottom-of-the-range items most of the time. One must remember that I was starting my life afresh - a clean slate - with virtually no possessions, and the innumerable items which you use in normal daily life shouldn't be underestimated.

I bought items which could be seen as serving a purely decorative purchase, like lamps for my lounge and bedrooms, and shelves for the bathroom. I bought a bath mat and some pillows. I bought a pair of curtains. I bought some little organiser boxes. I even bought a couple of outdoor chairs to sit in the sun and read my book, in the privacy of my own garden. My life would function without these things, or I could make do with what I've got, but there's an intangible value to having a house with some finishing touches which make it feel homely; inviting.

If things should go horribly wrong somehow, with the benefit of hindsight some might criticise me for having set up my home relatively quickly - in under two months - instead of being much more cautious about the rate I have been spending money. I would counteract that argument by saying that this lovely home is my reward for having struggled through the years in shared houses, hostels, sleeping rough, months in hospital and generally unsettled existence which led me to the point of having no furniture, and very little else which is necessary to make a house a home.

It pleases me when I open a cupboard to find that I had the foresight to buy tea and coffee for the benefit of any visitors, because I do not drink tea or coffee myself. It pleases me when I'm able to offer a guest a hot beverage of their choice, with milk and/or sugar too. It might sound laughable, the idea of living a life where I simply wasn't in a position to have friends or my sister stop and visit, but that's what my life has been like - we quickly take our lives for granted and get used to our surroundings.

It will be a relief to take Mount Cardboard to my nearest recycling centre. It will be great to reclaim that space and not have the ugly eyesore, but I do have a final wave of Ikea furniture, which I have delayed for now because I have the bare minimum to be able to comfortably accomodate one guest or a couple. At some point, I would like to be able to have the space to have visitors and their kids too, given that most of my friends have children, and I have a young niece.

To say that having a great big house that's empty most of the time is hugely wasteful is a valid criticism, but this is my reward for working hard and making good sensible choices. This is how I'm making sense of the world, because I was struggling to see the point of being alive, if I was not seeing any benefit from my efforts.

I guess for most ordinary people, they get a "treat" occasionally - they have to spend their meagre income little by little - but I've gotten an entire furnished house suddenly overnight, but that's not really a fair comparison. I assure you that when you have no bed to sleep on at all, getting a bed seems like a necessity, not a treat.

I'm beginning to live very well, and I am grateful; I am happy. I am beginning to feel contented and settled.

 

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