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My name is Nick Grant and I have manic depression. I write every day about living with bipolar disorder. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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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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Nurture

4 min read

This is a story about caring for living things...

Castor oil plant

My beloved castor oil plant is not doing very well. Really, I should re-pot my houseplants. I need to purchase some plant food and feed my houseplants. Two of my plants have been attacked by my kitten, leaving them pretty much destroyed, and one of them was knocked off a shelf by my kitten, and perished soon afterwards due to having no pot anymore.

My kitten is not eating her food. She had a different brand of cat food while I was on holiday and now she doesn't want to go back to eating the cheap supermarket own-brand stuff. I'm not trying to save money - I kept her on the same food that the breeder was feeding the cats, and the breeder was trying to save money. It's a bad idea to change your pet's food, because it can upset their stomach. I guess I will have to go and get some premium brand stuff now my kitten is used to the fancy stuff.

I'm not doing great in terms of diet, exercise and alcohol. I thought I would feel rejuvenated enough after my holiday that I would start taking better care of myself, but I've needed a bit of booze to take the edge off the shock to the system of going back to work. Work is stressful.

Things look better regarding the major things that were stressing me out. My contract is likely to be extended by a couple of months and the organisation I work for is chasing my security clearance, which is good. I feel happier about things.

I'm not going to write much today because I'm about to go out for dinner and to the cinema. Also, I'm trying to write less - little and often, instead of gigantic brain-dumps which are far too much for anybody to enjoy reading.

I drank far more than I intended to this week, which makes me feel bad about possible weight gain and the general health implications of drinking too much, but I must admit that it's helped ease me back into the daily grind. However, I could easily end up being overly dependent on alcohol and drinking far too regularly, so I'd like to get things under control before they get out of hand.

My kitten has been very sweet and playful at times and I'm really pleased to have a companion animal - a pet - to keep me company when I'm home alone. I was worried that she was too wild and destructive, and that I wasn't able to cope with such an intelligent cat, but I seem to have found strategies for her behaviour to stop her peeing on everything and destroying stuff. Not an ordinary domestic cat at all, but she's got bags of personality and she's great entertainment.

Today I felt for a moment like things were going OK. My income is slightly more secure, I'm good at my job, I'm in a good relationship, I like my house and my cat, my car is OK, my finances are OK, my health is OK... things are alright. I don't see too many ways in which everything's going to fall apart at the moment. If everything goes ahead as it should, then I don't have any horrible unpleasantness to face for a couple of months, which is good. Some challenges on the horizon for the autumn, including the usual horrible situation where I'll be needing a holiday but my income won't be secure - it really spoils a holiday having uncertainty about employment and money.

Lots of work to do at the moment, which is what I want because I like to keep my mind occupied, but I do want to keep myself on a sustainable and healthy footing. I don't want to burn myself out, or indeed make myself redundant. I often blaze through all my work and am left with nothing to do, feeling horribly bored and dreading having to look busy.

So, I have the opportunity to work and to live, but I need to look after myself.

I'm off to do leisure activities now, which is very nice.

 

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Discipline

4 min read

This is a story about daily chores...

Cable

I spend most of my leisure time stopping my kitten from destroying everything that's made of paper and cardboard, wrecking my house plants, attempting to go up the chimney, getting her paws in the soot and ash of my fireplace, peeing on clothes, chewing cables, licking plates and dropping her toy mouse into drinks. It certainly keeps me busy.

My other daily chore, aside from scooping poops out of the 4 litter trays around the house and washing cat-pee soaked clothing and bedding, is my writing. I'm going to attempt to resume writing every day.

The past couple of days I've written far too much.

I needed to write to let friends around the world know that I'm OK. I wanted to also mention the people who've popped up in my website analytics who appear to be work colleagues from a couple of different locations and organisations in the UK, and also my girlfriend's mum, in case they pop back for a repeat visit... wouldn't want to disappoint. I also simply wanted to resume writing on a daily basis.

The good thing about writing lots is that it makes me a moving target: very hard to shoot down.

I'm not going to write much today because I need to get better at writing less. I need to deliver short and sweet little blog posts, not the miserable long essays which exhaust my readers. Even I feel quite embarrassed about the self-indulgence of writing 4,000 words moaning about anxiety and depression, and generally complaining about my lot in life.

Tomorrow I might share some holiday photos, but I'm just trying to settle back into my routine. I thought I would allow a little of the pent-up stuff that was rattling around inside my brain to flow out of me, releasing some pressure and allowing me to consider my situation with a bit more perspective.

I wasn't dreading writing. I was a bit sad that I'd had a three-week gap, but I didn't feel like abandoning the project, although I was quite stressed and anxious that I'd left it too long and I'd struggle to get back into it. I was dreading going back to work, but that's for reasons which I've already gone into at length.

My good intentions have gone to waste regarding resumption of healthy living. I had planned on dieting and being teetotal since returning from holiday, but that hasn't really happened yet.

I don't think I'm going to be able to achieve everything I wanted to achieve within the ambitious timescales I wanted to, but I do feel somewhat rested and that I've had the benefit of a break. I feel like I have more energy and I'm in a much better situation than I was a couple of months ago.

My contract at work might get extended for a couple of months, which brings in much needed cash. Home life is pretty settled and secure - I have a nice house and I love my kitten. My relationship is going well. There's nothing on fire or threatening to cause major problems at the moment. I have the opportunity to enjoy a period of some stable, secure, routine simple living, without too much stress. I can do my writing every day after work. I have my daily routines and systems, and that's the way I like things, in order to manage stress levels down to the point of being tolerable.

I've written more than intended, as usual, but I'm below my maximum word count, which I have been very poor at respecting the past couple of days. I hope I can consistently keep my word count below my maximum, and hone the skill of writing short and sweet little blog posts every day. It takes discipline though.

 

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My Therapist Warned Me About You

7 min read

This is a story about psychoanalysis...

Sofa

I'm trying to think of a time in my life I'd happily return to, but if I'm honest there are things I've learned and perspectives I've gained that tell me that I'm better of now, here, today, in the present. Of course my life could be a million times better if I could re-live a substantial portion of my life, but that's equally applicable to all of us. With the benefit of hindsight we'd all be astonishingly successful, but that's not the way life works.

My present-day existence is tolerable, only because I've embraced traumatic events, instead of trying to run away from them. The trauma lasted so long and was so, well, traumatic, that the only way I could make sense of the world around me was to turn my experiences into stories. Pretending like bad things never happened to me wasn't working - I became paranoid about anybody ever discovering the truth about my dark past. Now, a lot of the trauma from the past 4 years, and some of the trauma that predated this public over-sharing, has now been turned into harmless words. It's hard to attack me about things from the past when I own those things; I've accepted those things.

Perhaps it's a little defeatist to tell stories about sad and bad events. We seem to assume that we must become rich and powerful before we have a God-given right to share our stories. We seem to assume that only famous people are allowed to take to the stage and tell the world about their lives. We seem to assume that only stories of conventional success are interesting.

Perhaps my story is not interesting.

It's interesting to me.

To make a realistic appraisal of my insignificance in the universe would be fatal to my sense of wellbeing. Nobody wants to truly perceive just how much of a non-event they are. Nobody wants to accept that their entire life's achievements will be soon forgotten. Nobody wants to accept that the deeds of even the greatest humans are comparably insignificant to any other human who ever lived and died. To gain true perspective and see yourself as just another nobody in a sea of 7.6 billion nobodies is deeply undesirable; extremely toxic to a person's mental health. So, almost all of us imagine ourselves to be leading lives of significance; we imagine that it makes a difference whether we live or die, even though this is demonstrably untrue.

I've grappled with a strong desire to kill myself for as long as I can remember. The struggles haven't seemed worth the effort. Whether it was loneliness as a child, growing up without any siblings to the age of 10, bullied every day at school, or whether it was as a frustrated young adult, held back by ageism and somewhat slow to gain an identity that I was comfortable with - to grow into my own skin - I always had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted from life, and how life should treat me. Life began to yield eventually, but there was always a fly in the ointment; something that spoiled things. I wonder if I've learned to be more content. I wonder if I've lowered my expectations.

I think I've adjusted my life goals to suit the limited opportunities available to a person who has been smashed to smithereens. I've contented myself with simple, basic achievements, like having a girlfriend, a kitten, a house, a job, a car etc. etc.

I've given up on the idea that I might achieve anything which would bring me fame and glory.

This must be a coping mechanism. My brain must have decided that it was too frustrating and upsetting to go through a lengthy period of traumatic events, leaving me far too disadvantaged to be able to achieve anything except mundane ordinary existence. I congratulate myself at the end of each working week, for the mediocre achievement of not dying. I congratulate myself for things I achieved when I was a young adult. I congratulate myself for very ordinary boring things, such as doing chores or getting out of bed.

This is my life now; my future - killing time waiting to die, trying to keep myself reasonably comfortable while my body slowly deteriorates. I wonder if all my tough talk about life being not worth living will turn out to be hot air. Will I get a sensible job with a good pension? Will I start planning for retirement? Will I start trying to preserve my dying body? Will I grow to fear death?

The biggest achievement that I'm pleased with in my life so far is that I'm still alive. I've doggedly and determinedly kept going through ridiculous adversity, not with any particular grace or dignity, but with a bloody-minded stubbornness, working through the most intolerable conditions. I wouldn't wish the unsettled life of precariousness on my worst enemies. I wouldn't wish the boring monotony of rebuilding a life, dollar by dollar, upon my very most hated foe. Years and years this so-called 'recovery' has dragged on, with so few surprises, so little joy and so much boredom. When people speak to me about wanting to do something they love, I almost want to spit in their faces, because they do not know how privileged and entitled they are.

Perhaps it is me who is entitled. I am, after all, alive and well am I not? I have the girlfriend, kitten, house, job, car etc. etc. when so many people have so little.

Sure.

But I also paid a very high price. I'm not saying I earned what I have or I deserve what I have, but I definitely paid a very high price. The hardest part has not been the hard work, but the acceptance of my circumstances: that I would be better off pushing through years of miserable boring toil, than cutting my losses and suffering irreparable damage. It would be easy to re-invent myself and pursue something new and exciting except that reality forbids it. Bills still need to be paid. I need a roof over my head. I need to eat.

Pursuing a life that's more compatible with my mental health is not an avenue that's open to me. I'm forced to do what I'm good at, because it brings in the cash, even though it's destroying my happiness. I've chosen the path of least resistance, because I'm not in a position to put up any resistance, lest I drown.

I'm not sure what I'm rambling about. I suppose I'm just making a general complaint about spoiled brats who do whatever the hell they want, thanks to their wealth and privilege. Perhaps it's hypocritical, given that I've written so many words that are practically career suicide - who am I to write so honestly and candidly, when it obviously puts my lucrative career at risk?

I suppose I'm daring the universe to take away my hated career. I'm daring fate to block paths for me so that I don't have to suffer the consequences of my rational decision to take the highest paid work, doing the most unsavoury and unethical jobs.

My mind is meandering because I'm thrashing around trying to find some meaning in a cold uncaring godless meaningless universe.

I write and nobody challenges me. I write and nobody tells me to stop. Nobody tells me I'm out of order. Nobody tells me I've gone too far. I push, but I'm not pushing against anything. I write as therapy, without a therapist.

 

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I'm [Not] OK

6 min read

This is a story about keeping people updated...

Invert

It's been nearly 2 weeks since I wrote last. I know I've had gaps but this feels like a really long one. Gaps are usually a very bad sign. It's worth worrying about me if I'm not writing. Things are probably going badly if I'm not writing.

I was coping by using a combination of alcohol, sleeping pills, tranquillisers/sedatives and a heck of a lot of comfort eating. I've been teetotal and medication-free for a while now. I'm dieting too. I'm slimmer but I feel awful. Stopping taking all the pills has been brutal. Not having anything to 'take the edge off' has been horrible. The anxiety has been unbearable.

Some concerned friends have sent me messages, but I've felt too swamped to reply. Work is exhausting and there has been the looming holiday, which has caused added stress rather than being something to look forward to: How am I going to afford the loss of earnings as well as the expense of the holiday? My work situation is looking very uncertain for when I get back from holiday, which is a horrible situation to be in, worrying about money instead of enjoying some well-earned time off.

My relationship is good but it's caused some sleepless nights. I'm desperately trying to avoid worsening my exhaustion and sleep deficit, but it's almost impossible to catch up. Stopping the sleeping pills has caused my sleep quality to deteriorate. It's a miracle that I'm still reasonably productive and functional.

The last thing I want to think about is the travel and logistics of going abroad. Buying holiday clothes sounds like fun, but it's another item on a todo list which makes me very stressed out. I'm struggling to figure out when I can fit in all the things I need to do between now and my departure date from the UK. I suppose as long as I've got my passport and a buttload of cash then I can figure things out, but it's not pleasant to be so ill-prepared for a trip.

I'll be 40 years old in exactly one week. I decided to have a barbecue at my house when I was feeling somewhat more buoyant about the way my life was going. Now I feel like cancelling the gathering, because I'm stressed about the extra unnecessary hassle. Having guests over to my house reminds me that I've still barely moved in - I don't have much furniture and the place is a bit of a mess. I don't feel well placed to make my guests comfortable. I have a lot of anxiety about it being a really awkward occasion, with a handful of my long-suffering friends having made the long journey to the provinces, in order to make smalltalk with strangers... a real chore for them.

I'm working as hard as I can in order to feel proud about my contribution to the project I'm working on. I'm desperate that my contribution be remembered as something valuable and that my colleagues recognise the effort I've ploughed in. Work's become a bit of an unhealthy obsession and I'm significantly over-invested, emotionally. I can picture myself getting very depressed when I'm forced to leave the project because of contractual shenanigans, and through no fault of my own.

My life is deeply unbalanced; unhealthy. I'm not drinking alcohol and I'm dieting, so I've lost weight, and I've managed to get a bit of sun, so I look quite healthy, but inside I'm very sick. The stress of the past years seems to have ratcheted up as my life has become more 'normal' and 'stable' recently - things were easier when I was living out of a suitcase, in some ways, although I appreciate that I was very miserable and living much more unhealthily.

Readers who've followed me for any significant length of time will probably have a better idea than me as to whether I'm in a better place today than I was a few months ago, a year ago, several years ago. Things feel terrible but they probably aren't.

The stresses seem to be the same as ever, particularly concerning my security vetting. A colleague contacted me to say they were reading my blog. They seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of working with me, despite what they'd read, and the feedback seemed generally positive. It's the first time that a colleague has been brave enough to tell me that they've been reading my blog. Of course, the security vetting people have been reading too. I wonder if the security vetting people are as sympathetic to my stresses, and look favourably upon my ability to maintain an impeccably high standard of professionalism in the office, whilst undergoing some horrendous chaos in my personal life; struggling so much with my mental health. I wonder if all the talk about being sympathetic towards mental health issues is just hot air.

I wanted to write a short update, because I know people are worried about my uncharacteristic quietness. I've kinda failed. I'm doing OK, but I'm also really struggling too. Plenty of reasons to be concerned, but things are not completely ruined and on collision course with disaster... in fact I might even weather this storm and emerge in a reasonably good situation.

I'll try to write a little more regularly, but I don't want to be a stuck record, endlessly moaning about how unpleasant the effect of stopping medication is. I don't want to wallow in misery.

It's summer. I have money. I have employment for a little while longer. I have an awesome holiday booked. I have a very nice girlfriend. I have a cute kitten. I have a big house. Things are not terrible.

I'm not taking any medication, not drinking, dieting. I'm losing weight and my brain is getting back to a stable state without any alien chemicals. It's good to be free from the shackles of chemical dependency.

If I can push through this tricky period and keep the wheels turning, then I think my forties are going to be a much better period of life than parts of my thirties. It does feel good to be turning a corner as I reach an age when I should be growing old less disgracefully.

I've written more than I wanted to but I hope you'll forgive me. You're all up to date now.

 

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Beach Body

6 min read

This is a story about going on a diet...

Flip flops

571 days ago I decided that I was allowed to drink heavily and eat whatever I wanted. I had at least a bottle of wine every day and ate mostly fast food. I decided that this was my reward for working virtually non-stop: to guzzle gallons of alcohol and devour mountains of fatty food. My evenings were spent in McDonalds, KFC, curry houses and pizza places. My evenings were spent drinking glass after glass of red wine.

Unsurprisingly, I put on weight.

I was living in a hotel for a while, which was next door to a gastropub. I lived on calorific food, like lasagne & chips, washed down with large glasses of red wine. When I got back to my hotel room, I would continue drinking large glasses of wine. I decided that it was my reward for the miserable life of living in a hotel, to eat and drink with gay abandon.

I put on more weight.

Then, I noticed that I was putting on weight. I noticed that I had a tummy. I got out of the shower one day and I saw my own reflection in the mirror, and I realised that I had gained a belly. I've never really had any problems with my weight, so I was kinda shocked, although by this point I had been gaining weight steadily for roughly 9 months.

I didn't change my behaviour.

I did stop living in the hotel. However, I lived on takeaways and beer. I had a takeaway almost every night of the week, and I washed all that fatty food down with vast quantities of beer. I was going to the supermarket on an almost daily basis to re-stock the fridge with beer.

Then I stopped drinking.

My alcoholic friend killed himself. He drank himself to death. His alcoholism had raged out of control for a long time and hadn't claimed his life, but health complications quickly began to create a compounding problem and he knew that he was going to die; his quality of life was rapidly deteriorating. This event, coupled with my unhappiness about being a little overweight, was enough of a catalyst for me to quit drinking.

I was teetotal for nearly 5 months.

Then, I started drinking heavily, eating restaurant food and having takeaways on a regular basis. I drank loads of white wine and ate lots of very rich gourmet food. I had lost some weight by simply being teetotal. I had reached a point where my weight was under control and I felt better about my appearance, but then I quickly undid that by drinking and eating so much.

Now, I'm trying to lose weight again.

I'm not trying very hard to lose weight. All I've done is cut my daily calorie intake. I've stopped drinking - mostly - and I've stopped having takeaways and restaurant food - mostly - and I've stopped having large lunches. I've stopped eating breakfast. I've stopped snacking. On average, my weekly calorie intake has been cut pretty drastically.

I still don't do any exercise.

I joined a gym at one point, but I never actually went. The circumstances of my job changed and I found myself living in the hotel. It was hard to motivate myself to go to the gym when I had the miserable existence of living in a hotel. The highlight of my evening was my gastropub meal and red wine, so I can't imagine that there'd have been much point going to the gym.

I should do some exercise.

I'm making some very big changes to my medication at the moment. I'm tapering off high doses of tranquilisers and sleeping pills, in order to be medication-free by the time I go away on holiday, the day before my 40th birthday. I have less than a month to rid myself of physically addictive benzodiazepines and highly psychologically addictive sleeping pills. I have a horrible month ahead of me, filled with rebound anxiety and rebound insomnia. It's not easy to stop taking medication and it's extremely unpleasant to rapidly stop. Going cold turkey is not even an option - I could have seizures.

I'm making good progress.

Apart from last night, where I got extremely drunk and ate a gigantic burger and chips, Friday night where I drank two bottles of white wine, and Monday evening when I had a takeaway, I've not been drinking, eating takeaways or eating in restaurants. I've also managed to reduce my sleeping pills by 33% and my tranquilisers by 50%. I'm changing a lot of things all at once. It's very difficult to change so many things all at once, especially while I'm going through a very stressful high-pressure period at work, with some very demanding tight deadlines.

It'd be wonderful if I was superhuman and I could work full-time, have very little sleep, write every day, look after my kitten, keep my house clean, quit drinking, go on a diet, stop taking addictive medication AND do some exercise, but I'm afraid that it's too much to ask - the exercise will have to wait until life gets a little easier.

I know that I'll get more enjoyment out of my holiday if I'm fitter and in better shape, but the holiday is the respite I desperately need; the rest and recuperation; the reward for 571 days of almost continuous work, with the exception of a week-long jaunt to Turkey and two weeks in Mexico. My last holiday was nearly 7 months ago, and I've been through a house move and a breakup, as well as working exceptionally hard.

The beach body will have to wait, although my small lifestyle adjustments will help. The weight isn't just going to magically disappear, but I shall have to content myself with stopping the rot - I simply haven't got the bandwidth to be able to exercise on top of everything else on my plate.

 

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