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Not a Real Person

7 min read

This is a story about living a lie...

Bengal kitten

I've been accused by a BBC journalist as being a fake - creating a contrived story - although she did come to visit me when I was held in a secure psychiatric ward, so I wonder whether she continued to suspect my authenticity after that. A recovering alcoholic from the South-West of England, who had recently started a blog, and a mutual friend of ours who had lost a child to suicide, decided that I was a journalist. Most recently, a person who I considered a friend who had once offered to accomodate me when I was facing homelessness, but then quite suddenly retracted that offer, said that they had considered my bipolar diagnosis "doubtful" and told me that they'd "lost faith in [me] as a real person". These are just some of the examples of people who have taken an interest in my story, only to later suggest that I'm a fictional character; a figment of my own imagination.

It would be quite nice to be a fictional character. Assuming that this blog is written by a human being and not an artificially intelligent Nickbot™ then it seems logical to further hypothesise that the author lives a pleasant life free from mental illness and the mood instability of bipolar disorder. It sounds really nice to be a fiction author or journalist, who has the time to create a character for the world to read about. It sounds like a super pleasant existence, being able to write a fake blog about a fake person and to inflict fictional unpleasantnesses upon that non-existent person, instead of a real human being having to experience terrible things. It sounds a lot better to me, that there should be a "real person" out there who is having a nice time, and that all the bad times never happened at all - they were all just stories.

Unfortunately, I feel pretty real. If I pinch my skin it hurts. If I slap my face it hurts. When things are going wrong, it hurts. When things are stressful, it's very unpleasant. When things go wrong, it's awful.

I really wish I wasn't a "real person".

It seems like a lot of effort to go to, spending 4 years of your life writing 1.2 million words, to create an artificial entity - a fictional person living in a fictional world - when it must be clear that I derive no monetary reward from this endeavour. Do you think I get paid a salary to write this blog? Do you see any adverts anywhere? Do you hear me promoting products? How does the "real person" make their money and why would anybody pay money to create a fictitious "Nick Grant" character?

The most disturbing and upsetting part of accusations that I'm not "real" is that I've been hospitalised 3 times with multiple organ failure as a result of trying to end my own life. I've spent months in secure psychiatric wards. I've spent years trying different medications and suffering their side effects. I've seen so many doctors, specialty doctors, mental health nurses, psychiatrists, social workers and various support workers who are part of community mental health teams and crisis teams. I nearly died a whole bunch of times... like, serious not messing around, major medical emergency, miracle I'm still alive kind of nearly died.

Am I supposed to be sorry that at the moment my job is going well, which has earned me a lot of money, such that I've been able to get a lovely big house, furnish it, get a gorgeous bengal kitten and meet a beautiful girlfriend? Am I supposed to be apologetic about that? Am I not supposed to have any of that?

Bipolar disorder has been destructive and destabilising and has caused me to have to start my life from scratch. Bipolar disorder has caused me years and years of dysfunctional behaviour, which stopped me from having a happy life and enjoying health, wealth and prosperity. Am I supposed to stay stuck eternally in that perpetual state of mood instability, which was so extreme that my life was ruined?

If I knew what the 'cure' was for bipolar, I'd gladly tell you what it is, but as I've written before, I don't think I'm cured at all. A lot of hard work goes into managing my mental health condition without medication. In fact, choosing to be unmedicated is one of very many difficult decisions I've made, along with choosing to work, when I would much prefer to abandon all responsibility and assume that there's a magic pill which will 'cure' me enough for me to be able to sit around watching TV collecting my government handouts.

I have episodes where I appear to be very functional. Am I supposed to be sorry about that? These episodes where I'm functional don't come for free: I work very hard to keep my mood as stable as I can.

You're right: I'm no longer sleeping rough. You're right: my circumstances have improved considerably. You're right: my life looks somewhat enviable. How many times have you slept rough? How many times have you been hospitalised with multiple organ failure? How many months have you spent under lock and key on a secure psych ward? How many different strong psychiatric medications have you tried? How many doctors have you had? How much have you lost? What's the lowest you've ever got - have you ever lost literally everything and had to start your life again from scratch?

If you think that somebody who's nearly died a bunch of times and who's slept rough, destitute, has no need or want for a nice house, a gorgeous kitten and a beautiful girlfriend, then you're a complete idiot. You think I'd settle for living in a tent? You think I'd settle for a few ragged dirty clothes? You think I'd settle for one meal a day from my local soup kitchen? Do you think somehow that I should have lowered my sights and curtailed my life ambitions, because I've experienced the very worst that life has to offer? Fool.

If I had the 'cure' for bipolar disorder then I'd share it for sure. In fact, maybe there are lessons to be learned. I've exhaustively documented every single gory detail of my life in the hope that it would be read, and that it might prove interesting and perhaps even useful to the general public. You're welcome.

As for those of you who think I should be sleeping on a piece of cardboard in a shop doorway, begging, because that seems more "real" then I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I like my life better, even if you think you have the right to tell me that I should be deliberately choosing to deprive myself of nice things. I like my nice house, I like my gorgeous kitten and I like my beautiful girlfriend, even if those things don't fit with the narrative which you invented. There's 4 years of my life and 1.2 million words if you want to go digging to find some of the really awful times from my past.

I continue, as ever, to write with unflinching candid honesty about the reality of my day-to-day existence.

 

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Managing Bipolar Without Medication

11 min read

This is a story about personal responsibility...

Handful of pills

I often like to think that I'm 'cured' of bipolar, but the reality is that I can have incredibly functional periods, where it certainly appears to the outside observer as if I'm perfectly healthy. However, the stability of my life - and my mood - is not due to having received treatment, nor is it accident or pure good luck. There are a lot of choices, deliberately made, which keep me functional.

We must accept that whether I'm functional or not, I do experience a mood disorder: bipolar. I can be suicidally depressed but working productively at my desk, with my colleagues blissfully ignorant of my distress and the danger to my life. I can be fighting to control my hypomania with every fibre of my being, desperate to unleash the 'high' episode and experience a period of incredible creativity and productivity, but I know that my colleagues would bear the brunt of my irritability, and their suspicions would be raised by my fast speech and general intensity... I would be told to go home; I would be told I'm working too hard, and I would ignore them, only to subsequently crash.

I'm prone to taking huge risks. I'm prone to depressions that leave me unable to leave my bed or face the world for long periods. I'm prone to hypomanic episodes where I take on ridiculously huge projects, and somehow manage to complete them, but at great expense to my health and stability.

Nobody could say that I don't have to be aware of my bipolar disorder at all times, because it always threatens to plunge me into suicidal depression, or make my hypomanically high - neither state is compatible with a regular 9 to 5 Monday to Friday office job.

Luckily, nobody employs me because I'm a slow and steady guy; nobody employs me because I plod along doing nothing much in particular, keeping a low profile. The reason why I get employed is because I get stuff done. I get a lot of stuff done. I get things done that people say couldn't be done. Then, one day "I can't even" as the kids say. Yep. That's a complete sentence. I can't even finish a sentence properly when I'm having one of those episodes. I become dysfunctional if I don't manage my illness. There's no denying that I'm unwell when I get so sick I can't leave my bed, answer my phone or send an email: I go AWOL.

For years I struggled with the different episodes. I allowed too much of my hypomania to be conspicuously visible in the office. I allowed too much of my depression to overspill from my private life. I was in the office when I shouldn't have been and I wasn't in the office when I should have been. I allowed my mood to dictate my behaviour, as so many of us do, because it's virtually impossible to behave otherwise.

I tried being my own boss, so I could work as hard as I wanted when I was hypomanic, and sleep as much as I needed when I was depressed. Things got worse, not better. I tried tablets. I tried so many tablets. Things got worse. Things got so much worse and I became so dysfunctional that my life fell apart, but nobody believed me. I was sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens - a complete mess - but because I sound posh and intelligent, and I've had a great career, nobody believed that I was losing my battle with my mental illness, and I was incredibly vulnerable. I desperately needed help, but to outside observers, I seemed to have some semblance of the self-reliance I'd always had... everyone assumed that I was as competent and capable as I'd ever been, and that I could take care of myself.

Things got very bad. I was hospitalised several times, both for medical emergencies due to physical health problems which threatened my life, and for the seemingly unending mental health crisis I was suffering. The fact I was alive was taken as evidence of my resourceful nature and self-preservation instincts - my ability to be responsible for myself - but it's pure blind luck that I'm not dead, along with a heck of a lot of skill, effort and energy by a vast number of medical professionals, who've saved my life during various organ failures, seizures and generally near-fatal awfulness which took place in high dependency hospital wards and intensive treatment units.

Today, my life gives few clues about the journey to this point. I have two large scars on my legs and a tattoo behind my ear. The tattoo is something that any observant person might see, as a tiny clue that I've been though some pretty appalling stuff, but the scars are usually hidden beneath my clothes.

The length of time that I've spent working closely with a close-knit group of colleagues, and what we've achieved together as a team, is the basis for the impression that people have of me, along with my general demeanour. I'm lucky enough to have retained my full faculties and suffer no impairment due to the horrors of the past. My colleagues see a competent and capable individual who they have come to depend upon - they trust me and the seek out my opinion. In this sense, you could be forgiven for thinking me 'cured' of bipolar.

I'm hoping that I will stay in my new home city for a long time, and I will build an ever-increasing circle of friends, neighbours and other acquaintances, who see me going about my daily business; who have pleasant normal interactions with me. My existence is clearly no longer full of crises; I'm obviously much more stable than I was, and that stability has proven reasonably reliable.

None of this is an accident. None of this is pure chance.

I don't have any caffeine. I know that alcohol is bad for me, and I avoided it for months, which was very beneficial to my health. I try to sleep as much as possible - 10 or 12 hours a night whenever I can. I keep to a routine... I keep to a REALLY STRICT routine if I can. Mealtimes, when I get up, what I wear, what I eat, writing every day, quiet time before bed, glasses to filter out blue light, dietary supplements... these are some of the things that are working well. I know I need to exercise more and I know I need to get more natural light too. It would be healthy to have regular social contact with people outside work. It would be good if I had a local support network.

My job often bores me, but I put up with it. I'm often too depressed and anxious to get out of bed and go to the office but I force myself. I often find there's not enough time to watch films and documentaries, or do anything other than write, eat and get ready for bed, after work, but I'm trying to do more.

I've gotten tired. Really tired.

Last week was incredibly exhausting. Work was immensely stressful and demanding. Some relationship difficulties cause me to lose a lot of sleep, as well as being very emotionally demanding and stressful. I got a kitten, which has been extremely rewarding and exciting, but also a disruption to my delicate routine and an additional set of responsibilities.

Adrenalin has carried me through the past few weeks and I've managed to skip almost entire nights of sleep on several occasions, seemingly without consequence, but it's all caught up with me.

I haven't been looking after myself.

I've broken my rules.

I've broken the rules which keep me safe, healthy, secure and stable. I've broken the rules which have kept me functional for a very long period of time. I've broken the rules which I invented to end the crises and the dangerous highs and lows. I've broken the rules and I've paid the price.

I'm not sick but I'm not well.

I underestimated the damage it would do to my health, drinking too much and staying up all night. I overestimated my ability to cope with extra stress and big changes. Suddenly I have a girlfriend and a kitten, where previously I had nothing but a big empty house. My life is immensely more pleasant and enjoyable, but it's also suddenly become incredibly fragile. I'm suffering bouts of insecurity and occasional outbursts of frustration that my comfortable stable security and safety margin of spare energy has been exhausted, leaving me irritable and impatient.

It's my responsibility to make sure that I'm getting enough sleep. There aren't enough hours in the day, but I can take some holiday. I've worked non-stop since I got home from Mexico at the start of January. Nobody can work so hard, move house, get a girlfriend, furnish a home and get a kitten, without having a holiday. I've been relentless. I've acted as if I've got limitless energy and a superhuman ability to achieve impossible feats at incredible speed. To all intents and purposes, I've pulled off almost everything, but the cracks are showing - I'm heading for disaster.

Whether I've already gone too far, allowing myself to become too tired and letting myself become unwell, remains to be seen. I was irritable and unpleasant last night, and there might be consequences. Who knows what damage I've done?

I'm going to sleep until lunchtime tomorrow. I'm going to recharge my batteries.

I know that a few extra hours sleep is not enough. I need a whole week of lie-ins. I need a whole week of afternoon naps. I need at least a whole week of being free from the relentless demands which I've faced this year. I desperately need another holiday. I've left it too long, as usual, but I hate going away on my own.

That's another part of the non-pharmaceutical treatment for my bipolar disorder: holidays. I genuinely need holidays for the sake of my health, but when my life was chaotic I would work as hard as I could for as long as I could when I was well, because I felt so much pressure to earn as much money as possible, to support me during episodes of illness. I've come to realise that it's incredibly unhealthy to have 6, 9, 12 and even 18 months without a proper holiday. I need a week away. I need a week of rest and relaxation, and ideally that would be with my girlfriend, if I haven't p*ssed her off and upset her with my unstable mood already.

I wonder if I'll make it - last long enough - to be able to go away on a nice holiday to recharge my batteries. I think that I need to start taking evasive action immediately. I need to be strict with my bedtime. I need to be strict with alcohol. I need to take some mornings off work to catch up on sleep. It might be advisable to take a whole week off and just do nothing for the sake of my health. I know that I've let my health get into a precarious state.

I haven't looked after myself and I need to act.

I could spend a week pottering around my lovely house, with my kitten to keep me company. I think my health would benefit significantly. I need to loosen my grip on my work. I need to relax. I need to rest and recuperate.

Burnout is not good. I'm so sick of burning out. I'm so sick of episodes of mood disorder. I can regain stability, but I need to recognise that I'm not well and I need to act immediately. Yes, I could cling on until the end of July for a holiday with my girlfriend, but there's a huge chance I could get really sick if I try to wait that long. I'm going to have to take some time off work, for health reasons, and it's not the end of the world.

I hope I write again soon that I did the sensible thing, and that I'm getting on top of managing my health. I hope to write that I'm regaining some safety margin, so that I can remain cool, calm and patient, and not be irritable and unpleasant. I hope to write that I'm treating my girlfriend nicely, not being an exhausted wreck, full of insecurity and instability.

I feel super bad that I've mismanaged my illness, but all I can do now is to try to look after myself.

 

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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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Treatment

10 min read

This is a story about making people better...

Ward

I remember the days when I thought that there were magic buildings full of magic people with magic potions who could make magical things happen. I remember the days when I was naïvely optimistic about the abilities of people, institutions and organisations who make highly alluring claims: we can cure you!

If I had ruptured a major blood vessel, or my body was losing its battle against a bacterial infection, you can be damn sure that I'd want somebody to stop the bleeding or give me some antibiotics. If I had an operable cancer, you can be sure that I'd want somebody to cut it out of my body.

Some areas of medicine are comparatively new. Some areas of medicine don't have a great deal of success - the data doesn't show significantly better outcomes for patients who are treated, versus those who are untreated. Medicine is actively losing its battle to save lives in some areas, such as suicide and opioid addiction. Mental health problems and addiction have been declared medical emergencies; epidemics.

Sometimes I wonder if it's useful to think of myself as having a chronic illness, and to expect that problems are just around the corner. I can have a good day, a good week, a good month... maybe even a good year. However, it's probably dangerous to start thinking of myself as "cured" or "recovered" and begin to consider myself "normal". Complacency will no doubt lead to repetition of past mistakes, which can result in an incredibly fast chain of disastrous events, destroying every semblance of a normal life, which was so convincing that I and other people were completely convinced that I'm just another ordinary bloke... not some ticking time bomb.

I fought very hard to get treatment. There was a great deal of reluctance to diagnose me as bipolar, and there was further reluctance to treat me. I seemed very functional. My problems seemed acute. Everybody hoped that I'd go away and get better without intervention.

wanted treatment. I knew I was getting sicker. I knew that my situation was deteriorating. I could see the car crash that was about to happen.

I believed that treatment was effective.

I just had to find the right treatment.

I tried so many medicines. I also believed in the "magical healing powers" of hospitals and doctors. I was indoctrinated by the medical establishment's dogma: "we are the experts and we are the only ones who can cure you".

Of course, I'm not such a fool that I believe in alternative medicine. I critically examine all the claims of all charlatans, quacks, healers and others who promote themselves as miracle-workers. Desperate people are suckers. People are also lazy and gullible. Many of us will be scammed in our lifetimes, because we are so desperate to believe in the existence of things that are too good to be true.

It would have been good I could have avoided that period of my life when I was desperately searching to find the right specialist, hoping that a stay in hospital would be my salvation, or trying a heap of different medications in the hope that I would stumble upon the right one, but it was a necessary education. I needed to learn what was possible, and what was not possible. I needed to see with my own eyes and experience those things first-hand, to learn the limitations of psychiatric medicine.

Psychiatry is young. Mainstream psychiatry - the prescribing of psychiatric medications on a massive scale - is an experiment that's barely a few decades old, which is no time at all, when we consider that anatomical studies of the human body and surgery are parts of medicine which are hundreds of years old. The present-day situation, where at least half of us will take a pill for depression or anxiety at some point in our lives, and so many of us have been taking psychiatric medications for years and years... this would have been unthinkable before Prozac successfully normalised the practice of dispensing mind-altering drugs to tens of millions of people across the USA and Europe. Nobody really knew what the long-term consequences and long-term outcomes would be.

I've lost interest in having any contact with doctors now. I've lost interest in any new developments in the field of psychiatry. I've lost interest in the idea that there will ever be a miracle pill to cure depression, anxiety or to stabilise moods. The brain has proven a far more complex organ than the blunt instruments of psychoactive substances are able to have any precise effect on. Pills are useful for curing a bacterial infection, but they are of no use in an organ which has been evolved to specifically resist attempts to alter it - the brain's ability to maintain homeostasis is incredible, and all psychiatric medications are fundamentally flawed, because they affect a plastic organ, which can simply adapt itself and return to its original state.

Hospitals can offer welcome respite - sanctuary - from the unreasonable demands of the world. Hospitals have their place as a controlled, safe environment, full of caring people. However, psychiatric care has changed radically in the short time that we have been practicing it as a branch of medicine. Those who are ill-equipped to cope with life outside institutions cannot expect to live in an asylum forever, which might sound like a good thing for those who believe that people can be cured and rehabilitated. However, in my experience, it is the horror of the "real world" which is the very reason for the epidemic of mental health problems, and it's often infinitely preferable to protected with the safe confines of an institution than to be fending for oneself in the big wide world. The idea of losing your freedom might sound terrifying and unpleasant, but for those who are struggling to cope - struggling to be functional - freedom is a small price to pay, for the comforting reassurance of life inside an institution.

When you are a child and you hurt yourself, you run to your parents to "kiss it better" but often the injury remains painful for sometime and there is nothing that can be done to alleviate your discomfort. We learn that sticking plasters, stitches and plaster casts can help our bodies mend themselves, but there is nothing to be done to speed up the healing process. There is little that can be done to take away our pain. There is little that can be done when we are suffering mental anguish.

Although my life was very badly damaged, I'm now part of a large organisation where I'm known to a lot of people, and they'd be concerned if I went AWOL. My home city is still very new to me - and I know very few people locally - but I also think that somebody would ring my doorbell and check on me if I went AWOL. I have a routine. I have put things around myself that are structured and stable, even if that rebuilding process is very far from complete.

I've been here before... so very close to a fresh start; a complete life. About a year ago, in the blink of an eye I lost most of my new friends, my new girlfriend and my new job. The year before I nearly died, and I regained consciousness to find I'd lost my girlfriend, my home and my job. I'm aware that my life is very fragile. I'm aware that my existence is precarious.

I wrote positively yesterday about my life and how far I've come since the very deepest depths I sank to, but I know that I have a difficult job trying to stabilise myself and find a way of living my life that's sustainable, and tolerable... pleasant even, one hopes.

It's strange that I've been so much and ultimately reached the conclusion that I was doing a reasonably good job of looking after myself, but I simply had some very stressful life events to deal with. I thought that I could turn to doctors and hospitals to make me better - and indeed my life was certainly saved when my physical health was severely damaged - but now I feel much happier doing everything on my own: I prescribe my own medications, adjust my own dosages... but mainly I just try as best as I can to create a tolerable set of circumstances to allow myself to thrive; I've come to recognise that my family don't care about me and have abandoned me. I've been incredibly lucky to have very loyal, generous, kind, caring friends and wonderful girlfriends, who've believed in me, and looked after me, and stuck by me through the difficult times.

When you see the finished product - a functional man - then we might assume either that he never had any major difficulties in his life, or that treatment was a success. I'm grateful for the hard work, effort and dedication of those who work in psychiatry, but my ultimate conclusion is that it's a flawed branch of medicine. Things could have ended very badly, but those friends who bothered to come and visit me in hospital, check on me when I went AWOL, look after me when I was sick, believe in me, support me... that's the thing that was the key to giving me a chance at getting my life back. Those who've read my blog and are kind enough to reach out to me - to be in contact - have helped me to feel like I have some value, and to feel some self-esteem.

My colleagues don't know how sick I've been, and they don't know how much it means that I'm able to be treated like a normal person at work. My colleagues don't know how important it is that I have the structure and routine of office life. My colleagues don't know how great it is for my mental health to have the social interaction that we have, even if it's just office chit-chat.

We might conclude that the doctors I saw 11 years ago were right - I'm not really very sick and I'm quite capable of living a fully functional normal life - but they're also wrong, because everything had to get smashed to smithereens and rebuilt from nothing, before I could reach this point. I nearly died so many times. Was it avoidable though? Probably not.

That's my conclusion: I've learned a hell of a lot, but it would be wrong of me to start telling people that I have the answers, because what I discovered was that I had to learn everything first-hand. If I had a time machine and went back to tell myself everything I've learned up until now, I don't think I'd believe myself and I'd end up making exactly the same decisions, much like children have to make mistakes even though their parents warn them about everything and try to protect them.

Does this mean that I forgive my parents for abandoning me? Nope. If your kid is sick in hospital, you go and visit them. Period. No ifs. No buts. You don't abandon your children, no matter how old they are.

 

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Suddenly Everything is OK

5 min read

This is a story about overnight recovery...

Flip flops

One day you can't feel your leg. One day a leg is twice the size of the other one. One day your kidneys have stopped working. One day you're in agony from muscle and nerve damage caused by DVT. One day you're in hospital on dialysis and you're very sick. One day you're physically dependent on a medication which you've been buying on the black market, and you'll have seizures if you stop taking it. One day you're so addicted to a drug that you won't sleep, eat or drink, because you don't want to stop your binge for a single second. One day you're virtually bankrupt. One day you're homeless. One day you're jobless. One day your mental health is so bad that you're hearing voices, seeing things and you're paranoid about everybody and everything, to the point where you think even the person who loves you the most in the world is your enemy.

Then, overnight, you recover.

Overnight, all your physical health problems are cured.

Overnight, your mental health problems are cured.

Overnight, all your substance dependency - addiction - problems are solved.

Overnight, you have a house.

Overnight, you have a job.

Overnight, your debts are repaid.

Overnight, you have lots of money.

Nope.

Just nope.

I was rummaging in the boxes of stuff which managed to survive the chaotic years of my life and I found a pair of flip-flops with a piece of string tied to them. The string is there because I couldn't feel my foot and I couldn't control its movement - I couldn't walk properly. When I was walking in flip-flops, the left one would just fall off after ten or twenty steps, because I didn't have enough feeling in my toes to be able to 'grip' the flip-flop properly. The string was my improvised attempt to be able to wear my beloved flip-flops during some nice weather.

My attempt at using a piece of string to fix my inability to wear flip-flops was a lovely metaphor for the attempts I was making to solve all my problems, overnight.

That was two years ago.

Things got a lot worse before they got better.

Things were so bad that on the very worst day of my life, I woke up in an hospital intensive care ward, with a tube down my throat forcing air into my lungs, a tube up my nose and into my stomach, forcing activated charcoal and other things into me, 6 canulas all for pumping me full of various things, an arterial canula for measuring my blood pressure with incredible accuracy, plus I was attached to an 8-cable ECG machine, a clip on my finger measured my blood oxygen and I had been catheterised - I noticed that a tube coming out of my penis had been taped to the inside of my leg. The worst thing was that I was alive.

I did not want to be alive.

I had tried very hard not to be alive.

Physically I was alive, but I was still very sick - my kidneys and other organs had shut down and I had been in a coma - and I was also going through benzodiazepine withdrawal, which is both life-threatening and thoroughly unpleasant.

I was alive, but it turned out I didn't have a job or a home anymore.

I was single and without any friends. I was in a strange city where I didn't know anybody. I didn't have enough money to rent a place to live and support myself until I got my first paycheque. I was utterly screwed.

So, of course I still very much wanted to be dead.

Now, I have a nice house, full of nice things. I've made some friends and I've met some women. I go on dates. Sometimes those dates go really well. I have a job. I earn a lot of money. My finances are sorted out. I'm no longer addicted to drugs or physically dependent on medication. I hardly even drink - perhaps once a week, socially.

I can wear flip-flops.

Weirdly, the nerve damage repaired itself enough so that I have enough sensation in my foot to be able to wear flip-flops, run, go kitesurfing and do the other things I always used to do.

I don't know if I'm happy - there's still a lot of insecurity in my life; I live with an unacceptable amount of jeopardy for a person to have to suffer. I don't have enough friends in the local area. I don't have a girlfriend. I haven't established myself in my new home city. I've barely even started to unpack my stuff.

Compared with two years ago, my life does look like an overnight success. I'm good at my job and my colleagues are grateful for my contribution to the team and the project. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together, and my life is beginning to look viable.

It's strange how people expect to be able to 'save' people who - on closer examination - have such a clusterf**k of issues that it's easy why some would think they're a "lost cause" and abandon them.

I'm grateful to that handful of people who didn't give up on me; who didn't write me off and abandon me.

 

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Cutting My Meds

4 min read

This is a story about tapering off pills...

Weed

I'm not a stoner. Never have been. Never will be. However, it seems nigh-on impossible to endure modern life without something to 'take the edge off. Most people drink, smoke, have tea, coffee and/or indulge in recreational narcotics. Most people take antidepressants. Most people take things to help with anxiety. Most people take things to help with sleep. Life is pretty dreadful without mind-altering substances, prescribed or otherwise.

My office, which is filled with many thousands of people, functions on tea, coffee, cigarettes and vaping. There are probably numerous colleagues who are also secret alcoholics, swigging vodka from bottles hidden in their gym bag or perhaps kept in their car. I've worked for more than two decades in large organisations - I know what people are like.

At the peak of my stress and misery - just a few weeks ago - I was swallowing three times the recommended dosage of Xanax and zopiclone. I was heavily medication dependent. My sleep was greatly aided, but my alertness was drastically affected and my reaction times were probably impaired. I felt very strange: as if I was having an out-of-body experience. My anxiety levels soared as my working day wore on, and the afternoons and evenings were unbearably unpleasant.

I cut my dose by 33%.

It wasn't that bad.

Taking 4 pills instead of 6 is easy enough to do: two Xanax and two zopiclone.

To cut my dosage again was going to be more difficult, except I had the foresight to have obtained some half-dose tablets, so that I was able to cut my dosage by 25%: I swallowed one and a half Xanax and one and a half zopiclone.

It wasn't that bad.

Now I take one pill of each: one Xanax and one zopiclone. Cutting my dose by 33% again was aggressive, but I've managed to do it. My sleep was severely disturbed, but I soldiered through a difficult weekend and I've managed to just about manage to get enough sleep to not lose my job. My alertness has improved significantly and I'm very pleased that I've cut my dosage by 67% in the space of just 3 weeks, which is extremely rapid.

I have left myself enough of the half-dose zopiclone tablets to be able to cut my dosage by 50% at some point. The Xanax tablets break very conveniently into half and quarter doses. Xanax is evil - it's so short-acting that it's tempting to keep popping pills whenever the anxiety comes back, which it always does. I'm desperate to free myself from my dependency on Xanax.

The prospect of being released relatively soon from my chemical prison is incredibly pleasing. Although the pills served their function very effectively, allowing me to cope during some incredibly stressful times, it's a terrible habit to become dependent on pill-popping every time anxiety occurs. Anxiety is unbearable, but benzodiazepines are a terrible short-term solution, which ultimately leave the user worse off than they began. The low price of black market benzodiazepines and their ubiquity is shocking, but life is very unusual when it's structured around medications, and Xanax is probably one of the very worst medications to become dependent on.

Cutting my zopiclone dose by 50% is going to be the hardest, because it'll be the biggest drop that I've had so far. I will cut my Xanax from a whole 2mg tablet, to 1.5mg, then to 1mg, then to 0.5mg... and then I'll be free. However, zopiclone tablets are not particularly designed to be split so easily. Purchasing some half-dose zopiclone tablets was prescient, but I'm anxious about insomnia and struggling to get up in the morning to go to work.

My life is made so much more bearable by having the ability to alter my body clock to suit early-bird culture, when I'm naturally a night owl. My life is made tolerable by having the ability to medicate away the worst of my anxiety, when it becomes unbearable.

I have no idea how I'm going to function without my tablets, and I fear that I might be tempted to eat and drink more by way of compensation, which would adversely affect my physical health, but I do want to applaud my progress so far this year: I've been virtually teetotal, while also cutting down my meds by 67% so far, which is a big deal.

Kind of a boring story... but I wanted to report on some progress I feel proud of.

 

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British Summer Time

4 min read

This is a story about the tyranny of alarm clocks...

Wristwatch

Before the clocks sprang forwards I had bludgeoned my body clock into co-operating with the social jetlag imposed upon me by society. Society is run in favour of "early birds" not "night owls" despite there being a 50/50 split between each different genetic variant. If you want to earn decent money for doing easy work, then you have to suffer the torture and torment of complying with hours of business which are incompatible with your body clock - it sucks.

Because I am unafraid to prescribe myself whatever medications I need, I have access to sleeping pills, which are a fantastic invention for "night owls" like myself, who are coerced into working office hours which are fundamentally incompatible with my DNA. It's as if I was a coeliac forced to eat exclusively gluten-containing foods, when there are plenty of other foods available but they're all prohibitively expensive. I could get a job which would better suit my body clock, but I would have to take an 80% pay cut, or maybe even more than that. Sleep medication has provided me with a solution to end the torture which I had to endure for the best part of 20 years.

The clock change - to British Summer Time - has been shockingly disruptive to my routine. Before the clocks changed I was waking up before my alarm clock and getting into work early, with great ease. Now my alarm clock jolts me out of my peaceful slumbers and I am immediately filled with dread at the prospect of having to leave my bed. One hour does not sound like a huge amount, but an extra hour in bed is hugely beneficial to my health, given that my body clock is not compatible with "early bird" office hours, at a fundamental physical genetic level.

To live in a perpetually jet-lagged state is torturous, and I am angry about capitalism's tyranny, in forcing me to comply with its schedule, rather than my own body's schedule. I'm handsomely financially rewarded for the suffering, but it often seems like inadequate recompense for the unpleasantness of every single morning, which I have to endure.

Further disruption to my schedule has been seen in my writing, where I completely forgot to write a blog post one day - it feels like I have less time in the evenings to do everything I need and want to do, after work. It feels like I have nowhere near enough time to deal with essential admin, do chores, write my blog, catch up with friends and get to bed early enough to avoid sleep deprivation.

I'm attempting to shift my body clock to the new schedule, but it's not a quick process.

I'm also attempting to reduce my dosage of sleeping tablets, which means it takes longer for me to fall asleep, and my sleep quality is much reduced. I was very late to work on Monday, Tuesday was a struggle, and today was OK but still not wonderful. I hope that by the beginning of next week my body clock will begin to comply with the new regime.

As far as having an "extra hour" of daylight after work, it is very nice to be driving home earlier, but it's still pretty chilly and the weather is changeable, so I don't yet feel enthusiastic about being outdoors in the evenings. It's going to be a while before the temperatures lift enough for me to think about making use of the local parks, or perhaps cycling somewhere. Given how little time I have for the essentials - such as meal preparation - I can't see that I'll be doing much with my evenings, while the start to my day is so painful: the alarm clock is such a rude intrusion on my sleep.

It might seem inconceivable that a single man with no children should complain about having no spare time, but my primary concern is getting enough sleep to make my 9 to 5 office job bearable enough that I don't lose my mind. It's essential that I keep in the routine of my job, because it provides the money which is digging me out of a hole, and it provides the stability which is useful for my health and wellbeing.

Ultimately, I still want to find a way to make life work for me, and no longer be tyrannised and coerced into the unpleasantness and boredom of the bullshit world of an office job, but a great deal of compromise is necessary for the foreseeable future, so I shall have to put up with it.

 

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Clean & Sober

5 min read

This is a story about prescribed medications...

Akira

After 4 months of sobriety I'm grateful for the weight loss. My liver must be very grateful for the break. It was exactly 2 years ago that my addiction peaked, when I had managed to obtain a stockpile of my drug of choice that would last me 6 years. Having that stockpile was a pivotal moment, because I knew that I would not survive for more than 6 months with a virtually limitless supply of the drug I was hopelessly addicted to. I knew that I had tested the patience of a very supportive friend - my guardian angel - and I announced to her that I would be committed to overcoming my addiction, which I have done.

These two achievements are not to be underestimated, and are also set against a backdrop of great financial hardship and other averse circumstances. I've been forced to move around. I've been forced to work when I'm sick. I've been forced to go deeper into debt and to re-invest the money I receive, in order to escape from the horrible trap I found myself caught in.

It's not really possible to travel directly from the depths of drug addiction and alcoholism to clean and sober living. A person can't wake up one day and decide that they're going to stop taking drugs and drinking. There are consequences of such a decision.

My hospitalisation in 2017 represents the peak of the consequences of my decision to attempt to quit addictive substances. At that time, I was still physically addicted to one prescribed medication and four which I obtained on the black market. It seems obvious that I should have ended up on an intensive care ward, having seizures, in a coma, with a machine breathing for me. It seems obvious that the battle was too hard to win and I would capitulate.

Presently, I am physically addicted to one medication and psychologically dependent on another. In terms of progress, this is a vast improvement versus taking 5 medications every day - instead of three physical dependencies, I have one, and instead of two psychological dependencies, I have one.

I swallow one pill for anxiety. If I abruptly stop taking that medication, I risk having a fatal seizure.

I swallow one pill for sleep. If I abruptly stop taking that medication, I will have insomnia.

I don't drink, which is great news for my physical health.

I'm working, which is great news for my bank balance.

Everything seems to be under control.

However.

My dependence on the black market is problematic. I had attempted to stockpile enough medication to allow myself to taper my dosage down and free myself from the physical and psychological dependence on the tablets, but the disruption of a breakup and moving house was a huge setback. My stocks are running low and I'm having problems replenishing my supply.

Of course, my plan all along was to end up completely substance-free. I tried in 2018 but my drinking got out of control. Drinking alcohol as a way of compensating for the unpleasant withdrawal side-effects of stopping medications, is not something that's good for my health. I gained weight and became alcohol dependent. Having broken my alcohol dependency, I would like to remain mostly teetotal because it's better for my weight, fitness and general health.

If you talk to any doctor they will tell you that all their patients suffer significant discomfort when withdrawing from psychiatric medications which they have been taking for long periods. In fact, the doctors will tell you that it's virtually impossible to get their patients to quit the prescribed medications which they have become dependent on.

Why quit?

It seems to be in vogue to stop people taking medicines which humanity has used safely and effectively for a long time. It seems to be trendy to stop people from taking opiates, benzodiazepines, tranquillisers, sedatives, hypnotics, sleeping pills and a whole host of medicines which were greedily guzzled by many generations without any issues. It seems to be the way of modern medicine to offer 'safer' ineffective alternatives and refuse to prescribe effective medications.

I can attest to the great difficulty of getting off the addictive medications which doctors don't prescribe. I've been addicted to all of them, and I've successfully stopped taking all of them for lengthy periods, so I can describe in exquisite detail the very many agonies and unpleasantnesses associated with cessation of these medications. I can recall exactly what the withdrawal side-effects are like for the pills that your doctor won't give you.

I find it hard to find a good reason to quit and be completely 100% free from any mind-altering substances, but I'm certainly having difficulties in maintaining a reliable supply, which puts me at risk of a potentially fatal seizure. Quitting the medications which give my life enough stability to be able to hold down a well-paid job, is not desirable, but it seems necessary given the exhaustive efforts undertaken to thwart me - playing the stupid cat-and-mouse game with a bunch of people who don't care about the consequences, is a waste of energy and I would love to be free from the stress of dependency and uncertainty about the supply of something which I physically need.

Luckily, my physical dependency is something I have the capacity to alter - unlike type 1 diabetes - so I am following through with my plan to wean myself off the two remaining medications, hopefully slowly enough that it doesn't destabilise me so much that I lose everything.

My version of clean and sober might not seem very impressive to you, but I assure you that it is a considerable achievement to have beaten fully-blown addiction to every substance imaginable and restored some health and wealth to my shattered life.

 

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Lööps

9 min read

This is a story about having a pity party...

Minitel

My memory and perception of time are very badly affected by strong medication. Every day ends the same for me - swallowing 6 pills and falling unconscious - and every afternoon and evening the fog clears and I'm overwhelmed with anxiety, due to the medication effects wearing off. The routine is useful because it helps me stay functional and earning a lot of money, but I'm stuck in a loop which only contains working, sleeping and eating. Days are indistinguishable and time passes incredibly slowly.

I write repeatedly about suicidal thoughts because I'm very trapped. I've become physically dependent on medication and the withdrawal effects are intolerable. I struggle to recognise the pattern in my moods, because my memory is impaired. I function perfectly effectively at work because of the monotony of what I do, and the fact I'm using skills I grasped as a child, long since mastered and turned into muscle memory and reflex. Everything in my life is something I've done a million times before. There are no new and novel challenges in my life. There is nothing which I could embark upon as a voyage into the unknown, except for death I suppose.

I think about getting a girlfriend, making friends, finding a new hobby. I think about buying more furniture and generally making my home more comfortable. I think about getting on top of my mountain of administrative bureaucratic tasks. None of these things are new or interesting to me - they're simply chores.

I'm blessed with a large amount of people who I'm in contact with via the internet. I'm never short of somebody to talk to via message or email. Some friends have stayed in contact and I've even made some new friends quite by accident. Perhaps I take all this for granted, but I'm just stating the facts.

I see my situation as unavoidable. I see my choices as so limited that I actually have no choices at all. The claim might sound unlikely, but my analysis is invariably correct. I'm in the process of creating choices for myself, while the world works exceptionally hard to thwart, frustrate, delay and annoy me. I'm not so paranoid that I believe that anybody's "out to get me" but in my lifelong experience there are always setbacks which far exceed a person's capacity to insulate and protect themselves. We live with the constant peril of our car breaking down or some other unexpected financial disaster wrecking our carefully laid out plans.

In other ways, my life is frighteningly random. I was almost bankrupt when a friend recommended me for a job, which rescued me from certain ruin. One year later, that friend killed himself. Another friend recommended me for another job, which has led me indirectly to where I am today. My improving financial situation is entirely a fluke and it's likely to end up in financial disaster at any moment. I've been maximally leveraged for far more years than I care to remember. My avoidance of homelessness and destitution is thanks to blog readers who have offered assistance. These rescuers have appeared in my hour of need, not through any coherent cries for help which I've communicated, but instead through the randomness of life.

Similarly, I expected to die in September 2017. I had planned and premeditated my suicide attempt. I had been systematic. I had done my research and I was sticking to the script. Again, random people off the internet intervened in collaboration with old friends and I was saved... just.

I feel sorry for myself but I can't decide how much of my situation is of my own making and how much was preordained. It certainly seems that whatever I try to do, my life appears to be running on invisible rails. If I try to ruin my life, I cannot, and if I try to improve my life, I cannot expedite or hurry things along.

Every day at work earns considerably more money than I spend. Every month my financial situation improves. However, my risk and exposure are steadily constant. I live with zero security. I live with very real and tangible threats to my home and my income, which also threaten to then cause a catastrophic chain of events that would see me cast from my profession and barred from accessing everything which middle-class people take for granted: bank accounts, mortgages, car loans, house rentals and other things requiring a credit check. Even most jobs with big companies are barred to bankrupts nowadays.

Money ebbs and flows through my accounts. Vast amounts of my wealth is hoovered up by the idle and lazy, who arrogantly expect to be paid money because they already have money. The turnover of money is beyond my capacity to track it. To monitor my accounts would be an exhausting waste of time and energy. Instead I see the vast wastage as preferable to the miserly task of bean counting. At least I know that some of my money ends up in the pockets of people who need it - it flows to me and it flows outwardly again, but at least it is flowing. I have no time or respect for people who cling to money, denying it to the economy.

I've lost count how many times I've lost everything but earned it all back again plus interest. I must have spent several lifetimes' fortunes. The aggregate value of my productivity must be a very big number. I certainly haven't been idle.

My life is very straightforward. Get the money, spend the money.

The straightforward nature of my life is the root cause of my unhappiness. I feel like a rat who has had electrodes implanted deep into its brain, so that it can stimulate the reward pathways by depressing a lever. It's very easy to press the button and get the thing which I'm supposedly living for. Don't have sex, press the lever. Don't have children, press the lever. Don't eat, press the lever. Don't drink, press the lever. I can press the right buttons and get the things which everyone covets - money, houses, cars, boats... whatever.

When you've been in the situation where you can buy whatever you want, including a lifetime's unlimited supply of drugs, then you have become the rat who presses the lever until it dies, because it doesn't eat or drink - it just presses the lever, because the lever is the best that life can possibly be. If you've ever thought "I could die right now because I'm so happy" that's what the rat is thinking when it presses the lever. Nobody should ever experience that... it's too much to handle.

Ultimately, I have reduced life to its most fundamental and primitive components. I understand mortality. I understand the lever. Life has boiled down to a choice between three things for me: pressing the lever, killing myself, or seemingly interminable boredom and suffering; repetition.

I had to make the choice to stop pressing the lever. I did so because of guilt about not repaying a debt to a friend. I could see that I was going to die of thirst, like the rat pressing the lever, and that I would die with a considerable lack of dignity. I turn 40 this year and it's pure pride that drives me towards confounding all expectations that I should end up a dead homeless bankrupt junkie.

I repeat myself so endlessly, but this is how I keep myself on-track. The speed limit of the universe is maddening, because I can see where I want to end up and I can see the route I need to take, but there's no way I can make the journey pass any quicker. I'm very much wishing my life away because I can picture so clearly where I want to be. I see everything that's not on the critical path as superflous. I've jettisoned girlfriends, friends, hobbies and interests, intellectually stimulating work, social contact and - strangely - drugs and alcohol. My life is austere. My life is brutal simplicity personified.

I wonder if perhaps I am on the autistic spectrum. I have rigid and fixed routines. I wear certain clothes on certain days at work, from a pre-planned wardrobe. I eat the same things. I have a place for everything and everything must be in its place. I follow a sequence for everything. I have routes that I always follow. I have a single unwavering approach to life; a single way of getting money and getting what I want. My life is designed to fit a designated path; everything is controlled down to the level of minute details. I have memorised unusual things, such that my words and actions seem to flow out of me automatically, despite the complexity of a task or seeming impossibility of memorising a sequence of keystrokes.

I blend in well enough now in adulthood. It's been a while since anybody called me a weirdo. In fact, I portray a convincing facsimile of a normal person, outwardly.

For a person with a mood disorder, I appear to be remarkably stable, and all the more so considering that I'm not taking any mood stabilisers. I stabilise myself with self-medication and strict routine. It's hell, but it's an internal hell which I manage to hide from my work colleagues.

It pleases me that I've been able to blend in. It pleases me that I've been able to pretend to be normal for lengthy periods of time, and to prove that I can hold down a job, pay my bills and otherwise conform like a regular guy, for sustained periods. It pleases me that I stop and start drugs and alcohol whenever I want - I can be clean and sober whenever I choose, without difficulty.

Everything is a loop. Round and round I go.

The present loop is one of the most boring and most suicide-inspiring.

 

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Lost Cause

7 min read

This is a story about predictions...

Recycling

Bookmakers and actuaries are extremely good at predicting the future. The profits of these well-established enterprises depend upon accurate predictions, based upon a vast amount of historical data. Better statistics lead to better predictions, which lead to accurate odds and sustained profitability. If it wasn't possible to predict the future in this way, there wouldn't be a business model for life insurance or gambling.

Unfortunately for individuals, generalised predictions are fairly accurate while individual predictions are not. It is no use asking an actuary when you will die, so that you can plan your life accordingly. The actuary will not be able to tell you whether you'll die of a heart attack age 45, or whether you'll die in your sleep age 95. Those extra 50 years present a considerable problem for the individual, but the actuary does not care, because they spread the risk of having to pay out on life insurance across a large group. On average, the insurer will win. However, none of us can know whether we're going to die prematurely or live unusually long.

It might seem prudent to avoid smoking, drinking and consumption of excessive calories. It might seem prudent to go to the gym every day. It might seem prudent to eat a balanced diet, containing a mixture of fruit and vegetables, full of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, trace elements and other chemical compounds your body needs to repair itself and stay healthy. However, while we can say for certain that smoking and obesity will lead to health complications, none of us can make choices to assure ourselves of a long life.

One day you might just drop dead.

The temptation to use statistical analysis to make predictions for an individual is overwhelming in a world where we have discovered the classical laws of physics. We presume that we are able to predict the future as easily as we can predict the trajectory of a missile. Unfortunately, individuals do not follow simple parabolic curves. While there are statistically significant correlations - good predictors - this does not mean that we can know the future life of a human, after gathering a few crummy data points.

All we have managed to unearth so far about the mysteries of human life is that we can understand risk not destiny. You might have genes which appear to doom you to a certain fate, but those genes are not always expressed in the way which we expect. The sequencing of the human genome has failed to provide the crystal ball that it was promised to deliver, but instead revealed the unimaginable complexity of epigenetics. No clear genes have been found for things such as diabetes and depression. There is no gene which hard-wires our life expectancy into every cell.

Who could have predicted that smoking would be banned in public buildings and the workplace, drinking culture would become diminished, supermarkets would import food from all over the globe, such that strawberries would be on their shelves all year round, and the workplace would become so safe and so sedentary? Who could have predicted that mental health problems would reach such epidemic proportions that the leading cause of death amongst 20 to 40 year old men would be suicide?

Ultimately, the biggest thing affecting my life expectancy appears to be a choice which I'm free to make.

I've never smoked and I quit drinking 4 months ago. I eat a balanced diet and I'm a healthy weight. These things are happy accidents. Every afternoon my anxiety builds to an increasingly intolerable level and every evening I feel suicidal. I live alone and have no friends or family nearby. I have no children, pets or partner.

My life is on a knife-edge.

If you were going to bet on the statistically probable outcome of my life, you'd have lost a lot of money already. I'm afraid to say that I'm an outlier and I have refused to conform to the predictions. I'm a single data point and as such I'm not statistically significant on my own, but the significance of my own life and its outcome is, unsurprisingly, important to me.

It's a hard life being an outlier. Literally, almost everyone is betting against you. It will be harder to get an education, get a job, get a home, borrow money, find a partner, get life insurance, get a pension... all of these things are thwarted by people who believe that they are able to predict my destiny. I'm continuously confronting people who believe I'm a lost cause, and therefore not worth taking a risk on.

We can see that this attempt at prediction becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When racial stereotypes become pervasive - for example - then we see that minorities are harshly and unfairly prejudiced, which harms their chance of success and reinforces the correlation between uncorrelated factors. Skin colour should not be a good predictor of socioeconomic outcome, but the data overwhelmingly shows that it is.

From the moment you enter the vast educational system, you are being sifted and sorted in a way which tests you and gathers data on you, in order to attempt to predict your future. Something as random as getting an illness will affect your school attendance data, which will be used against you as a predictor of supposed future failure. You are constantly at risk of flagging yourself as a "disaster waiting to happen" and suffering lifelong prejudice due to the systemic attempts to analyse individuals statistically.

I suppose I now revel in the fact that I'm a living contradiction. My problems with mental health, addiction, alcohol, hospitalisations, psych ward stays, trouble with the police and refusal to be sifted and sorted by the mainstream education system, are not in agreement with the predictions that I should end up bankrupt, in jail and/or dead, having lived a life with no useful contribution to society, and in fact having been a burden. I'm the guy your mother warned you about. I'm the one who isn't supposed to be allowed to freely roam the streets. I'm the one who all the gatekeepers have in mind - I'm the one they want to keep out, but yet I'm very much on the inside.

If those who think they can gaze into the future by studying my data had their way, I wouldn't have a job, a house, any money. The system has tried very hard to railroad me into certain outcomes, because it's what was expected and predicted.

I genuinely don't know whether I'm going to kill myself or if my depression is going to lift and life's going to become pleasant and bearable. I've lived with depression for long enough to know that my choices will have little effect on the outcome. No amount of prescription medication, therapy, yoga and other such things will have the intended effect. It has always been the least expected things in my life which have wrought the most important changes.

If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I'll die at my own hands. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I won't be able to escape the debt trap. If I was betting on myself, I suppose I would bet that I will crumble and break, because that seems like the obvious thing I would do, from looking at the black marks against my name. If I was going to bet according to statistics, I would definitely bet against myself.

However, we know that fundamentally the universe does not obey classical physics, when we study the underlying laws, but instead there is inherent uncertainty. Outcomes are nondeterministic. Knowing my past does not allow anybody to know my future. There is a nonzero probability of every possible outcome, no matter how unlikely it may seem.

My day-to-day life is dominated by a single question - am I going to kill myself? - but despite being the best placed person to answer that, I do not know the answer. Events unfolding are as much a surprise to me as they are to you.

 

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