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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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No Consequences

4 min read

This is a story about machine learning...

Up a tree

We like to believe in karma. We like to believe that evildoers will get their comeuppance eventually. We like to believe that virtue will be rewarded eventually. We like to think that there are natural laws, which bring everything into equilibrium: what goes up must come down.

Not true.

I find it very hard to objectively analyse my present situation: is it a punishment, or a reward? Is this one of the best periods of my life or one of the worst? With no absolute scale - no universal yardstick - it's impossible to measure myself, either against prior experiences, or against other individuals.

Very quickly, we get bogged down in difficult questions: is the 'winner' of life, the richest soul in the graveyard, or the poorest? We instinctively ascribe success to the rich, but we do not consider how much they might have sacrificed in order to accumulate that wealth. "Can't spend it when you're dead" goes the old saying. It's true: how much living to people miss out on, because they're saving for a rainy day which never comes?

One of my life's most treasured experiences was homelessness and sleeping rough. Of course, it was insanely traumatic at the time, but as time has passed, all that I'm left with is the happy memories; the hair-raising anecdotes; the adventures.

Perhaps I never truly believed that I was ruined; that my life was destroyed beyond repair. But, how could I have known enough about the future, to predict the astronomically remote possibility of the crucial events which helped me claw my way back from the brink of oblivion? How could I have known that things would work out OK in the end? How could I not have given up any hope of ever re-entering civilised society?

Perhaps I don't believe that I really am back. Certainly my present life is very odd, versus anybody else who considers themselves to be a fine upstanding example of a model citizen, carrying themselves through life productively, and as a valued member of society. Where are my wife, children, mortgage, car loan, life insurance, home insurance, car insurance, dental insurance, unemployment insurance, phone insurance, insurance insurance and suchlike? Where are the trappings which trap me? I certainly do not behave like a model capitalist consumer.

I am continually willing the world to block my way; to throw me out on the street; to cut off my income. I am continually willing the world to chuck me out of the club; to bar my entrance from civilised society. I am continually willing civilised society to force me out and into the underclass. I am continually willing those around me - work colleagues for example - to snap and lose their patience, and to say "you don't belong here! get out!".

I fantasise about total isolation, without a gun to my head: a little patch of ground to lie down on, where nobody will bother me, ever. I fantasise about being free from coercion.

I can forget about how coerced I am when I am busy, so I try to be frantically busy at all times. I never want to be alone with my thoughts, because I am so horrendously coerced: I'm not allowed to be idle for a single second. Every ounce of my productive capacity is milked, and then it's milked some more for good measure, but it's still not enough to pay for the privilege of breathing: somebody will slap an extra tax on me; demand money with menaces. I'm running as fast as I can to stand still, but I'm still going backwards.

Conversely, when I abandon the struggle, the dire consequences are not dire at all. While I spend most of my waking hours contemplating suicide, when I am being coerced, as soon as I collapse from exhaustion and abandon the rat race, life becomes seemingly worthwhile again: a Catch 22. I know that life is easier if you are wealthier, but it's impossible to become wealthy, because the rat race is so unbearable; unwinnable.

I live with dignity: independent, undeniably productive and industrious. I have proven beyond all reasonable doubt that I'm as good as anybody at this ridiculous game, but what good has it done me? I still go to bed alone, exhausted, anxious, afraid, depressed, isolated... but I also have the knowledge that, at all times, I can flush the whole stupid mess down the toilet and I'll be fine... better than fine, in fact... it will be better when the time comes, to cut loose from this coercive life.

 

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Grind

4 min read

This is a story about wishing my life away...

Jeep

As a child I wanted to be a grown-up so that I could drive a car and buy whatever the heck I wanted; eat whatever I want; do whatever I want. Life has, in fact, kinda worked out for me in that regard. Life has, essentially, turned out to be everything I expected it to be. It really is child's play in fact, provided you stay true to your childish ambitions: I do, in fact, enjoy driving, expensive toys, eating whatever I want, and doing whatever I want.

I don't think I was ever so naïve as to think that things didn't have to be paid for. In fact, if there's one thing which has been front and centre of my mind, since the moment that consciousness sprang into my infant mind, it's that everything has to be paid for. You have to pay to play: I've always understood this.

As with childhood, I know that there's no other route to get where I want other than waiting. I had to wait until 17 years of age to get a full driving license, to enjoy the freedom of the road on my own. I had to wait for everything else I wanted too. I'm waiting now. My whole life is mostly waiting. Waiting for the stuff I want.

Older people, and particularly parents, are somewhat idiotic in telling children and younger people to not wish their lives away. It's moronic to tell somebody who has no freedom and cannot get what they want, that they should cherish a time of misery, suffering, deprivation and unmet want. What is there to cherish about being homeless? What is there to cherish about being hungry? What is there to cherish about having the world flaunt everything in your face, while you can only look on jealously? What is there to cherish about the impotence of having your life controlled by others? What is there to cherish in the waiting?

I've often written about this, but if I could take a pill and wake up ten years from now with no memory of the intervening decade, but all of my earnings in the bank, of course I'd take it. There's nothing I want from the present. I only want the opportunities which money can buy, which are locked up in the future, with nothing but grinding standing in the way.

Grinding is a well-understood thing, amongst younger people. In the absence of any realistic prospect of being able to afford to buy a house and start a family, it seems obvious that virtual worlds would flourish. Starting with games like The Sims, and then the infamous World of Warcraft, there has been an enormous explosion in popularity of games which aren't won per se, but instead offer a virtual reality where achievement and progress are possible, in a way which is not possible in the real world. No amount of supermarket shelf stacking will enable a young person to escape from their socioeconomic predicament - their preordained doom - and as such, it's little wonder that their tiny amount of disposable income would be frittered away on virtual objects; purchasing power so inadequate as to acquire any of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, such as shelter.

The gamification of life is all-pervasive. School is not about learning, but about grades to get into university. University is not about learning, it's the only route into a career without a ludicrously low glass ceiling. Jobs are not about passion or vocation, but each one a means to an end: a stepping stone on a career path towards... towards what? Towards a pension, and death hopefully. At least, hopefully, a long, painful, uncomfortable, illness-ridden, but not impoverished retirement, hopefully. At some point along the way, a partner will be acquired - whose looks and intelligence will be scored - and later there will be children who will also score points for their academic achievements. Everybody is keeping score.

The grind seems necessary, somehow. A means to an end, perhaps. Except, the summit is never reached. The goals are never achieved. There's no winning this game.

 

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No Retreat

4 min read

This is a story about one-way streets...

Balcony

An important reason why people commit suicide, which demands further discussion, is the way that life is set up so that retreat is almost impossible. Nobody ever asks for a demotion. Nobody ever asks for a pay cut. Nobody ever wants to pull their kids out of private school to put them into state school. Nobody ever wants to cut off their kids' allowance, or stop paying into a savings account for their university education. Nobody ever wants to lose their trophy partner, because they can't afford to keep them in the manner to which they have been accustomed. Nobody wants to downsize or move in with family. It's all a one-way street.

Taken in aggregate, a small bump in the road can easily be understood as something which would prompt somebody to commit suicide. While you might say to somebody who's lost their job "just get another job" it's actually much more complicated than that: most people are only one or two missed paycheques away from major financial difficulties. The whole house of cards can collapse very easily: everybody is leveraged to the max.

Of course, you might say that it's silly to get worked up about material things. "Of course" everyone would understand about having to sell the fancy car, not go on holiday, leave the fancy school, not buy the nice things, maybe not have the same opportunities. "Of course" so the saying goes "we've still got each other" except it doesn't work like that. When the money dries up, everyone fucks off, and then the vultures move in to pick any remaining flesh off the carcass.

Yes, we really do have to acknowledge that we all become highly leveraged such that relatively small problems are life-destroying, and as such, they are life-ending.

We humans are optimists by nature. We always assume that the stock market is going to keep going up, the housing market is going to keep going up, our salary is going to keep going up: everything must always go up, according to our human proclivity for optimism. It's not that people are stupid, although of course they are that too, but there's a fundamental hard-wired kind of specific stupidity I'm talking about: the tendency towards optimism, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

If we were beasts of pure reason and logic, we'd kill ourselves as soon as we grasped our situation: a life of pain, depression, anxiety, suffering, hard work and other unpleasantness, met with an inevitable death at the end. Why put yourself through that? Our self-preservation instincts have evolved to counteract our higher brain functions, lest our species die out, but still... why bother? It's completely illogical to live your life hoping for anything: death is inevitable; illness, pain and suffering is almost inevitable. Almost nobody dies "peacefully" in their sleep: decades of slow, painful and uncomfortable dying await us all.

Obviously, we hope to achieve symbolic immortality through our genes, passed on to our children. Or rather, our genes hope to be replicated. We are, after all, just a vessel for genes to reproduce themselves, and it would be foolish - an anthropocentric arrogant delusion of grandeur - to try to convince ourselves otherwise.

In the eternally optimistic quest for a "better life" we strive to get a bigger salary, bigger house, more attractive partner, as many kids as we can realistically feed and clothe... then we move onto status symbols, like university degrees, professional qualifications/certification, fancy cars, luxury holidays... still we are not satiated.

At some point, pretty early on in our life, we become locked into a certain destiny. Pretty much, once you've got kids, you are locked-into a certain kind of life: although you might fantasise about selling your house and living in a camper van, you never will, because you are locked in, in so many ways. Even if you're wealthy and single, you're never going to sell everything you own and become a homeless nomad. You might have gone off on a gap year, you predictable tedious middle-class wanker, but you know that any more gaps on your CV wouldn't look good on your otherwise unblemished career track-record.

Those who are unlucky enough to suffer a misfortune most often go one of two ways: they're kicked out of mainstream life, and must accept their plight trapped in the underclass forevermore, or they commit suicide. There's no other line of retreat; there's no way back, for those who err or suffer a misfortune.

This might seem like a bleak outlook, but you know it's true.

 

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Electronicat

5 min read

This is a story about technical stuff...

Electronics

Of all the hobbies I thought about getting into, most of them were sedentary; indoors. I thought about getting some kind of retro games console. I thought about getting a new games console. I thought about getting a gaming PC. Then, I thought about maybe doing something really geeky. I started looking into software-defined radio, with the intention of making a home-made radar, perhaps, or doing my own mobile phone base station. All of this, I decided, was expensive and wouldn't help me with my need to get outside and exercise.

I did some of the projects on the cheap. I managed to turn my 5 year old laptop into a pretty decent retro console, with nothing more than a cheap game controller pad. I got a whole buttload of electronics experiments I could do with a super cheap tiny little computer (pictured). I managed to make a home-made sonar. Not quite radar, but not too bad for a bodger.

Still, I found myself spending most of my time looking at a screen, indoors.

Also, although the projects have provided some intellectual challenge, they haven't really opened up any social avenues. I'm sure that if I got really involved in - for example - the software defined radio community, online, then I would kinda get 'social' contact out of that, but I already get more than enough online social contact. The thing I'm missing is real world social contact.

I know from past experience that when I've done something ridiculous, like suddenly deciding to get into kitesurfing, it's taken my life in a brilliant direction. I've travelled the world, in search of the best wind and waves, and made lifelong friends along the way.

My life is very nice - enviable - in a lot of ways. My beautiful cat keeps me company, and she likes company too; always wants to be nearby, getting involved with everything I'm doing, which is not always ideal when working on a microelectronics project, for example. For sure, I have options and opportunities which a lot of people can only dream of.

However.

I am also more socially isolated than you can possibly imagine. Estranged from my family, far from friends, without a support network. The litmus test is this: if you're hospitalised for a major medical emergency, who's there for you? I can answer that question. I can answer that question very well, and the answer is not good, although mercifully I did have a work colleague and a friend who happened to be visiting from abroad, who were kind enough to visit me, hooked up to a dialysis machine for 4 hours a day; a hospital stay of more than 2 weeks; a medical emergency that pretty much nearly killed me.

That's not a dig at my friends, of course. They've become used to leaving me sleeping rough or otherwise homeless. They've become used to leaving me in hospital, dying, alone. That's fine. I've come to terms with that.

I do have some VERY good friends. I am lucky enough to have one or two friends who would help me, if I asked. The rest... I'm not sure if I can even call them friends... more just people who I used to know, but now they're just strangers who I happen to see updates from on Facebook. They might as well be celebrities who I read about in tabloid newspapers or gossip magazines.

This wasn't supposed to be a dig at my acquaintances [former friends]. This is about what I'm doing to sort my life out, to make it bearable.

Possibly, by getting back into mountain biking, I have opened up the possibility of making some friends and building a support network; having a social life. We'll have to see. "Social life" might just be something which I'll never regain; I'm too old to be able to [re]build one now, having lost my old one. Anyway, I remain optimistic.

For the first time in forever, I felt motivated to start to plan for the future, in a way that's not just planning for my suicide. I've been planning what to do when my backside isn't so sore, and I can ride my new mountain bike again - where am I going to go?

Suddenly, winter doesn't look quite so bleak. I have good winter clothes and a reason to be outdoors, in the wind, the rain, and the mud. Not many people have the strange twisted kind of brain that I do, where I love extreme weather: keeps the fair-weather tourists away. On the bike ride I went on, on Saturday, there was not a single other soul on the mountain. I'd hardly describe it as "perfect conditions" but in the forests around the summit of the mountain, I hardly noticed the rain; I was going to get covered in mud anyway. It was delightful; ecstatic; euphoric... to be hammering down deserted mountain tracks, without having to worry about crashing into anybody. A far cry from the queues to get into shops, which seems to be something that the ordinary folks are spending their time doing.

Of course, everything's more fun when there's a social aspect, so I'm hoping to find some people to go mountain biking with, but people are already contacting me (which is unheard of) to arrange some biking trips, which is a good sign; a sign that I might get the healthy habits which I need in my life, along with a truckload of fun and adventure.

 

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Bad Decisions

5 min read

This is a story about getting into debt...

Bike

I was desperate for a halfway-decent car when I was 17 years old. The car I had when I first passed my driving test was the most disgusting horrible thing you've ever seen in your life, and that was before my mum crashed it, and then a blind man was paid to repair it using household paint of the wrong colour, which was daubed thickly onto the crumpled bodywork, and left to drip and generally look worse than it would have done if somebody had simply lowered their trousers, curled out a shit onto the bonnet, and then smeared the excrement.

The car, absolutely, was not a gift. In fact, the car was a curse. Firstly it was extortionate to repair, because nobody has a disgusting shit car like that for their first car, so no insurer would offer me an affordable policy. That wiped out every penny I had. Then, it was ruined: my mother crashed it, and it was shit in the first place. It was so old, that basically, it was mechanically fucked in every conceivable way. So, the insurance financially ruined me, then repairing it left me with a gigantic debt to the garage. Then, after all that, it was a hideously ugly shit unreliable horrible, horrible, horrible car.

So, I was keen to have a car that was not shit.

I got a bank loan. I got a bank loan to buy a car, which wasn't a piece of shit, looked like shit, drove like shit... I took out a bank loan to buy a fucking OK-ish fucking car, alright?

In actual fact, it was a good decision to get that bank loan, because I was happy with my not-shit car. In fact, I was fucking ecstatic to have a car which wasn't a complete pile of shit, that was financially crippling me.

Predictably, my OK-ish car was not a pile of fucking horrible ugly shit, and consequently cost me far less in garage repair bills. Predictably, my OK-ish car did wonders for my self-esteem, and I was quite proud of my OK-ish car. My OK-ish car was very enjoyable to drive, and I was very glad that I had taken out that bank loan.

Of course, I hated being in debt, but I paid it off pretty quickly, especially as the garage bills were a fraction of what they were for the horrible ugly old piece of shit, which was good for nothing but the scrap yard.

So, where am I going with this?

Today is payday. Actually, I don't really have payday, to to speak. I don't have a salaried job, in any sense that you'd understand. I run my own company, so it's not like payday is really a thing for me. But anyway, for the sake of simplicity: imagine that today is payday for me.

I've been trying to buy a new bike for a little while. Pictured above is my city bike: designed for zooming through traffic in London. I love that bike. It's great.

I don't live in London anymore. I live somewhere where there's hills.

The new bike I've been trying to buy is a mountain bike. I don't live super close to any mountains - maybe 45 minutes away - but it's pretty hilly where I live, so I need gears. As it happens, I already have a mountain bike, which I bought on motherfucking credit, OK, motherfucker not long after I got my OK-ish car. My 22 year old mountain bike is brilliant and I love it, but I want one which is better for going up and down hills. I mean, that's what my old one is designed to do, but I want a better one.

So, I'm buying something that I don't need but I want and I can afford because it's payday. I can pay cash. I don't need to borrow money or otherwise get it on some kind of credit agreement. I can just walk into a fucking shop, hand over the cash, and walk out with the brand new mountain bike.

I'm getting one.

Actually, it looks like I'm getting one which is going to cost twice as much as I had budgeted for... but I don't care. I want the one that I want, and I want it now... or rather, I want it tomorrow, because the shop needs to build it for me.

It feels - having been relatively recently homeless, horrendously indebted, and almost bankrupt - to be an incredibly bad decision. Sure, it probably is, but I've got the money - surplus - and I'm going to spend it all on this thing that I want; this thing that I don't need.

For sure, I'm not spending money that I don't have; I'm not spending money before I've earned it. For sure, this could be the beginning of a spiral back into debt, but I really don't think it's going to be. Even if it is, I don't give a shit. I've put up with too much for too long, to fuck around any longer.

Sorry for the stream of expletives. I've had to justify myself and my very real human needs, for far too long. If you ask my dad, you can get a bike that's just as good as a £30,000 full-carbon Tour de France pro-rider bike, so cheaply that somebody will pay you to take it off your hands, and buy you a fucking house too for your trouble.

By the way, I am not buying a £30,000 full-carbon pro-rider bike. I am buying a mid-range bike: not the cheapest, and not the most expensive. Mid-priced.

Okay?

Happy now?

 

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What Next?

4 min read

This is a story about dreams...

Penny

Here is money. Don't spend it all at once. A starving African child would be grateful to have this money. A boomer could buy a house, go out to the cinema, get a taxi home and still have change left, from this money.

A conversation I keep having with a friend who also suffers from existential angst, ennui and general loathing of the rat race, is what I'd do if I was free from the tyranny of rent/mortgage and career considerations. My friend thinks that things would be no different, except perhaps I would be bored. I disagree, but I don't have an easy answer. I have no burning desire to re-train as a landscape gardener or a vet. I have no desire to swap one career - profession - for a different one.

Having had a 23 year long career, and previously - as a child - suffered the consequences of my parents being lazy loser drop-out druggie bums, who refused to get a job and stop scrounging off their parents. My childhood experiences certainly made me want to go a very different way with my life: to be a valuable, productive member of society; to make a contribution; to have a career and a profession. Now, I want to drop out. I want to drop out of the rat race. I want to be a bum; a tramp even.

The time I spent homeless was chaotic, traumatic and stressful at times, but I have very fond memories of a lot of the time, where I connected with people, community; I had a social life. Life was enjoyable. Now it is not.

The friends who I have, who are free from the tyranny of a bullshit job which they can't afford to lose, lest they lose their home, their money, their credit rating and their dignity... they are not bored. They are busy. They spend time talking to people, about stuff other than how horrible the commute to the office is, and other job-related stuff. They find people they like and they hang out with them, instead of being coerced into spending the vast majority of their waking hours, corralled together with people who are equally resentful about having the prime years of their lives robbed so cheaply.

The gap-year-university-I-built-a-school-in-africa-yah-boo-jolly-hockey-sticks brigade are perhaps happy with their lives, because they had pleasant privileged upbringings, in private or selective schools, surrounded by other socioeconomically advantaged kids at all stages, including when they went to university, which continued into first jobs... marry the girl of your dreams and you've always got plenty of money for a house, car, holiday, and school fees for the next generation to carry on doing what you've always done - the best of everything, always.

We must consider that I never went travelling and I never went to university. Couldn't afford it.

I enjoyed a bit of the London young professional scene, but it's quite an uphill battle if you don't have your group of university buddies as a social group.

I found a group of kitesurfers, who became my social group, which was wonderful.

But it all went wrong. They've all got kids now, but I'm divorced. The childless man, who doesn't fit in anywhere. People have moved on with their lives.

Being homeless was great. Homeless people are a community. It's important to be part of a community.

Obviously I don't aim to be homeless, but I am considering it. Such is the extreme level of my misery, that I feel like I'd be happier homeless; cut loose from the tyranny of capitalism, rent/mortgage, career, salary, job, office, commute and all the rest of it, which makes no sense when none of the rewards are there - I'm not supporting a family, I'm not raising children, I'm not benefitting from any work-related social life.

What next? Seriously, I just want to drop out, and to find other drop-outs; other people who couldn't stand the rat race so much, that they ditched their mortgages/rent, careers and other things which are like a miserable trap, unless you are coerced into that system, because you need to provide a decent home for a child to grow up in, which my parents never did. I can be a nomad and at least I won't be fucking up any children's lives.

 

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5 Year Blogging Anniversary

2 min read

This is a story about writing...

Platform 9.75

To date, I have written and published 1,357,076 words on this blog. Today is the 5 year anniversary of me starting this blog. I have published 1,086 blog posts, which is an average of 4 per week. I think many writers would be pleased to write and publish something at least 4 days a week. I'm quite proud of my achievement.

Here are some facts about the past 5 years, in chronological order:

  • I was homeless when I started, on September 6th, 2015
  • I was £21,000 in debt when I started
  • I rented a super cool apartment by the River Thames in late September, 2015
  • I was locked up for a week - voluntarily - on a secure psych ward in October 2015
  • I flew to San Francisco to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, at the end of October 2015
  • Hospitalised for a few weeks with kidney failure, caused by DVT, January 2017
  • Moved to Manchester in July 2017
  • Suicide attempt on September 9th, 2017. Hospitalised in a coma in intensive care
  • Sectioned and held involuntarily on a psych ward, waiting for an appeal for 12 days
  • Won my appeal, but stayed on the psych ward voluntarily for another two weeks
  • Became homeless again
  • Moved to Swansea in October 2017, still homeless
  • Lived in a load of AirBnBs in London midweeek, due to work
  • Debt reached its peak of £54,000. I only had £23 left to spend.
  • Rented an apartment in Swansea with lovely panoramic sea views, in March 2018
  • Moved to Cardiff in March 2019
  • Suicide attempt on December 18th, 2019
  • Hospitalised with kidney failure for almost 3 weeks - discharged January 2020
  • August 2020 my peak of £54,000 debt is fully repaid. I am debt free.
  • I have £300 of savings, having subtracted all taxes and other monies owed

Here are some other interesting facts about the last 5 years:

  • I've worked 44 months out of 60 (73% of the time)
  • I've earned £530,000
  • I've paid £240,000 in tax
  • I've paid £83,000 in rent
  • I've paid £50,000 interest on debt

The numbers are actually pretty impressive, for somebody who's been so sick, homeless and generally suffering a very chaotic stressful life. I'm surprised I've been such a generous contributor to the economy, actually. I've philantropically handed out vast sums of money to banks, governments and landlords. I am, truly, a ragged-trousered philanthropist.

 

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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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Repeating Myself

4 min read

This is a story about being in lockdown...

Rat race

I didn't write during the total lockdown of the pandemic, quite deliberately, because I knew that I would get very repetitive, and that I would drive myself slightly insane. Having insight into my own mind, and being able to introspect, is a great gift - at times - but when artificially constrained, such as being in lockdown, it's difficult not to overthink, and to over-fixate on the discomfort of the situation; better to just go with the flow.

I'm still in lockdown.

Of course, I can now travel to the shops, visit a café or restaurant, travel, and do lots of other things, which I previously couldn't. That's correct in theory but in practice, I'm still in lockdown. I only leave the house to buy food.

It's not through choice that I'm in lockdown, although it appears, at first glance, to be the case.

Theoretically, I'm rich again; debt free and with some savings in the bank. However, the economy looks totally screwed, forcing me to consider the security of my future income, and of course my housing security and other important essential needs. Having been homeless and slept rough, I'm more reluctant than most to go back to living on the streets, especially after working so hard to get back on my feet.

So, I'm working as hard as I can, for as long as I can. Given the opportunity to earn money in a global pandemic, and a global recession, I'm going to fill my war chest as full as I can.

It's miserable.

Most people have got their "summer holiday" heads on in the Northern Hemisphere. Most people's moods are 'artificially' lifted by the warm summer weather, despite the backdrop of a rampaging pandemic and terrible recession. Of course, things have been artificially propped up, to temporarily stave off the wave of redundancies, evictions, bankruptcies and other cataclysmic economic events, which will hit like a tsunami in the autumn. Most ordinary people are overjoyed the lockdown is lifted and are enjoying their regained freedoms, with seemingly little regard for the bleak future.

Not me.

I'm miserable.

Of course, if I've managed to "make hay while the sun shines" then I'll be somewhat better placed to ride out the storm than those ordinary people who are currently frolicking in the sun. On the flip side, they'll be happier and more well rested. I'm risking burnout and/or breakdown, pushing myself as hard as I'm pushing myself... but all I want is COLD. HARD. CASH. As much cash as possible AND I WANT IT NOW.

Waking up every morning, there's a finite amount of money I can earn, because time and energy are finite quantities. This is simultaneously a motivation ("I can earn a lot of money today") and a something which is quite depressing ("I can only earn a small amount versus what I need").

Perhaps if you saw my personal finances, you would think that my mentality is vulgar; privileged. However, my mentality is based on many years spent homeless; destitute. Of course, I'm fortunate that my life isn't ruined irreparably, and that I've enjoyed the occasional period of exceptionally high quality of life, in-between the chaos, trauma and near-death experiences.

Because it's a marathon, not a sprint, I am whinging and complaining the whole way. I try not to, but I'm not built for steady plodding. I want to get rich quick, or die trying... anything else is intolerable.

Of course the reality, compared with most ordinary people, is that I am getting rich quick. I'm absolutely sure that you would have no problem at all, thinking of really great ways that you could spend my so-called 'disposable' income. However, I don't look at that money as 'disposable'... I look at it with despair, knowing that it's not enough to give me the security I need, to protect me against homelessness, destitution, bankruptcy, and all the other things which nearly killed me.

Sorry for repeating myself.

 

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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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