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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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An Apology

6 min read

This is a story about remorse...

My kitty

There's a lot of good reasons why we don't steal people's medication.

Firstly, theft is illegal. There is no defence against the crime of theft. You could rob a bank and claim that you were going to give the money to charity, but I'm afraid that's no defence. You could claim that you didn't know theft was a crime, but ignorance is no defence. You could claim that you were keeping somebody safe, by stealing something of theirs that was dangerous: perhaps you stole a fast motorbike, and your defence is that you wanted to prevent injury or death. Unfortunately, while these arguments might give the court judge cause to be more lenient in their sentencing, the crime of theft is a clear-cut thing: you simply need to permanently deprive the owner of something that they own, and you have committed a crime. No defence. It's a crime. It's that simple.

Secondly, some medications require you to have a prescription to have them in your possession. There are lots of medications which are controlled drugs and as such, to have stolen those medications would mean that you have committed a second crime: possession of a controlled substance, without a prescription. Again, there's no defence for being in possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, unless you have signed documentation proving that you are authorised to collect a prescription from a pharmacy, on somebody else's behalf.

Thirdly, some medications will cause seizures and death if the patient abruptly stops taking them. Many medications raise the seizure threshold, and when medication is stolen and the patient is forced to abruptly cease taking the pills, then the seizure threshold is lowered so substantially that the result is very bad seizures - grand mal - which can cause physical injuries as well as death. This would be gross negligence, or gross negligence manslaughter in the event of a death.

Fourthly, while incredibly ignorant people might think that they are being "helpful" by stealing medications, if their fantasies are incited by other people - abusing a position of respect and making misleading representations that they know what the f**k they're talking about - then those people become part of what's called a joint enterprise or common purpose crime. It doesn't actually matter who committed the crimes - all the parties in the conspiracy are equally guilty.

Fifthly, it does not even matter if the crime(s) are actually committed or not. If there was a conspiracy to commit a crime which was never acted upon, then that conspiracy can still be prosecuted as a crime.

In short, don't steal other people's medications, or even plan or advise to attempt such a thing, because you are breaking at least four laws. Criminal law is not based on precedent and interpretation. It's open-and-shut: you clearly broke the law, so you must be prosecuted and punished.

Because I suffer from Bipolar Affective Disorder, I am prescribed lamotrigine, which is an anticonvulsant. Epileptics are prescribed lamotrigine, because it raises the seizure threshold. It is extremely dangerous to stop taking lamotrigine abruptly, whether you are epileptic or not, because you are likely to have life-threatening seizures.

My ex-girlfriend, with incitement from 5 others acting in a criminal joint enterprise, conspired to steal a large number of different medications from me, with no fewer than 3 of the medications being likely to cause seizures, injury and death, when I discovered the theft and was unable to take my pills as normal. The theft was a smash-and-grab, where there was clearly no consideration for the immense harm that was likely to come to me, but also, medications were stolen in a manner that clearly proved that it was an act of incredible stupidity; utter recklessness and shocking ignorance.

Would you rummage through the drawers and medicine cabinet of a home in which you were a guest? If you were so incredibly rude and privacy-invading as to do so, and you happened to find items which were embarrassing, would you tell all your friends? Would you humiliate the poor person who trusted you to act with the duty of care towards their privacy, which they were owed?

It shocked me when a friend sent me a message asking about a particular medication - which it later emerged had been stolen - and was mocking and humiliating me about this. My most private, confidential, embarrassing, secret and sensitive medical information had been abused in the most horrible disgusting way. Without a single care about violating my dignity, humiliating me, embarrassing me and betraying my confidence, my ex-girlfriend carelessly boasted to her co-conspirators about the medications she had stolen from me. This medication can be bought over-the-counter in any chemist, without a prescription, has no abuse potential and has no potential to cause an overdose. Why steal it? Why boast to her co-conspirators she'd stolen it?

I did get an apology from my ex-girlfriend, but I doubt she feels any remorse. I suspect it would take criminal prosecution for her to realise that her actions were wicked and wrong, and there was no excuse for the risk she placed my life in, the violation of the sanctity of my private home, the violation of my dignity, the humiliation and embarrassment she caused me by violating my confidential medical details. She's a horrible person, although I will say that without the incitement of the co-conspirators in the criminal joint enterprise, she would have been less likely to commit the crimes - although this does not forgive her behaviour, nor absolve her of her crimes.

Getting an apology out of the ex-friend who was a co-conspirator in the criminal joint enterprise, who then began to criminally harass me, sending me numerous unwanted offensive messages, emails and letters, which caused me a great deal of humiliation and embarrassment, violated my dignity, and was particularly intimidating regarding the confidentiality of my private medical details.

My ex-girlfriend's mother did feed my cat while I was in hospital, which was very kind of her, and I want to thank her, but when I arrived at my ex-girlfriend's house and demanded the return of my keys, the atmosphere was not conducive to saying thank you for the mother's kindness, which she had shown to my cat.

I suppose when you are faced with an individual who has threatened to pursue criminal charges against your daughter, the parental instinct probably kicked in and she would have denied that her daughter was a murderer, even if she'd seen her plunge the knife repeatedly into the victim's body.

Anyway, this is a simple message: don't steal people's stuff, OK. Especially medication, which is a matter of life-or death. If somebody tells you that it's "OK" or "the right thing to do" then they're wrong - they are inciting you to commit a crime, and they themselves are co-conspirators in that joint enterprise crime too, and will be prosecuted equally under the law.

 

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Heartless

9 min read

This is a story about self preservation...

Boxed up

I haven't written for over a month, but the general circumstances of my existence would have been repeated ad nauseam, as they cause me untold amounts of stress & anxiety, for reasons I am about to explain.

I have two more months of paid employment and then I'm potentially back hunting for work again. Even in the best case scenario, where I work every single day between now and the end of March, all that money is accounted for - somebody wants it: the taxman, a bank, a landlord... some vulture or parasite.

My rusty old car has bitten the dust and must be scrapped. I managed to limp it along, spending very little money on it, but it finally became uneconomical to repair it, despite the problem being as seemingly simple as a single broken bolt.

What does a 40 year old man who doesn't own a house or a car, or have a job, have to live for?

This is the question I asked myself on December 19th, when I noticed that my urine was full of blood, and later turned dark brown in colour, with a noxious scent. Later that day, I noticed that my bladder was no longer filling and I knew that my kidneys had failed.

The usual response of a healthy happy person when faced with a life-threatening medical emergency is to hastily make their way to hospital. My response was to wonder how long it would be before the waste products in my body would build up to a sufficient level to trigger a cardiac arrest. I imagined that 3 or 4 days would be adequate. I began the wait.

By December 23rd I was suffering from seizures, blackouts, confusion, muscle pain, abdominal pain, weakness and a host of other symptoms related to multiple organ failure, the complications of having highly toxic blood and massive fluid retention.

Against my will but without protest, I was taken to hospital by ambulance, where I spent two and a half weeks having dialysis for many hours a day, in the hope - the doctors' hope, not mine - that it would save my life. My only concern was that my life would be saved but my kidneys would not, thus rendering me dependent on dialysis sessions, 3 times a week, 4 hours per session, for the rest of my life, in order to remain alive. Of course, under those circumstances I would have committed suicide at the earliest possible opportunity.

I was discharged from hospital to discover that my cat had urinated on almost every single item of clothing that I own. My cat is incredibly intelligent, and she had managed to find a way to squat and pee in every drawer, box, bag and other container of clothing.

Kidney failure prevents the waste products from your muscles from being filtered out of your bloodstream and into your bladder, where they can be urinated away. Pickling your muscles in toxins, virtually immobile in a hospital bed, on a noisy hospital ward for two and a half weeks, was something that left me physically drained and very weak. Dealing with the mountain of cat-urine soaked clothing was a task which was beyond my capabilities, while still recuperating from the ordeal I'd suffered.

During the two and a half weeks when I was in hospital, I had three visitors: my ex-girlfriend, a work colleague and a friend. My ex-girlfriend was staggeringly out of touch with reality and stubbornly refused to drop her fantasy ideas about what the National Health Service is. She visited a few times at the beginning and then I never saw her again. My work colleague reminded me that I'm well liked and respected at work, and that's incredibly valuable. My work gives me a great deal of pride and a sense of identity. My friend reminded me that for all my years of struggle, I've been playing a rigged game all along, and I'm the only one who's been playing by the rules; not cheating.

It seems inevitable that in the not-too distant future, for one reason or another, my temporary employment will end and I will lose not only my source of income, but also any reason to remain in both this city and this country.

I have no relationship to stay here for: that's over.

I have work colleagues here, who are wonderful, but I always maintain a degree of separation between my work life and my private life, notwithstanding this blog (which serves as an invitation for anybody who really wants to be my friend to reach out).

I do love my cat, but she urinates on everything made of fabric or otherwise porous, and destroys anything else which she takes a disliking to: my houseplants, my carpet, my furniture, cables, anything fragile etc. I'm sure that I can find her a loving home where her misbehaviour will be tolerated.

My existence appears to be that of an anti-social hermit, but I assure you that there are hundreds of people who I have to deal with on a professional basis, who find me to be a pleasant and affable fellow; a good colleague. I have a very select few close friends who I maintain regular contact with via phone, email, SMS and other text, voice and video services.

Estranged from my family for over 6 years, with the exception of my sister, and single, this might be cause for loneliness and unhappiness, but I live for my work at the moment, which provides ample social contact, and it seems sensible that I move somewhere where I have at least one close friend - I'm in no mood to become one of those tragic 40+ men who join some kind of club or society in the desperate pathetic hope of gaining a social life.

What about suicide? Well, if the opportunity to die - passively - presents itself again, then I certainly won't be phoning the emergency services. It's barely a month ago that I had a few days to contemplate the fact that I was about to die, and I was quite calm; I was looking forward to the rest and relaxation of being dead.

My priorities remain the same as they always have: to repay my guardian angel and attempt to achieve some kind of financial and housing security, and to reconfigure my life so that the vast amounts of stress, anxiety, boredom and misery heaped upon me by the rat race - causing untold depression - can be replaced by either an alternative, or early death (i.e. suicide).

Thus, I might appear heartless, but it's all a practical necessity to maintain the slim chance that a life worth living might eventually present itself; otherwise the choice is clear: immediate suicide.

I sometimes wonder: am I tough? Am I mean? Am I a sociopath? Am I antisocial? Do I lack empathy? Do I mistreat people?

I think the answer to all those questions is: no. I spent the best part of three weeks in hospital with some people who were just as sick as I was, if not more so, and they really wanted to live. They were tough. I was tough too, but we're all tough, so that means I'm not particularly tough. None of us are tough. The answer to the rest of the questions is clearly no, because the evidence points overwhelmingly to the contrary. I'm just surviving; that's all I'm doing - I'm doing what needs to be done to get through every miserable, awful, unbearable day.

If you think I owe you something, believe me I know about it. Believe me, I think about it more than you think about it. Does that mean that you're going to get a gift-wrapped package in the mail with a red ribbon on it, containing what you're 'owed'. No f**king way. Get to the back of the queue, buddy. Do you think I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm owed? Sometimes I realise that if everybody who's picked my pocket coughed up their debts to me, then I'd have that financial security that I so desperately need, but I'm happy with the way that I've lived my life; I don't regret trusting people and taking chances.

So, where are we? Ah yes, self preservation. I basically need to work every single day I can for two solid months, just to have a bank balance of zero pounds and zero pence and not owe anything to anybody, and not have any valuable assets to my name. When I wrote "self preservation" at the top of this blog post, I did so with extreme sarcasm, because my life is literally preserved without my consent; if it had been up to me, I wouldn't have been born, I wouldn't have been 'saved' all those many times; I wouldn't have survived at all, and I'd be glad of it, because I would be resting in peace.

I do of course have people - and cats - who I love and I would 'miss' (although this is an oxymoron, obviously, to imagine that the dead are capable of missing anybody) and who would miss me, but it's selfish to want people who are in pain to go on living, when their quality of life is intolerable: this is why we euthanise our pets with no qualms; it's more humane.

If you think I'm heartless and lack empathy, you are mistaken, you are a fool, and you're no friend of mine.

 

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I Let My Friend Commit Suicide

8 min read

This is a story about playing god...

Phone

On the 10th of December 2017, a very close friend of mine got me a job at an investment bank. He knew that I was virtually bankrupt. He knew that I had very nearly managed to commit suicide. He knew that my self-esteem was at rock bottom and that I had nothing going for me: no fixed abode, no money, mountainous debts, alcoholism and large gaps on my CV which were difficult to explain.

My friend rang me up and asked if I was sober enough to create a piece of software for the bank he was working for. I said that I could be as drunk as a skunk and still make a decent software system, but that I wasn't in too bad shape - he could count on me to deliver a successful project, if he recommended me as a freelance software engineer to his boss.

If you're particularly interested in the more identity-theft worthy items of my story, I present to you above, the proof that I had proudly put on my suit and gone to work in the Square Mile - also known as the City of London - thanks to the endorsement of my friend. I had spent the day before with my friend and his boss in Warsaw, where they were based, and I was allowed to work in the London office, which is pictured.

A year later my friend phoned me and told me that he was going to commit suicide, by taking an overdose of insulin. I asked him how much insulin he possessed and in what form - vials and 'rapid delivery' pen cartridges - so I could calculate how many doses of insulin he had, and whether it was a lethal dose.

Insulin aspart units is what the layman needs to understand. One 10ml vial might contain 1,000 units. One 3ml pen cartridge might contain 300 units. The important thing is to add up all the vials and cartridges that somebody has, and then you can work out how many units of insulin aspart they have in their possession. My friend confirmed that he had many thousands of units of insulin aspart. The highest recorded survival of an insulin overdose was much lower than the amount my friend possessed, and that patient was left very badly brain damaged. In short, it was a credible suicide threat.

(FYI: people have made surprisingly frequent disclosures to me that they plan to commit suicide by overdose, but this was the first credible overdose plan I'd heard)

So, having scoured the medical literature for the LD50 - the dose that will kill 50% of people - and found that my friend could definitely commit suicide with his insulin, I then did further reading about how long it would take him to die, how long he would remain in a state where he could be saved, and how much suffering and pain he would endure.

Incidentally, he phoned me on a Monday morning while I was at work. I was in Wales and he was in Poland. I was frantically doing this research as rapidly as I could, while trying to keep my friend talking to me; stalling him from following through with his plans.

My research concluded that he would suffer a short period of panic and disorientation - including extreme hunger - before blacking out. He would quickly fall into a hypoglycaemic coma, and would suffer no pain.

Far more disturbingly, my research concluded that he could be 'saved' by rapid medical intervention - an intravenous infusion of glucose - for a substantial period of time: 2 or even 3 days would be 'survivable'. The worst possible outcome would be that he would be 'saved' after 12 to 36 hours, when he might still be in a coma, but he would have suffered terrible brain damage. The case study I had read of the patient who holds the 'record' for the highest ever insulin overdose which was survived, was left with terrible brain damage. All my research led to a single conclusion: if my friend injected all his insulin then I had to call the emergency services IMMEDIATELY or wait until he was beyond the point of 'saving'.

This sounds like playing god, doesn't it?

You remember that time your kid was choking on a bit of Lego and you whacked them on the back so they coughed it up? That was playing god. You remember when your dog was getting old and sick, and you decided they had no quality of life anymore, so you had the dog euthanised? That was playing god.

I'm not a doctor.

I'm not a vet.

I'm not a parent.

What exactly qualifies a person to make a life/death decision?

In this instance, I knew that my friend's diabetes had ruined his circulation and his feet were becoming gangrenous, that he was becoming jaundiced and that his eyesight was failing, because of his mismanagement of his diabetes. In short, he struggled to go about his ordinary daily business, and his health was rapidly deteriorating. I'm not a doctor, but I'm not a magician either - nobody can wave a magic wand and make the chronic irreversible health damage from alcoholism and diabetes disappear. I'm not a doctor, but I know that they don't give liver transplants to alcoholics. I'm not a doctor, but I know how long somebody has to live once their liver is starting to fail and they continue to drink multiple bottles of vodka every day.

Ultimately, it wasn't my decision to make.

My friend phoned me because he knew that I would understand the situation and that I wouldn't panic and phone the emergency services. He knew that he could say goodbye to me, and I would let him die with dignity; in the manner of his own choosing.

Let's not fuck about here: sitting doing nothing, waiting for your friend to die before you ring the emergency services to go and get the body before it starts decaying, is an awful, awful, awful thing to have to do.

Can you imagine knowing that your friend is dying, and that the best thing to do is to do nothing? Every single moment of your childhood, you were told to dial the emergency services if somebody was sick or dying. There was no ambiguity about what to do when somebody's life's in danger: ring the emergency services. EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!

If I phoned the emergency services too soon, my friend would have been 'saved' and then would no longer have had the opportunity to end his life in the manner of his own choosing. He probably would have been extremely brain damaged, and therefore unable to attempt suicide again. He would have lived out his short remaining time in a hospital bed, dying of liver failure, which is a very unpleasant way to die. Sure, the hospital would have made him as 'comfortable' as possible, but what comfort is there in being bedridden, watching your friends and relative weep and wail about your imminent inevitable demise. My friend had considered all these things.

Did I mention we discussed all this? We discussed all this at length. I went to a great deal of effort to persuade my friend of more positive alternatives. I tried my very best to convince him that it might be much better to use the short time he had left - before liver failure killed him - in order to take a trip of a lifetime, and/or see loved ones.

We have to understand that this was his decision, based on the terrible choices he faced. There were no 'good' options. He had to choose between a quick painless death or a slow painful one, with all of his family, friends and co-workers by his bedside, watching him slip away.

What my personal opinion of the 'right' choice was, is of no concern. My friend asked me to keep it a secret that he was killing himself, until he was dead, and that's what I did. I honoured his wishes. I was a loyal friend who did a very difficult thing, because I knew it's what my friend wanted.

"Oh but your friend really wanted to live" or "it was a cry for help" or "you should always phone the emergency services; you're not qualified" etc. etc. are all the very many opinions I have to defend myself against. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

I spent 3 days, not sleeping, not able to think about anything other than the fact that my friend was dying, and then I phoned the emergency services to go and retrieve my friend's lifeless body and notify his next of kin. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It was also the right thing to do because it was the dying wish of my friend. There were no good options. I chose the least bad option.

Today is the anniversary of the phone-calls, the discussions and the decision. Today is the last time I spoke to my very dear friend. For exactly one year, I've had to live with the guilt of knowing that I kept a terrible secret, for just long enough that my friend could pass away painlessly.

It's a terrible thing, but I let my friend commit suicide, and I did nothing.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Two of #NaNoWriMo2019

13 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Two

My girlfriend, but perhaps more her family than her, made me feel very insecure and inadequate. Caroline was a brilliant girlfriend - one of the kindest, nicest people you could ever hope to meet, and surprisingly humble considering her privileged background. However, her family had wealth and status, the likes of which I had never encountered in my life. Her father was a partner at an international law firm and her mother was a doctor in general practice, which meant they were very well-off already, but Caroline's mother's family were exceptionally rich. Her grandfather had owned a paper manufacturing company, specialising in tissue paper and toilet rolls, which was the UK's number one brand and had floated on the London Stock Exchange in the 1970s. Caroline's two uncles were board members and her grandmother had become the biggest shareholder of the company, after the death of her husband.

The family lived in Surrey, close to the estates of the De Beers family - famous for their South African diamond mines - and the billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Caroline's two brothers had attended boarding school at Christ's Hospital, while Caroline had boarded at Marlborough College. Caroline's parents - her mother in particular - had fought the family very hard to resist the pressure for the children to be sent to public school. Caroline's grandfather had been a Harrow boy, as had her two uncles. Caroline's mother had attended Cheltenham Ladies' College. She always suspected that she had been able to achieve the necessary exam grades and study medicine at Cambridge, not because of academic merit, but because of nepotism - Cambridge had made her a generously low offer, meaning she did not need top grades. Her time spent in hospital and in general practice had brought her into contact with many ordinary members of the public, as well as doctors who hadn't enjoyed the benefit of an expensive private education, which left her feeling a little guilty that her own path through life had been beset by very few of the difficulties in the lives of the people with whom she dealt with on a daily basis.

Caroline's family owned a sizeable luxury yacht, designed and built by the renowned and revered Camper & Nicholsons, which Caroline and her family referred to simply as "the boat" which caused me considerable annoyance.

* * *

My own nautical background began when I was eleven years old, at a school in Hampshire, near the Solent. One of my favourite teachers was an enthusiastic dinghy sailor and offered to introduce 4 of her pupils - the maximum she could fit in her car - the opportunity to learn to sail, under her tutelage. Why I was chosen, I do not know, but perhaps she took pity on me that I was one of the misfits. My birthday was the 2nd of September, making me the third youngest child in my school year, and the youngest boy. Throughout my school years I had been one of the smaller boys - not small for my age, but small because, all the other boys were older than me. Little legs cannot run as fast as longer legs, so I was largely excluded from sports, and an easy target for bullies.

The dinghies I learned to sail in were made of plastic and practically indestructible. They were designed to be sailed single-handed, and they were very simple to rig and operate. They were, however, surprisingly easy to capsize. Other dinghies had been designed with the intention of being used to teach sailing, and these were much harder to capsize, but they were bigger, slower and required a crew member as well as a helmsman. I was very glad to learn in the more exciting single-handed dinghies, because they were more exciting to sail and the occasional capsize and cold water dunking provided the incentive to learn very quickly how to control the sails, and how to deal with a capsized dinghy. Soon, I was able to react quickly enough to my dinghy capsizing, that I would dive over the side of the dinghy, stand on the centerboard fin, and then dive back into the dinghy when she came back upright again - a so-called dry capsize because it avoided being dunked into the cold water.

I joined the youth section of a prestigious sailing club a few years later, having begged another teacher who liked me if he would propose me as a member - the sailing club was quite snobby and membership was usually by invitation only. My prior dinghy sailing experience meant that I was immediately allowed to be a helmsman and to represent the club at regattas. Although I had no experience sailing two-handed dinghies, the club gave me their best dinghy and best crewman, and we won third place - I can claim no credit for the achievement, because my crew, who was just a young boy of 9 years old, told me exactly what to do for the entire race. My third place finish at the regatta brought me a great deal of unexpected congratulations and a couple of the girls at the sailing club took an interest in me, which was novel and most welcome, as I was extremely unpopular at school, and dismally unsuccessful with girls - I'd never had a girlfriend.

* * *

My inadequacies and insecurities, bred during my difficult school years, where I was ignored by the girls and bullied by the boys, led me to my decision to try to earn as much money as possible. I wanted to be rich and I wanted to have status symbols, as a prop for my fragile self-esteem. I decided that investment banking would be my ideal career choice.

Having graduated with a 2:1 in Maths from Sheffield, having failed to achieve the grades to get into any of the red-brick universities I had applied to, I managed to get onto the graduate training program of a small investment bank in the City of London, thanks in no small part to the hiring manager being a keen sailor - he was more keen to have another valuable member of the company sailing club, than he was to hire a better candidate. I had achieved a major objective: I was now an investment banker, working in the Square Mile. I immediately purchased a red 2-seater sports car.

I remained profoundly unsuccessful with women, despite my burgeoning wealth and the boost that my ego and self-esteem received from becoming a City banker, albeit a graduate trainee.

I met Caroline at a speed dating event. Vicki, one of my department's administrators, had press-ganged a group of the shy single men in our department into attending the speed dating event. I never had a speed date with Caroline, who was one of Vicki's single female friends. Vicki decided to play matchmaker at the end of the night. The following day, I asked Vicki for Caroline's number, having been too shy and insecure - and afraid of rejection - to ask her myself.

Sailing was the main thing that Caroline and I had in common, except she had only sailed yachts and I had only sailed dinghies. I felt very confident about my dinghy sailing abilities, knowledge and experience, but the world of yachting was entirely alien to me.

"The boat" which Caroline talked about all the time used to give me an unpleasant jolt every time she said it. I knew her family were fabulously rich, and I felt as though she was using the term "boat" in place of "yacht" in order to pretend that she was less privileged and wealthy. I accused her of attempting to down-play how affluent her family was, using an ambiguous term "boat" which could conjure up an image of a rowing boat, or an inflatable boat, or any number of quite ordinary and affordable watercraft, when we both knew that this particular "boat" was worth as much as a well-appointed 4 or 5 bedroom house in a desirable location. Given that my salary, as a recent graduate, was barely adequate to purchase a tiny ex-authority flat in an ugly concrete block of flats, in some highly undesirable part of London's Zone 3, I was a little outraged that Caroline and her family referred to their yacht as some mere "boat".

In fact, my insecurities ran far deeper. My ignorance about the world of yachting was a source of great unhappiness - I was extremely sensitive about any suggestion that I knew very little about yachts, navigation, sea crossings and suchlike. My sailing knowledge was confined to tiny dinghies, racing around small courses, close to shore. I hated that one of the few things I felt self-confident about was of no use to me - when Caroline and her family shared stories from their time on "the boat" I was baffled by a lot of the terminology, and I was unable to relate it at all to my own sailing experiences.

* * *

In secret, I enrolled in night school to learn about navigation at sea. I learned how to read nautical charts, how to plot a course and account for tidal flows. I learned how to identify what different buoys were for, and what their purpose was. I learned how to use a sighting compass to triangulate my position. I learned the "rules of the road" and how to avoid collisions. I learned what different lights meant, and how to navigate at night, in theory. I learned a heap of things which I had been completely ignorant of, as a dinghy sailor.

Then, I booked a week of holiday off work and enrolled on a Royal Yachting Association training course which would qualify me as a yacht skipper. I lived aboard a yacht - night and day - for a whole week, putting all the theory into practice, as well as learning how to manovre a yacht in a marina: something no dinghy sailor would ever do, given the lack of an engine. The sailing parts were mostly straightforward as a dinghy sailor, but the idea of setting out to sea without having quite literally set sail was a very strange concept. I had to learn how to put the sails up at sea, and the sails on a yacht are much, much larger than those on a dinghy.

The instructor had the lower part of his leg missing as well as three fingers one one hand, which were both caused by yachting accidents. A substantial portion of his leg was stripped to the bone when a coil of rope was wrapped around it, and the sail which it was attached to suddenly filled with wind, causing the rope to tug with tremendous force, flinging him overboard. He was lucky to survive, as it's very difficult to pick up a man overboard, when the waves are large and the wind is blowing strong. His fingers were lost when he wrapped a rope around a winch, trapping them, and then the sail filled with wind. You might have thought he'd have learned his lesson the first time, but he was the perfect instructor to demonstrate how dangerous yacht sailing can be, even for an experienced dinghy sailor who wouldn't realise the power that huge sails have, and how much force there is in the ropes when the wind fills the sails.

Having qualified as a skipper, I then immediately bought a yacht. Of course, my comparatively meagre wealth wouldn't allow me to purchase a large luxurious yacht, like the one owned by Caroline's family, but given the expense of mooring and maintaining a yacht, it's somewhat of a buyer's market and a relatively large second-hand yacht can be purchased for roughly the price of a new car. I bought a small racing yacht, which had a frugal interior, but with enough space to sleep 4 people in relative comfort. I was now a yacht owner and qualified skipper, which greatly relieved the crushing insecurities I had been carrying around since the start of my relationship with Caroline.

* * *

All of my dinghy sailing and my week-long training course had left me over-confident and ill-prepared for yacht ownership. My first attempt to leave the yacht broker's mooring, where I had purchased her, nearly ended in disaster when the engine cut out and I was unable to raise anything but the main sail, in order to limp to the nearest pontoon. I was at first berated by a yacht club member for tying up where I should not have done, but he took pity on me and pointed out that I had failed to open some critical valves, which had starved the engine of fuel and air. He also asked why I had not installed the headsail, to which I replied I thought I would do that at sea. "Did you learn to sail on a racing yacht?" he asked. I confirmed that I did, and he patiently explained that the yacht I had just bought had a convenient labour-saving mechanism, which allowed the headsail to be set with incredible ease - I just needed to set it up properly before setting out to sea.

Swallowing my pride, my second attempt to go to sea aboard my new yacht, I invited Caroline aboard for the first time. She quickly took charge and it was a humbling experience, to be taking instruction from my girlfriend, who was an absolutely brilliant patient teacher. I hadn't invited her out for the maiden voyage, because I was afraid that I would react badly if my own incompetence was exposed and I was embarrassed. I thoroughly enjoyed that first voyage with Caroline, and I felt as if I had achieved what I always wanted: a girlfriend who shared my passion for sailing.

Life was good. I had my well paid job as a City investment banker, with a glittering future career ahead of me, a red 2-seater sports car, a yacht, and a girlfriend who loved sailing. At 22 years old, I felt incredibly proud of what I'd achieved at a young age. I had vanquished the miserable bullied school years, and dealt with my unhappy and insecure single years, when I had been so hopelessly incompetent and abysmally unsuccessful at getting a girlfriend.

I imagined that we would buy a house, have kids and live happily ever after, enjoying all the luxuries of wealthy people: multiple holidays to exotic locations, skiing in the winter, a second home in the countryside, a nanny and a housekeeper, and beautiful children who we would send to good schools to receive a quality education, to become whatever they wanted to be in life and reach their full potential.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day One of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

This is a story about a novel...

Hospital bed

It would be far too 'meta' to write a novel about writing a novel, but I have written a 'story' almost every day, for well over 4 years, publishing the equivalent of 26 novels in that time period. In 2016 I completed the first draft of my debut novel. In 2017 I almost completed my second novel - it's 85% complete. In 2018 I didn't have such a good year for fiction writing, but I was writing my blog at the same time as trying to write my novel, and I was generally unprepared and rather over-worked with other commitments.

This year, I'm going to combine what I'm good at - blogging, telling short stories and being consistent and committed - in order to produce a novel which [hopefully] will weave together some interconnected stories and result in an interesting and worthwhile work of fiction, which succeeds as a piece of art, roughly as the author intended.

I offer the reader a picture of me in hospital suffering from multiple organ failure, which was unable to divert me from my mission to write [almost] every day. My present situation is not quite as drastic as that one, but there is still a substantial amount of effort and energy involved in motivating yourself to write at least 1,667 words per day, for 30 consecutve days, when you have a full-time job and other commitments.

Wish me luck!

* * *

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter One

I was woken up by the sound of a pneumatic tool being operated at the front of my house. A low-frequency rhythmic thumping and high-pitched metallic rattle, were emitted at a volume not normally heard on the quiet suburban roads where I lived, and so my slumbers were abruptly interrupted with a heart-stopping shock. My head swam with confusion in my semi-comatose state, and I was momentarily alarmed: had World War III started suddenly, overnight?

Foolishly, I had forgotten that I was having my gravel driveway replaced with herringbone-pattern bricks, and the noise must be from the builders I had hired.

I was suddenly faced with several competing unpleasant thoughts. It was somewhat embarassing that the builders had started work at a socially acceptable time - 8:30am - while I was still fast asleep on a weekday, and had no intention of reaching the office before 10am, which made me feel quite lazy. It also occurred to me that I would have to walk past the builders at some point, in my office attire, and there would be no disguising the fact I had been at home and not at work, while my builders had been working hard. I wondered whether I was obliged to offer my builders a mug of tea or coffee, and perhaps even bacon sandwiches, or at least biscuits, but it felt a rather onerous task which I would very much prefer to avoid.

I tried to relax back into bed, given that I had been planning on having at least another 30 minutes of sleep, but the noise was persistent. I possessed a powerful determination to sleep as much as possible, and it was not clear whether this outweighed the extremely loud noise and rendered any attempts to stay in bed, utterly futile. I persisted for some minutes while I decided whether I could tolerate the noise, or whether to admit defeat and start getting ready to go to work.

With bitter disappointment, I decided that there was no way I could relax with the ongoing loud din, so I dashed into the shower, dressed quickly and left the house without having any breakfast. This was my usual morning routine: maximum sleep and minimum time wasted faffing around doing things that "morning people" seemed to enjoy doing. I couldn't imagine being the kind of person who reads the newspaper at the dining table, while dipping a piece of toast into a lovingly-prepared soft-boiled egg, before slowly sauntering out of the house, leaving plenty of time to beat the morning rush-hour traffic. My own routine consisted of a highly optimised dash to the office after the rush hour, meaning that I arrived at work late every single day.

"Morning! Alright, shan't detain you, I can see you're busy" I said to the builder who'd given me the original quotation, who I assumed was the boss. I dashed past him and his workmate, who had been operating some kind of pneumatic device for flattening surfaces, and jumped into my car.

My journey to work was another example of my idleness, which I felt some guilt about, but was a system which worked very well for me. My car was an expensive high-specification model from a prestigious German brand, and I enjoyed driving it, even though the walk to work would take me little more than 20 minutes and to cycle it would be as fast as my journey by car.

There were a limited number of car-parking spaces at the office, which were allocated using a combination of seniority and years of service. By virtue of rapid promotion I had found myself the proud owner of a coveted parking space much earlier than any of my longer-serving peers, which served to underline the sense of self-importance which I felt: I was ambitious, young, and talented, so it had irritated and upset me in previous jobs, when I had seen far less competent and capable individuals progressing up the career ladder, simply because they were older. Promotions seemed to be automatic, based upon the number of years spent at a certain rank or grade, which conflicted with my desire for the workplace to be a more meritocratic place, so long as it favoured me, of course.

Arriving late - as usual - my space was one of only two which were free in the car park. My colleagues had become so used to the hours I kept that the concept of 'late' did not particularly apply to me. Perhaps if I wasn't at my desk by 10am, my colleagues would begin to wonder where I was, but I was quite punctual - albeit keeping to a timetable of my own invention, and selfishly suited to my own 'night owl' personality. Obligingly, my colleagues would not book early morning meetings with me, although perhaps they had learned not to try anymore, since clashing appointments would regularly appear or I would decline invitations which would have obliged me to arrive at the office earlier than I wanted to. So, my working day began like most working days: with queue of people wanting to speak to me.

* * *

"Yep so that's 7 pizza & chips and 7 beers, please" said Ian, one of my work colleagues.

A very traditional Italian restaurant - The Taste of Venice - was sandwiched in-between a bingo hall and a furniture auctioneer, and this was the closest restaurant to our office, where a group of us would dine at lunchtime, from Monday to Thursday. The restaurant's decor was tired, worn and dated, having not been refurbished since its opening in the 1980s. Ghastly paintings of cliched Italian tourist attractions and faded fake flowers, accompanied poor-quality attempts at Roman pillars and archways, giving the restaurant the impression of an eating establishment which was cheap and tacky. Most of the tables were empty, except for two 4-person tables which had been pushed together to make an 8-seater table, where my colleagues and I were sat.

Every lunchtime, we all ate exactly the same thing: half a Margherita pizza, chips and a bottle of 'Italian' lager, brewed under license in the UK. Chilli oil was doused liberally on the pizza by those with less sensitive tastebuds than myself, but otherwise, this was a routine gathering for a group of between five and ten of us, who all worked together.

"When do you set sail, Ian?" asked Ollie, a tall and broad-shouldered man with sun-bleached blonde hair and tanned skin. I liked Ollie. He was one of the smartest people I knew and he'd led an interesting life. I was somewhat jealous of how effortlessly he'd seemed to attain his successes: a degree from Cambridge, a career which had taken him around the world, from New York to Japan, and an incredibly attractive wife.

"We're picking her up from Ellös in three weeks. We're going to hang out in Oslo for a few days, do a bit of sightseeing, before we drive down" replied Ian.

"Isn't Oslo in Norway?" I asked, trying to sound intelligent and attempting to impress my colleagues.

"Yes, but it takes half the time to drive from Oslo to Ellös than from Stockholm."

"But isn't Gothenburg the closest airport?" I said, pretending to ask a question when I already knew the answer, because I had checked on a map before we left the office for lunch.

"Flights to Gothenburg are a nightmare" Ian replied dismissively.

I was hurt. I had desperately wanted to be invited along to help crew on Ian's new yacht, which he was soon collecting from the shipyard where she had been built. Ollie and I were both experienced sailors, so I took a little bit of comfort in knowing that Ollie hadn't been invited either, but I felt slightly insulted that Ian had invited another sailing friend from outside our close-knit group, to help him safely deliver his new yacht to her home port.

"When are you taking us all out on it then?" asked Blair, a dark-haired man with thick stubble and a strong Scottish accent. Blair was unlike the rest of the group, because his upbringing had been more humble; less privileged. Blair was well paid - as we all were - but his cocaine habit was an open secret and had led to him being passed over for promotion on several occasions.

"You still owe me money from the winter racing series, last October" replied Ian. "You know I'm always looking for crew during the racing season."

Ian was by far the keenest sailor out of Ollie, him and myself, and he regularly left work early during the summer months so that he could race his yacht in the evening. Ian's plan was to live aboard his new yacht, during the summer, and only work during the winter months, which he was able to do because he was a consultant with very specific expertise.

"Anyway, changing the subject, when's your leaving do, Rich?" I asked.

Rich had decided to quit investment banking and study for an MBA. He had ambitions to be a startup CEO. He was a short man with a slight build and a high-pitched voice. I struggled to picture him as a CEO, given that he was the least ambitious in our group of friends, and didn't seem to demonstrate any particular leadership qualities or entrepreneurial qualities. I wondered what they were going to teach him on his MBA which might be useful.

"Week on Friday" replied Rich.

"It's going to be HUGE" said Blair, grinning with enthusiasm.

Our group of friends and colleagues were extremely well remunerated, in our cushy investment banking jobs, and alcoholism was virtually encouraged; certainly not discouraged. The reason why we only ate in The Taste of Venice from Monday to Thursday, was because from Friday lunchtime onwards we would be drinking all day, pausing only to collect our jackets and bags from the office, before returning to the pub.

"More beers, everyone?" I asked rhetorically, as I caught the restaurant owner's eye and waved my empty bottle, indicating that we all needed a refill. "Did you hear that Stephen's thinking about quitting to become a landscape gardener?"

This was our lunchtime ritual: getting drunk and discussing our plans to quit the rat race.

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Eight: Be Selfish

10 min read

This is a story about looking after number one...

Safety card

I just spent about half an hour searching for a specific picture which I know I took, because I have a photographic memory. I quite clearly remember the harrowing scene depicted, of the person crawling out of a burning aircraft. Perhaps I have muddled up some parody/meme image with my constant snapping of everything vaguely interesting, but I am certain that it was a photograph which I took and have uncharacteristically misplaced.

Why the hell is this important?

Well, every day I have to think of a title, introductory line, a rough outline of what I plan to write, and I choose what I think is an appropriate photo to accompany my piece. It might often seem like the pictures are unrelated, but very often a photograph is the thing which prompts what I'm going to write.

In today's instance, I knew what I was going to write, and I knew which photo I wanted to accompany the piece, but I couldn't find it despite a thorough search.

I imagine that many people are quite thorough and meticulous about organising their lives, and I am too, but in my own unique way. I can quickly lay my hands on on what I need, given that I have taken the various essential tasks of my life and turned them into efficient processes, despite not spending an inordinate amount of time on systematically organising stuff.

I deal with a substantial amount of stuff. I run my own business, which requires me to do monthly payroll submissions to HMRC, quarterly VAT submissions, annual accounts, self-assessment tax return, corporation tax, dividend tax, income tax, national insurance, annual shareholder statements, board meeting minutes, dividend certificates, professional indemnity insurance, 3rd party liability insurance. I live an ordinary life, which brings rental contracts, house inspections, gas and electric meter readings, tenant insurance, home contents insurance, pet insurance, car insurance, car tax, car roadworthiness testing, car servicing, car maintenance, cleaning the house, feeding the cat, scooping my cat's poops and replacing her kitty litter, recycling, bin day, mowing the lawn, composting, buying food, preparing meals. None of this is unusual, but it's not insignificant.

With the continuous unrelenting pressure to do a good job at work, and impress my colleagues, combined with the constant threat of ending up bankrupt, homeless, penniless and destitute, it's an intolerable amount of stress and anxiety, heaped upon me. Although I'm not drowning in ever-growing debt - my income far exceeds my expenditure - I don't have any job security, housing security or financial security. The position I find myself in is immutable: there are no alternative choices I could take.

"Why don't you take some time off?" or "why don't you do some unpaid voluntary work" or "why don't you switch careers?" or "why don't you study something interesting?" are all as utterly ridiculous as asking me why I don't just wave my magic wand and turn a pile of house-bricks into a pile of gold bullion. My situation is completely, rigidly, unalterably dictated by my circumstances. There is no other way to structure my life, other than the way I have done it - my life is like a prison.

Of course, I could always drop out of society, live in a tent under a road bridge, beg for money, eat at soup kitchens. Of course I have the option of becoming totally feral, and foraging for food in the forest, covered in dirt and clothed in rags. Yes, I suppose those are options which are available to me, but we must be aware that society operates a strict one-way street. Once I left society, I would never be permitted to return.

"So Mr Grant, what have you been doing for the past 6 months?" asks the interviewer. "Living in a cave" comes my reply. "Where should we write to you if your application for the job is successful?" the interviewer asks. "I have no postal address" comes my reply. Thus endeth any attempts to re-enter society, once a person has dropped out. I suppose I could get a cash-in-hand job washing cars for illegal immigrants, and sleep rough on the streets, but I think I would rather go back to my cave than suffer such a fate.

The point of this rant is that my life is finely balanced: it doesn't take much extra demand placed upon me, to push me beyond what I can cope with, given that I've already endured such incredible hardship to get here.

My journey has already included rough sleeping, hospitalisations and being locked up in secure psychiatric institutions. My journey has already included recent periods where I had no money and I had no income which is a pretty difficult place to come back from. My journey already took me to the limit of human survival, where I was in an intensive care ward of a hospital on life support in a coma, suffering from multiple organ failure.

I'm feeling pretty fit and healthy, relative to how I was before. I'm feeling pretty financially prosperous, versus the time when I had no money and no income. I'm feeling as thought I have a realistic prospect of re-entering civilised society, as opposed to crushed beneath its heel, like a bug. However, it really wasn't very long ago that I was in dire trouble, relatively speaking.

So, I have to be careful about being too competent and capable, taking on the world's problems; boiling the ocean. Only a few months ago I shunned anything and everything which would add more complexity and stress to my life, cutting things back to the bare essentials, so that I could cope. I'm little more capable of dealing with extra stuff now, but it's easy for me to get carried away. Vast amounts of my precious time can be eaten up when I try to help with some "simple" task, which is always anything but.

It's hard to say "no" as an engineer. We are, by our nature, problem solvers who like fixing stuff. We have dogged unshakeable determination to follow a complex set of tasks through to completion. What use is a half-finished engineering project which doesn't work? What use is half an aeroplane? What use is half a bridge?

I don't really know what my wants and needs are, but I know that it's very important that I fend off things of no value: things that drain my time and energy, disproportionately versus any reward I receive. My blog is an engineering solution to a problem I had, where lots of people wanted to be kept updated about my woeful life, but nobody was offering any useful practical help, so it was a massive waste of time speaking to the rubberneckers who wanted to know every gory detail, despite being completely useless, and indeed counterproductive because it was valuable time wasted which could otherwise have been put to good use, earning money or securing a place to live. If you want a soap opera - human drama - then you can read the pages of this blog, but don't bug me for your own personal show, because I don't have the time.

Of course, I love my online friends and they are very supportive, but only one or two have ever stepped forward to ever offer any real tangible thing of any use. Only one or two have ever made effort and taken risk, in order to help and support me. This is not to say that all the messages of support I receive aren't lovely, and the concern that's felt for me does lift my spirits, but I have to balance that proportionately against the effort involved. Lots of "sorry to hear you're having a hard time" messages won't pay my rent, if I'm in a financially precarious situation, so I have to prioritise work and other practical matters ahead of maintaining online friendships.

As a group of supportive individuals, of course my Twitter followers - and one in particular - were instrumental in getting the emergency services to me and saving my life, so it would be churlish and mean-spirited to complain about the 'burden' of having people who are interested and concerned my welfare. Of course I want more friends, not fewer. Of course I want to maintain a good relationship with as many people as practicably possible, but I have to offset that with the effort involved and the probability of useful, practical payoff. I could never have predicted that Twitter followers would be so swift in delivering the emergency services to me in the nick of time - although I still nearly died - and I could never have predicted that I would receive vital practical things that I needed, exactly when I needed them, due to people who've read my blog. I could never have predicted that my blog would bring me new friends, who make the effort to come and visit me. All of these things are positive, but I also need to be careful, because social media is mostly a black hole, swallowing vast amounts of time and energy, and giving very little back in return.

So, I say this as a reminder to myself: my blog is the way that anybody who's interested in my life can stay up to date, without excessively burdening me. It seems unfair to ask for your own personal update, when I spend so much time and effort crafting these written updates, for the express purpose of keeping anybody who's interested informed.

Of course 1.3 million words are far too many for anybody to read in order to "get to know me" but also somehow too few... either way, I'm struggling to survive day to day through my essential tasks of: work, sleep, eat, write.

It might sound selfish or antisocial, but this massive piece of writing contains everything you might ever want to know, if only you can be bothered to look. Don't ask for me to look for you, because that undermines the very point of having gone to such a great deal of effort in documenting years of my life. There's a search box at the top and I tag every post. Knock yourself out. Go digging. Explore - there's plenty there.

Meanwhile, I just need a simple, basic, undemanding life at the moment, because things are demanding and overwhelming and stressful enough. I don't need any extra work, especially if it's unrewarding versus the effort expended.

This lengthy blog post has taken me all day to finish, because of various interruptions, some of which were very welcome - like a phonecall from a close friend - and others were questionably useful, when I might otherwise have been spending my time doing something more beneficial for myself. Spare time feels very scarce at the moment, so it should be used wisely and efficiently. I went to a great deal of effort to provide a vast trove of information, so it irks me if that effort is not delivering what I want it to, which is to avoid having to repeat myself.

Anyway, I need as many friends as I can get looking out for me, but I have very little "spare capacity" to offer at the moment, and it's wrong to ask too much of me - the resources are out there; you just have to look.

I need to protect myself. I'm no good at saying "no!" and "enough!".

 

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Sober October

6 min read

This is a story about being trapped...

Psych ward

Believe it or not, I took this photo inside a locked psych ward. Looks like an inviting place, right? Looks like a calm therapeutic setting for sick people, right? This isn't Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane - this is a regular psych ward for sick people.

I keep wondering about what went wrong in 2015 that meant I ended up in that psych ward.

I keep seeing worrying similarities with then and now.

I was working on the number one project for a big organisation - same then and now.

I was playing a pivotal role in an important part of the project - same then and now.

I was getting stuff done and playing by my rules, and nobody was stopping me. Indeed I was being encouraged and applauded - same then and now.

I was irritable, impatient and intolerant of fuckwits - same then and now.

I was incredibly annoyed by anybody who got in my way or slowed me down. I had no time for distractions or anything which wasn't going to contribute to the success of the project - same then and now.

To all intents and purposes, it looks frighteningly similar.

But.

I think the straw that broke the camel's back was that I had to move house. I had to lay out about £6,000 in rent, deposit and other fees, and I then had the pressure of earning £500 per week, just to pay my rent. It was stressful - as moving always is - and it was also an incredible amount of pressure to make that kind of money, just to keep a roof over my head.

I'd been living in a hostel and then a hotel - I had been homeless. OK I hadn't been sleeping rough since earlier in the year, but homeless is homeless. I'd had a very rough year. I'd been homeless for 8+ months, before I finally managed to get a place to live that wasn't a sleeping bag in a park, hostel bed in a dorm, or a hotel room. It's rough, being homeless.

I didn't have any financial cushion back then. I don't really have a financial cushion now, but my credit cards aren't maxed out and I don't have tax bills to pay until the end of the year, so I'm in slightly better shape than I was in 2015.

My brain chemistry had been very badly messed up back then. I hadn't had any stability. My life had been chaotic. My mental health had been atrocious. At least this time round I have been working nonstop for the best part of two straight years. The problems I've had recently have been short-lived and not caused any major problems. I can't remember the last time I was too sick to work. My mood is pretty damn unstable, but probably not as extreme as it was back then.

What's going to make me wake up one day and decide that I need to be sectioned and re-admitted to a psych ward? What's going to break me and render me unable to carry on going? What's going to be the straw that broke the camel's back?

Interestingly, I quit drinking back then, like I've quit drinking now. I think being sober was part of the reason why I became unwell - I had nothing to help me self-medicate.

Maybe I've stopped drinking and stabilised soon enough to allow me to be alright this year, but I already see warning signs: I did something really dumb in the office, which has damaged my reputation and made colleagues unwilling to help me out; to support me and to want me to stick around. I'm making a mess of things, now just as much as I did back then.

Does being aware of this repeating pattern of behaviour make me any more able to avoid it? Not really. Things are so hectic and intense, and I'm so tired and stressed and anxious, that I'm surviving using instinct. The stuff that comes out of my mouth, which is the reason why I'm doing so well, because it's useful stuff that's getting a project delivered, has turned into dumb stuff which makes people not like me very much. My engineering expertise is now being peppered with dumb stuff; regrettable and unprofessional. After an enormous amount of effort to get a very difficult project over the line, I'm exhausted and my mask is slipping; I'm making mistakes. I can't help it - my instincts are all I've got left, because I'm spent.

I'm definitely going to keep pushing ahead with this sobriety thing, because my alcohol consumption had gotten out of control really quickly. However, I don't want a re-run of exactly what happened in 2015, because it undid all my hard work; all my valuable contribution was wasted - all anybody could remember was that I got sick. All the hard work that got the project delivered didn't matter in the end. All that mattered was how things finished up. I might as well be yet another plodding idiot, doing a fucking mediocre shit job, and concentrating my effort on not saying anything objectionable, rather than busting my balls to get shit done and deliver something really hard for an impossible deadline. Why did I even bother?

I'm not quite sure how to navigate the tricky waters of the next couple of months. I have enormous challenges, in trying to rescue my reputation and help my colleagues to remember that I made a massive contribution, and not just see the recent screw-up I made when I was exhausted and strung-out. I have an insane amount of pressure to get another contract sorted and keep the money rolling in. I have a huge risk that I'm going to collapse, have a breakdown and be unable to work, which will ruin everything. It's almost intolerable.

The next 5 or 6 weeks are going to make me or break me.

 

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I'm Scared

5 min read

This is a story about faking it until you make it...

Taxi

Being at zero - break even - is perhaps the worst possible position to be in. I've put in two years of continuous hard work and I've got nothing to show for it, but it's been incredibly difficult to reach this point. In fact, I'm not even at break-even, but on paper it looks as though I might possibly reach that break-even point, provided that I continue to bust my balls for the next two months and I don't get sick.

Of course, there might be other obstacles; bolts from the blue. I feel certain that somebody is going to take a dump on me. In my experience, there's always somebody who wants to take a dump on me.

Given that there's only one way I can travel in the event of a somebody taking a dump on me, there's only one place I can end up, and that's back in the nightmare which I've suffered through, while desperately trying to get back on my feet.

I have gritted my teeth and worked through the adversity and the uphill struggle of coming back from being discharged from hospital after nearly dying, only to be sacked and evicted and nearly go bankrupt. I had psychologically prepared myself for the stress and the anxiety and the exhaustion. I had anticipated the likely setbacks. What I cannot deal with is having to re-live the f**king nightmare.

If I get sent to jail, do not collect £200, do not pass Go, then I will tip the board on the floor and refuse to carry on playing, because this stupid game has gone on too long. I've been too close to 'winning' for far too long and the suspense is literally killing me. I have suspended all self-care and concerns about my health. I have suspended all my needs. I have suspended everything. I just work. I work and I work and I work. I work all the f**king time and I'm not prepared to have that hard work not pay off.

This isn't a game to me. The threat of homelessness, bankruptcy and career ruin hang over me, threatening. My health is not reliable; cannot be taken for granted. The consequences of somebody taking a dump on me are severe. I fear it.

Even if I bust my balls for the next two months, all that happens is that I reach zero; break-even. I'll be able to pay my tax bills. I'll be able to clear my debts. That's it. That's all I'll have achieved. That's my lot: zero.

I'm not prepared to suffer any setbacks. I've worked too hard for too long to suffer any longer.

I don't have the luxury of thinking about what would be best for my health. I don't have the luxury of thinking about what would be less of a risk to my life. I don't have the luxury of thinking what would be more pleasant and bearable. I don't have the luxury of thinking about what would be more enjoyable or rewarding. I don't have the luxury of thinking about anything except the rocky road which leads to zero.

It's not fun. It's thoroughly awful. The constant threat of someone taking a dump on me, wrecking my efforts, leaving me bankrupt, homeless and ruining my career... it's a heavy burden to bear, on top of working hard doing something which is purely to keep the money rolling in. Other people do jobs that they enjoy. I do the job that's the only one that'll pay the bills and allow me to reach zero.

Reaching zero is not that great.

Think about it.

Would you be pleased with yourself if years of dedicated hard work amounted in nothing? Zero. Zip. Nada.

Would you be pleased if you made tough choices, to live and work in unpleasant circumstances, living out of a suitcase in places where you don't have any friends and family, only to achieve seemingly nothing? Would you be pleased to achieve nothing, having spent years doing work which was incompatible with your health and somewhat intolerable?

There is of course some potential in reaching zero, because at least from that point there's an opportunity to build something, but not if somebody takes a dump on you and your opportunity is taken away. There's no opportunity if somebody takes a dump on you and wrecks your hard work. Hence the fear. Hence why I'm scared.

I'm not even close. There's still at least 2 months hard work just to reach zero. Even when I reach zero, I still have to find another contract, potentially move house... there's a lot more stress on the horizon. However, my concerns are more rooted in the present: I'm scared that somebody is going to take a dump on me and deny me the opportunity to even reach zero. It would be so easy to f**k up my fragile life. It would be so easy to destroy me. Tempting, huh?

Most of my waking hours are plagued by fears of somebody taking a dump on me. The anxiety is awful, not knowing when somebody's going to take a dump on me, but feeling certain that they will. The dread keeps me awake at night and distracts me. I can't concentrate. I can't relax. From the moment I wake until the moment I finally pass out into fitful sleep, in the small hours of the morning, a dreadful fear and anxiety and worry follows me around, making my existence miserable and stressful and thoroughly unpleasant.

I crave a tiny crumb of security, yet instead I have the threat of ruin wielded against me; the threat of somebody taking a dump on me is ever-present.

 

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Loneliness

6 min read

This is a story about antisocial behaviour...

Tree in forest

What's the shortest journey between two points? If you know where you need to get to and you know the fastest route to get there, would you make that journey? What if the shortest path was also a very painful one?

A year ago I was living in a hotel close to the office. A year ago I was incredibly isolated - single, in a city where I had just one friend, estranged from family and living a pretty dysfunctional life except for my job.

Who cares... I was functional, wasn't I?

I certainly turned up in the office every day looking presentable and I did useful work, but I'm not sure I really was very functional. It's true that I was earning money, paying my bills and I was on a journey towards financial security. I was reliable; dependable; trusted. What else is there in life other than getting up in the morning, putting on some smart clothes and going to the office? What else is there in life other than earning money? I was certainly earning money. I was certainly working.

What do you suppose happens after a major event, like a near-death experience? What do you suppose happens after a major medical emergency which was life-or-death? What do you suppose happens after a lengthy hospitalisation?

Most people would like to imagine that there'd be plenty of time for rest and recuperation after a major illness that nearly killed a person, but I'm afraid the demands of life can't be paused. Unless you want to emerge from your near-death experience and be immediately hurled into bankruptcy, destitution and have life-changing black marks against your name which preclude you from ever renting a property, getting a car loan, getting a mortgage, getting any kind of credit agreement etc. etc. and indeed getting most jobs, which insist on credit checks and suchlike, then there's not a moment to spare, ever.

For sure, I'm a capitalist's wet dream in terms of how meekly I comply with capitalism's coercion and act in the way that's expected of me, selling my labour cheaply and otherwise allowing myself to be shafted by the system. Instead of doing what I absolutely need to do, which is to spend time getting better, instead I have thrown myself straight back into the workplace.

A close friend - my guardian angel - has similar mental health problems as me: depression and anxiety. She has been able to do voluntary work and quit jobs which were toxic for her mental health, and to engage with her local community. She's swallowed her pride and has accepted that she must live with her parents and spend her precious savings supporting herself, for the sake of her mental health.

For me, I've had to choose between the self-esteem destroying effects of living as somebody's charity case, or the toxic world of work. I decided that the latter option is marginally better, given that it at least offers a route towards freedom, although it's a very risky game.

Living under somebody else's roof takes the pressure off in terms of burning money on rent and bills, but there's an emotional toll for anyone who's been raised to be a considerate guest - there is considerable guilt about time spent sleeping and otherwise "treating the place like a hotel". There is a great deal of pressure to be seen to be doing whatever it is that your host thinks you should be doing. There is a great deal of pressure to please your host, which leaves remarkably little time and energy to rest and recuperate.

Working when you are too unwell to work is risky because you must present a corporate mask to your colleagues, pretending that everything is A-OK when really it's not at all. Work is the very last place on Earth that you should be, but you're in the office carrying on like you're fine and dandy. It's horrible to force yourself - day after day - into a situation and environment which is totally toxic to your mental health and is intolerable, but it's somehow possible to present a veneer of cool calm professionalism, such that your colleagues have no idea that you're on the brink of having a nervous breakdown at any moment. It's high risk, high reward - if you can wear the mask and pretend like everything's OK for long enough, your situation will improve, but it's incredibly draining and prevents you from becoming healthy and happy again, because it's so demanding.

One year later, I have my own roof over my head and a girlfriend. I still don't have any local friends to speak of, but I have ingratiated myself with my neighbours and my colleagues are sociable; one of my colleagues has even started to talk to me socially as a friend, outside the office, having found my blog.

I have the dignity and self-esteem that I wanted, in that I am paying my own way and not dependent on anybody, but it's been ridiculously exhausting and risky to take this path. So often I wonder if I should have cut my losses and given up, allowing myself to be screwed over by the system; destroyed by those who seek to exclude and marginalise vulnerable members of society.

I was struggling to find anything to watch which captivated my attention last night, so I spoke to a friend. That's unusual for me. I live a very isolated existence. I almost never speak to any of my friends on the phone, except for two very loyal friends, one of whom often phones me while I'm at the office. I must make fewer than one phone-call per week, on average.

Overall, my situation is improving, but it's pretty intolerable. I've chosen the fastest route from A to B, but it's an exceptionally intolerable and unpleasant journey, even though I know it's the most direct. I know that this suffering is only temporary and that I will reap some rewards at the end, if I can stick it out, but I do want to quit all the time.

Through this very difficult period while I've been blogging - the past 4 years - I've made some really awesome friends who are very loyal and who have gone to exceptional lengths to help me, including my guardian angel, who's visited me in hospital far too many times. Although my behaviour looks broadly the same, there are undeniable improvements to my situation. My bloody-minded bitter determination to succeed with exactly the same strategy which I've always employed, seems to be paying off, finally. It surprised and gladdened me that during a moment of loneliness I suddenly remembered that I had a whole heap of very dear friends who were available to chat to.

Weirdly, I don't feel lonely, even though I have spent the vast majority of the past 4 or 5 years enduring an incredible amount of social isolation.

 

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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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