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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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Give a Job to a Busy Person

6 min read

This is a story about workload...

Gas Meter

The original idiom - which I have adapted to make it more inclusive - says that if you want a job doing, you should give it to a busy man. I notice that this is fairly true, from my anecdotal observations: the busier I am, the easier it is for me to deal with extra work being given to me.

One year ago I had the intolerable task of sitting quietly trying not to get noticed, and trying to keep my mouth shut. I knew that the very best thing I could do for my career and my bank balance, was not to rock the boat; not to attempt to say or do anything useful. The best thing I could do was act as a very expensive seat warmer. I was paid for being present, not for being useful or productive.

One year ago, seemingly minor things made me exceedingly anxious. If I had to get my car tested for roadworthiness, have a haircut, deal with the gas company, or any one of a million ordinary everyday tasks, I would find it unbelievably stressful, and I struggled to cope.

I have started to work 100+ hours a week again. To say that I'm busy would be a massive understatement. I am hyper-productive for the maximum amount of hours which human physiology allows for, without sleep deprivation causing me to have a psychotic episode. Unable to sleep, it's quite usual for me to open my laptop and start working in the middle of the night. I wake up well before my alarm clock. I am running in overdrive mode at the moment, also more commonly known as a manic episode.

Of course, with mania, I get very impatient and irritable about things which are not on the critical path. For example, I was asked to update a spreadsheet which detailed the activities I've been doing during the past couple of weeks, and how long I spent on each activity. To me, this is the most ridiculous waste of my time, given that 100% of my time has been spent on productive activities for one single organisation, so I really don't give a toss about how it's sliced and diced - all my valuable time has gone to benefit the organisation who wants me to waste time on an unproductive exercise, which leaves me less time to do productive activities. It's idiotic to get your highly paid staff to spend their time doing activities which are not valuable, when instead they could be doing something useful.

The argument would be that timesheets and suchlike are the way that we calculate how much to pay people, but this is demonstrably absurd. If the number of hours worked had any kind of relationship with the value delivered, then I would agree that it's important for us to record or time worked on task accurately, but there IS NO relationship between remuneration and hours worked. If I work the same number of hours as some of my colleagues, I am paid 5 or 6 times as much. Am I 5 or 6 times more productive and valuable? Sometimes I am less valuable, sometimes I am more valuable, and sometimes - although it's exceptionally rare - my remuneration tallies with the value that I'm delivering.

One of my colleagues said to me "you've got too much time on your hands" when he saw something I'd been doing, which he thought was a waste of time. Later, that piece of work I'd done turned out to be one of the most valuable things that anybody in the team ever produced - something that benefits every member of the team every single day, and perhaps many many other members of other teams, and indeed the whole organisation.

Value and productivity are very hard to measure. "Bums on seats" culture is dreadful. The number of hours that staff spend at their place of work has no bearing on how productive and valuable they are.

In the teams I get involved with, I try to instill a culture of "think it... do it". I want people to implement any innovative ideas the moment they have them. If the ideas turn out to be duds, so what? It only takes one or two great ideas that really pay off, to more than outweigh the small amount of wasted time doing things which had little value. So much time is wasted talking about priorities, and the pros and cons of doing something, and agonising over whether it could or should be done. The culture I bring to teams and organisations is one where everybody's encouraged to build stuff, even if it gets thrown away; even if it's silly!

It's much better for people to be productive and have their brains being kept busy, than looking busy. It's so much better for people's sense of job satisfaction, sense of purpose, sense of pride, sense of ownership, and a multitude of other great qualities that we want from the people in our teams and organisations.

There's no obvious value in the text-based adventure game which I hid inside one of our systems, as an easter egg, but the value is in the cultural tone that it sets: it's OK to build stuff; don't be afraid; don't be so serious... this is supposed to be fun and intellectually challenging.

As it turned out, now we have several tools which imitate the game I built, which perform useful functions for the organisation. Instead of attempting to "win" a "game", the objective is to find and fix problems, using the available clues, which is pretty much what every IT professional does for a day job, but it's a lot better if there's a half-decent interface to help with that task. Computer games are always brilliant at having the learning curve set to make them accessible, and they take advantage of the best available features: if all you have is a computer terminal that can print text and accept typed commands, then you can still create a brilliant game, even without fancy 3D graphics and sound.

I'm busy as hell, and you might say that the 2 hours I spent writing an adventure game were wasted, but in fact it was time well spent. The 5 minutes I spent battling with a spreadsheet where I had to record the hours I spent working on things, was a total waste of time and quite corrosive to the great working culture I'm trying so hard to create.

 

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Harsh

5 min read

This is a story about being horrible to people...

Hand wash

One of my bosses, from 18 years ago, has been a source of inspiration. He is - or at least he was when I knew him - one of the bluntest, rudest and most intimidating people you'd ever be likely to meet. I have never aspired to be rude, mean or to treat people badly, but I don't suffer fools gladly and I get rather impatient and intolerant of the hard-of-thinking.

It struck me that I had written quite a lot that could be misconstrued as harshly critical of my colleagues. I wanted to address that.

Firstly, I do suffer from bouts of delusions of grandeur, as a result of my bipolar disorder. I can quite often, during episodes of mania, decide that I'm a virtuoso; a genius. There's little to burst my bubble, in terms of evidence, in that I can easily point to multiple great achievements throughout my career, and I haven't yet been defeated by a technology challenge. This means I'm good but not necessarily great. I have no idea what the distinction is, but my brain tells me that I'm great when I'm in one of those moods. In fact, my brain tells me I'm the best and in the absence of another person who makes me feel inferior, it's hard to deflate my ego and get my rampaging delusions of grandeur under control. I'm sure that I'm not the smartest person in the room but without concrete evidence to the contrary, I can get carried away.

It sounds like I'm making excuses; blaming my mental illness. Well, I do try to stay humble and keep some perspective. I do try to stop my head from swelling too much; stop my ego from getting out of control.

Secondly, I'm under a lot of pressure. Work is not just a job to me - it's an opportunity to prove that I'm not a no-good waste-of-space washed-up has-been useless junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt mentally ill enemy of society. If I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I can make a substantial, exceptional contribution to a major project, then I will have a massive achievement to point to as proof that I have some worth, which will help my self-esteem enormously.

Thirdly, I'm equally capable of being a "dull-eyed dim-witted brain-dead zoned-out zombie trudging along with the herd". I'm equally capable of becoming demotivated and just turning up for the paycheque. I'm equally capable of doing a half-assed job. I'm totally capable of being very unproductive. I can spend forever procrastinating; not producing anything useful. When I make disparaging remarks, I'm not criticising individuals - I'm criticising the dreadful effect that working in a big organisation has on people, in terms of robbing them of any opportunity to learn, develop and get passionately involved in a project where they feel like they can make a difference.

I do see incompetence, which annoys me, but the people who I am angry with are the highly paid consultants who claim to be experts, but are clearly a waste of money. It annoys me that I work with brilliant graduates and rubbish consultants, when the graduates are so underpaid, which is unfair. It annoys me that I have to waste my time cleaning up mess made by people who should be the best of the best. It annoys me that I have to do extra work, because of a highly paid consultant's incompetence, when the organisation and the team really would be much better off without them.

When my brain gets accelerated up to top speed, I can be incredibly productive, but I can also be incredibly mean. I start to believe that I can do everything myself and that everybody else is just an annoyance; a hinderance. That's wrong. That's a symptom of my illness. I do need my team. I do need other people. I am glad to have my colleagues... well, most of them anyway.

I can say all sorts of stupid regrettable things when I'm suffering an episode of mania. I can be really mean and harsh when I'm in full swing. I really hope that nobody's suffering too badly when they feel the sharp end of my tongue. I really hope none of my colleagues are reading this and thinking that I believe they're useless idiots, because the truth is that I think almost all my colleagues (with the exception of one or two aforementioned overpaid consultants) are brilliant people who I'm really lucky to work with.

I know that it doesn't matter how much of a brilliant engineer you are, if you can't get along with people then your skills are useless. People with amazing technology skills are plentiful, but the valuable ones are the people who place nice with others. I know I struggle at times, and I really hope I haven't done too much damage and that my colleagues can forgive me.

 

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Step Three: Rinse & Repeat

6 min read

This is a story about repetition...

Bottles

Drug addicts and alcoholics know a lot about relapses. What dreadful consequences they suffer when they fall off the wagon. Am I immune from such things? Am I the first person in the history of humanity to outsmart addiction? No. Of course not.

Readers who have followed any of my story might wonder if I've started drinking again, or have become addicted to sleeping pills again. No. No I have not.

I went to the supermarket yesterday - a big fancy supermarket with lots of lovely things to choose from - and it was difficult to stay away from the alcohol aisle, but not impossible. The whole point about being an alcoholic or an addict is that you're powerless over the substance(s) that you're abusing. I do not offer my successful self control as evidence of my immunity to addiction and alcoholism, but it does prove that I'm in control, which cannot be said of those unfortunate wretches who are in the grip of active addiction and/or alcoholism.

Rehabs are full of charlatans who claim that they have a magic cure for addiction and/or alcoholism, but all recovery comes from within - how bad do you want it? I'm not saying that those who are killed by their addiction and/or alcoholism didn't want to be clean and sober, but they clearly wanted to be drunk and high more than they wanted to avoid their inevitable demise, or else they wouldn't have died. Unfortunately, the self-reinforcing draw of addictive substances can overpower the best of us, and although I do view addicts and alcoholics as "victims" of a disease, it's also demonstrably clear that people who have no problems with drink and/or drugs - including those people 'in recovery' - were simply lucky enough that the scales were tipped marginally in their favour.

My life has potential which would be churlish to deny. It's not fair for me to say "everything is ruined so I give up" when clearly I have high earnings potential, and with money comes opportunities to escape a miserable life and get a better one. Sure, I can get overwhelmed and decide that I don't have any energy left to keep fighting, and I would quickly be wrecked and ruined by our over-competitive coercive and exploitative society, which would dearly love to trample me underfoot, but I stand a better chance than most people of escaping the rat race.

Yep, I cheated a couple of times this week. I used a sleeping pill on a couple of nights to help me force my sleep pattern into the one which capitalism demands. I used a sleeping pill to combat the incredibly negative side-effects of social jetlag, caused by the toxic demands of office hours, contrary to human health and welfare.

Did I relapse? Nope.

What does relapse even mean for me? I've never been an alcoholic.

What does relapse mean in terms of mental health episodes? My mania-driven achievements are widely celebrated and cheered on by the capitalists who've been assisted by my immense productivity, which has been almost superhuman, but has come at great personal cost. My mental illness has been on public display for many years, yet my paymasters don't care because I'm delivering the goods - so long as I keep up the successful results, my violent mood swings are tolerated, and the results of my manic episodes are highly prized by all involved, especially by those who provoke me into doing high-pressure projects with unrealistic deadlines.

I hope - eternally - that the repeating patterns are not on a downward trend. I attempt to learn from each mood cycle, and to hold onto the gains and not give up so many losses. I try to limit the downright outrageous negative consequences of unrestrained mania, and I try to fight through the devastating depression that follows, forcing myself to keep inside the artificial constraints of some reasonable tramlines, knowing that it will be ultimately beneficial for me and help me to escape from the boom and bust... most importantly to escape from the bust!

Self medication with the occasional sleeping pill is infinitely preferable to routine intoxication with copious amounts of alcohol, although it's easy to convince myself that neither has any long-term ill effects, clearly my health will suffer if I drink heavily on a regular basis, even if my wealth and professional reputation are not impacted.

It's all a bit boring really. Uneventful. I'm very good at putting one foot in front of the other, I just don't like it very much, especially when going on a journey I've done a million times before. There's not much pleasure left in renting a house, moving my stuff, starting a new job, impressing new colleagues or delivering a project which is exactly the same as every other project I've ever delivered in my long and illustrious career. I just do it for the money.

Some might accuse me of being a dry drunk but they are idiots. Every day that I struggle through the rat race puts a significant amount of pounds, shillings and pence into my pocket. Every day that I force myself to do the intolerable shit that I have to put up with, is a large step closer to freedom. I have no need to adopt a significantly different life at the moment, because the life I have is staggeringly lucrative, which unfortunately means that it's the quickest route to financial independence and housing security, which is the most important thing for my health and wellbeing.

Sobriety between now and the end of October is something quite welcome - it will help my health immensely. Working between now and the end of my contract, on Halloween, is something that will help my wealth immensely. It's incredibly dull and boring, but it's got to be done. It's easy, but it's repetitive. When was the last time that you put up with a shit job that you hated? Probably never. When was the last time you spent years doing boring, repetitive, easy stuff? Probably never. You just wouldn't put up with it.

 

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Unprofessional

3 min read

This is a story about trash talking...

Post-it note

I have spent a whole bunch of evenings talking with a colleague. We have talked for hours. I suppose I have become somewhat habituated into gossipping with this buddy of mine. Regularly throughout the day, if there's anything which would be unprofessional to talk about with my regular colleagues, I can chat to this other colleague, because they read my blog and we talk like friends; I trust them, that my mad rantings and ravings will go no further - it's a safe space.

Then, I wrote something in the wrong chat. Instead of my message going to my colleague, it went to my entire team, plus some others too. What I wrote was deeply dubious, even by my usual standards, in that I named somebody specifically by name. What I wrote was really unprofessional.

I deleted the message, but people saw it.

It wasn't there for long but everyone saw it.

I'm mortified.

It's my own stupid fault for breaking my golden rule of not naming any names. It's my own stupid fault for breaking my rule of wearing the corporate mask the whole time; never letting down my guard. I let down my guard and I let it down badly - I shot from the hip, and I said something really dumb.

I'm now catastrophising. I'm assuming that all my hard work is undone. I'm assuming that I'm hated now, by some very influential people at work. I've acted super unprofessional, and it won't be forgotten.

Ugh.

I was doing so well.

Except I wasn't.

I was aware that my ego was becoming quite unwieldy. I was giving myself far too much credit. I was starting to believe my own bullshit. I was starting to really think that I was hot stuff; a big deal. That's a sign of sickness - a clear indicator that I'm in the grip of mania. Why wouldn't I be manic? How else could I cope with the pressure of the deadlines; the stress of the project? The heavy drinking was another bad sign - evidence that I was self-medicating heavily to try and control my mood.

I feel stuck in a terrible pattern. Yet again, I feel sure that I'm the architect of my own destruction; that I'm undermining all the hard work... that I'll be left with my reputation in tatters.

I'm catastrophising.

Having abruptly stopped drinking, I'm bound to be feeling anxious about everything, but I'm convinced I've committed an unforgivable cardinal sin and my name is mud now, at the office.

 

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Emotionally Unstable

7 min read

This is a story about repeating patterns...

Quote

What am I doing? It feels like I'm making the same mistakes I've made a bunch of times before. It feels like I'm re-living 2015, and I didn't like how things went that year, so I'm desperate to avoid making those mistakes, but I feel like my mood disorder has got me stuck in an inescapable pattern.

Strictly speaking, I have two mood disorders: bipolar and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The latter disorder means that I'm unable to escape a downturn in my mood as summer turns into winter, unless I head to warmer climate. The former disorder means that I'm prone to episodes of mania, which I always like to believe I'm in control of, because I enjoy the mania and find it immensely useful for creativity and productivity.

Looking back to 2015, at the time I felt like I was enjoying playing a pivotal role in the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. In retrospect, I was very unwell indeed. My behaviour was quite erratic and unpredictable and it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel like I was doing good work, now that I think about it. For sure, I helped bang some heads together and get things moving to meet some key deadlines, but I was definitely suffering very badly with a severe episode of mental illness, and I hadn't been working on the project for very long so I expect my contribution was negligible. This is what gives me a great deal of fear that I'm repeating the same mistakes: that history is repeating itself.

In 2015 I was working a lot of overtime. I was working most weekends. I was working extremely hard - long hours - and I had the additional pressure of moving house, given that I was homeless and living in a hostel. Also, it hadn't been very long since I had been in a dreadful state, with my brain chemistry completely messed up. I had terrible insomnia. I was a big mess.

Today, I have a house and a cat. My home life is comparatively settled, although I've had some relationship problems lately which have been very destabilising. My working routine is not too taxing - I have a short commute to the office, and the hours I work are strictly Monday to Friday. If I leave the office at 5:30pm, that's a long day for me. In 2015 I was routinely staying in the office past 9pm, and often to 11pm, and then staying up all night writing emails, which was not at all healthy or conducive to good mental health.

In some ways I feel that I'm in much better health than I was in 2015, and I stand a much better chance of getting through an incredibly stressful period at work without losing my mind. However, late on Friday I lost my cool at the office, and the emotions that have been bottled up started to come out, which wasn't very professional. I started to speak my mind way more than I should have done, and I started to send off messages with a scattergun approach. I stopped approaching problems in a calm and methodical manner, and instead I acted with desperation and superstition. I was afraid that all my hard work was in ruins. Strangely, I thought I was dreaming; or rather having a nightmare.

I suppose my sleep quality is compromised at the moment. Several nights a week I don't sleep well because there's a technical problem I can't stop thinking about. My dreams are all about my work. In fact, my dreams are nightmares, where I attempt again and again to resolve the problems I left at the office. As soon as I wake up, I rush to the office to pick up where I left off.

A colleague has mentioned in private that I should take it easy; not get so obsessed over the project. A colleague has correctly identified me as somebody who can make themselves sick through overwork - at risk of burnout; at risk of a breakdown. It's good advice - that I should try to maintain some balance. Becoming obsessed by work is very unhealthy.

Yesterday, I left a rambling garbled and emotional voicemail for a colleague, begging them to let me do something over the weekend. I spent time trying to find colleagues who would help me with a piece of work, and ended up getting somebody to do something for me at 11pm. It's too much. It's too intense. It's too crazy.

I have no idea if I'm eternally doomed to suffer from delusions of grandeur, and to repeatedly burn out, only to look back and realise that my negligible contribution was laughable; pathetic. I have no idea if my perceptions are warped and I'm unable to grasp just how bad an episode of mental illness I'm suffering from. It's hell being so functional, and having so much feedback which seems to corroborate all the apparent evidence that I'm being incredibly productive and useful, but yet I also have a whole load of evidence that the end result always seems to be the same: burnout, crash, disaster, destitution, destruction. Am I a fool for hoping that this time is the time when everything finally works out for me, and I get the glory I crave?

Looking back to 2008 and 2011, I was able to make it to the finishing line with a gigantic project for JPMorgan and a TechStars program technology startup accelerator. I was able to deliver, but at huge personal cost. Both times I ended up in a terrible state. I was too fixated on the specific delivery date, and I didn't think about what would come afterwards. I didn't handle the anticlimax well at all. The episodes of depression that followed the frantic manic energy which allowed me to deliver on time, were so destructive that all my hard work was destroyed... or was it? JPMorgan was able to process quadrillions of dollars of credit default swaps, using the software I designed and built. My tech startup was able to continue trading profitably and getting new customers, even though I was too sick to work. The cost was to me personally. I was ashamed that I couldn't continue to function at the same intensity, and I assumed that everyone would hate me for getting sick. I threw away those opportunities, because I assumed that they were ruined. I assumed that everybody saw me as damaged goods; unreliable and untrustworthy.

I have no idea if I'm destined for another personal disaster. I certainly worry that I won't be able to cope with the end of my contract, and the end of my involvement with the project I'm so unhealthily obsessed with. I suppose I need to mitigate against any probable crash in my mood. I suppose I need to plan ahead.

I can't imagine I'll be able to find a good contract locally. I can't imagine how I'm going to juggle my need to find a well-paid contract, with my cat and my house rental agreement. It's a stress that I really don't want to have to deal with right now. It's stress that I really wish would go away - if only my contract could be extended for another year, that would be perfect.

My life is a rollercoaster, so we would expect my mood to be too. It's hard to unpick my mood disorder from the circumstances of my life. I like to think that my mood is dictated by the time of year and other things that are going on, such as whether I'm in a good relationship or not. I like to think that my extreme moods will abate as my life improves.

 

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Mood Disorder

5 min read

This is a story about self perception...

Normal

If somebody wants to patronise and annoy me, they'd be well advised to talk about what excellent "insight" I have into my own madness. Of course I can step back and examine my own behaviour - to see how it measures up from an outsider's perspective - and of course I can pinpoint problems. After all, it's me who's had to live with a mood disorder my whole life.

The times that I forget that I have a mood disorder are the ordinary everyday ones. When I am lacking in energy and motivation, when I am consumed by anxiety and when I am otherwise decimated by depression, I remain functional and productive, so it's easy to assume that I'm healthy, happy and normal. Because I do an excellent job of carrying on regardless of how terrible I feel, even I can assume that I'm not suffering any dangerous mood fluctuations, even though I'm stalked by powerful suicidal impulses.

When I suffer bouts of mania and paranoia, I'm well aware that my perceptions are warped and that I'm not thinking normally. It's much more easy to identify pathological thinking rooted in deep mental health issues, and to compensate accordingly, because at least those extreme problems are easier to isolate. Sure, during impulsive moments I might lost control and let my issues get the better of me, but I've become very practiced and adept at self control and techniques to prevent meltdown and disaster.

Currently, my productive, creative manic energy gets ploughed into a big complex project, at work. I'm unhealthily obsessed with the project, but of course that's the reason why I'm getting so much done. I need to regularly remind myself that "it's only a job" and that I need to take regular breaks, and holidays whenever I can. Nothing will ever be as intense as founding a tech startup, so I feel pretty immune from burnout, but of course I'm at risk, just like anybody.

My mood no longer seems to follow a predictable alternating pattern of episodes, flipping between depression and mania. Instead, my mood is provoked into a state by external factors, such as stressful events. My mood is not under control, but instead it is bludgeoned into compliance with the predominant need of the day, which is to earn money. I simply can't allow my mental illness to get the better of me, lest I face financial ruin.

Of course, the net result is that beneath the thin veneer of a man in control, competently and capably carrying out his duties in the course of his career, there are violent mood swings which require an incredible amount of effort to keep in check. How on earth I manage to get up and go to work when I'm suicidally depressed, I do not know. How on earth I manage to keep my big mouth shut when I'm manic, I do not know. All I know is that I spend about 80% of my energy forcing myself to comply with behaviours which are not compatible with my mood.

I have no mood stabilisers to help me. I have no antidepressants. I've decided from many years of experience that it's easier to manage my moods without pharmaceutical intervention. Yes, antidepressants help in the short term, but it's impossible to get off them without a crash. Yes, mood stabilisers help in the short term, but it's impossible to get off them without mania. Instead, I have opted to "feel everything" - I ride the wave of every extreme mood, as it see-saws up and down.

I've attempted to make lifestyle changes to help with my mood disorder. Instead of earning dog-sh1t money and being exploited, I'm well paid for what I do. Instead of rotting in some dead-end job, I'm valued for what I do. Instead of scraping along with hardly any money, impoverished, I have opted to earn enough to not really have to look at my bank balance very often. What I really need is a substantial lump of cash in the bank, so that I don't worry about taking time off when I'm sick, exhausted or depressed, but for now I'll settle for at least not having to worry about money while I'm working. I do of course worry about what will happen when I'm forced to stop working, but I hope that the work keeps coming. My stress around my income security causes me problems, but I can't fix everything all at once.

I got bored of obsessing over my mental health, like I got bored over obsessing about my bank balance. It seems to me to be better - healthier - to concentrate on the things which bring home the bacon, instead of things that aren't profitable. Budgeting is always stressful and never profitable. My life is so much better since not worrying about spending and not worrying about medications, although obviously there are still major problems.

Hopefully I'm well positioned, given that I'm not doped up to the eyeballs on a bunch of psychiatric medications, so as soon as my circumstances improve, so will my mood.

Of course I will always have a predisposition towards mood instability: it's in my nature. However, for most of my life and now included, I do a really excellent job of managing a very difficult mental health condition, although of course I do struggle when I'm under extreme pressure and stress, like I am at the moment.

 

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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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Hard to Count

8 min read

This is a story about beans...

Cray

IT projects routinely go over budget and fail to meet their deadlines. IT projects routinely fail spectacularly. The worst projects of all are government IT projects, which very often get cancelled, having failed to deliver any value at all.

Anyway, on an unrelated matter...

IT projects that I work on are a bit different. I like to deliver things; I don't just want to work and not worry about whether anything useful is getting done; I'm not happy to let projects fail. It'd be easy to get carried away with my own ego and delusions of grandeur, but I make a difference to whatever organisation I work for, on whatever projects I work on.

Sometimes I get the sense that I've over-estimated the value of my contribution. Sometimes I feel like maybe I'm the tiniest of tiny cogs, and my contribution is negligible. Perhaps it's a co-incidence that I can get big complex IT projects over the line, when more usually they waste a heap of money and then fail. Perhaps I'm getting carried away with mania, which is deluding me into thinking that I do anything useful at all.

A colleague of mine repeatedly says that it's easy to create a great piece of complex software if you're the only person who designs and builds it, but I think he's wrong. Sure, I really don't think it's a good idea to have 100 people working on a piece of software that could - and should - be written by just one person, however, a lot more can be achieved by a small high-performing team than a single individual.

A commonly recurring theme with my bipolar disorder has been episodes of irritability, impatience and general intolerance for asshats in the workplace. Quite regularly, when tight deadlines loom and I'm feeling exhausted, my desire to work with "dead wood" people who make things worse, not better, reaches its limit and I really want the 'team' members who are slowing everything down to butt out, back off, step back and watch the professionals at work.

What about this 'team' stuff then? Am I even a team player?

I refer you back to what I said about small high-performing teams. In order for a project to deliver a high quality end product on or before the deadline, it's often necessary to have fewer people, not more. It's the bane of my life, having dead wood in the team. I'm absolutely a team player... I just don't want the dead wood around the place, messing things up and slowing everything down.

I should qualify: I'm fine with team members who are there to listen and learn; I'm fine with people who are developing their skills; I'm fine with people who are quite junior and in the early stages of their career. If you've been doing software development for decades and you're rubbish at it, then no, I really don't want you in my team. One thing that particularly irks me is very highly paid consultants who are rubbish at software development. If you're slow and dreadful at your job, despite being massively overpaid, stay the f**k out of my way and don't slow my projects down.

Is it so hard to hire good people? Is it so hard to identify the underperformers, especially when their output is out of alignment with their remuneration? Surely it's a simple cost:benefit analysis, where some individuals are nowhere near worth the money, and in my opinion are actively damaging to both projects and morale.

I wonder how much better things would be in the workplace if highly paid consultants who aren't worth the money were booted out, and the projects were delivered by underpaid graduates who are little superstars, producing huge amounts for very little cost. Actually, I know the answer because I've worked on those teams - with the right guidance, the graduates will deliver every single time.

The lack of meritocracy and the ageism in the working world is particularly galling in the IT industry, where archaic knowledge and experience has zero value. Perhaps my young graduate colleagues might benefit from a little senior leadership and a good architect, but whatever mistakes they might make are irrelevant because they're so damn quick. It's criminal that an overpaid and underperforming consultant might earn 5 or 6 times more than a bright and productive quick-witted graduate; graduates proven to be 5 times more productive.

Why do I learn so much from my graduate colleagues, but so little from overpaid consultants? I have learned lots of quicker, more efficient and more modern ways of doing things, when my older colleagues are just doing the same dumb s**t that they've done for years. Sure, it's been uncomfortable to have to re-learn vast swathes of stuff, but the benefits are obvious, having bitten the bullet and decided to take my younger colleagues seriously; to treat them with the respect they deserve.

What about respect in general for my colleagues? I respect my colleagues who have decided to take permanent jobs and be underpaid. I respect my colleagues who've chosen to avoid the cut-throat and stressful world of the job market, and instead opt for long careers with a single organisation. I respect that there are different life choices and needs, that some people need job security, and that very few of us had the opportunity to learn IT skills as a child, to the point of those skills becoming innate and instinctive. I respect that it's a very good idea to hire highly paid consultants, in order to upskill your permanent members of staff. It's part of my job, to train, coach and mentor my colleagues who are permanent employees of the organisations I work for. It's part of my job to be patient with the permanent staff members and to help them reach their full potential.

I spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm just telling people what to do, and whether I should take a more pre-considered approach where I allow my colleagues to think for themselves, rather than just being typists while I dicate instructions. Is there any value in me instructing somebody to do something I could do myself in a fraction of the time? Should I just race ahead, and then spend time explaining what I did and why, once the deadline is safely dealt with? Would it be better to simply let my colleagues watch me work? I know that it's very hard to think for yourself if somebody is telling you what to do, and that if I was doing people management I would avoid any micromangement like the plague, because it discourages independent thought, learning and initiative-taking. I know that the kind of people I want to work with are ones who can work independently and solve problems for themselves, but I work in an unusual situation where there are tight deadlines, but I'm also expected to train my colleagues to be self-sufficient to some extent, which is impossible in the timescales.

Explaining to management that more people does not equate to more productivity, and that the deadlines are not realistic to be able to get all the work done AND do all the training and handover that's necessary to make me completely redundant, is an impossible task. I'm eternally plagued by the mistaken notion that one day, there won't be any more need for IT professionals because all the IT work will be finished and the IT people will all be redundant - this has proven to be the most ridiculous nonsense, but an enduring fantasy of f**wits in every organisation.

I should qualify that I really like my colleagues, although I'm a bit frustrated with one or two very highly paid consultants who aren't worth the money. I should qualify that I really like the organisation I'm currently working for. I should qualify that I really like the project. It's all interesting and people are nice and even the management are pretty good, which is rare. There's not much pressure and the deadlines are not realistic, but they're achievable, which is usually a miracle for an IT project, especially in the sector I'm working in. I have no real complaints or criticisms of any colleagues or the organisation and its management team, not that this would be the place to air those grievances, of course.

I write a little tongue-in-cheek, because I know that colleagues from two different parts of the UK are reading this from time to time, and I wonder what they will think if they happen to read this particular post. I cringe of course at my arrogance and my delusions of grandeur, but I also struggle to know whether I'm making a significant contribution, or whether I'm just a tiny insignificant cog in an incomprehensibly huge machine, so I'm prepared to poke the bear a little.

 

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8 Years Of My Life In 5 Pictures

9 min read

This is a story about peaks and troughs...

Cambridge

My story begins exactly 8 years ago, on May 4th 2011. I was the CEO of a profitable startup with prestigious clients paying to use my product. It was my idea, I had designed & implemented the system and I had successfully done deals with big companies. I had just started a TechStars accelerator program in Cambridge, run by Jon Bradford and Jess Williamson, and I was about to meet 46 mentors in week of "mentor madness" which is like speed dating, to hook up startup founders with experienced successful people from the tech industry, who were kindly offering to help 10 lucky teams on the TechStars program, along with my co-founder and I.

I was surrounded by super-smart people in Cambridge. My startup was growing very fast and I had done a great job of getting the company to where it was with very little help. I was hot property - a pin-up for the UK startup scene.

My co-founder was a much more likeable and charismatic guy who once ran a karaoke bar and had a far better temprament for being CEO, but I wanted the glory of having that coveted job title for myself. I emphatically rejected the suggestion that it might be better for the company if we were to switch roles, and I was to take the position of CTO. Fundamentally I'm good at technology, but not necessarily the best people person: I had, for example, already managed to make my co-founder cry in front of a Google executive. As CEO, I was pretty vicious and ruthless, because I was so desperately ambitious.

This particular May 4th, in 2011, was a moment when my potential net worth was at its highest. This was my golden opportunity to make my millions.

London panorama

This next picture is taken exactly 5 years ago, on May 4th 2014. I had just woken up in the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London. This is the view from my hospital bed. I was surprised to be awake, because my kidneys were failing, my liver was damaged, there was a lot of fluid on my lungs and my heart was not functioning healthily - I had arrhythmias and my blood pressure was dangerously low. I hadn't expected to survive the night, so it was nice to be greeted by such a pleasant view in the morning.

By this point, I'd had to resign as CEO, sell my share of the company that I founded. The company still continued to trade very profitably without me and was getting big-name clients, but I had failed, personally. My co-founder stepped in and did a great job of smoothing things over with our investors and our clients, but my own reputation was damaged and I was heartbroken; ashamed.

I had just gotten divorced and sold my house.

My dreams were destroyed: I lost my company, my wife and my house. I tried to kill myself. That's how I ended up in hospital. I was lucky to survive.

Single speed

Exactly 4 years ago, on May 4th 2015 it seemed like I was getting my life back on track. I had been doing consultancy work for Barclays, which was very lucrative. Jon Bradford - the guy who ran the TechStars startup accelerator in Cambridge - had written about how I'd "sold out" and gone back to the world of banking and the easy money that was to be made in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf, which was hurtful. I was not happy. I knew I had sold out, but I needed money to pay the bills. I was couch surfing and living in AirBnBs. My life was chaotic. I loved being in London, but it was tearing through my dwindling savings and I was still heartbroken about my divorce and losing my company.

This photo is interesting, because it predates one of the most insane moments of my life. I was so exhausted and sleep deprived, that soon after this photo was taken I started hearing voices and generally suffering a major psychotic episode. My mind completely capitulated and I was lost to madness, briefly. It seems very strange now, writing about it, when I consider myself to have pretty good mental health, but at the time - 4 years ago - I was extremely unwell.

London beach

Exactly 3 years ago, on May 4th 2016, I was skimming stones into the Thames on this little rocky 'beach' on the banks of the river, by my apartment. A lucrative contract with HSBC had allowed me to get an apartment with the most stunning views over London and my life was starting to improve.

I had been an extremely passionate kitesurfer, which had taken me all over the world, seeking out the best wind and waves. During my divorce, having to step down as CEO of the company I founded, and the period when I was very unwell, I hadn't been doing any kitesurfing. Living by the river on a part which was tidal gave me back the connection to water which had been missing from my life. A friend came to visit and was even brave enough to kitesurf from this 'beach' despite the Thames being a particularly treacherous waterway to navigate, especially without an engine - the wind was gusty and unpredictable, but he managed to kitesurf on a 'beach' right in the heart of Central London.

Soon after this pleasant evening skimming stones into the Thames, I went away on a kitesurfing holiday to a desert island off the coast of North Africa, and had a very enjoyable time. 2016 was a good year. I made a lot of money and I had some very nice holidays, as well as meeting the love of my life.

California rocket fuel

Exactly 2 years ago, on May 4th 2017, I managed to trick my doctor into prescribing me an antidepressant combo called California Rocket Fuel. I'd had a rough winter where I nearly died from DVT which caused my kidneys to fail, and consequently I had lost a lucrative contract with Lloyds Banking Group. My life had been miserable, with a great deal of pain from the muscle and nerve damage from the DVT. I hadn't felt well enough to be able to work.

The love of my life was doing amazingly well in her career - in politics - and was appearing on an almost daily basis on TV, while I was limping around on crutches and taking a lot of very powerful painkillers. I was depressed and I wanted the very most powerful antidepressant I could get, which I discovered was "California Rocket Fuel" by doing some internet research.

I have bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder are not supposed to take antidepressants without a mood stabiliser. Doctors are not supposed to prescribe antidepressants to people with bipolar disorder. I had to be extremely sneaky to obtain this prescription, and it was rather cruel how I manipulated the poor unsuspecting doctor into seperately prescribing me the two medications, which are combined to create "California Rocket Fuel".

The result was predictable: Mania.

I went incredibly manic and my behaviour became erratic. I broke up with the love of my life.

. . .

That's the end of the pictures

. . .

When I later regained my mental stability and reflected upon what I had done, I realised I'd made a terrible mistake and I tried to get back together with the love of my life, but my behaviour while manic had been so inexcusably awful that I had ruined any chance of that happening. Agonisingly, she said she still loved me and wanted to take me back, but her family, friends and work colleagues would've been apalled that we were back together again. "If you love them, let them go"... it's been devastatingly hard, but I've tried to come to terms with losing the love of my life, and acknowledge that it'd have been very unfair on her to pursue her after what I put her through.

I left London doubly heartbroken, having lost the love of my life, and leaving the city I've spent most of my adult life in. I love London, but it was time to leave.

Since leaving London, my life has been erratic and unstable at times, but putting the pieces of my broken heart back together again and rebuilding myself to a position of health, wealth and prosperity has been a lot easier than it was in the capital. London placed an enormous amount of stress and strain on me, to generate vast quantities of cash to maintain a high standard of living.

Today, May 4th 2019, I have a fabulous standard of living. Maybe I'm not going to be a millionaire CEO. I've loved and lost a wife and a love of my life. I've nearly lost my life during some very bad medical emergencies. I've nearly lost my mind. However, despite all the adversity, I'm wealthy, I live in a beautiful big house and I'm reasonably successful when I'm dating, so I see no reason why I'm not going to end up with a very enviable life. In fact, I already have a very enviable life.

We expect our lives to take a linear path; continually improving as we get older. My life has been chaotic and unpredictable. My life has been through boom times and and bust in the most extreme way imaginable. I'm 39 years old and I didn't expect to be alive this long. There have been devastating moments, which I thought would destroy me, but they haven't. I thought my bipolar disorder would make my life so unstable that I wouldn't be able to regain control and have a good quality of life, but my life is really awesome and it keeps getting better, although it does take a lot of hard work to maintain stability.

I suppose this overview of an 8 year period of my life, told using 5 pictures, is not going to do justice to the complete story, which is full of hair-raising gory details, as well as some moments of sheer delight, but this brief synopsis does at least give the reader a little insight into who I am, without having to read all the [literally] million words I've written and published on this website.

May the fourth be with you.

 

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After The Mania, Regret

8 min read

This is a story about the consequences of a mood disorder...

Bipolar memory

Having had a mood disorder - bipolar - all my life, with its symptoms perhaps becoming indisputably obvious from adolescence onwards, I've had a lot of time to reflect upon the regrettable consequences of things that I said and did when I was experiencing hypomania or mania.

As a child I had little opportunity to do anything which had any particularly negative consequences. I took risks I suppose and I established a pattern of frenzied activity followed by melancholic lethargy. The intensity of my early hypomania was triggered by the rare event of being able to spend time with friends, when so much of my childhood was spent bored while my parents took drugs and got drunk. The excitement of escaping the boredom and oppression of being trapped in a house or a car with drugged-up or drunk dribbling morons, was so great that I would talk rapidly, be unable to sleep and I exuded so much energy that my friends and their parents were alarmed by this behaviour, which was uncharacteristic of how I acted at school, for example.

School terms were long and they were unbearable. For whatever reason, I was bullied constantly. School was something to be endured and I treated it in very much the same way that I treated my parents' negligence - I lived inside my own head, bored but attempting to entertain myself with my own imagination. I was incredibly patient, given the unpleasantness of my school days and the time I was forced to spend with my parents, who were so incredibly selfish that they destroyed most chances I would've had to form meaningful long-lasting friendships. Every school holiday, and indeed many weeks and months of term-time, my parents would remove me from the company of my peers, because they wanted to get drunk and take drugs in an isolated rural location, where they thought they would be safe from the criticism which they would draw for the neglect they were showing me; they attempted to hide their disgusting disgraceful behaviour.

My parents' folie-a-deux, which I see now was a toxic co-dependency, motivated by their addiction to alcohol and drugs, was clearly very formative and shaped my character. I became a patient plotter, who could put myself into a trancelike disconnected state to endure the interminable boredom of being trapped with a pair of dribbling moronic drug addict drunks, with no friends to play with - deliberately isolated from my peers.

This is why I do not celebrate mothers' day - because my mother is nothing more than an alcoholic drug addict with bad taste in men, and I wish I had never been born.

Luckily, modern society reveres those who have bipolar tendencies. How would anybody be expected to pass their school examinations, university finals or write a dissertation, unless they were able to cram and work hard in short and intense periods, having the academic holidays to then collapse on the brink of a nervous breakdown, to recover? How would anybody be expected to undergo the the awfulness of attempting to get a foot on the first rung of the career ladder, and the dreadfulness of the 9 to 5 office grind, unless they could muster the manic energy to be enthusiastic in numerous interviews where you're expected to lie about how excited you'd be to join Acme Corporation and their widget manufacturing business? How can you get ahead in your career, when you are so thwarted by your colleagues and the dreadful bureaucratic nature of organisations - with their "can don't" attitude - except by having periods of intense focus and effort, which no stable level-headed person would ever undertake in their right mind? How could you quit your job, start a company and make it successful, unless you had some kind of screw loose, which drives you to work 100+ hours a week and not give up on something until the results are delivered?

Nobody much cares about the periods of depression that regularly occur in the life of a person with bipolar disorder, because we celebrate achievements and we hide our failures. We pretend that we never screwed up. We pretend that we never got sick. According to our CVs and our LinkedIn pages, we are perfect infallible human beings, who are completely flawless. Because people with bipolar disorder regularly have episodes of hypomania or mania which are full of boundless creative energy, they have an impressive list of achievements under their belt. Nobody ever lists their depressions on their CV or LinkedIn.

Moving house and breaking up with my last girlfriend has left me exhausted and all alone in a new city. I have a work colleague who is reasonably friendly, but a very busy family man, and I have met one new friend, although they don't live very nearby. It's hard to describe how lonely and isolated I am - physically - because few people ever reach this point in their life without taking some kind of evasive action. It's very unnatural for humans to go to strange places and leave themselves totally cut off from social contact, beyond the minimum necessary to get money and buy food.

The flurry of activity which pre-dated me moving house was prompted by stress, and it contributed to the exhaustion and depression I'm feeling now. Also, I feel embarrassed that my grand plans to work on projects presently lie abandoned and the people who I was in contact with have been neglected for quite some time. It's very damaging to my self-esteem to know that my behaviour is so conspicuously unpredictable and unreliable, which leads people to believe that there's little value in the investment of a deeper and more meaningful friendship. When I crash, I cannot face the pressure of maintaining contact, so I disappear and I'm overwhelmed with guilt over the people and projects which are being neglected.

Sometimes, mania prompts me to say regrettable things. I particularly use Facebook as a 'safe space' to rant when I'm struggling with my mental health, because at least it keeps my regrettable words contained in a place where they're not publicly accessible. My friends can respond and calm me down, and I'm not left scrabbling to delete things which were inadvisable to write and publish publicly. My friends - if they're real friends - would take my words with a pinch of salt and not unduly categorise me as a madman and a lost cause.

It's deeply worrisome, knowing that my mental health can collapse and I can act regrettably. It's an unsettling and insecure state of affairs, knowing that I could easily destroy the good reputation I have and the respect of my colleagues, if I was to show a little bit too much of my illness. I keep things relatively neatly partitioned: my blog is where I write honestly, but always mindful that my words are subject to public scrutiny. Facebook is where I write things which are almost always a cry for help, or in some way symptomatic of the very bad mental health problems I'm dealing with. Work is where I spend a great deal of effort "acting normal" and attempting to show a reliable consistent side of myself, despite dreadful inner turmoil and very difficult events in my personal life.

One might say that this entire blog is regrettable, given that it's easily discoverable by my work colleagues, but I do not speak ill of anybody or the organisations I'm involved with, and I do not bring my profession into disrepute - I think that my conduct is perfectly acceptable, and I'm prepared to defend it on the grounds that I find it immensely therapeutic to have this outlet, and the support of people who are kind enough to read my words and send me kind messages.

I have a lot of regret. I admit that I could have made much better choices in a lot of situations. I don't hide behind my mental illness as an excuse. I'm perfectly capable of accepting that my behaviour has been regrettable and that I should have handled things differently.

Why then continue to write like this? The answer is complicated: I have no idea what would happen if I didn't have this single thread of consistency in my life. Rightly or wrongly, I credit this blog with bringing me things which have saved my life: my guardian angel, the people who got the emergency services to save my life during my most recent suicide attempt, the family who looked after me when I was jobless and homeless, and some of the friends who I speak to on a regular basis, who all only know me because I put myself out into the public domain - they reached out to me and rescued me, in their own ways.

 

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