At first glance, it appears that I'm neither cash poor nor time poor. This year, my life has been revolutionised: all the wasted commuting time is now mine, to do with whatever I want, and I will definitely end the year with a small financial buffer, to shield me from any economic certainty. In theory, I might even find myself in the Spring time, with some 'disposable' income.
Of course, I have time and money at the moment, but I would rather use my 'leisure' time to make more money, and I want to hoard as much money as possible, because I'm always on the edge of suicide, or at least a nervous breakdown; I can feel no certainty about my future: it contains only death and/or serious illness, both of which will eliminate my income, wrecking my fragile finances.
Looking back at extravagant purchases over the past few years, I've furnished a large house, been on some very luxurious holidays, bought a couple of highly sought-after pedigree cats, eaten in a lot of restaurants, travelled around by taxi, bought a car, bought the latest iPhone and otherwise spent money, without really worrying about it. However, it's not that money that anybody should worry about. That money is just normal stuff that you buy over the course of a few years, working very hard full-time. In fact, I would say that I've spent far, far less than anybody else in my income bracket, who works the same number of hours per week as I do. The lion's share of my money has gone towards debt, taxes and savings... the latter of which I have precious little, when my health is so fragile.
On the matter of fragile health, it seems wrong to write about it, when I don't - to my knowledge - have a life-limiting illness... that is, unless you accept that my depression is so severe that it is life-limiting. I suppose it's grossly unfair to compare myself with a person suffering from cystic fibrosis, who is battling to be alive and has very few choices, versus me who doesn't battle at all, and has an infinite number of choices, right?
That's right, isn't it? My choices are infinite?
Let's just double check this: I can do anything I want, right?
Yes, I am fortunate not to have cystic fibrosis, but that doesn't mean I have infinite freedom. Imagine if you met somebody with cystic fibrosis who was depressed about having the condition, and resigned to an early death. Now, imagine you are meeting me, with depression so severe that I have also resigned myself to the early death, which will result from the condition. You will say that I am choosing, but the person with cystic fibrosis cannot choose. You're just plain wrong. If it was a matter of choosing, then I would obviously choose not to have a mental illness.
It seems inconsiderate of me to make this comparison; it seems distasteful, taboo, and somehow intrinsically wrong; incorrect. However, I assure you, that whether it is an auto-immune condition where the body attacks itself, or a mental health condition where the body attacks itself, there is an underlying pathology, which is ultimately prematurely fatal. The situations are, for the purpose of this thought experiment, identical.
The fact that I would continue to do what I'm doing at the moment for 'free' if I was financially secure and independent, suggests that I'm not complaining about a lack of 'spare time' at all. I need my leisure time, with very little to occupy it, because I am so single-mindedly fixated on the outcome of the project I'm involved in. If I tried to do anything extra, I would definitely have a nervous breakdown. Hence, being single and not dating at the moment, for example.
The fact that I do and say whatever I want, whenever I want, also suggests that I'm not complaining about lack of money either. Of course, if my contract was terminated early, or not extended, then I will very quickly find myself evicted onto the streets, penniless and destitute. The question is how quickly? I expect that I can support myself for 4 or 5 months, without any lifestyle alteration. Of course, I also know what it's like to spend the best part of two years homeless, sleeping rough for considerable periods... so it's not something I'm anxious about.
What I fear more than anything is boredom. I like being busy.
I do also fear the loss of my home, and more importantly, the stress that would be placed on me, having to downsize from a 3/4 bedroom house with two reception rooms, a garden and a driveway, to a hostel bed or a tent... or worse still, just a hastily improvised bivouac.
However, more than the fear of the loss of my home, and the associated stress, I fear being trapped as a wage slave; I fear being forced to do a salaried job which I hate more than anything in the world, just to pay the rent or mortgage... locked into a miserable monotonous life, with no option to cut and run from that drudgery.
Perhaps the day will never come - indeed it never has - where I will be able to finally take a year off work, go travelling, write a novel or two, without having a constant anxiety gnawing at the pit of my stomach, telling me that I'd better get back to work as quick as possible, to replenish my rapidly dwindling meagre pot of life savings.
I have, now, considerably simplified the whole thing though: I will work hard, now, while there is the opportunity. Then, I will see if I have the chance, for the first time in my life, to pursue a path just for fun and excitement, as more than just a one or two week holiday, as recompense for a miserable boring job, which doesn't really count. I've never had money, health, and freedom from commitments, ever before in my life. I'm not one of the privileged bunch who got to go on gap years and doss about at uni, because there was a magic money tree which meant they could just drift around, reading a few books and chatting to interesting people... all I've ever done is work.
I'm far too old and far too poor to really be thinking about 'travelling' in a youthful sense... this is more akin to 'early retirement'... except my early retirement, through financial necessity, must end with premature death, which is fine by me, because I am very, very, very tired.
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.
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.
What am I doing? It feels like I'm making the same mistakes I've made a bunch of times before. It feels like I'm re-living 2015, and I didn't like how things went that year, so I'm desperate to avoid making those mistakes, but I feel like my mood disorder has got me stuck in an inescapable pattern.
Strictly speaking, I have two mood disorders: bipolar and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The latter disorder means that I'm unable to escape a downturn in my mood as summer turns into winter, unless I head to warmer climate. The former disorder means that I'm prone to episodes of mania, which I always like to believe I'm in control of, because I enjoy the mania and find it immensely useful for creativity and productivity.
Looking back to 2015, at the time I felt like I was enjoying playing a pivotal role in the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. In retrospect, I was very unwell indeed. My behaviour was quite erratic and unpredictable and it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel like I was doing good work, now that I think about it. For sure, I helped bang some heads together and get things moving to meet some key deadlines, but I was definitely suffering very badly with a severe episode of mental illness, and I hadn't been working on the project for very long so I expect my contribution was negligible. This is what gives me a great deal of fear that I'm repeating the same mistakes: that history is repeating itself.
In 2015 I was working a lot of overtime. I was working most weekends. I was working extremely hard - long hours - and I had the additional pressure of moving house, given that I was homeless and living in a hostel. Also, it hadn't been very long since I had been in a dreadful state, with my brain chemistry completely messed up. I had terrible insomnia. I was a big mess.
Today, I have a house and a cat. My home life is comparatively settled, although I've had some relationship problems lately which have been very destabilising. My working routine is not too taxing - I have a short commute to the office, and the hours I work are strictly Monday to Friday. If I leave the office at 5:30pm, that's a long day for me. In 2015 I was routinely staying in the office past 9pm, and often to 11pm, and then staying up all night writing emails, which was not at all healthy or conducive to good mental health.
In some ways I feel that I'm in much better health than I was in 2015, and I stand a much better chance of getting through an incredibly stressful period at work without losing my mind. However, late on Friday I lost my cool at the office, and the emotions that have been bottled up started to come out, which wasn't very professional. I started to speak my mind way more than I should have done, and I started to send off messages with a scattergun approach. I stopped approaching problems in a calm and methodical manner, and instead I acted with desperation and superstition. I was afraid that all my hard work was in ruins. Strangely, I thought I was dreaming; or rather having a nightmare.
I suppose my sleep quality is compromised at the moment. Several nights a week I don't sleep well because there's a technical problem I can't stop thinking about. My dreams are all about my work. In fact, my dreams are nightmares, where I attempt again and again to resolve the problems I left at the office. As soon as I wake up, I rush to the office to pick up where I left off.
A colleague has mentioned in private that I should take it easy; not get so obsessed over the project. A colleague has correctly identified me as somebody who can make themselves sick through overwork - at risk of burnout; at risk of a breakdown. It's good advice - that I should try to maintain some balance. Becoming obsessed by work is very unhealthy.
Yesterday, I left a rambling garbled and emotional voicemail for a colleague, begging them to let me do something over the weekend. I spent time trying to find colleagues who would help me with a piece of work, and ended up getting somebody to do something for me at 11pm. It's too much. It's too intense. It's too crazy.
I have no idea if I'm eternally doomed to suffer from delusions of grandeur, and to repeatedly burn out, only to look back and realise that my negligible contribution was laughable; pathetic. I have no idea if my perceptions are warped and I'm unable to grasp just how bad an episode of mental illness I'm suffering from. It's hell being so functional, and having so much feedback which seems to corroborate all the apparent evidence that I'm being incredibly productive and useful, but yet I also have a whole load of evidence that the end result always seems to be the same: burnout, crash, disaster, destitution, destruction. Am I a fool for hoping that this time is the time when everything finally works out for me, and I get the glory I crave?
Looking back to 2008 and 2011, I was able to make it to the finishing line with a gigantic project for JPMorgan and a TechStars program technology startup accelerator. I was able to deliver, but at huge personal cost. Both times I ended up in a terrible state. I was too fixated on the specific delivery date, and I didn't think about what would come afterwards. I didn't handle the anticlimax well at all. The episodes of depression that followed the frantic manic energy which allowed me to deliver on time, were so destructive that all my hard work was destroyed... or was it? JPMorgan was able to process quadrillions of dollars of credit default swaps, using the software I designed and built. My tech startup was able to continue trading profitably and getting new customers, even though I was too sick to work. The cost was to me personally. I was ashamed that I couldn't continue to function at the same intensity, and I assumed that everyone would hate me for getting sick. I threw away those opportunities, because I assumed that they were ruined. I assumed that everybody saw me as damaged goods; unreliable and untrustworthy.
I have no idea if I'm destined for another personal disaster. I certainly worry that I won't be able to cope with the end of my contract, and the end of my involvement with the project I'm so unhealthily obsessed with. I suppose I need to mitigate against any probable crash in my mood. I suppose I need to plan ahead.
I can't imagine I'll be able to find a good contract locally. I can't imagine how I'm going to juggle my need to find a well-paid contract, with my cat and my house rental agreement. It's a stress that I really don't want to have to deal with right now. It's stress that I really wish would go away - if only my contract could be extended for another year, that would be perfect.
My life is a rollercoaster, so we would expect my mood to be too. It's hard to unpick my mood disorder from the circumstances of my life. I like to think that my mood is dictated by the time of year and other things that are going on, such as whether I'm in a good relationship or not. I like to think that my extreme moods will abate as my life improves.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
This is a story about a completed jigsaw puzzle...
When I was 28 I was so depressed that I couldn't work. I couldn't face the outside world. I couldn't face the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday routine. I couldn't face the glacial pace that projects moved at. I couldn't face the lack of productivity. I couldn't face the wastefulness of large organisations. I couldn't face the dead wood, being dragged along by those of us who wanted to actually create some f**king software.
My behaviour became erratic. The symptoms my my mood disorder - bipolar - made me a dysfunctional individual for long enough to cause problems in an ordinary office type environment: mainly my lengthy absence due to to the aforementioned depression. Nobody had ever much cared about me being hypomanic in the office, because it allowed me to deliver very complicated projects on time, to a high standard of quality.
I quit my job in 2008 and sat in my garden making iPhone Apps - mainly games. They sold very well and I was number one in the App Store charts for a brief time. Suddenly, I was earning a lot of royalties and I was comparatively wealthy.
I decided that I hated office work and corporate IT work - I hated big software projects - but that I should start a small business. I retrained as an electrician. I did all the training, bought a van and started trading.
My electrician business traded profitably, but I kept getting asked to do freelance software work, which paid twice as much as my electrical work, and I was obviously much better at it, given that I've got 20+ years of commercial software experience and about 18+ months of commercial electrical experience. It's a lot less stressful being a software consultant than it is being an electrician.
I decided to combine my entrepreneurial side - the iPhone Apps and the small business - to create a startup which would have a software product which could be licensed, so that I could make money while I slept: it was a scalable business model.
During all this erratic behaviour, I was making a ton of money, I designed a built a beautiful summer house in my garden, I had a wakeboarding boat, I threw lavish garden parties. I was having the time of my life, except I was in a very toxic, abusive relationship.
I ended the relationship and my life continued to improve. In fact, my life kept on improving.
Soon, I was enrolled on a prestigious startup accelerator program which takes 8,000 applicants for every place, and only offers 10 teams the chance to be mentored by senior executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Paypal and a bunch of other great tech companies, plus the opportunity to pitch on "demo day" to a packed auditorium full of venture capitalists and angel investors, and raise a huge amount of investment.
My company was already profitable enough to pay my co-founder and I a decent salary and hire our first full-time employee. That was entirely bootstrapped: the company was built from nothing. My co-founder and I built a profitable startup without taking a single cent from any member of friends or family, or risking any of our own money.
This was my cake and eat it moment.
I worked too hard for too long. On the accelerator program mentor madness was fine for the teams who just had an idea, but my co-founder and I had a profitable business to run. We had customers who needed supporting. We had sales deals which needed to be closed. The rest of our cohort were happily burning the money they'd raised - making a loss - while our startup was living within its means and growing organically... in fact it was growing rapidly organically.
The problem was that toxic, abusive relationship.
She wasn't kind. She wasn't supportive. She didn't want me to succeed. She was just plain mean and totally inflexible; uncompromising. It wasn't fair, because I had supported her when she wanted to change career, and I had also been a very loyal loving boyfriend. Of course I could have split up with her and run off into the sunset with a lovely girl from the tech startup scene who could see the potential in me and the potential of my startup, but I let loyalty and a sense of "doing the right thing" get the better of me.
Since then, there hasn't been a lot of cake eating.
Divorce became extremely acrimonious in 2013, after a harrowing period when the abuse and the trauma was sufficient to give me PTSD - I was barricaded in rooms and defecating in a bucket to avoid physical harm and at least give myself what little protection I could. Verbal abuse and violent kicking and punching of the door was so frequent it was literally torture. My abuser was keeping me trapped with threats of violence, and I starved, I was thirsty and I had to sh*t and piss in a bucket.
Mercifully, we separated in August 2013.
Trauma doesn't heal overnight.
The divorce dragged on into 2014, ruining my second startup and depriving me of all my liquid capital - my money - which I needed to start another business. The divorce ruined me every bit as much as the toxic relationship and abusive marriage did. The divorce left me so physically drained, traumatised, financially taken advantage of, exhausted and stressed, that I broke down completely. I ended up sleeping rough. I ended up homeless. I was wrecked.
Briefly, at the end of 2014 I had a nice apartment in Swiss Cottage, a lovely commute on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and a well paid consultancy contract with Barclays. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. The divorce and the separation had caused me such horrible PTSD and financial distress that for almost that whole year I had been sleeping rough and in a homeless hostel. My life was very fragile; my recovery was only green shoots.
In 2015 I had an amazing apartment overlooking the Thames with panoramic views of all the London landmarks. I had a great consultancy contract with HSBC. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. I was so distressed by the financial troubles I'd had that I worked unsustainable hours and got very sick, and had to be hospitalised. I had to be kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.
In 2016 I had the same apartment. I had a great consultancy contract. I was less stressed about the erratic nature of my life and the financial boom and bust, but I certainly didn't feel comfortable spending money.
In 2017 I had the same apartment and a great consultancy contract with Lloyds Banking Group. A large blood clot - a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) - formed in my leg and it caused the complication that my kidneys failed. I nearly died. I was sick for months with agonising nerve and muscle damage. Out of desperation I took a short contract in Manchester. It was so miserable that I tried to kill myself. I very nearly succeed - I was in a coma for 4 or 5 days in intensive care. I was sectioned and kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.
By the end of 2017 and into 2018 I had recovered enough to be consulting for an investment bank in London. I was commuting from Wales and staying in crappy AirBnBs. I was well paid but it was the most miserable life. I was homeless, single and coming to terms with having survived a suicide attempt which should definitely have killed me.
Then I got a consultancy contract in Wales. I had a nice girlfriend in Wales, I had a job in Wales and I had a very nice home in Wales with panoramic sea views. I was about to have my cake and eat it.
Then, soon after booking a short holiday, my consultancy contract ended early because the project was finished - I worked very hard and delivered early.
I got another consultancy contract in Wales. I still have that consultancy contract in Wales. I have a girlfriend who I think is amazing and I'm crazy about her. I have very serious feelings for her. I was about to have my cake and eat it.
Now my consultancy contract is ending prematurely. I worked hard and managed to rescue a very important project which was running late. I was working very hard to deliver our project early.
Clearly I work very hard. Clearly, I'm lucky enough to create these opportunties where I could have my cake and eat it but so far nothing's worked out for me.
It may well be possible for me to still have that amazing holiday we've got planned, but it will always be slightly spoiled by the stress of knowing that I don't have secure income when I get home, which makes me worried about money.
You can understand why I'm worried about money, can't you?
You can understand why it's so terrible that my holidays get ruined by having my consultancy contracts unexpectedly cut short, especially when I work so hard and make such a big contribution.
Of course, I could throw caution to the wind and take that luxury holiday anyway. If there's one repeating theme in this story, it's that I always bounce back from adversity. I could risk it all and go ahead with that holiday, which I desperately need and want.
I've been lucky. I got to go to Turkish Disneyland on my own. I got to go to Tulum in Mexico. My luck ran out eventually I guess. I have a beautiful girlfriend who is kind and loving and supportive, I have a gorgeous bengal kitten, I have a very nice great big house. I have a little financial security, but paying for a luxury 2-week holiday has a major negative impact on my meagre financial resources, seen in the context of how bad things can get: months in hospital, sleeping rough and nearly dying on several occasions.
Perhaps it's just not my destiny to have my cake and eat it.
This is a story about giving a hand up not a handout...
In my 39 years on this planet I've come across a few people whose lives I've tried to intervene in to produce a positive outcome. I'm somewhat undecided as to whether I'm helping, hindering, or making no difference except to myself, because I've wasted time, energy and money where it might otherwise have been invested in my sister, my niece or my friends and other important close relationships.
I try not to over-invest in anyone or anything. I'm heavily invested in work, but I still treat it like a job and I don't work too hard or take things too personally - work is just a means to an end; an efficient way of complying with capitalism's coercion.
There are two individuals who I have invested a significant amount of time, effort, energy and money into helping. I should qualify what I mean by "significant" when it comes to money. I expect that to most of my readers "significant" does not have the same meaning as it does for me. The only sums of money which have had a significant impact on my life have been related to my divorce and £8,000 of unpaid rent and bills which an ex-flatmate owes me. This is not a boast - it's simply the honest truth about my good fortune in life.
The first individual was a homeless alcoholic man I met in a park. He was making a great deal of effort to deal with the clusterf**k of issues he faced, which were bereavement trauma, commensurate self-medicating alcoholism, physical health issues related to sleeping rough, and the general reluctance of the welfare state to see his life as valuable. He had been repeatedly denied the holistic care that he needed: bereavement/trauma counselling, a residential alcohol detox, a residential rehabilitation program, a hostel bed and welfare payments to allow him to eat without begging until he was physically and mentally well enough to be able to work.
It seemed as if this first fellow was worth helping, because I could at least get him off the streets, into a hostel, and provide as much support as possible to help him navigate the maze of state services in order to get the alcohol detox and rehab that he desperately needed, as well as navigating a further maze of state services in order to get welfare payments to give him a meagre income while he recuperated.
To my mind, it was worth the money of renting a room for this guy and meeting him every day, to help support him through interminable meetings with the local council and various bureaucrats who act as gatekeepers, stopping sick people like him from becoming well and getting back on their feet.
The second individual was a young cocaine addict I met at a rehab. He was mostly adhering to the rehab program, although he had failed a drugs test on a couple of occasions and was obviously not committed to an unrealistic level of abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I felt sorry for this young chap because he'd already badly screwed up his life by getting a criminal record, yet he was clearly an intelligent and enterprising fellow. I suppose the second individual's issues were more complex, having to do with upbringing and the company he kept, which was liable to keep him forever in a life where recreational use of drugs was commonplace, and drug dealing was also an ever-present temptation, for easy money. I wouldn't be able to give an oversimplification of the underlying issues, so I won't even try - it would do a great disservice to that young man.
To my mind, it was worth the money of providing financial assistance to the second guy, because I hoped that he would see me as a friend, instead of a parent or other authority figure; I hoped that he would naturally arrive at the conclusion that it's a good idea not to abuse the kindness of friends, and begin to change from the mindset of "borrowing" and stealing from friends and family to feed a drug habit, to a new form of behaviour where he would see that some people are kind and patient. I thought he could use another person in his life who wasn't going to get fed up with his lies, his dishonesty and eventually his behaviour being so resistent to change that he would end up abandoned. I felt I could help because I have deep pockets and a lot of patience.
With the first individual, he got his hostel bed, his alcohol detox, his rehab, and now he's lived 5 years clean and sober, he got married and he's starting his own business. He's my big success story.
With the second individual, he's managed to rent a room. That's about where the good news ends. The second individual has had vastly more financial investment from me, which seems to have made very little net difference... in fact, he seems to be more in debt now than when I started trying to help him. My tireless patience and refusal to abandon him seems to have only ever once become apparent to him, when he asked me why I kept forgiving him, which was a wonderful moment. At least if I'm the one and only person in his life to have never abandoned him, and that's caused him to question whether he should "borrow" and steal from his friends and family until they cut ties with him and abandon him, then that's progress of a sort.
I'm conflicted about whether I should continue to support the second individual. I suppose I made a decision early on that the way I was going to help him was to not abandon him, so in a way I'm committed. What can be said for certain is that he is exceptionally talented at p*ssing off his friends and family and losing any source of income, such that he regularly becomes destitute, so there will probably be many more occasions where he will slowly realise that it's very useful to have me as a loyal friend who's decided to support him no matter what, purely for the point of teaching him the lesson that not everybody will abandon you: there is some value in treating certain loyal friends with more respect than everybody else.
My girlfriend tells me that I'm being used and that I should abandon the second individual, given his repeated demonstrations of an inability to learn, and an inability to recognise a golden opportunity to receive assistance. I've regularly offered to help in life-changing ways - to break the cycle he's stuck in - but he's been impossible to persuade. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.
This essay is not about what a worthy and wonderful charitable individual I am, but in fact about the ethical dilemmas I face about whether I'm helping or hindering; whether I'm investing my considerable resources in the right places.
This is a story about the stuff dreams are made of...
These our actors as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
Apparently there are 125 identical bedrooms in the hotel where I've lived for most of the last year. There are always 5 pillows: Two soft ones, two firmer ones and a stupid little red one, which serves a purely decorative purpose. There's an ironing board, iron, hairdryer and kettle. There's a writing desk. There's a sofa. There are reading lights which shine directly into your eyes if you don't take the time to move them away from the position they're always left in by the housekeepers. There's a plug in the sink that always need to be pulled out and set aside, otherwise the water won't be able to drain away properly when you wash your hands. There are small pieces of information throughout the room that tell me that I can choose whichever pillows I find comfiest, that there's a place to charge my phone by my bed, and various things that tell me how much they [the hotel] cares about my stay. A place for everything and everything in its place.
How many IKEA beds have I owned? How many have I destroyed? How many have I slept in without mishap? How many times have I found myself discovering that IKEA mattresses are different from the standard UK sizes of double and king-size? How many times have I struggled to squeeze an IKEA mattress into a non-IKEA fitted sheet?
How many different beds have I slept in, during the past 5 years?
I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in the National Health Service. There are the beds in the crisis houses and psychiatric wards. There are the beds in ordinary hospital wards. There are the beds in intensive care and high dependency wards. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable in places where somebody will shine a torch in your face every 15 to 30 minutes at night. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable somewhere that your blood pressure, body temperature and blood oxygen saturation is being measured every hour. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable when you have 5 canulas, a catheter and a massive femoral veinous catheter in your groin, which literally has taps you can just twist when you want to empty all the blood out of your body.
I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in a hostel full of homeless people. I can tell you about bed bugs and other human parasites. I can tell you about snoring. I can tell you about being in a room with 13 people in various states of drink and drug intoxication, and with the entire spectrum of mental health problems. I can tell you what it's like to realise that somebody rummaged under your pillow, stole your wallet, removed the cash, and replaced it back where they took it from, while you were asleep. I can tell you what it's like to have your bags regularly rummaged through in search of anything valuable. I can tell you what it's like to live for more than a year like that, with no fixed dormitory, no fixed bunk... to get woken up at 8am and told that you've got to move to another room, with another bunch of seemingly randomly-selected people who you'll be spending an unknown number of nights with.
After a while it gets tiresome.
Eventually, you figure out that when you sleep rough, if you're smart about it, then you can stay away from other homeless people, drunks, muggers, rapists and anybody who fancies doing pretty much whatever they want to you at 4:30am, because it's dark and nobody's around. Eventually, you figure out that you can have more consistency and control over your life if you find yourself some bushes or an overgrown back garden of an empty house to set up camp in. You get used to the noise of the dog walkers and the joggers. You get used to the noise of the commuters. You get used to the noise of the students and the tourists. You get used to the do-gooders, who will make their rounds to check on the junkies and the alcoholics, who cluster together in obvious places. You get used to the official-looking vehicles with their headlights, and the people wearing uniforms with their torches. You start to realise that they have absolutely no idea that you exist, because you are so inconspicuous and under their radar.
Then, you decide that it'd be nice to return to civilised society. You get a bit old to be sleeping rough. It seems somehow shameful, to reach a certain age and have dropped out.
So, you rent a series of dreadful places to live. Each one of those places has a dreadful bed: A bottom-of-the-range IKEA bed with a mattress which doesn't quite fit and slats which randomly fall off their supports, causing part of the bed to collapse unexpectedly; mattresses with a range of stains in varying hues indicating, shit, piss, vomit and blood... as well as perhaps some food stains.
You buy your own IKEA brand-new furniture, and you buy slightly better quality stuff. You buy the bed sheets that are the right size to fit, because you know exactly what size mattress you've bought. You buy a the right size mattress for the bed frame.
Then, you have to move.
How many times have I had to move?
Every time I move, I have to leave the bed behind, because I throw away the old terrible bed, which was unfit as anything more than set-dressing for a property that's being rented out as "furnished". Where would I store a shitty old bed? Where would I store a shitty old mattress? It would cost me more in storage costs, and the transportation costs of moving the shitty bed out and back, than it costs me to simply leave the replacement beds behind.
How many IKEA flat-packs have I assembled and how many have I destroyed?
How many times have I flopped down onto a newly assembled bed, exhausted?
How many times have I had to abandon any attempts at nest-making, because I have to choose my battles carefully?
It might sound like I'm sloppy, careless and perhaps have little respect for the expense and environmental impact of treating material possessions as so disposable. However, none of this stuff disappears. The problem is, that there's no shortage of supply of mattresses covered with blood, piss, sick and vomit stains. There's no shortage of damaged bed frames which do not sturdily support the bed's occupants.
What you have to understand is that I have to prioritise my survival, ahead of the pleasant choices that normal happy healthy stable people get to make. I don't choose to change my bed because I'm remodelling my bedroom. I'm not in the business of doing interior decoration for aesthetic purposes. I don't choose the colour of the paint on my walls. I don't choose my curtains. I've been grateful to have the comfort of a thin foam mattress, in a hostel dorm, on a bunk bed. I've been grateful if my bunk has happened to be close to a power socket so I can charge my phone. I've been grateful if my bunk has been near a window, so I can enjoy the ventilation. I've been grateful if my bunk has been away from the dorm entrance/exit, so people can enter and leave without disturbing me. I've been grateful if I'm not sharing a dorm with dickheads who get up at 5am and start noisily rummaging in their bags, or people with severe mental illness who have unpredictable outbursts just at the moment when you're falling asleep.
What you have to understand is that every different bed I sleep in is slightly different. There might be a family deciding to have an argument in the hotel corridor at 6am. There might be a central heating system where the pipes creak and clang at unusual times. There might be a car alarm that decides to go off all night long. There might be a fire alarm. There might be heavy traffic in the morning and evening commuter rush. There might be patients on a psych ward who want to watch TV at full volume at 7am. There might be patients on a psych ward who are kicking off, and having to be restrained, sedated and moved to 'safe seclusion', which is the modern version of a padded soundproof cell.
What you have to understand is that every bed I sleep in has a different 'vibe' in terms of how private it feels. Ground-floor bedrooms are strange to me, especially when the window coverings - blinds and curtains - aren't very good. Can people hear me masturbating? Can people see me sleeping? How much privacy do I really have? I've spent a substantial time in places where there are observation windows which can be opened by staff members, to check on the room occupant. I've spent a substantial amount of time in places where the furniture is heavy, indestructible and even bolted to the floor. I've spent a substantial amount of time where the windows don't open more than a few inches and have bars on them, and the mirrors are made out of plastic - places designed to be safe places for the care of vulnerable sick people.
Those places have been my home.
I'm about to get the keys to have a house that has 4 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, 2 bathrooms, a garden and a shed. It's all for me. It's a blank canvas.
If I had the money, I'd have it painted.
If I had the money, I'd buy the furniture I wanted.
If I had the money, I'd buy rugs and lamps, and curtains and coffee tables and occasional tables, and a dining table and chairs and a breakfast bar and bookcases and wardrobes and chests-of-drawers and sideboards and cabinets and desks and organiser systems, where all my stuff could be neatly hidden out of view in little boxes - a place for everything and everything in its place.
If I had the money, I'd just grab the IKEA catalogue and order everything in the rooms, exactly like their designers have displayed them.
It won't be long now.
Soon, I'll have a buttload of money.
But. It's been a long journey, and some really shitty stuff has happened, like my kidneys failing.
So, I'm about to have my millionth billionth IKEA bed, and there's nothing new or novel about it. I've bought the most basic model, with plans to upgrade in future, when I can afford it. I will continue to live out of suitcases, in a house which could comfortably accomodate 2 adults and 4 children. In fact, when I have friends with kids visiting, my house should provide comfort for perhaps 3/4 adults and 2/3 children, plus 0/1 dogs.
Sorry for going on about it, but it's been a helluva journey.
Imagine all those homeless people I met when I was sleeping rough. Imagine all those people who I met when I was sleeping in those hostels. I was just like them: No money, drink problems, drug problems and mental health problems, along with the accompanying police problems.
Imagine all those people who've seen me have false-starts and almost-but-not-quite get my shit together. Imagine how much they want me to succeed. Imagine how many people I've got rooting for me, because it's supposed to be true: It's supposed to be true that we can drag ourselves out of the gutter to become rich and successful, if we work hard enough. If I can do it, can you imagine how pleased all the people - the lifelong friends I made - will be to see me doing well. I owe it to them to aim higher than sleeping inconspicuously in a bush. I owe it to them to be one of the success stories that we're told about, but in reality don't really seem to exist.
I'm pulling an incredibly high-risk manoeuvre, to get myself into a special place. What would be the point of all the hard work, suffering, deprivation and disappointment, if all it resulted in was a totally mediocre end result? That's not a very inspiring story for my friends who've suffered disproportionately badly at the hands of fate. How awful it would be for those people who had next-to-nothing - like we all did - to see the golden boy smashed to smithereens and getting absolutely nowhere in life. Why bother, if there's no chance of a better life? Why bother, if there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
My actions might seem to have a hint of profligacy to them, and indeed some showmanship and insecure vulgar displays of wealth, but I assure you that if I was such a fool as to simply want to flaunt the fact that I can get rich 'quick' when I need to, I would simply purchase a highly desirable sports-car with a car loan, and rent the most extravagant city centre penthouse I could find, and then flaunt my materialistic lifestyle in Instagram, which would be most vulgar, crude and an insult to every value that a hard working person has.
You also have to remember that my self-esteem was very badly damaged by those years when I was sick, vulnerable and virtually penniless. Psychologically, I do not want to be living with daily reminders that I screwed up my life. For me to feel as though I've left that unfortunate period of my life behind me, it's important that I'm not dragging around 'baggage' which continuously reminds me of what might have been if only I hadn't gotten sick. I think it's a worthwhile investment, to spend a relatively small amount of cash on a home which makes me feel like I'm starting to live the life I always wanted; picking up my life again as if there was no interruption.
If you detect a hint of entitlement then you're probably not mistaken. It's my firmly held belief that hard work should result in commensurate rewards. It's my unshakeable opinion that those who have known suffering and deprivation should not suffer prejudice and disadvantages because of those misfortunes.
If we believe in a fair and just world, where hard work and dedication will allow anybody to achieve their dreams, then we must surely also believe that it's OK for my life to be good... perhaps even enviably good; desirable. Isn't it a good thing that my friends might look at me and say: He's done well and there are some parts of his life that I would like to have for myself. Isn't it a good thing that my friends who never quite escaped the life of sleeping rough, hostels and bedsits, can see that one of their own - a man ruined by divorce, drink, drugs, debt and mental health problems - could clean himself up and return to civilised society, and prosper?
If this piece has a boastful tone, I apologise. If this piece seems premature, given the amount of hard work that still lies ahead, you'd be right to caution me against complacency. If this piece is too much about me, and not enough about those who get left behind, abandoned by society, those criticisms are valid.
As it stands, I've lined up my ducks, but the journey hasn't even started yet. My bed is still in pieces in an IKEA warehouse, with my mattress rolled up tightly in the plastic which it will be delivered in. The task still remains outstanding for me: to assemble my bed, or else sleep on the floor, provided I manage to even get the keys to this dream home without a hitch, which I presently don't have enough money to be able to afford.
That little blonde boy in the pedal car is me. That thatched cottage is where I used to live, briefly. I loved that thatched cottage, because it was exactly what a house is supposed to be: It had a roof, chimney, windows with panes of glass criss-crossed, a front door in the middle, flowers growing in the garden. All it needed was a blue sky, some smoke coming out of the chimney, a couple of soaring birds, some white fluffy clouds and a big yellow sun with a smiling face, and it would be the picture that every child would draw, if you asked them to draw a picture of a house.
My time in the "proper house" was very limited.
When I briefly lived this proper life, there was a village green, a village shop, a village post office, a church and graveyard, a railway train station, a bus stop, a pub and a school.
During my all-too-brief proper life, I went to the local school, played with the local children, bought sweets from the village shop, attended events on the village green - when people would literally dance around a maypole with coloured ribbons - and went to church.
My life exemplified everything that is great and good about English countryside living. Former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, lives barely a few miles away from the idyllic Cotswold village where I had my proper life. Prince Charles and other royalty play polo on fields, barely a few miles away from this most quintessentially picturesque English village that you could ever imagine. The TV show Downton Abbey was filmed on location, a few miles away from this beautiful place, where I thought I would live forever.
Life seemed to make sense to me - this was a proper life, and it all made perfect sense, even though I was just a child.
The funny thing is that it still makes sense to me.
All I want is to live in a little house, with a little garden, in a little village and do the things that normal people do: go to work, come home, watch TV, cook food, eat, do gardening, have a pet, feed the birds. All I want is an ordinary life.
Presently, the only piece of furniture I own is a coffee table, which I repurposed as a TV stand. One of the few possessions I own which isn't designed to be carried around easily, is the TV, which sits atop the TV stand. Other than that, everything else can be thrown into a bag... and there isn't very much "everything else" left. Most of my possessions have been discarded, because my life was too chaotic and I was too unwell to cope with safeguarding my material things, when my life and my sanity were at risk and all too often nearly lost forever.
Every time I was forced to move as a child - 8 different schools - it was nonsensical and disruptive; it was traumatic and damaging. Every time I found myself packing my bags, yet again, a pattern was being established: I was being psychologically programmed. The message my parents were sending me was loud and clear: "Don't get attached to anything, anywhere or anybody".
I gave up on the idea of having a settled, secure, normal life.
When I separated from my wife and an acrimonious divorce began, it really didn't bother me as much as it should have done, to lose my house, lose my precious things and to end up sleeping rough - homeless and destitute. I camped in bushes, where I could hide my tent. I slept in a bivouac on heathland. I was invisible in a city with a daytime population of 10 million inhabitants. My home and my bed shrank and shrank, until it was simply the tiny patch of ground on which I stood or lay. My personal space shrank to be no bigger than the volume occupied by the extremities of my body.
When I saw the chance to move from being homeless to living in a very luxurious apartment with amazing views of the capital city, the idea was too attractive for me to resist.
I had two years bursting with pride about how I'd pulled myself up by the bootstraps, and was no longer sleeping rough; no longer homeless. I had to pinch myself every time I stepped inside my home, and was greeted by breathtaking panoramic views over London. That feeling never wore off... the whole time I lived there.
I want that again. I want to live somewhere special. I want that special feeling that I'm living in a proper place, after the awfulness I've been through in life.
Yes, I'm sympathetic towards those who are sleeping rough, and those who are living in a very dire situation. No, it doesn't make me happy just to have a roof over my head.
I've lived anywhere. I've slept rough all over London. I've slept in 14-bed hostel dorms. I've slept in psychiatric wards, hospitals and police cells.
I do NOT want to live anywhere.
It was a big deal when I got the keys to a gorgeous home with sea views, roughly ten and a half months ago. I still feel a great buzz when I visit that place, and I stand at the window admiring the views over the bay. I love that home, but unfortunately, it's not myhome... although technically I can sleep there whenever I want, for another month and a half.
I shouldn't be getting stressed out about moving. My life will be much better when I have a home again. Hopefully I can have a beautiful home which I can fill with lovely things. Hopefully I can stay there. Hopefully I won't have to leave. Hopefully my world won't be destroyed again.
Currently, I have no idea where, when or how I'm going to get myself a home, let alone whether I'll have the opportunity to fill it up with lovely things.
My upbringing taught me one clear lesson, again and again: Expect nothing, except to lose everything that you get attached to.
This is a story about living in a dreamlike state...
I've spent the day feeling very unwell. I've drifted in and out of sleep. Every time I've woken up, I've been confused about where I am. What is this bed I'm sleeping in? Where is the bedroom door? Where is the toilet?
In my dreams today, I dreamt about two places which only exist in my mind. These two places where my brain thinks I've lived, are actually not real places at all. My brain is so jumbled up that it contains very detailed pictures of two places that I've never been to in my life - in my dreams, I know the colour of the walls, the layout of the rooms, the view from the windows, the furniture. In my dreams I feel absolutely certain that these are places where I've lived, but it's not true.
In those moments when I was waking up today, I was certain that I've lived in those imaginary places, and I had no idea where I actually was.
Strangely, those imaginary places feature quite regularly in my dreams. Sometimes I'm transported back to places I lived as a child, except those homes are always strangely altered in my dreams - they contain extra floors and corridors lead to unusual places. The two imaginary places which keep popping up in my dreams always look the same though - it's as though I know those places better than anywhere I've ever lived, even though they don't actually exist.
I think it's pretty clear that all the travelling around and living out of a suitcase has left me quite disturbed.
When I arrived home last night, I dumped my 4 bags onto the kitchen floor, which is pretty much where they remain, untouched. When I say "home" I don't really mean home in the sense that you might think of it, because I know I must leave here again very soon.
I've been feeling sick all day.
I don't feel well enough to go to work tomorrow.
Going to work entails me packing everything I need for the working week. Going to work entails me loading my bags into my car and driving across the country. Going to work entails me staying somewhere which isn't home, but yet it almost is.
I've become familiar with the hotels I stay in, except that the rooms are mirror-images of each other, so there's only a 50% chance that I'll get out of the right side of bed to stumble to the toilet in the middle of the night. When I reach for the bedside light-switch, there's a 50% chance that I'll flick the switch that turns on the bright main lights in the room, as opposed to the bedside lamp. I exist in a world where every bed is slightly unfamiliar, and the least familiar of all is the one that I suppose I might refer to as "in my home".
My stuff is spread all over the place. Some of my stuff in a friend's mum's garage. Some of my stuff is piled up in my bedroom. Some of my stuff is packed into suitcases and holdalls, so that it can be transported around from place to place. When I'm away from home, it's a 2.5 hour round-trip to collect anything that I might have forgotten, or anything that I might unexpectedly need.
I spend a huge amount of time trying to stay organised. The things I travel with are neatly partitioned: Work clothes and casual clothes, toiletries, medicines, gadgets, footwear, raincoats and other things which have crept into my luggage by accident, where holidays have overlapped with my on-the-road existence. I have no need of flip-flops, sunglasses and travel plug adapters, but yet these things end up being lugged around by me, because they're small and light so I never bothered to leave them behind.
Where do I live anyway? The bulk of my possessions are stored in somebody's garage. The things I need the most are transported around by me, everywhere I go. The majority of nights, I'm sleeping in a bed which is not my own. The only constant is my luggage - everything else changes. I never unpack my bags. I've become extremely adept at rummaging and locating the item I need.
If I wanted to go to work tomorrow, I would need to wash, dry and iron my work clothes. It's 11pm at night and I would need to leave at 7am to be at work on time, so that doesn't give me enough time to get the sleep I need as well as packing everything I need for the week ahead.
In some ways, I had a more settled life when I lived in a hostel. At least in the hostel, the bunkbeds were all identical and I got used to where the toilets were. I got used to the noise of the other inhabitants. I got used to homeless life, because I was living it 7 days a week, instead of having this split and nomadic existence.
The constant change in my life is unsettling, and that's why I think my mind has retreated into the realm of the imaginary. Not having a stable home is the reason why I find the imaginary homes in my head more familiar than the hotels rooms and rented places where I actually sleep.
The demands placed upon me have disturbed and unsettled my mind. I've been made sick by the lack of security and stability in my home life. My arduous yet delicate weekly routine is easily disturbed, with catastrophic results for my sense of wellbeing and ability to function.
Yes, I'm well-practiced at packing my bags and dealing with mirror-image hotel rooms, or even hostel dorms, while somehow maintaining the illusion that I have a settled and secure ordinary middle-class life, like my colleagues at work. Yes I can tolerate the intolerable, for a while, by sticking to my routines and following my procedures, but it's very demanding and I'm always on the verge of having a nervous breakdown from the stress.
My fridge is empty. My cupboards are bare. However, tomorrow I will remain "at home" and do my washing, and make my preparations for the remainder of the working week, which I imagine I will spend in a hotel. I will attempt to resume my routine. My routine is what I have instead of stability and security.
It's strange to look at a photo of myself with an old friend from not-too-many-Christmasses ago - at least according to my faulty memory - and not really recognise the face looking back at me as my own. It's not that I'm younger. It's that I can clearly see in many features of my face that I'd failed to escape from an abusive relationship and an acrimonious divorce unscathed. My life reboot had been sabotaged and it seems as plain as day to me that I was very sick.
My eyes appear at first glance to be bright and alert, but in a stimulant-induced way, so I wear a glassy stare into the distance, not looking at anything in particular. On closer examination, there are tell-tale signs around my eyes that I've been sleeping both too much and too little.
It surprises me how easily I can see from my face that I have hardly any body fat. In 2013 I had my body fat very precisely measured at circa 2%.
The body I'm in today feels very alien to me.
But the face in the picture above is also a different person, I feel.
Every couple of weeks I start skipping breakfast, having light lunches and smaller, healthier evening meals. Every couple of weeks I take a break from drinking alcohol. It doesn't make any difference.
For more years than I care to remember, I've woken up and I've dreaded going to work, and I've felt oppressively burdened by debt. My life is very simple, and in many ways very enviable, but it's also thoroughly awful. Theoretically the awfulness is only a temporary situation, but somehow it's turned out to be a nonstop nightmare lasting half a fucking decade.
The nightmare could be lazily attributed to drug addiction, but you might be surprised to learn that the truth is far less conveniently simple.
Having spent more than two decades trapped in the rat race, being a very stoic, quiet, boring, obedient and subservient tiny cog in a massive machine, and suffering the incredible boredom of going to bland beige offices, attending endless interminable meetings about nothing, shuffling paper around a desk and pretending to look busy, it was fucking exciting to go insane and embark upon a drug-fuelled rampage.
You might think that police, paddy wagons, Accident & Emergency, high-dependency wards, psychiatric hospitals, police cells, intensive care, sleeping rough and hostel dorms would be the worst thing imaginable - and those things probably were terrible at the time - but you need to understand the psychology of a person who wants to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and plummet towards the ground at terminal velocity. If you think that only stupid people get addicted to drugs, it's you who is stupid, because you haven't appreciated the value in calculated risks.
I would thoroughly advise every person on the planet to avoid supercrack like the plague, but it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge some attributes of my experiences of the last 5 years, which might be considered surprisingly beneficial.
We'd all like to be a bit skinnier, wouldn't we? We'd all like to lose a bit of that hard-to-shift belly-fat.
I look in the mirror at the slight gut which has appeared in the ten months which I've been working, without the interruption of a drug-fuelled rampage, and I think "where the fuck did that gut come from?"
It depresses me that I've put on weight.
It depresses me that my appearance has changed.
I'm not fat. I'm not overweight. I'm just kinda 'normal' for a 39-year-old bloke, but that fucking sucks, because I took for granted the fact that I was as skinny as a racing snake on a diet. There's something attractive about an 'athletic' body, and that's not the body I have anymore... or rather, that's not the body I have at the moment.
One of the reasons I kept ending up in hospital, is because my body ran out of fat to break down to keep itself alive, so it started breaking down my muscle. When my muscle was broken down to provide energy to keep my cells fuelled and save my life, there were a lot of toxins released too, which totally fucked my kidneys. Basically, I was starving to death but dying of kidney failure faster than I was dying from lack of glucose, because I was so unnaturally lacking in body fat. My body made a very tough decision at a certain do-or-die moment, to destroy muscle allowing my heart to keep pumping for a little while longer, at the expense of my kidneys.
I eat a lot.
I drink a lot.
I eat and drink whatever the fuck I want and however much I want. I have juicy fatty steaks with butter sauce, washed down with lashings of red wine, every single night of the week.
I'm a disgusting old man.
I've been so depressed and oppressed by my awful circumstances, that I've barely been outside all summer. My skin is pale. One of my arms is covered with ribbons of self-harm and suicide attempt scars. One of my wrists has a big lump where a bone was broken by police who were kindly assisting me in getting to hospital. I've got this gut. This fucking gut. Where the fuck did it come from?
Have you heard of DNP?
It's a fat burner.
I'm highly tempted to take a week or two off work and just burn off the fat using this drug which increases your metabolic rate. Of course, a side-effect is malignant hyperthermia, but that's nothing I haven't already experienced a great deal of, as a supercrack addict. Also, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks, tachycardia, organ damage and death... all risks I'm prepared to accept in order to be skinny and gorgeous again.
Although I'm crippled by mountainous debts, I drive a wreck of a car which is worth less than my phone, I live in rented accommodation and my body is covered with scars from drug-fuelled insanity, self-harm and suicide attempts, the most damaging thing to my self-esteem is what I've done to myself during this period of so-called health and wealth. While I've been earning megabucks for massive organisations and being mostly abstinent from supercrack, my life has materially improved massively - I've earned an absolute fortune - but psychologically it's been awful, and my body has suffered far more than even the very worst days of my supercrack addiction insanity.
I don't think supercrack is a solution, although the weight-loss is arguably a very desirable side-effect, in much the same way as a bout of explosive diarrhoea or a tapeworm infestation might be. Unfortunately, society worships the skinny, just as much as it worships the bipolar, even though those people might not be very healthy people at all.
As a single man - and rapidly approaching 40 years old - of course I want to feel sexually attractive. While girlfriends have always said "I like a bit of meat on your bones" fnarr fnarr, they have had a vested interest in my health and robustness as opposed to my raw attractiveness, in terms of a skinny athletic body.
The temptation to restore my athletic figure with a week or two of unpleasant suffering, taking a fat-burning drug and feeling like shit, seems like a small price to pay for the prize of being more sexually attractive. With the insecurity of feeling like I'm a washed-up has-been loser, dirty old man filthy pervert, useless debt-riddled, asset-less waste-of-space, with nothing to offer womankind, it's sorely tempting to take some short cuts. What happened to my house, sports-car, yacht, speedboat, cash pile and other desirable material things, which would be highly coveted? What value is there in a 39-year-old who's pale and average build? I'm ten a penny.
This is the calculated gamble. Presently, my gamble is to get rich quick, or more precisely, to pay off my debts incredibly quickly at the expense of my health, social life and mental wellbeing. The price I pay is my appearance: I eat and drink too much; don't exercise.
Of course, I have no plans to resume my supercrack-fuelled insanity, but to not acknowledge the rewards and unexpectedly positive benefits of better living through chemistry would be disingenuous.