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

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World Mental Health Day

5 min read

This is a story about wanting to die...

Muddy feet

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

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

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

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

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

Let's revisit my circumstances, today:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Cone of Shame

5 min read

This is a story about being mute...

Kitten

I suppose my beautiful baby girl is not mute, per se, because she's actually a very vocal cat; she makes a much bigger variety of cat noises than I've ever heard - everything from growling deeply, like a big wild cat, to sweetly mewing like a tiny kitten.

I often play a game when I'm making myself a sandwich at lunchtime, where I will say to her "meow if you would like some ham", to which she always replies with a meow, indicating that, yes, she would very much like a little ham.

My bengal - heartbreakingly still missing after 3+ months - didn't really have manners, shall we say. If she wanted something she would grab it, and if I didn't let go, she would have a tug-of-war competition with me. Of course, that kind of behaviour is intrinsic to the bengal breed, and part of the appeal: they are incredibly intelligent and determined animals, who will always do what they want; get what they want.

My ragdoll - pictured - had to wear the cone of shame for a couple of weeks. It's a common misconception that bengals are smart and ragdolls aren't. In fact, my ragdoll will play fetch, open doors and copy other stuff she sees me doing, or just figure things out for herself because she's smart. She is, however, a lot less prone to getting bored and becoming destructive. My house is in need of a number of bengal-related repairs, and that's even after cat-proofing my entire home.

I used to have to wash my duvet and bed linen at least 3 times a week, because my bengal would get into my bedroom and urinate on my bed. If she couldn't get in my bedroom, she'd urinate on anything of mine she could find: clothes, bags, blankets, tea towels, bath mats... whatever. She had no fewer than *FIVE* litter trays to choose from, and I used the special pheromone spray to try to help calm her down, but she basically was on a one-cat mission to urinate on everything I own.

I would not get another bengal, although of course I am desperate to be re-united with my poor lost baby.

My ragdoll is the perfect cat: she's very entertaining, just like a bengal, because she's smart and wants to play fetch and other games; she can be trained to do stuff. But, the main thing is, she doesn't urinate on any of my stuff. Well, actually, there was one time, which is the point of this essay.

Every time I go in the bathroom, my cats have always wanted to be in there with me, playing. I got into the habit of shutting the door with my bengal, otherwise she would shred all the toilet rolls, pull all the towels and bath mats onto the floor and urinate on everything. So, I kept the door shut. However, the cats love being in there with me, for some reason.

With my ragdoll, whenever I'm in the bathroom, she wants to be in the bath for some reason. I suppose it's like a hidey-hole or something for her. We even play a game where she thinks I can't see her, as she's poking her head over the edge of the bath. When she notices I'm looking at her, she ducks her head down, but her ears are still poking up. If I peer over the edge, she ducks even lower.

My ragdoll's love of the bath is immense, it would seem. So much so, that when I picked her up, because - instinctively - I didn't want to leave her in the bathroom, given the habit I'd gotten into with my bengal - when I carried her through to the bedroom and put her down on the bed, she urinated on it... first time and last time she's ever done that.

I guess it must be hard, not being able to communicate effectively. I try my best to figure out what's going on in my cats' head, but - as all cat owners will tell you - the mind of a cat is quite impenetrable. However, I let my ragdoll play in the bath whenever she wants now. In fact, I pretty much let her do whatever she wants, because she's such a gorgeous affectionate loving creature, who just wants to eat, sleep and snuggle, with the occasional mad moment where she wants to play rough, or just run around like a lunatic.

So, I'm sure you didn't come here for cat breed advice, or indeed an essay on the subject of my hit-and-miss experiences of cats who like to urinate on everything - bengals - versus the "perfect" domestic cat - my gorgeous ragdoll girl.

No matter how much I might moan and complain about how miserable and pointless life is, cats are the best.

 

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Bad Decisions

5 min read

This is a story about getting into debt...

Bike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, where am I going with this?

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

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

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

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

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

I'm getting one.

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

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

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

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

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

Okay?

Happy now?

 

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Useful Idiot

5 min read

This is a story about technocrats...

Desk

I wish I could tell you more about my day job, but I can't. I can't even tell you who my main client is, or generally what the project is that I'm working on. I mean, technically I could tell you the organisation and project, but then anybody searching for my name and that project or organisation would be brought right here, immediately, which wouldn't be helpful. I can't tell you any detail about my day, because it would probably breach code of conduct, and possibly some laws too, depending on what I told you.

Anyway.

I hate when people try to be super mysterious, and generally allude to the fact that what they do for a living is exciting; like they're James fucking Bond, or something. No, it's much more boring than that, as this quote that I love explains very well:

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern." -- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

What I'm working on for the majority of my working week, is benign, most people would agree. A colleague reads my blog, openly, not secretly, and they said that they agree with me: the project, and indeed the work of the organisation is benign in their opinion too. It's hard to see how what we're doing is not benign, but we should explore the topic with a little more of an open mind.

Something which you might pay little heed to, but will be well aware of if you've ever been unwell, is that there is a vast mountain of administrative headache, which has to be ploughed through, simply for the privilege of being alive. Even though all my bills are paid via direct debit from my bank account, or auto-renewal straight from my debit card, or some other way of money disappearing constantly from my pocket, still that's not enough. The council will write to me demanding that I tell them who lives in my house, even though I already told them. The car insurance company demanding to see proof that I've never claimed on my policy, even though it is them who administers the policy. Somebody, somewhere, at all times, is expecting me to do something for them, on pain of fine, prosecution... prison even.

The United Kingdom is ostensibly a very difficult place to live, unmolested. If you were hoping to live here, simply paying your rent/mortgage and bills, and expecting that would be enough, you are very wrong: an endless stream of bureaucratic obligations will bombard you, every single day. There are reams of forms which need to be filled in in triplicate; numerous permits, licenses, notices and interminable obligations, which are met with extremely harsh penalties if these constant intrusions into your life are not dealt with immediately.

Each organisation which contacts you thinks that its demands are not onerous, which is true. Taken individually, each task is not particularly difficult or time-consuming. However, when all these small tasks are added together, the demand is huge: I really don't give a shit whether I'm doing my tax return or revising the electoral roll... both tasks are equally irksome; equally intruding into my time, effort and energy. For highly functional people, they perhaps don't notice this burden, but those who are sick - speaking from personal experience - will find it overwhelming, to the point of driving a person to suicide.

While it might seem ridiculous - improbable - that these 'easy' jobs might tip somebody over the edge, to the point that they'd end their own life, if you consider the harsh penalties which are attached to all of these things, they can all threaten to ruin your life. An unpaid parking ticket can lead to £15,000 of court costs and other expenses, which would bankrupt most people. Other minor administrative oversights, like failing to tell the council that your flatmate moved out, could lead to thousands of pounds of fines, and perhaps even a criminal conviction. Cumulatively, I'm sure that you could end up with a very big police criminal record, and be bankrupted many times, simply because you weren't able to open your mail for a few months, because you were sick.

The letters keep dropping on your doormat, and every single one is demanding money with menaces. Every single one of those letters is threatening to lock you up, take away your home, take away your livelihood, take away your children, take away your pets, take away your transport; threatening to bankrupt you, and wreck your chance of ever having a home ever again; having a job ever again. It's a pretty shitty state of affairs, that we can do that to people, who just want/need to be left alone.

 

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Betrayal

4 min read

This is a story about the saddest girl in the world...

Cone of shame

My beautiful, gentle, little baby girl, has suffered a dreadful betrayal. I can't tell you exactly what the first 12 weeks of her life were like. I know that she had to contend with a house full of small children, dogs and other cats, which can't have been easy. When I got her home, she explored the whole house very cautiously, as if expecting that the place would be stuffed full of creatures which would manhandle her; a tiny placid little kitten, picked up like a toy, or jostled by the over-excited play of bigger animals. I don't think she was abused but she certainly wasn't used to being her own self, unmolested.

I can tell you exactly what every single day of her life has been like since July 3rd, 2020, because we have been inseparable. I've hardly left the house. Wherever I've been - in bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in my office, in my lounge - she's been right there, next to me. We've been two peas in a pod. We've been constant companions for each other.

Ragdoll cats are very placid. They are famous for going limp when you pick them up. Obviously, I've wanted to fuss and cuddle my gorgeous fur baby all the time, but I try to respect her independence too. I tried, from the very moment I got her home, to give her space to do whatever she wants to do, whenever she wants to do it: she's the queen of the castle, and she's got the run of the place; she can go wherever she wants, whenever she wants, and I try not to interfere.

Over the course of us bonding, her trust has grown. To begin with, she always quietly tolerated my desire to pick her up and stroke her. She always wanted to be nearby, but never obviously sought affection. Slowly, more and more, she will decide that she wants attention and affection, and she will stand on my chest and headbutt my head, or rub herself on me. She drapes herself across me and 'makes biscuits' - kneading me and suckling on me, in a very relaxed and kittenish way. She's clearly been very fond of her human.

Now I have betrayed her.

She's so trusting that this third visit to the vet, she didn't make much effort to hide when I got her cat carrier out. She didn't put up much of a protest about me putting her into her cat carrier. She didn't make a sound when I drove her to the vet. Apparently, she was very friendly, playful and relaxed before her operation.

Her trust has been broken.

She woke up from her operation, and she was upset with the vet's assistant, because of the betrayal. My poor little baby was trembling when I picked her up.

I had to put her 'cone of shame' on when I got her home, to stop her from licking her stitches, so that the wound heals well and doesn't get infected. She's really had a very bad day, because of me and other humans, who've betrayed her trust.

I really hope she gets over it, in time, and will trust me again. It's really sad, because I think she'd been having a really nice life up until this point, and she really thought that her human was a super nice person who she could trust.

Now she's trying to figure out how to eat with her cone on. She's got the frustration of having to wear it for weeks, and I have to be the cruel human who forces her to keep it on. I'm the cruel human who put it on her.

 

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Vanity Publishing

5 min read

This is a story about a crowded market...

Art stuff

Remind me again why only certain people are allowed to make music, literature and art. Remind me again why the rest of us are banned from releasing our creative endeavours into the world. Remind me again why the creative arts are the sole preserve of the spoiled brattish kids of rich indulgent parents.

Oh yes. That's right. The internet changed all that.

Sure, the old gatekeepers are still there. Sure, if you want to get signed to a record label, a publishing house, a gallery or some other elitist institution, and publish using their marketing machine, then you'll need to kiss their arses and play by their rules.

Sure, the new gatekeepers are now in place. If you want to have a heap of subscribers on your YouTube channel, listeners on Spotify, or readers on your website, then you'll have to play by the rules of the algorithms; you'll have to comply with the demands of those digital platforms.

But.

Previously, only the likes of a multimillionaire rock star - like Brian Eno - would be able to afford professional-grade music production equipment. Previously, only the likes of a multimillionaire famous author - like Jeffrey Archer - would have been able to self-publish a book. Previously, only a multimillionaire artist - like Damien Hirst - would have been able to get their art seen by vast numbers of people.

Now.

Now is the time of self-publishing.

Sure, it's not great being locked into a platform like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, Apple, Spotify or suchlike, in order to get your art out into the world, but it does level the playing field a little. Sure, self-promotion is hard work, and it's still impossible to give up the day job, unless you have a trust fund; the barrier to entry is still extremely high. However, in some ways, the barrier to entry is quite low.

A friend of mine has a YouTube channel, filled with 90+ minute monologues. I sometimes browse the latest videos which my friend has published, and I think "oh god, that's me, isn't it? Pumping out long insane monologues, out into the ether of the internet, where nobody really takes any notice". Not to denigrate my friend's creative output at all, but I am incredibly fearful that I'm adding nothing but noise into the world.

I offer you a quote (as I very rarely do) which I often think about:

"[George] Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. [Aldous] Huxley feared those who would give us so much [information] that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism" -- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

I think we are living in Huxley's feared dystopia, in the context of being overwhelmed with information. The 4th industrial revolution - the information revolution - has created the most complicated man-made object: the internet. I often worry that the internet is a curse, not a blessing, given that I end up empathising with the plight of a Fijian villager whose prize pig was stolen, literally on the other side of the world. I rarely leave the house; I rarely talk to my neighbours, but every morning I wake up to an inbox full of people asking me "what's the best way to kill myself?" and "why are you not dead?". The internet is a mixed blessing.

I might look back on this period of creativity with cynicism, bitterness and a jaded outlook, which causes me to think that I was wasting my time. I might - feeling depressed and anxious - reflect that my writing wasn't very good; that I was making a fool of myself in public. The whole endeavour might seem very cringeworthy and embarrassing, with retrospect.

The internet doesn't forget, very easily. I'm somewhat etched into the fabric of the internet now. Stuff I've written is quite literally etched onto metal with lasers, and buried in the Arctic, to preserve it for posterity. Not, I might add, at my own expense. My vanity and ego are gigantic, but not quite big enough -yet- to embark on such a folly as burying some digital keepsakes beneath the frozen tundra; a monument to my own stupidity.

Of course, nobody in their right mind spends 5+ years of their life, writing and publishing 1.3 million words, which remained for the vast majority of that time, largely unread; unnoticed. I am, obviously, more unhinged than my friend with a YouTube channel: at least they didn't have to go to the effort of painstakingly constructing pleasing prose, checked for spelling and grammar, and accompanied by a hand-chosen photo which was Photoshopped to improve it, before publishing. Only a madman would go to all that effort, unpaid; unrewarded.

 

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What Next?

4 min read

This is a story about dreams...

Penny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Who Am I?

6 min read

This is a story about identity...

Punting

I'm always rather taken aback by anybody who asks who I am, given that I've written and published more than 1.3 million words, which have exhaustively documented who I am... or so I thought.

I suppose for an ordinary middle-class person, the question "who are you?" is really one of a few standard questions, which allow a person to be quickly bracketed; pigeon holed. Let's explore those questions, and the answers.

"What do you do?" - this is the classic middle-class question. The question could be rewritten more accurately as "how do you sell your labour to the capitalists?". The thrust of this question is to establish whether a person has a respectable job. If you're a solicitor, an accountant, a doctor or suchlike, then you are a person of interest because several assumptions can be made, which means a lot of subsequent questions can be skipped. Really, the question we'd love to ask is "how rich are you?" but it seems a little vulgar, so middle-class people take a rather indirect route in an attempt to establish an answer.

My answer to "how rich are you?" is that I have £26,000 in my bank account, I own a car worth £1,500 and a handful of possessions worth no more than a few thousand pounds. My salary is £732 per month. I am not rich.

My answer to "what do you do?" would rather obfuscate the fact that I am not rich, because I am a company director and IT consultant.

"Where did you go to university?" - this is another classic middle-class question. Obviously an Oxbridge education means that you're most likely rich, because most Oxbridge students are rich. There are the red-brick universities, such as Manchester and Birmingham, the Oxbridge reject universities like Durham and Exeter, and the highly regarded universities such as Imperial, UCL and suchlike. Then, there are the Russel Group universities, which are respected. If you went anywhere else, you're probably poor and/or stupid. It would seem more direct to ask "are you stupid?" but this is considered rude.

My answer to "are you stupid?" is no.

My answer to "where did you go to university?" is nowhere, which is rather confusing, as this would seem to suggest that I wasn't clever enough; my exam results weren't adequate. Nope. I had unconditional offers from some of the best universities in the UK. I didn't go because I wanted and needed to earn money, which I did by getting onto a graduate training programme with the UK's number one aerospace and defence company, age 17, despite not having a university degree. See - not stupid.

"Where do you live?" - yet another middle-class cliché. Of course, the real question is "how much is your house worth?". Through indirect questions, the questionner is attempting to establish whether you own a big house in a desirable area, which is likely to indicate that you're rich.

My answer to "how much is your house worth?" is that I don't own a house. See earlier answers.

My answer to "where do you live?" is a leafy suburb of Cardiff; certainly an extremely desirable area. Oh, and for a bonus, I live in a 4 bedroom house with period features, worth about £350,000... but of course, I don't own it. Well, frankly nobody owns their house, do they... except old people. The bank owns the house and they let you live there as long as you pay the mortgage. It's not yours. The title deeds at the Land Registry state who the owner is: the bank.

"What do you drive?" - this is one of the more shallow and transparently money-obsessed questions, but one that very often gets asked; a surefire attempt to socioeconomically bracket somebody... to feel the thickness of their wallet. Again, you might as well ask "are you rich?" but we already asked that one, so maybe the question should be more "what status symbols do you own?".

My answer to "what status symbols do you own?" is none. I don't have an expensive watch. I don't have a flashy expensive car. I suppose my pedigree cat perhaps qualifies as a status symbol, but I don't think of that cute little ball of fluff in that way.

My answer to "what do you drive?" is an 11-year-old car, with a big dent in it where an idiot drove into it in an otherwise empty car park, which I haven't been bothered to fix yet... because, well, it's an 11 year old car, so who cares? Of course I like cars. I could spend some of my £26,000 on a fancy car, but I won't, mostly because I hardly drive anywhere.

Those are pretty much the only questions that seem to matter to the middle-class people who are trying to size me up. They're certainly not trying to get to know me so these questions are sufficient to bracket me, somewhat.

Of course, the real answer to "who are you?" is much more complex. So complex, in fact, that 1.3 million words doesn't even begin to answer it.

If you think that I'm a self-centred narcissist, you're probably right, but I've lived with suicidal depression and come close to dying enough times to feel that I'm somewhat entitled (emphasis to underscore my extreme self-centred narcissism) to leave some kind of record of who I was behind, to survive me after I'm gone. I don't have any easily recognisable and understood label, which I can affix to myself: my profession is poorly understood and often labelled as "geek" or "nerd" or something else undesirable, even though it powers the modern world; without IT consultants - software engineers like me - you wouldn't be reading this right now, because the internet wouldn't exist. You're welcome. I'm an alumnus of a prestigious technology accelerator programme, which was held at the University of Cambridge, but of course as you know, I can't claim to be a graduate; I merely beat thousands of other applicants for one of ten precious places; I merely wowed Cambridge Union Society and some packed lecture theatres. What label should I wear?

Loser, I expect.

 

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Slob

3 min read

This is a story about mess...

Kitten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Repeating Myself

4 min read

This is a story about being in lockdown...

Rat race

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

I'm still in lockdown.

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

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

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

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

It's miserable.

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

Not me.

I'm miserable.

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry for repeating myself.

 

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