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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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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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Electronicat

5 min read

This is a story about technical stuff...

Electronics

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

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

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

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

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

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

However.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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Lockdown Improvements

5 min read

This is a story about the Coronavirus pandemic...

Lighthouse

Many people planned to come out of lockdown with new hobbies, fitter, healthier, happier and myriad other unachievable unrealistic things. I think that we have mostly come out of lockdown fatter, more unfit, poorer, more insecure, lonely, isolated, bored and generally worse off.

I started the lockdown drinking very heavily and eating McDonald's breakfast every morning. I decided that if we were going to be suffering the misery of being under house arrest, then I would treat myself. Quickly I realised that I was going to end up with clogged arteries and morbidly obese. I was eating takeaway several nights a week and not doing any exercise.

I started the lockdown physically dependent on sleeping pills to get to sleep, and using two different tranquillising sedatives to cope with unbearable anxiety. I decided it was too much hassle to try to keep stocked up with the medications I needed during the lockdown, and I calculated that I have enough left to be able to taper myself off. I didn't want to run out of medication suddenly in the middle of a pandemic.

I started the lockdown working on my sofa, fully reclined. I realised that my posture and back would be ruined by working in such a position for 8 hours a day, followed by many more hours on the sofa after finishing work.

Things had to change.

I thought the lockdown would last a month or two, but I must admit that I didn't think it would drag on beyond a quarter of the year. I tried my best to psychologically prepare myself for the lockdown lasting for months, but I was hopeful it'd be all over after 6 to 8 weeks.

I bought a desk and an office chair.

I weaned myself off the sleeping pills and tranquillisers.

I cut down my drinking, and even went teetotal for 6 or 7 weeks.

I started exercising. Not, like, exercising exercising. Just going for a 10km walk every day. Enough to keep me a little bit active, but nothing crazy.

I stopped getting takeaways. All those takeaways were costing quite a lot of money, when they were all added up. Sure, I felt like I could justify spending the money to enjoy some nice food, as compensation for the doom and gloom of the hundreds of thousands of people dying all over the world, and the restrictions to our freedom... but it wasn't healthy and it was costing a packet.

I paid off all my debt. This wasn't so much a planned thing. It was something that just happened to co-incide with the lockdown. However, it feels pretty damn good to have some savings now. I have a net worth again, which feels good. I have some financial security, even if it is pretty negligible. It had been a very long time which I'd been struggling to get my finances sorted, and it's a big relief to be back in the black.

My life is extremely austere and simple. I have my house, my job, my cat, my car; that's it. My health is probably OK. My weight is OK, although I am carrying some extra weight I'd like to shift, as a consequence of lockdown. My finances are OK. My job seems OK. My housing situation is sort of OK. My kitten is great, although my cat is lost... overall OK. My car has a big dent where an idiot crashed into it during lockdown, in a virtually empty car park, but there are more important things in life than having a shiny perfect car.

All things considered, I think I'm one of the lockdown winners - I'm emerging in far better shape than I went into lockdown. Some people have lost their job, or are about to lose their job. Some people have struggled with alcohol and food. Some people have struggled with mental health. In almost every area of my life, things have improved; I look reasonably well positioned to weather a difficult autumn and winter.

Although losing my cat was the worst thing that happened, it has forced me to connect with my neighbours and the wider community, so I have even managed to live a far less isolated and lonely existence under lockdown, than I was living before - I speak to far more people; I'm more connected and socially engaged.

I thought that if I retreated inwards, living and communicating through my blog and social media, then I would find it impossible to get through the lockdown. It looks like a reasonably good decision, to have taken a break.

It helps that it's summer - of course - which lifts my mood and generally creates a more pleasant and favourable backdrop for life, but I feel hopeful that I've got a decent position of health and financial stability to fight through the autumn and winter. I just need to book some holidays now... I've worked non-stop since early January, when I was discharged from hospital.

 

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Positive Spin

3 min read

This is a story about bereavement...

Kitten in a box

You can order anything on Amazon dot com these days. I needed a new kitten; same-day delivery. Prime membership equals free shipping too - bonus!

My cat has been missing for two weeks. Was it premature to get a new kitten? Who sets the rules on how long we have to live in cat-free torment, alone with our sadness and grief? Who decides how long is the authorised, legal, respectable amount of time which somebody has to suffer without a feline friend for company? When were these things decided? Why were these rules and regulations put in place? Who benefits from these draconian laws?

Anyway, I broke the rules.

I got a new kitten.

Of course I miss my cat and I desperately want to know what's happened to her, but perhaps I never will. She's microchipped, so I have a better chance of being reunited, but it's perfectly possible that it will always remain a mystery, sadly and frustratingly.

I don't think it would be a good idea to be grief-stricken, heartbroken and isolated all alone, without a furry feline friend. I got a new kitten. Sue me.

It's hard to put into words the sheer joy of unboxing my little bundle of fluff. Seeing her gorgeous blue eyes, soft white fur and that greyish smokey point colouration on her nose, ears, paws and tail, is a joy. She's the living embodiment of adorable cuteness.

Obviously I don't know the fate of my cat, so I can't really grieve. I'm trapped, not knowing whether she's alive or dead. I've been trapped for two weeks. I could be trapped for two months, two years, or the rest of my life. I strongly suspect the latter. Obviously I hope that she's reunited with me alive and well, but nobody has spotted her; she's disappeared without a trace. It's quite possible that she's alive and well somewhere, but nobody's coming forward to tell me that, and they might keep her away from me for the rest of our lives, and I'll never know her fate.

Yes, I have a new kitten and she's gorgeous. Yes, I'm happy to have a new kitten. Yes, having a furry feline friend is important to me. Yes, it makes my life better; more bearable; happier. Yes, my life is better now I have a cat in my home; in my life.

Sorry. Was I supposed to be miserable and suicidal?

Was I supposed to be suffering?

I'm still suffering. I've lost a cat which I love very dearly.

Sorry not sorry. I do what's right for me. I do whatever it takes to cling onto life.

So sue me.

Another way to look at it might be to consider how long you deliberately made yourself miserable for, and to ask yourself why you put yourself through that. If you needed a kitten but you didn't get one, then you got one after a long wait, ask yourself why you waited. Wasn't it unnecessary to wait? Wasn't it unnecessary to suffer? Why would you deliberately make yourself suffer?

I'm finished with unnecessary waits. Pointless. Waste of time.

I needed and wanted a kitten, so I ordered one on Amazon dot com same day Prime delivery.

True story.

 

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Step Nine: Prioritise

8 min read

This is a story about the critical path...

Backpacks

Having attended 8 different schools and basically had my sense of stability and security snatched away from me at every opportunity, by my selfish parents, during an upbringing where they prioritised their own antisocial desire to take drugs in isolation above everything else, I've learned the hard way what's important and what's not.

I place a very high value on loyalty, but I know from bitter and disappointing experience that there are extremely few people who are at all loyal in the world. I very rarely encounter anybody who I would describe as loyal, let alone trust. Because my parents forcibly removed me from anywhere I was becoming settled and secure, on so many occasions, it was necessary to find a coping mechanism for the destruction wrought upon any relationships; any attachments which I had formed. Through no fault of my own, and indeed through the wickedness of my parents, I was forced to become able to remain emotionally detached from people, such that I could disentangle myself without the heartbreak, repeatedly perpetrated against me, while my parents pursued their antisocial selfish drug-taking lifestyle.

Repeatedly moving house also destroys a child's sense of security in their home and their bedroom. What's the point in getting attached to a place if your parents are going to wrench you from it, the moment you begin to feel at home? Again, I was forced to develop coping mechanisms for the selfish antisocial drug-taking lifestyle, which perpetrated such an unsettled home life upon me, leaving me with no sense of 'home' or 'belonging' - these things are meaningless terms to me.

"Where are you from?" people often ask me. How on earth do I answer that question? I have had a childhood which no child should've had to suffer. Children need stability and security; consistency. Children need their friends; children need their house and their school and they need a place which they can call home - be it town or village. If you rob your child of this, you are an evil and wicked person.

Where I currently sit, on my sofa with my cat snuggled next to me, there are approximately ten books which I haven't read, six board games which I haven't played, a few other items of furniture and some fake plants, all of which I would consider entirely disposable. If my house burned down and I lost every single possession, it would be a mere inconvenience to process the insurance claim - there is nothing in my life which I'm emotionally attached to. Even my cat, who I adore, could be re-homed and live a very happy life. It would, I admit, be hard for me to return to cat-free existence and I would soon seek to get another cat at the earliest practicable opportunity, but while I do love my beautiful kitten, I know that her loyalties lie with whoever is feeding her; cats are not loyal and they do not truly reciprocate love, because they are simple creatures, although incredibly beautiful and loveable.

Why have I led this essay with such a bitterness-filled tirade? Well, it sets the scene for the important point I'm about to make.

If you need to achieve something very, very hard, you have to know what you can afford to lose.

To go on the journey from penniless and homeless, abandoned by friends and family - or at least given a temporary wide berth because they mistakenly and misguidedly believed they needed to protect their families from "that homeless guy" who they used to call their friend or relative - then you need to know what is on the critical path, and what is not.

We live in a capitalist society (unless you are reading this in North Korea, which I very much doubt) and as such, the cultural indoctrination has been so successful that nobody will piss on you if you're on fire, because they believe that there is some cash value for their urine, or at least expect to be paid in advance for emptying their bladder in order to extinguish the flames. Thus, while it's laudable to do acts of random kindness, most people will cut off your head and shit down your throat, if they think it'll contribute 0.000001% towards getting their kid an "A" grade in their exam.

Money is at the root of everything. Concentrate on getting money and everything else falls into place. This might sound shallow. This might sound like terrible advice. Indeed, it would be terrible advice for any person who had a brilliant childhood where they were raised by normal parents, in a normal house and went to school like a normal kid. Unfortunately, for those of us who were denied that by our wicked selfish parents, we have to buy our way through life; we have to prostitute ourselves. We have no place to call home which will welcome us with open arms - we have been forced into nomadic exile; belonging nowhere and to nobody.

People have been kind to me, but people have been disproportionately unkind to me, such that the net balance means that I have suffered far more than I have benefitted. I am immensely grateful for those few loyal, generous and kind people who have treated me well. My sanity, dignity and self-esteem is only preserved by that tiny group who have chosen not to shun, marginalise, exclude, ostracise and spurn me; to eject me from society and reject me from anywhere I might gain a sense of belonging.

A man's life is worth very little, and I use the word "man" quite deliberately, because it is men who freeze to death on the streets, only to be cremated, with no mourners. There are some women, but they attract a disproportionate amount of sympathy, given that they suffer less violence, and have far better prospects than men do. You might immediately feel that I'm wandering into the territory of a misogynistic rant, but I merely present the simple facts. "Hate" facts you might call them, if there was any malice in my words, but there is not. It's simply a bleak appraisal of a life, as a man, which sees me far more likely to be murdered, assaulted, killed at work, jailed, homeless or suffer any number of horrible outcomes, than if I had been born without a willy in-between my legs.

So, what about the priorities?

Earn money. It's a practical necessity in capitalist society, and without it you will be trampled, spat on and kicked to death. There are no other priorities. Making friends is not important. Having a place to call home is not important. Having a family is not important. Everything can wait until you've got some money. That is the priority: get some money, then everything else will fall into place.

Once you have money, you will find that everything can be bought. You can attempt to persuade yourself that everything you have was not bought, but I can reassure you from bitter experience, that nobody wants to come and visit you in the gutter, if you're penniless; nobody wants to be in a relationship with you; nobody wants to help you... nobody even wants to see you. That's right, if you're poor, people would much prefer it if you were totally invisible.

How does this relate to my own personal version of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps abstinence-based program to achieving sobriety? Well, it's pretty simple really: step nine says get rich, and don't worry about anything else. The world is full of wealthy drunks, and nobody cares about their alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a disease of the poor. If you're not poor then you're not an alcoholic anymore... you're just somebody who enjoys a drink; you're a party animal; you're suddenly a great guy or gal who's surrounded by heaps of friends.

Of course, don't be so stupid as to lose your money, which can very easily be done when gregariously and generously buying drinks for all your friends, because of course without money you're nothing but a worthless alcoholic scumbag. That's the secret, you see: stay rich and you'll be fine; concentrate on the money and everything else falls into place.

You might think that this sounds like terrible advice, and it probably is. If I screw up and lose all my money, you will laugh at me and tell me that I am a fool, and in all probability I am more likely to fail than I am to succeed, so you are making a cowardly bet, to bet against me. If I succeed, then I don't give a shit who you are or what you used to think about me, because I can do whatever the hell I want; I can have whatever I want.

In this hell-hole of a capitalist society, prioritise one thing and one thing alone: money.

 

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Sleep Engineering

4 min read

This is a story about exhaustion...

Burndown

If I get my sleep right then almost everything else falls into place. Of course, it might be the case that my sleep is right when other things in my life are going well - cause and effect have no clear relationship here - but life is very miserable when I'm having sleep problems.

Thinking back to when I first got my kitten, I was incredibly stressed that she was very restless and noisy in the middle of the night, attacking everything and anything and keeping me awake. Thinking back a little further, I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and get to work on time. There was a period when I was heavily dependent on sleep aids - taking copious amounts of sleeping pills, tranquillisers and sedatives, as well as drinking bucketloads of alcohol. Thinking back, things are vastly improved.

I have been feeling very tired at work during the afternoons. I have worked very long days for a lengthy period of time, and it's taking its toll.

So.

I moved my bedtime back by an hour or two.

This morning I woke up before my alarm and I felt refreshed.

Jackpot.

I haven't solved everything, but getting my sleep right is a good start. Waking up feeling refreshed means no sense of dread that I have to leave my lovely comfortable warm bed and go naked into a cold bathroom to have a shower. Feeling adequately rested means that I don't get stressed about falling asleep when I go to bed, and I don't get stressed if I get woken up by my cat in the middle of the night. Getting enough sleep means that I have a pleasant moment where I'm awake and my furry friend is saying "good morning" to me, and I'm not pressing my snooze button and feeling generally stressed and anxious about having to get up.

My quality of life is loads better because of improvements to my financial situation and the fact that I'm not bored out of my mind at work. Alleviating some of the stress of the things which I'm powerless to alter - such as money and work - has given me capacity to alter things I do have control over, such as my alcohol consumption. The improvements cause more improvements; it's a lot easier to change things and make better decisions about my health when other circumstances beyond my control are more favourable. Rich people do yoga because they can - they're bone idle and have lots of time on their hands, and they're not stressed about money, so they can dick around doing stupid dumb shit like yoga, unlike the rest of us.

I do cheat a little in order to be able to sleep whenever I need it, for as long as I need it. It's so wonderful to think "I'm tired and I need 2 hours extra sleep, plus I need to get up at 7am, so I will go to sleep at 9pm" and then be able to be fast asleep on schedule. Most people don't have that luxury, but I cheat, and it helps me immensely. Wouldn't you like to be able to choose when you fall fast asleep too?

Oddly, I don't seem able to have long lie-ins anymore. My sleep patterns are quite routine, which is good. It's all too easy to get into bad sleep habits at weekends and spend the whole of the next working week getting the sleep pattern sorted again. I can see now why parents find it so easy to be early birds, whereas I've struggled my whole life to get into the office on time. I'm really not an early bird, but of course it's beneficial to my career to bludgeon my sleep pattern into whatever routine is dictated by capitalism.

I spent so much of my life with social jetlag: having somebody else's sleep pattern unnaturally imposed upon me, causing me a great deal of pain and suffering. It's been awful, but now I cheat and it's great.

I will let my sleep be as natural as possible this weekend, and hopefully I won't have to cheat next week, but I will if I need to, because my life is difficult and stressful enough without having to put up with social jetlag and the awfulness of a capitalism-imposed expectation of office hours, which is toxic to my health.

 

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Cat Fancier

4 min read

This is a story about my fur baby...

Cone of shame

My job is incredibly intense at the moment and I'm at risk of becoming excessively obsessive, but when I see my cat's cute face greeting me when I get home from the office, I'm able to switch off and relax a little. There are things which are causing me a lot of stress at the moment, like an uncertain financial and housing situation, but it's all a little easier to bear in the company of my lovely cat.

I wondered whether I had made a big mistake, getting a very intelligent breed of cat, because her personality is so different to the moggy I had before. Repeatedly wetting the bed as well as being relentlessly hyperactive, I felt that I was getting far more of the downsides of pet ownership, with only a very limited amount of upsides: it seemed very rare that she wanted to sit and be stroked. I wondered whether I had taken on a bigger responsibility than I had expected - and been used to in the past with cats - with none of the rewards that I was used to from my previous cat.

She is very annoying.

However, I have gotten used to how annoying she is. Now I have begun to enjoy her character.

At least once a night, she will have a manic episode where she will decide that she's going to attack me. For a period of 15 minutes to an hour, she will attack my hands, arms, feet or indeed anything that she fancies, such as my legs, knees, or simply my torso. She will bite, scratch and kick me. She will jump on me and wind me. However, it's all rough play and she doesn't mean to hurt me, although she does draw blood. If I want her to stop, she does... but not for long.

Multiple times per day she will attack my houseplants and other fragile things, such as some tall lamps which have paper shades, now utterly destroyed. She does not attack these things when I'm not around. Not wanting to anthropomorphise, but she wants to provoke me: she annoys me for her own amusement. It's a game to her. It used to stress me out but now it's become kind of funny... since I've accepted that I can't have nice things anymore and I've given up being precious about my stuff.

She wants to be with my, wherever I am. It's very nice having a little shadow, following me around. She meows and I meow back. Sometimes she wanders off and then feels lonely, so she meows and then comes rushing to find me when she hears me. She's a very sociable animal.

Since she's been wearing her cone she's not been able to scratch behind her ears, which is something she gets me to do for her. She has an insatiable appetite for behind-the-ears scratching.

Once or twice a day she will have a period where she is desperate to be stroked, and she will force her head into my hand, whatever I'm doing. Typing becomes impossible. Resting comfortably becomes impossible. Sleep becomes impossible. If I sit or lie on my hands, she will burrow furiously in order to push her head repeatedly into my hand, urging me to stroke her. It's so adorable and impossible to ignore.

She has started to enjoy sitting on my lap, or otherwise lying peacefully in contact with me. She has started to have some calmer periods, which are of course blissful.

Stroking her is immensely stress relieving. She also seems to know when I'm unhappy, and she cheers me up a lot. I think she's responsible for helping me to avoid complete capitulation during some recent stressful events.

In short: I'm really pleased I got her and I'm so happy she's part of my life.

 

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Rock Bottom; Soft Landing

5 min read

This is a story about having nothing to complain about...

Cone of shame

I woke up this morning and I was almost overwhelmed by depression. I think yesterday was a double-whammy of bad stuff, with the uncertainty around my ongoing employment and income - and the belief that I was being screwed over - plus the news that parliamentary democracy is being destroyed by a old Etonian Bullingdon Club public schoolboy elitist establishment Tory, who has no mandate, yet seems to have found a way to thwart the will of our elected representatives.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so upset yesterday, because things have worked out OK, at least so far as my contract is concerned. However, this contract stuff has dragged on for months, and it takes its toll.

I had booked a lovely holiday when I got the news that my contract, which was supposed to finish at the end of the year, was being cut short by 6 months. The holiday looked like an expensive mistake, when seen in the context of ending up without an income.

I went away on holiday thinking that I would have to find a new contract when I got back. The anxiety surrounding having to find a new contract didn't completely spoil the holiday, but it weighed heavily on my mind the whole time. It was very hard to forget how much money I was losing, due to not working, and how much money I was spending. It was very hard not to worry about having to go back to London in order to find work, given that there are fewer large organisations who might need my services, outside the capital.

I came back and the carrot of another couple of months work was dangled, but it took a long time to materialise as an actual contract, and then yesterday it looked like I was getting screwed over. Perhaps the middle-man just wanted to squeeze me for a bit more profit, by paying me less, but it also looked like I might have been strung along only to be left with nothing at the end of the week; out of a job.

As it turns out, I've got an extra couple of months, but I'm still two months short of what I had back at the beginning of the summer, when my contract was extended to the end of the year and it looked likely that there was enough work to last into 2020. I never count my chickens, but I did have ink dry on a contract when suddenly that income security was yanked, in a fairly incomprehensible way, given that I had a good grasp of deadlines and what was achievable, but a manager is a person who thinks that 9 women can have a baby in one month.

I woke up and I thought I couldn't face work; I couldn't face taking my kitten to the vet to be 'fixed'. I thought I couldn't face anything - I was too burnt out from too much stress and anxiety - and I knew that if I was laid low with depression, then my life would quickly collapse; destroyed by rent and bills.

My job is interesting, my colleagues are great, I like the city where I live, my house, my girlfriend, my kitten. Life can be good when it's good, and I'm definitely in my comfort zone in terms of my work and my daily routine, but there's a heap of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, which have nothing to do with anything except being thwarted. I know I can easily do the job that's asked of me. I know that I can competently and capably deliver, provided nothing and nobody thwarts me. I know all the steps between here and the finish line. The only thing that's going to throw me off is being deliberately thwarted by somebody.

I know I repeat myself endlessly at the moment. It's kind of like a mantra, repeated to ward off evil spirits. I feel completely powerless to influence my own life. Day-to-day living is easy - a paint-by-numbers exercise that I've done a million billion times - so it's the f**kwits who are sent to thwart me who constantly threaten to destroy everything, who I'm powerless to stop.

This is my life: fed to me in two-month chunks, in a perpetual state of anxiety and stress, doing easy stuff that I've done millions of times before, but with the constant threat of ruin hanging over me; no security and no respite from the pressure.

I try to concentrate on working hard, knowing that if I do that then everything else should fall into place, and if it doesn't then there was nothing I could do about it anyway, but it's bloody awful having the carrot dangled for years and years but always being thwarted, just at the moment when a breakthrough seems almost within reach. F**k my life.

I was very nearly consumed by suicidal depression, but things improved today. I got up. I took my kitten to the vet. I did my work. I secured a whopping two whole months more income; marginally postponing the day when I'm forced to discover that there's no f**king work near where I live.

 

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I Love My Job

5 min read

This is a story about inconsistency...

Apple Mac

I often forget that I have a mood disorder - bipolar - because I'm pretty functional and unimpaired, but clearly I'm not neurotypical. Depression seems to my 'usual' day to day mood, or perhaps it just feels like that because depression seems to last interminably long and can't go away soon enough, but hypomanic episodes are all too infrequent and very welcome.

My hypomania has, as usual, produced some useful results, in that I've been able to make fantastic progress at work on the project I've been involved with.

I was feeling disheartened about how much mess had been made and how the 'purity' had been lost of the wonderful system that I had a major hand in shaping, leaving things less-than-perfect. Then, I spent ages hacking away trying to make things better and tidying everything up, and I'm happy again; I feel like I can be really proud of my work.

Why anyone should expect me to feel consistent about things is dubious, given my mood disorder. Of course I'm going to say "I hate my job" on one day and "I love my job" on another. I wonder if the same can be said for my feelings towards life. I definitely have suicidal thoughts on a very regular basis, but it really wasn't very long ago that I had the holiday of a lifetime, which really was amazing, and I have some great things in my life like my girlfriend and my kitten, plus some great friends and a generally pretty enviable lifestyle... although of course I'm working hard and taking some pretty grim jobs in order to pay for that lifestyle.

I can decide whether I love or loathe creating software. When I wrote some iPhone apps, I never ever wanted to touch the code ever again once they were released. I was not at all proud of my code and it was quite arduous making those apps. In fact, I really got to scratch the coding itch that summer, writing code for 16 to 18 hours a day.

I think creating software can be a mood rollercoaster. Sometimes it's difficult and sometimes it's easy. When it's difficult, it can be really difficult and it can feel like a problem is impossible, but anyone who's a good software engineer will persevere and overcome horrible technical obstacles. When you solve a really hard problem, it's a major triumph, but it's emotionally taxing to have that range of mood fluctuation as an integral part of your day job. Many software developers will retreat into their comfort zone, only doing things in ways that they're familiar with; refusing to work with unfamiliar technologies, where they'll suffer the misery of technical obstacles all over again.

I'm not sure whether I love or loathe overcoming technical challenges. I love it when I succeed but I hate it when I feel like I'm not succeeding; that I've finally met my match with a particularly nasty problem.

In the organisation where I currently work, it seemed like the system I was working on was incomprehensibly huge and that the problems were so deeply embedded in the very fabric of what'd been built, that I could do little more than nurse the thing along and make very minor improvements. However, I started to become more bold and ambitious about making changes, until eventually one day I decided to rewrite it all. Everything works like I thought it would, and things are incomparably better than they were when I joined, but maybe I'm biased. I do have hard numbers to back my claims that things are better... things that were taking days take a matter of minutes now.

I always worry that I'm repeating past mistakes, where I've become full of myself and convinced that I'm a major driving force in delivering a major project for a massive organisation. Perhaps I am a major driving force, but things have not always ended well for me when I've allowed my hypomania to run riot. I need to learn those lessons of the past and not allow myself to become excessively tired, where my hypomania turns into outright mania and I start acting strangely.

Hopefully the reality I perceive is not too different from how other people see things. Hopefully I'm not suffering too badly with delusions of grandeur. There seems to be plenty of evidence that I'm doing a good job and I'm well respected, and that my contribution is valued. There seems to be plenty of corroborating evidence to support my claim that I've made a major contribution to the project and can feel proud about that.

I'm really hoping I get to stick around and see things through to completion. There's fairly significant stuff going on in October, and I really want to be part of that, seeing the stuff I've worked hard on getting used in anger. Sure, I'm over-invested and taking things too personally, but I also want to have been part of something to feel really proud about.

 

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